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Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Best sci-fi and fantasy novels of all time. The Telegraph presents the best books from the science fiction and fantasy genres.
Lewis Carroll (1865)
It has been suggested that Alice’s trippy experiences are Carroll’s comment on his contemporary mathematical theory: that all the growing and shrinking is about Euclidean geometry and that episodes such as the caterpillar and the hookah are a send-up of symbolic algebra. Whatever the explanation, it endures.
Does the county of Surrey make quite enough of the fact that Wells’s malevolent Martians first landed in Woking? Or that the hideous creatures in their tripods laid waste to Walton-on-Thames? Like all immortal science fiction, this is rooted in more earthly anxieties – here, belligerent European rival nations.
Bram Stoker (1897)
Best enjoyed not as Gothic horror, but as a blazing late Victorian imperial adventure. Jonathan Harker may initially travel to the Count’s eerie fastness in Transylvania, but the Count is intent on some reverse colonisation, coming to London and spreading his undead activities into the very heart of bourgeois English society.
Mervyn Peake (1946)
What must post-war readers have made of the denizens of Gormenghast? Of Lord Sepulchrave, Dr Prunesquallor, Nanny Slagg, and Steerpike? What did all that rich and mad Gothic detailing portend? The imagery remains unforgettable, not least Swelter’s infernal kitchens, and Flay hurling a white cat at Steerpike.
Aldous Huxley (1932)
Initially intended as a gentle send-up of H G Wells’s utopian “things to come” visions, Huxley instead conjured a nightmare 26th-century society of babies grown in “hatcheries”, promiscuous casual sex (marriage and families are obsolete) and hallucinogenic drugs. It is frequently pointed out that all such things have come to pass.
Banned. For life.
Stalin would have former high rankings members of the Communist Party in Russia airbrushed out of photos. Once they felt out of favor with the party and were eliminated, the original photo would need altering.
Ghostly images, when compared to the original, appear of men whose very existence was airbrushed out of history. The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia by David King, is a history of these photos and those officially removed by the state.
They simply fell out of favoring with the ruling orthodoxy. Regardless of their commitment, their memory had to be erased.
The other day, I wrote If you see something, say something: Donald Sterling, the NBA, and life in the American Gulag.
It contained this line:
The United States of America is little more than an open-air prison, a gulag, where you work hard and slave away to ensure that portions of your income are taxed to pay for the eternal quest to uplift black people. You can even go into debt to move your family away from dysfunctional, majority black cities, to buy your time some "freedom" in a momentarily peaceful suburb.
Now, with unlimited immigrants (illegal and legal) flooding into the country, those who profit from this scheme have new, cheaper labor to drive down wages and ensure now prison riots or revolution against their rule transpires.
But if you dare notice you are wearing prison jumpers (Cliven Bundy, Paula Deen, etc. ), as even Donald Sterling just found out, well, the reality of the gulag of Black-Run America comes crashing down.Despite spending a lifetime donating money to pro-black causes (even the Museum of Tolerance...), Donald Sterling has just become a prisoner of the American Gulag. All the money spent buying accolades from so-called civil rights organization was erased, like one of Stalin's former allies who fell out of favor. [NBA Suspends Clippers’ Owner Donald Sterling For Life, Imposes $2.5 Million Fine, CBS Los Angeles, 4-29-14]:
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday Clippers owner Donald Sterling will be suspended for life and fined $2.5 million following racist remarks he made in a recorded audio clip.
Those that fell out of favor with Stalin - summarily executed - had their very existence erased (airbrushed) from the record...
Silver spoke to the press at an 11 a.m. news conference from New York, stating he will “do everything in my power” to force the sale of the Clippers.
“The hateful opinions voiced by that man are those of Mr. Sterling. The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage,” Silver said. “I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers association or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, he may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or decisions involving the team.”
An Iron Curtain Protecting Blackness has descended across America, sheltering black people from any criticism or potential hurt feelings (criticism of an individual black person, even based on their character, automatically qualifies of castigating every member - regardless of shade - of the black race).
Read More at: http://stuffblackpeopledontlike.blogspot.com/2014/04/even-in-america-commissar-vanishes.html
In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington's imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War. He agreed that U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid could fly through Russian air space. He said the U.S. military could use airbases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And he ordered his generals to brief their U.S. counterparts on their own ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan.
During Putin's visit to President George W. Bush's Texas ranch two months later, the U.S. leader, speaking at a local high school, declared his Russian counterpart "a new style of leader, a reformer … a man who's going to make a huge difference in making the world more peaceful, by working closely with the United States."
For a moment, it seemed, the distrust and antipathy of the Cold War were fading. Then, just weeks later, Bush announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that it could build a system in Eastern Europe to protect NATO allies and U.S. bases from Iranian missile attack. In a nationally televised address, Putin warned that the move would undermine arms control and nonproliferation efforts.
"This step has not come as a surprise to us," Putin said. "But we believe this decision to be mistaken." The sequence of events early in Washington's relationship with Putin reflects a dynamic that has persisted through the ensuing 14 years and the current crisis in Ukraine: U.S. actions, some intentional and some not, sparking an overreaction from an aggrieved Putin.
As Russia masses tens of thousands of troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border, Putin is thwarting what the Kremlin says is an American plot to surround Russia with hostile neighbors. Experts said he is also promoting "Putinism"—a conservative, ultra-nationalist form of state capitalism—as a global alternative to Western democracy.
It's also a dynamic that some current and former U.S. officials said reflects an American failure to recognize that while the Soviet Union is gone as an ideological enemy, Russia has remained a major power that demands the same level of foreign-policy attention as China and other large nations—a relationship that should not just be a means to other ends, but an end in itself.
Read More at: http://m.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/04/how-america-turned-putin-against-the-west/360921/
Iraq's former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, is hoping to oust the current government in this week's elections. He speaks to SPIEGEL about his belief that the Americans robbed him of power and about the country's escalating violence.
Ayad Allawi has only just seen off a delegation of Shiite clerics from Basra, and already emissaries from the autonomous region of Kurdistan are waiting for him in the parlor. A long list of supporters and activists come to visit the 69-year-old here, in the campaign office of his Iraqi National Accord Party, despite the dangers involved in a trip to Baghdad. Bomb attacks still rock the country, and the capital, every day.
Allawi, the son of a Shiite businessman, joined the nationalist Baath party when he was a medical student, but in the 1970s, became an opponent of Saddam, who had already begun using brutal methods to steer the country. Today, 11 years after Saddam's fall, violence, corruption and abuses of power still dominate daily life in Baghdad. Allawi blames Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for this chaos. Allawi says his "primary goal" for the parliamentary election on April 30 is to remove his religiously influenced government.
SPIEGEL recently sat down for an interview with Allawi in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Iraq on Wednesday.
SPIEGEL: Dr. Allawi, you are the head of the coalition of opposition parties known as the National List, and you are challenging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the parliamentary election on April 30. Do you expect it to be a fair election?
Allawi: No, not really. The number of atrocities used to intimidate the opposition has gone up again. And the politically devastating charge that I was a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party is being dragged out again. This tactic is especially intended to sideline opposition candidates who are capable of capture a lot of votes.
SPIEGEL: And you are running nonetheless?
Read More at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/ayad-allawi-interview-about-iraqi-election-and-american-interference-a-966568.html
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
It’s very common to find bootleg toys online or in your local dollar store that are not only shoddily made but of questionable taste as well. However, it’s not just the unlicensed tat that’s making many shoppers cringe as they’re walking down aisles at their local toy stores…
It’s likely the marketing directors, quality control officers, or toy designers responsible for the following massive toy industry failures were fired when these controversial toys hit the shelves. Some of these shocking toys were pulled from the shelves once angry parents started to voice their outrage, but some of these products can surprisingly still be purchased if you know where to look. While there are strict regulations in place for toy safety in the United States, these rules apply to standards like the amount of lead or phthalates in a toy; the standards don’t necessarily protect children from the emotional scarring they may endure by playing with a shockingly inappropriate knick knack.
In 2005, over 200 injuries and 20 deaths of children under 15 occurred as a result of toys. Because of statistics like these, product recalls occur all the time and many high profile toys have been recalled and banned. Even if a toy is not deemed dangerous, but has garnered enough high-profile criticism, it can be recalled. Banned toys can fetch top dollar from collectors on the black market; like the infamous Generation 1 Megatron figure from the Transformers toy line which was banned for sale on eBay because it transformed into a toy gun. The figure regularly sells on Amazon for more than $200 USD when it is mint in box. From toys laced with an inappropriate dose of sexual innuendo to extremely dangerous children’s playthings, here’s a look at ten of the most shocking children’s toys of all time.Read More at: http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/most-shocking/10-most-shocking-childrens-toys/
It should come as a surprise to just about nobody that Chicago is the most corrupt big city in America, and long has been. The setting for the godfather of all gangster movies – Scarface, the Shame of a Nation, starring Paul Muni as a thinly disguised Al Capone, directed by Howard Hawks — Chicago has flaunted its outlaw status in the country’s face for nearly a century. And continues to do so, now that one of its own occupies the White House.
Consider this news item, which got no play in the national media beyond the Windy City, whose newspapers have long understood the criminal nature of their municipal government — even if, in the grand tradition of Jake Lingle, they occasionally act as incubators for members of the party. It seems that the former city comptroller, Amer Ahmad — a convicted criminal nonetheless hired by mayor Rahm Emanuel to oversee the city’s finances– is now on the lam; hardly a surprise coming from adherents of the criminal organization masquerading as a political party.
Facing up to 15 years in prison and stripped of his U.S. passport, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former city comptroller ordered his wife this week “to get him a fake birth certificate from Pakistan for a passport,” according to court records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. Now, Amer Ahmad is on the lam, and a judge issued a warrant Friday for his arrest…Ahmad — who has continued to live in Chicago since resigning from his $165,000-a-year City Hall post last summer — pleaded guilty in December to being part of a large kickback and money-laundering scheme when he was Ohio’s deputy state treasurer.The crimes occurred before Ahmad joined Emanuel’s administration in April 2011. An outside investigation that City Hall commissioned to review Ahmad’s conduct revealed no criminal wrongdoing by Ahmad or his staff. That investigation cost Chicago taxpayers $825,000.
Left unanswered is why Ahmad was hired in the first place to mind the city’s money. But don’t worry — he didn’t cost Chicagoans one red cent!
Chicago taxpayers spent $825,000 to find out that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s now-convicted former City Comptroller Amer Ahmad did not cost them a penny beyond his $165,000-a-year salary. The $825,000 was paid to the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and the accounting firm of Grant Thornton for a 47-page report that concluded that Ahmad did not defraud cash-strapped Chicago as he did in Ohio…An embarrassed Emanuel flatly denied that he should have known about Ahmad’s alleged wrongdoing in Ohio and promised an exhaustive investigation — with Inspector General Joe Ferguson and Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton overseeing the forensic audit.
Ahmad’s arrest warrant is here.
Ahmad was raised in Ohio by Pakistani immigrant parents. After his guilty plea, Ahmad remained free on bail but surrendered his passport. Though his sentencing date hasn’t been set, he faces up to 15 years in prison and has agreed to pay $3.2 million in restitution. Ahmad had been a rising star in the Emanuel administration before abruptly resigning last summer, saying he wanted to seek a job in the private sector…Ahmad pleaded guilty in December to federal conspiracy and bribery charges, admitting he used his Ohio government position to secure “lucrative state business” for Douglas Hampton — his high school classmate and financial adviser — “in exchange for payments” to himself and others.In his plea agreement, Ahmad said Hampton made secret payments to him, and, as Ohio’s deputy treasurer, he steered state securities brokerage work to Hampton. Prosecutors said Ahmad and a business partner — Joseph M. Chiavaroli, also of Chicago — hid those payments by passing them through an Ohio landscaping company they owned.
Interestingly, there’s somebody named “Mohammed” involved in this story as well. And who is he? According to his indictment, he’s an immigration lawyer who last December pleaded guilty to federal charges of “aiding and abetting honest services wire fraud” as part of the general indictment of Ahmad et al. for bribery and money laundering.Read More at: http://pjmedia.com/michaelwalsh/2014/04/28/chicago-the-shame-of-a-nation/?singlepage=true
Last week was quite the time for old, seemingly white men to make racial comments about blacks.
We first had Cliven Bundy discuss the problems of the Negro. The media unsurprisingly convulsed in anger in response. It wasn’t anything you wouldn’t have heard on an average day on Fox or Rush Limbaugh – it was just expressed in a way that made it easier fodder for The Daily Show to mock and made it harder for the conservative media to stand by him.
Then we had the leaked tape of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers disparaging his girlfriend for associating with blacks (even though she is a mulatto herself). That led to many calling for Sterling to lose his ownership and prompted sponsors to flee from his team.
Both the controversy surrounding Cliven Bundy and that of Donald Sterling present an interesting study of prevalent attitudes towards race by different elements of American society. I would like to call these two views: “the colorblind negro” and “the high-status instagram.”
Bundy represents red state America -- the tea party demographic to be more precise. As a cattle rancher living out in rural Nevada, he’s a natural voter for the Republican Party and makes the stereotypical consumer of conservative talking points. He became a cause célèbre of the right because he withstood the federal government’s entrenchment on his private property and transformed it into the excesses of big government versus the constitutional rights of citizens.
It was somewhat of a farce to begin with and seemed like a situation that could’ve only been dreamed up by Rand Paul’s campaign staff -- if it hadn’t actually happened. A rancher symbolizing the entirety of Middle America took on the government to protect the (technically illegal) grazing area of his cows and spit on the regulations aimed to protect an endangered turtle. While an inspiring act to stand up to the guns of the Bureau of Land Management, it’s ultimately an act over cows – nothing more.
But since it had nothing to do with race and was largely an economic issue, the right turned Bundy into a folk hero and made his fight righteous in the eyes of the GOP’s demographic.
Then he used the word “Negro” and compared welfare to slavery. That went over the conservative movement’s red line on acceptable race-baiting and they quickly moved to denounce him. What he said wasn’t even racist and if put in a different context, as Peter Brimelow has pointed out, would’ve been the basis of a Paul Ryan speech on inner city outreach:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.
Monday, April 28, 2014
The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, by George Marsden (Basic Books, 218 pp., $26.99)
George Marsden, the distinguished historian of religion in America, has written a short, curious, and at times insightful book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment. Awarded the Bancroft Prize in 1993 for his biography of Jonathan Edwards, Marsden rightly argues in his new book that American political culture has been shaped by an alliance between Protestant Christianity and Enlightenment rationality. “My argument,” he explains, “is that the mainstream thinkers of the 1950s can be better understood if we see them in far more continuity with the cultural assumptions of the founders than would be true of most mainstream thinkers today.” He aims to explain the collapse of the pluralistic liberalism of the 1950s, in which religion and reason—like the era’s Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—were seen to be in relative harmony. But his closing chapters propose a new sort of pluralism based on the writing of Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper.
The book opens with an extended recapitulation of 1950s academic and popular discussions about the impact of mass society on individual freedom. Marsden covers familiar territory, recounting the arguments of Eric Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, and Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers, among other titles. With some caveats, he sides with those who argued that consumerism and television were “destroying freedom” and individuality in America.
Marsden assumes that this view of middle-class American life was new and reflected real conditions. But neither was the case. The middle-class critique that he endorses first took shape around the First World War, in the so-called “revolt against the village,” which saw life on Main Street as stupefying and soul-crushing. The writers Marsden relies on either recycled those arguments or, because they were writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, saw America as susceptible to the same horrors that had overtaken Nazi Germany. Marsden seems unaware of the role that a cultural Marxism-cum-left-wing-Toryism played in foisting such arguments on ordinary Americans. The relatively placid life of the 1950s was the bounty of people who had lived through economic depression and war and yearned for conventional comforts. Whatever its shortcomings, this vision was hardly a danger to the American republic. But ideologues made it seem so, and Marsden accurately renders the consequences when their thesis became widely accepted.
Bernardo Bertolucci on being burned by Hollywood. Bernardo Bertolucci lost the use of his legs and decided he was 'finished'. But luckily making a gloomy new film proved just the tonic for Italy's most infamous director. John Preston meets him.
Outside Bernardo Bertolucci’s apartment in Rome there is a large goods lift. Once it carried supplies and shopping from floor to floor but now the goods it carries are Bertolucci and one of his three wheelchairs.
Ten years ago, Bertolucci had what he was told would be routine back surgery on a herniated disc. After the first operation, he was told that there had been a bit of a problem but this could easily be sorted out by another operation. He was told exactly the same thing after his second operation. After his third, he realised he would never walk again.
Since then he has become a recluse – at least that’s how he describes himself. He seldom goes out, and hardly ever to the cinema, where he once spent almost all his free time. Instead, one wall of his living room is taken up with an enormous white screen. Right now it’s showing a live broadcast of the Papal enthronement taking place half a mile away. Every so often snatches of the Pope’s voice drift in through the open window from one of the PA systems that have been set up all over the city.
After a few minutes Bertolucci appears, carefully manoeuvring his wheelchair around the furniture. He was always an imposing man: as a teenager I remember seeing photos of him when Last Tango in Paris came out in 1972 and thinking that's exactly how a film director should look. At 73, he may have thickened out and lost some hair but he’s still imposing, even if, as he observes drily, he’s half the height he once was.
However grim the past few years have been, he is, he insists, feeling a lot better these days. Having been told that he would almost certainly spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, Bertolucci plunged into deep depression, convinced that his career as a director was over.
The next few weeks will see India voting in the biggest democratic election in the history of mankind. More than 800million people are eligible to vote in the elections for the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, which will determine which parties will form the country’s next government. Not only will this be the biggest election India has ever seen, thanks to a still-growing population. but it also represents a major crossroads for the 64-year-old republic.
The ruling United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress party, which has ruled India more often than not since leading the struggle for independence from the British Empire, is widely considered to have fared poorly in its last five-year term. Indeed, the outgoing parliament has been plagued by political stalemate and disruption, and leaves no fewer than 74 bills pending. After two decades of impressive growth, India’s economy is ailing. A sense of exhaustion hangs over Congress’s leaders, from the aged prime minister Manmohan Singh to the not-quite-youthful youth party leader and party vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, scion of the dynasty that began with India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Congress’s primary adversary is Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), usually characterised as a right-wing, ‘Hindu nationalist’ party. Modi’s name is especially tainted by association with a 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, the state of which he was, and remains, chief minister. But Gujarat is also Modi’s selling point, because it has been relatively successful in attracting investment and is presented by some as a development model to be emulated by the country as a whole.
For many observers, the election is a contest between two competing visions of India. Congress supporters insist that the very idea of India as a secular, modern republic is threatened by the BJP’s backward politics of communal division, sometimes adding that its development credentials amount to little more than support for corporate greed at the expense of the poor. Unsurprisingly, Modi’s supporters see things differently.
Read More at: http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/indias-election-the-worlds-largest-question-mark/14906#.U15UyIFdVA1
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Syrian smugglers enjoy a free-for-all among ancient ruins. With no worry they'll be discovered by Syria's intelligence agents, Syrian smugglers are plundering – and selling – everything from coins to funerary busts with impunity.
Syrian rebel Abu Abd al-Tedmuri grew up in the shadow of Palmyra's ancient ruins. Like many in his family, he illegally excavated and sold archaeological treasures on the side. Amid the chaos of war, this business is chugging along.
Sitting on a thin mattress in the apartment in Turkey he shares with a dozen rebel fighters, Mr. Tedmuri quickly swipes through photos on his smartphone, displaying Islamic gold coins and funerary busts – a few of his treasures. He hid some in his hometown, smuggling the rest to Turkey. Most of them he sold.
The artifacts come from Palmyra's majestic Greco-Ruman ruins, the remains of a caravan stop between the 1st and 3rd centuries that is recognized by the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, as a world heritage site. Battles between the regime and rebels, many of whom took shelter in the clusters of palm and date trees skirting the ruins, created the perfect opportunity for plunder.
“After the events in Syria, all the ruins became exposed and no one was protecting them,” says the 25-year-old, who worked in an oriental shop in Palmyra before the uprising. “The Army shelled this and other areas on the pretext that rebels were hiding there. The bombing opened up new craters, allowing people easy access to ruins. Some citizens stole ruins seeking a profit, FSA fighters also took stuff to get money for ammunition."
Tedmuri fled, but not before burying the bounty that proved too big to carry and packing away smaller items to sell in Turkey.
'No more fear'
Palmyra and the adjacent town of Tedmur used to be major tourist destinations. Residents made a living off of the hotels, shops, and restaurants catering to visitors, while Bedouins and their camels hawked sunrise and sunset rides among the ruins. The evocative structures are scarred, but they escaped the full-scale destruction wrought on many of Syria's other historic sites and cities.
Still, Tedmuri – whose black market nickname is derived from the town name – has no illusions that tourism will return soon, and is unapologetic about his role chipping away at the national heritage.
Palmyran art, which fuses Greco and Roman techniques with Iranian and indigenous influences, is coveted worldwide. An illicit trade in such artifacts existed well before the conflict, but fear of the mukhabarat, intelligence, kept a check on it. Getting caught could result in a 15-year prison sentence.Read More at: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2014/0427/Syrian-smugglers-enjoy-a-free-for-all-among-ancient-ruins