Archive for the ‘stuff’ Category

Mary Elizabeth Taylor

Mary Elizabeth Taylor (c. 1989- ) is that Black woman who has been sitting behind Judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate confirmation hearings for the US Supreme Court. She is the Deputy Director of Nominations at the White House, part of President Trump’s team in charge of getting Gorsuch through the Senate and onto the Supreme Court.

Was she put there because she is Black? Maybe to make Gorsuch seem less racist? Most likely. When the camera pulls back you do not see any other Black people – just her. And yet there she is right behind Gorsuch. Just like how Trump puts Black people behind him at his lily-White rallies. It is not like she is the lead staffer or something. The number one person on her team, former New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, sits farther away from Gorsuch, off-screen. The number two person, Makan Delrahim, has way more experience with confirmation hearings, yet there she is.

At the White House Taylor is part of the legislative affairs unit, which the Obama White House said worked “with senators, representatives, and their staffs to promote the president’s priorities.”

Her boss at the White House is Amy Swonger, a former lobbyist who, like Taylor herself, used to work for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In 2011 Taylor graduated from Bryn Mawr with a political science degree. In the summers she worked as an intern, at the Senate (2006-2009) and at Koch Industries (2010), run by the Koch Brothers, the main moneymen behind the Republican Party.

From 2011 to 2014 she helped to run the Senate cloakroom, becoming one of four Senate Cloakroom Assistants. According to CNN:

“The cloakrooms are off the floor of the House and Senate chambers, and they are similar to what other offices call break rooms. Lawmakers might work on cutting deals in the cloakroom, or they might just kick back and watch television. Each party has its own cloakroom. Floor assistants and cloakroom attendants are among those who work in the rooms. Their duties include alerting lawmakers when votes are coming up, telling them whether the chamber will be open on a snow day and working with pages to deliver messages.”

In 2012 she was a Public Policy Leadership Fellow at The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), a “year-long networking and education program […] designed to develop young leaders with a shared commitment to helping improve public policy,” according to the website. To qualify you “should be committed to the ideals of free markets and limited government.” She is almost certainly a Black Republican.

From the cloakroom she became an aide to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the most powerful senator in the nation. As aide and as cloakroom assistant she has “developed personal relationships with Republican senators,” according to the Washington Post. That would make her valuable to the White House in its dealings with the Senate.

Even though Twitter has noticed her, it seems the press has not (yet) interviewed her.

– Abagond, 2017.

Sources: Heavy, Washington Post, CNN, TFAS.

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Attic units

Athenian “owl” or tetradrachm, -400s.

Attic units (fl. -500 to +150) are the units of measure of ancient Athens. You see them in the writings of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch and others.

Note: the metric values given below are approximations, in part because Attic units were not as fixed as metric ones, in part because there is some degree of uncertainty.


  • 1 talent = 60 minae = 25.8 kg
  • 1 mina (pound) = 100 drachmas = 430 g
  • 1 drachma = 6 obols = 4.3 g
  • 1 obol = 0.72 g

Units changed from city to city. In Aegina, for example, a drachma was 6.1 grams, while in Corinth it was only 2.9.

Money: Expressed as weights of silver. Money was not counted but weighed!

Common coins:

  • obol
  • drachma
  • didrachm (= 2 drachmas)
  • tetradrachm (= 4 drachmas)
  • Persian daric or stater (about 25 drachmas)

All these were silver coins except the stater, made of gold. There were bronze coins too for small change.

Costs (middle -400s):

  • 470 talents – to build the Parthenon (all that marble!)
  • 400 talents -yearly income Athens got from taxes and fees.
  • 400 talents – yearly tribute Athens got from its empire.
  • 10 talents – the prize money Herodotus won for his history.
  • 1 talent – the cost to run a warship (trireme) for a month (all those rowers!)
  • 0.5 talents – cost to build a warship.
  • 6 to 8 drachmas – pair of shoes
  • 5 to 20 drachmas – woollen cloak
  • 1 drachma – olive oil, 1.25 L
  • 1 obol – enough barley to feed a family of five for eight days

a day’s pay:

  • 1 drachma – skilled labourer, even the architect of the Parthenon!
  • 2 obols – unskilled labourer.

In the late -400s, wages will triple due to wartime inflation.


  • 1 stade = 600 Attic feet = distance of a foot race = 180 m
  • 1 plethron = 100 feet = 29.6 m
  • 1 fathom = 6 feet = 1.8 m
  • 1 cubit = 1.5 feet = 0.44 m
  • 1 foot = 16 fingers = 0.296 m (English foot = 0.3048 m)
  • 1 finger (dactylos) = 1.8 cm

Liquid volume:

  • 1 amphora = 144 kotyles = 39.39 L
  • 1 kotyle (cup) = 270 mL

Dry volume:

  • 1 medimnos = 48 choinix = 52 L
  • 1 choinix = 1.08 L


Months start on the new moon:

  • summer: Hekatombaion, Metageitnion, Boedromion
  • autumn: Pyanepsion, Maimakterion, Poseideion
  • winter: Gamelion, Anthesterion, Elaphebolion
  • spring: Mounikhion, Thargelion, Skirophorion

Years: Start with the summer. Named after whoever was archon of Athens at the time.

Thucydides understood that most people, outside of Athens and in the future, would have no idea of who was archon of Athens when, so he dates of the start of the war between Athens and Sparta this way:

“The peace, which after the winning of Euboea was concluded for 30 years, lasted 14 years. But in the 15th year, being

  • the 48th of the priesthood of Chrysis in Argos,
  • Aenesias being then ephor at Sparta and
  • Pythadorus, archon of Athens, having then two months of his government to come,
  • in the sixth month after the battle Potidaea and in the beginning of the spring…”

What we would simply call 431 BC, thanks to Christianity becoming a world religion. Notice he does not use Olympiads. That was not yet common.

From there all his dates are in relation to the start of the war: “In the tenth year…”, etc. And, because months were different from city to city, Thucydides generally spoke in terms of seasons:

“The spring following, when corn began to be in the ear…”

– Abagond, 2017.

Sources: mainly the appendices of the Landmark editions of Herodotus and Thucydides; “The World of Athens” (1984) by the Joint Association of Classical Teachers at Cambridge University.

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“Pinky” (1949) is a Hollywood film about a light-skinned Black woman who has to make a decision about whether to be Black or White. It stars Jeanne Crain as Pinky, Ethel Waters, and the aging, legendary stage actress Ethel Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s great aunt). It is based on the book “Quality” (1948) by Cid Ricketts Sumner. Elia Kazan directs.

Commercial and critical success: It was 20th Century Fox’s highest grossing film that year. It was named for three Oscars but did not win any.

Hollywood Whitewashing: Both Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne were interested in playing Pinky, but it went to a White woman, Jeanne Crain. Kazan did not think much of Crain’s acting, but that made her good for the part:

“The only good thing about her was that it went so far in the direction of no temperament that you felt Pinky was floating through all of her experiences without reacting to them, which is what ‘passing’ is.”

Pinky and her boyfriend, who wants her to live as a White woman.

Censorship: It was banned in Marshall, Texas, in part because it showed a White man kissing a Black woman – even though the actress playing the Black woman was White! A cinema in Marshall played the film anyway. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, with the cinema winning on First Amendment (free speech) grounds.

Censored scene: an interracial kiss between White actors!

White racism: Because it was written by White people, I expected the film to play down White racism. Hardly! It showed Whites being nice to Pinky and giving her the benefit of the doubt – until they find out she is Black! Then, suddenly, they change, almost like they have a split personality. There were several scenes like that, with the police, a shopkeeper and some good old boys. Yet when her White boyfriend finds out she is Black – he barely skips a beat! Huh?

Anti-racist messages: The film uses a doctor to argue that racism is not supported by science and a judge to argue that racism makes the US look bad in front of the whole world. It also uses Pinky’s grandmother (Ethel Waters) to counter the stereotype of Blacks as naturally lazy. On the other hand:

Pinky and her grandmother (Ethel Waters), who wants her to be who she truly is, a Black woman.

Mammy stereotype: Ethel Waters is selflessly devoted to an old White woman (Ethel Barrymore), whose ancestors most likely owned her ancestors. But at least Pinky has the good sense to object to it.

Tragic Mulatto stereotype: Because of when it was written, I expected Pinky to be a Tragic Mulatto, torn between the White and Black worlds and finding happiness in neither. It was a common stereotype used to argue against the mixing of the races (“What about the children?”). Instead Pinky finds that passing for White is no way to live: you need to be proud of who you are, which means proud of being Black and owning it.

Overall: Maybe in a few weeks I will come to my senses and this post will make me cringe, but having just seen it, I loved it (though “Skin” (2008) is still tops for me).

– Abagond, 2017.

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1949 in 12 songs

Here are the songs that went to number one in 1949 on the US R&B chart. Most are blues rather than R&B. Some are jump blues, which was more uptempo and would give rise to rock and roll and actual R&B in the 1950s.

John Lee Hooker: Boogie Chillen:

Big Jay McNeeley’s Blue Jays: The Deacon’s Hop:

Paul Williams and His Hucklebucklers: The Huckle-Buck:

The Charlie Brown Trio: Trouble Blues:

Jimmy Witherspoon: Ain’t Nobody’s Business (Parts 1 & 2):

Amos Milburn: Roomin’ House Boogie:

Wynonie Harris: All She Wants to Do is Rock:

The Orioles: Tell Me So:

Dinah Washington: Baby Get Lost:

Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five: Beans and Corn Bread:

Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five: Saturday Night Fry Fish:

Larry Darnell: For You My Love:

See also:

Source: Wikipedia.

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1949 in 33 pictures

Using Google Images as my time machine, here is some of what I saw in 1949:

Click on images to enlarge or see the film; click on links to go to posts on the given subject:

Dorothy Dandridge in a glamour photo, circa 1949:

Lena Horne and Duke Ellington on the cover of the October 1949 issue of Ebony:

Jackie Robinson baseball card:

Billie Holiday:

Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois at the World at the Peace Congress in Paris, April 20th 1949:

Josephine Baker was in Paris:

Richard Wright was in Paris. Here he is with his daughter Julia:

James Baldwin was in Paris too, having just moved there in 1948. I could not find any pictures of him in 1949, but I did find a picture of the cafe near where he lived, Cafe de Flore, where he would write “Go Tell it on the Mountain” (1953):

FRANCE – 1949: Paris. The terrace of the Flore cafe. March, 1949. RV-88278 (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Chloe Wofford in high school in Lorain, Ohio. In 44 years she will win the Nobel Prize for Literature:

“Annie Allen” by Gwendolyn Brooks, the first book by a Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize:

“Uncle Tom’s Children” (1938) by Richard Wright, now in paperback:

A scene from “Souls of Sin”:

The 1949 movie poster for“Pinky”, about a light-skinned Black woman who passes for White:

“Field Hand” by Samella Lewis:

“Trenton Six” by Charles Wilbert White:

Fort Scott, Kansas by Gordon Parks:

Chicago by  Stanley Kubrick:

Harlem by Richard Avedon:Dining-car cooks:

Tons of Black people were still sharecroppers, but it seems they fell out of fashion with photographers in the 1940s (they were huge in the 1930s). Photography, like writing, seems to be a largely middle-class medium.

Howard University:

The Andante Club, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

Wigs (natural hairstyles were not yet a thing):

Part of an ad for a skin-lightening bleaching cream:

White people in blackface:

a Montreal area church circa 1949. (MONTREAL GAZETTE)

The 1949 edition of the Green Book, which listed restaurants, hotels, etc, which would serve Blacks:

A map of civil rights laws. Notice how Jim Crow extends to Arizona:

Paradise Park For Coloured People in Florida: I am not sure if this picture is from 1949, but it probably is since that is when the park opened:

A kindergarten class in Topeka, Kansas:

A White family standing in front of their new house in Levittown, a suburb of New York City where no Black person was allowed to live, an example of a sundown town:

August 27th, Westchester County, just north of New York City: people shouting insults at carloads of concert-goers who have come to see Paul Robeson. This will turn into the Peekskill Riot:

A Klan rally in Alabama:

A race riot in St Louis, Missouri:

And, of course, Times Square:

My mother says that 1949, at the time, seemed completely ordinary. In writing this post I see what she means. It is like when you become used to hearing an accent – you stop hearing it.

– Abagond, 2017.

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Russian hackers

Russian hackers (fl. 2008- ) break into computers for a living. They have stolen billions from banks, disabled power plants in Ukraine, shut down the Internet in Estonia, and likely helped Donald Trump get elected president in the US – among other things. Some are plain old criminals or thrill seekers, others are spies working for the Russian government.

Tricks of the trade:

  • malware – programs that get into a computer to do the hacker’s bidding, like recording keystrokes or copying files.
  • spear-phishing: sending emails to users of interest, like John Podesta, to get them to enter their password, credit card information, etc, or to infect their computer with malware. This is done by getting them to open an email attachment or go to a waterhole:
  • waterhole: looks just like a trusted website but has been set up by hackers to get your password, get malware onto your computer, etc. In most cases the only way an ordinary person can tell it is fake is from its URL:
  • typosquatting – using a URL that looks like the right one, but is off in some way. For example, the website to give money to the Democratic Party was ActBlue.com – so hackers set up a website that looked just like it but was at ActBlues.com. Spot the difference! Not everyone does.

Note that “computer” can mean your mobile phone, not just a laptop or desktop computer.

Dramatis Personae:

  • CrowdStrike – the US cybersecurity firm that looked into the computer break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
  • Cozy Bear – the name given by CrowdStrike to the hackers who broke into the DNC computers in 2015. Called “Bear” because they believe them to be Russian.
  • Fancy Bear – broke into the DNC computers a year later, in 2016. Did not seem to know about the Cozy Bear hack, copying some of the same files. CrowdStrike believes Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear work for different branches of Russian intelligence.
  • Guccifer 2.0 – a WordPress blogger who claims to be Cozy Bear, but says he is not a “bear” (Russian) but Romanian. Says CrowdStrike blamed the Russians to cover their own incompetence.
  • Julian Assange – the Australian hacker who runs WikiLeaks, the website that made files from DNC computers public. He denies they came from Russians.

Are Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear Russian spies? Most likely:

  1. The hacks were extremely professional, among the best in the business.
  2. Most of the malware was written on a Russian keyboard in Russian time zones.
  3. Much of the same malware was used to hack the US and Ukrainian militaries – only Russian intelligence would have the means and motive to hack both.
  4. The DNC material was used to benefit Russia and not, say, China or Iran.

CrowdStrike thinks it was Russian intelligence and has made its findings public.

But, even if all this is true, so far there is no solid proof, no smoking gun, that shows that Donald Trump had anything to do with it. In terms of Watergate, it is still 1972.

– Abagond, 2017.

Source: mainly “The Plot to Hack America” (2016) by Malcolm Nance.

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A French map showing where Masina (Macina) was in relation to present-day countries of West Africa. It is the blue blob towards the middle.

Masina (1818-1862), also known as Macina or the Massina Empire, was one of the main Fulani jihad states of West Africa in the early 1800s. It ruled what is now the middle of Mali.

  • Fulani women of the Masina region in 1970.

    Location: along the Niger River, from about Jenne to Timbuktu.

  • Population: 1 million (estimated).
  • Languages: Fulfulde, Bambara, Songhay, Dogon languages.
  • Religions: Islam, Bambara polytheism, etc.
  • Capital: Hamdallahi.
  • Major cities: Timbuktu, Jenne, shadows of their former selves.
  • Government: A caliphate (Islamic state) divided into five emirates (provinces). Emirs were chosen by the caliph. The caliph was chosen by jihad or civil war. He was advised by a grand council of 40 men, whose advice he did not always take. The government collected taxes. Justice was dispensed by cadis, judges learned in sharia (Muslim law). They applied sharia to everything, with a strictness some would call fanatical.
  • Economy: Grew plenty of rice, millet and vegetables on government lands worked by men taken in war. Freedom was promised to slaves in its jihads, but Masina itself practised slavery of non-Muslims (as allowed by the Koran). Trade was weak due to war. Most Fulanis were herders. The government, with some success, got them to live a more settled life.


  • 1818-45: Amadou Seku – saintly scholar, preacher of pure Islam and jihad.
  • 1845-53: Seku Amadou – able son.
  • 1853-62: Amadou mo Amadou – hopeless incompetent.

Amadou Seku was a religious scholar with a large following, one who was able to bring together Fulanis of the Masina kingdom to fight a jihad (holy war) to overthrow their hated (and non-Muslim) Bambara overlords. Seku was a follower of Usman dan Fodio, the founder of Sokoto, the Fulani jihad state that was downriver in what is now northern Nigeria.

Seku Amadou, the son, after putting down challenges, both foreign and domestic, to his rule, gave Masina its most peaceful and prosperous days of the 1800s.

Amadou mo Amadou was unable to heal the divisions of the civil war that put him in power. In fact, he made them worse by putting his own men in place of old and respected religious leaders. And then faced a powerful jihad state growing in the west, the Toucouleur Empire (Kaarta) of al-Hajj Umar Tall. Amadou made an alliance with the Bambara of Segu, the once-hated and still un-Islamic former enemies. That gave Umar the perfect excuse to launch a holy war against him.

The end: the Toucouleur Empire could make guns in quantity, Masina could not. Masina fell in 1862. The Toucoulear Empire in turn fell in 1893 to a yet bigger empire with yet better guns: the French.

The Islam of Masina was very pure and strict, inspired in part by Wahhabism, which today rules Mecca and Medina and helps to inform the Islam of jihadists like ISIS, the Taliban and Boko Haram. Masina’s Islam was much more severe than Timbuktu’s own scholarly understanding of the faith, so much so that people in Timbuktu had to hide their books from the jihadists. Yet it was Timbuktu’s own Mukhtar al-Kunti (1729-1811) whose writings had helped give rise to the Fulani jihads!

– Abagond, 2017.

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