Category Archives: USA

Early Days, 1956 Part One – The Balance Of Power

andrew age 2

I continue my look at the World during my lifetime and now I reach 1956 when I was two years old with a dodgy home haircut, a nautical jumper, velveteen shorts and a firm grip on the family cat.

In this year there were some really important events around the world that were to have an influence on international relations over the next twenty years or so.

In the Middle East the Suez Canal was of very high military and commercial strategic importance because it provided a convenient link from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean and the United Kingdom had control of the canal under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but on July 26th Gamal Abdel Nasser the Egyptian President, announced the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company in which British banks and business had a significant financial interest.

The British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was outraged and up for war to teach the Egyptians a lesson and Britain together with France, who were similarly upset, made threatening noises and began to prepare for an invasion with large forces deployed to Cyprus and Malta and the entire British fleet was dispatched to the Mediterranean Sea to deal with the upstarts.

1956 suez

The crisis began on 29th October and the next day the allies sent a final ultimatum to Egypt and when it was ignored invaded on the following day.  Someone should have told them that this was no longer the nineteenth century of Benjamin Disraeli and Napoleon III and they couldn’t go throwing their weight around in Africa like this anymore.

Almost simultaneously with this event there was a crisis in Eastern Europe when a revolution in Hungary, behind the iron curtain, deposed the pro-Soviet government there.  The liberal government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be completely successful but on 4th November a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died and two hundred thousand more fled the country as refugees.  Mass arrests and imprisonments followed, the Prime Minister Imre Nagy was arrested and executed, a new Soviet inclined government was installed and this action further strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

1956 soviet tankStalin's Boots HungaryAnonymous Pedestrians Wroclaw Poland

From a military perspective the operation to take the Suez Canal was highly successful but paradoxically was a political disaster due to its unfortunate timing.  The President of the United States Dweight D Eisenhower was dealing with both issues at the same time and faced the public relations embarrassment of opposing the Soviet Union’s military intervention in Hungary while at the same time ignoring the bombastic actions of its two principal European allies in Egypt he found himself severely compromised.

It was also rather a nasty concern that the Soviet Union threatened to intervene and launch nuclear attacks on London and Paris and fearful of a new global conflict Eisenhower insisted on a ceasefire and demanded that the invasion be called to a halt.  Due to a combination of diplomatic and financial pressure Britain and France were obliged to withdraw their troops early in 1957.  In Britain Anthony Eden promptly resigned, in France there was a political crisis, a period of instability and the collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958.

1956 anthony eden  egypt_russian_1956

The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis marked the final transfer of power to the new World Superpowers, the USA and the USSR, and it was clear to everyone now that only ten years after the Second-World-War Britain was no longer a major world power.

Since that time Britain has only once acted in a military matter without checking with the President of the United States first, when Margaret Thatcher sent troops to retake the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and things are so bad now of course that British Prime Ministers like Tony Blair simply do as they are told by the American Head of State as though they are the President’s pet poodle.

This change in the world balance of power was highly significant and provided the tense atmosphere of the Cold War years that lasted until the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989.  In 1955 the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, who had fled in 1951, turned up in Moscow and I spent my childhood with a dread fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the certain end of the world.

secret bunker

During this time the very thought of visiting eastern European countries was completely absurd which makes it all the more extraordinary that in the last few years as well as going to Russia itself I have been able to visit the previous Eastern-bloc countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Cold War Europe

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Early Days, 1954 Part Four – More about the Nuclear Arms Race and TV News

nevada-test-site

“As you can see Mr Bond, I am about to inaugurate a little war. In a matter of hours after America and Russia have annihilated each other, we shall see a new power dominating the world.” – Ernst Stavros Blofeld (You Only Live Twice)

Last time I took a look at nuclear weapons testing and finished with the bikini swimsuit.  Swimsuit stuff is great but back now to the serious stuff of destroying the World!

Nuclear testing was big business in the 1950s as the United States and the Soviet Union prepared with stubborn enthusiasm for wiping each other permanently off the face of the earth.  The fact that a major explosion even on the opposite side of the World might have serious consequences for both protagonists and pretty much everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.

What were these people thinking?  The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the deaths of almost 250,000 people which is killing on a scale that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot could only have dreamed about.

nuclear-attack-survival-guide

What also seems foolish to me is that both the US and the Soviet Union carried out nuclear testing within the boundaries of their own countries which is rather like setting the chip pan on fire in the kitchen of blocking up your own WC – dumb!

Compare this with the strategy of Great Britain which was much more sensible in this regard and who carried out its own modest nuclear bomb experiments on the other side of the World, in Australia, and Australians continue to complain about this alongside the introduction of the fox and the rabbit.

Years after all this nuclear testing stuff, in 1996, I visited the United States and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road that was only sixty miles or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site.  This was a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the sole purpose of testing of nuclear weapons and analysing just how much damage that they could do.

Forget Bikini Atoll, this location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in all of North America.

I’ll say that again.  Forget Bikini Atoll, this location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in all of North America.  Not satisfied with dropping nuclear bombs on other countries they detonated them within their own – dumb!

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb in January 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced and more secretive underground tests as well.

During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these experiments could be seen for almost a hundred miles in all directions, including the city of Las Vegas, where they instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of subsequent cases of thyroid cancer.

Continuing the nuclear theme, the world’s first atomic power station was opened near Moscow in Russia and knowing now how careless the Russians were with anything nuclear this was probably something that the World needed to seriously worry about.

Fast forward to the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine in 1986 when a reactor accident at a nuclear power plant resulted in the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.  They incident was the only one to ever to record level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale which might not sound too bad but on a scale of zero to seven, believe me, that’s pretty serious!

The accident resulted in a severe nuclear meltdown and a plume of highly radioactive fallout released into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area to the extent that (except for a handful of foolish people and some wild animals) it remains virtually uninhabitable today and almost certainly for many more years to come as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mind you, we British could also arrange a nasty little nuclear disaster of our own and on 10th October 1957 the graphite core of a nuclear reactor at Windscale in Cumberland caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding area. For twenty years, the event, known as the Windscale fire, was considered the world’s worst reactor accident until Three Mile Island in 1979, before both incidents were dwarfed by the Chernobyl incident.

Here are the results of the Cold War: The West 3 (Bikini Atoll, Three Mile Island, Windscale) – USSR 1 (Chernobyl)  – four own goals by the way!

I leave 1954 with some thoughts about news coverage, which is what has stimulated these posts in the first place.  It is significant that the very first television news first bulletin in the UK was shown in 1954 on BBC TV, which is obvious of course because there was no ITV until 1955, and presented by Richard Baker, who was also by coincidence born on the same day as me, 15th June but a few years earlier in 1925.

He was required to give off screen narration while still pictures were put in front of the camera, this was because, and I really find this hard to believe, television producers were concerned that a newsreader with facial expressions would distract the viewer from the story.

On screen newsreaders were only introduced a year later, in 1955, and Kenneth Kendall was the first to appear on screen.  Kenneth Kendall , it has to be said, was unlikely to distract viewers from the important stories of the day but on the other hand even today some viewers in the UK find it difficult to concentrate on the weather forecast when the lovely Carol Kirkwood is presenting…

Carol-Kirkwood

It’s Nice to Feel Useful (12)

One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

Before Google got nervous about web search findings and tightened up on sharing search results this was a lot more fun and there were a lot more to choose from, now they are few and far between but just this week I  spotted one that amused me…

“What does a postcard of the Grand Canyon look like”

I am certain that I have put some dumb questions into Google myself but surely none as daft as this!

Anyway, I visited the Grand Canyon in 1995 and as always I am keen to help so here we go…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

A Previous Visit to Morocco

Epcot World Showcase

The Disney Web Site introduces Morocco like this: “A realistic Koutoubia Minaret leads the way into this faraway land of traditional belly dancers, intricate Moroccan architecture and swirling mosaics made by native craftsmen. The Morocco Pavilion has 2 fascinating sections: the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city). Discover a bustling plaza with a variety of shops and be on the lookout for some familiar Arabian Disney friends throughout the day.”

Read the Full Story…

Naples, Celebrating the Pizza

53-naples-pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

There was no debate or discussion about evening meal, we were in Naples and it had to be pizza, it had to be pizza because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.

Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the most famous pizza of all on a visit there in 1889.

Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas and she would chose her favourite.  Like a judge on a cookery TV programme she decided upon the patriotic version, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) and this became the Pizza Margherita.

Everyone in Naples eats pizza, I have never seen so many pizza restaurants in one place, I tried to work out how many pizzas might be eaten here in a single day but I found the number to be so big it was so incalculable that I feared my head might possibly explode.

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy has a National Pizza Day.  Maybe, and this is an interesting fact, because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   A lot of places outside of Naples are clearly bringing the numbers down.  Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

The USA has a National Pizza Day on February 9th.  Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.  Not one of my favourites I have to confess.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  Unless you live in Hawaii pineapple on a pizza is just plain wrong.  And, I am not the only one who thinks this way; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  In his words…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.”

pineapple-pizza

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made only with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Pizza should be kept simple but it is not only pineapple that is used to spoil it.

Canada joins in on USA Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.

poutine-pizza

If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit.”

On this occasion we stumbled upon an excellent pizzaria down a predictable untidy back street and went downstairs into the restaurant.  Good job we were early because within half an hour it was heaving with customers.  The food was cheap, the house wine was served in a jug and I would like to tell you that I had a classic Margherita but I can’t because I added ham, olives and artichokes to the topping.  It was wonderful.  So good we made an instant decision that we would return again the following evening.

We walked back through the grubby urban scarred back streets of Naples to our accommodation, our senses and stomachs overflowing full to busting after an excellent first day.

I liked it here.  I really liked it here!

What is your favourite pizza, do tell?

My Pizza in Naples

A Recommendation…

Recommended

I have stumbled upon and started to follow a blog with a series of posts based on letters sent home by a traveller in the 1960s.

It is really good and I think you might find it as interesting as I do.

This is how the blog introduces itself and it contains the link to the posts…

 

Published by Tone’s 1960s Travels

Tony is 79 and lives with his wife in South West England. Aged 26-29, he travelled the world with his friend Colin, cataloguing their adventures in his letters home – and he’s now revisiting those memories, 53 years later. Tiffany is Tony’s daughter, a features journalist who loves tales of true life. She’s set up this blog to share her father’s letters and photos. Jackie is Tony’s wife, who’s in charge of dictating the letters, using voice recognition software. Jackie has now been nicknamed ‘The Dictator.’ Tony, Tiffany and The Dictator welcome you to Tone’s 1960s Travels!

Eugene Schieffelin, William Shakespeare and Starlings in the USA

Eugene Schieffelin

Although the Sparrow and the Starling are on the conservation red list in the United Kingdom it is interesting that by comparison they are doing rather well in the United States.

The European Starling was introduced into North America in the 1890s, and quickly spread across the continent.  It is a fierce competitor for nest cavities, and frequently expels native bird species and is therefore widely regarded as a pest and has been blamed for a decline in indigenous bird populations, especially the infinitely more attractive Bluebird.

The Sparrow and the Starling together with the Pigeon are the only three unprotected bird species in North America, they are all introduced and there are more of them than all the other birds put together.

European Starling

The European Starling is resident in the US because in 1890, a wealthy American businessman called Eugene Schieffelin introduced sixty Starlings into New York Central Park and then another forty the following year.  In doing so he radically and irreversibly altered America’s bird population because today European Starlings range from Alaska to Florida and even into Mexico and their population is estimated at over two hundred million.

Schieffelin was an interesting man who belonged to the Acclimation Society of North America, a group with the seemingly laudable, if misguided, aim of aiding the exchange of plants and animals from one part of the world to another.  In the nineteenth century, such societies were fashionable and were supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of an era that had no way of understanding the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem.

Actually, in his defence, some recent revisionist thinking has concluded that the introduction of the Starling was perhaps not as devastating has had previously been suggested and one thing is certain and that is that is was not nearly so thoughtless as the introduction of the European rabbit to the continent of Australia in 1859 by a certain Thomas Austin who wanted them there to satisfy his hunting hobby.

rabbit

The effect of rabbits on the ecology of Australia has been truly devastating and entirely due to the rabbit one eighth of all mammalian species in Australia are now extinct and the loss of plant species is at present uncalculated. They have established themselves as Australia’s biggest pest and annually cause millions of dollars of damage to agriculture. The introduction of the rabbit was an ecological mistake on a monumental scale!

Similarly the humble hedgehog to the Hebrides Islands in Scotland. The prickly interlopers were introduced in 1974 in a misguided act of biological control of slugs and snails. As the numbers of hedgehogs spread across these islands, so the breeding success of many of the internationally important populations of wading birds decreased. A link was made – hedgehogs are partial to eggs, and these hedgehogs were emerging from hibernation just as the birds were laying a smorgasbord of eggy delight. Now the UK Government spends thousands of pounds of taxpayers money trying to eradicate them.

When he wasn’t tinkering with the environment Eugene Schieffelin liked joining clubs and societies and his obituary in the New York Times in 1906 listed his membership of The New York Genealogical and Biographic Society, The New York Zoological Society, The Society of Colonial Wars, The St. Nicholas Club, the St. Nicholas Society and the Union Club of New York which in the 1870’s was generally regarded as the richest club in the world. Obviously Schieffelin had too much money and too much time on his hands!

Birds of Shakespeare

There is an alternative story behind the introduction of the European Starling. It is said that Schieffelin belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in the complete works of William Shakespeare because they they thought it would be nice to hear the sound of the poet’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of America. If this were true he must have been unusually familiar with the works of the Elizabethan bard because Shakespeare’s sole reference to the starling appears in King Henry IV, part 1 (Act 1, scene 3): “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’”

As well as the Starling Schieffelin was also responsible for introducing the House Sparrow, which was released into Brooklyn in New York in 1851 and by 1900 had spread as far as the Rocky Mountains and is today common across the entire continent. The sparrow too is regarded as a pest as it is in Australia where it was introduced at roughly the same time, paradoxically as an experiment in pest control.  How badly wrong can an experiment go I wonder?

Schieffelin wasn’t always successful however, probably just as well, and his attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

Interestingly the House Sparrow gets four mentions in Shakespeare’s works, in Hamlet, As You Like It, The Tempest and Troilus and Cressida. The full list of avian references in the works of Shakespeare were researched by the Scottish geologist Sir Archibald Geikie and recorded in his book published in 1916, ‘The Birds of Shakespeare’ and they are the Blackbird, Bunting, Buzzard, Chough, Cock, Cormorant, Crow, Cuckoo, Dive-dapper, Dove and Pigeon, Duck, Eagle, Falcon and Sparrowhawk, Finch, Goose, Hedge Sparrow, House Martin, Jackdaw, Jay, Kite, Lapwing, Lark, Loon, Magpie, Nightingale, Osprey, Ostrich, Owl, Parrot, Partridge, Peacock, Pelican, Pheasant, Quail, Raven, Robin, Snipe, Sparrow, Starling, Swallow, Swan, Thrush, Turkey, Vulture, Wagtail, Woodcock and the Wren.

Some people research some very strange things!

I have told you before about my Dad’s schoolboy notebook about birds, well, this is his Starling page…

Dads Starling Page