God, Science, Data, and Quetelet -- 11/01/23

Today's selection -- from Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Patricia Fara. Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician, and sociologist, introduced a radically new way of thinking about human beings:

“In December 1871, the Prince of Wales was hovering near death, desperately ill with typhoid. The Archbishop of Canterbury and his allies moved into action, flashing out orders through the electric telegraph system for special prayers to be read in churches all over the kingdom. The Prince soon recovered, but the nation was divided--had God intervened, or was modern medicine responsible for this apparently miraculous cure? An eminent surgeon suggested that the issue be resolved statistically, making one particular hospital ward the target of prayers for a few years to see if its success rate improved. Although this holy trial was never carried out, the Prayer Gauge Debate continued for years--was disease a punishment under divine law, or could it be prevented by obeying scientific laws of health? 

“These arguments about praying might look like a direct conflict between science and religion, but they were not so much about who was right, but more about who could be trusted to decide what was right. Traditionally, authority lay in the hands of the Anglican Church, but during the nineteenth century British scientists started to claim power for their new rational priesthood. Ambitious scientists struggling to consolidate their reputation as elite experts squeezed out anyone they thought inappropriate. One move was to establish themselves as professionals by marginalizing those without full educational credentials. By adopting the pejorative label of amateurs, they set aside a large group of knowledgeable people--women, collectors, home-based astronomers. 

“Another tactic was to establish for the first time a sharp distinction between science and religion. Francis Galton deployed some strategic statistics, crunching through carefully selected samples to expose a supposed dearth of religious leaders on the councils of scientific societies. After a few logical leaps, he concluded that clergymen were no good at science--holding a theological vocation was, he declared, incompatible with being a competent scientist. The most eloquent spokesman attacking the Church was Thomas Huxley, champion of Darwinian evolution and inventor of the word 'agnostic'. Huxley landed his most celebrated coup during a public debate at Oxford, sneering that he would rather have an ape for an ancestor than the bigoted bishop opposing him. Although that may well be an apocryphal tale, Huxley definitely did ferociously condemn anyone who imagines that ‘he is, or can be, both a true son of the Church and a loyal soldier of science'.

“By parodying the religious opposition, Huxley made Darwin's ideas sound better. Even so, his aggressiveness does indicate how deeply theological issues were entrenched within scientific research during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Broadly speaking, there were two major themes. One strand of arguments related specifically to biblical theology. Evidence from fossils and rock formations suggested that the Earth was far, far older than suggested in the Bible; more controversially, theories of evolution contradicted traditional beliefs that life has remained unchanged since its creation by God. However, for many Victorians, the scriptural accounts represented powerful metaphors rather than literal reality, so that any contradiction of biblical details was not a prime concern. Instead, science's critics were more worried about the philosophical implications of recent ideas. Christians believed in a teleological cosmos, one created by an omniscient God, a Grand Designer, for a specific purpose. This comforting view was threatened by the new statistical methods in physics, and also by Darwin's theory of evolution, which assumes that chance may intervene between generations to introduce new characteristics. 

Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet

“God had been forcefully excluded from astronomy during the French Revolution, when Pierre-Simon Laplace rewrote Newton's ideas to create his deterministic cosmos, in which scientific laws govern every movement of every planet with no need for divine intervention. Inspired by this success, a Belgian astronomer called Alphonse Queteler decided that human societies are also controlled by laws. Each country has its own statistical patterns that remain constant from year to year--suicide and crime rates, for instance--and so Quetelet suggested that an 'average man' can consistently encapsulate a nation's characteristics. Politicians should, Quetelet prescribed, operate like social physicists and try to improve average behaviour rather than worry about extreme anomalies. For him, variations from the statistical mean were--like planetary wobbles--imperfections to be smoothed out so that overall progress could be ensured. 

“Quetelet had introduced a radically new way of thinking about human beings. As one of his admirers put it, 'Man is seen to be an enigma only as an individual, in mass, he is a mathematical problem.' Quetelet's successors took his ideas in many different directions. For one thing, his work was valuable politically because it could be interpreted in different ways. While conservatives insisted that little could be done to alter the current system, radicals accused governments of impeding the natural course of progress, and Utopians--such as Karl Marx--envisaged harmonious societies governed by nature's own laws guaranteeing improvement. Data collection projects proliferated, and statisticians searched for laws governing every aspect of life, ranging from the weather to the growth of civilization, from stock market fluctuations to the incidence of disease. Many scientists took their ideas from Quetelet rather than from abstract textbooks--but they added their own twist. Whereas Quetelet regarded individual deviations from the norm as errors to be eliminated, scientists set out to study how variations occur.”

Science A Four Thousand Year History
author: Patricia Fara
title: Science: A Four Thousand Year History
publisher: Oxford University Press

All Wars Are Bankers Wars

The video above features a 2013 documentary, “All Wars Are Bankers Wars,” written and narrated by Michael Rivero,[1] founder of whatreallyhappened.com. As explained by Rivero, all wars can be traced back to the private central bankers.

“The more you study this, the more you’ll realize that ALL wars are wars for the private central bankers,” he says. American soldiers have fought and died in wars initiated for no other purpose than to force private central banking on nations that didn’t want them.

Usury — The Birth of Money From Money

The philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) once said:

“The most hated sort [of moneymaking], and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural use of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest.

And this term ‘usury,’ which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money, because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of all modes of making money this is the most unnatural.”

What Aristotle described is the business model of all central banks. They make money out of thin air by lending money at interest, and in the process, they drain a nation of its wealth. The first bankers war example illustrated in the film is that of the American Revolution, fought between 1775 and 1783.

Thirteen of Great Britain’s North American colonies revolted against British rule and established the sovereign United States of America, founded with the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

American Revolution Was Fought to Prevent Central Banking

However, as explained by Rivero, the American Revolution was instigated by the King George III Currency Act, which forced the North American colonists to conduct business using Bank of England banknotes borrowed at interest:

“If you go back to the writings of Ben Franklin … [here’s] a direct quote: ‘The refusal of King George III to allow the colonies to operate an honest money system, which freed the ordinary man from the clutches of the money manipulators, was probably the prime cause of the revolution.’

That’s Ben Franklin. Our public schools don’t teach that because you’re not supposed to know that the bankers were really behind the American Revolution.

After the revolution, the United States adopted a revolutionary radically different economic system in which the government issued its own value-based currency, so that private banks couldn’t skim the wealth of the people through interest bearing banknotes. So the American Revolution was fought primarily to free the American people from King George the third’s Currency Act …” [2]

When Corruption Fails, Threats Are Made

Unfortunately, it’s easy to corrupt people, and the central bankers know that better than most. Just one year after Mayer Amschel Rothschild uttered the now-infamous quote, “Let me issue and control the nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws,” private bankers succeeded in setting up a private central bank, called The First Bank of the United States.

This bank was founded in 1791, and within 20 years, it had gutted the U.S. economy while enriching the bank owners. As a result of its obvious failures, Congress refused to renew the bank’s charter. The intention was to return to a state-issued, value-based currency, for which Americans would not have to pay any interest. In response, Nathan Mayer Rothschild issued the following threat:

“Either the application for renewal of the charter is granted, or the United States will find itself involved in a most disastrous war.”

Despite that threat, Congress held firm and refused to renew the bank’s charter. Nathan Mayer Rothschild railed against the decision, stating:

“Teach those impudent Americans a lesson! Bring them back to colonial status!”

And that’s exactly what Great Britain did — or tried to do. The Rothschild-controlled Bank of England financed Britain’s War of 1812, the aim of which was to either a) recolonize the United States and force Americans to use Bank of England banknotes, or b) plunge the nation into so much debt, they’d have no choice but to accept a new private central bank.

“And the plan worked,” Rivero says. “Even though the United States won the war of 1812, Congress was forced to grant a new charter for yet another private bank, issuing the public currency as loans at interest.

Once again, private bankers were in control of the nation’s money supply and cared not who made the laws or how many British or American soldiers had to die for it. And once again, the nation was plunged into debt, unemployment and poverty by the predations of the private central bank.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson successfully campaigned for his second term as President under the slogan, ‘Jackson and No Bank.’ True to his word, Jackson succeeded in blocking the renewal of the charter for the Second Bank of the United States of America …

Shortly after the charter for the Second Bank of the United States expired, there was an assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson. It failed when both pistols used by the assassin, Richard Lawrence, failed to fire.

Later on, Lawrence explained the motive for the assassination by saying that, with President Jackson dead, money would be more plenty. So, it was an assassination motivated by the interests of the bankers.”

Debt Is an Enslavement System

The reason you never learned this in school is because the public school system is subservient to the bankers, who want certain history to remain hidden. When the Confederacy seceded from the United States, the bankers offered to fund Lincoln’s efforts to bring them back into the union — at 30% interest.

Lincoln replied that he would “not free the black man by enslaving the white man to the bankers,” and instead issued a new government currency, the greenback. The following quote from the London Times is a telling one: [3]

“If this mischievous financial policy, which has its origin in North America, shall become endurated down to a fixture, then that government will furnish its own money without cost.

It will pay off debts and be without debt. It will have all the money necessary to carry on its commerce. It will become prosperous without precedent in the history of the world. The brains and wealth of all countries will go to North America. That country must be destroyed, or it will destroy every monarchy on the globe.”

France and Britain considered invading the United States in support of the Confederacy, but were held at bay by Russia, which came to the aid of Lincoln’s Union. [4] The Union won the war, but Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. The interest-free greenbacks were pulled from circulation, and America was again forced into banknotes borrowed at interest from private central bankers.

In 1913, the private central bankers of Europe met with their American collaborators on Jekyll Island, Georgia, where they formed a new American banking cartel. Rivero explains:

“Owing to hostility over the previous banks of the United States, the name of this third bank was changed to the Federal Reserve, in order to grant the new bank a quasi governmental image. But in fact, it is a privately owned bank. It’s no more federal than Federal Express …

So 1913 proved to be a transformative year for the nation’s economy. First with Congress’ passage of the 16th income tax amendment, and the false claim it had been ratified. Here’s another direct quote [from U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox, in Sullivan v. United States 2003]:

‘I think if you were to go back and try and find and review the ratification for the 16th amendment, which was the Internal Revenue, the income tax … you would find that a sufficient number of states never ratified that amendment.’”

Later that year (1913), President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act, in exchange for campaign contributions — a decision he later regretted. In 1919, Wilson wrote:

“I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country, a great industrial nation is now controlled by a system of credit. We are no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”

World War I and II Were Bankers Wars

According to Rivero, the real reason behind World War I — which began as a squabble between Austria, Hungary and Serbia and only later shifted to focus on Germany — was Germany’s industrial capacity, which posed an economic threat to Great Britain, the currency of which was in decline due to its lack of focus on industrial development.

After Germany’s defeat, the private bankers seized control of Germany’s economy, which resulted in hyperinflation. After the collapse of the Weimar Republic, the National Socialist party came into power and issued a new state currency not borrowed from central banks.

“It was based on a unit of value, not a unit of debt. Freed from having to pay interest on the money in circulation, Germany blossomed and quickly began to rebuild its industry. It was an amazing transformation to see. The media called it the German Miracle.

Time Magazine lionized Hitler for the amazing improvement of life for the German people and the explosion of German industry. They even named him Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1938.

And then, once again, Germany’s prosperity and freedom from a private Central Bank loaning the public currency at interest became a threat to other nations and other powers …

Germany’s state-issued value-based currency was also a direct threat to the wealth and power of the private central banks around the world, and as early as 1933, they started to organize a global boycott against Germany to strangle this upstart ruler who thought he could run his nation without a private central bank.”

World War II was basically a repeat of World War I, in that quashing Germany’s economic and industrial power was the chief goal. In a March 1946 note from Winston Churchill to Harry Truman, the reason for World War II was made clear:

“The war wasn’t only about abolishing fascism, but to conquer sales markets. We could have if we had intended so prevented this war from breaking out without doing one shot, but we didn’t want to.”

According to Rivero, Churchill also made the following statement in his book series “The Second World War”:

“Germany’s unforgivable crime before World War II was its attempt to loosen its economy out of the world trade system, and to build up an independent exchange system from which the world finance couldn’t profit anymore. We butchered the wrong pig.”

Our Military Are ‘Muscle’ for the Bankers

Rivero goes on to tell the story of how, in 1933, Wall Street bankers recruited Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler to lead a coup against the U.S. government, with the intent of installing a a fascist dictatorship. At the time, President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” threatened to redistribute wealth to the working middle class, which they were intent on preventing.

The idea was to get rid of the U.S. government in its entirety, and install a Secretary of General Affairs who would answer to Wall Street alone, and not the people. Butler pretended to go along with the plot, and then exposed it to Congress before it could be carried out.

Roosevelt tried to have the plotters arrested, but was told that if any of the central bankers were sent to prison, their remaining Wall Street buddies would deliberately collapse the economy and blame Roosevelt for it. Butler, in his 1935 book “War Is a Racket” also confessed the following:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of our country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major General, and during that period, I spent more of my time being a high class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers.

In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I’m sure of it. Like all members of the military profession, I never had an original thought until after I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of the higher-ups.

This is typical with everyone in the military service. Thus, I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.

I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909 through 1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China in 1927, I helped see to it that the Standard Oil wound its way unmolested.

During those years I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals and promotions. Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three city districts. I operated on three continents.”

The Why Behind the Kennedy Assassination

In 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who understood the predatory nature of private central banking, signed executive order 11110, which ordered the U.S. Treasury to issue a new public currency called the United States note. These banknotes would not be borrowed from the Federal Reserve but rather created by the U.S. government and backed by silver.

This represented a return to the system of economics the United States had been founded on. “All told, some $4.5 billion went into the public circulation, which eroded interest payments to the Federal Reserve and loosened their control over the nation,” Rivero says. Five months later, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and the United States notes were pulled from circulation and destroyed. Rivero continues:

“Following Kennedy’s assassination, John J. McCloy, president of the Chase Manhattan Bank and president of the World Bank, was named to the Warren Commission. Now, I don’t care how good a banker he is, he’s not qualified to be investigating a murder, which is what we were told the Warren Commission was all about …

We all know that the Warren Commission was there to cover up what was going on. And, obviously, we can safely presume that John J. McCloy’s presence on the Warren Commission was to make sure the American public never got even a hint of the financial dimensions behind the assassination.”

The Rise and Fall of Bretton Woods

In July 1944, at the end of World War II, once it became obvious that the allied forces were winning and would be able to dictate the post-war political environment, the world economic powers met at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire to hammer out what became known as the Bretton Woods agreement for international finance, which was ratified the following year.

Under this new agreement, the U.S. dollar replaced the British pound as the global trade and reserve currency, and signatory nations were obligated to tie their national currencies to the dollar. As explained by Rivero:

“The nations that ratified Bretton Woods did so on two conditions. The first was that the Federal Reserve would refrain from over-printing the dollar as a means to loot real products … from other nations, in exchange for ink and paper.

It was basically an imperial tax imposed by the U.S. economic system on the rest of the world. That assurance of no over-printing was supposedly backed up by the second requirement, which was that the U.S. dollar would always be convertible back to gold by the U.S. government at $35 an ounce.

Now, of course, the Federal Reserve, being a private bank and not answerable to the U.S. government did in fact start over-printing paper dollars, which were sent to other nations around the world, and under Bretton Woods, they had to send back products and produce and raw materials at full value.

Much of the perceived American prosperity in the 1950s and ‘60s was the result of these foreign nations having to send real raw materials, goods, produce back to the United States in exchange for the these little pieces of paper … because they were forced to accept these paper notes as being worth $35 per ounce of gold.

Then, in 1970, France started looking at this huge pile of printed paper notes sitting in their bank vaults, for which real French product like wine and cheese had been traded, and it notified the United States government that they would exercise their option under Bretton Woods to return all those paper notes for gold at the agreed upon $35 per ounce exchange rate.

The problem was, the United States had nowhere near the gold to redeem all those paper notes. So, on August 15, 1971, Richard Nixon temporarily — nudge, nudge, wink, wink — suspended gold convertibility of the U.S. Federal Reserve notes. This … effectively ended Bretton Woods and many global currencies started to delink from the U.S. dollar.”

Land Grabs and the Birth of the Petro Dollar

Nixon’s suspension of Bretton Woods also created another problem. Rivero explains:

“The United States had been collateralizing their loans — money borrowed from other governments and foreign investors — with the American nation’s gold reserves, and with the awareness that there wasn’t enough gold to redeem all the Federal Reserve notes, lenders to the U.S. were starting to wonder: Did the U.S. government have enough gold to cover … their outstanding debts?

Foreign nations began to get very nervous about the loans to the United States and they were understandably reluctant to loan any additional money without some form of collateral.

So what Richard Nixon did is he founded the environmental movement, with the EPA and its various programs, like wilderness zones and roadless areas, inherited rivers, wetlands, and all these other programs, which all took vast areas of public lands and made them off limits to the American people who are technically the owners of all those lands.

But Nixon had no concern for the environment. The real purpose of this land grab under the guise of the environment was to pledge those pristine lands and their vast mineral resources as collateral on the outstanding national debt.

The multitude of all these different programs was simply to conceal the scale of the land grabbing, the collateralization of the American people’s heritage … Almost 25% of the entire nation is now locked up by these EPA programs and pledged as collateral on government borrowing.

Now, with available lands for collateralization already in short supply, the U.S. government embarked on a new program to shore up sagging international demand for the dollar. The United States approached the world’s oil producing nations, mostly in the Middle East, and offered them a deal in exchange for only selling their oil for dollars.

The United States would guarantee the military safety of those oil-rich nations, and the oil rich nations would agree to spend and invest their U.S. paper dollars inside the United States, particularly in U.S. Treasury bonds, which would be redeemable through future generations of US taxpayers.

The concept was labeled the petro dollar. In effect, the United States, no longer able to back the dollar with gold, was now backing it with other people’s oil, and that necessity to keep control over those oil nations to prop up the dollar has dominated America’s foreign policy in the region ever since.”

Wars and Murders to Prop Up the Petro Dollar

Over time, America’s focus on finance over manufacturing led to a situation in which oil-producing countries were flush with U.S. cash, but the U.S. wasn’t manufacturing or selling anything that these nations wanted to buy. Europe made better cars and aircraft, and didn’t allow genetically engineered foods.

In 2000, Iraq demanded the right to sell their oil for euros, and in 2002, the United Nations agreed they could do so under the oil for food program. A year later, the United States re-invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein was publicly lynched and Iraq’s oil could once again only be sold for U.S. dollars.

A similar scenario took place in Libya. In 2000, Muammar Gadhafi proposed the adoption of a new gold-backed currency, the gold dinar. He then announced that Libya’s oil would only be sold for gold dinars. As noted by Rivero:

“This move had the potential to seriously undermine the global hegemony of the dollar. French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly went so far as to call Libya a threat to the financial security of the world. So, the United States invaded Libya under the the guise of supporting a popular rebellion.

They brutally murdered Gadhafi — apparently because the object lesson of Saddam’s lynching had not been enough of a message — imposed a private central bank and returned Libya’s oil output to dollars.

According to General Wesley Clark, the master plan for the dollarization of the world’s oil nations included seven targets: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Venezuela …

What is notable about those original seven nations targeted by the U.S. is that none of them are members of the Bank of International Settlements. This is the private central bankers private central bank located in Switzerland.

That meant that those seven targeted nations were deciding for themselves how to run their nation’s economies, rather than submitting to the international private central bankers.

Now … the bankers gunsights are on Iran, which dares to have a government central bank and sell their oil for whatever currency they choose. The war agenda for Iran is … to force Iran’s oil to be sold only for dollars, and to force them to accept a privately owned central bank.

You have been raised by a public school system and a media that constantly assures you that the reasons for all these wars and assassinations are many and varied. ‘We’re bringing democracy to the conquered lands.’ We hear that a lot, when actually the U.S. hasn’t. The usual result of a U.S. overthrow is the imposition of a pro-business, pro-Wall Street, pro-U.S.-dictatorship.”

The Real Agenda of the Bankers

In closing, the real agenda of the central bankers is a simple one. It’s to rob people of their wealth and enslave them to this predatory system by creating a false sense of obligation.

“That obligation is false because the private central banking system, by design, creates more debt than money with which to pay the debt,” Rivero explains. “There is no way out, the way it’s set up. It’s impossible to escape as long as you’re playing by their rules. And you need to understand, private central banking is not science. It is a religion.

It’s a set of arbitrary rules created to benefit the priesthood, meaning the bankers, and is supported only because people believe this is the way it’s supposed to be. The fraud persists with often lethal results only because the people are brainwashed into believing that this is the way life is supposed to be and no alternative exists or should even be dreamt of.”

The Path to Freedom — Abolish Central Banks

The reality is, we do not “need” central banks. Not in the slightest. A country, or even individual states, can create their own currency and run their own banks, either without usury, or with very low interest rates. That’s the path to freedom, and all that is required is the decision to do so, and the guts to carry it though.

Ideally, captured nations around the world would break free all at once, as this would best guarantee everyone’s safety. As noted by Rivero:

“Private central banks do not exist to serve the people, the community or the nation. Private central banks exist to serve their owners to make them rich beyond the dreams of Midas, and all for the cost of ink, paper, the right bribe to the right official and the occasional assassination.

Behind all these wars and all these assassinations … lies a single policy of financial dictatorship. The private central bankers only allow rulers to rule on the promise that the people of a nation be enslaved to the private central banks.

Rulers who do not go along with that will be killed and their nation invaded by those other nations still enslaved to the private central banks. The bankers themselves don’t fight these wars. Their children are not in these wars.

This so-called ‘clash of civilizations’ you are being told about by the corporate media is really a war between banking systems, with the private central bankers forcing themselves on to the rest of the world, no matter how many millions must die for it …

Now we’re going into the third [world war] in the nuclear, bioweapon age. That is very dangerous. We have to ask ourselves. Are the private central bankers willing to risk incinerating the whole planet to feed their greed? Apparently.

So, you, as parents, as siblings, as spouses, need to ask yourself, ‘Do you really want to see your loved ones in uniform killed and crippled, all for a bank balance sheet? …

As long as private central banks are allowed to exist … there will be poverty, hopelessness, millions of deaths in endless world wars … The path to true world peace lies in the abolishment of all private central banking everywhere, and to return to state-issued, value-based currencies that allow nations and people to become prosperous through their own labor and development and efforts.”

Sources and References

Ballomania -- 10/18/23

Today's selection -- from Seeing Further by Bill Bryson. When introduced in the late 1700s, hot air balloons astonished the world, drew huge crowds, and were regarded as “the most astounding achievement the science of physics has yet given to the world”:

“On 6 November 1783, the recently elected President of the Royal Society, the botanist Joseph Banks, called a special meeting of the Fellows at their splendid new premises in Somerset House. The subject up for discussion was a controversial one: the extraordinary phenomenon of the French 'aerostatique Machines'.

“Banks had received two long and confidential 'papers' from Benjamin Franklin, the American Ambassador in Paris, describing the experiments of the Montgolfier brothers with hot-air balloons; and of Dr Alexander Charles with hydrogen balloons. Franklin prophesied--correctly--that the first manned flight in history was about to occur. A balloon would inevitably 'carry up a Man'. Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes duly took to the air on 19 November 1783. So what, Franklin wondered mildly, did the British intend to do about it all?

“After the meeting, Banks wrote back thanking Franklin for his 'Philosophical amusements', but playing down any notion of Anglo-French competition in balloon technology. Instead he sounded a note of ironic caution. 'I think I see an inclination in the more respectable parts of the Royal Society to guard against the Ballomania which has prevailed, and not to patronise Balloons merely on account of their rising in the Atmosphere, rill some Experiment likely to prove beneficial either to Society or Science, is proposed to be annexe to them.' Banks's witty coinage--'ballomania'--was destined to float quite as far as the balloons themselves.

First Montgolfier brothers balloon, 1783

“It is usually said that the Royal Society subsequently--and wisely--made little attempt to sponsor, fund or even foster rival British balloon experiments. Its Fellows were gently discouraged by Banks, who continued to dismiss 'ballomania' as a typically French craze for novelty and display. It was a passing fashion that could have no scientific outcome. Like the exactly contemporary French craze for Mesmerism (also reported by Franklin), it would soon dissipate and be utterly forgotten. 

“Certainly, all the early balloon ascents made in England in the following months, unlike those in France, were privately funded through commercial exhibitions or subscriptions. There was no official sponsorship from the Society or the Crown, or from any university or public institution--unless one counts the glamorous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire as a public institution. Moreover nearly all the successful British ascents were in fact made by foreign aeronauts and showmen, such as the young Neapolitan Vincenzo Lunardi, the Italian Count Francesco Zambeccari, the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and the American Dr John Jeffries.


“Banks' views appeared to express a mixture of sensible scientific scepticism, combined with a somewhat aloof disapproval of French excitability. Patriotically, he always insisted that the science of ballooning had been originated by the British, in the 'inflammable air' experiments of Henry Cavendish, Joseph Black and Joseph Priestley. Only the French, he joked, would have turned Cavendish's elegant soap bubbles of hydrogen into the seventy-foot monster of 'Montgolfier's flying Medusa' (appropriately powered by hot or 'rarefied' French air). 

“The ballomania which ensued over the next two years is often remembered in terms of the sudden rage for balloon fashion accessories which seized Paris (and to some extent London). This might now be termed Montgolfier merchandising. Both the Musee de l'Air at Le Bourget and the Blythe House section of the Science Museum, London, are crammed with a wild selection of these astonishing, and sometimes rather beautiful, artefacts. They include popular prints, paintings, satirical cartoons, fans, snuffboxes, teapots, chinaware, lampshades, tobacco pipes, ladies' garters, milk jugs, hair clips, coat buttons, desk handles, parasols, pen-holders, and even (at Le Bourget) a ceramic toilet bowl with 'Bon Voyage' glazed on the interior. 

“But the element that Banks truly distrusted in ballomania was its demagogic potential. His secretary, Dr Charles Blagden FRS, a chemist who also worked for Cavendish and travelled frequently in France, perhaps encouraged these misgivings. So in August 1783 he informed Banks: 'all Paris is in an uproar about the flying machines'. In October he noted: 'It appears that enthusiasm, I almost said madness, which prevailed in Paris on the subject of balloons, has taken a turn more characteristic of the [French] nation, and is converted into a most violent party spirit. Ridicule and invective, verse and prose, are employed without mercy on this occasion.'

“Blagden enjoyed passing on comic or frankly scabrous material. He obtained a French satirical pamphlet purporting to recount 'the supposed conversations between the three animals which went up in [Montgolfier's] globe' at Versailles. The cockerel (symbol of France) seemed somewhat subdued on its return to earth, and 'all the animals' complained about the novel experience of air-sickness. Blagden also gleefully reported the open war in Paris between supporters of hot air and those of hydrogen, quoting an unacademic phrase of Dr Alexander Charles: 'La belle cacade que Faujas et Montgolfier ont fait.' He then added primly: 'I know no decent English translation of this term [cacade].' Banks (a product of Econ and Oxford) knew of course that cacade meant a heap of shit. Blagden concluded sententiously: 'Every thing that occurs relative to this business makes me rejoice that during all the Heat & Enthusiasm of our Neighbours we retained in this country a true Philosophical Tranquillity.' 

“A year later, in September 1784, he was happy to pass on the opinion of his friend, the distinguished French chemist Claude Berchollet. 'Aerostatic globes and Animal Magnetism have, during the whole of this past year, so filled people's heads in this country that useful research has been utterly neglected.' Blagden added pointedly that this now expressed the view of 'the soberer part' of the French Academy. 

“French ballooning certainly generated the most powerful outpouring of popular feeling. It also assembled enormous crowds in Paris, full of dangerous utopian dreams and heady aspirations. The kind of eyewitness account of such balloon launches which would have alarmed Banks is well illustrated by Le Tableau de Paris, I December 1783: 

“The swarm of people was itself an incomparable sight, so varied was it, so vast and so changing. Two hundred thousand men, lifting their hands in wonder, admiring, glad, astonished; some in tears for the intrepid philosophers should they come to harm; some on their knees overcome with emotion; but all following the aeronauts in spirit, while these latter, unmoved, saluted, dipping their flags above our heads. What with the novelty, the dignity of the experiment; the unclouded sun, welcoming as it were the travellers to his own element; the attitude of the two men themselves sailing into the blue, while below their fellow-citizens prayed and feared for their safety; and lastly the balloon itself, superb in the sunlight, soaring aloft like a planet, or the chariot of some weather-god! It was a moment which can never be repeated, the most astounding achievement the science of physics has yet given to the world."

Seeing Further The Story of Science Discovery and the Genius of the Royal Society
author: Bill Bryson  
title: Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society  
Of what use is this? you asked. "Five Thousand Balloons capable of raising two Men each, would not cost more than Five Ships of the Line: And where is the Prince who can afford so to cover his domain with troops as that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might do an infinite amount of mischief before a force could be brought together to repel them?"

Bejammin Franklin, Father of the Airborne, upon seing the Montgolfiers' ascent, 1784

The Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul - Check Your Weapons Here

A manager and a Taliban government official in the dining room of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul.
A manager and a Taliban government official in the dining room of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. Photograph: Elise Blanchard/Elise Blanchard for NZZ

Inside the Taliban’s luxury hotel

Once the site of legendary parties, the Intercontinental in Kabul is still a potent symbol of who rules Afghanistan – and what its future might hold

Thu 12 Oct 2023 00.00 EDT

At the first barrier, a Talib smiles; he has orders to smile. At the second barrier, a sign: Weapons Handover Point. Those who deposit their Kalashnikovs here will receive a locker number and get their weapon back upon leaving the hotel. The road winds up the hill between circular trimmed hedges. At the third barrier: a body search. Then, behind a metal gate, the driveway to the hotel finally appears. Car tires squeal on the marble slabs in front of the entrance.

The Intercontinental Hotel towers over the Afghan capital like a castle. Kabul, this war-ravaged city. The noise of its car horns can no longer be heard up here.

The Intercontinental Hotel, Afghanistan’s first luxury hotel, opened in 1969. It was built in a time that feels much further away than the year suggests. Afghanistan was at war for more than 40 years. Rulers came and went, and every one of them was here, at the Intercontinental. Its former luxury has faded, but the Intercontinental has remained a symbol: those who rule Kabul rule Afghanistan, and those who rule Kabul rule the Intercontinental.

Today, the hotel is run by the Taliban. They entered Kabul on 15 August 2021. Although they have been in power for two years, they have remained enigmatic. Only horror stories seem to leak out: for two years now, women and girls have been forbidden to attend secondary schools and universities. Women are no longer allowed in public parks. Women and men are whipped for adultery.

However, the Taliban’s biggest experiment has gone almost unnoticed by the rest of the world. It’s taking place at desks across the country. The new government is forcing Taliban and non-Taliban to work together – in the administration and in government-related businesses. Young men share an office with young fighters they once feared, and young fighters sit next to young men they once despised. A lot depends on this experiment. It will help determine whether peace will last, whether there may be reconciliation, or at least a normal life – together, as far as possible.

This great experiment can be observed on a small scale inside the Intercontinental. And there might be no better place to glimpse Afghanistan’s future than here, where past and present meet.


The automatic sliding doors rattle with age as they open. The Intercontinental welcomes its guests at a massive marble counter. Behind it, a wood-panelled wall with four clocks – Kabul, New York, London, Dubai: cosmopolitanism in a closed-off country. The Intercontinental does not accept credit cards, since Afghanistan is largely cut off from international banking. A guest arrives with a plastic bag full of cash.

Only every second chandelier in the lobby is lit. “We’re saving electricity,” says Samiullah Faqiri. Faqiri is responsible for marketing at the Intercontinental. He was immediately enthusiastic about the idea of letting a foreign journalist look behind the scenes of the hotel for a few days.

Faqiri is 28 years old, his beard neatly trimmed over his round cheeks. He has been working at the hotel for two years, since the Taliban came into power. “I’ve been marketing like crazy,” he says in fluent English, telling us that he invented the hotel’s new slogan: “Intercontinental for everyone.” He had the words printed on billboards in Kabul. Faqiri knows, of course, that only very few Afghans can afford a meal or a night in a luxury hotel right now. According to the UN, nine out of 10 families cannot even afford enough to eat. One night in the cheapest room costs £80, which for many is a month’s wages.

But Faqiri has a goal to reach in terms of how much profit he needs to make. The hotel belongs to the government. All profits go to the state, which then releases money for wages, maintenance and renovation. Although Faqiri works for the Taliban, he himself is not one of them. When Faqiri speaks of the Taliban, he says “they”. “If I don’t reach the target, they won’t kill me,” he says, laughing. When Faqiri laughs, his nose starts to wiggle, then his shoulders, his belly – a very physical, very contagious laugh, usually bursting out of him after sentences that would otherwise sound gloomy.

Samiullah Faqiri, 28, the marketing manager of Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, looks at the view on the Afghan capital from a fifth floor balcony, on Aug. 17, 2023.
Samiullah Faqiri, the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel’s marketing manager, in a fifth-floor room. Photograph: Elise Blanchard/Elise Blanchard for NZZ

Faqiri comes from a family that lacks nothing. His father is a university professor. The whole family lives together in a house very close to the hotel. Faqiri studied business administration in India. Before the Taliban took power, he liked to wear basketball vests. Today, like almost everyone, he wears a shalwar kameez, a traditional Afghan garment.

To meet his target, Faqiri needs more rooms at the hotel to be occupied. The Intercontinental has 198 rooms in total. About a fifth of them are in use, Faqiri says. As long as no country in the world recognises the Taliban, there will be no busloads of tourists. But Faqiri doesn’t give up. When the Canadian government evacuated endangered Afghans, he made a deal with the agency organising flights: the Intercontinental became the meeting point for the evacuees fleeing Afghanistan. Faqiri rented out 120 rooms and managed to get those fleeing the Taliban to check into their hotel before leaving.

Faqiri works until the early afternoon. A young Talib is standing at the reception, leaning against the black marble. His name is Mohammed Elyas Niazai. Faqiri introduces him as “the night shift”. Faqiri and Niazai are part of this big experiment at the Intercontinental, a normal Afghan man and a Talib, two young men who are supposed to work together under the big plan.

Fourth Floor

Niazai rides up in the golden elevator, his contorted reflection visible on the walls of the small cabin. Niazai is 23 years old, his beard unruly and a bit patchy. His eyes are awake, but his gaze is unsteady, making him appear like both hunter and hunted at the same time.

Niazai occupies room 311 on the third floor. It has standard furnishings: heavy moss-green curtains, thick carpet with an intricate pattern so the stains aren’t as visible, ashtray. Unlike Faqiri, Niazai lives in the hotel. He says he is the human resources manager. He, too, studied business administration: “The hotel business is a good business, hardly any risk.” There’s not a single personal item in the room, but maybe it’s not actually his. He says he has a second, secret one. It’s where he keeps his weapons: an M4 assault rifle, captured from French soldiers, and a Glock 22.

Again and again, someone calls Niazai on his mobile phone. It’s the GDI, the Taliban’s secret police. They ask him why a journalist is roaming the hotel. Nothing goes unnoticed. They are hiding somewhere, watching. There are cameras in the hallways, but supposedly not in the rooms.

Niazai joined the Taliban when he was 16 years old. A special army unit had killed his uncle and cousin, and foreign soldiers had allegedly been involved. Niazai’s jihad, his holy war, was born out of revenge. He studied at a university in Kabul. He claims that he spoke very good English back then, but he has forgotten a lot of it now. On his smartphone, Niazai shows us photos from that time: a young man with a fashionably blow-dried fringe and chin beard. Niazai spied on his fellow students on behalf of the Taliban. When his studies allowed it, he fought outside Kabul against Nato troops and the Afghan army. He claims he can build a bomb with a plastic bottle and $2.

When he used to arrive late and his professor would ask him why, Niazai would reply in English: “Legends are always late.” He’s proud of this sentence, he still knows it by heart.

All this was years before the fall of Kabul. The capital was supposed to be the heart of the new Afghanistan that the Americans and their allies had built with billions of dollars in development aid over the course of 20 years. But the loyalties in this city were never as clear as some would have liked to believe.

On 15 August 2021, Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. There was little resistance. Late at night, the Taliban drove up to the Intercontinental in their pickup trucks. In the hours before, the hotel’s security guards had abandoned their posts. Some stormed the lobby and stole the computers. The Taliban put their fighters up in the hotel and sent the staff home. Two days later, they called the hotel staff and told them to come back, and said the Intercontinental was open again. “At first, the employees were afraid of us,” Niazai says, “but we had orders to be nice to them.”

Fifth floor

The golden lift stops on the fifth floor. This is where the entire history of the Intercontinental comes together. On the left, next to the elevator, is the entrance to the Pamir Supper Club. Starting in 1969, lavish parties were held here. The first Afghan pop musicians with long hair and guitars performed at the Pamir Supper Club. Afghanistan still had a king back then, Mohammad Zahir Shah. In 1973, his cousin, Prince Mohammad Daoud, overthrew him in a coup; Daoud was assassinated by communists five years later. The parties went on. Months after the murder, the Intercontinental invited guests to a Bavarian festival at the club, including an early drinks buffet and “schnapps on the house”, sponsored by Lufthansa. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The American officials at the Pamir Supper Club made way for Russian ones.

While the country descended into civil war, the Intercontinental remained a world apart. When the Russians left in 1989, the Afghan president, Mohammad Najibullah, pulled up in front of the Intercontinental in his black Mercedes. In 1992, the Mujahedeen marched into Kabul, groups of Islamist holy warriors equipped and trained by the US to fight the communists. The Mujahedeen ate at the Intercontinental free of charge and were soon fighting each other in the capital. Rockets flew into the hotel. The notorious guerrilla commander Ahmad Shah Massoud and his men took it over.

On the fifth floor, on the right, at the end of the long corridor, is the Khyber Suite, the Intercontinental’s penthouse. A balcony winds around the suite, affording guests a view over all of Kabul. When I visited, the UN was hosting a course: how to solve interpersonal conflicts. Here Massoud is said to have planned his attacks, studying his targets through binoculars. But in 1996, new and even more radical Islamists came from the south and conquered Kabul for the first time. They were the the Taliban. They castrated and executed Najibullah, the ex-president with the Mercedes, dragged his body around the city and hanged him in public. The Taliban removed the chairs in the hotel bar and sat on carpets.

There are no windows in this long corridor on the fifth floor. Neon lights on the walls brace themselves against the darkness. The carpet smells like dust and something else, something sour. The hotel’s employees don’t like to be on the fifth floor. It’s haunted, they say.

Two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Taliban held a press conference at the Intercontinental. The Taliban foreign minister said they didn’t know where Osama bin Laden was. “I only know he’s not here,” he said. It was a lie. Bin Laden was a guest of the Taliban. The Americans invaded Afghanistan a few months later.

After the invasion, the Intercontinental once again became the meeting place of foreign diplomats, business owners and rich elites. The new government renovated the place with the help of contractors, but it wasn’t the same. One company closed the balcony in the dining room, where guests could feel the breeze from the mountains while enjoying their coffee. Another company added another dining room; it has clouds painted on the ceiling and looks like a cruise ship. Another sold off the marble slabs in the garden. The hotel staff says that corrupt officials just took what they wanted from the Intercontinental, as they did with so much in Afghanistan. “Those cursed people destroyed everything. All that’s left is the name,” says one longtime waiter. “Apart from that, there’s nothing left from the old days.”

For years, the Taliban fought underground. They gained strength despite the presence of thousands of Nato soldiers in the country. In 2011, they attacked the hotel. Nine suicide bombers killed 12 people and themselves. The last attacker detonated his bomb on the fifth floor, in room 523. The room has since been renovated. The bathroom is now decorated with pink tiles. Then, in 2018, another attack. For 12 hours, four or five assassins occupied the hotel. They murdered 40 people. Guests barricaded themselves in their rooms, hiding in the bathtubs. A clergyman who was staying in room 519 was killed in the attack. The man who now cleans on the fifth floor swears he hears him showering sometimes.

In 2021, just three years later, the Taliban captured Kabul for the second time. One of the guards outside the hotel knew some of the suicide bombers. “They were incredibly brave,” he says. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who orchestrated the attacks, is now minister of interior affairs. He gave a speech in the ballroom of the Intercontinental, thanking the families of his assassins. The hotel room doors are a reminder of the attacks: brown paint on bulletproof steel.


In the kitchen, Faqiri, the marketing manager, points to a large pot with a lamb simmering inside. “I sold that for $230. Write that,” he commands. Two families have rented a conference room, and the men are negotiating the bride price before their children’s wedding. Faqiri persuaded them to stay for dinner as well.

The pots in the kitchen contain food for 900 people. At noon and in the evenings, there is a buffet. Today, the kitchen staff are also cooking for the Ministry of Defence – 700 people. The food will be delivered to the ministry by truck with an armed escort – the Intercontinental is also the Taliban’s caterer.

The head chef is Sayed Mazaffar Sadat. He came to the Intercontinental before the Taliban took power. Sadat says he never considered leaving the country even after the Taliban took over. He will soon be representing Afghanistan in a cooking competition in France, and his friends tell him he should just stay there. He would be just one of countless young men leaving Afghanistan, legally or illegally, hoping to find a better life elsewhere. An estimated 1.6 million Afghans have fled since the Taliban came to power, and most of them are living in precarious conditions in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. Sadat says, “My philosophy is: death will come anyway – it will come for you even if you leave your country.”

In the heat of the kitchen, one of Sadat’s cooks gives orders to a Talib who is standing idly by: “We don’t need you here. Go to your office.”

Staff making bread in the bakery of Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel.
Staff making bread in the bakery of Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel. Photograph: Elise Blanchard/Elise Blanchard for NZZ

When the Taliban first ruled in the 1990s, they only placed one of their own at the head of the hotel. This time around, they have put their fighters in every office, integrated into several levels of hierarchy: Taliban and non-Taliban are forced to work together. All of the hotel’s female employees are at home. They are still supposed to receive their wages, but are not allowed to come to work. The only woman in the building works downstairs at the entrance of one of the security gates, screening female guests. She covers her body and hair, but she refuses to cover her face. She is too old for that, she says.

Faqiri rules the kitchen. He’s always on his phone, trying to solve a problem. Niazai tries to look busy. He sometimes lifts one of the bread baskets in the kitchen and then puts it down again, turns a single kiwi in his hands or eyes the expiration date on a can of Coke. He is also responsible for quality control, he says.

The Taliban are considered willing to learn. The leadership paid for training for some of them, and former guerrillas are now taking computer courses. The new rulers have decreed peace and reconciliation. And yet it remains a strange situation for many: the rebels everyone feared for 20 years are suddenly sitting in their offices. A former employee of the Intercontinental says, “One of the fighters was my subordinate. But what orders was I supposed to give him? He had a gun.”


Niazai looks around the hotel’s dilapidated tennis court. The net is missing and a referee’s chair is rusting in one corner. The tennis coach has fled to Spain, or so Niazai has heard. It’s his first time here: “Who knows how to play tennis?” Niazai has had many roles at the hotel in the past two years, and now he happens to be the human resources manager. He receives a salary, £450 a month, and is saving for his wedding. It’s supposed to be a lavish celebration – some day. He hasn’t met his bride yet.

“If they order me to clean rooms tomorrow, I won’t ask any questions,” Niazai says. He follows orders. The Taliban have a chain of command that is difficult to understand. What’s clear is that the emir in Kandahar and his confidants sit at the top, followed by the ministers in Kabul and their deputies. But there are powerful local commanders, in Kabul and outside. The Taliban are a less homogeneous movement than it sometimes appears from the outside. His commander once ordered Niazai to cut off his beloved long hair. He did it immediately.

He’s waiting for an order that will send him back to the front, any front. If the order came, he wouldn’t leave the next day, he says, but right away. “This hotel is like a prison for me,” he says. He misses the mountains, the forests and the cold rivers. When Niazai walks on the grass in the garden, he takes off his shoes and walks barefoot. He wants to feel the grass on the soles of his feet. Then, he says, all negative thoughts disappear.

Second floor

The Hakimi family is staying on the second floor of the Intercontinental, in rooms 238 and 239. There aren’t many guests at the hotel. There is a group of Russians staying on the third floor who are picked up every morning in a white SUV. A development worker from India. A Pakistani businessman who sells lamps made from Himalayan salt. And the Hakimis.

Hayatullah Hakimi, 67, and his wife, Aziza, 64, fled Afghanistan in 1988. Hayatullah used to own a jewellery store. Then he came to the attention of the secret service.

The Hakimis have experienced the Intercontinental’s good times. Hayatullah used to close his store on Friday afternoon, and he and his wife would come to the Intercontinental. “We liked the Beatles at the time – pop music was just coming to Afghanistan,” Hayatullah says. Bands were playing concerts by the pool. Female tourists were swimming in bathing suits. The hotel was surrounded by pine trees, and in the garden, speakers piped out music by Ahmad Zahir, the Afghan Elvis. The Hakimis have photos from back then: he is sporting a thick moustache, long hair and shiny belt buckle, she is wearing bell-bottoms.

Hayatullah says: “A customer once offered me a visa to the US. But I didn’t want to leave. Kabul was the best place in the world.”

Aziza says: “Nobody wanted to leave the country, nobody wanted to go to Europe or America. People came to us.”

The Hakimis now live in Canada. They have come to Kabul to show their grown daughters the city they once left. They spend a lot of time driving around streets they don’t recognise.

Aziza says: “Everyone in this hotel wore beautiful suits. Men used to only wear their traditional clothes at home. It’s painful to see all these changes.”

Hayatullah says: “I cry every night. I hope the hotel stays open. It’s part of our identity.”


You can’t get into the Intercontinental without good connections. Faqiri’s father was one of the hotel managers during the first Taliban rule. They called him again after Kabul fell and asked if he wanted to come back. He sent his son instead. During the first period of Taliban rule, Mullah Omar, founder and head of the Taliban, once visited the hotel. The hotel had no guests, and he asked Faqiri’s father: “Why is no one here?” Faqiri’s father told the Taliban leader: “People aren’t coming because they’re afraid of you.” So Mullah Omar announced over the radio that all foreigners who wanted to be safe in Kabul should check into the Intercontinental. The next day, the hotel was full – at least that’s how the story goes.

Faqiri has ideas about how to fill the hotel. Enlarging the ballroom, building a helipad. Or moving one of the university faculties on to the huge hotel site, or a hospital perhaps. But all of this costs money that nobody has right now.

In the past, large wedding parties took place in the ballroom of the Intercontinental. Afghan weddings are attended by hundreds of guests, and traditionally have a men’s and a women’s area. Under the Taliban, it is forbidden to play music at weddings, but at some it can still be heard in the women’s section. Afghan women always find a way somehow, and the Taliban do not dare control the women’s area. But in the Intercontinental, the hotel owned by the Taliban, music is strictly forbidden.

Faqiri could have fled as well. On 15 August 2021, the day Kabul fell, a friend of his was at the airport. He would have secured a spot for him on one of the evacuation flights. But Faqiri stayed. He didn’t want to leave on his own: he wanted to marry his fiancee first. The wedding later took place in the grand ballroom of the Intercontinental. His wife gave birth to a son soon after the wedding. He hasn’t completely given up on going abroad yet. He would like to study for a doctorate. But, for now, he’ll stay here. Does he miss the old Afghanistan? “Of course I miss it.”

The golden lift stops on the first floor. Osama bin Laden briefly stayed here, rooms 196 and 197. Right next to the elevator, thick cables wind under a door and disappear under the fitted carpet, into room 114. Here, the secret police sit in front of their video monitors. They will hide the cables better in the future, one of the agents says in a contrite tone. Down the hall, room 122, is the hotel president’s office. Hafiz Zia-ul-Haq Jawad has taken a seat in his armchair. “The image of the Taliban is that we are here to break things. But we’re here to build,” he says.

The lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in August 2023.
The lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in August 2023. Photograph: Elise Blanchard/Elise Blanchard for NZZ

It pains Jawad to see the rooms in the hotel deteriorate. It’s no longer worthy of its five-star rating, he says. He tells us that he wants to renovate it, rebuild it, make it accessible to all. Since the Taliban took over, the people of Kabul – Taliban and non-Taliban – sometimes come up to the hotel to take a picture of the view. In the past, they would have been turned away at the first security barrier.

Jawad says he doesn’t discriminate between Taliban and non-Taliban when it comes to his employees. He says he only cares that everyone works hard, is honest, serves the nation. “Sometimes I go down to the kitchen. I show everyone: I am one of you. We don’t want anyone to think that the Taliban are only here for a short period of time.”

There’s a photo from the hotel’s best days on the wall of his office, showing people swimming in the pool. Someone has painted over the women on the deck chairs with white paint.


In the evening, bats flutter over the Intercontinental’s pool, chasing mosquitoes that swarm over the stagnant water. A greenish residue lurks in the deepest part of the pool; it will supposedly be filled with fresh water eventually. A mosquito lands on Niazai’s french fries. He filled his plate at the buffet like he does every night. Faqiri is sitting next to him at the table. Above them hangs a string of lights.

The decay, the cracks, so obvious in the piercing daylight, are now softened by coloured lights. The wind rustles through the pine trees. Faqiri has put his hand on Niazai’s chair. He says they are friends. And for a moment, it really looks as if they are, two young men, both smiling. Faqiri smokes thin cigarettes. Niazai doesn’t smoke.

Most of Faqiri’s friends have left Afghanistan. Those who stayed have always been Taliban; he just didn’t know. At university in India, they once recorded a funny video, he tells me, him and his fellow Afghan students, dancing in front of the university. After the fall of Kabul, one of his fellow students called him to ask if he could please delete the video, because he was a Talib.

For Niazai, being a spy, waging a war in secret was a game. “Now the game is over,” he says. The Russians are sitting in a dark corner by the pool. They have been invited by the Ministry of Defence, and tasked with making old Russian helicopters airworthy again.

Later I ask Faqiri what he likes about Niazai. “He’s a good guy. He never says no when it comes to getting work done,” he replies. Faqiri says the Taliban need him and the other non-Taliban in the hotel. Niazai and the other Taliban are only very slowly learning how to run a hotel like this. Faqiri forms a kind of bridge between the Taliban and the other employees, as well as between the Taliban and the customers. It’s not easy with the new rulers. “I need to understand them. But they never explain themselves.”

I ask Niazai the same question: what does he like about Faqiri? “He’s got a pure heart. And he’s never jealous.” In general, if he doesn’t like someone at the Intercontinental, their days at the hotel are numbered anyway, he says. Formally, he and Faqiri are equal, but he is more senior because he’s a Talib, he explains.

Niazai loves to ride his motorcycle. For years, the Taliban rode into battle on old Hondas, always with a blanket on the saddle to sleep on at night, always moving fast. Faqiri has never ridden a motorcycle. He says working at the Intercontinental is his dream job. He wants to make £2-3m in profit this year, that’s the goal. “I can do it,” he says.

At some point during the evening, Faqiri gets up and goes home. His wife and son are waiting for him.


The chandeliers in the hotel have been extinguished. It’s after 11 pm. The laundry in the basement is closed, the sauna and beauty salon are barricaded. Only the gym casts a shimmer of neon light on to the white tiles. Niazai is pedalling on an exercise bike. Every night, he and his friends exercise here, he says, his friends being the Taliban guards around the hotel. But today he is alone. He has shed his traditional garb and is wearing an Under Armour tracksuit, a sports brand once popular with American soldiers in Afghanistan. The trash cans are filled with empty Red Bull cans.

Niazai once told me: “Peace is good for Afghanistan. But it’s boring for us.” He is afraid of getting used to this life. He was never afraid to fight, and now he worries that he will one day be afraid to go to war again.

A lot of the equipment in the gym is broken. The handle of the rowing machine is missing; a friend of Niazai’s tore it off with a particularly hard pull. The punching bag was also destroyed. It’s quiet, and only the whirring of Niazai’s pedals disturbs the silence. He says he doesn’t sleep much; none of his friends do. He sometimes sits alone in the lobby with his headphones on, watching videos of Taliban operations across Afghanistan, shared in WhatsApp groups. He doesn’t have to follow the news, Niazai says. He knows better than the journalists what is happening in the country. His oiled hair falls into his face as he leans over the handlebars. In his tracksuit, he almost looks like an ordinary young man spat out by the war.

The Cuisine Wars

Them’s Fightin’ Foods

By Tim Hartnett

October 13, 2023

Le Diplomate


Before the turn of the century a very different set of enemies was having it out in our culture wars. One battle raged on the tables of eateries. Unpretentious American grub squared off against European, and mainly French, “cuisine.” Places in DC like The Palm, Gary’s, Duke Ziebert’s, Mel Krupins and Joe and Moe’s maintained a hostile front against Le Pavilion, Maison Blanche, Tiberio, Cantina D’Italia, Lion d’Or and Bistro Francaise.

The critics mostly leaned to the Gallic side of the table. Still, Post foodie Phyllis Richman’s best shot ever nailed Le Pavilion chef Yannick Cam in the early 1980s: “After $100 for 8 courses you want to stop for a Big Mac on the way home.”

There’s never a true victor in a cultural catfight. France’s most prestigious cooking award is named for a tire. Ours comes from a guy who advertised Gaines-burgers and Jolly Green Giant corn niblets. The latter product is somewhat closer to being food than treaded rubber is. Whatever Mssr. Beard sold his soul for 50 years ago, no longer makes any difference. Today, if you choose the wrong dish, you become an oppressor. Once The James Beard Awards became a political football, the forward progress of “dining out” got sacked.

During the Reagan-Bush-Clinton eras I spent more going out each month than on rent and other expenses combined. That investment’s primary long-term dividend was a lot of opinions. At the risk of sounding like a cheese-eating-surrender-monkey, my money spilled the way of the continentals.

Slinging gin and hash from Joe and Moe’s for several years convinced me that elitist ineptitude making choices runs gut deep. Nobody who worked there would have paid for their wares at any discount. The daily seafood special was pre-cooked partway and stacked like cordwood. What do you think a soft-shell crab is like at 1 P.M. after sitting half done under 30 others since 11:30? Tuna enduring the same treatment could be used as a structural building material. Red bliss potatoes were skinned and deep fried. A doctor who was a regular referred to them as “cannon balls.”

A bartender at The Irish Times imported smoked salmon from the Old Sod. Upon meeting Moe Sussman at a trade show, he offered to send the restaurateur a sample of his fish. It was met with: “That’s okay, just tell me the price.” The steaks and prime rib, his signature items, constantly switched purveyors using the same criteria.

Every lunch throughout the Reagan years the dump filled up with an A-list. Maureen Dowd spent midday nursing a vodka martini skirting from table to table or hanging with Rudy Maxa and a Jordanian arms dealer. Reagan’s special counsel, Fred Fielding, held a corner booth. Lyn Nofziger was a fixture. We got Paul Laxalt, other senators and numerous congressmen. Sam Donaldson showed up. Ted Koppel often had dinner there before his broadcast with producer Rick Kaplan. Senators, lobbyists, famous lawyers, editors and wheelers and dealers of all kinds were slopped in the joint. Meanwhile, one of the best places in town, The Tabard Inn, was right around the corner. It’s still there and still serves a scrumptious plate.

Staff apologists for these perverse palates propounded the zany theory that rich people didn’t care about the quality of the food – high society hob-nobbery was above trifling attention to what went down their gentrified gullets. The Palm, a block away, served marginally different versions of the same goop hosting marginally different versions of the same kind of prey. I made the mistake once. After asking the waiter if the grapefruit juice was fresh, one was ordered. A sip later the question became: “Did you mean out of the can?” The spinach was frozen and the salmon was old. That greasy spoon still stands with pressure on the door for lunch and dinner.

Who can explain it? If you don’t know how to feed yourself, without time or budgetary constraints in the way, other idiotic choices don’t seem unlikely. Anyone in need of fuel, who is oblivious to what they’ll be planting a fork into, has placed their judgment on any matter, into serious question. People who pay top dollar for sustenance some public school cafeterias can match are not management material – no matter what Harvard might say.

It’s possible that some wising up has occurred in where the elite meet to eat. If so, it looks to be a temporary development. The grazing gilded herd has been following bellwethers cyclically. Toots Shor’s was another famous long gone dive frequented by celebs. What passed for nutrition there left many a tourist less than impressed. A couple who had waited over an hour in line told Shor, “We get better steaks in Oklahoma City.” The legendary prohibition era bouncer came back: “Yeah, but when you’re done eatin,’ you’re still in Oklahoma City.”

When Yogi Berra said — “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” – he would have made perfect sense — if he had meant nobody with any idea what cooking is supposed to be. A reasonable response to what some commercial kitchens will put in front of diners is too often, “have these people ever had food before?” It’s the case from nearly every eatery with an NYSE listing already. People who have arrogated the role of a planetary conscience won’t be satisfied until every bite is a barely palatable ordeal.

We have good reason to question any culinary judgments coming down from the top of the food chain. It’s supposedly a “conspiracy theory” that anybody opining from heights and elite conclaves said we should eat bugs. We are not talking about the lobster Steve McQueen had in Tom Horn, that he called “The biggest bug I ever et.” Nope, it’s the creepy crawlies of June they have in mind. There are people who claim to do nothing but think of your welfare. They are the same ones slurping down Sauterne with their foie gras while globetrotting at 30,000 feet — while insisting governments everywhere cut your mileage and protein intake. The millions who heard “insect diet” from them don’t need their hearing checked. Invites to exclusive international clambakes come with rare privileges, which include 100% leeway editing past comments. Meanwhile, working stiffs can lose everything over a wisecrack with any zing.

After some success pummeling the mass psyche into line with psychobabble, taking on the world palate looks doable to the crème-de-la crème. They’ve figured out that the shortcut to Sovietizing appetites is strategic. Go for the sources. Once everyone has forgotten what “marbling” is, the leaner flesh of rodents becomes more marketable.  When they buy up farmland by the square mile it doesn’t bode well for home-cooked meals. Turning dinner at 7:30 with Mom, Dad and the kids into a digestive ordeal meshes nicely with another enlightened plan. Purging the world of the plague known as “the nuclear family.”

Whatever was wrong with Ronald Reagan’s years at 1600 Penn, not to say there was nothing to complain about then, getting satiated by publicans was easier and less pricey than it is now. When a globalist entourage shuts down the world’s best farmers, as in Holland, it’s no small matter. Whatever cover-up manages to work about the insect diet they advocate, the fare ordinary Joe was used to, is in for a squeeze. Aristocrats have never been that adept choosing their own eats. How trustworthy can they be deciding the menu for those they see beneath them? They barely know the difference between silage and ripe corn themselves.

When you hear Marxist rhetoric coming down from the Magic Mountains in Davos where the world’s power brokers convene, it’s a good bet Joe Six-Pack dining like a common comrade tops the agenda. The whole point of elite conclaves is an uber-adult parental unit putting the chow down on peasant plates. What kind of grub is in store after media moguls, software titans and Blackrock suits finish taking over the acreage farmer Jones once tended? With that syndicate tilling the fields you’d better be wary of the neo-nouvelle cuisine. Every secret ingredient that has spilled from their cauldrons so far has turned out to be toxic.

The Best of Tim Hartnett

Tim Hartnett [send him mail] was born in Alexandria, Va. He works as a contractor and sometime bartender in Northern Va. Past columns include "What is the Conservative Movement" and "The Clothes Make the G-Man."