Saffron on the outside, woke on the inside


Every few weeks or so I “get into it” with parts of Hindutva Twitter. Some parts of Hindutva Twitter I’m quite friendly with. Other parts, not so much. There is the weird incel-like “Trad Twitter” faction…that always ends up to be strange perverts. But I don’t want to focus on them.

Rather, I want to highlight what I feel is descriptively a fact that though Hindutva and “Woke” factions are opposed in a theoretical sense, the former draws on the style of “thinking” of the latter quite a bit. E.g., the emphasis on many Hindutva sectors on feeling, the lack of humor, and, identitarianism.

The identitarianism is straightforward. Despite the fact that I’m an atheist they regularly accuse me of being a Muslim. In some cases, this is an honest false positive. Look at my name! In other cases, they assume since I’m making fun of them, I must be a secret sulla with Muhammad or whoever. I’m against them, so I’m for their enemies, or with their enemies. Sometimes they revert to forms of racism (e.g., they are upper-caste Punjabis, so genetically superior, despite being J1 Dasyus!). The ultimate takeaway is the fixation on the group and historical identity, rather than updating to individual identity. 

Remember when Ayanna Pressley said someone had to be “politically black” to be black? A sort of primitive identitarianism has taken root amongst Woke people where individual views are derived from group identity, and individual views can negate one’s group identity because the two are so closely tied.

Second, the lack of humor. On my Twitter posts, I engage in a lot of prodding and poking at Hindu shibboleths as well as synthesizing it with absurd genetic points. The whole performance is ludicrous…but some portions of Hindutva Twitter find it problematic. OK, they wouldn’t say “problematic,” but it’s the same reaction. Woke ideology is a form of secular sacredness. Similarly, Hindutva Twitter has sacred cows which I gore now and then. Sometimes people react back playfully…but other times, they don’t get the joke, and when others point out that it’s a joke, they refuse to believe it’s a joke and move to identitarianism. That is, the joke is fake, and I’m actually a Muslim.

A truncated and shriveled sense of humor is common on the modern Woke Left (google Social Justice Comedy; it’s like Communist opera). It is also a feature of very religious Muslims and Christians. A portion of Hindutva Twitter suffers from this.

The last to me is the most important, the emphasis on feeling. This is a personal bias, as I’m a bit “dead on the inside,” so have always been weak on the feels. I hurt the feelings of these people, making fun of them, mocking them, and making light of their culture. I’m a bit of an online barbarian, like the scorpion, I’m going to sting. A portion of Hindutva Twitter can’t understand that my behavior isn’t due to the fact that I hate Hindus, but because I’m an unfeeling asshole. I’m R1a1a-Z93 and U2b. Those who know what this means know that I was born to be a lord over you Dasyus!

There are more than 1 billion Hindus in the world. India is 80% Hindu. This emphasis on feeling, on hurt pride, is classic “wounded civilization” stuff. Hindutva cannot realize whatever its ambitions are until it looks forward, positively, and without concern for feeling, into the future. Woke ideology is deeply regressive, despite its adherence to the label of progressive. Its fixation on “white supremacy” and “colonialism” looks backward, not forward.

All this goes back to Audrey Truschke. My point is that Truschke point in the generality is correct. Indians should object to her scholarship, not to her person. Truschke herself is a hypocrite about this, getting into ideological food fights, and bringing her gender into the discussion. But Hindu nationalists who engage in “Woke Olympics” can only win by hamstringing their own attempts to fashion a positive identity. Woke Olympics is the to maximal oppression and lack of self-respect and dignity.

To end the Kali Yuga you can’t use the tools of the Kali Yuga.

+4

Why Hindu-Americans Don’t Stand Up For Hindus

One of my earliest memories of my childhood is watching the Mahābhārat with my dad. After we dropped my mom off for her night shift at the factory, we would return home, and a black rectangle filled with film would catapult me into a confusingly wondrous world. From the magical arrows whizzing through battlefields to the terrifying image of Time, the narrator of the epic, transposed across a cosmic abyss, I was glued to a story I couldn’t truly grasp but loved at the same time. I could barely understand what the characters were saying (I spoke Gujarati at home, not the hyper Sanskritized Hindi in the serial) and was too young to read the English subtitles fast enough. I would constantly interrupt my dad, many times to his annoyance, but he would still lovingly explain these stories that would make an imprint on me for the rest of my life.

 

As my life passed, I would see so many of the stories from the Mahābhārat play out in my life and in the world around me. The blind love of a long-gone Dhritarāshtra came alive with my parents, who showed me love, despite my bad behavior, my failures, and my unending ingratitude, one of my greatest flaws. Their love was uncompromisingly unequivocal, and I was an unworthy Duryodhan. I saw the struggles and rise of “low-born” Karna with my own family, as we grew from a family who couldn’t even afford to spare money to buy a popsicle from the ice cream truck that taunted me every day as it passed by my house to slavishly building a motel business in the middle of nowhere to selling it and owning a nice single-family “American Dream” home with many fewer worries than we grew up with. And perhaps most importantly, I saw the devotion or bhakti of Rādhā through my family’s Hindu faith and regular attendance to our local temple – a tradition that grounded us through tough times and brought a sense of community, fellow “gopis” perhaps to share our lives and love with.

Those evenings watching the words of Vyāsa transform into images will forever be special to me. For those nights would fuel the dreams of my days as I grew up connected to a timeless culture and values. And they would doubly serve me when I learned of the nightmarish state of my fellow Hindu diaspora with regards to their views on Hinduism and Hindus.

In The Battlefield

To find the answer to the titular question, I did a bit of “field reporting” one weekend with my fellow Hindu-American friends starting off with a simple question:

Why do you stand up for Black, Hispanic, and Muslim people for the injustices they face, but not for Hindus?

The most common responses were along the lines of:

    • “What injustices faced by Hindus are you talking about?”
    • “I honestly don’t know what type of issues we face, besides normal ‘brown’ discrimination here.”
    • “I’ve never seen any from the media I consume” A general theme of genuine innocent unawareness was what I saw.

So I prodded further and mentioned the atrocities Hindus face in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and even parts of India. Yet Still, the answer was “I literally never heard this before.”

Then came a visible sense of discomfort, and I know why. My question then silently morphed to “Why don’t you stand up for your own people” in their minds. I didn’t need to spell it out, but it turned into those very cutting words – why don’t you stand up for your own…

Bangladeshi Population Statistics – 1971 Contained A Civil War Where The Pakistani Military Is Said To Have Conducted A Genocide Targeting Bangladeshi Hindus

The rapes, the forcible conversions, the killings, the discrimination, the demographic collapse all signaling horrors that didn’t have any similar magnitude of rivals in India. The initial response was denial or wishing away the numbers I gave them: “Oh how do you know all that happened to them?!” “Maybe they converted willingly!”

I mentioned CAA and the refugees begging to return to the land of Dharma. Denial then became equivalating.

“Well, this all probably happens in India too!”

I kept unpacking this. I ask them, “why do you think this way?” Note – I tried to avoid a confrontational tone as much as possible, just neutral questioning so as to not pry open any vitriolic reaction. They talked about their parents’ hysteria over Pakistan, their WhatsApp forward fueled hatred, etc… I tried to explain to them that the equivalence wasn’t there. That the magnitude of what happens to Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh is much worse presently and historically than what happens to non-Hindu minorities in India.

Pakistani Hindus Begging For Refuge To Immigrate To India.

But they just weren’t having it.

“I don’t believe you. India is just as bad”

Now, India is of course not perfect, now or historically. But it is a work in progress. It is diversity in action in a way very few countries (The United States and Brazil are the only ones that come to mind) can compete with. India is pluralism, both its virtues and flaws.

By this point, we linked up with a few other friends and the conversation dropped. But let’s continue this theme with a few other independent observations and anecdotes.

Misinformation Warfare

Modi equals Trump – this fantastically false idea is an atomic bomb on one’s perception of India. A very simple notion that has a number of externalities. Hindu-Americans are fairly “woke” from my personal experience, and Indian-Americans heavily lean Democrat. Standard diatribes against “45” are common when talking politics with my Hindu-American friends. I don’t really care as I don’t support him, but the Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) gets tiring after a while.

Policy-wise (you know, the actual actionable impact that changes people’s lives and futures), Modi has done more socialism in one term than Bernie Sanders will ever do in his lifetime. The comparison fails at almost every metric:

Right Wing, Left Wing, “nationalism”, “conservative” and other meaningless labels are even more irrelevant when thrown into the ocean of Indian politics. They sink into nothingness. They’re pointless.

But to many Hindu-Americans, “Right-Wing”, “Nationalist”, “conservative” are terms that immediately make them see red, and “RACIST” pops into their mind in big white letters. I don’t care about your 14 syllable ideology. People see things through simple lenses. It doesn’t matter what Modi and Trump actually do to a lot of people; it matters how they are characterized.

Fuck your nuance. Damn it to hell.

Hassan Minhaj told me what I need to know in a 12-minute 37-second segment on a now-canceled Netflix show. I trust the consistently wrong coverage of the New York Times – yes the same one that complained why more Indian people aren’t dying of coronavirus. Additionally, it’s quite clear that “South Asian” organizations in the US have explicitly blacked out mentioning these atrocities as it would hurt their respective lobbies.

With community organizations, media, and celebrities silent – how can Hindu-Americans be aware?

American Dharma

Now let’s talk about religiousness.

Hindu-Americans have some of the highest retention rates of religious identification in the US.

I can’t judge others’ religiosity, but from what I’ve anecdotally seen. Hinduism is many times a more aesthetic/background thing than practice for Hindu-Americans. Sometimes it seems samosa and chicken tikka masala have more weight in their culture than pujas and scripture. Now token ritual involvement happens every time Diwali rolls around, but to me, Hindu-Americans really just aren’t “self-aware.” Funny as Hinduism places so much emphasis on self-discovery and reflection.

Another thing – explicit politics is pretty far removed at American Hindu temples versus other diaspora places of worship. Political rhetoric that’s common at other religious places isn’t a mainstay in mandirs; and honestly, I am glad this is the case. Religion to me is more about immediate community and individual practice rather than political machinations across the Atlantic. I’ve seen firsthand how the ugliness of politics warps American religious communities where identity realpolitik replaces spirituality for many of these “religious adherents.” Where insulting the “Other” is more important than praising the Omniscient.

Ideally, religion would be separate from politics. But we can’t deny a battlefield once we’re on it. Hopefully, temples stay out of the fray of such rhetoric, but Hindu-Americans outside of it strengthen.

So in conclusion, the answer to the question:

1. Genuine unawareness of Hindu injustices driven by media, community, and political organizational blackout. 2. Right-wing and left-wing notions don’t translate well across Indian and American politics. Many Hindu-Americans see red once “right-wing” is mentioned. 3. Religion and politics don’t mix at Hindu temples unlike other religions.

The Craven

 

Now while we’ve answered our query, I want to add an addendum to a vile specimen I’ve seen recently amongst the diaspora. Aping their equally contemptible cousins back in the subcontinent, this emergence of Indian-Americans who speak in the poisonous tongues of India’s elites is now slowly seeping into mainstream American culture.

They seek to transplant American history and dynamics onto India just as blindly as India’s elites have over the decades. Equating Hinduism itself to white supremacy and fascism and defining it solely by casteism are standard affairs for this type. They have no ingenuity in their discourse. The blueprint of their commentary is amateur oppression Olympics. Their foundations are self-loathing. Their walls are an echo-chamber blocked off by the soulless skyscrapers of coastal elites on one side and the great blue filter of social media on the other. Their roofs are paid for by verbal prostitution. Their material is so common, yet they have a profound disdain for commoners. They are copy + paste. Many are essentially white progressives with a sprinkling of turmeric and cumin for empty color and scant flavor.

They are from South Asia, not the Indian Subcontinent. Their culture can be summed up into samosas, chicken tikka masala, a few “South Asian” outfits, and henna. Depth is an allergy to them so their roots are forever undiscovered but much-maligned. They will go out of their way to pin every misfortune and misery inflicted upon other minorities as purely due to economics or European imperialism, but will not hesitate to blame the downfalls of India solely on Hinduism and its indigenous culture. On the off chance that they navigate blame to the British, they will remain mum on the equally or even worse atrocities of the Mughals and their hate-filled predecessors. Their silence screams at the scars and ruins of their ancestors’ temples, all to preserve this mythic “solidarity” amongst fellow “South Asians.”

As they watch their fellow Indian-Americans break all barriers, their reflex is dismissal. When our minority becomes model, they relentlessly attack their own people instead of appreciating and applauding. Excuses for success rather than attributing it to hustle and immigrant sweat. They write paragraphs lamenting how every Indian-American has come to America with a silicon laced gold brick in their mouths, a silver stethoscope around their necks, or a platinum high caste thread over their shoulder. They wash away the struggles of immigrants with haughty commentary and exhibit a saffron-tinged white guilt. They seek to be the oppressed lamenting at the impending “fascism” that is perpetually 1 Republican representative away from arriving and simultaneously the oppressor as they claim Hinduism itself is oppression. They cloak their jibes in a mythic and undefined “Brahminism” where they attribute normal Hindu practices like vegetarianism, innocent rituals, and practices performed by all castes and communities as part of a grand conspiracy of “Brahminical supremacy;” the irony being that many of these commentators are Brahmins or high caste themselves! Due to their skin color and last name, they believe they are the chosen voice for over a billion other Indians and millennia-old civilization.

Essentially, they care about what India looks like, not what it is. They seek approval at any cost. But either way and in the end, why should they expose their necks in courage when they can swallow their pride, forever remaining craven?

Reposted from The Emissary. Follow me on Twitter!

+8

Being Technological progressive.


https://balajis.com/the-purpose-of-technology/


A duty to evangelize technological progress
That is because people with scientific and technical backgrounds have not taken it upon ourselves to write about technological progress as a duty. We need to take time out of our busy days to make the case, repeatedly and with high production values, that technological progress is the most important thing we can do for broad-based prosperity and economic growth, and for life itself…




The tech ecosystem has natural advantages here. We have the domain knowledge. And the experts at hand. We’re already doing content marketing, podcasts, conferences, and a tweetstorm or two. We understand search engines, social networks, and distribution. And yes, we have learned to code.

What we haven’t done yet is full stack narrative. That is, with a few exceptions, like Elon Musk, we haven’t really told story arcs with technological progress at the center. We haven’t taken the pitch we use to recruit engineers and externalized it for the public. We haven’t infused emotion and meaning into our public communications. We haven’t made every one of our companies a media company. We haven’t set out to tell our story ourselves.

We need to correct that immediately, and start evangelizing technological progress with every word and action. To recognize that the purpose of technology is to transcend our limits, and to motivate everything we’re doing with a sense of that purpose. To take the winnings from our web apps and put them towards Mars, to feel no hesitation towards starting small and no shame in dreaming big, to tell the world that it actually is possible to cure the deaf, restore sight, and end death itself.”
0

Book Review: Jugalbandi- The BJP Before Modi, by Vinay Sitapati

An oft mentioned take by the critics and opposition of the BJP and the ruling dispensation in India, on social media, reads- BJP and its supporters think that patriotism is a post 2014 phenomenon. A fair rejoinder to the take would be- opponents of the BJP and ruling dispensation think the fault lines in India and opportunist politicians aggravating these fault lines is a post 2014 phenomenon. The rejoinder got reinforced as I read Vinay Sitapati’s new book Jugalbandi- The BJP before Modi.

The book is on the careers and partnership of Atal Bihar Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani across their stints with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Jan Sangh and with Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

The lives and careers of these two gentlemen coincide with the first six decades of the republic and in writing the story of their partnership, Sitapati gives us a ringside view of political developments that have shaped post-independence India.

Extensively researched, the book in part a biography of Vajpayee and Advani, commences with an introduction to their childhood and the early influences that shaped their lives- conservative Hindu and semi-urban mores for Vajpayee, growing up in the princely state of Gwalior, where the Maharashtrian rulers give RSS foothold and cosmopolitan, upper class mores that get overruled by the anxieties and aftermath of partition and nudge Karachi boy Advani towards the RSS.

As the duo evolve and grow in tandem with RSS and post-independence broader Hindu Nationalism, the book brings out the ideological pining, the organizational structure and years of grassroot work that paved the way for RSS, an organization banned in the aftermath of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, helping form the government at the Centre within thirty years of the ban.

Sitapati presents Hindu Nationalist ideology- spearheaded by the RSS as one convinced that Indian sub-continent is Hindu/Non-Abrahamic in nature, that lack of unity amongst the Hindus has caused hemorrhaging of territorial integrity and a fear of demographic change that will be disadvantageous to the Hindu majority. The purpose of the political arm of Hindu nationalism is to build a unified Hindu identity, overruling its various caste lines, that will help in maintaining the territorial sanctity and preserve Hindu cultural identity.

Sitapati alludes the success of RSS in becoming a major political force to its ability to work as a Unified entity, no individual is bigger than the organization and all disputes, owing to personality or ideological differences, are managed internally and away from the public eye. It’s ability to nurture and groom talent that helps communicate its point of view clearly to the world at large and talent that keeps the organization a well-oiled machinery and above all to an organizational design that fosters and forges a sense one family amongst its members.

Between the two of them Vajpayee and Advani help implement the RSS ideology, first with Jan Sangh and then later with BJP as they play the roles of the Orator- Vajpayee the supreme orator- within and outside the parliament and Organizer- Advani the quintessential party man and ace organization skills, with ear to the ground; Sitapati credits their Jugalabandi, fine-tuned with their long-standing personal friendship, that withstands the test of time, to the complementary skill sets that they brought to the partnership and their years spent as active workers of the RSS. A partnership that saw its high noon with Vajpayee serving as the Prime Minister and Advani as the deputy PM of the country.

In the book Vajpayee comes across as a wily politician, who seeks acceptance within and outside the parliament by sticking as close to the prevailing political consensus and what he feels is the popular mood. Advani comes across as an RSS man, who is happy to play second fiddle to Vajpayee till the late 1980s when he truly discovers himself as a political leader after the Rath Yatra. Sitapati contends they are both similar in their deference to the Nehruvian consensus- left of the centre on economy and extension of differential rights to religious minorities, till there is a ground up pushback to this consensus from populace at large.

It is in explaining the duos response to feedback from their voters that Sitapati presents an insight often overlooked by commentariat and ignored by polarized and angry participants on social media- politicians act in accordance with the wishes of their voters. They thrive and survive when they respond to what their voters wants.

Vajpayee and Advani, hard as it may be to believe, were laggards when it came to the Ayodhya movement, Indira and Rajeev Gandhi nurtured the movement before Vajpayee and Advani’s BJP took charge. The duos Jugalbandi that led to formation of an avowedly right-wing government, was the two of them letting go of their deference to Nehruvian consensus and whole heartedly aligning with mood of the nation. This submission leads to the question how much of present-day India is because of Modi or is Modi a product of present-day India.

The writing is lucid and the author sticks to the language akin to journalistic reportage. The expanse of the book- the collection of characters who make an appearance and events that unfold, are all written in the style of long form journalism, the book is unputdownable for new junkies and history buffs. The book however, does not help us understand what led to marginalization of Advani after 2004. What made the true organization man break the ideological connection- his statement calling Jinnah a secular leader on a trip to Pakistan in 2005? How much the disarray of BJP, between 2004–9, can be attributed to Advani? For the takeover of BJP by Modi and Shah is also one of the legacies of the Vajpayee Advani duo.

The big take away though is how political parties in a democracy respond to the public mood and the limited say they have in shaping the public opinion. Be it Indira Gandhi’s nationalization of banks, her polarizing the Hindu votes in elections in J&K or the support that Indira, Rajeev and the Congress party extended to the Ayodhya movement in its early years. V.P. Singh implementing recommendations of the Mandal commission report, Vajpayee accepting the indispensability of Modi to the BJP in Gujarat or Advani turbo-charging the Ayodhya movement. These are all instances of politicians responding to an incentive structure designed for catering to feedback from voters.

The ‘liberals’ and ‘resistance’ to current government in India perhaps need to relook at their methods of building a robust opposition. Op-eds in foreign publications, never ending columns on websites all written in a European language and tweets for an echo chamber can only go this far, opposition needs a political party that gets the pulse of the nation for there is no dearth of issues on which the Modi-Shah duo can be challenged.

P.S: Post reading the book I heard a podcast by Amit Varma where he talks to Vinay Sitapati about the book. The episode is available on Varma’s podcast channel The Seen and The Unseen, the episode is an excellent addition to understanding the Vajpayee Advani Jugalbandi.

 

+1

Open Thread – 01/02/2021 – Brown Pundits

Here is hoping for a better 2021!

Lots of questions about this tweet. I like Niraj Rai and Gyaneshwer Chaubey personally. But, I’m pretty skeptical of how people are interpreting this. My own views are pretty straightforward, and outlined in my post the “Aryan Integration Theory”.

I believe that about 14% of the total ancestry in South Asia derives from the Central Asian steppe ~3,500 years ago. These people derive from a “reflux” migration from Central Europe of a Corded Ware related people (“Battle Axe Culture”).* The fraction is higher in Pakistan, 20-30%. Much lower in southern India, ~5% or so (excepting Brahmins). Whenever this is a “massive migration” is up to you to interpret.

I do think they brought R1a and lots of aspects of Indian culture, such as Indo-European language. On the other hand, most of the ancestry and a lot of the culture was “indigenous.” The Indic culture we see in the Iron Age is clearly a synthesis, which was present even in the Vedic corpus.

Also, in the annals of self-promotion, I had some free posts on my Substack before Christmas:

The Age of Genetic Engineering Begins

The Original Chinese Man

Applying IQ to IQ

Your Roots are Showing

In Gods We Trusted

* Something I point out to people is that this assumes that the steppe people arrived from Khorasan unmixed. If the Indo-Aryans who arrived in the Punjabs already mixed with Iranian peoples in their sojourn then the fraction is an underestimate, though I doubt it is 2-fold.

+3

General AAK Niazi, Military career

The following is a note from Dr Hamid  Hussain about the military career of Gen Niazi, who later earned infamy in the eyes of humanists for the genocide in East Pakistan and in the eyes of Paknationalists for surrendering Pakistan’s Eastern Command on Dec 16 1971.  Based on these events, most people imagine that he was an incompetent buffoon at every stage in his career, but as this note makes clear, that is not entirely true. While no Rommel or Guderian, he had done reasonably well in various positions until he got promoted above his level of competence..

26 December 2020

Someone had asked about Lt. General Niazi’s career especially early days.  The journey ended up picking many interesting points.  I thought would be interesting to document a chapter of history of Pakistan army.

Hamid

 Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi – Career Profile

Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi was commander of Eastern Command in December 1971 when East Pakistan seceded with the help of Indian army and emerged as an independent nation of Bangladesh.

Niazi was born in 1915 in a small village near Mianwali district of Punjab.  He joined Indian army as a sepoy.  Details of early part of his career are not available and even in his own autobiography, Niazi did not mention it.   He joined the army probably in 1935 (this estimation is based on the information that in a news item published in 1946 about him when he commanded the guard of honor for Lord Mountbatten during his visit to Java in May 1946 stated that he had eleven years of military service).  He probably joined the ranks of Ist Battalion of 7th Rajput Regiment.  Class composition of this regiment was fifty percent Hindu Rajputs and fifty percent Punjabi Muslims. Continue reading “General AAK Niazi, Military career”

0

The massive Indian migration to Southeast Asian


Over at my other weblog I put up a post, Indian Ancestry In Southeast Asia Is Older Than Statistical Genetic Tests Suggest. If you look at two populations in Southeast Asia and find one has Indian ancestry you often can’t find the admixture older than 1000 A.D. (in peninsular Malaysia there is more recent intermarriage between Muslim Indians and Malays too). This seems far too recent. My explanation is simple: these dates reflect the assimilation of a hybrid Indian-Southeast Asian population across much of Southeast Asia. I have done the analyses myself, and in Cambodia, I get dates around 1000 A.D. Cambodia is not close to India and there isn’t evidence of a large Diaspora in recorded history. But, we know that Hinduism was a major influence in the region, and the Vietnamese Cham are still predominantly Hindu.

The kingdom of Funan, known mostly from Chinese accounts, flourished in Cambodia for the first five centuries of the common era or so. There is an inscription in Sanskrit from the region dated to the 5th century A.D. that refers to the moon of the Kauṇḍinya line (… kauṇḍi[n]ya[vaṅ]śaśaśinā …) and chief “of a realm wrested from the mud”. The text is in the Grantha script.

Further west, Dvaravati also had a strong Indic influence, no later than the 5th century A.D.

The genetic results indicate on the order of 10-20% of the ancestry of people in central Thailand is broadly Indian. This is not a trivial fraction. Who were these people? How early did they come?

On a minor editorial note, I’ll observe there is lots of discussion about possible Indian gene flow to the north and west (into Iran and Turan), but the data on Southeast Asia is clear and of greater magnitude. But there is far less discussion and exploration of this.

+3

Rise of the millennial grifter: Book Review

“A good story is a problem. It makes your mind shut down, and you ignore everything else”.

ATF agent in Manhunt: Deadly Games 

I have recently been reading ‘Billion Dollar Loser’ by Reeves Wiedem, about WeWork and its founder Adam Neumann. It reminded me of an NYT article from Amanda Hess last year titled “Fyre Festival, Theranos and our never-ending ‘scam season'” about the rise of grifting among Millenials. She pointed to Billy McFarland (Fyre Festival), Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos), and Anna Delvey (SoHo grifter) as examples of American Millenials who have become infamous in the last few years for overselling bad products/personalities and underperforming or outright lying people out of enormous amounts of money. Jia Tolentino wrote in 2018 that “At some point between the Great Recession, which began in 2008, and the terrible election of 2016, scamming seems to have become the dominant logic of American life.” She further expounded on this phenomenon as “Grifter season comes irregularly, but it often comes in America, which is built around mythologies of profit and reinvention and spectacular ascent. The shady, audacious figures at its center exist on a spectrum, from folk hero to disgrace. The season begins when the public catches on to a series of scammers of a particularly appealing sort—the kind who provoke both Schadenfreude and admiration.”

Adam Neumann, the co-founder of WeWork, is another addition to this list. Some on Twitter would argue that Elon Musk, and to a certain extent, Travis Kalanick, should be mentioned in the same breath as these grifters, but he is not a millennial and at least has something to show for all the hype. There are many similarities among this lot, including the worship of Steve Jobs (Neumann in passing, Holmes to the extreme), megalomania (Neumann telling a rabbi, “I am WeWork”), abusive behavior with employees (Neumann hired people for office jobs and forced them to do hard labor, Holmes was frequently threatening, McFarland did not pay local workers in Exuma), no or little experience in the industries they wanted to disrupt (Neumann had been a landlord for one floor of a building before starting WeWork, Holmes came with a background in chemical engineering undergrad training which she never finished, McFarland had never organized a musical festival before), middle class upbringing (Neumann’s parents were doctors, Holmes’s worked in the government, McFarland’s were real estate developers), using family and friends for early funding (Neumann through his wife Rebekah Paltrow and the connections he made at the Kabbalah center, Holmes through her family friends such as Tim Draper and Victor Palmieri), nepotism (Neumann employed his wife, sister and brother in law, Holmes installed her brother and his fraternity brothers at Theranos), and lots of charisma. There was even overlap between Neumann and Billy McFarland. McFarland had started his first company out of a WeWork office.

There were a lot of dissimilarities too. Neumann fudged numbers, but Holmes outright lied to people about her technology and what it could achieve, possibly harming cancer patients. Neumann had a major benefactor, Masayoshi Son, who invested billions in WeWork, an opportunity that Holmes did not get but more on Holmes later.

Neumann wanted to disrupt an industry that he did not understand well and which may or may not need to be “disrupted.” WeWork was a lousy landlord that provided small spaces for high prices with the promise of ‘community building’ in the form of common areas, beer on tap, and fancy coffee. Neumann tried to frame it as a tech company even though there was little to no technology involved in this operation. He wanted to ride the wave of success that tech companies were on. Unfortunately for him, he believed in his own bullshit. At its height, WeWork was opening up a new co-working location every day. By the summer of 2019, WeWork had 528 in 29 countries. The company had raised $12.8 billion but was losing $219,000 an hour.

The person who I find the most similar to Adam Neumann is, ironically, Donald Trump. They share many traits such as megalomania, exploiting their employees, hypocrisy (implementing vegetarianism at WeWork while having Lamb dinners), nepotism, fondness for opulence (Private jets, fancy cars), self-dealing (Neumann buying buildings and renting them to WeWork), showmanship, wanting absolute power, and expanding their brand outside their areas of expertise. The final days of Neumann at WeWork are reminiscent of the final days of the Trump presidency: everyone around Neumann knew that the jig was up, but they were too afraid to say anything. There is still litigation going on about his exit.

The tale of WeWork’s rise and fall is also the story of how venture capitalists (V.C.s) have taken over the startup world. In a NewYorker story titled “How Venture Capitalists are deforming capitalism“, Charles Duhigg wrote that ‘Whereas venture capitalists like Tom Perkins once prided themselves on installing good governance and closely monitoring companies, V.C.s today are more likely to encourage entrepreneurs’ undisciplined eccentricities.’ He writes at length about what happened at WeWork once the leash was off:

“WeWork had a number of internal problems that should have concerned Dunlevie and the other board members. In the spring of 2018, the board learned that a senior vice-president had prepared a lawsuit accusing a colleague of giving her a date-rape drug. She also alleged that executives often referred to female co-workers with such epithets as ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ and ‘whore.’ (The senior vice-president received a settlement, and the suit was not filed; Dunlevie told me that he has no recollection of the complaint.) There were reports, too, of top executives using cocaine at events, dating subordinates, and sending texts like ‘I think I should sleep with a WeWork employee.’ Some board members knew that Neumann used drugs, that he had once punched his personal trainer during a workout session in his office, and that a raucous party in Neumann’s office had ended with a glass wall shattered by a tequila bottle.

The board had also allowed Neumann, a passionate surfer, to take thirteen million dollars in WeWork funds and invest them in a company that made artificial-wave pools, even though surfing had nothing to do with WeWork’s business. Neumann spent millions more to finance an idea from Laird Hamilton, a professional surfer, to manufacture ‘performance mushrooms.’ The board knew that WeWork had spent sixty million dollars on a corporate jet, which Neumann and his family took to various surf spots. It had stood by as WeWork’s name was changed to the We Company; not long afterward, the company paid Neumann $5.9 million in stock because he had trademarked the word ‘We.’ (The payment was later returned.)”

For decades, venture capitalists have succeeded in defining themselves as judicious meritocrats who direct money to those who will use it best. But examples like WeWork make it harder to believe that V.C.s help balance greedy impulses with enlightened innovation. Rather, V.C.s seem to embody the cynical shape of modern capitalism, which too often rewards crafty middlemen and bombastic charlatans rather than hardworking employees and creative businesspeople.

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“I tend to be wary of charismatic people. My father always reminded me that Ted Bundy was also very charismatic”. A former WeWork employee on the podcast WeCrushed.

 

There is an alphabet soup of regulators and regulations that governs laboratory medicine in the United States, including but not limited to FDA, CMS, CAP, AABB, Joint Commission, CLIA, and so on. Devices in a laboratory are regulated by the FDA. Any new device that one brings on or any new testing methodology that one wants to start requires permission from the FDA. Recently, many labs have applied for or received emergency use authorizations (EUA) from the FDA for their lab-developed tests (LDTs). Getting a full authorization for an LDT is a painstaking and tedious process involving loads of paperwork, which hindered the early rollout of COVID testing in the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is responsible for regulating lab personnel and effective running of testing. They have approved some organizations such as The Joint Commission (TJC), CAP, or AABB to do inspections on their behalf. A lab director (M.D. or Ph.D.) has to get licensed to work as the lab director, and the buck stops with them. College of American Pathologists (CAP) is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. that inspects and provides guidelines to pathology labs. CAP is mentioned in the book ‘Bad blood’ by John Carreyrou inaccurately as the “medical association representing laboratory scientists”. CAP is an association of board-certified pathologists who are distinct from medical lab scientists (MLS).

Theranos considered itself above all these regulations. They constantly lied and manipulated data to satisfy the minimum requirements for getting their lab registered. They showed a running loop of pre-recorded videos to Novartis that showed blood flowing their cartridge and getting tests done for their Theranos 1.0 machine, in order to sell their product. Holmes was not trained in pathology, not even biology. She came with an unfinished bachelors degree in chemical engineering. Holmes’s mind veered from idea to idea until something stuck. She started Theranos initially to develop a wrist-worn device that analyzed a person’s blood, then switched to using small amounts of blood for lab testing and wanted to deploy it to help cancer patients, then to use the same technology to detect swine flu, to use the same technology to assist the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to have her machines in Safeway and Walgreens.

Holmes was a control freak. She would ask anyone visiting the Theranos offices to sign an NDA first, this included all employees as well. She would pit one team of engineers against another for similar tasks. She appointed people to keep an eye on when employees came to work and left. In a tactic also used by WeWork, Holmes would order dinner frequently that arrived at eight o clock at night, ensuring that employees stayed late. Anyone who dared dissent was purged from the company without explanation. There was a lot of staff turnover at Theranos during its existence. There was a lot of hype created by Elizabeth, using her idea as revolutionary and selling it to gain reputation and money while actually delivering nothing. Along the way, she fooled V.Cs, CEOs of Pfizer/Safeway/Walgreens, General Mattis, Herny Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, and David Boies.

These two stories illustrate two ambitious millennials who wanted to change the world, fooled enough people, spent billions of dollars to achieve their dreams but ended up as cautionary tales. As old Abe Lincoln would say, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.Good riddance Elizabeth Holmes and Adam Neumann.

Books and podcasts that I accessed while reading this piece, 1) Billion dollar loser by Reeves Wiedeman 2) Bad Blood by John Carreyrou 3) WeCrashed podcast 4) The Drop Out, podcast.

An article comparing WeWork and Theranos that complements this piece is from Bussiness Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/with-wework-theranos-line-between-charm-and-fraud-doesnt-exist-2019-9

P.S I think Adam Driver should play Adam Neumann in the movie version of WeWork. Both of them have a military background, are very tall, and of course, charismatic.

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Nadir Ali 1936-2020, RIP

My father, Colonel Nadir Ali, was born in Kohat (KPK) in 1936 to a Khatana Gujjar lawyer who was the first in his village to go to school, to college and then to Aligarh. The family soon moved back to Gujrat (district Gujrat, in Central Punjab) where he grew up in our village (Machiana) and the city of Gujrat. As a precocious 11 year old he helped his father to rescue some kidnapped Sikh and Hindu girls during the partition pogroms (because he was young enough to be allowed to go into the women’s quarters to talk to them). He attended Normal School Gujrat and Cadet College Hasanabdal before joining the Pakistani army in 1958. He got married to my mother in 1960 (what in Pakistan used to be called a “love marriage”) and for 61 years the two of them showed the world, through thick and thin, what true love could be like.

He served three tours in the SSG and was a much loved instructor at PMA when he volunteered to rejoin 3 commando battalion as it conducted “internal security” duties in East Pakistan in April 1971. He returned to West Pakistan in October having been, in his own words, driven mad by the experience (link to  a speech he delivered in Bangladesh about these events is attached at the end of this post and can be read for more details).

After a spell in psychiatric care he left the army and started a new life that eventually saw him become a Punjabi poet, an award winning short story writer, an active participant in Najam Hosain Syed’s Punjabi literary circle and the patriarch of a large and growing family. He always idealized his childhood in the village and refused to adapt to the pretensions and sterile isolation of modernity. He was also a fan of Marx (who he usually referred to as “nabi akhir uz zaman”, the last prophet of the age) but his well-developed bullshit detector saved him from falling blindly for any party or political movement. Above all else, he loved children. His own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were endlessly indulged and unquestioningly and unstintingly loved and supported in everything they ever wanted to do, but his love was not limited to his own family. Every child was his child and every child felt this and responded to him with affection and joy.

It is impossible to put in words how much we will miss him.  And “we” are legion: his wife and kids and their spouses, kids and grandkids will never forget his affection, his jokes, his songs, his wisdom and his high spirits. But then, neither will his brothers Colonel Azam Ali and Sarwar Ali, his sisters Safia Choudhry and Razia Choudhry, his brother in law Justice Sajjad Sipra, his sisters in law Zohra and Shahida Sipra, his boon companion Altaf Malik, his best friend Brigadier Aslam Malik, his mentor and teacher Najm Hosain Syed, his cousin Major Akram, his countless other friends and admirers, the list goes on and on. And so many that have left us already; who knows, he may be up there right now singing and dancing with friends and family who left us before he did. I at least would like to believe this is indeed the case and he and Professor Haider Ali, Choudhry Sher Ali, Choudhry Hakim Ali, Imtiaz Sipra, Riaz Sipra, Iftikhar Sipra, Ayaz Sipra and so many others are right now looking down at us, drinking and singing old Indian film songs. And of course, he is with his father, Choudhry NIamat Ali, who came in his dreams recently, asking him to join him.

Details of his talk and interviews regarding 1971 can be found here.

Nadir Ali Reading one of his stories:

Ae sab sael bahar da hai ee.. (this is a voyage on a trackless ocean, without ship  or shore..

Banhan jinhan diyan pakRiye, sir deejay, banh na choriye..  (once we take someone’s hand, we should be willing to lose our head, but not let go of the hand)

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