May 052016
 

And just when you least expect it… Russia celebrates its victories in Syria over ISIL with a class act, an amazing concert by the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra of St. Petersburg, held at the ancient amphitheater that is at the center of Palmyra’s Roman era ruins, badly damaged (not to mention desecrated with barbaric public executions) by the Islamic State.

Russia, of course, intervened not for reasons of altruism but because American indecisiveness offered them an opportunity to prop up Assad’s regime. Nonetheless, I much rather watch an amazing concert like this than public beheadings.

And the music was, in fact, amazing. It included a piece titled Quadrille, from contemporary Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s opera Not Love Alone. I think I ought learn a little more about contemporary Russian opera.

The concert was carried live (of course) by RT, complete with a televised greeting by Putin. Not unlike a similar concert that the same orchestra held in South Ossetia, after Russia’s brief war with the Republic of Georgia a few years ago.

 Posted by at 11:12 pm
Apr 262016
 

This is an eerie anniversary.

Thirty years ago today, reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew to smithereens.

It’s really hard to assign blame.

Was it the designers who came up with a reactor design that was fundamentally unstable at low power?

Was it the bureaucrats who, in the secretive Soviet polie state, made it hard if not impossible for operators at one facility to learn from incidents elsewhere?

Was it the engineers at Chernobyl who, concerned about the consequences of a total loss of power at the station, tried to test a procedure that would have kept control systems and the all-important coolant pumps running using waste heat during an emergency shutdown, while the Diesel generators kicked in?

Was it the Kiev electricity network operator who asked Chernobyl to keep reactor 4 online for a little longer, thus pushing the planned test into the late night?

Was it the control room operator who ultimately pushed the button that initiated an emergency shutdown?

And the list continues. Many of the people we could blame didn’t stick around long enough: they died, after participating in often heroic efforts to avert an even greater disaster, and receiving lethal doses of radiation.

Some lived. This photo shows Arkady Uskov, who suffered severe radiation burns 30 years ago as he helped save colleagues. He, along with a few other people, recently revisited the control room of reactor 4, and were photographed there by Radio Free Europe. (Sadly, the photos are badly mislabeled by someone who didn’t know that “Arcadia Uskova” would be the name of a female; or, in this case, the genitive case of the male name Arkady Uskov. Thus I also cannot tell if “Oleksandr Cheranov”, whose name I cannot find anywhere else in the literature of Chernobyl, was a real person or just another RFE misprint.)

Surprisingly, the control room, which looks like a set of props from a Cold War era science fiction movie, is still partially alive. The lit panels, I suspect, must be either part of the monitoring effort or communications equipment.

It must have been an uncanny feeling for these aging engineers to be back at the scene, 30 years later, contemplating what took place that night.

Incidentally, nuclear power remains by far the safest in the world. Per unit of energy produced, it is dozens of times safer than hydroelectricity; a hundred times safer than natural gas; and a whopping four thousand times safer than coal. And yes, this includes the additional approximately 4,000 premature deaths (UN estimate) as a result of Chernobyl’s fallout. Nor was Chernobyl the deadliest accident related to power generation; that title belongs to China’s Banqiao Dam, the failure of which claimed 171,000 lives back in 1975.

 Posted by at 5:52 pm
Apr 012016
 

Here is a rather entertaining piece of video evidence demonstrating that at least some lessons of history are not forgotten:

As they say, “We know where assholery leads… You will learn if even we were teachable!” Although judging from the comments on YouTube, not everyone is ready to learn these lessons yet.

Still… seeing several right-wing European politicians, including Hungary’s Orban (2:16), with Donald Trump’s toupee… priceless.

 Posted by at 1:50 pm
Mar 122016
 

Yet another chapter from the playbook of the late Weimar Republic: Even as he calls Bernie Sanders a “communist”, Trump now blames his political oppositions, supporters of Sanders and MoveOn.org among them, for the violence, the “planned attack” that erupted in Chicago last night. Which reminds me strongly of how the NSDAP presented itself as the party of law and order that would end the by then rampant violence between NSDAP supporters and communists on the streets of Germany in the early 1930s.

To his credit, Republican candidate Marco Rubio I think understands this.

It was astonishing to watch his body language, his slumped shoulders, as he shook his head when responding to a journalist’s question about his commitment to support Trump if Trump were to win the nomination: “I don’t know. I mean that I already talked about the fact that I think Hillary Clinton would be terrible for the.., for this country. But the fact that you are even asking me that question… er, I still at this moment continue to intend to support the Republican nominee, but… getting harder every day.”

What Rubio said in the minute or two preceding this comment is also worth watching.

 Posted by at 3:13 pm
Jan 282016
 

This is NASA’s week of tragedy.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger with seven souls on board. One of my notable memories of this event is that it was the first time that I recall that the national broadcaster in then still communist Hungary didn’t dub a speech of Ronald Reagan. I think the speech was actually carried live (it took place at 5 PM EST, which would have been 11 o’clock at night in Hungary; late, but not too late) and it may have been subtitled, or perhaps not translated at all, I cannot remember. For me, it was also the first disaster that I was able to record on my VCR; for days afterwards, my friends and I replayed and replayed the broadcasts, trying to make sense of what we saw. (Sadly, those tapes are long lost. My VCR was a Grundig 2000 unit using a long-forgotten standard. After I left Hungary, I believe my parents used it for a while, but what ultimately happened to it and my cassettes, I do not know.)

Yesterday marked the 49th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of three astronauts who were hoping to be the first to travel to the Moon. Instead, they ended up burned to a crisp in the capsule’s pure oxygen atmosphere, with no chance of escape. Arguably though, their tragedy resulted in much needed changes to the Apollo program that made it possible for Apollo 11 to complete its historic journey successfully.

And finally, in four days it will be exactly 13 years since the tragedy of Columbia, which disintegrated in the upper atmosphere at the conclusion of a successful 16-day mission. I remember that Saturday all too well. I was working, but I also had CNN running on one of my monitors. “Columbia, Houston, comm check” I heard many times and I knew something already that those in the mission center didn’t: CNN was already showing the multiple contrails over Texas, which could only mean one thing: a disintegrating vehicle. And then came the words, “Lock the doors”, and we knew for sure that it was all over.

Of course the US space program was not the only one with losses. The Soviet program had its own share of tragedies, including the loss of Vladimir Komarov (Soyuz 1 crash, April 24, 1967), three astronauts on boar Soyuz 11 (depressurization after undocking while in space, June 30, 1971), and several deaths on ground during training. But unlike the American cases, these Soviet deaths were not all clustered around the same date.

 Posted by at 3:35 pm
Nov 292015
 

The other day, I saw a curious full-page advertisement in the copy of Ottawa Life magazine that came bundled with my morning Globe and Mail.

It contained phrases and symbology that I am no longer accustomed to see. What caught my eye at first was the red background, complete with five-pointed golden stars and an image of a statue containing a group of heroic figures. Stuff once common on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

Presented by the Embassy of the PRC, it was an advertisement in commemoration of the “Victory of the World Anti-Fascist War” as well as the “Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression”. Symbology and awkward language notwithstanding, knowing what I know about the brutality of Japan’s failed conquest of the Middle Kingdom (including the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons), I believe China has every right to celebrate proudly. Western bias notwithstanding, arguably the true starting date of World War 2 is July 7, 1937, the beginning of Japan’s attempt at a full-scale invasion, and it took a full eight years for this nightmare to end (though not the Chinese Civil War).

 Posted by at 5:25 pm
Nov 292015
 

Everyone, meet the early 5th century saint, Christian theologian and philosopher, Augustine of Hippo. This is the oldest surviving portrait of him:

Why am I so impressed by Augustine? Well, some 1600 years ago he gave the perfect answer to anyone attempting to read science into holy texts. In his opus, The Literal Interpretations of Genesis, Augustine wrote:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about [science] and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics […] The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and […] the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

Of course, you could replace the word Christian with, say, Muslim and [Holy] Scripture with [Holy] Koran, and the meaning remains exactly the same.


As a curious footnote, when I checked my blog to see if I might have written about Augustine before (I haven’t) I noticed that the only other occurrence of “Augustine” here is in the context of the US space program, which was reformulated under the Obama administration in response to the recommendations by the Augustine Commission. Even more curious is that there were two Augustine Commissions, set up 20 years apart, chaired by the same Norman Augustine, former CEO of Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin. Nothing to do with St. Augustine, of course.

 Posted by at 9:52 am
Nov 232015
 

A friend of mine reminded us on Facebook that the tragic events of Paris last week did not represent the worst massacre of civilians in the City of Light after World War II.

No, that title may belong to the events of October 17, 1961. It was on that day that Paris riot police, headed by former Vichy war criminal Maurice Papon, massacred up to 200 Algerians. (The actual numbers remain in dispute, as the French government only acknowledged more than three deaths in 1998.)

This fact raises so many questions. Foremost among them, why do those lives matter less? Is it only because 54 years is a long time and events were forgotten? Or would the ethnicity or religion of those massacred in 1961 have anything to do with it?

Whatever it is, I think it’s high time to come back from the hype and return to the plane of reality. Just this morning, I was listening to the CBC on the car radio and heard that Brussels remains under lockdown for the third day, with the subway not running. Which prompted me to shout at my poor, uncomprehending radio: “They didn’t even shut the London Underground down during the Blitz!”

 Posted by at 8:34 pm
Nov 212015
 

One of my favorite science fiction novels is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. In the distant post-apocalyptic future that is the setting of the novel, a piece of sacred memorabilia attributed to the founder of a monastic order, Isaac Edward Leibowitz, is in fact a 20th century shopping list.

As it turns out, something similar exists in real life. However, Gal Sal was no saint; he was the owner of two slaves, En-pap X and Sukkalgir. Their names are recorded on a more than 5,000 year old clay tablet that probably served as a receipt or title of sorts.

OIM-A2513

Though the dates are somewhat uncertain and there are other tablets of similar age, this trio may be the first people in history whose names have been preserved for posterity.

No heroic deeds. No epic battles. No dealings with gods or otherwordly spirits.

Just a receipt. Bureaucracy may, after all, be the oldest profession.

 Posted by at 11:36 pm
Nov 142015
 

The historical parallels are inescapable.

Three quarters of a century ago, the governments of the United States and Canada, in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, declared their own citizens of Japanese descent a threat to national security. This was demanded by a vengeful citizenry who could not tell the difference between the militant government of Tokyo and loyal Americans and Canadians of Japanese descent: they saw “slanty-eyed traitors” everywhere.

As a result, one of the worst atrocities in North American history took place, depriving several ten thousand Canadians and over a hundred thousand Americans of basic rights, and herding them into places that, while more civilized than their counterparts in the Third Reich or the Japanese Empire, were nonetheless concentration camps. Their internment ended in the United States in the wake of a Supreme Court decision in early 1945; in Canada, it lasted until 1949.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, many European citizens wish to follow the same road. They blame the attacks on an open immigration policy. They blame all Muslims immigrants and call those who support them “traitors”. In this case, the determining factor is not race but religion, but it amounts to the same thing: Discrimination against millions for the crimes committed by a few.

You would think that the so-called “civilized world” is better than this. But all it takes is one heinous attack for the old formulas of racism and xenophobia to surface. We are no better than our ancestors.

This is what the ISIS bastards fail to realize by the way. They think they shock us with their snuff films on YouTube. Just as the Japanese generations ago, they will realize too late that when it comes to wholesale murder, we may be the biggest bastards after all.

 Posted by at 1:22 pm
Nov 132015
 

According to CNN, at least 60 153 127 128 people are dead in Paris tonight, as a result of multiple attacks. I am sure militant Islamists are rejoicing.

But here is some food for thought. You do this often enough and soon, the voices of moderates like myself will be drowned out. Soon our protests, “But most Muslims are not like that! Most Muslims just want to live in peace like anyone else!” will fall on deaf ears. Nationalism, xenophobia, racism will prevail. And do you know what will happen then?

Simple. Dar al-Islam will be turned into a radioactive desert.

Seriously. If you doubt what Westerners are capable of, learn about the two World Wars in Europe. Look what they did to their own kind. Learn about the Holocaust. And then check the number of active-service nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the world’s two greatest nuclear powers, both targets of militant Islamism. Here is something to think about: The only reason we are not the worst murderous bastards on this planet right now is because we’ve been to the abyss and looked down, seeing our own selves staring back.

Do not mistake the West’s restraint for weakness. For now, people like myself have a voice. Soon, we will be branded traitors or worse, and then the unscheduled sunrises will follow.

 Posted by at 5:50 pm
Nov 012015
 

The other day, the current American ambassador in Budapest, Colleen Bell, gave a speech in which she offered some strong criticism of the authoritarian tendencies of Mr. Orban’s government. Needless to say, supporters of that government denounced the speech and also questioned the moral authority of the United States in light of that country’s less than perfect history.

This reminded me of Ms. Bell’s predecessor, Eleni Kounalakis, who recently published her memoirs.

Her tone is very diplomatic, but she retells some interesting incidents, including one that occurred during the visit of Eric Holder to Budapest. It was a brief exchange between the the first African-American Attorney General of the United States and his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Polt. It speaks volumes about the differences between the way top government officials think in Hungary vs. the United States:

I could see that Holder was disturbed by the description of the Magyar Gárda, the Hungarian radical nationalist militia, as well as by its politics and methods. Polt told his counterpart, ‘I want to assure you that we go to great lengths to ensure that they are not able to march in our streets. We have outlawed their uniforms and will not allow them to gather. It would be as unacceptable as if you were to let the Ku Klux Klan march on the steps of Washington.’ At these words, I saw Holder’s face flinch almost imperceptibly.

“‘I didn’t think I would find myself in Hungary defending the rights of the Ku Klux Klan,’ Holder replied slowly and carefully. ‘But we do, in fact, allow them to peacefully demonstrate in our country.’

 Posted by at 6:23 pm
Nov 012015
 

Here is a perfectly ordinary object. A paperclip.

But this particular paperclip has a bit of history.

It was attached to a typewritten document dating back to the early 1980s. It was written by some young Hungarian researchers who were entrusted with cataloging the manuscript collection of Hungarian Communist Politburo member Gyorgy Aczel. Aczel was arguably the best educated in the Politburo. He was also known as the architect the “three T-s” cultural policy of the goulash communist state. The T-s stood for “Trusted, Tolerated and Treasonous”. The second category represented works of art and literature that received no support from the state, but if they survived in the open market, they were tolerated and not censored. It was the existence of this category that allowed a cultural life in Hungary that was thriving relative to other East Bloc states.

As a young “star” programmer, I was asked to help this team with developing a manuscript database application (for the Commodore 64, no less). I was paid well, too. And on account of this assignment, I even met Mr. Aczel in person on one or two occasions. Yes, lucky me and all.

All of these are now memories from a distant past but somehow, one set of documents managed to stay with me inside a file folder over all these years. And yesterday, when I came across that folder, I decided to scan the sheets, and to do so, I removed this paperclip.

This paperclip was last handled by someone in 1984 or so, probably in the home of Mr. Aczel in the 13th district of Budapest, in a rental apartment building.

If only objects could speak and tell their stories.

 Posted by at 6:15 pm
Oct 142015
 

Short answer to the question in the title: No.

Refugee_crisis_in_Europe_Q1_and_Q2_2015.svg

It is eminently possible to discuss issues concerning immigration and refugees without resorting to racist, dehumanizing language. What are the problems that the refugees are facing? Where are they coming from? Where are they really coming from (in light of news about widespread forgery of Syrian passports)? Are they genuine refugees? What about the transit and host countries? How can they handle a flood of migrants Europe has not seen since the end of WW2? Was it wise for Angela Merkel to suggest that Germany will accept all refugees with open arms? Are European citizens really evicted from their homes or lose other forms of assistance as local governments rush to help refugees? Are EU nations that have no external borders hypocritical in their condemnation of countries on the front line, like Hungary?

All legitimate questions, which can be discussed using facts and rational arguments.

But that is something I rarely see.

Instead, I see photographs that show the refugees in the worst possible light, with accompanying language that implies that these pictures are representative. That this is a “horde” coming to “occupy Europe” as they yell “Allahu Akhbar”. That they are phony refugees because a real refugee does not want a better life. That they will destroy Christian civilization or European culture. That they are, simply put, dirty, smelly subhumans. Untermenschen.

To all my friends and family: If you use such language about your fellow human beings, I will not leave it unchallenged. I will not be a silent accomplice. If this means risking our friendship, so be it. There are times when decent human beings must speak up; not speaking up is not an option.

Meanwhile, I thank those friends of mine who have not abandoned their core values during this crisis from the bottom of my heart. Simply knowing you is a privilege.

 Posted by at 12:50 pm
Oct 052015
 

I am reading the latest “alternate history” book by Harry Turtledove: Bombs Away, which describes a world in which President Truman accepts the advice of general MacArthur in 1951 and responds to the Chinese invasion of Korea by deploying nuclear weapons. With predictably disastrous consequences for the whole world.

On account of this book, I looked up historical figures of nuclear stockpiles on Wikipedia, and happened upon a chart that I decided to call the chart of hope.

nukehope

It depicts the number of warheads owned by the two major nuclear powers. (Other countries are not listed; their combined stockpiles never reached 1,000 warheads, so their contributions are too small to appear on a plot like this.)

Although the more than 10,000 warheads that currently exist are still more than enough to destroy much of human civilization (and arguably, the reduction is due partly to more reliable, more accurate delivery systems), just a few decades ago, the number was in excess of 60,000. A ray of hope, perhaps, that sanity might just prevail. One thing is certain: Back in my high school years in the 1970s, very few people believed that we would live to see 2015 without experiencing the horrors of a thermonuclear war.

 Posted by at 9:19 pm
Aug 182015
 

Having grown up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, I had a thoroughly Marxist education in history during my grade school and high school years. A central tenet of Marxist history is the concept of “historical inevitability”: that great historic upheavals are a result not of individual heroism or foolishness, but of great socio-economic currents that create change.

I was reminded of this conflict between the “dialectical materialist” vs. the “romantic” view of history while I was reading a superb piece of historical science fiction, Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again. A story in which the protagonist time travels from 2024 to 1914 to change history, prevent The Great War, and make the world a better place. Things of course don’t exactly go as planned (or maybe they go according to plan a little too well?) but I cannot say much about the book without revealing the plot, so I won’t.

But the book, as well as one of the reviews I found on Amazon, made me think of how some of the most fundamental sequences of events in the 20th century were far from inevitable: rather, they were series of astoundingly improbable events, inept bungling that any half-competent publisher would reject as too incredible if submitted in the form of a manuscript of historical fiction.

First, the main event in Elton’s book: the Sarajevo assassination. Think of it: the Serbian organization, The Black Hand, positions not one, not two, but six separate assassins (some sources mention seven, but the seventh conspirator was the recruiter) along the arch duke’s planned route. Meanwhile, the arch duke arrives by train and immediately loses his security detail due to a mix-up as a result of which local police officers took their place in one of the cars.

The sequence of events begins when the first assassin fails to act. The second, too, fails to act. The third finally does act and throws his bomb, which bounces off the arch duke’s car, only to explode underneath the next car, wounding more than a dozen people. This would-be assassin swallows an expired cyanide capsule and jumps into the river, which happened to be only five inches deep at the moment… so he fails to die. The remaining three assassins, too, fail to act as the rest of the motorcade passes by them at high speed.

So then the Austrian general in charge changes the route for the afternoon… and fails to inform the arch duke’s driver. Who then makes a wrong turn, comes to a stop and stalls the car right in front of one of the would-be assassins from earlier that day, Gavrilo Princip. Princip was there ostensibly because he hoped to complete his mission during the arch duke’s return journey, but for all we know, he gave up already and was just getting a sandwich at Schiller’s Deli when the target was so conveniently presented to him. And then he took out his gun and managed to kill both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie with a single bullet each. And thus the life of an arch duke who believed in increased federalism, in modernizing the Monarchy, came to an abrupt end, along with that of his beloved wife, despised and routinely humiliated by the court in Vienna for being outside of the arch duke’s rank. Franz Ferdinand’s last words were, reportedly, “Sopherl! Sopherl! Stirb nicht! Bleib’ am Leben für unsere Kinder!” (“Sophie! Sophie! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!”)

And thus, world history changed and The War to End All Wars began a few short weeks later. Empires crumbled, murderous ideologies were born. A second world war and at least a hundred million deaths later, the world settled into the uneasy but surprisingly long-lasting peace of the Cold War, a peace that lasts to this day, bringing unprecedented prosperity to billions. Who knows what would have happened if Franz Ferdinand did not die on June 28, 1914?

The second bungled event that came to mind was the accidental fall of the Iron Curtain on November 9, 1989. (Astonishingly for me personally, just over three years after I left Hungary as a political refugee, having concluded that I saw no chance of “regime change” behind the Iron Curtain anytime soon, certainly not within a generation.)

The events that led directly to the collapse of the Berlin Wall began in Hungary a few months earlier, when my country of birth decided not to intervene as thousands of East German citizens crossed the border into Austria. Initially, the East German government responded by tightening its regime of exit visas, banning travel for its citizens first to Hungary and later, to Czechoslovakia. Nonetheless, unprecedented mass demonstrations followed in East Germany, with crowds rallying to the words “Wir wollen raus!” (“We want out!”) The East German government decided to take the bold step of allowing severely regulated private travel to the West.

The new regulations were to take effect the next day, but this was not communicated to Günter Schabowski, East Berlin’s party boss who was only handed a brief note announcing the changes moments before giving a press conference. Having made the announcement, in response to a question from a journalist, he stated that as far as he knew, the new regulations liberalizing travel are to take effect immediately, without delay, and involved border crossings along the Berlin Wall.

Almost immediately, crowds of East Germans began gathering at the Wall, demanding the opening of the gates. As no-one among East Germany’s leaders was prepared to order the use of lethal force, finally the commander of one of the border crossings yielded, and the border was thrown wide open.

Less than a year later, the state of East Germany ceased to exist.

What would have happened if Schabowski had been better informed? If the East German state had been able to assert its authority and managed to maintain order at its border crossings? Or conversely, what if they had the guts to give the order to fire? Would there have been a bloody revolution? Would Germany still be divided today? What would the European Union look like?

The date of November 9 is famous for another reason, by the way. It was on this day in 1918 that Imperial Germany ceased to exist with the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the ruler who probably bore the most responsibility for turning the 1914 Sarajevo crisis into an all encompassing World War.

Astonishingly, the last surviving member of the conspiracy to kill Franz Ferdinand, Vaso Čubrilović, lived to the ripe old age of 93 and passed away in the year of German reunification, in 1990.

 Posted by at 10:44 am
Aug 072015
 

Frances Kathleen Oldham Kelsey died this morning. She was 101 years old.

Dr. Kelsey’s name is the subject of legend among thalidomide sufferers. Born in Canada, Dr. Kelsey moved to the United States, where eventually she became an employee of the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. The first file on her desk was about thalidomide, a drug that is now known to have caused many thousands of birth defects worldwide.

Concerned about the drug’s suspected side effects, Dr. Kelsey refused to approve it without full clinical trials. She was vindicated when the numerous birth defects caused by thalidomide came to light. The USA was thus spared a scourge that was inflicted by thalidomide on many other countries, including Canada.

Eventually, Dr. Kelsey was even recognized by the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy.

Dr. Kelsey’s Canadian recognition came much later. In 2015, she was finally awarded the Order of Canada. Her family asked that the award ceremony be moved up as her health was in rapid decline. Accordingly, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor, visited the Kelsey home yesterday. Dr. Kelsey was reportedly aware and was thrilled.

Frances Kathleen Oldham Kelsey died less than 24 hours later. But what an amazing life she lived.

 Posted by at 12:17 pm
Aug 062015
 

This morning, my copy of The Globe and Mail had a pair of postcard-like pictures on its front page:

These pictures are a rather graphic reminder of what happened exactly 70 years ago today: the destruction of Hiroshima, in the first ever use of a nuclear device as a weapon of war.

Thankfully, the last such use occurred only three days later, in Nagasaki. No atomic bombs were exploded in anger ever since. I don’t know how much longer our luck will hold, but I doubt anyone in the 1960s would have predicted a world with no nuclear confrontation for another half a century.

 Posted by at 12:27 pm
Jul 152015
 

I have in my collection of photographs a picture, taken I suspect in the late 1960s or the 1970s by my father-in-law, from the top of the TV tower in Alexanderplatz, in downtown Berlin. The Berlin Wall in this picture is quite visible.

The other day, I was able to identify the exact perspective from which this picture was taken, using Google Maps. The city has changed a lot in the intervening decades (almost half a century!) but some prominent buildings remain quite recognizable. The Wall, of course, is long gone.

Also, there are a heck of a lot more trees. Budapest was like this, too: When I was growing up, there were barely any trees. That is because most trees were cut down for firewood during WW2 so in the 1960s, there were still very few mature trees in the city. Today, the street where I grew up is completely covered by a canopy of green.

 Posted by at 11:56 am