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

all-out-war

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

csa-moon-landing

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

pattyhearstimage

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

Introduction

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.

Goa

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:

Kebabs

Koftas

Kormas

Pilaf and Biriani dishes

Samosas

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.

Anglo-Indian

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

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.

Balti

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.


The aristocrats of crime

April 3, 2016

I have an unhealthy interest in con artists. There is something that draws me to these aristocrats of crime. I love the colourful language. For the practitioners we have such names as con man, swindler, grifter, swindler hustler, scam artist, flimflammer and mountebank. What do they do? The names of the tricks are also very evocative: Three-card Monte, The Magic Wallet, The Gold Brick, The Green Goods, Banco, The Big Store, The Wire, The Payoff and The Rag are just a few of the ways humans have found to deceive each other. Of course, these tricksters can destroy people’s lives, but there is something irresistible about them. I am not the only one, though, given the popularity of books and especially films about scams.

Such cons have been with us throughout history. Indeed other animals also engage in deceptive behaviour. There was a famous trick known as the Spanish Prisoner, which goes back until at least the 16th century. And although I haven’t looked into it, I’m sure the ancients must have had their scams.

The use of the term confidence man seems to go back to 19th century New York. Here is an extract from the “Police Intelligence” section of the New York Herald describing the arrest of one William Thompson:

For the last few months a man has been travelling about the city, known as the “Confidence Man,” that is, he would go up to a perfect stranger in the street, and being a man of genteel appearance, would easily command an interview. Upon this interview he would say after some little conversation, “have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until to-morrow;” the stranger at this novel request, supposing him to be some old acquaintance not at that moment recollected, allows him to take the watch, thus placing “confidence” in the honesty of the stranger, who walks off laughing and the other supposing it to be a joke allows him so to do. In this way many have been duped, and the last that we recollect was a Mr. Thomas McDonald, of No. 276 Madison street, who, on the 12th of May last, was met by this “Confidence Man” in William Street, who, in the manner as above described, took from him a gold lever watch valued at $110; and yesterday, singularly enough, Mr. McDonald was passing along Liberty street, when who should he meet but the “Confidence Man” who had stolen his watch. Officer Swayse, of the Third Ward, being near at hand, took the accused into custody on the charge made by Mr. McDonald. The accused at first refused to go with the officer; but after finding the officer determined to take him, he walked along for a short distance, when he showed desperate fight, and it was not until the officer had tied his hands together that he was able to convey him to the police office. On the prisoner being taken before Justice McGrath, he was recognized as an old offender by the name of Wm. Thompson, and is said to be a graduate of the college at Sing Sing. The magistrate committed him to prison for a further hearing.

I bring all this up because have just finished reading The Confidence Game. The author Maria Konnikova does not set out to provide a definitive history of the con. And this is not an exhaustive taxonomy of all the possible confidence tricks. What it is is an exploration of the psychological principles behind the behaviour of confidence tricksters and their victims. The book itself is structured like a con. Here is Konnikova’s introduction:

From the artist’s perspective, it’s a question of identifying the victim (the put-up): who is he, what does he want, and how can I play on that desire to achieve what I want? It requires the creation of empathy and rapport (the play): an emotional foundation must be laid before any scheme is proposed, any game set in motion. Only then does it move to logic and persuasion (the rope): the scheme (the tale), the evidence and the way it will work to your benefit (the convincer), the show of actual profits. And like a fly caught in a spider’s web, the more we struggle, the less able to extricate ourselves we become (the breakdown). By the time things begin to look dicey, we tend to be so invested, emotionally and often physically, that we do most of the persuasion ourselves. We may even choose to up our involvement ourselves, even as things turn south (the send), so that by the time we’re completely fleeced (the touch), we don’t quite know what hit us. The con artist may not even need to convince us to stay quiet (the blow-off and fix); we are more likely than not to do so ourselves.

Who are the con artists? In an interview Konnikova said that one of the books that’s considered the con-artist bible is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, a self-help classic. In fact, there is no definitive make-up, but the dark triad of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism tend to be important. The funny thing is that many of these people seem to be exceptionally talented and could have been successful in more legitimate fields. I don’t think it’s just about greed. There does seem to be some kind of power rush in being able to fool people and in getting them to do what you want.

What about the victims? I like to think of myself as a sceptic, but it is a big mistake to think that we are immune to such trickery. One factor is trust. Generally, as I pointed out in a previous post, trust is an important ingredient for successful societies, but with con artists, we can come unstuck. We also like to think we are above average. Other people will be fooled, but not us. We have a positivity bias, a belief in our own exceptionalism. We will come out on top in the end. We deserve a break. Confirmation bias, the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions plays a big part in victimology. And then we have cognitive dissonance the desire to avoid holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. Of course we could change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, but this can be too painful, so instead we try to justify or rationalise them. Ultimately very few con artists actually end up in court – the victims are often too embarrassed to come forward.

The book has a cast of characters. Some of them are old favourites: Bernie Madoff, who was the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, Frank Abagnale, who was played by Leonardo Di Caprio in Catch Me If You Can, and Victor Lustig who twice sold the Eiffel Tower to unwitting investors.

There were others I hadn’t heard of, though. Here is my selection:

Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr.

Demara almost makes Frank Abagnale look like an amateur. Under a series of stolen identities Demara worked as a civil engineer, a doctor of applied psychology, a child-care expert, a cancer researcher, an assistant prison warden, a philosophy dean at a Pennsylvania college and  both a Trappist and Benedictine monk. But his greatest hit was as a doctor on a Royal Canadian Navy Destroyer during the Korean War. Demara who had a prodigious IQ and a photographic memory went into quarters with a medical textbook to do a bit of cramming. Yet, he somehow managed to save the lives of all of the men, including performing major chest surgery. The ensuing fame made it hard to keep on fooling people. There was a biography, The Great Imposter, followed by a film of the same name, with Tony Curtis in the eponymous role. He even managed to con the author of his biography, Robert Crichton.

Samantha Lyndell Azzopardi

In 2010 she appeared as Dakota Johnson (this alias was based on an American  actress who would later go on to star in the movie Fifty Shades of Grey) in a Brisbane police station claiming that she was fourteen and had been sexually abused by a relative. She was given shelter and food.  She told her support group that all she wanted was to go back to school and finish her education, just like any normal teen. On further investigation the police discovered that Azzopardi was already wanted for identity fraud in Queensland. She was charged with two counts of false representation, one count of intention to forge documents, and one count of contravening directions. She was convicted, but her sentence was just a five-hundred-dollar fine. She continued her alternative and it was in 2013 that she ended up in Dublin.  This young Australian woman led the Garda to believe, for a time, that she was a vulnerable teenager a victim of human trafficking. In reality she was now 25 years old with a history of more that forty false identities in her past. This was not the end of her exploits. The following year she appeared in Canada under another name. The “success” of Azzopardi is for Konnikova an illustration of the power of a good story.

Oscar Hartzell, (1876–1943)

This American con man managed to persuade many people in North America to join him in a fraudulent lawsuit against the British government for a share of the fortune of Sir Francis Drake. He hit upon the scam in 1915 after a couple of small-time grifters tried to convince him to part with his money. They had promised that they could turn his mother’s $6000 into a cool $6 million. Hartxell, however, had bigger plans. Claiming to be distant relative of the legendary seaman/pirate/hero, Hartzell got in touch with Iowans who had the surname Drake. He told them that the estate of Sir Francis had never been paid to the heirs. Having gathered interest for over three centuries, it was now worth $100 billion. As well as $500 for every dollar they invested in the scheme, the inheritance would include the whole city of Plymouth in England. In 1924 he set himself up in London in order, he claimed, to carry out negotiations with the British government. The curious thing about the scam is that the victims continued believing him, thwarting attempts by the Iowa state legislature to act. This refusal to accept reality continued even after the UK Home Office informed the American embassy that there was no unclaimed Sir Francis Drake estate, and an FBI investigation confirmed that Drake’s wife had inherited his estate in 1597.

Sylvia Mitchell

Fake psychic is a tautology. Nevertheless, Mitchell is an example of the worst of this “profession” One client, Debra Saalfield, was feeling particularly vulnerable when she saw Mitchell – she had just lost her job as a ballroom-dancing instructor and a boyfriend. Mitchell told her that she had been an ancient Egyptian princess in a past life and that her problems stemmed from having been too attached to money in her royal life in ancient Egypt. The solution would be to experiment parting with that money. Saalfield wrote a cheque for $27,000. She did not get it back. Mitchell was convicted of conning clients for tens of thousands of dollars, and in November 2013 she was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.