Category Archives: History

Explosive Projectile-laden Drones to Navigate Small Spaces

I’ll never forget being briefed by a US Army General about the redesign of South Korea in ways that would force invading Chinese tanks into tight “killing zones”.

Take the humans out of those tanks and you’ve got explosive projectile-laden drones on land, similar to the evolution of torpedoes flying in water and smart missiles flying through the air.

South Korean problem spaces certainly sat on my mind when I was working at NASA back in the early 2000s. Researchers and colleagues there ostensibly were trying to find a way for large mechanized robot swarms to navigate complex valleys on Mars.

In 2014 I actually gave several talks (including a private one to the future head of Facebook security) revealing a bit of the state of art at that time on research in drone swarm countermeasures.

Numerous positions can be injected into swarms, or forced upon them, to cause them to freeze.

That’s why I was proposing swarm countermeasures way back then, much to the chagrin of lawyers who ALWAYS told me that anyone trying to stop an attacking drone would be charged with property damage. Ah, lawyers.

Anyway, fast forward to today and here are two important updates that we all should have seen coming:

First, “Agility of bees could inspire drones that squeeze through tight spaces

Second, “Taliban Rigging Drones to Drop Bombs, Afghan Spy Chief Says

Why Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

I’ve written about Thanksgiving history here many times for many years (2005, 2006, 2008, 2010) and this year it feels like time to write again.

It is clear that the holiday was created by President Lincoln after Civil War to bring the pro-slavery rebels back to the table with their American neighbors and family.

Don’t know if I can do the topic any more justice, however, than a 2019 New Yorker article by a historian. So here is the TL;DR

Fretting over late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century immigration, American mythmakers discovered that the Pilgrims, and New England as a whole, were perfectly cast as national founders: white, Protestant, democratic, and blessed with an American character centered on family, work, individualism, freedom, and faith.

The new story aligned neatly with the defeat of American Indian resistance in the West and the rising tide of celebratory regret that the anthropologist Renato Rosaldo once called “imperialist nostalgia.” Glorifying the endurance of white Pilgrim founders diverted attention from the brutality of Jim Crow and racial violence, and downplayed the foundational role of African slavery. The fable also allowed its audience to avert its eyes from the marginalization of Asian and Latinx labor populations, the racialization of Southern European and Eastern European immigrants, and the rise of eugenics. At Thanksgiving, white New England cheerfully shoved the problematic South and West off to the side, and claimed America for itself.

Shocking reversal. Lincoln brought the pro-slavery forces back to the table and they pivoted on his gesture to a false cover-story while still enacting divisive racial violence.

Who Was The Pirate? Curious Case of Blackbeard’s Murder

A site called Coastal Review has a fascinating take on the events that led to Blackbeard’s untimely violent death.

Blackbeard did not prey on a single ship in the waters off the Outer Banks during his surprisingly brief 23-month career as a pirate. And, as previously stated, his pitiful camp at Ocracoke and pirate company of 15 men were hardly a threat to anyone.

[…]

Blackbeard and his friends from Bath, many of whom were killed, were unwitting pawns caught in the middle of what turned out to be a failed political coup.

Furthermore, Lt. Maynard’s 60 Royal Navy sailors acted as little more than pirates themselves.

Hao Projection: Chinese-Drawn World Map

Maps are political by nature of defining boundaries. Whoever has that authority to classify territory, gains a lot of power.

More interesting than just drawing the lines, however, is the graphical representation of 3D spaces in 2D. Many probably are familiar with the impact of the Gall-Peters map (by Arno Peters based on a 1885 James Gall paper) since the 1980s.

UNESCO promotes the use of the Gall-Peters projection, and this option is widely used in British schools. Boston became the first public school district in the United States to adopt this map as its standard in 2017.

(click to enlarge)

Lately it seems like the Gall-Peters projection opened the door to dynamic maps that try re-frame our understanding of reality in terms of coastline length.

Sailchecker, a charter company, offers us this warped view…

Speaking of coastlines, a report in 2010 by Linda Jakobson at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute called “China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic” shows China’s perspective on sailing through the Arctic.

(click to enlarge)

The captions label Shanghai, Rotterdam, New York, the ‘North East Sea Route’ (red) and the ‘North West Sea Route’ (blue).Source: Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, ; map drawn by Hao Xiaoguang,

Then on 11 December 2013 the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that the researcher (geophysicist) Hao Xiaoguang had drawn another new map of the world.

…with the authorization of National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation. Traditional word map is suitable for expressing the relationship of east and west hemisphere, it uses meridian to cut the global and should be called as merdian-wise world map. As contrary, the new version of world map uses prime vertical to cut the global and should be called as prime vertical-wise world map, consequently, it is suitable for expressing the relationship of north and south hemisphere. In order to express the geography relationship properly, the workshop had proposed the design scheme of series of word map since 2000 to 2002. In recent years, the new version of world map had been applied by many agencies for different scientific purpose, and the draft has been collected by State Museum, From now on, the new word map will be available in our daily life and will give us brand new geography idea.

Saying prime vertical-wise world map is a mouthful (maybe sounds better in Chinese?) and so the Hao Projection might be easier and make more sense.

(click to enlarge)

You can buy your own 1.1 meter sized relief version (3D凹凸地图 美观大方) of the Hao projection (ironically, shipping options are geographically limited) at the TMALL:

Song of the Uber

Is Uber just a rehash of earlier lessons in economics? Some might say so (hat tip to Rohan Light) if they’re familiar with criticisms of the “putting out” economy in 19th Century industrialization.

Punch Magazine published an illustration of “cheap clothing” by John Leech in 1845.

“Cheap Clothing” illustration by John Leech for Punch Magazine in 1845

Two years earlier in 1843 they had published the “Song of the Shirt” poem by Thomas Hood.

With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
   And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

   "Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!             
   And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's O! to be a slave
   Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
   If this is Christian work!

   "Work—work—work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
   Work—work—work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,                    
   Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
   And sew them on in a dream!

   "O, men, with sisters dear!
   O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out, 
   But human creatures' lives!
      Stitch—stitch—stitch,
   In poverty, hunger and dirt,      
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
   A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

   "But why do I talk of death?
   That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
   It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own, 
   Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
   And flesh and blood so cheap!
              
   "Work—work—work!
   My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
   A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
   A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
   For sometimes falling there!

   "Work—work—work!
   From weary chime to chime,   
Work—work—work,
   As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
   Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
   As well as the weary hand.

   "Work—work—work,
In the dull December light,
   And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—         
While underneath the eaves
   The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
   And twit me with the spring.

   "O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
   With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
   To feel as I used to feel,            
Before I knew the woes of want
   And the walk that costs a meal!

   "O! but for one short hour!
   A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
   But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
   But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
   Hinders needle and thread!"

With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
   In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
   She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

Book Review: “Violence and Trolling on Social Media”

A new book called “Violence and Trolling on Social Media” attempts to help define wrongs in social media. Unfortunately, at first read, it seems to be wrong in a number of areas.

Take for example page nine:

In ‘How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life’ (New York Times Magazine,12 February 2015) Welsh journalist Jon Ronson investigated the effect on victims of public shaming through social media platforms and compared it to the history of public shaming as a form of punishment. Such punishments (the stocks, the pillory, the whipping pole) have gone out of practice, in part because they were considered too humiliating and socially annihilating for the person undergoing the punishment.

This conclusion that punishments went out of practice “in part” for being too humiliating, seems to be in fact based on one sentence in Ronson’s article:

At the archives, I found no evidence that punitive shaming fell out of fashion as a result of new found anonymity. But I did find plenty of people from centuries past bemoaning the outsize cruelty of the practice, warning that well-meaning people, in a crowd, often take punishment too far.

Absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. People bemoaning excessive punishment does not mean that punishment was ended because of the bemoaning.

More to the point, if I remember correctly from studying alongside a PhD candidate at LSE working on political history of social punishment (in particular the rise of guillotine), there was a problem with the unruly nature and impracticality of the format that led to its demise.

It was operational concerns and a noticeable lack of effect (opposite of Ronson’s cruelty remark), and not empathy with the targets, that led to demise of the stocks, pillory and pole.

Here is an excerpt from UK Parliament’s official record in an 1815 debate on pillory abolition.

It spells out how social methods failed to maintain a desired end as sometimes crowds even “contravened the sentence of the Court by exalting the criminal”:

It could not be called a reforming punishment, because it rather tended to deaden the sense of shame than to have any other effect. Besides, it appeared to him as contrary to law, because the culprit was left to meet the fury of the populace. It was not attended with any good to the spectator, because it only gave rise to the assemblage of a tumultuous rabble, who either contravened the sentence of the Court by exalting the criminal, or violated the law by an outrageous attack upon him. It was therefore evidently a punishment of a very unequal nature.

Examples then were provided to emphasize the point that social shaming was so uncontrolled it backfired into random outcomes, from generating support for those put on display or opposite (causing their death by unruly mob):

In the year 1759, doctor Shebbeare was sentenced to be pillored for a libel of a political description—and in what manner was that punishment executed? Why, when he arrived at the pillory he mounted it in full dress, attended by a servant in livery, who held an umbrella over his head and the under-sheriff, who participated in the popular feeling, instead of calling upon him, as usual, to place his head in the pillory, was satisfied to let him simply rest ins hands on the machine, and in that way he underwent his sentence. Then again, in the case of Daniel Isaac Eaton, who two years back was pillored for a religious libel, this man, instead of being regarded, as might have been expected, with indignation, was treated with, respect, and viewed with silent pity.

Does that sound “too humiliating” and “socially annihilating”? More to the point, exposing “higher walks of life” to public sentiment was deemed “unequal” treatment:

The punishment, he insisted, was unequal: to a man in the higher walks of life, it was worse than death: it drove him from society, and would not suffer him to return to respectability; while, to a more hardened offender, it could not be an object of much terror, and it could not affect his family or his prospects in the same degree.

Consider again who was bemoaning social punishment, and why that form of punishment was truly abolished (although it’s important to remember it still exists in things like “smacking” and the stocks were never abolished).

Stocks and pillaries have been in use for more than 1000 years. They were used as a punishment from the Middle Ages up to the eighteenth century. In 1405 a law was passed that required every town and village to have a set of stocks, usually placed by the side of a public highway or village green. Stocks were a status symbol for smaller communities. If a town was too small or could not afford stocks that town was regarded as a hamlet and could not call itself a village. The pillory was only abolished in England around 1837. Stocks were never formally abolished and were used until around 1870.

Stocks not only were NEVER abolished, they remain to this day as a former status symbol of a village!

That’s just one example.

Here is another one from the book worth digging into, on page fourteen:

Online vitriol seems to be a particular product of the Web 2.0, the ‘participatory’ or ‘social web’ that has evolved since the early twenty-first century, and that revolves around ‘user-generated content’ and conceives of the web as a space of interaction, rather than a collection of static sites where one can read information. The term ‘Web 2.0’ was coined in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci in an article prophetically titled ‘Fragmented Future

Obviously a collection of static sites where one can read information is in fact a space of interaction. When one person publishes, another person reads. Strange to see that publisher/reader relationship of a webpage (hello dear reader!) framed as different from being social when they are literally the same (leave a comment below if you disagree, haha).

The book has consistently made these kinds of errors so I’m getting stuck in the weeds, rather than giving a high level review. Not sure the latter makes sense however when the former is so distracting.

Who Caused 2018 Power Outages in Russia?

In 2018 a very important and very large dry dock facility in Roslyakovo was in the news for a horrible tragedy.

There were about 60 people on the dock when it started to sink. Five of them did not manage to get in safety. One is reported dead and four injured, one with a serious condition.

This gave me a flash back to 1984 when Severomorsk, Russia hit the news for a horrible tragedy. A navy weapons depot caught fire and exploded, killing hundreds.

…the Central Intelligence Agency learned of the accident from travelers, then positioned satellites and electronic devices to assess the damage. Those sources said the death toll was estimated at between 200 and 300 people, many of them ordnance technicians sent into the fire caused by the explosion in a desperate by unsuccessful effort to defuse or disassemble the munitions before the exploded in a chain reaction over several hours. Officials at the State and Defense Departments, as well as diplomats and congressional officials all blamed the accident on Soviet “carelessness.”

There’s even a CIA file (with a copy of Jane’s Defense Weekly and details of a criminal trial for the Navy analyst who leaked the photos) for perspective:

…U.S. District Court Judge Josepth H. Young has already ruled that Morison’s motives were irrelevant, [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Schatzow voiced skepticism about the defense claims that Morison wanted to alert the American public through the medium of a British magazine where he was seeking a full-time job. “He didn’t send it to CBS,” Schatzow declared. “He didn’t send it to The Washington Post. He sent it to Jane’s.”

That Jane’s disclosure story from 1984 points out an ammunition dump also exploded in the Bobruysk airfield (Belarus), and at the end of the prior year ammunition exploded in the Dolon (Kazakhstan) airfield and two more ammunition depots exploded after that… by June there was a huge explosion in Schwerin. So the CIA file in fact shows Murmansk was the fifth or sixth Soviet safety disaster a row.

And that’s not to mention, or who can forget, the April 26, 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant?

Way back in 1984 there would have been “travelers” to inform intelligence agents about a disaster. In 2018 terms there instead is monitoring of social media accounts to start the discussion about the tragic sinking of a massive dock.

And from that angle the 2018 news of disaster reads at first like it should get a footnote similar to the 1984 official commentary: Russia continues to be known for operations fraud, “carelessness” and decay.

Maybe there’s nothing more to this story than just people discussing a tragedy resulting from bad safety practices:

…the dry dock has itself had repeated problems with its aging technical equipment, including the electricity system…

Reports mentioned sub-par maintenance of a huge floating platform built by Sweden in 1980, neglected since, with possible criminal charges for the private owners of the dock. Rosneft bought 2015 for its “oil operations”, which in terms of Russian oligarchical corruption means transfer of government funds to someone’s pockets by forcing major Navy repairs into private hands.

That makes the most simple explanation of disaster very believable: when a power outage hit the dock’s huge ballast tanks they failed-unsafe because of careless management. When a power outage hit that floating dock it predictably filled up with water and sank.

The subsequent lawsuits probably say something like Rosneft cut safety corners to increase profits, as one expects from an unregulated/monopolized market — the only dock big enough for the Russian navy to do repairs on its fleet.

It’s an unbelievably unfortunate operations situation coupled with a design flaw someone must have known about for a long time, especially given a history of having unstable power sources in that region.

A very predictable disaster.

Yet such a vulnerability makes it too tempting to not float the idea that this is also was fertile ground for someone hunting for easy cyber attack targets.

Again, the basic narrative since 1984 of Russian carelessness still makes sense. Yet early 2018 also saw a series of electricity “hacks” on America purported to originate from Russia.

For a little context from 2018, two years earlier the U.S. loudly warned that its “military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid…for cyber attacks that could turn out the lights…”.

A month after these 2016 U.S. statements, the Russian city of Murmansk experienced a massive energy blackout. It was blamed on an intentional short circuit at the Kolenergo substation.

The acts were done near a city block in the street of Knipovich, Nikora said in an extraordinary meeting in the regional Staff of power security. It is not clear who was behind the acts, nor whether it is consider as deliberate sabotage or result of an accident.

That’s kind of important context, given how two years later rolling power outages hit the same region, sinking the largest dock in Russia and crippling their global navy operations. Even if not a cyber attack, you can’t say a fail-unsafe design makes any sense for the dock.

The most interesting run-up to the power outages in 2018 perhaps starts months earlier when the Wall Street Journal reported that Russia was trying to boast they had breached America’s power grid:

Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities…

It was thus after aggressive hacking claims by Russia that it faced:

…several cases of power outage all over the [northwest] region, including in the cities of Severomorsk and Murmansk…

These power outage cases not only crippled Russia’s ability to manage its fleets by sinking their largest Naval dock, they also damaged Russia’s only aircraft carrier in the dock failure (Admiral Kuznetsov, which had been serving in Syria to infamously carry out air strikes yet losing two aircraft during routine landings).

Again, it has to be emphasized Russia earned itself a reputation for carelessness and predictable self-inflicted disasters. There may have been no cyber attacks at all and disasters still could have happened from decay or “incredibly easy” physical attacks.

Just a year after the dock sank, that same one and only aircraft carrier caught fire during repairs, blamed on a short circuit.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, caught fire today during repairs in Murmansk. While officials of the shipyard said that no shipyard workers were injured, Russia’s TASS news service reports that at least 12 people (likely Kuznetsov sailors) were injured, some critically. In addition, three people, possibly including the third-rank captain in charge of the ship’s repairs, are unaccounted for.

The Kuznetsov has had a long string of bad luck, experiencing fires at sea, oil spills, and landing deck accidents…

It’s hard to prove a cyber attack hit a country causing a power outage when that country is so bad at operations, but that’s exactly the point. The Stuxnet attack targeted a facility that already was suffering under something like a 30% failure from rust and basic operations failures.

This is why timing of the 2018 power outages in Russia shortly after its boasts about hacking can make for interesting reading. Despite the lack of any real details or news from the cities in Russia affected, I’ll be surprised if historians don’t find out more here by poking around.

Perhaps US Admiral Stavridis put it best in October 2016 when he quoted a Russian proverb: “Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed.”

“Like mustard gas… psychological warfare and its poison… linger on for years.”

The post title comes from a 1946 “Paper Bullets” booklet that was “DEDICATED to the men and women of the Overseas Branch, United States Office of War Information… to serve their country as propagandists in time of war….”

…like mustard gas, which clings to the ground for months after battle, psychological warfare and its poison of hate and distrust linger on for years.

Fast forward to 2016 and American soldiers still suffer from mustard gas experimentation done on them. They were told by their government to never speak about it and were denied healthcare claims.

We girls could not use perfume, we could not use hairspray, anything in the house” because of his ailment.

Daughter Beverly Howe, a nurse trained in chemical, biological and radiological treatment from Thomasville, Ga., said she interviewed her father for a school paper in the early 1970s, and he disclosed the gassing reluctantly to her for the first time. As a nurse, she recognized the symptoms from her training. “He said it was secret and they weren’t supposed to talk about it,” she said. “If they did, they’d be in big trouble.”

Then, while visiting a Veterans Administration hospital in Columbia, Mo., in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a VA X-ray technician who had seen Arlie Harrell’s records asked if he had ever been exposed to mustard gas.

“I was mostly horrified when I saw the look of terror in my dad’s eyes,” said Ayers, who was with her father at that appointment. “The man told him it was OK, you can talk about it now. He said, ‘Yes,’ and that was about it.”

Put these two themes together and you get a story about lingering effects of mustard gas mixed with racism (hate and distrust).

Edwards was one of 60,000 enlisted men enrolled in a once-secret government program — formally declassified in 1993 — to test mustard gas and other chemical agents on American troops. But there was a specific reason he was chosen: Edwards is African-American.

“They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on black skins,” Edwards says.

An NPR investigation has found evidence that Edwards’ experience was not unique. While the Pentagon admitted decades ago that it used American troops as test subjects in experiments with mustard gas, until now, officials have never spoken about the tests that grouped subjects by race.

[…]

All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.

Source: NPR

Ancient “Taboo” Custom Credited With Avoiding COVID19

“Easter Islanders Likely Believed Megalithic Statues Helped Maintain Soil Fertility”, Source: SciNews
The BBC has published a story of how Easter Island government officials invoked prohibition customs to control the pandemic in their country.

Thanks to both tapu and umanga, Easter Island has not only successfully warded off the coronavirus; it’s revived past practices in order to plot a more sustainable future.

Tapu is practiced in various forms across Polynesia, from New Zealand to Hawaii, and is believed to be the origin of the English word “taboo”, with British explorer James Cook first noting the concept on a visit to Tonga in 1777. While tapu is a divine mandate controlling a society’s access to certain people, places or things (with potentially dire consequences for those who transgressed in historical times), taboo is similarly used in English to describe practices that are either forbidden or restricted by social or religious customs.

The local description of the safety and security that can come from a taboo is very poetic.

What the pandemic did, [Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa] explained, was change the position of the mask from the eyes to the mouth.

“It shut our mouths, because we kept eating and consuming and searching for money and building and destroying the nature and our fragile culture, without seeing the jeopardy that we were putting ourselves in,” he said. “Now, our eyes are open, and we are more keen to promote sustainability in words, actions and plans than we ever were before.”

Unknown artist rendering of open eyes, closed mouth moai

A common thread in education has been to point to Easter Island as a lesson in ecological collapse. If true, perhaps it would be wise to look towards them for insights in environmental and health policy.

However, history is not quite so obvious, and so it turns out there is an even better reason to learn from Easter Island. The latest research shows it was invasion by foreign threats that was the main calamity to their thriving civilization.

…disease and slavery, introduced by Europeans, are more to blame than ecocide and self-destruction.

One of the turning points in analysis, from internal collapse to external threats, was a realization that fragments of “weapons” were more like evidence of sophisticated peaceful agrarian tools.

“It’s assumed that [pieces of glass] are the WMDs that led to the collapse of people,” the study’s lead author, Carl Lipo, an anthropologist and director of Binghamton University’s environmental studies program, told the BBC. “And what we found was there was no evidence, in fact, to support that these were used in a systematic, lethal fashion, and that they’re best explained as cultivation tools and things used in daily household activities.”

The assumptions made by Europeans were ignorant, a bit like someone from Easter Island landing in France observing that everyone owns a shovel and assuming it means civil war.

Two parts of the big shift in analysis are related to some pretty simple, even common sense, threads.

First, the rounded and short glass tools called “mata’a” were nothing like the offensive long-pointy weapons found in other places around the world. Who innovates around a big spoon when they could have enhanced their knife designs?

Here’s the data:

Ok I said spoon for a very specific reason. And now I have to take a second to discuss how disappointing it was to read that “researchers call them the ‘swiss army knives’ of stone tools”. I mean these same researchers are claiming tools were NOT primarily military issue while trying to describe them as ancient Swiss army knives?

SWISS ARMY KNIVES are standardized, military issue and pointy… it’s like the researchers couldn’t have possibly used a worse phrase to make their point (pun intended).

Second, these islands lacked defensive evidence expected from innovation around fortresses and garrisons built for civil wars.

No strong offensive evidence, no real defensive evidence… the island populations were decimated by something else.

So while past lessons erroneously have suggested Easter Island is about environmental disaster from over-production, instead it serves as an example of collapse from disease-infested invasion.

It all registers as important food for thought about data integrity as they practice taboo to save their population from pandemic; show the world a “good model” of disease prevention as one of the most important forms of sustainability.

… why did the population shrink after the Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century? Lipo has a single, stark answer: “Disease that is introduced by Europeans after contact.” Smallpox and plague ripped through Easter Island, halving the population in a short time. […] The fate of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island is often used [falsely] to illustrate how humans destroy their communities with environmental destruction and warfare. But it might actually provide a good model for sustainable civilizations of the future.

Oh, and why did all the trees disappear? Rats, known also for spreading the plague, are blamed for Easter Island deforestation.

Almost all of the palm seed shells discovered on the island were found to have been gnawed by rats. Thousands of rat bones have been found, and crucially, much of the damage to forestry appears to have been done before evidence of fires on the island. […] Unchecked, a single mating pair can produce a population of nearly 17 million in just over three years…capable, on their own, of deforesting large lowland coastal areas in about 200 years or less. “In the absence of effective predators, rats alone could eventually result in deforestation.”

Once again, it seems prevention of invasive and uncontrolled threats is the Easter Island lesson for COVI19 and human sustainability.

Are We Approaching An American Political Stress Revolution?

An historian writing for the British Library argues that Britain did not go through the same course of fundamental government upheaval as its neighbors in the 18th century because its social classes had methods and means for “dialogue” and political change.

A major question is why Britain did not experience a political revolution, similar to those which took place elsewhere in Europe. Rioting and protest against the Establishment was certainly serious in Britain in the late 1700s, but it never resulted in fundamental upheaval. An answer can perhaps be found in the fact that the relationships between different social classes were mainly stable. The working classes remained the backbone of the industrial revolution, and their rights and customs were usually recognised by those in power. By the 1790s many working-class protests were also channelled through more formal political organisations that proved highly effective in bringing about political change by peaceful means.

His point seems to be that while there were riots and violent clashes, and the majority of people couldn’t vote, they still could create influence and direct general political will through movements such as the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots and the much misunderstood Luddites.

However, he does allude also to the fact that threat of invasion by Napoleon was a factor in bringing Britain together in a shared fight.

A coalition formed with Europe against France for two decades with hundreds of thousands enlisted to fight, and prohibited from political expression… perhaps had more effect in keeping domestic relations pointed in a similar direction than saying the occasional riots and protests had peaceful resolutions.

The more modern take on this analysis comes from researchers in America claiming a “political stress indicator” (PSI) can predict revolution.

The social problems are the gasoline. [Russia’s puppet] is throwing matches.

[…] One key concern, according to Goldstone, is that people across the political spectrum have lost faith in government and political institutions. “In short, given the accumulated grievances, anger and distrust fanned for the last two decades, almost any election scenario this fall is likely to lead to popular protests on a scale we have not seen this century.

[…] But recent events, notably the [Russian puppet inspired] plot by a group of right-wing militants to kidnap and potentially kill the Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, over her policies to limit the spread of the coronavirus, have shocked even skeptics of the idea that the US is teetering on the brink of civil conflict. This is really concerning.

The PSI comments track somewhat to the historian of 18th century Britain. If there is no public faith in systems to foment political change, even without the ability or right to vote, then fundamental upheaval is more likely.

A better way perhaps of framing this for America is to say fundamental upheaval was during the Civil War and the current White House is being played by foreign adversaries to reopen those old wounds to keep them festering; loss of faith in government is a foreign plot, further inspiring domestic violent plots to assassinate democratic leaders as if it were still the 1850s.

Critics of the PSI point out that inequality may be high, which is a factor, yet America isn’t predominantly low-income at a level that would lead to widespread failure. In that sense preventing and delaying response to COVID-19 could be steered by foreign adversaries as a way to push America to being a low-income country and more likely to erupt into revolution.

Critics of the PSI also point out that revolutions come with some sudden rotation in control like natural resources being seized. This is interesting because when you look at the British examples the riots tended to be labor and technology related more than source/material.

America from that perspective tracks more closely to a discontent due to skilled labor displacement (machines doing work of unskilled staff) without having any centralized asset to be grabbed for violent power shift and foundation of new government. The funny thing about data/information being the current asset market is that, unlike things pulled out of the ground with intentional scarcity and centrality, information assets are easily shared, replaced and grown.

For another perspective, the American philosopher Richard Rorty wrote the following prediction about America in the 1998 New Statesman (Volume 127, Issues 4379-4391, Page 29)

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments…Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots… One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academy left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

An American conflict analyst and journalist covering civil wars for three decades across Europe, Africa and the Middle East adds this perspective from her time in Bosnia:

What happened in Bosnia shows us how essential it is that we open up dialogue and encourage peaceful dissent — long before we get anywhere near the point of self-destruction.
Bosnia should be a lesson for us, a case study in how quickly things can unravel. If talks had been set up after the referendum, and if all sides sat down to hash out some kind of agreement, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved. There are dangerous preconditions for a conflagration, and we are showing some of them in America today: the erosion of our basic rights, the anger, and the tribal divisions.

In conclusion, out of all these I find the British historian gives us the most insights into the vulnerabilities as well as the solutions.

If foreign adversaries can continue to manipulate the White House and destroy confidence in American political systems (e.g rush Supreme Court nominations using highly partisan and unqualified candidates, replace career state positions with fealty and patronage placements), while increasing discontent over inequalities, then there’s a much higher chance of fundamental change in government along the lines of revolution.

However, if America bonds in resistance to a shared adversary (whether it be COVID19, climate change, Russia, China, etc.) political systems (even without voting) are far more likely to be swayed and changed due to riots and protests to express need for change rather than seize assets or upend and replace government.