The Middle Ages: More Hidden History

Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

By Frances and Joseph Gies

Harper Collins (1994)

Book Review

This book debunks the prevailing misconception that the Middle Ages was a Dark Ages and that all knowledge and technology was lost when “barbarian tribes” caused the collapse of the Roman Empire. The authors do this very convincingly by identifying a number of key medieval technologies (most from the Far East) without which the 15th century Renaissance would have been impossible.

These include

  • the heavy plow
  • open field agriculture, water powered machinery
  • Hindu-Arab numerals
  • double entry bookkeeping
  • the compass and navigational charts
  • clockwork
  • firearms
  • moveable type
  • stirrups
  • the horse collar harness
  • paper
  • canal locks
  • underground mining

The barbarians themselves (ie Germanic tribes) also provided European civilization with several key inventions:

  • soap (the Greeks and Romans never used it)
  • socks
  • laced boots
  • clothing made from multiple pieces of cloth sewn together
  • wooden barrels (replacing fragile clay jars and animal skins previously used for food storage).

The book maintains that China was far more important than Rome as a source of medieval technologies. In most cases, technological innovations filtered into Europe along Arab trade routes. It devotes specific attention to the horizontal loom (the Romans used a vertical loom), moveable type (adopted by Gutenberg for his printing press), the water wheel, the wheelbarrow, the odometer, mechanical clocks, gunpowder and the crossbow.

Europeans gained access to Hindu-Arab numbers, the cotton gin and the windmill via India and Persia.

Given the extremely Eurocentric education I received in school, I was extremely surprised to learn about all the inventions Europeans take credit for which originated elsewhere.

 

 

 

Linux: Escaping Microsoft’s Clutches Via Open Source

The Code: The Story of Linux

Directed by Hann Puttonen (2011)

Film Review

This documentary tells the story of Finnish programmer Linus Torvolds and his creation, in 1991, of the open source operating system Linux.

In contrast to Microsoft Windows, not only is Linux be freely downloadable off the Internet, but the source code used to run it is freely available for other programmers to improve on. In the last 26 years, millions of programmers from all over the world have helped improve on Linux. As a result, Linux-based operating systems are far more reliable than Windows and Mac operating systems that profit from keeping their source code private. They are also far less prone to security flaws (such as the one Wannacry and similar ransomware prey on).

In addition to greater reliability, many Linux fans are philosophically opposed (as I am) to the practice of limiting access to software and source code to those with the ability to pay for it. This directly conflicts with World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of a free Internet access to everyone regardless of income or status.

The filmmakers maintain that Linux (as a freely downloadable operating system) represents the biggest transfer of wealth from the industrial north to the third world. Its easy access is also largely responsible for China’s impressive IT advances.

Although anyone can download Linux free from the Internet, most users prefer to access it through Red Hat and similar commercial entities specializing in installing Linux and providing technical support to its users. Linux is also the operating system of choice in home appliance computers.

USA: Exporting Democracy Since 1948

NGOs are the Deep State’s Trojan Horse

James Corbett (2018)

Film Review

This is a documentary about CIA-funded nonprofit foundations (aka NGOs or Non-governmental Organizations) that pose as charities as they work to destabilize and/or overthrow governments unfriendly to Wall Street interests.

In the past decade a growing number of countries (including Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China, India, Egypt and Bolivia) have kicked them out.

President Kennedy created USAID (US Agency for International Development), which is run by the State Department, by executive order in 1961.

In 1983, President Reagan created NED (National Endowment for Democracy), the other big democracy manipulating foundation. The NED bankrolled Oliver North’s illegal arms sales to Iran during the Reagan presidency, the manipulation (and ousting of President Ortega) of Nicaragua’s 1990 elections, regime change in Bulgaria and Albania, attempted regime change in Armenia, (along with George Soros) all the “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe and the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.

The NED and its sister organizations have been funding and training Syria’s rebels since 2006, including the notorious White Helmets – which were founded by former British intelligence agent James Le Mesurier.

China’s Persecuted Minority: How Did 22 Uighurs End Up in Gitmo?

The Guantanamo 22

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

The Guantanamo 22 is about 22 Uighur refugees who spent seven years at Gitmo after they were sold to US forces for $5,000 each by the Pakistan military and Afghan warlords.

The Uighurs are an oppressed Turkic ethnic minority who have been persecuted by the Chinese ever since China invaded their country (Gulja) in 1949. In 2000-2001, a number sought asylum in Afghanistan after being arrested, beaten and tortured for their participating in Islamic advocacy protests.

As one of the only countries with no extradition treaty with China, prior to 9-11 Afghanistan had an established Uighur community.

After US bombing began in late 2001, the Uighur village where they lived was destroyed, and 18 survivors sought refuge in Pakistan. The villagers who took them in tricked them and handed them over to the Pakistan army. Four others were kidnapped by warlords in Afghanistan.

Once they arrived in Guantanamo, the US military allowed Chinese authorities to interrogate and torture torture them for four days – in exchange for a promise China would support the US invasion of Iraq at the UN Security Council.*

By October 2002, after 10 months at Guantanamo, all 22 had been through the Status Review Board (ie a military tribunal in which detainees are denied access to a lawyer and the right to present evidence or challenge the US military’s evidence) and found innocent of all terrorism charges. Yet it still took another seven years for most of them to be released.

In late 2002, they were finally allowed to see a lawyer working with the Center for Constitutional Rights. The first three were transferred to Albania (which still regards them as terrorists), to spare the US government the embarrassment of defending an appeal against their unlawful detention.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that all Guantanamo detainees had the right to appeal their detention in US federal court. A short time later, a federal judge ordered the release of the other 19 Uighurs. Shortly after his inauguration, Obama attempted to transfer two of them to Virginia, but this was blocked by Congress.

In June 2009, the US reached agreement with Bermuda to take four Uighurs. In October 2009, Pelau agreed to take six, in return for a steep increase in US aid. Switzerland, El Salvador agreed to take the rest, though many remain stateless persons in their host countries and not allowed passports.


*China ultimately reneged on this commitment

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed for free at The Guantanamo 22

How Arrogance Blinds the West to Their Historic Decline

Peter Frankopan – The Silk Roads

Directed by Justin Hardy (2017)

Film Review

This documentary, based on historian Peter Frankopan’s best selling book Silk Roads, explores the Western trait of putting their own interests at the center of their world and possessing no interest or capacity to understand other cultures.

Typically both Europeans and Americans believe they have a monopoly on “goodness” – that only they can save the world from darkness and suffering. Their ruling elite uses these beliefs to justify invading and occupying third world countries and are surprised when other cultures regard us as smug and arrogant.

According to Frankopan, Europe and the US presently find themselves at the wrong end of global trade routes. Asian countries, especially China, that used to be poor are rich now. Asia provides the vast majority of Western consumer goods and owns most Western debt. Over the last 40 years, there has been a vast transfer of wealth from the West to Asia. These new centers of wealth (especially China) have become the hub of scientific, technological and intellectual progress. However owing to their self-centered navel gazing, most Westerners are totally unaware this is happening.

Frankopan also maintains Europe has never had much to offer in the way of natural resources or intellectual innovation (Christianity has always suppressed knowledge and progress). In 800 AD, Mesopotamia was the wealthiest region in the world, with Baghdad viewed as the global center of trade and learning. During this period, Europe’s most important resource was slaves, with Dublin, Mainz, Utrecht and Venice serving as major trafficking centers for kidnapped women and children.

All this changed with the conquest of the New World, the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans, and the flow of silver and gold back to Europe. This illicit capture of mineral wealth and human beings enabled Europe to developed highly specialized skills in violence and conquest. They no longer needed to produce their own wealth because they could use their military prowess to steal it from other regions.

Over time, the economic decline of the West has eroded their military capability to the point they can no longer win wars.

As in Rome, obscene income inequality is one of the main indicators of an empire in decline.

 

The Link Between Vietnam and Nixon’s Recognition of China

A Disrespectful Loyalty, Episode 9

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

Last night Maori TV showed part 9 of the Vietnam War series.

During the period covered (February 1970 – March 1973), Nixon’s sole focus with to withdraw US troops from Vietnam without losing the 1972 election. He knew he would be defeated if Saigon fell. Much of this episode consists of tape recordings of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations with his chief security advisor Henry Kissinger.

Although the filmmakers refer to 1/4 of US GIs using marijuana in Vietnam and 40,000 being addicted to heroin, for some reason they neglect to mention the South Vietnamese army was the main source of these drugs.

They do report on the growing influence of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and play an excerpt of former naval lieutenant John Kerry’s (a VVAW member) compelling testimony before a Senate investigative committee.

1971 also saw the New York Times publican of the Pentagon Papers, leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. This Defense Department study, covering 1945-1967, revealed successive US presidents had been continuously lying to the American public regarding their true motives waging war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s paranoia about documents Ellsberg and others might possess about his own lies led him to create “The Plumbers,” a secret team that broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (in the hope of finding material they could use to blackmail him).

Much of this episode focuses on the Paris peace talks, and Nixon’s efforts to force North Vietnam to agree to a favorable peace treaty. To this end, he resumed bombing raid on North Vietnam, which were far more brutal (in terms of civilian casualties) than those Johnson had been condemned for.

I was surprised to learn that Nixon’s recognition of Communist China (after nearly 40 years) was part of a ploy to increase Chinese and Russian pressure on their North Vietnamese allies to sign a peace settlement favorable to the US.

The latter would be signed on January 23,1973, and over the next few weeks the last US troops would leave Vietnam.

As of March 1973, over 58,000 GIs and 2 million Vietnamese had been killed in North Vietnam.

 

Tienanmen Square: The First Occupy Protest

It Happened in Tienamen Square

Al Jazeera (2009)

Film Review

What I found most remarkable about this documentary is the strong similarity between the Tienanmen Square protests and Occupy Wall Street. The Tienanmen Square protest appears to have started spontaneously in mid-May 1989, with students camping out in the square. They weren’t calling for change in the way China was governed – their pro-democracy demands were strictly limited to more control over their own lives. (ie human rights).

Following Chairman Mao’s death in 1976, the Chinese economy had undergone massive reform, with a shift away from strict government controlled industry to capitalist entrepreneurship dependent on western investment.

The Chinese government initially tried to suppress the protest by denouncing it in the media as “unsocialist.” This tactic backfired as hundreds of thousands of Beijing workers joined the students. In the last two Sundays in May, over one tenth of Beijing’s 10 million population turned out in Tienanmen Square.

What I find most amazing about this historic protest is that protesters refused to disperse even after the Red Army rolled in with their tanks and armored personnel carriers and began firing on them. It would take the army approximately 12 hours to clear the square. For me the most surprising footage is of injured protestors being rushed out in ambulances and pedicabs during the 12-hour confrontation.

In all 241 people (including solders) were killed in Tienanmen Square. Another 7,000 were injured.