Wednesday Assorted Links

1. Exactly how did the Egyptians build the Pyramid of Khufu and its two great successors on the Giza Plateau? Super detailed which my engineer friends will appreciate. And no, it wasn’t space aliens, supernatural powers, or super-advanced predecessor civilizations. Makes me want to visit.

2. The big lie: What it’s like to cycle illegally as a woman in Iran. The things we, meaning cyclists in the west, take for granted.

“The boy cyclists used to tell me, ‘you have good co-ordination’. I owe this skill to the police — I learnt it when they were chasing me in the car and I used my bike riding to escape.

But there were times when they caught me. It was as though they had caught a thief. They would push me into their car, shouting, with several police women guarding me till we got to a police station. One time they even threw my bike in the street — even then I stuck to my bike and wouldn’t let go of it.”

3. I had the pleasure of serving with Sidney Rittenberg on my university’s Chinese Studies Program committee. Wicked bright, funny, and personable. Who has had as long and interesting a life? The one thing I never understood about him. How two lengthy imprisonments seemingly softened his stance on China, capitalism, and US-China business relations.

4. ‘You Failed Us’: Teen author asks 40 students of color to share their experiences at Seattle schools. The disadvantage of being one of the only students of color in a classroom?

“It’s more than having someone to laugh with during class,” Savage writes. “It’s the advantage of having someone to ask for help on homework, to study for the test with, to stand up for you, to confront the racist teacher with.”

The Inevitability of Military Conflict

Most of the time I believe the “human condition is improving” side of the ledger trumps the “life is worsening” side.

Right now at least, after watching an excellent documentary about Egypt’s civil war, reading about Syria’s three-pronged civil war, and following the BBC’s up close coverage of the terror attack in Kenya, plus the one in Pakistan, I’m less certain of that.

The lesson of those conflicts and most others from the last 50 years is this: the victor’s brutality—whether in civil wars or international ones—sows the seeds of future conflicts. Devastated and humiliated, losers vow revenge; as a result, violence continues unabated.

“An eye for an eye,” Ghandi said, “makes the whole world blind.” No side ever truly wins a war because the underlying causes of the conflict—poverty, greed, ethnic hatred, religious fundamentalism, nationalism, desperation—are exacerbated by the military excesses of the seeming victors. Diplomacy loses, moderates are radicalized, children resolve to avenge their dead parents’ lives. What appears to be an absence of war is just an interlude in the back-and-forth between suicide bombers, anonymous drone missile strikes, and ground combat.

My government doesn’t appear to be learning the lessons of war. Our diplomatic efforts are not increasingly wise or effective. As evidence of that, despite representing 4% of the world’s population, we continue to account for 50% of the world’s military spending.

Our only hope may be running out of money. Someday maybe, we’ll realize we can’t rebuild our infrastructure, pay teachers adequately, provide affordable medical care, compete in the global economy, and invest more in our military while providing security for other governments (see Japan among others).

Like Conservative Republican Southern governors who are backtracking on mandatory prison sentence laws because they can’t afford their incarcerated populations, maybe the day is coming when the State Department will have to step up its game to compensate for a leaner military.

In the meantime, I don’t expect to see meaningful peace in Syria in my lifetime or democracy in Egypt. I hope I’m wrong and Isaiah is right. Chapter two, verse four:

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.