Lost Art of Design For Pleasure – The Work of Italian designer Alessandro Mendini – Requiescat in pace et in amore

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The Italian designer Alessandro Mendini died last week at the age of 87. His work reminds us that everyday objects can be a source of joy.


By Suzanne LaBarre


In 1994, the Italian housewares manufacturer Alessi released Anna, a corkscrew topped with a woman’s smiling face. It was created by Italian architect, artist, and designer Alessandro Mendini and inspired by Mendini’s friend, the designer Anna Gili. As you stab the screw into a cork and twist, Anna’s arms rise up over her head in a silent hallelujah to the wine-fueled revelry that awaits. Today you can buy all manner of wine openers: electric ones, air pressure pumps, one-handed varieties. But how many corkscrews can make you laugh out loud?

Exuberant design was Mendini’s specialty. Mendini died last week, age 87, and his death leaves a void in the school of thought that favored emotion and surprise over the cold efficiency that has come to dominate much of design, calibrated as it is to the precise and bottomless needs of the technology industry.

Mendini was trained as an architect, but he had deep roots in the art world. A postmodernist, he was a central figure in Italy’s Radical Design movement, which sought to imbue art in design, and which served as a precursor to the influential Memphis style that today’s young designers (and many a corporate copycat) have revived and remixed for mainstream consumers. Mendini’s Proust chair, designed in 1978, was a feverish bricolage: an upholstered Baroque armchair splattered in a pointillist painting by the neo-Impressionist Paul Signac, with a name lifted from French literature. An icon of postmodernism, it is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the V&A in London.

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Mendini also worked as a journalist and was editor of the prestigious Italian architecture magazine Domus from 1979 to 1985. But his popular legacy will be most pronounced in the dozens of kitchen products and home decor he developed for Alessi and others. Each is a testament to the idea that design is not merely a vehicle for solving problems; it can be a source of simple pleasure.

Anna, for instance, was so beloved, Mendini reprised her likeness in a champagne cap, a pepper mill, a tea set, a kitchen timer, and a bottle cap. You could give your kitchen’s entire top drawer over to Anna’s goofy grin if you were so inclined. Consider how unusual it was to portray a literal face in industrial design in the 20th century, at a time when Mies van der Rohe’s ubiquitous catchphrase “less is more” represented the peak of taste and sophistication. The tyranny of minimalism continues today. Take the many smartphones and smart speakers that are designed to be so invisible, they’re easy to forget altogether–to the detriment of consumers. Mendini’s work offers a refreshing antidote. His design was never quiet. He didn’t shy away from figurative representation. Another one of his kitchen designs is a parrot-shaped corkscrew, the feathers of which have the same frenzied print of the Proust chair. Open a bottle of wine, and watch the bird flap its dazzling wing.

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Even Mendini’s subtler designs felt revelatory. For Kartell, the Italian manufacturer of high-end plastic furniture, he created Roy, a series of side tables that resemble colorful stools from afar. Up close, the resonant patterns of Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop Art appear on the surface. Another kitchen item for Alessi, the Tegamino pan, looks like any other pan. But it has undulating handles that conjure up the gooey textures of a scrambled egg and revel in the pot’s reason for being: to put warm food in your mouth.

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It seems like kismet that some of Mendini’s last Alessi designs were for children. The Alessini collection, a set of whimsical plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery, was designed to capture the imagination of the most naturally curious among us. There’s a radical dignity to them, and to all Mendini’s works. They suggest that consumers are worthy of joy and pleasure, that the mundane but crucial rituals in our lives–cooking, drinking, spending time with children–are not merely chores to slog through, but moments to celebrate. We are what we eat, and what we eat it in.


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D




Inside the secretly effective–and underrated–way Netflix keeps its shows and movies at the forefront of pop culture – by Jeff Beer

How the streaming giant presents itself as a TV and movie super fan and uses meme-able, self-aware social media content to keep us watching more.

Inside the secretly effective–and underrated–way Netflix keeps its shows and movies at the forefront of pop culture

On New Year’s Day, Kim Kardashian West decided to watch a movie on Netflix. With that one click, one of the most popular people on the internet unwittingly joined an already crashing tidal wave of Bird Box meme-ification. Even with 59.6 million Twitter followers, West was late to a very, very big party–and fellow social star Chrissy Teigen let her know it.

Bird Box had only been on Netflix for about a week and a half at that point, so of course the entire world hadn’t seen it. It just felt that way. Especially on social media.

Netflix’s social and brand editorial team first started seeing the memes for the dystopian sci-fi film–starring Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich, and Trevante Rhodes–catching fire on Black Twitter within the first three days of the movie’s December 21 release and began retweeting and promoting their favorite reactions.

Thanks to the film’s sly combination of gimmick (blindfolds!), genre (horror!), cast (awesome!), and holiday release timing (maximum binge-to-get-away-from-family mode!), Bird Box attracted enough eyeballs that Netflix decided to crack open its black box of data for the briefest of moments, long enough to boast that more than 45 million accounts had watched the movie in its first week, which prompted another wave of viewership and conversation.

How Netflix promotes its original movies, series, and specials has long been a source of fascination and bewilderment for both viewers and creators. For a long time, the company maintained that it could do better promotion than traditional marketing via its menus, in-app notifications, and even old-fashioned email to alert people to programs when it thinks they’re most likely to watch. “We’ve found the most effective way to drive viewing is on the service,” Netflix VP of product innovation Chris Jaffe told journalists in December 2017.

But stars and producers would often complain it wasn’t enough, and subscribers did not always know what was worth watching. The company’s strategy started to change last summer when it purchased 32 billboards along Los Angeles’s famous Sunset Boulevard for $150 million, and it advised investors that it would likely spend $2 billion in 2018 on marketing. Up to 85% of that spending would go toward its “title brands,” meaning Netflix originals.

Amid all these changes, though, perhaps the effective way Netflix educates viewers about new programs and encourages them to watch is through its social media and brand content strategy. The company uses its social and brand editorial department as the engine that keeps Netflix shows and movies at the forefront of the pop-culture conversation. By imbuing its social platforms with the personality of a meme-happy fan who lives for TV and movies (rather than being stunt-driven, deadpan, or, worse, mocking the very audience it seeks), Netflix’s approach goes beyond mere promotion and jumps armpit-deep into participation and collaboration. They’re both marketing, but the Netflix strategy pushes over into something more surprising: an ongoing, creative dialogue with audience members who can sniff out forced enthusiasm in a nanosecond. When what Netflix delivers on social feels genuine, the difference in engagement is stark.

Sometimes the company’s efforts are as simple as amplifying someone else’s, such as when it shared director Guillermo del Toro’s 10 personal musings about Roma. Netflix’s heaviest lifting comes when it does such things as gift the world with a meme template highlighting the most exaggerated facial expressions of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Velvet Buzzsaw.

Social media is also the rare venue where Netflix’s performance data is public. Everyone can see the engagement on every post, and, increasingly, Netflix executives themselves are touting such metrics as the rising follower counts of the talent who stars in its originals as evidence of the streaming service’s deep connection with its subscribers. With social media and Google Trends as the leading indicators of success for any given show or film, Netflix is able to dodge one of the biggest criticisms against it: lack of data transparency.

But as the Netflix social shtick becomes more expected than surprising, and the company deals with the same challenge it has elsewhere of showing appropriate love to its tsunami of new originals, how does the company’s social team plan to keep up with the speed of culture?

Finding its voice

Netflix’s specific social-media tone was born in the spring of 2017, when it had just launched a House of Cards Twitter feed in Brazil. An editorial manager in Brazil decided to communicate as if she were sharing with friends.

The tremendous response to the “It’s difficult to compete” tweet (a sly nod to real-life Brazilian politics) illustrated the power of speaking fan to fan. But as anyone who’s seen a brand pull a “How do you do, fellow kids” on social, Netflix had to figure out how to nail the difference between trying to talk like a fan and actually being one.

To build its U.S. social team of about 15 people, Netflix hired TV and movie buffs who were passionate about sci-fi or comedy, two key target areas for Netflix. They had backgrounds in marketing, journalism, PR, and entertainment, and varied in age. The team averages about three posts per day on Twitter and Instagram. Each platform has dedicated team members.

The company does not impose a strict approval process for social posts, choosing instead to establish broad guidelines rooted in the freedom and responsibility section of the Netflix company culture deck. Its directives include such prescriptions as “don’t promote, entertain,” “stand out by taking risks,” and “don’t just clip out the show, build out the world.”

In the U.S., individuals run specific social channels. The main Netflix account started way back in October 2008, but as its library of originals grew, the company added specific feeds to showcase comedy (Netflix Is A Joke, April 2017), family fare (Netflix Family, September 2017), African-American pop culture (Strong Black Lead, January 2018), new content (See What’s Next, March 2018), and sci-fi and fantasy (NX, May 2018). In other countries, some of the social teams are set up as writers’ rooms. All are meant to share a broad sensibility–positive, uplifting, fun–but with local, personal flavor.

For returning shows, social media plans take into consideration fan reactions to previous seasons. For new shows and movies, the team sketches out a strategy ahead of time, while also preparing to change course if need be. The #BirdBoxChallenge, for instance, was fan-driven, with people across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook sharing videos of themselves engaging in various activities while blindfolded (in homage to the film’s star, Sandra Bullock). Netflix shared 22 retweets of memes and funny and/or celebrity reactions.

The social department also works with show producers and creative agencies to produce content aimed at making being a fan more fun. One example of this was the cheeky educational series #cokenomics, created for the first season of Narcos with the agency The Many back in 2015. According to Netflix sources speaking on background, the guiding principles for these projects boil down to: How can we build out the experience beyond what’s on the show or movie itself?

The idea is to show producers and stars that this promotional work feeds into Netflix’s own media outlet, a modern version of the traditional wacky bits and lighthearted interviews of the talk-show circuit. For Bojack Horseman, for example, producers have created an Instagram feed from the main character’s perspective, made entirely of original illustrations.

To stay effective, the social teams need to be watching and listening in the right places, at the right times, so they can tap into real-time conversations that yield results, like a video of awkward silences for the show You, or responding to fans who think the Lost in Space robot is hot. The latter went viral last April, prompting James Corden to weigh in.

Netflix’s social voice rarely devolves into cringe-y, try-too-hard Brand Twitter territory, but that doesn’t mean it always hits the mark. For the high-school comedy Sex Education, the team tried a lot of different angles to create engaging video, with varying success. While videos of the British cast touring America hit more than 1.1 million YouTube views, and another on what it’s like to film a sex scene garnered more than 950,000, the one on sex terminology got just 9,337 views.

Amplifying fan voices is great–especially if that fan is director Guillermo del Toro–but it’s not perfect. Back during peak Bird Box mania, the audience-generated #BirdBoxChallenge did not go smoothly. At first, watching videos of people–including Jimmy Fallon–falling and bumping into stuff seemed like harmless fun, but it soon escalated to more dangerous levels. A teen in Utah crashed his car while driving blindfolded. A tattoo artist took the challenge to work, with predictably awful results.

Netflix’s warning then led to a conspiracy theory that the company was actually the one fueling it all. Sources within Netflix deny any broad orchestration, saying that when it comes to social media, it simply follows fans’ leads.

Network effects

Social media–and Twitter, in particular–has long been a place for TV networks to connect with audiences. In 2007, MTV enlisted the stars of its sketch comedy show Human Giant to live tweet the Movie Awards, and ratings went up 23% from the previous year. “Second-screen viewing” between TV and Twitter became more common, and series such as ABC’s Scandal became cultural phenomena when its stars live-tweeted while watching, even embracing fan-created hashtags. More recently, HBO enjoyed a viral hit last month with its Soprano Yourself tweetstorm to celebrate the series’ 20th anniversary.

Most network social posts tend to be in service of encouraging live viewing. ABC, for example, is usually reminding people it’s time to watch The Bachelor, rather than subtly mocking it, as its devoted fans are. Netflix’s style, meanwhile, is designed for its binge-mode model of releasing entire series at once. When it comes to social, full-season drops are simply more conducive to tapping into an obsessive audience. Who’s more likely to retweet or repurpose a meme? Someone four hours deep into a sparking joy session with Tidying Up, or a viewer three days removed from a new episode of a weekly series? Sure, the enthusiasm for new series or movies tends to settle down after a few weeks–last week it was Russian Doll, this week it’s Umbrella Academy–but the net effect of its hundreds of programs is that they have the potential to spark a never-ending pop cultural conversation.

“They come from the internet,” says BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield. “Their expertise in leveraging online marketing, and using TV more sparingly than their industry peers, has led to a far better ROI on their marketing spend than others. Netflix is able to put stuff out there, see what bubbles up, and then they can amplify it based on the response. It’s a very different approach.”

This is particularly evident with follower counts. In the U.S. alone, Netflix has 5.72 million Twitter followers and 13 million on Instagram. HBO, by contrast, has 2.13 million followers on Twitter and 2.1 million on Instagram. Hulu? 611,000 on Twitter, and 346,000 on Instagram. Over on broadcast television, CBS, ABC, and NBC each have less than 2 million Twitter followers, and barely 500,000 each on Instagram.

Then there’s the age gap. According to a 2018 study from Wall Street firm Cowen & Co., nearly 40% of Americans in the coveted 18-to-34 age bracket said Netflix is the platform they watch most often on TV, beating YouTube (17%), basic cable (12.6%), Hulu (7.6%), and broadcast TV (7.5%). Your great uncle isn’t talking about NCIS on Instagram.

The focus on keeping a younger audience’s attention was evident in the company’s Q4 2018 shareholder letter, which stated that Netflix holds about 10% of TV screen time and less than that of mobile screen time, and acknowledged its main competitors. “We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO,” the letter stated.

In December, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos told the UBS global media and communications conference that social media is, in effect, a more effective way to create a collective viewing experience than that endangered species: appointment television. In discussing the Netflix romantic comedy To All the Boys I Loved Before, Sarandos said, “It was an enormous hit for us this year. But you saw it in the social media presence of that movie that people not only love to watch it and love to watch it over and over again. They love to post on Instagram about it. They love to post on Facebook about it . . . and it was just a really incredible kind of global experience that happens all at once, with very little marketing spend, by the way.”

Star power

It helps that the stars of Netflix shows are active on social media–particularly young talent like Noah Centineo of To All the Boys I Loved BeforeStranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown, and Cole Sprouse of Riverdale, all of whom have become social stars in their own right.

Netflix is “increasingly tapping into the halo effect of the shows and personalities affiliated with the streaming service, many of whom have big followings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat,” says eMarketer analyst Paul Verna. “That means, in addition to the paid media Netflix is taking out on those venues, it’s getting quite a bit of earned-media exposure as well.”

That halo effect includes the virtuous cycle of fans following these new stars, talking about them, and keeping their shows and movies on the public’s radar. The term “Netflix famous” has become a real thing. In its most recent letter to shareholders, the company shared a chart titled “A launching pad for a new generation of global stars,” showing how the eight cast members of its Spanish original Elite had grown their Instagram followers in the three-plus months since its launch. Seven of the eight actors and actresses had started with between 10,000 and 30,000 followers and all now top 1 million.

What’s next

According to sources within the Netflix social and editorial department, there are two significant goals for 2019. The first is to engage more on Reddit, where its presence is scarcest. The second is to bring more of its meme-happy approach into the real world, to merge the social energy with unique, in-the-flesh experiences that can then be turned into more social content. When Netflix helped a Santa Clarita Diet fan propose to his girlfriend (with an assist from series stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant), it was an idea that came out of one fan’s social post and turned into a cute promotional vehicle for the show.

Netflix is also working on linking fans more effectively. Last month, it introduced a new feature through its app that allows viewers to share customized title art for a film or TV show directly to their Instagram Stories, creating a more seamless way for fans to spread the word.


The company is also expanding into podcasts. Strong Black Lead is now also a podcast, You Can’t Make This Up bolsters documentary content, and there are two shows designed explicitly to recommend new shows on, you guessed it, Netflix. At the end of January, it launched a new podcast called The Human Algorithm (let that one soak in for a moment), where employees as well as stars from its most popular shows, like The Umbrella Academy, talk about and suggest things for fans to watch next. 

It not only bridges the voice, personality, and obsessive fandom fostered on social to another medium, but also uses its own stars–who all have their own personal followings–to create a platform-wide cycle that will encourage even more engagement.

Who knows? Maybe even Kim K. will eventually be listening.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

Why Food Can Be The Best Medicine of All – By Alice Park (Time) 23 Feb 2019

When Tom Shicowich’s toe started feeling numb in 2010, he brushed it off as a temporary ache. At the time, he didn’t have health insurance, so he put off going to the doctor. The toe became infected, and he got so sick that he stayed in bed for two days with what he assumed was the flu. When he finally saw a doctor, the physician immediately sent Shicowich to the emergency room. Several days later, surgeons amputated his toe, and he ended up spending a month in the hospital to recover.

Shicowich lost his toe because of complications of Type 2 diabetes as he struggled to keep his blood sugar under control. He was overweight and on diabetes medications, but his diet of fast food and convenient, frozen processed meals had pushed his disease to life-threatening levels.

After a few more years of trying unsuccessfully to treat Shicowich’s diabetes, his doctor recommended that he try a new program designed to help patients like him. Launched in 2017 by the Geisinger Health System at one of its community hospitals, the Fresh Food Farmacy provides healthy foods–heavy on fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-sodium options–to patients in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, and teaches them how to incorporate those foods into their daily diet. Each week, Shicowich, who lives below the federal poverty line and is food-insecure, picks up recipes and free groceries from the Farmacy’s food bank and has his nutrition questions answered and blood sugar monitored by the dietitians and health care managers assigned to the Farmacy. In the year and a half since he joined the program, Shicowich has lost 60 lb., and his A1C level, a measure of his blood sugar, has dropped from 10.9 to 6.9, which means he still has diabetes but it’s out of the dangerous range. “It’s a major, major difference from where I started from,” he says. “It’s been a life-changing, lifesaving program for me.”

Geisinger’s program is one of a number of groundbreaking efforts that finally consider food a critical part of a patient’s medical care–and treat food as medicine that can have as much power to heal as drugs. More studies are revealing that people’s health is the sum of much more than the medications they take and the tests they get–health is affected by how much people sleep and exercise, how much stress they’re shouldering and, yes, what they are eating at every meal. Food is becoming a particular focus of doctors, hospitals, insurers and even employers who are frustrated by the slow progress of drug treatments in reducing food-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and even cancer. They’re also encouraged by the growing body of research that supports the idea that when people eat well, they stay healthier and are more likely to control chronic diseases and perhaps even avoid them altogether. “When you prioritize food and teach people how to prepare healthy meals, lo and behold, it can end up being more impactful than medications themselves,” says Dr. Jaewon Ryu, interim president and CEO of Geisinger. “That’s a big win.”

The problem is that eating healthy isn’t as easy as popping a pill. For some, healthy foods simply aren’t available. And if they are, they aren’t affordable. So more hospitals and physicians are taking action to break down these barriers to improve their patients’ health. In cities where fresh produce is harder to access, hospitals have worked with local grocers to provide discounts on fruits and vegetables when patients provide a “prescription” written by their doctor; the Cleveland Clinic sponsors farmers’ markets where local growers accept food assistance vouchers from federal programs like WIC as well as state-led initiatives. And some doctors at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco hand out recipes instead of (or along with) prescriptions for their patients, pulled from the organization’s Thrive Kitchen, which also provides low-cost monthly cooking classes for members of its health plan. Hospitals and clinics across the country have also visited Geisinger’s program to learn from its success.

But doctors alone can’t accomplish this food transformation. Recognizing that healthier members not only live longer but also avoid expensive visits to the emergency room, insurers are starting to reward healthy eating by covering sessions with nutritionists and dietitians. In February, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts began covering tailored meals from the nonprofit food program Community Servings for its members with congestive heart failure who can’t afford the low-fat, low-sodium meals they need. Early last year, Congress assigned a first ever bipartisan Food Is Medicine working group to explore how government-sponsored food programs could address hunger and also lower burgeoning health care costs borne by Medicare when it comes to complications of chronic diseases. “The idea of food as medicine is not only an idea whose time has come,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “It’s an idea that’s absolutely essential to our health care system.”

Ask any doctor how to avoid or mitigate the effects of the leading killers of Americans and you’ll likely hear that eating healthier plays a big role. But knowing intuitively that food can influence health is one thing, and having the science and the confidence to back it up is another. And it’s only relatively recently that doctors have started to bridge this gap.

It’s hard to look at health outcomes like heart disease and cancer that develop over long periods of time and tie them to specific foods in the typical adult’s varied diet. Plus, foods are not like drugs that can be tested in rigorous studies that compare people who eat a cup of blueberries a day, for example, with those who don’t to determine if the fruit can prevent cancers. Foods aren’t as discrete as drugs when it comes to how they act on the body either–they can contain a number of beneficial, and possibly less beneficial, ingredients that work in divergent systems.

Doctors also know that we eat not only to feed our cells but also because of emotions, like feeling happy or sad. “It’s a lot cheaper to put someone on three months of statins [to lower their cholesterol] than to figure out how to get them to eat a healthy diet,” says Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But drugs are expensive–the average American spends $1,400 a year on medications–and if people can’t afford them, they go without, increasing the likelihood that they’ll develop complications as they progress to severe stages of their illness, which in turn forces them to require more–and costly–health care. What’s more, it’s not as if the medications are cure-alls; while deaths from heart disease are declining, for example, the most recent report from the American Heart Association showed that the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% in 1999–2000 to 37.7% in 2013–2014, and 40% of adults have high total cholesterol.

What people are eating contributes to those stubborn trends, and making nutrition a bigger priority in health care instead of an afterthought may finally start to reverse them. Although there aren’t the same types of rigorous trials proving food’s worth that there are for drugs, the data that do exist, from population-based studies of what people eat, as well as animal and lab studies of specific active ingredients in food, all point in the same direction.

The power of food as medicine gained scientific credibility in 2002, when the U.S. government released results of a study that pitted a diet and exercise program against a drug treatment for Type 2 diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program compared people assigned to a diet low in saturated fat, sugar and salt that included lean protein and fresh fruits and vegetables with people assigned to take metformin to lower blood sugar. Among people at high risk of developing diabetes, those taking metformin lowered their risk of actually getting diabetes by 31% compared with those taking a placebo, while those who modified their diet and exercised regularly lowered their risk by 58% compared with those who didn’t change their behaviors, a near doubling in risk reduction.

Studies showing that food could treat disease as well soon followed. In 2010, Medicare reimbursed the first lifestyle-based program for treating heart disease, based on decades of work by University of California, San Francisco, heart expert Dr. Dean Ornish. Under his plan, people who had had heart attacks switched to a low-fat diet, exercised regularly, stopped smoking, lowered their stress levels with meditation and strengthened their social connections. In a series of studies, he found that most followers lowered their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and also reversed some of the blockages in their heart arteries, reducing their episodes of angina.

In recent years, other studies have shown similar benefits for healthy eating patterns like the Mediterranean diet–which is high in good fats like olive oil and omega-3s, nuts, fruits and vegetables–in preventing repeat events for people who have had a heart attack. “It’s clear that people who are coached on how to eat a Mediterranean diet high in nuts or olive oil get more benefit than we’ve found in similarly conducted trials of statins [to lower cholesterol],” says Rimm. Researchers found similar benefit for people who have not yet had a heart attack but were at higher risk of having one.

Animal studies and analyses of human cells in the lab are also starting to expose why certain foods are associated with lower rates of disease. Researchers are isolating compounds like omega-3s found in fish and polyphenols in apples, for example, that can inhibit cancer tumors’ ability to grow new blood vessels. Nuts and seeds can protect parts of our chromosomes so they can repair damage they encounter more efficiently and help cells stay healthy longer.

If food is indeed medicine, then it’s time to treat it that way. In his upcoming book, Eat to Beat Disease, Dr. William Li, a blood vessel expert, pulled together years of accumulated data and proposes specific doses of foods that can treat diseases ranging from diabetes to breast cancer. Not all doctors agree that the science supports administering food like drugs, but he’s hoping the controversial idea will prompt more researchers to study food in ways as scientifically rigorous as possible and generate stronger data in coming years. “We are far away from prescribing diets categorically to fight disease,” he says. “And we may never get there. But we are looking to fill in the gaps that have long existed in this field with real science. This is the beginning of a better tomorrow.”

And talking about food in terms of doses might push more doctors to put down their prescription pads and start going over grocery lists with their patients instead. So far, the several hundred people like Shicowich who rely on the Fresh Food Farmacy have lowered their risk of serious diabetes complications by 40% and cut hospitalizations by 70% compared with other diabetic people in the area who don’t have access to the program. This year, on the basis of its success so far, the Fresh Food Farmacy is tripling the number of patients it supports.

Shicowich knows firsthand how important that will be for people like him. When he was first diagnosed, he lost weight and controlled his blood sugar, but he found those changes hard to maintain and soon saw his weight balloon and his blood-sugar levels skyrocket. He’s become one of the program’s better-known success stories and now works part time in the produce section of a supermarket and cooks nearly all his meals. He’s expanding his cooking skills to include fish, which he had never tried preparing before. “I know what healthy food looks like, and I know what to do with it now,” he says. “Without this program, and without the support system, I’d probably still be sitting on the couch with a box of Oreos.”

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the March 04, 2019 issue of TIME. 



More Women Working in Construction Industry by Vanessa Murdock (CBS NY) 27 Feb 2019

“Times are changing. It’s not just a man’s world anymore,” Tanay Matthews, of Brooklyn, told CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock.  Matthews works construction with Local 361.

“I love it, honestly. It’s tough, it’s physically draining, but every day I wake up and I give it my all,” she said.

She said she’s typically the only woman on site.

“I work with about 30 men now. My last job might have been 200,” she said.

According to the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York City, women make up just four percent of the construction unions workforce. But as Matthews said, times are changing.

“Work needs to be done to continue to get the word out to women and young girls that yes, you can do this, this is a career for you,” said Kathleen Culhane, president of Non-Traditional Employment for Women, or NEW.

NEW offers a two-month pre-apprenticeship training program for women of New York City, many of them unemployed or underemployed women of color.

“It’s booming now. I’m so confident now that I’m going to be great, my family is going to be great,” said Shanique Latimer, who’s finishing up her training at NEW.

“My last job I worked at the World Trade Center and I’ve seen all these women – construction women – walking back and forth and they have like this pride on their face, and I wanted that for myself,” Tshura Williams added.

Now, she has the tools.

Landing a spot in a union apprenticeship just became more likely for these women. Since 2005, 10 percent of union apprenticeships were set aside for NEW graduates.

“We’ve just increased that, set aside by 50 percent,” said Culhane.

Now, 15 percent of apprenticeships will be set aside, increasing the total number from 150 to about 225.

“Really amazing for the women of New York City,” Culhane said.

With each new opportunity, the city is one step closer to making the non-traditional career of construction traditional for women. And why not.

“As a female, we can do it!” said Latimer.

Union construction jobs offer excellent benefits and a lot of room for career growth. While apprentice wages average about $18 an hour, in a few years, that could skyrocket to as much as $60 an hour.

Young, fun and alcohol-free – ‘Sober curious’ movement takes off in Chicago – Nara Schoenberg (Chicago Tribune) 24 Feb 2019

Chicago soberHailey Shannon, left, and Sammi Shay drink nonalcoholic “mocktails” at Cindy’s in downtown Chicago on Feb. 24, 2019.

When Sammi Shay stopped drinking at age 25, her friends were puzzled.

“You didn’t have a problem,” they would say.

Shay hadn’t been drinking more than her peers or doing anything unusual under the influence of alcohol. Maybe she’d send a text she wouldn’t otherwise have sent, she said, or tell the same story twice. But while her friends could laugh off such gaffes, Shay, who is prone to anxiety, would often end up feeling panicky and ashamed. Drinking wasn’t working for her, so two years ago, she simply stopped.

“It feels great,” said Shay, a graduate student who lives in Logan Square.

“I have so much clarity, and I feel like when I connect with people, it’s honest and it’s real. And I have the confidence in myself that I’m always going to remember what I said, and that what I’m feeling in the moment is true.”

Shay, now 27, is part of a growing group of “sober curious” Americans, many of them women influenced by health and wellness concerns, who are experimenting with alcohol-free living. The sober curious often cut out alcohol entirely or drastically reduce consumption, but in contrast to those who enroll in traditional 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, they don’t typically identify as addicts or insist on total, lifelong abstinence.

The movement, marked by buzzwords such as “mindful drinking,” is difficult to track, but social events have begun popping up in New York and Chicago, where a year-old Sober Curious Meetup group for women in their 20s and early 30s has more than 200 members.

“I’ve seen the trend really blossom over the past three years or so,” said journalist Ruby Warrington, author of the new book “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.”

“It just feels like there’s been a really profound shift in the way people are thinking about drinking.”

Chicagoan Hailey Shannon quit drinking almost three years ago during a period of self-improvement when she was taking classes in mindfulness and personal growth: “I was really just challenged to look at my drinking and my beliefs about drinking.” She began to suspect that she was using alcohol to numb her to emotions, and she didn’t like the way she sometimes blacked out, or lost periods of memory, during a night of social drinking.

“I kind of woke up (one) Sunday morning, and I was like, ‘I can’t be a woman that I respect, has a career I respect, potentially a family, marriage, children, and keep drinking. It just isn’t going to work anymore,’” said Shannon, 26, who works in sales and business development at a technology consulting firm.

When she took up yoga eight months after she stopped drinking, she teared up at every class. Without alcohol, she was finally able to slow down and be fully present, she said, and it felt great.

What didn’t feel good was being alcohol-free in a culture that embraces alcohol as essential to bonding, celebrating and socializing, Shannon said. Friday nights were lonely because many of her friends were out drinking. But then, inspired by the sober community on Instagram, she decided to start the Meetup she was looking for: one for sober curious women in their 20s and early 30s. About eight people came to the first meeting, and a core group of eight to 10 people emerged over time.

No alcohol is allowed at the Chicago Meetups, but in the spirit of sober curiosity, the group welcomes drinkers who are seriously considering getting sober.

The meetings are held once a month over dinner at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park. Members talk about sobriety, as well as general topics such as dating, jobs, books and restaurants. New members keep finding the group, Shannon said, and close friendships have formed.

Addiction researcher Katie Witkiewitz said the sober curious movement is a great alternative to more traditional approaches to sobriety.

“I think it’s really good for kind of stripping away some of these societal and AA-based perceptions that abstinence is the only way to go, versus just seeing how alcohol is fitting into your life,” said Witkiewitz, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.

“If we think of any other health behavior — exercise or eating fried food — we wouldn’t take such a righteous tact. We would look at the behavior: Is it something that I want? Is it making me feel good, or is it making me feel bad?”

Witkiewitz said asking such questions is part of a mindfulness-based treatment she helped develop at the University of Washington. In a 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, she and her co-authors found that the University of Washington’s mindfulness-based treatment was more effective in preventing relapse in drug and alcohol abusers than a traditional AA-style approach.

Among those who joined Shannon’s Meetup is Shay, who said she had tried joining AA, just to make sober friends, but didn’t feel comfortable there because she doesn’t consider herself an alcoholic.

The sober curious Meetup helped her gain confidence in her decision to forgo alcohol, she said. Today she can turn down drinks with ease and dance sober at weddings. She has nondrinking friends she can text if she wants to go see a movie or hang out and watch TV. Her anxiety has improved tremendously.

“It’s been like night and day,” she said. When alcohol was removed from the equation, she had the space and the vulnerability to start getting to know herself again: What did she really like to do? What qualities did she value in others? What qualities did she value in herself? Addressing those questions helped her work through a lot of her anxiety, she said.

“My sleep cycle is so consistent and so good now, and the way I feel,” she said of life without alcohol. “My skin’s better. There’s just been this long-term positive response.”




Sanders The Magic Socialist – by C.J. Hopkins • 25 Feb 2019

Bernie Bros in California

So here it is, the announcement we’ve been waiting for … all aboard for another cruise on the new and improved U.S.S. Magic Socialist with your captain Bernie Sanders at the helm! If you’re not familiar with this extraordinary vessel, it’s like the luxury liner in The Magic Christian, except catering to credulous American socialists instead of the British filthy rich. Tickets start at just $27 dollars … so hurry, because they’re going fast!

That’s right, folks, Bernie is back, and this time it’s not just a sadistic prank where he gets you all fired up about his fake “revolution” for fifteen months, gets cheated out of the nomination, then backs whichever corporate-bought candidate the Democratic Party orders you to vote for.

No, this time the Bernster really means it! This time, when the DNC rigs the primaries to hand the nomination to Harris, or Biden, or some billionaire android like Michael Bloomberg, Bernie is not going to break your heart by refusing to run as an independent candidate, unbeholden to the corporations and oligarchs that own both political parties, or otherwise make you feel like a sucker for buying his “revolution” schtick. He’s not going to fold like a fifty dollar suit and start parroting whatever propaganda the corporate media will be prodigiously spewing to convince you the Russians and Nazis are coming unless you vote for the empire’s pre-anointed puppet!

Bernie would never dream of doing that … or at least he’d never dream of doing that twice.

There are limits, after all, to people’s gullibility. It’s not like you can just run the same con, with the same fake message and the same fake messiah, over and over, and expect folks to fall for it. If you could, well, that would be extremely depressing. That would mean you could get folks to believe almost anything, or that we were stuck in some eternally recurring multi-dimensional reality loop. The next year and a half in American politics would play out like one of those Groundhog Day knock offs meets The Magic Christian meets The Usual Suspects, directed by David Lynch, on acid. We’d be barraged by recycled Feel-the-Bern memes. Hacky sack shares would go through the roof. That creepy little bird would come fluttering back, land on Bernie’s podium again, and chirp out “L’Internationale.” People would start booking Tim Robbins for interviews. Ben & Jerry’s would roll out another revolutionary flavor of Bernie ice cream … and in the end it would all amount to nothing.

But that’s not going to happen this time. No, this time, the U.S.S. Magic Socialist is setting sail straight for Socialismland! This time, it’s really the Revolution! The end of global capitalism! And the best part of the whole deal is, you don’t even have to take up arms, stage a series of wildcat strikes, blockade major highways, occupy airports, or otherwise cripple the U.S. economy … all you have to do is vote for Bernie!

See, that’s the magic of electoral politics! The global capitalist ruling establishment, despite the fact that they own the banks and the corporations that own the government that owns the military and intelligence services, and despite the fact that they own the media, and all essential industries, and channels of trade, and are relentlessly restructuring the entire planet (which they rule with almost total impunity) to conform to their soulless neoliberal ideology, and are more than happy to unleash their militarized goons on anyone who gets in their way … despite all that, if we elect Bernie president, they will have no choice but to peacefully surrender, and transform America into a socialist wonderland!

Sure, they won’t be happy about it, but they will have no choice but to go along with whatever Bernie and his followers want, because that’s how American democracy works! We’ve seen it in action these last two years, since Donald Trump got elected president. The establishment wasn’t too thrilled about that, but they had to put aside their own selfish interests and respect the will of the American people … because imagine what might have happened if they hadn’t!

For example, they might have concocted a story about Trump being a Russian intelligence asset who was personally conspiring with Vladimir Putin to destroy the fabric of Western democracy so that Russia could take over the entire planet. They could have had respected newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post and television networks like CNN and MSNBC disseminate this story, and subtly reinforce it in endless variations, on a daily basis for over two years. They could have appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the facts of their made-up story, and indict a bunch of unextraditable Russians and a handful of inveterate D.C. slimebags to make the whole thing look legitimate. At the same time, they could have had the media warn everybody, over and over, that Trump, in addition to being a traitor, was also the second coming of Hitler, and was on the verge of torching the Capitol, declaring himself Führer, and rounding up the Jews. They could have generated so much mass hysteria and Putin-Nazi paranoia that liberals would literally be seeing Russians and Nazis coming out of the woodwork!

Fortunately, the global capitalist establishment, out of respect for democracy and the American people, decided not to go that route. If Americans chose to elect a jabbering imbecile president, that was their right, and far be it from the empire to interfere. Tempting as it must have been to use all their power to demonize Trump in order to teach the world what happens when you get elected president without their

permission, they restrained themselves … and thank God for that! I don’t even want to contemplate the extent of the rage and cynicism they would have fomented among the public by doing those things I just outlined above. That might have left people with the false impression that their votes mean absolutely nothing, and that the entire American electoral system is just a simulation of democracy, and in reality they are living in a neo-feudalist, de facto global capitalist empire administrated by omnicidal money-worshipping human parasites that won’t be satisfied until they’ve remade the whole of creation in their nihilistic image.

Thankfully, the ruling classes spared us all that, so now we can hop aboard the Magic Socialist and take another cruise with Cap’n Bernie! Considering how magnanimous they’ve been with Trump, once Bernie wins the election fair and square, the empire clearly won’t have any problems with him nationalizing the American healthcare system, tripling taxes on the super-rich, subsidizing university education, and all that other cool socialism stuff (i.e., the stuff we mostly still have here in Europe, along with some semblance of cultural solidarity, although the global capitalists are working to fix that).

Oh, yeah, and in case you’re worried about Bernie backing the empire’s ongoing regime change op in Venezuela, don’t be. He’s just playing 4D chess, like Obama did throughout his presidency, by pretending to do the empire’s bidding while he actually went about the business of resurrecting hope and eradicating racism. Bernie’s just being sly like that! It might seem like he’s aligning himself with mass murdering thugs like Elliot Abrams and sadistic ass freaks like Marco Rubio, but he isn’t. Not really. It’s just an act. I mean, he has to get elected, doesn’t he?

How else are we going to get to Socialismland?

C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and political satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant Paperbacks. He can be reached at cjhopkins.com or consentfactory.org.


Pakistan-India showdown: What you’re not being told by the media – by Darius Shahtahmasebi – 26 Feb 2019

Pakistan-India showdown: What you’re not being told
A recent terrorist attack in Kashmir could set the stage for a major conflict between India and Pakistan as India begins bombing Pakistani territory. As always, the root causes of these are being ignored by the media.

On February 14, India was rocked by a suicide-bombing which took place inside Jammu and Kashmir. The attack targeted a convoy of security personnel vehicles, killing at least 42 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officers (as well as the bomber himself).

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a Pakistan-based Islamist group called Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). JeM’s main goal is to steal Kashmir away from India and unite it with Pakistan, to ensure that Pakistan is ruled by Sharia law, and to drive Western forces out of Afghanistan. Its other eventual priority is to drive all Hindus and non-Muslims from the Indian subcontinent.

The attack has drawn such negative publicity that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), finally agreeing on something for once, identified India as a victim of terrorism and asked member states to cooperate actively with New Delhi to bring these attackers to justice.

After India vowed a “jaw breaking response” to the attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan authorised his military to “respond decisively and comprehensively to any aggression or misadventure” by India. In case it wasn’t clear, both of these volatile states currently sitting on the cusp of war possess nuclear weapons.

Apparently, despite this underlying nuclear catastrophe, someone thought it was a good idea for Indian fighter jets to begin pounding Pakistani territory just today, in order to take part in what India’s foreign ministry coined a “non-military pre-emptive action” against JeM. The recent incursion into Pakistani airspace forced the Pakistani air force to scramble to respond, which in turn led the Indian jets to “release [their] payload in haste while escaping.”

In the process, India claimed that it had killed a “very large number” of terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and jihadis. To be fair, India, for its part, had warned it was ready for war with Pakistan. It was also pushing for Pakistan to be included on a terror-watch blacklist, all the while threatening to weaponize the flow of water to Pakistan as a means of leverage conventional military means can’t buy.

After the raid, Pakistan has understandably asserted its right to self-defense. But self-defense of what – Pakistan’s sovereignty or self-defense of JeM? (If in fact, India was targeting JeM fighters). Actually, that was exactly what the Indian foreign ministry claimed was the rationale for the attacks – Pakistan’s inaction for combating its own homegrown terrorists. And this is where international law can get even murkier as it delves into the “unwilling and unable” justification for the use of force on a sovereign state. In India’s eyes, Islamabad is either unwilling or unable to combat the terrorist threat inside its borders (or perhaps this is just a PR stunt aimed at China’s expanding influence over Pakistan).

But, okay, fine – let’s accept the rationale of the terrorist threat. If we are going to ignite a powder keg that would begin with two-nuclear armed nations and eventually draw in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China, we should at least examine the context in which Pakistan and India are facing a serious threat of terrorism.

Following the money

The United States and its allies have had a curious relationship with Pakistan and terrorism for years, as anyone who knows their history will know. What they might not remember, however, is that in February 2007, then vice president, Dick Cheney, made a trip to Pakistan to meet with President General Pervez Musharraf. According to PBS, the secret US-backed campaign against Iran by the terror group known as Jundullah was high on Cheney’s agenda.

A few months later, ABC News reported that Jundallah, which is “responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005.”

The report explains that “US relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the US provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or ‘finding’ as well as congressional oversight.” Not to mention that former Pakistani army chief, retired General Mirza Aslam Baig, further explained that “the U.S. supports the Jundullah terrorist group and uses it to destabilize Iran.”


Okay, so the US supported the Jundullah group in Pakistan against Iran, but what does that have to do with the current situation at hand? Well, it appears that JeM and other terrorist organisations in Pakistan receive direct support from key US allies, including and especially Saudi Arabia.

For example, an action request cable archived by Wikileaks, documenting the illicit finance activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, stated that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”

“Still,” the cable continues, “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia “remains a critical financial support base” for – wait for it – “Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba] and other terrorist groups.” The LeT is a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation which also has a strong focus on Jammu and Kashmir, where the recent terror attack took place (and India’s initial response). Both LeT and JeM have received overwhelming support from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since the early 1990s. In fact, LeT became part of the United Jihad Council in 1993, an umbrella group for militant Islamists operating in Kashmir and in doing so, formed a direct alliance with JeM. As far as the US State Department is concerned, the two groups are almost all but completely synonymous.

The ISI itself had been a prime recipient of billions of US aid, particularly under the administration of George W. Bush. The Wikileaks cable clearly shows that the US was well aware elements within the ISI were maintaining ties to the LeT.

The cable also noted that Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE have provided support to LeT and other terrorist groups operating in the region as well. All of these countries are US allies.

Furthermore, a separate Wikileaks cable confirmed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been funnelling money not just to LeT but to JeM directly, stating that:

“Locals believed that charitable activities being carried out by Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith organizations, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, and Jaish-e-Mohammed were further strengthening reliance on extremist groups and minimizing the importance of traditionally moderate Sufi religious leaders in these communities. Government and non-governmental sources claimed that financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith clerics in the region from ‘missionary’ and ‘Islamic charitable’ organizations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.”

Saudi Arabia itself has been considered to be somewhat of a safe haven for jihadists targeting India, including and especially the LeT. An investigation also found that Saudi Arabia funnelled funds to anti-Indian terror groups through Hajj pilgrims, and the Diplomat lamented that JeM hunts for potential recruits among the 150,000 devout Indians visiting Mecca every year.


So, to summarise: the US has a long and documented history of backing anti-Iranian Sunni-based Pakistani terror groups. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have been funnelling financial support to the LeT, who has a direct alliance and operates in the same area as the JeM (who also receives direct funding from Saudi Arabia), which recently claimed responsibility for an attack which killed at least 40 Indian police personnel.

It’s not exactly rocket science. Call me a little bit suspicious, but perhaps this is why Saudi Arabia was quite open in its assurances to Islamabad that it need not go after JeM directly, even while the group’s leadership apparently continues to live comfortably inside Pakistan.

And what no one really seems to be talking about is the implications this wider geostrategic struggle has for the region. Saudi Arabia wants to win Pakistan over in a tug-of-war game in which Islamabad finds itself in the centre, and in doing so, is committing $10 billion to build an oil refinery in the Gwadar port project, which actually puts a major Saudi project on Iran’s border.

Most disturbing is the revelation that Saudi Arabia is also being rumoured to have nuclear weapons on order from Pakistan. If it isn’t bad enough that India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and are now potentially launching air strikes into each other’s territory, the idea that these apocalyptic weapons could one day end up in the hand of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the country currently launching a genocidal war in Yemen and backing known jihadists right across the wider region, all the whilst constantly threatening war with Tehran, is nothing short of suicidal.

According to Israeli media, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) recent visit to Pakistan has essentially cemented Pakistan’s inclusion in anti-Iran Arab NATO. Will these countries rush to Pakistan’s aid as it is pummelled by Indian fighter jets? Or will diplomacy and cooler heads eventually prevail?

Thankfully, we can trust the media to ask these all-important questions, and not focus its entire energy on yet another regime-change operation in yet another oil rich country, right?


Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst, currently specializing in immigration, refugee and humanitarian law.



Paris: Last Porn Movie Theater Closes – Au Revoir, Beverley (AFP) 25 Feb 2019

Bye-bye Beverley: Credits roll for Paris’s last porn cinema

Seats, films and posters are among the items being sold after the closure of the Beverley, the last X-rated cinema in Paris
Seats, films and posters are among the items being sold after the closure of the Beverley, the last X-rated cinema in Paris AFP

Paris (AFP)

Tucked away in a narrow Right Bank street, the Beverley held out for decades as Paris’s sole pornographic movie theatre, proudly yet discreetly offering non-stop showings of films from the 1970s and 80s.

But rising rents and changing social mores have finally caught up and the cinema’s fans have just a few days left to pick up memorabilia from a symbol of a bygone Paris.

After the final screening last Saturday — the traditional “couples night” — owner Maurice Laroche is remaining on site this week to sell films, posters, seats and whatever else is left.

“Everything is for sale, except me,” Laroche told AFP on Monday as a handful of men pored over boxes of reels or struggled to make off with a huge speaker.

But women made up around a third of the curious who criss-crossed the theatre’s narrow brick-walled auditorium when the sale began Sunday.

Laroche, who had managed the Beverley since 1983 before buying it 10 years later, said that at 75 he was ready to retire to the ocean resort town of Royan in southwest France.

His clients have become fewer as they’ve gotten older in recent years — most recently he had been selling less than 500 12-euro tickets a week, compared with 1,500 twenty years ago.

“This was a place where you could be certain no minors would see pornography — nowadays they’re all watching on their phones,” he said.

A property developer has bought the site, presumably with plans to install something more in line with the designer hotel and tapas bar up the street in a rapidly gentrifying corner of the capital.

According to France’s national cinema council only one X-rated cinema now remains in France, the Vox in Grenoble — though no one was answering the phone on Monday.

The council doesn’t appear to count the films shown at some of the seedier sex shops in Paris’s red light district at Pigalle, known for offering more than just a movie.

“In its heyday, around 1975, there were over 900 cinemas specialising in pornography in France. Just six years later, there were only 90,” French film journalist Jacques Zimmer told AFP.

Laroche said he would be taking his “head full of memories” and two of the red vinyl seats to the balcony of his new apartment.

Boston: ‘Incel’ College Rock Band Lunch-Time Concert Features Woman Doused in Pigs Blood – As ‘Satire’ – By Morgan Smith (WaPo) 25 Feb 2019

Student band yells obscenities, throws pig’s blood on a woman during concert in a Berklee College of Music cafeteria

The band, Incel Messiah, wanted the performance to be satirical.

Student musicians pass the Berklee College of Music in 2014 in Boston.
It was like a scene straight out of “Carrie.”

A video fades to a darkened cafeteria. A woman appears onstage in a white T-shirt, bra and underwear as a punk rock band plays behind her. Someone in the band begins pouring a bucket of pig’s blood on her. He curses into the microphone. She writhes and dances in the blood as the band finishes its set.

The act was part of a Feb. 15 performance by Incel Messiah, a new punk-rock student band, in the Berklee College of Music cafeteria.

Their show at the Boston school received mixed reviews. “People were shocked, they didn’t really know how to respond,” Kaelan Scott Gardner, a 20-year-old freshman at Berklee who attended the performance, said.

Incel Messiah’s performance has received considerable backlash from Berklee students and administrators. Caf Shows, a Berklee student-run organization, regularly hosts student performances in the main dining hall on campus. It’s notoriously hard for an act to get booked there, and the shows are well-attended. The organization uploads live streams of performances on its Facebook page. The video of Incel Messiah’s performance was taken down soon after the show.

The university is investigating the incident, university officials said in a statement sent Friday to Berklee students and faculty.

“In the meantime, Berklee’s Student Activities team will reinforce existing behavioral expectations to all upcoming performers in order to ensure that future events align with the policies, expectations, and values of the Berklee community,” Christopher Kandus-Fisher, vice president for student affairs, diversity and inclusion at Berklee, said.

The Caf Shows team also responded to the incident on its Facebook page. “Caf Shows did not approve and does not condone this band’s behavior or the inappropriate themes portrayed in the show,” the post read. The Caf Shows team declined further comment.

The band, which consists of four Berklee students — Caleb Hickman, Max D’Amico, Patrick Sutton and Kevin Kelleher — and their friend Alden Porto, said the performance was meant to be satirical and entertaining. They identified themselves as Berklee students and provided student identification showing their affiliation with the school.

The band’s name, “Incel Messiah,” pokes fun at incel culture, an online subculture largely consisting of men who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, and characterized by racism and misogyny.

The female performer — who did not wish to be identified — approached the band with the idea of dancing in pig’s blood during the performance. “She wanted to do it because she fetishizes about getting covered in blood,” D’Amico said in an interview. “The performance was meant to represent sexual liberation.”

In private discussion forums on Facebook, some Berklee students criticized Incel Messiah for its performance, calling it “misogynistic” and “offensive.” Band members said they understood where students were coming from, but their interpretation of the performance “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“We don’t condone incel behavior at all, or the offensive language we used in the skit. We’re all feminists. We just wanted to put a spotlight on a toxic culture,” Porto said. Incel Messiah posted an invitation on Facebook to come to members’ apartment and voice concerns about the performance, but “no one reached out,” they said. Some students said they were uncomfortable visiting the band’s home after their performance.

One student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the publicity engulfing the episode, fears the backlash Incel Messiah has encountered will set a dangerous precedent for future student performances. “People are ridiculing them, refusing to even attempt to come to a compromise conclusion,” she said. “This indirectly discourages people to take risks with their art because they’re being so mercilessly criticized by their peers. It’s ridiculous and paints a really negative environment for the Berklee community.”

Some students, especially those with dietary restrictions involving animals, expressed concern over the use of pig’s blood in the cafeteria, where many students eat. Band members said they cleaned up the blood after the show. Some students said that wasn’t sufficient.

Brett Fairchild, a 20-year-old sophomore at Berklee, said he hopes the community will learn from the incident and move on. “We had a peaceful, open dialogue among ourselves, we were open-minded about how we felt about this and addressed it as a community, so I don’t think the incident needs to go further than this,” he said.

Incel Messiah said the performance was originally meant to be a “one-time thing,” but they are now planning more shows.


Japan’s Shinzo Abe Is Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land – Russia’s Patience Exhausted – by Gilbert Doctorow – 25 Feb 2019

The Kremlin has had it with him

Sundays in Russia, like Sundays in most of the Western world, are usually not news generating days. However, today Moscow broke that rule and provided Russia-watchers with a couple of very weighty international affairs developments that I will analyze in this article on Japan and in another article later today on what the termination of the INF Treaty will mean for Russian military doctrine, namely reaching for the Holy Grail of a first strike, a decapitating strike capability against the United States in the foreseeable future.

What these two developments today have in common is how the very harsh messages are being delivered: not by the head of state, Vladimir Putin, but by members of his inner circle, his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the knock-out blow on Japanese expectations of a peace treaty so long as Shinzo Abe is prime minister, and the head of news on Russian broadcasting, Dmitry Kiselyov, as regards the detailed explanation of Russian plans for arms deployment following the end of the INF Treaty.

<figcaption>It fell on Lavrov to deliver the message</figcaption>
It fell on Lavrov to deliver the message

I have said a number of times that the USA and Europe have been lulled into disbelieving war is possible because of Putin’s very gentlemanly demeanor and mild language when speaking to us, even as we impose potentially crippling sanctions on his country and wage an information war against him personally and against his country.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I urged him to bang the table from time to time in the manner of his Soviet predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev, to get our proper attention so that we might bestir ourselves and demand that our mass media and political classes correct course before our current policies lead to nuclear confrontation with Moscow.


True, in his recent appearance before the bicameral Russian legislature for his annual state-of-the nation address, Vladimir Putin delivered a tougher line, but without spelling out his intentions in detail.  He remains a practitioner of Teddy Roosevelt’s maxim:  “speak softly but carry a big stick.”

What Putin has done, however, is to empower people in his close circle to say what he cannot allow himself as head of state.

In that connection, I call attention here to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister.  Lavrov has always taken his marching orders from the boss.  When he reported directly to Putin in the first two terms of office, he took a tough stance.  When he reported to Dmitry Medvedev during the interim presidency, Lavrov was very accommodating to the West. And now, especially in the past couple of weeks, Lavrov has shown his teeth to the West.

We saw that during his Q&A at the Munich Security Conference a week ago, when the MSC director Ischinger pitched to him a typically snide “question” from a Washington Post journalist congratulating Russia for taking charge in Syria and asking how the Kremlin intended to prevent Assad from perpetrating further massacres against his people.  Lavrov did not hesitate for a minute: he brushed off the question, saying he had no reason to respond since the journalist would write what he wanted regardless of what Lavrov said. 

That particular exchange delighted viewers back in Moscow and was the main item on the MSC reported in the Russian media for the next two days. The frosty exchange between US Vice President Pence and Chancellor Angela Merkel was deemed less significant by the Russians, who were simply pleased to see their government hit back at Western verbal aggression.

Today’s  news from Sergei Lavrov is effectively a put-down of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has thoroughly exhausted the patience of the Russians over his insistence that a peace treaty with Russia is just within reach. Listening to Abe, one would assume that his friend Vladimir just needed a bit more coaxing, yet another glass of sake at friendly one-on-one summits to be brought to sign on the dotted line a draft peace treaty that returns the South Kurile Islands to Japan. Per Tokyo, the Russians should be happy they were not seeking reparations for the occupation of the islands since 1945.

In an article on Abe’s presentation as honored guest of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok last autumn, I explained that the Japanese Prime Minister was odd-man-out, that he alone among the key speakers described cooperation with Russia in terms harking back to the 1970s and ‘80s, when Japan was a technological and economic powerhouse and Russia (the Soviet Union) was stagnating and poor.

South Korea, China, Mongolia all delivered presentations highlighting the mutuality of their bilateral relations with Russia serving both parties equally. Moreover, Abe did not in any way address the existential concern of the Russians that conceding the Kuriles to Japan would compromise their national security given that the US military alliance with Tokyo would be used to station American bases there and further extend their encirclement of Russia by the global missile defense system.

Lavrov’s remarks on Japanese-Russian relations today came at the very end of a lengthy television interview which began with Russian-Vietnamese relations, but also addressed more broadly  relations with Asian countries, this ahead of his planned visit to Hanoi, followed by a trip to China for a joint meeting with the foreign ministers of China and India.  The interview went on to cover a whole range of issues, US-Russian relations figuring prominently and taking up perhaps a third of the time. It ended, as I say, with Japanese-Russian relations.

In all subjects covered, including and particularly, the issue of Japan and a peace treaty, Lavrov spoke with lapidary clarity, without any diplomatic evasiveness. I offer below my translation of the transcript issued in Russian today on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

Interview of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with “Vietnam Television” and with the Chinese television channels CTV and Phoenix,  24 February 2019

Question: The Japanese side has expressed the hope that during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan this June both sides will sign a frame agreement about a peace treaty. Do you believe that this plan can be realized? Moreover, Japan’s plans for the installation of the US missile defense are one of the important problems for the Russian side. Do you think that diplomatic efforts can remove this threat?

Lavrov: As regards the announcement by the Japanese side that they have plans with respect to the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan for participation in the summit of the G-20 and for holding the next regular meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Abe, I leave that to their consciences.

No such agreements have been reached, nor could any have been reached, because we never are parties to any artificial deadlines relating to any problems whatsoever. We have repeatedly explained this to our Japanese colleagues.

The last time I did was not so long ago in Munich, when I met with my colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kono.  Moreover, no one ever has seen any draft frame agreements. I don’t know what our Japanese neighbors have in mind.

Secondly, our position is very simple. In order to solve complex issues, you have to ensure not just a suitable atmosphere but also real content of relations in economics, politics, international affairs. If we look at the real situation, PM Abe appears before his Parliament and says that he is absolutely planning to solve the question of a peace treaty on Japanese terms. Honestly, I don’t know how he arrived at this conviction.

Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor I, nor anyone else from among those participating in the Russian-Japanese consultations provided our Japanese colleagues with any basis for statements like this. The fact that in Singapore, at the sidelines of the Summit meeting of the G—20, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe said that it was necessary to speed up work on a peace treaty on the  basis of the 1956 Declaration tells you the opposite: we are conducting the dialogue not on Japanese conditions but on the conditions of this document  There it is clearly stated: first conclude a peace treaty.

And this, as I have said many times, means the need for our Japanese neighbors to acknowledge the results of the Second World War in their entirely, including the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over all the Kurile Islands.

It is rather strange that our Japanese colleagues do not want to agree with the results of the Second World War in the form in which they are set down in the UN Charter. The Charter states that everything which was done by the Victorious Powers is not open to discussion.

Even if the Japanese have their own interpretation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and of other documents concerning this region, they ratified the UN Charter. It is not proper to revoke your ratification. That will not work.

Speaking more broadly, there was an agreement first of all to create a new quality of relations. Japan has joined in perhaps not all but in a whole range of sanctions against the Russian Federation. This can hardly be considered to be a friendly position. In the UN, Japan votes in solidarity with the USA on all resolutions directed against Russia. It comes out against or abstains from voting on drafts proposed by the Russian Federation. In general, it coordinates its position in the UN with Washington.

We do not oppose Japan’s cooperating with other countries, but the USA has called Russia its main enemy, naturally together with China.

Question: Is American influence on Japan felt?

Lavrov: I don’t know to what extent such influence exists but surely this is being discussed. Recently it was announced that at the end of May US President Donald Trump intends to visit Japan. One of the topics for negotiation will be the issues of a peace treaty with the Russian Federation. If the lack of independence of Japan is demonstrated to such a degree, then there is nothing for me to add.

The fact that the Japanese have a military alliance with the USA is also a major factor. The Americans have the right to locate their armed forces wherever they like in Japan and already are installing there their missile defense system, which creates risks both for Russia and for the Chinese People’s Republic (we have repeatedly spoken about this).

I repeat: this is happening under conditions when the USA declares us to be its main enemy. It would be very wrong if we did not see that instead of the stated objective this does not improve but greatly worsens the quality of our relations.

We are ready to continue our dialogue with our neighbor. We see  a lot that is promising. We have very good cultural and humanitarian cooperation: the “Russian Seasons,” the Festival of Russian Culture enjoy great popularity in Japan. We have some pretty good joint economic projects. But this is by no means a favor to the Russian Federation. These are projects  in which Japanese business is interested.

It would be even more interested in the Russian economy but, as I understand, it is being held back by the official line. From time to time we get signals that as soon as a peace treaty is signed on Japanese terms, they will send us manna from heaven in the form of Japanese investments. That is not what we have agreed.

And lastly: among the agreements on how we need to improve the quality of relations there is a point about the need to create in public opinion a positive image of one another. As was set down in Russian-Japanese agreements in years gone by, the decision on a peace treaty should be such that it is supported by the peoples of both countries. 

However, when in Japan we see that the terms “Northern territories” and “illegal occupation” are included not only in school textbooks but in many government documents which underpin the activity of ministries and departments – this is precisely working in the opposite direction.

Recently, as you know, the Japanese government is speaking a lot publicly about the idea that it is nearly achieving its desired result. If you follow the reaction this elicits in Russia, you know that polls of public opinion show how wrong it is to act the way our Japanese colleagues are doing, trying to impose their view of this solution on us. And to add insult to injury, they promise not to seek reparations.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin has said in his address this year to the Federal Assembly on 20 February, we will continue our detailed work and achieve an outcome in agreements which allow us to create conditions for such a solution of the problem of a peace treaty which will be acceptable to the peoples of both countries. In the meantime we see that these conditions are totally absent.

Source: GilbertDoctorow.com


Massachusetts Legislature Considers Banning Tackle Football For 7th Grade and Younger – Head Injuries Cited – By Mike Deehan (WGBH) 22 Feb 2019

Beacon Hill Weighs Banning Youth Tackle Football

Football and Helmet on the Field at Sunset
Under a bipartisan bill supported by 17 Massachusetts House members, schools and leagues would be fined $2,000 for allowing children in grade seven and below to play organized tackle football.

State Lawmakers Weigh Banning Youth Tackle Football

Tackle football could become a thing of the past for thousands of Massachusetts elementary and middle school athletes, as state lawmakers consider banning the full-contact sport for young players.

Under a bipartisan bill supported by 17 House members, schools and leagues would be fined $2,000 for allowing children in grade seven and below to play organized tackle football, which research suggests is more harmful to young players than previously thought.

“We’re not banning football. Touch football, flag football, great. Up through the seventh grade, go to it,” said Rep. Paul Schmid (D-Westport), one of the lead sponsors of the bill. “What we’re saying is, for seventh grade and under, no tackle football.”

Schmid said the state government needs to step in because there is no single statewide authority that governs football like there are for youth soccer or hockey, sports that have taken steps to eliminate parts of the game that most often lead to head injuries.

“There’s a lot of science … that says we got to be really careful with young heads,” Schmid said.

Coaches and league officials like Hanson Youth Football President Damon Stanton say there’s no perfect solution to the problem of young players experiencing concussions, but that the sport has already changed in recent years to limit head injuries and teach players safer ways to tackle.

“If they eliminated [tackle football], it would be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of kids, because there are a lot of kids who just genuinely love the sport,” Stanton said.

Gov. Charlie Baker has not weighed in on banning tackle football, but several of the bill’s Republican co-sponsors are key legislative allies, including House Minority Leader Brad Jones.

“The data was just so compelling … I think people need to continue to have this conversation and become more aware of it,” Jones told WGBH News this week.

That data came from Concussion Legacy Foundation Co-Founder Chris Nowinski, a former college player and professional wrestler who has made it his mission to make sports safer. Nowinski says research shows that brain development in kids between ages 8 and 13 is vulnerable to the kinds of impacts that go along with tackle football.

“There’s evidence out of the Boston University CTE Center that football players who started before age 12 were worse off long-term, with higher rates of depression, higher rates of anxiety, higher rates of memory issues than those who started at 12 or later,” Nowinski said.

New York, California, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey are considering similar bills, but no state has yet passed a ban into law. The sponsors of the Massachusetts bill agree that this is only the beginning of a debate on whether to ban tackling and at what age.


US is still sounding the alarm on China, but their confrontation could be apocalyptic – by Darius Shahtahmasebi (RT) 23 Feb 2019

US is still sounding the alarm on China, but their confrontation could be apocalyptic
China continues to be the focal point of US foreign policy and this will continue right throughout 2019. Despite the many reasons for the prolongation of this conflict, the overall implications of this war remain catastrophic.

It is fair to say that there is a lot going on in the world right now. For a while, Syria was the political hot potato that Western countries would use to show how much they supposedly cared about human rights. This is no longer the case when you have bloodthirsty Arab monarchies and Israel hatching a plan to “rehabilitate”Syria’s president, something even the US will no longer be able to justify as a foreign policy strategy. Hyping on and on about the Syrian conflict therefore no longer has the sex appeal it once had, and now we have other parts of the world closer to the US mainland which have grabbed the media’s fancy.

The obvious example is Venezuela, a country about which President Donald Trump once reportedly asked why the US cannot simply just invade, given that “they have all that oil and they’re right on our back door.”

If we really cared about Latin America, the United States public would be asking themselves: why is our government routinely killing the very people they are supposed to be protecting? Alternatively, they could ask why the US is even concerned with Venezuela, when right on the American border sits the second-most deadly conflict zone in the world.

At the end of the day, countries on Donald Trump’s radar like Venezuela, Iran and North Korea are not even capable of threatening the United States on a remote level, let alone on the level the media wants us to believe. So why are we so concerned with Venezuela? The simple answer is that, on their own, these countries are powerless, but they routinely work together with and empower a block of other resistant states who refuse to bow to US corporate and military interests. That block is headed by nuclear giants Russia and China, who do possess the ability to threaten US economic interests more directly.

So, while it pays to be as vigilant as we can in respect of Trump’s looming invasion of Venezuela, we shouldn’t turn off from the fact that the grand prize for the US war machine lies in respect of these two nations, especially China as an immediate target. Recent developments continue to indicate that the US hasn’t turned itself off from the so-called threat that China poses, so maybe we shouldn’t either.

Last week, US Navy Admiral Philip Davidson, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, warned in his testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee that China is developing a wide range of capable weapons systems that can threaten US interests in the Pacific region.

“Over the last 20 years, Beijing has undertaken a massive effort to grow and modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” Davidson explained.

According to Davidson, the PLA is the “principal threat to US interests, US citizens and our allies” inside the disputed First Island Chain, the islands that run from northern Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Davidson’s conclusion was that China “represents the greatest long-term strategic threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to the United States” but not before offering the most astute part of his testimony, namely that the forces under his command, 375,000 personnel operating hundreds of ships and thousands of aircraft, could easily deter Chinese aggression.

However, Davidson has also warned that Chinese submarines were more freely operating in the shallow waters of the Taiwan Strait, making it more difficult for the US to deploy its vessels to counter China’s presence. According to Davidson, China is adding submarines to its fleet, and is deploying them more regularly, while the US fleet was on the decline. China already has in its fleet 50 diesel-powered attack subs, as well as six nuclear-powered attack submarines, and is set to increase this number by 2020.

Davidson’s warnings echoed a recent Pentagon assessment which came out a month prior, which found that China was “on the verge of fielding” some of the world’s “most modern weapons systems,” already surpassing the capabilities of its rivals and in some cases, “it already leads the world.”

While China’s developments in military technology will astound some within the US defense department, at the end of the day, the corporate interests driving US foreign policy are probably more threatened by the geostrategic space China appears to be occupying to Washington’s detriment.

China had now replaced the UAE as the main investor in the Middle East, with a specific focus on energy. China’s position in the Middle East will also potentially strengthen if Donald Trump makes good on his promise to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, both of whom China has had a stake in for some time, especially Afghanistan. In fact, reports are already emerging that China will sooner or later be sending its troops into Afghanistan, a geopolitical development which would be moronic to allow to pass unnoticed.

China has also been investing heavily in Pakistan which, whether Islamabad realizes it or not, has become the center of a tug-of-war game on the geopolitical chessboard between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US on one side, and China and Iran on the other.

In other words, there are many indications that any void left by a reduced US presence in the Middle East (if any at all) will be quickly filled by China, with its most obvious ambition at the heart of its long-term desires to roll out its Silk Road Project. Managing the unthinkable, China is able to maintain and develop friendships with countries on the US radar such as Iran, but also Washington’s closest allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt and beyond. It also has a military base in Djibouti, the Horn of Africa, which enables China to hold significant power over one of the most important naval chokepoints in the world. The only party China really struggles in maintaining a proper and lasting friendship with in this particular part of the world is India, who is actively competing against China to become a major player with similar ambitions and interests.

However, the threat that Beijing poses to Washington, even in the Pacific, isn’t just a military one. In that regard, the propaganda warning of China’s reach can take many forms, perhaps to simply muddy the waters. Take, for example, a recent report which estimated that there are about 250 Chinese and 200 Russian spies operating in Brussels (this same report found that American and Moroccan agents were also believed to be active, though they did not feature in the headline). The US has also recently accused China of using student spies to steal secrets from the United States on Beijing’s behalf.

Putting aside the very real risk that the US and China could go head to head, or that the US could see fit to pick apart China’s integral allies one by one (including and especially Venezuela), the real immediate issue we should be paying attention to is the mounting tensions between the two countries and where this is headed in the year ahead. An economist with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) quietly warned the world last month to prepare for the brunt of the US-China trade war, something which is still well underway.

As one BBC reporter explained, US conduct towards China in general is part of what many observers have described to her as an “increasingly aggressive narrative on China from the Trump administration on pretty much every front.”

That being said, perhaps the “brunt” is even too much for the US to bear, because both countries are allegedly in the process of cementing a deal which could end the trade war at some point in the not-too-distant future. (The trade war is also hitting some of Washington’s closer allies badly as well, though this is probably best left for a separate discussion).

Despite all of the above, no one ever in the history of the corporate media, seems to ponder the thought: perhaps the US is simply overreacting to this entire issue, and its repeated warnings over China’s regional ambitions are less justified. According to a report by the China-based Development Research Centre of the State Council (DRC), the US will remain the world’s only global economic superpower until 2035 even with China’s expanding role in the global financial markets. It also cannot be stressed enough that the US has about 800 military bases worldwide, whereas China has only one confirmed overseas military base.

If the odds are in your favor at this level, and you still can’t pull together to win a trade war or military confrontation, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your strategy towards so-called rival nations in general. Because at the end of the day, the current strategy leaves much to be desired, and the implications of a US-China confrontation are too apocalyptic to even contemplate as a possible avenue in the first place.


Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst, currently specializing in immigration, refugee and humanitarian law.



Boston Public Library Author Talk – Conversation with Ghanaian Novelist Ayesha Harruna Attah – Tue 26 Feb 2019 (6:00 PM – 7:30 PM) Central Library in Copley Square

Ayesha Harruna Attah in conversation with Zoë Gadegbeku


Tuesday, February 26, 2019 (6:00 PM – 7:30 PM)
Central Library in Copley Square


Aminah lives an idyllic life until she is brutally separated from her home and forced on a journey that turns her from a daydreamer into a resilient woman. Wurche, the willful daughter of a chief, is desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. These two women’s lives converge as infighting among Wurche’s people threatens the region, during the height of the slave trade at the end of the 19th century. Set in pre-colonial Ghana, The Hundred Wells of Salaga is a story of courage, forgiveness, love and freedom. It offers a view of internal slavery in Africa and how the scramble for Africa affected the lives of everyday people.

Born to two Ghanaian journalists, AYESHA HARRUNA ATTAH grew up in Accra and was educated at Columbia University and NYU. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Asymptote Magazine, and the Caine Prize Writers’ 2010 Anthology. Her debut novel, Harmattan Rain, (Per Ankh Publishers) was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2010. Her second novel, Saturday’s Shadows, was published in English (World Editions) and Dutch (De Geus) in 2015.  Ayesha was awarded the 2016 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship for non-fiction and she currently lives in Senegal. Ayesha will also be featured in the forthcoming anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby. 

Zoë Gadegbeku is a Ghanaian writer living in Boston. Her work has appeared inSaraba Magazine, Blackbird, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Her essay “My Secondhand Lonely,” published in Slice Magazine and reprinted in Longreads, was included on the notable list in the 2018 edition of Best American Essays. She was a fellow in the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice as an undergraduate at Georgetown University, and a participant in the 2017 Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at the University of the West Indies-Cave Hill, Barbados. She received her MFA in Fiction from Emerson College, where she worked in communications and taught first-year writing. She currently works as the Senior Editor at Transition Magazine at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, and as the Communications Assistant at the Center on the Developing Child, both at Harvard University.




Joan Baez: ‘Music can move people to do things’ – by Kate Kellaway (UK Guardian) 24 Feb 2019

The veteran singer on her mixed emotions about her farewell tour, the women she most admires and forever being linked to Dylan


Joan Baez at her home in Woodside, California, February 2018.
Joan Baez: ‘You have to measure what you do in little victories.’

Joan Baez has been singing her songs of protest for 60 years, her matchless soprano voice rising above trouble. She can look back on an extraordinary career that included a new interpretation of Bob Dylan songs in the 60s, and singing for Martin Luther King (with whom she became friends). The daughter of a Mexican-born physicist and a strong-minded Scottish mother, she has announced, at 78, that she is now on her last tour, performing her swansong album Whistle Down the Wind.

What moved you to record the album Whistle Down the Wind after a 10-year gap?
I felt it was time. I’m phasing out and wanted to choose something to bookend my first album. My original album has a song about a silver dagger; my last a song about a silver blade. The first was a traditional folk song – the girl lost out. In the last, which was written for me, she turns round and kills the guy – she could be part of the #MeToo movement.

You are 78 and on your last tour – where do you get your incredible stamina? What is the secret to taking such good care of yourself?
My mum lived to 100 and never had any serious diseases. My father died at 94 with all his hair and teeth. I’ve a lot to live up to… caring for myself? The most important element is the Gokhale Method, which is all about posture and based on native women who stand straight even after picking rice all day and don’t have any back problems. And meditation, even though it has always slightly bored me, is important. Plus pilates and yoga stretches. And at my age, walking is the best exercise. I have a lovely field I walk across every day for about 40 minutes.

And your voice? What does it need – rest or exercise?
Both. But what has been exhausting is reconstructing every song I ever wanted to do in a low, limited range. I love how Whistle Down the Wind came out, but my voice will continue to deteriorate no matter how hard I try.

So you don’t plan to arrive at the Leonard Cohen growling stage?
Well, they’re guys and somehow get away with it better…

I loved your anti-Trump song Nasty Man on YouTube, a viral hit, in which your sympathetic performance is in delicious contrast to your subject
Have you read Trump on the Couch? It’s a wonderful book, but its main message is that Trump is incapable of change – no compromises, no backing off, my button is bigger than your button.

So depressing… are you an optimist or pessimist?
When I was 15, I thought of myself as a realist. But now I have to remain in denial for a good portion of the time because otherwise I’d go crazy. You have to measure what you do in little victories that reintroduce compassion and empathy. We won’t have social change until people are capable of taking risks again.

You’ve been an activist all your life. But can a song change anything?
Songs change a lot. Music lifts the spirits, crosses boundaries and can move people to do things they would not otherwise have done.

Do you still define memory as you did in your song about your affair with Bob Dylan as “diamonds and rust”?
That song went down to the bottom of my soul… I don’t know where its words came from.

Is it inevitable your name will always be remembered alongside Dylan’s?
Well, what happened recently was that I painted some pictures of him, and I put his music on, and any stuff that was getting in the way, any jealousies, any resentments, completely vanished. And maybe it was to do with this time in my life, and maybe it was to do with realising that you can hold grudges for only so long. And that it is stupid to hold grudges. The Buddhist training is that you forgive.

(Diamonds and Rust – on Youtube)

And on top of that I felt: oh my God, your name is going to be attached to somebody for the rest of your life… and this is an honour because of what that guy created. And you know, he’s not socially gifted, but that doesn’t matter. He can take an artist’s liberties as far as I am concerned.

In every interview, you are defined through famous men: Dylan, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King. Which woman has most influenced you?
Emma González, representative of the youth movement. We have to depend on the young – they unite about climate change. We adults don’t know how to deal with it. That little movement has the most potential of anything we’ve seen in the US in the past 40 years. The other woman who influenced me was my mother. She was so funny. When I asked what she wanted for her 100th birthday, she said: “To drop dead!” A week after, she did. I was influenced by her connection with nature, living in the woods. My home is in a very civilised wood in California.

Do you mind getting older?
About two years ago I thought, oh my God, I’m going to be 80, and so I went about the house saying: “I’m going to be 80” for about a month. It doesn’t bother me now. My other female heroes include Meryl Streep, who campaigns to stop women rearranging their faces through surgery. My goal is to embrace the wrinkles.

Speaking of homes, I’ve heard you’re a disciple of Japanese decluttering queen Marie Kondo?
I was messy when I was little, but later realised you need to keep things orderly because your house is your brain: everything in it is a reflection of what is going on inside of you.

Your son Gabriel has been with you on tour as percussionist. Do you feel this makes up for the time you missed with him when he was little?
He will finish the tour with me. It has been more than any mother could have dreamed, because most mums don’t get to hang out with their sons once their sons marry.

How do you plan to spend your time when no longer performing?
I will paint. And I love to dance – maybe I’ll take classes in Latin dance.

You won’t stop singing?
The more my voice deteriorates, the less happy I am with it. Humming around the house it’s all flat and cockeyed and I think [laughs] maybe I’ll just talk to myself instead.

Joan Baez’s Fare Thee Well tour in the UK is at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 25 Feb; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow 26 Feb; and London Palladium 28 Feb, 1 March 2019


Paris: French Jewish Writer Denounced in the Street By French Islamic Convert – ‘I felt the hatred’, says philosopher attacked by gilets jaune Muslim – by Kim Whillsher (UK Guardian) 24 Feb 2019

Alain Finkielkraut says the protester who screamed ‘go back to Tel Aviv’ is part of a new wave of antisemitism

Alain Finkielkraut
Alain Finkielkraut, whose father survived deportation to a Nazi death camp, says there are Islamist parts of France where he cannot go.

The French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut is at home: an airy apartment with walls packed floor to ceiling with books in one of Paris’s more chic arrondissements.

Today, however, the writer and commentator does not feel entirely at home in France. That feeling was heightened dramatically when, last weekend, a gilet jaune protester shouted at him that he was a “dirty Zionist shit” who should “go back to Tel Aviv”.

“I am home, but not to these people. Those who shout ‘go back to Tel Aviv’ believe Israel is stolen land, so what they are saying is that I have no place here, I have no place there … that I have no place on earth,” he told the Observer.

It is all part of what he calls “new winds blowing across Europe. Where are they taking us? Nobody knows,” he said. “It’s very worrying.”

The sharp rise in antisemitism and racism in France is a “new turn of events” that could be linked to the gilets jaunes demonstrations that have swept the country, according to President Emmanuel Macron. Swastikas have been daubed on public buildings, on Jewish gravestones and on postboxes bearing portraits of the late Simone Veil, a politician and Holocaust survivor. The German word Juden (Jews) was sprayed on the window of a bagel bakery on the Île Saint-Louis, in the heart of Paris.

In a video recorded of the verbal assault on Finkielkraut, whose Polish-Jewish father survived deportation from Paris to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1942, a man whose face is contorted with rage screams: “We are the French people, France is ours.” At one point the protester, who was later arrested, shows his keffiyeh, a traditional Arab scarf.

Verbal attack on Alain Finkielkraut
A still from a video showing a verbal attack on Alain Finkielkraut. Photograph: Yahoo! Actu

“I felt the hatred, the hostility,” Finkielkraut said. “I’ve felt this increase in hostility for some time, but this was shocking.

“I’m not afraid, let’s not exaggerate, and I’m not going to change the way I live, but it’s worrying that, not being anonymous, I am now at the mercy of the merest cretin who wants to attack me. And it’s clear there are now parts of France where I cannot go.”

Antisemitism in France, Finkielkraut suggested, is now a two-headed beast. One represents the historical racism, symbolised by the Dreyfus affair and the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime. It is the almost institutional antisemitism revealed in comments in 1980 by Raymond Barre, the late prime minister, who said that an “odious” attack on the Copernic synagogue that killed four and injured more than 40 others “was aimed at hitting Israelites attending the synagogue and has hit innocent French people”. And it is revealed in the provocations of the former Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

That Finkielkraut’s gilet jaune attacker was a 36-year-old Muslim convert has also reinforced his controversial view that antisemitism’s second head is radical Islam in Europe.

“This is not classic antisemitism that we saw with Hitler – this is another antisemitism altogether,” he said. “It does not come from France; it’s brought to France by a new population from Arab-Muslim countries and from black Africa and is then relayed by the extreme left.

“This antisemitism is very different from the swastikas on monuments. But if we point this out, we are called racist and accused of discrimination. I am called a racist because I criticise young Muslims who have been radicalised by Islamism, but in criticising Islamic extremists I am not criticising Islam in general. “The idea that we cannot hear antisemitism from people who suffer from racism themselves is a kind of blackmail and denial of the situation.”

Finkielkraut, who was elected to the Académie Française in 2014 – making him one of the country’s “Immortals” – blames “intellectual antisemitism” among the French hard left, where, he says, support for the Palestinians has led to the view that all Jews are to be blamed for actions of the state of Israel. “If you raise the memory of the Holocaust, they say Israel is doing the same thing to the Palestinians. They use the memory to criminalise Israel and all Jews who are automatically linked to Israel,” he said.

Leading gilets jaunes have condemned the attack on Finkielkraut, insisting that the movement, which began last November as a grassroots protest against taxes and a political class seen as out of touch, is not antisemitic. Many gilets jaunes joined demonstrations across France under the slogan “Enough!” to protest against the recent spate of antisemitic attacks.

Others, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the hard-left La France Insoumise, have sought to play down the attack on Finkielkraut, saying that linking it to antisemitism is an attempt to discredit the gilets jaunes movement.

It is undeniable, however, that over the past three months the movement has grown to take in wider grievances and, hardened by ultra-left and extreme-right agitators, now rails against the “elite”, the powerful, bankers and the media often with conspiracy theories that echo the antisemitic tropes about a powerful global Jewish cabal.

Finkielkraut, who has previously expressed support for the protests, does not believe that he was attacked by “ordinary” gilets jaunes, but he has not been reassured by the political response.

“The future looks dark for two reasons,” he said. “Immigration continues to spread and the more it does, the more assimilation becomes difficult. Plus the school system has collapsed in France and does not play its role in integration. Then we have an extremely worrying convergence of the extreme left and intellectuals.”

Finkielkraut says he is particularly concerned about Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has the support of Mélenchon. Last year, the French politician was described by CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, as “a danger to democracy”.

“Jeremy Corbyn is at the doors of power. If he gets into 10 Downing Street it will be the first time in post-Hitler Europe that a great nation would be led by a leader who quite clearly has antisemitic tendencies,” Finkielkraut said. “And that for me is a very great worry.”




Best Pasta in Rome – Say Top Chefs – By Kate Krader and Richard Vines (Bloomberg) 21 Feb 2019

There may be hundreds of types of pasta in the world, but when in Rome, there are only 18 dishes you really, truly need to eat.

Pasta is having a powerful moment. From New York and Singapore to London and Austin, Texas, top kitchens are highlighting freshly milled grains and nifty tools to create beautiful strands and curious shapes that thrill diners.

Yet no city can rival Rome for its beloved, soul-satisfying pastas.

The city’s history with it goes deep. Pasta is commonly believed to have arrived in Italy from China via Marco Polo in the second half of the 13th century. Others will argue that its European history is even longer, that it first arrived via the North Africans in Sicily, where long strands of dough were known as itriyaa.

“Cacio e pepe, carbonara, and amatriciana are synonymous with the Italian capital,” says Rome-based writer and cookbook author Katie Parla (Food of the Italian South, out March 2019). Her food tours have attracted a major following among chefs. “Travelers from other parts of Italy and the world prioritize these dishes when they dine in the city.” (So much so, we included cacio e pepe twice below.)

The recommendations here come from some of the world’s foremost Italian experts, chefs and restauranteurs in Italy and abroad. That much of Rome’s dining options are bad, or increasingly, anonymous fast-casual joints, make this list even more essential.

“The city continues to lead the world’s pasta game,” says James Beard-winning chef Sarah Grueneberg, of Chicago’s Monteverde, who picked an uber-traditional rigatoni. “It’s a must visit even if you have only a passing interest.”

Which, when it comes to chewy bits of sauce-soaked carbs, includes just about everybody.

Trattoria da Enzo

Via dei Vascellari, 29, Trastevere


Pasta: Pasta al Sugo di Coda

The neighborhood of Trastevere is stocked with historic churches and houses with pastel-painted shutters that line narrow streets. It’s also got a reputation for classic trattorias such as da Enzo, which has a handful of plastic-cloth-topped tables in a compact space. “It’s tiny and not pretty, and tourists have discovered it, but still it’s a guilty pleasure of many of my friends that live in the neighborhood,” says Donna Lennard, owner of the antique-strewn Il Buco in New York. “The pasta al sugo di coda, made with tomato, oxtail, celery, and golden raisins is heaven. Like all good Italian restaurants, they’re also obsessed with the quality of their oils, cheeses, and butchered meats.”

Recommended by Donna Lennard, owner of Il Buco in New York

Diners with two Roman staples, artichokes and carbonara, at da Enzo.
the trattoria also sells gourmet ingredients and swag.
Diners with two Roman staples, artichokes and carbonara, at da Enzo (left); the trattoria also sells gourmet ingredients and swag.

Il Peperoncino D’oro

Via Del Boschetto, 36, Monti


Pasta: Tagliolini Senatore Cappelli

London-based chef and pizza aficionado Francesco Mazzei is a fan of this simple restaurant in the center of Rome. His favorite pasta dish features cream of turnips, roasted anchovies, chili pepper, and burrata. “It’s beautiful pasta, and I love its simplicity,” Mazzei says. “It’s all about the ingredients. There is no fuss and yet, so much flavor.” It’s not such a surprise that Mazzei would be a fan. Unusually for Rome, the restaurant’s chef, Valerio Laino, specializes in the spicy southern cuisine of Calabria, where Mazzei was born.

Recommended by Francesco Mazzei, chef/owner at Sartoria in London

The all-around simplicity of Il Peperoncino d’Oro is key to its charm.

The all-around simplicity of Il Peperoncino d’Oro is key to its charm.

Checco er Carrettiere

Via Benedetta, 10, Trastevere


Pasta: Tagliolini con Carciofi, Pomodorini di Pachino, e Pecorino

This “perfect” dish is the pick of Rome-based chef Anthony Genovese, who holds two Michelin stars. “On my days off, when Il Pagliaccio is closed, I like to go to Checco er Carrettiere,” he says. “Its local, authentic Roman cuisine focuses on quality and simplicity. I love their tagliolini with artichoke, cherry tomato, and pecorino cheese. It’s a simple dish, and nowhere in Italy do artichokes mean more than in the hearts of the Romans.” Do note, and don’t be shy: It’s not on the menu, so you need to ask for it.

Recommended by Anthony Genovese, chef/patron at Il Pagliaccio in Rome

Glass cases filled with donkey cart knickknacks commemorate the early life of restaurant founder Francesco “Checco” Porcelli.
Old photographs, including those of famous guests such as Federico Fellini and Mohammed Ali, line the walls.
Glass cases filled with donkey cart knickknacks (left) commemorate the early life of restaurant founder Francesco “Checco” Porcelli; old photographs, including those of famous guests such as Federico Fellini and Mohammed Ali, line the walls.

Checchino dal 1887

Via di Monte Testaccio, 30, Testaccio


Pasta: Bucatini all’Amatriciana

In Testaccio, a neighborhood once defined by a giant slaughterhouse, this family-owned restaurant has stood since 1887. It’s more formal than you’d expect from a place whose specialty is offal, or quinto quarto (the “fifth quarter”). But expert baker and pizza-maker Jim Lahey has a favorite dish that is not made with innards; instead, it’s the classic spicy tomato-sauced pasta that’s punctuated with bits of salty, funky guanciale (cured pork jowl). “Amatriciana is a must whenever I’m in Rome,” he says, pointing to Checchino’s guanciale as the ingredient that makes this the best. “It has the right amount of fat and the right amount of heat—it’s very nuanced. If you can snag a table outside during warmer months, do it. Sit out there under their big, turquoise awning at a table covered with a white tablecloth, and you’ll be very happy.”

Recommended by Jim Lahey, founder of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York

In warm weather, dining al fresco is the way to go.
Chef Elio Mariani.
In warm weather, dining al fresco is the way to go; chef Elio Mariani.

Cento Gourmet

Via Giovanni Arcangeli, 8/10l, Prenestino


Pasta: Pappardella “Aio e Oio”

Chefs Davide Lombardi and Valerio Chicchierini of Cento Gourmet dispense with the homespun cliches most Roman trattorias lean on. Here, a semi-open kitchen is framed by a black wall decorated with cartoon-style ingredients, and the menu winks with cheeky names like Polp Fiction. “My favorite dish to order is the Pappardella “aio e oio,” it’s a refined take on a simple dish. This one has squid ink pappardella with cuttlefish, bottarga, breadcrumbs, and lemon,” says chef Francesco Panella. “It’s a truly innovative dish with a unique balance of flavors. The squid ink gives a briny, earthy flavor that pairs perfectly with the cuttlefish and bottarga, the crunch of the breadcrumbs, and bright acidity.”

Recommended by Francesco Panella, owner of Antica Pesa in Rome and Feroce Ristorante in Brooklyn

Chefs Valerio Chiacchierini, left, and Davide Lombardi in action in their semiopen kitchen.

Chefs Valerio Chiacchierini, left, and Davide Lombardi in action in their semiopen kitchen.
The beginnings of pappardelle with squid ink.

The beginnings of pappardelle with squid ink.

Pipero Roma

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 250, Centro Storico


Pasta: Bavette in Bianco, Baccalà e Coppiette di Maiale

Milan-based chef Carlo Cracco keeps going back to Pipero Roma, not only for its homey feel (“a true host always puts you at your ease”) but also for a salted cod and cured pork dish made with bavette linguine. “The idea behind it starts with the classics: butter and Parmesan, but instead of butter it uses the pil-pil sauce from the salted cod [an emulsification of the fish with garlic and olive oil], giving the dish a wonderful creaminess. The pasta is then stirred with the raw cod and finished with a sprinkling of dry-cured pork.”

Recommended by Carlo Cracco, chef/patron at Ristorante Cracco in Milan

Chef Ciro Scamardella.
Tables look out on the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella.
Chef Ciro Scamardella (left); tables look out on the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella.


Via Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, 59, Prati


Pasta: Gnocchi all’Amatriciana

Although not as ubiquitous as Taco Tuesday, “Giovedi Gnocchi” (Gnocchi Thursday) is a Roman menu staple, and at L’Arcangelo, a 20-minute walk from the Vatican, it’s an everyday delight. “They’re softer than pillows,” says chef Nicolas Stefanelli of the potato-flour dumplings in a potent tomato sauce flecked with pancetta. “I keep a running list of restaurants in Rome and try to spend at least one or two days there whenever I travel back to Italy. I explore new places, but always check back in with an old favorite like L’Arcangelo,” whose dining room is more dressed up than some classic spots around the city, with white tablecloths, deep red banquettes, and wood paneling. “I remember this pasta from a long lunch one afternoon after a morning of sightseeing. They really seared the experience in my memory.”

Recommended by Nicholas Stefanelli, chef/co-owner of Officina in Washington.

Chef and owner Arcangelo Dandini.
His restaurant is more dressed up than some classic spots around the city.
Chef and owner Arcangelo Dandini (left); his restaurant is more dressed up than some classic spots around the city.


Via dei Giubbonari, 21/23, Centro Storico


Pasta: Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Of all the standout restaurants in Rome, Roscioli is even more renowned as a deluxe gourmet store with precisely sourced olive oils, wines, and a packed display case of cheeses and charcuterie. The best place to sit is in front among the groceries. Massimo Bottura, chef and owner of Osteria Francescana, the No. 1 restaurant on the World’s 50 Best list (again) shouts out the cacio e pepe as his favorite in the city. “The quality of the ingredients and the technique in the preparation of the noodles, plus the degree to which it’s cooked, is unrivaled in Rome. And I’ve eaten a lot of pasta in Rome,” he says.

Recommended by Massimo Bottura, chef/owner of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy

Gourmet ingredients for serious foodies.
Tonnarelli, about to get a bath.
Gourmet ingredients for serious foodies (left); tonnarelli, about to get a bath.


Via della Stelletta, 4, Campo Marzio


Pasta: Ravioli del Plin

Retrobottega, a five-minute walk from the Pantheon, breaks a lot of Rome’s traditional dining rules. Chef-owners Giuseppe Lo Iudice and Alessandro Miocchi favor counters, with hidden drawers for silverware, over conventional tables—and the place is even open on Sunday. The pair throws innovations into the food, too, such as stirring malt into a risotto with smoky speck. But it’s the more traditional ravioli del plin, stuffed with a mix of meats, that captivated chef Sarah Cicolini of SantoPalato (see Rigatoni con la Pajata, below). “These ravioli are a typical Piedmontese fresh pasta, filled with braised meat. Here, they are much better than what you would normally find.” If they’re not on the menu, you’ll find them next door at the pair’s brand-new pasta factory, Retropasta.

Recommended by Sarah Cicolini, chef/owner of SantoPalato in Rome

Donatella D’Agostino readies trays of breadsticks.

Donatella D’Agostino readies trays of breadsticks.

Cesare al Casaletto

Via del Casaletto, 45, Gianicolense


Pasta: Rigatoni Alla Gricia

For the past few years, chef Marc Vetri has spread the gospel of well-made pasta, eating untold amounts of the stuff all around Italy in the name of research and introducing historic ingredients such as burnt flour to a new generation of diners back in the U.S. The chef found his ultimate version of gricia, the supremely simple preparation of seared pancetta, Parmesan, and black pepper in Cesare al Casaletto’s brightly lit dining room, whose menu highlights classics. “I went at the recommendation of Katie Parla when I was on a pizza research tour. It was just perfect—everything,” says Vetri. “But the gricia definitely stood out. I’m a purist and when someone makes something so simple so perfect, it just gives me goosebumps.”

Recommended by Marc Vetri, chef/owner of Vetri in Philadelphia

The makings of rigatoni alla gricia.
The almost finished product.
The makings of rigatoni alla gricia (left); the almost finished product.

Trecca Cucina Di Mercato

Via Alessandro Severo, 222, Ostiense


Pasta: Pappardellona al Ragù di Pecora

For pizza innovator Gabriele Bonci, Trecca Cucina di Mercato’s pappardelle with sheep-meat sauce is remarkable. “It’s a childhood memory. A large part of the peasant gastronomic tradition of central Italy can be found in this one dish.” In fact, the majority of dishes at this neighborhood restaurant, with its tiled floors, bright yellow placemats, and windows looking onto the residential street, evoke this feeling, even as slight tweaks—carbonara with zucchini flowers, spaghetti with clams and the heat of pepperoncini—titillate modern sensibilities.

Recommended by Gabriele Bonci, chef/owner of Bonci Pizza in Rome

Cut pappardelle.

Cut pappardelle.
Rolling out the dough for the broad noodles.

Rolling out the dough for the broad noodles.

La Pergola

Rome Cavalieri Hotel, Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101, Monte Mario


Pasta: Fagotteli Carbonara

Chef Heinz Beck’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant, with a panoramic roof garden, serves some of the finest food in Italy. Beck is known for his creativity more than his extravagant use of luxury ingredients, and it is this that most appeals to fellow three-star chef Norbert Niederkofler. His favorite dish is also Beck’s signature: Small pasta parcels are filled with pecorino cheese, egg yolks, and whipped cream—classic carbonara ingredients—served with a veal stock and a dressing of courgettes and guanciale (a meatier sibling of bacon and pancetta). “Carbonara can be so heavy,” Niederkofler says, “but this is a new way of interpreting it. It’s extraordinarily light and very modern.”

Recommended by Norbert Niederkofler, executive chef of St. Hubertus in Badia, Italy

Chef Heinz Beck plates his famed carbonara-filled packages.
They get a sprinkle of salt before serving.
Chef Heinz Beck plates his famed carbonara-filled packages (left); they get a sprinkle of salt before serving.


Piazza Tarquinia, 4a, San Giovanni


Pasta: Rigatoni con la Pajata

Chicago chef and pasta expert Sarah Grueneberg felt she had found her Roman soul sister when she met the cook at SantoPalato, a bright, rust-orange and white trattoria in San Giovanni. “Sarah Cicolini is making the most delicious, unapologetically simple quinto quarto [offal] cuisine,” says Gruenberg, calling Cicolini’s classic Roman pasta dishes (cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana) spectacular. The one that stood out most is la pajata: milk-fed veal intestines braised in a tomato sauce and married with “perfectly cooked” rigatoni that mimics the shape. “It was my first time enjoying pajata, and what surprised me the most was how tender the intestines were. During cooking, the milk inside curdles and turns into light ricotta texture—you’d never know you were having intestines if it didn’t say it on the menu. It’s just delicious. I encourage even the most timid of eaters to give it a try.”

Recommended by Sarah Grueneberg, chef/partner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago

A simple chalkboard menu against the rust-orange walls of SantoPalato.

A simple chalkboard menu against the rust-orange walls of SantoPalato.

Felice a Testaccio

Via Mastro Giorgio, 29, Testaccio


Pasta: Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

Before opening his classic Italian restaurant Maialino in 2009, Manhattan restaurateur Danny Meyer spent weeks in Rome with chef Nick Anderer. He sat down in countless dining rooms, yet one stands out in his mind a decade later. “Going to Felice a Testaccio in Rome’s foodiest neighborhood always fills me with excitement. It’s worth going for lunch and arriving early enough to explore the amazing flavors within a short walk of the restaurant beforehand: the daily Testaccio Market, which closes around lunchtime, is an explosion of colors, aromas, and lively conversation; nearby Salumeria Volpetti is a world-class gastronomia. With a completely stimulated appetite, you’ll now be ready to taste the benchmark cacio e pepe. I have had hundreds of versions and never experienced better than this.” Beyond the peppery, cheesy pasta, Meyer recommends tasting anything with artichokes or puntarelle (the inner stalks of Catalonian chicory). The roast suckling pig (maialino) is also “staggeringly good.” He should know.

Recommended by Danny Meyer, chief executive officer of Union Square Hospitality Group in New York

This inviting trattoria in Testaccio has been around for decades.

This inviting trattoria in Testaccio has been around for decades.
A serving of tonnarelli cacio e pepe.

A serving of tonnarelli cacio e pepe.

Trattoria da Danilo

Via Petrarca, 13, Esquilino


Pasta: Strozzapreti al Lard di Colonnata e Pecorino di Fossa

A white awning hanging over a small door announces Danilo, which isn’t on everyone’s list of usual suspects, says Jonathan Benno, who oversees a trio of ambitious Italian concepts in New York. There’s hardly a square inch of space on the walls that isn’t covered by photos of customers or soccer jerseys. The signature dish here is cacio e pepe, served tableside from a giant wheel of cheese. But it’s the take on amatriciana sauce that Benno favors most. “I like how they cook the pasta with lardo and pecorino Fossa,” he says of the strozzapreti or “priest stranglers” (one of pasta’s better-named shapes, a few inches long and hand-rolled so it curls). “I love when dishes are recreated from old world to new world.”

Recommended by Jonathan Benno, chef/owner of Benno in New York

There’s hardly a square inch of wall at Trattoria da Danilo that isn’t covered by photographs or soccer jerseys.

There’s hardly a square inch of wall at Trattoria da Danilo that isn’t covered by photographs or soccer jerseys.

Colline Emiliane

Via degli Avignonesi, 2, Centro Storico


Pasta: Tortelli di Zucca com Burro e Salvia

Near the Trevi Fountain, this longstanding restaurant specializes in the cooking of Emilia-Romagna, the home of Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and balsamic vinegar, to name a handful of Italian staples. The restaurant’s antipasti section features charcuterie and cheese from the region, but its the handmade, generously sized tortelli doused with butter and sage that captivates L.A. chef Evan Funke. “When I visit Rome and don’t have time to take the train to my beloved city of Bologna, Colline Emiliane is a serious cure for second-home sickness. In a sea of cacio e pepe and carbonara, the delicate pumpkin parcels are a welcome respite,” he says.

Recommended by Evan Funke, chef/co-owner of Felix Trattoria in Los Angeles

Colline Emiliane chefs, owners, and sisters Anna, left, and Paola Latini are pasta specialists.

Colline Emiliane chefs, owners, and sisters Anna, left, and Paola Latini are pasta specialists.

Flavio al Velavevodetto

Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, Testaccio


Pasta: Flavio’s Fettuccine con “le Regaje de Pollo”

There’s a lot to recommend this popular spot, starting with the space with its cave-like stone arches. “The location is magic,” says Stefano Callegari, creator of the cult favorite cacio e pepe pizza at Rome’s Sforno . “It’s in the Monte dei Cocci in Testaccio. The wall you see in all the pictures is ancient—2,000 years old—and the temperature remains constantly at 8C [46F]. In the summer, it’s incredible.” Callegori favors a pasta that’s sauced with a ragu made of chicken, instead of the classic beef and veal. “The recipe is a very old-fashioned Roman one, and it’s done perfectly. The correct name is “rigaglie”; “le regaje de pollo” is Roman dialect. It’s like a sort of ragu we used to make, using the chicken’s heart and liver, and it’s what you use to season fettuccine for Sunday lunch, which is such an important meal.”

Recommended by Stefano Callegari, chef/owner of La Rossa in New York

The entrance to the Testaccio restaurant.
Flavio’s fettuccini is almost ready.
The entrance to the Testaccio restaurant (left); Flavio’s fettuccini is almost ready.

L’Osteria di Monteverde

Via Pietro Cartoni, 163, Monteverde


Pasta: Carbonara

The walls are adorned with old pictures of the city, yet Monteverde’s menu plays up modern takes on classics. Ask star chef and cookbook author Bobby Flay, who immersed himself in Rome’s food scene last fall. “Monteverde separates itself from some of the classic trattorias because they push the idea of innovation while executing classics like pasta carbonara perfectly,” says Flay. He was so impressed by this version of the rich, cheesy pasta that he changed the way he makes his own. “I now have a new technique when I make carbonara as my late-night snack.” Rather than adding ingredients to the cooked pasta separately, he ensures that they coat the pasta evenly by mixing the pecorino and the eggs together, with a little hot pasta water to emulsify it. Then he adds it to the cooked noodles, just as they do at Monteverde.

Recommended by Bobby Flay, chef/owner of Gato in New York

A quiet moment at the Monteverde osteria, where chef Bobby Flay learned a new trick to make carbonara.

A quiet moment at the Monteverde osteria, where chef Bobby Flay learned a new trick to make carbonara.


Best Pasta in Boston, Massachusetts, USA



Now Do You See Trump Won The Shutdown? – by Don Surber – 23 Feb 2019

Four weeks ago, President Trump and Congress agreed to end their stalemate over the wall and end the government shutdown. Democrats immediately declared victory.

I explained to readers the who, what, where, when, how, and why Democrats lost.

First, “Trump is getting the wall.”

Second, “No, Trump did not cave.”

Third, “Trump wins because he isn’t screwing anyone over.”

Let us review.

A week ago, the final budget deal included money for the wall. Mission impossible became mission accomplished.

Congress had shut the government down because President Donald John Trump wanted money for the wall. For two years, Congress had refused to deliver.

He finally said, pay up.

For five weeks we had the lamest government shutdown in the fortunately short history of shutdowns.

Nancy said no money for the wall.

Today he has $1.375 billion in this budget deal, plus close to $7 billion in various accounts that he can redirect to wall building.

That is $8 billion — which is more than the $5.7 billion he requested.

Had Congress simply handed him the money, that would be all that he could spend. He would have no grounds or need to declare a national emergency.

But here we are.

At the time, few people understood, as I did, that President Trump won. Ed Morrissey got what a shrewd move President Trump made.

He wrote, “Pelosi tried holding the line by warning her caucus against freelancing on the standoff and sending signals of disunity. Pelosi even went so far as to formally reject Trump’s plan to deliver the State of the Union address in a joint session of Congress next week.

“But by that time, other members of Democratic leadership had already started freelancing and exposing cracks in Pelosi’s no-talks armor. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), when asked by Fox’s Neil Cavuto whether he would vote for border-wall funding, conceded that ‘physical barriers are part of the solution.’

“A week earlier, Hoyer had insisted he would oppose such funding.

“The next day, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) offered to give Trump the $5.7 billion he requested for more border security as long as it wasn’t spent on the wall. ‘If his $5.7 billion is about border security,’ Clyburn remarked, ‘then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall.'”

Nancy thought she could hang with Donald Trump. Are you kidding me? In the 1990s, he got German bankers to let him keep most of his company and drop their junk bond interest rates in negotiations in bankruptcy court.

Dumb ass political reporters called that “filing for bankruptcy.” No. Wrong. It is the opposite of that. He essentially was filing for refinancing, and he got it because he was too big to fail.

Washington’s equivalent of German bankers — Congress — backed down as well.

When the shutdown began on December 22, the stock market was down. Sure, it was a correction but it allowed anti-capitalists to bleat “worst December since the Depression,” which was so wrong that it was annoying.

Since then, the market has made all that back and more. It closed Friday a few bucks short of those august highs of August.

Nancy thought she was clever when she made him wait a week to deliver his State of the Union address. In that week, new economic data came through that show the economy was doing so well that Democrat Pussyhats stood and cheered his State of the Union address.

Two months and a day after the shutdown began, President Trump is in the driver’s seat.

  • Bungling Bob Mueller has nothing to indict him on.
  • Chairman Xi is about to surrender in the trade war.
  • Kim Jong-Un has agreed to declare peace and work on unification.
  • The media beclowned itself on Jussie Smollett.
  • The Islamic State is dead.

Democrats have nothing. Nada. Their Green New Deal regulates cow farts.

President Trump meanwhile has declared America will never accept socialism.

It won’t, despite every school from elementary to college promoting it because with the economic revival we have enjoyed since his election as president, Donald Trump has shown capitalism rocks.

He’s also pretty good at politics.

When the shutdown battle began, I wrote that President Trump had won because Donald Trump wins the battle first, then goes to war. It’s Sun Tzu.

Someday his opponents will figure that out. Maybe.

US Defeat in Syria: A Desperate Attempt to Reassert US Power With Islamist Proxies Who Lost On The Battlefield – Tony Cartalucci (Near Eastern Outlook) 22 Feb 2019

With Damascus and its allies firmly in control of Syria and its future – the war having been decided on the ground rather than “politically” as envisioned by Western politicians, media, and policymakers – the US proxy war against Syria has all but failed.

Despite the obvious defeat – and as contemporary American history has illustrated – the US will unlikely relent and instead, do all within its power to complicate the war’s conclusion and disrupt desperately needed reconstruction efforts.

Encapsulating current American intentions in Syria is a Foreign Policy article titled, “The New U.N. Envoy to Syria Should Kill the Political Process to Save it.”

The article – written by Julien Barnes-Dacey of the NATO-Soros-funded European Council on Foreign Relations –  suggests the otherwise inevitable end of the conflict be delayed and that reconstruction aid be held hostage until political concessions are made with the militarily-defeated foreign-backed militants dislodged from much of Syria’s territory by joint Syrian-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah efforts.

The article makes an unconvincing argument that maintaining Idlib as a militant bastion, delaying the conflict’s conclusion, and withholding reconstruction aid will somehow positively benefit the day-to-day lives of Syrian civilians despite all evidence suggesting otherwise.

Demands made toward “decentralizing” political power across Syria seems to be a poorly re-imagined and watered down version of America’s Balkanization plans rolled out in 2012 when swift regime change was clearly not possible. The article also indicates concern over Europe’s potential pivot toward Russia and an abandonment of European complicity with US regime change efforts.

But what is most striking is the article’s – and Washington’s insistence that Syria make concessions to a defeated enemy – funded and armed from abroad and with every intention of transforming Syria into what Libya has become in the wake of the US-led NATO intervention there – a fractured failed state overrun by extremists disinterested and incapable of administering a functioning, united nation-state.

It is striking because it has been the US who has for over half a century predicated its foreign policy on the age-old adage of “might makes right.” The US – no longer mightiest – now demands concessions despite no leverage to logically compel anyone to make such concessions.

At the Wrong End of “Might Makes Right”

While the US poses as leader of the “free world” and self-appointed caretaker of a “rules based international order,” such rhetorical constructs are mere smokescreens obfuscating what is otherwise naked modern-day imperialism.

By the end of the Cold War, the US saw an opportunity to cement this “might makes right” international order by plundering a collapsed Soviet Union and liquidating old Soviet client states from North Africa, through the Middle East, and all across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was perhaps the apex of American “might makes right” in action. It was a war based entirely on intentionally fabricated claims to underwrite what was otherwise a war of conquest. It was the keystone of a much larger project to reorganize Cold War spheres of influence into a single realm under Wall Street and Washington.

The US possessed not only the military and economic means of forcing nations to concede to its interests, it monopolized global information and public perception to convince the world it was doing so for a nobler cause.

With the acceleration of technology – in terms of information, industry, and defense – the disparity between the sole global superpower and even developing nations has begun to shrink – saying nothing of the growing parity between Russia and China vis-a-vis the US and Europe.

The US-led war in Libya was perhaps the last, mostly unopposed “might makes right” war Washington executed with full impunity.

Its attempts to repeat the Libyan experience in Syria met a political and military brick wall with the 2015 Russian intervention. The US also suffered serious setbacks in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014 when Crimea was reunited with Russia and separatists in eastern Ukraine spoiled a US-backed coup aimed at transforming the entire nation into a proxy not only hostile toward Moscow, but sitting right on Russia’s borders.

In an international order predicated on “might makes right,” Washington finds itself no longer the mightiest. Rather than reexamining American priorities and reforming US foreign policy, the US is instead doubling down on its commitment toward regional and global primacy. The corporate-financier interests underwriting this foreign policy do so for a lack of a better alternative.

The Tropism of Imperialism 

Like an evolutionary tropism – the economic and political forces that have taken hold of America, its people, and its resources could no more redirect the course of American foreign policy than a tree could redirect its growth toward the sun. However, external forces – an emerging multipolar world order – are more than capable of pruning this overgrown empire, and perhaps redirecting its growth into a shape more conducive toward global stability.

In Syria, a significant branch of American imperialism is being pruned away.  US troops lodged in Syria’s east represent an expensive and vulnerable occupation. The ability or inability of Syria and its allies to dislodge the US presence there will indicate just how aggressive the rolling back of American imperialism will be – which may be one explanation as to why the US is so stubbornly refusing to withdraw them.

A US withdrawal from Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan would be perceived as a sign of weakness. But it is weakness already more than apparent to the world – thus stubborn long-term and now multiplying occupations in and of themselves are a sign of growing American impotence. There is no positive outcome regarding current US foreign policy – not for those directing it and for the time being benefiting from it, nor for those subjected to it.

In Syria and elsewhere the US is engaged, the task at hand is to manage America’s decline with patient persistence and avoid deadly, desperate attempts by Washington and Wall Street to reassert American influence through destructive wars and proxy wars.

Rome was not built in a day, nor was it dismantled in a day. But it was ultimately dismantled. It would be unrealistic to believe otherwise regarding modern American hegemony.



US Supreme Court Strikes Down Civil Forfeiture Police Profits – By Mark Joseph Stern (Slate) 20 Feb 2019

The Supreme Court Just Struck a Huge, Unanimous Blow Against Policing for Profit

Money ones

The Supreme Court struck an extraordinary blow for criminal justice reform on Wednesday, placing real limitations on policing for profit across the country. Its unanimous decision for the first time prohibits all 50 states from imposing excessive fines, including the seizure of property, on people accused or convicted of a crime. Rarely does the court hand down a ruling of such constitutional magnitude—and seldom do all nine justices agree to restrict the power that police and prosecutors exert over individuals. The landmark decision represents a broad agreement on the Supreme Court that law enforcement’s legalized theft has gone too far.

Wednesday’s ruling in Timbs v. Indiana, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is sharp and concise. It revolves around a single question of extraordinary importance. The Eighth Amendment guarantees that no “excessive fines” may be “imposed,” an ancient right enshrined in the Magna Carta and enthusiastically adopted by the Framers. But the Bill of Rights originally applied only to the federal government, not the states. After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was ratified to apply these rights to the states, which had engaged in grotesque civil rights violations to perpetuate slavery. The Supreme Court, however, slowly applied (or “incorporated”) these rights against the states one by one, not all at once. And before Timbs, it had never incorporated the Excessive Fines Clause—allowing states to exploit their residents for huge sums of cash and property.

They did so through civil asset forfeiture, a process that we would call theft in any other context. Here’s how it works: Prosecutors accuse an individual of a crime, then seize assets that have some tenuous connection to the alleged offense. The individual need not be convicted or even charged with an actual crime, and her assets are seized through a civil proceeding, which lacks the due process safeguards of a criminal trial. Law enforcement can seize money or property, including one’s home, business, or vehicle. It gets to keep the profits, creating a perverse incentive that encourages police abuses. Because the standards are so loose, people with little to no involvement in criminal activity often get caught up in civil asset forfeiture. For instance, South Carolina police tried to seize an elderly woman’s home because drug deals occurred on the property—even though she had no connection to the crimes and tried to stop them.

Tyson Timbs is not quite so sympathetic, but his story illustrates the injustice of limitless forfeiture. In 2015, Timbs was charged with selling heroin to undercover officers in Indiana. He pleaded guilty. A trial court sentenced him to a year of house arrest, five years’ probation, and an addiction-treatment program, which helped him overcome his opioid addiction. The court also ordered Timbs to pay $1,203 in fines and fees. So far, so fair.

But then Indiana hired a private law firm to seize Timbs’ Land Rover, which he used to transport heroin. The firm filed a civil suit to obtain the car, valued at $42,000—more than four times the maximum fine for his drug conviction. (Under Indiana law, the state and its chosen firm would get to split the profits.) Timbs fought back, alleging that the forfeiture constituted an “excessive fine” under the Eighth Amendment, applied to the states through the 14th Amendment. The Indiana Supreme Court disagreed, holding that SCOTUS had never incorporated that particular clause against the states.

At oral arguments in November, multiple justices seemed incredulous that Indiana even raised that argument. “Here we are in 2018, still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights,” Justice Neil Gorsuch scoffed to Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher. “Really? Come on, General.” And on Wednesday, every justice agreed that the 14th Amendment applies the guarantee against excessive fines to the states. In her majority opinion, Ginsburg traced the right back to the Magna Carta through the English Bill of Rights and the Virginia Declaration of Rights, all of which heavily influenced the U.S. Constitution. By the time the 14th Amendment was ratified, 35 of the 37 states explicitly barred excessive fines. And during debate over ratification, congressmen noted that Southern states were using punitive fines to subjugate newly freed blacks. The framers of the 14th Amendment plainly intended to incorporate the Excessive Fines Clause to rein in these “harsh inflictions … almost reenacting slavery.”

“In short,” Ginsburg wrote, surveying this evidence, “the historical and logical case for concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming.” She also swatted down Indiana’s fallback argument that the clause does not apply to proceedings over an individual’s property, holding that these forfeitures still qualify as “fines” that trigger constitutional scrutiny. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to quibble with a doctrinal matter: They argued that the Privileges or Immunities Clause is the proper vehicle through which to incorporate the Bill of Rights—not the Due Process Clause, as is generally accepted. This cavil has no bearing on the outcome of the case.

In one sense, Ginsburg’s opinion is sweeping—it finally opens the federal courthouse door to victims of civil asset forfeiture, like Timbs, who believe they’ve been wronged. But Wednesday’s decision leaves some questions unanswered. The court has already ruled that when the federal government seizes money or property, the fine must not be “grossly disproportional to the gravity of [the] offense.” Presumably, this same standard now applies to the states. But when is a forfeiture grossly disproportionate? Does Indiana’s seizure of Timbs’ Land Rover meet this standard? Ginsburg didn’t say, instead directing the Indiana Supreme Court to evaluate the question. Prepare for a flood of litigation urging federal courts to determine when civil asset forfeiture crosses this constitutional line.

There is, regardless, a great deal to celebrate in Timbs v. Indiana. At long last, SCOTUS has put a federal check on states’ multimillion-dollar civil asset forfeiture schemes. People like Tyson Timbs will have a fighting chance of getting their stuff back when the states seize it for profit. The Supreme Court is unlikely to end policing for profit in one fell swoop. But on Wednesday, it sent a clear message to states like Indiana that the days of largely unregulated abusive forfeiture are over.



Russian firm eyes nascent microsatellite launch market with modified sounding rocket (RT) 22 Feb 2019

Russian firm eyes nascent microsatellite launch market with modified sounding rocket
A Russian company specializing in the study of the atmosphere wants to upgrade its sounding rocket and turn it into an expandable launch vehicle for small satellites that cannot wait for a larger rocket to go into orbit.

Nano and micro satellites have become popular platforms for all sorts of space applications. As long as the contractor doesn’t expect the spacecraft to change orbit or operate for many years, fitting whatever equipment he or she wants to get into space on a standard CubeSat chassis may be the cheapest solution.

There is, however, a catch – space launches are done for the sake of bigger and more expensive satellites, and the smaller ones are relegated to the status of extra payload, so the time of launch and the exact orbit characteristics are dictated to them. So, there is a budding market for small satellites whose owners want to determine when and how exactly their product gets into space.

Several small “super light lift” rockets currently in development are targeting this niche, like the US-made Vector-R or the Chinese Zhuque-1. Russian company RPA Typhoon hopes to join the race with its own launch vehicle, which it wants to develop from an existing sounding rocket.

Typhoon, a veteran researcher of the atmosphere, has a launch system called MR-30 intended to shoot scientific probes of up to 150kg to an altitude of up to 300km. The rocket doing the job is just eight meters long and weighs 1,564kg, while its launch pad is basically a still truss structure with four foldable feet and some piping. It means the launch can be organized in the middle of nowhere – as long as the expended rocket doesn’t fall on someone’s head.

The system is relatively new – the maiden flight happened in 2015 near the village of Tiksi in Russia’s Far East, where an Arctic weather observatory is located. The project itself originates in the Soviet sounding rocket program.

Youtube Video of 2015 Launch – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6A8AJ2Dzac

The company wants to upgrade the MN-300 rocket by replacing the probe – a sturdy device that can withstand a ballistic flight in the upper atmosphere while taking measurements – with a second stage, which would protect the payload and bring it to the same altitude of 250 to 300km, Typhoon rocketry lab head Anatoly Poznin told Izvestia. It will be able to place up to 15kg into low-Earth orbit, while retaining the flexibility of launch. The company says the launch system will be shipped in a standard transport container and will require three hours for deployment in the chosen site.

The drawback of this tailored approach is the relatively high price. Typhoon aims at a US$60,000-per-kilo price tag, which is about twice as high as the cost of getting your microsatellite as secondary payload on a larger rocket. But the company says the niche will be there for their product.




China Stops Importing Recycle Garbage – US Burns The ‘Recyclable’ Trash – by Oliver Milman (Guardian) 21 Feb 2019

Moment of reckoning’: US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports

Residents of cities like Chester, outside Philadelphia, fear a rise in pollution from incinerators after China’s recycling ban


Activists Mike Ewall, left, and Zulene Mayfield stand in front of the Covanta incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania. The incinerator brings in garbage from New York, Ohio and other states.
Activists Mike Ewall, left, and Zulene Mayfield stand in front of the Covanta incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania. The incinerator brings in garbage from New York, Ohio and other states. Photograph: Hannah Yoon/The Guardian

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins.


But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government.

It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse.

The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says.

“People want to do the right thing by recycling but they have no idea where it goes and who it impacts,” said Zulene Mayfield, who was born and raised in Chester and now spearheads a community group against the incinerator, called Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.

“People in Chester feel hopeless – all they want is for their kids to get out, escape. Why should we be expendable? Why should this place have to be burdened by people’s trash and shit?”

Some experts worry that burning plastic recycling will create a new fog of dioxins that will worsen an already alarming health situation in Chester. Nearly four in 10 children in the city have asthma, while the rate of ovarian cancer is 64% higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and lung cancer rates are 24% higher, according to state health statistics.

The dilemma with what to do with items earmarked for recycling is playing out across the US. The country generates more than 250m tons of waste a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with about a third of this recycled and composted.

Until recently, China had been taking about 40% of US paper, plastics and other recyclables but this trans-Pacific waste route has now ground to a halt. In July 2017, China told the World Trade Organization it no longer wanted to be the end point for yang laji, or foreign garbage, with the country keen to grapple with its own mountains of waste.

Since January 2018, China hasn’t accepted two dozen different recycling materials, such as plastic and mixed paper, unless they meet strict rules around contamination. The imported recycling has to be clean and unmixed – a standard too hard to meet for most American cities.  Experts say that asking Americans to put only paper in a recycle bin marked for paper only is a hopeless request.  Americans simply will not do it.

It is “virtually impossible to meet the stringent contamination standards established in China”, said a spokeswoman for the city of Philadelphia, who added that the cost of recycling has become a “major impact on the city’s budget”, at around $78 a ton. Half of the city’s recycling is now going to the Covanta plant, the spokeswoman said.  China did not want his city’s mixed trash.  The idea of Philadelphia separating its own trash and setting up a recycle center is simply not thought of.  Asking China to take the trash is the only thought.

There isn’t much of a domestic market for US recyclables – materials such as steel or high-density plastics can be sold on but much of the rest holds little more value than rubbish – meaning that local authorities are hurling it into landfills or burning it in huge incinerators like the one in Chester, which already torches around 3,510 tons of trash, the weight equivalent of more than 17 blue whales, every day.

“This is a real moment of reckoning for the US because of a lot of these incinerators are aging, on their last legs, without the latest pollution controls,” said Claire Arkin, campaign associate at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. “You may think burning plastic means ‘poof, it’s gone’ but it puts some very nasty pollution into the air for communities that are already dealing with high rates of asthma and cancers.”

Trucks full of garbage used to drive down Thurlow street in Chester to get to the Covanta incinerator.
Trucks full of garbage used to drive down Thurlow street in Chester to get to the Covanta incinerator. Photograph: Hannah Yoon/The Guardian

Hugging the western bank of the Delaware River, which separates Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Chester City was once a humming industrial outpost, hosting Ford and General Motors plants. Since the war, however, Chester has been hollowed out, with an exodus of jobs ushering in an era where a third of people live in poverty.

The industry that remains emits a cocktail of soot and chemicals upon a population of 34,000 residents, 70% of them black. There’s a waste water treatment plant, a nearby Kimberly-Clark paper mill and a medical waste facility. And then there’s Covanta’s incinerator, one of the largest of its kind in the US.

Just a tiny fraction of the trash burned at the plant is from Chester – the rest is funneled in via truck and train from as far as New York City and North Carolina. The burning of trash releases a host of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter, which are tiny fragments of debris that, once inhaled, cause an array of health problems.

It’s difficult to single out the exact cause of any cancer but a host of studies have identified possible links between air pollution and ovarian and breast cancers, which are unusually prevalent in Chester. A 1995 report by the EPA found that air pollution from local industry provides a “large component of the cancer and non-cancer risk to the citizens of Chester”.

“There are higher than normal rates of heart disease, stroke and asthma in Chester, which are all endpoints for poor air,” said Dr Marilyn Howarth, a public health expert at the University of Pennsylvania who has advised Chester activists for the past six years.

Howarth said residents now risk a worsened exposure to pollution due to increased truck traffic rumbling through their streets, bringing recycling to the plant. Once burned, plastics give off volatile organics, some of them carcinogenic.

“It is difficult to link any single case of cancer, heart disease or asthma directly to a particular source. However, the emissions from Covanta contain known carcinogens so they absolutely increase the risk of cancer to area residents.”

Covanta say that pollution controls, such as scrubbers in smokestacks, will negate toxins emitted by recyclables. After passing through the emissions control system, the plant’s eventual output is comfortably below limits set by state and federal regulators, the company says, with emissions of dioxins far better than the expected standard.

“In terms of greenhouse gases, it’s better sending recyclables to an energy recovery facility because of the methane that comes from a landfill,” said Paul Gilman, Covanta’s chief sustainability officer. “Fingers crossed Philadelphia can get their recycling program going again because these facilities aren’t designed for recyclables, they are designed for solid waste.”

A garbage truck drives through a residential neighborhood to get to the Covanta incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania.
A garbage truck drives through a residential neighborhood to get to the Covanta incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Hannah Yoon/The Guardian

Covanta and its critics agree that the whole recycling system in the US will need to be overhauled to avoid further environmental damage. Just 9% of plastic is recycled in the US, with campaigns to push up recycling rates obscuring broader concerns about the environmental impact of mass consumption, whether derived from recycled materials or not.

“The unfortunate thing in the United States is that when people recycle they think it’s taken care of, when it was largely taken care of by China,” said Gilman. “When that stopped, it became clear we just aren’t able to deal with it.”


Virginia: Women’s Rights Activist Threatened With Month of Pre-Trial Detention After Exposing A Breast At Protest – Finally Released (AP) 21 Feb 2019

ERA Activist Jailed Without Bond for Exposing Breast in Virginia

“I’m not sex. I’m actually dressed up as the woman who’s on, like, literally the flag,” she can be heard saying before she’s arrested

After initially ordering a New York woman who mimicked Virginia’s seal by exposing her breast outside the Capitol to be held without bail, a Virginia judge has agreed to release her.

Attorney David Baugh tells The Washington Post that Richmond General District Court Chief Judge Lawrence B. Cann III agreed to release 45-year-old Michelle Sutherland on a personal recognizance bond Thursday. She would have to pay $1,500 if she doesn’t show up for her March 21 court date.

The Real Truth About Organ Donation
Courtesy of Richmond Times-Dispatch/Bob Brown
Michelle Renay Sutherland and another activist impersonate the figures on the Virginia state flag, one of whom has a breast exposed.

A woman demonstrating in Richmond, Virginia, in support of the Equal Rights Amendment will be held without bond for more than a month for exposing a breast in public, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Michelle Renay Sutherland, 45, and another activist were impersonating the two figures on the Virginia State flag on Monday when Sutherland was arrested, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported.

She was charged with a misdemeanor count of indecent exposure and ordered to remain in jail until her trial, which is scheduled for March 21, the paper reported.

Here’s the image on the Virginia state flag.
Photo credit: Shutterstock


It is highly unlikely for someone to be held without bond on a nonviolent misdemeanor charge. Court records show Sutherland, of Brooklyn, New York, has no criminal record, according to the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

The state seal on the flag, shown in various designs since 1776, depicts the Roman goddess Virtus “representing the genius of the Commonwealth,” a state website says. She is dressed as Amazon and rests one foot on top of Tyranny. Her left breast is exposed. 

Video published by the Richmond-Times Dispatch shows Sutherland draped in a blue cloth like that of the figure on the flag. She hoists a stick in one hand and a rose in the other.

“I’m not sex. I’m actually dressed up as the woman who’s on, like, literally the flag,” she can be heard saying before she’s arrested.

Groups that support the ratification of the ERA are pushing for Sutherland’s release.

“Showing a breast as part of a satirical act of protest is not obscene. The real obscenity at the Capitol is lawmakers standing in the way of constitutional equality against the will of the people,” the ACLU of Virginia said in a tweet.

Equal Rights Amendment Gets Boost in Virginia

The ERA, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender. A Republican-controlled committee in the Virginia House of Delegates voted down the measure last month

ERA proponents had hoped Virginia would become the 38th state to approve the amendment. It would then have met the threshold for ratification in the U.S. Constitution. But even if it’s ratified, court battles would likely ensue over a long-passed 1982 deadline set by Congress.


Culture Shock for French in Quebec: ‘We Smoke Cigarettes, They Smoke Pot’ – By Dan Bilefsky (NY Times) 19 Feb 2019

Montreal Dispatch

Fred Schneider moved from France to the Montreal neighborhood of the Plateau. He performs self-mocking songs about the French “occupying” the area.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times
Fred Schneider moved from France to the Montreal neighborhood of the Plateau. He performs self-mocking songs about the French “occupying” the area.CreditCreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times

MONTREAL — “They make rents go up and steal our women.” They “travel in packs of 10 and complain all the time.” “There are too many French people on the Plateau.”

These are some of the lyrics of a song written by Fred Schneider, a 38-year-old advertising copywriter from France, who was belting them out on a recent evening at a thronged bar in Montreal.

The largely Quebecois crowd roared with laughter as the song poked fun at an influx of snobbish, chain-smoking, “know-it-all” French who are “occupying” the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. The area is so replete with French residents, French bakeries and Parisian accents that it is sometimes referred to sardonically by Montrealers as “Nouvelle-France,” France’s former North American colony.

Mr. Schneider, whose self-mocking performances sometimes include singing while dancing with a baguette, is among the droves of French people who have flocked to Montreal in recent years. They are drawn by a quest to find the American dream in the language of Molière and motivated, in part, by economic doldrums back home.


Some Montrealers call them “FFF’s” — French from France.

But as is often the case with old relatives, relations can be complicated. Quebecers and the French sometimes sound like two peoples divided by a common language.

Louis Myard, a politics student at the University of Montreal, whose family moved from Paris to Montreal several years ago, mused that “a Mexican and a Chinese person had more in common than a Frenchman and a Quebecer.”

Treats at Kouing Amann, one of the oldest bakeries in Montreal, which specializes in making a type of cake from the Brittany region in France.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times
Treats at Kouing Amann, one of the oldest bakeries in Montreal, which specializes in making a type of cake from the Brittany region in France.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times

“We play soccer, Quebecers play hockey,” he said. “We say “diner,” (dinner) they say “souper” (supper); we prefer wine, they prefer beer; we smoke cigarettes, they smoke pot.”

Mr. Myard, 22, said romance in feminist Quebec also posed challenges for young men reared in “machismo” France.

“I have been glared at for opening the door for a Quebecois woman and once called a Quebecois girl I liked, ‘my little baby,’” he recalled. “She got very annoyed and said, ‘I am not your baby!’”


Also surprising to her were Quebec expressions such as “ma blonde” — “my girlfriend” — which means “my blonde” to a French ear.

But Ms. Zimmerlin, 23, who started her own unisex fashion brand, “Kafka,” said any culture shock had been more than offset by the attraction of a society she said was far less rigid than hierarchical France.

Salomé Zimmerlin, a fashion designer from France, said she was was initially taken aback by Quebecers use of the informal pronoun “tu” rather than the more formal “vous” even when addressing strangers, though she quickly embraced the informality.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times
Salomé Zimmerlin, a fashion designer from France, said she was was initially taken aback by Quebecers use of the informal pronoun “tu” rather than the more formal “vous” even when addressing strangers, though she quickly embraced the informality.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times

“If I had tried to start a fashion label in Paris, people would’ve laughed in my face due to my lack of experience,” she said. “Here, the reaction was, ‘Show me what you can do!’”

Whatever the challenges, mutual ardor between France and Quebec was on full display during a visit last month by Quebec’s premier François Legault to Paris, where the right-leaning former businessman was greeted like a world leader by President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr. Legault also made it clear that while he wanted to reduce the number of immigrants coming to Quebec, that most certainly did not apply to the nation that gave the world pain au chocolat.

There was a time when some in Mother France would sneer at what they perceived as Quebec’s rustic “patois,” while Quebecers, in turn, would complain about the “maudits français” — or “damned French.”


These days, however, Le Monde has proclaimed Quebec an “El Dorado” for a new generation of French drawn by, among other things, an unemployment rate of about 5.5 percent, compared with more than 9 percent in France, and some advantages under immigration rules for speaking and writing French.

Between 2013 and 2017, France provided the second largest number of immigrants to Quebec after the Chinese, according to Quebec’s ministry of immigration. There are about 130,000 French people in Montreal.

For French in Montreal, poutine, the gravy-drenched cheese fries beloved in Quebec, can be a culture shock.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times
For French in Montreal, poutine, the gravy-drenched cheese fries beloved in Quebec, can be a culture shock.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times

Yet the disorientation for the new arrivals can be as unrelenting as the Canadian winter. After all, poutine, the gravy-drenched cheese fries beloved in Quebec, would seem to owe more to British and American culture than to France. Then, there are all those English words that have infiltrated the language like “cute,” “weird” and “fun.”

Mathieu Lalancette, a Quebecer who made “French PQ,” a documentary about the French in Quebec, noted many French were shocked to discover that a common language doesn’t mean a common culture.

“We Quebecers know we are very different from the French but many French who come here think they are taking the train and going to the French countryside,” he said.

While Quebecers have long looked to Enlightenment France for inspiration, Gérard Bouchard, an eminent historian and sociologist with the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi, said that as they “gained a stronger sense of identity in the 1960s, they increasingly looked to North America — not France — for self-definition.”

The new French arrivals typically come armed with some knowledge of Quebec through exposure to the music of Quebec singers popular in France like Celine Dion and Garou or to French-language films by the Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan — albeit sometimes shown with French subtitles in Paris cinemas.


But Catherine Feuillet, the consul general of France in Montreal, noted that Quebecers were understandably irritated by those of her compatriots who arrived in Quebec unable to find Quebec on a map or ignorant of its recent history.

The Plateau neighborhood is replete with French residents, French bakeries and Parisian accents.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times
The Plateau neighborhood is replete with French residents, French bakeries and Parisian accents.CreditAnnie Sakkab for The New York Times

If the French were sometimes not fully up-to-date about their new home, she added, it was, perhaps, because losing Quebec to the British in 1763 was “something they would rather forget.”

She noted some Quebecers asked, “‘Couldn’t the French have fought some more?’”

At the same time, Gallic tempers can flare when their French-speaking cousins surpass them.

In March, when Agropur, a Quebec dairy cooperative, edged out a French dairy producer to win the prize for having the world’s best Camembert, some French people were horrified.

“It’s a scandal, a fraud,” VSD, a glossy weekly magazine in France, proclaimed.

Nor are Quebecers amused by periodic breathless reports in the French media depicting Quebec as a frigid maple tree-covered frontier where, according to an article in the French magazine Elle à Table, every year pigs are “sacrificed” around Easter time before being frozen in the open air.

After an outcry here, the writer of the article apologized, acknowledging that the “very ancient” ritual no longer takes place in contemporary Quebec.

Cultural misunderstandings aside, the French influx shows little sign of abating.

Adeline Alleno, a 29-year-old from Paris, said that after spending $17,000 on her master’s degree in France, she was only able to find work there in a shoe store. In Montreal, she said, she found a senior marketing job in a matter of weeks.


She said her generation had been galvanized by President Macron, but were frustrated by his inability to deliver on his promises.  Cracking down on labor unions has not produced higher paying jobs for the upper middle classes in France, as expected.

“Here I can find a good job, buy a house, am close to nature and have quality of life, and I can still live in French,” she said, adding: “I am angry at France for failing me.”


How the Russiagate investigation brings Stalin’s Methods to American politics – by Stephen Cohen (The Nation) 21 Feb 2019

How the Russiagate investigation is Sovietizing American politics (by Stephen Cohen)
“Collusion,” “contacts,” selective prosecutions, coup plotting, and media taboos recall repressive Soviet Stalinist practices.

Having studied Soviet political history for decades and having lived off and on in that repressive political system before Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms – in Russia under Leonid Brezhnev in the late 1970s and early 1980s -I may be unduly concerned about similar repressive trends I see unfolding in democratic America during three years of mounting Russiagate allegations. Or I may exaggerate them. Even if I am right about Soviet Stalinist-like practices in the United States, they are as yet only adumbrations, and certainly nothing as repressive as they once were in Russia.

And yet, ominous trends are not to be discounted and still less ignored. I have commented on them previously, on the official use of “informants” to infiltrate Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, for example, and such practices have now multiplied. Consider the following:

Soviet Stalinist authorities, through the KGB, regularly charged and punished dissidents and other unacceptably independent citizens with linguistic versions of “collusion” and “contacts” with foreigners, particularly Americans. (Having inadvertently been the American in several cases, I can testify that the “contacts” were entirely casual, professional, or otherwise innocent.) Is something similar under way here? As the former prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy has pointed out, to make allegations of Trump associates’ “collusion” is to question “everyone who had interacted with Russia in the last quarter-century.” In my case and those of not a few scholarly colleagues, it would mean in the last half-century, or nearly. Nor is this practice merely hypothetical or abstract.

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence recently sent a letter to an American professor and public intellectual demanding that this person turn over “all communications [since January 2015] with Russian media organizations, their employees, representatives, or associates,” with “Russian persons or business interests,” “with or about US political campaigns or entities relating to Russia,” and “related to travel to Russia, and/or meetings, or discussions, or interactions that occurred during such travel.” We do not know how many such letters the Committee has sent, but this is not the only one. If this is not an un-American political inquisition, it is hard to say what would be. (It was also a common Soviet Stalinist practice, though such “documents” were usually obtained by sudden police raids, of which there have recently been at least two in our own country, both related to Russiagate.)

In this connection, Soviet Stalinist authorities also regularly practiced selective prosecution, which is persecution intended to send a chilling signal to other would-be offenders. For example, in 1965, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel were arrested for publishing their literary writings abroad under pseudonyms, an emerging practice the Kremlin wanted to stop. And in 1972, an important dissident figure, Pytor Yakir, was held in solitary confinement until he “broke” and signed a “confession,” even naming some of his associates, which greatly demoralized the dissident movement.

Paul Manafort is no American dissident, literary or otherwise, and he well may be guilty of the financial misdeeds and tax evasion as charged. But he is facing, at nearly age 70, in effect a life sentence in prison and, through fines imposed, the bankruptcy of his family. We may reasonably ask: Is this selective prosecution/persecution? How many other hired US political operatives in foreign countries in recent years have been so audited and onerously prosecuted? Or has Manafort been singled out because he was once Trump’s campaign manager?

We may also ask why a young Russian woman living in Washington, Maria Butina, was arrested and kept in solitary confinement until she confessed – that is, pleaded guilty. (She is still in prison.) Her offense? Publicly extolling the virtues of her native Russian government and advocating détente-like relations between Washington and Moscow without having registered as a foreign agent. Americans living in Russia frequently do the same on behalf of their country. Certainly, I have often done so. Are patriotism and promoting détente as an alternative to the new and more dangerous Cold War now a crime in the United States, or is the selective prosecution of Butina a response to Trump’s call for “cooperation with Russia”?

Now we have an even more alarming Soviet Stalinist-like practice. Former acting head of the FBI  Andrew McCabe tells us that in 2017, he and other high officials discussed a way to remove President Trump from office. As Alan Dershowitz, a professor of constitutional law, remarked, they had in mind an “attempted coup d’état.” Which may remind students of Soviet history that two of its leaders were targets of a bureaucratic or administrative “coup”- Nikita Khrushchev twice, in 1957 and 1964, the latter being successful; and Gorbachev in August 1991, though perhaps several other plots against him may still be unknown. Khrushchev and Gorbachev were disruptors of the bureaucratic status quo and its entrenched interests – very much unlike President Trump, but disruptors nonetheless.


‘A disgrace to US, big part of Russia hoax’: Trump unloads on ex-acting FBI chief McCabe


Finally, at least for now, there is the role media censorship played in Soviet repression. To a knowing reader who could read “between the lines,” the Soviet Stalinist press actually provided a lot of usable information. Equally important, though, was what it excluded as taboo—particularly news and other information that undermined the official narrative of current and historical events. (All this ended with Gorbachev’s introduction of glasnost in the late 1980s.) In the era of Russiagate, American mainstream media are practicing at least partial censorship by systematically excluding voices and other sources that directly challenge their orthodox narrative. There are many such malpractices in leading newspapers and on influential television programs, but they are the subject of another commentary.

These examples remind us that we are also living in an age of blame -particularly blaming Russia for mishaps of our own making, for electoral outcomes and other unwelcome developments elsewhere in the world. Drawing attention to Soviet Stalinist precedents is not to blame that long-gone nation state. Instead, we again need Walt Kelly’s cartoon philosopher Pogo, who told us decades ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

By Stephen F. Cohen

This article was originally published by The Nation.

“A misogynous disgrace” – Sexism and the ‘Star Is Born’ Films – by Camille Paglia (Hollywood Reporter) 20 Feb 2019

The academic, author and cultural critic analyzes the four versions of the tragic love story and finds one a “feminist landmark” and Bradley Cooper’s to be “a misogynous disgrace.”

A Star Is Born, with its symmetrical plotline of rising and falling stars, is Hollywood’s canonical myth-saga, capturing both the glory and cruelty of the modern entertainment industry.

The fourth version of A Star Is Born, directed by Bradley Cooper and starring himself and Lady Gaga, has been nominated for eight Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards. How does this movie treat our red-hot theme of women’s aspirations and achievement? Surprisingly, despite its progressive gestures toward masculine sensitivity and transgender inclusiveness, this A Star Is Born is the most sexist film of the entire series.

In Cooper’s film, the epic Hollywood story has been hijacked by camera-hogging male vanity, curtailing the magnificent classic role of the ascending woman star who painfully eclipses her self-destructive, alcoholic husband. What the script has stingily left to Gaga to play is not leading lady material. Her performance has never belonged in the best actress category because Cooper demoted her to supporting actress from the start.

Particularly outrageous amid the overpraise of Cooper’s film has been denigration of the previous, 1976 version, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, from whose performance Cooper heavily borrowed. Except, that is, for Kristofferson’s robust sexy allure: With his greasy hair, hobo beard and chronic slump, Cooper scarcely manages more than two facial expressions (dull and duller) throughout.

The dynasty of A Star Is Born began with What Price Hollywood? (1932), in which a waitress (Constance Bennett) is discovered by an alcoholic movie director, who steers her to Tinseltown fame at a time when the phenomenon of movie stardom was barely two decades old.

Janet Gaynor, the heroine of the first A Star Is Born (1937), had won the very first Oscar for best actress for 1927. The girliest of the four, she was already 30 when the movie was shot, which explains why we sometimes feel a strain in her miming of fragile innocence. However, Gaynor’s Esther Blodgett is gritty with ambition, inspired by the movie magazines she devours in her North Dakota farmhouse.

In the wake of American women winning the vote after World War I, the film foregrounds the then-new theme of female careerism. Esther rejects marriage and motherhood as her only choice: “I’m going to be somebody!” Overarching the film is her outspoken grandmother, a formidable dowager played by May Robson, who supports her drive to succeed and identifies it with her own generation of pioneer women who braved immense hardships. At the end, the grandmother, stronger than the heroine’s dead spouse, reappears and plants her female flag in Hollywood, forcing Esther (now Vicki Lester) to embrace her professional dominance.

The film explores the unresolved conflicts still experienced by many women in balancing home and work. Most studio-era movies showed women eagerly surrendering their job for a wedding ring. A trace of this remains in the first A Star Is Born in Vicki’s decision to abandon her career to care for her husband (Fredric March), who is struggling with substance abuse. But in a heroic gender reversal, he frees her by sacrificing himself, walking into the sea at Malibu.


From its opening panorama of the glittering lights of Los Angeles, the 1937 film exhilaratingly documents the sights, rituals and churning mechanism of the movie industry, from clapper boards, screen tests and Central Casting to premieres, awards shows and mobs of ruthless fans (who tear off Vicki’s veil at her husband’s funeral).

Clinically inspected and processed by the brusquely efficient makeup and publicity departments, Vicki emerges with a new name and life story. She has become that supreme artifact, the movie star. All this sweeping expansiveness — the wilderness through which the fairy-tale heroine apprehensively makes her way — is missing from the disjointed Cooper film, which claustrophobically contracts to Jackson Maine’s stalled relationships with other men. The ravenous industry in which Ally (Gaga) rises is hardly glimpsed.

The Judy Garland version (1954), like the Gaynor film, has a tremendous sense of place. It begins with the thrilling magnitude of spotlights, clogged streets and surging crowds at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, palpably vibrating with the excitement of old Hollywood. Compare this riveting specificity to the fogginess of the Cooper film, where we’re never sure where we are. (Does Jackson live in Laurel Canyon or Santa Barbara? Does Ally live in New York or the San Fernando Valley? If the latter, why is she taking a jet plane to see Jackson’s show, which is presumably in L.A.?)

The Shrine event is shockingly disrupted by drunken, belligerent Norman Maine (James Mason), who lurches through a backstage bevy of ballerinas and showgirls. Unsparingly presenting Maine as arrogant with male privilege, the script prepares the way for the tragic intensity of the love story. In contrast, Cooper upgrades himself to lovable stumbling klutz, merely drawing a few hard glances from fellow musicians. He thus defeats the entire redemptive pattern of the three earlier films.

What astonishes about the Garland version is how often she appears in daringly half-male clothing with a butch haircut. This film’s Norman Maine, whose predatory womanizing is seen at the Cocoanut Grove club, zeroes in on Garland’s Esther in androgynous mode — a man’s bow tie and long tuxedo jacket flashing pert legs and high heels. Directed by openly gay George Cukor, the movie suggests a hidden sexual fluidity in Norman, also shown when he enthusiastically subs as Esther’s makeup and hairstylist.

In the Cooper film, in contrast, Jackson fails to recognize a false eyebrow and ickily peels it off Ally’s forehead like a parasitic slug. Inexplicably, Cooper sets the scene in a glossily sanitized drag bar while missing a huge opportunity to showcase Lady Gaga in drag — as in Marlene Dietrich’s swaggering cabaret style.

The tour de force of the Garland Star is her epochal performance of “The Man That Got Away,” a torch song that became an anthem for gay men in the pre-Stonewall era. Here we see the supranormal power of the true star: Garland’s petite body literally throbs with profound passion, repeatedly arcing from soft to loud and back. A gifted performer operating at this level of near-mystical inspiration has entered an abstract realm beyond gender.

In the third A Star Is Born (1976), John Norman Howard (Kristofferson) is a rock star, while Esther Hoffman (Streisand) fronts a biracial trio, the Oreos. One of the greatest romantic scenes in film history is achieved by Streisand and Kristofferson when he charismatically improvises lyrics to her exquisite piano riff (“Lost Inside of You”). Two minds and bodies meld, as the locale shifts to a candlelit bathtub, where Esther flips sex roles by rouging John Norman’s cheeks and tenderly tagging his eyebrow with transgender glitter.

Cooper’s Jackson generates credibly hard-edged guitar rock in scenes filmed at several music festivals, but they are less well photographed than those at Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium in the Streisand film. Furthermore, the overall soundtrack of the new A Star Is Born is bland and forced. Gaga’s pop singing still lacks subtlety and finesse. She and her hard-core fans mistake applause-milking bellowing for emotional authenticity. Truly great singers, from Aretha Franklin to Adele, know how to express and temper emotion at high volume.

A harrowing highlight of the series is the ritual humiliation of the leading man. The Gaynor and Garland films are gut-wrenching in showing the cold contempt of other men for a wounded alpha male as he tumbles down to become a mere adjunct to a more successful woman. The public scenes at Santa Anita racetrack, where Norman is shunned, derided and slugged to the floor are unforgettable, as are the private scenes where he is idly housebound and painfully called “Mr. Lester” by a delivery man.

Barging drunk into the Academy Awards banquet, Norman ruins Vicki’s supreme moment with his bitter rant against Hollywood. In the first two films, he inadvertently slaps her, drawing gasps from the crowd — a fiasco that starts his slide toward suicide. In the Streisand film, a decade after the birth of second-wave feminism, the venue switches to the Grammy Awards and, significantly, there is no physical blow.

At the Grammys in Cooper’s film, the tipsy Jackson simply slips en route to the stage with Ally. And it all ends in infantile passivity: Jackson pisses his pants in full view of the audience. This ugly scene, which reduces a triumphant career woman to a gal pal awkwardly hiding a urine spill with a flap of her gown, is a misogynous disgrace.

In retrospect, we can now fully recognize Streisand’s A Star Is Born as a feminist landmark. Wandering into a low-rent club, rowdy John Norman is instantly attracted to her Esther when she sticks a mic under his nose and sternly rebukes him, “You’re blowing my act.” Garland’s androgynous costumes are revamped by Streisand’s gender-bending outfits (“from her closet,” say the credits), including a belted Cossack shirt with high boots.

Finding John Norman in bed with a groupie, Esther says in white-hot fury, “You can trash your life, but you’re not going to trash mine,” then speeds to the game room to smash his liquor bottles with a pool cue, in spectacular close-up. After his death in a James Dean-like car crash, Esther (introduced as “Esther Hoffman Howard,” rejecting the previous films’ female erasure of “Mrs. Norman Maine”) reappears for an operatic solo of grief, defiance and transcendence.

Streisand takes the audience prisoner in this almost unendurably protracted single take, a raw assertion of female ego and power. Then the credits flash with her multiple roles, starting with executive producer. Streisand was setting the terms for the new frontier: women in Hollywood seizing control of their own creative universe.

Camille Paglia’s most recent book is Provocations: Collected Essays on Art, Feminism, Politics, Sex, and Education.

Wash DC – Beltway Warriors Target China as the Next Global Threat – By Leon Hadar (American Conservative) 11 Feb 2019

We drained all of our resources in the Middle East. Now we turn further East in search of monsters to destroy?

(Chinese President Xi Jinping at a press conference after a meeting with the German Chancellor in Berlin in 2017)

Can you please refer me to that historic date at the end of 2001, the day when the world as we had known it was transformed, changing the global balance of power in a way that the international position of the United States would never be the same?

No, I do not have September 11, 2001 in mind. That is too easy and the wrong answer. Think December 11, 2001. It is the date on which China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), opening the road to its integration into the global economy and marking the start of a momentous geoeconomic and geostrategic revolution that is not yet over. Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, is still dead.

That 12/11 and not 9/11 is the day to remember may have become clear to anyone who read a recent front page of The New York Times. “U.S. and Taliban Edge Toward Deal to End America’s Longest War” murmured the headline at its bottom, while the one above the fold on the right screamed: “U.S. Scrambles to Outrun China in New Arms Race.”

The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) has finally ended…and China won!

When the Berlin Wall came down, American policymakers had an opportunity to reassess U.S. global strategy, and with the disappearance of the Soviet threat—the main rationale for the huge American military presence worldwide—to start reducing those commitments, including in the Middle East.

Instead, America’s military and diplomatic presence in the Middle East only deepened, eventually taking the form of an ambitious Pax Americana project. Under it, the United States was expected not only to become the hegemonic military power in the region but to use its might to remake its politics and economics—the so-called Freedom Agenda—by pursuing “regime change” and “nation building.”

The neoconservative intellectuals who were advancing this strategy argued that by gaining hegemony in the Middle East, Washington could use its control of the oil resources there as leverage in its dealings with China, whose booming economy was becoming more reliant on energy imports. This would ensure that Beijing would not become America’s long-term global rival. But that proved to be just one more neoconservative fantasy.

In fact, the costly military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the failed nation-building and democracy promotion crusades in the Middle East, damaged U.S. global security interests—and played directly into China’s hands.

The Americans were drawn into a long and costly military quagmire in the Middle East just as the U.S. financial system was being challenged and the American economy was plummeting into a major recession.

At the same time, after joining the WTO—exactly three months after 9/11—the Chinese were able to continue strengthening their booming economy. This provided them with the opportunity to advance their economic and military agenda in East Asia.

Ironically, America’s military presence in the Middle East was now helping to secure Chinese access to the energy resources in the Persian Gulf. This amounted to free American security services for China in the region, the kind that the Americans were already providing to Germany, France, and Japan.

So by the time the Americans were able to defeat al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist terrorist groups, it was China, and not the financially strained United States, that emerged as the big winner. Beijing was on its way to becoming the hegemon in East Asia.

This explains why the two most recent men to occupy the White House—the “internationalist” Barack Obama and the “nationalist” Donald Trump—were elected after pledging to reduce U.S. commitments in the Middle East.

Indeed, it seems that both Obama and Trump concluded that the United States had neither the resources nor the will to launch new military interventions in the Middle East, not to mention promote regime change or nation build.

At the same time, Obama and Trump made it clear that they wanted to shift Washington’s geo-strategic focus from the Middle East to East Asia. They recognized that China—and not the military dictators, monarchs, theocratic regimes, or Islamist terrorists in the Middle East—posed the main challenge to U.S. global interests, and that the costly American intervention in that region had benefited Beijing and not the United States.

Obama’s new focus was highlighted when his administration announced in 2012 its “Pivot to East Asia.” As part of this strategy, he promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which would have linked the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries, while continuing to pursue a policy of engagement with China.

President Trump, on the other hand, has pursued a more unilateral strategy in dealing with Beijing, centered on an effort to re-balance the Sino-American trade and investment relationship. This has resulted in growing tensions between the two global powers.

Amid all this is a sense of déjà vu. Many of the major bureaucratic and political players in Washington, including Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who were promoting the global war on terror in the first decade of the 21st century are now contending that China is the leading global threat to U.S. interests, and are in the process of readying the nation for a new cold war, this time around with Beijing.

Hence both economic nationalists and security hawks seem to be looking forward to the evolving cold war with China, which would probably translate into an expanding government role in the economy and to growing defense budgets.

But most Americans would not benefit from rising tensions with China, which would only lead to more trade wars and could ignite military confrontations, opening the way for less economic and political freedom.

Contrary those sounding the drumbeat of the new Cold War, China does not represent the kind of threat that the Soviet Union, Imperial Japan, or Nazi Germany posed.

China does not seek global domination and has no plans to establish a military presence in America’s sphere of influence in Central and Latin America. It seeks instead to protect its national security interests in its own sphere of influence in the Pacific where other powers—including India, Japan, and the U.S.—are seen to be challenging them.

Moreover, unlike the Soviet Union, the Chinese have not been promoting their political-economic model worldwide or trying to export it the way that the U.S. has with its liberal-democratic model.

It is kind of ironic that American officials and pundits are accusing the Chinese of pushing a huge propaganda campaign in the United States through, among other things, their academic Confucius Institutes and foreign language media. After all, it is the Americans, with their numerous semi-government organizations, who have been trying to promote their values and interests abroad, including by fermenting the so-called “color revolutions” around the world.

No serious observer would deny that China is emerging as a tough economic and military competitor of the United States. Washington needs to work with its allies to respond to the Chinese military and espionage threats while pressing it to end the theft of American technology, cease violating trade rules, and open its markets to foreign investment.

What would not make sense would be for Washington to turn China into its new enemy and marshal its economic and military resources for a long and costly global confrontation with the Chinese. Like the moribund war on terror, a new cold war would probably reward the power players in Washington—but it would not serve America’s long-term interests.

Leon Hadar, a TAC contributing editor, writes regularly for National Interest Online, Asia Times, Haaretz, and Quillette.


10 Best Movies Influenced by Marxist Philosophy – by Luca Badaloni (Taste of Cinema) 22 July 2015

marxist films

Karl Marx was one of the most influential philosopher of all time and consequently his work has influenced a lot of films. The spectator faces Marxist problems such as: proletariat conditions, bourgeoisie dominance, the evolving technology and its connection to society, and revolution. Every problem is only a signal of the advent of the communist era, which consists of final justice on earth. This is the core of an entire movement which deeply influenced the world.

Obviously there were other philosophers, many influenced by Marx, who expanded those core elements in many other directions, some of them contemporaneous to him including Engels, Kautsky, Bernstein and others after his death (Rosa Luxemburg, Gyorgy Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, Ernst Bloch).

Every one of them shared a faith in proletariat justice, where object and subject finally identify each other. Lower industrial classes are the “soil” for the revolution and will bring true values for all humanity but doing this demands the fall of the dominant industrialized class: the bourgeoisie. Fraternity is the key word to the basis of a community, and Communism is the ultimate community where humanity frees itself from physical and mental slavery.

Marx has never described a “communist” society but he gave some advice in his Critique of the Gotha Program. He said that capitalism is the world where slave-masses serve the few dehumanized bourgeoisies. Once this is known it’s easy to understand that for a film to be Marxist it should reflect reality as closely as possible. It should reflect the horribleness of bourgeois society and the honorable values brought about by the proletarian class.

That is a simplified point of view in respect to the Marxist way to see arts (in particular in respect to Lukacs’s literary theories), but it shows the core of this concept. In fact, during the Soviet era, the most common type of film coming from “red” countries,was the documentary. What ‘s better than reality itself to show how society and socialism work?

Exemplary examples are the “Kino-pravda” works created by Dziga Vertov. The main ideas expressed Marx evolved through time and in particular during the 67-68’ period which brought a sort of renaissance and reconsideration of the core Marxist ideas, which ends in a post-structuralist philosophical movement. In this final development of “revolutionary” ideas, Marx was an influence along with others, so it can be said that in cinema’s post-68’ period is not a continuation of the Russian montage school.

Considering the history of socialism and the history of cinema, there is a wide range of achievement among the movies influenced by Marx and these show many different aspects of Marx ideas, demonstrating the multifaceted dimensions of this movement. On the other hand it is possible to show what Marxism has meant to humanity through the eyes of a number of directors.


10. Novecento (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1976)

Novecento 1976

This film demonstrates what a useful concept communism was in fighting fascism in Italian society during World War II. Novecento is the story of two men, born in the same day in the same village. One is the son of a country worker (Gerard Depardieu) and the other one is the son of the landholder (Robert DeNiro). They have different social backgrounds but grow together in friendship.

This movie is 5 hour long and considers other problems related to everyday life, love, and relationships, but the political aspect remains an undercurrent which keeps the film going. Poor people are too weak and ignorant to potently fight the rising fascist power and only when war comes to Italy they can start to form partisan rebel armies.

Marxism is the secret root that “feeds” the struggles of this movie, because everything is, at bottom, moved by social injustice. At the end the populist elements rising against the landowner resolves all the problems but only momentarily.


9. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)

Modern Times

A classic movie by Charlie Chaplin is a Marxist film? Chaplin was always sensitive to social problems. England has always been the land of socialist battles. Highgate cemetery is a sufficient proof of how deeply related England is to Marx’s life.

This film could be seen as a social accusation toward industrialization . If one wants to better understand what proletariat alienation is, this is the film to see. This movie is based on a simple concept which it explains well through stereotypical and ironic characters.

A society that works in a crazy context cannot be fit for man, who continuously searches to be free. If it is only a critical film more than constructive one, it reflects a particular aspect of industrial proletariat problems, a very old problem that is a socialist vindication but at the same time, is the basis of Marx’s philosophy.


8. Porcile (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969)

Porcile 1969

Pasolini was one of the novelists who deeply embraced the Marxist philosophy. This film also reflects the hypercritical attitude in Pasolini’s cinema towards the bourgeoisies.

Porcile is split into two sections: one is a story about a rich family heir who is about to marry but also loves animals more than humans. The second part revolves around a cannibal looking for victims. The first part represents the moral alienation of an upper class man who cannot feel love anymore while his father thinks only about money. The second is a symbolic translation of a self-eating mankind, which cannot resist destroying a part of itself in favor of another part.

Marx comes through as a philosopher who shows moral degradation in spite of a final idea of perfection. Man can reach that plateau but doesn’t want to.

7. Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930)


Dovzhenko is one of the great names of the Russian montage school, which includes other directors such as Eisensten, Vertov, Pudovkin and Kuleshov. This film is a representation of the technological change brought by revolution.

This film posits other ideas but shows that Marxism could be seen as a prime mover. After the New Economic Policy ended in 1929, Russian organization of rural activities changed forever in 1930. Kolchoz arrival signed a point break in communist society.

Earth is the perfect example of the meaning of the changes in order to better understand the consequences of some decisions. Obviously Dovzhenko’s purpose was not to focus only on Russian reforms but to go further into the epic changes. He defined his cinema as a cine-poem. The spectator will notice the end of Kulaks, the forced collectivization of lands, the end of Ukrainian independence from Stalin’s decisions and the end of the New Economic Policy.


6. Three Songs about Lenin (Dziga Vertov, 1934)

3 Songs about Lenin

This is not a fictional film but a documentary and represents the influence of Lenin in Russian culture and history. At the same time the spectator may notice the deep political exaltation of the dictatorship figure. This is the passionate homage of a director to a “people’s hero”.

If someone looks at this documentary without any political bias, one could understand the political situation in 1934 Russia. The sense of exaggeration is always present, but facing this means facing what was to be a Russian under Stalinism. That means Lenin must be seen as savior with no discussion allowed.


5. Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard, 2010)

Film Socialisme (2010)

This is not the only socialist film created by the famous French director, and probably is not his best when compared to “Week End” or “La Chinoise”. This film perfectly represents the style and the politics of Jean-Luc Godard in its complexity. Its director was heavily influenced by Marxist ideas and this is a sort of summation.

The film is subdivided into three movements: “Such things”, “Our Europe” and “Our Humanity”. Every chapter represents the deep connection between humans outside of ideological differences or political faiths. The film represents the trial of a new Europe, a crossway of languages and cultures, where society simply overwhelms economics.

Godard is one of the most complicated of directors and his language is very difficult for a spectator who has never seen his films. Derrida and Badiou are the main influences here but Marx could be seen as an “undercurrent” which moves every single idea inside the images.


4. October (Sergei Eisenstein, 1928)


Anyone interested in the way Lenin was able to take control of the Russian political situation during the fateful month of October 1917, should see this film. Sergei Eisenstein, the chief proponent of the Russian montage school creates one of his best works in collaboration with Grigori Aleksandrov.

Spanning from April 1917 when the provisional government took power and Lenin has returned from exile, there’s no clear protagonist in this film since the masses are the true protagonist. Lenin is the only leader who can lead the troubled nation. Kornilov was the general who tried to maintain political calm, but the drastic situation of the proletariat was too bad and revolution was close at hand. The complexity represented by this movie is based on Marxists conceptions.

One of the best scenes renders the representation of religion as “all the same thing” equalizing Christianity, Hinduism, and other ancient faiths. The perspicacious observer will notice the absence of other important personages of the Russian revolution such as Trotsky and Zinoviev. They were cut out of the film.

Lenin is portrayed as the people’s hero and the masses exalt him as the antidote for the bourgeois provisional government. This is a perfect example in understanding the cultural perception of revolution during Stalin era.


3. Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

Man With a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera is one of the most famous works of the Russian montage school and is one of its most experimental movies. It demonstrates a lot of different techniques regarding the positioning of the movie camera apart the obvious montage. With this movie Vertov tried to explain his concept of kinoglaz (movie-eye) through a series of everyday situations.

For the Marxist ideas of film, a director cannot use fictional situations to symbolize reality. The filmmaker has to use images from the real world. Vertov’s purpose was to show the beauty of the industrialized society using only scenes from the society itself. In this movie there are no actors, scenarios, or title cards and the main “protagonist” is the director himself, or better, his movie camera.

The aim is to achieve the perfect overlapping of eye and camera which is reminiscent of the final identification of object and subject in Marxist-Hegelian dialectics. The spectator is faced with a society that is experiencing its continuous evolution thankful to the revolution, socially and technologically speaking.

Communist society is shown at its best while the spectator is compelled to think in a sort of meta-cinema way. Marxists ideas are present here in their purest form. The revolution brought about by the Soviet citizens to their society permits the advent of real technology. Vertov here connects Marxism with the film’s techniques and philosophy.


2. Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968)


This film came out during the “hot” year, when students all over Europe were protesting against the institutions. Pasolini depicts a typical Italian bourgeoisie family reacting towards an unknown man.

This film wants to show the reverse alienation of the dominant class, but focuses also on its incapacity towards other humans. When the family meets a mysterious man they are enthralled by his presence. All the true sentiments come from the family only after the man leaves. These range from the religious faith, to love, art and finally the “political” redemption of the father.

Pasolini want to show how the reality of human relationships could be lost if the focus is only on self and superficial and commoditized things. This film is contemporary because humans continue to live in this same situation and refuse to keep open minds as to what truly matters. Marxism in this film reaches its critical point concerning the dominant class existing at a metaphysical level.


1. Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)

Battleship Potemkin

This may be the most famous “Red propaganda” movie of all and there’s a reason for this. It is the story of a mutiny in one of the battleships of the Tsarist Russian naval force. It took place in the Black Sea during the 1905 revolutionary movement. The sailors of the Potemkin rebelled due to lack edible food and seemed destined to be executed for insubordination until one of them, Vakulinchuk, starts a mutiny. The force of the sailors overwhelms officers, doctor and a priest.

The Potemkin arrives in Odessa and the Tsarist troops decide to defeat the rebels. Doing that requires to pass onto civilians. One of the most famous scenes of the history of cinema displays the machine-like advance of the army while women, babies and other people are brutally killed. Battleship Potemkin’s destiny is already ordained but the ship will fall with honor with the red flag of rebellion in the air while the sailors refuse to combat their Tsarist comrades.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this film changed the entire perspective of the word “film” in the cinematic history. Apart the exceptional montage work there’s a clear reference to all the revolutionary movements against the oppression led by bourgeoisie power. The mutiny is towards religion, officers and false beliefs and is the only option possible for the oppressed.

To fall for fighting against oppressors maintains honor and only heroes will be remembered for doing so. In this particular case it would be useful to take a look to the heroic rebels of the 1905 revolution who have risen through time, such as Kalyayev, who became the protagonist of Albert Camus’s play The Just Assassins, or Boris Savinkov.

This film will not explain the Marxist conception of economy but it can explain what could cause a revolution for a social cause. Apart the political beliefs, this film represent an encouragement to fight injustice in any form. In its simplicity it can represents a chant for all the believers in the revolution.




The Rifle on the Wall: A Left Argument for Gun Rights (The Polemicists) 3 January 2013

An essay in seven sections.

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The Fundamental Political Principle


“That rifle on the wall of the labourer’s cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.” — George Orwell1

Let’s start with this: The citizen’s right to possess firearms is a fundamental political right. The political principle at stake is quite simple: to deny the state the monopoly of armed force.  This should perhaps be stated in the obverse: to empower the citizenry, to distribute the power of armed force among the citizenry as a whole. The history of arguments and struggles over this principle, throughout the world, is long and clear. Instituted in the context of a revolutionary struggle based on the most democratic concepts of its day, the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is perhaps the clearest legal/constitutional expression of this principle, and as such, I think, is one of the most radical statutes in the world.

The question of gun rights is a political question, in the broad sense that it touches on the distribution of power in a polity.  Thus, although it incorporates all these perfectly legitimate “sub-political” activities, it is not fundamentally about hunting, or collecting, or target practice; it is about empowering the citizen relative to the state. Denying the importance of, or even refusing to understand, this fundamental point of the Second Amendment right, and sneering at people who do, symptomizes a politics of paternalist statism – not (actually the opposite of) a politics of revolutionary liberation. 

I’ll pause right here.  For me, and for most supporters of gun rights, however inartfully they may put it, this is the core issue.  To have an honest discussion of what’s at stake when we talk about “gun rights,” “gun control,” etc., everyone has to know, and acknowledge, his/her position on this fundamental political principle.  Do you hold that the right to possess firearms is a fundamental political right?

If you do, then you are ascribing it a strong positive value, you will be predisposed to favor its extension to all citizens, you will consider whatever “regulations” you think are necessary (because some might be) with the greatest circumspection (because those “regulations” are limitations on a right, and rights, though never as absolute as we may like, are to be cherished), you will never seek, overtly or surreptitiously, to eliminate that right entirely – and your discourse will reflect all of that. If you understand gun ownership as a political right, then, for you, if there weren’t a second amendment, there should be.

If, on the other hand, you do not hold that the right to possess firearms is a fundamental political right, if you think it is some kind of luxury or peculiarity or special prerogative, then, of course, you really won’t give a damn about how restricted that non-right is, or whether it is ignored or eliminated altogether.  If you reject, or don’t understand, gun ownership as a political right, then you probably think the Second Amendment should never have been.

It is my perception, based on public evidence, as well as countless conversations on the subject, that the latter position is that of most self-identified American liberals.  However they may occasionally, tactically, craft their discourse to pretend, for an audience that does value the right of citizens to arm themselves, that they too value that right, most American liberals just do not. They do not even understand why it should be considered a right at all, in the sense elaborated above. They would love to restrict it as much as possible, and they would just as soon be done with the American constitutional guarantee of that right, the Second Amendment, which they see as some kind of embarrassing anachronism.

I think we should have this discussion honestly. If the latter is your position, say it.  If you want to eliminate the Second Amendment right, mount a forthright political campaign to do so.  Do not pussy-foot around with “I am not against the Second Amendment.  I do not want to take your hunting rifles and your shotguns and your antique muskets,” when you really don’t like the Second Amendment at all, would love to see it repealed, and wouldn’t mind if everybody was forced to turn in every weapon that they owned.

‘Cause, guess what: You’re not fooling anybody.  When your discourse reeks with intellectual and moral disdain for gun-rights and gun-rights advocates, when it never endorses, and indeed at best studiously avoids, the issue of gun ownership as a fundamental political right, it shows.  And it certainly shows when you say outright that you’d love to confiscate all guns, no matter how you try to waffle on that later. Despite what’s implied in the ever-present disdain, gun rights advocates are not, ipso facto, stupid (or violent, or crazy), and certainly not too stupid to see where you’re heading.  So let’s stop gaslighting gun-rights supporters as paranoid when they state what they see:

Dianne Feinstein, who had a concealed carry permit when she felt a ”sense of helplessness,”  saying: “If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them….  Mr. and Mrs. American turn ‘em all in. I would have done it.”

Not to mention Andrew Cuomo’s more recent: “Confiscation could be an option. Mandatory sale to the state could be an option.”

Of course, you could counter that nobody should believe a word of anything these politicians say, anyway. How persuasive is this performance by pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands Joe?

Those who understand gun ownership as a fundamental political right correctly perceive, and are right to resist, the intended threat of its incremental elimination in gun-control laws that will have little to no practical effect, other than to demand more acts of compliance and submission to the armed authority of the state.  And those who do want to take that right away must be – and they are, aren’t they? – willing to use the armed force of the state to enforce the rescission of that right on the fifty million or so Americans who own guns and never have done or will do anything murderous or illegal with them. That’ll institute a peaceful new society.


Guns, Gun Rights, and Liberal “Pacifism”

I am not talking about guns but gun rights. This is not about whether anybody likes or dislikes guns, and certainly nobody should fetishize them. It is unfortunate that, as with many debates in this country, the gun-rights debate is cast in the media as a clash between two extremely silly camps – those who fetishize guns positively, and those who fetishize them negatively. For there to be a serious political debate, both of these attitudes really have to be recognized, and dropped, by those who inhabit them. I don’t own a gun. I’m not defending my gun. I’m defending my right.

I think there should be fewer guns. I think we should have a more pacific society, one in which violence isn’t as alluring as apple pie, and we don’t have street parties to celebrate assassinations. I definitely think that the cultural representation of armed violence as a quick, effective, and attractive solution for all kinds of personal and social problems, which is ubiquitous in America, is ridiculous and pernicious. The answer to that is to do a lot of determined political and cultural work, not to pass a law and call in the armed police, the courts, and the penal system to enforce it on people who have done nothing wrong.

Guns are neither magic talismans against tyranny nor anathematic objects that cause crime and violence. Guns – certainly the personal firearms that are in question – carry a limited but real measure of inherent power, and therefore danger, that everyone should respect. (Indeed it is because they are powerful and dangerous that they are the nexus of an important political right.) But guns are not agents of history. They are not, per se, going to free a polity from oppression or generate unrestrained social violence. Within an insurgent political movement, they can at certain moments be useful, even crucial, for the former outcome; and, within a context of social decay brought on by other factors, they can seriously exacerbate the latter. Their overall positive or negative effect is only determined by the political and social context in which they are used, and the character of the agents who use them.

American liberals can all too easily recognize and disparage the positive fetishism regarding guns, but can be blind to their own negative fetishism. Underlying this noli me tangere negative fetishism are confusions and contradictions regarding what I’ll call the casual “imaginary pacifism” that crops up repeatedly as a constituent of American liberal ideology. I am not here referring to the kind of consistent and absolute, usually religious-based, pacifism that we traditionally associate, rightly or wrongly, with figures like Martin Luther King, Mohandas Ghandi, and the Amish – the kind of pacifism that would, under all circumstances, “turn the other cheek” and abjure the use of armed force to defend one’s self (or anybody else), let alone to advance or defend a political movement.  Such a consistent, rigorous, pacifism is an honorable position, and those who hold and live it deserve respect. 

They are, however, few and far between, and most American liberals are not among them.  The vast majority of American liberals – like persons of all other groups – while they want to live peaceful lives, free of violence, for themselves and everyone else in the world, support the use of armed force in defense of themselves, their loved ones, and some political agenda or another. While they actually hold a position that accepts legitimate uses of armed force, a lot of American liberals like to imagine that they are living in some kind of sympathetic identity with their edited, angelic versions of King and Gandhi, and they are shocked, shocked, and react with utter revulsion, at the discourse of people who proclaim upfront that they are not. 

(They are even more shocked to be confronted with the idea that maybe King and Gandhi were not exactly the kind of “pacifists” they imagine them to have been. For King: “Violence exercised merely in self-defense, all societies, from the most primitive to the most cultured and civilized, accept as moral and legal.  The principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi.”2)

This kind of pretend pacifism is most repugnant when it issues from the mouth of the commander-in-chief of the world’s most elaborate killing apparatus, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,“ as King put it. Nothing is more –“hypocritical” is hardly a sufficient word – than seeing an American president lecturing political movements throughout the world on the need for “non-violence,” as if he were some kind of pacifist, using pseudo-pacifism as a ground for being unapologetically self-righteous. 

But this kind of presumption is annoying wherever it saturates liberal discourse – which is kind of everywhere. Take, for example, this gem:: “As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind,” followed a few sentences later by: “We should never forget the brave work of those professionals in the military and intelligence communities … who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, .., for the defense of this nation” [emphasis in original]. Zero Dark Thirty, you see, is a pacifist document.  (Or at least the document of a pacifist.) That a person of obvious intelligence and cultural sophistication can utter such contradictory nonsense, without recognizing it as such, is a symptom of how deeply this presumptive imaginary “pacifism” I am evoking is ingrained in American liberal ideology.

This position seeps down through the “sub-political” issues of self-defense and personal responsibility. Not-really-pacifist “pacifist” liberals, I find, often get wrapped up in a recurring ideological process of shedding and assigning guilt.  I wouldn’t touch a gun. I’ll just call my paid servant the policeman to come and shoot my assailant for me.  My hands stay clean of gunshot residue and other stains; he wields the horrid gun and the moral responsibility, and quandary, of using deadly force – which I’ll endlessly analyze with my colleagues over dinner.  And if it really was my ass that was saved, we’ll all congratulate ourselves for maintaining our “pacifist” guiltlessness, while romanticizing the guy who did the dirty work for us. Katherine Bigelow speaks for many, who actually think there is some kind of extra moral virtue in this way of living in the world.  I find a more cogent description in the Sartrian term “bad faith.” 

For myself, since I neither am nor pretend to be a pacifist, if I were in some mortal danger that called for the self-defensive use of deadly force, I would rather take on myself the responsibility for using that force – moral quandary, dirty hands and all – than shift it onto someone from a quasi-professional caste created to be my absolving wet workers.

If we are going to hold police and other armed agents of the state responsible for using armed force appropriately – and we should – then we should be willing to assume the same responsibility for which we hold them. What we should not do is essentially absolve them of responsibility because they’re doing the dirty work we would neeeever do ourselves, work from which we have distanced ourselves morally and intellectually, work that we consider for us but not ours.

In my vision of a liberated society, first of all, the number of persons who, functioning like our police and/or armed forces, might have to spend more time than most prepared for confrontation would be reduced to a minimum; secondly, they really would be defensive and protective; and, finally, importantly, they would function, and be felt, as extensions of the responsibilities that all citizens share and embrace, not as a separate moral species, specially bred for violence, to be called from their fortified compound to vacuum up problems and guilt. That our society is not like that is symptomatized both by how its police and armed forces are organized in relation to the whole of society, and by how they are segregated in the “pacifist” mind as both feared and indispensable – moral Morlocks to the moral Eloi of the liberal elite.

As one trenchant feminist promoter of gun rights (Inge Anna Laris) summarized it: “Police forces were established to augment citizen self-protection, not to displace the citizens’ right of self-protection” And, I would add, to share, not displace, citizens’ individual and collective responsibilities and quandaries in all of that.

Gun Rights and The Prohibition Impulse

It often seems to me that guns are to liberals what drugs are to conservatives. Liberals respond to the real damage that guns do as factors that exacerbate (but do not cause) destructive behaviors is the same way conservatives have responded to the real damage that drugs do in exacerbating destructive behaviors – with the impulse for prohibition, enforced by the law and its armed agents, the police. Quick, pass a law!  Call the cops! has become a virtually automatic reaction of conservatives and liberals alike, according to their various tastes; it’s “the same inability to understand the fundamental nature of the problem at hand coupled with a perpetual, short-sighted faith in the inherent justness of well-meaning legislation.” (Mike King)

The prohibition impulse is as problematic for guns as it is for drugs (and alcohol), which are ten times more deadly than guns (see chart below), and at least as damaging to families. Indeed, because they can change states of mind, drugs can be said to cause, and not just exacerbate, destructive behaviors. Let’s not forget that the prohibition impulse for alcohol and drugs was driven by sincere reformist concern about the widespread damage these substances did, especially to children of society’s poorest families. The alcohol prohibition movement was driven by (mainly middle-class) women, and the punishing disparity in crack cocaine sentencing was originally championed by African-American legislators, for these reasons.3 Neither worked out so well. Both provide cogent examples of how the law can be worse than the crime.

(I won’t get into the academic arguments that gun control does not reduce crime, which come from self-described “member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, … Democrats 2000, …Common Cause, [and] other politically liberal organizations,…lifelong registered Democrat, [and] contributor to liberal Democratic candidates,” Gary Kleck, as well as conservative John Lott.4)

Liberals have to recognize that, when you ban guns, you are not just eliminating a right, you are creating a criminal offense – in fact a whole set of new crimes. How many months or years will you have to be confined by the armed guards of the state for having a rifle with a pistol grip or a 10-round magazine?  How many of those fifty million gun owners are you going to lock up, after raiding their homes?  You better have stiff sentences, right? Every prosecutor running for office will tell you so.

One has to be kind of obtuse not to understand that a War on Guns, no matter how liberally inspired, will end up like all other such campaigns.  It will create crime and pre-crime, and ”take the level of police statism, lawlessness and general social pathology up a notch in the same way Prohibition and the Drug War have done. [It will] expand the volume of organized crime, … to empower criminal gangs fighting over control over the black market, … lead to further erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, further militarization of local police via SWAT teams, and further expansion of the squalid empire of civil forfeiture, perjured jailhouse snitch testimony, entrapment, planted evidence, and plea deal blackmail.” (Kevin Carson)

Speaking of the War on Drugs: Is there any greater source of “gun violence” in America? “Most of the nonsuicide gun deaths in this country happen in densely populated, lower-income urban environments, [where] gangs and poverty are the proximate causes of the violence.”  You know, the Drug War Theater, where “addressing the incentives that lead young people in our inner cities to gravitate toward crime—incentives like the ability to gain money and status by trafficking in drugs when few other opportunities are available—would do more to begin to address the gun violence endemic in America than any of the well-intentioned but likely ineffectual ‘gun control’ laws that could be passed.”5 Liberals all know and talk all the time about the horrors of the War on Drugs. Is there peep one in any of the gun control proposals from liberal politicians or pundits about ending this disastrous crusade, arguably the greatest single source of gun violence in America?  Silly me for asking.

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Gun Rights and the American State

What the modern American capitalist state has done is invert the relative valorization of a standing army vs. an armed people that was held by a long tradition of radical democrats, and by many, if not most, “Founding Fathers.”6 This skews the minds of everyone in society, and is no progressive achievement.

In the current gun rights debate, one does not have to think too hard to catch the tiny little fact that anti-gun-rights liberals, besides not really being pacifists, are not really proposing to eliminate guns at all.  Is there one liberal gun-control proposal being put forward that makes the teensiest move toward diminishing the use of guns, including military-style assault weapons, by the police?  Is there one that addresses, in the weensiest way, the continuing, massive militarization of the police that has been taking place in this country?  Is there one that will take away one gun, one bullet, one armed personnel carrier, one drone, or one dollar from the bloated internal security apparatus (let’s not even mention the foreign war machine) of the American nouveau police state? From its corporate militia comrades?

No. What all liberal gun-control proposals seek to do, and all they seek to do, is to reduce and eventually eliminate the right of ordinary citizens to possess firearms. These proposals treat the armed power of the state with, at best, benign indifference. They ignore, or dismiss as of no importance, the way these policies will further weaken the power of the citizen relative to the state. There is a definite ideology underlying all this: That the state – the American capitalist state we live in – should have a monopoly of armed force; that this state is a benign, neutral arbiter which will use its armed force in support of and not against its citizens, to mediate conflicts fairly and promote just outcomes in ways that the citizens themselves cannot be trusted to do.

All the liberal gun-control proposals do, and I would suggest the anti-gun-rights position in general must, rest on this premise. For reasons set forth below, I think it’s wrong-headed, and I do not see how one can deny that it is elitist and authoritarian.

This ideology is most likely to exude from those whose lived experience is that the armed power of the state does overwhelmingly act on their behalf, that the police are their friends – people who are secure in their implicit understanding that they have nothing to fear, personally or politically, from the armed agents of the state, and that when they call those agents to help them, they will come and help them, and not beat them down or shoot them on sight, “by accident.”

At many levels, this ideology promotes the phony notion of what the American capitalist state is, an ideology that we should be helping to extirpate from people’s minds, not helping to perpetuate in the name of ensuring their safety. Under the guise of nonviolent pacifism, this ideology only occludes the violence of the armed state that underlies all of our lives in capitalist society. The state we live in is not a neutral class-agnostic arbiter. It is the instantiation of a relation of forces between classes, which “uses social crises to reinforce a range of social relationships and control certain populations.”7 In our case, it exists to guarantee, by armed force locked and loaded in advance and on call 24-7, the absolute hegemony of the corporations and the banksters (the ruling class/the 1%/your-euphemism-for-avoiding-marxist-language-here) over the working people and dispossessed (the 99% and such). We should dispense with any of the comforting illusions about this. This state of postwar Euro-American felicity – the liberal, democratic capitalist welfare/social-democratic state – has reverted to its core class function.

Indeed, we have just seen that the armed police forces of the state, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, “are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity[,] functioning as a de facto intelligence and enforcement arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.” At this point, it is blindingly obvious that, as Etienne Balibar so cogently put it over thirty years ago, the modern capitalist state, ours included, “is expressly organized as the State of pre-emptive counter-revolution.”

It might help to understand Balibar’s conclusion in terms of a rough Kuhnian distinction between “normal” and “revolutionary” politics.8 In the normal political paradigm, which endures over a relatively long period of stability, everybody plays by the same legal and constitutional rules, everyone’s rights are respected equally, and disputes are settled in transparently fair and equal political and legal processes, with minimal and similarly fair and transparent uses of armed force.  In the revolutionary situation, which predominates in relatively brief and compressed periods of upheaval, the point is to completely replace one paradigm with another.  In this situation, established and insurgent factions seek each to overcome the other. Each seeks to increase its own hegemony and powers while reducing the other’s autonomous rights and powers. Disputes, clearly understood as aspects of the one big conflict over which social and political paradigm will rule, are settled by the frankly unequal application of force – whether the force of money, law, political pressure, or arms.

The curious thing is that we are not in “revolutionary” politics, since (unfortunately) there is no serious political force threatening or seeking to overthrow the political paradigm of the capitalist state. But we are not exactly in a “normal” paradigm either, since the deep instability, unfairness, and precarity of the capitalist state are just too visible.  We are, as Balibar suggests, in pre-emptively counter-revolutionary politics, where the capitalist state, on behalf of the tiny minority faction (I call it a class) it empowers, is preparing in advance to repel the fundamental, paradigm-changing, challenges it anticipates.  It is doing this by the increasing, and increasingly aggressive and obvious, unequal application of money, laws, political power, and armed force.

In other words, it’s a “revolutionary” political period without the revolutionary politics. With only the counter-revolutionary politics. It’s a period where the paradigm is being radically changed, not by an insurgent, but by the establishment faction. In the midst of this, too many American liberals are clinging to a nostalgic, wish-fulfillment dream society where, if they can just, over the next few election cycles, get the right mix of noblesse-oblige economics and equal-opportunity imperialist identity-politics, everything will be peachy keen once again. (Isn’t it great to watch Barack and Hillary order Seal Team Six into action!  If only we can reform the filibuster.)  Welcome to the world of unchallenged counter-revolution. 

Well, the first counter-revolutionary act of every government is to collect the guns, and a necessary element of pre-emptive counter-revolution in the American polity is the disarming of the people. Nobody on the left, nobody interested in the radically democratic transformation of our society, should be interested in helping with that. 

Yet all liberal gun-control schemes remain blithely indifferent to, when not aggressively dismissive of, these concerns. Somehow, a lot of people have come to imagine that depreciating versus valuing citizens’ gun rights is a left-right dichotomy   Only in the ridiculous political discourse of the United States, where Barack Obama is a “marxist” (or any kind of “leftist” at all), can citizens’ right to gun ownership be considered a purely right-wing demand. The notion that an armed populace should have a measure of power of resistance to the heavily armed power of the state is, if anything, a populist principle, and has always been part of the revolutionary democratic traditions of the left. The notion that disarming the people in a capitalist state – and one in severe socio-economic crisis, at that – would be some kind of victory for progressive, democratic forces, something that might help move us toward an emancipatory transformation of society, derives from no position on the political left.  As one commentator puts it: “I can’t imagine why anyone would expect the state’s gun control policies to display any less of a class character than other areas of policy. Regardless of the ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ rhetoric used to defend gun control, you can safely bet it will come down harder on the cottagers than on the gentry, harder on the workers than on the Pinkertons, and harder on the Black Panthers than on murdering cops.”

There’s no way around it: The net effect of eliminating the right of citizens to possess firearms will be to increase the power of the armed capitalist state. It will not be a more pacifistic, but a more authoritarian society, one in which the whole panoply of armed police we’ve already come to accept as part of the social landscape will be even more ubiquitous, while citizens’ compliance and submission will be more thoroughly assured. As Patrick Higgins puts it: “The formula for gun control seems pretty obvious to me. Less guns for the people who are most likely to need them, more guns for cops and soldiers and those sympathetic to them.” If you’re good with that, then go for it. I am not.

As Higgins implies, cops and soldiers will not be the only ones left holding guns. My friends have kids in an elite New York City private school. A few years back, during seventh-grade bar/bat mitzvah season – which, in these social circles, is like a months-long Hollywood after-party for thirteen-year olds – their son was invited to his classmate’s party. Not the bar mitzvah where the parents flew a bunch of parents and kids to Paris for their son’s coming of age. No, the bat mitzvah held in Rockefeller Center. Ceremony in the Rainbow Room. Party in the skating rink.  Closed to the public. On a Saturday night. When my friend went to pick his son up to bring him home, he was stopped at the perimeter of the promenade, just inside the ring of limos, by armed guards with those really fully automatic weapons, who would not let him in because he didn’t have an invitation.  He had to wait outside for his son to come out.  Thank goodness for cell phones, which, of course, every thirteen-year-old has.

Here’s the thing, and everybody knows it:  Whatever strictest possible gun-control regime is instituted by favored liberal politicians, the family who threw that party will still have all the guns that it wants at its disposal.  Donald Trump will still have his carry permit. Goldman Sachs will have all the weapons it wants for its private army, which will still be working as an allied brigade of the supposedly public branch of the ruling class’s armed forces, and which its PR people will make sure is never crudely referred to as a “militia.”  And don’t worry, Joe, no one will be taking your Beretta. Forty-nine million nine-hundred thousand ninety-nine hundred or so Americans who have never done a wrong thing will be disarmed by force, but every one of this class will have all the guns s/he wants at his or her disposal. There will be a system of waivers, fees and private security armies for anyone in the .01%. Keeping in mind the incredible growing socio-economic inequality in this country – which, of course, the push for strict gun control has nothing to do with – the American social landscape is going to be populated with more, not fewer, gun-toting characters like these, who will have less, not more, accountability, and among whom there are no imaginary Gandhis:


It’s too bad that we Americans, with liberals much too complicit in this, have accepted – along with the growth of obscene social inequality – the incremental loss of many of our fundamental rights – from privacy (warrantless surveillance) to the right of judicial due process before being summarily executed by our elected king. If some fifty million or so gun owners want to stand up militantly for one fundamental right at this point, good for them. If, in the ridiculous American political context, a lot of them self-identify as right-wing, well, bad on them, and let’s by all means tell them they should be standing up for a lot of other rights, including their own right to a decent socio-economic life.

At the same time, folks on the left should be ashamed if gun owners become the first to stand up militantly against the pre-emptively counter-revolutionary assault on our rights.  Maybe self-identified liberals should do more than trash those folk for defending a right they think is important; maybe liberals should consider how they have continually undermined the building of a populist left, by steering discontent into conventional political support for their favored Lord High Executioners, and teaching – by example, exhortation, and outright collaboration – servility and compliance in the face of right after right, and social benefit after social benefit, being stolen by those same elected autocrats.  The problem with militant right-wing populism is not that it’s militant or populist.  And a large part of the reason there is not the militant left-wing populism there should be is that most liberals are neither left, nor militant, nor populist.

The concentration of wealth, and the concentration of armed power, in the hands of a few, are both bad ideas. And the one has everything to do with the other.*

I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the urbane liberal revulsion to guns has to do with the picture in the urbane liberal’s mind of who has them – you know, the wrong sort of people, right-wing “wingnuts,” whose brains are addled by moonshine and Fox News. There is no question that a lot of people with ridiculous right-wing political and economic ideas are among the loudest defenders and proudest exercisers of the right to bear arms. But, you know, there’s this other empowering, infinitely more dangerous right, one that more than fifty million people use to authorize the truly nutty killing of hundreds of thousands of people, and a whole host of truly nutty actions that endanger us all.  That’s the right to vote.  I am horrified about how the great majority of voters – conservative and liberal, wingnut and Serious – use that right to authorize massively homicidal and criminal policies. Still, my understanding of the emancipatory democratic political tradition precludes any thought that, in the course of normal politics, depriving any of them – even those whose brains are addled by Jamba Juice and MSNBC – of that right would be an appropriate way for me to try to change the policies I abhor.

Rights empower. Power is dangerous. The right to vote is as dangerous a power as any. Those who have been deprived of it grasp it eagerly when they get it because for so long it’s been on display but out of reach, just like the master’s shiny new gun. Once everyone gets their hands on those rights/powers, they may use them – or, gee, think about them – in all kinds of ways I would find objectionable and damaging. They also will find out that those rights/powers are not in themselves effective of their liberation. The task is not to deprive people of fundamental rights, but to persuade them to think about and use them in different and more effective ways.  And one has to know that’s possible. It’s happened before, and will again. 

Recent Objections and the Contentious History of Gun Rights in America

Recently, some progressives9 have argued that, all the rhetoric about arming the people to resist tyranny notwithstanding, the real intent of the authors of the Second Amendment was to preserve slavery, and that, therefore, those who cite the Second Amendment as supporting every citizen’s right to bear arms today are – well, ignorant wingnut enablers of slaveholding racism, I guess.

The logic escapes me here. Sure, the Second Amendment was ratified in a context where most of the framers — certainly those of the Southern plantocracy – assumed that the right it guaranteed was – like every other right instituted by the Constitution at time – meant to be limited to free white males, who were the only fully-enfranchised citizens. But, really, Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder, so there’s something wrong with us using his words to promote equal rights?  As do the authors of every law, indeed every text, the framers wrote something whose significance and effect exceeds what they could have imagined.  The text, the law, that the framers wrote now stands apart from and beyond their personal intentions.  Perhaps it is because they could not imagine the extension of a certain right that they wrote a text that does not exclude it. I’ll take that. We all do. 

In this case however, we have clear evidence of subsequent law that was intended by its framers to extend the right to bear arms not only beyond, but against, the purposes of slavery.  One might have noticed that, through a series of excruciating struggles during the course of American history, including a Civil War, the full enfranchisement of citizenship with all its attendant rights, including the right to keep and bear arms, was extended to all the previously excluded groups of American society.  It is crystal clear that the intention of the framers of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments was to guarantee the right to bear arms to freed slaves.  As Adam Winkler points out: “Whether or not the Founding Fathers thought the Second Amendment was primarily about state militias, the men behind the Fourteenth Amendment—America’s most sacred and significant civil-rights law—clearly believed that the right of individuals to have guns for self-defense was an essential element of citizenship. As Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar has observed, ‘Between 1775 and 1866 the poster boy of arms morphed from the Concord minuteman to the Carolina freedman.’”

Whatever the intentions of the framers in the eighteenth century, the right to keep and bear arms is today treated as a right of all citizens – for sure, only, as with every other right – because it was fought for as such. That – the fruit of that fight – is the right we are talking about in today’s political and historical context.  Far from using the framers’ prejudices to dismiss this particular right, liberals and progressives should be celebrating this extension of it, as they do so many other rights that have, by the twenty-first century, been achieved through legal, political, and, yes, armed struggle, sometimes using constitutional statutes in ways their authors could never, in their wildest dreams, have imagined.  Like, you know, gay marriage.

These superficial historical arguments actually confirm that, historically, in America as elsewhere, guns have been recognized as tools of empowerment, to be distributed as widely as possible among those considered worthy of empowerment, and to be denied to those deemed unworthy of empowerment and eligible for subjugation.  Who, in today’s America, do these liberal commentators think is unworthy of that empowerment? 

The argument that tries to wed the Second Amendment to slavery for all time is particularly misleading, because it has to deny all the ways in which the right to bear arms was fought for and used by African-Americans, with great courage, throughout our history, in order to defend and extend their rights.  Winkler describes the freedmen’s struggle and revanchist racist resistance over this right after the Civil War, including the role of the Ku Klux Klan as “disarmament posse”:
[A]t the end of the Civil War, the Union army allowed soldiers of any color to take home their rifles… [M]any blacks knew that white Southerners were not going to go along easily with such a vision [of their freedom]. As one freedman in Louisiana recalled, “I would say to every colored soldier, ‘Bring your gun home.’” …Southern states quickly adopted the Black Codes …One common provision barred blacks from possessing firearms. To enforce the gun ban, white men riding in posses began terrorizing black communities. …The most infamous of these disarmament posses, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan. In response to the Black Codes …General Daniel E. Sickles, the commanding Union officer enforcing Reconstruction in South Carolina, ordered in January 1866 that “the constitutional rights of all loyal and well-disposed inhabitants to bear arms will not be infringed.” When South Carolinians ignored Sickles’s order and others like it, Congress passed the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of July 1866, which assured ex-slaves the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings concerning personal liberty … including the constitutional right to bear arms.” That same year, Congress passed the nation’s first Civil Rights Act, which defined the freedmen as United States citizens and made it a federal offense to deprive them of their rights on the basis of race. Senator James Nye… told his colleagues that the freedmen now had an “equal right to protection, and to keep and bear arms for self-defense.”

Unfortunately, when “the old landed gentry managed to successfully assert its power against the Reconstruction regime, former slaves were disarmed by house-to-house patrols, either under the Black Codes or by such irregular bodies as the Klan,” 10 which enabled the subjugation of African-Americans in the South to the new nightmare of Jim Crow.

In the cauldron of the Klan’s lynching fever, writing in 1892, Ida B. Wells learned and taught a valuable lesson (that George Orwell would later echo):

Of the many inhuman outrages of this present year, the only case where the proposed lynching did not occur, was where the men armed themselves … and prevented it. The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense. The lesson this teaches and which every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.
(Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases)
Ida Wells: another “wingnut.”

Ida and the Klan both understood what the latter’s ideological confrère later repeated:
The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed the subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. — Adolf Hitler (in Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-44: His Private Conversations, pp. 425-426.).

Regarding the Civil Rights struggle of the 20th century, and without diminishing for a second the powerful non-violent struggle led by MLK, we should be aware of the ways in which that history has been edited to create “pacifist” saints who are safe for the Imperial hagiography, while rendering invisible the ways in which the renewal of armed resistance by African-Americans in the South after WWII helped to galvanize the final offensive against Jim Crow:
The same was true of the Civil Rights struggle a century later, after World War II. In areas where armed self-defense efforts by civil rights activists were widespread, they significantly improved the balance of power against the Klan and other racist vigilante movements. Numerous armed self-defense groups — e.g. the Deacons for Defense and Justice, whose members used rifles and shotguns to repel attacks by white vigilantes in Louisiana in the 1960s — helped equalize the correlation of forces between civil rights activists and racists in many small towns throughout the south. Especially notable was Robert Williams, who in 1957 organized an armed defense of the Monroe, NC NAACP chapter president’s home against a Klan raid and sent the vigilantes fleeing for their lives. Williams’s book Negroes With Guns later inspired Huey Newton, a founder of the Black Panthers Party. (Carson, and, on Robert Williams, see my related post Sealed With A Kiss: Mabel and Kathleen Talk Armed Self-Defense)   
Indeed, as Higgins points out: “The modern day gun rights movement was not pioneered by the NRA … but by the Black Panthers, whose co-founder, Huey Newton, found genuine protective value in the Second Amendment.”  And the modern gun-control movement began as a response to this by conservative Republicans, who were scared witless when Newton and the Panthers showed up on the California State Capitol steps ostentatiously carrying their perfectly legal firearms:  “Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw ‘no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons’.” (Winkler)

The riots of 1967, which included armed resistance, also brought new gun control initiatives by the American elite:

The fear inspired by black people with guns also led the United States Congress to consider new gun restrictions, after the summer of 1967 brought what the historian Harvard Sitkoff called the “most intense and destructive wave of racial violence the nation had ever witnessed.” Devastating riots engulfed Detroit and Newark. Police and National Guardsmen who tried to help restore order were greeted with sniper fire.  A 1968 federal report blamed the unrest at least partly on the easy availability of guns. Because rioters used guns to keep law enforcement at bay, the report’s authors asserted that a recent spike in firearms sales and permit applications was “directly related to the actuality and prospect of civil disorders.” They drew “the firm conclusion that effective firearms controls are an essential contribution to domestic peace and tranquility.” (Winkler)
The non-violent civil disobedience strategy of the MLK wing of the Civil Rights movement, based on ostentatiously unarmed submission to arrest and detention by the armed agents of the state, was enormously effective, but it was not the only thing that had a profound effect in concentrating the minds of the white American elite on the urgent need to change things substantively and quickly. I mean real fast. Anyone who does not know that Martin’s voice was in constant tension with the growing influence of those like Malcolm and Huey, that a lot of black people and their white supporters had had quite enough of submission to the armed police of the racist state, and that the fear of armed black insurrections was on the minds and in the political equations of the ruling class and its armed agents, is enmeshed in a pacifistic dream history.

Gun Rights and the Dynamics of Radical or Revolutionary Contestation

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” Frederick Douglass said, and true that.  And there’s no demand without, somewhere behind it, an “or else.” 

Do not get me wrong:  Militant unarmed non-violent resistance is a very powerful political tactic. I would say that it’s the most effective mode of protest, resistance, and contestation for building crucial popular support against modern state oppression, and it is certainly the preferred mode of contestation for progressives, no matter how radical their goals, in the United States today.

Yet today is not forever, and while there is no power more crucial for radical change than a unified mass movement that represents the majority of people, it is also true that there are powers, privileges, prerogatives, supremacies, and wealth that will not be conceded by the group or class that holds them to any movement of any size or moral quality, except under threat of deadly force. To rephrase Douglass: Armed power, arrayed in defense of national, ethnic, racial, and/or class supremacy, will not concede to moral suasion alone. It never has and it never will.

Every successful mass movement for radical or revolutionary change will reach that point where it has to decide if it has had enough of beatings, arrests, detentions, and killings by the armed forces of the regime it is challenging.  It will have to decide whether to finally submit, or to advance decisively, with new forms of resistance.

No one has put this more eloquently in recent years that did the leaders of the 2011 Egyptian revolt, in their solidarity message to Occupy Wall Street:

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted “peaceful” with fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured, and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious.
Let’s dispense with the straw men. Do you really think you’re going to defeat the US Army with your puny little rifles?  No, and not just because I have understood all along that any “military-style” civilian rifle is no match for an actual military weapon. No, I understand that the idea that every gun owner showing up on Pennsylvania Avenue tomorrow could possibly result in serious, systemic political and socio-economic change is ridiculous – maybe even as ridiculous as the idea that voting for the next Democratic presidential candidate could do so. I understand that, for there to be any prospect of the change of the sort I would like, there is no shortcut around building a political movement. I am talking about political principles that are fundamental to a movement in the long run, not magic solutions in the short run.

I also understand that, in the US or any modern state, any plausible regime of gun rights will leave the state with a supremacy of armed force, even if not a monopoly. Still, the state’s lack of a monopoly on that does not count for nothing. In the process of building a mass movement that undermines the authority and legitimacy of the state, and the morale of its armed agents, there will be many discrete moments of confrontation, presumably getting progressively more militant and threatening to the status quo. A modicum of armed power among the citizenry may not exactly equalize, but can noticeably recalibrate, the correlation of forces. If there is some armed resistance to the armed forces of the state, this will change the calculus, especially in a state which claims popular legitimacy. In the eruptions of armed resistance in the Civil Rights era, this is exactly what we saw, not so long ago, in this country.

Even if the state constantly wins such battles, it may suffer politically debilitating losses. (Who “won” the Newark and Detroit and Los Angeles riots?) Its political leaders and police and military agents will have different, more difficult, political costs to calculate. Yes, as long as the young working-class men and women driving the tanks and shooting the really fully automatic weapons on its behalf keep doing so, the Imperial High Command may be able to crush everything from sporadic uprisings to a massive popular rebellion. But it will be at great cost to the state’s legitimacy.  And, human beings that they are, the willingness of those men and women to keep doing that on behalf of their masters – their defection calculus – will be affected not just by political and moral appeals (Do you really want to shoot your brothers and sisters who are fighting for their pensions?), but also by the real possibility that they might get shot doing so. Militant, radical and revolutionary movements are filled with hundreds of unpredictable moments of decision, which can become game-changing tipping points. Unpredictable, but not entirely unforeseeable.

I’m pretty sure, too, that if, after the development of an overwhelming mass movement, there is some kind crucial insurrectionary moment, it will be settled not by the power of personal civilian weapons, but by the power of the armed forces that the besieged state has built up for itself.  The key moment is not the defeat, but the defection, of the armed forces of the state. The ultimate power does not rest with who starts out with the most guns, or even with who shoots them the most (or at all), but with who ends up determining which way they are pointed.  The most successful insurrectionary moment is one in which no bullet has to be fired; everyone just has to know at whom they will be headed if they are. 

That is still a struggle over the use and control of arms. Pointing a gun is using it.

Understanding the dynamic of radical and revolutionary change, not repeating platitudes about how omnipotent is the state and how unchangeable is society, is really thinking historically.  I heard someone ridiculing a gun-rights supporter on TV the other day, along these lines:  Do you realize how ridiculous you sound when you talk about tyranny or resistance to tyranny, in the United States? Really? Let’s roll the videotape back a few years, and try that out again:  Do you realize how ridiculous you sound when you talk about American presidents, Republican and Democrat, torturing, kidnapping for torture, nullifying habeas corpus, spying without warrants on everybody, setting up a separate justice system for Muslims, rewarding billions in bonuses to bankers who crashed the economy, offering Social Security and Medicare as sacrifices to those bankers, aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers and journalists while granting complete immunity and government favor to torturers and banksters, personally overseeing the assassination of anyone they want anywhere in the world, including American citizens, starting seven or eight secret wars?  Do you realize how ridiculous you sound when you talk about the great European social-democratic states, Socialist governments included, overseeing forced austerity on behalf of banksters, selling off the land and assets of their countries, reneging on the pensions of their citizens, ushering in 25-30% unemployment, facing riots and pitched battles with police in the streets?

Understanding that things can and will change, radically at times, is an historical attitude. Asserting that the society and moment we live in today is omnipotent and unchangeable –proclaiming, essentially, that history is over – is what I understand as pure ideology. “Tyranny” – or whatever you prefer to call it – has, not so long ago, already been here and been successfully resisted, with non-violent and not non-violent tactics – unless you think Jim Crow doesn’t qualify. And whatever-you-want-to-call-it is back – unless you think a regime that practices assassination, unilateral war-making, unlimited surveillance, austerity imposition, and issues from a completely corrupt electoral process, etc., doesn’t qualify.  And it may well be resisted again. I don’t know how the street protests and occupations of state capitols and such by workers and pensioners and student debt-slaves and people thrown out of their homes and out of their jobs may unfold in America in the near future, but they very well may take lessons from more than the edited history of such struggles in our country and around the world.  Nothing ridiculous there, as far as I’m concerned.  History is not over.

I am certainly as stumped as Glenn Greenwald by the unfortunate state of American political passivity he describes (and which never ceases to amaze my foreign friends):

The real mystery from all of this is that it has not led to greater social unrest. To some extent, both the early version of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements were spurred by the government’s protection of Wall Street at the expense of everyone else. Still, Americans continue to be plagued by massive unemployment, foreclosures, the threat of austerity and economic insecurity while those who caused those problems have more power and profit than ever. And they watch millions of their fellow citizens be put in cages for relatively minor offenses while the most powerful are free to commit far more serious crimes with complete impunity. Far less injustice than this has spurred serious unrest in other societies. 
According to my understanding of history, though, I would say, “Wait a minute.” As Greenwald points out, the deep-seated problems are all there and are likely to worsen, and the Obama effect will wear out. I’ll refer back to the example above of the Civil Rights movement. Change – significant but not quite revolutionary change – happened, and it happened faster, I contend, because of the reality and threat of armed resistance.

Gun Rights and the Problematic of  Mass Killings and School Shootings

Don’t we have to save the children?

Just after midnight on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old former Marine, killed his mother and wife by stabbing them in the heart. A few hours later, he called his wife’s office to let them know she wouldn’t be in that day, packed up an M1 .30-caliber carbine, a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, a 6mm bolt-action hunting rifle, a .35 caliber pump rifle, a 9mm Luger pistol, a 25-caliber pistol, a .357 Magnum revolver, 700+ rounds of ammunition, Dexedrine, Excedrin, toilet paper, deodorant, and other sundries, and went up on the Tower on the University of Texas campus in Austin, where he methodically murdered 12 people, and wounded 32 others. Whitman picked off people – mostly young kids in their teens and twenties – at random. From up to 1500 feet away – no one could see it coming – he rained sudden, instant death on solitary strollers and couples walking together – boyfriend and girlfriend, sisters. He’d shoot first one, then the other, and then he’d shoot people who tried to drag wounded friends and strangers to safety. This went on for almost two hours, with police and armed citizens returning fire, until two cops and an armed civilian got to the top of the tower, and killed Whitman. I remember it vividly. From my safe redoubt in New York, I was terrified.  It still shakes me up to think about it.

Are the guns the problem here?

This is not a flippant question. Clearly, the world would be a better place if Charles Whitman had never had a gun that day. Does saying that mean we are impelled to ban guns, and to effectively eliminate a fundamental political right, criminalizing fifty million people who have done nothing wrong? I do not think so.  Clearly, armed civilians helped minimize and end the carnage.  Does saying that mean we are impelled to recognize how wonderful guns are and how great it would be for everyone to be packing all the time? I do not think so. For me, whatever the role of guns in exacerbating and ending the harm caused in incidents like this, what such incidents really demonstrate is that guns are neither the problem nor the answer, precisely to incidents like this, and that incidents like this are not what’s at stake in the problematic of “gun control.”

The primary causal factor in an incident like this is something much more powerful than a gun; it’s, for lack of a better term, a state of mind.  We have all been horrified that there have been too many mass killings by young men in opportunistic venues, with guns.  If they had been with different weapons – one with a gun killing ten people in a school, one with an ax who killed eight people in a mall, and one with a can of gasoline who burned fifteen people to death in a movie theater – what would the central focus of our concern be?  What would we be asking about why this is happening, about what might be causing more young men to engage in spates of seemingly senseless, suicidal-homicidal mass violence, about what we might do to recognize and eliminate, as far as possible, those causes? What programs and policies would we be exploring? Because those are the same questions, with the same central focus, that we should be asking now.  And that focus would not be on the weapons used.

The fundamental problem we have to deal with in incidents like these is that, once someone is in the state of mind where he is impelled to do such a thing, he is going to do it, with one weapon or another, and you’re going to have horror and grief. Yes, the ability of such a person to get his hand on a gun – legally or illegally, bolt action or semi-automatic, with or without a “thumbhole stock,” he really won’t care – exacerbates the damage he can do, but it is not the cause of the problem, and addressing guns in any way does exactly nothing to address the cause of the problem. We have to look at what causes that state of mind.

This is a very difficult problem. As I suggested above, I do think that the ubiquitous cultural representation of armed violence as a quick, effective, and attractive solution for all kinds of personal and social problems is pernicious. It steers someone in such a state of mind to go for the gun. Adam Lanza was in the SWAT team of his mind.  But for someone in his state of mind, his choice of targets, his need to eliminate them brutally and right now, could as easily have come from watching a rerun of Village of the Damned as from playing Call of Duty.

One thing for sure, if one wants to deal with that difficult problem, all the hoopla about “military-style assault weapons” is pure distraction.  “Assault weapons” is a term invented by the gun industry to conflate civilian and military weapons for marketing purposes, and anti-gun rights politicians have jumped on that confusion for their own agenda.  And “style” is, well, just that. It’s clear to me, from many conversations, that a lot of people do not understand that “semi-automatic” means “shoots one bullet per trigger pull,” and not “fires continuously as long as you hold the trigger” (“automatic”), and that many people think “military-style” refers to some special enhanced functionality rather that to design components like “thumbhole stocks” or “a pistol grip that extends beneath the action,” which do nothing to increase the lethality of the weapon. The true power is in the ammunition, not the rifle, and the most powerful ammunition, loaded to bring down 300-500 pound animals, is used in popular “hunting “ and “deer” rifles of the kind Charles Whitman used, not in these “military-style assault weapons.”

The only item on the list of anathematized “assault weapons” features that can be construed to have any significant functional value in this kind of mass shooting incident is the magazine.  If you imagine that banning 100-round magazines will be helpful, go ahead.  But be aware that a knowledgeable shooter wouldn’t use one; the Colorado movie shooter was taken down because he used a 100-round magazine, which jammed, as they are known to do. A shooter with a 30- or 10-round magazine, or even with a revolver and speedloaders, will still kill a whole lot of unarmed people. And legally limiting magazine capacity to seven bullets is just silly, as Gov. Cuomo found when he realized he had outlawed police handguns. (Of course, he’ll re-write the law to make an exception for those armed agents of the state.) A magazine is also a very easy item to fabricate (as guns themselves soon will be via the 3D printer). Trying to stop mass shootings by outlawing large-capacity magazines is like going after lung cancer by outlawing big cigarette cases.

This “assault weapons” burst of gun control fervor may make you feel like you’re doing something about mass shootings and saving the children, but it’s as much a silly shortcut around the real problem as is the idea that everyone packing heat is going to make us suddenly free of tyranny.  The only way you can make yourself feel that you’ve substantially eliminated the damage guns do in such situations is by outlawing all guns, handguns included, and believing that will actually mean that guns will not be available. And, after all the personal, political, and social energy spent trying to capture and imprison everyone with an “assault weapon” having a “thumbhole stock” or a handgun with an eight-round magazine, or a 3D printer, after all the (even further) erosion of constitutional protections against search and seizure, and further militarization of police and SWAT teams, and further filling of the prisons with people who had never done any harm to any other human being, you would not have done one thing – not one single thing – to address the cause(s) of the problem you were claiming to want to solve.

If you want to address the fundamental problem in these kinds of incidents, then you’d better look somewhere else, at something that can explain the state of mind that drives them. Charles Whitman, who was medicating himself with Valium and Dexedrine, had, the autopsy revealed, a glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor that would have killed him within a year. Before the shootings, he had visited a psychiatrist, who noted: “This massive, muscular youth seemed to be oozing with hostility … He readily admits having overwhelming periods of hostility with a very minimum of provocation. Repeated inquiries … were not too successful with the exception of his vivid reference to ‘thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people’.”


So, fair question or not:  Were the guns the problem there?

In April 2001, 16-year-old Cory Baadsgaard took a rifle to his high school in Washington state and held 23 classmates and a teacher hostage. Fortunately, he didn’t kill anybody.  After being held for 14 months, he was released under community supervision, based on the testimony of psychiatrists about the adverse effects of the drugs he was taking. Cory remembered nothing of his violence. The incident took place after he had been switched, cold-turkey, from Paxil to a high dose of Effexor to treat “situational depression.”

Here’s what Cory’s father said:
“The morning that Cory went to school and did what he did, my wife and I just knew that it had to be something with the drugs. That morning he had taken about 300 milligrams of Effexor, and I thought it was something about him going off one of the drugs and then the high dose of the other. One of Cory’s friends told us that Cory was yelling and then he just stopped, looked down and saw the gun in his hand and woke up.…I guess I could blame myself for having the gun available, but if I’d known then just what these drugs could do it would have been the drugs that would not have been in our home. They always talk about how the kids who do these things are the ones who get picked on by the jocks and stuff, but Cory was a jock. He was on the varsity basketball team, played football and golf, and was very popular in school. I pray every night that the media will get ahold of this issue. If Cory had been on PCP the media would say ‘Oh, he needs drug rehabilitation,’ but because these were prescribed medications they say ‘Oh, it can’t be that,’ but now we know it can be.”11

How about it? Were the guns the problem there? The fundamental, causal problem? If Cory had killed those 23 kids, would it be pistol grips and thumbhole stocks we should be obsessing about?

Both Paxil’s and Effexor’s manufacturers’ inserts state explicitly that the drugs “increase the risk of suicidal behavior,” and that analysis of “antidepressant drugs (SSRIs and others) showed that these drugs increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults (ages 18-24).”

Columbine?  Perhaps you missed the story of Mark Allen Taylor, who was shot at least six times by Columbine shooter Eric Harris.  At the time of the shooting, Harris had taken Luvox for his anger, anxiety, depression, disorganized thoughts, homicidal thoughts, suspiciousness and a temper – having been switched from Zoloft.  Taylor, along with a New Jersey police officer who killed six people while on Luvox, sued Solvay, the drug’s maker. (Matthew Beck, from Connecticut, who killed four of his co-workers and himself while on Luvox, couldn’t join them.) Taylor said: “I’m suing Solvay because I believe that Eric Harris did what he did because of this drug.” Dr. Peter Breggin’s report to the court stated: “[At] the time he committed multiple homicides and suicide, Eric Harris was suffering from a substance induced (Luvox-induced) mood disorder with depressive and manic features that had reached a psychotic level of violence and suicide….Absent persistent exposure to Luvox, Eric Harris probably would not have committed violence and suicide.”12

Paxil, Effexor, and Luvox are on Time Magazine’s list of the “Top Ten Legal Drugs Linked to Violence.” (Respectively, 10.3x, 8.3x, and 8.4x more likely to be associated with violence than other drugs.) In a 2001 study, Yale researchers reported that 8.1 percent of all admissions to a university psychiatric hospital were “owing to antidepressant-associated mania or psychosis.”35 If the same percentage of all the 10.7 million US psychiatric hospital admissions at the time of the study were ”antidepressant-associated” manic or psychotic episodes, that would be 860,000 people.

As one researcher testified to the FDA about drugs of this type: “We have never seen drugs so similar to LSD and PCP as these SSRI antidepressants. All of these drugs produce dreaming during periods of wakefulness.”13


Let’s make sure we eliminate those pistol grips.

Did these SSRI-antidepressants cause these mass shootings, or the other 60+ incidents of school violence of the kind we’re so horrified about that are also linked to antidepressant drugs?41 I don’t know. I don’t know because, well, there isn’t much talk, investigation or concern about that, what with the hunt for “military-style” guns taking up so much attention.

It’s a complicated question, because, as one Italian researcher noted: “Antidepressant-induced mania is not simply a temporary and reversible phenomenon, but a complex biochemical mechanism of illness deterioration.” It’s not just a matter of what drug you take, but of how doctors now cycle kids through one antidepressant after another. It’s often the withdrawal phase of a drug that causes the most problems: “As patients are switched from one antidepressant to another or to a polypharmacy regimen, their illness may be propelled ‘into a refractory phase, characterized by low remission, high relapse and high intolerance.’ Antidepressants increase the risk of a ‘switch’ into mania, and thus into bipolar illness.”

(There is no verification of what drugs Adam Lanza was taking.  As of January 11th, the toxicology report on his autopsy was still “weeks” away.)

I do think that those who are concerned about these mass shootings, and about the increase in the number of these incidents over the last 15 years, might want to spend at least as much time and energy looking at factors that could actually be causing the extremely bizarre states of mind that propel adolescents and young adults into such violence, as they do haranguing society about exacerbating factors. Because I know that guns do not cause these states of mind.

What changes have taken place in American society over the past couple of decades that are likely to be producing these states of mind more often among adolescents and young adults? Is it that evolution produced a new generation of excitable boys, genetically predisposed to psychotic violence?  That guns are intrinsically more lethal (ask Charles Whitman), or more prone to jump into young people’s hands?  Or that kids are, for the first time in history, being constantly dosed with powerful, psychoactive, literally mind-altering, drugs, whose effects have been seriously and repeatedly challenged (even if in ways that are kept largely invisible to most media consumers)?

“Imagine how people would totally rethink things.” 

(From the documentary, The Drugging of Our Children.)

The most deadly school massacre in American history was not Sandy Hook. It occurred in 1927, in Bath, Michigan. Andrew Kehoe bludgeoned his wife to death, firebombed his house and farm buildings, blew up the Bath Consolidated School with explosives he had secretly planted for months, killing 38 grade-school children, and then blew himself up in his truck filled with dynamite and shrapnel, taking out the school superintendent and a few others.43

No guns. A state of mind. It’ll find a way.

(OK, he did use a rifle to detonate the dynamite in his truck. Not the same.)
I had a pretty tough holiday season, including the death of a close family member. In the midst of all that, seeing the faces and imagining the last moments of those 20 children killed at Sandy Hook shook me to the core. I’d really like to see a discussion of how a young man like Adam Lanza could set himself to do such a thing. Tirades against pistol grips and magazines, and attempts to criminalize fifty-million people who have done nothing wrong, aren’t doing it for me. They are not that discussion, and only divert from it.

So, the right to own guns is a fundamental political right, and guns don’t cause psychosis-driven mass shootings, therefore no regulations, right?

Wrong. No right is “god-given” or “natural” (although there are some that we, for good reason, treat in our socio-political discourse as if they were). Rights are the achievements of historical struggle, which, in my book, makes them even more precious.  Nor are rights absolute.  The “free-speech” right comes as close as you can for me, but there’s still “Fire!”-in-a-crowded-theater. It is not plausible that, in any modern society, guns would be entirely unregulated.  No modern state is going to allow the unregulated possession of Stingers or fifty-caliber machine guns.

There will be gun regulation, and there is, a lot of it.  And, often, in those toddling towns where the regulation is “toughest,” gun violence is highest.  I’m not sure what else we need, but I’ll listen. Let’s have a discussion about reasonable gun regulations that, on all sides, firmly and sincerely recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental political right, which deserves a place of honor on our wall of historical achievements. 

Given that shared assumption, we can proceed to confront all the devils in the details. Some regulations I will find legitimate. I can’t go on about the dangers of states of mind, and then object to any notion of a background check. I do object, however, to those proposals that are silly (“military-style”) and whose main purpose is to train citizens into more thorough compliance, to those that have no respect for what the fundamental right of gun ownership means, to those that have obvious confiscatory intent (register and re-register everything), and to those that will criminalize fifty-million people who have done nothing wrong.  Like the New York State law passed by Cuomo. “I support the Second Amendment, I really do. You can keep your musket and your Derringer,” is transparently insincere, and won’t cut it.


Above all, let’s not, because of a fearful reaction to horrific events, jump on gun-control proposals that are not going to stop those horrors, and will play into an elite agenda of complete citizen disempowerment and loss of hard-won rights. That is exactly what we have done since 9/11, and it is past time to say, ”No more!” 

One of the things I’m open to is the idea that a prospective gun owner should have to get some training. (At no expense, of course.  It’s a right, and if it’s reasonable for the state to require training to exercise it, it’s necessary for the state to provide that training for everybody, of every class, who wants it.)  I’ve fired guns, and learned how to handle them – and I actually think everybody should, which I also think would help change the debate – but, as I said, I don’t own any. Haven’t felt the need for it. If I moved to one of those dangerous neighborhoods, like the pretty towns in New Jersey or Colorado I have visited, where the bears come in to use your swimming pool, I might feel that need real quick. (I’m with Stephen Colbert on the bears.) The only thing that might get me to rush out and purchase a gun, as it’s already got 2.2 million people to do, is the threat that my right to do so was about to be eliminated.45 And I might now have to consider going armed, to fend off those of my liberal friends who will come gunning for me after reading this.


Update (2/9/2014): “Public Unaware.” A couple of recent charts::

swat 4

Sources: Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware | Pew Social & Demographic TrendsSelf-Reported Gun Ownership in U.S. Is Highest Since 1993 | Gallup 

Related posts 
Sealed With A Kiss: Mabel and Kathleen Talk Armed Self-Defense
Lawyers, Guns, and Twitter: Gun Battles and Class Struggle after San Bernardino

Notes and Links

1“The totalitarian states can do great things, but there is one thing they cannot do, they cannot give the factory worker a rifle and tell him to take it home and keep it in his bedroom. That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see it stays there.”

“The Complete Works of George Orwell”, Edited by Peter Davison, 1998, volume 12 of the 20 volume set. Pages 362-365 contain a reprint of the entire article, “Don’t Let Colonel Blimp Ruin the Home Guard,” Evening Standard, 8 January 1941.

2A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, p. 32.

As the quote indicates, King never eschewed violence entirely.  Early in his career, King’s home was described as an “arsenal” of guns, with armed supporters often posted to prevent a Klan assassination.  King even applied for a concealed carry permit, which was refused by the local police in Alabama, who “used any wiggle room in the law to discriminate against African Americans” – an historical example used by advocates of “shall issue” vs. “may issue” laws about carry permits.  (Adam Winkler, “MLK and His Guns.”)

And there’s Gandhi’s famous quote: “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.”  The full context doesn’t make it any better for anti-gun-rights faux-pacifists. The quote continues: “If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.”  Gandhi was exhorting Indians to join the British army in WWI, as a tactical move that might persuade the British of their loyalty, thereby hastening the repeal of the hated Arms Act, and at the same time getting training that might later be useful in the independence struggle.

The Arms Act was one of a series of measures adopted by the British in response to a serious Indian rebellion, the mutiny of 1857: “[T]the Indian masses were systematically being disarmed and the means of local firearm production destroyed, to ensure that they (the Indian masses) would never again have the means to rise in rebellion against their colonial masters. Towards this end the colonial government … brought into existence the Indian Arms Act, 1878 (11 of 1878); an act which, exempted Europeans and ensured that no Indian could possess a weapon of any description unless the British masters considered him a “loyal” subject of the British Empire.” http://www.abhijeetsingh.com/arms/india/

And let’s not even get into Gandhi’s even more notorious: “We adopted it [the weapon of non-violence] out of our helplessness. If we had the atom bomb, we would have used it against the British.”

The full quote is debated, with some suggesting that Gandhi’s ”we” was not meant to include himself and his movement and/or that he was really trying to emphasize the power of non-violence. I’m not persuaded, but judge for yourself: “Had we adopted non-violence as the weapon of the strong, because we realised that it was more effective than any other weapon, in fact the mightiest force in the world, we would have made use of its full potency and not have discarded it as soon as the fight against the British was over or we were in a position to wield conventional weapons. But as I have already said, we adopted it out of our helplessness. If we had the atom bomb, we would have used it against the British.”

The general point: For both MLK and Gandhi: “No Justice, No Peace” was, I would suggest, a more cogent slogan than “Disarm the People.”

3Norm R. Allen, Jr., “Reforming the Incarceration Nation Can we balance social justice with legal justice?”

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, p. 53.

4 Here are a couple of references: “Armed Resistance To Crime: The Prevalence And Nature Of Self-Defense With A Gun”; YouTube interview; and his books, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, and Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control.  John Lott’s best-known book is More Guns, Less Crime.

5Stephanie Slade, “What Will Gun Control Do for Inner City Violence?”

6Google “standing army founding fathers” and you’ll find a ton of references. A few links:




7Mike King, “Misdiagnosing the Culture of Violence

8Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published in 1962, has been one of the most influential books on the history and philosophy of science.  In it, Kuhn argues that the history of scientific thought and practice is not steadily and continuously incremental.  It is marked, rather, by periods of conceptual stability – “normal science” – that are interrupted by conjunctures of “revolutionary science” which cause comprehensive and radical “paradigm shifts.”

9Robert Parry, “The Right’s Second Amendment Lies

Eric Black, “Was the Second Amendment adopted for slaveholders?”

10Carson, http://c4ss.org/content/16442


See also the documentary, The Drugging of Our Children, which starts with Cory’s story, including interviews with Cory and his parents.

12The suit was settled with a small no-fault payment by Solvay, and Luvox was taken off the market for five years.


Also, “Are Drug-Pushing Shrinks Manufacturing a Generation of Spree-Shooters?



Growing Anti-Semitism Scam “An anti-Semite used to mean a man who hated Jews. Now it means a man who is hated by Jews.”– by Philip Giraldi • 19 Feb 2019

Israel and

In his novel 1984 George Orwell invented the expression “newspeak” to describe the ambiguous or deliberately misleading use of language to make political propaganda and narrow the “thought options” of those who are on the receiving end. In the context of today’s political discourse, or what passes for the same, it would be interesting to know what George would think of the saturation use of “anti-Semitism” as something like a tactical discussion stopper, employed to end all dispute while also condemning those accused of the crime as somehow outside the pale, monsters who are consigned forever to derision and obscurity.

The Israelis and, to be sure, many diaspora Jews know exactly how the expression has been weaponized. Former Israeli Minister Shulamit Aloni explained how it is done “Anti-Semitic”…”its a trick, we always use it.”

If one were to read the U.S. mainstream media, reflective as it nearly always is of a certain institutional Jewish viewpoint, one would think that there has been a dramatic increase in anti-Semitism worldwide, but that claim is incorrect. What has been taking place is not hatred of Jews but rather a confluence of two factors. First is the undeniable fact that Israel has been behaving particularly badly, even by its admittedly low standards. Its slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza has been unusually observable in spite of media attempts to avoid mentioning it, plus its support of terrorists in Syria and attacks on that country have also raised questions about the intentions of the kleptocratic regime in Tel Aviv, which is currently pushing for an attack on Iran. That all means that the perception of Israel, which boasts that it is the exclusively Jewish state, inevitably raises questions about the international Jewish community that provides much of its support. But the shift in perception is driven by Israeli behavior, not by Jews as an ethnicity or a religion.

Second, the alleged increase in anti-Semitic incidents is largely fueled by how those incidents are defined. Israel and its friends have worked hard to broaden the parameters of the discussion, making any criticism of Israel or its activities either a hate crime or ipso facto an anti-Semitic incident. The U.S. State Department’s working definition of anti-Semitism includes “…the targeting of the state of Israel” and it warns that anti-Semitism is a criminal offense. Recent legislation in Washington and also in Europe has criminalized hitherto legal and non-violent efforts to pressure Israel regarding its inhumanity vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Legitimate criticism of Israel thereby becomes both anti-Semitism and criminal, increasing the count of so-called anti-Semitic incidents. That means that the numbers inevitably go up, providing fodder to validate a repressive response.

One might add that Hollywood, the mainstream media and academia have contributed to the allegations regarding surging anti-Semitism, relentlessly unleashing a torrent of material rooting out alleged anti-Semites and so-called holocaust deniers, while simultaneously heaping praise on Israel and its achievements. Professor of Holocaust Studies Deborah Lipstadt has written a book Anti-Semitism: Here and Now about what she regards as the new anti-Semitism, supporting her belief that it is getting markedly worse in both Europe and the U.S. There is also a movie about her confrontation with holocaust critic David Irving called Denial. All of the media exposure of so-called anti-Semitism has a political objective, whether intended or not, which is to insulate Israel itself from any criticism and to create for all Jews the status of perpetual victimhood which permits many in the diaspora to unflinchingly support a foreign country against the interests of the nations where they were born, raised and made their fortunes. That is called dual loyalty and, in spite of frequent denials from Israel-apologists, it clearly exists for many American Jews who are passionate about the Jewish state, including members of the Trump Administration Jason Greenblatt, David Friedman and Jared Kushner.

In the past week, a newly elected member of congress has been derided, shunned and then forced to both recant and apologize for having said something that is manifestly true: that Jewish money corrupts the American political system to favor Israel. The controversy erupted after House minority leader Republican Kevin McCarthy said he would initiate investigations of two Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, over their criticisms of Israel. McCarthy called for the two to be denounced by the Democratic Party as anti-Semites after Tlaib had said that the sponsors of recent legislation intended to benefit Israel by limiting free speech “…forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right and part of our historical fight for freedom and equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”

Indeed, Tlaib had a point as the Congressional Israel boosters have long since forgotten that they are supposed to uphold the Constitution of the United States while also promoting the interests of their constituents, not those of a country seven thousand miles away. Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept responded to the news of the McCarthy threat with a tweet “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.” Ilhan Omar then tweeted her own pithy rejoinder to Greenwald on Sunday February 10th: “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!” which was in reference to the Founder Benjamin Franklin’s portrait on hundred-dollar bills. Her comment was almost immediately interpreted as meaning that she was accusing McCarthy of being bought by Jews. She followed up on a question about who was doing the buying she tweeted “AIPAC,” an elaboration that unleashed something like an anti-Semitism shit storm in her direction.

It was manufactured outrage, with political leaders from both parties latching on to a media frenzy to score points against each other. Even though it is perfectly legitimate for a Congresswoman on the Foreign Affairs Committee to challenge what AIPAC does and where its money comes from, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi complained that Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” was “deeply offensive.” Chelsea Clinton accused Omar of “trafficking in anti-Semitism.” President Donald Trump, who has admitted that his Mideast policy is intended to serve Israeli rather than U.S. interests, also jumped in, saying “I think she should either resign from congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

Ilhan Omar quickly understood that she had touched a live wire, surrendered, and recanted. She apologized by Monday afternoon, 18 hours after her original tweet, saying “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.” But she also bravely wrote “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

Pelosi approved of the apology. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota who is running for president in 2020, chimed in to make sure that everyone knew how much she loves Israel, saying “I’m glad she apologized. That was the right thing to do. There is just no room for those kinds of words. I think Israel is our beacon of democracy. I’ve been a strong supporter of Israel and that will never change.”

Two days later, a motion sponsored by Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York passed by a 424 to 0 vote. It was specifically intended to serve as a rebuke to Omar. It stated that “it is in the national security interest of the United States to combat anti-Semitism around the world because…there has been a significant amount of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hatred that must be most strongly condemned.”

Congressional votes professing love for Israel notwithstanding, the fact is that there is a massive, generously funded effort to corrupt America’s government in favor of Israel. It is euphemistically called the Israel Lobby even though it is overwhelmingly Jewish and it boasts fairly openly of its power when talking with its closest friends about how its money influences the decisions made on Capitol Hill and in the White House. Its combined budget exceeds one billion dollars per year and it includes lobbying powerhouses like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which alone had $229 million in income in 2017, supporting more than 200 employees. It exists only to promote Israeli interests on Capitol Hill and throughout the United States with an army of lobbyists and its activities include using questionably legal all expenses paid “orientation” trips to Israel for all new congressmen and spouses.

McCarthy and the other stooges in Congress deliberately sought to frame the argument in terms of Ilhan Omar having claimed that he personally was receiving money from pro-Israel sources and that money influenced his voting. Well, the fact is that such activity does take place and was documented three years ago by the respected Foreign Policy Journal, which published a piece entitled “The Best Congress AIPAC can Buy” as well as more recently in an al-Jazeera investigative expose using a concealed camera.

And Kevin McCarthy does indeed receive money from Israel PACs – $33,200 in 2018. The amount individual congressmen receive is dependent on their actual or potential value to Israel. Completely corrupt and enthusiastically pro-Israel Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey received $548,507 in 2018. In the House, Beto O’Rourke of Texas received $226,690. The numbers do not include individual contributions of under $200, which are encouraged by AIPAC and can be considerable. In general, congressmen currently receive over $23,000 on average from the major pro-Israel organizations while Senators get $77,000.

But, of course, direct donations of money are not the whole story. If a congressman is unfriendly to Israel, money moves in the other direction, towards funding an opponent when re-election is coming up. Former Rep. Brian Bard has observed that “Any member of Congress knows that AIPAC is associated indirectly with significant amounts of campaign spending if you’re with them, and significant amounts against you if you’re not with them.” Lara Friedman, who has worked on the Hill for 15 years on Israel/Palestine, notes how congressmen and staffs of “both parties told me over and over that they agreed with me but didn’t dare say so publicly for fear of repercussions from AIPAC.”

A good example of how it all worked involves one honest congressman, Walter Jones of North Carolina, who recently passed away. In 2014, “Wall Street billionaires, financial industry lobbyists, and neoconservative hawks” tried to unseat Jones by bankrolling his primary opponent. The “dark money” intended to defeat him came from a PAC called “The Emergency Committee for Israel,” headed by leading neoconservative Bill Kristol. Jones’ war views, including avoiding a war with Iran, were clearly perceived as anti-Israel.

And one should also consider contributions directly to the political parties. Israeli/U.S. dual nationals Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban are the largest single donors to the GOP and to the Democrats, having contributed $82 million and $8,780,000 respectively in the 2016 presidential campaign. Both have indicated openly that Israel is their top priority.

If they have demonstrated fealty to Israel while in office, many Congressmen also find that loyalty pays off after retirement from government with richly remunerated second careers in Jewish dominated industries, like financial services or the media. And there are hundreds of Jewish organizations that contribute to Israel as charities, even though the money frequently goes to fund illegal activity, including the settlements. Money also is used to buy newspapers and media outlets which then adhere to a pro-Israel line, or, where that does not work, to buy advertising that is conditional on being friendly to Israel. So the bottom line is indeed “the Benjamins” and the corruption that they buy.

Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Education Trust said in January that “One person questioning the truth of the Holocaust is one too many.” That is nonsense. Any, and all, historical events should be questioned regularly, a principle that is particular true regarding developments that carry a lot of emotional baggage. The Israel Lobby would have all Americans believe that any criticism of Israel is motivated by historic hatred of Jews and is therefore anti-Semitism. Don’t believe it. When the AIPAC crowd screams that linking Jews and money is a classic anti-Semitic trope respond by pointing out that Jews and money are very much in play in the corruption of congress and the media over Israel. Terrible things are being done in the Middle East in the name of Jews and of Israel and it all comes down to those Benjamins and the silence they buy by accusing all critics of anti-Semitism. Just recall what the Israeli minister admitted, “It’s a trick, we always use it.”


Complete Guide to the N.Y. Times’ Support of U.S.-Backed Coups in Latin America (TruthDig) 29 Jan 2019

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro flashes victory signs, declaring he will prevail amid a “coup,” during a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday. (Ariana Cubillos / AP) 

On Friday, The New York Times continued its long, predictable tradition of backing U.S. coups in Latin America by publishing an editorial praising Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. This will be the 10th such coup the paper has backed since the creation of the CIA over 70 years ago.

A survey of The New York Times archives shows the Times editorial board has supported 10 out of 12 American-backed coups in Latin America, with two editorials—those involving the 1983 Grenada invasion and the 2009 Honduras coup—ranging from ambiguous to reluctant opposition. The survey can be viewed here.

Covert involvement of the United States, by the CIA or other intelligence services, isn’t mentioned in any of the Times’ editorials on any of the coups. Absent an open, undeniable U.S. military invasion (as in the Dominican Republic, Panama and Grenada), things seem to happen in Latin American countries entirely on their own, with outside forces rarely, if ever, mentioned in the Times. Obviously, there are limits to what is “provable” in the immediate aftermath of such events (covert intervention is, by definition, covert), but the idea that the U.S. or other imperial actors could have stirred the pot, funded a junta or run weapons in any of the conflicts under the table is never entertained.

More often than not, what one is left with, reading Times editorials on these coups, are racist, paternalistic “cycle of violence” cliches. Sigh, it’s just the way of things Over There. When reading these quotes, keep in mind the CIA supplied and funded the groups that ultimately killed these leaders:

  • Brazil 1964: “They have, throughout their history, suffered from a lack of first class rulers.”
  • Chile 1973: “No Chilean party or faction can escape some responsibility for the disaster, but a heavy share must be assigned to the unfortunate Dr. Allende himself.”
  • Argentina 1976: “It was typical of the cynicism with which many Argentines view their country’s politics that most people in Buenos Aires seemed more interested in a soccer telecast Tuesday night than in the ouster of President Isabel Martinez de Perlin by the armed forces. The script was familiar for this long‐anticipated coup.”

See, it didn’t matter! It’s worth pointing out the military junta put in power by the CIA-contrived coup killed 10,000 to 30,000 Argentines from 1976 to 1983.

There’s a familiar script: The CIA and its U.S. corporate partners come in, wage economic warfare, fund and arm the opposition, then the target of this operation is blamed. This, of course, isn’t to say there isn’t merit to some of the objections being raised by The New York Times—whether it be Chile in 1973 or Venezuela in 2019. But that’s not really the point. The reason the CIA and U.S. military and its corporate partisans historically target governments in Latin America is because those governments are hostile to U.S. capital and strategic interests, not because they are undemocratic. So while the points the Times makes about illiberalism may sometimes be true, they’re mostly a non sequitur when analyzing the reality of what’s unfolding.

Did Allende, as the Times alleged in 1973 when backing his violent overthrow, “persist in pushing a program of pervasive socialism” without a “popular mandate”? Did, as the Times alleged, Allende “pursue this goal by dubious means, including attempts to bypass both Congress and the courts”? Possibly. But Allende’s supposed authoritarianism isn’t why the CIA sought his ouster. It wasn’t his means of pursuing redistributive policies that offended the CIA and U.S. corporate partners; it was the redistributive policies themselves.

Hand-wringing over the anti-democratic nature of how Allende carried out his agenda without noting that it was the agenda itself—not the means by which it was carried out—that animated his opponents is butting into a conversation no one in power is really having. Why, historically, has The New York Times taken for granted the liberal pretexts for U.S. involvement, rather than analyzing whether there were possibly other, more cynical forces at work?

The answer is that rank ideology is baked into the premise. The idea that the U.S. is motivated by human rights and democracy is taken for granted by The New York Times editorial board and has been since its inception. This does all the heavy lifting without most people—even liberals vaguely skeptical of American motives in Latin America—noticing that a sleight of hand has taken place. “In recent decades,” a 2017 Times editorial scolding Russia asserted, “American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy, sometimes with extraordinary results.” Oh, well, good then.

What should be a conversation about American military and its covert apparatus unduly meddling in other countries quickly becomes a referendum on the moral properties of those countries. Theoretically a good conversation to have (and one certainly ongoing among people and institutions in these countries), but absent a discussion of the merits of the initial axiom—that U.S. talking heads and the Washington national security apparatus have a birthright to determine which regimes are good and bad—it serves little practical purpose stateside beyond posturing. And often, as a practical matter, it works to cement the broader narrative justifying the meddling itself.

Do the U.S. and its allies have a moral or ethical right to determine the political future of Venezuela? This question is breezed past, and we move on to the question of how this self-evident authority is best exercised. This is the scope of debate in The New York Times—and among virtually all U.S. media outlets. To ante up in the poker game of Serious People Discussing Foreign Policy Seriously, one is obligated to register an Official Condemnation of the Official Bad Regime. This is so everyone knows you accept the core premises of U.S. regime change but oppose it on pragmatic or legalistic grounds. It’s a tedious, extortive exercise designed to shift the conversation away from the United States’ history of arbitrary and violent overthrows and into an exchange about how best to oppose the Official Bad Regime in question. U.S. liberals are to keep a real-time report card on these Official Bad Regimes, and if these regimes—due to an ill-defined rubric of un-democraticness and human rights—fall below a score of say, “60,” they become illegitimate and unworthy of defense as such.

While obviously not in Latin America, it’s also worth noting that the Times cheerled the CIA-sponsored coup against Iran’s President, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953. Its editorial, written two days after his ouster, engaged in the Times’ patented combination of victim-blaming and “oh dear” bloviating:

  • “The now-deposed Premier Mossadegh was flirting with Russia. He had won his phony plebiscite to dissolve the Majlis, or lower House of Parliament, with the aid of the Tudeh Communists.”
  • “Mossadegh is out, a prisoner awaiting trial. It is a credit to the Shah, to whom he was so disloyal, and to Premier Zahedi, that this rabid, self-seeking nationalist would have been protected at a time when his life would not have been worth the wager of a plugged nickel.”
  • “The Shah … deserves praise in this crisis. … He was always true to the parliamentary institutions of his country, he was a moderating influence in the wild fanaticism exhibited by the nationalists under Mossadegh, and he was socially progressive.”

Again, no mention of CIA involvement (which the agency now openly acknowledges), which the Times wouldn’t necessarily have had any way of knowing at the time. (This is part of the point of covert operations.) Mossadegh is summarily demonized, and it’s not until decades later the public learns of the extent of U.S. involvement. The Times even gets in an orientalist description of Iranians, implying why a strong Shah is necessary:

[The average Iranian] has nothing to lose. He is a man of infinite patience, of great charm and gentleness, but he is also—as we have been seeing—a volatile character, highly emotional, and violent when sufficiently aroused.

Needless to say, there are major difference between these cases: Mossadegh, Allende, Chavez and Maduro all lived in radically different times and championed different policies, with varying degrees of liberalism and corruption. But the one thing they all had in common is that the U.S. government, and a compliant U.S. media, decided they “needed to go” and did everything to achieve this end. The fundamental arrogance of this assumption, one would think, is what ought to be discussed in the U.S. media—as typified by the Times’ editorial board—but time and again, this assumption is either taken for granted or hand-waved away, and we all move on to how and when we can best overthrow the Bad Regime.

For those earnestly concerned about Maduro’s efforts to undermine the democratic institutions of Venezuela (he’s been accused of jailing opponents, stacking the courts and holding Potemkin elections), it’s worth pointing out that even when the liberal democratic properties of Venezuela were at their height in 2002 (they were internationally sanctioned and overseen by the Carter Center for years, and no serious observer considers Hugo Chavez’s rule illegitimate), the CIA still greenlit a military coup against Chavez, and the New York Times still profusely praised the act. As it wrote at the time:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Chavez would soon be restored to power after millions took to the streets to protest his removal from office, but the question remains: If The New York Times was willing to ignore the undisputed will of the Venezuelan people in 2002, what makes anyone think the newspaper is earnestly concerned about it in 2019? Again, the thing that’s being objected to by the White House, the State Department and their U.S. imperial apparatchiks is the redistributive policies and opposition to the United States’ will, not the means by which they do so. Perhaps the Times and other U.S. media—living in the heart of, and presumably having influence over, this empire—could try centering this reality rather than, for the millionth time, adjudicating the moral properties of the countries subject to its violent, illegitimate whims.

Adam H. Johnson
Adam H. Johnson is a media analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and is co-host of the Citations Needed…

Pessimistic Outlook Fiction: ‘Splinterlands’ by John Feffer – Book Review of the Short Futurist Novel



The fictional main character Julian West, looking backwards from 2050, tries to understand why the world and his family have fallen apart.

Part Field Notes from a Catastrophe, part 1984, part World War Z, John Feffer’s striking new dystopian novel, takes us deep into the battered, shattered world of 2050. The European Union has broken apart. Multiethnic great powers like Russia and China have shriveled. America’s global military footprint has virtually disappeared and the United States remains united in name only. Nationalism has proven the century’s most enduring force as ever-rising global temperatures have supercharged each-against-all competition and conflict among the now 300-plus members of an increasingly feeble United Nations.

As he navigates the world of 2050, Julian West offers a roadmap for the path we’re already on, a chronicle of impending disaster, and a faint light of hope. He may be humanity’s last best chance to explain how the world unraveled—if he can survive the savage beauty of the Splinterlands.


Tom Dispatch


The world of 2050 is a frightening, unstable place. The European Union has collapsed, having “hit a wall of Euroskepticism, fiscal austerity and xenophobia”. The United States is beset by environmental disasters, with Washington having been destroyed by Hurricane Donald in 2022.

A great uprising has fragmented China, and Russia has disintegrated along ethnic lines. Nationalism and terrorism are rife and the few centres of “order” are authoritarian safe havens where capital and the super-rich can carry on as before.

The central character and narrator of this story is the academic and author Julian West. He had been the author, in 2020, of the seminal work Splinterlands, which correctly predicted many subsequent disasters. West has been largely forgotten in the chaos but he hopes that revisiting the work may help to reverse some of the damage. In parallel with this, West hopes to mend his relationship with his wife and three children, from whom he is largely estranged.

West sets off on a quest, using virtual reality technology, to contact these four people who had meant so much to him. Through them, we are told the story of what has happened to the world and given an idea of the ways that people react to the changes. Some have accommodated to the new situation and even see it as an opportunity to enrich themselves. A minority carry the fight to the new ruling order while others still drop out and try to set up communities beyond its control.

This novel obviously connects with a number of themes for contemporary readers. One that recurs is the rise of reactionary movements and ideologies in the first part of the 21st century. This is referred to as the “nationalist international”, a concept which is starting to find influence today. Global warming is shown to have wreaked untold damage, ironically hitting the citadels of the “sceptics” hardest of all.

Agricultural disasters have followed, with most of the world’s population surviving on synthetic food manufactured from seaweed. Financial speculation and profligacy is said to have continued unabated, with all of the above factors exacerbated by a massive crash in 2023. Corporations still operate with impunity nonetheless, West’s rewrite of Splinterlands is sponsored by the ubiquitous CRISPR international, which is shown to have its own motives for becoming involved.

This is a lot of ground for a story that is told in 150 pages. The themes are largely

pessimistic, with isolated, individual, acts of resistance and little sense that things could

have been different. The parallel story of West’s family puts a very human face on a grim

future. Read it but remember that there is always another path.


John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. In 2012–2013, he was also an Open Society Fellow looking at the transformations that have taken place in Eastern Europe since 1989. He is the author of several books and numerous articles. He has also produced six plays, including three one-man shows, and published a novel.

Part of the Dispatch Books series. Buy the book.


“In a chilling, thoughtful, and intuitive warning, foreign policy analyst Feffer (Crusade 2.0) takes today’s woes of a politically fragmented, warming Earth and amplifies them into future catastrophe. Looking back from his hospital bed in 2050, octogenarian geo-paleontologist Julian West contemplates his fractured world and estranged family. West is writing the follow-up to his bestselling 2020 monograph, Splinterlands, in which he analyzes the disintegrated international community. By 2050, the refugee-saturated European Union has collapsed; the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China have splintered; and Washington, D.C., is gone, destroyed by Hurricane Donald in 2022. There are water wars, imitation foods made from seaweed, inequality, disease, and sleeper terrorists. On a virtual reality trip to make amends, West visits his children—professor Aurora in a deteriorating Brussels rampant with kidnappings; wealthy opportunist Gordon in Xinjiang, no longer part of China; and freedom fighter Benjamin in prosperous Botswana. His ex-wife, Rachel, lives in a commune in a snowless Vermont, now a farming paradise. Lending credibility to his predictions, Feffer includes footnotes from West’s editor written around 2058. This novel is not for the emotionally squeamish or optimistic; Feffer’s confident recitation of world collapse is terrifyingly plausible, a short but encompassing look at world tragedy.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Feffer’s book is a wild ride through a bleak future, casting a harsh, thought-provoking light on that future’s modern-day roots.”
—Foreword Reviews

“Readers who enjoy dystopian stories that hold more than a light look at political structures and their downfall will more than appreciate the in-depth approach John Feffer takes in his novel.”
—Midwest Book Review

“Splinterlands is a short and powerful dystopian novel, framed as an all-too-credible account of what might happen in our lifetimes.”
—Climate and Capitalism

“John Feffer is our 21st-century Jack London, and, like the latter’s Iron Heel, Splinterlands is a vivid, suspenseful warning about the ultimate incompatibility between capitalism and human survival.”

—Mike Davis

Splinterlands paints a startling portrait of a post-apocalyptic tomorrow that is fast becoming a reality today. Fast-paced, yet strangely haunting, Feffer’s latest novel looks back from 2050 on the disintegration of world order told through the story of one broken family– and offers a disturbing vision of what might await us all if we don’t act quickly.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickle and Dimed and Living with a Wild God, and founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project

“A chilling portrayal of where the politics of division could take us. Now I only hope he writes the sequel to tell us how to avoid it!”
—Naomi Oreskes, co-author of The Collapse of Western Civilization



War with China? It’s Already Under Way – by Michael T. Klare (Tom Dispatch) 17 Feb 2019

China v US

In his highly acclaimed 2017 book, Destined for War, Harvard professor Graham Allison assessed the likelihood that the United States and China would one day find themselves at war. Comparing the U.S.-Chinese relationship to great-power rivalries all the way back to the Peloponnesian War of the fifth century BC, he concluded that the future risk of a conflagration was substantial. Like much current analysis of U.S.-Chinese relations, however, he missed a crucial point: for all intents and purposes, the United States and China are already at war with one another. Even if their present slow-burn conflict may not produce the immediate devastation of a conventional hot war, its long-term consequences could prove no less dire.

To suggest this means reassessing our understanding of what constitutes war. From Allison’s perspective (and that of so many others in Washington and elsewhere), “peace” and “war” stand as polar opposites. One day, our soldiers are in their garrisons being trained and cleaning their weapons; the next, they are called into action and sent onto a battlefield. War, in this model, begins when the first shots are fired.

Well, think again in this new era of growing great-power struggle and competition. Today, war means so much more than military combat and can take place even as the leaders of the warring powers meet to negotiate and share dry-aged steak and whipped potatoes (as Donald Trump and Xi Jinping did at Mar-a-Lago in 2017). That is exactly where we are when it comes to Sino-American relations. Consider it war by another name, or perhaps, to bring back a long-retired term, a burning new version of a cold war.

Even before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, the U.S. military and other branches of government were already gearing up for a long-term quasi-war, involving both growing economic and diplomatic pressure on China and a buildup of military forces along that country’s periphery. Since his arrival, such initiatives have escalated into Cold War-style combat by another name, with his administration committed to defeating China in a struggle for global economic, technological, and military supremacy.

This includes the president’s much-publicized “trade war” with China, aimed at hobbling that country’s future growth; a techno-war designed to prevent it from overtaking the U.S. in key breakthrough areas of technology; a diplomatic war intended to isolate Beijing and frustrate its grandiose plans for global outreach; a cyber war (largely hidden from public scrutiny); and a range of military measures as well. This may not be war in the traditional sense of the term, but for leaders on both sides, it has the feel of one.

Why China?

The media and many politicians continue to focus on U.S.-Russian relations, in large part because of revelations of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 American presidential election and the ongoing Mueller investigation. Behind the scenes, however, most senior military and foreign policy officials in Washington view China, not Russia, as the country’s principal adversary. In eastern Ukraine, the Balkans, Syria, cyberspace, and in the area of nuclear weaponry, Russia does indeed pose a variety of threats to Washington’s goals and desires. Still, as an economically hobbled petro-state, it lacks the kind of might that would allow it to truly challenge this country’s status as the world’s dominant power. China is another story altogether. With its vast economy, growing technological prowess, intercontinental “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, and rapidly modernizing military, an emboldened China could someday match or even exceed U.S. power on a global scale, an outcome American elites are determined to prevent at any cost.

Washington’s fears of a rising China were on full display in January with the release of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a synthesis of the views of the Central Intelligence Agency and other members of that “community.” Its conclusion: “We assess that China’s leaders will try to extend the country’s global economic, political, and military reach while using China’s military capabilities and overseas infrastructure and energy investments under the Belt and Road Initiative to diminish U.S. influence.”

To counter such efforts, every branch of government is now expected to mobilize its capabilities to bolster American — and diminish Chinese — power. In Pentagon documents, this stance is summed up by the term “overmatch,” which translates as the eternal preservation of American global superiority vis-à-vis China (and all other potential rivals). “The United States must retain overmatch,” the administration’s National Security Strategy insists, and preserve a “combination of capabilities in sufficient scale to prevent enemy success,” while continuing to “shape the international environment to protect our interests.”

In other words, there can never be parity between the two countries. The only acceptable status for China is as a distinctly lesser power. To ensure such an outcome, administration officials insist, the U.S. must take action on a daily basis to contain or impede its rise.

In previous epochs, as Allison makes clear in his book, this equation — a prevailing power seeking to retain its dominant status and a rising power seeking to overcome its subordinate one — has almost always resulted in conventional conflict. In today’s world, however, where great-power armed combat could possibly end in a nuclear exchange and mutual annihilation, direct military conflict is a distinctly unappealing option for all parties. Instead, governing elites have developed other means of warfare — economic, technological, and covert — to achieve such strategic objectives. Viewed this way, the United States is already in close to full combat mode with respect to China.

Trade War

When it comes to the economy, the language betrays the reality all too clearly. The Trump administration’s economic struggle with China is regularly described, openly and without qualification, as a “war.” And there’s no doubt that senior White House officials, beginning with the president and his chief trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, see it just that way: as a means of pulverizing the Chinese economy and so curtailing that country’s ability to compete with the United States in all other measures of power.

Ostensibly, the aim of President Trump’s May 2018 decision to impose $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports (increased in September to $200 billion) was to rectify a trade imbalance between the two countries, while protecting the American economy against what is described as China’s malign behavior. Its trade practices “plainly constitute a grave threat to the long-term health and prosperity of the United States economy,” as the president put it when announcing the second round of tariffs.

An examination of the demands submitted to Chinese negotiators by the U.S. trade delegation last May suggests, however, that Washington’s primary intent hasn’t been to rectify that trade imbalance but to impede China’s economic growth. Among the stipulations Beijing must acquiesce to before receiving tariff relief, according to leaked documents from U.S. negotiators that were spread on Chinese social media:

  • halting all government subsidies to advanced manufacturing industries in its Made in China 2025 program, an endeavor that covers 10 key economic sectors, including aircraft manufacturing, electric cars, robotics, computer microchips, and artificial intelligence;
  • accepting American restrictions on investments in sensitive technologies without retaliating;
  • opening up its service and agricultural sectors — areas where Chinese firms have an inherent advantage — to full American competition.

In fact, this should be considered a straightforward declaration of economic war. Acquiescing to such demands would mean accepting a permanent subordinate status vis-à-vis the United States in hopes of continuing a profitable trade relationship with this country. “The list reads like the terms for a surrender rather than a basis for negotiation,” was the way Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University, accurately described these developments.

Technological Warfare

As suggested by America’s trade demands, Washington’s intent is not only to hobble China’s economy today and tomorrow but for decades to come. This has led to an intense, far-ranging campaign to deprive it of access to advanced technologies and to cripple its leading technology firms.

Chinese leaders have long realized that, for their country to achieve economic and military parity with the United States, they must master the cutting-edge technologies that will dominate the twenty-first-century global economy, including artificial intelligence (AI), fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications, electric vehicles, and nanotechnology. Not surprisingly then, the government has invested in a major way in science and technology education, subsidized research in pathbreaking fields, and helped launch promising startups, among other such endeavors — all in the very fashion that the Internet and other American computer and aerospace innovations were originally financed and encouraged by the Department of Defense.

Chinese companies have also demanded technology transfers when investing in or forging industrial partnerships with foreign firms, a common practice in international development. India, to cite a recent example of this phenomenon, expects that significant technology transfers from American firms will be one outcome of its agreed-upon purchases of advanced American weaponry.

In addition, Chinese firms have been accused of stealing American technology through cybertheft, provoking widespread outrage in this country. Realistically speaking, it’s difficult for outside observers to determine to what degree China’s recent technological advances are the product of commonplace and legitimate investments in science and technology and to what degree they’re due to cyberespionage. Given Beijing’s massive investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education at the graduate and post-graduate level, however, it’s safe to assume that most of that country’s advances are the result of domestic efforts.

Certainly, given what’s publicly known about Chinese cybertheft activities, it’s reasonable for American officials to apply pressure on Beijing to curb the practice. However, the Trump administration’s drive to blunt that country’s technological progress is also aimed at perfectly legitimate activities. For example, the White House seeks to ban Beijing’s government subsidies for progress on artificial intelligence at the same time that the Department of Defense is pouring billions of dollars into AI research at home. The administration is also acting to block the Chinese acquisition of U.S. technology firms and of exports of advanced components and know-how.

In an example of this technology war that’s made the headlines lately, Washington has been actively seeking to sabotage the efforts of Huawei, one of China’s most prominent telecom firms, to gain leadership in the global deployment of 5G wireless communications. Such wireless systems are important in part because they will transmit colossal amounts of electronic data at far faster rates than now conceivable, facilitating the introduction of self-driving cars, widespread roboticization, and the universal application of AI.

Second only to Apple as the world’s supplier of smartphones and a major producer of telecommunications equipment, Huawei has sought to take the lead in the race for 5G adaptation around the world. Fearing that this might give China an enormous advantage in the coming decades, the Trump administration has tried to prevent that. In what is widely described as a “tech Cold War,” it has put enormous pressure on both its Asian and European allies to bar the company from conducting business in their countries, even as it sought the arrest in Canada of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, and her extradition to the U.S. on charges of tricking American banks into aiding Iranian firms (in violation of Washington’s sanctions on that country). Other attacks on Huawei are in the works, including a potential ban on the sales of its products in this country. Such moves are regularly described as focused on boosting the security of both the United States and its allies by preventing the Chinese government from using Huawei’s telecom networks to steal military secrets. The real reason — barely disguised — is simply to block China from gaining technological parity with the United States.


There would be much to write on this subject, if only it weren’t still hidden in the shadows of the growing conflict between the two countries. Not surprisingly, however, little information is available on U.S.-Chinese cyberwarfare. All that can be said with confidence is that an intense war is now being waged between the two countries in cyberspace. American officials accuse China of engaging in a broad-based cyber-assault on this country, involving both outright cyberespionage to obtain military as well as corporate secrets and widespread political meddling. “What the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing,” said Vice President Mike Pence last October in a speech at the Hudson Institute, though — typically on the subject — he provided not a shred of evidence for his claim.

Not disclosed is what this country is doing to combat China in cyberspace. All that can be known from available information is that this is a two-sided war in which the U.S. is conducting its own assaults. “­The United States will impose swift and costly consequences on foreign governments, criminals, and other actors who undertake significant malicious cyber activities,” the 2017 National Security Strategy affirmed. What form these “consequences” have taken has yet to be revealed, but there’s little doubt that America’s cyber warriors have been active in this domain.

Diplomatic and Military Coercion

Completing the picture of America’s ongoing war with China are the fierce pressures being exerted on the diplomatic and military fronts to frustrate Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions. To advance those aspirations, China’sleadership is relying heavily on a much-touted Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar plan to help fund and encourage the construction of a vast new network of road, rail, port, and pipeline infrastructure across Eurasia and into the Middle East and Africa. By financing — and, in many cases, actually building — such infrastructure, Beijing hopes to bind the economies of a host of far-flung nations ever closer to its own, while increasing its political influence across the Eurasian mainland and Africa. As Beijing’s leadership sees it, at least in terms of orienting the planet’s future economics, its role would be similar to that of the Marshall Plan that cemented U.S. influence in Europe after World War II.

And given exactly that possibility, Washington has begun to actively seek to undermine the Belt and Road wherever it can — discouraging allies from participating, while stirring up unease in countries like Malaysia and Ugandaover the enormous debts to China they may end up with and the heavy-handed manner in which that country’s firms often carry out such overseas construction projects. (For example, they typically bring in Chinese laborers to do most of the work, rather than hiring and training locals.)

“China uses bribes, opaque agreements, and the strategic use of debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands,” National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed in a December speech on U.S. policy on that continent. “Its investment ventures are riddled with corruption,” he added, “and do not meet the same environmental or ethical standards as U.S. developmental programs.” Bolton promised that the Trump administration would provide a superior alternative for African nations seeking development funds, but — and this is something of a pattern as well — no such assistance has yet materialized.

In addition to diplomatic pushback, the administration has undertaken a series of initiatives intended to isolate China militarily and limit its strategic options. In South Asia, for example, Washington has abandoned its past position of maintaining rough parity in its relations with India and Pakistan. In recent years, it’s swung sharply towards a strategic alliance with New Dehli, attempting to enlist it fully in America’s efforts to contain China and, presumably, in the process punishing Pakistan for its increasingly enthusiastic role in the Belt and Road Initiative.

In the Western Pacific, the U.S. has stepped up its naval patrols and forged new basing arrangements with local powers — all with the aim of confining the Chinese military to areas close to the mainland. In response, Beijing has sought to escape the grip of American power by establishing miniature bases on Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea (or even constructing artificial islands to house bases there) — moves widely condemned by the hawks in Washington.

To demonstrate its ire at the effrontery of Beijing in the Pacific (once known as an “American lake”), the White House has ordered an increased pace of so-called freedom-of-navigation operations (FRONOPs). Navy warships regularly sail within shooting range of those very island bases, suggesting a U.S. willingness to employ military force to resist future Chinese moves in the region (and also creating situations in which a misstep could lead to a military incident that could lead… well, anywhere).

In Washington, the warnings about Chinese military encroachment in the region are already reaching a fever pitch. For instance, Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, described the situation there in recent congressional testimony this way: “In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

A Long War of Attrition

As Admiral Davidson suggests, one possible outcome of the ongoing cold war with China could be armed conflict of the traditional sort. Such an encounter, in turn, could escalate to the nuclear level, resulting in mutual annihilation. A war involving only “conventional” forces would itself undoubtedly be devastating and lead to widespread suffering, not to mention the collapse of the global economy.

Even if a shooting war doesn’t erupt, however, a long-term geopolitical war of attrition between the U.S. and China will, in the end, have debilitating and possibly catastrophic consequences for both sides. Take the trade war, for example. If that’s not resolved soon in a positive manner, continuing high U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports will severely curb Chinese economic growth and so weaken the world economy as a whole, punishing every nation on Earth, including this one. High tariffs will also increase costs for American consumers and endanger the prosperity and survival of many firms that rely on Chinese raw materials and components.

This new brand of war will also ensure that already sky-high defense expenditures will continue to rise, diverting funds from vital needs like education, health, infrastructure, and the environment. Meanwhile, preparations for a future war with China have already become the number one priority at the Pentagon, crowding out all other considerations. “While we’re focused on ongoing operations,” acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan reportedly told his senior staff on his first day in office this January, “remember China, China, China.”

Perhaps the greatest victim of this ongoing conflict will be planet Earth itself and all the creatures, humans included, who inhabit it. As the world’s top two emitters of climate-altering greenhouse gases, the U.S. and China must work together to halt global warming or all of us are doomed to a hellish future. With a war under way, even a non-shooting one, the chance for such collaboration is essentially zero. The only way to save civilization is for the U.S. and China to declare peace and focus together on human salvation.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is the five-college professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and a senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. His most recent book is The Race for What’s Left. His next book, All Hell Breaking Loose: Climate Change, Global Chaos, and American National Security , will be published in 2019.



Is the world’s most expensive painting a FAKE? Louvre snubs ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ painting – Saudi spent £342million – experts suggest it may have been painted by assistant – by Henry Martin (Daily Mail) 17 Feb 2019

  • The Salvator Mundi is thought to be painted by the legendary Leonardo da Vinci  
  • Art historian Jacques Franck said senior figures know it ‘isn’t a Leonardo’
  • But the Louvre said ‘his opinion is his personal opinion, not the one of the Louvre’
  • Musée du Louvre has asked for the loan of the painting to present it in October 


The Salvator Mundi was thought to be painted by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci, but doubts have been cast over the painting’s authenticity.

The painting, which was unveiled at The National Gallery’s 2011 Leonardo exhibition, broke auction records at Christie’s in New York, 2017 when it was bought for $450million (£342million).

Christie’s confirmed the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism was ‘acquiring’ the painting, but its next unveiling, due to take place at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in September, was cancelled with no explanation.  

The Salvator Mundi, which depicts Christ as ‘Saviour of the World’, is now alleged by some to be a ‘workshop Leonardo’, painted by one of the artist’s studio assistants.

The Salvator Mundi, an ethereal portrait of Jesus Christ which dates to about 1500

Art historian Jacques Franck told the Sunday Telegraph that senior politicians and Louvre staff ‘know that the Salvator Mundi isn’t a Leonardo’.

He has reportedly written to French President Emmanuel Macron to warn him against inaugurating the Louvre’s Leonardo exhibition this autumn if the allegedly fake painting is included – which would be ‘almost scandalous’. 

The painting was also said to be facing a snub from the Louvre in Paris, who were reported to have scrapped plans to display the work in its Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.

But a Louvre spokeswoman told MailOnline: ‘The Musée du Louvre has asked for the loan of the Salvator Mundi and wishes to present it in its October exhibition.

Reports had suggested that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the painting’s owner


‘We are waiting for the owner’s answer.

‘M. Franck was part of the scholars who have been consulted 7 or 8 years ago for the restoration of the Saint Ann.

‘He is not currently working on the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition and has never been curator for the Louvre.

‘His opinion is his personal opinion, not the one of the Louvre.’  

The painting’s appearance has been said to have changed between the time it was unveiled in 2011 and its auctioning off six years later, raising questions over its restoration.   

Last August reports emerged that Matthew Landrus, a research fellow at Oxford University’s Wolfson College, said the artwork was actually painted by da Vinci’s assistant Bernardino Luini. 

Reports had suggested that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the painting’s buyer. 

Da Vinci scholar Professor Martin Kemp, who helped authenticate the piece a decade ago, had previously told The Times: ‘Nobody outside the immediate Arab hierarchy knows where it is.’ 

Western diplomats said a Saudi royal acting as a proxy for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the buyer.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington says the Saudi royal purchased the painting on behalf of the museum in Abu Dhabi.  


Unable to Sell Enough Advertising – The Onion and Gizmodo Media For Sale – by Jeremy Barr (Hollywood Reporter) 14 Feb 2019

Univision Reveals Write-Down of Struggling Gizmodo Media Group Assets


Univision Communications boss Vincent Sadusky

The company reported that the assets lost $32.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Univision is acknowledging the financial weakness of the Gizmodo Media Group digital media assets the company has purchased over the last few years, including the former Gawker Media Group publications it picked up in the summer of 2016.

“In 2018, we recognized a non-cash impairment charge on our English-language digital assets,” a company spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the company reported that its English-language digital businesses, which includes The Onion, lost $32.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, compared to just $3 million in the same quarter a year earlier. But the losses were even greater in the third quarter of 2018, with the company reporting a loss of $96.1 million for the U.S. digital brands.

Univision is still looking for a buyer for the Gizmodo Media Group properties, which the company still believes to be strong.

“Our English-language digital brands are longstanding, recognized sources of news, information and entertainment in their verticals that we believe can thrive as part of a company whose focus better aligns with theirs,” the Univision spokesperson said.

The spokesperson declined comment when asked about the status of the company’s acquisition talks, but a media executive familiar with the company said the weak financials and the broader struggles in the digital media industry don’t bode well.

“They haven’t been able to get anyone to buy it and in this environment, things aren’t promising,” the executive said.

BuzzFeed and Vice Media have both recently undergone painful rounds of cost-cutting as they strive for profitability.

A Gizmodo Media Group employee told THR that staff have not been updated in months about the status of the sales talks.

While the transaction was not announced at the time, Univision revealed in a finding that it spent $28.7 million in September 2018 to purchase the stake in The Onion that it did not already own. A source speculated that the buy was made to be able to sell The Onion as a whole entity.

Although a buyer has emerged, industry analyst Ken Doctor said there’s a lot to like about the Gizmodo Media Group properties, which he said command “passionate, niche audiences” and a solid e-commerce business based on product recommendations.

“Given those two factors, I can see a buyer taking on the properties and rationalizing them,” Doctor said, though they may only fetch a “fire sale price.”


East Boston: Maverick Square Police Patrol Encounters Three Masked Right Wing Leaflet Posters With Spray Paint (Universal Hub) 16 Feb 2019

East Boston

Police: Officers looking for Nazi-poster hangers arrest three out of towners in masks with spray paint

Boston Police report arresting three out-of-towners in Maverick Square while looking for whoever put up those white-supremacist posters that went up a couple days ago in East Boston.

WFXT reports a police source told it the three were responsible for the posters.

Police say officers patrolling Maverick Square last night because of the posters:

Observed a group of males wearing face masks [on Winthrop Street]. Officers approached the group, one of which had been carrying a can of spray paint, in an attempt to speak with them. While speaking with one of the members of the group, who was extremely uncooperative, the male removed his wallet from his pocket. However, when officers reached to obtain what they thought would be the male’s identification card, they were met by the male slapping the officer’s hand away. Officers placed the male under arrest. Officers subsequently arrested two additional members of the group.

Matthew Wolf, 26, of Lowell, was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, police say. Tylar Larson, 18, of Rochester, NY, and Christopher Hood, 20, of Malden, were both charged with possession of a dangerous weapon. Police did not specify the type of weapon. They were not charged in connection with the posters.


‘The Gadfly’ – Best-selling Irish novel of all time, Revolutionary China and Soviets loved it – by James Wilson (Irish Central) 11 Feb 2017

Ethel Voynich’s master piece novel, The Gadfly, about revolutionary Italy was a runaway success in revolutionary Russia and China.)

Corkwoman Voynich published the story in 1897 and the story of a young Englishman who travelled to Rome during the most tumultuous time in Italian history captured the Soviet imagination in a way that few other English language novels have done before or since.

The Gadfly sold well over 5 million copies in 22 of the Soviet Union’s official languages and inspired no less than seven musical adaptations and five film and theatre adaptations each.

Originally met with disapproval by the authorities in Tsarist Russia due to its themes of rebellion and social change, it became standard school reading for many years in the Soviet Union and enjoyed considerable popularity in both Iran and the People’s Republic of China too. It was also widely read by Irish Republican and socialist prisoners in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison after the Easter Rising in 1916.

In it, the gallant protagonist Arthur Burton journeys to Italy at the height of the so-called Risorgimento as “The Gadfly” and becomes embroiled in ecclesiastical scandal with a shocking denouement.

Despite being published at the tail end of the 19th century the book enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 1950’s after a Soviet movie adaptation in 1955 sold 39 million box office tickets. Its enduring mass appeal in China meant that during the Cultural Revolution the once officially sanctioned text was suppressed, as nervous Communist officials worried it would inspire anti-Maoist movements.

Today “The Gadfly” is out of print in the English language, while available free in the public domain site Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3431/3431-h/3431-h.htm –  but it remains a much loved book in many countries that lived with the promise of socialist liberation from capitalist rule.


Voynich’s The Gadfly: Exploring Connections between Revolutionary Russia and Ireland – By Anna Lively (Age of Revolutions) 10 Dec 2018

Gadfly 7

Picture of Ethel Lilian Voynich, 1901.

Anglo-Irish writer Ethel Voynich’s The Gadfly (1897) is a dramatic story of revolutionary ambition and the fraught relationship between revolutionary movements and the Catholic Church. Set during the nineteenth-century Italian Risorgimento, it tells the story of an Englishman named Arthur (the ‘Gadfly’) who becomes embroiled in the Young Italy movement, helping to distribute weapons and spread seditious, anti-clerical pamphlets. Alongside the Gadfly, there is the quietly brave and revolutionary Gemma, who defies traditional gender roles. This book gained a huge international profile and was popular in Soviet Russia and later in communist China.

This globally-influential Anglo-Irish novel reveals connections between revolutionary Russia and Ireland. The movement towards independence in Ireland c. 1912 to 1923 is now commonly referred to as the Irish Revolution, although this term remains contentious. The more conservative nature of the Irish revolution compared to its Russian counterpart in 1917 has led scholars to ignore their points of comparison and overlap. The Gadfly offers the opportunity to compare these two revolutions in terms of Voynich’s own biography, themes in the novel, and the distribution and political use of the book in Russia and Ireland. 

Voynich’s biography demonstrates the importance of transnational political and cultural networks on the eve of the Irish and Russian Revolutions. Voynich (née Boole) was born in 1864 in Blackrock in Cork to English parents, the celebrated mathematicians and philosophers George and Mary Boole. She moved to London after the death of her father but returned to Ireland regularly during her childhood. As a young woman, she became involved in radical circles in London, meeting prominent Russian political exiles like Prince P. A. Kropotkin and Stepniak (Sergey Kravchinsky). With Stepniak’s help, she learned Russian, working as a governess and tutor in Russia in the late 1880s. Her connections to the Russian Empire deepened after she met and later married Wilfred Michael Voynich, a political radical from Poland (then partly under Russian imperial control), who had recently escaped from exile in Siberia.

While few Irish radicals travelled to Russia or married Russian subjects, Voynich was not alone in her curiosity about Russian politics. During the 1920s and 1930s, numerous young Irish radicals, such as Roddy Connolly (son of the influential socialist and revolutionary James Connolly) and Rosamond Jacob, followed in her footsteps to Moscow, searching for political possibilities. Voynich’s life is just one example of how people’s lives and experiences transcended national and political borders during the revolutionary period, defying neat historiographical categorizations.

The themes of The Gadfly relate to important social and political debates in revolutionary Russia and Ireland. Despite its historical Italian setting, the novel had contemporary political implications. At a time of international suffrage movements, the novel suggests women could play an important role in revolutionary movements. The narrator declares how “Gemma would fight at the barricades. She was made of the clay in which heroines are moulded; she would be the perfect comrade.” Russian and Irish women would indeed play an important role on the ‘barricades’, whether it be women like Constance Markievicz in the Easter Rising, or Bolshevik feminists like Alexandra Kollontai.

The relationship between the Church and revolution is also central throughout the novel. In one dramatic scene, we learn how a Catholic priest informed on the Gadfly after he gave away details of the revolutionary movement in confession. Voynich’s own relationship to religion was complex and changed throughout her life, reflecting some of the wider debates surrounding atheism and socialism in both Russia and Ireland at this time.

The circulation of The Gadfly demonstrates the political significance of literature in Russia and Ireland. The Gadfly was first published in the US and then in Britain in 1897, before being translated into Russian by the critic and translator Zinaida Vengerova, whom Voynich had met in Russia. The dramatic novel became hugely popular, first appearing in serial form in the socialist-leaning journal Mir Bozhii and then in multiple book editions after 1900. Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, The Gadfly (or Ovod in Russian) became a staple revolutionary text, selling an estimated 4 million copies with at least 60 Russian-language editions in print. A 1957 article in the Soviet cultural journal Voprosy Literatury commented on the book’s significance, although it lamented how little was known about its mysterious Anglo-Irish author. This changed after Soviet journalists rediscovered the elderly Voynich in New York, helping her to gain celebrity status in the Soviet Union.

The Gadfly was far less successful in Ireland than in the Soviet Union. During the Irish Civil War of 1922 to 1923, The Gadfly was circulated in some republican circles, including among anti-Treaty prisoners. In his memoir, the Donegal republican Peadar O’Donnell commented how it “is a curious fact, which many of the Mountjoy prisoners must be easily able to recall, that it was around these days that the Gadfly was being widely read in ‘C’ wing.” O’Donnell remembers how his fellow prisoner Joe McKelvey “often commented” on the book, particularly the Gadfly’s execution; McKelvey even placed the book beside his bed before his own execution in December 1922. After this, the book largely fell into obscurity in Ireland. One journalist noted in 1966 how the “only literary recognition [Voynich] has received in her own country is that the book was placed on the banned list of publications some 50 years after it appeared.”

The history of The Gadfly demonstrates the globally-connected nature of both the Russian and Irish Revolutions. Voynich’s travels and circulation of the Gadfly among republican prisoners suggest that the Irish Revolution was not uniformly conservative or detached from international radicalism. And yet The Gadfly was far less popular in Ireland compared to in the Soviet Union. Political policies and cultural attitudes to religion were an important factor in this, and in the wider divergence of the revolutions. The novel’s anti-clerical tone was popular in the Soviet Union, but in post-revolutionary Ireland the Catholic Church exerted considerable influence over society and politics. With its hero the ‘Gadfly’ making blasphemous comments like the “mental disease called religion”, it is hardly surprising that neither the book nor its author was widely celebrated in post-independence Ireland.

Anna Lively is a History PhD student at the University of Edinburgh studying the ‘Transnational connections between the Russian and Irish Revolutions, 1905–1923’. She previously completed an MSc in Contemporary History at the University of Edinburgh, and a BA in History at the University of Exeter. Her research is funded by a Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities studentship. She tweets @AnnaLively14.

Further Reading:

Casey, Maurice. ‘Red Easter’, History Ireland, vol. 24, no. 5 (2016), 40-2. 

Fremantle, Anne. ‘The Russian Best-seller’, History Today, vol. 25, issue 9 (1975), 629-37.

O’Connor, Emmet. Reds and the Green: Ireland, Russia and the Communist Internationals, 1919-43 (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2004).

McGeever, Brendan, ‘The Easter Rising and the Soviet Union: an untold chapter in Ireland’s great rebellion’, Open Democracy, 25 March 2016, accessible at https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brendan-mcgeever/easter-rising-and-soviet-union-untold-chapter-in-ireland-s-great-rebellion.


[1] Patrick Waddington, ‘Voynich [née Boole], Ethel Lilian (1864–1960)’ (2010). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-38488 18 Nov. 2018.

[2] Ethel Voynich, The Gadfly (Winnetka, Calif.: Norilana Books, 2006), 50.

[3] Ibid., 48-9.

[4] E. Brandis, ‘Rable pod zapretom’, Voprosy Literatury, 3 (1957).

[5] Lewis Bernhardt, ‘‘The Gadfly’ in Russia’, Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 28, no. 1 (1966), 1-19. 

[6] Peadar O’Donnell, The Gates Flew Open: An Irish Civil War Prison Diary (Cork: Mercier Press, 2013), pp. 64-5; Maggie Armstrong, ‘Cork’s heroine of communist literature’, The Irish Times, 30 July 2010, accessed at https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/cork-s-heroine-of-communist-literature-1.629829 18 November 2018.

[7] Voynich, The Gadfly, 60; Joe Joyce, ‘From the Archives’, Irish Times, 27 April 1966, 24.

[8] Voynich, The Gadfly, 179.

The Gadfly – by Ethel Voynich – English Language 1897 Novel About Revolutionaries in 1840’s Italy – Read By Millions in Socialist Russia and Maoist China – Ignored and Unknown in the West

I was scanning the hodgepodge of paperback books on a shelf in the parlor.  I wanted to remove any work I might have sitting on a shelf for decades without touching.  I need to give away some more books and make room in the intellectual clutter of my domicile. 

I saw the title ‘The Gadfly.’  I hadn’t touched that book in years and years; I had never read the novel.  Someone had moved out of an apartment while I was in college and I had adopted the orphaned paperback.  I was impressed with the blurbs on the front and back cover.  The books was reportedly the ‘number one’ American best seller in Russia. 

The Pyramid Published paperback I have has a cover price of fifty cents.  The printing date is ‘April 1961.’   The back cover claims that the ‘rediscovered’ classic was being printed in a 500,000 run because of the anticipated interest.

In Russia a number of movies and operas had been based on the work.  The music from the works is still appreciated and performed today. 

A decent movie from 1955 in good color and period costumes – but – no subtitles – a story set in Italy with everyone speaking Russian.  Employ suspension of disbelief, find the plot of the story before hand to understand roughly what is going on, and then pay attention to the actors faces and body movements.  This is a good movie.  I watched half of it last night.  (1:37:46 min)

I also started to read the text online.

Text at Project Gutenberg – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3431/3431-h/3431-h.htm

A passable audio reading of ‘The Gadfly’ from Librivox on Youtube

Gadfly 6

From Wikipedia:

The Gadfly is a novel by Irish writer Ethel Voynich, published in 1897 (United States, June; Great Britain, September of the same year), set in 1840s Italy under the dominance of Austria, a time of tumultuous revolt and uprisings.[1] The story centres on the life of the protagonist, Arthur Burton, as a member of the Youth movement, and his antagonist, Padre Montanelli. A thread of a tragic relationship between Arthur and his love, Gemma, simultaneously runs through the story. It is a story of faith, disillusionment, revolution, romance, and heroism.

The book, set during the Italian Risorgimento, is primarily concerned with the culture of revolution and revolutionaries. Arthur, the eponymous Gadfly, embodies the tragic Romantic hero, who comes of age and returns from abandonment to discover his true state in the world and fight against the injustices of the current one. The landscape of Italy, in particular the Alps, is a pervading focus of the book, with its often lush descriptions of scenery conveying the thoughts and moods of characters.

Gadfly 2


Arthur Burton, an English Catholic, travels to Italy to study to be a priest. He discovers radical ideas, renounces Catholicism, fakes his death and leaves Italy. While away he suffers great hardship, but returns with renewed revolutionary fervour. He becomes a journalist, expounding radical ideas in brilliant satirical tracts published under the pseudonym “the gadfly”. The local authorities are soon dedicated to capturing him. Gemma, his lover, and Padre Montanelli, his Priest (and also secretly his biological father), show various forms of love via their tragic relations with the focal character of Arthur: religious, romantic, and family. The story compares these emotions to those Arthur experiences as a revolutionary, particularly drawing on the relationship between religious and revolutionary feelings. This is especially explicit at the climax of the book, where sacred descriptions intertwine with reflections on the Gadfly’s fate. Eventually Arthur is captured by the authorities and executed by a firing squad. Montanelli also dies, having lost his faith and his sanity.

With the central theme of the book being the nature of a true revolutionary, the reflections on right wing religion and left wing rebellion proved to be ideologically suitable and successful. The Gadfly was exceptionally popular in the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and Iran exerting a large cultural influence. In the Soviet Union The Gadfly was part of school reading and the top best seller, indeed by the time of Voynich’s death The Gadfly is estimated to have sold 2,500,000 copies in the Soviet Union alone.[5] In P.R. China, there are several publishers translated the book, and one of them (China Youth Press) sold more than 2,050,000 copies.[6] Irish writer Peadar O’Donnell recalls the novel’s popularity among Irish Republican prisoners in Mountjoy Prison during the Irish Civil War.[

The Russian composer Mikhail Zhukov turned the book into an opera The Gadfly (Овод, 1928). In 1955, the Soviet director Aleksandr Faintsimmer adapted the novel into a film of the same title (Russian: Ovod) for which Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the score. The Gadfly Suite is an arrangement of selections from Shostakovich’s score by the composer Levon Atovmian. A second opera The Gadfly was composed by Soviet composer Antonio Spadavecchia.

On the other hand, in Italy, where the plot takes place during the Italian Unification, the novel is totally neglected:[8] it was translated into Italian as late as in 1956 and was never reprinted: Il Figlio del Cardinale (literally, The Son of the Cardinal). A new edition, carrying the same title, came out in 2013.

Theatre adaptations

  • 1898. The Gadfly or the Son of the Cardinal by George Bernard Shaw. This version was created at Voynich’s request to forestall other dramatisations.[9]
  • 1899. The Gadfly by Edward E. Rose, commissioned by Stuart Robson. Voynich described this version as an “illiterate melodrama”, and tried to get an injunction to stop it being performed.[10]
  • 1906. Zhertva svobody by L. Avrian (in Russian).
  • 1916. Ovod by V. Zolotarëv (in Russian).
  • 1940. Ovod by A. Zhelyabuzhsky (in Russian).
  • 1947. Ovid by Yaroslav Halan (in Ukrainian)

Opera, ballet, musical adaptations

Film adaptations



  • See Voynich, Ethel Lillian (1897). The Gadfly (1 ed.). New York: Henry Holt & Company. Retrieved 13 July 2014. via Archive.org
  • Robin Bruce Lockhart, Reilly: Ace of Spies; 1986, Hippocrene Books, ISBN 0-88029-072-2.
  • Andrew Cook, Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly, 2004, Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-2959-0. Page 39.
  • Gerry Kennedy, The Booles and the Hintons, Atrium Press, July 2016 pp 274-276
  • Cork City Libraries Archived 18 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine provides a downloadable PDF[dead link] of Evgeniya Taratuta’s 1957 biographical pamphlet Our Friend Ethel Lilian Boole/Voynich, translated from the Russian by Séamus Ó Coigligh. The pamphlet gives some idea of the Soviet attitude toward Voynich.
  • [1]
  • O’Donnell, Peadar The Gates Flew Open (1932) Ch. 14
  • S. Piastra, Luoghi reali e luoghi letterari: Brisighella in The Gadfly di Ethel Lilian Voynich, “Studi Romagnoli” LVII, (2006), pp. 717–735 (in Italian); S. Piastra, Il romanzo inglese di Brisighella: nuovi dati su The Gadfly di Ethel Lilian Voynich, “Studi Romagnoli” LIX, (2008), pp. 571–583 (in Italian); A. Farsetti, S. Piastra, The Gadfly di Ethel Lilian Voynich: nuovi dati e interpretazioni, “Romagna Arte e Storia” 91, (2011), pp. 41–62 (in Italian).
  • Therese Bonney & R. F. Rattray, Bernard Shaw, a Chronicle, Leagrave Press, Luton, England, 1951, p.135.


  1. Los Angeles Herald, Volume 604, Number 8, 8 October 1899, p.13

External links

Grammys: Great Porn, Maybe, But Music It Was NOT – by Ilana Mercer • 14 Feb 2019


I used to have some respect for Lady Gaga. With all her pretentious Yoko Onanisms, Stefani Germanotta, Gaga’s real name, is actually a hard-working and, at times, polished singer.

But to watch Gaga, at the 61st Grammy Awards, perform a number called “Shallow” was to endure an assault on the eyes and the ears.

Legs permanently splayed like an arthritic street walker, Gaga traipsed around catatonically, attempting to head-bang, but getting disoriented. Some things are best left to a macho, metal-head guy.

Gaga’s look was not a good one. But her sound, which is what counts here, was positively terrible. Yet, Gaga—lugging microphone and mount around like a geriatric with a walker—was a highlight in what was a pornographic, cacophonous extravaganza.

Aside the gorgeous Alicia Keys, host of the 2019 Grammys, who is talented and charming, and Dolly Parton, a consummate pro—the event showcased the gutter culture that is the American music scene. The country is truly in the musical sewer.

The petulant female artists, so proud of their seized power, showcased power, all right—but it was all in the hips, the pelvis, and in thrusts and twerks of the tush. Not one transcendent, inspiringly beautiful dance move did these throngs of crass stompers execute, on the pimped stage.

Janelle Monáe? The sum total of this artiste’s musical “talent” is simulating sex on stage. “Let the v-gina monologue,” she hissed venomously at her adoring, masochistic fans, while moving her nether regions to a base, atavistic beat. Indeed, in an orifice, Miss Monáe has found the right interlocutor.

Let us stipulate for the record that this is never about lyrics. Cardi B screaming that she “likes morning sex” but that nothing in this world does she love “more than checks” is not an issue.

Put it this way, if the greatest composer ever, Johann Sebastian Bach, set his divine, god-like cantatas to the saucy, naughty lyrics of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, would I decry his sublime composition as immoral? Don’t be daft. The music of J.S. Bach would still be sublime if it were set to Cardi B’s gutter language.

My point: Cardi B doesn’t make music. The category for which she and her sisters should be nominated, if I am being charitable, is street theatre.

Incessant, asinine, genital-speak is one of the things that distinguishes these female artistes (as in “a person with artistic pretensions”) and makes them particularly repulsive. Do they not realize some things are best left veiled and mysterious?

Women of Monáe’s ilk are first to robotically protest the objectification of their sex, but are complicit in ensuring that The Act itself suffers the very same fate: sex has been made an object, a fashionable accessory, part of an empowering, emasculating life-style.

Screaming there was aplenty at Grammys No. 61. But good voices? None at all. Informed we were that the insipid Kacey Musgraves, a two-chord whiner, is what passes for country music, these days.

While I don’t much care for the country twang, for a while, country music was the closest to rock one could get. The riffs, the relative facility with the instruments, and the musicians’ manliness—amid the rapid queering of rock outfits—resembled the rock of yesteryear. But Kacey Musgraves versus the fabulous Faith Hill? Never the twain shall meet. Why, Musgraves makes me miss Sarah McLachlan and her soft-pop Lilith bosom buddies.

The only great melodies on stage, February 10, 2019, were the few achingly beautiful old songs botched by the newbies’ ugly warbling.

Yes, it’s the custom to yodel and ululate. Nobody learns to sing properly. An example of a caterwauling duo was Chloe x Halle, who absolutely mutilated the exquisite, evocative “Where Is The Love,” performed, in 1972, by Donny Hathaway and the heavenly Roberta Flack.

Again, not one memorable song did I hear, sporting a decent chord progression and some melodic variety; not one vaguely competent guitarist or instrumentalist: nothing at all. As musicians, most of the performers were objectively G-d-awful. Moving melodies, harmonic complexity, gorgeous arrangements, furious licks, superb singing and impossible time-signature fluctuations—by the sound of it, these are competencies lost.

Players (Chris Cornell – “When Bad Does Good”) sustained one or two pitches and exhibited little proficiency on any of the instruments they belabored (St. Vincent, “Masseduction“).

In all, instrumentalist these days can mostly only strum, and produce an amorphous blend—an ill-differentiated, sloppy sonic porridge. Such a structureless cacophony pleases the lazy ear because it’s repetitive, and chock-full of blurry, angst-riddled crescendos.

This deficit in skill is understandable. Why bother acquiring instrumental proficiency, instruction in composition or voice training, when a guitar is just a sexy prop? Swaying hips, a jutting pelvis, bedroom whispers or affectation and attitude (Dua Lipa, H.E.R. ) will get you all the attention and fame you crave, because these gutter-culture commodities are what’s in demand.

Which is where Cardi B comes in. “Be Careful” (an actual Cardi B number, in whose video she culturally appropriates the “Kill Bill” wedding scene). Even if you forget that a glorified lap dancer is not a musician; don’t get addicted to this woman’s audial porn.

As to H.E.R, formerly Gabi: She calls her winning album an “EP,” which stands for “extended play.” My point precisely. What my trained ear hears is aimless, skills-less, stream-of-consciousness, monotonous musical phrases, characterized by little to no harmonic resolution, other than spasms of caterwauling.

And the winner is … Give it up for technology. The tartlets I watched “sing” at the 61st Grammys would have been even more inaudible and tuneless were it not for the mighty Auto-Tune: the “holy grail of recording,” that “corrects intonation problems in vocals or solo instruments, in real time, without distortion or artifacts.”

Indeed, this T & A line-up would be reduced to even more embarrassing grunts, out-of-tune yelps, and bedroom whispers, if not for the Auto-Tune technology.


China Plans To Build Space Solar Station – By Tsvetana Paraskova (Oilprice.com) 15 Feb 2019

Sun Earth

Chinese scientists have revealed plans to build and launch in orbit a space solar station that could capture the Sun’s rays 24/7, Chinese media report.

China has already started to build an early experimental space power plant in the city of Chongqing, The Sydney Morning Herald reported, citing an article in China’s Science and Technology Daily.

The space solar station, planned to orbit the Earth at 36,000 kilometers (22,370 miles) could provide “an inexhaustible source of clean energy for humans,” according to Pang Zhihao, a researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology Corporation.

Such solar power technology could supply reliable energy 99 percent of the time and have six times the intensity of the solar farms that work on the earth, the scientist says.

China will start by launching small solar stations between 2021 and 2025, while a possible next step would be a Megawatt-level station planned to be built in 2030.

The energy from the space solar station would be converted into a microwave or laser beam that would be sent to the earth.

However, the project has two major hurdles to overcome in order to become a practical solution. One is the weight of a space solar station, expected to be more than two times the weight of the International Space Station. The other is the safety impact of laser or microwave beams sent to the earth.

China is not the only country studying the potential of harnessing the power of the Sun in space.

Caltech for example has its Space Solar Power Project, which has researched the use of ultralight, foldable, 2D integrated elements, Caltech has developed a prototype which collects sunlight, converts it to RF electrical power, then wirelessly transmit that power in a steerable beam.

According to Caltech’s research, “Collecting solar power in space and transmitting the energy wirelessly to Earth through microwaves enables terrestrial power availability unaffected by weather or time of day. Solar power could be continuously available anywhere on earth.”


Ancient Egypt’s Aten – The First God – by James K Hoffmeier (Aeon) 12 Feb 2019

The first God

Out of the many gods of ancient Egypt an inspired Pharaoh created a monotheistic faith. What was Atenism and why did it fail?


A small stele, probably used as a home altar, depicts Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti with their three eldest daughters. Aten is represented as a sun-disc with the Sun’s rays ending in hands proffering Ankh signs to the royal couple. Amarna period, c1340 BCE. Courtesy the Neues Museum, Berlin



More than 3,000 years ago, ancient Egypt, with its myriad gods and goddesses, saw the founding of two monotheistic religions within a century of each other. One is associated with Moses, the Bible and ancient Israel’s faith, which is the foundation of Judaism and Christianity. The other burst on to the scene around 1350 BCE, flourished for a moment, and was then eclipsed when its founder died in 1336 BCE. We call the religion Atenism. Where did it come from? And why didn’t the world’s first monotheism last?

(1954 Movie ‘The Egyptian’ from the popular novel by Mika Waltari concerning the times of Akhenaten  (2:13:03 min) )

In the 4th millennium BCE, there were two distinct cultures in Egypt: one in the Delta (north) region, the other in the south. This geographical and political dualism had its counterpart in religion. In the north, the most powerful god in the Egyptian pantheon was Re, the sun god. His cult centre was in a suburb of present-day Cairo, still known by the ancient Greek name Heliopolis, ‘City of the Sun’, and his principal icon was a pyramid-shaped stone called the benben. The pyramids and obelisks still familiar today owe their shape and symbolic significance to this ancient solar image. By his agency, Re created other gods, over which he was chief, as well as humans. Re’s son was Horus the sky-god, represented as a falcon, and the Pharaohs were the incarnation of Horus. So their title was ‘Son of Re’.

Meanwhile, in the southern town of Thebes (modern Luxor), the god Amen emerged as the most powerful religious force. As his name suggests in ancient Egyptian, Amen is the ‘hidden one’ and is often depicted in human form with blue skin, representing the blue sky or atmosphere. Amen’s principal cult centre was Karnak Temple in Thebes. Around 2000 BCE, then, there were two dominant deities in Egypt: Re, who reigned in the north, and Amen, who ruled the south.

Northern and southern Egypt were embroiled in civil war between c2150 and 2000 BCE. Rival pharaohs ruled Egypt, resulting in parallel kingships based in Memphis in the north and Thebes in the south. It was left to a 11th-dynasty ruler, the Theban Mentuhotep II to unify the land through war around 2000 BCE. By around 1950 BCE, Amenemhet – meaning ‘Amen is foremost’ – founded another dynasty, the 12th. He was the first to incorporate Amen into his name. Amen’s time had come. In a unifying gesture, Amenemhet moved the capital north, back to the Memphis area where Upper and Lower Egypt meet, with his devotion to Amen intact. He called his new capital Itj-tawy, ‘Seizer of the Two-Lands’, and likely here he fused together Amen and Re into a single, powerful deity: Amen-Re, who was called ‘the king of the gods’. Amen-Re’s influence spread through all Egypt, and for 600 years he had no rival atop the pantheon. Karnak mushroomed into the largest temple complex in ancient Egypt as ruler after ruler honoured this god, his consort, Mut, and Khonsu, their son.

The Karnak complex expanded significantly between 1500 and 1350 BCE when the 18th-dynasty monarchs ruled. While Memphis remained the political capital, Thebes was considered the imperial capital. From Karnak, divine oracles directed the kings to conquer neighbouring lands, and they duly obliged. Egypt’s empire stretched north and east to beyond even the Euphrates River, and in the south, Nubia, the northern half of Sudan, was colonised. Tribute and booty poured into Egypt during this century and a half, with Karnak Temple and its powerful priesthood the major recipients. There is no greater testimony to the prosperity of this era than the colossal building projects of Amenhotep III (1390-1353 BCE) at Karnak and Luxor Temples, largely in the name of Amen-Re. Egypt and its god Amen-Re had reached the zenith of power. But no one could have foreseen how quickly things would change with the death of Amenhotep III.

The crown-prince Thutmose, eldest son of Amenhotep III, was set to follow his father to the throne. However, the prince died unexpectedly, leaving the succession to his younger brother. This prince, also called Amenhotep, might have been only in his mid-teens when his father died in the 38th year of kingship, around 1353 BCE, when he became Amenhotep IV. His youth is demonstrated in a carved scene in the tomb of a high-ranking official named Kheruef where the new king is shown making offerings to the gods under the watchful auspices of his mother, rather than standing alone or with his queen, the famous Nefertiti. The gods to which he is depicted making offers are Atum and Re-Horakhty (both solar deities). Atum is presented as a human with a kingly crown on his head, while Re-Horakhty is a human with the head of a falcon, a sun-disc upon the raptor’s head. It appears that, from the outset, Amenhotep IV had an affinity for traditional sun-gods. He was not yet a monotheist.

Based on an inscription dated to regnal year 1 of Amenhotep IV at the sandstone quarry of Gebel el-Silsileh (south of Luxor), we learn that here the new king began his first building project. It records the hewing out of a large benben stone for ‘Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which (or who) is in the Aten in Karnak’. This lengthy name seems to be a theological creed, and is often called the ‘didactic name’ of Aten. No earlier form of the sun-god employed such a lengthy name. So this is new.

Little is known about this temple as it was destroyed after the king’s death, and the blocks reused to build other edifices in the area. Only a handful of decorated and inscribed blocks have survived, and some remain partially visible in the 10th Pylon or gateway at Karnak. One of these blocks, which now graces the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, shows the new deity: ‘Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which is in the Aten’. Only the head of the falcon is preserved. A large sun-disc sits on its head, which has a cobra wrapped around the disc with its head flaring up just above the falcon’s beak. This initial representation of the sun-god looks just like the solar deity, Re-Horakhty. On the right side of the scene, the king himself is depicted and above him the lower portion of a sun-disc is preserved. It has cobras on both sides, and hanging from their necks is an ankh-sign, the so-called key of life. Three more ankhs are connected to the underside of the Sun.

Something changed, and the king built at least four temples to Aten

Another block believed to be from this same temple preserves only a portion of a larger scene. It too contains the creedal name, but it depicts the image of the god Shu, whose name occurs in the creedal formula, along with his wife, Tefnut. Here, she is called ‘the father of the gods’, and the first god created by Atum is associated with atmospheric or cosmic light. It is clear from this early temple block that the introduction of this new form of the sun-god did not preclude mentioning primordial deities such as Shu and Tefnut. That means that Amenhotep had no aversion to ‘the gods’: at this stage, he could not even be called a henotheist, or one who worships one deity without rejecting the existence of others.

But something changed between the king’s second and fourth regnal years. During this period, he built at least four temples to Aten in eastern Karnak. These sanctuaries were later dismantled, but thanks to the Egyptian penchant for recycling building material, the temple blocks were reused elsewhere. Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of inscribed blocks from these later edifices have been collected by Egyptologists. Over time, they have become dilapidated, thereby exposing the earlier stone. The sandstone blocks in question were of a different size than those used to construct previous temples (called talatat by Egyptologists). Because of their unique size, they are easily recognisable when reused.

Efforts to piece together this massive jigsaw puzzle (actually four puzzles!) have been a challenge, but some impressive scenes have been reconstructed on paper from drawings and photographs of the decorated blocks. From these scenes, the four original temples were identified. One key Egyptologist leading the effort to assemble the blocks was the historian Donald Redford (then of the University of Toronto), who sought to glean as much information as possible from the scenes about the formative years of Atenism.

In 1925, French Egyptologists working at Karnak Temple were summoned to examine some strange demolished statues that were uncovered outside the eastern wall of the temple complex during the excavation of a drainage canal. After exposing more of the statues, which turned out to represent Akhenaten and temple blocks, the work was abandoned, and the area largely forgotten. Fifty years elapsed before work resumed in 1975. As a graduate student, I had the privilege of working with Redford on these excavations between 1975 and 1977. We re-excavated the now-covered area exposed in 1925, and then moved north where we uncovered the southwest corner. Years later, the northwest corner was found too.

Between the corners, an entrance was cleared where the avenue of statues continued west, perhaps toward one or more of the other Aten temples. The telltale talatat blocks were used throughout. The western wall was 715 feet (220 metres) wide. Ongoing work has uncovered traces of talatat walls and statue fragments below the village farther to the east of our excavation area, showing that it was a square structure. This makes it the single largest temple built at Karnak up till that time. And the name of the temple, critical to understanding the origins of Atenism, is found on talatat blocks: Gemet Pa-Aten, ‘The Aten is Found’.

By studying the carved reliefs and texts on the blocks, a number of conclusions could be reached about this new religion. Significantly, it was within the large, open courtyard that a royal jubilee was celebrated, and in fact this might have been the main function of Gemet Pa-Aten. Royal jubilees were normally celebrated on or around the 30th anniversary of the coronation (that’s when Amenhotep III did his), and they rejuvenated the kingship. At around age 19-20, Akhenaten surely did not need such a boost!

At coronation, the throne name of the king was revealed. When construction on Gem Pa-Aten began, in the 2nd or 3rd regnal year, the king still used his birth name Amenhotep. But before the project was completed around his 4th or 5th year, without explanation he dropped that name and adopted the name by which he is known in history: Akhenaten. It means ‘He who is beneficial to the Aten’. The blocks from early in the project that had ‘Amenhotep’ written on them were erased and replaced by his new name.

Images of other deities were expunged, and the plural writing for ‘gods’ scratched off

The iconography of the deity in this temple (and the others at Karnak) was altered to reflect the king’s changing theology. The falcon image virtually disappears, only to be replaced by the ubiquitous sun-disc with extended Sun rays, and the extended name ‘Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which is in the Aten’ is written in a cartouche, a device used to identify royal names. With the jubilee, Akhenaten seems to signal that the Aten was now the ultimate ruler, replacing Amen-Re.

This alteration of the king’s name was the first step in a programme to exterminate Egypt’s most powerful deity. What followed was a systematic programme of iconoclasm in which images of Amen and writings of his name throughout Egypt were desecrated and removed. Beyond Egypt’s north Sinai border, in recent excavations I directed, limestone door lintels inscribed with the name of Amenhotep II (Akhenaten’s great-grandfather) were uncovered. Here too, ‘Amen’ was obliterated from the cartouche, and so was Amen-Re’s name. The zealots were careful, however to preserve the writing of Re, which is written with the sun-disc sign (the same hieroglyph used in Aten’s name). The temples of his father, Amenhotep III, were not off-limits. ‘Amen’ is hacked out of the cartouches and images of Amen were erased, even in temples in distant Nubia (Sudan). In some instances, images of other deities were also expunged, and there are cases where the plural writing for ‘gods’ (netjeru) had been scratched off.

A decision was also reached around the 5th or 6th year to abandon Thebes and establish a new capital in middle Egypt called Akhet-Aten (also known by the modern Arabic name ‘Amarna’), meaning ‘the Horizon of Aten’. This pristine land had not been sacred to any deity before. No city or temples previously stood there. Only temples to Aten were built there, and the largest was called Gemet Pa-Aten. With the move of the royal family to Akhet-Aten, a third and final form of Aten’s name is introduced: ‘Living Re, Ruler of the Horizon, Rejoicing in the Horizon in His Name of “Re, the Father, who has come as the Aten”’. Gone are ‘Horakhty’ and ‘Shu’, two deities, and only Re the sun-god who manifests his power in or through the visible Aten or sun-disc remains. The king no longer tolerated any divine name or personification of a force of nature that could be construed as another deity.

The exclusivity of Aten and the campaign to exterminate Amen and other deities is proof positive of a movement from polytheism to monotheism. If doubt remains that Akhenaten was a monotheist, consider some elegant and touching lines in The Great Hymn to the Aten, inscribed on the wall of the tomb of the high official named Aye at Amarna:

O sole god beside who there is none …
You create the earth according to your desire, you alone:
People, all large and small animals, all things which are on earth, which walk on legs,
Which rise up and fly with their wings.
The foreign lands of Syria and Nubia, (and) the land of Egypt …
The lord of every land who rises for them, the Aten of daytime, whose awesomeness is great.
(Now concerning) all distant countries, you make their life …
(O you) who gives life to the son in his mother’s womb, and calms him by stopping his tears;
Nurse in the womb, who gives breath to enliven all he makes …

The themes of universalism, divine oneness, the exclusivity of Aten and his tender care for all creation drive home the point that ‘there is none’ beside Aten. This is a monotheistic statement not unlike the Islamic confession ‘there is no god but God’. And on the theme of divine oneness, the Jewish Shema comes to mind: ‘Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ The sun-god was a universal deity: wherever one went in the world, the Sun appears.

(A popular novel of Akhenaten’s times ‘The Egyptian’ by Mika Waltari)

Atenism was a monotheistic experiment. But what instigated such a radical shift from the polytheistic orthodoxy that had flourished in Egypt for millennia, and what led to the demotion of Amen-Re from his preeminent status, a position he had held for centuries? Here, there is little agreement among Egyptologists. There are those who think that this religious move was designed to wrest power from the Amen priesthood’s dominance that challenged the crown itself. Simply put, it was a political move. But this view does not adequately consider Akhenaten’s genuine devotion to Aten as reflected in the incredible temples dedicated to him, not to mention the intimacy expressed towards Aten in the hymns.

Others consider Atenism to be simply the climax of an evolution that had been underway for more than a century, in which Re had been moving towards universal status. This interpretation, however, does not take into account the programme of iconoclasm towards Amen and other deities, and the disappearance of traditional images of the sun-god (human form, falcon head, pyramid images, etc). One could advance Aten without eradicating Amen in a polytheistic system.

My theory is that Akhenaten himself very early in his reign (or even just before) experienced a theophany – a dream or some sort of divine manifestation – in which he believed that Aten spoke to him. This encounter launched his movement which took seven to nine years to fully crystallise as exclusive monotheism. Great idea, but based on what evidence? Mention has already been made of the two major Aten Temples called Gemet Pa-Aten constructed at Karnak and Akhet-Aten. A third temple by the same name was built in Nubia. Three temples with the same name is unprecedented, and suggests that its meaning, ‘The Aten is Found’, was vitally important to the young king’s religious programme. Could the name of the three sanctuaries memorialise the dramatic theophany that set off the revolution?

Akhenaten also uses the same language of discovery to explain how he found the land where he would establish the new city, Akhet-Aten. The aforementioned boundary inscription records Akhenaten’s words when travelling through the area that would become his new capital:

Look, Aten! The Aten wishes to have [something] made for him as a monument … (namely) Akhet-Aten … It is Aten, my father, [who advised me] concerning it so it could be made for him as Akhet-Aten.

Later in the same inscription, the king again repeats the line: ‘It is my father Aten who advised me concerning it.’ These texts point to an initial phenomenological event in which the king discovered the new form of the sun-god and then, through a later revelation, Aten disclosed where his Holy See should be built.

With Atenism, the evolution from polytheism to monotheism occurred rapidly, in just a few years

Historians of religion over the past 150 years thought that such a shift to monotheism must have been a gradual development taking place over millennia. Just like every field of learning in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the academic study of religion was shaped by evolutionary philosophy, an extension of Darwinian thought. From this perspective, religion began in the hoary past from animism, where everything – trees, rivers, rocks, etc – was possessed by spirits; followed by totemism; then polytheism; henotheism; culminating finally in monotheism. This linear development took thousands of years, it is claimed, moving from simple to complex forms. Some thinkers maintain that monotheism was achieved in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE for the ancient Jews, a development mirrored among Greek philosophers, in Zoroastrianism and other Asian religions during the same general period. But with Atenism, as the evidence suggests, the evolution from polytheism to monotheism occurred rapidly, in just a few years, contrary to the traditional understanding that monotheism appeared eight centuries later.

Some have toyed with the idea that either Moses influenced Akhenaten or vice versa. Indeed, Sigmund Freud in his book Moses and Monotheism (1939) opined: ‘I venture now to draw the following conclusion: if Moses was an Egyptian and if he transmitted to the Jews his own religion, then it was that of Ikhnaton, the Aton religion.’ But there is simply no evidence for such a connection. As noted, Akhet-Aten was located in central Egypt, more than 200 miles away from the Land of Goshen in the northeastern delta where the Bible places the Hebrews. Based on an inscription made upon the stones that marked the city’s boundaries, Akhenaten vows that he would never leave this sacred zone: ‘I shall not pass beyond it.’ This means that the kind of contact between Moses and the Pharaoh reported in the book of Exodus could not have occurred given the distance between the two.

The main reason I reject the theory of one religion impacting the other is that each one is based on its own theophany. The Lord God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Sinai and revealed his name, Yahweh, according to Exodus. Akhenaten had his own divine encounter that gave rise to Atenism. Put another way, both religions stand on their own distinctive revelations.

Typically, what is needed for a religion to endure is that a leader or prophet who believes he or she received a divine message has a band of faithful followers to disseminate the tradition, and a set of authoritative writings is preserved for future generations. This is the case of Moses and the Torah (the Law). Similar is the case for Christianity with Jesus, his apostles and the New Testament Scriptures, and likewise Muhammad and the origins of Islam and the Quran, as well as Joseph Smith, the Latter Day Saints and the book of Mormon.

Akhenaten’s movement lacked followers who shared his convictions so that, when he died, his family and the priests and officials who had served him jettisoned Atenism and restored Amen-Re atop the pantheon of deities and reopened closed temples. His daughters, whose birth names all included ‘Aten’, were renamed with Amen instead, and his eventual successor traded in his previous name: Tut-ankh-aten became Tut-ankh-amen. Aten’s temples were demolished, the great city Akhetaten was deserted, and the various hymns to Aten that expressed the theology of his religion remained memories on the walls of tombs. Not one of these has been found in later writing to indicate that a scriptural tradition resulted.

If indeed Moses lived in the 13th century BCE as many scholars today believe, then it seems likely that Akhenaten was the first human in recorded history to embrace the exclusive worship of one god. But it is the teaching of one God expressed in the Hebrew Bible that has endured the test of time, and remains the longest lasting monotheistic religion. Atenism was an idea whose time hadn’t yet come: a shade of the great monotheisms to be.



Exercise May Help to Fend Off Depression – by Gretchen Reynolds (NY Times) 13 Feb 2019

Jogging for 15 minutes a day, or walking or gardening for somewhat longer, could help protect people against developing depression.


Jogging for 15 minutes a day, or walking or gardening for somewhat longer, could help protect people against developing depression, according to an innovative new study published last month in JAMA Psychiatry. The study involved hundreds of thousands of people and used a type of statistical analysis to establish, for the first time, that physical activity may help prevent depression, a finding with considerable relevance for any of us interested in maintaining or bolstering our mental health.

Plenty of past studies have examined the connections between exercise, moods and psychological well-being, of course. And most have concluded that physically active people tend to be happier and less prone to anxiety and severe depression than people who seldom move much.

But those past studies showed only that exercise and depression are linked, not that exercise actually causes a drop in depression risk. Most were longitudinal or cross-sectional, looking at people’s exercise habits over a certain period or at a single point of time and then determining whether there might be statistical relationships between the two. In other words, active people might be less likely to become depressed than inactive people. But it’s also possible that people who aren’t prone to depression may be more likely to exercise. Those types of studies may be tantalizing, but they can’t prove anything about cause and effect.

To show causation, scientists rely on randomized experiments, during which they assign people to, for instance, exercise or not and then monitor the outcomes. Researchers have been using randomized trials to look at whether exercise can treat depression after people already have developed the condition, and the results have been encouraging.


But it would be almost impossible to mount a randomized trial looking at whether exercise prevents depression, since you would need to recruit a large number of people, convince some to exercise, others not, follow them for years and hope that enough develop depression to make any statistical analysis meaningful. The logistics involved would be daunting, if not impossible, and the costs prohibitive.

Enter Mendelian randomization. This is a relatively new type of “data science hack” being used to analyze health risks, says Karmel Choi, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychiatric genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who led the new study.

With Mendelian randomization, scientists zero in on small snippets of genes that vary from person to person. These variants are passed out before birth and do not change afterward; they are not altered by upbringing. Thanks to large-scale genetics studies, scientists have associated many of these snippets with specific health behaviors and risks. People with certain gene variants are, for example, more likely to overeat or be physically active than people without that variant.

More recently, scientists realized that these differences in people’s DNA offered, in effect, ready-made randomized trials designed by nature, since the variants occurred in mathematically random fashion.

Because of that inherent randomization, scientists could crosscheck the numbers of people with or without a snippet related to a health risk or behavior, such as, say, a strong likelihood to exercise, against another health outcome, such as severe depression. And if a large percentage of people with the variant did not develop the condition, scientists felt they could conclude that the behavior related to that variant caused the change in risk for the other condition.

And that result is what Dr. Choi and her colleagues found when they applied Mendelian randomization to exercise and depression. To reach that conclusion, they turned first to the UK Biobank, an enormous database of genetic and health information for almost 400,000 men and women. There they identified people who carried at least one of several gene variants believed to increase the likelihood someone will be active. Most of those people were active, and few of them had experienced depression.

People without the snippets, meanwhile, tended to move less, and they also showed greater risks for depression.

Delving deeper, the scientists found that, statistically, the ideal amount of exercise to prevent depression started at about 15 minutes a day of running or other strenuous exercise. Less-taxing activities like fast walking, housework and so on also afforded protection against depression, but it took about an hour a day to have an effect.

Finally, to be sure that physical activity was affecting the risk for depression, and not the other way around, the scientists repeated the Mendelian style of analysis on a separate large genetic database. This time they looked for gene variants related to depression and whether people who carried those variants and a propensity for depression tended to be physically inactive. It turned out, they did not.

So, the researchers concluded, physical activity in this analysis lowered the risk for depression, but depression did not affect whether people exercised.

Mendelian randomization remains a mathematical exercise, of course, and in the real world, people’s lives and behaviors are shaped by more than genetics. Many factors no doubt play a role in who develops depression. The gene variants related to being active could, for instance, also and separately play some kind of antidepressant role, Dr. Choi says, adding that the intertwined genetic and behavioral linkages between exercise and mental health will require many more studies to disentangle.

But already these results do provide “strong evidence” that being physically active, whatever your genetic makeup, can help protect against depression, Dr. Choi says.



US Right Wing Street Fighters – The Proud Boys’ Lesson for Conservatives – by Robert Hampton • 14 Feb 2019

The brawl between the Proud Boys and the Antifa in New York on October 12.
The brawl between the Proud Boys and the Antifa in New York on October 12, 2018


The Proud Boys could only have arisen in the Trump era. A multi-racial fraternity dedicated to “Western chauvinism” and brawling with the Antifa is not something the Tea Party could have produced.

There’s always been an element of the ridiculous in the Proud Boys. They have a distinctive uniform consisting of a black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirt with a MAGA hat. Their initiation rite requires potential members to take a beating until they can name five brands of cereal. And even though “Western chauvinist” sounds like a more polite way of saying white supremacist, the Proud Boys boast more racial diversity than the Antifa. And the music video for the group is . . . something else:

The Proud Boys represents the absurdity that is “Trumpism” shorn of racialism. The group’s ideology is amorphous, and often resembles libertarian talking points – for example, “glorifying the entrepreneur.” The Proud Boys’ only two clear principles are support for Trump and a desire to fight the Antifa. That appeared to be enough to attract members, but that second quality has proven to be the group’s undoing.

One fight in New York City led to criminal charges for several members and a leadership crisis within the group. Gavin McInnes resigned as leader following reports(that turned out to be inaccurate) that the FBI had classified the Proud Boys as an extremist group. Milo Yiannopoulos followed suit and publicly disassociated himself from the group. A new chief, Jason Lee Van Dyke, was selected, and then quickly departed, adding to the group’s turmoil. On top of all this, the group has been kicked offnearly every social media platform and payment processor due to its numerous brawls.

McInnes is now suing the Southern Poverty Law Center over its designation of the Proud Boys as a hate group. McInnes claims in his lawsuit that the designation has cost him business and amounted to “tortious interference.” This Alt Lite figure also wants the SPLC to stop connecting him to hate groups, while also wanting the “anti-hate” smear operation to cease which claims that the Proud Boys are violent. It’s unclear whether this lawsuit will succeed or not. What is clear is that it shows the present disarray of the group and how it’s trying to clean up its image.

A lot of folks on the Dissident Right have reveled in the Proud Boys’ misery because of the group’s cuckery. Some have even argued that their cucking is why the group is in decline. If only they had stood by White Nationalists and not insisted on their opposition to the Alt Right, the argument goes, they would be in better shape right now.

That’s a silly argument. The real reason the Proud Boys are in decline is because of their dedication to street violence – the quality which both attracted support as well as the attention of law enforcement. Of course, much of their violence was in self-defense against the Antifa’s aggression and wouldn’t be prosecuted by a sane system. But nevertheless, it was a group primarily based on violence, which is hazardous for the Right. Every group dedicated to violence will face law enforcement scrutiny and brutal coverage from the press. The Proud Boys seemed unable to overcome those challenges.

The Antifa can engage in political violence at will thanks to the support of the media and cultural elites, as well as deep-pocketed legal defense funds. The Right cannot hope for such support at present. Many normie conservatives loved to watch videos of the Proud Boys knocking out the Antifa, but that is in no way comparable to the Left’s moral imperative to “punch Nazis.” Major outlets such as CNN have run glowing profiles of the Antifa and their commitment to “civil rights.” Even the Antifa’s numerous attacks on journalists have not convinced the cultural elites to drop their admiration for the black-clad anarchists. This is a double standard that is unjust, and yet we cannot change it.

Meanwhile, Right-wing groups that engage in violence can expect to face the full force of the law and media condemnation. The Proud Boys’ brawl in New York City last October well illustrates this point. Ten Proud Boys were charged in connection with a fight that broke out following a speech by Gavin McInnes. Two Proud Boys approached a group of Antifa demonstrators, which prompted one of the anarchists to throw a water bottle at the Trump supporters. A brawl ensued, and the Proud Boys emerged victorious.

But footage of the fight went viral on the Internet and the media demanded harsh justice. As a result, the victorious Proud Boys were rounded up and charged with rioting and attempted assault. The members face stiff sentences if found guilty. Interestingly, authorities are prosecuting these Proud Boys without the cooperation of their supposed victims, who refuse to identify themselves to police. The state wants punishment more than the Antifa does.

As a side note, a fact from the case that highlights the non-racialist character of the Proud Boys is that one of their members who was charged is a Latino skinhead. Another one is a white man who is married to a black woman. That man was – hilariously – labelled a white supremacist in the press.

All of this hoopla is over one single Saturday night fight. Additionally, the Proud Boys are having trouble getting the funds together to pay for the legal defense of their indicted brothers. The Antifa would never have this problem, as they have the National Lawyers Guild on their side and ready to help them in their legal troubles.

The lesson from all this is that it’s foolhardy for Right-wing groups to dedicate themselves to political violence. The Proud Boys are trying to learn from this lesson, and no longer encourage their members to participate in street brawls. But the damage to the group is already done and it’s unlikely it will recover from its present troubles.

Violence committed by the Left will either be ignored or justified by the media, as well as all “respectable” liberals. At the same time, violence committed by the Right will be condemned by everyone, including by most Right-wingers. Liberals have the power to wield the state against the Right, and violence gives them the pretext to do so. As seen by the Department of Justice’s inaction on the Antifa, conservatives are incapable of forcing the state to do the same against violent Leftists.

The Proud Boys managed to get a wide range of support for their brawls that White Nationalists could never receive, and yet that goodwill has not enabled them to raise sufficient legal funds nor get the charges against them dismissed. Yes, Right-wingers will always get the blame for street brawls, regardless of who started it. But actively seeking such brawls is just asking to get your group deplatformed and sent to jail. Every Right-wing group will suffer censorship, attacks, and press scrutiny. It’s just part of the deal.

The thirst for violence adds state pressure to the list of troubles. The Proud Boys could stand up to press smears, but withered under pressure from law enforcement. As most groups would. Very few people will stick around while your group is being swarmed by feds, and only a fraction are willing to go to jail for the cause. It’s hard enough for Right-wing groups to attract support without the possibility of jail time.

Self-defense is never wrong, but that’s different from basing your group’s entire existence upon brawling with the Antifa. In America’s current climate, the Right only stands to lose if it embraces political violence.

Misinformation Is About Who You Trust – Not What You Think – Two philosophers of science – By Brian Gallagher & Kevin Berger (Nautilus) 14 Feb 2019


Two philosophers of science diagnose our age of fake news.

I can’t see them. Therefore they’re not real.” From which century was this quote drawn? Not a medieval one. The utterance emerged on Sunday from Fox & Friends presenter Pete Hegseth, who was referring to … germs. The former Princeton University undergraduate and Afghanistan counterinsurgency instructor said, to the mirth of his co-hosts, that he hadn’t washed his hands in a decade. Naturally this germ of misinformation went viral on social media.

The next day, as serendipity would have it, the authors of The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread—philosophers of science Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall—sat down with Nautilus. In their book, O’Connor and Weatherall, both professors at the University of California, Irvine, illustrate mathematical models of how information spreads—and how consensus on truth or falsity manages or fails to take hold—in society, but particularly in social networks of scientists. The coathors argue “we cannot understand changes in our political situation by focusing only on individuals. We also need to understand how our networks of social interaction have changed, and why those changes have affected our ability, as a group, to form reliable beliefs.”

O’Connor and Weatherall, who are married, are deft communicators of complex ideas. Our conversation ranged from the tobacco industry’s wiles to social media’s complicity in bad data. We discussed how science is subtly manipulated and how the public should make sense of contradictory studies. The science philosophers also had a sharp tip or two for science journalists.

Fact Checkers: “We’re philosophers of science and felt the manipulation of science is immediately relevant to our culture and really should be understood,” says James Weatherall (right), about why he and Cailin O’Connor (left) wrote The Misinformation Age.…………………….

What do you think of a commentator on a TV show with an audience of about 1.5. million people saying germs aren’t real?

Cailin O’Connor: [laughs] We disagree!

James Weatherall: We’re against it.

O’Connor: In fact, there’s a long history of people having wacky false beliefs. People believed there were animal-plant hybrids—and these were naturalists. People believe all sorts of crazy things about the human body. If you understand beliefs in this social perspective, where people are passing them from person to person, and we have to trust each other and can’t verify things for ourselves, it’s not unexpected that we would have some wacky beliefs. But I don’t know about a person who says germs aren’t real in this day and age!

Weatherall: This is a perfect example of what we’re talking about. Acting as if germs don’t exist is going to lead to a lot of bad outcomes. You’re going to get sicker. You’re not going to treat surgical sites the right way. But it’s also something where you can’t really check yourself. Most of us don’t have microscopes to see germs. It’s the same with climate change. You can freely go around saying either the climate isn’t changing or that anthropogenic sources had nothing to do with it. Without getting any immediate feedback, without anything going wrong in your life, you can form these kinds of beliefs.

What inspired two philosophers of science to wade into misinformation?

O’Connor: I’ve been worried about climate change since I was 5 years old, and here we are 30 years later and still not doing anything about it. This is absolutely insane. It’s clear the marketplace of ideas isn’t working. We’ve allowed ourselves to be influenced by big oil and gas for over 30 years. But it was the 2016 election that prompted us. We just started writing it right after the election. We just sat down and said, What can we do, given our research skills, to improve this public crisis about false belief?

When it comes to misinformation, twas always thus. What’s changed now?

O’Connor: It’s always been the case that humans have been dependent on social ties to gain knowledge and belief. There’s been misinformation and propaganda for hundreds of years. If you’re a governing body, you have interests you’re trying to protect. You want to control what people believe. What’s changed is social media and the structure of communication between people. Now people have tremendous ability to shape who they interact with. Say you’re an anti-vaxxer. You find people online who are also anti-vaxxers and communicate with them rather than people who challenge your beliefs.

The other important thing is that this new structure means that all sorts of influencers—the Russian government, various industry groups, other government groups—have direct access to people. They can communicate with people in a much more personal way. They can pose on Twitter and Facebook as a normal person who you might want to interact with. If you look at Facebook in the lead up to the 2016 election, the Russian Internet Research Agency created animal-lovers groups, Black Lives Matter groups, gun-rights groups, and anti-immigrant groups. They could build trust with people who would naturally be part of these groups. And once they grounded that trust, they could influence them by getting them not to vote or by driving polarization, causing more extreme rhetoric. They can make other people trust them in ways that would have been very difficult without social media.

It’s not fraudulent. They haven’t done anything wrong. But it’s misdirection.

Weatherall: People tend to trust their friends, their family, people who they share other affinities with. So if the message can look like it’s coming from those people, it can be very effective. Another thing that’s become widespread is the ability to produce easily shareable visual media. The memes we see on Twitter or on Facebook don’t really say anything, they conjure up an emotion—an emotion associated with an ideology or belief you might have. It’s a type of misinformation that supports your beliefs without ever coming out and saying something false or saying anything.

How does misinformation spread through science?

Weatherall: The philosopher of science, Bennett Holman, argues that the right way of thinking about the relationship between industry and science is as an arms race where you develop a new sort of epistemic standard. Do you want to get a drug approved? It’s got to be a randomized clinical trial. Previously there were lower standards for what sorts of evidence were needed to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of the drug. But as scientists and regulators come up with new standards for dealing with possible misuse of evidence, groups who want to influence public belief or public policy come up with more sophisticated ways of getting around those.

What’s a good example of an industry using sophisticated techniques to manipulate science?

Weatherall: In the 1960s, the scientific consensus had become clear that there was a link between tobacco products and cancer. The tobacco industry recognized a number of things very quickly. One, this was almost certainly true—their own scientists were getting the same results. Two, it was disastrous for them. Three, they were not going to be able to come up with a compelling evidence-based argument that tobacco was safe or beneficial. But they realized they didn’t need to. All they needed to do was emphasize the uncertainty present in any kind of scientific endeavor. They made the case the evidence isn’t in yet and it’s rash to act. It’s too soon for individuals to give up smoking. It’s too soon for the government to intervene.

O’Connor: There’s this naive view that they pay off scientists and scientists start saying tobacco is safe. In fact, they have all these subtle and insidious methods that are not fraudulent and don’t subvert the norms of science. In the tobacco case, they went out and found all the studies where mice painted with tobacco tar didn’t get cancer. There were a bunch of those studies done by independent scientists. The industry then shares all those. That’s not fraudulent. They haven’t done anything wrong. But it’s misdirection.


Weatherall: The tobacco industry also funded good research into mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos. They did this because they wanted to go into court and say, “Yes, these people have lung cancer, but there are other environmental factors besides cigarettes that could explain the rise of lung cancer over this period.”

O’Connor: Bennett Holman and Justin Bruner give a great example of heart arrhythmias. When people were first studying anti-arrhythmic drugs, the question was, “Are these going to reduce heart attacks?” Other scientists asked, “Do they reduce arrhythmia?” Big Pharma funded the latter group. It poured money into scientists asking whether these drugs reduced arrhythmia. In fact, they did. But they also increased heart attacks and were responsible for upward of 100,000 premature deaths by heart attack. So, again, independent researchers were doing exactly what they were doing before. It was just that some of them now had a lot more money and that shaped the evidence.

Weatherall: Whenever there’s an economic incentive to get people to believe something, you’re going to find organizations doing their best to get out the evidence that supports their case. But they may not think of themselves as propagandists. They may simply be engaging in the kind of motivated reasoning that all of us engage in. They’re finding the evidence that happens to support the beliefs they already have. They want whatever it is that they believe to be true. They don’t want to feel like they’re bad people. They’re trying to get the best information out there.

O’Connor: Well, in some cases, they’re more cynical than that.

Weatherall: In some cases, they’re more cynical. I don’t mean to say that they’re all just fine. I just want to emphasize that it can be subtle.

O’Connor: One of the things we recognize, coming from this philosophical perspective, is scientists are humans. Scientists are people too. And of course scientists are fallible, and of course scientists have political and social beliefs. But that’s normal. Everyone has to have some beliefs. The problem is industry has weaponized what’s normal to their advantage. For example, an ex-manager of DuPont accused the scientists working on CFCs in the ozone hole of not being objective because they had political motives. Well, yes, they had a political motive to protect us from cosmic radiation. That was used against them but in no way undermined the actual evidence they were gathering.

Weatherall: Another thing weaponized along similar lines is the fact that scientists disagree. They ought to disagree. If they weren’t criticizing one another, and disagreeing with one another, we wouldn’t have the grounds to trust the results of science the way that we do. But in cases where it looks as if scientists are disagreeing, it’s very easy for someone to say the jury is out, or the evidence isn’t clear. What often happens is that debates in scientific literature, in peer-reviewed journals, get settled. But then the debate will move to the newspapers and get explored on op-ed pages. It might be written by a scientist who’s doing the disagreeing. But there’s an illegitimacy to that. It reflects not sincere differences between people who are treating the evidence in the same way. It reflects a person who is no longer producing work of a sort that can meaningfully convince their peers of anything. So now they’re trying to convince people who are less equipped to evaluate it.

Fake news is shared more often by older people than by younger people.

So should the public be skeptical of scientists making their case in op-ed pages?

O’Connor: Not necessarily. In a lot of cases, scientists communicate with the public, and that can be a really good thing. What the public should be skeptical of are scientists who seem to be trying to argue for things in op-ed pages that they’re no longer able to publish in real journals. They should also be skeptical of scientists from some other field publishing an op-ed about a field they’re not part of.

Public trust in science wavers because of competing studies. One day coffee is good for you, the next it’s not. How should the public know what studies to trust?

O’Connor: If you’re a consumer, you should be looking for scientific articles that aren’t a one-off but rather package a lot of data from various studies. This should be true for journalists, too. There’s tremendous incentive to publish things that are surprising or novel because that’s how you get likes and clicks. But standards shouldn’t be about having popular articles about individual studies. Instead, when you’re writing about a topic, it ought to include a combination of good studies that show the science has been progressing for a while. That will give a much less misleading picture of the science.

Weatherall: We should say the incentive to publish surprising or novel studies applies to scientists too. They’re probably less interested in likes, but it’s how you get citations.

O’Connor: Right, there’s a huge novelty bias. When you look at social media, people share fake news more because it’s novel, exciting. They also share studies that fail to replicate much more than studies that do replicate, probably because these studies are more surprising, right? So, resisting findings that seem shocking, weird, or novel, is something that can maybe protect you from adopting a false scientific belief.

You write cultural beliefs often shape the problems that scientists work on. What’s a good example?

O’Connor: I teach a class on how gender values move into biology. In the 1970s, people did studies on the hormones of menopausal women, but they excluded from the study any women who worked outside the home. The assumption was they must have abnormal hormones if they were working outside the home. They must be “man-women” or something. So there you go. Cultural beliefs, which now seem kind of wacky, then seemed not so unreasonable, and influenced science.

Weatherall: In fact, there are cases where cultural beliefs affect whole communities of scientists over a long period of time. So it’s interesting to reflect on how that changes. And it invariably changes because the community changes, and sometimes it changes just because old people die, and younger scientists come in and realize, “Hold on, why are we assuming this?” And they make their career by criticizing something that used to be widely held and show that it was wrong. In other cases, things change because the community of scientists diversifies. For instance, and tell me if this is wrong, Cailin, more women started working in a field.

O’Connor: That’s true in many cases. There’s a famous example in primatology. If you look at early science on primate social behavior, it’s largely focused on the behaviors of male primates, especially aggression in social hierarchies. When women grad students started moving into the field, they focused on the behavior of female primates. That revolutionized the field of primate behavior because of the diversity.

What can scientists do to prevent their work from being propagandized?

O’Connor: That’s really tricky because often a lot of it is out of their hands. So, once you produce something, now people can use it however they want. But what needs to happen is a big-scale change: Industry has to stop being able to choose who they fund. As long as they’re able to control who they’re funding, even if they don’t corrupt the scientists, they can corrupt the science.

Cultural beliefs, which now seem kind of wacky, then seemed not so unreasonable, and influenced science.

How should science be funded?

O’Connor: Through the government or some kind of body held to very high standards of not being influenced by industry.

Weatherall: I think there’s a case to be made for a tax on industries that would otherwise be contributing money to scientific research. They recognize the importance of science for their kinds of products. So you might ask that there be a way of taking the money they would be spending and redirecting it to an organization that was selecting who was getting funded independently.

There was a recent study of Wikipedia that showed the most accurate and high quality articles were produced by an ideologically heterogeneous, diverse set of editors and writers. Does that square with your findings?

Weatherall: Yes, it’s consistent with the idea that science is best understood as a process that benefits from diversity. There’s another side to that, though. In a marketplace of ideas, which means a lot to us culturally, we think there’s nothing morally problematic about having whatever opinions you have, and expressing those opinions or beliefs. We tend to think that’s OK because true things are going to win out in time. In fact, they haven’t. If someone is monopolizing information flow, and interfering with what kind of information gets out there, that’s going to affect the efficiency of the marketplace of ideas. That’s what influencers, propagandists, and industrial groups are doing. Ideas aren’t spreading properly from one community to another. So we get enclaves. This is what polarization looks like—a failure of reliable beliefs to spread from one community into another community.

O’Connor: Because the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work, we are often voting as if a matter of fact is true or not. We vote for someone who doesn’t believe in climate change and then act as if climate change is not true. That vote doesn’t change whether it’s true, and that vote doesn’t change whether we’re going to face the consequences of climate change. So the problem here is that matters of fact shouldn’t be settled by public vote. They should be settled by gathering evidence and using that evidence to feed into our best tools to figure out what’s true based on it.

What are the best tools for good information?

O’Connor: Maybe we should have something like a ministry of information to decide what’s true.

Weatherall: I had a fascinating conversation with the policymakers in the European Union about their ability to engage critically with science. What they said was, Look, we agree that a certain kind of critical reasoning is essential to having true and reliable beliefs. Unfortunately, we’re elected to represent particular groups and particular interests, and so we don’t get to question certain assumptions because our constituents don’t question those assumptions, and so wouldn’t vote for us. We wouldn’t be doing our representative job if we were questioning those assumptions.

Isn’t that a cop-out?

Weatherall: Yes, but let’s look at our institutions. Look at the way that they’re failing. I think we could still have democracy with institutions that are better engineered, that are developed in response to the ways in which our current institutions are failing. We have some states that have direct voting on referenda and ballot measures. We need to find democratic institutions that are sufficiently representative, that are responsive to citizens but aren’t simply aggregating the opinions and beliefs of the large group.

How can democratic institutions avoid aggregating the beliefs of the large group?

O’Connor: The thing we suggest, though who knows how you implement this, is having people vote on the things they value. Say I value public safety. Or I value environmentalism. Or I value freedom from government intervention. So you’re voting on the kinds of things you prefer to have in your society rather than voting on actual matters of fact. Then your government should be implementing your values to create a better society, given the things that you want, but using the best evidence and facts to do that.

How can we intervene in social networks to direct people toward truth and facts?

O’Connor: All social media sites should be employing teams to fight active misinformation and disinformation. There should be teams who are constantly adapting to whatever the new sources of misinformation from Russia or industry are, and trying to fight them. On an individual level, it’s more tricky. People just don’t trust others who have different beliefs from them. But from a broader perspective, there are things that could be effective. A vaccine skeptic could find somebody who shares some other beliefs and sense of identity with them. Somebody who can say, Look, I understand why you feel afraid about vaccines or why you’re skeptical about them. Here are ways in which I, too, am like you and I understand your skepticism. Given this ground of mistrust, here are the reasons why I changed my mind and you could, too.

Can systemic changes really overturn false beliefs?

O’Connor: Of course, we’re always going to have some false beliefs because we’re social learners. It’s easy for false beliefs to propagate from person to person. But that doesn’t mean we’re always going to have the same degree of false belief. If you look at cultural evolution, we developed these cultural systems that help us do better with our brains. We’ve developed amazing learning systems that help little kids learn more effectively than in the past. We also can develop systems that allow us to do the best we can with the brains that we’ve got. It’s not just that we should give up and we’re hopeless. If we have some sort of regulations about what sorts of news people could publish, for example, we can protect ourselves from misinformation.

Weatherall: We can learn what sorts of things we can trust, what sorts of things are reliable. We have to hope that we’re going to become more successful, more effective, or more sophisticated about responding to misinformation that’s spread online. I think there’s evidence that this is happening. Fake news is shared more often by older people than by younger people. Deliberate misinformation is shared much more often by older people. There are a lot of possible explanations for that. One has to do with sophistication in the media. Younger people are more native to media, they are better at navigating it well.

O’Connor: Younger people are more savvy about identifying fake news, able to look at different aspects of some website and say, Oh, this probably isn’t real, and so are less likely to share it.

Brian Gallagher is the editor of Facts So Romantic, the Nautilus blog. Follow him on Twitter @brianga11agher.

Kevin Berger is Nautilus’ editor in chief.


Europe banked on George Soros instead of Viktor Orban on immigration, and will suffer the consequences – forever – Robert Bridge – 14 Feb 2019


Europe banked on George Soros instead of Viktor Orban, and will suffer the consequences – forever
A clash of ideas is occurring in Europe between Hungarian PM Viktor Orban and financier George Soros that will impact the continent forever. But Brussels is only interested in considering one option – the Soros option.

In any other period of European history, Viktor Orban would have been heralded as a noble statesman by many of his peers. The reason is rather straightforward. He is attempting to do exactly what other European leaders have done for centuries before him, and that is defending the continent from foreign incursions. But these are radical new times and the old rules no longer apply.

By now, most people are familiar with the mainstream media’s narrative on Europe’s plight. Millions of desperate migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, suffering the untold ravages of war and poverty, are streaming towards Europe’s borders in a quest for some semblance of peace and happiness. There is a lot of truth to that narrative; millions of innocent people have had their lives totally upended by senseless wars sparked by Western regime change operations. They deserve not only sympathy but physical assistance. At the same time, however, Europeans are expected to sacrifice everything to assist these new arrivals regardless of the cost. And the cost is nothing less than exorbitant.

In Germany, for example, asylum seekers are entitled to as much as €354 ($400) per month, while the state picks up the tab for rent and medical insurance. All told, Germany is expected to fork out – hold onto your hat – €77.6 billion ($86.2 billion) during the period from 2017 to 2020 on “feeding, housing and training” their new guests. In light of that massive assistance, is it any wonder that over one million people crashed Germany’s paper border in 2015 alone?

This leads us to an obvious question that the Western media never discusses: Would this great migration of people have occurred without the promise of generous handouts by European capitals? It seems that without some sort of security net in place, the majority of these people would not have risked such a hazardous journey. Moreover, there are huge budgetary considerations that cannot be ignored (yet are), for as any economist knows, money does not grow on trees.

George Soros, the head of Open Society Foundations, believes he has that problem figured out. “To finance it,” he explained casually, “new European taxes will have to be levied sooner or later.”

Really? Well, judging by the Yellow Vest protests occurring on a weekly basis in the French capital, initially sparked by the imposition of a new fuel tax, we have some good indication as to how enthusiastic Europeans will be for such a plan. In short, not very.

The questions don’t end there. How is it possible that George Soros has been able to sell his unproven and very expensive plan for open borders to the European people? We can take some guidance from the pithy expression “Money talks.” In that case, nobody has done more talking in Europe than Soros.

Over the years, the billionaire has assembled some 226 “reliable allies in the European Parliament to promote his vision of a brave new Europe. This cozy arrangement allowed his Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI), the EU policy arm of Open Society Foundations, to meet with members of the European Commission on 65 separate occasions last year alone.

It’s probably safe to say that those closed-door meetings had no small impact on the political landscape of Europe.

Enter Viktor Orban, the bane of Brussels, who is playing a role in European history that cannot be overestimated. The leader of fiercely independent Hungary has taken a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal immigration, refusing to permit a single illegal immigrant to enter his country. Meanwhile, other eastern European countries – Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia which, together with Hungary, form the anti-immigration ‘Visegrad Group’ – have taken similar steps. At the same time, across Europe right-wing parties are surging in popularity.

In direct defiance of Brussels, Orban has ordered the construction of a barbed wire fence that runs along Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia, a project that the mainstream media somehow conflates with “authoritarianism,” as if the concept of national borders never existed before in history. Orban sent Brussels a bill for half the cost of the fence, but it was never paid, of course. That’s too bad, because it could have been the smartest money the EU ever spent, since it would have spared Europeans the influx of mass illegal immigration.

The Hungarian leader has other ideas that Brussels will probably not be considering any time soon, like ways of addressing Europe’s dire demographic problem. This month, Orban announced a raft of new tax and loan incentives for families as part of government efforts to boost the birth rate without depending on immigration flows to accomplish that goal.

“There are fewer and fewer children born in Europe. For the West, the answer (to that challenge) is immigration,” he said in his annual state of the nation speech. “We need Hungarian children.” 

The plan has some merit. Mothers will be eligible for a 10 million forint ($36,000) subsidized loan, he explained. One third of the debt will be forgiven when a second child is born, and the entire loan waived after a third child is born.

Now compare Orban’s plan with that of the Hungarian-born George Soros, who somehow believes that maintaining strong national borders will “fragment the union.”

“Beggar-thy-neighbor migration policies, such as building border fences, will not only further fragment the union,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. “[T]hey also seriously damage European economies and subvert global human rights standards.” Building on that crooked foundation, Soros advised European lawmakers back in 2016 that the EU should spend €30 billion ($34 billion) to accommodate “at least 300,000 refugees each year.”

We already know who will be forced to pick up the tab on that massive expenditure, and it’s not George Soros.

One reason that Soros and his 226 “reliable allies” support the influx of migrants into Europe is they believe it will somehow offset the continent’s demographic and labor shortage. The latter part of that plan has already been proven a disaster. An OECD report found that less than 40 percent of immigrants had completed an “upper secondary school” education or higher, while another study showed that only eight percent of asylum seekers were hired by companies as skilled workers.

Despite clear signs that George Soros’ grand plans for the European Union are an utter failure, Brussels continues to heed his every word, while at the same time taking steps to punish Orban.

Just this week, Soros warned, with no loss of irony, that if Europe doesn’t “wake up” it will “go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991.” The financier fretted over the rise of far-right parties in Europe, which he believes will “enjoy a competitive advantage” in parliamentary elections in May. Yes, that is a very big possibility. Not once did he suggest, however, that just maybe his grand idea of open borders, made all the more tempting with cash enticements, might just have contributed to that “radical disequilibrium” of which he spoke.

If Europe is one day visited by the ghost of its fascist past, George Soros will only have himself to blame.

Influential people like Soros would have made a far greater impact had they advocated on behalf of peace in the Middle East and North Africa, speaking out on US-led interventionist wars that have prompted millions of innocent people to flee their homes.

Innocent people from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria deserve the same rights to peace and happiness without having to travel thousands of miles away from home to find it – which ironically leads them directly into the homelands of the people who invaded them in the first place!

In conclusion, it is highly disturbing that Brussels is willing to give so much credence to a billionaire financier with questionable motives for opening Europe’s floodgates to illegal immigration, while vilifying a democratically elected European head of state for attempting to exert some kind of order on a situation that is clearly way out of control.


Venezuela’s Maduro Shows No Sign of Being Overthrown – US Imperialists Flummoxed – By David Luhnow and Juan Forero (Wall Street Journal) 13 Feb 2019

Weeks after opposition claims presidency with U.S. backing, leftist leader’s military support holds firm

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, waving to supporters in Caracas on Tuesday.
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, waving to supporters in Caracas on Tuesday, 12 Feb 2019

CARACAS, Venezuela—Many among Venezuela’s opposition and its U.S. backers figured President Nicolás Maduro’s regime would crumble quickly after Washington threw its support behind a plan designed to sap his military support and spur his exit. It hasn’t happened that way.

Three weeks after the head of the country’s national assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president, Mr. Maduro remains firmly in control, prompting some to call that plan into question.

“The people who devised it in Caracas and sold it here [in Washington], sold it with the promise that if Guaidó made a move and [South American countries] and the U.S. came in behind, the military would flip and Maduro would go,” said a former senior U.S. official. “They thought it was a 24-hour operation.”

Mr. Maduro, who polls show is deeply unpopular among Venezuelans, could face an uprising at any time. But the longer he hangs on to power, the greater the likelihood of a long stalemate, raising the risks of violent confrontation and a regional crisis as new U.S. economic sanctions deepen the country’s economic collapse.

“Everything is predicated on that assumption that this will be quick. But what is the Plan B?” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. “What happens if sanctions last six months? It’s devastating. And you get more refugees from Venezuela across South America.”

President Trump, asked Wednesday if he had a Plan B if Mr. Maduro remained in power, responded: “I always have a Plan B, and C, and D, and E and F. I have great flexibility. I probably have more flexibility than any man who’s ever been in this office.”

Meanwhile, an effort by Mr. Maduro’s foes to ship humanitarian aid from Colombia has been delayed repeatedly. And on Tuesday, thousands of soldiers lined up to sign a loyalty pledge to the government.

“We won’t tolerate…an intervention by an empire that is sharpening its claws because it wants our oil,” Maj. Gen. Jesús Sánchez Chourio, head of the army, said during the event, which was broadcast nationwide.

A big test for both sides looms on Feb. 23, when Mr. Guaidó and his allies say they will try to get U.S. food and medical supplies across the border from Colombia into Venezuela. Mr. Maduro has vowed to block it, and appears willing to go to extraordinary lengths to do so. On Tuesday, the government lined up dozens of convicts in orange jumpsuits from a nearby prison and vowed to use them to block the border.

The governor of one border state said he had armed militiamen standing by to use as sharpshooters against any opposition member who tried to cross with aid. Vice President Delcy Rodríguez even claimed the food aid was poisoned and would give ordinary Venezuelans cancer, without offering proof.

Trump Leads Allied Approach to Venezuela Crisis

Trump Leads Allied Approach to Venezuela Crisis
From the beginning of the Trump administration, critics have chided President Trump for not working more closely with allies. But right now the U.S. is working with allies in Venezuela. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains. Photo: Getty

The risk for Mr. Maduro is clear: Blocking aid will win him no friends at home or abroad, and violent confrontation with opposition supporters could spur defections in the armed forces.

But there are risks for the Venezuelan opposition, too. International agencies including the Red Cross say they can’t help distribute the aid because it would be seen as taking sides in Venezuela’s political crisis. The opposition said it has signed up some 200,000 volunteers to help distribute aid. But even if they get supplies across the border, they might struggle to distribute it effectively to those most in need.

“It’s totally unclear how they’re going to do it,” said Wilfredo Cañizares, a Colombian activist at the country’s border with Venezuela. “I hope this doesn’t end in tragedy.”

Among the many voices urging Mr. Maduro to remain defiant are advisers from Cuba, his government’s closest ally, said Eduardo Gamarra, a political-science professor at Florida International University. “The government thinks they can wait this out,” he said.

Venezuela’s military has been the final arbiter of who stays in power throughout much of the country’s history. Mr. Maduro’s government has used carrots and sticks alike to ensure the most important commanders—those in battalions in Caracas and other key cities who command the best-trained troops—don’t defect to Mr. Guaidó.

With the help of intelligence agents from Cuba, his regime has stopped uprisings and rooted out conspirators, said Rocio San Miguel, a Venezuelan military analyst. She said more than 180 military men have been locked up in military stockades for so-called political crimes against the regime. Among those detained, she said, are three battalion commanders arrested in March 2018.

In a country struggling with food and medicine scarcities, the regime has worked to ensure that commanding generals, colonels, intelligence and counterintelligence chiefs share in the spoils of a government whose officials have grown rich operating gold mines, distributing food and getting a cut from oil sales, Ms. San Miguel said. Those officers have declared their loyalty and been vetted by Venezuela’s Cuban allies.

“You don’t get to the very top of the Venezuelan pyramid by chance,” said Ms. San Miguel. “These people are committed. They have received benefits from the revolution.”

Alejandro Arreaza, a Venezuelan economist at Barclays, says the most likely outcome is political change within the next six weeks, as pressure rises within Venezuela to act before U.S. sanctions push the crisis-hit economy further into trouble.

But if there is no political solution, he sees the future as bleak.

“Without a solution to this impasse within days, we believe the country could be on a path into a fully anarchic situation that, if not tackled rapidly, could compromise its economic capacity to recover,” he said in a note to clients on Tuesday.

Mr. Arreaza estimates Venezuela could lose 700,000 barrels a day of its current output of roughly 1.1 million barrels within the next four to five months. For a government that depends on oil exports for virtually all its revenue, it would be a calamity, upping the risks of social upheaval. Without a political transition this year, most economists estimate a fall of between a quarter and a third of Venezuela’s annual economic output, which has already fallen by half over the past six years.

“I am sure the U.S. can produce an economic collapse here,” said Luis Vicente León, a prominent Venezuelan pollster. “What I’m not sure about is whether the economic collapse can get Maduro out. Then what’s the option?”

As the economy crumbles, support for the opposition strategy and Mr. Guaidó could fall, too, Mr. León warns. “The people won’t ever like Maduro,” he said. “But there is a big risk that they won’t want the opposition either, and that they start blaming you for a strategy that makes me live worse off than before and still hasn’t knocked out Maduro.”

Sanctions succeed in removing dictatorships only about 30% of the time, according to Gary Hufbauer, an economist at the Petersen Institute for International Economics who has studied the past century of sanctions. Regimes in the Middle East, from Iraq to Iran to Syria, have proved difficult to dislodge through sanctions, and Cuba has famously withstood a U.S. embargo for half a century.

“More than anything else, sanctions eventually work, but not alone. You need to exert a whole heck of a lot of things and it needs to be combined with internal pressure,” said Mr. Gamarra. “This is going to be a waiting game.”

Write to David Luhnow at david.luhnow@wsj.com and Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com

Appeared in the February 14, 2019, print edition as ‘Risk of Stalemate Mounts in Venezuela.’



BuzzFeed votes to unionize after layoffs – by Tom Kludt and An Phung (CNN Business) 12 Feb 2019

New York (CNN Business)After a crushing round of layoffs that sent shockwaves through the newsroom, BuzzFeed’s editorial staff announced on Tuesday that they have formed a union to grapple with the threats looming over the media industry.  Employees have informed BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith of their intentions, according to the NewsGuild of New York — the union with which BuzzFeed is organizing. NewsGuild said that more than 90% of “eligible editorial employees signed on to the union effort.”

In a statement Tuesday, Smith said, “We look forward to meeting with the organizers to discuss a way toward voluntarily recognizing their union.”
BuzzFeed, once a darling in the digital media space, laid off 15% of its workforce last month. Employees took to Medium to write an open letter to the company’s leadership team to express anger over BuzzFeed’s decision not to pay laid-off staffers for earned paid time off. CEO Jonah Peretti eventually relented after the backlash.
However, it appears that the effort to unionize started before the latest round of cuts, with the NewsGuild calling it a “months long organizing drive.” Included in the demands are PTO payouts, reasonable severance and due process for termination — a list that shows that staffers are bracing for more turmoil.
Albert Samaha, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed, said in a press release on Tuesday that he and colleagues were motivated by the increased tumult in the news media industry — a lack of stability that was accentuated last month when BuzzFeed and other publications suffered deep and severe cuts.
“This is a turbulent time in our industry, and we’ve seen that our company and our management can only do so much to protect us from the broader economic forces shrinking the media landscape,” Samaha said.
BuzzFeed joins a host of other digital media shops that have unionized in recent years, but staffers there could face a stiffer test in gaining recognition from management. Jonah Peretti, the co-founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, has said in the past that he doesn’t think unions are “right” for the company.  Peretti did not immediately respond a request for comment.

You… You and Me… Running Up That Hill


Running Up That Hill


It doesn’t hurt me. Do you want to feel how it feels?

Do you want to know that it doesn’t hurt me?

Do you want to hear about the deal that I’m making? You, it’s you and me.

And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God,

And I’d get him to swap our places,

Be running up that road, Be running up that hill,

Be running up that building.

If I only could, oh…

You don’t want to hurt me, But see how deep the bullet lies.

Unaware I’m tearing you asunder.

Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts.

Is there so much hate for the ones we love?

Tell me, we both matter, don’t we?

You, it’s you and me.

It’s you and me won’t be unhappy.

And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God,

And I’d get him to swap our places,

Be running up that road,

Be running up that hill,

Be running up that building,

Say, if I only could, oh…

You, It’s you and me,

It’s you and me won’t be unhappy.

“C’mon, baby, c’mon darling,

Let me steal this moment from you now.

C’mon, angel, c’mon, c’mon, darling,

Let’s exchange the experience, oh…\”

And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God,

And I’d get him to swap our places,

Be running up that road, Be running up that hill,

With no problems. And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God,

And I’d get him to swap our places,

Be running up that road, Be running up that hill,

With no problems.

And if I only could, I’d make a deal with God,

And I’d get him to swap our places, Be running up that road,

Be running up that hill, With no problems.

If I only could Be running up that hill With no problems… \

“If I only could, I’d be running up that hill. If I only could, I’d be running up that hill.\”

Rhiannon Hopkins


I live on Pope’s Hill.



$3,719,500 Book at Christies Auction – Issac Newton – Introduction to Principia Mathematica – A Fireplace Video With Hues of Color


Issac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (7:01 min)


A manuscript of Issac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica was sold a few years ago by Christie’s at an auction for fine printed books and manuscripts. It broke an auction record for the highest sale price of a printed scientific book at $3,719,500. That was nearly four times the initial estimate. The manuscript, also known simply as Principia, is considered to be “one of the most important works in the history of science.” The text contains classical mechanics, laws of planetary motion and, most famously, Newton’s universal law of gravity. With mathematics, Issac Newton’s work helped shed light on a branch of science that up until that point was shrouded in darkness and hypotheses. While Newton’s theories were not immediately accepted, later on, no one could rationally deny him. It was published in 1687 in Latin. Later an English translation was made in 1728. The copy that sold at auction was in impeccable condition. The description from Christie’s website stated that it only had minor signs of wear with some scuffing. It is important to note that this book is in its original form and has never been restored. It is a first edition and bound in fully inlaid red morocco with gold leaf and black detailing. Only one other copy has sold at auction with such a binding, making this copy quite rare.


I made this video a couple of years ago as a way to approach the work.  I found the audio on Libravox and have a copy of ‘Principia.’  I bought a set of the Great Books for $49 and one volume has the Principia.  So, my copy cost me about a dollar.   I can skate around my house holding a leather bound gilt edged hardcover copy of one of the most important books ever written.  Someone paid $3,719,500 to get an original copy, but I have something close to that original work.  I watched the video last night and liked the changing hues of color in the fire.  I made the video years ago and haven’t watched it in a long time.  Later I put the video on again and picked up my copy of Principia and followed along with the reader on the video.  Repetitio mater studorium est – the Latin phrase for ‘repetition is the mother of learning.’  I figure if I bombard my hippocampus with enough of Issac Newton’s words and thoughts I will be one step closer to Issac Newton.  

Issac Newton


I’m thrilled to be associated with Issac Newton even if it is through a tweet for this post. I enjoy simply reposting the picture of Newton with his prism and telescope and books … and ideas.  He was born on Christmas day…

Issac Tweet


Liberal Media Stops Calling Trump ‘Hitler’ Because Trump Threatens Venezuela – C.J. Hopkins (Consent Factory) 11 Feb 2019

Trump Line Drawing

Maybe Donald Trump isn’t as stupid as I thought. I’d hate to have to admit that publicly, but it does kind of seem like he has put one over on the liberal corporate media this time. Scanning the recent Trump-related news, I couldn’t help but notice a significant decline in the number of references to Weimar, Germany, Adolf Hitler, and “the brink of fascism” that America has supposedly been teetering on since Hillary Clinton lost the election. I googled around pretty well, I think, but I couldn’t find a single editorial warning that Trump is about to summarily cancel the U.S. Constitution, dissolve Congress, and proclaim himself Führer. Nor did I see any mention of Auschwitz, or any other Nazi stuff … which is weird, considering that the Hitler hysteria has been a standard feature of the official narrative we’ve been subjected to for the last two years.

So how did Trump finally get the liberal corporate media to stop calling him a fascist? He did that by acting like a fascist (i.e., like a “normal” president). Which is to say he did the bidding of the deep state goons and corporate mandarins that manage the global capitalist empire … the smiley, happy, democracy-spreading, post-fascist version of fascism we live under.

I’m referring, of course, to Venezuela, which is one of a handful of uncooperative countries that are not playing ball with global capitalism and which haven’t been “regime changed” yet. Trump green-lit the attempted coup purportedly being staged by the Venezuelan “opposition,” but which is obviously a U.S. operation, or, rather, a global capitalist operation. As soon as he did, the corporate media immediately suspended calling him a fascist, and comparing him to Adolf Hitler, and so on, and started spewing out blatant propaganda supporting his effort to overthrow the elected government of a sovereign country.

Overthrowing the governments of sovereign countries, destroying their economies, stealing their gold, and otherwise bringing them into the fold of the global capitalist “international community” is not exactly what most folks thought Trump meant by “Make America Great Again.” Many Americans have never been to Venezuela, or Syria, or anywhere else the global capitalist empire has been ruthlessly restructuring since shortly after the end of the Cold War. They have not been lying awake at night worrying about Venezuelan democracy, or Syrian democracy, or Ukrainian democracy.

This is not because Americans are a heartless people, or an ignorant or a selfish people. It is because, well, it is because they are Americans (or, rather, because they believe they are Americans), and thus are more interested in the problems of Americans than in the problems of people in faraway lands that have nothing whatsoever to do with America. Notwithstanding what the corporate media will tell you, Americans elected Donald Trump, a preposterous, self-aggrandizing ass clown, not because they were latent Nazis, or because they were brainwashed by Russian hackers, but, primarily, because they wanted to believe that he sincerely cared about America, and was going to try to “make it great again” (whatever that was supposed to mean, exactly).

Unfortunately, there is no America. There is nothing to make great again. “America” is a fiction, a fantasy, a nostalgia that hucksters like Donald Trump (and other, marginally less buffoonish hucksters) use to sell whatever they are selling … themselves, wars, cars, whatever. What there is, in reality, instead of America, is a supranational global capitalist empire, a decentralized, interdependent network of global corporations, financial institutions, national governments, intelligence agencies, supranational governmental entities, military forces, media, and so on. If that sounds far-fetched or conspiratorial, look at what is going on in Venezuela.

The entire global capitalist empire is working in concert to force the elected president of the country out of office. The US, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands, Israel, Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Argentina have officially recognized Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela, in spite of the fact that no one elected him. Only the empire’s official evil enemies (i.e., Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and other uncooperative countries) are objecting to this “democratic” coup. The global financial system (i.e., banks) has frozen (i.e., stolen) Venezuela’s assets, and is attempting to transfer them to Guaido so he can buy the Venezuelan military. The corporate media are hammering out the official narrative like a Goebbelsian piano in an effort to convince the general public that all this has something to do with democracy. You would have to be a total moron or hopelessly brainwashed not to recognize what is happening.

What is happening has nothing to do with America … the “America” that Americans believe they live in and that many of them want to “make great again.” What is happening is exactly what has been happening around the world since the end of the Cold War, albeit most dramatically in the Middle East. The de facto global capitalist empire is restructuring the planet with virtual impunity. It is methodically eliminating any and all impediments to the hegemony of global capitalism, and the privatization and commodification of everything.

Venezuela is one of these impediments. Overthrowing its government has nothing to do with America, or the lives of actual Americans. “America” is not to going conquer Venezuela and plant an American flag on its soil. “America” is not going to steal its oil, ship it “home,” and parcel it out to “Americans” in their pickups in the parking lot of Walmart.

What what about those American oil corporations? They want that Venezuelan oil, don’t they? Well, sure they do, but here’s the thing … there are no “American” oil corporations. Corporations, especially multi-billion dollar transnational corporations (e.g., Chevron, ExxonMobil, et al.) have no nationalities, nor any real allegiances, other than to their major shareholders. Chevron, for example, whose major shareholders are asset management and mutual fund companies like Black Rock, The Vanguard Group, SSgA Funds Management, Geode Capital Management, Wellington Management, and other transnational, multi-trillion dollar outfits. Do you really believe that being nominally headquartered in Boston or New York makes these companies “American,” or that Deutsche Bank is a “German” bank, or that BP is a “British” company?

And Venezuela is just the most recent blatant example of the empire in action. Ask yourself, honestly, what have the “American” regime change ops throughout the Greater Middle East done for any actual Americans, other than get a lot of them killed? Oh, and how about those bailouts for all those transnational “American” investment banks? Or the billions “America” provides to Israel? Someone please explain how enriching the shareholders of transnational corporations like Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin by selling billions in weapons to Saudi Arabian Islamists is benefiting “the American people.” How much of that Saudi money are you seeing? And, wait, I’ve got another one for you. Call up your friendly 401K manager, ask how your Pfizer shares are doing, then compare that to what you’re paying some “American” insurance corporation to not really cover you.

For the last two-hundred years or so, we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as the citizens of a collection of sovereign nation states, as “Americans,” “Germans,” “Greeks,” and so on. There are no more sovereign nation states. Global capitalism has done away with them. Which is why we are experiencing a “neo-nationalist” backlash. Trump, Brexit, the so-called “new populism” … these are the death throes of national sovereignty, like the thrashing of a suffocating fish before you whack it and drop it in the cooler. The battle is over, but the fish doesn’t know that. It didn’t even realize there was a battle until it suddenly got jerked up out of the water.

In any event, here we are, at the advent of the global capitalist empire. We are not going back to the 19th Century, nor even to the early 20th Century. Neither Donald Trump nor anyone else is going to “Make America Great Again.” Global capitalism will continue to remake the world into one gigantic marketplace where we work ourselves to death at bullshit jobs in order to buy things we don’t need, accumulating debts we can never pay back, the interest on which will further enrich the global capitalist ruling classes, who, as you may have noticed, are preparing for the future by purchasing luxury underground bunkers and post-apocalyptic compounds in New Zealand. That, and militarizing the police, who they will need to maintain “public order” … you know, like they are doing in France at the moment, by beating, blinding, and hideously maiming those Gilets Jaunes (i.e., Yellow Vest) protesters that the corporate media are doing their best to demonize and/or render invisible.

Or, who knows, Americans (and other Western consumers) might take a page from those Yellow Vests, set aside their political differences (or at least ignore their hatred of each other long enough to actually try to achieve something), and focus their anger at the politicians and corporations that actually run the empire, as opposed to, you know, illegal immigrants and imaginary legions of Nazis and Russians. In the immortal words of General Buck Turgidson, “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed,” but, heck, it might be worth a try, especially since, the way things are going, we are probably going end up out there anyway.

C. J. Hopkins is an award-winning American playwright, novelist and political satirist based in Berlin. His plays are published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) and Broadway Play Publishing (USA). His debut novel, ZONE 23, is published by Snoggsworthy, Swaine & Cormorant Paperbacks. He can be reached at cjhopkins.com or consentfactory.org.

Letter to American Workers – 1918 – Lenin (31:57 min) audio book – text


V. I. Lenin

Letter To American Workers[1]

Written: 20 August, 1918.
First Published: Pravda No. 178 August 22, 1918; Published according to the Pravda text checked with the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1965, pages 62-75
Translated (and edited): Jim Riordan
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters
Online Version: V.I.Lenin Internet Archive, 2002

Comrades! A Russian Bolshevik who took part in the 1905 Revolution, and who lived in your country for many years afterwards, has offered to convey my letter to you. I have accepted his proposal all the more gladly because just at the present time the American revolutionary workers have to play an exceptionally important role as uncompromising enemies of American imperialism—the freshest, strongest and latest in joining in the world-wide slaughter of nations for the division of capitalist profits. At this very moment, the American multimillionaires, these modern slaveowners have turned an exceptionally tragic page in the bloody history of bloody imperialism by giving their approval—whether direct or indirect, open or hypocritically concealed, makes no difference—to the armed expedition launched by the brutal Anglo-Japanese imperialists for the purpose of throttling the first socialist republic.

The history of modern, civilised America opened with one of those great, really liberating, really revolutionary wars of which there have been so few compared to the vast number of wars of conquest which, like the present imperialist war, were caused by squabbles among kings, landowners or capitalists over the division of usurped lands or ill-gotten gains. That was the war the American people waged against the British robbers who oppressed America and held her in colonial slavery, in the same way as these “civilised” bloodsuckers are still oppressing and holding in colonial slavery hundreds of millions of people in India, Egypt, and all parts of the world.

About 150 years have passed since then. Bourgeois civilisation has borne all its luxurious fruits. America has taken first place among the free and educated nations in level of development of the productive forces of collective human endeavour, in the utilisation of machinery and of all the wonders of modern engineering. At the same time, America has become one of the foremost countries in regard to the depth of the abyss which lies between the handful of arrogant multimillionaires who wallow in filth and luxury, and the millions of working people who constantly live on the verge of pauperism. The American people, who set the world an example in waging a revolutionary war against feudal slavery, now find themselves in the latest, capitalist stage of wage-slavery to a handful of multimillionaires, and find themselves playing the role of hired thugs who, for the benefit of wealthy scoundrels, throttled the Philippines in 1898 on the pretext of “liberating” them, and are throttling the Russian Socialist Republic in 1918 on the pretext of “protecting” it from the Germans.

The four years of the imperialist slaughter of nations, however, have not passed in vain. The deception of the people by the scoundrels of both robber groups, the British and the German, has been utterly exposed by indisputable and obvious facts. The results of the four years of war have revealed the general law of capitalism as applied to war between robbers for the division of spoils: the richest and strongest profited and grabbed most, while the weakest were utterly robbed, tormented, crushed and strangled.

The British imperialist robbers were the strongest in number of “colonial slaves”. The British capitalists have not lost an inch of “their” territory (i.e., territory they have grabbed over the centuries), but they have grabbed all the German colonies in Africa, they have grabbed Mesopotamia and Palestine, they have throttled Greece, and have begun to plunder Russia.

The German imperialist robbers were the strongest in organisation and discipline of “their” armies, but weaker in regard to colonies. They have lost all their colonies, but plundered half of Europe and throttled the largest number of small countries and weak nations. What a great war of “liberation” on both sides! How well the robbers of both groups, the Anglo-French and the German capitalists, together with their lackeys, the social-chauvinists, i.e., the socialists who went over to the side of “their own ” bourgeoisie, have “defended their country”!

The American multimillionaires were, perhaps, richest of all, and geographically the most secure. They have profited more than all the rest. They have converted all, even the richest, countries into their tributaries. They have grabbed hundreds of billions of dollars. And every dollar is sullied with filth: the filth of the secret treaties between Britain and her “allies”, between Germany and her vassals, treaties for the division of the spoils, treaties of mutual “aid” for oppressing the workers and persecuting the internationalist socialists. Every dollar is sullied with the filth of “profitable” war contracts, which in every country made the rich richer and the poor poorer. And every dollar is stained with blood—from that ocean of blood that has been shed by the ten million killed and twenty million maimed in the great, noble, liberating and holy war to decide whether the British or the German robbers are to get most of the spoils, whether the British or the German thugs are to be foremost in throttling the weak nations all over the world.

While the German robbers broke all records in war atrocities, the British have broken all records not only in the number of colonies they have grabbed, but also in the subtlety of their disgusting hypocrisy. This very day, the Anglo-French and American bourgeois newspapers are spreading, in millions and millions of copies, lies and slander about Russia, and are hypocritically justifying their predatory expedition against her on the plea that they want to “protect” Russia from the Germans!

It does not require many words to refute this despicable and hideous lie; it is sufficient to point to one well-known fact. In October 1917, after the Russian workers had overthrown their imperialist government, the Soviet government, the government of the revolutionary workers and peasants, openly proposed a just peace, a peace without annexations or indemnities, a peace that fully guaranteed equal rights to all nations—and it proposed such a peace to all the belligerent countries.

It was the Anglo-French and the American bourgeoisie who refused to accept our proposal; it was they who even refused to talk to us about a general peace! It was they who betrayed the interests of all nations; it was they who prolonged the imperialist slaughter!

It was they who, banking on the possibility of dragging Russia back into the imperialist war, refused to take part in the peace negotiations and thereby gave a free hand to the no less predatory German capitalists who imposed the annexationist and harsh Brest Peace upon Russia!

It is difficult to imagine anything more disgusting than the hypocrisy with which the Anglo-French and American bourgeoisie are now “blaming” us for the Brest Peace Treaty. The very capitalists of those countries which could have turned the Brest negotiations into general negotiations for a general peace are now our “accusers”! The Anglo-French imperialist vultures, who have profited from the plunder of colonies and the slaughter of nations, have prolonged the war for nearly a whole year after Brest, and yet they “accuse” us, the Bolsheviks, who proposed a just peace to all countries, they accuse us, who tore up, published and exposed to public disgrace the secret, criminal treaties concluded between the ex-tsar and the Anglo-French capitalists.

The workers of the whole world, no matter in what country they live, greet us, sympathise with us, applaud us for breaking the iron ring of imperialist ties, of sordid imperialist treaties, of imperialist chains—for breaking through to freedom, and making the heaviest sacrifices in doing so—for, as a socialist republic, although torn and plundered by the imperialists, keeping out of the imperialist war and raising the banner of peace, the banner of socialism for the whole world to see.

Small wonder that the international imperialist gang hates us for this, that it “accuses” us, that all the lackeys of the imperialists, including our Right Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, also “accuse” us. The hatred these watchdogs of imperialism express for the Bolsheviks, and the sympathy of the class-conscious workers of the world, convince us more than ever of the justice of our cause.

A real socialist would not fail to understand that for the sake of achieving victory over the bourgeoisie, for the sake of power passing to the workers, for the sake of starting the world proletarian revolution, we cannot and must not hesitate to make the heaviest sacrifices, including the sacrifice of part of our territory, the sacrifice of heavy defeats at the hands of imperialism. A real socialist would have proved by deeds his willingness for “his” country to make the greatest sacrifice to give a real push forward to the cause of the socialist revolution.

For the sake of “their” cause, that is, for the sake of winning world hegemony, the imperialists of Britain and Germany have not hesitated to utterly ruin and throttle a whole number of countries, from Belgium and Serbia to Palestine and Mesopotamia. But must socialists wait with “their” cause, the cause of liberating the working people of the whole world from the yoke of capital, of winning universal and lasting peace, until a path without sacrifice is found? Must they fear to open the battle until an easy victory is “guaranteed”? Must they place the integrity and security of “their” bourgeois-created “fatherland” above the interests of the world socialist revolution? The scoundrels in the international socialist movement who think this way, those lackeys who grovel to bourgeois morality, thrice stand condemned.

The Anglo-French and American imperialist vultures “accuse” us of concluding an “agreement” with German imperialism. What hypocrites, what scoundrels they are to slander the workers’ government while trembling because of the sympathy displayed towards us by the workers of “their own” countries! But their hypocrisy will be exposed. They pretend not to see the difference between an agreement entered into by “socialists” with the bourgeoisie (their own or foreign) against the workers, against the working people, and an agreement entered into for the protection of the workers who have defeated their bourgeoisie, with the bourgeoisie of one national colour against the bourgeoisie of another colour in order that the proletariat may take advantage of the antagonisms between the different groups of bourgeoisie.

In actual fact, every European sees this difference very well, and, as I shall show in a moment, the American people have had a particularly striking “illustration” of it in their own history. There are agreements and agreements, there are fagots et fagots, as the French say.

When in February 1918 the German imperialist vultures hurled their forces against unarmed, demobilised Russia, who had relied on the international solidarity of the proletariat before the world revolution had fully matured, I did not hesitate for a moment to enter into an “agreement” with the French monarchists. Captain Sadoul, a French army officer who, in words, sympathised with the Bolsheviks, but was in deeds a loyal and faithful servant of French imperialism, brought the French officer de Lubersac to see me. “I am a monarchist. My only aim is to secure the defeat of Germany,” de Lubersac declared to me. “That goes without saying (cela va sans dire ),” I replied. But this did not in the least prevent me from entering into an “agreement” with de Lubersac concerning certain services that French army officers, experts in explosives, were ready to render us by blowing up railway lines in order to hinder the German invasion. This is an example of an “agreement” of which every class-conscious worker will approve, an agreement in the interests of socialism. The French monarchist and I shook hands, although we knew that each of us would willingly hang his “partner”. But for a time our interests coincided. Against the advancing rapacious Germans, we, in the interests of the Russian and the world socialist revolution, utilised the equally rapacious counter-interests of other imperialists. In this way we served the interests of the working class of Russia and of other countries, we strengthened the proletariat and weakened the bourgeoisie of the whole world, we resorted to the methods, most legitimate and essential in every war, of manoeuvre, stratagem, retreat, in anticipation of the moment when the rapidly maturing proletarian revolution in a number of advanced countries completely matured.

However much the Anglo-French and American imperialist sharks fume with rage, however much they slander us, no matter how many millions they spend on bribing the Right Socialist-Revolutionary, Menshevik and other social-patriotic newspapers, I shall not hesitate one second to enter into a similar “agreement” with the German imperialist vultures if an attack upon Russia by Anglo-French troops calls for it. And I know perfectly well that my tactics will be approved by the class-conscious proletariat of Russia, Germany, France, Britain, America—in short, of the whole civilised world. Such tactics will ease the task of the socialist revolution, will hasten it, will weaken the international bourgeoisie, will strengthen the position of the working class which is defeating the bourgeoisie.

The American people resorted to these tactics long ago to the advantage of their revolution. When they waged their great war of liberation against the British oppressors, they had also against them the French and the Spanish oppressors who owned a part of what is now the United States of North America. In their arduous war for freedom, the American people also entered into “agreements” with some oppressors against others for the purpose of weakening the oppressors and strengthening those who were fighting in a revolutionary manner against oppression, for the purpose of serving the interests of the oppressed people. The American people took advantage of the strife between the French, the Spanish and the British; sometimes they even fought side by side with the forces of the French and Spanish oppressors against the British oppressors; first they defeated the British and then freed themselves (partly by ransom) from the French and the Spanish.

Historical action is not the pavement of Nevsky Prospekt, said the great Russian revolutionary Chernyshevsky.[2] A revolutionary would not “agree” to a proletarian revolution only “on the condition” that it proceeds easily and smoothly, that there is, from the outset, combined action on the part of the proletarians of different countries, that there are guarantees against defeats, that the road of the revolution is broad, free and straight, that it will not be necessary during the march to victory to sustain the heaviest casualties, to “bide one’s time in a besieged fortress”, or to make one’s way along extremely narrow, impassable, winding and dangerous mountain tracks. Such a person is no revolutionary, he has not freed himself from the pedantry of the bourgeois intellectuals; such a person will be found constantly slipping into the camp of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, like our Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and even (although more rarely) Left Socialist-Revolutionaries.

Echoing the bourgeoisie, these gentlemen like to blame us for the “chaos” of the revolution, for the “destruction” of industry, for the unemployment and the food shortage. How hypocritical these accusations are, coming from those who welcomed and supported the imperialist war, or who entered into an “agreement” with Kerensky who continued this war! It is this imperialist war that is the cause of all these misfortunes. The revolution engendered by the war can not avoid the terrible difficulties and suffering bequeathed it by the prolonged, ruinous, reactionary slaughter of the nations. To blame us for the “destruction” of industry, or for the “terror”, is either hypocrisy or dull-witted pedantry; it reveals an inability to understand the basic conditions of the fierce class struggle, raised to the highest degree of intensity that is called revolution.

Even when “accusers” of this type do “recognise” the class struggle, they limit themselves to verbal recognition; actually, they constantly slip into the philistine utopia of class “agreement” and “collaboration”; for in revolutionary epochs the class struggle has always, inevitably, and in every country, assumed the form of civil war, and civil war is inconceivable without the severest destruction, terror and the restriction of formal democracy in the interests of this war. Only unctuous parsons—whether Christian or “secular” in the persons of parlour, parliamentary socialists— cannot see, understand and feel this necessity. Only a life less “man in the muffler”[3] can shun the revolution for this reason instead of plunging into battle with the utmost ardour and determination at a time when history demands that the greatest problems of humanity be solved by struggle and war.

The American people have a revolutionary tradition which has been adopted by the best representatives of the American proletariat, who have repeatedly expressed their complete solidarity with us Bolsheviks. That tradition is the war of liberation against the British in the eighteenth century and the Civil War in the nineteenth century. In some respects, if we only take into consideration the “destruction” of some branches of industry and of the national economy, America in 1870 was behind 1860. But what a pedant, what an idiot would anyone be to deny on these grounds the immense, world-historic, progressive and revolutionary significance of the American Civil War of 1863-65!

The representatives of the bourgeoisie understand that for the sake of overthrowing Negro slavery, of overthrowing the rule of the slaveowners, it was worth letting the country go through long years of civil war, through the abysmal ruin, destruction and terror that accompany every war. But now, when we are confronted with the vastly greater task of overthrowing capitalist wage-slavery, of overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie—now, the representatives and defenders of the bourgeoisie, and also the reformist socialists who have been frightened by the bourgeoisie and are shunning the revolution, cannot and do not want to understand that civil war is necessary and legitimate.

The American workers will not follow the bourgeoisie. They will be with us, for civil war against the bourgeoisie. The whole history of the world and of the American labour movement strengthens my conviction that this is so. I also recall the words of one of the most beloved leaders of the American proletariat, Eugene Debs, who wrote in the Appeal to Reason,[4] I believe towards the end of 1915, in the article “What Shall I Fight For” (I quoted this article at the beginning of 1916 at a public meeting of workers in Berne, Switzerland)[5]—that he, Debs, would rather be shot than vote credits for the present criminal and reactionary war; that he, Debs, knows of only one holy and, from the proletarian standpoint, legitimate war, namely: the war against the capitalists, the war to liberate mankind from wage-slavery.

I am not surprised that Wilson, the head of the American multimillionaires and servant of the capitalist sharks, has thrown Debs into prison. Let the bourgeoisie be brutal to the true internationalists, to the true representatives of the revolutionary proletariat! The more fierce and brutal they are, the nearer the day of the victorious proletarian revolution.

We are blamed for the destruction caused by our revolution. . . . Who are the accusers? The hangers-on of the bourgeoisie, of that very bourgeoisie who, during the four years of the imperialist war, have destroyed almost the whole of European culture and have reduced Europe to barbarism, brutality and starvation. These bourgeoisie now demand we should not make a revolution on these ruins, amidst this wreckage of culture, amidst the wreckage and ruins created by the war, nor with the people who have been brutalised by the war. How humane and righteous the bourgeoisie are!

Their servants accuse us of resorting to terror. . . . The British bourgeoisie have forgotten their 1649, the French bourgeoisie have forgotten their 1793. Terror was just and legitimate when the bourgeoisie resorted to it for their own benefit against feudalism. Terror became monstrous and criminal when the workers and poor peasants dared to use it against the bourgeoisie! Terror was just and legitimate when used for the purpose of substituting one exploiting minority for another exploiting minority. Terror became monstrous and criminal when it began to be used for the purpose of overthrowing every exploiting minority, to be used in the interests of the vast actual majority, in the interests of the proletariat and semi-proletariat, the working class and the poor peasants!

The international imperialist bourgeoisie have slaughtered ten million men and maimed twenty million in “their” war, the war to decide whether the British or the German vultures are to rule the world.

If our war, the war of the oppressed and exploited against the oppressors and the exploiters, results in half a million or a million casualties in all countries, the bourgeoisie will say that the former casualties are justified, while the latter are criminal.

The proletariat will have something entirely different to say.

Now, amidst the horrors of the imperialist war, the proletariat is receiving a most vivid and striking illustration of the great truth taught by all revolutions and bequeathed to the workers by their best teachers, the founders of modern socialism. This truth is that no revolution can be successful unless the resistance of the exploiters is crushed. When we, the workers and toiling peasants, captured state power, it became our duty to crush the resistance of the exploiters. We are proud we have been doing this. We regret we are not doing it with sufficient firmness and determination.

We know that fierce resistance to the socialist revolution on the part of the bourgeoisie is inevitable in all countries, and that this resistance will grow with the growth of this revolution. The proletariat will crush this resistance; during the struggle against the resisting bourgeoisie it will finally mature for victory and for power.

Let the corrupt bourgeois press shout to the whole world about every mistake our revolution makes. We are not daunted by our mistakes. People have not become saints because the revolution has begun. The toiling classes who for centuries have been oppressed, downtrodden and forcibly held in the vice of poverty, brutality and ignorance cannot avoid mistakes when making a revolution. And, as I pointed out once before, the corpse of bourgeois society cannot be nailed in a coffin and buried.[*] The corpse of capitalism is decaying and disintegrating in our midst, polluting the air and poisoning our lives, enmeshing that which is new, fresh, young and virile in thousands of threads and bonds of that which is old, moribund and decaying.

For every hundred mistakes we commit, and which the bourgeoisie and their lackeys (including our own Mensheviks and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries) shout about to the whole world, 10,000 great and heroic deeds are performed, greater and more heroic because they are simple and inconspicuous amidst the everyday life of a factory district or a remote village, performed by people who are not accustomed (and have no opportunity) to shout to the whole world about their successes.

But even if the contrary were true—although I know such an assumption is wrong—even if we committed 10,000 mistake for every 100 correct actions we performed, even in that case our revolution would be great and invincible, and so it will be in the eyes of world history, because, for the first time, not the minority, not the rich alone, not the educated alone, but the real people, the vast majority of the working people, are themselves building a new life, are by their own experience solving the most difficult problems of socialist organisation .

Every mistake committed in the course of such work, in the course of this most conscientious and earnest work of tens of millions of simple workers and peasants in reorganising their whole life, every such mistake is worth thousands and millions of “lawless” successes achieved by the exploiting minority—successes in swindling and duping the working people. For only through such mistakes will the workers and peasants learn to build the new life, learn to do without capitalists; only in this way will they hack a path for themselves—through thousands of obstacles—to victorious socialism.

Mistakes are being committed in the course of their revolutionary work by our peasants, who at one stroke, in one night, October 25-26 (old style), 1917, entirely abolished the private ownership of land, and are now, month after month, overcoming tremendous difficulties and correcting their mistakes themselves, solving in a practical way the most difficult tasks of organising new conditions of economic life, of fighting the kulaks, providing land for the working people (and not for the rich), and of changing to communist large-scale agriculture.

Mistakes are being committed in the course of their revolutionary work by our workers, who have already, after a few months, nationalised almost all the biggest factories and plants, and are learning by hard, everyday work the new task of managing whole branches of industry, are setting the nationalised enterprises going, overcoming the powerful resistance of inertia, petty-bourgeois mentality and selfishness, and, brick by brick, are laying the foundation of new social ties, of a new labour discipline, of a new influence of the workers’ trade unions over their members.

Mistakes are committed in the course of their revolutionary work by our Soviets, which were created as far back as 1905 by a mighty upsurge of the people. The Soviets of Workers and Peasants are a new type of state, a new and higher type of democracy, a form of the proletarian dictatorship, a means of administering the state without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie. For the first time democracy is here serving the people, the working people, and has ceased to be democracy for the rich as it still is in all bourgeois republics, even the most democratic. For the first time, the people are grappling, on a scale involving one hundred million, with the problem of implementing the dictatorship of the proletariat and semi-proletariat—a problem which, if not solved, makes socialism out of the question.

Let the pedants, or the people whose minds are incurably stuffed with bourgeois-democratic or parliamentary prejudices, shake their heads in perplexity about our Soviets, about the absence of direct elections, for example. These people have forgotten nothing and have learned nothing during the period of the great upheavals of 1914-18. The combination of the proletarian dictatorship with the new democracy for the working people—of civil war with the widest participation of the people in politics—such a combination cannot be brought about at one stroke, nor does it fit in with the outworn modes of routine parliamentary democracy. The contours of a new world, the world of socialism, are rising before us in the shape of the Soviet Republic. It is not surprising that this world does not come into being ready-made, does not spring forth like Minerva from the head of Jupiter.

The old bourgeois-democratic constitutions waxed eloquent about formal equality and right of assembly; but our proletarian and peasant Soviet Constitution casts aside the hypocrisy of formal equality. When the bourgeois republicans overturned thrones they did not worry about formal equality between monarchists and republicans. When it is a matter of overthrowing the bourgeoisie, only traitors or idiots can demand formal equality of rights for the bourgeoisie. “Freedom of assembly” for workers and peasants is not worth a farthing when the best buildings belong to the bourgeoisie. Our Soviets have confiscated all the good buildings in town and country from the rich and have transferred all of them to the workers and peasants for their unions and meetings. This is our freedom of assembly—for the working people! This is the meaning and content of our Soviet, our socialist Constitution!

That is why we are all so firmly convinced that no matter what misfortunes may still be in store for it, our Republic of Soviets is invincible.

It is invincible because every blow struck by frenzied imperialism, every defeat the international bourgeoisie inflict on us, rouses more and more sections of the workers and peasants to the struggle, teaches them at the cost of enormous sacrifice, steels them and engenders new heroism on a mass scale.

We know that help from you will probably not come soon, comrade American workers, for the revolution is developing in different countries in different forms and at different tempos (and it cannot be otherwise). We know that although the European proletarian revolution has been maturing very rapidly lately, it may, after all, not flare up within the next few weeks. We are banking on the inevitability of the world revolution, but this does not mean that we are such fools as to bank on the revolution inevitably coming on a definite and early date. We have seen two great revolutions in our country, 1905 and 1917, and we know revolutions are not made to order, or by agreement. We know that circumstances brought our Russian detachment of the socialist proletariat to the fore not because of our merits, but because of the exceptional backwardness of Russia, and that before the world revolution breaks out a number of separate revolutions may be defeated.

In spite of this, we are firmly convinced that we are invincible, because the spirit of mankind will not be broken by the imperialist slaughter. Mankind will vanquish it. And the first country to break the convict chains of the imperialist war was our country. We sustained enormously heavy casualties in the struggle to break these chains, but we broke them. We are free from imperialist dependence, we have raised the banner of struggle for the complete overthrow of imperialism for the whole world to see.

We are now, as it were, in a besieged fortress, waiting for the other detachments of the world socialist revolution to come to our relief. These detachments exist, they are more numerous than ours, they are maturing, growing, gaining more strength the longer the brutalities of imperialism continue. The workers are breaking away from their social traitors—the Gomperses, Hendersons, Renaudels, Scheidemanns and Renners. Slowly but surely the workers are adopting communist, Bolshevik tactics and are marching towards the proletarian revolution, which alone is capable of saving dying culture and dying mankind.

In short, we are invincible, because the world proletarian revolution is invincible.

N. Lenin

August 20, 1918


[1] The dispatch of the letter to America was organised by the Bolshevik M. M. Borodin, who had recently been there. With the foreign military intervention and the blockade of Soviet Russia this involved considerable difficulties. The letter was delivered to the United States by P. I. Travin (Sletov). Along with the letter he brought the Constitution of the R.S.F.S.R. and the Soviet Government’s Note to President Wilson containing the demand to stop the intervention. The well-known American socialist and journalist John Reed secured the publication of all these documents in the American press.

In December 1918 a slightly abridged version of the letter appeared in the New York magazine The Class Struggle and the Boston weekly The Revolutionary Age, both organs of the Left wing of the American Socialist Party. The Revolutionary Age was brought out by John Reed and Sen Katayama. The letter evoked keen interest among readers and it was published as a reprint from The Class Struggle in a large number of copies. Subsequently it was published many times in the bourgeois and socialist press of the U.S.A. and Western Europe, in the French socialist magazine Demain No. 28-29, 1918, in No. 138 of the Call, organ of the British Socialist Party, the Berlin magazine Die Aktion No. 51-52, 1918, and elsewhere. In 1934 the letter was brought out in New York in the form of a pamphlet, which contained the passages omitted in earlier publications.

The letter was widely used by the American Left Socialists and was instrumental in aiding the development of the labour and communist movement in the U.S. and Europe. It helped advanced workers to appreciate the nature of imperialism and the great revolutionary changes effected by the Soviet government. Lenin’s letter aroused a mounting protest in the U.S. against the armed intervention.

[2] Lenin quotes from Chernyshevsky’s review of the book by the American economist H. Ch. Carey, Letters to the President on the Foreign and Domestic Policy of the Union, and its Effects. Chernyshevsky wrote: “The path of history is not paved like Nevsky Prospekt; it runs across fields, either dusty or muddy, and cuts through swamps or forest thickets. Anyone who fears being covered with dust or muddying his boots, should not engage in social activity.”

[3] Man in the muffler—a character from Chekhov’s story of the same title, personifying a narrow-minded philistine scared of initiative and new ideas.

[4] Appeal to Reason—American socialist newspaper, founded in Girard, Kansas, in 1895. The newspaper propagated socialist ideas and was immensely popular among the workers. During the First World War it pursued an internationalist policy.

Debs’s article appeared in the paper on September 11, 1915. Its title, which Lenin most probably quoted from memory, was “When I Shall Fight”.

[5] See present edition, Volume 22, page 125. Speech Delivered at an International Meeting in Berne.

9 catchy Italian songs to learn Italian (+ lyrics and translations) – by Ermy Pedata (Joy of Languages) 24 Aug 2018

Venezuela: A Bridge Too Far For US Imperialism? – by Peter Koeng (The Saker) 9 Feb 2019

A steady drip of fake news and outright lies to manufacture consent for war

Venezuela in the limelight, on practically all the written, audio and visual mainstream media, as well as alternative media. A purposeful constant drip of outright lies and half-truths, “fake news”, as well as misleading information of all shades and hues about Venezuela is drumming our brains, slowly bending our minds towards believing that – yes, the US has a vital interest in meddling in Venezuela and bringing about “regime change”, because of primarily, the huge reserves of oil, but also of gold, coltan and other rare minerals; and, finally, simply because Washington needs full control of its “backyard”.

– BUT, and yes, there is a huge BUT, as even some of the respected progressive alternative media pretend to know: Amidst all that recognition of the empire’s evil hands in Venezuela, their ‘but’ claims that Venezuela, specifically Presidents Chavez and now Maduro, are not blameless in their ‘economic chaos’. This distorts already the entire picture and serves the empire and all those who are hesitant because they have no clue, whom to support in this antagonistic US attempt for regime change.

For example, one alternative news article starts, “It is true that some of Venezuela’s economic problems are due to the ineptitudes of the Bolivarian government’s “socialist command” economy, but this overlooks the role played by the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union….”. Bingo, with such a low-blow beginning, the uninformed reader is already primed to ‘discount’ much of the interference by Washington and its minions. Some of the-so-called progressive writers have already been brain-smeared, by calling Nicolás Maduro a “dictator”, when in fact, there is hardly any country farther away from a dictatorship than Venezuela.

In the last 20 years and since Comandante Hugo Chavez Frias was first elected in 1998 and came to power in 1999, Venezuela had another 25 fully democratic elections, of which 6 took place in the last year and a half. They were all largely observed by the US based Carter Institute, the Latin American CELAC, some were even watched by the European Union (EU), the very vassal states that are now siding with Washington in calling President Maduro an illegitimate dictator – and instead, they side with and support the real illegitimate, never elected, US trained and appointed, Juan Guaidó. Former President Carter once said, of all the elections he and his Institute observed, the ones in Venezuela were by far the most transparent and democratic ones. By September 2017, the Carter Center had observed 104 elections in 39 countries.

Despite this evidence, Washington-paid and corrupted  MSM are screaming and spreading lies, ‘election fraud’; and Nicolás Maduro is illegal, a dictator, oppressing his people, depriving them of food and medication, sowing famine – he has to go. Such lies are repeated at nauseatum. In a world flooded by pyramid-dollars (fake money), the presstitute media have no money problem. Dollars, the funding source for the massive lie-propaganda, are just printed as debt, never to be repaid again. So, why worry? The same Zionists who control the media also control the western money machines, i.e. the FED, Wall Street, the BIS (Bank for International Settlement, the so-called Central bank of central banks), the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the banks of London. The western public, armchair warriors, all the way to caviar socialists, believe these lies. That’s how our unqualified brains apparently work.

A recent independent poll found that 86% of all Venezuelans, including from the opposition, want no interference by the US and her puppet allies, but want to remain a sovereign state, deciding themselves on how to resolve their internal problem – economics and otherwise.

Let me tell you something, if Mr. Maduro would be a dictator – and all the diabolical adjectives that he is smeared with were to apply, he would have long ago stopped the western propaganda machine, which is the western controlled media in Venezuela; they control 90% of the news in Venezuela. But he didn’t and doesn’t, because he believes in freedom of speech and freedom of the ‘media’ – even if the “media” are really nothing more than abject western lie-machines presstitute. Mr. Maduro is generous enough not to close them down – which any dictator – of which there are now many in Latin America (take a pick: Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guatemala, Honduras….) would have done long ago.


From the very beginning, when Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998, Washington attempted to topple him to bring about “régime change”. The first real coup attempt took place on 11 April 2002. Under full command by Washington, Chavez was ousted for less than 2 days, when an on-swell of people and the vast majority of the military requested his reinstatement. Chavez was brought back from his island seclusion and, thus, the directly Washington-led coup d’état was defeated (“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”). But the pressure mounted with economic sanctions becoming ever bolder and, in the case of Venezuela, they had severe economic and humanitarian impacts because Venezuela imports close to 90% of her food and medication – still today – and most of it from the US.

Both Chavez and Maduro had very little leeway of doing differently what they have already done. Sanctions, boycotts, outside money manipulations, driving inflation to astronomical levels and constant smear propaganda, these predicaments are biting hard. The US has a firm grip on Venezuela’s dollar dependency.

Last week, Washington confiscated about US$ 23 billion Venezuela’s reserve money in US banks, blocked them from use by the legitimate Maduro government, and, instead, handed them to their US-appointed, puppet, never elected, “president”, Juan Guaidó. – He is now able to use Venezuela’s money in his US-EU-and Lima-Group supported “shadow” government. Will he dare? – I don’t think so. However, he has already invited US petro, companies to come to Venezuela and invest in and take over the petrol industry. Of course, it will not happen, as President Maduro stays in power, firmly backed by the military.

All of this sounds like a bad joke. Did you ever heard of Juan Guaidó, before the US and her European vassals almost unanimously and obediently aped Washington in supporting him?

Likewise, the Bank of England withheld 1.2 billion dollars’ worth