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Profile: Salman Rushdie

Posted by jase on November 27, 2009

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie (born 19 June 1947) is a British Indian novelist and essayist. He achieved notability with his second novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), which won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his early fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. His style is often classified as magical realism mixed with historical fiction, and a dominant theme of his work is the story of the many connections, disruptions and migrations between the Eastern and Western world.

His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the center of The Satanic Verses controversy, with protests from Muslims in several countries. Some of the protests were violent, with Rushdie facing death threats and a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, in February 1989.

He was appointed a Knight Bachelor for “services to literature” in June 2007. He holds the rank Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France. He began a five-year term as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University in 2007. In May 2008 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His latest novel is The Enchantress of Florence, published in June 2008.

Major literary work

His first novel, Grimus, a part-science fiction tale, was generally ignored by the public and literary critics. His next novel, Midnight’s Children, catapulted him to literary notability. It significantly shaped the course that Indian writing in English would follow over the next decade, and is regarded by many as one of the great books of the last 100 years. This work won the 1981 Booker Prize and, in 1993 and 2008, was awarded the Best of the Bookers as the best novel to have received the prize during its first 25 and 40 years. Midnight’s Children follows the life of a child, born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence, who is endowed with special powers and a connection to other children born at the dawn of a new and tumultuous age in the history of the Indian sub-continent and the birth of the modern nation of India. The character of Saleem Sinai has been compared to Rushdie.

After Midnight’s Children, Rushdie wrote Shame (1983), in which he depicts the political turmoil in Pakistan, basing his characters on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Shame won France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book) and was a close runner-up for the Booker Prize. Both these works of postcolonial literature are characterised by a style of magic realism and the immigrant outlook of which Rushdie is very conscious, as a member of the Indian diaspora.

Rushdie wrote a non-fiction book about Nicaragua in the 1980s, The Jaguar Smile (1987). The book has a political focus and is based on his first hand experiences and research at the scene of Sandinista political experiments.

His most controversial work, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988 (see section below). Rushdie has published many short stories, including those collected in East, West (1994). The Moor’s Last Sigh, a family epic ranging over some 100 years of India’s history was published in 1995. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) presents an alternative history of modern rock music. The song of the same name by U2 is one of many song lyrics included in the book, hence Rushdie is credited as the lyricist.

Rushdie has had a string of commercially successful and critically acclaimed novels. His 2005 novel Shalimar the Clown received, in India, the prestigious Crossword Fiction Award, and was, in Britain, a finalist for the Whitbread Book Awards. It was shortlisted for the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

In his 2002 nonfiction collection Step Across This Line, he professes his admiration for the Italian writer Italo Calvino and the American writer Thomas Pynchon, among others. His early influences included James Joyce, Günter Grass, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Lewis Carroll. Rushdie was a personal friend of Angela Carter and praised her highly in the foreword for her collection Burning your Boats.

Other Activities

He opposes the British government’s introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, something he writes about in his contribution to Free Expression Is No Offence, a collection of essays by several writers, published by Penguin in November 2005. Rushdie is a self-described atheist, and a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association.

In 2006, Rushdie joined the Emory University faculty as Distinguished Writer in Residence for one month a year for the next five years.[15] Though he enjoys writing, Salman Rushdie says that he would have become an actor if his writing career had not been successful. Even from early childhood, he dreamed of appearing in Hollywood movies (which he would later realize in his frequent cameo appearances).

Rushdie includes fictional television and movie characters in some of his writings. He had a cameo appearance in the film Bridget Jones’s Diary based on the book of the same name, which is itself full of literary in-jokes. On 12 May 2006, Rushdie was a guest host on The Charlie Rose Show, where he interviewed Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, whose 2005 film, Water, faced violent protests. He appears in the role of Helen Hunt’s obstetrician-gynecologist in the film adaptation (Hunt’s directorial debut) of Elinor Lipman’s novel Then She Found Me. In September 2008, and again in March 2009, he appeared as a panelist on the HBO program “Real Time With Bill Maher”.

The Satanic Verses and the fatwā

Further information: The Satanic Verses controversy

The publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world because of what was perceived as an irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. The title refers to a disputed Muslim tradition that is related in the book. According to this tradition, Muhammad (Mahound in the book) added verses (sura) to the Qur’an accepting three goddesses who used to be worshipped in Mecca as divine beings. According to the legend, Muhammad later revoked the verses, saying the devil tempted him to utter these lines to appease the Meccans (hence the “Satanic” verses). However, the narrator reveals to the reader that these disputed verses were actually from the mouth of the Archangel Gibreel. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim communities.

On 14 February 1989, a fatwā requiring Rushdie’s execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time, calling the book “blasphemous against Islam” (chapter IV of the book depicts the character of an Imam in exile who returns to incite revolt from the people of his country with no regard for their safety). A bounty was offered for Rushdie’s death, and he was thus forced to live under police protection for years afterward. On 7 March 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.

The publication of the book and the fatwā sparked violence around the world, with bookstores being firebombed. Muslim communities in several nations in the West held public rallies in which copies of the book were burned. Several people associated with translating or publishing the book were attacked, seriously injured, and even killed.[16] Many more people died in riots in Third World countries.

On 24 September 1998, as a precondition to the restoration of diplomatic relations with Britain, the Iranian government, then headed by Mohammad Khatami, gave a public commitment that it would “neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie.”

Hardliners in Iran have continued to reaffirm the death sentence. In early 2005, Khomeini’s fatwā was reaffirmed by Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Additionally, the Revolutionary Guards have declared that the death sentence on him is still valid. Iran has rejected requests to withdraw the fatwā on the basis that only the person who issued it may withdraw it, and the person who issued it – Ayatollah Khomeini – has been dead since 1989.

Rushdie has reported that he still receives a “sort of Valentine’s card” from Iran each year on 14 February letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him. He said, “It’s reached the point where it’s a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat.” Despite the threats on Rushdie, he has publicly said that his family has never been threatened and that his mother (who lived in Pakistan during the later years of her life) even received outpourings of support.

A former bodyguard to Rushdie, Ron Evans, planned to publish a book recounting the behaviour of the author during the time he was in hiding. Evans claimed that Rushdie tried to profit financially from the fatwa and was suicidal, but Rushdie dismissed the book as a “bunch of lies” and took legal action against Ron Evans, his co-author and their publisher. On 26 August 2008 Rushdie received an apology at the High Court in London from all three parties.

Religious and political beliefs

Rushdie came from a Shi’ite Muslim family but says that he was never really religious. In 1990, in the “hope that it would reduce the threat of Muslims acting on the fatwa to kill him,” he issued a statement in which he claimed “he had renewed his Muslim faith, had repudiated the attacks on Islam in his novel and was committed to working for better understanding of the religion across the world.” But later said that he was only “pretending”.

His books often focus on the role of religion in society and conflicts between faiths and between the religious and those of no faith.

Rushdie advocates the application of higher criticism, pioneered during the late 19th century. Rushdie calls for a reform in Islam in a guest opinion piece printed in The Washington Post and The Times in mid-August 2005. Excerpts from his speech:

What is needed is a move beyond tradition, nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air. (…) It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it. (…) Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace.

Rushdie supported the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, leading the leftist Tariq Ali to label Rushdie and other “warrior writers” as “the belligerati'”. He was supportive of the US-led campaign to remove the Taliban in Afghanistan which began in 2001, but was a vocal critic of the 2003 war in Iraq. He has stated that while there was a “case to be made for the removal of Saddam Hussein”, US unilateral military intervention was unjustifiable.

In the wake of the ‘Danish Cartoons Affair’ in March 2006 – which many considered to be an echo of the death threats and fatwā which had followed the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989 – Rushdie signed the manifesto ‘Together Facing the New Totalitarianism’, a statement warning of the dangers of religious extremism. The Manifesto was published in the left-leaning French weekly Charlie Hebdo in March 2006.

In 2006, Rushdie stated that he supported comments by the then-Leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw, who criticised the wearing of the niqab (a veil that covers all of the face except the eyes). Rushdie stated that his three sisters would never wear the veil. He said, “I think the battle against the veil has been a long and continuing battle against the limitation of women, so in that sense I’m completely on [Straw’s] side.”

Rushdie continues to come under fire from much of the British academic establishment for his political views. The Marxist critic Terry Eagleton, a former admirer of Rushdie’s work, attacked him for his positions, saying he “cheered on the Pentagon’s criminal ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan”. However, he subsequently apologized for having misrepresented Rushdie’s views.

At an appearance at 92nd Street Y, Rushdie expressed his view on copyright when answering a question whether he had considered copyright law a barrier (or impediment) to free speech.

“No. But that’s because I write for a living, [laughs] and I have no other source of income, and I naïvely believe that stuff that I create belongs to me, and that if you want it you might have to give me some cash. […] My view is I do this for a living. The thing wouldn’t exist if I didn’t make it and so it belongs to me and don’t steal it. You know. It’s my stuff.” — Salman Rushdie
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Posted in Controversy, Literature, Men, Profiles | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Profile: Susan B. Anthony

Posted by jase on November 12, 2009

susanbanthonySusan Brownell Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was a prominent American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century women’s rights movement to introduce women’s suffrage into the United States. She traveled the United States and Europe, and gave 75 to 100 speeches every year on women’s rights for 45 years.

Susan B. Anthony was born and raised in West Grove, near Adams, Massachusetts. She was the second oldest of seven children, Guelma Penn (1818), Susan Brownell (1820), Hannah E. (1821), Daniel Read (1824), Mary Stafford (1827), Eliza Tefft (1832), and Jacob Merritt (1834), born to Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. One brother, publisher Daniel Read Anthony, would become active in the anti-slavery movement in Kansas, while a sister, Mary Stafford Anthony, became a teacher and a woman’s rights activist. Anthony remained close to her sisters throughout her life.

In 1849, at age 29, Anthony quit teaching and moved to the family farm in Rochester, New York. She began to take part in conventions and gatherings related to the temperance movement. In Rochester, she attended the local Unitarian Church and began to distance herself from the Quakers, in part because she had frequently witnessed instances of hypocritical behavior such as the use of alcohol amongst Quaker preachers. As she got older, Anthony continued to move further away from organized religion in general, and she was later chastised by various Christian religious groups for displaying irreligious tendencies.

In her youth, Anthony was very self-conscious of her looks and speaking abilities. She long resisted public speaking for fear she would not be sufficiently eloquent. Despite these insecurities, she became a renowned public presence, eventually helping to lead the women’s movement.

Early social activism

In the era before the American Civil War, Anthony took a prominent role in the New York anti-slavery and temperance movements. In 1836, at age 16, Susan collected two boxes of petitions opposing slavery, in response to the gag rule prohibiting such petitions in the House of Representatives.  In 1849, at age 29, she became secretary for the Daughters of Temperance, which gave her a forum to speak out against alcohol abuse, and served as the beginning of Anthony’s movement towards the public limelight.

On January 1, 1868, Anthony first published a weekly journal entitled The Revolution. Printed in New York City, its motto was: “The true republic — men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” Anthony worked as the publisher and business manager, while Elizabeth Cady Stanton acted as editor. The main thrust of The Revolution was to promote women’s and African-Americans’ right to suffrage, but it also discussed issues of equal pay for equal work, more liberal divorce laws and the church’s position on women’s issues. The journal was backed by independently wealthy George Francis Train, who provided $600 in starting funds.

Though she never married, Anthony published her views about sexuality in marriage, holding that a woman should be allowed to refuse sex with her husband; the American woman had no legal recourse at that time against rape by her husband. Anthony spoke very little on the subject of abortion. Of primary importance to Anthony was the granting to woman the right to her own body which she saw as an essential element for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, using abstinence as the method. In The Revolution, Anthony wrote in 1869 about the subject, arguing that instead of merely attempting to pass a law against abortion, the root cause must also be addressed. Simply passing an anti-abortion law would, she wrote, “be only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains.” Anthony continued: “Guilty? Yes, no matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”

American Equal Rights Association

In 1869, long-time friends Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony found themselves, for the first time, on opposing sides of a debate. The American Equal Rights Association (AERA), which had originally fought for both blacks’ and women’s right to suffrage, voted to support the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, granting suffrage to black men, but not women. Anthony questioned why women should support this amendment when black men were not continuing to show support for women’s voting rights. Partially as a result of the decision by the AERA, Anthony soon thereafter devoted herself almost exclusively to the agitation for women’s rights.

On November 18, 1872, Anthony was arrested by a U.S. Deputy Marshal for voting illegally in the 1872 Presidential Election two weeks earlier. She had written to Stanton on the night of the election that she had “positively voted the Republican ticket – straight…”. She was tried and convicted seven months later, despite the stirring and eloquent presentation of her arguments that the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” the privileges of citizenship, and which contained no gender qualification, gave women the constitutional right to vote in federal elections. The sentence was a fine, but not imprisonment; and true to her word in court, she never paid the penalty for the rest of her life. The trial gave Anthony the opportunity to spread her arguments to a wider audience than ever before.

National suffrage organizations

In 1869, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), an organization dedicated to gaining women’s suffrage. Anthony was vice-president-at-large of the NWSA from the date of its organization until 1892, when she became president.

In the early years of the NWSA, Anthony made many attempts to unite women in the labor movement with the suffragist cause, but with little success. She and Stanton were delegates at the 1868 convention of the National Labor Union. However, Anthony inadvertently alienated the labor movement not only because suffrage was seen as a concern for middle-class rather than working-class women, but because she openly encouraged women to achieve economic independence by entering the printing trades, where male workers were on strike at the time. Anthony was later expelled from the National Labor Union over this controversy.
Susan B. Anthony, who died 14 years before passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, was honored as the first real (non-allegorical) American woman on circulating U.S. coinage with her appearance on the Susan B. Anthony dollar. The coin, approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, was minted for only four years, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1999. Anthony dollars were minted for circulation at the Philadelphia and Denver mints for all four years, and at the San Francisco mint for the first three production years.

Posted in Historic Figures, History, Inspiring Stories, Profiles, Women | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Profile: Mexico City

Posted by jase on July 26, 2009

Mexico City (Spanish: Ciudad de México, D.F. (for Distrito Federal), México or Méjico is the capital city of Mexico. It is the economic, industrial, and cultural center in the country, and the most populous city, with about 8,836,045 inhabitants in 2008. Greater Mexico City (Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México) incorporates 59 adjacent municipalities of Mexico State and 29 municipalities of the state of Hidalgo, according to the most recent definition agreed upon by the federal and state governments. Greater Mexico City has a population exceeding 19 million people, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and the third largest in the world by population according to the United Nations. In 2005, it ranked the eighth in terms of GDP (PPP) among urban agglomerations in the world. Mexico City is a major global city in Latin America and ranked 25th among global cities by Foreign Policy’s 2008 Global Cities Index.

Mexico City is also the Federal District (Distrito Federal). The Federal District is coterminous with Mexico City; both are governed by a single institution and are constitutionally considered to be the same entity. This has not always been the case. The Federal District, created in 1824, was integrated by several municipalities, one of which was the municipality of Mexico City. As the city began to grow, it engulfed all other municipalities into one large urban area. In 1928, all municipalities within the Federal District were abolished, an action that left a vacuum in the legal status of Mexico City vis-à-vis the Federal District, even though for most practical purposes they were traditionally considered to be the same entity. In 1993, to end the sterile discussions about whether one concept had engulfed the other, or if any of the two entities had any existence in lieu of the other, the 44th Article of the Constitution of Mexico was reformed to clearly state that Mexico City is the Federal District, seat of the Powers of the Union and capital of the United Mexican States.

According to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Greater Mexico City, with a population of 19.2 million, had a GDP of $315 billion in 2005 at purchasing power parity, an urban agglomeration with the eighth highest GDP in the world after the greater areas of Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, London and Osaka/Kobe, and the highest in Latin America. In 2020, it is expected to rank seventh with a $608 billion GDP, displacing Osaka/Kobe.

As of 2008, the city had a GDP of about $221 billion, with an income per capita of $25,258, well above the national average and on par with high income economies such as South Korea or the Czech Republic.

Mexico City is located in the Valley of Mexico, also called the Valley of Anáhuac, a large valley in the high plateaus at the center of Mexico, at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,349 ft). The city was originally built as Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs in 1325 on an island of Lake Texcoco. It was almost completely destroyed in the siege of 1521, and was subsequently redesigned and rebuilt in accordance with the Spanish urban standards. In 1524 the municipality of Mexico City was established, known as México Tenustitlán, and as of 1585 it is officially known as ciudad de México.

History

Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán

After landing in Veracruz, Hernán Cortés heard about the great city and the long-standing rivalries and grievances against it. Although Cortés came to Mexico with a very small army, he was able to persuade many of the other native peoples to help him destroy Tenochtitlán.

Cortés first saw Tenochtitlán on 8 November 1519. Upon viewing it for the first time, Cortés and his men were stunned by its beauty and size. The Spaniards marched along the causeway leading into the city from Iztapalapa. Although Montezuma came out from the center of Tenochtitlán to greet them and exchange gifts, the camaraderie did not last long. Cortés put Montezuma under house arrest, hoping to rule through him. Tensions increased until, on the night of June 30, 1520 – during a struggle commonly known as “La Noche Triste” – the Aztec revolted against the Spanish intrusion and managed to capture or drive out the Europeans and their Tlaxcalan allies. Cortés regrouped at Tlaxcala. The Aztecs thought the Spaniards were permanently gone. They elected a new king, Cuauhtémoc. Cortés decided to lay siege to Tenochtitlán in May 1521. For three months, the city suffered from the lack of food and water as well as the spread of smallpox brought by the Europeans. Cortés and his allies landed their forces in the south of the island and fought their way through the city, street by street, and house by house. Finally, Cuauhtémoc had to surrender in August 1521.

The Spaniards practically razed Tenochtitlán. Cortés first settled in Coyoacan, but decided to rebuild the Aztec site in order to erase all traces of the old order. Cortés did not establish an independent, conquered territory under his own personal rule, but remained loyal to the Spanish crown. The first viceroy of the new domain arrived in Mexico City fourteen years later. By that time, the city had again become a city-state, having power that extended far beyond the city’s established borders. Although the Spanish preserved Tenochtitlán’s basic layout, they built Catholic churches over the old Aztec temples and claimed the imperial palaces for themselves. Tenochtitlán was renamed “Mixico”, its alternative form name, as the Spanish found this easier to say.

20th Century and Beyond

The history of the rest of the 20th century to the present focuses on the phenomenal growth of the city and its environmental and political consequences. In 1900, the population of Mexico City was about 500,000. The city began to grow rapidly westward in the early part of the 20th century. and then began to grow upwards in the 1950s, with the Torre Latinoamericana as the first skyscraper. The 1968 Olympic Games brought about the construction of large sporting facilities. In 1969, the Metro system was inaugurated. Explosive growth in the population of the city started from the 1960s, with the population overflowing the boundaries of the Federal District into the neighboring state of Mexico, especially to the north, northwest and northeast. Between 1960 and 1980 the city’s population more than doubled to 8,831,079. 1980 – half of all the industrial jobs in Mexico were located in Mexico City. Under relentless growth, the Mexico City government could barely keep up with services. Villagers from the countryside who continued to pour into the city to escape poverty only compounded the city’s problems. With no housing available, they took over lands surrounding the city, creating huge shantytowns that extended for many miles. This caused serious air and water pollution problems, as well as a sinking city due to overextraction of groundwater. Air and water pollution has been contained and improved in some several areas due to government programs, the renovation of vehicles and the modernization of the public transport.

The autocratic government that ruled Mexico City since the Revolution was tolerated, mostly because of the continued economic expansion since World War II. This was the case even though this government could not handle the population and pollution problems adequately. Nevertheless, discontent and protests began in the 1960s leading to the massacre of an unknown number of protesting students in Tlatelolco.

However, the last straw may have been the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. On Thursday, 19 September 1985, at 7:19 am local time, Mexico City was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 8.1 on the Richter scale. While this earthquake was not as deadly or destructive as many similar events in Asia and other parts of Latin America it proved to be a disaster politically for the one-party government. The government was paralyzed by its own bureaucracy and corruption, forcing ordinary citizens to not only create and direct their own rescue efforts but efforts to reconstruct much of the housing that was lost as well. This discontent eventually led to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, a member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, becoming the first elected mayor of Mexico City in 1997. Cárdenas promised a more democratic government, and his party claimed some victories against crime, pollution, and other major problems. He resigned in 1999 to run for the presidency.

Geography & Climate

Mexico City is located in the Valley of Mexico, sometimes called the Basin of Mexico. This valley is located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt located in the high plateaus of central Mexico.  

Mexico City has a temperate highland climate (Koppen Cwb), due to its tropical location and high elevation. The lower region of the valley receives less rainfall than the upper regions of the south; the lower boroughs of Iztapalapa, Iztacalco, Venustiano Carranza and the west portion of Gustavo A. Madero are usually drier and warmer than the upper southern boroughs of Tlalpan and Milpa Alta, a mountainous region of pine and oak trees known as the range of Ajusco.

The average annual temperature varies from 12 to 16°C (53 to 60°F), depending on the altitude of the borough. Lowest temperatures, usually registered during January and February, may reach -2 to -5°C (28 to 23°F), usually accompanied by snow showers on the southern regions of Ajusco, and the maximum temperatures of late spring and summer may reach up to 32°C (92°F). Overall precipitation is heavily concentrated in the summer months, including dense hail. The central valley of Mexico rarely gets precipitation in the form of snow during winter; the two last recorded instances of such an event were on March 5, 1940 and January 12, 1967.

The region of the Valley of Mexico receives anti-cyclonic systems, whose weak winds do not allow for the dispersion, outside the basin, of the air pollutants which are produced by the 50,000 industries and 4 million vehicles operating in or around the metropolitan area.

The area receives about 700 millimeters of annual rainfall, which is concentrated from June through September/October with little or no precipitation the remainder of the year. The area has two main seasons. The rainy season runs from June to October when winds bring in tropical moisture from the sea. The dry season runs from November to May, when the air is relatively drier. This dry season subdivides into a cold period from November to February when polar air masses pushing down from the north keep the air fairly dry and a warm period from March to May when tropical winds again dominate but they do not yet carry enough moisture for rain.

Demographics

Historically, and since pre-Hispanic times, the valley of Anáhuac has been one of the most densely populated areas in Mexico. When the Federal District was created in 1824, the urban area of Mexico City extended approximately to the area of today’s Cuauhtémoc borough. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the elites began migrating to the south and west and soon the small towns of Mixcoac and San Ángel were incorporated by the growing conurbation. According to the 1921 census, 30.79% of the population was White, 54.78% was Mestizo, 11.74% was Indigenous and 2.69% other races (mostly Mulattoes, Blacks and some Cantonese Chinese Immigrants) . Today the city could be clearly divided into a middle and high-class area (south and west, including Polanco, Chapultepec and Santa Fe), and a lower class area to the east (Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, Pantitlán, Chalco and Moctezuma).

Up to the 1980s, the Federal District was the most populated federal entity in Mexico, but since then its population has remained stable at around 8.7 million. The growth of the city has extended beyond the limits of the Federal District to 59 municipalities of the state of Mexico and 1 in the state of Hidalgo. With a population of approximately 19.8 million inhabitants (2008), it is one of the most populated conurbations in the world. Nonetheless, the annual rate of growth of the Metropolitan Area of Mexico City is much lower than that of other large urban agglomerations in Mexico, a phenomenon most likely attributable to the environmental policy of decentralization. The net migration rate of the Federal District from 1995 to 2000 was negative.

While they represent around 1.3% of the city’s population, indigenous peoples from different regions of Mexico have immigrated to the capital in search of better economic opportunities. Náhuatl, Otomí, Mixteco, Zapoteco, and Mazahua are the indigenous languages with the greatest number of speakers in Mexico City.

On the other hand, Mexico City is home to large communities of expatriates, most notably from South America (mainly from Argentina, but also from Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela), from Europe (mainly from Spain and Germany, but also from France, Italy, Turkey, Poland and Romania), the Middle East (mainly from Lebanon and Syria), and recently from Asia (mainly from China and South Korea). While no official figures have been reported, population estimates of each of these communities are quite significant. Mexico City is home to the largest population of U.S. Americans living outside the United States. Some estimates are as high as 600,000 U.S. Americans living in Mexico City, while in 1999 the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs estimates over 440,000 Americans lived in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area.

The majority (90.5%) of the residents in Mexico City are Roman Catholic, higher than the national percentage, even though it has been decreasing over the last decades. However, many other religions and philosophies are also practiced in the city: many different types of Protestant groups, different types of Jewish communities, Buddhist and other philosophical groups, as well as atheism.

  • 1950 – 3 million people lived in Mexico City.
  • 1975 – 12 million people lived in Mexico City.
  • 2000 – 22 million people lived in Mexico City.

Nicknames

Mexico City was traditionally known as La Ciudad de los Palacios (“the City of the Palaces”), a nickname attributed to Baron Alexander von Humboldt when visiting the city in the 19th century who sending a letter back to Europe said Mexico city could rival any major city in Europe.

During López Obrador’s administration a political slogan was introduced: la Ciudad de la Esperanza (“The City of Hope”). This slogan was quickly adopted as a nickname to the city under López Obrador’s term, although it has lost popularity since the new slogan Capital en Movimiento (“Capital in Movement”) was adopted by the recently elected administration headed by Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon; the latter is not treated as a nickname in media.

The city is colloquially known as Chilangolandia after the locals’ nickname chilangos, which is used either as a pejorative term by people living outside Mexico City or as a proud adjective by Mexico City’s dwellers.

Residents of Mexico City are more formally called capitalinos (in reference to the city being the capital of the country) or, more recently defeños (a word which derives from the postal abbreviation of the Federal District in Spanish: D.F., which is read “De-Efe”.)

Posted in Countries, Culture, Globalization, Mexico, Profiles, Society, Urbanism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Profile: Diego Rivera

Posted by jase on July 26, 2009

Diego Rivera (December 8, 1886 – November 24, 1957) was born Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez in Guanajuato, Gto. He was a world-famous Mexican painter, an active Communist, and husband of Frida Kahlo, 1929-1939 and 1940-1954 (her death). Rivera’s large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance. Between 1922 and 1953, Rivera painted murals in Mexico City, Chapingo, Cuernavaca, San Francisco, Detroit, and New York City. His 1931 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was their second.

Early life

Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, to a well-off family. Rivera was descended, on his mother’s side, from Jews who converted to Roman Catholicism, and, on his father’s side, from Spanish nobility. Since he was ten years of age, Rivera studied art at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. He was sponsored to continue study in Europe by Teodoro A. Dehesa Méndez, the governor of the State of Veracruz.

After arrival in Europe in 1907, Rivera initially went to study with Eduardo Chicharro in Madrid, Spain, and from there went to Paris, France, to live and work with the great gathering of artists in Montparnasse, especially at La Ruche, where his friend Amedeo Modigliani painted his portrait in 1914. His circle of close friends, which included Ilya Ehrenburg, Chaim Soutine, Modigliani’s wife Jeanne Hébuterne, Max Jacob, gallery owner Leopold Zborowski, and Moise Kisling, was captured for posterity by Marie Vorobieff-Stebelska (Marevna) in her painting “Homage to Friends from Montparnasse” (1962).

In those years, Paris was witnessing the beginning of cubism in paintings by such eminent painters as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. From 1913 to 1917, Rivera enthusiastically embraced this new school of art. Around 1917, inspired by Paul Cézanne’s paintings, Rivera shifted toward Post-Impressionism with simple forms and large patches of vivid colors. His paintings began to attract attention, and he was able to display them at several exhibitions.

Career in Mexico

In 1920, urged by Alberto J. Pani, the Mexican ambassador to France, Rivera left France and traveled through Italy studying its art, including Renaissance frescoes. After Jose Vasconcelos became Minister of Education, Rivera returned to Mexico in 1921 to become involved in the government sponsored Mexican mural program planned by Vasconcelos. (See also Mexican Muralism)The program included such Mexican artists as José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, and the French artist Jean Charlot. In January 1922, he painted – experimentally in encaustic – his first significant mural Creation in the Bolívar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City guarding himself with a pistol against right-wing students.

In the autumn of 1922, Rivera participated in the founding of the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, and later that year he joined the Mexican Communist Party (including its Central Committee). His murals, subsequently painted in fresco only, dealt with Mexican society and reflected the country’s 1910 Revolution. Rivera developed his own native style based on large, simplified figures and bold colors with an Aztec influence clearly present in murals at the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico City begun in September 1922, intended to consist of one hundred and twenty-four frescoes, and finished in 1928.

His art, in a fashion similar to the steles of the Maya, tells stories. The mural “En el Arsenal” (In the Arsenal) shows on the right hand side Tina Modotti holding an ammunition belt and facing Julio Antonio Mella, in a light hat, and Vittorio Vidale behind in a black hat. Rivera’s radical political beliefs, his attacks on the church and clergy, as well as his dealings with Trotskyists and left-wing assassins made him a controversial figure even in communist circles. Leon Trotsky even lived with Rivera and Kahlo for several months while exiled in Mexico. Some of Rivera’s most famous murals are featured at the National School of Agriculture at Chapingo near Texcoco (1925–27), in the Cortés Palace in Cuernavaca (1929-30), and the National Palace in Mexico City (1929–30, 1935).

Work Abroad

In the autumn of 1927, Rivera arrived in Moscow, accepting an invitation to take part in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution. Subsequently, he was to paint a mural for the Red Army Club in Moscow, but in 1928 he was ordered out by the authorities because of involvement in anti-Soviet politics, and he returned to Mexico. In 1929, Rivera was expelled from the Mexican Communist Party. His 1928 mural In the Arsenal was interpreted by some as evidence of Rivera’s prior knowledge of the murder of Julio Antonio Mella allegedly by Stalinist assassin Vittorio Vidale. After divorcing Guadalupe (Lupe) Marin, Rivera married Frida Kahlo in August 1929. Also in 1929, the first English-language book on Rivera, American journalist Ernestine Evans’s The Frescoes of Diego Rivera, was published in New York. In December, Rivera accepted a commission to paint murals in the Palace of Cortez in Cuernavaca from the American Ambassador to Mexico.

In September 1930, Rivera accepted an invitation from architect Timothy L. Pflueger to paint for him in San Francisco, California. After arriving in November accompanied by Kahlo, Rivera painted a mural for the City Club of the San Francisco Stock Exchange for US$2,500 and a fresco for the California School of Fine Art, which is now in the San Francisco Art Institute. Kahlo and Rivera worked and lived at the studio of Ralph Stackpole, who had suggested Rivera to Pflueger. Rivera met Helen Wills Moody, a famous tennis player, who modeled for his City Club mural. In November 1931, Rivera had a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Kahlo was present at the opening of the New York MoMA show. Between 1932 and 1933, he completed a famous series of twenty-seven fresco panels entitled Detroit Industry on the walls of an inner court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. During the McCarthyism of the 1950s, a large sign was placed in the courtyard defending the artistic merit of the murals while attacking his politics as “detestable.”

His mural Man at the Crossroads, begun in 1933 for the Rockefeller Center in New York City, was removed after a furor erupted in the press over a portrait of Vladimir Lenin it contained. As a result of the negative publicity, a further commission was cancelled to paint a mural for an exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair. In December 1933, Rivera returned to Mexico, and he repainted Man at the Crossroads in 1934 in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. This surviving version was called Man, Controller of the Universe. On June 5, 1940, invited again by Pflueger, Rivera returned for the last time to the United States to paint a ten-panel mural for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Pan American Unity was completed November 29, 1940. As he was painting, Rivera was on display in front of Exposition attendees. He received US$1,000 per month and US$1,000 for travel expenses. The mural includes representations of two of Pflueger’s architectural works as well as portraits of Kahlo, woodcarver Dudley C. Carter, and actress Paulette Goddard, who is depicted holding Rivera’s hand as they plant a white tree together. Rivera’s assistants on the mural included the pioneer African-American artist, dancer, and textile designer Thelma Johnson Streat. The mural and its archives reside at City College of San Francisco.

Personal Life

Rivera was a notorious womanizer who had fathered at least one illegitimate child. Angelina Beloff was his first wife and gave birth to a son, Diego (1916-1918). Maria Vorobieff-Stebelska gave birth to a daughter in 1918 or 1919 when Rivera was married to Angelina.(According to “House on the Bridge: Ten Turbulent Years with Diego Rivera” and Angeline’s memoirs called “Memorias”. He married his second wife, Guadalupe Marín, in June 1922, with whom he had two daughters. He was still married when he met the art student Frida Kahlo. They married on August 21, 1929 when he was forty-two and she was twenty-two. Their mutual infidelities and his violent temper led to divorce in 1939, but they remarried December 8, 1940 in San Francisco. After Kahlo’s death, Rivera married Emma Hurtado, his agent since 1946, on July 29, 1955. He died on November 24, 1957.

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Profile: Quanah Parker

Posted by jase on July 19, 2009

Quanah Parker (c. late 1840s – February 23, 1911) was a Native American Indian leader, the son of Comanche chief Peta Nocona and European American woman Cynthia Ann Parker, and the last chief of the Quahadi Comanche Indians.

Quanah Parker’s mother, Cynthia Ann Parker {b.ca 1827}, was a member of the large Parker frontier family that settled in east Texas in the 1830s. She was captured in 1836 by Comanches during the raid of Fort Parker near present-day Groesbeck, Texas. She was given the Indian name Nadua (“Someone Found”), and adopted into the Nocona band of Comanches. Cynthia Ann eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie, (aka Tah-con-ne-ah-pe-ah) (called Peta Nocona by the whites), who was a Mexican captive. Quanah was her firstborn son. She also had another son, Pecos (“Pecan”) and a daughter, Topsana (“Prairie Flower)” In 1860, Cynthia Ann Parker was recaptured in the battle of Pease River by Texas Rangers under Lawrence Sullivan Ross. Peta Nocona, Quanah, and most of the other men were out hunting when Ross’ men attacked. Returning to find the aftermath, they found it difficult to get any information as only a few people were still alive. Meanwhile, Cynthia Ann was reunited with her white family, but years with the Comanches had made her a different person. She frequently demanded to return to her husband, but was never permitted to do so. After Topsana died of an illness in 1863, Cynthia Ann starved herself to death in 1870.

In October, 1867, Quanah was among the Comanche chiefs at Medicine Lodge. Though he did not give a speech – his place was as an observer – he did make a statement about not signing the Medicine Lodge Treaty. His band remained free while other Comanches signed.

In the early 1870s, the plains Indians were losing the battle for their land. Following the capture of the Kiowa chiefs Satank, Adoeet (Big Tree), and Satanta, the Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne tribes joined forces in several battles. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie was sent to eradicate all remaining Indians who had not settled on reservations.

In 1874, while in the Texas panhandle, a Comanche prophet named Isatai summoned the tribes to Second Battle of Adobe Walls, where several buffalo hunters were active. With Kiowa Chief Big Bow, Quanah was in charge of one group of warriors. The incident was his closest brush with death; he was shot twice.

With their food source depleted, and under constant pressure from the army, the Quahadi Comanches finally surrendered and in 1875 moved to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma. His home in Cache, Oklahoma was called the Star House. Parker’s was the last tribe of the Staked Plains or Llano Estacado to come to the reservation. Quanah was named chief over all the Comanches on the reservation, and proved to be a forceful, resourceful and able leader. Through wise investments, he became perhaps the wealthiest American Indian of his day in the United States. Quanah embraced much of white culture, and was well respected by the whites. He went on hunting trips with President Theodore Roosevelt. Nevertheless, he rejected both monogamy and traditional Protestant Christianity in favor of the Native American Church Movement. He had five wives and twenty five children and founded the Native American Church. One of his sons, White Parker, later became a Methodist minister.

Author Bill Neeley writes:

“Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution,but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”

Quanah died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at the Fort Sill Cemetery, beside his mother and sister. The inscription on his tombstone reads:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness
Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911 Quanah Parker is credited as one of the first big leaders of the Native American Church Movement. Parker adopted the peyote religion after being gored in southern Texas by a bull. Parker was visiting his mother’s brother, John Parker, in Texas where he was attacked, giving him severe wounds. To fight an onset of blood burning fever, a Mexican curandera was summoned and she prepared a strong peyote tea from fresh peyote to heal him. It was from this incident on that Quanah Parker became involved with peyote . Peyote is reported to contain hordenine and tyramine, phenylethylamine alkaloids which act as potent natural antibiotics when taken in a combined form.

Parker taught that the sacred peyote medicine was the sacrament given to the Indian Peoples , and was to be used with water when taking communion in a traditional Native American Church medicine ceremony. Parker was a proponent of the “half-moon” style of the peyote ceremony. The “cross” ceremony later evolved in Oklahoma due to Caddo influences introduced by John Wilson, a Caddo-Delaware Indian who traveled extensively around the same time as Parker during the early days of the Native American Church movement. The Native American Church was the first truly “American” religion based on Christianity outside of the Latter Day Saints.

Parker’s most famous teaching regarding the Spirituality of the Native American Church:

The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.

The modern reservation era in Native American History began with the universal adoption of the Native American Church and Christianity by virtually every Native American Tribe and Culture within North American and Canada as a result of Parker and Wilson’s efforts. The Peyote religion and the Native American Church, however, was never the traditional religious practice of North American Indian Cultures. This religion was driven by Parker’s leadership and was driven by influences from Mexico and other Southern Tribes who have used peyote since ancient times. Under Parker’s leadership, peyote became an important item of trade, and this, combined with his Church movement and political and financial contacts, garnered Parker enormous wealth during his lifetime.

Criticism

Although praised by many in his tribe as a preserver of their culture, Quanah had critics within the Comanche community. Many claimed that he “sold out to the white man” with his rancher persona in later life, dressing and living in a more American than Comanche style. Quanah did adopt more white ways than most other Comanche of his time, but he always wore his hair long and in braids. He also refused to follow white American marriage customs, which would have required him to cast aside four of his five wives.

Another point of controversy among the Comanche was that Quanah was never elected chief of the entire tribe by the people themselves. Traditionally, the Comanche had no single chief. The various bands of the Comanche had their own chiefs, with no single figure standing for the entire people. But that, as many other things, changed with the reservation times.

Family

Quanah’s grandfather was the Chief Iron Jacket, famous among the Comanches as a powerful chief who wore a Spanish coat of mail and was said to have the power to blow bullets away with his breath.

Quanah’s first wife was Weakeah, daughter of Comanche chief Yellow Bear. Originally, she was espoused to another warrior. Quanah and Weakeah eloped, and took several other warriors with them. It was from this small group that the large Quahadi band would form. Yellow Bear pursued the band and eventually Quanah made peace with him, and the two bands united, forming the largest force of Comanche Indians.

Over the years, Quanah accumulated four more wives. He had twenty-five children. Many north Texans and south Oklahomans claim descent from Quanah. It had been said that more Comanches are related to Quanah than any other chief. One grandson became Comanche chairman, the modern “Chief” of the tribe.

After moving to the reservation, Quanah first got in touch with his white relatives. He stayed for a few weeks with them, where he studied English and western culture, and learned white farming techniques.

In his later years, Quanah carried on a correspondence by letter with Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight. Though Goodnight was illiterate, he dictated the letters to his wife, who in turn sent them to Quanah.

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Profile: Nikola Tesla

Posted by jase on July 10, 2009

Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was an inventor and a mechanical and electrical engineer. Tesla was an ethnic Serb born in the village of Smiljan, Vojna Krajina, in the territory of today’s Croatia. He was a subject of the Austrian Empire by birth and later became an American citizen. He is frequently cited as one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity, a man who “shed light over the face of Earth”. He is best known for many revolutionary contributions in the field of electricity and magnetism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tesla’s patents and theoretical work formed the basis of modern alternating current (AC) electric power systems, including the polyphase power distribution systems and the AC motor, with which he helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution.

After his demonstration of wireless communication (radio) in 1894 and after being the victor in the “War of Currents”, he was widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers who worked in America. Much of his early work pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. During this period, in the United States, Tesla’s fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture, but due to his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist. Never having put much focus on his finances, Tesla died impoverished at the age of 86.

The Nobel Prize and Edison

Since the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Marconi for radio in 1909, Thomas Edison and Tesla were mentioned as potential laureates to share the Nobel Prize of 1915 in a press dispatch, leading to one of several Nobel Prize controversies. Some sources have claimed that due to their animosity toward each other neither was given the award, despite their enormous scientific contributions, and that each sought to minimize the other one’s achievements and right to win the award, that both refused to ever accept the award if the other received it first, and that both rejected any possibility of sharing it.

In the following events after the rumors, neither Tesla nor Edison won the prize (although Edison did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1915, and Tesla did receive one bid out of 38 in 1937). Earlier, Tesla alone was rumored to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize of 1912. The rumored nomination was primarily for his experiments with tuned circuits using high-voltage high-frequency resonant transformers.

In 1915, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Marconi attempting, unsuccessfully, to obtain a court injunction against Marconi’s claims. After Wardenclyffe, Tesla built the Telefunken Wireless Station in Sayville, Long Island. Some of what he wanted to achieve at Wardenclyffe was accomplished with the Telefunken Wireless. In 1917, the facility was seized and torn down by the Marines, because it was suspected that it could be used by German spies.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Critiques

Before World War I, Tesla looked overseas for investors to fund his research. When the war started, Tesla lost the funding he was receiving from his patents in European countries. After the war ended, Tesla made predictions regarding the relevant issues of the post-World War I environment, in a printed article (20 December 1914). Tesla believed that the League of Nations was not a remedy for the times and issues. Tesla started to exhibit pronounced symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the years following. He became obsessed with the number three; he often felt compelled to walk around a block three times before entering a building, demanded a stack of three folded cloth napkins beside his plate at every meal, etc. The nature of OCD was little understood at the time and no treatments were available, so his symptoms were considered by some to be evidence of partial insanity, and this undoubtedly hurt what was left of his reputation.

Tesla was critical of Einstein’s relativity work, calling it:

…[a] magnificent mathematical garb which fascinates, dazzles and makes people blind to the underlying errors. The theory is like a beggar clothed in purple whom ignorant people take for a king … its exponents are brilliant men but they are metaphysicists rather than scientists …[76]

Tesla also argued:

I hold that space cannot be curved, for the simple reason that it can have no properties. It might as well be said that God has properties. He has not, but only attributes and these are of our own making. Of properties we can only speak when dealing with matter filling the space. To say that in the presence of large bodies space becomes curved is equivalent to stating that something can act upon nothing. I, for one, refuse to subscribe to such a view.[77]

Tesla also believed that much of Albert Einstein’s relativity theory had already been proposed by Ruđer Bošković, stating in an unpublished interview:

…the relativity theory, by the way, is much older than its present proponents. It was advanced over 200 years ago by my illustrious countryman Ruđer Bošković, the great philosopher, who, not withstanding other and multifold obligations, wrote a thousand volumes of excellent literature on a vast variety of subjects. Bošković dealt with relativity, including the so-called time-space continuum …’.

Tesla’s Death Ray

Later in life, Tesla made remarkable claims concerning a “teleforce” weapon. The press called it a “peace ray” or death ray. In total, the components and methods included:

  • An apparatus for producing manifestations of energy in free air instead of in a high vacuum as in the past. This, according to Tesla in 1934, was accomplished.
  • A mechanism for generating tremendous electrical force. This, according to Tesla, was also accomplished.
  • A means of intensifying and amplifying the force developed by the second mechanism.
  • A new method for producing a tremendous electrical repelling force. This would be the projector, or gun, of the invention.

Tesla worked on plans for a directed-energy weapon from the early 1900s until his death. In 1937, Tesla composed a treatise entitled “The Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media” concerning charged particle beams. Tesla published the document in an attempt to expound on the technical description of a “superweapon that would put an end to all war”. This treatise of the particle beam is currently in the Nikola Tesla Museum archive in Belgrade. It described an open ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal that allowed particles to exit, a method of charging particles to millions of volts, and a method of creating and directing nondispersive particle streams (through electrostatic repulsion).

His records indicate that it was based on a narrow stream of atomic clusters of liquid mercury or tungsten accelerated via high voltage (by means akin to his magnifying transformer). Tesla gave the following description concerning the particle gun’s operation:

[The nozzle would] send concentrated beams of particles through the free air, of such tremendous energy that they will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles from a defending nation’s border and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.

Personal Life

Tesla was fluent in many languages. Along with Serbo-Croatian, he spoke seven other languages: Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.  

Tesla may have suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and had many unusual quirks and phobias. He did things in threes, and was adamant about staying in a hotel room with a number divisible by three. Tesla was also noted to be physically revolted by jewelry, notably pearl earrings. He was fastidious about cleanliness and hygiene, and was by all accounts mysophobic.

Tesla was obsessed with pigeons, ordering special seeds for the pigeons he fed in Central Park and even bringing some into his hotel room with him. Tesla was an animal-lover, often reflecting contentedly about a childhood cat, “The Magnificent Macak.” Tesla never married. He was celibate and claimed that his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities. Nonetheless there have been numerous accounts of women vying for Tesla’s affection, even some madly in love with him. Tesla, though polite, behaved rather ambivalently to these women in the romantic sense.

Tesla was prone to alienating himself and was generally soft-spoken. However, when he did engage in a social life, many people spoke very positively and admiringly of him. Robert Underwood Johnson described him as attaining a “distinguished sweetness, sincerity, modesty, refinement, generosity, and force.” His loyal secretary, Dorothy Skerrit, wrote: “his genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul.” Tesla’s friend Hawthorne wrote that “seldom did one meet a scientist or engineer who was also a poet, a philosopher, an appreciator of fine music, a linguist, and a connoisseur of food and drink.”

Nevertheless, Tesla displayed the occasional cruel streak; he openly expressed his disgust for overweight people, once firing a secretary because of her weight. He was quick to criticize others’ clothing as well, on several occasions demanding a subordinate to go home and change her dress.

Tesla was widely known for his great showmanship, presenting his innovations and demonstrations to the public as an artform, almost like a magician. This seems to conflict with his observed reclusiveness; Tesla was a complicated figure. He refused to hold conventions without his Tesla coil blasting electricity throughout the room, despite the audience often being terrified, though he assured them everything was perfectly safe.

In middle age, Tesla became very close friends with Mark Twain. They spent a lot of time together in his lab and elsewhere.

Tesla remained bitter in the aftermath of his incident with Edison. The day after Edison died the New York Times contained extensive coverage of Edison’s life, with the only negative opinion coming from Tesla, who was quoted as saying:

He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene  … His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.

Shortly before he died, Edison said that his biggest mistake had been in trying to develop direct current, rather than the vastly superior alternating current system that Tesla had put within his grasp.

Death

Tesla died of heart failure alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel, on 7 January 1943. Despite having sold his AC electricity patents, Tesla was destitute and died with significant debts. Later that year the US Supreme Court upheld Tesla’s patent number, in effect recognizing him as the inventor of radio.

Immediately after Tesla’s death became known, the government’s Alien Property Custodian office took possession of his papers and property, despite his US citizenship. His safe at the hotel was also opened. At the time of his death, Tesla had been continuing his work on the teleforce weapon, or death ray, that he had unsuccessfully marketed to the US War Department. It appears that his proposed death ray was related to his research into ball lightning and plasma, and was imagined as a particle beam weapon. The US government did not find a prototype of the device in the safe. After the FBI was contacted by the War Department, his papers were declared to be top secret. The personal effects were seized on the advice of presidential advisers; J. Edgar Hoover declared the case most secret, because of the nature of Tesla’s inventions and patents. One document stated that “[he] is reported to have some 80 trunks in different places containing transcripts and plans having to do with his experiments […]”.

Tesla’s Pigeon

According to John J. O’Neill, author of Prodigal Genius, the Life of Nikola Tesla, Tesla told him this story in the presence of William L. Laurence, the New York Times science writer.

Tesla had been feeding pigeons for years. Among them, there was a very beautiful female white pigeon with light gray tips on its wings that seemed to follow him everywhere. A great deal of rapport developed between them. As Tesla confessed, he loved that pigeon: “Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.” If the pigeon became ill, he would nurse her back to health and as long as she needed him and he could have her, nothing else mattered and there was purpose in his life.

One night as he was lying in bed, she flew in through the window and he knew right away that she had something important to tell him: she was dying. “And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes – powerful beams of light”. “…Yes,” “…it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory.”

Tesla admitted to O’Neill that when that particular pigeon died, something went out of his life. Before that time, he could complete the most ambitious programs he could ever dream of but after the pigeon flew into the beyond, he knew his life’s work was done for good.

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Profile: Omar Khayyam

Posted by jase on July 5, 2009

Omar Khayyam (Persian: عمر خیام), (born 1048 AD, Neyshapur, Iran—1123 AD, Neyshapur, Iran), was a Persian polymath, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and poet.

He has also become established as one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period. Recognized as the author of the most important treatise on algebra before modern times as reflected in his Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra giving a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. He also contributed to calendar reform and may have proposed a heliocentric theory well before Copernicus.

His significance as a philosopher and teacher, and his few remaining philosophical works, have not received the same attention as his scientific and poetic writings. Zamakhshari referred to him as “the philosopher of the world”. Many sources have also testified that he taught for decades the philosophy of Ibn Sina in Nishapur where Khayyam lived most of his life, breathed his last, and was buried and where his mausoleum remains today a masterpiece of Iranian architecture visited by many people every year.

Outside Iran and Persian speaking countries, Khayyam has had impact on literature and societies through translation and works of scholars. The greatest such impact was in English-speaking countries; the English scholar Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) was the first non-Persian to study him. However the most influential of all was Edward FitzGerald (1809–83)[4] who made Khayyam the most famous poet of the East in the West through his celebrated translation and adaptations of Khayyam’s rather small number of quatrains (rubaiyaas) in Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Omar Khayyam was famous during his times as a mathematician. He wrote the influential Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (1070), which laid down the principles of algebra, part of the body of Persian Mathematics that was eventually transmitted to Europe.

Like most Persian mathematicians of the period, Omar Khayyám was also famous as an astronomer.  Omar Khayyam was part of a panel that introduced several reforms to the Persian calendar, largely based on ideas from the Hindu calendar. On March 15, 1079, Sultan Malik Shah I accepted this corrected calendar as the official Persian calendar.  Omar Khayyám also built a star map (now lost), which was famous in the Persian and Islamic world.

It is said that Omar Khayyam also estimated and proved to an audience that included the then-prestigious and most respected scholar Imam Ghazali, that the universe is not moving around earth as was believed by all at that time. By constructing a revolving platform and simple arrangement of the star charts lit by candles around the circular walls of the room, he demonstrated that earth revolves on its axis, bringing into view different constellations throughout the night and day (completing a one-day cycle). He also elaborated that stars are stationary objects in space which, if moving around earth, would have been burnt to cinders due to their large mass. Some of these ideas may have been transmitted to Western science after the Renaissance.

Omar Khayyám’s poetic work has eclipsed his fame as a mathematician and scientist.

He is believed to have written about a thousand four-line verses or quatrains (rubaai’s). In the English-speaking world, he was introduced through the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám which are rather free-wheeling English translations by Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883).

Other translations of parts of the rubáiyát (rubáiyát meaning “quatrains”) exist, but FitzGerald’s are the most well known. Translations also exist in languages other than English.

Ironically, FitzGerald’s translations reintroduced Khayyam to Iranians “who had long ignored the Neishapouri poet.” A 1934 book by one of Iran’s most prominent writers, Sadeq Hedayat, Songs of Khayyam, (Taranehha-ye Khayyam) is said have “shaped the way a generation of Iranians viewed” the poet.

Omar Khayyam’s personal beliefs are not known with certainty, but much is discernible from his poetic oeuvre.

Despite strong Islamic training, it is clear that Omar Khayyam himself was undevout and had no sympathy with popular religion, but the verse: “Enjoy wine and women and don’t be afraid, God has compassion,” suggests that he wasn’t an atheist. Some religious Iranians have argued that Khayyam’s references to intoxication in the Rubaiyat were actually the intoxication of the religious worshiper with his Divine Beloved – a Sufi conceit. This however, is reportedly a minority opinion dismissed as wishful pious thinking by most Iranians.

It is almost certain that Khayyám objected to the notion that every particular event and phenomenon was the result of divine intervention. Nor did he believe in an afterlife with a Judgment Day or rewards and punishments. Instead, he supported the view that laws of nature explained all phenomena of observed life. One hostile orthodox account of him shows him as “versed in all the wisdom of the Greeks” and as insistent that studying science on Greek lines is necessary. He came into conflict with religious officials several times, and had to explain his views on Islam on multiple occasions; there is even one story about a treacherous pupil who tried to bring him into public odium. The contemporary Ibn al Kifti wrote that Omar Khayyam “performed pilgrimages not from piety but from fear” of his contemporaries who divined his unbelief.

Khayyám’s disdain of Islam in general and its various aspects such as eschatology, Islamic taboos and divine revelation are clearly visible in his writings, particularly the quatrains, which as a rule reflect his intrinsic conclusions describing those who claim to receive God’s word as maggot-minded fanatics.

Khayyam himself rejects to be associated with the title falsafi- (lit. philosopher) in the sense of Aristotelian one and stressed he wishes “to know who I am”. In the context of philosophers he was labeled by some of his contemporaries as “detached from divine blessings”.

Khayyam the philosopher could be understood from two rather distinct sources. One is through his Rubaiyat and the other through his own works in light of the intellectual and social conditions of his time.  The latter could be informed by the evaluations of Khayyam’s works by scholars and philosophers such as Bayhaqi, Nezami Aruzi, and Zamakhshari and also Sufi poets and writers Attar Nishapuri and Najmeddin Razi.

As a mathematician, Khayam has made fundamental contributions to the Philosophy of mathematics especially in the context of Persian Mathematics and Persian philosophy with which most of the other Persian scientists and philosophers such as Avicenna, Biruni, and Tusi are associated. There are at least three basic mathematical ideas of strong philosophical dimensions that can be associated with Khayyam.

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Profile: Iceland

Posted by jase on June 24, 2009

The Republic of Iceland is an island country located in the North Atlantic Ocean.  It has a population of about 320,000 and a total area of 103,000 km². Its capital and largest city is Reykjavík.

Located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is volcanically and geologically active on a large scale; this defines the landscape. The interior mainly consists of a plateau characterised by sand fields, mountains and glaciers, while many big glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, Iceland has a temperate climate relative to its latitude and provides a habitable environment and nature.

According to Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent Norwegian settler on the island. Others had visited the island earlier and stayed over winter. Over the next centuries, people of Nordic origin settled in Iceland. Until the 20th century, the Icelandic population relied on fisheries and agriculture, and was from 1262 to 1918 a part of the Norwegian, and later the Danish monarchies. In the 20th century, Iceland’s economy and welfare system developed quickly. In recent decades, Iceland has implemented free trade in the European Economic Area and diversified from fishing to new economic fields in services, finance and various industries.

Today, Iceland has some of the world’s highest levels of economic and civil freedoms. In 2007, Iceland was ranked as the most developed country in the world by the United Nations’ Human Development Index. It was also the fourth most productive country per capita, and one of the most egalitarian, as rated by the Gini coefficient. Icelanders have a rich culture and heritage, such as cuisine and poetry and the medieval Icelandic Sagas are internationally renowned. Iceland is a member of the UN, NATO, EFTA, EEA, UEFA, and OECD. Iceland is the sole partner of the Faroe Islands signatory to the Hoyvík Agreement.

Iceland has been especially badly affected by the current world financial crisis. The nation’s ongoing economic crisis has caused significant unrest and made Iceland the first western country to borrow from the International Monetary Fund since 1976.[10] In February 2009 a minority government took office, headed by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the world’s first openly gay head of government in modern times.

Topography

Iceland is located in the North Atlantic Ocean just south of the Arctic Circle, which passes through the small island of Grímsey off Iceland’s northern coast, but not through mainland Iceland. Unlike neighbouring Greenland, Iceland is a part of Europe, not of North America, though geologically the island is part of both continental plates. Because of cultural, economic and linguistic similarities, Iceland in many contexts is also included in Scandinavia making it a Nordic country. The closest bodies of land are Greenland (287 km) and the Faroe Islands (420 km). The closest distance to the mainland of Europe is 970 km (to Norway).

Geography

Iceland is the world’s 18th largest island, and Europe’s second largest island following Great Britain. The main island is 101,826 km² but the entire country is 103,000 km² (39,768.5 sq mi) in size, of which 62.7% is tundra. Lakes and glaciers cover 14.3%; only 23% is vegetated.[13] The largest lakes are Þórisvatn (Reservoir): 83–88 km² (32-34 sq mi) and Þingvallavatn: 82 km² (32 sq mi); other important lakes include Lögurinn and Mývatn. Öskjuvatn is the deepest lake at 220 m (722 ft).

Many fjords punctuate its 4,970 km long coastline, which is also where most settlements are situated because the island’s interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable combination of sand and mountains. The major towns are the capital Reykjavík, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, Reykjanesbær, where the international airport is located, and Akureyri. The island of Grímsey on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland.[14]

Iceland has four national parks: Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, Skaftafell National Park, Snæfellsjökull National Park, and Þingvellir National Park.

Recent History

In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel. Iceland remained a Danish dependency. A new independence movement arose under the leadership of Jón Sigurðsson, inspired by the romantic and nationalist ideologies of mainland Europe.

In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland home rule, which was expanded in 1904. The Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark signed on 1 December 1918, recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign state under the Danish king. During the last quarter of the 19th century many Icelanders emigrated to North America, mainly Canada, in search of better living conditions. About 15,000 out of a total population of 70,000 left.

Iceland during World War II joined Denmark in asserting neutrality. After the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, Iceland’s parliament declared that the Icelandic government should assume the Danish king’s authority and take control over foreign affairs and other matters previously handled by Denmark on behalf of Iceland. A month later, British Armed Forces occupied Iceland, violating Icelandic neutrality. In 1941, responsibility for the occupation was taken over by the United States with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade landing in the country. Allied occupation of Iceland lasted throughout the war.

On 31 December 1943, the Act of Union agreement expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944, Icelanders voted in a four-day plebiscite on whether to terminate the union with Denmark and establish a republic. The vote was 97% in favour of ending the union and 95% in favour of the new republican constitution. Iceland formally became an independent republic on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as the first president.

In 1946, the Allied occupation force left Iceland, which formally became a member of NATO on 30 March 1949, amid domestic controversy and riots. On 5 May 1951, a defence agreement was signed with the United States. American troops returned to Iceland and remained throughout the Cold War, finally leaving in autumn of 2006.

The immediate post-war period was followed by substantial economic growth, driven by industrialisation of the fishing industry and Marshall aid and Keynesian government management of the economies of Europe, all of which promoted trade. The 1970s were marked by the Cod Wars – several disputes with the United Kingdom over Iceland’s extension of its fishing limits. The economy was greatly diversified and liberalised following Iceland’s joining of the European Economic Area in 1992.

In 2003, Iceland decided to transform itself from a nation best known for its fishing industry into a global financial powerhouse. By 2008 the nation’s currency (the króna) was defunct and the national debt had soared to over eight times GDP.

The southwest corner of Iceland is the most densely populated region. It is also the location of the capital Reykjavík, the northernmost capital in the world. The largest towns outside the greater Reykjavík area are Akureyri and Reykjanesbær, although the latter is relatively close to the capital.

Financial Crisis

The 2008–2009 Icelandic financial crisis is a major ongoing economic crisis in Iceland that involves the collapse of all three of the country’s major banks following their difficulties in refinancing their short-term debt and a run on deposits in the United Kingdom. Relative to the size of its economy, Iceland’s banking collapse is the largest suffered by any country in economic history.

The financial crisis has had serious consequences for the Icelandic economy; the national currency has fallen sharply in value, foreign currency transactions were virtually suspended for weeks, the market capitalisation of the Icelandic stock exchange has dropped by more than 90%, and a severe economic recession is expected.

Culture

Iceland’s official written and spoken language is Icelandic, a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse.  Icelanders enjoy freedom of religion under the constitution, though the National Church of Iceland, a Lutheran body, is the state church. The National Registry keeps account of the religious affiliation of every Icelandic citizen.

Facts

The social structure of Iceland is very dependent upon the personal car. Icelanders have one of the highest levels of car ownership per capita: on average one car per inhabitant older than 17 years. By tradition old or seldom used cars are often kept in laybys or turnoffs in rural areas.

Route 1 or the Ring Road (Icelandic: Þjóðvegur 1 or Hringvegur) is a main road in Iceland that runs around the island and connects all inhabited parts (the interior of the island is uninhabited). The road is 1,337 km long (830 miles). It has one lane in each direction, except near larger towns and cities and in the Hvalfjörður Tunnel where it has more lanes.

Renewable energy provides over 70% of the nation’s total energy, with the balance coming from imported coal and oil. Iceland also expects to be energy-independent by 2050.

Iceland is a very technologically advanced society. By 1999, 82.3% of Icelanders had access to a computer. Iceland also had 1,007 mobile phone subscriptions per 1,000 people in 2006, the 16th highest in the world.

Iceland is home to the European Mars Analog Research Station.

Some traditional beliefs remain today; for example, some Icelanders either believe in elves or are unwilling to rule out their existence. Inhabitants of mountainous areas still pay homage to these beliefs by constructing stone piles near roads and tracks. Iceland ranks first on the Human Development Index, and was recently ranked the fourth happiest country in the world.

Iceland is progressive in terms of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) matters. In 1996, Parliament passed legislation to create registered partnerships for same-sex couples, covering nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage. In 2006, by unanimous vote of Parliament, further legislation was passed, granting same-sex couples the same rights as different-sex couples in adoption, parenting and assisted insemination treatment.

Icelandic music is related to Nordic music, and includes vibrant Electronic music, folk and pop traditions, including medieval music group Voces Thules, alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, singers Björk and Emiliana Torrini; and Sigur Rós. The national anthem of Iceland is “Lofsöngur“, written by Matthías Jochumsson, with music by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson.

Traditional Icelandic music is strongly religious.  Icelandic contemporary music consists of a big group of bands, ranging from pop-rock groups such as Bang Gang, Quarashi and Amiina to solo ballad singers like Bubbi Morthens, Megas and Björgvin Halldórsson. Independent music is also very strong in Iceland, with bands such as múm, Sigur Rós and solo artists Emiliana Torrini and Mugison being fairly well-known outside Iceland.

Many Icelandic artists and bands have had great success internationally, most notably Björk and Sigur Rós but also Quarashi, Hera, Ampop, Mínus and múm. The main music festival is arguably Iceland Airwaves, an annual event on the Icelandic music scene, where Icelandic bands along with foreign ones occupy the clubs of Reykjavík for a week.

Sport is an important part of the Icelandic culture. The main traditional sport in Iceland is Glíma, a form of wrestling thought to have originated in medieval times.

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