All posts tagged: US news

An evening with ‘deplorables’: inside the alt-right party in Manhattan

The so-called A Night For Freedom featured Hillary-baiting, anti-feminism and a surprise appearance by Chelsea Manning

An evening with ‘deplorables’: inside the alt-right party in Manhattan

An evening with ‘deplorables’: inside the alt-right party in Manhattan

The so-called A Night For Freedom featured Hillary-baiting, anti-feminism and a surprise appearance by Chelsea Manning

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Protest set for Texas wildlife refuge at ground zero of Trump’s border wall plan

The Santa Ana refuge, home to migratory birds, butterflies and ocelots, could soon be dominated by a militarised barrier

Protest set for Texas wildlife refuge at ground zero of Trump’s border wall plan

The Santa Ana refuge, home to migratory birds, butterflies and ocelots, could soon be dominated by a militarised barrier

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Smile! Grumpy Cat wins 500,000 over copyright breach

Owners of internet sensation with permanently gloomy face win payout from US coffee group

Smile! Grumpy Cat wins 500,000 over copyright breach

Owners of internet favourite with permanently gloomy face win payout from US coffee group

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Christian Bale: ‘I was asked to do a romantic comedy. I thought theyd lost their minds’

The actor, famous for playing brooding, damaged men, is back playing, well, a brooding, damaged man in the gritty western Hostiles. He talks about why the film industry has to change, balding up to play Dick Cheney and why he will never, ever, do a romcom

The interviews first surprise is that a chubby, grungy figure is occupying the Beverly Hills hotel sofa reserved for Christian Bale. The impostor sports a shaved head, heavy paunch, worn black T-shirt and khaki camouflage trousers. He looks like a bouncer, maybe, or a resting football hooligan, but certainly not the man who pops up on lists of the sexiest stars alive. But Bale it is, sunk into the seat, inhabiting his latest physical transformation. I ate a lot of pies, he says.

The actor is well known for going to extremes gorging, starving, bodybuilding which reshape his physique from Olympian to emaciated to portly and back. He has just done it again, packing on the pounds and going near-bald to play Dick Cheney. At the age of 43, these transformations are not getting easier. Ive got to stop doing it. I suspect its going to take longer to get this off, he says, indicating the belly.

But the chances of Bale not going all the way for a role are, on the basis of the ensuing interview, negligible. He may be from the small Pembrokeshire town of Haverfordwest and speak with an emphatic, non-posh English accent, but he is Americas Zelig: a versatile talent who incarnates his adopted countrys dreams and nightmares with singular physicality and intensity.

A driving force, apparently, is insecurity. The fact anybody hires me is surprising, says the Oscar-winner (for The Fighter in 2011) hired by Terrence Malick, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and David O Russell. It could be false modesty, but Bale seems genuinely worried that someday the work on average one or two films a year over the past two decades could dry up. That could be really short-lived.

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Watch the trailer for Christian Bales new film Hostiles video

Bale reputedly has a temper. He was arrested for allegedly assaulting his mother and sister at the Dorchester hotel in London in 2008. The authorities did not press charges, citing insufficient evidence. The same year, he launched an expletive-filled tirade against a director of photography on the set of Terminator: Salvation in 2009. A leaked audio recording zinged across the internet.

Both are ominous portents that set up the interviews second surprise: today, Bale is affable, chatty, relaxed. He chortles. Possibly it is because of a cold he is under the weather and sips lemon tea but it comes out as a wheezing gurgle that for all the world sounds like Muttley, the cartoon dog.

Asked if the nearly decade-old on-set meltdown dogs him it is the butt of jokes and parodies he shrugs. People dont mention it to me, but that doesnt mean it doesnt follow me around. Im not aware of it if it does.

Bale has brought glamour, angst and taut menace to memorable roles ranging from Batman to Patrick Bateman, the axe-wielding yuppie of American Psycho (2000). He plays spoiler alert another brooding, damaged, hyper-masculine character in the powerful film Hostiles. As a US army captain, he is tasked with escorting a Cheyenne chief through 1892 western badlands. Blood flows as Bales character shoots, stabs, suffers and mourns.

Bale in American Psycho Id no idea people saw it as anything other than satire. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

The actor rivals Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis for diving deep physically and psychologically. He doesnt do it for fun. There is a much easier way, but I cant do it. I dont know if its because I dont have any training. I see actors who can just be themselves and then switch and give these really incredible performances, and then switch back to being themselves. I find I start laughing because Im too aware that its still me. So I try to get as distant as possible. Otherwise, I cant do it.

Hence the metamorphoses. Its helpful not to look like yourself. If I look in the mirror and go, Ah, that doesnt look like me, thats helpful. Bale vowed to not pack on weight again after playing a conman in American Hustle (2013), only to bloat anew to play Cheney in the biopic Backseat (shot after Hostiles), leaving him now, days after wrapping, facing another extreme diet. These pants are one of the few pairs Ive got that have these straps on the side so I can still fit into em. A fluctuating waistline, he says, has consequences. Im not big on shopping, so you end up with a lot of elasticated things.

He is calmest, he says, during extreme fasting, such as the time he lost 27kg (60lb) for The Machinist in 2004 (makes De Niro look like an uncommitted wuss, Peter Bradshaw wrote in the Guardians review). Its an amazing experience doing that. When youre so skinny that you can hardly walk up a flight of stairs youre, like, this being of pure thought. Its like youve abandoned your body. Thats the most Zen-like state Ive ever been in my life. Two hours sleep, reading a book for 10 hours straight without stopping unbelievable. You couldnt rile me up. No rollercoaster of emotions. Alas, it doesnt last. As soon as you start putting the food back in your stomach, the rollercoaster comes back.

Sipping his tea, admiring the afternoon sunshine seeping through a canopy of palm trees, Bale ranges over a variety of topics: the USs polarisation, Hollywood scandals, feminism, the horror of romantic comedies.

Bale in the Machinist Its like youve abandoned your body. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount

First, there is a film to promote. Bale calls Hostiles a western with brutal, modern-day resonance. Based on an unpublished manuscript by the late screenwriter Donald Stewart, it is written, produced and directed by Scott Cooper, who previously directed Black Mass, Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace.

It opens with the massacre of a white family by Comanches, then shifts to Captain Joe Blocker, a grizzled, racist veteran of the genocidal Indian wars who is forced by political masters to escort a former foe, a dying Cheyenne chief played by Wes Studi, on a 1,000-mile odyssey to his tribal homeland.

The arc of polarisation and redemption grabbed Bale from the outset. It was a gut feeling of reading it, wanting to read it again and thinking: theres really something here that I can obsess with for a number of months. Its an incredible story of American history from the point of view of a man who is absolutely consumed with bigotry and hatred, finding his way back to being human.

Speaking Cheyenne dialogue was nerve-racking, but uplifting, says Bale. Its a beautiful language; very poetic, with a wonderful rhythm to it. Chief Phillip Whiteman, a Cheyenne consultant who tutored Bale, says the actor nailed it: The joy that it brought me to hear our language being preserved through a spirit such as Chriss, this made me emotional. This is going to live on for ever, captured by this big screen.

The film, shot on location in Colorado and New Mexico in the summer of 2016, ended up reflecting Trump-era themes, says Bale. We didnt think that when we started it, but it just started becoming clear as we saw what was happening in America seeing how comfortable people were becoming in expressing contempt for the other.

Revelations about sexual misconduct in Hollywood underscore the films observation that everything is run by old white men, he says. The richness that we could all enjoy if we started embracing a much wider variety of sources of storytelling from women, from minorities. Worthy hopes, but some critics complain that in Hostiles the native characters are ciphers.

Nonetheless, Bale reckons the cascade of post-Harvey Weinstein scandals will permanently change Hollywood. I cant see that this will become a footnote and be swept under the rug. It does feel like it will change. Since moving to Los Angeles in the 90s, he has worked on dozens of films, indies such as Laurel Canyon, blockbusters such as Exodus: Gods and Kings, and garlanded fare such as The Big Short. But he says he was unaware of sexual misconduct in the industry.

Some people might call me almost reclusive. Nobody gossips with me. I was clueless. If Im not making a film, I dont really socialise with that many people who make films. The casting couch, yes, Id heard of that. But specifics? No, nothing at all. Do I believe that it has all been happening? Absolutely.

Surprising Bale fact: he is Gloria Steinems stepson. His now-deceased father married the feminist author in 2000. It was news to me; I was in Germany, says Bale, wheeze-chortling anew. I found out about it afterwards. He has not discussed Hollywoods scandals with her, he says, but considers himself a feminist. If were talking equality, absolutely.

Asked about Ridley Scott expunging Kevin Spacey from All the Money in the World, Bale pauses. Ridleys a very smart man, a friend of mine. I imagine hes made exactly the right choice. He says he has been too busy shooting Backseat to say more. I dont know if the allegations were so egregious that it was a moral choice of Ridleys or if it was a purely business choice.

In Empire of the Sun with John Malkovich. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Feature

In playing Cheney, Bale sought pathways to understanding George W Bushs vice-president. What you discover when you start investigating any person is nobody is singularly bad or singularly good. Hes a wonderful family man, by all accounts. He didnt hesitate for a second when his daughter Mary announced that she was a lesbian despite the fact that was complete anathema to his party at that time.

Bale withholds his own views on Cheneys politics. I dont want to do this as a nudge-nudge, wink-wink performance. I dont want to be revealing my own political leanings and then making a little joke. Its totally irrelevant what I think. Im an actor, Im a vessel of that character.

Bale was born in 1974 to atypical parents. His mother, Jenny, was a circus performer and his father, David, an entrepreneur and talent manager. They moved frequently Bale remembers an idyllic stint in Portugal. The future Batman broke into acting aged eight in a commercial for the fabric softener Lenor. Two years later, he was on the West End in London, playing opposite Rowan Atkinson in The Nerd. At 13, he landed the starring role in Steven Spielbergs adaptation of JG Ballards memoir Empire of the Sun.

Overnight, he became famous and the familys main earner, which prompted a love-hate relationship with acting. There was nobody (else) to make any money. At that age, it was, Oh, Christ, Ive got to be the breadwinner. That was no fun. So theres always been a bit of loathing because of that.

After his parents divorced, he moved with his father to Los Angeles. American Psycho, based on Bret Easton Elliss novel, established Bale as a leading man with a very sharp edge. When I read the book, I was laughing straight away. Id no idea people saw it as anything other than satire.

Then came acclaimed performances in Chris Nolans Batman trilogy, though Bale is self-critical. He wanted the superhero, for once, to be more interesting than the villains. Then Heath Ledger turned in a sublime performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, leaving the caped crusader relatively vanilla by comparison. I didnt achieve what my plan was there.

Bale has admitted conflicted feelings over Ben Affleck inheriting the role, but withholds any verdict on Batman v Superman and Justice League, saying he hasnt seen either.

His two children the product of his marriage to Sandra Blai have not seen his own films, but mock his thespian efforts during games at home, he says. They think Im the worst actor ever. My daughter cant believe that anyone pays me.

Times up, so a final question: has he considered romantic comedy?

Bale bats the question back with what sounds like a challenge. Have you ever enjoyed a romantic comedy? I pause and he presses the point. Have you ever enjoyed a romantic comedy?

A few, I say, but my mind blanks.

Can you name em?

Er, When Harry Met Sally.

Thats going back quite a ways, isnt it? Youre hard pressed. He shakes his head. I was asked to do a romantic comedy recently and I thought theyd lost their minds. Cats have those insane half hours every evening. I think it must have been that for the production company. I dont know why anyone would ever offer me a romantic comedy. I find American Psycho very funny.

Hostiles is released in the UK on 5 January 2018

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Big Brother on wheels? Fired security robot divides local homeless people

The 400lb machine that once patrolled outside the San Francisco SPCA prompted a backlash, as some argued its real mission was to drive people away

To some homeless people, San Franciscos latest security robot was a rolling friend on five wheels that they called R2-D2 Two. To others living in tents within the droids radius, it was the anti-homeless robot.

For a month, the 400lb, bullet-shaped bot patrolled outside the not-for-profit San Francisco SPCA animal shelter, rolling around the organizations parking lots and sidewalks, capturing security video and reading up to 300 license plates per minute. Homeless people who pitched their tents in an alleyway nearby complained they felt the beeping, whirring droids job was to run them off.

outside in america

We called it the anti-homeless robot, said John Alvarado, who was one of numerous people camping next to the animal shelter when the robot arrived. He said he quickly decided to move his tent half a block away: I guess that was the reason for the robot.

Officials of both the SF SPCA and Knightscope, who rented the robot to the shelter, denied that the intention was to dislodge homeless encampments.

The SPCA has the right to protect its property, employees and visitors, and Knightscope is dedicated to helping them achieve this goal, Knightscope said in a statement.

SF SPCA staff members said the facility had been plagued with break-ins, staff members had been harassed as they went to the parking lot and sidewalks were littered with hypodermic needles. Jennifer Scarlett, the SF SPCA president, said in a release that her organization was exploring the use of a robot to prevent additional burglaries at our facility and to deter other crimes that frequently occur on our campus like car break-ins, harassment, vandalism, and graffiti not to disrupt homeless people.

But after complaints about the program were shared widely on social media, the organization quickly admitted it had made a mistake in its choice of security guards and fired the robot.

Since this story has gone viral, weve received hundreds of messages inciting violence and vandalism against our facility, and encouraging people to take retribution, said Scarlett, noting that their campus had since been vandalized twice. We are taking this opportunity to reflect on the teachable moment.

Some of the homeless people who crossed paths with the white security robot, which bore images of dogs and cats, as it patrolled outside of San Francisco SPCA this month thought it was a cute and a positive addition to the area.

A Knightscope security robot. Photograph: Knightscope, Inc. 2015/Publicity image

TJ Thornton, whose tent is still pitched across the street from the shelters parking lot, nicknamed the bot R2-D2 Two. He liked how the machine made little whistling sounds as it moved along the sidewalk and how it would even say hello if you walked past it.

Thornton said he thought the bot had a positive influence on the neighborhood and relieved the pressure on local homeless people to always keep an eye on cars parked nearby. People living on the streets actually watch out for the cars. If anyone does anything stupid, like breaking into cars, it reflects on us.

Others saw the robot as Big Brother, surveilling their every move with video cameras. That SPCA robot was the bane of our existence, said Lexi Evans, 26, who has been living on San Franciscos streets for 13 years. It was driving us crazy.

A robot-related warning on the SF SPCA parking lot fence. Photograph: Erin McCormick for the Guardian

She said her group of friends had a tent encampment behind the SPCA. When they first saw the robot looking at them, they found it creepy. Then they noticed its white light flashing and thought it was recording their every move on video. Later they observed police officers coming to interact with the robot and wondered whether it was feeding information to law enforcement.

We started feeling like this thing was surveilling us for the police, said Evans, whose whole tent encampment has now moved around the block outside another business. Thats officially invasion of privacy. Thats uncool.

Evans said that once, someone became so angry with the thing that they knocked it over. The robot made a whee-ooh wah sound.

In another instance, somebody put a tarp over it, knocked it over and put barbecue sauce on all the sensors, Scarlett, the SPCA president, told the San Francisco Business Times.

Trouble really started for the robot last week, when the city issued an order for it to stay off the public sidewalk or face a daily penalty of up to $1,000 for operating in the public right of way without a permit. Then the story hit the internet, with Scarlett telling the Business Times that from a walking standpoint, I find the robot much easier to navigate than an encampment.

But by Friday, SF SPCA was apologizing for having brought in the machine.

We regret that our words were ill-chosen. They did not properly convey the pilot programs intent and they inaccurately reflected our values, said Scarlett. We are a nonprofit that is extremely sensitive to the issues of homelessness.

Knightscopes robots have gotten into trouble in other cities. Last year, a similar robot allegedly ran over a 16-month-old toddler at the Stanford Shopping Center in the town of Palo Alto, causing minor injuries. Another Knightscope security robot became famous on social media for drowning itself in the fountain of the Washington DC office complex it was policing.

I already miss it, said Danica Dito, who works in the SPCA administrative offices. Just the fact that it rolled around discouraged crime.

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‘Unclear, unfunny, delete’: editor’s notes on Milo Yiannopoulos book revealed

Court submissions over far-right provocateurs memoir reveal concerns over weak arguments, boasting and racism

Court documents filed in the US have revealed the editorial concerns of the publisher Simon & Schuster about the manuscript of the alt-right controversialist Milo Yiannopouloss autobiography Dangerous.

Having reportedly secured the book for an advance of $255,000 (200,000), Simon & Schuster cancelled the deal in February after a recording emerged that appeared to show Yiannopoulos endorsing sex between younger boys and older men.

In July, Yiannopoulos set out to sue Simon & Schuster for $10m for breach of contract. As part of the case, Simon & Schuster have submitted documents that reveal the problems they had with the book. Among other criticisms, the publishers notes say Yiannopoulos needed a stronger argument against feminism than saying that they are ugly and sexless and have cats and that another chapter needs a better central thesis than the notion that gay people should go back in the closet.

In addition to the documents, a full copy of an early manuscript of the book, complete with the Simon & Schuster editor Mitchell Iverss notes, is available to download from the New York state courts website.

Court document from New York County reveals the editors notes on the manuscript for Milo Yiannopoulos cancelled book Photograph: New York Unified Court System

The tone is set in notes on the prologue to the manuscript. Ivers writes to Yiannopoulos: Throughout the book, your best points seem to be lost in a sea of self-aggrandizement and scattershot thinking, and adds: Careful that the egotistical boasting doesnt make you seem juvenile.

Add something like this only less self-serving reads another comment early in the manuscript.

Ivers frequently calls on Yiannopoulos to back up his assertions in the text. In the first nine pages of chapter one, notes include: Citations needed, Do you have proof of this?, Unsupportable charge and Cite examples.

Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 after his role in the online harassment of the Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones. The editor makes several notes asking the author to tone down racism in the text. Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke, Ivers writes of a passage about taxi drivers. Lets not call South Africa white is another request, while elsewhere Yiannopoulos is reprimanded for using the phrase dark continent about Africa.

Yiannopoulos, who was filmed singing America the Beautiful while the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer and others gave the Hitler salute in the audience, is also criticised for attempting to suggest that the Hollywood left is more racist than Nazis. I dont like using Nazi analogies. Ever, is the editors note.

Yiannopoulos is repeatedly warned his choice of words is undermining any argument he is attempting to make. The use of phrases like two-faced backstabbing bitches diminishes your overall point, reads one comment. Too important a point to end in a crude quip is another. Unclear, unfunny, delete, reads another.

The early sections of a chapter on feminism prompt the note: Dont start chapter with accusation that feminists = fat. It destroys any seriousness of purpose. Yiannopoulos goes on to criticise contemporary feminism as merely a capitalist con-job a money-grab designed to sell T-shirts to Taylor Swift and Beyonc fans with asinine slogans. Um like your MILO SWAG? the editor responds.

Iverss evident exasperation becomes clear by page 84, where Yiannopouloss call for lesbians to be thrown out of academia altogether simply elicits the all-upper-case comment: DELETE UGH.

On Wednesday, Ivers retweeted without comment Publishing Perspectives Editor-in-Chief Porter Anderson pointing out that Ivers overall review described the book as at best, a superficial work full of incendiary jokes with no coherent or sophisticated analysis of political issues.

Mitchell Ivers (@MitchellIvers)

Retweeted without comment.

December 27, 2017

However, the emergence of the notes have not allowed Simon & Schuster to escape continued criticism for their initial striking of a deal with Yiannopoulos, or their editorial efforts to make his ideas more palatable to the market.

Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith)

The publisher knew who Yiannopoulos was when they gave him a $255,000 advance. The editors brutal comments are somewhat entertaining, but none of this should distract from the fact that they sought to make his bigotry both digestible and marketable.

December 28, 2017

The comments from Ivers came to wider attention when excerpts were posted to Twitter by software engineer Sarah Mei, who suggested some of them might make great observations to use in the future.

Sarah Mei (@sarahmei)

Will immediately start using if you want to make a case for [fucking ridiculous thing], youre going to have to employ a lot more intellectual rigor than you use here.

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Ventura county is burning. My hometown is climate change’s latest victim | Steven Thrasher

Affordable housing has been lost to the California wildfires, leaving poor people without homes and without hope of help from federal government

An unbearable amount of Ventura county in southern California, where I was born and raised, is simply gone. And as I hear about site after site from my childhood simply disappearing into scorched earth, I am realizing that climate change is not only erasing the present, it is also destroying the physical touchstones to my own past.

Victim to hot temperatures and high winds, some 90,000 acres have burned, hundreds of structures have been destroyed, and tens of thousands of people have been evacuated or lost power in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

But it is coastal Ventura, where I was born, that has driven home so personally what climate change looks like.

I was, of course, relieved that my relatives were all accounted for, and that my brother, sister-in-law and nephew evacuated safely on Monday night. (Their house survived, though the fire came just a couple of blocks from it.) My sister, north of Santa Barbara, has been taking in friends and family who have evacuated.

But it is heartbreaking to see the photos of the aftermath and to take stock of all that has been lost both the things that can be be replaced, and the things that cant.

Hundreds of schools in Oxnard, Ventura, and Los Angeles have been closed all week. This massive loss of education time not to mention the economic precariousness for families deprived of childcare is yet another impact of climate change.

When I was trying (in vain) to fall asleep on Wednesday night, I read journalist John Sepulvados tweets from Ojai, in which he said he was able to separate my emotions from the story until I hear a coyote wail in pain or see cats scurry. Meanwhile, sirens ring and ash falls.

I found myself thinking about the fire jumping rural Highway 33, where I learned to drive, and thought about the bird-filled cages of an old sanctuary I visited just off that road in my youth. And about those howling coyotes. And of all the horses stabled out that way.

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‘It was an inferno’: southern Californians left dumbstruck by week of wildfire hell

Residents of the picturesque town of Ojai and nearby Ventura describe their horror at the pace and ferocity of wildfires ravaging the Los Angeles area

When the firestorm ravaging southern California came to the idyllic mountain farmland of the upper Ojai valley, 90 minutes drive northwest of Los Angeles, Deon de Wet thought he was ready.

He had thick firemens hoses with brass nozzles set up around his property, a farmhouse which doubles as a yoga studio and healing centre. He was dressed in a thick coat and winter muffler which he doused with water so he could withstand intense heat, if necessary, to defend the home that he and his wife have enjoyed for the past nine years.

From his vantage point, he could look down to where the fire had started, in the hills above the valley town of Santa Paula, and trace the progress of its sinister orange glow as fierce winds caused it to whip up and down canyons and draw ever closer.

But de Wet was not ready, not for this. A transformer exploded in the hills, sending power lines crashing into the mountain chaparral and creating a whole new front of flames and heat. With the winds now reaching 80mph, his neighborhood was engulfed at dizzying speed.

I watched as one structure after another would just ignite and burn, ignite and burn, he recalled. It was an inferno.

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Why are Californias wildfires so out of control? video explainer

Soon burning embers had flown on to his guest house and set it alight. No sooner had he put out that fire than an oak tree directly above his donkeys and horses lit up. De Wet and his neighbors were lucky to have a fire truck on hand, but there were too many emergencies breaking out and nowhere near enough resources to respond to all of them.

By the time the night was over, de Wets house was gone, and so was a carport where he kept his motorbikes and one of his cars. His turtles boiled in their turtle pond, and roughly half of his dogs, cats, chickens and ducks perished.

In a week of hell across some of southern Californias most beautiful and treasured landscapes, de Wets story has been echoed hundreds of times. On the night he lost his house, the flames roared down the canyons to the oceanside city of Ventura, burning hundreds of homes and coming close to destroying the heart of the city. By the next day, three fires had erupted in Los Angeles, including one that threatened Rupert Murdochs hillside vineyards in the super-rich enclave of Bel Air. A subsequent fire broke out near the camp pendelton marine corps base north of San Diego.

With no let-up in the desert winds that were fanning the flames, the fires were, as of Friday, edging up the coast towards Santa Barbara.

Like the fires that ravaged Santa Rosa and other parts of northern Californiain October, these have been fast, ferocious and more threatening to populated areas than any fire in memory.

Flames burn on a hillside behind Highway 101 north of Ventura, California. Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

Ive been here since the 1980s and this is the worst Ive ever lived through, said Timothy Teague, a photographer who lives in Ojai. Although personally untouched by the fires, he learned over the course of the week that the avocado and citrus farm where he grew up in Santa Paula had been leveled, that a house in the hills belonging to his sisters son was gone, and that a cousin living on the beach north of Ventura had watched the palm trees across the street explode and narrowly escaped losing her home, too.

Fire season rarely stretches so far into the winter months, but southern California has endured drought for five of the past six years and has been without significant rain since last spring. The dry winds that blow in from the Mojave desert are also unusual in December, and rarely last more than a couple of days. This time, they are forecast to blow for a week or more.

On top of that, many of the affected areas have had a dangerous build-up of brush in Ojais case, since the last major fire in 1985. Heavy use of groundwater by farmers has separated many tree roots from reliable sources of moisture, which not only causes the trees to burn more fiercely but created underground rivers of heat and flame that have contributed to the fires terrifying speed.

This place is a tinderbox, said Connor Jones, who has spent the past decade building a permaculture farm on a ridge above Ojai and came close to losing it. Were seeing a desertification of the landscape which favors this sort of catastrophic fire instead of the low-level periodic fires we used to have.

The first fire broke out near St Thomas Aquinas college above Santa Paula at dinner time on Monday night. Within three hours, it had spread not only to Ojai but across several canyons to downtown Ventura, where it took the local population almost completely by surprise.

A burned out car near Ojai, California. This place is a tinderbox. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Trinity Wheeler, a portrait photographer, knew something was wrong because she was working late at her downtown studio when the power went out. The next thing she noticed was the gale-force wind and ash in the air. Then she looked up at the sky.

The clouds were like something out of a movie, so angry, so threatening. It was almost biblical.

The town was eerily quiet, but in the hills above fire was pouring down like a river.

Wheeler and her husband began calling friends and banging on peoples doors. In the apparent absence of an early warning system something local politicians are now saying demands an urgent explanation neighbors roused each other and began fleeing.

Eventually, the police toured the most endangered streets and barked warnings through the megaphones on their cruisers.

We were given less than 10 minutes to get out, recalled Cherie Eulau, a high school history teacher. By the time she and her husband left, their garage was in flames and the fire truck that raced to their street had to leave again to pick up extra water because the fire hydrants werent working.

By the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Ventura fire department was fighting to save the town. Residents scattered to the beach, to neighboring towns and looked back at the familiar hills now turned a solid red and orange. A botanical garden directly above city hall burned to a crisp.

As day broke, Ventura was over the worst, but in Ojai the nightmare was continuing. The fires moved steadily westwards toward the main Ojai valley an area of idyllic beauty and pink-tinged sunsets that has long captured the imagination of spiritualists, tourists and Hollywood film-makers and the town center with its clock tower and arcaded main street.

Cattle on a ranch in Ojai. Photograph: Chiu/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Meditation Mount, a local beauty spot with a view across the valley, erupted in flames mid-morning. Nearby, a Scottish-born environmentalist named David White defended his property as best he could, turning on the sprinklers in his fruit orchards and hoping for the best. His house survived.

A few ridges over, Connor Jones watched the fire rage ever closer to his property. A reservoir he dug a few years ago was too empty to be much use, so he rushed to his parents house nearby and set up a pump to empty their swimming pool instead.

From Tuesday into Thursday, he watched the ridge directly above his property burn. Every time he saw a spot fire break out on his side of the ridge, he raced over with hand tools to turn over the soil and stamp out the flames. The rubber on the soles of his boots was soon half-melted.

Connor Jones stands outside a structure on his farm. Photograph: Andrew Gumbel for the Guardian

Wednesday night saw something of a reprieve for Ojai, as the winds dipped and, unexpectedly, moved off in a different direction. As many as 1,000 fire fighters from all over California and Oregon spent much of that night in the hills defending the town.

By Friday, the region was in the midst of an uneasy lull. Miraculously, just one death was reported of a woman who drove her car off the road as she was fleeing her canyon home near Santa Paula. Many towns, though, continued to be choked in thick smoke, and even residents who returned to their homes were acutely aware that a change in wind direction over the weekend could place them in danger anew.

They also wasted no time worrying about the fires of the future and the likely effects of global warming on the sensitive environment of coastal California. Environmentalists like White and Jones pointed to structures that survived the fire including some experimental modified adobe structures in the hills above Ojai and said California would have to rethink its building codes and approved materials.

Others were glad simply to have survived. Theres a script were given when we lose everything, that these are just possessions, said Timothy Teague. Thats easy to say in the moment. I just feel for these people.

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Roy Moore beats Trump-backed ‘Big Luther’ in Alabama Republican Senate primary

Socially conservative former Alabama chief justice, one of the most controversial US politicians, was removed from state supreme court post twice

The former Alabama judge Roy Moore, one of the most controversial figures in Republican politics, is on course to become a US senator in spite of opposition from Donald Trump.

With 95%of the vote in on Tuesday night, Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama supreme court was ahead of appointed incumbent Luther Strange by 55% to 45% in the Republican Senate runoff.

Moores victory comes despite being outspent by a margin of 10-to-1 by Strange, who had been appointed in January to the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions after his confirmation as US attorney general.

Quick Guide

Gay bans and praise for Putin: the world according to Roy Moore

Homosexuality should be illegal

In 2005, Moore said: Homosexual conduct should be illegal. Inan interview televised on C-Span, Moore added: It is immoral. It is defined by the law as detestable. During a debate in September 2017, he went out of his way to bemoan the fact that sodomy [and] sexual perversion sweep the land.

September 11 attacks as divine punishment

In a speech in February, Moore appeared tosuggest that the terrorist attacks of September 11were the result of divine retribution against the United States and prophesized in the Book of Isaiah. In comments first reported by CNN, Moore quoted Isaiah 30:12-13, saying: Because you have despised His word and trust in perverseness and oppression, and say thereon … therefore this iniquity will be to you as a breach ready to fall, swell out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instance. Moore then noted: Sounds a little bit like the Pentagon, whose breaking came suddenly at an instance, doesnt it? He added: If you think thats coincidence, if you go to verse 25: There should be up on every high mountain and upon every hill, rivers and streams of water in the day of the great slaughter when the towers will fall.”

Praise for Putin

Inan interview with the Guardianin August, Moore praised Putin for his views on gay rights. Maybe Putin is right. Maybe hes more akin to me than I know. The comments came after Moore suggested the United States could be described as the focus of evil in the world because we promote a lot of bad things. Moore specifically named gay marriage as one of those bad things.

‘Reds and yellows

At a rally earlier in September, Moore talked about reds and yellows fighting while discussing racial division in the United States. Moore justified thison Twitterby citing lyrics from the song Jesus Loves the Little Children. He wrote Red, yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. This is the Gospel.

Tracking livestock is communism

In 2006, Moore condemned a proposal for a national ID system for animals as more identifiable with communism than free enterprise. The proposal received attention after a cow in Alabama had been diagnosed with mad cow disease. Moore, who was then running for governor, was skeptical that the outbreak was real. Instead, Moore suggested it was a ruse intended to promote the tracking system.

Moore was previously twice removed as Alabamas chief justice, first for for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments that he installed in the state courthouse and more recently for refusing to implement the US supreme court ruling legalizing gay marriage.

The result comes as a major blow to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who had strongly backed Strange. A Super Pac closely linked to McConnell spent over $9m on behalf of the incumbent, who was considered a loyal supporter of the Senate GOP leadership.

However, Moore was able to turn McConnells opposition into an asset. In his election eve rally in a barn in Fairhope, Alabama, the loudest applause came when Moore declared: Mitch McConnell needs to be replaced.

McConnell said in a statement after the result: Senate Republicans will be as committed to keeping Alabamas seat in Republican hands with Roy Moore as we were with Luther Strange. He also noted that Moore ran a spirited campaign centered a dissatisfaction with the progress made in Washington.

Moores win will be embarrassing for Trump, who had endorsed Strange and appeared with him in a Huntsville rally on Friday. There, Trump expressed ardent support for the man he called Big Luther but left plenty of wiggle room as he mused on stage that perhaps he had made a mistake by endorsing Strange. Trump also called Moore a good man and pledged to campaign for him if he won the primary.

Despite Trumps opposition, a number of fervent Trump supporters and former White House staffers had backed Moore. These include former chief strategist Steve Bannon, who told voters at a rally for Moore that a vote for Judge Roy Moore is a vote for Donald J Trump, and housing and urban development secretary Ben Carson, who issued a statement of praise for Moore on Friday.

The consequences are likely to be harder for McConnell than for Trump. One Bannon ally told the Guardian on Tuesday night that Mitch McConnell in a Republican primary is now what Nancy Pelosi is in general elections for Democrats after Moore successfully used Stranges support from the Senate majority leader as an attack.

Stranges defeat comes only hours after Tennessee Republican Bob Corker announced his retirement. Corker, a relative moderate within the Republican caucus, had long been considered a target by Bannons populist wing of the GOP. Bannon himself appeared on stage before Moore in Montgomery and celebrated Corkers retirement.

So you all remembered we talked last night about starting a revolution with Judge Moores victory? Well, Senator Corker stepped down today and hes not going to run for re-election, announced Bannon to loud applause. He went on to say that this set the stage for more candidates who follow the model of Judge Moore and do not need to raise money from elites, fat cats, crony capitalists in Washington DC and New York City to win in the future.

Moore agreed with Bannon that his victory presaged more primary challenges for Republicans in 2018. I think it does, he told the Guardian. I agree with that comment and I think Mr Bannon knows that thats coming and I think he has a good vision of it.

Andy Surabian, the senior advisor to the Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump superPAC that backed Moore, saw the results as a precursor to further challenges to the Republican establishment in the midterms. The operative who helped orchestrate Sarah Palins appearance on behalf of Moore last week, told the Guardian that Moores win was the result of Tea Party-type conservatives making further gains within the Republican party.

This is the continuation of what we saw in 2010, said Surabian. In 2010, we saw Rand Paul and Mike Lee get elected. In 2012, we saw Ted Cruz get elected. In 2014, we saw Dave Brat get elected. In 2016 , we saw Donald Trump get elected. Now in 2017 were seeing the rise of Judge Roy Moore. Theres only going to be more Donald Trumps and Roy Moores coming in 2018.

Rand, Lee and Cruz all spoke with Moore on the phone on Tuesday night, with Cruz the first of the three to talk to the newly minted Republican nominee.

Republicans quickly embraced Moore. A McConnell-allied superPAC put out a concession statement before the Associated Press had called the race. While we were honored to have fought hard for Big Luther, Judge Roy Moore won this nomination fair and square and he has our support, as it is vital that we keep this seat in Republican hands, said the statement from the Senate Leadership Fund.

Trump himself tweeted: Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama. Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Nov! The election, however, is in December, as Trump noted in a corrected tweet.

He added on Wednesday morning: Spoke to Roy Moore of Alabama last night for the first time. Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to #MAGA [make America great again]!

His tweets supporting Strange from the last two days disappeared from his account.

Moore has a long history of controversial remarks. Most recently, in March, he praised the Russian president to a Guardian reporter, saying maybe Putin is right on gay marriage. He went on to add of the Russian autocrat: Maybe hes more akin to me than I know. Moore also warned in a televised debate on Thursday that sodomy [and] sexual perversion sweep the land. He also brandished a revolver on stage at a campaign rally on Monday night to rebut charges that he was soft on gun rights.

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