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<em>Picture: Beverley & Pack

Picture: Beverley & Pack

By Stuart Crawford

Bashing our transatlantic cousins has been a popular sport for as long as I can remember, whether it be for their extraordinary dress sense, extraordinary appetites, or extraordinary rendition – or perhaps all three and everything else in between. But I’ve always rather liked Americans in general terms, and thought perhaps we should remind ourselves of some of the good things that have come out of the good ol’ USA over the years. So here are some of the things I think we should be grateful for, in no particular order.

Nobody does breakfast like the Americans. Down to the diner at some unearthly hour in the morning, sit up at the counter, and immerse yourself in the experience. Good coffee, crispy bacon, eggs over easy, pancakes with maple syrup, ye cannae whack it. Kippers aside, it knocks spots anything we can offer over here. Here’s one tradition we should adopt wholeheartedly in Scotland; why haven’t we already?

Meg Ryan
Hey, I know I’m showing my age here, but what Julie Christie was to the 60s Meg was to the 90s – and still is for the whatever age we’re in now as far as I’m concerned. Every bloke’s (well, almost) favourite actress was America’s sweetheart for a while and no wonder. We just can’t produce them like that over here, so thank you, Uncle Sam.

Coca Cola
“What?”, I hear you say. The funny tasting stuff which, according to my late mother, was “full of dye” and rots kids’ teeth? And which was the most popular soft drink in the civilised world apart from here in sunny ol’ Scotland, where the indigenous Irn Bru pipped it at the post year after year? Yep, the very same, but not for its thirst quenching qualities, such as they may be. For its medicinal applications, that’s what for. Migraine sufferers have long recognised that two soluble aspirin dissolved in a glass of Coke from a glass bottle and consumed at the onset of a migraine can sometimes stop it dead in its tracks. It must be from a glass bottle, mind, tin can or plastic containers won’t work. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know the answer, but work it does.

Lend Lease
Going back in history a little bit here to 1941, when Hitler had conquered Europe and was looking across the Channel at Britain, whose back was very definitely against the wall. And running out of money to continue the war very quickly. Across the Pond, the US President, Franklin D Roosevelt, was sympathetic but hampered in his desire to assist by the Neutrality Acts of the 30s. In March 1941 he signed the Lend Lease Bill, which enabled him to help Britain (and also other Allied countries like Russia and China) by providing military materiel and supplies. Without it, Britain’s struggle would have been infinitely more difficult and might not have succeeded at all. Lend lease material was not a gift and there was repayment required, but much of it was discounted by up to 90%. Britain finally repaid the debt in 1996.

Rock ‘n’ roll
Funny one this one, because the Americans, or white Americans anyroads, didn’t really wake up to the fact they’d invented rock and roll until we Brits repackaged it in the form of the Beatles and their many imitators and exported it to back to them. But invent it they did, emerging in the southern states from a mixture of rhythm and blues, country, soul, gospel, folk and jazz music in the 1940s and 50s, espoused by musicians and singers like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino et al. Its development went hand in hand with the adoption of the electric guitar as instrument of choice for the young. Then the Beatles got hold of it and changed it forever, in the same way as they changed more or less everything they touched in that period in the 60s when the world changed from monochrome to colour. But hats off to our US cousins for letting us have it to play around with.

Henry Ford
Scotland has a long standing love affair with the automobile, and those of us driving around in our Volvo estates (Edinburgh)*/white BMW X5 four wheel drives with tinted windows and personalised numberplates (Glasgow)* (*delete as applicable) have Mr Ford to thank for our motoring joy and freedom. The Americans didn’t invent the motor car, but they brought it to the masses via industrial scale production, even if initially Henry would let you have any colour of his Model T Ford as long as it was black. Before him, motoring was the preserve of an elite few; after his intervention any gangster, ned or ne’er do well can afford a set of wheels. Thanks, Henry…

History hasn’t always been kind to President John F Kennedy, what with his philandering, Bay of Pigs fiasco etc etc, but for anyone alive at the time he was in office he signified one thing; hope. He signified for many people the beginning of leaving the post war austerity behind and facing a bright new future, and few of us can forget where we were when news of his assassination reached us. His presidency was, for lots of folk, when the sun began to shine again, and for that all too short interlude we should be grateful.

Making Us Look Thin
This one came from one of my offspring, and it might just still hold water in 2012. America’s pole position in the obesity stakes is now under threat – from us as well as from elsewhere – but I think they still have a comfortable claim to top the fatness table. It’s one of life’s great paradoxes that a certain portliness was once the mark of wealth and now it is the mark of poverty. Junk food, once a semi luxury for the relatively well off, now provides sustenance mainly for the disadvantaged. Yes, the Americans still, just, make us look thin(ner), but only just. Be warned.

A bit of an odd one but I was lucky enough to spend a year in Kansas whilst a student at the US Army’s Command and General Staff School in 1990/91 and have many fond memories of the state and its people. My eldest was born there, in Providence St Margaret hospital in Kansas City, so I own my very own American, complete with dual nationality and US passport. I also learnt to fly there, a lifelong ambition, thanks to the patience and generosity of my instructor Bob Drennan and the Fort Leavenworth Flying Club, something I could never have afforded to do back home. And I’m still in touch with many of the folk I met there, both within the military establishment and the wider community. So, a personal thanks to Kansas for looking after me and my family so well and, in the words of General McArthur, “I shall return.”

Finally, we’re stretching the definition of “American” a little bit here, because lacrosse was probably invented by Native American Indians in Canada – but, hey. As you may be aware, the game is very much a minority sport in Scotland, mainly played in girls’ independent schools. Apparently the first modern women’s game in Scotland was played at St Leonard’s School in St Andrews in 1890. I had never seen the game before my two daughters started playing it, but I must say it’s great fun to watch. I also saw the Scotland Women’s international squad training once and it was pretty frightening too at that standard, such was the speed and athleticism of play. A real pity it’s only played by private school kids here as far as I know.

There we are then, a personal list of nine and a bit things to thank our American cousins for, and I’m sure I could have thunk up many more. I plan to return to the fray at a later date with some things which we’re not so grateful for, just to bring a bit of balance to the debate, but this’ll have to do for now.

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<em>Picture: Surian Soosay</em>

Osama Dead Linen. Picture: Surian Soosay

By James Browne

Ding dong, the witch is dead. And now the difficult questions begin.

But first, given my critical view of US foreign policy, my belief in the sanctity of human life and commitment to due process, let me say this about the killing of Osama bin Laden:

America, fuck yeah!

1) Will it actually change anything?
While the death of the bogeyman gives most of us a slightly guilty bounce in our step, the sad fact is that it probably won’t do much damage to al-Qaeda. Its power lies in the fact it’s a distributed network without central organisation.

2) Pakistan
I started to write that “the tall one” was found hidden in a secret compound called “Osama bin Laden Towers” at No 1 Osama Bin Laden Street, in the Al-Qaeda Boss district of Islamabad. But then I gave up because his location was beyond satire. The most hunted man in the world, hunted too by the Pakistan intelligence services, was living in a huge compound 800 yards from Pakistan’s equivalent of Sandhurst. And nobody in Pakistan’s military and intelligence services knew? Oh sure. They’re our committed friends in the battle against terror, and no mistake…

3) Israel and Palestine
The running sore of the Palestinian conflict fuels the evil of bin Laden and his ilk. Islamic terrorism will not be defeated until there is a just, two-state solution that addresses the grievances of the Palestinians and the security concerns of the Israelis. Former senior CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, who has advised three US presidents, advocates that Washington aggressively “puts down its own map of a two-state solution” to put an end to the huge price in blood being paid for the conflict in the Holy Land. He’s right and the death of OBL presents a huge opportunity.

4) Intel and technology
Osama bin Laden was killed by troops on the ground after very hard work based on human intelligence. After 9/11, the US especially learned painful lessons about the limitations of electronic surveillance, lessons which were underlined by the fact that OBL had no phone or internet connection. In Afghanistan, the further limitations of air power are clear. Wars are won by soldiers guided by reliable information. This has enormous implications for defence policy – or “cuts”, as we’ll call it.

5) Arab revolutions
How will the death of bin Laden affect attitudes in the Arab world? The situation in these states is finely balanced as they struggle to emerge from (often Western-backed) repression. While Americans are dancing in the streets celebrating the death of the bogeyman, we may well be repeating Iraqi and Afghani history by getting embroiled in an open-ended vague war in Libya. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were recruiting gifts to al-Qaeda. Will Libya be the same?

6) Nutjob conspiracy theories
Get ready for the unedifying sight of Donald Trump and Ayman al-Zawahiri racing to “prove” that OBL is not dead and that Obama (“sounds like Osama”) faked the death at the same time as he faked his own birth certificate.

7) Theological implications
And finally, it is impossible to to pierce the cloud of unknowing, but one has to assume that OBL will be facing some very pointed questions from the Merciful and the Compassionate over his murder of innocents of all races, creeds and colours in the name of an unrecognisably twisted version of Islam…

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A dry martini: shaken/stirredness unknown. <em>Picture: Chris Corwin</em>

A dry martini: shaken/stirredness unknown. Picture: Chris Corwin

James Bond, super-suave uber-spy may, on the surface, appear to have very little in common with a popular breakfast cereal. But underneath the Saville Row suit, there are a number of threads between him and the man who invented Cornflakes.

As Ian Fleming, the creator of the James Bond series, was half-Scottish, it is little wonder that he gave his greatest character a Scottish father and had him education at Edinburgh’s Fettes College. It may be that Fleming was not just incorporating his own ancestry when he was writing, but might have emphasized Commander Bond’s Scottishness after watching Sean Connery in the role.

Whilst not of recent Scottish ancestry, John Harvey Kellogg, born in 1852, is reputed to be descended from Scottish immigrants who set up home in Michigan. Kellogg, a strict Seventh-Day Adventist, ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium for the church, where he imposed his particular regime of exercise, enemas and the partaking of a morning corn-based cereal.

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Cold showers
Most Bond films feature a shower scene where our near-naked hero steps out clad only in a mini-towel. Odds on that this was a “Scottish Shower” as a cold ablution is sometimes called. Immersing the body in cold water has long been regarded as beneficial and became popular in the 19th century when a German called Vincenz Priessnitz began touting the benefits of hydrotherapy – a cold water cure for everything that could possibly be bothering you. It quickly spread to America, reaching its zenith at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where Kellogg believed whole-heartedly in the benefits of the treatment. This and his preoccupation with enemas formed the backbone to his treatment. In order to maintain a “squeaky clean intestine” Kellogg advocated a daily intake of yoghurt: half taken orally and the other half (ahem) not. It is not recorded whether Bond felt this to be a necessary daily ritual.

“Room service? I’d like to order breakfast. Half a pint of orange juice, three eggs, lightly scrambled, with bacon, a double portion of café Espresso with cream. Toast. Marmalade. Got it?”

So speaks Bond in Casino Royale where his love of a good breakfast is made clear. In this he is like Kellogg, who also believed in the importance of the first meal of the day, although it bore little resemblances to the spy’s. His insistence on a cereal-based breakfast led him to devise a new breakfast staple which he then began manufacturing on a large scale with his brother Will. Thus in 1892 the two brothers set up the Sanitas Food Company to manufacture Corn Flakes, as they had ingeniously decided to name them. John later fell out with his brother over Will’s insistence on adding sugar to the recipe. Unsurprisingly, it was Will’s flakes that won the battle of the brand.

Kellogg instituted a rigorous exercise regime for all of his patients, believing that this would help defend the body against many ailments. In the movies, Bond too must be careful to undertake a rigourous workout – how else can he maintain the six pack for which he’s famed. That said, there are only little clues as to how James keeps himself buff as he certainly doesn’t seem to spend an hour in the gym every day. He plays golf, skies, “founded the first serious judo class at a British public school” – but that’s it. (Except for a tantalizing glimpse in From Russia With Love where a bored Bond does 20 slow press ups, some straight leg-lifts and toe touches and a few arm exercises. If only that was all it took.)

From here on in Bond and Kellogg cease to have any similarities, indeed, begin to be as opposite as two Scots who like breakfast and exercise could possibly be. Kellogg had an unusually heightened fear of any sexual excesses and advocated sexual abstinence, advising that too much was dangerous. His obsession extended to a morbid fear of masturbation, warning of the dangers of a practice where the “victim literally dies by his own hand”. As for Bond, well, what can you say about a man whose sexual partners include Plenty O’Toole, Xenia Onatopp, Holly Goodhead, and Pussy Galore?

Bevvy and fags
As part of his drive to suppress the sexual appetite, Kellogg banned any substances that might over-excite. So a strict no-booze, no-cigarettes rule was followed. Unlike Bond who smokes up to 60 a day of mild, sweet Turkish tobacco, cigarettes specially made for him by Morland’s and whatever the local brand of smokes happens to be. And as for drink. Well, I’ll leave that to the great man himself:

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

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Libyan opposition flag. <em>Picture: Mohammed Shamma</em>

Libyan opposition flag. Picture: Mohammed Shamma

It must be galling for Muhammar al-Gaddafi that Libyans have chosen this moment in time to rise against him.

Tormentor of US presidents for four decades, the desert chameleon had only recently come in from the cold, as US diplomats put it, and become a friend, more Hosni Mubarak, as it were, than Saddam Hussein, in that he was prepared to scrap Libya’s nuclear weapons programme and stop challenging Western influence in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and the striking of lucrative oil deals.

Early this morning it looked as though Gaddafi was reverting to form, preparing to dig in and fight to save his regime, rather than flee to Venezuela as had been widely reported earlier in the day. He has put down rebellions before, but not on this scale. “I am in Tripoli not in Venezuela,” he said in a brief statement. But it has all gone wrong for him, with the Libyan UN delegation quitting over the strafing of civilians by the air force in Tripoli, and two pilots defecting to Malta rather than fire on their own people.

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Crucially, with his support dwindling, Gaddafi’s ambassador to Washington, Ali Suleiman Aujali – a man who as much as anyone in the regime can trace its transition from pariah state to a country the West can do business with – said early this morning he could not support a government killing its own people.

Aujali’s intentions could be significant. He was born in the Mediterranean port of Benghazi, where the Libyan revolt began, and spent the early years of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in London as a diplomat. He has also been Libyan envoy to Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires and Brazil. Before becoming US envoy, he was a key figure in ten years of secret negotiations with the United States which led to the lifting of sanctions and a $2.7 billion compensation deal for relatives of the Lockerbie bombing victims.

In 1986 Libya was a very different place and Aujali a very different kind of envoy. I met him in Buenos Aires, where he was Libya’s ambassador, shortly after US jets bombed Gaddafi’s residence in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin discotheque frequented by American soldiers.

Aujali was with Ibrahim Abu Khzam, then vice secretary of the Libyan People’s Congress, who had been sent by Gaddafi to South America to drum up support for Libya against the US and to deny Libyan involvement in the German bombing.

Pinned on a wall behind the two men was a poster showing several colour photos of the mangled and bloody bodies of victims of the US air raid on Gaddafi’s compound, with captions in English, French and Spanish reading “Reagan’s peace!”, “La paix comme Reagan la Voit”, and “La paz como la vea Reagan”.

I was handed a photograph of Gaddafi’s adopted two-year-old daughter Hana, who was killed in the air raid “on our brother leader’s home”. A caption under the picture read in English: “Kids should never forget my killer: Reagan and Thatcher” (the US planes had flown from England).

The United States had accused Libya of setting up training camps for the IRA, the Basque ETA guerrillas and the Italian Red Brigades, and plotting the assassination of the Saudi Royal family and other Middle Eastern and African leaders. But it was also a time of covert and open interference by the United States in Central America and South America, and the envoys said that, rather than Libya being a terrorist state, the US was spending billions of dollars in Latin America “trying to impose dictatorships” while all Libya was doing was backing liberation movements throughout the world.

“In Africa, we back the South African people’s struggle against the racist regime; we back the people of Namibia, Ghana, Burkina Fasso, the three million Palestinians who were expelled from their country.”

I was then handed a copy of Gaddafi’s little Green Book, his answer to Mao’s red one.

Fast forward to 2000, and Gaddafi is chatting with a correspondent of the National Geographic for the November issue, a good way to initiate a thaw. In 2007, Aujali is in Washington, telling the Washington Diplomat that Libya’s decision to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing was a “calculated economic decision” because Western sanctions were crippling the country to the tune of $5 billion a year by depriving Libya of technology.

He maintained that there was no Libyan hatred against Americans, “maybe differences, but no hate … At the end of any crisis is negotiation. People sit together, talk directly, explain their problems and move on. This is what has happened between Libya and the United States.” Aujali is an advocate of economic reforms and encourages US investment, and has hinted that talks have been held in the past between Israeli officials and Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam.

In 2009 Aujali wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the fact that “a large and growing body of evidence that casts serious doubt on [Abdel Baset al-Megrahi’s] conviction and suggests that an innocent man may have been languishing in prison” had been widely under-reported by the US media. “

The Scottish flags they flew alongside Libyan flags were not an endorsement of the terrible deeds of which [the then recently released Megrahi] was accused,” he said. “They were a powerful sign of solidarity between two very different nations that nonetheless share the value of compassion”.

Aujali has striven to distance Libya from its murky past and links with terrorist organisations, pointing out that Libya was the first nation to issue an arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden back in 1998. He claims Libya is one of the West’s key partners in fighting the spread of al-Qaeda in North Africa and catching extremists on their way to Iraq to attack US forces.

But he has not been afraid to criticise the US, once telling the Council of Foreign Relations: “If I speak about the American people, you have great people. If we speak about the country, it’s a great country. If I speak about the American foreign policy, there are a lot of things to say. Your foreign policy, something has to be done about it. The situation in Iraq, the American invasion of Iraq, the role of America in the Middle East, I think that is what has to really be addressed with courage. You have to tell yourselves, ‘Yes we did something wrong’.”

Clearly Gaddafi, in the minds of his people, has done something worse than wrong himself. Will Aujali, the man who has helped transform Libya’s foreign policy, play a role in Libya’s future, or is he tainted by the bloodshed and brutal repression of four decades of “our brother leader”?

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Winton's 1899 model

Winton's 1899 model

If you put the words “America” and “Cars” together you’d probably come up with Henry Ford, or the car-manufacturing behemoth General Motors. But in terms of automobile history they are over-shadowed by a “short-tempered” Scot, who built the first commercially-sold car in the United States and, although now mostly forgotten, can really be described as the man who put America on the road.

Alexander Winton was born in Grangemouth on 20 June, 1860, and as a young man served an apprenticeship in the Clyde shipyards. He emigrated to the United Sates at the age of 20 where he worked in iron mills and as a steamship engineer. By the 1880s he had moved to Cleveland where he set up the Winton Bicycle Company.

By the mid 1890s, Winton’s focus had shifted from bicycles to automobiles and he determined to make the best and fastest of these. He announced his “horseless carriage” in the Horseless Age magazine in October, 1896.

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The vehicles that he built were all made by hand, weighed over 1,000 pounds and initially ran on bicycle tyres. The sides were painted, the seats padded, there was a leather roof and as he improved the design, they began to reach (what were then) astonishing speeds of around 34mph.

There was initial scepticism about the ability of this new automobile. Winton responded by putting his new vehicle through an 800-mile endurance run from Cleveland to New York, a successful PR exercise that proved to the doubting public that his vehicle had stamina.

It all became worthwhile when, on 24 March, 1898, Winton became the first man in the United States to sell an automobile commercially, with the sale of his car to Robert Allison of Pennsylvania. The automobiles began to fly out of the factory – or at least fly out as quickly as they could, given they were hand-made. That year Winton sold a further 21 vehicles and by 1899 over one hundred had been sold and his was the largest manufacturer of petrol-powered autos in the US.

Further publicity was assured when both Reginald and Alfred Vanderbilt bought a Winton and more success followed when Dr Horatio Nelson Jackson made history when he became the first person to drive across America, in one of Winton’s vehicle. The journey, in 1903, took 64 days, including breakdowns, and necessitated a crew to hoist the Winton over difficult terrain.

During his construction of the automobiles Winton patented over 100 designs. Bernard Golias in his book Famous but Forgotten: The Story of Alexander Winton writes that “people tend to equate Henry Ford with all the major automotive accomplishments, but if you take a look at the early patents, Winton held the groundbreakers in automotive development.”

Despite his early success, Winton was unable to lead the race for long. New manufacturers were creeping up behind him, and his old-fashioned insistence on building by hand couldn’t match the capacity delivered by the new assembly lines set up by his competitors.

These competitors had themselves often benefited from Winton knowledge first hand. One of Winton’s early customers was James Ward Packard, who went on to found the Packard Automobile Company after declaring himself dissatisfied with the Winton. But it was an unlucky job-seeker who proved the biggest challenge to Winton.

Winton’s chief engineer, Leo Melanowski, had invited one Henry Ford to Cleveland with the possibility of work in the company. Winton was unimpressed with Ford and sent him away. Ford returned to Detroit where he continued working on his own designs, designs that quickly showed up the flaws in the Winton automobiles.

By now competing manufacturers were expected to put their new modules through their paces in a series of endurance tests and races as they fought to prove their dominance over each other. In 1901 Winton lost a race to Henry Ford. However, Winton could claim some small victory, as prior to the race he had given Ford one of his new steering wheel mechanisms, expressing concern that someone would be killed if they used the Ford one.

After losing the race Winton was determined to regain his crown, and so, in 1902, built the Winton Bullet, which set an unofficial land speed record of 70 miles per hour. His victory was short-lived, as this record was promptly defeated by another Ford.

As the early part of the 20th century rolled on Winton lost out to the proliferation of new companies that were springing up around Detroit and elsewhere. By 1924 he had given up producing automobiles and had moved into marine and diesel engines. This company was subsumed into the giant General Motors in 1930 and eventually even this line declined.

Today, Winton’s name is largely forgotten, buried beneath the weight of Ford and others, but his contribution to the development of the automobile was enormous.

This Scottish lad-made-good may just about be able to claim that he joins a long list of famous Scottish inventors, like Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the disputed inventor of the bicycle in the 1890s) and Robert William Thomson, who invented the pneumatic tyre in 1845, without which Winton’s automobiles would never have made it out of the garage.

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Portrait of Professor William Small by Tilly Kettle

Portrait of Professor William Small by Tilly Kettle

Speaking at the launch of Tartan Day in April 2008, George W Bush, then President of the United States, spoke of the great debt of honour that Americans held for those of Scottish descent who have “made enduring contributions to our Nation with their hard work, faith and values”.

He went on to acknowledge the role that the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath played in forming the American constitution citing the “Scots’ strong dedication to liberty”. and also their “tradition of freedom” that they brought with them to the New World.

Just how much influence Scots have had in forming the constitution of America is often debated. There are those who trace a direct line from the sentiments and wording of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, a letter to the Pope that made Scotland’s case for freedom from England and freedom for all the people of Scotland, all the way to the American Declaration of Independence, which was presented to Congress in 1776 and says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

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Undoubtedly those who drew up the American declaration were influenced by great thinkers from Aristotle onwards. But just a cursory look at the men involved in drafting and signing the declaration reveal a strong Scottish influence.
Of the 56 signatories of the declaration it is estimated that at the least a third were either Scots by birth or of Scottish descent. This number, by some people’s estimates, rises to three-quarters. Whilst it is probable that most of the signatories held non-American ancestry, it is clear that Scottish blood, education and ideas were strongly represented in the drawing up and signing of the document.

The committee set up to draft the declaration comprised five men: Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Of these five, the drafting was entrusted mostly to Jefferson.

Jefferson was himself of Scottish descent, tracing his lineage back to King Robert I of Scotland. But if his claims to Scottish ancestry may be sketchy, his education amongst Scots is not.

Jefferson was himself very well-read, with many of the tracts and papers he had absorbed influencing the drafting of the declaration. His education was further broadened when he studied law at William and Mary, one of America’s oldest colleges. There he was taught by William Small, a Scottish Professor of mathematics and philosophy. Jefferson wrote later that Small was “as a father” to him and certainly shared with him the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment as well as the Scottish ideals of freedom and equality.

However, Jefferson was not the only man of influence with a Scottish past involved in the declaration. James Wilson, from a farming family in Fife, was hugely influential in building America. He was one of only six to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

He was a late arrival to the US, arriving there in 1765 aged 23. His background at the Universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow placed him right at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment. He moved into law on reaching America and from there was drawn to the Revolution. His role as a founding father continued to his death when he was still an associate justice of the US Supreme Court.

His role in shaping America was so great that in 1906 his body was moved from North Carolina to Pennsylvania where it was re-interred close to Benjamin Franklin.
There were other Scots amongst the signatories whose influence is still felt today. And they were not the last. The history of America is peppered with folks with names like McKinlay, Blair, Buchanan, Monroe and McArthur: men whose forebears may have left their country many years previously, but had never forgotten what it meant to be a Scot.

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<em>Picture: Ramy Raoof</em>

Picture: Ramy Raoof

The uprisings in the Arab world, as The Caledonian Mercury has suggested, (in words that are now being echoed
by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague) are a moment of opportunity that must be seized.

Hague is beginning to lean on Israel, subtly urging the United States to do likewise, for fear that Israeli intransigence at a time of profound change in the Arab world may jeopardise the possibility of any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli question.

But how willing is Israel to listen? Not very, judging by the tone of a recent US diplomatic document put out by Wikileaks. The document suggests the Israelis are very comfortable with Omar Suleiman as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s vice president. Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, is Israel’s preferred successor to Mubarak, as the US document shows:

“In terms of atmospherics, [Israeli ministry of defence Arab affairs advisor David] Hacham said the Israeli delegation was ‘shocked’ by Mubarak’s aged appearance and slurred speech. Hacham was full of praise for Soliman, [sic] however, and noted that a ‘hot line’ set up between the [Israeli] MOD and Egyptian General Intelligence Service is now in daily use. Hacham said he sometimes speaks to Soliman’s deputy Mohammed Ibrahim several times a day. Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated. (Note: We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.)”

Meanwhile, the Israeli media is reacting with predictable concern about the situation in Egypt, with some commentators urging the Israeli government to approach the Egyptian opposition rather than dismissi the entire Arab world as a sea of “blood eyed fanatics”. Others warn of a transition to yet another phase of fascism:

Bradley Burston, Haaretz

“There’s a distinctly uncomfortable but ultimately healthy humility, in realising that we have no idea what’s going on in the only region we seem to know anything about. I want to thank you [Egyptians] for that.

“It is beginning to dawn on my people, the Israelis, that freedom for Arabs may have nothing to do with annihilation for Jews. I have you to thank for that.

“Here and there, people are recognising that the Arab world, and this grand nation which is its cultural epicentre, is vastly more complex than this view of a vast sea of blood-eyed fanatics barely restrained by the brittle dykes of a heavily subsidised corps of despots.

“And there’s another lesson we need to learn, most of all.

“What is the common thread that ties Hosni Mubarak and Ehud Barak, that makes Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman increasingly resemble the rulers of unapologetically non-democratic Mideast regimes? Why has this Israeli government done its best to emulate in two years, repressive measures Hosni Mubarak took 30 years to refine?”

Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post

“To understand tyranny’s relationship with popular democracy, we must fast forward to the period 1917 to 1950. In that period almost all of the liberal democracies in Europe were brushed aside by popular fascist or communist movements. It began with Russia where a brief period of democratic government in 1917 was followed by the communist seizure of power.

“The fascists and their enemies used mass protests and chaos, including rioting, to secure power against weak democratically elected patricians who proved incapable of dealing with the street. Yet those who look to Egypt and admire the protesters don’t see that these types of mass protests, while they demand democracy, also walk hand in hand with dictatorship.

“It isn’t about the Egyptians being Arabs. It isn’t about Israel ‘integrating’ into its region. It’s about the fact that no one notices that what is going on in Egypt is not a sign of democracy, it is just a sign of chaos and mass protest. Mass protest may cause a government to implement democratic reforms.

“But as we have seen in Tunisia, when the government simply collapses and runs away, that doesn’t represent a ‘democratic transition’. Chaos, as there is in Egypt, has a much better track record of producing more tyranny and fascism, than it does at producing democracy.”

Ray Hanania, Jerusalem Post

“Today, there are two governments in the Palestinian territories – the religious fanatics who oppose peace with Israel, and the secular moderates who support it. In a stagnant political environment, time is not on the side of the moderates.

“Every day of stalemate sees Hamas gaining strength.

“Had there been no interference in Palestinian affairs, things would have worked themselves out. Voters would have eventually ousted Hamas. Its ridiculous religious extremist demands have already started to turn people off.

“To do the right thing, sometimes people need to see the wrong thing happen. But the meddling blinded the Palestinian public to the extremist fanaticism of Hamas, and Israel’s arrests of its leaders only fed the group’s popularity.

“Today, Hamas continues to feed off of the failure of the peace process.

“Democracy is the antidote to tyranny. It doesn’t always seem that way, but it is always better than relying on dictators. Didn’t America learn anything from its experiment with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War? The same choices are rearing their ugly heads in Egypt.

“Israel doesn’t want Hosni Mubarak out because it believes his successor would likely revoke the peace accord, or change the terms significantly, though that may well happen. But even if it did, in a democracy, Egypt would return to peaceful public discussion and debate.

“Egypt’s turmoil might prompt Israel to do the right thing and move forward with the peace process.

“What democracy needs are strong voices who believe in it – Palestinian, Israeli, Arab and Jew.”

Carmel Gould, Just Journalism

“Editorial boards across the spectrum of the [British] mainstream print press have been seriously challenged by this story. The dilemma was instantly apparent. Coming out in support of a democratic revolution in a notoriously undemocratic region feels instinctively right, but the outcome could mean the destabilisation of an already volatile region and, specifically, the rise of an extremist Islamist force in the Arab world’s most populous country.

“No-one wants their newspaper to come out on the wrong side of history.

“It should be obvious that Israel has reasons to be seriously nervous. The 1979 peace treaty with Egypt represents 50 percent of the total number of peace deals it has with the 22 Arab countries in whose midst it exists. For 32 years that agreement has played an undeniable role in preventing follow-up wars to those of 1967 and 1973, which killed at least 24,000 people. It doesn’t take an expert to understand why Israel would want this relationship preserved and not reversed.”

<em>Picture: Phil Roeder</em>

Picture: Phil Roeder

It may have looked “awesome” to some people, but to me last night’s garish Superbowl extravaganza between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed to underline the gap that exists between reality and the way Americans perceive themselves.

It’s all been said before, but to the outsider virtually immune to hype and hip hop, the crass commercialisation of the event and the built-in, stop-start nature of the game itself simply masked the shallowness of what this really was: men in tights and helmets hurling a ball – but mostly themselves – at each other in fitful bursts that seemed to exhaust them, because after a 20-yard run they would always stop for a rest.

At half time, the spectacular, glittering choreography accompanying the Black Eyed Peas (this was obviously designed to shock and awe even the Chinese) almost saved the Peas from the embarrassment of a woeful performance, but it didn’t.

This event had Mission Accomplished written all over it: Look what we’ve done! Well, what exactly?

Outside, in what is supposed to be the real world, the Obama administration seems to be engaging in fantasy diplomacy, designed to hide its ineptitude over its handling of the Egyptian uprising. It is thinking aloud, sending mixed messages, with Obama telling the world (or Fox News at least) that Egypt has changed forever because the people want freedom, while Hillary Clinton warned Egyptians to beware of what they wish for, because while a transition to democracy is desirable, Hosni Mubarak has been a pretty good guy, hasn’t he, and maybe he shouldn’t step down just yet?

From Washington’s perspective, Mubarak has had his uses in maintaining relative stability in the Middle East by acting as an Arab friend to Israel. And if he is persuaded out of office, who might be next? The Saudi royal family? Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev (remember that oil)? When does the Good Muslim, Bad Muslim game end?

Hence the confusion. Like the Black Eyed Peas and those guys in helmets, however, the Obama administration looks tired and jaded already. Forget the sound bites and the razzmatazz: where’s the substance?

Protesters in Egypt. <em>Picture: Helge Keitel</em>

Protesters in Egypt. Picture: Helge Keitel

The revolution sweeping the Arab world poses some interesting questions for policy makers in the West, who must find new ways of making friends in the region rather than repeat the failed policies of the past.

Propping up autocratic regimes in the Middle East may have secured the West’s oil supplies for decades, but at what price today? Like our casino banking system, which for years gave us a false sense of prosperity, Western influence in the Middle East was an illusion that is coming to an end.

It was only made possible through repression exercised by proxy and, though some will argue that this is the way business has been conducted by governments from time immemorial, we are in the age of instant communication. Whether this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing in the long term, only time will tell, but in the meantime it seems to have made the usual way of conducting business unworkable, and only Hosni Mubarak doesn’t seem to realise this.

Well, perhaps not only Mubarak. It has been a worrying time for Israel, who has had in Mubarak a useful friend for the three decades he has been in power, and it really would like to maintain the status quo in the region.

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who after years of antagonising the West has ironically found himself back on almost friendly terms with Washington and London, has also taken a dim view of the Egyptian uprising. And well he might: after all, he has been in power since 1969. (Looking further afield, what will Cuba’s Raúl Castro be thinking? You can find what his brother Fidel thinks here, but you’ll have to scroll a long way down).

Rightwing commentators in the United States are having a field day blaming President Barack Obama for abandoning George W Bush’s so-called “freedom agenda”, but they are not being truthful. They would have us believe that Bush would have forcefully encouraged Mubarak to step down. Then why didn’t he when he could? Are Bush’s supporters calling for regime change in Saudi Arabia? Of course not.

What was Bush’s “freedom agenda” in any case? The invasion of Iraq was not designed to “liberate” the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, but to stamp out a dictator who had once been backed by the West in its confrontation with Iran (yet another case study) but who had now become the focus for pan-Arab nationalism, as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser was in the 1960s. And again, maintaining oil supplies was at the heart of US thinking.

Those who like me are sceptical of the American Right’s claims that Bush’s policies have been vindicated by what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt (and is about to happen elsewhere) might argue that regime change is more effective when it is carried out from within, by the people themselves, even if it takes years to come about.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are proof, if any were needed, that, given time, the Iraqi people would have removed Saddam themselves. (Thatcher’s war over the Falklands may have precipitated Galtieri’s fall, but he was on his way out anyway: with the economy in a mess and inflation spiralling out of control, the people had already taken to the streets against the regime. An invasion of Argentina, however, would have galvanised even those who opposed the occupation of the Falklands against Britain).

As Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fatah has pointed out, the Egyptian uprising shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as there have been strikes and demonstrations there since the Nineties over the Gulf War, IMF-imposed austerity programmes, torture and in support of Palestinian intifadas. It has taken time for these protests to evolve into today’s all-encompassing revolt, which is why it is unlikely the Egyptian people will accept anything other than sweeping changes to the way they have been governed – or misgoverned – for so long. But surely it is healthier that they have done this themselves rather than with help from a foreign power that is not seen, to put it mildly, to have the Arab world’s best interests at heart.

If we were still in the Cold War the West would almost certainly have blamed Moscow for the momentous events taking place in the Middle East. Interestingly, in the new world order they are unlikely to find anyone to blame but themselves; assuming they are still looking they would be hard-pressed to find any evidence linking Osama bin Laden or any other Islamist terrorist organisation to the revolutions.

The US and Britain are playing wait and see; that is the right approach. But don’t wait too long: this should be seen as an opportunity to put right the wrongs of the past, such as support for hated autocratic regimes, the oppression of the Palestinian people and the invasion of Iraq. There is a new generation in the Arab world that is hungry to embrace many Western values without abandoning their religious beliefs.

They are seizing their opportunity, and we should too.

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Depleted uranium shellsBy Bill Wilson

It was recently reported that doctors had advised women in Fallujah not to give birth. There are many medical reasons for infertility which might shatter the dreams of a young woman. It is not difficult to imagine how heartbreaking it must be for a woman who is advised that she can never bear children.

But for the young women of an entire city – tens of thousands of them – to be advised not to give birth, how can one imagine such collective pain? But perhaps it does not matter – one life is a tragedy, a million a statistic? Certainly this episode attracted limited press attention. Media Lens highlighted an interesting contrast with the attention directed at the lady who chucked a cat into a bin – one cat confined for a few hours was a tragedy.

This year the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009” by Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi. The report concludes “results confirm the reported increases in cancer and infant mortality which are alarmingly high. The remarkable reduction in the sex ratio in the cohort born one year after the fighting in [Falluja] 2004 identifies that year as the time of the environmental contamination.”

It was this increase in the incidence of child cancer and deformities which resulted in women being advised not to give birth. Fallujah is not the only city witnessing skyrocketing rates of child cancer. “The rapidly soaring child cancer rate in the southern Iraqi province of Basra has prompted the officials in the country to open the country’s first specialist cancer hospital for children in the province’s capital. […] Since 1993, Basra province has witnessed a sharp rise in the incidence of childhood cancer. ‘Leukemia (a type of blood cancer) among children under 15 has increased by about four times,’ said Dr. Janan Hasan of the hospital inaugurated on Thursday in the southern port city of Basra.”

In response to such reports, I lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament highlighting the issue. This was of limited interest to my fellow parliamentarians (fewer than 20 supported it), and of no interest to the Scottish media, but it did attract the attention of a number of dedicated individuals campaigning on the issues raised by the Iraq war, including the issue very relevant to the increase in childhood cancers and birth deformities: depleted uranium (DU). I have subsequently come to appreciate their bravery and determination in the face of what would seem to be attack, denial and disinformation by a ruthless, dishonest and uncaring establishment.

This opinion piece is part of The Caledonian Mercury’s ongoing debate about Scotland’s national life and is part of our commitment to raise the level of debate in Scotland. If you or your organisation would like a platform to voice your views then please contact us at stewart AT caledonianmercury DOT com.

The Non-Aligned Movement in the UN believes at least 400,000 kg of DU shells have been fired. Precisely how many and even where is uncertain. Whether we will ever know is also uncertain. The United Nations First Committee recently voted, by an overwhelming margin, for state users of depleted uranium weapons to release data on where the weapons have been used to governments of the states affected by their use. However, four nations opposed the motion: the UK, the USA, Israel and France. Three of these nations have used DU weapons; France produces them. The resolution then went forward to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for a second vote. The result was identical. However, as such votes are non-binding, it is likely that the four nations opposed to the resolution will simply ignore it.

Alongside refusing to divulge precise details on where DU weapons were deployed, the four also voted against previous resolutions accepting that DU has the potential to damage human health (2007) and calling for more research in affected states (2008). Meanwhile the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) claims that not only is the risk low, but that simple countermeasures can deal with contaminated sites. Even the latter point, with which I strongly disagree, does raise the question: if the counter-measures are so simple, why is nobody taking them in Iraq?

Nicholas Wood has suggested spraying oil on and around destroyed tanks (a temporary measure to stop the dust blowing about and to discourage children from playing on them) and deploying barbed wire to barricade contaminated areas. In Iraq no such measures have been taken, nor has there been any significant clean-up, though the BBC did report a UK commitment to doing so in 2003. It should be noted that the UK’s failure to do so may constitute a war crime. Nicholas believes that these things are not being done because to do so would be an effective admission that DU might be harmful, and that is not something the UK or the US government/military are keen to admit (more on that later). Meanwhile, children continue to play in contaminated tanks.

It is not just in Iraq that little or no action is being taken. The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons reported: “In Kosovo, where most of the contaminated sites are located, and over 70 per cent of the DU was fired, there has been no programme of monitoring since UNEP’s study in 2001”.

The report further notes that decontamination is difficult work and it is impossible to fully remove all the contamination. It is also very costly. The Cape Arza site in Montenegro cost DM 400,000 (almost US$280,000) and took about 5,000 working person days to decontaminate 480 rounds, which in total took around twelve seconds to fire. The estimated cost of clearing up a test firing site in Indiana is $7.8bn.

The report also notes that the health consequences remain unclear with a lack of research data, though it is known that internalised DU is a carcinogen. It is also know that as a DU shell hits a tank it effectively vaporises, resulting in rather a lot of carcinogenic dust. Radioactive materials do not remain radioactive forever, however. DU dust has a half-life of only 4.5 billion years. It is good to know that if we don’t bother to clean up the mess then 150 million generations or so down the line the descendants of today’s Iraqis, Afghans, etc. will only have to cope with half the radiation that people have to face today! The sun will still have half a billion years to burn.

The use of radioactive weapons in Iraq as far back as 1991 was exposed by Professor Siegwart-Horst Gunther, who found, on the highway between Baghdad and Amman, projectiles the size and shape of a cigar (fired from aeroplanes). Professor Gunther took a bullet back to Germany for testing. The bullet exhibited a radioactivity giving an effective dose of 11 to 12 microsieverts per hour and was considered highly dangerous. It was seized by German police, wearing protective clothing, and transported to a safe place. (In Germany, radiology personnel should not be exposed to more than 50 millisieverts per year.)

It might also be noted that US authorities closed a DU penetrator ammunition factory on the edge of Albany in upstate New York because airborne contamination levels exceeded 150 microcurie per month, contaminating populated areas up to 26 miles away. This was the equivalent of only one or two 30 mm cannon shells per month releasing their radioactivity to the environment.

The fact that definitive evidence that the shells fired by allied force are responsible for the huge increase in cancers, stillbirths and birth deformities is limited is not surprising, as the nations that fire the shells refuse to provide accurate information on where they have been fired, making accurate statistical analysis all but impossible. However, there is abundant circumstantial evidence, as two minutes on the Internet will show (for example search for “Doug Rokke” on YouTube).

Whilst it may appear a cynical view, sadly I have come to the conclusion that the UK Government and MoD are deliberately making such analyses impossible. Indeed, the level to which supporters of DU weapons will go to deny effects are quite considerable. A classical example is a communication I recently received from Roger Helbig, considered by some to be a Pentagon “attack dog”. In a lengthy email which accused various anti-DU groups of lying, Mr Helbig also included the following quite stupendous line: “There is no such thing as a uranium weapon. That is term that they [the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons] made up to make depleted uranium kinetic energy penetrators look like weapons of mass destruction instead of tank-killing bullets.” Yes you did read that correctly: there is no such thing as a uranium weapon, only a “depleted uranium kinetic energy penetrator”!

Recently I asked the Scottish minister for public health and sport, Shona Robinson, if the Scottish Government held statistics relating to the incidence of cancer, stillbirth and birth deformities in Scottish armed forces personnel and their families. She obligingly wrote to the MoD to follow up my question. I received her reply a few days ago. In summary: (1) the MoD does not believe that there is credible evidence that DU induces cancer and birth defects (2) the MoD asserts that there is no evidence that DU has been responsible for incidences of ill-health in UK forces or in civilian populations and (3) the MoD does not believe that a statistical study would be appropriate as this issue has been addressed under the auspices of the Independent Depleted Uranium Oversight Board (DUOB).

The first and third claims are clearly disputed, while the second statement is a simple lie. At a coroner’s inquest (10 September 2009) into the death of Mr Stuart Dyson a unanimous jury ruled that his death from colon cancer was caused by the DU he was exposed to in the Gulf War of 1990/91. In the USA, Leuren Moret, a geoscientist and geologist has said: “Of 251 Gulf War I veterans in Mississippi, in 67 percent of them, their babies born after the war were deemed to have severe birth defects. They had brains missing, arms and legs missing, organs missing. They were born without eyes. They had horrible blood diseases. It’s horrific.”

Perhaps the warning given to the women of Fallujah should have been extended to service personnel?

Bill Wilson is MSP for the West of Scotland. This article first appeared in the Scottish Left Review.

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