Sunday, April 30, 2017

Why I didn't #MarchForScience

Last month, on Earth Day (of course), cities across the US (and, for some reason, around the world) saw scientists and others marching on a weekend, 'for Science,' whatever that means. It was billed as an apolitical show of force from the scientific community in favor of scientific thinking, facts, and of course, funding for scientific research, all of which are commendable. A lot of my friends and relatives participated in it, or at the very least cheered it on at home. I didn't, and won't. Why? Because #MarchForScience was anything but an apolitical show, it was not about facts or scientific thinking: it was yet another attempt by the Left to hijack the academic community, this time the one committee where they have the least influence: STEM.

#MarchForScience was a very political march against Donald Trump and the Republican Party in general. It blended the new demigod of the Left - climate change - with other pet issues such as gender, refugees, feminism, etc. There was no scientific discussion in it, no papers, no experiments, no facts: just a lot of empty sloganeering. It did have real scientists in it, but they were not there as scientists, rather as citizens making a political point. And they are entitled to their protests and politics, but the hypocrisy of it all was that it was billed as an apolitical event, which is most definitely was not.

Why didn't I participate? Because I don't think scientists should get involved with politics of any party. This is not because of the fear that taking a stand against the establishment hurts chances for funding (although it does) - facts and data have their own sanctity and should not become subject to political favoritism. The reason is because the effects of giving the Left any leadership in academia are there for all to see: in the humanities, the Left has total and unchallenged dominance, and it is there that the most regressive ideas originate: safe spaces, the hijab as a source of freedom, nationalism as a dirty word, and the invention of an entire dictionary of terms that, much like George Orwell's 1984, makes language itself a pawn in a larger political game.

Those who participated in the marches, for whatever reason, possibly do not realize the danger of selling their science to the goons of the Left, for they are not interested in facts, but in using those facts to push an agenda. For, the first piece of data that opposes that agenda (and we all know that data can oppose a hypothesis at any point of time) will see the same scientists being placed before a firing squad. Do we forget that science had to favor the proletariat for it to be real science in the Soviet Union?

I refuse to participate in any movement that uses science to further a political agenda, and I encourage my fellow scientists to do the same. That said, every citizen in a democratic society has the right, and arguably even the duty, to express their opinions, however unpopular those might be. But don't use science to do it - if your convictions are true, and they are important enough for you, then you do not need to hide them behind science. As for the Leftists who talk about climate change without knowing how a spectroscope works - keep your lunacy in the humanities, you have already destroyed that beyond repair. #NotInMyDepartment. 

100 Days of Very Little

Last week marked the 100th day of the tenure of President Donald Trump - a man who defeated every single friend and foe, who took on the big media, the Washington establishment, and compromised data scientists, to come out on top and become the 45th President of the US. 100 days ago, Opinions 24x7 described Mr. Trump as the new leader of a new world. Naturally, expectations were very high. 100 days later, they still are - but hope is beginning to fade.

A very honest assessment of Trump's first 100 days (a benchmark that he himself used tirelessly) is that it has been very disappointing. Far from being the deal-maker, he has doubled-down on using EOs to push through things quickly - much like his much-maligned predecessor. Indeed, a lot of his EOs were more like homework assignments to his underlings - directing them to figure stuff out! On top of that is the fact that Trump has barely made any headway in appointing all the necessary federal employees, which is partly due to the fact that Senate Democrats have been exceptionally loathe to approve any of his appointments, but also because his own team has been very slow at finding suitable candidates.

In the last 100 days, Trump's only real victory has been the appointment of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which was achieved by the extraordinary lifting of the filibuster for judicial appointments. Aside from that, it has been string after string of disasters - the thwarted travel 'ban', the failed AHCA, Sean Spicer's completely unnecessary holocaust gaffe, and of course, the wholly unnecessary U-turns on Syria. Right now, it seems as though Trump, having served his most important duty of defeating Hillary Clinton, is directionless.

However, I am still hopeful. He has made several promises about a new healthcare act (hopefully bypassing Paul Ryan), an infrastructure bill, and steps to defeat ISIS. Much more can be done, and there's plenty of time beyond the artificial deadline of 100 days. Let's wait and watch. 

Something is very wrong

Last month, India faced a diplomatic storm with African missions in New Delhi charging the government over inaction over racist crimes in Noida and other parts of the country (mainly around Delhi). During that fiasco, the Indian government as well as many elected representatives tried their best to show that Indians simply cannot be racist - for example, because 'they' live with 'black' South Indians! If this actual gaffe from an MP wasn't enough, let me, a full-fledged India who's had a chance to be on the other side (in America), say it.

India has a racism problem - a very deep problem. Dark skin is seen as a bad thing, mongoloid features are seen as a bad thing. I don't just mean 'bad' in the superficial sense of beauty - a dark-skinned person is (wrongly) seen as being less intelligent, less hardworking, and quite simply, a loser. This is so deeply ingrained that nobody actually realizes it - it's just a 'fact' that we grow up with.

The latest trend are these body-shaming posts on Facebook, such as the one pictured here. And this is not one-off: the picture is always of (a) a woman (b) a black woman and (c) a very fat or very skinny black woman. And these posts get thousands of likes and comments! It's distressing and shameful to see the kind of people who react with anything other than disgust at such pots - and these are not some psychos, but normal people who you could meet everyday. This racism is just so normal that there isn't even a discussion on it - just a stunned denial when it is pointed out.

India needs to talk about this - and a new generation is. But it is happening very slowly, and not at all among older people.

A coup on the judiciary

Pakistan is no stranger to military coups - since Partition from India in 1947, the country has been under martial rule for over half of its existence, with the all-powerful Army exercising not just direct executive control, but also being pervasive in all aspects of life, so much so that even the official censor, which is a purely civilian institution, has representation from it! In most, if not all, cases, the Army's takeover was welcomed by a majority, because of their aura of being above petty politics. And yet, the country has continued to be in an unending state of turmoil, routinely being labeled a failed state.

However, things did appear to change under President Zardari, with the passage of the 19th Amendment. However, for anybody who knows the history of Pakistan, something had to give. Cue to the deadly killings of schoolchildren at APS Peshawar, and the country created the institution of military courts to try civilians accused of terrorism. In a unique experiment, for a short period of time, the army would be welcomed in to replace the judiciary, with the army chief himself signing death warrants. Since then, Pakistan has dramatically increased the number of executions thanks to the much-reduced standard of evidence. For all of the Indian judiciary's problems, at least the entire nation has not passed a no-confidence vote against it!

But what was supposed to be a temporary measure to meet an extreme situation has not become the new normal. This month, the National Assembly saw demands for a group of university students who lynched a fellow student to stand trial in a military court. What is purely a civilian affair, without any connection to terrorism whatsoever, is seeing demands for the military to step in. It seems, after decades of executive dictatorship, a new brand of military control of the judiciary is evolving in Pakistan. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dangerous U-Turn

Over the last month, President Donald Trump has made some stunning reversals on his foreign policy agenda. A man who vowed to end the thoroughly unhelpful and endless US interventions in the Arab World, best highlighted by former President Obama's disastrous interventions in Libya and Syria, now seems to have completely overturned his own position and is ready to go beyond his predecessor in terms of regime change and, who knows, boots on the ground?

It all began with the horrific chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, which the Trump administration has blamed on the brutal Syrian dictator Assad. If the allegation is true, it would not surprise anyone, for that is how Assad and his father before him ruled Syria with an iron hand. The US attack on a Syrian airbase from where the chemical attack was allegedly carried out was a just and fitting response to Assad - no dictator in this world should be allowed to use such Nazi methods without consequences. The attack oddly silenced the massive army of Trump critics in the US, with CNN going as far as calling him 'Presidential,' not that he needs the praise. As TAC rightly noted, nothing seems to please the Beltway like war. But this was not war - it was a warning shot to Assad, and the message was clear.

Except that the very next day, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Healey, decided to declare war anyway, explicitly stating that regime change is the goal of the Trump administration as far as Syria is concerned. This goes beyond what the Obama administration did (declaring war and looking for regime change without committing direct military intervention or even publicly committing anything) and is dangerous, because it will leave a void for al Qaeda and IS to fill, which they readily will. Like it or not, Assad represents the most credible bulwark in Syria against terrorism, just as Saddam Hussein did before he was bumped off in the invasion of Iraq. For some reason, all this feels like an old, dusted story - does Trump really want to have an Iraq of his own to deal with?

Trump's U-turn is dangerous, for reasons that he himself has pointed out many times before with respect to Iraq. Assad is a brutal dictator, and it is best to keep him in a constant state of worry about International humanitarian intervention - but not regime change. For, without Assad, Syria will fall to IS and AQ, completing the vicious circle started by Bush Jr. (Iraq) and Obama (Libya and Syria). And it will be the US that will bleed the most, while Saudi Arabia's skeleton 'Islamic coalition' (which is not even on paper yet!) watches. This is a policy that the US can do without. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Dramatic War

Hannibal: Fields of Blood
By Ben Kane

My latest favorite writer of historical fiction, in my staple era of the Roman Republic/Empire, Ben Kane, continues to warm my heart with some action-packed wartime drama (what else from Rome?). Continuing from Enemy of Rome, Fields of Blood is the second part of the tale of the Second Punic War, and the fighting gets more fierce than ever.

However, as is necessary for historical fiction, the principal characters from the previous book continue to develop. Kane does end up creating a whole new ensemble of characters to justify some of the storyline, and that quickly became confusing. That did not, however, affect the general flow of the story, which was written masterfully. Most importantly, I did have to keep looking back at the map of Italy, which goes to show how well-researched the work is.

I'll definitely be reading more from Kane in the coming months!