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Post Lies My Teachers Taught Me: Columbus, Magellan
Created by John Eipper on 04/22/18 6:16 AM

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Lies My Teachers Taught Me: Columbus, Magellan (Enrique Torner, USA, 04/22/18 6:16 am)

The more history I study, the more I learn that I have to unlearn all the erroneous information I was taught while I was in elementary through high school in Spain, and, many times, even beyond my youth and in the US.

Growing up in Franco's Spain, I was taught Christopher Columbus was not only a brave hero, but a model Christian as well, even publicly and universally praised by Pope Alexander VI. However, as you all know, Columbus and his men were less than saints when they reached the New World. Even as a graduate student at Indiana University, as I was taking classes on Spanish American Culture and Civilization, I was not taught the specific details of the Spaniards' "crimes." I remember being taught about Bartolomé de las Casas' chronicle on Columbus' voyages (Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias), and even reading some selected texts, but it was not until recently that I finally read the whole text. Oh, my goodness! I couldn't believe how cruel the Spanish conquistadors had been!

According to Las Casas, Columbus and his men killed off more than 90% of the indigenous population in the Caribbean Islands; sometimes, they eliminated all the people in a single island. Not only did they do that: they also applied incredibly cruel tortures on them! Listen to how the Friar Bartolomé de las Casas describes the first encounter between the Spaniards and the native Americans:

"En estas ovejas mansas y de las calidades susodichas por su Hacedor y Criador así dotadas, entraron los españoles desde luego que las conocieron como lobos y tigres y leones crudelísimos de muchos días hambrientos. Y otra cosa no han hecho de cuarenta años a esta parte, hasta hoy, y hoy en este día lo hacen, sino despedazallas, matallas, angustiallas, afligillas, atormentallas y destruillas por las estrañas y nuevas y varias y nunca otras tales vistas ni leídas ni oídas maneras de crueldad..." (72-73)

In brief, Las Casas describes the natives as meek sheep, and the Spaniards as cruel wolves, tigers, and lions. He states that they tore them apart, killed them, made them suffer, tormented them, and destroyed them in cruel ways never seen or heard before. Later, in Hispaniola, Las Casas says that the Spanish sailors even took and abused native women and children; and the Spanish captain raped the wife of the "cacique," or Indian chief. Later, while describing the expeditions by Juan Ponce de León and Juan de Esquivel in 1509 to Puerto Rico and Jamaica respectively, he says they were killing, burning, roasting, and throwing them to their "wild" dogs, as well as tormenting them in other ways, to such a degree, that, out of the 600,000 souls that lived in those two islands, there were only about 200 on each island by the time Las Casas has written his book. Later, in Cuba, the Spaniards capture Hatuey, one of their chiefs, and tie him up to a stake with the intention of burning him alive. A Franciscan priest approached him and tried to convert him to Christianity telling him that, if he believed, he would go to heaven. The chief then asked the priest if there were Christians in heaven. After the Spaniard answered positively, the chief replied that, if that is the case, he'd rather go to hell than have to spend eternity with those cruel Spaniards! And there are other similar examples of cruelty among the Spanish soldiers, like tying up another chief to a post, and burning his feet slowly until he screamed his soul and entrails out of him.

Why did the Spanish textbooks and teachers hide all this from us? Why has it taken so long for all of this information to come out into the world? And, if Columbus and his fellow conquistadors were so pious, why did they allow their soldiers to commit these atrocities?

Another case for reinventing history: I was taught in school that Ferdinand Magellan was the first person to circumnavigate the world. It turns out he wasn't able to complete his voyage because he was killed by some indigenous people in the island of Cebu, in the Philippines, way short of Spain. Instead, it was his slave Enrique, whom he had acquired in his last trip to the area and taken with him to Spain, who ended up being the first person circumnavigating the globe, as Antonio Pigafetta, his companion and biographer, explains in his chronicle. How come I had never heard of this before recently? Maybe because royal, Christian Spain couldn't give a dark-skinned slave the credit? Juan Sebastián Elcano finished Magellan's trip after his death. If Enrique of Malacca didn't deserve the credit for the feat for being the first to sail around the world, why didn't they give Elcano the credit? Maybe because he didn't deserve it either, because Magellan had done most of the work?

In conclusion, we all are being duped in school with a bunch of tales! How can so many people deceive so many people for so long, concealing the truths of history and rewriting it according to their own desire? And these are just a couple of examples out of many more unhistorical facts we have been taught! So, as Pilate asked Jesus, "what is truth"?

JE comments:  Las Casas's Brevísima was a seminal text for the construction of the "leyenda negra" against Spain--primarily by the Dutch and British Protestants.  I often teach the LC text--not so much as objective "history," but because it gets great conversations started on imperialism, cultural otherness, and the horrific acts committed in the name of religion and civilization.  Oh, and it's short, just as the title promises.  Students appreciate that.

Prof. Hilton had several posts on the Leyenda Negra.  Here too is a 2006 comment from Sasha Pack:


Finally, Enrique:  Ask any Basque to identify the first person to go around the world.  They'll tell you:  Elcano.

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  • Lies About Columbus (Luciano Dondero, Italy 04/23/18 3:42 AM)
    Quite so, Enrique! (See Enrique Torner, 22 April.)

    Cristoforo Colombo was actually quite explicit in his own memoirs, boasting of the women he subjected to his will (ie. raped) in his ship's master cabin.

    I too did not learn about this in the history books I read in the Italian schools I went to as a kid; I think it was one of my schoolmates who had found this graphic description of violent sexual acts in some library and showed it to me.

    JE comments: I read a fair bit of Columbus back in my day, and don't recall him boasting of any rapes. His lieutenants and crew, yes, and ultimately it doesn't matter: Columbus marked the start of a systematic "rape culture" in which Europeans dominated Native Americans for centuries.

    By the Columbus "memoirs," Luciano, do you mean his Diario de abordo, or his four letters to the monarchs?  The former is not directly traceable to the Admiral himself, but attributed rather to Bartolomé de las Casas.

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    • "Rape Culture" and Columbus (Carmen Negrin, France 04/23/18 5:41 PM)

      In response to Luciano Dondero (April 23rd) and JE's comments, rape and conquest go way further than Christopher Columbus! See Roman and Greek history and probably others!

      JE comments:  Alas, yes. How long ago were the Sabines ravished?  I was suggesting only that the "rape" of the New World (by the Old) began with Columbus.  To be sure, the New World peoples were already busy raping and killing each other.

      "There is no document of history that is not at the same time a document of barbarism." (Walter Benjamin)

      Again, alas.


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    • "Rape Culture" and Michele da Cuneo (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 04/24/18 3:09 AM)

      The guy who boasted about the rape of a native Taino woman was Michele da Cuneo, not Columbus.  (See Luciano Dondero, 23 April.)

      Da Cuneo really should be known as Michele da Cunio, which
      is a small fraction of the village of Vado Ligure where Luciano Dondero
      resides, while Cuneo is a large town in the Piedmont region. 

      Cunio is just a little more
      than three kilometers from my home, but I am in the village of Quiliano. Both villages are in the province of
      Savona. As a present to Michele in honor of his birthplace (according to
      those who support the idea that Columbus is from Savona and not Genoa),
      Columbus named a little island off Cuba Saona (Savona), with which Savona
      is presently "sistered." Saona is the only reference that Columbus made to
      his original country.

      JE comments:  Saona island is at the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic, not Cuba--unless there are two Saonas.  I have visited the Dominican variant.  Tourists are herded there from Santo Domingo to take in the turquoise waters of its "piscina natural."  At the time I did not know that the island is named, indirectly, for a rapist...

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      • Michele da Cuneo (Alan Levine, USA 04/25/18 3:48 AM)
        When he's right I want to agree with him, and Eugenio Battaglia (April 24th) nailed the Michele de Cuneo reference.

        That is a famous incident because Cuneo wrote about it, and as far as I know there is no parallel explicit statement about rape by Columbus in any of his extant or summarized writings.

        JE comments:  Further on da Cuneo, Eugenio Battaglia sent a correction about the island of Saona (Savona):  it is found off the coast of Hispaniola, not Cuba.  Eugenio's theory is that Columbus named the island after his own birthplace, which as any self-respecting Savonese knows, was not Genoa.

        If true, then Savona gave us soap and Columbus.  Genoa--mere salami.  Bah.

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        • Genoa's Biggest Gift to the World (Luciano Dondero, Italy 04/27/18 4:38 AM)

          While I stand corrected right and left on Columbus and rape (Battaglia and Negrín), I must defend Genoa against the slanderous reference by our esteemed editor JE, as my hometown gave the world nothing less than blue jeans!

          JE comments:  Allow me to stand corrected, Luciano!  And how is it I've worn jeans forever, never making the Genoa-jean linguistic connection?  The cotton jeans fabric was developed in Genoa, "perfected" (or copied?) in Nimes, France (de Nimes--denim), and fashioned into riveted work pants by Levi Strauss in San Francisco.  An international, and very WAISly, provenance.

          Luciano:  I promise I'll never again slander your fair city.

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          • Another Genoese Gift to the World... (John Heelan, UK 04/27/18 1:50 PM)

            In addition to jeans, Genoa gave the world bankers!

            JE comments:  If not exactly a gift to the world, it certainly was a capitalism-sparking loan:  Genoa's Bank of San Giorgio, founded in 1149.

            Will I ever live down my salami quip?

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  • Columbus and the "Leyenda Negra" (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 04/23/18 2:40 PM)
    Re: Enrique Torner´s latest post about lies in the teaching of history (April 22nd), I was surprised by our simultaneous coincidence of interest in this subject. I will return to that point in a moment, but first let me note that Enrique might seem a little naïve if he ever believed that what we are taught in elementary school or official history texts often remotely resembles truth or historical reality.

    From my experience as an amateur observer of history, after reading elementary history texts in several countries, I've concluded that official historiography is based one-third on some confusing historical basis, another third on historical political or nationalistic manipulation, and one-third on lies of biased interpretations, fables, inventions, myths and legends. I agree with Enrique in this last regard.

    Having said that, I would like to address the coincidental subject I referred to. Recently, WAISer Stanley G. Payne published the book En defensa de España, Desmontando mitos y leyendas negras [In defense of Spain, Dismantling Myths and Black Legends]. In his book, the author refers at length to the "infamous" Spanish Black Legend, which Enrique indirectly mentions by referring to Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas's writings describing the crimes or excesses of the Spanish conquest of the New World. Precisely one of the main ideas developed in Payne's book is around myths, distortions and lies in Spanish history. I must say I agree with many of the ideas in the book.

    Regarding Enrique´s conclusions after reading Las Casas's narrative, it is important to understand some historical "facts." First, it is historically uncertain, probably a lie, that the Spaniards killed 90% of the indigenous population.  However, it is a historical fact that most of the Indians died from diseases brought by the Europeans. These diseases were unknown to the natives, and this also was the case for other similar colonization processes where the natives had no defensive immunities. Though the exact number of natives in pre-Columbian America is unknown, according to many historians more than 60% or 70% of the population died from diseases of European origin, particularly smallpox and venereal diseases. It is also true that the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and Anglo-Saxon colonists enslaved the natives, killed many, tortured and abused them in many ways, and that a great number of Indians died from resistance battles and wars against conquerors, and finally from abuse, forced labor and the cruelty of the colonists.

    To try to understand this process, we must remember who the first Spaniards were who came to the Americas, and who Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas was, to try to understand why he wrote his "infamous" accusations.

    A general profile of a conqueror (not a colonist!) in those preliminary times of conquest might be like this: an audacious adventurer, ambitious, probably educated only in military culture, illiterate, surely of military background, lacking interest in true and constructive colonization but only in wealth and power, unscrupulous, ignorant of indigenous cultures, afraid of uncertainty or the unknown, and in many cases a sociopath in some way; a representation of certain sectors of Spanish society after eight centuries of conflict with the Arabs. Those warriors were left without a purpose in life at peacetime after a long war. I am not justifying their acts, but merely trying to understand part of their cruel and despotic behavior.

    Some years after the conquest was complete, the process of colonization started and the European values and cultures were implanted with the concomitant civil and religious institutions, civil servants, more literate and educated people, merchants, scholars, craftsmen, and missionaries.

    The first time Las Casas visited the New World in 1503 he also was a colonist. He was a merchant, a landlord; he owned slaves and for a long time he also exploited them in mining activities and he probably also abused them in some ways. He was also an ambitious merchant, and he most surely shared some of the common profile´s features described above--a love for adventure, ambitious, afraid of the unknown and of indigenous cultures, but he also was a kind of humanist, with an honest interest in religion and a real motivation to protect and convert natives to Catholicism. He was partially inspired by some remorse when he was a landowner in Santo Domingo.

    He became a priest, and his book "Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias" was published in 1552, as a request by the Spanish crown to reinforce laws protecting the American natives. As could be expected, with his purpose in mind, the tale lacks historical precision, is merely a biased description full of exaggerations, distortions and crude descriptions to impress and motivate his request.

    The fact is that his stories were the origin and inspiration of the Spanish Black Legend." This term, as Payne in his book quotes, originated in 1913 and it referred to allegations against Spain by the Protestant countries, Holland, Germany or England in the 16th and 17th centuries to discredit Spanish policies, culture and particularly the Catholic religion. You could say it is one historical example of the modern concept of "fake news," to maliciously influence public opinion against a political rival.

    On the other hand, one can´t ignore that is historically true that Spain was the first colonist country, and perhaps the only one, that in 1513 passed the famous "Ley de Indias" (Law of Indias), the first Human Rights legislation in history, which assured and enforced the protection of the indigenous population in America. This law was reinforced in 1542 by Carlos I of Spain, with the "Leyes Nuevas" (New Laws) that prohibited the enslavement of natives and ordered them all freed. Of course those regulations were hard to comply with and often were ignored by unscrupulous civil servants. Before that in 1495, Isabel la Catolica, Queen of Spain, in her final testament, ordered the natives to be treated well, and forbade the colonists from abusing them, particularly reprimanding Columbus for his misconduct.

    Payne´s book also refers to many other interesting subjects, one in particular to modern Catalonian history textbooks, where historiography is purposely distorted to support the independence process. This is another example of lies in history.

    JE comments: My summer reading list is taking shape; I'll be sure to add Stanley Payne's book.  Returning to the Leyenda Negra, historians and moralists will forever debate whether an unintentional genocide is as wicked as an intentional one--or even if the term "genocide" applies to the disappearance of a people due to disease and overwork.  When you're on the receiving end, the distinction is quite irrelevant.

    As for the Leyes Nuevas, they were rarely enforced.  How, after all, could you do so from a continent or more away?

    (This topic deserves far more commentary, but I have to run off right now to give a final exam...)

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    • John H. Elliott on Black Legend, Catalonia (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 04/29/18 4:30 AM)
      Several days ago (April 23rd) I sent a post regarding the Spanish Black Legend and lies in History.

      Today I have been reading the Spanish press and I casually found an article about John H. Elliot, a British historian who has been always dedicated to Spanish History, as much as other British historians, Hugh Thomas or Paul Preston, as well as the American S. G. Payne.

      In the article, Elliott mentions two aspects already commented in my post.  First the Hispanist states he always has been against the Black Legend, which has deteriorated Spain's reputation unfairly. Second, he also says that in recent years, "Catalonia has always attempted to manipulate history" to justify its aspirations for independence.  Elliott recommends the Catalonian historian Jaume Vicens i Vives to demystify this distorted history. I have not yet read his work myself.

      Finally, I wonder what makes such good and respected Anglo historians so interested in Spanish history?  Is there a real interest to better understand the old historical rivalries between Spain and Great Britain? Or is it just a legitimate curiosity about Spanish history and culture?

      JE comments:  I wish Prof. Hilton were here to answer that.  He started out as a scholar of French history and literature before turning to Spain.  In my view, studying a different culture is not only more interesting than studying one's own, it can also be an advantage:  the outsider often sees what the insider cannot.

      Once a WAISer always a WAISer:  Sir John Elliott is a WAISer (http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=64822&objectTypeId=59072&topicId=135 ), although he has never posted to the Forum.

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      • Sir John Elliott's "Making History" (Angel Vinas, Belgium 04/30/18 3:48 AM)
        José Ignacio Soler should read John Elliot's book Making History (there's also a translation into Spanish as well).

        In it he explains how he became interested in 17th Century Spain and Catalonia. From then on he went to pursue a career as one of Europe's greatest modernist historians. Elliot's book gave me the idea to do something similar in relation with the Spanish Republic, the coup, the Civil War and the origins of Francoism.

        JE comments:  This is one of my favorite times of the year--the first Monday after the semester ends.  Not so much because I don't have to teach (I already miss my kiddoes), but because it's the time to plan summer trips and reading.  Elliott's Making History has just made the list. 

        Whenever Sir John's name comes up, I think of "ese joven [that young man] John Elliott," as he was invariably described by my Golden Age teacher at the U of Michigan, Luisa López-Grigera.  Elliott was born in 1930.

        Next up:  Paul Preston writes on what made him embrace Spanish history, together with reflections on his departed friends Hugh Thomas and Raymond Carr.

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      • Embracing Spanish History: Hugh Thomas, Raymond Carr, and Me (Paul Preston, UK 04/30/18 4:14 AM)

        In answer to José Ignacio Soler (April 29th), I can't speak for Stanley Payne or for John Elliott. However, I can say a little about how Raymond Carr and Hugh Thomas got into Spanish history since they were both among my mentors and I knew them both quite well.

        Before doing so, a general comment. Over the years, questions along these lines by journalists in Spain seem to assume that all British and American historians not working on the history of their own countries, specialize on Spain. This may derive from the fact that it is not at all common in Spain (and indeed many other countries) for historians to work on other countries.

        Anyway, onto the question at hand. Raymond Carr's earliest publications were on government finance in late eighteenth century Sweden. He wrote a life of Gustavus Adolphus, the manuscript of which Raymond himself claimed to have burned in the 1980s.  Carr's involvement in Spain began shortly after his marriage to Sara Strickland in 1950. On their honeymoon they visited the then tiny and still picturesque fishing village of Torremolinos. He was so intrigued by the poverty and the oppressive atmosphere of Franco's Spain that he began, unsystematically, to read Spanish history. In 1953, two Oxford colleagues gave him a task. As editors of the recently established Oxford History of Modern Europe, Alan Bullock and F.W. Deakin asked him to commission Gerald Brenan to write the volume on Spain. In 1953, accompanied by the Oxford anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers, he visited Brenan at his home in Churriana near Málaga. Brenan declined on the grounds that he had already written The Spanish Labyrinth and no longer wanted to write anything involving footnotes. He suggested that Carr write the book himself. The result was to be his greatest book Spain 1808-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966). He spent much of the next fifteen years reading and travelling in Spain during his vacations. Anyone who wants to know more is urged to read the superb biography of Raymond by María Jesús González, Raymond Carr. The Curiosity of the Fox (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press/Cañada Blanch, 2013).

        On Hugh Thomas, there is no comparable biography. The nearest is a long article that I wrote for the Bulletin of Spanish Studies, after his death in May 2017:  Paul Preston (2017): "A Professional Historian in Private Practice: Hugh Thomas (1931-2017), the Spanish Civil War and Beyond," Bulletin of Spanish Studies.

        Unlike Raymond, who held a succession of University posts, Hugh did so for only a for the nine years from 1966 to 1975 when he held a Chair of History at the University of Reading. Unlike Raymond who finished as head of an Oxford College, Hugh was never comfortable with the creeping administrative demands of academic life. He would often describe himself as "a professional historian in private practice." He told a Spanish journalist that he was offered an advance to write a work of history on a subject of his choice: "I chose your civil war but I might equally well have plumped for the Turkish revolution."

        That may or may not have been true but it is certainly the case that, a time when he was writing unsuccessful novels, a literary agent called James MacGibbon invited him to lunch in the late 1950s and told him that the time was ripe for a broad survey of the Spanish Civil War and that he knew that an American publisher was keen to commission one. Hugh produced a proposal and he was offered substantial advances by both American and British publishers. Although at the time he did not know any Spanish, Hugh set to reading voraciously and assiduously interviewing innumerable participants from both sides. Published in 1961, in time for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Hugh's book was quickly established in the popular mind as the book on the Spanish war. Nevertheless, it was his only major work on the Spanish Civil War. The immediate follow-up was his gigantic history of Cuba which was not a commercial success. He then wrote books on the Suez Crisis, on the Cold War and even a history of the world before going into politics with Mrs Thatcher and, in the final stage of his career, from the late 1980s to his death, writing a series of masterly works on Spanish imperial history.

        If anyone has any interest in how I ended up spending my entire professional career as an historian of Spain, I refer them to an interview that I did with Sebastiaan Faber in the journal of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive, The Volunteer, in June 2013:


        A general conclusion is simply that Spanish history is so inexhaustibly interesting.

        JE comments:  WAISer Sebastiaan Faber describes Paul Preston as the "Man who can't say no."  All of us who consider Paul a mentor are thankful for that  For example, a year or so ago Paul's Skype "visit" to my Spanish literature class left a lasting impression on my students.  They were rather star-struck.  Gracias, my friend.

        It's already been a year since Hugh Thomas's death on May 7th.  Here is Paul's WAIS tribute to his friend and mentor:


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        • Was Spain's Greatness a Historical Accident? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/01/18 4:11 AM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          Regarding these wonderful recent glimpses into the historiography of Spain,
          seemingly available in compact array nowhere but on WAIS: maybe I could
          parse one of the popular impressions about Spanish history, in hopes
          the experts can point out its holes.

          An image hovers in the educated but not
          scholarly public outside Spain that its greatness was a momentary accident in
          the star-crossed convergence of Columbus and the Habsburgs, whereupon
          deeper fanaticism began almost immediately to eat the seed corn, up to the
          embarrassments of Manila and Havana in 1898. The unspoken message is
          cultural imperative, a lurking DNA of national destiny. Treacherous waters.
          Any takers?

          JE comments:  Treacherous, yes, and we could begin by scrutinizing the term "greatness."  Do we mean imperial expansion?  That is the greatness that pays my mortgage.  (Spain subjugated half the world, and I teach Spanish for a living.)

          As for the why, I'll go with geography and a martial zeal born of eight centuries of Peninsular conflict.  I'm vastly oversimplifying, but I strive to keep "JE's comments" brief.

          Let's pose Gary's question as a counterfactual:  at the close of the 15th century, what other European nations were poised for the conquest of the Americas?  Why not France?  Tiny Portugal was already stretched to its limits in Africa and Asia, and soon would be adding Brazil to its portfolio.

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          • "Anglo-Saxon" Historians and Latin Nations (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/02/18 3:57 AM)
            Very good questions from Gary Moore on Spain, 1 May (Labor Day throughout the world), but I think our esteemed moderator has already concisely answered them:  Spain's imperial "greatness" was due to geopolitics and history.

            By the way, these are two things that some powerful governments fail to understand.

            I had the impression, which may be wrong, that many Anglo-Saxon historians love to study the history and behaviour of Spain and other Latin countries, but not all seem to understand them completely. A few of them give the impression that they look at such countries with a rather biased point of view. The assumption seems to be that "we are democratic and civilized, but they are not (yet?) at our level." Was this not what Pieter Willem Botha was thinking, of course in a less nuanced way, about the non-Whites of South Africa?

            On another topic, Netanyahu is desperately pushing the poor Empire to make war on Iran for his interests, and the Emperor does not understand this. Trump's presentation on Iran's so-called nuclear armament is not yet as forceful as that of Colin Powell on Iraq, but he may improve.

            Final question: if Israel has plenty of nukes, why not Iran?

            JE comments: The quick answer: Iran invariably acts against "our" interests, geopolitically.

            I'd like to return to the point raised by Paul Preston (May 1st) and touched on by Eugenio Battaglia above. Spaniards rarely study the history of England, Germany, or the US, while the opposite is common. Does the "Anglo-Saxon" historical interest in Latin countries smack of condescension?

            Certainly this is not the case with Paul Preston, but I am reminded of the 19th-century US historian William Hickling Prescott, who was fond of phrases such as "fanatical Catholicism" and "warlike races." (Prescott, by the way, is why I'm writing these lines. An article I wrote in 1999 came to the attention of a certain Ronald Hilton, who invited me to join WAIS. The rest, as they say, is history.)

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            • "Anglo-Saxon" Historians on Spain, Italy (Paul Preston, UK 05/02/18 10:00 AM)
              I wonder which Anglo-Saxon historians Eugenio Battaglia has actually read (2 May). What he says about the pro-democratic bias may be true in some cases. It is certainly true of what one might call the Whig historians of Italy of whom the greatest was Trevelyan. If by bias Eugenio is talking about anti-fascism, then I am and others are guilty as charged. However, he might be surprised if he read any of the things I have written about Mussolini when comparing him to Franco.

              I think the key to writing well the history of another country lies in what Richard Cobb, the great English historian of the French Revolution, called the need to acquire a "second identity."  That means living long enough in the country in question to speak the language well and to understand the culture. I would like to think that that is something that I and colleagues like Helen Graham, Chris Ealham and many others have done, and it is true of numerous British "Italianists"--Paul Corner, Adrian Lyttleton, the late Christopher Duggan, Paul Ginsborg and many others.

              JE comments:  Absolutely, Paul, and I would venture that nearly everyone in WAISworld has a "second" (or third) identity.  In this sense we're following in the footsteps of Ronald Hilton, the indefatigable world traveler who nonetheless remained British to the very end.  At the opposite extreme we have Prescott, the greatest 19th-century historian of Mexico (and Peru), who never set foot in Latin America.  (He was also, like the titanic Borges, blind.)

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            • "Anglo-Saxon" Historians and Latin Nations (Alan Levine, USA 05/02/18 2:44 PM)
              I find it odd to hear and very curious if true that Spanish scholars don't study the history of England, Germany, or the US. Don't they think they have anything useful or important to learn? To me, not studying something is the greatest sign of contempt. Individuals and nations do so at their peril.

              JE comments: Most certainly there are exceptions, but beyond De Tocqueville, I cannot think of any iconic non-Anglophone historians of the US. So let's reverse the variables of our subject line and ask:

              Who are the most important "Latin" historians of the Anglo-Saxon peoples?

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              • Raimondo Luraghi, Historian of US (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/03/18 4:33 AM)
                In response to John E's question, may I present a great Italian historian of the US, Raimondo Luraghi, 1921-2012?

                During WWII he was in France in the Alps. At this time many Jews took refuge and Luraghi with his men defended them against the German SS and the Vichy forces. Sometimes they even threatened the use of arms against their so-called allies.

                After the unconditional surrender of 8 September 1943, Luraghi moved to Piedmont with some of his men becoming partisans (one of the few real fighting partisans against the German and RSI forces). He received a silver medal.

                After the war he became a journalist with the L'Unità (communist newspaper), then professor of University as a Americanist. He was visiting professor at Harvard, Richmond, Notre Dame, NYU, UG and was the first non-American to receive the Roosevelt Award.

                He wrote several books on both the Confederate and Union Navies, on Indian Wars and a monumental History of the American Civil War, among other books.

                I was fortunate to have him as a professor at the university.  He was extremely good, and surprisingly he did not try to brainwash me. He instead insisted on having me as his assistant, convinced that I should enter the University, but I preferred to stay at sea. He was my dissertation supervisor for my doctorate (summa cum laude), and we remained in touch for some time. He did not object to my ending my thesis with a quote from Mussolini, and this was the time in which the Red Brigades were ruling over the University of Genoa.

                About the lack of Latin scholars of the Anglo-Saxon (America) world, maybe they exist but are not recognized because of the bias I mentioned earlier?

                JE comments:  A most illustrious career.  Click below for an extensive bio of Prof. Luraghi.  His son Nino is a Classics professor at Harvard, and his daughter Silvia is a linguist at Pavia.

                Eugenio:  I don't think I've ever heard you praise an anti-Fascist partisan before Prof. Luraghi.  He must have had a massive influence on your scholarly development.  Did you two ever argue about politics?


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            • Thoughts on "Race War"; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/04/18 3:55 AM)

              Gary Moore writes:

              My thanks to Tor Guimaraes and Eugenio Battaglia (May 2)
              for their kind words on my question about the history of Spain.

              As I said, "cultural imperatives" form treacherous waters for
              debate. I'm relieved if I squeaked through the narrows. Tor may
              already have read Toynbee's two books on the rise and fall of
              civilizations, but if not, his comment suggests he may find
              rich material there.

              But now to Timothy Ashby's valuable insights on the changes
              in South Africa (April 29), and the fear, as JE put it, that Zimbabwe-style confiscations might lead to "race war." That phrase was not
              uncommon in US newspaper headlines in the World War I period
              and just after, as large-scale lynching riots destroyed entire black
              communities, and less frequent black-on-white cases (like Houston
              1917) presaged the shift to black-on-white ghetto riots (Harlem 1935),
              ironically as the epidemic stage of white-on-black lynching was ending.

              Both in the post-World War I period and later around 1970, fears were
              commonplace that the wildly shifting and usually inequitable racial
              accommodations in the United States were deteriorating into civil war.
              The rumors and conspiracy theories about secret federal plans for
              concentration camps for African Americans were false, but they fed off
              real contingency thinking in some policy circles, at times put on paper
              as speculation. To look back at some of the systematic murders of police
              by fringe revolutionary groups ca. 1970 is to be reminded how much
              history forgets--as culture keeps adjusting and experimenting with
              accommodations between groups.

              In both "race war" periods, some deeper organicity in the United States--
              some "imperative"--brought it through so startlingly that by the late 1970s
              there were articles wondering where all the radicals had gone. Unfortunately,
              this wan assurance from US history says little about South Africa, where the
              Zimbabwe example broods. Patterns of chaos we thought we had left behind
              forever can resurface (as when Chávez retooled discredited Castro in Venezuela),
              Tim has put us on alert that storm clouds can gather with little notice among
              distant publics. We can only hope that some other kind of phase will step in and
              take precedence.

              JE comments:  Is there anything more atavistic or terrifying than "race war"?  Let us hope the South Africans, of all people, have learned their lesson from history and will find a wiser path.

              Next, Timothy Brown turns our attention to Nicaragua and the 1980s.

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              • South African Property Confiscations: Who Started It? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 05/05/18 4:22 AM)
                I know we have some "heavy duty" historians in WAISdom.  This is a wonderful subject, because with proper adjustments for circumstances and perspective, history is the best indication for the future. I also know that the winners get to write history from their perspective, most of the time ignoring everyone else's.

                We have been discussing Timothy Ashby's insights on the changes in South Africa (April 29), and the anger and fear among the South African White community regarding private property confiscations. John Eipper commented that the Zimbabwe-style confiscations might lead to "race war."

                I am surprised that our historians have not commented that since colonization of the whole African continent in general, and of South Africa specifically, we have had a long continuous civil war with intermittent periods of peace. Historically, who started the business of property confiscation? Who first started treating people (the natives) like sub-humans unworthy of respect and consideration?

                Make no mistake, I would be protecting my property also, with guns if I had to. So I am not judging anyone.  I am just pointing out how what goes around comes around. The White South Africans are now on the receiving end. Let's hope that the South African natives are wiser and avoid violence more than their past conquerors did.

                JE comments:  "Bottom rail on top, this time"?  Come to think of it, all private property in the Americas was confiscated at one point or another, too.  The central question:  is it possible to have "restorative" justice when the injustices took place centuries ago?

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                • Restorative Justice: Palestine and Israel (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/05/18 3:05 PM)
                  When commenting on Tor Guimaraes's post of May 5th, John E asked: "It is possible to have 'restorative' justice when the injustice took place centuries ago?"

                  My answer is a solid NO!

                  Some restorative justice is possible, but transferring large swaths of territory and throwing out the present inhabitants brings more injustice. With ethnic cleansing, such as in eastern Germany or Italy's East and West, once the first or maybe the second generation of usurpers has died, throwing out their descendants is, unfortunately, nothing more than another injustice.

                  Referring to the Europeans who settled in South Africa and other parts of the continent, probably when they arrived there was plenty of land available for them.

                  It is interesting to observe the Africans arriving now in Europe, who claim that there are "no borders, we are all humans"--but the Europeans in Africa are being kicked out.

                  The greatest injustice (but in the West it is forbidden to say this) in the name of restorative justice was the creation of the State of Israel in Palestine, with the greatest fraud being the claim of "a land without people for a people without a land." This quote was from the Church of Scotland minister Alexander Keith in 1843. In reality it was the usual British trick to enter and dominate the Middle East, which at the time was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and Egypt.

                  By the way, the first inhabitants of Palestine were not the Jews but the Philistines and other people who were duly cleansed.

                  JE comments:  What happened to the Philistines?  Some claim a direct line to modern-day Palestinians.  The names sound similar and the geography is the same, but what about the genealogy?  The political implications are huge.  I bet Edward Jajko could shed light on this riddle.

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                  • Is "Restorative Justice" Possible in Israel/Palestine? The Historical View (Luciano Dondero, Italy 05/08/18 4:49 AM)
                    After reading Eugenio Battaglia's interesting comments on Luraghi, and hearing that he had been a student of his, I would not have imagined reading such an uninformed and purely ideological piece like the one on "restorative justice" (May 5th).

                    It is with regret that I write this, because not only I have great personal affection and esteem for Eugenio, our political differences notwithstanding, but also because the suffering of the Jews and the Arabs (as well as other peoples) in the Middle East deserve better.

                    Eugenio wrote: "The greatest injustice (but in the West it is forbidden to say this) in the name of restorative justice was the creation of the State of Israel in Palestine, with the greatest fraud being the claim of 'a land without people for a people without a land.' This quote was from the Church of Scotland minister Alexander Keith in 1843. In reality it was the usual British trick to enter and dominate the Middle East, which at the time was ruled by the Ottoman Empire and Egypt."

                    Eugenio also wrote:

                    "By the way, the first inhabitants of Palestine were not the Jews but the Philistines and other people who were duly cleansed."

                    Here almost every other word is wrong!

                    Palestine was a term invented by the Romans once they finally defeated the rebellious Israelites in 135 AD, actually they called it "Syria Palaestina." See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syria_Palaestina

                    As even a cursory reading of the Bible, taken as an anthropological reference, could tell anyone, the area that Christianity used to call "Holy Land" was inhabited by several populations and ethnic groups.

                    Geography retains some telling names, like the Mountains of Judea, which, ding, ding! is where the Jews got their name from--surely like the Romans getting their name from Rome.  There is some connection there!

                    Fast forward to the Twentieth Century.

                    I know that calling Britain "the Perfidious Albion" was a favorite trope of Benito Mussolini, and not an entirely fabricated one, but one should be careful with such things. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfidious_Albion )

                    Britain was the main power that won World War I.  Together with its frenemies France, Russia and Italy, they set out to carve up the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires.

                    Thanks to Lenin and the Bolsheviks--the British should have praised them instead of fighting against them!--Russia was soon out of the game, Italy got a bunch of possessions in Dalmatia and then Albania, a few islands in the Eastern Mediterranean and a foothold in Africa, France got a lot more, including Syria (out of which they carved a new-old country like Lebanon), but Britain had the lion's share, both in Africa and the Pacific, and in the Middle East.

                    As part of what Eugenio would call "restorative justice," which was in fact a compensation for services rendered during the war, Britain promised various parts of the Middle East to various groups of people.

                    Anyone who spends a very little time studying the area--maybe with some help from genuine scholars like Bernard Lewis (and not the charlatans that abound, "Palestinians" or otherwise)--would quickly learn that various "ruling families" (i.e., the more powerful local tribes' chieftains) were supposed to get this or that territory in the Middle East.

                    And the Jews were supposed to get their own. The 1917 Balfour Declaration was a solemn statement of intent by the British Crown, which became enshrined in international law, when the newly established Society on Nations in 1920 accepted this map as showing the area where "a Jewish National Home" was to be established:

                    ​Yes, the entire area that today includes Gaza, Israel, Judea-Samaria (aka the West Bank), and Jordan--but minus the Golan Heights, as they were given to the French instead. It was called "Mandate Palestine," thus restoring this name which had remained unused from Roman times.

                    ​In 1922 Winston Churchill, who was then the British Minister for Colonial Affairs, and who was also a friend of the Jews, reached an agreement with an Arabian prince, Abdullah (pictured above, to the right of the British High Commissioner for Palestine Sir Samuel, with Churchill to his left, Government House in Jerusalem, 1921) to divide this area in two: a much larger one for the Arabs, from the river Jordan inland, and a smaller one for the Jews, from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in this map:

                    The Eastern area became known as "Emirate of Transjordan" (clearly an invented name), later to become the "Kingdom of Transjordan," and eventually the "Kingdom of Jordan."
                    The Western area took over the name of "Mandate Palestine."

                    Churchill made the point of view of the British government and of the Society of Nations very clear in the 1922 "White Paper":

                    "When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the impression of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a center in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest, and a pride. But in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection." (emphasis added, see full text here: https://israeled.org/resources/documents/1922-white-paper-palestine/ More on this topic in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churchill_White_Paper,_1922 )

                    For the subsequent two decades and a half, almost every reference to "Palestine" and "Palestinians" was meant to point to the Jewish population that was being resettled there.

                    You can see in every document of that time--obviously not in subsequent fabrications, with the KGB playing a big role in "establishing the truth"!--and in every piece of literature.

                    In A Tale of Love and Darkness, Israeli author Amos Oz recounts how the graffiti in 1930s Lithuania urged his family "Jews go back to Palestine," so they went, and now the walls of Europe shout "Jews get out of Palestine."
                    Here is the flag of Palestine, from the Larousse 1939 Dictionary.

                    The conflict between some of the local landowners and the Jewish immigrants was not a conflict between "Palestinians" and Jews, but between Arabs, and more specifically Muslim Arabs, and Jews. It has a concrete substance--the landowners thought they had been smart to sell swamps and desertic lands to a bunch of stupid Europeans who wanted to settle there, and in actual fact many of these went back to Europe (or went to America), relinquishing the land they had paid for. But it also had an ideological substrate, which the main local Muslim authority--the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Arafat's uncle (or cousin?) on his mother's side, and a good friend of Adolf in Berlin--was keen to underline: according to certain interpretations, the Koran forbids anybody who is not a Muslim to own any part of the "Holyland," even though Mohammad himself somewhere pointed out that the Jews of course lived there before the Arabs did.

                    Out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the Allied Powers carved a number of new countries, all with various nationalities and religions, basically crushed under the thumbs of the appropriate Muslim Arab rulers in the pocket of their European overlords. A tiny slice of land was allotted to the Jews, in their ancient homeland. And this is supposed to be the cause of all the trouble in the Middle East?

                    Eugenio tells me he learned about the situation there from Palestinian refugees. Of course, the fate of individuals can always be pitied, no matter how much those responsible for that situation are themselves, or their leaders--even the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg had mothers and children, and we can posit that they were innocent of the activities of their infamous relatives.

                    Similarly with the Arabs who left what became Israel, or with the Palestinians who are kept as "refugees" today.

                    It is astonishing and truly shameful that there are more than five million people in the Middle East who are dubbed "Palestinian refugees." How many "Jewish refugees" do you now about nowadays? None, because the 850,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab lands, and who at that time were indeed refugees, were resettled in Israel (or elsewhere, a minority of those), unlike the Arabs (now universally called Palestinians) who are kept indefinitely as "refugees," with their children and grandchildren, as pawns in a propaganda game against another people.

                    Truly, the vast Arab countries (two dozens of them) with their oil wealth, can't resettle a few of their brethens? And does the world defend the Palestinians, when other Arabs murder them? Have you heard of Yarmouk in Syria? Does the world care for the suffering of the Palestinians, whenever it can't pin the blame on the Jews and Israel? See "Forgotten and without a future: Syria's Palestinian refugees":  http://alturl.com/o4ozm and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarmouk_Camp

                    In 1948 the Arabs of Palestine could have set up their own state, once again carving out another chunk off the original Mandate, by the way.  But they refused.

                    In 1967 the Arab states could have gotten back the land that Israel had acquired in the Six-day war.  But they refused.

                    Throughout the 1990s and 2000s the Palestinians could have set up their own state.  But they refused.

                    Why? Because nothing short of getting rid of Israel and the Jews once and for all is good enough for the fanatical Islamists, "moderates" or not.

                    Well, sorry, that's not on. Remember the motto: "Never Again!"

                    JE comments:  The Balfour Declaration said nothing about specific boundaries for the Jewish homeland.  It did, however, stress that the "civil and religious" rights of non-Jewish Palestinians were to be respected.  Balfour, like the Bible, can be read in ways that support any present-day view.

                    Lots to think about in Luciano Dondero's informative essay.  As I did the editing and uploading of images, one question jumped out in particular, and it's a hard one to face:  "Does the world care for the suffering of the Palestinians, whenever it can't pin the blame on the Jews and Israel?"

                    I've long been a "two-state solution" guy, but my answer to Luciano's question is "unfortunately, no."

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                • "Day of Mass Destruction" in South Africa (Timothy Ashby, Spain 05/06/18 2:31 PM)

                  "Restorative justice" is possible when the confiscation/nationalization/theft took place relatively recently. Good examples include return of real estate and property such as art stolen from Jews by the Nazis, and houses, castles, forests, factories that seized by the former Communist governments in Eastern Europe.

                  However, I think that it is legally impossible to restore property taken centuries ago, usually by conquest. A good example is the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Romano-Celtic Britain, when the land was simply taken and the owners either killed or displaced to Brittany or Wales.

                  Tor Guimaraes wrote on May 5th, "Let's hope that the South African natives are wiser and avoid violence more than their past conquerors did." First, I should say that White South Africans consider themselves "natives," as much as Black citizens whose tribal ancestors predominately migrated into South Africa centuries after the first White settlers (with the exception of the "Khoisan" people, called "Hottentots" by the Dutch, who were hunter-gathers and pastoral herders when the first settlers arrived in the Cape).

                  Actually, the racial situation in South African is deteriorating, and violence is escalating. Yesterday radicals affiliated with the EFF and ANC used social media to call for a "Day of Mass Destruction. A call out for land expropriation in mass for Saturday, 5th May, 2018." As you can see from the appended screen shot of the actual message (sent to me by a "Coloured" friend), the people organizing this civil disruption planned "distruction to white property, cars, government assets until we get answers."

                  JE comments:  See below.  What have you heard, Tim, about how May 5th turned out?  I could not find any news items referring to the "distruction."  And what about the reference to the Somalians?


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                  • Black South Africans and Somali Immigrants (Timothy Ashby, Spain 05/13/18 4:44 AM)
                    When commenting my post of My 6th, John E asked: "What have you heard, Tim, about how May 5th turned out? I could not find any news items referring to the 'distruction.' And what about the reference to the Somalians?"

                    I was told that the ANC nipped this particular call to action in the bud. It was reportedly being organized by the radical Black First Land First fringe group https://blf.org.za/2018/05/03/3094/

                    The SA government is concerned about negative publicity, especially after two members of the AfriForum organization (a civil rights group representing embattled white farmers and Afrikaners generally) visited Washington, DC, meeting with John Bolton, Fox News and a number of conservative think tanks close to the Trump Administration. Their agenda was to make the the White House and Congress aware of the worsening SA security situation and the plan to amend the constitution to allow confiscation of white property without compensation. They asked that the US stop foreign aid to South Africa and impose sanctions if the "takings" (as we lawyers say) proceed. They also asked for special visas for white South African refugees, on grounds that they are victims of genocide.

                    The reference to Somalians is because during an actual day of mass destruction in Hermanus on March 27th (during which a library, a satellite police station, government housing for low-income people, a municipal housing office, a recycling plant, private vehicles and shops were damaged, looted or torched) the rioters attacked Somali immigrants, burning over 100 of their little houses, shops and vehicles, and driving the families to take refuge in an Islamic cultural center. There is great resentment among native Black South Africans against immigrants from other--especially Islamic--sub-Saharan countries, and many of the daily township attacks and murders are directed at this group. My contacts say that the call to include Somalians was to try to unite all black (and "Coloured") Africans in a crusade against whites.

                    JE comments:  The headline at the Black First Land First website above reads:  "Don't come back AfriForum, you bloody land thieves!"  This is a strange way to cloak an appeal to steal land.  I surmise the BFLFers would call it restorative justice.

                    Note how AfriForum is using the semantics of victimhood to describe their plight, even going so far as to use the G-word (genocide).  It sounds like the 1980s all over again, just with the colors reversed.

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              • Race War: Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" Speech (John Heelan, UK 05/05/18 4:49 AM)
                Gary Moore wrote on 4 May: "Both in the post-World War I period and later around 1970, fears were commonplace that the wildly shifting and usually inequitable racial accommodations in the United States were deteriorating into civil war. "

                In the UK as well, read right-wing Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech (1968):


                JE comments:  "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man."  Powell was careful to place these words in the mouth of an "ordinary constituent," but his rhetorical trick fools no one.

                Enoch Powell has come up a few times before on WAIS.  Was he the last gasp of British fascism in the Oswald Mosley mold, or a precursor of the Eurosceptic, anti-immigration politicians of today?  My answer would be both.

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                • "Rivers of Blood" in London? (Timothy Ashby, Spain 05/06/18 4:01 AM)

                  Enoch Powell´s "Rivers of Blood" speech (see John Heelan, May 5th) seems sadly relevant today due to what can only be described as an epidemic of shootings and stabbings that are now a daily occurrence in London and other major British cities.

                  Although not widely publicized due to the media and government's political correctness censorship, the majority of these crimes--at least 80% by reliable estimates--are committed by second-generation Afro-Caribbean youth gangs, fighting for turf and drug dealing territory, remarkably similar to gang warfare in US cities. Today the "Rivers of Blood" are predominately flowing from black youths murdering one another.

                  Since the beginning of the year, at least 36 people have been fatally stabbed and 62 overall killed. London had 12,980 knife crimes committed in the capital during 2017, up 2,452 on the year before. On New Year's Eve alone four teenagers were stabbed to death in London, and 22 were killed in March. Last night a youth was shot to death in Southwark, on the Thames´ South Bank.

                  While I detest Trump as a person, he was correct in describing a London hospital's trauma department as "like a war zone" due to knife attacks. (the hospital in question is reportedly St. Barts). Trump was speaking to the NRA, and spun the London account to argue that guns could have prevented knife attacks without mentioning that firearms are prevalent among UK gangs and cause many of the casualties. I regret to say that Trump was also correct in stating that despite strict gun control laws in the UK and France, the use of firearms for crimes including terrorism is widespread. I must agree that criminals can always obtain guns when law-abiding people cannot use purchase them for self-defense.

                  Ironically, the first generation of Afro-Caribbean and Indian subcontinent immigrants generally were remarkably law-abiding, hard-working and proud to be be considered "British" (especially the Caribbean immigrants). I have yet to see a sociological analysis of why some children of these people form gangs and turn to crime.

                  JE comments:  Further, why would London's level of violent crime be rising?  The general trend in the US has been a decline over the last twenty or so years.

                  A possible (unfortunate) explanation:  some Caribbean nations are among the world's deadliest.  See below:


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                  • Why London's Increase in Violent Crime? (Timothy Ashby, Spain 05/09/18 9:38 AM)
                    JE asked on May 6th: "Why would London's level of violent crime be rising? The general trend in the US has been a decline over the last twenty or so years."

                    Over the past couple of days (during which there have been more killings and wounding with firearms and knives) I asked two of my acquaintances (one a police officer, the other a lawyer who is ex-Special Branch) why the violence is growing. They both, independently, said that Afro-Caribbean youth (and to a lesser extent, other ethnicities) are immersed in a "Rap" culture, based on gang warfare, guns, knives, drugs and antagonism towards authority (not to mention violent and sexist lyrics in their music). They blame the US Rap culture and permissive society generally for the violence.

                    Both also said that police officers (including black officers) are afraid to "do their job" for fear of being accused of racism. The police are extremely frustrated, especially when they are accused of being responsible for the violence (as the mother of a young man shot to death in London over the weekend) claimed.

                    JE comments:  Aren't UK police also massively outgunned?  Or is my image of the quaint, unarmed Bobby out of date?

                    The age-old question:  does violent art (music, film, video games) reflect, or inspire, violence in society?  One's answer usually reveals one's politics.

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            • Challenges of Writing History: Nicaragua (Timothy Brown, USA 05/04/18 4:28 AM)
              I'm always a skeptic on history simply because, while every person ever born lives a history, only a tiny fraction of history is recorded for posterity, and an even smaller fraction of that survives.

              In the case of what we call Latin America today, the region's pre-Columbian history as written is based almost exclusively on non-native third-person commentaries by "foreigners," supplemented by third-person interpretation of physical remains (archeology).

              When I did my PhD dissertation on the Nicaraguan Contras (published as The Real Contra War), I determined that the base population from which the Contras had emerged numbered 1.1 million to 1.3 million, between 47% and 52% of the population of Nicaragua. But there was virtually no written history and only two recent academic studies of the region from which they came, one in English, one in Spanish.

              Post-conflict literacy studies determined that only 3% were literate at the 3rd grade level. (One American academic later reported literacy was nearing the universal--based not on field study but on accepting without testing government assertions). My annotated item-by-item review of the literature ran 197 pages, but only two items were by persons who had any first-hand information. The rest were third person based on articles by other third persons. So I wound up collecting insofar as I could, first-person data. A major way I did so was by videotaping more than a hundred Oral History interviews, most of them former "Contra" combatants, including seven female combatants and reviewing the individual records in their surviving archive (now in the Hoover Archives at Stanford). I also did a separate control set with former Sandinistas (including Augusto Sandino's since deceased personal bodyguard), Faribundistas, internacionalistas and third-country observers (UN, OAS, US, Mexican, Costa Rican and Cuban), since published as When the AK-47s Fall Silent (Hoover Press).

              One key control question was designed to determine their ethnic self-identities. I began by asking them to self-identity their ethnic origin on an imaginary "yard stick," one end being "Spanish," the other end "Indian" and the middle "Mestizo." More than 98% self-identified as Mestizos. Near the end of each interview, when I asked the same question, albeit in a different way, 96% identified as "Indian." When I then asked why they had changed, they explained that to admit you were an "Indian" would make you part of the "lowest class," while trying to convince someone you were "Spanish," and therefor a member of the dominant upper class, would not have been believed. I also worked with Costa Rican anthropologists doing the Central America part of the genome and glottochronology tracking using place names.

              Conclusion? The Contra War was what we call an Indian War, Segovian highlander peasants of Chibcha origin defending their ancestral territory and identities against "foreign" Nahua-Mexica and Spanish invaders, during which the ideological left supported the invaders and conquistadores against the natives. But, since the Spanish were the ruling class, the Pacific lowlands Mexica descendants their proletarian "serfs," and the "Contras" were micro-bourgeoisie landowners (about 1.5 acres on average) who freely disposed of whatever surplus corn, or maybe chickens, they produced, they were "kulaks," enemies of the "revolution."

              Stalin would have been proud!

              Ain't history fun?

              PS: On the self-identification metric, once when I sat next to a a Member of the Mexican Congress (a short, brown-skinned man) and described the above to him, he commented that he always self-identified as Spanish despite the reality that his father and mother were both "indios de la boca de la montaña." But if he were to publicly self-identify as an "indio" he would lose his congressional seat.

              JE comments:  Historians tend to categorize the regional wars of 1945-1990 as ideological in nature, with identity-based conflicts taking over after the end of the Cold War.  Nicaragua's Contra War is typically seen as the last gasp of the former, but Tim Brown has long argued that it was a conflict of the Lowland Hispano-Mexica bourgeoisie against the Highland Chibcha peasants.

              If we scrutinize the 1950s through '80s, how many of the Cold War-era proxy conflicts were actually identity wars?  We didn't know it at the time, but the Soviet fiasco in Afghanistan was not really about politics.

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          • National "Greatness": What Does This Mean? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 05/02/18 4:42 AM)
            I enjoyed reading Gary Moore's glimpses into the historiography of Spain's greatness (1 May) as "a momentary accident in the star-crossed convergence of Columbus and the Habsburgs, whereupon deeper fanaticism began almost immediately to eat the seed corn, up to the embarrassments of Manila and Havana in 1898."

            I am afraid that seems to be the model for every "great" nation or empire: they are forged by circumstances including great people and ideas, they grow, they get too big for their britches, get frustrated with resistance to their actions and become corrupted, and rot from inside as outsiders help their demise.

            Cyrus the Greatest is credited as being the best among managers of empires. Alexander, Hannibal and Napoleon had great military genius but were poor governors of empires. They were conquerors of nations just like Spain, but could not keep it together in harmony after the conquest like Cyrus I did. Unfortunately my beloved USA seems to be going down the same road.

            John Eipper astutely wanted to first define the term greatness. He asked "Do we mean imperial expansion?"

            Recently I watched again the movie The Guns of August addressing WWI. My biggest impression was about how much the Germans behaved as the Nazis did a few decades later. It was surreal: a blitzkrieg of sorts with horses pulling the guns but still with over-extended communications and supply lines, horrendous atrocities against civilians, etc.

            To me the basic problem is that humans have not learned about the need to control their ambitions, baseless fears and aggression, willingness to hurt innocent people, and their limitless ability to act totally against reason. Concurrently, while they are doing all this, they seem to think they are behaving reasonably and certainly have plenty of excuses to justify themselves. It's hopeless, but perhaps we can use machine learning and decision-support systems in the future.

            JE comments:  Empires outgrow their britches, and other, hungrier peoples take their place.  Tor Guimaraes may have put his finger on the problem, exactly.

            A Guimaraes-inspired question for the WAISitudes:  can "smart" machines take us down a wiser path?  My first thought is that machines lack the crucial trait of morality.  But then again, humans have an extremely spotty record in that department, too.

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            • Can Machines Learn Morality? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 05/03/18 9:25 AM)
              Commenting on my latest WAIS post, John Eipper asked: "Can 'smart' machines take us down a wiser path? My first thought is that machines lack the crucial trait of morality."

              Machines can do whatever we can program them to do. Historically machines were only viewed as giant calculators capable of mathematical computations and other structured problems we knew how to program. Then we learned to program computers to support unstructured decision-making with expert systems and artificial intelligence, we programmed computers to learn to play chess and beat the best humans, to totally take over all systems in a spaceship as a test for two hours, etc.

              As John pointed out, the trait of morality which humans flash around at their convenience, is no major obstacle. Morals are nothing but rules of behavior defined by groups. The basic rules are relatively simple; the problem is human corruption, hypocrisy, and double-talk. Computers can eventually be programmed to refuse action which would "do to humans or anything else, any hurtful behavior as defined for the system." It would take a human to override a moral computer.

              JE comments:  But what about the "evil scientist"--or evil empire--who programs machines for immorality?

              Closer to the here and now, there is widespread fear in America about Chinese cell phones spying on us.  Is this paranoia or a genuine danger?  Can anyone walk us through the technology involved?  Would our communications be blipped to a satellite, and thence to an army of eavesdropping Chinese?

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              • Machine "Morality" and "John Barron"; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 05/03/18 12:02 PM)

                Ric Mauricio writes:

                Machines are many times just extensions of the programmer's (man's) stupidity. While I do admire the use of robots to make mundane tasks precise (I watch the show Dream Cars: How It's Made to catch the manufacturers' names of the robotics), taking the AI a step further towards making "smart" or "moral" decisions is just not something that one can look forward to. Sorry, but I don't want a HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey) making decisions for me.

                But let me give an example of robo stupidity. I just recently analyzed a client's portfolio created by a robo-financial-advisor. The portfolio comprised 20 funds. Eight of the funds were duplicates of 8 others. Some of the funds did better than others. But it is evident that the programmer knew nothing about diversification. It was evident that since the program could not discern between good funds or not-so-good funds, it just decided to invest in many funds to cover its inability to make good decisions. The result: diworsification. The result: severe underperformance.

                Really, asset allocation should maximize at 5 funds and can actually be achieved with 1 or 2 funds. The 5 funds could cover stocks (domestic and international), real estate (REITs), bonds/cash, and commodities (gold?). Two funds could be a global stock fund and a global bond fund. One fund would be a global stock fund (I have news for you, the S&P 500 is a global stock fund; a great majority (some estimate it at 50%) of the earnings of the S&P 500 are earned outside the US). And since bonds (due to currency devaluations) are a depreciating asset, I am leery of bonds in any form.

                Talking about severe underperformance, it appears that there was an interview in 1979 with an "official" from the Trump Organization that indicated that Trump was worth 5 times the estimate of the Forbes 400, $1B vs $200M. So if we took that $1B and fast forwarded to today's claim of $8.8B, that comes to a 4.9% compounded rate of return. That is compared to Forbes $200M to today $3.1B or a 7.8%. Compare that to the S&P 500's performance in the same time period of 11.8%. Sorry, Mr. Trump, you cannot be rated an investing genius. By the way, that "official" was John Barron, aka Donald Trump.

                JE comments:  WAIS has never discussed presidential pseudonyms.  Obama reportedly used one in some of his private e-mails, but that's not exactly the same as having a "spokesman" to toot your horn.

                "Diworsification"--nice portmanteau word, Ric!  This is the first time I've seen it, but it was coined by Peter Lynch way back in 1989.  (I need to get out more!)

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                • Machine "Morality" and GIGO (John Heelan, UK 05/04/18 3:36 PM)

                  Working at the sharp end of computer technology and languages since the early 1960s, I agree entirely with Ric Mauricio's comment that "Machines are many times just extensions of the programmer's (man's) stupidity" (May 3rd).

                  Involved in the early attempts at computer-based language learning, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for a computing professional magazine challenging the concept. I argued that the quality of the language reflected not only the level of knowledge of the programmer and was likely to slip into cliches that were easier to program, but also the programmer's limited thinking might reduce our ability to think. If our language ability was artificially restricted by education, would we be able to think and communicate? (I also suggested that every programmer should have GIGO--Garbage in-Garbage Out--tattooed in mirror-image on his/her forehead to remind them every time that looked in a mirror.)

                  As to robotic morality and ignoring Arthur C Clarke's dictum about robots--Ric mentions HAL--I always think of "Marvin the Paranoid Android" in Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If Marvin with his brain the size of the Universe became paranoid, what would happen to lesser robotic brains?

                  JE comments:  Probably the smartest rock band of our age, Radiohead, has a song titled "Paranoid Android."  The lyrics include this line:  "I'm trying to get some rest from all the unborn chicken noises in my head."  Don't know if this is germane to our discussion, but the video is really good:


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                  • Development of Artificial Intelligence: 1970s and Today (Istvan Simon, USA 05/14/18 9:51 AM)
                    I got my PhD at Stanford in 1977. Stanford has always been one of the most important centers for Artificial Intelligence (AI). I in fact took some courses in AI from the late John McCarthy, one of the pioneers of AI, and the inventor of LISP. In the 1970s and later I pretty much had the opinion that John Heelan expressed about the limitations of Artificial Intelligence (May 4th). In those days AI was quite far from anything close to human intelligent behavior, There were some successes in restricted parts of AI:

                    1. Expert Systems were indeed comparable to human performance and even superior to humans in certain areas. For example there was an expert system that could advise on the proper use of antibiotics for doctors, and it was expert indeed and useful. Similarly, Dendral was a success about Chemical Formulas.

                    2. Computers beat the best human players in checkers, but chess and Go were much beyond the capabilities of computers to play at the best human players level in those days.

                    The best computer chess program was Belle. Belle did not play chess with any AI techniques at all. It was written by Ken Thompson, the main inventor of Unix. Belle had a recording of all known openings, and would play according to the book, much like human players do too in the opening. When the game deviated from the book, Belle would resort to an alpha-beta search, which is essentially equivalent to a program that chooses the best move available, assuming that the opponent would then choose the worst for us, then choosing the best move for us, assuming that the opponent would choose the worst for us, and so on. This is called a min-max strategy. It works like this: Suppose from a given chess position we construct the tree of all possibilities, looking ahead say 10 moves. Say it is our turn to move, so moves 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 would be our move, and moves 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 would be moves by our opponent. We then would have an enormous number of positions that could be reached from the current position by any sequence of 10 moves. Each of these positions would be then given a number of its worth to us by a "static evaluator."  A static evaluator would use simple rules for chess to evaluate a position, described in all chess books. For example, it would use the values of the pieces still on the board, 10 for pawn, 30 for knights and bishops, 50 for rooks, 100 for queens and -10 for our opponent's pawns, -30 for our opponent's knights and bishops, and so on. It could have also some value assigned to other desirable features, like dominance of the center of the board and so on. So the static evaluator is a relatively simple algorithm that computes the value to us of any chess position by such simple rules. The best move for us would be the sub-tree of this enormous tree that would produce the best position for us, by the mini-max strategy. Belle would choose that move.

                    i emphasize that this is not at all how humans play chess, but at the time this was the best computer chess program. It was understood that if computers could see far enough ahead, which was limited only by the speed of processing power available, they could beat any human player by this simple strategy. But in the 1970s this was simply not possible. However we all know that since then Big Blue defeated the human world champion in chess, so much progress has been made in computer's abilities to play superior chess.

                    3. Stanford had an AI project called the hand-eye project, which was the foundation of intelligent robots today. Robots indeed are better than humans in assembly work, and they do not strike, need health benefits, retirement pay, and they work 24 hours a day without complaint, so clearly they are very useful.

                    4. Computers could prove theorems, but when compared to humans in general they were pitiful, except in certain restricted fields, where humans also do not have much insight or intuition.

                    5. Machine speech recognition was primitive, and computer translation was almost useless when compared to a human translator. Computer "understanding" of language was primitive and unsophisticated.

                    The above was a fair summary of computer AI program performance in the 1970s. But much changed in the years since, and computers definitely got much better at all of the above. Machine translation for example today is very usable, and computers beat the best humans in chess, and even in Jeopardy. So AI has much improved, and I think that John Heelan's points today are no longer valid.

                    JE comments:  Bravo for Istvan Simon's optimism.  On the back burner of my anxieties is the expectation that machine translation will render it pointless to actually study a language.  Perhaps I'll be retired by then.  And at least we'll still have WAIS to keep me out of mischief.

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                    • Thoughts on AI Today; UK Emergency Health Services (John Heelan, UK 05/15/18 7:24 AM)
                      I bow to Istvan Simon's greater knowledge of the AI world as it is today (14 May). Not only am I hopelessly out of date technically, despite a close friend also having a PhD in cybernetics, but also when talking to today's more advanced practitioners in the computing world (some in my family), I realise that my level of knowledge is Stone Age in computing terms.

                      My worry is that we are becoming too reliant on the promises of technology that are often not forthcoming. A good example in the UK is the emergency health services. If unwell I am encouraged to ring 111. However, if I do so, I am confronted with a retrained Call Centre clerk attempting to diagnose my level of emergency from a script on his/her screen.

                      Another emergency service if the Fire Brigade. Locally there is confusion when a "blues and twos" shout is directed to a village called Niton (pronounced "Nye-ton" when it should have gone to similar-sounding Knighton. Local dispatchers have learned to ask "is that Niton or K-nighton"? Would AI be able to ask the question of understand the spoken answer from somebody whose house was in danger of being consumed by flames?

                      My wife recently had to call an ambulance for an elderly man who had fallen and damaged his leg. The dispatcher was not even aware that our village was on the Isle of Wight, delaying the arrival of the paramedics for an extra half an hour.

                      JE comments:  The UK 111 is our 911.  This could be the start of an interesting comparative discussion.  What are some WAISer experiences with emergency help lines?  How about the wait times in different nations and regions?  Several weeks ago in Delaware, my Aunt Doris needed emergency assistance.  The 911 paramedics arrived in about 5 minutes.  Bravo to them.

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                      • Emergency Services in Russia (Istvan Simon, USA 05/22/18 9:55 AM)
                        I share John Heelan's concerns regarding an over-reliance on technology (most recently, May 15th). Whether or not the UK's 111 system is a good move or not, I cannot say, and it is quite possible that it is a blunder. Only time will tell.

                        Recently I saw a report on emergency services in Russia, in which they specialized people for certain kinds of emergency with the idea that it would make the system more responsive and efficient. I am not sure if this was entirely a documentary, or somewhat fictionalized. It followed one very conscientious emergency medical technician, who refused to follow that new rules and it seemed for very good reasons. He risked being fired, yet he did not follow the new manager's orders.

                        In this program all emergency personnel viewed the move as stupid and detrimental to emergency quality of service. Yet they were ignored by management, The rules that John mentioned seemed somewhat similar to the measures that appear in the program in Russia, though they did not seem to have any AI program involved. But the gist of the new rules was that the dispatcher was supposed to select the correct crew for each emergency, and that an emergency call was supposed to be concluded in a limited amount of time. If the emergency was not resolved within the allotted time, the crew was supposed to leave and another crew dispatched to the scene to continue their work. This was considered particularly stupid, and at odds with the needs of patients.

                        The program John Heelan describes in the UK has some similarities to the Russian one, namely the dispatcher in both systems making complex decisions that she or he is ill-equipped to make, whether assisted by an AI program or not.

                        JE comments:  I hope Cameron Sawyer will weigh in.  How could it be more efficient to send a second, "replacement" crew to an emergency?  For starters, think of the learning curve involved with each incident.

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              • Can Machines Learn Morality? Parkin in "1843 Magazine" (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 05/06/18 7:36 AM)
                In a response to a post of Tor Guimarães, JE wrote: "Can 'smart' machines take us down a wiser path? My first thought is that machines lack the crucial trait of morality."

                Interestingly, there is some work in progress on this subject.

                In the June & July 2017 issue of 1843 A Magazine of Ideas, Lifestyle and Culture, edited by The Economist, there is an article "Teaching Robots Right from Wrong," How artificial intelligence is learning morality, by Simon Parkin.  Those interested can get more information on this particular topic.

                JE comments:  Thank you, Rodolfo!  Here's the link.  The image below is from a lecture Rodolfo delivered in Brazil, on education and morality.


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                • Will "Smart" Machines Make Us Dumber? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 05/07/18 8:06 AM)
                  Ric Mauricio writes:

                  In response to JE's question whether 'smart' machines can take us down a wiser path, let me post the question in another way. Can 'smart' machines, aka smart phones, or self driving cars, or artificial intelligence make humans dumber?

                  Case in point:  How many times have I seen people walk across the street in front of oncoming traffic while staring at their "smart" phones? One lady did cross a street in that manner and if I didn't step aside, she would have walked right into me. How many people are texting while driving and cause innumerable accidents? I often cringe when I see a person behind me and they are obviously texting.

                  Another case in point: The Tesla driver who was killed in Mountain View when his self-driving Tesla plowed into a concrete abutment had complained to Tesla that his car had veered into the same abutment previously. Uh, so why would you not have your hands on the steering wheel if that happened before in the same spot? It seems that there have been many reports of self-driving cars veering, swerving, or changing lanes for no apparent reason. Yet, we see drivers using their laptops while being self-driven. Elon Musk says the cars are learning. Well, if obviously, the fatal error illustrates that not only is the car not smart, but the driver is even getting dumber. I don't even feel comfortable using cruise control.

                  Another case in point: terrible spelling and grammar as we text and email each other. Whenever I correct people's spelling, I try not to be a Sheldon (The Big Bang Theory comedy series) know-it-all, by softening the correction and saying "blame it on Reverend Mother." She was my sixth grade teacher and she emphasized grammar and spelling. Loved those spelling bees. Even made it dramatic at the end by pretending that I was having trouble spelling the final winning word.

                  In the previous post, I gave the example of robo financial advisors. Sorry, but in investing like in accounting, it is an art and a science.

                  People who avoid exercise or even walking (drive through fast food or banks) do not utilize their bodies and their bodies will soon atrophy or become unfit. If we relegate thinking to computers, soon our brains will atrophy to the point of irrelevance.

                  JE comments:  Yes, Ric, alas.  Every technological "disruption" leads to human
                  atrophy--we have collectively lost our weaving, abacus, and
                  blacksmithing skills.  Literacy itself arguably has arguably dulled our
                  memories.  And we used to know how to spell, thanks to Reverend Mother.  (In my case, it was Mrs O'Connor.)

                  Shall we hold a Technology Nostalgia Day on WAIS?  Who can use a slide rule?  Anyone know how to drive a Model T?  (It is not at all obvious, with the pedal and brake arrangement.)  What other arcane and obsolete skills are out there?

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                  • Nostalgic Technologies: Sextant (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/08/18 4:26 AM)
                    After hundreds of years of excellent work at sea, the sextant is not used anymore.

                    Latitude and Longitude are now provided in an instant by a computer connected to satellites. So if the computer gives out, allow me to laugh.

                    JE comments:  If I ever go to sea, I'll be sure to press-gang WAISdom's navigator par excellence, Eugenio Battaglia.  (Remember the verb "to Shanghai"?  Its political correctness today is doubtful.)

                    So we've met the Pavarotti of the sextant.  It won't be too much longer before map-reading goes the way of the astrolabe. 

                    Anyone in WAISworld a virtuoso on the slide rule?

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                    • Nostalgic Technologies: My Slide Rule (Paul Pitlick, USA 05/08/18 1:51 PM)

                      I haven't used a slide rule for a while, but I think it would be like riding a bicycle--wouldn't take long to get back up to speed.

                      I skipped the calculator phase--too many errors entering numbers and getting the decimal in the right place.  My slide rule was much more trustworthy, as you had visual confirmation of which numbers you were working with. However, once I mastered Excel, where you had a record of what you entered, I did retire the slide rule.

                      JE comments:  Another wizard of the slide rule, John Heelan.  Read on.

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                    • Nostalgic Technologies: Wielding the Otis King Model K (John Heelan, UK 05/08/18 2:03 PM)
                      JE asked on May 8th: "Anyone in WAISworld a virtuoso on the slide rule?"

                      During my days at business schools like INSEAD, Lausanne (and various Harvard copies) in the pre-calculator days, my case study preparations were eased by my Otis King Model K Cylindrical Slide Rule, which could double in extremis as an expandable truncheon.

                      So not a virtuoso, just a humble second violin whose bum notes tried to stay unnoticed in the back rows of the orchestra!

                      JE comments:  Yikes, John!  That's the most fearsome slide rule ever.  A London Bobby could keep order (and carry out sophisticated calculations) with nothing more than an Otis King Model K.  (Wikipedia tells us they were made from 1922 until '72.)

                      I would venture that not one young person in 100 would know what this thing is.

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                      • Marine Pilots and Their Slide Rules (Michael Sullivan, USA 05/09/18 4:20 AM)
                        The slide rule is a lost skill. When I first started military flying in the mid 1950s, we had metal or plastic circular slide rules called REST computers (range, endurance, speed, time) about six inches in diameter with a few small windows on the face where you could calculate true airspeed with the outside air temperature and other functions. On the reverse side you could put in the winds and see what magnetic heading you had to fly to maintain a course depending on variation and what your actual ground speed would be.

                        All this was replaced by modern navigation aids such as GPS, TACAN and constant real-time readouts of all this information by just putting this information into the aircraft's computer.

                        Today everything works in the aircraft but the pilot!

                        JE comments:  Our much-missed and much-loved colleague Col. Robert Gibbs was an artilleryman, and he shared many stories with me about the complex geometry of aiming your big guns.  In the Army, the best and the brightest are selected for the artillery branch.  Nowadays, I presume you can pummel the enemy into submission with nothing more than a GPS and a mouse.

                        It's great to hear from Gen. Michael Sullivan, certainly one of WAISworld's best and brightest.  Any summer travel plans for you and Nicole, Michael?  I am planning mostly to stay close to the WAIS HQs of Royal Oak and Adrian, although we'll be in Bogotá, Colombia, for a conference in mid-June.

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                        • Summer Travel Plans; Semper Fi Odyssey (Michael Sullivan, USA 05/11/18 4:00 AM)
                          John E asked about our summer travel plans.

                          We just got back from an eight-day trip to the Washington DC area to visit friends, my Marine aviator son who should be frocked to Colonel this month, and to attend a Golden Eagle reunion. We go back up to the Army Navy Club in June to celebrate the 90th birthday of a past Commandant of the Marine Corps. In August it's San Diego again to attend a fighter squadron reunion and visit family.

                          In October it's off to the woodlands of Pennsylvania for the first time to observe/participate in a one-week retreat for wounded and PTSD Marines returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 25-35 Marines are brought into the course in hopes of changing their lives, improving their attitudes, giving them hope and valuable information for the future. Most of the volunteer mentors they use are Marines who returned home from Vietnam with severe wounds and PTSD but overcame these problems and are now leading successful and productive lives. The program is called Semper Fi Odyssey and can be found on the Internet. I am heartened to see there are volunteer programs like this that can help our young warriors who have sacrificed so much.

                          JE comments:  Michael, congratulations to your son on the promotion, and a heartfelt thanks to you for your work with Semper Fi Odyssey.  WAISers may not be aware of how generous you've been with your time, wisdom, and good cheer, whether it's visiting the wounded or counseling young Marines on their finances.  You are an example to us all, and I'm proud to count you among the citizens of WAISworld.

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                    • Going to Sea: Four Pieces of Advice (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/11/18 4:20 AM)
                      Technology has changed so many things in the attitude towards work and life.

                      When I joined my first ship, the Chief Officer at the first presentation said to me:

                      Battaglia, if you want to have success in your career at sea and in life you shall:

                      1) Know addition and subtraction (no adding machines at that time),

                      2) Always have an attentive eye,

                      3) Do not only work hard, but also give the impression of working hard,

                      4) Always use a condom.

                      I wonder what is said at present to a new cadet.

                      JE comments: I'm curious whether tenet #4 was the first to go or the last to stay.  Sex at sea is as old as seafaring itself, but today we are far more squeamish, and the threat of litigation always looms.

                      Did Captain Noah conduct sexual harassment sensitivity workshops, or was he too busy battling the demons of alcoholism?

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                  • Will "Smart" Machines Make Us Dumber? (Brian Blodgett, USA 05/08/18 1:41 PM)
                    The rise of smart machines appears to me, at least, to allow some to rise to higher levels of intelligence and solved critical problems or issues.

                    However, for many there seems to be a decline in mental aptitude. This might coincide with the decline of many US schools and the education they provide, but I fear not. While individuals may commit acts that Ric Mauricio mentioned because they were distracted by their "smart" device," consider the ability of many to do simple math, writing letters, etc. Why learn math tables when you have a computer in your hand? Why learn how to spell when you text abbreviated (if that) words? Grammar--what is that, and if you need to know, just rely on word processing programs to correct you. Complex calculations, why bother, programs figure those out for you as well. Is a restaurant good?  Check your "smart" device to see how many stars it has, often by those who love or hate one aspect of the place, regardless of the quality of the food. Reading the news--is it really news these days?

                    Yet at the same time, we can now do so much more than we can in the past because of the new found free time we have--but what do we do with this additional time? Likely not much that is valued all that high.

                    JE comments:  At the Adrian College graduation on April 29th, the speaker was Dr Margaret Johnson, Google's VP for Education and University Programs.  She told the story of how a computer technology developed to recognize cats in videos now has the potential to find cancer cells to a far more sophisticated degree than the human eye.  So if smart technology is making us dumber, "dumb" technologies can also make us smarter.

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                    • Technology, Human Intelligence, and the Pareto Principle (from Ric Mauricio) (John Eipper, USA 05/09/18 3:56 AM)

                      Ric Mauricio writes:

                      Actually, I do love technology. The fact that technology has enabled us to create charts and analyze investments at the touch of a button or two is amazing. Technology has enabled us to watch the bid and ask prices of stocks in real time, so that we can place orders at the click of a button. It has also narrowed the spread between the bid and ask price of securities and enabled us to buy at $4.95 commissions rather than $200 commissions. Good for us.

                      And I love email. It is great that here at WAIS, we can be thousands of miles apart, and yet great minds can share ideas instantaneously. There is something that I noticed though. On other social networks, the grammar and spelling are atrocious. On WAIS, I do not find that at all. Or is that all JE?

                      But I can't help but think that technological progress is following the Pareto Principle. Perhaps it is making 80% of the population dumber and 20% of the population smarter. Of course, that would also fit right into the 20% of the population owning 80% of the wealth. Did you know that in the US 69% of adults have less than $1,000? I believe I am safe to say that 100% of WAIS does not belong in that category.

                      JE comments:  Ric, you are too kind.  Ronald Hilton would regularly hurl a "proofread!" admonishment at the WAISitudes, and in the spirit of Pareto I would guess that 80% of our colleagues do a splendid job of sending ready-to-post prose.  As for other 20%... well, Prof. H said it best (2005):

                      "English spelling is a disgrace.  Even some WAISers can't spell and don't know the difference between its and it's.  Perhaps they do not proofread items before sending them to me?  The Bible says that all sins shall be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost.  Theologians have long wondered what that sin can be. I know. It is sending items to me without proofreading them."

                      Also, alas, 20% of WAISers financially support their favorite 501 (c) (3) non-profit Foundation.  (That would be WAIS.  Here's our PayPal address:  donate@waisworld.org)

                      Ric Mauricio is in the blessed 80% of proofreaders and 20% of sponsors.  Pareto and the Holy Ghost applaud you!

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                    • Smart Machines and Dumb Writing Errors (Enrique Torner, USA 05/09/18 4:47 AM)
                      I completely agree with Ric Mauricio and Brian Blodgett (May 9th) about the pernicious effect of "smart" machines.

                      I have been teaching at the college level for 25 years, and though students' writing has never been good, I think it has become much worse in the last few years. I'm convinced that technology has a great deal to do with this. Kids now grow up, not only with too much television, but with too much computer and cell phone entertainment.

                      Nigel Jones reminisced earlier about reading Hugh Thomas's The Spanish Civil War when he was 11. I bet he didn't even have television back then! That's why he read for entertainment, like I did! I dare everybody to find even a high schooler nowadays who has read one history book for entertainment. I have a hard time even finding a college kid who likes to read for entertainment.

                      I am currently grading papers and exams for my classes. My Intermediate Spanish students were required to write a cultural paper in English as part of their General Education component. I'll give you some examples of their most egregious spelling and grammar mistakes. The most common ones are not knowing the difference between "its" and "it's" [Ronald Hilton would send the curse of the Holy Ghost for this--JE] or even how to apply the possessive (one student wrote "United State's history"; difference between "to" and "too," "like" and "as," "that" and "which," "raise" and "rise," "weather" and "whether," "apart" and "a part," "between" and "among"--one student wrote "among both countries"!

                      Another very common spelling mistake is due to a famous Christmas movie: The Santa Clause. Has anybody seen it? It's a funny one. Well, thanks to the movie, many students have been misspelling poor St. Nick! Here is a funny mistake: speaking about Christmas, one student wrote about a "scared religious holiday"! Other misspelled words: "all though," "imbedded," "affective", "over-all," "unfrequently," "separated," and "the ricer neighbor," to put a happy ending to this list.

                      Besides all these misspelling mistakes, which, by the way, were made despite a rubric specifying that spelling mistakes would count for one fourth of the grade, students tend not to capitalize countries, seas, and other geographic locations. Most students also had a hard time composing correct sentences. One student started a sentence with "which"; another one followed a semicolon with "however." There is a tendency to combine sentences one after the other, without periods in between, or even a semicolon. Then there are "sentences" without a verb! Punctuation, what is that? Their use of punctuation is horrible!

                      My ten-year-old daughter, who is homeschooled, gets amazed when I tell her my college students' mistakes. Besides writing, students, as we have commented before in WAIS, are very deficient in geography, and even math. Many students, over the years, were asking me what their grade was at some point in time during the semester because they didn't know how to average! As a result of that, as well as for other reasons, I ended up using a college-wide program called D2L that includes a grade book that automatically tells students their grade at any time during the semester.

                      Conclusion: can we expect freshmen to know how to spell properly anymore? Should we require entering students to take a basic grammar class so they master what they should have learned in grade school and/or high school? I believe this huge decline in education is the consequence of too much technology entertainment, and too little reading.

                      Any suggestions from WAISdom? Comments? I, similarly to Nigel, remember reading and writing poetry at age 7, and being such a voracious reader ever since, that one of my aunts would repeatedly say over the years--especially at Christmas time--that, when I was a kid, I would entertain myself reading even product labels!

                      Whatever happened to reading for pleasure? Is this now history for the young generation?

                      JE comments: Enrique Torner has likely observed the GIGO effect on Spanish-language essays. Students put the wrong English homonym into Google Translate, and the results can be hilarious. My favorite: a student entered "wether" instead of "whether," and received "carnero castrado" as the result. Here's more or less what the student turned in to me (or turned into me?):

                      I don't know castrated ram it will rain tomorrow...

                      Best of luck with your grading, Enrique.  I hope its not to overwhelming or frustrating.  But can't you begin a sentence with "which" (not witch)--

                      Which castrated ram did you see this morning, Tiffany?


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                      • Dumb Writing Errors--and "The Grauniad" (John Heelan, UK 05/10/18 4:13 AM)
                        Those WAISers interested in correct English punctuation might like to read Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (some online sources available) to become acquainted with, among others, the "Grocer's Apostrophe."

                        Merit points will be awarded for also consulting https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/jul/08/books.booksnews

                        The irony is that constant misspellings in The Guardian newspaper over the years have given it the nickname "The Grauniad."

                        JE comments:  Eats, Shoots & Leaves features pandas on the cover--not a lone gunman at the local diner.  If so, the commas are misplaced.  John Heelan's rendition above gets it right.

                        I never knew the Grocer's Apostrophe was called such, but there is a well-known Detroit-area vegetable market (Joe Randazzo's) that is notoriously guilty on its signage--carrot's, avocado's, etc.  Michiganders (Michigander's?) are also fond of what I call the "gratuitous genitive"--working at Ford's, shopping at Kroger's or Walmart's.

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                      • Dumb Writing Errors, and Welcome to Kansas City (Timothy Ashby, Spain 05/10/18 4:37 AM)
                        I enjoyed Enrique Torner's posting about his university students' abysmal command of English writing skills (May 9th).

                        I've seen many such mistakes in print media--a common example is the misuse of "ancestor" when the writer intended to use the term "descendant" or vice versa (e.g. Simon is the ancestor of his great-grandfather who was at the Battle of Gettysburg).

                        In this vein, I couldn't resist sending the appended photo. It is reassuring that Kansas City welcomes 25 million visitors anally, presumably because it is the global mecca of proctology, or perhaps due to the city's lively gay culture?

                        JE comments: Photo attached at the end!

                        Tim, I enjoy a sophomoric moment as much as the next guy, but the photo is a fake. See this Snopes article, which shows the exact same photograph before it was Photoshopped.  (Proctoshopped?)  I nonetheless assure the WAISitudes that everything in Kansas City, according to reliable sources, is still up to date.


                        (Check out the Snopes search window at the link above:  Search Keywords or URL's.  Grocer's Apostrophe!)

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                        • Student Howlers from St Paul, Augustus (Roy Domenico, USA 05/10/18 10:19 AM)
                          Of course, in class I try to get the students to improve their writing, although I can't say it's done much good. One thing I've discovered: when students type on the computer, they don't proofread. They just press print and their work is finished.

                          And, to paraphrase Art Linkletter, "students say the darndest things." I show my students two examples in my "think before writing" talk. These are two howlers that my colleague, who teaches the history of ancient Rome, showed me. He brought in two "blue books" from an exam he had just given and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

                          First, did you know that "Saint Paul preached to the genitals?" Second, discussing the emperor's penchant toward putting up impressive buildings, the student wrote, "Augustus had erections all over Rome."

                          JE comments:  Saint Paul, HR wants to speak to you...

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                        • Meanwhile, in Apse Heath (John Heelan, UK 05/10/18 1:35 PM)
                          Our local Facebook Page--Isle of Wight Hobby Photographers--has been running a series on road signs and markings people have spotted. Here is a local road sign regularly defaced by the addition of a piece of black parcel tape.

                          JE comments:  The indomitable human spirit!  A minor defacement still requires planning, supply, and a good deal of risk.  I presume a number of Britain's picturesque "Apses" get the electrical-tape edit.

                          The folks at Manus Power Mowers, up the street from WAIS HQ in Royal Oak, have a similar problem.  When stopped at the red light on Southbound Woodward Ave, one's view of the "M" is strategically covered by street signs.  See the second image.

                          (Friends, we must stop this.  Shouldn't we be focused on the events in Iran?)

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                      • Dumb Writing Errors, and a Smart Computer Scientist (Istvan Simon, USA 05/10/18 12:51 PM)
                        I think that Enrique Toner has a point (9 May), though I believe he worries maybe a tad too much about this problem with our youth. I'd like to argue that the problem is not new nor is it restricted to our youth, and that it is doubtful that it is caused by technology alone, though technology might be a contributing factor to a certain level of illiteracy of our population.

                        Exhibit A is the president of the United States, who cannot spell nor write two sentences that make any sense. He is 71 years old, so we could hardly say that he is too young to learn to write. Now I consider Trump an imbecile, as readers of my posts in WAIS know very well. But the problem is not restricted to imbeciles alone. So for Exhibit B I will tell a longer true story.

                        I got my PhD in Computer Science at Stanford University in 1977. After getting my degree I went back to Brazil where I taught at the University of São Paulo and at the University of Campinas before returning to the United States. I joined a group of PhDs educated in the United States or Canada at the best universities, and we started to create texts in Portuguese to improve Computer Science education in Brazil. The group was led by my late brother, Dr. Imre Simon, who had gotten his PhD in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo in 1972. Our efforts were supported and encouraged by various Scientific Funding Agencies, most notably by the CNPQ (Conselho Nacional de Pesquisas), an organ of the Brazilian Federal Government similar to the National Science Foundation in the United States, and by FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo a Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo), which was the State of São Paulo's equivalent funding organization. With this support we created the "Escola de Computação," which was held every 2 years during the summer.

                        Local talent would create texts in Portuguese and teach an intensive two-week course on topics of interest in Computer Science. Advanced courses were also taught by distinguished foreign Computer Scientists in English, whom the Organizing Committee would invite for this purpose. Usually we had 3 distinguished foreign scientists to give these advanced courses at each Escola de Computação.

                        I was on the Organizing Committee of several of these Schools. One of my best friends was also on the Committee, and we invited his PhD adviser to teach one of the advanced courses. He was a truly top Computer Scientist, very distinguished, who had received major awards for his accomplishments. I shall omit his name for reasons that will become clear in the next paragraph.

                        All the members of the Organizing Committee, as well as many others with advanced degrees, followed the advanced courses. So I was there when this distinguished scientist taught us an exceptionally high-quality, truly innovative and very interesting advanced course. The course was fantastic, and he was a great teacher too. Nonetheless I was shocked! For on the transparencies he had prepared for his presentation there were numerous spelling errors. I was shocked because this would be considered truly embarrassing in Brazil, more or less equivalent to being illiterate.

                        Indeed, ex-president Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, now jailed for his crimes, was a street-smart and intelligent man, but nonetheless uneducated, and would make terrible mistakes both in fractured grammar, and often with words that did not even exist. So to misspell something was always considered very embarrassing in Brazil, and I was shocked and embarrassed for this distinguished American scientist teaching us an advanced course which was excellent, but nonetheless full of embarrassing spelling mistakes, very much like the examples that Enrique Torner listed in his post.

                        By the way, I have often seen published in newspapers principal and principle used incorrectly. Spelling mistakes are caught by spell checkers, but they cannot flag the misuse of a word by another correctly spelled word, like whether versus weather, or principal versus principle.

                        JE comments:  Istvan, I'm fascinated by your pioneering work in Brazilian Computer Science education.  Do the Escolas de Computação still exist?

                        Speakers of Romance Languages never confuse principle/principal, as the words sound the same only in English.  Mrs O'Connor taught us that the "Principal" is your "pal," which was never exactly true, but nevertheless worked as a memory device.

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                        • A Principal of Principles (Luciano Dondero, Italy 05/13/18 4:23 AM)

                          JE commented on April 10th: "Speakers of Romance Languages never confuse principle/principal, as the words sound the same only in English."

                          In Italian there is no spelling confusion between principal ("preside" or "principale") and principle ("principio").

                          The problem can be a semantic one with certain homophones.
                          "Principale" can apply to a person as a noun (it's a formal way to say boss) or as a qualifier for key things and people as well, as an adjective: "il mio interesse principale" (my main interest); "il tuo principale nemico" (your main enemy).

                          "Principio" is tricky, meaning both principle and beginning.
                          Usually one can discern the distinction.
                          But what about a sentence like "il principio dell'amore"?
                          Are we talking about the beginning of a love story or about a cosmic principle? Only the context may clarify the issue.

                          Much trouble comes with the plurals of Prince ("principe") and principle ("principio"). In both cases the plural is written "principi."  But one carries the tonic accent at the beginning, the other in the middle. And those accents are not written in Italian.
                          No confusion instead can arise between "principio" and "principiò" as the latter's accent is written (it's the past tense of the somewhat obsolete verb "principiare," and it means "it began").

                          JE comments:  This primer applies almost exactly to Spanish as well, except for the Princely Plural Principle:  one says "príncipes" for the plural former, "principios" for the latter.  Conveniently, the tonic syllable does the same thing in both languages.

                          And what about Gavrilo Princip?  Was he principled, or merely the Prince's principal assassin?

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  • Lies, Fake News: Then and Now (Tor Guimaraes, USA 04/24/18 6:07 AM)
    I totally empathize with Enrique Torner's disappointment (April 22nd) with most societies' politically and socially correct versions of history. I have felt betrayed by family, friends and authorities for telling me false stories mostly out of ignorance. I can forgive that. What I can't forgive are deliberate lies.

    John Eipper wisely pointed out that duplicity often goes more than one way: "Las Casas's Brevísima was a seminal text for the construction of the 'leyenda negra' against Spain--primarily by the Dutch and British Protestants." Nevertheless, the truth probably exists between the extremes and needs to be ferreted out by competent historians.

    The scary part comes from knowing that the lies keep coming from the stories being invented today. That is why despite the negative outcomes we need whistle-blowers and organizations like Wikileaks.

    JE comments:  I'm going to remember José Ignacio Soler's 3-part formula for most history textbooks:  one-third fact, one-third political or ideological manipulation, and one-third myth.  (See José Ignacio's post of April 23rd.)  I have just one complaint about this blueprint:  Who reads textbooks nowadays?

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