You have to be OK with a lot of awful stuff to vote for Donald Trump

You don’t have to believe everything Donald Trump does to vote for him, but you do have to be OK with everything he believes and everything he’s done.

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You don’t have to be a liar to vote for Donald Trump, you just have to be ok with lying.

You don’t have to be a hypocrite to vote for Donald Trump, you just have to be ok with hypocrisy.

You don’t have to enjoy mocking the disabled to vote for Donald Trump, you just have to be ok with other people mocking the disabled.

You don’t have to be a narcissist to vote for Donald Trump, you just have to be ok with narcissism.

You don’t have to be an adulterer to vote for Donald Trump, you just have to be ok with adultery.

You don’t have to be a misogynist to vote for Donald Trump, you just have to be ok with misogyny.

You don’t have to be a sexual assaulter to vote for Donald Trump, you just have to be ok with sexual assault. Continue reading

Emphasis added: the foreign policy week in pieces

As if Iran Isn’t Noticing

[Philip Coyle of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation] worries that the overall effect of the White House’s about-face on nuclear weapons policy could prove counterproductive. “We don’t want more nuclear weapons in the world,” he says. “We’re asking North Korea to stop its program. We’re asking Iran to stop its program. And in the same breath we’re gutting our nuclear nonproliferation by 15 or 20 percent. That would send a confusing message to the rest of the world.” 

How Obama Learned to Love the Bomb, Erika Eichelberger and Dana Liebelson, Mother Jones

Arms Race Gives Way to Network Race

The fundamental dynamic of the Cold War was an arms race to build nuclear weapons; conflict today is primarily driven by an “organizational race” to build networks. Terrorists, insurgents, and other militants focus on the creation of dispersed cells. … Intelligence, law enforcement, and military organizations strive to network their information flows, the aim being to mine “big data” to illuminate enemy cells, then to use this knowledge to eliminate them. In Boston last week, both aspects of this organizational race were evident – the small cell and big data – and both had their innings.

Small Cells vs. Big Data, John Arquilla, Foreign Policy

NORK: We’re Not Chumps

[North Korea] is well aware of the fate of the “axis of evil”: Iraq was invaded and occupied, and Iran is suffocating under the weight of economic sanctions and facing a possible Israeli or U.S. attack. From North Korea’s point of view, the only thing that Iraq and Iran have in common is that neither of them developed nuclear weapons.

Breaking Out the Bush Playbook on Korea, Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus

Nuclear Energy: Just a Few Degrees of Separation From Nuclear Weapons

… the Western approach toward Iran is that it does not make the necessary conceptual distinction between an indirect or latent nuclear capability and a drive to create nuclear weapons. Like other countries that possess a nuclear fuel cycle, such as Japan, Iran today has a latent nuclear capability that is a byproduct of its NPT-based nuclear progress, rather than a deliberate (i.e., illegal and clandestine) proliferation march. The mere suspicion that Iran’s capability will be misused in the future and bring Iran to the weaponization threshold cannot be the basis to deprive a country of its nuclear rights. … the West should focus on … on persuading Iran, through incentives and lack of security threats, to keep its indirect nuclear capability dormant indefinitely.

A proposed endgame for the Iranian nuclear crisis, Kaveh Afrasiabi, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The Word Terrorism Increasingly Applied to Muslims Only

… preconceived notions [hold] that terrorists or “jihadists,” a term often used interchangeably with the word “terrorist,” can only be Muslim. This is also akin to saying that other criminals or terrorists who are of other faiths cannot be true terrorists or that their criminal acts — such as mass shooting in a movie theater, or in a school, or a in a Sikh Temple, where scores of innocent people were massacred — cannot be described as terrorism.

Try Boston Marathon Bomber for His Crimes, Not His Religion or Nationality, Ali Younes, Focal Points

Did It Arrive on Pallets Like in Iraq?

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader. … Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords. … “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan, Matthew Rosenberg, the New York Times

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

Boston Marathon bombing: can we at least speculate logically?

CATEGORY: TerrorismThe speculation began before the smoke cleared: who was responsible for Monday’s terror attack at the Boston Marathon? What was their motive?

Not only is it human to speculate, it’s just about impossible for us not to. We’re inherently theoretical animals, constantly seeking more informed and reliable ways of understanding and explaining (and predicting) how the world works. (Well, most of us are like this, anyway. Highly dogmatic types have their theories locked in and have no interest in refining them.) So the speculation was natural, if not always helpful.

As you’d expect, a significant portion of the population leapt pretty quickly to the conclusion that it was foreign – and specifically Muslim – terrorists who were to blame. al Qaeda, perhaps. Maybe the Taliban. Could even be some new group we haven’t heard of before. In the absence of any data, any evidence, any context at all, this might be, at the least, a fair question to ask. After all, the US has been attacked before, multiple times, by extreme Islamist factions.

As my colleague Alex Palombo noted yesterday, this is precisely what happened. The New York Post, the Drudge Report, Erik Rush – you know, the guy you’ve seen on FOX News – even MSNBC, which, if they were as liberal as everyone accuses them of being, ought to know better, all of them were responsible for content that cast a suspicious eye toward Mecca. And of course, the general population gave us plenty of anti-Arab braying to ponder.

But, back to my criteria above: in the absence of data, evidence, context. That doesn’t really describe Monday’s events at all, does it? Consider:

  • Monday was Patriots’ Day, which annually commemorates the April 19, 1775 battles at Lexington and Concord, the first of the Revolutionary War.
  • Boston is, not to put too fine a point on it, the home of the original Tea Party. Significant swaths of the political right have seized upon the anti-tax symbolism of this event (although their grasp of the finer details surrounding the revolt often lacks a certain sophistication).
  • While we’re on the subject of April 19, the bombing occurred in close proximity to the anniversary of the Branch Davidian standoff’s tragic climax.
  • And April 19 is also the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • Let’s see – what else was Monday? Oh, right. April 15: Tax Day.

Any one of these items is a coincidence. Taken together, they begin to imply a possible pattern. They perhaps suggest a direction in which we might look as we speculate, since we know from long experience that terrorists love symbolism. Place, date – where you strike and when you strike delivers a message that’s often linked to your ideology, to the narrative you’re advancing.

Let me offer an example. Say you were an Iraqi driven to terrorist madness when American bombs dropped during Gulf War 2 killed members of your family. And you were going to bomb an American facility of some sort in retaliation. When would you do it? Well, you might do it on the anniversary of the bombing that killed your loved ones. Or maybe you’d do it on the anniversary of Saddam’s hanging. There are certainly other possibilities, but time and again, we see that people act symbolically, especially when making grand statements.

I’m not offering any of this as evidence of what you should be speculating. Far from it. We’re all better off reserving judgment until we have hard evidence to work with. Still, I admit to having some ideas of my own and I’ll be honest – if this turns out to be the work of Islamists I’ll be very, very surprised. Another colleague, Russ Wellen, raises the possibility that Islamists could have picked Patriots’ Day to cover their tracks, but that strikes me as unlikely. That breed of terrorist has a history of wanting credit for their actions.

My point, instead, is to question the pig-headedness of those who assume the attackers were Muslims. We’re not dealing with a situation in which there’s no symbolic context. On the contrary, there’s plenty of symbolic context and it all points directly away from foreign agents.

If there are thoughtful, insightful reasons to suspect Muslim extremists, I’d be interested in hearing them. But I’m not holding my breath.

Boston Marathon bombing: tragedy, bigotry and hope

CATEGORY: RacismFirst and foremost, my thoughts are with Boston today. I hope your friends and family were as lucky as mine were to avoid any harm, and my prayers are with those who were not as lucky.

Watching the news was horrific for anyone who turned on a television or browsed the Internet yesterday. But apart from the horrible images and stories I was hearing out of Boston, a smaller part of the coverage was scary. Without any clear evidence, some sources were claiming that the person or team behind the bombing was Muslim.

While the Boston PD and other law enforcement denied anyone being in custody, the New York Post and Drudge Report stirred the pot by saying a man of Saudi descent was being questioned in the hospital following the blasts.

The culturally-sensitive Erik Rush tweeted “Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon! #bostonmarathon,” and then when a follower asked if he was already blaming Muslims for the blast, he tweeted “Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.”

He said it was a joke, intended as sarcasm, and then added “Hypothesis proven: Libs responding to ‘kill them all’ sarcasm neglect fact that their precious Islamists say the same about us EVERY DAY.”

Even MSNBC, the supposedly progressive, liberal news network had a commentator allude to Islamic terrorism, saying that the London Marathon was upping security, because they had a “higher population of possible terrorists” than other countries. And today, they continue to speculate about foreign threats.

The Washington Post offered a piece yesterday, in response to the bombing, about Muslims worldwide hoping the bomber was not one of them. The bombing was horrific for everyone, but to see blame needlessly pinned on them was even more frightening, and probably brought back nasty memories of the 9/11 backlash from 12 years ago.

Yes, it is true that a Saudi man was being questioned by police as one of many persons of interest and a search warrant for his apartment was issued. But NBC reported that “nothing of value was found in that search” and no one has been formally named a suspect yet – the police have not revealed why he was a person of interest, only that he was tackled at the run as he was running away (just like every other spectator). And yes, the comments on the news were made in the heat of a crisis, but the circumstances don’t make that sort of bigotry okay.

It’s repulsive that the media – both mainstream and not – is allowing these sort of Anti-Muslim feelings pervade the coverage of a horrible event. I’m absolutely disgusted with the news right now, both with the writers and “journalists” making these comments, and with their editors and producers for letting them go to print or go to air.

The last 12 years have seen hate crimes skyrocket against Muslims in the US, and saw every television show and action movie casting a Middle Eastern villain fighting “jihad” against the American hero. Fiction is already doing enough to make Americans afraid of Muslims and Arabs. The last thing we need is for our agenda-setters and news media to scare people further with baseless speculation, and encourage the bigotry and fear lingering in peoples’ minds from years before.

To its credit, social media has responded in droves in support of Muslims worldwide, save for a few trolls taking advantage of the tragedy to spread hate. Tweets like “Don’t be an idiot and know the facts first” and “educate yourself” were among the millions of other tweets of love and solidarity that cropped up across the social network.

Call it armchair activism, but armchair activism did a lot this week.

It’s scary not knowing why someone would do such a horrible thing, to hurt and kill innocent people out for a run. But that’s no excuse to blame an entire faith, to stir racism and anti-Muslim feelings and dredge up memories of 9/11 to put a villain to a crime. We cannot continue to blame innocents for the work of a few.

The simple fact is, we don’t know who did this, and speculating if Islamic terrorists did this is not only untrue, but hurtful to the Muslim community and any progress in religious tolerance we’ve made since September 11th. But if we keep working together like the first responders and runners and Bostonians who ran towards the blasts to help, we can heal.

Are Americans becoming less religious? New Pew study says yes and Dawkins is optimistic

Given the course of Campaign 2012, the idea that Americans are trending toward less religion probably sounds ludicrous. But maybe not.

In response to an audience question last night, Richard Dawkins said he’s “optimistic” about the future of religion. (If you’re a religious type, he doesn’t mean that in the way it probably sounds.) He noted that the US is still exceptionally religious when compared with other nations along criteria such as education levels and scientific accomplishments, and he further allowed that we’re not nearly as far along the path toward a truly secular society as he might have expected several decades ago. Still, he says “I’m optimistic in the long term” – pointedly emphasizing long term.

Dawkins, a prominent scientist and intellectual who has authored a number of influential books, including The Selfish GeneThe Extended Phenotype and The God Delusion, was speaking at the University of Colorado’s Macky Auditorium as part of a US tour promoting his latest book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. This book is intended for younger audiences – in essence, it’s designed to help children understand how science works and to develop the faculties necessary to parse reality from superstition and the various kinds of “magic” that lead them into the sorts of folly afflicting American politics and policy development today. Illustrated by Dave McKeanThe Magic of Reality makes a compelling visual impression, as well, not only highlighting the essential concepts in ways that make them easier to grasp, but at the same time stylistically conjuring a pensive, dramatic sense of the natural world that I imagine will last young readers the rest of their lives.

One hopes Dr. Dawkins is justified in his optimism, and one might also hope that we don’t have to wait too long for the long term to arrive. He made the point judiciously, of course, but while the US ranks far ahead of the rest of the world in many measures of intellectual achievement, we’re also the undisputed leaders of the developed world when it comes to batshit religious crazy. I’ve addressed the “Christian nation” question here a couple of times in the past, and it’s perhaps reminding everyone of some numbers.

  • Polls show the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian ranging as high as 85% or beyond.
  • The president is a Christian…
  • …as is the VP.
  • The Speaker of the House is Catholic…
  • …and the Senate Majority Leader is Mormon.
  • Well over 90% of our Congressional representatives are Christian, with a majority of the remainder being Jewish.
  • The Supreme Court features seven Christians and two Jews.
  • All of our major presidential candidates in both major parties.
  • Almost all of our past presidents; depending on how you count Unitarians, you have to go all the way back to Lincoln (ironically enough, the founder of the GOP) to even find one to debate over;
  • Hell, even sports franchises are starting to build their operations around the evangelical litmus test.
  • It seems unlikely that a similar review of the legislatures and courthouses in the 50 states would reveal too much variation from this overpowering Judeo-Christian norm.

You have to be willfully stupid – and polls suggest that in many places the voting majority is just that – to think that ours is a Christian system of government. However, numbers are numbers, and I don’t think it controversial to say that we are a Christian culture. For better or worse. Mostly worse.

Of course, my colleague Otherwise believes that we’re one of the least religious places on earth. At some point he and I need to sit down and discuss our criteria. Perhaps he’s looking at the Muslim world, or perhaps he’s looking at cultures dominated by Catholicism. Fair enough. Or maybe he’s thinking more about the gap between what people report when polled and how they live when the pollster drives away. He grew up in the South like I did, so he’s probably well familiar with a certain breed of Christian – let’s call it the devout son of a bitch. Never misses church, publicly quite upstanding and pious, but at his core he’s just a mean redneck. He’ll say he believes in Jesus, but you’d never know it to watch him.

It’s like the famous singer and comedian, Jim Stafford, once said: Baptists are like cats – you know they’re raising hell, you just can’t catch them at it.

A new study from the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life suggests that perhaps Dawkins (and Otherwise) are right.

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

Note: “religiously unaffiliated” doesn’t mean “atheist” by a long shot.

This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

While I don’t care what people believe per se – I’m very 1st Amendmentish in that respect – I care a great deal what people do, and these days ignorant, dingbat theocracy-leaning religious conservatism exerts way too great an influence on the laws that govern our lives. For that reason, the new Pew study, which indicates, at a minimum, a shift away from organized fundamentalism, brings welcome news. Perhaps the single most encouraging bit is the “a third of adults under 30” part – I suppose that’s the “long term” hope that Dawkins is hanging his hat on.

Time will tell. Common sense says that at some point either the pendulum has to swing back the other way a bit, away from reactionary religiosity and neo-medieval conservatism, or the culture will simply explode. Perhaps we tip over into the kinds of full-blown theocracy that more and more Republicans are openly advocating, or we erupt into open and potentially violent conflict to prevent it.

The Pew report suggests that with each passing year America’s clear thinkers regain a little more territory. Let’s hope they, and Dawkins, are right.

Image Credit: Touch Reviews

Why hasn't West responded to beheading videos as some Muslims do to anti-Islamic videos?

U.S. policies toward the Middle East were more of a factor in protests against “Innocence of Muslims” than insults to religion.

It’s tough to deny that Denis Hamill (younger brother of Peter) makes a good point in his September New York Daily News column titled Radical Islamic terror ‘flicks’ insult humanity far more deeply than an idiot film about Muslims by a felonious con man. He’s referring, of course, to the video Innocence of Muslims that’s poured gasoline on fire in the Muslim world.

Suppose New Yorkers decided to retaliate and storm all their diplomatic outposts, killing ambassadors and other innocents because we were outraged by an Islamist film that we found offensive? … And, believe me, we have lots more than one dopey fictional film to be offended by. Continue reading

The God Test

Suppose the following:

  • Later today, an organization dedicated to studying science and religion announces it has devised a “God Test.” This process will conclusively reveal whether or not there is a god (or gods). Further, it will discern the nature of god, if one (or more) exists. Does it desire/require obeisance/worship? Of what specific sort? Or is it a distant superior being that doesn’t really concern itself with humans and human affairs?
  • Global religious, political, social, academic and scientific leaders review this test and universally agree that yes, it will in fact do exactly what its developers claim. Despite their many differences, they all agree that once the God Test is run, we will all know, without ambiguity, what there is to know about god. Continue reading

Are Islamists role models to Christian fundamentalists?

The Obama administration, writes Foreign Policy in Focus co-director John Feffer in his valuable new book Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam (City Lights Books), “continues to misunderstand the nature of political life in the Middle East. In his 1985 survey of the Arab world called The Arabs, journalist Peter Mansfield concluded in his final chapter that ‘no one can tell what social and political institutions the Arab people will have developed by the end of this momentous century. All that can be said with certainty is that, however much they derive from foreign movements and ideas, they will have a specifically Arab of Islamic character.’ Nearly thirty years later, policy makers and pundits have yet to learn that Islam is an essential part of Arab life, and that includes politics.” [Emphasis added.] Continue reading

Mountains made of Muslims

Few in the West are aware of the extent of the savagery that Christians rained down on Muslims during the crusades. This is my fourth post on Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011) by Jay Rubenstein — a crusades history for dummies and historians both. My previous posts: Sanctifying the Killing of Muslims, The Secret to Islam’s Rapid Expansion: Free Love (?), and Justifications for Slaughtering Muslims Were in Ample Supply for Crusaders. Now, more fuel for the jihad fire. Continue reading

Crusaders had no problem justifying slaughtering Muslims

Islamic extremists have been known to cite passages of the Koran to justify killing non-believers. Western conservatives, in turn, such as those at (facetious), delight in such quotes. For example:

As well as Hadith (sayings ascribed to Muhammad):(8:12) – “I will cashe hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 327: “Allah said, ‘A prophet must slaughter before collecting captives. A slaughtered enemy is driven from the land.” Continue reading

The secret to Islam's rapid expansion: free love (?)

As previously noted, Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011), by American medieval historian Jay Rubenstein, is as readable as it seems credible. (See Sanctifying the Killing of Muslims).

At the turn of the first millennium, Rubenstein explains, Christians often referred to Muslims as Ishmaelites. When the biblical Abraham, childless, suggested that his wife Sarah allow her servant to impregnate her, Ishmael was the result. But when he finally produced an heir himself (Isaac), Abraham drove out Ishmael — called a “savage man” in Genesis — as well as Sarah. Continue reading

Sanctifying the killing of Muslims

Many of us in the West wonder how Islamist extremists can find virtue in killing. In the East and West, killing an enemy has long been glorified. But when Islamist extremists kill Muslims because, say, they’re Shi’ite not Sunni, or they justify the deaths of innocent bystanders on the principle that, if they’re righteous, their ascent into heaven is expedited, they stretch the definition of the noble warrior beyond the breaking point.

Of course, neither do elements of fundamentalist Christianity have a problem with killing Muslims, who are viewed as heathens standing in the way of history (holding up the apocalypse by failing to cede full ownership of Jerusalem to the Jews). What’s less known is that while Christianity certainly had no monopoly on slaughter — when you consider how much smaller the world’s population was in his day, Genghis Khan was like Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong combined — it once attached no virtue to killing in war. Continue reading

Which religion is best?

I do not believe in God. Still, arguing against God, as Dawkins, Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have done, is a mug’s game. Whether it’s Allah, or dead relatives, or the constellations, or stupid stuff from movies (the Force,) belief in an extrinsic, intercessionary force seems to be a basic human need.

And where there’s a consumer need, an industry will emerge, whether the product is ringtones or salvation. Religion is the business of god. We have had organized religion in every society and every geography at every time in history, and we always will. To quote myself, if we abolished every religion at midnight, we’d have a thousand more by sunrise.

These days we are absolutely drowning in spirituality and religions.  Continue reading

Bryan Fischer and the American Family Association: diabolical voices of un-Christian, un-American hate

Fischer: ‘Allah is a demon god of darkness, violence, death, and destruction’
Right Wing Watch
December 23, 2011

Considering Bryan Fischer makes so much hateful noise, is it any wonder that it’s relatively difficult to get in touch with him? More’s the pity. I had hoped to correct him for his error and apprise him of a little bit of his own scripture. Maybe this post or one like it will come to his attention, not that I think it will actually do any good. Meanwhile, this post is reaching you. That is what matters.

Disclosure: I, myself, am not an adherent of any faith. I am an agnostic. Continue reading

Lawyers, guns and money and Shari'a Law and air conditioning the desert: how the hell did the US lose World Cup 2022 to Qatar?!

Qatar 2022Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of world soccer, today awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The move is regarded by most as an upset – the odds-on favorite to land the event was the United States, which hosted the most successful Copa in history in 1994. Also in the running were Australia and a combined bid by South Korea and Japan.

“Upset,” I said. Actually, that’s a pretty mild term for this decision, which in many respects defies reason. Consider:

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

The shameless cynicism of zeroing in on the Ground Zero Islamic center

At AlterNet, Joshua Holland deftly turns the expression “Ground Zero” on its head.

When the horror of nuclear warfare was unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the term “Ground Zero” entered our lexicon. The expression has come to mean the epicenter of a catastrophic event. . . . the point from which damage spreads. [While] it’s not an apt analog for the physical destruction that resulted from the attacks on the World Trade Center. . . . it is an appropriate metaphor for the . . . bigotry against Muslim Americans that has radiated out from Ground Zero and spread across the United States.

Ironically, not long after 9/11, you could walk the streets of Manhattan and still see Islams praying in a storefront mosque with a vendor outside selling Islamic ware, as well as Middle-Eastern food vendors playing tapes or CDs of muezzins. No inhibitions; no harassment. Continue reading

Nota Bene #112: GOOOLLLLLLLL

“Freedom of any kind is the worst for creativity.” Who said it? Continue reading