March 6

Image result for affirmative action1961, 1077


1961 first, because that represents the modern world, of extraordinary human progress, of enlightened thought and democracy in practice, whereas 1077 was the Dark Ages.

Known in America as "affirmative action", it was signed into law by JFK on this day in 1961, not as an Act of Congress but by "Executive Order 1925", its intention quite explicitly to confront racial discrimination by requiring employers to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin" (no wonder there are conspiracy theories about who it might have been that assassinated him!), a requirement reaffirmed by LBJ's "Executive Order 11246" in 1965, and then further re-affirmed when that extraordinary oversight "gender" was added to the list in 1967.

In other parts of the world it is both similar and very different, and this is because, at some point since JFK's historic edict, affirmative action against discrimination became turned on its head, transformed into affirmative action on behalf of the discriminated.

In the UK it is known as "positive action", in Canada as "employment equity", and in the Indian sub-continent as "reservation"; but in every case, as in America, laws of equity and equality stand in perfectly rational and reasonable opposition to this attempt to impose equality by supervening the law - an immense paradox.


The EU, for example, has adopted a policy which requires that 40% of non-executive Board directorships should go to women by 2020, though how 40% can be regarded as equity is beyond me, and why the selected group for unfair advancement should be women and not, say, gay people, or the left-handed, or Moslems, or the dyslectic, is even further beyond me - discrimination in the very act of seeking to overthrow discrimination.


In India, at the time of writing, members of the elite Patel caste have been turning up in their BMWs to protest against the reservation policy, which ensures jobs for what are still, in fact, though the name has been outlawed, the inferior caste of Harajan (click here) or "Other Backward Classes", the supposedly less insulting euphemism now in place.


In Israel, women, Arabs, black and disabled people are given advantages for both civil service employment and access to universities, which is a wonderful irony of course, given that women, black and disabled people generally have no access to either in any of the Arab states.


My favourite however is Northern Ireland where, as part of the peace process, the police are now required to recruit 50% of their numbers from the Catholic community and 50% from the Protestant "and other communities" (Jews, Moslems, atheists, Hindus, etc), in order to reduce any possible bias towards Protestants, though of course this now makes the Protestants a distinct minority, which is a breach of the UK's own laws, as well as being downright unfair.

The unfairness is the residual issue of course. Woody Allen in his nightclub years told a joke in which he was once employed as a token Jew, required to wear side-curls and given a desk in a window by the street so the world could see his employer had a Jew on staff, and then got fired for taking the day off for Yom Kippur. Tokenism. American football clubs are discussing quotas of black coaches, in order to show the world that they are fighting against discrimination. But in fact they are simply endorsing discrimination - being employed because you are black is just as discriminatory as being rejected for employment because you are black, because it is making an issue out of your blackness, rather than out of your humanity. And at the same time it discriminates against non-blacks, who are now even less likely to get the jobs.


The world's most democratic country, Sweden (see here), has decreed quotas illegal, its supreme court insisting that, in the cause of both equity and equality, "the requirements should be the same for all". Indeed so. Should not every discriminated group have a portion (native American Indians included, and you only count as a native American if your family can trace their roots back to 1491 or earlier) – women, left-handed people, Jews, Moslems, the educationally disadvantaged, the physically disabled, alcoholics, fat people, ugly women, Mormons, Roma, gypsies, tall people, short people, gays, transgendered people, and of course all the local xenophobic favourites as well (Serbs in Croatia, Croatians in Serbia, that sort of thing...)


In America they have now created "Black Lives Matter", to which the White Supremacists have responded by creating "White Lives Matter". I am seriously considering setting up "Bald, Fat, Myopic Lives Matter", but suspect I would be banned, and quite rightly so, despite no one suggesting banning those other two. Would I have the remotest, slightest, tiniest, even the teeny-weeniest chance of getting supporters, if I called it "Human Lives Matter"?




Meanwhile, back in the Dark Ages, in 1077...


Whatever England's greatest ever scientist, the 13th century Friar Roger Bacon (click here to learn more about him) may have known about the errors in the Julian calendar, they were still three hundred years behind the "ignorant" and "Infidel" Moslems, whom enlightened Christians were fighting in the Crusades in order to protect true knowledge from these "heathens". 

Bacon will have used as a reference-point the al-Jalali calendar, the one that Omar Ibrahim al-Khayyam and his fellow mathematicians devised in Baghdad, and which they completed on March 6th 1077 (Jumada al-thani 6, 478 AH), actually far more accurate than the later Gregorian which is now regarded as Universal Time, having an error rate of 1:3770 years where the Gregorian is 1:3330. Using 12 months of 30 days each, with 5 intercalary days added to achieve the solar balance... but the detail isn't important, because the calendar has been rejected by every country except Iran and Afghanistan, and since we are once again fighting a Crusade against those "ignorant Infidels"...

You were right though when you thought you recognised the name, Omar Khayyam - in full Ghiyath al-Din Abul Fateh Omar ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyam. We know him from Fitzgerald's 19th century translation of his "Rubaiyat", but in truth the "Rubaiyat" was the least of his works. An astronomer (and an occasional astrologer), he worked, like his father, as a physician - Moslem medicine in his day was at about the level of European medicine in the early 20th century, including a full understanding that blood circulates, which Europe would only accept after Harvey in the early 1600s. 

In his spare time he was a philosopher, and a mathematician, whence the calendar work. He focused particularly on Algebra, a word that comes from the treatise "Hidab al-jabr wal-muqubala" (usually translated, slightly awkwardly, as "The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing"), written in Baghdad around 825 CE (210 AH) by the Arab mathematician Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi (who also gave his name to the modern concept of the algorithm)

Khayyam challenged Archimedes' conclusions about cubic equations, insisting that they must have more than one possible solution (we don't really do cubic equations in schools today; too difficult; we tend to stick with quadratic equations. For the information a quadratic equation might be ax2 + bx + c = 0; a cubic equation would add another layer, ax3 + bx2 + cx + d = 0). 

Khayyam published his "Treatise on the Demonstration of Problems of Algebra and Balancing" in 1070 (463 AH), when he was just 22. Just the beginning of an extraordinary career - though far from untypical in his day, or through the next several centuries, anywhere from Kabul to Cordoba. You can read more about him by clicking here, or about all the great Moslem and Arab scientists when my novel "The Persian Fire" comes out, very soon.

For his epitaph, punning on the meaning of his name, he wrote:

          “Khayyam, who stitched the tents of science,
            Has fallen in grief’s furnace and been burned.
            The shears of fate have cut the tent ropes of his life
            And the broker of hope in selling him will not have earned”
                                                                             (my translation)

A rubaiyat is a quatrain.


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