Friday, February 28, 2014

The rules of the Academy

Wiki describes the Catholic Holy Communion a.k.a. Mass (emphasis added):

Communion rite

All together recite or sing the "Lord's Prayer" ("Pater Noster" or "Our Father"). The priest introduces it with a short phrase and follows it up with a prayer called the embolism and the people respond with the doxology. The sign of peace is exchanged and then the "Lamb of God" ("Agnus Dei" in Latin) litany is sung or recited, while the priest breaks the host and places a piece in the main chalice; this is known as the rite of fraction and commingling.

The priest then presents the transubstantiated elements to the congregation, saying: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." Then all repeat: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." The priest then receives Communion and, with the help, if necessary, of extraordinary ministers, distributes Communion to the people, who usually approach in procession. Silence is called for following the Communion procession. A Prayer After Communion is then proclaimed by the priest while all stand.

What are these "transubstantiated elements"?

Wiki explains in another article:

Transubstantiation (in Latin, transsubstantiatio, in Greek μετουσίωσις metousiosis) is the change whereby, according to Catholic doctrine, the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become, not merely as by a sign or a figure, but also in reality the body and blood of Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that the substance or reality of the bread is changed into that of the body of Christ and the substance of the wine into that of his blood, while all that is accessible to the senses (the outward appearances - species in Latin) remains unchanged. What remains unaltered is also referred to as the "accidents" of the bread and wine, but this term is not used in the official definition of the doctrine by the Council of Trent. The manner in which the change occurs, the Catholic Church teaches, is a mystery: "The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ."

So, what is this ritual? An objective observer could say this is ritual cannibalism. ("not merely as a sign or figure")   

Academics might note in passing that this ritual has been on occasion described as such, but when studying Catholics, their history, etc., they go by the Catholic understanding of their ritual.   Can you imagine someone who keeps insisting that the Catholics practice  ritual cannibalism will get a platform in a major university in the United States to publish and propagate those views? How many academic journals will accept their papers?

But, these rules do not apply to Hindus and Hinduism.  Anyone who has the temerity to point out this glaringly obvious fact is accused of being a "Hindu fundamentalist", whatever that might mean. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014


If, today, a child gets polio, it is likely the virus is from Pakistan.

Why Pakistan?  The global campaign to eradicate polio is foundering there.  After Pakistanis came to believe that the CIA used the cover of a vaccination team to find out Osama Bin Laden's whereabouts, vaccination teams have been the target of violence.
....The latest casualty was a police constable killed Tuesday protecting a team of vaccination workers in northwest Pakistan. During a two-day vaccination campaign in Peshawar earlier this month, 5,000 police were deployed to protect health workers,....
But how did the phenomemon of Osama Bin Laden come about in the first place?  That is a long story.  Ostensibly it began with Carter and Brezezinski, and continued with Reagan, and America's Saudi allies and so on, funding and arming Islamic fundamentalists, with the goal of bleeding the Soviet Union.  And it continues from there.

One might say, well, in this case, the end justified the means.  But that is being myopic.  Historically,  English-speaking empires have never hesitated in aiding and abetting illiberal Islamic forces to further their own ends.  That goes even to the other "root cause" of why children may still get polio - the existence of Pakistan.   And every "end justifies the means" that violates good principles has resulted in further problems.

Bad actions have corresponding consequences - but they appear to affect others than those who committed those actions, which seems like a travesty.  Which points to another fact which we ignore too often - we are united in our humanity.   This will hurt all of us, one way or the other.

PS: Obama recently declined to do in Syria what would amount to supporting Islamic extremists; it went against the historical grain, and the angst it caused in America's neo-imperialistscons was evident.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pet parrot helps solve murder

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Freedom of Speech in American Universities

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a non-profit group founded in 1999 that focuses on civil liberties in academia in the United States. Its goal is "to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities," including the rights to "freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience--the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity".

One of FIRE's main activities has been criticism of university administrators whose activities have, in FIRE's view, violated the free speech or due process rights of college and university students and professors under the First Amendment and/or Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. FIRE lists over 170 such instances on its website.

FIRE has no stated political affiliation, and has represented the causes of parties with varied political viewpoints, ranging from conservative, liberal, and religious student groups to other activists such as members of PETA[9] and Professor Ward Churchill.

You can find FIRE on the web here. FIRE rates universities as green (free), yellow and red (restrictive). Among the major universities rated as green are Carnegie-Mellon University, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia.

Wendy Doniger's home, the University of Chicago, is rated as yellow, actually pretty good compared to the sea of red in its state of Illinois.

We short, dark, rice-eaters should be truly honored that such people as Doniger and her colleague Nussbaum are concerned about the freedom of speech in far away places like our native India, while neglecting the problem at home. It is very much in the illustrious tradition of Lord Edward Cromer, who was very concerned about the rights of Egyptian women, but opposed female suffrage at home.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sheldon Pollock's remarks
Chicago Chronicle, Feb 20, 2003:

Although cosmopolitanism might be viewed as a solution to some problems, a fear also exists that across the world people are forgetting their own literary cultures and traditions and learning the cosmopolitan English, absorbing themselves in Hollywood movies and Western goods.

But as a scholar of the intellectual and cultural history of pre-modern South Asia, Pollock, the George V. Bobrinskoy Professor of Sanskrit and Indic Studies in South Asian Languages & Civilizations and the College, has a different perspective.

He noted that “global” cosmopolitan cultures usually existed before local literatures arose. In his research, he has found that often people began to form literary traditions only in reaction to encounters with international languages and literary traditions, like those of Sanskrit, writing down their own vernacular languages in scripts borrowed or adapted from older, broader literary cultures. He has found similar things in the history of Latin and the regional languages of Europe.
Starting in both Western Europe and South Asia in the ninth century C.E, a wave of vernacular literatures began to spread; people started writing expressively in their local languages for the first time.

In an essay titled “Cosmopolitan and Vernacular in History,” Pollock details the phenomenon. “Vernacular literary cultures,” he said, “were initiated by the conscious decisions of writers to reshape the boundaries of their cultural universe. They renounced the larger world for the smaller place, and they did so in full awareness of the significance of their decision. New, local ways of making culture ... new ways of ordering society and polity came into being, replacing the older translocalism.” This idea will be argued at greater length in a book due next year, Cosmopolitan and Vernacular Before Modernity: Culture and Power in South Asia to 1500.

Pollock said the relationship between the older empires and languages is still a matter of debate. Using Latin as an example, he said, “It’s a great mystery how this local language from the Tiber Valley became a global language. Why did Latin win out? Other great imperial rulers like Darius of Persia and Ashoka of India were not interested in imperial languages or ‘cosmopolitanism’ at the level of culture.”

Pollock is trying to think through different ways of being imperial in the ancient world. “Of course, every imperial ruler shared the same basic goals. They wanted to beat up a lot of people and take their money. But they all did it in different ways–Augustus and Darius said they did it because god was on their side, whether Jupiter or Ahura Mazda, and he had granted them the title to the whole world. But no one in South Asia ever appointed a divine real estate agent–it’s a very important distinction in the history of political thought.

Pollock noted that histories of language and literature usually are written as if such phenomena are forces of nature. “I’m trying to carve out a history of culture and power where people can be seen to make informed choices about what to do. Vernacularization does not take place like leaves falling in autumn or butterflies emerging from the chrysalis, but rather is a process of informed choice.

“Cultural affiliation has a major element of choice, including media choices. What language do I write in? It was under colonialism, many people think, that South Asians were first confronted with this problem. Do I use English? Do I write in the master’s language? But if we think historically we see a far deeper phenomenon of human culture. Is there an overall shape to these patterns of local and global, cosmopolitan and vernacular, in both culture and power? What kind of reality do they have for the people choosing the one or the other?”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

De-Macaulayization - 3

Some relatives of mine visited Israel recently.  They had a language problem, most of the people understood no English, only Hebrew.   This was surprising to me, I thought that American influence on Israel was much greater. 

(via Shadow Warrior) In the first of a pair of recent articles in the Hindu, Shekar Swamy (Group CEO, RK Swamy Hansa, and Visiting Faculty, Northwestern University) points out that in India, English is not used as much as one might think, and that vast pools of talent are left untapped by requiring English.

In the second article,  Swamy points out that of the top ten countries in volume of exports (China, USA, Germany, Japan, France, South Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and UK) all of them conduct their business in their native language.
We often hear that India’s success in IT is only due to the predominance of English in the country. While it has been useful to have a pool of English-speaking people to draw from for the IT industry, to conclude that therefore English should be the dominant language is hugely misleading. 

Take the case of Samsung Electronics. Among the predominant IT companies in the world, it from South Korea where the Korean language is predominant. 

Set up in 1969, Samsung in 2012 recorded global sales of $189 billion which is higher than the sales of the two tech giants IBM (sales $105 billion) and Microsoft ($78 billion) combined. This demolishes the theory that English has to be the predominant language of the country for success in the global IT world. 

What is required for success is a clear intent, converted into powerful strategy and backed by relentless execution --- and not the English language.
 His conclusion:
The negative impact of this policy on the country has been huge, with the masses kept out of participating in the development of the nation by a linguistic wall, resulting in perhaps the largest underutilisation of human capital ever. At a time when the country was required to be participative, democratic and all inclusive, laying emphasis on English made the nation become a preserve of the exclusive and the elite.


While English can remain optional, every Indian should have the opportunity to get ahead on the basis of knowing his/her own language. There will be a surge in growth if people are able to learn and grow and participate in their own language.

Thinking afresh on the language issue will be hugely beneficial. Is any political party willing to see this opportunity?
My take is that there are some logistical barriers, especially the fact that India has scores of millions of speakers of each of about fourteen major languages, that already major literary languages.  By the same token though, there is a huge audience for any decent quality translations and for original books.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

A second RISA Lila

Friday, February 21, 2014

Untangling the Knot by Jakob de Roover

Jakob de Roover (a student of Balu) says in many words  in Outlook India pretty much what was said in few.
In the meantime, our middle-aged gentleman’s daughter has gone into the humanities and her excellent results give her entry to a PhD programme in religious studies at an Ivy League university. After some months, she begins to feel disappointed by the shallowness of the teaching and research. When compared to, say, the study of Buddhism, where a variety of perspectives flourish, Hinduism studies appears to be in a state of theoretical poverty. Refusing to take on the role of the native informant, she begins to voice her disagreement with her teachers. This is not appreciated and she soon learns that she has been branded “Hindutva.”

Around the same time, she detects a series of factual howlers and flawed translations in the works of eminent American scholars of Hinduism. When she points these out, several of her professors turn cold towards her. She is no longer invited to reading groups and is avoided at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion. In response, this budding researcher begins to engage in self-censorship and looks for comfort among NRI families living nearby. Her dissertation, considered groundbreaking by some international colleagues, gets hardly any response from her supervisors. Looking for a job, the difficulties grow: she needs references from her professors but whom can she ask? She applies to some excellent universities but is never shortlisted. Confidentially, a senior colleague tells her that her reputation as a Hindutva sympathiser precedes her. Eventually, she gets a tenure-track position at some university in small-town Virginia, where she feels so isolated and miserable that she decides to return to India.

Intellectual freedom can be curbed in many ways. The current academic discourse on Indian culture is as dogmatic as its advocates are intolerant of alternative paradigms. They trivialize genuine critique by reducing this to some variety of “Hindu nationalism” or “romantic revivalism.” All too often ad hominem considerations (about the presumed ideological sympathies of an author) override cognitive assessment. Thus, alternative voices in the academic study of Indian culture are actively marginalized. This modus operandi constitutes one of the causes behind the growing hostility towards the doyens of Hinduism studies.
Again this strand surfaces in the Doniger affair. When critics pointed out factual blunders from the pages of The Hindus, this appears to have been happily ignored by Doniger and her publisher. She is known for her dismissal of all opposition to her work as tantrums of the Hindutva brigade. The debates on online forums like (a blog run by “progressive” South Asian intellectuals) smack of contempt for the “Hindu fanatics,” “fundamentalists” or “fascists” (read Arundathi Roy’s open letter to Penguin). More importantly, they show a refusal to examine the possibility that books by Doniger and other “eminent” scholars might be problematic because of purely cognitive reasons.


I wonder how many of those U. Chicago professors, so concerned about freedom of expression in India, are watching the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Published on Feb 19, 2014

While performing under a sign advertising the Sochi Olympics, Pussy Riot and their supporters were attacked by Cossack militia with horsewhips on Wednesday.

Read the story here:
PS: I can proudly say I have not watched one minute of it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


A trip down memory lane.  The RISA Lila, narrated by Rajiv Malhotra
1. RISA Lila - 1 Wendy's Child Syndrome
2. RISA Lila - 2 Limp Scholarship and Demonology

One of many things to note - when Motilal Banarsidass, an Indian publisher, withdrew a book because it was offensive to its Indian market, Western academics pushed for a boycott.   e.g., Professor Cynthia Humes:
If nothing else, a no-holds-barred academic boycott against Motilal Banarsidass will provide Indian presses with an answer to extremists on why they should not censor peer-reviewed works in the future...RISA, take a stance against efforts to deny academic freedom. Boycott Motilal Banarsidass. Spread the word. Act.”
I wonder if they are now pushing for a boycott of Penguin Books, that withdrew Doniger's book.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Manasa Taramgini on Sheldon Pollock

Read this like a story from the Panchatantra. Quote:

Pollock is the most interesting of all the American Indologists alive today, but surprisingly the least known to the average Hindu, despite having been given the padma-shrI puraskAr by the secular government of India. On one side Pollock is the opposite of Doniger – he is a solid scholar who has pursued key avenues of Hindu thought that were begging to be pursued. When I first started looking into these lines of Hindu historical development there was no Indian or western student pursuing them. Then I discovered Pollock and, to give due credit, found him to be taking the course that needed to be taken. In fact Pollock’s studies cut down several fantasies of some of the white Indologists including Doniger (as Agrawal has correctly noticed) and the German gang. However, Pollock is no saint – in fact despite seeing the truth before his face (and perhaps privately acknowledging it, for he appears neither schizophrenic nor dumb) he spins of web of well-crafted obfuscations to deface Hindu history.

Let us look at a well-known example from Pollock that has been repeatedly quoted by other Hindu-hating dasyu-s in raising rabble about Hindus and their political institutions.

Pollock wrote an essay on the historical awareness and interest in the rAmAyaNa among the Hindu elite (rAmAyaNa and the Political Imagination in India, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol 52, No.2 1993). Here Pollock claimed that the rAmAyaNa has been a key part of the Hindu awareness and has inspired Hindu political systems for at least a 1000 years.

Even as Pollock was making this claim, other assorted mlechCha Indologists and Hindu haters claimed that the interest in Ayodhya was due to Ramanand Sagar’s popular Hindi TV serial on the itihAsa. Now various Hindus pointed out that Ramanand had little to do with the popularity of the rAmAyaNa and the popularity of his TV serial was because the epic is one of the first things a real Hindu learns in his life. Several people saw Pollock’s position as supporting the Hindu position that rAmachandra’s life and thereby Ayodhya had been important to the Hindus even before Babar had demolished the temple to build his eye-sore of a “disputed structure”.

Filled with indignation, Lorenzen, a mlechCha well-known for his studies on kApAlika-s and kAlAmukha-s, declared the essay of Pollock to be “deeply flawed”. This shows how the mlechCha-s are sensitive to even the slightest chance of the Hindu position being reality. However, Pollock, as a true-blooded, Malhotran U-turning mlechCha clarified that his article was woefully misinterpreted and that it was really meant as a critique of Hindu nationalism and of the “instrumentalization” of the rAmAyaNa for political dominance and manipulation by the Hindu elite. Once he clarified the matter, Pollock’s article became dear to the assorted South Asianist dasyu-s who have no better business than to meddle in our affairs.

Says Pollock:

“If the rAmAyaNa has served for 1,000 years as a code in which proto-communalists relations could be activated and theocratic legitimation could rendered…it makes sense that it would be through this mytheme par excellence that reactionary politics in India today would find expression in the interests of a theocratization of the state and the creation of an internal enemy as necessary antithesis.”
There can be little doubt that Pollock is very clear in his conclusion here. Yet, elsewhere in an interview to another Hindu-hater Pollock states:

“Of course, every imperial ruler shared the same basic goals. They wanted to beat up a lot of people and take their money. But they all did it in different ways–Augustus and Darius said they did it because god was on their side, whether Jupiter or Ahura Mazda, and he had granted them the title to the whole world. But no one in South Asia ever appointed a divine real estate agent–it’s a very important distinction in the history of political thought.”
So the man is master of what our yavana cousins called eristics! This is his device of obfuscation of Indic history by talking both ways and trying to present the facts and at the same time be a true-blood member of the mlechCha academia that gangs up against Hindus to sign instruments like the vatsala-patrikA.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What ails Hindus - from 2004

As I see it the Hindus do have a serious problem- their knowledge of their own texts and culture is pretty shallow. The number of dvijas learning the vedas these days has dwindled. They have to depend on the same Indologist, about whom they have been warned, to understand the veda. The knowledge of the purANas and itihAsas is likewise abyssmal. The knowledge of the tantra is likewise dismal. Thus the Hindus while alerted and angry have still not overcome the effects of Macaulayism. This makes it easier for a Courtright or Doniger to make up fables about the R^igveda or the jaiminIya brAhmaNa or the kAmasUtra, and the Hindus may not be able to pick right from wrong. For example Malhotra had to depend on Witzel, a well-known detractor of Hindus, rather than his own knowledge of the R^igveda or jaiminIya brAhmaNa to pick out the flaws of Doniger. This phenomenon put the Hindus in a relatively compromised situation.

The other problem is after Macaulayitis what?

I feel that Macaulayitis is not really reversible in full, so it has to be factored into any future consideration. A corollary to this is that HIndus should have translations of Sanskrit texts and expositions of the Sanskrit material in English. Have Indian scholars contributed positively to this? One heroic attempt comes to mind: the purANa translation effort. But why are the vedic saMhitas like maitrAyaNi, kAThaka etc lying unattended? Why are the ongoing efforts by Hindu scholars in translation not being popularized. Instead we see proliferation of the highly distorted translations of the Arya Samaj group.

100 years ago Tilak rued the fact that Hindus had very poor access to information. His words uttered then have full force even now. I believe the Hindu upheaval has to go hand in hand with improved Hindu education.

Kappa Beta Phi

Kevin Roose crashes a Wall Street Society.

The first and most obvious conclusion was that the upper ranks of finance are composed of people who have completely divorced themselves from reality.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reversing the gaze

From the Introduction of Invading the Sacred:

The essays and critiques of Western scholarship on India’s religions contained in this book must be seen as the early signs of this awakening, and of this questioning. It is thus an important chronicle of the beginnings of a shift. Some of the essays are critical surveys of what is still being purveyed as factual and veridical knowledge about India and Hinduism. These are often startling and shocking to the Indian reader, but serve the useful purpose of benchmarking the state of current Western ‘knowledge’ about India. Others are critiques of the application of European ideas like psychoanalysis to Indian culture. But all of them, at various levels, must ask the question — is the Western academia producing knowledge about India?

The latter half of the book chronicles how key sections of the academic establishment in America have responded to these challenges, and tries to understand how they processed it as a threat rather than as a long overdue call for a dialog. The book suggests that the answers  to some of these questions may lie in American culture and its European roots. In many ways, therefore, the book is an attempt to reverse the gaze on the West, and is sure to make for provocative reading.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A moment of silence

A moment century of silence.  Via dailykos, Denise Oliver Velez:
I find this to be incredible. How can someone shoot four unarmed people in a car, with the fatal shot in the back of one kid who was apparently trying to lay down on the seat, flee the scene of the crime, and not be found guilty of first degree murder?
And Ta-Nehisi Coates, "On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn",
Jordan Davis had a mother and a father. It did not save him. Trayvon Martin had a mother and a father. They could not save him. My son has a father and mother. We cannot protect him from our country, which is our aegis and our assailant. We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition. 
I insist that the irrelevance of black life has been drilled into this country since its infancy, and shall not be extricated through the latest innovations in Negro Finishing School. I insist that racism is our heritage, that Thomas Jefferson's genius is no more important than his plundering of the body of Sally Hemmings, that George Washington's abdication is no more significant than his wild pursuit of Oney Judge. I insist that the G.I Bill's accolades are inseparable from its racist heritageI will not respect the lie. I insist that racism must be properly understood as an Intelligence, as a sentience, as a default setting to which, likely until the end of our days, we unerringly return.
 Even if one takes issue with him, one is compelled to be silent for now.

The largest women's gathering in the world

In Thiruvananthapuram. (via A.)  News article from 2012.  Never thought of it in that way before.

Rotting from the head downwards

Greg Mankiw is a professor of economics at Harvard.  Here, Paul Krugman takes down Mankiw's OpEd in the New York Times in grand style.

One may argue that this is only an opinion piece; but look at the underlying facts (Krugman exhibits some of them).   How can a reasonable person arrive at Mankiw's conclusions from these facts?  How is Mankiw's opinion rationally supportable?

The rot is visibly there in that "hardest" of the hard sciences - particle physics, where Peter Woit has been tireless in exposing how much theoretical research has lost its moorings with the experimental side of the science.

The rot is visible in the "hardest" of the social sciences - economics - where Krugman has been diligently exposing it for years.

The idea that the rot extends to the American Academy of Religion which unlike economics or particle physics, works within frameworks that either cannot be falsified or are difficult to falsify, is incredible, unpalatable and unacceptable to some.

So let's give them a certificate here - in all the fields of human study, the scholars of religion are the most scrupulous in their observations,  empirically demanding in their explanatory frameworks, and honest in their interpretations. 

While we're at it, we'll also create a certificate for excelling at ostrich-head-in-the-sand.  

Two Mars missions, two orbital strategies

On the Planetary Society blog, Emily Lakdawalla explains the different strategies used by the NASA MAVEN and ISRO MOM missions to inject their spacecraft into trajectories to Mars. (via Dad).

PS: Lakdawalla's latest status report on the two missions.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wendy Doniger's modus operandi

I would no more go to Wendy Doniger for knowledge about Hindus than I would go to John Yoo for knowledge about US Constitutional law.  This is because I was there at her unmasking more than twelve years ago.  This was the time of RISA Lila (RISA = Religion in South Asia, an arm of the American Academy of Religion (AAR)), when the power equation in US academia became very clear to Hindus in America.  (Yes, back then, when Hindus painfully learned it, they were apparently whining and biased and fundamentalists and fascists and all the smear words you can throw at.   But the nature of US academia in economics is made clearer, isn't it?  by Paul Krugman's blog and his account of freshwater vs saltwater economists, and what kind of papers are allowed to be published.  So perhaps the Hindu case may meet a little less skepticism. )

What I like about this linked essay is that it goes straight to the heart of the modus operandi of Wendy Doniger and her students.   It also goes to the problem manifest on the Hindu side - the lack of confident scholarship to counter Doniger and company on her playing field.  Too many of them also believe that the study of religion in the university would violate secularism - so India does not have the equivalent of the AAR.   The Indian anglicized elite continues to have a strong case of Macaulayitis as well.

Gendering - 2

A review of Rubina Saigol’s The Pakistan Project: A Feminist perspective on Nation and Identity is here.

However, what I wish to highlight may be most concisely expressed on 
Pakistan s multiple, contradictory, fractured and fragile national identity relies on specific notions of masculinity and femininity, reinforced through an ideology of militarism and religious fundamentalism.

Friday, February 14, 2014


Per MSNBC, in the 14 months since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been at least 44 school shootings.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

QOTD - sort of.

Chris Matthews on Hardball (MSNBC news show) likened Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to Senator Van Ackerman of Allen Drury's 1959 novel Advise and Consent.  While it is an obvious analogy,  I've been thinking so for many weeks now.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Stereotypes can drive racial classification

It is widely recognized that people are stereotyped by the race they belong to.   It is less widely recognized that the race of a person is driven to some extent by stereotypes.

NPR, on today's Morning Edition, broadcast this story.   The audio and transcript are there.   My summary below the fold.

What a conference call is like

With the modern workforce consisting of geographically distributed teams, the main way of interaction is via conference call.   A lot of my working day is occupied by conference calls.  This is what a conference call is like (not including the commercial at the end)

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Deepcut Society's Orchid Show @Dearborn Market


For a person in New Jersey in the white waste of winter, the Deepcut Orchid Society's annual orchid show is a small oasis of green and brightness. I found out about it by chance and in time - via the free weekly newspaper that I normally see as littering the driveway and that usually goes straight into recycling.


The snow from the beginning of February.

Defending the Right to Pollute

Carl Hiaasen in the Miami Herald
The state of Florida has joined a lawsuit aimed at blocking a massive cleanup plan for Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay.

And, no, you can’t make this stuff up.
Last week, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a brief — paid for with your taxes — attacking the legality of the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint.

The plan was devised by six bay area states, the District of Columbia and the federal government. Its mission is to improve water quality in the rivers, streams and estuaries of the Chesapeake region.
A federal judge upheld the terms of the so-called blueprint, which will limit the amount of pollution being dumped, but the ruling is being appealed.

Why would the state of Florida try to obstruct the cleanup of public waters hundreds of miles away from our own? Because Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott are complete tools.

They aren’t suing on behalf of the citizens of Florida; they’re suing on behalf of big agricultural and development interests that don’t want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcing clean-water laws anywhere.

Among the lobby groups trying to dismantle the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint are the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Home Builders and those famously civic-minded folks at the Fertilizer Institute. They want us to trust them to regulate their own pollution, and to hell with the EPA.

Quietly these industries recruited Florida and 20 other states — most led by Republican governors, of course — to join the lawsuit attacking the Chesapeake Bay plan. Among the other shameless meddlers are Kansas, Alaska and Indiana.

“To say we are outraged is a vast understatement,” said Will Baker, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “We find it almost beyond belief for any state outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to try to sue to stop us from cleaning up our waters. What are they afraid of if we have clean water in the Chesapeake Bay?”

Read more here:

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Competing Frameworks for History

The modern ideas about universal human rights arose during the period called the Enlightenment, beginning in late 17th century Europe.  History after that can be constructed within two different frameworks.

The first framework says that after the Enlightenment, the West is defined by its ideals of human rights.  Its deviations from human rights amount merely to hypocrisy, which is a natural human failing.  It is the other cultures of the world and their traditional orders that are often deeply  threatened by this Western gift.

The second framework - the one I favor - says that once the idea of universal human rights was invented, and diffused through the world, it created convulsions in the traditional cultures of Europe and America, just as much as it did, and continues to do, in the rest of the world.   Just to take America as an example, there was a century-long debate over slavery, culminating in the Civil War, and then it took another century until the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s established a semblance of these universal human rights for the non-white component of America.  It was not hypocrisy that made this struggle necessary and made it last so long.  American culture underwent the trauma of the ending of its traditional order in favor of universal human rights similar to any Middle Eastern society that is in the throes of change today.

It is true that Western Europe and the United States had two advantages with regard to universal humans rights: - having invented the idea, they have the first mover's advantage; and having political independence (i.e., not being in a vassal or colonized condition) they could begin the long process of adjustment to these powerful ideas sooner.   So, with respect to universal human rights, they are, in most part, ahead of the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, in the race for universal human rights, those who were behind can overtake and even have overtaken in some aspects, those who were ahead.   For instance, today, in 2014, the threat to the citizens' right to vote from actions of the State are far graver in the United States than, say, in India. 

The war on voting rights in the United States does not arise out of hypocrisy.  The underlying cause is the threat minority voters' increasing numbers presents to traditional order.  The minority voters won't support the traditional order any longer because it has been inimical to them.  The difference in consequences between threat to the traditional order in the United States and the threat to the traditional order in, say, Syria, is that the United States has in place mechanisms that will likely settle this peacefully (those mechanisms, though, failed once before, and the Civil War was the result).

How does the first framework of history arise,  then?  History is written by the victor, and thus the innumerable factions and interests in the West that resisted universal human rights are assigned to a lesser role,  no longer included in the "We, Who are the West".   In a sense, the first framework of history is just another manifestation of imperialistic thought.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3

A colleague bought a Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lens and thus I briefly got my hands on it, even took a trio of test shots (unfortunately through thick window glass) with my 5d2 body.

From all accounts, the picture quality is good, the lens seems well-made,  and it focuses fast on static objects (the AI servo mode on moving objects is still an open question, being discussed on  The lens doesn't feel heavier than the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, though it actually is several hundred grams more massive.

Conclusion: The value for the price (e.g., compare with the Canon 100-400mm) for this lens is good. Tamron likely has a winner on its hands.

PS: with certain Canon models, AI servo apparently does not work well (details in this thread)


In the NYT today, Charles Blow writes:
If one of the overt Democratic lines of attack against Republicans is that Republicans are conducting a war on women, one of the low-simmering, implicit lines of attack from Republicans is that Democrats are conducting a war on men, or at least traditional views of masculinity.  The idea of the effete, feminized liberals threatening to suffocate the last remaining expression of true manliness is rife in Republican rhetoric.
.....As Glenn Greenwald put it in 2007, “For some time now, it has been commonplace for Democratic candidates to be depicted as gender-confused freaks.” He added, “One can make a strong argument, as some have, that those personality-attack themes have played a far larger role in the outcome of the last two presidential elections than any substantive issues, and liberals simply have nothing close to the potency of the right-wing filth machine in advancing these gender themes.”
But this is not the first expression of such ideas that I've come across in the past few days. Earlier, I came across (PDF) an essay by Andrew J. Rotter, "Gender Relations, Foreign Relations: The United States and South Asia, 1947-1964".
The focus of this essay is on gender, one of the critical skeins in the web of significance deployed by U.S. policy makers and used to explain India.  An analysis of gender illuminates important aspects of relations between nations; here the concern is with the United States, India, and tangentially Pakistan.  Mrinalini Sinha has written, "Empires and nations are gendered ideological constructs", to which one might add nations also construct each other.  For the purposes of this essay, gender, or "gendering", is not a static idea but a transnational process: it is the assignment of certain characteristics based on prevailing ideas of masculinity and femininity to a people and nation by another people and nation.   Masculinity and femininity are not, in this view, biologically determined categories but culturally and socially conditioned constructs.  Nations and the people who constitute them become "gendered", and this affects the policies that other nations pursue toward them.
 In this language, the Republicans have "gendered" the Democrats.  In a comment on a diary, MUST-SEE: Bill Maher takes apart the right-wing's fake machismo, I had pointed to Rotter's essay,
I think it is worth reading; I think the right-wing today has the analogous view of liberals and minorities as the US foreign policy folks had of India.
Charles Blow completed the circle today, which is a satisfactory outcome, whether one believes or is skeptical about the idea of "gendering". 

PS: another quote from Blow's essay:
At the height of the anthrax scare in 2001, Ann Coulter wrote a piece for the conservative site Townhall titled “The Eunuchs Are Whining,” in which she referenced liberals as “mincing pantywaists” and proclaimed that “women — and I don’t mean to limit that to the biological sense — always become hysterical at the first sign of trouble.”


Haqqani's Magnificent Delusions

An excerpt from ex-Pakistani-Ambassador-to-the-US  Hussain Haqqani's "Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding : Magnificent Delusions" (page 277):
The Americans were unaware of {head of the ISI, General Hamid} Gul's ideological predilections and fantasies.   A Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) profile described Gul as "a powerful mediator" who had organized "the unruly Afghan Alliance Leaders into a viable institution".   He was characterized as "a sincere and caring individual who is attempting to do what is best for the Afghan Alliance as well as for Pakistan".  In what turned out to be a massive miscalculation, the DIA believed that Gul was "a strong supporter of Pakistan's ties to the US; is generally friendly towards the U.S and the West and very comfortable with foreigners."  The US intelligence community thought that Gul did not "have any particular political contacts of any significance within Pakistan".  They were wrong on all counts.
Haqqani's book is masterful narration of some 65 years of such "wrong on all counts" by the Americans who set policy.   There were people with a clearer vision, but they were mostly ignored.   The long span - six+ decades -  of the continuous mistaken judgements show that this is no ordinary human error, it is the error of a people who have a strong commitment to thinking in a particular way - a certain inter-generational pig-headed arrogance.  It would almost be funny, but for the cost in lives, including 9/11, as a consequence of such errors.  Scarily, this pig-headedness is still widely prevalent, but Americans take great umbrage at any suggestion about the possibility of thinking differently.  So it is a safe prediction that Haqqani's book is going to have little practical effect.

Pakistanis too, were deluded, thinking that they would get more support for their misadventures than the US was actually prepared to give.  The Pakistani side of the Magnificent Delusion is essentially that of the con-man believing too much his own spiel.   Nevertheless, Pakistan achieved its own survival, always kept afloat by its 3.5 friends.

(BRF dictionary:  Three and a Half Friends
These are countries who have, for various reasons, been the main contributors to propping up Pakistan through its entire history. The three friends refer to the United States of America, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and China. The half-friend refers to Japan because they usually do contribute aid money into the bottomless Pakistani drain, but only with US prompting. )

PS: the Pakistani side of the Delusion is described here.