Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 5 July 2016
The Rest Catalogue, Breadtag Sagas 2016
The banner for Breadtag Sagas says tales of science… The dot dot dot is meant to mean The Rest. So far I’ve only posted one science article but there will be more. The Rest category in general is a repository for longer analytical articles.
What is History
What is History 3: The Medieval Mind
1 February , 2016 (Art, Books)
What is history is a series of articles about the nature of history, probably from outside the perspective of mainstream historians. The three introductory articles here raise some of the difficulties in understanding history and the tendency of historians to neglect the impacts of outside factors, such as, geography, climate and disease and their impact on history. Similarly historians often focus on events and personages and neglect how people lived and thought; and also economics, trade, energy sources and other focal spotlights. History is complicated. Later articles will focus on two books What is History? by EH Carr 1961 (considered radical and shocking at the time, but mainstream now) and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond 1997 (still probably misunderstood, by historians and others).
The present article relies on three books about the middle ages. The first two William Manchester, and Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger cover the early middle ages. The third by Norman Cantor covers the late middle ages. These are popular but well-researched books. The theme is serious but the ideas are meant to be introduced in an entertaining rather than academic way.
The aim is to show how little we actually know about the middle ages, particularly the early middle ages, but how can we understand what happened in the middle ages unless we can understand how ordinary people lived and thought. Similarly how can we understand The Renaissance without understanding the Middle Ages? This arena of the distant past is not uncontroversial, because it is also the era when the Christian Church grew from small beginnings to reach the zenith of its power, and even today the Catholic Church is not a disinterested spectator of investigations into the era.
The article shows that examining more than the very basics of history is not an easy subject and that one should sympathise with mainstream historians.
(2300 of 3950 words)
What is history 2: Sleep Patterns
14 December, 2015 (books)
This article is about sleep patterns and artificial light. Until I came across segmented sleep I’d assumed unsurprisingly that 8-hours straight was the natural pattern. However, it’s not! Until the coming of artificial light — gas streetlights first in the early 19th century and electricity in the early twentieth century — sleep patterns were different. The normal pattern was to go to sleep early for four hours, wake up around midnight and become active for 2 to 3 hours and go back to sleep for another four hours. You can replicate this experimentally today by taking away artificial light in the evening.
If you can’t trust your own sleep patterns, what can you trust? In a world lit only by fire and candles, things and attitudes towards darkness were very different.
What is History 1: Introduction
8 December , 2015 (books)
In this article, we look at the history of life on Earth and of how humans are part of the evolution of that life. Then we examine briefly the external forces that shaped human history such as: geography (the location of continents), climate change, historical warm periods and cold periods, the history of disease, the two-way Columbian exchange of 1492 which devastated the new world and the massive global impact on Earth wrought by the twentieth century. A similar brief examination is given of specific impacts on history of such things as cod fish, oil and money.
Quite a number of excellent and readable books are provided to support these observations. The purpose of this introduction is to observe that the forces that produced history are generally wider than usually considered by historians and that science does have a role in analysing history. As with other disciplines, history in the twenty-first century may well be undergoing a revolution.
J.B.S. Haldane The Origin of Life, 1929
18 December, 2015
This is a republication of JBS Haldane’s 1929 8-page paper on the origin of life on Earth, which is otherwise hard to access (one should not forget AI Oparin’s parallel researches and a link is given to Oparin’s much longer work). JBS Haldane was an eccentric but brilliant English academic of the old school. One continues to marvel at how he could draw together so much from such limited information and still have time for a dig at religion and some inferior Greek philosophers. Haldane’s paper is one of the most significant biological papers of the 20th century.
A brief biography of Haldane is given and the paper is annotated to help the lay reader and to update some of the concepts. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory solidified. Julian Huxley’s book Evolution: the Modern Synthesis wasn’t published until 1942. Yet, Haldane nailed the origin of life in 1929. The massive developments in biology in the 20th century is one reason that Creationists always refer to evolution as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1857 Darwin for all his genius didn’t have the modern tools, especially of genetics, to work with. One could feel sorry for the Creationists, but how can one, because the modern developments in genomics and molecular biology have walled them into a cul-de-sac with no entry and no exit. It’s just that they and the general public haven’t realised it yet.
Everyone should read Haldane’s paper. It is beautifully written. I’ve been surprised by the amount of feedback and interest in the post, as I didn’t think that many people would be interested!
(5390 of 6150 words)
Large dams 3: Oustees India
These essays on large dams arose from a research project I undertook in India in 2006 at the instigation of my friend Rukmini to examine the proposed Polavaram Dam and to decide whether it was a good dam or not. I had no vested interest, which I told Rukmini. Surprisingly, the Polavaram Dam project turned out to be a stupid project on all levels, especially economically and as an irrigation project; and that the task was to stop it, not just to attempt to mitigate the consequences. It hasn’t been built, but it is still on the drawing board. At the time I felt that if it was delayed five years it would never be built. The huge 200 km huge feeder canals have been built and are lying useless, perhaps built only as a payback to the local Indian canal builders for political donations. Not many people around the world realise what harm has been done by large dams. This harm increases as the best locations diminish, but in general terms large dams have been a curse rather than a boon.
In most countries, the treatment of those displaced by dams has been shameful. Indeed on can argue that the World Bank has been guilty of crimes against humanity in its support of large dams in the late twentieth and twenty-first century, because it abrogated its own rules in not ensuring better treatment of displaced people.
In India the treatment of displacees, who are called oustees by Indian governments (a particularly appropriate and inhumane term that accurately reflects the way these people are treated), has been shameful, particularly since Independence. Arundhati Roy says: … Fifty million people …I feel like someone who’s just stumbled on a mass grave.
The essay covers what has happened to the poor, backward castes and tribals displaced by large dams in India.
10 October , 2015
Large dams 2: Aswan High Dam
The Aswan High Dam is used as a case study of some unintended consequences of large dams.
The Aswan High Dam was built by Colonel Nasser as a symbol for independence and modernity. It has not lived up to its promise. Egypt did modernise but at enormous cost. The hydroelectricity produced mostly went to fertiliser factories necessary because half the gift of the Nile, the silt, was stopped by the dam. Currently, Egypt is in a double bind. It can’t do without the Aswan High Dam but neither can it tolerate it, as the silt inevitably builds up in Lake Nasser. In the 1960s Egypt was prepared to go to war to prevent upriver states diminishing the Nile flow. Now the GERD dam in Ethiopia is nearing completion, which may have dire consequences for Egypt.
21 September , 2015
Large Dams 1: An introduction
The article gives a brief introduction to the circumstances surrounding our writing a small book on the Polavaram Dam Project in India and also briefly covers the topic of dams and diversions in history. The photograph is of the Aral Sea an ecological catastrophe because of inappropriate cotton irrigation in an arid zone.
Osama bin Laden
Last Days of Osama bin Laden 3: The killing
8 September, 2015
I began these articles on last days of Osama bin Laden because Denise and I travelled up and back down the Karakorum Highway in 1995 and coincidentally stayed in Abbottabad for a couple of days. Abbottabad primarily exists as a military cantonment and more recently has become a minor tourist location for Pakistanis from Islamabad and Lahore. Consequently, when Osama bin Laden was killed by the Americans, I found it difficult to believe that Osama bin Laden had been ‘hiding in plain sight’ as promoted by the USA in the world press. Indeed, the whole story of the killing made me deeply uneasy. Had I known the amount of work writing these articles would take, I would not have begun.
This essay The Killing examines the official account of the killing by the US government compared with that provided by Seymour Hersh in his long essay published in 2015. Whether Seymour Hersh is right or not, the disinformation put out by the Whitehouse, the US government and the CIA is disturbing, as is the message received by the rest of the world in an uncertain and a transition period of history.
The last days of Osama bin Laden 2: 9/11
9 August , 2015 (Books)
This essay examines the history leading up to 9/11 using The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda’s Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright, 2006. It examines the consequences of 9/11 in American actions in Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, through David Kilcullen’s Quarterly Essay: Blood Year — Terror and the Islamic State 2015 (now a book).
The essay concludes with pondering what damage these events have done to the US’s reputation as a superpower and its credibility, particularly in relation to China which is poised to replace the USA as the world’s major superpower.
The last days of Osama bin Laden 1: Abbottabad
28 July , 2015 (Books, Travel)
This essay covers our visit to Abbottabad in 1995 ten years before Osama bin Laden took up residence there. Our visit is described. The history of the Pakistan Army (formerly Indian) in Abbottabad is covered, particularly the Pfiffers. The question is asked whether Osama bin Laden could have ‘hidden in plain sight’. The verdict is that this was impossible and that some element of the Pakistan Army at a very high level was protecting him. Seymour Hersh’s essay was published while I was finishing this article and is covered briefly at the end. With Hersh’s information, it appears quite likely that Osama bin Laden was being protected as an asset by the Pakistan ISI (the notorious Pakistan Inter-services Intelligence Service) and while allowed some freedom bin Laden was probably also under a form of house arrest.
Rukmini Rao Woman of the Year 2014
22 June , 2015
The Week Magazine one of India’s two big English language weekly news magazines celebrated my friend Rukmini Rao as 2014 Woman of the Year in 2014 in late December 2014. I republished their articles six months later because I knew that they would probably disappear from the Internet. I’ve been meaning to write some more articles about Rukmini and her activities and I will eventually. Since the 2014 Woman of the year.
Since the 2014 Woman of the year, Rukmini also won the Femina and L’oreal Paris Women Awards 2015 under the Social Impact Category (voted by Facebook fans). None of us know what this means but it raised her profile yet again.
The paragraph citation stated:
She is the Vice Chairman of LEPRA Society, Managing Trustee of Centre for World Solidarity and Executive Director of Gramya Resource Centre for Women and on the Boards of the Deccan Development Society (DDS) and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and WASSAN promoting alternative agriculture development. She also was a founding member and worked for many years with Saheli Women’s resource Centre in Delhi.
It is hard to pin Rukmini down sometimes and few of her friends and colleagues really understand what motivates her.
I’ve known Rukmini since the beginning of Saheli in Delhi and probably understand what she does better than most, but one reason I keep putting off writing further articles is that it is really hard to pin what she does down because, though Rukmini likes to think that she prefers to work at the grassroots amongst poor women, she is actually too strategic to do that and constantly engages at district, state, national and international levels in parallel. I think she has cut down the number of Boards she is on and is always trying to extricate herself, but the various organisations need her to help sort themselves out.
In 2016 Gramya won the NGO of the year in Telangana and received 1 lakh of rupees in recognition. She also became the Chair of the LEPRA Board involved in leprosy prevention. This is at the most conservative end of her activities, but she has a soft spot for LEPRA and has been on the Board for many years.
The present article has received good traffic from India, which is gratifying, especially because the current Modhi government of India is waging a campaign to shut down independent NGOs across India.
Ross Gittins & the Paris Terror Attacks
Ross Gittins is an economics correspondent who has been trying to teach us practical things about economics in Australia for nearly forty years. His humanism and concern to give us straight answers on economic issues, in clear language have been an intelligent breath of fresh air in the miasma created by politicians, interest groups and many mainstream economists.
He wrote a short article in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times on the Paris Terror Attacks that seemed to touch a level of sensibility that deserved to be relayed to a larger or another audience. We all remember the consequences of 9/11 which led the USA and the coalition of the willing, including Australia into what now we think of in hindsight as acts of madness. Hence I republished Gittins article online.
Now more than six months later, it still seems as relevant, particularly now that ISIS is losing its ‘so called’ Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and is engaged in or sponsoring terrorist activities instead in as many countries as it can. In time the whole ISIS thing will go away and people will wonder what it was all about. But, it is important not to over-react to terrorism because if we succumb to emotional outrage as Gittens says: …we leave ourselves open to manipulation by the unscrupulous – and I don’t just mean the terrorists.
Other parts of the Catalogue
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