Category Archives: War

Can A Good Result Come From A Bad Platform? A Rant

Last autumn I posted a photograph on Facebook of two adult women from a Sing-Sing in Papua New Guinea. They were wearing grass skirts and necklaces. Within a couple hours it disappeared and I received a notice that the photograph “violated community standards”. Evidently, Facebook trolls their platform with algorithms looking for the breasts that half (or more) of homo sapiens sapiens possess and that many display as part of either ordinary living or reenactments and continuation of traditions dating back millennia.

Two Sing-Sing Dancers
Hmm…Hmm…Hmmm. Now That’s One I’d Go Out With! Two Women Dancers Admiring A Male Dancer

If I had, instead, posted some vitriolic, racist bullshit about exterminating people of color, starting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, all would have been hunky-dory. No problema, I would have been simply a righteous asshole expressing my First Amendment rights and espousing violence like many another red-blooded white man with below-average self-esteem; poor work skills; poorer general social skills; a skepticism of science and book-learnin’; a knack for receiving a world view from Fox ‘News’ and, if I am a teen, an inability to get laid (young girls have radar that, almost immediately with few mistakes, can spot weirdos.)

In other words, a white guy who, along with his white male ancestors has enjoyed the prosperity and unearned status that has been their lot for the last few hundred years. When such a status is jeopardized by anyone, including their ‘natural’ soul mates, white women, it is time to pull the plug on the veneer of ‘live and let live’ and fight to keep – and extend, the privilege that exists. So what I dropped out of school in the 8th grade and would love to have lived in Roman times. I could have gone to those gladiatorial contests to give the thumbs down on the barbarians from the provinces? Yeh, I would have loved to join the military to bear arms if I could have passed the rudimentary skills test. And doin’ it for the USA would have been a bonus ‘cause I love this country, especially back when it enforced racial separation. Hoo-rah!

But, carrying a semi-automatic gun… er… weapon in public is the next best thing. Hell, better: I don’t have to follow orders from some jerk with a ‘high & tight’. (And, too, it really makes me feel like a man, you know. A whole lot. I know the chicks dig it!)

Who you callin’ deplorable!

To be more fair, there are fellow travelers who are not functionally stupid. As I have no known close acquaintances in this category I have not been able to ask whether such individuals actually believe all the clap-trap of white supremacists or whether they are just along for the ride because they stand to benefit from any extension of ole’ white boy power.

So… what this rant is really about is whether I will continue to use Facebook for posts or dump it and return to just writing on my Blog. As Facebook is 110% dollar driven I don’t think it will change much, despite Zucker-face buying time by mouthing the right code words at congressional hearings about the company having to do better.

What WILL amend Facebook’s corporate behavior is when they are sued and saddled with billions of dollars in legal claims similar to those that were faced by Big Tobacco. When a corporation knows it operates in an area that is a detriment to society it is culpable. I’m sure they will holler they are a news outlet letting their users enjoy the full extent of their First Amendments rights but we all know that, in truth, Facebook is a private business that is, in fact, in business to make money, not engage in the public good.

I have two more postings I am contemplating. One on evolutionary biology and one on Trumpism and capital. Then, I think I will bow out. It’s been a good, if uneasy, ride!

RIP: Denis Theodore Goldberg (1933-2020)

Artist's Open Air House in Rivonia
An Artist Friend’s Open Air House in Rivonia, © Wilbur Norman
Artist's Open Air Library in Rivonia
The Open Air Library, ©Wilbur Norman

I just learned that Denis Goldberg, one of the last two survivors of South Africa’s infamous Rivonia Trial (1963-1964), died on April 29th of cancer with Covid-19 complications.

Denis Goldberg, a civil engineer and an anti-apartheid activist, spent 22 years in prison. He was arrested during a meeting of activists and commanders of the MK (uMkhonto we Sizwe) the armed wing of the ANC (African Nation Congress) on a farm in Rivonia. The defendants in the sabotage and treason trial were Nelson Mandela (already in prison under a “citing workers to strike” charge), Walter Sisulu, Lionel Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Arthur Goldreich, Bob Hepple, Abdulhay Jassat, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Moosa Moolla, Elias Motsoaledi and Harold Wolpe. (Goldreich and Wolpe escaped from prison, after beatings and torture, before beginning their sentence; Hepple fled the country when charges were withdrawn; and Lionel Bernstein was acquitted, rearrested and placed under house arrest before escaping from the country.) The rest beat a de facto death sentence thru what was probably a private treaty with the judge. Goldberg received release in 1985 largely through the work of his daughter and members of her kibbutz and the U.S. and Israeli governments (for many years both close allies of apartheid South Africa.)

Many Americans think the fight for democracy in South Africa was a monolithic black vs. white struggle. This arrest list shows how wrong this view is: those arrested were English, Indian Muslim, Jewish, Xhosa, Pedi and Coloured.

The Rivonia Trial (Rivonia is a suburb of Johannesburg) contained what is considered a founding moment in the attempts to create a democracy in South Africa – 31 years before it became a reality. The ‘moment’ was , in fact, a three hour defense opening statement by Nelson Mandela, his famous “I Am Prepared To Die” speech. Here is the closing paragraph:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

As the only remaining white found guilty, Denis Goldberg was taken to Pretoria Central Prison to serve 22 years. The others served in various prisons with most doing extended time on Robben Island off the coast. Mandela served almost 28 years (18 of which were at Robben), Walter Sisulu served 26 years (most at Robben), Ahmed Kathrada served 26 years (18 at Robben) with the balance at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison (along with Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Walter Sisulu.) Many, perhaps all, of those convicted worked on interesting college degrees while incarcerated. Some may remember that it was Ahmed Kathrada who showed President Obama and the First Family around Robben Island in 2013.

In 2017 the three remaining survivors of the Rivonia trial – Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Kathrada, along with the three surviving defense attorneys, Joel Joffe, George Bizos and Denis Kuny – appeared in a documentary film entitled “Life is Wonderful”, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen. These were the words Goldberg’s mother, Annie, is said to have uttered when she learned that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence. (Annie must have been quite a mom: in 1960 she was arrested with him for supporting strikers after the Sharpeville massacre and they both spent four months in jail.)

Here is an interview with Sir Nicholas about the film: https://vimeo.com/284713545

Kent State May 4, 1970

Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller. Photo by John Filo, copyright © 1970 Valley News-Dispatch
Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller. Photo by John Filo, copyright © 1970 Valley News-Dispatch


“Mary Ann Vecchio [a 14-year old runaway, as the world later learned] gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. On publication, the image was retouched to remove the fence post above Vecchio’s head.” The protest was against President Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Reacting to mass demonstrations on May 1st, Nixon he had called anti-war protestors ‘bums’.

Four students were killed and 9 wounded by the 67 shots fired by the Ohio National Guard that day. Two of the four killed were bystanders and none of the four was closer to the Guard than about a football field in distance. The Guard had been dispatched to Kent State by Governor James Rhodes, at the request of the town of Kent’s mayor, after an arson attack burned down the ROTC building on May 2.

Four million students (college and high school) went out on strike after the news of the shootings became public.

In New Mexico, where I now live, eleven people were bayonetted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard in a confrontation with student protesters on May 8th. The demonstrations in Washington, DC were so combative that Nixon was removed to Camp David for his safety and the 82nd Airborne was lodged in the basement of the Executive Office Building next to the White House. At Jackson State University, a historically black college, in Jackson, Mississippi, two students were killed (and 12 wounded) by police during a demonstration on May 14 – an event that did not receive the same attention as the shootings at Kent State.

I was in high school in Ohio and vividly remember those times – especially when my Draft Number turned out to be 99. For many years thereafter I never ate at Wendy’s because Ohio Governor Big Jim Rhodes (“part P.T. Barnum, part Elmer Gantry, part Norman Vincent Peale” – Dayton Daily News) was one of Wendy’s investors. There are memorial events at Kent State on May 4th every year and I have managed to make it to one (the 30th, I believe.)

There are still unanswered questions about the timing and personnel involved in the Kent State massacre. A prominent one involves the university- and FBI-informant Terrence Brooks Norman (no relation!), a student who appeared to be the only non-Guardsman individual who was armed at the demonstration.

Great Reads #2: The Aeneid

Arma virumque cano….

The Aeneid is the story of how a refugee from beaten and destroyed ancient Troy preserved his people, via divine authority, by founding Rome, with his descendants going on to establish an empire.

In 19BC the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro left Greece, where he had been conducting research for The Aeneid, to return to his home in Rome. He shipped out on a vessel with the Emperor Augustus, as one does. They stopped at Megara where Virgil contracted fever (or heatstroke) and he died as the ship docked in the southern Italian trading port of Brundisium. Among his last thoughts was his dissatisfaction with a 10-year long writing project, this book, The Aeneid. Rather than let an unfinished work see the light of day, he asked his executors to burn the manuscript. Augustus, who knew something of the book as Virgil had read him three chapters, stepped in and ordered the work to be published ‘as is’.

The Aeneidis an acknowledged cornerstone of Western literature and by two centuries after his death was a prerequisite in Latin education, which is to say, any western education above the rudimentary. Even in the 19th century it was often a requirement of students to memorize the whole of it! Its 9,896 lines have been printed in hundreds of editions in both its original Latin dactylic hexameter and in poetic and prose translation. Its opening line was even found in excavation as graffiti in Pompeii: Arma virumque cano, “Of arms and a man I sing.”

In 1680 Henry Purcell published the music for one of my favorite operas, Dido and Aeneas with Nahum Tate writing the libretto. (Tate is today mostly remembered, when he is remembered art all, for rewriting Shakespeare’s plays so that every scene would be “full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts”. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same!) I have many versions of The Aeneid shelved in several libraries around the house. My current favorite is the translation by Robert Fitzgerald (1983). I own four copies of this translation: one (trade paperback) in the sunroom library, one (mass market paper) in the research area for my work on wine in life and literature and two in the bedroom (first edition hardcover and a trade paper to share my enthusiasm by lending to friends.) Hmmm…. maybe this is why I have more than 5,000 books!

Virgil was a talented writer and superb stylist who cleverly knew his way around alliteration, onomatopoeia and other wordplay. His poetic lines are of a grand and stately solemn nature, very foreign to our modern ears attuned as we are to formulations of unstructured free-style verse and sentences. His goal in The Aeneid was to create a work that would glorify Rome and rival Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. There are twelve books (what we might call chapters) in The Aeneid, written using the same syllabic and metrical line as used by Homer. The first six chapters play on the Odyssey and the last six the war and battles in the Iliad.

Though a great work, The Aeneid has not been free of issues. Yes, there are literary ones (it is a bear to translate as it is composed in what the Germans call kunstsprache, an artificial or invented artful language; I never truly mastered it in my school Latin.)

But, the problems I address here are political in nature. The work was ‘co-opted’ right from the beginning by Augustus. The emperor is kindly mentioned by name in scenes where Aeneas is gifted sight into the future when he enters the Underworld to visit his late father, Anchises. Augustus’ reign came after decades of instability (the Roman Civil Wars) following Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon in 49BC, taking his legions into Rome and eventually becoming Dictator. Augustus was seen by many as savior and last hope of the Roman people for peace after the civil turmoil. Likewise it has been used through the centuries as a support for the aggrandizing and subjugating nature of colonization, a classical ‘white man’s burden’ made flesh.

But, to be fair, The Aeneid has also been interpreted as an anti-war poem and it is this tack I take. The language and potent imagery is second to none – cinematic even. The battle scenes do not require a very active imagination to visualize. It is sad that Virgil is no longer on the required reading list of our schools. It still has a lot to teach us about myriad human qualities like devotion, piety, hubris, rage, fate, courage and love in all its incarnations. Stop in and borrow a copy or buy your own if you are unfamiliar with the joy of reading this fine story.

Below, a section from “The World Below”, where Aeneas, led by the Sibyl, travels to the Underworld to see his father. She is carrying, under her dress, their entry ticket: the golden bough. It had been torn off a tree by Aeneas who was foretold it was needed as a presentation to Charon to get him to ferry them across Cocytus, the Stygian river leading to Hades. At the other side of the river there is another obstacle, the huge three-headed dog, Cerberus, but he enters the picture some lines later.

(If the words ‘golden bough’ seem familiar look up J.M.W. Turner’s painting of the same name and, also, the early anthropologist Sir James George Frazier whose work greatly influenced a generation, including Freud and Jung; Aleister Crowley; T.S. Elliot and William Carlos Williams; Hemingway, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Robert Graves and Yeats; and the man who founded anthropology ‘off the verandah’, the founder of my university’s department, Bronislaw Malinowski, who was prompted to lay out the first statement of the aims of ethnography in his ground-breaking Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). Though now superseded in scholarship, for many years The Golden Bough exerted a profound influence upon literature, anthropology and intellectual thinking.)

Selection, below, courtesy of Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, NY. The Aeneid Translated by Robert Fitzgerald, Book VI, lines 331-402. Copyright 1980, 1982, 1983.

Editions of The Aeneid
Bedroom Library

Book VI, “The World Below”, lines 331-402

The cavern was profound, wide-mouthed and huge,

Rough underfoot, defended by dark pool

And gloomy forest. Overhead, flying things

Could never safely take their way, such deathly

Exhalations rose from the black gorge

Into the dome of heaven. …

                                                “Away, away,”

The Sibyl cried, “All those unblest, away!”

Depart from the grove! But you, Aeneas,

Enter the path here, and unsheathe your sword.

There’s need of gall and resolution now.”


She flung herself wildly into the cave mouth,

Leading, and he strode boldly at her heels.

Gods who rule the ghosts; all silent shades;

And Chaos and infernal Fiery Stream,

And regions of wide night without a sound,

May it be right to tell of what I have heard,

May it be right, and fitting, by your will,

That I describe the deep world sunk in darkness

Under the earth.

                                    Now dim to one another

In desolate night they walked on through the gloom,

Through Dis’s homes all void, and empty realms,

As one goes through a wood by a faint moon’s

Treacherous light, when Jupiter veils the sky

And black night blots the colors of the world.

Before the entrance, in the jaws of Orcus,

Grief and avenging Cares have made their beds,

And pale diseases and sad Age are there,

And Dread, and Hunger that sways men to crime,

And sordid Want – in shapes to affright the eyes –

And Death and Toil and Death’s own brother, Sleep,

And the mind’s evil joys; on the door sill

Death-bringing War, and iron cubicles

Of the Eumenides, and raving Discord,

Viperish hair bound up in gory bands.

In the courtyard a shadowy elm

Spreads ancient boughs, her ancient arms where dreams,

False dreams, the old tale goes, beneath each leaf

Cling and are numberless. There, too,

About the doorway forms of monsters crowd –

Centaurs, twiformed Scyllas, hundred-armed

Briareus, and the Lernaean hydra

Hissing horribly, and the Chimaera

Breathing dangerous flames, and Gorgons, Harpies,

Huge Geryon, triple-bodied ghost.

Here, swept by sudden fear, drawing his sword,

Aeneas stood guard with naked edge

Against them as they came. If his companion,

Knowing the truth, had not admonished him

How faint these lives were – empty images

Hovering bodies – he had attacked

And cut his way through phantoms, empty air.

WWII Code Name: Beach Red

Terry Holding His Son Jacob
Red Beach, WWII U.S. Marines Landing Area
Guadalcanal Island, Solomon Islands

With his wife and nine children he lives ‘rough’ on Red Beach, the site of the first landfall of the U.S. Marines in the Solomon Islands. The family has only recently returned to this shore-front they say they own. He and his wife are Gilbert Islanders, Micronesians, in this country of Melanesians. Despite their uncertain future, the family and little community maintain the site. The original historic marker has been stolen and moved 500 meters west to draw tourists and our dollars there. (The two Solomon Island brothers who they say drove them away to keep the land for themselves have recently been jailed which has allowed the return of Terry and his family.)

The Gilbert Islands are a group of 32 atolls and reef islands and one raised coral island dispersed over 1.3 million square miles, halfway between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea. It is the nation now known as Kiribati (their pronunciation of the word ‘Gilbert’ — though accented, Terry’s English is a good as mine). The name was coined in 1820 by a German admiral, in the employ of Russian Tsar Aleksandr I, after the British captain who ‘discovered’ the islands in 1788. This mix of European interests in the Pacific is a common circumstance involving changing identities and loyalties for the last couple centuries.

The main north-south line of islands in Kiribati is still called The Gilberts and stretches 780 km/485 miles. It is amazing to me that with a small population and such close proximity (in sea-faring Pacific islander terms) the northern islands were ruled by a chief and the southern islands were run by collectives of elder men. The origin myth of the Gilbertese has the ancestors coming from the West and being whitish-skinned and red-haired. It is intriguing to speculate that the Asian branch of the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, might have been sea-faring!

 

Marker Sign at Red Beach

 

Most Westerners know almost nothing about Kiribati so here are three points of general interest that stand out to me:

– three of the islands were Great Britain’s last attempt at colonization (1938-1963)

– the islands were attacked by the Japanese in December 1941 on the same day as Pearl Harbor. In August of 1942 U.S. Marines landed an attack and 19 were captured as prisoners and summarily executed by the Japanese. In 1999 their bodies were finally returned home by an honor guard.

– three of the islands are U.S. territories, including Palmyra Atoll, the only incorporated U.S. Territory.

(There are a total of 14 Insular Areas around the world that fall under U.S. jurisdiction. Can you name them!)

 

Japanese Type 88 75mm Anti-Aircraft Gun
(with its base just beyond)

Red Beach WWII Rusting Howitzer

Still the Greatest! RIP Mohammed Ali (1942-2016)

“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman

In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.

I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.

What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*

“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali

When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.

* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.

Vote Down Veterans Benefits – But Send Them Into Harms Way

The Senators, listed below, complained Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ veterans benefits bill was too expensive. And they were upset that Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented a vote on a GOP amendment cutting the bill and adding sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.

No doubt these same, mostly old, rich, white men will be wanting to send U.S. ground forces (a slick, cosmetic way of saying our young gals & guys) back to Iraq as soon as yesterday to try and save the unsavable: the corrupt, intransigent regime of Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki, the country’s Prime Minister. Oh… and yes, he is also acting Interior Minister, acting Defense Minister, acting National Security Minister and the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa Party.

                     plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

– from Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr,  24 November 1808 – 29 September 1890 and usually translated into English as, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Senators Who Voted Against Veteran's Benefits This Past February
Senators Who Voted Against Veteran’s Benefits This Past February

 

Ride for Peace

Motorbiking Around the World

Jeffrey Polnaja stopping on his international Ride for Peace at Sipapu, New Mexico for the BMW annual Bavarian Mountain Rally
Jeffrey Polnaja stopping on his international Ride for Peace at Sipapu, New Mexico for the BMW annual Bavarian Mountain Rally

I rode my BMW R1200RT to the New Mexico annual BMW motorcycle rally last weekend and had the privilege of meeting Jeffrey Polnaja. Jeffrey, from Java, Indonesia, has been riding his GS BMW motorcycle around the world on a Ride for Peace. He is into his 78th country and 52nd riding month and has, he figures, around 24 months more to go to cover the rest of the western U.S., Central and South America, New Zealand and Australia. He has only taken a break once — when his bike was stolen (with all his possessions) in Amsterdam in a plaza in front of a police station. To replace it he had to buy another in Indonesia where the customs duty doubles the price of the bike to around US$45,000. He got a break and only had to pay $30,000. He also used the waiting time to write a book about the southern Asia, North Africa and Western Europe part of his journey. He hopes the book will one day be translated into English.

Since he began his journey Jeffrey has learned how to repair the elemental mechanics of the bike, learned how to use his small helmet and chest-mounted cameras as well as a large Nikon, gotten really good in making slide shows and movies with his laptop computer and, incredibly, learned how to speak passable English.

The impetus for this huge undertaking began when he and his family were watching the awful events of September 11, 2001 on Indonesian television. His young son asked him why someone, someone who was Muslim as Jeffrey and his family are, would do this terrible thing. After trying to explain to his son the nature of evil his son asked him why he did not do something to stop such evil. Like most of us, Jeffrey asked his son what could he, a simple small businessman in Bandung Province with no special skills, do? His son asked why he couldn’t ride around the world taking the message of Peace. Unlike most of us, Jeffrey decided to do just that. He sold his business (rubber parts for motorcycles) and in April 2006 began his international journey.

“I am just a rider, but I hope to see peace in the world. I hope (politicians) will make peace part of their policy.”

Jeffrey’s ready smile, gentle spirit and iron-tough will (he would add his belief in god) have kept him in the saddle though events that would stop many, maybe most, riders. I think just the official international border paperwork and petty theft would rob most of us of our sense that we can make a difference.

He has been shot at in South Asia and hit by a drunk driver in Baluchistan. The hit-and-run collision damaged his bike, destroyed his navigation system and cracked his right wrist (he has a great photo of buzzards flying overhead after this accident when he awoke the next morning lost in the roadless desert). He had to negotiate to be allowed to cross the Khyber Pass into war-torn Afghanistan and required armed escort for part of his ride there. He had motorcycle mounted, heavily armed, gendarmeries flank him across Algeria and was charged only $30 for a $3000 per night hotel room in Dubai. He was hit by a truck driver in Kazakhstan with crushing wounds to his left leg. The doctors said he would need a month in bed before putting weight on it. Jeffrey decided to try the healing meditations monks in Tibet had taught him. After eight days he thought his leg felt better and asked the doctors if he could go. They checked his leg and the fracture had healed — he was released to continue his ride.

Here’s hoping his ride has an impact on as many people, in as many places, as possible.

Ride Safe, Jeffrey.

 

Pop-Up Ideas: BBC Radio 4 has a new series. 1st up: Malcolm Gladwell on listening in Vietnam

“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”

4 Episodes
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013

Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”

Program 1: New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)

In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”

This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.

Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.

The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):

Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.

Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.

Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.

Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) Force-Fed Under Standard Guantánamo Bay Procedure

A Video of the Procedure

A leaked document sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees at Guantánamo. In this four-minute film made by Human Rights organisation Reprieve and Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, US actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiences the procedure. — The Guardian Newspaper

What are the alternatives for keeping the prisoners (100 hunger-strikers with 40 being force fed) alive? I do not know.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ruled that the court cannot make a ruling on whether the detainees can be force-fed by the military, adding “The President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief, has authority – and power – to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.”

If you would like to read reporter Ben Ferguson’s eye-witness account of the making of the video, click here.

NOTE: This video is not for the faint of heart (nor, as you will see, was the procedure for Mos Def, a Muslim, born Dante Smith in Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Image Credit: Reprieve and Bafta



Alpinists on Mt. Nanga Parbat Murdered

Ten dead at 15,000 foot camp in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.

 

Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.
Nanga Parbat from Base Camp. Photo taken November 30, 2005.

Back in my younger days I was a mountain climber. I still have all the stuff: the insulated boots; parkas; big-wall hardware; ice axes, hammers and screws; tents; down bags; metal-edged telemark skis, etc. But, as my life became more sedentary, with most days spent in front of the computer or at my gallery, I got soft. Now I just read about climbing.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. I came of age, as they say, in a time when I could trek almost anywhere and get out of most any trouble by flashing that all-important U.S. passport. There were hardly any mountains off limits except the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and some of the Soviet peaks. Sometimes even these were available for the right money.

The days of unfettered access have long been gone and highlighting this was today’s Taliban attack on an international climbing camp on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second and the world’s ninth highest mountain. Locals call the mountain Diamir: “King of the Mountains”. It is located in Pakistan’s northwest Gilgit-Baltistan region and has resisted all attempts at a winter ascent. The area has had a lot of violence directed at the Shia minority but none toward foreigners as has occurred in more accessible regions. (The base camp, at a mountain elevation of 4200 feet, is roadless and difficult of access, requiring a two-day hike-in. The camp itself sits at 15,000 feet above sea level.)

“Spokesperson for the proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, talking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location claimed that the Janud-e-Hafsa faction of the [Taliban] had carried out the attack… dressed as Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit.” (The Muslim News, Middlesex, UK.) The reason given for the murders was to avenge recent U.S. drone attacks that killed the Taliban’s deputy leader on May 29.

The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp - The Muslim News, UK.
The scene of the massacre at the Gilgit-Baltistan base camp – The Muslim News, UK.

One Chinese climber was wounded and escaped. The dead include an American of Chinese origin, the Pakistani guide, two Chinese, a Nepalese, two Slovakians, a Lithuanian and two Ukranians.