India’s mobile Internet turns local clashes into ethnic confrontation

The panic of people in flight
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

In July, tensions that had long simmered in Assam, a state in northeast India, between members of the Bodo tribe and Bengali-speaking Muslim immigrants, came to a boil in a surge of violence, claiming many lives and displacing thousands. It was lamentable that this crisis did not receive as much attention in the national media as it should have, but the fallout of the violence across the country was just as disturbing.

Bit by bit, a regional dispute with a long and complex history involving local political parties, illegal immigration and movement patterns of settlement over decades, was turned, on Internet forums and through text messages, into a Hindu-Muslim faceoff, with all the absence of specificity and projection of stereotypes common to this kind of debate.

Earlier this month, a rally was held in Mumbai, more than 1,500 miles west of the Assam violence, to protest the attacks on Muslims in Assam. Fuelled by doctored videos of violence against Muslims, the protest turned bloody, leaving two people dead and over 100 injured.

A few days later, rumors fanned out in Bangalore, again more than 1,500 miles south of Assam, that the city’s sizeable class of migrants from northeast India might be under attack by Muslims. A vicious campaign of threats over text message led thousands of northeastern migrants to flee the city, in a disturbing echo of the many thousands displaced in Assam. On Wednesday, the Indian Express reported that preliminary investigations revealed that one miscreant in Bangalore, a cellphone repairman, had forwarded inflammatory images and messages to about 20,000 people…

At the heart of this violence was the continuing chasm of understanding that lies between what is called “mainland India” and the seven states of its northeast, which have historically received stepmotherly treatment from New Delhi and found their citizens handled like aliens when they travel to other parts of their own country. As Sanjoy Hazarika wrote in the Hindustan Times on Aug. 19, this ignorance led to thousands of people from the northeast becoming scapegoats…

Meanwhile, back in Assam, thousands of people displaced by the original commotion — the clashes that allowed groups with different ideological convictions to invent or inflame further violence, sometimes with the creative narrative use of modern technology — are just beginning to return home from the relief camps in which they have for weeks been forced to seek refuge.

I can offer little more than empathy from this distance. I haven’t even the advantage of kinship with relatives living in the disturbed areas – or India itself. The roots of colonial exacerbation of religious and ethnic foolishness are nothing new; but, that understanding doesn’t offer – in my mind – any better chance of reason and civic accommodation in India than, say, in the Balkans.

The only start to that process might be in political parties campaigning seriously on unity and civil rights, forming government that recognize the need beyond lip-service. That, too, isn’t a new suggestion.

A solution to starving rice plants that starts at the root

Scientists have pinpointed a gene that enables rice plants to produce around 20% more grain by increasing uptake of phosphorus, an important, but limited, plant nutrient.

The discovery unlocks the potential to improve the food security of rice farmers with the lowest value phosphorus-deficient land allowing them to grow more rice to add to global production, and earn more.

The gene — called PSTOL1 which stands for Phosphorus Starvation Tolerance — helps rice grow a larger, better root system and thereby access more phosphorus. Farmers can apply phosphorus fertilizers to increase productivity but on problem soils phosphorus is often locked in the soil and unavailable to plants.

Also, phosphorus fertilizer is often unaffordable to poor farmers. Adding to the problem is that phosphorus is a non-renewable natural resource and rock phosphate reserves — the source of most phosphorus fertilizers — are running out…

…Dr. Sigrid Heuer, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute, said…”We’ve known for a long time that the traditional rice variety Kasalath from India has a set of genes that helps rice grow well in soils low in phosphorus”…

“We have now hit the jackpot and found PSTOL1, the major gene responsible for improved phosphorus uptake and understand how it works,” Heuer saiFd…

The discovery of the PSTOL1 gene means that rice breeders will be able to breed new rice varieties faster and more easily, and with 100% certainty their new rice will have the gene.

One of the special benefits of the new strains is their suitability for poorer upland farmers growing rice without irrigation.

The gene is being offered through modern hybridization techniques though I don’t doubt there will be GM versions as well. Neither of which may satisfy Luddites; but, then agronomists are not trying to improve crops just to stroke the farming-as-religion crowd.

Poor farmers and nations in need are the legitimate target market.

Romney’s energy plan ignores every positive change since 1970’s

From the editors of Bloomberg News

Mitt Romney sets an ambitious goal with his pledge to achieve U.S. energy independence by 2020. It’s just too bad his plan relies almost entirely on fossil fuels and largely ignores the solid promise of clean energy.

Romney’s plan, rolled out Thursday in solar-friendly New Mexico, focuses heavily on oil, gas and, most unnecessarily, coal. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee promises to expand drilling on federal lands and to roll back environmental rules his campaign adviser Ed Gillespie says are “destroying the coal industry.”

When it comes to renewable sources such as solar and wind, Romney’s plan says more about what he won’t do — namely, provide any more of the subsidies and loan guarantees that have allowed those technologies to gain a foothold. Instead, he offers to relax barriers he says are stymying clean energy and expand government funding of research. We also favor supporting clean-energy research, but question Romney’s assertion that simply “streamlining” regulations and permitting will somehow catapult clean-energy projects…

On balance, though, his plan threatens to upend the progress that has been made toward enabling the U.S. to meet much of its energy needs with less reliance on dirtier fuels like coal.

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Deliberately unvaccinated students put other children at risk

Give extra credit to Michelle Bachmann

Despite the successes of childhood immunizations, wrote Penn Nursing researcher Alison M. Buttenheim…controversy over their safety has resulted in an increasing number of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated and obtaining legally binding personal belief exemptions against vaccinations for their children.

People who cannot get immunizations because of allergies or compromised immune systems rely on “herd immunity,” the protection they get from a disease when the rest of the population is immunized or immune, explained Dr. Buttenheim. If a high number of children go intentionally unvaccinated because of personal belief exemptions, herd immunity is compromised, she said, giving a disease the chance to spread rapidly…

Vaccines are one of the great public health achievements of the last couple of centuries,” Dr. Buttenheim said. “They protect us from diseases that used to routinely kill hundreds of thousands of children in the United States and still kill hundreds of thousands globally. It’s not just important for a child to be vaccinated, it’s important at a population level to have high rates of coverage.”

In 2008, a measles outbreak spread in California. It was traced to a child whose parents had decided not to vaccinate him. He brought the disease back from Europe, infecting other children at his doctor’s office and his classmates. The boy’s parents had signed a personal belief exemption affidavit stating that some or all of the immunizations were against their beliefs, thereby allowing their son to go unvaccinated before entering kindergarten. California is one of 20 states that allow such exemptions.

Dr. Buttenheim plans to test several interventions at the school level, including new incentive structures for schools to increase adherence rates. She believes the school nurse can play a key role in encouraging parents to get children immunized. “We know everyone is heavily influenced by social norms and pressure,” she explained, and school nurses can set the expectation that children get fully vaccinated. “I think the school nurse can really act as a gatekeeper here, and reset the norm in favor of immunization.”

One of the reason we have government – as opposed to libertarian anarchy – is to protect the overwhelming majority of the population from the ignorance and foolishness of a small number of citizens. We have traffic lights and rules for 4-way stops at intersections. We don’t leave the decision-making up to who has the biggest SUV on the street.

If Dr. Buttenheim’s well-intentioned plan is as ineffectusl as I think it will be – we need to have the Feds step in and provide oversight to the sillyass states that let parents decide it’s OK to place the children of others in danger. There is no shortage of stupid regulations like this around the nation. This is one of the dumbest.