You are browsing the archive for 2019 January 04.

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The Devastating Mining Disaster That Became Elizabeth II's Biggest Regret

January 4, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

The avalanche raced down a steep hill in Aberfan, Wales, sucking everything in its path into the chaos: landscape, buildings, an entire schoolhouse. When David Evans, the owner of a local pub, heard about it from a neighbor, he ran into the street. “Everything was so quiet, so quiet,” he told historian Gaynor Madgewick. “All I could see was the apex of the roofs.”

The avalanche wasn’t snow—it was coal waste that had slid down a rain-saturated mountainside. On October 21, 1966, nearly 140,000 cubic yards of black slurry cascaded down the hill above Aberfan. It destroyed everything it touched, eventually killing 144 people, most of them children sitting in their school classrooms.

The tragedy in Aberfan would become one of the United Kingdom’s worst mining disasters—and it was completely avoidable.

Despite the magnitude of the calamity, Queen Elizabeth II at first refused to visit the village, sparking criticism in the press and questions about why she wouldn’t go. Finally, after sending her husband, Prince Philip, in her place for a formal visit, she came to Aberfan eight days after the disaster to survey the damage and speak with survivors. Nearly four decades later, in 2002, the queen said that not visiting Aberfan immediately after the disaster was “her biggest regret.”

Queen Elizabeth II laying a wreath to commemorate the victims of the Aberfan disaster of 1966, years later in September of 1973.

The foundation of the disaster was laid nearly a century before, when the Merthyr Vale Colliery, a coal mine, was opened in the area. Wales had become famous for coal mining during the Industrial Revolution, and at its peak in 1920, 271,000 workers labored in the country’s coal pits. By the 1960s, coal mining was in decline, but was still a lifeline for some 8,000 miners and their families around Aberfan.

Coal mining creates waste, and the waste rock was dumped in an area called a tip. Merthyr Vale had seven tips. By 1966, the seventh tip, which was begun in 1958, was about 111 feet high and contained nearly 300,000 cubic yards of waste. It was precariously placed on sandstone above a natural spring, which lay on the steep hill above the village.

As mining progressed, the heaps of waste grew and grew. In 1963 and 1964 residents and local officials had raised concerns about the seventh tip’s location …read more

Source: HISTORY

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The Original Luddites Raged Against the Machine of the Industrial Revolution

January 4, 2019 in History

By Christopher Klein

Uprisings against changes brought on by the technological advances of the 1800s gave rise to a movement—and to the insult “luddite.”

On a late January night in 1812, a mob hell-bent on violence stormed through the door of . “The masters were slow to react and used the opportunity to reduce wages.” Hit by the economic downturn, merchants cut costs by employing lower-paid, untrained workers to operate machines as the textile industry moved out of individual homes and into mills where hours were longer and conditions more dangerous.

Artisans who had spent years perfecting their craft in apprenticeships protested the use of untrained workers who generally produced inferior products. Many were willing to adapt to the mechanization of the textile industry as long as they shared in the profits. However, they watched as the productivity gains from technology enriched the capitalists, not the workers.

READ MORE: The Industrial Revolution

English textile workers consistently found their efforts to negotiate for pensions, minimum wages and standard working conditions rebuffed. Unable to legally form trade unions or strike, the laborers instead wielded sledgehammers to strike a blow against industrial capitalism in what historian Eric Hobsbawm called “collective bargaining by riot.”

The Legend of ‘General Ludd’

Nottingham’s textile workers claimed to be following the orders of a mysterious “General Ludd.” Merchants received threatening letters addressed from “Ned Ludd’s office, Sherwood Forest.” Newspapers reported that Ludd had been a framework knitting apprentice who had been whipped at the behest of his master and took his revenge by demolishing his master’s machine with a hammer.

Ned Ludd, however, was likely no more real than another legendary denizen of Sherwood Forest who fought against injustice, Robin Hood. Mythic though he may have been, Ned Ludd became a folk hero in parts of Nottingham and inspired verses such as:

Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood

His feats I but little admire

I will sing the Achievements of General Ludd

Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire

From Nottingham, the Luddite revolt spread during 1812 to the wool industry of Yorkshire and the cotton mills of Lancashire. As the labor movement expanded, it also lost its cohesion and the purity of its economic message. “It differentiated according to region, and even within regions it differed among people in different trades,” Binfield says.

Luddite Protests Grow Violent

The protest also blossomed into violence as it grew in size. In …read more

Source: HISTORY

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The Personality Traits that Led to Napoleon Bonaparte's Epic Downfall

January 4, 2019 in History

By Adam Zamoyski

Sex. Money. Class. You name the inferiority complex, and this thin-skinned and deeply insecure French leader had it.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise and fall are one of the most spectacular in recorded history. The French general and statesman turned self-appointed emperor revolutionized the nation’s military, legal and educational institutions. But after some of his most audacious expansionist campaigns failed, he was forced to abdicate and was ultimately exiled in disgrace.

What propelled Napoleon upward—transcendent genius, vaulting ambition, destiny? What brought him down—power craze, hubris, fate? Or is the answer more prosaic?

A close look behind the heroic portraits and beneath the gorgeous uniforms reveals some surprising things about the great little man. (He was small.) Perhaps most striking? The number of complexes he suffered from, including class inferiority, money insecurity, intellectual envy, sexual anxiety, social awkwardness and, not surprisingly, a persistent hypersensitivity to criticism. Taken in whole, these traits drove his stark ambition, undermined his grandiose endeavors—and ultimately crippled his historic legacy.

READ MORE: 6 Things You Should Know About Napoleon

‘Determined to climb’

Napoleon Bonaparte was born into a family that counted itself among the elite of the port city of Ajaccio in France’s island territory of Corsica. But they were far from rich and lived frugally, crammed into a few rooms in a decrepit house. His father, a crashing snob, managed to obtain noble status and had far-reaching ambitions for his sons. But Napoleon could not help being ashamed of him, later admitting he found him ‘a little too fond of the ridiculous gentility of the times.’

Still, he too was determined to climb.

The Rise of Napoleon (TV-PG; 1:54)

He became brutally aware of social barriers when, at the age of nine, he left home and entered the military academy at Brienne in northern France. His foreign origins, atrocious French (he had grown up speaking a Corsican Italian patois) and dubious noble status laid him open to the taunts of his schoolmates.

Although he did make a few friends—and could be remarkably open with children or simple soldiers and servants—Napoleon continued throughout his life to distance himself from those around him with a prickly defensive arrogance.

The sense of being on his own against the world spurred him to show that he could outsmart others. While working hard to excel in his career as an artillery officer, he read voraciously and even tried his hand (not …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Quotas on Boards Don’t Deliver for Women in Business

January 4, 2019 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

Progressives regularly denounce “trickle-down
economics” when it comes to cutting taxes. Yet many have
their own theory for economic outcomes cascading from the top. The
idea that government mandates for minimum female representation on
company boards would filter down to better opportunities for other
women in business has been an article of faith for nearly a
decade.

During that time, countries such as Norway, Belgium, France and
Italy have set explicit quotas for women on boards, backed up by the
threat of company dissolution, fines, bans or other sanctions for
failure to comply.

Germany and the Netherlands have introduced softer laws without
binding punishments. In the UK, the 2011 Davies review set
ambitions for a voluntary business-led approach with the guideline
of aiming for 25pc representation for women on
FTSE 100 boards by 2015 – a target that was met. But many lament
that trend not accelerating quickly enough for their liking,
calling for an EU-wide target of 40pc female board members.

The key justification for such an action has always been the
purported wider benefits to women in business. The
under-representation of women at board level was thought to
discourage networks conducive to nurturing female talent, and lead
to less influence over human-resource policies that would otherwise
be more female-friendly on company policies for childcare and
work-life balance.

Mandated quotas for females on boards, it was hoped, would
change that. They would have the added benefit of encouraging the
promotion of women further down the line, training them for
leadership and potentially future board roles. The happy result?
Supposedly, the reduction of pay and other gender-related
opportunity gaps. Well, at least, that was the theory.

But increasingly evidence shows that while mandated quotas
unsurprisingly boost female board participation, the broader
benefits are difficult to ascertain. The argument that quotas
improve opportunities for all women amounts to motivated
reasoning.

In 2003, for example, Norway passed a law mandating 40pc
representation of both genders on the boards of publicly limited
companies. The stated aims of the move were to improve female
representation in top company positions and to reduce gender pay
gaps.

To start with, the law encouraged companies to delist. A new
paper by economists Marianne Bertrand, Sandra E Black, Sissel
Jensen and Adriana Lleras-Muney finds that of 536 companies that
were public in 2003, only 179 remained so by 2008. Companies with
lower proportions of women on the board initially were more likely
to change their corporate structure to avoid the legislation.

Within those that did remain public companies, there was
(unsurprisingly) a convergence to the 40pc threshold. What is more,
companies appeared to be able to find women “well
qualified” according to most …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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President Nixon refuses to hand over tapes

January 4, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

President Richard Nixon refuses to hand over tape recordings and documents that had been subpoenaed by the Senate Watergate Committee. Marking the beginning of the end of his Presidency, Nixon would resign from office in disgrace eight months later.

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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What the US Should Take Away from Kim Jong Un's New Year Address

January 4, 2019 in Economics

By Eric Gomez

Eric Gomez

Last year was a pretty good one for the Korean Peninsula. A
whirlwind of diplomatic activity helped bring the region back from
the brink of war, but the pace slowed toward the end of the year
and 2018 ended with serious doubts about the trajectory of
U.S.-North Korea negotiations.


Kim Jong Un’s customary New Year speech
didn’t
provide many answers about what comes next in denuclearization
talks with Washington, but this does not diminish its importance
for U.S. policymakers. The primary value of Kim’s address is
the information it conveys about his domestic priorities for the
year ahead. These priorities create incentives that U.S.
negotiators should consider as they deal with their North Korean
counterparts.

The most important takeaway from Kim’s address is the
re-stating of a
new strategic line
that prioritizes economic development. Since
the primary audience for the speech is the North Korean people,
economic policy has loomed large in previous New Year speeches.
What makes the economic section of this year’s address
special is its repetition of
Kim’s April 2018 announcement
that the old strategic line
of simultaneous development of the economy and nuclear weapons

also known as the byungjin line
— is
successfully completed.

Washington should take
full advantage of Kim’s renewed focus on the economy.

Referencing the new strategic line in the New Year speech
combined with the April 2018 announcement and
multiple inspections of various economic projects during the summer
of 2018
(and harsh criticism of their management) underscores
the seriousness of Kim’s commitment to economic improvement.
Furthermore, while national security and nuclear weapons were
mentioned in Kim’s address, they came up very briefly.
National security was mentioned in a very broad sense:
“Powerful self-defense capacity is a cornerstone of the
existence of a state and a guarantee for safeguarding peace.”
The elevation of the new strategic line coupled with the relative
downplaying of military and nuclear issues suggest that Kim’s
focus on the economy will be a serious driver of his policy
decisions in 2019.

This shift in North Korean domestic priorities has
implications for America’s approach to negotiations
on
the North’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. sanctions probably
did little to slow down Pyongyang’s testing and development
of long-range ballistic missiles or nuclear warheads, but sanctions
do make it harder for Kim to achieve his economic development
goals. Getting sanctions lifted is thus a top priority, and Kim has
repeatedly called for relief as part of a phased, tit-for-tat
process that, in theory, will ultimately result in
denuclearization.

However, refusing to lift any sanctions until North Korea makes
significant steps toward denuclearization …read more

Source: OP-EDS