January 30: A beginning, beginning of the end, end of the beginning, end

January 30, 2017

When students claim to find fantastic conjunctions of dates that they claim show worldwide conspiracies, sometimes centuries in existence, I point them to the internet to find what happened on that date (whatever date it is) and note coincidences “a suspicious mind” might find compelling.

Almost every date on the calendar produces astonishing coincidences. But that’s all they are.

Right? It’s not as if there are such conspiracies, or that the gods conspire to send us messages by making momentous things occur on the same day, right?

January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.
A suspicious mind might reel at these coincidences.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882,  in Hyde Park, New York.  (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition  before.)  Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933.  Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race.  His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.

End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany.  A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years.  Hitler’s assuming power in January 1933 gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year.  According to The History Place:

Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.

Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.

“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.

Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future.  Few foresaw that.

Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously.  Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time.  While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces,  the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned.   After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either.  A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold.  In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April.  Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians; image from Bins Corner, probably public domain

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948.  Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.”  Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities.  Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation.  Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case.  Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules.  Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence.  When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today.  Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short.  His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).

On January 30, 2011, when I first noted these coincidences here, much of the world held its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt.  I wondered, which of these traditions would that day follow, to peace, or toward war?

On January 30, 2017, the installation of Hitler and the Tet Offensive remind us of hubris of world leaders and really bad decisions that can have disastrous results, soon, and for a long time after.

Coincidence? What do you think?


DDT FAIL: Mosquito-borne diseases deplete medical care in DDT’s world capital

September 15, 2016

India News Today photo shows insecticide fogging in crowded Delhi neighborhoods to combat Chikungunya virus by striking down mosquitoes that transmit the disease from one human to another.

India News Today photo shows insecticide fogging in crowded Delhi neighborhoods to combat Chikungunya virus by striking down mosquitoes that transmit the disease from one human to another.

In the western world, libertarians, so-called conservatives and anti-science people call for a “return” of DDT to fight Zika virus spread.

But in the world’s DDT capital, India, where DDT is still made and more DDT is applied than in the rest of the world combined, DDT’s failures stand out. News reports say health care in key Indian cities is hamstrung by doctors and nurses getting mosquito-borne diseases.

Why don’t they just use “the magic powder,” DDT, to wipe out mosquitoes? Oh, Dear Reader, India has used DDT extensively, for everything, for 60 years. Mosquitoes that carry disease, and all other mosquitoes, and many other insect pests, developed resistance and immunity to DDT from that use.

Apart from the fact that DDT would be the WRONG pesticide to use for anything other than malaria-carrying mosquitoes from the genus Anopheles, it simply does not work.

If DDT advocates paid attention to news and history, they’d not call for more DDT anywhere for any reason.

India Today detailed the simmering crisis in Delhi in a story headlined, “Dengue-chinkungunya outbreak takes down doctor, nurses and sanitation workers”:

Subhead:

Apart from doctors, even nurses, other members of the medical staff and sanitation workers are going on leave at a time when the number of people afflicted by dengue and chikungunya this year in the city and its suburbs has crossed two thousand.

As outcry over an onslaught of viral diseases in the Capital reaches fever pitch and hospitals struggle in the face of an unrelenting tide of patients, the men in white too have started calling in sick.

Apart from doctors, even nurses, other members of the medical staff and sanitation workers are going on leave at a time when the number of people afflicted by dengue and chikungunya this year in the city and its suburbs has crossed two thousand.

Malaria is carried almost always by Anopheles, but chikungunya is carried by two species of Aedes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. These mosquitoes also carry dengue fever and Yellow fever. A. aegypti is the principal carrier of the Zika virus, worldwide. Health workers being felled by dengue and chikungunya tells us the area would also be fertile territory for the spread of Zika virus, if it were introduced there.

Careful watchers, therefore, will understand that DDT has worn out its usefulness against a wide variety of mosquito-borne diseases including Zika.

“In our hospital, 10 per cent of the staff is currently down with fever,” said Dr Ramesh Chugh, medical superintendent of Pt Madan Mohan Malaviya Hospital in south Delhi. “We have over 100 doctors, and currently 7-8 doctors are down with fever.”

Experts say heavier than usual rainfall, a large number of construction projects and scores of open drains in Delhi are allowing mosquitoes to breed in stagnant water.

Far too many commenters fail to understand that DDT was never the chief tool in fighting malaria, or any other disease. Instead, DDT was used to knock down local populations of mosquitoes, temporarily, so health care and better housing and other measures could cure humans of the diseases and remove mosquito breeding areas from areas around human homes and human activities. India’s failure to provide good sewage drainage, good storm sewage drainage, and otherwise plug up potholes and even tiny water catching places allows mosquitoes almost free rein. India relied too long on poisoning everything with DDT, instead of building a mosquito-resistant urban area.

At Lok Nayak Hospital in central Delhi, 18 doctors are on leave. “Either the doctors are down with fever or somebody in their family is ill. The doctors are taking leave for at least 4-5 days. We have had cases where physicians were ill but returned to work early seeing the number of patients,” said a senior doctor.

NURSES AND SANITATION WORKERS ALSO ON LEAVE

In east Delhi’s Lal Bahadur Shastri Hospital, 18 members of the medical staff, including doctors, nurses and sanitation workers, are absent. “In a staff of nearly 1200, 10-15 doctors are on leave due to viral illnesses,” said Dr Punita Mahajan, medical superintendent of Baba Ambedkar Hospital in northwest Delhi. “We are not exerting pressure on the doctors to continue if they feel slightly unwell as it is very important for the hospital to ensure that they remain healthy.”

The Delhi government has asked hospitals to ensure that dengue and chikungunya patients are treated without distress.

Officials say the health department has already dedicated an additional 1,000 beds for those suffering from fever at the Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital, Janakpuri Super Speciality Hospital and Deep Chand Bandhu Hospital.

These institutes have been designated nodal hospitals for fever in the city. All hospitals- government and private – in the National Capital Territory have been directed to increase their surge capacity.

“While doctors are trying their best to remain on duty till the effect of vector-borne diseases recedes the city, the shortage in staff and the new directions from the government would add to the existing burden,” said a doctor on condition of anonymity.

The Delhi government says it is fully prepared to battle with the onslaught of diseases and has denied in the city high court claims that the Capital is facing its worst dengue crisis.

In an affidavit filed in the court, it said strict surveillance of preparedness and impact of these diseases has been carried out for taking further preventive measures as, due to environmental conditions, the number of diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and malaria shows an upswing during July to October.

India continues to learn that DDT is not magic, not often useful, and sometimes detrimental to disease control efforts.

Will the rest of the world watch and learn? No, DDT will not and cannot help in the fight against Zika virus’s spread to humans. Waste no more time wondering, but get on with the hard work of draining mosquito breeding places, improving houses with window screens and other improvements, and developing vaccines and other medicines. Now.

More:


India, world’s last DDT maker, heaviest user, plans to stop

August 29, 2015

DDT sprayed in a vegetable market in India. (Photo: rzadigi) Living on Earth image

DDT sprayed in a vegetable market in India. (Photo: rzadigi) Living on Earth image

Sometimes big news sneaks up on us, without press releases. We often miss it.

Quiet little Tweet from journalist I’d never heard of, who passed along news from an obscure journal:

As a journalist, this guy has a piece of a world-wide scoop.

India is probably the last nation on Earth producing DDT.  In the last decade other two nations making the stuff got out of the business — North Korea and China. For several years now India has been the largest manufacturer of DDT, and far and away the greatest user, spraying more DDT against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, sand flies, and agricultural and household pests than the rest of the world combined.

As if an omen, India’s malaria rates did not drop, but instead rose, even as malaria rates dropped or plunged in almost every other nation on Earth.

Under the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) signed by more than 150 nations (not including the U.S.), DDT was one of a dozen chemicals targeted to be phased out due to its extremely dangerous qualities, including long-term persistence in the environment and bioaccummulation, by which doses of the stuff increase up the food chain, delivering crippling and fatal doses to top predators.

A perfect substitute for DDT in fighting some disease-carrying insects (“vectors”) has never been developed. Health officials asked, and the Stockholm negotiators agreed to leave DDT legally available to fight disease. Annex B asked nations to tell the World Health Organization if it wanted to use DDT. Since 2001, as DDT effectiveness was increasingly compromised by resistance evolved in insects, fewer and fewer nations found it useful.

The site Mr. Nazakat linked to is up and down, and my security program occasionally says the site is untrustworthy. It’s obscure at best. Shouldn’t news of this type be in some of India’s biggest newspapers?

I found an article in the Deccan Herald, confirming the report, but again with some

India-United Nations pact to end DDT use by 2020

India-United Nations pact to end DDT use by 2020

New Delhi, August 26, 2015, DHNS:

It would be better to switch to another insecticide, says expert

India is the lone user of DDT, though only in the malaria control programme, while rest of the world got rid of the chemical that has a lasting adverse impact on the environment. DH file photo

India is the lone user of DDT, though only in the malaria control programme, while rest of the world got rid of the chemical that has a lasting adverse impact on the environment. DH file photo

India has launched a $53 million project to phase out DDT by 2020 and replace them with Neem-based bio-pesticides that are equally effective.

India is the lone user of DDT, though only in the malaria control programme, while rest of the world got rid of the chemical that has a lasting adverse impact on the environment.

India on Tuesday entered into a $53 million (Rs 350 crore) partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility to replace DDT with safer, more effective and green alternatives.

“As per the plan, the National Botanical Research Organisation, Lucknow, tied up with a company to produce Neem-based alternatives for the malaria programme. The production will start in six months,” Shakti Dhua, the regional coordinator of UNIDO told Deccan Herald.

Till last year, the annual DDT requirement was about 6,000 tonnes that has now been cut down to 4,000 tonnes as the government decided to stop using it in the Kala-Azar control programme.

A recent study by an Indo-British team of medical researchers found that using DDT without any surveillance is counter-productive as a vector control strategy as sand flies not only thrive but are also becoming resistant to DDT.

“It would be better to switch to another insecticide, which is more likely to give better results than DDT,” said Janet Hemingway, a scientist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. While the Health Ministry wanted to bring in synthetic pyrethroids, the United Nation agencies supports the bio-pesticides because of their efficacy and long-lasting effects.

“The new initiative would help check the spread of malaria and other vector-borne diseases. These include botanical pesticides, including Neem-based compounds, and long-lasting insecticidal safety nets that will prevent mosquito bites while sleeping,” Dhua said.

Ending the production and use of DDT is a priority for India as it is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) of 2002 that seeks to eliminate the use of these chemicals in industrial processes, drugs and pesticides. DDT is one of the POPs.

The clock is counting down the last years of DDT.  Good.

If events unroll as planned, DDT making will end by 2020, 81 years after it was discovered to kill bugs, 70 years after it was released for civilian years, 70 years after problems with its use was first reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 58 years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, 50 years after European nations banned some uses, 48 years after the famous U.S. ban on agricultural use, 19 years after the POPs Treaty.

When will the news leak out?

More:


India, world’s top DDT user, socked with malaria increase

July 22, 2015

Were it true that DDT is a magic solution to malaria, by all measures India should be malaria free.

Not only is India not malaria-free, but the disease increases in infections, deaths, and perhaps, in virulence.

Map showing location of Odisha, or Orissa, state, in India. Wikipedia image

Map showing location of Odisha, or Orissa, state, in India. Wikipedia image

Since the late 1990s a small, well-funded band of chemical and tobacco industry propagandists conducted a campaign of calumny against Rachel Carson, environmentalists in general, scientists and health care workers, claiming that an unholy and wrongly-informed conspiracy took DDT off the market just as great strides were beginning to be made against malaria.

As a consequence, this group argues, malaria infections and deaths exploded, and tens of millions of people died unnecessarily.

That’s a crock, to be sure. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, inspired an already-established campaign against DDT. But the malaria eradication program begun with high hopes by the World Health Organization in 1955, foundered in 1963 when the campaign turned to central, tropical Africa. Overuse of DDT in agriculture and minor pest control had bred DDT-resistant and immune mosquitoes.  Malaria fighters could not knock down local populations of mosquitoes well enough to let medical care cure infected humans.  (The campaign was not helped by political instability in some of the African nations; 80% of houses in an affected area need to be sprayed inside to stop malaria, and that requires government organizational skills, manpower and money that those nations could not muster.)

Detail map of Odisha state, India; map by Jayanta Nath, Wikipedia image

Detail map of Odisha state, India; map by Jayanta Nath, Wikipedia image

That was just a year after Carson’s book hit the shelves. DDT had been banned nowhere. WHO’s workers tried to get a campaign going, but complete failures stopped the program in 1965; in 1969 WHO’s board met and officially killed the malaria eradication program, in favor of control.

Malaria infections and deaths did not expand with the end of WHO’s campaign.  At peak DDT use, roughly 1958 to 1963, malaria deaths are estimated by WHO to have been as high as 5 million per year, 4 million by 1963. Total malaria infections, worldwide, were 500 million.

The first bans on DDT use came in Europe. When the U.S. banned DDT use on crops in 1972, okaying use to fight malaria, malaria deaths had fallen to more than 2 million annually by optimistic estimates.  Death rates and infection rates continued to fall without a formal eradication campaign. By the late 1980s, malaria killed about 1.5 million each year, a great improvement over the DDT go-go days, but still troubling.

Beating malaria is a multi-step program.  Malaria parasites must complete a life cycle in a human host, and then when jumping to a mosquito, another cycle of about two weeks in the mosquito’s gut, before being transmissible back to humans. Knocking down mosquito populations helps prevent transmission temporarily, but that is only useful if in that period the human hosts can be cured of the parasites.

In the late 1980s, malaria parasites developed strong resistance and immunity to pharmaceuticals given to humans to cure them.  Regardless mosquito populations, human hosts were always infected, ready to transmit the parasite to any mosquito and send drug-resistant malaria on to dozens more.

From about 1990 to about 2002, malaria deaths rose modestly to more than 1.5 million annually.

New pharmaceuticals, and new regimens of administration of pharmaceuticals, increased the effectiveness of human treatments; coupled with much better understanding of malaria vectors, the insects that transmit the disease, and geographical data and other technological advances to speed diagnosis and treatment of humans, and increase prevention measures, WHO and private foundations started a series of programs in malaria-endemic nations to reduce infections and deaths. Insecticide-impregnated bednets proved to be less-expensive and more effective than Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) featuring DDT or any of the other 11 pesticides WHO authorizes for home spraying.  (Home spraying targets mosquitoes that carry malaria, and limits expensive overuse of pesticides, plus limits and prevents environmental damage.)

Health care workers and most nations made dramatic progress in controlling and eliminating malaria, between 2000 and 2015, mostly without using DDT which proved increasingly ineffective at controlling mosquitoes, and which also proved unpopular among malaria-affected peoples whose cooperation is necessary to fight the disease.

By 2014, fewer than 220 million people got malaria infections, worldwide, a reduction of about 55% over DDT’s peak-use years. This is remarkable considering the population of the planet more than doubled in that time, and population in malaria-endemic areas rose even more. Malaria deaths were reduced to fewer than 600,000 annually, a reduction of more than 80% over peak DDT years. By 2015, malaria-fighters once again spoke of eradicating malaria from the planet.

In contrast, India assumed the position of top producer of DDT in the world, still making it even after China and North Korea stopped making it. But malaria control in India weakened, despite greater application of DDT.  The world watches as DDT, once the miracle pesticide used in anti-malaria campaigns, became instead a depleted tool, unable to stop malaria’s spread despite increasing application.

Were DDT the magic powder, or even “excellent powder” its advocates claim, India should be free of malaria, totally. Instead, Indians debate how best to get control of the disease again, and start reducing infections and deaths, again. Below is one story, rather typical of many that crop up from time to time in India news; this is from the Odisha Sun Times. (Note: Lakh is a unit in the Indian number system equal to 100,000; crore is a unit equal to 10,000,000.)

Odisha has 36% of malaria cases in India; ranks third in deaths

Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Mar 15:

Odisha has earned the dubious distinction of having a hopping 36% share of all malaria cases in India and ranking third in the list of states with the most number of deaths leaving most of its neighbours way behind.

Malaria Mosquito

These startling revelations have been made in a report tabled by the Union Health and Family Welfare department in the Parliament.

What is more disturbing is that the number of persons getting afflicted with the disease in the state is rising every year despite the state government spending crores of rupees to arrest the spread of the disease.

The state government has been spending crores of rupees on a scheme christened ‘Mo Masari’ (“My Mosquito Net’) and has been claiming that the number of afflicted has been falling in the state. But the Central government report has exposed the hollowness of the claim.

According to the report, out of the 10.70 lakh people who were afflicted with malaria in India in the year 2014, about 3.88 lakh (36.26%) were from Odisha. In 2010, around 3.95 lakh were afflicted with the disease. The number had come down to 3.08 lakh in 2011 and had further scaled down to around 2.62 lakh in 2012, the report says.

But the number of malaria patients in Odisha is again rising at a faster pace since then, according to the Health Ministry report.

Even though the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are identified as malaria prone states, much less people are afflicted with malaria in these states as compared to Odisha. In 2014, only 1.22lakh people were affected with the disease in Chhattisgarh while only 96,140 persons were affected by malaria in Jharkhand in the same year.

Statistics cited in the report also reveal that Odisha has left many states behind and has marched ahead of others in the matter of number of deaths due to malaria. It ranks third on this count in the country.

In the year 2014, a total of 535 persons had died of malaria across the country. Out of them 73 (13.64%) were from Odish while Tripura had the maximum number of deaths in terms of percentage at 96 (17.94%) followed by Meghalaya, another hilly state, with a toll count of 78 (14.58%).

Another disturbing fact that has emerged from the report is that out of those who have died of malaria in Odisha, 80 percent are from tribal dominated areas.

The districts of Gajapati , Kalahandi , Kandhamal, Keonjhar, Koraput, Malkangiri, Mayurbhanj, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada and Sundargarh account for both the maximum number of deaths due to malaria and maximum number of persons afflicted with the disease.


How kids get to school, New Delhi edition

March 19, 2014

From Twitter:

From Twitter: “Another e.g. pic to show that school transport in Asia needs attention on health & safety aspects pic.twitter.com/Mn2FbSSELX”

Do you think the students have wi-fi to finish their homework on the way to school?

(This is not necessarily representative of all Indian school buses.)

One wonders at the stories behind such “buses” and their use.  It might make an interesting geography assignment, to find out how students get to school in other nations.  What is the most exotic, bizarre, dangerous or luxurious ride?

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Channeling Monty Python: “The border between India and Pakistan is closed for the day”

September 7, 2011

BBC map showing location of Wagah and Punjab

BBC map showing location of Wagah and Punjab, divided between Pakistan and India, south of Kashmir

Written accounts cannot possibly do justice to the ceremonies that mark the daily close of business at the border between India and Pakistan.  I had understood it was quite a good show, rivaling the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

But, you don’t expect Monty Python to break out at these affairs, do you? Here’s a video of the ceremony as it was conducted prior to July 2010, I believe, which I found at Wimp.com.  It’s a video clip from BBC Worldwide, narrated by comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(If that one doesn’t work, try this one — a bit lower quality video):

(Or, here’s a shorter, YouTube version of Baskar’s film.)

Where in the world is this?  It’s in a town and area called Wagah, in Punjab, divided between India and Pakistan since the 1947 independence of those nations (links to Wikipedia left in for your convenience).

Wagah (Punjabi: ਵਾਘਾ, Hindi: वाघा, Urdu: واہگہ) is the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan[1], and lies on the Grand Trunk Road between the cities of Amritsar, India and Lahore, Pakistan. Wagah itself is a village through which the controversial Radcliffe Line was drawn. The village was divided by independence in 1947. Today, the eastern half of the village remains in the Republic of India while the western half is in Pakistan.

While both nations and local residents fully recognize the silliness, it also stands as a symbol of the deep divisions between the two nations.

The Wagah border, often called the “Berlin wall of Asia”,[2] is a ceremonial border on the India–Pakistan Border where each evening there is a retreat ceremony called ‘lowering of the flags’,[3] which has been held since 1959.[4] At that time there is an energetic parade by the Border Security Force (B.S.F) of India and the Pakistan Rangers soldiers. It may appear slightly aggressive and even hostile to foreigners but in fact the paraders are imitating the pride and anger of a Cockerel.[1][5][6] Troops of each country put on a show in their uniforms with their colorful turbans.[7] Border officials from the two countries sometimes walk over to the offices on the other side for day to day affairs. The happenings at this border post have been a barometer of the India-Pakistan relations over the years.[1]

Did someone say “Pythonesque?”

Here’s Michael Palin narrating another view of the ceremony for one of his BBC enterprises, Himalaya with Michael Palin:

Would you be surprised to hear that local people refer to this as “the dance of the roosters?”

Events at this crossing reflect some minor easing of tension between the two nations in the last decade, and in 2010 both nations announced they would tone down the retreat ceremonies. Surely some scholar has analyzed this retreat ceremony and its history, to determine whether it helped ease the tension, or increased the conflict between the two nations.  Could soldiers who participate in such goings-on actually shoot at each other?

Has anyone got a more recent viewing of the ceremony?

How will you explain this to your sophomore world history class?  Is there anything sillier than humans in conflict?

Video via VodPod.

An astonished tip of the old scrub brush to Judith Shields.

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Beginning, beginning of the end, end of the beginning, end

January 30, 2011

January 30 is a momentous date, according to the AP list of events that occurred on this day.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Franklin D. Roosevelt, National Portrait Gallery

Beginning: Franklin Roosevelt, the only president of the U.S. to break the tradition of getting elected to two terms only, was born on January 30, 1882,  in Hyde Park, New York.  (Both Ulysses Grant and his cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, had tried to break the two-term tradition  before.)  Roosevelt served at the 32nd president, winning election in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.  During his first term the date of presidential inaugurations was moved from March 21 to January 21, partly in appreciation for the period of time the nation drifted seemingly deeper into depression between Roosevelt’s election in November 1932 and his inauguration in March 1933.  Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, won election as New York’s governor in 1928, and then won the 1932 presidential race.  His death on April 12, 1945, pushed Harry Truman into the presidency for three years before he had to face the electorate.

End of the beginning: On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took office as chancellor of Germany.  A World War I veteran, Hitler had spent time in prison for trying to overthrow the government. Hitler was seven years younger than FDR, but their careers occasionally coincided on key years.  Hitler’s assuming power in January gave him a two-month jump on FDR; at the time, few people, if anyone noticed the coincidental rise, nor could see the significance of the events of the year.  According to The History Place:

Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.

Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January 30th, Hitler was sworn in.

“I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people, protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially and with justice to everyone,” swore Adolf Hitler.

Democratic-based government in Germany was doomed for the foreseeable future.  Few foresaw that.

Beginning of the end: On January 30, 1968, during the Vietnamese new year celebration known as Tet, Vietcong and North Vietnamese army regulars kicked off the Tet Offensive, striking targets all over Vietnam simultaneously.  Caught nearly completely by surprise, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces lost control of Saigon, the South Vietnamese capital for a time.  While the U.S. and South Vietnamese eventually won these many battles and pushed out the invading forces,  the simple fact that the thought-to-be-decimated forces of Ho Chi Minh could pull of the offensive at all sent the chilling message that victory in this guerrilla did not yet belong to South Vietnam and the U.S., nor had a tide been turned.   After tumultuous elections in the U.S., Richard Nixon’s presidency could not turn the tide, either.  A “peace” was negotiated, mostly between North Vietnam and the U.S., in 1973, but it did not hold.  In 1975 relations between North Vietnam and South Vietnam hit crisis again, and the U.S. pulled out the last forces left in South Vietnam in April.  Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces defeated the rapidly dissipating military of the South, and the country was united under communist, North Vietnam rule.

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

Mahatma Gandhi addresses Indians

An end: Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse shot and killed Mohandas K. Gandhi in India, on January 30, 1948.  Gandhi was known as “Mahatma,” which means “Great Soul.”  Gandhi campaigned for India’s independence and end of British colonial rule for most of the 1920s, including a period of time in prison for subversive activities.  Gandhi’s great contribution to political change is the massive use of non-violent, non-cooperation.  Non-violent tactics tend to highlight the moral positions of groups in conflict, and make the non-violent side appear to have the stronger case.  Such tactics expose hypocrisy and despotic government rules.  Though he resigned from his political party in 1934, Gandhi remained a key icon of the drive for India’s independence.  When violence broke out over the Mountbatten plan to grant independence in 1947, creating two nations of Pakistan and India divided along religious, Gandhi again appealed for peace, but became the most famous victim of the religious violence that still roils the region today.  Committed to peace and non-violence, Gandhi himself did not ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps because his life was cut short.  His work inspired other Nobel Peace laureates, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), the Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Nelson Mandela (with Frederik Willem deKlerk, 1993), and U.S. President Barack Obama (2009).

On January 30, 2011, much of the world holds its breath, watching events in North Africa, including especially Tunisia and Egypt.  Which of these traditions will today follow, to peace, or toward war?


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