Kushal Mehra interviews Niraj Rai


Definitely watchable, and Kushal actually lets Niraj talk at length! Though the Hindi sections are Greek to me.

On the whole Rai and I agree on the genetic data. But there are disagreements that I have on interpretations of the words like “invasion.” I had long imagined the genetic and cultural impact of Aryans to be somewhere between the Anglo-Saxon and Vandals. In the former case, there was a large impact (though most of the genomes of modern Britons date to the pre-German Britons!). In the latter case, we have a historical record of a literal invasion, a folk-wandering of Vandals (along with a rump of the Alans) into North Africa. But the genetic and long-term cultural impact was minimal.

Finally, there is a lot of discussion about the R1a paper that Indian researchers have been working on for years showing lots of diversity within South Asia, and supposed basal lineages. This paper has been talked about for many years, so I’ll believe its publication is imminent when it is published.

Note: talking to Vageesh in 30 minutes.

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Calvinism, atheism, and Hinduism


A journalist associated with NPR made some prejudiced comments about Hinduism, and she is probably going to get in trouble. By the name, her background is that of a South Asian Muslim.

One of my immediate reactions is that this sort of comment about Hinduism is very common among South Asian Muslims. Growing up people would joke about Hindus drinking piss and obsessing over cow dung all the time. This is a widespread private comment, and this woman’s mask just dropped in public.

But, there is another aspect that emerged in discussion with a Hindu reader of this blog: the Muslims making these sort of jokes were not the very pious, but the more liberal and secular sort. Extremely religious Muslims did not talk about Hinduism in jocular terms, because they feared Hinduism.

This actually goes back something foundational in the Abrahamic religions, and that is the Hebrew suspicion and fear of foreign gods. Note that in the Hebrew Bible the Israelites repeatedly turned away from Jehovah, and sacrificed to the gods of the Canaanites. These religions and cults were tempting. The original Hebrews were clearly henotheistic, not monotheistic in a deep metaphysical sense. They did not reject the existence of other gods but were devoted to a particular god, their own tribal god.

In the Greco-Roman period, Jewish and Christian thought took the next step: they demonized the gods who were not their God. When I say they demonized the gods who were not their God, I mean demonized in a literal sense. The early Christians believed that the pagans worshipped demons, who were deceiving humans as to their true nature. These religions were not false religions because people worshipped the non-existent, but because they worshipped evil or deceptive beings who were not the true God.

There are still Christians who hold to the old ways. Some evangelical Protestants believe they are in a spiritual “war” with devils who are all around us. Which brings me to Calvinism. There is a line of argumentation that John Calvin and his heirs “rationalized” Christianity to such an extent that they drained the demons and supernatural from the universe. They were atheists and materialists except for the exception of their one God and his retinue.  This was a sharp break with the older Christian tradition, whereby the gods of other religions were false gods, but real gods (after a fashion).

I don’t know what I think about this argument, though it seems plausible. But, the sort of Muslim who makes fun of Hindus has been shaped by this way of thinking. They do not fear Hinduism. They do not think that Hindus believe in anything real. Their gods are no-gods. In contrast, many devout Muslims believe Hindus worship devils.

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Questions for Vagheesh

In ~48 hours I will be recording a podcast with Vagheesh Narasimhan, first author of The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia, and the second author of An Ancient Harappan Genome Lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian Farmers. We’ll have lots to talk about but open to taking questions from readers as well.

As per usual I’ll be posting it for patrons first.

(I’m also recording a podcast with ex-academic Justin Murphy)

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Chandrayaan 2; if at first you don’t succeed..

… try, try again

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is the crown jewel of India’s applied science and engineering institutions, having developed reliable satellite launching capabilities as well the ability to pull off “first world” space missions of great complexity and ingenuity. After a string of recent successes, including the innovative Mangalyaan mission to Mars, the agency planned to land on the South polar region of the moon and use a locally developed rover (Pragyan) to explore the lunar surface and carry out various experiments. This mission (Chandrayaan 2) was initially conceived as a joint mission with Russia and was approved by the UPA govt led by Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008. The Russians later dropped out of the project (they were mainly responsible for developing the landing vehicle that would travel from the orbiter in lunar orbit down to the lunar surface), so ISRO decided to go ahead with the mission on their own. Given ISRO’s recent successes and the rising tide of Indian Nationalism (and the generally science-illiterate level of Indian media) the mission generated intense hype within India, but with very little communication to the general public of the extremely difficult technical challenges that have to be overcome to successfully land a vehicle on the moon (and the significant risk of failure, even in the best run missions).

Image result for chandrayaan 2

Unfortunately, the Vikram Lander did run into trouble and appears to have crashed onto the moon after something went wrong in the last stages of its descent to the lunar surface. Given the complexity of the technological challenges (first and foremost, the fact that it is too far from the earth to be controlled by ground engineers on earth, it has to do the job autonomously) this is not a totally unexpected outcome (per my technology-literate fellow blogger @kaeshour the probability of success was 40%). As the saying goes, “space is hard” , failures unfortunately happen with some regularity and have happened in every space program. Still, it was heartbreaking to see the disappointment on the face of the ISRO scientists as the lander lost contact with the earth and a nation of over a billion people faced deep disappointment after tremendous hype had been built up around the mission. (as an aside, the mission is far from a complete failure. The lunar orbiter is in orbit around the moon, conducting experiments as intended and will continue to do so for many years. It remains to be seen if anything is still functional on the lander)

ISRO itself is a very professional organization and will no doubt continue its stellar work, but even the hype around the mission does not have to end in disappointment and disillusionment. Instead it is likely that the last minute loss will itself become a vehicle for “soft power” phenomena including everything from a greater interest in science and engineering to a paradoxical renewal of national pride and unity (e.g. someone on my twitter feed described the video of PM Modi hugging a weeping ISRO chairman as a boost to Indian asabiya; I can see why that may be so). The loss was followed by messages of support and appreciation for the fact that India could conceive, create and almost successfully carry out a mission of such complexity and difficulty (the exception being the science minister of Pakistan, who managed to set new records of boorishness and idiocy in his twitter feed)

Be that as it may, the topic of the Indian space program always brings up a few recurrent critical memes, and this setback may see a few of those resurface as well. One is the question of whether a poor country such as India should be spending money on a space program. The other is a relatively new one: that the “Hindu Nationalist” government of Narendra Modi uses space achievements as a means to boost “toxic nationalism”. As is usually the case, the two memes have merged in some cases to create what one may call the “New York Times style guide to writing about the Indian space program” (though to be fair in its latest article the NYT has managed to soften the “poor Indians wasting money on space” theme and devoted only one sentence to Mr Modi’s “muscular nationalism”). How valid are these criticisms?

The first one can be broken down into questions: 1. What good is a space program? and 2. How much should country X spend on a space program?

Q1 is easy to answer. A space program is not some sort of purely symbolic act of “conspicuous consumption”. Space is now an industry worth 100s of billions of dollars, with vast applications in communications, mapping, scientific research, military use, entertainment, etc. It is not like a statue or a monument whose only worth comes from its symbolism (and even that is something all human societies do, as an essential component of “soft power” and the building of group identity, etc). There is no question about the fact that earth orbit applications are now a routine part of our economic and scientific life, so there can be no question about the fact that someone needs to have a space program, though everyone may not be in a position to participate. Further out (the moon, mars, the sun, and beyond) the question becomes a little trickier, but quite apart from spinoff engineering applications (not trivial in itself), the purely scientific merit of these efforts is considerable. There is a very real (but very hard to quantify and analyze) human urge to know, to explore, to do what has never been done. It is this urge that has led humans from the African savannah  to the moon and beyond and whatever some naysayers may say about it, it is a part of human nature, and it not a trivial part. Nerds across the world will not need convincing on this account, but it extends beyond the nerdsphere and is really a part of all of us and I see no reason to deny it.

Q2 is trickier, but the first thing to keep in mind is that nation states are aggregate entities and a large country with many poor people still possesses far more resources at govt level than a small country with rich people. Pakistan has a space program, but Lichtenstein does not, even though on a per capita basis Lichtendstein is orders of magnitude richer than Pakistan. Costa Rica is better off than Brazil, but Brazil has a space program and Costa Rica does not. This is natural and perfectly expected. India is a country with far too many poor people, but it is also a HUGE country, with a 2.5 trillion dollar economy. It can afford a space program. How much it should spend on that program is open to debate, but it is hard to say that it spends too much at this time. People will go further and say the most ridiculous things about this; i remember reading an article somewhere many years ago where the writer asked if 10,000 (or whatever) engineers and scientists at ISRO would not be better employed building toilets in a country with so much open defecation. This is so silly it does not need to be discussed much further (anyone who seriously thinks the engineers of ISRO could be sent to build toilets in Indian villages, and that this would be a good use of their talents, is not someone you want to waste time debating; leaving aside the fact that building these toilets is already a huge project in India and does not need help form ISRO), but we can agree that how much gets spend on ISRO is a valid debate. My own view is that it is, if anything, not enough, but others can have different opinions. Whatever opinion they have, it would be useful to look at this not in isolation as “ISRO vs Toilets” but as just one component in a huge Indian national budget, in which huge chunks are wasted on items much less useful (practically and symbolically) than ISRO.

The criticism that space projects are a way to promote “jingoistic nationalism” may have some merit to it, but not much. We can (I hope) agree on the everyday usefulness of the broader space program, but high risk moonshots and trips to Mars have less immediate practical returns; so it can be argued that the scientific research projects (which are sometimes of no immediate economic benefit) should be left to richer nations to pursue. But there is a huge “soft power” aspect of this and the most important returns may not be the jingoistic nationalism ones (though these obviously exist as well). In a country like India, these events play a huge (but hard to quantify?) role in promoting scientific literacy, the image of working women,  a culture of engineering excellence, innovation and creativity. That alone would be worth the price of such a mission (in this case, under 200 million dollars, i.e. 2-3 Rafale aircraft?). But coming to the nationalism issue, what is really being said here is that the writer does not approve of this particular nationalism. I doubt if even one Marxist-Leninist in the world failed to feel pride and joy at the launch of Sputnik. I am confident that none of them wrote op-eds asking why Russia is investing billions in space when so many of their own citizens cannot even afford their own one room apartment. The question is really about whether the writer likes the Modi govt (or India as a whole) or not. Now there are good reasons to be critical of the BJP govt in India, but my point is that 1. this is about India, Indian science and Indian pride and does not have to be about the Modi govt. 2. The “soft power” benefits of this particular project (science awareness and ambitions in India, higher standards for Indian engineering, science, organization and institutions) are more than just “muscular nationalism”. 3. “Muscular nationalism” itself is a feature of this world of nation states. Russia, America, China, Pakistan, everyone does it. The hippie in me is wary of all of them, but no more wary of the Indian variety than any other. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. People who do not criticize Russian, Chinese, American or XYZ space programs being used as nationalist symbols should apply the same standards to India, nothing more, nothing less. That means those who are critical of ALL these programs (and such people exist and are frequently sincere and well meaning people) should carry on, everyone else can shut up.

Personally, I think it was a great effort and much of it succeeded (that orbiter is still going around the moon, and will be for years to come); unfortunately the lander failed, but such things happen. Better luck next time..

Image result for chandrayaan 2

One and the same be your resolve, and be your minds of one accord.
United be the thoughts of all, that all may happily agree. (Rig Veda, last mantra)

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The intrusive Indo-Aryans had a huge demographic impact on South Asia

At the bottom of this post, I have posted a reformatted version of a table from the supplemental of The Formation of Human Populations in South and Central Asia. It shows a model of three hypothetical ancestral groups which contribute to the variation of modern South Asians:

  • AHG_related, a group distantly related to modern Andamanese
  • Indus_Periphery_Pool_related, a group that is roughly equivalent to the IVC population variation
  • Central_Steppe_MLBA_related, which indicates affinity to populations such as the Sintashta and Andronovo pastoralists

One of the things that people are doing is looking at “Central_Steppe_MLBA_related” as proxy-for Indo-Aryans. This is not totally wrong…but it is misleading. This fraction to me is indicative of the floor of the contribution of Indo-Aryans into modern Indians. Let me quote from the paper:

We next characterized the 2000 BCE Steppe Cline, represented in our analysis by 117 individuals dating to 1400 BCE – 1700 CE from the Swat and Chitral districts of northernmost South Asia (Fig. 2, Fig. 4). We found that we could jointly model all individuals on the Steppe Cline as a mixture of two sources albeit different from the two sources in the earlier cline. One end is consistent with a point along the Indus Periphery Cline. The other end is consistent with a mixture of about 41% Central_Steppe_MLBA ancestry and 59% from a subgroup of the Indus Periphery Cline with relatively high Iranian farmer-related ancestry ((13), Fig S50).

It seems very likely that a substantial proportion of the ancestry of the Indo-Aryans when they entered Punjab was already mixed with “Iranian-related” ancestry from further north and west. In the table below 13% of the Patel ancestry is from Central_Steppe_MLBA. All of this is from “Indo-Aryans,” but I assume some of the 60% Indus_Periphery_Pool is probably from Indo-Aryans as well.

Continue reading “The intrusive Indo-Aryans had a huge demographic impact on South Asia”

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Our history is serious and not a game

Some of you are probably not amused by the jokes I try to make about AIT and Lord Indra. I hope it’s pretty clear I’m not serious about all of this…it’s just that people take these issues so seriously.

I’ve changed my mind on the “peopling of India” question several times since I began to take a genetic interest in the topic around the year 2000. That’s because the genetic and archaeogenetic technology and data has gotten better and better with every passing year. We can answer questions with power and precision that we couldn’t even imagine asking a few years ago.

Some of you are asking questions that are already answered in the supplements of the Narasimhan paper. From page 260:

With respect to South Asia, our key finding is that people with ancestry like the Kushan individuals can be excluded as important sources of the Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry that is widespread in South Asia today. In particular, the East Asian-related admixture (via Steppe_LBA ancestors) that characterized the Kushan individuals is nearly absent in South Asia. We formally confirmed this inference through qpAdm modeling that excludes the Kushan individuals, as well as nearly all the other Iron Age and historical period individuals from other cultural contexts that were published in two recent studies (29, 30) as plausible sources for the Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry in South Asia (Fig S 50).

Though culturally and historically significant, like the Muslims, the earlier steppe people that are prominent in Indian history don’t seem to have made a major genetic impact.

The question has been answered. And that’s good.

In the comments below some readers are asking about whether arguments have been won. Knowledge and science proceed through argument. But let me be clear here: I am not invested in a particular outcome, I am haunted by the possibility that we can know the truth of things. As a child, I was fascinated by history, but I always knew that I was going to go into science, because science progresses, while history circles in argumentation. What ancient DNA has done has been to illuminate the darkness of the demographic past. This is not the totality of human history, but it serves to provide a critical and precise scaffold on the questions we ask and the answers we come to.

The American Academy is so ideologically blinkered and biased that I am not going to throw stones any longer when I see people in other nations engaging in this sort of behavior. This is the world we live in. Knowledge is not furthered through institutions in anything more than a proximal manner. The results, the data, are out there. We need to grasp them and interpret them for ourselves. The truth is ours. If we choose to take it.

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Pebbles dropped in the Brownpundits pond

a bumpy ride from the void, geographically and legally envisioned, via strategy to complexity and fiction, winding up in Rushdie territory with his Quichotte

Just a few odds and ends that spark, I suppose, evens and beginnings.

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The Mandarin, The rocky road to reconciliation in Australia

the British declare Australia terra nullius, a place belonging to no one. The land is most definitely not a ‘null’, but the doctrine of terra nullius is a convenient legal cover for theft on a colossal scale.

Terra nullius — is that the legal equivalent of a cartographer’s here there be dragons?

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Also a nullius matter?

Moot for real or mootness as gamesmanship?” the legendary Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse asked in The New York Times.

That’s from Garrett Epps, ‘The Supreme Court Is Not Well. And the People Know It.’ in the Atlantic.

A moot law is a null law, surely. But though both are fascinating, neither one addresses the viod plenum which so interests me. Still..

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Continuing my meander through one level of abstraction above regular reality..

WOTR, THE GREAT DUALITY AND THE FUTURE OF THE ARMY: DOES TECHNOLOGY FAVOR THE OFFENSIVE OR DEFENSIVE?

In war, firepower favors the defensive and maneuver favors the offensive.

Hm. Assuming this is common knowledge, having two doctrines is one thing — but how many generals have two mindsets, and can switch between them as appropriate. I’m hoping some of our strategy buffs will weigh in here. This is abstract enough to catch my eye, but war is gritty enough that even strategic thinking comes with trench mud and blood attached.

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A Brexit madman or master bluffer? What’s behind Boris Johnson’s suspension of UK Parliament

Game theory – the study of strategy and decision making – offers some clues. In the language of game theory, Johnson faces a serious “credibility” problem. He needs to convince the various players in the Brexit game – including the EU as a whole, Ireland, MPs in the House of Commons, the public and businesses – that he will indeed have the UK leave the EU, if need be, without a deal in place, on the October deadline.

Currently, many of these players do not truly believe that he would – perhaps informed by the inaction of the government of Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, or the high stakes involved of leaving without a deal.

Hm, a governmental void as strategy.

That excerpt offers a neat illustration of why human decision-making is so complex and, by extension, fallible

It also illustrates the utility of a HipBone-variant game board for carrying the voices of multiple stakeholders in mind at once — a polyphony (multiple voices) in counterpoint (point counter point) —

Time, clipping the wings of possibility, increases tension at a decision fork where, as another Channel News Asia article also notes, Britain is in its “deepest crisis in living memory”.

Okay:

Complexity? the national and international interests, personal interests, thoughts, and feelings of all participants, as above. How good is Boris Johnson at evaluating all those influences?

After a long period of digestion, I’m willing to believe a novelist or TV showrunner might be able to capture the web of influences involved. But that’s after the fact, after the fork — after fatal decisions have been made. And we call them fatal both because they produce fatalities, and because the Fates, the Moirae spin them.

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For instance:

To face a people and catch its characteristics as if being confronted by just one person is practically impossible especially when the intention is to give an admonition… or suggest a way to govern it. It is much safer to rely on literature, on the way writers have represented her life, her way of being, the constant mobility of her reality and the variety present in the characters described.

That’s from an account of Sicily and its Mafia connections, but the novel offering access to the understanding of a people by means of the interplay of characters..?

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Meanwhile right here at Brownpundits..

Dr Hamid Hussain, An Extension for General Bajwa

:Bless the British who instilled a sense of professionalism in officer corps that has taken a big hit in successor Indian and Pakistani armies. The most scathing criticism came from Lieutenant General Nathu Singh of Indian army who said, “I have not known a British officer who placed his own interests before his country’s, and I have hardly known any Indian officer who did not”

That’s quite a tribute —

the master gamekeeper at the national park

Just for the phrasing..

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& finally:

somewhere between a pinball machine and a three-dimensional game of snakes and ladders

That’s not a description of goepolitical life in the Presidency of Trump, it’s praise for Salman Rushdie‘s upcoming novel
, upcoming my way at least, I hope, Quichotte

Enough!

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DoubleQuoting Myanmar and Assam..

It’s the first quote that carries the implication of genocide, but what of the rest?

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It’s not a joke, is it? Myanmar..

The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention warns of certain indicators that “provide an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes,” including “increased politicization of identity” and discriminatory “measures or legislation” targeting protected groups. In addition to certain prohibited acts, such as killing members of a group, genocidal States often use legal and administrative tools to facilitate the destruction of a targeted group “in whole or in part.”

In Myanmar, successive governments have implemented measures and legislation to erase Rohingya Muslims’ identity and rights, creating an enabling environment for genocide.

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It’s not a joke, is it? Assam..

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi today expressed his concern over the publication of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that may put large numbers of people in India’s north-eastern state of Assam at risk of becoming stateless.

It is too early to say what the nationality status of those left off the National Register, some 1.9 million according to the authorities, may ultimately be. UNHCR is concerned, however, that many are at risk of statelessness if they do not possess another nationality.

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That’s a DoubleQuote — but it’s also pattern recognition, and the start of a possible concatenation of such quotes — a mala of urgencies.

BTW, it’s more than possible, as Myanmar >> Bangladesh migration illustrates, that mass migration across national borders may be a pragmatic alternative to genocide — but that threatens national sovereignty, doesn’t it?

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