‘Young Bloods’ Look to Shake Up Thai Politics

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Thailand’s freshest political face, the scion of a billionaire Bangkok family, could easily have kept his executive job at his family’s auto parts business and lived off his wealth. But “how could I be happy doing that?” asks Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. “Millions of people out there are not free.”

Instead, Thanathorn, 39, has plunged into Thai politics, which has powered back to life after a nearly four-year hiatus. He is one of a new generation of young politicians, who are taking advantage of an easing of strict rules governing political activity to register their parties ahead of possible elections next year.

Thanathorn and the other newcomers — collectively nicknamed the “young bloods” — have begun to air their views on social media and to sit for interviews. In so doing, they are venturing into a legal gray zone in a country ruled by a military junta where unauthorized political gatherings are illegal. “If we do too much, we cross the line, but if we don’t do anything, we will lose the election,” Thanathorn says. “We don’t know where the law is; they never tell us. I think they prefer to keep it unclear.”

Sometimes you have to do something that is politically unpopular but correct, otherwise no bar would be raised.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Thai politician

Already, pundits are comparing Thanathorn to French President Emmanuel Macron, who channeled popular disgust with legacy parties and swept to power last year. He has shown himself unafraid of taking bold stands. In a recent Facebook post, he called for Thailand to take a bigger role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar, including by taking in Rohingya Muslim refugees arriving by boat — an unpopular view in a conservative, majority Buddhist country.

 

“Of course we should help them, we should give them a hand,” says Thanathorn. “It’s purely because of the color of their skin, their different faith [that] they are not allowed here.”

He adds: “Sometimes you have to do something that is politically unpopular but correct, otherwise no bar would be raised.”

Thailand’s military government, which seized power in 2014, has repeatedly postponed the return to democracy. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader, has promised to hold the election by February 2019, but previous similar pledges have been postponed, prompting democracy demonstrators to taunt him with Pinocchio masks at one protest in February.

If he ever does take power, Thanathorn has promised to send the military back to the barracks, ease political censorship, spread economic opportunity to rural areas and work with other parties to restore democracy to a country that has seen frequent coups.

The “young bloods” are counting on tapping into public disenchantment with Thailand’s two-party stalemate, which in the past pitted “Redshirt” supporters of exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and, later, his sister Yingluck against their “Yellowshirt” opponents. “I want to be a part of a new generation that sets new standards for Thai politics,” Parit Wacharasindhu, another young politician, told a recent packed news conference in Bangkok also attended by Thanathorn.

“People whose voices haven’t been heard by the two parties might be the cause of the emergence of parties that are more progressive and for the younger generation,” says Siripan Nogsuan, associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University. “There are about 7 million people who have never voted, and will be available for small and medium-size parties to grab.”

However, Thanathorn and the other young bloods may struggle, given Thailand’s constitution, drafted after the coup, that analysts say will allow the military continued sway over politics.

Many Thais doubt that their dysfunctional political culture, marred in the past by corruption, backroom deals and sporadic violence, can be mended.

“It’s good to see a new generation, and new faces entering the arena,” Varawut Silpa-Archa, another Thai politician, said of Thanathorn. However, he added, “I don’t think Thailand is ready for a prime minister as young as Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron.”

Most of the new politicians setting out their stalls are products of the old establishment, with inherited wealth or family ties to former government figures.

Thanathorn is a nephew of a former transport minister. Varawut, who joined him at a recent briefing for journalists, is the son of a former prime minister; Parit is the nephew of another ex–prime minister. When challenged on his inherited wealth and privilege last week, Thanathorn insisted, “I come from the 1 percent, but I’m standing for the 99.”

The Last Urban Farmers of Turin

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The last urban farmers in Turin? Easy: Vilma and Paolo Stella.

For these siblings, urban farming isn’t about some Silicon Valley–style vertical farming in gentrified neighborhoods with hydroponics and UV lights. No, in this corner of northern Italy, urban farming is a form of resistance. 

To? The urban development that has transformed the area around the old family farmhouse where the siblings grew up. So while Vilma and Paolo, self-described “nomadic farmers,” live in a nearby apartment building, they still tend their farm every day, earning just enough to sustain their families and the farm, but nothing more. “It feels like living in an oasis,” says Vilma, “as we are the last rural family in an urban context.” 

I live on the seventh floor of an apartment block, which is a bit weird for a farmer.

Paolo Stella

Vilma and Paolo, along with their three other siblings, grew up in the ’60s in a typical farming family. From a young age, all of them learned how to work the fields. “Girls did the same work as boys, there was no distinction,” Vilma says. And while she tried other jobs, she ended up returning to the work that had been her life from childhood.

The Stellas’ story is mirrored across Italy. According to data gathered by the Italian National Institute of Statistics, urban sprawl has risen for years, strangling the land available for agriculture by 20 percent since 2000. Small family businesses, like the one run by the Stellas, are struggling against market changes in the midst of an economic crisis that’s still gripping some sectors of the country’s economy. Meaning this change is not just an economic one: For generations of many Italian families, farming is a way of life. 

But some, like the Stellas, are choosing adaptation over revolution.

 

Why Do Italian Doctors Smoke So Much?

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When professor Giuseppe La Torre teaches a class on smoking cessation, he’s fighting an uphill battle. Among the group of students from the Sapienza University of Rome that he’s working with (and studying), a whopping 50 percent of them smoke tobacco. It’s an optional class, and fewer than one in 10 eligible students shows up. What’s particularly “frustrating,” La Torre says, is that “at the end of the class they start smoking again!”

All the more frustrating? These students really should know better, because they’re all training to be medical health professionals. Elsewhere, that might be shocking and counterintuitive. But in Italy:

44 percent of Italian health professionals smoke — twice the rate of the general population.

That’s according to a widely cited 2011 study from a team of researchers across the country, including La Torre, that sampled more than 1,000 nurses, doctors, medical students and other health care workers. The problem of smoker doctors “is real and worrying in Italy,” writes Florence-based tobacco researcher Dr. Giuseppe Gorini in an email with the subject line “Italian doctors are the worst.” La Torre describes often seeing doctors and nurses smoking on hospital grounds and even in hospital bathrooms, sometimes while still wearing their medical uniforms.

Most surprisingly, the study found that both Italian nurses (50 percent) and physicians (34 percent) are smoking like chimneys, at substantially higher rates than the general population (currently, 22 percent). In most other countries, research shows that the smoking rates of medical health professionals fall well before those of the public. Though national surveys vary, in the United States around 12 percent of nurses smoke and fewer than 2 percent of physicians do so, compared to 17 percent of the general public.

Many medical students pick up smoking while at university, says La Torre, pointing the finger at high-stress levels in medical courses, students who may be away from home for the first time and the lack of formal anti-smoking education. The problem is worst among health professionals in the south and center of the country, he says.

 

Most worryingly, research suggests that doctors and nurses who smoke are likely to be less proactive in advising their patients to kick the habit. La Torre also points to a national problem of teen smoking, especially among young girls: In the most recent report from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, Italy had the highest rates in Europe of 15- and 16-year-olds who had smoked a cigarette within the past 30 days — 35 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls.

However, overall smoking rates have fallen substantially in Italy, thanks at least in part to government regulation. Italy introduced a ban on smoking in public places in 2005, one of the first European countries to do so, and has since continually toughened legislation on smoking in advertising and graphic warning labels on packages and has stiffened penalties for those selling to minors. It’s becoming less socially acceptable, says Gorini, though the decline in smoking rates has started to level off.

And yet, doctors and other health professionals don’t seem to be getting the message, with La Torre suggesting, anecdotally, that he’s seen no improvement in recent years. “The case of smoking prevalence among doctors is an outlier” in Italy, says Gorini. While health authorities in some regions have had success in reducing smoking — tactics include fining those found smoking on the job, or by enforcing that cigarette breaks have to be taken off the clock and without wearing hospital uniforms — others have a long way to go, say the experts.

It seems the Boot of Europe is struggling to stamp out the habit.

The Saddest Map of Our Time, Courtesy of Online Dating Profiles

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When millions of people dig deep into themselves to craft online dating profiles that will set them apart from the pack of other love-seekers, they create unconscious, collective maps of longing and fears. That’s the takeaway from a data-rich work of art currently on exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

After experiencing a bad breakup, New York artist R. Luke DuBois succumbed to pressure from friends to join the online dating world. A self-diagnosed obsessive, DuBois couldn’t check his professional identity as an artist, so he joined 21 dating services as a gay and straight man and woman in every U.S. ZIP code. As he explained in a 2016 TED talk, DuBois downloaded 19 million profiles, analyzed the data and created a work entitled “A More Perfect Union” from 2008-2011 — a map as an alternative to the U.S. census.

“What if, instead of looking at whether we own or rent our homes, we looked at what people do on a Saturday night?” he writes in an artistic statement. “What if, instead of tallying ancestry or the type of industry in which we work, we found out what kind of person we want to love?”

Standing before the map, which doesn’t include the familiar names of cities, is disorienting and wistful.

The map, printed in several parts on canvas, is installed on a single, curved wall at NAS as part of the exhibit Love in the Time of Data. U.S. city and town names are replaced by the most common, yet unique, words that appear in residents’ dating profiles. For example, cities nearby to Washington become “Unexplained,” “Procrastinate” and “Bullshit.” Houston is identified as “Rich” and LA as “Acting.” Some New Jersey cities become “Extrovert,” “Annoying” and “Cynical.” Baltimore is “Afraid,” and somewhere near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is “Frightening.”

Standing before the map, which doesn’t include the familiar names of cities, is disorienting and wistful. Here DuBois allows viewers who can’t immediately conjure an encyclopedic mental image of U.S. geography to consider large and small cities and towns alike — with words from people who feel that someone is missing from their lives. In fact, DuBois created several other maps with the data he gathered, including one of national loneliness

 

“A More Perfect Union” finds commonality in dating profiles and distills something Freudian in the ways that residents use language to project how they’d like to be seen, says Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and curator of the exhibition. “DuBois identifies words that aspirants hope will provide social and maybe even emotional interconnection,” she explains.

Goodyear, who first met the artist in 2010 as prints and drawings curator at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, is “impressed and intrigued by Luke’s ability, both poignant and humorous, to grapple with the question of how we make sense out of disorder.” (She also finds it “marvelous” that somewhere near Brunswick, Maine, where she lives, online daters believe themselves “Incorrigible.”)

Katy Börner, a distinguished professor of engineering and information science at Indiana University Bloomington, says DuBois’ work is “a lovely exhibit that charts human desires for being wanted and loved.” Just as the knowledge that exercise makes one healthier and happier doesn’t lead everyone to flock to the gym, data visualization designers must touch people emotionally, or else they can’t expect those people to change their behavior, Börner says.

DuBois pulled 20,262 unique words from 19,095,414 dating profiles and created a kind of national portrait. One that is worth seeing not just for its inventiveness and statistical legwork, but also for the rare opportunity to see our deepest desires and fears within a broader, unifying context — all mapped out.

Love in the Time of Data is showing at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., until August 15.

This Intrepid British Adventurer Talked Her Way Into Forbidden Lands

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It sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, but it really happened. In 1930, an intrepid explorer named Freya Stark crossed the mountainous frontier into northwest Iran accompanied only by sketchy maps and quinine pills, seeking a legendary place lost to Western maps. Called the Rock of Alamut, or the Citadel of the Assassins, it was the headquarters of a medieval prince who sent killers to murder his religious and political enemies.

She eventually found a guide and mule drivers and started ascending a 10,000-foot pass until her group was stopped by a frontier policeman. Suspicious of Stark’s camera and notebook jottings, he suspected he’d intercepted a spy. Stark managed to charm her way past the border guard by following a signature strategy in a remarkable life of adventure, and soon after stumbled upon the ruined castle atop a nearly perpendicular alpine peak.

The remote, mountainous region proved irresistible to a woman seeking to live out her atlas-inspired daydreams.

Rediscovering the citadel and filling in blanks on the Iranian map made the 37-year-old Englishwoman a sensation in the worlds of archeology and exploration. Stark received the Royal Geographical Society’s Back Award in 1933, and the following year published the first of her 25 books, The Valleys of the Assassins, which was followed by The Southern Gates of Arabia (1936), about her travels in what’s now Yemen, and A Winter in Arabia (1940).

 

Born in 1893 to English parents, Freya Stark grew up in northern Italy, where her eccentric mother operated a small textile mill after she split from Freya’s father. The company struggled, and Freya had to take care of the family household as well as work in the mill. She enjoyed school but spent only a few hours there each day. At age 13, her life became even more confined after she nearly died when her long hair caught in the mill’s machinery. The accident left her temple badly scarred (afterward, she carefully draped her hair over the side and wore big hats). Bedbound, escape came in the form of a beloved atlas and romantic daydreams of Arabian nights and desert ruins.

Two things then happened to put her on the path to eventual freedom. First, though largely self-educated, she escaped to the University of London where her curiosity and aptitude for literature and languages emerged. Then, when World War I erupted, she volunteered as a nurse and learned about the world’s bloodier realities.

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Explorer Freya Stark at her home in Asolo, Italy, circa 1950. She is wearing traditional Persian dress and holding a dagger acquired on her travels in the Middle East.

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After the war, Stark returned to Italy and her aging mother — trapped again. Yet, as Stark’s chief biographer, Jane Fletcher Geniesse, author of Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark, notes, “Freya had been counting the days for a chance to spring loose from her powerful mother’s grasp.” And when Stark’s sister died at age 33 without ever having lived a life of her own, Freya realized she had one last chance to break free. In 1928, at age 35, she struck out for Beirut, unsure what she meant to do with her life beyond studying Arabic and Persian.

She soon found a destination worthy of her wanderlust. Southeast of Beirut, in French-occupied Syria, was the homeland of the Druze, a people who periodically battled their European overlords for independence and who kept much of their monotheistic religion’s doctrine and rituals hidden to outsiders. The remote, mountainous region proved irresistible to a woman seeking to live out her atlas-inspired daydreams.

Setting off into this tense territory with a young Druze guide, Stark was stopped by a French patrol. She presented herself as a respectable Englishwoman out for a bit of a jaunt. And while she wasn’t haughty, she did demand courtesy and respect. It worked. The French treated her like a dinner guest, saying they were only ending her tour for the sake of her own safety. And when the colonial police released her, she found the brief detention had elevated her status in the eyes of the Druze: Stark became trustworthy, a fellow victim of the hated French.

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Freya Stark dines with a guest in the garden of her home in Asola, Italy, in May 1957.

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Stark discovered this tactic of using her “respectable womanhood” was “crucial to her ambitions,” according to Geniesse. And Stark deployed it to her advantage time and again in the years of exploration —  and war — that followed. It came in particularly handy following a pro-Axis coup in Iraq in April 1941. Stark rushed back from Tehran to help her friends and other expats who had sought refuge in the British embassy in Baghdad. Taken into custody at the border, she asked for tea and proceeded to charm the guards, who put her on a train to the capital, where she made it into the embassy just as the final sandbags and barbwire encircled the compound.

Throughout the war, she ranged across the region as a diplomat-spy-propagandist for the British Ministry of Information, working with pro-Allied groups in Arab countries. A chief tactic was to get herself invited into the homes of influential men by arranging tea with their wives. At those teas, she gently helped her hosts see that resisting the Axis was in the spirit of multicultural Islam. The wives, Stark knew, passed the message on to their husbands. Stark’s intelligence handlers rated her a success.

By 1950, Freya Stark was a world-famous explorer and writer, her books global best-sellers. And she did it all in a dress and under a parasol and wide-brimmed hat. Yet a friend saw through it all to Stark’s true core: “I suspect you of being a born pirate,” she wrote, “of being a born smuggler too, if life had cast you into a different century.”

A Manual for Youthful Activism, Nigerian Style

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Nigeria suffers from some scary statistics. A whopping 80 million — more than 40 percent of the country’s population — live in poverty. Corruption is rife: Since 2017, allegations of thefts within government agencies have hit the headlines on a regular basis. Most notably, $43.5 million in cash was discovered in an apartment in Ikoyi, one of Lagos’ most expensive neighborhoods, and officials have even been accused of forcing animals to swallow money. Meanwhile, there’s ineffective infrastructure, daily power outages, poor roads, prevalent patriarchy and homophobia. Half of Nigeria’s population is also age 30 or younger, and they find themselves in many ways inheriting a disaster of a country.

Future generations of Africa’s most populous and largest economy don’t deserve this, which is why Nigeria’s youth are increasingly marrying the power of their favorite tool — social media — with on-the-ground movements to demand change and a greater say in the country’s political direction. 

Take the political hashtag #nottooyoungtorun. The movement advocates for the reduction of the age limit in running for political office, arguing that those old enough to vote should also be allowed to run for office. The voting age currently is 18, but citizens need to be 30 to run for governor, and 35 to run for president. But though the initiative has trended continuously on social media in Nigeria for months, it has also found resonance on the ground. The movement’s leaders have met members of Nigeria’s National Assembly. And earlier this year, most of Nigeria’s state assemblies passed laws amending the country’s 1999 constitution to accept the movement’s demands. “It was designed to work online and offline,” says Maryam Laushi, a member of the strategy team.

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About a week ago.

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Meanwhile, in January, the Modern Democratic Party, founded by Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi, 27, received its certificate of registration as an official political party. His goal? To “correct the present for the sake of the future.” Younger political aspirants with other parties have made bids too. In early 2017, Jude Feranmi, the National Youth Leader for another party, KOWA, made a short video campaigning to run for local government representation for his native state, and it went viral.

 

But Nigeria’s youth know there’s no one silver bullet that will fix the country and that perseverance is critical. The #occupyNigeria movement that forced the country to briefly shut down in 2012 over the removal of fuel subsidies has reemerged more recently, protesting the government’s proposal to increase internet subscription tariffs — a move that could have forced millions to go offline. This became a powerful rallying tool for young protesters, and the government shelved its plan. 

Instead of only tweeting complaints in solidarity, they’re [Nigeria’s youth] joining practical movements, and even leading them in some cases. 

Nigeria’s youth aren’t working in isolation — and their ambitions aren’t only political. On February 17, at the historic Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos, the Ghana-based She Leads Africa, a community that helps African women fulfill professional dreams, held what is known as the SLAY festival for the second year. The event was focused on putting African women “at the center of innovation, creativity and technology.” The lineup included panels, masterclasses and sales booths across food, finance, media, culture, health and others. The initiative began because African women on the internet wanted platforms that “allowed women to be able to be professionals in their own way” and make spaces “where women can come and learn from other women,” says Hilda Awomolo, the organization’s head of content.

 

Mere access to the internet to bring youth together wouldn’t help if it wasn’t followed by offline action. Instead of only tweeting complaints in solidarity, young Nigerians are joining practical movements and, in some cases, even leading them. 

Nothing captured that spirit better than the #endSARS movement. The movement began in 2016 but gained traction last year as a protest against the Nigerian government’s controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was established to combat armed robbery and other violent crimes. Squad members faced accusations of brutality against citizens. Sega Awosanya, the frontman of the #endSARS movement, had never participated before in a protest initiative; now he insists that Nigerian youths stop short of nothing but full-fledged institutional reform where it concerns Nigeria’s approach to human rights, infrastructure development and accountability of politicians.

Other spin-off hashtags already have emerged — like #reformpoliceNG, calling for reforms in Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies, or #frauds, which focuses on revelations of public officers stealing funds. There’s #foreignpolicyNG, which “X-rays the issues with our foreign missions and embassies,” says Awosanya.

Nigeria’s youthful population, among the biggest in the world, is channeling its frustration into these movements for change. It’s important that the country’s government — and the world — listen. If these movements persist and grow online and offline, they could reshape Nigeria’s future.   

He Powers the Wheeled Wonders Behind Hollywood’s Hit Machine

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He doesn’t have any social media accounts. Or an email address. He doesn’t care for it and doesn’t need it. When people need to talk to David Haddad, they just call Chloe Burns in Pittsburgh.

Haddad himself? He’s in Los Angeles, we’re told. Then, maybe, New York City, Atlanta or Detroit. And, oh yeah, he’s scheduled until next year. But he “will think about it,” when we inquire about an interview.

Booked until 2019. You ever been that busy? Probably not, but you’ve never been David Haddad. Son of David Sr., a Syrian immigrant who, in Pleasant Hills, Pennsylvania, in 1954 had a modest vision: to open a mom-and-pop service station. The Amoco he opened would eventually house a car wash and a tow truck operation.

Much of moviemaking is about waiting, so if you have a place to wait that makes the waiting more pleasant? You might be golden.

None of which explains how David Haddad is sitting on top of Haddad’s Inc., a multistate corporation that’s worked with more than 3,000 film and TV productions around the world. Not under the klieg lights or on the silver, TV or computer screen, but in the so-simple-you’ll-feel-stupid-for-not-having-thought-of-it-first category: production equipment vending. To put a finer point on it, Haddad is responsible for cast, hair and makeup trailers — the unsexy parts of one of the sexiest businesses around. 

 

“He’s very much still a kid from Pleasant Hills,” says his daughter Steph Haddad, who’s opted out of the family business for the business end of a camera. “This despite his soulless industry’s general shittiness.” She’s laughing as she says this, but in true freakonomics fashion you get a glimpse into a shadow realm that makes it possible for the Oscars, Emmys, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and the billion-dollar image projection machinery to … happen. The kind of stuff you’ll get an inkling of if you stay and watch the credits roll after any movie. 

“Calling them trailers doesn’t even do them justice,” says Christopher Schoenemann, whose work on film sets has set him up for way too much trailer time. “I’d have rather spent time in David Carradine’s trailer than my own apartment.” Which is how you get remembered. Much of moviemaking is about waiting, so if you have a place to wait that makes the waiting more pleasant? You might be golden. Which is not where Haddad expected to be when he started helping out around the Amoco station as a kid.

As a 12-year-old, Haddad pumped fuel and painted the place. He learned to drive in a shop tow truck. Until he left for Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the station was where he cut his teeth. After graduation? Back to the family business.

Then, in the spring of 1982, change arrived — in the form of a guy from Los Angeles who wandered into the shop looking to rent a pickup truck. He was a transportation coordinator, and the truck was for Flashdance — a film shot in Pittsburgh — and he wanted to put a hitch on it so he could move some of the production trailers around. According to Steph Haddad, her father, “easygoing but stubborn,” said no, but the TC persisted and Haddad had an idea that led to him buying four trailers — one for hair and makeup and three for cast members — and getting hired for the Robin Williams’ hit Dead Poets Society.

“David doesn’t want to talk to you.” A surprise call from Tom of Team Haddad. No hostility, just a simple statement of fact tinged with what we’d like to imagine is regret. Chloe Burns, Haddad’s gate-keeping assistant, had tried to warn us. Haddad was “on the road,” she said, while running interference for a boss with fleet hubs in Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey and New York — all products, no doubt, of not jawing with journalists. Steph, meanwhile, had simply been trying to figure out “what time zone” her father was in.

According to Tom, Haddad is “just not very interested in press. Of any kind. In fact, if it’s not too much to ask, could you just not write about us at all?”

“There’s not much on the internet about my dad,” says an apologetic Steph. “Which is what he prefers.” And then: “But it’s my family’s story, and it’s a pretty cool story. All four of my dad’s grandparents came to the U.S. from Syria in the 1910s as kids. So there’s your immigration piece.” But there’s got to be more, considering that Haddad is heavy into an industry in which not all players will hesitate when it comes to cutting your throat and where the huge amounts of cash being thrown around might give even the least sane people cause to pause.

And when you figure it’s an industry with global revenue slated to hit $50 billion by 2020, making the U.S. the third-largest film market behind China and India, according to industry analysts, that’s a lot of trailers. For a very tough industry. How tough? Perry Mosdromos owned multiple pizza parlors in the San Francisco Bay Area before deciding to branch out into film set honey wagons, and food trucks. In the first few years of being in business, “I lost a few to fire,” Mosdromos says with a knowing nod. Competitive arson?

“Who knows?” Mosdromos replies. “I do know this: I’m out of the business now.” 

A business that for Haddad is still headquartered in the building where it all began — now with 60 or so employees, aka “The Can-Do People,” or so goes the company motto. “You’re not going to like this too much,” Steph says, “but he and I are a lot alike, and neither of us spend much time doing what we don’t like.” Apparently a 34-year-long policy for Haddad. “A story that, in a way,” says Steph, “is a real picker-upper.” 

How the U.S. Army and Marines Are Preparing for Future Urban Wars

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For Iraqis returning to Mosul, the homes missing roofs and walls, filled with rubble, are a reminder of what existed before ISIS took control of the city in 2014. To the U.S. Army that helped liberate the city — originally designed as a fortress — after a nine-month campaign, the ruins and a lingering threat are pointers to the future. Massive piles of tangled debris and burned cars line the streets, framing gutted houses. But though the main roads have mostly been cleared, side streets throughout the city remain blocked by tangled debris and riddled with explosives, left behind by ISIS in places that are too narrow for coalition vehicles to access.

Mosul is the latest pointer to the urban nature of theaters in which many future conflicts may be set. Experts view situations the U.S. has found itself in over the past 15 years as foreshadowing a part of what the Army and the Marines may face with increasing regularity in the years ahead. It’s a future they are preparing for. 

A new program announced by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) last summer aims to develop software capable of running on personal electronics that Marines can use to simulate and test situations they might encounter in coastal, urban settings. The Marines also run urban combat training programs like the Raid-Leaders course, in which Marines raid a part of a city — in 2014 it was Los Angeles — as a training exercise. The U.S. Army is trying to increase the density at some urban training sites to replicate what fighting in crammed cities would be like. And West Point’s Modern War Institute, through its Urban Warfare Project, is collecting research on the subject, says John Spencer, deputy director of the institute and strategic planner for the Department of Military Instruction. 

[In the year 2000], very few people would’ve thought we would’ve been in an urban [military] environment.

Gian Gentile, military historian, RAND

For sure, urban warfare will likely remain only one part of America’s overall national security strategy. The 2018 National Defense Strategy unveiled by the Trump administration in January highlights great power competition — more than terrorism in urban settings — as the country’s biggest security challenge. But experts are unanimous that urban warfare will continue to grow in importance, whatever space it occupies in the larger national security emphasis of the government. The recognition that battles like those in Aleppo, Fallujah and Mosul are not anomalies but previews of increasingly what’s to come is at the heart of this emphasis on urban warfare preparedness. Those urban battles of the last decade displayed the impacts of modern urban combat, scenarios that RAND senior historian Gian Gentile says many Army personnel didn’t expect before America launched the Iraq War in 2003.

 

“[In the year 2000], very few people would’ve thought we would’ve been in an urban environment,” says Gentile. “And that’s exactly where we were once the United States moved into Iraq and we operated in places like Baghdad and Mosul.”

That many future war theaters may be urban isn’t surprising, suggested Mark Milley, chief of staff at the U.S. Army at New America’s 2017 Future of War conference in March 2017. More than half the global population lives in urban areas, and the world is currently home to 31 megacities. That could increase to 50 by 2050, according to a University of Ontario population projection. “I think we’re on the cusp of a fundamental change in the character of war,” Milley said at the conference. “If war is really about politics, it’s going to be fought, in general, where people are.”

Beyond demographic shifts, cities are also becoming less stable and create an asymmetric advantage for actors defending such an area, says Spencer. Every building can be fortified, while defenders can tunnel within and between buildings to avoid being exposed in the street. Communication is difficult when spread across city blocks and removing civilians is harder, the larger a city. Overall, urban environments are several orders of magnitude more complicated than the rolling hills of boot camp, says Zachary Griffiths, special forces officer and American politics instructor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. The DARPA program for the Marines aims at enabling soldiers to adapt faster than adversaries in such complex environments. 

Urban warfare

Previous experiences in urban combat situations have also taught the Army lessons; machine-oriented changes, like making sure tanks can shoot at a high enough angle to target high-rises and working with units that combine light and mechanized infantry with the right protection and weapons, could help make the Army more effective, Gentile says. Though, he cautioned that technological advancement can only take the Army so far.

“Technology and improvement in technology are important, but it’s not going, in the end, to make this something like a cakewalk,” Gentile says. “If we do send military forces into a city to do combat operations, you can do your best to reduce the level of destruction, but ultimately that’s what war is about — it’s about death and destruction.”

Although the shift is being discussed at a high level, Griffiths says training throughout Army units should be more focused on urban combat, particularly in the long-term efforts needed to succeed in those confrontations. And, developing a better understanding of how cities work, becoming more “environment-centric,” as Spencer says, can also create a military advantage for one side over another.

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. Army started to appreciate the importance of cities, Gentile says. Now, into the next decade, it will see how the landscape of urban combat will be fleshed out. And if it looks anything like previous battles that have been fought in cities, that future could be ugly.

This Turkish Soccer Club May Help Erdogan Stay in Power

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Murat Senturk sings the praises of the Basaksehir football club as he queues for tickets ahead of a crunch match against championship rivals.

“The stadium is nice. It’s easy to get here. The tickets are cheap. They have good players and a good manager,” says the 37-year-old, who has come to watch Basaksehir play Besiktas, one of Istanbul’s top sides. There is just one problem: Both Senturk and a friend accompanying him are fans of Galatasaray, Turkey’s most famous team. “We’re here as football lovers,” Senturk explains.

The home team is an upstart club with a small fan base, but it’s shaking up the Turkish football establishment:

Basaksehir is the most successful attempt yet by supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to create a “pro-government” football club.

During his 15 years in power, Erdogan has taken on the old establishment and worked to mold the fabric of society and state in the image of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). He has created a new elite of wealthy, conservative businessmen, brought the media to heel and encouraged the infusion of religion into a previously staunchly secular state. Basaksehir is the sporting example.

 

It is run by a group of directors with close links to the AKP who bought an ailing club run by Istanbul municipality. Four years later, the club sits in second place in Turkey’s Super Lig, challenging for the title against the “Big Three” Istanbul teams of Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce. If they win the league, Basaksehir would be only the sixth side to be crowned champions since the league’s inception in 1959.

“For the first time, with Basaksehir the government has managed to create a football success story,” says Bagis Erten, a sports columnist.

The prematch display of militarism is a reflection of the nationalist tide that has swept the country.

As a former semiprofessional footballer, Erdogan understands the importance of football in Turkey, where millions are obsessed by the game. The Big Three and their fans have been troublesome for him in the past. Football ultras played a central role in anti-government protests that erupted in 2013. During a referendum campaign on plans to enhance the president’s powers last year, fans took to chanting the “Izmir march,” a song seen as an anthem of secular values.

Basaksehir, which is named after the sprawling outer district of Istanbul, is considered an attempt by the ruling party to change that, says Berk Esen, an assistant professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara. “Populist leaders are always interested in following, influencing and, if they can, controlling any sector that resonates with the masses,” he says. “Since football is the most popular sport in Turkey, it is not surprising that the AKP and Erdogan want to get involved.”

The AKP influence is not obvious in the stands, other than seats that match the party’s orange, white and blue colors.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and his son Bilal participate in an exhibition match at Basaksehir’s stadium in Istanbul on July 26, 2014.

Source OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty

The prematch display of militarism, which features images of fighter jets striking targets and child mascots dressed as Ottoman soldiers, is a reflection of the nationalist tide that has swept the country since the launch of a Turkish military operation in Syria two months ago. Also noticeable is the brief chant of “God is great” from a hardcore of 500 Basaksehir fans, a slogan rarely heard on the terraces of the Big Three.

But it is behind the scenes that the links to the ruling party become more apparent. The club’s chairman, Goksel Gumusdag, has claimed that reports of close ties to the government are “nonsense.” But he is an AKP local official who is related by marriage to Erdogan. The president donned the team’s luminous orange uniform for a charity match to mark the opening of the team’s stadium in 2014. The club’s main sponsors are firms with close ties to the ruling party.

Critics say that the club has only done well thanks to these political overlaps. “They succeeded because the government supports the club,” says one Galatasaray fan who has brought his young son to watch the game. But others say that is unfair.

They put the team’s rapid ascent down to the hard work and creative style of their manager, Abdullah Avci. He commands a strong squad that includes Arda Turan, the most successful Turkish footballer of his generation. The team also has a clutch of foreign stars, albeit ones in the twilight of their careers, including former Arsenal and Manchester City players Emmanuel Adebayor and Gael Clichy.

But despite their growing success — they beat Besiktas earlier this month despite going down to 10 men — the team must make do for now with playing in a half-empty stadium. The average attendance is just 5,500.

The project serves as a reminder of the limits of Erdogan’s attempts to engineer society from the top. Football allegiances in Turkey are traditionally passed down through generations, not something that can be changed on a whim. It is telling that one of the rare “real” Basaksehir fans in the stands, a university student called Burak, says that he is new to football and has no family team.

Erten says that the club management has ambitions over the longer term to build its supporter base, but it is not their immediate priority. “They want to change it,” he says. “But first they want to be champions.”

What Happened to the Modern Man’s Sense of Sexual Adventure?

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Wild in the Streets. Wild in the Sheets

EUGENE, SIR: I’m kind of a wild woman and at 35, I realize it’s best to advertise this rather than deal with uncomfortable mismatches later, so I do. But how do I say that “wild” is not some menu item of things pulled from porn, like pulling my hair a little or slapping my ass, but more about the spirit of wildness? I mean, I like my sex to include no real boundaries but just be how your spirit moves you, and instead what I find is the most painful vanilla shit ever. This is not about men being able to be men. This is about men being able to be creative. Help. —Vick E.

Dear Victory Over Europe: This is quicksilver and probably to a certain degree what we’re all trying to catch: the nonduplicative experience. But how to teach creativity? Or, put more precisely, how to create an environment where anything is possible and therefore probable? I imagine this is all about being the change you want to see. If your capacity for this kind of creativity creeps out your audience, then move along, it wasn’t meant to be. And what’s the worst they can do? Go to Tinder and tell “everybody”? And? My advice is this: be forthright about your freak and count on fellow travelers finding YOU. 

 

Whose Fault?

EUGENE, SIR: I have an ALMOST relationship with a guy I met online and loved since the very first time we spoke. It’s a long distance thing and we’ve seen each other five times in six months. Before the second date, he confessed he could not have sex due to recovering from surgery. We then tried on our third rendezvous, but no way to get “him” into the action. He then had the nerve to declare he was not attracted to me and that’s why he failed. Fast-forward to our next encounters: Things get better and better, but he rarely has an orgasm. He says “he doesn’t mind,” but I just don’t believe him. Add to it he’s not into oral because of very firm religious beliefs and I have very limited room for action and creating new scenarios! It’s sad. And yet I love him fondly. What do you think? What can I do? – Ballerina

Dear Black Swan: Valiant you. Typically those who publicly claim to not find the subject of their attraction attractive should quickly be given their walking papers. You, however, seemed to see through this fusillade of excuses and realize the not-so-simple truth: Dude is terrified. So: “I’m religious”, “I had surgery,” “I’m not attracted to you”? Misdirections, also known as “excuses.”

Sounds like his base of experience — and I could be wrong here — is scant, and he doesn’t want to reveal what he doesn’t know because people don’t like doing, and aren’t particularly bold about, what they think they’re not good at. Also, if he wasn’t really attracted to you, do you think he’d still be seeing you? So I’m just telling you what you already know: It’s not your fault.

However, what you don’t seem to know is that you’re aggressively ignoring nature’s warning signs. “An ALMOST relationship” is not a relationship. “Loved since the first time” works in movies, not so well or often in real life. And “not into oral”? For religious reasons? What verse and chapter is this? And to top it off, you only love him “fondly” and not “madly”? Of course not madly. Your sex life with him is jacked up, and it’s not entirely clear that this will be cured by time. 

So the question remains, and you’re the only one who can answer it: How much “work” is too much work? I’m voting for giving it three more months max. Longer and you’re wasting his time and yours. Good luck.

Eugene Is HOW Wrong?

EUGENE, SIR: Why wouldn’t you suggest to LS  [“When Private Porn Goes Public”] to try self-pleasuring? The easiest way to “coach” a willing participant is to know what you like yourself. Foreplay can be the time when the woman gets off. Intercourse, for some women, is merely the cherry on top. I’ve liked most of your replies, but I think you missed the mark here, and I think you know it. She may feel a sense of urgency, but bedroom problems aren’t solved overnight. And how is masturbation not a long-term solution? It shouldn’t be the whole solution but definitely a part of the long-term menu and as close to an immediate result as you’re going to receive. She mentioned having only been with her husband and having kids early. While not a sure thing, I suspect some sexual repression has played a role in her life. She even says she doesn’t want to die sexually. Someone who masturbates successfully doesn’t use that terminology. Also, her husband is apparently willing to do foreplay but not well, and then she asked how he can get better. He can get better by her knowing what she likes. Simple as that. – KC

Dear Sunshine Band: Masturbation didn’t really seem to be a long-term solution here. But I guess you mean as an instructional tool? In this instance, I didn’t think that captured the urgency of her need and didn’t include an unspoken but totally necessary enough is enough/“threat” factor. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. I also don’t know that I’m as willing as you are to have her carry the weight for his failures. And realistically, I don’t suspect she wrote me to be told, “You can start by helping yourself, and the best way to help yourself is to masturbate in front of a husband you don’t even feel comfortable enough to talk to about improving his performance.”

I’ve seen variations of this from any number of different sides, and directness is not always the best and most successful strategy, since there’s a strong chance he just shuts down. And when he shuts down, OTHER parts of the relationship worsen and you have a downward spiral, the outcome of which is the furthest thing away from good sex you can imagine.

So in the real world, a gentle urging toward behavior that might be mimicked and at the very least introduces a kink into what’s become a parade of unpleasantness for at least one participant still seems the most sensible idea to me. But your counter, if she should so choose it, is now offered here as well. Cheers!