New and Noteworthy on F&O: from the War of 1812 to Sheep Hotspots

Amédée Forestier's The signing of the Treaty of Ghent, December, 1814.
Amédée Forestier’s The signing of the Treaty of Ghent, December, 1814.

Two centuries ago today warfare between Great Britain and America came to its legal end, with the ratification of the The Treaty of Ghent on February 16, 1815.   Writes F&O Thoughtlines columnist Jim McNiven in the first of a three-part series on the War of 1812:

The War of 1812 was fought by the incompetent against the distracted. There are a few flashes of brilliance against this foggy background on land by British General Isaac Brock and American General Andrew Jackson. The war ended with both sides agreeing to roughly the status quo. Yet big things came out of this standoff. One was the eventual creation of Canada as a country separate from America. The second was the destiny of the Yankee exodus westward and the outcome of the Civil War. … click to continue reading War of 1812: The Incompetent vs The Distracted.

Tom Regan’s new column looks at the bigger picture surrounding U.S. television journalist Brian Williams suspension, The first casualty of war…

We all lie. Telling a lie is probably one of the most human things that we do. But when you’re a major TV network news anchor, and you tell a lie, it’s a big deal. NBC-TV anchor Brian Williams is learning that right now. But when you come right down to it, the lie Williams probably told about what happened to him on that helicopter in Iraq is really only a minor one when compared to the BIG LIE of the entire second Gulf War and why we were there in the first place. continue reading The first casualty of war…

“Lone-wolf” terrorists are everywhere in the news from Denmark to France, Canada to the United States. But Matthew Harwood of the American Civil Liberties Union cautions against over-reaction in an essay republished here with permission, Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease. Excerpt:

The shadow of a new threat seems to be darkening the national security landscape: the lone-wolf terrorist. Like all violent crime, individual terrorism represents a genuine risk, just an exceedingly rare and minimal one. It’s not the sort of thing that the government should be able to build whole new, intrusive surveillance programs on or use as an excuse for sending in agents to infiltrate communities. Programs to combat lone-wolf terrorism have a way of wildly exaggerating its prevalence and dangers – and in the end are only likely to exacerbate the problem. For Americans to concede more of their civil liberties in return for “security” against lone wolves wouldn’t be a trade; it would be fraud. … continue reading Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease

As noted previously:

In Arts, F&O features Brief Encounters columnist Brian Brennan’s “time capsule” on  The clown prince of music: Victor Borge  (paywall). While you’re there, take a look back at love letters through history by academic Emily Bernhard Jackson, Love letters – from Joyce’s dirty missive to Keats’s paeans.

International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the twisted prosecution of Malaysian opposition politician, Anwar Ibrahim, and the possibility he will have wrought real change. Click here to read the column, Co-opted judiciary sentences Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim to 5 years (subscription required).

Noteworthy elsewhere on the Internet:

Researchers released the first estimate of how much plastic trash flows from land to the world’s oceans annually: more than 4.8 million metric tons in 2010 alone.

Recommended: Lynching in America, Confronting the History of Racial Terror,  a project of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery. The report evokes some of the worst practices of today’s Islamic State terrorists. Its findings document the lynchings of thousands of African Americans between the Civil War and World War II in the United States, lynchings it calls “violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials.”

Recommended: A History of Violence: Accusations But No Justice in Liberia, by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, reveals that many of those accused of unspeakable brutality during Liberia’s civil war have never been formally tried. It’s the latest instalment in ProPublica’s stellar series Firestone and the Warlord, The untold story of Firestone, Charles Taylor and the tragedy of Liberia.

Recommended: TOWERS OF SECRECY, an ongoing New York Times investigation of the people behind shell companies buying high-end real estate.

In the news: In science, researchers published a study  predicting the American west will be hit by an epic drought, the worst in 1,000 years, something that will surprise only those who haven’t been paying attention to climate change science. There’s a report that dogs can tell the difference between happy and angry human faces, something that will surprise only those who don’t live with dogs. Researchers released the first estimate of how much plastic trash flows from land to the world’s oceans: more than 4.8 million metric tons in 2010 alone. 

In visual journalism, Reuters posted an online gallery of 56 photographs to mark the 30th anniversary of its photo service. 

You might want to give your head a shake at this baaa-zaar research, reported by MacWorld, about the potential of sheep and reindeer to provide Internet WiFi in remote locations.  

Last but not least, now that the obligatory sweetness of Valentine’s Day is beyond us, did you get a ‘Vinegar Valentine’ this year? Are you tired of the savagery displayed on social media? As Andrew Smith of The Open University notes, trolling is nothing new:

Over 150 years ago, as literacy rates improved and a universal postal service arrived in many industrialised nations, letter writing and the sending of greetings cards flourished. But with post boxes appearing on street corners it took no great leap of thought to realise it was possible to send an unkind sentiment through the post without the intervening messenger, postal service, nor the recipient knowing who sent it.

And so was born the Vinegar Valentine, the sharper side of an otherwise romantic tradition. Instead of sending a loved one a romantic gesture, people would instead send a vindictive card intended to upset an enemy, colleague, neighbour or friend.

Companies saw the commercial opportunity and caught onto the trend with their own versions. Rather than creating a romantic rhyme there were comically creative with cruel verse, for women and men alike. Cartoonists, greeting card companies and copywriters found an income from this unpleasant predilection.

Before the penny post was introduced, it was the recipient that paid for the letter sent to them. This meant that in a doubly cruel twist, the victims of vinegar Valentines would endure both insult and financial injury. While anecdotal and difficult to prove, there were reports of hapless souls subject to a deluge of these vinegar Valentines and having to bear the financial cost of their ignominy.

It would appear that vinegar Valentines lasted for some considerable time, finally losing their appeal by the 1940’s – an unsavoury 100 years or more of trolling by post.

Leaping forward to the present day, technology advances but alas it would seem that human nature does not, as the bosses of Twitter, Facebook, and many other online services have discovered. …

After all: Roses are red, violets blue, in under 140 characters I can be nasty to you #vinegarvalentine

The above is excerpted from an article on The Conversation. Click here for the entire piece. 


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