The US Air Force X-37B Space Drone is A War Machine (National Interest) 29 July 2019

Boeing built at least two X-37Bs for the Air Force in the mid-2000s reportedly at a cost of around a billion dollars apiece. While it looks like a miniature version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, which retired from service in 2011, the X-37B essentially is a small, reusable and maneuverable satellite with a shorter per-mission endurance compared to single-use satellites.

The fifth and latest X-37B mission could send the mini-shuttle over large portions of Russian territory for the first time.

A Dutch skywatcher achieved a rare feat in late June and early July 2019. Using a 10-inch-diameter telescope fitted with a camera, Ralf Vandebergh photographed the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane in mid-mission 210 miles over Earth’s surface.

“We can recognize a bit of the nose, payload bay and tail of this mini-shuttle, with even a sign of some smaller detail,” Vandebergh told Space.com.

 

Vandebergh had been hunting for the robotic spacecraft for months and finally managed to track it down in May 2019, according to Space.com reporter Leonard David. But it took a few more weeks to actually photograph the roughly 29-feet-long robotic shuttle.

“When I tried to observe it again [in] mid-June, it didn’t meet the predicted time and path,” Vandebergh told David. “It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers’ network, it was rapidly found in orbit again, and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2, [2019].”

Boeing built at least two X-37Bs for the Air Force in the mid-2000s reportedly at a cost of around a billion dollars apiece. While it looks like a miniature version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, which retired from service in 2011, the X-37B essentially is a small, reusable and maneuverable satellite with a shorter per-mission endurance compared to single-use satellites.

The Air Force describes the X-37B as an “orbital test vehicle,” or OTV.

The X-37B blasted off for its first mission on a United Launch Alliance Atlas rocket in April 2010. Where many satellites can function for up to a decade in orbit, the X-37B’s longest mission as of early 2018 was its fourth, beginning in May 2015. It lasted 717 days.

The X-37B that Vandebergh photographed launched atop a SpaceX Falcon rocket in September 2017. Each X-37B mission reportedly costs around $200 million.

The current mission is the X-37B’s fifth. The X-37B Vandebergh spotted is carrying a so-called Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader built by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

According to the Air Force, the spreader will help to “test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment.” The X-37B itself, with its longer and longer missions, is driving demand in the United States for spacecraft components that can survive for years at a time in orbit.

“The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads,” the Air Force stated.

As the Air Force continues to refine the X-37B’s operations, it’s possible the current mission could set a new record for the type. “It sips power and fuel like a Prius,” in the words of one government space insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In the past, the Air Force was cagey about exactly which payloads the X-37B carried into orbit—and that encouraged wide-ranging speculation by space experts. “You can put sensors in there, satellites in there,” Eric Sterner, from the George C. Marshall Institute in Virginia, said of the X-37B. “You could stick munitions in there, provided they exist.”

The Air Force denies that the X-37B has ever carried weapons. Overtly arming a spacecraft would be a violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

In pushing for a separate military branch for space operations and promising a new generation of orbital systems including missile-defenses, the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump could begin to challenge the decades-old ban on space-based weaponry.

But it would be perfectly legal, and unsurprising, for the X-37B to function as a kind of reusable spy satellite—and it could do so without necessarily jeopardizing its other, scientific missions.

Indeed, the Air Force acknowledged that testing the heat-spreader isn’t the X-37B’s only current task. The reusable spacecraft is also pioneering new orbital pathways for the type.

“The fifth OTV mission will also be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope,” the Air Force explained.

A spacecraft’s orbital inclination is equal to the highest north-south latitude it passes over. The X-37B previously flew between 37 and 43 degrees, according to Brian Weeden, a space expert with the Secure World Foundation in Colorado.

Extending the X-37B’s inclination expands “what it can collect information on, assuming that’s its mission,” Weeden told The Daily Beast. It’s worth noting that almost all of Russia lies north of the X-37B’s previous inclination range.

The fifth and latest X-37B mission could send the mini-shuttle over large portions of Russian territory for the first time.

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Archive

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War FixWar Is Boring and Machete Squad.

How much is your library card worth?

book case

 Introduction:

If someone would pay me to read literature I would never have to work another day in my life.  I love reading.  Some people have bumper stickers that say, “I’d rather be golfing/hunting/knitting/fishing/etc.”  Guess what mine would say??

My old behemoth of a bookcase used to be filled with all the books I ever read from high-school on.  I’m a pretty big minimalist, but I always wanted to hold on to my books.  They were a big part of who I was, and I liked the idea of having them on display as an identity signifier in my future home (and also maybe to re-read, but that never seemed to happen).

Maybe I matured enough to realize that I didn’t need that external identity validation or maybe my minimalist instincts simply won out in the end.  Either way, I eventually donated all my books to Goodwill and took a tax write-off.  The tax write-off was pretty nice but nowhere near as large as the original face value of the purchased books.

Fast forward to today… I get my books from the local library for free (or as hand-me-downs from friends), I maintain a digital book shelf at Goodreads, and I don’t have any traumatic scarring from the hasty Goodwill book donation of yore.

The numbers:

So how much is this new lifestyle worth (borrowing from the library vs. buying books)?  It all depends on how you frame the situation, but going to the library versus buying new books is worth about $800 dollars over ten years.  I’ll get into more details below.

  • 10-Year NPV: $773
  • 10-Year ROI: 94%
  • 10-Year Payback: 0.6 years

 

These numbers aren’t that impressive, unfortunately, but there are a few things going on here.  First off, average people don’t read a ton; therefore they don’t spend a lot of money on books in the first place.  The median adult reads 8 books a year according to a 2011 PEW study.  If an average new book costs $16, then this person is only spending $128 per year on books.

Secondly, I’m assuming that the average book buyer is going to buy from Amazon, which means free delivery and no wasted travel time to and from the bookstore.  Versus the library scenario, where someone has to physically walk or ride a bike to both pickup and drop off their borrowed books.

Each situation is unique, but my personal library time costs are a lot lower because I borrow and download ebooks directly from my home computer. Removing the time/labor costs of library trips essentially doubles the value of borrowing books versus buying them, meaning that my free library card is actually worth about $160 every year, or $1,600 after 10 years.

But, working against the library ROI is the fact that I actually bought my books used in the past, at prices well below the suggested retail value.  Assuming no library trips are needed, the library still wins out versus buying used books; however, if library trips are required, the scenario is much more of a toss-up.

And then there is even another variable that I didn’t want to model… driving costs.  If someone is driving to the library versus walking, biking, and/or not even having to go at all, the value proposition becomes even more difficult.

As usual, it all depends on the details of the situation, but on the whole it appears that borrowing from the library is usually a smarter decision.  Seventy bucks a year isn’t something to retire on, but it is definitely a marginal improvement.  Think about it this way; multiplied by three people, this is about 1.2% of a $25,000 family budget.  And of course, the savings are higher for people that read more than 8 books a year.

Assumptions:
  1. Buy 8 new books a year (PEW)
  2. New books cost average of $16 (School Library Journal)
  3. Library trips don’t involve cars and take 30 minutes each way
  4. Your time is worth $10.00 per hour
  5. $2.00 in late fees every year from library (building in some wiggle room for when your running behind on finishing Infinite Jest)
More thoughts on reading:

Reading might not make us better, more ethical human beings, but there is some evidence that it improves social skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence.  If I had to guess, I would say it probably also helps with language skills and keeps the brain a little sharper.  Some people even argue that readers are the best people to fall in love with.  But I’m not in this for the icing, like Jay-Z, I’m after the cake (cake, cake, cake, cake) (aka the reading experience itself).

There isn’t anything like getting lost in a great novel (or literary non-fiction book).  For me, the main pleasures of reading come from well-developed characters and new ways of seeing the world.  I don’t have a source, but I came across an article that said people’s brains react to reading fiction in much the same way they do to socializing with actual people.  It is well-known that socializing with friends and family is one of the most important determinants of happiness, and based on how pleasurable reading can be, the findings aren’t all that surprising.

To top it off, in the context of how long a book might take to read, the value per dollar of reading for pleasure is hard to beat elsewhere.  You might not be producing or earning money, but you definitely aren’t throwing it away either.

So with that being said, here are, in my humble opinion, some books that will really stretch your dollar per unit of reading pleasure:

  • Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Schteyngart
  • Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  • Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo
  • Bangkok 8 (series) by John Burdett
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
  • Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
  • The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin
  • The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

You can find most of these books at your library I would guess.  I have a longer list here too.  And if you want to be really systematic about it, I have an old awards-based ranking here (and below), although the sizing leaves much to be desired.

I also really like the n+1 and Paris Review literary magazines if you’re into that kind of thing (I’m really enjoying the work Kristin Dombek is putting out at both of these magazines lately, particularly her essay, “How to Quit” in n+1, although “Letter from Williamsburg” is great too.)  And finally, from a more conservative side of the spectrum, I thought this Marilynne Robinson meditation on beauty was really solid.

What about you?  Do you have a penchant for reading fiction or non-fiction, or for certain books or authors?  I’m always looking for new recommendations and more generally just curious to hear more about what you’re enjoying these days.  Let me know what’s good and thanks for stopping by!

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*UPDATE: I forgot to mention how much I like the New Yorker Fiction Podcast.  Check it out here.

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How much is your library card worth?

US Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses – by Michael Hudson • 23 July 2019

 

 

Today’s world is at war on many fronts. The rules of international law and order put in place toward the end of World War II are being broken by U.S. foreign policy escalating its confrontation with countries that refrain from giving its companies control of their economic surpluses. Countries that do not give the United States control of their oil and financial sectors or privatize their key sectors are being isolated by the United States imposing trade sanctions and unilateral tariffs giving special advantages to U.S. producers in violation of free trade agreements with European, Asian and other countries.

This global fracture has an increasingly military cast. U.S. officials justify tariffs and import quotas illegal under WTO rules on “national security” grounds, claiming that the United States can do whatever it wants as the world’s “exceptional” nation. U.S. officials explain that this means that their nation is not obliged to adhere to international agreements or even to its own treaties and promises. This allegedly sovereign right to ignore on its international agreements was made explicit after Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeline Albright broke the promise by President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker that NATO would not expand eastward after 1991. (“You didn’t get it in writing,” was the U.S. response to the verbal agreements that were made.)

Likewise, the Trump administration repudiated the multilateral Iranian nuclear agreement signed by the Obama administration, and is escalating warfare with its proxy armies in the Near East. U.S. politicians are waging a New Cold War against Russia, China, Iran, and oil-exporting countries that the United States is seeking to isolate if cannot control their governments, central bank and foreign diplomacy.

The international framework that originally seemed equitable was pro-U.S. from the outset. In 1945 this was seen as a natural result of the fact that the U.S. economy was the least war-damaged and held by far most of the world’s monetary gold. Still, the postwar trade and financial framework was ostensibly set up on fair and equitable international principles. Other countries were expected to recover and grow, creating diplomatic, financial and trade parity with each other.

But the past decade has seen U.S. diplomacy become one-sided in turning the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, SWIFT bank-clearing system and world trade into an asymmetrically exploitative system. This unilateral U.S.-centered array of institutions is coming to be widely seen not only as unfair, but as blocking the progress of other countries whose growth and prosperity is seen by U.S. foreign policy as a threat to unilateral U.S. hegemony. What began as an ostensibly international order to promote peaceful prosperity has turned increasingly into an extension of U.S. nationalism, predatory rent-extraction and a more dangerous military confrontation.

Deterioration of international diplomacy into a more nakedly explicit pro-U.S. financial, trade and military aggression was implicit in the way in which economic diplomacy was shaped when the United Nations, IMF and World Bank were shaped mainly by U.S. economic strategists. Their economic belligerence is driving countries to withdraw from the global financial and trade order that has been turned into a New Cold War vehicle to impose unilateral U.S. hegemony. Nationalistic reactions are consolidating into new economic and political alliances from Europe to Asia.

We are still mired in the Oil War that escalated in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq, which quickly spread to Libya and Syria. American foreign policy has long been based largely on control of oil. This has led the United States to oppose the Paris accords to stem global warming. Its aim is to give U.S. officials the power to impose energy sanctions forcing other countries to “freeze in the dark” if they do not follow U.S. leadership.

To expand its oil monopoly, America is pressuring Europe to oppose the Nordstream II gas pipeline from Russia, claiming that this would make Germany and other countries dependent on Russia instead of on U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG). Likewise, American oil diplomacy has imposed unilateral sanctions against Iranian oil exports, until such time as a regime change opens up that country’s oil reserves to U.S., French, British and other allied oil majors.

U.S. control of dollarized money and credit is critical to this hegemony. As Congressman Brad Sherman of Los Angeles told a House Financial Services Committee hearing on May 9, 2019: “An awful lot of our international power comes from the fact that the U.S. dollar is the standard unit of international finance and transactions. Clearing through the New York Fed is critical for major oil and other transactions. It is the announced purpose of the supporters of cryptocurrency to take that power away from us, to put us in a position where the most significant sanctions we have against Iran, for example, would become irrelevant.”[1]

The U.S. aim is to keep the dollar as the transactions currency for world trade, savings, central bank reserves and international lending. This monopoly status enables the U.S. Treasury and State Department to disrupt the financial payments system and trade for countries with which the United States is at economic or outright military war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly responded by describing how “the degeneration of the universalist globalization model [is] turning into a parody, a caricature of itself, where common international rules are replaced with the laws… of one country.”[2] That is the trajectory on which this deterioration of formerly open international trade and finance is now moving. It has been building up for a decade. On June 5, 2009, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cited this same disruptive U.S. dynamic at work in the wake of the U.S. junk mortgage and bank fraud crisis.

Those whose job it was to forecast events … were not ready for the depth of the crisis and turned out to be too rigid, unwieldy and slow in their response. The international financial organisations – and I think we need to state this up front and not try to hide it – were not up to their responsibilities, as has been said quite unambiguously at a number of major international events such as the two recent G20 summits of the world’s largest economies.

Furthermore, we have had confirmation that our pre-crisis analysis of global economic trends and the global economic system were correct. The artificially maintained uni-polar system and preservation of monopolies in key global economic sectors are root causes of the crisis. One big centre of consumption, financed by a growing deficit, and thus growing debts, one formerly strong reserve currency, and one dominant system of assessing assets and risks – these are all factors that led to an overall drop in the quality of regulation and the economic justification of assessments made, including assessments of macroeconomic policy. As a result, there was no avoiding a global crisis.[3]

That crisis is what is now causing today’s break in global trade and payments.

Warfare on many fronts, with Dollarization being the main arena

Dissolution of the Soviet Union 1991 did not bring the disarmament that was widely expected. U.S. leadership celebrated the Soviet demise as signaling the end of foreign opposition to U.S.-sponsored neoliberalism and even as the End of History. NATO expanded to encircle Russia and sponsored “color revolutions” from Georgia to Ukraine, while carving up former Yugoslavia into small statelets. American diplomacy created a foreign legion of Wahabi fundamentalists from Afghanistan to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya in support of Saudi Arabian extremism and Israeli expansionism.

The United States is waging war for control of oil against Venezuela, where a military coup failed a few years ago, as did the 2018-19 stunt to recognize an unelected pro-American puppet regime. The Honduran coup under President Obama was more successful in overthrowing an elected president advocating land reform, continuing the tradition dating back to 1954 when the CIA overthrew Guatemala’s Arbenz regime.

U.S. officials bear a special hatred for countries that they have injured, ranging from Guatemala in 1954 to Iran, whose regime it overthrew to install the Shah as military dictator. Claiming to promote “democracy,” U.S. diplomacy has redefined the word to mean pro-American, and opposing land reform, national ownership of raw materials and public subsidy of foreign agriculture or industry as an “undemocratic” attack on “free markets,” meaning markets controlled by U.S. financial interests and absentee owners of land, natural resources and banks.

A major byproduct of warfare has always been refugees, and today’s wave fleeing ISIS, Al Qaeda and other U.S.-backed Near Eastern proxies is flooding Europe. A similar wave is fleeing the dictatorial regimes backed by the United States from Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia and neighboring countries. The refugee crisis has become a major factor leading to the resurgence of nationalist parties throughout Europe and for the white nationalism of Donald Trump in the United States.

Dollarization as the vehicle for U.S. nationalism

The Dollar Standard – U.S. Treasury debt to foreigners held by the world’s central banks – has replaced the gold-exchange standard for the world’s central bank reserves to settle payments imbalances among themselves. This has enabled the United States to uniquely run balance-of-payments deficits for nearly seventy years, despite the fact that these Treasury IOUs have little visible likelihood of being repaid except under arrangements where U.S. rent-seeking and outright financial tribute from other enables it to liquidate its official foreign debt.

The United States is the only nation that can run sustained balance-of-payments deficits without having to sell off its assets or raise interest rates to borrow foreign money. No other national economy in the world can could afford foreign military expenditures on any major scale without losing its exchange value. Without the Treasury-bill standard, the United States would be in this same position along with other nations. That is why Russia, China and other powers that U.S. strategists deem to be strategic rivals and enemies are looking to restore gold’s role as the preferred asset to settle payments imbalances.

The U.S. response is to impose regime change on countries that prefer gold or other foreign currencies to dollars for their exchange reserves. A case in point is the overthrow of Libya’s Omar Kaddafi after he sought to base his nation’s international reserves on gold. His liquidation stands as a military warning to other countries.

Thanks to the fact that payments-surplus economies invest their dollar inflows in U.S. Treasury bonds, the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit finances its domestic budget deficit. This foreign central-bank recycling of U.S. overseas military spending into purchases of U.S. Treasury securities gives the United States a free ride, financing its budget – also mainly military in character – so that it can taxing its own citizens.

Trump is forcing other countries to create an alternative to the Dollar Standard

The fact that Donald Trump’s economic policies are proving ineffective in restoring American manufacturing is creating rising nationalist pressure to exploit foreigners by arbitrary tariffs without regard for international law, and to impose trade sanctions and diplomatic meddling to disrupt regimes that pursue policies that U.S. diplomats do not like.

There is a parallel here with Rome in the late 1st century BC. It stripped its provinces to pay for its military deficit, the grain dole and land redistribution at the expense of Italian cities and Asia Minor. This created foreign opposition to drive Rome out. The U.S. economy is similar to Rome’s: extractive rather than productive, based mainly on land rents and money-interest. As the domestic market is impoverished, U.S. politicians are seeking to take from abroad what no longer is being produced at home.

What is so ironic – and so self-defeating of America’s free global ride – is that Trump’s simplistic aim of lowering the dollar’s exchange rate to make U.S. exports more price-competitive. He imagines commodity trade to be the entire balance of payments, as if there were no military spending, not to mention lending and investment. To lower the dollar’s exchange rate, he is demanding that China’s central bank and those of other countries stop supporting the dollar by recycling the dollars they receive for their exports into holdings of U.S. Treasury securities.

This tunnel vision leaves out of account the fact that the trade balance is not simply a matter of comparative international price levels. The United States has dissipated its supply of spare manufacturing capacity and local suppliers of parts and materials, while much of its industrial engineering and skilled manufacturing labor has retired. An immense shortfall must be filled by new capital investment, education and public infrastructure, whose charges are far above those of other economics.

Trump’s infrastructure ideology is a Public-Private Partnership characterized by high-cost financialization demanding high monopoly rents to cover its interest charges, stock dividends and management fees. This neoliberal policy raises the cost of living for the U.S. labor force, making it uncompetitive. The United States is unable to produce more at any price right now, because its has spent the past half-century dismantling its infrastructure, closing down its part suppliers and outsourcing its industrial technology.

The United States has privatized and financialized infrastructure and basic needs such as public health and medical care, education and transportation that other countries have kept in their public domain to make their economies more cost-efficient by providing essential services at subsidized prices or freely. The United States also has led the practice of debt pyramiding, from housing to corporate finance. This financial engineering and wealth creation by inflating debt-financed real estate and stock market bubbles has made the United States a high-cost economy that cannot compete successfully with well-managed mixed economies.

Unable to recover dominance in manufacturing, the United States is concentrating on rent-extracting sectors that it hopes monopolize, headed by information technology and military production. On the industrial front, it threatens to disrupt China and other mixed economies by imposing trade and financial sanctions.

The great gamble is whether these other countries will defend themselves by joining in alliances enabling them to bypass the U.S. economy. American strategists imagine their country to be the world’s essential economy, without whose market other countries must suffer depression. The Trump Administration thinks that There Is No Alternative (TINA) for other countries except for their own financial systems to rely on U.S. dollar credit.

To protect themselves from U.S. sanctions, countries would have to avoid using the dollar, and hence U.S. banks. This would require creation of a non-dollarized financial system for use among themselves, including their own alternative to the SWIFT bank clearing system. Table 1 lists some possible related defenses against U.S. nationalistic diplomacy.

As noted above, what also is ironic in President Trump’s accusation of China and other countries of artificially manipulating their exchange rate against the dollar (by recycling their trade and payments surpluses into Treasury securities to hold down their currency’s dollar valuation) involves dismantling the Treasury-bill standard. The main way that foreign economies have stabilized their exchange rate since 1971 has indeed been to recycle their dollar inflows into U.S. Treasury securities. Letting their currency’s value rise would threaten their export competitiveness against their rivals, although not necessarily benefit the United States.

Ending this practice leaves countries with the main way to protect their currencies from rising against the dollar is to reduce dollar inflows by blocking U.S. lending to domestic borrowers. They may levy floating tariffs proportioned to the dollar’s declining value. The U.S. has a long history since the 1920s of raising its tariffs against currencies that are depreciating: the American Selling Price (ASP) system. Other countries can impose their own floating tariffs against U.S. goods.

Trade dependency as an aim of the World Bank, IMF and US AID

The world today faces a problem much like what it faced on the eve of World War II. Like Germany then, the United States now poses the main threat of war, and equally destructive neoliberal economic regimes imposing austerity, economic shrinkage and depopulation. U.S. diplomats are threatening to destroy regimes and entire economies that seek to remain independent of this system, by trade and financial sanctions backed by direct military force.

Dedollarization will require creation of multilateral alternatives to U.S. “front” institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and other agencies in which the United States holds veto power to block any alternative policies deemed not to let it “win.” U.S. trade policy through the World Bank and U.S. foreign aid agencies aims at promoting dependency on U.S. food exports and other key commodities, while hiring U.S. engineering firms to build up export infrastructure to subsidize U.S. and other natural-resource investors.[4] The financing is mainly in dollars, providing risk-free bonds to U.S. and other financial institutions. The resulting commercial and financial “interdependency” has led to a situation in which a sudden interruption of supply would disrupt foreign economies by causing a breakdown in their chain of payments and production. The effect is to lock client countries into dependency on the U.S. economy and its diplomacy, euphemized as “promoting growth and development.”

U.S. neoliberal policy via the IMF imposes austerity and opposes debt writedowns. Its economic model pretends that debtor countries can pay any volume of dollar debt simply by reducing wages to squeeze more income out of the labor force to pay foreign creditors. This ignores the fact that solving the domestic “budget problem” by taxing local revenue still faces the “transfer problem” of converting it into dollars or other hard currencies in which most international debt is denominated. The result is that the IMF’s “stabilization” programs actually destabilize and impoverish countries forced into following its advice.

IMF loans support pro-U.S. regimes such as Ukraine, and subsidize capital flight by supporting local currencies long enough to enable U.S. client oligarchies to flee their currencies at a pre-devaluation exchange rate for the dollar. When the local currency finally is allowed to collapse, debtor countries are advised to impose anti-labor austerity. This globalizes the class war of capital against labor while keeping debtor countries on a short U.S. financial leash.

U.S. diplomacy is capped by trade sanctions to disrupt economies that break away from U.S. aims. Sanctions are a form of economic sabotage, as lethal as outright military warfare in establishing U.S. control over foreign economies. The threat is to impoverish civilian populations, in the belief that this will lead them to replace their governments with pro-American regimes promising to restore prosperity by selling off their domestic infrastructure to U.S. and other multinational investors.

chart hudson

There are alternatives, on many fronts

Militarily, today’s leading alternative to NATO expansionism is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with Europe following France’s example under Charles de Gaulle and withdrawing. After all, there is no real threat of military invasion today in Europe. No nation can occupy another without an enormous military draft and such heavy personnel losses that domestic protests would unseat the government waging such a war. The U.S. anti-war movement in the 1960s signaled the end of the military draft, not only in the United States but in nearly all democratic countries. (Israel, Switzerland, Brazil and North Korea are exceptions.)

The enormous spending on armaments for a kind of war unlikely to be fought is not really military, but simply to provide profits to the military industrial complex. The arms are not really to be used. They are simply to be bought, and ultimately scrapped. The danger, of course, is that these not-for-use arms actually might be used, if only to create a need for new profitable production.

Likewise, foreign holdings of dollars are not really to be spent on purchases of U.S. exports or investments. They are like fine-wine collectibles, for saving rather than for drinking. The alternative to such dollarized holdings is to create a mutual use of national currencies, and a domestic bank-clearing payments system as an alternative to SWIFT. Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela already are said to be developing a crypto-currency payments to circumvent U.S. sanctions and hence financial control.

In the World Trade Organization, the United States has tried to claim that any industry receiving public infrastructure or credit subsidy deserves tariff retaliation in order to force privatization. In response to WTO rulings that U.S. tariffs are illegally imposed, the United States “has blocked all new appointments to the seven-member appellate body in protest, leaving it in danger of collapse because it may not have enough judges to allow it to hear new cases.”[5] In the U.S. view, only privatized trade financed by private rather than public banks is “fair” trade.

An alternative to the WTO (or removal of its veto privilege given to the U.S. bloc) is needed to cope with U.S. neoliberal ideology and, most recently, the U.S. travesty claiming “national security” exemption to free-trade treaties, impose tariffs on steel, aluminum, and on European countries that circumvent sanctions on Iran or threaten to buy oil from Russia via the Nordstream II pipeline instead of high-cost liquified “freedom gas” from the United States.

In the realm of development lending, China’s bank along with its Belt and Road initiative is an incipient alternative to the World Bank, whose main role has been to promote foreign dependency on U.S. suppliers. The IMF for its part now functions as an extension of the U.S. Department of Defense to subsidize client regimes such as Ukraine while financially isolating countries not subservient to U.S. diplomacy.

To save debt-strapped economies suffering Greek-style austerity, the world needs to replace neoliberal economic theory with an analytic logic for debt writedowns based on the ability to pay. The guiding principle of the needed development-oriented logic of international law should be that no nation should be obliged to pay foreign creditors by having to sell of the public domain and rent-extraction rights to foreign creditors. The defining character of nationhood should be the fiscal right to tax natural resource rents and financial returns, and to create its own monetary system.

The United States refuses to join the International Criminal Court. To be effective, it needs enforcement power for its judgments and penalties, capped by the ability to bring charges of war crimes in the tradition of the Nuremberg tribunal. U.S. to such a court, combined with its military buildup now threatening World War III, suggests a new alignment of countries akin to the Non-Aligned Nations movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Non-aligned in this case means freedom from U.S. diplomatic control or threats.

Such institutions require a more realistic economic theory and philosophy of operations to replace the neoliberal logic for anti-government privatization, anti-labor austerity, and opposition to domestic budget deficits and debt writedowns. Today’s neoliberal doctrine counts financial late fees and rising housing prices as adding to “real output” (GDP), but deems public investment as deadweight spending, not a contribution to output. The aim of such logic is to convince governments to pay their foreign creditors by selling off their public infrastructure and other assets in the public domain.

Just as the “capacity to pay” principle was the foundation stone of the Bank for International Settlements in 1931, a similar basis is needed to measure today’s ability to pay debts and hence to write down bad loans that have been made without a corresponding ability of debtors to pay. Without such an institution and body of analysis, the IMF’s neoliberal principle of imposing economic depression and falling living standards to pay U.S. and other foreign creditors will impose global poverty.

The above proposals provide an alternative to the U.S. “exceptionalist” refusal to join any international organization that has a say over its affairs. Other countries must be willing to turn the tables and isolate U.S. banks, U.S. exporters, and to avoid using U.S. dollars and routing payments via U.S. banks. To protect their ability to create a countervailing power requires an international court and its sponsoring organization.

Summary

The first existential objective is to avoid the current threat of war by winding down U.S. military interference in foreign countries and removing U.S. military bases as relics of neocolonialism. Their danger to world peace and prosperity threatens a reversion to the pre-World War II colonialism, ruling by client elites along lines similar to the 2014 Ukrainian coup by neo-Nazi groups sponsored by the U.S. State Department and National Endowment for Democracy. Such control recalls the dictators that U.S. diplomacy established throughout Latin America in the 1950s. Today’s ethnic terrorism by U.S.-sponsored Wahabi-Saudi Islam recalls the behavior of Nazi Germany in the 1940s.

Global warming is the second major existentialist threat. Blocking attempts to reverse it is a bedrock of American foreign policy, because it is based on control of oil. So the military, refugee and global warming threats are interconnected.

The U.S. military poses the greatest immediate danger. Today’s warfare is fundamentally changed from what it used to be. Prior to the 1970s, nations conquering others had to invade and occupy them with armies recruited by a military draft. But no democracy in today’s world can revive such a draft without triggering widespread refusal to fight, voting the government out of power. The only way the United States – or other countries – can fight other nations is to bomb them. And as noted above, economic sanctions have as destructive an effect on civilian populations in countries deemed to be U.S. adversaries as overt warfare. The United States can sponsor political coups (as in Honduras and Pinochet’s Chile), but cannot occupy. It is unwilling to rebuild, to say nothing of taking responsibility for the waves of refugees that our bombing and sanctions are causing from Latin America to the Near East.

U.S. ideologues view their nation’s coercive military expansion and political subversion and neoliberal economic policy of privatization and financialization as an irreversible victory signaling the End of History. To the rest of the world it is a threat to human survival.

The American promise is that the victory of neoliberalism is the End of History, offering prosperity to the entire world. But beneath the rhetoric of free choice and free markets is the reality of corruption, subversion, coercion, debt peonage and neofeudalism. The reality is the creation and subsidy of polarized economies bifurcated between a privileged rentier class and its clients, their debtors and renters. America is to be permitted to monopolize trade in oil and food grains, and high-technology rent-yielding monopolies, living off its dependent customers. Unlike medieval serfdom, people subject to this End of History scenario can choose to live wherever they want. But wherever they live, they must take on a lifetime of debt to obtain access to a home of their own, and rely on U.S.-sponsored control of their basic needs, money and credit by adhering to U.S. financial planning of their economies. This dystopian scenario confirms Rosa Luxemburg’s recognition that the ultimate choice facing nations in today’s world is between socialism and barbarism.

Keynote Paper delivered at the 14th Forum of the World Association for Political Economy, July 21, 2019.

Notes

[1] Billy Bambrough, “Bitcoin Threatens To ‘Take Power’ From The U.S. Federal Reserve,” Forbes, May 15, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/billybambrough/2019/05/15/a-u-s-congressman-is-so-scared-of-bitcoin-and-crypto-he-wants-it-banned/#36b2700b6405.

[2] Vladimir Putin, keynote address to the Economic Forum, June 5-6 2019. Putin went on to warn of “a policy of completely unlimited economic egoism and a forced breakdown.” This fragmenting of the global economic space “is the road to endless conflict, trade wars and maybe not just trade wars. Figuratively, this is the road to the ultimate fight of all against all.”

[3] Address to St Petersburg International Economic Forum’s Plenary Session, St Petersburg, Kremlin.ru, June 5, 2009, from Johnson’s Russia List, June 8, 2009, #8,

[4] https://www.rt.com/business/464013-china-russia-cryptocurrency-dollar-dethrone/ . Already in the late 1950s the Forgash Plan proposed a World Bank for Economic Acceleration. Designed by Terence McCarthy and sponsored by Florida Senator Morris Forgash, the bank would have been a more truly development-oriented institution to guide foreign development to create balanced economies self-sufficient in food and other essentials. The proposal was opposed by U.S. interests on the ground that countries pursuing land reform tended to be anti-American. More to the point, they would have avoided trade and financial dependency on U.S. suppliers and banks, and hence on U.S. trade and financial sanctions to prevent them from following policies at odds with U.S. diplomatic demands.

[5] Don Weinland, “WTO rules against US in tariff dispute with China,” Financial Times, July 17, 2019.

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The surprising benefits of journaling for 15 minutes a day—and 7 prompts to get you started – 25 July 2019

Flowers in July

If you’re like most people, you’ll only write down what you absolutely need to, like to-do lists, meeting notes and reminders. But writing in your journal as a way to release and express your thoughts, feelings and emotions can be a life-changing habit.

Daily writing can be a challenge if you’re new to it. Much like meditating, it requires patience and commitment. But if you stick to it, it can improve your life in significant ways.

The surprising benefits of journaling

1. It can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings

Keeping a journal allows you to track patterns, trends and improvements over time. When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you can look back on previous dilemmas that you have since resolved and learn from them.

You might also encounter moments where you feel confused and uncertain about your feelings. By writing them down, you’re able to tap into your internal world and better make sense of things.

Anne Nelson, an acclaimed journalist and author of the forthcoming book, “Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right,” says she’s often asked whether she suffers when writing on fraught subjects. Her answer is always no.

“What I feel is a deep satisfaction when I get it right,” she said. “It’s the feeling when I’ve explained something in writing that I couldn’t explain to myself before I started.”

2. It can help your injuries heal faster

It may sound a little crazy, but a 2013 study found that 76% of adults who spend 50 to 20 minutes writing about their thoughts and feelings for three consecutive days two weeks before a medically necessary biopsy were fully healed 11 days after. Meanwhile, 58% of the control group had not fully recovered.

“We think writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress, thus helping the body to heal faster,” Elizabeth Broadbent, professor of medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and co-author of the study, said in an interview with Scientific American.

3. It can improve your problem-solving skills

When you encounter a difficult problem, removing the situation from your mind and putting it down on paper encourages you to look at things from different angles and brainstorm several solutions in a more organized manner.

A classic 1985 study from the School Science and Mathematics Association, for example, found that students who wrote about their math problems in a journal (e.g., describing the problem and writing about how they came up with the answer) had significantly improved test scores over time.

4. It can help you recover from traumatic experiences

There are no rules as to how or what you must write about. Creative writing, such as fiction or poetry, can also be a form of journaling — and it can help you move past traumatic experiences.

Writing creatively allows you to craft a coherent narrative and shifting perspective, according to Jessica Lourey, a tenured writing professor, sociologist and author of 15 books, including “Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction.”

What I feel is a deep satisfaction when I get it right. It’s the feeling when I’ve explained something in writing that I couldn’t explain to myself before I started.

After the loss of her husband, Lourey, Anne Nelson said she couldn’t survive reliving the pain of the tragedy by writing down her thoughts and emotions. “I needed to convert it, package it and ship it off,” she wrote in a column for Psychology Today. Rewriting her life to fit a fictional narrative helped her heal faster because it allowed her to become “a spectator to life’s roughest seas.”

Journalist and novelist Leila Cobo agrees. Writing fiction has helped her so much that it’s now become a daily routine. “It allows me to say anything in any way that I wish. It’s the most amazing feeling,” she said. “I write either early in the morning or late at night. And once I’m in, I’m in.”

How to get started

While some can write for hours at a time, researchers say that journaling for at least 15 minutes a day three to five times a week can significantly improve your physical and mental health.

If you’re new to journaling, the easiest way to begin is to find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed and just start writing. (Don’t worry about spelling or grammar; you’re writing for yourself and no one else.)

If you don’t know what to write about, here are some ideas:

  1. Write about something (or someone) extremely important to you.
  2. Write about three things you’re grateful for today — and why.
  3. Write about what advice you’d give to your younger self.
  4. Write about a current challenge you’re struggling with and possible solutions.
  5. Write about 10 things you wish people knew about you.
  6. Write about one thing you did this year that you’re proud of.
  7. Write about 10 things you’d say yes to and 10 things you’d say no to

Goodbye, Alan Moore: the king of comic books bows out – by Sam Thielman (Guardian) 18 July 2019

The pioneer of serious superheroes – who is retiring – has transformed the genre over 40 years of rebellious invention

Deconstruction of the superhero myth … Alan Moore.
Deconstruction of the superhero myth … Alan Moore.

One of the most significant fiction writers in English is retiring, to the greatest fanfare of his singular and titanically influential career. Alan Moore has promised that the (extremely late) final issue of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will be his last comic, and his final contribution to an art form he utterly transformed, sometimes to his chagrin. His work in the 1980s on Miracleman, a deconstruction of the superhero myth, inspired so many imitators to darken formerly kid-friendly heroes that Moore has apologised more than once for it.

A brainy pop writer whose style veers between Stephen King and John le Carré, Moore’s influence can be felt everywhere – in our literature, on our screens, in our politics. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, quoted Watchmen’s Rorschach on Twitter, in response to reports that she was agitating the Democrats. (“I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.”) Writers as diverse as China Miéville and Ta-Nehisi Coates have cited him as inspiration. HBO’s great post-Game of Thrones hope is yet another adaptation of Moore’s most popular book, Watchmen, which (co-authored with illustrator Dave Gibbons) has sold millions of copies since it was first published in 1987. He’s played himself on The Simpsons, seen his work adapted into a number of films – none very good – and even inspired an activist collective: the Anonymous group wear Guy Fawkes masks as a tribute to V, the anarchist hero of Moore’s and illustrator David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta.

Moore draws very rarely, instead he writes comics scripts, and at punishing length. Those can run to hundreds of pages, describing every layer of background and every tertiary character. The scripts themselves, occasionally enclosed in deluxe editions of his work, are as detailed as David Foster Wallace novels. Describing Batman’s home city to artist Brian Bolland in the script for The Killing Joke, Moore wrote: “The lower and seedier levels of Gotham are more inclined towards a territory somewhere between David Lynch and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, all patches of rust and mould and hissing steam and damp, glistening alleyways. I imagine this strip as having an oppressively dark film noir feel to it, with a lot of unpleasantly tangible textures, such as you habitually render so delightfully, to give the whole thing a really intense feeling of palpable unease and craziness.” And Moore’s collaborators have always risen to his challenges, turning this overwriting into eye-popping set pieces.

Before Moore, and the likes of Frank Miller, Dave Sim and the Hernandez brothers, the idea that serialised comics could amount to literature was laughable, and that adults could enjoy them without irony creepy. But Moore has had a preternatural grasp of the intricacies of a genre – superheroes – widely considered to be devoid of them.

The Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke

He asked troubling questions of superheroes, who had always appeared in stories that retroactively rewrote themselves and seemed to go on forever. Where was the end of these stories? Had we fully understood their beginnings? Was heroism even possible? The fates of silly costumed heroes became urgent in his hands: Krypto the Super-Dog, the shambling bog-monster Swamp Thing, a kid flying ace named Jetlad – each of these characters has moved me to tears.

Moore can be tiresome – his digressions into the minutiae of Kabbalah in his Wonder Woman-style fantasy comic Promethea are insufferable – but he could also be delightful. Top 10, his affectionate send-up of cop shows, was a riot of sight gags, rendered by artists Gene Ha and Zander Cannon. Parody and melodrama keep close company in his work, especially in what is arguably his masterpiece: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, created with the brilliant artist Kevin O’Neill. One character murders another with his magic penis at one point. It’s quite moving.

This lurid streak can make Moore a tough sell. One Swamp Thing features an issue-length sex scene in which one participant is a plant; yet the books’ central relationship hinges on the idea that Swamp Thing is the best man a woman could hope for, despite – or perhaps because of – his plant-ness.

Anonymous protestors at a demonstration in Paris, 2011.

Moore as the saviour of superheroes is ironic in many ways. For one, his work suggests that they are at best feckless and at worst possibly fascis. For another, the process of working with DC Comics, which published his work during his two great fertile periods in the mid-80s and late 90s, so embittered him to the industry that he has often repudiated his own work on corporate superheroes, just as it acquired pop cultural success: video games, action figures, spin-offs. Recently asked about the real-world political influence of V for Vendetta, he was characteristically blunt: “From my position, if I have had one of my ideas stolen from me and turned into yet another cash-generator for some abhuman corporation, then if it has at least escaped into the wild sufficiently to be of some symbolic use to today’s protest movements, that makes me feel a lot better about having written it in the first place.”

At the heart of this antipathy is DC’s hold on the legal rights to his co-creations Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Moore and Gibbons were promised that all rights would return to them when Watchmen went out of print, but it never did. Gibbons accidentally predicted what would happen in this arrangement back in 1986. “What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that, but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think they’d do that,” he told Neil Gaiman in a public interview preserved by the Comics Journal.

Moore never got his rights back and DC has spent many years revisiting Watchmen with lucrative anniversary editions, prequels, a movie, the forthcoming TV series and indeed Watchmen II, called Doomsday Clock, a work in progress with script and art by a different creative team. This will merge the fictional world Gibbons and Moore created with the universe shared by Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern.

Moore’s efforts outside superheroics, such as From Hell, Lost Girls and A Small Killing, are often cited as proof of his literary worth. But his greatest contribution to English letters isn’t found in his additions to the growing canon of respectable graphic novels – a term Moore has said was invented to allow adults to “validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal”. It’s in his dazzling, quixotic overwriting, applied to trashy genre fiction with an ironic, but never cynical quality. This worked wonders on uncomplicated planet-tossers like Superman and Captain Marvel. And when he leaves behind the superhero hijinks, a lot of the fun leaves the writing along with them. Don’t get me wrong, the highbrow books are still brilliant; they’re simply not as enjoyable as the pulpy stuff.

Many fans have been left in the awkward position of liking Moore’s superhero comics a good deal more than he does himself. When Miracleman delivers his baby girl and turns his face toward the reader, his eyes abrim with tears, and his internal monologue proclaims, “These are the moments when we are real”, I have always agreed, despite the narrator’s being clad in a blue leotard.

Moore would be the first to tell you that seriousness isn’t always a virtue, but his was thoroughly transformative. And for many readers, myself among them, it was a great relief to be taken seriously as a reader of something supposedly sub-literate and stupid, to be treated with intelligence and care, and to be introduced to Moore’s rebellious brand of morality: his passionate feminism, his suspicion of authority and wealth, his love of normal people and veneration of togetherness, especially in the face of the hopelessness of the real world. His gifts for cruelty and horror inspired undistinguished competitors to enter the field, but his unexpected gentleness was what kept readers coming back to him.

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22 Books That Expand Minds and Change The Way People Live – by Darius Foroux

For the past few years, I’ve formed a habit of asking everyone for book recommendations. It’s one of the habits that has truly changed my life.

Reading is my favorite way to develop my mind because it’s the most effective way to learn something. But not every book changes the way you think. Francis Bacon said it best:

To me, expanding your mind means that a book had an impact on the way I look at the world.

And after serious thought, I came up with the following 22 books that caused a real shift in the way I think. I hope they expand your mind too.

1. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl

I still think about this book almost daily, years after I first read it. What happened to millions of Jews 70 years ago, is truly horrific. We forget that it was only a few decades ago. Not centuries. And Victor Frankl’s account of his experience in concentration camps is almost superhuman. His philosophy and perspective on life should be cherished and passed on forever. Read this book.

2. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau started my ‘thinking about life’ journey ten years ago. I remember how I discovered his writings — through the movie Into The Wild. The movie (released in 2007) was based on a Jon Krakauer book with the same title about Christopher McCandless, a young and naïve idealist who wanted to live a simple life. McCandless’s story is sad. But his biggest inspiration was Thoreau. And since Thoreau isn’t recommended reading in school in The Netherlands, I decided to pick it up by myself (and the Jon Krakauer book too). I haven’t stopped thinking, reflecting, and living more consciously ever since.

3. The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

We make a lot of decisions in our life. How many of those decisions are rational? If you ask Dobelli, very little. This book is an excellent collection of 99 thinking errors — from cognitive biases to social distortions. This is the most practical book I’ve read on decision making.

4. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book lives up to its hype. You will change the way you think after reading Kahneman’s book. It’s a summary of his most important findings ever since he started as a cognitive psychologist in 1961. I think it’s one of the most important books that’s published in recent years.

5. The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Self-control is the number one skill that helped me through my college years. And this practical book inspired me to bring my willpower to the next level. McGonigal writes in a down-to-earth manner that inspires you to take action.

6. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Your ability to enjoy your work not only determines work satisfaction, but it also impacts how good you become at something. Flow is one of those books I think about every day. Getting in a flow state is something that actually changes the way you work and experience life.

7. The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman

Who knew that knowledge about human evolution could change the way you live? At least, that’s what happened to me. To truly understand your body, you have to know how it evolved. You’ll appreciate it more after reading this book — I can tell you that.

8. Spark by John Ratey

I’m a big believer in daily exercise. To me, it’s as important as breathing. John Ratey’s book inspired me to include daily exercise into my life. And I can’t tell you enough how significant the impact has been on my productivity, confidence, health, happiness, and overall enjoyment of life.

9. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

I don’t agree with all the hype of this book being the best book of all time. It is, however, a great summary of human history and evolutionary psychology. And, most importantly, it reads beautifully.

10. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

A novel about a young, nameless black man, as he moves through life invisible, “‘simply because people refuse to see me.” Is the book fact or fiction? Doesn’t matter because it paints the picture from one person’s perspective on race—that’s what matters. The book is published in 1952 but still seems current after all those years. Life is about understanding others. This book will help you do that.

11. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

This classic book teaches you the science of persuasion. And it’s full of research and anecdotes that will change the way you look at life, relationships, business, and people’s intentions.

12. Quiet by Susan Cain

Most introverts don’t even know they are introverts. Quiet is a book about knowing yourself. And that simple skill can change the outcome of your life. It comes down to this: Don’t try to be something you’re not.

13. When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub

One of the most entertaining life stories I’ve read. Weintraub is a Hollywood legend. He’s someone who genuinely thought different from the rest of his industry. And this book inspires you to be more practical, hard-nosed, and persuasive.

14. The Greatest Salesman In The World by Og Mandino

If you’re looking for a hardcore self-help book, look no further. If you read this book the way Og Mandino instructs, it will change your life.

15. Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Making decisions is one of the most mentally draining things you have to do daily. This book changed the way I look at options: Less is better.

16. The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Forming new habits is a practical skill that immediately impacts the quality of your life. Want to lose weight? Be more productive? Exercise regularly? Build successful companies? One thing is sure: Without habits, those things will be extremely difficult to pull off.

17. Daily rituals by Mason Currey

A unique insight into the habits and rituals of the world’s most renown figures. You’ll be surprised how simple their lives were.

18. Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher

Most people are afraid of negotiation. That’s an entirely unjust feeling. It’s actually fun to negotiate. And you should do it more often. Who doesn’t want to pay less and earn more?

19. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told To Alex Haley

To me, Malcolm X is the real symbol of a self-made man. It has nothing to do with money or fame. You make yourself by expanding your mind. That’s what Malcolm X did in prison. Hands down, the best biography I’ve ever read.

20. The Moral Animal by Robert Wright

You can’t put human behavior into perspective without knowing more about our evolution. It’s a little depressing. But so is life. Study it, instead of getting sad by it. As a result, you’ll be more understanding towards people and yourself.

21. Mastery by Robert Greene

The ultimate guide to becoming good at what you do. This book is not only a playbook for mastery, but it’s also a collection of biographies of great historical figures.

22. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Multiple readers recommended this book to me. Bird by Bird is about more than writing. If it doesn’t make you a better writer (which I doubt), it will make you a better person.

Like I’ve said before, I hope you pick up one of these books and that they will change the way you think. And don’t let the money hold you back.

One of my friends recently told me that he had bought a 4K television. But when I told him a year ago to read a few of the books listed above, he answered: “Books are way too expensive.”

This reminded me of something my mentor once said when I complained about the cost of education:

“Ignorance costs you more than you’ll ever know.”

Essential Reading for Young Adventurers – by Brian Kevin

kids-adventure-canon_h.jpg

Here are 15 of the best kids’ adventure stories ever written. Photo by Paul Edmondson/Stocksy.

 

You remember the book that did it for you, the book you found on a library field trip that—pow!—suddenly put you right freaking there at that storm-battered base camp or on that threadbare raft as it was pummeled by waves. For me, it was The Sign of the Beaver. I was nine years old and otherwise devoted to my Nintendo. But after a few chapters of Elizabeth George Speare’s young-adult survival saga, I was suddenly spearfishing and fending off rampaging black bears in the woods of 18th-century Maine. I wrote the author my first-ever fan letter and grabbed my Scholastic Book Club catalog, jonesing for another fix.

These 15 books elicit that level of enthusiasm. We think they’re the best kids’ adventure stories ever written—and every single one deserves a place on the shelf of adventurers-in-training.

Andrea Davis Pinkney

15. ‘Peggony-Po: A Whale of a Tale’

By Andrea Davis Pinkney; illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Grades K–3

The tall tale of Peggony-Po—a fearless boy carved from driftwood who crews aboard an 18th-century whaling ship—draws inevitable comparisons to Pinocchio and Moby-Dick. But Ahab never harnessed his white whale and rode it around the world, like Peggony-Po does with the monster who took his father’s leg. And Geppetto had nothing on Peggony-Po’s dad, Galleon Keene, a tough black whaler from an era when Americans of all races served side by side at sea. Spoiler alert: this one’s not for PETA types, as the leviathan antagonist eventually becomes whale steaks and scrimshaw.

Mary Pop Osborne

14. ‘Magic Tree House: High Tide in Hawaii’

By Mary Pope Osborne

Grades 3–5

Arthurian wizardess Morgan Le Fay sends a bookish bro and sis on a (really long—55 books and counting) series of time-traveling quests. The entire series is almost required binge reading for youngsters, but a fun start is #28, which lands them in precontact Hawaii. The siblings get up on alaia boards, practice the hula, and escape a tsunami. Osborne fudges some details about Hawaiian culture, but in stressing the strength of friendships formed outdoors, she nails the aloha spirit.

HarperCollins

13. ‘Little House in the Big Woods’

By Laura Ingalls Wilder

Grades 6–8

This is the first and best of the Little House books that introduced generations of kids to pioneer life. Laura and her family carve out a life in the woods of western Wisconsin, while occasionally fending off bears, panthers, and wolves. Laura goes on to be quite the backwoods badass, but the real hero of book one is Charles “Pa” Ingalls. An expert hunter, woodcarver, fiddle player, and storyteller, he’s been setting the bar impossibly high for dads since Big Woods hit shelves in 1932.

Scott O’Dell

12. ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’

By Scott O’Dell

Grades 4–7

A survival tale with a truly epic sweep, Island of the Blue Dolphins was inspired by the tale of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, the last surviving member of the Nicoleño tribe who lived for nearly two decades on one of California’s Channel Islands before being discovered in 1853. O’Dell’s story of Karana—who becomes a resourceful hunter, forager, and tamer of feral dogs—reads as fresh as it did when it won a Newbery Medal in 1961. The prolific O’Dell also wrote The Black Pearl (1967), a moral fable of a young pearl diver, which would find a spot on a longer version of this list.

Tanglewood

11. ‘Yes, Let’s’

By Galen Goodwin Longstreth; illustrated by Maris Wicks

Grades K–3

Get up early. Grab boots and backpacks. Drive to the nearest trailhead and spend the day goofing off with your kids, preferably near water. Get milkshakes on the way home. This underrated illustrated ode to the day hike is an easy read for elementary school kids or a read-along for the younger set—but it’s also a weekend instructional for moms and dads. Bonus: If you dig the art, graduate to Primates, a comic biography of primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas that’s a collaboration between illustrator Wicks and fellow science-obsessed graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani.

Random House

10. ‘The Lorax’

By Dr. Seuss

Grades K–Adult

Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss himself, once told a biographer that The Lorax was his favorite work. The explicitly environmental parable finds a wizened, Wilford Brimley–looking wood sprite squaring off against a greedy developer. As Seuss’s characteristically colorful and fuzzy truffula forest gets trashed to make cheapy apparel called thneeds, grown-ups wearing microfiber-shedding fleece laugh nervously.

Mariner Books

9. ‘The Little Prince’

By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Grades 6–12

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s poetic saga of a stranded aviator and his adolescent extraterrestrial pal is the nearest thing to a 20th-century fairy-tale masterpiece. On the surface, it’s a desert survival story with space exploration interludes. But then it hits with insights like this: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The book is actually a series of unfolding parables about adulthood and human relationships—lessons young readers will unpack years after reading.

Elizabeth George Speare

8. ‘The Sign of the Beaver’

By Elizabeth George Speare

Grades 3–5

When his father is delayed on a trip to the colonies, the adolescent son of white settlers is left to fend for himself in the woods of 18th-century Maine. He gets by with the help and generosity of nearby members of the Penobscot tribe, gradually befriending a capable boy his own age—and trying to win respect as he learns their ways. The Penobscot characters’ pidgin English is cringeworthy, like old Hollywood portrayals of Native Americans—and the word “squaw” pops up more than it should—but the overall message is one of cross-cultural empathy and respect.

Scholastic Books

7. ‘Paint the Wind’

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Grades 3–7

An orphaned girl trades upper-crust Los Angeles for the high, wild Wyoming ranch country where her mother was raised. The book trades perspectives between 11-year-old Maya and Artemisia, the now wild horse Maya’s mother once rode. Things get harrowing when an earthquake strands the duo in the backcountry. It’s more than just a fish-out-of-water tale—throughout, Muñoz asks the question: What does it mean to be tamed, wild, or free?

HarperCollins

6. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

By Maurice Sendak

Grades pre K–4

Who, after a hard day, hasn’t wanted to sail away to a jungle island, don a costume and crown, and enjoy a few days of bacchanalian ruckus? Maurice Sendak’s lusciously illustrated classic is often invoked among the best picture books of all time, thanks to his rendering of the animalistic wild things (which are simultaneously cute and menacing) and his suggestion that sometimes an adventure’s best course leads back home. Some schools and libraries pulled the book off shelves after its 1964 publication, fearing Max’s feral rebellion among the wild things was too subversive for kids. We’re all for it.

Puffin Books

5. ‘My Side of the Mountain’

By Jean Craighead George

Grades 3–5

This book could also be called I Was a Teenage Hermit! Fed up with his claustrophobic life in 1950s New York City, Sam Gribley ditches his parents’ apartment and bugs out for an old family plot in the Catskills. Sam’s detailed account of self-taught homesteading makes it sound easy (read a library book on falconry, steal a chick, and suddenly you have the coolest pet an off-the-grid teen could ask for). But his internal monologue about the benefits of companionship and culture versus solitude and self-sufficiency make this book a classic. Be warned: two sequels, published 31 and 40 years later, respectively, do not hold up to the original.

Amulet Books

4. ‘Heart of a Samurai’

By Margi Preus

Grades 5–8

It starts with the desert-island shipwreck of a Japanese fishing vessel. Then the action moves to an American whaling ship. Then the California gold rush. Followed by a mutiny at sea. Margi Preus adapts the real-life story of Nakahama Manjirō, one of the few 19th-century Japanese citizens to visit the West, into a Newbery Honor–winning adventure tale that’s a hymn to the spirit of exploration.

Harcourt

3. ‘Peak’

By Roland Smith

Grades 6–9

Fourteen-year-old Peak is a New York City hood-rat graffiti artist with a knack for scaling buildings. His estranged dad is a climbing bum (hence his son’s name) who’d like to see Peak become the youngest person to summit Everest—and who’d also like the publicity and profits the stunt would bring his guide company. Smith’s characters are complex and relatable, he gets Everest Base Camp culture mostly right, and Peak’s eventual epiphany about the value of a summit bid is worth his 29,000 feet of effort. As Peak’s Sherpa pal warns him, “You can never tell who the mountain will allow and who it will not.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

2. ‘The Hobbit’

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Grades 6–12

Long before Hollywood cashed in with an overblown blockbuster trilogy—and years before J.R.R. Tolkien fleshed out Middle Earth to epic proportions in The Lord of the Rings—there was The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, a winding, mythic, impossibly charming adventure yarn starring one of YA lit’s best-ever protagonists. Likable homebody Bilbo Baggins shares anxieties about his limitations with many of his young readers. Like them, he’ll discover his capacity for courage, curiosity, and friendship only when he shoulders his pack and heads into the mountains and woods.

Simon & Schuster

1. ‘Hatchet’

By Gary Paulsen

Grades 5–8

A 1987 Newbery Honor winner and bestseller, Gary Paulsen’s quintessential young-adult survival novel finds somber 13-year-old Brian Robeson surviving a plane crash and hacking out a living for two months in the Canadian bush. His only tool? A hatchet he’s never wielded. The trick of any survival story—never mind one written for kids—is to render failure and slow progress in a way that feels authentic but not dull. Paulsen’s terse sentences and Brian’s pensive inner monologue (on top of it all, he knows his mom is having an affair) keep things moving. From Brian’s fantasies about food to his mantra-like repetition of his survival strategies to the abruptness of his rescue, Hatchet simply rings true. Lest we forget these words to live by: “You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”

Craigslist’s Craig Newmark: ‘Outrage is profitable. Most online outrage is faked for profit’ – by David Smith (Guardian) 14 July 2019

As the Craig in Craigslist, the free online noticeboard that changed everything, Craig Newmark can surely get his hands on just about anything. His new home in Greenwich Village, New York, contains everything from an ancient Roman mosaic to 18th-century British portraits to Simpsons figurines to artworks by his beloved Leonard Cohen. But something is missing. Something vital.

“We’re low on bird seed now,” Newmark observes anxiously. “That’s a crisis.”

The scale and scope of the crisis become evident when you understand Newmark’s ornithological obsession. During an hour-long conversation, his eye keeps wandering to the small garden where mourning doves, house sparrows, cardinals, blue jays and “a hopefully limited number of pigeons” come and go. Just last night he installed a webcam so he can watch them all remotely. For good measure, there are numerous photos of birds on the walls and a papier-mache model, made by his 11-year-old nephew.

“I love birds for reasons unknown,” Newmark says. “We’re observing that the doves are not that nice to each other and we also see them fighting with the sparrows. The sparrows are much smaller, but the more aggressive sparrows can chase off a much larger dove. So I’ve named them Cersei and Daenerys.”

It may be that Newmark feels more comfortable around feathered friends than the human variety. He is a self-declared “nerd of the old school, 1950s style”, squirrel watcher and sci-fi fan who, sitting in a jacket, trousers and slippers, cheerfully admits he is “simulating” social skills. He is a computer geek who checks email obsessively and in 1995 founded Craigslist – which is, with about 50bn page views a month, one of the world’s most popular websites. Now 66, he is a survivor of the age of internet idealism, before fake news and perpetual outrage cast long shadows.

But he is also a divisive figure. Some express gratitude to Craigslist for life-changing opportunities to find a spouse or a job. Others condemn it for gutting the classified advertising market and accelerating the demise of local newspapers. This ambivalence was captured by a New York Times headline last October that described Newmark as a “newspaper villain” and another last month that called him a “new friend to journalism”. The latter referred to Newmark’s latest act of philanthropy, a $6m (£4.8m) gift to Consumer Reports – the biggest donation in the 83-year history of the nonprofit watchdogthat will be used to set up a digital division to scrutinise products and platforms, including social media.

“I’m mostly concerned about the way social media platforms can be weaponised, that they sometimes forget to provide informed consent regarding the uses of your personal data,” he explains. “I do feel that any site should tell you what it would like to collect and what it would like to share with others and then ask your permission.”

The political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which harvested the data of up to 87 million Facebook users during the 2016 US presidential election, is one such example, he says. However, Newmark, who has met Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, but does not know him well, declines to criticise him or suggest Zuckerberg has created a monster.

“I have no idea what he’s done personally. I focus on how we all work on this together. It’s all hands on deck. People need to enlist much like in the US after the attack [on Pearl Harbor] in December of 1941, much like people during the Battle of Britain. There are foreign adversaries who’ve come out, published their public statements and say that they’re at war with us.”

Victory is unlikely to be as clear as in the second world war, however. “The measure of success would be that I would be able to choose from a high number of publications wherein I know that I can trust everything they say with the occasional mistake, which they will then fix. Because news is hard; you’re going to make mistakes, then you correct them and Bob’s your uncle.”

Newmark, who has previously observed “a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy”, prefers not to use the term “fake news” – perhaps it has been tainted for ever by Donald Trump. He reasons: “Some people have said fake news is news that I don’t like, so I will talk about misinformation or disinformation and that is often either false news or false witness, either weaponised information or just carelessness.

Craigslist ... classified information.

“If it’s carelessness, you can tell someone: ‘Hey, you got it wrong; here’s the evidence.’ If it’s disinformation, they don’t care, they will just publish it again. Meanwhile, when you point out the problem, they might decide that you’re a target for harassment.”

There is an entire ecosystem at work, he continues, that can enable a falsehood from the obscure reaches of the web to jump on to millions of TV screens with dizzying speed. “It’s a small amount of disinformation originating in some of the social media platforms used by foreign adversaries and their domestic allies. They get amplified: there’s multiple levels including conspiracy sites, then news sites which don’t care about fact-checking. And then once that becomes news, sometimes that emerges into conventional or mainstream media.”

How can it be stopped? “People in mainstream media can just do things like fact-checking. They could avoid giving airtime or space to people they know routinely disinform and they can just avoid amplifying disinformation.” The new journalism centres he is funding are considering whether journalistic ethics codes should explicitly say: “Don’t amplify this information.”

If this sounds like a swipe at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Newmark ducks an invitation to be critical. He is similarly circumspect when asked if tech giants should be broken up, if the existence of billionaires is unethical (he is a mere millionaire) or whether the decline of local journalism contributed to the ascent of Trump. “I don’t know,” is his default response.

Speaking of the president, Newmark, who has donated to Democratic presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, gives an unorthodox answer when asked what he thinks of his term in office so far. “He’s been very effective in terms of getting elected.” He pauses. “I am very passionate about understatement. I know the British practise that. I learned little by little. For example, I spent some time in Edinburgh last year and I now really like haggis. I’ve also acquired a taste for Scotch whisky. I understand the English do not drink very much. I am still a very light drinker, but I want to not exceed the delicate sensibilities.”

Newmark embraces his nerdiness. After university, he worked for the computer giant IBM. He also took ballet and jazz dance classes in an attempt to meet women, but suffered a hernia and was hospitalised. Aged 40, he took a programming job with the financial firm Charles Schwab and moved from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, then switched to more lucrative freelance work.

In 1995, he began sending out an email list of events to a dozen friends. As word spread, the group expanded. Before long, the list included job vacancies and places to rent. Soon, Craigslist ruled the world. Looking back now, would he have done anything differently?

“In that time frame, probably not because I got lucky. For example, when the mailing list I was running needed to have a name – I’m very literal as a nerd; I was gonna call it San Francisco Events – people around me told me they already called it Craigslist. I had inadvertently created a brand.”

But in a portent of the wider web’s dark side, it has been abused by criminals. In 2007, for example, a woman from Minneapolis pleaded guilty to using its personal ads to run an underage prostitution ring. Last year, Craigslist took down its personals section after Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, designed to crack down on sex trafficking of children, which could have made the site liable to prosecution when its users broke the law.

Newmark could have sold Craigslist for a huge fortune and joined the Silicon Valley super-elite, yet never considered making a quick profit; the site itself remains defiantly basic and unadorned by banner ads. While his home in New York, a former stable dating back to 1848, is certainly swanky and he has another place in San Francisco, Newmark no longer owns a car but prefers to travel in taxis and on public transport.

“When I had to make Craigslist from a hobby into a real company, I decided, given what I learned in Sunday school, I should monetise it minimally. The business model being: doing well by doing good. That’s a lesson from [his teachers] Mr and Mrs Levin in Sunday school: you should know when enough is enough. In more current terms, it’s no one needs a billion dollars. Also, in very pragmatic terms, take less and give more, so I’m in the process of doing that with forthcoming announcements.”

Newmark, who married Eileen Whelpley in 2012, adds: “The deal is I live comfortably. I’m helping my family and some friends live comfortably. That ain’t bad. I can afford to have a garden out there with birds. Children are not a consideration, but we do have 21 nephews and nieces; No 22 is under construction. We’re looking forward to their launch party.”

And yet there is a persistent, widespread view that Newmark’s humble-looking site destroyed classified advertising, one of the newspaper industry’s most valuable cash cows. Last October’s New York Times article – the one that called him a “villain” – stated: “Researchers eventually estimated that Craigslist had drained $5bn from American newspapers over a seven-year period. In the Bay Area, the media was especially hard hit.”

The decline is continuing and even accelerating. The US media is reportedly facing its worst job losses in a decade with about 3,000 people laid off or offered redundancy in the first five months of this year. Last month, the Vindicator, the sole daily newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio, announced that it was closing after 150 years. “News deserts” are spreading across the US with alarming implications for democracy.

Newmark says: “I feel very strongly about the issue because journalists lose jobs and that’s accelerated this year. But in the last two or three years, I found economists and industry analysts [who have looked] at the numbers – they adjust for inflation, household growth and all that – and they say that there’s two things that happened in the early 50s, one of which was TV news, and from there [we have seen] a straight-line decline in newspaper circulation revenues, accelerated 10 years ago by the advent of the platforms.

“Now, my gut tells me that Craigslist must have had some effect, but apparently it’s pretty tiny. Mostly it’s just the effect of TV news. Now the other event that happened in the early 50s was my birth but, barring any mention of the book of Revelation, I don’t think I’ve had any effect of any sort.”

So does he think he is unfairly demonised by some journalists and does that rankle? “I can’t fault them for not getting around to doing the fact-checking. You know people are busy and a lot of people in journalism have been told by their managers that fact-checking may not be critical.”

When the City University of New York (CUNY) named its graduate school of journalism after Newmark following a $20m donation, there was a backlash. Felix Salmon, the chief financial correspondent at the Axios website, tweeted: “It’s utterly bizarre to name a journalism school after the man who almost single-handedly destroyed local newspapers.”

How does that make Newmark feel? “I do wonder why he hasn’t talked to the economists or industry analysts involved,” he says, android-like, before pivoting to a paean for CUNY’s work in giving a break to people from different ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds and boosting diversity in newsrooms.

Thus he firmly rejects any notion that all the philanthropy – an estimated $50m in the past year including to New York Public Radio, new publication the Markup and local journalism efforts such as the American Journalism Project – is an attempt to assuage guilt, a reach for atonement. “That takes an active imagination that I don’t understand. I have very little imagination.”

The ascent of Craigslist, Wikipedia and others also led some to predict that user-generated content would conquer all, providing the ultimate expression of grassroots democracy. To the storied newsrooms of the US, it was a naive and dangerous fantasy.

Newmark in 2006.

Newmark, by his own admission not a journalist, says: “I had great hopes for citizen journalism 10, 15 years ago. It hasn’t worked out. One reason is that journalism is a profession. You have to know how to write well. You have to fact-check. You have to know how to develop sources, often over years. You have to have specialised knowledge on a beat like disinformation or crime or birds. Citizen journalists can complement what’s going on and, sometimes, citizens come to journalism with skills.

“I was way over-optimistic because I didn’t realise the need for professionalism in the manner that I talked about. Now I think more: what are the practical problems of professional journalism? For example, we’ve seen a couple of cases where bad actors will try to really hurt a publication by engaging in lengthy, frivolous lawsuits. There is a great need for shared risk pool insurance, media insurance in the US, and I talk to people about that.”

Newmark denies, however, that he was pollyannaish about the web itself, even after the much-publicised bile, poison and rancour of the 2016 presidential election and what some now call a cold civil war in the US. Social media fights, he insists, get attention but are not representative of what is really going on. Much of it is manufactured.

“Americans are much more reasonable and moderate than what you might guess when you see a little Twitter war. But I’m guessing that the purpose of many Twitter wars is to polarise people and, in fact, we’ve seen that happen because you can often trace some of the fighting groups to the same location. Outrage is profitable. Most of the outrage I’ve seen in the online world – I would guess 80% – someone’s faking it for profit.”

After 24 years at Craigslist, often dealing with customers directly, Newmark reflects: “When you’re looking at tens or hundreds of ads in a day you get a better grasp of what people are really like than the more dramatic flare-ups. So that’s the basis for my optimism.”

Indeed, he remains convinced that the internet is still a positive for humanity. “It allows people of goodwill to get together and work together for common good. Bad actors are much louder, they make for more sensational news and we’re seeing a period of that now. The US, in a way, is lucky. Bad actors interfering with our elections may have had some success but their success is not complete and it means that people of goodwill are fighting back vigorously.

“I play a microscopic role in that. I find the people who do the real work and then I help fund them, I get them to talk with each other, and I’m funnier than they are. I remind myself that a nerd’s got to do what a nerd’s got to do and that’s my driving slogan. In my gut, that incorporates the notions of treating people like you want to be treated.”

How, then, would he like to be remembered? He considers for a moment before stepping outside to see the birds. “As a nerd that stayed true to his nerditude,” he says. “And that I knew that I wasn’t as funny as I think I am.”

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Califorinia: The Discreet Arms of the Bourgeoisie – Police Raid Bel Air Mansion With Enough Guns and Ammo For Rich Man’s Militia – by By James Tweedie and Rod Ardehali (Dailymail.com) 9 May 2019

The Bel Air mansion where federal agents found more than 1,000 guns thought to be worth several million dollars belongs to the former mistress of oil fortune heir Gordon Getty, with whom she had a secret family. 

According to court records, the $7million, five-bedroom property comprising 8,200 sq-ft belongs to Getty’s former mistress Cynthia Beck, whose 14-year-long secret relationship with the wealthy scion was exposed in 1999.

Getty, whose $2billion fortune makes him one of the world’s wealthiest men, conducted the illicit affair with Beck behind his wife Ann’s back and fathered three daughters – Alexandra, Nicolette and Kendalle – in the process. 

One man was arrested at the scene, 57-year-old Girard Damien Saenz, who was taken to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department before being released on $50,000 bond Wednesday morning. Beck and Saenz are long time companions who own several properties together, according to public records. 

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(Some of the thousands of guns that BATF agents found on Wednesday at the Bel Air mansion owned by Gordon Getty’s former mistress Cynthia Beck. Authorities discovered the weapons stash after obtaining a search warrant for the $7million home in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles)

LAPD officials say they are still working through the enormous weapon and ammunition haul, which ranges from modern firearms to antique Civil War rifles as well as shotguns, handguns and even weapon manufacturing equipment.

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Saenz faces unlawful transportation, giving, lending or selling assault weapon charges and more federal charges could be added as officers continue to process the huge cache of weapons. 

Authorities discovered the hoard while serving a search warrant at the home in the 100 block of North Beverly Glen Boulevard at 4am on Wednesday.

(Girard Damien Saenz, 57, was arrested at the scene by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He was released on $50,000 bond on Wednesday morning)

 

Among the thousands of firearms are modern automated rifles plus pistols and Civil War-era antique weaponry.  

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‘I had never seen so many weapons in my career of 31 years,’ said LAPD Lt Chris Ramirez. ‘That’s such a big arsenal in a residence like this, in this type of neighborhood. It’s astounding.’ 

The officer added that it is not illegal for someone to own a large collection of firearms, however, he said it is illegal to sell weapons from one’s home without adhering to the strictly regulated state and federal processes. 

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Miss Beck, who is in her sixties, does not live in the mansion where the thousands of assault rifles were seized – which is thought to be part of a large property portfolio purchased for her by Getty during their relationship.

She is believed to lead a reclusive life in Europe and very few photos of her exist. 

‘Nicolette, Kendalle and Alexandra are my children,’ Getty wrote in a press when the scandal broke in 1999.  ‘Their mother is Cynthia Beck, and I love them very much.’ 

Getty also had four children with wife Ann, including meth-addled son Andrew who was found dead aged 47 on the toilet of his Hollywood mansion in 2015.  

Friends of the famous family described Beck at the time as a ‘lovely woman’ but not a socialite.  ‘She is a nice lady and lives in the L.A. area’ her daughters’ lawyer Stephen Burgin said. 

Neighbors were shocked when they heard of the seizure: ‘I would never, ever think anybody would be wanting to pack so much in this neighborhood. It scares the wits out of you,’ Rabbi Chaim Mentz told ABC. ‘What does my next door neighbor have? What does your next door neighbor have?’

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided the property following an anonymous tip-off about the cache of weapons, specifically that someone was ‘conducting illegal firearms transaction outside the scope of the federal firearm license that the individual possess,’ ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun said in a statement.

guns 8

Colbrun added that authorities have ‘no reason to believe the public is in any danger.’

Los Angeles Police Deapartment spokesman Officer Mike Lopez said authorities were waned of illegal gun manufacture and sale at a house on North Beverly Glen Boulevard. 

guns 3

‘Obviously it’s a lot,’ Lopez said on Wednesday. ‘They’re going to be there a long time. Possibly even tomorrow.’ 

‘ATF and LAPD have no reason to believe the public is in any danger,’ a statement from the agency said. 

Another home on North Bunker Hill Avenue in Los Angeles was also searched as part of the investigation, law enforcement sources said.

guns 9

Getty, a music composer, assumed control of his father’s $2 billion (£1.5 billion) trust in 1976.

Some believe the Getty family suffers from a curse, which has seen many misfortunes befall them. Gordon’s son Andrew Rorke Getty (pictured right) aspired to be a movie director, laboring for 13 years on his only film the The Evil Within. J. Paul Getty is pictured left

But before he could complete  the film, he was found dead at his Hollywood Hills home in 2015 at the age of 47.

In 2003, Andrew was sued by a studio assistant, Ingrid Jacobs, for £500 in unpaid wages for his first and only film.  The court heard how Getty snorted cocaine, spent heavily on prostitutes and carried a gun — keeping an arsenal of assault rifles at his home and threatening the film crew with them.

‘All of us lived in fear of his dark, violent moods,’ said Ms Jacobs in court. ‘He once screamed at me: ‘I’m going to kick you in the kidneys so hard that you choke.’

‘He had no worries about spending thousands a week on high-price prostitutes, but he was mean as hell with everyone else.’

Charity Thomson, the movie’s assistant director, said she saw Getty snorting drugs while on the set. She described him as ‘a spoilt rich kid who doesn’t value his own life or that of anyone else’. 

The coroner said his heavy use of methamphetamine had contributed to his death by bleeding from an intestinal ulcer.  Andrew was the second eldest of four sons of Gordon Getty,  who himself was the fourth son of the family patriarch J. Paul Getty, yet still Gordon assumed control of the $4billion family trust when his father died in 1976.

J. Paul Getty married five times and produced six children, whom he treated with such disdain he never even bothered to attend their weddings. He became the world’s richest man when he struck oil in the Middle East in 1953. He reportedly showed affection for his youngest son, Timmy. But when he died aged 12 from a brain tumour, his father didn’t go to his funeral. 

His other sons fared little better. His eldest son and heir apparent, George, worked himself into an early grave trying to impress his father in the family business. He became so despairing at his failure that he would stab himself in the arms with a letter opener. He turned to drink and drugs, and died in 1973 after overdosing on pills.

J. Paul Getty’s second son, Ronald, was virtually disinherited after his mother Adolphine — Getty’s third wife — dared to drag her feet over a divorce when the tycoon decided to move on to wife number four.  John Paul Junior, the third boy, has gone down in history as the prodigal son. After a first job earning $100 a month as a petrol pump attendant, he joined the family business, but took to drinking heavily.

He became a heroin addict soon after meeting his second wife, the Dutch actress and socialite Talitha Pol. They became darlings of the celebrity hippie set, partying with the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. When Talitha died of a heroin overdose in 1971, a devastated John Paul Junior holed himself up in his home in England. Unsurprisingly, he was cut off financially by his father, who intoned: ‘No Getty can be a drug addict.’

The shortage of funds proved tragic in 1973 when John Paul Junior’s oldest child, John Paul III, 16, was kidnapped in Rome by the Mafia. When a $17million ransom demand arrived, his skinflint grandfather refused to help. It was only after one of the boy’s ears was sent through the post that Getty coughed up and the hostage was released. Traumatised by his ordeal, the young John Paul Getty III slipped into cocaine, heroin and alcohol addiction.

In 1981, he suffered catastrophic liver failure and a severe stroke, emerging from six weeks in a coma virtually blind and paralysed from the neck down. He could communicate by little more than a high-pitched scream. He died aged 54 in 2011.  

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Listen up: why some people can’t get enough of audiobooks – by Steven Poole (Guardian) 13 July 2019

Note: Many public domain works offered as free audio books to listen to online, or download Librivox – https://librivox.org/pages/about-librivox/

Youtube has many free audiobooks to access.

……………………………

In this time-poor, podcast-friendly world, audiobooks are booming. So what is the science behind them – and do they change our relationship with the written word?

 

Audiobooks. Saturday Review 13 July 2019

Are audiobooks the new… books? It was recently revealed that audiobook sales rocketed by 43% in 2018, while those of print books declined (by 5%) for the first time in five years. Can people no longer be bothered to read for themselves? Is this, rather than the ebook, the harbinger of the slow death of print, about which we have been warned for so long? And if so, what does that mean for literary culture? Let us first retain some historical perspective by noting that Homer’s Iliad was essentially an audiobook before it was ever written down. Oral literary culture long precedes the book and there are many reasons for its rising popularity. Some people I spoke to use audiobooks to send them to sleep after a stressful professional day; others listen while walking, or looking after a baby, or as an alternative to TV. Parents say they are great for keeping children occupied in the car, and commuters use them on their journeys. The time-pressed listen at 1.5x or 2x normal speed, or use websites such as Blinkist, which boil down non-fiction books to their “key takeaways” in 15 minutes. One writer told me that he gets audiobooks “for research into stuff that I fear my pleasure-seeking brain would give up on if I had to read with my eyes”.

But is there really a measurable difference between reading with the eyes and “reading” with the ears? According to an oft-cited 2016 study (Beth A Rogowsky et al), 91 subjects were found to display no significant difference in either comprehension or recall after two weeks whether they had read a non‑fiction passage or listened to it, or done both simultaneously. However, this investigation used ebooks for the reading part, and other studies have suggested that reading comprehension and recall is lower for reading on screens versus print. Since the 1980s, cognitive psychology has consistently established that recall is indeed better after reading (printed) text instead of listening to it, a conclusion bolstered by a 2010 study (David B Daniel and William Douglas Woody), which found that students did worse on a test if they had listened to a podcast of a scientific article on child cognition rather than reading it.

Books have the advantage that you can rapidly re‑scan a sentence visually if you didn’t take it in the first time; and you can mark passages in pencil or turn down page corners to mark specific places to return to. Audiobooks, by contrast, exploit our “echoic memory”, which is the process by which sound information is stored for up to four seconds while we wait for the next sounds to make sense of the whole. Nor can audiobooks reproduce one of the most thrilling features of print, which is its creative ambiguity: the line of poetry, or the sentence, that is exquisitely balanced between two possible meanings. The actor in the studio has to choose just one, and that is the one that is forced on the reader. In their favour, it might be that the particular cadences and timbre of an actor’s voice in audiobooks provide musical information that helps longer-term recall, just as the visual and tactile information of where a passage lies in a printed book can.

That voice is everything, says Jennifer Howard, founding director of the boutique audio studio Sound Understanding, whose recent productions include Samuel West reading astronomer royal Martin Rees’s On the Future for Princeton University Press. “Casting the right voice is crucial,” she says. “Get it wrong and you can really turn the listener off.” And non-fiction is even more demanding than fiction. “In a non-fiction book, the reader must understand and be interested in what they are reading, because comprehension can’t be disguised with vocal tricks and the light and shade of characterisation. So in addition to actors, we work with a lot of broadcasters. They understand complex political or socio-economic subjects and instinctively know when, where, and how much stress to place on a particular point.”

The Golden Compass
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The Golden Compass, the 2007 film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. Pullman has written a 32-minute short story for Audible. Photograph: Snap Stills/Rex

The UK’s leading audiobook retailer, Audible, whose customers downloaded more than 3bn hours of material last year, is getting into the “original audiobook” game, having commissioned the likes of Michael Lewis and Jon Ronson to write exclusive direct-to-audiobook stories or “shortform books”. One of their earliest signings was Philip Pullman, who in 2015 wrote a 32-minute short story set in the universe of His Dark Materials, “The Collectors”, saying that he was attracted by “the idea of writing for a voice” instead of a reader. (Audible itself explained that the idea was “not only a way to please current members, but also to bring in new listeners”.) But if an “audiobook” was never a book in the first place, can it really be called a book? Surely it is just a rebadged radio drama, documentary, or podcast, even if it goes on to be bookified. (Pullman’s “The Collectors” subsequently came out as a Kindle Single.) Indeed, the surge in audiobook sales seems very likely to be a halo effect of the huge popularity of podcasts, especially the single-theme longform series such as NPR’s breakout Serial, first released in October 2014, or ABC’s 2019 The Dropout, a jaw-dropping investigation into the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-testing tech company Theranos.

If audiobooks are now gaining ground on print, does that indicate we are trying to do more in less time? Although the data suggests that we do not actually feel any more rushed or hurried than a few decades ago, the increasingly fragmented nature of our media consumption, and the perceived mountain of tasks ahead of us in any given day, might be driving people to try to cram in more nutritious brain-fare by multitasking: “reading” an audiobook while doing something else. “The pessimist in me says that in our ‘always on’ world, the disinclination to read is not due to lack of desire, but lack of time,” Howard says. Unfortunately, the science is quite clear that, apart perhaps for a small minority of people, we simply can’t “multitask” at all: when we think we are multitasking, we are really just switching attention from one thing to another in short bursts, a process that is in itself exhausting. And educational psychologists are firm that attempting to multitask harms learning. So listening to an audiobook while driving, or gardening, might be a very enjoyable experience, but we won’t absorb as much. Yet that is still better than absorbing nothing at all. “The optimist in me,” Howard adds, “says that human beings will always seek out new stories and ideas and we should celebrate the fact that there are now so many ways to access them.”

A more peculiar problem of audiobooks is that a user whose library of such material is locked into, say, Audible’s proprietary format – which cannot legally be converted into something more accessible such as MP3 – might face unwelcome surprises in the future. Earlier this year, Microsoft closed down its ebook store and informed previous purchasers that all the books they had bought in its own proprietary format would henceforth stop working. This is certainly a kind of innovation: when you buy an actual book, you are not dependent on the benevolence – or even just the survival – of a single corporation in order to continue being able to read it whenever you want. Audible, which has been criticised for practices around charging after its free subscription trials, and the unexpected expiration of book credits, declined to provide any comment for this article. But we do know that the biggest audiobook producer and retailer is part of Amazon, the rapacious 500lb gorilla of the book trade. It would not take a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracist to suppose that its primary goals lay somewhere other than the championing of literature and storytelling for its own sake.

The mood in publishing seems to be that audiobooks are not cannibalising print sales to any large degree yet; more likely they are competing with podcasts, music and television as a more passive but still semi-highbrow entertainment experience. Drummond Moir, a publisher at Ebury Press, says of the audio challenge: “I think we can and should be sanguine about it. Just as publishers harnessed ebooks as yet another format alongside hardbacks and paperbacks, audiobooks can be thought of as yet another way of connecting readers and authors. In non-fiction, especially, we’re seeing audiobooks really register with people who may not have the time or inclination to pick up a print book, but devour audiobooks because they are hungry for new ideas, narratives and experiences. If it helps more people experience an author’s work, it’s something to celebrate.” To which even the grouchiest prosophile writer can only respond: hear, hear.

https://archive.is/F1qQr

Putin’s Passport Found At European Space Agency Offices – Europe’s Satellite Navigation Offline – 15 July 2019

putins pass
A major technical error has caused Europe’s satellite navigation system to be fully offline since Friday, with most satellites powering the Galileo system broken, the EU’s space agency has said.

Europe’s Galileo system was built to replace the US’ GPS system but, since the outage, users are automatically being switched back to the US positioning system. The Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GNSS) said in a statement on Sunday that “a technical incident related to its ground infrastructure” had caused the problem. 

The incident led to the “temporary interruption” of the Galileo services since Friday, with the exception of the Search and Rescue (SAR) service, which locates people in distress situations at sea or on mountains, GNSS said.

The agency said its experts are working to restore operations “as soon as possible” and that an ‘Anomaly Review Board’ has been set up to analyze the “exact root cause and to implement recovery actions.”

Galileo began providing its services in December 2016 as an alternative to the US system and was expected to be fully deployed by 2020. A status page on the agency’s website shows 22 satellites in the Galileo constellation listed as “not usable” due to “service outage.”

Galileo is owned by the EU and operated by the European Space Agency. A report in industry publication Inside GNSS on Saturday claimed that a Precise Timing Facility based in Italy was to blame for the outage.

Euro space

我把她留在了纽约街头 – 书 – 好地球

hunter 00

 

当我徘徊在漫长的大道上思考我用言语创造的麻烦时,我遇到了一组书。当我穿过一条多风的街道时,我看到四个书堆在一个杂物箱上。就像胸部高度的平台一样,我检查了四卷。詹姆斯乔伊斯’尤利西斯’的精装本与我在家里的版本相同。现在坐在我客厅沙发上的同一版本。没有完全消化。

我一直在考虑Turgenev的“猎人笔记本草图”与我的单词问题有关。这本书就在我面前。

我忘记了第四本书是什么。

我的房子里到处都是书,因为我无法抗拒一个故事中页面上文字的拉力和重力。但是,我带着背包和旅行灯步行到纽约。我决定只能拿“猎人笔记本的草图”。

我不情愿地看着赛珍珠的“大地”的亮黄色封面。

我在大学读过这本书,被1930年代中国的世界迷住了。像马萨诸塞州波士顿的另一个星球。或者我去大学的康涅狄格州。

在高中和大学里,我读了很多东亚历史,喜欢在中国读小说。最终我看到了由赛珍珠的书中制作的电影。

这部完整的电影在Youtube上以2.99美元的价格提供。这是一个场景。

Youtube有英文有声读物。

当我徘徊在漫长的大道上思考我用言语创造的麻烦时,我遇到了一组书。当我穿过一条多风的街道时,我看到四个书堆在一个杂物箱上。就像胸部高度的平台一样,我检查了四卷。詹姆斯乔伊斯’尤利西斯’的精装本与我在家里的版本相同。现在坐在我客厅沙发上的同一版本。没有完全消化。

我一直在考虑Turgenev的“猎人笔记本草图”与我的单词问题有关。这本书就在我面前。

我忘记了第四本书是什么。

我的房子里到处都是书,因为我无法抗拒一个故事中页面上文字的拉力和重力。但是,我带着背包和旅行灯步行到纽约。我决定只能拿“猎人笔记本的草图”。

我不情愿地看着赛珍珠的“大地”的亮黄色封面。

我在大学读过这本书,被1930年代中国的世界迷住了。像马萨诸塞州波士顿的另一个星球。或者我去大学的康涅狄格州。

在高中和大学里,我读了很多东亚历史,喜欢在中国读小说。最终我看到了由赛珍珠的书中制作的电影。

这部完整的电影可在Youtube上购买 – 仅需2.99美元。这是一个场景。

Youtube也有音频书。

老实说,我不知道中国人会怎么想这本书。赛珍珠是中国基督教传教士的美国女儿。她可能写过一本敏感,准确的书。但我不是那个判断。我知道“好地球”是一个带有一些基本人类真理的好故事。

所以我很高兴再次免费找到这本书。当我走到大厅的“拿书 – 留书”架子时,我在当地的社区学校。我去年夏天在那里留了几本书,并且拿了几本。

引起我注意的第一卷是珍珠赛克的“大地”,与我在纽约市留下的黄色版本相同。我犹豫了。我家里有足够的书。我家里的书太多了。但我的父亲说,“你永远不会有太多书。”把书放回书架上。我以为我的公寓变得简约。我拿起书,看着那个爽快的黄色封面。还有一本书可以造成什么危害?当我走到外面时,我随身带着这本书。我想,我总是可以把这本书拿回来再捐一遍。

book camp free

所以我手里拿着这本书,用手机拍了一张照片,然后通过电子邮件发给我自己。

Good Earth Tree

I Left Her On the Street in New York – Pearl S. Buck Book

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While I was wandering down long broad avenues thinking of troubles that I had created with words I came upon a group of books.  As I crossed a windy street I saw four books piled on a utility box.  Like a platform at chest height I examined the four volumes.  A hardcover copy of James Joyce ‘Ulysses’ the same edition I had at home.   The same edition that is sitting on my parlor  couch right now.  Not completely digested.

I had been thinking of Turgenev’s ‘Sketches From a Hunter’s Notebook’ in relation to my word problems.  The book was there in front of me.  

I forget what the fourth book was.

My house is full of books because I can not resist the pull and gravity of the words on the page in a story bound together.  But, I was in New York on foot with a backpack and traveling light.  I decided I could only take ‘The Sketches From a Hunter’s Notebook.’ 

I reluctantly looked at the bright yellow cover of Pearl S. Buck’s ‘The Good Earth.’ 

I read the book in college and was enchanted by the world of the 1930’s China.  Like another planet for me in Boston, Massachusetts.  Or Connecticut where I went to college. 

In high school and college I read a lot of East Asia history and loved reading novels set in China.  Eventually I saw the movie made from Pearl S. Buck’s book.

The full movie is available on Youtube – for $2.99.  Here is a scene.

Youtube also has the audio book.

Honestly, I don’t know what a Chinese person would think of the book.  Pearl S. Buck was the American daughter of a Christian missionary in China.  She may have written a perceptive, accurate book.  But I am no judge of that.  I knew ‘The Good Earth’ was a good story with some basic human truths. 

So I was pleased to find the book again for free.  I was at the local community school when I stepped over to the ‘Take a Book – Leave a Book’ shelf in the lobby.  I had left a few books there last summer and had picked up a few.

The first volume that caught my eye was Pearl S. Buck’s ‘The Good Earth’ in the same yellow edition I had left behind in New York City.  I hesitated.  I have enough books in my house.  I have too many books in my house.  But my father said, “You can never have too many books.”  Put the book back on the shelf.  I thought of my apartment becoming minimalist.  I picked the book up and looked at the cheery yellow cover.  What harm could one more book do?  I took the book with me as I walked outside.  I could always bring the book back and donate it again, I thought. 

book camp free

So I had the book in my hands and took a picture with my phone and emailed a copy to myself.

Good Earth Tree

 

Critic’s Notebook: Summer 2019’s Sad, Stale State of the Movies – by Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter) 8 July 2019

Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures Entertainment; Disney/Pixar; Daniel Smith/Disney
From left: ‘Men in Black: International,’ ”Toy Story 4′ and ‘Aladdin’

Aside from ‘Toy Story 4,’ this season looks to go down as a landmark low in major studio creativity — but how do the years that closed out the previous five decades measure up?

For a town that’s supposedly very liberal, Hollywood this summer has looked like the most conservative, stuck-in-the-mud and unimaginative place in the country on the basis of the films it has released.

Since I returned from the Cannes Film Festival at the end of May, every single film I’ve reviewed has been part of a (largely tired) franchise or else a remake. And with one exception, Toy Story 4, they’ve mostly been bad, weary and entirely unnecessary, other than as perceived money machines. Several of them haven’t even been that.

Other than Pixar’s exemplary contribution, here’s the rogues’ gallery of unoriginals from May through mid-July: John Wick: Chapter 3 —Parabellum, Aladdin,Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Men in Black: International,Shaft, Annabelle Comes Home, Child’s Play, Spider-Man: Far From Home and The Lion King.

 

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From the evidence of this summer, there’s a paralyzing lack of creativity accompanying a growing awareness that many of the blockbuster franchises that have defined the past decade or so are either officially done for or on the wane. No wonder audiences are looking elsewhere for their audiovisual enthusiasms.

As a lifelong film freak, as we were once called, and big-screen loyalist, I take no pleasure in saying this. A decent-enough Cannes this year sustained the notion that vibrant and ambitious films are still being made in various parts of the world, and we’re all aware that lots of the serious — and seriously entertaining — work being done now turns up on small rather than big screens. Still, the lack of imagination and daring displayed by what comes out of “Hollywood” feels both risk-averse and heavily corporate, at a time when the number of “major” studios is being whittled away. And other than for Disney, the idea that a film studio should have an identity is gone with the wind.

Still, before becoming too nostalgic about how we imagine things used to be in long-ago times abundant with summer dates, double-bills and wonderful nights spent in drive-ins or escaping the heat in “air-cooled” movie theaters, it might be instructive to look back a few years to lend our remembrances of films past a bit of a reality check. What were we, or our parents, seeing onscreen during the last five decades of summers, which might well have acquired the crust of a certain nostalgia in the interim? How do they rate against summer fare being served up these days?

In the interest of assessing our possibly idealized memories, I’ve gone back to identify some of the films — the good, the bad and the ugly — released during the summers of the final year of each of the past five decades, beginning with 1969. It hasn’t always been a pretty picture.

1969 was a great summer for Westerns, specifically because the old and new were so dramatically contrasted by True Grit and The Wild Bunch —they opened a week apart. And bracketing those, at the ends of May and July, respectively, were Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, with Woody Allen’s feature debut, the mangy and hilarious Take the Money and Run, shortly to follow. However, that was about it, as the remainder of the summer releases only proved how out of touch and clueless Hollywood was as to changing audience tastes.

Among the summer’s jaw-dropping fiascoes were Jerry Lewis’ Hook, Line and Sinker, 20th Century-Fox’s Che (with the Egyptian Omar Sharif in the title role) and the same studio’s almost equally ridiculous The Chairman, comedy teamRowan and Martin’s ill-fated attempt to cross over from their TV celebrity as Laugh-In hosts to movies with The Maltese Bippy, and, perhaps best forgotten, The Gay Deceivers, about two straight guys who pretend to be gay to get out of the military draft.

The attempt to be “with it” was simply irresistible during the summer of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Woodstock and the Manson murders.

Hook, Line & Sinker (left) and True Grit

A decade later, in 1979, the studios and marketing gurus had righted the ship, and this summer is notable for the quality as well as the wide-ranging nature of the films that appeared. Bracketing the summer are two of the modern era’s landmark films, Ridley Scott’s instant sci-fi horror classic Alien and Francis Ford Coppola’s long-awaited and staggering Apocalypse Now.

In between was a lineup that feels like a near-perfect mix: inspired lunacy (Monty Python’s Life of Brian), popular comedies (Meatballs and The In-Laws), a big Bond (the nutty Moonraker), horror landmarks The Amityville Horror (which ended up as the No. 2 grosser of the year), Phantasm and Patrick, a popular sequel (Rocky 2), kids’ stuff (The Muppet Movie), a strong Clint Eastwood (Escape from Alcatraz), a big-star romantic comedy (The Main Event) and an insane horror indie, Abel Ferrara’s early The Driller Killer. What more could you want from a movie summer?

Courtesy of Photofest
Escape From Alcatraz (left) and Meatballs

Ten years on, in 1989, sequels had become entrenched as summer lynchpins as far as the big studios were concerned. The most successful film of the summer and, in fact, the whole year was the very first Batman, and we’re still feeling the ripples from that. Trailing right behind it were Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2, The Karate Kid Part III, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (is that so?), Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and the 18th James Bond installment, License to Kill.

It’s daunting even to think about seeing all these in a short period of time. The big non-sequel hit of the summer was When Harry Met Sally, followed by Dead Poet’s Society. Two bright rays of light, and signs of things to come, shot through the factory-produced fodder in the arresting form of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies & videotape, but that was about it.

1999, the summer of the climactic year of the century of cinema, was a decidedly lackluster one, with scarcely anything you’d consider going back to see a second time, beginning with the then-eagerly consumed, now dreaded Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace. The surprising No. 2 film of the summer and year was The Sixth Sense, and it’s still hard not to groove on Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

But other than that, does anyone ever speak nostalgically about or even remember the popular likes of The Mummy, Big Daddy with Adam Sandler, Disney’s animated Tarzan, American Pie, The Haunting,Muppets From Space or, unimaginably, Wild, Wild West with Will Smith? Stanley Kubrick’s posthumous Eyes Wide Shut came out in July, leaving people not quite sure what to say about it, but three times the box office was generated by the simultaneously released no-budget shocker The Blair Witch Project. Escaping to 2000 seemed like a relief at the time.

Courtesy of Photofest
Wild Wild West (left) and The Sixth Sense

And then 2009. But what did the new century actually deliver? Nothing much new, in fact, with seven of the films that ultimately ended up among the top ten grossers of the year — installments in the X-Men, Harry Potter, Ice Age, Transformers, Star Trek and Da Vinci Code series, along with the first Hangover feature — coming out during the summer.

June also saw the release of The Hurt Locker, a rather risky move; in this day and age, would a distributor hoping for Oscar attention for such a film nine months later debut it this early? Very doubtful. Other than for Pixar’s Up and (500) Days of Summer, however, very little else of creative or comedic interest enhanced the year’s days of summer.

To understand the difference between this year and those that came before, you need only read the handwriting on the wall — that is, that the 100-year history of the public going to movie theaters, of sharing the experience of a film with a large room full of strangers, may be on the wane, or even doomed to virtual extinction. We’ve recently been inundated by think-pieces and speculations about whether public filmgoing has a future and if the “cinema,” as it’s been known for a little over a century now, has already started a long fade to black.

The common and true argument is that narrative novelty, diverse stories, exciting new writers, directors and actors, and welcome surprises are everywhere to be found on home screens, while most of what plays in theaters is big, safe and familiar.

However, as the above assessments show, the major film companies have mostly been playing it safe during the summer for decades; it’s just that now they’re being more cautious than ever (albeit with unreliable results) and are showing no signs of novel and imaginative thinking. Is there any 2019 major summer film that demonstrates any real risk, surprise or daring?

I think we’ll have to look elsewhere.

A version of this story appears in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

‘Walled-In Pond’ by Henry David Thoreau – Two Months in The Bushes

Walled-In Pond Close

With the permission of a wealthy friend Henry David Thoreau began an experiment living in the woods of Boson, Massachusetts, in the spring of 1851. Thoreau used and ax to clear some land and get scrub wood to construct a lean-to shelter. He drew water from near by Candle Holder Pond and went fishing at Handle Colder Pond over the hill. He said he wanted to simplify his life and get away from the incessant chatter of the large houses of the towns and villages. He especially wanted to ‘get away from the endless chatter of women about laundry and baking bread and cleaning the house.’

Thoreau had had enough.

He went to live in the woods.

Critics and readers find ‘Walled-In Pond’ a little more slapstick that Thoreau’s more mature works. The ‘Stubbed My Toe’ chapter where Thoreau almost hacks his foot off while chopping wood with a dull axe is a favorite of many. When he is chased up a tree by two hunting dogs and a neighboring farmer readers get an explanation of why Thoreau was against some forms of private property rights enforcement. But, no one gets hurt and the reader gets a chuckle while learning about land claims in Boson, Massachusetts in 1851.

But, sadly, he only stayed in the Boson woods and scrub land for two months. He said he missed the bread after he got tired of a steady diet of fresh water fish. He also needed to get his laundry done. Thoreau wrote up and article about how liberating it was for an upper class man of letters to get back to nature. The work was so well received that Thoreau repeated the ‘experiment’ at Walden Pond in Lexington, Massachusetts, the following year. He was planning to create a whole ‘universe’ of Living In The Woods books by going to different states and living in the wild for a while – but his life was cut short by tuberculosis which he did not catch out in the woods with the squirrels but probably in one of the big townhouses he hated so much.

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White Wall Graffiti – and Pink and Beige Against the Machine

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I thought of the opposite of graffiti that is too colorful and too busy to figure out what was going on.  The opposite of that chaos would be… a white wall.  I pictured a crew of contrary spray paint artists leaving a blank canvas as their calling card.  Make of it what you will.

So I got a dozen or so of white walls through an image search on Startpage.  Then I made a short video without sound.  I put the video on Youtube and used one of the copyright free musical tracks Youtube provides.

The finale is visually fun.

white wall 100 3

After that I thought of the phrase ‘beige against the machine’ a play on the rebellious leftist band ‘Rage Against the Machine.’  So, I looked up some beige wall pictures, and made another short video with Youtube surprise musical track.

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Then I thought of a Feminist Fightback Pink Wall Graffiti.

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And a video

What do these three video slide shows say?  What do all these images mean?

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Geostrategic Developments in Asia – Interviewing A. B. Abrams – by The Saker – 27 June 2019

 

I recently received a copy of a most interesting book, A.B. Abrams’Power and Primacy: the history of western intervention in Asiaand as soon as I started reading it I decided that I wanted to interview the author and ask him about what is taking place in Asia in our times. This was especially interesting to me since Putin has embarked on the Russian version of Obama’spivot to Asia“, with the big difference that Putin’s pivot has already proven to be a fantastic success, whereas Obama’s was a dismal failure. I am most grateful to A.B. Abrams for his time and expertise.

The Saker: Please introduce yourself and your past and present political activities (books, articles, memberships, etc.)

A.B. Abrams: I am an expert on the international relations, recent history and geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region. I have published widely on defense and politics related subjects under various pseudonyms. I am proficient in Chinese, Korean and other regional languages.

I wrote this book with the purpose of elucidating the nature of Western intervention in the region over the past 75 years, and analyzing prominent trends in the West’s involvement in the Asia-Pacific from the Pacific War with Imperial Japan to the current conflicts with China and North Korea. I attempt to show that Western conduct towards populations in the region, the designs of the Western powers for the region, and the means by which these have been pursued, have remained consistent over these past decades. This context is critical to understanding the present and future nature of Western intervention in the Asia-Pacific.

The Saker: You have recently published a most interesting book Power and Primacy: the history of western interventions in Asia which is a “must read” for anybody interested in Asia-western relations. You included a chapter on “The Russian Factor in the Asia-Pacific”. Historically, there is no doubt that pre-1917 Russia was seen in Asia as a “Western” power. But is that still true today? Many observers speak of a Russian “pivot” to Asia. What is your take on that? Is Russia still perceived as a “Western power” in Asia or is that changing?

A.B. Abrams: In the introduction to this work I highlight that a fundamental shift in world order was facilitated by the modernization and industrialization of two Eastern nations – Japan under the Meiji Restoration and the USSR under the Stalinist industrialization program. Before these two events the West had retained an effective monopoly on the modern industrial economy and on modern military force. Russia’s image is still affected by the legacy of the Soviet Union – in particular the way Soviet proliferation of both modern industries and modern weapons across much of the region was key to containing Western ambitions in the Cold War. Post-Soviet Russia has a somewhat unique position – with a cultural heritage influenced by Mongolia and Central Asia as well as by Europe. Politically Russia remains distinct from the Western Bloc, and perceptions of the country in East Asia have been heavily influenced by this. Perhaps today one the greatest distinctions is Russia’s eschewing of the principle of sovereignty under international law and its adherence to a non-interventionist foreign policy. Where for example the U.S., Europe and Canada will attempt to intervene in the internal affairs of other parties – whether by cutting off parts for armaments, imposing economic sanctions or even launching military interventions under humanitarian pretexts – Russia lacks a history of such behavior which has made it a welcome presence even for traditionally Western aligned nations such as the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea.

While the Western Bloc attempted to isolate the USSR from East and Southeast Asia by supporting the spread of anticommunist thought, this pretext for shunning Russia collapsed in 1991. Today the West has had to resort to other means to attempt to contain and demonize the country – whether labelling it a human rights abuser or threatening its economic and defense partners with sanctions and other repercussions. The success of these measures in the Asia-Pacific has varied – but as regional economies have come to rely less on the West for trade and grown increasingly interdependent Western leverage over them and their foreign policies has diminished.

Even when considered as a Western nation, the type of conservative Western civilization which Russia may be seen to represent today differs starkly from that of Western Europe and North America. Regarding a Russia Pivot to Asia, support for such a plan appears to have increased from 2014 when relations with the Western Bloc effectively broke down. Indeed, the Russia’s future as a pacific power could be a very bright one – and as part of the up and coming northeast Asian region it borders many of the economies which appear set to dominate in the 21st century – namely China, Japan and the Koreas. Peter the Great is known to have issued in a new era of Russian prosperity by recognizing the importance of Europe’s rise and redefining Russia as a European power – moving the capital to St Petersburg. Today a similar though perhaps less extreme pivot Eastwards towards friendlier and more prosperous nations may be key to Russia’s future.

The Saker: We hear many observers speak of an informal but very profound and even game-changing partnership between Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China. The Chinese even speak of a “strategic comprehensive partnership of coordination for the new era“. How would you characterize the current relationship between these two countries and what prospects do you see for a future Russian-Chinese partnership?

A.B. Abrams: A Sino-Russian alliance has long been seen in both the U.S. and in Europe as one of the greatest threats to the West’s global primacy and to Western-led world order. As early as 1951 U.S. negotiators meeting with Chinese delegations to end the Korean War were instructed to focus on the differences in the positions of Moscow and Beijing in an attempt to form a rift between the two. Close Sino-Soviet cooperation seriously stifled Western designs for the Korean Peninsula and the wider region during that period, and it was repeatedly emphasized that the key to a Western victory was to bring about a Sino-Soviet split. Achieving this goal by the early 1960s and bringing the two powers very near to a total conflict significantly increased prospects for a Western victory in the Cold War, with the end of the previously united front seriously undermining nationalist and leftist movements opposing Western designs from Africa and the Middle East to Vietnam and Korea. Both states learned the true consequences of this in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there was a real risk of total collapse under Western pressure. Attempts to bring an end to China’s national revolution through destabilization failed in 1989, although the USSR was less fortunate and the results for the Russian population in the following decade were grave indeed.

Today the Sino-Russian partnership has become truly comprehensive, and while Western experts from Henry Kissinger to the late Zbigniew Brzezinski among others have emphasized the importance of bringing about a new split in this partnership this strategy remains unlikely to work a second time. Both Beijing and Moscow learned from the dark period of the post-Cold War years that the closer they are together the safer they will be, and that any rift between them will only provide their adversaries with the key to bringing about their downfall. It is difficult to comprehend the importance of the Sino-Russian partnership for the security of both states without understanding the enormity of the Western threat – with maximum pressure being exerted on multiple fronts from finance and information to military and cyberspace. Where in the early 1950s it was only the Soviet nuclear deterrent which kept both states safe from very real Western plans for massive nuclear attacks, so too today is the synergy in the respective strengths of China and Russia key to protecting the sovereignty and security of the two nations from a very real and imminent threat. A few examples of the nature of this threat include growing investments in social engineering through social media – the results of have been seen in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Ukraine, a lowering threshold for nuclear weapons use by the United States – which it currently trains Western allies outside the NPT to deploy, and even reports from Russian and Korean sources of investments in biological warfare – reportedly being tested in Georgia, Eastern Europe and South Korea.

The partnership between Russia and China has become truly comprehensive, and is perhaps best exemplified by their military relations. From 2016 joint military exercises have involved the sharing of extremely sensitive information on missile and early warning systems – one of the most well kept defense secrets of any nuclear power which even NATO powers do not share with one another. Russia’s defense sector has played a key role in the modernization of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, while Chinese investment has been essential to allowing Russia to continue research and development on next generation systems needed to retain parity with the United States. There is reportedly cooperation between the two in developing next generation weapons technologies for systems such as hypersonic cruise and anti aircraft missiles and new strategic bombers and fighter jets which both states plan to field by the mid-2020s. With the combined defense spending of both states a small fraction of that of the Western powers, which themselves cooperate closely in next generation defense projects, it is logical that the two should pool their resources and research and development efforts to most efficiently advance their own security.

Cooperation in political affairs has also been considerable, and the two parties have effectively presented a united front against the designs of the Western Bloc. In 2017 both issued strong warnings to the United States and its allies that they would not tolerate an invasion of North Korea – which was followed by the deployment of advanced air defense systems by both states near the Korean border with coverage of much of the peninsula’s airspace. Following Pyongyang’s testing of its first nuclear delivery system capable of reaching the United States, and renewed American threats against the East Asian country, China and Russia staged near simultaneous exercises near the peninsula using naval and marine units in a clear warning to the U.S. against military intervention. China’s Navy has on several occasions deployed to the Mediterranean for joint drills with Russian forces – each time following a period of high tension with the Western Bloc over Syria.

In April 2018, a period of particularly high tensions between Russia and the Western Bloc over Western threats both to take military action against the Syrian government and to retaliate for an alleged but unproven Russian chemical weapons attack on British soil, the Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe traveled to Russia and more explicitly stated that the Sino-Russian partnership was aimed at countering Western designs. Referring to the Sino-Russian defense partnership as “as stable as Mount Taihe stated: “the Chinese side has come to show Americans the close ties between the Armed Forces of China and Russia, especially in this situation. We have come to support you.” A week later China announced large-scale live fire naval drills in the Taiwan Strait – which according to several analysts were scheduled to coincide with a buildup of Western forces near Syria. Presenting a potential second front was key to deterring the Western powers from taking further action against Russia or its ally Syria. These are but a few examples Sino-Russian cooperation, which is set to grow only closer with time.

The Saker: The US remains the most formidable military power in Asia, but this military power is being eroded as a result of severe miscalculations of the US political leadership. How serious a crisis do you think the US is now facing in Asia and how do you assess the risks of a military confrontation between the US and the various Asian powers (China, the Philippines, the DPRK, etc,).

A.B. Abrams: Firstly I would dispute that the United States is the most formidable military power in the region, as while it does retain a massive arsenal there are several indicators that it lost this position to China during the 2010s. Looking at combat readiness levels, the average age of weapons in their inventories, morale both publicly and in the armed forces, and most importantly the correlation of their forces, China appears to have an advantage should war break out in the Asia-Pacific. It is important to remember that the for the Untied States and its European allies in particular wars aren’t fought on a chessboard. Only a small fraction of their military might can be deployed to the Asia-Pacific within a month of a conflict breaking out, while over 95% of Chinese forces are already on the region and are trained and armed almost exclusively for war in the conditions of the Asia-Pacific. In real terms the balance of military power regionally is in China’s favor, and although the U.S. has tried to counter this with a military ‘Pivot to Asia’ initiative from 2011 this has ultimately failed due to both the drag from defense commitments elsewhere and the unexpected and pace at which China has expanded and modernized its armed forces.

For the time being the risk of direct military confrontation remains low, and while there was a risk in 2017 of American and allied action against the DPRK Pyongyang has effectively taken this option off the table with the development of a viable and growing arsenal of thermonuclear weapons and associated delivery systems alongside the modernization of its conventional capabilities. While the U.S. may have attempted to call a Chinese and Russian bluff by launching a limited strike – which seriously risked spiraling into something much larger – it is for the benefit of all regional parties including South Korea that the DPRK now has the ability to deter the United States without relying on external support. This was a historically unprecedented event, and as military technology has evolved it has allowed a small power for the first time to deter a superpower without relying on allied intervention. Changes in military technology such as the proliferation of the nuclear tipped ICBM make a shooting war less likely, but also alters the nature of warfare to place greater emphasis on information war, economic war and other new fields which will increasingly decide the global balance of power. Where America’s answer to the resistance of China and North Korea in the 1950s to douse them with napalm, today winning over their populations through soft power, promoting internal dissent, placing pressure on their living standards and ensuring continued Western dominance of key technologies has become the new means of fighting.

That being said, there is a major threat of conflict in the Asia-Pacific of a different nature. Several organizations including the United Nations and the defense ministries of Russia, Singapore and Indonesia among others have warned of the dangers posed by Islamic terrorism to stability in the region. Radical Islamism, as most recently attested to by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, played a key role in allowing the Western Bloc to cement its dominance over the Middle East and North Africa – undermining Russian and Soviet aligned governments including Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Syria – in most cases with direct Western support. CIA Deputy Director Graham Fuller in this respect referred to the agency’s “policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries.” Several officials, from the higher brass of the Russian, Syrian and Iranian militaries to the former President of Afghanistan and the President of Turkey, have all alleged Western support for radical terror groups including the Islamic State for the sake of destabilizing their adversaries. As the Asia-Pacific has increasingly slipped out of the Western sphere of influence, it is likely that this asset will increasingly be put into play. The consequences of the spread of jihadism from the Middle East have been relatively limited until now, but growing signs of danger can be seen in Xinjiang, Myanmar, the Philippines and Indonesia. It is this less direct means of waging war which arguably poses the greatest threat.

The Saker: Do you think that we will see the day when US forces will have to leave South Korean, Japan or Taiwan?

A.B. Abrams: Other than a limited contingent of Marines recently deployed to guard the American Institute, U.S. forces are not currently stationed in Taiwan. The massive force deployed there in the 1950s was scaled down and American nuclear weapons removed in 1974 in response to China’s acceptance of an alliance with the United States against the Soviet Union. Taiwan’s military situation is highly precarious and the disparity in its strength relative to the Chinese mainland grows considerably by the year. Even a large American military presence is unlikely to change this – and just 130km from the Chinese mainland they would be extremely vulnerable and could be quickly isolated from external support in the event of a cross straits war. We could, however, see a small American contingent deployed as a ‘trigger wire’ – which will effectively send a signal to Beijing that the territory is under American protection and that an attempt to recapture Taiwan will involve the United States. Given trends in public opinion in Taiwan, and the very considerable pro-Western sentiments among the younger generations in particular, it is likely that Taipei will look to a greater rather than a lesser Western military presence on its soil in future.

Japan and particularly South Korea see more nuanced public opinion towards the U.S., and negative perceptions of an American military presence may well grow in future – though for different reasons in each country. Elected officials alone, however, are insufficient to move the American presence – as best demonstrated by the short tenure of Prime Minister Hatoyama in Japan and the frustration of President Moon’s efforts to restrict American deployments of THAAD missile systems in his first year. It would take a massive mobilization of public opinion – backed by business interests and perhaps the military – to force such a change. This remains possible however, particularly as both economies grow increasingly reliant on China for trade and as the U.S. is seen to have acted increasingly erratically in response to challenges from Beijing and Pyongyang which has undermined its credibility. As to a voluntary withdrawal by the United States, this remains extremely unlikely. President Donald Trump ran as one of the most non-interventionist candidates in recent history, but even under him and with considerable public support prospects for a significant reduction in the American presence, much less a complete withdrawal, have remained slim.

The Saker: Some circles in Russia are trying very hard to frighten the Russian public opinion against China alleging things like “China want to loot (or even conquer!) Siberia”, “China will built up its military and attack Russia” or “China with its huge economy will simply absorb small Russia”. In your opinion are any of these fears founded and, if yes, which ones and why?

A.B. Abrams: A growth in Sinophobic sentiment in Russia only serves to weaken the nation and empower its adversaries by potentially threatening its relations with its most critical strategic partner. The same is applicable vice-versa regarding Russophobia in China. Given the somewhat Europhilic nature of the Russian state in a number of periods, including in the 1990s, and the considerable European soft influences in modern Russia, there are grounds for building up of such sentiment. Indeed Radio Free Europe, a U.S. government funded nonprofit broadcasting corporation with the stated purpose of “advancing the goals of U.S. foreign policy,” notably published sinophobic content aimed at depicting the Russian people as victims of Chinese business interests to coincide with the Putin-XI summit in June 2019. However, an understanding of the modern Chinese state and its interests indicates that it does not pose a threat to Russia – and to the contrary is vital to Russia’s national security interests. While Russia historically has cultural ties to the Western nations, the West has shown Russian considerable hostility throughout its recent history – as perhaps is most evident in the 1990s when Russia briefly submitted itself and sought to become part of the Western led order with terrible consequences. China by contrast has historically conducted statecraft based on the concept of a civilization state – under which its strength is not measured by the weakness and subjugation of others but by its internal achievements. A powerful and independent Russia capable of protecting a genuine rules based world order and holding lawless actors in check is strongly in the Chinese interest. It is clear that in Russia such an understanding exists on a state level, although there is no doubt that there will be efforts by external parties to turn public opinion against China to the detriment of the interests of both states.

The idea that China would seek to economically subjugate Russia, much less invade it, is ludicrous. It was from Europe were the major invasions of Russian territory came – vast European coalitions led by France and Germany respectively with a third American led attack planned and prepared for but stalled by the Soviet acquisition of a nuclear deterrent. More recently from the West came sanctions, the austerity program of the 1990s, the militarization of Eastern Europe, and the demonization of the Russian nation – all intended to subjugate and if possible shatter it. Even at the height of its power, China did not colonize the Koreans, Vietnamese or Japanese nor did it seek to conquer Central Asia. Assuming China will have the same goals and interests as a Western state would if they were in a similar position of strength is to ignore the lessons of history, and the nature of the Chinese national character and national interest.

The Saker: The Russian military is currently vastly more capable (even if numerically much smaller) than the Chinese. Does anybody in China see a military threat from Russia?

A.B. Abrams: There may be marginalized extreme nationalists in China who see a national security from almost everybody, but in mainstream discourse there are no such perceptions. To the contrary, Russia’s immense contribution to Chinese security is widely recognized – not only in terms of technological transfers but also in terms of the value of the joint front the two powers have formed. Russia not only lacks a history of annexing East Asian countries or projecting force against them, but it is also heavily reliant on China in particular both to keep its defense sector active and to undermine Western attempts to isolate it. Russian aggression against China is unthinkable for Moscow – even if China did not possess its current military strength and nuclear deterrence capabilities. This is something widely understood in China and elsewhere.

I would dispute that Russia’s military is vastly more capable than China’s own, as other than nuclear weapons there is a similar level of capabilities in most sectors in both countries. While Russia has a lead in many key technologies such as hypersonic missiles, air defenses and submarines to name a few prominent examples, China has been able to purchase and integrate many of these into its own armed forces alongside the products of its own defense sector. Russia’s most prominent fighter jet for example, the Flanker (in all derivatives from Su-27 to J-11D), is in fact fielded in larger numbers by China than by Russia itself – and those in Chinese service have access to both indigenous as well as Russian munitions and subsystems. Furthermore, there are some less critical but still significant sectors where China does appear to retain a lead – for example it deployed combat jets equipped with a new generation of active electronically scanned array radars and air to air missiles from 2017 (J-20 and in 2018 J-10C) – while Russia has only done so this in July 2019 with the induction of the MiG-35. Whether this is due to a Chinese technological advantage, or to a greater availability of funds to deploy its new technologies faster, remains uncertain. Russia’s ability to provide China with its most vital technologies, and China’s willingness to rely so heavily on Russian technology to comprise so much of its inventory, demonstrates the level of trust between the two countries

The Saker: Do you think that China could become a military threat to other countries in the region (especially Taiwan, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc.)?

A.B. Abrams: I would direct you to a quote by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamed from March this year. He stated: “we always say, we have had China as a neighbor for 2,000 years, we were never conquered by them. But the Europeans came in 1509, in two years, they conquered Malaysia.” This coming from a nationalist leader considered one of the most sinophobic in Southeast Asia, whose country has an ongoing territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, bears testament to the nature of claims of a Chinese threat. It is critical not to make the mistake of imposing Western norms when trying to understand Chinese statecraft. Unlike the European states, China is not and has never been dependent on conquering others to enrich itself – but rather was a civilization state which measured its wealth by what it could its own people could produce. A harmonious relationship with India, Vietnam, the Philippines and others in which all states’ sovereign and territorial integrity is respected is in the Chinese interest.

A second aspect which must be considered, and which bears testament to China’s intentions, is the orientation of the country’s armed forces. While the militaries of the United States and European powers such as Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and France among others are heavily skewed to prioritize power projection overseas, China’s military has made disproportionately small investments in power projection and is overwhelmingly tailored to territorial defense. While the United States has over 300 tanker aircraft deigned to refuel its combat jets midair and attack faraway lands, China has just three purpose-built tankers – less than Malaysia, Chile or Pakistan. The ratio of logistical to combat units further indicates that China’s armed forces, in stark contrast to the Western powers, are heavily oriented towards defense and fighting near their borders.

This all being said, China does pose an imminent threat to the government in Taipei – although I would disagree with your categorization of Taiwan as a country. Officially the Republic of China (ROC- as opposed to the Beijing based People’s Republic of China), Taipei has not declared itself a separate country but rather the rightful government of the entire Chinese nation. Taipei remains technically at war with the mainland, a conflict would have ended in 1950 if the U.S. had not placed the ROC under its protection. The fast growing strength of the mainland has shifted the balance of power dramatically should the conflict again break out into open hostilities. China has only to gain from playing the long game with Taiwan however – providing scholarships and jobs for its people to live on the mainland and thus undermining the demonization of the country and hostility towards a peaceful reunification. Taiwan’s economic reliance on the mainland has also grown considerably, and these softer methods of bridging the gaps between the ROC and the mainland are key to facilitating unification. Meanwhile the military balance in the Taiwan Strait only grows more favorable for Beijing by the year – meaning there is no urgency to take military action. While China will insist on unification, it will seek to avoid doing so violently unless provoked.

The Saker: In conclusion: where in Asia do you see the next major conflict take place and why?

A.B. Abrams: The conflict in the Asia-Pacific is ongoing, but the nature of conflict has changed. We see an ongoing and so far highly successful de-radicalization effort in Xinjiang – which was taken in direct response to Western attempts to turn the province into ‘China’s Syria or China’s Libya,’ in the words of Chinese state media, using similar means. We see a harsh Western response to the Made in China 2025 initiative under which the country has sought to compete in key technological fields formerly monopolized by the Western Bloc and Japan – and the result of this will have a considerable impact on the balance of economic power in the coming years. We see direct economic warfare and technological competition between China and the United States – although the latter has so far refrained from escalating too far due to the potentially devastating impact reprisals could have. We further see an information war in full swing, with Sinophobic stories often citing ‘anonymous sources’ being propagated by Western media to target not only their own populations – but also to influence public opinion in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Influence over third parties remains vital to isolating China and cementing the Western sphere of influence. Use of social media and social engineering, as the events of the past decade have demonstrated from the Middle East in 2011 to Hong Kong today, remains key and will only grow in its potency in the coming years. We also see a major arms race, with the Western Bloc investing heavily in an all new generation of weapons designed to leave existing Chinese and allied defenses obsolete – from laser air defenses to neutralize China’s nuclear deterrent to sixth generation stealth fighters, new heavy bombers, new applications of artificial intelligence technologies and new hypersonic missiles.

All these are fronts of the major conflict currently underway, and the Obama and Trump administrations have stepped up their offensives to bring about a new ‘end of history’ much like that of the 1990s – only this time it is likely to be permanent. To prevail, China and Russia will need to cooperate at least as closely if not more so as the Western powers do among themselves.

The Saker: thank you very much for your time and answers!

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