E.U. forcing refugees into “concentration camps” as economic crisis fuels far-right, warns Greek ex-finance minister

Greece’s outspoken former finance minister says the European Union is putting refugees in what are essentially “concentration camps,” and warns the festering economic crisis is exacerbating the xenophobia, fueling the rise of far-right movements.

In the past two years, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have landed in Greece, hoping to find asylum in Europe.

Yanis Varoufakis, the ex-minister and longtime economics professor, said in an interview on Democracy Now this week that the E.U. has been exerting “tremendous” pressure on Greece, forcing it “to, effectively, intern the refugees.”

Meanwhile, the far-right is on the rise “everywhere in Europe,” and there are chilling signs of the return of fascist ’30s-era politics, Varoufakis cautioned.

Many of the refugees and migrants trying to enter Europe are fleeing war, violence or repression in the Middle East and South Asia. Most are coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The E.U. has been overwhelmingly hostile to their arrival, even while it fuels and intervenes in some of the conflicts they are fleeing.

Europe has setup “hotspot” registration centers for refugees in Greece. Varoufakis says, “When you see the word ‘hotspots,’ just translate it to ‘concentration camps.’ It’s very simple.”

“George Orwell would be very, very proud of Europe and our capacity for doublespeak and creating new terms by which to hide the awful reality,” he added.

“Instead of treating them like human beings in need of support, in need of food, in need of medicine, in need of psychological assistance, they are going to be treated, according to Brussels, as illegals, aliens, that are going to be enclosed in those hotspots, concentration camps,” Varoufakis said in the interview.

“The Greek government, which is, of course, fiscally completely and utterly impecunious, is being told, ‘The only way you are going to get money is if you intern them. So if you let them free and loose, even within Greece, you’re getting not a penny in order to help feed them.’”

Varoufakis also blasted the “ponzi austerity” scheme he says the E.U. and International Monetary Fund are imposing on Greece, while banks rake in billions and the Greek people suffer.

The former finance minister says this “cruel, self-defeating, irrational, inefficient, mind-blowingly inane austerity” is also preventing the Greek government from helping refugees.

While he applauded the “magnificent array of NGOs and volunteers who are looking after the refugees,” Varoufakis noted the “Greek state is in a state of disarray, because it just can’t afford even to look after the Greeks, who are suffering a seven year-long great depression.”

“The Greek state is trying to do something, but is being pushed by Europe to treat inhumanely those refugees,” he said.

Earlier this month, the E.U. began to deport refugees and migrants en masse to Turkey, in a plan that human rights experts say likely violates international law.

NATO also announced a new plan this week to impose a blockade on Libya, five years after bombing the country and essentially destroying the government in the oil-rich North African nation, in order to prevent refugees and migrants from entering Europe. A Human Rights Watch official told Salon this plan also likely violates international law.

In the meantime, far-right groups like Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are growing in popularity.

And “it’s not just Golden Dawn,” Varoufakis warned. “It’s everywhere in Europe.”

“We have a neofascist government in Hungary. We have Marine Le Pen, who’s going to top the presidential race next year in France. I mean, you just have to state this to panic,” he said.

“You have UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, in Britain. You’ve got Austria; in Vienna, the beautiful city of Vienna, 42 percent voted for a neofascist party in the last municipal election,” Varoufakis continued.

He said the reasons behind the rise are “very simple: Great Depression, national humiliation—put them together, like in the 1920s and ’30s in Germany, and you end up with the serpent’s egg hatching.”

Varoufakis argues there is an alternative to these detention camps, mass deportations and blockades, but Europe is not willing to take it.

“This should not be a problem. Europe is large enough. It is rich enough. We should be able to handle this refugee crisis humanely, efficiently, without this even being something we discuss,” he said on Democracy Now.

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Varoufakis pointed out that Greece, a country of 10 million people, accepted 1 million refugees within a few months.

“Do you know what happened?” he asked. “Nothing. It was all fine. They still live there. Their kids come to the university where I teach. They are amongst some of my best students.”

“Greece has become enriched. Our culture has become stronger. Our food has become even better,” Varoufakis added.

“And if a small, middle-, lower-middle-income country like Greece can accept a 10 percent influx of refugees in a few months and do quite well out of it and actually be stronger as a result of that, Europe, which is aging pathetically, should accept these refugees, like Angela Merkel initially said in September, October.”

Varoufakis concluded the interview warning that Europe is seeing the terrifying signs of a resurgence of fascism.

“The European Union is disintegrating under its postmodern 1930s,” he said. “This is what we’ve been experiencing the last 10 years due to the economic crisis.”

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“Ponzi austerity” scheme imposed by E.U. and U.S. bleeds Greece dry on behalf of banks, says ex-finance minister

The former finance minister of Greece says the European Union and international financial institutions are imposing unjust “ponzi austerity” on his country, while banks rake in billions and the Greek people suffer.

For years, Greece has faced enormous economic hardship. In the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, the country plunged into a debt crisis. In return for large loans, the Troika — which consists of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — has demanded that Greece impose harsh austerity measures, cutting social services, slashing government programs and privatizing state assets.

Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister and longtime economics professor, says Europe is “confusing butchery for surgery” by continuing to demand crippling austerity policies, also known as structural reforms.

“Greece is being trampled upon,” he said in an interview on Democracy Now. Varoufakis accused the Troika of trying “to turn Greece into a desert” and condemned the past three bailouts as money-making opportunities for German and French banks.

He also slammed the Obama administration for continuing to support this “cruel, self-defeating, irrational, inefficient, mind-blowingly inane austerity.”

The effects of austerity on Greece have been nothing short of catastrophic.

From 2008 to 2013, Greeks became on average 40 percent poorer. More than one-third of Greeks, 36 percent of the population, are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Poverty is worse in Greece than it is in Latvia, and among the worst in the eurozone, surpassed only by Bulgaria and Romania.

One out of every four Greeks is unemployed, the highest unemployment rate in the E.U. Among Greeks under age 25, the problem is even worse, with roughly one out of every two people unemployed.

Despite this dire situation, in negotiations this week, international creditors demanded that Greece impose further austerity measures. The International Monetary Fund is ordering the Greek government to cut pensions and eliminate income-tax exemptions.

“A great depression, with no end in sight”

Varoufakis argues this is all part of a “Ponzi austerity” scheme.

After the financial crash in 2008, “there was a cynical transfer of private sector, private bank losses onto the shoulders of the weakest of taxpayers, the Greeks,” he said on Democracy Now.

Varoufakis opposed the bailouts, which he described simply as “typical extend-and-pretend loans.”

He explained: “A second predatory loan is enforced upon the Greek government in order to pretend that it is making its payments for the first loan, and then a third one, and then a fourth one. And the worst aspect of it is that these loans, which were not loans to Greece, were given, extended, on condition of stringent austerity that shrunk our incomes.”

“So we entered a debt deflationary cycle, a great depression, with no end in sight.”

Varoufakis blasted the distortions “peddled by the mainstream media.” Many media reports claim the negotiations between Greece and its creditors have stalled because the Greek government is resisting structural reforms. Varoufakis said “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“The fact of the matter is that the Greek government last summer, in July of 2015, surrendered to the creditors,” Varoufakis explained. Since then, Greece “is simply told what to do. And it’s trying to do it. It is trying to implement it.”

“This is why I’m no longer the finance minister,” he added. Varoufakis stepped down in July when the Troika refused to budge on austerity.

The left-wing Syriza party was elected by a landslide in January 2015 on an anti-austerity platform. Varoufakis, who served as its first finance minister, says Europe and financial institutions refused to allow the Greek government economic autonomy, forcing it to continue implementing harsh austerity measures.

In July, Greeks held an historic referendum, voting overwhelmingly against austerity. Europe ignored this referendum, effectively overriding the democratic will of the Greek people.

In a statement explaining his resignation in July, Varoufakis noted that eurozone finance ministers were frustrated with his firm opposition, and heavily pressured him to leave.

“I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride,” Varoufakis wrote at the time.

Unsustainable debt

Today, Varoufakis says the reason there is another impasse in the negotiations is because the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, and the German government “can’t see eye to eye.”

The IMF is frustrated with Germany, Varoufakis says, because — although it frequently supports austerity programs — it at least acknowledges that Greece’s debt is ultimately unsustainable.

“They know that the numbers that the European Commission, on behalf of Germany, is imposing upon Greece are numbers that will explode, they will fail,” Varoufakis explained. “In six months’ time, we’ll have another failure of the program, like we’ve had in the last six years.”

The IMF wants Greece to devalue labor and pensions, to close down small businesses and replace them with large corporations, but understands that this would shrink Greece’s national income, making it impossible to repay the gargantuan debt.

“They’re like a quasi-numerate villain, who wants to turn Greece into a desert, call it peace,” Varoufakis remarked.

Germany, on the other hand, does not want to talk about the debt, because it would then have to admit that “the so-called bailout loans for Greece were not loans for Greece. They were loans, bailout loans, for German and French banks,” Varoufakis added.

The records of an internal meeting released by whistleblowing journalism organization WikiLeaks show IMF officials asking themselves what it will take Europe to recognize that Greece’s debt must be cut. They conclude that some kind of even, another crisis, is needed.

“The elephants in the room are tussling, and the little pipsqueak mouse, Greece, is being trampled upon,” Varoufakis said. “It’s got nothing to do with the Greek government stalling on structural reforms.”

“By the way, there are no structural reforms in question,” he added. “Cutting down pensions is not reform. It’s like confusing butchery for surgery. It’s not the same thing.”

U.S. support for “Ponzi austerity”

The U.S. has joined in pressuring Greece to continue to implement the crippling austerity measures.

After President Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters “we’re very supportive of the efforts that members of the E.U. have made to deal with the financial challenges posed by Greece’s finances.”

The White House insisted Greece must follow “through on a number of structural reforms,” stressing “Greece has a responsibility to do that.”

In his interview on Democracy Now, Varoufakis criticized President Obama.

“We have, yet again, this typical disconnect in the American administration,” he said. “It’s quite astonishing and saddening.”

Obama publicly claims he opposes harsh austerity, Varoufakis explained, yet, at the same moment, “his spokesman comes out and supports cruel, self-defeating, irrational, inefficient, mind-blowingly inane austerity.”

Varoufakis calls this “Ponzi austerity.”

A Ponzi scheme is a scam in which a business pretends to grow its income by taking on more and more unsustainable debt.

In a similar fashion, the Troika has continued to impose more and more debt on Greece, which can only be used “to pretend to repay the previous debts.”

Austerity then “continuously reduces national income, because when you reduce pensions, when you reduce investment, when you reduce all the determinants of aggregate demand, income of the nation shrinks.”

“And you keep tightening that belt through more pension cuts, more reductions in public health and so on, and public education, and you keep on taking new unsustainable loans in order to pretend that you’re not insolvent,” Varoufakis explained. “That’s Ponzi austerity for you.”

Bailout for the banks

Varoufakis still has hope that things can be turned around, but not from within. He emphasized that much of the German people stands with Greece in opposing harsh austerity measures. Rather, it is the German government that is so insistent on continuing down the same path.

In 2015, Varoufakis launched the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, or DiEM25, a pan-European political movement that warns “The European Union will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate!”

The former finance minister insists the bailouts have not just been bad for Greece; they have also been bad for Germany.

“The problem is not that Germany has not paid enough. Germany has paid too much, in the case of the Greek bailout,” Varoufakis explained on Democracy Now. “We had the largest loan in human history. The question is, what happened to that money?”

“It wasn’t money for Greece. It was money for the banks. And the Greek people took on the largest loan in human history on behalf of German and French bankers, under conditions that guaranteed that their income, our income in Greece, would shrink by one-third.”

According to Varoufakis, 91 percent of the first bailout and 100 percent of the second bailout went to German and French banks. The money did not end up in taxpayers’ pockets; it ended up in bankers’ pockets.

“That is ‘Grapes of Wrath,’ John Steinbeck material,” Varoufakis quipped. “One-third of national income, poof, disappeared.”

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“My p*ssy should be president next”: How porn stars are voting this election

AlterNetIt’s been said that the 2016 presidential election is unlike any other in history, not least because a reality TV star has led the Republican field for months now. A whole lot of people are talking about the election, including many who have not been terribly interested in national politics in the past. The election has even sparked discussion in the porn community.

In their series “Ask A Porn Star,” comedic porn company Wood Rocket shows some porn stars in a not terribly flattering light by asking who should be the next president of the United States. The all-female panel offers some insight into who is voting for who, and why. Surprisingly (or not), a good percentage of those interviewed are going full-Trumpal.

“He just says it how it is and he gets things done,” says Franziska Facella (previously known as Francesca, or Victoria Koblev). 2015 Hustler Honey Kenna James says, “I believe [Donald Trump] is somebody that will actually take charge. I want a businessman instead of a politician in the office. I’ve seen where the politicians have gotten us and it’s not a good place.”

Also in the Trump camp are Gabriella Paltrova, Dava Foxx and Anna Bell Peaks, who attest, “He’s a good businessman.” She says she is still in the dark as to whether or not Trump is “pro-porn.”

Those who are feeling the Bern include Lili Ivy, Draven Star and Veruca James, who chirps, “Bernie Sanders all the way.” Spanish-born star Amarna Miller is also backing Sanders. “Everybody is supporting Bernie Sanders. At least everybody I respect,” the AVN-nominated actress explains.

Sadly (or not) for Hillary, the pornstars seemed largely unimpressed with her campaign.  Lily Ivy told the camera, “I wish I could say I was voting for Hillary because it would be awesome to have a woman president, but….” Dahlia Sky states, “All I can say is I really hope it’s not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.”

A handful of pornstars can’t possibly represent the profession as a whole, but the sample did speak to some noted voter trends that have unfolded over the past few months. As older women continue to rally around Hillary Clinton, younger feminists have gravitated toward Sanders by what Vox calls “an overwhelming margin.” According to Vox, “Voting for a man who offers policies that help people — especially women — is not a rejection of feminism. It’s also feminism.”

But perhaps the most progressively feminist porn star interviewed was Ela Darling, who contests, “My pussy should be president next.”

It’s not an easy task to explain Trump’s popularity among the porn stars. Back in December, a Washington Post analysis found that the majority of his backers were white, male, poor and presumably not in the porn business. Though the porn community did collide with Donald Trump when WoodRocket releasedDonald Tramp: The XXX Parody, back in August.

For more on porn stars and politics, check out the video below:

[This article first appeared on Alternet]

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Has American pro soccer finally arrived? In this strange saga, the answer is “almost”

One of the many perverse and peculiar aspects of Major League Soccer, North America’s not-quite-top-flight professional league, is that for almost 20 years it had no team in New York City. There are boring practical reasons why that happened, largely having to do with money and real estate. But it’s bizarre, right? Not merely is New York the continent’s largest city and its media and financial capital, it’s a city rich with immigrants from all parts of the globe (and the children and grandchildren of immigrants), where in virtually every park on virtually every Sunday you can find a pickup soccer match or three. In terms of public participation throughout the five boroughs, soccer is probably about even with basketball, and way ahead of all other team sports. As for fandom, if I go outside and walk down the street right now, I’ll encounter someone in a Barcelona or Manchester United jersey within four or five blocks.

Now the Big Apple has its own MLS franchise at last: New York City FC, launched last season with tremendous hoopla. As Claudio Reyna, the American soccer legend who is now the team’s director of “football operations” (or general manager) puts it, NYCFC had to be “built from scratch” in a short time, and might well represent “the last-ever professional sporting franchise launched in New York City,” at least on this scale and under this much scrutiny. As captured by journalist turned filmmaker Justin Webster in the intriguing vérité-style documentary “Win!,” which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the results of this grand marketing venture have been strange and turbulent and partly, but not entirely, successful. All of which makes a pretty good analogy for the precarious situation of pro soccer in American sports and American culture.

Launched as a partnership between the English team Manchester City and the New York Yankees, NYCFC signed several big-name European players — most notably superstar Spanish goal-scorer David Villa — along with some decent young American talent. The new team has drawn big crowds and plenty of media attention during its first season-plus in Yankee Stadium, along with the sort of content-free celebrity buzz that only New York or L.A. can enable. At a recent match I attended, a listless 0-0 draw with Chicago on a freezing spring night, Trevor Noah and the cast of “Hamilton” showed up. Anthony Ramos, who plays Alexander Hamilton’s son Philip in the Broadway show, gave a performance of the national anthem that was more exciting than the actual game. (No one is happy about that awkward stadium-sharing arrangement; baseball and soccer make poor bedfellows, layout-wise. Given the aforementioned practical issues, it will be years before NYCFC can build its own facility.)

Fans of the franchise now known as the New York Red Bulls may bristle at everything I’ve said so far, but they know it’s true. Born in 1996 as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars — one of the clunkier monickers of MLS’ early bad-names period — the Red Bulls have always played across the river in suburban New Jersey, which from the Manhattan-chauvinist point of view might as well be Nebraska, or the Moon. They spent their first 14 seasons entertaining depressingly small crowds in the old Giants Stadium, a cavernous 1970s monstrosity inaccessible by public transit. For years the MetroBulls seemed like a team specifically designed to fail, a description that also applied to the league around them. You could make a movie or a miniseries or an opera about the Red Bulls’ epic struggle, except that no one would be interested.

OK, that’s kind of mean: Despite an awful start to the 2016 season, the Red Bulls have become an exciting, high-energy team over the past several seasons. They have their own attractive stadium these days, even if it’s in the barren industrial town of Harrison, New Jersey, just south of downtown Newark. But if the Red Bulls and their plucky fanbase felt neglected and abused by the urbanite soccer snobs before 2015, it’s many times worse now. They’ve been dramatically upstaged by a chaotic and disorganized team that draws twice as many fans and hardly ever wins, but whose uniforms at least do not carry free advertising for a foul-tasting energy drink beloved by fraternity brothers.

Yeah: When it came to results on the field, it’s safe to say that NYCFC’s debut season didn’t go that well. In a sense, that’s a testament to the fact that the quality of play in MLS is not as bad as some snobs and skeptics maintain. It did not turn out to be possible to parachute in with a bunch of money and imported stars and win the championship. As documented in “Win!” NYCFC won only 10 matches in a 34-game season, suffered an 11-game winless streak that lasted from mid-March through early June, and failed to make the playoffs even in MLS’ generous tournament-style system. One of the expensive imports, English star Frank Lampard, arrived months late and never seemed to fit in. The team’s much-lauded young American coach, Jason Kreis, was dumped and replaced with former French star Patrick Vieira, who has not visibly improved matters. (After eight matches in 2016, the team has won only once.)

After the premiere of “Win!” I caught up with Reyna, a longtime star for the U.S. men’s national team and various European clubs, including five seasons with Manchester City, NYCFC’s parent club. He tried to convince me that the film’s title is not ironic. “We didn’t win enough on the field,” he said, “but I personally knew that would be difficult to accomplish in Year One. You always want to give a positive tone and message, you don’t want to say, ‘We might not win that much. We might not make the playoffs.’ But as the league has grown, we’ve seen how much more difficult it is for an expansion team to get up and going.”

In marketing terms, Reyna says his losing team has been a big win. “We exceeded our expectations, to be honest. Going into this, I definitely had some concerns. I had doubts about how big we could be and how relevant we could be. I had no idea whether the city would take to us, whether the media would pay attention to us. I felt some concern that we would not be the success that we turned out to be.”

In effect, Reyna said later, he didn’t have the option of growing a good team slowly and organically, as the management of FC Dallas has done with a roster of homegrown Texas players and young Latin American recruits. As the film demonstrates, in the context of New York it was more important to create a spectacle than field a winning team. So NYCFC was built around name-brand star players like Villa and Lampard and Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo, and undeniably played exciting, attacking soccer — but was atrocious on defense. (The team scored 49 goals, sixth-best in the league, while surrendering a league-high 58.)

If the strange tale of NYCFC’s semi-successful launch is not quite like anything else in American sports history, one could say the same about American soccer as a spectacle and a business. After a dark stretch in the 2000s when MLS seemed in imminent danger of collapse, the league has not just survived but prospered. No one claims it will rival the English Premier League or the Bundesliga anytime soon, and it doesn’t look like the “soccer will be huge in America” paradise long prophesied by true believers. But we’re closer to that than many skeptics and haters thought possible, and the generations of older sports fans who viewed soccer as an alien or girly invader are fading away.

Mercifully, MLS’ various attempts to “Americanize” soccer have been abandoned: There’s no more football-style “countdown clock,” and no more hockey-style shootouts to settle draws. So have the early team names seemingly devised by a committee of ad executives and eight-year-olds. Gone forever are the San Jose Clash, the Dallas Burn and the Kansas City Wiz, with their unforgettable urine-yellow uniforms and Charlie Brown zig-zag stripes. Let’s not talk about Real Salt Lake, the most baffling and stupidest of second-wave attempts to ape the names of famous European teams.

There has been intense branding churn while MLS tried to figure out what it was selling and who its audience was: Europhile soccer snobs? Latino immigrants? Youth soccer teams? Only five of the league’s original 10 teams have remained in the same cities under the same names. One franchise, currently known as the Houston Dynamo, has had four different names in two different cities. But as the NYCFC saga demonstrates, as America changes, American pro soccer has developed considerable stickiness, and isn’t going away. I’m still more likely to see a Chelsea or Real Madrid shirt when I go outside in Brooklyn today than an NYCFC jersey. But that ratio is slowly but steadily shifting, and more to the point, the person wearing the sky blue and dark blue crest of New York’s insta-team will not look hopelessly uncool.

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The librarian who outfoxed Al Qaeda: “In one spasm of violence, they burned just about everything they could find”

It’s an unlikely story, and at times a gripping one: A new book, “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” tells the tale of how a gutsy collector saved thousands of documents he considered an important part of cultural history. As if the Sahara desert wasn’t a worth enough opponent, the arrival of Al Qaeda made it even more daunting: It was only because of Abdel Kader Haidara and a group of brave librarians that these manuscripts about poetry, music, sex, and science did not end lost in the desert or up in smoke.

The book, Jeffrey Brown wrote in the Washington Post, “vividly captures the history and strangeness of this place in a fast-paced narrative that gets us behind today’s headlines of war and terror. This is part reportage and travelogue (there is a great deal of “setting off” in Land Cruisers, on camels and in small boats along the Niger River), part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract and part out-and-out thriller.”

We spoke to the Berlin-based Hammer from Seattle, where he was touring behind the book. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Let’s start with your main character, Abdel Kaider Haidara. What’s he like, and what motivated him?

Abdel Kaider Haidara was the go-to guy: He had created his own library, and had created an association for other librarians. He was the repository for this whole effort to rediscover manuscripts from the golden age of Timbuktu and afterwards that had been dispersed and often lost in the desert and the villages along the river and this very large, remote, difficult to penetrate area of northern Mali.

He’s kind of a big guy in every way – big physically, fills up a room with his presence, a charismatic figure. With a lot of energy, a certain sense of pride and dignity, a true lover of books and manuscripts, extremely knowledgeable about the region. Also a very shrewd operator: He was very successful at reaching out to Westerners, charming them, and raising money for his cause. An obsessive guy: He began pursuing this, what began as something he stepped into almost against his will, in the 1980s it became his lifelong obsession and pursuit. You could say he really single-handedly revived Timbuktu’s fortunes by reconnecting it to its culture.

It’s sort of a cliché to say that narrative nonfiction can “read like a novel.” But this one really does. Did you have any novels, or movies for that matter, in mind while you were writing it?

One of the things that appeals to me about great television – “The Americans,” “Breaking Bad” – is the ability to have a handful of plots running concurrently that all converge. So I was drawn to that structure, and that’s why I began with the story of his life, and focused on Adbel Kader’s quest in the desert, and then cutting away, very dramatically, and I think, to this general sitting in Stuttgart with this general watching the rise of jihadis. And then returning to Abdel Kader and his quest, and then cutting away to the rise of these jihadis. Juxtaposing several different stories was something I had in mind, and something I set out to do when I wrote the book.

How impressive and advanced were these documents? They weren’t just a bunch of papers, but the crown of a civilization.

We’re talking 375,000 manuscripts. Yeah, sure, there were some boring legal documents, and commercial transactions from the slave trade and the ivory trade. But there were also a tremendous number of richly decorated, gilded with gold leaf, incredibly intricately illustrated volumes – diagrams deconstructing Arabic-language poetry, charts of the solar system and stages of the moon, beautifully embroidered Korans, sayings of the Prophet… all sorts of artistically magnificent works that are just considered priceless today.

Give us a sense of what Timbuktu was like in the 14th to 16th centuries, and what it’s like now.

I think all the travelers who set foot in the place – as Leo Africanus, who wrote a book about it in the 16th century – were just blown away by this place. The energy, the wealth, the markets everywhere, with camel caravans coming in from the Sahara, convoys of boats coming up the Niger River carrying ivory and slaves and products out of the jungle. The camel caravans carrying textiles from Europe, booksellers, paper vendors – everybody converging on Timbuktu. And gold – everywhere was gold. It was the main currency.

So it was this incredible febrile commercial center which also had this additional overlay of scholasticism: You had 25,000 students at the peak of Timbuktu’s period as a scholastic center, studying in these unofficial universities connected to mosques You had scribes and scholars and scientists and architects, 100,000 people – it must have been an incredible scene.

Compare it to what it is now – kind of a sleepy, desolate, run-down, monochromatic desert town of not too many distinguishing features except for a few of these grandiose mosques that are the vestiges of that era, plopped down at the edge of the Sahara.

The vision we get of the Islamic world is more nuanced than what we get these days in American political discourse. There’s a rich, scholarly, varied Muslim culture a few hundred years ago, and then that learning is later threatened by the Muslim terrorists of Al Qaeda…

This repeats a theme: As I point out a few times in the book, this was not a singular occurrence. You had jihadists influenced by Wahhabism, which emerged in the 18th century. And fundamentalist Muslims who weren’t even connected to Wahhabism. Which grew out of the Sufi tradition, which was in constant conflict with the moderates who liked to sing and dance and worship saints and were kind of laid back about their religion. Someone who traveled there – Leo Africanus – commented that they’re singing and dancing in the streets of Timbuktu until the early hours of the morning. He made it sound like Paris on a typical summer night.

Juxtaposed against that was this severe strain of Islam that was fundamentalist, hardcore, hated music and celebration and just wanted to [stick] rigidly to the Prophet Muhammad’s vision and the early caliphates of Islam.

You had an attempt to impose a fundamentalist state in Timbuktu in the 19th century, it lasted for a few years, and then you had this real severe… I don’t think these guys were chopping off hands and feet or executing adulterers, that came in 2012 with the most recent band of fundamentalists swept out of the desert.

How close did this adventure come to an unhappy conclusion? There were times when these documents were really threatened.

There were definitely some close calls, where individuals were caught smuggling these documents and chests out of the city. That happened a few times. Curiously – and nobody can really figure out why – they were always let go…. I think the jihadis always had other things to worry about. They were destroying the overt symbols of a form of Islam they hated, like these Sufi monuments to saints.

It was only at the end of this, as the French military bore down on the city, and the jihadis prepared to evacuate, that they decided, “Here’s our moment to get our revenge — on anything connected to the West.” These documents were seen as UNESCO-protected and highly valued by Westerners and the people of Timbuktu. So in one spasm of violence, they burned just about everything they could find.

So, who knows, had the manuscripts not been taken out over those months previously? [The jihadis] could have gone from house to house, ransacking them and destroying everything they could. In the last days they said to the imams: We’d like you to bring your manuscripts here, and we’re going to burn them publicly. Things got nasty.

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Stop saying you’re sorry: “Women will apologize to inanimate objects for bumping into them”

Comedian and writer Sara Benincasa has been sharing her most personal dilemmas since her one-woman show turned memoir “Agorafabulous!,” about her struggle with agoraphobia. In her new essay collection, “Real Artists Have Day Jobs (And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School),” a mix of revealing memoir and advice, she similarly delves deep into some of her biggest challenges, from mental health to abuse to having an ex badmouth her in public. From the other side of those episodes, her tone is that of a wise older sister who’s been there, done that and learned more than a few helpful life lessons (some she’s still learning) ranging from sex (“A Vagina Is Not a Time Machine”) to body image (“Realize Your Size Doesn’t Matter”).

Apropos of the title, there’s plenty of advice within these 52 dispatches for creative types about valuing your work and standing up for yourself, but even more about dealing with friends, family, lovers, pets, and, most—and hardest—of all, ourselves. Salon spoke with Benincasa about being a “real” artist, subverting the self-help genre, overcoming her own prejudices and learning to stop apologizing. 

“Real Artists Have Day Jobs” stems from your Medium essay of the same name. Was there any specific incident that inspired the essay or were these things you were thinking about?

I’ve been thinking about the concept I express in the essay and expand on in the book. I think it’s really stupid and messed up that some people think that if you don’t make money as an artist because you’re busy covering other needs that you’re somehow not worthy. That’s ridiculous. The point of the essay is not that everyone is great at art or that all art is equal. Art is subjective.

The point of the essay is that whether you have a day job or a night job or a side hustle or you’re completely unemployed, you’re wealthy or you’re living in poverty or you’re somewhere in between, if you love something—a hobby or a passion, it can even be a sport—and you do that thing, then you are a doer of that thing. If you love to play basketball, you’re a basketball player. I’m not saying you’re in the NBA. But if you do it regularly, you’re an athlete, you’re a basketball player.

The same is true for artists. If you love painting and you spend most of your time as an HR rep, whether you hate or love your day job doesn’t matter. If you do the painting on the side, it’s not on the side. You are a painter, that is what you are, and you can feel free to describe yourself as an HR rep on the side, or you can be both.

Do you think the idea that it’s so all or nothing discourages people from trying artistic pursuits?

I do. We put people in boxes because it makes us more comfortable. It’s easier to look at someone and say, this is a person who is a doctor and that encompasses their entire personality and mission in life. It’s more complex to say this person is a doctor, this person is a concert pianist, this person is a soccer player, this person is politically moderate, this person speaks Spanish.

We’re a culture of checking off boxes. People aren’t created on an assembly line and not everyone fits into a category, so the book talks about individuality and finding your own recipe for happiness. A huge thing for me in writing the book was to not come off as pretending to have all the answers, because I don’t; I don’t even have most of them. But I have some, and the book is based on all the times I’ve fucked up, and the very few times I’ve gotten something right the first time.

That was something very interesting to me, as someone who reads self-help books, which often have a tone of I’ve figured out everything and here I’m going to impart my knowledge. I feel like you deliberately did not come across with that attitude.

I wanted to subvert the self-help genre. I love reading self-help books; they have helped me in my life. I love when people share their knowledge. But the ones that have helped me are not books that purport to make the author sound perfect; they are books about reality and dealing with the real muck of life.

How do you walk that line of giving advice while also acknowledging that you don’t necessarily have it all figured out?

Because my background is in comedy, I’m by nature a self-deprecating person. To me self-deprecation is about disarming someone else, and showing them that if I can have a sense of humor about myself and I can poke fun at myself, then clearly I’m not going to be too judgmental of anybody else. If I regard myself as a work in progress, then I’m going to regard other people that way too, whereas if I regard myself as perfect and enlightened, then I’m going to expect other people to be at that standard, and that’s not who I am.

When I was really depressed, I would sometimes sleep with a book in my bed that I really loved, just to have it near me. I would hug it; it was almost like a teddy bear, a comfort object. I hope that this book will be that for some people as well.

From the title I was expecting the book to focus on work and career issues. You have that in there but there’s also a lot of stories and advice about our personal lives. How do you see the two as being connected?

You’re an artist full time, 24/7. That’s your job all the time and so part of being an artist is not just producing the work, it’s looking at and experiencing the world differently. For an artist, the personal and the professional are inextricably linked. If you make art, you put something of yourself into it. That sounds high minded, but it’s realistic. You don’t get to make art without some metaphorical and often literal blood, sweat and tears.

You talk in the book about radical self-confidence and you also have a chapter about why we should elect our own executive board of smart, knowledgeable friends we can consult for advice. I thought those were an interesting counterbalance. How can people navigate both having that radical self-confidence and knowing when is an appropriate time to ask for advice?

I’ll give you an example. Last night I was really sad about something. I was crying and I was talking to a friend, and the friend said, “Sara, all the answers are inside you.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s true, but I know when I need somebody to get those answers out.”

So to me, asking for help is a sign of self-confidence. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength, because when you ask for help you indicate that you are worthy of assistance, that you want to get better, that you deserve to stick around. That’s true for everyone, but not everyone knows that.

Having the radical self confidence to say, no, I don’t want to keep feeling terrible and I don’t want to keep living with less than I deserve, may come in the form of a 911 call, literally. There was a point in my life where that came in asking a friend to take me to the emergency room. That can be at your lowest point. It can also be as simple as asking a neighbor for assistance in the yard.

I find that it’s often the people who don’t ask for help who are in the most trouble. They sometimes get to a place where they’re so far gone, and they’ve never indicated the need for assistance. That’s heartbreaking because sometimes they don’t make it, and I want people to make it.

I’ve also noticed over the years, that it seems when someone who’s very revered publicly admits they’re having trouble and asks for help, that makes people feel so relieved about themselves. It actually gives people more respect for that person. Someone will say, I was never a follower of her before, but once I heard her open up about that situation, then I really wanted her to succeed and I was so impressed by her.

Last night when I was really sad and I was crying, I got a lot of stress out. It was sad but it wasn’t scary. When I was younger it would have been scary. I would have been afraid and panicked about it, but because I’ve asked for help in the past, I knew I could do that now. I knew it was going to be okay.

What’s the most challenging piece of your own advice in the book for you to take?

“Walk your way to a solution” is tough. I’ve always been pretty sedentary. I wasn’t naturally good at sports so I grew up being scared of being physical. I just scheduled a personal training session. Brain stuff comes relatively easy to me; body stuff does not.

The chapter [on] “Abuse is fucking complicated.” That sometimes is difficult for me, because if you’ve been abused in some fashion, it’s really hard to accept that that’s that that was, because nobody wants to feel like a victim; nobody wants to feel powerless.

Also, to “feel all the feelings.” That’s the toughest of all. Not to honor each and every one as precious and beautiful, but to deal with your shit. I didn’t emotionally deal with a breakup and I distracted myself in different ways and that grief comes out.

The challenge is to deal the feelings as they come up, and that’s hard. I was upset about something yesterday and I was buying pepper spray and I was wearing sunglasses because I thought I was going to cry. I wanted to get it out, but I had to buy this pepper spray You don’t always have time to set your shit aside and just feel the feelings. It’s about experimenting with feeling a little bit of them when you can.

One of the most moving chapters was on dealing with personal prejudices. You talk about having grown up going to Catholic church and getting rid of some of the prejudices you were taught but that transphobia was one that stayed with you into your twenties. Can you talk about how your thinking changed?

I think that everyone, even the most open-minded person, has certain prejudices. We decide what is normal in our world, and when someone challenges it with their normal, that can blow our minds. My thinking changed because I was challenged on it. I was challenged on [my] casual transphobia; it wasn’t let’s-go-beat-up-trans-people transphobia. It’s usually not as dramatic as that. It’s the casual sexism, the casual racism, the casual homophobia, the stuff that’s built into the system of society, of your workplace, of your family, and you don’t realize it’s a bad thing sometimes until somebody calls you out.

What I have noticed is that people respond much better to being called out face to face. Not because the person is trying to win points by being the coolest liberal in the room or something ridiculous like that, but because somebody cared enough about you to say, here’s why what you said isn’t cool. It hurt my feelings, here’s why, but coming from a place of respect.

In this case, somebody called me out in person and it was so smart. I’m really glad that that happened. It was embarrassing at the time. When you realize the joke you made isn’t funny, especially when you’re a comedian, that goes to the ego.

The most important thing beyond that was having people in my life who were trans. We talk about these lofty terms, visibility and representation, but it’s actually pretty simple: if you see people of all different types out in the world, then it becomes your normal. I began to have not only friends who had transitioned but friends who were in the process of transitioning. It’s hard to make fun of somebody when you’ve looked into their eyes and you know their pain and you know their joy. You can make fun of them for stuff like watching stupid TV shows, but to mock someone’s identity becomes very difficult when you see how hard they’ve fought to claim that identity.

I shared stories in the book of my own fears and prejudices because I want people to see somebody talk about flaws and show that you can change. I felt out of place and dorky at school, but at church I found solace in a belief system they were spoon feeding me I could just sign on to. A religion is just a cult that’s been successful for a few thousands years. So my particular McDonalds was anti-gay and anti-abortion and when I was in eighth grade a lady came and showed us pictures of dead fetuses, so I believed all that. It gave me an identity; it gave me something to cling to, and certainly transphobia was part of that.

They didn’t sit us down and say “be transphobic,” but they taught us that queer people had been given a burden by God, and this burden was the desire for same-sex people or the desire to be a different sex or gender; it was like Christ’s cross. So if they bore that without giving in to it then they would find happiness in heaven. That made sense [to me]. I was also taught that if a woman or girl was raped, she should carry the baby to term because the baby was the blessing that came out a terrible crime and that God would reward her for that. I believed all that.

Religion definitely fucked me up, but I am glad for it because it helps me have genuine empathy with people who still believe that. If they’re going to keep using that as a weapon against others, fuck them, I think they suck, and I will fight against them. But when I see a mother who’s struggling with having a gay son, my default isn’t to say she’s garbage; my default is to say, with some time and some education, she could come around. But I’m here for the kid first and foremost.

Especially online, people can get very polarized and see people, whether it’s that mother who’s struggling, and see someone who has different political ideals, as the enemy. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I’ve definitely been angry online. Right now I’m pretty chill cause I’m sitting in the sunshine and my hair looks good today and I’m sipping on iced green tea. But catch me at a moment where I’m feeling low or I’ve just talked to a kid who’s in a lot of pain, I will fulminate and rage against what I perceive as the machine. The internet is the enemy of nuance in many cases. There’s beautiful writing online; that’s where I read 90 percent of what I read, that’s where I write a lot of what I write, but the temptation is always there to press a button and broadcast a gut reaction to the world.

I did that recently and had a friend say to me on Facebook, you sound like an asshole right now. I realized they were correct. I was mad about somebody who was rude to a friend of mine and I didn’t think about the context of the situation. It’s easy to regard people as cartoon villains on the web because they’re not in front of you. If you can look into somebody’s eyes, it becomes very hard to vilify them. Unless it’s Donald Trump; that guy’s a fucking asshole.

The hardest thing for me to follow from your book is not apologizing. I did it when I was rescheduling our interview. Even when I was trying not to, I couldn’t stop myself.

I also understand there’s a place for it. It’s perfectly fine to say, I’m sorry I had to reschedule an appointment and then give a reason, without beating yourself up. [You can say] “I’m sorry I had to do this potentially inconvenient thing; here’s why.” There’s a difference between that, which is out of understanding you may have inconvenienced someone, and saying to your gym buddy, I’m so sorry I spend too much time on the treadmill or apologizing to your husband or boyfriend for being too fat or for not moisturizing. Women will apologize to inanimate objects for bumping into them; I have done it myself. We apologize for taking up space in the world. It’s not just women, but it’s an epidemic among women. Anyone who’s been made to feel that they don’t deserve to take up space in the world will often deal with it by either being abusive to others or by constant apologies.

How have you worked on that for yourself?

Somebody pointed it out to me and questioned it. I learned to pause. Take a second, take a breath, and ask yourself, am I really sorry? Sometimes it’s yes, of course. Other times I was just saying I was sorry because I wanted them to be kindly disposed to me. If your sorry can’t be authentic, it should at least be strategic; it shouldn’t be something you throw out there willy-nilly because you were taught to apologize. It certainly shouldn’t be “I’m sorry but __” fill in the blank insult.

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“Conspiracy theorist” in panda suit shot after allegedly threatening to bomb Baltimore Fox affiliate if it wouldn’t cover his story

A man in a panda suit who allegedly threatened to bomb Fox Television’s Baltimore affiliate unless it broadcasted his government conspiracy story was shot on Thursday.

Police did not kill the man, who is white and is believed to be in his twenties.

The local affiliate, Fox45, reported that the man broke into the building and demanded that “the news station cover a story about some sort of government conspiracy.”

He was wearing a one-piece panda suit, along with a surgical mask and sunglasses.

Reporter Shelley Orman tweeted video of the suspect walking out of the Fox affiliate building.

The station’s security guard said the man threatened to “blow up” the building.

The building was evacuated after the threat.

A police sniper shot the man, and Baltimore authorities said they sent a robot to check on him.

“Someone came into the front of the building and they apparently said that they had some information they wanted to get on the air,” FOX45 News Director Mike Tomko told reporters, the station said.

“I came down at one point not knowing the person was in the lobby, near the vestibule area. He talked to me and was wearing what appears to be a full body white panda suit, surgical mask and sunglasses.”

Tomko continued: “He had a flash drive, said he had information he wanted to get on the air. He compared it to the information found in the Panama Papers. I told him, ‘I can’t let you in, you’re going to have to leave the flash drive here and slide it through the opening.’ He wouldn’t do that.”

“Apparently he had made some threats before,” Tomko added.

Authorities have no information yet on the man’s identity.

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Come again: Why ejaculating is really, really good for you

AlterNet Baiting men into ejaculating doesn’t really seem like such a huge challenge. But if you’re looking to help an infrequent ejaculator up his game, you may want to remind him of two things: sexual exploration is good for the soul, and ejaculation may be great for the prostate.

A new U.S. study suggests men who ejaculate often are less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those who don’t.

Researchers followed around 32,000 (mostly white) men starting in 1992, when they were in their 20s, and capped the project in 2010. In those 18 years, almost 4,000 participants were diagnosed with prostate cancer. All subjects completed questionnaires about their sexual health and ejaculation frequency. They were asked to hand over medical records and lab tests in order so the researchers could verify which participants were diagnosed with prostate tumors.

Here is the full breakdown of cases:

  • 192 cases of prostate cancer occurred among men who ejaculated just three times a month
  • 1,041 cases occurred among men who ejaculated 4 to 7 times a month
  • 1,509 cases occurred among men who ejaculated 8 to 12 times a month
  • 807 cases occurred among men who ejaculated 12 to 20 times a month
  • 290 cases occurred among men who ejaculated at least 21 times a month

“While our findings should be confirmed in studies that evaluate the potential biological mechanisms underlying the observed associations, the results of our study suggest that ejaculation and safe sexual activity throughout adulthood could be a beneficial strategy for reducing the risk of prostate cancer,” lead study author Jennifer Rider, who did the analysis while working at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told the Associated Press.

Rider and her team found that men who ejaculated at least 21 times a month in their 20s were 19 percent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than men who ejaculated no more than seven times a month. Men who ejaculated more often in their 40s were 22 percent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The team noted that prostate cancer accounts for 15 percent of all new cancer diagnoses worldwide. They suspect that frequent ejaculation may be one of the only lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of being diagnosed. That advice may be best applied to low-risk individuals without symptoms of prostate tumors such as pain or urinary difficulties. “The apparent protective effect of high ejaculation frequency was seen mainly in reduced numbers of low-risk forms of prostate cancer,” the authors note.

Behfar Ehdaie, a urology specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York who wasn’t involved in the study, told the AP by email, “If ejaculation frequency was truly a causal factor for prostate cancer development, we would expect to find the association across all prostate cancer risk categories.”

It’s also possible that the ability (and drive) to ejaculate frequently comes from a set of conditions already associated with good overall health, like a healthy diet and a normal weight. “Ejaculation frequency is, to some extent, a measure of overall health status in that men at the very low end of ejaculation—0 to 3 times per month—were more likely to have other (medical problems) and die prematurely from causes other than prostate cancer,” said Rider.

Other researchers remain wary of promoting sexual activity as a means of warding off a cancer diagnosis. “Sexual activity can have some negative health consequences, such as acquiring a sexually transmitted infection,” says Siobhan Sutcliffe, a cancer researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who wasn’t involved in the study.

Of course, one doesn’t need to have sex to ejaculate. And those who choose to embark on an unaided ejaculatory journey can take comfort in the fact that maybe it will help protect them later in life, maybe it won’t, but it certainly won’t hurt. If anything, it’s going to feel really, really good.

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Trump opposed Iraq. Hillary voted for war: Let’s take his foreign policy vision seriously

Donald Trump on foreign policy. You start out thinking this is going to be roughly akin to George W. discoursing on, say, phenomenology or that Camus novel his handlers made him pretend to be reading one summer when the world was waking up to how stupid Bush II actually was. Hopelessly silly, an adventure in buffoonery.

I think we need to think again. I urge everyone to watch Trump as he delivered his big foreign policy banana Tuesday at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. I am not a Trump man by any stretch, and I will not pretend to assign percentages to what Trump got right and what wrong. Only this for now: What he gets wrong he gets very wrong, while what he gets right he gets stunningly, pithily right. It is not a combination destined to prove at all workable. But in a single morning he has made himself worth listening to, from whatever distance one may choose.

The semiology Tuesday was clear and ought not be missed. A few blocks from the White House, the Mayflower has been associated with presidential politics for nearly a century. Coolidge spoke there; FDR stayed there before one of his inaugurations. More curiously, Judith Exner and Monica Lewinsky also found the Mayflower a convenient billet during the Kennedy and Clinton years respectively. The place lends political weight to the occasions it hosts.

The speech is on a YouTube feed here. The transcript, courtesy of Time, is here.

I do not know how long earlier it was planned, but it came a day after Trump swept five Republican primaries and now stands just short of certain to have enough delegates to avoid a contested GOP convention in Cleveland. And it was sponsored by The National Interest, the hawkishly conservative bimonthly founded by Irving Kristol in the 1980s and associated with the right-wing “realist” school. The realists have been among those quaking as Trump and the other Republican presidential aspirants have espoused something other than realistic foreign policy agendas.

Before taking up Trump’s remarks, this background is worth considering in itself. It suggests that elite party cliques and those known as Republican intellectuals—is this an oxymoron?—may be preparing to face the inevitable, avoid an internal coup in Cleveland and line up behind The Donald. It is worth taking note. David Brooks, Ross Douthat and these sorts of people may have to go quiet and eat some humble pie—which they will do in private while they bend their thinking to match the new orthodoxy, should one emerge along these lines.

As to Trump’s presentation, we have what it is and what it is not. It is interesting in both respects, but more the former than the latter.

It is not, to begin backwards, an accurate depiction of the world as it lies beyond our shores or America’s place in it. Neither did Trump describe foreign policy under Obama and before him the Clintons (President Bill, Secretary of State Hillary) with any sophistication. He displayed no knowingness in these respects. He is the novice in the foreign policy sphere that most people who have given the matter any thought have taken him to be all along.

“Our rivals no longer respect us,” Trump said at one point. In fact they’re just as confused as our allies, but an even bigger problem is they don’t take us seriously anymore. The truth is they don’t respect us.”

No, Donald. Our rivals think we are reckless but respect us the way one respects what is fearful. The word you are looking for is “admiration,” and you can forget about that across the board. And our allies are not confused: They know the score perfectly well. It is only we Americans who find our conduct abroad confusing.”And later: “America is going to be strong again. American is going to be reliable again. It’s going to be a great and reliable ally again. It’s going to be a friend again. We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy….”

No, Donald. Drop the nostalgia because there is no going back. You have to distinguish between a strong nation and one that is merely powerful. We are the latter, not the former. And our foreign policy is perfectly coherent: It is only that its purposes cannot be articulated to a democratically minded people whose ignorance of our conduct abroad is essential to sustaining it.

“I want to talk today about how to develop a new foreign policy for this country,” Trump began. It was an excellent opener. One can think of few things this country needs more urgently. When was the last time you heard any presidential candidate—or a sitting president or anyone else holding high office, for that matter—even raise the thought of a new foreign policy?

But the blur begins in the second half of the very same sentence: “… one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, chaos with peace.”

No twice more, Donald. One, there is nothing random and all too much purpose in the policy framework that has prevailed since global domination passed from an implicit to an explicit objective in the early years of this century. Two, ideology and strategy do not self-cancel: The former underwrites the latter.

But then three, something else: Trump may hardly yet grasp how right he was in suggesting that the cliques now making policy find chaos more useful than peace in any number of contexts. (If I start naming them I will not know when to stop.) The tradition of fomenting disorder, indeed, runs back as long as the American Century, a thread in the weave from the first.

All this is to say Trump has an underdeveloped framework. He likes nomenclature: He calls policies or the people who devise them derogatory names without thinking through what the names mean or what names would be more accurate. See above. This produces positions—a wall on the border with Mexico, a ban on all Muslims entering the country—that are so impractical as to offend (as sociology, let’s say) without worrying (as potential policy). They can never be put into practice.

My take on this point: If Trump finishes in Cleveland as the GOP candidate, he will spend a long time listening to lectures from emeritus wise men such as James Baker or his still-active successors. It will be a process of vetting. Or maybe house-breaking. To risk a prediction, by November 8 Trump will be marginally more worrisome than Hillary Clinton on the foreign policy side, and in some cases—his call for a rethink of NATO, for instance—less so.

Now, I am having a hard time with this next sentence, so please bear with me.

When Trump ticks off specific policies, as he did Tuesday, in some cases for the first time, he can be positively a relief from the fearsome prospect of four years of Clintonism. (And to risk another prediction, Clinton will barely survive one term, let alone win re-election for a second.) The speech is rich with examples, so I will settle on three for now as it is likely there will be more to say about Trump’s foreign policy thinking. (“Trump’s foreign policy thinking.” Never imagined I would write such a phrase.)

Here he is on Russia, an especially stark example given the prevailing state of relations. (He lumps the Russians in with the Chinese. See what I mean about blur?)

“We are not bound to be adversaries,” says Trump. “We should seek common ground based on shared interests. This horrible cycle of hostility has to end.”

Were I a younger man I would say something like, “Dude. Like totally cool.” Instead—another sentence I will take a sec to brace for—I am thoroughly in agreement with Trump on this point and think he should hit Hillary “I Urged Him to Bomb” Clinton over the head with it every chance he may get. As noted in a previous column, Trump prefers making deals to force. Implicit in the preference is a recognition of alternative perspectives and interests, which I count essential equipment in the 21st century.

It is past time, to make a broader point, that one can dismiss all Trump says simply because it is Trump saying it.

On the Middle East, a straight-ahead swing at the Obama administration’s habit of arming the very people we purport to oppose: “We need to be clear sighted about the groups that will never be anything other than enemies. And believe me, we have groups that no matter what you do, they will be the enemy. We have to be smart enough to recognize who those groups are, who those people are, and not help them.”

On strategy and tactics: “War and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy.”

If you do not accept that Trump gives us things to think about in assertions such as these, I wonder what you may mean by thinking. Be as surprised and feel as intellectually awkward as you like, but think it through. Tip: Start by detaching thoughts from names and associations. At least in this case it is the song, not the singer.

I find an import in Trump’s speech that runs deeper than any specific policy proposal he advanced. Trump is far outside the Beltway. He is an exceptionalist, yes, but he does not drink the Kool-Aid that runs from faucets in Washington. He is not beholden. And in consequence, in his first serious foray into the foreign policy space he is taking on the cliques in gladiatorial style.

The revived confrontation with Russia is bedrock in the current policy framework, an article of faith. “Military preponderance” has been an American objective since Brzezinski declared it so in his later years as Carter’s national security adviser. Force or the threat of it as the starting point of any policy has been catechism for a longer period. “Diplomacy is for weak nations. The strong have no need for it,” Boutros-Ghali wrote plaintively after the Americans shoved him out as secretary-general at the U.N. Most people in Washington would probably agree forthrightly.

The policy cliques and their clerks filling the opinion pages, then, are likely to cream Trump in coming days. He is belching in their chapel. But against them may stand—all hypothetical at this point—the GOP’s elders and all those taken up with policy and presidential power as against policy. They seem to think it is time to get the Donald inside the tent so he can urinate out, rather than the other way around.

It will be interesting to watch. Trump more or less guaranteed this when he landed on on the cliques themselves. “We have to look to new people,” he said toward the end, “because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing, even though they may look good writing in the New York Times or being watched on television.”

Watching Donald Trump himself will be interesting, too. Whatever one may think of him, he has always been his own man. It is part of his draw among those who support him: He acts out what they cannot, by and large. But what will become of The Donald now. Is that a waiter approaching with a glass of Kool-Aid? And will he drink it?

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Yes, Beyoncé is a “real artist”: Stop challenging the authenticity of her work

It’s clear that from now on, a new Beyoncé album is going to be a capital-E Event rather than a simple release. Over the weekend, her sixth studio album, “Lemonade,” premiered on HBO as the soundtrack of a visually stunning music video. The hour-long production, which rivaled any theater movie for quality, proffered an infidelity narrative most interpreted as representative of Beyoncé’s marriage to Jay-Z. That remains to be seen, although what’s perhaps more impressive is the sheer amount of musical cooperation that went into crafting “Lemonade.” Billboard broke down the credits in an exhaustive, detailed piece which pointed out guest stars (The Weeknd, Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, James Blake), samples (Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks,” OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”) and lyrical interpolations (Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”). More interesting, the article also pointed out notable producers (Boots, Diplo, Mike Will Made-It) and revealed that indie rock darlings Father John Misty, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and Animal Collective all had songwriting credits.

All told, the magazine reports, the “Lemonade” credits are 3,105 words long. Naturally, the comments section chimed in to call her “manufactured,” dismissed her as an “entertainer” and not a “real artist,” and said the record didn’t represent “her vision” since there were “all those other people” involved. These criticisms were sadly predictable: Beyoncé has been attacked for years for having too many songwriters on tracks (often incorrectly, in the case of “Run The World (Girls),” whose multiple songwriting credits come because of samples). And in general, artists operating in the pop realm tend to be viewed with skepticism if their albums seem too much like music-by-committee. Taylor Swift for one suddenly lost her songwriting cred when she went full-on Top 40 for “1989.” A 2015 article in The Atlantic even stated: “Before writing most of Taylor Swift’s newest album, Max Martin wrote No. 1 hits for Britney Spears, ’N Sync, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, and Katy Perry.” Never mind that the deluxe edition of Swift’s “1989” featured three of her personal songwriting voice memos, or that a series of Grammy Museum videos featured her breaking down her self-directed concept for the album.

The rockist subtexts informing this criticism are tiresome, especially because self-sufficiency is a rare gift in any genre. In fact, only a few artists possess the ability to do everything well. (Prince was one of them, of course: His production, composition and performance abilities were unimpeachable, and will likely never be matched.) Artists often thrive when they have sounding boards and trusted outside collaborators. Throughout her career, Madonna has had many creative foils—to name a few, Jellybean Benitez, Shep Pettibone and William Orbit—as she’s metamorphosed and grown. And songwriting is hardly the only measure of a musician’s worth. Whitney Houston was an incredibly gifted vocalist whose first two blockbuster records featured her interpretations of tunes written by other people. A dynamic performer, she had the ability to have uncommon empathy toward (and the ability to connect with and convey) the emotional core of a song. That characteristic wasn’t diminished by the fact her albums may have had a small army of talented studio musicians building the music around her voice.

In fact, the history of popular music is distinguished by such collaboration and cross-pollination. The legendary troupe of Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew appeared on dozens of iconic, chart-topping pop, R&B and rock hits, while the Funk Brothers dominated and shaped Motown in Detroit, and other regional sounds sprang up around the musicians at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and at Memphis-based Stax Records. Even Michael Jackson had production and songwriting collaborators to help him realize his vision for “Thriller.” Although certainly there are plenty of cases when too many cooks ruin an album, the mere fact that a record has a lengthy list of names in the liner notes doesn’t make it less authentic or valid.

And as I considered the many components of “Lemonade,” it occurred to me that the album is a sculpture of rhythms, sentiments and textures—as well as disparate artists, sonic approaches and eras—in a way that’s akin to Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique,” a groundbreaking record cobbled together via samples. Over the weekend, a writing colleague noted the same thing, and then went one step further, with a pointed tweet referencing other pioneering cut-and-paste albums: “If you feel ‘Lemonade’ has too many contributors, surrender your copies of ‘Paul’s Boutique,’ [DJ Shadow’s] ‘Endtroducing’ & [Public Enemy’s] ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions [To Hold Us Back]’ now.” The idea of pastiche is central to the success of this trio of albums, the core tenet that makes them innovative and laudable. That’s also the case with “Lemonade,” whose well-publicized indie rock songwriting credits are only a miniscule part of the record’s overall breadth and depth. In fact, the YouTube clip for cult act Kaleidoscope’s “Let Me Try,” which is sampled on the Lamar-featuring “Freedom” and appeared in an ad for Beyoncé’s tour, is peppered with commenters who sought out the song and thanked her for introducing them to “good music.”

To hold “Lemonade” up to separate (and higher) standards because it’s a Beyoncé album has an uncomfortably sexist subtext. Then again, as Tamara Winfrey Harris lays out in this excellent Bitch Magazine essay, “All Hail the Queen? What Do Our Perceptions of Beyoncé’s Feminism Say About Us?,” all aspects of Bey’s life are held to a completely different standard. “The judgment of how Beyoncé expresses her womanhood is emblematic of the way women in the public eye are routinely picked apart—in particular, it’s a demonstration of the conflicting pressures on black women and the complicated way our bodies and relationships are policed,” Winfrey Harris writes. This kind of unfair policing extended to Beyoncé’s politics after her February Super Bowl Halftime Show appearance, which provoked accusations that she was racist.

On “Lemonade,” Beyoncé uses the knowledge that everything she does attracts more scrutiny to her advantage: It gives her a platform to take a political stance. For example, in the music video, she includes a snippet of a Malcolm X speech: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” And as Brittany Spanos points out in a salient Rolling Stone piece, “How Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Reclaims Rock’s Black Female Legacy,” Beyoncé’s musical choices and amalgamations are also major statements, as the “presence of black women in the mainstream performing rock is an act of reclamation, especially at a time when the genre’s clout on radio and the charts is severely diminished.”

Spanos observes that Beyoncé working with Jack White (“a forerunner of the movement to bring back blues-rock in the new millennium”) and including a sample of “When the Levee Breaks” (“itself a reworked version of a song by black Delta blues artists Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie”) on “Lemonade is “a shrewd statement on the genre’s complex lineage. She re-appropriates a hard-rock version of a blues classic that gained more traction and recognition than the original, while teaming up with the new standard bearer for the intermingling of blues and rock.” This observation points to the intricacies of “Lemonade,” as well as underscores the savviness of its execution.

But in the end, the most telling name in the credits for “Lemonade” is the one next to executive producer: Beyoncé Knowles Carter. This credit comes first, before the record’s song-by-song breakdowns and notations of other collaborators. This position is certainly no accident, and it simply reiterates that Beyoncé was integral to every note on the album. Regardless of how many producers, songwriters and musicians appear on “Lemonade,” they are merely supporting Beyoncé and the musical, political and personal narrative she wanted to put forth with this record.

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