The Five Sandwiches that Made America

November 21, 2021

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I always find the Conversation has an eclectic mix of essays, many of which will pique my interest. A recent case in point: the history of five sandwiches — tuna salad, the chow mein sandwich, club, peanut butter & jelly, Scotch woodcock — and what they say about American social history.

The histories of these foods run through the 1890s for the club sandwich — perfectly described as “a blend of elegance and blandness” — through the early years of the 20th century for tuna, pb & J, and the woodcock, and much more recently for the chow mein sandwich of the 1970s.

Image: Alena Haurylick

“As food historian Bee Wilson argues in her history of the sandwich, American sandwiches distinguished themselves from their British counterparts by the scale of their ambition. Imitating the rising skylines of American cities, many were towering affairs that celebrated abundance.

Well worth the read.


Exactly One Thousand Years Ago

October 22, 2021

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L'Anse aux Meadows - Evidence for Vikings in Canada

Exciting new research has proven that Norse explorers were cutting timber in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, in the year 1021, exactly one thousand years ago.

Since the settlers’ village was discovered in the 1960s, it has been known that Norse sailors reached the continent around the turn of the first millennium, and the date of 1000 AD is often used as a reasonable estimate. However, a new technique of tree-ring counting has provided a precise date of 1021 for at least three pieces of felled timber at the site.

The new method uses evidence of a solar flare that occurred in 993; a flare that has been found to have affected tree rings all over the world. Counting out from that date to the bark left on the discarded wood provides the exact date on which it was cut — 1021 AD. Other marks on the wood show that they were cut with metal tools, which local indigenous peoples did not have at that date.

“It adds some intrigue,” says John Steinberg, an anthropologist at the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “If the Vikings left Greenland around 1000, as the sagas suggest, L’Anse aux Meadows was occupied at least sporadically for perhaps 20 years, rather than just three years as has been assumed. On the other hand, it may be that it was only occupied for three years but those years were 15 years later than we thought.” Steinberg raises another possibility as well—that the Vikings went back and forth between Greenland and Vinland more commonly than has been believed.”

For historians studying an event that is best known from old sagas and legendary tales, achieving such precision in dating is a grand achievement.


In Praise of Jimmy Carter

October 1, 2021

On the occasion of his 97th birthday, I want to re-post this from 2019:

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Regular readers will no doubt know that I am not a fan of politicians, especially senior American politicians.  However, I have always admired and been impressed by Jimmy Carter. The following profile is from an email newsletter from Mother Jones. I hope they won’t mind me reprinting it in full as it says exactly what I would like to say:

“He has never sought great riches, or to capitalize on the presidency for personal gain. He lives in a home that is assessed for a lesser value than the armored Secret Service vehicle that sits outside it.

Last week, at 94, Jimmy Carter became America’s oldest living former president, prompting praise for the human rights champion and Navy veteran. When in power, he looked ahead, installing solar panels in the White House and promoting a slew of judges of color and women to the federal bench, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Out of power, he oversaw election monitoring in many tight votes worldwide and has spent decades volunteering to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.

“We…are grateful for his long life of service that has benefitted millions of the world’s poorest people,” said the Carter Center, an Atlanta-based nonprofit focused on public policy.

As a public servant and after the presidency, Carter embodied the traits we feature each week in this newsletter. He thought of others and refused to take credit for the daring rescue of six US diplomats in Iran (an episode later made famous by the movie Argo). The reason? Carter didn’t want to endanger the lives of other US diplomats held hostage there.

Carter took the hard road internationally, seeking to burnish America’s standing by refusing to coddle strongmen, such as Chile’s authoritarian leader, Gen. Augusto Pinochet. As a young reporter in neighboring Argentina, I witnessed testimony from Carter’s human rights chief, Patricia Derian, on how she directly confronted a leader of that military government on torture. (Busted, Argentina’s naval chief rubbed his hands and replied: “You remember the story of Pontius Pilate, don’t you?”)

Although reviews of Carter’s presidency have been mixed, political scientist Robert A. Strong writes that “some consider him to be the nation’s greatest former President,” and that his work is admired by people on both sides of the aisle.

In a Washington Post interview last fall, the former president said it was difficult to abide President Donald Trump’s constant lies, and he called the current presidency a “disaster.” Carter recalled that he would have been expelled from the Naval Academy for a lie, and hinted that his father, who whipped him six different times with a peach tree branch, would not have tolerated mistruths, either.

“I always told the truth,” he said simply.”


And Then The Blitz Began

September 7, 2021

The German Luftwaffe attacks against London known as the Blitz began on the afternoon of September 7, 1940 — eighty-one years ago today.  They went on essentially uninterrupted for 79 days, and expanded across Great Britain.  Here can be found the Guardian‘s report of the first night’s bombing.

The German airmen apparently have orders to loose their bombs whenever they feel they are over the area called Metropolitan London.  Certainly 90% of all the damage done was to non-military objectives.

About 43,000 civilians died during the Blitz. Almost 140,000 more were injured, and more than a million homes damaged or destroyed. Even when the Blitz itself was over, the Germans continued to bomb London  for several years.  My parents spent much of their teen-aged years running to air shelters, sleeping in the Underground stations.  My mother went to the school which suffered the first V2 rocket attack.  Thousands of younger children were evacuated from London to “safer” country towns.  A dozen or more years later, when I was a kid in the early 50s in west London, all my “playgrounds” were bomb sites that still hadn’t been rebuilt.

Those of us who are lucky to live in North America have no conception of what this could be like. Imagine, perhaps, the events of 9/11 happening all over the country every day for two months and more. And all of this just one lifetime away from us.


The Liberation of Paris: A Racist Whitewash!

August 25, 2021

On this day in 1944, the Allied forces re-captured Paris from the retreating Nazis.  However, a truly despicable  slice of Western history has been revealed:  The Americans and Brits insisted that the troops who were to march through Paris at its liberation in 1944 should be all white, regardless of the sacrifices made by British, French and American black soldiers.

tirailleurs_senegalais1The issue arose, according to this BBC report, because General De Gaulle insisted that French troops lead the march.  However, most French units were a mix of white and black troops and that just wouldn’t do for the Allies.

In January 1944 Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, “confidential”: “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.  “This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white” …

A document written by the British General, Frederick Morgan, to Allied Supreme Command stated: “It is unfortunate that the only French formation that is 100% white is an armoured division in Morocco. “Every other French division is only about 40% white. I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division.”

A suitable French unit could not be found without removing all the black troops and replacing them with soldiers from other units, many of them not even French.

In the end, nearly everyone was happy. De Gaulle got his wish to have a French division lead the liberation of Paris, even though the shortage of white troops meant that many of his men were actually Spanish.  The British and Americans got their “Whites Only” Liberation even though many of the troops involved were North African or Syrian.

We were lucky enough to have large numbers of Africans, Indians, black and Native Americans and others fight and die on our side in that war, but we were too sick in the head to recognize them as heroes when the time came.  What a miserable load of hypocrites we were.


A Good Read

August 17, 2021

I have just finished reading “Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America” by Eric Rauchway.

Published in 2003, it uses the assassination of President McKinley by Leon Czolgosz in 1901, and the subsequent trial and examination of the assassin’s mental state, as the key to understanding Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidency and the birth of progressivism in the United States.

The period and the material presented is fascinating, made even more so by Rauchway’s brilliant story-telling. As one of the blurbs says, it is “a compact masterpiece that explains more about the late nineteenth century than most historians know and yet is readable enough to take on an airplane.”

Well recommended.


A Real Trip Down Memory Lane

August 15, 2021

Neville, Richard, (1968), OZ 11, OZ Publications Ink Limited, London, 36p.

Neville, Richard, (1970), OZ 31, OZ Publications Ink Limited, London, 48p.

You may have to be as old as me — and possibly brought up in London — to remember OZ, one of the greatest magazines that, between 1967 and 1973, straddled the period from the summer of love to the much harder seventies.

OZ exemplified that era so perfectly with sex, drugs, politics, progressive art, and rock n’roll oozing between its covers, eager to be free. It was in OZ that I first became acquainted, for example, with Robert Crumb’s subversive drawings, and with so much more.

I lived then in a suburb of west London where it was almost impossible to find copies of OZ, and so it also became a great reason to adventure into downtown to find a store that carried it.

Now, Richard Neville, the original editor, has made all copies of OZ available online. Marvelous memories on every page.  We are really lucky to have this artifact of a very different time.


Hijacking Pioneer

May 1, 2021

We rarely hear about plane hijackings these days; for a time there they were a bit of a fad.  But today is the 60th anniversary of the very first US hijacking.

On 1st May 1961, Puerto Rican Antuilo Ramierez Ortiz hijacked a National Airlines plane at pistol-point and ordered it to fly to Cuba where he received asylum. He started quite a craze.


The Remarkable Growth of Cities 1500-2018

March 20, 2021

Regular readers will perhaps recognize that I am a great fan of well done data visualizations of historical issues. Here is another one constructed by the folks at the Financial Times. It follows the growth of the world’s largest cities from 1500 through to 2018.  It lasts about 3 minutes and is quite fascinating.


Rosa Parks Day

December 1, 2020

Rosa_Parks_BookingIt was sixty-five years ago today that an experienced activist named Rosa Parks chose to say “No” when told to give up her bus seat for a white passenger on a rainy night in Montgomery, Alabama. Later, repeating her refusal to a police officer, she was arrested and became an historical figure.

Not withstanding the scores of millions of volunteer hours that went into the Civil Rights movement, and the billions of words crafted to defend the principles of equality and anti-discrimination, movements are often characterized by individual actions: Rosa Parks refusal being a classic example.

Never underestimate the ability of very small groups of people to start movements that develop into landslides of social change.


JFK and False Memory Syndrome

November 22, 2020

Fifty-seven years ago today, my mother and father visited their closest friends, Ron and Betty, who lived a few miles from us in West London. I was in the backseat of the small black car.  It smelled of leather and my parents’ cigarettes. I was sullen because I was just turned 14 years old and I had far better things to do than visit my parents’ old fogie friends to play cards.

I remember this all so clearly because, just as we pulled up outside Ron and Betty’s row house, the car radio broke off its normal programming and a solemn voice replaced the happy chatter.  The voice announced that President John F. Kennedy of the United States had been shot and probably killed.  I can still feel the goose-flesh that crawled over my skin. I remember the loud gasp as my father realized what had been said.  John Kennedy was one of my father’s heroes, and he was mine too. He was our hope for the future, and now he was dead. Nothing else about that evening do I remember. I’m sure my folks and their friends discussed the assassination, but that has passed from recall.

Within two years of that day, though, JFK had — in my eyes at least — fallen from the pedestal upon which his charisma, his beautiful family, and his martyrdom had placed him.  He was quickly revealed as just another centre-right US politician who was happy to send the boys to war, who was happy to squander the nation’s wealth on weapons and imperialism, who had no answer to segregation but brother Bobby’s federal agents.  We also learned (perhaps we always knew) he wasn’t quite such a great family man, either; that Camelot was an expensive sham.

Kennedy and his people lived in the tuxedoed world of High Society that was soon to be swept away by the real world of Soul on Ice and Revolver.  We might have hated that big Texas bully who followed Kennedy, but it was Kennedy not Johnson who pushed the US into South Vietnam, and it was Johnson not Kennedy who brought forward the Civil Rights Acts. Looking back, we can now see that both Kennedy and Johnson were equal participants in the cabaret that is America the Superpower. Unfortunately for the truth, Kennedy will always have the smile, the beautiful wife, the cute John-John and Caroline, while Johnson will always be pulling the ears off those damn beagles.


Remembering A Day of Infinite Possibilities

November 9, 2020

Thirty-one years ago today: It was 9th November 1989 and I was watching TV, watching the news from Berlin.  And soon a dozen people are hacking at the Wall from both sides and the party has begun and CNN’s cameras bring this extraordinary and historic wish-fulfillment into the living rooms of the world, and my living room in particular that November night.

And within moments, it seemed, there were thousands singing and candles blazing. And even though I was in Vancouver at the time, my heart was with them because at heart I was and remain a Londoner. And Berlin is VERY close to home to Londoners, especially to those who had spent decades watching people die as they tried to go over and under and around the Wall. And I wept openly and for days when the Wall came down.

It was a day of ultimate possibilities because here was an impossibility happening in front of our tear-misty TV-mediated eyes.


Some Good News Out of the US Election

November 6, 2020

While most progressives will be groaning about the closeness of the Presidential race, the losses in the House, and the likelihood that Mitch McConnell will continue to block any advance in the Senate, there were a few good results of the election.

The best, to my mind, was the success in San Francisco of a law to penalize corporations that pay their CEOs more than 100 times more than their median-paid workers.

“The tax is expected to raise $60 million to $140 million per year. Large businesses—those with over $1 billion in gross receipts, 1,000 employees nationwide, and administrative offices in San Francisco—would pay an additional tax of 0.4 percent to 2.4 percent of their San Francisco payroll expenses. Other businesses that pay taxes on gross receipts instead of payroll expenses “would pay an additional tax from 0.1 percent to 0.6 percent of [their] San Francisco gross receipts” …

“The more inequity between the top executive and their workers, the higher the surcharge. Corporations can avoid the tax by simply paying their executives less or by raising their employees’ wages.”

A recent study of the 350 biggest companies in the US found that CEOs were paid about 320 times the average worker.

Other successes were the expansion of legal marijuana to four other States, the decriminalization of small quantities of all drugs in Oregon, and the ending of slavery potential in Nebraska (only 157 years after the Emancipation Procalamation).


Even In War, Simple Often Wins

September 29, 2020

There is an article in the Independent on Sunday on the recent discovery of sunken German submarines from the Second World War, and the underwater archaeology that has shown how many of them were sunk. It appears that many more were destroyed by mines than has previously been acknowledged. The author, David Keys, notes that “over-enthusiastic airmen and escort ship commanders … sometimes claimed they had sunk U-boats with depth charges or anti-submarine mortars,” claims which research has shown to be unlikely at best.

While the article had general historical interest, I was also intrigued to note that the simple and comparatively inexpensive solution to the problem of coastal-patrolling German U-Boats — mines — was not publicly recognized by the senior military and civilian brass.  They preferred to go with the fiction that their expensive anti-submarine toys on and above the oceans had created success.  That decision allowed them to design and order ever more expensive and sophisticated “solutions” to problems in a never-ending process rather than learn whatever lessons the cheap mine could offer.

And the beneficiary? The military-industrial complex (as Eisenhower so carefully warned us a half century ago) and the politico-civil service infrastructure that supports and feeds the complex.

It’s just nuts that we allow this to go on.


The Liberation of Paris: A Racist Whitewash!

September 26, 2020

A truly despicable  slice of Western history has been revealed:  The Americans and Brits insisted that the troops who were to march through Paris at its liberation in 1944 should be all white, regardless of the sacrifices made by British, French and American black soldiers.

tirailleurs_senegalais1The issue arose, according to this BBC report, because General De Gaulle insisted that French troops lead the march.  However, most French units were a mix of white and black troops and that just wouldn’t do for the Allies.

In January 1944 Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, “confidential”: “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.  “This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white” …

A document written by the British General, Frederick Morgan, to Allied Supreme Command stated: “It is unfortunate that the only French formation that is 100% white is an armoured division in Morocco. “Every other French division is only about 40% white. I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division.”

A suitable French unit could not be found without removing all the black troops and replacing them with soldiers from other units, many of them not even French.

In the end, nearly everyone was happy. De Gaulle got his wish to have a French division lead the liberation of Paris, even though the shortage of white troops meant that many of his men were actually Spanish.  The British and Americans got their “Whites Only” Liberation even though many of the troops involved were North African or Syrian.

We were lucky enough to have large numbers of Africans, Indians, black and Native Americans and others fight and die on our side in that war, but we were too sick in the head to recognize them as heroes when the time came.  What a miserable load of hypocrites we were.


The Broken Promises of Internment

September 23, 2020

Some years ago, when I was writing “The Drive“, I came across a lot of material about the internment of the Japanese in British Columbia in 1942.  There were poignant stories of very popular shops having to close, of the missing athletes and scholars at Britannia who simply didn’t show up one morning, of visits by east-enders to the PNE to say goodbye to their friends and neighbours who were being held there before being shipped off to the Interior, of lives and families suddenly disrupted  beyond imagining.

The Nikkei Museum on Burnaby has an exhibit starting this weekend called “Broken Promises” about the lives of Japanese in BC in the 1940s.

Grounded in research from Landscapes of Injustice – a 7 year multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, community engaged project, this exhibit explores the dispossession of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s. It illuminates the loss of home and the struggle for justice of one racially marginalized community. The story unfolds by following seven narrators. Learn about life for Japanese Canadians in Canada before war, the administration of their lives during and after war ends, and how legacies of dispossession continue to this day.”

Looks interesting.


Visualizing Density

September 22, 2020

Here is a wonderful map of how the US population has grown from 1790 to 2010.

 

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

The Invasion of The Dominican Republic

April 28, 2020

Fifty-five years ago today, in order to protect the world from “a second Cuba”, US President Lyndon Johnson — obviously not distracted enough by losing the Vietnam War — ordered the US Marines to invade that Caribbean superpower, the Dominican Republic.  Operation Power Pack was launched on April 28th, 1965 and the occupation by the imperialist forces lasted until September 1966 after a pro-Trujillo, pro-American president was elected.

About 3,000 civilians are thought to have died to save the American Empire.

Lest we forget.


Pandemic History

March 14, 2020

The always useful Visual Capitalist has come up with this timely graphic on the history and comparative virulence of pandemics across history. (You will probably have to select the image to get the full detail).

 

 

It shows that the current virus is small time in comparison to the serious infections we have faced and survived over the centuries. However, there is no doubt the current numbers will swell and this will then allow us to visualise its force as it grows.


My Deep Post Super-Tuesday Analysis

March 4, 2020

 

America never ceases to disappoint.