Tag Archives: history


Should the U.S. apologize for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima? Certainly the Japanese government of the time committed horrible atrocities, but I still think dropping the bomb was a mistake, and not coming to terms with what we did leads to a callous attitude toward the dangers of our (much larger, much more powerful, in many more hands) nuclear weapons almost 70 years later.

Even if you have never been to the place, you know the place. The mountains that form the background in all the old photos are still backstopping the city. A lot of newer, tall buildings now, but the Ota River delta, where thousands drowned trying to cool their bodies and extinguish their burning flesh, is right there. You’ve seen the pictures. Most of the bridges and streets were rebuild [sic] right where they’d been before the Bomb. Same for most public buildings. You could see where you were in 2017 and where you would have been in 1945 because they are the same place…

Outside of Japan, most people feel the Japanese government has yet to fully acknowledge its aggressiveness in plunging East Asia into war. Indeed, the museum inside the Peace Park has been chastised as focusing almost exclusively on a single day, out of a war that began over a decade earlier and claimed millions of innocent lives before the bomb fell on August 6, 1945. The criticism is particularly sharp, given the rise in militarism occurring under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Now, as in decades past, China watches to see what Japan will do with its armed forces…

There are others with things to atone for, and much to reconcile. The U.S. remains unrepentant. It was only on the 60th anniversary of the bomb that the first American ambassador came to Hiroshima on an August 6th morning to pay respects. There has never been an apology for the first use of a nuclear weapon, and against a civilian target at that. Ask most Americans about the bombing, and it would be surprising not to hear the phrase “they deserved it.” A few elderly survivors with disfiguring burns still suffer today. Yet there is not enough vengeance for some, even seven decades later.

– See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165741#sthash.Ii0iS7fh.dpuf


The Intercept has an article on what is going on in Indonesia.

On the surface, the massive street protests surrounding the April 19 gubernatorial election have arisen from opposition to Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese incumbent governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok. As a result of pressure from the well-funded, well-organized demonstrations that have drawn hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — to Jakarta’s streets, Gov. Ahok is currently standing trial for religious blasphemy because of an offhand comment about a verse in the Quran. On Thursday, the day after he hears the results of the very close governor’s election, he is due back in court for his blasphemy trial.

Yet in repeated, detailed conversations with me, key protest figures and officials who track them have dismissed the movement against Ahok and the charges against him as a mere pretext for a larger objective: sidelining the country’s president, Jokowi, and helping the army avoid consequences for its mass killings of civilians — such as the 1965 massacres that were endorsed by the U.S. government, which armed and backed the Indonesian military.

Serving as the main face and public voice of the generals’ political thrust has been a group of what Indonesians call preman — officially sponsored street thugs — in this case, the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI (Front Pembela Islam). Originally established by the security forces — the aparat — in 1998 as an Islamist front group to assault dissidents, the FPI has been implicated in violent extortion, especially of bars and sex clubs, as well as murders and attacks on mosques and churches. During the mass protests against the governor, FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab has openly called for Ahok to be “hanged” and “butchered.”

Indonesia is easily the largest and most important country that most Americans know little or nothing about. I don’t claim to know a lot about it, but I have been there, lived not too far away from there and interacted with people from there. My personal interactions with Indonesians have been very positive. More than once intrepid female Indonesian tourists have stopped me on the street and asked to take photos with me. This inevitably leads to small talk, which always seems to involve asking my martial status and how many children I have in the first minute. On the flip side, I remember an Indonesian woman asking me once to please not sit next to her on a ferry. I tried not to be offended but it was the last seat available. Eventually I managed to change seats with another female passenger, and that solved the problem. So in my personal experiences I have found Indonesian people very personable, peaceful, friendly and tolerant. Which makes the country’s history of ethnic and religious strife a bit hard to reconcile in my head. I have also known Indonesians of Chinese descent who left the country during the ethnic strife in the 90s, but they won’t talk about it much. And I’m aware of the awful things that happened in the 60s, possibly with U.S. government involvement, although I didn’t learn anything about it in school. It is sad if that sort of thing is happening again.

March 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • La Paz, Bolivia, is in a serious crisis caused by loss of its glacier-fed water supply. At the same time we are losing glaciers and snowpack in important food-growing regions, the global groundwater situation is also looking bleak. And for those of us trying to do our little part for water conservation, investing in a residential graywater system can take around 15 years to break even at current costs and water rates.
  • Trump admires Andrew Jackson, who I consider a genocidal lunatic and the worst President in U.S. history.
  • Fluoridated drinking water could eventually be looked back on as a really stupid idea that damaged several generations of developing brains, like leaded gasoline. Or not…I’m not sure who to believe on the issue but caution is clearly warranted.

Most hopeful stories:

  • A new political survey says there is a chance that a majority of Americans are not bat-shit crazy. Which suggests they might not be too serious about Steve Bannon, who believes in some bat-shit crazy stuff. There are a number of apps and guides out there to help sane people pester our elected representatives when they fail to represent our interests.
  • South Korean women are projected to be the first to break the barrier of an average life expectancy of 90, with a 50% probability of this happening by 2030.
  • Advanced power strips can reduce the so-called “vampire loads” of our modern electronic devices that are never really off.

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • This long NASA article first gets you excited about the possibility of life on eight new planets it has just discovered, and then throws cold water (actually, make that lethal X-rays) all over your excitement.
  • Bill Gates has proposed a “robot tax”. The basic idea is that if and when automation starts to increase productivity, you could tax the increase in profits and use the money to help any workers displaced by the automation. In related somewhat boring economic news, there are a variety of theories as to why a raise in the minimum wage does not appear to cause unemployment as classical economic theory would predict.
  • CRISPR could be used to create new crops out of the wild ancestors of our current crops.

America’s worst President: “does that sound familiar?”

My vote has always been for Andrew Jackson, for two reasons. First, he destabilized the financial system, ushering in a century of unnecessary chaos. Second, he mounted a truly evil genocidal campaign against ethnic minorities. To quote Donald Trump (just slightly out of context), “does that sound familiar?”

By the way, I put Truman second for dropping the bomb. Then Lyndon Johnson, for the blood on his hands in Vietnam. I would put George W. Bush in the top 5 or so for starting two aggressive, unnecessary wars and destabilizing an entire region of the globe. If Trump manages to destroy our health care system and set climate change mitigation back by a decade, he may deserve a top 5. If there is a major war or nuclear detonation on his watch, he may still earn that #1 spot.

January 2017 in Review

I just realized I forgot to do a month in review post in January. Well, I had a lot going on in my personal life in January, most notably the arrival of a tiny new human being. Blog posts are not the only thing I forgot – I forgot to pay some important bills and to do some important paperwork at my job too.

3 most frightening stories

  • Cheetahs are in serious trouble.
  • The U.S. government may be “planning to roll back or dilute many of the provisions of Dodd-Frank, particularly those that protect consumers from toxic financial products and those that impose restrictions on banks”.
  • “Between 1946 and 2000, the US and the Soviet Union/Russia have intervened in about one of every nine competitive national-level executive elections.” The “Great Game” is back in Afghanistan.

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

The Fourth Turning

Supposedly Steve Bannon is influenced by a book called The Fourth Turning that hypothesizes a cyclical view of history. Wikipedia refers to its primary author, Neil Howe, as an “amateur historian”, although he actually does have a history degree from Yale. Here is Howe talking about his own book in the Washington Post.

Along this cycle, we can identify four “turnings” that each last about 20 years — the length of a generation. Think of these as recurring seasons, starting with spring and ending with winter. In every turning, a new generation is born and each older generation ages into its next phase of life.

The cycle begins with the First Turning, a “High” which comes after a crisis era. In a High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, even if many feel stifled by the prevailing conformity. Many Americans alive today can recall the post-World War II American High (historian William O’Neill’s term), coinciding with the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies. Earlier examples are the post-Civil War Victorian High of industrial growth and stable families, and the post-Constitution High of Democratic Republicanism and Era of Good Feelings…

Finally, the Fourth Turning is a “Crisis” period. This is when our institutional life is reconstructed from the ground up, always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. If history does not produce such an urgent threat, Fourth Turning leaders will invariably find one — and may even fabricate one — to mobilize collective action. Civic authority revives, and people and groups begin to pitch in as participants in a larger community. As these Promethean bursts of civic effort reach their resolution, Fourth Turnings refresh and redefine our national identity. The years 1945, 1865 and 1794 all capped eras constituting new “founding moments” in American history.

Supposedly, Bannon’s theory is that the 2008 financial crisis is the latest “fourth turning”. There are lots of critical takedowns of these ideas online, calling them “pop history” or “pseudoscience”. For example, here is the original New York Times review of the book in 1997, and here are recent articles in Huffington Post, Business Insider, and The Nation.

the Twenty-Fifth Amendment

the text of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment Section 4, via Wikipedia:

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

It’s 1984 in Russia

I like these explainer type articles in The Week. This one makes two interesting claims about Russia and Putin, the first of which I had kind of arrive at myself and the second of which I don’t recall ever hearing before, although it seems important.

First, Russia is a desperately poor country and Putin is diverting its extremely limited resources to military adventures in an attempt to look strong to the domestic population.

Putin has sought to bolster Russia’s power against the encroachment of the West, picking fights with nearby Georgia and Ukraine and intervening in Syria as a show of strength. His proud nationalism has made him very popular among Russians, although the international sanctions brought on by his seizure of Crimea — combined with a sharp downturn in oil prices — have badly damaged Russia’s fragile economy. Russia’s gross domestic product tumbled from $2.2 trillion in 2013 to $1.3 trillion in 2015 — lower than that of Italy, Brazil, or Canada. Only 27 percent of Russians have any savings at all, and the average Russian now spends half his or her money on food. Few Russians, however, complain.

Second, Putin, who is a KGB agent trained in East Germany, came to power through a KGB-orchestrated false flag operation that killed hundreds of Russian citizens and was used to justify a war.

How did he come to power?
Through the work of the FSB, successor to the Soviet KGB. Putin was an unknown FSB operative when the agency strong-armed an ailing President Boris Yeltsin into picking him as prime minister in August 1999. Putin had spent five years as a spy in East Germany. Just a month after he took office, a series of apartment bombings shattered Moscow, killing about 300 people. The FSB blamed Chechen extremists, although there is strong evidence the spy agency planted the bombs itself; the carnage served as pretext for a second ruthless war to put down the restive Muslim province of Chechnya. Putin became the face of the battle, vowing in his characteristically crude language to eliminate all the terrorists, “wherever they hide, even on the crapper.” By the end of the year, Chechnya had been laid waste, thousands of Chechen civilians were dead, and Yeltsin had named the now popular Putin as his successor as president…

Alexander Litvinenko, an FSB whistleblower who described how the agency staged the Moscow bombings to bring Putin to power, was poisoned with polonium in London; a British inquiry found that Putin likely personally ordered the hit.

Thomas More’s utopia

Here’s an interesting article on Thomas More’s utopia from the 1500s. He envisioned a series of economically specialized medium-scale cities (a couple hundred thousand people, keeping in mind a million-person city was enormous at the time and there were only a few in the world) separated by farm and natural lands and connected by transportation links.