Analysis | Claims that drop boxes were a vector for rampant election fraud keep crumbling – The Washington Post

This post was originally published on this site

Polls in the 2020 presidential election closed about 895,000 minutes ago, as of writing. Allies of former president Donald Trump have been assiduously (if slapdashedly) trying to prove the election was stolen for all 895,000 of them.

So far, not only has no proof of rampant fraud been demonstrated, there hasn’t been any evidence of even small-scale fraud. A few people in various states have been charged with voter fraud offenses — a number of them Trump supporters. But there’s nothing beyond wispy allegations or error-riddled statistical analyses to suggest anything broader occurred. Certainly nothing to suggest that Joe Biden lost that contest.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

On Sunday, the Associated Press reinforced the lack of evidence with a report centered on ballot drop boxes. That mode of voting, allowing people to deposit completed ballots to be counted, increased in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The AP’s review of the use of the boxes across the country determined that no state reported “any instances in which the boxes were connected to voter fraud or stolen ballots,” nor were there incidents of vandalism that might have affected election results by destroying ballots.

In other words, there’s literally no evidence that drop boxes facilitated rampant fraud — or that they were a vehicle for fraud to any significant degree whatsoever.

The AP conducted a similar wide-ranging examination of fraud allegations last year. Then, it found that ballots considered suspicious in swing states amounted to only a small fraction of ballots cast. Even if all of those suspicious votes were illegal — which will not turn out to be the case — it wouldn’t have affected Trump’s loss in any state.

One should not expect those findings to derail the narrative offered by Trump’s allies. Drop boxes have emerged as a focal point of fraud claims thanks largely to the film “2000 Mules” from right-wing filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.

Trump’s allies have seized on D’Souza’s suggestion that ballots were collected and submitted via drop boxes at a scale significant enough to affect the results of the 2020 election, despite the film’s complete failure to provide even one example of a fraudulent ballot being submitted. A cadre of right-wing legislators in the House nonetheless demanded an investigation into the “potentially widespread illegal activities” shown in the film — a sentence in which the word “potentially” has been asked to do more work than at any other point in its existence.

Wisconsin’s elected, conservative Supreme Court declared that, since drop boxes weren’t explicitly authorized in 2020, their use was illegal — and that this “weakens the people’s faith that the election produced an outcome reflective of their will.” With this dubious bit of argumentation, the boxes are banned moving forward.

D’Souza, still in salesman mode on his film (now only $19.99 to stream!), responded to the AP’s report with characteristic dismissiveness.

“This AP article contends that mail-in drop boxes are fine because: 1. Election officials say so. 2. There have been hardly any cases of dropboxes being vandalized or damaged,” he wrote on Twitter. “Everyone that has seen #2000Mules will recognize how pathetic and silly this is!”

For the record: I have seen “2000 Mules,” and I recognize that there is far more value in state officials from Democratic and Republican states saying clearly that there’s no evidence of abuse of ballot drop boxes than there is in granting D’Souza the benefit of the doubt on his movie’s unproven assertions.

After all, the movie centers on the idea that analysis of cellphone geolocation data shows thousands of people visiting multiple ballot drop boxes in the month before the 2020 election — visits that allegedly included depositing ballots as part of a wide-ranging scheme to throw the election. The film doesn’t show any examples of this analysis or any footage of people casting a vote at more than one drop box. The viewer is simply asked to take it on faith.

Which appears to be what D’Souza did. He didn’t complete the analysis, a group called True the Vote did. The organization’s Gregg Phillips — known to have made false, evidence-free claims about election fraud in the past — purportedly led the research comparing huge numbers of cellphone location pings with ballot drop-box locations. The film hinges entirely on Phillips’s claims, which, in a May interview with The Washington Post, D’Souza suggested he took at face value, in part because of purported law-enforcement review of the material.

“Phillips’s data has been shared with multiple authorities in Wisconsin, in Arizona and in Georgia,” D’Souza claimed. He cited a decision not to investigate from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI): “I read very carefully the response of the Georgia investigators to True the Vote’s data. They said, ‘Just because these guys went to 10 or more drop boxes, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily were committing crimes.’ ”

Here is the actual statement.

It does not say what D’Souza says. It also faults D’Souza and Phillips for failing to make a purported “whistleblower” available to be interviewed — someone D’Souza himself admitted he hadn’t spoken with.

One underappreciated detail of that letter is that the GBI apparently identifies the type of data at issue. Apparently, the evidence True the Vote handed over was not GPS data — which can be (but isn’t always) quite precise — but “cell site location information” (CSLI). That means it is triangulated data derived from a cellphone’s connections to cell towers, not data from onboard GPS connections. It is, in other words, much less precise. Reinforcing the idea that this data is what the True the Vote analysis depended on is D’Souza’s reference to a 2018 Supreme Court case arguing for the use of precisely this sort of data by law enforcement.

Even if the data were from phone GPS pings, the idea that True the Vote could identify visits to drop boxes is unlikely. Finding that someone is within 100 feet of an address associated with a drop box is very different from having precise evidence that they visited the drop box at that address. Reduce the accuracy of the data, and the claim deteriorates further.

Phillips did not respond to a request for comment for this article. I called a phone number I believed was associated with Azeddine Rahlouni, identified by the GBI as having worked with Phillips on the data analysis. I received a call back from someone identifying himself as “Azeddine” who disconnected when I informed him that I was calling from The Washington Post.

D’Souza did respond to queries from The Post. He said that True the Vote “did not exclusively use CSLI data” and that True the Vote told him that the GBI had misrepresented his data. He claims that he was shown “the specific moments of several mules,” though no such movements were included in the film.

Contrast all of this with the AP’s straightforward finding: No one, in any state, articulated any incident of fraudulent voting through drop boxes. And it’s not as though this goes unexamined; ballots submitted through drop boxes were subject to the same validation processes as other absentee ballots. Trump’s allies — including those in state or county election offices — have had 20 months to find examples of fraud. They haven’t.

Americans are, therefore, asked to either believe D’Souza — whose claims have been broadly debunked and whose movie shows literally no examples of the pattern he alleges — or the reporters of the AP and the bipartisan elections officials with whom they spoke.

Only in America in 2022 would this be a difficult choice for some people.


A gunman killed 3 people at an Indiana mall before he was shot dead by an armed bystander – CNN

This post was originally published on this site

Around 6 p.m. local time Sunday, multiple people called 911 to report an active shooter at the Greenwood Park Mall, Greenwood Police Chief Jim Ison told reporters.
Investigators believe the unidentified gunman, an adult man, was shot and killed by a lawfully armed 22-year-old man who “observed the shooting in progress,” Ison said.
Those injured or killed include one male and four females, including a 12-year-old girl whose parents brought her to a hospital with minor injuries after the shooting, the chief said.
US mass shootings are on pace to match last year -- the worst ever, Gun Violence Archive data show
The second injured victim was hospitalized and in stable condition as of Sunday evening, Ison said.
“This has shaken us to our core. This isn’t something that we have seen here in Greenwood before. It is absolutely horrendous and our thoughts and prayers are with those loved ones hurting tonight,” the police chief said.
The Greenwood Police Department has trained for a mass shooting scenario and has performed “multiple mall exercises” to prepare for active shooter situations, he said.
“But I’m going to tell you, the real hero of the day is the citizen that was lawfully carrying a firearm in that food court and was able to stop this shooter almost as soon as he began,” Ison said.
It’s rare to have an armed bystander attack an active shooter, according to a data analysis published by The New York Times.
There were at least 433 active shooter attacks in the US from 2000 to 2021, according to the data analysis. Active shooter attacks were defined as those in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people in a populated place.
Of those 433 active shooter cases, an armed bystander shot the attacker in 22 of the incidents. In 10 of those, the “good guy” was a security guard or an off-duty police officer, the Times reported.
EMS couldn't respond to a shooting at a park in Indiana because they were responding to a shooting at a mall    EMS couldn't respond to a shooting at a park in Indiana because they were responding to a shooting at a mall
And having more than one armed person at the scene who is not a member of law enforcement can create confusion and carry dire risks, the report found. For example, an armed bystander who shot and killed an attacker in 2021 in Arvada, Colorado, was himself shot and killed by the police who mistook him for the gunman, the Times reported.
In the Greenwood mall shooting, the gunman apparently used a long-gun rifle, Ison said, though law enforcement had not immediately recovered any weapons from the scene.
Olivia Harding said she was at the Old Navy in the mall when she and her mom heard four gunshots and thought the nearby carousel was breaking down.
“Next thing you know, you hear about six more shots and you see everybody running,” Harding told CNN affiliate WISH. Harding said she doesn’t think she’ll go back to a mall “for a very long time.”
There have been 350 mass shootings this year, according to Gun Violence Archive. Like CNN, the archive defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are shot, not including the shooter.
The community now joins a slew of others also grappling with the aftermath of mass shootings, including communities reeling from recent massacres at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a July Fourth parade in Highland Park, Illinois.
SWAT teams cleared the mall and determined there were no additional threats in the building, Ison said.
Police are still investigating the shooter’s motive and questioning people who were inside the mall at the time. Police are asking all witnesses to contact authorities.
Multiple agencies responded to the scene to assist, including the FBI, ATF, Johnson County Sheriff’s Department and Department of Homeland Security, Ison said.
Police cleared a backpack that was found on the scene and did not find any explosive devices, Ison said.
“This tragedy hits at the core of our community,” Greenwood Mayor Mark Meyers said in a Facebook post. “Please offer your prayers to the victims and our first responders.”
On Sunday evening, Meyers also thanked the person who fatally shot the gunman during the attack.
“This person saved lives tonight,” the mayor said in another statement. “On behalf of the City of Greenwood, I am grateful for his quick action and heroism in this situation.”

Claes Oldenburg, a whimsical father of pop art, dies at 93 – The Washington Post

This post was originally published on this site

Claes Oldenburg, a Swedish-born artist whose lighthearted caricatures of everyday things — such as monumental renderings of lipstick and binoculars as well as “soft sculptures” of hamburgers and ice cream cones — made him a leading force in pop art, died July 18 at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by Pace Gallery and Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, which represent him. The cause was complications from a fall, said Adriana Elgarresta, director of public relations at Pace.

No pop artist — not even his contemporaries Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein — created a body of public work to rival his. “Art had to mean more than just producing objects for galleries and museums,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “I wanted to locate art in the experience of life.”

In 2017, reflecting on Mr. Oldenburg’s career, New York Times arts writer Randy Kennedy observed that it is easy “to forget just how radical his work was when it first appeared, expanding the definition of sculpture by making it somehow more accessibly human and more cerebral at the same time.”

Mr. Oldenburg’s outdoor installations included a giant cherry balanced on a spoon in the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; a monumental steel clothespin in Philadelphia’s Centre Square; a 20-ton baseball bat in front of Chicago’s Social Security Administration building; and a 38-foot-tall flashlight at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

In Washington, his work is represented by a gargantuan steel and fiberglass typewriter eraser in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art. Although the subject of the sculpture is a mystery to many younger visitors, its giant pink wheel and wavy bristles give it a compelling form.

At least one quirky Oldenburg proposal for the capital was never realized: a plan to replace the Washington Monument with a giant pair of scissors.

In “Claes Oldenburg: Object into Monument,” the catalogue of a 1973 exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. Oldenburg described the ideas behind the scissors. As he envisioned the piece, the red handles would be buried in deep troughs, their exposed blades opening and closing in the course of a day.

“Like the scissors, the U.S.A. is screwed together,” he wrote, “two violent parts destined in their arc to meet as one.”

Mr. Oldenburg probably never expected the scissors to be built. David Pagel, a professor of art theory and history, wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2004 that “more often than not” Mr. Oldenburg’s “preposterous proposals were primarily great excuses to make great drawings.” (In the case of the scissors, one of those drawings is in the collection of the National Gallery.)

Mr. Oldenburg’s second wife, Dutch-born sculptor Coosje van Bruggen, was his collaborator from 1976 until her death in 2009. Although critics sometimes questioned the extent of van Bruggen’s role, the couple maintained that theirs was a true artistic partnership. The ideas for sculptures were conceived jointly, they said. Then Mr. Oldenburg produced drawings while she handled fabrication and siting.

Mr. Oldenburg’s work pleased collectors as well as critics. His 1974 “Clothespin Ten Foot” sold for more than $3.6 million at auction in 2015. In 2019, he sold his archive of 450 notebooks (along with thousands of drawings, photographs and other documents) to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

New movements

When Mr. Oldenburg arrived in New York in 1956, the era of abstract expressionist painting was coming to an end. Young artists were pioneering conceptual, performance and installation art. After spending a couple of years painting, Mr. Oldenburg threw himself into the new movements. “I wanted work that would say something, be messy, be a little mysterious,” he told the New York Times.

His first solo exhibition, in 1959 at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, consisted largely of abstract sculptures made of paper, wood and string — things he said he had found on the street. His early work, “based on the castoff and the crude, on the flotsam and jetsam of modern life — was a hit from the beginning with his contemporaries,” Kennedy reported in the Times.

In 1960, while working as a dishwasher in Provincetown, Mass., Mr. Oldenburg found himself fascinated by the shapes of food and tableware. In early 1961, he unveiled an installation called “The Store” comprising plaster models of actual grocery-store items.

At that point, his colors became “very, very strong,” Mr. Oldenburg said in a recorded talk in 2012. And his pieces became curvaceous. “My disposition really is to the tactile,” he said. “I see things in the round, and I want to make them in the round. I want to be able to stroke them and touch them.”

For a second version of “The Store,” at the end of 1961, Mr. Oldenburg rented a real storefront on East Second Street in Manhattan. There he displayed a 10-foot-long ice cream cone, a 5-by-7-foot hamburger and a nine-foot slice of cake. The pieces were made of fabric, and their chief seamstress was Patricia Muschinski, known as Patty Mucha, an artist who was married to Mr. Oldenburg from 1960 to 1970. Those were among the first of hundreds of soft sculptures he produced over the years.

According to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which owns a poster for “The Store,” the piece was “a milestone of Pop art” that “heralded Oldenburg’s interest in the slippery line between art and commodity and the role of the artist in self-promotion.”

By the mid-1960s, Mr. Oldenburg was an art world star. In 1969, he was the subject of the first major pop art show at the Museum of Modern Art. The show included more than 100 of his sculptures (including a re-creation of “The Store”) and dozens of drawings.

But already he was thinking beyond the confines of museums and galleries.

In 1969, he created “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks,” a giant lipstick with an inflatable tip mounted on a plywood base that resembled military tank treads. Commissioned by a group of Yale architecture students, it was parked prominently on the university’s campus.

The sculpture was both a physical manifestation of the antiwar slogan “make love, not war” and a platform from which speeches could be made. But in 1974 (after Mr. Oldenburg rebuilt the piece in metal), the university moved it to a less prominent location.

After “Lipstick,” Mr. Oldenburg created one “Colossal Monument” after another. They included a large Robinson Crusoe umbrella in Des Moines; a Brobdingnagian electric plug in Oberlin, Ohio; and an immense rubber stamp in Cleveland. How the piece was connected to the site was sometimes clear only to Mr. Oldenburg and van Bruggen.

The Oldenburgs occasionally collaborated with architect Frank Gehry, who incorporated their giant binoculars into the West Coast headquarters he designed for the ad agency Chiat/Day in Los Angeles, which opened in 1991. (Standing up, the binoculars form a kind of archway through which cars enter the building’s garage.)

Many relocations

Claes Thure Oldenburg was born in Stockholm on Jan. 28, 1929. His mother had been a concert singer, and his father was a Swedish consular officer whose job required the family to relocate often.

The Oldenburgs moved to Chicago in 1936. Claes’s strongest memories of that period, he has said, were of his mother filling notebooks with photos from American magazines, including advertising images similar to ones that later turned up in his work.

Mr. Oldenburg studied literature and art at Yale. After graduating in 1950, he worked as a reporter in Chicago while taking art classes at night. He also spent time in San Francisco, where he made a living drawing boll weevils for pesticide ads, before moving to New York. For decades, he divided his time between Lower Manhattan and Beaumont-sur-Deme, France.

President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 2000.

Survivors include two stepchildren, Maartje Oldenburg and Paulus Kapteyn; and three grandchildren. His younger brother, Richard, who died in 2018, spent 22 years as director of the Museum of Modern Art and later was chairman of Sotheby’s America.

For all Mr. Oldenburg’s success, only a small fraction of his proposed monuments were built.

Unrealized ideas include planting a giant rearview mirror — symbolic of a backward-looking culture — in London’s Trafalgar Square (1976) and replacing the Statue of Liberty with a giant electric fan to blow immigrants out to sea (1977).

He also proposed a drainpipe for Toronto, a windshield wiper for Grant Park in Chicago, an ironing board for Manhattan’s Lower East Side and a banana for Times Square, as well as the scissors for Washington.

At times, he didn’t expect to be taken seriously. In a taped interview that accompanied a 2012 exhibition in Vienna, Mr. Oldenburg said, “The only thing that really saves the human experience is humor. I think without humor it wouldn’t be much fun.”


Analysis | Pence turns Arizona into biggest test of a post-Trump GOP yet – The Washington Post

This post was originally published on this site

Former vice president Mike Pence has decided to again endorse against Donald Trump’s candidate in a key governor’s race, this time in Arizona. And the endorsement instantly turns the race into the preeminent battle between Trump’s vision for the GOP and the nascent, establishment-oriented effort to turn the page on 2020 — and potentially on Trump.

Everyone would do well to circle their calendars for Aug. 2.

Pence on Monday endorsed Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Karrin Taylor Robson over Trump-backed election denier Kari Lake. The move wasn’t unexpected — NBC News suggested it could be in the offing when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) endorsed Taylor Robson two weeks ago — but it does ratchet up the significance of the contest. And more than any other race, it reflects a calculated gamble by those Trump targeted for not going along with his 2020 stolen-election plot.

As we noted after Ducey’s endorsement, this wasn’t the first primary to pit members of the GOP establishment against a Trump-backed candidate. Certain Republicans bucked Trump in key statewide races in Pennsylvania and in a gubernatorial race in Nebraska, among some other down-ballot races. Pence and others also endorsed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) as he was easily fending off former senator David Perdue — a huge setback for Trump, by virtue of Perdue’s astounding 50-plus-point loss.

But by the time Pence got involved in Georgia, Kemp had long been a heavy favorite. (Indeed, he never really trailed, outside of a very speculative early poll commissioned by Trump’s political operation.) It was also much easier to play off endorsing Kemp as merely backing an incumbent, as parties almost always do.

And while other, more competitive races have pitted certain establishment figures against Trump, almost none have featured this level of high-profile resistance.

Trump’s candidate is now opposed by:

  • His own former vice president
  • The head of the Republican Governors Association, Ducey (though Ducey’s endorsement was made in his capacity as governor)
  • Former New Jersey governor and Trump adviser Chris Christie
  • Former House speaker Newt Gingrich
  • State Senate President Karen Fann, and
  • Former Arizona congressman Matt Salmon (who dropped out of the race and backed Taylor Robson)

Each of these endorsements has come in the past three weeks, as the effort to prevent Lake’s nomination has ramped up.

High-quality polling on the race is scant, but there is a sense that the race has narrowed somewhat, particularly after Salmon’s exit turned it into a two-candidate race. And the fact that Ducey and Pence have gotten involved suggests that they see a path to defeat Lake, who has long polled as the front-runner.

A come-from-behind Taylor Robson victory would thus be more significant than Kemp’s was. But the decision to line up behind Taylor Robson carries more risks for the likes of Ducey and Pence. Trump’s endorsement record in competitive primaries is pretty mixed, but we’ve also seen hopefuls like Lake, who give the establishment heartburn with their extreme rhetoric, squeeze through.

Ducey, for his part, is explicitly urging his party to turn the page on the continued stolen-election talk from Trump and Lake, et al. During an appearance on CNN on Sunday, before Pence’s endorsement, he said Lake “is misleading voters with no evidence.” (Taylor Robson has said the 2020 election was “unfair,” but she has stopped short of calling it fraudulent, and Lake is among the most flagrant promoters of bogus conspiracy theories in today’s GOP.)

The RGA chairman also very notably urged his party’s candidates to focus on bread-and-butter issues rather than re-litigating 2020.

“I also think this election should be about the future,” Ducey said. “I don’t think we should think for one more moment about 2020. This is about the 2022 election cycle.”

In the same interview, of course, Ducey reinforced the tightrope that he and Pence have walked on Trump, demurring when asked whether he might back Trump in the 2024 presidential race even though the former president had attacked Ducey for not going along with his 2020 plot. He instead said that he expects Trump to garner primary opposition if he runs, saying, “I’m hopeful we’ll have options” and “I want somebody who can win that general election.” Similarly, Pence has avoided directly going after the president who so disregarded him and his personal well-being on Jan. 6, 2021.

The calculation is obviously that turning the page needs to be done more subtly — that going at Trump head-on is a recipe for being cast aside by the GOP. So better to go after Trump-backed candidates on electability issues and other vulnerabilities and show there is a path available for post-Trump candidates.

It’s a message that, not coincidentally, dovetails with 2024. Big-name Republicans aren’t going to accuse Trump of committing a crime on Jan. 6, 2021, or line up with the Never Trumpers in their midst. Instead, they’re going to suggest that perhaps the better path forward is to put 2020 in the past and hope that voters might prefer candidates who have a better shot at winning.

And if they can successfully drive that message again in a crucial swing state — one of the two states, alongside Georgia, that flipped blue for the first time in many years in 2020 — it will certainly go a long way in making the 2024 argument that they’re reluctant to articulate too explicitly.


A deadly virus was just identified in Ghana: What to know about Marburg – The Washington Post

This post was originally published on this site

After the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of monkeypox cases, news of another virus can trigger nerves globally. The highly infectious Marburg virus has been reported in the West African country of Ghana this week, according to the World Health Organization.

Two unrelated people died after testing positive for Marburg in the southern Ashanti region of the country, the WHO said Sunday, confirming lab results from Ghana’s health service. The highly infectious disease is similar to Ebola and has no vaccine.

Health officials in the country say they are working to isolate close contacts and mitigate the spread of the virus, and the WHO is marshaling resources and sending specialists to the country.

“Health authorities have responded swiftly, getting a head start preparing for a possible outbreak. This is good because without immediate and decisive action, Marburg can easily get out of hand,” said the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti.

Fatality rates from the disease can reach nearly 90 percent, according to the WHO.

Here’s what we know about the virus:

What is the Marburg virus?

Marburg is a rare but highly infectious viral hemorrhagic fever and is in the same family as Ebola, a better-known virus that has plagued West Africa for years.

The Marburg virus is a “genetically unique zoonotic … RNA virus of the filovirus family,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The six species of Ebola virus are the only other known members of the filovirus family.”

Fatality rates range from 24 percent to 88 percent, according to the WHO, depending on the virus strain and quality of case management.

Marburg has probably been transmitted to people from African fruit bats as a result of prolonged exposure from people working in mines and caves that have Rousettus bat colonies. It is not an airborne disease.

Once someone is infected, the virus can spread easily between humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people such as blood, saliva or urine, as well as on surfaces and materials. Relatives and health workers remain most vulnerable alongside patients, and bodies can remain contagious at burial.

The first cases of the virus were identified in Europe in 1967. Two large outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia, led to the initial recognition of the disease. At least seven deaths were reported in that outbreak, with the first people infected having been exposed to Ugandan imported African green monkeys or their tissue while conducting lab research, the CDC said.

Nearly 800,000 doses of monkeypox vaccine may be in U.S. by end of July

Where has Marburg been detected?

The Ghana cases are only the second time Marburg has been detected in West Africa. The first reported case in the region was in Guinea last year. The virus can spread quickly. More than 90 contacts, including health workers and community members, are being monitored in Ghana. The WHO said it has also reached out to neighboring high-risk countries to put them on alert.

Cases of Marburg have previously been reported elsewhere in Africa, including in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The largest outbreak killed more than 200 people in Angola in 2005.

The virus is not known to be native to other continents, such as North America, and the CDC says cases outside Africa are “infrequent.” In 2008, however, a Dutch woman died of Marburg disease after visiting Uganda. An American tourist also contracted the disease after a Uganda trip in 2008 but recovered. Both travelers had visited a well-known cave inhabited by fruit bats in a national park.

What are the symptoms?

The illness begins “abruptly,” according to the WHO, with a high fever, severe headache and malaise. Muscle aches and cramping pains are also common features.

In Ghana, the two unrelated individuals who died experienced symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting. One case was a 26-year-old man who checked into a hospital on June 26 and died a day later. The second was a 51-year-old man who went to a hospital on June 28 and died the same day, the WHO said.

In fatal cases, death usually occurs between eight and nine days after onset of the disease and is preceded by severe blood loss and hemorrhaging, and multi-organ dysfunction.

The CDC has also noted that around day five, a non-itchy rash on the chest, back or stomach may occur. Clinical diagnosis of Marburg “can be difficult,” it says, with many of the symptoms similar to other infectious diseases such as malaria or typhoid fever.

Can Marburg be treated?

There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments approved to treat the Marburg virus.

However, supportive care can improve survival rates such as rehydration with oral or intravenous fluids, maintaining oxygen levels, using drug therapies and treating specific symptoms as they arise. Some health experts say drugs similar to those used for Ebola could be effective.

Some “experimental treatments” for Marburg have been tested in animals but have never been tried in humans, the CDC said.

Virus samples collected from patients to study are an “extreme biohazard risk,” the WHO says, and laboratory testing should be conducted under “maximum biological containment conditions.”

WHO warns covid ‘nowhere near over’ as variants spike in U.S., Europe

Anything else to know?

The WHO said this week it is supporting a “joint national investigative team” in Ghana and deploying its own experts to the country. It is also sending personal protective equipment, bolstering disease surveillance and tracing contacts in response to the handful of cases.

More details are likely to be shared at a WHO Africa online briefing scheduled for Thursday.

“It is a worry that the geographical range of this viral infection appears to have spread. This is a very serious infection with a high mortality rate,” international public health expert and professor Jimmy Whitworth of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told The Washington Post on Monday.

“It is important to try to understand how the virus got into the human population to cause this outbreak and to stop any further cases. At present, the risk of spread of the outbreak outside of Ashanti region of Ghana is very low,” he added.


Europe braces for a potential gas crisis as historic heatwave boosts demand – CNN

This post was originally published on this site

On Thursday, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline — a crucial artery linking Russia’s gas to the bloc — is due to reopen after 10 days of routine maintenance work. But concern is building that Russia will keep the taps turned off in retaliation for sanctions the European Union has imposed since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister, said earlier this month that the country must “prepare for the worst.”
“Anything can happen. It could be that the gas flows again, even more than before. It could be that nothing will come at all,” Habeck said in a radio interview.
The pipeline delivers 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Europe, or about 40% of its total pipeline imports from Russia.
A full break with Moscow’s gas is not out of the question. The country has already cut its gas exports to several European countries. Last month, Germany, the region’s biggest economy, declared a “gas crisis” after Gazprom, Russia’s state gas company, slashed exports through the pipeline by 60%.
Gazprom blamed the move on the West’s decision to withhold vital turbines because of sanctions.
German gas distributor Uniper confirmed Monday that it had received a letter from Gazprom claiming a force majeure on past and current shortfalls in gas deliveries. A force majeure is a contract clause which excuses a company for failing to meet its obligations. It is usually invoked in extreme circumstances such as natural disasters.
But a spokesperson for Uniper told CNN that it has “formally rejected” the claim. On Monday, the embattled company also drew down a €2 billion ($2.04 billion) credit facility with bank KfW because of the impact of Russian gas supply disruptions.

Awful timing

A gas crunch this week would also come at the worst time. Europe is sweltering under record heat — parts of France and Spain are battling wildfires as temperatures are expected to climb above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) over the coming days.
Soaring temperatures have pushed up demand for electricity to power air conditioning units. Enagas, Spain’s gas transmission system operator, said last week that demand for natural gas to produce electricity hit a new record of 800 gigawatt hours.
“This huge increase in the demand for natural gas for electricity production has been mainly due to the high temperatures recorded as a result of the heatwave,” Enagas said in a press statement last Thursday.
Some analysts were more optimistic, given Europe’s alternate sources of power and the fact that the heatwave is set to end by mid-week.
“Although power consumption in the EU will be a bit higher this week amid the heatwave due to high usage rates of aircon units, this will be offset by record supply of solar power generation,” Henning Gloystein, director of energy, climate and resources at Eurasia Group, told CNN Business.
Meanwhile, European countries are racing to fill up their gas storage facilities to avoid a potentially catastrophic energy shortage over the winter.
The “next few months will be critical” to shore up the bloc’s supplies, said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, in a Monday press statement.
“If Russia decides to completely cut off gas supplies before Europe can get its storage levels up to 90%, the situation will be even more grave and challenging,” he added.
Gas storage levels across the European Union are currently around 64%, according to the Gas Infrastructure Europe.
The bloc is hurriedly securing gas supplies from other countries as it winds down imports of Russian gas. On Monday, the European Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with Azerbaijan to double the capacity of a key gas delivery route over the next few years.
Prices for Dutch natural gas, the European benchmark, were up 3% to €165 ($167) per megawatt hour on Monday from Friday, according to data from the Intercontinental Exchange.
Earlier this month, fears of a major gas cut off pushed prices to their highest levels since the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hovering around €183 ($186) per megawatt hour. Prices have soared 129% since the start of the year.
Julia Horowitz, Sharon Browne-Peter, Sharon Braithwaite and Chris Liakos contributed reporting.

Post Politics Now: A week of reckoning for Trump, Bannon – The Washington Post

This post was originally published on this site

Today, jury selection begins in the federal trial of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about his actions ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. It’s the start of what is shaping up as a week of reckoning for former president Donald Trump and those around him.

View live politics updates

On Thursday, in a prime-time hearing, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will put a spotlight on what Trump did — and didn’t do — on that deadly day. And on Friday, Trump plans to campaign in Arizona in a GOP gubernatorial primary in which he and former vice president Mike Pence are backing opposing candidates. Pence will be in the state Friday as well.

Meanwhile, Vice President Harris is scheduled to address the NAACP convention on Monday. President Biden, after returning this weekend from a controversial trip to the Middle East, has no public events on his schedule.

Your daily dashboard

  • 11:30 a.m. Eastern: Harris is scheduled to address the NAACP convention in Atlantic City. Watch live here.
  • 3 p.m. Eastern: White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre briefs reporters. Watch live here.

Got a question about politics? Submit it here. After 3 p.m. weekdays, return to this space and we’ll address what’s on the mind of readers.


Can an Artists’ Collective in Africa Repair a Colonial Legacy? – The New Yorker

This post was originally published on this site

Can an Artists’ Collective in Africa Repair a Colonial Legacy?

Mbuku Kimpala, center, and other collective members, on what used to be a Unilever plantation. With the proceeds from its art work, the group is slowly buying back land.Photograph by Léonard Pongo for The New Yorker


This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

In January, 2020, two young men from Lusanga, a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, flew to New York. Cedart Tamasala had never been to the United States before; Mathieu Kasiama had, a few years earlier, and, during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he had been scolded by employees for touching a Congolese artifact. Together, they went to Times Square and ate Big Macs. Then, donning winter outerwear, they took the train to New Haven. They had been invited to address a tropical-forestry conference at Yale, a gathering that brought together, among others, a Puerto Rican ecologist, a Uruguayan photojournalist, a Kenyan agriculturist, an Indonesian lawyer, and a Malagasy lemur conservationist.

Tamasala and Kasiama are founding members of the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League (C.A.T.P.C., as its initials are rendered in French), an artists’ collective established in 2014 with grand, sometimes surreal-sounding ambitions. Aided by images projected onto a screen behind him, Tamasala described the group’s work, which is informed by the legacy of a former palm-oil plantation, once owned by the giant consumer-goods company Unilever, where many of them lived.

A convoluted schematic appeared on the screen; many arrows were involved. Tamasala explained that corporations such as Unilever have used the profits from plantation labor in Africa to fund the cultural enrichment of wealthy Western populations. A photograph of depleted farmland dissolved into a Pre-Raphaelite painting of the sort collected by the founder of what would become Unilever. “Nothing of all this investment goes back to the plantations,” Tamasala said. “It doesn’t benefit the place where the money comes from.”

Explaining that the Lusangans “had thought about this situation and about how we might detach ourselves from its grip,” he described the C.A.T.P.C.’s sly, absurdist approach. The collective, which is made up of some thirty local artists of all ages, creates figurative sculptures using river clay, which are then scanned in 3-D. The files are sent to Amsterdam, where they are cast in chocolate, which until recently most members of the C.A.T.P.C. had never tasted, despite the fact that many of them harvested the ingredients from which it is made. The finished sculptures—technically edible, symbolically fraught—are sold in art galleries, mostly in Europe. With the proceeds from their art work, and with help from a European nonprofit, the coöperative buys back land—more than two hundred acres so far—and farms it using ecological methods, to replenish soil devastated by Unilever’s monocultural farming techniques. The C.A.T.P.C. calls the project a “post-plantation.”

The process, with its dreamlike logic, has transformed life in Lusanga. Plantation workers there earn twenty or thirty dollars a month; as artists, they make much more. The collective has brought in more than a hundred thousand dollars since its creation, and it has had shows in cities including Berlin, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Tokyo, New York, Copenhagen, and Jeddah.

Tamasala showed a photograph of a man working on a sculpture. “Here you’ll recognize my colleague Mathieu,” he said, and smiled at Kasiama, who had remained seated. Kasiama appeared in one of the following images as well—a portrait accompanying a rave review in the Times of a 2017 C.A.T.P.C. exhibition at SculptureCenter, in Queens.

“First of all Id like to thank you for coming tonight. But out of an abundance of caution Im leaving.”

“First of all, I’d like to thank you for coming tonight. But out of an abundance of caution I’m leaving.”
Cartoon by P. C. Vey

A short video began to play. In it, a tiny figure rapidly climbed a tall palm tree. “That’s me,” Kasiama said. He explained that, before becoming an artist, he had fallen some five times while harvesting palm nuts and on at least one occasion almost died. A man at the back of the auditorium asked Kasiama how, after so many accidents, he had been able to keep climbing. Kasiama appeared baffled. “I do not understand your question,” he said, in French. The moderator repeated it: “What enabled you to go back up this palm tree, after falling several times?”

“You can’t just decide to stop doing the job,” Kasiama explained, patiently.

Tamasala said that the collective had recently built a museum near the village, called the White Cube. “If a museum can create a whole economy around it in London or in New York City, then it could do the same thing on the plantation,” he said. “The goal is to change this reality that has been imposed on us for decades—on us, on our parents, and on our grandparents.” Appearing on the screen was a large, pale wedge of a building, shining in its modernist geometry amid a field of green. Later, Tamasala revealed two miniature chocolate figurines. They were self-portraits, made by colleagues. Kasiama popped one into his mouth, and everyone cheered.

The talk lasted an hour. At no time did anyone say the name Renzo Martens. The omission was striking. Though Martens, a forty-eight-year-old white artist from the Netherlands, refers to himself only as a humble servant or an administrator of the collective, it was he who facilitated its creation, with the prominent Kinshasa-based environmentalist René Ngongo, and who helped to devise its early economic and artistic strategy. It was Martens who commissioned the White Cube museum; it is Martens who arranges funding. Though the collective now runs largely independently of him, he remains, with a certain ostentatious reluctance, its interpreter to the Western art world.

Martens’s work proposes that capitalist tools—selling art, buying land, establishing museums—can be used for anti-colonial ends. But is eliciting and then peddling the creativity of an impoverished population just another form of extraction economics? Can we exonerate vanity and pretension if they improve the lives of the poor? To whom do scruples belong? Can a white man in Africa ever actually do good?

These are the types of question that vex those who assess the project, which has been called “ethically troubling” and an example of “colonial missionary zeal.” A reporter for the Guardian said that Martens’s attempt to “gentrify the jungle” sounded like some sort of “sick joke.” A critic for the Times commended it for being “politically problematic on almost every level.”

Martens, whose actions, he insists, are peripheral to the work being done on the plantation, acknowledges the controversial nature of his role. The project in Lusanga—which at a glance can look like some uneasy combination of art, aid, and penance—has become something far larger and more interesting than the moral outrage and white guilt from which it seems to have been forged. In a world of inconceivable inequality, Martens’s efforts to distance himself from a situation of which he is integrally a part are as admirable as they are impossible.

The sanitized language of politicians and N.G.O.s is unable to properly convey the outlandish misery of the D.R.C. Fiction is better equipped. “Fucked” is how a British mercenary in John le Carré’s 2006 novel, “The Mission Song,” puts it. “Fucked by the Arab slavers, fucked by their fellow Africans, fucked by the United Nations, the CIA, the Christians, the Belgians, the French, the Brits, the Rwandans, the diamond companies, the gold companies, the mineral companies, half the world’s carpetbaggers, their own government in Kinshasa, and any minute now they’re going to be fucked by the oil companies.”

Abused by outsiders for five centuries, the region now known as the D.R.C. has become a sort of geographical shorthand for every variety of human suffering: slavery, Ebola, famine, dictatorship, AIDS, malaria, corruption, rape, civil war. And yet it has remained a romantic obsession of the West for hundreds of years—an imagined Africa at its most extreme. Crocodiles and gold, impenetrable forests, trees the size of castles, mythical creatures, black soil and neon fruits. The metaphors it inspires tend to be grandiose and consumptive. King Leopold II of Belgium called Congo a “slice of this magnificent African cake.” The nineteenth-century explorer Henry Morton Stanley described “banqueting” on the sensual pleasures of its jungle.

The juxtaposition of abundance and exploitation is glaring in the area surrounding Lusanga, which lies at the confluence of two rivers in the center of the country. By the time that William Lever, a British soap tycoon, arrived in the Belgian Congo, as the D.R.C. was then known, hundreds of thousands of Congolese had been forced into labor, and millions had been killed as a result of Leopold’s regime. In 1911, Lever signed a contract with the Belgian government which allowed his company, Lever Brothers, rights to the cultivation and harvesting of the country’s palm oil. A year later, when the first batch of Congolese palm oil was exported to Antwerp, an inaugural bar of soap was produced, placed in a tiny ivory casket, and delivered to the King. By then, Lever had centralized his operations in Lusanga and renamed the village for himself.

A building covered in jute cocoa bags.
Recently, the White Cube hosted an installation by Ibrahim Mahama in which the building was covered with jute cocoa bags.Photograph by Léonard Pongo for The New Yorker

Conditions at Leverville’s plantations were atrocious. Fires were set at the base of palm trees to force harvesters to climb faster; quotas were enforced with whips made from rhinoceros hide. Children were put to work. A Belgian medical officer visiting the site in 1923 called it “deplorable.” Six years later, Lever Brothers merged with a Dutch company to form Unilever.

Today, much of the area is in decay. What was once a regional airport is now jungle; vines grow through the windows of an abandoned hospital. Though Unilever effectively ceased operations in Lusanga thirty years ago, the company continues to haunt the area. People live in houses built by Unilever, those who can afford it eat margarine produced for Unilever, and members of the C.A.T.P.C. often make art that reacts to the impact of Unilever.

Like many artists, Martens is happy to dispense with the causal logic that regulates the rest of us. He talks compulsively, qualifying everything, and tends to frame peculiar and radical choices as though they were self-evident. He ascribes his decision to work in the D.R.C. to a belief that the country is “the best place to unravel the mechanics of our age.”

Martens, who was born in a small Dutch town near the Belgian border, attributes his early concern with inequality to the fact that his mother came from a family of landowning farmers and his father from a family of land-leasing farmers. He went on to demonstrate this interest in occasionally jarring ways. Once, in high school, he attended a tiki-themed party carrying a bag emblazoned with the words “Most People in the Tropics Can’t Go to Beach Parties.”

Martens went to art school in Belgium before moving to Los Angeles, supported by a modest grant subsidized by the Dutch government. He was interested in American celebrity and wanted to see where and how it was fabricated. He rented a room above a strip mall, and he met the artists Mike Kelley and John Baldessari, who made more of an impression on him than the actors and the supermodels who ate in the upscale restaurant where he had taken a part-time job. It was a productive period: Martens got a driver’s license, met the woman he later married, bought a car. Then he drove four thousand miles, to South America. He wanted to interrogate his own relationship with Dutch colonial history and thought the best way of doing so would be to spend time on plantations in Suriname. He figured he might even build a studio on one of them. But he didn’t last long. He returned to Europe, settling in Brussels, where he read Foucault for the first time and learned Russian from a Moldovan asylum seeker. “It’s when I invented what I am still doing today,” he told me.

It was 2000. Russia’s war in Chechnya was at its bloodiest, and Grozny was under siege. With his halting Russian-language skills and a handheld video camera, Martens travelled alone, without a press permit, to what was soon called the most destroyed city on earth. He spent a couple of weeks parading through rubble and Chechen refugee camps, playing the part of the self-aggrandizing misery tourist, asking local women what they thought of him—was he handsome?—and filming their puzzled reactions. The resulting film, “Episode I,” is a bracing, almost unwatchably uncomfortable forty-five-minute meta-documentary that both enacts and mocks the male vanity that so often seems to motivate combat reportage.

In 2004, Martens flew to the D.R.C.’s capital, Kinshasa. For the next two years, he lived between there and Brussels, shooting what would become “Episode III: Enjoy Poverty.” (There is no “Episode II.”) The film, which is audacious and genuinely radical, earned him museum exhibitions, spots at prestigious film festivals, and art-world infamy. For ninety minutes, we watch as Martens trudges around the country, wearing a straw hat and a deadpan persona, attempting to persuade farmworkers, N.G.O. staff, plantation owners, and development bankers that the D.R.C. should commodify its poverty, a notion inspired by his time documenting the economy of conflict imagery. At a World Bank meeting in Kinshasa, Martens asks whether the development aid that the D.R.C. had received—almost two billion dollars one year, a sum that nearly equalled all of the country’s exports—might not be considered “an important natural resource.” From there, he goes to the interior of the country, where he persuades rural photographers to stop taking pictures of weddings and birthdays and instead to focus their lenses on the images the world actually wants from Africa. “They don’t come to film parties—they come to film misery,” he says, referring to the international photojournalists who can earn hundreds of times more than the local photographers. Having explained the visual vocabulary demanded by Western media and aid organizations—find corpses, always include the UNICEF logo—Martens takes the photographers to a dilapidated clinic. “Choose the worst cases,” he reminds them. They settle on a baby with mouth sores and ribs that can be seen through the skin. Later, Martens tells the photographers without apology that the film he’s shooting will be screened only in Europe. Then he thanks them. “Experiencing your suffering makes me a better person,” he says.

The film premièred in Amsterdam in 2008 and was subsequently aired on television around the world. A critic for Variety wondered if Martens was a “prankster, a genius or a fool.” Artforum called his work a “one-man theater of cynicism.” Allusions to “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift’s satirical economic treatise proposing that poor Irish children be fed to English landlords, were frequent. So were comparisons to “Fitzcarraldo,” Werner Herzog’s epic about a rubber baron’s attempt to build an opera house in the Amazon. Though the Nigerian curator Azu Nwagbogu said that “Enjoy Poverty” was “the ‘Guernica’ of our time,” others considered it unethical and cynical. One critic deemed it a human-rights violation; another said that it was the kind of work that made him want to leave the art world. Many thought that the film merely recapitulated what it sought to incriminate.

“I agree with them,” Martens told me. “It does do that, but that wasn’t an accident.” Martens—“an approval-seeking provocateur,” as one curator put it to me—said that, though he stood behind the piece, he would never want to make such a film today, or ever again: “It was a horrible role for me, personally, to incarnate extractive capitalism and be the fall guy for it.”

In 2010, Martens was invited to present “Enjoy Poverty” at Tate Modern, in London. Many of the film’s most brutal scenes were shot on plantations like those once owned by Unilever, whose logo, Martens remembers, was all over the galleries’ walls. “The museum was funded by the fucking company,” he told me recently, sounding a bit like someone in a horror movie. The call, he seemed to be saying, was coming from inside the house.

“Hes not that smart. I just took his queen with a biscuit.”

“He’s not that smart. I just took his queen with a biscuit.”
Cartoon by Lisa Rothstein and Hal Ackerman

Martens’s anxiety about the civic utility of his work grew acute. Why did the intellectual and economic benefits of even the most sophisticated social critique accrue only in wealthy cities with robust arts programming? What about the places where not just minerals are extracted but—for so many liberal Western media consumers—meaning itself? These concerns came to undergird the Institute of Human Activities (I.H.A.), an organization founded in 2012 at Martens’s behest, whose mission is “to prove that artistic critique on economic inequality can redress it—not symbolically, but in material terms.” In a career that had previously rested on constant and deliberate self-centering, it was a corrective attempt at self-erasure.

He returned to the D.R.C. and, with members of the I.H.A., formed ties with Feronia, a Canadian agribusiness, which allowed them to set up near one of its palm-oil plantations. Generators and satellites were brought in, and the I.H.A. refurbished an abandoned store to use for workshops. They paid plantation workers to build bamboo huts for visitors: academics, artists, and trauma therapists. They hosted a conference, complete with tote bags and a Skype call from the urbanist Richard Florida, and, later, art workshops. “The atmosphere was innocent and friendly,” René Ngongo, the environmentalist, who became the president of the C.A.T.P.C., recalled. “I believe we started becoming popular, which led to our misfortune later on.” As seen in Martens’s most recent film, “White Cube,” which was released in 2020, an apparent dispute with Feronia resulted in the project’s forced departure from the area. Onscreen, Martens bursts into tears.

Operations were relocated south, to Lusanga, where the I.H.A. rented an empty field, erected a thatched structure, and sent out an open call for participants in an art workshop, promising money for lunch—five thousand Congolese francs (roughly three dollars and fifty cents, close to what people made each week from farming). Three artists (one from France, two from the D.R.C.) were brought on to run the workshop sessions. In the course of a few days, close to a hundred people showed up, but only eleven remained. “Many people weren’t technically very good at the beginning,” Eléonore Hellio, one of the artists running the workshop, told me. “But they were clearly the ones who wanted the free time to think and create.”

Hellio, who is white, taught at an art school in Strasbourg before moving to Kinshasa, in 2012. She compared the workshops that sprang from the initial one to Gestalt therapy. They were “intense,” she said. For many, “it was the first time in their lives they didn’t have to spend the day really fighting—to find money, to feed children, to go to the hospital.”

It was Martens who suggested that the members of the C.A.T.P.C. make sculptures that would then be reproduced in chocolate—a luxury good wrought from local toil. As they molded and scored and slipped, Hellio remembers, discussion often turned to Martens himself, who visited regularly with a cameraperson to film “White Cube.” “We needed to explain what Renzo was doing—and also question it,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that everyone understood at the same level. Some people have never even been outside of their village. A lot of art vocabulary doesn’t exist in Congo.” Hellio recalled spending “hours” as a group trying to find translations of the word “concept.” The I.H.A. initiated a “critical curriculum,” which included group discussions, art-history lectures, and screenings of video work by such artists as John Baldessari, Martha Rosler, and Bruce Nauman.

“We felt like we were being instrumentalized, since he had this camera on us all the time, and we didn’t know how he would use the images,” recalled Hellio, who understood, of course, that she was not quite in the same position as the other artists. There was worry at the time, she went on, that all of them were “just characters on a set that served a discourse.” Sometimes, art-making would stop, to allow for discussion; arguments about how the C.A.T.P.C. members were or were not being exploited were frequent. Hellio said that one challenge was “to set up a context in which people were not afraid to question the project.” The colonial past, she added, is still very present. “You don’t talk about the master. We were constantly trying to deconstruct that fear.”

With Martens acting as its unpaid agent, the C.A.T.P.C. began showing abroad. (His name does not appear in much of the publicity material that accompanies exhibitions.) When a gallery sells a sculpture, it takes a commission of fifty per cent, the industry standard; of the remaining money, half is divided between the artist responsible for the sculpture and the other members, and the rest is earmarked for collective land acquisition. The process is a complex one, facilitated in large part by Ngongo. Colonial legal systems put in place more than a century ago continue to affect people’s lives, enabling foreign companies and Congolese élites to access land and resources in the D.R.C. to the detriment of ordinary people. As a result, the I.H.A. purchases the land, then immediately transfers it to the C.A.T.P.C. Ngongo, who told me that the environmental component of the collective’s endeavor was a condition of his participation, has optimistic visions for the area: a carbon sink that will one day operate as an “ecologic village,” where agroforestry techniques and renewable-energy strategies could be demonstrated for a curious public. “Why not make it a touristic site?” he said.

In 2015, a year after the first tract of land was purchased, a friend of Martens’s introduced him to a managing partner at the architecture firm OMA, co-founded by the Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Rem Koolhaas, which is responsible for many of the flashiest museum redesigns of the past half century. A year later, OMA sent a project manager to Lusanga to survey the land, choose a site, and take measurements. With some three hundred thousand dollars from a Dutch foundation, a team of Congolese architects and engineers was hired. Ground was broken in 2016; the country’s tourism minister laid the first stone. The next year, the White Cube—not yet fully finished—opened with what was called, in a press release, a “festive and solemn inauguration.” Two thousand people attended the ceremony and subsequent party. Since then, the museum has, among other things, hosted a residency for the Congolese-Belgian rapper Baloji and served as the site of a monumental installation by the Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. (Mahama has also showed at the blue-chip gallery White Cube, which has multiple locations and which is unrelated.) When questioned about the logic of the White Cube’s modernist design—why couldn’t it have been built in a more vernacular style?—Martens appeals to history: it is not bamboo huts that plantation labor has financed so much as monumental cultural institutions that look, so often, like this one.

The C.A.T.P.C.’s exhibition in Queens opened in 2017. Though a critical success, the show disquieted many viewers. Ruba Katrib, its curator, attributes the uneasiness surrounding the C.A.T.P.C. to a suspicion that the members “are being misled, or that their sentiments are somehow inauthentic because they aren’t a hundred per cent self-generated.” These apprehensions, Katrib believes, reveal “highly problematic expectations around a state of innocence for the poor and assumed global fluency for the rich.” Tamasala thinks that part of the problem is that people can’t imagine that plantation workers could become artists.

My attempts to travel to the D.R.C. were thwarted for many months. First, there was an Ebola outbreak, and then a volcano erupted, followed three days later by an earthquake. Flights were suspended; it took forever to secure a visa. Finally, in February, I flew to Kinshasa. People there laughed when I told them that the drive to Lusanga was supposed to take eight hours. In the end, it took fourteen. Martens and I sat in the back seat; a local translator with political aspirations rode shotgun. There were spurious traffic violations to negotiate, World Food Programme trucks to slow for, person-deep potholes to navigate around, wandering livestock to avoid. Our Land Cruiser was not without its issues. At one point, an officer pulled us over for an obscure offense and asked where we were headed. “Lusanga,” Martens said. “Ah,” the officer replied. “Leverville.”

Renzo Martens listens to a person reading from a sheet of paper.
Renzo Martens, who helped devise the collective’s early economic and artistic strategy.Photograph by Léonard Pongo

Vegetation grew denser, and veldt became forest. By the time we arrived on the outskirts of the village, it had been dark for hours. A figure ran in front of the car. We stopped, and he stood frozen in the headlights. It was Mathieu Kasiama. He wore rubber sandals and carried a handwoven bag. He insisted on helping us navigate two ravaged bridges, and, for the next forty-five minutes, he walked backward in front of the car, making alternately encouraging and panicked hand gestures in the manner of a person helping a driver to parallel park in a tight spot.

The terrain revealed itself in the morning light: lush shrubbery, a handful of ancestral homes made of mud, a few brick dwellings built by Unilever. Atop a modest elevation, the White Cube loomed, not unlike a church. A two-story open-air workshop stood on the near bank of the Kwenge River, gray and sluggish. Inside, elevated on wooden pallets and shrouded in damp rags, were the clay sculptures. Expressive and eerie, with an obscure sense of suffering, they seemed to be looking at one another and reacting—wide eyes, grimaces, tortured positions. Each had been created by a member of the collective and then critiqued by the others in a process they refer to as kinzonzi, which roughly translates as “family meeting.” The group decides whether a sculpture is good enough to be made at a larger scale before scanning. The clay from sculptures that are deemed unworthy, for either aesthetic or conceptual reasons, gets reused.

Among the works on display were a horned creature choking on a man who symbolized greed, a bearlike monster standing in a pool of small fish meant to signify his financial debts, and a female plantation worker buckling under the weight of the palm nuts she carried. Two artists, Philomene Lembusa and Huguette Kilembi, were dunking scraps of cloth in water and tenderly daubing them on a large sculpture whose creator described it as being “about a man sucking the intelligence out of a woman.” Discussing the selection process, Lembusa said that not having a sculpture chosen can be bitterly disappointing. Each one, she said, takes “so much energy and heart and good will.” Kilembi added that, to be chosen and scanned, a sculpture must have a compelling story behind it. Just then, Kilembi’s sister (and Cedart Tamasala’s wife) Irene Kanga appeared. I was told that she had spent the first part of the day transporting manioc to a nearby mill. Kanga, the artist behind one of the most striking C.A.T.P.C. works to date—a depiction of sexual assault that she calls autobiographical—listened to the conversation for a moment. “You need to go deep,” she said. “It needs to be completely yours.”

By the time I arrived, the sculptures had been scanned and the files sent to Amsterdam. Soon, the chocolate versions would be cast. Once they were sold, the profits would be wired to Kikwit, a small city down the river that was the site of an Ebola outbreak in 1995. Kasiama would drive a motorbike some twenty miles to the bank, where he would withdraw the cash and place it in a locked metal box. He prays to his ancestors and to a prophet for help in carrying out these missions, for which he dresses simply and returns home without delay.

With money brought in by the project, people eat more, and better. Houses have been repaired. The White Cube itself has created jobs: it needs to be maintained and guarded. When people visit for events, they must be fed and housed, and sometimes they contribute money to the collective in return. There is a new school nearby, which teaches children an arts curriculum as well as traditional fishing and building techniques. Ngongo dreams that one day the collective might produce and sell its own branded fruit juice and soap.

Kasiama and Tamasala are the most vocal members of the C.A.T.P.C. They are the ones who travel the most, the ones who most often speak to journalists. They are the ones to whom Martens defers when asked questions about the C.A.T.P.C. “I don’t know,” he says. “Ask Cedart. Ask Mathieu.” I spoke to a handful of C.A.T.P.C. members who felt that their voices were often sidelined. One, a woman who named her youngest son Renzo—a customary honor that comes with implied responsibilities—complained about not getting to travel to the exhibitions. (Later, after I had left Congo, the woman helped this magazine contact some of her colleagues, for which she was paid a small fee.) Another, whose draftsmanship has improved so much since he joined the C.A.T.P.C. that his family now suspects him of having supernatural abilities, told me he was disappointed that his prospective sculpture of a snake eating a man had been deemed cliché. The project’s prominence—and the physical novelty of the White Cube—has brought a new kind of attention to the area. Among the people who visited while I was there were a historian of Ebola and a man who said he was an agent of the D.R.C.’s intelligence agency.

The introduction of new frictions makes it tempting to blame Martens for sowing discord that did not exist before. But in mounting an art project that appears to masquerade as development work—or is it development work that masquerades as art?—Martens both compels criticism and inoculates himself against it.

The questions to be asked of the project are the same ones so often posed to the Western governments and corporations it seeks to criticize: Are Martens’s interventions effective? Sustainable? Will they create dependency? How will he withdraw, and when, and what will happen once he’s gone? Martens has no imminent exit strategy. Autonomy, he believes, is an unrealistic goal. “Nothing is independent of anything else,” he said at a screening of “White Cube” last year in New York, pointing out his clothing and cell phone and computer, none of which could be made without the work of unknown people living very far away.

The C.A.T.P.C. office occupies a small room that smells, alarmingly, of both cigarette smoke and gasoline. There is a cluttered desk and a shelf that holds oil cannisters and the locked metal cash box. I met Cedart Tamasala there on a stormy afternoon; the energy supplied by the collective’s solar panels had given out hours earlier, so we sat in the dark. As we spoke, Tamasala gestured repeatedly to the wall behind him. Against it leaned a framed portrait of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the D.R.C., whose assassination, in 1961—famously tied to the C.I.A.—made him a pan-African martyr.

Before joining the C.A.T.P.C., Tamasala attended a university in Kinshasa for a semester but then had to return home, to work on his uncle’s farm. His interests are erudite, far-ranging, and political. They include the Black Lives Matter movement, the far-right French pundit Éric Zemmour, and the etymology of the word “fetish,” whose Portuguese origins, he feels, fail to account for aspects of Indigenous thought.

Mathieu Kasiama sits in a tree.
Mathieu Kasiama, a member of the collective.Photograph by Léonard Pongo for The New Yorker
Cedart Tamasala sits in a chair outdoors while wearing a carved mask.
Cedart Tamasala, of the Congolese Plantation Workers Art League.Photograph by Léonard Pongo for The New Yorker

That it is Tamasala with whom Martens most often communicates seems all but inevitable, and I was curious to know how Tamasala perceived the dynamic. Did he feel gratitude? Resentment? Some combination of the two? But Tamasala seemed agitated by that line of inquiry: my very interest in the question was evidence of the problem. His frustration echoed the sentiments of other people I had spoken to, artists and anthropologists who questioned my writing this piece at all.

Tamasala said that Martens’s involvement with the C.A.T.P.C. was undeniable. He later used several words to describe Martens’s role—“collaborator,” “bridge,” “partner”—but he said that it was “unacceptable to say that Renzo is the only one.” He called the relationship an “exchange,” adding, “We are not his pupils.” But Martens “is a victim of this, too,” he specified. “Every time something interesting happens, people assume it’s Renzo. It’s not his fault.” He insisted that coöperative members are “trying now to tell a different story”—their own—but pragmatically they would accept help when offered, whether from Martens or from foundations in Europe.

This help also includes that of Western academics, whose access to Congolese art and artifacts typically exceeds that of anyone in the D.R.C. I asked Tamasala how he felt about this, referring to a meeting he and Kasiama had had with an art historian at Columbia University a few days after their lecture at Yale. Sitting in her office, surrounded by flat files and ceremonial masks, she had told them about the history of various art works by the Pende people of Congo. Recalling the conversation with some bitterness, Tamasala cocked his head toward the portrait of Lumumba and said, his chin in his hand, “We have lost so much.” He went on, “These are things we should know. I felt sad and enraged. Something is not right. We should be the ones teaching the world about us.”

Earlier in the day, I had joined Martens on the upper level of the workshop. Typing furiously on his computer, face glowing blue from the screen, he took a few moments to register my presence. I asked what he was doing, and he said he was sending e-mails. It was still unclear to me what, exactly, Martens considered his art to be. It was the films he made, certainly, but was it also this, the prosaic work associated with supporting the C.A.T.P.C.? “No,” Martens said. “I don’t consider the sending of e-mails to be art.”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question. Helping to direct real and creative capital to a Central African plantation and calling it art isn’t necessarily any more far-fetched than developing affordable housing in Houston and calling it art, or building a travelling community center in a mobile home and calling it art, or creating an interactive TV station for the elderly and calling it art—all of which have been done in recent decades to great acclaim. The German artist Joseph Beuys might have called it “social sculpture,” the French curator Nicolas Bourriaud might call it “relational aesthetics,” and critics call it “social practice.”

Claire Bishop, a professor of art history at the cuny Graduate Center, was one of the first to write skeptically of the genre, which dates back to the early twentieth century and has roots in experimental theatre. “It’s extremely hard to pin down,” she said, since it tends to prioritize process over discrete objects. “It will have multiple identities. It can be an institution, it can be an infrastructure, it can be a workplace situation.” Bishop told me that she was “infuriated by this slipperiness” when she first started working on her book “Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship” (2012). “You can’t really grasp it,” she said. “You don’t know what you’re looking at. You’re only ever seeing a fragment of the work at any one time—nobody gets a full overview of it. The artist is probably the only one, and this makes it really hard to talk about.”

As is the case with many social-practice projects, she went on, judging Martens’s work in Lusanga on aesthetic terms can feel impossible: there is real money circulating, and people’s livelihoods are at stake. “What does one get by saying they are an artist?” she asked. “Funding, primarily, but also freedom.” An academic would need approval from an ethics board, an aid worker demonstrable proof that his efforts were successful. “It takes some of the pressure off of making something succeed,” Bishop said. “Being an artist, you could say, gets you off the hook.”

Martens was finishing a series of six short videos documenting Kasiama and Tamasala’s attempt to secure the loan of a small wooden sculpture, made in Congo, depicting Maximilien Balot, a Belgian colonial officer. His killing, in 1931, not far from Lusanga, sparked a revolt of the Pende people, hundreds of whom were subsequently killed by gunfire. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which owns the sculpture, had declined to lend it to the White Cube for the foreseeable future, supplying low-resolution images instead. With the help of some Web developers in Berlin, the C.A.T.P.C. decided to create a non-fungible token. In February, members waited outside the White Cube at dusk while ghostly images of the sculpture—taken from a photograph on the Museum of Fine Arts’s Web site—were minted on the blockchain. The N.F.T. was the collective’s arch attempt to take back the sculpture under the doctrine of fair use and, in Kasiama’s words, “reclaim its powers,” which were originally to protect the land and its people. Shortly afterward, the museum responded, calling the N.F.T. “unacceptable” and “unprofessional.” The museum is no longer considering a loan.

In June, Tamasala and Kasiama attended Art Basel, where some three hundred more N.F.T.s related to the Balot sculpture were minted. Tamasala told a reporter that, though the museum’s loan refusal was “a form of violence,” the N.F.T.s were not meant as an act of retribution. “We come from a country that has perpetual war,” he said. “We don’t want war. We do not want to oppose the museum. We are not here to have a conflict with them. The only thing we want is to rekindle a relationship with the sculpture.” When I spoke to Tamasala and Kasiama two weeks later, they were in the Netherlands with Martens, preparing to fly back to Lusanga, where they hoped to buy more land with funds raised from the N.F.T.s.

A short article about the project appeared in the Guardian, and one morning the community’s solar panels were working well enough to provide electricity for Martens to read it. He and I convened near the riverbank. A package of Tanzanian cigarettes sat on a table, and Martens struggled to light one with a damp match. The yoke of his shirt, which had been threadbare the day before, was now torn. (A performance artist even when off duty, Martens wears his hair long and tends to sport the same button-up shirts and leather shoes to traipse around Lusanga as he does when popping into Berlin art galleries. But what on film looks like an ironic embodiment of an antiquated trope—the European gentleman in Africa—in person comes across as something more like self-flagellation. In the course of the week, Martens’s costume deteriorated rapidly: collars frayed, holes appeared.)

Martens seemed both distressed and delighted by the framing of the article, which inflated a terse e-mail exchange into what sounded like an international court case. He was struck by the sensationalism of the headline—“Row About Congolese Statue Loan Escalates Into Legal Battle Over NFTs”—and unhappy about an accompanying photograph of himself, which was almost a decade old.

“I don’t associate with the guy in the picture,” Martens told me. It had been taken in 2014, at an opening in Cardiff. There had been a cocktail reception with champagne, he remembered. He furrowed his brow for a moment, unsure how to proceed. He said that, since the photograph was taken, he had changed. Though he had first visited the D.R.C. almost twenty years ago, only now was he beginning to allow himself to actually experience the grief—“Yes, ‘grief’ is the word”—that he felt during his initial trip. “The guy that I see in the picture is a little bit jaded,” he said. “He’s performing, he’s quite armored.”

He lit another cigarette and continued, “I encountered what you could consider, if you’re ignorant—what I considered, because I was ignorant, to some degree—‘traditional rural villages.’ ” Martens spoke of thatched huts, manioc patches, a lack of consumer products. “You could consider it natural,” he said. “You could think, This is just how people live here.” Impersonating his naïve former self, he went on, “It’s sad, sure, but the children smile when they see you. They run to you—‘Hey, mundele!’—they want a picture with you. So maybe it’s just the way it is, you think. Maybe they’re happier than you. Maybe there’s so much to learn from these people, because they are in touch with nature, with their ancestors, the earth, with the gods above. Maybe you think they’re outside of capitalism. Maybe they have more empathy, more love, maybe they’re actually closer to the state that we should all be in.”

Then Martens arrived at a plantation. “The atmosphere is completely different,” he said. “The people are desperate.” He described fathers pleading for him to come to their children’s funerals, women approaching him and finding themselves too upset to speak. “They don’t know how to even voice their emotions,” he said. “It’s here.” Martens pointed to his throat and gagged in what began as an imitation of despair but quickly became the real thing. “So I’m the guy, in their eyes,” he went on. “I’m the skin color, I’m the passport, I’m the U.N. It’s imaginary, I know that, but, still, it’s all the same—I’m the boss of the plantation to them, somehow. Because why else would I be there? Why would I be there if I wasn’t included in their lives? Why would I be there if I wasn’t somehow in cahoots? And I am in cahoots.” Martens was crying by this point. “This apparatus just disposes of people’s lives so easily,” he said. “It’s devilish, the way it consumes people’s lives.”

We had been talking for a few hours when an intermittent banging began. Martens excused himself and peered over the balcony, which was heaped with drying mosquito netting. Below us, a man was making repairs to a dugout canoe. Martens asked the man if he wouldn’t mind taking a short break from his work. It was the sort of appeal I’d make of a stranger at home, politely but without anxiety. Here, though, the chasm in circumstances between me and the banging man made such a request feel impossible, and I was impressed with Martens’s willingness to impose, which seemed to demonstrate more good faith and genuine camaraderie than any effusive kindness ever could.

When he sat down again, he began to talk about the anger he felt upon returning from Africa to Europe for the first time. His family was on vacation in France, and he joined them by way of Brussels, whose gleaming, perfumed airport now struck him as menacing. He had malaria, and was disturbed by the order and the abundance of the French hospital, and by the perfect conditions of the roads he took to get there. An existential crisis of sorts set in. What was all this infrastructure worth, he thought, if not everyone had access to it? Just as nobody deserved unclean drinking water or drug-resistant tuberculosis, he did not deserve the circumstances of his own life. He wasn’t any better or nicer than anyone else; he didn’t work any harder. “Actually, you’re not worth it,” Martens said he realized. “Actually, you’re not worth it,” he repeated. His voice caught. “Your luck is not even your own, because you didn’t even roll the dice yourself. It’s because generations upon generations fixed the dice.”

Hellio appeared at the top of the stairs. “We’re having an in-depth interview about my emotions,” Martens told her. His affect was flat. Hellio expressed interest in observing the conversation, but Martens refused. “Go away,” he said. “I feel too shy.” Hellio hesitated. “She’s a journalist,” Martens said, pointing at me and pronouncing the word like a slur. “She knows how to employ empathy.” Reporting, he meant, was performative and necessarily predatory; only because ours was “an equal power relationship,” as he put it, could I extract emotions from him and leave without guilt. “But do this with a person on the plantation,” Martens said, smiling, “and it’s completely fucked. You will feel completely fucked.”

A few days later, beneath the shade of an acacia tree, some thirty people sat in a neat arrangement of plastic chairs. It was morning. Nobody spoke, but it was not quiet. Roosters crowed, goats bleated, mosquitoes buzzed, a kingfisher darted by like a flung jewel. Though the rainy season had been under way for months, the temperature was rising. People were growing impatient. The White Cube towered overhead.

Then a murmuring began, which coalesced into threats. Plantation workers dressed as policemen stepped forward, brandishing sticks as though they were weapons. A theatrical production, taking the form of a mock trial of the White Cube, was beginning. Tamasala had written the script with the collective. Kasiama approached the bench, and the judge asked him to state his name for the record. Speaking in Lingala, he explained that he would be representing himself for the time being, since his lawyer had been delayed by the region’s derelict roads and bridges.

“Your Honor,” Kasiama said, “I have come before this court to file a complaint against the White Cube.” He pointed up toward the blinding cliff of concrete behind him. “This White Cube owes us, the inhabitants and workers of the plantations, whom I represent here, a huge debt.” He looked out across the surrounding land, which was planted thickly with fruit trees. “This debt,” he continued, “often ignored by the art-loving public, camouflages the ugliness and cruelty behind these cleanly washed walls.” Kasiama’s speech was impassioned. He spoke of colonialist regimes, slavery, forced labor, and the seeming impossibility of reconciliation. “Your Honor,” he said, “we have faith that, at the end of the process, justice will be done and our rights restored.”

At the periphery of the proceedings, Martens cleared his throat and began to pace. The production had taken shape in the previous months, with only his dim awareness. The White Cube, as he could see, was playing the role of museums in Europe and America, where violence and dispossession had for so long been laundered. It was a performance of restorative justice, and it was all being video-recorded. The collective hoped to turn the play into a film. It was hot, and Martens seemed impatient. He thought that the cameraman was not moving around enough, that his shots were too tentative—he was failing to capture so much. Martens stood close, whispering directions, sometimes dodging the camera, trying to stay out of the frame. ♦


Cycling gives me a place to connect when nothing makes sense – NPR

This post was originally published on this site

Josie Norton for NPR

I make the most and the least sense when I’m riding my bike.

It’s one of the rare things in life that lets you escape from the world, while also connecting you to it. I love to spin my way through forests, around lakes, and into little communities I never knew existed.

Along the way, my brain disengages from stress. Life quiets down to simple rhythms. Problems seem to evaporate. Throw in a good podcast or music, and I’ll be gone for hours.

On a nice long ride, you start finding new layers of yourself, new bursts of energy. That’s when I feel like my body is actually incinerating little stresses and toxins I’ve accumulated.

Riding a bike is especially good for people like me, who have long-running knee problems. I’m missing a fairly important ligament in my left knee — a surgeon took it out on my 1st birthday, along with a tumor that had grown under my kneecap.

One of Bill’s favorite roads to ride in Washington.

Bill Chappell

Bill Chappell

That meant I learned to walk in a full leg cast. One leg grew a little shorter than the other, making me self-conscious about the special shoes I wore. But on a bike, I was just like anyone else. And my doctor told me from an early age that riding a bike would build up muscles to help hold my knee together.

I’ve been able to do everything I’ve wanted to. But a clamor of “what-ifs” were often in the back of my mind, worried about a serious injury. Possibly to my detriment, I learned to turn the volume down on that noise, to block out what could go wrong.

It’s a good strategy for life — focus on what you want to happen, not what you don’t — but it’s also something I think about when I ponder why I do the things I’ve done. And yes, this is where we get into the less-sensible stuff.

I acknowledge doing some crazy things on my bike. Passing a Camaro — in the left lane — on a steep hill in the dark. Riding through 8 inches of fresh snow on a 20-mile hill trail. Racing cars around traffic circles. Sprinting downhill, then coasting across a wide creek, legs straight out, hoping I have enough speed to carry me across the water.

In a way, it seems right that crazy things would happen on a bike, the most impossible of human conveyances. Everything else we use to get around makes absolute sense. But for years, scientists actually had no idea how or why a bicycle really works, on the most elemental levels.

My love for cycling started in high school, when I used money from a summer job to buy a Nishiki Century. Then I spent the next summer with my dad, riding a loaner Raleigh. I mainly worked at night. My dad worked in the day, so I rode for hours and hours.

Bill’s bike after riding to work in a snowstorm.

Bill Chappell

Bill Chappell

By the time I returned to my hometown in South Carolina, I could easily ride out to the airport and back, buzzing up long highway hills and looping around the far side of the city to add miles. Without realizing it, I had become a cyclist. Within a few years, I was splayed in the back of a friend’s bike shop, rebuilding a planetary gear hub for a rusty Raleigh DL-1 I picked up for $5.

To learn more about bikes, I spent hours reading cycling guru Sheldon Brown, then Grant Petersen and Jan Heine. I watched the Tour de France, that spectacle of suffering. Like many others, I’m a fan of Jens Voigt, the German racer who famously told his own legs during a long, excruciating ride, “Shut up, legs!”

So far, my legs are holding out OK. I’ve put thousands of miles into my pea-green Surly Cross-Check and my titanium Merlin Extralight. I’ve routinely spurned happy hours in favor of a ride (yes, I was single for a looong time). And I embraced this circular logic: you ride to increase fitness — so you can ride more.

I came to enjoy little statistical feats. One of my favorites was to get off work and ride an 18-mile loop along the Potomac River into Maryland and back down into DC, all in one hour flat.

Later, I started pulling my daughters in a bike trailer, and the combined weight of about 100 pounds made me ponder torque and anaerobic exercise as I crept up hills. The trailer lets us be a one-car family, and it’s great for bringing a picnic wherever we want to go.

The idea of being a “serious” cyclist still strikes me as a bit funny. After all, riding is fun. And when you’re riding for fitness, it usually means you’re using a very efficient machine not to get from point A to B, but just to ride around in a loop, with your feet spinning in circles. That’s not to say I don’t keep track of my average speed after a long ride, or my monthly mileage. Those stats are a way for me to compete with myself, and stay motivated.

I’m glad cycling has helped me stay healthy. But I love that it’s given me a place to depressurize. Leaning over my handlebars, I’ve come to terms with setbacks and made plans for the future. It’s where I realized I should propose to my wife. It’s where I mourned my mother, after she died of ALS. And now it’s where I think about my own kids.

The physics of bicycles may still be a mystery, but lots of things in life don’t make sense. And they don’t always have to. You’ve just got to keep moving.

Bill Chappell is a reporter on NPR’s digital news team.


Tesla's bitcoin holdings could result in a $460 million hit for the car maker, Barclays says – CNBC

This post was originally published on this site