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Showing posts with label recent history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recent history. Show all posts

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Damn, Girl-Ella Baker-The Woman Behind the Civil Rights Movement

Activist Ella Josephine Baker was born on December 13, 1903. Dying exactly 83 years later, Ella would live through both world wars, the great depression,and the civil rights movement. She is best known for her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While she isn't as well known as visible leaders like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker was one of the major driving forces behind the movement. While everyone else gave speeches, Ella traveled around the country, registering voters and organizing protests.

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Ella Baker
Growing up in Norfolk Virginia, Ella was heavily influenced by her grandmother, a former slave. Her grandmother would tell Ella stories about the injustices of slavery, the most famous being the time she was severely whipped for refusing to marry a man her master had picked out for her. In her early years Ella developed both a strong sense of self, as well as an outrage about the discrimination she and other African Americans faced.

In 1930, Ella started off her career in activism by joining the Young Negros¹ Cooperative League (YNCL). The purpose of YNCL was the provide shared resources for young African Americans. The organization had a strong emphasis on gender equality, as well as anti-capitalism. She soon became national director of the organization.

Around 1940 Ella began a leadership career with the NAACP. She began as a field secretary, and later served as a Director of Branches from 1943-1946. In this role, Ella worked heavily on voter registration in African American communities. She traveled across the country registering voters, and coordinating directly with local chapters. She trained activists (including Rosa Parks), and recruited members. She is widely acknowledged to have done a great deal of the hard, nitty-gritty work for the NAACP.

Ella had to step down from her leadership role in 1946 in order to move to New York and raise her orphaned niece. She joined the NAACP chapter in New York, and remained heavily involved with working to end social injustices. In 1952 she was elected president of her chapter, the first woman to ever be elected president of an NAACP chapter. As president, she worked to end school segregation, and build unity between chapters of the NAACP.

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Ella speaking at a protest
With the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1958, Ella moved to Atlanta to serve as it's director. The SCLC is heavily associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, who served as the public face of the organization. Behind the scenes, Ella was calling the shots. She chose the issues the SCLC would focus on, planned protests, and trained other activists.

Unfortunately, within the SCLC Ella encountered a great deal of misogyny. Relations between her and Dr. King were tense, as he, along with the other male members of SCLC, weren't too keen on taking direction from a woman. Ella resigned in 1960 to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. (SNCC)
SNCC was inspired by the sit-ins at the Greensboro Lunch Counters, and focused on organizing passive resistance protests. She also lead drives to register voters, and helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party--an alternative to the Democrat Party--which supported civil rights for African Americans.

Ella continued her work until her death in 1986. Though she is not well known today, her influence lives on. She played a major part in enfranchising African American voters, and planning the protests that helped end the Jim Crow Laws. Today the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights  carries on her work of ensuring equal rights for people of all races.



¹This word, while not acceptable in a modern context, was more or less acceptable in Ella's time period.

Sources
Who Was Ella Baker
Ella Baker--Civil Rights Activist
Ella Baker--American Activist
Meet Ella Baker

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Country Formerly Known as Yugoslavia

Though it came into existence before the start of the Cold War, Yugoslavia was a major communist player on the world stage during the 1900s. Officially and formally dissolving for good in 2006, Yugoslavia managed to last for nearly a century in some form or another.

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Yugoslavia at its height.
Yugoslavia, as a country, had three distinct periods. Pre WWII Yugoslavia, Post WWII Yugoslavia, and Serbia-Montenegro Yugoslavia. However, when people talk about 'the former Yugoslavia', they are usually referring to the second incarnation--Post WWII Yugoslavia.

Today, the region that was once Yugoslavia is now the six¹ independent countries of FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) or Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Montenegro. These countries have, ostensibly, very little in common. A mix of Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Muslims, Yugoslavia wasn't even composed of a singular ethnic group--a fact that led to great tension during its (relatively) short time as a country.

The greatest unifying factor of the nations that became Yugoslavia was the fact that they were 1) Southern Slavic peoples² and 2) part of someone else's empire for hundreds of years. For years Serbia³, Macedonia⁴, and Montenegro were a part of the vast Ottoman Empire, and Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina,and Slovenia were a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Though both Serbia and Montenegro had gained their independence at the time of WWI, the memories of former oppression was still strong.

It was these memories of oppression that ultimately brought these Southern Slav people together. Yugoslavian intellectuals believed that the only way to retain their freedoms and ethnic identities was to band together and protect each other from everyone else. In order to realize this idea the 'Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes' was created in 1918.

This first reincarnation of Yugoslavia went about as well as could be expected. Multiple ethnic groups with their own interests unified only by a general shared ancestry couldn't really be expected to get along well. Throw in a large minority of Albanians who really didn't want to be there, and you have a recipe for disaster. The young state was plagued with infighting and violence until it was invaded by Third Reich Germany in 1941.

As in most cases, when faced with a common enemy, the Yugoslavs managed to band together, and take out the Germans. By the end of WWII Yugoslavia was ready to go again, this time as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
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Josip Broz Tito, Leader of Yugoslavia from 1946-1980
In 1946 Josip Broz Tito, the Croat leader of the Yugoslav army, liberated Yugoslavia from Germany, and was installed as president. Tito was a great admirer of Stalin, and wanted to create a communist state in Yugoslavia. Basing his system on the same system used in the USSR, Tito formed a centralized government, with all six member countries having an equal say in governing. However, many constitutional changes led Yugoslavia to become a loose confederation of states largely run by independent companies working on the government's behalf.

This wasn't very communist, and Stalin didn't care for it. However, Tito, who had been declared president for life, didn't really care what Stalin thought, and divorced himself and Yugoslavia from the USSR. Though a communist country, Yugoslavia allowed tourism to, and from, the west. They experienced a post war economic boom, and the north and west of Yugoslavia did very well financially.

However, Yugoslav prosperity was built on a series of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other countries. Following Tito's death in 1980, leadership of Yugoslavia was delegated to a rotating set of representatives from each country, and the IMF demanded a restructuring of the Yugoslavian economic system. That, in addition to internal violence, lead Slovenia to declare independence in 1991.

Following Slovenia's departure, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia were close behind. Only Serbia and Montenegro remained, and they banded together to become the third Yugoslavia.

However, the third Yugoslavia, now just known as Serbia and Montenegro, wasn't to last long either, in 2006 the union disbanded, breaking up Yugoslavia for good.

There's many reasons why Yugoslavia is no longer on the map, but the major reason is the lack of a stable leadership system. Josip Tito was president for nearly 40 years, and it was his leadership that largely kept Yugoslavia together. Lack of a workable system for deciding executive leadership after his death is what lead to the breakdown of the Yugoslav economy and unity.

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Yugoslavia flag
Though seemingly innocuous, Yugoslavia played a major part in the Cold War. Tito was the first communist leader to defy Stalin, and his refusal to bow to the USSR or the US made Yugoslavia the first non-aligned state. As a non-aligned state, Yugoslavia was able to concentrate on its own interests instead of playing the communist vs. capitalist game for the last half of the 20th century.




¹Seven if you consider Kosovo to be its own country
²'Yugoslavia' means 'Land of the Southern Slavs'
³Serbia was actually part of both the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires at one point in their history. Additionally, Serbia gained its independence from the Ottomans in 1878. Serbia then spent the next three decades being a major trouble maker on the Austro-Hungarian border until a Serbian shot Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, starting WWI
⁴There is quite a bit of controversy between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia concerning the name 'Macedonia', and the FYROM right to use it. However, for simplicity's sake, FYROM will be referred to simply as 'Macedonia' in this article

Sources
Yugoslavia-Encyclopedia Britannica
The Breakup of Yugoslavia: 1990-1992
Yugoslavia: 1918-2003
What is the Former Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia-Holocaust Encyclopedia

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Time Pepsi (Briefly) Had a Navy

For a few days in 1989 the Pepsi Corporation was the owner of the world's 6th largest navy.

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Russian Pepsi logo.
Yes, you read that correctly. Pepsi, the makers of sugary sodas, had a naval fleet consisting of seventeen submarines, a cruiser, a destroyer, and a frigate. Finally, at the height of the 'Cola Wars' , they had the means to destroy their rival, Coco-Cola--at sea anyways. Thankfully, they didn't resort to battle, and instead opted to sell their fleet to a Swedish scrap yard.

Pepsi came by their small navy while doing business with the USSR. Pepsi, the first American consumer brand to be sold in the Soviet Union, was renegotiating its trade deal with the Kremlin. The original deal, made in 1974, had allowed Pepsi to open up 24 plants in Moscow, and paid the Pepsi Corporation in Stolichnaya Vodka. This payment in vodka was to circumvent the fact that the ruble could not be converted into US Dollars. At the time, this was an excellent deal for Pepsi, but by the time 1989 came around vodka wasn't quite as lucrative as it had once been, and Pepsi required additional payment to continue their business in Russia.

For the Soviets, millions of jobs were at stake. The Pepsi Corporation employed some 1.5 million Russians in their factory, and was the largest foreign corporation operating in the USSR. In order to save the deal, they decided to make up the difference in ships--essentially giving Pepsi their ships for a measly $150,000 apiece.

Pepsi, as mentioned, sold their fleet to Swedish scrappers, but not before the Pepsi CEO, informed President George Bush that the Pepsi Corporation was disarming Russia faster than he was.

Sources
The Day Pepsi Became a Great Military Power
Pepsi Had Its Own Soviet War Fleet
Soviets Buy American
Pepsi Will Be Bartered For Ships and Vodka in Deal With the Soviets

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sheepview 360-How Camera Laden Sheep Put the Faroe Islands on the Map

Literally meaning 'Island of the Sheep', the Faroe Islands are the stunning Nordic paradise you've never heard of. Nominally part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands are located between Iceland and Norway. They're a small nation with less than 50,000 people, and there's almost twice as many sheep as people. The Faroes are a lovely, tucked away, almost completely unknown chain of islands in the North Atlantic.

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Ms. Andreassen with her sheep.
Google, on the other hand, is everywhere. Google has pictures of your house, your street, your dog (possibly). They make the operating system for your cellphones¹, the operating system for your laptops, they provide the program for your calendar, your mapping technology, even for a simple internet search. Hell, I'm using Google software to write and publish this post. Google is everywhere; you cannot escape Google.

Unless you lived on the Faroe Islands, that is. Until late 2017 Google had never taken pictures of the island, possessing only sattelite images of the landmass from above. Almost everywhere else on earth has Google Streetview--a program that allows users to see different cities and countries at ground level-- except the Faroe Islands. In an effort to boost tourism, the Faroe Island Tourism Board decided that they wanted Google to bring streetview to their islands.

Given that the Faroe Islands have been left off maps before, this is entirely understandable. The Faroes are a tiny 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' country in the middle of the Atlantic. They aren't as popular as neighboring Iceland, but a large portion of their economy relies on tourism. Having Street View would help make the Faroes a more appealing place for tourists, and so the Faroe Islands decided to get Google's attention.

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The Faroe Islands
Now, admittedly, tiny rocks in the middle of the Atlantic aren't usually Google's top priority.² It isn't cheap to do the photography for Street View, and the roads in the Faroe Islands are not for the faint of heart, so Faroe Tourism Board member, Durita Dahl Andreassen, decided that she would make use of the Island's resources. Enlisting (or pressganging, depending on the situation) the help of the island's epynomous sheep, she fitted several sheep with harnesses that could hold a 360 degree camera, and set the sheep off into the wild.

Now, ancient laws of the Faroe Islands dictate that sheep are allowed to go wherever the hell they want on the islands. This, combined with the fact that they can leave roads and get to normally inaccessible places made them ideal camera operators. The footage they shot was sent directly to Andreassen's phone, and she uploaded it to Google Maps. She dubbed the project 'Sheepview 360', and with the help of the Faroe Islands Tourism Board, created a website and released several YouTube videos to get Google's attention. They encouraged locals to use the hashtag #visitfaroeislands and #wewantstreetview, and before long they caught Google's attention.

While a clever idea, sheep aren't exactly the most reliable of cinematographers. They spend a lot of time in the same place, and they don't quite understand the need for care with fragile technology. However, Sheepview hit its intended mark. Hotel reservations are up 10% from last year, and there has been a marked increase in tourism.

If you're interested in watching the Sheepview videos, you can find them all here.



¹Iphone owning readers, you've been acknowledged, now hush.
²Tristan da Cunha STILL doesn't have Street View, and I am extremely salty about this. Sure, it's the most remote island in the world, but that's no excuse. Get on it Google.

Sources
Sheep with a 360 View
How Sheep With Cameras Got Some Tiny Islands on Google Street View

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Damn, Girl-Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is the iconic LGBT activist. She's best known for playing an instrumental role Stonewall Riots, but Marsha's story extends beyond Stonewall. Throughout her lifetime, Marsha fought for the rights of African-American Transgender people, and provided food and shelter to transgender youth living on the streets.

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Marsha P. Johnson. When asked what the 'P' in her name
stood for, Marsha often replied that it stood for 'Pay it
no mind'.
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Marsha moved to Greenwich Village in 1966. At the time, Greenwich Village was a hotbed of activism and liberal thinking. The Village hosted a large community of LGBT people, and provided places for them to gather without fear of violence or judgement.

Unfortunately, Marsha had a difficult time finding a stable source of income or accommodations in the Village, and often lived on the streets, and had to resort to prostitution to provide for herself. It was while working on the streets where she became a member of New York's large society of drag queens, and met lifelong friend and co-legend Sylvia Rivera.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Marsha began performing in drag shows and at drag balls. She was quite popular, and went on to tour the United States and the rest of the world with the popular drag group, the Hot Peaches.

In 1969 Marsha was having a drink at the Stonewall Inn, a popular drinking spot for transwomen, butch lesbians, male sex workers, and homeless LGBT youth. The police raided the inn, and Marsha famously threw a shot glass, and shouted 'I got my civil rights!', igniting the famous riot that would last for six days.

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Marsha was asked to pose for Andy Warhol's
'Ladies and Gentlemen' series, which was a
series of pop art portraits of transgender
individuals living in New York City.
Following Stonewall, Marsha, along with Sylvia Rivera, became a leading member of the Gay Liberation Front, and started actively lobbying for trans rights. Then, as now, much of the gay rights movement was centered around securing rights for white gay men. Marsha and Sylvia were both the loudest voices calling for inclusion of transgender people in the gay community.

To this end, Marsha and Sylvia created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)¹. STAR was devoted to providing food and shelter for homeless transgender youth, especially transgender youth of color. Though STAR was chronically underfunded, Marsha created a home for people pushed to the margins of society, and acted as a mother to the people she helped. Though STAR was forced to close down in the 1970s, the legacy of STAR is being carried on by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute.

In 1992, Marsha's body was pulled from the Hudson river. The NYPD detectives ruled her death a suicide, but her friends and family claim that she was not suicidal. It is much more likely that she was murdered, as she was seen being harassed by men earlier in the day.

Today Marsha is seen as one of the founders of the gay rights movement. She's an icon of resistance, and her memory is frequently invoked whenever resistance is needed. There has been a renewed interest in her life in the past decade, leading to several biographies being published, and multiple documentaries.


¹Just a note, the word 'Transvestite' while now considered a slur, was the common name for transgender people at the time of STAR.


Sources
The Unsung Heroines of Stonewall: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera
Marsha P. Johnson-Activist (1945-1992)
Marsha 'Pay It No Mind' Johnson
Power to the People: Exploring Marsha P. Johnson's Queer Liberation


Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Cult of Prince Phillip

Prince Phillip, husband to Queen Elizabeth II, and the longest-lived British consort in history is a fairly accomplished man. He held high ranks in the British Navy before and after his 1947 marriage, has received four out of four possible British orders, and was instrumental in founding the equestrian sport of carriage driving. In most western countries Phillip is just a footnote to the British Royal Family-the oft forgotten husband of a Queen who may or may not be immortal. But to the Yaohnanen of Tanna island, Vanuatu, he's their messiah.

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Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the then Princess Elizabeth
in 1947
According to the Yaohnanen prophecy, a white child would be born in a foreign land. This child would be the son of the volcano god, and a native woman, and would go on to marry a great queen. The child would then collect all the riches of the queen's land, and return them to Tanna. In the early 1950s, it was decided that Prince Phillip was this child.

To be fair, Prince Phillip fits the prophecy fairly well--save for the 'son of the volcano god' part. He was born in a foreign land (Greece), and married a great queen (Elizabeth II). He hasn't quite returned to Tanna with all the riches of the United Kingdom, but the Yaohnanen hold out hope.

This cult originally sprung up in the 1950s, around the time that Elizabeth was crowned queen. The Yaohnanen had received a signed photograph of Philip, and regularly prayed to it. The beliefs of the cult were more firmly cemented in 1974 when Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth made a state visit to Vanuatu. Though Prince Phillip never set foot on Tanna, the Yaohnanen people did see him on the deck of the HMS Brittanica. Local religious leaders made the firm statement that Phillip was their messiah. 

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Map of Vanuatu, also known as
'New Hebrides"
While Prince Phillip has never visited Tanna (though Princess Anne has), the Yaohnanen believe that he is looking out for their interests. They believe that he is promoting Yaohnanen culture abroad, and the believe that upon his death his spirit will return to Tanna. They also believe that Phillip has used his powers as a god to influence world events. Most notably, they believe that Prince Phillip assisted with the election of Barack Obama, and the location of Osama Bin Laden.

The reason that the Yaohnanen believe that Phillip is their god is not only because of their prophecies, but because of the way Phillip is treated in public life. They believe that being surrounded by guards and riding in a cars with dark windows are a sign of his divine status.

Now this sounds mildly insane, but it is true. The worship of Prince Phillip is the product of the John Frum cargo cult that sprung up in Vanuatu in the 1930s. These cults are the results of modern western society crashing into traditional ways of life, and are a way of helping these traditional cultures cope with the shock of modern life.

You would think that with greater globalization, and the intrusion of the modern Western world into the traditional Yaohnanen society the Cult of Prince Phillip would die down. However, the opposite is true. A cyclone that hit Tanna in May of 2017, around the same time that Prince Phillip's retirement was announced, only further cemented the Yaohnanen's belief in their god.

Sources

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Football War

Sporting events can be intense, especially when rivals meet. Large groups of highly emotional people can sometimes result in riots, but in 1969 a football match¹ ignited an all out war between neighboring Central American countries--Honduras and El Salvador.

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Newspaper announcing the start of the conflict.
Translation: Futbol War
El Salvador and Honduras looking for qualification
It is important to note that 'The Football War', or the '100 Hours War' was not entirely over football. Tensions between Honduras and El Salvador had been running high for months before they met for the pre-qualifying games for the 1970 World Cup. Football was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

In 1960s Central America, El Salvador was not doing so great. The country was overcrowded, and most of the land belonged to coffee exporters. Most citizens lived in extreme poverty, and unemployment was common. However, just over the border in Honduras, things were looking pretty swell. Large swathes of the country were uninhabited, and the banana plantations were always looking to hire. As might be expected, thousands of El Salvadorans started illegally migrating to Honduras, often settling in the uninhabited lands by the borders.

This wasn't really an issue with the Hondurans until times started to get a little less good. In 1966 the Honduran government passed a land reform bill that heavily favored the fruit corporations, and disenfranchised the smaller land owners. This lead to an economic drop, unemployment, and rapidly rising land prices. Needless to say, the Hondurans weren't too keen on this, and blamed El Salvadoran immigrants for depressing the wage rate and contributing to job scarcity.² Native Hondurans started harassing El Salvadoran immigrants, ransacking their businesses, repossessing their land, and assaulting their families. The El Salvadoran government politely asked the Honduran government to knock it off, but Honduras refused.

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Map of Central America
Cut to June 6. It's one of the first qualifying matches for the World Cup, and Honduras is hosting El Salvador in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Emotions were running high, especially when Honduras beat El Salvador 1-0 in overtime.

A few weeks later El Salvador and Honduras met again, this time in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Things between the two countries were incredibly tense; Honduran supporters were harassed by El Salvadorans, and crowds of El Salvador supporters surrounded the hotel that the Honduran team was staying in, and spent the night shouting and banging pans together so the Honduran team couldn't get any sleep. Their tactics worked, because on June 15, El Salvador beat Honduras 3-0.

Riots happened after and during both games, but hell didn't really break loose until after El Salvador won the qualifying game in Mexico City on June 27. Shortly after the game, El Salvador announced that it would be severing all diplomatic ties with Honduras, and the borders were locked down.

After the borders closed both Honduran and El Salvadorans started making incursions into each other's countries. Both countries tried to buy arms from the United States, but the US wasn't having that, so they had to turn to European governments and collectors of WWII arms for weapons.

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Protesters in Tegucigalpa
Things really came to head on July 14. The El Salvadoran air force attacked Honduran airports, as well as the towns of El Poy, Amapala, Choluteca, and Santa Rosa de Copán. The El Salvadoran armed forces also made incursions into East Honduras on the ground. They drove armored jeeps into the country, but only made it about 30 kilometers in before running out of gas.

The Hondurans retaliated, destroying much of the El Salvadoran air force as well as the majority of El Salvadoran oil reserves. However, El Salvador had also entered Honduras on foot from the north, and they were doing very well. They had captured the main roads, several major towns, and they were within striking distance of Tegucigalpa. However, without oil the El Salvadorans were having trouble moving forward.

On July 15th the Organization of American States (OAS) got involved. They demanded that El Salvador cease fire, and return to their country. The El Salvadoran government refused unless the Honduran government made repartitions to the El Salvadoran citizens who had been displaced within Honduras. The Honduran government, predictably, refused. It wasn't until the OAS threatened El Salvador with trade sanctions that the El Salvador troops withdrew from Honduras on August 2nd.

Though the ceasefire was signed in 1969, the peace treaty wasn't ratified until 1980. Though the Honduran government passed laws protecting El Salvadoran immigrants, El Salvadorans in Honduras were still harassed and attacked by Hondurans, and things between the two countries have been extremely tense. However, in recent years, the tensions have cooled, and the two countries are making efforts to repair their damaged relationship.



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Honduras Flag

¹This is the compulsory reminder to all my American readers that football=soccer.
²Sound familiar? It should. The same thing has happened between Americans and Latinx immigrants (legal or not) in recent years.



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El Salvador Flag
Sources
Latin America: The Football War
The Real Football War! When El Salvador Invaded Honduras Over a Soccer Game
The 1969 'Soccer War' Between Honduras and El Salvador
The Soccer War

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bnei Menashe-A Lost Tribe of Israel

Claiming descent from Menashe (or Manasseh), the Bnei Menashe are a community of Jews living in the eastern state of Manipur in India, and over the borders in neighboring Bangladesh and Myanmar. Though they hadn't lived in the Levant area for more than 2000 years, these people are slowly making their way back to Israel, and reclaiming their Jewish religion and heritage.

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Bnei Menashe heading to Israel.
To understand the Bnei Menashe, you have to understand a bit of Jewish history. After the death of King Solomon, his son, Rehoboam, took the throne. Rehoboam was a bit of a dick, so United Israel had itself a little war. Ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, split away from Rehoboam, leaving him with two. These two kingdoms became Israel and Judah respectively. With the tribes of Levi¹, Judah, and Benjamin in the Kingdom of Judah.

So time went on, and in about 722 BCE Assyria conquered the Kingdom of Israel, enslaving it's people, and deporting them to other parts of Assyria. Judah was left alone, and most modern Jews claim their descent from those Judean tribes.

So when Assyria fell in 612 BCE, the Menashe escaped. Leery of being enslaved again, the Menashe went east, avoiding major cities. They went so far east, that in 240 BCE, they ended up in China. They started in Tibet, but later moved to the city of Kaifeng. Unfortunately, while in China they were enslaved again. The Bne Menashe were forced to assimilate, and killed in large numbers. Not being down with that, a number of them escaped to live in caves. They were safe in their caves, but in 100 BCE they were expelled from China. That's when the majority of them settled in the Manipur-Myanmar-Bangladesh region.
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Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 800 BCEs
The Menashe lived in this region for several thousand years without too much disruption. They intermarried with the locals, and adopted some local beliefs, but maintained many of their traditional religious practices, such as a festival where unleavened bread was eaten, and songs about crossing through a large body of water that split in two.

In 1894, Christianity arrived. Recognizing their own oral history in some of the tales from the Old Testament, many of the Menashe adopted Christianity, and practiced for nearly 100 years.

However, in the 1950s some of the Menashe started to question if their ancestors had practiced Christianity at all. Further research lead to the idea that their ancestors may have been Jewish instead of Christian, and while this was just fine with some of the Menashe, several of the Menashe decided to reclaim their Jewish past. They applied to join the new state of Israel, but were denied because they just weren't Jewish enough.

However, in the latter half of the twentieth century Israel changed its tune. While the Menashe are still required to undergo halachic conversion, they are now allowed to immigrate freely to Israel. In April of 2016, DNA testing proved that the Bnei Menashe share Jewish ancestry.



¹"Wait, that's three tribes!" you say. Well, kinda. the Levites were the designated priests of ancient Judaism, so the were set apart from the whole 12 tribes thing. If you include the Levites, there's actually 13 tribes: Ephraim, Manasseh, Levi, Judah, Simeon, Ruben, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Gad, Benjamin, Naphtali, and Zebulun.

Sources
After 27 Centuries of Exile, 102 Bnei Menashe Head to Israel
Bnei Menashe
Does Push for India's 'Lost Tribe of Menashe' Signal New Interest in Far-Flung Jewish Communities?
Over 100 Members of Indian 'Lost Jewish Tribe' To Make Aliya
A Long-Lost Tribe is Ready to Come Home
These Incredible Photos Show Members of an Indian-Jewish 'Lost Tribe' Moving to Israel
Who Are We?
With DNA Tests, Mystery of the 'Lost Tribe' of Indian Jews Finally Solved

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Milk War

The Russian-Belarusian 'Milk War' of 2009 lasted a little over two weeks, and during those two weeks no shots were fired. One of the pettiest wars of all time, the only victims were Belarusian wallets and Russian dairy consumers.

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Belarus and Russia are neighbors, and have traditionally
had good diplomatic relations.
This war started when Russia banned all dairy imports from Belarus, supposedly because Belarusian dairy didn't meet Russian health standards, but more likely because Belarus wasn't doing what Russia told it to. Russia has a history of banning imports from countries that make it made, and they were pretty upset with Belarus for a few reasons.

  1. Belarus refused to recognize the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia had assisted South Ossetia and Abkhazia in declaring independence from the country of Georgia. The only other country than Russia to have recognized those countries was the Central American country of Nicaragua. Russia wanted some support, but Belarus just wasn't there for them.
  2. Russia depends on a Belarus pipeline to pipe its oil to the rest of Europe. Russia tried to buy this pipeline from Belarus, but Belarus refused to sell.
  3. Belarus had become decided more pro European, releasing political prisoners, and trying to make good with the rest of Europe. This angered Russia, who isn't very friendly with Europe.
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Russian and Belarusian military marching together
on parade in 2011, two years after the end of the milk war
Belarus responded in a spectacularly mature fashion by imposing stricter border checkpoints on the Russia-Belarus border, and by refusing to attend the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a confederation of former Soviet states. The meeting had been to solidify a confederation wide military union. Belarus, formerly one of Russia's biggest supporters, not being present really infuriated the Russian government.

You can essentially envisage the Milk War as an argument between two particularly passive-aggressive teenage girls. Belarus won't give Russia what it wants, so Russia won't let Belarus bring its stuff over to Russia's house. This upsets Belarus, who decides that Russia can't come over to their house either. There had been a party planned for Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and a whole bunch of other people, but Belarus was still pissed off at Russia, so Belarus decided not to show up, which made Russia mad. A couple weeks later, they realize they need each other, and talk it out.
Today, dairy products pass freely through Belarus and Russia. Belarus still doesn't recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and continue to make pro-European overtures. Russia isn't very happy about this, but for the sake of regional security, they bite their tongues.

Sources

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Micro-est of Micronations?

If you've never heard of Sealand, rest assured, I am not making this up. Sealand is a very real principality located on a very real WWII fortress island seven miles off the coast of the United Kingdom. Not only is Sealand very, very real--they celebrated 50 years of independence last month.

Image result for Sealand
The nation of Sealand. In its entirety.
During WWII, Great Britain built several fortress islands in the middle of the North Sea. A few of these fortresses were built a little bit outside of Britain's territorial waters, which extended about 3 miles out from Britain's coast in all directions. Construction of these buildings was, technically, against international law. But given that Hitler was intent on destroying most of Europe, Great Britain building small forts wasn't really a big priority.

Luckily, WWII ended, Hitler was defeated, and the island of Great Britain was still around, if a little pockmarked. Not needing them anymore, the military abandoned the fortresses, in the early 1950s and turned their attention to more sensible things, like spying on the USSR. They made efforts to tear down some of the illegal fortresses, but their efforts were halfhearted at best, leaving several fortresses in international waters.

Fast forward to the 1960s. BBC Radio sucks, and pirate radio stations located on these off shore fortresses is the newest fad. Enter Roy Bates, former army major and radio enthusiast. He sailed out to an unused fortress called Knock John, and set up a radio station. He was very popular with the locals in Essex, but not so popular with the local law enforcement. Several years of court battles ensued until British courts declared that since Knock John was inside of their territorial waters, Bates was technically within their jurisdiction, and could no longer broadcast. Roy Bates stormed off in a huff, and abandoned Knock John.

Related image
Prince Roy, Princess Joan, and their daughter Penelope. I've
read nothing to suggest that the children of the prince and
princess were titled, so I have referred to both Penelope 
and Michael by their first names.
However, Britain had not seen the last of Roy Bates. Determined to continue his radio station, Bates set his sights on the abandoned Roughs Tower seven miles off the coast of Britain, technically in international waters. Roy took up residence on Christmas day of 1966. After some thinking and consultation with legal counsel, Roy declared Roughs Tower the independent Principality of Sealand on September 2, 1967, declaring himself and his wife, Joan, the Prince and Princess.

As grandiose as being a prince is, Sealand kinda sucks to live on. It's cold, wet, and in a constant state of disrepair. Additionally, it's difficult to do business on a concrete platform in the middle of the sea. Roy moved back to the mainland, but left his son, Michael, on Sealand to maintain sovereignty of the fortress.

Image result for Sealand
Prince Michael, reigning monarch
of Sealand since 2012
Now, here's where I have to verge into speculation. Prince Michael hasn't given a lot of interviews, and the official Sealand website is mum on the issue, but an interview from Prince Michael given in 2013 makes it sound very much like he was all alone on this platform in the middle of the sea. He spoke of being ecstatic to escape the boredom of school, but of the loneliness of the open seas, especially the lack of feminine company.

Michael took to sneaking local girls in on the weekends by fishing boat, but his father Roy put a stop to that as soon as he found out. History has proven that this was an extremely wise move, not only for avoiding teen pregnancy, but because Sealand wasn't (and still isn't) always the safest place to live.

Sealand has had a grand total of two armed conflicts, pretty impressive for a country with less than 30 permanent inhabitants. However stressful these conflicts may have been for the tiny nation, both conflicts led to the only two de facto recognitions that the island has.

The first conflict wasn't long after Sealand declared itself a nation. In an act of supreme overreaction, Great Britain declared Sealand the 'Cuba off the east coast of England'¹, and sent out their military to tear down the rest of the fortresses located in international waters. The soldiers were buzzing overhead with helicopters, blowing neighboring fortresses to pieces, filling the air with debris. Soldiers approached Sealand, shouting threats that Sealand would be next. In addition to the threats, some soldiers also shouted some unsavory things to the sixteen year old Penelope, Michael's sister.

Michael, who was only fourteen at the time, took offense to these comments, and shot at the soldiers with his sawed off shotgun. The soldiers took off. Once again verging into speculation, I'm guessing that they were unarmed, given that a whole crew of soldiers can most certainly take one fourteen year old boy. Luckily, the soldiers left Michael and Penelope alone.
Image result for Sealand
Sealand national flag
They may have escaped the British Army, but Michael didn't escape the consequences of his actions. The minute he stepped back on land, he was hauled off to jail for violating local firearms regulations. A long and complicated court battle ensued, during which the courts had to refer back to statues from the seventeenth century. Eventually, the judge ruled that Britain had no jurisdiction over Sealand, and Michael was cleared of all charges. Sealand claims this as de facto recognition from the British government.

The second incident happened in 1978. Prince Roy was in negotiations with some Dutch and German men to set up a casino on Sealand. These dudes were some pretty shady fellows, and while Prince Roy was off at a 'business meeting' in Austria, they landed on the fortress, taking Michael hostage and claiming it for themselves.

Michael was released after a few days, and he and his father started their mission to take their country back. They convinced a friend, a stunt pilot for the James Bond films, to fly them in by helicopter. There was no way for the helicopters to land on the platform, so Michael, his father, and two others slid down ropes to reach the fortress. The Dutch and Germans came out to see what was happening, and Michael's gun went off by accident, nearly taking his head off. The usurpers surrendered immediately. They were all kicked out of the country except for German lawyer Gernot Pütz, who also held a Sealand passport (yes, they issue passports). Prince Roy declared Gernot a traitor to the country and, using his power as prince, sentenced Gernot to life on the platform. Luckily for Pütz, the German embassy got a little worried after a few weeks, and went to rescue their citizen. The German ambassador to England went out to Sealand, and Prince Roy released Gernot immediately. Sealand claims this as their second de facto recognition.

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Official Sealand passport. You probably can't travel with
this, but it is an option.
In the 21st century Sealand has retired its warmongering ways. Prince Roy died in 2012, passing his title down to his son Michael. Prince Michael has a son and heir apparent, James, and though Michael and his family no longer live on Sealand, they show no intentions of giving up their tiny country. Smaller than the Vatican by quite a bit, modern Sealand makes most of its income from the sales of passports, titles, and merchandise, as well as being a server haven for VPNs.

The official motto of the country is 'E Mare Libertas', or 'From the Sea, Freedom.' This motto perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Sealand. Dissatisfied with the restrictions in England, Roy Bates left his life for freedom on the high seas, and that's what attracts people to Sealand to this day.²

Sources
Prince Roy of Sealand
Notes From a Small Island: Is Sealand an Independent Micro nation or an Illegal Fortress?
Principality of Sealand
I Rule My Own Ocean Micronation


¹Despite the fact that Sealand has zero things in common with Cuba. They had no nuclear weapons, they weren't backed by the USSR, they weren't communist. The biggest threat that Sealand posed to England was the threat of causing the English government a minor headache. Comparisons to Cuba were more than a little over dramatic.
²Not that Sealand gets any tourists. It is, as I mentioned, tiny. Only 43,060 square feet, Sealand is a little less than the size of a full acre. I've met people with bigger backyards.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Documentary Review: They Call It Myanmar

I'd heard of Myanmar before. I knew it used to be called (or is still currently called--that's still fuzzy) Burma. I knew that the US, along with several other members of the UN didn't recognize the current government (which actually turned out to be incorrect) and I knew that it was in South Asia. That was about it, so watching this documentary was an excellent learning experience for me.

Image result for they call it myanmarThis documentary was put together by a Cornell Physics professor, who also, in his spare time, writes novels, makes films, and assists the US Government in humanitarian work overseas. He was working for an NGO in Myanmar when he made the film. When making this documentary he took advantage of his connections with the locals to interview them about their opinions about the direction of Burmese politics, and to get the opinion of people living in one of the most isolated countries in the world.

So Myanmar, like so much of Southern Asia, was absorbed into a colonial empire, in their case the British Empire. Around 1940 the Burmese government reached out to the Japanese for help liberating them from the English. The Japanese obliged, but they also made things a whole hell of a lot worse, so the Burmese had to call on the English again for help. With the help of the allied powers, the Burmese were able to kick the Japanese out of Burma, and establish their own independent government. All was going well until 1962 when the military took over the running of the government.

After taking power, the Burmese military quickly cut all ties with the outside world. They isolated themselves as a group, making it difficult for normal people to have their voice heard in government. Due to their isolation and some poor economic decisions, Myanmar is now one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Image result for myanmar mapThis film explores the day-to-day life of the Burmese, and what they have to do to survive. Blankets and bedding are pawned in the morning to pay for bus fare, children rarely go to school past the first or second grade, and most laborers make less than $1 USD a day.

But in addition to the extreme poverty, this documentary also explores the strong spiritual life of Myanmar. Myanmar is, essentially, a Buddhist state, and the Burmese are a very religious people. According to the film, many Burmese attribute their poverty to mistakes made in past lives, and try to live better lives by weekly worship.

This is a very interesting documentary, and a good introduction to modern Myanmar. I have to admit, I didn't 100% understand everything that was shown, simply because I didn't know much of the history of post WWII South Asia. There was also a lot of political information in the film, that I didn't summarize here, simply because I wasn't quite sure how to. Which is why if you have a couple hours, and are interested, I would highly recommend watching it. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Operation Nifty Package

We've talked quite a bit about war, especially ludicrous and unnecessary wars, but today we're going to talk about one of my all time favorite ridiculous military operations, Operation Nifty Package.

It's late 1989, and the US Navy Seals are chasing after Panamanian dictator and all around bad dude Manuel Noriega. They've destroyed his private plane, and now Noriega is on the lamb. US military is chasing after him, and his best option for leaving the country undetected has been destroyed, so like so many men before him, Noriega claims sanctuary from a church.

Well, kinda.

Manuel Noriega
Noriega actually claimed sanctuary in the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, which is basically the Vatican Embassy (kinda a church, right?). He threatened Nuncio Laboa that he'd initiate guerrilla warfare if he wasn't allowed to take refuge. The Nuncio (basically a Vatican ambassador), reluctantly agreed. Noriega was given a stark, un-air conditioned room, and whiled his days away reading the bible.

Meanwhile, US military forces are assembled around the Nunciature scratching their heads. International law prevents them from attacking the embassy and dragging Noriega out by force. They could have broken international law, after all, the Vatican isn't exactly a powerful military force. But Catholics have long since proved that they are not a group to be pissed off (see the Crusades), so breaking international law wouldn't be worth it, even to capture Noriega.

So, denied the option of using bodily force, the Navy Seals resorted to psychological warfare, and in a supremely dick move, used enormous loud speakers to blast the Nunciature with heavy rock almost constantly.

Noriega was known for being a man of highbrow tastes, and rock was Not His Thing. Additionally, a helicopter pad was set up in a nearby field, surrounding the Nunciature with a deafening cacophony of noise at almost all times. Requests were taken from nearby military forces, and included such topical melodies as 'Dead or Alive', 'Give It Up', and 'I Fought the Law and the Law Won'.

Eventually, someone inside the Nunciature cracked, and Noriega emerged from sanctuary after ten days of hiding, delivering himself into the custody of delighted US military forces.

He was extradited to the United States where he served 30 years as a prisoner of war for his crimes, and was later extradited to France to serve prison time for his crimes there as well. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment there, but after one year was successfully extradited back to Panama, where he is still in jail.

What music would you use to flush out Noriega? Make my day, and leave your suggestions in the comments below. :)

Sources
CNN
Post Combat Reports
Catholic take on the whole affair (they are not very forgiving of the Nuncio)
Special Operations Website (includes the entire playlist)