Ivanka Trump to take official position as "Assistant to the President"



Ivanka Trump, daughter of president Donald Trump, is to take an official, unpaid job as his assistant. That's Assistant to the President, not Assistant President.

In a statement, the White House said it was "pleased that Ivanka Trump has chosen to take this step in her unprecedented role as first daughter".

Ms Trump said in her statement that she had been "working in good faith with the White House Counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role".

Ethics experts cried foul when it emerged last week that Ms Trump was to be given a West Wing office and security clearance, without formally joining the administration.

You're wondering where the bottom is. There is no bottom.

Anarchist bitcoin hacker flies to Syria to join a 4-million person anarchist collective the size of



Amir Taaki is a well-known anarchist bitcoin hacker whose project, Dark Wallet, is meant to create strong anonymity for cryptocurrency transactions; when he discovered that anarchists around the world had gone to Rojava, a district in Kurdish Syria on the Turkish border, to found an anarchist collective with 4,000,000 members "based on principles of local direct democracy, collectivist anarchy, and equality for women," he left his home in the UK to defend it. (more…)

On "Eastern European Women"



“A Serb makes a good wife: she can pull the cart out of mud.”

That old Serbian proverb, its genius author has no name. It’s like the earthy quip from a hospital that I once heard in real life; after her severe car crash, the emergency doctor told her worried husband: Don’t you worry man, those Herzegovinian vipers are hard to kill!

I’m personally half Serb and half Herzegovinian, so I take these attitudes to my heart, half proud and half offended. But my American friend said: what about the Serbian and Herzegovinian husbands? Are they pleased about their mud-carting vipers? Is that the kind of proper home-girl that a local guy just has to have?

Good questions! If enough years go by, a man gets used to the woman of the house, muddy viper or not. But what about the opinions of the rest of the world?

Our world is a big place, so maybe a Serbian Herzegovinian woman is considered just one regional sub-class of East European womanhood. I might be called Balkan, from that mountain region of many fractured grooves, or a historical, fossilized ex-Yugoslav. I was never “Warsaw Pact,” although that arrangement meant “Eastern Europe” in the eyes of the Cold War West. I’m from a shatter-belt, a corner cushion among conflicting empires, a little regional federation that has vanished like the Austro-Hungarians and often resembled the modern European Union. It broke up in blood, but that’s been the fate of most European alliances, eastern or western, northern or southern.

These days, though, in the fractious nation of Italy, a minor scandal has broken out. A female TV talk-show host on the RAI national network suddenly recommended, more or less out of nowhere, that Italian men ought to marry “Eastern European women.” She offered six good reasons, or rather six sexist stereotyped points, about how these foreign easterners made much better wives than Italian women.

They may be foreign, yes, but they stay in the kitchen and cook. They’re women who clean the house. They forgive adultery. They become mothers but don’t get fat. They always dress decently. They don’t whine, nag and complain. And they obey a husband’s commands. These six female virtues make them great wives.

To tell the truth, I’ve been hearing these myths and traditions for decades now. I grew up in Italy and can pass for Italian, although when Italians hear that my name is Tesanovic, they often assume that I must be a Slav off the factory-line or collective farm. I was offended by that, but more as an East European than as a woman.

It’s annoying to hear that we non-Unionized Europeans are supposed to be poor, desperate and therefore obediently at the feet of the West. After all, aren’t Italians aware that this same stupidity, ignorance and machoism is also applied to Italian emigrants? If anybody’s women have the reputation of scheming gold-diggers, it’s those seductive, Machiavellian Italian women, and not us meek and lowly Balkan creatures, so blandly pretty and matrimonially faithful. We’re wholesome. We’re naively honest. We’re tiresome and boring, we’re no trouble at all!

However, the traditional Eastern European concept of us kerchief-headed creatures has clearly changed a lot since Yugoslavia split up, the Soviet Union fell and the EU fortress hastily erected its own walls in response. New prejudices always arise with new walls. Nowadays, instead of being a communal peasantry, we’re becoming world-class sultanas and empresses. Slovenian model Melania Knauss Trump is the First Lady of the USA!

Most of the current American President’s harem women have a Balkan air about them, even American-born Ivanka, the daughter / heiress who seems to be managing the Washington palace while the current wife keeps her head down in her gilded skyscraper in New York. We’re witnessing a modern psychological drama that closely resembles the intrigues of Hurrem, the abducted Ukrainian concubine, who became the Ottoman Empress of Suleyman the Great. Why her, why Eastern European Hurrem? Because Hurrem was a viper, and she could pull that muddy cart, and also because Suleyman the so-called Great didn’t have any other real friends.

Melanija Knauss is an ex-Yugoslav, just like me. She and I both sang patriotic hymns to Tito in our primary schools, with red kerchiefs around our necks. Nowadays those Communist adornments are more ragged and forlorn than Janis Joplin’s dirty red bandanna: freedom is just another word for losing your entire nation. We thought Marshall Tito was our family more than our leader. The school song was: Comrade Tito, we vow we will not go astray. Now far-straying Melania is decked out in Ottoman jewels as an offshored one-percenter bride of a mogul. Still, this is modernity, so, presumably, that fate had to happen to somebody.

Hell has no fury like someone’s national womanhood scorned, so TV mayhem broke out over this Italian RAI TV talk show. The commentator got promptly fired from the focussed social-media rage of vengeful Italian netizens, and even her boss was purged and her show was cancelled. Italian women certainly don’t care for invidious comparisons. But there’s nothing new about people making them.

Back in Italy in the 1970s, it was the Swedish girls who were cast as the ideal exotic brides. These Swedes were blonde and not dark, tall and statuesque and Nordic, un-Catholic and sexually emancipated, ready to hop fully-clothed right into the Trevi Fountain, dolce-vita style. But Italy survived that female threat somehow.

Now the entire RAI programme has been blown off the air scorched-earth style, as if Italian bachelors were in desperately short supply and all the girls have to scrabble. Why are Italian women protesting about an Italian female talk-show? Wouldn’t it make more sense if the women directly confronted their men?

And for that matter, why aren’t the Italian men complaining about their possible prospect of having to court and marry Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and whomever?

Plus — what about the grievances of us East European women who happen to be in Italy? To think that we never complain and lament is absurd — we’ve got enough daily grievances to fill the Roman Colosseum. We’re the women of a soulful people with vast intellectual conceptual fields of grief, sorrow and historical disappointment, and the near-infinite spectrum of the sorrows of a Russian woman is, in fact, shockingly different from the handwringing of any Polish one. Right now the Ukrainian women are bitterly upset about Russia. What if you’re an Eastern European woman from one of those small and awful “frozen conflict” zones, where your ethnicity doesn’t even have any proper nation for foreigners to get stereotypical about?

But, well, who cares about all that mess? RAI certainly doesn't. The network has only one concept for all of us splintered ethnics, mostly because their TV programs are never about the many sorrows of women of the world, they’re mostly about young, prancing, pretty Italian women who are half nude and seem available. Berlusconi used to be the master-of-ceremonies for that kind of regional showgirl parade, but it goes on with him or without him.

Italian TV culture ranks with the most blissfully vulgar TV in the world, because it really knows what sells on a glass screen. RAI is second to none in kitsch, misogyny and casually racist sexism, but those values go unchallenged because Italian national TV is a closed moral universe. It’s by no means all about us East European women in Italy, we’re merely the occasional collateral damage off their NATO airwaves.

Besides, there remains the primal source of the real anxiety in this little scandal, which is that foreign people really, truly are alluring. They’re hot. Nobody mentioned this prospect: but what about the Italian woman in bed with the Eastern European guy? How scary could that be, really? What if this intimate encounter with the Other turns out to be incredibly fun?

You never know what the night may bring to a woman, as my Mom used to say. But you see, I really can pull a cart out of mud, I am a Serbian woman all right, for better or worse. Plus I am a feminist pacifist who is always, Always Disobedient!

(Image: Cautious Matryoshka, Bradley Davis, CC-BY-ND)

Famous Monsters of Filmland's 1965 guide to home monster makeup



The Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook is a 1965 classic: Famous Monsters of Filmland founder Forrest Ackerman tapped movie makeup legend Dick Smith to create guides for turning yourself into any of three Martians, two kinds of werewolf, a "weird-oh," a "derelict," a ghoul, a mummy, Frankenstein's monster, Quasimodo, Mr Hyde, "split face," and more. (more…)

A rare class-action victory over Wells Fargo's fake accounts proves binding arbitration sucks



Wells Fargo got caught ripping off millions of customers by setting up fake accounts in their names, then billing them for "services" related to those accounts, sometimes tanking their credit-ratings, costing them jobs, even their houses -- but the company says you're not allowed to sue them because their employees fraudulently signed your name to a "binding arbitration" agreement that forces you to take your case to a fake judge whose salary they pay. (more…)

Tokyo travel tips, day 2: busy Takeshita street and quiet alleys of Harajuku



Carla and I took a one-week trip to Tokyo. It was my sixth visit to Japan's capital, and it was my favorite so far. For the next few days, I'll be writing about recommended things to do there. See them all here.

After walking around peaceful Yoyogi Park, we crossed the street and entered one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the world: Takeshita-dōri. This youth-oriented strip has fashion boutiques, restaurants, candy and ice cream shops, and the (now commonplace in Japan) cat and owl cafes, where you pay by the hour to spend time with animals. The crowd on Takeshita-dōri is made up of about 20% tourists and 80% Japanese teenagers. There are long lines to get into some of the stores and restaurants. The longest line was for a place called Johnny's. At least 100 people were waiting to get in. Every person in line was a Japanese teenage girl. The line was broken up into two separate queues. One line was in front of Johnny's. And another line was down the street, next to Harajuku station. The girls were waiting patiently for a uniformed guard to escort them into the main queue in batches. We thought Johnny's was a clothing store, so we decided to go back in the afternoon when the crowds had thinned to see if there were things to buy for our daughters, but when we went inside it was just a big maze-like room with thousands of small photographs of teenage boys taped to the walls. The photos had numbers on them and the girls were all carrying clipboards as the studied the photos and made marks on the clipboard. As far as we could figure out, the photos are of teen idols, and the girls were choosing which photos to buy once they reached the cashier at the end of the line.

For some reason, there was a long queue for the lackluster American chain restaurant, Eggs N Things:

We wouldn't have eaten there even if there was no line. Instead, we walked a little further and found a place called Eco Farm Cafe 632 (open 9am - 11pm). It looked good inside. When we entered, the server asked if we didn't mind sitting in the smoking section, because the non-smoking section was full. As there were no people in the smoking section, we said OK. I'm surprised Japan still allows smoking inside restaurants.

We ordered a set meal, which included coffee or tea, a croissant, ham, salad, and an egg in a bowl of polenta. It was delicious. The meal for the both of us cost about $15. They have a lot of tasty looking pastries. The coffee is roasted on the premises and the vegetables come from the restaurant's organic farm.

We spent most of the rest of the day wandering around the streets between and around Omotesandō and Takeshita. The streets are small, twisty, and slightly hilly. Surprises in this quiet neighborhood -- which has a mix of houses, apartments, cafes, bookstores, antique shops, and clothing stores -- are around every corner. We found tiny stores with closed metal doors that you had to open to see what was inside. Some of the doors were only five feet high so we had to duck to get in. We visited Rockin Jelly Bean's art gallery, Erostika (12pm - 8pm), and a steampunk gothic lolita fashion store with custom outfits that looked like they weighed 20 pounds with all the hoses, straps, and brass things attached to them.

In the same area is a place called Koffee Mameya (10am - 6pm) , which I'd heard about before we left the US. It's in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It's a black wooden box with a short door and no sign to let you know what it is. When you step inside, the box has another door that lead to a small, dimly lit room with two uniformed men behind a counter. The men are standing in front of small bags of coffee. There's an espresso machine, a grinder, and a pour over coffee set-up. The men spoke English and gave me a sheet of paper that had the different kinds of coffee available that day, arranged in order of how darkly they'd been roasted. I picked one in the middle and asked to have it served as espresso. It cost 500 yen (about $4.50). It was very flavorful, so I bought a 150 gram bag of beans for 2000 yen (about $18). The barista asked me what kind of grinder and espresso machine I have at home and he filled out a small form with information (weight of beans, water temperature extraction time) about how I should make the coffee using my equipment. Koffee Mameya was one of my favorite experiences of a day filled with wonder.

For dinner, we went back to our neighborhood and ate at Tanbo, a wonderful and inexpensive place where you mix rice, grilled food, and green tea in a bowl. Read a review at the NY Times: In Tokyo, Lots to Eat For Very Little.

Tomorrow - day 3!

Man found in snake



Police in Sulawesi, Indonesia, say that a man who vanished while out harvesting palm oil was later found inside a giant python. The man was dead.

Village secretary Salubiro Junaidi told The Jakarta Post: "People had heard cries from the palm grove the night before Akbar was found in the snake's stomach. "When the snake was captured, the boots Akbar was wearing were clearly visible in the stomach of the snake. "Resident[s] cut open the belly of the snake and Akbar was lifeless."