Public cemeteries as a precondition for the sale of land

Writing at Metropole, Sarah Balakrishnan describes the development of cemeteries in a city in Ghana. As of the 1800's, the general practice in the seaside city of Accra was to bury the dead underneath the family's home.

Around 1888, British colonists began forcing the populace to bury the dead in public cemeteries. The requirement served multiple purposes:

Cemeteries were undoubtedly a part of British colonists’ bid to reorganize African societies according to Christian schematics of “civilization”—what has been called the “civilizing mission.” But they also had another, more insidious, ambition. Creating private property in Accra required cemeteries. Graveyards relocated ancestors to the public domain, making it possible for Gold Coasters to sell their property to interested buyers.

British colonists had long understood that communities in Accra would never sell their land if it contained the remains of their elders. Public cemeteries thus transferred rituals of social reproduction—celebrating, mourning, and remembering the dead—into the domain of the state, so that private houses could be made fungible and sellable. Like elsewhere in the world, commemorations of death shaped the devolution of property. In colonial Accra, British colonists used cemeteries to enforce private property in land.

Soon, large public cemeteries indeed grew, which led to various other problems. For one thing, once large public cemeteries came into existence, developers started scheming to use the land for a different purpose:

While the state used cemeteries to enforce private property in land, this had come at a cost: the creation of massive “immovable properties.” Whereas chiefs and wealthy “big men” (abirempon) had built many cemeteries in the 20th century by buying expansive estates, the colonial government now wanted to build railroads and thoroughfares through these lands.

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There's 22 million gallons of nuclear waste under a concrete dome on a Pacific Island, and it's sinking

The Los Angeles Times has a harrowing new story about Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Japanese forces invaded the small Pacific nation and its residents during World War I, and the United States did the same during World War II under that classic guise of "liberation." But the US was hardly acting altruistically, at the time nor since then. The islands' location made it a prime strategic military base in the Pacific. It was also isolated enough to make it a convenient nuclear testing site—if you disregarded the 72,000 people who lived there, of course.

Between 1946 and 1962, US military experiments produced 108 megatons of nuclear yield in the Marshall Islands— about 80% of the country's total radioactive waste output from nuclear testing. That's the equivalent 1.6 atomic bombs dropped every day for 12 years. And after the US decided to gradually cede control of the land back to the Marshallese people, we just kind of … left it all behind.  We were kind enough to pour a bunch of concrete on top of the 22 million gallons of nuclear waste left behind on one specific island, creating the Runit Dome.

But that dome is still there. And the concrete is starting to crack. And sea levels are rising rapidly, particularly in the Pacific, further accelerating that erosion process. Now the Dome—affectionately and appropriately called "The Tomb" by the locals—is threatening to leach all of that nuclear waste into the land and the ocean.

I realize that an island-sized nuclear waste dump called "The Tomb" in the middle of the Pacific Ocean sounds like some straight-up Godzilla sci-fi shit. Read the rest

Old UK military film about Belize incredibly smug and insulting

Whoever scripted this hated Belize almost as much as they hated Britain -- it's so sanctimonious, condescending, self-loathingly offensive you suspect it's dark comedy and start looking for Peter Serafinowicz to show up. But it's an old explainer for upper-crust military officers, apparently, a glove that certainly fits all the above. It's gone viral as an artifact of the 1980s, but by then Belize was independent, so it's probably older. The political backdrop: Belize was supposed to become independent in the 1960s, but Britain knew Guatemala would invade if they left, so things got very complicated. It's one of the funny little secrets of decolonization that Britain was responsible for Belize's defense well into the 1990s and never really left. Read the rest

We Stand on Guard: in 100 years, America seizes Canada for its water

Brian K Vaughan's varied career in comics has had numerous and diverse hits like Saga, the epically weird and sexy space-opera; Y: The Last Man, an end-of-the-world story; now, with We Stand on Guard, Vaughan dramatically ups his body count in a tale of an American resource war that's a lot closer to home than the invasion of Iraq.

US government orders UK carriers to extend no-fly list Brits travelling to non-US destinations, even on flights that don't pass through US airspace

The Independent's Simon Calder reports that the US Department of Homeland Security has ordered air carriers to hand over the personal information of British people travelling to the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, even for flights that don't fly over US airspace. What's more, they demand the right to order passengers to be yanked from flights right up to boarding time, without explanation. Essentially, they're extraterritorializing the No-Fly list, a list of thousands and thousands of people who are deemed -- for secret reasons -- to be so dangerous that they're not allowed to fly, but not so dangerous that they can be arrested.

Given that this is April 1, I'm slightly suspicious, as this is so blatantly evil that it's hard to believe that UK carriers would capitulate to it. On the other hand, everyone capitulates to the undemocratic absurdities of the American security-industrial apparatus.

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, told The Independent: "The concern by the US for its own security is entirely understandable, but it seems to me it's a whole different issue that American wishes should determine the rights and choices of people travelling between two countries neither of which is the US."

...Any passenger who refuses to comply will be denied boarding. Those who do supply details may find their trip could be abruptly cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security, which says it will "take boarding pass determinations up until the time a flight leaves the gate ... If a passenger successfully obtains a boarding pass, his/her name is not on the No Fly list."

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