Category: History

Pic of the day

Click to enlargeReuters/Mohamad Torokman

A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Bet El, near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah…

Just in case you hadn’t noticed that young people are still being murdered by the apartheid regime in Israel. They fight back against tanks and guns with stones.

Asia is the new Europe

Can you visualize how the world economy has changed over the last 35 years?

Unless you’re a macroeconomist, that’s probably a pretty difficult task. But the 20-second video below will give you some quick insight., a website that helps people calculate the cost of doing home repairs, created this super-short and simple guide to understanding how the world has changed over the last 35 years…

You can see that the U.S. economy remains pretty dominant throughout, though its size as a proportion of the global economy rises and falls. It grew in relative terms through 1985, then shrunk through 1995, then grew again through 2002, then contracted until about 2009. Overall, the U.S. economy went from 25.7 percent of global Gross Domestic Product in 1980 to 22.5 percent in 2014…

Overall the biggest change that the graphic shows is probably the rise of Asia. In 1980, Asia accounted for about 20 percent of global economic activity, and Europe accounted for 32 percent, the site says. By 2012, those positions were reversed.

Our economic inertia becomes ennui. Not that politics as indoor sport inside the Beltway in Washington DC will change that for the better.

US deaths from gun violence vs. US deaths from terrorism

In his impassioned address in the wake of Thursday’s horrible shooting at an Oregon community college, President Obama issued a challenge to the media. “Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side by side on your news reports,” he asked.


Here’s what that looks like (at least, for 2001-2011, the period for which we could find the most reliable data quickly courtesy of the State Department, the Justice Department, and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko).

gun deaths chart

Any surprises? Think we have fair and balanced priorities?

US military bombs Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan –


Seems like the old days doesn’t it? All we need is George W’s sad voice giving us the “oops” excuse. Oh well, President Obama learned how to do it pretty well. No doubt he remembers exactly the tone required.

A hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz was badly damaged early Saturday after being hit by what appears to have been an American airstrike. At least 19 people were killed, including 12 hospital staff members, and dozens wounded.

The United States military, in a statement, confirmed an airstrike at 2:15 a.m., saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.”

The airstrike set off fires that were still burning hours later, and a nurse who managed to climb out of the debris described seeing colleagues so badly burned that they had died…

President Ashraf Ghani’s office released a statement Saturday evening saying that Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, had apologized for the strike. In a statement, however, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said blah, blah, blah

Airstrikes resulting in civilian casualties have caused tensions verging on hostility between the Afghan government and the United States for years. The former president, Hamid Karzai, was often in the uncomfortable position of explaining to his countrymen why Afghanistan’s biggest ally was killing innocent Afghans…

Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital.

But a Kunduz police spokesman, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position.

Doctors Without Borders, which released the casualty numbers, said 37 people were wounded of whom 19 were hospital staff and 18 were patients or their caregivers, which means mostly family members. The organization described the facility as “very badly damaged.”

In a statement, the aid group accused the American military of continuing the bombing for 30 minutes after receiving phone calls telling military contacts that the hospital was being bombed.

“All parties to the conflict including in Kabul and Washington, were clearly informed of the precise location [GPS Coordinates] of the MSF facilities — hospital, guesthouse, office,” the statement said.

Who do I believe? I’ll take Doctors Without Borders over the Pentagon any day of the week.

RTFA for a long, detailed account of the deaths and destruction.

The new Atlantis

Click to enlargeRe-locate Kivalina

Thirty Alaskan native villages on the coast are about to disappear into frigid waters; 12 are considering moving altogether. As sea ice melts earlier and forms later, more open water is left in the Chukchi and Bering Seas and the Arctic Ocean (which surround Alaska). Storms are larger and wreak more damage as a result (because ice protects the shoreline). And thawing permafrost, on which many villages are built, worsens matters by causing homes to sink towards calamity and releasing methane into the atmosphere. “Climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it,” Barack Obama said at a conference on climate change in the Arctic on August 31st. Lee Stephan, president of the Tribal Council of Eklutna, a native village, agreed: “If all the ice on Mother Earth melts we will all live in water,” he said.

Greenhouse gases bear the blame; America alone produces 15% of global carbon-dioxide emissions. Nevertheless, Alaska’s first residents profit from much of the oil and gas drilling in their state, as do others. The oil and gas industry provides a third of Alaskans with jobs and, through taxes, once covered 90% of state expenses. Plunging prices mean Alaska now faces a $3.5 billion deficit.

When America’s biggest oilfield was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the federal government had to settle land claims with native communities in order to pipe oil south. They received 44m acres of land, $1 billion and shares in 12 regional corporations and more than 200 village ones under a law signed in 1971. Thirteen regional corporations currently exist, tasked with turning a profit for their shareholders while also safeguarding native Alaskan societies and cultures…

The profits made by native corporations help pay for local health and social services. But corporations cannot afford to support communities affected by flooding, and cannot give their shareholders in places under threat handouts that they do not offer all others. “They aren’t charities,” explains Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives…

Relocation is expensive, and painful for people who depend on hunting reindeer and catching salmon to survive. As most of America’s largest state cannot be reached by road, getting materials to remote villages requires fine flying weather, too. Newtok’s 400-odd residents will cost about $380,000 each to move. Kivalina needs $123m to up sticks. It has been trying to do so since 1994—but no mechanism for deciding how and when a community should move exist…Where it should go is complicated, too…

When he visited Kotzebue on September 2nd, Mr Obama became the first sitting president to visit Alaska’s Arctic. His travels will encourage efforts to save threatened native villages. But money must be found for federal agencies in Alaska. The president’s budget for 2016 will not cover the re-siting of a single village threatened by storms and floods. As the state’s budget weakens, thanks to cheap oil, federal involvement will become increasingly vital. Offering federal land in trust to those determined to move could speed up the process.

There is no aid from politicians who think they can see Russia from their front porch in Wasilla. Neither will her peers in any organized faction of the Republican Party. Nor will Blue Dog Democrats beholden to fossil fuel profiteers.

The fight for a safe and healthy life for Americans should be the responsibility of all Americans. I think we all know how laughable that is. Between racism and ignorance, between obedience to 19th Century slogans and self-centric morality, we are not a nation given to collective political struggle in the decades since, say, the fight to end our nation’s war upon the people of VietNam.

Just as the dead-end choice of the draft and death on foreign soil forced a national response – the cataclysm of climate change will eventually force unity in struggle against the common enemy. That enemy is a class enemy, ruthless and powerful. They own our elected officials, appointed sheriffs in the broadest use of the word. But, that unity must come. The only question is will it be in time to save anyone in the broadest class of all.

Thanks, Ian Bremmer

6 small cavers, 15 skeletons, and 1 new species of ancient human

Lee Berger put his ad up on Facebook on October 7th, 2013. He needed diggers for an exciting expedition. They had to have experience in palaeontology or archaeology, and they had to be willing to drop everything and fly to South Africa within the month. “The catch is this—the person must be skinny and preferably small,” he wrote. “They must not be claustrophobic, they must be fit, they should have some caving experience, climbing experience would be a bonus.”

“I thought maybe there were three or four people in the world who would fit that criteria,” Berger recalls. “Within a few days, I had 60 applicants, all qualified. I picked six.” They were all women and all skinny—fortunately so, given what happened next. Berger, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, sent them into the Rising Star Cave, and asked them to squeeze themselves through a long vertical chute, which narrowed to a gap just 18 centimeters wide.

That gap was all that separated them from the bones of a new species of ancient human, or hominin, which the team named Homo naledi after a local word for “star.” We don’t know when it lived, or how it was related to us. But we do know that it was a creature with a baffling mosaic of features, some of which were remarkably similar to modern humans, and others of which were more ape-like in character.

This we know because the six women who entered the cave excavated one of the richest collections of hominin fossils ever discovered—some 1,550 fossil fragments, belonging to at least 15 individual skeletons. To find one complete skeleton of a new hominin would be hitting the paleoanthropological jackpot. To find 15, and perhaps more, is like nuking the jackpot from orbit.

RTFA. It is a delightful read. Science, adventure, perseverance.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Oregon’s new marijuana freedom law includes a chance to erase your record

erika walton
Erika Walton processing paperwork to remove minor weed bust – from 15 years ago

About 15 years ago, when she was in her 20s, Erika Walton handed a bong to someone who turned out be a police officer, and was cited for marijuana possession. She paid the fine, she said, but the violation lingered on, haunting her record.

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Walton was at a free legal clinic here in Oregon’s largest city, filling out paperwork to have that infraction forever sealed. Once the process is complete, she will be able to legally say to an employer, landlord or anybody else who asks that she has never been convicted or cited for any drug crime at all…

The mark on her record was minor — a citation for possession under Oregon law, even back then, was below the level of a misdemeanor, roughly equivalent to riding the light rail without a ticket. But it still cost her, she said, when she had to divulge it on applications for jobs and volunteer positions at her children’s school…

Oregon was not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, which happened through a state ballot vote last November, nor is it the largest. But in preparing to begin retail marijuana sales next month, it is nonetheless blazing a profoundly new trail, legal experts and marijuana business people said.

“Oregon is one of the first states to really grapple with the issue of what do you do with a record of something that used to be a crime and no longer is,” said Jenny M. Roberts, a professor of law at American University in Washington, D.C….

Decriminalizing really means it – in Oregon. Any chance we’ll see similar thoughtfulness, humanity and courage from the Congress-critters who infest Washington, DC?

In the next couple of decades?

RTFA for lots more detail.

How to become a real American citizen – overeat and overreact

Click to enlarge – which you must if you’re a Real AmericanAJ Mast/AP

The White House has announced a new campaign to encourage immigrants living in the United States legally to attain citizenship ahead of next year’s presidential election. Here are some ideas to help them speed up the complicated naturalization process.

Attain Median Obesity

The United States has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, so anyone interested in joining up better start packing on the pounds if they want to fit in. The message on the Statue of Liberty mentions “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, but if that breath isn’t a sort of wheeze you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb. Sure, fattening up will put you at risk for a variety of health problems, but there’s nothing more typically American than dying due to an inability to navigate our complicated and expensive health system.

Provide proof of overwhelming debt

Being an American means investing in the American economy well past the point of responsibility. This is an easy one to pull off, actually – whenever you’re about to make a purchase, check if they have a bigger version of what you’re interested in buying. If they don’t make it in a larger size, order two. The sweat that pours off your brow upon receiving your next credit card statement is watering the tree of liberty…

Become blind to America’s faults and respond to criticism with extreme outrage

Americans are all about freedom of speech as long as that speech it is their own, especially in this golden era of knee-jerk reactions where it’s possible to post comments and tweets faster than you experience moments of introspection. If you want to be an American citizen, learn how to react now and ask questions never, since asking questions is for people from countries founded upon much less invigorating rhetoric.

RTFA for a few more sections – probably obvious to you – otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far. :)

This is stuff I figured out when I was about 17 years old. After 60 years of activism the analysis hasn’t especially changed. Don’t get me wrong. A lot has changed – and it wouldn’t have if we left things in the hands of folks like those in this article. It took lots of folks outside the boundaries of convention and conformity to bring progressive change.

We’re still on the outside.

Breakthrough treating sickle-cell anemia

Physicians at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System have cured 12 adult patients of sickle cell disease using a unique procedure for stem cell transplantation from healthy, tissue-matched siblings.

The transplants were the first to be performed outside of the National Institutes of Health campus in Maryland, where the procedure was developed. Physicians there have treated 30 patients, with an 87 percent success rate. The results of the phase I/II clinical trial at UI Health, in which 92 percent of treated patients were cured…

The new technique eliminates the need for chemotherapy to prepare the patient to receive the transplanted cells and offers the prospect of cure for tens of thousands of adults suffering from sickle cell disease.

About 90 percent of the approximately 450 patients who have received stem cell transplants for sickle cell disease have been children. Chemotherapy has been considered too risky for adult patients, who are often more weakened than children by the disease.

“Adults with sickle cell disease are now living on average until about age 50 with blood transfusions and drugs to help with pain crises, but their quality of life can be very low,” says Dr. Damiano Rondelli, chief of hematology/oncology and director of the blood and marrow transplant program at UI Health, and corresponding author on the paper.

“Now, with this chemotherapy-free transplant, we are curing adults with sickle cell disease, and we see that their quality of life improves vastly within just one month of the transplant,” said Rondelli, who is also the Michael Reese Professor of Hematology in the UIC College of Medicine. “They are able to go back to school, go back to work, and can experience life without pain.”

Sickle cell disease is inherited. It primarily affects people of African descent, including about one in every 500 African Americans born in the U.S. The defect causes the oxygen-carrying red blood cells to be crescent shaped, like a sickle. The misshapen cells deliver less oxygen to the body’s tissues, causing severe pain and eventually stroke or organ damage.

Bravo! Some of the best medical news in a while.