Category Archives: History

“Could Better Technology Protect Privacy when a Crisis Requires Enhanced Knowledge”

I gave this presentation for the Atlantic Council and Accenture. From the Atlantic Council site:

On Wednesday, 17 June 2020, the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center and Accenture held the second episode of the jointly presented Data Salon Series, featuring a presentation from Mr. Davi Ottenheimer, Vice President of Trust and Digital Ethics at Inrupt, that prompted animated discussion among participants about the nature of privacy, consent, and responsibility. The event focused on how our understanding of privacy and its preservation affects our ability to temporarily compromise it in the interest of addressing crises. These issues are particularly relevant to the ongoing pandemic, and their intersections with other topics—integrating different cultural priorities and expectations of privacy, ensuring data is truly representative of a diverse population, and examining the nuanced relationships between privacy, knowledge, and power—are especially timely.

Check out their full write-up on my presentation as they kindly have posted the survey results, slides as well as this recording of the talk with Q&A

American Frontier History is Poisoned by Losers of Civil War

Information warfare in America has continued almost non-stop since the late 1700s when abolition of slavery began to expand around the world. There has been a concerted effort by white supremacists to erase the reality of who really did what, where and when.

One of the most dramatic expressions of this is the mythology of the “frontiersman” of America. I say mythology because, truth be told, there were very blurred groups in the 1800s who drove western expansion far more than only white men.

The harsh frontier was largely explored by those furthest from the mainstream culture (seeking new lives and smashing a glass ceiling such as entrepreneurial women, freed slaves, mixed-races, convicts). This should come as common sense, since you can imagine who would take the most risks when there was no guarantee of rewards.

“The Revenant” story is a good example of this, as the true story was a very diverse group of non-whites and outcasts. A wall-street banker bored with his job picked the story up and rewrote it as a very loaded white man against nature narrative, which unfortunately was widely read and turned into a disgusting movie full of disgusting falsehoods and degrading imagery (innocent white man has to battle against non-whites, animals, women… to survive and conquer).

I assure you white men in comfortable settings didn’t say they’d throw it all away just to expand and explore new spaces for the sake of it. Think about motivations and you can see white men would go when the odds were more in their favor, which in fact usually meant many other people doing the work for them — they didn’t play fair.

It didn’t always mean white men shirked hard work. One example of that is Ulysses S. Grant who has been portrayed as a failure in business, when in fact he was really a do-it-yourself hard-working independent man. He freed his only slave and faced challenges alone. And yet his image, especially as told by the losers of the Civil War, is being tarnished unfairly as someone who struggled.

Think hard about that fact that the best evidence of an American white man (a hero really) doing hard work himself to be a truly “made man” has been viciously and falsely characterized by historians as a failure. In other words the people lauding some for the “fail faster” culture should embrace Grant, and yet you see them distanced and aloof. There’s a subtle reason for this.

On the flip side the complex narratives of success have often been unfairly replaced with a deceptive binary one — successful white men were hardworking even when everyone else was their property/prize and did the actual work.

Confusing matters is the fact that evidence pops up of white men bifurcating from others in the records of westward migration. Those taking the Oregon trail, for example, are described as those who tended to be families who would abide by regulations (e.g. religion and law) settled in with local populations. Those headed to California in contrast were predominantly single white men who waged an all out war on people and nature.

Bifurcation like this tends to end up being an oversimplification that doesn’t quite fit (Oregon was site of mass atrocities and some parts of California became preserves). It does show however a simple good/bad framework of settlement does manifest from a grain of truth as it feeds into narratives told by the self-appointed “good” story-tellers.

Here’s another way of looking at that bifurcation. In one infamous case a white man brought his slaves with him to California to seek gold and when none was found he abandoned them there and went back to a southeastern state. His freed slaves then found gold on their own and… that white man sued them, claiming two Americans and their gold should be seen as his property.

So when people describe the California trail as “single white men”, which it definitely had a lot of, keep in mind they may be (even unintentionally) erasing several or many team members carrying a “single” person on their shoulders.

Really this problem is rooted even deeper in American history. Slavery was banned in the colonial time (prior to 1750) and yet some settlers saw their role in a revolutionary war to expand slavery. Americans saw England making noises about abolition, even banning it in the latest colonies, and aimed to fight and keep slavery going.

This is why abolition arrived in some American states by 1820s in-line with the rest of the world, and a spirit of hard work became foundational. Whereas in Mexico a flood of white men settled and complained bitterly that frontier life was too harsh for white people to survive without slaves.

When I say Mexico, I mean Texas, the area these white men immigrated into then violently seceded, calling itself a “lone star” because it aimed for a white supremacists nation, to keep oppression and slavery going even if it meant being the last slave state in the world.

It is no coincidence that the sole survivor from the white supremacists side of battle at the Alamo was a slave. Mexican forced liberated that black man and killed his oppressors. “Remember the Alamo” really means don’t forget the battle for slavery that was lost when white people were defeated and their slave was set free.

This is all a long pre-text to set the background properly before reading a new article in the FT by a Texas historian, called “Americans want to be free to be stupid

Freedom comes with responsibility. Being stupid is irresponsible. Does being free to be stupid therefore violate the principles of freedom?

The FT article skips right over the crucial fact that Texas “exceptionalism” and “frontier” spirit meant slavery.

Again, Texas was Mexico until white immigrants came with slaves and said no white man could survive the harsh conditions without non-whites to do all the hard work for them. They usurped power and seceded from Mexico (and later from America) just to avoid hard work and keep slaves instead.

Being “free to be stupid” is thus a dog-whistle to slavery, which is not freedom at all. It really means doing harm to others in the most selfish way possible.

This article also erases the significant role of women in the frontier, as men not only looked up to them but treated them as superiors and often substituted them for judge (where none could be found) in disputes.

“Madonna of the Trail” is such a memorial just outside Custer’s base camp in Kansas (just one of twelve placed along National Road US40, the first interstate highway established by act of Congress in 1806 and expanded 1926).

Madonna of the Trail, facing West alone with her rifle and children

Commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which had a well-deserved reputation for racism, every single statue is identical and unfortunately depicts only a white woman:

  1. Springfield OH – July 4, 1928
  2. Wheeling WV – July 7, 1928
  3. Council Grove KS – Sept 7, 1928
  4. Lexington, MO – Sept 17, 1928
  5. Lamar, CO – Sept 24, 1928
  6. Albuquerque, NM – Sept 27, 1928
  7. Springerville, AZ – Sept 29, 1928
  8. Vandalia, IL – Oct 26, 1928
  9. Richmond IN – Oct 28, 1928
  10. Beallsville, PA – Dec 8, 1928
  11. Upland, CA – Feb 1, 1929
  12. Bethesda, MD – April 19, 1929

It’s not expected to see history told by the FT in such a way that leaves out minorities and women. However it must be recognized more widely how this is continuation of information warfare methods in America that go all the way back to the late 1700s.

Some white men tend to claim to be doing hard work while erasing the fact that their privilege means the work is being done for them without real cost/responsibility.

Avoiding the true history of Texas and the role of women is precisely why this FT article is bunk. You can’t separate them. When “free to be stupid” means a privilege that translates direct to harms to others (e.g. human trafficking and slavery is stupid) that’s not real freedom, it’s oppression.

Calling stupid a freedom, when it means whites stupidly harming blacks, is the continuation of information warfare.

Is Lyft Based on Apartheid’s “Lift System”?

When I visited Lyft HQ when it first opened, they had a large mural timeline of their origin story that went something like this:

In 2006 Logan Green went to Zimbabwe and observed a system of crowd-sourced carpool networks. He came back to America and made a copy he called Zimride (Zimbabwe Ride).

I’ll never forget being in the office (for meetings) and having staff relate this mural story to me, because they said their founder vacationed in Africa after college and marveled at the “safety” of private drivers; white parents having a method of ride-sharing their kids to school (called the “lift system” in South Africa).

The Lyft staff didn’t say the exact word apartheid, of course, because they were blandly relating Rhodesian transportation history as if it were like any other system. It was based on white families driving their children to elitist schools, but that’s not how they framed it.

Anyway this Lyft story telling of their “safe” transport system origins from Africa raised alarms for me, given context of Zimbabwean history.

I also noticed the company seems to tell a very different story to the press, claiming their founder was just an admirer of taxis.

Zimride, in fact, is not a derivation of Zimmer’s name but a riff on Zimbabwe, where Green, now CEO, had observed the local propensity for ridesharing in minivan taxis.

This press brief makes no sense at all when you think about it even a little.

First, Lyft never attempted to work with taxis in America. From the start the company was billed as a whole alternative to taxis systems, so why would they say they liked African taxis?

More to the point who comes back from a vacation to an African country with the idea for a wealthy white person alternative to taxis in America? Does that really sound like observing Zimbabwean minivan taxis?

This kind of narrative disconnect between internal and external statements was highlighted in 2017 when Lyft eventually came around to launching a private “bus” service. I mean why didn’t they start with minivan taxis if that’s what they observed?

Anyway, eleven years late, their approach didn’t escape some predictable and obvious criticisms.

The Lyft Shuttle is pretty much a glorified city bus — with fewer poor people. The ride-sharing company’s much-hyped shuttle service seems designed to segregate transit customers by class.

A privilege bus.

Second, ride-sharing in minivan taxis (even pickups beds) has been a global phenomenon of efficient transport, not a concept unique to Zimbabwean culture. There must have been something unique to Zimbabwe being the origin story, aside from minivan taxis.

I’ve traveled all over the world in the minivan/microbus/kombi taxi and similar. From Poland to Indonesia, Zimbabwe to Philippines … you can find vehicles carrying 8-12 people running regular routes. When I was at EMC in 2012 I even worked with security systems to help make Pakistan’s “pink bus” safer (women only, with women guards riding and cameras) .

This is because a modern private micro bus naturally evolved by community-led transit planners to be an optimal solution on a development path towards achieving higher-volume buses or trains (a step on the way moving people further away from cars).

Lyft doesn’t fit that model, not at all. They started with cars where drivers were “safe” as if your friend or on your “side”, pandering openly to wealthy young white professionals and kids in school. That’s the apartheid white parents car-sharing story.

Due to congestion Zimbabwe in 2020 banned the private commuter omnibuses (kombis) that Lyft originally claimed to have been based upon. The gov only allows them to operate under a regulated national United Passenger Company (Zupco) franchise.

Again, a micro bus taxi service is not even close to what Lyft initially was planning, so the more likley Zimbabwean root is the Rhodesian/South African “lift system”.

After observing the micro bus taxis on predictable routes, CEO Green did the opposite and put passengers in the front seat of small cars on unrestricted paths. It sounds more like a trip to Zimbabwe left the founder thinking “how can I setup a service so white people like me can avoid crowded public transit such as the Zimbabwean taxi bus system”.

Anyway 2013 the founder decided to rename his original creation “Lyft”, the same as the apartheid “lift system” white parents used to shuttle their racist families and avoid the black taxis. The renaming meant a complete jettison of the Zimbabwe reference as the original name was sold to Enterprise.

The African root reference only lived on with that painted mural in the office, which I only happened to see because they invited me inside and told me a wild yet inconsistent story of appropriation. They’ve since moved their HQ and evidence of the mural is surely long gone.

You might be thinking the link to apartheid’s “lift system” is uncanny, yet insufficient on its own as just a coincidental name.

Let me now also poke here at the issue of a pink “carstache” wired to the front of original Lyft vehicles.

Lyft drivers reported overheating issues and car damage from blocking the radiator.

They were explained to me as highly distinguishable “safety” marketing for ride shares. It supposedly was meant to give riders obvious physical safety signaling. And yet anyone could buy one and celebrities promoted owning them.

A person who would dare to put a big pink thing on their car (remember the “pink bus” in 2012 Pakistan?) was advertised as someone who wouldn’t be physically dangerous to Lyft’s target population (white women).

…little-known fact: The bright pink color was inspired not only by the founders’ desire to seem friendly and bold, but also to make their branding a bit less masculine than competitors, and nod to their very welcome view toward female passengers and drivers, as well as emphasis on safety for women.

“Funny” big pink facial features when you meet your driver may instead read to some as two white guys’ doing some really insensitive appropriation of imagery in black culture. Look at the top lip in this iconic anti-black image:

Lyft adapted historic anti-black imagery as their signal for white women to feel welcome and safe

And notice how even Uber tried to portray Lyft’s requirement that riders must fist-bump drivers.

What’s so weird about requiring Lyft riders to do a fist-bump?

…the pound is “a gesture of solidarity and comradeship… also used in a celebratory sense and sometimes as a nuanced greeting among intimates and/or those with a shared social history”. They trace that history in mainstream black culture to the Sixties, when African-American soldiers fighting in Vietnam used the dap… fists meet vertically, one above the other.

I wonder if Lyft had anyone black in executive management on board with the big pink mustache/lip and forced fist-bump concepts. I found their 2018 diversity report illuminating, given they were on a massive hiring spree doubling the size of the company and yet had 0% black staff in technical leadership.

Speaking of which, did you know a whopping “75% of white Americans have no friends of color at all.”

Even worse, as you might guess from a company started by a white college grad unwittingly claiming inspiration from apartheid who partnered with a Wall Street banker, Lyft has been widely implicated in systemic victimization of women.

A single SF driver repeatedly attacked women over five years before police managed to track him down. That’s just one of literally thousands of their unsafe ride-share cases highlighted by 20 women suing the company.

“Lyft has been aware of the staggering number of assaults and rapes that occur in their vehicles for years. They continue to conceal those numbers from the public and Lyft customers,” Bomberger said in a statement. “That is not a commitment to safety. It is a commitment to profits.”

Obviously Lyft has totally obliterated their origin story now. You won’t find them speaking of Africa or the white woman “safety” angle in the same way. They now downplay the big pink face features, quit the fist-bump, and strut about like ride-sharing was just something they invented while bored and traveling around California.

It may be important to revisit the whole origin story again, however, as researchers have been looking more deeply at the decision algorithms and continue to reveal racism in ride-sharing platforms.

…fares tended to be higher for drop-offs in Chicago neighborhoods with high non-white populations…an earlier report published in October 2016 by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found in the cities of Boston and Seattle male riders with African American names were 3 times more likely to have rides canceled and wait as much as 35% longer for rides.

Confederate Names Erase History: Removing Them is a Restoration Project

Confederate memorials in prominent areas are a form of domestic terror tactics, like racist graffiti denigrating the American landscape.

They are akin to someone putting up a statue of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, or naming the streets after them, right in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Who would do such a thing?

McVeigh and Nichols would. Does that mean they should be allowed to do it, or that people should avoid removing some monument to terrorism put up by the terrorists or their descendants? No. We would take them down.

What would their statues be for?

We have to ask the simple question whether the statues represent the worst of people. In other words are they known for horrible things primarily and is that the purpose of the statue?

Have you ever heard of McVeigh except as a result of his terrorism?

More to the point did General Bragg ever do anything worth celebrating in his career or was he only the guy hated by everyone, known to even shoot his own soldiers in the back during his failed attempts to expand his love of slavery?

General Bragg was considered the worst strategist in Civil War, if not the worst human being. Brutal slaveholder, miserable to his own troops and hated by all. Nobody is really willing to explain why his name ended up on a US Army base.

And why should everyone care about these issues? Banksy explains:

At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem. It’s mine. People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. This faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t – no-one will let them in the apartment upstairs. This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.

Confederate celebration and monuments are a rare case of the losers trying to re-write history. They were put up to terrorize Americans in their daily routines.

Leaving them up gives the false impression that white supremacists did not lose their war of aggression against America and allows white power groups to falsely claim their cause of terrorism is validated.

Here’s what you need to know about tearing down prominent Confederate names, statues, memorials and the like:

  • Statues were being pulled down when Confederate ones suddenly went up to replace them the 1900s. Any statue that “looked too Union” was torn down and buried by people pushing the anti-American Confederate narrative.
  • Dedications of the Confederate statues included speeches that celebrated physical attacks that terrorized black women. Here’s a typical one from a statue raised in 1913:

    100 yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.

    Is there really any debate necessary who put these statues up and why, given this is how they were presented in the dedication speech? Do not forget that this kind of violence is an encoded signal for state sanctioned rape of black women by white men, the “economy” of forced birth that America used to domestically generate its four million slaves in the 1800s. Support for that complete madness is the revision to history that these statues are meant to convey — as if white men physically attacking black women is something America is meant to commemorate.

  • Not only did the people putting up Confederate statues tear down ones at the same time, huge memorials also were targeted by them. The leader of the Union army (President Grant) has been systemically denigrated, defaced, defunded and his reputation falsely tarnished with lies by those trying to erase him from history (as revenge, because he not only defeated slaveholders on the battle field, he initiated the Civil Rights movement in American politics).

The push to raise Confederate monuments was an orchestrated effort to erase history and then rewrite it with a loser’s narrative. It perpetuates Civil War and terrorizes Americans in plain sight.

General Lee pleaded with his followers to never raise a memorial to him or his cause of slavery, yet white supremacist groups have ignored his exact orders and disrespectfully done the opposite.

On the 4th of September 1869 Lee declared there should be no monuments to him because Americans should commit to oblivion the feelings of his slaveholder rebellion.

Taking down public Confederate celebrations and signals is a restoration project.

Again Banksy explains:

Here’s an idea that caters for both those who miss the Colston statue and those who don’t. We drag him out the water, put him back on the plinth, tie cable round his neck and commission some life size bronze statues of protestors in the act of pulling him down. Everyone happy. A famous day commemorated.

America should commemorate the act of ending slavery, but also celebrate the act of ending any celebration of slavery. Either rename things with American heroes or modify the name to include context of their defeat by heroes.

Stop the erasure of American history from Confederate graffiti trying to cover up real narratives with racist and false ones. No more context-free commemorations allowed of the failed slaveholder rebellion.

And anyone who openly disagrees with taking down Confederate signals should be drafted into a minimum of two weeks service cleaning and restoring Grant’s tomb.

If you don’t recognize this as easily as the Statue of Liberty or Lincoln’s Memorial, that’s because some Americans have waged a campaign to erase Grant’s Tomb. (1901 Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Remember at the start when I asked “Who would do such a thing?”

I’m talking now specifically about the shocking 75% of white women in America who say they want to keep the ugly Confederate statues.

These white women prove the point made by James Baldwin:

New laws, gestures of sympathy, and acts of racial charity would never suffice to change the course of the country. Something more radical had to be done; a different history had to be told.

Baldwin was saying the real history of America has to be told, which means restoring it from those who have been trying to disgrace and erase it with their Confederate statues.

Ask yourself would you remove Nazi graffiti from a Synagogue, would you remove Nazi graffiti from a US Army base… these answers should be yes, just like they should be yes for tearing down Confederate statues polluting the landscape.


Update: July 8, 2020

FiveThirtyEight project has picked up the story and has this excellent conclusion:

…deeper understanding of their historical context paints a very different picture — these statues were meant to promote white supremacy and intimidate Black people… the narrative has changed to telling history. Who have we left out of history? What history aren’t we telling through the veneration of Confederate leaders?

FiveThirtyEight interactive map of traitor monuments standing (blue) and removed (red) in America

The History Behind Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”

There’s a line “do not obey” within the famous Curtis Mayfield song “Move On Up”.

Take nothing less than the supreme best
Do not obey for most people say
’cause you can pass the test
So what we have to do is
move on up and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme
so keep on pushing

What might “do not obey” refer to?

To start, let’s look all the way back at Woodrow Wilson’s racist “America First” campaign of 1916, which manifested in years of organized white mobs committing widespread violence and terrorizing black neighborhoods.

Historians, for example, might point to the NYC 1917 Silent Parade meant to protest that in America “black skin was death warrant”, or the Chicago 1919 massacre that was part of a “Red Summer” of white supremacist terrorist acts.

This frightful condition continued such that by 1921 all of Tulsa’s black neighborhoods and “Wall Street” were burned to the ground by planes dropping napalm.

Here’s an eyewitness account published by Smithsonian:

I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top…

The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top… ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’

Such attacks literally pushed Americans into mass graves, followed with construction of a KKK convention hall on top of cities ruined by white nationalist terrorism (an early form of racist “urban renewal” politics made famous by Nixon, although he more subtlety used dynamite and bulldozers instead of napalm and planes)…

All of this still is rarely if ever taught in American schools.

Blocked from upward mobility by systemically violent white supremacist mobs — meaning police offered the opposite of help — you perhaps can see exactly why black community protection groups emerged.

In other words, ethnic-based “gangs” were started as a way to enable the kind of peace needed to prosper, by defending American communities against organized white supremacist domestic terrorism.

Although some black gangs likely formed to counter the aggressive white youth, the unorganized black youth were no match for the well-organized, all-white gangs that were centered in their athletic clubs.

Wherever white oppression tactics were found, and police failed in their duties, a gang was likely formed to defend against injustices and thus enable a degree of protection to help enable gains in health, wealth and prosperity.

Catholic (Polish, Irish, German, Italian), Chinese, Jewish and black gangs all were established to protect against American domestic terrorism. These ethnic gangs also fundamentally depended on fund-raising and community support events. It is a fine line obviously between donations and extractions/taxation, given a lack of transparency or legal representation possible in gang systems.

A story from Milwaukee, for example, involves a fund-raising event on a huge boat in Lake Michigan. A violent storm caused a collision that sank the boat and decimated that community by drowning the “Irish Union Guard” abolitionist militia leadership. So many leaders of that one community died in just one fund-raising tragedy, it has been said the entire balance of Milwaukee’s political power abruptly shifted on that day towards German militia running the city.

Another story, this time from Minneapolis, is how Jewish gangsters violently attacked any German “Silver Shirt” militia (Nazi) rally, calling it a “patriotic duty as Americans” to shut-down pro-Hitler influence operations.

Berman learned that Silver Shirts were mounting a rally at a nearby Elks’ Lodge. When the Nazi leader called for all the “Jew bastards” in the city to be expelled, or worse, Berman and his associates burst in to the room and started cracking heads. After ten minutes, they had emptied the hall. His suit covered in blood, Berman took the microphone and announced, “This is a warning. Anybody who says anything against Jews gets the same treatment. Only next time it will be worse.” After Berman broke up two more rallies, there were no more public Silver Shirt meetings in Minneapolis.

Totally defeated on the streets the Silver Shirt members then became the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to gain an unfair advantage over their targets, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Gangs typically dissipated as they become assimilated by mainstream opportunities (upward mobility) in America (even a catholic has been elected President). However America has such high levels of continued oppression of blacks (1950s White House urban renewal was encoded race warfare) it is no wonder black gangs have lingered.

See the film “Rubble Kings” for an excellent look at the socio-economics of how and why New York gangs were formed in the 1960s and what helped them dissipate in the Bronx. Hint: upward mobility through opportunities in music and art, the foundations of today’s rap and hip-hop markets.

With that in mind, let’s look at what Mayfield may have been writing about in his lyrics. The year was 1970 when he released his debut album Curtis, and also when one of the Chicago gangs (Blackstone Rangers) tried to pressure Mayfield to fund them.

He did not obey. Instead he offered them a concert and used his platform to drive a “move on up” message.

He was pushing hope for equality and justice of assimilation that other the races in America were allowed to achieve, leaving behind the need for paying for gang protection from the systemic violence of white power groups.

The Atlantic has described the situation as “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

To make an even finer point on the social power of this song, by 1975 a popular TV show about black “nouveau-riche” prosperity in America, called The Jeffersons, created a theme song called “Movin’ On Up“.

Bletchley Park Codebreaker Obituary: Ann Mitchell

The death of Ann Mitchell, aged 97, was just announced in Edinburgh.

One of only 5 women accepted to read mathematics at Oxford in 1940, she finished her degree a year early and went on to play a key role in Hut 6 “Machine Room” at Bletchley Park.

Hut 6 dealt with the high priority German army and air force codes, most important of which was the “Red” code of the Luftwaffe. They wrote out some of the jumbled nonsense which had been received and underneath wrote a “crib” of the probable German text. Ann’s key role was the next step in breaking the code, composing a menu that showed links between the letters in the text received and the crib, with the more compact the menu, the better. As every code for every unit of the German forces was changed at midnight, each day the work began all over again to identify clues to the new day’s codes. It was an intense intellectual process, working against the clock, and the urgency provided a constant challenge. Ann and her colleagues in Hut 6, most of whom had degrees in economics, law or maths, worked around the clock in shifts, with one free day each week. As the war came to a close, the number of messages declined until there were no more. “I did go up to London for VE Day on 8 May 1945 but I remember very little about the celebrations,” she said. The codebreakers returned to normal life and, having signed the Official Secrets Act and sworn not to divulge any information about her work, Ann never told anyone, not even her husband, about her wartime role.

She led a life of great service delivered quietly — her groundbreaking WWII work in mathematics was not officially recognized until 2009.

Women, whose stories have been told far less widely than the men they worked with, reportedly made up three-quarters of the workforce at Bletchley Park.

Whatever the reason for the remarkable women codebreakers to be rarely mentioned while their male colleagues were profiled, historians lately have been trying to update and correct the message.

Food for thought when you consider the origins of cyber security had such a high percentage of women, and yet in the latest surveys “women accounted for 10% of the cybersecurity workforce in the Asia-Pacific region, 9% in Africa, 8% in Latin America, 7% in Europe and 5% in the Middle East.”

Like many veterans after the war Ann contributed to other areas. She researched social impacts of divorce and made significant contributions to Scots family law, “which ensured that the needs of children were properly taken into account in a divorce settlement”.

The BBC also has details of her life.

NRA Supports Governor’s Capitol Building Gun Ban

I’ve read so many articles about the gun-toting American protesters entering a state capitol building that I’ve lost track of the number. It’s a hot news item for sure. What to do?

However, only very rarely have I seen any mention that the NRA position on this issue has been to ban guns. They backed Governor Ronald Reagan when he said it was a necessary law.

The display so frightened politicians—including California governor Ronald Reagan—that it helped to pass the Mulford Act, a state bill prohibiting the open carry of loaded firearms, along with an addendum prohibiting loaded firearms in the state Capitol. The 1967 bill took California down the path to having some of the strictest gun laws in America and helped jumpstart a surge of national gun control restrictions.

To be fair, Ronald Reagan was a bit of a racist exaggerator, so here’s the Snopes perspective on his rush to ban guns.

“The Black Panthers had invaded the legislative chambers in the Capitol with loaded shotguns and held these gentlemen under the muzzles of those guns for a couple of hours. Immediately after they left, Don Mulford introduced a bill to make it unlawful to bring a loaded gun into the Capitol Building. That’s the bill I signed. It was hardly restrictive gun control.”

[This recount by Ronald Reagan] wasn’t true, however, that the Black Panthers had held legislators “under the muzzles of guns” for hours. They were disarmed by the capitol police soon after entering the building, and, according to most contemporaneous accounts (including that of the Associated Press) were escorted out of the chambers 30 minutes later.

Source: Sacramento Bee

Of course the NRA we know today, as I’ve written elsewhere, remains very much the same organization with the same values as this period in time when it pushed for a ban on guns.

This Day in History: 1812 Luddites Attack a Zoom Mill

“Luddites confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called ‘a fraudulent and deceitful manner’ to get around standard labor practices. ‘They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.’ The British authorities responded by deploying armed soldiers to crush the protests.
On this day in 1812 a group of a hundred or more (some say thousands) Luddites near Manchester attempted to enter Burton’s Mill in protest. Armed guards of the mill as well as British soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd, killing up to a dozen people.

So why were these Luddites protesting and why were they murdered for it?

There’s a common misnomer among those who say Luddites were an anti-technology group, which the Smithsonian fortunately has tried to dispel.

The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn’t really the enemy.

Let me put it like this. To say Luddites were anti-technology is like saying Robin Hood was anti-technology.

Does anyone say “that Robin Hood really hated the bow and arrow”? No. That makes no sense. His story was about the moral use of bow and arrow (disruptive technology of his day, as proven in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt).

Robin Hood was a folk hero who popularly protested the misuse of technology by elites.

Similarly to the legend of Robin Hood, a powerful Ludd character rose out of the Sherwood forest area of Nottingham to fight for morality as a crucial factor in use of technology; Luddites then demanded quality and expertise in tech to be valued above exploitation.

The Luddites therefore were experts at using technology who disliked owners using machinery in ways known to increase death and suffering.

Think of these heavily armed mill owners in 1800s, targeted by Luddites, as the Sheriff of Sherwood Forrest from 400 years earlier. Then ask who really was on the side of the Sheriff in Robin Hood’s time?

Nottingham Forrest Sheriff, known for being “completely unsympathetic to the poverty of the town’s people, using immoral ways to collect taxes”

Or in today’s terms, think of this like people protesting Zoom’s immoral practices. Those (including myself) calling for Zoom usage to be ended immediately until their ethics show signs of improvement… we are not rejecting technology by holding it to a higher bar!

Luddites today would be the ones calling for and end to Zoom’s obviously deceitful and harmful business practices, to make technology safer for everyone.

Those who have been taught that Luddites didn’t like technology have been misled; don’t forget the entire point of a group who righteously protested against technology used immorally (wielded selfishly by owners and with obvious harms).

Even more tragically, people often leave out the fact that Luddites were ruthlessly murdered by factory gunmen and hanged for daring to defend society under a concept of greater good.

In truth, they inflicted less violence than they encountered. In one of the bloodiest incidents, in April 1812, some 2,000 protesters mobbed a mill near Manchester. The owner ordered his men to fire into the crowd, killing at least 3 and wounding 18. Soldiers killed at least 5 more the next day.

Earlier that month, a crowd of about 150 protesters had exchanged gunfire with the defenders of a mill in Yorkshire, and two Luddites died. Soon, Luddites there retaliated by killing a mill owner, who in the thick of the protests had supposedly boasted that he would ride up to his britches in Luddite blood. Three Luddites were hanged for the murder; other courts, often under political pressure, sent many more to the gallows or to exile in Australia before the last such disturbance, in 1816.

At least 8 killed in just one protest. Some estimates are double. But in all cases the government was using overwhelming force.

To be fair, Luddites reportedly also did commit violent acts against people, even though it ran counter their overall goals of social good.

Some claims were made that Luddites intimidated local populations into sheltering and feeding them, similar to charges against Robin Hood. That seems like dubious government propaganda, however, as Luddites were a populist movement and “melting away” was again a sign of popular support rather than violent intimidation tactics.

Indeed, more often there were accounts of Luddites sneaking into factories at night and cleverly taking soldiers’ guns away to destroy only the machines as a form of protest. People were set free and unharmed.

An exception was in the case above where a mill owner “boasted” of murdering Luddites and was arming guards and calling in the military… escalation unfortunately was set on a path where Luddites stepped up their defense/retaliation.

Don’t forget 1812 was a very violent time overall for the British, with tensions rising around inequality (food shortages) and protracted European war (1803–1815), including rising tangles with America over its relations with France.

Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, who extremely opposed the Luddites, was assassinated May 11, 1812 by a merchant named John Bellingham.

Bellingham walked up and shot Perceval point-blank, then calmly sat down on a bench nearby to wait his arrest. Conspiracy theories soon circled, suggesting American merchants and British banks were conspiring to end trade blockades with France.

A month after the May assassination was when the War of 1812 began with America.

All that being said, if you want to ensure technology improves, and doesn’t just exploit unsuspecting consumers to benefit a privileged few, read more about the populist Luddite as well as Robin Hood stories from Nottingham.

These legends represent disadvantaged groups appealing for justice against a tyranny of elites.

Also, consider how “General Ludd” was another fictional character of the Sherwood Forest by design. Here’s a quick Ludd rhyme that was turned into a ticket to entry for meetings.

“This simple stamped ticket with its message showing support for General Ludd would have allowed entrance to one of the local meetings.”

It was his (and Robin Hood’s) inauthenticity, as a face of the very real populist cause that made them impossible to kill.

The legend of Ludd kept “his” cause of justice alive despite overwhelming oppositional military forces. Allegedly British authorities invoked “posse comitatus” (it’s a thing Sheriffs are known to do) and deployed more military soldiers domestically to stop Luddites than during war with Napoleon.

Nottingham took on the appearance of a wartime garrison… authorities estimated the number of rioters at 3,000, but at any one time, no more than 30 would gather…

In American history we have similar heroes, such as the inauthentic yet also real General Tubman. She fought plantation owners in the same sense that Ludd fought mill owners; targeting the immoral use of machinery.

Surely slave owners would have called Tubman an anti-technology radical at war with their manufacturing if they could have made such absurd accusations stick (instead of her being remembered rightly as an American patriot, veteran, abolitionist and human rights champion).

Sadly people incorrectly brand Luddites as anti-technology, when in fact they very much were in favor of proper and skilled use of technology. Hopefully someday soon this chapter in history will stand corrected.

Anonymous Donates Rare Film to Bletchley Park

Codebreakers seen working at Bletchley Park in rare old film reel recently revealed.

Big news from the Park itself:

Dr. David Kenyon, Research Historian at Bletchley Park highlights the rarity of this find: “No other film footage of a site intimately connected with Bletchley Park exists. We don’t know who filmed it and the footage doesn’t gives away any state secrets or any clues about the work the people in it are doing. If it fell into the wrong hands, it would have given little away, but for us today, it is an astonishing discovery and important record of one of the most secret and valuable aspects of Bletchley Park’s work.”

The reel of wartime footage, preserved in its original canister, has been donated to Bletchley Park by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

A 5 minute documentary about the new film already has been posted to YouTube