I told myself I wouldn’t treat this lightly and so it ended up being delayed a long while.
In a nutshell when a “water charity” would roll into villages in Africa they believed dropping a well directly outside homes would liberate women and children from the burden of long walks with heavy loads.
These wells in fact undermined a core network and fabric of social order and thus dangerously unbalanced power — women no longer had private time in shared chores away from the home at their “workplaces” and overall safety/security of the region was significantly undermined.
This is not conjecture. I was working with a huge global tech firm that was pushing a water charity donation pledge. When I started to question the ethics of the charity, the head of it came to meet with me in person.
At first it was cordial and he said things like “happy to answer your questions” though soon he seemed a bit frustrated, even deflated as if I had unmasked him. I had asked straight questions like “exactly how many villages had security issues after a well was dug”.
To his credit he told me could confirm exactly 15 examples (at that time). I appreciated the transparency, yet he seemed disturbed by having to admit to the fact an utterly simplistic solution (get donations, drive in, dig a well, leave) to a complex problem was in fact making lives worse.
In other words I was told by the head of a major charity that in more than a dozen cases soon after the new well was established armed rebels were known to target it, seize control and force all residents into refugee camps. That was fascinating, and still didn’t go deep enough for me as it focused on militant action more than the subtle process of cultural devaluation and collapse (e.g. Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart“). He admitted the lost villages were never reported, despite his transparency with me.
He also tried to muster some of the usual “big picture is we’re helping a lot of people” chaff. When I dug into his actual data (at that time) even it was questionable, suffering from big data integrity issues like obvious copy/paste numbers for a map of the wells scattered across an entire continent.
Finally, when I broached this subject with regional conflict experts they confirmed that the resource charity model was typically flawed from the start, and conditions worsened without analysis. They knew of the problems, and again said none of it was ever reported. More to the point, they confirmed they knew how introduction of wells (or similar technology shifts for that matter, such as men on bicycles fetching water) destroyed a traditional model of safety and power for women.
While perhaps counter-intuitive that reducing a burden creates far worse burdens, it lays bare the kind of false assumptions someone can make when they look at ways to “fix” networks and markets they observe only as “do good” outsiders.
If we think only about carrying water as hard we risk projecting that mindset into other communities and look for ways to remove that specific pain point. Instead we should think about how hard life becomes for people if they don’t have the opportunity to carry water on long isolated paths (removal of private time/place to communicate translates directly to loss of power).
The water charity seemed to be attempting what Fela had written about in the mid 1970s, in a song called “Water no get enemy“.
Water probably calculated at first as the safest possible bet for large and sticky donations — nobody could hate something as useful as this, and detractors were expected to only look wrong. However someone seriously underestimated wider risk management related to resources.
To be blunt, the water charity appeared to be started by a man who felt guilt for being an awful person and decided “white savior” of black people by delivering water meant nobody would question him, probably including himself. Unfortunately things are not so easy, and the fact he was searching for such trivial criticism-proof answers to the wicked complexity of real life just circles back onto how he ended up disliking himself in the first place.
The security processes and procedures around assets and political power, not to mention the privacy and safety of women and children, all were tragically disrupted by a simple failure to threat model water distribution. Hubris proved even water could get an enemy.
Today we have multiple examples of this manifesting in violent “biker” culture, as aggressive fringe groups and criminal syndicates operate campaigns to undermine rights by campaigning for suicidal anti-freedoms.
I don’t use the suicide phrase lightly, as just the other day I was sitting down with a biker (yes, I ride) who proudly explained his machine to me — an open fat drive belt by his ankle “sometimes rips pants off”, situated just in front of a giant “suicide shift” lever topped by a skull. He said he made it all so hard to operate safely it prevented anyone from stealing his ride and living to tell.
Imagine a guy thinking he needs to make his seat so miserable for others they wouldn’t dare try to steal it from him, devaluing it entirely while at the same time bragging about what a supremacist he is for being able to keep power out of the hands of others. Here’s how HD Forums describes the suicide shifter lifestyle:
Now, I realize there are plenty of semantic arguments about what constitutes a “suicide” shifter. But for the sake of this question, let’s just say the term refers to a hand shifter, rather than the conventional foot set up which became standard around the end of the Eisenhower administration.
Do you know what else became standard around the end of Eisenhower administration? Desegregation meant to allow blacks to have a seat.
As we talked I noted this guy had hung on his wall a framed Confederate dollar above a picture of Ronald Reagan, which clearly to him represented the same thing.
In other words, do you want to ride a motorcycle safely for yourself and everyone around you? Some bikers hate that.
Do you want to be free of mindless assaults and horrible designs of a simplistic/selfish predator? Some in society violently disagree — are more than ready to kill you and themselves as a “protest” against such asinine freedom (of course fraudulently calling it a defense of freedom when they deny freedom to you).
This is like asking do you want the freedom to drink water without known poison, or breathe air without known toxins? Allegedly there are restaurant and factory owners who ride bikes and demand their “god given” right, above any governmental interference, to deny everyone else any freedom from harm.
These are the people who see themselves as individual victims of concepts of society, fighting against everything always, angry at the world. The idea that someone could be given kindness or spared a dangerous moment without some kind of divine intervention or having to pay a huge price… is an unthinkable one.
Such perpetually dis-satisfied and unhappy people are in a constant state of anger at the world.
They ride without helmets, emitting noise and pollution, smoking cigarettes… and thus it is no stretch (pun not intended) that just like all the other ways to do harm since 1873, they can’t put on masks even today if they think it would help someone else. If it helps them directly (e.g. avoid being identified and held responsible for their actions) they have no hesitation to put on a mask. However, in terms of helping society… about as likely as that guy taking Ronald Reagan’s portrait off his wall. For them it is only one more thing to be angry about.
If you want to talk about disinformation in America, “Jaws” is one of the best examples of how a simple story based on a false fear can do exceptional long lasting harm.
It is very difficult to get sharks back to what they are, correctly seen as loving and affectionate.
An example of shark reality is from 1959 to 2010 the TOTAL number of fatalities was 26 in America (0.5/year average). Only 1 in a 3.7 million chance.
For an obvious comparison in risk homeostasis, lightning data shows a 37.9/year average. That average means 1 in 180,746 Americans will be killed by lightning. And that actually is less likely even than being killed by a dog, which is 1 in 118,776!
Ok, to be fair American citizens killed by anything means we take the population total and divide by recorded deaths. The resulting number really shouldn’t be substituted for a probability because factors creep in.
Do you swim every day with sharks? Things like that make better factoring for probability.
Speaking of swimming with sharks then, here is another example of shark reality, as written by Sune Nightingale:
On a dive one day Cristina Zenato noticed a hook inside a shark’s mouth. In the end she just stuck her hand in and pulled it out. From that moment on the shark changed her behaviour and would show up on the dive and allow Cristina to stroke her, and would give Cristina a little nudge on the hip as if to say “hey I’m here”
Then other sharks started showing up wanting hooks removed…..Cristina now has a box of over 300 removed hooks.
“This is a wild animal and she’s giving me full trust…….It is something to be absolutely in awe of no matter how many times it happens …..what I developed is an appreciation for their vulnerability.”
Really changes your perception of sharks doesn’t it to see one being so cuddly and kind?
Again the odds of an American being killed by shark are about 1 in 3.7 million for everyone in the general population. It’s super remote on a generic predictive scale prone to error.
Yet here we see the odds of being killed by a shark actually even MORE remote, reaching towards zero for someone swimming with them constantly. They seem to love her and trust her.
The author of Jaws expressed his deep regrets for writing such a dangerous fiction, but obviously it did little to change the disinformation effect of his book and the movie.
“Spielberg certainly made the most superb movie; Peter was very pleased,” Wendy Benchley told Associated Press. “But Peter kept telling people the book was fiction, it was a novel, and that he took no more responsibility for the fear of sharks than Mario Puzo took responsibility for the Mafia,” she said, referring to Puzo’s screenplay and novel “The Godfather.”
“Jaws” was “entirely fiction,” Peter Benchley repeated in a London Daily Express article that appeared last week.
“Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today,” said Benchley, who also co-wrote the screenplay for “Jaws.” “Sharks don’t target human beings, and they certainly don’t hold grudges.”
Americans target sharks and hold grudges against them. Not the other way around.
As I am sure many of you know, a racist white male executive at Disneyland “created” Doritos to crush the Hispanic local tortilla chip inventor (Rebecca Carranza) and drive her family business under.
The headline in Popular Mechanics magazine saluted a manufacturing triumph in Los Angeles: “Tortillas Meet the Machine Age.” It was 1950, and the El Zarape Tortilla Factory, among the first to automate the production of tortillas, had used a tortilla-making machine for three years.
Corn and flour disks poured off the conveyor belt more than 12 times faster than they could be made by hand. At first many came out “bent” or misshapen, as company President Rebecca Webb Carranza recalled decades later, and were thrown away.
For a family party in the late 1940s, Carranza cut some of the discarded tortillas into triangles and fried them. A hit with the relatives, the chips soon sold for a dime a bag at her Mexican delicatessen and factory at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Arlington Avenue in southwest Los Angeles.
Ok, let’s be honest. Nobody talks about her or how Disneyland crushed her with intention.
Here’s the Disneyland side of the story just so we’re clear here about racism and appropriation of others’ ideas:
When Disneyland opened [in 1955], it featured a Mexican(ish) restaurant called Casa de Fritos run by the Frito company. It was on New Orleans Street, near another product-placement eatery: Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House. It at the Casa de Fritos that the beloved Dorito was invented. Yes, really. Arch West, the Frito (later Frito-Lay) marketing executive credited with the product’s creation, died in 2011 and was buried with a layer of his tasty legacy sprinkled over his ashes. The Dorito legend varies: one version has it that West discovered tasty tortilla chips at a roadside stand…
The Frito Company “Mexican(ish)” restaurant was NEXT TO AUNT JEMIMA?!
Need I say more about Disneyland executives?
So in 1964 West was running Frito’s “Mexican(ish)” amusement park feature in “Frontierland” and he “discovered” tortilla chips at someone else’s stand that had been popular in Los Angeles since the late 1940s.
He was on a family vacation in Southern California in 1964 when he first bought a grease-smeared bag of toasted tortillas at a roadside shack.
That’s a quote from the Washington Post obituary for Arch West, which apparently didn’t think twice about writing “grease-smeared” to describe Hispanic-Americans (historically a very derogatory term used by racist lynch mobs as well as California legislators who in a 1855 “Greaser Law” criminalized “Spanish and Indian blood”).
West shamelessly copied the Carranza product and gave no money or credit to the inventor, let alone the stand.
But wait, let’s go back a step into Frito Company history where West was an executive.
Frito was a company started by a white man who “discovered” corn chips made and sold by someone else.
In 1932, C.E. Doolin entered a small San Antonio cafe and purchased a bag of corn chips. After learning the manufacturer was eager to sell his business, he bought the recipe and started making Fritos corn chips in his mother’s kitchen.
Do you believe Doolin “bought the recipe”?
I mean did Doolin while living with his mother and selling depression-era ice cream really fork out $100 in the middle of the great depression ($1500 today) for the recipe from his former boss (contrary to the story he just happened upon a newspaper ad, or just walked into a cafe one day)?
…purchased from Gustavo Olguin, a Mexican-American restaurant owner in San Antonio, where Doolin had worked as a fry cook. Olguin’s “fritos” (the name came from the Spanish word frit, meaning fried) were small fried corn chips made from masa dough. Doolin bought the recipe, Olguin’s hand-operated potato ricer, and nineteen customer accounts for the snack, all for $100.
And what made Gustavo Olguin rush to sell his “corn chips” business, hand over all his paying customers and flee to Mexico just as chips and snack foods were becoming widely popularized?
Ring any bells yet, or is there a feeling of denial?
Many violent coups were perpetrated by white nationalists after civil war who were angry about losing in 1865 and angry that black and brown people gained rights; coups manifested in attacks on anti-racist Americans to prevent them from reaching or holding public office.
The KKK threatened that March 4, 1869 — first day of rule by avowed racist presidential candidate Horatio Seymour — would bring widespread lynchings of white Americans if the losing candidate Seymour wasn’t planted into the White House.
The KKK instead was destroyed by President Grant’s “let us have peace” platform after he won the Presidency in a landslide.
It was after this a Princeton professor named Woodrow Wilson in 1902 published a book that fraudulently described Civil War as simply a matter of white men wanting their independence — completely ignoring the official and very obvious statements of reason made in the actual articles of secession (i.e. maintenance and extension of slavery):
It was necessary [for the United States defending itself] to put the South at a moral disadvantage by transforming the contest from a war waged against states fighting for their independence into a war waged against states fighting for the maintenance and extension of slavery.
Wilson’s writing was so very patently false and wrong, an intentional disinformation campaign intended to harm democracy, as to beg the question how Princeton could have allowed the man to continue teaching.
It ranks right up there with Wilson’s protests against Congress because he saw it becoming too representative and diverse, recommending instead the U.S. shift into some kind of fast-moving all-powerful executive system.
Instead of firing him, however, Princeton promoted him to be their President.
Fast forward to 1915 and Woodrow Wilson had been elected President of the US (in 1912, by a mere 42% of the vote) and sat in the White House. On February 18 of 1915 he infamously screened a propaganda hate film called “Birth of a Nation” by his friend and former classmate (based on “The Clansman” book), calling its obvious lies “true” — giving it his blessing.
This was a complete reversal from Grant’s “let us have peace” time in office.
Even if cities chose to allow a spread of violent disinformation, cities also fought over bans meant to prohibit blacks from seeing the film (isolating and enabling white-only audiences to spread disinformation faster even framing hate as art to evade censors).
As a young journalist in the late 1970s, Lehr infiltrated the local Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for a story. He met their leader at the time, David Duke, who was there to recruit the next wave of Klansmen. “[Duke’s] idea of a meeting was to show this film, in which he stood there narrating it and adding his own very racist spin on events. And that’s when it hit me: the real propaganda value for the Klan, not only way back when but here it was, like, six, seven decades later,” says Lehr. And while civil rights leaders in 1915 tried to get the film banned entirely, The Birth of a Nation is still taught in film schools.
That is a notable comparison to today’s disinformation debates by itself, yet even more relevant is a Wilson speech a few months after the film had been running, on July 11, 1915 at the 25th anniversary convention in DC of the Daughters of the American Revolution (“Mothers of Fascism“).
Wilson encapsulated his racist sentiments in a particular motto that he gave in that 1915 speech, which became his 1916 election platform:
Our whole duty for the present is summed up in the motto ‘America First.’
W.E. DuBois at this time, noting that more lynchings happened in 1915 than the ten years prior combined and rueful that he had been fooled to help put a white supremacist in office, described Wilson’s method for transfer of power in America as a return to…
…cruelty, discrimination and wholesale murder.
“America First” entered service as a battle flag of white power groups who believe the enemy of America is any non-white (white power over the nation is diminished — leading to feelings of loss and guilt — by any other race gaining some).
This history of violence under Wilson’s “America First” and since then, the symbolism and a run of coups in America, should be treated as very important history for every citizen to know. It should be mandatory history in schools, like how America forced German children to learn about the holocaust.
New Deal and Cold War liberal internationalism may have been the exception and [racist, white supremacist ideology of the Ku Klux Klan] America First may be the norm.
Perhaps more to the point the “America First” platform has continued unabated as a toxic “grievance” signal of white nationalists/isolationists:
It was used by supporters of President Woodrow Wilson during the 1916 election to defend his decision at that time to keep America out of the First World War; by Republican President Warren Harding in the 1920s to reject Wilson’s call for the United States to join the League of Nations; and by the America First Committee in September 1940 opposing President Franklin Roosevelt’s assistance to Britain in the face of Hitler’s aggression. Most recently it was used by presidential candidate and former Nixon aide Pat Buchanan in 1992, opposing George HW Bush’s decision to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and further calling for a withdrawal of all US troops from Europe.
Even Trump himself back in 2000 released a statement that he wouldn’t want to associate with “losers” in America such as Pat Buchanan, calling him a Neo-Nazi and at the same time very clearly calling David Duke out as a Klansman:
…David Duke has decided to join the Reform Party to support the candidacy of Pat Buchanan. So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman — Mr. Duke, a Neo-Nazi — Mr. Buchanan…
This attack on these two men probably is read most accurately as Trump distancing himself from hate groups during times of exception. He appears to be saying he wouldn’t join with Nazis and KKK at the time he thought they were going to lose an election; in fact meaning Trump would be very glad to join these hate groups if guaranteed a win (returning to the norm).
Thus we saw in 2016 the Trump family did just that, and very openly claimed the KKK/Nazi’s tainted “America First” banner as their own platform. The soft/silent coup had begun.
“I like the expression,” the candidate said. “I’m ‘America First.'”
Suddenly, without any real explanation, the banner of losers was being held up by “winners”.
Everyone plainly saw something was unusual in early 2017 and started to debate who supported such an odd transfer of power, who really made it happen. My tweets about American history, to explain what “America First” really means, were getting record levels of attention.
Unfortunately mainstream commentators never got to the point of asking the most important question: whether “America First” entering the White House could be a coup, which I had called out immediately.
Forbes was the same man who in the 1988 presidential election had managed the campaign for David Duke (infamous for “Nazification” methods intended to grow KKK membership in America).
Read that closely because “America First” in 1996 ran a self-avowed Nazi as their candidate and had 0% of the vote. Then twenty years later in 2016 they held a parade to empty stands in Washington DC claiming a large support base.
Want to guess why the Trump family regularly waffled when asked to denounce or distance themselves from David Duke? Sadly nobody asked them to denounce or distance themselves from “America First”!
Whereas in 2000 Trump went out of his way to label Duke a loser (as well being as a Klansman), in 2016 he tried to play around like he never heard of the guy (as horribly mis-reported by Politifact, who fell for the ruse).
…Trump dodged multiple questions from Tapper asking if he’d disavow the support of white supremacist and former KKK leader David Duke (he would later blame a “bad earpiece” for his noncommittal answers).
Thus I argue (and have said since that time) that we actually saw a coup in America back in 2016 and these last four years have been little more than an idiotic bumbling attempt by wannabe tinpot dictators to figure out how to close the door on democracy.
The Far Side perhaps a long time ago best illustrated the assault on the capitol:
I’ve been asked to write this into longer form so maybe I will shortly.
Related: If you’re searching for details on prior coups, they are easy to find.
Georgia Republicans elected three Black state senators and 30 state representatives in 1868. White insecurity forces rushed to remove them from power and then kill anyone protesting the coup, as well as destroying and suppressing votes, after a Camilla massacre:
In early September, white Democrats in the Georgia legislature expelled all 28 African-American members. In response, one of the expelled members, Philip Joiner from southwest Georgia, led several hundred freedmen on a March from Albany to Camilla for a Republican rally. As the marchers entered the courthouse square, the sheriff and other local white residents opened fire, killing a dozen and wounding thirty others.
After a contested 1872 election for governor of Louisiana and local offices, a group of white Democrats with rifles and a small cannon overpowered Republican freedmen, state militia and even federal troops sent by President Grant to support the elected official.
Upon surrender most Americans were murdered by domestic terrorists (e.g. “White League“) and then 50 more were murdered later that night after being held prisoner for hours. Death estimates for this “Colfax massacre” on Sunday, April 13, 1873 were hard because the terrorists used hidden mass graves and threw many victims into the river.
The Colfax Massacre was more or less ignored until the 1920s, when local officials raised a monument honoring the three white men who died [while massacring hundreds of Americans and destroying the evidence].
The 1874 New Orleans violent coup attempt by the “White League” should be mandatory reading for any American class on history:
After cutting the city’s telegraph lines and killing at least thirteen members of the integrated New Orleans police force, the White League overran the state house and attempted to establish a new government. After three days, President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the U.S. Army to put down the rebellion and the elected government was restored.
For another example, the horrors from a successful 1898 Coup continue to be felt to this day.
…summer of 1865, just after the Civil War, Union commanders in the battered port city of Wilmington, N.C., appointed a former Confederate general as police chief and former Confederate soldiers as policemen. The all-white force immediately set upon newly freed Black people. Men, women and children were beaten, clubbed and whipped indiscriminately… One of the most terrifying examples erupted more than a century ago, when white supremacist soldiers and police helped hunt down and kill at least 60 Black men in Wilmington in 1898.
Queen Liliuokalani was of the belief that the then president of the U.S. would reinstate her as queen, however, President Grover Cleveland deceived her by promising her a reinstatement after she granted amnesty to all those who had been involved in the coup.
Republican former President George W. Bush even said “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic—not our democratic republic”.
Yet those “banana republics” got their name as a direct result of American foreign policy on regime change! His comment sounds like “this is what we do to others, not ourselves” given the sad fact it’s why Americans love eating their banana splits.
Even Bush should remember 1954 shootings or the 1978 shootings, both very recent and sad chapters in violent opposition to American transfer of power. I guess I should ask how many people today remember “the people’s mayor” Moscone?
And for those saying 2016 or 2020 wasn’t related to a coup, and offering us some very misguided analysis (e.g. Defense One has an awful hot take that they see no signs the military was involved, despite obvious and overwhelming evidence), I offer you this humorous example of what that “no true Scotsman” logical fallacy sounds like to me:
Update January 12:
Now This has posted a brief video collection with some of the many violent incitement statements by Trump directly calling for harm to Americans.
Based on a CSIS data set of terrorist incidents, the most significant threat likely comes from white supremacists… right-wing attackers were most likely to cause more deaths in a given year.
Update February 2:
I’ve been asked (by a cryptography researcher, for what it’s worth) if I can explain why Wikipedia makes a strangely unsubstantiated claim that Wilson opposed the KKK, given its obvious falseness.
Look very closely at that highlighted sentence before the semicolon (click image to enlarge) as it has no reference.
Nobody in their right mind should be able to get on Wikipedia and plainly assert Wilson, the first President elected from the pro-slavery secessionist states since the Civil War, was opposed to the very thing he grew massively during his presidency and afterwards.
Later in the sentence it has a reference to a book by a man from North Carolina who was a professor at Princeton. Conflict of interest maybe?
This is why Wikipedia can slide into a propaganda system. Who wrote that sentence? When and why? Very dangerous stuff, as it creates a lot of unnecessary churn and conflict by throwing an obviously false statement into a supposedly reputable “pedia” site.
Maybe someone is sitting back and laughing about such an absurd phrase inserted, while many people have to waste untold hours cleaning it up and explaining why it’s false.
I have seen no evidence to even suggest Wilson opposed the KKK. None. At best he didn’t want the KKK to get in the way of him recruiting and sending non-whites to fight in WWI.
Let me put it like this:
President Grant, upon reports of the KKK acts of violence against Americans, passed an act to destroy them.
President Wilson, with all the history of the KKK before him (and in his own writings) sat unopposed to its extremely rapid growth during his administration, despite all measures available to him to stop it dead like Grant.
A movie glorifying the KKK is screened in the White House, using President Wilson’s words and then promoted under President Wilson’s name with little to no resistance at all from Wilson.
Come on. Someone really wants to say he was opposed to this yet didn’t lift a finger?
The first peak of the KKK was 1868 (end of Civil War) to 1870 (given President Grant’s decisive actions to destroy it). Wilson would have been 15 years old at this time and very well aware of the need for America to crush the KKK.
Instead the second peak came squarely during the time of President Wilson (his terms were 1912-1916 and 1916-1920), with an alleged peak of 6 million members in the 1920s following his administration.
Indeed, someone at Wikipedia is bending themselves into a pretzel to fraudulently explain away the obvious racist politics of Wilson, let alone his obvious support and growth of the KKK. Why? Who? Wikipedia is seriously untrustworthy and flawed.
I’ve written about Thanksgiving history here many times (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.
The majority of schools in the area reported higher-than-average student absenteeism due to flu symptoms. Only one school didn’t: The one with the fish tanks. “It really stood out”…
Keeping fish tanks gives new meaning to “defense in depth”.
…it’s important not to think of humidification as any sort of magical fix. You still have to wear a mask and wash your hands and stay socially distant and avoid crowded indoor spaces. “Any one of those alone is not enough,” he says. “But each one is like a card that you’re putting into a deck to stack the odds in your favor.”
I probably should have put a spoiler alert in the title.
A brand new 2020 report from the British Royal Air Force (RAF) warns that they were able to use a swarm of “affordable off-the-shelf decoy to wreak havoc on enemy integrated air defense systems.”
“During the demonstration, a number of Callen Lenz drones were equipped with a modified Leonardo BriteCloud decoy, allowing each drone to individually deliver a highly-sophisticated jamming effect,” according to Leonardo’s press release. “They were tested against ground-based radar systems representing the enemy air defence emplacement. A powerful demonstration was given, with the swarm of BriteCloud-equipped drones overwhelming the threat radar systems with electronic noise.”
You may be wondering if this is the first successful test by an air force of affordable off-the-shelf decoys wreaking havoc on air defense systems.
To answer that quickly, I present to you an account of decoys in a 1946 report called “Paper Bullets” from the United States Office of War Information.
A Mitchell bomber crew, which had been bombing Italian rail communications carried a couple of bundles of leaflets and some wine bottles every time they went out to bomb. Questioned by a psychological warfare officer, who failed to find this particular plane on his schedule, one member of the crew replied: “This is psychological warfare, Mac. Before we hit the target we take a fake bomb run over the nearest flak crew and throw these bottles and the leaflets out. They whistle just like bombs and the flak crew takes cover. Then we go on and bomb as per schedule.”
Set aside the point that maybe the crew was joking and they came up with a funny story to hide the fact that they were alcoholics or at least drank a lot of wine while flying as some form of self-medication.
The idea of dropping whistling bomb decoys over air defense units makes a lot of sense, and wine bottles might disintegrate or disappear enough to avoid suspicion of decoys.
RAND’s first attempt to model a nuclear strategy ignored so many key variables that it nonsensically called for deploying a fleet of aging turboprop bombers that carried no bombs because the United States did not have enough fissile material to arm them; the goal was simply to overwhelm Soviet air defenses, with no regard for the lives of the pilots.
Looking back again, the 1946 Paper Bullets view of the world ends with these questions:
We are very well aware that the right words properly put together, delivered at the right spot at the right moment, can capture and kill. Why not use words and ideas as an instrument of peace, rather than as an instrument of death? A longing for peace is deep in the hearts of all decent peoples everywhere. There are good arguments for those who insist the best way to maintain the peace is to maintain a war machine to police the world and to keep the peace by force. Why not, then, the establishment of a U.S. Department of Information on the same status as the War Department and the Navy Department? Why not a U.S. Department of Information to police the world with words of truth?
We’ve come a long way from swarms being empty wine bottles, yet it seems also we haven’t moved very far along at all.
And I have to wonder if veterans talking about dropping bottles from planes is the kind of story-telling that inspired the iconic opening scene in The Gods Must be Crazy…
The traditional drop cake (also called drop biscuit) was a popular historic treat in America copied from Europe. However, somehow in America the act of baking a common and popular British drop cake with common and popular chocolate turned into a fancy narrative about how chocolate chip cookies had just been “invented” by a woman in 1938.
Is the invention story true? Are they even American?
Let’s start by scanning through the typical drop cake recipes that can easily be found in the first recipe book publications in English:
1883: Ice-cream and Cakes: A New Collection
1875: Cookery from Experience: A Practical Guide for Housekeepers
1855: The Practical American Cook Book
1824: A New System of Domestic Cookery
1792: The London Art of Cookery
1765: The art of cookery, made plain and easy
Now let’s see the results of such recipes. Thanks to a modern baker who experimented with a 1846 “Miss Beecher’s Domestic Recipe Book” version of drop cake, here we have a picture.
Raisins added would have meant this would be a fruit drop cake (or a fruit drop biscuit). There were many variations possible and encouraged based on different ingredients such as rye, nuts, butter or even chocolate.
Here’s an even better photo to show drop cakes. It’s from a modern food historian who references the 1824 “A New System of Domestic Cookery” recipe for something called a rout cake (rout is from French route, which used to mean a small party or social event).
That photo really looks like a bunch of chocolate chip cookies, right? This food historian even says that herself by explaining “…[traditional English] rout cakes are usually a drop biscuit (cookie)…”.
Cakes are cookies. Got it.
This illustrates quickly how England has for a very long time had “tea cakes with currants”, which also were called biscuits (cookies), and so when you look at them with American eyes you would rightfully think you are seeing chocolate chip cookies. But they’re little cakes in Britain.
More to the point, the American word cookie was derived from the Dutch word koek, which means… wait for it… cake, which also turns into the word koekje (little cake):
Dutcheen koekje van eigen deeg krijgen = a little cake of your own dough (literal) = a taste of your own medicine (figurative)
So the words cake, biscuit and cookie all can refer to basically the same thing, depending on what flavor of English you are using at the time.
Expanding now on the above 1855 recipe book reference, we also see exactly what is involved in baking a drop cake/koekje/cookie:
DROP CAKES: Take three eggs, leaving out one white. Beat them in a pint bowl, just enough. Then fill the bowl even full of milk and stir in enough flour to make a thick, but not stiff batter. Bake in earthen cups, in a quick oven. This is an excellent recipe, and the just enough beating for eggs can only be determined by experience.
DROP CAKES. Take one quart of flour; five eggs; three fourths of a pint of milk and one fourth of cream, with a large spoonful of sifted sugar; a tea-spoon of salt. Mix these well together. If the cream should be sour, add a little saleratus. If all milk is used, melt a dessert-spoonful of butter in the milk. To be baked in cups, in the oven, thirty to forty minutes.
I used the word “exactly” to introduce this recipe because I found it so amusing to read the phrase “just enough” in baking instructions.
Imagine a whole recipe book that says use just enough the right ingredients, mix just enough and then bake just enough. Done. That would be funny, as that’s the exact opposite of how the very exact science of modern baking works.
Bakers are like chemists, with extremely precise planning and actions.
And finally just to set some context for how common it became in America to eat the once-aristocratic drop cakes, here’s the 1897 supper menu in the “General Dining Hall Bill of Fare” from the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers:
Back to the question of chocolate chip cookies versus drop cake, and given all the current worry about disinformation, a story researched on Mental Floss explains that a myth has been created around someone making “Butter Drop Do” and inventing cookies because she accidentally used a “wrong” type of chocolate.
The traditional tale holds that Toll House Inn owner Ruth Wakefield invented the cookie when she ran out of baker’s chocolate, a necessary ingredient for her popular Butter Drop Do cookies (which she often paired with ice cream—these cookies were never meant to be the main event), and tried to substitute some chopped up semi-sweet chocolate instead. The chocolate was originally in the form of a Nestle bar that was a gift from Andrew Nestle himself—talk about an unlikely origin story! The semi-sweet chunks didn’t melt like baker’s chocolate, however, and though they kept their general shape (you know, chunky), they softened up for maximum tastiness. (There’s a whole other story that imagines that Wakefield ran out of nuts for a recipe, replacing them with the chocolate chunks.)
There are three problems with this story.
One, saying “butter drop do cookies” is like saying butter cake do little cakes. That’s hard on the ears. I mean “butter drop do” seems to be some kind of a misprint or a badly scanned script.
This very uniquely named recipe can be found under a cakes category in the 1796 American Cookery book (and don’t forget many drop cake recipe books in England pre-dated this one by decades).
Butter drop do .
No. 3. Rub one quarter of a pound butter, one pound sugar, sprinkled with mace, into one pound and a quarter flour, add four eggs, one glass rose water, bake as No. 1.
The butter drop cake (do?) here appears to be an import of English aristocratic food traditions, which I’ve written about before (e.g. eggnog). But what’s really interesting is this American Cookery book in 1796 is how actual cookie recipes can be found and are completely different from the drop cake (do?) one:
One pound sugar boiled slowly in half pint water, scum well and cool, add two tea spoons pearl ash dissolved in milk, then two and half pounds flour, rub in 4 ounces butter, and two large spoons of finely powdered coriander seed, wet with above; make roles half an inch thick and cut to the shape you please; bake fifteen or twenty minutes in a slack oven–good three weeks.
And that recipe using pearl ash (early version of baking powder) is followed by “Another Christmas Cookey”. So if someone was knowingly following the butter drop cake (do?) recipe instead, they also knew it was explicitly not called a cookie by the author.
Someone needs to explain why the chocolate chip cookie “inventor” was very carefully following a specific cake/koekje recipe instead of a cookie one yet called her “invention” a cookie.
Two, chocolate chips in a drop cake appear almost exactly like drop cakes have looked for a century, with chips or chunks of sweets added. How inventive is it really to use the popular chocolate in the popular cake and call it a cookie?
Three, as Mental Floss points out, the baker knew exactly what she was doing when she put chocolate in her drop cakes and there was nothing accidental.
The problem with the classic Toll House myth is that it doesn’t mention that Wakefield was an experienced and trained cook—one not likely to simply run out of things, let accidents happen in her kitchen, or randomly try something out just to see if it would end up with a tasty result. As author Carolyn Wyman posits in her Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book, Wakefield most likely knew exactly what she was doing…
She was doing what had been done many times before, adding a sweet flavor to a drop cake, but she somehow then confusingly marketed it a chocolate chip cookie. I mean she came up with a recipe sure, but did she really invent something extraordinary?
Food for thought: is the chocolate chip cookie really just Americans copying unhealthy European habits (i.e. tipping) to play new world aristocrats instead of truly making something new and better?
What about the chocolate chip itself? Wasn’t that at least novel as a replacement for the more traditional small pieces of sweet fruit? Not really. The chocolate bar, which precipitated the chips, has been credited in 1847 to a British company started by Joseph Storrs Fry.
Thus it seems strange to say that an American putting a British innovation (chocolate bar chips) into a British innovation (drop cake/biscuit/cookie) is an American invention, as much as it is Americans copying and trying to be more like the British.
The earliest recipe I’ve found that might explain chocolate chip cookies is from 1912 (20 years before claims of invention) in “The Twentieth Century Book for the Progressive Baker, Confectioner, Ornamenter and Ice Cream Maker: The Most Up-to-date and Practical Book of Its Kind” by Fritz Ludwig Gienandt.