Thursday, May 19, 2016

Random Thoughts 5-19-2016; Asian-Americans, Humanities, Trump..

I have been busier than usual, been reading more than before (trying to avoid Jaun Elya's barb: "he was writing when he should have been reading") and spending more time on Twitter than ever before, so blog posts have been few and far between. And with "products" due at work, things are not likely to change soon. So I thought I would try something different. Once a week or so, I will do something like an open thread. Just a few short comments on a few stories, most of them copied and pasted from comments I wrote on different internet sites. So here goes..

We Are Not Your Asian American (Political) Sidekick Razib Khan has a post up about "..(using Asian Americans) as a prop, often in a mendacious manner." . Read the whole thing. When I did, I had a thought about why some Asian-Americans (mostly in left-liberal academia and it's media periphery) are so eager to embrace a certain "we, the oppressed POCs of America" theme:

I would add that while Asian Americans in general suffer from discreet (or not so discreet) anti-Asian quotas that are put in place to limit their numbers in elite institutions, the kind of Asian-American intellectuals who write books about “POC solidarity” and run blogs called “racialicous” are in a different category; they are net (niche) beneficiaries of the “Asians as picked-upon-POC” framework they promote about Asians in America and this provides an obvious motivation for them to stick to it… For example, it gives them victim status in a social and academic setting where victim status is a very desirable good.

I understand that Asian Americans are not getting jobs on diversity quotas in most places, but the victim status still has clear psychological and social benefits and I strongly suspect that it also protects mediocre work (or whatever passes for work in the social sciences) from criticism OVER AND ABOVE the protection enjoyed by their White colleagues. Imagine 5 equally mediocre bullshitters who happen to be critical studies faculty at a liberal institution. They are not all equally protected. The White faculty member may benefit from connections and “White privilege”, the Jewish faculty from Jewish networking, but what defends the Asian guy? He or she has to rely on the POC card. Maybe they are still at a disadvantage versus equally mediocre Jews or Whites, but it is better than nothing. My point is that this motivation cannot be excluded when we think of WHY some Asian-American intellectual is pushing X or Y crap. In fact, I can think of examples of Indian-American writers and intellectuals who are clearly not being held to very high standards by the New York Times types and I suspect that successful manipulation of White guilt/POC privilege plays a part..

Of course, then there are those (few) intellectuals who are genuinely committed to a specific vision of world revolution and their views about the karma of brown folk follow naturally from that framework. Just to be clear, I am not thinking about them when I think of over-priviliged Asian-American kids blogging on Racialicious. Though both parties are happy to use each other, they are not the same. But truly committed revolutionary Marxists are few and far between. They can be criticized on other grounds, but psychological satisfaction and postmarxist postmodern BS are not their basic framework.


A commentator on another Razib Khan post (a post that touches on the touchy question: “Why Not Close Humanities Departments?”) wondered if shutting down the humanities would not take away a safety valve, one where " the left was effectively “tamed” in the U.S. They became part of the establishment through being allowed a little safe space away from capitalism. ."

I disagreed as follows:

Your argument rests on the assumption that college humanities departments have no real-world consequences at all, so it is safe to put leftists there and let them spout endless reams of pure bullshit….. But while they may not have immediate consequences, they may still have longer term consequences, no?… after all, they do set the intellectual agenda to some extent. may be enough to matter. (This is my favorite theory for why a smart person like Edward Said spewed so much nonsense; he knew it was nonsense, but he was fighting a war and all is fair in love and war. He was doing nothing less than bringing down Western civilization, opera and all. Samson option)

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that social change happens a few years (at least) ahead of any effort to conceptualize or understand it. So if we are doomed, we are doomed. this theory, it may still be possible for scattered individuals to grasp what is going on in some limited area and take advantage of foreknowledge, but even they only know a few things, not the overall picture.

It is what it is, nobody is in control and nobody can consciously alter the big picture… Fate rules everyone.

It is a cheery thought somehow :)

The New York Times has a piece about the rise of the Right (Austria’s Election Is a Warning to the West) which is remarkable for its total lack of self-awareness. The writer seems completely oblivious to the possibility that the endangered liberal consensus may have itself have some issues that have led it to this pass; maybe parts of the liberal framework are not very realistic? (as in "aligned with the world as it actually is") Could it be that one reason a buffoon like Trump has a serious shot at becoming president is because the mainstream liberal worldview contains some elements that seem far too unreal/laughable/wrong to far too many people? 

Anyway, the sky may not be falling. Or at least, not completely so. I remain in the "weirdly optimistic' camp. There will be crises, but there will also be recoveries and new roads to new places..not necessarily recovery of specific parties or specific forms of liberalism... but the arc of history bends towards individualism and autism and more technology, with decreasing everyday violence in the more developed countries... Some places may crash and burn though...

Last but not the least, the BJP appears to be replacing a moribund Congress as India's "national" party . I posted this article from respected (liberal, not pro-BJP) columnist Siddharth Vardrajan on Twitter with the comment " I am not too optimistic abt a soft-landing for Hindutva (not all their fault btw, but bottom line= hard". I was asked to explain what I meant, so I will try: I mean that the BJP includes many people who are nationalist and pro-capitalist but whose "soft Hindutva" is willing to imagine an India that is a country of laws, where non-Hindus (even Muslims) have rights and protections just like everyone else (though not more than anyone else). This is a vision that could be workable. And I would not mind at all if it was made to work, even imperfectly. But there are many things working against it. An obvious one is the "hard Hindutva" band, who really cannot conceive of an India with 200 million Muslims and X million Christians (the "non-dharmic faiths") living as equal citizens (of course this group regard this fact as the fault of Muslims and Christians, who are seen as followers of alien ideologies that aim to undermine and eventually replace the ancient (Hindu) civilization of India, etc etc). This group is not easy to keep in check, especially if BJP comes to enjoy greater power, unfettered by alliances with "secular" forces. This particular threat to a peaceful and harmonious Indian future is frequently mentioned and is never too far from the mind of liberal commentators and this alone may prevent a "soft landing", but there is more; there is the fact that Muslims do in fact include elements who are also unwilling to aim for a truly secular India. There are going to be jihadis and suicide bombers in India's future, and as we have seen elsewhere, the very presence of groups this bigoted and this willing to kill can shift the entire culture towards sectarian warfare and "back to basics" civil war. There is also a very concerted Christian missionary effort that may not match the transnational loyalties of the ummah, but that does have money, modernity and Western support behind it and trouble (justified or not) is easy to imagine. Then there is capitalist disruption and India's not so ready for prime-time infrastructure, state and intelligentsia.. and last but not the least, there is India's Westernized postMarxist Left. Enuff said.

A soft landing will need visionary leadership and lots of luck. Need i say more?

With that cheery thought, i look forward to next week :)

PS: Here is Aasem Bakhshi on Lesley Hazelton's book about the Shia-Sunni split (and about popular history writing in general). 

And don't miss Aqil Shah's excellent piece, which blows away the "drone blowback" theory so beloved of the regressive Left.


And memories of Josh Malihabadi for fans of Urdu poetry 

and to show that I am not completely lacking in self-awareness about what I am doing here, a quote from Nate Silver's mea culpa about his Trump predictions:

"Without a model as a fortification, we found ourselves rambling around the countryside like all the other pundit-barbarians, randomly setting fire to things..."

Words to live by

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Donald Trump Quotes

1.   “All the women flirted with meconsciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”
2.   “When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo?”
3.    “A certificate of live birth is not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination as a birth certificate.”
4.   “Laziness is a trait in the blacks.”
5.   “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
6.   “Tiny children are not horses.”
7.   “People are tired of these nice people.”
8.    “Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people.”
9.   “The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
10.     “I’ll tell you, it’s big business. If there is one word to describe Atlantic City, it’s big business. Or two words: big business.”
11.      “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
12.     “Well, somebody’s doing the raping! Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?”
13.     “Did you notice that baby was crying and I didn’t get angry? Not once. Did you notice that? That baby was driving me crazy.”
14.     “In life you have to rely on the past, and that’s called history.”
15.     “Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.”
16.     “One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don’t go into government.”
17.      “Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
18.     “I try to learn from the past, but I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the present.”
19.     “The point is that you can’t be too greedy.”
20.     “The 1990s sure aren’t like the 1980s.”
21.     “I saw a report yesterday. There’s so much oil, all over the world, they don’t know where to dump it. And Saudi Arabia says, ‘Oh, there’s too much oil.’ Do you think they’re our friends? They’re not our friends.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Book Review: Monsoon War (the war of 1965)

From our regular contributor, Dr Hamid Hussain. (btw, maybe the gentlemanly conduct of both sides would be better described as chivalry?)

Book Review – The Monsoon War
Hamid Hussain

Lieutenant General Tajindar Shergill and Captain Amarinder Singh’s book The Monsoon war is an encyclopedic work on 1965 India-Pakistan war.  It is a detailed account of operations of all phases of 1965 war from the perspectives of junior officers.  Authors have used extensive Indian material as well as Pakistani sources to provide a detailed picture of the conflict.

Book starts with the background of the conflict that culminated in open war in 1965.  This is followed by details about the Run of Kutch conflict that was prelude to the war.  Chapter five is especially a good read as it provides details of armor equipment of both armies and advantages and disadvantages.  This helps the non-military reader to understand strengths and weaknesses of rival armies during the conflict. Authors provide details of some of the challenges faced by Indian army in the aftermath of Indo-China conflict of 1962. Rapid expansion of Indian army resulted in poorly armed and poorly trained formations.  If Indian army was producing ‘nine months wonders’ for Indian army officer corps, Pakistan army was producing ‘pre-mature’ officers from Officers Training School with only eight months of training.  In early 1960s, Pakistani officers were not happy with the pay as it had remained stagnant as well as lack of accommodations.  When troops were used to construct accommodations, there was resentment among soldiers as they saw it below their dignity to work as laborers.  Pakistani tanks had not carried out any tank firing for over two years as training ammunition provided by Americans was hoarded as ‘war reserve’. However, when war started majority of officers and soldiers on both sides fought to the best of their abilities.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Operation Z to A

Dr Hamid Hussain on operation Zarb e Azb:

Following was at the request of a good friend and well informed Pakistani officer who has a more pessimistic view about ongoing operations.  As expected, even in army there are diverse opinions depending on the knowledge and experience of particular officer.  In my interactions I found quite a broad range.  On one end, some have already declared victory and planning victory parades and elevating their favorite senior officers to high pedestals, others are more realistic and know that the water is more muddier when you get close to it and still others who are quite pessimistic as regional dynamics are beyond Pakistan’s control. This is not unusual as every conflict generates different views in the military that is tasked with tackling the problem.  I incorporated some views of tribesmen (most keep their thoughts to themselves as environment is not very conducive for a candid discussion).  In addition, many non-Pakistanis are kind enough to candidly share their perspectives and I incorporated that perspective even if I don’t fully agree with that. 


Pakistan Army Military Operations – Summary

Hamid Hussain

War is uncertainty, characterized by friction, chance and disorder”.            Clausewitz

From 2003 to 2008, for a variety of reasons, Pakistani state gradually lost control over federally administered tribal areas.  The reasons were more related to strategic myopia at the highest level rather than strength of the militants. It took a while before military leadership understood the nature of the threat and started more professional planning, training and overhauling doctrine to face the new threat.  The nature of modern militaries is such that from conception to application on the ground takes time. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Army is on the job..

So General Raheel wants to make sure the world knows he is dong the right thing all alone in Punjab and (hint, hint) the prime minister and the bloody civilians are (as usual) not up to the job.


ISPR and its superb media machine are busy making sure everyone knows that the army is out there all alone, leading the nation to greatness. This is one aspect of Pakistani internal politics that is reliably unchanging: that the army will use any and all crises to further elbow the civilians aside and to undermine their authority, usually in self-defeating and completely unnecessary ways (unnecessary in the sense that the civilians may not even be resisting "the right thing", though there can be exceptions to that). Thus the first thing the army did after the latest horrendous attack is to start sending out press releases and tweets via the ever vigilant and extremely efficient ISPR about how it has started taking action in Punjab and to make sure that their supporters/agents in the media amplify this as unilateral action and undermine the credibility of the counter-terrorism department and police (both of which have in fact been active recently against the terrorists) as much as possible. Action is needed against Jihadis, and it is great that the army now wants to kill some of them, but does it have to undermine the police and the civilian institutions as it does so?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Scott Atran Proposes.. Boy Scout troops??

Scott Atran  is one of those smart and capable people who have many good ideas, but are dead sure they have ONLY good ideas. This one, from his prediction (likely correct) that the worst is yet to come in Europe, is the weirdest yet:

The best hope we have to counter the lure of ISIS and its ilk in the long run will come from a global push for community-based initiatives led by trained young activists who are equipped to offer an alternative expression of idealism founded on adventurous, festive and glorious forms of “peace-building” as enticing as war.

What does that even mean? It is one of those brilliant things that you can always say, and you will never be wrong because it is not happening, so the onus of failure is on the human race for not making it happen. 

This actually applies to his famous suicide-bomber theories as well. They are just enough removed from the actual conflicts and counter-measures being taken or capable of being taken to make them pretty much useless. There is information in his research, but there are no actionable recommendations. Those have to come from someone else who can read that information and maintain just enough detachment to be able to say: "yes, this part seems true, and even though it is padded around with BS, I think I can come up with something actually useful here" 
I am not that detached wise warrior saint. But there must be one out there. I hope :)

Meanwhile, I do have some background reading here :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brussels. Islam, War on Terror, History..

The latest Islamist-terrorist atrocity hit the city of Brussels. The attackers no doubt think they are about to meet their 72 virgins. I have nothing new to say about this, but am posting excerpts from two previous posts (one written after the Paris attacks, the second after the San Bernadino attack) that may shed some light on SOME of the cultural and religious issues in this war. I do want to add that I while I think cultural issues are critical in the long run, they matter far less in the short term than policing, spying, arrests and retaliation. Wars tend to do that: they concentrate matters and short term immediate action is what counts most. Intellectuals who specialize in history and philosophy may matter more in the long term, but once war has begun, it's "action this day". This distinction is not news, but it does sometimes get lost.

And I would add that I do not believe the "Eurabia" BS either. Even Sweden will not become Muslim. Muslims will assimilate into Europe, or will face fascism, expulsion and worse. And I will go out on a limb and even predict that England will neither become Islamic, nor resort to naked fascism (it has a culture strong enough to survive/avoid both). Maybe this is true of most European countries. We will see. But the "Eurabia" paranoia is just slightly less silly than the Islamicate dream of an Islamicized Europe.

The following post is an unedited mishmash at places, but you will get the point.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trump, the phenomenon

This "explanation of no-explanation" is the best piece on the Trump phenomenon yet (because it is not really about the Trump phenomenon, but about phenomenae and societal norms in general).
 I think the internet and its ability to bypass ideological and behavioral gatekeepers in the establishment has been part of the "why now" question. Interestingly, some on the more clueless sections of the "left" are surprised that the internet is not just promoting "progress". Ironies abound.

The last two paragraphs of the Adam Elkus piece: 

The key for future historians to analyze is simply Kurzman's "why now?" question. Our institutions -- formal and informal -- have been fraying for a very long time. And the strategy of ingroup-outgroup outbidding that Trump has exploited is not exactly new to modern American politics either. Perhaps the answer lies in a very granular analysis of what precisely happened in the ground during the GOP primary as a flawed and increasingly tottering array of institutions tried and failed to bend the electorate to their will and people began to feel like they were part of something larger and greater than themselves. But the reason why I have focused on the flaws, contradictions, and weaknesses of institutions and professionals despite Kurzman's emphasis on contingent outcomes is that social structures work by minimizing possibilities for contingent outcomes.

When the possibility for great upheaval exists in contingency, the hour may go to the man or woman willing to seize it. This is something Karl Marx explained quite well in his 18th Brumaire, the story of why a revolt that might have succeeded in an earlier time failed catastrophically. The uncertainty of how much adherence to what we would think to be common norms of behavior exists as well as the impact of the manner in which our institutions and elites only partially at best observe those norms creates a space for contingency, chance, and possibility. And this space has been dramatically and vigorously seized by a quasi-fascist populist sloganeering thug with a bad haircut and his army of passionate followers. For now, explaining Trump may just be as simple as that.

Image result for trump

 Allah will sort things out (and some will no doubt land on their feet even after the revolution), though I do hope Trump appoints Christie as chief garbage collector just to humiliate him some more. We all have our dreams :)

By the way, I am firmly convinced that Trump is not some kind of "genius manipulator" and he is definitely NOT some kind of political genius who has a vision (or even the latent ability to generate a vision) of what to do with power once he has it..His entire record indicates that he is a shrewd businessman and conman who fails at more deals than he makes, but who frequently manages to leave someone else holding the can as he exits. He has hit on a few clever moves, but his repertoire is limited. He will not be some kind of revolutionary leader in any way, shape or form. He will make a mess of things. The only question is: how big a mess? If the US is lucky, it will be a small mess (and mostly just a continuation of establishment Republican policies; good, bad and awful), but who knows. Allah may have more dangerous intentions. Simply put, he is no Napoleon or Bismarck or Octavian or even Nixon. He is not Hitler either. He is just a salesman who has hit on a winning sales pitch. But being president is not the same as running for president. A mediocrity can get by, with conventional ideas, a conventional team, conventional decisions, an occasional gaffe. The system can handle that. But his fans are expecting hope and change well beyond what Obama fans were expecting .. And they aint gonna get it.

In fact, my main hope for why he may lose in November is his clueless low IQ team (yesterday his spokeswoman was confused by "bringing a knife to a gunfight" and it was painful to watch). Unless he dumps most of them soon, THEY will trip him up.. Inshallah. They were hired when he had limited options (and when even he may not have been too sure of getting this far) and they are absolutely not ready for prime-time.

There is a much larger group of analyses that focus on Trumpers as authority worshipers , proto fascists, racists or retards, I am a bit leery of them though. There is more than a whiff of elitist self satisfaction about a lot of them.. And some of them are almost comically the race-obsessed and race-baiting SJWs complaining that Trump is racist.

The ones that seem to confirm the favorite prejudices of their authors are especially suspicious. If they are such profound analysts, maybe they would have seen this coming before it happened? They do frequently appear to retrospectively paint every event as confirmation of their own pet theory about people/politics/society... I am a bit skeptical

Of course the Republican party has spent a lot of time building up a constituency that can be "activated" using these cues and yes, now Trump has hijacked that group using their con against them.. Good for him. Ali Minai said this very eloquently recently, ,and so have others. But what I find suspicious is the extension of this (relatively straightforward) observation into psychobabble about dumb hicks craving authority figures blah blah blah. THAT too may be true, but it may also be be junk-social-psychology, of which there is an awful lot about. :)

I don't think a Republican alternative is really possible now. They have all been happily selling snake oil for ages (in their defense they can say that they were only doing what the entire political class regarded as "appropriate political behavior", i.e. tell lies and deal in pithy soundbites and then do what you really want to do after you are elected. The problem is, having done that all their life (including in the first half of this primary season) they have now been Trumped at that game and have no defense. It is too late to argue that you have a real plan and the short-fingered vulgarian casino-operator does not.

Sic transit gloria mundi..

Though the libertarians at Reason see it more positively..

PS: @Sam_Schulman on Twitter argued that Trump's most important winning point is his attack on political correctness. save image

I think that is definitely a factor, though I dont think the "Muslim-ban" part is the biggest differentiator from other Republicans (all of whom are perfectly willing to kill Muslims in large numbers, so I don't think Trump is getting too much special credit for being the only one who stands up to "secret-Muslim-Obama"). I think it is his attack on PC more generally; with race and immigration being two of the most critical factors. But then again, as a Muslim maybe I am trying/wishing to see less "muslim-ban" intensity in the Republican electorate than is really out there.

Of course, the "arugula Left" has left no stone unturned in its quest to make PC as silly and monumentally stupid as possible. See this post from Razib Khan for an excellent example: Sumo-scale cultural appropriation. 

Btw, he is not bad at reading poetry :)

And his enemies list includes FOX news and Romney-Ryan 2012. Interesting times.. This may be more interesting than I thought..

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