Monday 7 November 2022

able archer (10. 279)

The third of the annual NATO command post exercise to train Western Europe units for escalating nuclear conflict and prompted by intelligence that suggested under code-name Operation RYaN (ะ ะฏะ, “Nuclear Missile Attack,” ะ ะฐะบะตั‚ะฝะพ ะฏะดะตั€ะฝะพะต ะะฐะฟะฐะดะตะฝะธะต) a coordinated campaign to monitor decision-makers in government and military hierarchies for the intent to launch a first strike against the Soviet Union and a string of infiltration maneuvers on both sides to see to what extent that spies could penetrate the opposing sides’ defences before detection, the war game, began on this day in 1983. The added sense of realism to the execution with coded communiques and radio black-outs in light of increased rhetoric from Ronald Reagan (sabre-rattling that was taken with dread earnestness) and the scheduled delivery of additional missiles for staging in the theatre, reportedly caused some in Soviet leadership to believe that Able Archer 83 was a ruse de guerre to distract from actual preparations and placed units in Poland and East Germany on high alert and began priming their fuses. Tensions as high as during the Cuban Missile Crisis two decades earlier, the Chief of Staff for the US Air Force in Europe convinced Washington not to respond in kind, de-escalating the situation by the end of the simulation.

Monday 25 October 2021

urgent fury

Along with a coalition of six Caribbean partner states, the United States embarked on this day in 1983 on its first and only military victory since partaking in World War II with its predawn invasion of Grenada, the island nation recently decolonized and independent from the United Kingdom. Characterised by outsiders as a Marxist-Leninist vanguard organization, the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education and Liberation, the New JEWEL movement, chartered prior to attaining its self-governing status, had seized power in a peaceful coup from the first ministry installed after the UK’s departure.

Internal struggles among party leadership escalated to an armed confrontation that resulted in the killing of the movement's leader, Maurice Bishop, and a group of his supporters once the shooting began under still disputed and unresolved circumstances, and in turn elevated into an international crisis with the United States lobbying for immediate intervention.
Though transparently a pretext for the invasion and occupation, Ronald Reagan, wanting to forestall a repeat of the Iran Hostage Crisis, attributed his actions to “concerns over the six hundred US medical students on the island,” (the country offering medical school at affordable rates and presenting an attractive alternative to US tutition) and remained steadfast in his decision despite nearly universal condemnation and censure in the UN. Under the leadership of Major General Norman Schwartzkopf, Cuban presence was expelled to prevent further communist influence and a government friendly to capitalists' interest was propped up, though the prevailing narrative is still a contentious one and not authored by the Grenadians.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

your house is on fire and your children are alone

Courtesy of a film recommendation by one of our favourite podcasts, The Flop House, we learn of the 1963, Oscar-nominated film by Frank Perry that analyses the psycho-social toll of the Cold War that really speaks to the uncertainty and the fears harboured over our current collective crisis and what totems we rally to preserve through selective ignorance. Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis (previously) from just a year prior, following the protocol of classroom drills, teachers escort their students home at a rural elemental school after a warning siren sounds. Absent independent verification on the veracity of the alarm, no one is sure whether it is a false warning, a test or not. Some of the students’ parents dismiss these distant, abstract events as they frantically search for a fall-out shelter that can accommodate them all. One girl is ejected, with the claim there is not enough space and goes off to take refuge in a discarded refrigerator—introducing that trope, though her classmates don’t abandon her or forget about her altogether.

Monday 14 December 2020

location scout oder deckname topas

Hearing that someone might be making a weekend of visiting nearby sites where films had been shot sounded like a fun activity and piqued my curiosity as to whether any might be in reach for me. I was surprised to come across this image from 1968 in the Stars and Stripes photographic archive of the filming of the 1969 release of the Cold War spy-thriller Topaz, the cinematic adaptation of Leon Uris’ novelisation of a real defection, the Sapphire Affair, that took place in 1962 directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Here is the same building from last summer from a slightly different angle and perspective.
The story follows a French intelligence agent who becomes entangled in a spy ring and the geopolitical situation on the eve of the Cuba Missile Crisis. A high-ranking Soviet officer reveals that nuclear warheads will be placed in Cuba (mirroring the US installation in Turkey) and he and his family are evacuated to Wiesbaden. Filming also takes place in Copenhagen, Washington, DC, Paris, New York with Havana scenes filmed on a studio lot.

Friday 18 September 2020

interkosmos group

Launched on a routine rotation and restocking mission to the Salyut 6 space laboratory on this day in 1980, the crew of Soyuz 38 included cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Mรฉndez (*1942)—the first (see also) Cuban and individual of Latin American and African heritage to enter into Earth orbit.

An aerial combat pilot from the Guantรกnamo province decorated for flying reconnaissance mission during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and after demonstrating leadership potential at the brigade level, Tamayo was selected for the pan-communist space programme in 1978 and moved to Star City (ะ—ะฒั‘ะทะดะฝั‹ะน ะณะพั€ะพะดะพ́ะบ) to commence training. Tamayo’s time in orbit aboard the station helped diagnose and treat the phenomenon known as space sickness for future ventures. Since retirement, Tamayo has served as a deputy in the National Assembly, representing his home constituency of Guantรกnamo.

Sunday 30 August 2020

red telephone

Despite its conception in the popular imagination the Washington-Moscow Direct Communications Link or hotline, which first went into operation on this day in 1963, was a text-only emergency channel as spoken communication was considered too prone to misunderstanding.
Engineers first recognised the need for an expedient exchange between the leaders of the polarised world in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the previous summer when it took US diplomatic and military staff nearly twelve hours to receive and decrypt the initial settlement message from Nikta Khrushchev and deliver it to John F. Kennedy, with a nod to the direct link as portrayed in Red Alert, the 1958 novel that Doctor Strangelove (1964) is based on. The superpowers could initially send teletypes to one another—the equipment tested hourly by exchanging passages from William Shakespeare and Mark Twain (with selective quotations from the former and A. A. Milne as they were considered Soviet cultural property) for excerpts from Anton Chekhov and other literary figures, with messages of greetings and congratulations sent instead on New Year’s and on 30 August, the anniversary of the hotline’s launch. In 1986, the system was upgraded to facsimile machines and finally in 2008 to an extra secure form of email.

Sunday 19 April 2020

mambo № 5

Though propelled back into renewed popularity with Munich artist Lou Bega’s sampling and remixed version released on this day in 1999 in German markets on his debut album A Little Bit of Mambo, the history of the jazzy dance number goes back half a century before (see also) that with the composition and recording of Mambo King Cuban musician Dรกmaso Pรฉrez Prado. Here are both songs for your listening pleasure.
Bega’s reintroduction of the tune (there is a lot of original material and is by no means just a remake and only takes inspiration from a few albeit central riffs) was incredible popular and quickly garnered accolades. It was a candidate campaign song for the Democratic Party’s 2000 election push though sponsors had second thoughts over the line “A little bit of Monica in my life…” and a BBC children’s television programme, still basking in the success from its first recording venture Can We Fix It? Yes We Can!, in 2001 released a cover-version featuring the construction engineer’s voice actor singing, replacing the litany of girlfriends with construction materials and tasks: “There’s a house with a roof that leaks / It’s an urgent job and could take us weeks… A little bit of tiling on the roof / A little bit of making waterproof / A little bit of concrete mixed with sand / A little bit of Bob, the Builder Man.”

Wednesday 30 November 2016


Since seeing that raw tweet put out by one major news organisation—since amended—announcing the death of Fidel Castro with the parenthetical instructions to update the number of US presidents he’s survived if George HW Bush were to perish first, I’ve been thinking about how the media keeps its reckoning for the dead in a very much animated manner, updated continuously for all persons of note. Sadly, this year has seen quite enough in those columns. Kottke takes a look at how another bulwark of journalism has been morbidly drafting and then revising Castro’s obituary for nearly six decades on a set recurring basis as well as every time intrigue or rumours began circulating—the Cuban leader having outlived not only several successive regimes but even print journalism, various formats of media storage and some of the industry’s other institutions.

Sunday 31 July 2016

soy cuba

This collection of vintage Cuban political posters (propaganda is always such a dicey and loaded word) of curator Michael Taylor of Bath, UK comes to our notice via Messy Nessy Chic’s intrepid searches. Circa the early 1970s, most of these artworks were commissioned to mark the annual Tri-Continental Conferences that Cuba hosted through its Organisation of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL in Spanish) to bolster support for human rights, social development and the ideals of socialism as a counter-weight to imperialism and globalisation. Due to a lack of ink, during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, production dropped off, but there was a resurgence beginning in the year 2000 and still publish to this day. A comprehensive gallery of organisation’s posters can be found at this partner-site, Docs Populi.

Wednesday 17 June 2015


Quartz presents a really fascinating and under-appreciated glimpse on the strange, strained affair that the Chinese government has with Western social-networking heralds and mavens.

The dominant sites are banned from public-consumption, although it is not as if the average Chinese citizens were unaware of their existence and most businesses and state organs maintain their own internet presence on the same blocked sites. Possibly in order to curb curiosity and assuage rebellion, the state news agency Xinhua is featuring a segment of selected tweeted and shared items to give its audience a glimpse of how China is portrayed around. The articles seem pretty anodyne and cherry-picked to cast the country in the best light, but then again most regimes have highly propagandised mouth-pieces. Learning of this and of the sobering, unfamiliar mirror universe of applications that the Chinese make do with reminded me of the living tradition of the “lectores”—that is, news-readers, of the Cuban cigar factories, which is a really rich and fascinating story in its own right. The scope is of course very different and attestedly, the individual whose job it was to read to the workers as they rolled cigars usually elevated by popular consent, there for the emendation of the others. The juxtaposition of someone first anchoring the national, official newspaper, however, and the moving on to literature in the afternoon—whether subversive, unvetted or otherwise, makes me wish that this broadcast feuilleton might prove just as entertaining and broadening.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

spanish armada or tonkin ghosts

The story of America’s other non-contiguous state is also a fascinating one and how it came to be is impacted not just by time and tide (and volcanic eruptions) or even just simple avarice (as I assumed).  Neither was Manifest Destiny a universally accepted doctrine of the expanding Republic.  It is true that the Kingdom of Hawai’i was ultimately annexed by the United States due in part by agitators who owned plantations and backed supporters in the overthrow of the royal family.  The seated US government, however, under the leadership of anti-imperialists, was exonerated of any interference, both in unseating the monarchy or encouraging the new democracy (a very short-lived republic) to make the transition to accession as an American territory.   The timing of events during the late 1800s and culminating in 1903 were the ripples broadcast of a larger stratagem for America to assert its strength as a world power.  The interest and acquisition of the Pacific island group began with the Spanish-American War, a forgotten and long-distant conflict itself but responsible for many of these geological artefacts and discontinuities.  Prior to the US Civil War, successive regimes in the US were interested in obtaining Cuba, a colony of Spain, for its farmlands and to enslave its native population—rather than importing slaves from Africa.  Spain refused to sell to America at any price and America’s own intervening civil war put a halt to ambitions of empire for several years.

 After the Civil War ended, however, the idea for conquest was renewed, enervated in part by nascent revolts in Cuba towards Spanish rule, which had been going on for years.  America saw the chance to feed the unrest, aided by the yellow-journalism, sensational and negative press by reporters Pulitzer and Hearst (whose names now seem to epitomise just the opposite quality in reporting).  The mysterious sinking of an American battleship in Havana harbour pushed the American president, William McKinley, reluctant for war and with no interest in colony building until and unless America could solve her existing domestic problems, into all-out war with Spain.  Perhaps part of the American public’s appetite for war was paradoxically just emerging itself from a horrendous and prolonged conflict and wanted to unite in one cause—though not a very just or honourable one, and perhaps a cause also picked by munitions-manufacturers.  The theatre quickly spread from the Caribbean to Spain’s colonies in the Pacific, and after ten weeks, the crippled Spanish navy demanded peace be brokered.  The Treaty of Paris awarded the US all Spanish colonies outside those in Africa—sort of a pyric victory, though, as the engagement brought waves of epidemic illnesses back to the US and introduced the country to the concept of crusading, which it tried very hard to avoid and has never been able to shake since.  Independence was eventually given to Cuba (with the lease in perpetuity of fort in Guantรกnamo Bay), Panama and the Philippines (all had to fight for it and were the subjects of other wars) but much of the rest of America’s overseas holdings came as a result of this little war: Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Guam are among the islands that came into US control—American Samoa sort of got caught up in the wake.  Though Spain was no longer a threat to the US and the Philippines wanted to be dependent of the US and not vassal to some other foreign power, the US sought to incorporate Hawai’i for strategic reasons, as the island was approximately midway between mainland America and its most remote holdings.

Tuesday 12 October 2010


English language daily The Local has an interesting piece on the secret bank bunker, prompted by West-East tensions with the building of the Berlin Wall and Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s, in Cochem at the bend of the Mosel, close to Bonn and Wiesbaden. Of course, there was much area speculation on the nature of the shelter but there was no official disclosure regarding the contents until just a few weeks ago, including some 15 billion Marks on reserve in the form of an Ersatz currency to be used to counteract hyperinflation in the event of an emergency. Guided tours are ensuing.
I suppose that this mechanism could only so far in terms of stabilizing a devastated economy and with the lapse of the Cold War, there are certain priorities that would not pass muster as far as government sanctioned paranoia, but countries should not be so quick to abandon their sanctuaries and refuges because apprehension is adept at reinvention. A secret bank bunker might be handy in the event of a currency war and other market shocks. Continuity projects, like at Greenbriar or Denver Airport or Ullenwood, secret or not, in terms of infrastructure and intention are still valuable real estate.  I would like to take a tour of that bank bunker and explore the underworld caverns.