Was There a Sugar Conspiracy?

Well, not really. Not a conspiracy of the sort you can take to court. A balanced and well researched look back at the nutrition wars and recent talk of a “sugar conspiracy” in this article in Science.

Was there ever really a “sugar conspiracy”?

Their conclusion:

Historical investigations of “merchants of doubt” have been invaluable in showing that scientific uncertainty is sometimes the product of deliberate acts of deception. Such studies underscore the essential insight that the existing evidence base is powerfully shaped by social forces and political choices, and that had decisions unfolded differently, our areas of knowledge (such as genomics) and blind spots (such as obesity prevention or gun violence) would be shifted. But ahistorical accounts thwart our ability to critically evaluate the often long and zigzag process of scientific conjecture and refutation. They provide spurious cover for changes to policy by suggesting that old ideas are illegitimate. And, they advance a false impression that doing the “right” kind of science will somehow avert the messy business of making policy based on incomplete evidence, public values, and democratic politics

The core of the problem is the willingness to jump in and give “expert” advice when the evidence is so limited (for any advice); but then again, demand for advice was so strong, it was bound to be fulfilled, just as demand for finding a “conspiracy” (fat conspiracy, sugar conspiracy, whatever) is so strong. These things probably arise from deep features of human cognition and social interaction.. anyway, I think this is a balanced article, but maybe not harsh enough about the limitations of nutrition advice and the damage done by experts offering advice where the science is not yet settled..

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Two Videos in Urdu (both having problems with the language)

It so happens that I happened to see the following two videos around the same time.

    1. Pakistani journalist (he seems to be an ISPR/Pak army favorite) Wajahat Khan (aka Waj Bro) has a message for Imran Khan. It is quite hilarious, but this particular post is about his ability to speak Urdu, which is clearly rather limited. He would probably do a better job in English (and he has to rely on English a lot in this video). This is fairly typical of the children of our current elite (not necessarily of the older generation). Check it out

2. The other video appears to be from closer to the other end of the socio-economic spectrum. In this case I have no clue who the speaker is (she states she is from Kasur, and she mentions at one point that she has been “pushed into prostitution”, I have no idea what the back story is) but clearly she is not from the elite class. The thing I am focused on in this post is that while her Urdu is in fact much better than Waj Bro’s Urdu, it is also quite clearly not her mother tongue. One gets the impression she would have done better in Punjabi.

My point today has nothing to do with the politics of each video (and in the case of the second one, I have no clue who she is and what the back story is, we all know cases where the story behind the video turned out to be quite different from what is immediately apparent),  I just wanted to ask what people think about the language issue in Pakistan.

Urdu is the national language and is (supposedly, ideally?) the main language of everyday use, high culture and education. But seems in trouble at both ends:

      1. My anecdotal observation is that the children of the elite cannot speak it well (OK, most are better than Waj bro, but not by much) and are almost completely unaware of (and un-interested in) its high culture (all that great poetry, etc). Their everyday language is mostly English, Urdu being used to converse (at a very basic level) with “the lower classes”;  servants, drivers and so on. Is this impression correct? what will be the long term outcome of this trend? (not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely curious and not sure about the answers, not even sure that my anecdotal observation is completely representative of the super-elite or how far it extends beyond that elite).
      2. At the other end, the “common people” of Pakistan mostly were not born into an Urdu speaking culture. The language of their forefathers is (in almost all cases except middle class and above migrants from North India) not Urdu. The languages of these people used to be Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi and so on. Today, as Pakistanis, they learn Urdu in School and via the mass media and (imperfectly, but frequently, especially in Punjab) from their recently Urduized parents. Actually it seems that many (most? some?) Sindhis, Baloch and Pakhtoons are still speaking their own languages at home, but in the case of Punjabis, it is increasingly common for them to speak Urdu at home (for example, my siblings and I started out speaking Punjabi and then switched to Urdu and stayed with that). And there is no such things as learning in Punjabi or even learning Punjabi as a language at school. You can see the result in the video above. The lady in question is not doing a bad job (she even manages to throw in fragments of a verse and an Arabic quote), but she would clearly be more comfortable in Punjabi. Her children will almost certainly be more comfortable in Urdu, but what level of Urdu? Waj Bro level?

You can see where I am going. The language issue in Pakistan. Which is connected with culture, with nationalism, with modernity. What do people see as the future? (again, not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely curious to know what people think is the current situation, and where it is likely to go).

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The Coming Information Apocalypse..

“What happens when anyone can make it appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did?” technologist Aviv Ovadya warns/asks in this interesting journey through the existing and coming technologies for manipulating words, images, networks and people..

Aviv says:

Alarmism can be good — you should be alarmist about this stuff,” Ovadya said one January afternoon before calmly outlining a deeply unsettling projection about the next two decades of fake news, artificial intelligence–assisted misinformation campaigns, and propaganda. “We are so screwed it’s beyond what most of us can imagine,” he said. “We were utterly screwed a year and a half ago and we’re even more screwed now. And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse.”

That future, according to Ovadya, will arrive with a slew of slick, easy-to-use, and eventually seamless technological tools for manipulating perception and falsifying reality, for which terms have already been coined — “reality apathy,” “automated laser phishing,” and “human puppets.

He then describes how rapidly the technologies for manipulating images, mining personal information and using AI to tailor messages specifically to each user are developing.  And he fears that:

fast-developing tools powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality tech could be hijacked and used by bad actors to imitate humans and wage an information war”

Of course they will. And the technology development will not stop just because it can be put to scary uses. I cannot think of an example from history where technological development was stopped because X “enlightened individuals” predicted it would be destabilizing. (Aviv is not saying that either, I just wanted to get that out of the way). So eventually everyone will be playing with these tools, and so? Didn’t everyone start using print and then radio, and then TV and then the internet? Maybe it made it possible to coordinate people in larger numbers towards common ends (not necessarily good ones, but I mean the game of politics did not change to some new game, it just ramped up a level), but the numbers coordinated by religion/culture in the past were not trivial either, just slower moving .. The question is this: is there a point where quantitative change becomes qualitative? and what does that mean? What will be radically different? Leaders? followers? patsies? useful idiots?

This is not a rhetorical question, I am really curious what people think will change and what will not.

By the way, i read that while he was waiting for Stalin to shoot him, Bukharin was reading philosophy and this was the question that stumped him; the question of quantitative change versus qualitative change..

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Review: The House of Government

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yuri Slezkine is a Russian-American historian (he is also technically Portuguese-American, since he first emigrated from Russia to Portugal and then came to the US with a Portuguese passport) who has written a number of interesting books, and “The House of Government; a Saga of the Russian Revolution” is his latest and greatest offering.  At over 1000 pages, it is not a lightweight book, literally or metaphorically. What he does is follow the lives of a large number of Bolshevik revolutionaries, from their origins as young rebels (they were almost all very young; very few were over 40 when they took over the largest country in the world) to the heady days of the Bolshevik revolution, to the civil war that followed, the first compromise (the NEP), the second and more serious attempt at “true communism” (the five year plan), the terrible violence and suffering of collectivization,  the victory of communism under Stalin, the insane purge and auto-annihilation that followed that victory, the second world war, the desiccation and death of revolutionary ideology, and, perhaps most strikingly, the coming of age of the next generation without any sincere transfer of the purported official ideology, leading to the final, inevitable collapse of the entire experiment.

Continue reading “Review: The House of Government”

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Ranking Mass Murder..

Ian Johnson in the NYRB asks the question: Who killed more? and does it matter? 

 

The people on the list are Mao, Stalin and Hitler. Obviously Pol Pot does not make it because there were not enough Cambodians to qualify. Some Indians will complain that Churchill is missing, though I personally think that while he was involved, at times peripherally, in some really bad affairs (Bengal famine is the one most mentioned), he honestly does not belong in this particular list. But that is easier said than proven; which is the point of this post; that this question turns out to be more difficult the more you think about it..  Continue reading “Ranking Mass Murder..”

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Book Review: The RigVeda

How many fires are there, how many suns?

How many dawns? How many waters?

I ask this, O fathers, not to challenge.

O Sages, I ask it to know

(RigVeda Book 10, hymn 88)

Full Disclosure: I have not actually read the entire RigVeda; all I did was read multiple hymns in each of the 10 books of the RigVeda. The hymns are (as expected) very repetitive, but they do give you a picture of the culture of the Indo-Europeans who came to India around 1800 BC (or so we believe these days, this may be adjusted as ancient DNA from Indian sites yields its secrets). It is a window (and probably the most complete and most ancient window we have) into the Indo-European world that played such a huge role in the creation of the present cultures of much of Eurasia, from Western Europe to India (and beyond). The book is thus a window into our own “heroic age”, so to speak and should be of interest to all, above and beyond their obvious status as shruti (heard, i.e. revealed, as opposed to composed by latter day humans) holy books in Hinduism.

The translation I read is by Indologist Ralph Griffith, who lived most of his life in India (he was the pincipal of Benares college in the Hindu holy city of Benares) and is buried in South India (i.e. one of those Englishmen who came to India and fell in love, or like JBS Haldane, fell in love and came to India). A more recent and scholarly translation is now available but is very expensive. This one is free and available in its entirety at this site:  (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/index.htm)

In the original Sanskrit, the hymns are arranged in stanzas and follow particular rules of rhyme and meter (hear a sample at the end of this review). They are meant to be memorized (with extreme fidelity to the text and its correct pronunciation) and then sung/recited (as they still are), in religious ceremonies and sacrifices to the Gods.  In this sense, my use of them as a “window into the heroic age” has little to do with their use and status in Hinduism. But then, I am not a Hindu (unless we are following Savarkar’s definition, in which case I guess I am a little bit Hindu too). Anyhow, on with the review. Continue reading “Book Review: The RigVeda”

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Shaheed Rani. Hasan Mujtaba’s Poem for Benazir Bhutto

The poet Hasan Mujtaba wrote a famous poem on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s martyrdom (December 27th 2007), and it is an absolute classic. I have translated it with his approval  (the full urdu text is here, and it also posted at the end of this post):

How many Bhuttos will you kill?

A Bhutto will emerge from every home!

This lament is heard in every home

These tears are seen in every town

These eyes stare in the trackless desert

This slogan echoes in every field of death

These stars scatter like a million stones

Flung by the moon that rises so bright tonight

How many Bhuttos will you kill?

A Bhutto will emerge from every home!

Continue reading “Shaheed Rani. Hasan Mujtaba’s Poem for Benazir Bhutto”

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Will the US Continue to Attract International Science Talent?

We had a little discussion on Twitter about this topic. It was triggered by this post by Sam Altman @Sama, (about increasing political censorship of heterodox ideas in Silicon valley) but became a more general argument about US competitiveness and ability to attract talent, especially scientific talent. I just wanted to put a few random thoughts and questions out there, in the hope of enlightening feedback.

Clearly the US is still the world’s number one destination for exceptional scientific talent. But this is just year one of the reign of the mad king and already there are many reports of racist and bureaucratic obstruction of visas and suchlike (being both racist and bureaucratic, this process naturally has limited connection to rational priorities). There is also the general decline of US reputation across the globe (whether it reflects the reality of US life and to what extent, these are separate issues; the perception itself would likely influence SOME aspiring migrants). This is one (obvious) side of the story. There is also an attack from the Left flank (see below). Continue reading “Will the US Continue to Attract International Science Talent?”

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The Indian Political Service (Raj era)

There is not much known about Indian Political Service (IPS); a service that was involved in three important areas of Empire.  It was part of indirect control of Indian states, frontier areas and peripheral areas of the Empire in Persia and Persian Gulf states.  Following was part of an exchange on the subject.

 

Indian Political Service (IPS) is a very little studied subject.  My two cents worth comments bolded in the main text.  Hope that adds some additional flavor to a savory dish.

 

Hamid

ASPIRING FOR THE INDIAN POLITICAL SERVICE – A CASE STUDY OF A FAILED ATTEMPT

By Maj Gen Syed Ali Hamid (Retd)

 

Syed Shahid Hamid was commissioned from Sandhurst in 1933 and joined 3rd Cavalry a recently Indianised regiment in which he spent six years. The second half of this term were not easy as he did not get along well with the second-in-command who was subsequently promoted to command the regiment. Since there were no vacancies for Indian officers in the other two Indianised cavalry regiments, Shahid sought an entry onto the hallowed ranks of the Indian Political Service (IPS).

The IPS was the cadre of officers which dealt with the Princely States and foreign affairs of the Government of British India. Its genesis lay in a department which was created in 1783 by the East India Company for conducting “secret and political business”. Since in the India of that period Persian was the language of diplomatic correspondence, the head of the department was known as the ‘Persian Secretary’. Its primary responsibility was dealing with the Princely States through British Residents appointed from the Department. It also housed the officers of British India’s diplomatic service i.e. its emissaries to the countries surrounding India and the Trucial States in the Gulf. (The early organization performed various functions including intelligence gathering, diplomatic and foreign affairs.  The Secret & Political Department established in 1784 had three branches; secret, political & foreign. This set up remained in place until 1842.  In 1843, the name was changed to Foreign Department.  In 1914, it was named Foreign & Political Department of the Government of India. In 1937, the title was changed to Indian Political Service.)The IPS cadre was generally referred to as Political Officers, or colloquially as “politicals”. Some famous names in the history of the Middle East served as Political Officers including Sir Percy Coxs who masterminded the British policy in this region during the First World War. (on frontier, the name ‘poltical’ in Pushto still generates an aura among tribesmen although they fondly remember British officers of a bygone era.) Continue reading “The Indian Political Service (Raj era)”

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East Pakistan 1971

This topic comes up every year in December (for obvious reasons) and this year Dawn has published an unusually good summary of events (from a liberal/progressive/reasonable Pakistani POV) and Ahsan Butt has an excellent article about the thinking behind the genocide. You can read these, or read one of the many good books written about the events leading up to the Pakistan army’s surrender in East Pakistan. I have something of a personal interest in this subject (my father and two uncles served in various capacities in East Pakistan in 1971).  In this post, I just want to share my personal opinion about a few aspects of this story. This will likely upset many people, both in Pakistan AND Bangladesh, but my aim is not to upset people, just to get as close to the truth as possible. So here goes..

How many people were killed in East Pakistan and who killed them?

This question gets debated every year; Bangladesh says 3 million Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani army in one of the great genocides of the 20th century. Pakistani nationalists either deny the killings altogether, or insist that “only a few thousand” were killed (which is pretty awful in itself, when you think about it) and that shit happens in civil wars, everyone should move on. In addition, Pakistanis also blame the Bengalis in turn for two separate rounds of killings. The first one in March 1971 when Bengali mobs are accused of killing West Pakistani civilians and Biharis during the civil disobedience phase of events and a second (and bigger) round of killings that took place after the Pakistani army surrendered, when the Mukti Bahini and Bengali mobs took revenge against collaborators and against the Bihari community in general.  

The army’s refusal to call a national assembly session after the Awami League had won the elections led to province wide and near-total civil disobedience in early March 1971; civil disobedience was so complete that the military leadership was unable to find a Bengali judge willing to administer the oath of office to their new governor; banks, post offices, civil administration, everything ground to a complete halt; cantonments were running short of food because no one would sell it to them. The Biharis were Indian immigrants (mostly, not exclusively, from the state of Bihar; they were Urdu speaking, generally leaned Islamist, and supported the army during its crackdown against the Bengalis; many of them joined special “Razakar” (volunteer) groups that fought alongside the Pakistani army and served as their eyes and ears. Many of their members also took the opportunity to settle personal scores and grab Bengali (especially Hindu Bengali) property. Biharis also played a disproportionate role in  two paramilitary organizations set up by the Islamist Jamat Islami party (Al Shams and Al Badar) whose members did much the same as the razakars, but with far greater enthusiasm and ideological commitment. Incidentally, both the razakars and  AlShams and Albadar did have Bengali members, though this is now underplayed in Bangladeshi historiography.  The Jamat e Islami related groups (Alshams and Albadar) are also the prime suspects in a major crime that occurred on the eve of surrender, when many leading Bengali nationalist and progressive intellectuals in Dhaka were mysteriously picked up and killed, most likely as a heinous and calculated attempt to “decapitate” the new state whose independence seemed to be imminent.

So who is telling the truth? No one will ever know with total certainty because the opportunity to systematically examine these events, interview survivors, collect records and produce statistics was lost in the chaos that followed the independence of Bangladesh. What follows is my personal opinion, based on all that I have read and heard: Continue reading “East Pakistan 1971”

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