Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

I Don’t Like Jokes

Mother hides her face in shame after putting her children up for sale in Chicago; ca.1948.

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This picture was taken August 4, 1948, and published in a Chicago newspaper. After the picture appeared in papers throughout the US, offers of jobs, homes and financial assistance poured in. The mother, Lucille Chalifoux, was shielding her eyes from the camera, not sobbing as I first thought, according to the newspaper reports from the time, but then how do we really know. She was 24, married to an unemployed man 16 years older, and pregnant with her fifth child in six years at the time of the photo. Who’s to judge her true feelings?

What Happened Next

No one knows how long the sign stood in the yard. Apparently shortly thereafter the father abandoned the family, and records show he had a criminal record. Lucille went on governmental assistance. A fifth child, David, was born in 1949. The story line is not complete, but David was either removed from the home or relinquished in July 1950. He was covered in bed bug bites and in rough shape. He was adopted by a loving by strict home and ran away at 16, spent 20 years in the military, and has been a truck driver ever since. Rae says that she was “sold for $2 [in Aug. 1950] so her mother could have bingo money and because the man her mother was dating did not want anything to do with the children.” Milton was standing nearby crying, so the family took him too. Sadly, their new father was horribly abusive. Rae ran away at 17. Milton was removed from the home due to abuse (unclear at what age) and eventually ended up in a mental hospital diagnosed with “schizophrenia and having fits of rage”. He was released in 1967 at age 23. He eventually married, moved to Arizona, and is now divorced. No one knows what happened to Lana, other than she died of cancer in 1998. SueEllen was adopted, but I’ve not been able to find out any additional information other than she had two sons. She told her children that she was sold by her mother.

What The Kids Have To Say

Pictures tell a story, and this picture tells a mighty sad story– a story that left a lasting impact. The scars run deep… something always worth remembering when we speak of adoption dissolutions and disruptions. SueEllen: Dying of lung disease said, “[My mother] needs to be in hell burning.” Milton: “My birth mother, she never did love me. She didn’t apologize for selling me. She hated me so much that she didn’t care.” David: “[Our mother] got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us. … We’re all human beings. We all make mistakes. She could’ve been thinking about the children. Didn’t want them to die.”

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In our infinite arrogance, we take our fellow mammals for granted…

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When I was taken to Sea world as a child the entire experience was saddening to me. I mean, I did have fun, like any child would while watching spinning dolphins and jumping whales, but I remember being so sad. When we were waiting for the Shamu show to start, I apparently had taken off (I used to run away a lot as a kid, not really run away but I would adventure off.) My aunt says she turns around and sees me right around a slide-out area— which is a platform submerged about a foot into water; I was standing on the edge looking in the deep part of the water. Luckily for me a gentleman had spotted me and swooped me up before I fell into the water. The only thing that used to separate the public from the tank was only a chain that said “Do Not Enter”, which means absolutely nothing to a kid who can’t read. When we were leaving I remember there was a long hallway with windows on both sides where you could walk and you’d be able to see the whales below, I have no idea if it is still there or not, but I remember looking at one of the whales and all it was doing was swimming back and forth and back and forth and I, being like 5, ran up and down the hallway with it. I felt SO SAD! I was five years old at Sea world and I just wanted to cry! I remember asking my Grandma about the whales and why they were so sad.

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Orcas are one of those things when you see in the flesh you’re almost taken a back by the sheer beauty of the natural world and at the same time you realize how fucked up humanity is sometimes for trying to contain such an amazing creature.

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A police photograph of German Olympic athlete Dora Ratjen who had been arrested at a train station on suspicion of being a man in a dress. Magdeburg, Germany; September 21, 1938.

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Dora Ratjen competed in the women’s High Jump at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

“Ratjen was born in Erichshof, near Bremen, into a family described as “simple folk”. The father, Heinrich Ratjen, stated in 1938: “When the child was born the midwife called over to me, ‘Heini, it’s a boy!’ But five minutes later she said to me, ‘It is a girl, after all.'” Nine months later, when the child, who had been christened Dora, was ill, a doctor examined the child’s genitalia and, according to Heinrich, said “Let it be. You can’t do anything about it anyway.” Dora stated, also in 1938: “My parents brought me up as a girl [and] I therefore wore girl’s clothes all my childhood. But from the age of 10 or 11 I started to realize I wasn’t female, but male. However I never asked my parents why I had to wear women’s clothes even though I was male.”

“On 21 September 1938, Dora took an express train from Vienna to Cologne. The conductor of the train reported to the police at the station in Magdeburg that there was “a man dressed as a woman” in the train. Ratjen was ordered out of the train and questioned by the police. He showed his genuine documents which said he was a woman, but after some hesitation, admitted to being a man and told his story.”

Ratjen at the 1936 Olympics:

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Police mug shot:

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Laika (c. 1954 – November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth.

It makes me sad whenever I see this because I know how it turned out.

It makes me sad whenever I see this because I know how it turned out.

Laika was a stray dog, originally named Kudryavka (Russian: Кудрявка Little Curly); she underwent training with two other dogs, and was eventually chosen as the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957, (becoming the first dog in space, to orbit the Earth, and was also the first animal to die in space.) The Soviets designed the spacecraft knowing she would not survive. One Soviet scientist took her home to play with his children because he said “I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live.” Laika likely died within hours after launch from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death was not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six, or as Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion.

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As a kid who was very into rockets and airplanes I remember being told about her (mind you, I wasn’t born until the cold war was ending), but in my childish innocence I assumed she came back okay. 

Here’s a statement made by Oleg Gazenko, one of the Sputnik scientists:

“Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.”

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You know what makes me (sorta) happy? They built her a window. Despite the challenges and costs of building a secure window in a pressurized capsule, they did it so the dying dog could look out.

Source here:

Gazenko speaks of the bond that grew between the dog and him as they worked toward her mission, leading us in unembroidered prose through a brief tale of preparation, hours of readiness on the launch pad, and the launch itself. But the heart of the article for me, and the part to which nothing I’ve found since makes reference, is this: Gazenko tells us that as engineers rushed against deadlines to complete the capsule that would carry the dog into space, outfitting it with equipment to record the details of her death, he took on a battle in Laika’s behalf. Against heavy objections from the decision-makers, he insisted upon the installation of a window. A window in a space capsule, where such a luxury would cause complications and expenses that I can barely imagine. A window for the dog whose monitored demise had been this man’s objective in all the interactions that had bonded her to him with the eager devotion of every well-trained working canine.

Yet Gazenko persisted and prevailed.

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Roof In Peace.

(more…)


The Irish Republican Army:

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Basically, Britain ruled Ireland like a colony – like they ruled in America or in India. The Irish didn’t like this but it was much harder for them to win their independence due to Britain being right the fuck there. There were also many loyalists in Ireland, further muddying the situation, as well as Irish men in the British army fighting against the IRA.

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Initially Britain decided to give them representation in parliament instead of their independence, like what N. Ireland has now. That gave rise to a conflict within the IRA, with some of the rebels wanting to end the war and accept the offer of being represented in the legislature, and some of the rebels wanting to continue to fight until Britain gave them complete independence. The separatist faction of the IRA tended to be socialists who wanted independence from England so they could make significant changes to the political and economic workings of Ireland. The others were not exactly loyalists but were capitalists who thought that home rule would be good enough to turn things around without seizing the means of production from private owners and whatnot.

Somewhere along the line, religion came into it, with England being an officially Protestant nation and Ireland being officially Catholic.

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So now you had Protestants being attacked in the Republic, Catholics being attacked in the North, the IRA blowing up everything British on both sides of the line, an argument within the IRA about socialism vs. capitalism leading to them to split into to the National Army (the official standing army of the Republic of Ireland) and the irregulars and thereafter into several different factions, with the British army trying to suppress all of the above from all directions.

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The West Bank situation might be pretty comparable to this in about 20 or 30 years. Currently Israel is trying to settle loyalist families in the area, displacing the Palestinians. Eventually they might reach an uneasy peace with Palestinians and Israeli living side-by-side but still hating each other. Eventually the Palestinians start to want independence but Israel is reluctant to give up the tax income that the area represents so they offer the Palestinians self-government as long as they continue to pay taxes. Some Palestinians are OK with this, but some want to evict the Israelis entirely, who they see as the cause of the Palestinians’ suffering, and seize their land and incomes and distribute them among the Palestinians as reparations… do you see where this is going?


Pre-WW2 Germany – Nazi Ceremony, held at the Feldherrnhalle at Odeonsplatz in Munich.

Nazi Germany had a lot of classical architecture to emulate the ancient Greeks and Romans' sense of power, immensity, and structured government.

Nazi Germany had a lot of classical architecture to emulate the ancient Greeks and Romans’ sense of power, immensity, and structured government.

This photo is by Hugo Jaeger. He was the personal photograph for Adolf Hitler from from ’36 to ’45 and did so in color unlike Hitler’s other photographer Heinrich Hoffman who did black and white.

At the end of the war before Hitler died Jaeger ran into some Americans while carrying a suitcase of photos and the was worried about being caught with so many pictures of Hitler. The story goes that they opened the suitcase and found a bottle of booze which the Americans opened and drank with Jaeger while Jaeger slipped the photos out of the suitcase and soon after buried them in glass jars outside of Munich, Germany.

In 1955 Jaeger returned to Munich and dug the jars up to find the photos still safe and preserved. He then stored them in a bank vault until selling them to LIFE Magazine in 1965.

This photo is one of those photos.

Specifically this photo is from an annual ceremony that was the swearing in of the SchutzStaffel (SS) which as we know was the police arm of the Third Reich.

HERE is another picture from that same ceremony but from a reverse angle looking out at the crowd. This was also sold to LIFE magazine and was buried outside of Munich


Did celebrity efforts like Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas?” and USA for Africa’s “We Are The World” actually help alleviate famine in the 1980s?

In 1994 South African photojournalist Kevin Carter won the Pulitzer for this photo of a starving child being stalked by a vulture in the Sudan. Later that year Carter committed suicide.

Some people will say that the musicians selflessly raised large amounts of money to help the world’s neediest. Others – myself included – would say that when projects like this don’t involve professional humanitarianism and the beneficiaries (i.e. the people who are supposedly being helped), the law of unintended consequences allows for the best of intentions to pave a road straight to H-E-double-hockeysticks.

There’s three broad ways that Celebrity Aid is often asserted as a success, or conversely, criticized as a failure. Namely they are (1) the amount of aid that actually hit the ground, (2) the stereotypes of Africans it created in the media, and (3) that they may have actually been complicity in ethnocide in the Sub-Saharan African context. I’ll address each separately.

(1) The amount of aid that hit the ground.

Band Aid famously started when Bob Geldof led the charge to raise money for famine in Ethiopia. Naturally, it was done with the best of intentions. The problem is that whereas most people think of famines as natural disasters they are in fact socio-political disasters. To put it another way, there are two models of famine, “food availability decline” and “food entitlement decline” (this is most famously discussed by Amartya Sen). In most cases of famine – for example Ethiopia in the 1980s – there was plenty of food available – the problem is that the poorest people didn’t have access to it, i.e. they weren’t “entitled” in the sense that they couldn’t afford it. When crops fail, there is usually still enough food around to feed people, however the reduced amount of food creates inflation, thus driving up prices. Dumping more money into a hurting economy doesn’t help this (see Dambisa Moyo or Paul Collier’s discussion of aid and Dutch Disease), it worsens things by putting more money in the hands of the wealthy. Additionally, don’t forget that a huge amount of the money raised goes to covering costs of holding these events (honorariums for the artists are a part of this). Much is further siphoned off on the way (including by governments, I’ll get to that in part 3). This is assuming that the aid that arrives is delivered professionally. Humanitarian actors have learned in the last two decades that projects not directly involving local beneficiaries are doomed to failure, and this is still rarely put into practice. Therefore, though millions of dollars are raised, much of it doesn’t hit the ground, and what does hit the ground is more likely to cause further damage and upset the local economy, than to actually save lives.

(2) Media portrayals of Africa

By showing lots of images of starving children with flies on their faces, the image of Africa becomes one of suffering and backwardness, rather than being a continent of diversity of life, culture, religion and experience that rivals that of any other. This video of a tract by Binyavanga Wainana (read by Amistad’s Djimoun Hounsou) describes this issue much better than I can. Basically, the image of Africa as the ‘dark continent’ full of savage warriors and starving babies is not an accurate depiction, and events like Band-Aid and We are the World perpetuate these not only false but outright racist depictions of life in the developing world. The interaction that most people have with “Africa” as a concept therefore becomes the starving child with the flies on its face, rather than learning of the history of the Mali Empire, the Songhai Great Zimbabwe, Shaka Zulu, or of learning the literature of Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka, or even learning the inspiration recent struggles of anyone from Nelson Mandela or Zackie Achmat amongst countless others. Instead, when you ask people what happens in Africa, you get the image of the starving child. Band Aid played a more central role than anything else in constructing this image.

(3) Complicity in mass murder and ethnocide

This is the most controversial aspect of Band Aid and related endeavours that there are. Many (including Tim Allen, Alex de Waal) have argued that Band Aid was directly complicit in the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people. This is a highly contentious point. A brief history lesson: Ethiopia was ruled by the West’s darling Haile Sellasse, before he was ov3ertrhown by a nominally-Marxist ruler called Mengistu Haile Mariam. His party, known as the Derg, received support from the USSR. In the early 1980s, a group of Ethiopian ethnic minorities rose up against his rule (a larger one was the Oromo Liberation Front, although Eritrean groups were very active). When crops began to fail (this occurred cyclically, with the worst year being 1984), Mengistu blocked aid to the region, blocked refugees from leaving, as while limiting the international assistance that arrived. What assistance did arrive was taken by the regime, and not sent to the minority areas. Though the regime definitely didn’t cause the famine, they undoubtedly made it worse, using it as a cheap form of counterinsurgency (similar uses of famine as a form of counterinsurgency occurred in the Biafran War in Nigeria in the 1970s, and in Darfur in the 2000s). Support for “Ethiopia” became support for the Derg, and the famine it perpetuated in minority areas of Gojjam, Eritrea, Hararghe, Tigray, and Wollo. Basically, in their attempts to raise money for starving children, fundraising ended up providing legitimacy to the Ethiopian regime, while also sending it lots of money that was inevitably re-directed to other areas (especially corrupt politician’s pockets).Along with Operation Lifeline Sudan, and assistance in the Biafran War, the Live Aid / Band Aid exploits are held up as the three most famous examples of humanitarianism gone wrong, and the best of intentions being manipulated by local actors to pursue policies of ethnocide.

The idea that we must “do something” and that we must “save the world” is dangerous if you don’t deliver aid professionally, through professionalized humanitarian channels no embodied in organizations like MSF, Oxfam, etc., with the involvement of the beneficiaries on the ground. The rather embarrassing Band Aid saga speaks to this point as well as anything else. Good intentions and cash simply aren’t enough; we need to do better.

How much did Band Aid/ We are the World/Live aid help? The optimistic answer would be “not much”, while the cynical answer would be “it actually made things worse”. But the silver lining would be that it helped professional humanitarians (i.e. not musicians, but actual trained NGO staff) sharpen their game and improve their delivery, to avoid the disasters that come when you deliver aid in an unprofessional manner.


German POW captured by the Soviets after defeat in Stalingrad, 1943

It’s quite sad knowing most of the men in that photo won’t survive the captivity that awaits them.


Oppression Olympics

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Example: comparing the suffering of Native Americans or European Jews. Each group had its own unique challenges and faced its own unique obstacles. Their persecution or repression evolved from vastly different trends and motivations in society. Short of the objective fact that being considered a piece of property and not a human being is one of the most dehumanizing and traumatic acts it is possible to impose on a person, it is better to look at, in my opinion, a broad struggle for equality within an impersonal legal framework supported by variously motivated establishment figures. Otherwise, you risk obscuring the suffering and struggles of one group because group X had it worse.

So, to conclude, certain acts may have been undeniably worse or more repressive, but to compare them to other groups is of dubious merit and risks starting a meaningless and historically irrelevant competition.


Nazi rally in the Cathedral of Light c. 1937

Hugo Boss really knew how to do uniforms.

Hugo Boss really knew how to do uniforms.

The sense of pageantry is awe inspiring. I guess that was the whole point. Kinda hard to sell a nation on horrific anti-Semitism and other forms of genocide with a mere town hall meeting.