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.

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 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 un-self-aware..like 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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