Monday, November 30, 2015

In The Coming Thousand-Year Age Of Trumpism, You Will Say "Merry Christmas," And Mean It (Or Else)

Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) provides a scathing look at the "Phony War" on Christmas that enables Dumbo/Teabagger media outlets to grouse about imagined anti-Christian "crimes" against their faith. If The Trumpster becomes Der Führer, he will enforce the utterance of "Merry Christams," not the pagan "Happy Holidays," under pain of a concentration camp visit. The irony of this crappola is that "Christmas" has been deeply influenced by pagan beliefs: holly, mistletoe and wreaths emphasize green and red colors. Green for female incubation and red for male fertility; the emphasis on animals is another pagan-connection. Before there was St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, the pagans worshiped Odin, a paunchy, white-bearded old man in their tales. Of course, there is a Christian element to the Christmas story, but the pagan-connection cannot be denied. In the meantime, the Dumbos/Teabaggers rage about red drink cups that have omitted Christmas symbolism in favor of a corporate logo. Of course the logo is a New Age salute to paganism. The Dumbos/Teabaggers just don't get it. Looking ahead to Christmas 2017, Der Trumpster can order the mass arrests of Starbucks employees and customvers and load them on the trains headed for the camps and the ovens. If this is a (fair & balanced) Dumbo/Teabagger version of "A Christmas Story," so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The War On Christmas
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2015 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

If Leni Riefenstahl Were Still Alive, She Would Entitle Her Trump Film, "Triumph Of Ill Will"

Looking at the rapt faces of the faithful attending The Trumpster's rallies is reminiscent of the crowds of Germans in Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 film, "Triumph of the Will." Eags (Timothy Egan) recognizes the parallels between Adolf Hitler and Donald J. Trump with the accuracy of William L. Shirer. If this is the (fair & balanced) use of history, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Donald Trump’s Police State
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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In The Plot Against America (2004), the novelist Philip Roth imagines an alternative history at the dawn of World War II. Charles A. Lindbergh, aviator hero and crypto-fascist, defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. Rather than go to war against Nazi Germany, he foments an atmosphere of hatred directed at Jews in the United States.

President Lindbergh’s rule is based on fear. He can violate the Constitution because enough Americans do not mind limiting the freedom of a suspect minority in the name of security.

Of course, it could never happen here. It’s a novel, silly boy — one of late-stage Roth’s better efforts. Made-up stuff. That’s what I’ve always thought. But over the last three months, in listening to plans of the Republican presidential front-runner and the views of his increasingly thuggish followers, I’m starting to have some dark fears should Donald Trump become president.

Take him at his word — albeit, a worthless thing given his propensity for telling outright lies and not backing down when called on them — Donald Trump’s reign would be a police state. He has now outlined a series of measures that would make the United States an authoritarian nightmare. Trump is no longer entertaining, or diversionary. He’s a billionaire brute, his bluster getting more ominous by the day.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before,” he said in the demagogic spiral following the Paris attacks. “And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule.”

What’s he talking about? In his words, he wants to implement “the unthinkable.”

Let’s start with his most far-reaching crush of cruelty, the Trump promise to create a huge “deportation force” to storm into homes, churches, schools and businesses and round up all 11 million undocumented immigrants. In doing so, he would need an army of agents to go door-to-door, breaking up families, and snagging many citizens caught up the in the mass sweeps.

As his jackbooted minions grab legal Americans (the children born in this country, citizens per the 14th amendment) and separate them from their illegal parents, he will place them — where? In foster homes? In detention centers? In concentration camps?

He says it will take only two years for him to disrupt nearly every community in the United States, destroying thousands of businesses in the process. “I’m going to remove them so fast your head would spin.”

Let’s do the math: Trump promises to arrest, sort, and deport 11 million people — a number more than 25 percent higher than the entire population of New York City. This from the nominal leader of a party that doesn’t think government can do anything well. In practice, (imagine the viral videos) the new operation would prompt a million Hispanic Anne Franks — people hiding in the attics and basements of Donald Trump’s America.

To go with his Deportation Force, Trump would send another wave of federal authorities out to identify, track and monitor Muslims in America. All of them? He hasn’t said. He’s building his police state on the fly. But in just a few days he went from saying he would “strongly consider” closing houses of worship (mosques), to saying he would have “absolutely no choice” but to shut them down. As for tracking Muslims through some kind a database, he’s been squishy, but also unequivocal, saying, “I would certainly implement that.”

For those fleeing war and religious persecution from the butchers of the Islamic State, sorry if you’re Syrian — Trump would deport those already vetted refugees, mostly women and young children.

To further clamp down in this land of the formerly free, Trump could borrow a few police state ideas from his fellow Republican presidential candidates. Mike Huckabee has suggested using federal agents to invade doctors’ offices and homes, physically preventing women from ending a pregnancy.

Ben Carson has said would consider unleashing a new force in academia, using the Department of Education to root out and punish schools foisting “political correctness” on young minds.

But if all the fragile college students clamoring for trigger warnings want something to send them straight to their padded safety rooms, they should attend a Trump public event.

These rallies are scary spectacles of rabid brown shirts in Dockers. His followers cheer while others pummel protesters, or spit on them. A few days ago in Alabama, a black protester was punched and kicked by his supporters. Trump suggested the man had it coming.

Like any good authoritarian — Soviet or banana republic — Trump concocts plots and dark doings to scare the quivering masses. And no one on the public stage is better at the Big Lie this year than Trump. PolitiFact found that 75 percent of his so-called factual statements are “mostly or entirely false.” The other 25 percent were “half true” or “mostly true.” His score in the flat-out “true” column was zero.

But that doesn’t stop him. The more lies he tells, the more popular he is with a large part of the Republican base that lives in a world of made-up horror and blunt force solutions.

So, hordes of Mexicans continue to rush into the United States, he says, when in fact more people are now returning to Mexico than are coming in. Syrian refugees are “pouring into the country” when barely 2,000 have been admitted. And Trump continues to say “I saw” thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11, when no such thing has ever been documented. The goal is to get you to hate them — Mexicans, Muslims, the object of all your fears.

As we enter the holidays, there is one more Trump vow to consider. “If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you.” With Trump, the seasonal salutation may be mandatory, and creepy. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Welcome To Media Criticism 101: Today's Case Study — 1000s Of NJ Muslims Cheer The Fall Of The World Trade Center Towers

Who was the most effective teller of The Big Lie? Adolf Hitler claiming in 1933 that Communists burned down the Reichstag or The Trumpster claiming in 2015 that thousands and thousands of NJ Muslims cheered the fall of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. In addition, The Trumpster has doubled down on his anti-Muslim lie so many times, the untruth is beyond Big: the Jumbo Lie! This blog's snark-meister, Gonzo Matt Taibbi attributes The Trumpster's success with Jumbo Lies to the stupidity of his audiences. The Trumpster has managed to convert a presidential campaign into a reality TV show. If this is the (fair & balanced) revelation of bottomless public stupidity, so be it.

[x RS]
America Is Too Dumb For TV News
By Gonzo Matt (Taibbi)

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Donald Trump said this to supporters at an Alabama rally:

"Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."

It was a hell of a revelation. Where did this witnessing take place? Was he standing on the Hoboken terminal clock tower? George Stephanopoulus challenged Trump on this on ABC's "This Week," noting that police said nothing like that happened.

TRUMP: It did happen. I saw it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw that...

It was on television. I saw it.

Until recently, the narrative of stories like this has been predictable. If a candidate said something nuts, or seemingly not true, an army of humorless journalists quickly dug up all the facts, and the candidate ultimately was either vindicated, apologized, or suffered terrible agonies.

Al Gore for instance never really recovered from saying, "I took the initiative in creating the Internet." True, he never said he invented the Internet, as is popularly believed, but what he did say was clumsy enough that the line followed him around like an STD for the rest of his (largely unsuccessful) political life.

That dynamic has broken down this election season. Politicians are quickly learning that they can say just about anything and get away with it. Along with vindication, apology and suffering, there now exists a fourth way forward for the politician spewing whoppers: Blame the backlash on media bias and walk away a hero.

This season has seen an explosion of such episodes. Carly Fiorina, in a nationally televised debate, claimed to have watched a nonexistent video of evil feminists harvesting fetal brains. Ben Carson has been through a half-dozen factual dustups, including furious debates over whether or not he stabbed someone and whether or not he once won $10 for being the only honest student in an (apparently nonexistent) Yale psychology class.

Trump, meanwhile, has been through more of these beefs than one can count, even twice blabbing obvious whoppers in live televised debates. Once he claimed the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to help China, moving Rand Paul to point out that China isn't in the TPP. Another time he denied that he once called Marco Rubio "Mark Zuckerberg's personal senator." The line was on Trump's website as he spoke.

In all of these cases, the candidates doubled or tripled down when pestered by reporters and fact-checkers and insisted they'd been victimized by biased media. A great example of how candidates have handled this stuff involved Fiorina.

The former HP chief keeps using a roundly debunked line originally dug up by the Romney campaign, about how 92 percent of the jobs lost under Obama belonged to women. The Romney campaign itself ditched the line because it was wrong even in 2012. When confronted this year, Fiorina simply said, "If the liberal media doesn't like the data, maybe the liberal media doesn't like the facts."

This latest episode with Trump and the 9/11 "celebrations" was fascinating. When Trump started to take heat, he at first did something one journalist I know calls "panic-Googling." Panic-Googling is saying or writing something dumb, then frantically rushing to the Internet to see if you can luck out into evidence for what you've already blabbed in public.

Trump thought he lucked out, digging up a September 18, 2001, Washington Post article by reporters Serge Kovaleski and Frederick Kunkle. The old clip claimed a few people had been detained after allegedly being spotted celebrating in "tailgate-style" parties on rooftops in northern New Jersey.

Seizing upon this factoid, Trump tweeted, "I want an apology! Many people have tweeted that I am right!"

Forgetting that this didn't come close to being an affirmation that he'd seen "thousands" of people celebrating on television, Trump's supporters howled in outrage. Who were these biased witch-hunters to accuse him of lying? The Donald was right all along!

Other supporters referenced an article by Debbie Schlussel, Detroit's schlocky Ann Coulter knockoff, who long ago insisted in print that she once watched an MTV news report describing post-9/11 celebrations by Arabs in Paterson, New Jersey. It wasn't Jersey City, Schlussel said, and Trump got the numbers wrong, but aside from those minor issues, he was dead right.

Next in the progression came Rush Limbaugh, who came to Trump's defense by saying that "regardless of the specific details," Trump was right about Muslims on American soil celebrating the collapse of the towers on 9/11. "The bottom line is that a lot of Americans are well aware that Muslims were cheering," Rush said. "Maybe not in New Jersey in great numbers, but around the world they were because we saw the video."

As if the "regardless of the specific details" excuse wasn't weird enough, Trump spokesman Corey Lewandowski next went on Breitbart radio to explain that the campaign had in fact provided material about celebrating Muslims to mainstream news outlets, who were now collectively declining to run it because of an ongoing conspiracy against Trump.

"They want to try and discredit as many people as possible so they can have an establishment candidate come in," he said. "Because they are all controlled by special interests and all controlled by the media."

This is a horrible thing to have to say about one's own country, but this story makes it official. America is now too dumb for TV news.

It's our fault. We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that's basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.

The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.

What we call right-wing and liberal media in this country are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service, it's just that the Fox version is a little kinkier.

When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they're doing, informing themselves, and what they're actually doing, shopping.

And who shops for products he or she doesn't want? That's why the consumer news business was always destined to hit this kind of impasse. You can get by for a long time by carefully selecting the facts you know your audiences will like, and calling that news. But eventually there will be a truth that displeases your customers. What do you do then?

In this case, as Rush said, "Americans are well aware Muslims were cheering" after 9/11. Because America "knows" this, it now expects the news media to deliver that story. And if reporters refuse, it can only be out of bias.

What this 9/11 celebrations story shows is that American news audiences have had their fantasies stroked for so long that they can't even remember stuff that happened not that long ago. It's like an organic version of 1984, with audiences constantly editing even their own memories to fit their current attitudes about things.

It was preposterous from the start to think that there could have been contemporaneous broadcasts of "thousands" of people in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Does nobody remember how people felt that day? If there had been such broadcasts, there would have been massacres – angry Americans would have stormed Jersey City.

In fact, police had to be deployed to places like Paterson anyway to protect immigrants from exactly that sort of mob violence. This is one of the reasons we know Muslims weren't dancing en masse in the streets, because police were parked on those streets in huge numbers to keep people out.

The Newark Star-Ledger did a report in the weeks after the attacks from Paterson showing the city in "virtual lockdown," with police camped in Muslim neighborhoods for the protection of the locals.

"In this neighborhood, in South Paterson, we don't feel threatened," Samir Asmar, a Palestinian who became a U.S. citizen, told the paper. "But once we go outside, I fear for my wife and son."

Beyond all of that: if footage of such a celebration existed, it would have skyrocketed around the country, and not popped off ineffectually on some local broadcast for just Donald Trump to see and remember. The whole thing is nuts.

There are people of all political persuasions who insist to this day they saw something like what Trump described, but nobody describes anything like the scale of the story Trump is spinning. To believe there was a mass demonstration of open, gloating defiance right across the river from Manhattan while the Towers smoldered, speaks to a powerfully crazy fantasy both about American impotence and about a brazen, homogenous evil in Muslim-American communities.

Maybe in the wake of Paris that's the way people feel, but it's not close to what happened. If we can't even remember things correctly even in the video age, things are going to get weird pretty fast in this country. Ω

[As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Most recently, he has written The Divide (2014). Taibbi received a BA (journalism) from Bard College.]

Copyright © 2015 Rolling Stone

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Just What You Needed After Thanksgiving: An Essay On Food-Preparation & Cookbooks

After yesterday's annual festival of gourmandizing, Today's post debunking the premise that creating gourmet meals at home is simple and effortless grabbed this blogger. (Full disclosure: this blogger has ceased cooking for one and takes nearly all meals from various restaurants (sometimes using the term loosely). If this is (fair & balanced) gustatory sloth, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
The Myth Of "Easy" Cooking
By Elizabeth G. Dunn

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I write about food for a living. Because of this, I spend more time than the average American surrounded by cooking advice and recipes. I’m also a mother, which means more often than not, when I return from work 15 minutes before bedtime, I end up feeding my 1-year-old son squares of peanut-butter toast because there was nothing in the fridge capable of being transformed into a wholesome, homemade toddler meal in a matter of minutes. Every day, when I head to my office after a nourishing breakfast of smashed blueberries or oatmeal I found stuck to the pan, and open a glossy new cookbook, check my RSS feed, or page through a stack of magazines, I’m confronted by an impenetrable wall of unimaginable cooking projects, just sitting there pretending to be totally reasonable meals. Homemade beef barbacoa tacos. Short-rib potpie. “Weekday” French toast. Make-ahead coconut cake. They might as well be skyscraper blueprints, so improbable is the possibility that I will begin making my own nut butters, baking my own sandwich bread, or turning that fall farmer’s market bounty into jars of homemade applesauce.

The disorienting part in all this is that so many of these recipes carry promises of speed and ease. Amazon’s “quick and easy” section is 8,000 titles strong; The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is a bestseller. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything empire, launched in 1998, was updated last year with How to Cook Everything Fast. Jamie Oliver published a book of 30-minute meals in 2011, but has more recently shaved the time commitment down to 15. Just yesterday I read about a new cookbook from the editors of Lucky Peach magazine called 101 Easy Asian Recipes, filled no doubt with obscure sauces and vegetables that I have absolutely no hope of finding at the Pioneer supermarket on the corner. Everywhere, there are magazine features proclaiming that making and freezing my own chicken stock is a “no-brainer”; homemade Calabrian chili oil is an “easy” way to add big flavor; the secret to making effortless breakfast granola is to simply do it in big batches.

The problem is that none of this actually easy. Not the one-minute pie dough or the quick kale chips or the idiot-proof Massaman curry, every last ounce of which is made from scratch, from ingredients that are sourced and bought and lugged home and washed, peeled, chopped, mixed, and cooked. Meanwhile, technology has made appetizing, affordable cooking alternatives easier and easier to come by. Food delivery services like Seamless, Munchery, and SpoonRocket carry prepared meals to your home in minutes. Kitchensurfing will send you a personal chef at reasonable cost. The rise of fast casual restaurants from Chipotle to Sweetgreen has made counter-service takeout a dinner option that won’t make you hate yourself in the morning.

All this means that tonight, I can order excellent pad thai from my phone in under a minute. Or, I can find a recipe for “easy” pad thai, run—literally, run—to the grocery store at lunch, hope that grocery store sells fish sauce, then spend 40 minutes making the dish and 20 minutes cleaning up. The decision to cook from scratch may have many virtues, but ease is not one of them. Despite what we’re told, cooking the way so many Americans aspire to do it today is never fast, and rarely easy compared to all the other options available for feeding ourselves.

It wasn’t always thus. Promises of ease in the kitchen took hold in the 1940s and 50s, thanks to the flood of women entering the workplace, a newly industrialized food supply, and the invention and marketing of a whole range of timesaving kitchen gadgets. Before that, books about cooking largely admitted what every homemaker knew to be true: that feeding people was backbreaking work, and then you died. But suddenly there was GE’s “Care Free Cooking Electrically,” a pamphlet promoting the electric range; Glamour magazine’s After 5 Cookbook for the working woman; Good Housekeeping’s Quick & Easy Cookbook. What separates these from the books we have today is that the recipes are, largely speaking, actually pretty easy. Take, for example, this salad recipe from the After 5 Cookbook: “Break escarole in pieces. Sprinkle with 1 tbs. lemon juice. Serve with mayonnaise.” It’s practically a haiku.

Things shifted in the late 1980s. Food culture emerged. Dean & DeLuca started doing a brisk business in luxury foods, dining out became a sport, and Americans aspired to make much more sophisticated food in their homes. It was the age of pesto, quiche, and imported olive oils, and suddenly recipes calling for “a can of asparagus” or “a box of lime Jell-O” no longer seemed au courant. But the recipes continued to be labeled “quick” and “easy,” and there the problems began.

Take, for example, a panzanella recipe from the “Speedy Salads” section of Anne Willan’s In & Out of the Kitchen In 15 Minutes or Less, a cookbook from 1995. The recipe fills an entire eight-by-10-inch page and requires one to mince garlic, chiffonade basil, de-seed and small-dice a cucumber, small-dice two onions, et cetera. Estimated time commitment: 10 minutes, which is roughly what it would take me to locate all the ingredients in my kitchen (and if 10 minutes is too long, Willan has a from-scratch Chicken in Chili Coconut Sauce that you should have no trouble dashing off in nine. Nine minutes!)

Over the course of the past two decades, as food culture has exploded, recipes like Ms. Willan’s have become commonplace. More of our cookbooks are written by chefs publishing recipes adapted from their restaurants, as opposed to the self-taught home cooks who traditionally authored the lion’s share of the category. Ingredients have gotten more exotic, and less likely to be collected within a trip to your average American grocery store. Za’atar? Yuzu juice? Persian cucumber? For a special cooking project, fine, but galling to discover in the ingredients list for a weeknight dinner.

At the same time, magazine test kitchens have shifted from being staffed by seasoned home cooks to young culinary-school graduates, trained in the practices of the professional kitchen (which are entirely based around the premise that a corps of cooks will be working 12 hours a day to create the dishes). Even when these recipes are simplified for home cooking, the fundamental approaches often aren’t practical.

So, why does it matter that recipes marketed as easy often aren’t? A few years ago, I would have interpreted it as a harmless pretense—maybe even a good deed—to nudge people with the lure of simplicity toward cooking for themselves. Now, pulled in a million directions by the demands of a young family, I’m not so sure. Despite the much-ballyhooed increase in men cooking, women still do the lion’s share of the food preparation in this country. And the weight of expectation imposed by our cooking culture, which offers unrealistically complex recipes while at the same time dismissing them as simple, can be crushing.

Food editors are, for the record, acutely aware that their (mostly female) readers want sophisticated meals but feel that the complex recipes offered by chefs are incompatible with their harried lifestyles. So, they make efforts to simplify and streamline, without ever admitting the one thing that cooks really need to hear: that real “easy” cooking, if that’s what you’re after, is far too simple to sustain a magazine and cookbook industry. It relies on foods that can be purchased at a single point of sale and involves a bare minimum of ingredients and a small repertoire of techniques. It leans heavily on things your mom taught you. There are no garnishes of thyme leaves in simple weeknight dinners, and no appetizer salads. Homemade breakfast smoothies are many things, but they are not an “easy” alternative to one of those squeezable yogurt things that you can eat with no hands in the car.

It’s not that the best way to feed yourself is always the fastest one—it almost always isn’t. I love to cook, and wish I still had those wide-open Saturday mornings in which to make wholly unnecessary coffee cakes, or lazy Sunday afternoons for poring through old cookbooks, hunting for new projects. But I think we should talk more realistically about what’s involved in from-scratch cooking, the sacrifices it entails, and the fact that little of the complexity offered by today’s published recipes is really essential to cooking a delicious meal.

Quick cooking rarely comes from a recipe so much as it does from intuition built over the course of hours and hours mucking around in a kitchen. It requires parents to expend some real effort in involving their children in meal preparation, and maybe even home economics curricula returning to schools to teach kids the basics. And whether you’re a parent to young children, a single man or woman with a career in overdrive, or simply an average human deciding what to do with an hour on a Thursday night, if you manage to resist the urge of push-button prepared food and cook a meal for yourself, I tip my hat to you. Ω

[Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn is a James Beard Award-nominated food writer. She covers food and drink in print for The Wall Street Journal and online for Esquire, among other publications. She has written a cookbook (with Stephen Collucci): Glazed, Filled, Sugared, and Dipped: Easy Doughnuts at Home (2013). Dunn received a BA (history of art) from Yale University and served as an editor of the Yale Daily News.]

Copyright © 2015 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Want To Hear A Political Chant For 2016? "Heil Trumpster!"

Want to guess the source for The Trumpster's idea of a Muslim Roundup? Look no further than the Nuremberg Laws promulgated by the followers of Adolf Hitler in 1935. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the German government dictated that all Jews in Germany were to wear a yellow badge in the form of a Star of David on the left side of the breast and on the back. If a Jew was found without wearing the star in public, they could be subjected to severe punishment. The only thing lacking in The Trumpster's plan is Brown Shirts for his fanatical followers. If this is (fair & balanced) historic recurrence, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Trump Explains His Muslim Registration Project In Detail
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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Good management is what it’s called.
No reason to be vexed.
We’ll round up all the Muslims here,
And then we’ll see who’s next. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA (English) from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2015 The Nation

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Welcome To The Ultimate History Jumbo-Section

Wikipedia teaches us that a "Podcast is a form of digital media that consists of an episodic series of audio, video, digital radio, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device. The word is a portmanteau of "(i)Pod" and "broadcast." And it would seem that Dan Carlin is the best history podcaster in cyberspace. Thanks to The Huffington Post, another major cyberspace media purveyor, we get warts-and-all profile of the Dan Carlin. If this is (fair & balanced) cyber-history, so be it.

[x HuffPo]
America's Best History Teacher Doesn't Work At A School
By Benjamin Hart

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The subject, naturally, is Genghis Khan and the moral depravity that is often a characteristic of transformative world leaders. The voice begins.

"Would you be willing, under certain conditions, to order the killing of an innocent woman or child, or old person?" the voice wants to know. “If you said that you would not be willing to do that," it continues, "you are already off the potential ‘great person’ list." It pauses for a couple of seconds.

"At least in terms of world leaders."

The gravelly, conspiratorial baritone belongs to Dan Carlin, a 49-year-old former talk radio personality who has achieved superstardom in the brightening firmament of podcasting. On his show "Hardcore History," Carlin singlehandedly narrates epochal events of the last several thousand years (World War I, The Black Death, the Norman invasion of England and the rise of the Khans, to name a few). Recorded from a studio in his home in Eugene, Oregon, the show hasn’t exactly gained household name status on the order of "Serial," the true-crime narrative that catapulted the medium into the mainstream last year.

But "Hardcore History" is firmly ensconced in the upper reaches of iTunes’ most-downloaded list (No. 9 as of this writing), sharing coveted real estate with public-radio mainstays like "Fresh Air" and "This American Life" and long-established boldface names like Marc Maron and Adam Carolla.

Unlike most popular podcasts, “Hardcore History” has no guests, no interviews and no recorded segments. It’s not a marvel of audio engineering like "Radiolab," nor does it benefit from a constantly rotating cast of characters like “The Moth.” It’s just Dan Carlin talking to you — and he’s a damn good talker.

A virtuoso orator with a master’s feel for the rhythm of language, Carlin layers his winding sentences with conversational asides (on the Mongols’ indefensible violence: "lemme tell you why it puts me in a weird position… I’m a fan of these people!"), piquant scene-setting (on the unspeakable horror at the Battle of Verdun during World War I: "This is Mordor"), artfully posed hypothetical questions and lots of pregnant pauses.

"He uses the medium about as well as anybody," said Adam Sachs, who runs Midroll Media, the parent company of the popular Earwolf podcast network (which is not connected with Carlin). "He really demonstrates the undeniable power of a riveting story."

"Hardcore History" episodes don’t appear for months at a time — there are only 56 total — and when they finally do, they clock in at interstate-drive lengths, often crossing the three or even four-hour threshold. (The latest episode, released at the end of October, covers the ancient Achaemenid Persian empire and clocks in at 3 hours and 36 minutes; the six-episode World War I series totaled over 20 hours.)

But what it lacks in buzzy zeitgeistness, it has made up for with a committed — and ardent — fan base. A sampling of the show’s thousands of ecstatic online reviews shines a light into the mind of the proselytizing listener. (Example: "This podcast is so good it's dangerous. I've started doing dishes and housework just so I can hide in the back of the house with my headphones.")

The way Carlin tells it, none of this was part of the plan. He grew up in and around Los Angeles, raised by parents in the film industry: his father was a producer, his mother the Oscar-nominated actress Lynn Carlin. He graduated from the University of Colorado, where he majored in history — his only traditional credential in the field.

After working behind the scenes in TV in Southern California for several years, Carlin snagged his own radio show at KUGN, a talk radio station in Eugene, the city where he still lives with his wife and two kids. On the air three hours a day, five days a week, he found himself sandwiched awkwardly between politically conservative hosts in the Rush Limbaugh shoutfest mold. Carlin talked politics, too, but prided himself on what he often calls his "Martian" perspective — a hard-to-pigeonhole approach that criticizes all corners of power. This didn’t jibe with the station’s black-and-white philosophy. Carlin described “knock-down, drag-out, borderline fist fight” meetings with management over the direction of the show and his overall tenure as "not the best fit."

After an on-again, off-again relationship with the station, he stepped into the podcasting world in 2005, when the medium was still in its infancy. The decision to abandon terrestrial radio for the online wilds was unusual — and risky. "I wouldn’t say I was dragged kicking and screaming to the Internet," he said.

When he first ventured into the field, he created the podcast "Common Sense," an extension of his radio program, which dissects issues of the day through that Martian lens: strenuously nonpartisan, iconoclastic, suspicious of government. Carlin still hosts "Common Sense," which has racked up 297 episodes and is itself no slouch in the most popular rankings (No. 31 as of this writing).

That show was an outgrowth of Carlin’s existing professional life, but "Hardcore History" was a departure: a manifestation of his expansive curiosity about the past and in particular, his lifelong infatuation with military history. "I have no idea why I’m into this," he said, specifying that he is a committed pacifist by nature. "My mom says I was born into this in a past life."

His mother was referring to Carlin’s habit of holding forth at the dinner table, telling what he calls "horror history stories." But it was his mother-in-law who suggested, one fateful evening, that he turn the tales into a standalone show.

"Hardcore History" episodes began as sub-60-minute affairs ("Meandering Through The Cold War," "Darkness Buries The Bronze Age" and "Macedonian Soap Opera" were some of the early episodes).

Soon Carlin began stitching together series of episodes with common themes — the first multi-part installment, a three-parter released in 2008, tackled the Punic War, the ancient conflict between Rome and Carthage.

The episodes grew in complexity, and listenership multiplied. As he watched the podcast hit the top 10 most downloaded on iTunes and cross the million-listener threshold for the first time, Carlin realized he had a hit on his hands. Along the way, episodes grew longer and less frequent. Carlin's research burden also became heavier — though he tends to cover topics he already knows something about. "I’d be an idiot to claim that I start from zero," he said.

To prepare, he reads or rereads a stack of books on his chosen topic, from which he quotes liberally during the show. For the World War I episode, this meant about 50. After researching for weeks or months at a time, he records small chunks of the podcast working without a script. (He is not entirely alone in this process; he often makes cryptic reference to a lone producer named Ben, though whether this person actually exists is a long-running, playful debate in Carlinworld. Carlin’s website pictures a "Harvey"-like rabbit perched behind Carlin and refers to Ben as "sometimes fictitious.")

Perhaps Carlin’s most impressive feat is his ability to wrangle complex strands of historical record into an easily digestible narrative. A typical episode is a smorgasbord of facts, figures and conjecture that veers from political analysis (was Woodrow Wilson naive or savvy? How much sway did Rasputin really have with the Tsar?) to historical context (what did the world order look like before Genghis Khan swept through Asia?) to thorough military history — with a special focus on the horror that is warfare.

"The story is guiding the length," said Sachs, of Midroll Media — who isn't surprised that listeners have embraced the intimidating running times. In his view, the podcast’s meatiness is central to its appeal.

"One element that Dan has tapped into is that element of satisfying curiosity," he said. Carlin’s programs deliver "sustenance, not just entertainment."

Carlin attributes his success, in part, to the Internet’s ability to cut out old media middlemen like his former radio bosses, who undoubtedly would have vetoed the idea of a multi-part series exploring Russia’s incursion into Arctic territory during World War II. ("Ghosts of the Ostfront," Carlin’s take on the subject, appeared in 2009.)

"As a guy who dealt with gatekeepers" he said, "it’s amazing to have a direct line with the audience and sink and swim on the merits of the work."

"I’m shocked at where podcasting has gone," he said. "I still can’t get my mind around it."

Millions download every episode of "Hardcore History." Carlin's high-water mark was 5.4 million for the first episode of the World War I series, he said. But that number may actually underestimate the program’s true reach, since it doesn’t account for those who arrive at the show via other sources, like Spotify, streaming platforms or YouTube.

Quantifying how many people actually listen to podcasts, it turns out, is notoriously difficult. But advertisers have noticed that the number is a lot higher than it used to be. Pew estimates 2.6 billion total podcast downloads in 2014, compared to 1.4 just two years earlier.

The medium’s rapt devotees make ideal targets for advertisers. Carlin is as deft at selling his listeners on familiar podcast sponsors like Audible and Squarespace as he is at narrating the Battle of Verdun, though he makes most of his money from listener donations and the sale of old shows through an Amazon affiliate program.

"We're pulling enough to say that we've got decent jobs," Carlin said, though he declined to share specific figures.

But Carlin’s influence goes beyond mere download numbers and dollars. A German listener told Carlin the story of listening to "Hardcore History" on a long drive with his father, which prompted the father to open up about his experiences on the Eastern Front for the first time. Then there was the time Stephen Colbert imitated Carlin on a “Late Show" podcast. (At about the 3:25 mark, Colbert zeroes in on one of of Carlin’s most mimic-able verbal tics, his idiosyncratic pronunciation of the word "again.")

Not everyone is such an unabashed fan. While most history professors contacted for this story had never heard of the show, Dr. Graydon Tunstall, who teaches at the University of South Florida and wrote a book about World War I, made a point of listening to an episode from the World War I series. Tunstall lauded Carlin for connecting with what he sees as an ill-informed citizenry. But he also compared the podcaster to "someone who earned a brown belt in karate" and thinks that’s all he needs to know. "That makes him dangerous, because there’s much he doesn’t know."

He singled out Carlin’s treatment of the Battle of the Somme, which he said missed "major points," like the effect of the terrain on armies. At times, he added, Carlin "goes into so much detail that only an expert would know what he’s talking about, and a novice would have no idea."

Dr. Leif Jerram, a senior lecturer in urban and European history at the University of Manchester in England, admires Carlin's ability to harness a "staggering" amount of evidence in the service of a compelling story. "I wish I was half as good at is as him," he said. But he also notes that Carlin is, in essence, just recounting a good yarn without deeply examining the of historical forces that shape events.

Carlin would be the first to admit that such gaps in knowledge are inevitable and that every storyteller brings his own set of biases to the story. On the podcast, he frequently qualifies his opinions with the disclaimer that he is not, in fact, a historian, and laces the narrative with self-deprecating asides. ("This is all… very controversial, very complicated, very complicated. You’re getting the Dan Carlin condensed, possibly unreliable version.")

He sees himself as a "popularizer" who uses his regular-guy status to his advantage. "I can go places that real historians who worry about their standing can’t," he said. "I can play the medieval king’s fool."

"Historians and transmitters of history have rarely been the same people," he said in a Reddit AMA, invoking Homer and Herodotus as early examples of great communicators. "Hardcore History," he went on, was "designed… for other 'history geeks' like me. The group that sat around a pizza and some beers after history class and got into the weird, fun questions on history (and getting into debates about things)."

The show’s very first episode, which explored the gap between historical perceptions of Alexander the Great and Hitler, is a testament to that idea. In it, Carlin pronounced Alexander a "top five nominee for greatest figure in history" before voicing his idea that 30 to 40 percent of historical world leaders (including Alexander) were so murderous that they would have tied for "the worst person of all time."

Carlin said he measures himself less against the rigid standards of academia and more against the likes of The History Channel, which he considers a "pretty low bar." The network actually tried to recruit him to host a show, he said, but its vision would turn him into "the Guy Fieri of history," a part he’s hardly eager to play. Despite such overtures, Carlin isn't tempted to return to the old media he escaped more than a decade ago. He prefers to keep things the way they are: small, personal and tightly controlled.

At the end of a recent episode of "Common Sense," he issued a sort of state-of-the-podcasts address, acknowledging his own worries that, for various reasons, episodes are appearing less frequently than they once did. He spoke of new-media personalities who reach a "fork-in-the-road moment" after they hit a certain level of success, at which point they begin to staff up and start resembling a traditional organization. But despite the many listeners who have offered to lighten his logistical load by working for free or interning, he swatted down the prospect of being “a human resources director 30 percent of the time."

"I want to do exactly what I’m doing, right here, right now," Carlin said, which means sustaining, not modifying, the idiosyncratic approach that has gotten him this far. Judging by the last 10 years, his audience seems likely to follow him anywhere. Ω

[Benjamin Hart has been a front-page editor of The Huffington Post since 2011. Prior to that, he was an assistant editor of The Week (2010-2011). Further bio-info about Benjamin Hart is fugitive.

Dan Carlin received BA (history) from the University of Colorado at Boulder.]

Copyright © 2015 The, Inc.

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Copyright © 2015 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Enya's Music Means Anything To Everyone

Full disclosure: this blogger has 8 Enya albums (72 songs) loaded on his iPod. He first heard an Enya CD while a guest on the estate of Walter and Jenifer Gilbey on the Isle of Man. But enough name-dropping. Today's post is about the mysterious Enya. For background music, here is

[x YouTube/Canal de 11gileno]
The Best of Enya
By Enya

If this is (fair & balanced) fandom, so be it.

[x BuzzFeed]
The Keys To Enya's Kingdom
By Anne Helen Petersen

Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

Everyone knows how to get to Enya’s castle. At least everyone in Killiney, the sloping oceanside village 45 minutes out of Dublin. Walk past a massive public park, where paths thread by a resting quarry and an obelisk, erected in 1740 to distract the Irish peasants from the hard year that had come before. From there, it’s a quick stroll down the road, past the groundskeeper’s cottage that’s now a coffee shop, and through a stone gate that narrows an already spindly road.

Here, you’ll pass clumps of walkers taking the air, most with golden retrievers, all with sturdy anoraks in sensible colors. Those walkers don’t pause when they pass the place in the 8-foot stone wall where a legit turret peeks over massive wooden gates — where, if you look closely, you can see the seam in the stone wall where Enya added four additional feet of height when she moved in back in the late ‘90s. Surveillance cameras eye and remind: Enya does not accept visitors unbidden.

The castle is small, as castles go: just six bedrooms. But when Enya moved in, she redid them all. And the bathrooms, which she’s filled with Lalique glass — a word she pronounces like it were a bonbon melting on her tongue. Her bedroom has no curtains, just shutters, and when she opens them each morning, the Irish sea sprawls out before her. There are the Wicklow Mountains in one direction, and there’s Dalkey Island, where the mystical stones of the druids still mystify, in the other. “I open those shutters, and the sea, it’s different ev-er-y day,” she says. “It’s very inspiring to me. I just look at the view, and if it’s overcast and raining, no matter: I never tire of it.” Her bedroom, Enya tells me, is her favorite room.

Traditionally, castles were passed through family lines. Enya — whose wealth is estimated at $136 million, about double that of Chris Martin — bought her own. But unlike her neighbor Bono, whose income stems from massive world tours, Enya does not tour, and never has toured. She submits to minimal press. She takes up to seven years between albums. Yet she has sold a total of 80 million records, and is one of a dwindling group whose records people are willing to buy.

Her success so deeply contradicts accepted industry wisdom that it’s inspired a term — “Enya-nomics” — to describe it. Several years ago, she was invited to Harvard Business School to discuss the subject, but, like most invitations, Enya declined. Her underexposure, after all, is at the heart of both Enya-nomics and her appeal. Unlike other local celebrities — Bono, The Edge, Van Morrison, Pierce Brosnan, director Neil Jordan — who’ll make odd appearances at the local establishment, Enya is seldom seen outside the walls of her castle. One shopkeeper claims to have seen a woman matching her description in a tracksuit, but the idea of Enya in a tracksuit boggles the mind. No one knows much about her private life, save that she’s close to her family, hasn’t been married, and enjoys old Hollywood.

There are no photos of Enya in pants, or without the makeup that emphasizes her alabaster skin and dark, pooling eyes. Her look, like her sound, is markedly different from the norms of musical celebrity: her pitch black hair trimmed short, her clothes Arthurian. On her album covers, Enya’s always posed against a backdrop of nature or old regency; the cover of her 1988 breakthrough album Watermark renders her the subject of an impressionist painting.

Her look, like her sound, seems to exist outside of time. In her songs, there are no references to objects, technological or otherwise: just emotions, swells, landscapes, time. In her real life, she checks her email once every few weeks, and even then, very quickly. “It feels so cold,” she says, making a face like she’d bitten into a lemon. “The energy is no good. I’d rather go for a walk.”

It is as if a woman of the 18th century, renowned for her beauty and voice, was transplanted to the present, where she would sell as many albums as Beyoncé and baffle all industry experts. She transcends centuries, but she also exceeds hierarchies of cool. Her style has been derogatorily described as Muzak or New Age — the aural approximation of a warm bath — but might be more fairly described as ancient choral music on synth steroids.

Enya, for her part, describes her genre of music as “Enya.” It’s played at weddings. It’s in car commercials. It made the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” feel like an incantation. It’s perfect at Christmas. After 9/11, it was all over CNN. People probably don’t have much sex to Enya, but women have assuredly orgasmed to it. It’s at once stunningly flexible and spectacularly safe.

Enya is basic, which is to say, she’s elemental: sacred without religion. And as she prepares to release her eighth studio album — and first in seven years — the conversation isn’t about reinventing herself for the digital age, or “Enya’s Second Act.” Her career is like a continuously held note: a single tone, but a rich one, shielded, at least to this point, from the vagaries of the age and industry. Which isn’t to say it’s been easy. It’s taken years of work — of carefully cultivated mystery, of continuous self-effacement — for Enya to feel this inevitable and eternal. For her to become not just an artist, but an adjective.

That’s the feel of the listening party for the new album, Dark Sky Island, held on a blustery day in October: very Enya. Warner Bros. Records, her label since the days of “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away),” is throwing an event that makes you feel like CDs are selling for $17.99 apiece all over again. Even the invitation, which promises “canapés,” feels like a throwback. It’s at an Upper East Side marbled mansion, with a spiraling marble staircase that, as you ascend, reveals Enya’s name projected on the ceiling above. The crowd skews young and hip — a mix of music journalists and Warner employees flown in for the occasion. One, in his late thirties, tells me that seeing Enya has been his life’s dream: “I’ve seen Cher and Adam Lambert, so now I’ve seen them all.”

Clustered at small cocktail tables, everyone’s invited to turn off cell phones so as to “replicate the experience” of the locale invoked by the album — a real island, Sark, off the coast of France, where the 600 residents have committed to emitting no light pollution. People start closing their eyes, trancelike — even the journalists with the coolest hair — and get that softened look people get in their faces when watching a wedding, or a sunset. The “Enya” look.

When the intro to “Echoes in Rain” plays, the exec sitting in front of me goes nuts, in a subdued, candlelit way. “This is the shit!” he whisper-shouts. Then there’s a ballad, “So I Could Find My Way,” that a journalist will later tell Enya will be perfect for a breakup scene in a rom-com, and “Sancta Maria,” the sort of escalating march to which my brother and I would’ve made an intricately choreographed dance when we were 6 and 9.

An exec from Warner Music UK comes out and effuses about Enya and her 80 million records. When he mentions that Enya’s one of the only artists who’s been on their roster since the ‘80s, it’s with gratitude, tinged with just the slightest bit of desperation. And while her albums have performed well (A Day Without Rain sold 15 million and became the fifth-biggest international album of 2001; Amaratine, released in 2005, sold 6.5 million copies; her Christmas album, And Winter Came, sold 3 million in 2008), the numbers for Dark Sky Island won’t be what they used to be, even for an artist whose core audience might still buy CDs. For the first time, Enya is talking publicly, and seriously, about the idea of a tour.

In the meantime, she’s adapting to this new landscape. A 2013 Volvo ad with Jean-Claude Van Damme featuring her 2000 single “Only Time” has been viewed 81 million times on YouTube and launched the song back into Billboard’s Hot 100 over a decade after its initial release. The song has 36 million streams on Spotify, where Enya’s artist channel has 1.2 million monthly listeners; there’s a reliable market for music that can meld so seamlessly into the background.

“In the next year you’ll start to see all kinds of usages for the songs on Dark Sky Island,” says Dion Singer, executive vice president of creative at Warner Bros. “It’s all about finding ways of exposing her music while being absolutely aware that it needs to keep the elegance and respect of her compositions. We can also see how being in films and commercials kept her music so front-of-mind. It’s exciting when you see how many people stream her entire catalog every week and the different kinds of playlists she ends up on.”

Enya emerges from the shadows wearing a full-length black taffeta dress and a velvet shrug. She’s 54, but she has the skin of someone much younger — or someone who spends most of her time in an Irish castle. She looks like a mix of Deanna Troi and my mom, which is to say, she is the most beautiful woman in the world. She appears, nods as the room applauds her, and disappears without a word. “Now, for a light mingle,” the exec announces.

In the next room, Enya has a receiving line, like a bride in all black. Everyone has a story to tell her: Here is what you mean to me; here is where your music made room in my life. “Was that a harpsichord I heard on ‘Sancta Maria’?” someone asks. “Oh, we never reveal our secrets,” she says, with a half-smile.

She’s referring to the work of the so-called “triad” that make up Enya, the musical entity. Enya conjures the melodies; husband-and-wife team Nicky and Roma Ryan are responsible for the production (him) and lyrics (her). Nicky Ryan is a student of Phil Spector’s famed “wall of sound” school of production, and applies the same principle to each of Enya’s songs, layering her voice up to 500 times, then adding in a mix of instruments, some of which Enya plays and others he’s sampled. Nicky and Roma go everywhere that Enya goes, and they’re here at the listening party, holding court, flanking her during the dinner party and staying even after Enya glides away before the dessert course arrives.

I ask the twentysomething waiter if he’d ever heard of Enya. He pauses, looks over at a poster of her face on the wall, and says, “That’s her song in that car commercial with Van Damme, right?”

Enya, born Eithne Ni Bhraonáin, grew up in the Northwest corner of Ireland in a town called Gweedore, in County Donegal. “There’s the mountains, the bitter Atlantic, and that’s it,” Enya explains. Her father led a band before opening up the family pub; her mother was a piano teacher, but had little time to teach Enya, the sixth of nine children. She grew up speaking Gaelic and was regularly summoned — at family gatherings, at the pub, wherever — to sing in front of crowds. “At 3 years of age, I used to go to singing competitions,” she says. “And part of the competition would be for the whole family, and we’d have to sing harmonies after hearing a song once. I never found it strange.”

Enya was in the deep middle of the birth order. “Let’s say there’d be a question like ‘Will we go to the pictures today?’” Enya recalls. “What chance did I have to say yes or no?” At this, she laughs: It’s not a point of resentment. “By the time it came down to number five, — that’s me — it was just like, Here we go. It was difficult to be heard, but I was very comfortable with that because I was able to be myself, able to be let alone.” Enya taught herself to play the piano on her own, borrowing her mother’s instructional books, leading herself through the levels. “I got the duets, and I asked my sister to play a bit, and she’d refuse. I’d say, ‘I’ll give you my sweets for a week if you play it!’”

Growing up amid The Troubles, she learned to live with the quiet terrors of everyday life. The “six counties” occupied by Britain separated Enya’s hometown from Dublin, and her family was regularly pulled over and searched on the way and back. “You’d go into a shop in Derry and you’d be checked by people standing with guns,” Enya says. “And my family, we’d have to be careful speaking Gaelic: If you did, you were pinpointing where you came from, and it was too political at the time. Whereas for us, it was our first language, and we didn’t see anything wrong with it.”

As a child, Enya had resigned herself to attending the local school, which lacked a music program. A nearby boarding school did, but the family was already paying for private school for three of Enya’s siblings. “I thought, Oh well, it’s not possible to send us all. But I was very close to my granddad and grandma, and they took me there one day and showed me around, and asked if I’d like to go. There was choir, and there was music, and at the time I was reading Malory Towers and all the boarding school books, and I just thought it was going to be all midnight feasts — I was over the moon.”

At this, Enya gets the sort of look on her face that former campers do when describing their childhood summers. “Parents ask me, ‘I don’t know whether to send my kid to boarding school,’ and I say, ‘It’s either for you or it’s not.’ And it was definitely, definitely for me.”

Meanwhile, three of Enya’s siblings and twin uncles were in a band, Clannad, that was starting to receive notice in Ireland. Nicky was their manager, and listened closely when Enya’s sister, Maire, told him about Enya’s incredible vocal range. “I knew what she could be,” he says, admitting that Enya’s beauty was part of the equation. When Nicky clashed with others in the group over their drinking, Enya had a choice. “Stay with us or be famous or go with him and be nothing,” the ultimatum supposedly went. Enya went with Nicky — and watched as Clannad’s popularity exploded in 1982, when “Theme from Harry’s Game,” sung entirely in Gaelic, became an international hit.

If Enya regretted her decision, it doesn’t come out in the telling. “Those were some of the simplest and happiest times,” Roma says. They cobbled together a studio in the background, auguring the soundboard with a blowtorch, and Nicky, whose aptitude and reputation for mixing sound was becoming gradually known, made a living producing the albums of traditional Irish groups. Meanwhile, Enya composed, fiddled, and worked with Nicky to produce the distinct vocal layering and synth sampling that would become her trademark. That sound wouldn’t go public until 1986, when she was commissioned to compose the soundtrack to the BBC miniseries "The Celts," and Enya, the monolithic entity, was born.

“That’s when I convinced her to change the spelling of her name to Enya,” Nicky says. “Before, it was spelled the way it’s spelled it Gaelic: Eithne. But I knew that anyone who’s not Irish would look at that and say ‘Eth-ney.’ So I told her, ‘Why don’t we spell it phonetically?’” They also dropped her last name, a decision that no one will explain, but they do chuckle at the mention of all the great divas who’ve gone by one name: Madonna, Cher, Beyoncé, and Adele — an artist whose return after five years away and general reluctance, when it comes the public eye, mirrors Enya’s own.

“Adele put music first,” Enya says. “I know that. She took a big break!” At this, there’s delight in Enya’s voice, as if she and Adele are on the same mystically reticent team.

Reticence has been her posture from beginning, when, after the 1988 release of Watermark, people were showing up en masse to the record store demanding the “Sail Away” song — prompting the label to give the track, originally entitled “Orinoco Flow,” its parenthetical second half for the remaining 11 million sold. When Enya first sat for interviews, she was shy and receding, as amazed as everyone else that a sound like hers would find itself sandwiched between Bon Jovi and MC Hammer. In her first national American interview in 1989, she and Joan Lunden smiled warmly at each other with matching haircuts of different shades. Enya was even more soft-spoken than she is now — and clearly overwhelmed. “It was such a whirl,” Enya recalls of that time. “But from the beginning, I didn’t feel like a celebrity. When people heard ‘Orinoco Flow,’ they didn’t know if it was a band, if it was a man or a woman; they had no idea. So I had to be the spokesperson for the music.”

Shepherd Moons, her 1991 follow-up to Watermark, spent 238 weeks on the Billboard charts; Paint the Sky With Stars, her 1997 greatest hits compilation, hung out there for four years; in 2000, a radio-friendly remix of “Only Time,” the lead single from A Day Without Rain, hit No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary Chart. It appeared in commercials for everything from "Friends" to benefits for the survivors of 9/11, effectively sealing Enya’s role as life’s ambient soundtrack.

It also cemented the collective fortunes of Enya, Nicky, and Roma, which are unassumingly on display at the studio designed uniquely for their use, off the Ryans’ gated home in Killiney. The road there used to be a quaint avenue, with trees on either side so high they’d touch in the middle. Now it’s more like a thoroughfare, and one of several things that, in Nicky’s words, “niggle” him, including the leashless dogs of Killiney Park, and every single song he’s ever produced. Like Enya, he’s a perfectionist, the drawbacks of which he discusses as we pull into the driveway, where an interior gate trimmed with golden stars and the names “NICKY,” “ENYA,” “ROMA” guard the entryway to the studio.

“It’s a bit much, but I don’t care what other people think,” Nicky says. “We got it when Paint the Sky With Stars hit four years on the American charts. ”

The entrance to the studio is lined with awards: four Grammys and dozens of others — from Japan, from Germany, from the Phoenix Film Critics Society. There’s a giant piece of glass etched with the cover of Shepherd Moons.

“Radio City Music Hall sent this to her in the hope she would do 15 concerts there,” Nicky narrates. “But, she didn’t.” From the control room, you can see into the recording space, where a Steinway piano, three antique mics, and a well-cushioned white leather easy chair form a loose triangle. There’s a particularly soothing incense-like smell — “that’s Enya’s doing” — and a wall-to-wall curtain, which, with one button, recedes to reveal a massive acreage, an entire avenue of trees.

It’s the first time back to the studio in months — enough time for the Steinway to go woefully out of tune. After the release of the Christmas-themed album And Winter Came in 2008, they took an indeterminate break. “I felt I didn’t know what to do,” Enya would later tell me. “I thought I needed a break, and the music needed a break.” That break ended up spanning three years. “I know it sounds like a long time,” she said, “but to me, it felt like six months.” Eventually, Roma shared some of poems she’d been writing — rotating around the loose concept of the “dark sky island” of Sark. Only then did she finally feel the urge to come back.

Nicky plays one of the bonus tracks from the album. “We always controlled the music,” he says. “From the beginning, we never allowed an A&R man here, or anyone who wanted to deviate or move the album in any direction.” Enya has never worked with anyone other than Nicky and Roma — and, since pairing with Enya, Nicky and Roma have never worked with anyone but her.

He starts to say more, but there’s a bustling sound at the door: “The girls are here!” Roma and Enya enter, a flurry of kisses and velvet overcoats.

“Welcome to our home!” Enya says. “Did you get a chance to see Dalkey? It’s a nice wee village. Did you do the trip to Bono’s house?”

“Neil Jordan lives out on the point,” Nicky adds. “You’ll see him walking about the park.”

It’s unclear whether it’s just happenstance that every major Irish celebrity lives within five miles of one another. “When I moved out here, I had no idea about who lived here,” Enya tells me.

“But it’s the Bel-Air of Dublin,” Nicky says.

“I had no idea!” Enya insists.

“Well, your house was the first one on the lane!”

Enya laughs, concedes. When she laughs, as when she speaks, it’s even-toned, like there’s an upper register of emotion to where she’ll allow herself. “It was, it was, back in Victorian times.” Now she overlooks Bono’s house. “It’s really quite covered,” she says bashfully. “There’s a lot of trees. But you do see the top of his house.”

“We meet very often,” she admits. “Because of the areas we frequent to eat, I see a lot of him.”

Like at a small seafood place down near the shore, where the trio would break for lunch every day at 1:30 while recording. But it’s different here than in America — there are no paparazzi waiting to catch them. “You can get your privacy,” Nicky says. “Enya can go there undisturbed.”

“We go in for a little bit of conversation, a little banter with the staff about their weddings; it’s so tiny, noisy. Brilliant food and so fast,” Enya adds.

And then it’s back to the studio, where they usually work until 5 or 6, at which point Enya’s driver arrives to whisk her back the short miles to the castle.

Enya has what Americans would call resting bitchface, mixed with a general shyness, which has led many commentators to call her aloof or snobby. In person, it just feels like she’s operating on an entirely different wavelength — like everyone else is speaking in the crazy, sped-up sound of nightmares, and only Enya’s figured out the right pacing. She pauses, always, before answering; she rarely inserts herself into a conversation, and she feels no need to fill silences.

And yet, the oddest things — the economics of fast fashion, Alfred Hitchcock, Irish breakfast — can get her excited.

“You tried black pudding!” referring to the Irish “delicacy,” a sort of grainy blood sausage, she says. “You’re very brave,” proceeding to list all the parts of the animals, once the dietary provenance of the poor, that we treat as delicacies today. “Like pig trotters,” says Nicky, who grew up in the working-class end of Dublin. “Had them all growing up. When people are poor, people are poor: There’s no part of the animal that wasn’t used.”

“But how did you tackle them?” Enya asks.

“You just put your fork in the whole thing, no matter the fat and the hair,” he replies.

Enya and Roma both suck in a breath. “I cooked oxtail and tongue when I was at boarding school,” Enya says. “But I never ate it.” She pronounces “ate” like “ette.” “You think oxtail soup is very refined, and then you see the tail in front of you, and you think, That is a tail.”

For a late lunch, they’ve decided on the Powerscourt Estate — a 20-minute drive away, through winding, stone-enclosed roads with the sun peeking through. We drive in a Maybach — “There were only two in all of Ireland,” Nicky says. “But then the other one crashed, so it’s one of a kind” — with privacy curtains on the back window, and a massive faux-fur lining the backseats. She and Roma huddle close in the back like a pair of sisters, deep in discussion about the squirrels they’d spotted in the trees along the drive. When Nicky rounds a hairpin turn and a car nearly hits him, Enya lets out a small gasp.

As we crown the hill of the sprawling, 47-acre estate, the light is saturated with golden yellow from hundreds of beech trees at the height of the turn of fall. It’s raining light. And then there’s the hotel, with a chandelier the size of a Smart car in the shape of a birdcage, wall-to-ceiling windows that look out on the grounds where guests spot deer and foxes, scampering abound in the way of an Irish storybook.

Walking the length of the entryway, Enya nods once, twice, at various men heading the service: This is Enya’s territory. “There’s a delightful little pub downstairs,” she explains as we sit down. “So wee, just a few spots, but you can get a proper pint.” (When confronted with the rumor that, back in 1988, she could “drink anyone under the table” while in Dublin recording “Orinoco Flow,” Enya’s response felt like that of a different celebrity: “That is totally untrue,” she told The Telegraph. “I can party, but I certainly do not party when I’m working.”) She orders fish and chips, hold the breading, and when it arrives, she picks daintily at her bright green mushy peas. Through it all, her posture remains immaculate. I can’t keep my elbows off the table, but Enya’s resting position, always, is with her hands folded neatly in her lap.

Enya’s memory — for her childhood, for her work — is pointed, uncluttered. “Anytime I hear a song, it’s the whole story of the song,” she says. “You actually go into the moment, into that year. It’s like a diary: going back to that day, where you had written it, worked on it, the life of it, the day you finished it. What you ate that day, the earrings you wore. Every song — every song is a punch in the gut.”

When asked how she spoils herself, Enya replies, “Well I have a castle and I just bought a place in the south of France — is that spoiling myself enough?” Remodeling that property, just 20 minutes from Cannes, took up much of her time between albums. You get the sense that she does a lot of gauzily puttering around, or spending many hours contemplating potential slabs of granite, or just forgetting the passage of days. “Oh, is it Friday?” she’d quietly asked at Powerscourt. “Enya walks through the door,” Nicky told me, “and then I open it.”

When Enya talks about the castle — or the ceremony, held in her honor, in which a giant mass of Japanese children lit candles in a field — she gets a misty, faraway tone in her voice. Part of it is her accent: Enya speaks with the slightest intonation of Gaelic, and the careful, measured breathing of a lifelong singer. “The exterior of the castle was built in 1840, in honor of the young queen, and called Victoria Castle. It was placed on the hill, and he was hoping to entice Queen Victoria to come to visit. It was her second year on the throne.” She pauses, like a good storyteller. “But she never came.”

“There was a fire in the 1900s, and it sat for several years,” she continues. “Someone sent me an old clipping of it just sitting, with no roof, just the walls, and it was so very sad. Then, it was bought, by a whiskey heir, and he called it Ayesha. But then it passed through some hands, and when I bought it, it didn’t know what it was. Victorian, but also trying to be a tourist castle?”

She pauses, grabs my hand. “Oh, do you mind me talking like this?”

“The inside was all dark, gloomy,” she continues. “But I wanted to make it very much a home. I brought in pretty chandeliers, redid everything. I made it very romantic again. And because of doing all that, I thought, I should change the name.”

“This is all very Manderley,” I say, referring to Rebecca, the best-selling Daphne du Maurier book turned Hitchcock film that heavily features a fire, a sodden castle, and affections greatly misunderstood, and which Enya chose for the castle’s new name.

“It is! Last night, I dreamed, of Manderley…” she says, liltingly, quoting the opening line from the movie.

“I used to say fame and success are two different things,” Enya says, choosing her words carefully. “I realized, there’s no rulebook that says, ‘Your music is successful; you must now become famous.’ And so I questioned: Why must I do this? Is the focus more on me or the music? So I started to back away from things that were focusing solely on me.” Like any interview that focused on the men in her life or the once-strained relationship with her family.

“It does cause an intrigue,” she says. “Which was not my intention, either! But when you don’t do interviews or don’t answer certain questions, people write a fiction. I’ll always retain a bit of a mystery about me, because I like to. I never felt that if you’re an artist, you had to live in a particular way, even though if you’re creative, and mysterious, then people automatically say you’re eccentric.”

Or fixate, destructively, on you. Enya’s had several stalkers: One stabbed himself in the neck after being thrown out of her parents’ pub in 1997; another gained access to her castle in 2005 and tied up a maid, forcing Enya to flee to a panic room. But Enya made a decision about how she would face them a long time ago. “In the beginning, it was strange, but after a while, I saw the other side: a person who cannot deal with certain parts of life. They’re in a very unhappy place. It’s not really their fault, especially if they associate something disturbing with a song. I had a choice to either deal with it and move on or experience all that negativity every time. So I moved on. It does not spook me. It’s not really about me — it’s just that I’m a fixation, and it could be anyone.”

That’s the problem, to some extent, when an artist sketches only the slightest outlines of her image: People will fill it in however they want. Take questions about Enya’s love life. She has never married, and doesn’t discuss specifics of past relationships. “At first, I thought, How dare they!” Enya says. “Why did they ask me that? What’s that got to do with music? But you do mellow, don’t you? [Those questions] are unimaginative, yet it’s what people want to read. Still, all this information, it’s too much. It will turn.”

It’s a sentiment that Enya would articulate several times, whether regarding illegal music downloads, the rise of Kindle, or, this time, the continued spread of celebrity culture: “It’’ll turn,” she said. “It’s turning.” It fits her anachronistic image perfectly, but it also underlines the greater thrust of her music and much of our conversation: a desire to ricochet back to a self-determinative, pre-digital simplicity, where nothing is too much, and everything is just enough.

When I was 6, I started piano lessons, practicing on a piano — its ivory half gone, its wood deeply scarred — with a deep, ancient sound. It was on that piano that I remember my mom, who had played since childhood, learning to play the first song off Watermark, the title track — a simple, haunting piano composition — by ear. She’d press play on our massive boombox, listen to a measure, then two, press pause, and reproduce the melody on our piano, penciling the notes in a blank composition book in front of her. In my memory, the afternoon light is fading, and I’m fighting the specific boredom of the mid–elementary school child. But that my mom could play Enya — was learning to play Enya, would soon play Enya — rendered her magnificent in my eyes.

As I tell Enya this story, she nods solemnly and says, as she must, that it’s lovely. It was the latest chapter in an old tale she’s grown accustomed to hearing. “Some people say, ‘I know what this song meant to you — but this is the story of what it meant to me.’ And I’ve heard so many stories associated with so many songs, over the years, and I’m still so fascinated by them. There are thousands, thousands of stories for each song.”

“What I gather,” Enya continues, “is that there’s a basic emotional message within a song, even without any words, without any arrangement — it’s already there. Nicky and Roma and I, we just try to enhance that. That’s all we try to do.”

Maybe the appeal of Enya isn’t precisely anything to do with her, or Ireland, or her castle, although all of those things provide a fitting container. Rather, the appeal is something like nostalgia — for a moment in your own life, perhaps, but even more likely, for a time that you might not even have experienced, that maybe no one has. It’s a distant, romantic, fictive land.

It’s also by no means unique to our age, as it’s been conjured through the centuries, the heaven of the traditional hymn, the lost homeland of the ballad. Enya is simply the most contemporary in a long lineage of soaring harmonies that, in their ambiance, their utter flexibility to fill the contours of our psychological needs, have been called escapist, or pablum, or trite — but which can be molded to mean anything to everyone. Ω

[Anne Helen Petersen is a features writer for BuzzFeed News. In a prior assignment, she was a columnist ("Dear Television") in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Before that she was a Visiting Professor of English at Whitman College. Peteren received a BA (rhetoric and film studies, Summa cum laude; Phi Beta Kappa) from Whitman College, as well as an MA (English and film studies) from the University of Oregon, and a PhD (media studies) from The University of Texas at Austin.]

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