Moïse Katumbi, DRC’s Best Shot at Democracy?

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Well-dressed, articulate and easy on the eyes, Moïse Katumbi is among the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s wealthiest men — and, some say, the former Belgian colony’s best chance at building a truly democratic republic in the near future. The problem? He’s stuck in Paris, having taken refuge there for medical treatment a few months ago. And while the man who aims to replace 15-year incumbent President Joseph Kabila plans to return to Kinshasa soon, there’s no guarantee he won’t go directly from the airport to … jail.

Born to a Congolese mother of royal Zambian descent and a Jewish Greek father, Katumbi, 51, grew up along the border of Zambia in the village of Kashobwe. After starting his career in his family’s fishing business as a teen, he went on to build a mining and transport empire. The successful businessman and politician with an apparently permanent furrowed brow — he always looks worried, despite his good looks — owns one of Africa’s winningest soccer clubs, TP Mazembe, and was estimated to have a net worth of roughly $60 million in 2014. He’s also the popular former two-term governor of his home province of Katanga, and in May of this year, he threw his hat in the ring for president, becoming the first candidate to draw support from seven disparate opposition parties. Katumbi, perhaps the country’s best hope for strengthening a democratic future, has, together with a prominent DRC exile and opposition leader, vowed to hold a “Grand Meeting” or Rassemblement in Kinshasa today. The event, if it happens, promises to be dramatic: Tens of thousands pouring into the streets to demand a democratic transition in the 81.7 million–strong DRC.

“Katumbi’s emergence is Kabila’s worst nightmare.”

Kabila likes it at the top, perhaps too much. He’s tried postponing elections, proposing constitutional changes (without any luck so far), arresting opponents, pressuring the high court to allow him to stay in power until votes are cast and more. The president assumed office in 2001 after his father’s assassination, and has made good on very few political promises — instead presiding over a stalled economy, delayed law reforms and electricity shortages. Today, most of the DRC suffers from economic hardship; while GDP and other economic indicators have slowly risen, gross national income per capita for 2015 was just $410, according to the World Bank. A presidential election was due this year, but Kabila relies on glissement (slippage) tactics to keep the reins — and he has the army’s backing.

Enter Katumbi who, barely after announcing his bid for the presidency in May, faced an arrest warrant and allegations — which he has repeatedly denied in the press — that he had recruited foreign mercenaries, presumably to stage a coup. A month later, he was in South Africa seeking medical treatment after a downright Bond-worthy incident in which he says government forces injected him with a mysterious substance. During his absence, a Congolese court sentenced him to three years in prison for the illegal sale of a building — though one judge has already admitted getting pressure from above to condemn the businessman. OZY could not reach Katumbi or the president’s representatives for comment.

Katumbi has not returned to Kinshasa since the ruling, instead holding meetings with exiled opposition figures such as Étienne Tshisekedi in Paris and London. Tshisekedi had recently decamped to Belgium but received a huge welcome when he returned to Kinshasa last week, a development that serves as a de facto campaign advertisement for the opposition. And for voters to have their say.

Many analysts believe that if a free and fair election were held in DRC tomorrow, Katumbi would win. And he’s “proved that he’s capable of democratic turnover, something Kabila apparently is not,” says Gérard Prunier, senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. As governor, Katumbi became something of a larger-than-life figure, Prunier explains, taking on wage regulations in a populist, homespun fashion. He would go shop by shop, asking workers whether they were getting the minimum wage. If the staffer said no, Katumbi was known to demand results: “Things often changed by the next morning,” Prunier says. 

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Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, governor of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Katanga province, is pictured during an interview on June 2, 2015, in Lubumbashi.

Source Frederico Scoppa/Getty

Katumbi’s also credited with halting the movement of illegal raw materials and boosting local production of resources in the mining province over which he governed. His infrastructure initiatives helped provide running water to the majority of Katanga’s citizens, according to African Business magazine; before, fewer than 5 percent had access. Girls’ education also experienced a boom. And then Katumbi pulled an anti-Kabila: After two terms, he got up and left, respecting the term limits. 

Some have questioned this cavalier governing style and his amassing of more wealth while in office. But Katumbi maintains he was a highly successful businessman long before he became a politician. Even before his business career, though, Katumbi was a supporter of Kabila and a member of the president’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy. The two men hail from the same province, Katanga, which only heightens their rivalry. “[He] best represents Kabila’s failure in his own backyard,” says Phil Clark, associate professor in comparative and international politics at SOAS, University of London. “Kabila takes that personally.”

Some also question Katumbi’s ability to drum up support in the eastern Kivu regions, which have already seen escalating violence in recent months. Indeed, much of his popularity stems from his southern Congolese province, known primarily for farming and mining — particularly copper and cobalt, as well as tin, uranium and diamonds. It was here that Katumbi was raised, along the eastern border in a small village near Lake Mweru. He started in his father’s fishing trade and from there branched into mining, food processing and transport. In 1997, he launched his own mining firm — recently purchased by a French company — and became president of the popular soccer club, a source of Katangan pride. They’ve won the CAF Champions League five times.

Katumbi’s proven a somewhat popular figure with opposition party leaders, which have famously failed to agree or coalesce around a unity figure in the past, much to their disservice. “If there’s anyone who could unseat Kabila, it’s Katumbi,” says Kevin Amirehsani, senior analyst at Global Risk Insights. “He has the support of Western donors and even has a D.C.-based PR firm working for him.” And the platform writes itself. End economic troubles, boost growth, stamp out corruption, end arbitrary arrests, respect the constitution — which has been rewritten six times since 1960 … the last time under Kabila. All easier said than done.

“Katumbi’s emergence is Kabila’s worst nightmare,” says Clark.

The Wild Ones: The Bond

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This is it, folks! In the final episode of The Wild Ones, 16 months after we last saw him, Chris Dewell has been reunited with horses, and he’s working with other recovering addicts. Dewell has become the horse trainer. 

Make sure you watch all of the episodes:

The Wild Ones (episode one)
The Addict (episode two)
The Trainer (episode three)
The Horses (episode four)
The Border (episode five)
The Release (episode six)
The Bond (episode seven)

Keolu Fox’s Mission: Make Genetics Look More Like America

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The Skype camera clicks on and there’s Keolu Fox, making a funny face at me from the other end — not exactly the greeting I was expecting from a geneticist who’s studying genome sequencing. But I quickly learn that Fox isn’t your run-of-the-mill scientist. 

Fox, 30, is a geneticist who’s trying to make genome sequencing, what he calls the Rolls-Royce of medicine, more inclusive. The Hawaiian-born TED Fellow draws from his personal experience as an indigenous American to inform his professional advocacy to “make genetic research more native,” as he puts it in his talk above. He’s one of a handful of scientists campaigning for the inclusion of more than just white, European genes in DNA sequencing. Already, he’s discovered a new genetic marker in African-Americans and heads up an NGO called IndiGenomics, aimed at shepherding indigenous communities into the genomics conversation. Oh, and he hasn’t even finished school yet: When Fox successfully defends his dissertation at the University of Washington, he thinks he will become the first Hawaiian person with a Ph.D. on genome sequencing.

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Keolu Fox speaks at TED2016.

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When the Human Genome Project, a global collaborative project to comprehensively map and understand the entirety of human genes, launched a decade ago, it promised something chilling and futuristic: an opportunity to deliver more precise medical treatments, based on a person’s unique genetic makeup. But as it stands, 96 percent of sequenced DNA comes from people of European descent and less than 1 percent from indigenous communities. Though some 99 percent of all human DNA is the same across individualsa body of research shows that people from different ethnic backgrounds react to and metabolize drugs differently. According to Dr. Fatimah Jackson, a human biologist at Howard University and Fox’s mentor, “there will be no precision medicine for those whose genomes are not in the database,” which will “magnify the level of inequality” in health research. Most of the examples we have that show why this research matters, she says, come from what we don’t know, like why sickle cell is so prevalent among some African populations, because so little tailored research is being done. 

You don’t need to be in the lab to see stark health gaps between privileged communities and indigenous communities. Fox’s Hawaii boasts the longest life expectancy of any state in the U.S. for non-natives. Native Hawaiians die around 10 years earlier thanks to cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Fox believes we not only need to offer public health programs and services, but that we should also engage with those health differences on a micro scale: If we had access to those populations’ genome sequencing, we could discover new sources of illnesses in certain groups of people and how to fight back.  

Fox’s maternal family is from Hawaii’s Big Island — “A first canoe kind of thing,” he says, referring to how long they’ve been there — and his dad grew up traipsing through North Africa and Israel. His parents split when he was young, and he and his mom relocated to what might as well have been another planet: a government subsidized cooperative in southern Maryland’s Prince George’s County, known more for its rough neighborhoods than white sand beaches. “No one knew what to do with a Hawaiian kid with a funny name,” he says. He got into trouble, compiling a criminal record along the way, even as he “liked winning” and managed to hang on to his spot in honors classes. After high school, he says, it was the Navy or college. He found himself at the University of Maryland, where his mom worked; tuition was waived and he earned a spot on the soccer team.

College was transformative. He muddled his way through the first semester, then found himself in a class with Jackson, an anthropologist, ex–Black Panther, Muslim woman with six kids. She listened to him, he remembers, in a way other teachers never had. “It was a switch,” he says. From then on he started banging out 4.0s — zooming up from a 1.8 his first semester — and found inspiration in classes on archaeology, Asian philosophy and the biological effects of the transatlantic slave trade, all of which inform his science today. The coursework reminded him of the strong emphasis Hawaiian heritage places on the past. From there an interest in genetics crept in and he dove into an honors thesis looking at protein signaling in triple negative breast cancer, which disproportionately affects Black women. That’s when he really started thinking about the blurred lines between social issues and genetic predisposition.

But the journey wasn’t easy. One night while at a house party in college, some guys he knew showed up — to rob the party. His worlds collided. “It’s hard for people to actually understand what goes on for minority students at these academic institutions,” he says. That sense of imbalance, he says, is something he’s battled throughout his career.

After college Fox took an internship, then a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, working under Dr. Ed Ramos, who advised then Senator Barack Obama on the creation of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, a law that prohibits the use of genetic information to discriminate in the provision of health insurance and employment. Fox recalls Ramos teaching him how to tie a tie and taking him to networking events. “The impostor syndrome is real, dude,” he says, even as the country’s most prestigious geneticists request his presence in their labs and he joins their ranks.

Where a Truffle-Seeking Dog Is Man’s BFF

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We’re tramping through a damp forest in northern Croatia. The young, half-bored guide in front is giving directions that sound like “shoe, shoe, shoe” to a dog named Blackie, whose nose is pressed to the ground as years of practice have ingrained. At last, Blackie starts pawing at the dirt but is nudged aside for the sake of the tourists — and so the pooch doesn’t ruin our prize. I reach down and dig out a hunk of black truffle, a pricey flavor bomb prized by chefs the world over. Then our guide, Ivan, takes it back and tosses it in his pouch. The Karlic family does not allow finders keepers.

And that’s just fine. An epic truffle feast justifies the roughly $144 for an unforgettable two-person tour (per-person prices decrease for bigger groups). We had arrived by train the day before in Buzet, the locus of the Istria region’s truffle country. Truffles can be found on just about anything in area restaurants — you must give in to truffle ice cream — and are relatively affordable, given their local sourcing. From Buzet, it’s a brief, scenic car ride out to the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Paladini and the hillside Karlic house. 

We foolishly ate breakfast before heading out to the hunt, not expecting the pregame meal: truffle omelet, truffle cheese and sausage, bread dipped in truffle oil. It’s washed down with wine and several samples of house-made brandy. So what if it’s 10:30 in the morning? Hunters need their fuel.

Surely, their cheese must be some local delicacy that we would have to special order. “FEE-la-del-fia,” she replies.

It had rained the day before, making for better truffle-hunting conditions. We — well, Blackie did the work — ended up retrieving three black truffles, a fruitful expedition. The Karlic family has been in the business since 1966, and family members head out daily into the woods with one of 12 truffle-seeking dogs. Though pigs traditionally tracked the aromatic tubers, dogs have replaced them in recent years, in part because canines are less likely to eat the prize. It would make for costly animal feed: Black truffles are now about $150 per pound, says Kristina Petohleb of Karlic Tartufi. For the most coveted white truffles, which are far more potent, the number can rise into the thousands.

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Black truffles in Provence, France.

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But even at such a price point, truffles are more mass-market than they used to be. While Europe is traditionally the prime truffle region, Australia is the rising star, says Ken Frank, executive chef and owner of La Toque in Napa, California. “Currently, there are so many great Australian winter truffles on the market that the prices are the lowest I’ve seen in a decade and the perfume is great,” says Frank, who loves preparing truffles simply with egg to let the flavor burst through.

Back at the house, the delectable brunch still dancing on the back of our tongues, we splurge on truffle-infused products. Our favorite part of the meal was a heavenly spread of black truffles and oil mixed with cream cheese. We ask Petohleb what kind of cheese they use so we can re-create this mixture back home in the U.S. Surely, it must be some local delicacy that we would have to special order. “FEE-la-del-fia,” she replies with a smile.

We pause for a moment. Oh, you mean “Philadelphia.” Yeah, we can track that down.

The ‘Sleeping Muslims’ of Japan

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Sitting in the fourth-floor library of his place of worship, Yoshi Date recounts the story of his spiritual becoming. It is not unlike what you might hear from an eager Westerner gone East to find meaning. Except for Yoshi, it has gone the other way: the Japanese 24-year-old, raised in a nominally Buddhist family, became fascinated by the Abrahamic traditions during college in Western-minded Australia. While seeking, he turned to the Bible. Not fully satisfied, he turned next to the Quran. 

Date, who works in a shop selling internet contracts, recalls, “I didn’t know what Islam was all about — just knew about some bombings and all of that.” One night, he had a dream: Bombs were going off, guns were firing, and he was crouched behind a car. Suddenly, from behind him, he heard a voice calling, Allahu akbar. The voices swelled: Allahu akbar. Date woke up and Googled the phrase; he doesn’t recall ever hearing it before. He began living as a Muslim, cutting out pork and alcohol, studying the Quran. When he returned to Tokyo after college, he took the Shahada — the ceremony declaring Allah to be the only God, and Muhammad his prophet. 

Today, we’re in the Otsuka Masjid, a mosque in a residential neighborhood in Tokyo. Afternoon prayers have ended but the mosque thrums with sundry types: a white American stops at the library sink to wash his face and hair before eating lunch. Outside, a woman in full burqa speaks Japanese into her cellphone. A gaggle of Pakistani immigrants chat in Urdu and English. Better known as a homogenous nation where Buddhist and Shinto traditions have mixed syncretically for centuries, Japan is also home to this slice of faith: a small but growing group of Muslims, consisting of converts like Date and migrants from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and elsewhere. 

Japan is slowly and bumpily coming to terms with its need for foreign workers as its labor force shrinks; emigrants from across Asia and the Middle East may work as laborers or as unskilled workers.

It’s difficult to say how many Muslims reside in Japan, because the government never asks its citizens to declare a spiritual affinity. Here’s what we do know: Their ranks are growing — a 2006 paper by researcher Hiroshi Kojima put the total Muslim population at 5,300 in 1984; 30,000 in 1995; and 56,300 in 2003. Current estimates vary; a 2008 paper from the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research calculated the total number of immigrant Muslims at 70,000 to 80,000.

Two flags fly outside the Tokyo Camii, nodding both to Japan and the Turkish heritage of the mosque.

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Why the growth? Japan is slowly and bumpily coming to terms with its need for foreign workers as its labor force shrinks; emigrants from across Asia and the Middle East may work as laborers or as unskilled workers. They also arrive to take advantage of higher-skilled business opportunities, perhaps enrolling in the country’s universities (often more prestigious than the schools in their home countries). In the latest sign of change, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — as part of his eponymous “Abenomics” program designed to revitalize the nation — promised in June to butter the path for more foreigners to join the island nation’s economy. 

Haroon Qureshi, a Pakistani businessman, came to Tokyo in 1991 as a student. Active in the city’s Muslim scene, Qureshi is known for organizing, educating and generally centering immigrants who arrive feeling lonely and stateless. He is grateful for his home in Japan, his Japanese wife and his son, a chubby schoolboy who looks distinctly East Asian while conferring with his father in fluent Urdu. Like his peers who left Pakistan, Qureshi considered going west to America or Canada. He is happy he didn’t. “What if I had been in the U.S. on 9/11?” he asks. “Definitely, I would have been in jail.”

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Religion in the traditional Western sense does not tint the identities of most Japanese. Certainly, Japan is home to Zen and Pure Land Buddhism and pre–Buddhist Shintoism, but around half its citizens identify as “not very religious,” according to surveys by the Japanese broadcasting company NHK. Those people are likely to practice Shintoism, which aligns with Americans’ notion of atheism. Qureshi says this lack of spiritual identity makes Japanese ripe for conversion, like “sleeping Muslims.” But University of San Francisco anthropologist John Nelson, an expert in contemporary Japanese religious practices, warns us not to mistake an absence of belief for a dearth of practice. He says many Japanese view religion as “something you can put down and pick up as you need it.” Japanese often turn to Buddhism, with a cosmology referencing an afterlife, when dealing with death; Shintoism, which addresses the material world, comes up at birth. A wedding might mingle the two. 

Which explains why monotheistic traditions have rarely succeeded in attracting followers here. Nelson’s summary: “Why would somebody become a Christian or a Muslim and limit themselves to only one brand name?” he asks. Indeed, Christianity at one point looked poised to take off as Japan opened up — reluctantly and belatedly responding to global shifts in trade and advancing technology — toward the end of the 19th century. Christians set up universities, which elites and intellectuals attended. “Many times, those were the only show in town,” Nelson says. “Yet even with their position of power and influence, Christians were still not able to create a mass movement or make people see what was in it for them.” Experts estimate that fewer than 1 percent of Japanese identify as Christian.

Today, Nelson notes declining numbers of traditional templegoers and Shinto-shrine attendees — blame it on the modern attitudes of young people, who can find community outside parochial institutions. But temples are responding, he says, and won’t go down easily. Then there are a few fringe belief systems, like the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, which drew from Indian and Tibetan Buddhism and gained notoriety for its 1995 sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway. 

Might Islam’s quiet entrance into Japan offer a model for peaceful integration? 

So while Islam may not go mainstream, curiosity and even love have broken down traditional barriers for some 10,000 converts — many of whom are Japanese women who take the Shahada in order to marry foreign men. Their stories are a twist in the postwar history of local women marrying white gaijin  (foreigners). Take Qureshi’s wife, Fatima IjimaThey wed in 2000, two years after Ijima converted to Islam. On this day, Ijima is teaching a class of small children in the tall, cramped building that is the Otsuka Masjid. She is shy, almost defensive, when Qureshi and I knock on the door to ask for her time.

The Tokyo Camii is a Turkish-style mosque; its finely painted ceiling and external architecture alike could be seen on a mosque in Istanbul.

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Here, the women keep to themselves, and yet Ijima’s path to embracing Islam was paved by progressivism, and mirrors Date’s. Having grown up irreligious — with a father that she says “believed he himself was God, and that is all” — she was studying in New York and searching, dogged by a feeling that “there is one God, who created us and who manages everything, controls everything.” She read, flirting with most religious traditions she says, and upon returning to Japan turned to Islam. Today, her husband is a citizen, and most of their friends are Muslim. Ijima’s parents, whom she lives near and cares for, aren’t exactly happy with Islam; they don’t like any religion but find Islam particularly irksome because of her clothing — a loose-fitting, enveloping hijab — and its association with terrorism. Nevertheless, when she visits their house, she says her father sometimes tells her she looks nice in her headscarf.

***

At a time when Islam is often linked with its most extremist factions, might the religion’s quiet entrance into Japan offer a model for peaceful integration? Perhaps, but the country may instead demonstrate the inverse of what cities such as London and Paris have seen — things may be harmonious because of a lack of integration: Japanese culture, not exactly known for welcoming foreigners, tends to encourage minority communities to keep to themselves. Indeed, writes Chandra Muzaffar, a Muslim Malaysian activist who works on global peace and Islam, Muslims’ extremely small presence in Japan “limits how much Muslims in Japan can learn from Muslims and the practice of Islam in Malaysia.” The core lesson, he says? Something like the Golden Rule … “be accommodative and inclusive in one’s outlook.” Most immigrants I spoke with insisted they’ve never faced discrimination. Qureshi generalizes that Japanese people are inherently unprovoking. Ahmad Almansour, a Syrian professor of Middle East–Japanese relations, agrees. “The Japanese are very peaceful. They won’t even kill a cat,” he says.

Multiculturalism here, if you want to call it that, shows its face mostly in the form of business opportunities. Near urban centers, you can find halal-certified restaurants, serving food permitted under Islamic dietary guidelines; in fact, there are around 200 in Tokyo, many offering bento or other Japanese fare, according to HalalInJapan.com. Plus, a few exporters have seized the chance to ship halal wares abroad, supplying the Southeast Asian market. Musa Mohammad Omer, a board member of the Islamic Center of Japan, gets called to inspect the facilities of companies seeking the halal label. Another ICJ member, Yousry Elhamzawi, teaches Arabic to older Japanese students. An Egyptian immigrant who has lived in Japan for 10 years, Elhamzawi says most of his students register for the class out of curiosity, or to conduct business with the Middle East.

Elhamzawi’s classes are held in the shadow of the Tokyo Camii, the city’s main mosque built in the Turkish style, all elegant patterns and muted worship. Women can, but are not required to, sit on the second level apart from men. A handful of middle-aged ladies, half hijab-wearing, are squatting there today, speaking in hushed voices and fiddling with iPhones between meditative pauses. I think of something Ahmad said when I’d asked about discrimination: The Japanese authorities are always watching the Muslims. The difference, he noted, is that they don’t treat Muslims as Westerners do. “They come around mosques like the Tokyo Camii, but they are very peaceful,” he said. “They mostly just arrange things, helping us park our cars.”

It’s a narrative that can serve the Islamic community well, one of easy, amicable trust between those who would persecute and those who would be persecuted. Is there sufficient desire to keep that narrative alive? Too soon to say, but if you believe nations aspire to live up to their own fictions, you might have faith that this story of coexistence is enough to maintain the peace.

The Devil’s Guide to the 2016 Election

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In his irreverent 1906 masterpiece, The Devil’s Dictionary, the 19th-century American writer Ambrose Bierce took aim at all manner of human hypocrisies, sins and shortcomings by penning a lexicon of cynical word definitions for a cynical age.

As we enter the epic 21st-century political shitstorm that will be this year’s presidential contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, we at OZY have prepared our own “Devil’s Guide to the 2016 Election” to see you through the heartburn, disillusionment and rampant cynicism that will be your constant news companions during the remainder of this election season. Here are the terms you need to know:

advice and consent, n. Constitutionally derived power under which the U.S. Senate may discourage and reject a Supreme Court appointment made by a president of the opposing party.

American Dream, n. The birthright of every U.S. citizen to lease a marginally better automobile than the one their parents once owned.

Beltway, n. A disenfranchised cocktail community ringed by traffic congestion and poor government, unified only by a love of crabcakes and a disdain for Ted Cruz.

Bernie Bro, n. A principled political theorist who rails against everything his white male predecessors have done to rig the political system by making derogatory Facebook comments about the first woman with a legitimate chance of scaling it.

border, n. An imaginary boundary requiring barbed wire and fence sufficient to keep out hardworking economic migrants but porous enough to allow recreational drugs to reach the suburbs.

brinkmanship, n. A hardball political strategy whereby members of Congress hold the parents hostage in order to pick the child’s pocket.  

campaign, n. An expensive, well-orchestrated attempt to persuade your fellow citizens to make your personal ambitions their righteous cause.

Citizens United, n. Shorthand for the U.S. Supreme Court’s belief that money is speech in the same way that a fire hose is a faucet.

Congress, n. The only whorehouse that loses money. — D.C. proverb

conservative, n. One who admires radicals centuries after they’re dead. — Leo Rosten

constitution, n. A loosely worn, conveniently ambiguous foundational undergarment capable of concealing all manner of scars and harms, from firearms to porn mags.

convention, n. An elaborate contraption whereby the will of a political party’s insiders is converted into the will of its members.

debate, n. A nationally televised forum in which moderators provide candidates with alternating, 30-second opportunities to evade questioning.

delegate, n. See elector, One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

democracy, n. A system in which you and a person who just wrote an outrageously racist Internet comment containing several grammatical errors are indistinguishable. — Verge’s “The New Devil’s Dictionary”

democratic socialist, n. A socialist with better teeth.

discrimination, n. The act of safeguarding one’s own prejudices about what a normal life entails by preventing others from experiencing one.

donor, n. In a democratic republic, the primary instrument for expressing the will of the people; not to be confused with a voter

Drudge Report, n. A popular “news” website with the vocabulary of a third-grader and the design aesthetic of a ransom note.

election, n. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, the process by which jackasses select their favorite jackals.

electoral college, n. A prestigious college that issues no grades to its enrollees but perpetually flunks democracy.

endorsement, n. An act of political symbiosis in which one politician attempts to feed her struggling campaign by allowing a weaker politician to suck its blood.

flip-flopper, n. A politician caught in the act.

Florida, n. Sun-drenched state where America’s elderly, and its electoral democracy, routinely go to die. 

freedom, n. My sacred right to be left to my own devices while I am plotting how to interfere with yours.

honest, adj. Among politicians, possessing a sophisticated gift for deception.

hypocrite, n. Critic’s label for the individual gifted in the art of consistent pandering.

inauguration, n. A scepterless coronation with bleacher seats.

lame-duck Congress, n. Where some fellows worked for you and their work wasn’t satisfactory and you let ’em out, but after you fired ’em, you let ’em stay long enough so they could burn your house down. — Will Rogers

liberal, n. A man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel. — Robert Frost

lie, v. What a politician does with his mouth when he is not eating.

marriage, n. For a Clinton, a wife’s stepping-stone to power; for a Trump, a wife’s pathway to citizenship.

Meet the Press, n. Beat the Press.

nominate, v. To offer up a sacrificial political lamb on the altar of public opinion.

October surprise, n. Sudden external circumstance just prior to an election that gives you the cover to vote as your prejudices have dictated all along.

opportunity, n. A chance missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. — Thomas Edison

party, n. One of only two classes of political restroom available for citizens of a nation founded upon a respect for a spectrum of political identities.

political language, n. Speech designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable. — George Orwell

politician, n. Public official possessing the qualities of a diaper that needs to be changed often, and for the same reason. — Based on the popular bumper sticker

POLITICO, n. TMZ for ugly people.

politics, n. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

president, n. An office for which it necessary to raise and spend a billion dollars for the privilege of being vilified while living and having a high school named after you when you are dead. 

public servant, n. A necessary posture or apprenticeship for those striving to become the public’s master.

pundit, n. A huckster of words who sells speculation as if it were wheat and discards facts as if they were chaff.

radical, n. A man with both feet planted firmly — in the air. — Franklin D. Roosevelt

recount, n. A process by which the fruits of a democratic outcome are jettisoned in favor of the pits left over after the lawyers and rented mobs have had a good chew.

religious right, n. The denizens of a moral high ground who want an oppressive government out of their lives as deeply as they desire to have their deity inhabit yours; not to be confused with radical Islam.

running mate, n. A comfortably inferior politician who can complement the shortcomings of your candidacy without compromising your ego.

senator, n. A call center operator with her own driver and stationery.

soccer mom, n. That species of American mother whose onerous after-school schedule can be used to justify everything from censorship to pre-emptive war.

stump speech, n. The political corollary of the The Giving Tree, whereby the candidate can give you nothing but his stump. 

superdelegate, n. A peculiar species of elected representative that is neither elected nor representative.

super PAC, n. A constitutionally protected device allowing media companies to sell millions of dollars of air to the nation’s wealthiest individuals, who are allowed to remain comfortably anonymous in their purchasing folly.

swing state, n. The motley, indecisive debutante receiving the multitude of a suitor’s time and money while more attractive and deserving prospects are ignored entirely. 

Twitter, n. Popular means for perpetrating short-form, incomprehensible character assassination.

tyrant, n. A man not having control of himself who attempts to rule others. — Plato

vote, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

voter protection, n. The act of shielding a voter from electoral fraud by snatching her actual vote before a bogeyman can take her theoretical one.

voters, n. Lost souls who repeatedly select the lesser of two evil roads only to find themselves right back in the ditch where they began.

Wall Street, n. Members of a sadistic financial class who pay politicians handsomely for the pleasure of being whipped prior to an election and pleasured after it.

Australia’s Most Successful Brothel Owner

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It was the Roaring ’20s, and Sydney Thomas Thornton Corke, a confectioner in Sydney, Australia, was visiting a friend’s shop in search of some good conversation. Hearing shouts and the sound of fighting coming from outside, Corke raced to the door, where he saw Tilly Devine. Their eyes locked, and Devine ran toward him, one arm raised. Corke shielded his face but “felt a sting” on one hand. “And when I looked at it,” he later said, “the blood squirted in my face.”

Corke had been attacked by a woman whose rap sheet would have made Al Capone’s look tame. Offensive behavior? Check. Assault? Check. Prostitution? Definitely. Devine had “accomplished” all this by 1925, when she was in her mid-20s. “She is a prostitute of the worst type and an associate of the worst type …,” one police report read. Given Devine’s history, she received a shockingly light sentence for the violent scene above — two years’ “light labor.”

Sparks often flew outside of Devine’s three-bedroom home, the site of parties … and shoot-outs.

By the 1930s, Devine had moved on to bigger crimes: running a gang, managing a brothel network and dealing drugs. In many ways, the 5-foot-4, 110-pound Devine was the most powerful female gangster in history, and she wore her toughness for all to see: She had a scar over one eye and always carried a razor, her signature weapon of choice in Sydney, where carrying a concealed gun was a punishable offense.

Born in 1900 in London, Matilda “Tilly” Devine was raised in the slums but dreamed of being rich. She succeeded, by becoming one of the wealthiest self-made women in her adopted country, says Larry Writer, author of Razor: Tilly Devine, Kate Leigh and the Razor Gangs. After meeting and marrying Aussie Jim Devine, the teenage Tilly moved to Australia. Although she began making money in her new home as a prostitute (Jim chauffeured her around), Tilly quickly found a more lucrative, entrepreneurial calling: serving as a madam.

 

During a Christian-piety wave, politicians in Australia cracked down on the sale of cocaine and the operation of brothels, causing owners to retreat further underground. But Devine exploited an ingenuous loophole. The law declared that no man could run a brothel; as a woman she was well-positioned to take advantage of the poor and desperate, skimming off a percentage of their earnings. As in the U.S., there were very few jobs Down Under for soldiers returned from World War I, which drove many to lives of crime. During the Depression, Devine’s business boomed, and she ended up running more than 30 brothels. She “had fortunes in the equivalent of millions of dollars today,” Writer says. 

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Tilly Devine’s rival, Kate Leigh.

Source Public Domain

But she wasn’t without competition. Her chief rival, Kate Leigh, was an even smaller woman (5-foot-1), as well as more lethal (Leigh committed murder; Devine didn’t). Leigh rose to prominence in Sydney by running “sly-grog shops” — the Australian equivalent of speakeasies — ensuring people had access to booze. By the late 1920s, tensions were bubbling, and there wasn’t enough room for the two women. Sparks often flew outside of Devine’s three-bedroom home, the site of parties … and shoot-outs. Though attack dogs and hired guns guarded the house, it was still approached by Leigh’s henchmen one night after they had shot one of Devine’s men earlier in the day. Jim, Tilly’s husband, picked up a gun and lay in wait, shooting the would-be intruders dead.

There was also a glamorous side to the crimes: As Devine’s notoriety grew — the press dubbed her “The Worst Woman in Sydney” — she began holding expensive parties, often bedecking herself with furs and diamonds. She even dispensed with husband Jim when she no longer needed his help, kicking him to the curb over his reputed abuse. 

With so much attention, the good times couldn’t roll forever. “The taxman came much like [he did for] Al Capone,” Writer says — Devine’s and Leigh’s possession were confiscated for unpaid taxes. At the same time, younger, more ruthless male hoodlums began to emerge. In the 1940s, after the middle-aged Leigh and Devine had lost their money, they found solace in their mutual poverty. Later, a cancer-ridden Devine even attended Leigh’s funeral. Not everyone made it into Devine’s good graces, though. While she didn’t personally murder anyone, others did her bidding. “Many of the male gangsters thought they could take Tilly’s empire,” Writer says, noting how they were swiftly killed. 

The Fledgling Citizen Becomes a Delegate

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In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Yishu Dai 
Bernie Sanders delegate from Northfield, Minnesota

It’s a pretty hot and humid day. And pretty crazy. We had our Minnesota delegation meeting at our hotel, 40 minutes outside Philadelphia. There was this mandatory delegation meeting with Bernie Sanders, where he gave his typical speech, worked everyone up and then encouraged people to support Hillary Clinton in the general election. Some people were slightly upset, but they weren’t totally booing him. 

We couldn’t find buses coming here for a long time. When we finally did, the line was horribly long; we waited an hour and a half to get into the Wells Fargo Center. People are more friendly at the convention than I expected — I try to be friendly to everyone, including Hillary delegates.

It was a little upsetting when the convention started. You could tell the Democratic National Committee could have tried harder to be impartial. The opening invocation, it was a prayer, but it became a political pitch for Clinton. The nature of that is disrespectful.

The concern of us Sanders delegates needs to be voiced. But we also need to chill out and get things done.

People started booing and chanting “Bernie!” during the prayer. I sat right in front of the Hillary delegation, which started chanting her name, so I was in the middle of two different chants. It was kind of overwhelming, and if anything, it was frustrating — both the invocation and the delegates. I’m a lead delegate working to relay messages between the campaign and delegations, and I got this text basically telling us to tell people not to protest. I totally get why people were upset. The rhetoric is so pro-Hillary. The concern of us Sanders delegates needs to be voiced. But we also need to chill out and get things done.

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“Sanders is not a true socialist. Just putting that out there.”

Source Nick Fouriezos for OZY

I gained my U.S. citizenship in March — right in time to participate fully in this democratic process. I grew up in China, where I experienced something like borderline second- and third-world poverty. We had to figure out how to afford elementary school. Putting food on the table was difficult. The floor was dirt. We couldn’t drink water straight out of the faucet — we had to boil it — and there was no bathroom. We had to use the public restrooms and showers, find other ways to wash ourselves. That was the norm in my neighborhood, in Wuhan. 

When I moved to the U.S. at age 10, I noticed that the scale of poor people here and in China was not the same. So I got interested in how government structures affect living conditions. People might be surprised that I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter, but the funny thing is that people often think China is communist. But after the end of the decommodification of almost everything in the ’80s, it’s really been more of an authoritarian, libertarian country. It’s extremely capitalist without social safety nets. Which, for me, is the worst of both worlds. 

Also, Sanders is not a true socialist — just putting that out there.

I’m still going to call out all Hillary’s faults. I didn’t back her because I didn’t find her to be appealing in many respects. But I don’t think anyone can deny she’s more progressive than Donald Trump. And now that it’s narrowed down to two, I’d rather have the better candidate. But we do need to hold Hillary accountable. She helped draft the Trans-Pacific Partnership, then went against it, then picked a VP that backs the TPP. It’s breaking trust with the voters.

Sanders has instilled a social consciousness for more progressive politics. A new organization by the Sanders campaign, Our Revolution, is one of the orgs to continue this movement. In Minnesota, we want to start our own progressive association; there are definitely people taking practical efforts to continue the movement. More than anything, the Bernie movement has influenced our society at large. 

At least I hope it has.

Teaching Dogs Who Can Kill to Not Kill

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Stocky, tattooed and soft-spoken, Mike Jones seems both like a dog trainer and completely not like a dog trainer. Stocky and tattooed might fit a central casting call for someone who chooses to spend his time with beasts, but soft-spoken may not be what you expect for someone who communicates with animals who probably don’t speak Human.

But part of what the 32-year-old Jones, CEO and founder of Primal Canine Dog Training, does, he doesn’t do for the dogs: He does it to keep his own head straight. “My past — bad neighborhoods, bad situations, fights, drugs, jail — had me going from being an angry kid to being an angry adult,” says Jones, who grew up in the rough-and-tumble East Side neighborhood of San Jose, California. “When I started doing dog rescue it probably saved me just as much as the dogs.”

It’s sort of like MMA training for dogs.

And the dogs he was rescuing? Mostly ones that people had given up on, and mostly pit bulls pulled out of situations where they were prone to be anything but good dogs. Although Jones grew up with a grandfather who wouldn’t let him have a dog, he started framing an approach that has changed how anyone with sense starts training dogs after he dashed into the street one day, at 13 years old, to keep two puppies from being run over.

“Some people would teach me what they knew and did until I figured out that how you communicated with your dogs showed who you were,” Jones says. And with few exceptions what he found was a rigidity in styles that didn’t serve the dogs, the owners or even the trainers. Working with a former horse trainer and, later, with Terry Macias from a German shepherd club, Jones created a quasi-zen style of training that developed a dog who would both work with an owner who needed protection and pay attention to that owner.

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Mike Jones, founder of Primal Canine Dog Training.

Source Photo courtesy of Primal Canine Dog Training

Now, with six Primal Canine Dog Training academies across the country, all staffed with friends or family steeped in how Jones does what he does, he flies from location to location. Jones’ training method is an adaptive process that largely starts with building up the dogs’ confidence, avoiding overcorrecting or fear-based training and tying in to what and how dogs do what they do when humans are not around.

“Dogs are pack animals,” says Chris Hoffman, former owner of the now-defunct Doggieville training center. “But they’re also mammals, so their personalities vary wildly.” A fact that informs Jones’ techniques, techniques that start with a feeling-out period so he can figure out what the dog needs and what that dog’s owner needs. Jones and his employees work through capturing the dog’s drives in a way that makes your “best friend” a real helpmate. Sort of like MMA training for dogs. Which isn’t such a stretch for Jones, who spent years boxing and doing Brazilian jujitsu.

With a client base that includes corporate CEOs, sports celebrities and plain ol’ family folks, Jones is focused on making dogs better, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Dogs don’t spend a lot of time lying to you,” Jones says, laughing. “And you can always count on them to do what you’ve trained them to do.”

Kurt Vonnegut Opens a Car Dealership

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In Their Voice: A series featuring stories about famous writers told in their own voice.

Listen: 

Kurt Vonnegut has come unstuck in time.

Kurt has gone to sleep a weary soldier and awakened a struggling writer. Early in 1945, a group of American soldiers, Kurt among them, had witnessed the firebombed German city of Dresden. It looked like the surface of the moon.

Kurt blinked in 1945 and awoke at his desk in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, in 1957. He had yet to write Slaughterhouse-Five. Nobody would have mistaken him for a Great American Writer. Kurt had quit his public relations job at General Electric and moved his family to Cape Cod. Now he was freelancing for a Boston advertising agency. Between that and the handful of short stories he managed to sell, he still could not pay all the bills. So it goes.

One day, Kurt left the house and bought a car dealership.

To put it another way: Kurt needed to do something to support his growing family. 

Then one day, Kurt left the house and bought a car dealership. He thought it would be an easy way to make some extra cash while he focused on his writing. Tallyho!

Kurt blinked again, and he was engulfed in a cloud of black smoke. It was still 1957, but now winter. It was Kurt’s job to regularly start his fleet of Saab 93s to keep their engines warm. Sometimes they belched smoke.

Get a load of this: Back then, Saab had only one model, a two-door sedan with a two-stroke engine that required you to pour in a can of oil when you filled the tank with gas. When the temperature fell below freezing, or if you neglected the car for too long, the oil separated from the gas and turned to molasses. One time, Kurt left a Saab in a parking lot for more than a week and blacked out the whole town of Woods Hole. Sorry about that.

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Kurt Vonnegut in 1972

Source Public Domain

Kurt blinked again and was back on his commute to the ad agency in Boston. In the lane ahead of him was a truck hauling half a dozen Saab cars. They were shaped like orange seeds. Kurt was intrigued and followed the truck to the dealership. Saab made airplanes in Sweden, and now it was trying to sell cars in America. Ha!

The chief selling point of the Saab was that the imported compact had front-wheel drive — great for icy New England roads. Kurt went for a test-drive and was sold on the Swedish technology. As one prospective customer later told him, “They make the best watches. Why wouldn’t they make the best cars, too?” 

Kurt time-traveled again to 2005. He was an old man, giving an interview to a reporter.

Kurt: Yes, I was in the Saab business. And I think I was among the very first Saab dealers in the United States.

Reporter: That’s an act of optimism — selling one of those things back then. Those are weird cars.

Kurt: Yes, they certainly were.

Kurt says his failure as a dealer might explain why the Swedes never gave him a Nobel Prize in literature. There’s an old Norwegian proverb that puts it better. This is it: “Swedes have short dicks but long memories.”

The Swedes have their own proverb: “Norwegians have big boats for their small dicks.”

Kurt has slipped back to 1957. He is photographing his wife, Jane, on the hood of the family’s new cranberry-red Saab. The car looks like a spaceship outside their house. In order to become the owner of the first-ever Saab of Cape Cod, Kurt had asked Jane to use her father’s inheritance to purchase the first six cars. She agreed.

The fleet was housed in a small stone building off Route 6A. It’s still there today. The building, not the fleet. Kurt also bought some stationery, placed ads in a local paper and persuaded a local artist that he could work on his paintings during his downtime manning the dealership.

There were not many customers to worry about. For some reason, most car buyers were not interested in having to pour both oil and gas into their tanks. Which gave Kurt all the time in the world to write. Mostly, though, he spent his time smoking and worrying about whether he would sell any cars. He didn’t look like a car salesman at all. He looked like a dirty bird. 

Kurt was tired. It turned out the only way to make the smallest profit was to screw the customer on the whitewalls or the radio. So it goes. 

To make matters worse, Kurt’s demonstration vehicle kept breaking down all over town. Have I got a car for you!

And so on. Kurt blinked and it was spring again. He found himself on the side of the road in the cranberry Saab. Written on a sign in the back window are these words: “For Sale.” The trees were leafing out. Birds were talking. Somewhere a big dog barked.

The other cars were gone. Along with the dealership. And his wife’s inheritance. There was a manuscript on the seat next to him. Here is what it said: The Sirens of Titan.

So it goes.