Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Book memo: The Clever Gut Diet

The Clever Gut Diet, by Dr. Michael Mosley - probably one of the better books in the genre, because the author seems to hew to the science and not overstate what is known.  I haven't tried the recipes.  I might get a copy for myself - the one I read is from the public library.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

An attempt at clarity about religion

I start with a quote from "Introduction to Modern Set Theory" by Judith Roitman.
".... 'x is a unicorn in Africa' describes exactly the same set of animals as 'x is a winged horse in Europe'. Both sets are empty.  But the descriptions are quite different."

"In philosophy, descriptions are related to a notion called intensionality, which has to do with how the mind gives meaning to language.   The actual thing described is related to a notion called extensionality.  In mathematics we care only about extensionality.  We don't care about intensionality".

Book memo: The Crucible of Islam

The Crucible of Islam by B.W. Bowersock presents what little is known about the history of Arabia in the years preceding the emergence of Islam and immediately after.  Since not a lot is known, the volume is a slim one.

Some of the history appears to be a replay of our times - Arabia as one of the arenas of great power politics, with the Zoroastrian Persians backing the Jews and the Christian empire of Byzantium backing the Ethiopian Christians despite sectarian differences.  Mainly I learned that apparently in 614, when the Persians besieged Jerusalem, the Jews supported them; and in 638 it was the Christians that turned over the city to the armies of the Muslim Caliph 'Umar al Khattab. Archaeology suggests that neither the 614 nor the 638 invasions significantly damaged Jerusalem, and that the kind of Islamization we moderns are more familiar with began only after a generation or so.  I also learned of Michael Lecker's hypothesis about the Prophet's migration to Medina.

Lecker begins with a straightforward observation of a remarkable coincidence-- a coincidence so obvious that it is astonishing to find that it has failed to engage the attention of most historians of the hijra.  The year of the hijra, 622, was precisely the year in which the Byzantine emperor Heraclius began his military onslaught on the Persian Empire......Heraclius must have known from Arabian history of the sixth century that his Persian antagonists supported the Jews, much as the Byzantines supported the Christians, and it was no secret that the Jewish population of Medina was among the most significant community of Jews in northwestern Arabia....He would have certainly seen in the city's Jewish population a political resource that the Persians might exploit against the Byzantine Christians.  This was, after all, exactly what they had done when the captured Jerusalem in 614 by offering support to the Jews in the process of dislodging the Christians and their sacred relics. In planning his Persian offensive in 622 Heraclius would have had every reason to ensure that the Persians would not stir up trouble in the Hijaz of the kind that they had already provoked in the Palestine.   It made perfect sense for him to turn to his Ghassanid clients to address this contingency and what Lecker has now demonstrated is that those clients were in a position to influence the Khazraj and the Jews.  He has meticulously noted the Ghassanid presence in groups that are listed in the Constitution of Medina, notably among both Khazraj and Jews.   This link across the various tribes and religions would explain the otherwise puzzling cooperation of the pagan, anṣa̅r, and Jews, after a recent history of hostility, in both the invitation to Muḥammad and the subsequent incorporation of the Believers into the community of Medina.
 Well, if Lecker is correct, both the Persians and Byzantines were consumed and displaced by what ensued.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Who wants to trap you in history and why?

One of the questions raised and addressed by Joydeep Bagchee and Vishwa Adluri.
''The Enduring Meaning of the Mahabharata'' - Part 1

Part 2:

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Information Wars

This is the age of the Information War, where all kinds of interests are trying to shape the universe of information that you live in.

My advice is -- if an issue really matters to you, then try to get to primary sources with as few layers of reporting between you and the source as possible.   If the issue doesn't matter to you, then be aware that the information you have is likely inaccurate, incomplete, and probably reflects somebody else's prejudices.

A very topical example is the difference between what Paul Krugman actually said in this speech in India and how it was reported in various India media with varying degrees of emphasis and accuracy. I'm not going to link to the reports, look them up for yourself!

Other examples are e.g., the hype about Stephen Hawking's last publication. See Not Even Wrong for a summary.   A really old example is from more than a decade ago, when Indian newspapers had screaming headlines "PM Vajpayee changes India's nuclear doctrine" (India had and has a no first-use doctrine.)   What PM Vajpayee said in a speech (in Hindi, rough translation) - "Does Pakistan imagine that India will remain sleeping while it (Pakistan) prepares a first strike?"  That this translates into a policy of a preemptive first strike takes a huge flight of imagination.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Koenraad Elst on "The Founder of My Religion"

While remaining within the "Hinduism is some type of religion" idea, Koenraad Elst describes the nature of religious authority in Hinduism, in this transcript of a talk that he gave in 2009, on the theme "The Founder of My Religion".

In Hinduism, authority rests with a vast array of scriptures: the Veda-s and the Bhagavad-Gita most famously, but also in the Agama-s or doctrinal scriptures of all the various sects, such as the Nanak Panth (= Sikhism)'s Guru Granth. But more importantly, it rests with every enlightened master, everyone who visibly embodies the sacred. It rests with your parents and personal teachers, and ultimately also with yourself. Your own common sense and intuition are the most important guide in your life's choices, informed by the plethora of Hindu sources of light, and not excluding even the non-Hindu sources. Living Hinduism is an application to the religious sphere of "the wisdom of crowds", the principle the combined insights of many provide a more accurate guide than the insights of an individual, be he prophet or messiah. I note with satisfaction that the Ahmadiya movement has incorporated a bit of this Hindu attitude by acknowledging Krishna and the Buddha as legitimate religious teachers.

May all beings in the Universe be happy.

A book on my reading list: The Impossibility of Religious Freedom

As a reminder to self:
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (2007), The Impossibility of Religious Freedom
Introduction (PDF file)
Blurb (emphasis added):

The Constitution may guarantee it. But religious freedom in America is, in fact, impossible. So argues this timely and iconoclastic work by law and religion scholar Winnifred Sullivan. Sullivan uses as the backdrop for the book the trial of Warner vs. Boca Raton, a recent case concerning the laws that protect the free exercise of religion in America. The trial, for which the author served as an expert witness, concerned regulations banning certain memorials from a multiconfessional nondenominational cemetery in Boca Raton, Florida. The book portrays the unsuccessful struggle of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish families in Boca Raton to preserve the practice of placing such religious artifacts as crosses and stars of David on the graves of the city-owned burial ground.

Sullivan demonstrates how, during the course of the proceeding, citizens from all walks of life and religious backgrounds were harassed to define just what their religion is. She argues that their plight points up a shocking truth: religion cannot be coherently defined for the purposes of American law, because everyone has different definitions of what religion is. Indeed, while religious freedom as a political idea was arguably once a force for tolerance, it has now become a force for intolerance, she maintains.

A clear-eyed look at the laws created to protect religious freedom, this vigorously argued book offers a new take on a right deemed by many to be necessary for a free democratic society. It will have broad appeal not only for religion scholars, but also for anyone interested in law and the Constitution.

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan is associate professor of law and director of the Law and Religion Program at the University at Buffalo Law School. She is also the author of Paying the Words Extra: Religious Discourse in the Supreme Court of the United States

Monday, March 12, 2018

What is इतिहास?

Itihaasa (इतिहास) is commonly translated as "history".

Here is a competing meaning, and seems to be more in tune with the actual exemplars of Itihaasa that we have (e.g., the Mahabharata).

इतिवृत्त (Itivritta) is the word that means chronicle, annals, record of historical events; and in dramaturgy, it means the plot of a play.

PS: footnote 20 on this page on the Natya Shastra has this:

Kauṭilya in his definition of itihāsa enumerates purāṇa and itivṛtta as belonging to its contents. An itivṛtta, according to Winternitz, can only mean an “historical event” and purāṇa probably means “mythological and legendary lore.” Vol. I. p. 518. Pargiter has, however, extracted solid historical facts from some of the extant Purāṇas (See his Ancient Indian Historical Traditions, London, 1922). According to the Indian tradition itihāsa is said to be an account of events that occured in the past, carrying in it instructions about duty, wealth, enjoyment of pleasure, and salvation. The same tradition assigns the position of itihāsa to the Mahābhārata the great Indian epic. It is possibly this itihāsa that has been connected with the Nāṭyaveda by the author of the śāstra. Hence it appears that Oldenberg’s theory about the original connexion between epic and dramatic poetry, is worthy of serious consideration. Nāṭyākhyaṃ pañcamaṃ vedaṃ setihāsaṃ karomy aham (15) seems to be very significant. Ag. (I. p. 13) explains setihāsam as itihāsopadeśakarūpaṃ saprabbedam. See Winternitz, Vol. I. pp. 100 ff, 312 n,

PS: duty, wealth, enjoyment of pleasure, and salvation = dharma, arthakama, and moksha

On the Right to Bear Arms: George Mason

This webpage, of Dr Walter Williams of the faculty of George Mason University has a whole bunch of quotes of US of A founding fathers, supporting a particular interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials."
— George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788
If you look up the source, (yes, it is the 1836 edition not the 1788 edition) you will see that it should read:
"I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except for a few public officers."
That "now" is significant, and is not some random addition by some editor, as can be seen by the full text below.  I wonder how many other distortions have been introduced by our worthy gun lobby.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Divya Jhingran on Shashi Tharoor's "Why I am a Hindu"

Shashi Tharoor published a book recently, "Why I am a Hindu". (As of this blog post, I haven't read it.)

Divya Jhingran, co-author with Balangangadhara of Do All Roads Lead to Jerusalem?: The Making of Indian Religions, has some reflections on Shashi Tharoor's book.  She argues that "a more apt title for Tharoor’s book would have been “Why I am a Protestant”.

As S.N. Balagangadhara notes, if you take away the Bible and you take away Jesus, there will be nothing left that would be recognizable as a religion called Christianity. Similarly, if you take away the Quran and take away Mohammad, there will be nothing left that would be recognizable as a religion called Islam. Religions stand or fall based upon these two factors. If these two factors are necessary components of religion, it obviously means that the Indian traditions are phenomena of a different kind. You cannot use different standards of determination in judging this matter. Even Buddhism does not need a Buddha, nor does Jainism need a Mahavira. The Indian traditions will still exist, each as a distinct entity and each distinguishable from the other without any such props. They are human discoveries that can be communicated in any number of ways, not a belief system handed down from God.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Jakob de Roover: "Europe, India, and the Limits of Secularism"

In this hour-long talk, Professor Jakob de Roover, a PhD student of Balagangadhara, gently explains why ideas that work in Europe don't work in India.  IMO, it is well worth the time spent.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Synopsis of The Heathen in His Blindness

Kausik Gangopadhyay has a synopsis of Balagangadhara's "The Heathen..." in Pragyata.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Rakhigarhi gossip

Per someone on the intertubes, he was told by Dr. Kumaraswamy Thangaraj that the Rakhigarhi aDNA publication would take several months.  So it isn't coming out anytime soon.