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Dear Refugees: Trump is Doing You a Favor


Donald Trump’s Muslim ban does refugees a favor. He prevents them from coming to a country that is now the freest police state in the world. It has flirted with that, in the era of McCarthyism. Then came George W. Bush, the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the Patriot Act. The Bush regime tried to put away the fire by dousing gasoline on it. In large measure, and the massive complicity of Saudi Arabia and in smaller measure Turkey, we owe them the conflicts raging today in the Middle East.

With his latest outrage, Donald Trump has made abundantly clear two things. He is unfit to serve. He pushed through the measures by keeping his own cabinet in the dark. Presumably this was orchestrated by his special adviser Stephen Bannon, a man of far-right convictions. In other words, a fascist. For, make no mistake, Trump would be one, if he knew what fascism is. But a man with such limited vocabulary and a brain so thoroughly ruined by being glued to a TV screen or his mirror cannot understand even more basic things. The 140-character limit on Twitter is the measure of his culture, or lack thereof.

Yet beyond the obvious idiocy and incompetence of the man currently, incredibly, sitting in the White House, what is at stake here is governance. Trump is upending governance processes that have been developed over the years to run as smoothly as possible the complex administration of the most powerful country in the world. Trump’s recklessness compromises the national interest so gravely that Congress will have to act soon to impeach him and ship him back to his ghastly building of plastic gold accents that defiles the Manhattan skyline, as phony as the dye of his ridiculous hairdo.

The second, perhaps more significant aspect of his “Muslim ban” is the cruelty of the decision. Refugees are perhaps the most thoroughly vetted immigrants in the U.S. Anyone who calls for “tougher measures,” like the useful idiots who justify Trump’s ban, are Americans who have never endured the grueling humiliations not only refugees, but immigrants born in the “wrong” country can be subjected to, including once this correspondent—who left Aleppo at the age of one year and a half in 1970 to never return—whom a border guard once asked “why” he was born in Syria. But as historian Edward Gibbon has written in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, men who are immoral in their private lives preach morality in their public lives. Gibbon was referring to Emperor Constantine the Great, certainly not even remotely comparable to the reality show buffoon whom a minority of American voters, by a quirk of the electoral college system, made their president.

But Donald Trump is a depraved individual, a coward who shuts the door of his house to people fleeing for their lives. He never stopped being the schoolyard bully, who beat up classmates and pelted teachers with stones. That such a degenerate has become president, with a “p” as small as his brain, of the United States, says a lot about the state of the country, or at least the half that put him where he is. The other half, Obama’s America, has taken to the streets to repudiate the abject character that is now running their country. This includes, we should say, not only the millions of women who took to the streets to protest this president, but also corporate leaders like Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and others.

So, dear refugees: stop wailing about your hopes and your love of the American Dream. Wake up to the American Reality and look it in the face: it’s Donald Trump’s ugly one, now that Obama is gone. The graffiti outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, pictured above, has now come to symbolize, truly, what the Statue of Liberty has become under this leader.

As for the White House spokesperson who rightly said that Trump is fulfilling his promises—to the endless shame of those who voted him into power—we can only say that Hitler did, too.

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Journalism Worth Paying For


A team of seven New York Times journalists published a special report last week articulating the vision for the publication for 2020, entitled “Journalism That Stands Apart.” The report underlines the emphasis on the digital nature of news, under the principle of “a subscription-first business.” Then it looks into what the paper should do to gain more subscribers when news are free on the Internet.

The report details all the New York Times has gained since implementing its paywall in 2011. A chart shows how subscription income equaled revenue from advertising the same year and then overtook it, growing every year since, while advertising declined matching the rest of the industry. The company is listed, so the information can be verified. The Times today has more than 1.5 million subscribers who only pay for the digital version. Another million subscribers get the print paper. Both coexis. What’s the formula?

Somewhat unexpectedly, the print version is the blueprint. The Times created the “print hub” to coordinate which part of all the available income would reach the paper’s print version. It turned out that this operation, quite small and efficient, enabled innovation. While coordinating the print version is the only process at other newspapers, The Times seems to have been able to take a step back to see what lessons are valid for the digital world. The report breaks them down into three sections: content, personal and processes.

First comes news worth paying for. The Times produces a daily average of 200 pieces. The least read ones are the standard fare: pure text, little added value, no images, and the same you would find in other papers. Often they don’t  de 200 notas. Las menos leídas son las “reglamentarias”: puro texto, con poco valor agregado, sin imágenes e iguales a las de otros medios. “They frequently do not clear the bar of journalism worth paying for, because similar versions are available free elsewhere,” the report says. To achieve that, format matters a lot: that is, devoting the same effort as for the rest of the journalistic work. Photographers, videographers and designers are also journalists.

The goal is that each story be “so much better than the competition’s coverage… that we can plausibly ask readers to pay for our own.” The report adds: “distinctive journalism, in a comfortable form, that expands their understanding of the world and helps them navigate it.” The conclusion: “We must act with urgency.”

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The Vikings: How History Becomes Myth, and Vice Versa

Few ancient peoples are so deeply ingrained in modern imagination as the Vikings. They generally inspire awe, rather than admiration (like ancient Egyptians might). Yet perhaps we owe them a little respect. Indeed, “Viking” is a Norse word that means “raider.” It’s “a job description,” as historian Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough says.

But she also warns that legends and accounts their enemies wrote eventually shaped much of the collective preconceptions about Vikings. “The first big Viking raid took place around A.D. 793 on the island of Lindisfarne, home of the Lindisfarne Gospels.” Yet Barraclough also reminds us that what we know about this raid comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written a century later under King Alfred, a Viking basher.

And around that time, an Anglo-Saxon cleric at the court of King Charlemagne, named Alcuin, wrote a letter to the abbot of Lindisfarne, saying “Never before has a terror appeared on our shores like this. Remember the words of the prophets, from the north, evil breaks forth.”

In other words, propaganda by Vikings’ rivals. Animosity towards them would survive well into the 20th century. Soviets were loath to even consider that these Nordic invaders may have, well, founded Kievan Rus, the foundation of present-day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It was a slap in the face of the pan-Slavic discourse that was truly at the root of Soviet doctrine.

Oh, and if you are thinking about the bloody bits, consider this. That torture known as “Blood Eagle” may have come from obscure skaldic verses. Perhaps it was a metaphor about a bird of prey. Most likely, it was a literary figure.

Perhaps Vikings should be remembered as bold seafarers who had arrived much earlier than Christopher Columbus in the Americas. They had at least temporary settlements in Newfoundland. “They colonized the North Atlantic, parts of the Scottish Isles, Iceland. They’re in Arctic Scandinavia and on the Russian waterways. They founded a colony in Greenland that lasted 500 years and got all the way to the edge of North America.” To this day, legends circulate in the Argentine province of Misiones that Vikings may have arrived as far south as there.

In other words, the written word converts myth into history. And vice versa.