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A Vast “Tyranny” Over Mind: Donald Trump and The Death of “High Thinking” in America

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”-Thomas Jefferson

Once upon a time, Americans were still being instructed to value a life of the mind. Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson, following Thomas Jefferson, had called sensibly upon the young country to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, this earlier plea for enhanced personal and social equilibrium has been discarded, even ridiculed, replaced by shameless exhortations to follow a dissembling president. If not worrisome enough, this president – a self-described “very stable genius”- is loudly and proudly illiterate.

Credo quia absurdum, warned the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

But there is much more to tell. It was Donald Trump who commented several times during the 1916 campaign: “I love the poorly educated.”For anyone seeking an apt historical precedent for such a patently retrograde observation, there is the infamous statement by Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: “Intellect rots the brain.”

Still further explanation is required, one that can offer us both lucidity and purpose. To begin at the beginning, we must examine America’s longstanding orientation to formal education. In these United States, from every student’s very first day in grade school, a core message is received: “Your education isn’t going to be about anything pleasant or fascinating or ennobling. It will be about the statutory fulfillment of assorted institutional and personal obligations. Hopefully, it will also help prepare you for a job. Don’t expect anything more.”

So, dear students, continues this implicit but conspicuous message, “Sit back, be obedient and just try not to shoot anyone.”

Remaining unhidden, not only our multiple systems of education, but also our presidential elections, are shaped by certain primal disfigurements. In essence, America’s cumulative political ambitions remain integrally bound up with variously embarrassing and mutually-reinforcing simplifications. In this most revealingly barren sphere of American public life, one driven by stupefying clichés and empty witticisms, even the most witting buffoon can make himself or herself electable. This is the case, inter alia, at least as long as he or she has somehow managed to accumulate great wealth, and (as another evident sine qua non) to avoid being labeled an “intellectual.”

In Trump’s America, no denigrating epithet could conceivably be more damning.

A nefarious evolution is underway. From Thomas Jefferson to Ralph Waldo Emerson to the present moment, America’s public declension, along with pertinent bifurcations, has been both obvious and disabling. Money good; intellect bad. Amid our corrosive national ethos of competitive achievement, wealth, however acquired, signifies success. Always, prima facie, it displays irrefutable evidence of “being smart.” Here, upon examination, the tortuous circularity of misguided reasoning is baneful yet unambiguous.

Plausibly, both Thomas Jefferson and American Transcendentalist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson would have been shaken. Our early presidents and philosophers, after all, were often people of some genuine accomplishment and original thought. We remember them, surely, not for any glittering successes in the vulgar marketplace of mundane things to be bought and sold, but instead for their auspicious presence in a mind-centered marketplace of ideas.

“One must never seek the Higher Man in the marketplace” warns Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

 Why, then, are American presidential politics so profoundly demeaning and so utterly debased? Where, exactly, have we gone wrong? Perhaps we ought to approach these core questions as “physicians” of the national body politic. Accordingly, as with any other insidious pathology, we must identify the disease before we can be rid of it.

But what exactly is this underlying “disease”?

There is an answer. It begins, as does every systematic or scientific assessment, with the individual, with the microcosm. Inevitably, our American electorate, here the relevant macrocosm, can never rise any higher than the combined capacities of its members. “When the throne sits on mud,” recognizes Zarathustra, “mud sits on the throne.”

Ultimately, every democracy must represent the sum total of its constituent souls;[1] that is, those still-hopeful citizens who would seek some sort or other of “redemption.” In our deeply fractionated American republic, however, We the people – more and more desperate for a seemingly last chance to “fit in” and “get respect” – inhabit a palpably vast wasteland of lost opportunity. Within this grievously grim and contrived human society, we (T S Eliot’s “hollow men” or women) are chained to more-or-less exhausting and tasks, buffeted incessantly by a hideously dreary profanity and watched over by a smugly demeaning theology of engineered consumption.

There is more. Literally bored to death by the prosaic obligations of everyday American life, and beaten down by the grinding struggle to “stay positive” while suffocating in traffic and while completing interminable forms of inane paperwork, Americans grasp anxiously for almost any identifiable lifeline of intoxication or distraction. Unsurprisingly, our most publicized national debates are now about guns and killing, and never about literature, ideas, art or beauty. Within this vast and still-growing intellectual wasteland, huge segments of an unhappy population are perpetually drowning in drugs, submerged deeply enough to swallow entire millennia of human achievement and whole oceans of sacred poetry/

What else should we expect to endure amid the breathless American rhythms of circus-like conformance, submission and debasement? More than anything else, We the people have learned something crass and lethal. We have learned to cheerlessly embrace a corrupted and directionless national society, one that offers precious little in the way of any meaningful personal fulfillment. Let us be candid. Now, more than ever, Americans “don’t get no satisfaction.”

As a people, there can be little doubt, we unhesitatingly accept decline, without serious protest and without even a murmur of discernible courage. Above all, perhaps, Americans in the Trump Era continue to think aggressively against history, viscerally, immensely pleased that virtually no one takes the trouble to read or learn anything valuable. Ironically, even the most affluent Americans now inhabit this loneliest of crowds, living out their depressingly imitative lives at hotels and airports, pushed forward not by any once-lofty goals, but instead by coffee, alcohol, exercise equipment, and (representing the ultimate “reward” of modern America) accumulating frequent flier miles.

It is remarkably small wonder that millions of Americans cling desperately to their smart phones or derivative “personal devices.” Filled with a deepening horror of sometime having to be left alone with themselves, these virtually connected millions are clearly frantic to claim membership in the anonymous American public mass. Earlier, back in the 19th century, Soren Kierkegaard, had foreseen and understood this deadly “mass.”

 “The crowd,” opined the prophetic Danish philosopher succinctly, “is untruth.”

I belong, therefore I am.”  This is not what French philosopher René Descartes had in mind back in the 17th century, when he so insightfully urged greater thought and(as indispensable corollary) greater doubt. This is also, inherently, a very sad credo. Unhesitatingly, it almost shrieks that social acceptance is equivalent to physical survival and that even the most ostentatiously pretended pleasures of inclusion are worth pursuing.

Desperately worth pursuing.

Should there remain any doubts about such a plainly pathetic credo, one need only consult the latest suicide statistics for the United States. To reduce these revealing numbers will require far more than silly and sterile Trumpian promises to “make America great again.” Above all, it will require a citizenry that finally wants more for itself than to chant evident gibberish in chorus.

There is more. A push-button metaphysics of “apps “reigns supreme in America. At its core, the immense attraction of this infantile social networking ethos stems in part from America’s expansively machine-like existence. Within this icily robotic universe, every hint of human passion must be suitably directed along certain ritualistically uniform pathways.

And woe to any citizen who would dare stray from this vicarious route.

Naturally, as we may still argue quite correctly, all human beings are the creators of their interdependent machines, not their servants. Yet, there does exist today an implicit and simultaneously grotesque reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate and potentially murderous pantomime between the users and the used. This is a reciprocity that needs to be carefully studied before it can be reversed.

Adrenalized, our fevered American society is making a machine out of Man and Woman. Rapidly, in a flagrantly unforgivable inversion of Genesis, it may soon seem credible that we have been created in the image of the machine. Mustn’t we then ask, as residually sober Emersonian thinkers, Freudian soul searchers and Cartesian doubters, “What sort of redemption is this?”

For the moment, Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless crowd. Proudly disclaiming any meaningful interior life, they proceed tentatively, and in every existential sphere, at the lowest common denominator. Or expressed in more palpable terms, our air, rail, and land travel has become insufferable and positively screams for remediation.

Trumpian red hats notwithstanding, what sort of “greatness” is this?

There is more. Our vaunted universities are in much the same sort of decline. Once regarded as a last remaining beacon of some genuine intellectual life, they are typically bereft of anything that might even hint at serious learning. This can hardly be unexpected, however, as entire legions of newly-minted American professors receive their Ph.D. with barely a hint of demonstrated literacy or original accomplishment.

To the point, try to talk to a young professor about literature, art, music or philosophy. With precious few exceptions, it will be a brief and distinctly one-sided conversation.

For explanations, our transforming context is everything. In Trump’s America, the traditionally revered Western Canon of literature and art has been replaced by more reassuring emphases on football scores, university rankings and voyeuristic reality shows. Apart from their pervasive drunkenness and enthusiastically tasteless entertainments, the once-sacred spaces of “higher education” have become a commerce-driven pipeline, an all-consuming roadway to nonsensical and unsatisfying jobs.

Could anyone reasonably doubt this conclusion?

There is more. For most of our young people, learning has become an inconvenient but mandated commodity, nothing else. At the same time, as everyone can readily understand, commodities exist for only one purpose. They are there, like the next batch of mass-produced college graduates, to be bought and sold. 

More than ever before, American is about Nietzsche’s marketplace.

Though faced with markedly genuine threats of war, illness, impoverishment and terror, millions of Americans still prefer to amuse themselves by resorting to various forms of morbid excitement, inedible or tangibly injurious foods and by the blatantly inane repetitions of an increasingly vacant political discourse. Not a day goes by that we don’t notice some premonitory sign of impending catastrophe. Still, our anesthetized Trumpian country continues to impose upon its exhausted and manipulated people a shamelessly open devaluation of serious thought and a continuously breakneck pace of unrelieved work.

Small wonder that “No Vacancy” signs now hang securely outside our psychiatric hospitals, our childcare centers and, above all, at our prisons.

Soon, even if we should somehow manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, the swaying of the American ship will become so violent that even the hardiest lamps will be overturned. Then, the phantoms of great ships of state, once laden with silver and gold, may no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we will finally understand that the circumstances that had once sent the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the disintegrating works of long forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.

In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired sensibly about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This president had answered “yes,” but only if Americans first refused to stoop to join the injurious “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, as Wilson had already understood, an entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead also with that rusty demise of broken machinery, more hideous even than the inevitable decompositions of each individual person.

In all societies, as Jefferson, Emerson and assorted others had recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual human soul is most important. Meaningfully, there can be a “better”American soul, and a correspondingly improved American politics, but not until we first acknowledge a compelling prior obligation. This is a far-reaching national responsibility to overcome the staggering barriers of Trumpian crowd culture and to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of “high thinking.”

The only alternative is to continue to quash any residual thought. But that choice would only forge a resigned peace with America’s still-expanding tyranny over the “mind” of its citizens. In short order, it would represent a broadly lethal and unforgivable choice.


[1] Sigmund Freud explained his already-predicted American decline by assorted explicit references to “soul” (Seele in German). In this connection, he was unforgiving of any civilization that could remain unaffected by true considerations of human consciousness; that is, by a verifiable appreciation of intellect, literature and history. More particularly, Freud thought that the evidently crude American commitment to endlessly shallow optimism and material gain would only occasion a vast psychological misery.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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U.S. Elections: Trump’s Strategy of “Peace” might help

Sojla Sahar

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Presidential elections in the United States are around the corner and campaigns by the presidential candidates are in full swing in whole of the United States. The Republicans have nominated Donald Trump as their presidential candidate whereas the Democrats have chosen the seasoned politician Joe Biden who has also served as the vice president under the Obama administrations. Over here, a fact shouldn’t be forgotten that the so-called Democrats have also imposed an unnecessary war and burden of foreign intervention on the people of America. Let it US intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria this has imposed huge financial burden on the American people that is being pay by their taxes. United States has around 200,000 troops scattered in the world. There are around 38,000 in Japan, 34,000 in Germany, 24,000 in Korea, 5,000 Bahrain, 5,000 in Iraq, 3,000 in Spain and 12,000 in Afghanistan. Under the Trump administration, much needed decision was taken by the administration for pulling out of troops from all the unwanted and unwelcomed foreign interventions. This has cost huge monetary burden and heavy taxes on the people of US. These interventions were a gift by Democrats to its people that led American to nothing.

Under Trump administration, US decided to withdrawal its troops from Northern Syria. US have around 1,000 troops positioned in the Northern Syria for deterring Iranian influence and countering ISIS expansion in the country. They have decided only to leave special operations force in Syria and will pull out the rest from the conflict zone. It is not the task that will come to an end in days it will take years and huge budget to relocate the troops. This decision might be a breath of fresh air for the Americans but it might weaken the US military positions in front of the Russian military on the globe. United States also has American military troop’s presence in Germany as well. Trump administration is willing to reduce the troops in Germany by around 25%. There is around 11,900 troop’s present in Germany for securing Europe’s security. The Trump administration is focused on relocation and strategic repositioning of the US troops in the world. For this, the Trump administration has decided to pull out its 6,400 troops from Germany as they whole burden is on the US shoulders for costs maintaining alliance and Germany is not paying its share in the defense budget of NATO putting all the burden on the US citizens. Trump administration also slammed the European countries of not paying their due share in NATO defense budget. Italy spends about 1.22% from its budget and Belgium spends around 0.93% from its GDP on the NATO defense budget.

In addition, the Trump administration has shown that they do not want war and conflict. They have also retreated themselves from the foreign intervention drama that has led to damage to the peace of the world. Trump has given an impression that he aims to bring peace in the world not by arms but through negotiations with the conflict actors. Its example is US negotiations with Taliban’s for ending the endless war fruitless war that brought destruction for Afghanistan and brutally damaged the standing of US in the world.

There are around 12,000 American troops in Afghanistan that are now reduced to 8,600 troops. The rest are sent home and some are being settled in Italy and Belgium. The Trump administration has declared to reduce the number of troop in Afghanistan by 5,000 by November and will reach 4,000 by June 2021. They are aiming to completely withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months if a concrete peace deal is signed between Taliban’s and United States.

There were more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan that went there to fight war on terror but are coming back empty handed. But still in even in these circumstances it will benefit the American people and their issues will be addressed in a better way. Not just this, Trump administration has also decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq that has been there for more than 19 years now putting a burden on American shoulders.

 All of this decision by the Trump administration shows that under Trump USA will go for the isolationist impulses that will help them to rebuild domestically and resolve the problem of its people who are indulged in unemployment, poverty, crumbling health system particularly after the outbreak of COVID-19. The health system of United States has proven to be fragile. Despite of being the wealthiest country, its health system crumbled within days leaving thousands of people to die in waiting for their appointment. Many of the people had severe financial crisis that refrained them to go to the hospital and get them treated.

According to some sources many hospitals in New York were running out of financial and had to send people on leave because they were unable to pay them. This led to massive unemployment during such desperate times of the year. Developing countries like Pakistan coped with the virus in a better way despite of having poor health facilities.

Under Trump, USA is moving towards “American First” strategy that will lead towards massive shrinkage in the defense budget of US military. The strategy of retrenchment and aversion of foreign intervention might help Trump in winning the next elections because right now United States has more domestic issues than international problems. The flag of truce in the hand of Trump and aim of brining peace in the world might bring him back in the oval office. It seems like Trump will make USA resign from its self-proclaimed post of “world policemen” that will benefit the world and the people of USA.

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Mistrust between Russia and the United States Has Reached an All-Time High

Igor Ivanov

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In August 2020, Politico magazine published three letters outlining their authors’ views of the ways the United States, and the West in general, should build relations with Russia. The first, published on August 5 and signed by over 100 prominent American politicians, diplomats and military leaders, states that Washington’s present policy towards Moscow “isn’t working” and that it is time that the United States “rethink” it. The gist of the proposals is that the United States “must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be, fully utilizing our strengths but open to diplomacy.”

This letter prompted a response, first from another group of former American ambassadors and political scientists (Politico, August 11) and then from several eminent politicians from Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (August 13). Both groups agree that now is not the time to reconsider policies toward Russia.

I am well acquainted with many of the signatories to these three statements. I worked closely with some of them during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and met some of them during negotiations. I still keep in touch with several of them, as we participate in various informal international projects. Since most parties to the emerging discussion are both highly experienced professionals and public figures, their stances on Russia are well known. The list of signatories under each statement hardly came as a surprise to anyone.

I do not think it makes sense to dwell in too much detail on the arguments presented by the parties. At the same time, proceeding from my own experience of U.S.–Russia relations, I would think that I have the right to put forward some considerations of my own.

First of all, on whether a “new reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow is either possible or desirable. One gets the impression that the authors of the letters see the “old reset” spearheaded by the Obama administration as a kind of bonus or advance offered by the United States to Russia in the hope that the latter would “behave” properly. The debate focuses on whether or not Russia has justified this “advance,” and whether or not it deserves a new bonus. Personally, I cannot recall a single instance where the United States (during Barack Obama’s presidency or under any other administration) gave Russia a “bonus” or “advance” of any kind, made a unilateral concession or indeed did anything that was not in the interests of the United States.

As I see it, the “reset” fully met the long-term interests of both states, particularly in security. Only a very biased observer would claim that the New START Treaty constituted a unilateral concession to Moscow on the part of Washington. Similarly, NATO’s call at the 2010 Lisbon Summit for a true strategic partnership with Russia can hardly be viewed as a unilateral concession. In both instances, the interests of both parties were taken into account, as were the interests of international security in general.

Russia and the United States remain the world’s leading nuclear powers, boasting the largest strategic weapons capabilities. Moscow and Washington have been engaged in mutual deterrence for decades now. However, an objective analysis of the challenges and threats to Russian and U.S. security shows that the very real dangers that do exist emanate not from the two countries themselves, but rather from processes and trends that lie outside the bilateral relations. Accordingly, any predictions about the possible and desirable prospects for interaction between the two states will be incomplete at the very least if they are taken out of the overall context of the development of the international system.

We have to admit that mistrust between Russia and the United States has reached an all-time high. It will take years, maybe even decades, to rectify this situation. However, I am confident that, sooner or later, we will have to start moving in that direction, not because one party will “wear” the other down, forcing it to make unilateral concessions or even throw itself at the mercy of the winner. First, each side has a large safety margin and is willing to continue the confrontation for many years to come. Second, history shows us that peace achieved through unilateral concession rarely lasts.

Life itself, by which I mean each side understanding the long-term need of its own security, will force the United States and Russia to resume progress towards cooperation. Such an understanding, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the elections in the two countries, or with the opportunistic calculations of individual political forces. Regardless of these calculations, the world is rapidly moving towards the line beyond which a global disaster looms with increasing clarity. Once we take a peek beyond this line, the entire world, primarily its leading states, which bear special responsibility for the fate of the world, will have to make decisions that go beyond their own immediate interests.

As for the debates on when and with whom the United States should enter into a dialogue with Russia, I believe such discussions have zero practical value. It would be extremely unreasonable and even irresponsible to defer talks in the hope that more convenient or more accommodating interlocutors will appear in the partner country or, alternatively, that a more favourable general political situation for negotiations will appear.

I would like to refer to my own experience. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I constantly kept in touch with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and then with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. That was in the late 1990s–early 2000s. The bombings of Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq, the Middle Eastern crisis, the expansion of NATO and many, many other events objectively made the U.S.–Russia dialogue more difficult. Obviously, our views on many issues differed greatly. But we never broke off our dialogue, not for a day, no matter how difficult it was. Strictly speaking, this is the art of diplomacy: conducting a dialogue with a difficult partner, achieving agreements where the stances of the parties veer widely and the chances of reaching a comprise appear minimal.

Critics will hasten to say that the U.S.–Russia dialogue in the early 21st century failed to prevent many conflicts and wars, and that is true. But it also helped prevent far graver consequences and, where possible, even led to the signing of important mutually acceptable agreements (New START, etc.). The experience of global diplomacy tells us that the only way to find solutions is through dialogue. The sooner our leading politicians realize it, the faster we will step away from mutual public accusations and destructive information wars waged with cutting-edge technologies and move towards earnest talks on the crucial issues of the 21st-century agenda.

Giving general advice is easy. It is even easier to take the high horse, insisting on staying faithful to one’s values and principles. It is much more difficult for those who have been accorded the requisite powers to make specific decisions. As the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” All we can do is hope that politicians in Russia and the United States will prefer the unpalatable to the disastrous.

From our partner RIAC

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The Farce of Post 9/11 U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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This week refugee camps in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos were set ablaze rendering over 20,000 refugees homeless.  Apparently the fires were started by the refugees themselves who are sick of lives in limbo on the EU periphery.  They want to reach the heartland, get jobs, build lives for themselves.

An inevitable consequence of our modern wars, refugees have become an emblem.  Old newsreels show us their lined, worried faces in the Second World War and TV has them live from Yugosloavia, a country disappeared and reemerged as several ethnic  parts, while numerous principal actors of the time faced judges in the international courts.

Then there is 9/11 in the US — a term meaning September 11 as in the US, unlike Europe and many parts of the world, the month is written first followed by the day and year.  Patriot Day, as it has been labeled, September 11 marks the day when commercial airliners were used as weapons to destroy the World Trade Center, a skyscraper in New York City, and attack the Pentagon, the military’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

If the mastermind of the attack was a turned, non-Afghan, Mujahedin commander camped out in Afghanistan, who following Soviet withdrawal turned his attention to the other major power … committing, in his mind, the unpardonable sin of parking troops on his native soil of Saudi Arabia — no matter, they were there for protective purposes from an increasingly belligerent Saddam Hussein.

The results we know.  A naive George Bush and a populace thirsting for revenge attacked Afghanistan leading to the longest war in American history.  Many presidents later, Donald Trump too is trying to negotiate a pull-out of US troops with the Taliban.  Yes, Afghanistan holds elections and has a president, even a military, but guess what will happen if US troops leave without any resolution with the Taliban.

George Bush’s rival for governor in Texas had a great line.  ‘Poor George,’ she would say, ‘he can’t help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.’  So George went after Iraq and lacking his father’s good sense (who after liberating Kuwait withdrew) he stayed to democratize Iraq without examining the country’s demographics.  Majority Shia, it has a democratic leadership now that is Shia and closely allied with Shia Iran.  Fast forward to the present and the current president, Donald Trump, is withdrawing troops from Iraq and is in a stand-off with Iran. 

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking American foreign policy in the Middle East is a plot from a Gilbert and Sullivan farce.  Except for a sad and sobering fact.  More than a million lives lost, refugees still streaming out and many, many millions of lives displaced … including a Christian Iraqi from Baghdad who runs a 24-hour convenience store a couple of miles from my house.

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