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Thursday, August 3, 2017

‘Annihilation’ Author Says Alex Garland’s ‘Mind-Blowing’ Adaptation Evokes Stanley Kubrick and ‘2001’

Trying to compare an artist in the progress of their latest to an already established classic that set a generational tone is such a big mistake... 2001:A Space Odyssey was so much more different than other films because viewers, the world was on the world of change; on the cusp of so much technical, cinematic, social and musical and most of that change wasn't apparent until years after...


If the second feature from "Ex Machina" director Alex Garland wasn't already on your radar, then it most definitely is now.

Zack Sharf
May 30, 2017 10:41 am
"Annihilation"
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Alex Garland's directorial debut "Ex Machina" is one of the greatest science-fiction films of the 21st century, which inevitably means the pressure is on for his follow-up to deliver the goods. Fortunately, Garland is sticking with the sci-fi genre in "Annihilation," an adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name. The writer-director has mastered the genre once before, and if VanderMeer is to be believed, then it appears Garland is about to do it again.

READ MORE: Paramount First Looks: Garland's 'Annihilation,' Payne's 'Downsizing,' and Bay's 'Transformers'

The author has seen an early cut of the adaptation and has nothing but praise for Garland's vision. Speaking to The Watch podcast on The Ringer (via The Film Stage), VanderMeer couldn't help tease the movie by calling it "surreal" and noting how Garland took the ending into abstract Stanley Kubrick territory a la "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"It's actually more surreal than the novel," he said. "There are a couple places where I was like, 'I might need an anchor here.' The ending is so mind-blowing and in some ways different from the book that it seems to be the kind of ending that, like '2001' or something like that, people will be talking about around the watercooler for years. Visually, it's amazing. I must say that and that's all I probably should say."

But his praise didn't stop there. In a Facebook post published earlier this month, the author added, "I can tell you it's mind-blowing, surreal, extremely beautiful, extremely horrific, and it was so tense that our bodies felt sore and beat-up afterwards."

While VanderMeer is no doubt bias given the film is based on his novel, he actually had no part in the adaptation process. Garland wrote the screenplay himself, and while he kept VanderMeer in the loop so that the author would know what was going on, the latter had no say in what made it into the script whatsoever.

"The first thing I realized is that even though Alex Garland says he's not an auteur, he is an auteur," VanderMeer told The Watch. "My expectation was to not have anything to do with the movie and that's the actual fact. He wrote the script and he was kind enough to keep me in the loop during every part of the process, but that wasn't for me to put my two cents in, basically. It was just so I would know what was going on."

"Annihilation" stars Natalie Portman as a biologist who embarks on a mission into an environmental disaster zone to figure out what happened to her missing husband. Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac and Tessa Thompson also star in the twist-filled drama.

The movie was originally set for release this fall, but Paramount recently pushed it back until 2018. While the wait may be long, it's reassuring to know that even the author is thrilled with the liberties Garland took to his story. Consider "Annihilation" one of our most anticipated titles of 2018.


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Report: Robert Mueller has empaneled a grand jury in Russia investigation


He's also reportedly looking into Trump's financial dealings.

Aug. 3, 2017 5:18 PM
Robert Mueller.Zhang Jun/Zuma

Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading up the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between associates of Donald Trump and the Kremlin, has empaneled a grand jury, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The move suggests that Mueller's investigation is "ramping up," according to the paper. 

"This is yet a further sign that there is a long-term, large-scale series of prosecutions being contemplated and being pursued by the special counsel," Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, told the Journal. Vladeck told the paper that the grand jury, which was established in the past few weeks in Washington, DC, was an indication that Mueller's investigation has extended far beyond the scandal swirling around for National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. "If there was already a grand jury in Alexandria looking at Flynn, there would be no need to reinvent the wheel for the same guy," Vladeck said. "This suggests that the investigation is bigger and wider than Flynn, perhaps substantially so."

Ty Cobb, one of Trump's lawyers, told the paper he was unaware of the DC grand jury and added: "The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of [the special counsel's] work fairly."

Also on Thursday, CNN reported that Mueller's team has "seized on Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation." Some of the ties reportedly being scrutinized are unconnected to the 2016 election.

CNN noted that Trump told the New York Times in July that if Mueller began to look into his financial dealings and didn't focus solely on Russia, Mueller would be crossing a red line.
"President's outside counsel has not received any requests for documentation or information about this," Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's attorneys, told CNN when asked about Mueller's reported investigation into Trump's financial ties. "Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment we would object to."

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‘A Ghost Story’: How Shane Carruth Helped David Lowery Break Free of His Rigid Sense of Time


Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast Ep. 36: David Lowery talks about creating a cinematic language to capture the enormity of time.

"A Ghost Story"


At its heart, "A Ghost Story" is a meditation on the enormity of time. It's a topic writer and director David Lowery has on his mind quite a bit, so much that he can turn simple matters in his personal life into an existential crisis.

"I remember wanting to buy a vintage movie poster on eBay," said Lowery, when he was a guest on IndieWire's Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. "[T]hen thinking, well, I shouldn't spend the money on this because in 200 years I'm going to be dead and a million years after that the poster's not going to exist anymore, so what's the point."

READ MORE: The 17 Best Indie Movies of 2017 (So Far)

The jumping off point for "A Ghost Story" stemmed from an argument Lowery and his wife were having about moving out of their small rental house in Dallas. Just like with the poster, Lowery couldn't help rationalizing the issues at the heart of this disagreement on a larger temporal plane, except this time he decided to make a film about it — with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara standing in for the real-life couple.
The presentation of time in the film was one thing Lowery planned out well beforehand. The idea was the first half of the movie would be incredibly slow, but the flow would change as the story made bigger jumps in time. In the script, he put detailed descriptions of how long he would hold shots and the eventual time jumps. The one thing Lowery left to figure out on set was the approach to how to capture this with the camera.

Listen To The Entire Episode Above

"We were kind of shooting in sequence, and so we'd reached that point in the shoot and we'd spent so much time with camera locked off [static on a tripod] for very long periods of times," said Lowery. "We just felt it was time to change gears and let the language of the film evolve."
Lowery decided that, as time started to become more fluid, so does the camera.
"We just decided to [let] the camera sort of float around the space, as oppose to being rigidly formalist in its approach and that was very conducive to the way time starts to flow," said Lowery. "We changed our approach again and the film gets much cuttier and the edit gets much more pronounced."

READ MORE: How a Chance Encounter With Terrence Malick Turned Trey Edward Shults Into a Filmmaker

While they were shooting and experimenting with visual presentation of time, Lowery felt it was important there be an onset editor so they had an idea of what they had and what was working. Lowery, an accomplished editor before becoming a feature filmmaker, didn't have the headspace to do it himself after full day of shooting, so his friend and collaborator, filmmaker Shane Carruth — Lowery edited Carruth's Sci-Fi time bender "Upstream Color" — came down to Texas to assemble footage and hang out on set.

Lowery says he got a lot more than an on set edit from Carruth, who helped him open new doors of how to tell the story.

David Lowery on set of "A Ghost Story"

"Because he does mess with temporality in his movies, he took what was a very rigid script and ignored it as he was putting the footage together and just started to mess with the sequencing of events and really just made something that flowed in a cinematic fashion," said Lowery.

One of the keys changes in Lowery's originally linear story was taking the scene where Affleck's character plays Mara's the song he's written for her, deciding it would work far better later in the film.
"I didn't really think this movie could get flexible in the way it ultimately did and as he was putting stuff together like, 'of course it can, this is a movie, this is cinema, people are going to know what your intent is when you jump backwards and forwards in time because they know how time works, so don't be worried about it,'" said Lowery. "That was a greatly liberating discovery…it really broke me out of the concept that it needed to be a 100% rigid approach to time."


The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on iTunes, StitcherSoundCloud and Google Play MusicPrevious episodes include:
The music used in this podcast is from the "Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present" score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.
You can check out the rest IndieWire's podcasts in iTunes.
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So, CBS is Going to Make a Jack Parsons Show Apparently - disinformation


Aug 3, 2017

Look, I'm not a Jack Parsons fan at all. I think if you can't figure out that witch hunts are a million times darker than witchcraft will ever be, you probably shouldn't be playing around with this stuff in the first place. Magick works, which is why when you intentionally manifest horror movie-esque negativity into your life, you might "accidentally" do things like blow yourself up. Your wife might run off with L. Ron Hubbard. This shit ain't rocket science (purely intentional). That all being said, it's not like the dude's life couldn't make an interesting plot for a show. I certainly want to see sex magick parties in a CBS program. From Indiewire:

"David Lowery directed one of the best-reviewed movies of the year with "A Ghost Story." Now, he's doing something about as different as you can get.

CBS All Access announced at the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday that their latest slate of original programming will include "Strange Angel," a new show following the life of Jack Parsons.

The series, created by "Black Swan" writer Mark Heyman, will chart the life of Parsons, who helped to pioneer rocket engineering in America. As chronicled in George Pendle's 2006 book, Parsons was "a mysterious and brilliant man in 1940s Los Angeles, who by day helps birth the entirely unknown discipline of American rocketry, and by night is a performer of sex magick rituals and a disciple to occultist Aleister Crowley," per a CBS All Access release.

Lowery will direct and executive produce the series. While not a TV newbie (he directed an episode of Sundance's "Rectify" and an installment of the National Geographic documentary series "Breakthrough"), this is the "A Ghost Story" director's biggest foray in television yet.
Read the final paragraph over at Indiewire, IF YOU DARE!

In my mind L. Ron Hubbard ended up being a superior black magickian to Parsons and Crowley combined, times a thousand. Those guys didn't have their shit together at all. Hubbard was a goddamn religion creating super skeez. The hustle game there was A+ level. Guy had his own goddamn Navy? Cray cray.

Thad McKraken

CEO at DMI
Thad McKraken is a psychedelic writer, musician, visual artist, filmmaker, Occultist, and pug enthusiast based out of Seattle. He is the author of the books The Galactic Dialogue: Occult Initiations and Transmissions From Outside of Time, both of which can be picked up on Amazon super cheap.

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In pictures: Travel Photographer of the Year 2017 - BBC News


An image of a volcano struck by lightning has beaten photographs of crocodiles, dervishes and surfers to win this year's grand prize.
  • Sergio Tapiro Velasco / National Geographic
  • Hiromi Kano / National Geographic
  • Tarun Sinha / National Geographic
  • Clane Gessel / National Geographic
  • Yutaka Takafuji / National Geographic
  • Norbert Fritz / National Geographic
  • Andy Yeung / National Geographic
  • Misha De-Stroyev / National Geographic
  • Tetsuya Hashimoto / National Geographic
  • F Dilek Uyar / National Geographic
  • Julius Y. / National Geographic
  • Rodney Bursiel / National Geographic
  • Moin Ahmed / National Geographic
  • Jobit George / National Geographic

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David Lowery Set to Direct TV Show About a Sex Occultist Who Helped Invent Rocket Science


TCA: The new series about Jack Parsons is part of the latest slate of CBS All Access original programming.

David Lowery at the Los Angeles premiere of "Pete's Dragon"

David Lowery directed one of the best-reviewed movies of the year with "A Ghost Story." Now, he's doing something about as different as you can get.

CBS All Access announced at the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday that their latest slate of original programming will include "Strange Angel," a new show following the life of Jack Parsons.
The series, created by "Black Swan" writer Mark Heyman, will chart the life of Parsons, who helped to pioneer rocket engineering in America. As chronicled in George Pendle's 2006 book, Parsons was "a mysterious and brilliant man in 1940s Los Angeles, who by day helps birth the entirely unknown discipline of American rocketry, and by night is a performer of sex magick rituals and a disciple to occultist Aleister Crowley," per a CBS All Access release.

Lowery will direct and executive produce the series. While not a TV newbie (he directed an episode of Sundance's "Rectify" and an installment of the National Geographic documentary series "Breakthrough"), this is the "A Ghost Story" director's biggest foray in television yet.
And he's not the only indie director making a splash as part of this new announced slate. Craig Zobel will follow up his stellar work on "The Leftovers" as the director of "$1," a new series tracking a dollar bill through the aftermath of a modern-day, small-town murder. Neither series have a confirmed number of episodes.

To round out its programming, CBS All Access is also getting into the comedy game with "No Activity," a new series from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Funny Or Die. According to the release, "Set against the world of a major drug cartel bust, the series follows two low-level cops who have spent far too much time in a car together; two criminals who are largely kept in the dark; two dispatch workers who haven't really clicked; and two Mexican tunnelers who are in way too small a space considering they've only just met." The comedy will premiere sometime between the two chapters of "Star Trek: Discovery."


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The ghostly radio station that no one claims to run - BBC


  • By Zaria Gorvett
2 August 2017
In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.

It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, "MDZhB", that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it's been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it's joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.

Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as "dinghy" or "farming specialist". And that's it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.

It's so enigmatic, it's as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as "the Buzzer". It joins two similar mystery stations, "the Pip" and the "Squeaky Wheel". As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.




In fact, no-one does. "There's absolutely no information in the signal," says David Stupples, an expert in signals intelligence from City University, London.

What's going on?

The frequency is thought to belong to the Russian military, though they've never actually admitted this. It first began broadcasting at the close of the Cold War, when communism was in decline. Today it's transmitted from two locations – the St Petersburg site and a location near Moscow. Bizarrely, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, rather than shutting down, the station's activity sharply increased.

There's no shortage of theories to explain what the Buzzer might be for – ranging from keeping in touch with submarines to communing with aliens. One such idea is that it's acting as a "Dead Hand" signal; in the event Russia is hit by a nuclear attack, the drone will stop and automatically trigger a retaliation. No questions asked, just total nuclear obliteration on both sides.
There are clues in the signal itself
This may not be as wacky as it sounds. The system was originally pioneered in the Soviet era, where it took the form of a computer system which scanned the airwaves for signs of life or nuclear fallout. Alarmingly, many experts believe it may still be in use. As Russian president Vladimir Putin pointed out himself earlier this year, "nobody would survive" a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. Could the Buzzer be warding one off?

As it happens, there are clues in the signal itself. Like all international radio, the Buzzer operates at a relatively low frequency known as "shortwave". This means that – compared to local radio, mobile phone and television signals – fewer waves pass through a single point every second. It also means they can travel a lot further.

While you'd be hard pressed to listen to a local station such as BBC Radio London in a neighbouring county, shortwave stations like the BBC World Service are aimed at audiences from Senegal to Singapore. Both stations are broadcast from the same building.




It's all thanks to "skywaves". Higher frequency radio signals can only travel in a straight line, eventually becoming lost as they bump into obstacles or reach the horizon. But shortwave frequencies have an extra trick – they can bounce off charged particles in the upper atmosphere, allowing them to zig-zag between the earth and the sky and travel thousands, rather than tens, of miles.

Which brings us back to the Dead Hand theory. As you might expect, shortwave signals have proved extremely popular. Today they're used by ships, aircraft and the military to send messages across continents, oceans and mountain ranges. But there's a catch.

The lofty layer isn't so much a flat mirror, but a wave, which undulates like the surface of the ocean. During the day it moves steadily higher, while at night, it creeps down towards the Earth. If you want to absolutely guarantee that your station can be heard on the other side of the planet – and if you're using it as a cue for nuclear war, you probably do – it's important to change the frequency depending on the time of day, to catch up. The BBC World Service already does this. The Buzzer doesn't.

Another idea is that the radio station exists to "sound" out how far away the layer of charged particles is. "To get good results from the radar systems the Russians use to spot missiles, you need to know this," says Stupples. The longer the signal takes to get up into the sky and down again, the higher it must be.
There is a station with some striking similarities
Alas, that can't be it either. To analyse the layer's altitude the signal would usually have a certain sound, like a car alarm going off – the result of varying the waves to get them just right. "They sound nothing like the Buzzer," says Stupples.

Intriguingly, there is a station with some striking similarities. The "Lincolnshire Poacher" ran from the mid-1970s to 2008. Just like the Buzzer, it could be heard on the other side of the planet. Just like the Buzzer, it emanated from an undisclosed location, thought to be somewhere in Cyprus. And just like the Buzzer, its transmissions were just plain creepy.

At the beginning of every hour, the station would play the first two bars of an English folk tune, the Lincolnshire Poacher.

"Oh 'tis my delight on a shining night
In the season of the year
When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire
'Twas well I served my master for nigh on seven years…"
After repeating this12 times, it would move on to messages read by the disembodied voice of a woman reading groups of five numbers – "1-2-0-3-6" – in a clipped, upper-class English accent.
To get to grips with what was going on, it helps to go back to the 1920s. The All-Russian Co-operative Society (Arcos) was an important trade body, responsible for overseeing transactions between the UK and the early Soviet Union. Or at least, that's what they said they did.




In May 1927, years after a British secret agent caught an employee sneaking into a communist news office in London, police officers stormed the Arcos building. The basement had been rigged with anti-intruder devices and they discovered a secret room with no door handle, in which workers were hurriedly burning documents.

It may have been dramatic, but the British didn't discover anything that they didn't already know. Instead the raid was a wake-up call to the Soviets, who discovered that MI5 had been listening in on them for years.

"This was a blunder of the very first order," says Anthony Glees, who directs the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham. To justify the raid, the prime minister had even read out some of the deciphered telegrams in the House of Commons.

The upshot was that the Russians completely reinvented the way messages are encrypted. Almost overnight, they switched to "one-time pads". In this system, a random key is generated by the person sending the message and shared only with the person receiving it. As long as the key really is perfectly random, the code cannot be cracked. There was no longer any need to worry about who could hear their messages.

Enter the "numbers stations" – radio stations that broadcast coded messages to spies all over the world. Soon even the British were doing it: if you can't beat them, join 'em, as they say. It's quite difficult to generate a completely random number because a system for doing so will, by its very nature, be predictable – exactly what you're trying to avoid. Instead officers in London found an ingenious solution.

They'd hang a microphone out of the window on Oxford Street and record the traffic. "There might be a bus beeping at the same time as a policeman shouting. The sound is unique, it will never happen again," says Stupples. Then they'd convert this into a random code.

Of course, that didn't stop people trying to break them. During World War Two, the British realised that they could, in fact, decipher the messages – but they'd have to get their hands on the one-time pad that was used to encrypt them. "We discovered that the Russians used the out-of-date sheets of one-time pads as substitute toilet paper in Russian army hospitals in East Germany," says Glees. Needless to say, British intelligence officers soon found themselves rifling through the contents of Soviet latrines.
Now North Korea are getting in on the act, too
The new channel of communication was so useful, it didn't take long before the numbers stations had popped up all over the world. There was the colourfully named "Nancy Adam Susan", "Russian Counting Man" and "Cherry Ripe" – the Lincolnshire Poacher's sister station, which also contained bars of an English folk song. In name at least, the Buzzer fits right in.

It also fits with a series of arrests across the United States back in 2010. The FBI announced that it had broken up a "long term, deep cover" network of Russian agents, who were said to have received their instructions via coded messages on shortwave radio – specifically 7887 kHz.




Now North Korea are getting in on the act, too. On 14 April 2017, the broadcaster at Radio Pyongyang began: "I'm giving review works in elementary information technology lessons of the remote education university for No 27 expedition agents." This ill-concealed military message was followed by a series of page numbers – No 69 on page 823, page 957 – which look a lot like code.
It may come as a surprise that numbers stations are still in use – but they hold one major advantage. Though it's possible to guess who is broadcasting, anyone can listen to the messages – so you don't know who they are being sent to. Mobile phones and the internet may be quicker, but open a text or email from a known intelligence agency and you could be rumbled.
It only becomes a numbers station in moments of crisis, such as if Russia were invaded
It's a compelling idea: the Buzzer has been hiding in plain sight, instructing a network of illicit Russian spies all over the world. There's just one problem. The Buzzer never broadcasts any numbered messages.

This doesn't strictly matter, since one-time pads can be used to translate anything – from code words to garbled speech. "If this phone call was encrypted you'd hear "…enejekdhejenw…' but then it would come out the other side sounding like normal speech," says Stupples. But this would leave traces in the signal.

To send information over the radio, essentially all you're doing is varying the height or spacing of the waves being transmitted. For example, two low waves in a row means x, or three waves closer together means y. When a signal is carrying information, instead of neat, evenly spaced waves like ripples on the ocean, you're left with a wave like the jagged silhouette of an ECG.




This isn't the Buzzer. Instead, many believe that the station is a hybrid of two things. The constant drone is just a marker, saying "this frequency is mine, this frequency is mine…" to stop people from using it.

It only becomes a numbers station in moments of crisis, such as if Russia were invaded. Then it would function as a way to instruct their worldwide spy network and military forces on standby in remote areas. After all, this is a country around 70 times the size of the UK.

It seems they're already been practicing. "In 2013 they issued a special message, 'COMMAND 135 ISSUED' that was said to be test message for full combat readiness," says Māris Goldmanis, a radio enthusiast who listens to the station from his home in the Baltic states.
The mystery of the Russian radio may have been solved. But if its fans are right, let's just hope that drone never stops.
--
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Can a Novel Be a Fugue?





The final page of Contrapunctus XIV.

Learning to play the piano as a kid, I was not especially fond of Bach. I loved Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorák, Brahms. Bach, on the other hand, hurt my head. Bach had to be practiced slowly, evenly, preferably with a metronome, and neither patience nor evenness was my strong suit. The melody was not predictably given to the right hand but passed from the right to the left and back, split into multiple voices that straddled the staffs, so that at any moment one might simultaneously be playing four or more melodic lines. In the pricey, blue-bound Henle urtext editions she had insisted I buy, my piano teacher marked with brackets the entrance of each voice. I couldn't do it myself. If Brahms felt like poetry, Bach felt like math. It was a kind of logic puzzle that I couldn't solve.
*
I struggled with the beginnings of my first novel for several years, as many writers do. I wrote a hundred pages and threw them out, unable to find the story's shape. I tried again. The germ of the story I was trying to figure out had come to me after hearing an April 2005 NPR piece about a mysterious man who had turned up on the southern coast of England, soaking wet, dressed in a formal suit. He couldn't say who he was or where he was from, but reportedly he played the piano like a virtuoso. Dubbed the "Piano Man" by the British tabloids, he seemed to be in the throes of a dissociative fugue. The image of this lost musician resonated with me, as it did with the thousands of people from around the world who called in to the missing-persons help line, thinking they recognized him, wanting to identify him, even as he so clearly seemed to want to evade identification, to escape.

The idea of a "fugue state" intrigued me: it spoke to migration as a flight not only from one's homeland but also from one's identity. Even though images of desperate refugees washing up on foreign shores had not yet become part of our public consciousness, the Piano Man piece got me thinking about what it meant to flee, to try to remake one's life in a new place, to forge a new identity. My Jewish grandparents on both sides had escaped Nazi Europe in 1939, almost too late, and although my family never used the word refugee, my childhood was shadowed by the unspoken question of who, if not for the war, we might have been. I wanted the figure of the Piano Man to shadow the narrative as a reminder of the losses and transformations that border crossings bring.
The word fugue comes from the Latin fugo, "flight," as well as fugere, "to flee" (as do the words fugitive and refugee). Migration and flight formed my novel's central themes. The novel's main character, Esther, has left her failing marriage and come to London following the death of her son. Esther's elderly mother, Lonia, floating in a kind of morphine-induced fugue, returns to memories of fleeing Eastern Europe in 1939. Esther's next-door neighbor, Javad, is a divorced neuroscientist who ran away from revolutionary Iran. And Javad's teenage son, Amir, escapes daily life by exploring the city's forbidden underground spaces. But I soon discovered that the real story was not about what my characters were running away from but about what they were running to—about their desire to connect.
*
As I wrangled with the novel's early drafts, I found myself drawn not only to the psychiatric sort of fugue but to the musical kind. I wrote with headphones on, listening obsessively to Bach. Merriam-Webster's defines the fugue as "a musical composition in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated by successively entering voices and contrapuntally developed in a continuous interweaving of the voice parts." I grew excited by the notion of a narrative structured, like a fugue, around "successively entering voices" and a counterpoint of interwoven images and themes. In fact, the terminology of the fugue explicitly suggests a narrative: the main theme of the fugue is called its subject, the individual parts are voices, an altered form of the subject presents an answer, and so on. Originally a form of vocal music, early fugues drew on the canzone, a type of Italian lyric poetry or song. If poetry was a kind of music, I wondered, could a novel be a fugue?
Modernist and postmodernist novelists have long sought alternatives to traditional narrative form. "If the writer were a free man and not a slave," Virginia Woolf once lamented, "there would be no plot." Milan Kundera decried the novel's reliance on "rules that do the author's work for him." But if you jettison conventional technique, what then? What principles of composition can give the novel what Henry James called "a deep-breathing economy and an organic form"?
One possibility is music. "All art constantly aspires to the condition of music," the Victorian critic Walter Pater famously said, alluding to the way music unifies subject matter and form. "I always think of my books as music before I write them," Virginia Woolf confided in a letter to the violinist Elizabeth Trevelyan. Shostakovich said he was "certain that Chekhov had constructed his short story 'The Black Monk' in sonata form"; Chekhov himself called another of his short stories, "Fortune," a "quasi-symphony." Anthony Burgess's novel Napoleon Symphony (1974) takes its shape from Beethoven's Eroica, as Richard Powers's The Gold Bug Variations (1991) does from Bach. With a nod to Bakhtin, Kundera describes his approach to writing as "polyphonic," a kind of "novelistic counterpoint" that works like "poetry much more than technique." Could I write a novel about fugues in the form of a fugue? The idea was thrilling. It seemed I'd finally found the key.
*
But what would a novel in the form of a fugue actually look like? The sheer difficulty of translating a musical fugue into prose actually seems to have attracted many writers to the project, although—perhaps fortunately—I didn't know it when I set out to try. While the terminology of the fugue suggests a story, strict fugal technique—in which the subject is repeated in almost exactly the same terms with the entrance of each voice—would make for a very strange narrative indeed. Likewise, the simultaneity characteristic of counterpoint is impossible to replicate in prose. Nevertheless, the fugue offers a powerful analogue for a narrative structure that operates by means of juxtaposed voices and patterns of images and themes. The sheer difficulty of translating a musical fugue into prose seems to have attracted many writers to the project, although—perhaps fortunately—I didn't know it when I set out to try. Scholars have long debated whether Joyce succeeded, in "The Sirens" chapter of Ulysses, in exactly replicating "a fugue with all the musical notations," although Burgess claimed that even "Joyce knew all along that he could not reproduce the form of a fugue."

Nevertheless, Dostoyevsky, Gide, Kundera, Nabokov, and Woolf, among others, were all attracted, in various ways, to the challenges of the fugue. For some, like Pound, the fugue evoked a "mystery" or "vortex" of pattern. To others, it offered a way of creating symmetry and contrast, a formal corollary to the lyricism of their prose. In his 1928 novel, Point Counter Point, Aldous Huxley strove to create a sense of harmony and modulation by juxtaposing multiple characters and themes. As the novel's character Philip Quarles (widely read as a stand-in for Huxley) writes in his notebook: "The musicalization of fiction … Get this in a novel. How? The transitions are easy enough. All you need is a sufficiency of characters and parallel, contrapuntal plots." Huxley's "ambitious novel" only very loosely follows the "rules" of a fugue, but it illustrates how fugal structure can help make narrative meaning, supplementing (even transforming) the all-too-often tedious mechanics of plot.
*
By the last decade of Bach's life, counterpoint had fallen out of favor. Enlightenment critics renounced the complexity and coded symbolism favored by Baroque composers, championing instead a less coolly esoteric, more emotional approach. By the 1740s, the idea of music as a "horizontal" interweaving of individual voices was giving way to the "vertical" method of composition, focused on a melody supported by a harmonic substructure of chords, that's still the norm today. But Bach didn't care about audience-pleasing melodies. Counterpoint, to him, represented more than a compositional technique: it marked the supreme expression of both cosmic order and the ineffable divine. As the composer and critic Wilfrid Mellers once quipped, Bach "plays to God and himself in an empty church." The writer James R. Gaines explains that "[Bach] was attempting to come as close as anyone had come before to the celestial music of a divinely ordered universe, the very music of Creation." His late works—including the Musical Offering, the Goldberg Variations, and The Art of Fugue—display a contrapuntal sophistication never seen before or since. Mirror canons, crab canons, augmentation and diminution canons, canons at every interval, canonic fugues, double, triple, and quadruple fugues: The Art of Fugue contains them all, each "contrapunctus" a variation on one central D-minor theme. For the pianist Glenn Gould, the piece calls up "an endless range of gray tints … It leaves the extraordinary impression of an infinitely expanding universe." Meaning, in Bach, is inseparable from form.

Nearly blind and debilitated by a stroke, Bach died before completing The Art of Fugue, bequeathing to generations of musicologists an unsolvable mystery. The final fugue breaks off shortly after introducing its third subject, which, perhaps tellingly, leads off with the notes B-flat, A, C, and B-natural—the letters of Bach's name (the letter h is b in German). Some say the four notes were Bach's way of putting his signature on his life's work. A few even argue that Bach may have deliberately left the fugue unfinished as an invitation to others to finish the composition in their own way. Whatever Bach intended, there is a powerful emotional impact to the way the "contrapuncti" of The Art of Fugue build in intricacy and grandeur before abruptly fading away. As Gould said: "I really can't think of any music that moved me more deeply than that last fugue."
*
Bach's Art of Fugue gave me a structure—four alternating third-person points of view—as well as an early working title for my book. It also impelled me to focus on image patterns rather than on themes or plot. Early on, I spent a lot of time simply looking for connections. I found that I kept coming back to certain images: flight, heights, stars, water, grayness, music, underground. I even mapped these patterns—analogous to the repeated melodic elements of a fugue—on a chart that looked a bit like a musical staff. For example, Lonia's memories of escaping occupied Czechoslovakia through a coal mine resonates with Amir's exploration of a disused tunnel in the London Underground on the eve of the 7/7 terrorist attacks; ultimately, the "counterpoint" of images suggests broader parallels between the Holocaust and contemporary political violence and fears.

Novels that take a musical form demand a lot of readers, who must make connections among multiple storylines, nonsequential time frames, shifting points of view and narrative voices, and a greater complexity of repetition, rhythm, and other kinds of patterns than is found in more conventional, plot-driven texts. But for me, as a writer, the form was what I needed to open up the story. It offered a supple metaphor for the ways our lives may intertwine with others but remain so difficult to connect. Fleeing, chasing, and echoing in endless variation, the voices of the fugue illuminated the paths of my characters' migrations through time and space.


Margot Singer's novel, Underground Fugue, was published in April. Her story collection, The Pale of Settlement, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Reform Judaism Prize for Jewish Fiction, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award.

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Jim Marrs, RIP - disinformation


Posted By: Disinformation Aug 3, 2017
The family of Jim Marrs have announced that Jim died on August 2, 2017, via Facebook:
From the family of Jim Marrs: Jim died today from a heart attack. We will celebrate his life next month with a Texas size wake at our house.
Everyone at Disinformation will miss Jim and offers condolences to his family. We remember Jim always as the author of many disinformation books and numerous posts and stories on this site.

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If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef - The Atlantic


With one dietary change, the U.S. could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals.


Soybeans in a silo at a cattle feed in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil Mario Tama / Getty

Ecoanxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with "watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations."

It's not a formal diagnosis. Anxiety is traditionally defined by an outsized stress response to a given stimulus. In this case, the stimulus is real, as are the deleterious effects of stress on the body.
This sort of disposition toward ecological-based distress does not pair well with a president who has denied the reality of the basis for this anxiety. Donald Trump has called climate change a fabrication on the part of "the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." He has also led the United States to become the only G20 country that will not honor the Paris Climate Accord, and who has appointed fossil-fuel advocates to lead the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency.

For people who experience climate-related anxiety, this all serves as a sort of exacerbation by presidential gaslight. The remedy for a condition like this is knowing what can be done to mitigate environmental degradation, from within in a country singularly committed to it.
Like what?

Helen Harwatt is a researcher trained in environmental nutrition, a field focused on developing food systems that balance human health and sustainability. She's interested in policy, but realistic about how much progress can be expected under the aforementioned leadership. So she and colleagues have done research on maximizing the impacts of individuals. As with so many things in life and health, that tends to come down to food.

Recently Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to do that—hypothetically—the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009.

That is, even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed—and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese—this one dietary change could achieve somewhere between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target.

"I think there's genuinely a lack of awareness about how much impact this sort of change can have," Harwatt told me. There have been analyses in the past about the environmental impacts of veganism and vegetariansim, but this study is novel for the idea that a person's dedication to the cause doesn't have to be complete in order to matter. A relatively small, single-food substitution could be the most powerful change a person makes in terms of their lifetime environmental impact—more so than downsizing one's car, or being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly more than quitting showering.

To understand why the climate impact of beef alone is so large, note that the image at the top of this story is a sea of soybeans in a silo in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The beans belong to a feed lot that holds 38,000 cattle, the growth and fattening of which means dispensing 900 metric tons of feed every day. Which is to say that these beans will be eaten by cows, and the cows will convert the beans to meat, and the humans will eat the meat. In the process, the cows will emit much greenhouse gas, and they will consume far more calories in beans than they will yield in meat, meaning far more clearcutting of forests to farm cattle feed than would be necessary if the beans above were simply eaten by people.

This inefficient process happens on a massive scale. Brazil, the world's largest exporter of red meat, holds around 212 million cattle. (In June, the U.S. temporarily suspended imports of beef from Brazil due to abscesses, collections of pus, in the meat.) According to the United Nations, 33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to grow feed for livestock. Even more, 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products.

This means much less deforestation and land degradation if so many plant crops weren't run through the digestive tracts of cattle. If Americans traded their beef for beans, the researchers found, that would free up 42 percent of U.S. crop land.

"The real beauty of this kind of thing is that climate impact doesn't have to be policy-driven," said Harwatt. "It can just be a positive, empowering thing for consumers to see that they can make a significant impact by doing something as simple as eating beans instead of beef."

She and her colleagues conclude in the journal Climatic Change: "While not currently recognized as a climate policy option, the 'beans for beef' scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts."
The beans for beef scenario is, it seems, upon us.

"I think it's such an easy-to-grasp concept that it could be less challenging than a whole dietary shift," said Harwatt. The words vegetarian and vegan have stifled some people's thinking on what it means to eat well—to consume responsibly, conscientiously. Rather the beans for beef scenario is the dietary equivalent of effective altruism—focusing on where efforts will have the highest yield. "It's kind of a worst-first approach, looking at the hottest spot in the food system in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, and what could that be substituted with without losing protein and calories in the food system? And at the same time, gaining health benefits."

In addition to the well-documented health benefits of a plant-based diet, this case also brings empowerment, or at least reprieve. Regardless of a person's degree of ecoanxiety, there is some recourse in knowing how far individuals can go to make up for a regressive federal administration simply by eating beans.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bus seats mistaken for burqas by members of anti-immigrant group


Comments posted on Norwegian 'Fatherland first' Facebook group call empty seats on Oslo bus 'terrifying'


The bus seats in a picture posted on Fedrelandet Viktigst, or Fatherland first. Photograph: Facebook
Jon Henley European affairs correspondent
Wednesday 2 August 2017 06.26 EDT Last modified on Wednesday 2 August 2017 14.57 EDT
A Norwegian anti-immigrant group has been roundly ridiculed after members apparently mistook a photograph of six empty Oslo bus seats posted on its Facebook page for a group of women wearing burqas.

"Tragic", "terrifying" and "disgusting" were among the comments posted by members of the closed Fedrelandet viktigst, or "Fatherland first", group beneath the photograph, according to screenshots on the Norwegian news website Nettavisen.

Other members of the 13,000-strong group, for people "who love Norway and appreciate what our ancestors fought for", wondered whether the non-existent passengers might be carrying bombs or weapons beneath their clothes. "This looks really scary," wrote one. "Should be banned. You can't tell who's underneath. Could be terrorists."

Further comments read: "Ghastly. This should never happen," "Islam is and always will be a curse," "Get them out of our country – frightening times we are living in," and: "I thought it would be like this in the year 2050, but it is happening NOW," according to thelocal.no and other media.

The photograph was posted "for a joke" last week by Johan Slåttavik, beneath a question asking the group: "What do we think of this?" He told Nettavisen he was "interested to see how people's perceptions of an image are influenced by how others around them react. I ended up having a good laugh."

It went viral in Norway after others shared screenshots of the nationalist group's outraged reactions. Sindre Beyer, a former Labour party MP who said he has been following Fatherland First for some time, published 23 pages of the group's comments.

"What happens when a photo of some empty bus seats is posted to a disgusting Facebook group, and nearly everyone thinks they see a bunch of burqas?" he asked in a post shared more than 1,800 times.
The comments suggested the vast majority of the anti-immigrant group's members saw the photo as evidence of the ongoing "Islamification" of Norway, although a small number pointed out it was in fact a picture of bus seats. One warned the group was making itself look ridiculous.

Beyer told Nettavisen: "I'm shocked at how much hate and fake news is spread [on the Fedrelandet viktigst page]. So much hatred against empty bus seats certainly shows that prejudice wins out over wisdom."

The head of Norway's Antiracist Centre, Rune Berglund Steen, told the site that people plainly "see what they want to see – and what these people want to see are dangerous Muslims".

Norway recently became the latest European country to propose restrictions on the wearing of burqas and niqabs, tabling a law that will bar them from kindergartens, schools and universities. France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria and the German state of Bavaria all restrict full-face veils in public places.

The country's minority government, a coalition of the centre-right Conservatives and the populist Progress party that faces elections next month, said in June it was confident it would find opposition support for the move.

Per Sandberg, then acting immigration and integration minister, told a press conference that face-covering garments such as the niqab or burqa "do not belong in Norwegian schools. The ability to communicate is a basic value."


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Monsanto and Bayer are Maneuvering to Take Over the Cannabis Industry - Waking Times



Phillip Schneider, Staff Writer
Waking Times

It has been rumored for years that Monsanto plans to take over the cannabis industry with genetic engineering just as they've taken over the corn and soy industries. Although they have always denied having any intentions to do so, at this point it is unlikely that anybody really believes them. In contrast, many in the cannabis sphere are prepared to resist any kind of GMO takeover of marijuana by Monsanto or any of their cohorts.

Evidence is mounting, though, which points strongly to the notion that Monsanto does indeed plan to take control of the cannabis plant, and it doesn't look good for medical users, or anyone planning on getting into the industry.

Former Nazi Collaborator Bayer Buys Out Monsanto for $66 Billion

You may remember hearing back in September that Bayer, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, made a deal to buy out Monsanto for $66 billion. Although Monsanto was voted the most evil company in the world in 2013 and its reputation has continued to fall since, Bayer still went ahead with the buyout.

A merger between these two companies is unsurprising, as though they both have long histories of involvement with Nazism and chemical weapons like agent orange which have devastated Vietnam since the war. In fact, Bayer began as a break-off company of the infamous IG Farben, which produced the chemical weapons used on the Jews during the Nazi reign. After the war, Farben was forced to break up into several companies, including BASF, Hoeschst, and Bayer.

Soon after at the Nuremberg trials, 24 Farben executives were sent to prison for crimes against humanity. However, in a matter of just 7 years each of them was released and began filling high positions in each of the former Farben companies, and many of them began working for the Russian, British, and American governments through a joint intelligence venture called "Operation Paperclip".
"IG (Interessengemeinschaft) stands for "Association of Common Interests": The IG Farben cartel included BASF, Bayer, Hoechst, and other German chemical and pharmaceutical companies. As documents show, IG Farben was intimately involved with the human experimental atrocities committed by Mengele at Auschwitz. A German watchdog organization, the GBG Network, maintains copious documents and tracks Bayer Pharmaceutical activities." – Alliance for Human Research Protection
After all these years, Bayer is now richer and more powerful than their predecessor company I.G. Farben ever was.

Monsanto And Miracle-Gro Have Intimate Business Ties

According to Big Buds Magazine, Monsanto and Scotts Miracle-Gro have a "deep business partnership" and plan on taking over the cannabis industry. Hawthorne, a front group for Scotts, has already purchased three of the major cannabis growing companies: General Hydroponics, Botanicare, and Gavita. Many other hydroponics companies have also reported attempted buyouts by Hawthorne.
"They want to bypass hydroponics retail stores…When we said we won't get in bed with them they said, 'Well, we could just buy your whole company like we did with Gavita and do whatever we want.'" – Hydroponics Lighting Representative
Jim Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, has even said that he plans to "invest, like, half a billion in [taking over] the pot business… It is the biggest thing I've ever seen in lawn and garden."
He has also invested in companies such as Leaf, which grows cannabis in an electronically regulated indoor terrarium accessible via smartphone.

Bayer and Monsanto Trade Industry Secrets On Producing GMO Marijuana

It is logical that Bayer, being the parent company, would work together with Monsanto in order to share secrets which would advance mutual business. Many people in the cannabis industry have been warning about this, including Michael Straumietis, founder and owner of Advanced Nutrients.
"Monsanto and Bayer share information about genetically modifying crops," Straumietis notes. "Bayer partners with GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows its own proprietary marijuana genetics. It's logical to conclude that Monsanto and Bayer want to create GMO marijuana." – Michael Straumietis

Conclusion

It is possible that Bayer and Monsanto could create a monopoly on marijuana seeds in the same way that they have created a monopoly on corn and soy. Through immense corporate power and the enforcement of international patent law, these corporations could place themselves in a position of total control over cannabis as a medicine as well as for recreational use by using the same model as they do with the food crops they control.
But not all hope is lost. There is still a chance to fight back against the Bayer-Monsanto monopoly by boycotting genetically engineered products, Miracle-Gro and other Scotts brand products, Bayer pharmaceuticals, and companies that do business with any of these. You could even store seeds if you live in an area where it is legal and grow your own, while supporting hydroponics and nutrient companies that don't do business with these corporate behemoths.
"Corporations and people with hundreds of billions of dollars know marijuana is a miracle plant. They want to come in and steal our plants, seeds, and industry from us, [and] we must stop them." – Straumietis

About the Author

Phillip Schneider is a student and a staff writer for Waking Times.
This article (Monsanto and Bayer are Maneuvering to Take Over the Cannabis Industry) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Phillip Schneider and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.

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The story behind Jared Kushner's curious acceptance into Harvard


Nov. 29, 2016 11:00 AM


I would like to express my gratitude to Jared Kushner for reviving interest in my 2006 book, The Price of Admission. I have never met or spoken with him, and it's rare in this life to find such a selfless benefactor. Of course, I doubt he became Donald Trump's son-in-law and consigliere merely to boost my lagging sales, but still, I'm thankful.

My book exposed a grubby secret of American higher education: that the rich buy their underachieving children's way into elite universities with massive, tax-deductible donations. It reported that New Jersey real estate developer Charles Kushner had pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University in 1998, not long before his son Jared was admitted to the prestigious Ivy League school. At the time, Harvard accepted about one of every nine applicants. (Nowadays, it only takes 1 out of 20.)

I also quoted administrators at Jared's high school, who described him as a less than stellar student and expressed dismay at Harvard's decision.

"There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard," a former official at The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, told me. "His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not."
Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies, said in an email Thursday that "the allegation" that Charles Kushner's gift to Harvard was related to Jared's admission "is and always has been false." His parents, Charles and Seryl Kushner, "are enormously generous and have donated over 100 million dollars to universities, hospitals and other charitable causes. Jared Kushner was an excellent student in high school and graduated from Harvard with honors." (About 90 percent of Jared's 2003 class at Harvard also graduated with honors.)

My Kushner discoveries were an offshoot of my research for a chapter on Harvard donors. Somebody had slipped me a document I had long coveted: the membership list of Harvard's Committee on University Resources. The university wooed more than 400 of its biggest givers and most promising prospects by putting them on this committee and inviting them to campus periodically to be wined, dined, and subjected to lectures by eminent professors.

My idea was to figure out how many children of these corporate titans, oil barons, money managers, lawyers, high-tech consultants and old-money heirs had gone to Harvard. A disproportionate tally might suggest that the university eased its standards for the offspring of wealthy backers.

I began working through the list, poring over "Who's Who in America" and Harvard class reunion reports for family information. Charles and Seryl Kushner were both on the committee. I had never heard of them, but their joint presence struck me as a sign that Harvard's fundraising machine held the couple in especially fond regard.

The clips showed that Charles Kushner's empire encompassed 25,000 New Jersey apartments, along with extensive office, industrial, and retail space and undeveloped land. Unlike most of his fellow committee members, though, Kushner was not a Harvard man. He had graduated from New York University. This eliminated the sentimental tug of the alma mater as a reason for him to give to Harvard, leaving another likely explanation: his children.

Sure enough, his sons Jared and Joshua had both enrolled there.

Charles Kushner differed from his peers on the committee in another way; he had a criminal record. Five years after Jared entered Harvard, the elder Kushner pleaded guilty in 2004 to tax violations, illegal campaign donations, and retaliating against a witness. (As it happens, the prosecutor in the case was Chris Christie, recently ousted as the head of Trump's transition team.) Charles Kushner had hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, who was cooperating with federal authorities. Kushner then had a videotape of the tryst sent to his sister. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison.
I completed my analysis, which justified my hunch. Of the 400-plus tycoons on Harvard's list—which included people who were childless or too young to have college-age offspring—more than half had sent at least one child to the university.

I also decided that the Kushner-Harvard relationship deserved special attention. Although the university often heralded big gifts in press releases or a bulletin called 2014 in a classic example of fundraising wit, "Re:sources"—a search of these outlets came up empty. Harvard didn't seem eager to be publicly associated with Charles Kushner.

While looking into Kushner's taxes, though, federal authorities had subpoenaed records of his charitable giving. I learned that in 1998, when Jared was attending The Frisch School and starting to look at colleges, his father had pledged $2.5 million to Harvard, to be paid in annual installments of $250,000. Charles Kushner also visited Neil Rudenstine, then Harvard president, and discussed funding a scholarship program for low- and middle-income students.

I phoned a Harvard official, with whom I was on friendly terms. First I asked whether the gift played any role in Jared's admission. "You know we don't comment on individual applicants," he said. When I pressed further, he hung up. We haven't spoken since.

At Harvard, Jared Kushner majored in government. Now the 35-year-old is poised to become the power behind the presidency. What he plans to do, and in what direction he and his father-in-law will lead the country, are far more important than his high school grades
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