Friday, July 21, 2017

Beauties and Priests, Among Other Beasts: William Mortensen’s Images of Witches, Demons and Sadistic Inquisitors - disinformation

Jul 21, 2017
by Tom Patterson
this essay originally appeared in the catalog "A Pictorial Compendium of Witchcraft"
please refer to PDF for page number citations.
republished with permission from the author.
If he were resurrected today, almost 50 years after dying a marginalized and maligned figure in his field, photographer William Mortensen would surely have no trouble finding work or creative kindred spirits. His influence and affinities to his work are evident across a range of art and popular culture. Techniques he pioneered for manipulating photographic images–a practice for which he was once disparaged–now have digital equivalents that are widely employed and accepted in photography. A few decades of hindsight reveals him as a visionary and a consummate artist ahead of his time.
In addition to his prescient technical innovations, his photographs prefigured the imagery and visual mood that have become the stock in trade for horror films, horror comics, bondage porn, sorcery-themed fiction and all things goth.
These aspects of Mortensen's work are foregroundedin this selection of 20 prints he made in the mid – tolate 1920s. Most are from a never-completed project on witchcraft and demonology, evidencing a fascination with the occult and reflecting his predilection for juxtaposing images of seduction and fear. These relatively early examples of his work yield insight into his personal interests, his ideas about beauty, his affinity for the grotesque, his experiments with montage, and other means he devised for manipulating images to amplify their effect.
The prints were left among the worldly goods of Hereward Carrington following his death in 1958. A British writer and psychic-phenomena investigator, Carrington spent most of his life in the United States and wrote books on subjects including magic, conjuring and the paranormal. While he and Mortensen shared some apparent common interests, there's no record of their having known one another, and it remains unclear how Carrington came to possess this group of Mortensen's prints. Given the lack of information about possible connections between the two men, reasonable speculation about Carrington's ownership of the prints might center on their specific themes, the figures in them, and whether Carrington considered them relevant to the subjects he was exploring in his books. Those he published between 1920 and 1930 focused on astral projection, spiritualism, the development of psychic powers, the science of psychic phenomena, the origin and nature of life, death and immortality, and women's love lives. It's easy to imagine how he might have seen reflections of these subjects in this group of photographs.
The prints Carrington owned are refined to varying degrees and in some cases intentionally flawed as a result of Mortensen's brave, vivid experimentation and physical interactions with his models and in the darkroom. This would indicate that Mortensen didn't intend them for exhibition or sale at the time, but rather as the basis for a series only occasionally perpetuated beyond these intense images. Among the more likely-seeming reasons Carrington had them would have been for study purposes, as imaginative illustrations of psychic or paranormal phenomena he was investigating. Aside from any scientific interest they might have held for him, he was perhaps turned on by the bodies and poses of the nude women who appear in most of the images.
Mortensen certainly intended these photographs to carry a strong sexual charge. He considered sex the first of three elements–along with sentiment and wonder- contributing to an image's appeal and its impact on viewers. "The picture must command you to look at it," he wrote. This power to draw and hold a viewer's gaze he termed "the pictorial imperative." Like countless artists who preceded and followed him, he understood that young, beautiful women will always attract attention–all the more so when they're unclad and provocatively posed. He also knew that other forms of taboo imagery had a related effect, which he exploited in images that make ironic use of religious icons and regalia, as do several of
the prints in this group. Moralizers of Mortensen's day would have been doubly offended by the latter images because they're not only sexually provocative but also spiritually transgressive and implicitly critical of religious authority.
In this connection, the untitled image on the cover and the variation of it on
page 4 are of special interest. Both portray a young woman, nude and seated on a pedestal as she stabs a dark doll with long spikes. The straightforward cover image is characterized by a spirit of playful innocence that distinguishes it from the others in this group. The model wears an almost childlike, unselfconscious smile as she prepares to plunge the last of three spikes into her little doll. The image on page 4 conveys avery different kind of mood, even though the model is similarly posed and, again, smiling. The effect is almost entirely due to Mortensen's warping of the image, apparently by manipulating the negative during the printing process. The distortion lends the image a vaguely sinister, hallucinatory quality.
Did Mortensen intend these images to represent early stages in a young woman's engagement with the black arts? Might he have meant to trace that process from innocent experimentation through seduction by demonic forces to more advanced knowledge and practice? Unfortunately, information to help answer those questions remains scarce.
Another aspect of the two voodoo-doll photographs that has drawn speculation is the identity of the model. It's been suggested that she is Fay Wray, best known for her role in the 1933 film King Kong. Mortensen had known Wray since she was in her early teens, about five years before the estimated dates for these photographs. If the dates are accurate, the session with the voodoo doll took place just as she was about to emerge as a Hollywood star. (She signed to Paramount Pictures in 1927.) These may have been among Mortensen's immodest photographs of Wray that caused a scandal on their publication in a movie magazine in 1928, the same year she was cast in her first leading role. Although intriguing, this angle on the two images perhaps constitutes a diversion unrelated to the issues of how they might have fit in with Mortensen's witchcraft-and-demonology project. On the other hand, if one associates the young Wray's corruption in the hedonistic milieu of Hollywood with a rite of initiation to the inner circles of power, then it's no major stretch to draw a metaphorical connection with these two images.
While the model toying with the voodoo doll takes something of an active role
in connecting with demonic forces, the young women in images pages 19, 23
and 24 are more passively posed, evidently at the mercy of the eerie-looking, supernatural beings intruding on them through the magic of Mortensen's manual and mechanical interventions. In conjuring these mutant figures, Mortensen aimed to evoke a mix of fear and repulsion so as to compel a sustained gaze. Meanwhile, of course, he knew his young female models would attract a completely different kind of attention. These images are driven by the tension between lustful attraction and fearful repulsion–beauty and the beast. He set up a related confrontation on page 20, in which the figure menacing the vulnerable, disrobed female model is a black-robed cleric instead of a demon. The scene has been contextualized through the use of props and suggestions of a theatrical set that might represent a medieval dungeon.
The latter photograph is one of several elaborately contrived images in this group that depict women being tortured or prepared for execution by black- robed, hooded figures, some brandishing crucifixes. (See pages 12, 15 and 16, all variations on Mortensen's photograph titled "The Tribunal," as well as page 17.) Distinguished by settings that incorporate medieval architecture, monumental devices and other evocative, gothic details, these images highlight the sense of theatricality that he developed from working behind the scenes on Hollywood films such as Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings. They're clearly intended to suggest scenes from the Inquisition–young women being persecuted for witchcraft by sadistic, misogynistic priests.
Two closely related, untitled multiple-exposure prints in this group (pages 3 and 22) superimpose nude female and male figures that also appear in other images which Mortensen titled "The Heretic" and "Shrapnel" or "Warlock." The most effectively terrifying images in the entire group, at least to my eye, they look like they're intended to illustrate demon possession. Because the victim is as usual
a young, nude woman-chained to a bed, no less–and the presumably demonic figure (also nude) is male, the image hints at sexual violation. Grimacing, contorting his body and spreading the fingers of his upraised hands like the talons of a predatory bird, this malevolent entity also exudes a Dionysian vibe as he looms threateningly over the immobilized woman, whose face registers a terrified delirium.
A very different note is struck by the final image in this publication, page 25, "Off To The Sabbot." In this signed, finished print we have the world's sexiest naked witch getting off on her phallic broom–performing her gracefully orgasmic aerial ballet while (as the title tells us) spiriting herself off to join other practitioners in celebrating the Black Mass. If the images of the young maybe-Fay Wray with the voodoo doll represent a preliminary stage of a witch's initiation, then this closing image represents a well-versed sorceress, writhing in ecstasy on her magic broom as she glides above and away from the old city whose rooftops spread out across the bottom of the scene, where spiritually somnolent squares go about their dreary routines.
No fear of flying for her. Her simultaneous self-pleasuring and defiance of gravity hint at other more formidable skills. She seems to epitomize Mortensen's ideas about witchcraft and its appeal–a woman liberated and empowered. His bold portrayal of a beautiful woman in the throes of sexual ecstasy while masturbating with an occult object must have been deliciously shocking almost 90 years ago–a metaphorical middle finger to the moral and photographic establishment of the day. One suspects this is exactly what Mortensen had in mind.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Trump Finds That Demolishing Obama’s Legacy Is Not So Simple

On Monday, President Trump reluctantly agreed to preserve President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and failed in his effort to repeal Mr. Obama's health care program. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump's demolition project just got shut down, at least for now.
Determined to dismantle his predecessor's legacy, Mr. Trump in the space of a couple of hours Monday night reluctantly agreed to preserve President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and failed in his effort to repeal Mr. Obama's health care program.

The back-to-back events underscored the challenge for a career developer whose main goal since taking office six months ago has been to raze what he sees as the poorly constructed edifices he inherited. Mr. Trump has gone a long way toward that objective through executive action, but as Tuesday dawned, he faced the reality that Mr. Obama's most prominent domestic and international accomplishments both remained intact.

In neither case has Mr. Trump given up. He instructed his national security team to keep rethinking the approach to Iran with a view toward either revising or scrapping the nuclear agreement. And he publicly called on Congress to simply repeal Mr. Obama's health care program without trying to immediately pass a replacement.

"We will return!" Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday morning about the collapse of his health care effort.

Yet there is little appetite among America's partners to revisit the Iran deal, nor is there much eagerness among lawmakers to cancel the existing health care program without a new system to install in its stead.

Health Care in America By THE NEW YORK TIMES Play Video 00:35

Trump on G.O.P.'s Failed Health Care Bill

The president spoke today about the collapse of the Republicans' plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The latter notion seemed to die almost immediately on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, leaving the president to throw up his hands and say he would simply let Mr. Obama's program die of its own weight. "I'm not going to own it," he told reporters. "I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us."

Nearly every president arrives in office promising a new direction, especially those succeeding someone from the other party. But few, if any, have spent as much of their early months focused on undoing what the last president did rather than promoting their own proactive ideas as Mr. Trump has.

Where the president has succeeded so far, it has largely been in cases where he could act on his own authority. He approved the Keystone XL pipeline that Mr. Obama had rejected. He pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate change accord that his predecessor had negotiated. And he began repealing environmental and business regulations that were imposed during the last administration.

But reversing the Iran and health care initiatives both require building support among other political players at home and abroad, a task for which Mr. Trump has yet to show much proclivity. At home in the worlds of real estate and entertainment, Mr. Trump is accustomed to giving orders and proclaiming, "You're fired!" But the art-of-the-deal negotiating skills he boasted about on the campaign trail last year have not closed the deal with fellow world leaders or with fellow Republicans.

"The problem in Washington, besides every piece of legislation having its own special interest group, is that bills are purposely written to be complicated," said Michael Dubke, who served as White House communications director under Mr. Trump. "And complicated is hard to unwind."

Mr. Trump could, of course, simply abandon the Iran deal as he did with the trade and climate agreements, and he may yet. But while that may be satisfying, he has been told by advisers that the United States would find it harder to pressure the clerical leadership in Tehran without allies, and so he has not risked alienating them with a unilateral move.

John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and strong critic of the nuclear deal, said time is on Iran's side and Mr. Trump should find a way to convince the allies. "We need to explain this to the Europeans," he said. "They may find it hard to accept, but plain speaking is still an American virtue, occasionally even in diplomacy."

As for health care, Mr. Trump chastised Democrats on Tuesday for not going along — "Dems totally obstruct," he tweeted — but he made no serious effort to reach out to them, nor might it be realistic to expect them to join a drive to repeal what they consider to be one of their proudest achievements. While he did lobby Republicans, some said he did not make a serious enough effort to do so. The White House devoted its public message this week to buy-America themes rather than health care.
Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that lawmakers should either repeal Mr. Obama's program outright or return to the legislation that has now failed. "Either way, inaction is not an option," he said in a speech to members of the National Retail Federation in Washington. "Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job, and Congress needs to do their job now."

Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed weariness of the health care debate and seemed ready to turn to other priorities, like cutting taxes. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, vowed to hold a vote to repeal Mr. Obama's health care program without a replacement, but it was quickly clear there were not the votes for that. In the House, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin on Tuesday focused on tax cuts, energy production and budget balancing.

At the White House, that Rose Garden rally where Mr. Trump prematurely celebrated the passage of a health care bill in the House before it had gone to the Senate now seems long ago.

Mr. Trump has been left to contemplate his next move. He could try to find another way to get the bulldozer to work. Or he could move on to another property.

Follow Peter Baker on Twitter @peterbakernyt.
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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Martin Landau, Oscar Winner for 'Ed Wood,' Dies at 89

Martin Landau

His résumé includes 'Mission: Impossible,' 'Tucker: The Man and His Dream' and 'North by Northwest.' It does not, however, include 'Star Trek.'

Martin Landau, the all-purpose actor who showcased his versatility as a master of disguise on the Mission: Impossible TV series and as a broken-down Bela Lugosi in his Oscar-winning performance in Ed Wood, has died. He was 89.
Landau, who shot to fame by playing a homosexual henchman in Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 classic North by Northwest, died Saturday of "unexpected complications" after a brief stay at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, his rep confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.
After he quit CBS' Mission: Impossible after three seasons in 1969 because of a contract dispute, Landau's career was on the rocks until he was picked by Francis Ford Coppola to play Abe Karatz, the business partner of visionary automaker Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), in Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988).
Landau received a best supporting actor nomination for that performance, then backed it up the following year with another nom for starring as Judah Rosenthal, an ophthalmologist who has his mistress (Angelica Huston) killed, in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).
Landau lost out on Oscar night to Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington, respectively, in those years but finally prevailed for his larger-than-life portrayal of horror-movie legend Lugosi in the biopic Ed Wood (1994), directed by Tim Burton.
Landau also starred as Commander John Koenig on the 1970s science-fiction series Space: 1999 opposite his Mission: Impossible co-star Barbara Bain, his wife from 1957 until their divorce in 1993.
A former newspaper cartoonist, Landau turned down the role of Mr. Spock on the NBC series Star Trek, which went to Leonard Nimoy (who later effectively replaced Landau on Mission: Impossible after Trek was canceled).
Landau also was an admired acting teacher who taught the craft to the likes of Jack Nicholson. And in the 1950s, he was best friends with James Dean and, for several months, the boyfriend of Marilyn Monroe. "She could be wonderful, but she was incredibly insecure, to the point she could drive you crazy," he told The New York Times in 1988.
Landau was born in Brooklyn on June 20, 1928. At age 17, he landed a job as a cartoonist for the New York Daily News, but he turned down a promotion and quit five years later to pursue acting.
"It was an impulsive move on my part to do that," Landau told The Jewish Journal in 2013. "To become an actor was a dream I must've had so deeply and so strongly because I left a lucrative, well-paying job that I could do well to become an unemployed actor. It's crazy if you think about it. To this day, I can still hear my mother's voice saying, 'You did what?!' "
In 1955, he auditioned for Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio (choosing a scene from Clifford Odets' Clash by Night against the advice of friends), and he and Steve McQueen were the only new students accepted that year out of the 2,000-plus aspirants who had applied.
With his dark hair and penetrating blue eyes, Landau found success on New York stages in Goat Song, Stalag 17 and First Love. Hitchcock caught his performance on opening night opposite Edward G. Robinson in a road production of Middle of the Night, the first Broadway play written by Paddy Chayefsky, and cast him as the killer Leonard in North by Northwest.
In Middle of the Night, "I played a very macho guy, 180 degrees from Leonard, who I chose to play as a homosexual — very subtly — because he wanted to get rid of Eva Marie Saint with such a vengeance," he recalled in a 2012 interview.
As the ally of James Mason and nemesis of Saint and Cary Grant, Landau plummets to his death off Mount Rushmore in the movie's climactic scene. With his slick, sinister gleam and calculating demeanor, he attracted the notice of producers and directors.
He went on to perform for such top directors as Joseph L. Mankiewicz in Cleopatra (1963) — though he said most of his best work on that film was sent to the cutting-room floor — George Stevens in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), John Sturges in The Hallelujah Trail (1965) and Henry Hathaway in Nevada Smith (1966).
Landau met Bruce Geller, the eventual creator of Mission: Impossible, when he invited the writer to an acting class. Bain was in the class as well, and Geller wrote for them the parts of spies Rollin Hand and Cinnamon Carter. Landau earned an Emmy nomination for each of his three seasons on the series.
He could have starred in another series.
"I turned down Star Trek. It would've been torturous," he said during a 2011 edition of the PBS documentary series Pioneers of Television. "I would've probably died playing that role. I mean, even the thought of it now upsets me. It was the antithesis of why I became an actor. I mean, to play a character that Lenny (Nimoy) was better suited for, frankly, a guy who speaks in a monotone who never gets excited, never has any guilt, never has any fear or was affected on a visceral level. Who wants to do that?"
Landau found a kindred spirit in Burton, who also cast him in Sleepy Hollow (1999) and as the voice of a Vincent Price-like science teacher in the horror-movie homage, Frankenweenie (2012).
"Tim and I don't finish a sentence," Landau told the Los Angeles Times in 2012. "There's something oddly kinesthetic about it. We kind of understand each other."
Landau played puppet master Geppetto in a pair of Pinocchio films and appeared in other films including Pork Chop Hill (1959), City Hall (1996), The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998), Rounders (1998), Edtv (1999), The Majestic (2001), Lovely, Still (2008) and Mysteria (2011).
On television, he starred in the Twilight Zone episodes "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" and "The Jeopardy Room," played the title role in the 1999 Showtime telefilm Bonnano: A Godfather's Story and could be found on The Untouchables, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Wagon Train, I Spy and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
More recently, Landau earned Emmy noms for playing the father of Anthony LaPaglia's character on CBS' Without a Trace and guest-starring as an out-of-touch movie producer on HBO's Entourage. He portrayed billionaire J. Howard Marshall, the 90-year-old husband of Anna Nicole Smith, in a 2013 Lifetime biopic about the sex symbol, and starred for Atom Egoyan opposite Christopher Plummer in Remember (2015).
And Landau appeared opposite Paul Sorvino in The Last Poker Game, which premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.
Landau worked as director, teacher and executive director at the Actors Studio West. He has been credited with helping to guide the talents of Huston, Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton in addition to Nicholson.
A documentary about his life, An Actor's Actor: The Life of Martin Landau, is in the works.
Survivors include his daughters Susie (a writer-producer) and Juliet (an actress-dancer) from his marriage to Bain; sons-in-law Roy and Deverill; sister Elinor; granddaughter Aria; and godson

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George A. Romero, 'Night of the Living Dead' creator, dies at 77

Legendary horror movie director George A. Romero, pictured here in 2008, died Sunday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero, father of the modern movie zombie and creator of the groundbreaking "Night of the Living Dead" franchise, has died at 77, his family said.

Romero died Sunday in his sleep following a "brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer," according to a statement to The Times provided by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. Romero died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, 1952's "The Quiet Man," with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.

Romero jump-started the zombie genre as the co-writer (with John A. Russo) and director of the 1968 movie "Night of the Living Dead," which went to show future generations of filmmakers such as Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter that generating big scares didn't require big budgets. "Living Dead" spawned an entire school of zombie knockoffs, and Romero's sequels included 1978's "Dawn of the Dead," 1985's "Day of the Dead," 1990's "Land of the Dead," 2007's "Diary of the Dead" and 2009's "George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead."

The original film, since colorized, has become a Halloween TV staple. It also has earned socio-political points for the casting of a black actor in the lead role.

Director George Romero is known for his zombie films, most notably "Night of the Living Dead."

Romero wrote or directed projects outside of the "Living Dead" franchise too, including 1973's "The Crazies," 1981's "Knightriders" and episodes of the 1970s TV documentary "The Winners." His last credit as a writer was for his characters' appearance in 2017's "Day of the Dead" from director Hèctor Hernández Vicens.

Check back for updates to this article throughout the day.
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Shrooms Could Be Legalized Sooner Than You Think / Folks in Oregon are looking to put it to a vote in 2020

It may be legal to experience a spiritual or healing journey on magic mushrooms sooner than you think—if you live in the right part of America. A group called the Oregon Psilocybin Society is pushing for a 2020 ballot measure that would make the Beaver State the first in the nation to legalize psilocybin, the primary active ingredient in numerous species of psychedelic mushrooms, in a therapeutic setting.

Psilocybin is currently listed on Schedule I under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which means it's supposedly got no medical value and is ripe for abuse. Advocates who say the substance is safe and, in some cases, medically useful hope that in the absence of federal movement, states can start loosening restrictions on their own, just as many have for weed.

Oregon's Psilocybin Society is led by Tom and Sheri Eckert, a husband and wife team who runs a therapy practice in the Portland area. The Eckerts say they believe psilocybin could be beneficial to their own patients, particularly those who have been victims of domestic violence. "Both of us have had interesting psychedelic experiences in the past and saw their power," Tom told me.

"We put the dots together, realized this is relatively safe, certainly when done in the right way and following research protocol," he added. "Seeing the incredible outcomes of research really motivated us."

In recent years, research on psilocybin and other psychedelics has been ramping up, producing results that show potential for treatment of disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, addiction, and more. Psilocybin in particular has been the subject of a series of studies performed at Johns Hopkins University, the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and New York University, which have found that it helped reduce anxiety in some individuals facing terminal illness, while increasing feelings of well-being and gratitude.

However, even as attitudes toward pot have continued to warm up, the appetite of the American public for legal psychedelics remains skeptical. A 2016 Vox/Morning Consult poll found only 22 percent of respondents in support of psilocybin decriminalization, with 68 percent opposed. Even fewer thought the substance should be legal for medicinal purposes: just 18 percent. On the other hand, a poll published by YouGov last month found 53 percent of respondents in support of research on potential medical benefits of psychedelics, despite their legal status, with 21 percent opposed. If the substances were proven safe, a whopping 63 percent of respondents said they would personally consider treatment with psilocybin, ketamine, or MDMA, most commonly known as a component in many forms of ecstasy.

The potential for the Oregon psilocybin measure to have a domino effect is real. Voters in California made the state the first to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses via ballot measure, voting yes on Proposition 215 in 1996. Over the ensuing decades, 28 other states plus Washington, DC, authorized medical marijuana either by ballot or legislation, while seven states plus DC have legalized cannabis outright, despite ongoing federal prohibition.

That said, the founders point out there are important differences between the Psilocybin Society's campaign and medical marijuana programs—mirroring some of the differences between the two drugs. For one thing, the initiative would not allow for personal possession of psychedelic mushrooms or psilocybin—rather, patients could only take it at licensed centers under supervision of a certified facilitator. Facilitators would not necessarily have to be doctors, to avoid conflicts with insurance and nationally recognized accreditation bodies.

And while medical marijuana states usually stipulate a list of conditions that qualify patients for eligibility—cancer, HIV and AIDS, chronic pain, or others—the psilocybin measure would open the doors of therapy to any adult not contraindicated for safety reasons, without requiring a particular diagnosis. "It's not only amazing for mental health, there's also a lot of potential for self-development and creative work," Tom said. "We're trying to put forth the most reasonable thing we can without undue restrictions."

The Eckerts say they haven't experienced much in the way of blowback—yet. "Hopefully when backlash does come, we can consistently address the subject matter through science and studies to reduce any fear that is there due to stigmatization," Sheri told me.

Concerted opposition is sure to emerge sooner or later. "This type of drug legalization is the snake oil of the 21st century," Scott Chipman, Southern California chair of the group Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, wrote in an email to VICE. "The movement to 'medicalize' and 'legalize' 'psychedelic' drugs is just one more attempt to move our society toward legalization of all drugs," he says, calling the industry "a dangerous threat to public health and safety."

"We must use the FDA process to determine what is or is not a medicine and not rely on drug dealers, legislators or even public votes to determine medical efficacy," Chipman added. "We call on all citizens to reject drug legalization in all forms."

Meanwhile, as activists like the Eckerts make their move in Oregon, federal change is looking at least somewhat less implausible than it once did. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the midst of clinical studies on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a tool to combat PTSD, with a goal of obtaining prescription approval by the FDA in 2021.

"We support any efforts that are educating the public about the beneficial uses of psychedelics as long as the conversation is rounded out with discussion of their risks," MAPS communication director Brad Burge said about the proposed Oregon ballot proposal, adding that "we feel clinical trials and a scientific approach is more likely to create wider acceptance."

While the Oregon measure is focused on therapeutic use, some advocates aren't shy about hoping medical acceptance leads to more widespread legalization. "I'm a believer we need to have a larger conversation about drug prohibition in general," said Mitchell Gomez, executive director of DanceSafe, a group that promotes best practices and harm reduction at electronic music festivals. "Medical use is great because it opens the door for those conversations."

"If you're going to look at the relative risks of classic psychedelics versus the relative risks of hundreds of other things society lets people do, the risk is lower than driving a car, skydiving, swimming, cheerleading, horseback riding," Gomez added. "Mushrooms are much safer to hand to strangers than a peanut."

The Eckerts would love to see a loosening of federal restrictions on psilocybin, but for now are happy to serve in the vanguard of a state-by-state effort. Their group is currently laying the groundwork for a signature campaign to qualify for the ballot, working with the Oregon Legislative Counsel to create sound language for the initiative and beginning educational outreach around the state.

"We're convicted about it, willing to take the challenge and stand up for what we think makes good sense and helps people," Tom said, adding that they've had a lot of contacts by people around the state who are interested in the cause. "We're strengthening our networks, doing more events, developing organization and outreach programs such that it will move into campaign apparatus—2020 is shaping up to be a very interesting year."

Follow Aaron Kase on Twitter.

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Michael Walzer on Just War Theory

No government will send young men into battle to kill and be killed without offering some justification for what they are doing, Walzer says.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Behind The Scenes

Go behind the scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In theaters December 15. 

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Maryam Mirzakhani, groundbreaking mathematician and Fields Medal winner, dies at 40

July 15, 2017 at 2:52 PM EDT

Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, the recipient of the 2014 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. She was the first woman in the prize's 80-year history to earn the distinction. Photo courtesy of Stanford News Service.

Maryam Mirzakhani, who in 2014 became the first woman awarded the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics, has died at the age of 40.

The world-renowned Iranian mathematician and Stanford professor died from breast cancer at a hospital in the United States.

"Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science," Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement. "Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path."

Her friend Firouz Michael Naderi, an Iranian-American NASA scientist, said on Instagram, "A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart…gone far too soon."

Born in Tehran in 1977, Mirzakhani won two international math awards as a teenager. Despite an auspicious start, she said that she had no intention of pursing mathematics. She liked to read and thought that maybe she would become a writer.

"My most exciting pastime was reading novels; in fact, I would read anything I could find," she said in a 2014 interview with The Guardian.

It was at Sharif University of Technology in Iran, where she received her Bachelor of Science, that she discovered her passion for mathematics.

"The more I spent time on mathematics, the more excited I became," she told The Guardian.
Mirzakhani completed her PhD at Harvard in 2004, then accepted positions as a research fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute and an assistant professor at Princeton, accruing awards and acclaim along the way. In 2008, at 31, she became a professor at Stanford.

And then, in 2014, she received the highest honor in mathematics: 80 years after the award was established, Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal. She was also the first Iranian to receive the prize, which is given every four years to exceptional mathematicians under the age of 40.

According to the awarding committee, Mirzakhani's genius came from her "rare combination of superb technical ability, bold ambition, far-reaching vision, and deep curiosity."

She won the prize for a 172-page paper on the trajectory of a billiards ball around a polygonal table that has been hailed as a "titanic work" and the "beginning of a new era" in mathematics. Mirzakhani studied the complexities of curved surfaces such as spheres, doughnut shapes and hyperbolas. She said in interviews that she liked the interdisciplinary connections and implications of her work.

"I find it fascinating that you can look at the same problem from different perspectives and approach it using different methods," she said.

Mirzakhani, who described herself as a slow mathematician, was drawn to big, difficult questions in her field, a trait that made her a revered figure within the mathematics community.

In 2014, she told Quanta Magazine, a science publication, that she thought about mathematics in pictures, doodling her ideas on giant sheets of paper scattered across her office. A colleague speculated that perhaps she organized her thoughts like this because the "problems she is working on are so abstract and complicated, she can't afford to make logical steps one by one but has to make big jumps."

As a professor and scholar, Mirzakhani's pictures helped her write stories with her math. In a way, she told Quanta, working on mathematics is a lot like writing a novel.

"There are different characters, and you are getting to know them better," she said. "Things evolve, and then you look back at a character, and it's completely different from your first impression."
She is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and their daughter, Anahita.

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A Wrinkle In Time Official US Teaser Trailer

A Wrinkle In Time opens in US theatres March 9, 2018.

The film, which is an epic adventure based on Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless classic which takes audiences across dimensions of time and space, examining the nature of darkness versus light and ultimately, the triumph of love.

Directed by Ava DuVernay from a screenplay by Jennifer Lee based upon the beloved novel by Madeleine L’Engle, “A Wrinkle in Time” is produced by Jim Whitaker and Catherine Hand with Doug Merrifield serving as executive producer. The film stars: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peňa, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard with Zach Galifianakis and Chris Pine and introduces Storm Reid.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND Green Day Crowd Singing Bohemian Rhapsody

Only Queen can rock an entire stadium without even being there.

Fam, I’m Not Here for your Millennial Shaming / A Teacher's Evolving Mind

Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1946, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump were all born. The planet may never recover.

The Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation defeated fascism, built the interstate highway system, and most of our modern infrastructure. They electrified Appalachia, ended Southern Jim Crow de jure segregation, rebuilt a third of the planet via the Marshall Plan, and artfully avoided vaporizing the planet in a nuclear holocaust in the Cold War.

In contrast, the Boomers still can't get over Vietnam.

I was born in 1979, the tail end of Generation X and Boomers have dominated American politics my entire adult life. They've waged a pointless, polarizing, five decade long culture war. Boomers wasted billions in a racist and classist war on drugs that has militarized local law enforcement, and fueled mass incarceration. They've delayed maintenance on the infrastructure they inherited to the point that bridges are literally falling down and our rail system falls somewhere between Poland and Morrocco's. They have poisoned our politics through congressional gerrymandering, corporate media consolidation, and dumbed-down-cable news-soundbite politics. Most damaging, they killed the idea of "Americans as Citizens" -- people with a sense of shared obligation and ushered in the period of "Americans as Taxpayers" -- atomized, lone wolves with no appreciation of history, civics nor the common good.

The evidence of decline is all around us. Our most beautiful and important bridges and infrastructure were all built decades ago. I recently returned from a trip to Eastern Washington where I visited the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams. While standing in their respective visitors' centers, I realized that they, like almost every Park Service or Interior Department facility that I've visited, are frozen in amber relics from the 1980s. This is about the time Congress started taking a hatchet to the non-defense discretionary budget in order to pay for endless waves of tax cuts for Boomers.

The Laffer Curve could only come from and could only work on this silly, selfish generation. They have lavished benefits on themselves: Medicare Part D, mortgage interest deductions, and decades of war abroad -- all while demanding tax cut, after tax cut, after tax cut. This is the essence of Boomer economics: after benefiting from more taxpayer subsidies than any US generation, they've hollowed out of the commons in order to provide tax breaks to themselves, and debt & deficits in perpetuity for us.
From Bakersfield Observed

I am a part of the last generation of Americans who could feasibly work their way through college and graduate debt free. Somewhere in the late-aughts driven by stagnated wages and skyrocketing tuition costs, working your way through college became nearly impossible. In half a lifetime, college tuition costs have risen from under $500 per year to their current levels, where the typical graduate crosses the stage with +$37,000 in debt. Rising tuition costs are driven by declining state support for universities, which is driven by tax cuts. Boomers are the worst.

Boomers have waged inter-generational financial warfare on future generations, all the while calling them lazy, undisciplined, and impractical. How exactly do we build a future middle class if higher education is out of reach for those who need it most -- the working poor? This is a problem the Boomers lack the capacity, willingness, and empathy to solve, but it is one we must confront in the near future.

I've had my fill with Millennial shaming.
The business press concern trolls debt-ladened Millennials (and soon Gen Z kids) with petty, hot-take articles about them destroying the diamond industry (good riddance to De Beers), bar soap (because it's gross and unsanitary), Applebee's (it won't be missed), and my favorite -- the housing market (spoiler: they're delaying buying homes because of low wages and the aforementioned $37k average student loan debt).

I've met with and lobbied Boomer policymakers at every level of government. It's an exhausting exercise. But, in my 9-5, I've spent the last eleven years teaching Millennials and now Generation Z kids. It's not even a contest. The kids are more empathetic, less judgmental, more collaborative, and more justice-oriented than the folks running our country today. They're less ideologically rigid and think the current era of partisan gridlock is dumb (which it surely is). The kids are alright. A future built by Millennials and Generation Z kids will be far brighter and egalitarian than the present. I pray I live long enough to see the world they'll create, if the Boomers don't destroy it all first.

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Brando Speaks Up for Native Americans

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Final Wave of Souls is Here And It's Going to Change Everything

Since time immemorial right down to the spiritual science fiction novels of Arthur C. Clarke, mankind has been pondering the great question of the nature of consciousness. From the theories of psychologists such as Erich Fromm, we know that an archetypal and primordial collective consciousness is present within humankind.

This article will explore how that consciousness might develop further in the course of the Third Millennium. What we mean by that is that the ultimate consciousness of the 'Singularity' is at hand. It will be a time of true soul communion and the long awaited reincarnation of the 'Virgin Souls' is the sign that the hour is nigh.

Even old philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson had seen this coming. His ideal of Transcendentalism had imagined an 'Over-Soul' or 'Over-Mind'. Spiritual Union with Great Absolute is what humanity will achieve through our preordained species' destiny. This does not mean that the road ahead is not without its fair share of traps.

In fact, most Souls incarnating today are Third Wavers or their forerunners, to help accommodate for the next step in the evolution and expansion of the human consciousness.

The First few forerunners started to arrive roughly 100 years ago as scouts to make preparations for the Third Wave. Their talents were many and varied and appropriate for the task.

From about 1940 onward, these Souls with their special talents became known as the Indigo Children and began to arrive in larger numbers. Does that ring a bell? Think about it, the fact that these special forerunner souls had the grit, guts and gumption to change the world is fairly evident.
Take a look around you and see the amazing journey that we have charted over the course of merely 100 years; which is less than a blink on the cosmic time scale. The Indigos came to prepare for the arrival of the Third Wave of Virgin Souls who had never been to earth before. All Indigos have only little Karma from previous lives to deal with and they have guts and many talents.

This paved the way for the arrival of the long awaited Star-Seed Children or the Rainbow Generation. By the 1990s they made their first appearance and the human spiritual evolutionary cycle moved into high gear.

The Third Wave has no karmic burden or accountability to the earth dimensions or other earthlings, whatsoever — they are all Virgin Souls.

They are angels incarnated, just like both the first and second wave where when they first arrived.
However, they are all born with a built-in moral compass, because the "veil" of Forgetfulness that other Souls have, is "torn in twain". Ancient Oriental myths and philosophies also talk about the importance of the collective memory for the spirit. The ancient Sanskrit scriptures confirm this by talking about the concept of 'smriti' (which literally means memory), and how it can break the cycle of rebirths to create Moksha. Similarly the veil of 'Forgetfulness' allows them to view the Earth as dispassionate.

These gifts are usually revealed as they grow older. Their enthusiasm is demonstrated in their creativity.

The Rainbow children are to be the builders of the New World, using Divine will. They are fearless and are pure givers ready to fulfill mankind's needs. They will be the ones to bring about the fabled 'End of Childhood'. By this we mean the end of the Spiritual Childhood.

The banishment of self-alienation will take humanity closer to a union with the Primal Cause (we call God) and finally evolve us to be beings of the fifth dimension.

The Higher Beings exist in the place of the great so-called 'Ultra-Brockian' Realms, which would make their existence perpendicular to reality as the uninformed observer in the time-space continuum would see.

Humanity's destiny may be fulfilled in the course of the next generations, something that the ancient texts of the primordial civilizations (think Atlantis) had always foretold. We have reached for the spiritual stars as a species. It is time to embrace our destiny. There is no turning back now!

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Poll: Majority Of Republicans Now Say Colleges Are Bad For America

A Pew poll released Monday shows that Republicans' views of higher education institutions have taken a dramatic turn for the worse since 2015.

In September 2015, 54 percent of Republicans told Pew that they had a positive stance on college and universities, while 37 percent felt negatively toward them.

Today, their attitude seems to have taken a complete U-turn, with 58 percent of Republicans saying that colleges and universities had a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country." Only 36 percent maintained that they're good for the country.


Meanwhile, 72 percent of Democrats and independents who lean Democrat have a positive attitude toward the institutions. According to Pew, this stance hasn't changed much in recent years.

This striking switch among Republicans echoes a trend among conservatives of blasting "PC culture" and "censorship of free speech" on college campuses and taking legislative action against it.
On June 20, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) held a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on free speech on college campuses titled "Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses."

According to the Washington Post, Grassley charged that free speech "appears to be sacrificed at the altar of political correctness."

Also present was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who lamented, "It's tragic what is happening at so many American universities where college administrators and faculties have become complicit in functioning essentially as speech police."

Two days after the hearing, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a GOP-backed bill allowing college administrators to expel students for "disrupting" college speakers, according to NBC.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) applauded the move:

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Nevada Declares State of Emergency After a Week of Legal Weed

This is what you get, Las Vegas!

You know what's chill? Smoking weed in Las Vegas. You know what's decidedly unchill? Going to Las Vegas hoping to score some legal, locally grown marijuana, only to find out the whole state has completely run out of bud.

The state of Nevada legalized the use of marijuana for anyone older than 21 in November 2016, but recreational cannabis sales officially began July 1. On Monday, however, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency, citing the state's low weed supply and urging his constituents to adopt some new regulation to encourage more production. Lawmakers and stoners alike can now predict responsibly that high demand and low supply will be a problem for each state that legalizes marijuana. In order to keep "emergencies" like Nevada's from happening, we're going to have to develop a smoother plan of attack for rolling out legal, recreational weed.

Nevada state spokeswoman Stephanie Klapstein told USA Today, "Based on reports of adult-use marijuana sales already far exceeding the industry's expectations at the state's 47 licensed retail marijuana stores, and the reality that many stores are running out of inventory, the Department must address the lack of distributors immediately."

Local Reno publications have estimated that the state raked in over $1 million in sales tax on weed alone this week, which bolsters the argument made by weed legalization advocates for decades that the process will help the American economy.

Running out of weed isn't groovy, man.

Of course, it's difficult to talk about the upside to marijuana legalization without mentioning the disturbing number of Americans who are currently serving prison sentences for weed distribution. In fact, more than half of drug-related arrests in the U.S. in 2010 were based solely in weed. The system is related to race as well; black Americans are almost four times as likely to be arrested and thrown in prison for possession or the intent to sell marijuana. The state of Nevada is trying to remedy that fact in small ways; in March, the Las Vegas Sun reported that those previously arrested for marijuana-related charges would be eligible to have their records wiped clean of the offense under new laws.
As for the state's "emergency" shortage, the dispensaries are currently under more demand for product than their suppliers can keep up with, mostly because it takes a lot more time to create and foster a legal, natural supply of marijuana than it does to open a dispensary. Until folks in Nevada are able to close the gap, the best places to buy legal weed in the United States are still Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

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Mahavishnu Orchestra / Vision is a Naked Sword

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Study Theology, Even If You Don't Believe in God

This lost liberal art encourages scholars to understand history from the inside out.

The Evangelist St. Matthew with his symbol, the angel The National Library of the Netherlands / Wikimedia Commons

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When I first told my mother—a liberal, secular New Yorker—that I wanted to cross an ocean to study for a bachelor's degree in theology, she was equal parts aghast and concerned. Was I going to become a nun, she asked in horror, or else one of "those" wingnuts who picketed outside abortion clinics? Was I going to spend hours in the Bodleian Library agonizing over the number of angels that could fit on the head of a pin? Theology, she insisted, was a subject by the devout, for the devout; it had no place in a typical liberal arts education.

Her view of the study of theology is far from uncommon. While elite universities like Harvard and Yale offer vocational courses at their divinity schools, and nearly all universities offer undergraduate majors in the comparative study of religions, few schools (with the exceptions of historically Catholic institutions like Georgetown and Boston College) offer theology as a major, let alone mandate courses in theology alongside other "core" liberal arts subjects like English or history. Indeed, the study of theology has often run afoul of the legal separation of church and state. Thirty-seven U.S. states have laws limiting the spending of public funds on religious training. In 2006, the Supreme Court case Locke v. Davey upheld the decision of a Washington State scholarship program to withhold promised funding from an otherwise qualified student after learning that he had decided to major in theology at a local Bible College.

Even in the United Kingdom, where secular bachelor's programs in theology are more common, prominent New Atheists like Richard Dawkins have questioned their validity in the university sphere. In a 2007 letter to the editor of The Independent, Dawkins argues for the abolishment of theology in academia, insisting that "a positive case now needs to be made that [theology] has any real content at all, or that it has any place whatsoever in today's university culture."

Such a shift, of course, is relatively recent in the history of secondary education. Several of the great Medieval universities, among them Oxford, Bologna, and Paris, developed in large part as training grounds for men of the Church. Theology, far from being anathema to the academic life, was indeed its central purpose: It was the "Queen of the Sciences" the field of inquiry which gave meaning to all others. So, too, several of the great American universities. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton alike were founded with the express purpose of teaching theology—one early anonymous account of Harvard's founding speaks of John Harvard's ,"dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches"and his dream of creating an institution to train future clergymen to "read the original of the Old and New Testament into the Latin tongue, and resolve them logically."

Universities like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton no longer exist, in part or in whole, to train future clergymen. Their purpose now is far broader. But the dwindling role of theology among the liberal arts is a paradigmatic example of dispensing with the baby along with the bathwater.

Richard Dawkins would do well to look at the skills imparted by the Theology department of his own alma mater, Oxford (also my own). The BA I did at Oxford was a completely secular program, attracting students from all over the religious spectrum. My classmates included a would-be priest who ended up an atheist, as well as a militant atheist now considering the priesthood. During my time there, I investigated Ancient Near Eastern building patterns to theorize about the age of a settlement; compared passages of the gospels (in the original Greek) to analogous passages in the Jewish wisdom literature of the 1st century BC; examined the structure of a 14th-century Byzantine liturgy; and read The Brothers Karamazov as part of a unit on Christian existentialism. As Oxford's Dr. William Wood, a University Lecturer in Philosophical Theology and my former tutor, puts it: "theology is the closest thing we have at the moment to the kind of general study of all aspects of human culture that was once very common, but is now quite rare." A good theologian, he says, "has to be a historian, a philosopher, a linguist, a skillful interpreter of texts both ancient and modern, and probably many other things besides." In many ways, a course in theology is an ideal synthesis of all other liberal arts: no longer, perhaps, "Queen of the Sciences," but at least, as Wood terms it, "Queen of the Humanities."

Yet, for me, the value of theology lies not merely in the breadth of skills it taught, but in the opportunity it presented to explore a given historical mindset in greater depth. I learned to read the Bible in both Greek and Hebrew, to analyze the minutiae of language that allows us to distinguish "person" from "nature," "substance" from "essence." I read "orthodox" and "heretical" accounts alike of the nature of the Godhead, and learned about the convoluted and often arbitrary historical processes that delineated the two.

To study theology well requires not faith, but empathy.

Such precision may seem—to the religious person and agnostic alike—no more useful than counting the number of angels on the head of a pin. But for me, it allowed me access into the fundamental building blocks of the mentality, say, of a 12th-century French monk, or a mystic from besieged Byzantium. While the study of history taught me the story of humanity on a broader scale, the study of theology allowed me insight into the minds and hearts, fears and concerns, of those in circumstances that were so wildly different from my own. The difference between whether—as was the case in the Arian controversy of the fourth-century AD—the Godhead should be thought of as powerful first, and loving second, or loving first and powerful second, might seem utterly pedantic in a world where plenty of people see no need to think about God at all. But when scores of people were willing to kill or die to defend such beliefs—hardly a merely historical phenomenon—it's worth investigating how and why such beliefs infused all aspects of the world of their believers. How does that 12th-century French monk's view of the nature of God affect the way he sees himself, his relationship with others, his relationship with the natural world, his relationship with his own mortality? How does that Byzantine mystic conceive of space and time in a world he envisions as imbued with the sacred? To find such questions integral to any study of the past is not restricted to those who agree with the answers. To study theology well requires not faith, but empathy.

If history and comparative religion alike offer us perspective on world events from the "outside," the study of theology offers us a chance to study those same events "from within": an opportunity to get inside the heads of those whose beliefs and choices shaped so much of our history, and who—in the world outside the ivory tower—still shape plenty of the world today. That such avenues of inquiry have virtually vanished from many of the institutions where they were once best explored is hardly a triumph of progress or of secularism. Instead, the absence of theology in our universities is an unfortunate example of blindness—willful or no—to the fact that engagement with the past requires more than mere objective or comparative analysis. It requires a willingness to look outside our own perspectives in order engage with the great questions—and questioners—of history on their own terms. Even Dawkins might well agree with that.

About the Author

  • Tara Isabella Burton is a Clarendon Scholar at Trinity College, Oxford, where she is working on a doctorate in theology and literature. She has written for Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, Salonand The New Statesman.

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