December 1, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 PM

IF YOU INVESTIGATE RUSSIA YOU CAN'T HELP CATCHING DONALD:

Lisa Page Speaks: 'There's No Fathomable Way I Have Committed Any Crime at All' (Molly Jong-Fast, Dec. 1st, 2019, Daily Beast)

By February 2016, she was working on one of the most important investigations at the FBI-the Hillary Clinton email case. "We knew that the case was going to get picked apart," she says. "And we know there's not a person on the FBI team or the DOJ team who thinks this is not the right result. There is no case to be brought here. But it's very busy. It's very intense. Director [James] Comey was very clear he wanted this completed as soon as humanly possible and outside of the political environment. So there was a real focus to get it done before the conventions that were happening that summer. And so that's what we did." 

"But her emails" would soon give way to an actual threat to national security, one that existed not in the fever dreams of Fox and the Breitbart comments section, but in the real, dangerous world the FBI exists to protect us from, where things like foreign meddling in our elections takes place: strong evidence of Russian interference in the election on behalf of Trump.

"There are two things that happen in the late summer of 2016," Page says. "The first, of course, is that the FBI gets the predication [courtesy of loose-lipped George Papadopoulos], which starts the Russian investigation. We learn about the possibility that there's someone on the Trump campaign coordinating with the Russian government in the release of emails, which will damage the Clinton campaign." 

"Predication" sounds mild for what it really means; in the summer of 2016, the FBI and the intelligence community were seeing increasing signs from a variety of intelligence sources and programs (that Page cannot and will not discuss due to classification reasons) that members of the Trump campaign were tied to a variety of Russian intelligence services, and that the Russian Federation was in the midst of trying to manipulate the 2016 United States election with a sweeping information warfare and propaganda effort. As The New York Times reported on Nov. 22, "U.S. intel services concluded, and have told Senate Republicans, that Russia mounted a massive disinformation campaign to implicate Ukraine in 2016 meddling and hide its own role."

At the end of July 2016 Page finds herself transitioning from one investigation, the Hillary Clinton email inquiry, to another the Russian government disinformation probe. The president is not under investigation, but the FBI is trying to determine if someone associated with his campaign is working with Russia.

"We were very deliberate and conservative about who we first opened on because we recognized how sensitive a situation it was," Page says. "So the prospect that we were spying on the campaign or even investigating candidate Trump himself is just false. That's not what we were doing." 

From summer 2016 to spring 2017, Page worked for McCabe, who had become deputy director. They were very busy, but things were largely normal. And then, on May 9, 2017, FBI Director Comey was fired. What was that like?

"It was horrible," Page said. "It was a devastating moment at the FBI. It was like a funeral, only worse, because at least when someone dies, you get to come together and celebrate and talk about that person. He was still alive. But he was inaccessible to us. It jolted the ranks and the investigation. It was so abrupt. He was there one day and gone the next."

Was that very unusual?

"Well, I mean, all of it was!" she replied. "The FBI director had just been fired. Yes, it was totally within the authority of the president, but it was unprecedented and unimaginable given the circumstances. The president fired him with the knowledge that, of course, we were investigating Russian contacts with his campaign. I mean, it just gave the aura of an obstructive effort."

Page would have probably just been another FBI lawyer if it wasn't for the extraordinarily politicized environment and a President who had a habit of attacking career government employees.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM

IMPOSSIBLE!:

USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list ranks the 150 top-selling titles each week based on an analysis of sales from U.S. booksellers. 


1. A Warning by Anonymous

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM

"THE ONLY GOOD MUSLIM...":

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">"It would be a mistake to view Trump's pardons as stemming from a deep reverence for the military...Rather, he views these crimes as acts of nationalist solidarity against Muslims, against whom crimes are not simply acceptable but praiseworthy." <a href="https://t.co/l06Af6PceG">https://t.co/l06Af6PceG</a></p>&mdash; Adam Serwer🍝 (@AdamSerwer) <a href="https://twitter.com/AdamSerwer/status/1201254507130302471?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 1, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM

VLAD'S B-ATCHES:


Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM

THEIR MOST RADICAL IDEAS ARE IMMENSELY POPULAR:


Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM

THE DONALD BRAND:


Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM

SIMPLE SELF-DETERMINATION:

As Iraq bloodshed spreads, Sistani calls for early elections (Ali Mamouri, November 29, 2019, Al Monitor)

"Given the difficult circumstances the country is going through and the clear failure of the authorities in dealing with the last two months' developments, the parliament that formed the current government is invited to reconsider its options and act in the interest of Iraq," Sistani's representative Sayyed Ahmad Safi said during the Nov. 29 Friday prayer. He went on, "The parliament is invited to accelerate the preparation of the new electoral legislation package in a way that satisfies the people and then hold free and fair elections whose results sincerely reflect the will of the Iraqi people."

Sistani slammed the government for attacking the protesters and preventing them from making their reform demands. He also warned that Iraq's "enemies" are working to spread chaos in the country and push it to civil war so as to bring back the "disgusting dictatorship."

In a similar statement on Nov. 28, controversial Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr also urged Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign before Iraq follows in Syria's footsteps.

Sistani's statements were clear, leaving no choice for the government and the parliament but to give in to the protesters' and Sistani's demands.

Only two hours after Sistani's statements, Abdul Mahdi announced that he would hand his resignation to the parliament very soon.

Several political parties in the parliament have expressed support for dismissing the government and moving forward with new elections under a new electoral law, among them Qais Khazali's Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Haider al-Abadi's Nasr Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party and Muqtada Sadr's Sairoon.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM

IF YOU INVESTIGATE RUSSIA, YOU CATCH DONALD (profanity alert):

Fusion GPS Founder: Spreading Corruption Is Kremlin Foreign Policy (Andrea Bernstein, December 1, 2019, Pro Publica)

[WNYC's Andrea Bernstein]n: In the last three years, what have we learned that is either confirmed, or refuted, or somehow changed in your understanding of Trump and business dealings with the former Soviet Union?

Simpson: I mean, most simply that he is in business with a lot of people who are in organized crime and that he -- in some cases -- clearly knew that. And I'd say that's the broadest observation you can make about it.

Bernstein: You're talking about something we've learned in the last three years?

Simpson: Actually, some of it dates back before that. I mean, the start of our inquiry was really just into his business and whether he was a good businessman, whether he was as rich as he said he was. Then one of the first things we came across was Felix Sater. Frankly, it was no great investigative coup. I just was reading old New York Times clips.

And there was an article about this guy with this criminal past who appeared to be close to Donald Trump. And that set me off looking into court records to see what else I could find out about [Sater]. And eventually it became clear that this guy was indeed really close to Trump. His family is Jewish, but they're from Russia. He immigrated to the United States as a child. His father had a criminal history, seemed to be involved in some sort of organized crime activity. So that was the beginning. That was the first dot in what turned out to be a long dot connecting exercise.

Bernstein: So let's just back up one second. For people who don't know or really understand what Fusion GPS is, what is it?

Simpson: I left The Wall Street Journal in 2009. I had a really great job as a free-range investigative reporter, and I tended to cover financial crime, international organized crime. But the business was changing, the newspaper was changing. It had been acquired by News Corp. And I decided it was time to try something else. And I thought about what I really loved about journalism. And the thing that stayed with me over the years and never got old was the reporting aspect of digging into stuff and trying to figure out what was going on. So I decided to try to set up a business where I could continue to do that.

We set up Fusion in 2010 and began marketing our services as acquirers of reliable information for people who need information to make decisions -- figure out why they're not winning in a contract competition, to help them manage a complex piece of litigation. And, as it turned out, it's a useful service that is in demand and is economical for a lot of clients, given the other alternatives, like using a paralegal or someone else to collect documents. I mean, you know, we collect documents, that's essentially what we do for the most part.

Bernstein: How do you sort of square the idea of doing research for hire with the journalistic practice that you're carrying out?

Simpson: Well obviously a newspaper has a special status in our society as a sort of independent entity and struggles to be fair and impartial. And obviously, if you're working for a private company, the relationship is different. However, the service that we sell is neutral in the sense that what we promise people is that we will acquire the information they need to make a decision.

We don't sell outcomes. We gather information. And part of the pitch when we talked to a new client is: Please don't tell us what you think is happening or what you want to try to prove or any of that. Let us just hoover up all the information and we'll tell you what we think is happening.

Bernstein: So you say in your book -- and you've talked about -- how most of your clients are litigation clients. How did you end up with a Trump assignment?

Simpson: Well, I spent most of my adult life in Washington, much of it covering politics, political corruption campaigns and elections. So I know a lot of people in that world on both sides. So in 2012 when the Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, some people on the other side asked us to look into his business career -- how much taxes he paid, whether he shipped jobs overseas, that sort of thing. And we were able to produce a lot of interesting, reliable material that was in the public domain but not easy to find.

In 2015, along comes another tycoon who wants to be the Republican nominee for president. And we thought, well, you know, we did this four years ago. It was a lot of fun. Let's see if someone wants us to do it again. In this case we thought of doing it in the Republican primaries instead of in the general election. So the natural client would be someone on the Republican side who wanted to stop Donald Trump.

Bernstein: And that was your client?

Simpson: That was, yeah. We reached out to a Republican friend of mine and I said, "Hey, would you guys be interested in procuring some research on Donald Trump's business career? You know, his lawsuit, how he treats his employees, his multiple bankruptcies," that sort of thing.

Bernstein: At that time, did you have an idea where the research would take you?

Simpson: Absolutely none. It was, I mean, the way we structure our agreements with most clients is that it's a 30-day agreement.

You did not have to sign a long-term contract and basically you get to taste the cooking and if you like it you can keep going. So it was originally just a 30-day assignment to write up, you know, what we could find on his business career and an overall assessment. It was an amazing sort of first month.

I had never, ever seen so many lawsuits involving one person in my life. There was just so much litigation. It was really unbelievable. But in general, the litigation was over his lousy business practices. I mean, he's just a dishonest person. He doesn't pay his vendors. He goes bankrupt repeatedly. He misstates the financial condition of his properties. And in the beginning it was just a picture of a guy who was not a reliable person and not a good businessman.

Bernstein: Now you had done -- as a journalist -- a number of stories on Paul Manafort. Long before he went to work for Trump.

Simpson: So when Peter [Fritsch] and I worked together in the Brussels bureau of The Wall Street Journal -- from about 2005 to 2008 -- what was fresh and new in Europe at the time was Russian organized crime and kleptocracy and the transition of the former Soviet Union to market economies.

A lot of criminal groups were sort of seeping eastward or moving up in their own countries and getting in legal trouble, having problems with Western law enforcement, needing influence in the West. And one of the first people to recognize that this was a booming market for his talents was Paul Manafort. And so he began doing political consulting in Ukraine working for Russian oligarchs. And part of that work was in fact exercising influence on their behalf in Washington. [...]

Bernstein: One of the things, I think, that people have reacted to since the release of the dossiers [is the idea that] Putin has some big thing on Trump's business. And I mean, we know a lot more. We know, for example, that they were secretly negotiating a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow and asking the Kremlin for favors during the presidential campaign. But I don't think that we understand, like: Is there some incredibly bad business deal gone wrong or is there something else that Putin has that we should be looking for that's still out there? What do you think?

Simpson: I think we definitely don't know the whole story. I think that we can make a couple of observations. You know, one of the big ones is what you referred to, which is Trump was negotiating a secret business deal to do a development in Russia while running for president, and he hid that fact from the American people. That is kompromat. That's the definition of kompromat. Kompromat is not sexual blackmail. It's a shared secret. Any shared secret that is embarrassing, incriminating. So if I know something about you -- and you know I know -- then I got kompromat on you. So --

Bernstein: And that's a Russian term, kompromat.

Simpson: Correct.

Bernstein: And it's used all the time in Russian politics.

Simpson: All the time. So [Steele's] primary concern was that the Russians had kompromat on Trump. And you know, he's clearly right. They did have kompromat on Trump. We didn't know what it was, or what all of it was. But this was one of the possibilities. It's in the original early memos. Whether there's more, and whether it also involves money, we don't know. He's gone to great lengths to prevent people from finding out what else there might be there. I'll add parenthetically that, you know, Peter and I sort of saw things a little differently than [Steele] and Orbis with regard to the famous pee tape, which was, you know, it seemed just to be unprovable.

And from my perspective, sex is probably the one thing you can't blackmail Donald Trump over. 'Cause he seems to want everyone to know that he engages in lots of sex. So, you know, I think [Steele's] training as an intelligence professional caused him to focus more on that than we did.

Bernstein: You have said that this -- what's now known as the dossier -- this collection of memos was raw intelligence and that people have misunderstood it. In fact, in the book, you outline some pretty colorful language that was used when it was released. You were not happy.

Simpson: Absolutely not.

Bernstein: Why?

Simpson: Well, so you know, Peter and I worked at The Wall Street Journal most of our careers, and it was a very exacting place. And you know, you would do so much reporting that would end up on the cutting room floor before you publish anything. And when we deliver our work to clients, it is like a term paper. It's got footnotes, it's got supporting documentation.

And things like this, they go into the research, but they're not intended to be read by anyone, including our clients sometimes. It was professionally horrifying. It was also reckless, we think, because it seemed as if very little consideration was given to the possibility that -- if this document was true -- whether they were going to get some people killed.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM

THE INSTITUTION THAT RETAINS ACCOUNTABILITY:

Report: Newsweek Reporter Fired After Inaccurate Report On Trump's Thanksgiving Plans (Summer Concepcion, November 30, 2019, TPM)

A Newsweek reporter was reportedly fired shortly after inaccurately reporting on President Trump's Thanksgiving plans.

On Thursday morning, Newsweek political reporter Jessica Kwong initially published an article with the headline "How is Trump spending Thanksgiving? Tweeting, golfing and more," before Trump's surprise visit to Afghanistan was announced publicly.

It's the difference between reporting on the Administration and working in it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM

HOW TO PERFECT A REPUBLIC:

An adult view of monarchy (Mark Le Fanu, November 2019, The Critic)

The magnificence touched on here and in other scenes -- for example, the extended Coronation sequence at Westminster Abbey in Season One -- is an important if not essential aspect of the impact, one could almost say the meaning, of the series. For what is a monarchy without magnificence? Republicans, and not just republicans, complain about how much it must cost in real life to keep the whole show on the road. But this is to fail to see (or else to see only too clearly) that without a certain amount of extravagance there wouldn't be a monarchy worth talking about. Its mystique is tied up in some complicated way with the wealth that sustains it, and with the beauty, the settings and the ceremonial it draws upon.

In a democratic age such as ours, it is strange, perhaps, that we continue to be impressed by such things, but there it is: we are children in such matters. I think it is good that the writing of The Crown takes all this for granted. The lavishness of the monarchical mise en scène is neither politicised nor satirised. By all rights, the conspicuous consumption of the royals (on a truly grand scale) should be out of bounds in an epoch of equality. Yet, deliberately it seems to me, the series hasn't over-emphasised this side of the matter.

 A similarly magisterial neutrality, or evenness of tone, is observable in Morgan's approach to the show's dramatis personae. He wants to demonstrate, in each case, the human complexity of the make-up of the inhabitants of the institution. They are absolutely not to be portrayed as marionettes. While one or two characters seem not to be liked under any circumstance (I am thinking of the show's portrayal of Harold Macmillan and, oddly enough, of the Queen Mother), the series as a whole specialises in enabling us to see even the most monstrous instances of arrogance and privilege in contexts that fail to rule out generous doses of broad human sympathy.

How else are we to explain the curiously wistful pathos surrounding characters as reprehensible as the Duke of Windsor, Princess Margaret (together with her bisexual husband Tony Armstrong-Jones) and Prince Philip? Their actions are one thing; their frailties -- their demons -- another. In each case, the writing of the series encourages them to emerge as fully-rounded human beings.

At the centre of the series is the Queen herself, incarnated in the first two seasons by the luminously beautiful actress Claire Foy (the role is about to be taken over by Olivia Colman). What praise could be eloquent enough to encompass the elegance, irony, wisdom and discretion of this performance of Foy's? Such acting, of course, can't be conceived of without appropriate writing to sustain it, and here I would argue Morgan excels himself.

There are two things that needed to be got right and he gets them right. On the one hand there is the Queen's private life -- her ordinary affections: her hopes, troubles and disappointments in the midst of a complicated family nexus. On the other hand - subliminally present, so to speak, at all times -- is her conception of the meaning of the institution she heads, and how that is to be put into practice in each of her actions and decisions.

Her behaviour overall is never less than principled: the steeliness of her will, combined with the gentleness of her general demeanour, has been immensely moving at all times. She gives orders crisply, but at the same time, as incarnated by Foy, she is the most wonderful listener and questioner. Meanwhile, the series as a whole derives a kind of immense ongoing pathos from the strand of the narrative which shows the monarch -- daringly, one might think (how can the writers know the truth of the matter?) -- attempting to attract, to rekindle, and to keep up the affections of an ever-ready-to-roam husband. Will Colman, I wonder, be able to maintain the exquisite delicacy of this posture?

Faithfulness, then, is a mainstay -- the mainstay -- of the Queen's character as presented in The Crown. And faith too, in the more religious sense. An episode in Season Two shows her saying her prayers at night, kneeling by her bedside. It is an extraordinary conception: how many of us, after all, keep up this ritual after childhood?

That the Queen should be pictured engaged in intimate private devotion is one of the most original strokes of the series so far. For it silently makes the connection that, in order for the institution to have meaning and heft, there needs to be some kind of belief in the sacred. To put it another way, monarchy doesn't make sense without religion. It is an extraordinarily sophisticated aspect of the series, in the midst of the varied populist pleasures it offers, to understand this notion of anointed obedience so perfectly, and at the same time to put it across to the audience with such clarity.



Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM

THE CULTURE WARS ARE A ROUT:

SUPERNATURAL DRAMA 'EVIL' PROVIDES NO EASY ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS OF FAITH, REASON, AND THE NATURE OF EVIL (Michael F. Pettinger, 10/30/19, Religion Dispatches)

 As the two of them spar over questions of faith and reason it feels like a spiritual striptease, with each character becoming increasingly vulnerable. It would be easy to supply rationalizations were Bouchard and Acosta to give in to the resulting mutual attraction. They're both attractive, her husband is AWOL, Acosta hasn't yet taken a vow of celibacy. Would it be so wrong?

That question exemplifies the lines Evil draws between the familiar situations of day-to-day life and the inscrutable, possibly cosmic, roots of evil and suffering. If the Church is just another, deeply flawed, employer, then the flirtation between Acosta and Bouchard might be just another workplace romance frowned upon by HR. In this context, however, it might be a weak spot ripe for diabolical exploitation. An apparent resurrection might be an unexpected artifact of unconscious systemic racism; a Boss-from-Hell might in fact be under the influence of a devil. The mysteries of digital technology and the Internet give grim plausibility to what once seemed like obvious paranoia. Is the voice coming from that virtual assistant an impersonal algorithm, a malicious hacker, or something worse? The serial killer might not be possessed, but what if the person chatting with him on 4chan is? The line between the human and the demonic is a fuzzy one, particularly in the case of Bouchard's professional rival, Leland Townsend. His description of the eventual fate of a teenage boy he hopes to have tried and convicted as an adult is so monstrous and yet so utterly convincing that even hardened skeptics might ask whether possession isn't a real possibility.

Whether it's the mysteries of technology or the inscrutable malice of the people around us, Evil explores the individual's sense of powerlessness. However problematic, the Catholic Church, as represented by Acosta, Bouchard, and Shakir, is proffered as hope when scientific reason offers little. As one woman explains, she and her family "aren't good Catholics," but she's called upon the Church because she's exhausted every other option in dealing with a nine-year-old son whose behavior, whether psychopathic or demonic, is terrorizing his family. Believers or not, viewers can't help but hope that Acosta, Bouchard, and Shakir will succeed in helping. It's to the show's credit that it offers no false assurance that they will. By the end of the fourth episode, the team of investigators have, at best, a 50% success rate. Ultimately, the fear that inspires Evil is that they, and the deeply flawed Church for which they work, will fail.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM

WHICH IS WHY THE lEFT/rIGHT HATE aMERICA:

It's a Wonderful Time to Be Alive (MICHAEL TANNER, November 27, 2019, National Review)

We can debate who -- if anyone -- is responsible, but we can't argue with the fact that unemployment is down and wages are up. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969. There were 2.3 million more full time, year-round workers this year than last. And those workers are earning more. Median earnings for full-time workers rose by more than 3 percent last year. Since 2009, average hourly earnings for all employees is up 5.6 percent, while real average weekly earnings rose by 6.9 percent.

Inequality remains a big political issue, but poverty rates continue to decline. In 2018, the official Census Bureau poverty measure fell to just 11.8 percent, down a full half percentage point from the year before, and the lowest rate since 2001. Using other, arguably more accurate poverty measures shows even better results. Consumption-based poverty measures put the real poverty level at as low as 2.8 percent.

Of course, too many people still struggle, but we are doing our best to help them. Last year, Americans donated $427 billion to charity, and more than 63 million people gave their time and talent to help others -- over 8 billion volunteer hours.

Politicians also like to conjure up images of crime and carnage. But we are safer today than we've been in decades. Violent crime has declined by 51 percent since 1993, while property crime has declined by even more (54 percent). The United States still imprisons far too many people -- almost twice the incarceration rate of any country except the Seychelles. However, between falling crime rates and criminal-justice reform, 100,000 fewer Americans will spend this Thanksgiving in prison than did ten years ago.

Health care is another issue the politicians fight over, and with good reason. Our health-care system is deeply flawed for many reasons. Yet we are healthier than ever. Infant mortality has declined by 14 percent since 2007. Death from cancer has dropped from 168 per 100,000 people in 2000 to just 146 per 100,000 today. More Americans are exercising and eating healthfully, and smoking is at the lowest level since 1965.

Even in those areas where we still have improvement to make, we should not ignore how far we've come. Racism and other forms of bigotry are still far too prevalent, but let's remember how much progress we've made. The alt-right and their fellow travelers are noxious and noisy, but they are still a tiny minority. The worst forms of overt discrimination have largely been consigned to the dustbin of history, and there is a growing push for still more fully realized justice and equality. Within my lifetime, both interracial and gay marriage were outlawed. Today all Americans are free to marry the person they love. Almost 9 percent of Americans have two or more races in their background. It may be halting and uneven, but we are making progress toward a more inclusive society.

It's a popular pundit pastime to pretend that our current politics are complicated, but they're really as simple as the fact that classical liberalism has prevailed in the economic and cultural spheres, contra the dreams of Socialists and Nationalists.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM

THE COMING CARBON CRISIS:

In possible climate breakthrough, Israel scientists engineer bacteria to eat CO₂ (SUE SURKES , 11/29/19, Times of Israel)

In a remarkable breakthrough that could pave the way toward carbon-neutral fuels, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have produced a genetically engineered bacteria that can live on carbon dioxide rather than sugar.

The extraordinary leap -- reported Wednesday in Cell, and quickly picked up by prestigious publications such as Nature -- could lead to the low-emissions production of carbon for use in biofuels or food that would also help to remove excess CO₂ from the atmosphere, where it is helping to drive global warming.

Within our kids' lifetimes, scientists will be trying to figure out how to artificially pump CO2 into the atmosphere to replace what we put there for tens of thousands of years.


Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM

GETTING THE JOB DONE:

Hamilton Recalls the American Ideals History Failed to Deliver: Don't miss your chance to see Miranda's masterpiece this holiday season (JIM SHAHENON NOVEMBER 29, 2019, Consequences of Sound)

Hamilton is not a "hip-hop musical," nor is it an unconventional piece that changes the very essence of musical theater. Viewing it through either prism is a setup for disappointment, confusion, and statements like, "This isn't rap." If anything, the core of the story and its structure is classic Broadway through and through. What makes it special is how those conventions are reinvigorated through the use of musical forms atypical of the theater experience.

That influence takes the shape of '90s NYC hip-hop and R&B-rooted pop. Those are the sounds that Miranda listened to as a kid in Washington Heights. But he also grew up with his parents' record collection of Broadway cast recordings. It's the way those two seemingly disparate cultures, urban and theater music, are seamlessly incorporated that make Hamilton sound so bold.

Just take a look at its primary anthem, "My Shot". The vehicle through which Alexander Hamilton reveals his mental acuity and intense drive to create a legacy, even if it kills him, is referential to both Notorious B.I.G. AND "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. "My Shot" is the most obvious past-present musical convergence, but you can hear that marriage of ideas throughout the soundtrack, whether it's "The Story of Tonight" sung by Hamilton and his cohorts or "Satisfied", the heartsick ballad sung by Hamilton's sister-in-law. The tunes are hooky like pop songs for sure, but ultimately they are very much show tunes. They just happen to be as beholden to the melodic sensibilities of Shawn Carter as those of Stephen Sondheim.

This convergence of past conventions and mores with the real world's cultural present permeates throughout the story and particularly in its casting. In fact, more than any sort of devotion to its titular character or fealty to the Founding Fathers, Hamilton is really about how history can be viewed through a modern lens.

The New York City of Hamilton mirrors the New York City of today, a city teeming with possibilities and diversity of opinion and people. This is reflected in the dialogue of Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, and military leaders of the late 18th century, and it's connected to the current moment by having these words expressed by a multi-racial cast.

For some, this diversity is seen as a needed shot in the arm to a form of entertainment that, aside from West Side Story, is viewed as a cultural fiefdom for white America. To others, however, it's seen as a cover for what is, once again, a story that deifies the accomplishments of white men. The former perspective is technically accurate, just very, very narrow in scope. As for the latter, that criticism has some validity, but ultimately misses the mark. And the casting is a large reason why.

Having actors of color portray Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Aaron Burr (to name a few of the historical figures presented onstage) and speak to issues of freedom sends a message. It compels you, the viewer, to reconcile the fact that the words of the men credited with founding America weren't matched by their deeds. Seeing a second-generation Puerto Rican immigrant play Alexander Hamilton or a first-generation Nigerian-American as James Madison is symbolic, a message that America exists and persists because of the efforts of oft-marginalized people striving to reach an American ideal that its leaders and founders failed to live up to themselves. Hamilton the real man is the protagonist of Hamilton, but the actual heroes are his ideals and passions as embodied by a skin that doesn't receive enough recognition for possessing the same qualities attributed to historical icons.

Of course, the Founders did not consider the work of America to be done once the ideal was enunciated.  It is the job of every generation to work towards its realization, here and abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM

THE ONLY EXISTENTIAL THREAT IS INTERNAL:

Ultra-Orthodox enlistment in IDF plummeted in 2018 -- report (Times of Israel, 12/01/19)

Ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the IDF declined precipitously in 2018 in the first drop in more than a decade, with 2018 seeing a 20 percent decrease in the number of Haredi recruits over the previous year, according to the Haaretz daily, which saw as-of-yet unreleased recruitment figures gathered by the IDF's Manpower Directorate,

Many in the ultra-Orthodox community shun military service, which is mandatory for other Jewish Israelis, and the community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army in favor of religious seminary studies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM

THE ECONOMICS OF COOKIE SWAPS:

Make a killing in the Upper Valley's cookie-based economy with 2019 walks and swaps (ELEANOR KOHLSAAT, 12/01/19, Valley News)

A holiday dessert table wouldn't be complete without a platter of assorted Christmas cookies. Shortbread, pecan sandies, chocolate crinkles, sugar cookies, spritz -- everyone has their favorites.

But with all the other preparations going on, only the most dedicated bakers have time to make all those different kinds of cookies. Fortunately, there are a number of upcoming cookie walks and cookie exchanges where you can find cookies to suit every taste.

While the goal of both walks and swaps is the same (you go home with cookies!), the two events are conducted differently.

At a cookie walk, participants bring their own containers, select the cookies they want from a variety of offerings, and then pay by the pound.

At a cookie exchange, each person bakes and brings one type of cookie, and everyone leaves with an assortment of all the different varieties. No money changes hands.

At both events, bakers may be asked to share their recipes, or at least to list their ingredients for the benefit of those with dietary restrictions.

Certain other rules may apply. For instance, at the cookie exchange taking place at Weathersfield Center Church from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, Dec. 14, each participant is responsible for bringing two dozen cookies -- one dozen to sample at the party, and one dozen to swap. All contributions must be baked from scratch. Mixes, commercial ready-to-bake cookies and no-bake types (such as Rice Krispies treats) are not allowed.