Forty-six years ago today, on the 18th February 1965, The Gambia was granted independence by the United Kingdom. It was also obliged to join the Commonwealth. It is the smallest country on mainland Africa. It is surrounded to the North, East and South by Senegal. To the West, at the mouth of the River Gambia, which runs the length of the country, is the Atlantic Ocean.

The population estimate is approximately 1,705,000 inhabitants over 4,007 sq. miles. A third of that population live below the international poverty line of $1.25 US per day. It has a history of being buffeted between Britain, Franc and Portugal. According to some sources as many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during the 3 centuries that the slave trade operated. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans. In 1889 it became a British Crown Colony.

According to the current president Yahya Jammeh:

The Gambia “is on of the oldest and biggest countries in Africa that was reduced to a small snake by the British Government who sold all our lands to the French”

As a 29 year old Lieutenant in the Gambian National Army, he seized power on the 22nd July 1994. The coup produced no fatalities; however, the constitution was suspended the borders sealed, and a curfew was implemented. Supposedly there were free elections and Jammeh was elected President in October of 1996, and re-elected in October 2001. There was a coup attempt in March 2006, whilst he was out of the country. The coup was put down and he was again elected as President in September of that year.

To give you an idea of the President’s view of democratic elections, he stated at a rally in July of 2010:
“Whether you like it or not, no coup will end my government, no elections can end my government. By God’s grace I will rule this country as long as I wish and choose someone to replace me.” The same month, he added “Come 2011, whether you vote for me or not, I will win,” and “If any area chooses to be with the opposition, let them go ahead and expect no benefit from my government.
Pictures can never quite tell the whole story. The place looks great and worth a visit, save for the attitudes of the President.

On May 15, 2008, Jammeh announced that his government would introduce legislation that would set rules against homosexuals that would be “stricter than those in Iran”, and that he would “cut off the head” of any gay or lesbian person discovered in the country. News reports indicated his government intended to have all homosexuals in the country killed. In a speech given in Tallinding, Jammeh gave a “final ultimatum” to any gays or lesbians in The Gambia to leave the country. There is no freedom of the press and here have been a number of other human rights abuses.

Not exactly a pleasant gathering. What is sad, is that when Jammeh and his ‘Government” took power in 1994, they justified the coup by decrying corruption and lack of democracy under the previous regime. Why does every military coup claim it is taking action to promote and support democratic action as well as sweeping away the previous administrations corruption and and skulduggery.

It should give one pause when one hears the promises of the current military administrators in Egypt. That country had been under British occupation and control from 1889 to 1922. It was then that Britain ended its protectorate and the Kingdom of Egypt was established; however, on June 18, 1953, the Egyptian Republic was declared, with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. Naguib was forced to resign in 1954 by Gamar Abdel Nasser – the real architect of the 1952 movement – and was later put under house arrest. Nasser assumed power as President in June, 1956. And we all know what that unfortunate movement led to:


This newsreel gives a flavour of what else was going on in 1956, whilst the Middle East was intent on blowing itself part. Plus ca change. At least the first 52 seconds was on point.

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Ninety-eight years ago today, 17th February 1913, The Armory Show opened in New York at the 69th Regiment Armory (One of the U.S. National Guard Armories) on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets. It was organised by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors and ran to the 15th March 1913


It was the first show mounted by the Association and exhibited some 1250 painting, sculptures and decorative works by over 300 European and American artists.
The Impressionists, Fauvists and Cubists were all represented; although not greatly appreciated by some of the public. President Theodore Roosevelt declared, “That’s not art”. Reviews were full of accusations of quackery, insanity, anarchy and immorality. There were parodies, caricatures and mock exhibitions:

A Slight Attack of Third Dimentia Brought on by Excessive Study of the Much Talked of Cubist Pictures in the International Exhibition at New York,” drawn by John French Sloan in April 1913.

Among the artist whose work feature large in the show were the Duchamp brothers:

The brothers, left to right: Marcel Duchamp, Jaques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon. This Photo was actually taken in Jacques Villon’s studio in Pateaux, France in 1914.

Marcel Duchamp’ Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 painted in 1912 attracted a great deal of attention, as did Picasso’s Le Guitariste (1910) and Braque’s Violin and Candlestick (1910)

Among others at the exhibition:

Henri Matisse l’Atelier Rouge(1911)

Maurice Prendergast Landscape with Figures (1913)

Arthur B Davies Reclining Woman (Pastel Drawing)(1911)

Prendergast and Davies were both American artists and members of a group of painters called The Eight, which included Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Ernest Lawson, George Luks and William Glackens. Out of the group came the Ashcan School of artists.

Ashcan School artists and friends at John Sloan’s Philadelphia Studio, 1898

The exhibition was undoubtedly a success and very comprehensive at the time. It went on to show at the Art Institute of Chicago and then in Copley Hall in Boston. There, due to a lack of space, all the work by American Artists was removed. How sad is that. How insecure of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. It is worth having a look at this entry:

Your can judge for yourselves whether a judiciously proportionate culling of works – to make way for display in Boston – would have been more appropriate.

Edward Hopper 1908, George Bellows 1909 and Maurice Prendergast 1901

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Fifty-two years ago today, 16th February 1959, Fidel Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba. Shortly after he took office he visited the United States for the first time on the 15th April 1959. It was not a state visit, but he went to the U.S. as a guest of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In fact he had himself invited by the Press Club. Whilst in New York he made an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jack Paar. Paar had only recently taken over as host of the show, which was later renamed The Jack Paar Show, whether because of Castro’s appearance or for some other reason, who knows.






I recall watching that show. It was not a long interview, and Paar greeted Castro with an embrace. Fidel was still thought of with good will – the man who led the revolution for a more democratic Cuba – the man who toppled the Dictator Batista (who fled the country on the 1st January 1959 with bags containing some $300,000,000). Americans understood all about democratic revolutions toppling dictators and the man was most welcome.
Even the State Department were quick to recognise the new regime. Che Guevara led the Revolutionary forces into Havana on the 1st January, Fidel entered Havana on the 7th and that same day the United States recognised the new Government of Cuba. The honeymoon was on; however, there were problems and rumblings due to approaching Soviet diplomatic visits to Cuba.
By July ’59 American journalist Walter Lippman wrote: “For the thing we should never do in dealing with revolutionary countries, in which the world abounds, is to push them behind an iron curtain raised by ourselves. On the contrary, even when they have been seduced and subverted and are drawn across the line, the right thing do do is to keep the way open for their return.”
By March ’60, the following year, President Eisenhower approved a covert action plan against Cuba, that included the use of a “powerful propaganda campaign to overthrow Castro, which plan included the termination of sugar purchases, the end of oil deliveries, continuation of an arms embargo and the organisation of a paramilitary force of Cuban exiles to invade the Island.

Kennedy then caught all the flack after his election as President in November of 1960. The Bay of Pigs debacle went ahead on the 17th April 1961; however,
…way before any of this a young Fidel Castro wrote a letter in 1940 to the then President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
It reads:

Santiago de Cuba
Nov 6 1940
Mr Franklin Roosvelt
President of the United States
My good friend Roosvelt. I don’t know very English, But I know as much as write to you.
I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President for a new (periodo)
I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much, but I do not think that I am writing to the President of the United States,
If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green American, in the letter, because never I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.
My address is:
Sr. Fidel Castro
Colegio de Dolores
Oriente. Cuba
I don’t know very English But I know very much Spanish and I suppose you don’t know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.
Thank you very muchs
Good by, your friend
Fidel Castro
If you want iron to make your sheaps ships I will show to you the biggest (minas) of iron of the land. They are in Majori Oriente Cuba

I wonder if Roosevelt ever sent the money. Perhaps he did and that ten dollars bill green american is what started the money part of the equation. Who can say?


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The USS Maine, commissioned on the 17th September 1895, sank in the harbour at Havana, Cuba 113 years ago today at 21:40 hours on the 15th February 1898, after only three years service. It just exploded in the harbour.
Investigation revealed that more than 5 long tons of powder charges for the ships six and ten inch guns had detonated, obliterating the forward third of the ship. What was left rapidly settled to the bottom of the harbour. 284 men lost their lives. The explosion was a precipitating cause of the Spanish-American War that began in April 1898. The rallying cry became “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”

Although various explanations for the explosion were put forward, no satisfactory account was published in the press. Indeed, the press were clamouring for war. Political pressure from the Democratic Party pushed the government of Republican President McKinley into a war he apparently wished to avoid. Ultimatums were eventually sent to Madrid, which were not accepted. First Madrid and then Washington formally declared war.

There had been rumblings throughout Spanish territory in the Caribbean, as well as the Pacific Ocean, and American public opinion, fuelled by the Hearst press, grew angrier at reports of Spanish atrocities. All over the Spanish main people were seeking their independence, and the US Monroe Doctrine was flourishing. Cuban independence in particular was the stated reason for the conflict, which in the end was pretty one sided. The war lasted ten weeks and ended with the Treaty of Paris 1898.
JohnHay, Secretary of State, signing the memorandum of ratification on behalf of the United States
This treaty was very favourable to the United States. It left the Americans with temporary control of Cuba and indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines. The defeat and subsequent end of the Spanish Empire was a profound shock for Spain’s national psyche. The victor gained several Island possessions spanning the globe and a bitter new debate over the wisdom of imperialism.

This ‘land grab‘ by the United States was an inevitable result of the Monroe Doctrine, a policy introduced 75 years earlier in 1823. It was first stated by President Monroe in his state of the Union Address to Congress, but the author of the policy was the then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.

The doctrine stated that further efforts by European countries to colonise land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention. The doctrine asserted that the Western Hemisphere was not to be further colonised by European countries, but that the United States would neither interfere with existing European Colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. (Ho, Ho.)

This doctrine was issued at a time when many Latin American countries were on the verge of becoming independent from the Spanish Empire, and the U.S., apparently reflecting concerns raised by Great Britain, hoped to avoid having any European power take over Spain’s colonies.

Clearly, the only way to do that was to interfere with the internal affairs of those colonies or former colonies That is what the U.S. has been doing ever since, e.g. Chile in 1973, which is another reason for viewing the current demonstrations in the middle east and U.S. support of certain powers in Egypt and elsewhere , with a certain degree of caution. “REMEMBER THE MAIN!” and everything that went with it.

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Benjamin Kubelsky was born 14th February 1894 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents had emigrated from Europe to the United States. His father from Poland and mother from Lithuania. He went into Vaudeville and became the comedian Jack Benny. He had a long running radio show, which ran from 1932 to 1955. His television show ran from 1950 to 1965.
Group photograph of Eddie Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Jack Benny, Don Wilson, and Mel Blanc

This clip has Marilyn Monroe making her first TV appearance. Not classic stuff, but just a touch of nostalgia. A date with Marilyn is some Valentine for Jack Benny’s birthday.

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65 years ago today, Valentines Day, 14 February 1946 , ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer was unveiled. I had a bit of a freudian slip initially as I had typed Electronic Numerical Interrogator and Computer. Not surprising as it was first used by the American military to prepare artillery-shell trajectory tables and perform diverse military and allegedly scientific calculations.
We have come quite a long way from a machine that weighed 30 tons, filled an entire room, used some 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors and 10,000 capacitors. All that has been reduced to an item we can purchase in the high street and hold in the palm of our hand. We can also at the press of a button send a to a favourite person.
Is that progress or what? HAPPY VALENTINES DAY

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Thirty seven years ago today, on the 13th February 1974, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was kicked out of the Soviet Union and stripped of his Soviet Citizenship. He had already been awarded, in 1970, the Nobel Prize for Literature.


Between 1958 and 1967 he had been working on The Gulag Archipelago, which followed from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962). Both are based on his own experiences.
The Gulag Archipelago was also informed by his own researches and the testimony of 256 former prisoners about the history of the penal system in the Soviet Union. He discusses the origins, from the beginnings of the Communist Government in Russia in 1918, alleging Lenin himself had responsibility, detailing interrogation techniques, prisoner transport, prison camp culture, uprisings and revolts, and the question of internal exile. None of this easy stuff for the Soviet Government to live with, considering the impact it was having in the west.
Of course he ended up for some time in the United States, being feted as the prime witness to the horrors of what President Reagan referred to as ‘the evil empire’. Whilst in the United Sates and travelling through Europe, he made a couple of comments about the West:
“...the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer that those offered by today’s mass living habits…by TV stupor and by intolerable music.”
In a speech to the international Academy of Philosophy he implored the West not to “lose sight of its own values, its historically unique stability of civic life under the rule of law – a hard won stability which grants independence and space to every private citizen”. But he later added a caveat. “A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities
The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and his Soviet citizenship was restored. He subsequently returned to Russian in 1994. He lived in a dacha to the west of Moscow until his death , aged 89, on 3rd August 2008, the same day in 1914 that Germany declared war on France. He was born a the end of the first world war in December of 1918.

Like all of us he had his problems. He was anti-Semitic. He was a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War, yet condemned the bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, comparing NATO to Hitler. There were a number of inconsistencies which do not make sense to me. He was clearly very conservative in his views, particularly about western culture – television and their intolerable music. He admired the principle of the rule of law, and was right about the West not losing its sense of values, but didn’t quite understand the letter of the law. He had no idea of the imagination lawyers have of human possibilities in understanding and applying the letter of the law. Perhaps Russian Orthodoxy didn’t allow for that.
He had little idea of the law in relation to his initial arrest in 1945 for writing derogatory comments about the conduct of the War by Stalin. But that was not surprising at the time; however, as a result, the Gulag, Stalin and Soviet Communism, became for him, like Captain Ahab, his white whale. He spent most of the rest of his working/writing life trying to harpoon it.
I must confess feeling a bit like Ishmael watching the Pequod going under “…at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar.” and I ask myself “So what’s the big idea?”

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