Monthly Archives: December 2016

Season’s Greetings

solstice2016_gsl0898

Winter arrived in the Northern hemisphere with the 2016 solstice, and with it comes a welcome lengthening of daylight hours. Photo of Conception Bay, Newfoundland, by Greg Locke © 2016

The December solstice marks our turn from autumn to winter in the North, from spring to summer in the South. It’s a time of celebrations, renewal, and tradition — and for many, a welcome break in routine and a fresh start.

F&O will now take a break, and until our return on Dec. 31 we send our best wishes for your Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s celebrations. And for your break — or perhaps as a last-minute gift item — may we recommend the following outside works by F&O members Greg Locke, Brian Brennan, Jim McNiven, and Jonathan Manthorpe.

Brief Encounters column: Brian Brennan was told he could interview Sophia Loren so long as he didn’t ask her about two things … (subscription)

Brief Encounters column: Brian Brennan was told he could interview Sophia Loren so long as he didn’t ask her about two things … (F&O subscription  required)

Brief Encounters: Conversations with Celebrities, by Brian Brennan

Why did Sophia Loren go back to Italy to serve a jail term for tax evasion? Why does the song “Amazing Grace” still occupy a very special place in the repertoire of singer Judy Collins? Why did Michael Nesmith quit The Monkees to start making music videos? Why did Shari Lewis start conducting symphony orchestras after she had endeared herself to kids all over the world with a comedy ventriloquism routine involving a cute sock puppet named Lamb Chop? Why did Chubby Checker go through 20 pairs of platform boots a year to keep his audiences twisting the night away?

Brian Brennan, a founding F&O feature writer and arts columnist, compiled some of the best morsels from his Brief Encounters series, based on interviews with celebrities over 15 years.

The collection of stories, based on conversations he had with celebrities during his 15 years as a newspaper entertainment reporter, are in F&O’s Arts section here — make even a small donation through our Subscription page,  to be taken to the page with the code  to access them. However may we recommend buying an ebook edition for $9.99 on Kindle,  Kobo, or iTunes , to have all 63 columns in one place.

The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americaby Jim McNiven

Who is a Yankee and where did the term come from? Though shrouded in myth and routinely used as a substitute for American, the achievements of the Yankees have influenced nearly every facet of our modern way of life.

Join author Jim McNiven as he explores the emergence and influence of Yankee culture while traversing an old transcontinental highway reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific — US 20, which he nicknames “The Yankee Road.”

A Class Act: An Illustrated History of the Labour Movement in Newfoundland and Labrador, by Bill Gillespie (Photography by Greg Locke)

classact-coverUnion activists rarely make it into the history books and when they do the picture is seldom flattering. In this new edition of A Class Act, journalist Bill Gillespie confronts the myth.

This is the story of how Newfoundland and Labrador union members turned the nation, the colony and the province into the most highly organized jurisdiction in North America. Gillespie’s research reveals union losses and victories, their weaknesses and strengths and ultimately, their success. The narrative is illustrated with more than a hundred photographs.

From the archives:

Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan, by Jonathan Manthorpe 

For over 400 years, Taiwan has suffered at the hands of multiple colonial powers, but it has now entered the decade when its independence will be won or lost. At the heart of Taiwan’s story is the curse of geography that placed the island on the strategic cusp between the Far East and Southeast Asia and made it the guardian of some of the world’s most lucrative trade routes. It is the story of the dogged determination of a courageous people to overcome every obstacle thrown in their path. Forbidden Nation tells the dramatic story of the island, its people, and what brought them to this moment when their future will be decided.

Touched by Fire: Doctors Without Borders in a Third World Crisis, by Elliott Leyton and Greg Locke

When the rapes and massacres, the plagues, the famines, the floods, or the droughts erupt in far-off places, the world stands still. MSF does not. They are the “smoke jumpers” among international aid organizations. While others are often stymied or delayed by bureaucratic red tape, the men and women of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) move in. They provide food and clean water. They dig latrines. They set up first-aid stations and field hospitals. They treat all-comers according to need. Often they are the last to remain in situations abandoned by others as too dangerous.

The risks they take are moral and ethical as well as mortal. They are acutely aware that giving aid is controversial. Does it really do any good to save a child from murder one day when it will probably starve in the weeks ahead? Is it appropriate to bring expensive western medicine into a country that, in the long run, can’t afford it? Should relief be given to civilians who are being starved on purpose, as part of a cynical political game, by a local warlord?

Elliot Leyton and Greg Locke saw something of the implications of these and other questions when they travelled to Rwanda in the fall of 1996. There they found themselves plunged into a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Hundreds of thousands of people were on the move. Armed militias and hostile armies lurked in the background. Mass starvation, plague, and an eruption into civil or criminal violence were immediate possibilities. The two Canadians, one an internationally recognized expert on the psychology of killing, the other an experienced photo-journalist, had a rare opportunity to observe MSF in action at a time when the stress was enormous and its resources were stretched to the limit.

They watched and listened, to the perpetrators of violence and their victims, to the survivors and those who gave them assistance, and, above all, to the people of MSF who dedicate themselves to saving lives because, in the words of one MSFer: “The world can afford a humanitarian ideal.”

The result of Leyton and Locke’s research is an extraordinary written and visual record of small miracles performed in the midst of catastrophe.

Newfoundland …journey into a lost nation, by  Michael Crummey and Greg Locke

journey-into-a-lost-nationGreg Locke had been away from Newfoundland for years, working as a photojournalist in Canada, the United States, and in many of the world’s most troubled regions, when he decided to go home – and stay. The photographs in Newfoundland were taken over a period of more than a decade. They chronicle the passage of Canada’s easternmost province from a time when cod were still plentiful and the fishery shaped the lives of most of the island’s inhabitants, to the present, when a vibrant economy, propelled by oil and mineral development, is recasting the island’s identity in a new mould.

What Locke’s photographs reveal is at once forward-looking and nostalgic, beautiful and harsh. Above all, his Newfoundland is populated by survivors: a people who are resourceful, funny, resilient, and strong.

Poet and novelist Michael Crummey draws upon deep-seated memories of his own and of his father’s experience to evoke passing traditions and a disappearing way of life. But, just as Locke’s photographs reveal the emergence of a new, more urban and cosmopolitan Newfoundland, so does Crummey’s writing emphasize the continuing sense of belonging and the determination to persevere that are characteristic of his compatriots. He writes admiringly of a “culture deep enough to accommodate a world of influences without surrendering what makes it unmistakably of this place. Something alive and leaning towards the future.” This book embodies both a vision and a voice of rare power.

Hibernia:  Promise of Rock and Sea. Edited by Lara Maynard. Photography by Greg Locke and Ned Pratt

Hibernia is a platform which will lead to the development of a new offshore oil and gas industry for Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada). The official Hibernia book is a record of the highly commendable effort by so many groups and individuals, from geophysicists and provincial politicians to Hibernia management, staff, and workers, to fully realize the opportunity of the Hibernia project. A generous selection of impressive photos by Ned Pratt and Greg Locke complemented by engaging text records the many facets of the undertaking: faces and feats, construction progress and milestones at the Bull Arm site. These varied elements are combined in a record of history in the making, a quality keepsake chronicling the inception and development of a great enterprise fuelled by a remarkable blend of perseverance and skill.

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Last but not least, here is the trailer for Greg Locke’s latest project, as a photographer for True North: The Canadian Songbook, a musical initiative celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday. The massive project, by Eleanor McCain, includes thirty-three iconic Canadian pop and folk songs reimagined for full orchestras, from Victoria to St. John’s.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Facts, Opinions, and Findings of the week

Foreign banks in Britain pay fraction of tax rate, by Tom Bergin

A man walks into the JP Morgan headquarters at Canary Wharf in London May 11, 2012. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

A man walks into the JP Morgan headquarters at Canary Wharf in London May 11, 2012. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

Some of the biggest foreign investment and commercial banks operating in Britain paid an average tax rate of just 6 percent on the billions of dollars of profits they made in the country last year, a Reuters analysis of regulatory filings shows. That is less than a third of Britain’s corporate rate of 20 percent. There is however nothing illegal about this.

Battle Ends, Bloody Syrian War Grinds On, by Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Stephanie Nebehay  Report

Rebel resistance in the Syrian city of Aleppo ended in December after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment. The battle was one of the worst of a civil war that has drawn in global and regional powers, and ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shi’ite militias. The larger Syrian war, however, endures.

Commentary:

Earth on the Docket: Americans join wave of climate litigation, By Mary Wood, Charles W. Woodward, IV, and Michael C. Blumm  Expert Witness

Two days after America’s presidential election a court in Oregon issued a path-breaking decision in Juliana v. U.S. declaring that youth – indeed, all citizens – hold constitutional rights to a stable climate system. The case is part of a wave of atmospheric trust litigation in several countries.

Our Time to Rebel, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda   Column

It’s our turn, as American Democrats. This will be a ‘take no prisoners’ fight. Donald Trump and his minions have already shown that they will lie, obscure the truth, manipulate and deny facts, and threaten all who oppose them. And then there are the attacks and threats to be launched by his slavish, zombie-like, mainly-white-supremacist alt-Reich followers.  There are several ways to participate in this peaceful ‘rebellion.’

Britain’s tortuous road to “hard” Brexit , by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs Column

It is becoming clearer just how wrenching a process it will be for Britain to leave the European Union, and beyond doubt that Britain is headed for a “hard” Brexit.

A Tale of Two Crashes, and Their Aftermaths, by Jim McNiven, Thoughtlines   Column

There are a lot of rough parallels between events in history that suggest that what one generation learns is forgotten over time. One of these is between the political/financial events in the United States between 1830-1850 and 2000-2020.

Arts:

Scandinavia Tackles Fairy Tale Gendering, by Gabrielle Richard, Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC)

In Stockholm’s Nicolaigarden pre-school, the teachers do not read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the students. Rather, its library holds children’s books that show different types of heroes and a diversity of family models (including those with single parents, adoptive children, and same-sex parents).

Magazine:

Have I Inherited the Trauma of China’s Cultural Revolution? by Shayla Love  Magazine

Shayla Love’s mother and grandparents lived through China’s Cultural Revolution – now, in a tale that traces its lineage from Chairman Mao’s brutality to scientific research on epigentics, she seeks to know the biological traces of their trauma she carries within her today.

Findings:

The launch of a massive fund chaired by Bill Gates, to invest in a carbonless future and provide “reliable, affordable energy for the world.”   The Breakthrough Energy Coalition pledged to to invest more than $1 billion in emerging energy breakthroughs “to deliver affordable and reliable energy with the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to near-zero.” You can read the press release here.  The fund predicts increased demand for energy, but “to get there, we need different tools than the ones that have served us in the past. Breakthrough Energy is committed to investing in new technologies to find better, more efficient and cheaper energy sources. The global energy market is massive, and finding a way to open it up is an investment opportunity worth getting right.”

China and the United States engaged in brinkmanship this week over China’s seizure of a research drone in international waters claimed by China. China agreed to return the drone. Read the New York Times report here.

This year broke all records for the numbers of  migrants and refugees on the move, and also for deaths,  on average 20 each day, said a report by the International Organization for Migration. More than half of the deaths, about 7,189, were in the Mediterranean, it said. Read the IOM press release here.  Meanwhile Germany’s Parliament, responding to the political backlash to migrants in Europe, demanded the country make more effort to integrate newcomers culturally. (Read the Reuters report here.)

For something entirely different, take a break from the world-wearying news.

Alan Watts & David Lindberg – Why Your Life Is Not A Journey from David Lindberg on Vimeo.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs

Scandinavia Tackles Fairy Tale Gendering

Raphael’s angels were gender-neutral

Raphael’s angels were not obviously gendered

By Gabrielle Richard, Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC) 
December, 2016

In Stockholm’s Nicolaigarden pre-school, the teachers do not read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the students. Rather, its library holds children’s books that show different types of heroes and a diversity of family models (including those with single parents, adoptive children, and same-sex parents).

Titles include One More Giraffe, about two giraffes caring for an abandoned crocodile egg, and Kivi and Monsterdog, whose protagonist, Kivi, is a child of unspecified gender. The idea is to present a more diverse and realistic image of the world kids live in and to avoid representations that reproduce gender stereotypes.

They present a stark contrast to classics of children’s literature, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which has recently come under scrutiny for the way it portrays women and, to a lesser extent, men. The heroine is naïve (she is tricked by her stepmother twice) and lacking personality (she has to be told what to do and not to do by the dwarfs), while the evil stepmother is obsessed with beauty.

Prince Charming, sweeping in at the last minute to save his future wife, is only attracted to her physical appearance. This is clear because she is thought to be dead when he first sees her.

At Nicolaigarden, teachers don’t just avoid tales such as that of Snow White. The pre-school is one of five that are rethinking their entire pedagogical approach to ensure equality between genders. Egalia, perhaps the best known of the group, has had numerous documentaries made about it in recent years.

Gender-neutral pedagogy is the latest trend in trying to remove gender bias in education, along with other initiatives such as single-sex schooling. And the efforts of Scandinavian countries have lessons for everyone when it comes to gender equality in education.

The Scandinavian model

The Swedish pronoun hen is adopted by gender-neutral schools. Image by Myskoxen, Creative Commons

The Swedish pronoun hen is adopted by gender-neutral schools. Image by Myskoxen, Creative Commons

Sweden consistently ranks as one of the world’s most gender-egalitarian countries in the world, as do its Scandinavian neighbours. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden have had the most success at closing the gender gap. That’s the “gap” prohibiting full equality between men and women in education, health, the economy and politics.

Although some have questioned their inclusivity, Scandinavian countries’ success in working towards gender equality has been attributed to the efficiency of policies tackling the issue.

In Sweden, for example, the 1998 amendments to the Education Act called for schools to adopt “gender-aware education” guidelines. These suggested that it was the schools’ responsibility to provide children with equal opportunities regardless of gender, to work against sex-based discrimination and to “counteract traditional gender patterns”.

To implement the guidelines, Nicolaigarden teachers filmed their interactions with their six-year-old pupils, and realised that they acted differently with boys and with girls.

Come recess, they let the boys run into the playground, while asking girls to wait patiently for help zipping their coats. They spent more time comforting girls who had hurt themselves, while quickly exhorting boys to “go back and play”. The results were a wake-up call for teachers, who considered themselves proponents of gender equality.

Under director Lotta Rajalin, Nicolaigarden school staff developed a gender-neutral pedagogy with the goal of insuring no child is limited by gender expectations.

All children are given equal access to a variety of games, toys and costumes, in the same play space. Library books present strong male and female protagonists in similar proportions. Hiring practices encouraging male applicants have led Nicolaigarden to have up to 30% male caretakers, the highest rate for preschools in the country.

Schools also aim to use gender-neutral language, to avoid gendering whenever it is not necessary. The pronoun hen – a genderless alternative to “hon” (she) and “han” (he) – is one of many ways to refer to children, along with the word friends, or calling them by their first names. Other preschools in Stockholm have also adopted these inclusive guidelines.

The Scandinavian model of gender equality in schools is not limited to gender-neutrality initiatives such as the ones developed at Nicolaigarden or Egalia, nor to young children.

Gender constructs

The Macho Factory program (Machofabriken) provides schools and associations with training aimed at 13- to 25-year-olds. Its objective is to help them question prevailing gender norms and to break the association between masculinity and violence.

The program is based on 17 short films providing participants and educators with a basis for discussing the downsides of hegemonic masculinity.

The short film På golvet (On the floor) is presented first in the training session. The boxes in the film represent society’s expectations of how men should behave.

Like the adolescent in the short film, teenagers tend to adopt gender standards without questioning them, boxing themselves in with conceptions of masculinity or femininity they haven’t necessarily chosen. By highlighting the social construction of masculinity, Machofabriken gives teenagers the tools to question how limiting dominant gender norms can be.

Teachers’ gendered expectations

The models put forth by schools such as Nicolaigarden and Egalia, or in programs such as the Macho Factory, underscore the very real problems documented by studies on the different school experiences of girls and boys.

Decades of research based on classroom observations indicate that teachers interact differently with boys and girls, though they’re convinced they give them equal treatment. They call on boys more often, involving them with new learning materials and giving them extensive feedback. They turn to girls when it comes to social topics or support learning, having them repeat what has been previously discussed. Even nonverbal teacher behaviours, such as smiles, have been shown to favour boys over girls.

 

Teachers are not explicitly trained on gender socialisation, and it shows. Such gender biases penalise all pupils. According to a 2013 study, teachers’ gendered assessment of their students worked both in favour and against boys.

Researchers found that boys who held a negative attitude toward learning were downgraded compared to girls who had performed similarly. Boys who performed well and showed a positive attitude toward schooling, however, received better grades than girls in the same boat did.

Teachers’ gender biases also do girls a disservice. If teachers consistently expect girls to be good, they may not pay attention to those with behavioural problems, or act more harshly toward them.

“Our kids are not neutral”

Still, initiatives to create more gender-neutral environments for kids often receive ferocious criticism. In 2015, for instance, the US-based chain Target decided to remove gender divisions from their toy sections, opting instead for classification by type of toy (such as construction or costume). Evangelical Christian Reverend Franklin Graham responded by saying, “Our kids are not neutral, they are boys and girls as God has created them.” He asked his followers to boycott the stores.

In France, Système U stores launched a Christmas publicity campaign called Noël sans préjugés (Gender Free Christmas) in 2015. It presents children explaining on camera how they know if a toy is intended for boys or for boys.

This ad, televised nationally, put the chain at the centre of a Twitter storm in December 2015, with hashtags #NoëlSansSystèmeU (Christmas without Système U) and #BoycottSuperU proliferating.

Detractors against gender-neutral initiatives tend to say things like a child is either a boy or a girl, and this difference should necessarily come with distinct preferences.

Between the lines, one can discern a certain apprehension that these initiatives might encourage homosexuality, especially in young boys. “A little boy who plays doll and wears makeup isn’t shocking to you? Well it is to me! Wake up, for Pete’s sake” read one Tweet after the 2015 Système U campaign.

Other comments suggest such initiatives cause damaging gender confusion. This is clear from these tweets about Egalia’s work: “Pathetic, but mostly sad. So a child is no longer a he or a she, but a this?” and “We are talking about experimenting on an entire generation of kids. I can’t help but think we will raise a lot of confused individuals”.

Such comments fail to acknowledge that these initiatives no more impose a model than does regular store signage indicating that one set of toys is appropriate for girls and another for boys. They are no more confusing than someone who’s expected to act a certain way that just doesn’t feel right.

Part of the success of the so-called Scandinavian approach to gender equality might lie in its willingness to question and uncover everyone’s role in imposing gender expectations on others.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Gabrielle Richard is a researcher at the  Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC). This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , |

Battle Ends, Bloody Syrian War Grinds On

By Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall and Stephanie Nebehay 

Rebel resistance in the Syrian city of Aleppo ended on Tuesday after years of fighting and months of bitter siege and bombardment that culminated in a bloody retreat, as insurgents agreed to withdraw in a ceasefire.

The battle of Aleppo, one of the worst of a civil war that has drawn in global and regional powers, has ended with victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military coalition of Russia, Iran and regional Shi’ite militias….

However, the war will still be far from over, with insurgents retaining major strongholds elsewhere in Syria, and the jihadist Islamic State group holding swathes of the east and recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra this week. …. Read our full report here  

Related on F&O:

In 2013 F&O partner Jonathan Manthorpe called Syria our modern Gordian knot. Here are F&O’s works that explain and put Syria’s agony in context:

Aleppo will fall, but Syrian war will go on — Analysis, by By Samia Nakhoul October, 2016

Syria’s mobile amputee clinic, photo-essay, By Khalil Ashawi April, 2016

Heartbreak in starving Syrian town, By Lisa Barrington and Stephanie Nebehay January 12, 2015

Our selective grief: Paris, Beirut, Ankara, and Syria, by  Tom Regan November, 2015  Column

Syria: new weaponry test bed By David StupplesCity University London  October, 2015

Ethnic groups flee as Syrian Kurds advance against Islamic State, By Humeyra Pamuk July, 2015

Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate, by Jonathan Manthorpe July 16, 2014   Column

Putin supports Syria for fear of revolution spreading to Russia’s Muslims, by Jonathan Manthorpe  : September 6, 2013 Column

Cutting Syria’s Gordian knot no simple feat, by Jonathan Manthorpe   August 28, 2013  Column

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Recommended:

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs Tagged , , , |

Fake News and Our Happiness Disorder

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
December, 2016

How do we “know” what we “know?”

Nope, this isn’t a trick question on an epistemology course. It’s the key to our lives, from the mundane (is that food safe to eat?) to social (can I trust that person?) to the most technical of calculations (how do I design a sound airplane?). Our world is built on evidence-based decision-making.

In democracies, we depend on having enough citizens who know about enough stuff to make enough smart decisions — based on the best evidence available — to keep us alive. We depend on having enough citizens willing  to confront problems and fix them. And if there’s anybody left who doubts that our democracies are in crisis, the events of 2016 dispelled our illusions.

Will democracy last? Some fear for this grand experiment; see this study showing a drop in support for the very concept. Its detractors might consider which system they’d prefer: Rule by royals? Tyranny by dictators? Authoritarianism posing as Communism? Personally, I agree with Winston Churchill, who considered democracy the least bad of the options. But our willingness to accept lies as facts — like the lies told during this year’s UK vote on Brexit and the American presidential election — could be democracy’s death knell.

Here’s why I think fake news is so widespread today: real news can be depressing. We are a society that avoids sadness, suppresses reflection with distraction, and stocks an arsenal of drugs and therapy for depression. And, increasingly, we refuse to embrace facts delivered as news.

The root cause of “Fake News” is deeper than the culprits most often blamed:  the venality of the deceivers, the glee of those who profit, manipulations by the Russians, distrust in traditional media, the gullibility of sheeple.

I contend that “Fake News” flourishes because we have a pandemic of Happiness Disorder.

Happiness is, obviously, a good thing. But happiness is neither real, nor achievable, if the only way we can feel happy is by turning a blind eye — especially when there’s a cliff in our road. Staring crises in the face is hardly happy-making — but ignoring a crisis is deadly. Democracy requires that enough of us keep watch to avoid driving off cliffs. Without enough people with clear sight — without some willingness to seek “knowledge” — where will we find ourselves?

©  Deborah Jones 2016

Return to Free Range

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

If you value this story, the author would appreciate a contribution of .27 cents, Canadian, to help fund her ongoing work and pay for this site. Click on paypal.me/deborahjones to be taken to Deborah Jones’s personal PayPal page.

 

 

 

DebJones in Spain

Deborah Jones is a partner in Facts and Opinions.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged |

Red Kettles, Fake News, Corruption: Facts and Opinions this week

Viola Desmond the choice for portrait on Canada’s next $10 bill 

Our journalism boutique lineup this week features an essay by Jeremy Hainsworth, weighing discrimination against the good done by the Salvation Army in saving lives. We focus on corruption with three pieces: Jonathan Manthorpe’s column on Transparency International’s latest findings; India’s secretive war against corruption, and how America welcomes foreign high-rollers suspected of corruption at home. Fake News is on our horizon, too, with Tom Regan’s Déjà vu  perspective and thoughts in the Notebook section below. But first, give a minute of your time to the video of Viola Desmond, and don’t miss our brief story about her, below.

Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Fund choice between LGBT rights and saving lives, by Jeremy Hainsworth The annual hullabaloo about the allegedly homophobic and discriminatory activities of the Salvation Army has begun. I'm torn: the Salvation Army has discriminatory policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people issues. It also runs detoxes and rehab facilities for those seeking recovery from addiction. Bottom line: someone who is dead can’t help fight inequality.Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Fund choice between LGBT rights and saving lives, by Jeremy Hainsworth

The annual hullabaloo about the allegedly homophobic and discriminatory activities of the Salvation Army has begun. I’m torn: the Salvation Army has discriminatory policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people issues. It also runs detoxes and rehab facilities for those seeking recovery from addiction.

Fake News: Déjà vu all over again, by Tom Regan   Column

We’ve been here before. Overwhelmed by fake news. Making important political and social decisions based on lies, half-truths and deliberate manipulation of facts, shaping them into something quite hideous. Perhaps even ignoring them altogether.

Canada, Fraudster’s Nirvana, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Canada was slammed in a new report on corruption. It matters because tricks –blind trusts, shell companies, anonymous accounts in tax havens — are spurring the kind of populist, enraged politics that elected Donald Trump and is behind Brexit.  Unless Ottawa ensures that Canada’s privileged classes play by the same rules as everyone else Canada, too, will experience a tide of outrage.

People queue outside a bank to withdraw cash and deposit their old high denomination banknotes in Mumbai, India, December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

People queue outside a bank to withdraw cash and deposit their old high denomination banknotes in Mumbai, India, December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Who knew? Modi’s secretive attack on black money, by Douglas Busvine and Rupam Jain

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi staked his reputation and popularity on a secretive flash attack on the corrupt “black money” his government has struggled to eradicate.

Suspected of Corruption, Finding Refuge in the U.S. by Kyra Gurney, Anjali Tsui, David Iaconangelo, Selina Cheng

Wealthy politicians and businessmen suspected of corruption in their native lands are fleeing to a safe haven where their wealth and influence shields them from arrest: the United States, an  increasingly popular destination for people avoiding criminal charges.

~~~

Notebook:

How do we “know” what we “know?” Nope, this isn’t a trick question on an epistemology course. It’s the key to our lives, from the mundane (is that food safe to eat?) to social (can I trust that person?) to the most technical of calculations (how do I design a sound airplane?). Our world is built on evidence-based decision-making. In democracies, we depend on having enough citizens who know about enough stuff to make enough smart decisions — based on the best evidence available — to keep us alive. We depend on having enough citizens willing  to confront problems and fix them. And if there’s anybody left who doubts that our democracies are in crisis, the events of 2016 dispelled our illusions.

Will democracy last? Some fear for this grand experiment; see this study showing a drop in support for the very concept. Its detractors might consider what system they’d prefer: Rule by royals? Tyranny by dictators? Authoritarianism posing as Communism? I agree with Winston Churchill, who considered democracy the least bad of the options.  But our willingness to accept lies as facts — like the lies told during the UK vote on Brexit and the American election — could be its death knell.

This week F&O partner Tom Regan argued in his column, Fake News: Déjà vu all over again, that untrustworthy “news” is hardly new.

But here’s why I think fake news is so widespread today: real news can be depressing. We are a society that avoids sadness, suppresses reflection with distraction, and stocks an arsenal of drugs and therapy for depression. And, increasingly, we also refuse to embrace real news.

The root cause of “Fake News” is deeper than the culprits most often blamed:  the venality of the deceivers, the glee of those who profit, manipulations by the Russians, distrust in traditional media, the gullibility of sheeple. I contend that “Fake News” flourishes because we have a pandemic of Happiness Disorder.

Happiness is, obviously, a good thing. But happiness is neither real, nor achievable, if the only way we can feel happy is by turning a blind eye — especially when there’s a cliff in our road. Staring crises in the face is hardly happy-making — but ignoring a crisis is deadly. Democracy requires that enough of us keep watch to avoid driving off cliffs. Without enough clear sight — without some willingness to seek “knowledge” — where will we find ourselves?

~~~

Viola Desmond, civil rights leader, circa 1940. Photo Nova Scotia Government

Viola Desmond, civil rights leader, circa 1940. Photo Nova Scotia Government

The image of civil rights leader Viola Desmond will grace Canada’s next new $10 bill, being designed for issue in 2018, the Bank of Canada announced this week.

In 1946 Desmond, a successful businesswoman in Nova Scotia, refused to sit in the “coloured” section of a theatre in Cape Breton. Police dragged her out and locked her in jail. She was later convicted and fined on a tax technicality. She lost her appeal, but her story spread far and wide, and by 1954 segregation in Nova Scotia was abolished. Desmond, who died in 1965 aged 50,  was pardoned posthumously in 2010 — by Mayann Francis, also a black Nova Scotia woman, and Nova Scotia’s then-Lieutenant Governor.

Nine years after Viola Desmond’s defiant stand rocked Canada,  Rosa Parks, by refusing to sit in the “coloured” section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabma, became America’s symbol of civil rights.

Suggested reading elsewhere: Viola Desmond deserves better than a once-only holiday, by Stephen Kimber, 2014;  BLACK HISTORY MONTH: REMEMBERING CANADIAN CIVIL RIGHTS ICON VIOLA DESMOND, by  Asha Tomlinson, CBC News.

~~~

Findings:

“The breakup of Europe, the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, the failures of Mark Carney and the technocratic elite: he has anatomised all of them,’ writes Aditya Chakrabortty in a Guardian profile about Wolfgang Streeck: the German economist calling time on capitalism. “Not so long ago, such catastrophism would have been the stuff of Speakers’ Corner. Today, it goes right to the brokenness of politics.”

A remarkable multi-media New York Times feature examines the slaughter underway in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has launched a war on drugs unlike any the world has seen. They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals” by Daniel Berehulak is a gripping photo essay, grisly and sometimes heart wrenching, documenting 57 killings.

— Deborah Jones 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Matters of Facts, and Opinions

A man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE Ð SEARCH ÒBUSINESS WEEK AHEAD SEPTEMBER 12Ó FOR ALL IMAGES - RTSNAG5

Is Your T-Shirt Clean of Slavery? Science Will Tell. Above, a man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade

F&O’s Dispatches this week:

Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks, by Alastair Macdonald

 Islamic State will attack Europe again, security chiefs warned on Dec. 2, and may add car bombs, cyber and chemical warfare to its local arsenal as European militants drift home after reverses in Syria and Iraq.

Donald Trump’s Constitutional Problem, by Richard Tofel, ProPublica  Report

Despite the presence of armed forces in the street, the most violent neighbourhoods of Honduras are plagued by insecurity. Children can rarely go out and play, even during daytime. Families’ movements are restricted by gangs, who impose “invisible borders” between their gang territories. European Commission photo, by A. Aragón 2016/Flickr

Honduras is plagued by insecurity. EU/A. Aragón 2016/Flickr

Far from ending with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement that he will separate himself from the management of his business empire, the constitutional debate about the meaning of the Emoluments Clause — and whether Trump will be violating it — is likely just beginning.

Porous Texas Fence Foreshadow’s Trump’s Wall Problems, by Jon Herskovitz

The rose-coloured border security fence starts in a dusty field on the Loop family farm in South Texas – about 15 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico and a mile north of the southern U.S. border. From there, near Brownsville, it stretches about 60 miles west, but with plenty of gaps to drive or walk through. Where it exists, the fence doesn’t always stop illegal immigrants.

Is Your T-Shirt Clean of Slavery? Science Will Tell, by Liz Mermin  Report

Shoppers lured by a bargain-priced T-shirt but concerned about whether the item is free of slave labour could soon have the answer – from DNA forensic technology.

Commentary:

Disappearing the Middle East, by Tom Regan  Column

The Middle East has disappeared from American media, despite the billions the US has spent and continues to spend in the region. Americans have moved on. But here’s the rub — it won’t just go away.

Fidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Many people questioned it then and continue to question it now, but Nelson Mandela had no doubt that Fidel Castro played a central and critical role in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Canada’s Pierre Trudeau and Cuba’s Fidel Castro were brothers under the skin. It is no wonder they became life-long friends, for each could see a reflection of himself in the other.  The similarity in the backgrounds of the two men is compelling.

Starve the Beast! by Jim McNiven   Column

During America’s Ronald Reagan presidency, the phrase ‘starve the beast’ was shorthand amongst conservatives for the idea that by simply cutting back on expenditures — either through disciplined spending or by giving money away through tax cuts— people would be forced to accept smaller and less expensive government. It didn’t really work — but the idea persists, on the “left” and the “right.”

Necropolitics in Mexico and Central America, by By Ariadna Estévez, Expert Witness

There’s a standard narrative, that gang violence is forcing people to flee Central America and Mexico. But this overlooks two facts about the  humanitarian crisis and regional tragedy, and criminal violence is just part of a dangerous cocktail.

To our supporters, thank you. Newcomers, welcome to reader-supported Facts and Opinions, employee-owned and ad-free. We will continue only if readers like you chip in, at least 27 cents, on an honour system. If you value our work, contribute below. Find details and more payment options here.

Notebook: on the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro dies, age 90. Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo

Fidel Castro dies, age 90. Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina

Before I first went to Cuba, in 1995 on a magazine assignment, a good friend who travelled widely on government business said it was the only Latin American country she knew where no children begged in the streets. I kept her comment in mind as I read up on the criticism of Cuba’s human rights and economic record.

At the airport at Holguin I encountered armed guards, enforcing Cuba’s then-rule against bringing in magazines, books or newspapers. Buildings everywhere were riddled with bullet holes, mementoes of the revolution. People were thin and food –mostly consisted rice and beans — was scant, following the collapse of its ally the U.S.S.R. Cuba’s air roiled with black oily exhaust belching from ancient vehicles; taking public transit required clambering into the back of a dump truck.  Once in Santiago, a tour guide noted matter-of-factly that Cuba used firing squads for capital punishment.

But my friend was right: there was not a beggar to be seen. Children dressed in sparkling white walked to school in lines. Almost all of the adults I met had post-secondary education; my assigned driver had a PhD in anthropology and was married to a physician. Everyone had health care. Though Cubans were poor, no one I saw was downcast to the point of being broken; I still can’t say the same of other places I’ve been in the Americas — including the U.S.

Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution has had mixed results, but as with most things in life, it’s not all good nor all bad. Cuba ranks 67th in the UN Human Development Index. Had Castro not revolted against the American corporate pirates who were then raping and ransacking the country, would it now rival perhaps Haiti (163), Nicaragua (125) or Honduras (131)?

My driver in 1995 said he hoped Cuba would change, open up to the world, allow him to travel. He was tired of being poor and hungry, he said. Then he frowned, and added, “But we have to be careful. We don’t want to lose what we’ve gained.”

Those gains — by a small, isolated and impoverished country — are revealed in an adult literacy rate of 99.8 %, and statistics that put the far wealthier United States to shame in areas like infant mortality (Cuba’s rate of 4, lower than 6 in the US); life expectancy (Cubans live to 79.1 years, Americans 78.8 years. Sources: UNICEF Cuba; UNICEF U.S.  Such are the things I’ve kept in mind lately while listening to modern critics of Cuba’s human rights and economic record.

Our works about Cuba and Fidel Castro include two columns this week by International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe — Fidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid, and  Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits — adding to the earlier news: Fidel Castro, dead at 90. A Life in Photos; with Fidel Castro, Facts and Quotes, and an analysis by academic Mark Beeson, Fidel Castro: Anachronism, Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy.

— Deborah Jones       

Finding:

“Do you live in a bubble?” asks PBS. The American public broadcaster developed a 25-question quiz anyone can fill out to see how disconnected we might be from “from the average white American and American culture at large.” Adapted from one used by Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author, it assesses how thick or thin the walls of a respondent’s bubble might be. It’s American, of course, but this Canadian guesstimated the local equivalent of US-specific questions. Find the quiz here.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Fidel Castro and the Defeat of South African’s Apartheid

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 3, 2016

Former South African President Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuba's President Fidel Castro during a visit to Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg in this September 2, 2001 file photo.  REUTERS/Chris Kotze/File Photo

Former South African President Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuba’s President Fidel Castro during a visit to Mandela’s home in Houghton, Johannesburg in this September 2, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Kotze/File Photo

Many people questioned it then and continue to question it now, but Nelson Mandela had no doubt that Fidel Castro played a central and critical role in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

In 1991, the year after his release from prison and the start of the process to dismantle apartheid, Mandela went to Cuba on a pilgrimage of thanks.

“In Africa we are used to being victims of countries that want to take from us our territory or overthrow our sovereignty,” Mandela told a crowd in Havana. “In African history there is not another instance where another people has stood up for one of ours.”

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That’s debatable, and Mandela was given to embellished gratitude towards those who had put themselves on the line in opposition to apartheid, but there is a strong argument to be made that the death of the white minority regime in South Africa was sealed at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, which raged from August 1987 until June 1988.

This was the largest battle fought in Africa since the slugging matches between Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps in North Africa in the Second World War. I drove through the battle field of Cuito Cuanavale, about 200 kilometres north of the border with Namibia, a couple of years after the battle. The arid plain was still littered with the wrecks of burned-out tanks and armoured vehicles. Africa’s iconic red earth was scarred with massive bomb and artillery craters. Everywhere the ground was covered with slowly decaying cartridge and artillery-shell cases.

Just how many people died in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale is heavily disputed and will never be known for sure, but from what both sides admit to, at least 10,000 people were killed and many more wounded. The true cost is doubtless much higher.

The significance of the battle, and the reason Mandela and many others point to it as the beginning of the end of apartheid is that, to quote Mandela, “it destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor … and inspired the fighting masses of South Africa.”

To put it more bluntly, the South Africans lost their air superiority. Their aging and obsolete warplanes were out-classed and out-fought by the Cubans in their modern MiG fighters. Without air superiority, the South Africans could no longer send armoured raids into neighbouring countries to root out the guerrilla training camps of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

More immediately, the loss of air superiority made vulnerable the South African forces occupying Namibia, south of Angola and north of South Africa’s western cape Province. Successive South African governments had occupied and administered Namibia since they captured what was then German Southwest Africa in the First World War. Initially, the occupation was mandated by the League of Nations, but that was withdrawn in 1946 after the creation of the United Nations. However, South Africa continued to occupy Namibia illegally and created an apartheid regime there. By the late 1980s, the South African administration and the local white-minority ruling class were in the midst of a guerrilla war with the South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), whose fighters operated from bases over the border in Angola.

The apartheid regime in Pretoria was already under pressure on all sides when it lost its regional military dominance at Cuito Cuanavale. The South African government was fearful of the reaction of its white supporters to the loss of their sons in the military. The hesitant way in which the South African commanders fought the battle reflected the apprehension of a backlash among the white public at home.

There were two other significant factors that drove President F. W. de Klerk and his ministers to begin talks with the ANC in 1989, leading to the release of Mandela after 27 years in prison on February 11, 1990, the formal ending of apartheid, the creation of a new constitution, and free elections in 1994.

One was the pending collapse of the Soviet Union and the accompanying discrediting of communism. South African Communist Party members dominated the upper echelons of the ANC. De Klerk and his ministers believed – naively, as was obvious at the time – that the failure of world communism could allow their reformed National Party to win a free and fair election.

The other reason to opt for a negotiated end to apartheid in 1989 was demographics. The regime was facing a decline in the white population because of both a low birth rate, and the emigration of whites tired of sanctions and fearful for the future. At the same time, the black population was growing fast. Already, close to half the white working population was engaged in the administration of racial segregation. De Klerk’s officials calculated that within a decade there would not be enough white people in South Africa to keep apartheid functioning.

Even so, the battle of Cuito Cuanavale was the trip-wire that triggered all these imperatives that forced the South African government to negotiate an end to apartheid. And there is no question that Castro’s Cuban expeditionary force fighting on behalf of the Angolan government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) played the key role in tripping that wire. Without the Cubans, the South African forces would almost certainly have dominated and the pressure on Pretoria to negotiate a settlement would have been considerably less.

Castro’s involvement in Angola started in the mid-1970s, when Africa was a theatre in the Cold War. The lines were drawn between the Soviet Union, with Cuba (and to a lesser extent, China) at its side, supporting leftist “liberation movements,” on one flank. On the other, the U.S. and the old colonial powers — Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium — put their muscle behind either their own colonial regimes or else the centrist or right-wing surrogates they put in place after hauling down their flags.

There was already a liberation insurgency going on in Angola in April 1975 when its colonial master, Portugal, suddenly upped and left. In fact, there were three anti-colonial guerrilla armies operating in Angola and the departing Portuguese left them to fight it out. Dominant was the MPLA and its armed wing, the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FPLA), which was backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba. Of the other two groups, the most important was the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by the former Maoist Jonas Savimbi, who was backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the South African apartheid regime.

The war between the FPLA, backed by Castro’s soldiers and airmen, and UNITA’s forces, aided by South African military when necessary, raged back and forth for 13 years. By and large, the governing MPLA forces held the north and west of the country and UNITA held the southeast. As the years went by, the civil war became mixed up with the liberation war going on in neighbouring Namibia, as well as uprisings and unrest to the north in the Congo, then known as Zaire.

By mid-1987, Savimbi’s UNITA fighters had made some significant gains and were firmly entrenched at Jamba and Mavinga. After several failed attempts to dislodge UNITA, the government FPLA forces, with many hundreds of Soviet “advisers” and commanded by Soviet Major-General Ivan Ryabchenko, devised Operacao Saludando Octubra. The plan was to push out from their base at Cuito Cuanavale and drive the UNITA forces from Mavinga and Jamba. Cuban forces were not involved in the initial stages of the battle, serving only in support functions, but the Cuban commanders warned Ryabchenko and the FPLA commanders that their attack would give the South Africans another excuse to intervene in the Angolan war.

The Cubans were right. The South Africans got wind of the FPLA military build-up in Cuito Cuanavale well ahead of the government offensive and warned UNITA what was coming. On June 15, the South African government decided to support UNITA and dispatched about 1,000 troops to southern Angola, with another 2,000 troops added later. The deployment included armoured units and South Africa’s G5 howitzers, which had a range of 40 kilometres or more and were the most effective artillery in the world at the time.

The battle began early in August when the FPLA set out from Cuito Cuanavale with about 6,000 fighters in armoured and mechanized brigades, including 80 tanks, supporting artillery and MiG 23 warplanes for air support and ground attack.

The objective of UNITA and its South African allies was to check the FPLA breakout and stop them crossing the Lomba River. The South Africans called this Operation Modular, and in a series of bloody fights through September and early October, they and the four UNITA battalions of about 8,000 men fought the FPLA to a standstill.

The FPLA losses were heavy. By some estimates, the four FPLA brigades lost between 60 and 70 per cent of their strength, as well as much equipment, including over 60 tanks, around 80 armoured vehicles and the first sophisticated Soviet SA-8 anti-aircraft missiles to fall into western hands.

By late September, UNITA and the South Africans were counter-attacking. The Angolan government forces fell back on Cuito Cuanavale and by the end of November the battle had stalled.

Humiliated, and seeing little chance of restoring their reputation, the Soviets chose this moment to pull out.  Angolan President dos Santos immediately called Castro for aid. Castro responded quickly and dispatched 15,000 troops and MiG 23 fighter-bombers to reinforce the battered government forces in Cuito Cuanavale. The troops began arriving in large numbers early in December. It was with the arrival of the Cubans in large numbers that the tide of the battle turned.

Meanwhile, the Pretoria government was wrestling with the political fallout from the scores of its soldiers killed in the first stage of the battle. Its battle-worn troops in Angola were replaced by fresh detachments and new tanks, but the number of troops was reduced to 2,000 and their mandate was only to keep the government forces bottled up in Cuito Cuanavale.

In January and February 1988, there was a series of skirmishes, some of them fierce battles with significant losses on both sides. The South Africans called this period Operation Hooper, and while the Cubans and government forces did not manage to break out of Cuito Cuanavale, neither did UNITA, and the South Africans convincingly fence them in. It was in this period that the Cubans began to achieve air superiority.

The third phase of the battle started in March 1988, when large UNITA detachments with South Africans in support attempted to drive the Cuban and FAPLA forces from an area outside Cuito Cuanavale protected by the River Tumpo. Both UNITA and the South African forces were heavily mauled, and the South Africans lost a significant number of tanks and armoured vehicles. The operation was a major propaganda victory for Castro and a loss for Pretoria.

The final stage of the battle – called Operation Displace by the South Africans – was primarily an artillery duel. The South Africans used their G-5 howitzers to shell Cuito Cuanavale from up to 40 kilometres away, while the Cubans used their air power with increasing confidence and effectiveness.

The battle of Cuito Cuanavale ended on June 27, 1988, when in a major engagement the Cubans bombed the Calueque Dam in southwestern Angola, only 11 kilometres north of the Namibian border. A CIA report noted that the bombing of the dam emphasized that the Cubans had achieved air superiority and that South African air defences were weak.

In the days before this action, when it looked as though the Cubans might drive right up to the Namibian border, the South Africans had called up 140,000 reservists. But on reflection, Pretoria decided that the risk of escalating the war with the Cubans was not worthwhile and began withdrawing the troops. By the end of August, they had all left Angola.

While the final stages of the battle were under way, the South Africans were negotiating with the Namibian liberation group, SWAPO. On August 22, 1988, a peace treaty was signed and the following December became a formal agreement for the withdrawal of South African forces from Namibia, and elections leading to a government elected by the majority.

Namibia gained its independence in March, 1990. By that time, Mandela had been released, apartheid had been lifted, and the process of negotiating a new constitution for South Africa was starting.

Who won and who lost the battle of Cuito Cuanavale remains a matter of dispute, but what is beyond doubt is that the apartheid regime came face-to-face with the reality that it was not prepared to make the blood sacrifices necessary to keep control of South Africa, and probably could not do so even if it wished.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

See also: Castro and Trudeau, Kindred Spirits, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Canada’s Pierre Trudeau and Cuba’s Fidel Castro were brothers under the skin. It is no wonder they became life-long friends, for each could see a reflection of himself in the other.  The similarity in the backgrounds of the two men is compelling.

Related stories in F&O:

Fidel Castro, Dead at 90: A Life in Photos, by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta  Report/Photo essay

Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied U.S. efforts to topple him, died Nov. 25, 2016. He was 90. A towering figure of the second half of the 20th Century, Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule.

Fidel Castro, The Facts, compiled by Reuters

Cuban revolutionary and its former president Fidel Castro died, age 90, on Friday November 26.  Following are some facts about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and quotes from his friends and foes.

Fidel Castro: Anachronism and Achiever, With Tarnished Legacy, by Mark Beeson   Analysis

Twentieth-century political icons don’t get much bigger than Fidel Castro. His death will reignite debates about his place in history and the revolutionary ideas he epitomised.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Uncategorized