Saturday, March 29, 2014

Nate Silver jumps the shark

Nate Silver, celebrated data cruncher, baseball and poll-number statistician, noted for his successful predictions in the 2012 US elections, has jumped the shark with his latest venture.

Details here.

PS: (Wiki)

Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of "gimmick" in an attempt to keep viewers' interest. Its name is taken from a scene from a fifth season episode of the sit-com Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis.

The usage of "jump the shark" has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort's evolution declines.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Great Game - A View

From vs on BRF, a view of the Great Game, {with some spelling corrections} - it seems relevant in light of the recent events in Ukraine.
1. Britain, a tiny island ruled India - the richest and most advanced of the ancient civilizations, and reduced it to beggary. India's and Indians' faults in allowing this sorry episode to occur cannot be excused or overlooked. The Brits though, had every reason to believe their proxy in the region - TSP - could just as well and just as smoothly dominate free India post 1947. India in any case was a wounded civilization and it wasn't then clear it could rise again.
TSP is the Terrorist State of Pakistan.
2. The Brits learnt well that a potential power whose energies were not diverted into unwinnable feuds would soon learn to wield and project power. So a feud/feuds had to be fanned if extant, exacerbated if dormant and created if nonexistent. The example carries over to how the Brits handled the defeated Ottomans and carved up the caliphate. The seeds of that SNAFU proved propitious down the line post WWII. The Arab-Jewish feud provided lasting fuel decade after decade for the West in general and the Brits in particular to egg on two regional rival sides against each other (so beautifully worded ..... as 'exhaust power potential fighting against itself'). Of course, one side (typically, the bigger one) winning the feud would do the great-gamers no good. So the balance was sought to maintained decade after decade through changing times, climes and governments by supporting the weaker side just enough to counter balance the other.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sunny Singh on European liberals

Sunny Singh writes:
Strangely enough, if I were from a truly elite background, born to rich and powerful parents, married to other rich and powerful people, but could spout leftist incoherence about India and the world, and never once challenged the dominant paradigms of the hegemonic narratives, I would be welcomed as a darling of this very European 'liberal' circle. 

You see, my crime - at least in the eyes of western 'liberals' - is the same as that of many millions of Indians (and indeed others of the developing world) who are increasingly climbing past the historical economic and political barriers to claim an equal spot at the table: we are the wrong kind of 'elite.'  Self-made, self-taught, fighters to the core, I and many more like me are elite because we have made our way from scratch. And because we are self-made, we are unfettered by the Fanonian psychological baggage that plagues the old established elites from the former colonies. Because we are self-made, we are not beholden to anyone else for our intellectual, economic or political successes. And we are frightening because we cannot be controlled or indeed patronised. 

In fact, the only way the western illiberal liberal has to deal with this upcoming 'elite' from developing countries is by dismissing us as 'posh' (complete with its not so subtle corollary of de-racination). Ironically enough, as the world changes (and faster every day), even that won't keep us out of the gates and silent for long.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


The "new non-fiction" rack at the library had Mark P. Witton's book, Pterosaurs, and I began reading it, partly because it was there, and also because I wanted to know what we know about these long-extinct flying reptiles, and how we know it.

Pterosaurs arose in the Triassic, survived the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction event, and flourished all the way to the end of Cretaceous, when they too met their end.  An impressive run, from approximately 240 million years ago to 66 million years ago!  There were a great variety of pterosaurs during this time, ranging in size from small birds to as tall as a giraffe.  Wiki has a good overview.

Witton's book is encyclopedic, but he manages to make a dry subject quite readable. (When the book  goes to its second edition, a glossary would be a welcome addition.)

Here is a representative paragraph, minus the citations.
Several anurognathid fossils provide a good insight into how fuzzy pterosaurs were.  The pycnofibers of Jeholopterus are preserved in a shapeless mat similar to those left by the hair of many fossil mammals, suggesting they were covered, from nose to elbows and knees, in dense pelts comparable to those we see in hairy mammals.   The manner in which their pycnofibers cover their snouts and jaws seems to be unique among pterosaurs (presumably because most pterosaurs thought it just wasn't cool to look like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street). The slightly rugose bone texture around the jaws of Anurognathus has been suggested to mark where a series of thick bristles once anchored, but I'm not too sure about this interpretation.   Hairs or feathers rarely leave such obvious marks on their owners' skulls and, moreover, no anurognathid fossil has shown these features yet despite excellent preservation of their facial pycnofibers.   What is know for certain, however, is that some anurognathids bore a short tuft of short pycnofibers on the trailing edges of their wing tips, a feature unrecorded from any other pterosaur.
As to how we know what we know, the most important component are the fossils, some of which even have traces of soft tissues of the animal preserved in the rocky matrix, visible under ultraviolet light.  There are eggs, and regurgitated food, and footprints, and the equivalent of beak marks made by pecking birds, preserved in the fossil record.   To interpret all this material, however, requires a lot of comparative anatomy, of currently extant species and of extinct ones, and the theory of evolution to arrange them in family trees and to provide a framework for explanations.   I can't do justice to all the different lines of reasoning that are brought to bear on trying to understand all of this.

Here is what a specimen of Anurognathus might have looked like (from Wiki), shown here chasing a dragonfly-like insect.  (Witton has his own set of delightful illustrations,  you can catch a glimpse of them at the link in the first line of this post.)

 FYI,  Witton on pycnofibers:
Pterosaur bodies were adorned with pycnofibers, the recently coined name for pterosaur fuzz.   A hairlike integument was first reported for pterosaurs in 1831, and again in 1927, and despite some periodic controversies and resistance to the idea, it is now universally accepted that most or all pterosaurs were covered in some kind of pelage.  Pycnofibers seem to have been fairly short (only 5-7 mm in some specimens), tapering, and flexible structures apparently lacking in any internal detail aside from a central canal.   They also may not have been anchored deeply into the skin, unlike the hair of mammals.  Opinions differ over exactly how dense pterosaur pelts were.  Unwin (2005) suggested that their fibers were no more concentrated than the hairs on a human arm, but others have compared the heaviness of their coats to those of furry mammals.   The latter interpretation may be more accurate.   Pterosaur pelts appear to be preserved in concentrated, dense mats of fibers similar to those surrounding fossil mammals, suggesting they were just as fuzzy as our fossil ancestors........

The Circle of Life

This weekend's NY Times Magazine has Carlotta Gall's "What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden".  You don't see it in the online version, but the print has a large box outlined in red, with the text


Our supposed ally had a special desk devoted
to managing Osama bin Laden.  How can the U.S. fight
extremism when we're unable to confront it where
it really lives? BY CARLOTTA GALL Photographs by Alex Majoli

This "insight" that Carlotta Gall is now peddling was old in 2005.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Genocidal, too!

Kalavai Venkat reminds us that Christian theology is not only cannibalistic, but also genocidal.  He points us to what is expected to happen when Jesus returns to Earth.  And it is undeniable that Christians through the ages have been obsessed with the Second Coming.

The point, should you take away one, is not a judgment about Christianity and its theology.  That certainly is not my intent.   My simple point is that all this does not transform Europe into the home of a cannibalistic and genocidal culture, not in my eyes, and certainly not in the eyes of the professors and scholars in the West.  Courtesies which Western academics extend to their own culture, they need to learn to extend to other cultures.  If this was Hinduism these academics were writing about,  you can be sure that a good portion of them portray Hindus as genocidal cannibals.

PS: e.g., Wendy Doniger "...the Vedic reverence for violence flowered in the slaughters that followed Partition".   Don't have to read these so-called scholars to know what they write, it is predictable.  Read one of the missionary tracts from the 19th century, and you know what will be written in the 21st century. 

As Professor Mohan Lal Goel wrote:
Wendy Doniger’s 779-page tome titled, The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009) is a hurtful book, laced with personal editorials, folksy turn of the phrase and funky wordplays.  She has a large repertoire of Hindu mythological stories, and often narrates the most damning story - Vedic, Puranic, folk, oral, vernacular - to demean, damage and disparage Hinduism.  After building a caricature, she laments that fundamentalist Hindus (how many and how powerful are they?) are destroying the pluralistic, tolerant Hindu tradition. But, why save such a vile, violent religion, as painted by the eminent professor? There is a contradiction here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A common suspicion

This is from Israel:
Political analysts say the Obama administration has established a clear pattern of routing foreign aid earmarked for “infrastructure” and “cultural development” in recipient countries into the coffers of foreign political parties and NGOs as a means of influencing foreign elections and institutions.
However, this is a common suspicion that people around the world have about **all** US administrations.  The US really needs to take a hands-off policy.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ag-gag laws

Ag-gag laws (Wiki) are a stain on the record of freedom of speech in the land of the "free" and the home of the "brave".
Ag-gag is a term used for a variety of anti-whistleblower laws in the United States of America. In Utah and Iowa, the recording of undercover videos showing animal cruelty in farming practices is now illegal.

Friday, March 14, 2014

De-Macaulayization - 4

S. Irfan Habib, historian, and if I'm correct, son of an eminent historian, had a brief essay about Maulana Azad, in the Hindu newspaper of February 22nd, "The Forgotten Inheritance of Azad".
It was on this day in 1958 that Maulana Abul Kalam Azad passed away. It was not merely the death of an extraordinary human being but also the death of an idea that sparkled for a few decades — the idea of an undivided India where Muslims could live happily with the Hindu majority.
Azad, we are told, is far more interesting than the conventional image conveys.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Transubstantiation - 2

1833 - "A discourse against transubstantiation", by J. Tillotson, the Archbishop of Canterbury,  available on Google Books.

What is an infidelator like me to make of these arguments?
...every man hath as great evidence that Transubstantiation is false, as he hath that the Christian Religion is true.
...the main evidence of the Christian miracles { To Tillotson, miracles are supernatural effects that are evident to the senses.  Transubstantiation is not evident to the senses, so even if it happens supernaturally, it is not a miracle. }
Tillotson had two main headings in his arguments against transubstantiation.  The first heading is doctrinal - what is the scriptural and the historical support for this idea?  The second is about the objections to this idea.  The very first of the arguments in the second heading is that transubstantiation invites scorn and ridicule on the Christian Religion.  What do the above two quoted arguments do?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

US censors Mexican political website

This is the news.

Obviously, as it involves a country that borders the US, because it involves US government action,  and because it is potentially about something that is actually significant, it does not merit anywhere as much ink as has been spilled over Penguin Book's withdrawal of Wendy Doniger's book in India as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by a private citizen.
Godaddy has censored a prominent Mexican political site that was critical of the government and a proposed law to suppress public protests. Godaddy says that it suspended after a request from a "Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City."

A lawyer for the site believes that the someone in the Mexican government asked the US embassy to arrange for the censorship, and is suing the Mexican government to discover the identity of the official who made the request. Leaving aside the Mexican government corruption implied by this action, Americans should be outraged about the participation of the US Embassy in the suppression of political dissent.
International Business Times reports similarly.
Following the Dec. 1, 2012, protests against the inauguration of Enrique Peña Nieto as president of Mexico, was set up to be a source of news, information and discussion for the community of Mexican protesters. The site grew over the course of the year, and members of the 1dmx community planned a memorial protest on Dec. 1, 2013.

The next day, disappeared from the Internet. Its host, GoDaddy, suspended service without notice due to “an ongoing law enforcement investigation.” 

The investigation under the charge of “Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations” from the U.S. Embassy, and the contact information provided indicated that the investigation involved the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division. 

The protesters suspect that there is more involved in the takedown of, and the lawsuit demands to know exactly where the command to remove the website came from.

White Nationalists Claim Wendy Doniger - 2

See part 1, first.

This post reports my failure to find out anything more about the post about Doniger.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Alarm about Academia

Mathematician Peter Woit has been blogging for years and has even written a book about the grip of ideas that don't work on the high energy particle physics community.

Economist Paul Krugman has been blogging about the ideas that don't work that grip the community of economists.

People have been pointing out similar problems in the American Academy of Religion,  specifically in the area of India studies, for more than a decade now.  After the recent withdrawal of Wendy Doniger's book in India, this criticism is renewed.  As usual, it is dismissed at best, as being tendentious, and more usually, as "Hindu fundamentalism".   Jakob de Roover,  a Belgian, wrote this about the hold of orthodoxy in India studies, in 2010:
To someone who has no first-hand experience of the academic study of India in the US, it must be difficult to imagine the number of young scholars who say things like ‘this is what I really think, but I will not say it in public, because I’m up for tenure’. By the time they receive tenure, they have usually conformed to the orthodoxy.
What is both amusing and sad is the nonchalance with which the existence of a problem in India studies is brushed aside as though it is utterly inconceivable.   It is a matter of common psychology that one is not open to evidence about some situation if one considers the situation to be impossible. The purpose of bringing Woit and Krugman is to try to get it across that one has to consider it to be possible, even if improbable.  Once one is open to the possibility, one might become open to evidence.

Below, you will find excerpts from just about six months worth of Krugman's blog posts.  Read it and think of the grip of an orthodoxy (not sure what else to call it) that Krugman writes about.

America's Free Market Myth

The next person to blather on about how America embraces free markets that I encounter, I swear, I'm going to make them eat their words.

This news today:

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission voted Tuesday to ban the direct sale of vehicles in the state, becoming the third state in the nation to prevent Tesla from selling to consumers. That would force Tesla, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, to sell its cars through dealers.

Instead, Tesla will stop selling cars in New Jersey on April 1, according to Dow Jones. That means the auto company won’t have access to one of the nation’s most lucrative markets for luxury vehicles, while well-heeled New Jerseyites will have to pick up their Teslas somewhere else.

The commission’s vote followed month of discussions between Tesla and members of Gov. Chris Christie’s adminsitration, according to a post on Tesla’s blog. The auto company said it thought that the commission and the administration were working to help it in the face of opposition from the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

Like many other dealer groups across the country, New Jersey dealers did not want Tesla to be able to sell cars directly to customers. On Monday, Tesla said it learned that “Governor Christie’s administration has gone back on its word to delay a proposed anti-Tesla regulation so that the matter could be handled through a fair process in the Legislature.”
 Oh, and damn Governor Christie as well.

White Nationalists Claim Wendy Doniger!

(via Rajiv Malhotra's egroup)

White Nationalists claimed Wendy Doniger as one of their own!    This is from 2010, well before this recent controversy.

Originally Posted by jorrdannn View Post
I go to a school which is heavily diverse and liberal, (dont worry im leaving for texas in 4 months). I expressed my beliefs particularly on asians and recieved many 'dont hate' speeches and was called a joke. How do I get my point across standing alone?
Use references by Professors who have written about Asians. Not sure which group of Asian you are talking about (Middle Eastern, Indian, Far Eastern), but Prof. Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago has written a lot about Indians and Hindus that annoy them. She is a true White Nationalist soldier which is why Microsoft Encarta targeted her and once removed her article from their encyclopedia.

Check her out though --

I should also add that she is one of the WNs who is from the left (there is another thread which deals with the subject of whether one can be a White Nationalist and a Communist). Her method is primarily to point out the negative influence that Hindus have had on the world in general, but this does not mean that she does not highlight White pride. She does that too in her books when she gets the chance.

If you were talking of Middle Eastern Asians, you should be able to use he works of any number of scholars. If it is the far-eastern Asians you speak about, then it is a little more difficult to find scholarly stuff on them.

Using authoritative works by Professors always convinces most students. That is what you should do.
(Emphasis added).   But if White Nationalists see the highlighting of White Pride and the denigration of Hindus in Wendy Doniger's books, then they must be mistaken, right?  Or are those who find Wendy Doniger's books scholarly and wonderful, etc., White Nationalists or their camp followers?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jakob de Roover in 2010

For the record, Jakob de Roover is Belgian.  I had the pleasure of meeting him in New Jersey a few years ago.

Jakob wrote this in 2010:
To someone who has no first-hand experience of the academic study of India in the US, it must be difficult to imagine the number of young scholars who say things like ‘this is what I really think, but I will not say it in public, because I’m up for tenure’. By the time they receive tenure, they have usually conformed to the orthodoxy.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

An incident at the Yale University Press, 2009

As reported in the New York Times, this is gagging speech at multiple levels.  Did the scholars of religion in the American Academy of Religion call for a boycott of Yale University Press?  Inquiring minds want to know.    Inquiring minds also want to know why American scholars weep for India when they should be weeping for their own country.
So Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí.
Aside from the disagreement about the images, Ms. Klausen said she was also disturbed by Yale’s insistence that she could read a 14-page summary of the consultants’ recommendations only if she signed a confidentiality agreement that forbade her from talking about them. “I perceive it to be a gag order,” she said, after declining to sign. While she could understand why some of the individuals consulted might prefer to remain unidentified, she said, she did not see why she should be precluded from talking about their conclusions. 
Ms. Klausen said, “I can understand that a university is risk averse, and they will make that choice” not to publish the cartoons, but Yale University Press, she added, went too far in taking out the other images of Muhammad. 
“This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press,” he [Reza Aslan]  continued. “There is no chance of this book having a global audience, let alone causing a global outcry.” He added, “It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary.”

Balu's response to Wendy Doniger's tripe in the NYT

NYT does not publish responses to their OpEds, so they turned this back.  Balu posted this on TheHeathenInHisBlindness yahoo egroup.  He writes: "Note though that this piece merely expresses my irritation…"
I am from Bangalore, India, but work as a professor in Belgium, Europe. My name is not Batra but am known as ‘Balu’. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of either the BJP or of any of the organizations collectively known as the ‘Sangh Parivar’. Even though I am born a ‘Hindu’, some of my ‘liberal’ associates are convinced that I am a ‘crypto-Christian’. So much about my credentials, which are required to make two points of some importance about some sections of the American academia.

These thoughts arise in the context of Wendy Doniger’s op-ed piece in the NYT. This American ‘expert’ on Indian culture and ‘Hinduism’ epitomizes very accurately the state of the American academia when it talks about other peoples and cultures: filled with ignorance and pompousness.

Ignorance: she does not even know that the article 295A of the Indian Penal Code (which she refers to) is not about ‘blasphemy’. (Does she know the meaning of the word, I wonder.) Yet, this inconvenient fact does not faze her from holding forth on the issue. Neither does the fact that being a ‘Jew’ is irrelevant to whether one has a ‘Christian’ missionary zeal or not. (Does she know that Judaism also ‘proselytized’ during the Antiquity?) After all, the so-called ‘Hindu fundamentalists’ have been repeatedly accused of exhibiting precisely that zeal which Wendy claims is inappropriate to describe her because of her Jewish birth. This nonchalant attitude towards others is typical not only of her but also of most academics doing India and Hinduism studies in America. Ignorance might not prevent the American academia from sermonizing to the world but, when coupled with pompousness, it damages what many good Americans hold very dear to their hearts: ‘the American national interests’.

Pompousness: Wendy Doniger suggests that the voice of a “narrow band of narrow-minded Hindus” drowned out the voices of “the broader, more liberal parts of Indian society”. This suggests that the latter must have been ‘speaking’ too; how otherwise could their voices be ‘drowned out’? Two questions that even an ordinary child would ask are of relevance here. The first: how could a narrow band ‘drown out’ the voice of a broader band? A possible answer would attempt to identify those in power. One of the things that everyone, especially such intellectual experts, should know about India is that the entire media in India has been under the hegemony of liberal and left-thinking intellectuals ever since independence. Nehru was a socialist; he encouraged leftist intellectuals. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, consciously pursued this strategy: almost all academic institutions and funding agencies are completely in the hands of progressive and left-leaning people. How then, and this is the second question of the kid, could a small number of people (without institutional power or control of the media) outshout the majority especially when it is in power? Surely, this does not jell. But this imperviousness to reason is the required stepping stone for the pomposity, which she exhibits when she says that “the dormant liberal conscience of India” was awakened by the “stunning blow to the freedom of speech”. Let us leave aside the question of logical consistency (an inappropriate term to describe Wendy’s thinking) about the “broader band” that ‘speaks’ and yet is alleged to be dormant. The real issue is far more important.

That consists of some questions. If we know history, we know too that ‘liberalism’ (as we understand the term today) is a product of the extraordinary culture that the West is. We need to acknowledge the contributions of such people like John Locke or John Stuart Mill, if and when we speak about this wonderful political doctrine. We know too that Indians are indebted to the British for this gift to their thinking. Yet, there are questions here: did the Indian culture go around banning books before the British came to India? Was the Indian culture a prey to systematic campaigns against intellectual productions before the emergence of a liberal conscience? Are we to suppose that if the westernized “liberal conscience” does not wake up, Indian culture will fall victim to the “narrow-minded Hindus”? If, indeed, India burnt and banned books before ‘liberalism’ made its advent into India, Wendy’s thought carries credibility.

Actually, that would be a sheer nonsensical claim because it is the other way round: western culture banned and burnt books before the advent of ‘liberalism’; it banned and burnt books also after the advent of ‘liberalism’. Protestants burnt the books of Catholics, Catholics banned and burnt Protestant writings; the Germans, amongst other things, burnt down the entire library of the University of Louvain. The Americans, for their part, unlike the French colonizer, simply bombed away the libraries in Vietnam and elsewhere. In fact, as our history books tell us, it was an enlightenment thinker like David Hume who called upon people to burn libraries, if they housed books that say nothing about “matters of fact” or speak about logic since they can “contain nothing but sophistry and illusion”. He was, of course, referring to books on theology, among other things. (Thus, his logic would have burnt Wendy’s books, seeing that they lack both!) Hence, it is unvarnished pomposity to think that only the western culture embodies freedom of thought and expression, while other cultures are not only primitive but also barbaric and authoritarian.

This implicit attitude towards others (which cannot be effaced by any number of explicit pronouncements, if one intends to remain consistent) characterizes not Wendy alone but also most of the American academia that writes about India and Hinduism. It is this stance that informs the relationship of America with other peoples and nations as well. It is this posture that damages the ‘American national interests’. The incident of Wendy is one of the many warning shots from other parts of the world to all serious, well-intentioned American academics: wake up and listen to what others are saying before it is too late. Do not keep repeating inanities and indulging in table-thumping and breast-beating. Do some serious thinking for a change. That would help us all.

Friendly greetings,
 PS: Wendy Doniger's OpEd "Banned in Bangalore" is here.
PPS: Worth a read, an interview with Dinanath Batra.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Yet another raccoon

I think there is one more still, in the attic.

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Sepoys Gather Again

My take on the following is - if you want to fight for human rights in India, then fight for them, in India, as resident citizens of India.   As it is, the following from J.E. Menon on Bharat-Rakshak looks like a Leftist recreation of the sepoys that were the basis of the British rule of India.

The following is long, but one must ask, what is the University of California doing with such dubious people?  You will need to read through to know just how dubious.


PS: on a personal note, FOIL's attack on the Indian Development and Relief Fund was useful for me. I had been unaware of IDRF's excellent work, and now I am a regular contributor.   Some may see something contradictory in my stance.  But I'm trying to fund schools and orphanages.  Several of the people who are organizing the effort described below have supported secessionist movements in India.

PPS: The National Endowment for Democracy is another CIA front, using NGOs to meddle in other countries' affairs.  This is from US Army Retd. Col W. Patrick Lang's blog, not some conspiracy theorist.   I suspect that the "People's Rights Project" is just another cover under which to meddle in India.  That it is fronted by people of Indian origin means zilch.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Ukraine coverage

In the Guardian among many other things, Simon Jenkins points out:
What has been encouraging about the Ukraine crisis so far has been the unusual emergence of a "case to be made" on both sides. For once we have seen a "revolution" with some balanced coverage. The BBC's Newsnight investigated the "fascist coup" in Kiev thesis, and found some truth in it. The legitimacy of Viktor Yanukovych as elected leader was contrasted with his manifest flaws, as was the motley character of the Maidan crowd. We know of the divided loyalties of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

In the past week I have read more than I dreamed possible of the vexed history of Crimea, of Ukraine's role in Russian identity, and of Putin's complex relationship with Russian pride and paranoia. I have seen Moscow's re-occupation of Crimea as both understandable and illegitimate. Its legal crudity – without even awaiting a local referendum – compares with the political crudity of Nato's attempted encirclement.
 Not so fast, Stephen F. Cohen would say, that is the UK only, or UK and Europe.  Not the USA!
In the Nation he writes

The degradation of mainstream American press coverage of Russia, a country still vital to US national security, has been under way for many years. If the recent tsunami of shamefully unprofessional and politically inflammatory articles in leading newspapers and magazines—particularly about the Sochi Olympics, Ukraine and, unfailingly, President Vladimir Putin—is an indication, this media malpractice is now pervasive and the new norm.

There are notable exceptions, but a general pattern has developed. Even in the venerable New York Times and Washington Post, news reports, editorials and commentaries no longer adhere rigorously to traditional journalistic standards, often failing to provide essential facts and context; to make a clear distinction between reporting and analysis; to require at least two different political or “expert” views on major developments; or to publish opposing opinions on their op-ed pages. As a result, American media on Russia today are less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War.
After listing a long series of examples of distortions, Cohen writes:
Such factual distortions point to two flagrant omissions by Snyder and other US media accounts. The now exceedingly dangerous confrontation between the two Ukraines was not “ignited,” as the Times claims, by Yanukovych’s duplicitous negotiating—or by Putin—but by the EU’s reckless ultimatum, in November, that the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country choose between Europe and Russia. Putin’s proposal for a tripartite arrangement, rarely if ever reported, was flatly rejected by US and EU officials.

But the most crucial media omission is Moscow’s reasonable conviction that the struggle for Ukraine is yet another chapter in the West’s ongoing, US-led march toward post-Soviet Russia, which began in the 1990s with NATO’s eastward expansion and continued with US-funded NGO political activities inside Russia, a US-NATO military outpost in Georgia and missile-defense installations near Russia. Whether this longstanding Washington-Brussels policy is wise or reckless, it—not Putin’s December financial offer to save Ukraine’s collapsing economy—is deceitful. The EU’s “civilizational” proposal, for example, includes “security policy” provisions, almost never reported, that would apparently subordinate Ukraine to NATO.

Dirty tricks in Ukraine?

The recording of a call between the Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, Catherine Ashton, is available here.

The authenticity of the call was confirmed by Estonia.

The call took place after Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet visited Kiev on February 25, following the peak of clashes between the pro-EU protesters and security forces in the Ukrainian capital.........
During the conversation, Paet stressed that “there is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovich, but it was somebody from the new coalition.”

According to the Estonian FM, “all the evidence shows” that the “same snipers” at Maidan were shooting at people from both sides – the police and the protesters.

Ashton reacted to the information by saying: “Well, yeah…that’s, that’s terrible,” adding that the matter is worth investigating.

If this about the snipers is true, then please spare us the moralizing.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

More clarity from Jakob de Roover

In Outlook India.
The major obstacle here is what I called ‘the theoretical poverty of the study of Hinduism’. Why do I speak of theoretical poverty? Consider some counter-questions: What makes the Hindu traditions into religion, that is, into manifestations of the same kind of phenomenon as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism? How does one test the presence of religion in some culture or society without presupposing it? Does it make sense to say that purohits are priests, puja is worship, that devas are gods, or that Manusmriti is sacred law? Is the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India a religious conflict or not? Which criteria allow one to distinguish between a conflict that is religious and one that is not?

These and many similar questions remain unanswered in the academic study of Hinduism. They are consistently misunderstood as questions of defining ‘words’, as though the presence of religion in some culture depends on how we decide to define the word ‘religion’. (If it really did, we could just define ‘religion’ as ‘that which is present in all cultures’ and the problem would go away. But it hasn’t.)
All of this points to fundamental flaws at the heart of a field of study. Scholars have been studying Hindu religion for centuries now. If it turns out that this entity is imaginary, the resulting tomes are about as useful as detailed studies of the unicorn and the leprechaun. Of course, this does not mean that Hindu traditions and practices are imaginary. It means that they have been thoroughly and fundamentally misunderstood precisely because they are conceptualized in terms of religion.

English terms like ‘religion’, ‘priest’, ‘god’, and ‘worship’ are more complex than words like ‘rain’, ‘sunshine’, or ‘darkness’. They are theoretical terms embedded in a specific way of understanding the world. That is, there is conceptual framework where such terms had a clear meaning and reference: generic Christian theology. And this is where the rub lies: once you draw on concepts inherited from centuries of Christian thinking in order to make sense of a culture, you inevitably end up with standard implications of this framework. In the case of India, the central implication is that an implicit notion of ‘false religion’ continues to structure the dominant understanding of the Hindu traditions as' Hinduism’ and ‘the caste system’. If that is the case, even scholars who ‘genuinely love Indian culture’ will end up producing deeply problematic descriptions, albeit in unconscious and unwanted ways.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Embarrassed Hindu Upper Caste Male?

Over on, (I refuse to give them a link, but do see Sufiya Pathan in Outlook India), we are treated to the idea that Doniger's essential fault was that she embarrassed the Hindu Upper Caste Male, the "Hindu gentleman" described in Jakob de Roover's essay in Outlook India.    Among one of the emerging themes there seems to be that the Soorpanakha episode in the Ramayana (cut off her nose) encompasses the entirety of How The Hindu Male deals with female desire.

Well, I can only speak for myself.  I was not an "Amar Chitra Katha" (the comic book) child.  I grew up on Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan books, in particular those by C.Rajagopalachari and by K.M.Munshi.  I cannot state for sure, but I must have read them between the fourth and ninth grades.   Anyway, I leafed through C. Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata today, a slim 330 page paperback.  I see Devayani proposed to Kacha, who turned her down, on the grounds that he was more like a brother to her.   I see Devayani propositioned Yayati, who tried to turn her down on account of her being of a higher caste.  But Devayani's father cleared the way for that marriage. Sarmishtha propositioned Yayati,  and he had children by her.  Devayani eventually found out, and her anger led her father to curse Yayati  with premature old age.  Amba, who had been kidnapped by Bhishma,  proposed to Salva, who turned her down on account of Bhishma having defeated him in battle when he tried to thwart the kidnapping. Draupadi favored Arjuna at her swayamvara.  Urvasi, the divine apsara,  made amorous advances towards Arjuna, who turned her down on the ground she was more like a mother to him.  A result of that was Arjuna was cursed to live as a eunuch for an year.   Sachidevi pretended to be ready to yield to Nahusha, to bring about his downfall. In explaining Rukma’s position in the Kurukshetra war, Rajagopalachari reminds us that of when his sister, Rukmini “abandoned all maidenly reserve” and sent an emissary to Krishna to ask him to marry her (and rescue her from being married to Sisupala).

And this is in a book for school children.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Life as a dhimmi - 13

 The BBC reports:

A jihadist group in Syria has demanded that Christians in the northern city of Raqqa pay a levy in gold and accept curbs on their faith, or face death.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) said it would give Christian residents "protection" if they agreed to the list of conditions.
The directive from ISIS, citing the Islamic concept of "dhimma", requires Christians in the city to pay tax of around half an ounce (14g) of pure gold in exchange for their safety.

It says Christians must not make renovations to churches, display crosses or other religious symbols outside churches, ring church bells or pray in public.

Christians must not carry arms, and must follow other rules imposed by ISIS (also known as ISIL) on their daily lives.

The statement said the group had met Christian representatives and offered them three choices - they could convert to Islam, accept ISIS' conditions, or reject their control and risk being killed.

"If they reject, they are subject to being legitimate targets, and nothing will remain between them and ISIS other than the sword," the statement said.

A group of 20 Christian leaders chose to accept the new set of rules, ISIS said.


Regarding the discussion about Ukraine on Fareed Zakaria's show  on CNN:
Zakaria himself was so worked up that he looked as though he might have a stroke.  Too much Oxbridge and Ivy is a heavy burden for anyone to bear. 

-- retd. US Army Col. W.P. Lang

Comment on the news

"You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text," Kerry told the CBS program "Face the Nation."  (Reuters)

At which point, Dick Cheney piped up,  "What, you were talking to me?"

PS: points out even Kerry's hypocrisy:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who voted in 2002 for the U.S. to invade Iraq on specious WMD claims, and who reiterated in 2004 that he would do so again, even if he knew there were not weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, has really laid into Russia on the Obama administration's behalf. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Copyright Law and Freedom of Speech

In a decision (2-1)  that apparently has not woken up any liberals, or Hollywood producrs,   the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered Google to take down the Youtube video of "Innocence of the Muslims".  This is the video that sparked riots in the Middle East including the riots leading up to the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi.

The basis of the decision is that the Court thinks that Cindy Lee Garcia, the plaintiff and one of the actresses in the video, and who claims a copyright interest in the video,  is likely to prevail in her copyright infringement claim.   Per the court documents, the producer of "Innocence of the Muslims", Mark Basseley Youssef hired Cindy Garcia, gave her a four page script in which her character appeared, and paid her $500 for three and a half days of filming for a movie "Desert Warrior".   The movie "Desert Warrior" never materialized, instead Youssef dubbed over the material and used (some of?)  it in "Innocence of the Muslims".   Google says her part amounts to five seconds.

The Court notes that
Google argues that Garcia didn’t make a protectible contribution to the film because Youssef wrote the dialog he spoke, managed all aspects of the production and later dubbed over a portion of her scene.
And of course, Youssef hired Garcia, and holds the copyright to the script (so Garcia's work is derivative).   The Court asserts even under such circumstances that an actor's work is original, and the actor (well, maybe Garcia only) likely holds a copyright interest in her appearance in the movie.
We need not and do not decide whether every actor has a copyright in his performance within a movie.  It suffices for now to hold that, while the matter is fairly debatable, Garcia is likely to prevail.
Now, the case is not likely to end here, and here the Court did what is another apparent innovation - it ordered Google to take down the Youtube video while this matter is litigated.  It dismisses the idea that this constitutes a prior restraint on the freedom of speech.

The dissenting opinion in the case points out that what the Court majority has done is issue a mandatory injunction, and that the legal standard for issuing mandatory injunctions is very high, "the law and the facts must clearly favor the moving party".
Instead, the majority makes new law in this circuit in order to reach the result it seeks.  We have never held that an actress’s performance could be copyrightable.  Indeed, “[t]here is little case law or statutory authority as to the position of performers as authors of an audiovisual work under U.S.  law.” F . Jay Dougherty,  Not a Spike Lee Joint?  Issues in the Authorship of Motion Pictures under U.S. Copyright Law, 49 UCLA L. Rev. 225, 300 (2001) 
The Court's opinion is available here (PDF).

We note that the question of why the Court sought a particular result is not mentioned in the opinion.  We can only guess, and in that context, we should note that the Federal Government had pressured Google strongly to take down the Youtube video.  The ACLU, that ever-alert watchdog, has decried the heckler's veto exercised by the Court.
We have a term for censoring speech because others might react badly to it—it's called a heckler's veto. And it's prohibited under our Constitution. It's the reason we don't prohibit controversial speakers like the KKK from marching down public streets out of concern that bystanders will react violently. Under our Constitution, we don't allow the government to censor speech on the theory it might cause someone else to misbehave.  Our Constitution—and common sense—tell us to target the threats and the violence, rather than the protected speech.
Only two of the three judges voted for the misguided takedown order—the third, Judge Smith, balanced the harms differently, and noted that taking down the film was a heavy-handed and unprecedented move by the court. Let's hope the case gets heard by the full Ninth Circuit court, and that they hear the clarion call of Judge Smith's wise words.
My guess is that the American Academy of Religion and its members will remain silent about this blatant misuse of the copyright law to suppress inconvenient and offensive speech.   This, in my opinion, arises from their ideological predilections - they are much more respectful of their fellow Abrahamic monotheistic faiths than of pagan religions. The conservative media will make some noise about it, not because of the infringement on freedom of speech, but because it involves a hated group, the Muslims.

Compare the relative silence (the opinion was given on February 26th and today is March 1st)  to the brouhaha when Penguin Books in India, under the pressure of a court case brought by a private party, reached a private settlement with the plaintiff and withdrew the offending book by Wendy Doniger.  It would seem to any objective person, that in the US, the Court has created new law to get the result that officialdom strongly desired.**

Putting aside the double standard in the media, there is, I predict, going to be a very unfortunate side-effect.   We should remember that section 295-A of the Penal Code in India, the law under which the suit against Penguin Books was brought, was enacted because of the threat to the British Indian Government that there would be nationwide violence if there was no legal remedy for a pamphlet (Rangila Rasul), that offended Muslims.   It would seem that even a United States Federal Court is not immune to pressure arising from the offending of Muslims on an international scale; and of course, this pressure arises from large-scale violence -- riots in Egypt and Libya and all over the Middle East.   The sad conclusion will be drawn is that violence is effective.

** I should make it clear, if it hasn't been so far,  that to me, neither the withdrawal of Doniger's book from India nor the removal of "Innocence of the Muslims" from YouTube is a good outcome.

PS: There is a third thing to note.  Consider all the people in the Middle East who did not riot in response to "The Innocence of the Muslims".   Yielding to bullying as in the case of Section 295A or in the case of the US Ninth District Court grants effective representation of the Muslim communities worldwide to those who would riot.  

PPS: Good news, dailykos informs us
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has entered a revised Order to make clear that:
This order does not preclude the posting or display of any version of “Innocence of Muslims” that does not include Cindy Lee Garcia’s performance.

Ukraine - Billionaire-funded revolution?

For what it's worth:
Pando has confirmed that the American government – in the form of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – played a major role in funding opposition groups prior to the revolution. Moreover, a large percentage of the rest of the funding to those same groups came from a US billionaire who has previously worked closely with US government agencies to further his own business interests. This was by no means a US-backed “coup,” but clear evidence shows that US investment was a force multiplier for many of the groups involved in overthrowing Yanukovych.
PS: Elevated from the comments to make what my concern is more clear (it is not the independence of Greenwald and others' journalism).   This is what a retired US Army Colonel has written:
It is becoming clear that the Nuland/neocon/NED campaign against Russia in Ukraine was probably a covert action intended to punish Russia for not supporting US/Israeli/Saudi and Turkish policy in Syria and to some extent with regard to Iran.  I have no specific knowledge of US actions in this but "back azimuths" run into events and actors make the true story obvious.  Was there to be a second phase of the spread of revolution, a phase aimed at Russia itself?  We will probably never know.
and this:
"What we are risking is a great power confrontation. The various Russian strategic thinkers have already said that NATO bases in Ukraine would be a serious strategic threat to the existence of an independent Russia. So, if Ukraine moves into the EU and then NATO bases are on their way, there's no doubt whatsoever that southern and eastern Ukraine are going to split off, and I just don't believe the Russians are going to give up their naval base on the Black Sea.

So, if the Americans push too hard, and by Americans I mean Washington, of course, it's going to be a great power confrontation. Very, very serious thing... I mean what in the world do you think Washington cares about democracy in Ukraine? They don't even have any in the United States! We have a police state that spies on everybody, the whole world. The media is a propaganda ministry. It's worse than it ever was in the Soviet Union. People have no idea of what's going on and what they're told about the Ukraine is a fabrication."  Paul Craig Roberts quoted in the Voice of Russia.


If you are Russian, it is very easy to see what has happened in Kiev as a neocon inspired US plot for which the "second act" will be an attempt to foment  a similar uprising in Russia itself.  This belief is reflected in the article quoted above.

Paul Craig Roberts and Phil Geraldi make strong cases for the continued influence of the neocnservatives.  As a conspiratorial "vanguard" the neocons think nothing of changing their official party identity in pursuit of power.

Americans should ask themselves if people like Victoria Nuland and Michael Rubin are dragging the United States toward a crisis and possible conflict with Russia.

The neocons gave us the Iraq war.  What a triumph that has proven to be.  What new mischief will they heap upon the heads of the American people?  pl

1968 - Petula Clark Touches Harry Belafonte's Arm

Happened to be awake at 6:00 AM on Saturday, and I happened to hear this WNYC program.
On this special hour-long episode of Witness from the BBC World Service, listen to incredible interviews looking at the African-American experience as told by people who were there.
One of the interviews related to this, from 1968:
Steve Binder, the producer of a NBC special starring Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte, chronicles the time when Clark became the first white woman to touch a black man on US television.
I'm probably more impressionable that early in the morning.