Topics of Crunching

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Irish Famine? Not so much...

Like so many of my entries on this blog, this one will not even begin to scratch the surface of the topic. I'm only trying to give you a diving board - the pool's there if you feel like a dip. I'll try to include some quick links at the bottom, in case you're feelin' froggy. I'll also link some of my references (sorry if you think wikipedia is a bad source...look somewhere else, and you'll probably find the same info, less concisely stated.)

Who remembers middle school history? I recently found out that someone I know teaches 7th grade Texas history. She told me that when most people find out what she does for a living, the standard response is "Oh, I'm sorry." I have caught myself saying that exact thing before, so I wasn't too surprised (poor middle schoolers - as if life isn't hard enough for them, they are automatically written off as the most challenging age group). Regardless of whether or not it's an unfair stereotype, I think it would be quite an uphill battle to teach some of the standard history curriculum, because I am beginning to notice that "standard" doesn't necessarily mean "accurate."

I grew up in North Carolina, where the history of the horrors brought upon the Cherokee during the tail end of the "Trail of Tears" was downplayed until high school. Not exactly fare for a 4th grader, I suppose, but it was very confusing to feel that everything I was taught was so insufficient when I learned the whole story a few years later. After all, no one spared me from the evils of the Nazis during the Holocaust. There are other "misleadings" of our education. I was scandalized to find out that my Government teacher in 9th grade didn't believe that the lunar landing had ever happened (as it turns out, some estimates state that 1 out of every 4 Americans think the film was made on a sound stage). And let's not even going into the whole "magic bullet" discussion.

I think I first heard about the "Great Potato Famine of Ireland" in 5th or 6th grade. I remember political drawings of starving mothers with countless children and a lot of talk about the word blight (look it up in the glossary in the back, then answer the questions on pg. 67). Oh shoot, I'll do the busy work for you.

Irish Famine Cartoon, pretty standard.
blight. n : a disease or injury of plants marked by the formation of lesions, withering, and death of parts (as leaves and tubers)

famine. n : an extreme scarcity of food

I recently stumbled across a Facebook page called "Irish Holocaust- Push to Educate the Facts." Although the info section is clear that the forum is not tolerant of any bigotry or racism against the British, they have made it their mission to change the way we think about and remember this aspect of history. I think they put it best when they say, 
"Is i gcás ina mbeidh neart bia ann, ní fhéidir go mbeadh aon ghorta ar chor bith."
Where there is plenty of food, there can be no famine at all
Another drawing. They're countless. 
To put it very quickly (see my italicized paragraph at the top), here's how to break down the miseducation:
The "Great Famine" was not caused by blight. The disease that struck the potato crop was not the sole, or even main, contributor to the 750k deaths and 1 million forced emmigrations (by the most conservative estimates). If the Irish people had other sources of food, they could have relied on those crops. They simply did not. Why?

No other food. The penal laws placed on the Irish by Colonial England essentially made it impossible for Irishmen to grow any crop other than potatoes. If the plant/livestock wasn't prohibited by law, another law forbade anything but the export of the goods. The limited land the Irish actually had was devoted to the one crop that could grow at 3 times the rate of others. When the potatoes failed, Hunger simply had to sweep in and take what was hers.

No right to land to grow food.  Because 95% of Irish land was owned by the British Ascendency Class, those who worked the land were forced into poverty in the deepest sense of the word. Their absentee landlords paid their Irish tenants rock-bottom wages to grow crops and raise livestock for export, while they retained all revenue. Men worked the land and yielded a product that they could never eat. The Irish farmer was already set up for failure long before his potatoes were rotting.

Left: British Protestant, Right: Irish Catholic
No place in civilized society. Though 80% of the Irish population at the time of the "famine" were Catholic, the bigotry against this demographic both locally and in Mother England was atrocious. When the colony was in trouble, there was no sympathy from the only source of help. On the contrary, the workhouses provided as aid to the dying Irish actually account for an estimated 26% of Irish deaths during this period.

Obviously, if this is a point of history where there are differing opinions on the cause, there are a lot of biased sources out there. What I have found leads me to believe that, for the most part, what I was taught about the Irish dying because of a fungus on their crops was only the final checkmate on a long and painful chess match between the poor Catholic farmer and his British landlord, who believed him to be less than human. There are some really angry sources of information out there - but can you blame them? I am not in any way promoting a British hatred, vengeance, or retribution. They were probably equally victims to the structure of their society as the dying children of Eire. But if it's true - if it was an inevitable genocide after years of suppression and the worst kind of discrimination - I think it's worth a second look. After all, we all have our dark times (American's Trail of Tears and the Nazi-driven Holocaust barely scratch the surface). But what is that old cliche about history being doomed to repeat itself? Perhaps we need a re-education.

I'll end with a lyrical conclusion, from a popular song during this dark time:
Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? Human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, Hunger—stricken, what see you in the offing
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger's scoffing.
There's a proud array of soldiers—what do they round your door?
They guard our master's granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping? 'Would to God that we were dead—
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.

Some resources for a quick touch on this subject:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Sheer Magnitude of the Belly

I'm back in the saddle again. After a long hiatus from this blog (and many other things) I am returning to the keyboard. I'm going to blame the ever-expanding belly and the sweet baby growing inside of it that I'm currently hosting. After all, nesting is hard work, and quite time consuming. But it's "my delicate condition" that is inspiring this post today, and since I mainly use this blog to rant, buckle up.

When I think about newborn mammals, some of the more amazing come to mind. A newborn colt, taking it's first steps within minutes of birth. An infant giraffe, standing up to nurse his first meal from his tall mother. Amazing little creatures. And then there's the brand-new baby human - squishy, wrinkled and UTTERLY HELPLESS. Oh don't get me wrong. They are 100% precious, but stand up? They can't hold their head upright for months! As my husband aptly put it, "we are designed to rely entirely upon God from the very beginning."

So where's the source of the issue? This seemingly under-developed baby must be that way for a reason - all it's other mammalian counterparts arrive decidedly more mature and more prepared for the rigors of earth. I propose, for your reading enjoyment, this humble theory: the gestating human mother simply runs out of room, and the child must be ejected. 

I have a most personal reason for believing this. It started about 7 weeks out from my projected due date with baby #2, and even earlier with baby #1. The well-meaning, ill-timed, fateful comment that every pregnant woman dreads: "You must be due any day now."  Pause. Deep breath. Regroup. "No ma'am/sir, I have several weeks to go. Thank you for your concern." Read: "No you moron, I'm just whale-sized already. Despite my size, my child's undeveloped lungs and immune system are far from ready to face the cruel world. And I will continue to grow and grow and grow until I can't move, sleep or breath. Until I am doing everything in my power to induce the most painful thing I will likely ever go through. Because anything will be better than staying so mammoth at that point."

A concession must be made at this juncture. I understand fully that it is impossible for any stranger, friend, or even spouse to conceive of the gianticism that will overtake a woman in her 40th week of pregnancy. In other words, who'da thunk it? I don't blame you! When I am not pregnant, even by just a few months, I will forget entirely how large I was. At least I hope I will. Maybe the mind just isn't capable of remembering such bodily proportions. Either way, I don't blame you. But you must understand: even speaking of the blessed day when you will be rid of "the fat suit you can't take off" is a heartless tease. We want out - we want out bad. I know I do. Of course, in the naturally doting and matronly fashion that is fitting, I wouldn't dare rush the baby out before she's ready to handle the world without any health problems, but the INSTANT that full-term is reached (a good 3 weeks prior to the finish line) every mother I know is praying for early labor. To trade in all that pain and weight and swelling for a beautiful (allbeit restless and demanding) infant is one of the best deals there is. Don't remind me how far away that checked flag is!

This brings me right back home, to the point (you thought it was lost forever, didn't you?) I believe that babies embark on the life journey so dependent on the care of others because they must! God has squeezed as much gestational growth into the abdomen of a human as he can - and it just comes down to that favorite hide-and-seek phrase: "Ready or not, here I come!" In many ways, I am baffled by animals that give birth to litters - 9, 10, 11 puppies at once! And she was still walking a few hours before! Not to even BEGIN to touch on the subject of multiples (twins, triplets and beyond...). It's no wonder to me that more than one baby means early birth almost without exception. There's just no vacancy left at the inn.

You may say this rant was earned, and I wouldn't put up too much of a fight. After all, if you think the wrath of a woman scorned is bad, trying messing with a woman impregnanted. But despite every comment about how the baby has obviously dropped (I had a sonogram yesterday - no she hasn't) or how I'm "nothing but belly" (I know you're trying to say I'm skinny otherwise, but it's hard to hear anything but the word "belly") - I know that it comes from a place of excitement for me. That's so genuine - so welcome. So please disregard my rage, or (if I'm feeling a big more self-controlled) my eye-roll and giant sigh. You're awesome, and thank you for caring. Seriously. Thanks.