Gutschein Nerd

News Blog

Month: March 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Under the Protection of Holy Sisters

Memoirs and diaries about France during the Second World War tend to share two characteristics. They hew to one of a few narratives, either describing life under the Nazi occupation, such as Jean Guéhenno?s classic, Diary of the Dark Years, or describing life fighting the occupation, as in Agnès Humbert?s Résistance, Lucie Aubrac?s Outwitting the Gestapo, Marguerite Duras?s The War, or Daniel Cordier?s Alias Caracalla. The second thing they share is literary quality: Résistants, it seems, make for superb writers. There is nothing surprising about this, given the intellectual types who chronicled their experiences after 1945: Guéhenno was a prominent literary critic and scholar; Duras was a novelist, Humbert was an ethnographer and historian of art, and Aubrac was a teacher. Even Charles de Gaulle?s Mémoires de guerre, self-promoting and romanticized, has an aesthetic refinement that was celebrated on its publication in 1954.

Moritz Scheyer?s recently translated memoir, Asylum: A Survivor?s Flight from Nazi-Occupied Vienna Through Wartime France, is like its predecessors a beautifully rendered story of survival against the odds?and one that encompasses the usual set of themes and emotions. Anger, especially, lies at the heart of Scheyer?s account, an outrage that spills out when he describes Germans as ?ape-like creatures? and ?Teutonic monsters,? or French collaborators as ?worm-like? prostitutes. What distinguishes his book from others, though, is the setting in which it was conceived and written.


The Convent of Labarde sits on a hill near the medieval town of Belvès in the Dordogne. Half hidden behind lime trees and long since deconsecrated, the building is now a remote hospice for those suffering from mental illness. There is no evidence of its more remarkable past: Between 1942 and 1945, while still a hermitage for Franciscan nuns, it was the hiding place of Scheyer, his wife Grete, and their loyal housekeeper-companion Sláva. Under the protection of holy sisters, it was here that Moritz composed his dramatic and memorable account of life as a Jewish refugee in occupied France.

Before the war, Scheyer had been a critic at the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, one of Vienna?s foremost newspapers, where he published feuilletons on books and theatre. He was a friend of Stefan Zweig, as well as other cultural icons like Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter, and Arthur Schnitzler. It was the last days of a city governed, he says, by ?tradition and culture, of clear social orders and customs, of elegant love affairs??the ?epicurean? metropolis described so vividly by Zweig in his The World of Yesterday.

Everything changed in March 1938 with the Anschluss and Austria?s incorporation into Nazi Germany. What followed was deepening anti-Semitism, as well as what Scheyer calls the ?ugly ?Teutonification? of [Vienna], which felt like a punch in the face.? Along with Grete, Sláva, and hundreds of other Jewish and left wing intellectuals, Scheyer left for France and into a life of indefinite exile.

In Paris, he was struck by the ?politics of the ostrich?: the shared refusal to acknowledge the European crisis, the rise of fascism, and impending war with Germany. France was gripped by a ?terrifying materialism,? while reactions to the Anschluss, as well as the occupation of Czechoslovakia, ranged from willful disbelief to indifference??let?s have no unpleasantness,? he remarks acerbically. If anything captured this moral and political recklessness, the cynical self-centeredness, the Panglossian reverie, it was, he notes with scorn, the ?despicable phrase ?Drôle de Guerre?? (phoney war).

France fell in June 1940. Scheyer and Grete escaped in the mass exodus from Paris, ?a raging torrent of suffering? that fled the advancing Wehrmacht. He describes the collective desperation and exhaustion of this great human caravan as it made its way toward the south of France (although his version is still less vivid than the one as told by Arthur Koestler in his memoir, Scum of the Earth).

By September, having been marked for arrest in Thétieu, Moritz and Grete were back in Paris (if they were going to get caught, it might as well be in their own home). Like other accounts of occupied France, especially Joseph Kessel?s L?armée des ombres, a semi-fictionalized account of Kessel?s time in the French Resistance, a recurring motif throughout the book is suffocation, and the imminence of arrest as the Nazi dragnet drew tighter around them. It was a life lived under the Sword of Damocles, as their world gradually disintegrated while friends, family, and acquaintances were arrested and disappeared.

Then in May 1941 Scheyer was detained and sent to a concentration camp in Beaune-la-Roland. Conditions were appalling, and life was geared around hunger and humiliation (German soldiers would regularly, and merrily, urinate on the prisoners). Lying in bed at night, the dorm a ?symphony of misery and sorrow,? Scheyer was forced to confront his inner loneliness. But he also appreciated the fraternity that unites people in extremis, the worthlessness of barriers ?erected between and against men by money, conceit, envy or prejudice,? and the sincerity of relationships that existed beyond barter and exchange?true comradeship.

He appreciated the fraternity that unites people in extremis and the sincerity of relationships that existed beyond barter and exchange.

In July he was released?a rare act of clemency on the part of his captors?and soon made his way with Grete across the Demarcation Line into the ?Free Zone,? which ?bristled with all varieties of collaborative fauna,? glad to make common cause with the occupiers. Within a month, Vichy decreed all foreign Jews who arrived in France after 1936 to be sent to concentration camps. ?Breathing space was over?yet again.?

Moritz and Grete were sent to a camp in Grenoble, a ?Second Realm? between life and death, beyond which ?the Third Realm? das Dritte Reich?? was a realm of agony.? But then another miracle: A doctor gave permission for them to leave the camp temporarily when Scheyer fell ill with a recurring heart problem.

After a failed attempt to escape to Switzerland, a nerve-shredding ordeal that almost resulted in their recapture, a family of Resistance organizers in Belvès, the Rispals, whom Moritz and Grete had met in early 1942, arranged for them to hide in the Convent of Labarde. ?These were people who scarcely knew us,? Scheyer writes, but they had ?voluntarily placed themselves in danger in order to help us. Such things still happened.? These are the real heroes of Scheyer?s book: Jacques, Gabriel, and especially Hélène Rispal, as well as Mère Saint-Antoine and the nuns of Labarde (yet more evidence that women made up the backbone of the Resistance).

Hidden but not safe, Scheyer records their life in Labarde, which, until the Liberation in 1945, felt like an agonizing stay of execution. An especially poignant moment comes in the autumn of 1943, when they are given a radio and rediscover the symphonies of Beethoven, Mozart, and Mahler, which transports them back to Vienna before 1938, before the strains of the Philharmonic were replaced with stomps of Nazi jackboots.

What makes this chronicle different from others is also the range of experiences it covers: from the Anschluss in 1938 to the Liberation of Paris in August 1944, via the phoney war, the exodus from Paris, imprisonment in two concentration camps, a botched escape to Switzerland, dealings with the Resistance, and life hidden in a convent?all rendered in the singular prose of an accomplished literary critique. As P.N. Singer, Scheyer?s grandson who unearthed the text in 2005, points out in his marvelous introduction, chapters on Eugène le Roy, or Charles Ordeig?head of a Resistance network formed from immigrants?bear the hallmarks of the feuilleton: attention to detail, concise summary of argument, and the emotional, rather than purely analytical, response to subject matter.

But it is the unique setting of Labarde that captivates, the sharp contrast between an island of acceptance, shelter, breathing space, and semi-safety, against the ?turbulent hostile sea? in which the Scheyers were hunted, and into which they would soon return. Labarde had its imperfections and was, he says, ?human, all-too-human,? but it heard the cries of oppression when most did not.

more >>>

The Problem With Designing Trump?s Border Wall

Christian Ramirez remembers what life was like before the border wall went up in San Diego. Growing up in San Ysidro, a neighborhood on the city?s southwestern corner, he regularly crossed into Mexico to pick up tacos and bring them back for picnics at Friendship Park, a small coastal area bisected by the border. But after 9/11, new security measures fortified the border wall and extended the barrier into the ocean. ?An embrace at that part of the border has been reduced to pinkies touching each other at the border wall,? he said. Now the park, which used to host bi-national religious masses, Christmas celebrations, and family reunions, is locked except for a few hours each weekend, during which federal agents monitor the crowd and people search through the metal grating for a glimpse of a loved one?s face on the other side.

As the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, Ramirez works with 60 community organizations to strengthen oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency tasked with securing the nation?s borders. And so it was with dismay that he responded to news that a website is hosting a Donald Trump-inspired competition for border wall designs. ?The sad reality is that the border region is still viewed as a barren land, with no history, no culture, not inhabited. And that has made this rhetoric of militarization and of iron-fisted policies acceptable as the mainstream narrative of the border region,? he said. ?Unfortunately, this sort of contest is right up that alley.?

The competition in question??Building the Border Wall???has stirred up considerable debate since launching in early March. When architectural news website posted a call for entries, some wondered whether the competition was a joke. Architect Fabrizio Gallanti called for a boycott of ArchDaily, and demanded the cancelation of the competition itself. Many others, including the architecture competition site Bustler, questioned the ethics of sharing and participating in a competition that seemed to promote xenophobia.

The Third Mind Foundation?a group of ?architects, designers, and artists who wish to remain anonymous,? according to its website?is sponsoring the competition. It stated in the original challenge: ?Design a barrier of architectural merit that is realistically priced to build and made of materials that will not only be effective in keeping out waves of illegal immigration, but that will also be relatively inexpensive to maintain.? On the jury page, a panel composed of deceased luminaries such as Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, and Buckminster Fuller presides, further confusing matters.

Reacting to the criticism, the Third Mind Foundation added the question mark to its competition title and made several changes to the brief. The competition now asks designers ?to bring creativity and innovation to bear on the idea of a border barrier.? It also asks, ?If not a fence or wall, then what? Can the idea of a wall be combined with architectural activism?? Third Mind also clarified, ?We take no position on this issue. We remain politically neutral.?

John Beckmann, a New York-based designer who is the chief organizer of the competition and a liaison for the Third Mind Foundation, was perplexed by the controversy. ?Our goal is to create positive humanitarian strategies that propose ideas that move beyond a simplistic binary?build a wall, don?t build a wall, Republican vs. Democrat, United States vs. Mexico?to move to a higher level of discourse here because either notion is very simplistic,? he said. When asked about the controversial language of the original design challenge and the decision to launch the competition without a jury, Beckmann explained that both had been matters of expediency, saying, ?We wanted to be the first on this. Second isn?t really interesting.?

Beckmann freely admitted that none of the competition?s organizers had visited the border region or seriously researched the issue in preparation for this competition. ?But I don?t think that invalidates the idea or notion that a group of people can propose a competition,? he said. Beyond a list of the technical challenges involved in the construction of such a wall, Third Mind makes no mention of the cities, towns, and communities living along the border.

It takes about three days to walk from the U.S.-Mexico border to Sahuarita, a small town about 20 miles south of Tucson, Arizona. When migrants arrive in the town, they knock on residents? doors, asking for water and other necessities. Residents who want to help call Reverend Randy Mayer, a pastor at the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ. As a co-founder of the Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans, he has been doing humanitarian aid work on both sides of the border for decades.

Families reunite at the border fence in Friendship Park, San Diego.John Moore/Getty Images

Mayer said, ?So much of what we experience is a lot of hysteria that happens inland in the United States, and yet people don?t realize what it?s like down here near the border.? He explained that, contrary to popular opinion, ?It?s not filled with crime and it?s not filled with all this destruction and, for the most part, people really value both sides.? After viewing the competition site, he asked, ?Instead of building walls and having a competition to build walls, why don?t we put into effect a competition that can build relationships??

Juanita Molina, executive director of Border Action Network and Humane Borders, a group that tracks border deaths, agreed that architects could put their imaginations to better use. The border wall has not stopped migration, Molina said, only pushed people into the most dangerous, inhospitable areas of the Arizona desert. ?To just demonize the people crossing is a very short-sighted view which actually contributes to their invisibility and to the violence,? she said. But then what should architects do, if not design a wall? Molina suggested that since most migrants travel at night and often get lost, architects could help create beacons to safety.

?If you speak to most border residents, the whole idea of this competition kind of misses the point,? said Vicki Gaubeca, the director of the ACLU-New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Many people have a misconception that the border is just a line, she said. But within the 100-air-mile enforcement zone given to Customs and Border Protection, Latino and Native American residents are frequently subjected to racial profiling at the many checkpoints far from the actual boundary line. Gaubeca called it a ?virtual cage.?

She strongly opposed the notion that the border wall could be made better by design. ?Why improve on a bad idea?? she asked. ?With all the accoutrements that you want to put on that wall, it?s still a wall, and it?s not a bridge.? Instead, she suggested that architects focused their skills on the colonias, unincorporated border towns that lack infrastructure like roads, potable water, sewers, and dams to protect them from flooding. ?It would be great if architects actually got into doing that instead of developing something that could be so damaging to our communities and our environment.?

For Teresa Leal, the director of a small art museum in Nogales, Arizona, the border wall is more than an inconvenience. It divides her tribal lands, separating her people from their sacred sites and burial grounds. As a member of the Opata tribe, she is part of a network of other tribal nations divided by the border, including the Tohono O?odham and Apache nations. ?As Indian people, I can tell you this corridor for thousands of years has been our corridor,? she said. In her daily trips to and from sites in Mexico, she must flash her permanent residency card at the border checkpoints, a daily reminder that she is a foreigner in her ancestral land.

As a member of the Border Patrol Victims Network, Leal also supports a dozen families who have lost loved ones to border patrol shootings, several of whom were killed on the Mexican side of the wall. For her, the architectural competition to design a wall is ?offensive, ridiculous. ? It?s just as if they were trying to design a guillotine, like in the French Revolution.? She urged architects to tell Trump and other politicians who support building the border wall, ??We can?t be your co-conspirators. We can?t help you to look good. No matter what you build, it?s going to have the same purpose.??

In the border city of El Paso, Texas, the sense of division feels especially sharp for Guillermo Glenn, who has lived in the border region since 1973. He used to cross the border into Juarez all the time, and remembers the city before NAFTA took effect. People ?went to Juarez to celebrate, to cultural events, to the cathedral and the market.? But now, with the long lines at the border crossing and harassment by border patrol, along with the increase in poverty and cartel violence in Juarez, no one wants to go. ?Some of the young people don?t even know what Juarez looks like anymore,? he said. Instead, he said, the crossing in El Paso has increasingly come to feel like a segregated passage that privileges the transnational corporations that run the low-wage factories known as maquiladoras in Juarez, while pedestrians and vehicles must wait in long lines under the hot sun.

Multi-functional housing informed by the extended family structures of informal settlements in Tijuana and immigrant neighborhoods in San Diego.Courtesy of Estudio Teddy Cruz + Forman

?Perhaps architects can design really great bridges that take into consideration the great humanity that lives on both sides of the border,? he said. For him, the border, bristling as it is with military personnel and concrete blockades, offers ?nothing that would give the idea that you are going into a great country or coming from a great country.? This sentiment was echoed by Christian Ramirez of the Southern Border Communities Coalition: ?The indignity of having my grandparents wait in line for two to three hours so they can visit their great grandchild, or having folks standing under the sun and under the rain waiting to enter the U.S.?that?s where we need to really begin putting our talent towards.?

Some architects have been trying to do just that. Charles Dorn, a principal at Hacker Architects, has been designing at the border for 30 years. Hacker?s design for the bus processing station at the Juarez-Lincoln Land Port of Entry in Laredo, Texas, is currently under construction. He relishes the logistical, environmental, and social challenge of designing border crossings.

?I think that the more the ports are symbols of welcoming, the less important the wall becomes,? he said. ?But if the ports themselves are intimidating and painful and scary, then the border itself is a lightning rod for attention.?

He considered the border wall design competition provocative, and saw its potential to draw in an immense range of ideas from architects. ?From an architectural perspective, they will approach the problem much more compassionately than somebody who looks at it as a technological problem,? he said. However, he added that the concept itself might be fatally flawed: ?It could be that the fact that the wall exists in the first place is the reason? the immigration situation is ?as bad as it is.?

At Jones Studio, the designers of the new Mariposa Land Port of Entry in Nogales, one of the busiest commercial and cargo truck land ports on the border, were also excited to talk about border crossings. ?We set out from the beginning to make the experience one of an oasis, of moving through a beautiful garden,? said Jacob Benyi, a principal at Jones Studio. Their design offers a rare patch of greenery in the desert, with special attention paid to the comfort of pedestrians crossing through on foot and to easing the tensions of border patrol officers. An extensive and colorful shade structure presents the visual of a waving American flag from a distance. 

A walkway at the Mariposa Land Port of Entry, designed by Jones Studio.Bill Timmerman

Brian Farling, a lead designer at Jones Studio, considered the border wall a ?folly.? But in thinking about the competition, both architects also wondered whether, through design, the wall could be turned on its head, if architects could ?come up with a completely different program that exists along the border that somehow benefits both countries.?

However, they would rather work on another border crossing than a wall. ?A port is all about people; it?s a threshold, it?s a point of crossing, a point of interaction for commerce, discussion, transit, ideas,? said Benyi. ?The wall is the antithesis of that. It?s trying to stop all of those things. It would be a completely different design issue to try and deal with that.?

Other architects who focus primarily on border projects agreed. Ana Martínez Ortega, member of the Tijuana-based multi-disciplinary collective Torolab, wondered what the point of the competition was. ?A third wall attempt? A bigger, skinnier, maybe more conceptual wall, really? What else could it bring to the table?? she asked. ?The truth is, I don?t even care, and I think none of us ?border citizens? do, because it does not create anything that can enhance the border condition.? In contrast, at Torolab?s studio in Camino Verde, an informal, low-income Tijuana neighborhood, the collective holds workshops and programs for migrant residents to foster relationships and generate sustainable income.

Architect, urbanist, and professor Teddy Cruz, who has been working on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border for 25 years, presented the competition as a moment in which architects cannot remain neutral. Sometimes, he said, architects must decide when not to build, since ?the politics of neutrality has rendered architecture a pure decoration of very unjust policies.?

He added, ?Instead of building walls that are dividing communities and dividing environments, we should be looking at border regions as laboratories for rethinking citizenship, for rethinking resilience, for producing new strategies of interdependence and cooperation and co-existence.? This framework is central to his own practice, in which he has designed multi-functional housing informed by the creative building strategies, extended family structures, and cultural life of informal settlements in Tijuana and immigrant neighborhoods in San Diego.

Perhaps there is a broader lesson that can be drawn from the controversy over the border wall. ?That wall is reproduced everywhere inside of our American cities,? Cruz said. They might not contain physical walls, but America?s cities are defined by ?urban policies that divide jurisdictions and communities? and ?an urban asymmetry that has perpetuated socio-economic inequality.? Even places far from the border, it seems, could use some more crossings.

( Just take a look here )

Why Are There So Many Writers in Myanmar?s New Government?

On March 15, when Myanmar?s fresh-faced parliament voted in a man named Htin Kyaw as the country?s new president, confusion ensued. Journalists had speculated on the choice for weeks. It was clear that it would not be Aung San Suu Kyi, the longtime pro-democracy activist and head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), since a clause in the military-drafted constitution forbids anyone who has a foreign spouse or children from the holding the post (Suu Kyi?s sons are British). But to those not intimately familiar with Burmese politics, the name Htin Kyaw was obscure. 

He was said to be a childhood friend and close aide to Suu Kyi. That much was known for certain. But in the absence of reliable information, he was alternatively described as Suu Kyi?s chauffeur, identified as a political prisoner in a wire photo with the same name, and listed as a graduate of Oxford University?none of which were correct, though he did study in England. Soon, the inevitable ?Who is Htin Kyaw?? and ?Meet Htin Kyaw? headlines appeared in the international press, and we started to learn a little more about the tall man with grey hair and glasses who was sworn in today as the country?s first civilian president in more than 50 years.

The person who emerged from these profiles turned out to be a bookish 70-year-old who enjoys reading and writing.

?Htin Kyaw is a very quiet man who loves literature,? Zaw Min Kyaw, a longtime acquaintance, told the Associated Press. We learned that Htin Kyaw?s father was Min Thu Wun, one of the most famous poets in Burmese literary history. Suu Kyi recalls reading and absorbing his work as a child, and in addition to his poetry and scholarship, he is credited with inventing the Burmese version of Braille. In 2009, Htin Kyaw published a book about Min Thu Wun called My Father?s Life, composed of essayistic reminiscences that bring to mind President Barack Obama?s Dreams from My Father. Like many other writers in Myanmar, Htin Kyaw adopted a pen name, Dala Ban, which was inspired by the life of a historical warrior. 

Times remain tough for Burmese writers. The introduction of new telecommunications networks in 2014?which provided Myanmar with the kind of smartphone access enjoyed by the rest of the world?has threatened to displace Myanmar?s rich literary culture, a trend Suu Kyi has publicly complained about. Books remain a hard way to make a living; no one I know can afford to write or translate full-time. And Myanmar?s literature has a small audience outside its borders; there?s a treasure trove of Burmese fiction that has yet to be translated into English. 

But for a certain kind of writer in Myanmar, the times couldn?t be better. The reason is political. After decades of playing the dissident or submitting to censorship, writers have the chance to play lawmaker, cabinet member, and even president. The historic elections in November that swept the NLD to a partial control of the government came five years after Myanmar?s military leaders launched a transition to civilian rule. This process resulted in the liberation of political prisoners who have long viewed the written word as a powerful means to register their dissent, and in the opening up of a new space for free expression and opinion for all members of society. The opposition, in large part, was characterized by its literary nature.

And so a blogger was voted into Yangon?s regional legislature; 11 poets were elected to parliament. Myanmar?s new minister of information, Pe Myint, has written short stories and translated everything from Chicken Soup for the Soul to Chekhov and Turgenev. Myanmar?s new government may be the most literary-minded in Asia, if not the world. 

The admixture of literature and politics is hardly confined to Myanmar. Vaclav Havel started life as a playwright and philosopher before becoming the first president of the Czech Republic. The architects of the Russian Revolution were writers and heavily influenced by novelists and intellectuals in the 19th century. And, as noted, the current president of the United States was propelled to the Oval Office partly by the popularity of his memoir.

But Myanmar?s long history of iron-fisted rule has resulted in a deep interweaving of political activity and the belles lettres. Paul Chambers of the Thailand-based Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs points to the country?s ?history of oppression under kings, colonizer, and military which most easily enabled anonymous political poetry.? After the British removed the sole remaining royal dynasty in 1885, clearing the way for 63 years of complete colonial rule, there was a lot to write about, and not just in opposition to the government. The encounter with the British was also an encounter with Western literature, which was absorbed and refashioned with Burmese settings. 

Writing in a 1958 supplement of The Atlantic magazine, the author U Ohn Pe describes what he calls the first Burmese novel, published in 1904. It was, by all accounts, a domesticated version of The Count of Monte Cristo, ?so well done that our grandmothers used to speak with real affection of the ill-fated raft-man Maung Yin Maung and his perilous adventures.? The motif was repeated with Sherlock Holmes, who became Detective Maung San Sha. 

The independence movement that began to gain traction in the 1920s and 30s gave literature a more political bent. The use of pen names and the popularity of subversive poetry would continue under the military government that seized power in 1962, following a 14-year period of independence. ?Under the dictatorship that was going on, there was censorship and a propaganda machine, and I think the only intellectuals who could cross the boundary of censorship and propaganda were writers,? the author Ma Thida, a former political prisoner and president of PEN Myanmar, told me. The student uprisings of 1988 further bound writers to politics, since many of them spent years in prison.

From 1962 to 1988, literary publications enjoyed slightly more leeway than news outlets. But the authorities were more thorough in the aftermath of the uprisings.

?A number of topics were strictly off-limits in non-government publications, such as democracy, human rights, the events of 1988, military officials, and so on,? wrote anthropologist Jennifer Leehey in a 2012 article in the Journal of Burma Studies. As a result, writers had to resort to allegory and figurative language, as Leehey shows in an analysis of a short story called ?Saturn? published in 1992 under the nom de plume Win Sithu.

As recounted by Leehey, the story starts off as a conversation about marriage between an old man named Ba-gyi Sein and his nephew, Nga Htun, who is seeking his uncle?s advice about his new bride. Ba-gyi Sein trots out a proverb about the three things that ?if done incorrectly, can?t be put right.?

One of the three is getting married. The other two are getting a tattoo and building a pagoda. From there, the narrator launches into a story about a certain village?s attempt to build a pagoda and everything that goes wrong because of an incompetent and deceitful mason. The story ends badly. The structure is damaged in a rainstorm and the mason later gets cancer of the throat. After telling the depressing tale, he goes to sleep, with no discussion of the young man?s marital troubles.

Read in one way, Leehey writes, the pagoda represents the country, and the mason is a stand-in for the government that took over after 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC. It is allegorical, but not so pointed as to get the author in trouble if an ambitious censor were on the hunt for hidden meanings.

Political reforms, combined with the end of censorship in 2012, have made it easier to write without such indirection. The past few years have seen a number of memoirs and, interestingly, Burmese translations of Myanmar-specific work originally written in English, like Karen Connelly?s novel, The Lizard Cage, about political prisoners.

This artistic side of Myanmar?s new rulers is cause for optimism, and news stories about the ?poetic parliament? have abounded. But it?s worth remembering that the military still controls 25 percent of parliamentary seats, and several key security portfolios. A few poets and writers are not enough to save Myanmar from its abundance of problems, which still include the muzzling of free expression. For months, I have been following the trial of Maung Saungkha, a 24-year-old poet who is facing charges of defamation and incitement for writing about having an imaginary tattoo of the president on his penis. He was recently attacked by another inmate while reciting a poem about the new government in court, and was taken to Yangon General Hospital to be treated for his injuries. 

While observing his trial, it occurred to me that Myanmar may be the only country on earth where poets are both elected to office and sent to jail at the same time.

Instructions Part 1

Trump the Disrupter

The breakdown of democracy in Honduras seven years ago materialized like a bankruptcy?slowly at first, then all at once. Honduras?s democracy was only a quarter of a century old in 2005 when it elected Manuel Zelaya, the son of a wealthy businessman, as the country?s seventh president. When Zelaya?s agenda drifted in a populist direction, he lost favor among the ruling class and the legislature turned against him. Echoing an impasse now uncomfortably familiar to Americans, the Honduran Congress rejected Zelaya?s Supreme Court nominees. Meanwhile, the country?s working class rallied to his side.

In a parliamentary democracy, a figure like Zelaya would have been replaced by a prime minister who enjoyed the support of a majority of the legislature. But Honduras?s system of government is organized much more like our own than those of countries like England and Israel, where legislative and executive arms of the government are interwoven. Nearing the end of his constitutionally limited four-year term, Zelaya organized a referendum to test the public?s appetite for changing the constitution to allow him to run for reelection. Sensing a power grab and fearing a popular groundswell, the other branches of government balked, claiming Zelaya lacked the authority to conduct such a survey and demanding that he desist. Zelaya pressed ahead. ?We will not obey the Supreme Court,? he told throngs of Hondurans who?d gathered outside his offices to support him. ?The court, which only imparts justice for the powerful, the rich, and the bankers, only causes problems for democracy.?

Zelaya ordered the military to fulfill its obligation to assist in administering public elections. When the military refused, the president fired the head of the armed forces, General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez. ?We are soldiers,? Vásquez said. ?We have to comply with our responsibilities.? Though the Supreme Court ordered Vásquez reinstated, Zelaya continued resisting the legislature and the Court until eventually, by secret order of the judiciary, he was placed under military arrest, allowing the president of the National Congress to serve out the remainder of Zelaya?s term.

Though Honduran police, military forces, and their supporters killed 20 people along the way, according to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, this disorderly process went about as smoothly as a coup can go. In late 2009, Honduras elected a new president and a semblance of order was restored?a better outcome than what has befallen other presidential democracies modeled after the world?s longest surviving one.

In the United States, our hope is that a similar standoff will never arise?or that it would be resolved through existing legal and constitutional processes before governing ceased and violence erupted. But we?ve never had a serious aspirant to the presidency blithely promise to trespass constitutional limits if confronted with resistance from his or her power-sharing counterparts. Not, that is, until Donald Trump came along.

It?s small wonder that Trump?s liberal and conservative critics alike envision a Trump presidency as an endless spectacle of recklessness and destruction. Trump has promised trade wars. He?s made the mass expulsion of a nation?s worth of immigrants a central plank of his campaign platform. He?s pledged to re-embrace torture and murder as sanctioned anti-terrorism tools and said he would extend them extralegally to the families of suspected terrorists.

It is uncomfortably easy to imagine Trump issuing lawless orders that military leaders are unwilling to execute. It is just as easy to imagine Trump firing generals and civilian officials who resist him, and replacing them with apparatchiks. It is almost as easy to imagine a sclerotic Congress finding itself unable to respond with appropriate urgency.

Trump has certainly displayed authoritarian tendencies. Confronted late last year with the fact that Vladimir Putin kills journalists who challenge his power, Trump praised the Russian president as ?a leader? who (by contrast to President Obama) is ?running his country.? To the objection that killing journalists is not the American way, Trump summoned his inner wiseguy?sprinkling a small dash of Michael Corleone (?Who?s being naïve, Kay??) over his own ribald political persona (?Someone?s doing the raping!?): ?I think that our country does plenty of killing, too,? he said.

Trump has made it clear he?d consider himself superior to Congress. Hours before polls closed on March 1?better known to political junkies as Super Tuesday?House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most widely respected elected official in the conservative movement, set aside his official responsibilities to admonish Trump for playing coy with his appeal among white supremacists. ?If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion,? said a visibly uncomfortable Ryan, frustrated in his attempt to project seriousness by his boyish inflection and fidgeting. ?They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry.?

Trump?s success could spark a cleansing fire in the GOP. The risk is that the conflagration might spread.

Ryan?s reprimand became a harbinger of the kind of unprecedented crisis a determined demagogue might visit on our political system. That night, after winning seven state primaries and finding himself a couple of coin flips from the White House, Trump channeled his inner wiseguy again in responding to the Speaker. ?Look,? Trump said, barely concealing his exasperation, ?I don?t want to waste a lot of time. … Paul Ryan, I don?t know him well, but I?m sure I?m going to get along great with him. And if I don?t, he?s going to have to pay a big price, OK? OK.?

In one sense, this was vintage Trump, prefacing intimidation and bullying with perfunctory pleasantries. (?I like him, I get along with him very well,? he once said of rival candidate Ben Carson, before comparing him to a child molester.) In another, bleaker sense, it was a man aspiring to run our government heedlessly threatening the person responsible for funding it. It was a candidate for president of the United States hectoring the person who controls impeachment proceedings?long before they?d ever have to govern together.

This is the stuff of constitutional nightmares. The U.S. system hasn?t endured the level of stress that Trump?s campaign has threatened to impose upon it since the civil rights era, or perhaps the Civil War. It?s no surprise that huge swaths of both the left and right are deeply worried about the stability of American democracy with Trump at its helm.

But there are at least two ways that a Trump presidency could unfold, and they bear almost no resemblance to one another. An unrestrained, authoritarian Trump who attempted to bring Putinism to the United States could precipitate a chaotic and potentially violent constitutional crisis. By contrast, if he governs with more deference to constitutional checks and balances than he?s shown so far, it?s possible to envision Trump?s presidency?thanks to his departures from Republican orthodoxy?easing some of the gridlock that has gripped our political system. To the extent Trump?s candidacy holds out any promise for Democrats, it?s that his success could spark a cleansing fire in the other party. The risk, of course, is that the conflagration might spread.

If Trump were elected and governed as he?s campaigned, would countervailing forces be able to contain him? Though there are good reasons to think they would, the nightmare visions do not appear to liberals and conservatives out of irrational panic. They stem from fundamentally sound doubts about the nature and health of our political system.

The coup in Honduras, though relatively bloodless, epitomized a form of disequilibrium?inherent to divided governments like our own?that has frequently given way to juntas and oppression in less-developed democracies. The theoretician who diagnosed this structural instability as a primary source of political unrest in Latin America was Juan Linz, a Yale political scientist whose famed 1990 essay, ?The Perils of Presidentialism,? has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years as a kind of Book of Revelation for a debased American democracy.

Linz passed away on October 1, 2013?in a poignant irony, amid a shutdown of the U.S. government. His ideas had been coming into vogue among American political elites, who were seeing the systemic dangers Linz had identified begin to play out in the legislative gridlock and recurring crises inflicted on the country by uncompromising congressional Republicans.

Parliamentary democracy is often tumultuous, but like a slippery fault system, the turmoil tends to release pent-up tension gradually, in regular small bursts, rather than catastrophically, all of a sudden. To become prime minister, a politician needs to climb the ranks through the system? a process that tends to weed out reactionaries and radicals. To remain in power, a prime minister needs to nurture the respect of the coalition that promoted her or him in the first place. Should the parliament lose confidence in the prime minister, it selects another, or parliament is dissolved and the country holds a general election.

Presidential systems impose no similarly moderating influences on ambitious demagogues. Linz recognized that by forcing two different, popularly elected branches of government to share power?like twin princes fighting for the throne?presidential systems give rise to legitimation crises almost by design. A few years before Linz died, this observation was borne out dramatically by the consecutive U.S. elections of 2008 and 2010, when voters installed a Democratic president by a landslide, then a Republican House of Representatives by another landslide. The question of which branch of the government was the more legitimate voice of the people pitted Congress and the White House against each other in dangerous brinkmanship. Within months of the 2010 midterms, the government nearly ceased functioning twice, the second time amid a threat by the GOP majority to undermine the supposedly inviolable validity of U.S. debt.

That crisis, which courted global economic calamity, was resolved at the last minute when President Obama largely acceded to House Speaker John Boehner?s demands. But the episode raised an alarming question: What happens when we have a president who refuses to be so accommodating?

In the years since, we?ve experienced several more symptoms of our perilous presidentialism, including the GOP?s embrace of a kind of nullification via procedural extremism. By filibustering key nominees, the party temporarily crippled regulatory agencies and briefly commandeered the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation?s second-most powerful court, by blocking three Obama picks in an attempt to preserve its conservative tilt.

The Obama era has been, in many ways, a story of governing institutions devolving into a Hobbesian state of nature, with raw power deployed by both Congress and the president to alter and restore fragile balances between minority and majority parties, houses of Congress, and branches of government. Congress now gleefully neglects its prerogative to modify outdated or ill-devised laws, leaving it to the president to govern through the use of legally dubious administrative kludges. When the news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia?s death broke in February, astute political observers knew the Republican Senate would never allow Obama to fill the vacancy and flip the balance of the Court from right to left. One hour later, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed this cynical intuition: ?This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.?

When Linz wrote his essay, he didn?t foresee that these kinds of standoffs, which had spelled doom for other presidential systems, would arise here. In Linz?s original telling, the fact that the United States had managed to exempt itself from constitutional crisis for over a century was an odd but enduring idiosyncrasy. Like Einstein concocting the theory of anti-gravity to rescue his more general theory from predicting the collapse of a universe that everyone assumed to be static, Linz needed to account for the fact the United States had escaped the dim fate his theory prescribed. He chalked it up, in part, to a quirk in our system: We?d been saved from such crises, he said, by ?the uniquely diffuse character of American political parties.?

That was 26 years ago, written as President George H.W. Bush was partnering with Democrats to increase taxes?a time when conservative Southern Democrats were still serving in Congress alongside members of both parties who had, not long before, driven a corrupt president from office without incident. Our system had spat out President Richard Nixon as soon as it recognized the toxin. Countries like Honduras, Chile, or Brazil might be vulnerable to the meddling of power-mad demagogues and dictators, but in the United States of 1990, that threat seemed remote.

In the two decades between the publication of ?The Perils of Presidentialism? and Linz?s passing, Republicans and Democrats completed their evolutions into ideologically disciplined parties, with Democrats drifting slowly but steadily leftward and Republicans making a mad dash to the right. As Linz?s theory predicted, polarization has gridlocked our system, making it more prone to constitutional crises than it has been in generations.

In the midst of these Obama-era shocks, Linz reflected on his notion of American exceptionalism. ?I initially thought the United States was escaping the problem, because of the lack of discipline in the parties, and the relatively good relationships among the legislators,? he said in a 2013 interview with The Washington Post. ?Obviously things have been changing. ? I think there?s still enough political wisdom in this country to avoid it, but obviously in many countries in Latin America and other parts of the world a crisis like the debt ceiling would easily lead to a military coup.? 

It is no great stretch to interpret Trump?s rise as a phenomenon driven by disgruntled masses abandoning democracy in favor of autocracy?as part of the natural progression of Linzian decay. But it?s also possible that American democracy really is unusually resistant to systemic breakdown and can endure even the unprecedented challenges that Trump could pose. Maybe, despite the potential for crisis that?s baked into our way of governing, we can relieve these systemic tensions in other ways: through party realignments, through sheer institutional robustness, or through popular insistence that we uphold our constitutional traditions. In that more optimistic light, Trump looks less like doom for the republic than doom for the Republican Party.

If Trump were to govern with a more even keel than he?s led us to expect, his presidency could conceivably serve as a weird remedy to the constitutional problems we?re already experiencing?and end up being powerful evidence of the political anti-gravity that keeps our democracy from succumbing to ideological polarization.

The bleakest plausible capstones to a Trump presidency are so very bleak because he has proven to be a shameless and unpredictable candidate for the office. But it?s those same qualities that have the potential to flatten American polarization by turning the political system on its side. If Trump were to build his legacy of ?greatness? through compromise (or, rather, ?deal-making?) instead of a will to power, he could reverse America?s drift toward partisan polarization, and might even herald a return to the kind of undisciplined, ideologically mixed parties that Linz saw as critical to our system?s durability.

If Trump proved willing to operate according to custom, his heterodoxy?combined with his zeal for negotiation and personal triumph?might function as a turndown service for several strange bedfellows. Trump?s critique of ?free trade? could unite liberal and conservative trade skeptics. While his anti-immigration extremism might upend the bipartisan consensus for comprehensive reform, Trump would also force opportunistic, pro-corporate immigration supporters on the right to choose sides between the GOP?s nativist faction and liberal humanitarians?and would, thus, drive an even larger share of the American professional class into the Democratic Party, tilting it away from liberal orthodoxy.

Because Trump has consistently promised his base of older voters to leave Social Security and Medicare untouched, his presidency could also shatter the unified conservative opposition to the New Deal consensus. And if there is a third way between the Republican Party?s reflexive hatred of the Affordable Care Act and the popular view that every American should have access to health care, Trump is the only candidate in either party likely to forge it. No other figure would have the clout or the flexibility to preserve a liberal health-coverage guarantee while reshaping our insurance system dramatically enough that Republicans could claim to have repealed and replaced Obamacare. This would create political détente on an issue that has divided the parties for decades.

Even if Trump behaved as erratically in office as he has on the campaign trail, he still might inspire new coalition-building in Congress?just of a different sort. Imagine if the next president were another Republican like George W. Bush and wanted to trample civil liberties, torture suspected terrorists, and create new theaters of war with sketchy funding and authorization. A Republican Congress would do nothing but enable him?just as it did Bush.

By contrast, if President Trump were to go rogue in all the ways he?s suggested, he would find himself tangled in a vast net of constitutional resistance. Republicans would not be so deferential to an anti-establishment figure like Trump if, after taking over their party, he set about destroying its ideological underpinnings?propping up the welfare state, for instance, and alienating the business class with protectionist trade and restrictive immigration policies. Impeachment is our Constitution?s ultimate remedy?one the Hondurans neglected to write into theirs before the coup?but the founding document also gives Congress control of the national treasury. If Trump bowled over constitutional barriers, a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republican Trump rejectionists could deauthorize or defund different facets of his agenda?such as, for instance, a campaign of mass expulsion of unauthorized immigrants. Courts would constrain him as well. Lacking the power to co-opt legislative leaders and judges, Trump would have to adapt or die.

This is one reason why, for all the understandable alarm about the twilight of the republic, the Trump saga has unfolded as the story of a party, rather than a nation, on the brink of collapse. If Trump becomes president, it will either be by building a new coalition for the GOP or by radically altering the balance of factional power in the existing one. Once the election was behind him, he would turn from a campaign world dominated by rhetoric and strategy?and popular entertainment?to governing, a realm in which norms and laws have much greater conforming power.

Trump?s ability to break the Republican Party in half is playing out before our eyes, as is his power to stir up ugly forces in the body politic. His desire to lay the Constitution to waste will only be tested if he?s sworn into office next January.

The Republicans most committed to stopping Trump from being elected are, generally speaking, the same folks who have convinced themselves that everything about their party was just fine until Trump came along. They are wrong about this, but their very wrongness is what gives me hope that Linz may have been right, after all, about America?s peculiar resistance to constitutional crisis.

My suspicion is that Trump is mostly a symptom of rot at the nexus of movement conservatism and Republican politics?not, by and large, of some broader national decadence. While the American government might not be entirely immune to the perils of presidentialism, it may well be riddled through with enough complexity and redundancy to make realignment more likely than collapse. The lesson of Trump?s candidacy?and, perhaps, his presidency?is not, then, that a corrupted party like the GOP will eventually take the country down with it, but that it will eventually eat itself alive and be replaced with something altogether more wieldy.

George W. Bush, who so successfully pushed past the limits of presidential powers, wasn?t unbound by norms and checks in a vacuum. He benefited from a deeply complicit Congress and a conservative judiciary. Any of the non-Trump Republican candidates in this cycle would be given the same latitude if elected. The real danger to our system may not be that disrupters like Trump will emerge and demolish existing political coalitions, but that they won?t. Without disruption, our parties will be free to stray further down their paths of polarization?until the kinds of crises that defined the past seven years confront leaders who are less responsible than Obama or more reckless than Boehner, and our Linzian fate overtakes us.

Panorama News

Concern bubbles up in Morocco

This video reportedly from Doukkala region of Morocco was worth putting up and discussing. You can imagine if you were the people experiencing this you MIGHT be a bit concerned and amazed. There may be a reason to be concerned but it?s not from chemicals from planes but from what you dump into the river.

It?s foam. Likely sea foam. Conditions of the water and wind were right to produce this unnerving scene captured in the video.

foam moroccoThis area is near the sea where wind can whip up foam from waves that coats entire towns.

Seafoam spectacular in Seaton Bay

Hold the foam!

Algae can be the catalyst for the foaminess but pollution that can act as a detergent, like sewage, or factory discharges can also be a cause.

Foamy pollution creates huge problems in Bangalore

This incident in River Lea in 2014 created foam blobs that look a lot like the ones in the video, making me suspect the water way shown may have had some sort of contaminant that erupted into foam when it reached the sea.

bubbles of foam

Incident on the River Lea in 2014 in the U.K.

Rumor online (from the typical tabloids and mystery mongering sites) was that it was clouds falling from the sky or that it was related to chemtrails. However, no one saw clouds in the sky descend. It appears that many just assumed this as the foam bits were moving around. The article from Morocco World News also notes that it could be from the river though people have some rather weird excuses that make for more exciting reading. Use of capital letters, exclamation points and fearsome words don?t make your claim true.

Yes, it looks like a cloud but if it was a cloud, it would not actually bounce like this since clouds don?t have structure like bubbles do.It?s CERTAINLY foam. Where it came from and why remains a question. They might want to do some testing of that water.

We had a similar cloud to ground story from an Arabic source in 2012 but sadly, the links to the story and video are now gone.

Tip to Paul Cropper on Group of Fort

Source and more

What Donald Trump Doesn?t Get About Alliances

Now that President Obama has returned from Havana, where he worked to reestablish relations with a former adversary, an unexpected foreign policy debate is emerging?not the longstanding hot-button issue of outreach to America?s enemies, but the subtler question of how America should handle its friends. For the first time in several decades, this year?s presidential foreign policy debate could go beyond when America should work with allies, asking whether they?re worth having at all. 

While the president was overseas, Donald Trump went on offense?only his target was not the Castro regime, Iran, or even North Korea. Instead, he took aim at Germany, Japan, and South Korea, core American allies for generations. Trump told The Washington Post that NATO may be ?a good thing to have,? but it is ?costing us a fortune.? As he reiterated to The New York Times editorial board, ?We?re a poor country now.? Asked by the Post whether America ?gained anything? from having bases in East Asia, he said, ?Personally, I don?t think so.? Later, Trump confirmed he would be willing to abandon Japan and other allies in East Asia unless they paid us more, and lamented, ?We?re totally predictable, and predictable is bad.? 

It?s tempting not to take such remarks too seriously. But research by the Brookings Institution?s Thomas Wright suggests that Trump?s worldview has been remarkably consistent for over three decades. In Trump?s view, the very idea of alliances seems to be misconceived, a rip-off. Instead of making longstanding mutual security commitments to allies like South Korea or Germany, the U.S. should extract money from those it protects. It?s less a partnership between likeminded nations and more a protection racket in which smaller countries play the role of corner shops, and America plays the mobster collecting tribute and saying, ?Nice country you?ve got here. Shame if something were to happen to it.?  

Even under the best of circumstances, alliances can be frustrating. The more powerful ally tends to chafe at the ?free riding? and to make demands of smaller alliance partners. Smaller nations, for their part, fear abandonment and seek constant reassurance in terms of resources, rhetoric, and high-level attention. Each worries about being dragged recklessly into conflict by the other. Also, the military costs of maintaining alliances are measurable, while the savings of preventing conflict are abstract and indeed unknowable. 

That helps explain why just about every modern U.S. president has at some point voiced frustration with America?s alliances. Just recently President Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic that ?free riders aggravate me,? warning allies like the U.K. to contribute their fair share in order to maintain their special relationship with the U.S. It?s worth being clear on the differences: President Obama is not calling for walking away or abandoning America?s alliance commitments. But he is pointing to a larger concern that is likely to resonate with the American public: a sense that allies aren?t paying their fair share or doing their part to maintain global security. With the middle class under strain, wounds from the Iraq War still fresh, and the need for investment at home urgent, devoting U.S. resources to the security of other advanced nations can be a difficult sell.

From our founding and especially until the Second World War, Americans debated the merits of entangling alliances, and for most of our history chose to avoid them entirely. But since the Second World War, America?s leadership through Atlantic and Pacific alliances allowed the world to move beyond an era when global conflagrations claimed tens of millions of lives and into one of steadily increasing peace, prosperity, and democratic advances. For decades, Republicans and Democrats alike recognized that the unrivaled breadth and depth of our alliances, backstopped by U.S. preeminence, has kept large-scale global aggression in check. 

But today these benefits can seem abstract. And Donald Trump is ready to call them starkly into question. If America?s leaders cannot explain the value of its alliance partners, the nation could well step back toward a nineteenth-century conception of power rooted in nationalism and mercantilism that would leave us less safe and less prosperous. 

The case against America?s alliances, as articulated by Trump and others, rests on a few important misconceptions. 

First, America is not a ?poor country,? as Trump asserts when he claims our allies are ripping us off. And we?re not in decline. On the contrary, we weathered a terrible global recession to create 14 million new private sector jobs since 2008, massively cut the deficit as a share of GDP, and became the world?s largest producer of oil and gas, with enough to give us energy security for a century. We have major investments to make at home, from rebuilding our infrastructure to strengthening our social safety net. But we can afford to do both. It?s astounding to hear a candidate call for nearly $10 trillion in tax cuts, mostly for the rich, and then plead poverty when the bill comes due for a more secure world. Should America coax, cajole, and even arm-twist allies to do more? Absolutely. But we can afford to do our part as well.  

Second, the full value of America?s alliances cannot be assessed in purely transactional terms. It?s true that one measure of alliance value is burden-sharing. Many Americans know how quickly the ?coalition of the willing? fell apart in Iraq. Fewer know, for example, that in Afghanistan nearly 1,200 allied forces gave their lives alongside U.S. and Afghan troops. 

But the value proposition of America?s alliances extends beyond how much South Korea compensates us to sustain our troop presence there, beyond whether Latvia spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense?even beyond who carries the painful burdens of war. Failing to see beyond the transactional is not hardheaded?it?s shortsighted. 

The value of our alliances is also about the wars they prevent by deterring aggression. They work because would-be aggressors know America will stand by its treaty allies, from jostling powers of Northeast Asia to the small Eastern European democracies that escaped the Iron Curtain. In other words, when it comes to commitments, we are ?predictable.? In bargain-hunting, we shouldn?t lose track of that. 

In a world full of complex crises, alliances also play a catalyzing role in diplomacy? lowering the bar to collective action, providing readymade coalitions, giving us influence over other nations? decisions, and legitimizing the actions we then take around the world. 

Another under-appreciated benefit of U.S. alliances has been their role in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. In a region like Northeast Asia, without our security guarantees, scientifically advanced countries like Japan and South Korea would feel compelled to build their own nuclear arsenals and start an East Asian arms race. Why don?t they? Because they know America is committed to protecting them. To Trump?s credit, he was honest?if strangely cavalier?that his policies would likely spark a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia. Likewise, Trump boasts about threatening Saudi Arabia over its wealth and Wahhabism, but overlooks that U.S. security guarantees against external threats are perhaps the single most important reason why the kingdom has not acquired a nuclear bomb of its own.  

And it?s not just the downside risks that make America?s alliances valuable. They are a unique attribute of America?s global leadership?a vision based not just on self-interest, but on a belief that international security and growth can create win-win outcomes. No other country?not China, not Russia?can boast a similar array of enduring friendships in every region on Earth. Other great powers wish they could create the same bonds?and they try, through Putin?s Eurasian Union or China?s Shanghai Cooperation Organization. But it?s not even close. And it shows in the difficulty these great powers have in finding support for their stances on contentious issues such as Crimea or the South China Sea. 

Effectively defending U.S. alliances requires being honest about their real shortcomings and working to make them better. The next U.S. president is likely to survey the problems of the world and seek more help than we?re currently getting. And in many cases the structures in place will not be up to the challenge, from European intelligence services? ability to track foreign fighters who would target Americans, to NATO members? defense spending as a share of GDP, to enduring mistrust between key East Asian allies like Japan and South Korea, to widespread mutual frustrations with traditional Arab Gulf partners. 

How to get the most from our allies and partners is a longstanding question and never-ending challenge. But to have the likely presidential nominee of a major party fundamentally questioning the basic value of these alliances is new. In diplomacy, as in a business transaction, the willingness to walk away can be an important point of leverage. But our most important alliances function best on firmer footing.  

Donald Trump?s views on alliances are dangerous in part because they tap into real frustrations and offer temptingly simple solutions. To some, it might be emotionally satisfying to go alliance by alliance and threaten to walk away unless you get exactly what you want. The problem is that precipitating crises in all of America?s alliances at once would also do serious damage to decades of work by several American presidents to build our credibility around the world. We do need to use our leverage to elicit a greater effort from others. But when our friends and partners can?t rely on us?as Donald Trump specifically says they shouldn?t?that saps our influence and injects new risk into an already too volatile world. 

Alliances are part of what keeps America great. Systematically threatening them would make the world more dangerous, and that would be no bargain at all. 

more info

Over the (Bigger) Rainbow

It?s easy to dislike The Wiz (Universal), but it?s also easy to like it. It?s torrentially syrupy, calculatedly simplistic, and the star is weak. On the other hand, it?s lavish lavish lavish: no one really believes in the syrup or the simplicities except as a medium through which some skills can operate; and the skills are there: almost every person connected with the film except the star is excellent. If you?re going to spend $35 million (reportedly) on a remake of The Wizard of Oz, revised and updated with an all-black cast, you couldn?t do a great deal better than this. You?d probably end up with the same star, Diana Ross. At least I can?t think of another black female singer who has a name in music and a couple of starring films behind her and could go a little way toward protecting your investment. 

I missed The Wiz on Broadway?am still missing it because it?s still on?but since we?re dealing here with a version of a version, I don?t feel especially impoverished by the loss. Kansas has become Harlem, and little Dorothy is now 24. Her problem is that she won?t go south of 125th Street and won?t leave the haven of her teaching job with small children. Afraid of Life, is Dorothy. A snowstorm sweeps her away, and she?s off to see the Wiz (special effects by a real wiz, Albert Whitlock). As before, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Her road leads, fantastically, south of 125th Street to a city that has a Big Apple rising in the sky above it. Eventually she meets the Wicked Witch, who runs an immense sweat shop, and the Wiz who, like King Kong but craven, is perched on the top of the Trade Center. 

All the story changes fit one another, as far as fitting is needed, and they build a certain kidding charm. The production designs by Tony Walton are lush, with more hyped-up theatricality than sheer cinema feel. The giant plazas, the giant sweat shop are more like incredibly big stage sets than native film sets, and this feeds an unconscious gobbling hunger in us for the impossible. One cavil: why couldn?t the yellow brick road have been brick, instead of crazy pavement? Walton?s costumes are kitsch as kitsch can, when kitsch has millions to spend and some wit, vulgarly gorgeous but knowingly so. Another cavil: I thought I saw touches of Ralph Bakshi?s Heavy Traffic in masks like those of the motorcycle gang. 

Extravagance empowered extravaganza, and some talented people reveled in a chance that doesn?t come along often these days of beer-can pictures. The cinematographer, Oswald Morris, is one of the best, and he has fun here in finding a whole spectrum within scenes shot within one overall tonality of red or blue or green. Dede Allen, than whom there is no better editor, dazzles along in her (I think) first musical with her cutting of musical numbers: picking points for emphasis and view-changes for variety without losing the sense of the number-as-number coursing on. And Sidney Lumet, one of the outstanding hot-and-cold directors in film history (his last outing was Equus), is blazing hot here. This is his first film musical (he directed at least one in the theater), and his evident enthusiasm for the job is infectious. There?s energy and enjoyment in the direction, and his discreet use of the crane, rising slightly on the big-floor numbers, whoops up the excitement nicely. One more cavil: the last shot, a big close-up of Ross singing?even though it has some furbelows in the background?suggests the last shot of Funny Girl

Let?s not compare Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, and Ted Ross as the Lion with Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr (Bert Lahr!) of the 1939 film. Let?s just say that Jackson, Russell, and Ross are absolutely endearing in their own rights. Even Mabel King, the Wicked Witch, belts out ?Don?t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News? in a way that makes her endearing. Lena Horne, suspended in the sky as Glinda the Good, delivers her hokey song near the end with the power to bring down a good many roofs. Richard Pryor, the Wiz, isn?t quite up to the others, but then some of the goodies in his role have been given to Dorothy. 

I am just not a Diana Ross fan. Her voice seems to reach for notes and to bleat when it gets them. I think it?s called ?styling.? She has no sex or any other appeal for me. I don?t believe she?s 24 or naive, and I don?t like looking at throat tendons on high notes. All through the film I kept playing Dorothy myself, standing in for Ross so that the show could go on. 

Louis Johnson?s choreography is trite, except near the end where it gets large and lively. The music, mostly by Charlie Smalls, does its job well enough while passing through to oblivion. Smalls? lyrics, however, make Rodgers and Hammerstein sound like The Waste Land. (And the rhymes! ?If You?re listenin?, God,/Please don?t make it hard.?) 

Not many musicals can stand a great deal of thought, and The Wiz can stand a lot less than that. If you can take it just as an occasion for the exercise of some real talents, a good time can be had much of the time. 

Segue to a book, ?The Wiz … was an all-black re-creation of The Wizard of Oz, far more faithful to the original … than was Fred Stone and David Montgomery?s 1903 vehicle.? But the earlier musical was so successful that it was burlesqued eight years after it opened in a revue called The Passing Show of 1913. That?s a sample of the information to be had from American Musical Theater: A Chronicle by Gerald Bordman (Oxford; $35.00). Bordman?s book is a mere 688 large double-columned pages, plus another 40 pages of appendix and indexes. His preparation for this job was to get a doctorate in Medieval English literature. He began his chronicle in the figurative middle ages of the musical, the 18th century, and he continues up to Ain?t Misbehavin?

The book is divided into five ?acts,? each of which is a distinctive period of musical writing, with periods of ?intermission? between the acts; every section, including ?intermissions,? is subdivided into seasons. One outstanding achievement in the book is its subjective tone. Obviously Bordman depended on reviews in the past arid, to some extent, in the present, for his value judgments, and he frequently cites his sources; but all the material is so thoroughly ingested that the overall effect is immediacy, as if he were reporting his personal experience of thousands of shows through a couple of centuries. 

He uses one problematic device. Often the narrative is interrupted for brief biographies of people coming into prominence at that moment, but these notes are left incomplete, as if Bordman thought it would be harsh to mention subsequent death at the moment of debut. Thus for all that the reader knows, Reginald De Koven, b. 1859, is still living. A better plan might have been to save those notes for the appendix, which now only lists works for the entries, and to make them fuller. In his preface Bordman says that ?few readers will want to read this book from beginning to end but will rather ?dip into? it.? Probably true. I only leafed through the book myself, but I leafed slowly, and it was unexpectedly rewarding. Bordman begins each major section and many seasonal accounts with a state-of-the-art summary, so as one goes through the book one gets a kind of graph of the fluctuation of invention and the arrival and waning of influences?something like a slower version of flicking the pages of one of those books with illustrations in the corner that move when flicked. Bordman is candid, sound as far as one can judge, and has some sharp insights, ?In a very important sense … Hair was a failure, for it failed to usher in a new era in the American Musical Theater.? 

He warns us in his preface that he has had to skimp on statistics?the names of every important contributor to every show?in order to keep the book portable. A companion volume of these statistics is en route. Meanwhile his book, supplemented by the encyclopedias of Stanley Green and David Ewen and the Lewine-Simon listing of songs, should take care of most factual needs. Bordman provides stylistic analysis (like the passage describing how jazz brought about the standard 32-bar popular song), but chiefly he is telling a story, one that is both constituent and reflective of our cultural history. (For example, The Wiz.)

These are photos

Have We Ever Had a President Like Donald Trump?

He is the presidential candidate with no filter, a man compelled to reveal all the thoughts that pop into his head?no matter how violent or crude?including his sexual fantasies about his own daughter. While many have accused Donald Trump of having an abnormally large ego, the opposite is true: His ego happens to be so small that it is barely able to control any of the rumblings of his own id. Whenever Trump feels slighted, he finds it necessary to start a holy war?with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the world?s 1.5 billion Muslims, or even Pope Francis himself. Simply put, he does not bond with the rest of humankind. He may know everyone who is anyone, but he has few real friends. As MSNBC?s Joe Scarborough recently told The New York Times, ?I have known this guy for a decade and have never once had lunch with him alone?? Trump trusts hardly anyone besides his third wife, his children, and his lackeys. He?s a suspicious loner who has convinced himself that he has little need for advisers. As he said earlier this month, before finally naming a handful of unfamiliar, press-averse foreign policy advisers, ?I?m speaking with myself.?

This history lesson should make Americans wary of Trump.

Have Americans ever placed anyone with the curious characterological make-up of the Donald in the White House before? To find comparable presidents, we have to go back to the nineteenth century: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and John Tyler. While these four nineteenth-century presidents were all more qualified than Trump to set foot in the White House?each had previously served in a high-elective office?they did share his reckless temperament. This history lesson should make Americans wary of Trump, as three of the four were doomed to unsuccessful one-term presidencies. 

Though John Adams was an intellectual powerhouse, his fiery disposition caused him problems throughout his political career. As biographer John Ferling has noted, ?Adams?s great failing seemed to be his volcanic temper, which could explode with such suddenness and so little provocation that some of his colleagues feared that passion occasionally eclipsed reason.? At the Continental Congress, fellow delegates liked to pick Adams?s brain, but they saw him as too unstable to be a leader. Thus, the admission of Adams?s character in the musical 1776 that he was too ?obnoxious and disliked? to draft the Declaration of Independence hews closely to reality. As president, Adams exhibited a Trump-like contempt for his cabinet, most of whom disagreed strongly with his policies. And like Trump, the only advisor Adams ever took seriously was a member of his own family: his wife, Abigail. In early 1800, Secretary of War James McHenry resigned in the wake of a vicious tirade by the president. In writing of the incident to a family member, McHenry described Adams as ?totally insane.? Adams also had little tolerance for dissenters in the media. On the ninth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, he signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which punished journalists who made what were deemed ?false, scandalous and malicious? statements against government officials with both hefty fines and prison sentences. While Adams tried to pass off this draconian measure as the handiwork of his fellow Federalist Alexander Hamilton, the former treasury secretary considered it an act of tyranny; Hamilton also argued that an ?ungovernable temper? made Adams unfit to govern. American voters apparently agreed: Adams lost the election of 1800 to Thomas Jefferson by 23 points.

Adams?s eldest son, John Quincy, had an even harder time getting along with his fellow man. As our sixth president wrote in his diary, ?my political adversaries [call me] a gloomy misanthropist; and my personal enemies, an unsocial savage.? Biographer Paul Nagel, describes him as ?notorious for his harshness, tactlessness and even rudeness.? Like Trump, who was once a Democrat, Adams had no use for party loyalty. His only allegiance was to himself. As a young Federalist senator from Massachusetts, he repeatedly sided with the Democratic-Republicans; the Federalist party honchos were greatly relieved when he resigned his seat in 1808. This undiplomatic man turned out to be a good diplomat, but his success had more to do with his towering intellect than his people skills. As the chief negotiator of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, he managed to get the Brits to agree to accept the status quo ante bellum (though he was unable to maintain cordial relations with fellow U.S. delegates such as Albert Gallatin, the treasury secretary under Jefferson). And as James Monroe?s two-term secretary of state, he authored the Monroe Doctrine. But his presidency was a disaster. As Gallatin observed, the temperamental Adams lacked ?that most essential quality?a sound and correct judgment.? On the domestic front, he launched a host of ambitious proposals?including a national university and a vast network of roads and canals?but he refused to curry favor to build support for them. Pennsylvanian Congressman Samuel Ingram noted in the last year of Adams?s administration, ?[The president] has always been hostile to the government and particularly to its great bulwark?the right of suffrage.? In his bid for re-election in 1828, Adams was trounced by Andrew Jackson, who earned more than twice as many electoral votes. 

The ten-year-old John Tyler bound and gagged his schoolmaster, whom he left for dead.

Just as a second-grade Donald Trump punched his music teacher, the ten-year-old John Tyler bound and gagged his schoolmaster, whom he left for dead. And like Trump, our tenth president was not only combative, but lusty; he, too, liked to fling around sexually explicit language. In his first speech on the floor of the House, the 26-year-old Virginia congressman compared popularity to ?a coquette?the more you woo her, the more she is apt to elude your embrace.? In 1844, a couple of years after the death of his first wife, Tyler, then in his final year in the White House, married a raven-haired beauty with an hourglass figure, Julia Gardiner, who was 30 years his junior. For the rest of his life, Tyler would brag about his sexual prowess, noting, for example, after the birth of their fifth child, that at least his name would not ?become extinct.? Within a few months of assuming the presidency after the sudden death of William Henry Harrison in April 1841, the headstrong former vice president who demanded absolute allegiance from his political allies alienated just about everyone in Washington. That September, after he twice vetoed banking legislation that he had promised to sign, five of his six cabinet members tendered their resignations. Suddenly, the former Whig was, as the influential Senator Henry Clay put it, ?a president without a party.? Hardly anyone came to Tyler?s defense. That fall, future president Millard Fillmore, then a Whig Congressman from upstate New York, noted, ?I have heard of but two Tyler men in this city [Buffalo]?and both of these are applicants for jobs.? In 1844, Tyler had to create his own party to mount a re-election bid, but when he found few takers, he was forced to drop out of the race.

Andrew Jackson, who served for two terms in between John Quincy Adams and Tyler, was the one fiery president who ranks high in polls taken by historians. Like Trump and Tyler, the young Jackson liked to punch people out, and rage attacks would remain a constant throughout his life. As one biographer put it, ?He could hate with a Biblical fury and would resort to petty and vindictive acts to nurture his hatred and keep it bright and strong and ferocious.? Of his brief career as a senator from Tennessee in the late 1790s, Thomas Jefferson observed, ?He could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings.? But over time, Jackson gained more self-control and most historians insist that what enabled Jackson to thrive as the country?s leader was his ability to harness his anger to good effect. Jackson?s strong-armed tactics led to his major accomplishments as president. When southerners tried to get around the ?Tariff of Abominations? by invoking their right to nullify federal laws, Jackson put his foot down, declaring, ?Disunion by armed force is treason,? and threatened punitive measures. He also pushed through legislation that gave him the power to use the military to collect import duties. ?Again and again at crucial moments of his public life,? concluded biographer HW Brands, ?Jackson carried the day because opponents were terrified of his temper.? Jackson was constantly threatening to let his wrath loose on his opponents?and because of his record of getting carried away in duels and brawls, everyone was forced to listen to him carefully.

Trump has no such equivalent in more recent American history. Even our most labile twentieth-century presidents had enough sense to keep their rage attacks private. According to Evan Thomas?s Ike?s Bluff, when President Dwight Eisenhower (aka ?the Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang?) told aides that his mother had taught him how to control his emotions, they would respond sotto voce, ?And she didn?t do a very good job.? But Ike was self-aware enough to hire his son, John, as his Assistant Staff Secretary in his second term. In John?s presence, Ike would give himself permission to lose it, figuring that he would thus be able to keep himself in check the rest of the time?a strategy that was largely successful. In 1965, in discussing the situation in Cyprus, Lyndon Johnson did tell the Greek ambassador to the US to ?f?your constitution.? But for the most part, LBJ tended to confine his potty-mouthed rages to his private discussions with White House insiders such as those he held from his perch on the potty. Likewise, Richard Nixon could not stop going off on paranoid rants against ?disloyal? Jews and other political enemies, but most Americans did not find out about this dark side until the release of his Oval Office tapes. Trump hasn?t even secured the Republican nomination, and already he makes both LBJ and Nixon seem prudish.

information widget

Russia Interested in Turkey-Israel Gas Relations

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meets Israeli counterpart Dore Gold. Credit: Russian Foreign Ministry

February 19th, 2016 3:00pm Posted In: News, Israel, Russia, Turkey, East Med, Egypt

Russia is interested in the possibility of gas ties between the Israel and Turkey, countries, according to a report in Israel newspaper Ha’aretz .

According to the report, Israeli foreign ministry?s director-general Dore Gold met his counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow February 18 to discuss cooperation between Russia and Israel and arms deals that Moscow might do with Iran, including a sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, to which Israel objects.

Lavrov then asked the Israeli delegation about the rapprochement with Turkey and possible gas deals.

Russia relations with Turkey are at an all-time low since the downing of a Russian warplane last November, after which Russia imposed tourism and trade sanctions on Turkey stopping short of natural gas sanctions. Turkey is one of the main markets for gas from Israel?s Leviathan field and also Russia?s largest overseas gas buyer.

Thawing Relations

Israel and Turkey have been negotiating an agreement to end the crisis in their relationship stemming from the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010.

Economic relations between the countries have remained healthy and bilateral trade grew steadily until 2014, despite trading public insults and the expelling of ambassadors.

Things took a turn when Turkey became isolated in the region following the downing of the Russian aircraft. Turkey is also at odds with Egypt and has not recognized the legality of its president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He ousted Muhamad Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood which was supported by Turkey. Turkey’s main declared goal in reconciliation with Israel is the removal of the naval blockade and assisting the Gaza Strip which is controlled by Hamas, a foe of the Egyptian regime.

Ya’acov Zalel

Natural Gas Europe welcomes all viewpoints. Should you wish to provide an alternative perspective on the above article, please contact  

Kindly note that we only lightly edit content for grammar and do not edit externally contributed content.

Click here for the article

Norway: Prezioso Linjebygg Snags New Maintenance Contract

February 19th, 2016 5:30pm Posted In: News, News By Country, Norway, Norway, Infrastructure, Corporate, Exploration & Production

Norwegian explorer and producer Statoil has said that it awarded a contract worth Nkr1.1bn (?115.4mn) to Prezioso Linjebygg for maintenance services at Sture and Kollsnes.

The contract is awarded on behalf of operator Gassco and will cover insulation, scaffolding and surface treatment maintenance services at the two processing plants, as well as rope access technique, rigging and other related tasks. The contract is for a 10-year period. 

“This framework agreement with Prezioso Linjebygg for the delivery of ISO services at Sture and Kollsnes marks the start of a long-term partnership between the companies,” head of Sture and Kollsnes processing plants Olav Badsvik said. “We are now signing a long-term contract with Prezioso Linjebygg, and have expressed clear expectations for deliveries that ensure safe, reliable and efficient operations.”

Last month, Statoil also announced that it was awarding Prezioso Linjebygg a contract for insulation, scaffolding and surface treatment services for installations on nine of its 29 installations. 

And on February 4, it was announced BP had contracted Prezioso Linjebygg to cover all of its 13 platforms and one production vessel on the Norwegian continental shelf. The fields include the Valhall, Hod, Ula,Tambar, and Skarv fields. 

That contract, which will run from three years and up to nine years, is worth Nkr20mn (?2.1mn) a year, close to ?19mn if the contract runs for the potential nine-year period. 


Erica Mills

Natural Gas Europe welcomes all viewpoints. Should you wish to provide an alternative perspective on the above article, please contact  

Kindly note that we only lightly edit content for grammar and do not edit externally contributed content.

> See directly

Older posts

© 2017 Gutschein Nerd

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑