Friday, January 11, 2008

Bridges, Historiography, Patriotism and Politics

Where we proudly call ourselves a civil engineer, make some observations on historiography, comment on the last refuge of the scoundrel, and take a swipe at Our American Cousins

On the lines of the colourblindness confession, here's another one. We got a couple of degrees in civil engineering, and we have to admit that secretly and not-so-secretly, we're rather proud of ye olde profession. The heart leaps up with joy unbounded at the sight of buildings, roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, airports, railway stations, and so on. Large construction sites tend to cause a distinct uplifting of spirit. Something like this is a positive cause for bursting into song.

Blast furnaces, cooling towers, Bessemer converters are all poetic. There, we've said it once if we've said it once. Or whatever. (The other thing that sets one off is a gorgeous looking warship, but be that as it may...)

Some weeks back, we went on a birding trip to the AP Police Academy, and after having stumbled through the undergrowth for a couple of hours, we found ourselves at the edge of the campus, where that well known topological paradox, the Outer Ring Road cuts through. (Paradox: All plots in Hyderabad, nay South Central India, are within 2 km of ORR, if you believe the adverts.)

Of course, suitable horror was expressed at Man's depredation, the sullying of pristine nature and so on. But this was somewhat offset by the sight of earth movers and hard hats at work on the permanent way. The best photo from that trip follows. And its not just us, others were seen clicking away, possibly in appreciation only!

Which lets us segue into 18 stunning bridges. Molto fantastico. Check out the water-on-water bridge. Poetry only. There's that word again.

And although we are long sundered from bending moments and serendipity elements, we well up with emotion once in a while, and this will hopefully help us win the New Hampshire primary.

Martin R, over at Aardvarcheology has written a pertinent piece on history and proto-history. Several points he makes rang true, and deserves to be quoted at length.

A really good historical source is coeval with the events it describes, or it may even form a part of those events, such as in the case of a land deed. It is written by a knowledgeable participant in the events, one who is not strongly politically biased or whose bias is at least known. And any statement in a good historical source is ideally corroborated by other independent good historical sources.
But before the historical period...there is usually a proto-historical era: one for which there are only few and bad sources, often quite extremely bad ones. Typically, proto-historical sources are written centuries after the fact by political propagandists, and there exists no corroborating historical evidence.

Proto-history offers a powerful lure to all students of the past: oh, how we all wish that we could somehow dig good historical knowledge out of those crap sources!
Those texts must be treated like fairytales, because they most likely are and there is no way of finding out if they aren't.

Everywhere on earth, the proto-historical sources that appear to stretch the farthest inte the past are usually genealogies, often royal ones. "Lo, King Freddie reigned for 253 years and begat King Ronnie who smote the Fellatians and reigned for 346 years and begat King Reginald who reigned for 123 years and begat King Humpty" etc. At the head of the list is usually a god who acts as mythical ancestor of whoever is king at the time when the genealogy is compiled.

Indian history is also full of king lists which seem to be of the most dubious authenticity. When there appears to be no corroborating material evidence (written records of such mundane things as taxes, revenue, treaties, inscriptions, etc; coinage, other artifacts), it's a bit preposterous to think that the king lists/puraaNas whatever need to be given any credibility. Back to Martin...

As historical scholarship has improved, one area after another on Earth has lost its proto-historical innocence and relegated the king lists to a position as sources on the royal propaganda of far later ages than they purport to treat. But this process isn't complete yet. A good paper...shows that China is finally beginning the necessary reevalutation. This is a painful process, as the current Chinese elite quite likes the idea of unbroken historical continuity way back into the Bronze Age.

Parallels with some of the Hindu revivalist types who seem to be able to back calculate from Narendra Modi to Nala, Nakula and Nahusha? A word of caution for us, we think. [A good separate post for the choultry or elsewhere would be the the Top 10 Myths About History Cherished By Indians, including such pfaff as the definitive authorship of the Arthashaastra, "Vedic" mathematics, "India" never invaded any country (Go Cho!) and so on.]

We have written about popular historiography and engineering before.

If history has made an appearance, can patriotism be far behind?


The New England Patriots are apparently playing as though they are lving a dream. They didn't lose a game in their perfect season. This has been done once before by the Miami Dolphins, in 1972, but they had only 14(?) games then. If all goes well, they will win 3 more and duly pocket the Superbowl. They ought to. For those not in the know, the Pats this year are somewhat like the Australian team. Clinical in winning, with accusations of ( videotaping opposing coach's signals) and unsportsmanlike conduct (running up the score, or doing unto Washington what Achilles did to Hector or Dushasana(?) to Abhimanyu(?). Ludwig is a Macaulayite, he knows his Greek myth better than his Indian "history", and look at all that stuff he wrote about Indian history).

Who cares? Go Pats!


Reporter to passerby: "Sir, sir. Why is it that more Americans don't participate in the electoral process, is it ignorance or apathy?"
Passerby: "I don't know and I don't care."


Space Bar said...

what you say about the ORR is very true. we ourselves are less than one km from the orr so i speak from firsthand exper.

also, all this love of machinery - please to come home for lunch. you can sit at the window and watch tipper trucks and sundry other machineries and go ga-ga.

Phantasmagoria said...

When my son was 2 he liked all beeg twucks . I should have introduced you to him.

Ram Tekumalla said...

Saar, Dont be making fun of the heavy equipments. Are you not knowing that the crane is the national bird of Dubai? Dubai, all people of your types are going and wearing colorful lungis, gold chains and drinking whiskeys?

Sharada said...

Speaking of bridges, BSAP is organising a weekend birding trip to Laknavaram lake,Warangal on 15th Aug. Apparently the site of South India's second Suspension bridge after Kerala.