Tuesday 31 December 2019

We should stop the false praise for the deceased

Opinion - Why are bad things not spoken of the dead? 

Why is it we will not hesitate to refer to the ills of others when they are alive but will only stress their good after their death?

The absurdity of speaking only good about dead people, something that I regard as misapplied death etiquette, again occurred to me in the wake of the passing away of Struggle icon and “Mother of the Nation”, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Barely hours after her death, strong debate was being waged in the mainstream and social media whether it was appropriate to make reference to her errors of judgement or only focus on her inspirational spirit and self-sacrifice in the fight for freedom.
Winnie Madikizela Mandela

I have attended many funerals of some not-so-savoury characters and waited in vain for even the slightest mention of their moral transgressions.

So often speakers who never had anything good to say of someone while he or she was still alive will suddenly be singing their praises at the graveside, while keeping the dark side private and confidential because it is considered the right thing to do.

In life, a fellow could have been a downright scoundrel, a con artist and swindler who cheated everyone he could. 

But the moment he kicks the bucket, he is invested with an instant halo and declared to be a saintly soul by the very people who had been his former detractors.

More baffling is that we are not only enjoined not to speak ill of the dead, but to speak as well of them as it is possible to do.

Yet, if the truth be told, there are many instances when people, including family members, do get some relief when a bad person passes on.

Often obituaries for drug dealers, murderers, child molesters and people who spend all their lives causing severe pain to others, are sugar-coated to make them appear to be saints and are given a massive, undeserved send-off. 

Gang leaders are celebrated as heroes after their demise. 

Frequently, when a gang boss dies, cars are stolen by gang members and burnt in his honour.

Bad people are let off the hook too easily in South Africa.

When the architect of apartheid and prime minister of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, was assassinated in Parliament in September 1966, the local media did not go all out to vilify him. 

In defence of the Fourth Estate, I must assert the media during those days had to contend with a minefield of legislation which did not easily condone criticism of the government. 

Hence Verwoerd was spared any serious post mortem denigration.

PW Botha, who was prime minister and president of apartheid South Africa for 11 years, and was regarded as one of the most evil men of the 20th century because of his commitment to state terrorism, war and murder to thwart black majority rule, got away lightly when rigor mortis set in.

Although the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission said he had been responsible for “gross violations of human rights”, there was no nationwide rejoicing at his death in October 2006.

Yet when former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher died in April 2013, there were celebration parties in several cities because her policies saw hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost. 

Many Britons remembered the Iron Lady pouring the country’s blood and treasure into the Falklands War.

Occasionally, an obituary writer will cut close to the bone and tell it as it should be.

I was in London in August 1997 at the time that there was worldwide outpouring of grief over Princess Diana’s fatal car accident. 

I remember that while the majority of the media held her up as the epitomé of everything good and beautiful, one brave British journalist ripped into her as “a spoiled child bride, a sulky wife, a narcissist, and a borderline airhead with zero interest in books, history or tradition”. 

I did not follow whether the hack was lynched by the Princess Diana Fan Club for being unsympathetic.

The media does not have to abide by convention and only write glowingly about the dead. 

A South African journalist who has refused to hero-worship the dead is Chris Barron, an obituary writer.

His obits have always been honest, truthful, and sometimes downright damning.

In reporting deaths, the media should tilt in favour of balance and qualification. 

The record of a person’s life should include the good and bad that they did, more so, in the case of public officials.

When Phoenix taxi owner and self-confessed drug lord Vernon John was shot dead in December 2016 in a drive-by shooting outside his home, the media was justified in denouncing him. 

After all, he will be most remembered for destroying lives through the sale of drugs. 

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. If you are bad, then you are bad.

The only way to remember Uganda’s fallen president, Idi Amin Dada, is as a bloodthirsty dictator who kept severed heads of political opponents in his refrigerator. 

During his eight-year regime, an estimated 300 000 civilians were massacred. He expelled all Indian and Pakistani citizens in 1972, contributing to the country’s economic decline.

The public must become accustomed to taking the bad with the good.

This newspaper, POST, came in for criticism from some readers two months ago when it reported on two friends who died when the car they were in burst into flames after crashing into a tree on the M4 in Durban. 

Mention was made in the story of the caring, compassionate nature of the men as well as their zest for life and hard work ethic. 

However, readers were not happy that reference was also made to their flamboyant lifestyles which, after all, is what made them so popular.

We humans seem to have a strange sense of sacredness for the dead, akin to the reverence we accord to religious deities. 

This would appear to be a self-proclamation of our weakness as mortals, a sense of respect for that one journey that we are all destined for - the damning journey of no return.

One reason often given for not bad mouthing the dead is that they are unable to defend themselves.

Another reason why it is socially inappropriate to speak anything negative about a deceased person is that when someone dies, the family, close friends and other loved ones are often confused and deeply hurt emotionally. 

To avoid inflicting further pain upon the family and loved ones, one avoids mentioning the wrongdoings the deceased might have done on earth.

Will I say bad things about a bad person at his funeral? I am not sure.

It is important to state factually the deceased’s strengths and weaknesses; one can learn wonderful lessons from both.
Mention of the bad side of a dead person must be done indirectly, like in the form of advice to the mourners not to sin.
Remember that death does not erase bad acts. If you want people to say good things about you when you are gone, do only good things when you are alive. 

Then you will RIP - Rest In Praise.

Shakespeare would beg to disagree. Mark Antony says in Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”

(Source: IOL)

Ten brands that disappeared over the past decade

The UK retail industry has been struggling heavily in recent years and many brands have been going into administration.

But not everybody manages to secure a rescue deal with their creditors, and in some cases, once-popular household names have disappeared completely from the UK's High Streets.

Here's a look at some of the biggest names we've lost in the past decade and what went wrong.

Toys R Us
US toy store giant Toys R Us shut down all of its US and UK stores in April 2018, after filing for bankruptcy protection in September 2017. Its Asian stores are still open, having been sold to Fung Retailing and a number of other lenders in November 2018.

"It was heartbreaking, because consumers absolutely want to buy the best brand toys for their children," retail expert Kate Hardcastle told the BBC. "Toys R Us had huge unnecessary warehouses and they could have repurposed that for experiences, but they just missed the mark completely."

She added that UK High Streets suffer from a "second-rate retail experience" where retailers don't bother to refresh their store design and infrastructure, often because they do not feel the need to compete with other retailers.

The Borders bookshop chain, which offered a cafe and a comfortable browsing experience for books, music and movies, collapsed in the UK in June 2009. Its US business followed suit two years later, filing for bankruptcy.

The firm blamed declining sales and a rapidly changing book market, struggling in the face of fierce competition from supermarkets, online sales and digital books.

"I miss Borders, it did have a personality," says retail analyst Chris Field. "They were doing what retailers are being urged to do now - injecting personality and interaction into the stores with concerts and events."

He blames the demise of Borders on Amazon: "People could suddenly buy from a vast range and they could get the book they wanted at a ridiculous price and they were willing to deliver it for free within 24 hours. People couldn't believe it."

UK department store chain British Home Stores (BHS) shut its doors for good in June 2016, after efforts to secure a rescue deal over two months fell through.

The retailer, which was 88 years old and had an estate of 163 stores, had been struggling with debts of more than £1.3bn, including a pensions deficit of £571m.

"BHS had become the 'tea and a piece of cake' shop. You didn't see anyone in there other than people who are retired who had gone there to meet friends," explains Ms Hardcastle.

"Although it had a community focus, it was really dull in its offering, its fashion wasn't very interesting, their Christmas offerings were always discounted early - strategically, it was very vanilla."

Mr Field agrees. He says he admires what Arcadia retail empire owner Sir Philip Green did in buying BHS and turning it around, although these efforts eventually stagnated because BHS failed to innovate.

"He was a great market trader and had a good eye for what would sell, he spoke to the staff, but over time, that went away and it was left to run itself. It got lost somewhere between the upmarket retailers and the discount retailers like Primark," he says.

Stationery store chain Staples disappeared from High Streets in 2016 after the UK arm of its business was sold to restructuring firm Hilco.

Staples had placed its European business under review in May 2016 after it was forced to abandon a $6.3bn merger with fellow US office supply giant Office Depot on competition grounds.

Mr Field says that the problem with Staples was that it existed only for "distress purchases", where a consumer has to go to a shop in an emergency to pick up an item they need urgently to complete a task.

"There's no pleasure in it at all, so if you want the greatest convenience and the best price, then I'm afraid online does give you that," he says.

"And if you're online, you're in control and you can go from store to store online, as opposed to going to a single Staples store and finding out it doesn't have what you want and that you wasted a single journey."

Blockbuster was a hugely popular video rental chain that had more than 9,000 stores around the world.

Blockbuster's corporate-owned UK and US stores went bust in 2013, while privately-owned franchises continued to struggle on. But only one remains opens today, which can be found in Bend, Oregon.

According to Ms Hardcastle, Blockbuster had been the cool place to go for young people on a Saturday night in the 1980s and 1990s.

"Blockbuster was the social network in retail. It was the place to be, you'd hang out there, you were one of the cool kids. It was iconic," she says.

She thinks it is a shame the business failed, as she reckons Blockbuster should have got into the DVD mail-order rental delivery service that Netflix started off with.

"It was a brand that made hay when the sun shines, but had no money to reinvest in the brands."

Maplin was one of the UK's biggest electronics retailers, with 200 stores and 2,300 staff. It collapsed into administration in February 2018 after talks with buyers failed to secure a sale. Its final branch shut in June 2018.

Like many other High Street chains, the retailer was hit by a slump in the pound after the Brexit vote in 2016, as well as weak consumer confidence.

"I loved Maplin," says Mr Field. "The in-store experience was great for geeks and gadget lovers, but I don't think it understood how to attract a larger part of the population.

"It was too geeky, too nerdy, too complicated. Online blew them away - they didn't understand that they needed to have a better online offer."

Tie Rack
International accessories chain Tie Rack was once so popular that it boasted 450 stores worldwide and was considered to be a symbol of Eighties entrepreneurialism.

There was once a branch of Tie Rack in every High Street, station and airport, selling every possible pattern and permutation of neckwear - stripes, polka dots, plain, and not forgetting comedy ties.

However, the retailer collapsed in November 2013, after neck ties fell out of fashion with the more casually dressed Twitter generation, and Tie Rack succumbed to the twin threats of global recession and online shopping.

"It was very convenient, as it was in a lot of travel locations and they could catch the people for which it was a distress purchase - the men who had left their ties behind, and women who would go out and buy a tie for their husband or boyfriend... but it was never going to be a survivor," says Mr Field.
"They got quite lazy towards the end, as the whole thing was run by accountants who were just trying to manage the costs."

Discount goods retailer Poundworld, founded in 1974, was once the place to go to get a good price on common household goods. It had 335 stores and employed 5,100 people, but sadly, in recent years it struggled with tough competition on the High Street from rivals such as Poundland and Poundstretcher.

The retailer was also hit by the fall in the value of the pound after the 2016 Brexit referendum, which pushed up the price of imported goods. It finally shut its doors for good in August 2018.

"It's a marketplace where you have to sell a lot of stuff, you need to get good basket sizes to make a profit... but it was a very crowded marketplace," says Ms Hardcastle.

Mr Field agreed, noting that in some towns in the UK, Poundworld was often located very close to its competitors, to the extent that it became difficult to distinguish between different discount retailers.

Barratts Shoes was a shoe manufacturer and chain of High Street shoe shops, founded in Northampton in 1903. At the height of its popularity, it boasted more than 400 stores and was known as a place to buy school shoes that were cheaper than the "aspirational brand" Clarks, says Ms Hardcastle.

But in the 1990s and early 2000s, Barratts was hit by heavy competition from cheaper foreign imported shoes. It went into administration three times, and during the final time in November 2013, 61 of its remaining 75 stores closed.
Barratts now exists almost exclusively as an online retail brand, owned by entrepreneur Harvey Jacobsen and Simon Robson, a former buying and merchandising director of Barratts.

"There was no real service - it was a horrible place," says Mr Field. "Barratts didn't really stand for anything - they weren't the cheapest on the High Street. There wasn't a reason to visit and it was all own-label - they had no brands at all. There was no fashion element."

Mobile phones retailer Phones4U shut its doors for good in September 2014, closing its entire estate of more than 700 outlets across the UK and costing 5,596 jobs. At the time, it had more than £200m in debt.

Phones4U collapsed when it lost vital deals. As an independent retailer, it relied on arrangements with EE and Vodafone to sell their services, but both pulled out of negotiations to agree fresh contracts.

"They were infallible at one point. Phones4U were very direct and noisy as a brand. They were quite Marmite - I think they scared off a lot of their customer base. They were talking to tech heads, they scared off people who didn't understand technology as well," says Ms Hardcastle.

"Phones4U probably didn't appreciate all of the different customer bases out there, by focusing on just big contracted customers who were using their phones on a higher package rate."

(Source: BBC)

How the US has hidden its empire

The United States likes to think of itself as a republic, but it holds territories all over the world – the map you always see doesn’t tell the whole story.

There aren’t many historical episodes more firmly lodged in the United States’s national memory than the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is one of only a few events that many people in the country can put a date to: 7 December 1941, the “date which will live in infamy,” as Franklin D Roosevelt put it. 

Hundreds of books have been written about it – the Library of Congress holds more than 350. And Hollywood has made movies, from the critically acclaimed From Here to Eternity, starring Burt Lancaster, to the critically derided Pearl Harbor, starring Ben Affleck.

But what those films don’t show is what happened next. Nine hours after Japan attacked the territory of Hawaii, another set of Japanese planes came into view over another US territory, the Philippines. As at Pearl Harbor, they dropped their bombs, hitting several air bases, to devastating effect.
The Greater United States as it was in 1941

The attack on Pearl Harbor was just that – an attack. Japan’s bombers struck, retreated and never returned. Not so in the Philippines. There, the initial air raids were followed by more raids, then by invasion and conquest. Sixteen million Filipinos – US nationals who saluted the stars and stripes and looked to FDR as their commander in chief – fell under a foreign power.

Contrary to popular memory, the event familiarly known as “Pearl Harbor” was in fact an all-out lightning strike on US and British holdings throughout the Pacific. On a single day, the Japanese attacked the US territories of Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island and Wake Island. They also attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and they invaded Thailand.

At first, “Pearl Harbor” was not the way most people referred to the bombings. “Japs bomb Manila, Hawaii” was the headline in one New Mexico paper; “Japanese Planes Bomb Honolulu, Island of Guam” in another in South Carolina. Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, described the event as “an attack upon Hawaii and upon the Philippines”. Eleanor Roosevelt used a similar formulation in her radio address on the night of 7 December, when she spoke of Japan “bombing our citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines”.

That was how the first draft of FDR’s speech went, too: it presented the event as a “bombing in Hawaii and the Philippines”. Yet Roosevelt toyed with that draft all day, adding things in pencil, crossing other bits out. At some point he deleted the prominent references to the Philippines.

Why did Roosevelt demote the Philippines? We don’t know, but it’s not hard to guess. Roosevelt was trying to tell a clear story: Japan had attacked the US. But he faced a problem. Were Japan’s targets considered “the United States”? Legally, they were indisputably US territory. But would the public see them that way? What if Roosevelt’s audience didn’t care that Japan had attacked the Philippines or Guam? Polls taken slightly before the attack show that few in the continental US supported a military defense of those remote territories.

Roosevelt no doubt noted that the Philippines and Guam, although technically part of the US, seemed foreign to many. Hawaii, by contrast, was more plausibly “American”. Although it was a territory rather than a state, it was closer to North America and significantly whiter than the others.

Yet even when it came to Hawaii, Roosevelt felt a need to massage the point. So, on the morning of his speech, he made another edit. He changed it so that the Japanese squadrons had bombed not the “island of Oahu”, but the “American island of Oahu”. Damage there, Roosevelt continued, had been done to “American naval and military forces”, and “very many American lives” had been lost.

An American island, where American lives were lost – that was the point he was trying to make. If the Philippines was being rounded down to foreign, Hawaii was being rounded up to “American”.

One reporter in the Philippines described the scene in Manila as the crowds listened to Roosevelt’s speech on the radio. The president spoke of Hawaii and the many lives lost there. Yet he only mentioned the Philippines, the reporter noted, “very much in passing”. Roosevelt made the war “seem to be something close to Washington and far from Manila”.

This was not how it looked from the Philippines, where air-raid sirens continued to wail. “To Manilans the war was here, now, happening to us,” the reporter wrote. “And we have no air-raid shelters.”

Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam – it wasn’t easy to know how to think about such places, or even what to call them. At the turn of the 20th century, when many were acquired (Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, American Samoa, Hawaii, Wake), their status was clear. They were, as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson unabashedly called them, colonies.
The US ‘logo map’

That spirit of forthright imperialism didn’t last. Within a decade or two, after passions had cooled, the c-word became taboo. “The word colony must not be used to express the relationship which exists between our government and its dependent peoples,” an official admonished in 1914. Better to stick with a gentler term, used for them all: territories.

Yet a striking feature of the overseas territories was how rarely they were even discussed. The maps of the country that most people had in their heads didn’t include places such as the Philippines. Those mental maps imagined the US to be contiguous: a union of states bounded by the Atlantic, the Pacific, Mexico and Canada.

That is how most people envision the US today, possibly with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii. The political scientist Benedict Anderson called it the “logo map”, meaning that if the country had a logo, this shape would be it:

The problem with the logo map, however, is that it isn’t right. Its shape does not match the country’s legal borders. Most obviously, the logo map excludes Hawaii and Alaska, which became states in 1959 and now appear on virtually all published maps of the country. But it is also missing Puerto Rico, which, although not a state, has been part of the country since 1899. When have you ever seen a map of the US that had Puerto Rico on it? Or American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Marianas or any of the other smaller islands that the US has annexed over the years?

In 1941, the year Japan attacked, a more accurate picture would have been this:

What this map shows is the country’s full territorial extent: the “Greater United States”, as some at the turn of the 20th century called it. In this view, the place normally referred to as the US – the logo map – forms only a part of the country. A large and privileged part, to be sure, yet still only a part. Residents of the territories often call it the “mainland”.

On this to-scale map, Alaska isn’t shrunken down to fit into a small inset, as it is on most maps. It is the right size – ie, huge. The Philippines, too, looms large, and the Hawaiian island chain – the whole chain, not just the eight main islands shown on most maps – if superimposed on the mainland would stretch almost from Florida to California.

This map also shows territory at the other end of the size scale. In the century before 1940, the US claimed nearly 100 uninhabited islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Some claims were forgotten in time – Washington could be surprisingly lax about keeping tabs. The 22 islands included here are the ones that appeared in official tallies (the census or other governmental reports) in the 1940s. I have represented them as clusters of dots in the bottom left and right corners, although they are so small that they would be invisible if they were drawn to scale.
A map of the ‘Greater United States’ as it was in 1941

The logo map is not only misleading because it excludes large colonies and pinprick islands alike. It also suggests that the US is a politically uniform space: a union, voluntarily entered into, of states standing on equal footing with one another. But that is not true, and it has never been true. From its founding until the present day, the US has contained a union of American states, as its name suggests. But it has also contained another part: not a union, not states and (for most of its history) not wholly in the Americas – its territories.

What is more, a lot of people have lived in that other part. According to the census count for the inhabited territories in 1940, the year before Pearl Harbor, nearly 19 million people lived in the colonies, the great bulk of them in the Philippines. That meant slightly more than one in eight of the people in the US lived outside of the states. For perspective, consider that only about one in 12 was African American. If you lived in the US on the eve of the second world war, in other words, you were more likely to be colonised than black.

My point here is not to weigh forms of oppression against one another. In fact, the histories of African Americans and colonised peoples are tightly connected (and sometimes overlapping, as for the African-Caribbeans in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands). The racism that had pervaded the country since slavery also engulfed the territories. Like African Americans, colonial subjects were denied the vote, deprived of the rights of full citizens, called racial epithets, subjected to dangerous medical experiments and used as sacrificial pawns in war. They, too, had to make their way in a country where some lives mattered and others did not.

What getting the Greater United States in view reveals is that race has been even more central to US history than is usually supposed. It hasn’t just been about black and white, but about Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan and Chamoru (from Guam), too, among other identities. Race has not only shaped lives, but also the country itself – where the borders went, who has counted as “American”. Once you look beyond the logo map, you see a whole new set of struggles over what it means to inhabit the US.

Looking beyond the logo map, however, could be hard for mainlanders. The national maps they used rarely showed the territories. Even the world atlases were confusing. During the second world war, Rand McNally’s Ready Reference Atlas of the World – like many other atlases at the time – listed Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Philippines as “foreign”.

A class of seventh-grade girls at the Western Michigan College Training School in Kalamazoo scratched their heads over this. They had been trying to follow the war on their maps. How, they wondered, could the attack on Pearl Harbor have been an attack on the US if Hawaii was foreign? They wrote to Rand McNally to inquire.

“Although Hawaii belongs to the United States, it is not an integral part of this country,” the publisher replied. “It is foreign to our continental shores, and therefore cannot logically be shown in the United States proper.”

The girls were not satisfied. Hawaii is not an integral part of this country? “We believe this statement is not true,” they wrote. It is “an alibi instead of an explanation”. Further, they continued, “we feel that the Rand McNally atlas is misleading and a good cause for the people of outlying possessions to be embarrassed and disturbed”. The girls forwarded the correspondence to the Department of the Interior and asked for adjudication. Of course, the seventh-graders were right. As an official clarified, Hawaii was, indeed, part of the US.

Yet the government could be just as misleading as Rand McNally on this score. Consider the census: according to the constitution, census takers were required to count only the states, but they had always counted the territories, too. Or, at least, they had counted the continental territories. The overseas territories were handled differently. Their populations were noted, but they were otherwise excluded from demographic calculations. Basic facts about how long people lived, how many children they had, what races they were – these were given for the mainland alone.

The maps and census reports that mainlanders saw presented them with a selectively cropped portrait of their country. The result was profound confusion. “Most people in this country, including educated people, know little or nothing about our overseas possessions,” concluded a governmental report written during the second world war. “As a matter of fact, a lot of people do not know that we have overseas possessions. They are convinced that only ‘foreigners’, such as the British, have an ‘empire’. Americans are sometimes amazed to hear that we, too, have an ‘empire’.”

The proposition that the US is an empire is less controversial today. The case can be made in a number of ways. The dispossession of Native Americans and relegation of many to reservations was pretty transparently imperialist. Then, in the 1840s, the US fought a war with Mexico and seized a third of it. Fifty years later, it fought a war with Spain and claimed the bulk of Spain’s overseas territories.

Empire isn’t just landgrabs, though. What do you call the subordination of African Americans? Starting in the interwar period, the celebrated US intellectual WEB Du Bois argued that black people in the US looked more like colonised subjects than like citizens. Many other black thinkers, including Malcolm X and the leaders of the Black Panthers, have agreed.

Or what about the spread of US economic power abroad? The US might not have physically conquered western Europe after the second world war, but that didn’t stop the French from complaining of “coca-colonisation”. Critics there felt swamped by US commerce. Today, with the world’s business denominated in dollars, and McDonald’s in more than 100 countries, you can see they might have had a point.

Then there are the military interventions. The years since the second world war have brought the US military to country after country. The big wars are well-known: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. But there has also been a constant stream of smaller engagements. Since 1945, US armed forces have been deployed abroad for conflicts or potential conflicts 211 times in 67 countries. Call it peacekeeping if you want, or call it imperialism. But clearly this is not a country that has kept its hands to itself.

Yet among all the talk of empire, one thing that often slips from view is actual territory. Yes, many would agree that the US is or has been an empire, for all the reasons above. But how much can most people say about the colonies themselves? Not, I would wager, very much.

It is not as if the information isn’t out there. Scholars, many working from the sites of empire themselves, have assiduously researched this topic for decades. The problem is that their works have been sidelined – filed, so to speak, on the wrong shelves. They are there, but as long as we have the logo map in our heads, they will seem irrelevant. They will seem like books about foreign countries. The confusion and shoulder-shrugging indifference that mainlanders displayed at the time of Pearl Harbor hasn’t changed much at all.

I will confess to having made this conceptual filing error myself. Although I studied US foreign relations as a doctoral student and read countless books about “American empire” – the wars, the coups, the meddling in foreign affairs – nobody ever expected me to know even the most elementary facts about the territories. They just didn’t feel important.

It wasn’t until I travelled to Manila, researching something else entirely, that it clicked. To get to the archives, I would travel by “jeepney”, a transit system originally based on repurposed US army jeeps. I boarded in a section of Metro Manila where the streets are named after US colleges (Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Notre Dame), states and cities (Chicago, Detroit, New York, Brooklyn, Denver), and presidents (Jefferson, Van Buren, Roosevelt, Eisenhower). When I would arrive at my destination, the Ateneo de Manila University, one of the country’s most prestigious schools, I would hear students speaking what sounded to my Pennsylvanian ears to be virtually unaccented English. Empire might be hard to make out from the mainland, but from the sites of colonial rule themselves, it is impossible to miss.

The Philippines is not a US territory any more; it got its independence after the second world war. Other territories, although they were not granted independence, received new statuses. Puerto Rico became a “commonwealth”, which ostensibly replaced a coercive relationship with a consenting one. Hawaii and Alaska, after some delay, became states, overcoming decades of racist determination to keep them out of the union.
Flags on top of the fortress in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. Photograph: Anton Gorbov/Alamy

Yet today, the US continues to hold overseas territory. Besides Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and a handful of minor outlying islands, the US maintains roughly 800 overseas military bases around the world.

None of this, however – not the large colonies, small islands, or military bases – has made much of a dent on the mainland mind. One of the truly distinctive features of the US’s empire is how persistently ignored it has been. This is, it is worth emphasising, unique. The British weren’t confused as to whether there was a British empire. They had a holiday, Empire Day, to celebrate it. France didn’t forget that Algeria was French. It is only the US that has suffered from chronic confusion about its own borders.

The reason is not hard to guess. The country perceives itself to be a republic, not an empire. It was born in an anti-imperialist revolt and has fought empires ever since, from Hitler’s Thousand-Year Reich and the Japanese empire to the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. It even fights empires in its dreams. Star Wars, a saga that started with a rebellion against the Galactic Empire, is one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time.

This self-image of the US as a republic is consoling, but it is also costly. Most of the cost has been paid by those living in the colonies and around the military bases. The logo map has relegated them to the shadows, which are a dangerous place to live. At various times, the inhabitants of the US empire have been shot, shelled, starved, interned, dispossessed, tortured and experimented on. What they haven’t been, by and large, is seen.

The logo map carries a cost for mainlanders, too. It gives them a truncated view of their own history, one that excludes part of their country. It is an important part. The overseas parts of the US have triggered wars, brought forth inventions, raised up presidents and helped define what it means to be “American”. Only by including them in the picture do we see a full portrait of the country – not as it appears in its fantasies, but as it actually is.

How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr will be published by Bodley Head on 28 February.

(Source: The Guardian)

US saw highest number of mass killings on record in 2019, database reveals

The US suffered more mass killings in 2019 than any year on record, according to researchers.

A database compiled by the Associated Press (AP), USA Today and Northeastern University recorded 41 incidents and a total of 211 deaths.

Mass killings are defined as four or more people being killed in the same incident, excluding the perpetrator.

Among the deadliest in 2019 were the killings of 12 people in Virginia Beach in May and 22 in El Paso in August.

Of the 41 cases in 2019, 33 involved firearms, researchers said. California had the highest number of mass killings per state, with eight.

The database has been tracking mass killings in the US since 2006, but research going back to the 1970s did not not reveal a year with more mass killings, AP reported. The year with the second-highest number of mass killings was 2006, with 38.
Mass killings are often followed by public outpourings of grief, such as in El Paso in August

Though 2019 had the highest number of incidents, the death toll of 211 was eclipsed by the 224 people who died in mass killings 2017. That year saw the deadliest mass shooting in US history, when 59 people were gunned down at a festival in Las Vegas.

Many mass killings in the US fail to make headlines because they involve family disputes, drug deals or gang violence, and don't spill into public places, the researchers said.

The number of mass killings in the US had risen despite the overall number of homicides going down, said James Densley, a criminologist and professor at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota.

"As a percentage of homicides, these mass killings are also accounting for more deaths," he told AP.

Prof Densley said he believed the spike was partly a consequence of an "angry and frustrated time" in US society, but he added that crimes tended to occur in waves.

"This seems to be the age of mass shootings," he said.

Gun ownership rights are enshrined in the second amendment of the US constitution, and the spike in mass shootings has done little to push US lawmakers towards gun control reforms.

In August, following deadly attacks in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, President Donald Trump said "serious discussions" would take place between congressional leaders on "meaningful" background checks for gun owners.

But Mr Trump quietly rowed back on that pledge, reportedly after a long phonecall with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association - a powerful lobby group which opposes gun control measures.
Speaking to reporters after the call, the president said the US had "very strong background checks right now", adding that mass shootings were a "mental problem".

Leading Democrats have called publicly for stricter gun control measures.
Earlier this month, presidential candidate and former US Vice-President Joe Biden used the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting to renew a call for tighter regulations. Mr Biden's plans include a ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.

Another Democratic presidential hopeful, Elizabeth Warren, outlined plans earlier this year to reduce gun deaths by 80% with a mixture of legislation and executive action. Ms Warren has also called for stronger background checks, as well as the ability to revoke licences for gun dealers who break the law.

(Source: BBC)

HMC Trauma Center warns of dangers of traveling in an open sunroof

The Hamad Injury Prevention Program (HIPP) at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Hamad Trauma Center is warning residents about the hazards of driving with passengers in an open sunroof. 

Dr Rafael Consunji (pictured), Director of the HIPP, the community outreach arm of HMC’s Hamad Trauma Center, says that passengers, especially young children, are exposed to extremely high risk for severe injury and death if they are standing in an open sunroof in the event of a collision or even a sudden turn or stop.

“With the cooler weather, more motorists are not only driving with their windows open but even with children being allowed to ride in open sunroofs while the vehicle is moving. Allowing any unrestrained passenger, but especially children, to extend their hands/arms and head outside of the vehicle is extremely risky for several reasons,” said Dr  Consunji.

Dr Consunji said that an unrestrained child who is not in a size-appropriate car seat or seatbelt has three times the risk of severe injury or death in a car crash or sudden stop from high speed. He says if that child is allowed to extend any part of his/her body from an open window then the child is exposed to additional risk – as they expose their head or hands/arms to direct trauma from other vehicles, roadside structures, and even pedestrians, adding that the chance of ejection from the vehicle is significantly increased. 

“Allowing children to stand in open sunroofs adds additional risk by exposing them to overhead signs and tree branches, plus an even greater chance of ejection and being pinned and crushed underneath the vehicle, in the event of a rollover. Rollovers are one of the most common causes of road traffic injury in Qatar,” said Dr. Consunji.
According to Dr. Consunji, it is important for parents and families to remember that one of the most important things they can teach and demonstrate to their children is the consistent use of a seatbelt and size-appropriate car seat, on every journey, no matter how short or at what speed. 

“Oftentimes, it is the sudden and unexpected behaviour of other motorists that can transform a routine journey into a nightmare experience. Whether or not a passenger is restrained properly will dictate whether they will be injured, or even die, as a result of a car crash,” said Dr  Consunji.

“No responsible parent wants to knowingly take unnecessary risks with their most precious cargo. Please help us to spread this information so no child in Qatar will be hurt while riding unrestrained with their head, arms, or hands out of an open window or sunroof. Let us control what we can; do not leave to chance the health and future of your children,” added Dr  Consunji.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Greta Thunberg's father: 'She is happy, but I worry'

Greta Thunberg's father has said he thought it was "a bad idea" for his daughter to take to the "front line" of the battle against climate change.

Millions of people have been inspired to join the 16-year-old in raising awareness of environmental issues.

But Svante Thunberg told the BBC he was "not supportive" of his daughter skipping school for the climate strike.

Mr Thunberg said Greta was much happier since becoming an activist - but that he worries about the "hate" she faces.

As part of the same broadcast, guest-edited by Greta for Radio 4's Today programme, Sir David Attenborough told her she had "woken up the world" to climate change.

She called Sir David on Skype from Stockholm in Sweden, where she lives, and told him how he inspired her activism.
Svante Thunberg and his daughter sailed to a climate summit in New York on zero-carbon yacht. KENA BETANCUR/GETTY IMAGES

The broadcaster and naturalist told Greta she had "achieved things that many of us who have been working on the issue for 20 years have failed to do".
He added that the 16-year-old was the "only reason" that climate change became a key topic in the recent UK general election.

Greta was nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, after spearheading a global movement demanding world leaders take action over climate change. It led to co-ordinated school strikes across the globe.

She is among five high-profile people taking over the Today programme as guest editors during the festive period.

The BBC flew presenter Mishal Husain to Sweden to interview the teenager and her father.

On the decision to fly, Today editor Sarah Sands said: "We just did not have time for other means of transport. But we met our cameraman there and the interview between Greta and David Attenborough was conducted by Skype, which felt the right way for the two of them to communicate."

Struggle with depression
Speaking to Husain as part of the show, Mr Thunberg said his daughter had struggled with depression for "three or four years" before she began her school strike.

"She stopped talking... she stopped going to school," he said.

He added that it was the "ultimate nightmare for a parent" when Greta began refusing to eat.

To help her get better, Mr Thunberg spent more time with Greta and her younger sister, Beata, at their home in Sweden. Greta's mother, opera singer and former Eurovision Song Contest participant Malena Ernman, cancelled contracts so the whole family could be together.

The family also sought help from doctors, Mr Thunberg said. Greta was diagnosed with Asperger's - a form of autism - aged 12, something she has said allows her to "see things from outside the box".

Over the next few years they began discussing and researching climate change, with Greta becoming increasingly passionate about tackling the issue.

As "very active" human rights advocates, Greta accused her parents of being "huge hypocrites", Mr Thunberg said.

"Greta said: 'Whose human rights are you standing up for?', since we were not taking this climate issue seriously," he explained.

He said Greta got "energy" from her parents' changes in behaviour to become more environmentally friendly - such as her mother choosing not to travel by aeroplane and her father becoming vegan.

Mr Thunberg has also accompanied his daughter on her sailing expeditions to UN climate summits in New York and Madrid. Greta refuses to travel by air because of its environmental impact.

"I did all these things, I knew they were the right thing to do... but I didn't do it to save the climate, I did it to save my child," Mr Thunberg said.

"I have two daughters and to be honest they are all that matter to me. I just want them to be happy," he added.

Mr Thunberg said Greta has "changed" and become "very happy" as a result of her activism.

"You think she's not ordinary now because she's special, and she's very famous, and all these things. But to me she's now an ordinary child - she can do all the things like other people can," he said.

"She dances around, she laughs a lot, we have a lot of fun - and she's in a very good place."

However, since Greta's school strike stunt went viral online, Mr Thunberg said she has faced abuse from people who "don't want to change" their lifestyles in order to save the environment.

Greta has said previously that people abuse her for "my looks, my clothes, my behaviour and my differences".

Her father said he was particularly worried about "the fake news, all the things that people try to fabricate her - the hate that that generates".

But he added that his daughter deals with the criticism "incredibly well".

"Quite frankly, I don't know how she does it, but she laughs most of the time. She finds it hilarious."

Mr Thunberg said he hoped things would become "less intense" for his family in the future and that he thinks Greta "really wants to go back to school".

He added that as Greta turns 17 soon, she will no longer need to be accompanied on her travels.

"If she needs me there, I'll try to do it," he said. "But I think she'll be, more and more, going to do it by herself which is great."

(Source: BBC)