A Cautionary Tale of Two Religions

The evening television news has of late been reporting on a massive migration of refugees out of the warring regions of Libya, Syria, and Somalia into Europe. A van filled with some 50 dead bodies of men, women and children was found in Austria. Dismal tent cities have sprung up, including one near the French end of the Chunnel where nightly forays are made by desperate people wanting to walk 31.4 miles to England. One might think that such things are unprecedented but they are not, nor is the the kind of religious hatred powering the wars.

This was brought home to me by a shocking article in the New Yorker magazine’s issue of June 29. Titled The Great Divide, it reviews the causes and events of the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent by its British colonial masters in August, 1947, two years after World War II and at a time when the 10-year-old me was learning in my geography and history books about quaint foreign cultures. So far as I know, those text books never did catch up to the reality that was happening and despite having bachelor’s degree and a master’s, and despite having a lifelong interest in history and the news, I was ignorant of the details until now. An excerpt of the article:

In August, 1947, when, after three hundred years in India, the British finally left, the subcontinent was partitioned into two independent nation states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Immediately, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Muslims trekked to West and East Pakistan (the latter now known as Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Many hundreds of thousands never made it.

DAMASCUS, SYRIA - JANUARY 31:  In this handout provided by the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Residents wait in line to receive food aid distributed in the Yarmouk refugee camp on January 31, 2014 in Damascus, Syria. The United Nations renewed calls for the Syria regime and rebels to allow food and medical aid into the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk. An estimated 18,000 people are besieged inside the camp as the conflict in Syria continues.  (Photo by United Nation Relief and Works Agency via Getty Images)

These are Syrian refugees, but the message is the same. Credit: Alsiasi.com

Across the Indian subcontinent, communities that had coexisted for almost a millennium attacked each other in a terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence, with Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other—a mutual genocide as unexpected as it was unprecedented. In Punjab and Bengal—provinces abutting India’s borders with West and East Pakistan, respectively—the carnage was especially intense, with massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered.

Nisid Hajari, in “Midnight’s Furies” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), his fast-paced new narrative history of Partition and its aftermath, writes, “Gangs of killers set whole villages aflame, hacking to death men and children and the aged while carrying off young women to be raped. Some British soldiers and journalists who had witnessed the Nazi death camps claimed Partition’s brutalities were worse: pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits.”

By 1948, as the great migration drew to a close, more than fifteen million people had been uprooted, and between one and two million were dead. The comparison with the death camps is not so far-fetched as it may seem. Partition is central to modern identity in the Indian subcontinent, as the Holocaust is to identity among Jews, branded painfully onto the regional consciousness by memories of almost unimaginable violence. The acclaimed Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” She writes, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”

After the Second World War, Britain simply no longer had the resources with which to control its greatest imperial asset, and its exit from India was messy, hasty, and clumsily improvised. From the vantage point of the retreating colonizers, however, it was in one way fairly successful. Whereas British rule in India had long been marked by violent revolts and brutal suppressions, the British Army was able to march out of the country with barely a shot fired and only seven casualties. Equally unexpected was the ferocity of the ensuing bloodbath.

The question of how India’s deeply intermixed and profoundly syncretic culture unravelled so quickly has spawned a vast literature. The polarization of Hindus and Muslims occurred during just a couple of decades of the twentieth century, but by the middle of the century it was so complete that many on both sides believed that it was impossible for adherents of the two religions to live together peacefully. Recently, a spate of new work has challenged seventy years of nationalist mythmaking. There has also been a widespread attempt to record oral memories of Partition before the dwindling generation that experienced it takes its memories to the grave.

I submit that the parallels to the second Iraq War are unmistakable. Angrily

Credit:  Time, Inc.

Credit: Time, Inc.

determined to round up the usual suspects because of 9/11, America attacked the thuggishly brutal regime of Saddam Hussein, confident in our hubris that we would be greeted as saviors and would thereby make out of the two conflicting religions an island of peace in the Middle East.  The control Hussein wielded over the majority

Sunni’s was broken and we made everything worse, much worse.

How could this happen? I don’t think I am the only one with delayed knowledge of this historical catastrophe?  There was no shortage of egg heads in the Bush administration who should have known of it, not least of whom was Dr. Condoleezza Rice who held three degrees in political science and had served one term as National Security Adviser. Perhaps her text books also omitted from essential history events that society prefers to ignore. Even now there is a strong movement in the GOP to deemphasize from history text books material that is critical of our nation. Even more to the point, ought we not think soberly about this example as we consider the statements of contenders for the presidency during the present campaign?   Do they have a sense of history?  Do they have gravitas?  Do they react emotionally?  Do they take slights personally?  Do they display some humility about power?  These things matter.  Stuff happens.

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Reality Show Becomes Nightmare

As a reborn Democrat I often get cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile the news with the GOP party line.  A good example of this is an article in USA the Today news section

What?  Me Worry?

What? Me Worry?

entitled, As construction heats up, so does worker shortage.  According to the CEO of the National Association of Home Builders, the shortage of workers is an “epidemic”.  One large-company builder for the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region says he could increase his revenue 50% if he had adequate laborers.    The article adds that “competition for workers is so intense that “rivals routinely poach his workers ” . . . by offering small increases in pay.”

I find this just amazing, especially considering the recession that has now faded into the background.  Remember the financial cliff  the Tea Party had their shorts in a knot over?  Whatever happened to that?  They had everyone so convinced of this that they were nearly able to shut down the whole government over it.

Here in Joplin, home-building proceeds apace, especially since the 2011 tornado, but even in non-affected areas like our small development.  With some 50 homes, it sees about 3 new houses built per year and I can’t help but notice that much of the work, particularly framing, concrete and masonry, the grunt stuff, is done by Hispanic workers.  I suspect many are illegals.  From bricklaying to driveways, they do quality work – the average house price here is probably $300,000.  I wonder what would happen to the prices if Donald Trump is able to deport, or self-deport all these guys?  Hmm.  Probably something like happened in Alabama several years ago when its legislature passed draconian anti-immigrant laws and Hispanics fled the state.  It was devastating to the economy and especially to farming, not to mention the human costs.

Donald Trump and those like him, Cruz and Walker included for sure, ignores reality when he talks wildly about deporting 11 millions of people.  His expertise is playing Monopoly with other peoples’ money and sometimes going bankrupt in the process.  Now he wants to do it with the whole country.  Is this a reality show, or just the beginning of a national nightmare?  

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My Visit With Galloping Gertie

Jim Wheeler:

I wanted to reblog this, a fine travelogue because of the quality pictures!

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

One of the teaching units I enjoyed most in my physics classroom was on wave motions. Almost everything is capable of some sort of waving motion, or oscillation. The motions come in a wide range of frequencies and amplitudes dependent upon the object. Smaller objects tend to have high frequencies and small amplitudes. Large objects tend to have low frequencies and large amplitudes of motion. It is a fascinating field of study.

Some objects respond to an input of energy of some specific frequency and begin oscillating with the same frequency as the source. Their motion can grow in amplitude as the source of energy continues. A simple example is a pendulum with a child on a swing. Pushing the child at the right time inputs energy to drive the amplitude larger. The energy of drawing a violin bow across the strings of a violin sets some of the strings into vibrations that are large…

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It’s Not US, It’s THEM!

Jim Wheeler:

My record on women’s issues is not very good, but here is a reblogged post that I totally respect on the abortion issue.

Originally posted on FiftyFourandAHalf:

You probably can’t tell from my blog posts, but I love words.  I love the sound of them, the feel of them in my mouth and at my fingertips.  How changing just one word can transform a sentence from shit to shinola.

So I love it when somebody proves me right-ish.  Or like I’m in the right pew.

For decades one term has bothered me.  “Pro-Choice.”

Abortion ain’t a “whole wheat or rye” sort of “choice.”

So I’ve had my thinking cap on for all that time, trying to think of a better way to say it.  What else could it be called?  What word can express the magnitude of that decision for any woman.

And am I the person to come up with it anyway?  You see, I never had an abortion.  I never was able to get pregnant.  So perhaps it isn’t my role.

But I do know…

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10 Easy Questions For The Republican Presidential Debates

Originally posted on List of X:

This is how the stage of the Republican debate would look like if all candidates were allowed to participate. This is how the stage of the Republican debate would look like if all candidates were allowed to participate.

The 2016 presidential campaign is now in full swing, and there already seem to be at least several hundred Republicans who have declared that they are running for president – Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, just to name a few. To manage the onslaught of the candidates, Fox News, which is hosting the first Republican primary debate on August 6, has already limited the debate to top 10 candidates. (I guess Fox is working on its own list of 10…) However, even with just 10 candidates Fox will face a challenge in how to give every one of them an opportunity to give an extended answer…

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A Remarkable Admission

I have always had the utmost respect for the Marines, and even more so when I was Executive Officer of the Naval ROTC Unit at the University of Kansas, that being the closest affiliation I had with them in my naval career. The Marine Officer Instructor invited me and the CO to the annual Marine Corps birthday celebration where the honorable history of that service was solemnly remembered. It was a serious affair.

General John Kelly

General John Kelly

Thus, it was with interest I read a column in the USA Today newspaper wherein, during a Memorial-Day speech, a four-star Marine General posed and answered a question on the minds of many. When his son, a Marine 2nd Lieutenant in Afghanistan, was killed in action five years ago, was it worth it? I was surprised General John Kelly would even pose the question, knowing the ethos of the Corps, and I was equally surprised by his answer. He said it was not for him to say. Not for him to say. Coming from the gung-ho, that was remarkable.

It was the right answer, and it was the wrong answer. It was right because General Kelly is still on active duty, and it would be a failure of leadership to tell young marines their mission was not worth their sacrifice. But it was also wrong because general officers are as schooled in politics as in strategy. They study and understand that war and politics are intertwined and always have been, and General Kelly has to know just how wasted and feckless has been the longest war in American history, not to mention the Iraq war which cost 4,000 American lives and upwards of a million Iraqi lives and made everything worse.

Things were different in the “good” war, that is, WW II. America was in it together, although some propaganda was necessary to quell the reluctant minority. But, public opinion after Pearl Harbor was substantially united out of shared fear. Nuclear weapons changed the nature of war, however. General MacArthur was right, and he was wrong. To him, war meant total effort. Truman knew that nuclear war would mean the end of civilization as we know it.

Wars have been different ever since. Korea was awful, because of China’s involvement and because the “Domino effect” was no actual threat. Vietnam was a horrible mistake, marked by political deception, demagoguery, and false pride that said American exceptionalism ought to be imposed simply because we could. That debacle claimed 58,000 American lives with nothing to show for it.

Why haven’t we learned from the past? Why is the American public still vulnerable to demagoguing war hawks who see battle as the proper solution to age-old ethnic problems? Among those shriller voices I hear lately are George Pataki and Lindsay Graham. They are all too eager to unleash the dogs of war, especially since the armed forces are now so professional that they are near-mercenaries, but unlike General Kelly the war hawks have no personal family at direct risk. To people like that, the Defense Department is a misnomer. The Armed Forces haven’t been used for actual defense since 1945.

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A Stock Tip For The Science-minded

Last Sunday I saw a new CBS 60 Minutes segment about how the Earth’s supply of fresh water is being rapidly depleted. This might seem to be a non-problem, but it isn’t. Then, today I read on a blog by a science teacher of the latest data showing the rapid advance of CO2 levels in the atmosphere, the primary greenhouse gas that is promoting climate change. (How’s that polar vortex working for you?)

The two trends are related in that they are new, they threaten life as we know it on this planet, and they both are being caused by us, homo-sapiens. Crops, like other growing things, absorb CO2 and they need fresh water. Jim in Iowa, the author of the science blog, posted in a reply to a commenter (me) a startling graphic showing how small is the amount of fresh water available to the world’s burgeoning population, so I am shamelessly stealing and re-posting it for you here.  The larger bubble is all water, including the oceans.  The small bubble is what is in all the lakes, rivers and aquifers.

Global Water Volume, from the USGS

Global Water Volume, from the USGS

Manned space flight is an exciting thing and the thought of sending people to Mars captures the imagination of most people, but in the grand scheme of things it is what space science offers to teach us about our home planet that ought to really motivate us. The data on CO2 and on fresh water are, in each case, being confirmed on a global basis by satellites. Interestingly, and I hadn’t known this, tracking the gravitational behavior of special satellites can detect and measure the fresh water in aquifers. The data correlate very well with actual tape measurements in wells. In the great Central Valley of California where a quarter of all our vegetables and fruits are grown, so much water has been pumped out of the ground for irrigation that the elevation of the ground has dropped about 6 feet in the last few decades. The pumping has only increased with the drought and nobody knows how much is left.  When the aquifers begin to run dry, the quantity of crops will diminish and that will exacerbate the CO2 situation.  Or maybe weeds will make up the difference, who knows?

The practical reader right now is probably thinking that the drought will end soon and rain will fix the problem. Alas, that won’t discernibly help because the population of the world is projected to continue upward for the foreseeable future, and it is a population that is learning to like meat, even as the oceans are dying and sea-life moving toward extinction from over fishing. And why, you might ask, is that particularly problematic? It turns out that it takes far more water to produce a pound of meat than it does a pound of vegetables. Chickens and cows eat a lot of growing stuff, so they not only drink but they consume stuff that in turn requires a lot of water.  As noted in the 60 Minutes segment, farm production is keeping up only because we are drawing on a freshwater savings account that is receiving few deposits.

There’s a USGS web page on the subject of just how much fresh water is required to produce different things, including meat. The numbers are estimates because the requirement varies depending on methods, but this is nevertheless good data for comparisons. The data are in the form of a quiz, but I’ll give you a cheat sheet.

One ounce of bread: 10 gallons of fresh water.
One pound of chicken meat: 500 gallons.
1 chicken egg: 50 gallons.
One pound of hamburger: 4,000 – 18,000 gallons. (not a misprint)

People are clearly confused about politics right now, hence our badly-divided government. For the first time since WW II, real wages adjusted for inflation are declining for the American middle class. One party is calling for more drilling (drill, baby, drill) and for the export of dirty oil-sands oil to China and elsewhere in the

Japanese silky tofu - credit, Wikipedia

Japanese silky tofu – credit, Wikipedia

developing world while the other wants to conserve energy and limit pollution. When the data are clearly saying we are in such environmental trouble, it is beyond me why the public can’t see what is at stake. Even as it is, our descendants are unlikely ever again to see a standard of living as high as what we have become accustomed to.

Want a stock tip? Invest in tofu.

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