No, Franco is not alive today

October 8, 2017

Even in the worst Franco years I don’t remember violence as bad as that meted out by the police on Sunday. If your government annuls your basic democratic rights and cuts off your freedom of expression, if it distracts and confuses public opinion with incendiary messages, what can you do but confront it? That’s why for me the time is up for Catalonia belonging to Spain. We must insist on a binding referendum to decide our future. Jordi Borrell Celades, head of sales at a chemical company based in Barcelona writing I the Guardian

In Catalonia we have seen how the EU does ‘democracy’. Why can’t Remainers see it too? Nigel Farage


Spain is facing its greatest crisis since the Tejero’s attempted coup in 1981. The images of civil guard hitting pensioners who were trying to vote have gone round the world. I have been following the UK media and I can see that Spain has been getting an awful press. Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage have all condemned the actions of Spain. Personally I think it was a massive mistsake to send the Civil Guard in. We live in era of soft power and social media in which images and videos can be transmitted in seconds. It is true as Peter Preston argued in today’s Observer that in an age of fake news we need to look into the reliability of the statistics. Apparently one of the pictures that went viral was actually from miners’ strike five years ago. Preston continues:

That woman who had all her fingers broken. She hadn’t. That six-year-old boy, paralysed by police brutality? It didn’t happen. Serious injuries on the day: just two.

Be that as it may it has to be said that the Catalonian government has understood the importance of soft power and getting your message across. But today I want to look at the bigger picture

What has made me increasingly angry over the last few days is the outrageous comparisons with the Spain of Franco.  Mr Borrell’s comment that even in the worst Franco years he could not remember violence as bad as that meted out by the police on last Sunday seems to reflect the tone of much of the coverage I have seen. Spain is democracy, an imperfect one. To give just one example Spain introduced gay marriage before the UK, the USA and Germany. The Spanish Civil War is often brought up, but people forget that Madrid and Catalonia were on the same side in this conflict. Franco bombed Madrid! It’s true that more of its politicians should be in prison. But that would also apply to Catalonian politicians who are no slouches when it comes to kickbacks.

What is happening in Catalonia is related to the global financial crisis and the subsequent rise of populist movement. This has seen the rise of the rise of radical parties both on the right and left. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Curiously, as happened in the USA, Russia has been trying to destabilise the situation. Obviously, if there was no sense of dissatisfaction, such attempts would not be successful. It is curious to read articles in the Daily Mail where Brexit supporters attack the EU for not intervening in a sovereign state. Isn’t that what they what they are against?

España nos roba – Spain is robbing us is what you hear in Catalonia. Financial arrangements can always be negotiated. But when I hear that Catalonia pays more than it gets back, I shake my head. But this is perfectly normal it is the third richest region of Spain behind Madrid and the Basque Country. To complain about this is like France complaining about paying more into the European Union than it gets out.  In this sense there are parallels with the Lega Nord in Italy, who resent paying for the lazy southerners.

When I hear the term self-determination, I do get a bit nervous. It sounds like a wonderful idea. Woodrow Wilson wanted loads of it in the Treaties of Paris after WWI It didn’t turn out so well did it? Country borders are complex. Whenever you create a new state, within those states there are minorities. Territorial integrity is not something that should be thrown aside lightly; I admit I prefer stability. The fact that it is not easy to create a new state is a good thing. I had hoped in the 1990s that with the EU this kind of nationalism was waning.  How wrong I was! The backlash of the last few years has been sobering.

I also wanted to look at how most Spanish people have such a negative perception of last Sunday’s vote, many even compare it to a coup d’état. In the UK there is no written constitution, which allows a more flexible approach. Under the Spanish Constitution sovereignty rests with the whole of the Spanish people. You may criticise this but it is not undemocratic and this constitution was voted for in 1978 with a massive majority including in Catalonia itself. There are rules to be followed and the Govern has ridden roughshod over them. And I would like to know if the constitution of a newly independent Catalonia will include the right for self-determination within its borders

If Catalonia were to become independent, they would be out of the European Union. Even if Spain didn’t veto their membership, I think that other European countries, with their own potentially rebellious regions, would view an independent Catalonia with any relish whatsoever. It will certainly be an adventure. Robert Hardman, writing in the Daily Mail tried to play down the dangers:

Meanwhile, Catalonia is now being warned of the usual plagues straight out of the Remain camp’s Project Fear handbook.

Alas, I fear that the outlook for the Catalonian economy in the short and medium term at least is not great.  A number of banks and other companies have already decided to move their headquarters to other Spanish cities. If independence came, it could become would the last company to leave Catalonia, please turn out the lights? Reality is not optional. Of course we have seen how emotions can make people vote against their interests.

We are living in interesting times. I have to admit that I’m rather worried. This has been a massive political failure. The Spanish government has a delicate tightrope to walk. On the one hand they do not want to see constitutional order undermined, but if they are too heavy-handed there will be a powerful backlash in Catalonia. There will have to be some kind of negotiation. Maybe the constitution will have to be revisited But I don’t see the consensus for it. I’m a bit pessimistic. Many of the people in Catalonia who favour remaining in Spain, the majority still in recent polls, are the older generation. They will die off. The younger generation brought up (indoctrinated?) in a pro independence climate are going to be the majority. Will they be satisfied with greater autonomy?



Where do country names come from?

April 23, 2017

I was listening to the BBC’s Word of Mouth podcast this week and they had a fascinating feature on how countries got their names. It was a very informative programme, which made me want to investigate further. Some of these origins are pretty straightforward; France is the land of the Franks, Poland of the Poles, Uzbekistan of the Uzbeks and Thailand of the Thais. However, some are more interesting.

Some places got their names after real or legendary people:

Bolivia Simón Bolívar

Colombia Christopher Columbus

Éire (Ireland)             Éire (Ériu), a Celtic fertility goddess

El Salvador Jesus (literally, The Saviour)

Israel Jacob, who was also called Israel in the Bible

Mozambique             Mussa Bin Bique

Philippines    King Philip II of Spain

Saudi Arabia             Muhammad bin Saud

Wikipedia also has some interesting dependent territories named after people:

Bermuda        Juan de Bermúdez

Cook Islands             Captain James Cook

Falkland Islands Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland

Martinique     Martin of Tours

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands George III of the United Kingdom and John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

Virgin Islands Saint Ursula and her 11,000 virgins

The programme also looked at certain controversies or curiosities regarding names. For the Dutch, Holland is just a region of the country. Indians call their country Bharat and the official transliterated name of the People’s Republic of China is: Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo. China takes its English name from the state of Quin, a western Chinese kingdom during the Zhou dynasty. The programme also cited the theory, which I first heard on QI, that America is not named after Amerigo Vespucci, but Richard ap Meryk, whose name is anglicised to Richard Amerike or Ameryk. He was a fifteenth-century Anglo-Welsh merchant, royal customs officer and, sheriff of Bristol. I remain sceptical, but it is an interesting theory. I also learned that Pakistan’s name is a semi-acronym: the P is from Punjab; the A from the Afgania province; the K from Kashmir; the S from Sindh, and the -Stan from Baluchistan. They also featured what must be the most misleading name in the atlas. The Viking Erik the Red managed to persuade 500 Icelanders to go to barren, frozen land, where they set up two colonies. In a brilliant piece of marketing he had called it Greenland.

There are a lot of inaccurate folk etymologies. Brunei is one example. According to legend, Brunei was founded by Sultan Muhammad Shah. Upon discovering the place he is said to have exclaimed Baru nah, which is loosely translated as “That’s it!” or “Eureka”, from which the “Brunei” was derived. It sounds funny, but a more credible theory is that Brunei comes from the Sanskrit bhūmi, which means ‘land’.

Venezuela means ‘Little Venice’, and was so named because it reminded explorers Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci of the Italian city. The connection does seem somewhat tenuous, although more apt now after years of misrule, the country does seem to be sinking fast.

The Oxford dictionaries blog has an A-Z of country name origins. Here is a selection:

Andorra The name Andorra comes from a local Navarrese word, andurrial, meaning ‘shrub-covered land’. It has also been suggested that the country took its name from Arabic al-Gandura, ‘the wanton woman’, a legacy from the Moors.

Argentina The name Argentina is said to have been coined by Spanish explorers who, when they first came to the region, noticed the silver ornaments worn by the natives. Thus the word is from the Spanish argentine, ‘silvery’, and means ‘(Land of) the Silver (River)’.

Japan The name means ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ and is a reference to Japan’s location east of China. It comes from the Chinese pronunciation of ‘Jipen’, from the Chinese characters rì, ‘sun’, and bĕn, ‘origin’.

Liberia Liberia is from the Latin liber ‘free’ – the same root of the word liberty – and is so called because it was founded in 1822 as a settlement for freed slaves from the US, and proclaimed independent in 1847.

Madagascar The name Madageiscar originated with explorer Marco Polo in the 13th century as a result of hearsay and misunderstanding. He never visited the island and mistook the Italian version of the Arab name for Mogadishu, Mogadiscio, on the Somali coast to refer to the island which he called Madeigascar.

Nauru The island’s name may be derived from anáoero, ‘I go to the beach’.

New Zealand The name New Zealand comes from the Dutch province of Zeeland, ‘sea land’.

Panama Panama is named after the capital, Panama City, which is said to mean ‘(Place with) an Abundance of Fish’ – though some believe it comes from a Cuna phrase panna mai, ‘far away’.

Sierra Leone Sierra Leone means ‘Lion Mountains’ from the Portuguese sierra, ‘mountain chain’, and leão, ‘lion’. However, there are no lions here, even if there once were.

Solomon Islands The islands were named by the Spaniard Àlvaro de Mendaña de Neira (1542–95), inspired by Inca stories of islands 600 leagues to the west of Peru that had been the source of the gold that adorned the court of King Solomon.

Spain Spain may come from the Punic span or tsepan, ‘rabbit’, which were numerous in the peninsula, or from the Punic sphan,‘north’, since it was north of Carthage – or it may come from the Basque ezpaña, ‘lip’ or ‘extremity’, a reference to this south-western area of Europe.

Zimbabwe Zimbabwe means ‘stone enclosure’ or ‘stone dwelling’ from the Bantu zimba, ‘houses’, and mabwe, ‘stones’.

The programme featured Avalon, as an example of a fictional country. They could have included more. I am currently watching the second series of The Man in The High Castle, which of course has its origins in a Philip K Dick novel. After the Axis victory in WWII the Greater Nazi Reich, a fascist puppet state on the East coast, is created. And the coming week an adaptation of Margaret Attwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale will be shown on Hulu. So Gilead, a Christian-fundamentalist theocracy will become more famous. Some 500 years ago Thomas Moore invented Utopia. The name was a Greek pun meaning both no place and good place. Hollywood gave us Freedonia in Duck Soup and Bacteria, a satire of Italy under Mussolini in The Great Dictator. And finally I remember Qumran from the original Yes Minister series of the 1980s. The hapless Minister of Administrative Affairs, Jim Hacker is on a visit to this oil-rich sheikdom located in the Persian Gulf. Hacker is not looking forward to “five hours of orange juice” and so a communications room is set up near the reception, which will contain illicit liquor. Then Hacker is periodically called to the room with messages from Mr Haig, Mr Walker from the Scotch Office, Mr Smirnoff of the Soviet Embassy, and a delegation of teachers.

The examples we have seen have been from books films and TV shows. But the New York Times actually invented a Central Asian country Kyrzbekistan, instead of Kyrgyzstan. The mockery directed at the paper on social media was unceasing:

Rumour has it that #Kyrzbekistan has been given the go-ahead to enter Eurovision 2015.

 Austranians don’t like Kyrzbesistanis ever since they have sided with Luxemstein in the United States of Amigos question #Kyrzbekistan

I suppose, if all nations are “imagined communities”, the NYT making one up just took that to its logical conclusion. #kyrzbekistan

You can’t just will a country out of existence… Stand up for #kyrzbekistan!

This concludes my journey into the origins of country names. I will conclude with a map about country etymologies that featured on the internet. I think I may have seen it already on Facebook, but it makes a lot more sense now. This is definitely one for the geography geeks. However, there are some errors on the map, so this would not be appropriate for a university thesis. i recommend clicking on the full -size version once you have opened it up.

All Out War : the first draft of the Brexit story

February 26, 2017


I have to admit I have become a bit disengaged from politics over the last few years. But after the political earthquakes of 2016 I felt I had to get back into it. The book I chose was All Out War by the political correspondent of the Sunday Times, Tim Shipman. This job seems to have been given access, going back for years, to most of the major figures in this story, except perhaps to Team Corbyn. Subtitled “The full story of how Brexit sank Britain’s political class“, it is a chronicle of the campaign that would lead to Brexit. It was well worth reading and has drawn plaudits from both sides of the debate. In fact, it is necessary to talk about all sides as what this book makes clear is that both “Leave” and “Remain” were coalitions of rival forces which at certain stages, as Shipman chronicles in exhaustive detail, seemed to spend more time  attacking factions on their own side rather than against those of the opposing campaign. If you like tales of bitter political infighting, this is the book for you.

Let’s take a look at those in favour of Brexit. The official campaign group for leaving the EU was Vote Leave, with its big rival being Leave.EU. There were other groups too such as Grassroots Out, Get Britain Out and Better Off Out, but Shipman focuses on the first two. Vote Leave was created in October 2015 by political strategists Matthew Elliot and Dominic Cummings. It was conceived as a cross-party organisation. Its two most prominent advocates were Conservatives Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who gave it more respectability. They tended to play down immigration and highlighted global trade liberalisation instead. Leave.EU, which was originally called The Know, The campaign was co-founded by Bristol-based businessman and UKIP donor Arron Banks and property entrepreneur Richard Tice. They were The Bad Boys of Brexit” as Banks called his diary of the campaign. Their mantra for the campaign was immigration, immigration, immigration. In the end this double punch was effective, but there was a lot of hatred and there were even coups within Vote Leave.

Opposing them were the Remainers. Their principle figure was of course the PM. David Cameron felt that he had to promise a referendum in order to stem the tide of defections to Ukip, and lead a united party in the 2015 election. Not expecting to lose, Cameron made a number of tactical errors as he was outmanoeuvred by the Eurosceptics in his party. For example Remain fought the campaign with one arm tied behind their backs as Cameron wanted to avoid avoiding direct “blue-on-blue” attacks on fellow Tories. After the successful deployment of scaring the voters in the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, it was decided to repeat the strategy. It stressed the economic risks of leaving. There were messages from the Chancellor, the Governor of the Bank of England, Christine Laggard of the IMF and even Barack Obama who said that Britain would be at “the back of the queue” for trade deals if she left the EU. They may have overegged the omelette, but Remain generally won the economy debate. But this did not prove the decisive factor. Maybe with a sympathetic press it would have proved more effective. But little attempt was made to paint a positive picture of the European Union and Britain’s place in it. After three decades of Euroscepticism, this was always going to be a hard sell.

And then there was Jeremy Corbyn. They say that the problem with political jokes is that they get elected. Corbyn may have been elected as Labour leader twice, but he surely has no chance of ever being PM. I can’t be the only one who thinks that if the Tories had planted someone in the Labour party twenty years ago, he couldn’t have done a better job for them than Corbyn has.  The chapter called Labour Isn’t Working is about how Corby and his aides effectively sabotaged Labour’s Remain stance. Shipman portrays Corbyn as a puppet in the hands of shadow chancellor John McDonnell and chief of staff Seumas “Stalin wasn’t so bad” Milne. Lacklustre is the most positive way to describe Corbyn’s strategy of disengagement. McDonnell is said to have refused to travel on his party’s designated battle bus because to do so would have been “too New Labourish”. They were graduates from the Tony Benn school of anti-EU agitation, and many believe that Corbyn actually voted for Leave.

All this meant that Remain came across largely as Tory-run. Given the chaos of the campaign, 48% almost seems like a good result. They lost by 4% or 1.2 million votes. If Remain had won, we would be talking about the chaos that was Leave. It is interesting to compare these results with referendum held on 5 June 1975 in the United Kingdom to gauge support for the country’s continued membership of the European Communities aka the Common Market. In this case Yes won 67% of the vote. For such a transcendental decision I think there should have been a 60% threshold. Alas no such measure was in place, so we now have to accept the result.


Martin’s quirky movies #5 Confederate States of America

February 12, 2017


Loyal readers of my blog will know that I am a big fan of counterfactual history. In fact I dedicated a blog post to it – In defence of counterfactuals. As well as bringing history to life, they make a serious point: we live in a chaotic, uncertain world. When we study history, we need to be aware that things could have turned out differently. I am also a fan of counterfactual historical fiction. Recently I finished reading The Underground Airlines, the 2016 novel by Ben Winters, set in an alternate United States where the American Civil War never occurred and where slavery is still legal in the “Hard Four” southern states. Reading this book motivated me to go back to a film I had seen more than a decade ago in the days when I would actually go the cinema.

The film I am referring to is C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. It has a similar premise to Winters’s novel. This 2004 mockumentary, directed by Kevin Willmott, imagines a Southern victory with the result of the creation of the Confederate States of America. he film has various elements. What I love is the way Willmott blends reality and fiction. The central conceit of the mockumentary is a fake documentary within a fake documentary. This documentary is produced by the British Broadcasting Service. As it’s supposedly being broadcast on television, it is interspersed with faux commercial breaks.

The sad thing is that many of the products advertised really did exist: Sambo X-15 Axle Grease, Darkie Toothpaste, Gold Dust washing powder, Niggerhair cigarettes and the Coon Chicken Inn restaurant. This type of racism is not so distant. I can still remember the Robertson’s golly or the Black and White Minstrel Show when I was growing up.

There are fake adverts giving a modern take on the slave trade. We have the Slave Shopping Network and its slave auctions:
States of America. The film has various elements. What I love is the way Willmott blends reality and fiction. The central conceit of the mockumentary is a fake documentary within a fake documentary. This documentary is produced by the British Broadcasting Service. As it’s supposedly being broadcast on television, it is interspersed with faux commercial breaks.

The sad thing is that many of the products advertised really did exist: Sambo X-15 Axle Grease, Darkie Toothpaste, Gold Dust washing powder, Niggerhair cigarettes and the Coon Chicken Inn restaurant. This type of racism is not so distant. I can still remember the Robertson’s golly or the Black and White Minstrel Show when I was growing up.

There are fake adverts giving a modern take on the slave trade. We have the Slave Shopping Network and its slave auctions:

And once you have the slave what better than an electronic shackle to keep control of your property:

These ads may be fake, but there was said to be Drapetomania, a mental illness that caused Black slaves to want to flee captivity. It was first diagnosed in 1851 by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright, who said that this disorder was “unknown to our medical authorities, although its diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers.” He put it down to masters being overfamiliar with their slaves, treating them as equals:

If treated kindly, well fed and clothed, with fuel enough to keep a small fire burning all night–separated into families, each family having its own house–not permitted to run about at night to visit their neighbours, to receive visits or use intoxicating liquors, and not overworked or exposed too much to the weather, they are very easily governed–more so than any other people in the world. If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.

Willmott alluded to Cartwright in another of the ads:

When you create counterfactual history like this, you create an alternate universe. Indeed, there are many differences. The film’s official website contains an expanded timeline of the history of the C.S.A. In this world the Civil War is known as The War of Northern Aggression. President Lincoln is not assassinated at the Ford Theatre, but lived in disgrace until 1905. President William McKinley’s assassin is an abolitionist rather than anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Rosa Parks is identified as a Canadian terrorist and a member of the J.B.U, the “John Brown Underground”. It is the confederate flag which is planted on the moon. Tim McVeigh blows up the Jefferson Memorial in Oklahoma City, with his execution being broadcast on pay-per-view. The “Muslim Menace” looms large. The Gulf Wars become the first and second Crusades, whose goals include regime change, the guarantee of oil supplies, and the conversion of the entire population to Christianity. Perhaps the history is not so alternate after all.

The ultimate message of the film is that maybe the South did win. That many of their attitudes did prevail. This is a complex question. Incredible progress has been made. The idea of an African- American president would have seemed like science-fiction barely a generation ago. The great institutional barriers have gone, but structural inequality is another matter.

The Barry Goldwater ads revisited

November 6, 2016

The 2016 campaign has some fascinating parallels with the 1964 one. In particular, the Democrats were able to target Goldwater with some brilliant political ads. One was the famous Daisy ad, with three-year-old Monique M. Corzilius:

The second was the Confessions of a Republican featuring actor William Bogert, a Republican supporter, a requirement of the casting:

Both these controversial ads were produced by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency.

The Clinton campaign got Corzilius to reprise her role for 2016:

And Confessions of a Republican was also rebooted with 80-year old Bogert back:

Will they be as effective as they were in ’64? We’ll know soon enough.



Patty Hearst: the urban guerrilla with a shih tzu

October 1, 2016


Captivity tales in fiction and real life fascinate us. In John Ford’s classic western The Searchers Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) a middle-aged Confederate veteran, spends years looking for his abducted niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood). It is said to have been inspired by the 1836 kidnapping of nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker in a Comanche raid on her family’s home at Fort Parker, Texas. She had three children with the Comanche Chief Peta Nocona. After nearly a quarter of a century with the Comanches she was recued, against her will, by the Texas Rangers. The fictional stories of Emma Donahue’s 2010 Room and the TV series Homeland have the real-life parallels. Natascha Kampusch was held in a secret cellar by her kidnapper Wolfgang Přiklopil for more than eight years, until she escaped on 23 August 2006. Bowe Bergdahl was a prisoner in Afghanistan and Pakistan by a group linked to the Taliban from June 2009 until his release in May 2014, as told in the second series of the podcast Serial. The case of Patty Hearst is surely one of the most notorious cases. Hearst is the subject of the latest work of Jeffrey Toobin, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst. Toobin also wrote The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson, the inspiration behind the hit TV show American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson

The 60s are famous as a period of rebellion, but the 70s were also a complicated decade, a time of political turmoil. The last throes of the Vietnam War and the impeachment of Richard Nixon led to a polarised climate. We don’t tend to associate the United States with domestic terrorism, and if I think of terrorism in the 1970s I remember the IRA, the Baader-Meinhoff Gang or the PLO, but in the early and mid-’70s, there were a thousand bombings a year in the United States. What would Fox News have made of this had it existed then? Terrorist groups included the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army and the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group behind the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.

The Symbionese Liberation Army was the creation of delusional African-American, Donald DeFreeze, a man on the run, having recently escaped from Vacaville Prison, a California state prison. He was joined in the endeavour by a ragtag bunch of recent college graduates and dropouts, middle-class kids attracted by the half-baked Marxist theory and what they thought was the authenticity of a convict leader.

The name itself, while certainly being memorable is rather removed from reality. I am going to unpack it. Symbionese is not even a word, but comes from symbiosis. In his manifesto DeFreeze defined symbiosis as “a body of dissimilar bodies and organisms living in deep and loving harmony and partnership in the best interest of all within the body.” The SLA stated that capitalism was parasitic. What they wanted was all races, genders, and ages all united in struggle and living together in peace. But who did they actually liberate? DeFreeze liked to be known as General Field Marshal Cinque, but army is an exaggeration for an organisation which never topped twelve members. They did not have a particularly coherent agenda and what they sought above all was media attention. The group’s slogan was “Death to the Fascist Insect that Preys upon the Life of the People!” They proclaimed a Symbionese Nation and adopted Way Back Home by The Crusaders as their national anthem.

Their chosen target, Patricia Hearst, the granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (the real Citizen Kane), was a 19-year-old college student in Berkeley, living with her 25-year-old boyfriend, Steve Weed, who was a graduate student. On March 4th 1974 they kidnapped Patty Hearst without a clear idea of what their ransom demands would be. Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, was never going to agree to release the two SLA members accused of murdering school superintendent Marcus Foster. They tried to get her father to spend $4,000,000 buying food for people. That didn’t quite work out as they planned, but he maybe spent $2,000,000 on food.

Gradually Hearst began engaging with her captors.  After a couple she had been transformed into Tania, the revolutionary. Her choice was inspired by the nom de guerre of Tamara Bunke, the martyred Argentinean guerrilla and lover of Che Guevara. This conversion was reflected in the iconic photo of Patricia standing with a machine gun in front of the SLA flag, a seven-headed cobra.

Then came a series of incidents. The first was the robbery of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, made famous by video of Hearst toting a machine gun. After DeFreeze and five other members of the group were killed in a SWAT raid in a Los Angeles flat where they were holed up, Patricia remained on the run for another 13 months. During these months, she participated in two more bank robberies. In one of these, Myrna Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four children, who was in the bank to deposit receipts from her church, was shot in the abdomen by the SLA’s Emily Harris bled to death. Hearst was driving the getaway car. She also helped set off bombs in Northern California, but these produced no fatalities. She was finally caught on September 18th 1975, along S.L.A. members Patty Hearst, Bill and Emily Harris and Wendy Yoshimura. When asked for her occupation, Hearst replied “urban guerrilla.”

The 1976 trial was of course a media spectacle. Hearst was represented by F. Lee Bailey the colourful lawyer, who would later be part of O.J. Simpson’s “Dream Team.” His efforts were in vain and the heiress was sentenced to seven years in federal prison. Bailey actually made Hearst sign a release for his book, which he was planning to write about the case. In reality, she served a total of 22 months in prison, until her sentence was commuted by President Carter. Twenty years later, Bill Clinton on his last day in office issued her a pardon, making Patty Hearst the only person in American history to receive a commutation from one president and a pardon from another.

The debate during the Patty Hearst trial and one that remains contentious today is whether she was she brainwashed or radicalised? Toobin is convinced that it’s not that she was brainwashed but that she actually believed the SLA rhetoric and became one of them. He avoids using terms like brainwashing or Stockholm syndrome. Those are terms beloved by journalists, but which lack scientific rigour. I think Toobin is right to argue that she responded rationally to the circumstances she was confronted with at each stage of her captivity. Hearst was undoubtedly vulnerable and in a state of total dependency on her captors. She had multiple opportunities to escape over a year and a half. She didn’t escape because she didn’t want to. Toobin describes her as an impressionable young woman, rebelling a bit against her parents but who was still looking for an authority figure in her life. Then after claiming that she was an urban guerrilla, a few weeks after her release she went back to her old class. Toobin is critical of the way she was pardoned. He sees it as an abuse of privilege.

Her relationship with SLA member Willie Wolfe reflects how difficult it is to describe what happened. According to the other members she was in love with him. Nevertheless, it is difficult to conceive of consent in the context of a kidnapping. Hearst claims that he raped her. When she was arrested she had an Olmec relic in the shape of a monkey face that had been to her by Wolfe. That doesn’t sound like the behaviour of a rape victim. But in a 2009 interview for NBC she described the prosecutor’s accusation that she had been in a consensual relationship with Wolfe as an insult to rape victims and “outrageous”.

Hearst is now 62 years old. Two months after being released from prison, Hearst married Bernard Shaw, a policeman who had been part of her private security detail when she was on bail. The marriage lasted until his death in 2013, and they had two children, Gillian and Lydia. She published a memoir, Every Secret Thing, in 1981. She also became a muse for director John Waters, who cast her in such films as Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, and Cecil B. DeMented. Now, a grandmother she is living the life of the wealthy socialite showing her shih tzu at New York’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

A primer on Indian food

April 17, 2016


I really didn’t realise what I was letting myself when I began researching this article. I have been to hundreds of Indian restaurants, but I had no idea of the sheer scale of Indian cuisine. This was rather naïve I suppose. India, which is larger than the whole of Europe (excepting Russia), is, after all, the second most populous country in the world. Luckily, I had the invaluable assistance of Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food 2nd Ed, a one-million word encyclopaedia of food.

The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Christianity, and especially Islam, have an important presence in the country. And although 250 languages have died out in the last fifty years, people in India presently speak in 780 different languages according to a study published in 2013. The geography, from the snowy Himalayas to the coconut palms of the tropical south provides for a great variety of cuisines. Indeed, Wikipedia lists 37 different regional cuisines. I was going to do an historical overview, but in the end I will just do a survey.

The basics

However, I do want to try to seek out the common strands. Cereals are at the heart of an Indian meal, with savoury dishes added as accompaniments and to provide flavour. There is a strong vegetarian component lentils and pulses generally, and vegetables are staples. This vegetarianism has in its origins the doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence first set forth in the Upanishads, a 9th century BC collection of texts that contain some of the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism. Buddhism and Jainism developed the idea. Dairy products such as yoghurt, ghee, panir and kheer are very popular. In fact, India now has the world’s biggest dairy industry in terms of milk production. But it is the spices, especially ginger and garlic, but including coriander turmeric, fenugreek and cumin and many others, that make Indian cuisine so distinctive. Traditionally, meals in India were eaten while seated either on the floor or on very low stools or cushions. At the centre is the thali (platter) with its central pile of rice or bread surrounded by small containers of savoury accompaniments. Food is most often eaten with the right hand rather than cutlery.


Although now part of India, Goa was a Portuguese possession for four and a half centuries. This led to a fascinating mix an intriguing mix of Latin influences mixture with those of the Hindus and Muslims. It may have been a small territory, but its position as a gateway Portugal’s empire in the East and as centre of East–West trade, gave Goa, an importance quite disproportionate to the small size of the territory. The best known example of the Portuguese Indian collaboration must be Vindaloo. Originally a pork stew, the addition of various spices gave it that Indian touch. Goan chouriço sausages are Portuguese chouriços, but with an Indian masala. The ingredients include pork, pork fat, chilli, garlic, ginger, cumin and turmeric and they are filled into pig intestines.

Moghul cuisine

Moghul is the Indian version of Mongol. The Mongol Empire was by far the greatest force in Asia in the Middle Ages. See my post Genghis and the original Khan Academy. It was the Moghuls who over a period of two centuries introduced Persian dishes to India. There was a blend of Persian and Indian flavours. This legacy survives today. The Indian food that most of us are familiar with is this northern cuisine. All of these have a Moghul origin:




Pilaf and Biriani dishes


Tandoor dishes;

And those rich dishes with almonds and pistachios are likely to be of Moghul origin, as are sweet rice dishes flavoured with saffron.


The British were in India from 1612 to 1947 resulting in a great deal of influence. I will look at a few of the dishes or foodstuffs regarded as typical of Anglo-Indian cookery. Mulligatawny soup came about due to British requirement for soup as a separate course, something unknown in India. The name is a corruption of the Tamil milagu-tannir, “pepper-water”. The basic recipe for mulligatawny was always with some chicken or mutton, fried onion, curry powder, and stock or water. Another dish from this period is kedgeree. It was an Indian dish, but was adapted to British tastes with flaked smoked fish, hard-boiled eggs and even cream being added.  It has now become a British breakfast speciality. The long-term impact of Anglo-Indian cookery on English cookery apart the popularity of curry dishes and of chutneys was not that great. It was not until the arrival of Indian restaurants in Britain, in the second half of the 20th century, that the influence grew.


Curry, which comes from the Tamil word kari, entered the English language in the 1680s. In India it referred to a spiced sauce. The traditional South Indian kari does not have a fixed set of ingredients, but a typical mixture was and remains the following, all roasted and ground to a powder: kari patta (curry leaf); coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds; red and black pepper; fenugreek; turmeric; and oftentimes cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. In India this mixture is almost always freshly prepared. It was during the Raj that the British, in the name of convenience, created commercial ready-mixed curry powder. In 1747 Hannah Glasse published To Make a Currey the India Way’, said to be the first curry recipe in English,

The curry house

The colonial relationship between Britain and the Indian subcontinent is undoubtedly behind the rise of Indian restaurants in the UK. In the 18th century, thanks to employees of the British East India Company, curry began to appear on coffee house menus. In 1810, the Bengali entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, opened the first Indian curry house in England: the Hindoostanee Coffee House in London. Veeraswamy’s, the oldest surviving Indian restaurant in London, opened in 1926. And in the 1930s and 1940s cheap curry houses began to spring up. It was given an English twist, with the emphasis on emphasized meat and sauce and often served with chips. What was lost was the sophistication and complexity of vegetable and pulse dishes. Although since the 1980s there has been a greater appreciation of the variety and subtlety of Indian cuisine. At the same time we have seen the emergence of an “English” curry.


The name refers to both the cuisine of Baltistan in the far north-east of Pakistan and the wok-like utensil which is the main piece of equipment used by Balti cooks. There are other theories: one dictionary of Anglo Indian terms claims it comes from the Portuguese word “balde” meaning bucket. Be that as it may, until the last quarter of the 20th century Balti food was virtually unknown outside Baltistan. Apparently it was the chance arrival one immigrant, Mohammed Arif, who claims to have opened, the first Balti restaurant, called Adil’s, in 1977. It has now become a mass phenomenon all over the U.K. especially in Birmingham.