Press reader – The Backwaters Press http://thebackwaterspress.org/ Tue, 16 Nov 2021 05:43:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8 https://thebackwaterspress.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/icon-34.png Press reader – The Backwaters Press http://thebackwaterspress.org/ 32 32 Paul B. Preciado: The ball https://thebackwaterspress.org/paul-b-preciado-the-ball/ Mon, 15 Nov 2021 11:24:24 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/paul-b-preciado-the-ball/ A short essay from the book by trans philosopher, curator and activist Paul B. Preciado, “An Apartment on Uranus”. Photo source: Eva darron Homosexuality is a silent sniper who shoots a bullet through the hearts of children in schoolyards, he takes aim regardless if they are the children of yuppies, agnostics, or die-hard Catholics. His […]]]>

A short essay from the book by trans philosopher, curator and activist Paul B. Preciado, “An Apartment on Uranus”.

Photo source: Eva darron

Homosexuality is a silent sniper who shoots a bullet through the hearts of children in schoolyards, he takes aim regardless if they are the children of yuppies, agnostics, or die-hard Catholics. His hand does not tremble, neither in the schools of the 6th arrondissement nor in the working-class districts. It turns with the same precision in the streets of Chicago, the villages of Italy, or the suburbs of Johannesburg. Homosexuality is a sniper blind like love, bursting like a laugh, as sweet as a pet. And if he tires of using children as targets, he fires a volley of stray bullets that will lodge in the heart of a farmer, a taxi driver, a rapper, a postwoman in shot… the last bullet hits 80-year-old woman in her sleep.

Transsexual is a silent sniper who plants a bullet in the chest of children standing in front of a mirror or counting their steps on their way to school. It doesn’t matter if they were born from artificial insemination or Catholic coitus. He doesn’t wonder if they come from single parent families or if dad wore blue and mom wore pink. He does not tremble either from the cold of Sochi or from the heat of Cartagena. He opens fire on both Israel and Palestine. Transsexuality is a blind sniper like laughter, springing like love, as gentle and tolerant as pets. From time to time, he addresses a provincial teacher or a father, then, boom.

For those who have the courage to look directly at the wound, the bullet becomes the key to a world they have never seen before. The curtains separate, the “matrix” breaks. But among those who carry the bullet in the chest, some decide to live as if they do not feel anything.

Others compensate for the weight of the ball by acting like Don Juan or like a princess. Doctors and churches promise to extract the bullet. They say that in Ecuador, a new evangelical clinic is opening every day, to re-educate homosexuals and transsexuals. Lightning bolts of faith become electric shocks. But no one has ever figured out how to get the ball out. Neither Mormons nor Castroists. You can bury it deeper in the chest, but you can never remove it. Your ball is your guardian angel: it will always be by your side.

I was three years old when I first felt the weight of the ball. I knew I was wearing it when I heard my father call two foreign girls walking hand in hand down the street “dirty and disgusting dykes.” My chest started to burn. That night, without knowing why, I fantasized for the first time that I was escaping my city and going to another country. The days that followed were days of fear and shame.

It is not difficult to imagine that among the adults who participate in the current manifestations of anger that some of them carry, encrusted in their plexus, an incandescent ball. By simple statistical deduction, and knowing the virtuosity of the snipers, I know that some of the children of the demonstrators already carry the bullet in the heart. I don’t know how many they are or how old they are, but I do know that some of them have burning breasts.

That night, without knowing why, I fantasized for the first time that I was escaping my city and going to another country.

They carry banners that have been placed in their hands, which say “Hands off our stereotypes”. But they know they will never live up to these stereotypes. Their parents are screaming that LGBT groups should never venture into schools, but these kids know they are the ones who carry the LGBT ball. At night, like when I was a child, they go to bed with the shame of being the only ones who know that they are a disappointment to their parents, they go to bed with the fear that their parents will abandon them if they find out, or would rather they die. And maybe they dream, as I did before them, that they are fleeing to a foreign land, where children who carry the ball are welcome. And I want to say to these children: life is good, we are waiting for you, there are many of us here, we have all been hit by the bullet, we are lovers with open chests. You’re not alone.

– Paris, February 15, 2014


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How populism is putting the planet at risk https://thebackwaterspress.org/how-populism-is-putting-the-planet-at-risk/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/how-populism-is-putting-the-planet-at-risk/#respond Fri, 05 Nov 2021 10:50:50 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/how-populism-is-putting-the-planet-at-risk/ By throwing gasoline on political flames, populism makes cooperation on climate change almost impossible. Humanity is conducting an unprecedented experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere. The last time atmospheric carbon levels were as high as they are now was during the Pliocene era, three to five million years ago. At the time, rhinos lived in North […]]]>

By throwing gasoline on political flames, populism makes cooperation on climate change almost impossible.

Humanity is conducting an unprecedented experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere. The last time atmospheric carbon levels were as high as they are now was during the Pliocene era, three to five million years ago. At the time, rhinos lived in North America. Crocodiles and alligators lived in Europe. Trees grew in the Arctic. The sea level was 75 feet higher. To put it in context, a 75-foot rise in sea level puts many of the world’s major cities underwater, including London, Miami, Tokyo, Manila, New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Jakarta, Dhaka, and Shanghai. .

Over the past 500 million years, the planet has experienced five mass extinction events, each of which wiped out most species on the planet. Only one was caused by an asteroid, the other four being driven by greenhouse gases. Studying the changes in the carbon cycle that led to these extinction events, geophysicist Daniel Rothman concludes that the threshold for a sixth extinction event is when more than 310 gigatons of carbon are added to the oceans. On a business-as-usual trajectory, human carbon emissions are currently on track to increase by 500 gigatons by 2100.

Extreme weather events come up against the limits of existing weather scales. After record heat in 2013, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology added two new colors to its temperature maps, increasing the maximum temperature from 122 ° F (50 ° C) to 129 ° F (54 ° C). After Hurricane Harvey, the US National Weather Service added two new shades of purple to its precipitation maps, increasing the upper limit from 15 to 30 inches. Meteorologist Jeff Masters offers that the current five-category hurricane scale be expanded to include a six-category hurricane – what he described as a “black swan” storm.

Not all populists are climate deniers, but virtually all climate deniers are populists.

This week in Glasgow, countries are faced with the reality that their announced measures will not come close to meeting the Paris climate targets. According to a Evaluation by the non-governmental organization Climate Action Tracker, only a handful of countries have put in place climate policies compatible with a warming of 2 ° C, while a few (such as the European Union) are said to come close. According to the organization, the policies of most countries are “insufficient”, “very insufficient” or “critically insufficient”.

There is a strong economic case for climate action. Once installed, wind and solar provide energy to almost zero marginal cost. Avoiding dangerous climate change avoids the costly impact of heat waves which cause premature deaths and restrict work outdoors, hurricanes and forest fires which kill and damage property, destruction of property. coastal properties and reduced agricultural yields.

If these perks sound right, they should come across as doubly appealing when the prospect of averting a global catastrophe adds to the picture. If future lives matter as much as ours, it is ruthless not to reduce carbon emissions. The case for decisive action is further strengthened by recognizing that much of the problem has been created relatively recently. As journalist David Wallace-Wells has it observed, “The majority of the burn has come from the Seinfeld premiere.” Climate change is not just a problem handed down to us by our ancestors. Many of those responsible for the carbon emissions that cause global warming are still alive today.

Yet focusing on catastrophic risks – in climate change and other areas – is hampered by the growth of populist politics. Not all populists are climate deniers, but virtually all climate deniers are populists. A analysis of the 21 largest right-wing populist parties in Europe found that a third were outright climate deniers, while many others were hostile to climate action. Right-wing populists make up 15% of the European Parliament, but their voices make up around half of all those who vote against climate and energy resolutions. A recent study in the UK identified voters who held populist beliefs about politics. These populist voters were significantly less likely to agree that global warming is caused by human action and less likely to support measures to protect the environment.

Populism is on the rise. From 1990 to 2018, the number of countries with populist leaders increase from four to 20. The best known was President Donald Trump, who once claimed that climate change was a “hoax” and claimed that “global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make American manufacturing not competitive ”. In the current Congress, 52% of House Republicans and 60% of Senate Republicans are climate deniers. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has relaxed controls on land clearing in the Amazon. This has led farmers to accelerate deforestation through logging and burning. Mid-2019, satellite analysis of large fires in the Amazon show that an area the size of Yellowstone National Park had been set ablaze. At this rate, this additional deforestation could push the Amazon rainforest to a tipping point.

Populists view politics as a struggle between a pure mass of people and a vile elite. Right-wing populists often include scientists in their characterization of the elite. This has led to a wave of clashes between populist leaders and scientists. Dutch far-right leader Thierry Baudet denounces “climate change hysteria”. Allies of Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán have included scientists on a list of people described as “mercenaries” of billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Defusing populist rage takes empathy, not disdain.

By throwing gasoline on political flames, populism makes cooperation more difficult. California’s 2006 cap-and-trade emissions reduction program was passed by a Democratic legislature and enacted by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yet today two-fifths of Republican and Democratic voters think their political opponents are bad, and a sixth consider them as animals. This is hardly conducive to encouraging reps to go to the other side of the aisle.

How, then, to defeat populism? This requires addressing the main economic grievances that have led many voters to turn desperately to extremists. This means creating renewable energy jobs in communities whose employment base currently relies on fossil fuels. It is about building a more equitable education system and updating democratic institutions to make them more democratic. Defusing populist rage takes empathy, not disdain.

Fighting populism will not be easy, but it must be done. Our world depends on it.


Andrew Leigh is the author of “What’s the worst that can happen? Extreme existential and political riskAnd member of the Australian Parliament.


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Eastern Daily Press Reader Survey Results https://thebackwaterspress.org/eastern-daily-press-reader-survey-results/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/eastern-daily-press-reader-survey-results/#respond Tue, 19 Oct 2021 10:54:00 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/eastern-daily-press-reader-survey-results/ What do you like to read in the Eastern Daily Press or online? Ask 10 people and you will probably get 10 different answers. Well, we surveyed 3,500 of our print readers and over the past few weeks I have shared with you some of the results and how they are and will continue to […]]]>

What do you like to read in the Eastern Daily Press or online?

Ask 10 people and you will probably get 10 different answers.

Well, we surveyed 3,500 of our print readers and over the past few weeks I have shared with you some of the results and how they are and will continue to inform the decisions we make to improve your newspaper.

https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/eastern-daily-press-reader-survey-results-8404074

Today I would like to draw attention to topics and topics that you love to read in the newspapers – as well as those you don’t.

In many ways, this shows how difficult it can be to be an editor (of course I would say no?).


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There are many topics that remain clearly like Marmite for many people, some like them and maybe would like more, others feel the opposite completely. These topics include Norwich City, TV shows, puzzles, and more.

Then we have the topics that probably matter hugely if they have a direct impact on your life, but less so if they don’t. I would include education, mental health and campaigning in this category.


Readers have told us what matters to them
– Credit: Archant

And then there are the clearest ones. I’m happy to read that topics like health, community news, crime, politics, local government, what’s up, our weekend pullout and more performed well in the survey and remain vitally important to many of you. We are already working to improve further in these key areas.

Some areas that scored less favorably – take our old Heaven withdrawal – have already been addressed.

Meanwhile, the survey also identified areas that we may need to focus more on than we currently do, with environmental issues being the ones that clearly resonate with a large number of people. Beware of this one over the next few weeks and months.

If you took the time to participate in the survey, thank you very much, the information has been invaluable and I will use this column to keep you updated on the continuing evolution of our journal and website.

https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/changes-a-the-astern-daily-press-8322200

If you haven’t, fear not, we’ll be looking to repeat it in the very near future.

The results

What do you think of the contents of the following newspaper?

criminality

Not interested 15pc

Less interested 11pc

Fairly interested 47pc

Very interested 27pc

Education

Not interested 15pc

Less interested 35pc

Fairly interested 37pc

Very interested 13pc

Health

Not interested 2pc

Less interested 14pc

Fairly interested 54pc

Very interested 30pc


Archant

Our recent NHS On The Brink series
– Credit: Archant

Letters

Not interested 17pc

Less interested 14pc

Fairly interested 30pc

Very interested 39pc

Chroniclers

Not interested 17pc

Less interested 27pc

Fairly interested 37pc

Very interested 19pc

sport

Not interested 24pc

Less interested 26pc

Fairly interested 19pc

Very interested 31pc

Community news

Not interested 2pc

Less interested 11pc

Fairly Interested 45pc

Very interested 42pc


The EACH Bubble Rush is coming to King's Lynn this weekend.

Community news is vital, readers say
– Credit: EACH

Reader photos

Not interested 19pc

Less interested 33pc

Fairly interested 28pc

Very interested 20pc

Campaigns

Not interested 15pc

Less interested 37pc

Fairly interested 39pc

Very interested 9pc

Mental Health

Not interested 13pc

Less interested 34pc

Fairly interested 40pc

Very interested 13pc

What’s new

Not interested 8pc

Less interested 15pc

Fairly interested 40pc

Very interested 37pc

Food and drink

Not interested 16pc

Less interested 24pc

Fairly interested 33pc

Very interested 27pc

Business

Not interested 11pc

Less interested 24pc

Fairly interested 40pc

Very interested 25pc

Global / National News

Not interested 10pc

Less interested 19pc

Fairly interested 38pc

Very interested 33pc

Nostalgia

Not interested 12pc

Less interested 28pc

Fairly interested 42pc

Very interested 18pc

puzzles

Not interested 33pc

Less interested 16pc

Fairly interested 23pc

Very interested 28pc

TV list

Not interested 34pc

Less interested 24pc

Fairly interested 23pc

Very interested 19pc

Goods

Not interested 25pc

Less interested 28pc

Fairly Interested 36pc

Very interested 11pc

Norwich City Coverage

Not interested 31pc

Less interested 17pc

Fairly interested 20pc

Very interested 32pc


A conversation with City boss Emi Buendia helped sort out his future.  Photo: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City coverage is a big part of what we do
– Credit: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images Ltd

Sky supplement

Not interested 40pc

Less interested 26pc

Fairly interested 23pc

Very interested 11pc

Weekend supplement

Not interested 14pc

Less interested 23pc

Fairly interested 35pc

Very interested 28pc

Local government

Not interested 6pc

Less interested 20pc

Fairly interested 50pc

Very interested 24pc

Politics

Not interested 8pc

Less interested 20pc

Fairly Interested 45pc

Very interested 27pc


Coastal Norfolk MPs - James Wild, Duncan Baker and Brandon Lewis - urged the public to respect

Politics is an important topic for readers
– Credit: Denise Bradley / Daniel Hickey

Environment

Not interested 5pc

Less interested 15pc

Fairly interested 41pc

Very interested 39pc


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The architect as a tragic hero https://thebackwaterspress.org/the-architect-as-a-tragic-hero/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/the-architect-as-a-tragic-hero/#respond Tue, 19 Oct 2021 10:42:30 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/the-architect-as-a-tragic-hero/ Artist and writer Justin Beal explores how a literary and cinematic archetype influenced the cultural role of the modern architect. Photo: Justin Beal In a 1905 article, “The Architect in Recent Fiction,” The Architectural Record Editor-in-Chief Herbert Croly argues that modern fiction “has recast the figure as a leading man.” The old image of the […]]]>

Artist and writer Justin Beal explores how a literary and cinematic archetype influenced the cultural role of the modern architect.

Photo: Justin Beal

In a 1905 article, “The Architect in Recent Fiction,” The Architectural Record Editor-in-Chief Herbert Croly argues that modern fiction “has recast the figure as a leading man.” The old image of the architect, writes Croly, as the smooth and hypocritical Seth Pecksniff in Charles Dickens’ “Martin Chuzzlewit” or the joyless megalomaniac Halvard Solness in Henrik Ibsen’s “Master Builder”, has given way to an emerging class of characters that demands a new accounting as a social and professional figure. The following excerpt from Justin Beal’s book “future sand”Explores how this literary and cinematic archetype has influenced the cultural role of the modern architect.


The younger of the two said, “You don’t look like an artist.

For the next several weeks, that comment echoed in my head. What did an artist look like? What did I look like? The more I thought about it, the more I understood how I had always avoided identifying with an artist by hiding behind the figure of the architect, a complicated double-sided image that I had constructed from experience. and fiction – teachers, friends, and characters from novels and movies. I didn’t want to be an architect, but I felt comfortable with the archetype. It was a common image in the art world when I entered it, and I took advantage of it.

It was also an easy mask for me to put on, as it is a mask that is still, to an astonishing degree, almost uniformly white and masculine and inflected by some sort of privilege or another i.e. that it was easy for people to look at me and see an architect. If there was an element of artifice in this arrangement, it was not sincere.

I had studied architecture. I had worked briefly as an architect. I spoke the language. I was fascinated by what an architect was and was not, and part of the satisfaction of assuming that identity was knowing that he was just a mask. A real architect is stuck working in the field of representation. She does not make buildings; she does drawings and models and renderings and diagrams of buildings. She relinquishes control just as the idea becomes form, and I, at least until now, had been steadfast in my commitment to making things.

This article is adapted from Justin Beal’s book “future sand. “

There were architects I knew – my mom’s boyfriend in high school who gave me a summer job building linden models, and my dad’s kind, heavy friend who gave up a career in lawyer to design houses. There were also the most famous architects, but just like the less famous, their personalities seemed predetermined by what everyone expected of them, by a cultural preconception of their role, and by a feedback loop between fact and fiction.

Ayn Rand envisioned the uncompromising ethical egoist at the center of “The Fountainhead” as an architect and based Howard Roark on an autobiography that Frank Lloyd Wright primarily composed. What better profession for an objectivist than the creative genius who must rely on capitalism for its own achievement and what better metaphor for this achievement than a building? “A house can have integrity just like a man,” Roark tells a client, “And just as rarely. “

EL Doctorow, knowing a fascinating character when he saw one, wrote the real Stanford White – charming, talented, ambitious, titled – in his historical novel “Ragtime”. White’s very public affair with teenage showgirl Evelyn Nesbit and her murder at the hands of her jealous husband on the roof of a building of his own design helps anchor the tragic archetype in historical fact.

On the surface they are smart, ambitious, attractive, driven by conviction and purpose, but on the inside they are tortured, full of conflict and shame.

There’s Anthony Royal, the vengeful mastermind of JG Ballard’s eponymous “High-Rise” and Querry, the disillusioned architect, of Graham Greene’s “A Burnt-Out Case”. Shades of Querry haunt Simon, the beleaguered protagonist of Donald Barthelme’s penultimate novel, “Paradise,” though instead of a leper colony, Simon finds himself in a sort of postmodern purgatory, spending his days in the company of three lingerie models, amused, cooking elaborate meals and reflecting on her mediocre architectural achievements with a mixture of nostalgia and regret.

Together, the stories become entangled in a knot. Architects are creative, but measured; passionate, but ethical; they project a just trust and an inflected right of privilege. They’re all adultery. On the surface they are smart, ambitious, attractive, driven by conviction and purpose, but on the inside they are tortured, full of conflict and shame, their good intentions twisted into something monstrous.

The cinema reinforces the archetype of the architect with a remarkable specificity even in a medium enamored of current characters – Henry Fonda in “Twelve angry men”; Albert Finney in “Deux pour la route”; Sam Waterston in “Hannah and Her Sisters”; Donald Sutherland in “Don’t Look Now”; Paul Newman in “Towering Inferno”; Gabriele Ferzetti in “L’Avventura. The only black architect in a big Hollywood movie – Wesley Snipes’ character, Flipper Purify in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” – is, as the name suggests, a caricature of the assimilation given to a profession that signals ” whiteness ”(as in, nothing could be more white than being an architect).

Like Ibsen’s master builder, these mythological architects are doomed to a tragic arc over which they have no power. InHiroshima Mon Amour ”, Eiji Okada plays an architect who was drafted into the Japanese army after the bombing of Hiroshima. In “The Fountainhead”, Howard Roark blows up the Cortland Homes to prevent the subversion of his vision. In Peter Greenaway’s film “The Belly of an Architect”, Stourley Kracklite throws himself off the Altare della Patria – ending his life as Halvard Solness did, falling from a building.

As with White, the truth often helps to strengthen the fiction. Gaudí was run over by a streetcar while looking at a facade in Barcelona, ​​Carlo Scarpa fell down a staircase in Sendai, Japan, and Louis Kahn died alone in a men’s restroom in Penn Station, New York.

In chapter seven of “Light Years”, James Salter reduces the character of the architect to its tragic essence with gutted precision. Salter’s architect Viri “believed in greatness. He believed in it as if it was a virtue. As if it could be his. He is insatiable and dissatisfied, but his rightful confidence is never enough to overcome the inevitable disappointment of his unbuilt work – “always there, until the end, like a great ship rotting in the tracks.” As the novel draws to a close, Viri breaks down during a production of “The Master Builder.“It was like an accusation. Suddenly his life, an architect’s life as in the play, seemed on display. He was ashamed of his littleness, his grayness, his resignation.


Justin beal is a New York-based artist and writer. This article is adapted from his book “future sand. “


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Before Pong, there was a computer space https://thebackwaterspress.org/before-pong-there-was-a-computer-space/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/before-pong-there-was-a-computer-space/#respond Fri, 15 Oct 2021 10:09:10 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/before-pong-there-was-a-computer-space/ Fifty years ago, Computer Space launched the video game industry. Here’s why it never took off. Computer Space was innovative, but what was it like to play? Ed Fries, CC BY-ND By: Noah Wardrip-Fruin | October 15 Before Pong, there was Computer Space, the first commercial video game. Today’s ancestor $ 175 billion industry debuted […]]]>

Fifty years ago, Computer Space launched the video game industry. Here’s why it never took off.

Computer Space was innovative, but what was it like to play? Ed Fries, CC BY-ND

By: Noah Wardrip-Fruin | October 15

Before Pong, there was Computer Space, the first commercial video game. Today’s ancestor $ 175 billion industry debuted on October 15, 1971 at the Music Operators of America show in Chicago. Housed in a futuristic-looking cabinet, Computer Space has taken its place alongside the latest jukeboxes, pinball machines and other coin-operated game makers available to arcade and bar owners.

Computer Space, made by the small company Nutting Associates, seemed to have it all. His scenario – piloting a rocket in enclosed space in aerial combat with two flying saucers – seemed perfect for the time. The Apollo Moon Missions were in full swing. The game was a good match for people who enjoyed sci-fi movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes” and TV shows like “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space”, or those who had been delighted with the aerial combat of the films “Battle of Britain” and “Torah!” Tora! Tora! There was even a significant placement of a Computer Space cabinet in the Charlton Heston movie “Soylent Green”.

But when Computer Space was unveiled, it didn’t generate a flood of orders, and no flood ever arrived. It wasn’t until the makers of Computer Space left the company, founded Atari, and released Pong the following year that the commercial potential of video games became evident. The company sold 8,000 Pong units in 1974.

Nolan bushnell, who spearheaded the development of Computer Space and Pong, has repeatedly recounted Computer Space’s poor start. He claimed that Computer Space failed to take off because he overestimated the audience. Bushnell is widely quoted as saying the game was too complicated for regulars in bars, and that nobody would like to read the instructions to play a video game.

In single-player mode, the Computer Space arcade video game pitted the player controlling a rocket against two in-game-controlled flying saucers.

As a researcher who studying video game design and history, I found that this is not the case.

Launch error

Computer Space was an attempt to market the first popular video game. In February 1962, a group of engineers from MIT created Space war!, a free game for those lucky enough to have access to the few bulky and expensive computers of the time.

The initial design consisted of two ships on a star field background, shooting at each other. It was a technical marvel, but not very rewarding to play until the April addition of gravity and a big star in the middle of the playground.

Around the same time that Computer Space debuted, Stanford University students were lining up for hours in the student union to play another version of Spacewar !, The galaxy game, which was a success as a one-off, prepaid facility just down the street from where Bushnell and his associates worked.

So, was the difference in success between The Galaxy Game and Computer Space a student affair compared to the average Joe? Was a reproduction of Spacewar !, a captivating game with a perfect theme for the era, really too complex for an audience that filled out tax forms without software and found library books using paper index cards?

While researching my most recent book, “How Pac-Man eats, ”I was convinced that was not the case. That, on the contrary, the common story of the genesis of the commercial gaming industry is false.

The key evidence that complexity was not the problem comes in the form of Space wars, another version of Spacewar! it was a successful arcade video game released in 1977.

Lack of gravity

Why did The Galaxy Game and Space Wars manage to find an enthusiastic following when Computer Space was not? The answer is that the computer space lacked an essential ingredient that the other two had: gravity.

The Star of Spacewar! produces a gravity sink who gave shape to the playing field by pulling the ships towards the star with an intensity which varied according to the distance. This allowed players to use strategy – for example, allowing players to whip their ships around the star.

Why didn’t Computer Space have gravity? Because the first commercial video games were made using television technology rather than general purpose computers. This technology could not do the gravity calculations. The Galaxy game may have included gravity because it was based on a general-purpose computer, but that made it too expensive to put into production as an arcade game. The makers of Space Wars finally got around this problem by adding a custom computer processor to its cabinets.

Without gravity, Computer Space used a design that the creators of Spacewar! already knew was not working. Bushnell’s story that the game is too complicated for the public to be repeated most often, but as a former Atari employee Jerry Jessop told the New York Times about Computer Space, “The game was awful.”


Noah Wardrip-Fruin is professor of computer media, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of the book “How Pac-Man eats. “

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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Eastern Daily Press Readers’ Survey Results Revealed https://thebackwaterspress.org/eastern-daily-press-readers-survey-results-revealed/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/eastern-daily-press-readers-survey-results-revealed/#respond Tue, 12 Oct 2021 10:10:00 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/eastern-daily-press-readers-survey-results-revealed/ Earlier this year, many of you took part in our EDP Reader Survey – and I’ve already promised to share the results and some of the changes that will follow. In fact, the response has been astounding, over 3,500 people have given their take on EDP alone – giving us fantastic information on what you […]]]>

Earlier this year, many of you took part in our EDP Reader Survey – and I’ve already promised to share the results and some of the changes that will follow.

In fact, the response has been astounding, over 3,500 people have given their take on EDP alone – giving us fantastic information on what you like and what you don’t like in the newspapers we produce. .

As I said before, some of these have already prompted us to make a few edits to the journal – and hopefully you will feel that they improved the overall quality of the title.

We brought back our weekly supplement What’s On, because this content has been very positive among readers, in the meantime we have stopped producing our weekly supplement Heaven, instead turning our attention to a bigger and better weekend one. Saturday.


David Powles, editor of the Eastern Daily Press.
– Credit: Simon Finlay Photography

It’s a big improvement, full of great local content and please give it a try if you haven’t already.


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More changes will follow, but today, in the first of a two-part column, I wanted to share with you some of the findings and how they have helped us.

I hope you find it as interesting as I am and thank you again for participating.

Here are some of the main findings:

Kind

Male 57pc

Woman 43pc

Of course, this statistic only concerns people who took part in the survey, but while it is indicative of the trend as a whole, it highlights a need for our content to appeal to more women, a challenge that was launched to editorial teams.

Age

25-34 5 pieces

35-44 9pc

45-54 12 pieces

55-64 16 pieces

65-74 35 pieces

75+ 17 pieces

The demographics of our newspapers are quite varied, even if something like 80pc falls into the 45+ category. The challenge this presents is to really produce content that all ages find interesting and engaging,


Eastern Daily Press

Eastern Daily Press
– Credit: contributed

Including yourself, how many people generally read or peruse your copy of the newspaper?

Just me 46pc

2 47 pieces

3 6 pieces

4+ 2 rooms

More than half of you share your journal with someone else, a good indication of the size of the EDP audience and the positive impact it can have in the community through the sensitization.

What day of the week do you prefer to read this newspaper?

saturday 44pc

Monday 22pc

Friday 14pc

Wednesday 8pc

Thursday 5pc

Tuesday 4pc

Sunday 4pc

As you may know, our Saturday newspaper remains our flagship product, with more pages, longer reads and therefore a high price tag. This is leisure reading, something you sit down and lean on – and it’s great to see so many of you still doing it.

How much time do you spend reading this newspaper?

20-39 minutes 48pc

40-59 minutes 27pc

1 hour 13pc

More than an hour 12pc

We hope you find our journal good value for money – and the fact that more than half of you spend an extra 40 minutes reading it suggests so.


About 2,000 people from Norfolk wrote to Ofcom calling for sweeping nationwide changes in

More than half of you read the newspaper in print and online
– Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

How often do you visit this newspaper’s website?

Several times a week 53pc

Never 21pc

Once a week 10 pc

Once a fortnight 1pc

Once a month 5pc

Every few months 10 pc

Gone are the days when people only keep up to date with one channel or brand and it’s interesting that over half of you who read the newspaper regularly are also visiting our website. We purposely try to offer the latest news online and a more in-depth print experience to encourage people to visit both.

How often do you read this newspaper?

Daily 76pc

A few times a week 10pc

10 weekly pieces

A few times a month or less 4pc

A figure that has given us confidence is the opinions of a large proportion of loyal customers. I am grateful to each of you!

Apart from this newspaper, what other newspapers do you read?

None or none less than 23pc

The Guardian 19 pieces

Daily mail 16 pieces

Sunday hours 14pc

Times 14pc

The Daily Telegraph 12pc

The Independent 9pc

Next week: What do you think of particular sections and our coverage of certain topics?


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Psychogeography: A Purposeful Drift Through the City https://thebackwaterspress.org/psychogeography-a-purposeful-drift-through-the-city/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/psychogeography-a-purposeful-drift-through-the-city/#respond Wed, 29 Sep 2021 19:01:45 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/?p=45 If geographers “carve,” “draw,” or “write” the earth, psychogeographers add a zest of soul to the mix, linking earth, mind and foot. Cover of Guy Debord’s 1957 “Psychogeographic guide of Paris.” The territory is fragmented and depicts only the emotional connections of different places. “Psychogeography is the fact that you have an opinion about a […]]]>

If geographers “carve,” “draw,” or “write” the earth, psychogeographers add a zest of soul to the mix, linking earth, mind and foot.

Cover of Guy Debord’s 1957 “Psychogeographic guide of Paris.” The territory is fragmented and depicts only the emotional connections of different places.

“Psychogeography is the fact that you have an opinion about a space the moment you step into it,” says the writer and psychogeographer Wilfried Hou Je Bek. “This has as much to do with the space as with our hardwired instincts to determine if it is safe.”

Graphy comes from the Greek graphein (to write), a decidedly polysemic word. If geographers “carve,” “draw,” or “write” the earth (geos), what about psychogeographers? The Latin prefix psyche (breath) adds a zest of soul to the mix, linking earth, mind and foot. Psychogeographic writing can be thought of as an alternative way of reading the city. Wilfried Hou Je Bek calls it “the city-space cut-up.” Just as William Burroughs and Brion Gysin cut and reorganized newspaper texts to reveal their implicit content, so too psychogeographers decode urban space by moving through it in unexpected ways.

Although the various practices gathered under the umbrella of psychogeography are ancient, the term itself was first used by members of the Lettrist International, a Paris-based collective of radical artists and cultural theorists that was active in the early 1950s. They described it as “a science of relations and ambiances” they were developing “to give play in the society of others [le jeu de société; literally, “the parlor game”] its true meaning: a society founded upon play. Nothing is more serious. Amusement is the royal privilege that must be made available to everyone.”

Writing in the Belgian surrealist journal Les Lèvres Nues, Guy-Ernest Debord attributes the term to an “illiterate Kabyle.” Its vagueness appealed to the loosely organized group that adopted it to describe its various activities. Because geography deals with the impact of natural forces (such as climate and soil composition) “on the economic structures of a society, and thus on the corresponding conception that such a society can have of the world,” wrote Debord, psychogeography should examine the “specific effects of the geographical environment . . . on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” To accomplish this ambitious investigation, he and his friends recommended drifting:

The practice of de-familiarization and the choice of encounters, the sense of incompleteness and ephemerality, the love of speed transposed onto the plane of the mind, together with inventiveness and forgetting are among the elements of an ethics of drifting we have already begun to test in the poverty of the cities of our time.

Contemporary practitioners take their cue from Debord, who proposed one of psychogeography’s first genealogies. It began with Giovanni Piranesi’s labyrinthine stairways and gathered Claude Lorrain, Jack the Ripper (“probably psycho-geographical in love”), Edgar Allan Poe, and André Breton (deemed “naively psycho-geographical in encounters”), among others.

Each psychogeographer has his own list: Ralph Rumney’s included “Renaissance architect Serlio, French garden designer Le Nôtre, and all builders of grottoes, follies and mazes”; Iain Sinclair turns to William Blake, “the Godfather of Psychogeography”; Rebecca Solnit makes a case for satirist John Gay, the author of “Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London” (1716); Wilfried Hou Je Bek singles out Horace Walpole, who, over a period of 30 years, transformed his Tudor mansion into a Gothic castle “meticulously designed to provoke a vast array of sensations in its visitors”; Merlin Coverly cites Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” for the way it depicts the seamy underside of the city as reflecting dark corners of the human psyche.

“On Saturday evenings,” wrote opium-eater and peripatetic Thomas de Quincey, “I have had the custom, after taking my opium, of wandering quite far, without worrying about the route or the distance.”

Among the precursors found on nearly every list is opium-eater and peripatetic Thomas de Quincey: “On Saturday evenings,” wrote de Quincey, “I have had the custom, after taking my opium, of wandering quite far, without worrying about the route or the distance” in search of an occult “Northwest Passage” allowing one to cross London unhampered.

The Figure of the Flâneur

Charles Baudelaire’s flâneur is often cited as a model for today’s run of psychogeographer. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Man of the Crowd” and epitomized by Baudelaire’s painter friend Constantin Guys, the flâneur was something of a dandy who ambled through the Paris arcades while ordinary people scurried to work all around him. Free from the pressures of the workaday world, he sought the random encounters that the city streets were always ready to offer.

Guys, “the painter of modern life,” was a man of the world whose domain was the crowd, “just as the air is the bird’s and water that of the fish.” He desired nothing more than to merge with the throng and to dwell in “the ebb and flow, the bustle, the fleeting and the infinite,” Baudelaire wrote in an essay on the painter. The crowd was “[a]n enormous reservoir of electricity” that gave him the opportunity “to be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very center of the world, and yet to be unseen by the world” to the extent that the man himself has become a mirror, “a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness,” “an ego thirsting for the nonego and reflecting it at every moment in energies more vivid than life itself, always inconstant and fleeting.” Baudelaire completes this portrait in “The Crowds,” one of the prose poems that comprise “Le Spleen de Paris” (“Paris Spleen”): “It is not given to everyone to be able to bathe in the multitude: enjoyment of the crowd is an art” that requires “a taste for dressing up and masque, a hatred for domesticity and a passion for travel. The solitary and thoughtful stroller derives a singular intoxication from this universal communion.”

In the 1930s, Walter Benjamin reappropriated Baudelaire’s dandy for his own purposes, contrasting “the pedestrian who wedged himself into the crowd” with “the flâneur who demanded elbow room and was unwilling to forgo the life of the gentleman of leisure.” He claimed that “Around 1840 it was briefly fashionable to take turtles for a walk in the arcades. The flâneurs liked to have the turtles set the pace for them” as a way of protesting against “the division of labor which makes people into specialists.”

In the tradition of Restif de la Bretonne, who wandered through Paris on the eve of the French Revolution (“Les nuits de Paris,” 1788–1794), Benjamin’s contemporaries Louis Aragon (“Paris Peasant,” 1925), André Breton (“Nadja,” 1928), and Philippe Soupault (“Last Nights of Paris,” 1928) put to paper their citywide ramblings. Like Baudelaire, they celebrated the inadvertent poetry of shop window displays, fleeting glances, elusive women, chance encounters, and mysterious pursuits.


Drifting for members of the Lettrist International did not mean only walking. The adventure began during a transportation strike in the summer of 1953 on the platform at the Gare de Lyon, where the group was trying agit-prop. Failing to rally any of the stranded passengers to the strikers’ cause, Guy Debord, Jean-Michel Mension, and their friends sauntered out of the station (or were they chased out?) and began flagging down cars. Hitchhiking nonstop through Paris, they changed their destinations to fit that of the drivers. Their goal, as Debord noted facetiously, was to add to the confusion.

Later, this “technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances” was accomplished on foot and by taxi, “depending on whether the goal [was] to study a terrain or to emotionally disorient oneself.” In “Dérive by the Mile,” Michèle Bernstein, a novelist and a founding member of the Situationist International, argued in favor of replacing private transport in Paris with large numbers of low-cost taxis, which would be more conducive to recreational drifting. As they travel varying distances in a set time and follow an essentially random itinerary, taxis combine freedom of movement with automatic disorientation.

The situationists prided themselves on detecting the “sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres.”

Conversely, walking was better for close-up views that focus on the environment at hand. The situationists prided themselves on detecting the “sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres,” as Debord wrote in “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.” It is a subjective science. When Guy Debord describes the urban ambiances that he and fellow lettrist Gil J. Wolman gathered while drifting through the north of Paris, his judgments are peremptory: Here he sees a “repulsive petit-bourgeois landscape”; there he deems a staircase leading to a network of alleys to be “annoyingly picturesque”; farther on, he consecrates “the impressive rotunda by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux” as the center of an “important psycho-geographic hub” because it is “a virtual ruin left in an incredible state of abandonment, whose charm is singularly enhanced by the curve of the elevated subway line that passes by at close distance.”

A drift could last as long as the drifters wanted it to — a whole day or, as Debord suggests in his “Theory of the Drift,” the time between two periods of sleep:

The maximum area of this spatial field does not extend beyond the entirety of a large city and its suburbs. At its minimum it can be limited to a small self-contained ambiance: a single neighborhood or even a single block of houses if it’s interesting enough (the extreme case being a static-drift of an entire day within the Saint-Lazare train station).

It comprised both restless movement and alcohol-fueled talk. Speaking in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo in September 2003, Jean-Michel Mension described those early drifts as leading frequently from one neighborhood bar to another. It was not usually a solitary pursuit. Debord’s and Wolman’s drift began at 10 a.m. and finished at an unspecified time in the evening when the two drifters abruptly decided to put an end to it. On the way, they made a number of “stops — sometimes long, sometimes brief — at various bars patronized by the bargemen” on the right bank of the canal Saint-Denis, before arriving in a Spanish bar known as the Tavern of the Rebels.

In recent decades, for poachers and protesters, artists, activists and drifters, walking has emerged as a means of reclaiming public space. From the Paris suburbs to London’s ring road, pedestrians are reappearing (or springing up) in spaces dedicated to automobile traffic. For many of them walking is a process of self-education.

Remaking the World?

What is psychogeography’s legacy? In its diverse forms, it embodies the desire to renew language, social life, and oneself. For contemporary psychogeographers, the drift is purposeful; it can reveal the city’s underlying structure. Iain Sinclair aims for Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “alert reverie,” a kind of double presence that is both in the here and now and in the imagination:

Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city; the changes, shifts, breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drifting purposefully is the recommended mode, trampling asphalted earth in alert reverie, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to assert itself. To the no-bullshit materialist this sounds suspiciously like fin de siècle decadence, a poetic of entropy — but the born-again flâneur is a stubborn creature, less interested in texture and fabric, eavesdropping on philosophical conversation pieces, than in noticing everything.

In “Theory of the Drift,” Debord proposed the idea of a “possible rendezvous” as a means of “behavioral disorientation.” Here, a person is given an appointment at a particular time and place but has no idea if someone will be there to meet him or who that person is. Not knowing what to expect, he will study his surroundings and start conversations with passers-by: “He may meet no one, or he may even by chance meet the person who has arranged the ‘possible rendezvous.’ In any case, particularly if the time and place have been well chosen, his use of time will take an unexpected turn.”

Courting the unexpected is often combined with the unabashed apology of subjectivity. Stewart Home, the English artist and writer who in 1992 revived the London Psychogeographical Association, states: “For me photography is most alluring when both the person behind the lens and what is being photographed self-consciously manifest their subjectivity. Traveling across ‘Britain’ to discover ‘America’ is only one of the many ways in which such subjectivity might remake the world in both photographic and material form. . . . The psychogeographer . . . knows that the world cannot be recorded, it can only be remade.” “Remaking the world” is usually done in smoke-filled cafés. If these debates rarely lead to concrete action, what about walking?


Karen O’Rourke is an artist and emeritus professor at Jean Monnet University Saint-Etienne, France, and the author of “Walking and Mapping,” from which this article is adapted. Her work explores the relationship between art practice and the concepts of network, archive and territory.


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300 Years of African-American Invention and Innovation https://thebackwaterspress.org/300-years-of-african-american-invention-and-innovation/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/300-years-of-african-american-invention-and-innovation/#respond Wed, 29 Sep 2021 10:52:40 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/?p=36 Sketches of bravery, determination, and inventiveness. We are just beginning to uncover the history of African-American technology and understand its relation to the full story of American innovation. Illustration: The MIT Press Reader “The history of race in America has been written as if technologies scarcely existed, and the history of technology as if it […]]]>

Sketches of bravery, determination, and inventiveness.

We are just beginning to uncover the history of African-American technology and understand its relation to the full story of American innovation. Illustration: The MIT Press Reader

“The history of race in America has been written as if technologies scarcely existed, and the history of technology as if it were utterly innocent of racial significance. Neither of these assumptions bears scrutiny,” writes Bruce Sinclair in the introduction to the book “Technology and the African-American Experience,” from which the following essay by Portia James is excerpted. In both cases, the very opposite is true; an ancient and pervasive set of bonds links their histories.

James’s essay highlights the work of several extraordinary black inventors, many largely unrecognized, who made important and lasting innovations in a range of industries. It documents the realities of black technical creativity and pointedly challenges what Sinclair calls the “myth of black disingenuity” — the historical perception that black people were technically incompetent. “Denied the advantages of formal education or university degrees, without the funds to amplify inspiration, and against a strong tide of ingrained ill-will, these African-Americans proved capable of sustained and creative technical accomplishment,” writes James, a renowned curator and historian who for more than 30 years — until her death in 2015 — shaped the work of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, where she led the collections, exhibitions, and publications programs. “As imperfectly as we know their history, that much is certainly true.”


We are just beginning to uncover the history of African-American technology, just beginning to understand its relation to the full story of American invention and innovation, and now finally seeing that these histories are intertwined from the start. Enslaved Africans, carried against their will to this country, inevitably brought with them a store of technological knowledge, ways of doing things, that they applied to the daily processes of life in this unfamiliar environment. Black people have been here since the earliest times and, despite the perception that they were merely a source of ignorant labor, they had an immediate impact on the technologies around them — applying traditional skills, creating some anew, and altering the nature of still other practices. In fact, the New World was a place where many different cultures and technologies met. To say that we were culturally diverse from the first is also to say that our technologies were, too.

Increasingly, we discover the African roots of many early craft activities. Theresa Singleton, who has studied archeological sites in Berkeley County, South Carolina, points out that “West African culture was thoroughly woven into the daily lives of South Carolinians in the colonial era.” In South Carolina, slave houses were built with African building technology, while in the Chesapeake region excavated clay pipes reveal the decorative techniques of West African pottery. The study of early technology not only illustrates how African craft skills were incorporated into American technology, but how Africans were themselves incorporated into early American society. The clay pipes and pottery of the Chesapeake, for example, tell us something about the changing status of 17th-century blacks in America. It was not uncommon then for black slaves and white indentured servants to work together alongside their masters, and for black and white artisans to exchange craft techniques and trade secrets with each other. But by the beginning of the 18th century, as the previously varied forms of servitude congealed into black and white categories of slave or not slave, evidence of collaborative work disappears.

Another example of the merging of different technological traditions is in the introduction, use, and development of dugout canoes in the Chesapeake region. Common in both the Caribbean, where Native American and later black boatmen used them for fishing, and in West Africa, where people depended on a vast network of rivers for transportation, dugout canoes were widely employed and modified according to circumstance. When West Indian immigrants began settling in the Chesapeake, the Africans among them continued their tradition of building boats from a single log, sometimes adding planks on each side to increase load-bearing capacity. John Vlach, who has studied the appearance of the pirogue in colonial America, has suggested that these West Indian blacks were the first to construct that type of boat in the Chesapeake in the early 1700s. And just as one can see evidence of the connections between African and European traditions in colonial-era pottery making, varieties of log canoe making in the Virginia and Chesapeake areas reflect the same interrelatedness.

Slave owners might have expected their slaves to behave as automata, but they wanted the benefits of their brains as well.

Africans brought from the West Indies to the Carolinas in the 17th century came with rice-growing techniques as part of their cultural baggage, and it proved an important resource when English colonists — with little experience or knowledge of that crop — sought to exploit the marshy soils of the Carolina lowlands. These people, having originated in what was called the Rice Coast of West Africa, used their own traditional planting techniques and also knew the most efficient ways of hulling and cleaning rice. African-American mortars and pestles made expressly for hulling rice often show African designs, as do such other implements as the wide, shallow baskets that women wove from local grasses and then used to separate rice from chaff. This range of transplanted techniques provided the foundation for the principal agricultural crop of the Carolinas, and the wealth that flowed from it.

Knowledge, experience, and skill lie at the heart of creative technical activity, whether simple or complex. And it is clear that African-Americans possessed all the necessary ingredients for making improvements in the technologies they used. But before 1865, and the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, the impediments to an actual career of inventing, to the enjoyment of any economic rewards from their inventions — much less the recognition other inventors of this country received — kept most African-Americans from a public recording of their talents. Enslaved blacks were prohibited by law from the patent system because they were constitutionally defined as noncitizens. Still, there were frequent reports of slaves who developed improved ways of doing things, not surprising since so many of them possessed domestic, agricultural, and mechanical skills.

The case of “Ned” nicely illustrates what happened when a slave came up with an idea that promised financial gain. An enslaved mechanic in Pike County, Mississippi, Ned had devised a cotton scraper that local planters claimed would enable its users to do twice the work with half the horsepower. Consequently, Ned’s owner, a prominent local planter named Oscar J. E. Stuart, wrote in 1857 to the Secretary of the Interior, Jacob Thompson, seeking letters patent for himself as Ned’s owner, and therefore the owner as well of Ned’s invention. And Stuart purposely sought out Thompson, as “a Mississippian and Southern man,” to help him with his claim, reminding him that in the tradition of Southern law, “the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both intilectual [sic], and manual.” Concerned that Patent Office officials might think of awarding the patent to Ned himself, Stuart argued that in such a case “the value of the slave to his master is excluded, and the equal protection and benefit of government to all citizens . . . is subverted.”

In another letter, this time to the Commissioner of Patents, Joseph Holt, Stuart again applied for the rights to Ned’s invention, and he included with his letter an “affidavit” signed by Ned to the effect that the black man had invented the machine and was indeed the slave of Stuart. But Commissioner Holt denied Stuart’s claim, on the grounds that noncitizens could not apply for patent rights in the United States, an opinion in which the Attorney General concurred. Stuart’s enraged response fully reveals the context in which people like Ned found themselves:

I was never such an unmitigated fool which is the implication of the act of the Commissioner as to imagine that a slave could obtain a patent for a useful invention when under the laws, it is a question . . . whether the master who has a property alike in the fruits of the mind and labor of the hands of his slave whose automaton in legal contemplation he is . . . can obtain a patent when the invention is made by him. [The Commissioner] has made up a hypothetical case as though the slave Ned had petitioned for a patent for the invention & decided he could not entertain it. For if [Ned] has ever had any correspondence with [the Patent] bureau upon the subject I am ignorant of it, and for such impertinence, you know according to our Southern usage, I would correct him.

Owners like Stuart might have expected their slaves to behave as automata, but they wanted the benefits of their brains as well. So when the Confederate States established their own patent act, one of its central provisions gave masters the rights to the inventions of their slaves.

Yet, in spite of law and custom, restrictions and hostility, free and unfree African-Americans in the decades before the Civil War brought their ideas for improvements in technology to a wide range of economic activity. Many of their inventions sprang directly out of the craft pursuits in which they were engaged, which is true of most inventions, and also why it is important to recognize the link between skill and creativity. We can see how that relation played out as Northern port cities — more cosmopolitan and at the same time more anonymous — proved a magnet for free blacks and escaped slaves seeking employment, and the maritime trades in those places became the major source of livelihood for them.

For instance, at least 1/5th of the merchant seamen in Philadelphia in 1796 were free blacks, and by 1846, according to the National Anti-Slavery Standard, there were 6,000 African-American seamen in port cities around the country. Boston and New York became important centers of maritime employment for black men, as did the whaling ports of Nantucket and New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the population of African-Americans doubled in the 1830s. Most of those men labored as ordinary seamen, but a few rose to command. The whaling ship Loper, for example, was commanded by a black captain and black navigators, and was manned by an almost entirely black crew. Out of their experience in these trades, they also became innovative.

James Forten (1766–1842) is a good example of the case. During the American Revolution, Forten, age 14, signed on the privateer Royal Louis where he served as a powder boy, alongside 20 other blacks. His ship was captured and he spent time in a British prison hulk before being released in a general prisoner exchange. On his return to Philadelphia, he apprenticed to the sailmaker Robert Bridges, who had previously employed Forten’s father. Obviously skilled, Forten was made foreman of the sail loft in 1786, and 12 years later became owner of the firm. At some point in that career, he invented, but never patented, some kind of sail handling device that reputedly helped make his business financially more successful. With his profits, Forten funded antislavery activities and became a prominent abolitionist pamphleteer and spokesman. His history not only reminds one of Frederick Douglass, who learned the caulker’s trade in Baltimore shipyards, before himself becoming a celebrated anti-slavery orator and publisher — but also of the vital connection Douglass sought to establish between the mastery of craft skill and a consequent manly independence of thought and action.

Lewis Temple (1800–1854) was another African-American in the maritime trades who turned his skills to invention. Born in Richmond, Virginia, Temple migrated to New Bedford and by 1836 had set up shop on Coffin’s Wharf as a blacksmith to the whaling trade. He moved again, in 1845, to the Walnut Street Wharf, and it was in that shop that he developed the Temple toggle harpoon, a modification to the ordinary harpoon to prevent it from being pulled loose as the whale struggled. There were many ideas for improved harpoons floating around the whaling ports, but what made Temple’s different, and successful, was that he incorporated in it a wooden shear pin that broke as the whale thrashed, thus releasing the toggle at right angles to the shaft and so making it fast. According to Sidney Kaplan, his biographer, Temple’s device became “the universal whale iron,” and remained so for a long time.

Even though most free blacks worked as laborers or domestics, they could be found in virtually every craft, engaged as potters, tailors, blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters, and even silver and goldsmiths.

Like Forten, however, Temple never patented his improvement, even though as free men they had the legal right. Both class and color militated against patent applications by people like these; costs were involved in the application itself, a model and drawings to exemplify the improvement being claimed were also an expense, as were the services of a patent attorney to speed the process. And almost always, there was the reality of racial prejudice. The abolitionist and colonization advocate Martin R. Delaney (1812–1885), for example, developed a device that would assist railroad locomotives in descending and ascending inclined planes, and in 1852 traveled to New York to get a patent for it. He engaged the services of a patent attorney, but out of ignorance, or ill will, or both, Delaney was advised by his counselor that blacks were not considered citizens by the Patent Office, and that he should give up his application.

These same factors, of course, also made it difficult for African-Americans to gain access to apprenticeship programs. Frederick Douglass was driven from his craft by the utter hostility of white ship caulkers, for example, and free blacks — North or South— faced restrictions on their freedom of movement, laws disallowing their testimony in court, the threat of disenfranchisement, or even enslavement for minor offenses, and often what amounted to a tacit boycott of their practice. But even though most free blacks worked as laborers or domestics, they could be found in virtually every craft, engaged as potters, tailors, blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters, and even silver and goldsmiths. Apprenticeships in the best paying crafts were least accessible, and the reverse was true, too.

Elizabeth Keckley took the earnings from her skills as a seamstress to buy her freedom from slavery, and then developed a system for cutting and fitting dresses that she taught to other dressmakers in Washington, D.C.

Tailoring was a relatively easy craft for African-Americans to enter, whether male or female. Thomas L. Jennings (1791–1859), for example, learned tailoring and dry cleaning and carried on that business in New York City, where in 1821, at the age of 30, he received a patent for an improvement in dry cleaning processes — perhaps the first black person in this country to have received one. And as was the case of so many others like him, Jennings used the income from his business to support his abolitionist activities. Elizabeth Keckley (1818–1907) took the earnings from her skills as a seamstress to buy her freedom from slavery, and then developed a system for cutting and fitting dresses that she taught to other dressmakers in Washington, D.C.

Carpentry was another common trade for African-American skilled workers, and furniture makers formed a kind of elite within this group, enjoying higher wages and status. Henry Boyd (1802–1886), a Cincinnati furniture maker, derived much of his success from his invention of the Boyd bedstead — a wooden bed frame designed so that its wooden rails could be screwed into the headboard and the footboard simultaneously, thus creating a stronger frame. Boyd’s personal history suggests the kind of determination it took for a black person to make a success in business. In the first place, he had been apprenticed to a cabinet maker as a slave boy, but worked nights in a salt-processing plant to gain the money he needed to buy his freedom. Once in Cincinnati, he hired himself out as a laborer until he was able to form a house building partnership with a white carpenter, and that business provided the funds with which to buy his brother and sister out of slavery. By 1836 he owned his own bedstead factory, where he employed up to 50 workers and used steam-powered machinery. He was burned out by arsonists twice, and rebuilt his business both times, selling most of his beds in the south and southwest. Boyd did not patent his improvement, instead resorting to identifying his beds with a stamp that bore his name — a mark that now gives special value to collectors of the region’s furniture.

John Parker (1827–1900) was another slave who bought his freedom with craft skill. Parker began working in the iron foundries of Mobile, Alabama, where he was apprenticed to an iron molder, but took on extra work to earn the money with which he purchased himself from his master. He moved to Ohio in 1850, established a foundry, became active in the Underground Railroad movement, and invented a tobacco screw press, among other devices. In fact, a great many enslaved blacks labored in Southern industrial establishments, especially ironworking but also in shipyards, mines, and cotton mills — and Parker was far from the only one to use his skills to hire out for the extra money that bought freedom.

By 1836, inventor Henry Boyd, a former slave, owned his own bedstead factory, where he employed up to 50 workers and used steam-powered machinery. He was burned out by arsonists twice, and rebuilt his business both times.

In a country that placed such a cultural value on inventiveness, African-Americans naturally sought to prove their own worthiness by technical accomplishment, and there is a long history of explicit efforts to establish that connection. Perhaps the most celebrated was Benjamin Banneker’s correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1781, Jefferson had argued the intellectual inferiority of the African, saying “one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid.” Banneker, an ardent mathematician and astronomer, used his astronomical calculations to produce an almanac in 1791, and sent a copy to Jefferson by way of refuting that argument with the observation, “we have long been considered rather as brutish than human, and scarcely capable of mental endowments.” Nineteenth-century African-American activists remained just as aware of the political value of inventors, who were held up as explicit examples in the attack on claims of mental inferiority. To that end, the country’s foremost abolitionist newspaper, Liberator, published a notice in its issue of September 6, 1834, requesting information on “colored inventors of any art, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.” His aim, the editor said, was “to collect proof of colored talent and ingenuity,” but also “to aid colored inventors in obtaining their patents for valuable inventions.”

These efforts to publicize the potential of black inventiveness became a staple of public assemblies, too. At the 1858 Convention of the Colored Citizens of Massachusetts, William C. Nell offered the following resolution:

Resolved, That we rejoice in the presence here today of Mr. Alexander [Aaron] Roberts of Philadelphia, the inventor of a machine for use at fires, which promises to be one of utility in their extinction, as also for preserving human life.

Resolved, That we would also direct attention to the new railway, by which space is economized, the use of horses obviated, and at the same time propelled by steam power; said railway being the invention of a colored man, William Deitz, of Albany, N.Y.

Resolved, That we commend these colored American Inventors and their inventions to the favorable attention of every lover of science and well-wisher of Humanity.

And in an era of industrial exhibitions, African-Americans organized fairs and institutes to promote the accomplishments of skilled craftspeople and inventors. One of the earliest, The Colored American Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts and Sciences, was opened in Philadelphia on April 12, 1851. Its aim was to exhibit the work of black mechanics, artisans, and inventors, thus bringing them to the attention of clients, but also to exhibit proofs of black talent. Abolitionist newspapers lauded such fairs as glimpses of the kinds of achievements possible in the race, once freed from the constraints of slavery.

The reality is that most inventions submitted to the Patent Office in the 19th century consisted of minor improvements to the ordinary, workaday devices used by a rural people. There is no end to the number of patents for washing machines, butter churns, and farming tools, but that is because such things were at the heart of ordinary life, and because so many Americans imagined it possible to improve what they knew best. We see exactly the same eager ingenuity as African-Americans turned their hands to inventiveness.

George Peake (1722–1827) settled in northeastern Ohio in 1809, and invented a hand-operated mill for grinding wheat into flour. Henry Blair, a Montgomery Country, Maryland black man, received a patent for a corn planter in 1834 and another for a cotton planter in 1836. And there are many others, known only anecdotally, who are said to have developed cotton-cleaning machines, broom-making machines, systems for curing tobacco, and so on. The number of such stories suggests considerable creative vitality in the countryside, which can only be guessed at without the detailed historical information of patent records.

After the Civil War, there was an explosion of patented inventions by black mechanics, blacksmiths, domestic workers, and farm laborers — many of them ex-slaves.

But if most inventions required little theory and less science, some called for considerable technical training, and even in the period before the Civil War there are examples of that level of inventiveness. Norbert Rillieux (1806–1894) provides the best-known case, even if untypical. Born in New Orleans, Rillieux was the son of Constance Vivant, a quadroon, and Vincent Rillieux, a white engineer. His family, wealthy enough and with a French heritage, sent him to L’Ecole Centrale in Paris to receive a technical education. He later taught mechanical engineering at the school, and soon began to devote himself to questions of thermodynamics and the applications of steam power. In 1830 Rillieux conceived the multiple effect vacuum evaporation system, which he later patented. But, unable to persuade anyone in Paris to invest in his ideas, he returned to New Orleans with the hope of interesting someone there in the application of his improved methods to the refining of cane sugar. He obtained his first patent in 1843, but it was not until 1845 that he was able to put his evaporation techniques into successful operation. The system proved so efficient that planters could cover the cost of the machinery with the extra profits from the first crop of sugar cane processed by the new technology. The Rillieux method revolutionized the sugar industry by dramatically reducing the cost of producing refined sugar, and so making white sugar widely and cheaply available. He became wealthy from this invention, but as New Orleans became a less hospitable place for free blacks, enacting new discriminatory legislation, Rillieux returned to France and died there.

The end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments meant that all black inventors now had the right to apply for patents. The result over the next few decades was a virtual explosion of patented inventions by black mechanics, blacksmiths, domestic workers, and farm laborers — many of them ex-slaves. By 1895 the U.S. Patent Office was able to advertise a special exhibit of inventions patented by black inventors.

The list of new inventions patented by blacks after the Civil War reveals what kinds of occupations they held and in which sectors of the labor force they were concentrated. Agricultural implements, devices for easing domestic chores, and devices related to the railroad industry were common subjects for black inventors. Some patented inventions developed in the course of operating businesses like barbershops, restaurants, and tailoring shops. Joseph Lee, who had highly successful catering and restaurant businesses, considered himself a “bread specialist,” and invented bread-making and bread-crumbing machines. Alexander Ashbourn, of Oakland, California, received several patents in the 1870s related to food preparation, including patents for products derived from coconuts. He later moved to Boston and then to Philadelphia, where he began manufacturing and selling such goods as tooth powder, ink, vinegar, and soap — all made from coconuts. Henry A. Bowman, of Worcester, Massachusetts, began a business that made awnings, tents, canvas covers, and flags — the latter by an improved method that he patented. R. N. Hyde left Culpepper, Virginia, for Des Moines, Iowa, where he established a custodial service in 1880. The experience led him to invent an electric carpet cleaning machine and to develop a number of cleaning compounds. He sold his profitable business in 1905 and became prominent in Republican Party politics. And some black women inventors of this period have been identified, too. The Patent Office awarded a patent to Julia Hammonds for a knitting device, and one to Sarah E. Good for a folding cabinet.

Men who had been blacksmiths and mechanics during slavery, and who were able afterwards to accumulate enough start-up capital, opened mechanical and iron-working businesses. William Powell started his own firm, the Standard Repair Shop, in Cass County, Michigan, in a community settled by escaped slaves, and developed a reputation for his inventiveness. Frank J. Ferrell, a skilled machinist and an ardent labor unionist, was a delegate and organizer for the Knights of Labor, one of the earliest national labor unions. He patented several valves, a steam trap, as well as an apparatus for melting snow, and these inventions became the basis for a manufacturing company that he established in New York City. Joseph H. Dickinson worked at the Clough & Warren Organ Company in Detroit, Michigan as a young man. Then in 1882 formed a partnership with his father-in-law to create the Dickinson-Gould Organ Company, in Lexington, Michigan, making parlor and chapel organs. The company sent a large chapel organ to the New Orleans Exposition of 1884, as part of an exhibit demonstrating the accomplishments of black people, and in the 1890s Dickinson received patents for several improvements in reed organs.

Frank J. Ferell (left) introduces Grand Master Workman Terence Powderly (center) at an 1886 convention of the Knights of Labor. Ferell was a skilled machinist and an ardent labor unionist, and a delegate and organizer for the Knights of Labor, one of the earliest national labor unions. He patented several valves, a steam trap, as well as an apparatus for melting snow. Image: Washington Area Spark

Two important points emerge from these various examples. One is that even in the face of poverty and discrimination, black people were as caught up in the appeal of invention as other Americans, and they worked at their improvements across a broad front of craft and trade enterprise. The other observation to be made is that while most African-Americans in the late 19th century still lived in rural areas and worked in agriculture, those with a particular interest and talent for invention gravitated to urban and industrial centers where there were more jobs and better pay. And it was in those places that the most well-known black inventors sharpened their gifts.

Jan Matzeliger (1852–1889) is a good illustration of the case. He apprenticed as a machinist in Surinam, his native country, and then immigrated to New England. Unable to find work as a machinist, he took a series of odd jobs, including one sewing on shoe soles in a factory in Lynn, Massachusetts, then the shoe-making center of America. Working in that industry led him to a mechanical solution for a particular problem in making shoes. Machines that could sew and tack shoes already existed, but the painstaking job of pulling, smoothing, and shaping leather until it approached the form of a human foot still had to be done by hand. That technique, called lasting, represented a bastion of craft skill from the worker’s point of view, but from the manufacturer’s perspective a considerable bottleneck to fully mechanized shoe production.

Matzeliger worked on several models of a lasting machine until he had produced a version that so approximated his final goal that he decided to patent it. However, this working model had taken four years to develop, he was suffering physically as well as financially, and he needed still more money to perfect the model, test it, and apply for the patent. In the end, he was forced to sell two-thirds of his ownership in the patent rights to local investors — not an uncommon plight for poor inventors, especially as it cost ever more to produce improvements in increasingly complex technologies.

In its trial run Matzeliger’s model successfully performed the lasting of 75 pairs of shoes, but he continued to refine his ideas and produced two more machines that were improvements on the original. Ironically for blacks, so often themselves the victim of technological unemployment, disgruntled shoe workers dubbed Matzeliger’s invention the “Niggerhead” machine. And indeed, after its usage became widespread, the craft of shoe lasting practically disappeared. An extraordinary technical accomplishment in itself, this invention essentially completed the mechanization of the shoe industry. The United Shoe Machinery Company, striving for monopoly control of the machines that made shoes, eventually bought Matzeliger’s patents, but he died in poverty.

The United Shoe Machinery Company, striving for monopoly control of the machines that made shoes, eventually bought Jan Matzeliger’s patents, but he died in poverty.

The most significant mechanical industry for the employment of African-American males in the post-Civil War period was the railroad. During the 1880s more than 70,000 miles of railroad track were laid, making rail transportation the country’s largest industry. Black men worked not only in the more visible service positions, but also in the most dangerous and arduous jobs. This rapid expansion of the railroad system called into existence many technological advances, and the Patent Office issued a wide array of patents to black inventors.

Humphrey H. Reynolds, for example, patented a ventilator in 1883 for passenger cars that allowed in fresh air, but kept out the dust and soot that usually enveloped a moving car. The Baltimore Afro-American reported on Reynolds’s ventilator when it was displayed at the Atlanta Exposition:

The H. H. Reynolds ventilator in the Pullman cars is perhaps the most widely used of those exhibited at Atlanta. Reynolds was a porter on one of the Pullman cars. Opening and shutting the windows as he did so often for his passengers, he devised a screen to keep the cinders out. Pullman heard of it and Reynolds was sent for. He explained his invention to the car magnate, and the interview resulted shortly afterward in the adoption of this ventilator on all the Pullman cars. Reynolds claimed the invention, but Pullman did not recognize the claim. He got out of the service of the Pullmans, sued them, and got a verdict for ten thousand dollars.

The story of Andrew Beard, another black inventor, also had a happy ending. He worked in a railroad yard in Eastlake, Alabama, and had occasion to notice the difficulties in manually coupling cars together. It was a dangerous job, the cause of many injuries, and also the source of jarring lurches and jolts when trains started or stopped. Indeed, this common problem became one of the most popular subjects for inventors. In 1897 alone 6,500 different kinds of couplers were invented, and by 1930 11,813 patents for them had been issued. One of those in 1897 was Andrew Beard’s, and he sold the rights to it for $50,000. But not all inventors fared so well. It took money to fight off challenges to a patent, and few black inventors had the resources for a protracted legal battle.

Railroad locomotives were another particular focus of inventive activity, and they attracted the attention of Elijah McCoy (1843–1929), one of the most prolific of 19th-century African-Americans inventors. He was born in Colchester, Ontario, in a community of escaped slaves, and went to Scotland as a young man where served a mechanical engineering apprenticeship in Edinburgh. McCoy then migrated to the United States, and wound up seeking a position in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the headquarters of the Michigan Central Railroad. Despite his training, the only job available to him was as a locomotive fireman but it soon made him aware of the problems of overheating common to steam locomotives, since so many moving parts could not be lubricated while the engine was in motion. In 1872, McCoy patented the first of his automatic lubrication devices — one that turned out to be widely employed on stationary steam engines that were used in factories. He assigned his rights to this patent to two Ypsilanti investors, using the money he received for further studies of lubrication problems. The Michigan Central also gave him a new job as an instructor in the use of the new lubricators, which were widely adopted by railroad and shipping lines. Over the next several years, McCoy patented more than 50 additional inventions, most of them related to lubrication. He later moved to Detroit, where the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company had been established by the assignees of his most valuable patents. McCoy, however, was not a major stockholder and later in life suffered a number of financial setbacks. After creative insight, the next best knowledge for an inventor to possess is an understanding of the economics of patent management.

That post-emancipation outpouring of inventiveness, and the dramatic surge of American industrial development in the 1870s and the 1880s, persuaded many African-American leaders that technical and industrial training was the key to their full incorporation into the nation’s life. The success of individual black inventors was thus held up as a beacon of what might be achieved on a wider scale. Expositions and fairs had long been a popular means of demonstrating the achievements of blacks to the wider public. But after the Civil War, they took on the specific purpose of exhibiting the “phenomenal progress of the colored American” since emancipation. Several states sponsored “emancipation expositions” on the anniversaries of the Emancipation Proclamation. African-Americans continued to organize independent expositions and fairs; they also participated in the state and regional expositions where black crafts and manufacturers, as well as inventions by blacks, were prominently featured in segregated “colored” or “Negro” departments. Thus, inventions by blacks were displayed at the Cotton Centennial in New Orleans in 1884, the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and the Southern Exposition in Atlanta in 1895. Benjamin Montgomery, for example, now a free man, proudly exhibited at the Western Sanitary Fair in Cincinnati the propeller he had invented while a slave of Joseph Davis — the brother of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.

In an 1894 speech before the House of Representatives on behalf of proposed legislation sponsoring another Cotton States Exhibition to publicize the South’s economic and technological progress since the Civil War, Representative George Washington Murray (1853–1926) read into the Congressional Record the names and inventions of 92 African-American inventors. Murray himself was responsible for 12 of those inventions, but the point of his remarks was to urge that a separate space be reserved to display some of the achievements of Southern black people, and he set out the reason why they wanted to participate in such expositions:

Mr. Speaker, the colored people of this country want an opportunity to show that the progress, that the civilization which is now admired the world over, that the civilization which is now leading the world, that the civilization which all nations of the world look up to and imitate— the colored people, I say, want an opportunity to show that they, too, are part and parcel of that great civilization.

Murray’s list was derived from the research of Henry E. Baker, a Patent Office examiner who dedicated most of his life to uncovering and publicizing the contributions of black inventors. Baker’s research also provided the information used to select black inventions exhibited at the Cotton Centennial in New Orleans, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the Southern Expositions in Atlanta. By the time of his death, Baker had compiled four massive volumes of patent drawings and specifications for patents awarded to black inventors.

While always cast in positive language, multiple efforts to promote and celebrate African-American inventiveness were also designed to attack the myth of black intellectual inferiority, so explicitly advanced in those years.

In 1900, at the request of the U.S. Commission to the Paris Exposition, and with Baker’s assistance, the U.S. Patent Office sent letters to more than 3,000 patent attorneys, manufacturers and newspaper editors asking them to list any black inventors who might have come to their attention. This was the government’s first systematic effort to collect information about inventions by blacks. The results revealed the names of more than 400 inventors who had received patents, and of many more who had tried to obtain patents. This data found its way into the U.S. exhibit’s Negro Department, organized by Thomas J. Calloway and W. E. B. Du Bois which, among other materials about technical and industrial training, displayed 350 new patents granted to black inventors. And the Jamestown Exposition, held in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1907 to commemorate the tercentenary of European settlement there, provided yet another opportunity to call attention to the technological progress of the race. A separate building designed by black architects and constructed by black contractors housed displays of the work of black artisans, inventors, and students.

While always cast in positive language, these multiple efforts to promote and celebrate African-American inventiveness were also designed to attack the myth of black intellectual inferiority, so explicitly advanced in those years. Newspapers like the Southern Workman, Colored American Magazine, and Crisis trumpeted the contributions of black inventors, and so did a variety of other publications such as Munroe Work’s The Negro Yearbook, Twentieth-Century Literature, which D. W. Culp edited, and Evidences of Progress among Colored People by G. F. Richings. The search for recognition was important, Henry Baker explained in 1902:

Judging from what has been duly authenticated as Negro inventions patented by the United States, it is entirely reasonable to assume that many hundreds of valuable inventions have been patented by Negro inventors for which the race will never receive due credit. This is the more unfortunate since the race now, perhaps, more than ever before, needs the help of every fact in its favor to offset as far as possible the many discreditable things that the daily papers are all too eager to publish against it.

By 1900 more black people were living in cities than ever before. Thousands had left the fields and wash-tubs of the South to seek their fortunes in the factories and laundries of the North. Madame C. J. Walker (1867–1919) was one of those migrants, and she prospered from innovative cosmetic products marketed to this new urban black population. Born Sarah Breedlove in rural Louisiana, she settled in St. Louis, Missouri, supporting herself and her daughter by working as a washer-woman. But she had an idea for beauty products, and by 1905 she had created a formula for straightening and grooming black women’s hair. She first sold these hair preparations in Denver, Colorado, under her married name, but after five years of aggressive salesmanship she was able to establish a headquarters in Indianapolis for the national distribution of her goods. Two strategies proved especially successful; she developed a whole system of hair and cosmetic products, and then established salons of her own that popularized straightened hair as the image of a smart, effective city woman.

Born Sarah Breedlove in rural Louisiana, Madame C. J. Walker developed a whole system of hair and cosmetic products, and then established salons of her own that popularized straightened hair as the image of a smart, effective city woman.

Just as Harlem became a Mecca for ambitious African-Americans in the early 20th century, and a center of black culture and personal style, Washington, D.C., was a popular destination for upwardly mobile blacks because of the employment opportunities that the federal government offered. Several Washington residents who worked as civil servants patented successful inventions. Robert Pelham (1859–1943) began his career as a newspaper publisher and editor in Detroit. His paper, the Plaindealer, became one of the most successful black newspapers of the Midwest, and that led him into Republican party activities. Perhaps because of that connection, he moved to Washington in 1900 and began a 37-year tenure at the U.S. Census Bureau. During the course of his work he conceived and patented a tabulating machine in 1905, and an adding machine device in 1913. Another Washingtonian, Shelby Davidson (1868–1931), came from Lexington, Kentucky, in 1887 to work in the auditing department of the U.S. Post Office Department, and he was also drawn into the technology of office equipment. In 1906 Davidson began to study adding machines with an eye to improving them to handle government auditing functions more efficiently. He visited several factories to observe exactly how they constructed these machines, and after two years of study patented his first invention, a rewind device for calculators. Davidson claimed that “by the use of this device the government would save three-fourths of the paper used on the machines and the time of the clerks in taking up the paper.” Fascinated by the problem of mechanical tabulation, Davidson worked on various improvements for his device, and in 1911 received another patent, this one for an “automatic fee device” that helped postal clerks assess the correct fees.

Besides the difficulties and expenses of the creative process itself — working out the design issues, contriving models to demonstrate the principles involved, preparing written descriptions that provide the appropriate legal basis for the claim advanced, and getting made the detailed drawings that illustrate all the properties of the invention — inventors had also to think about manufacturing and marketing their creations, and about securing their rights against encroachment. And the more valuable the patent, the more effort and money were required to protect it.

Fascinated by the problem of mechanical tabulation, Shelby Davidson worked on various improvements for an earlier calculator device, and in 1911 received another patent, this one for an “automatic fee device” that helped postal clerks assess the correct fees.

By the 1900s manufacturing and marketing a new invention presented such formidable problems that many inventors chose to assign their patents outright to agencies, private investors, or corporations. That gave inventors an immediate financial reward for their inventions and freed them from the burden of risk, but they lost all rights to whatever profits the patent subsequently earned for its new owners. More often than not, money concerns decided the issue for poor inventors, and they were the ones most likely to assign their patents. But Samuel Scottron, a New York manufacturer, provides the example of someone determined to market his own inventions.

Originally a merchant of household goods, Scottron first designed an adjustable mirror. These mirrors, he claimed, were “so arranged opposite each other as to give the view of every side at once . . . and so simple too, that it was impossible to accomplish the same result in a simpler or cheaper manner.” Unwilling to have someone else to make his mirrors, or to assign his patent, Scottron decided to manufacture them himself. To do that, he enrolled in night school where he studied practical mathematics, also apprenticing himself to a pattern-maker and to a master mechanic, and then began to make his mirrors. They proved successful, and he then patented other versions that he also produced.

Having learned to manipulate materials, Scottron left his mirror-making business behind and became interested in the manufacture of window cornices. He described the rise and decline of this enterprise for the readers of the Colored American Magazine:

Very soon, however, a new patent having great possibilities was granted me, for an extension cornice. I received several patents for these and abandoned the mirror, putting these out on a royalty, and entering the manufacture of extension cornices, which coined thousands while it lasted, an excellent thing in every way; but it came to grief through one of those causes that will sometimes lay out, stiff dead, the best thing in the market, viz.: the capriciousness of fashion. Curtain poles came into fashion and killed the cornice business entirely, in less than six months of activity in opposition.

Undaunted, he abandoned the extension cornice business to begin manufacturing synthetic onyx, an endeavor in which he enjoyed considerable financial success until he retired. Scottron was a tireless booster of black business and invention, wrote several articles encouraging people to go into manufacturing and trade, and offered advice to would be inventors as well. First he suggested that patent holders try to manufacture their own inventions, and to learn as much as possible about design and mechanical engineering:

There is possibly no shop where one can serve and get a broader knowledge of applied mechanics than a well patronized pattern-making shop, bringing one as it does into a consideration of the various elements, substances; etc. used in manufacture; their nature and possibilities. It grounded me and gave me confidence in myself, and an actual knowledge of possibilities, which prevented many costly ventures and foolish mistakes, such as the patenting of things absolutely useless.

Scottron also recommended that the prospective inventor aim for simplicity in design and construction. Simplicity, he claimed, is “a thing very necessary in patent articles. A patent which can be simplified by another is worth nothing.” The key to simplicity was mechanical knowledge, understanding “how not to use three motions where two will do the work.” The other thing to know about was the market. Familiarity with tastes and demand “will show you whether what you wish to accomplish will be worth anything in the market.”

For those attempting a career as a full-time inventor, getting into production and marketing could seem a next logical step. Garrett Morgan (1875–1963) invented and patented a safety hood in 1914, and gained national prominence for his device when he used it to rescue workers trapped by fire and gases in a tunnel explosion at Cleveland, Ohio. It was quite a dramatic moment. Two previous rescue efforts by police and firemen ended in disaster when additional gas explosions killed nine of them. Morgan then arrived on the scene with several of his safety hoods, which he took into the tunnel and used to bring out three survivors, as well as the bodies of the others. The resulting publicity brought investors, and together with Morgan they formed the National Safety Device Company to manufacture his hoods. In 1923 Morgan patented another safety invention, a mechanical traffic signal, which came into wide usage. He marketed the signal through a company he formed for that purpose, the G. A. Morgan Safety System, but then later assigned the patent to the General Electric Company.

Garrett Morgan invented and patented a safety hood in 1914, and gained national prominence for his device when he used it to rescue workers trapped by fire and gases in a tunnel explosion at Cleveland, Ohio. He later patented the mechanical traffic signal.

The years from 1880 to 1930 seem the heroic age of American invention because so much technical advance — particularly in the fields of electricity and communication — can be associated with individuals. The names that come most obviously to mind are those of Edison and Bell, with Westinghouse, Sprague, and Maxim not far behind in celebrity. We also know them because they were highly successful entrepreneurs, and their names survive in the corporations they established. Less celebrated by the popular press, but certainly worth knowing about are African-American inventors like Granville Woods and Lewis Latimer, both also associated prominently with the electrical industry.

Granville Woods (1856–1910) was born in Columbus, Ohio, where he apprenticed as a machinist and blacksmith. He then worked for a time as a railroad fireman and engineer, but became quite interested in the emerging field of electrical engineering, began reading deeply in the subject, and took evening courses in electrical and mechanical engineering. The need for a job led him back to steam engines, working on a British steamer for a couple of years, and again on American railroads — employment that also resulted in his first patent, in 1884, for an improved steam boiler. But, with the model of Edison clearly in mind, he seemed determined to devote himself to electrical inventions, and founded the Woods Electric Company in Cincinnati to research, manufacture, and market his inventions. The first of his electrical inventions, for an improved telephone transmitter, came shortly afterward and was patented in 1884.

In fact, Woods did not actually have the capital to develop his first two inventions, and he assigned his patent rights to others. Furthermore, in the case of his telephone transmitter he faced stiff competition from Alexander Graham Bell, who already had a well-established company to produce telephone equipment and the protection of prior patents. Still, the improvement of known devices is a staple feature of invention, and in 1885 Woods patented another “electrical apparatus for transmitting messages.” He sold this device, which allowed operators to transmit either Morse code or voice messages, to the Bell Telephone Company.

Woods continued to design and patent electrical equipment, particularly for railway telegraph and electrical railway systems. These inventions brought him into direct competition with Thomas Edison and another inventor named Lucius Phelps, who had invented similar telegraphic devices, and which of them would enjoy patent protection for the invention had to be determined in court. Woods won, and his legal victory also brought publicity for his career as an inventor, which the American Catholic Tribune described:

Mr Woods, who is the greatest electrician in the world, still continues to add to his long list of electrical inventions. The latest device he invented is the synchronous multiplex railway tele- graph. By means of this system, the railway dispatcher can note the position of any train on the route at a glance. The system also provides for telegraphing to and from the train while in motion. The same lines may also be used for local messages without interference with the regular train signals. The system may also be used for other purposes. In fact, 200 operators may use a single wire at the same time. Although the messages may be passing in opposite directions, they will not conflict with each other. In using the device there is no possibility of collisions between trains as each train can always be informed of the position of the other while in motion. Mr. Woods has all the patent office drawings for these devices as your correspondent witnessed. The Patent Office has twice declared Mr Woods prior inventor. The Edison and Phelps Companies are now negotiating a consolidation with the Woods Railway Telegraph Company.

Woods moved to New York City in 1890, to take advantage of the better opportunities for electrical engineers there, and went on to develop a number of improvements in the equipment used in electric street car systems. Among those innovations were the application of secondary “dynamotors” that reduced the risk of fires, and a technique for better connecting the street car to its electric power system. That device, called a troller, consisted of a grooved wheel at the end of a wand under spring tension, that pushed against the overhead electrical wire and so with less friction loss conducted current to the motor of the trolley car.

In an earlier era, when most inventions grew simply out of familiarity with craft practice and work experience, the chief obstacle for black inventors, besides racial prejudice, was money. But by the 20th century, both technology and its institutional structures had changed. Many of the most important innovations now began to come from teams of researchers employed by large corporations that assumed the rights to their patents. More and more often, inventors were salaried personnel and had university degrees in science or engineering. Few black men and women were able to obtain the necessary degrees in those fields of study, and those who did had to overcome the reluctance of most firms to employ them in such positions.

But a small number, due to their talent and persistence, did manage to find places in large-scale industrial research and development enterprises. Lewis H. Latimer (1848–1928) was one of them. Born in Boston, he was the son of an escaped slave, George Latimer, who became famous for the defense campaign mounted on his behalf by the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. When George Latimer’s owner appeared in Boston, demanding the return of his “property,” the abolitionists of the city staged a series of rallies and fund-raising events to raise enough money to purchase Latimer’s freedom.

Lewis H. Latimer, “My Situation as It Looked to Me in 1912.” Courtesy of Latimer-Norman Family Collection, Queens Borough Public Library. In this blueprint drawing, Latimer depicts himself struggling to choose between the freedom of a career as a technical consultant and the job security of corporate employment. But the drawing might also be taken to represent the difficulties blacks faced in finding jobs as engineers.

Lewis Latimer served the Union cause in the Civil War. After his discharge, he took a job as office boy in a Boston patent law firm. But his employers were so impressed with his drawing abilities that he soon became a patent draftsman, and then the head draftsman for the firm. Latimer made the patent drawings for many of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephones, and testified in court on Bell’s behalf when his patents were challenged. Next he became a patent draftsman at Hiram Maxim’s United States Electric Company and began more closely to work with the developing electrical technology. Maxim was one of Edison’s biggest competitors, and much of the struggle for the burgeoning market for electrical lighting revolved around the search for improved light bulb filaments. In 1881, one year after joining Maxim’s firm, Latimer and a coworker patented an improved method for bonding carbon filaments.

The following year, Latimer patented a technique for making carbon filaments. This was one of his most significant inventions, for carbon filaments produced by his method were much more cost efficient. As Latimer’s expertise increased, he was given more responsibilities, and was soon supervising the installation of electric light plants in New York, Philadelphia, and other cities. He also traveled to London to establish a department in Maxim’s branch there for the production of his light bulb filaments.

In 1884, Latimer began working with the engineering department of the Edison Electric Light Company in New York. Six years later, he was transferred to Edison’s legal department, where he served as chief draftsman for patents under legal dispute. His skill in illustrating electrical patents led 1896 to his appointment as draftsman for the Board of Patent Control, a body established by General Electric and Westinghouse to oversee patent disputes between them. Latimer worked with that group until 1911, when he left to practice as a patent consultant in New York. In an evocative self-portrait, Lewis depicted the difficulty, at his age, of deciding between job security with corporate enterprise, or the economic risks of independent consulting.

These sketches of African-American inventiveness, brief as they are, reveal some important truths. One is that black people, both women and men, have been active participants in the history of American technology from the very beginning. Even enslaved, they were moved to create improved ways of doing things. Indeed, inventiveness was agency, a means of taking as much control of one’s destiny as possible, and there is plenty of evidence that a great many grabbed at the chance. Their ideas, as well as their labor, also proved a source of great wealth to 18th- and 19th-century America, and that is worth remembering, too.

But perhaps the most important lesson of all is that their stories give the lie to all those old notions of inferiority. Denied the advantages of formal education or university degrees, without the funds to amplify inspiration, and against a strong tide of ingrained ill-will, these African-Americans proved capable of sustained and creative technical accomplishment. As imperfectly as we know their history, that much is certainly true.


Portia James (1953-2015) was a curator and historian who for more than 30 years shaped the work of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, where she led the collections, exhibitions, and publications programs. This essay is excerpted from the book “Technology and the African-American Experience.”

Notes


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On the politics of death https://thebackwaterspress.org/on-the-politics-of-death/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/on-the-politics-of-death/#respond Mon, 13 Sep 2021 07:00:00 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/on-the-politics-of-death/ Global events such as pandemics can momentarily draw attention to a fundamentally neglected pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how those in power decide who lives and who dies. Source image: Pxfuel Pandemics make it harder to ignore death. That doesn’t mean government officials and friends won’t symbolically look away or reflexively look harder […]]]>

Global events such as pandemics can momentarily draw attention to a fundamentally neglected pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how those in power decide who lives and who dies.

Source image: Pxfuel

Pandemics make it harder to ignore death. That doesn’t mean government officials and friends won’t symbolically look away or reflexively look harder at their phones during spikes in mortality. But the longer an act of ignorance continues, the more evident the avalanche of ignored death becomes.

Ignoring something is, of course, different from suppressing it. We acknowledge its existence by ignoring it. We see death. We understand that this happens. We all know people who have died. Anyone who reads these words will eventually die.

Which brings me to our present moment of death.

The Covid-19 pandemic is just one example among a long list of morbidity and mortality events that have momentarily exposed the politics of death for all to see. And by everyone, I mean the citizens of every country on the planet who are suddenly witnessing what those of us who work in death already knew: Our leaders routinely choose to decide who lives and who dies.

Now turn that last statement into a question and one can begin to see the genealogical shadow of queens and emperors: who lives and who dies? Thumbs up or down? These are fundamental and pressing questions that confront modern governments with choices to be made on any given day, but especially during a pandemic. The first AIDS epidemic remains a tragic illustration of how different governments decided that gay communities that watched gay men die in unprecedented numbers could be ignored until those same governments were suddenly faced with a pandemic that stay with us today.

Thanatopolitics or the politics of death

Who lives and who dies are clearly not new questions, but global events such as pandemics can momentarily draw attention to a fundamentally neglected pre-existing human condition: the sheer inequality of how those in power respond to these questions. .

And while it is correct to state that all biological creatures die at some point, this death is hardly universal in its impact on different communities. What I am saying might not come as a surprise, but it is important to highlight this information as a way to state that when we discuss death in the modern Western world, we often discuss the politics of death. the death. Even though people don’t realize this distinction when they talk about death and dying – and a lot of people, I believe, don’t – the ways in which end-of-life trajectories are discussed focus on the dynamics. at the origin of this death. This distinction is important because understanding how a person died – the leading cause of death, especially during a pandemic – is often fraught with political questions regarding access to care, medical ethics and economic stability.

While death and corpses are obviously linked, the politics surrounding each remain unique and must be distinguished from one another.

This policy of death can be rightly qualified as thanatopolitique, borrowing thanato for the death of the ancient Greeks and working with Giorgio Agamben and Michel Foucault ideas around biopolitics and life forms.

What this thanatopolitics of who lives and who dies – with a strong emphasis here on the “dies” bit – isn’t the related concept of necropolitics. The latter is a distinct and important idea first suggested by the philosopher Achille Mbembe who more precisely describes the policy of corpses (the necro in ancient Greek). The thanato / necro distinction is crucial in everyday circumstances since the politics of death is often described using the prefix necro- – and although death and corpses are obviously linked, the politics surrounding each remain unique. and must be distinguished from each other. The politics of the corpse and the politics of death occupy distinct experiences for the average person, and recognizing the difference between what death is and what a corpse is remains deeply important to medicine, the law, and the taking of justice. daily decision in places such as hospices.

In my book “Human Corpse Technologies“I devote an entire chapter to discussing precisely these distinctions between organic, thanato and necro, since everyone’s politics remains both always visible (if we know where to look) and completely hidden. The manuscript for the book was completed in 2019, before Covid-19, but spends many pages discussing how AIDS both impacted and dramatically changed the way funeral directors treated corpses, for example, personal protective equipment or PPE, an acronym we all unfortunately know. with now.

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By discussing the thanatopolitics of the early AIDS epidemic (which is still happening, lest anyone forgets), it is easy to see how the Covid-19 pandemic ticks all the boxes as to what contemporary thanatopolitics relies on: social and economic disadvantages that contribute to higher mortality rates, especially in brown and black communities; hundreds of thousands of people dying entirely preventable deaths in populations that become economically acceptable deaths (e.g., the elderly and disabled); access to life-saving medical treatments that significantly favor wealthy communities and nations, and so on.

Where Covid-19 thanatopolitics morphed into something I had not predicted was when the emergence of what I call virological determinism became the logic that almost every local, national, and global governing body used to lay blame for preexisting societal problems. This is a gloss on technological determinism, the tendency we humans have to blame any “technology” for causing our very human-created problems, and works much the same way. By taking a rapidly-out-of-control pandemic and mixing in contemporary health inequalities and unprepared — and sometimes negligible — political leaders, we in the West ended up in this thanatopolitical quagmire.

I say quagmire, since it is unclear right now if and when any of this will actually be “done” no matter the speed with which people want to move on. But there are lessons to be learned, and in this way, thanatopolitics can be extremely productive and useful.

The politics of death become a way to acknowledge all those who died and what should be done in the future to prevent more needless deaths. One of those key lessons includes governmental leaders both knowing about pre-existing pandemic response plans and then using those plans when responding to a non-stop mass fatality event such as Covid-19. In addition to following the already extant response plans, leaders should continue to update and renew those plans on a regular basis. HIV/AIDS taught the world how quickly a virus could adapt to everything we threw at it. I remain hopeful that we reflect on that lesson in the coming decades.

Understanding how a person died is often laden with political questions around access to care, medical ethics, and economic stability.

On March 18, 2020, I flew on a plane from the UK (where I normally live) to my hometown in Wisconsin to help my parents with some health issues. I did not know it then, but this was one of the last planes to make that trans-Atlantic flight for many months due to the pandemic.

On the flight, I read an incisive essay by Michael Specter in the New Yorker on the cascading failures of the U.S. health care system. It ends with the following prediction that presciently understood the who-lives-and-who-dies thanatopolitics that defined the past 18 months: “The bigger question is whether we will learn from the fact that this [Covid-19] pandemic will kill many more people than necessary. I would love to think we would, but, if the past is any guide, this pandemic will end with a bunch of new and disturbing commissions and reports. As soon as they are printed, they will be forgotten.

We can choose to ignore death and the thanatopolitics that this choice brings for future body counts. But if Covid-19 has shown anything, it’s that we do it at our own risk.


Jean Troyer is director of Center for Death and Society at the University of Bath and author of “Human Corpse Technologies. “


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An Illustrated Guide to Post-Orwellian Censorship https://thebackwaterspress.org/an-illustrated-guide-to-post-orwellian-censorship/ https://thebackwaterspress.org/an-illustrated-guide-to-post-orwellian-censorship/#respond Mon, 30 Aug 2021 07:43:51 +0000 https://thebackwaterspress.org/?p=24 Modern authoritarian regimes don’t attempt total, absolute control. Their censorship is more selective and calibrated — and thus more resilient. By: Cherian George and Sonny Liew The political cartoon is the art form of our deeply troubled world; a chimera of journalism, art, and satire that is elemental to political speech. Cartoons don’t tell secrets […]]]>

Modern authoritarian regimes don’t attempt total, absolute control. Their censorship is more selective and calibrated — and thus more resilient.

By: Cherian George and Sonny Liew

The political cartoon is the art form of our deeply troubled world; a chimera of journalism, art, and satire that is elemental to political speech. Cartoons don’t tell secrets or move markets, yet as Cherian George and Sonny Liew show in “Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship,” cartoonists have been harassed, sued, fired, jailed, attacked, and assassinated for their work.

As “drawn commentary on current events,” the existence and proliferation of political cartoons provides a useful indicator of a society’s state of democratic freedom: It shows that the system requires powerful individuals and institutions to tolerate dissent from the weak; and that the public is used to freewheeling, provocative debate. But that is not the norm. In most countries, political cartoonists — the guerrillas of the media — are vulnerable to multiple and varied threats. In the excerpt that follows, George and Liew examine China and Turkey to illustrate that while totalitarianism may be out of style, what remains is no less insidious.


Censorship is the power to make 2 + 2 equal 5. Or 3. Or whatever people in power say it is.

You still think there are four. … You must try Harder! So said George Orwell in his classic, “1984,” which he wrote in the 1940s. Horrified by Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany, Orwell spun a tale that continues to color how we picture state censorship in controlled societies. Zero tolerance for dissent. Erasure of inconvenient data. Even the wrong thoughts are against law — “Thoughtcrime.”

But this may not be how we should think about 21st-century despots. At least, not the clever ones. As Antonio Gramsci understood, rules achieve hegemonic domination when they are able to cloak their coercion with the consent of the ruled.

Hannah Arendt, a close observer of totalitarian regimes, realized that power needs legitimacy, which is destroyed when violence is overused.

In the 1980s, Miklós Haraszti in communist Hungary observed that arts censorship in a mature one-party state was quite different from the terror of Stalinism. Stalinism was paranoid, hard, and military-like. It required complete consensus, and loud loyalty — “Neutrality is treason; ambiguity is betrayal.” Art was forced into a propaganda role.

Post-Stalinist regimes were more confident, and therefore softer. They expanded the boundaries of the permissible. Make no mistake — modern authoritarians haven’t undergone a philosophical conversion to liberal values. They still use brutal methods. But paradoxically, if we overestimate their use of fear and force, we underestimate their power and resilience.

China — the world’s longest-running communist state — has swung between hard and soft censorship. Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution (1966–1976) was a period of extreme, uncompromising mind control. The party’s insistence on ideological purity impoverished China, even as other low-income countries were courting investors and improving living standards. After Mao’s death in 1976, his successors changed course dramatically.

The party blamed the excesses of the cultural revolution on a small faction, led by the so-called Gang of Four (including Mao’s widow Jiang Qing). Suddenly, caricatures of the Gang of Four, which had to be sketched in secret under Mao, were being celebrated in exhibitions and the press.

In 1979, People’s Daily, the party’s official daily newspaper, even launched a twice-monthly supplement, “Satire and Humor,” to provide an outlet for artists’ pent-up desire to lampoon the Gang of Four.

But how deep were these reforms?

In his first public work in 20 years, artist Liao Bingxiong portrayed himself frozen with caution when suddenly freed of the strictures of the cultural revolution. It expressed how traumatized many Chinese felt. He was probably right to be skeptical. The party was still exploiting art for propaganda purposes. It still set political limits on artistic expression.

Nevertheless, the 1980s did see the opportunities for cartoonists expand dramatically. Under Dent Xiaoping, communist ideology took a back seat to modernization and the market. The pendulum swung back after 2012, when Xi Jinping took over the party. He brought in a renewed emphasis on ideological purity, hints of a personality cult, and more repression of dissent.

The comparison to Mao is inevitable.

In his painting, “Garden of Plenty,” Shanghai-based artist Liu Dahong depicts Xi Jinping as a prodigal son in Mao’s embrace. Xi couldn’t revert fully to cultural mode even if he wanted today. Today’s Chinese are already too well-educated, exposed, and materially well-off to allow it.

The country is too vast and populous. The media are too plentiful, and authority is too decentralized to allow Mao-style total control.

By necessity and design, China’s censorship efforts are porous, regularly bypassed without punishment, says political scientist Margaret Roberts. Modern Chinese censorship uses a blend of fear, friction, and flooding, she writes.

FEAR

Fear of punishment works on most bosses of news media outlets and internet platforms. If they slip up and allow the wrong content to reach the public, they may not be sent off to do hard labor in a detention camp, but they could be demoted and their day docked — a big setback in a highly competitive and unequal society where most people are desperate to get ahead.

Opinion leaders like journalists and artists are also subject to fear-inducing threats. The first tool is not terror, but tea. It is less publicly visible than an arrest. Wang Liming (known as Rebel Pepper) got an invitation to tea after he drew a cartoon supporting independent candidates for local people’s congresses, challenging the party’s tight supervision of these elections. A private conversation over tea can intimidate without backfiring the way public punishment does. But it didn’t work on Wang.

The next meeting was at a police station. (Tea was also served.) It still didn’t work. When face-to-face intimidation fails to silence, the state ratchets up the pressure on critics, with character assassination and online harassment.

Wang received this treatment in 2014, when he visited Japan on a business trip and bogged about his positive impressions. He questioned the Chinese government’s vilification of its neighbors. The authorities seized the opening to play the nationalism card.

People.cn, a widely read news portal owned by the party organ, People’s Daily, ran an article calling him a Japanese-worshipping traitor. He knew he could not return to China. He now lives in the United States, working as a cartoonist for Voice of America.

FRICTION

Friction is about making it harder and less convenient to access unapproved material. The Chinese internet is a “walled garden.” Out: Foreign social media platforms, search engines, news media, human rights sites.

An army of human censors as well as automated programs trawl the internet for material that crosses the red lines, following directives from the party. China’s gateway to the global internet is maintained by nine state-run operators. Chinese netizens can use circumvention tools like virtual private networks (VPNs) to access banned sites, but this is getting harder.

In 2009, censors played a long cat-and-mouse game with the “grass mud horse,” a meme created by Chinese netizens to protest internet controls. Its name in Chinese sounds like “fuck your mother.” Another pun that censors didn’t appreciate was “river crab,” which sounds like “harmony” — a government euphemism for control.

Although the Chinese internet is walled off, it can’t be totally controlled.

FLOODING

Flooding is about filling the internet and other media with stuff that dilutes and distracts from the prohibited content.

Flooding plays to the government’s strengths. The communist party of China can’t always match the wit of a clever cartoonist. But it can overwhelm him with sheer numbers. The Chinese authorities are able to create and post around 1.2 million social media comments a day, thanks to an army of human trolls amplified by human-impersonating robots or bots.

This could include government propaganda or even faked, low-quality dissent as well as totally irrelevant posts to simply change the subject, all of which makes it harder to keep track of the debate and find authentic material. The strategy works because people’s attention is in shorter supply than information.

The shifting red lines of Chinese censorship are reflected in the career of Kuang Biao, one of China’s most famous political cartoonists. Kuang is a native of Guangdong Province, whose coastal cities were among the first to benefit from Deng’s economic reforms.

The Guangdong model was associated with more freedom for civil society, trade unions, and media. Kuang’s career as a newspaper cartoonist began at the commercially-oriented New Express, which he joined in 1999. In 2007, he was recruited by another commercial paper, Southern Metropolis Daily.

Though party-owned, Southern Metropolis Daily and Southern Weekend were not obliged to parrot the party line. Although of lower official rank than the party organ, their profitability and popularity gave them prestige and clout. They were among the most independent newspapers in China. They were able to publish groundbreaking investigative reports and critical commentaries.

And they gave Kuang the chance to publish cartoons that would not have appeared in a party newspaper. He also took advantage of social media, opening a Weibo account in 2009. This allowed him to publish cartoons that his newspaper would not.

Online, he was free of his editors’ restraints. But, ironically, being free to post his work publicly also exposed him to more personal risk. Thus, in 2010, his employer fined and demoted him after he posted a cartoon protesting the blacklisting of Chang Ping, one of China’s most outspoken journalists.

Chang had been a senior editor at Southern Weekend but was progressively sidelined. The Propaganda Department later ordered media to stop carrying the writer’s articles. Kuang insisted on testing the limits, making him a regular target for censorship. Many of his online cartoons were short-lived. Social media platforms would remove each one as soon as they realized that they crossed a line.

After Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, things began to change at the Southern Media Group and in Chinese journalism generally. Xi wasn’t the only factor that spelled the end of what, in hindsight at least, appears like a golden age for political cartooning and independent journalism.

Commercially-oriented media started suffering financially, as advertising rapidly moved online. Faced with stagnating salaries, many of the best journalists moved to other occupations. Commercial newspapers’ disappearing profits meant that the balance of power in media groups shifted back to the party outlets.

Party bosses were no longer tolerant of their commercial newspapers’ feisty journalism. By 2013, Kuang Biao’s editors were routinely refusing to publish his cartoons. After 14 years with the party’s commercial newspapers, he quit.

He refused to do commissioned work. In communist China, creating art for clients, whether state or corporate, can only compromise his independence, he says. Have the security officials met him for “tea”?

In two hours, not once does he mention the name Xi Jinping. Similarly, the political cartoons he posts online nowadays are subtle and abstract. The dragon must hide his tail.


Unlike China, Turkey is not a one-party state; it has plenty of privately owned media, and a rich, uninterrupted history of satirical cartooning. But, like China, it’s a showcase for modern authoritarian censorship.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP government came to power in 2002. In its first term, it introduced some liberalizing reforms, but after 2007 it backslid dramatically.

There was a big increase in internet censorship, with tens of thousands of sites blocked. After a military faction attempted a coup in 2016 the government launched a massive crackdown on perceived opponents. In the following months, more than 150 media outlets were closed. Since the failed coup, Turkey has been among the world’s top jailers of journalists.

Jailed journalists include Musa Kart, cartoonist and board member of Turkey’s oldest independent newspaper, Cumhuriyet. Musa Kart and his colleagues were imprisoned for allegedly using Cumhuriyet to support terrorist organizations, including the Gülenist Movement (FETÖ) behind the 2016 coup. One piece of evidence the state produced against him was that he had called a travel agency suspected of having FETÖ links.

The charges were filed in the run-up to the April 2017 referendum to turn the country from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, which would greatly enhance Erdoğan’s powers. The timing was no coincidence, Kart told interviewers.

In 2014, Kart had drawn fire for a cartoon about a major corruption scandal. It shows a hologram of Erdoğan looking the other way while a robber says, “No rush, our watchman is a hologram.” The cartoon was inspired by Erdoğan’s use of this technology to make a virtual appearance at a campaign rally a few days earlier.

The government tried to imprison Kart for this cartoon, but the court dismissed the charges. The 2016 coup attempt gave Erdoğan carte blanche to jail critics like Kart.

The spectacle of overt repression serves as a warning to others. Equally powerful, though, are economic carrots and sticks that have been used to discipline the media.

Turkey is a textbook case of what has been called “Media Capture.” Although the country has never enjoyed high levels of press freedom, there were always newspapers highly critical of the government of the day. The AKP has been more successful than previous Turkish governments in taming the press.

Paradoxically, it has been helped by its privatization program. Big projects in infrastructure, energy, and other sectors were opened up for tender. Publishers joined the feeding frenzy, becoming diversified conglomerates. Just like in China, such pro-market reforms strengthened the media at first; but eventually the profit orientation became a liability for journalistic independence.

Media owners’ interests in sectors such as mining, energy, construction, and tourism made them reliant on government licensing, contracts, and subsidies, thus exposing them to political blackmail.

Take, for example, the influential newspapers Milliyet and Hürriyet, which were owned by the Dogan Group. Instead of attacking them head-on, the government targeted another Dogan company, the fuel retailer Petrol Ofisi. Petrol Ofisi was slapped with a $2.5 billion fine for alleged tax offenses. Dogan gave up, selling first Milliyet (in 2009) and then Hürriyet and other media assets (in 2011) to Demiroren Holdings, a pro-AKP conglomerate.

Another major paper that’s been pulled into AKP’s orbit is Sabah. Its former cartoonist, Salih Memecan, describes the change:

In the past, even when we disagreed sith our editors, they valued us as cartoonists and columnists. They knew people bought the newspaper for our voices. But, with the emergence of digital media, newspapers started losing sales revenues. So they aimed at getting government contracts, rather than readers. I felt I didn’t fit, so I quit.

Through such market censorship as well as repression, AKP has built a bloc of loyalist media.

On the margins, there are still some independent media, including the satirical cartoon magazine, Leman. Turkey has a long tradition of cartoon-heavy magazines. The appetite for satire dates back at least to Ottoman times, when shadow puppet theater (Karagoz) satirized current events, targeting officials and sometimes even the Sultan.

Not even Erdoğan has been able to crush this culture totally. In 2004, Musa Kart made fun of Erdoğan’s difficulties enacting a new law, by drawing him as a cat caught in a ball of wool. The prime minister tried (unsuccessfully) to sue the cartoonist.

Observing Erdoğan’s wrap at being drawn with a cat’s body, the cartoon magazine Penguen turned him into other animals. Leman decided to go with vegetables. After a 15-year run, the loss-making Penguen closed in 2017. Leman survives.

Tuncay Akgün, a former Girgir cartoonist, established Leman as an independent magazine in 1991. It was a reincarnation of Limon, which died when its parent newspaper went bankrupt.

Leman continues to test the red lines every week. But it’s getting harder. Facing the threat of lawsuits and imprisonment is nothing new to Akgun. But things were more predictable in the past, even under military rule (1980–82).

The big new factor is the mob. Erdogan has a large base of followers who can be counted on to go after anyone who’s named as an enemy. Real supporters are augmented by paid troll armies and bots, which swarm critics and intimidate them.

Following the attempted coup, Leman’s cover depicted the coup’s nervous soldiers as well as the mobs who defended the regime as pawns in a larger game.

As soon as a preview of the cover went out on social media, pro-government writers launched a smear campaign accusing Leman of being pro-coup. A mob showed up outside the magazine’s offices.

The government got a court order to ban the issue. Police went to the press to halt the printing and copies were retrieved from newsstands. It’s the kind of orchestrated, intolerant populism that modern authoritarians have mastered — and that at last one novelist predicted many years ago.

“… Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector… full of power and mysterious calm, and so vast that it almost filled up the screen. Nobody heard what Big Brother was saying.

It was merely a few words of encouragement, the sort of words that are uttered in the din of battle, not distinguishable individually but restoring confidence by the fact of being spoken.”

—George Orwell, 1984


Cherian George is Professor of Media Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication. A former journalist, he is the author of “Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and Its Threat to Democracy.”

Sonny Liew is a celebrated cartoonist and illustrator and the author of “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye,” a New York Times bestseller, which received three Eisner Awards and the Singapore Literature Prize.


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