These poems come to me from Helen Dale aka skepticlawyer. The first is from Marya Mannes, a US author that I had not heard of.
Borders are scratched across the
hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial
And when the borders bleed we
watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map
It's just so true.
The second poem comes from W.H Auden. It, too, is just so true.
Unbiased at least he was
when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this
land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically
With their different diets and
"Time," they had briefed him in
London, "is short. It's too late
For mutual reconciliation or
The only solution now lies in
"The Viceroy thinks, as you will
see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his
company the better,
So we've arranged to provide you
with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two
Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final
decision must rest with you."
Shut up in a lonely mansion, with
police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep
the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task
of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his
disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost
But there was no time to check
them, no time to inspect.
I don't share the views expressed in the current attacks on the British Empire and Commonwealth. They are, to my mind, simplistic and stereotyped. On balance, the Empire was a good thing that shaped the modern world.
I could wish that the British Government had fought harder to preserve the Indian Empire, to buy time, to give time, to the Indian factions to work out their differences in a new world that had been progressively evolving over so many decades. It was a tired Government, a broke Government, that just wanted out. Give them want they want now, clean up, we must move on.
An uncle of mine was in India at the time and saw the bodies piled in the river beds. A true Indiaphile with a deep knowledge of Indian history and culture, he loved the place, he understood the religious divisions. Running for Liberal party pre-selections in Sydney in the late 1960s, he told the bemused branch members that the Muslim challenge would become a dominant theme in global politics. He wasn't anti-Muslim, although he was (I think) pro-Hindu. Rather, he saw a clash of irreconcilables. I just filed it away, something for later use.
There is something cold and sad in that Auden poem. Here you have a person who must do his job regardless of poor evidence, who must deliver. Don't think it doesn't happen today. It does. Policy is about people, policy analysis is about statistics.
This is something I wrote in a seminar paper a few years back:
By the 1970s, country was losing favour, in part because of the growth of urban centres whose residents did not identify with the term. In its place came the word regional. This fragmented in turn. By 2000, there was something of a crazy patchwork quilt of words – country, regional, rural, remote, coastal – that overlapped and were used in different combinations. This growing confusion in terms reflected in part the increasing use of ARIA.
ARIA, the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia, was developed by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care and the National Key Centre for Social Applications of GIS. ARIA measures remoteness based on the physical road distance between a settlement and four classes of service centre. In 1999 a further revision of ARIA called ARIA+ was developed that incorporated more information on the location of service centres.
While ARIA was a simple geographic descriptor intended to measure remoteness from services, its widespread use by the Commonwealth Government for statistical purposes and to guide service delivery affected the use of words. In 1950, the Australian states still retained a substantial degree of independence. By 2000, the Australian Government was involved in every aspect of policy once the preserve of the states. To the officials in Canberra seeking mechanisms to allow for national uniformity in service delivery while also taking geography into account, the ARIA classifications seemed a useful device; very remote, remote, outer regional, inner regional and major city were now firmly added to the semantic mix.
The difficulty from a New England perspective lay in the way that these various terms cut across the area’s natural geography, further fragmenting the sense of New England or Northern identity, while creating problems for integrated service delivery based on geography. We can see this if we look at New England’s Kamilaroi or Gamilaraay Aboriginal language group who occupied the Western Slopes and Plains. Their traditional territory was variously classified from very remote to inner regional, a classification that affected the services provided. People with a common culture sharing common problems received different benefits depending on just where they lived.
In the global scheme of things, this is a minor example. Yet the decisions made based on statistical constructs, on evidence that is old or uncertain, determines what happens. The question of whether or not an Aboriginal family has a house or not depending on their ARIA classification is a minor thing compared with those who lost their lived during the partition of the Indian Empire, yet the principles are the same.
I really shuddered when I read the Aulden poem. It captures stark reality. Everyday, international civil servants and others make decisions that affect who will live or die. That's a dreadful burden often confused in the statistics.
 History and definitions of ARIA drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Glossary of Statistical Geography Terminology 2011, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/1217.0.55.001, accessed on-line 15 March 2011.