Admin note- be polite

I’ve been exceptionally busy these days since I’m trying to take Bubble Tap to franchise and it’s a lot of work setting it up.

I don’t want to detract from Omar (Episode 8) and Razib’s excellent podcasts (Episode 7). Of course it would nice to see more of our stakeholders support Razib’s patreon, Episode 9 is on Sanskrit.

However as an aside I found this comment by our resident Morisco to be incredible tactless:

Apologies for pinning this blog’s low standards on you Razib. I found it through your work originally and have gotten progressively more irritated that virtually none of the posts are above grade-level quality (your excellent posts excepted obviously).

The rest of the comment is unabashed Muslim propaganda about how the Arab invasions of the Middle East were actually a blessing (cue eye-roll).
Anyway I will be deleting all of his following comments on this blog until he makes an apology and rescinds his comments. If not I’ll simply ban him.

Brownpundits- Episode 8. The Glass Bead Game (and the decline of Western Civ)

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

This week Omar talks to poet Charles Cameron (who also runs the Zenpundit security blog and is something of a vagabond monk) and Professor Ali Minai (a professor of Electrical engineering who focuses on complex systems and artificial intelligence, but who is also a published Urdu poet, a numismatist and an all round rennaissance man)about the Glass Bead Game, poetry, Artifical intelligence and the (possible) decline of Western civilization.

Professor Minai
Charles Cameron

PS: Razib Khan does all the editing and other electronic scut work on this site. Kindly chip in with whatever you can donate to his Patreon account and we can get some professional help for the editing and posting. Thanks


The hammer of the All-Father

Unless you have been sleeping under a rock, a mildly slanderous piece in The New York Times Magazine has taken aim at David Reich and his band of paleogeneticists, Is Ancient DNA Research Revealing New Truths — or Falling Into Old Traps? I address this piece at my other weblog.

One of the major themes of the piece are the legends and myths of the people of Vanuatu:

I asked him about how the concept of Lapita migration to empty islands had been received by people whose oral traditions said they came from a stone or a coconut tree.

The reason this is relevant is that paleogeneticists have probed the history of Vanuatu. And yet this is the past. The future is that the Reich lab is collaborating with other paleogeneticists to crack the nut of the history of the Indian subcontinent with ancient DNA. They’ve been working on this for years, and they are working on it now. There are 275,000 people who live in Vanuatu. There are 1.7 billion people who live in the Indian subcontinent.

Within the next year I believe that the Reich lab will publish results which will falsify the beliefs of a substantial number of Indians about the nature of the origins of the native peoples of the region. This will shatter world-views, undermine mythologies, and rock peoples’ worlds. There will be sophists who live in denial, but the truth will be plain to those who see.

I understand that some of you reading this disagree with this assessment. Ultimately I don’t care because the data are coming, and if I’m wrong, that’s OK too. I don’t have emotional baggage invested in alternative models. But, I do wonder why the mythological traditions of “non-indigenous” people seem to warrant less attention than smaller nations or premodern tribes.


How to avoid offending people?

Please watch the last three minutes of:

How to avoid very unexpectedly offending people when we don’t want to? How to have dialogue with people, ask them questions and get feedback from others without suddenly massively angering them?

This has nothing to do with Saira Roa’s actual opinions or high resolution fully integrated philosophy of philosophies. She seems to be a sweet loving person. Her perspective is unique and I would have loved to better understand it.

I have met many people from childhood who are suddenly and very unexpectedly massively triggered and angered. Often they will start accusing others of nazism, fascism, racism, bigotry, prejudice, sectarianism or some other related charge. In many cases immediately walk away. Many junior high school, high school, undergraduate and graduate level teachers at institutions I attended were this way. Some students were also this way, but truth be told teachers were far more likely to exhibit these symptoms than students. And a lot of the time, I and many others didn’t understand why this happened. Saira Roa is very middle of the road representative of very large numbers of people I have met (teachers and non teacher adults), (in the west or in India) and I am not picking on her. Rather I am asking how to avoid causing a massive firestorm when we don’t want to create one. In this case, Sargon didn’t want to anger her, but rather was very curious to better understand what she believes and why she believes what she believes.

This particular unexpected firestorm was set off when Sargon says to Saira Roa that some blacks were complicit in the slavery of other blacks. My questions about this is two fold:

  • Is there some way Sargon could have made a similar point without massively angering Saira Roa and causing her to end the interview?
  • Why did this statement elicit this reaction in the first place?

Saira Roa has a Hindu name. When the east (and large parts of Europe for that matter) was (were) conquered by Islamists (note that most muslims are not Islamists and today’s muslims are in no way responsible for the actions of their great ancestors), almost all eastern universities, libraries, temples, spiritual centers, scientific institutions etc. were destroyed. Much of the non muslim population was converted into slaves. Because of this, many Asian nonmuslims get emotional when the subject of slavery is mentioned. Could this be where part of Saira Roa’s feelings come from?

Most Asians (Indians included) and Africans initially welcomed Europeans as a way to drive Islamists out. Europeans as a quid pro quo of sorts banned slavery across Asia and Africa. This was deeply popular among nonmuslims and seen as sectarian Islamaphobia by many Islamists. [Obviously after this initial period, Africans and Asians wanted European colonizers to let them to be independent.] Perhaps Saira Rao thinks that the people who owned slaves on the African continent and sold them to South America, Central America, Mexico, Caribbean, North America, North Africa, East Africa, Europe, Asia were not really Africans but Islamist occupiers? Perhaps her definition of “African” or “black” is only nonmuslims with substantial sub-saharan African DNA haploid admixture? Therefore, “blacks” by her definition were not complicit in the slavery of other blacks and the exporting of black slaves around the world? I am not saying this is true. But rather could this be what she believes?

[Obviously some historians might posit the hypothesis that even if the large majority or vast majority of people who owned African slaves were muslim, at least some African slaves were owned by nonmuslims with substantial sub-saharan African DNA haploid admixture too. But perhaps Saira Roa disagrees with this.]

Are there other possible reasons for why she was so offended?

Can everyone reading please explain this to me in the comment section below? What advise does everyone have for how to avoid deeply angering or offending people in general? Thanks to everyone in advance.


Supporting the Brown Pundits “BrownCast”

When Zach, Omar, and myself began the BrownCast I said that at some point we’d have to think about how we could make it self-supporting. Some people are already complaining about the production quality.

There’s a reason for that: I’ve been doing all the editing. I literally had never used Audacity before, and as most of you know I’m a geneticist, not a sound engineer.

For those of you who think no production is involved, listen to this clip I edited out from the most recent recording with myself, Slapstick, and Zach.

I would like to get a person who has skills and can devote time, to this project. I have someone in mind. But I’m already paying Zencastr bills out of pocket. So I’m asking listeners to chip in. Please consider giving to my Patreon. Since there is a wide range of abilities to pay I’m not stipulating a specific amount.

As a patron benefit, I have just posted links to the next two podcasts on Patreon. A podcast with Omar, Ali Minai, and Charles Cameron which focuses on Urdu literature and before shifting to artificial intelligence and the nature of Western culture is up. As well as another where Slapstick explains “generative grammar” in the context of Sanskrit.

We are unlikely to post podcasts more than once a week. But I often edit them together considerably earlier, so Patrons will get them in batches well before everyone else.

If you are not in a position to be a patron, please rate us positively on iTunes and Stitcher.


An Iyer in the Whitehouse

As most of you probably know, <<<Kamala Harris>>>’ <<<mother>>> (who raised her after she was divorced from Harris’ father) was an immigrant from India. A Tamil Brahmin physician, Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris instilled a sense of Indian culture in her daughter. At least according to Harris’ Indian.

The weird thing about Harris for me is she looks a lot like an Iyer friend of mine whenever she smiles.

Because of her mainstream/corporate Democrat credentials, I suspect Harris is far more likely to become President than Tulsi Gabbard.


The Colored Actors Hiding in the Favourite-

I went to watch “The Favourite” last night, which is getting rave reviews for Olivia Colman’s performance as Queen Anne. Considering that Olivia Colman will soon be playing HM the Queen in the upcoming series of the Crown it seems Ms. Colman is another Helen Mirren in the making.

I’m reading the auto-biography of one of my actors, Sir Nigel Hawthorne CBE. He played King George in the “Madness of King George” and of course Sir Humphrey Appleby in “Yes Minister.” When I read his experiences about being in perpetual penury and having to navigate landlords, it just reinforced how difficult it is to make it in the world of Acting even if you are a privilege white male.

Some of the excerpts on race in the biography are hilarious even though Sir Hawthorne’s views are exceptionally progressive for the time (and this was only written 20years) the milestones are moving so quickly in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation that most language gets dated.

My short thoughts are that even a movie as innocuous as the Favorite, which is ultimately a period piece on Royalty, gives such flavours on the immense upward struggle suffered by BAME (Black-Asian-Minority-Ethnic) actors.

While Emma Stone, as a White American, could plausibly play the lead Abigail Masham and half Jewish Rachel Weisz play Sarah Churchill (ancestress of course to Winston) the best Yorgos Lanthimos could do is “shadow” in 3 coloured actors. There was one Chinese girl in the violin who was in the screen for perhaps 2 seconds, an Indian boy as the help in the Bird Shoot and the final was a Black Server. All of these characters were on screen momentarily as though hinted at but never really featured.

Of course the question about whether colored actors have a place in Period Pieces is a particularly contentious one. However considering that the characters were wearing denim, which certainly wasn’t around in the early 18th century, it seems that either one go for complete authenticity or accept that Creative Licensing encompasses colour and race.

This topic won’t be solved now or in the future however I also wanted to add how Colonialism just makes this a vicious cycle. At the end of the day the only countries with viable and continuous Monarchies happen to in Northern Europe. The Gulf Kingdoms are merely Tribal leaders elevated to Monarchical dignity but nothing really more than that.

Without strength or coherence of a continuous Monarchy most third world countries simply do not have the heritage (or resources) to make compelling Period Pieces that spark the global imagination. The English Monarchy (even the French) resonates in the minds and most people can name at least a handful of monarchs.

In the case of “Independent” nations such as Siam, Afghanistan or Ethiopia; these were glorified buffer states that survived by juggling various European powers. Turkey is probably one of the few countries that somehow managed (through Ataturk) to survive as an independent power (and arguable it’s more European than Asian).

It is not inconceivable that if India had not been subject to foreign influence some sort of Composite Monarchy would have had to emerge (either Mughal or Maratha). The Hindu-Muslim labels certainly existed pre-colonisation and was significant at an elite level but in the early 1700’s (incidentally the time of Queen Anne) it would have been a much more syncretic and fused identity at the common level. It may have been that a Muslim-flavour Hinduism (Muslim Sufis internalised into the pantheon) would have been another sect like the Shaivites and Vaishnaivites.

Of course counter-factuals are always difficult since history is so unpredictable. But it would have been nice to have imagined that maybe in another reality the Favourite would have been about court intrigue in Aurangzeb’s court between his sisters Jahanara and Roshanara.

Some of our Indian friends will of course be outraged that I would use the example of someone so controversial as Aurangzeb. However it is not implausible to also imagine that in a continuous period of Indian Monarchy (whether Mughal or Maratha); Aurangzeb’s perfidy towards Hinduism would not have been the last word but simply treated as a sort of Bloody Mary figure.

At best the Mughals would have been seen as the Plantagenets of India. Instead of coloured actors darting sheepishly in the background in Period Pieces, they would have taken a centre stages since their stories and intrigues would have riveted the world.

If people think I’m being a melancholic Persian then let me ask this:

How many non-Desis cared about Padmavat?


Bangladesh, economy and politics in imbalance

[During the month of December I wrote several articles in Bangladeshi newspaper about the runup to the election in 30th December. I am going to post some of these here so that BP readers may get a native perspective on what’s going on.]

As Bangladesh heads to parliamentary elections to be held on 30th December, only a risk-loving gambler would bet against the governing party returning to power. In its latest country report, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) expressed the conventional assessment that the Sheikh Hasina’s government will retain power easily. The analysis powerhouse based this expectation mostly on the strong economic performance of Bangladesh in the last decade under the current regime. Over the last ten years, GDP growth in Bangladesh averaged well over six percent and is projected to be even higher in the next few years. Foreign exchange reserve has increased more than fourfold, and the currency has remained steadfast against hard currencies. During the last ten years the Bangladeshi currency has lost only twenty percent of its value against US Dollar while the Indian Rupee lost thirty-one percent and Pakistani Rupee forty-one percent.

Not just in economy, Bangladesh has made great strides in social development. By World Bank estimates, national poverty rate dropped from forty percent to twenty-four percent in the ten years preceding 2017. By Bangladesh government estimates, by 2015 the country has already achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals, for example in nutrition, primary education, child mortality, maternal health etc., far ahead of most of the LDCs. These growth and developments were not urban-centric either, rural household income increased by forty percent from 2010 to 2016.

However, the ongoing pre-election period may baffle an outside observer because, despite strong economic growth and widespread expectations of a win, the regime is carrying out an unprecedented campaign of repression of political opponents. Not only the ruling party is visibly controlling every facet of the administration, including the election commission, but the party is using these state organs to directly thwart, attack, arrest, harass opposing candidates countrywide. This would not surprise regular observers of Bangladesh affairs because, along with the remarkable economic growth, the last ten years were also marked by clear democratic backsliding and authoritarianism. German research group Bertelsmann have been keeping tabs on democratic development in the world since 2005. Its indexes show that status of democracy in Bangladesh has been rapidly deteriorating since the non-competitive election of 2014 and in 2018 Bangladesh was downgraded from a highly defective democracy to a moderate autocracy.

The level of repression before the election suggests that the rosy economic and development numbers may not be providing a faithful representation of the economic well-being of the general people. A recent report by International Labor Organization (ILO) said that youth unemployment in Bangladesh grew by seven percent from 2010 to 2017, one of the worst unemployment growths in developing countries. In a pre-election assessment of the economy of last ten years, CPD, the venerable Bangladeshi thinktank, put forward the calculation that one-third of the educated youth are unemployed. In the recent years, the country has been rocked by several urban youth movements demanding more access to government jobs, for many the only avenue for upward mobility.

At the same time, several estimates from Bangladeshi sources say that as many as half million foreign nationals, mostly Indians, work in Bangladesh in skilled/white collar jobs. This lack of Bangladeshi educated and skilled workers is greatly explained by the dismal state of higher education in the country. Times Higher Education produces annual world university rankings with one of the largest coverage of universities. In the latest 2017 rankings, there are more than thirty Indian universities and five Pakistani universities among the top one thousand universities of the world. Bangladesh has zero. World Bank data shows that during the last ten years, Bangladesh annually spent only about two percent of its GDP in education while Pakistan spent near about three percent and India three and half percent.

Economists studying development argue that a country’s long-term economic growth comes mainly from two sources, investing in human capital and investing in physical capital.  From previous discussion, we have seen that human capital development in Bangladesh has been significantly below par to its neighbors. In investment, the picture is not much better either. The previously mentioned CPD report showed that in the last ten years both private investment and foreign direct investment growth in Bangladesh were anemic. Rather than investments, much of the ‘miraculous’ economic growth of Bangladesh have come from exports, consumption and government spending.

Export growth, in particular, has been spectacular; more than doubling from seventeen billion USD in 2009 to thirty-seven billion in 2017. For comparison purposes, Pakistan’s total export in 2017 was less than twenty-five billion USD. However, if we look at the composition of export, a stark imbalance appears like the elephant in the room. More than eighty-five percent of the total exports of Bangladesh is just from one product category, ready-made garments (RMG) and textiles. Any development economist would say that such high level export dependence on just one product is alarming for any country and any product. RMG may be an especially bad basket to put in all the eggs.

Garments is a low-technology, labor intensive industry that mostly depends on ready-to-export, turn-key factory units. Although the industry employs a great number of factory workers, lack of learning and upgrading in jobs mean that workers have short shelf-life and are unceremoniously terminated after the end of productive years. The mature technology of RMG means there is little effort for innovation, R&D in the export industry. Thus, there is a lack of need for skilled and technology workers, which means that the industry provides little demand for development of human capital and technological capabilities in the country.

A particular feature of garments industry is that, unlike chemicals, machinery, IT services etc., it has very little input-output relations with other major export industries. This means that development of garments industry does not spill over to development of other more value-adding industries. Despite frequent boastful proclamations from regimes and entrepreneurs, industries like pharmaceuticals, electronics, IT services, chemicals etc., are prominent in the Bangladeshi export basket by their insignificance and absence.

Some economists argue that “countries become what they make”. The RMG industry, by dominating Bangladeshi economy for long time, has not only dramatically shaped the society but also the politics. This is a strikingly unequal industry with a few dominating large firms and many small firms servicing those large firms; there is a conspicuous lack of mid-sized and diverse firms. The industry creates a narrow business elite that can easily collude with the government for preferential treatment. The regime, in return from this privileged treatment of the industry, obtains assurance of steady and increasing revenue which it invests in building up the bureaucracy and infrastructure. This growing public investment not only help boost the GDP but also provide the political regime with means to buy off loyalty of bureaucracy and civic society. Regimes then use the RMG-fueled state and civic power to suppress political opposition and stage ‘managed’ elections. We have witnessed these intimately related events again and again in recent years, most notably in Cambodia, another RMG-dominated country, where the ruling regime just staged an election in 2018 where it ‘won’ hundred percent of the seats.

Many technology, economics analysts have argued recently recently that Bangladeshi garments industry is a prime candidate for severe incoming disruption from automation. Development of new automation technology, changes that are now within realistic realm, can wipe away advantages of cheap labor at a stroke and render millions of garments workers jobless worldwide. The spectacular growth of garments industry in Bangladesh explains source of the dominating power the ruling regime has over political opponents. At the same time, the uneven economic and social development from this industry and the very precariousness of the industry’s future, help us understand why there is simmering discontent among aspiring citizens. The puzzle of repression during times of plenty, is not so baffling after all.



A Hindu in the Whitehouse?

Tulsi Gabbard is running for President. She is a devotee of Gaudiya Vaishnava Hinduism. Her father is half-Samoan, and due to her dark looks and Hindu religion, she is often assumed to be South Asian. And, she does have connections to South Asian culture through her religious affinities.

That being said, I assume this is a way for her to increase her profile more than a plausible chance to win the Presidency (though I think the same was true of Trump!). Gabbard is a somewhat heterodox Democrat who strikes a Left pose, but her background in her youth was in social conservatism, and the truth is that aside from some oddballs there’s not much light between different factions in the Democratic party in 2018. For this, and other reasons, she is under fire from the usual pundit-class commissars who punish deviationism.

But what I’m curious about the attacks that are made on her religion:

The idea that Gabbard is a cultist probably comes from a piece in The New Yorker, The making of a charismatic, unorthodox Democrat.

Since I’m not on the Left, I don’t care/know about all the internecine conflicts/moves that define these sort of coordinated couterattacks. But it’s really interesting to me that unless you are a very liberal cultural Hindu, it’s open season from certain quarters of the Left. In a way, this is similar to Christianity, but not Islam, where conservatively devout individuals are acceptable so long as they keep their social views on the down-low.

(I have a friend who is Gaudiya Vaishnava who has to explain to her Hindu American friends that not all Hindu Americans are pantheist/Deists who are OK with beef-eating. She is, by the way, a very liberal Democrat)

Note: Kamala Harris is a Baptist, but her mother was an Iyer.