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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Janet Yellen Fast Facts

(CNN)Here’s a look at the life of Janet Yellen, the first female Federal Reserve chair.

Birth date:
August 13, 1946
Birth place: Brooklyn, New York
    Birth name: Janet Louise Yellen
    Marriage: George Akerlof (1978-present)
    Children: Robert
    Education: Brown University, B.A. in Economics, 1967; Yale University, Ph.D. in Economics, 1971
    Other Facts:
    Met her husband while they were both working at the Federal Reserve in 1977.
    Her expertise is in macroeconomics and the mechanisms of unemployment.
    Assistant professor at Harvard University.
    1977-1978 Serves on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors as an economist.
    1978-1980 – Lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
    1980 Becomes a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley.
    August 1994 – Takes a five year leave from Berkeley.
    1994-1997 – Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
    1997-1999 – Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers after her appointment by President Bill Clinton.
    1997-1999 – Chair to the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
    June 2001 -Co-authors “The Fabulous Decade: Macroeconomic Lessons from the 1990s” with Alan S. Blinder.
    June 14, 2004 – Becomes president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Serves until 2010.
    2007 – Throughout the year, Yellen gives numerous warnings regarding the housing market. The housing market crashes late in the year.
    October 4, 2010 – Begins a four-year term as the vice chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, as well as a 14-year term as a board member.
    September 8, 2013 – Heidi Hartmaan, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, circulates a letter to President Obama requesting Yellen be nominated to serve as chair of the Federal Reserve. Within three days, the petition receives signatures from more than 300 economists.
    October 9, 2013 – President Obama nominates Yellen to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve.
    November 21, 2013 – The Senate Banking Committee votes 14-8 to send Yellen’s nomination on for consideration before the full Senate.
    January 6, 2014 – The Senate votes 56-26 to confirm Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve. She will be the first female head in the central bank’s 100-year history.
    February 3, 2014 – Is sworn in as chair of the Federal Reserve.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/25/us/janet-yellen-fast-facts/index.html

    ‘Ayahuasca is changing global environmental consciousness’

    David Hill: Interview with US scientist Dennis McKenna on powerful Amazon hallucinogen, plant intelligence and environmental crises

    Ayahuasca, as it has come to be known internationally, is a plant medicine that has been used in the Amazon for centuries for healing and spiritual purposes. Renowned for the often extraordinary visions it induces – not to mention the deep vomiting – it is made from an Amazonian vine known to western science as Banisteriopsis caapi and usually at least one other plant.

    Over the last 25 years or so ayahuasca has gone global, with many 1000s of people travelling to Peru and other South American countries to drink it, and expert healers – curanderos, shamans, ayahuasqueros, maestros – travelling abroad to hold ceremonies. Many drink ayahuasca because theyre looking for healing, some are just curious, some mistake it for a recreational drug.

    One of ayahuascas pioneer scientific researchers is Dennis McKenna, a US ethnopharmacologist and younger brother of the legendary ethnobotanist and author Terence. Some years ago, in an article titled Ayahuasca and Human Destiny published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, McKenna emphasised the contribution ayahuasca can make to physical and spiritual healing – if it is ever afforded its rightful place in medical practice – and addressing potential environmental catastrophe.

    [Ayahuasca is] the conduit to a body of profoundly ancient genetic and evolutionary wisdom that has long abided in the cosmologies of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon who have guarded and protected this knowledge for millennia, who learned long ago that the human role is not to be the master of nature, but its stewards, McKenna wrote. Our destiny, if we are to survive, is to nurture nature and to learn from it how to nurture ourselves and our fellow beings. This is the lesson that we can learn from ayahuasca, if only we pay attention.

    Below are edited excerpts from an interview between McKenna, in the US, and the Guardian, in Iquitos, a city in Perus Amazon which the scientist calls the epicentre of the global ayahuasca movement:

    DM: What can [ayahuasca] do for the environmental movement? I think a lot of people, especially if they come to South America, come away with a really renewed appreciation for our connection to and the importance of nature. I think that ayahuasca is a catalytic influence in changing global environmental consciousness, which is something thats got to happen if were going to get out of the mess were in. The main challenge we have as a species is – getting on the soap-box for a minute – we have forgotten our connection to nature. Weve come to the conclusion that we own nature, it exists for us to exploit, and were busy doing that. Were destroying it in the process. Were destabilising all of these global mechanisms that keep the biosphere habitable by life. I think ayahuasca is waking up a lot of people and reminding them that, No, thats not the way it is. You monkeys are not running the show. The plants are running the show, by sustaining life on earth, if nothing else. There needs to be a global shift of consciousness. People need to understand this before they can really begin to change, and so in that sense I think ayahuasca is an ambassador from the community of species. The message is basically, Wake up, you monkeys! Youre wrecking the place! Its very important and interesting that so many people come away with this strong message that theyve really been moved and touched by something that they feel is an intelligent entity – an intelligent representative of the natural world.

    Sina Ramirez Rios, a Shipibo curandero singing to ayahuasca before a ceremony near Pucallpa in Perus Amazon. Photograph: Emilie Lescale

    DH: Why is that? Why does it make clear to people our connection to nature? How does it do that? Because it teaches us that the plants and trees are alive, in a sense, and are intelligent and sentient?

    DM: I dont think there is a scientific answer. Its more like a philosophical answer, or a spiritual answer. This is the challenge of our time: we have separated ourselves from nature and we really need to re-understand that relationship, and as part of the community of species, which we are – we may deny it, we may forget it, but we are part of the community of species. And I think that the community of species is concerned about this problematic primate that they have let loose on the planet. As a species, we are simultaneously the most dangerous thing that has appeared in the course of evolutionary time and were also the most promising. Indigenous people have this perspective that [ayahuasca and other plants] are teachers. They exist to give us guidance and wisdom – and I believe that, actually. [Indigenous people] have been the stewards of the plants, the stewards of this knowledge, but I think that now things are getting desperate on a global scale in terms of the environmental catastrophes that are looming. I think theres a sense in the community of species weve got to step up the game and these are their tools to contact human beings and basically say, Pay attention because you need to re-understand your relationship to nature, and once thats understood then you have to start making changes. I think one of the challenges of our species – one of our problems – is that were very, very clever. We can do amazing things with our big brains and our opposable thumbs and our ability to use and create technology. No doubt that were clever. The problem is were not wise – and thats the whole thing. I think the message from ayahuasca and all these other teacher plants is, Wise up. Literally: Get wise. So that we can use the technologies weve invented in a way that supports and sustains life, rather than threatens life. Thats really the message. Its a profound message, but its a simple one.

    The Banisteriopsis caapi vine, the key ingredient to ayahuasca, known by numerous different names throughout the Amazon. Photograph: Emilie Lescale

    DH: Do you feel Peru is the centre of what you call the global ayahuasca movement, or is it more Brazil?

    DM: I think its Peru. In terms of its interfacing with the West, or Western culture, in Brazil, where you find it is through churches [like the Uniao do Vegetal], which have adopted ayahuasca as their sacrament. I dont think theres a big ayahuasca tourism industry in Brazil. It may be happening, but Iquitos is definitely the epicentre. People have been coming there regularly since about 1995 and it has grown a lot.

    DH: Do you think more clinical studies [on ayahuasca] need to be done? That that would be positive for ayahuasca in general?

    DM: I dont need clinical studies to convince me ayahuasca is good medicine, that its helping people, but you can publish them [and its] a good way to convince skeptical colleagues in biomedicine, rather than just some guy raving about how great it is. . . This also grades over into some ethical issues. There are multiple ones. This is something that exists in the context of traditional medicine. It has already, in a certain way, been co-opted by the West through the ayahuasca tourism phenomenon and so on. Is it ethical to try and take a medicine like this and stuff it into a biomedical research structure? Is that the right way to approach it? Im not saying that it is and Im not saying that it isnt. I just think that we have to be clear that there are aspects here of taking something out of its traditional context. Can it be used that effectively in biomedicine, or do you need the ceremonial ambience? It goes back to these hoary principles of setting. Which are very important. Does it have to be traditional? I dont think so, but you could say, Well, why not? Because this is a Peruvian patrimony. Peru has declared ayahuasca a national patrimony, and you could say, Well, if youre going to develop therapeutic protocols and programs around ayahuasca, why not do them in Peru? Youre not taking it away from anybody. Youre actually creating opportunities for Peruvian doctors, scientists and curanderos to work together to develop therapies that can help people – essentially taking a page out of the idea of medical tourism. Tourists are going to come to take ayahuasca for psycho-spiritual reasons. Why cant they come and take it for medical reasons? Thats just an idea.

    Miguel Ochavano Uquia, a Shipibo maestro working with ayahuasca at the Temple of the Way of Light near Iquitos in Perus Amazon. Photograph: Temple of the Way of Light

    DH: Medical tourism. Have you heard that term used by anyone else [regarding ayahuasca]?

    DM: Medical tourism is kind of a buzz word now, especially in the States because of the crazy cost structure of so many medical procedures. . . Ayahuasca therapy is not something you can get [here], at least, not legally, so if you want to access it you can go to South America. In that sense its medical tourism. . . I think the ayahuasca tourism thing is definitely a two-edged sword. Its having a lot of negative impacts on indigenous communities, but at the same time its benefitting a lot of people and, in some ways, keeping the tradition alive. But its also changing that tradition, as people start to cater to Western tastes and needs. So what needs to develop, I think, is some kind of a fusion of traditional and medical practices that takes the best from both and creates some kind of new paradigm. I hope thats where it goes.

    DH: What you said there about negative impacts on indigenous communities. . . What kind of impacts?

    DM: There are multiple ones, but a lot is related to economics: the foreign tourists come to a place like Iquitos with their pockets full of money and their values and their interests and it can completely skew the economic situation. . . [But] it can also be good. Economic influx in communities can be a good thing if its properly done. Another aspect is that most of the centres [offering ayahuasca] around Iquitos arent owned by Peruvians. Theyre owned by foreigners. Thats fine. Theyre the ones that have the resources to set these things up, but then theres a temptation to not treat their people well, not compensate them well, and then theres the issue that you get in any kind of cult-like situation where you have a very powerful medicine, you have people coming in to have these experiences, often theyre put in a vulnerable situation because the whole point of the exercise is to go to a place where you can open up and examine your deepest, darkest fears and secrets and so on. If you happen to be with a curandero who doesnt necessarily have your best interests in mind – there are plenty of those – you can be mistreated. As you know, sexual abuse of foreign tourists in ayahuasca centres is not uncommon. Ayahuasca, like anything else, is a technology. Its a tool. It really doesnt have any inherent moral qualities. It can be used in really positive ways and really negative ways because the ethics of it originate in the people who use it and how they use it and what they use it for.

    Ayahuasca being prepared near Pucallpa in Perus Amazon. Photograph: Emilie Lescale

    DH: Just to pull back a second. If asked, Are plants intelligent, would your answer to that be, Well, obviously, ayahuasca is a good example?

    DM: Yes, ayahuasca is intelligent. Yes, plants are intelligent. Not in the way that we are, but in some ways theyre much smarter than we are. It depends on how you want to define intelligence, right? If intelligence doesnt require nervous systems, it it doesnt require brains. . . if intelligence is when something reacts to their environment in a way that optimises its adaptation. Under that rubric plants are definitely intelligent – but not like we are. They dont have brains and they work on different time-scales. This is part of a co-evolution were seeing. Co-evolution works on vast time-scales and ayahuasca has only been known to the West for less than 150 years. Thats a tiny slice of historical time. . . I think were only beginning to learn how to use ayahuasca, how we use it as a tool to wake up other people because, if you havent noticed, theres a great deal of willful ignorance, at least, in the States, particularly with regard to environmental issues. Our politicians – at least, the Republican side of the equation – are proud of the fact they dont know anything about climate science and they deny that it is even important. This is the attitude that needs to be changed. Stupidity is not going to solve our problems and yet theyre behaving as though it will. . . Are you familiar with the author Michael Pollan?

    DH: Yes. Food Rules [the title of a book by Pollan].

    DM: He wrote a wonderful article in The New Yorker. The Intelligent Plant. I think it really well summarises some of the issues right now that science is looking at, in terms of plant intelligence. I mean, a few years ago, you bring that up, youd just be laughed at. Now, not so much. Theres really compelling evidence that plants are capable of planning, remembering, dealing with other plants and other things. . . Something else were learning about intelligence: you dont have to have a brain. Brains are over-rated, you know. What you have to have is neural networks – very extensive networks of connections. If you look at eco-systems, if you look at forests, if you look at things on the macro-scale, these are tremendous, enormous neural networks. You can think of them from that perspective, like the connections between the roots of plants and the fungi in the soil. These are mycelial networks that can sometimes cover many miles. The biggest organisms in the world are actually mushrooms, believe it or not. Not psychedelic ones, as far as we know, but theyre mushrooms that grow in the forests in Oregon, places like this. Theyre a cubic mile in extent. Theyre 80,000 years old. Because the mushroom part is just the reproductive body. Whats really going on is the mycelial networks in the soil: the hyphae of the fungi is closely associated with the roots of plants, so its a very, very close symbiotic association. This is the intelligence of plants. This is the real thing. This is not just a romantic notion. This actually is real. Its sometimes called the Gaia Hypothesis, originated by James Lovelock, a geophysicist and geochemist. . . His basic idea is that the entire biosphere is regulated, working together in such a way to keep it within these fairly narrow parameters that will support life.

    DH: One more thing on plant intelligence. . . There was a book recently published, Brilliant Green, written by an Italian, Stefano Mancuso.

    DM: Hes one of the leading researchers on this right now.

    DH: I read the book by Mancuso, which really got me thinking. One of the things he doesnt address is the idea that plants teach humans, that there is that kind of relationship.

    DM: Its a bit of a leap for him, but it is definitely where this is trending.

    DH: Are you continuing with your scientific research into ayahuasca at the moment?

    DM: Well, not so much, but Im interested in moving in to the therapeutic area and I would like to do some structured chemical, clinical studies. But I want to do them in Peru. And I organize retreats in the Sacred Valley [in the Cusco region] at Willka Tika.

    DH: Can I just finish with one more question, Dennis? You say in Human Destiny [the article published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs] You monkeys only think youre running things. And thats quoted, as if someone else said it. Is that what your brother Terence said, or is that what you said at some point?

    DM: Its what the ayahuasca said.

    DH: To who?

    DM: Me.

    DH: Ok. And what does it mean? Is the play on You monkeys only think youre running things? or am I reading too much into it?

    DM: When I took ayahuasca with the Uniao do Vegetal for the first time, in Sao Paulo in 1991, I had a very impactful ayahuasca experience in which I was shown photosynthesis at the molecular level. Being a plant biochemist I sort of understand these processes. It was extremely inspiring to me at the time. The take-home lesson was, You monkeys only think youre running the show. Its in my book [The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss].

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2016/jul/30/ayahuasca-changing-global-environmental-consciousness

    Recep Tayyip Erdogan Fast Facts

    (CNN)Here’s a look at the life of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president and former prime minister of Turkey.

    Birth date:
    February 26, 1954
    Birth place: Istanbul, Turkey
      Birth name: Recep Tayyip Erdogan
      Father: Ahmet Erdogan, coastguard and sea captain
      Mother: Tenzile Erdogan
      Marriage: Emine (Gulbaran) Erdogan (July 4, 1978-present)
      Children: Two daughters and two sons
      Education: Marmara University, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, 1981
      Other Facts:
      Active in Islamist circles in the 1970s and 1980s.
      Before his political career, Erdogan was a semi-professional football (soccer) player.
      Erdogan is considered a polarizing figure: supporters say he has improved the Turkish economy, introduced political reform, and has made significant progress in ending the 30 years of guerrilla war with Kurdish separatists.
      Critics have accused Erdogan of autocratic tendencies, corruption and extravagance, including the 1,000 room-plus palace he built on publicly protected land.
      Erdogan has also been heavily criticized for failing to protect women’s and human rights, curbing freedom of speech and attempting to curb Turkey’s secular identity.
      Under Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey has lifted restrictions on public expression of religion, including ending the ban on women wearing Islamic-style headscarves.
      Has called social media “the worst menace to society.”
      1984 –
      Elected as a district head of the Welfare Party.
      1985 – Elected as the Istanbul Provincial Head of the Welfare Party and becomes a member of the central executive board of the party.
      1994-1998 – Mayor of Istanbul.
      1998 – The Welfare Party is banned. Erdogan serves four months in prison for inciting religious hatred after reciting a controversial poem.
      August 2001 – Co-founds the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
      2002-2003 – Erdogan’s AKP wins the majority of seats in parliamentary elections, and he is appointed prime minister.
      2003-2014 – Serves as prime minister.
      June 2011 – AKP wins by a wide margin in the parliamentary elections, securing a third term for Erdogan.
      June 2013 – Anti-government demonstrations target Erdogan’s policies, including his plan to turn a park into a mall, and call for political reforms. Thousands are reported injured in the clashes.
      December 2013 – Corruption probe begins which investigates more than 50 suspects, including members of Erdogan’s inner circle. The following month, the government dismisses 350 police officers amid the investigation. Ten months later, the prosecutor drops the inquiry.
      March 2014 – After Erdogan threatens to “eradicate” Twitter at a campaign rally, Turkey bans the social media site, and a two-week countrywide blackout ensues.
      August 10, 2014 – Erdogan is elected president during the first ever direct elections.
      August 28, 2014 – Erdogan’s presidential inauguration. While the presidential role is designed to be a ceremonial one, Erdogan has said he hopes to change the constitution that will see his remit extended.
      November 2014 – At a summit hosted by a women’s group in Istanbul, Erdogan says that women and men are not equal “because their nature is different.” It’s not the first time the Turkish leader has made controversial comments about women: he has previously told Turkish university students that they shouldn’t be “picky” when choosing a husband and has called on all Turkish women to have three children.
      June 7, 2015 – In Turkey’s parliamentary elections, AKP wins 41% of the vote. This falls short of the majority, disabling Erdogan’s hopes to transfer power from parliament to the presidency.
      July 15-16, 2016 – During an attempted coup by a faction of the military, at least 161 people are killed and 1,140 wounded. President Erdogan addresses the nation via FaceTime; speaking to a CNN Turk anchor on her phone so viewers can see it, he urges people to take to the streets to stand up to the military faction behind the uprising. Erdogan blames the coup attempt on cleric and rival Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/26/middleeast/recep-tayyip-erdogan-fast-facts/index.html

      Search engines’ role in radicalisation must be challenged, finds study

      Nearly 500,000 online searches a month return Islamist material, says report that advocates multilateral approach to removing extremist sites

      More than 484,000 Google keyword searches a month from around the world, including at least 54,000 searches in the UK, return results dominated by Islamist extremist material, a report into the online presence of jihadism has revealed.

      The study found that of the extremist content accessible through these specific keyword searches, 44% was explicitly violent, 36% was non-violent and 20% was political Islamist in content, the last being non-violent but disseminated by known Islamist groups with political ambitions.

      The study is one of the first to expose the role of the search engine rather than social media in drawing people to extremist jihadi material on the web. It argues the role of the search engine a field dominated by Google has been a blind spot that has been missed by those seeking to measure and counter extremist messages on the internet.

      Although the UK governments Prevent strategy claims the internet must not be ungoverned space for Islamist extremism and British diplomats have taken the lead in the global communications fight against Islamic State on the net, the study suggests government agencies are only at the beginning of a labyrinthine challenge. So-called counter-narrative initiatives led by governments and civil society groups are under-resourced and not achieving sufficient natural interest, suggesting the battle of ideas is not even being engaged, let alone won.

      The study, undertaken jointly by Digitalis and the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics, will be challenged by those who claim it advocates censorship, has blurred the lines between political Islam and violent extremism and cannot validly quantify the presence of extremism.

      But the findings come in a week in which there has been a spate of terrorist attacks in Germany and France, some undertaken by young people either radicalised on the internet, or using it to feed their obsession with violence. Many of the jihadist foreign fighters in Syria were radicalised online as the search engine gradually overtakes the library and the classroom as a source of information.

      The study, entitled A War of Keywords: how extremists are exploiting the internet and what to do about it,argues many of the legitimate mainstream Islamic scholarly websites host extremist material, including jihadi material, often without any warning or safeguards in place.

      It also argues non-violent Islamist organisations, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, have a very strong online presence and dominate the results for some keyword searches. Some of the most popular search words used were crusader, martyr, kafir (non-believer), khilafa (a pan-Islamic state) or apostate.

      In a condemnation of government efforts it finds very little of this content is challenged online. Analysing 47 relevant keywords, the search-engine analysis found counter-narrative content outperformed extremist content in only 11% of the results generated. For the search term khilafah, which has 10,000 global monthly searches, the ratio of extremist content to counter-narrative is nine to one.

      This is partly because counter-narrative sites lack search engine optimisation so they do not rank high enough in searches, By contrast, Khilafa.com, the English website of Hizb ut-Tahrir, had more than 100,000 links into it.

      The study also warns some of the most-used Muslim websites such as Kalmullah.com and WorldofIslam.info host traditional Islamic content alongside extremist material so are knowingly or unknowingly abusing the trust of their readers.

      The study also claims a user can come across extremist content relatively easily while browsing for Islamic literature. Few effective restrictions apply to accessing Islamic State English-language magazine Dabiq or Inspire magazine, which is linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. Both are readily available to browse and download through clearing sites.

      The study produced its headline numbers by looking at the average monthly number of global searches conducted in Google for 287 extremist-related keywords 143 in English and 144 in Arabic. It then looked at two samples totalling 47 keywords, the first sample focused on the most-used words and the second sample on the keywords deemed to be most extremist. The research then analysed the first two pages thrown up by the search for these keywords.

      The authors acknowledge the difficulties technology companies face in policing the results of their search engines. Google is responsible for 40,000 searches a second, 2.5 billion a day and 1.2 trillion a year worldwide. Facebook boasts more than one and a half billion users who create 5 billion likes a day.

      Dave King, chief executive of Digitalis, argues: While the companys advertising model is based on automatically mining the content its users create, their ability to distinguish a single credible kill threat from the plethora who have threatened to kill in jest is highly limited.

      The study recommends governments, the United Nations, technology companies, civil society groups and religious organisations together establish a charter setting out a common definition of extremism and pledge to make the internet a safer place.

      Technology companies, the report says, could work with governments to shift the balance of the online space, as well as share analytical data and trending information to bolster counter-efforts. It suggests search engine companies have been reluctant to or unable to alter the search algorithms that are responsible for search page rankings.

      The authors also call for a debate on the murky dividing line between violent and non-violent extremist material online, arguing such legal definitions have been achieved over copyrighted material, child pornography and hate speech all of which have been subject to removal requests.

      Exiisting content control software that prevents access to graphic or age-restricted material could be used and warning signals put on sites.

      A Google spokesperson said: We take this issue very seriously and have processes in place for removing illegal content from all our platforms, including search. We are committed to showing leadership in this area and have been hosting counterspeech events across the globe for several years. We are also working with organisations around the world on how best to promote their work on counter-radicalisation online.

      Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/28/search-engines-role-in-radicalisation-must-be-challenged-finds-study

      ‘Jason Bourne’ reunites original band to play the fast-paced hits

      (CNN)Much like its title character, “Jason Bourne” is an efficient automaton of a movie, stripping away any pesky qualifiers — “Identity,” “Supremacy,” “Ultimatum” — and getting down to what the whole exercise is about in the bare-bones title.

      Nine years after their last outing (and ignoring a misguided spinoff attempt), star/producer Matt Damon and director/co-writer Paul Greengrass have reunited, offering the same visceral, kinetic thrills. The result is a movie that provides the requisite pacing and action, as long as one doesn’t spend too much time fretting about the plot or logistics.
      Much will likely be made of the timely central conceit, which involves the government using technology for mass-surveillance purposes. Moreover, if Jason Bourne is a modern-day answer to James Bond, it’s worth noting the only nefarious group here is the CIA, without requiring made-up acronyms like SPECTRE, as the preoccupation with Bourne stretches all the way to the agency’s director (a perfectly cast Tommy Lee Jones).
        Whatever the foundation in Robert Ludlum’s novels, the politics now are merely an excuse to launch the taciturn hero into action, with Damon’s purposeful walk, set to that pulsating music, representing its own kind of special effect.
        Suffice it to say that the one-time killing machine has been living off the grid, before being drawn back by an old ally (Julia Stiles). She’s armed with hacked, top-secret documents related to the shadowy forces that molded him, which, the agency frets, “could be worse than Snowden.”
        That again puts the CIA on Bourne’s tail, with the director dispatching an “asset” (Vincent Cassel) every bit as talented as Bourne in the art of mayhem to neutralize the threat, auguring an inevitable showdown.
        Beyond Jones, the supporting cast includes Alicia Vikander (coming off her Oscar win for “The Danish Girl”) as an ambitious CIA analyst leading the operation; and Riz Ahmed (currently featured to better effect in HBO’s “The Night Of”) as a tech billionaire, whose privacy-invading app is enlisted to do the government’s bidding.
        The action is characteristically stylish and breathtakingly fast. Those sequences only hit a serious skid during a climactic car chase along the Las Vegas Strip, which seems to have parachuted in from the “Fast & Furious” movies and pays even less attention to the laws of physics than it does local traffic ordinances.
        In interviews promoting the movie, Greengrass has been fairly open about his reticence in returning to these films, and his irritation over “The Bourne Legacy,” which Universal produced without him. Damon was equally candid about helping coax Greengrass back by arguing that it would be foolish to walk away from a franchise with such a built-in fan base.
        From that perspective, there’s nothing complicated about why Jason Bourne wasn’t left out in the cold.
        Universal tried the equivalent of a “Bourne” cover band. Now they’ve brought back the original group to play the hits. And kicks. And explosions.
        “Jason Bourne” opens July 29 in the U.S.

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/27/entertainment/jason-bourne-review/index.html

        Buildup to Rio 2016 part of a chaotic and shameful tradition of Olympic hosts | David Goldblatt

        Preparations have often been chaotic but Rios buildup may be the most disorderly yet and no matter how special the Games a disaster of unprecedented proportions will have already happened

        The final days of preparation before the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 offered many of the tropes that still structure Olympic coverage a century later. Rumours persisted that the stadium would not be ready on time, leading to a furious exchange of letters in The Times. The New York Times correspondent came to dig for dirt and found it. There were plenty of old tin cans and rubbish scattered where once the silver Ulysses sparkled to the sea: the grove of Academe reminded me of picturesque bits in shanty town.

        The refurbished stadium for the 1920 Antwerp Games, started just 15 months beforehand, was finished perilously late. The French occupation of the Ruhr and the flooding of the Seine in the winter of 1923 put Paris 1924 in question. The architect of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic complex was harried in the local press for shady practices and sweetheart deals. Los Angeles 1932 was held in the very depth of the great depression. All feel remarkably familiar stories, not just from the distant past but from pretty much every Olympic Games since Atlanta 1996.

        Yet in April 2014 John Coates, a visiting member of the IOC, declared the preparations for the Rio Games the worst ever. Two years later, the already disastrous state of affairs has been conjoined with Brazils sharpest ever economic slowdown, the impeachment of the president by a corrupt parliament, the nations most explosive corruption investigation which is cutting a scythe through the political and business classes, and the threat of the Zika virus. To this has now been added the Russian doping scandal and the IOCs hapless response to it. Coatess case looks strong but how exactly do the Rio Olympics match up to the past?

        Frankly, if Athens could be ready on opening night, anywhere can. Nowhere, even the notoriously late starting Cariocas, have cut it as fine as the Athenians with venues and Olympic spaces. The new Calatrava roof went on to the main arena with just hours to spare in the construction deadline. That said, Rio is doing its very best to compete by planning to open the metro line to the Olympic park just four days before the beginning of the Games. In its favour Rio has avoided expensive iconic architecture, opting for the dull, the functional and the temporary. Consequently it is set to produce fewer and less expensive white elephants than the leaders in this field, Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

        An aerial view of the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

        The Greek capital has more than a dozen useless or underused venues, and an Olympic village that has become a super-concentrated zone of poverty and decay while Beijings venues for kayaking, beach volleyball, BMX biking and baseball remain entirely unused. London avoided this fate by, in effect, giving its Olympic stadium to a Premier League football club, while Sochis used only for the ceremonies is now, and at great expense, being refitted as a football stadium for a handful of Games at the 2018 World Cup, in a city with no football team of significance.

        On the other hand Rio has not been able to avoid the other pathologies of stadium and infrastructure construction: large scale corruption and forced removals. Again, historical comparisons are kind. Sochi was bedevilled by allegations of corruption and as for forced removals, while Rios record is hardly exemplary, it is dwarfed by the scale and authoritarian timbre of the population movements required by the rebuilding of Seoul and Beijing, both involving up to a million people.

        However, when it comes to using the Olympics as a cover for entirely unrelated but fabulously profitable real estate development Rio is a contender. Considered in all promotional literature to be a central Olympic project, the Porto Marvilha redevelopment of the citys historic dock district is only home to the media village and a small technical-operations centre. Not much, but enough for the programme to acquire the urgency of Olympic projects and a gigantic publicprivate partnership, in which the city government handed over the planning and governance of the citys largest ever development to a consortium of three private construction companies.

        Most Olympic villages have been subject to a short burst of complaint before the Games. In 1908, the World reported that the arrangements which have been provided for the American Olympic team here in London are unsatisfactory. The abrasive head of the American delegation, James Sullivan, appalled by the dismal accommodation available in London, moved the entire team to Brighton. A century later in Sochi, American and European journalists gleefully lampooned the facilities on social media; water, Wi-Fi and heating were often absent, and a German photographer reported arriving to find workers and stray dogs wandering through his hotel suite. In a very similar vein reports have been emerging from Rio of blocked toilets, flooded flats and unfinished accommodation the Australian team refusing point blank to move in.

        Australias Olympic team have refused to move into the athletes village. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

        Irksome as this must be to the visitors, the real tragedy of Rios Olympic village has yet to unfold. Located like the main Olympic complex in the upmarket region of Barra Tijuca, the village is actually a high-end gated community in waiting. Again this is not unprecedented. Rome and Mexico Citys villages were handed out to already privileged civil servants. Both Vancouvers and Londons villages, planned as mixed residential zones, saw their public and social housing component squeezed out by the logic of property markets. Rio, which never bothered with such fig leaves, has taken the process a stage further by allowing the construction of an even more profitable residential complex around the new Olympic golf course.

        The construction programme for the 1936 Berlin Games was, at the time, imagined as a stepping stone to the wholesale transformation of the city into Germania capital of the thousand-year Reich. We can be grateful that this kind of legacy planning is no longer in vogue, though its contemporary form is hardly cheering. Legacy promises are belated attempts to counterbalance the enormous costs of staging the Games with something tangible and long-term for the city and the citizens that have hosted it. London 2012, which made a lot more noise about this than most, has not come close to delivering on the claims that preceded them. Sydneys tourism has not leapt by leaps and bounds. The idea of Beijing as a green city was always risible. Vancouver, strangulated by gentrification and rising rents, is less liveable. Londoners exercise less since the Games.

        Rio at least is not giving us the bother of having to wait a few years before we know whether its legacies have been successful or not, because so many of the most socially useful Olympic investments promised in the bid book have already been abandoned. While the rapid bus transit system and perhaps the metro are permanent legacies, both are primarily designed to ferry rich people between rich areas. The vast majority of the citys population in the Zona Norte, desperate for better transport to relieve their grindingly long journeys to work, will barely benefit at all. Similarly, as the toxic state of Guanabara Bay host to sailing makes clear, the citys plan to renovate its sewage systems, especially in the poor areas, has been completed abandoned.

        Security has been a fraught issue for every Olympic Games since the Munich massacre of 1972, underlined by the pipe bombing of Atlantas Centennial Park in 1996. While Palestinians and US libertarians might be on the organisers radar, they do not explain the fact that Rio looks set to spend somewhere around $2bn on security, deploying 85,000 personnel an Olympic record, more even than the hyper-militarised Sochi with its vaunted Ring of Steel and all for just 17 days of urban peace.

        The possibility of a major terrorist attack has been ever present since 2001, and is part of the reason that security costs for all Games have escalated so sharply. The recent arrest of what appears a rather amateurish jihadi cell in Brazil suggests the organisers continue to take it seriously but for Rio, unlike any recent summer Games, the organisers must also face a small but organised anti-Olympic movement and the disquiet of their own poor.

        Rio will spend almost $2bn on security for the Olympic Games. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

        Anarchic and provocative anti-Olympic activists present at Sydney 2000 were absent from Athens, Beijing and Sochi drowned by cynicism in the former, corralled by fear of the Chinese and Russian states in the latter. London proved equally quiescent. Where there was protest, the politics and meanings of the Games were primarily contested in the international media and on the internet, rather than in the host city itself. Only the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver have mobilised a serious visible anti-Olympic presence; native American actions against Olympic infrastructure on sacred lands, an alternative protest village downtown and anti-capitalist march on the central business district.

        In a sense Rio has already fought this battle. For almost a decade a small network of Brazilian activists the Comit Popular Rio Copa e Olimpadas has taken to the streets. Their cause was turbocharged in 2013 when huge spontaneous public protest broke out during the Confederations Cup and the corruption and costliness of Brazils sporting mega-events was a key issue for the demonstrators. A massive security operation and the militarisation of sports venues and transport interchanges ensured that they were a very marginal presence at the 2014 World Cup. The same will be true of the Games, with the same deadening consequences for public debate and space.

        Much more worrying for the authorities will be the mood of the citys favelas. Perhaps the most important element of Olympic preparations and one for which there is no historical precedent has been the pacification programme, invented in 2008 and designed to replace the rule of drug lords in the favelas with the rule of law and a modicum of social services. The results have been poor, with limited and often inappropriate investments, widespread human rights abuses by the police and the steady return of street conflict and disorder. Certainly the crime rate in Rio has been rising; the widely reported muggings and hold-ups of foreign camera crews, Olympians and Paralympians, an indicator of what many of Rio citizens, above all its poorest and most vulnerable, have to deal with all the time.

        If all else fails, Olympic cities have hidden their poor and their destitute. In 1964 the Tokyo authorities told the local gangster class the Yakuza whose unmistakable burly street presence was an embarrassment to the organisers, to take a holiday out of town. The beggars and vagrants who made their homes in Ueno Park were swept aside. Stray cats and dogs, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were systematically exterminated. In 1968 Mexico City told its poor to paint their shacks in blocks of psychedelic colour, while the ominously named Orgcom organisers of the 1980 Moscow Games announced that they would cleanse Moscow of chronic alcoholics and drug addicts, and for a fortnight they did.

        Most thorough of all was Atlanta.

        Soon after the city had won its bid, local soup kitchens started reporting regular and inexplicable drop-offs in client numbers, eventually realising that they always immediately preceded IOC visits to the city. Some homeless people were locked up, some were scared off, and some were put on the bus. A partnership between the police, city hall and an NGO called Project Homeward Bound supplied homeless Atlantans with one-way bus tickets to anywhere else in the country they could plausibly claim a bed or find family members. Redevelopment in downtown erased many of the citys homeless hostels.

        A picture taken from a partially demolished house in the Vila Autodromo slum in April, with building work continuing at the Olympic park where the velodrome and aquatics centre have been built in a different location to the main stadium. Photograph: Ricardo Moraes / Reuters/Reuters

        Rio, whose levels of inequality, temporary housing and poverty exceed Atlantas by some way, has not had the luxury of such surgical strikes on the marginal. Operating under these conditions the city has long learnt to screen or ignore its poor. Favelas are rarely included on official maps and the use of Olympic signage on the citys motorways to obscure poor neighbourhoods especially on the road from the international airport is just the latest version of this.

        In the face of such multiple disasters and injustices, history seems to offer Rio wriggle room. It can claim that Athens was more last minute and produced more white elephants, Sochi was as least as corrupt and wasteful, Beijing was more repressive, Seouls displacements were more widespread and viscous and Atlantas social cleansing more thorough. However, Rio is giving all of them a run for their money and adding its own unique injustices and shameful dissembling.

        Does this make it the worst prepared Games ever? Probably. But to this Brazil has added a degree of political, financial and administrative chaos that is its own. South Korea was in turmoil a year before the Games, engulfed in a tectonic struggle against the ruling junta, but by the opening ceremony the streets were at peace and a transition to democracy had been executed. Only the massive student protests of summer 1968 and the appalling massacre of activists before the Mexico City Games comes close to Brazils mayhem, and that was all silenced.

        Rio, whatever its other sins, cannot be faulted in its determination to let it all hang out. Such inadvertent transparency, such a tangible display of the destruction of whatever remains of the myths of Olympic urbanism, and the IOCs political autonomy and moral probity, may be Rios historic legacy. For whatever happens for the 17 days of the Games, however fabulous the spectacular, which it no doubt will be, the disaster has already happened, it is of unprecedented proportions, and it cannot be hidden.

        David Goldblatts The Games: A Global History of the Olympics is published by Macmillan (20) Click here to buy it for 13

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/jul/26/buildup-rio-2016-olympic-games-chaotic-hosts


        The psychology of luck: why Donald Trump’s superstition helps him win

        Why do so many Americans believe in luck against all reason? Psychologists tell us that sometimes, feeling lucky can actually improve performance.

        You might be surprised to learn that around a quarter of Americans are superstitious. When we think about it rationally, the idea of luck may seem silly, but there are a lot of people throughout history who made significant decisions based on superstitious beliefs.

        The world’s largest car manufacturer, Toyota, changed its name from Toyoda in the 1930s because the number of brush strokes was more auspicious in Japanese culture. Donald Trump, who has been unwavering in his belief in his own ability, describes himself as a very superstitious person. He is known to throw a few grains of salt over his shoulder after eating.

        It’s hard to understand why large numbers of people would choose to believe in an invisible, unmeasurable force over their own agency. And we know that belief in luck has little basis in reality. So why are so many successful people believers?

        “Luck is a slippery subject,” says Maia Young, associate professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. “It’s a hard thing to prove or disprove.”

        Prosperity is not always merit-based, which leads many to search for answers as to why some deserving people fail while some undeserving succeed. While there is nothing objectively special about a lucky penny, lucky charms really do seem to work.

        “There is no real tangible thing we can call luck,” says Joseph Mazur, mathematician and author of Whats Luck Got to Do with It? “But we create that tangible thing by transferring it to an object.”

        And those lucky objects afford us the feeling of a security blanket. “Lucky charms create an illusion of control for the person who believes in them,” says Stuart Vyse, psychologist and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.

        In studies of lucky charms, people perform better on tasks when they have a lucky charm with them. In one study in 2010, researchers had students putt a golf ball. Half the students were told that the golf ball they were using was lucky. The students who thought they were putting with a lucky ball were better at it than students told they were using a regular ball.

        As part of the same study, a group of students who had lucky charms were recruited for a series of memory tasks. Half the students were allowed to keep their lucky charms with them, and the other half had their charms taken away. The students who were allowed to keep their charms performed better.

        “In a skilled activity, lucky charms boost confidence for people who believe in them,” explains Vyse. “Even though many people might not know how their lucky charms actually work, it is not a bad idea to carry a charm for added confidence,” says Young. “It is a low cost belief,” she explains.

        Personality and attitude play into luck as well. In her research, Young finds that optimism is positively associated with luck. “If someone believes that they are lucky, and believes that good things will happen, they will try harder at a task,” she says.

        “When people view themselves as lucky, they are more likely to choose and persist at challenging tasks,” explains Young.

        That persistence can have a self-reinforcing effect. The more challenging tasks people take on, the more chance there is they will succeed at some of them, giving them a sense that they are indeed lucky.

        “A generally positive attitude towards life also makes it seem like more happy events occur for a person,” says Vyse. When someone has a sense that things are going their way in general, it makes for better interactions with other people. Those improved relationships can lead to more opportunities down the line if one of those friends becomes a useful connection for work or a romantic partner.

        While it is not rational to put stock in luck, studying the psychology behind the belief can begin to explain why some people end up at the top while others end up at the bottom.

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/25/psychology-donald-trump-win-luck-superstition

        Todd Solondz: There may be a line I shouldnt cross I dont know where it is

        The writer-director has mined the darkest of subjects from stalking to rape to paedophilia. In Wiener-Dog he turns his attention to dachshunds and death

        In an unlikely turret right at the top of a cinema in Piccadilly, the film director Todd Solondz and I, practically knee to knee, are discussing dog ownership. Does he have one? No. He wrinkles his nose, on which are perched his trademark jam jar-thick spectacles. I mean, I might if someone else would walk it for me. But if I have to walk it and pick up after it Imagine its really cold out, and its New Years morning, and your dog needs to go. His voice, already quite high, rises a notch. I just dont want that!

        Solondzs new film, Wiener-Dog, comprises four short stories about love and death, all of which are linked together, like beads on a string, by a dachshund; halfway through, this animal also stars in a jokey intermission in which it jauntily (or annoyingly, depending on how you feel about tiny dogs) travels the world.

        So where did the dog in the film come from? I dont know, Solondz says, dreamily. Its a cute little dog, the dachshund, and that cuteness was attractive for my purposes. The movie is not really about the dog, its trials and triumphs: that would be Lassie. This dog is more a filter through which I explore things like mortality.

        What about the suggestion that dog owners are not, as some of them may like to believe, any more caring than the rest of us? Given the sheer meanness of some of the films characters, this seems to me to be one of its major themes. He nods. Look, when a dog is violated, its the greatest transgression possible for many people. You could bludgeon babies and not get so shocked a response. People project a kind of innocence on to these cute little creatures, as if they dont have their own desires and wills, as if theyre happy to be spayed, or otherwise reduced.

        Watch the trailer for Wiener-Dog

        Aware, perhaps, that dachshund lovers the world over are about to make him their hate-figure, he titters. This species, I learned, is bred to look cute at the expense of other aspects of its wellbeing. Thats one of the reasons why it is so deficient in intelligence. We had a number of them playing the part, and the one thing they all had in common was their stupidity. They were so stupid! When we said stay, they did not stay, and when we said sit, they did not sit. It was horrible! The patience you needed. You had a whole crew waiting and waiting just for the dog to lift its head: Look up, look up, look up, look up! But maybe the dogs were just sadistic. The one in the first story wasnt the sweetest, you know. It even bit the little boy.

        Solondz, the acclaimed director of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, makes unusual, divisive and often highly prescient movies. Rape, stalking, incest, paedophilia: no subject is for him untouchable, or, apparently, for the big name actors who seemingly line up to star in them. Wiener-Dog, in which, among other things, a sadistic mother tells her small son a vicious story about a rape, is no exception. Among its cast are Julie Delpy (the spiteful mother), Ellen Burstyn (a sour old woman), Greta Gerwig (playing, it seems, an adult version of Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse), and Danny de Vito, as a disillusioned professor of screenwriting at a New York university. How hard is it to bag such stars? He shrugs. If they say yes, its easy. If they say no, its not.

        As for De Vitos role as Dave Schmerz, whose cynicism and exasperation lead him to put poor little Wiener-Dog to dastardly use, this seems how to put this? quite daring, given that since 2009, Solondz has taught film at New York University. What, I wonder, is his department head going to make of his using Schmerz as his proxy to rubbish film studies? Solondz, though, clearly couldnt care less. NYU. It is an evil empire. Im in awe of how incompetent and corrupt the administration is. But that said, I love teaching there. I love the students. Its the opposite of making a movie. I cant take any of the credit, or any of the blame, for the students work.

        Greta Gerwig in Wiener-Dog. Photograph: Annapurna Pictures

        Long ago, after he completed his English literature degree at Yale, Solondz enrolled at NYUs graduate film school himself. He dropped out after two years. I didnt like production, he says. Working crews: it was too horrible. If youre not a director, working on a movie is incredibly boring. And if you are a director? Its incredibly boring, and stressful. Its a nightmare.

        So why do it? Its the price I pay to get the movies made. I direct not so much because I want to direct but because I dont want someone else to screw up my material. There is something gratifying in writing the script, in finding a story thats important enough that you want to put yourself through that ordeal. And I love the casting process, the editing, the music. Its just production I hate. All I ever think while Im doing it is: why did I ever leave my apartment? He emits a strangled cry. I was so happy at home!

        Solondz, who is 56, grew up in New Jersey. His father had his own building business, his mother stayed at home. It was a 40-minute drive to the city, but it was another world entirely. It may as well have been Oz. My dream was to one day live in New York, so Im living that now [he shares his Manhattan apartment with his wife, and two young children]. What can I tell you? It was a very classical, middle-class, suburban sort of life. I wasnt a cinephile then. I wasnt allowed to see anything that wasnt a childrens movie, and in the suburbs you cant get around without a car, so that was it. I remember one day, my mom went to see One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest with one of my older siblings. I said I really wanted to see it too, and she said: no, youre too young. I was 16! So, I saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music, but no Truffaut, no Godard, no serious cinema at all.

        Philip Seymour Hoffman and Lara Flynn Boyle in Happiness. Photograph: Allstar/Trimark/Sportsphoto

        It was big deal to land a place at Yale, though he says now that if hed had the courage, he would have dropped out there, too: I wasnt even a big reader! Nevertheless, it was the university, with its many film societies, that gave him his cinema education: I was socially very shy, so those societies were a kind of sanctuary for me.

        After college, he wrote a couple of scripts they were very juvenile and went to LA, where he got himself an agent. But of course, nothing happened, and I didnt want to live in LA, so I applied to NYU, and that was the first time I had enjoyed school since I was a child. I mean, I think the school was kind of a rip-off, and a joke. I couldnt take any of it seriously. But in another sense, so many things clicked there. I did become something of an it person at NYU.

        The shorts he made as a student caused a stir, and after they were screened in LA it was only 24 hours before he was standing in the office of the president of 20th Century Fox. Both it and Columbia wanted to sign him up for a three-picture deal. It was kind of heady. But it was also the lowest point in my life. The only thing I liked about these deals was telling people I had these deals. I was questioning everything and it was hard though which of my classmates was going to give me any sympathy for that? The upshot was that I ended up making an ill-begotten and ill-conceived movie [Fear, Anxiety & Depression, in which a young Stanley Tucci appeared], and then I just walked away. It was a real humiliation. I thought that was it. I was 29, or thereabouts.

        For the next few years, he taught English as a second language to Russian immigrants in New York, and was truly happy. I was freed from everything. I had no ambition. When the students asked me what I really did, I said: Computers. But then I began to wonder: will I be happy doing this when Im 40 or 50? And I didnt want that first movie to have the last word. So I made Welcome to the Dollhouse.

        That film, which was released in 1995, was about a bespectacled, friendless girl who is bullied at school. It went on to win the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance film festival. I had no expectations of it, says Solondz. When I got a fax from the Toronto film festival telling me it had been accepted, I thought it was a prank. I mean, this wasnt paranoia. Id showed it to some sales people, and they didnt even finish watching it. Anyway, that changed everything. Ive had creative control ever since.

        He followed it three years later with Happiness, in which one of the male characters drugs and rapes his sons school friend. What made it controversial was that I was putting a human face on a monster. After Dollhouse, you see, every door was open, and so I wanted to take advantage of that and do something I could never do otherwise. Did he have to screw up his courage, though? I still remember the intense silence in the cinema when I saw it. Yes, I guess so. But its like that every time. Youre always hoping you wont embarrass yourself.

        Is financing his films getting harder? His namesake and near contemporary, Todd Haynes, complained to me last year that it was scarcely any easier for him than when he started. Well, its always been hard, and I accept that. Im not angry about it, though I feel like Ive only been able to survive this long by the skin of my teeth. Its luck, and its tenacity. If your movie is profitable, that makes it less difficult to do the next one, but we all know everything can change on a dime. Im always vulnerable. I certainly make movies less frequently than I would if money were not an issue.

        His backers dont, he insists, put him under pressure to make his films more upbeat though for all its suburban bleakness, the picaresque Wiener-Dog seems to me to be far sunnier than some of his pictures. Whatever the American critics say the word caustic has been used jokes lurk in every scene. There may be a line I should not cross, but if there is, I dont know where it is, he says. This is instinctive for me. Sweet and acid: I want both. Smiling, he presses his palms to his thighs. If Im going to use a big truck to crush a tiny little dog Well, Im really going to do it. Because life is crushing.

        Wiener-Dog is out on 12 August

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jul/24/todd-solondz-interview-wiener-dog

        Jason Day leads big hitters hoping to follow Henrik Stensons example

        The US PGA Championship is the second of two quickfire majors and it could define the season for some of golfs more illustrious names

        The confirmation Tiger Woods will not participate in the US PGA Championship represented little more than an exercise in administration with 2016s final major lending itself to a multitude of more fascinating storylines. With each medical bulletin, Woods career is consigned further into the past. Chief among more pressing matters is the sudden possibility of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy concluding the year without a major success.

        An Oxford graduate in mathematics is hardly required to point out that at least two of the illustrious trio will suffer such a fate. In this, the second major in three weeks, fast conclusions are inevitable. Seasons will suddenly be defined.

        One wonders what golf has left aside for its latest trick. The majors of 2016 have proved epic for such different reasons: Spieths collapse at Augusta, the rules fiasco and ending of Dustin Johnsons drought at Oakmont. A week ago, Henrik Stenson emerged triumphant from one of the most sensational days of championship golf in memory. The Masters, US Open and Open Championship have all seen first-time major champions.

        The curious scheduling of this season, owing primarily to the return of golf to the Olympic Games, means Stenson would be entitled still to be in celebratory mode when the US PGA gets underway at Baltusrol from Thursday. The rest of us are still catching breath from super Sunday in Ayrshire. If it is unfortunate Stenson will not have the down time he unquestionably earned, golf fans should relish the return to a stage that has produced such fireworks. Even 2015s majors, the Open perhaps aside, threw up special narratives as befitting their status.

        Baltusrols lower course can stretch to 7,400 yards, a matter that will disappoint the traditionalists. Yet there is endearing history at the New Jersey venue: Jack Nicklaus won two of his US Opens there with Phil Mickelsons solitary success in the final major of the year coming at Baltusrol in 2005. Mickelson prevailed on a Monday finish, owing to weather delays, having shot rounds of 67, 65, 72 and 72. Four under par was rather typical of winning Baltusrol aggregates, in a nod to how fierce this course can be. Stenson made the cut 11 years ago, finishing in a share of 47th. Then aged 29, this marked only the second time Stenson had survived for a major weekend.

        Mickelson was therefore worthy of sufficient spotlight this time around even before the part he played in Stensons Royal Troon triumph. Mickelson did next to nothing wrong on the closing day but still found himself signing for a 65 in the painful knowledge that, at 46, he will not have many major opportunities left.

        This timing doesnt give me a chance to take time off, Mickelson said. It forces me to keep my game sharp. Ive got a lot of special memories going back to Baltusrol and probably that we dont have a month to wait between majors is a good thing for me. Ill try to look at the positives and take that into Baltusrol and keep my game sharp, as opposed to going home and taking some time off.

        Im very excited with the work Ive put in with how [Mickelsons coach] Andrew Getson has helped me with my swing. The way I was able to hit fairways with ease coming down the stretch at Troon and hit my iron shots right on line, draws and fades and so forth, basically that comes from getting my swing back on plane.

        Its been a little work in progress to get it on plane and then capture the field and the face awareness throughout the swing. Four days at the Open was pretty stress-free golf. So it tells me that weve done good work. Im excited where my game is at and where its headed.

        That said, surely an element of mental scarring is inevitable. Mickelson could barely believe the lengths to which Stenson reached to claim the Claret Jug. In what represents further bad news for Mickelson, and despite a couple of exceptions, the US PGA has proved a young mans game in recent times. Twelve months ago, Day lifted the Wanamaker Trophy when in the midst of a run of four wins from late July to the same juncture of September.

        Its been a crazy last 12 months, said Day this week in Ontario, where he is also the defending champion at the Canadian Open.

        I cant get too complacent with where Im at. I know that Im currently ranked the best player in the world but I need to work hard. I need to work harder than I ever have before to keep that spot. I need to work harder than I ever have before to win tournaments, because its only getting tougher.

        I guess the way that I look at myself is a little bit different, too. Coming into this event last year, I felt confident about my game. But knowing this event would springboard me to six wins, a major championship, getting to No1, Id be very surprised by that.

        Its coming into the crunch time for me pressure-wise, because being kind of the favourite going into each tournament and expectation levels are high and then all that amounts to pressure you put on yourself and stress you put on yourself. Youve got to somehow manage yourself, manage your ego; then somehow execute the shot, execute the gameplan, and go out there and try to win.

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/jul/23/jason-day-henrik-stenson-us-pga

        Denis Thatcher wrote to BBC over ‘disgraceful and libellous’ satire

        Never in the history of public broadcasting has so foul a libel been published against anyone, PMs husband claimed

        A satirical story broadcast on BBC Radio 4s Today programme about Margaret Thatcher legalising hard drugs prompted her loyal husband, Denis, to savage the corporation in a furious private letter to the chair of the governors.

        The prime minister herself took legal advice about the mini-saga, entitled Thatcherism: The Final Solution, which was broadcast on Radio 4 in mid-January 1988, and considered whether she should instruct lawyers to sue for defamation, files released to the National Archives in Kew on Thursday reveal.

        The item had been written by a listener, Vincent Hill, in a competition for mini-sagas stories composed in no more than 50 words. In an exaggerated parody of Tory free-market economics, he imagined the political consequences of a libertarian approach to heroin.

        The compressed story read: Ingenious: Individual choice must be paramount. With growing confidence she legalised hard drugs. Prices fell sharply. Legitimate outlets replaced bankrupt drug syndicates. Crime figures plunged. Crematorium shares surged. City populations thinned as the weak spirited succumbed. Unemployment vanished. Only the worthiest survived. Nobody could complain. The unfit died of freedom.

        Thatchers principal private secretary, Nigel Wicks, wrote to the law officers department seeking advice. He asked whether the tale was defamatory. It is not the prime ministers normal practice, or indeed wish, to send solicitors letters to media organisations which issue statements which defame her, he explained. But I wonder whether this item might not be an exception to the PMs normal practice?

        Thatchers office was told by the law officers department at the Royal Courts of Justice that the story was indeed libellous. The offending passages included: The Final Solution, in its inherent connotation; the unfit died of freedom, with its innuendo of intention to secure the death of the unfit; crematorium shares surged, which was said to be particularly revolting in its innuendo that this was a consequence desired by the prime minister ; and She legalised hard drugs, which personalises her as the target for the sting and not mere Thatcherism.

        The prime minister evidently decided not to pursue legal action. Her private secretary recorded that she did not want to consult lawyers who specialised in defamation.

        But the matter did not end there. On 18 January, her husband, using his own 10 Downing Street stationery, dispatched a sternly worded letter to Marmaduke Hussey, who was chairman of the BBCs board of governors.

        Dear Duke, Mr Thatcher wrote. With deference may I ask you to study the enclosed manuscript (extract) of the Radio 4 Today programme. The extent and depth of political bias in the BBC is a matter of opinion, but this is a disgrace by any standard, however low.

        I cannot believe that the management of a public broadcasting system can continue to employ a producer who publishes so foul and deliberate an untruth against anyone or on such a subject. Surely such gross professional misconduct can neither be excused or condoned? He signed it: Regards to you both, Yours ever, Denis.

        Denis Thatcher, who was normally careful to keep out of public affairs, rarely appears in the prime ministerial files. Wicks, the private secretary, however, noted that Mr Thatcher had crossed Husseys name off a guest list for a public reception a few days later.

        The civil servant suggested that Hussey should be invited so that the prime minster could talk to him about the disgraceful episode. You could then have a quiet word with him about the mini-saga after the reception, he suggested.

        But the note was returned with a comment from Denis, explaining his action. I only crossed out [his name] because I did not think a general reception is (a) suitable for Duke [because he used a stick and might have had difficulty standing for a long time] (b) important enough. I did discuss with PM.

        Denis Thatcher explained that he had already privately written to Hussey. Never in the history of public broadcasting, he added, has so foul a libel been published against ANYONE let alone a prime minister.

        Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/21/denis-thatcher-wrote-to-bbc-over-disgraceful-and-libellous-satire



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