NPR's Throughline had a great recent episode about what's essentially the branding of the American Empire. Host Rund Abdelfatah speaks with Daniel Immerwahr, a history professor at Northwestern University, who the changing ways that America has identified itself over the years.
I always found it kind of strange to say "America" (even though I do it), as it also refers to two entire continents. And I've similarly found it interesting when I hear Europeans refer to the country as "the States." But Immerwahr took things a step further, and traced the history of self-reference through American presidential speeches. Prior to 1898 — the time of our rarely-mentioned war with Spain, which saw American expansionism grow beyond the continental borders and into the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba and so on — it was rare to hear a President refer to the country as "America." It could be the Republic, or the Union, or the United States, sometimes even Columbia or Freedonia (like "land of the free people," yes that was apparently a real thing at one time).
Immerwahr smartly connects this to curiosity to the country's intrinsic relationship (and subsequent, neverending identity crises) with imperialism. We were founded on conquered land, and though we aspired to be a union of independent nation-states with open borders and shared currency, that never actually happened. The "free" people of the United States distinguished themselves from the black slaves who tilled their fields, and the various Native American nations with whom they sometimes shared the land. Read the rest
The United States "liberated" Guam and the Marianas Islands from 1898 during the Spanish-American War. As is usually the case with American Liberation, this meant further colonization, conversion into military outposts, and a forced re-education of the native Chamorros. To be fair, those indigenous inhabitants had already endured some 300 years of Spanish colonialism by then. By the time the US showed up, most Chammoros spoke in Spanish. But they also had their own language, called CHamoru.
But, as the Guardian tells it, the imperialist force that famously boasts about its firm belief in the freedom of speech (from a country that doesn't even have an official language) tried to stomp out the language at all costs:
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The US navy banned CHamoru in 1917 “except for official interpreting”. The naval administration even burned CHamoru-English dictionaries.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the ban on speaking CHamoru in schools was lifted, says Michael Bevacqua, a CHamoru language educator on Guam. Until then, schoolchildren who spoke CHamoru were punished, and their parents were sometimes even fined.
A decade ago, the US census estimated there were about 25,827 CHamoru speakers on Guam, just 2,394 of whom were under the age of 18, and only 14,176 CHamoru speakers in the rest of the island chain.
Robert Underwood, the former president of the University of Guam, says most of the fluent speakers are likely to be over the age of 50.
“In another 20 to 30 years there may not be any real first-language speakers of CHamoru,” he says.
In the early 1800s, agents working for Thomas Bruce of Scotland, the 7th Earl of Elgin, conveniently “removed” about half of the remaining marble statues from the Parthenon, as well as a few other Greek sculptures, and brought them back to Britain in the name of art history cultural preservation colonialism. Bruce claimed to have permission from the Ottoman Empire to borrow these artifacts, but others have insisted that this is total bullshit. This has — understandably! — resulted in some strained tensions between the British Empire and the modern Greek government (post-Ottoman Empire) that’s gone on for about two centuries.
Now that Britain has left the European Union, Greece has renewed their effort to reclaim the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles. From The Times:
A draft negotiating mandate circulated among European governments in Brussels today hardened EU demands in key traditional trade areas, particularly fishing, but also included the unexpected “return and restitution” line.
“The parties should address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin,” said a newly drafted text that will be signed off by EU governments next week.
The Greek government has said that Brexit will shift the political balance within the EU to force Britain to return the fifth century BC marbles.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the British government is thus far refusing to cooperate. They seem to be under the impression that the marbles were legally acquired. I suppose this makes sense, on the grounds that the British government makes the laws by which the country abides, and thus, according to their own laws, they have acted in accordance with the law (that they made) in their decision to steal cultural artifacts from half the god damn world in the name of Imperialism. Read the rest
Motherfoclóir is a delightful podcast about language and linguistics as they relate to Ireland ("foclóir" being the Irish word for "dictionary," and thus completely unrelated to that homophonic English-language word you're surely thinking of, c'mon). While that might seem like a niche topic outside of the Emerald Isle herself, a recent episode tackled something that's surely on everyone's mind: those fantastical pointy-eared aristocrats known only as elves.
Specifically, it's a conversation with Irish writer Orla Ní Dhúill, whose blog about elves, Irishness, and colonialism gained a lot of traction among fantasy fans across the globe.
Growing up as a nerdy Irish-American kid, I always understood there to be something vaguely Gael-ish about elves. Even though I didn't know why. Even though I knew it didn't make sense. Even though I knew that Tolkien himself was not particularly fond of the Irish (the language, at least, if not the people). Was it because they used an cló gaelach, the insular font so often associated with Irish Gaelic? Even in my later adolescence, as I wasted my measly weekend job wages on Warhammer 40K, I couldn't help but notice the inherent Irishness in the names and terms of the mystical Eldar alien race who are basically space elves anyway (spoiler: it turns out the Eldar language is, in fact, mostly just bastardized lines from Irish Gaelic proverbs).
The podcast episode is full of insightful exchanges on language and colonialism between Ní Dhúill and host Peader Kavanagh. You can listen below, or on your preferred podcasting platform. Read the rest
Pepsi has confirmed that it has files lawsuits against four farmers in India who grew a variety of potato that was registered as being for the exclusive production of the company's Lay's potato chips.
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Millions of tons of e-waste -- much of it from rich countries like Australia -- are recycled in India, in "markets" with terrible, dangerous working conditions and equally awful environmental controls.
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In 1994, Disney trademarked the use of the phrase "hakuna matata" on clothing, footwear, and headgear. The common Swahili phrase, meaning "no trouble," was the name of a song in Disney's movie The Lion King. Now, a petition for Disney to give up the copyright, has more than 50,000 signatures.
(Zimbabwean activist Shelton) Mpala told CNN he started the petition "to draw attention to the appropriation of African culture and the importance of protecting our heritage, identity and culture from being exploited for financial gain by third parties. This plundered artwork serves to enrich or benefit these museums and corporations and not the creators or people it's derived from."
(image: a selection of goods from Alibaba.com)
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This funny South African ad depicts an African explorer discovering Europe in the 1650s, a counterfactual to the 1652 arrival in South Africa of the Dutch. But it's upsetting people there and fast food chain Chicken Licken has withdrawn it due to the complaints.
South African Sandile Cele lodged a complaint with the Advertising Regulatory Board, arguing that the commercial made a "mockery of the struggles of the African people against the colonisation by the Europeans in general, and the persecutions suffered at the hands of the Dutch in particular".
Upholding the complaint, the board said: "While the commercial seeks to turn the colonisation story on its head with Big John travelling to Europe, it is well-known that many Africans were in fact forced to travel to Europe in the course of the colonisation of Africa.
"They did not leave their countries and villages wilfully. They starved to death during those trips to Europe and arrived there under harsh and inhumane conditions."
Chicken Licken said it wanted to show that South Africa had "all the potential to conquer the world and rewrite history from an African perspective". Read the rest
Hurricanes Irma and Maria left Puerto Rico in tatters, but it would be a mistake to blame the weather for Puerto Rico's suffering; Puerto Rico was put in harm's way by corrupt governments doing the work of a corrupt finance sector, then abandoned by FEMA, and is now being left to rot without any real effort to rebuild its public services so that they can be privatized and used to extract rent from the island's residents.
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Since the US conquered Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American war, it has treated the island as a playground for the rich, with all kinds of sweetheart tax-deals and regulatory exemptions that lured some industry and some rich people to the island, but which kept it from ever developing its economy and infrastructure to American mainland standards.
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Top Shelf has reprinted the first volume of Anne Opotowsky and Aya Morton's groundbreaking 2011 book His Dream of Sky Island
, an indescribably gorgeous graphic novel set in British-ruled Hong Kong: it's a tale that ranges over cruelty and dignity, love and venality, unspeakable crimes and unstoppable bravery.
EU and Nigerian law both ban the export of e-waste to Nigeria, but a new study jointly authored by scholars from UN University and the Basel Convention Coordinating Centre for Africa found that exported used cars represent a smuggler's bonanza for the illegal dumping of toxic waste.
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The son of Babar The Elephant creator Jean de Brunhoff writes that internet toilet men are soiling the purity of his noble, sweet creation, the elephant-king Babar.
The enormous Babar always wears a green suit of the finest clothing. It is nice and decent. He is not nude with visible genitals like in the false images spread by alt-right toilet men on the internet. I am told the purpose of these filths is to show that Babar has “an intact Christian foreskin.” Sadly, my great father never wrote of Babar’s circumcision, so I am powerless to contradict this particular foul claim even as it drives me to vomit.
This is an excellent parody. There are so many layers. Read the rest
I am a fake Briton: in elementary and high school, for twelve years of my education, I attended offshored British schools.
In 1907, Charles Morgan of Broome Station sent this telegram to Henry Prinsep, the Chief Protector of Aborigines for Western Australia, in Perth: "Send cask arsenic exterminate aborigines letter will follow." Read the rest
Minority voices in games and tech present a necessary challenge to our imagined community.
Having lost his trademark over its overt racism, Daniel Snyder has taken the unusual step of suing the five Native American people who testified before the US Patent and Trademark Office hearing, which led to the finding that Snyder's team's name was "disparaging to Native Americans." Read the rest