Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Death to Everyone Is Going To Come

Haven't been blogging much due to my crazy summer schedule, but I do want to note the passing of a few interesting people:

1. Omar Bongo, the President of Gabon, died about a week ago. While a dictator (the world's longest serving head of state), he used his powers to protect the Gabonese environment. He did so basically through buying everyone off through oil money. This was falling apart toward his death and the incredibly valuable African rain forests that he protected are beginning to be invaded. The long-term future of those forests is now in question. This is one of the key questions of environment and the developing world--democracy tends to be at least as destructive to nature as dictatorship. Should saving valuable ecosystems mean we should also compromise on democracy?

2. Delbert Osguthorpe, an important environmental activist from the 1960s, passed away recently as well. Osugthorpe's major contribution was exposing government chemical weapon testing and its effect upon sheep population. Of course, the government claimed releasing these gases into the air was harmless, but this was a lie.

3. One of the great historians of slavery, Philip Curtin, has also left us. Curtin helped us understand the slave trade and get a real sense of how many Africans were forced onto these voyages, 9-10 million. This was actually significantly less than many others believed. Numbers of up to 20 million were common, but little research had gone into this question before Curtin's 1969 book The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census.

4. Finally of course there is David Carradine, about who I will only say that autoerotic asphyxiation is a particularly bad way to go out.