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Phobophobes Announces New Single and UK Tour with LIFE – Broadway World

Posted: February 20, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Phobophobes rise into 2017 nestled atop a wave of attention focused towards the revitalized South London scene with new single ‘The Never Never’, due for release March 24th via Ra-Ra Rok Records. Following previous single ‘Human Baby’, an elegy to their late guitarist George Russell that was played every day for a week on BBC 6Music, ‘The Never Never’ arrives an ode to the precarious survivalism of society’s most disenfranchised. Swirling through repetitive slogans, rubbishing the adverts that promise a life we can’t really afford as pastiche, and asking earnestly, “what separates those treading water to survive from the religious idols who struggled so similarly?”

“The Never Never is a critique of today’s excessive consumerism. The repetitive and slogan-esque nature of the track evokes the reductive nature of advertising.” explains frontman Jamie Taylor.

In the wake of a tumultuous 2016, Phobophobes continue to forge their own path, taking whatever’s thrown at them and squeezing every ounce of inspiration from it. It’s the only way they know. Frontman Jamie Taylor has built studio space wherever he’s roamed, from Paris to Peckham to Primrose Hill. Even Pittsburgh, Iowa, Palm Beach and New York whilst working on a touring art exhibition across America, setting up a studio in each hotel room to work on new tracks. Even when invited to Abbey Road Studios to record with Ken Scott (Bowie, Lennon, the list goes on), bass player at the time, Elliot, took swabs of their oldest microphone and grew bacteria in petri dishes, the results of which are immortalised in Phobophobes’ artwork and in the centre of their 7″s.

This boundless DIY mentality echoes through Phobophobes’ every move. Having now found home in the basement of The Brixton Windmill, the nucleus of South London’s gig circuit where Phobophobes record, rehearse and also put on their own shows, playing alongside Shame, Goat Girl, Meatraffle, The Fat White Family, Childhood and countless others, they remain progenitors of the scene.

Following a single launch show at London’s MOTH Club, Phobophobes will tour the UK with LIFE through April on the dates below. The band are currently readying their debut full-length album and will release ‘The Never Never’ on 7″ vinyl this March 24th via Ra-Ra Rok Records.

PHOBOPHOBES New 7″ single ‘The Never Never’ due March 24th via Ra-Ra Rok Records

Stream ‘The Never Never’ https://soundcloud.com/phobophobes/the-never-never-single

UK Tour with LIFE begins April 1st


March 13 London, Moth Club (single launch)

April w/ LIFE 1 Hull, The Welly Club 2 Glasgow, King Tuts 3 Manchester, Gullivers 5 Birmingham, The Sunflower Lounge 6 London, Camden Assembly 7 Bristol, Crofters Rights

Phobophobes are: Jamie Taylor (Guitar/Vocals), Chris OC (Keys), Dan Lyons (Drums), Jack Fussey (Guitar), Bede Trillo (Bass) & Christo McCracken (Guitar).

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Phobophobes Announces New Single and UK Tour with LIFE – Broadway World

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Jim Brown, new Ayn Rand Institute CEO: ‘Culture and society out there can look pretty irrational. Just look at the … – Los Angeles Times

Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:44 am

The Orange County-based Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), founded in Los Angeles in 1985 to advance the writer’s philosophy of objectivism, recently announced that Jim Brown has taken over as the new chief executive officer.

The nonprofit organization, which moved to Irvine in June 2002, distributes free books to teachers, sponsors cash-prize essay contests for high school and college students and offers free online courses for adults. It was founded by longtime Orange County resident Leonard Peikoff, the author and philosophy professor whom Rand, who died in 1982, chose as her heir.

The Russian-born writer escaped Soviet Russia, came to America and lived in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, writing screenplays, a Broadway play and nonfiction works on epistemology which to Rand was the study of how humans acquire knowledge art and ethics. Her best-known novels include “Anthem,” “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” which depicts a dystopian U.S. where thinkers and creators go on strike when confronted with aggressive new regulations.

“Atlas Shrugged” was not critically well received when it was published in 1957, but it became a best-seller and later a rallying cry for the tea party movement.

In 1962, Rand was asked to write a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times. Her first was a brief introduction to objectivism. She described it as objective reality in metaphysics, reason in epistemology, self-interest in ethics and capitalism in politics.

In a 1959 TV interview, according to BBC News, Rand had offered this explanation: Man’s “highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness and that he must not force other people, nor accept their right to force him, that each man must live as an end in himself and follow his own rational self-interest.”

In 1985, Michael S. Berliner, then the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, attempted to clarify what he considered a misconception that Rand’s philosophy gave rise to or was somehow associated with libertarianism. He explained that she “thoroughly repudiated libertarianism and the anarchism that dominates that movement.”

“Objectivism stands for reason, rational self-interest and laissez-faire capitalism, including absolute individual rights,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. “It is a systematic, integrated view of existence, in direct contrast to the anti-philosophic, subjectivist approach of the libertarians. Having no interest in fundamental principles, libertarians make common cause with anyone, including terrorists, opposed to government, especially the United States government,” he wrote.

With the naming of Brown, the institute has deviated from its two previous leaders, who were academics. In a statement, ARI referred to his 30-year finance career and military service in the U.S. Air Force.

Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the United States Air Force Academy and an MBA from Harvard Business School, it said.

The husband, father and retired chartered financial analyst was interviewed at his new office in Irvine.

Below are excerpts from the conversation.

Weekend: Do you have a favorite lecture by Ayn Rand?

Brown: I do because it’s the only one I ever saw in person. In 1977, I saw [Ayn Rand deliver her talk] “Global Balkanization” at the Ford Hall Forum [a lecture series at Northeastern University from 1961 to 1998] in Boston. I walked in and [former Federal Reserve Board Chairman] Alan Greenspan was sitting on the floor playing chess with someone in the foyer. By then, he’d been on President Ford’s Council of Economic Advisers, so even then he was famous. Of course, when Ayn Rand came up this little, tiny woman with this heavy Russian accent it was amazing. I’ve reread that talk a few times. This is the essay in which she talked about classifying people according to ethnicity or arbitrary racial classifications, and she systematically demolishes it as any type of rational thinking at all. The Q and A was interesting too. She was so clear on what she wanted to say in answer to every question.

Weekend: How can the Ayn Rand Institute improve?

Brown: We have to get the ideas out and we have challenges in that area including resistance in the culture. I don’t have to remind anyone reading this that the culture and society out there can look pretty irrational. Just look at the last election. But that’s not the biggest obstacle to our success. I think the biggest obstacle to our success is right here in the objectivist movement. Sometimes, we can’t get out of our own way.

So the room for improvement is what we can change about our movement. How can we make the movement more effective? I really believe strongly and we are starting to develop this idea here at the Institute that we need to develop a sense of community among objectivists. And that can only begin here at the Ayn Rand Institute. If we are going to try to help foster and develop this, it has to start here. We want to increase awareness, understanding and acceptance of the philosophy of Ayn Rand, objectivism. That is what we are about. So we have to give people something of value, probably over a period of years, before we can expect to have earned their support. Just like Say’s Law in economics, you have to produce before you can profit. That is what I think we’re doing: We’re investing in people’s minds, persuasion and in the influence of a philosophy that’s a gift to the world in my view. When we have done that, we can hope and expect that they will support us because we will have earned it.

Weekend: What’s your favorite work by Ayn Rand Institute founder Leonard Peikoff?

Brown: For comprehensive understanding, “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.” For sheer pleasure, [the audio lecture course] “Eight Great Plays.” I love it. For immediate impact on my life, his objective communication course is excellent. I still use “motivation, structure, concretize, delimit” everywhere I go.

Weekend: Which Ayn Rand book is the most effective in reaching the reader?

Brown: “Atlas Shrugged.” There are a lot of ways you could measure what’s most effective, but the way I interpret your question is which Ayn Rand book has the biggest impact on the maximum number of people, and it has to be “Atlas Shrugged.” Everyone’s talking about “Atlas Shrugged.”

Weekend: Businessmen are depicted as villains not just as heroes in “Atlas Shrugged.” Can you name three businessmen who are like villains in today’s mixed economy?

Brown: If you look at [Ayn Rand’s] “The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy,” she talks about the money-making mentality and the moneymaker versus the money appropriator. [ Rand] also states in there, pretty explicitly, that there’s often a combination and a mix. That’s the way I think of most of today’s businessmen. It’s difficult to evaluate in today’s mixed economy who’s the moneymaker and who’s the money appropriator. For example, I’d put [GE Chairman and CEO] Jeffrey Immelt as more of an appropriator, though he’s undoubtedly a talented businessman. I’d put [Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO] Rex Tillerson along the lines of the moneymaker, besides obvious ones such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and probably Jeff Bezos.

Weekend: Is there a single quality that you acquired during your military aviation career that uniquely applies to your new role as CEO?

Brown: The first thing that comes to mind is an appreciation for working cooperatively and collaborating with people. If you have a big air crew, you can’t just be the boss and make commands. You’re in charge and you can’t just tell people what to do if you want to get some new programs done or you’re trying to move classes through administration to train 500 pilots a year. You have to give people responsibilities, have them commit to their responsibilities and own it. If you can get people to own their responsibilities, then reporting to you is a cooperative venture, not a command-and-control venture. I really learned that in spades as a flight commander and as a squadron commander when I was training pilots.

Weekend: What is the Ayn Rand Institute’s greatest success in its 32-year mission to advance objectivism?

Brown: Getting Ayn Rand’s books specifically her fiction into people’s hands.

Weekend: How do you guard your leadership against sycophants in favor of people who might be more willing to tell you and ARI what they think you might not want to hear?

Brown: That’s a very good question. It’s a reason for collaboration. You only get sycophants if you’re an authoritarian, because you can’t spot them if you’re an authoritarian.

Weekend: What is the most misunderstood part of objectivism?

Brown: I think it’s this notion of objectivists as righteously selfish people who are mean-spirited, unconcerned and unloving. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Weekend: How will you know you’ve succeeded at ARI?

Brown: The first successful milestone that I would really take pride in is when people say that the Ayn Rand Institute is a wonderful place to work.

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Jim Brown, new Ayn Rand Institute CEO: ‘Culture and society out there can look pretty irrational. Just look at the … – Los Angeles Times

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Scientists say we can clone a woolly mammoth. But should we? – Christian Science Monitor

Posted: at 4:20 am

February 16, 2017 This is not your parents’ “Jurassic Park.”

Harnessing the power of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool, a team of Harvard researchers is slowly coaxing woolly mammoth-like traits out of normal elephant cells. But recent claims that theyre close to creating a hybrid embryo have raised questions regarding the ethics of the procedure.

The issues range from questions of practicality Should we risk impregnating an endangered elephant with an experimental embryo? to an ethical Pandora’s box: Would the ability to bring species back from the dead derail conservation efforts?

But geneticist George Church says he believes letting the research continue would produce the benefits that go beyond the chance to see an extinct creature, suggesting the reintroduction of the woolly mammoth might mitigate climate change.

Except it wouldn’t be a mammoth, exactly.

“Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo, Dr. Church told the Guardian. Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. Were not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years.

The phrase mammoth cloning may conjure up images of scientists extracting amber-bound DNA and incubating it in frogs as in the 1993 film “Jurassic Park,” but it means something quite different to Church.

Instead of re-creating an extinct organism, his team is trying to create a hybrid mammophant. Starting with the woolly mammoths closest living relative, the Asian elephant, Church uses theCRISPRprecision gene editing tool to snip and splice in mammoth genes, granting mammoth-like characteristics such as a shaggy coat, extra fat, and cold-resistant blood.

The list of edits affects things that contribute to the success of elephants in cold environments. We already know about ones to do with small ears, subcutaneous fat, hair, and blood, Church explained to New Scientist.

So far, with samples from a remarkably well-preserved 2013 find as a DNA guide, the team has accomplished 45 of these edits. If their goal were to perfectly re-create the mammoth genome, theyd still have thousands to go.

And they arent the only team taking this alternative cloning approach. Researchers in Chile are also trying to engineer a dinosaur out of a chicken by rolling back certain genes.

Church’s team says theyre only a couple years away from the next step, making the edits in an elephant embryo and studying its viability. The researchers believe they could turn skin cells of the highly endangered Asian elephant into embryos using cloning techniques.

And thats the easy part.

Once they have a mammophant egg ready to go, theyd need a way to carry it to term. Ethics prevent using real Asian elephants as surrogate mothers because of their endangered status and high degree of intelligence, but Church has other plans.

“We hope to do the entire procedure ex-vivo,” oroutside a living body, he told The Guardian. “It would be unreasonable to put female reproduction at risk in an endangered species.”

Some say the technology to grow a hybrid animal inside an artificial womb wont be possible this decade, but The Guardian reports that Churchs lab is hard at work on the problem, already able to incubate a mouse embryo for ten days, about half of its gestation period.

Even if Church succeeds in overcoming all the technical hurdles, some wonder if the mammoth should be resurrected at all.

As Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, told The Guardian: The proposed de-extinction of mammoths raises a massive ethical issue the mammoth was not simply a set of genes, it was a social animal, as is the modern Asian elephant. What will happen when the elephant-mammoth hybrid is born? How will it be greeted by elephants?

Church argues that the mammophant would join the fight against global warming, thus bringing concrete benefits to humans all over the planet.

They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in, said Church. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.

While such behavior could help keep greenhouses gasses locked in the permafrost, wed need to get pretty good at mammophant cloning to bring back enough of the beasts to populate Canada and Siberia. Plus, as is often the case with geoengineering schemes, the effects would be uncertain. Scientists arent even sure whether the original loss of mammoths caused some climate change, or if the climate change killed the mammoths. In addition, there’s no guarantee that the helpful stomping behaviors are genetic, instead of taught by long-vanished mammoth parents.

And climate may not be the only unintended consequence. Other researchers worry developing such Lazarus-technology would endanger current conservation efforts. “De-extinction just provides the ultimate ‘out’,” said wildlife biologist Stanley Temple in a BBC interview. “If you can always bring the species back later, it undermines the urgency about preventing extinctions.”

Rather, we should focus on keeping the Asian elephant alive, paleobiologist and mammoth expert Tori Herridge wrote in a 2014 opinion piece for The Guardian.

Sometimes the ice age world is so real to me that my throat aches and my eyes sting a little when I think about what weve lost, the animals we will never see,” she wrote. “But heres the irony if we feel like that about the mammoth, just think how our kids might feel about the elephant if we let it become extinct. We really ought to be focusing on that, and doing everything we can to stop it from happening.

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Scientists say we can clone a woolly mammoth. But should we? – Christian Science Monitor

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Byron York: 25th Amendment chatter: Dems, pundits mull ways to … – Washington Examiner

Posted: at 3:56 am

As President Trump finishes his fourth week in the White House, a number of opposition lawmakers, political commentators, and self-styled members of The Resistance are discussing ways in which the president might be quickly removed from office.

Some have talked about impeachment for quite a while, even before the Trump inauguration. But that could take a long time, and it would require Trump to commit, and then be charged with and convicted of, “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” to meet the Constitution’s standard for removing the president from office.

That’s too long term, say some. So now, there is increasing discussion of the 25th Amendment. The 1967 amendment, which has its roots in the Kennedy assassination, covers ways to replace an incapacitated president. Up until now, its most-discussed provision was a measure by which the president could inform the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate that he, the president, can no longer perform the duties of office, whereupon those two officials would declare the vice president the acting president, until such time as the president informed them that he was again able to perform his duties. The amendment has been used or considered for cases in which the president underwent surgery or was under anesthesia.

Now, however, The Resistance is looking at Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which would allow the vice president and a majority of cabinet officers, or the vice president and a majority “of such other body as Congress may by law provide,” to declare the president unable to serve, making the vice president the acting president. If there is a disagreement say, the president believes he is able to serve and the vice president and a majority of the cabinet or the other body don’t then Congress decides who will be president. Here is the text of that portion of the amendment:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Now, lawmakers are talking about the amendment. Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who on Thursday evening told the BBC that the Trump-Russia affair is “as big as Watergate, if not bigger,” said on Friday that the 25th Amendment might be triggered if Trump doesn’t “act presidential.”

“The 25th Amendment is there to provide a backstop if in fact the president becomes incapacitated,” Speier told CNN Friday afternoon.

“Do you believe he is incapacitated?” asked anchor Brianna Keilar.

“Well, I think that we have got to be very careful,” Speier said. “He needs to start acting presidential. He needs to start recognizing that as president you don’t go around and shoot down the media, as if it’s some kind of a game you’re playing. You don’t take on people saying nasty things about them. You don’t take foreign leaders and hang up the phone with them or besmirch them, as he has with some of the European leaders. I mean, he has got to get a grip. And so the 25th Amendment is there if a president becomes incapacitated.

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Speier went on to describe the situation after Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke and Wilson’s wife Edith served as something of a de facto president. “I don’t think that Melania Trump is in a position to do that,” Speier said an odd remark, given that she was discussing the 25th Amendment’s structure of presidential succession.

“You are very serious about this?” asked Keilar.

“I’m serious about conveying to the president that he’s got to get serious,” Speier answered. “That we have efforts underway around the globe attempting to exploit our dysfunction right now. He’s got to act presidential.”

Speier is in no way the only person buzzing about the 25th Amendment in these first weeks of the Trump administration.

On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer announced he is forming “a working group to clarify and strengthen the 25th Amendment.” “Like many people, I’ve noticed a renewed interest in the 25th Amendment as we’ve seen erratic behavior out of the White House,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “As I examined the amendment, it became clear that in the case of mental or emotional incapacity, there is a glaring flaw.”

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02/18/17 1:20 AM

That “glaring flaw,” Blumenauer explained, is this: What if the president just fires those cabinet officers who believe he is no longer fit to serve? What then? Blumenauer wants to clarify how the “such other body” passage in the amendment would work. And with Donald Trump in office, he wants to start now.

A growing number of pundits seem to agree. In a February 10 column, the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker noted that it would take two years, until the election of a Democratic Congress, before Trump could be impeached and removed. But “with luck,” she wrote, “there’s chance we won’t have to wait two long years,” because the drafters of the 25th Amendment anticipated “circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement.”

“Aren’t we there yet?” asked Parker.

Post blogger Jennifer Rubin has mentioned the 25th Amendment repeatedly, noting on Feb. 15 that Trump has “rais[ed] questions about his own mental stability and the potential for his removal from office (by impeachment, resignation or the 25th Amendment.)”

The day before, Rubin wrote that, “If [Trump] does not drastically and immediately alter his conduct and approach to the job, lighthearted banter about impeachment or activation of the 25th Amendment will become markedly more serious.”

On Feb. 6, Rubin wrote, in a column on what is up and what is down in Trump’s Washington: “UP: Americans who now know what is in the 25th Amendment.” And on January 25 just five days into Trump’s presidency Rubin wrote, generously, that “We are not calling yet for invocation of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.”

On Feb. 9, Time magazine just happened to publish a piece headlined “The 25th Amendment at 50 and What Happens if the President Can’t Do His Job,” noting that “the amendment has become newly newsworthy in recent weeks.”

On Jan. 31, the New York Times’ David Brooks approvingly quoted Johns Hopkins professor and former George W. Bush State Department official Eliot Cohen, who wrote on January 29 that, “It will not be surprising in the slightest if [Trump’s] term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment.”

In Cohen’s article, in The Atlantic, he wrote that Trump’s presidency “will probably end in calamity,” with the possibility of an end hastened by the 25th Amendment. “The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better,” Cohen wrote.

Most of the 25th Amendment talk began at least a few days after Trump’s inauguration. But David Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, brought up the subject on Nov. 16 eight days after the election. In a tweet that morning, Frum wrote: “Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Article 4. We’re all going to be talking a lot more about it in the months ahead.”

Indeed, months later, on Jan. 23, when Trump, during a get-together with congressional leaders, reportedly briefly mentioned his belief that millions of people voted illegally in the election, Frum tweeted: “Pro tip: when meeting w the people who have the power to remove you under the 25th amendment, try not to say anything glaringly insane.”

And now Democratic members of Congress are forming a group to “clarify and strengthen” the 25th Amendment. What Blumenauer and other may have in mind is to use the “such other body as Congress may by law provide” passage to create a new way to oust the president.

If the cabinet is the group required to go along with the vice president and decide that the president cannot perform his duties well, every one of those cabinet heads was appointed by the president. They might be loyal to the man who gave them their jobs, and therefore choose to keep him in office.

Blumenauer anticipated that problem in his statement announcing the working group. “The amendment allows Congress to select some ‘other body’ other than the cabinet to determine whether the president is capable of discharging the duties required, and remove him or her if necessary,” the statement said. “Yet, this body is undefined, and there is no guidance for how it should operate. After examining the issue, Blumenauer believes living former presidents and vice presidents could constitute the body.”

So what if Trump’s fate depended on a majority vote of a group composed of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle and Jimmy Carter? Blumenauer and The Resistance would probably like their chances.

Some Trump supporters will undoubtedly dismiss this as crazy talk. But the one thing The Resistance has shown is that, even though it was consistently wrong about Trump’s chances in the election, it is more determined than ever to prevail over him eventually. And the 25th Amendment does give Congress the power to designate an “other body” to decide, which means the Constitution would not have to be amended to make such a change.

Yes, there are hurdles after hurdles in such an effort. The vice president would have to be on board. Congress would have to pass an “other body” measure by a veto-proof majority. It seems impossible, and indeed it might be. But that won’t stop The Resistance from trying.

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Byron York: 25th Amendment chatter: Dems, pundits mull ways to … – Washington Examiner

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How BBC Persian is using Instagram and Telegram to get around Iranian censorship – Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard

Posted: at 3:45 am

Last month, a fire tore through an iconic Tehran high-rise building, killing more than 20 firefighters and injuring another 70 people as it collapsed.

The fire made international headlines, but it was a particularly important story for BBC Persian, the British broadcasters Persian-language service that targets Farsi speakers in Iran and neighboring countries.

Covering the story, however, presented a challenge: The Iranian government doesnt permit BBC Persian reporters in the country, and official news agencies are often not reliable.

So BBC Persian turned to a different source: Telegram, the most popular messaging app in Iran. (Its estimated that more than a quarter of all Iranians are on Telegram.) BBC Persian has more than 713,000 followers on its channel, but it also has a profile where users can get in touch with BBC Persian. After news of the fire broke, it asked its followers to share photos and videos of the fire.

Thats the main source of newsgathering at the moment for us, BBC Persian multimedia editor Leyla Khodabakhshi told me from London. The only way we could basically understand what is going on inside the country and get access to pictures was to put a call to action on different platforms and then receiving the UGC via our Telegram, she said, adding that lots of news agencies inside Iran have close ties to different political groups in the country, so you cant rely on what youre getting from the news agencies that are operating inside the country. We have to always crosscheck what we are receiving. Thats by putting different agencies together, but also to compare them to what were receiving from user-generated content as well.

The Iranian Internet is heavily censored. Facebook, Twitter, and most major social platforms are blocked. BBC Persians website is blocked (and its TV broadcasts are routinely censored as well). Even though Iranians regularly use VPNs to circumvent government censorship, BBC Persian has turned to platforms such as Telegram that are permissible in the country in order to conduct reporting and promote its coverage to a wide audience of Iranians.

This is a social circumvention strategy rather than a social media strategy, Khodabakhshi said.

BBC Persians other main platform in Iran is on Instagram, which is the rare social network that is permitted in the country.

BBC Persian has significant followings on Facebook and Twitter, but it recently surpassed 1 million followers on Instagram, where its audience tends to skew female, Khodabakhshi said.

Our strategy on Instagram is partly based on community building. Its where we try to engage women to debate news on our page, she said. Its not very straightforward, because its not a platform that is built for this type of debating or conversation, but it works for BBC Persian.

There are, of course, limitations built into Instagram, though (its difficult to share links, for instance), and thats why the Iranian government has decided at least for now not to block it, said Emad Khazraee, a professor at Kent State University who has studied social media and news consumption in Iran.

I believe the Iranian government consciously left Instagram open because the affordances of Instagram are very limited, Khazraee said. You had a hard time to use it for social activism. They then herd them to one platform by letting it be accessible while blocking the other ones. Within Facebook, you have features, like organizing groups and having private groups, that you can manage to organize protests.

BBC Persian puts most of its major stories on Instagram, Khodabakhshi said. And the account covers a wide range of stories from Playboys decision this week to bring back nude images to Austrias ban on full-face veils. It also uses Instagram to repurpose and promote BBC Persian television programs.

But because of the restrictions of the Telegram and Instagram platforms along with Iranian censorship driving users back to the BBCs own platform isnt necessarily a priority. Instead, Khodabakhshi said BBC Persians goal was to make as much information readily available as possible.

After President Donald Trump last month issued his executive order banning citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries including Iran BBC Persian went to work explaining the ban and its implications on each of its main platforms.

We had to put the news in bullet points and push them on Telegram so people knew what is the latest and how Iranians are affected by this executive order, Khodabakhshi said. BBC Persian also visualized it and post it on Instagram without necessarily thinking that we need to have a referral back to our website, even though we have a detailed explainer on our website. Thats how it works in BBC Persian. We have to serve the audience.

Messaging apps are popular among Iranians because they offer more privacy than more traditional social networks, Khazraee said. (But Telegram and other apps are still vulnerable.)

The beauty of messaging apps is that there is no API that you can go get user information from the system, he said. The max you might be able to do is to crawl all messages that are sent through a channel that is public, but you cant get much information about who is using these channels. This is hard for us as researchers because its extremely hard to study this environment, but its extremely effective in terms of preserving users privacy.

BBC Persian approaches Telegram slightly differently than Instagram and other social platforms. Though it shares video and other features on Telegram, the apps chat interface helps BBC Persian view Telegram primarily as a breaking news tool, Khodabakhshi said. It sends about 20 messages per day.

When stories break, itll post news on Telegram and then also solicit comments and user-generated content as well, taking advantage of the less-public nature of the apps.

We have received hundreds of messages on Telegram about people who have been trapped somewhere, Iranians who have been traveling, those who were really concerned about the impact of the executive order on their lives. It has helped us give a more human personal flavor to our coverage. Not only for BBC Persian, but for the wider BBC as well.

Ultimately, Khodabakhshi said BBC Persian is committed to publishing online to reach audiences in Iran, and it will continue to adapt as platforms and access changes in the country.

We have always had to have contingency plans, Plan Bs, she said. If they shut down this platform, if they filter this platform if they block Telegram, for example, all together, what would be our Plan B? Were basically all the time on our toes.

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Zimbabwe: A Crisis Unfolding – Zimbabwe | ReliefWeb – ReliefWeb

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:53 am

Published: February 16, 2017 | By Nick Hanson-James

Zimbabwe is facing an imminent crisis that will require an international humanitarian response in the near to medium-term future, with appropriate security measures for humanitarian workers. The dire economic situation precipitated, according to economists, by disastrous indigenisation policies that have choked foreign investment, the exhaustion of Foreign Exchange reserves and a collapse in commodity prices, combined with an estimated 80% unemployment rate, the worst drought in 35 years and outbreaks of communicable diseases paint a bleak future for Zimbabweans. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) predicts that 4.4 million Zimbabweans may not have enough food to eat this year. Humanitarian assistance will be the only hope for millions but will involve considerable operational difficulties.


Robert Mugabe, President since 1985, is now 93 and in failing health. With no nominated successor, political jostling and infighting have broken out in his ZANU-PF party ahead of the presidential elections planned for 2018. A familiar pattern of ZANU buying votes with gifts of land and food to the party faithful has started, with a ban on demonstrations in Harare. Of greater concern, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) is divided; since independence, the ZNA has been the primary agent to maintain order and civil stability. As its grip on power splits, the prospect of escalating civil disturbances and a potential military coup become more likely.

There are signs of change: social media campaigns have highlighted Zimbabweans dissatisfaction with the government, while Church groups have voiced their concerns; NGO contact with such groups is likely to come under scrutiny, so discretion should be exercised. Government crackdowns are underway, and the detention and mistreatment of activists have increased 50% this year. A social media law has been passed that allows the state to seize smartphones, laptops or other devices that allow Zimbabweans to communicate. NGOs in Zimbabwe must be aware that communications may be monitored, and IT equipment may attract attention from the authorities. Informers report any social media activity deemed anti-ZANU to the government. NGOs should make contingency plans for the detention of staff, but should also prepare for a rapid deterioration in national security. NGO workers in Zimbabwe have also reported that South African border guards will now only issue five day stays for travellers from Zimbabwe, rather than official visas, and furthermore, long delays at border crossings are the norm. This should be factored into any plans relating to evacuation by road.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated in 1985 that Zimbabwes health system was amongst the best in the developing world. 30 years later, healthcare in Zimbabwe has broken down. Healthcare facilities are running below 30% of their capability, with chronic shortages of drugs and medical staff. The prohibitive price of medicines from private suppliers means that: 64% of Zimbabweans are unable to access healthcare and curable ailments are often fatal. Accessing the cash to pay for drugs is difficult.

Running water is only available in urban areas for one or two days per week; families have taken to storing 20 and 50 litres of uncovered containers of water, increasing the risk of water- and mosquito-borne diseases in towns. Authorities have issued typhoid and cholera alerts. Experts predict that with the arrival of the rainy season this situation will worsen, as drinking water becomes contaminated. In 2008, 100,000 Zimbabweans were affected by an outbreak of cholera with 4,000 recorded deaths; if this reoccurs, the crippled healthcare system will collapse.

Organisations intending to work in Zimbabwe should ensure that they have supplies of medicines at their disposal, as these will be hard to access in-country. These should include analgesics, water purification tablets, antibiotics and rehydration kits. With an estimated 15% HIV infection rate, PEP kits should be kept for use both by international and local staff. Plans for medical evacuation to South Africa should be made for more serious illnesses.


Withdrawing money from banks involves queuing for several days (people sleep on the streets to save their places), and when banks do hold cash, withdrawals are strictly rationed to US$ 200 per day for organisations and US$ 50 per day for individuals. Informants have reported the theft of forex directly from their organisations accounts by the authorities. To mitigate this, exact amounts of forex to cover specific costs should be made from overseas, and the money transferred to the recipients as quickly as possible. In such economic conditions, organisations have strengthened their standard operating procedures (SOPs) for handling cash, due to the added risks of crime.

With the price of commodities falling in international markets, the government finds itself backed into a corner. ZANU abandoned the Zim$ for the US$ in 2009 to counter the effects of hyperinflation. However, Foreign Exchange reserves have been exhausted paying the salaries of civil servants and the security forces; in July the government was unable to pay employees and a general strike paralysed the country. In November 2016, the government issued Bond Notes to replace the foreign currency in everyday transactions. This has already sparked further demonstrations and social unrest given that the effects of hyperinflation are still fresh in the populations memories. Journalists are already reporting a rise in extra-judicial detentions and the torture of detainees.

Police are now reduced to extorting money from drivers at roadblocks by imposing fines to buy food or to contribute towards the payment of their colleagues salaries. Organisations have advised that to avoid fines being imposed at roadblocks, ensure that vehicles are fully serviced and compliant with traffic regulations (e.g. carrying required equipment). While this may work in some instances, organisations will need to discuss their policy towards corruption and put the relevant SOPs in place.

Fuel and Logistics

The situation is rapidly deteriorating and in February 2016 the government declared a national state of disaster. The cost of food is rising due to the drought while fuel supplies are dwindling and shortages of petrol make transport difficult. NGOs have found that purchasing fuel coupons that guarantee access to reserved supplies is the only way to guarantee to be able to operate. These coupons are also used as an unofficial second currency as foreign exchange bank notes become scarcer. Humanitarians operating in Zimbabwe should be aware of the logistical challenges posed by roadblocks and fuel shortages that make operating in more inaccessible areas such as Matabele Land (where much humanitarian activity is concentrated), much more difficult. Aid workers should be aware of the logistical limitations when working in remote areas and factor this into their planning.


Since 2008, an estimated 5,000 Zimbabweans have left the country each day. There are approximately four million Zimbabweans living abroad, most illegally in surrounding countries where their presence is creating socio-economic pressures on, and tensions with, local communities. The majority work in the informal, low-wage sector. Their financial remittances are low and have had little effect in bolstering Zimbabwes economy while pressuring the economies of its neighbours. Host governments have now started to expel Zimbabwean migrants. If large numbers of migrants return to a country unable to support them, then the stage appears to be set for a humanitarian crisis with the potential to destabilise both Zimbabwe and its neighbours. At the moment, there is no incentive for Zimbabwean diaspora to return to Zimbabwe. However, if forced repatriations increase, then the potential for social instability, combined with the increased pressure on limited resources, may well lead to civil disturbance in many areas of the country. This should be factored into any evacuation or crisis response plans.

Zimbabwes position appears grim. Zimbabwe has become internationally isolated due to its internal and external policies and has burnt its bridges with agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, that could have offered possible lifelines. The humanitarian community should prepare to intervene and operate should Zimbabwes fragile systems finally collapse, in what will be a challenging and difficult environment to operate in.

Sources and Further Reading

Why Zimbabweans are spending the night outside banks, BBC, 9 November 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-37910072

Zimbabwes Government Prepares to Defend Itself, Stratfor, 4 August 2016, https://www.stratfor.com/sample/analysis/zimbabwes-government-prepares-d…

No cash, no cure: Zimbabwes hospitals buckle amid economic crisis, The Guardian, 14 July 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/14/no-cash-no-cure-zimbabwes-…

Zimbabweans Facing Difficulties in Accessing Health Care, Voice of America, 17 May 2016, http://www.voazimbabwe.com/a/zimbabwe-access-to-healthcare/3334353.html

Interviews with key informants

Zimbabwe, MSF, undated, http://www.msf.org/en/where-we-work/zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, SABC, undated, http://www.sabc.co.za/news/tag/Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, International Rescue Committee, undated, https://www.rescue.org/country/zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean, undated, http://thezimbabwean.co

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Blasphemy Controversy Plagues Jakarta Gubernatorial Election – Being Libertarian

Posted: at 1:47 am

Jakarta,Indonesia, held an election Wednesday to elect a new governor to succeed the current governor who is on trial after being indicted for violating blasphemy laws.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, is the first Christian and ethnically Chinese governor of Jakarta in the last 50 years, and is currently on trial for insulting Islam after accusing his opponents of using it as a means to mislead the electorate. He was elected in 2014 when then-governor Joko Widodo stepped down from the role to run for president.

Purnama was seen as the clear favorite to win re-election, until he was charged with blasphemy a criminal offense in Indonesia in late 2016. If convicted, Purnama faces up to five years in prison for his actions.

This election is seen as a test of religious tolerance in a country whose laws dont support the liberty to be blasphemous. Indonesias blasphemy laws were enacted in 1965,and in 2012 a public servant was imprisoned for two and a half years on the charge of outing himself as an atheist on Facebook.

If Purnama wins the election, this could be seen as an clear rejection of blasphemy laws, given that 85% of Indonesias population is Muslim. This election gives the people of Jakarta the ability to freely voice a rejection to these kind of laws that limit freedom of speech especially political speech and freedom of religion.

The results of the election are expected some time during late February.ccr

Some voters have spoken out in favor of Purnamas re-election despite the controversy.I am a devout Muslim but I dont care about the religion of our leaders, said Lip Purwantara, a voter I am voting for someone who can make our city greener, cleaner and better place to live.

BBC reportsthat they witnessed people telling those queuing to make sure they vote for a Muslim, before being warned by officials not to intimidate voters.

Despite the controversy, Purnama has been credited with many successful policy decisions, including efforts to improve the the citys traffic situation, tackling corruption, turning a red-light district into a public park, and favoring greater education and healthcare access.

Private exit polls suggested that Purnama still maintained a slight lead overformer education minister Anies Baswedan, but doesnt have enough support to reach the required 50% threshold to win. This suggests the likely possibility of a run-off election, which would occur some time in April.

Photo Credit:Kompas / Kurnia Sari Aziza

This post was written by Nicholas Amato.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

Nicholas Amato is the News Editor at Being Libertarian. Hes an undergraduate student at San Jose State University, majoring in political science and minoring in journalism.

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Director hits back at offshore worker blacklisting claims – BBC News

Posted: February 14, 2017 at 11:43 am

BBC News
Director hits back at offshore worker blacklisting claims
BBC News
The managing director of a scaffolding business who has lost workers to the oil and gas industry has hit back at claims former offshore workers are now being unfairly blacklisted. BBC Scotland revealed on Monday that an MSP had passed concerns about
Jobseeking offshore workers being discriminated against, claims MSPEnergy Voice

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Ford pledges $1bn for AI start-up – BBC News

Posted: February 13, 2017 at 9:20 am

The Register
Ford pledges $1bn for AI start-up
BBC News
Car giant Ford has announced that it is investing $1bn (800m) over the next five years in artificial intelligence (AI) company Argo. The firms will collaborate on developing a virtual driver system for driverless cars. Ford intends to have an
Ford fills up ex-Google, Uber engineers' tank: $1bn pours into Argo AIThe Register
Ford invests massively in AI startupElectronics EETimes (registration)
Argo AI: Ford to invest $1 billion in Artificial IntelligenceComputer Business Review
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Post unrest, Kashmir ‘freedom’ songs making waves | india-news … – Hindustan Times

Posted: at 9:10 am

Srinagar: Almost a month into last years civil unrest in Kashmir, as violence on the streets spiralled and civilian death toll increased, Ali Saffudin, 23, a rock singer here uploaded a song titled tum kitne jawa maroge on YouTube.

His song goes: Tum kitne jawa maroge, har ghar se jawa niklega/ Jo lahoo hai behta rag rag mein, wo junoon banke ubhre ga (How many youth will you kill, from every home a youth will come out/The blood which flows in the veins, will rise into a frenzy, madness)

The song became quite popular and had 30,000-odd views on YouTube.

Since last years unrest, the Valley has been seeing an increase in the number of protest songs and raps by young artistes who are composing, singing and launching their music on social media.

Ali, a post-graduate student of mass communication at Kashmir University, says, In Kashmir, there is a new wave of resistance through art and a lot of young kids joining in through their respective mediums of expressions.

Ali says his songs depict the reality. My songs portray the general sentiment on the streets of Kashmir. If I do not put those sentiments into my songs I will be blocking my natural process.

I believe people connect to the truth in my song I intent to play some Blues and Kashmiri folk songs, he adds.

Alis protest songs have catapulted him to global recognition. In October, as the unrest continued in the Valley, he appeared on a programme on BBC World Service from London and spoke about the socio-political situation in Kashmir.

Hip-hop revolution

On January 26, two Kashmiri protest raps were uploaded on YouTube Dead Eyes in English, which describes the plight of pellet victims, and Voices of Kashmir, rapped in Urdu, narrates how conflict and the ensuing deaths have ravaged the Valley.

Dead Eyes has garnered over 11,000 views on YouTube in two weeks, while Voices of Kashmir has got 9,000-odd views.

My friend Nazar ul Islam was injured by pellets during the unrest. That was the inspiration to start writing this song, said Aamir Ame (23), the singer of Dead Eyes who is doing his MBA from Kashmir University.

Danish Bhat, 22, a diploma student of engineering who wrote and rapped the Kashmiri part in Dead Eyes, says, Till the time I feel that my people are suffering injustice, I will keep writing and singing.

But the brewing hip-hop revolution is not limited only to the states summer capital Voices of Kashmir has been sung by two rappers from the strife-torn north Kashmir town of Sopore.

During the unrest, there was a neighbour of mine who told me he is going to take a stroll and two hours later I came to know he is no more. One line in my song, says, Koi ghar se gaya, duniya se gaya, said Faizaan Farooq, 22, who along with fellow musician Wani Arman composed and sang Voices of Kashmir.

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