Kansas City Clergyman Seeks Way To Pastor Across The Political Divide

The Rev. Adam Hamilton preaches to the congregation at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection outside of Kansas City. The multi-campus church with a membership of more than 20,000 is the largest Methodist church in the U.S. Courtesy of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

Clergy across the country are sermonizing about events in Washington, D.C.

For Rev. Adam Hamilton, that is both a challenge and an obligation.

Hamilton founded the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas in 1990, hoping to attract what he describes as thinking Christians with little or no engagement with their faith. The congregation began meeting in the chapel of a funeral home.

Today, it’s a multi-campus church with a membership of more than 20,000. It’s the biggest Methodist church in the country, and it has been cited as one of the most influential churches in America.

The new sanctuary that’s about to open at the main campus just outside Kansas City hosts the largest single stained glass window in the world.

Hamilton tells NPR’s Robert Siegel he didn’t set out to claim that record. But he did set out to build a church that will serve as a house of worship for a century, if not more.

“We’ll baptize 30,000 babies in here,” he says. “We’ll give 30,000 children their third-grade Bibles. This congregation over the next 100 years will give away 50,000 units of blood, 10 million pounds of food. And over the next 100 years, we’ll give between $4.5 and $6.5 billion to ministries outside the walls of our church.”

Article continues after sponsorship

Hamilton is in the midst of a series of sermons he calls “Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope.”

On Sunday, his focus will be fear related to the direction of our country. He will touch on President Trump’s executive action temporarily barring refugees and citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.

“So part of it’s just dealing with fear,” Hamilton says. “You know, our fear of President Trump, our fear of the whirlwind of activity – so if you tend to be left-of-center, there’s a great deal of fear there – and I want to address that and say, ‘We need to be a careful about overreacting, and being people who are stirring up fear.’ “

Interview Highlights

On Trump’s executive actions on immigration

One of the things that struck me was that President Trump was doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he was running for office. And it was clear to me that a lot of people would feel safer because of this.

I didn’t personally feel safer. I think, I felt this adds to a perception of America that might further support the feelings of more radical jihadists who would say well, “Here America’s showing its true stripes.” … But I can understand why some people would feel that way.

On the decision to talk about refugees in his sermon

Well, I knew actually as of Friday night (Jan. 27) that I would be saying something, but I chose not to address it in church immediately after that on Sunday because I felt like I didn’t know enough yet. And I had people who were disappointed that I didn’t talk about it in church immediately after that.

And part of my thinking was, “If every time President Trump issues an executive order that I might question on Friday, I change my sermon to preach out about it, I’m going to be preaching about President Trump every Sunday for the next four years.”

And our congregation is divided. We have some folks who are Trump supporters. We have folks who were not Trump supporters. The Trump supporters [are] like, “Please don’t talk politics every Sunday. Don’t bring your personal opinions into the sermon every week.” And other folks are like, “Why aren’t you speaking out? Why aren’t you saying something?”

On what he plans for his next sermon

I will also be speaking specifically about refugees, so I’ll be reminding them of what the Scriptures say about the refugee, the immigrant, the alien in your midst. What does the Bible teach us about how we react to people who are in troubled situations? You know, what does it mean to be concerned for those who can’t speak up for themselves? Then let’s ask the question, how would Jesus define greatness? If we’re really trying to be a nation that is great.

The new sanctuary that’s about to open at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection’s main campus has the largest single stained glass window in the world. Courtesy of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

On how he feels speaking to a divided congregation

When you have a congregation like ours that’s divided on both sides of the political spectrum and conservative, progressive and a whole lot of people in between, the question is how do I continue to be pastor for all of these people? And how do I help them hear each other?

I mean, part of the challenge in the last presidential election for Democrats is they were tone deaf to the concerns of people who were on the right, and lost an election they thought they had in the bag. And I think that’s true in the congregation. That I’ve got to be able to understand why are some people saying, “Finally, we’ve got a president who’s doing something,” while other people are fearful and saying or angry and saying, “We have to go protest.”

I want help both sides be able to hear the legitimate and sometimes not necessarily legitimate concerns of the other. My aim is not to see 40 percent of my congregation walk away saying, “I don’t know if I want to come back.” And I’ve said to pastors across the country, I’ve said, “It’s easy to irritate people. It’s harder to influence people.”

My hope is that I’ve influenced people on both sides to come together and find out, OK what’s reasonable, what makes sense, and then what is in keeping with the Gospel. How does where we go, you know, when we walk out of the church and are thinking about this, influenced by our faith in Christ?

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Tift Merritt On World Cafe

Tift Merritt performs in the World Cafe studio. Galea McGregor/WXPN hide caption

toggle caption

Galea McGregor/WXPN

  • “Dusty Old Man”
  • “Heartache Is An Uphill Climb”
  • “Wait For Me”
  • “Love Soldiers On”
  • “Bramble Rose”

North Carolina singer-songwriter Tift Merritt arrived at our session with her new daughter, Jean, in tow. Jean’s one of at least three new things in her life: She also has a new album, Stitch Of The World, and a new partner in pedal-steel guitarist Eric Heywood.

Merritt wrote most of Stitch Of The World while pregnant. “I have always been very anxious and careful about how motherhood would affect what I do,” she says. She needn’t have worried, though: The album, which she produced with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine, may be Merritt’s best work yet. Her World Cafe performance, particularly the song “Heartache Is An Uphill Climb,” is extraordinary. Hear it via the complete session in the player above and check out the video below.

VuHaus VuHaus

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Is Trump Tweeting From a 'Secure' Smartphone? The White House Won't Say

President Trump gives a thumbs up as he speaks on the phone in the Oval Office on Jan. 29. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

For some time, the public has known that Donald Trump does a lot of his tweeting himself, from the account @realDonaldTrump, and from an Android smartphone. But many cybersecurity experts believed that would change once Trump took the oath of office, because White House-approved communication devices are much more secured — and stripped down — than the smartphones the rest of us use.

In fact, former President Barack Obama once compared his official White House smartphone to a child’s toy. “It doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text,” Obama told Jimmy Fallon in 2016. “The phone doesn’t work. You can’t play your music on it. So, basically, it’s like — does your 3-year-old have one of those play phones?”

A few recent reports indicate that President Trump might still be tweeting from his old Android, and he may not even be following all the security protocols he should.

Unsecure smartphone

Soon after Trump’s inauguration, an enterprising hacker found that Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account was still tied to the Gmail account of a staffer, a move seen as insecure. (The account now seems to be connected to more official and secure White House email accounts.) And a January article in The New York Times reported that Trump continues to tweet from an “old, unsecured Android phone.”

Several cybersecurity experts told NPR, if that’s the case, it’s not good.

“Donald Trump for the longest time has been using a insecure Android phone that by all reports is so easy to compromise, it would not meet the security requirements of a teenager,” says Nicholas Weaver, a computer scientist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Article continues after sponsorship

Weaver doesn’t have any first-hand knowledge of the security standards on Trump’s phone. But he says knowing that a sitting president has an insecure Android, “we must assume that his phone has actively been compromised for a while, and a actively compromised phone is literally a listening device.”

Other cybersecurity experts didn’t offer predictions that dire, but half a dozen of them told NPR that if Trump is still using an unsecured Android, even if only to tweet, malware could infiltrate the phone’s camera or microphone, or even use geolocation to tell hackers the president’s whereabouts.

Melanie Teplinsky, a privacy expert at American University, says even without those worst-case scenarios, just hacking into Trump’s Twitter account alone could wreak havoc.

“Another concern is that someone tries to influence stock markets or politics through the use of a Twitter account by making false posts,” she says.

No comment

NPR reached out the White House for comment on Trump’s tweeting and smartphone use. We asked a few questions:

  1. Is Trump tweeting from a secured device?
  2. Are those reports of Trump using an old, unsecured Android true?
  3. Is the Trump administration following all the cybersecurity protocols it should?

The administration gave no answers to those questions, and no confirmation or denial of all those reports that Trump is using an unsecured device. But deputy White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tells NPR, “We don’t comment on security protocols of any kind.”

The absence of a clear statement from the White House on the security of Trump’s communications, matched with the continued reports of unsecured smartphone use, has led some to accuse Trump of hypocrisy.

“He and so many during the campaign were so critical of Secretary (Hillary) Clinton for what they felt were inappropriate practices,” says Michael Sulmeyer, director of the Cyber Security Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “And it really is the height of hypocrisy to … on day one, be doubling down on the exact type of behavior they had no problem riling up the base with.”

Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, says: “If President Trump is carrying around an unsecured Android phone, that’s 1,000 times worse than using a personal email server.”

Seeking solutions

To ensure that President Trump can tweet securely, he’d have to use a smartphone that “cannot speak on the general Internet,” Weaver says. “It has to basically cut itself off from the rest of the world to be secure.”

But Bill Anderson, CEO of security firm OptioLabs, says there might be another option: Security professionals in the federal government should use this moment to find a way for security and technology to keep up with the Tweeter-in-Chief.

“I think the challenge is for the security people that are supporting White House communications to improve their capability to secure the platform,” Anderson told NPR. “That platform could let him tweet and yet not be at risk. So, they need to catch up with what you can actually do with technology, not just say ‘no.’ “

Rubin says, in that regard, Twitter could help. “If I were Twitter,” he says, “I would set up a separate, encrypted channel that I would give all of the credentials and the keys to the president to use.”

A spokesperson for Twitter said the company doesn’t comment on individual accounts.

But Rubin imagines a verification system created by the White House and the company, in which Twitter would confirm each @realDonaldTrump tweet before it was sent. But Rubin points out, that strategy would only secure the president’s Twitter account; it would do nothing to change the vulnerabilities of an old Android smartphone.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Frank Ocean's Father Accuses Singer Of Libel, Seeks Damages In An Unusual Lawsuit

Frank Ocean attends the Costume Institute Gala for the “PUNK: Chaos to Couture” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013. Jamie McCarthy/Getty hide caption

toggle caption

Jamie McCarthy/Getty

In a suit filed yesterday in the Central District of California, Calvin Cooksey — representing himself in the case — has accused Frank Ocean of libel over a blog post published on Ocean’s Tumblr. The post, a reaction to the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando last summer, outlines a scene in a diner in which Cooksey disparaged LGBTQ persons after being served by a transgender waitress, then dragged the 6-year-old Ocean (now 29) out of the restaurant. Cooksey is seeking $14.5 million in the case, which he says damaged his entertainment career. Cooksey is also Frank Ocean’s father.

The suit’s initial filings are rife with circuitous logic and bizarre language. Cooksey says he “never had a problem with any member of the ‘LBGT’ [sic] in Plaintiff’s life, with the acceptation [sic] of Defendant” — a statement which may contradict Cooksey’s claim of holding no discriminatory views, the basis of his suit. Cooksey accuses Ocean of hypocrisy stemming from Ocean’s relationship with Tyler, the Creator, whom Cooksey says also should have been accused of homophobia in the offending Tumblr post due to lyrics of Tyler’s that could be interpreted as homophobic. Cooksey writes:

Text from a lawsuit filed by Calvin Cooksey. Central District Court of California hide caption

toggle caption

Central District Court of California

Prior to that, Cooksey apologizes for Ocean’s sins:

Text from a lawsuit filed by Calvin Cooksey. Central District Court of California hide caption

toggle caption

Central District Court of California

Cooksey accuses Ocean of deceiving the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization, as well as Ellen DeGeneres — a “very good dancer” — based on Ocean’s supposedly hypocritical relationship with Tyler.

Article continues after sponsorship

A New York Times profile from 2013 references Ocean’s frayed relationship with Cooksey, writing that “his father split without explanation when he was 6, and Ocean would say nothing about that to me other than that his dad was a failed musician who ‘went crazy’ and made questionable hairstyle choices.”

Cooksey also sued Russell Simmons, co-founder of the legendary hip-hop label Def Jam, for libel, defamation and emotional distress in 2014. That case was dismissed by Judge Loretta A. Preska that same year, and is currently on appeal.

A request for comment from Ocean’s management was not immediately returned.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

For Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, The Best Super Bowl Title Is 'Always The Next One'

Want to know a secret about Tom Brady? Ask his Dad.

“Tommy is a football player,” says Tom Brady Sr. “This is not a July-January or February endeavor for him. He has a countdown clock in his gym that is now ticking to next year’s Super Bowl.”

That’s what Brady Sr. told the CSN “Quick Slants” podcast about a countdown clock his son started roughly a year ago. The timepiece is a glimpse into the focus, drive and preparation that makes his son arguably the best quarterback ever.

For Tom Brady Jr., it’s all about winning Super Bowls. He will play for his fifth title this Sunday in Super Bowl 51.

Says Brady, “My favorite? Always the next one has been my favorite one.”

Tom Brady grew up in a tight-knit, athletic family. One that honed his competitiveness and drive.

Growing up, the quarterback remembers that his three older sisters were, he says, “the best athletes in my house.” And he lived in the shadow of their sports success. Before Tom Brady was Tom Brady, he was often called “The Little Brady” or “Maureen Brady’s Little Brother.”

During Super Bowl week, the family’s closeness has been evident. Brady teared up talking about his father. And it’s come out that his mother isn’t well.

“You just have different things that your family goes through in the course of your life,” says Brady. “It’s been a challenging year for my family for some personal reasons. It will be nice to have everyone here, watching us here this weekend.”

The family watched “The Little Brady” fight his way up quarterback depth charts in high school, then at the University of Michigan, then with the Patriots.

Brady on the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 22, 2017 in Foxborough, Mass. (Elsa/Getty Images)

After 17 seasons, Brady is now the superstar with the supermodel wife. The sixth-round pick who — along with Patriots coach Bill Belichick — built an NFL dynasty. Along the way, Brady’s inspired both love and hate among fans and opponents.

“Success breeds jealousy,” says former Brady teammate Damien Woody. “Think about it. You’re talking about a player who’s been to the Super Bowl like 50 percent of his career. Think how crazy that is.”

Woody, an NFL analyst with ESPN, gives, perhaps, the most charitable explanation of why Brady’s not more universally adored.

But there’s more to it than that. Like Brady’s relationship with President Donald Trump.

It all started with a bright red “Make America Great Again” cap that Brady had in his locker. And it’s made for some awkward moments during the Patriots current playoff run. Even some Patriots fans took offense at Brady going red in the bluest of blue states.

Asked by sports radio WEEI if he congratulated the new president on his election win, Brady had this to say: “Ummm… I have called him. Yes, in the past. Sometimes he calls me. Sometimes I call him.

“I always try to keep it in context. Because for 16 years you know someone before maybe he was in the position that he was in. He’s been very supportive of me for a long time. So, it’s just a friendship and I got a lot of friends so I call a lot of people.”

And then there’s Deflategate.

Brady’s alleged deflating of footballs in a playoff game cost him a four-game suspension at the start of this season, and earned him a cheater label. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the punishment and instantly became Public Enemy No. 1 among Patriots fans who considered the Deflategate affair a witch hunt.

When asked by reporters if the Defategate fallout provides extra motivation to win a fifth ring, Brady is as calm and composed as he is on the field.

“I’m motivated for my teammates,” says Brady. “I think they’re all the motivation that I need. It takes a lot of work to get to this point and nothing that has happened in the past is going to help us win this game.”

Woody says it’s all a long way from where Brady’s NFL career began in 2000.

“I saw this tall, lanky kid who didn’t really have a lot of muscle build,” says Woody. “And you really didn’t know what to expect at that time.”

But it didn’t take Brady long to win the respect and trust of teammates, like former linebacker Willie McGinest.

“When he’s on the field, he creates that zone and he pulls everyone into that,” says McGinest, now an analyst for the NFL Network. “You can’t play around. It’s all business. He’s having fun, but it’s a mission for him. It’s like every single play he’s trying to prove something, every single snap, everything that happens, it’s like it’s his last play.”

Brady smiles after the Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans in 2002. (Doug Mills/AP)Brady smiles after the Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans in 2002. (Doug Mills/AP)

Recalling the game-winning drive in Super Bowl 36 against the St. Louis Rams, Woody remembers Brady’s demeanor most, especially since the quarterback had earned the starting job just a few months earlier.

“I just remember Brady coming into the huddle just so calm,” says Woody. “You’re on the biggest stage of your life and for him to be that calm. It just brought a calmness to the whole huddle and we just methodically went down the field. It was almost like he was born for that moment.”

Brady’s play in that game earned him the first of four Super Bowl rings and the first of three Super Bowl MVP awards. Brady also has two league MVP awards and has won more playoff games than any other quarterback.

Fans see it as testament to both Brady’s talent and longevity. The 39 year old follows a strict diet that bans sugar, white flour, MSG, dairy and caffeine.

Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden says Brady’s just as strict and disciplined with his training.

“He’s never taken his foot off the gas,” says Layden, who recently wrote about Brady’s connection with his receivers in a Sports Illustrated cover story. “Maybe he just likes winning. But I also think he likes continuing to prove to people that he’s better than some people thought he was at one time. Of course, now, in 2017, he has the windmill to tilt at of Roger Goodell, having taken four games away from him and Brady thinking that was unjust. And that’s given him another cause to battle.”

And given us another reason to wonder just what might happen if the Patriots win Super Bowl 51, and Goodell and Brady have to share the stage during the post-game trophy ceremonies.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Getting To Know The Controversial 'Mayor Of Mogadishu'

Mohamud Nur and his children spent years in London before he returned to Somalia. The above photo is from 1993. Courtesy of Shamis Nur hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Shamis Nur

In 2000 Andrew Harding became sub-Saharan Africa correspondent for the BBC, based in Nairobi. Soon he was making regular trips to one of the most perilous corners of the continent: Somalia. Wracked by war, famine and clan-based strife since the early 1990s, the country would soon be assailed by a new menace: Al Shabab, a radical Islamist terrorist group.

A decade and many trips later, a fortuitous meeting in Mogadishu with Mohamud “Tarzan” Nur, a street-smart Somali orphan turned London-based activist, led Harding to his first book, The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia. The narrative pieces together Nur’s astonishing biography and follows him when he became mayor in 2010 and tried to restore confidence and bring back investment to the battered Somali capital. (He got his nickname from a teacher at his school who found him hiding half-naked in a tree outside his dorm room when he should have been at breakfast.)

Article continues after sponsorship

Harding is now based in Johannesburg, where he works part-time for the BBC. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’re one of a handful of Western correspondents who’ve been in and out of Somalia on a regular basis for the past decade. At what point did you consider writing a book about it?

I always thought about this access that I had as being something special and that it might be the source of a book. But when I started to get to know Tarzan, I realized that there was a much better book to be done than an account of my 15 years covering Somalia. Tarzan’s story took over the project.

What was it about him that appealed to you?

He was this larger-than-life character, and drama seemed to gather around him. He speaks English and he has a Western veneer, which makes him talk in very accessible style. He said “yes” to the project without preconditions, and I knew almost immediately that he meant it. He was a man unafraid of speaking to journalists, unafraid of speaking the truth. I realized here is a guy whom I could dig into and I would not be facing death threats, or legal threats.

Mohamud Nur clears garbage in Mogadishu in 2015. Courtesy of Abdirashid Salah hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Abdirashid Salah

You rapidly establish Tarzan as somebody who plays fast-and-loose with his own biography, and later on suggest that as Mogadishu’s mayor, he was quite corrupt. Did this tarnish the experience of writing about him?

Frankly, as somebody trying to write a book rather than an article, I was delighted by his ambiguities, delighted when I realized that there were big question marks about his life. A lot of Somalis have said, “Why have you written about that scumbag?” I don’t think he is a scumbag. I would much rather write about someone with murky areas and complexities, particularly when I’m trying to write about a country as murky and complex as Somalia. I didn’t want a pure hero.

What did Nur do to restore confidence?

He became this catalytic figure — an enabler — someone who could cut through the bureaucracy and the corruption. And foreign governments like Britain could see that. So it was the mayor’s office that oversaw the erection of solar powered street lights — which transformed the city. And clearing the accumulated rubbish of 20 years, too.

Most journalistic accounts of Somalia focus on the post-1991 apocalypse, but you present a detailed portrait of the country during its peaceful, Italian-inflected heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. What drew you to that period?

I was infinitely more interested in the extraordinary past of Somalia than in the stuff that I already had already reported on a lot. When one digs into the past and understands how optimistic and successful [Somalia] was in the 1960s and 1970s, one starts to care about the place.

How difficult was it to report this book in Somalia?

What’s been interesting is the way that one discovers how to operate, to report, to survive in Mogadishu. On the streets, you have to work incredibly fast. You keep your movements unpredictable, never stay on the streets for more than a few minutes, listen closely to your security and not spend too much time with people who are likely to be targets. I spent very little time under Tarzan’s protection — a few evenings, a few trips around town when he was mayor. Tarzan was a target, and to travel around with him was dangerous.

Any close calls?

Once I went with Tarzan to settle a dispute with some soldiers who had set up an illegal checkpoint on the edge of town. On the way back, we split from the mayor’s convoy, and minutes later, his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb. The soldiers at the rear of the convoy were killed. When you’re in an armored car the sound outside is muffled, so we didn’t hear about it until we got back to our base.

Mogadishu is still a dangerous, highly unstable place. What did Tarzan manage to accomplish during his time as Mayor?

His legacy still depends on what happens in the next few years. If Somalia continues with its uneven progress, I think that he’s the guy who set the scene for the return of the diaspora, for the possibility of proper government in Mogadishu and an end to anarchy. But if it collapses again his achievements will mean very little.

What was his reaction to the book?

I don’t think he has yet finished reading it. He’s not a reader, nor is his wife. I know some passages moved him intensely — particularly the stuff about his childhood — and his children told me that they discovered so much more about their father. They had no idea their parents had, more or less, eloped.

I know there will be elements that he’s unhappy with, but as a politician he will take the fact that he’s had a book written about him as plus.

What’s he up to now?

He is one of about a dozen candidates for the presidency of Somalia, though his chances are very slim. I think he acknowledges it. By all accounts, this is very corrupt process and he doesn’t have money behind him.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Wonderful Tonight: Taking Kim Jong Un's brother to a Clapton concert

By James Pearson

Two years ago, Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador in London, received an unexpected phone call from the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee in Pyongyang telling him to get ready to receive a very important e-mail.

“Please go to the Albert Hall and buy four tickets,” said the cryptic message from a disposable e-mail address designed to throw off Western intelligence agencies.

But the message wasn’t code – Thae found out later he was being asked to take leader Kim Jong Un’s brother to an Eric Clapton concert.

After receiving the e-mail, Thae said he searched online for upcoming gigs at London’s Royal Albert Hall. One caught his eye: “Eric Clapton’s 70th Birthday Celebration Tour”.

“I realized, ‘Ah! It must be Kim Jong Chol! In North Korea who else would be interested but Kim Jong Chol?'”.

Not much is known about Kim Jong Chol, the elder brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, except his love for the music of British guitarist Eric Clapton.

Thae, who defected from North Korea to the South last year, said he was charged with escorting Kim around London when he arrived for the concert. In an interview in Seoul on Friday, he described the then 35-year-old as a polite young man who said little about his life back in Pyongyang or the politics of his brother.

“He’s very free,” said Thae. “But he’s only interested in guitars and music”.

Video of Kim at the May, 2015 concert showed him clad in a leather jacket and wearing aviator sunglasses with an unknown woman by his side, believed at the time to have been his girlfriend.

“She’s not his girlfriend,” said Thae. She was a rhythm guitarist from the “Moranbong Band” – a North Korean pop group formed by Kim Jong Un after he took power.

Just like Clapton, Kim Jong Chol is an accomplished lead guitarist and jams regularly with the woman, Thae said.

In the days leading up to Clapton’s birthday concert, Thae took Kim to Denmark Street, a street in London’s glitzy West End packed with guitar and musical instrument shops.

Kim Jong Chol tried out various guitars in every single one of those shops, Thae said, before settling on one where he bought an armful of pedals and mixers to take back home to Pyongyang.

“The shop owner didn’t know it was Kim Jong Chol,” said Thae.

“He let him play for 30 minutes. The shopkeepers of those guitar shops were amazed by his talent”.

Curious at the mysterious guitarist riffing before them, Thae said several shopkeepers started to talk to the North Korean leader’s brother, prying him excitedly with questions like ‘What is your name?’ and ‘Which band are you in?’.

“He didn’t say anything,” said Thae.

“He just smiled”.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Snapchat, All Grown-Up: 5 Things We Learned From Snap's IPO Filing

Snap co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel is taking the parent company of the Snapchat app public. Jae C. Hong/AP hide caption

toggle caption

Jae C. Hong/AP

When a 2014 Forbes cover featured a grinning cofounder of Snapchat, the accompanying text described CEO Evan Spiegel as “the 23-year-old who told Zuckerberg to take his $3 billion and shove it.” Snapchat had just turned away Facebook’s acquisition offer, which was triple the amount the social network paid for Instagram in 2012.

The thing Spiegel was holding out for is happening now, after much anticipation: Snapchat’s parent company, Snap, is going public, hoping to raise at least $3 billion.

By most reports, this is slated to be the biggest tech initial public offering in years. The listing is expected to value Snap between $20 billion and $25 billion — the highest valuation of an American tech company since Facebook.

Snap’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission presented the first chance for outsiders to review the company’s financials. Here’s a quick summary from Reuters:

“Snap had $404.5 million in sales in 2016, up from $58.7 million in 2015. However, it had a net loss of $514.6 million in 2016, up from a net loss of $372.9 million in 2015. … Snap had 158 million active users in 2016, up 48 percent from 2015.”

The filings also had a few interesting tidbits. Below are five things we gleaned.

Snap may be the first company to discuss “sexting” in a stuffy SEC initial public offering filing.

That’s because the history of Snapchat as a popular social app starts with parents worried about how their children were using the self-deleting photographs.

Article continues after sponsorship

“Many people didn’t understand what Snapchat was, and said it was just for sexting — even when we knew it was being used for so much more,” the IPO documents say.

In the past five years Snap has become a social mainstay for its users, the majority of whom are between 18 and 34 years old. It has popularized funky selfie filters, as well as telling stories through a sequence of photos and videos — imitated later by Instagram. Last year Snap launched camera glasses called Spectacles; in Thursday’s filings, Snap describes itself as a “camera company.”

“We believe that the camera screen will be the starting point for most products on smartphones,” the company says in its SEC filing.

Snap makes virtually all of its money through advertising.

For the past two years, advertising revenue accounted for an average of 97 percent of Snap’s revenue. The company says most advertisers don’t have long-term advertising commitments with Snap, something the company hopes to achieve.

As The Economist points out, this poses a new kind of challenge for the relationship Snap is building with its users:

“Although Snap encourages users to be silly on its app, it hopes to be taken seriously as a business. It will need to decide what approach it should take when using information about users to target ads. Mr Spiegel has called the practice ‘creepy’ in the past. Yet Snap may need to share more data about its users; Mr Spiegel has indicated that he may be willing to do this.”

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which pushed to keep growing users, Snap is focused on increasing the time and energy each user puts into the app.

In outlining risks related to its business, Snap repeatedly points out that its operations are best in places with affordable and abundant Internet access that’s strong enough to constantly load video:

“Unlike many other free mobile applications, the majority of our users tend to be located in markets with high-end mobile devices and high-speed cellular internet,” the filings read. These also happen to be the markets where advertisers pay the biggest bucks.

But these are also markets that eventually will run out of new users for Snapchat. So Snap says its strategy is to keep innovating the camera platform “in an effort to drive user engagement, which we can then monetize through advertising.”

Snapchat’s cofounders — CEO Spiegel and CTO Robert Murphy — will keep control of all stockholder decisions.

The two Stanford fraternity brothers have had this control because they own the majority of voting stock, and the IPO is structured to keep it that way — which Reuters points out is extraordinary:

“Existing investors will have one vote for each of their shares, while new investors will have no voting rights.

“Keeping tight control is common in companies closely associated with their founders, who often prefer to grow their business without being questioned by a broad array of investors. Still, offering a class of stock with no votes in an IPO is unprecedented.”

Snap runs on Google.

For the vast majority of computing, data storage and other needs that go into running an Internet service, Snap says it relies on the cloud services of Google. Though the deal is not exclusive, Snap says it has committed to spend $2 billion with Google Cloud in the next five years.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

House Votes To Overturn Obama Rule Restricting Gun Sales To the Severely Mentally Ill

The United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call,Inc. hide caption

toggle caption

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

On Thursday the GOP-controlled House voted to overturn an Obama administration rule designed to keep firearms out of the hands of some people deemed mentally ill.

The action was the latest move by Congressional Republicans to undo several of President Obama’s regulations on issues such as gun control and the environment though an arcane law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

According to NPR’s Susan Davis, the measure being blocked from implementation would have required the Social Security Administration to send records of some beneficiaries with severe mental disabilities to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. About 75,000 people found mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs would have been affected.

The National Rifle Association had pushed for the repeal, and Republicans argued it infringed upon Second Amendment rights by denying due process.

Supporters of the rule argued it was designed to stop mentally ill persons from getting firearms.

“The House charged ahead with an extreme, hastily written, one-sided measure that would make the American people less safe,” Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., said, according to The Hill. Esty represents Newtown, Conn., where a mentally ill man shot and killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six adults.

Article continues after sponsorship

NPR’s Nathan Rott reports that the Senate also passed a resolution to undo the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rule, also largely along party lines, by using the CRA. The goal of the rule was to minimize coal mine pollutants in waterways, and would have required coal companies to monitor water quality in nearby streams during mining operations. Republicans argued the law was too burdensome and would kill jobs in the coal industry.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Trump Says New Israeli Settlements May Not Help Bring About Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during a memorial ceremony for the founder of Ariel, one of the largest Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank on Thursday. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption

Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump is encouraging Israel to hold off on new settlement construction. The surprising statement came after the Israeli prime minister vowed to build the first new settlement in the West Bank in many years.

The White House says while it doesn’t see settlements as an obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the construction of new settlements and the expansion of those beyond their current borders may not be helpful.

That’s a shift from previous comments by Trump, who had seemed to be giving Israel a green light to build more housing for Jewish settlers in areas the Palestinians hope will become part of a future state.

This week, the Israelis announced plans to build thousands of homes in the West Bank and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested new settlements.

Trump is expected to discuss this with him later this month when the prime minister visits Washington.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)