Tabula Rasa in Saudi Arabia

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Images of the reception of members of the Saudi royal family and other dignitaries, exchanging loyalty and complicity, were boring, but the purge of last weekend in Riyadh may end all this. Could the young crown prince be Saudi’s form of populism? We do not know. We also don’t know if the announced reforms will stop the cruelty and discrimination of a regime that can only be compared to North Korea. What we do know is that the change in Saudi Arabia might shake the world.

  

When the world was focused on North Korea and the Pacific, fearing an escalation of the nuclear crisis, a bomb exploded at the other end of the globe–in the middle of the desert. President Trump was in the air, traveling to Japan on the first leg of his 12-day Asian tour when a massive purge began deep in the Riyadh night. The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, ordered the arrest of some of the most powerful and recognizable names in the country, including princes and members of the Saudi royal family, cabinet ministers, media and industry untouchables, government officials. The detainees, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a wealthy investor who owns major stakes in such companies as Twitter and Citigroup, were all locked up in Riyadh’s luxury hotels.

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U.S.- China Relations

A Bygone America Hosted in the Forbidden City’s 21st Century

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Barbarians

We all expected Trump’s visit to China to be historic and important. As shown, it was a mistaken assumption. The visit was banal and without suspense. The hope is that somebody else, the people called sherpas, did more serious work than these two bad performers.

When Donald Trump landed in Beijing he was greeted by Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City. We saw the presidential couple visit some of the palaces, roam the huge Imperial complex, and have a tea and chat before sitting for the dinner. There were very few people around Trump and Xi and their spouses. The huge empty spaces within the palace must have been unpleasant for Trump, who enjoys crowds so much, while the Chinese leader, on the other hand, considers the solitude an imperial privilege. But it was the utmost the host could offer his American guest with his Slovenian wife. Nevermind that no previous Chinese guest was received in the Forbidden city. They all visited it, but the Chinese leader never appeared with the foreign guest in the palace that during the Empire was banned to foreign barbarians. It was us, the “foreign devils” who started to call the Gugong (故宫, The Old Palace) the Forbidden City. It never was forbidden to Trump, apparently.

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U.S.- China Relations

Slices for America

By Andrej Mrevlje |
The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S McCain after a collision, in Singapore waters on August 21, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Ahmad Masood

While President Trump is traveling on his Asian tour, he will be visiting China for the first time. Pointing out some of the intricacies of the U.S.–China relationship will make following this visit more interesting.

Twenty-one years ago, when Taiwan was about to hold its first presidential election, China flexed its military muscles by holding a series of military exercises and firing missiles close to the Taiwanese coast. The U.S. deployed an aircraft carrier group to international waters near Taiwan, signifying imminent battle. That silenced the Chinese and let the Taiwanese vote. From then on, almost every conversation on growing Chinese military power ended with a simple conclusion: stop the Chinese from any belligerent action with the two American aircraft carriers positioned in the Taiwan Strait. They would be enough not only to prevent the Chinese from attacking Taiwan but could win an entire war against China.

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Trump Era

The Situation at Trump Tower

By Andrej Mrevlje |

This was my seventh visit to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York since its owner was elected 45th President of the United States. My visits are not a pilgrimage, but reporting trips into the cave of the enemy.

First, there is curiosity. Until what moment and to what extent will the tower stay open and accessible to the public? In my previous visits, things looked pretty bad. There was a growing number of metal barriers around the building, occasionally closing parts of 5th Avenue to traffic and pedestrians (demonstrators). Worst of all was the huge sanitation trucks loaded with sand that is supposed to block any terrorist car bombers. On these occasions, I did not try to enter the building. The huge trucks gave me a sense of claustrophobia I normally do not experience. Besides, those trucks were nonsense, since a potential car bomber would never have a chance to approach the building by driving through the narrow and trafficked streets of Manhattan. Normally, a terrorist attack of that kind would require great momentum before its explosion, and would, therefore, be stopped well before reaching Trump’s doorstep.

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The Forgotten Parks of D.C.

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

Washington D.C. is an elegant city. It is smooth and soft-spoken. It’s clean and well kept, possibly because most of the residential buildings in the city are family townhouses. Low, two, three-storey buildings spread the city out, creating the impression Washington is bigger than it is. Sparse-density urbanity evokes the pastoral, idyllic way of life, whilst turning the corner might be enough to be immersed in a hip, cranky street, one that distinguishes the predominantly young population of the city from its more traditional aspects.

Another spice of this city: a southern flavor and mindset which melts away the stress that in New York is the elixir of life. For the skeptics and outsiders who have the impression that DC is dormant, unsexy and boring, there is an answer in rediscovering the pleasure of wonder, that effort of finding, instead of just being served. There, of course, is one big thing that Washington leaves a visitor wanting. In this flat land of large spaces, walking, and biking, one misses the squares and public areas where people can gather and hang out. There are no piazzas, the lifeblood of the urban community, a comfort for humanity from the times of polis and the Etruscans.

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America

Who owns Donald Trump?

By Andrej Mrevlje |
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY THE DAILY BEAST

Often unshaven and underslept, his hair messy and unwashed looking, 63-year-old Steve Bannon doesn’t look his age. In an attempt to hide his oversized stomach, he wears two layers of untucked, large shirts. Bannon it seems still wants to appear a rebel, a nonconformist, a dude. “A mile-a-minute talker who thrums with energy, his sentences speed off ahead of him and spin out into great pileups of nouns, verbs, and grins,” Joshua Green, his biographer, described him.

But his marginal political stature morphed into a bronze statue once the country learned it was he who put Donald Trump into the Oval Office, propelling him from Breitbart newsroom to chief strategist in the White House. Before long, the other generals within the ranks of the government pushed him out–first out of the National Security Council, then out of the White House. Regardless, Steve Bannon’s posture remained intact; his raggamuffin appearance belies a  military mind, conservative Catholic values, and staunch nationalism.

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Self-determination

A Tale of Two Referendums

By Andrej Mrevlje |

December 23, 1990, was a murky, drizzly day in Ljubljana. One would prefer to stay indoors reading a book, watching a movie, or cooking for friends. Perhaps decorating a Christmas tree. Instead, the entire population was on its feet, taking part in the vote on the independence of the Republic of Slovenia, at the time an integral part of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. Hands hesitated with heavy responsibility before casting the ballot; we all knew that little gesture would make history, but the vote was also a step toward uncertainty. Such fear comes with the freedom to decide.

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America

White Men and their Guns

By Andrej Mrevlje |

This is a short note on the horrific killing in Las Vegas, where 64-year-old Stephen Paddock moved into the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, together with his 23 guns, and three days later killed 59 and injured around 500 people. Apparently, he needed about 11 suitcases to move his arsenal into the suite. He probably was cleaning and oiling his guns before he arranged them on the tables in front of the two windows that covered the area of the concerts, where country music played to 22,000 people packed into the square at the moment of the massacre. Even on that night, Paddock did not need to aim his guns, he was studying and rehearsing how to kill as many people as possible in the shortest time. Paddock was evil, but he was not crazy; he was scientific in everything he did. How he set security cameras outside of his suite and in the lock of the door tells you that Paddock had a method. He was almost as meticulous as the murderer of the JFK.

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History of Thought

Mnemonic Discipline

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Portraits des missionnaires jésuites Matteo Ricci, Johann Adam Schall von Bell et Ferdinand Verbiest dans la Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique, et physique de l’empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise, 1735, par Jean Baptiste du Halde.

Recently, Aeon.com published a piece called “This ancient mnemonic technique builds a palace of memory.” I pricked my ears when I read “memory palace.” The last time– according to my memory– this notion was used was more than 500 years ago.

Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit who arrived in China in 1583, had mastered the Chinese language by 1596. He was able to discuss his theory on memory and teach the Chinese people mnemonic techniques. In his little book on the art of memory, he explains in Chinese how to build a memory palace:

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China

Xi Jinping’s March on China

By Andrej Mrevlje |

On October 18, the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party begins in Beijing. It is an uneventful and dull meeting and yet, since this gathering will choose a new leadership that will lead the country for next five years, the Congress is considered the political event of the year.   

The proceedings of the Congress, however, are not at all transparent. It is for this reason that past Congresses have been compared to the Conclave, that unique gathering of the princes of the Church, the Cardinals, convened in Rome every time there is a need to select a new Pope. Except that the close-mouthed meetings behind the sealed doors of the Sistine Chapel, where the cardinals discuss the matters of the Church before they cast their secret ballots, can be, compared to the election of Chinese Party secretary, considered an authentic democratic process.

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