Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Society’

The expression “May you live in interesting times” supposedly is an old Chinese curse. It’s considered a polite way of wishing someone ill, owing to the fact that interesting times usually involve strife and unpleasantness.

For America, “interesting times” accurately describes the entire decade of the 1960s. And in my case, it started with a bang.

In January 1961, when I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, a major brouhaha erupted in Athens when UGA was ordered by a federal judge to enroll its first black students. I wrote about that in some detail here.

A lesser brouhaha, one that barely made the national news, occurred in Athens not long after that. I’m referring to a series of protest marches to desegregate a popular local restaurant.

The restaurant was the Varsity, a beloved fast-food joint that had been an Athens institution since 1932. Owing to the time and place, it was open to whites only. A bit of background to set the stage.

In 1928, businessman Frank Gordy opened the original Varsity drive-in near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. The business was an immediate success. The day he opened, Gordy had 300 customers. By the end of the 1930s — a Depression economy, mind you — Gordy was a millionaire.

It’s the burgers, the chili dogs, and the fries, people. Varsity food is fast food, not health food by any stretch, but it tastes great. And, incredibly, it tastes exactly the same today as it did when I had my first meal there in 1960.

Varsity-1

In 1932, Gordy opened a Varsity in Athens. It was located downtown, across the street from the UGA campus.

Varsity-2

Varsity-3

It remained there until 1962, when a larger building with loads of parking was built on Atlanta Highway. That location is still in operation today.

Varsity-4

The closing of the beloved downtown Varsity was traumatic, and it took a while for Athenians to warm to the new location. But they did, and the Varsity has remained popular with students and townies through the years.

The desegregation of the University in 1961 prompted the black community to address the irksome fact that the Varsity did not allow black customers in the restaurant. Ironically, most of the employees were black.

In my student days, it never registered with me that the Varsity was white only. Yes, the place was a sea of white faces, but Athens was a college town in the 1960s, perpetually awash in white faces.

I was a liberal Democrat then as now, and I agreed that admitting black students to the University was the right thing to do. But in other ways, I was just an oblivious white kid.

Not until years later did I learn that the downtown Varsity only served African-Americans through a walk-up window on the sidewalk.

The new Varsity on Atlanta Highway didn’t even have a walk-up window.

In 1963, taking a cue from the successful lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina, Athens civil rights activists began marching on the Varsity in protest. Sometimes the marches were peaceful, sometimes they weren’t.

Protesters regularly were arrested and hauled away, but the city usually released them immediately. Prisoners in jail have to be fed, clothed, and looked after. That costs money.

Reportedly, the largest and most contentious march happened in the spring of 1964. And, yes, I was there to see the fireworks.

At the time, I was a senior, set to graduate in June. Everyone knew about the protest marches, and we had heard talk that the Varsity management was weakening, fearing that the negative publicity would affect business. That would never do.

That spring evening, a friend said he heard that the KKK had arrived at the Varsity to protest the protesters. Immediately, we went to see for ourselves.

We arrived just after dark. The black marchers had gathered under the trees on the south side of the building. Between the protesters and the south entrance stood 15 or 20 Klansmen in white robes and pointy hats. Only a few wore hoods that covered their faces.

Earlier, heated words were exchanged and a few bricks were thrown, but the police had made no arrests. Everyone — protesters, Klansmen, cops, and onlookers — stood around more or less quietly, waiting for what came next. The mood was calm, but tense.

I guess it was tense enough to make me thirsty, because I excused my way through the line of Klansmen and went inside to get a drink from the water fountain. No problem, I’m white.

As I passed them, one Klansman pulled back his robe to reveal a holstered pistol on his hip, as if to say: look here, boy, I got me a gun.

I was genuinely embarrassed for the guy. Personally, I think being a Klansman identifies you as a mental midget and a detriment to society. Being a Klansman who flaunts a weapon to a passing teenager further identifies you as an obnoxious jerk.

Somehow, the situation that night remained calm. The protesters occasionally chanted, and the KKK guys watched in silence. Then the protesters walked in single file back to a nearby church, where the march began. Then the Klansmen left, then the police, then the onlookers. The Varsity was back to normal.

A month or so later, I graduated from UGA and left Athens to begin a new adventure in the Air Force in exotic New Mexico. The Athens Varsity was rarely in my thoughts.

But, indeed, not long after I departed, the restaurant saw the error of its ways and opened its doors to all paying customers, regardless of skin tone.

Nowadays, when I stop there for a chili dog fix, I observe that most of the employees are either black or Hispanic, and of the customers, a few black faces might be peppered among the white.

But in truth, the Varsity never became a big thing for black people in Athens. Maybe they don’t like the food.

No matter. What counts is they have the choice.

Varsity-5

Varsity-6

Read Full Post »

NAMIB DESERT, AFRICA — A Namibian-German artist has installed a sound system in the Namib, the world’s oldest desert, that will play the 1982 soft rock classic Africa by the band Toto in a perpetual loop “for all eternity.”

The installation by artist Max Siedentopf consists of six speakers attached to an MP3 player powered by solar batteries. Mr. Siedentopf said he wanted to pay tribute to “probably the most popular song in the last four decades.”

Africa has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years and was one of the most-streamed songs of 2017.

Toto-Africa

BOSCAWEN, NEW HAMPSHIRE — When police responded to reports of a shooting at a local residence, a man at the house was arrested for biting a police dog.

When police arrived at the scene, they encountered two men who they found were wanted on outstanding warrants. The men attempted to flee. In the ensuing scuffle, one of the men bit a police dog, K9 Veda. Veda bit him back.

The unidentified man was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police dog.

One of the arresting officers observed that getting into a biting contest with a police dog is ill-advised.

Veda

WESLEY CHAPEL, FLORIDA — Last fall, local resident Don Swartz modified his Smart mini-car into a replica of Fred Flintstone’s “footmobile.”

Swartz then dressed up as Fred Flintstone and arranged to have the local police cite him for speeding as he drove around town.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office obliged. An officer stopped Swartz, gave him a faux citation, and took photos that were posted on the department’s Facebook page. “Yabba Daaba Doo!” the post concluded.

Swartz did not offer a rationale for the elaborate stunt.

Flintstone

 

Read Full Post »

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1981, Johnny Cash was walking around the exotic animal refuge he maintained at his estate in Tennessee when he was attacked by an ostrich. The normally docile ostrich had recently lost its mate.

Cash fought off the animal with a stick, but suffered five broken ribs and a gaping stomach wound. The painkillers he took as a result led to a two-year relapse into alcohol and amphetamine addiction.

Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of having peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.

Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was King of England from 1100 until his death in 1135. Henry had numerous illegitimate children, but only one legitimate son and heir, William. When William drowned at sea in 1120, Henry took a new wife, hoping to have another son.

When that failed, he declared his daughter Matilda to be his heir. That failed, too, when Henry’s nephew Stephen seized the throne. Stephen spent most of his reign (1135-1147) in a civil war with the supporters of Matilda.

The 1983 movie Return of the Jedi was supposed to be called Revenge of the Jedi. George Lucas even released a movie trailer promoting the Revenge title. For whatever reason, he switched to Return at the last minute and saved Revenge for Revenge of the Sith.

Revenge

The first Nobel Peace Prizes were awarded in 1901. The two recipients were Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, and Frédéric Passy, a French economist.

The 1968 film “Krakatoa: East of Java” takes place in the East Indies in 1883, when a volcano on the island of Krakatoa erupted and erased the island. Nit-picking critics pointed out that Krakatoa actually was west of Java.

In his youth, future country singer Conway Twitty (1933-1993) was a talented baseball player. The Philadelphia Phillies tried to sign him, but the Army drafted him first. After his discharge in the 1950s, Twitty became an Elvis-style rock-and-roll singer. In the 1960s, he transitioned to his first love, country music.

Twitty’s real name was Harold Lloyd Jenkins. He took his stage name from the towns of Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty, Texas, which he picked from a road map.

Art critics sometimes weave tapestries of cryptic blather, as when, in 1931, someone described The Persistence of Memory, the surrealist painting by Salvador Dalí, as “an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time” inspired by Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

When Dalí was asked about that, he said no, he was inspired by seeing a Camembert cheese melting in the sun.

Persistence

Thomas Jefferson is said to have invented many things, including the swivel chair, the metal plow, the dumbwaiter, a machine to extrude pasta, and a hideaway bed that was hoisted to the ceiling during the day.

In truth, he made improvements to the swivel chair, the plow, and the dumbwaiter, and he brought back a pasta-extruding machine from Europe, but the hideaway bed story is bogus. No bed at Monticello had a hoisting mechanism.

Jefferson did, however, invent the revolving book stand. It was a turntable that could hold five books that swiveled to face the reader.

A cat named Stubbs served as Honorary Mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, from 1997 until his death in 2017. Stubbs was so named because he had no tail. He was “honorary” mayor because Talkeetna is a historic district, not a town, and thus has no elected mayor.

The first charge card was issued in 1950 by the Diner’s Club in New York City. It listed 27 participating restaurants and 200 cardholders. By the mid-1960s, Diners Club had 1.3 million users.

By then, Visa, MasterCard, and a host of other credit cards had arisen because the concept proved to be so lucrative. Well, duh. Why else would they be in the business?

The National Basketball Association adopted its iconic logo of a running player in 1969. According to the New York branding consultant who designed it, he got the idea from a photo of superstar Jerry West, which the designer said captured the pace and spirit of basketball.

NBA logo

 

Read Full Post »

Bob Dylan said he wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in ten minutes. “Just put words to an old spiritual, probably something I learned from Carter Family records. That’s the folk tradition. You use what’s been handed down.”

I read somewhere that “Blowin’ in the Wind” succeeds because it’s ambiguous enough to have meaning for everyone. Fair enough, but the song has plenty more going for it.

It had the chops to became an anthem of the anti-war movement, to be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and to place no. 14 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The “old spiritual” to which Dylan put words is “No More Auction Block,” a marching song of black soldiers during the Civil War, origin unknown. Dylan performed that, too.

Dylan also said this about “Blowin’ in the Wind”:

“It’s critical and it’s hard, this litany of questions about what’s wrong with the world. If one had to choose one subject to label the song, it would be a song asking ‘why.’ In other words, it asks why we have the issues we do in our world. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

Dylan B

Blowin’ In The Wind

By Bob Dylan, 1963
Written by Bob Dylan

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

 

Read Full Post »

I’m a history nut. To me, history is interesting, informative, compelling, and fun. It’s a gas to come across fascinating nuggets from the past that either add to my understanding of events or introduce me to something new.

Recently, I read that the shortest war in recorded history is the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896. Which, of course, I had never heard of.

I was intrigued and promptly Googled it. What I learned was wonderfully entertaining — and a reminder of why I am a history nut in the first place.

###

In the late 1800s, the nations of Europe finalized their conquest and colonization of the African continent. By 1900, most of Africa was under the colonial rule of either Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, or Italy. Only Ethiopia and Liberia remained independent.

It happened because the European countries wanted Africa’s raw materials and were capable militarily of taking them. It also helped that the nations of Europe were highly competitive, and acquiring new territories was a feather in the cap — an opportunity to one-up the other countries.

Further, the new colonies in Africa gave the Europeans a way to address some of the nagging social problems created by the Industrial Revolution: displacement from rural areas, overcrowding in the cities, poverty, homelessness, unemployment. These issues could be alleviated to some degree by sending problematic people to the African colonies as settlers.

The manner in which the Europeans administered the colonies varied. The British preferred indirect rule, whereby they installed locals who would do as the Brits instructed. The French, Germans, and Belgians preferred direct rule, assigning their own countrymen, either military or civilian, as colonial administrators.

The Africans themselves remained in various stages of revolt, of course, which required a sizable European military presence. Meanwhile, the Europeans also clashed among themselves in every way short of armed conflict. They formed temporary alliances, imposed tariffs on each other, and jockeyed to gain control over waterways and trade routes.

Eventually, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened a conference in Berlin that laid down a series of rules and guidelines and brought a degree of order to the continent. Among the colonial powers, that is, not the natives.

Against that backdrop, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 erupted.

###

For centuries, the island of Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa was a center of the Arab slave trade, enriching a long line of sultans.

But times change, and by the 1870s, the British were able to persuade the Sultan of Zanzibar to end the slave trade for economic reasons; they convinced him that legitimate trade in rubber and ivory was more lucrative.

In 1890, Britain and Germany signed an agreement that gave Germany control of the mainland nation of Tanzania and made the island of Zanzibar a British protectorate. The British soon installed a pro-British Arab, Hamad bin Thuwaini, as Sultan of Zanzibar. Hamad ruled for three years, more or less uneventfully.

Then, on August 25, 1896, Hamad died suddenly in the royal palace in Zanzibar City. The cause was never determined officially, but most believed he was poisoned by his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash.

Lending credence to that belief: within hours of Hamad’s death, Khalid moved into the palace and declared himself Sultan. Khalid, FYI, was pro-German.

The British Consul, Sir Basil Cave, immediately ordered Khalid to vacate the palace. Khalid refused and quickly assembled a defense force of about 3,000 Zanzibaris. They consisted of the palace guard, a few hundred servants and slaves, and a large number of civilians conscripted from Zanzibar City.

The defenders were equipped with assorted small arms, several machine guns, and a few artillery pieces. They were not remotely a match for the British military forces in the region.

By the evening of August 25, three British warships had arrived in the harbor. Hundreds of troops had gone ashore to protect the British Consulate and keep the civilian population in check. The guns of the warships were trained on the royal palace.

Sir Basil asked London by telegram, “Are we authorised in the event of all attempts at a peaceful solution proving useless, to fire on the Palace from the men-of-war?

The reply: “You are authorised to adopt whatever measures you may consider necessary, and will be supported in your action by Her Majesty’s Government. Do not, however, attempt to take any action which you are not certain of being able to accomplish successfully.”

On the morning of August 26, Sir Basil issued a final ultimatum: if Khalid was not out of the palace by August 27 at 9:00 AM, the British ships would commence firing.

Khalid’s response: “We have no intention of hauling down our flag and we do not believe you would open fire on us.

Sir Basil replied that he had no desire to fire upon the palace, “but unless you do as you are told, we shall certainly do so.” That was the last communication between them.

The next morning, the 9:00 AM deadline passed, and the British warships began bombarding the palace with high-explosive shells.

The royal palace stood at the harbor’s edge and consisted of three main buildings: the palace itself, the harem (the part of a Muslim home where females reside), and the “House of Wonders,” a lavish reception hall. The buildings were constructed largely of wood.

Within minutes, Khalid’s machine guns and artillery were eliminated. The damage to the palace by the exploding shells was devastating. Fire quickly spread, and the buildings began to collapse.

Also within minutes, Khalid and a small entourage fled the palace via a rear entrance, leaving the rest of the defenders behind.

When the shelling ended at 9:40 AM, about 500 defenders were dead or wounded. The war had lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, depending on who did the timing.

Britain promptly installed Ali Hamud, another pro-British Zanzibari, as sultan.

As for Khalid, he fled to the German Consulate and was given sanctuary. The British demanded his extradition, but the Germans refused and eventually smuggled him out of Zanzibar and into Tanzania.

Khalid lived under German protection in Tanzania until 1916, when the Brits managed to capture him. He served a term in exile on St. Helena, then was allowed to return to Tanzania. He died there in 1927.

Khalid was the Sultan of Zanzibar for a whopping two days.

Hamad

Hamad bin Thuwaini

Deutsch-Ostafrika, Sultan

Khalid bin Barghash

Cave B

Sir Basil Cave

Palace

The Royal Palace before the war.

Harem

The ruins of the harem building after the bombardment.

###

“Recorded history” is our way of documenting what we consider the important stuff. But the record we keep is only a tiny fraction of literal history.

In the 50,000 years humans have existed, roughly 108 billion of us have been born. That’s 108 billion lifetimes worth of constant interactions within countless societies. In a real sense, 99 percent of history passes quietly, undocumented, known only to the participants.

Hamad, Khalid, and Sir Basil became historical figures. But we know nothing about the lives of the British sailors and soldiers who were ordered to Zanzibar City in August 1896. Nor of the lives of the 3,000 hapless souls who huddled inside the royal palace as British shells rained down.

 

Read Full Post »

Go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company.

— Benjamin Franklin Wade

###

Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favors you have received.

— Seneca the Younger

###

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too big a burden to bear.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

###

Wisdom is the reward for surviving your own stupidity.

— Brian Rathbone

Wade BF

Wade

Rathbone B

Rathbone

 

Read Full Post »

Let's eat

Quit

Baby

Clown

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »