Web Notes: March 2023March 11, 2023• [bookmarks] #from-the-interwebs
Blog: Russia, Ukraine and the Donbass War
All you want to know about the history of Russia, Ukraine and why they are fighting. It's always more complicated than one would think.
- "Moscow, merely a small town at the beginning of the 14th century, was an unlikely place to evolve into a great power. Nearby Vladimir and Tver were the obvious candidates to rise to preeminence among the northeastern Rus’ states. It was precisely because Moscow was so small and unimportant that it rose to power. Loyally serving the Mongols of the Golden Horde in the 14th century, Moscow was rewarded with wealth and power."
- "Elite cooption in Russia and outright lack of elites in Austria as well as widespread illiteracy and absence of explicit national political structures prevented the development of Ukrainian national consciousness in spite of a dialect continuum that cross the Austrian-Russian border. In 1842 only 15% of children in Galicia attended school, and as late as 1865 only 4.5% recruits from Galicia could read. The situation across the border was likely worse. The Russian government saw an opportunity in that lack of education to acculturate Ukrainians from their folksy culture into a more sophisticated Russian culture through the foundation of a number of universities in Ukraine. Under of the guidance of Sergey Uvarov, the universities studied Ukrainian history to determine a path forward in the assimilation of Ukrainians. The result was the concept of a Little Russian identity. It emphasized the shared heritage of the Great Russians with the Little Russians that went back to the medieval Rus’ realm, as well as their shared Orthodox faith and their shared struggles against the Poles, Turks, and Tatars. The Little Russian identity was to be a regional identity inclusive of a broader Russian identity."
Interview: Jed Perl and the purpose of art
- "And not some political point or reading, like everyone insists on doing today. Initially it is a Marxist view that art has to serve society or some utilitarian purpose."
- "... every work of art is the result of a debate or dynamic interaction between the authority of a tradition and the individual creator’s effort to find his or her own sense of that tradition and respond to it and renew it. All art is about the search for freedom within authority – even in premodern periods, when what I would call freedom was expressed through the mastery of a craft – and I think we in the audience respond to that dynamic. It’s an infinitely rich and variable dynamic."
Blog: Collect as many lottery tickets as possible
Why and how to increase the surface area of your luck: "Do things with low downside and large upside."
Blog: Tribalism, whether left or right
- "...high IQ people and low IQ people display similar levels of prejudice, except toward different groups, and educated people actually displaygreater prejudice against those with different views"
- "The popular woke myth that sex is a spectrum is often justified on the basis that there’s no single thing that distinguishes all men from all women. Such an abstract explanation is seductive to an intellectual, but beneath the allure it’s just an instance of the univariate fallacy) (it’s true that no single thing distinguishes all men from all women, but no single thing distinguishes all cats from all monkeys either; does this make cats monkeys?)"
Article: Paul Erdos in Madras
Where he composes this ditty:
This is the city of Madras
The home of the curry and the dal
Where Iyers speak only to Iyengars
And Iyengars speak only to God.
Blog: Acceptance is a superpower
- A friend asked me what my favourite tools were for addressing conflict, and I realised that by far my most powerful strategies had to do with the same kind of acceptance of discomfort I had been developing in the ocean baths at 6:30am. Mediating conflict requires first seeing it. And being able to fully feel your emotions requires not running away from them.
- Over the last few years I’ve been developing the following personal growth heuristic – Do what scares me. And not in the cutesy ‘go pet a spider’ way, but finding growth areas by systematically inventorying my fears, and then devising and enabling situations in which I can run headlong into them.
- But this heuristic turned into a powerful compass direction when turned towards my emotional reactions. First while journalling, then while doing a somatic meditation practice, then in arguments with people I trusted, then finally in all high-stakes situations. I would tune into the experience of fear and investigate the feelings hidden behind it even more, much to the chagrin of the part of me that was doing the deflecting.
Blog: How few books sell
How well does the Pulitzer prize translate to bestsellers list? Not very well.
- The 2014 general nonfiction winner, Tom’s River by Dan Fagin, went from 10 copies [before the prize announcement] to 162 copies sold (6,266 copies sold to date) on BookScan [which measures a significant proportion of industry sales].
- 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri, the 2014 poetry winner, went from 11 copies to 81 copies (353 copies sold to date)
- A few titles somehow become big outliers as measured by the sales numbers. As _PW_revealed in its article, “sales for the  Pulitzer Prize fiction winner, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, spiked in the week following the announcement of the prize.
Interview: Ruth Harris on Vivekanada
The author comments thus: "What I particularly liked about Professor Harris’ biography was her underlying sense of generosity towards the man—unlike other more recent efforts which devolve into a gotcha scholasticism with little insight to Vivekananda’s life-journey itself. In one sense, she sees him as no different than most of us, as somebody trying to figure things out things as he goes along; but she also sees in him somebody who was not like us—as one, who despite living in the world of telegraphs and steamers, he belongs to a great lineage of Hindu monks who sought to address the times they lived in, and the ones that are to come, using the vocabulary of their present and past to assert that the world is a manifestation of God, which nevertheless is in great need for human intervention, generosities, and willfulness. He argued that this way—of thought, action, and compassion—was the way of the Upanishads and Dharma itself."
- Also Dharmapala detests Hinduism, though he keeps it always under wraps. He talks about going to Benares and he's disgusted by the ritualism and what he saw as its sensualism. Vivekananda never had that view of different forms of religious experience. They are true frenemies. I must say, Vivekananda never says a bad word about Dharmapala (except to suggest that Dharmapala is not a great speaker)and later on he doesn’t mention him because he is not very concerned with him. Whereas Dharmapala continues to care about Vivekananda [laughs].
- But Vivekananda is unique! Vivekananda is unique is because he globalizes Hinduism. And whether that's good or bad is open, and remains open, to debate. At the time, of course, the Orthodox hated what he was doing—the whole idea that one would engage in the world in the way he suggested was a terrible transgression, especially for a sannyasin. He seems at intervals to be almost worldly in the way he institutionalizes, and yet his vision was often radical, and its articulation unprecedented.
- Ramakrishna seems strange above all because of his insistence on being a baby. But the way he became a baby spoke a kind of cosmic truth. He emphasized babyhood precisely because it was a universal human state, before religion, culture, and hierarchy imposed their transformations. And created diversity. And this understanding or intuition—whatever you want to call it—was extraordinary. And yet it’s integral to many “Hindu traditions, “ both in its openness to other paths and in the way it sought to envelop and encompass those traditions.
Article: Pedagogy and the designed childhood
- Given your children access to observe you while you work—is, in my experience, rewarding but draining. While writing his ten-volume History of British India, John Stuart Mill’s father allowed John Stuart, who was three years old, to interrupt him every time he encountered a Greek word he had not seen before (he was reading the classics). His father considered raising his children to be of equal importance as his intellectual work
- Books can, in other words, be a good stand-in for a social milieu, up to a point, but eventually, you need direct access to exceptional people. And having access to them from a young age greatly increases the likelihood that you will be shaped by them.
- Let me sum up what I’ve said so far. A lot of care went into curating the environment around the children—fascinating guests were invited, libraries were built, machines were brought home and disassembled—but the children were left with a lot of time to freely explore the interests that arose within these milieus.
- Unlike children today, they had little access to entertainment, and so were often bored, unless they figured out a way to keep their minds occupied; the intellectual obsessions that grew into their life’s work often grew out of this boredom.
Blog: Ramanujam and Dreams
- "In their remarks, English mathematicians were careful to stress that Ramanujan was rational and rigorous—characteristics that were worthy, in their eyes, of conventional respect, while Ramanujan’s devout practice as a Hindu was glossed over, as if this were merely a set of odd behavioral codes he happened to scrupulously observe. His first biographer received complaints about having included in the biography various remarks from Ramanujan’s childhood friends which detailed his great passion for occult and religious subjects, because any association with such matters apparently contaminated his mathly reputation. And these distortions persist to this day: His most popular biographer avoids the topic of his dreams, merely including a few as incidental, offhand notes. Personally, I think if you’re a 25, or sub-5, or even an 80 on the mathalete scale, it would be prudent to cultivate a healthy, open-minded curiosity about someone operating at a 100. What did Ramanujan know about mathematics that we don’t?"
- "Ramanujan and his family were ardent devotees of Narasimha—the lion-faced incarnation, or avatara, of god, and consort of the goddess Namagiri—and for them, seeing drops of blood in a dream was considered a sign of Narasimha’s grace. It is also worth noting that roughly around this time, while in the midst of explaining a mathematical relation to a friend, Ramanujan paused for a moment, then turned to his listener and out of nowhere said, “An equation has no meaning for me unless it expresses a thought of GOD.” Might these details suggest that within Ramanujan’s interior network of dream-meaning—stimulated by the presence of a monk—a mysterious hand wrote thoughts of god on a screen of god’s grace? It is remarkable that this dream unfolds in a seamless flow of blood, grace, attention, writing, and math, and perhaps for Ramanujan they were inseparable. You do not achieve a dream like that by accident."
Blog: Mainstream media and madness
The media has always promoted mass hysteria - Iran, Kuwait, War on Terror etc.
- "The problem isn’t limited to race, gender, and sexual orientation, where Richard agrees that the media is crazy. The problem isn’t specific factual errors, either. The central problem is that the mainstream media’s standard operating standard is to use selective presentation to spread absurd views about practically everything that matters."
Blog: Freedom House Chicanery
- Not only does Freedom House portray the behavior of conservative governments in an unflattering light, but it looks past what are much clearer violations of individual liberty and democratic norms when they are committed in the service of left-wing social or political goals.
- Sweden, for example, is one of only three countries to receive a perfect score of 100. This is despite having hate speech laws, which have in the past been used to arrest Christian preachers for their interpretation of the Bible. Norway, another “perfect democracy,” in 2020 expanded its hate speech laws to cover gender identity, with punishments of up to three years in prison for violators.
- Another clear double standard is related to whether countries are allies or enemies of the United States. For example, Iran has actual elections that determine who gets in power and have legitimate consequences for economic and foreign policy, even though many candidates are disqualified from running. Oman, in contrast, is an absolute monarchy with a “Consultative Council,” which “has no legislative powers and can only recommend changes to new laws.” Yet Oman has a score of 23, while Iran has a 17. Jordan, another American ally and arguablyanother absolute monarchy, gets a 34.
- It’s a strange algorithm that deducts points for criticizing journalists, but not for putting them in jail. It’s the algorithm you’d expect, however, from an organization run by former American government officials.
Article: The American Press and Russiagate
- "But outside of the Times’ own bubble, the damage to the credibility of the Times and its peers persists, three years on, and is likely to take on new energy as the nation faces yet another election season animated by antagonism toward the press. At its root was an undeclared war between an entrenched media, and a new kind of disruptive presidency, with its own hyperbolic version of the truth. (The Washington Post has tracked thousands of Trump’s false or misleading statements.) At times, Trump seemed almost to be toying with the press, offering spontaneous answers to questions about Russia that seemed to point to darker narratives. When those storylines were authoritatively undercut, the follow-ups were downplayed or ignored."
Article: Caste and Kinship in Telugu Migrants
- "Coastal Andhra regionFootnote6 where Narendra hails from, had already seen a steady flow of migrants from among the dominant agrarian castesFootnote7 – Kammas, Vellamas, Reddys and Rajus – to the U.S.A. as doctors and engineers."
- Caste capital refers to the (largely invisible) symbolic, cultural or social capital that an actor may possess by virtue of upper or dominant caste affiliation, capital that accords advantages not enjoyed by people from other castes. In the case of transnational Kammas, caste capital allows for the strategic pairing of the global with the local (Kearney Citation1995) that facilitates the accumulation of symbolic capital (the NRI status and the respect that comes along with it) and social capital (strong caste-based social networks that yield tangible or intangible benefits in the migration process). The American dream nurtured in rural or semi-rural environments of Coastal Andhra is an attribute of what I call a malleable caste capital, in so far as it responds to changing times to become better suited to respond to these changes. Kamma families inherit social and symbolic capital (Bourdieu Citation1986) by virtue of their dominant caste status and strategic investment of agricultural surplus in higher education (Upadhya Citation1997), a process that has allowed them to respond to the global demand for skilled workforce from the 1960s onward.
Interview: Tagore, Gandhi and Nationalism
An excellent interview with Ashis Nandy on Tagore and Gandhi, their motivations and influences.
- "Tagore believed that India was a country of communities. It was not a country of a nation. So trying to build a nation in India was like an attempt to build a navy in Switzerland, that is what he wrote. Because nation and nationalism presumes that you homogenise the population."
- "It will be a pity if we underestimate the nature of Gandhi’s quest. I think he was serious in his quest for a spiritual position as well as a political position which will be mutually potentiating and uphold the concept of ethics in politics which you would not find in contemporary cultures or politics. Certainly not within the enlightened vision of a good society. Because enlightened vision has no strong theory of non-violence. It has a theory of containment of violence but not non-violence."
- "But the fact remains that Gandhi also was not entirely a product of India. He was a product of India and Africa. His most formative years, he spent in South Africa. Satyagraha emerged in a racist country. Many people believe that satyagraha could have only emerged under a liberal dispensation, only under British rule. That is not true. It was tried out in a country which was openly racist and was a police state in every sense. In that sense, Gandhi also had his exposure to different kinds of cultural plurality. And if you read accounts of Gandhi in South Africa, you have no reason to feel ashamed as an Indian because there is no touch of racism in him. Indeed, Nelson Mandela has said that you sent us a barrister, we sent back a saint to you. And it is also true that the three greatest Gandhians at this moment, none is an Indian. None is an Indian, no one is a Hindu either or a Jain. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. And I think it also talks of a different kind of cross cultural sensitivity."
Article: A Bahujan's take on caste in USA
- I and many other Hindu Dalits and Bahujans (“lower caste” Indians) are integral members of our broader South Asian Hindu communities here in the U.S. We all work together, we socialize together, we pray together, and we volunteer together.
- I have not been treated at all differently, let alone mistreated, because of my caste, nor have other Hindus who I now have learned are Dalit and Bahujan.
- The City of Seattle wants to ignore voices like mine.
- Part of the reason is that my story does not fit neatly into the stereotypes Americans at large are inundated with. That story wants to tell a story of division and widespread oppression; a story which deliberately misportrays and demonizes Hinduism’s teachings and traditions and then claims that my religion is not a safe space for Dalits.
Blog: Review of R Balakrishnan's Journey of A Civilization
R Balakrishnan is an author and former bureaucrat devoted to establishing the antiquity of Tamils as a civilization at odds with rest of India. He has a book making some claims around the same, one that has been making rounds on the internet, heavily promoted by the powers that be in Tamil Nadu (The minister PTR gifted the book to Raghuram Rajan). This is a review of the book critically examining the claims.
"Iravatham Mahadevan, to whom this book is dedicated, says it cannot be earlier than 2nd Century CE. The first time its name is mentioned is in Irayanar Akapporul which is dated sometime after 8th century CE. It is the same story with the other works of Sangam. In all probability, the corpus which is available to us was written between First Century BCE and 4th Century CE. It was compiled several centuries later. What is more, the urban societiy it portrays is strongly influenced by Vedic, Jain and Buddhist religions. It speaks about Vedas and Veda- chanting Brahmins. Tolkappiyam speaks about them. Maduraikkanchi and Pattinappalai do too. Almost every god of the Hindu pantheon appears in these poems. Thus, one has to be very brave to make a claim that he has found a point where the Indus civilization ends and Sangam texts commence without the intruders from the Gangetic plains butting in and spoiling the show. The author is one such brave person."
Blog: Become and educated layman
- "Your strength, as an “educated layman”, is the ability to drill down and learn everything about the one question within the field that you care about, which will often be different from what most experts in the field care about. Your lack of embeddedness in the community can actually be helpful, because by aggregating everything in the one slice of data you care about, you can generate ideas that aren’t correlated with the field’s biases."
Review: The Habit of Interestedness: On Eva Brann’s “Pursuits of Happiness”
- Happiness is neither beatitude nor euphoria nor gratification, but it is, rather, interest — in sublimity, for example; and unlike “pleasantness,” ==Brann’s happiness emerges from a habit of showing interest, of feeling our feelings.==
- Along with Strauss and Klein, Brann seems to find atheism unacceptable. Also like them, she identifies as a conservative. I interpret this not as a political position, but as a statement of her commitment to conserve old truths — from the American founders, the Greek poets — and of her belief in philosophy over ideology.
- "Interested’ is one of the best words I know,” she says; when you find something that draws your attention, her injunction is to “[b]arge on.” Daydreaming is a species of thinking, and therefore okay. But avoid boredom! Being bored makes you boring. “Boredom is the antithesis of interest,” she asserts. Also, being “interested” makes you more “interesting.”
- I like to think that becoming interested follows upon the display of the object’s attractive power, as the peacock “displays” its fan. Our choice is to follow through, to get serious, for it’s one thing to light up with the fire of fascination and another to bank that fire so that it becomes a steady heat, an ardor.
Blog: Doing Anything
- I’m always surprised at how early people give up on things or how little confidence they have that they can figure out how to make something work.
- I admit that at first I did not believe it was possible for me to date the kind of girls I wanted to date, but as soon as I caught a glimpse of what was possible, I believed that I could do it and I rose through the pickup world and eventually married an amazing woman.
- A friend suggested that I write a book, and because I believed that it was possible to write one quickly, I stayed up for two days straight and wrote it.
- The primary reason I achieved most of the things I achieved was that I believed they were possible and was content to keep walking on the path towards them and deal with whatever came my way.
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