Great Inventions

The Revolving Door

The revolving door was invented in Berlin in 1881 for protection against cold, snow, dust, and noise. More than two centuries later, it also serves as a personnel recirculation system among business and politics and war.

The Parachute

The parachute was invented in twelfth-century China. Early versions consisted of a cloth cone stretched over a wood frame, though with time the material used became more refined. In the late 1700s, pleated silk was the chosen fabric. But it was the twentieth century that saw the introduction of the most extravagant material: the golden parachute. It was engineered to protect corporate executives from the perils of a fall from grace and employment.

The Elevator

They say that the first elevator was a chair attached to pulleys invented centuries ago by the hugely fat Henry VIII of England to avoid the stairs of the palace.

A more modern form of elevator was used by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to achieve absolute power in Italy. In 1984, Bettino Craxi, Socialist prime minister, signed an executive order officially blessing Berlusconi’s monopoly over private television.

In the world championship of impunity, Berlusconi weathered an infinity of trials without a single day of detention. He converted his vices into virtues to be admired and his rackets into feats worthy of applause.

The Scapegoat

Certain ancient religious traditions held that a male goat bore the sins of all people, and so they punished the animal by driving it out into the desert. This invention served to deflect responsibility for our own misconduct and sins. Certain peoples, like the Jews and gypsies, have been serving as scapegoats for a long, long time.

In mid-2008, the Italian news weekly Panorama, owned by Berlusconi, came out with an issue with this title on its cover: Born to Steal. It was referring to gypsies, and the magazine cited polls showing that the public agreed with this assertion of genetic criminality.

The Traffic Light

The first traffic light has been in operation since the end of 1868, standing in front of the British parliament.

In our time, other, far more powerful stoplights govern the world’s traffic.

In almost all countries of the North, the red light halts the circulation of many dangerous herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers.

Yet in almost all of the countries of the South, the green light is on for these same agrotoxins, poisonous to humans but sold by the North.

Who runs the traffic lights?

Who governs the governments?

This is an excerpt from Eduardo Galeano's column in the November issue of The Progressive magazine. To read the column in its entirety, simply subscribe to The Progressive for $14.97--which is 75% off!