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Monthly Archives: August 2017

Image copyright And Vinyly
Image caption There is about a teaspoonful of Madge Hobson’s ashes in her record

John Hobson is listening to a recording of conversations with his late mother, mostly small talk about family.

The words are on a vinyl record, although this is more than a recording of memories.

The ashes of Madge Hobson are combined with the vinyl, with a photograph and details of her life printed on the labels.

“It makes the perfect family record, which can be passed down the generations,” says Jason Leach, 46, the founder of And Vinyly, which produced the disc.

The firm is part of a fast-growing sector of the end-of-life industry. No longer need ashes be stored in an urn or scattered to the wind. Now you can wear, drink from, or display a little part of what is left of your loved one.

Mr Hobson, a 69-year-old sculptor, says his mother, a devout churchgoer, would thoroughly approve of her record.

“I had to weigh out a quantity of the ashes [which had been kept in an urn], and put a large teaspoonful into a number of small plastic bags, one for each disc,” he says.

Fifteen records were pressed for family and friends. Says Mr Hobson: “I think And Vinyly has undoubtedly helped to keep the memory of my mother alive.”

Image copyright And Vinyly
Image caption Jason Leach says he wants to increase production to meet increasing demand

Mr Leach, based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, began pondering the possibilities of pressing ashes into records about 10 years ago.

There was no business plan. He was just reflecting on mortality, issues brought into sharper focus when his mother began work at a funeral directors.

“I was amazed by how little I or any of my friends had even properly considered or even accepted our own mortality, and how incredibly sheltered many of us are from death and conversations around it,” Mr Leach says.

“It was not intended to be a business. It was the result of having a bit of fun with what at the time felt like a shocking and disconcerting inevitability.”

The process is the same as making a standard vinyl disc, with ashes (human or pet) added at a specific stage in production.

“It’s a balance between adding enough ashes so as to be seen, but not so much as to affect the grooves’ smooth playing,” says Mr Leach.

“There will, of course, be some extra pops and crackles resulting from the inclusion of ashes – but we like these, as this is you.”

Prices vary as every request is different, he says. A basic package costs about £900, rising to about £3,000.

Options include 7-inch or 12-inch discs, specially-composed music, a portrait painted on the record using the ashes, and clear or coloured vinyl.

Image copyright Algordanza
Image caption This could be you – an Algordanza diamond is made from human ashes

Mr Leach, a music producer and music label owner, currently presses about two discs a month that have human ashes added to them, on equipment he already owns.

But he is in the process of arranging more funding to meet rising demand. He is also linking with funeral homes which will offer the service. “The concept markets itself,” he says.

“Of course, there are those who find it strange, even creepy, but most people actually come round to the idea.”

And his plans for his own record? Spoken words from him, his partner of more than 25 years, and their two daughters, plus some music he has written.

“I like to think about my great, great grandchildren listening to me. This is about as close to time travel as I’m going to get,” he says.

Image copyright Algordanza
Image caption Algordanza’s diamond-making machines produce more than 1,000 stones a year

In Domat/Ems, Switzerland, Rinaldo Willy, 37, has another way of keeping memories alive – turning ashes into diamonds.

“I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21, and therefore was sensitised to the topic of death,” he says.

While a business studies student, in 2003, he read about isolating carbon from ashes to create synthetic diamonds. A year later, with his professor, he founded Algordanza.

A diamond is 99.9% carbon, while the human body is 20%. After cremation about 1-5% of carbon remains.

Natural diamonds – symbols of love and the everlasting – are created under enormous pressure and high temperatures inside of the earth. Algordanza replicates the process in its laboratory, creating stones within weeks.

About 85 diamonds a month are made, costing between about £2,800 and £12,700.

More stories from the BBC’s Business Brain series looking at quirky or unusual business topics from around the world:

Elvis still earning a fortune 40 years after his death

Can ice cream vans stage a comeback?

The businesses capitalising on 24-hour sunlight

Do you have to avoid huggers at work?

The start-up investment in Algordanza was £300,000, with Mr Willy using all his savings.

“After six years, we were able to pay ourselves a proper salary,” he says. The business now employs 60 people worldwide, with 12 based at the Switzerland headquarters.

Many of Algordanza’s customers have gone through huge trauma. “We have families who lost someone in events and incidents such as the tsunami in Thailand, the earthquake in Chile, soldiers who lost their lives on duty in Afghanistan, the terror attack in Madrid, the flight crash of Germanwings,” Mr Willy says.

In Santa Fe, in the US, Justin Crowe, 29, uses cremated ashes as raw material for pottery.

A fine art graduate, he founded Chronicle Cremation Designs in 2016. He already ran a ceramics studio, so needed minimal initial investment. But he has now raised $100,000 (£78,400) seed funding to expand.

Image copyright Lifeware
Image caption At Chronicle Cremation, Justin Crowe will turn ashes into home decor and small jewellery pieces

A typical ceramic glaze is made up of flint, minerals and clay. “We’ve developed a special glaze recipe that incorporates the cremated remains, which ultimately function to form the gloss you see on the surface of the work,” Mr Crowe says.

His Lifeware product line includes vases, urns, and coffee cups. The most popular items are candle luminaries and jewellery. Prices range from $195 for a necklace up to $995 for a large bowl.

Image copyright Chronicle Cremation
Image caption The ashes are used to help glaze the cups

He gets plenty of unusual requests, such as from a women who wanted the ashes of her sister and two dogs glazed on to coffee mugs.

Mr Crowe acknowledges that some people feel that transforming someone into a piece of homeware is disrespectful.

But, he says, a flower vase or candle holder provide daily reminders of loved ones. “Ultimately, the pieces are about keeping memories close in daily life.”

Follow Business Brain series editor Will Smale on Twitter @WillSmale1

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Two hundred years since the novelists death, Austen obsessives celebrate her legacy

Roland Anderson, 44, finance director, London

It wasnt until I was in my 20s that I started getting into Austen. My friend Mark kept going on about Pride And Prejudice, so I reread it, then worked my way through the rest of the novels, plus anything I could get my hands on: the letters, the unfinished novels. Once I read a boyfriend Pride And Prejudice as a bedtime story. It doesnt take as long as you think 20 nights at two or three chapters a night. He really liked it, even if the relationship didnt last.

After I started posting at the Austen messageboard, I met other fans. We visited Bath and other locations, and spent the afternoons drinking tea and talking about Austen. I studied French and German at university. Whenever I visit a new place, I look for a translation of Pride And Prejudice and see if I can read it. Ive now got copies in French, Italian, a couple of different German ones, and Im looking for a Norwegian.

Virginia Woolf says somewhere that Austen is the hardest writer to catch in the act of greatness. Shes so economical: she can sketch a character in a single stroke. When Elizabeth Bennet is feeling sorry for herself about Darcy, she goes for walks to indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections; its such a perfect phrase. In Sense And Sensibility, Elinor looks at Robert Ferrars, whos a complete idiot and decides that he doesnt deserve the compliment of rational opposition. Who hasnt thought that about someone theyve met at a party?

The novels are so modern, particularly in the way they treat women: I dont think any writer before her managed to write about female characters as if they were actual human beings, with their own feelings and ambitions. She was centuries ahead of her time.

Sophie Andrews, 21, blogger, Reading

Sophie Andrews. Photograph: David Yeo for the Guardian

At school, I was a bit of an odd one out. I felt as if I was born in the wrong century. I wasnt into teenage things. Then we were set Pride And Prejudice for GCSE English, and suddenly everything clicked. Her characters are two centuries old, but all of us know flirts like Lydia Bennet, or mean girls like Caroline Bingley. And her voice is so strong on the page. Theres a line from a letter from Jane to her sister Cassandra I really like: I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. You get a sense of her personality immediately.

I reread Pride And Prejudice straight away, and then devoured the rest, as well as the film and TV adaptations. The books were better: it was much more enjoyable to imagine the characters in my head.

I began posting on Facebook, and then started a blog. I was 16, and I called it Laughing with Lizzie, because of that line by Elizabeth Bennet: I dearly love a laugh. It was low-key at first: GCSE essays, writing about the adaptations, things like that. It grew from there. Ive hosted guest posts, interviews, and reviews of Austen-inspired fan fiction. Its become a bit of a hub. My followers enjoy reading about me attending events; I think theyre waiting for me to find my Mr Darcy. Its sort of become my life.

Theres this line of Janes I really like: Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. Thats why she means so much to me: theres drama in the books, but its never threatening. A few years ago, I nearly lost my sister to a serious illness, and I myself have a condition a bit like ME, which makes it hard for me to do a regular job. The books have been my lifeline; when things are tough in the real world, I can just dive into hers. I cant imagine my life without Jane. It sounds melodramatic but, in a way, shes saved me.

Amy Rollason, 25, and Jagjit Dhandra, 51, members of the Jane Austen Dancers, Bath

Amy Rollason and Jagjit Dhandra. Photograph: David Yeo for the Guardian

Jagjit I was really keen on archery, and I went to a historical fair a few years ago to buy some strings for my bow. There was a flyer for a Regency ball in Bath, and it was happening on my birthday, so I thought, why not? I didnt really love the books, to be honest; Austens not very good at male characters theyre a bit one-dimensional but that world really appealed. Partly its the history: the Regency period was a time of great social and political change, with almost continual warfare and great inequality; even though you see only bits of that in the novels. Captain Wentworth in Persuasion and William Price in Mansfield Park were both probably based on Austens brother Francis, who joined the Royal Navy.

When I started dancing, I took some lessons from a local group in Lichfield. Finding a decent costume was more of a challenge: there are a lot of dressmakers online, but theyre very busy so they need a lot of advance notice. I got lucky with a tailcoat and breeches from eBay, and ordered another tailcoat and waistcoat from America. Im probably not the tallest or most handsome guy, but a uniform makes all the difference as Ive discovered walking around Bath in costume while hen parties are on the loose.

The dancing is really graceful; people move quite slowly and sedately, and the music is soft. Its surprisingly easy, too, if you count the beats and keep your footwork precise. You can do it while youre drunk. Believe me, Ive tried.

I probably do seven or eight balls a year with different groups, all over the country and even abroad, and private events, too. I know a lot of couples whove met at Austen dances. In the world of Austen, men are massively outnumbered. Im pretty sure Im invited to so many balls because Im a single man who knows how to dance.

Amy People think everyones middle-aged, but theyre not. We meet every other week to rehearse; anyone can come along; its 4 a go. The dancing isnt hard to pick up: its like country dancing. Its a really sociable thing to do, because youre swapping around the whole time. Im in my 20s and the other month, I was at someones 60th birthday ball. Not many of my friends have that.

I started reading the books as a teenager and got hooked. They just felt so adult, compared with the things Id been reading before: full of deep emotions, but so smartly and funnily told with so much social observation. Even when the story is as simple as girl meets bad boy in Brighton, as it is with the Lydia Bennet subplot in Pride And Prejudice, its told with such humanity. You feel for Lydia, even as you realise how silly she is.

I did English at university, but for a long time I avoided specialising in Austen because I love the novels so much I didnt want to spoil them. Then I ended up doing a masters in Austen. It became a kind of joke. Later, I got a job volunteering at the Jane Austen festival in Bath. We walk through the streets wearing costume. You get such an amazing reaction, children yelling, Why are you dressed so crazily? I love that.

Mira Magdo, 31, blogger, Cambridge

Mira Magdo. Photograph: David Yeo for the Guardian

My first encounter with Austen was watching the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride And Prejudice. Im from Hungary originally, so I got the videos and watched them with my mum, then I read the books in one big gulp, in translation.

Austens world was just so different from mine: the characters seemed to spend all day studying, reading, going for walks.

Four years ago, I moved to England to be close to Jane it sounds weird but its true. Each year, theres a big festival in Bath. One year, I was there and Adrian Lukis, who played Wickham in the BBC version, was there too, and I had the idea of trying to meet every major cast member. Some of them were in plays, so I bought tickets and got autographs afterwards. I had to travel to New York to get Jennifer Ehle; she was in a play off-Broadway. I tweeted her, asking if she could sign a book of the original TV script, and she messaged straight back, saying to meet her at the stage door afterwards. She was lovely.

Colin Firth was my last. I went to the premiere of Bridget Joness Baby in London last year, and caught him in the crowd. I was a bit dumbfounded. All I could do was ask him for a selfie and if he could he sign a painting of him as Darcy. He gave me a bit of a weird look when he saw the painting, but he did it. I was shaking for an hour afterwards.

My family think Im too old for it, spending money on gowns, books and balls, but it makes me happy. I have 80 copies of Pride And Prejudice in 15 languages. Maybe its a bit unoriginal, but its definitely my favourite novel as well as my favourite TV series; the writing is so sharp and funny: One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.

I also read a lot of Jane Austen fan fiction, and review it on my blog. I remember telling my mum that I was going to meet everyone whod been in the TV series, and she told me that life doesnt work like that. But sometimes it does.

Gabrielle Malcolm, 46, academic, Bath

I was standing at the bus stop one day, and saw a young woman carrying an I heart Darcy tote bag. I thought, thats interesting. Its not just about Austen, its Darcy particularly, and probably Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen, too. I hadnt realised that fan culture was such a huge thing. So I started digging: going to events, meeting people, interviewing fans. Eventually it turned into a book.

People often talk about the books being a kind of refuge. George Henry Lewes, George Eliots lover, said of Austen that she was a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, and a lot of fans seem to think of her like that: a witty friend you can turn to. Theres something in the plots, too: conflict leading to resolution, the happy ever after. Then theres the history, the feminism and the English thing, which attract fans from all across the world. The costume-drama side is really strong, too: a lot of fans are also madly passionate about Poldark and Downton Abbey.

And then you have the Jane Austen fan fiction (Jaff) scene, with as many as 70 new books a month, mostly self-published, all inspired by Austen stories from faithful continuations of plots to things that are more out-there: The Other Mr Bingley, Pride And Pettiness, Sif And Sensibility, the Zombies series They keep coming. There are so many sides to Austen fan culture: its as if you got all the fans of Star Trek, cosplay and book groups, and rolled them into one. And then added a lot of tea.

Im one too, of course. I first read Pride And Prejudice when I was 11 and my whole family read Austen; it was a large family, and wed swap the books between us. I was pretty young, but my mum helped me with the language. I lost both my parents when I was in my 20s, so its a way of connecting with them, I suppose. Its become a major part of my life. I was giving a talk at an Austen festival the other month, thinking, I wish my mum could see this.

Nili Olay, 72, and Jerry Vetowich, 80, members of the Jane Austen Society of North America

Jerry and Nili. Photograph: Christopher Lane for the Guardian

Nili I first read Austen at university in the 1960s, and adored her straight away. I love language, so that was partly it, but its also the psychology. You meet someone and find yourself saying, Oh, theyre an Elizabeth Bennet, or Theyre a bit like Frank Churchill, a bit of a rogue. Pre-Freud, she just nails it.

Jerry started reading the books and we used to read Austen to each other while we were driving the kids around. Then one day, Jerry saw an advert for the Jane Austen Society of North America and said, guess what, theres a whole society of people as crazy as we are.

We went to our first meeting in Savannah, Georgia, in the 1980s 250 people, maybe. Now about 800 show up at the annual event, with about 5,000 members in all. Were based mostly in New York, but when we started spending more time in Florida, we realised there wasnt a local chapter; so we turned up in costume one day at a book festival and encouraged people to sign up. Were up to 25 people. I think well get more.

Jerry I love the dressing-up, I admit Ive got four costumes, including a redcoat and an admiral, and Nili has several gowns. They look pretty authentic. Of course, we dont dress up for the regular meetings, just the balls, but its great to see people in their finery.

Weve been to the UK a couple of times. We did all the Austen tours; its fascinating to stand inside Chawton, the house where she lived, and to walk along the cliffs at Lyme Regis like Anne Elliot in Persuasion.

I guess people might be surprised that Americans love Austen so much, but we were the colonies for a long time, so its partly in our blood. Jane Austens world, that world of early 19th-century Britain, seems very orderly to us. Maybe its something we wish we had particularly right now.

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The Kardashian family is helping out relief efforts in Texas in a massive way. On Tuesday morning, the famous family confirmed that they would be donating half a million dollars to the Red Cross and Salvation Army to aid relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. The Kardashians’ Hurricane Harvey donation is definitely one of the largest single donations to be given amid a number of celebrities showing their support for Houston in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane.

On Tuesday morning, the Kardashians confirmed they are donating $500,000 to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Kim Kardashian, Khloé Kardashian, and Kris Jenner all tweeted out the statement that they, along with Kourtney Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, and Kylie Jenner, will be donating half a million dollars to the Red Cross and Salvation Army in order to help families and businesses affected by Hurricane Harvey. TMZ reported that the Kardashians’ donation has already gone through to the two emergency aid organizations, and is being split evenly between them. The Kardashians are the latest in a string of celebrities showing their support for relief efforts in Houston recently — Katy Perry gave a special shout out to the struggling city while she was hosting the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, and Houston native Beyoncé is working with her charity organization to help families affected by the catastrophic storm.

But one of the most influential celebrities to step up after Hurricane Harvey has been Kevin Hart, who posted a video to Instagram challenging his fellow celebrities to donate to relief efforts. Specifically, Hart called out Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Harvey, and Justin Timberlake to donate, and pledged to donate $25,000 himself. Though he didn’t call out the Kardashians himself, Hart’s video clearly inspired them, as Khloe responded to his tweet with the news of their donation.

Sadly, the situation is still dire in Houston, but any bit of money that you can give helps. You can make a donation to the Red Cross here, or to the Salvation Army here.

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The track, which samples Right Said Freds 1991 hit Im Too Sexy, dropped late on Thursday after the singer wiped her social media pages last week

Taylor Swift has released her new single Look What You Made Me Do, which ends with a voice message of the singer saying: Im sorry, but the old Taylor cant come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, cause shes dead.

The 27-year-old singer dropped the song which interpolates Right Said Freds 1991 hit Im Too Sexy late on Thursday to streaming platforms and iTunes. The electropop song includes lyrics such as: Honey, I rose up from the dead I do it all the time/I got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined I check it once/Then I check it twice.

The song is the first single from her sixth album, Reputation, to be released on 10 November. A clip of the songs video will premiere on Friday on Good Morning America, and a lyric video is out now.

Swift wiped her social media pages last week and caused a frenzy online with video snippets of what appeared to be snakes. Fans dissected the clues in hopes it would reveal details about her new music, and the pop star finally announced on Wednesday that a new song would be released this week followed by an album three months later.

Reputation is the follow-up to 2014s 1989, which featured seven hit singles, from Shake It Off to Bad Blood, and won three Grammys, including album of the year. She followed it up with a star-studded world tour, featuring guest appearances from musicians such as Justin Timberlake and John Legend to A-List celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Rock.

Im Too Sexy was a No.1 hit that was written by Richard Fairbrass, Fred Fairbrass and Rob Manzoli. After the songs release, Right Said Fred tweeted thanks to Swift and called the new song a marvellous reinvention. But the ever-divisive Swift also attracted some inevitable snark online.

Patrick Monahan (@pattymo)

Spare a thought for the Taylor Swift superfans that have to defiantly pretend this new song is amazing

August 25, 2017

demi adejuyigbe (@electrolemon)

i don’t think there’s been a piece of comedy in the last ten years that is funnier than taylor swift’s new single and edgy rebrand

August 25, 2017

Joe Berkowitz (@JoeBerkowitz)

Taylor Swift made a Santa concept album and really it’s about time.

August 25, 2017

The songs line I dont like your tilted stage is perhaps a veiled reference to Kanye West, who performed on a tilted stage on his Saint Pablo tour. She and West have a fractious history they made up after he interrupted her on stage at an awards ceremony, arguing that Beyonc should have won instead of her, but after West made a crass reference to her on his song Famous, Swift alluded to him at another awards ceremony, saying: There are going to be people along the way who are going to try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame.

Swift wrote and produced the new song with frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, who performs in the bands Bleachers and Fun. Antonoff, who has produced for Lorde, Sia, Sara Bareilles and others, earned a Grammy ward for his work on three songs from Swifts album 1989.

He also produced and co-wrote Swift and Zayns top five hit from the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack, I Dont Want to Live Forever, and the pair shared a Golden Globe nomination for the song Sweeter than Fiction, from the 2013 film One Chance.

Swifts Reputation could become the singers fourth album to sell more than 1m albums in its debut week, following 1989, Red (2012) and Speak Now (2010).

Associated Press contributed to this report

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Image copyright PA
Image caption Andrew Bruff’s Stormzy rap video has had more than 188,000 views

An English teacher who raps lessons on YouTube has received hundreds of messages from GCSE students thanking him for helping them get top grades.

Andrew Bruff, known as Mr Bruff online, from Tavistock, Devon, has been running a channel for five years.

His most popular video was rapping a lesson over Stormzy’s grime hit Big For Your Boots.

“Your videos have helped me so much in getting a grade 9 in English lit,” said one student on Twitter.

Hundreds of others have praised him on social media.

“I am overwhelmed by today’s messages of thanks,” he said.

The 35-year-old’s YouTube channel proved so successful that two years ago he left his teaching role at Lipson Academy in Plymouth.

Image copyright YouTube
Image caption Mr Bruff’s Stormzy rap is the most successful of about 2,500 videos

He now travels the country as a consultant on exam success as well as making a YouTube video almost every day.

His Stormzy rap, which has more than 188,000 views, is the most successful of about 2,500 videos.

“I was having more of an impact online,” he said.

“This year I have had seven million views and so I thought it was worth the risk of leaving.

“I’ve had about a thousand messages from GCSE students and it definitely charges my batteries for next year.”

He said rapping, “which I’ve always loved”, helped teaching because “rap is very easy to memorise”.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Stormzy: His rapping inspired Mr Bruff for his GCSE English course

“I can remember pop songs from when I was 11 years old and so putting quotations from novels to music means you can remember it very easily.

“I’ve always loved hip hop, and am intrigued by how we can memorise song lyrics so easily.

His years in the classroom as an English teacher inspired him to start making YouTube videos to help students, he said, because he didn’t think the current education system was “fair”.

“It’s not fair that the quality of your education depends on your teacher, the area you live in, or whether you have rich parents who can afford expensive revision guides and tutors,” he said.

By making thousands of videos and a podcast available for free, he hopes to level the playing field.

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Like predecessors from Eve to Hillary Clinton, the star fell foul of an ancient narrative that discredits women, says freelance writer Brian OFlynn

Its cool to hate Taylor Swift. Shes a social media pariah, the punchline of every meme, a living snake emoji. Her new single Look What You Made Me Do was jeered into the charts , making it to number one and breaking records on its way. Her new album is to be a treatise on reputation, and boy could Swift deliver a TED talk on that subject. Shes become universally despised to the point where its taboo even to admit to feeling sorry for her. One is allowed to concede that 1989 had a few bangers but thats the limit.

Swift became synonymous with the snake emoji thanks to one fateful subtweet by Kim K. Her spat with the Kardashian-Wests is what has earned her most of her bad reputation shes a liar who got what she deserved, right? Case closed. But its naive to think good old-fashioned karma is all thats at play in the Swift saga.

Swift is not the first snake woman. Since the Old Testament, society has sought to discredit and vilify women by associating them with the scaly and the slithering. Its the oldest trope in the book from Eve to Medusa, the snake has always been a faithful misogynist device, used to destroy female reputation.

Celebrity culture is at best a lifelike simulation, at worst an outright fabrication. The general public can only guess at what really went on between Swift and West, and the entire incident may well have been a mutually beneficial publicity stunt. Yet it was seized upon with an unconcealed glee by the online horde that now collates and quantifies every female celebritys actions for moral evaluation realistically, it was just the excuse they were looking for. Swifts downfall was long awaited. She has been dismissed as a maneater who exploits her partners for Youtube hits and, in that famous diatribe, declared a calculating professional victim. Were supposed to believe the powerful playboys she courts are blameless lambs.

Long before the West debacle, she was already branded a snake when she sent attorneys letters to fans selling Swift merchandise and to her former guitar teacher for attempting to exploit her past. In a society that supposedly abhors the gender wage gap, one could be forgiven for thinking Swifts unashamed defence of her intellectual property and rightful earnings to be admirable. Instead she was met with a vicious campaign of character assassination evidence of her years of endless, painstaking kindness toward fans was buried in a sea of hate memes. People were determined to see her as false and traitorous.

The eagerness to scrutinise and condemn surfaced again when Swift made fumbled attempts at good feminist engagement. When trying to call out Nicki Minaj in a now infamous Twitter quarrel, she demonstrated ignorance of the intersection of race and feminism. Quickly realising her mistake, Swift listened, learned and apologised, which one might think was an exemplary response but too late. The witch hunt was already under way.

In 2017, it is unacceptable for famous women to learn on the job they must emerge from the womb with a complete working knowledge of intersectional feminism and if they dont they apparently deserve a sustained campaign of online abuse. Its hardly surprising that a year later, Swift backtracked on endorsing misogynist lyrics by West she was likely terrified of making another misstep.

Swift made headlines again recently by suing her sexual abuser for a symbolic $1. She won with style, unapologetically asserting the wrongness of the abuse that was perpetrated on her but on the day of her victory, there was tumbleweed on the Taylor Swift hashtag. The online horde that has judged Swift for so long misses nothing, so the selective deafness on certain actions speaks volumes. Only the damning evidence is accepted as canon.

Regardless of what Swift does, she is accused of being a treacherous temptress. Shes always a snake. Her actions are incorporated into the narrative as an afterthought, perfunctory pieces of evidence to support an already foregone conclusion. Like all witch hunts, its trial by drowning. If you sink, you die, if you float we kill you for being a witch, stupid. Hating her is the end in itself, and her response means nothing. Shes tried proudly owning her reputation, shes tried parodying herself (see Blank Space and her LWYMMD video) but nothing works. Her reputation is set in stone regardless of her actions but this is nothing new, for her or any famous woman.

Only 18 months ago, a different woman was synonymous with the snake Hillary Clinton. Like Swift, she is not unproblematic but next to Donald Trump should have been an easy choice as president. The public once again latched onto spurious nothings (in this case phantom emails) to magnify cracks in a womans character that would have been passed over in a man. No material evidence was even required for Clintons downfall woman as serpent is so ingrained in society that we defaulted to it with only the most subtle encouragement. Her reputation was decided before facts. Once again, the snake reared its head and we all obediently hissed in unison.

The snake eating its own tail in Swifts lyric video is a genius symbol for the hatred without any logical end or beginning; misogyny is always a self-fulfilling aim. Its an infinitely repeating cycle it wasnt so many decades ago that Monica Lewinsky was the snake and Hillary Clinton was the contrasting archetype of purity. Before Swift, it was Lady Gaga or Lana Del Rey being slammed as fake and phony. Now theyve miraculously fallen back into favour, but for how long? Women are swapped in and out of roles in the machinery of patriarchal society and its race to destroy them.

Swifts new song is superficially crafted as a Kanye diss song, but the tilted stage Swift refers to is not Wests, it is ours. We, her audience of billions, are the ones who always leave her slipping off the edge. Swifts imagery is too spine-tinglingly salient to be accidental you said the gun was mine expertly captures the way the misogynist society conjures up incriminations to vilify, demonise and discredit women.

Swift knows she cant win, so she is content to play up to whatever role will bring her temporarily back into favour Ill be the actress, starring in your bad dreams. Swift knows her reputation is out of her own hands. Yes, Swifts new single is a diss track, but shes dissing us. And we probably deserve it.

Brian OFlynn is a freelance writer, student and pop culture enthusiast based in Dublin

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(CNN)A former Texas police officer agreed to protect law enforcement informants posing as drug traffickers to earn money to mount a political campaign, authorities said.

Geovani Hernandez, 43, formerly a sergeant with the Progreso Police Department, was charged with three federal offenses in an investigation dubbed Operation Blue Shame and placed in jail under a $100,000 bond.
Hernandez was charged with attempt to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, possession with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine and aiding and abetting.
    In a hearing Friday, a federal magistrate found probable cause to try Hernandez.
    CNN has reached out to a lawyer listed in court records as representing the ex-officer.
    In May, an informant met with Hernandez to discuss an “illegal business venture,” at which time the officer claimed to be friends with a “plaza boss” in theGulf Cartel in Mexico, according to a criminal complaint filed inUS District Court in McAllen.
    Hernandez said “he needed money for his campaign for Hidalgo County constable,” the document says.
    In Texas, a constable is a licensed peace officer who performs law enforcement functions, including issuing traffic citations and serving civil papers, such as subpoenas, according to the Texas Association of Counties.
    Hernandez has sought political office unsuccessfully before and portrayed himself as an enemy of Mexican drug cartels.
    In 2012, he ran for sheriff in Hidalgo County, which borders Mexico, and pledged to battle drug smugglers, the Rio Grande Guardian reported.
    “We need to protect our families,” Hernandez said during a debate with his opponent, according to the newspaper. “What happens here affects the rest of the United States of America. I have worked terrorism, I have worked borders before. I do not protect drug dealers.”
    He lost that election but ran again in 2014 as a write-in candidate, and lost again.
    Hernandez has worked for several law enforcement agencies in south Texas since the mid-1990s: jailer with the Hidalgo Sheriff’s Office, police chief in the town of La Joya and, most recently, sergeant with the Progreso police, CNN affiliate KRGV reported. He no longer works for that department.
    Hernandez recently played a uniformed law enforcement officer in a music video about cocaine smuggling, according to The Monitor newspaper. The video tells how 6,000 kilos was moved through a border checkpoint.
    Federal agents became interested in Hernandez when an informant told them in August 2016 the officer was involved with a drug trafficking organization, the criminal complaint said.
    In June, the informant asked Hernandez to run record checks on some vehicles, which he did for $1,000, and later in the month paid him $2,000 to run a records check on a person to see if he was an informant, authorities said.
    The informant met Hernandez againJuly 11and offered to pay $5,000 for help in moving “items” from a Progreso warehouse to the town of Pharr, the complaint says.
    Hernandez told the informant “not to tell him what the vehicle would be transporting, not to discuss any details on their current cell phones and to buy new cell phones,” the complaint says.
    Agents said the deal went down July 15 after phone calls and meetings with Hernandez. Ten bricks of a white, powdery substance were loaded into a vehicle, along with one brick containing real cocaine, the complaint says.
    When the informant and the officer met that day, Hernandez told the informant to get into his private vehicle and listened as the informant put a phone on speaker mode so Hernandez could hear the conversation, in which the person on the other end discussed their movements, the complaint said. Hernandez told the informant to let the person know “they would be patrolling the streets,” the complaint says.
    Later that day, the informant met Hernandez and paid him $5,000, agents said.

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    Kevin Hart called for celebrities to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and the Kardashians responded with a generous donation.

    The comedian put all jokes aside when he posted a video to Instagram Monday starting a “challenge” for his famous friends to take part in. Hart challenged his fellow celebrities to help those suffering from the impact of Hurricane Harvey. The weekend storm brought catastrophic flooding to the Houston area after making landfall as a category 4 hurricane on Friday. Houston received up to 37 inches of rainfall, and had numerous residents trapped on their roofs due to flooding. The storm also tore through the towns of Rockport and Port Aransas in South Texas leaving much of Texas impacted. Hart donated $25,000 to the American Red Cross, and called on friends to do the same.

    However, the Kardashians went above and beyond his expectations.

    Kim, Kris, Kendall, Kylie, Kourtney, and Khloe donated $500,000 to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army Tuesday. Some family members also took to Twitter beforehand to announce their remorse for the victims and revealed they were praying for their safety.

    While the Kardashians conquered Hart’s challenge, Kim had to face many other challenges of her own this week.

    After Taylor Swift premiered her music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday it seemed like all eyes were on the Kardashian-West family. With lyrics like “I don’t like your tilted stage,” and imagery of Swift laying in a bathtub of jewels, it was clear that her single was a diss track toward the power couple. But don’t expect Kardashian and West to be losing sleep over this hurdle: People magazine reports that West and Kardashian think the song is a joke.

    “They find it pathetic that she still tries to keep an old feud going. They are not going to give her or her new music any attention. They have more important things to focus on, like their family,” a source told People.

    One problem down, another to go this week: This time the attention was on their daughter. On Monday Kardashian posted a Jackie Kennedy-inspired photo shoot to Twitter. It seemed like a normal photo, but Twitter was quick to notice a detail in North’s leg position that sparked rampant tweets:

    Kardashian also received backlash for seeming to have darkened her skin for the photo.

    The unofficial queen of the internet continues to move the needle with just about every public move, but at least she still wields a mighty digital army of fans.

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    In the shadow of Canadas 150th anniversary celebrations, once-obscure Indigenous musicians from across North America gathered in Toronto to perform songs fused to the land of their ancestors

    On a Monday evening in August, I am sitting at a Holiday Inn in downtown Toronto with John Angaiak, a Yupik Inuit musician who has travelled more than 4,300 miles to get here. The bar is closing early; a glass of last-call red wine sits in front of him. As soon as we are introduced, he proudly shows me photos of his wife and daughter from his wallet and describes his life back in Homer, Alaska, in plain words that sound lifted from his own lyrics. I live far away by the ocean, he says. I catch and eat fresh fish; I paint; I write songs. If you come visit, Ill cook for you.

    Of the dozen or so performers arriving for the next days festival of indigenous Canadian music, Native North America Gathering, Angaiak has made the furthest trek, which is saying a lot for a group travelling from points north, west, and east to play on the same stage, some for the first time in decades, some for the first and likely only time ever.

    The concert is part of the labour of love that yielded the 34-song Grammy-nominated compilation Native North America (Vol. I): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985, released in 2014 by the US reissue label Light in the Attic. It features a generation of musicians whose songs are indelibly fused to the places their ancestors inhabited for years, whose once forgotten folk and protest music is undergoing a particularly timely revival; it was merely coincidence that a historic gathering of Native musicians would occur in the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Canadian confederation the process by which the British colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united into one dominion.

    Kevin Howes, the Vancouver-based curator of the comp, spent a good decade tracking down the First Nations and Aboriginal makers of the records he had unearthed in basements and swap meets all over Canada. The pioneering singer and film-maker Willie Dunn was battling cancer when Howes found him at home in Ottawa. Morley Loon had died in 1986. Willie Thrasher was busking on the British Columbia waterfront, performing rousing rocknroll eco anthems for earth and water with his new singing partner, Linda Saddleback. Willy Mitchell had helped start a network of community radio stations on the Algonquin reserves in Ontario.

    Signs celebrating Canadas 150th anniversary still banner banks and storefronts when I arrive in Toronto, though many of the firework celebrations have come and gone. Visible too, are the remains of posters plastered on lampposts that decry the colonial overtones: Canada 150 on Stolen Land!, Canada 150 is a Celebration of Land Theft.

    A line of ticketholders snakes around the block outside Trinity St Paul church before sunset. Inside, NNAs first act, the Anishinaabe poet and self-described wisdom-keeper Duke Redbird takes the stage. When he says, 12,000 years ago, our ancestors left their moccasin imprints in the blue clay, that much-heralded century-and-a-half flashes by in a tiny blip, gone nearly as fast as the CAN $500m (311m) the government reportedly budgeted to commemorate it.

    The NNA festival meanwhile has no corporate sponsor, working instead in tandem with the indigenous music network Reunion tours tend to be booked out of financial necessity for ageing musicians who cant survive on their back catalogues in the age of Spotify, or by promoters capitalising on nostalgia last years Desert Trip (aka Oldchella) brought together Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the NNA artists compatriot Neil Young for two weekends that grossed $160m. But for a festival of musicians whose records were initially pressed in extremely limited numbers, who never made much money from their music in the first place, there is no need to market their songs back into relevance.

    Eric Landry. Photograph: Light in the Attic

    The early-70s ignited a Red Power movement in Canada, fuelled in part by the influx of Vietnam draft-dodgers who brought with them civil rights, womens rights, and news of the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff (in which members of the American Indian Movement occupied a town in South Dakota).

    The events that first prompted them to take up a guitar or drum include a gunshot fired into the back of Willy Mitchells head by the police, when he was 15, for allegedly stealing a Christmas light bulb; Canadas residential school program that, until the mid-90s, removed First Nations kids from their families and stripped them of their first language and culture; Duke Redbirds successful bid to require public schools to recite a daily acknowledgment of stolen lands; and Vern Cheechoos fight against a proposed mining project known as the Ring of Fire near his home in James Bay. In an age of police brutality, in which a notoriously high number of indigenous women are missing or have been murdered, and with climate change activists emboldened by the Standing Rock resistance, the times, it seems, have caught up with them.

    Backstage, in a sacristy transformed into a green room, an easy camaraderie settles in shared coffee and smokes, smudging sage before the show, warming up guitars, trading compliments (John, your songs are so gentle, Saddleback exudes to Angaiak). There is grey now in Eric Landrys long braids; Redbird, who on stage rhymes venom and disgrace with the human race, is now 78. Pearl, the ivory Fender Telecaster Thinline that Willy Mitchell bought in his teens with the settlement money he received in the aftermath of his gunshot, has yellowed with age. Mitchell is dressed almost identically to the picture of his 1970s self projected on the screen behind him: plaid flannel shirt, bandana now wrapped around his wrist instead of his head. He cheerfully douses his arthritic knuckles with medicinal spray.

    Willy Mitchell, in the 1970s. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

    There is nostalgia for the early days and a clear affinity for the music of other outsiders. We grew up playing dance music, Leland Bell tells me after the show. Dance music? You know, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hank Williams. Duke Redbird performed in coffeehouses with his then-neighbour Joni Mitchell. There are strains of John Fahey in Eric Landrys haunting Loon Lake, and of Neil Young in songs by Mitchell (his fiery Killn Your Mind could sit with Revolution Blues) and Angaiak (Harvest Moon). Thrasher and Saddlebacks renegade anthem Wolves Dont Live By the Rules begs for a punk-rock cover, and its not a stretch to picture the trio of Lloyd Cheechoo (once known as the Elvis of the North), his cousin Vern and Lawrence Martin making a killing in Nashville.

    But truly, this is music that operates purely and insistently on its own terms. Songs by the Native North America artists are born partly from geographic isolation, unaccountable to the mainstream. When Angaiak sings lyrics like, Ive always been a poor man, they read as starkly honest poems, with a sneaking, subtle acknowledgment that even the ordinary is not so (You will begin to know the silent ocean is very rich, with its own life).

    The guiding spirit hovering over Native North America is that of the aforementioned Willie Dunn, who died of cancer just before the compilations release. His family has come from Ottawa for the concert, where Dunns haunting 1968 short film The Ballad of Crowfoot is screened. At 10 minutes long, it has been billed as one of the first ever music videos the soundtrack is Dunns song of the same name, a stirring and sombre chronicle of the aboriginal story in Canada. Told through the figure of the Siksika First Nation chief, Crowfoot, in archival photographs, it builds to a furious torrent of headlines of broken treaties. The quiet in the room becomes even louder. Thrasher buries his face in his shirt. Dunn died four years ago this month and his absence is still raw. The longer hes gone the louder his words get, Lawrence Dunn tells me later. In fact, they become stifling.

    Its a night no one wants to end but time is slipping fast before the churchs curfew. Lets stand for the mountains and the rivers and the trees! Thrasher exhorts, when he and Saddleback finish out the night. He lets out a powwow cry as he pounds out a thunderous rhythm with his kick pedal; Saddleback takes up her tambourine. We love the earth lets rock!

    Someone suggests setting up an impromptu afterparty in the grocery store parking lot across the street. Eventually, Thrasher, Saddleback, Mitchell, Landy and Bell lead a small procession down Bloor Street, and the musicians unpack their guitars on a street corner. This reminds me of Willie, Dunns widow Liz Moore says, sitting with Lawrence and her sister, Jackie. Nights like this hed sit out in the yard and play and people would just wander in off the street. She nods in the direction of a couple of strangers, who have followed the sound here. The circle of listeners parted, opened, and let them in.

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    The 32-year-old charismatic Muslim doctor is running for governor of Michigan and in the process trying to change US politics

    At seven years old, Abdul El-Sayed sat in the eye of Hurricane Andrew, the most destructive hurricane in US history until Katrina. Living near Miami, El-Sayed drank juice while swaddled under mattresses between his father and stepmother, who was holding El-Sayeds newborn baby brother just home from the hospital.

    The 1992 storm had taken an unexpected turn southward, and the El-Sayeds could not be evacuated. The wind made an awful rattling sound on the screens.

    The front door blew in. The wind and the rain whipped into the house, as if the ocean was coming at you.

    El-Sayeds father, Mohamed, crawled on his stomach to shut the door, the rain whipping his face, the wind beating his body. The eye of the storm passed directly over them and the National Guard eventually evacuated them.

    At the moment, American politics feels a bit like being in the eye a hurricane. Donald Trump has stated Americas nuclear arsenal is locked and loaded, should North Korea make any false moves and neo-Nazis are openly parading in the streets bearing torches, resulting in a young woman, Heather Heyer, being murdered in Charlottesville, Virginia.

    No one man can stop the hurricane. But in Michigan, a grown-up El-Sayed is now having a go, trying to keep the storm at bay in a state that is having some of the hardest times in the union. Hes still a year out from the primary, but in his attempt at running for governor of the state, he is trying not just to win, but also to change American politics itself.

    If El-Sayed wins, he will be the first Muslim governor in US history.

    Abdul El-Sayed goes live on Facebook during a campaign cookout. Photograph: Sean Work for the Guardian

    When driving from Detroit to Adrian, Michigan, my hometown, you pass by a mosque near Ypsilanti that was burned to the ground in an arson last March. Adrian is 45 minutes from any freeway, the county is rural, and the cornfields rolling. You pass by a number of road signs offering jobs $28 dollars an hour for skilled work, less for driving a truck.

    The city itself, the largest town in the county, holds only about 20,000 people. It is the kind of place with lots and lots of American flags. Its also Trump country, white and Christian, the county voting with the president 57% to Hillary Clintons 36%.

    El-Sayed was speaking there on a recent Sunday afternoon in a public hall. A young local transgender man introduced El-Sayed to the audience a brave choice for a region still coming to terms with gay rights, let alone trans rights. Just a few miles away in Jackson, Michigan, the house of two organizers for the towns first ever pride parade was burned in what investigators are calling a possible arson.

    El-Sayeds stump speech revolves around fleshing out his personal story. Hes the son of an Egyptian immigrant who remarried to a now converted white, rural Protestant mother. His uncles learned to prepare venison Halal so his entire family could share in the meals. Throw in an atheist language professor uncle from the former Soviet Union, and Thanksgiving dinners were interesting to say the least.

    At this stage in his speech, El-Sayed usually pivots to speaking about the US constitution and the soaring rhetoric of hope and commonality.

    As you can imagine, these people come from fundamentally different walks of life, they have known different realities. But, they see a common future. And thats because its a common future they have built together, he said. I learned about a society that was founded on an ideal that my father invested in back in 1978 when he came here, one that told him, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal.

    One of the first questions El-Sayed gets asked that day is about Sharia law, asking about his thoughts on the custom, by a clearly agitated man in a checked button-down shirt.

    The rumors surrounding El-Sayeds faith are small but persistent, spread by a handful of far-right websites preying on the uninformed and fearful.

    One morning, I asked him about them over breakfast.

    Are you the spear tip of a vast Muslim conspiracy to bring Sharia law to the US?

    No, he said.

    Are you a front for the Muslim brotherhood to pervert American politics towards terrorism?


    Were you handpicked by George Soros to lead a vast liberal takeover of the government?

    No. Ive never met George Soros.

    Its tempting to make any story about El-Sayed about his faith, and how it is central to how voters perceive him. He answers questions about his faith like all the others about more mundane matters like tax policy or infrastructure development: head on, with razor-sharp intellect and rhetoric.

    But to reduce him to his faith would also be a disservice. His story is one of responsibility, courage and hope.

    Adbul El-Sayed as a child and his family. Photograph: Sean Work for the Guardian

    I believe in a separation of church and state, he started, making a note that John F Kennedys Catholicism was also a turning point in American politics.

    I can tell you that my ability to practice my faith in person, in my own home, when I choose to, where Im allowed to, because of freedoms in this country have everything to do with that separation of church and state, he said. If I am going to want to be able to put my face on the ground 34 times a day, like I do, because Im Muslim, I want to make sure no one can take that right away from me. And I will not take that right away from anyone else.

    He received an enormous round of applause after answering the question in a nearly completely white and Christian room and a standing ovation at the end of the event, that went over time by almost an hour.

    Afterward, I asked the man who asked the Sharia question if, after hearing El-Sayed speak, he thought he would bring Sharia law to the US.

    No, the man said. I dont.

    El-Sayeds rsum and progressive bonafides are nearly impeccable. He is a Rhodes Scholar, a doctor, formerly a professor at an Ivy League university (where he wrote the textbook for his class) and is the former director for the health department in Detroit, the youngest in any major city. Hes only 32 years old, and would be the youngest governor since Bill Clinton in 1978. He will also become a father for the first time in less than three months.

    He has pledged to take no corporate Pac money and is unabashedly disdainful of big money influencing elections, calling corporate campaign contributions bribes. He has pledged universal healthcare to all Michiganders if it fails on the federal level, says he will push to legalize marijuana and says he will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and make Michigan a sanctuary state: as a spokesman puts it, he is unwilling to waste state taxpayer money to enforce federal lawthat would rob small businesses of hardworking employees and tear apart families.

    And he has a real chance of winning. A year ahead of the Democratic primary, he has raised more than $1m, Bernie Sanders style, through individual donations despite little name recognition or support from the establishment Democratic party in the state. His campaign is lithe and muscular, knocking on tens of thousands of doors already.

    Maybe most importantly, El-Sayed has a rhetorical style and charisma that draws easy comparisons to a young Barack Obama, his events often inexplicably packed. At a campaign event in Ann Arbor one woman, Tamanika Terry Seward, said: I think the last time I sat there and gave that kind of smirk is when I first heard Obama in Chicago, when he was running for senator.

    Michigan is ready for change. Flints water was just poisoned by the state government in what is likely the largest environmental disaster of the 21st century so far. And according to a study from the Center for Michigan, public trust in state government has never been lower, with staggering numbers like 80% of people mistrusting the government in areas like education.

    El-Sayeds personality, policies and campaign apparatus are clearly large enough to overcome Islamophobia in the state a decade ago, who would have thought the president of the US would have been black and bear the middle name of Hussein, and the mayor of Detroit, the blackest city in the nation, would be white?

    The question becomes: can he overcome the cynicism and distain for current politics tearing the US apart?

    El-Sayeds campaign staff is young, fun and smart. Political stickers slapped on laptops are ubiquitous, staffers hail from Harvard and other elite institutions, and the campaign on the whole seems incredibly diverse and well run.

    After chatting for a few moments with campaign interns, I ran into two of them in the bathroom. One, a Muslim, was washing his feet in the sink before praying. Another, pierced and dyed and queer, washed his hands in the sink directly next.

    The campaign, reflected in his staff, is a reflection of a different America to the one hailed by the alt-right pluralistic and diverse .

    Abdul El-Sayed of Detroit talks to campaign volunteers during a cookout in Ann Arbor, Mich. Photograph: Sean Work for the Guardian

    El-Sayed himself reflects this, bouncing between subjects in casual conversations in a campaign vehicle en route to speak to voters at polling places for a primary election in Detroit. We talk about the percentage of C-sections and Shakespeare, and he makes uproarious jokes likely never to be seen in public like faux campaign slogans (the Egyptian Prescription).

    But El-Sayed can also be deadly serious and ferociously passionate about Americas political reality, speaking with barbs in a way nearly unheard of from the mouths of politicians who hedge and weasel.

    Im trying to remind people why the system is built the way it is, and that it has been corrupted by a very small, very powerful, very rich group of people, who have fundamentally bought out our politicians, he said. I dont think our forefathers were imagining huge corporate behemoths that were not aligned to anything but a quarterly bottom line of some amorphous group of stockholders, who would then be ruled as having the rights of people, and then be able to either, up front of behind closed doors, buy out our politicians to create a system of politics that was not beholden to anything but corporate bottom lines.

    The turnout in Detroits primary election that day was just over 10%, heavily favoring the incumbent mayoral candidate awash in big money. I asked El-Sayed if he would rather win with corporate money or lose without it. He replied the latter.

    Many of his staffers are veterans of the Sanders campaign, and his funding structure is remarkably similar. Hes also running on his conscience, not trying to reverse engineer a candidate with polls testing opinions or policies.

    Where Sanders failed, though he never broke from a laser focus on economics or really addressed inequalities brought by race and gender El-Sayed embraces those challenges, represents them even.

    The electorate [in Michigan] doesnt know what it wants, but it wants something different, his campaign manager, Max Glass, said. I wouldnt have taken this race if I didnt think we could win.

    The other, less comfortable, comparison is to Trump. El-Sayed is an outsider candidate who speaks his mind, with no elected political experience aside from his appointment as health director of Detroit. In many ways, hes the other side of the same coin, a populist candidate in a populist time.

    A fan of hip-hop, El-Sayed played a song late one night coming home from a campaign event. In vulgar terms, the song, America by Logic, decries racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, police brutality and other modern ills, a sort of 21st-century Mississippi Goddamn.

    This is the best line in the song, he said turning the music up ever so slightly.

    Dont run from Trump, it went. Run against him.

    Running against Trump a president who touted a Muslim travel ban as one of his policies poses its logistical challenges.

    The location of the campaign office is a guarded secret, and many staffers have had to speak with their families about potential danger before starting their jobs.

    Since April 2013, there have been 370 hate incidents directed at US mosques and Muslim community centers. In 2015 alone, there were 257 anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US, according to the FBI. And in Michigan, the village president of Kalkaska, a small town in the north, has called for the death of Muslims, all, every last one. He still sits in office.

    As much of El-Sayeds public persona and story revolves around his multicultural family, I went to visit some of them including his step-grandparents, whom he lived with during college at the University of Michigan; his parents, and his wife. I asked them if they were worried about the candidates safety.

    Abdul El-Sayed and his wife, Sarah Jukaku, at a cookout in Ann Arbor. Photograph: Sean Work for the Guardian

    His father, a high-ranking auto engineer who worked on the first automobile optimized using computers, spoke to me in a coffee house in Dearborn, a city often said to be the center of Arab America. An occasional imam, he twisted a straw wrapper in his fingers, nervous, and seemed both unused to speaking with the press yet holding a sense of duty to do so.

    Are we scared about him? If he goes out and fights injustice, even if he gives his life for that, as long as hes trying to do the right thing and fight injustice and bring justice to somebodys life were all going to die one day, he said, his voice becoming solemn, almost sad. To die for a cause is better than to die in your bed.

    His step-grandparents, who are white, shared the same fears yet the same determination. Their house was decorated with a shower curtain printed with a map of the world and a needlepoint Christian manger scene below large family photographs of women wearing hijabs.

    His stepmother remarked the family wasnt focusing much on the danger, but rather looking toward the possibility.

    He wont do it alone, but he can change politics, his stepmother said. I think hes already doing it. He goes up north and sits down with people that look like his grandpa, and they dont know that. But then they have this conversation, and this is the first Muslim person theyve ever met.

    People are seeing someone for the first time, theyre not seeing a cartoon, theyre seeing a real person.

    One woman said, after hearing El-Sayed speak at a Democratic event in Oakland County: You just won my heart. All you have to do is drive around and talk like you did today, and you will win this state.

    At a candidate forum in Flint, where the water is still not drinkable according to many residents, El-Sayed seemed to make a big splash. Although some were still concerned about his electability, nearly every single person I spoke with said they would vote for El-Sayed if the primary was held the next day.

    Im running for the future of my child, El-Sayed said to me on multiple occasions during the week I spent with him. That proposition is becoming more immediate every day: his wife is six months along.

    I think making a bold statement, when a lot of people feel like you should be afraid … can be inspiring, said his wife, Sara. I think its easy and comfortable to sit on the sidelines, to worry or to completely just turn off whats going on in the world. If you can make a difference, I do think its a responsibility.

    Its also reflected in the way El-Sayed speaks, rapidly and with confidence, as if hes trying to bowl the listener over with facts and stories and pathos, as if hes trying to get all the information in before some great catastrophic change to our semi-peaceful way of life squashes his opportunity, his childs and ours.

    Hes a man who believes politics can be changed, repaired even. His is a story at least as old as the United States, about a person who believes what we were taught in grade school: that all people are created equal, that change can come, that we can live up to our ideals.

    No matter the outcome, said El-Sayed, we will have won if we can change politics.

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