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Satchu's Rich Wrap-Up
Monday 19th of July 2021

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Ex-Dallas Fed Pres. Richard Fisher put it: “We injected monetary heroin into the system.” @ClarkiiStomias
World Of Finance

Now the only systemic outcomes are withdrawal (asset destruction) or overdose (currency destruction), either of which would lead to the system’s death.

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The First Light of Trinity @NewYorker

Seventy years ago, the flash of a nuclear bomb illuminated the skies over Alamogordo, New Mexico.Courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory

The light of a nuclear explosion is unlike anything else on Earth. This is because the heat of a nuclear explosion is unlike anything else on Earth. 

Seventy years ago today, when the first atomic weapon was tested, they called its light cosmic. 

Where else, except in the interiors of stars, do the temperatures reach into the tens of millions of degrees? 

It is that blistering radiation, released in a reaction that takes about a millionth of a second to complete, that makes the light so unearthly, that gives it the strength to burn through photographic paper and wound human eyes. 

The heat is such that the air around it becomes luminous and incandescent and then opaque; for a moment, the brightness hides itself. 

Then the air expands outward, shedding its energy at the speed of sound—the blast wave that destroys houses, hospitals, schools, cities.
The test was given the evocative code name of Trinity, although no one seems to know precisely why. 

One theory is that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the U.S. government’s laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and the director of science for the Manhattan Project, which designed and built the bomb, chose the name as an allusion to the poetry of John Donne. 

Oppenheimer’s former mistress, Jean Tatlock, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, when he was a professor there, had introduced him to Donne’s work before she committed suicide, in early 1944. 

But Oppenheimer later claimed not to recall where the name came from.

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Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar by Oliver Craske. True Bromance Philip Clark @LRB

People’s response to Indian classical music is the same, Shankar told a press conference in London in 1966. Americans hear resemblances to jazz and Japanese musicians hear echoes of their own folk traditions. 

‘But the similarities are very superficial,’ Shankar said. ‘Beyond that, there is something very deep that is yet to be appreciated by Westerners.’
Images of Shankar – sitting cross-legged on a carpet, playing his sitar – have become synonymous with Indian classical music, yet when his story is told it too often focuses on his starry associations. 

Through his friendship with George Harrison, Shankar inadvertently altered the course of popular music, spinning the Beatles in a new direction

Meeting Shankar changed things for John Coltrane, too, helping him shake his dependence on drugs, while opening his ears to Eastern scales. 

Before Philip Glass worked with Shankar on a film score in 1965, he had been churning out unremarkable pastiches of French neoclassicism fused with folksy Americana; discovering the rhythmic loops of Indian music kickstarted his first pieces of minimalism. 

A generation earlier, Benjamin Britten had been entranced by Shankar’s first British performances. 

Yehudi Menuhin’s reputation as a child prodigy was built on the recording he made of Elgar’s Violin Concerto in 1932, but he too was steered onto a different path by Shankar.

It’s intriguing that a single musician could exercise such an influence, but that isn’t the story Craske wants to tell. 

Shankar, he claims, was unnerved by the growth in crossover culture – projects casually labelled ‘East meets West’, Indian music with a backbeat, and the emergence in the 1960s of ‘raga rock’. 

It was fine for the practices of Indian classical music to meet Western forms, he felt, but traditional music – the essence of that ‘something very deep’ – should never be subsumed within Western musical structures. 

He had cultural reservations too. He played at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, but he wasn’t in sympathy with the summer of love. His music was mind-expanding enough, he thought; there was no need to be stoned to appreciate it. 

Instruments were sacred objects and he was distressed by the onstage trashing of guitars. Ten years earlier he had played at the International Summer School of Modern Music at Darmstadt and the music he heard there – by Pierre Boulez, Edgard Varèse and the English twelve-tone composer Humphrey Searle, among others – made him feel sick. 

And while he recognised Coltrane’s improvisational genius, to Shankar’s ears the turbulence of the music opened a voyeuristic window into a troubled mind. 

The Indian classical tradition, by contrast, emphasised serenity and inner peace.

‘He wanted to be in the purest sense a presenter and promoter of the classical tradition,’ Shankar’s daughter Anoushka, herself a sitar virtuoso, told Craske

‘But he also rebelled against the restraint that implied, and fought to be creatively free and experimental.’ 

The tug of war between tradition and innovation is central to Craske’s study. He first met Shankar in 1994, when he was sent to help him write an autobiography, Raga Mala, which appeared three years later. 

Shankar made clear that some of the material – especially about his tangled personal life – was to be aired only after ‘I’m gone’. 

It’s included in Indian Sun, published last year to mark his centenary.

Robindra ‘Ravi’ Shankar was born in 1920 in the northern Indian city of Benares. His mother, Hemangini, was eleven when she was married to Shankar’s father, Shyam, who had aspirations to practise law. 

Shyam had only a limited tolerance for family life and spent long stretches of time living apart from Hemangini and their five children. 

He also took a second wife, an English woman ‘whose family had cut her off’, Craske writes, ‘for being the mistress of a “black devil”’. 

It wasn’t against the law at the time for a Hindu man to have two wives, but ‘it was rare and generally disapproved of.’

Shyam was appointed foreign minister in the state of Jhalawar and left for Europe the year Ravi was born, appointing a family friend as his children’s guardian. 

With his father absent, his oldest brother, Uday, a dancer, touring Europe, and his favourite brother, Bhupendra, occupied, Ravi lacked male role models; tutored at home, he had no friends either. 

It was at this time that he was sexually abused over a number of years by a man he described as an ‘uncle’ when in his seventies he first talked about what had happened. 

He was close to his mother, who sang to him – semi-classical pieces and folk songs – and told him stories from her childhood. 

They were short of money and Ravi felt her humiliation at having to take menial jobs, like making blouses on her sewing machine, and pawning jewellery.

Ravi was eight when his father returned. ‘Wearing his best Savile Row suit and with his fair complexion,’ Craske writes, ‘he looked like a British sahib’ to the ‘awestruck Robu’. 

Shyam had arrived with two female companions: his current girlfriend and the cousin of his English wife, who had died a couple of years earlier. 

Over a breakfast of fried eggs at a fancy hotel, Ravi, who was used to eating with his fingers, was ‘bombarded with instructions on how to use the cutlery’; he later recalled the humiliation when the yolk dribbled onto his clothes. 

After staging shows for Indian soldiers in Britain during the First World War, Shyam had had a one-act ballet, The Great Moghul’s Chamber of Dreams, staged at Covent Garden in 1924. 

The billing said it was ‘based on native melodies collected by Pandit Shyam Shankar, and orchestrated by Western musicians’. 

From this we can assume that Shyam had no formal musical training, but could recognise a good tune.

Shankar’s own musical training was unconventional at first. In Indian culture, musical knowledge is usually passed down within families, starting when the child is very young. Instead, Ravi drifted towards music. 

In February 1930 Uday returned to India for the first time in ten years. He had trained as a painter – including a spell at the Royal College of Art. He had danced for King George V, and Anna Pavlova had invited him to choreograph a set of Indian dances, which were performed at Covent Garden the year before his father’s ballet was put on there. 

‘He is endowed with one of the most perfect bodies I have ever seen in a man in any country,’ Pavlova said, encouraging him to follow Indian dance rather than ballet, and to present it afresh, as Tagore had Bengali poetry.

After London Uday had gone to Paris, where he developed a sequence of authentic dances. Having attracted a wealthy backer, his plan was to set off on a grand tour of India, collecting instruments and costumes along the way, and recruiting a troupe of musicians and dancers he could take back to Europe. 

But the funding didn’t materialise and Uday ended up drawing on the talents of his family instead. 

Brothers, in-laws and uncles were co-opted into the troupe, and Hemangini was persuaded to come along to maintain family order – which also meant bringing ten-year-old Ravi, who fell immediately into a travel habit he would maintain for the rest of his life. 

The sights, the fashions, the smells, the food, the hot and cold water taps: Ravi was dazzled by Paris and intoxicated by the affection shown towards his family. 

Their first show, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, sold out and had adulatory reviews. 

The Shankars met Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein and Henry Miller, and over the next few years travelled all over Europe and eventually to the US, where Ravi heard Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, beginning a lifelong fascination with New York.

Ravi began taking small dance parts in the troupe’s productions, but his attention was increasingly drawn to the sitar.  Back in Calcutta, now fourteen years old, he practised obsessively

The guru of gurus at the time was the sitarist Enayat Khan and Ravi was set to become his disciple, but a day before the formal ceremony to bind disciple and guru, Shankar developed typhoid: it was an ‘ill-starred’ relationship, Craske insists. 

A year later, in December 1934, Shankar saw the man who eventually became his guru, Allauddin Khan, perform at the All-Bengal Music Conference (Tagore and the 13-year-old Satyajit Ray were also in the audience)

On the first day, Khan led an orchestra of local orphans playing a mixture of Indian and Western instruments; on the second, he gave a recital on a string instrument called a sarod. 

The following year, Khan joined Uday’s troupe on a tour through the Middle East and on to Europe. Hemangini pleaded with him to look after Ravi ‘as your son’. 

A few months earlier, Shyam had died in circumstances that were never fully explained. 

He had been representing one of two warring Bengali brothers in a legal case in London, and had been assaulted outside his hotel, sustaining fatal head injuries. 

Within a year of Ravi’s departure from Bombay, his mother too was dead.

Ravi was away from India for two years. Tours of Europe were interleaved with stays in London and Paris. 

There was a five-month residency at Dartington Hall, and journeys across the Atlantic for performances in the US. 

A recording of a concert in New York was the first album of Indian classical music to be released in the West. 

After a final show at Carnegie Hall in March 1938, they returned to Europe but, Craske writes, ‘prospects there were too bleak,’ and most of the performers, including Shankar, returned to India.

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Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar by Oliver Craske. True Bromance Philip Clark @LRB [continued]

During two months spent coming to terms with his mother’s death in her home village, Ravi finally underwent the rite of passage into Brahmin adulthood, which usually happens before the age of twelve: he was now eighteen. He shaved off his hair, learned the mantras, and lived like a monk for a few weeks. 

Then he travelled to Maihar, where Allauddin Khan was the court musician at the royal palace, to begin a new life, austere and regimented, waking at 4 a.m. every morning. From now on the study of music would be his sole focus

The starting point was a proper appreciation of the Indian vocal tradition, of which instrumental playing was an extension. 

He would also have to unpick the idiosyncracies of his largely self-taught technique. For Khan (known as ‘Baba’, an honorific melding ‘guru’ and ‘father’), music was next to godliness, and he could lash out when students frustrated him; one boy was hospitalised after being struck with a tuning hammer. 

He prayed five times a day, abstained from alcohol and ‘adhered to the old belief that indulging in sex reduced a musician’s powers’. Shankar spent the next seven years with him in devotional study.

Baba’s philosophy of music was rooted in the idea of gharana – the passing of an artistic tradition from one generation to the next, through example and explanation. 

As the months and years passed Shankar came to understand the way the distinct sections of a raga could flow and contrast within a performance: the way a freer opening part, called alap, established a matrix of melodic possibilities which was given a rhythmic backbone, the tala, as the piece moved into its next section, the jor. 

Each tala has its own mathematically complex beats, chains of twos and threes with occasional half-beats dropped in to make the syncopation bite.

Many years later, on an album called The Sounds of India, Shankar talked through the structure of an improvisation as he performed it. 

‘Ragas are precise melody forms,’ he explained. ‘A raga is not a mere scale, nor is it a mode.’ 

He explained the importance of microtones – the notes between the rigidly tuned notes of Western scales, usually ignored by Western composers – and described the melodic contours that twist up and down the raga

As the tanpura, a bulkier and more resonant cousin of the sitar, sustained a drone, improvisations shifted from smaller, scene-setting patterns into extended melodic lines. 

With his American audience in mind, Shankar warned listeners not to confuse his music with jazz.

Anyone learning to play music rooted in improvisation seeks to digest the rules to the point where they become instinctive, which makes it possible then to unlock the imagination. 

Each raga was an expression of one of the nine basic emotional states, or rasas, originally set out in a Sanskrit text two thousand years ago

A raga was a melody form, as distinct from a fully realised melody: it laid out a system of instructions for the development of melodic structures. 

The rules stated which notes needed to be emphasised; the stress on certain notes locked others out of the design, thus creating the melodic shapes that gave each raga its personality. 

In performance, Shankar would engage in a dialogue between the rules and the moment, listening intently to the development of his own patterns and to the way his fellow musicians were responding, to drive the music forwards.

‘In the beginning it was more perspiration than inspiration,’ Shankar remembered. 

After many months, Baba allowed him to train alongside other disciples: in the first instance his son Ali Akbar and his daughter Annapurna, who excelled at the surbahar (the bass sitar). Ravi and Annapurna married in 1941; their son Shubhendra was born in 1942

Shankar started to play in public and, in 1942, gave his first radio recital in Bombay. His relationship with Annapurna began its long unravelling as she worried, not without justification, that Ravi was unfaithful when he was away from her. 

His relationship with Uday suffered too: Ravi’s decision to pursue music over dance upset his brother, and Uday was jealous of his success. 

He cut Ravi’s monthly allowance, plunging the new parents into a financial crisis. Relief came when a rich industrialist agreed to become Shankar’s patron. 

He spent five hundred rupees on a new sitar, designed to his own specifications, and told Khan that he was ready to leave Maihar.

Shankar was disturbed by the rioting and sectarian violence that accompanied Partition. 

When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 he improvised an alap on All India Radio, with his sitar tuned to the syllable sounds of Gandhi’s name. By now his financial problems were overwhelming. 

The income he was getting from recitals and film scores never quite paid the bills, and he was being sued as the result of a failed theatrical production. 

He made a plan to kill himself after playing one last recital. But as he practised on the morning of the recital, there was a knock on the door. 

Tat Baba, a ‘saintly yogi’, asked if he could use Shankar’s bathroom. Seeing the state Shankar was in, he persuaded him to cancel his performance. 

Instead, Shankar played while Tat Baba meditated. ‘The money you missed tonight will come back to you many times over,’ Tat Baba told his new disciple. ‘Don’t do anything foolish.’

Tat Baba’s prophecy was soon fulfilled. In 1949 Shankar was made director of music at All India Radio.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, believed that support for the arts would help unite the country, and made extra funding available. Shankar was handsomely paid. 

He planned music for broadcast, including sitar concerts of his own. AIR had modelled itself loosely on the BBC, with its resident orchestras, 

but it was Shankar’s task to figure out how massed instrumental music could work in India, where classical musicians tended to consider themselves soloists, and given the difficulty of orchestrating improvised ragas using music notation. 

Performances of ragas were focused on the development of a single melody line created by a single player: what was one supposed to do with all those extra instruments?

Shankar’s initial solution was to rehearse his musicians enough that they could play scored music with such abandon it sounded improvised. 

To avoid the timbral monotony of having the entire ensemble play in unison, he threaded melodic lines between different groups of players, revealing constantly changing instrumental colours. 

Eyebrows were raised when, later, he added Western string instruments and clarinets to the ensemble, but these judiciously selected instruments extended the orchestra’s range and deepened its sound.

Shankar was already thinking about the outside world, and the ways he might perform his music overseas. It was Menuhin who eventually persuaded him to take the plunge. 

Shankar and his tabla player, Chatur Lal, played privately for Menuhin when he visited India in 1952

‘That was music-making I could have only dreamed of,’ Menuhin said

Craske speculates that he heard a freedom in Indian music denied him by his own ‘corseted’ upbringing. 

Three years later, Menuhin invited Shankar to the New York premiere of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, for which Shankar had provided the music. 

The plan was that he would play a concert at the Museum of Modern Art and appear on Alistair Cooke’s TV show, Omnibus.

 But Annapurna, suspicious of affairs, refused to let him travel to New York alone. She accused him of sidelining her musical career in favour of his own, and began an affair with one of his pupils.

He finally made it to the US in November 1956, having resigned his radio job and gambled everything on the success of the trip. 

He travelled via London, where he played recitals, recorded for the BBC and made his first album – Music of India: Three Classical Ragas – at Abbey Road Studios. 

He had given careful consideration to the way he should perform Indian classical music in the West, realising that American and European audiences would struggle to cope with the five or six-hour performances he was used to. 

He recognised that an audience reared on Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich would have less difficulty accepting drum sounds than the rarefied timbre and tunings of the sitar, so he gave greater prominence to Chatur Lal.

In New York, Shankar was fêted by jazz musicians, and photographed with Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Quincy Jones and Shelley Manne, but there is no report of his meeting equivalent figures in classical music. 

George Avakian, the head of popular music at Columbia Records who had signed Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis, heard Shankar play at New York Town Hall and invited him to record for the label, which resulted in The Sounds of India. 

Also present was Richard Bock, head of Pacific Jazz in Los Angeles, who recorded Shankar when he visited the West Coast a few weeks later. 

Shankar’s very healthy sales shifted the label, which had been devoted to jazz, towards a new identity as World Pacific Records, in which jazz took its place alongside what would be called world music. 

Avakian was keen for Shankar to tour with Brubeck, a plan that foundered on Shankar’s reluctance to involve himself too deeply with contemporary jazz. 

The jazz that spoke to him – Armstrong, Basie, Ellington – had, he said, ‘innocence, life and soul in it. 

Their music was not as intellectual as the atonal, modern and avant-garde varieties you hear today.’ Shankar was treading a fine line. 

He yearned for his music to be appreciated in the West but, like it or not, the audience for the increasingly complex improvisations of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman was his audience too.

Shankar’s popularity was such that he was able to fill the Royal Festival Hall in 1958. The next time he played there was in October 1963. That same evening, across the Thames at the London Palladium, the Beatles were playing in front of a live television audience. 

At this point, George Harrison hadn’t discovered Indian music. He first picked up a sitar on the set of Help! in 1965 – there was a scene set in an Indian restaurant – and later that year heard about Shankar, buying his records and a ‘crummy’ sitar of his own, which he took with him to Abbey Road when the Beatles recorded ‘Norwegian Wood’. 

His shadowing of the lead melody line on sitar was technically amateurish, but the sound of the sitar implanted into the standard rock group line-up of electric guitars, bass and drums helped push Shankar into mass consciousness. 

Harrison and Shankar finally met in 1966. It was a true bromance. Unlike most of the people in Harrison’s life, Shankar never fawned. He was deeply unimpressed by ‘Norwegian Wood’ and the other attempts the Beatles had made to flavour their songs with Indian sounds. 

But he saw a quality in Harrison that he liked and offered to teach him the sitar – properly.

In 1965 Shankar had been persuaded to provide music for The Psychedelic Experience, a short film introduced by Timothy Leary which followed a man on a mescaline trip. 

Later Shankar felt deeply embarrassed by his involvement, and claimed he hadn’t realised that the film would be used to promote drug use. 

He was sympathetic to the general spirit of revolt of the time – he was against the Vietnam War, in favour of Civil Rights protests and ‘needed no teaching about free love’ – but the spectacle of musicians getting stoned and playing music that, to him, perpetuated ugliness and violence was a puzzle.

At the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, the high watermark of his popularity, Shankar asked the audience not to smoke, then performed a three-hour set blending meditative sitar soliloquies with the rhythmic exhilaration of extended tabla solos

Shankar enjoyed listening to the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Otis Redding and Janis Joplin, who he said reminded him of an old-school jazz singer like Bessie Smith, but was saddened by Hendrix and The Who, with their sacrilegious destruction of instruments. 

‘I am immediately repulsed by anything ugly that sends out bad vibrations,’ he wrote in 1968.

In the context of 1960s hippie culture, ‘vibrations’ – good or bad – was a loaded word, but it’s possible that Shankar was referring to the physics of sound. 

Playing Indian classical music when stoned isn’t a good idea: a clear head is needed to negotiate the tiny variations of tuning integral to a raga. 

The seven years Shankar had spent studying with Baba had made the sitar like an extension of his body: he knew when vibrations were flowing naturally and unimpeded, and when they were not.

In 1965 Menuhin asked Shankar to collaborate in an ‘East meets West’ composition that would allow for ‘rhythmic and melodic freedoms within a set pattern’. 

Menuhin had approached Benjamin Britten, but he rejected the idea as unworkable. 

Eventually Peter Feuchtwanger was chosen – he had an interest in Indian and Arabic music – but the project was doomed from the start. 

Menuhin had promised Shankar that the score would be a ‘useful point de départ’, but it ended up swamping the musicians with superfluous notation. 

Shankar would only bend so far to the composer’s will. The final performance had a brief nod to Feuchtwanger’s composition as an opening flourish – then Shankar cut free.

Out of this, however, the celebrated Menuhin/Shankar musical partnership was born, producing two smash-hit volumes of West Meets East. 

Menuhin’s devotion to Shankar, and his super-sensitive ears, were enough to pull him through these recordings, but Craske is right to identify awkward moments – the occasional rhythmic stiffness or decorative figuration more suited to Mozart – that jut out like the occasionally unwieldy sentences of someone speaking in a second language, no matter how fluent they are.

In 1971, Shankar recorded his Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra with André Previn’s London Symphony Orchestra. 

Previn later described the piece to me in an interview as ‘absolute, total, utter shit’. 

He was frustrated, he said, to arrive at the studio and discover that Shankar ‘hadn’t orchestrated it’. 

But Craske’s account of the same occasion persuades me that Shankar had prepared the material as he understood it. 

Experiences like this and the earlier one with Feuchtwanger touched a raw nerve, Craske thinks. 

Shankar understood and respected the Western system of notation, but this was not the way Indian classical music worked. 

Craske suggests that Feuchtwanger’s score breached ‘the raga’s integrity’, but Shankar’s objections might have been deeper than that. Western tuning, compared to the rich micro-tunings of the Indian classical tradition, offers a narrower bandwidth of possible notes, and stave notation is notoriously imprecise when it comes to tunings more complex than the Western norm

Shankar’s album Inside the Kremlin (1988), on which his musicians work with Moscow-based orchestral players, sounds sugar-coated and synthetic, the generic orchestral sounds doing the music no favours. 

It was the sustained drone of the tanpura that licensed Shankar’s improvisational imagination, and which underpinned the development of Indian classical music as a continuum, in contrast with the episodic narratives characteristic of Western music.

Shankar was given a seat in the upper chamber of the Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, in 1986. But on the day he was due to deliver his maiden speech, he was having bypass surgery in California. 

By this time, much of his musical and personal life had become rooted in America. 

He loved New York, but the Californian climate suited him better, and he taught at UCLA and the California Institute of the Arts.

 He was married, happily, for a second time in 1989, to Sukanya Rajan, Anoushka’s mother, and they lived in Encinitas, north of San Diego. 

He died in December 2012, just a few weeks after his final concert, with Anoushka, in Long Beach, where oxygen tanks were on hand to aid his breathing. 

Clips show an alarmingly fragile Shankar playing a sitar modified to compensate for his frailties. 

But he sounds utterly alive to the moment, fortified by the love of his audience, carried away on a wave of good vibrations.

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Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

“When you're young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You're your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too—leave them behind. You don't yet know about the habit they have, of coming back'

Time in dreams is frozen. You can never get away from where you've been.” 

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Cults use language to cast their spell @FT

What kind of person joins a cult? After hearing one too many stories of friends and acquaintances who’d handed their lives over to charismatic godmen in India, or of once-questioning college mates who’d succumbed to QAnon conspiracies in the US, I wanted to know more.
Cults are hardly a modern invention, but four new books on the subject offer some answers. If there’s one thing they make clear, it’s that given the right circumstances, intelligent — even sceptical — independent thinkers, as well as the vulnerable and credulous can easily become ensnared.
In Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, linguist and journalist Amanda Montell makes the persuasive case that it is language, far more than esoteric brainwashing techniques, that helps cults to build a sense of unshakeable community.
“With emotionally charged buzzwords and euphemisms, renamings, chants, mantras, and even hashtags, pernicious gurus are able to instil ideology, establish an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ justify questionable behaviour, inspire fear, gaslight followers into questioning their own reality . . . essentially everything a cult needs to do in order to gain and maintain power,” she writes in a related feature.
Montell draws a useful distinction between relatively benign self-help or fitness movements that might use “insider” language to create a powerful sense of belonging, and destructive cults. 

Montell’s father, now a successful neurologist, was forced to spend four years in the early 1970s in Synanon, a drug rehabilitation programme run by an unqualified addictions counsellor, Chuck Dederich, that spiralled into an abusive quasi-religion. 

Group encounters at the centre near San Francisco included “haircuts”, sessions where members were subjected to verbal abuse, ostensibly to help them discard the baggage of the past.
Cults and cultish movements of all kinds — religious, political or social — thrive on convincing those who are disillusioned that there is a better solution — and the internet is a force multiplier, enabling new, fringe movements to reach far more potential followers than was possible in the offline world.
The ‘language of fanaticism’ can be as comforting as a tranquiliser
Mike Rothschild’s timely and chilling study, The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon became a Movement, Cult and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, traces the path back from the 2021 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington to the chat forums that drew over 40m Americans into a sticky web of conspiracy theories. 

“The hope that fuelled his initial belief,” he writes of one QAnon member, “turned into a type of addiction — an addiction to the discourse, to the special feeling of knowing something other people didn’t. And ultimately to that desperate need for something better.” 

Rothschild is brilliant at outlining the process by which people who were not previously drawn to political extremism come to see themselves as “patriotic researchers”, able to see patterns in the information that is fed to them.
That sense of higher purpose can also cause people to overlook suffering, and even abuse. 

Bexy Cameron’s parents were fervent followers of David Berg, a failed preacher who founded The Children of God, later superseded by a sect known as The Family International, in California in the late 1960s. 

Berg drew in Christians and hippies with his blend of religiosity and free love ideals, but his sect came to be accused of promoting child sex abuse and rape. 

In her memoir Cult Following: My Escape and Return to the Children of God, Cameron demonstrates that the urge to find a more perfect way of living in harmony with one another, and the earth, can be as dangerous as any drug.
The Indian-American journalist and author Akash Kapur’s haunting Better To Have Gone: Auroville: Love, Death and the Quest for Utopia narrates the story of his parents-in-law, Diane and John, two charismatic dreamers who moved to the utopian community of Auroville in South India in the late 1960s. 

Akash and his wife Auralice both grew up in Auroville, and this book is a harrowing quest to understand the blinkered idealism that led to John and Diane’s deaths, on the same day, in 1986. “The sixties,” Kapur writes. “All that hope, all that youthful confidence — and the darkness right around the corner.”
Reading Cameron, Kapur, Montell and Rothschild, I begin to understand that people walk into cults one step at a time, drawn into a community that seems so welcoming, so promising, that they are hooked before they know where they’re headed. 

The “language of fanaticism” that Montell describes so well can be as comforting as a tranquilliser.
“The truth is, I’ve always mistrusted faith a little,” Akash writes in a moving passage in Better To Have Gone. 

Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up around its surfeit. And also, I’ve seen what faith can do.” Without that hard-won caution, it seems that much of humanity has no natural immunity to those who would play god.

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Syrian President Bashar Assad was sworn in during a solemn ceremony in Damascus on Saturday, almost two months after winning the May election by a landslide. @SputnikInt
Law & Politics

"Liberating what has remained of our land is a priority, its liberation from the terrorists and their Turkish and US sponsors," he was quoted as saying in his inaugural speech by the Syrian state news agency SANA.

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28 OCT 19 :: discreetly showing his visitors a photo of a dead Gaddafi and maybe he dwelled a little on the bottle and then a Photo of a spritely Bashar Assad
Law & Politics

Putin’s linguistics is an art form and I imagine he buttressed the above points by discreetly showing his visitors a photo of a dead Gaddafi and maybe he dwelled a little on the bottle and then a Photo of a spritely Bashar Assad and would surely not even have had to ask the question; what’s the difference?

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@jairbolsonaro is increasingly isolated, his rule ever weaker and more brittle, yet he claims that only God can remove him before his term is up, and he’s probably right. @LRB
Law & Politics

Soon after telling fans ‘I am a pile of your shit’, he was hospitalised yesterday with an intestinal obstruction, and moved from Brasilia to São Paulo, where he remains under observation.

Then the unthinkable happened: on Saturday night, in the finals of the Copa América, Brazilians rooted for Argentina. 

Whether spontaneous or a result of prior co-ordination on social media, it was an event of historical significance. No previous government has ever induced Brazilians to root for the opposing team in a football match, much less Argentina.

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The current growth rate of confirmed cases in the Netherlands is absolutely unprecedented in this pandemic. @redouad

Here, you can see the previous "records" in our data in terms of biweekly growth rate. Each peak corresponds to an extremely sudden growth phase in a country.

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Nations w/ high #COVID19 avg 2wk case/day increase @jmlukens

Netherlands: 1394%
Libya: 570%
Senegal: 489%
Greece: 434%
Vietnam: 413%
Burma: 276%
Spain: 252%
Denmark: 233%
Cyprus: 218%
Malawi: 208%

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‘Everyone is dying’: Myanmar on the brink of decimation @asiatimesonline

One estimate provided by public health experts in Myanmar predicts that 50% of Myanmar’s 55 million people will be infected within three weeks by either the Alpha or Delta variant of Covid-19.
One very reputable public health specialist expects that the population will be decimated by at least 10-15 million by the time Covid is done with Myanmar.
China is busy shoring up and extending an electrified border fence that only Donald Trump would drool over; it already stretches 500 kilometers east and west of the biggest trading post on the China-Myanmar border.
China has closed all border crossings, but it also deployed Covid testing and treatment teams in some remote ethnic armed group-controlled areas to vaccinate all. In these areas, new arrivals are tested, quarantined and then vaccinated.

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SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 Delta variant emergence, replication and immune evasion @GuptaR_lab

The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant was first identified in the state of Maharashtra in late 2020 and has spread throughout India, displacing the B.1.1.7 (Alpha) variant and other pre-existing lineages. 

Mathematical modelling indicates that the growth advantage is most likely explained by a combination of increased transmissibility and immune evasion. 

Indeed in vitro, the delta variant is less sensitive to neutralising antibodies in sera from recovered individuals, with higher replication efficiency as compared to the Alpha variant. 

In an analysis of vaccine breakthrough in over 100 healthcare workers across three centres in India, the Delta variant not only dominates vaccine-breakthrough infections with higher respiratory viral loads compared to non-delta infections (Ct value of 16.5 versus 19), but also generates greater transmission between HCW as compared to B.1.1.7 or B.1.617.1 (mean cluster size 1.1 versus 3.3 p=0.03). 

In vitro, the Delta variant shows 8 fold approximately reduced sensitivity to vaccine-elicited antibodies compared to wild type Wuhan-1 bearing D614G. 

Serum neutralising titres against the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant were significantly lower in participants vaccinated with ChadOx-1 as compared to BNT162b2 (GMT 3372 versus 654, p<0001). 

These combined epidemiological and in vitro data indicate that the dominance of the Delta variant in India has been most likely driven by a combination of evasion of neutralising antibodies in previously infected individuals and increased virus infectivity

Whilst severe disease in fully vaccinated HCW was rare, breakthrough transmission clusters in hospitals associated with the Delta variant are concerning and indicate that infection control measures need continue in the post-vaccination era.

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We now further define Delta immune evasion using a panel of 38 monoclonal antibodies, showing significant loss of potency of NTD and RBD targeting antibodies. @GuptaR_lab

We now further define Delta immune evasion using a panel of 38 monoclonal antibodies, showing significant loss of potency of NTD and RBD targeting antibodies. 

Imdevimab, part of the REGN2 dual monoclonal antibody cocktail is compromised by Delta.

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We also show loss of activity for casivirimab, part of the Lily dual therapy cocktail. @GuptaR_lab

We also show loss of activity for casivirimab, part of the Lily dual therapy cocktail. These dual therapies could be less effective against Delta particularly in the setting of immune compromise could lead to escape variants emerging/ transmitting.

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Now we show increased virus production in two other systems: Calu-3 epithelial lung cell lines (shown here) and airway epithelial cells @GuptaR_lab

Taking replication we originally showed increased growth of Delta virus in vitro using airway organoids compared to Alpha. Now we show increased virus production in two other systems: Calu-3 epithelial lung cell lines (shown here) and airway epithelial cells 

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These properties likely explain vaccine breakthrough. @GuptaR_lab

These properties likely explain vaccine breakthrough. We provide data on 132 Delta infections in partially/fully vaccinated hospital staff (25% non-Delta and 75% Delta). We found ChAdOx-1 efficacy to be lower against Delta compared to non-Delta in those who received two doses.

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Still see 70% quoted as level of vaccination required for 'herd immunity'. Important to note it's now likely to be much higher. @AdamJKucharski

The standard (albeit rough) calculation for herd immunity threshold is (1/E) x (1-1/R) where E is vaccine effectiveness in reducing transmission

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Above calc suggests would need to vaccinate (1-1/6)/0.85 = 98% of population @AdamJKucharski

In scenario where R is 6 (plausible for Delta in susceptible populations without any restrictions), and vaccination reduces infection/infectiousness such that onwards transmission reduced by 85%, above calc suggests would need to vaccinate (1-1/6)/0.85 = 98% of population. 2/

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The viral loads in the Delta infections were ~1000 times higher than those in the earlier 19A/19B strain infections on the day when viruses were firstly detected

We deducted the intra-family transmission pairs from our time interval analysis. 

Our results showed the time interval from the exposure to first PCR positive in the quarantined population (n=29) was 6.00 (IQR 5.00-8.00) days in the 2020 epidemic (peak at 5.61 days) and was 4.00 (IQR 3.00-5.00) days in the 2021 (n=34) epidemic (peak at 3.71 days)
Compared to the 19A/19 B strains, the relative viral loads in the Delta variant infections (62 cases, Ct value 24.00 (IQR 19.00~29.00) for ORF1ab gene) were 1260 times higher than the 19A/19B strains infections (63 cases, Ct value 34.31 (IQR 31.00~36.00) for ORF1ab gene) on the day when viruses were first detected (Figure 1C).

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09-MAY-2021 The Markets The Lotos-eaters
World Of Finance

On 8th March when the Bears had gotten hold of the US 10 Year, I wrote that I expected the 10 Year to target 1.45% well we got real close on Friday before the market reversed 

Ten- year yields initially plunged to a more than two-month low of 1.46%, then reversed to end the day at 1.58%. However, I am resetting my target Yield to 1.25% now.

Given the volume of money Printing and the extraordinary stimulus I have to say that the US Recovery is actually really weak and I believe it will be very short lived and the Penny will drop soon with the Bond Market and the Shorts will be forced to cover.

The Consensus View appears to be that the Global economy is going to accelerate big time and that its going to BOOM!  I beg to differ

Furthermore The Central Banks are in a corner. 

They have fired a lot of bullets and even if there was a meaningful bounce they cannot raise rates.

Here is why central banks are trapped and cannot raise rates even if inflation rises: @dlacalle_IA Feb 2 

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“Derivatives,” Alvin said. “I don’t speculate about the future, I trade it.” @NewYorker
World Of Finance

And they were cross‑linked and interwoven and resold in large bundles, “future on future,” Alvin said, handing me a paper towel. 
“Forget about the forces of the free market, my friend. Commodity prices no longer refer to any value, past or present—they’re just ghosts from the future.”

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.1807
Dollar Index 92.722
Japan Yen 109.93
Swiss Franc 0.9191
Pound 1.3759
Aussie 0.7388
India Rupee 74.7325
South Korea Won 1145.075
Brazil Real 5.1350
Egypt Pound 15.7040
South Africa Rand 14.454

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@WHO Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 13 July 2021

African Region

The weekly case incidence and deaths continues to increase for the past consecutive nine weeks and eight weeks, respectively. 

The African Region reported over 213 000 new cases and over 5000 new deaths, a 5% and a 50% increase respectively as compared to the previous week. 

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President of #Tigray/#TDF #Debretsion stated When z professional #ENDF army cannot fight us, how can militia & police do it?» #Ethiopia @KjetilTronvoll

President of #Tigray/#TDF #Debretsion stated to me today: «#AbiyAhmed & PP are extending their stay in power by pushing the regional forces of #Oromo & #Sidama to come to their rescue. When z professional #ENDF army cannot fight us, how can militia & police do it?» #Ethiopia

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Could the Tigray Defense Force Invade Eritrea? @TheNatlInterest @mrubin1971

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s attack on Ethiopia’s Tigray province last November was a monumental mistake. 

Abiy ordered Ethiopian forces into the region after the local Tigrayan leadership pushed forward with elections against his orders. 

Abiy dug Ethiopia deeper into a hole by targeting the old guard among the Tigray People's Liberation Front. 

The group, now shunned in Addis Ababa, was once part of the ruling coalition. Abiy saw them as rivals to eliminate. 

They were among the few Tigrayans committed to the idea of Ethiopia, as the younger generation of Tigrayans has little interest in a unitary Ethiopia. 

Abiy also hemorrhaged credibility. He insisted Ethiopian forces were victorious only to have the Tigray Defense Forces march into Tigray’s capital and capture thousands of Ethiopian soldiers.

That Tigrayan forces punched above their weight should not surprise. Traditionally, Tigray contributed a disproportionate share of the general officer corps to the Ethiopian resistance against the Derg

Mekelle is to Ethiopia what Mosul is Iraq. And, for all the demonization of the Tigray People's Liberation Front in Addis Ababa and justified criticism of its past human rights practices, the Tigray Defense Forces did retain far greater grassroots support in Tigray than the Ethiopian Army does anywhere else in the country. 

That Abiy now closes Tigrayan businesses in Addis Ababa is collective punishment. It exacerbates distrust and mimics the actions of Idi Amin who scapegoated ethnic Indians. And, as in Uganda, it will do irreparable harm to the economy and the fabric of society.

Abiy, however, was not the only aggressor. He coordinated the assault on Tigray with Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki who sent Eritrean troops into the province to kill, rape, and loot. 

The Tigray Defense Forces victory was as much against Eritrea as Ethiopia. The question then becomes what next for the Tigrayans?
Isaias has so far refused to release the names of the dead Eritreans to their next of kin on the logic that he need not do so until the conflict ends. 

He may be seeking to avoid embarrassment, but the result is to give Tigrayan forces reason to consider their fight against Eritrea ongoing. 

Tigrayan forces have meanwhile captured hundreds if not thousands of Eritrean prisoners. Those without blood on their hands have escaped detention by joining the opposition, swelling the ranks of the Tigrayan forces.
The question now is whether Tigray Defense Forces will enter Eritrea to end a regime that was as much an aggressor against Tigray as Ethiopia’s Army but with even less legal justification. Isaias is old and in ill health. His people are demoralized

The rapid defeat of Eritrean forces in Tigray shows his weakness

Should the Tigray Defense Forces enter Eritrea or, more likely, organize and support Eritrean opposition forces, Isaias may find his own conscript army will dissolve and defect

The majority of Eritrea are cousins if not co-ethnics to Tigray and speak the same or similar languages. It is one thing to fight Ethiopian aggressors as between 1998–2000; it is another to defend an ailing dictator against Eritreans seeking to end a regime that has deprived them of both liberty and prosperity.

Another factor also suggests Eritrea may be in Tigray’s crosshairs: Ethiopia continues to hamper if not blockade aid to Tigray. Abiy may see himself as Isaias’ ally but his current efforts to starve Tigray into submission may ultimately condemn his partner. 

After all, if the Tigray Defense Forces have a choice between starving or creating a supply corridor to the Red Sea, the choice is simple: March into Eritrea. 

Isaias may believe that he will die in Eritrea and that his son will continue his rule. The next steps in the Tigray conflict will likely prove him wrong on both counts.

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Ethiopia’s outlook turns sour as war rages on @AfricanBizMag @__TomCollins

As rebel forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region claim a series of battlefield gains this week, the ongoing conflict is putting further pressure on an economy that is already battered by Covid-19.
A spokesman for the Tigray Defence Force (TDF) said on Tuesday that fighters had recaptured the towns of Korem and Alamata in southern Tigray just two weeks after ousted rebels marched into the regional capital Mekelle.
Tigray rebels laid out seven demands for their acceptance of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s unliteral call for a ceasefire, making an end to the conflict look increasingly unlikely.
The conflict is the result of mounting tensions between the former ruling elite, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and Abiy Ahmed, who has championed an anti-federal agenda since coming to power in 2018.
The wages of war
Two weeks ago, the government revealed that rehabilitation work and the humanitarian response to the conflict had cost around $2.2bn, notwithstanding the enormous pressure that military expenditure has put on state resources.
In the first six months of this year, military expenditure almost exceeded the entire budget allocation for the fiscal year.
Ethiopia also recently shut down 30 foreign embassies, including Kenya, one of the country’s most important neighbours, in a sign that the government was under financial pressure. 

Abiy reportedly directed politicians to drive themselves to work rather than take chauffeured cabs.
Once heralded as Ethiopia’s great economic reformer, the Nobel prize winner’s promises to transform the economy and bring broad-based growth to Africa’s second most populous nation are unravelling.

Ethiopia’s recent election, though widely regarded as flawed, may help the ruling Prosperity Party drive some reforms home, analysts say.

The National Election Board announced on Saturday that Abiy’s party had won 410 out of 436 seats in federal parliament, giving the 44-year-old prime minister ample room to legislate.
Patrick Heinisch, economic researcher at Germany-based commercial bank Helaba, says the immediate focus will be on resolving debt issues at state- owned enterprises and following up on the privatisation programme.
“However, as long as the domestic security situation remains precarious, investor confidence is unlikely to rebound,” he adds.
The recent disappointment of a licensing round for two telecoms licenses is a prime example, he says.
“Ethiopia previously had hoped to sell each of the two licenses at $1bn but only obtained offers of $800m (Safaricom) and $600 (MTN). The MTN offer was rejected all-out.”
Ethiopia’s potentially lucrative telecoms market had been eyed for years by international and Africa-based operators who saw it as untapped high-growth market.
The discrepancy between the Ethiopian government’s valuation and the bidders’ prices shows a huge dent in investor confidence as the war in Tigray rages on.
“Ethiopia just cannot wait for the domestic security situation to improve because they need dollars now,” Heinisch says.
Indeed, Ethiopia imports far more than it exports, leading to a crushing foreign exchange that makes it almost impossible for businesses to secure the currency they need to maintain operations.
On top of that Ethiopia owes around $30bn in debt, mostly to China, with $2bn owed to creditors this year which Addis Ababa has so far failed to renegotiate.
Covid-19 is also putting huge downward pressure on the economy, effectively shackling Ethiopia’s largest company and biggest foreign exchange earner Ethiopian Airlines.
In this context, many analysts believe that the IMF’s prediction of 8.7% growth in 2021 is unrealistic.
“The IMF estimates growth at around 2% in the past fiscal year 2020/2021, a significant drop from the 6.1% recorded in the previous fiscal year, and way below the average of almost 10% per annum over the period 2010-2019,” says Heinisch.
“However, given the recent intensification and escalation of the Tigray conflict following the unilateral ceasefire, I think this expectation can no longer be upheld. Growth is more likely to reach something between 6% and 7%.”

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@FitchRatings In the #political_risk index #Ethiopia dropped to just above #Somalia. @PatrickHeinisc1

@FitchRatings believes 🇪🇹 gov. re-election allows to move forward with #economic_reforms, but is “unlikely to give  @AbiyAhmedAli the legitimacy he needs to restore peace”. In the #political_risk index #Ethiopia dropped to just above #Somalia.

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This week’s violence has stretched the social fabric to breaking point and left the economic powerhouse of the continent on a knife-edge. — Karl Maier

The carnage has undermined the authority of President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose government’s response was lethargic. 

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Phase Two: looting was just the start say investigators and intelligence @mailandguardian

A source close to Zuma told the M&G that it would be wise to remember that the instigators are soldiers. They know where to hit and how to plan economic sabotage.
“The plan was not for the looting but to hit the white capital that supports [President Cyril] Ramaphosa so that they will go to him and say; ‘Stop what you are doing. This is hurting us now.’ They will now strike where they don’t expect it. Zuma must be released, and Ramaphosa must go,” said the source.

According to an ANC national executive committee (NEC) leader, Ramaphosa was warned by intelligence that this was the first phase of a programme that aims to destabilise the country. 

The NEC member said they were told that the instigators are equipped with heavy machinery and the looting is only phase one.

“This is what we are hearing. The second phase is to burn resources and this is what I foresee will happen soon,” said the source.
He said that phase one was cutting food supply and once people were hungry and calling for the government to help, they would start attacking resources.
“They will be able to wage a serious war and hide behind the people. They can mobilise the masses if people are hungry ... A serious military operation is yet to come. Once you disrupt Soweto, you have the attention of the country and the world. People go hungry because there is no food, and that is when they will launch the next phase,” they said.
Another leader in the ANC said that the NEC was alerted to possible unrest prior to it starting. The leader said Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo gave a dossier to Police Minister Bheki Cele and the president two days before the unrest.
“We knew. This thing could have been avoided. We were told and we did nothing. There is no way Ramaphosa can say he was not aware. This was discussed in the NEC and he knew about it going to the national working committee. Ayanda is not lying. She told Bheki and [police commissioner Khehla] Sitole and they sat on it.”

“They hate the Indians,” he said.
An intelligence source said: “This is much more than just attacking Indians, judges houses, government buildings and the like. This is far from over. It can only be resolved if and when the master minds are arrested.”

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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July 2021

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