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.

 


The Oldest Companies In Each Country

February 18, 2020

Here is a fascinating chart of the oldest companies still operating in most countries of the world.  Click on the image to get the full scale.

 

My favourite is probably Ma Yu Ching’s Bucket Chicken House in China said to have been operating since 1153.

Found at the Business Financing Co’s website.


Interest Rate History

February 4, 2020

The often interesting Visual Capitalist has published a graph of nominal interest rates from the 14th century through to today:

Select image for a larger look.

“Today’s graphic from Paul Schmelzing, visiting scholar at the Bank of England, shows how global real interest rates have experienced an average annual decline of -0.0196% (-1.96 basis points) throughout the past eight centuries.

Collecting data from across 78% of total advanced economy GDP over the time frame, Schmelzing shows that real rates* have witnessed a negative historical slope spanning back to the 1300s.  Displayed across the graph is a series of personal nominal loans made to sovereign establishments, along with their nominal loan rates. Some from the 14th century, for example, had nominal rates of 35%. By contrast, key nominal loan rates had fallen to 6% by the mid 1800s.

Centennial Averages of Real Long-Term “Safe-Asset”† Rates From 1311-2018

% 1300s 1400s 1500s 1600s 1700s 1800s 1900s 2000s
Nominal rate 7.3 11.2 7.8 5.4 4.1 3.5 5.0 3.5
Inflation 2.2 2.1 1.7 0.8 0.6 0.0 3.1 2.2
Real rate 5.1 9.1 6.1 4.6 3.5 3.4 2.0 1.3

*Real rates take inflation into account, and are calculated as follows: nominal rate – inflation = real rate.
†Safe assets are issued from global financial powers

Starting in 1311, data from the report shows how average real rates moved from 5.1% in the 1300s down to an average of 2% in the 1900s.

The average real rate between 2000-2018 stands at 1.3%.”

The current rash of negative interest rates that we see today is therefore in line with historical trends.


Mesolithic Cooking

January 11, 2020

New research in South Africa has indicated that early homo were cooking carbohydrate-rich rhizomes about 170,000 years ago:

“[C]ircumstantial evidence for cooking is compelling. The spatial context of the rhizomes in ash rather than adjacent sediment is significant. Further support for cooking comes from amylase gene analysis results, which indicate that a high starch diet, possibly involving processing and/or cooking of carbohydrate-rich geophytes by early humans, was already in place by the Middle Pleistocene. Cooking enables dietary diversity, and transporting geophytes to a home base like Border Cave facilitates both food processing and sharing …

“The Border Cave discovery is early evidence of cooked starchy plant food. The wide distribution of Hypoxis, particularly the small, palatable Hypoxis angustifolia rhizome that grows gregariously in many habitats, implies that it could have provided a reliable, familiar staple food source for early humans moving within or out of Africa.”

This is additional evidence for the hypothesis that cooking made us human (or at least played a significant role in our societal development).


When A Regime Goes Pear-Shaped

January 9, 2020

In the Public Domain Review, Patricia Mainardi has a fascinating essay on how the image of the pear became a symbol of opposition to the French monarchy in the 1830s.

The most famous of the images was probably this:  Daumier’s The Past, the Present, the Future, depicting Louis-Philippe’s pear head in triplicate, his topknot defining the fruit’s stem. The caption (possibly written by Philipon himself) notes: “What was in the beginning: fresh and confident; What is now: pale, thin, and anxious; What will be: despondent and broken. ”

 

 

While originally based on the supposed physical shape of King Louis-Phillipe, it quickly became a general symbol for the anti-monarchists.

The essay goes into great detail about how this symbol developed into a political tool — a proto-meme.

“While the government at first responded to these drawings with repression and seizures, they gradually came to adopt, however reluctantly, a laissez-faire approach. In the course of numerous prosecutions, Philipon had learned how to turn court cases into circuses, much to the amusement of jurors who often declined to convict him.”

A really interesting piece of political history.


Anarchism on The Drive — Tonight!

November 24, 2019

Erica Lagalisse will be talking about her recent book, Occult Features of Anarchism: With Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples, tonight at the People’s Co-op Bookstore, 1391 Commercial from 7pm to 9pm.

Erica Lagalisse is an anthropologist and writer, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE), and board member at The Sociological Review. Lagalisse’s doctoral thesis,“Good Politics”: Property, Intersectionality, and the Making of the Anarchist Self, explores anarchist networks that cross Québec, the United States and Mexico to examine contradictions within indigenous solidarity activism and settler “anarchoindigenism”. The comparative work also throws into relief the idiosyncracies of university-educated Anglo-American leftists, and draws on anthropological, feminist and critical race theory to show how they have preempted the black feminist challenge of “intersectionality” by recuperating its praxis within the logic of neoliberal self-making projects and property relations.

As always, the event is free!


JFK and False Memory Syndrome

November 22, 2019

Fifty-six 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.


Memoir 1989: A Day of Infinite Possibilities

November 9, 2019

Thirty 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.