From today’s NYT: Irish Premier’s Apology Fails to Appease Workhouse Survivors

Magdalene laundries

The official 1000-page report has landed. Its finding: The Irish state is responsible for having forced thousands of young women to labour in Catholic workhouses (“Laundries”), the last of which closed in 1996.

The existence of the so-called Magdalene Laundries is not, itself, news. We’ve long known that beginning in the 1760s, Irish women and girls who were deemed “fallen” (think: unwed mothers, prostitutes, or alleged ‘loose’ ladies) or “socially dysfunctional” were forced to toil as slave labourers in a variety of asylums.

It’s true that these asylums popped up across Europe and North America, but they were particularly numerous in Ireland, where they were known as “Magdalene laundries”–after Mary Magdalene, a prostitute who was redeemed by Christ. The asylums were often Church-run, and housed either Protestants or Catholics.

Sometimes women entered the laundries on their own accord. But many were coerced. For others, the line between free choice and coercion was blurred; women of faith were under immense pressure to atone for their perceived sins. Many women were admitted for petty offenses.

And conditions were abysmal. Women–the majority under 23–were left open to all sorts of abuse. And they were not paid for their labours. The women washed linen and clothing from major hotels, the armed forces, etc.

 

But here’s the rub: The Irish state has long insisted that it played no hand in these institutions. This has left compensation-seeking women in the lurch.
The new report stresses that indeed about a quarter of the 10,012 “Maggies” who were detained in laundries between 1922-96 were sent by state authorities.

What’s more: state officials inspected the laundries under the Factories Act. in doing so, the new report argues, the state illegally helped to oversee the system of forced and unpaid labour.

What’s MORE: The state gave laundry contracts to the asylums, in violation of fair wage clauses.

And to top it all off: Irish police officers  helped to track down escaped Maggies.

 

So, cue: state apology.

Or not. At a press conference Tuesday, Irish prime minister Edna Kenny failed to formally apologize for Ireland’s role in the abuse. Surviving Maggies have demanded an official apology and financial compensation.

What Kenny did muster was: “I’m sorry that this release of pressure and understanding for so many of those women was not done before this.”

Sort of the state equivalent of: “I’m sorry you’re upset”–when what you want is, “I’m sorry for what I did.”

 

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A nice ditty in NYT today on Artificial Intelligence in the news (and on the stage):

Raging (Again) Against the Robots

We always fear new technology. It’s the human condition to feel as though one’s own generation is uniquely on the cusp of a life-as-we-know-it-shattering technological shift.

Churchill (now) famously thought TV would bring British society to the depths of depravity.

But we’ve been here before. And, Catherine Rampell rightly points out that we’ve been fearing a machine take-over for as long as we’ve been using machines:

Such android anxiety has a long history. John Maynard Keynes wrote about “technological unemployment” during the Great Depression. In the Industrial Revolution, disgruntled laborers — including the original Luddites — smashed automated looms and threshing machines that “stole” their jobs. In the 15th century, scribes protested the printing press, with a futile zeal rivaled perhaps only by that of modern journalists.

Even Aristotle foretold that automation would expunge the need for labor, observing that if “the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.”

Throughout the 20th century, science fiction writers created pop culture touchstones about technological tyranny. Among the most resonant is Kurt Vonnegut’s 1952 “Player Piano,” about a dystopia in which mechanization has displaced the lower classes and assigned the world’s wealth to engineers and managers.

You might even carbon-date this literary line to the Golem of Prague, a 16th-century Jewish legend about a clay automaton that ultimately destroyed those it was designed to protect.

A sweet find from the ‘Holocaust’ Google Alert.

Stories of Holocaust survivors retold by holograms,’ by Deseret News.

hologram

Straight from The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts:

For the past 18 months, a group led by USC’s Shoah Foundation has been […] creating three-dimensional holograms of nearly a dozen people who survived Nazi Germany’s systematic extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II.

USC hopes to export its survivor holograms to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C, within the next five years.

The coolest part of this: the holograms will be more than pre-recorded talking points. They will be interactive, and capable of answering real-time questions.

[Holocaust survivor Pinchus] Gutter had to sit under an array of hot stage lights and in front of a green screen for hours at a time over the course of five days, answering some 500 questions about himself and his experiences.

Research scientists at USC are still editing them and working with voice-recognition software so that his hologram will not only be able to tell his story but recognize questions and answer them succinctly. Being able to do that often required asking as many as 50 follow-up questions to one of the original ones, Smith said.

While researchers have found there is generally a range of about 100 questions people ask survivors of the Holocaust, if someone in the future comes up with one Gutter’s hologram can’t answer, it will simply say so and refer them to someone who might know.

Of course, this technology has been put to use elsewhere:

More than 15 years after his death, rapper Tupac Shakur made a 3-D hologram-like appearance at last year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, performing alongside a real Snoop Dogg.

My latest story in Maclean’s is about the ubiquitous phenom that is Online Dating:

Online dating and the search for true love — or loves

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Naturally, my favourite part of the assignment was learning about the history of the matchmaking industry.

Here were my findings (in their expanded, pre-editors’ cut version):

As the story goes, the first-ever matchmaker made his first-ever match in a village called Charan, in what is now Turkey. In the Bible (Genesis 24), Abraham sends the loyal servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac: who, at the ripe age of 40, wasn’t getting any younger. En route to Mesopotamia, Eliezer finds Rebekah drinking at a village well and—after subjecting her to a brief test of virtue—brings her home for Isaac. The two married; love ensues.

The semi-professional matchmaker has been at it for centuries. Priests, clergy members and rabbis have often been matchmakers on the sly. Elderly female neighbours lent a hand too—none more famously, perhaps, than the meddling Yenta of the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof, whose unappetizing buffet of mates inspired the now-classic song “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

Computer-mediated dating predates Yenta herself. In 1959, a group of students at Stanford University developed “The Happy Families Planning Services:” as a final project for their undergraduate mathematics course. They programmed the world’s first mass-produced computer, IBM 650, to match up 49 men and 49 women—using their answers to a basic questionnaire, which collected information on height, weight, favorite hobbies and religion. The project—this first effort at computerized matchmaking—received an “A” and resulted in a single marriage. Soon after, Harvard University students launched their own version of the computer matchmaker: this time, sending questionnaires out to campuses nation-wide.

But computers didn’t gain a clear lead. The 70s saw the rise (and quick fall) of video-dating: facilitated by companies that would record and short video-clips of prospective daters, and then play them for other potential daters. The 1980s, by contrast, witnessed a resurgence of the printed personal ad—even as computerized bulletin boards were gaining ground.

In 1995, Match.com was live and the industry changed forever. The venture—which took the lead from a number of less-successful sites—had some serious backing: a Stanford MBA by the name of Gary Kremen, and his $1.7 million in venture capital. A year later, the US-based site had 60,000 users, though only 5% of Americans had Internet access. By 2012, Match.com, the world’s largest online dating site, claimed 1.8 million subscribers.

By some accounts, one in five relationships today begin online. Within the US market, an estimated 30 million customers (1 in 3 singles) use online dating sites. As of 2011, 18-29-year-olds made up 44% of that market, with 30-49-year-olds pulling in 35%. A 2009 study suggests that the average user spends 22 minutes a day online dating.

The online dating industry has worked hard for those numbers, evolving in what is sometimes described as three evolutionary phases. Phase 1, which began with Match.com, was about putting personal ads online. Those early sites worked via browsing: eventually, with the help of sophisticated search filters. Users had full control: to filter matches on criteria like religion, height and income level. Or to keyword search for favourite bands, books or travel destinations.

Phase II came in 2000, with the inception of eHarmony and its algorithms. A new class of dating sites was born, which touted “algorithm-based matching” and “science-based” compatibility spotting. These sites generally rely on extensive profile-building questionnaires. User control was, to varying degrees, handed over to mystery equations.

Phase 3, which began in 2008 when Apple Inc. launched its App Store, took everything from Phase 2, added GPS technology and made it mobile and social. We now at algorithmic-based social-network-linkable dating-on-the-run.

RIP kismet? 

The Telegraph thinks so:

‘History lessons should be compulsory’

History should be a compulsory subject up to GCSE because too many pupils leave school lacking a proper understanding of the past, warns a Government adviser.

And it’s willing to get nasty to make a point:

Steven Mastin said Britain was currently one of the few European countries – alongside Albania – to allow pupils to drop history before the end of school.

Apparently, it’s all going to hell in a hand basket:

Just 30 per cent of 16-year-olds now take GCSEs in the subject and overall take-up has dropped by around a fifth since the late 90s.

I tend to agree that history lessons should be compulsory. Not only because an understanding of one’s past is good for the soul–but because the ability to read, write, manage large quantities of information, scrutinize sources, blend primary & secondary material, and articulate a concise argument is helpful in many a’ field.

Then again, I think biology should be compulsory too. And physics. And literature. And music. And statistics.

But wait! If our children don’t specialize then CHINESE CHILDREN WILL SEIZE THE DAY.

tiger

Interestingly, the our-kids-don’t-know-history story is Telegraph pet:

From the Guardian: ‘Barcelona pursues Italy over 1938 bombing.’

A Spanish court wants Italy to apologise for the war crime of mass bombardment during the civil war, in support of General Franco…

In 1938 Savoia bombers from Benito Mussolini‘s Italian air force rained bombs on the Spanish city as they broke non-intervention treaties to support General Francisco Franco’s rightwing rebels in the Spanish civil war. The use of attacks from the air was designed to provoke panic, kill civilians and destroy morale. Within a few years, the technique would spread through war-torn Europe as cities such as Coventry, Hamburg and Dresden were subjected to blanket bombing…

Since the second world war, Italians have seen former Nazi officials pursued in their courts for war crimes, but have rarely debated Italy’s role in the Spanish civil war, when Mussolini deployed 60,000 soldiers and 750 aircraft.

We’ve got the usual conclusion: Survivor wants truth to come to the fore. And he wants an apology.

Barcelona after the 1938 bombings

Progress on the former front is promising. Trials can have enormous impact on the shaping of public memory. Take the ongoing case in London, involving three elderly Kenyans suing the British government for long-forgotten colonial crimes. (Caution: self-promotional hyper-linking!)

Though it should be warn that news stories covering these ‘historical trials’ often pit themselves against  a strawman: an episode of history that is alleged to have been woefully forgotten (historians speak of ‘historical amnesia‘) or furtively swept away. I’m not convinced that Italy’s role supporting General Franco in 1938 has been entirely forgotten in Rome.

But the effort to wring an apology out of modern-day Italy might prove elusive.

I’m sorry

I wrote an article many moons ago in The Huffington Post, on the subject of apologies for historical crimes/wrongs. In it, I summarized the state of affairs:

In the last fifteen years or so, we’ve said sorry to aboriginal groups forced into residential schools (Canada) or split apart from their families (Australia). We’ve said sorry to countries invaded during war (Japan to South-East Asia, Serbia to Bosnia, Germany to…a lot of states). We’ve apologized for slavery (US, EU), for Apartheid (South Africa), for Colonialism (Japan), for the Holocaust (Germany), and for collaborating in the Holocaust (France). We’ve said sorry for revolutions gone awry (Russia), for genocide and for looking away while genocide was taking place (US, Canada). Our apologies are for isolated incidents (wars, murders, genocides) and for long-term, sustained systems of oppression (slavery, racial discrimination, oppressive political regimes). We’re sorry to Jews (Germany, Vatican, Switzerland), to migrant children (Australia, Britain), to Aboriginals (Canada, Australia), to political protesters (Britain), to and to homosexuals (Cuba, Germany).

And I considered reasons why  historical apologies are usually not forthcoming: namely, the fear that an apology will inspire costly litigation. (One solution would be to borrow from the field of medical malpractice law–creating legislation that would make it possible to apology for a past wrong without that apology being taken as an admission of legal responsibility.)

I also considered the purpose of apologizing, and whether a state apology can ever be more than a token act.

Intellectually, I’m still ambivalent. But my non-gradschool-appropriate shrug-it-off tendencies dominate here: if the victims want it, the state should provide it. I’m sorry.

Today, the Guardian takes ‘A look back at Lego: Lego was patented on 28 January 1958 – we look back through the archives at the development of the humble brick’

Lego

A cool-looking new history book: Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting over 2,000 years, by Louise Foxcroft.

calories

Today we are urged from all sides to slim down and shape up, to shed a few pounds or lose life-threatening stones. The media’s relentless obsession with size may be perceived as a twenty-first-century phenomenon, but as award-winning historian Louise Foxcroft shows, we have been struggling with what to eat, when and how much, ever since the Greeks and the Romans first pinched an inch. Meticulously researched, surprising and sometimes shocking, Calories and Corsets tells the epic story of our complicated relationship with food, the fashions and fads of body shape, and how cultural beliefs and social norms have changed over time. Combining research from medical journals, letters, articles and the dieting bestsellers we continue to devour (including one by an octogenarian Italian in the sixteenth century), Foxcroft reveals the extreme and often absurd lengths people will go to in order to achieve the perfect body, from eating carbolic soap to chewing every morsel hundreds of times to a tasteless pulp. This unique and witty history exposes the myths and anxieties that drive today’s multi-billion pound dieting industry – and offers a welcome perspective on how we can be healthy and happy in our bodies.

The Falkland Islands are back in the news. One one side of the court: Argentina, accusing Britain of exercising “19th-century colonialism” over the wee South Atlantic archipelago. On the other side: British leaders are flexing muscle–and threatening a fight, if Argentina messes with its territory.

I just published a piece in Maclean’s: explaining today’s conflict–and its historical background: the Falklands War of 1982: ‘Argentina wants to claim the Falklands, but Britain’s not having it.

Here’s a slightly longer version of the published story:

falklands

From TheSun.co.uk

The British government’s latest military maneuver seems fresh out of a Monty Python sketch. 150 British infantrymen who just returned from a tour in Afghanistan’s conflict-riddled Helmand province are being redeployed to the Falkland Islands: a landmass roughly the size of Connecticut, and some 8000 miles from Britain. They will join more than 1000 British service personnel who permanently hold down the South Atlantic fort—along with four Typhoon jets and several Navy vessels.

The saga began early this month, when Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner published a letter in two British newspapers: addressed to UK Prime Minister David Cameron (“Cc: Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations”). In the letter, a bellicose Kirchner staked her claim on the Falklands (in Spanish, las Malvinas), which are just off Argentina’s coast. Kirchner wrote: “One hundred and eighty years ago… in a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism, Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas.” Kirchner urged the UN to restore the Islands’ “territorial integrity.”

David Cameron didn’t miss a beat: quickly appearing on the BBC to remind us all that the Islands are an overseas British territory—and to declare his “extremely strong” resolve to keep it that way. British military chiefs have reportedly “drawn up new contingency plans to prevent hostile action by Argentina,” London’s Telegraph reports.

Of course, we’ve been here before. In 1982, Britain and Argentina went to war over the Falklands. Argentine troops occupied the area for ten weeks before British troops reclaimed it. Some 250 Brits and 650 Argentines lost their lives. The Islands have been under British control since 1833, after changing hands several times in the 18th-19th centuries. Argentina claims to have inherited them from Spain.

falklands2

From Mirror.co.uk

Memories of 1982 are certainly guiding Cameron’s hand, says Graham Stewart, author of A History of Britain in the 1980s. That year, prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s firm action during the Falkland War helped solidify her political support—and shape her legacy. “Cameron is clearly aware of the legacy,” says Stewart.

About 3000 Falklanders live on the Islands. Most make their money on fishing or wool. Though a British territory, the Islands has its own government and constitution.

But the people “feel firmly British,” avows Falkland member of parliament Richard Sawle. Each year, Falklanders celebrate June 14th—the day in 1982 when British troops gave Argentina the boot—as “Liberation Day.”

But as of late, Argentina has appeared increasingly belligerent on the Falklands issue. This might have something to do with the commercial quantities of oil that have recently been found around the Islands. Kirchner has been accused of orchestrating a 2011 decision by the Mercosur bloc (which includes Brazil and Uruguay) to close its ports to Falkland ships.

As tensions escalate, Falklanders are preparing for a March referendum: on the issue of their territorial status. Elsby anticipates that “at least 98%” will vote to remain a British overseas territory.

In the meantime, and in response to president Kirchner’s entreaty, editors at Britain’s Sun published their own letter in The Buenos Aires Herald. In it, they issued the sternest of warnings to Argentina: “HANDS OFF!”

 

Bloomberg reports that the Dutch government has rejected claims by the descendants of two Jewish art dealers, who say that Nazi occupiers plundered their family’s flourishing dealership in the early 1940s.

The government cited lack of evidence.

The art dealers’ descendants demanded the restitution of 189 work, which now reside in a national collection. The court has ruled that only one — Ferdinand Boll’s ‘Man With a High Cap” — need be returned.

manwithhighca

Adolf Hitler liked his art.

In 1905, Hitler dropped out of highschool, and spent several years doing not much at all in the city of Linz. But he dreamed of earning his pennies by his brushstroke, and spent many days hold up in museums or sketching by candlelight. (Those sketches have since been sold in auction.) Eventually, Hitler applied to study at the Vienna art academy; but after sitting several days of exams, he was promptly rejected.

Distraught, Hitler up and moved to the capital, and spent his time selling hand-painted reproductions. He grew poor and despondent. Hitler would apply to school again, and be rejected a second time.

Much has been made of this period in Hitler’s life. Some speculate that the man’s anti-Semitism was rooted in his inability to get into art college; the story goes that it was a Jewish professor who rejected him. And naturally, counter-history buffs will imagine a 20th century in which Hitler indeed became an artist: and spent his days painting nudes, instead of slaughtering his continent.

An absolutely outstanding documentary to see on this subject is ‘The Rape of Europa.’

The film explains how fine art became a kind of currency within the highest Nazi circles. Currying favour with Hitler often meant giving a gift of art–or else building up a personal collecting grand enough to win Hitler’s admiration. Before invading European cities, Hitler would draw up lists of art and architecture items which were not to be protected from shelling and troop movement.

europahitler

Amazingly, Allied troops had the foresight to keep fine art in mind when liberating Occupied Europe. A special team of “Monument Men” — “mostly American art historians and museum curators who, drafted into military service” — was put together with the explicit purpose of locating looting art, and protecting it from damage or theft.

europa

The documentary also gives some background on this recent trial before the Dutch government:

According to U.S. estimates, the Nazis stole one-fifth of all the known artworks in Europe. While the Allies returned most of the displaced art in the decade following the war, much of the loot is still missing.

By the mid-fifties the initial, massive restitution effort by the Allies had lost its priority and momentum to the pressures of the Cold War. Hundreds of works of art, their owners unidentified, still lay in government storerooms across Europe, or remained in the hands of unscrupulous dealers who waited for years before disguising their origins and feeding them slowly into the market.

But this long quiet period is over. The end of the Cold War and the opening of the archives of Eastern Europe revealed that many works believed lost had survived. The commemorations marking the end of World War II and the development of Holocaust scholarship also led to the re-examination and declassification of forgotten records, inspiring those who had long since despaired of finding their lost possessions to search again.

My latest article for Maclean’s is about the possibility of building a European Army: ‘Now is the time to mount a European army, leaders conclude’

(Not a title with much pizazz, I’ll admit)

EUROPEANARMY01_660x277

Here’s the situation:

“Later this year, the leaders of European Union nations will meet in Brussels for their annual European council. On the agenda: a discussion of Europe’s military might. At the summit, it’s likely that two equally bold visions for European defence will be put forward. One would see the union’s 27 member states pool military resources as never before—with an eye to eventually building a bona fide EU army. The other would see the union member with the strongest military, Britain, withdraw from the EU—leaving the Continent sputtering.”

Of course, as it stands, there is no Continent-wide armed forces, no Army of Europe. There are only national armies that sometimes cooperate.

But the idea is an old one:

“These discussions are not new. In 1946, former British prime minister Winston Churchill spoke of building a “United States of Europe.” In 1950, there was a proposal to build a European defence community, in part to flex some muscle before the Soviets. Those plans crumbled. A united Europe was relegated to the world of fiction, appearing in plenty of dystopian novels, and several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

And lately, the necessity ante has been upped:

“Today, supporters of the still-elusive EU army insist that pooling military might is the only way for the Continent to keep its fists up. For the first time in modern history, Asia is forecast to outspend Europe on defence. Russia has just surpassed Britain and France on arms spending.”

 

A great headline today from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “A Nazi in every corner.”

The article explains the ubiquity of Holocaust analogies in Israel. Israeli politicians and activists, says Haaretz , frequently use phrases like “the banality of evil” and “Nazi boots”–as well as references to the Nuremberg Laws and Hitleriite policies–while discussing topics like (you guessed it) the Palestinian Occupation and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Still, I’m not sure I buy the author’s contention that these analogies to Nazism:

“may also have some value in helping us to process our understanding of that terrible era.”

I think it’s more likely that they are cheap shots, and an easy way to monger fear.

Today brings a nice slide show from the Beeb: on “The history of Beer: Monastic brewing traditions.”

monk-beer

Extra! Extra! At an inter-faith prayer meeting in Italy, Pope Benedict acknowledged “with great shame” that Christians have committed violence in God’s name.

pope_benedict

From Reuters:

“As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith,” [the Pope] said in his address to the delegations in an Assisi basilica…

It was one of the few times that a pope has apologised for events such as the Crusades or the use of force to spread the faith in the New World. The late Pope John Paul apologised in 2000 for Christianity’s historical failures.”

Interesting fact #1: Pope Benedict refused to attend the same inter-faith meeting in 1986, when he was a cardinal. He later criticised the gathering for implying that all religions are equal.

Interesting fact #2: This famous inter-faith gathering reserves spots for “representative[s] of African traditional religions.” (I can only imagine the process by which these spots are filled…)

 

sorry-in-the-sand

I’ve long been interested in the idea of official apologies for historical wrongs. In 2011, I wrote an article on the subject for The Huffington Post: ‘Sorry, Ladies.’ 

I gave a decent summary of ‘historical apologies’ issued recently:

In the last fifteen years or so, we’ve said sorry to aboriginal groups forced into residential schools (Canada) or split apart from their families (Australia). We’ve said sorry to countries invaded during war (Japan to South-East Asia, Serbia to Bosnia, Germany to…a lot of states). We’ve apologized for slavery (US, EU), for Apartheid (South Africa), for Colonialism (Japan), for the Holocaust (Germany), and for collaborating in the Holocaust (France). We’ve said sorry for revolutions gone awry (Russia), for genocide and for looking away while genocide was taking place (US, Canada). Our apologies are for isolated incidents (wars, murders, genocides) and for long-term, sustained systems of oppression (slavery, racial discrimination, oppressive political regimes). We’re sorry to Jews (Germany, Vatican, Switzerland), to migrant children (Australia, Britain), to Aboriginals (Canada, Australia), to political protesters (Britain), to and to homosexuals (Cuba, Germany).

Before coming to this conclusion:

And still, most states have failed to eek out a single ‘I’m sorry’ for women.

Are apologies like the Pope’s necessary acts of atonement? important components of any historical record? empty token? symbolic gestures?

Today from The Daily Mail: Don’t mention (that we won) the war: Government ‘doesn’t want to upset Germans during First World War centenary events’

War author Sebastian Faulks said the tone of events must be ‘modest, inclusive and reverential of others’ – while a source on the planning team said ministers are keen ‘not to upset the Germans’.

Consider this blogger on the ‘WW1 Commemoration Beat’

Here’s some news from the Orange County register: Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister, is in California on a speaking tour. She will speak about her stepsister* at 10 local synagogues.

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[*Schloss’s mother married Otto Frank after the war’s end, and after Anne Frank’s own slow death at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The stepsister title is a wee bit specious, but hey…]

The Diary of a Young Girl (or, The Diary of Anne Frank) (originally, Het Achterhuis. Dagboekbrieven 14 juni 1942 – 1 augustus 1944) certainly holds a firm place in the 20th century’s literary canon.

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The Diary was indeed the diary of a young Jewish teenager, Anne Frank. Published in 1947, it chronicles two years (1942-44) that Anne and her family spent hiding from Nazi forces–in a wee attic, above her father’s office in Amsterdam. Betrayed in 1944, the Franks were deported to concentration camps. Anne died of typhus in 1945, a month before British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen.

Why is this book so enduring?

Part of it is certainly the writing itself: detailed, lively and wholly personal. Anne is a also uniquely-placed narrator. She reported from Third Reich territory during the height of the Holocaust (early 1940s). Her old peers were either in concentration camps, unable to narrate events, or long gone–to London, or New York, or Shanghai. And the story has all the classic narrative elements: a perpetrator, a pursuit, young adolescent love, a stab in the back.

Timing would have been part of this too. Published in 1947, the diary anticipates, by at least a decade, the flood of (popular, retrospectively-written) Holocaust memoirs that we’re still swimming in.

This explains why Eva Schloss–who didn’t know Anne personally–can peg a writing/speaking career on her loose connection to her famous “stepsister.”

Schloss’ path reminds me a bit of certain members of the Churchill clan–who make the rounds, everywhere and constantly, recounting tales of (great) grandad Winston.

 

 

Today’s Telegraph readers are in a huff: over plans for a new school curriculum, which would require British students to learn imperial units in math class.

In the mid-1970s, British moved from the imperial system (think: yards, nautical miles, acres and stones) to the metric system (centimeters, meters, square meters and grams). Almost every country has adopted the metric system–with the exception of a few holdouts, like the US, Liberia and Myanmar.

ruler

Telegraph reported this week:

Imperial measurements ‘to make comeback’ in schools

Imperial measurements are to make a return to the classroom amid fears that children are failing to learn about pints, pounds and miles, it has emerged.

Today, the broadsheet printed some reader reactions. Here’s my favourite:

SIR – I was dismayed to read that the Government is planning to require schools to place imperial units at the heart of maths lessons (report, January 9). I have taught the subject for more than 25 years and am horrified that I should be expected to explain such an awkward, illogical and antiquated system of measurement.

Perhaps it would satisfy all concerned if the imperial system was covered in history lessons and the metric system was dealt with in mathematics and science lessons.

Roger Trowbridge
Calne, Wiltshire

The Imperial Unit system was codified in The British Weights and Measures Act (1824). But imperial units fell out of favour in the 20th century. The metric system is now the official British standard. In 1995, the Units of Measurement Regulation Act required that retail items use metric quantities.

The measurement system in the United States is based on the old British model. Recall that American doctors still use the imperial ‘pounds/feet’ for weight/height–as opposed to the metric ‘kilos/centimers.’

Here’s a decent chart of imperial/metric equivalencies.

Ah, the perennial people-in-Asia-are-wearing-clothing-items-with-swastikas-on-them-because-they-totally-don’t-GET-IT story. Complete with the ol’ Simon Wiesenthal Center  lament.

Today, via Asia Times Online: ‘Nazi chic in the new Myanmar

YANGON – Visitors to Myanmar these days often encounter young men in T-shirts emblazoned with a red swastika in a circle and the word “Nazi” written above. World War II-style motorcycle helmets decorated with the fascist emblem are also en vogue on the streets of Yangon.

Myanmar’s most popular rock band, which has thousands of fans on Facebook and has toured the United States, is named “The Iron Cross,” in reference to a German military medal that was bestowed by Adolf Hitler. The band’s logo is a Nazi eagle holding an iron cross instead of a swastika in its claws

“I imagine that people wearing these T-shirts might see them as just cool things to wear,” says Sydney University anthropologist Jane Ferguson, who has done extensive research in Myanmar. “Something that’s foreign and exotic might just look cool without going into the deep history. They might recognize the swastika as part of Nazi regalia, but associate it with the Sanskrit symbol of auspiciousness.”

Nonetheless, the pro-Nazi T-shirts and other wears are beginning to cause an international stir. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, a member of the California-based Simon Wiesenthal Center that fights anti-Semitism around the world, says his group is concerned about the seeming proliferation of Nazi symbolism in Myanmar.

The union flag waves in Belfast today, to celebrate the 31st birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Republicans – who, for the better half of a century, have been fighting to sever their ties to the British crown – are not pleased.

But loyalists too claim to be under siege. Last month, Belfast’s city council voted to reduce the number of days that the union flag would fly at city hall: from everyday, to just 18 designated days. That move inspired a typically Northern Irish response: parades, petrol bombs, dozens of police officers injured, and over 100 arrests made.

Each side claims that the recent unrest is sign of bolstered support for its cause.

Belfast riots

In September, I traveled to Belfast for Maclean’s to report on an uptick in sectarian strife. Again: protests, brick-throwing, injured cops, middle-aged fathers in jail.

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Arriving at grad school, I was tickled to find that Brits sum up Northern Ireland’s decades of tangled internecine battling in a simple title: ‘The Troubles.’

What do you study?

Ah, I do The Troubles.

But beyond my vague understanding that Protestants and Catholics had long fought – and that their fighting had ended in a  ceasefire – I didn’t know much about The Troubles. And I certainly new little about how Northern Ireland functions (and doesn’t) today.

My piece from September paints a portrait of today’s Belfast. And it might help explain this kerfuffle over the Duchess’s anniversaire.

That notion—that the country’s Troubles have not quite passed—is hard to get away from here. Though almost 15 years have passed since the last ceasefire agreements were signed, Northern Ireland’s peace remains an uneasy one. Geographically, Belfast is even more segregated than it was in the 1960s. Woven through the city’s patchwork of religious enclaves are almost 100 “peace walls”: hulking stone barriers that separate Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods. Over 90 per cent of public housing is segregated, and the vast majority of Northern Irish children are educated in segregated schools, leading some academics to speak of a self-imposed national “apartheid.” As Northern Ireland sinks deep into recession, its government spends over $2 billion annually on duplicate social services—one system for Protestants, one for Catholics.

 

 

 

 

Via Salon! ‘Fox News guest compares gun control to Nazi Germany’

We had a saying in Modern History grad school: ‘The second you play the Hitler card, you’ve lost the hand.’