Category - Histories

William Pfaff, Critic of American Foreign Policy, Dies at 86

New York Times, By Marlise Simons, May 1

Paris — William Pfaff, an international affairs columnist and author who was a prominent critic of American foreign policy, finding Washington’s intervention in world affairs often misguided, died on Thursday in a hospital here. He was 86.

His wife, Carolyn Pfaff, said the cause was a heart attack after a fall.

Mr. Pfaff, who moved to Paris in 1971, wrote a syndicated column that appeared for more than 25 years in The International Herald Tribune, now The International New York Times. He was a longtime contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and other publications, the articles informed by his deep knowledge of history and philosophy.

Mr. Pfaff (pronounced FAFF) also wrote eight books, which further examined American statecraft as well as 20th-century Europe’s penchant for authoritarian utopianism. In “The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia,” published in 2004, he examined what drove European intellectuals to embrace communism, fascism and Nazism.

[…]

“What has occurred since 1945,” he wrote in its introduction, “has amounted to an American effort to control the consequences of the 20th-century crisis in Europe and the breakdown of imperial order in Asia, the Near and Middle East, and latterly in Africa while maintaining that supervisory role over the Americas first claimed by the United States in 1823” with the Monroe Doctrine.

The Neoconservative Counterrevolution

In the anti-sixties backlash, neoconservatives were the most formidable intellectual opponents of social progress.

Jacobin Magazine, By Andrew Hartman, April 23

If New Leftists gave shape to one side of the culture wars, those who came to be called neoconservatives were hugely influential in shaping the other. Neoconservatism, a label applied to a group of prominent liberal intellectuals who moved right on the American political spectrum during the sixties, took form precisely in opposition to the New Left.

In their reaction to the New Left, in their spirited defense of traditional American institutions, and in their full-throated attack on those intellectuals who composed, in Lionel Trilling’s words, an “adversary culture,” neoconservatives helped draw up the very terms of the culture wars.

When we think about the neoconservative persuasion as the flip side of the New Left, it should be historically situated relative to what Corey Robin labels “the reactionary mind.” Robin considers conservatism “a meditation on — and theoretical rendition of — the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.”

In somewhat similar fashion, George H. Nash defines conservatism as “resistance to certain forces perceived to be leftist, revolutionary, and profoundly subversive.” Plenty of Americans experienced the various New Left movements of the sixties as “profoundly subversive” of the status quo. Neoconservatives articulated this reaction best. In a national culture transformed by sixties liberation movements, neoconservatives became famous for their efforts to “win it back.”

Armenian Church to canonize 1.5 million genocide victims

AFP, By Irakli Metreveli, April 23

Yerevan – The Armenian Church prepared Thursday to canonise up to 1.5 million Armenians massacred by Ottoman forces as tensions over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the killings as genocide reached boiling point.

The ceremony, which is believed to become the biggest canonisation service in history, comes ahead of commemorations expected to see millions of people including heads of state Friday mark 100 years since the start of the killings. The Armenian Apostolic Church announced the canonisation service for the “martyrs of the Armenian Genocide,” calling for a “prayerful participation in this historic event.”

The service will be held in Armenia’s main church, Echmiadzin, an austere fourth-century edifice believed to be the Christian world’s oldest cathedral. The ceremony will run from 1300 GMT and end at 1515 GMT to symbolize the year when the massacres started during World War I.

“Today’s canonisation unites all Armenians living around the globe,” Huri Avetikian, an ethnic Armenian librarian from Lebanon who arrived in her ancestral homeland to attend the service, told AFP.

The Independent: System Of A Down perform in Armenia for the first time to mark genocide’s 100th anniversary
NPR: System Of A Down, Armenia’s Favorite Sons, On Facing History

First in Flight? Connecticut Stakes a Claim

New York Times, By Kristen Hussey, April 17

Bridgeport, CT — Connecticut lawmakers are wrestling with difficult issues — a budget deficit, assisted suicide, judicial reform.

But this legislative session, and for the previous two, one topic has enjoyed bipartisan support: Gustave Whitehead.

In 2013, a well-regarded aviation publication surprised historians by declaring that Mr. Whitehead, a Bridgeport resident, had flown two years before Orville and Wilbur Wright skimmed the dunes of Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina in 1903.

“Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied,” read the headline in the publication, IHS Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. “Whitehead has been shabbily treated by history,” it said.

Mr. Whitehead, a German immigrant, flew his own aircraft above Bridgeport and nearby Fairfield on Aug. 14, 1901, climbing 50 feet into the air and traveling more than a mile, according to the article, which was written by Paul Jackson, the editor of Jane’s.

Slaughter on Eighth Avenue: A St. Patrick’s Day Commemoration

Pando, By John Dolan, March 17

St Patrick’s Day, a glum and murky occasion.

The Irish are nothing in America now, which is why they’re fit to be patronized once a year. They’re not much, at the moment, on the home island either. I suppose you can’t blame the Dublin-suburb junior execs swarming over the planet; when Ireland joined the EU, the doomstruck islanders found themselves, for the first time in centuries, ruled by people who actually liked them, goofy but generous postwar Teutons. You can’t grumble too much at the young Dubliners for groveling to Brussels, but you can’t warm up much to the current incarnation of Irish either, with their secondhand motivational clichés.

It’s a necessary stage, I get that. It had to change. I read an interview with a Maasai woman once (there’s more between Irish and Africans than anyone likes to admit) who grieved for the loss of the old ways but then shrugged and said, “Still…No one now would agree to suffer as our mothers suffered.” It was always the women who bore the brunt. Which is why I have to fast-forward through the Mrs. Doyle scenes of Father Ted, and waste many an hour on stupid dreams about a time machine, a suitcase nuke, and a one-way trip to London, 1850.

It’s just not practical, all that baggage. Somebody told me once, “The past is past,” and though I nodded, I never got that idea. How can the past be past? That makes no sense to me, never has.

What they really mean is, “The past can’t be fixed.” Now that, I get. But “can’t be fixed” is not the same as “past.” May as well be, maybe, but not actually the same.

The month that killed the middle class: How October 1973 slammed America

From the Arab oil embargo to the auto workers strike, one month more than 40 years ago changed this nation forever

Salon.com, By Edward McClelland, March 7

Early in 1974, Don Cooper, an autoworker at an Oldsmobile plant in Lansing, Michigan, was demoted from his coveted job in the crankshaft department to the final assembly line, where he had started out as a rookie nine years earlier. Cooper hadn’t done anything wrong. Rather, he was a victim of events 6,000 miles away.

The previous October, Egypt had invaded Israel. When the United States provided military aid to the Jewish state, Saudi Arabia retaliated by cutting off oil exports to Western nations. The Arab Oil Embargo raised the price of gasoline from 36 to 53 cents a gallon — when drivers could get it. To prevent hours-long lines, filling stations sold to cars with odd-numbered license plates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, even plates on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Oldsmobile, known for burly, dynamic cars powered by its eight-cylinder Rocket engine, was offering its usual stable of bad-ass American iron: a Cutlass with a 270-horsepower engine; a 98 that measured 19 feet 4 inches from chrome bumper to chrome bumper. But suddenly, customers weren’t buying those gas guzzlers. And when cars weren’t selling, Oldsmobile didn’t need as many crankshafts. So thanks to the latest Arab-Israeli War, Cooper was back on the line.

“That was a rude awakening to go back to final assembly,” Cooper recalled. “I was back on the frame line. I had to ground a radio strap to a firewall, and tighten a brass nut on an air conditioning unit. It was torture to go back.”

Previously: Decline and fall: how American society unravelled

Archaeologists unearth lost fortress of Genghis Khan in western Mongolia

Asahi Shimbun, By Kunijiko Imai, Febrary 26

Japanese and Mongolian archaeologists said Feb. 26 that they have discovered the remains of a 13th-century military outpost established for Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan (c. 1162-1227) in southwestern Mongolia.

The joint research team said the discovery could be useful in learning about the Mongol Empire’s strategy on western expansion and trade routes.

“We hope the discovery will be useful in ascertaining the history of the Mongolian Plateau between the 13th and 14th centuries,” said team leader Koichi Matsuda, professor emeritus of Mongol Empire history at Osaka International University.

Oklahoma Lawmakers Vote Overwhelmingly To Ban Advanced Placement U.S. History

Think Progress, By Judd Legum, February 17

An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.

Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) has introduced “emergency” legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” Fisher is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.” The group attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state.” The Black Robe Regiment claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

Fisher said the Advanced Placement history class fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” The bill passed the Oklahoma House Education committee on Monday on a vote of 11-4. You can read the actual course description for the course here.

Bonus, Wonkette: Tennessee Makes Jesus Your Savior for You, How Nice

Mysterious Indo-European homeland may have been in the steppes of Ukraine and Russia

Science Magazine, By Michael Balter, February 13

What do you call a male sibling? If you speak English, he is your “brother.” Greek? Call him “phrater.” Sanskrit, Latin, Old Irish? “Bhrater,” “frater,” or “brathir,” respectively. Ever since the mid-17th century, scholars have noted such similarities among the so-called Indo-European languages, which span the world and number more than 400 if dialects are included. Researchers agree that they can probably all be traced back to one ancestral language, called Proto-Indo-European (PIE). But for nearly 20 years, scholars have debated vehemently when and where PIE arose.

Two long-awaited studies, one described online this week in a preprint and another scheduled for publication later this month, have now used different methods to support one leading hypothesis: that PIE was first spoken by pastoral herders who lived in the vast steppe lands north of the Black Sea beginning about 6000 years ago. One study points out that these steppe land herders have left their genetic mark on most Europeans living today.

The studies’ conclusions emerge from state-of-the-art ancient DNA and linguistic analyses, but the debate over PIE’s origins is likely to continue. A rival hypothesis—that early farmers living in Anatolia (modern Turkey) about 8000 years ago were the original PIE speakers—is not ruled out by the new analyses, most agree. Although the steppe hypothesis has now received a major boost, “I would not say the Anatolian hypothesis has been killed,” says Carles Lalueza-Fox, a geneticist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, who participated in neither of the new studies.

Up until the 1980s, variations of the steppe hypothesis held sway among most linguists and archaeologists tracking down Indo-European’s birthplace. Then in 1987, archaeologist Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom proposed that PIE spread with farming from its origins in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, moving west into Europe and east further into Asia; over time the languages continued to spread and diversify into the many Indo-European languages we know today.

Scientist considered father of birth control pill dies

AP, January 31

San Francisco — Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died.

Djerassi died of complications of cancer in his San Francisco home, Stanford University spokesman Dan Stober said. He was 91.

Djerassi, a professor emeritus of chemistry at Stanford, was most famous for leading a research team in Mexico City that in 1951 developed norethindrone, a synthetic molecule that became a key component of the first birth control pill.

“The pill” as it came to be known radically transformed sexual practices and women’s lives. The pill gave women more control over their fertility than they had ever had before and permanently put doctors — who previously didn’t see contraceptives as part of their job — in the birth control picture.

In his book, “This Man’s Pill,” Djerassi said the invention also changed his life, making him more interested in how science affects society.

In 1969, he submitted a public policy article about the global implications of U.S. contraceptive research, according to the Stanford News Service. In 1970, he published another article about the feasibility of a birth control pill for men.

“The thoughts behind these two public policy articles had convinced me that politics, rather than science, would play the dominant role in shaping the future of human birth control,” he wrote.

[…]

“He also is the only person, to my knowledge, to receive from President Nixon the National Medal of Science and to be named on Nixon’s blacklist in the same year,” Zare added.


SF Gate: Stanford chemist who developed birth control pill dead at 91

Mr. Djerassi was not humble about his role in the invention. He wrote three autobiographies, including “The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse,” “In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen,” and, on the 50th anniversary of oral contraception, released a book called “This Man’s Pill,” but his immodesty was well-earned, said colleagues and peers.

Mr. Djerassi had a compelling and lifelong interest, both as a scientist and as an artist, in issues of “individual agency,” and he took pride in the social and cultural shifts that were brought on by the Pill, said Darney. He got to know Mr. Djerassi well during the 1980s, when they worked to bring RU-486 — a drug now called mifepristone that is used to terminate pregnancies — to the United States.

“Carl was interested particularly in individual freedom and self-determination, and believed that all of us, women included, should have that opportunity,” Darney said. “He saw birth control and access to abortion as agents of that opportunity.”


Statement of the Family of Dr. Carl Djerassi, January 30, 2015

Dr. Carl Djerassi, renowned scientist, author, and philanthropist, died peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, in his home in San Francisco, California on Friday, January 30, 2015. Dr. Djerassi’s death resulted from complications due to cancer. He was 91. His life and career included remarkable productivity and achievement in science, academia, and the arts, as well as personal tragedy in his expulsion from his childhood home following the Nazi Anschluss in 1938 and the death of his daughter in 1978.

Dr. Djerassi is survived by his son, Dale Djerassi, stepdaughter Leah Middlebrook, and grandson, Alexander M. Djerassi. He will be missed dearly.

How the CIA made Google

Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet—

Medium, By Nafeez Ahmed, January 22

INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority.’
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The Inside Information That Could Have Stopped 9/11

Newsweek, By Jeff Stein, January 14

Just before Christmas, former FBI special agent Mark Rossini greeted me with his usual good cheer when we met for drinks in a midtown Manhattan restaurant. He told me his life had finally taken a turn for the better. He’s spending most of his time in Switzerland, where he works for a private global corporate-security firm. “Life’s good,” he said.

Good, but with a few major changes. Rossini was drinking club soda instead of the expensive cabernets he quaffed when I first knew him as a high-flying FBI official in Washington a decade ago, when he was a special assistant to the bureau’s chief spokesman, John Miller (now with the New York City Police Department). “I’ve cut back,” he said. “Feeling good.”
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Yves Smith: Something That Changed My Perspective: Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation

Naked Capitalism, By Yves Smith, January 2

The first Christmas-New Years period for this site, in 2007, we featured a series “Something That Changed My Perspective,” which presented some things that affected how I viewed the world. The offerings included John Kay on obliquity and Michael Prowse on how income inequality was bad for the health even of the wealthy.

Perhaps the clearest and most important illustration was the the must-see four-part Adam Curtis BBC series “The Century of the Self.” If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to make it a priority for this weekend. Even though you may think you know about propaganda, this program is likely to be an eye-opener. As Curtis says:

This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” It focuses on how Sigmund Freud’s ideas were used by business and government, far more deliberately and extensively than one might imagine, during the 20th century to achieve what Freud’s nephew and creator of the public relations industry Eddie Bernays called “the engineering of consent.

The Curtis documentary and the works I highlighted weren’t simply informative. They actually covered a fair bit of ground I thought I knew. But by filling in key gaps and providing a new context, they allowed me to observe phenomena that I thought I understood differently, and I’ve found I’ve incorporated that new vantage going forward.
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Our New Politics of Torture

NYRB, Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakin, December 30

New York Review contributor Mark Danner has been writing about the use of torture by the US government since the first years after September 11. Following the release this month of the Senate’s report on the CIA torture program, Hugh Eakin spoke to Danner about some of the most startling findings of the investigation and what it reveals about the continued political debate surrounding the program.
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The Cartel: How BP Got Insider Tips Through a Secret Chat Room

Bloomberg, By Liam Vaughan, December 29

Halfway down a muddy, secluded road on marshland in suburban Essex sits Wharf Pool, a lake stocked with some of the biggest freshwater fish you will ever see.

A white sign with red lettering reads: “Private Syndicate: Strictly Members Only.” A metal gate, a barbed-wire fence and two CCTV cameras bar the way. Anglers hoping to spend time on the lake’s carefully tended banks must join a waiting list. Those who make it to the top pay a membership fee that buys them the chance to catch a carp that weighs more than a Jack Russell. There are hundreds of them swimming beneath the surface. It’s close to shooting fish in a barrel.

An hour away by train, in London’s financial district, the lake’s owners ply their trade. Wharf Pool was purchased for about 250,000 pounds ($388,000) in 2012 by Richard Usher, the former JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) trader at the center of a global investigation into corruption in the foreign-exchange market, and Andrew White, a currency trader at oil company BP Plc. (BP/)

With revenue of almost $400 billion last year and operations in about 80 countries, BP trades large quantities of currency each day. Traders at the company regularly received valuable information from counterparts at some of the world’s biggest banks — including tips about forthcoming trades, details of confidential client business and discussions of stop-losses, the trigger points for a flurry of buying or selling — according to four traders with direct knowledge of the practice.

Zero Hedge picks up the story: The Rigging Triangle Exposed: The JPMorgan-British Petroleum-Bank Of England Cartel Full Frontal

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