Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mauna Kea TMT update: 12 arrested as construction vehicles are blocked by protestors

by Salman Hameed

Picture of protestors from Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Picture of protest from Hawaii Tribune-Herald

The Hawaii Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on top of Mauna Kea in late August. So it was surprising this Monday to hear about the resumption of construction of the telescope accompanied by this statement (you can read it as "we will say anything to have our telescope built on the mountain") by the Chairman of the TMT board, Henry Yang: 
Our period of inactivity has made us a better organization in the long run," Yang said. "We are now comfortable that we can be better stewards and better neighbors during our temporary and limited use of this precious land, which will allow us to explore the heavens and broaden the boundaries of science in the interest of humanity.
This is a long standing issue. And to be fair to TMT, it also has held over two dozen hearings over the past 5 years. But to say that they have learnt to be "better stewards" over the past two months sounds disingenuous. In any case, the construction was supposed to start yesterday (Wednesday) but about 300 protestors blocked the access road and 12 people were arrested as a result:
Mauna Kea Access Road remained closed Wednesday evening after opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope again halted construction of the $1.4 billion observatory following a highly coordinated protest. 
About 300 protesters used their bodies and large rocks to prevent construction crews from traveling more than a mile past the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, and about a dozen continued to block access above Hale Pohaku after the group claimed victory for the day. 
Twelve arrests were made by Hawaii County police and state Department of Land and Natural Resources conservation officers. Some of the officers wore ti leaf lei given to them by protesters. 
Mike McCartney, Gov. David Ige’s chief of staff, said in a press release that construction of the state-of-the-art telescope will remain on hold until further notice. The project faced a nearly three-month timeout following arrests of 31 protesters April 2.
McCartney said the arrests Wednesday were unfortunate but acknowledged that protesters have a right to peacefully assemble. Ige was in Washington, D.C., for an energy forum. 
“We are disappointed and concerned that large boulders were found in the roadway leading to the summit of Mauna Kea,” McCartney said. “This action is a serious and significant safety hazard and could put people at risk. 
“Because of this, we are making an assessment to determine how to proceed.”
McCartney said the road will be cleared of obstructions today. 
Dan Meisenzahl, a spokesman for University of Hawaii, which manages the Mauna Kea Access Road and Mauna Kea Science Reserve, said protesters later pushed aside boulders covering 2 miles of the access road but kept three rock walls in place about 3 miles past the visitor center. 
The road above Hale Pohaku was officially closed Wednesday evening after TMT security staff and the remaining protesters came down, he said. 
Reached by phone, protest organizer Kahookahi Kanuha, who was among those arrested, said he tried to put a stop to rocks being placed on the road when he received word about it. 
“That’s a strategy for a different time,” he said. 
Protesters had planned to avoid arrests until they reached the summit. 
Kanuha said he was on his way back up the mountain after posting bail.
Much like arrests in April, there are mixed emotions for Native Hawaiians on both sides of the debate. Look at this video of the protest and here is a statement from DLNR chief before the arrests:
The confrontation initially ended with an emotional statement from DLNR branch chief Lino Kamakau to the protesters. 
“From myself, I apologize to you guys,” he said, his eyes full of tears and his voice cracking with emotion. “I hope you guys understand what I got to do. You may not accept it. I got to do my job. I’m really, really sorry. Our No. 1 thing right now is public safety, and we’re not going up (the mountain).”
All of this is likely to continue at least in the short rum. Lets see how this standoff unfolds in the next couple of days. 

A new episode of Hamari Kainaat on stars and spectroscopy [in Urdu]

by Salman Hameed

I have been away for the past two weeks and I'm catching up on a number of things. But first, for Urdu speakers, here is our latest episode of Hamari Kainaat (Our Universe). This deals with properties of stars and how spectroscopy revolutionized astronomy in the late 19th century. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Mauna Kea TMT case is headed to the Hawaii Supreme Court

by Salman Hameed

The issue of TMT has now moved on to the state supreme court (for previous posts on the issue, see here). I don't know what the time frame is, but this could drag on for a while especially if you include the appeals process as well. In any case, here is the current status (you can watch a video of the local newscast here):
The Hawaii Supreme Court on Friday granted the Mauna Kea Hui's application to transfer their case from the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
The Hui, made up of individuals and groups on Hawaii island, applauded the decision.
"Obviously the court feels that this is a case of fundamental public importance, and we're very encouraged by their ruling today," said Mauna Kea Hui attorney Richard Wurdeman.
The Hui will try to convince the justices that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources was wrong to grant a conservation district use permit to the University of Hawaii-Hilo for construction of the TMT.
"In this case, a huge, 18-story, eight-acre monstrosity on top of Mauna Kea is certainly, we would submit, not be consistent with conservation district use," said Wurdeman.
Hawaii's supreme court has a history of upholding the state's environmental laws, including shoreline protections and water rights. It also hasn't shied away from controversy.
Read the full article here.

Monday, June 08, 2015

If you have a chance, check out "The Salt of the Earth"

by Salman Hameed

Summer is a time for blockbusters. But take a break and see The Salt of the Earth. It is a stunningly beautiful documentary about photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado. But it is also a haunting film about the humans and what they are capable of doing. Salgado is a social photographer from Brazil who has documented, among other things, famine in Africa, massacres in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, and conditions of workers across the globe. The beauty of his black and white photographs makes the plight of humans stand out even more. He wants you to see these harsh human conditions. In fact, he almost gave up on humans as species on this planet and worked on a project of photographing nature away from any human influence (see his project, Genesis). The film is by Wim Wenders who recently did Pina based on the works of German choreographer, Pina Bausch. Just like Pina, he lets the artist speaks for his own work. But I was wishing for a commentary by Werner Herzog on Salgado's own thought processes while taking these beautiful and yet haunting pictures. But then that would have been a different film.

In any case, this is an excellent film. Here is the trailer and below that are some of Salgado's photographs, including from the polio campaign in the Thar desert on the border of Pakistan with India:

Le Sel De La Terre - The Salt Of The Earth (2014) (Trailer) (HD) from FILMARTI Film on Vimeo.


Polio campaign in the Thar desert, Pakistan


Church Gate Station, Bombay, India


Serra Pelada gold mine, Brazil


Famine in Africa from Sahil


Another picture from Africa - from Sahil


Oil fields on fire during the first Gulf War - from Kuwait


An iguana paw in the Galapagos from Genesis


Penguins from Genesis

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Urdu and secular nationalism in early 20th century

by Salman Hameed

Here is a fascinating book by Kavita Datla that looks at the interaction of Urdu with Indian nationalism and secularism: The Language of Secular Islam: Urdu Nationalism and Colonial India. In particular, the book focuses on Osmania University in the state of Hyderabad and the discussions over how to translate various subjects into Urdu and on the relative emphasis on Persian, Arabic, or Hindi. These decisions were intertwined with the way the role of Urdu was being imagined in Hyderabad and beyond. Modern science, of course, features in these discussions of translations as well. Kavita is actually is right here in the 5-College area (at Mount Holyoke College) but I haven't had a chance to talk to her in detail about her research.

If you have 50 minutes, you should check out this excellent discussion with her on New Books in Religion podcast. Also, here is an excerpt from a review of the book from The Hindu:
The possibility of Urdu being a secular language that could unite India’s
diverse communities may come as a surprise to many because of the mistaken belief that it is a “Muslim language.” But an attempt to forge a “common secular future” for Indian citizens through Urdu was indeed made in the 19th century in the princely state of Hyderabad.
Kavita Saraswathi Datla’s brilliantly researched The Language of Secular Islam takes us through the twists and turns of this amazing venture which led to the establishment (in 1918) of India’s first vernacular (Urdu) institution of higher education, Osmania University, to challenge the imposition of English by the British. The desire was, says Datla, to create a systemised and uniform vernacular that would rival English as a language of business, science, and learned conversation and ultimately “democratise the effects of Western education.”
To dispel the notion that Urdu is a Muslim language, Datla writes that as far back as the 1830s, Urdu replaced Persian as the official language of administration over a large swathe of British territory, including Bihar, the North-West Provinces, parts of the Central Provinces, Punjab, and the princely states of Kashmir and Hyderabad. This official language policy continued beyond 1900 (when Hindi was added to Urdu in some territories) till Partition. Muslim advocates of Urdu never used it to articulate identitarian claims and saw the language as a product of Hindu-Muslim interaction. Their main concern was securing a secular national culture for India through a language that they believed was a product of Hindu-Muslim interaction.
As further proof, Datla quotes from Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s Early Urdu Literary Culture and History to assert that Urdu served as the tool to knit together a diverse set of Mughal functionaries which included both Hindus and Muslims. According to Faruqi, the word Urdu came about from the phrase zaban-e-urdu-e-mu’alla-e-shajahanabad (the language of the exalted City/Court of Shajahanabad, that is, Delhi) which soon got shortened to zaban-e-urdu-e-mu’alla, then to zaban-e-urdu and finally to Urdu. Before that it was called Hindvi, Hindi, Dihlavi, Gujri, Dakani and Rekhta.
There was of course tension in the way Urdu was being imagined (and that tension still persists in Pakistan today). But here is a case that lays out at least one prominent position from Osmania:
Datla cites an interesting encounter between Gandhi and Maulvi Abdul Haq, who headed the famous literary organisation “Anjuman-e-Tarraqi-e-Urdu”, to show why Indian nationalism of the early 20th century needs to be re-evaluated. Abdul Haq was upset with Gandhi for favouring Hindi over Hindustani (in the 1936 Nagpur meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Sahitya Parishad). Gandhi told him: “Muslims can hold on to Urdu. It is a language of religious value for them. It is written in the script of the Quran. It was propagated by Muslim Kings.”
Although Gandhi later expressed regret for these comments, the Maulvi was annoyed that a person of Gandhi’s stature should speak of Urdu in such terms. Datla describes this feeling of the famed educator of the Osmania University as “the experience of being minoritised”, and makes the important observation that we need to see such political disagreements “not as the result of the competition between communal and secular agendas but as the product of different and competing secular agendas.”
Datla is right. For Osmania University was neither a communal nor theological project despite the fact that it did have a faculty of Theology. According to statistics provided by Datla, by 1935 there were 1,806 students in the Osmania system: 771 in arts, 731 in sciences, 102 in medicine, 97 in law, 47 in engineering, 26 in education and only 32 in theology. In other words, theology was not a popular course a fact that indicates Muslim eagerness to be part of the secular mainstream.
Read the full article here, listen to the podcast interview with Kavita Datla here, and you can get the book here. And below is the description of the book from the University of Hawaii Press:
During the turbulent period prior to colonial India’s partition and independence, Muslim intellectuals in Hyderabad sought to secularize and reformulate their linguistic, historical, religious, and literary traditions for the sake of a newly conceived national public. Responding to the model of secular education introduced to South Asia by the British, Indian academics launched a spirited debate about the reform of Islamic education, the importance of education in the spoken languages of the country, the shape of Urdu and its past, and the significance of the histories of Islam and India for their present. 
The Language of Secular Islam pursues an alternative account of the political disagreements between Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, conflicts too often described as the product of primordial and unchanging attachments to religion. The author suggests that the political struggles of India in the 1930s, the very decade in which the demand for Pakistan began to be articulated, should not be understood as the product of an inadequate or incomplete secularism, but as the clashing of competing secular agendas. Her work explores negotiations over language, education, and religion at Osmania University, the first university in India to use a modern Indian language (Urdu) as its medium of instruction, and sheds light on questions of colonial displacement and national belonging.
Grounded in close attention to historical evidence, The Language of Secular Islam has broad ramifications for some of the most difficult issues currently debated in the humanities and social sciences: the significance and legacies of European colonialism, the inclusions and exclusions enacted by nationalist projects, the place of minorities in the forging of nationalism, and the relationship between religion and modern politics. It will be of interest to historians of colonial India, scholars of Islam, and anyone who follows the politics of Urdu.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

A lot of nothing, Fermi's Paradox, Monty Python, and the Thirty Meter Telescope

by Salman Hameed

It is hard to link the four things in the title together - though not impossible. However, these are four brief conversations I had with Monte Belmonte of our fantastic radio station, The River (no seriously, check out their music playlist!). Here are the four segments from our weekly series, Mr. Universe (hey - Monte came up with the name...):

Fermi's Paradox: The question is: if there are aliens, where are they? Hampshire College astronomer, Dr. Salman Hameed, helps us look at the paradox from some sad, terrifying and even hopeful angles.

The Nothing: Astronomers have found the largest something and the largest something is essentially nothing.  Terrifying.

Not Okay-a on Mauna Kea: Should the extremely boringly named Thirty Meter Telescope be built on one of the best places on Earth to observe the cosmos, even if the mountain is sacred to Hawaiians and  Polynesians? (Monte’s answer: no)

Monty Python's "Galaxy Song": How scientifically accurate is the classic Monty Python ‘Galaxy Song’ and what did cosmologist Stephen Hawking do to correct their math for better or for worse? Hamphire College Astronomer Dr. Salman Hameed knows. He is Mr. Universe!

And here is the original Galaxy Song which is absolutely wonderful!


And here is the Stephen Hawking version:

While we are at it, here is a bonus discussion on space coffee:
Space coffee: Or espresso to be more specific.  Hampshire College Astronomer, Dr. Salman Hameed, on the extremely important gastronomic (and less so astronomic) development that brought espresso to space.  And watch the boringly beautiful mission that brought the astronauts their java.