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Charles III Staff Dismissal Letter ‘heartless,’ Says Union




A British civil service trade union has lashed out against potential layoffs at Clarence House, the headquarters of Charles III while he was Prince of Wales. Following reports by The Guardian that up to 100 staffers had received a letter notifying them of possible redundancies now that the king and queen consort were moving to Buckingham Palace, the PCS union issued a statement calling the move “nothing short of heartless.”

“We believe the decision to announce redundancies in the Royal Household during the period of national mourning is nothing short of heartless,” read the statement, alluding to the ceremonies underway to honor the late Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday of last week.

“Many of these staff will be the same people who have so diligently supported the new king during this period of mourning, working extremely hard over recent days only to be given redundancy notices as thanks,” added the statement.

The notice allegedly arrived as a thanksgiving service was being held for Elizabeth II at Saint Giles Cathedral (Edinburgh) on Monday. By then, a group of private secretaries, members of the finance office, communication staffers and household employees of Clarence House had been working overtime for days to achieve a smooth transition.

The Guardian reported that the letter from Sir Clive Alderton, the king’s top aide, informed recipients that “the portfolio of work previously undertaken in this household supporting the former Prince of Wales’s personal interests, former activities and household operations will no longer be carried out, and the household […] at Clarence House will be closed down.”

A few employees at Clarence House have worked directly for many years at the service of Charles III and the queen consort, Camilla. But most of the staff worked on the logistics of the then-Prince of Wales’ day-to-day activities, as well as managing the Duchy of Cornwall, an area of over 52,000 hectares encompassing farms, residential areas and commercial properties that generates significant economic profit. All this is now passing into the hands of Prince William, the new heir apparent, who already has his own work team and who must now decide whether to move to Clarence House in the coming months.

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The 17th Century Spanish Book Of Proverbs Recommended By The Richest Man In The World




Silicon Valley guru and space explorer Elon Musk this week recommended a couple of books of aphorisms written by a 17th-century Spanish philosopher. The world’s richest man was cryptically specific when he cited one of the author’s works on social media: “Baltasar Gracián, Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia (or, The Art of Worldly Wisdom).” However, Musk wasn’t being particularly original in doing so. The works of Gracián, a Baroque intellectual who lived during the Spanish Golden Age of arts and literature, have enjoyed several periods of popularity over the centuries. The latest renaissance of the Jesuit priest has been as a self-help author for 21st century entrepreneurs.

Baltasar Gracián, Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 19, 2022

In fact, Gracián’s US publisher, Penguin, describes The Art of Worldly Wisdom as “possibly the first self-help book in history.” It makes sense, concedes Luis Sánchez Laílla, a professor of literature at the University of Zaragoza in northern Spain and editor of the complete works of Baltasar Gracián. “The title itself suggests it is a manual, that is to say designed to accompany the reader and to be opened in search of advice at any time.” The book contains aphorisms that remain in use today. Phrases such as: “What is good, if kept short, is twice as good,” and “Where desire ends, fear begins.”

They are clever and easy to remember, but they also possess a certain depth. Gracián remains distanced from the derogatory meaning that the term self-help has found itself associated with in recent years, and even more so than the sub-branch dedicated to business people. His is not a testosterone-fueled tome laying out how to set up a company, wheel and deal, or become your own boss. “Simple formulas and simple answers for the public at large won’t be found in its pages,” says Sánchez Laílla. Gracián wrote for an exclusive minority in his day: the few people who were able to read in the 17th century. To a similar extent, his work in later centuries was limited to those who could understand Baroque aphorisms. However, due to an updated version with modernized language and a marketing campaign by Penguin, that now encompasses a lot of people.

The Art of Worldly Wisdom was first published in 1647, but it was not until 1992 that it achieved fame in the US. The writer Gail Godwin was the first to praise the book. In an interview with The New York Times, in answer to which book she would recommend to the two presidential candidates running for the White House (George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton), she pointed to Gracián’s work, which she described as “Machiavellian, but with scruples.” Other newspapers were quick to review the book, which made its way up the bestseller lists and into the leather briefcases of Wall Street high-fliers, who showed their copy to their colleagues and elicited the same mixture of envy and admiration as the first cellphones did. The Baroque oracle even found his way into the Oval Office: The New York Times heeded Godwin’s suggestion and sent copies to Bush and Clinton, who was elected president that year, while The Art of Worldly Wisdom sold 100,000 copies in the US alone.

Elon Musk photographed at The New York Times building in 2016.
Elon Musk photographed at The New York Times building in 2016.Sasha Maslov / AMC

In its second reincarnation, The Art of Worldly Wisdom got a makeover and was rebaptized as Why do executives play golf? The year was 2007 and the book was as popular as sushi in Japan. It sold 140,000 copies, reaching number three on the list of economic bestsellers in the country. In reality, of course, the Jesuit priest was not inspired by improving the swing of Japanese stock brokers. The name change was part of a marketing strategy to attract the attention of that type of reader, the editor of Goma Books, Satoshi Kawakami, told El Mundo in an interview at the time. “The majority of people who play golf in Japan are businessmen,” he said. “The word golf implies a certain social status.”

A similar criterion was applied by Spanish publisher Áltera in 2013 when it compiled Gracián’s finest aphorisms under the title Gracián: el jesuita que enseñaba a triunfar (or, Gracián: the Jesuit who taught success). But despite the rebranding and the diffuse popularity that comes from being studied at practically any high school in Spain, Gracián has never been a prophet in his own land. “It is one of the classics that is continually reprinted in Spain,” says Antonio María Ávila, executive director of the Spanish Federation of Publishers’ Guilds. “That said, he has always been more widely read outside of Spain.”

Luis Rafael Hernández agrees. A university lecturer, writer and editor of the publishers Verbum and Perelló who has edited Gracián’s most important works, Hernández says the philosopher’s writing has historically had more impact in the US than in Spain due in part, he explains, to the Baroque literary movement of conceptism. “It is characterized by a brief, concentrated and polysemic style, in which ingenious associations are established between the words and the ideas that they convey.” It is akin to a snappy tweet, but in the Baroque style. This could explain its success in modern society, where big ideas have to be captured in a handful of characters to catch the attention of a reader.

Clinton, Bush and Barack Obama, three potential readers: Gracián’s work has been described as “Machiavellian, but with scruples.”
Clinton, Bush and Barack Obama, three potential readers: Gracián’s work has been described as “Machiavellian, but with scruples.”EFE

Gracián’s works also influenced other literary movements and trends. He is considered “a precursor to existentialism and post-modernism,” says Hernández. His fingerprint can be found not only on movements in general, but also in specific authors “such as Schopenhauer or Nietzsche.” His importance to literature has been galvanized in recent years, something Hernández puts into context: “In these times we are living in, with wars, pandemics and other catastrophes, a writer like Gracián helps us to better understand our existence.”

That appears to be especially true of Silicon Valley tycoons. But why have the works of the Aragonese theologian achieved such global prestige among entrepreneurs, brokers, cryptocurrency speculators and those who wish to join their ranks? “Gracián is a classical author and the classics have the power to keep readers interested over long periods of time, and readers can legitimately interpret them in accordance with their own interests and mental frameworks,” says Sánchez Laílla. That entrepreneurs have made it their own is striking, because The Art of Worldly Wisdom paints a human ideal that transcends age, employment and borders. “It is fundamental to understand one thing: if we forget the ethical and humanistic principles that inspired Gracián, we can quote him but we are not understanding anything.”

Another new incarnation of The Art of Worldly Wisdom could be about to appear. Musk’s tweet generated tens of thousands of likes and came at a time when the billionaire is engaged in a public stand-off with Twitter after his failed bid to buy the social media platform. Many observers interpreted his tweet as an insinuation, although it is difficult to pinpoint which: there are 300 Gracián aphorisms to choose from. In any case, the knock-on effect in terms of sales and the book’s fame could be huge. Or not. Musk is accustomed to a gargantuan virality. For example, a day before recommending Gracián, he had posted an image on Twitter with a fake quote attributed to Mediocrates with the comment: “Ehh, good enough.” It garnered over 250,000 likes. A few days earlier he tweeted an emoticon of some popcorn. That reaped more than 50,000. Nobody truly believes that the popcorn emoticon or the non-existent Mediocrates are suddenly going to be all the rage. But then again, maybe they will.

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Why The ‘70s Was The Best Decade For Popular Music




Bar-stool debates about music often go nowhere, but they can sometimes help in making sense of things. I was reminded about one such frequent debate when I heard a recent episode of Sofá Sonoro, the fantastic streaming program directed by Alfonso Cardenal for the Cadena Ser radio network in Spain. This particular episode was about 1970s rock music, and it reminded me of something I have been thinking for a long time: that the 1970s were the best decade for popular music. But before you attack, let me defend that statement.

Music historians often enshrine the 1960s as the best decade for popular music, because it’s when rock became a countercultural movement led by giants like Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It was also the decade of soul music, with the emergence of the eminent Stax and Motown record labels. And it also saw the genesis of major music festivals like the legendary Woodstock. Many other political ingredients and social struggles also fueled the 1960s, but it’s not the only transcendental decade of music: the 1950s saw Elvis Presley light the fuse for the rock & roll explosion. Purists love the 1950s because it was the beginning of so many things and was infused with a captivating innocence. Still others argue for the 1980s, with its post-punk and the birth of indie, so decisive for many and which has created its own musical myths. The generation that came of age in the 1990s defends that decade for emotional reasons: they lived through the charged moodiness of grunge, Brit pop and the most brilliant indie music.

These days, the news is constantly reminding us that the 20th century is fading further into the distance as its cultural luminaries pass away. Looking back is a way of putting the past in order. The 1970s holds many keys to understanding the value of popular music, but it’s also wonderful emotional territory to explore. My declaration that this was the best decade for popular music is more about personal introspection than a demonstrable judgment. However, I will offer some arguments to support this thesis.

I have always viewed ‘70s as the era in which rock, as an artistic and cultural movement, became self-aware of its own virtues and flaws. The counterculture seemed to lose steam after the breakup of The Beatles and the “Summer of Love.” The turn of the decade showed that the ‘60s story had become a commodity, another thing to be consumed by a commercial culture. On the other hand, 1970s was a period that enabled the passionate Seattle sound of The Stooges, MC5 and punk rock to spread throughout the US and the UK. For that reason alone, – the rage and nihilism that shook the core of the music industry and popular culture – this decade would rise above any other. At the very least, there was far more awareness of failure and a much greater need to break everything. The 1970s were the years of The Clash, Sex Pistols and Ramones, who along with The Stooges and MC5 embodied an entire philosophical treatise on rock.

The Clash, from right to left: Nicky Headon (drums), Mick Jones (guitar), Paul Simonon (bass) and Joe Strummer (guitar and vocals) in New York (1978).
The Clash, from right to left: Nicky Headon (drums), Mick Jones (guitar), Paul Simonon (bass) and Joe Strummer (guitar and vocals) in New York (1978).Foto: Getty

Alongside the punk fury, a new wave in pop rock swelled up and gave us street rhythms from the iconic CBGB nightclub by artists like Patti Smith, Blondie, Television, Talking Heads, Johnny Thunders, The Dictators and Mink Deville. The incredible British new wave did not lag behind, and produced a long list of stars like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Police, Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division. At the same time, pub rock was born in the UK with Dr. Feelgood at the forefront, along with Brinsley Schwarz, Ian Dury and Graham Parker.

Black music expanded from soul into funk with the raw sound of James Brown, and vibrant, new names like Funkadelic and Parliament. Soul music also evolved in the 1970s. For all of its success in the 1960s, Motown was never more transcendental than in the ‘70s with the unrivaled Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and many others that followed. The 1970s saw the birth of hip hop in the Bronx (New York), a countercultural African American earthquake that blossomed in the 1980s, and the New York salsa boom that marked a before-and-after for Latino music around the world.

The same decade would bring progressive rock and hard rock, two new musical genres derived from the great trunk of rock. That is to say, it is the decade of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or AC/DC. And, if we are to mention mammoth stadium bands, we must add Queen or The Eagles. It is also the decade of disco music, so important for the development of discos that continue to this day. But, without a doubt, just as the seventies are the decade of punk and hip hop, it is the decade of electronic music. This musical movement with great social roots will change the entire sound scene from the birth of popular electronic music, exemplified by Kraftwerk, another essential group in the history of music and coming out of this decade. And, just on the other side of this shore, in the always conservative country there is another small earthquake with the consolidation of the outlaw: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings… and out there! they were also on their own beat but glorifying country-folk Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Townes Van Zandt!

Bob Marley smokes a joint after a concert at the Fox Theater.
Bob Marley smokes a joint after a concert at the Fox Theater.Tom Hill (WireImage)

If all that isn’t enough to convince you about the 1970s, consider two giants of the decade: David Bowie and Lou Reed. And there are more, many more, like Bob Marley who introduced the world to reggae. Now I’ll give you some of my personal favorites from this decade: Neil Young, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Patti Smith and Jackson Browne. And maybe also the brilliant Van Morrison. And how about great musical dramatists like Elton John and Billy Joel?

While some music legends clearly broke out in the 1960s, many of their best albums were made in the 1970s. The Rolling Stones produced Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. Likewise, Bob Dylan produced Basement Tapes (released in 1975), Rolling Thunder Revue, and his more intimate albums like Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal. Oh, and don’t forget the quasi-religious Slow Train Coming. Yes, I buy it. Just as I buy that (hold on to your hats) the 1970s were the decade of a unique, huge Elvis Presley. I will defend to the death the Elvis of the ‘70s, rising up in his great suffering and self-destructing in a perfect metaphor of rock & roll. And it’s the decade in which he dies, which makes it unique.

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Moscow-Kyiv Prisoner Exchange Intensifies Domestic Criticism Of Putin




In the last few days, President Vladimir Putin has managed to anger three large sectors of Russian society: liberal opponents, ultranationalists and the silent citizenry who normally steer clear of politics but now feel threatened by conscription into the war in Ukraine. The president’s order to draft hundreds of thousands of citizens in his crusade to “de-Nazify” Ukraine sparked nationwide protests and a stampede to exit the country at borders and airports. Hours later, Putin infuriated advocates of the war by swapping vilified Azov Regiment fighters for Russian soldiers and pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch, Viktor Medvedchuk, whose daughter is Putin’s goddaughter. The surrender of the Azov soldiers at the Mariupol steel mill was one of the few high points for Russia in this war, making their release even more bitter. Chechen Republic President Ramzan Kadyrov protested the loudest and said he was “extremely dissatisfied” with the prisoner exchange.

“I am not authorized to comment,” was the only response offered by the president’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, when asked about the major prisoner swap, which exchanged 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters for 50 Russian prisoners and Medvedchuk. Most of the released Ukrainian soldiers belonged to the Azov Regiment, a former paramilitary unit that was absorbed into the Ukrainian National Guard. The Azov Regiment was a favorite target of the “de-Nazification” campaign fabricated by the Kremlin to justify its invasion of Ukraine, and Russian state-controlled media outlets constantly vilified the Azov soldiers during their staunch defense during the siege of Mariupol. When they finally surrendered, Moscow trumpeted the capture of Ukraine’s “top Nazi ringleaders,” and claimed a significant victory. The Azov Regiment was declared a terrorist organization by Russia’s Supreme Court in August.

Peskov also declined to comment on the negotiation for Medvedchuk, a close Putin ally and leader of the pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, Opposition Platform — For Life. The oligarch escaped from house arrest in Kyiv two days after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, but was arrested while trying to flee the country.

Peskov’s reticence to answer questions about Medvedchuk’s release contrasts sharply with previous statements. “As regards the exchange, which various individuals in Kyiv are talking about with such passion and glee, Medvedchuk is not a citizen of Russia, and he has nothing to do with the special military operation. He is a foreign politician,” said Peskov in April.

Viktor Medvedchuk during a court hearing in Kyiv on May 13, 2021.
Viktor Medvedchuk during a court hearing in Kyiv on May 13, 2021. SERHII NUZHNENKO (Reuters)

The exchange has drawn criticism from pro-Russian military channels on the Telegram messaging service. A prominent Russian ultra-nationalist, Colonel Igor Girkin, (also known by the alias Igor Ivanovich Strelkov), said the prisoner swap “… is worse than a crime… and worse than a mistake. It is incredible stupidity.” Girkin, a former member of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and one of the commanders who pushed for the 2014 Donbas war before being shunted aside by Moscow, said on his Telegram channel that Medvedchuk “… was the one who buried the Novorossiya project [the hypothetical new Russian province in Ukraine], pushed through the Minsk agreements and deceived the Kremlin that the Ukrainian-Nazi state could be overcome with political measures.”

Another prominent Russian leader infuriated by the prisoner exchange is the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, who said, “I’m extremely unhappy about yesterday’s news. The whole situation doesn’t even make sense to me. Whenever combat or tactical decisions have been made, they’ve always consulted with us, the active participants in the special [military] operation. But now…”

“Our [Chechen] fighters crushed the fascists in Mariupol and pushed them into Azovstal [steel mill]. We smoked them out of their basement hiding places in shock, wounded and dying… Handing over even one of those Azov terrorists should have been out of the question,” said Kadyrov, a vocal proponent of the invasion. Despite his objections, Kadyrov was careful to voice support for Putin, and vowed to continue following “our main unshakeable principle: that we will follow all orders from our Commander in Chief!”

Other Russian combat forces have also considered the prisoner exchange a betrayal. The Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization, stated on the Telegram channel of Rusich, its sabotage and assault reconnaissance unit, “We did not give in to the Islamic State in Syria, and we should do the same here — being captured means death and no buts about it.”

Mykhailo Dianov gesturing inside the Azovstal iron and steel works on May 11 and on September 22 after his release as part of a mass prisoner of war exchange.
Mykhailo Dianov gesturing inside the Azovstal iron and steel works on May 11 and on September 22 after his release as part of a mass prisoner of war exchange.AFP

The far-right Wagner Group came to global prominence when it aided separatist forces during the 2014-2015 war in Donbas. Shortly after hearing about the prisoner exchange, Wagner published a guide on how to deal with Ukrainian hostages. The guide recommends never informing Ukrainian commanders about captured prisoners, and that they should be interrogated with torture techniques like “finger amputations and needles under fingernails” so that they “remain conscious and respond.” Lastly, ” prisoners should be shot… in a manner that does not look intentional.” The guide also recommends photographing the faces of the deceased and recording the coordinates of their graves so that this information can be “… sold to family members for $2,000-$5,000.”

Kremlin political factions are also voicing criticism of the prisoner exchange. Aleksandr Dyukov, a prominent Russian historian and member of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations, said, “From a motivational point of view, the only thing worse than the exchange of Nazis and mercenaries would be the appointment of Medvedchuk to any post in the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, or in the liberated territories.”

State-controlled media outlets have also done an abrupt about-face regarding the Azov Regiment. “What is more important? The joy of saving our own or the satisfaction of retribution against the enemy?” said RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. Back in March, Simonyan said, “[In this war] the main task is to get the Nazis off the backs of ordinary people, who are the majority in Ukraine.”

Another pro-Russian figure who has changed his tune is Denis Pushilin, the head of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Pushilin pushed hard for the death penalty for the Azov fighters and foreign volunteers, whom he said should be executed as mercenaries. A few days before the prisoner exchange, Pushilin reiterated that the execution of these prisoners would be secret. But when Putin announced the referendums in eastern Ukraine to vote on annexation to Russia, Pushilin said, “We were in a hurry and that’s why we went further than an exchange of an equal number of prisoners. We needed to get as many out as possible and we have still have more boys in Ukrainian captivity,” he told the Interfax news agency.

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