Lazy Saturday Reads: As The Stomach Turns

Good Afternoon!!

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m sick and tired of the media’s coverage of “sexual assault.” I was already tired of hearing about it, but this whole thing with Al Franken using a lot of cerazette is just plain ridiculous. How many days now has it been the top story on cable TV? It feels like a month. What he did was stupid and disgusting, but I’ve heard enough. Franken apologized and wrote a personal letter to the “victim.” She said she accepts his apology.

Should Franken resign? No fucking way! Should we spend interminable days relitigating the charges against Bill Clinton from 20 years ago? No thanks. What Clinton did was disgusting too, but he went through years of investigations and was impeached for Christ’s sake. Enough!

Until Donald Trump resigns, the media needs to lay off Franken. Unless a bunch more women come forward to accuse him, it doesn’t look like he’s predator on the scale of Moore or Trump. We know that numerous other men in the House and Senate are guilty of sexual harassment. How about doing some investigative reporting to find out the names of these men and publish them?

We live in a culture in which women are beaten, raped and murdered on a daily basis. Let the media focus on that for a week. But it won’t happen. They prefer to use the rampant violence against women in this country as entertainment. And this 24/7 coverage of sexual harassment is happening for the same reason–entertainment and ratings. After the past couple of weeks, I’m feeling like I want to resign from the human race.

Meanwhile, the abuser-in-chief is stealing money hand over fist from taxpayers and trying to “reform” the tax code to give himself billions more.

Trump Ocean Club Panama City

Did you watch Richard Engel’s special on Trump’s Panama tower? If not, I highly recommend you check it out. Some interesting reading on just one place where Trump is reaping the rewards of his massive corruption. Some recommended reading on the subject:

Global Witness: Narco-A-Lago: Money Laundering at the Trump Ocean Club Panama. An excerpt:

The warning signs were there from the outset. The Trump Ocean Club, one of Trump’s most lucrative licensing deals to date, was announced in 2006 and launched in 2011, a period when Panama was known as one of the best places in the world to launder money. Whole neighborhoods in Panama City were taken over by organized crime groups, and luxury developments were built with the purpose of serving as money laundering vehicles.

Moreover, investing in luxury properties is a tried and trusted way for criminals to move tainted cash into the legitimate financial system, where they can spend it freely. Once scrubbed clean in this way, vast profits from criminal activities like trafficking people and drugs, organized crime, and terrorism can find their way into the U.S. and elsewhere. In most countries, regulation is notoriously lax in the real estate sector. Cash payments are subject to hardly any scrutiny, giving opportunistic and unprincipled developers free rein to accept dirty money.

In the case of the Trump Ocean Club, accepting easy – and possibly dirty – money early on would have been in Trump’s interest; a certain volume of pre-construction sales was necessary to secure financing for the project, which stood to net him $75.4 million by the end of 2010. Trump received a percentage of the financing he helped secure, and a cut on the sale of every unit at the development.

He and his family have made millions of dollars more from management fees and likely continue to profit from the Trump Ocean Club. Eager for the project’s success, Trump and his children have participated directly in marketing with help from one of the best marketing agencies, management, and even project design. According to broker Ventura Nogueira, Trump’s daughter Ivanka attended at least 10 meetings with him and project developer Roger Khafif.

A large number of those involved with the Trump Ocean Club in its early phase were Russian and Eastern European citizens or diaspora members. In an interview with NBC and Reuters, Ventura Nogueira said that 50 percent of his buyers were Russian, and that some had “questionable backgrounds.” He added that he found out later that some were part of the Russian Mafia.

Two more articles:

NBC News: A Panama tower carries Trump’s name and ties to organized crime.

The Guardian: Trump’s Panama tower used for money-laundering by condo owners, reports say.

Lots of news has been breaking on the Russia investigation. For example, The AP is just out with a new scoop: Moscow meeting in June 2017 under scrutiny in Trump probe.

Rinat Akhmetshin

Earlier this year, a Russian-American lobbyist and another businessman discussed over coffee (checkout this smart coffee cup that was given to me https://www.fastcodesign.com/90150019/the-perfect-smart-coffee-cup-is-here) an extraordinary meeting they had attended 12 months earlier: a gathering at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and his then-campaign chairman.

The Moscow meeting in June, which has not been previously disclosed, is now under scrutiny by investigators who want to know why the two men met in the first place and whether there was some effort to get their stories straight about the Trump Tower meeting just weeks before it would become public, The Associated Press has learned.

Congressional investigators have questioned both men — lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer and former Trump business partner — and obtained their text message communications, people familiar with the investigation told the AP.

Ike Kaveladze and Emin Agalarov meeting with President Donald Trump in Moscow, 2013

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team also has been investigating the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which occurred weeks after Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination and which his son attended with the expectation of receiving damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. A grand jury has already heard testimony about the meeting, which in addition to Donald Trump Jr., also included Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The focus of the congressional investigators was confirmed by three people familiar with their probe, including two who demanded anonymity to discuss the sensitive inquiry.

One of those people said Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the Moscow meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump’s orbit were asking about Akhmetshin’s background, the person said.

How much more evidence do we need to know that Russia has basically taken over our goverment?We’re living in a dystopian nightmare, as Dakinikat wrote yesterday. The world is laughing at us because Trump is rapidly turning the U.S. into a tinpot dictatorship. I’d like to just curl up in my apartment and escape into books, and I may just do that this weekend.

One way to escape the present and perhaps put our situation in perspective is to read dystopian novels, which I love. Louise Erdrich has just published one, and Elle has an interview of her by Margaret Atwood: Inside the Dystopian Visions of Margaret Atwood and Louise Erdrich.

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich, member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, author of more than 20 novels, most of them revolving around an Ojibwe community in North Dakota, won the National Book Award for The Round House (2012), a crime thriller, and was a Pulitzer Finalist for The Plague of Doves (2009), a murder mystery. But when a galley of her new novel, Future Home of the Living God (HarperCollins, out now), came across ELLE’s desk, it seemed to us that Erdrich had gone where she’d never quite gone before.

She’s written a novel—a wonderful, creepy, dystopian novel—in which women become prized, and quickly enslaved, for their ability to produce healthy babies. The pregnant protagonist of the novel, Cedar, an Ojibwe adoptee, is on the run, evading the white male evangelical government that wants to sever her from life as she knows it and use her body to produce healthy babies. Click here

Yes, it sounds familiar, doesn’t it—unless you’ve been living under a rock and missed
The Handmaid’s Tale cleaning up at the Emmys, or the fact that the book by the great Margaret Atwood has been on Amazon’s list of its top-20 most-read books for months.
So who better to interview Erdrich about her new novel than Atwood? Lo and behold: They agreed! Over the summer, the two writers—one in Toronto, one in Minnesota—amid jaunts to the Arctic and Winnipeg, engaged in a cross-border digital interview about the novel, their prophetic fears, politics, climate change, and why we idealize Canada.

Click on the link to read the interview. More dystopian fiction suggestions:

Literary Hub: 30 Dystopian Novels by and About Women.

ShortList: The 20 best dystopian novels.

HuffPost: 17 Spine-Tingling New Books For Fans Of Dystopia.

Another way to escape is to read about earlier times. Here’s an interesting book review I came across yesterday at The New Republic: Little House, Small Government. How Laura Ingalls Wilder’s frontier vision of freedom and survival lives on in Trump’s America.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the “Little House on the Prairie” books, lived a good two decades of her 90 years in a covered wagon going west. Only in late middle age did she become the author of the most successful series for children ever written about the settling of the American frontier. In the stories these books tell, the Ingalls family embodies that extraordinary hunger for pioneering that, through the second half of the nineteenth century, sent a few million men, women, and children out into the prairies and mountains of the mid- and far West to farm, raise cattle, mine for silver, pan for gold. One and all, they went in search of a life free from the restraints of the socialized world, to a place where survival depended on the exercise of one’s own wit and strength and backbreaking labor.

Ultimately, that same drive to be alone with the wilderness got converted to a founding myth of individualism, out of which emerged an ideology that visualized freedom from government as an equivalent of freedom itself. The descendants of that myth are among us still. If Laura Ingalls Wilder were alive today she would be a member of the Tea Party. She would almost certainly have voted for Donald Trump, many of whose followers yet believe that he will restore to them the dubious glory of the frontier America that Wilder so passionately celebrated in her books.

Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is an impressive piece of social history that uses the events of Wilder’s life to track, socially and politically, the development of the American continent and its people. The frontier, by definition, has always been a place just beyond the point where land meets sky. In America that longing to move beyond the horizon, which is common to all cultures, became not only synonymous with an idea of the national character, but a vital ingredient in the American brand of democracy. The historian Frederick Jackson Turner ardently believed, in fact, that “that restless, nervous energy, that dominant individualism” attributed to the frontier was the major influence on American democracy’s development.

What the people in the covered wagons did not grasp was that to a large extent they were pawns in the hands of political and business interests—especially those of the railroads—that needed to see ground broken across the entire continent. The pioneers never understood the hucksterism behind the “go west, young man” rhetoric that urged them to go where none had gone before, with no hard knowledge of what actually lay before them. All the pioneers knew—in their fantasies, that is—was that just over the horizon lay adventure, opportunity, possible wealth, and certain freedom.

As a kid, I read every one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series that began with Little House in the Big Woods and ended with These Happy Golden Years. Oh how I’d love to go back that innocent time in my life for one day. But then, maybe it wasn’t as great as I remember it. The reviewer includes another book about the American frontier that isn’t as joyful as Wilder’s nostalgic tales:

Agnes Smedley’s autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth, published in 1929, gave its readers an altogether different look at the same set of experiences. “I write of the joys and sorrows of the lowly,” she begins, “of those who die … exhausted by poverty, victims of wealth and power…. For we are of the earth and our struggle is the struggle of earth.” Smedley’s masterful work of realism concentrates on everything that Laura Ingalls Wilder either ignores, leaves out, or flatly denies. In this book, capitalism makes a mockery of the illusion of freedom-just-ahead—the promise that sent millions traveling west during those same years when the Ingallses were loading and unloading their covered wagon and then loading it once again.

Smedley was born in 1892 in Missouri into a family of farmers who labored long days in the field and never seemed to get ahead. The father, like Charles Ingalls, was handsome and restless. A lover of music and tall tales, he was possessed of “the soul and imagination of a vagabond,” Smedley wrote. The open road called to him. The mother, unlike Caroline Ingalls, desperately did not want to leave the farm but the father wore her down and at last they packed up and headed out. “And from that moment,” Smedley writes, “our roots were torn from the soil and we began a life of wandering, searching for success and happiness and riches that always lay just beyond—where we were not. Only since then have I heard the old saying ‘Where I am not, there is happiness.’”

The father did not want to homestead; rather, he thought to join the army of miners, loggers, and teamsters who were rushing west right alongside the settlers. Missouri, Colorado—on the Smedleys moved, from one mining camp to another, always working like dogs, always being cheated of their wages, always just barely surviving. “Existence meant only working, sleeping, eating … and breeding…. A book was a curiosity … a newspaper was a rarity; to read was a recreation of the rich.”

The family joined the exploited underclass that got the country built. Men like Smedley’s father, with all his brute strength and hunger of spirit, never realized that they were forever up against the exploitation of the owners of the mines and the railroads, who had the government in their pockets. Smedley himself proved an ignorant and frightened man, helpless before a world he could not fathom, much less define himself against. In time he loses his taste for the songs and the stories that sustained him; he becomes a bully, starts to drink, and beats his wife. Of her mother, old at 30, Smedley writes, “her tears … they embittered my life!” It is above all the hardness of the narrator’s voice that makes Daughter of Earth so unlike anything Wilder could have imagined. For Smedley, the ideology of American individualism proved a bitter punishment, for Wilder the fulfillment of what she took to be a God-given promise.

My grandparents and great grandparents helped settle the Dakota territory. I’d love to read those books. I already have a stack of things I want to read though. There’s never enough time.

I know this is a weird post. I think Trump is slowly driving me insane. What stories are you following today? Any book recommendations?


Evening Open Thread…Richard III, Mary Ingalls and the Devil in New Orleans

Pretty baby in this vintage ad...

Pretty baby in this vintage ad…

Good Evening

Wow, good news out of Alabama...I am so relieved that this little boy is with his mama and daddy. He has a long road ahead of him, this ordeal would be difficult for an adult, much less a 5 year old autistic boy.

Thanks to Dakinikat for covering for me yesterday. Banjoland got hit with a snow storm, which stranded my kids, my mom and me in a hotel for the night. It was a mess…Ground Hog Day storm dumps 3-5 inches of snow in places in north Ga.

click to enlarge

Road on Blood Mountain…

Today has been an active news day, there is one story that I find completely fascinating. Richard III: DNA confirms twisted bones belong to king.

There were cheers when Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the hunt for the king’s body, finally announced that the university team was convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that it had found the last Plantagenet king, bent by scoliosis of the spine, and twisted further to fit into a hastily dug hole in Grey Friars church, which was slightly too small to hold his body.

But by then it was clear the evidence was overwhelming, as the scientists who carried out the DNA tests, those who created the computer-imaging technology to peer on to and into the bones in raking detail, the genealogists who found a distant descendant with matching DNA, and the academics who scoured contemporary texts for accounts of the king’s death and burial, outlined their findings.

“What a morning. What a story,” said Philippa Langley, of the Richard III Society. She had been driving on the project for years, in the face of incredulity from many people, and finding funds from Ricardians all over the world when it looked as if the money would run out before the excavation had even begun.

Have you seen the skeleton?

The complete skeleton showing the curve of the spine of Richard III

The complete skeleton showing the curved spine of Richard III, who was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Photograph: EPA

As far as Langley is concerned, Richard was the true king, the last king of the north, a worthy and brave leader who became a victim of some of the most brilliant propaganda in history, in the hands of the Tudors’ image-maker, Shakespeare.

Foxhall quoted one contemporary description of Richard as “slight in body and weak in strength … to his last breath he held himself nobly in a defending manner”.

The Plantagenets are my favorite historic royal family. So Richard III, being the last of the Plantagenet line, is really exciting to me. BBC has a real cool interactive at this link, so check it out: Richard III dig: DNA confirms bones are king’s

His skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.

One was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other was caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull – a depth of more than 10cm (4ins).

‘Humiliation injuries’

Dr Appleby said: “Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral
“In the case of the larger wound, if the blade had penetrated 7cm into the brain, which we cannot determine from the bones, death would have been instantaneous.”

Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. There was also evidence of “humiliation” injuries, including a pelvic wound likely to have been caused by an upward thrust of a weapon, through the buttock.

Didn’t the same thing happen to Qaddafi? Didn’t someone stick a metal pole up his butt too?

Two questions remain…The first one being…Where does skeleton revelation leave legend of Richard III?

We can assume that when Richard III was interred by the monks in the church of the Greyfriars, possibly with a few of Henry Tudor’s henchmen present to see that it was done, it would not have been the burial a king of England could have expected. The confirmation that the remains found in Leicester are those of King Richard means that, at last, this can be put right and he can be laid to rest with the solemnity and dignity that is appropriate for an anointed king.

Even more significantly, the finding and reinterment of Richard III’s remains will, we hope, open up the debate about the king and his reputation. It would make such a difference if people would start to look into the history of this much maligned monarch without the old prejudices. Perhaps, then, they will see past the myth and innuendo that has blackened his name and find the truth. No one is going to suggest that he was a saint – I have said on many occasions that we are not the Richard III Adoration Society – but even a cursory reading of the known facts will show that the Tudor representation of Richard III, especially that in Shakespeare’s well known play, just doesn’t stand up.

The second of course, surrounds the mystery of the two boys in the tower.

Richard III was no saint but neither was he a criminal. All but one of the so-called crimes laid at his door can be refuted by the facts. The one that cannot is the disappearance of his nephews, the “Princes in the Tower” and the answer to that question is simply that no-one knows what happened to them. All that follows is conjecture – they just disappeared. Richard had no need to kill them; they had been declared bastards. Henry VII needed them out of the way, but he got so scared whenever a pretender appeared that it is likely that he knew they were alive at the time Richard died at Bosworth. Did they die in 1483 or 1485 or were they spirited out of the country to their aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy? We will probably never know.

What a story!

Okay, now a few quick links…there is a new discovery regarding another historic literary character, this one is about an American pioneer Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sister Mary Ingalls.  Meningoencephalitis Brain Inflammation Blinded Mary Ingalls

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” books, she describes her sister Mary going blind from scarlet fever. But brain and spinal cord inflammation likely caused Mary’s blindness, a new study suggests.

The findings, published today (Feb. 4) in the journal Pediatrics, came from poring over the symptoms Wilder described in memoirs and books.

“Since I was in medical school, I had wondered about whether scarlet fever could cause blindness, because I always remembered Mary’s blindness from reading the ‘Little House’ stories and knew that scarlet fever was once a deadly disease,” said study co-author Beth Tarini, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, in a statement.

Wilder wrote several books describing her life as a pioneer in the mid-1800s. In one, she describes her sister Mary going blind at age 14 in 1879.

The consensuses is that scarlet fever was an illness that most people would be familiar with, so the editors who originally published Laura’s books decided no to mention “brain fever.”

“Meningoencephalitis could explain Mary’s symptoms, including the inflammation of the facial nerve that left the side of her face temporarily paralyzed,” Tarini said in a statement. “It could also lead to inflammation of the optic nerve that would result in a slow and progressive loss of sight.”

It’s not clear why the editors of the book tied Mary’s blindness to scarlet fever, but one possibility is that the disease was such a well-known and feared scourge at the time, the researchers suggest.

If you missed any of the commercials from last night, you can see a list of them here: 2013 Super Bowl Ads: GoDaddy, Budweiser, Mercedes, BlackBerry, Samsung and the night’s most interesting commercials. Here is what Slate had to say…

An Audi ad opens with a nervous high school boy getting ready for prom. He’s going stag because he has no date. Even his little sis pities him. Then dad tosses over the keys to a bitchin’ Audi. When next we see the kid, he’s driving recklessly, violating parking rules, frenching the prom queen right in front of her boyfriend, and getting punched in the face. So I guess the takeaway is that driving an Audi will transform you from a sweet, humble guy into a total prick? And since teens can’t afford to buy Audis, this metamorphosis is presumably meant to stoke the fires of middle-aged men. Which is kind of gross.

I’m with Dak on this ad, I found it disgusting. Here is a description of another car ad last night that I found very clever…I tried to embed the video but it would not work, be sure to click the link to see it.

Mercedes-Benz introduces its CLA model with a Faustian tale. Satan (played by Willem Dafoe, enjoying his meatiest role since Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant) offers a Mercedes in exchange for a man’s soul. The man thinks about all the devilish things he’ll do when he gets his new ride. Party with Kate Upton. Dance with Usher. Make the cover of Vanity Fair. He’s ready to sign on the bottom line until he learns that the car costs a mere $29,900. So he opts to pay in cash instead of in metaphysical debt. Well-conceived ad. And take note, Audi: This is how you give your car some evil swagger without suggesting that teen boys should sexually accost teen girls.

Yup…one more commercial to mention, thanks to Ecocatwoman who sent me this link…it is an extended version of the Clydesdale commercial:  Budweiser Super Bowl 2013 Commercial — Extended Version

That is all I got for you tonight…this is an open thread.