Shoot First and Aim Later

A day after the US ambassador to Libya was killed, Romney made some comments about Obama’s reaction to the killing, getting the chronology wrong and making a fool of himself, something not very uncommon for him, but something also that doesn’t upset his supporters much for some reasons that might be of interest to anthropologists.

Reacting to those comments, Obama told the CBS News that his Republican Challenger is prone to making rash comments:

“There’s a broader lesson to be learned here. And I — you know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that, that, you know, it’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts, and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.”

On being further asked whether he considered it was irresponsible, he said he will let the American people judge that.

Romney Slams Obama Admin for Embassy Statement Made Before Attacks




In the run up to the Democratic National Convention, Obama made clear “his administration’s criteria for carrying out drone strikes and targeted assassinations abroad” while speaking on CNN in “some of his most extensive comments on the drone attacks to date”.

It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws. It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative. It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States. And this is an example of where I think there’s been some misreporting. Our preference is always to capture if we can, because we can gather intelligence. But a lot of the terrorist networks that target the United States, the most dangerous ones, operate in very remote regions, and it’s very difficult to capture them. And we’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, you know, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.

In a joint report on by the Stanford and New York University law schools on the use of drones in Pakistan that reveal the strikes have killed far more civilians than American officials have previously acknowledged, James Cavallaro, one of the authors of the reports said:

And finally—this is something that I think has to be emphasized and cannot be emphasized enough—the New York Times reported—and I have not heard the administration deny this in a way that’s credible—so the New York Times reported in May of this year that the administration considers that all adult males killed in drone strikes are combatants. Now think about that for a minute. What it authorizes authorities to do is to kill first, knowing that afterwards whoever is killed will be termed a combatant, unless there is posthumous evidence of that person’s innocence. I think that fact, which is extraordinarily damning, helps to explain the unreal numbers that the government has been churning and issuing to us for months and years. But it’s a fact that ought to cause us very, very significant concern as citizens of the United States and as people who are concerned about what the most powerful government in the world is doing.

For some similar reasons that might also be of interest to anthropologists (or psychologists or both), the above (and many many other such things) do not upset Obama’s supporters much.

Do anthropologists do such research?

It would be safe to say that, by the above, Obama is not making a fool of himself. This is a profound philosophical question:

Why is it that Romney, by getting the chronology wrong and many other things that he does, makes a fool of himself, whereas Obama, by doing things that are far worse (as he is the President now, Romney might catch up with him, or even overtake him if he gets into the same position), by saying things that seem to be very appropriate while at the same time doing things which are straight out of a text book on absurdity, does not make a fool of himself?

The question, in fact, generalizes to Republicans and Democrats and many such duos.

Study Finds U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan Miss Militant Targets and “Terrorize” Civilians




In U.N. Address, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Urges Obama Admin to End “Regime of Secrecy”




Washington In Africa, 2012: Who Will Obama ‘Whack’ Next?


Une Petite Film de M. Godard



Il est un broussard.

Il est un Indien.

Il est un broussard.



Il est un broussard.

Il est Indien.

Il ne sait pas comment dire Bonjour et Merci.

Il est un broussard de l’Inde.


À la Maison

Je suis un broussard.

Je suis Indien.

Je suis un broussard de l’Inde.

Un broussard ne pas besoin de sécurité sociale et l’assurance-maladie.



Un broussard ne pas besoin de sécurité sociale et l’assurance-maladie.

Il n’a pas de culture.

Mais il doit avoir sécurité sociale et l’assurance-maladie.

Mais nous ne pouvons pas lui donner sécurité sociale.

Mais il doit avoir sécurité sociale et l’assurance-maladie.


À la Maison

Je suis un broussard.

Je ne peux pas direr Bonjour et Merci.

Un broussard ne pas besoin de sécurité sociale et l’assurance-maladie.

Or Forever Hold Your Peace

When I joined work here at the start of May as a post-doc researcher on one year assignment (with a possibility of extension for one more year), perhaps on the first day, or may be the second, as we were standing in a queue for lunch, one colleague asked me something (I don’t remember what), to which another replied (to her), “He is married and has two kids in India”. When asked by the first, I said not as far as I know and that you are likely to hear many things like this about me, and most of them you shouldn’t believe. But he insisted that I was married and had two kids in India.

I didn’t know either of them, of course. Till that time I didn’t even know their names. But I wasn’t surprised by the claim. I have heard such (and many other kinds of) whispers about me within my hearing range and have indirectly found out about many others.

Still, the insistence of the claim made me wonder. May be I was being confused to be someone else. On my trip to Paris, on the Air India flight, they had shown the movie Peepli Live!, which I had seen in the plane for the first time. May be I was being mistaken for the central character in that movie?

I had heard another person telling my previous landlord that I was a ‘psycho’. Twice. No mistake. Needless to say, I didn’t know that person and had only arrived in Paris a day ago.

Part of the attraction of this job was that it included social security and health insurance. Social security does not exist in India. When I mention to people that this could be done for the good of the country and its people, they react as if I am making a crazy proposal. Nor is there any mandatory health care program. I never had proper health insurance. None of my medical expenses ever (a very modest sum for my age, counting every single expense) were paid through medical insurance (or any other insurance). This is something I have in common with the overwhelming majority of Indians. Nothing special.

Now, the chance that I will actually make use of social security in my temporary job was pretty small. Similarly for health insurance, but about that you can never be sure. Still, I have been to a doctor only a handful of times in the last ten years or so and was last hospitalized (for a day) more than one and a half decades ago.

The reason it was an attraction was that I wanted to know how it feels to have social security and health care. After all, I have been reading so much about the attacks on it in the US and in Europe and have even commented on it. Wouldn’t it be good to experience the real thing, even if for a little while.

Talking of little while, it is already almost five months into my contract and my application for social security was just rejected on the grounds that I had not submitted a Certificate of Marital status (d’etat civil). This document, as far as I know, and according to what I have been told by those who should know, is not required for this purpose.

The matter will, hopefully, be resolved, but this document is one that I have been asked about for the first time and it seems I might have to think about getting it.

I don’t remembering getting married, of course. I don’t remember of this happening even in a dream. But then you don’t always remember your dreams, do you? It is a scientific fact that we forget most of the dreams that we have, soon after we wake up.

So what if this did happen in a dream, one that I have forgotten about? Perhaps that counts. You never know. The laws and rules and regulations are changing so fast these days (not to mention their being re-interpreted) that anything is possible.

Or perhaps I had a memory lapse? Who knows?

So, as I hit quarante quatre today (is it the ceiling?), I am planning to try to get this single status certificate. If any person has reason to say that I shouldn’t, and can provide the evidence for it (I may have to submit it, you know), speak now or forever hold your peace.

Why mention the age here? What does it matter. This year, I have unprecedented ten or so greetings on this date. All from social networking websites (almost all of which I never use, I had just created an account on them out of curiosity or whatever). Not from individuals on those networks, but from the websites themselves. Websites are also people, may be?

The point is, the personal data is spread out so far and wide and is accessible to so many people, what does age count for in so much of minute details.

A lot of it probably of the kind that I don’t even know myself. People seem to know much more about me than I do.

I have even heard whispers, for example, that I am a drunk. So, thinking, why let the rumours go to waste, I bought today my first ever bottle of wine, though I have no plans of drinking it today.

(As I saved this post, WordPress showed me a quotation, before adding this and the previous paragraphs into the post, saying “I am a drinker with writing problems”. I didn’t catch the name of the wise man who said that.).

As a matter of fact, I am a drinker. A heavy drinker. Of water. Perhaps there is water with alcohol problems these days. Who knows?

So reiterating the already said, could someone tell me if I am married (with two kids or none, or more, who knows?), and if yes, please provide some evidence for the same?

The Wash Post

There were, a few days ago, two reports in the Washington Post about India, one in the main newspaper and one as a blog post.

The first one is about the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The second is about the ‘seeping’ of Hitler’s name in Indian popular culture (supposedly) in recent days and Israel’s displeasure about it.

Both the reports do an excellent job, that is, if you keep in mind what they (the mainstream media reports) are really, pragmatically supposed to do, not what they are ideally supposed to do.

They do a very good job of washing the the messy facts and their context and coming up with a sanitized, selective, almost surgical version of them to serve a definite purpose.

The purpose of the first report is to prepare ground for a change in the top leadership of the Indian government. The purpose of the second is to try to reconcile the growth of Fascism in India with the US-India-Israel alliance.

The first is easy to do, the second much more difficult. But the first is aimed at something concrete, while the second is more of a vague gesture.

Talking of vagueness, let’s be more specific about these two reports.

The first report says that India’s current ‘silent’ Prime Minister has become a ‘tragic figure’. That he seems to be tired, listless and without energy and that he suffers from doubts. Calls are being made for his resignation. It reports jokes being circulated about him:

Attendees at meetings and conferences were jokingly urged to put their phones into “Manmohan Singh mode,” while one joke cited a dentist urging the seated prime minister, “At least in my clinic, please open your mouth.”

And that:

Singh became even more quiet at his own cabinet meetings, to the point of not speaking up for the sort of economic changes many thought he ought to be championing.

You would almost think that it is a great indictment of the Prime Minister, a highly critical report about him. But if you knew your facts well, you would know this to be wrong.

The report actually makes him out to be, as said before, a ‘tragic figure’. It indirectly heaps praise upon him for first his role as the Finance Minister and then as the Prime Minister in opening up India’s economy for foreign investment, meaning trans-national corporate control. It hints at the fact that he was never elected once in any capacity in any election, but that does not make him (for the report’s purposes) an illegitimate leader of the ‘largest democracy in the world’. On the contrary, it mentions the dominance of Sonia Gandhi in India’s ruling party as a mitigating factor in his support. Now, every thinking person in India feels disturbed by the dynastic dominance of Indian realpolitik, but the members of this dynasty do get elected. Both Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi have won elections, just like many others from that family before them. The blame for that surely rests with the Indians too who vote the dynasty in. But why should an unelected and unelectable technocrat head the ostensibly democratic government? The report does not seem to be much interested in that.

The report presents a short biography of the man and gives a short trajectory of his rise to the top. All in all, it is interested mainly in the man. And not in what he and his government wrought upon the country in the name of Liberalisation. Poverty in India? The rise in inequality? The fall in per-capita food consumption? The effects of corporate dominance on most of India’s population? The rise of Fascism in India? Not interested.

What it is interested in is this:

With little choice, Singh introduced a series of policies that freed the Indian economy from suffocating state control and unleashed the dynamism of its private sector.

And then this:

Under Singh, economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and the rupee has collapsed.

There is another thing, of course, which is perhaps the most frequently used word in India today, including in Indian languages, namely ‘corruption’:

But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

Now the issue of corruption and how Indian politics for the last several years has centred around this ‘issue’, which is indeed a real issue, is a long story that should be considered separately and in much more detail. But the point is that this report achieves its goal by two means. First by focussing on the man, a single individual, which is a very common trick in politics and its reporting. And second by ignoring the real issues and concentrating on what can be called secondary or tertiary level failures, such as the fact the opposition is not allowing the parliament to proceed with any work and that the Prime Minister is not able to defend himself and his policies. This too is an equally common trick. Not the policies, but the defense of those policies. That is what matters for such reports. And that indicates very well the task of the mainstream media.

The second report, for example, could have been about one of the great issues of the day, namely the rise of Fascism in India. But it ends up more as an apology.

This second report (the blog post on the Washington Post website) is titled, “India’s Hitler stores spark outrage”. One was almost tempted to be hopeful that someone from the mainstream media is finally noticing something very important for India’s, and perhaps the World’s future. The report says:

Israel has complained to the Indian state of Gujarat about a new men’s clothing store in Ahmedabad called “Hitler,” but the country’s diplomats have refused to compensate the store’s owner for a new sign.

The report goes on to quote Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor and director of the Anti-Defamation League, that “Hitler’s name is seeping into India’s popular culture without any appropriate context” and that:

“It is a perverse abuse of the history of the Holocaust to name a business after one of the world’s most notorious mass murders and anti-Semites”

Whereas the store owner who named his men’s cloths shop as ‘Hitler’ (just like that) says:

“I’ve been getting a good response with the Hitler name; sales are good. I’m concerned that business could drop off once I change it”

He also claims that the shop’s name is not based on that Hitler, Adolph Hitler of the Third Reich, but on one of his uncles who was very strict and therefore was nicknamed Hitler.

It also mentions two other specific incidents of similar kind, one a TV show in which a character is nicknamed after Hitler and another a pizza restaurant in Mumbai called “Hitler’s Cross”. It sums up by saying:

Hitler memorabilia has a curious popularity among the country’s young people, the BBC reported, although most seem drawn to his commanding personality rather than his war crimes.

And explains the reason for this:

Holocaust education isn’t as widespread in India as it is in Europe and the United States, and many Indians believe swastikas, an ancient Hindu symbol, bring good luck, Haaretz reported.

So, basically, this report also used that same two universal tricks. It focuses on the individual or specific cases and it focuses on secondary or tertiary issues.

While for the first report it is quite obvious what is wrong and how it is a case of the two universal tricks, the second report needs more elaboration.

The use (‘seeping’) of Hitler’s name in India is not at all a recent phenomenon. There are two aspects to it. One is relatively harmless, while the other most certainly is not. The first aspect is something that India has in common with most countries of the world. It is that Hitler’s name is indeed used as nickname for people perceived as being very strict or ‘no nonsense’. I can vouch for this from my personal experiences, as well as from what I have seen in numerous movies from around the world. While it may be distasteful if you know a little bit of history, it doesn’t, on its own, lead to any horrific consequences.

The problem is that it can’t be taken on its own. There is background to this that strongly indicates that this can (because it is not on its own) lead to horrific consequences. To be more accurate, it has already lead to horrific consequences multiple times. That background is well known among those who are familiar with the socio-political realities in India.

To start with, the store mentioned in the report is in Gujarat, the state where the government sponsored pogrom took place in 2002 against Muslims after an attack on a train in which around 60 people were killed (burnt alive in a fire). These 60 people were, of course, Hindus. Moreover, they were active members of the right wing conglomerate known as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the National Union of Volunteers). The main opposition party of India, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or the People’s Party of India) is one of the arms of this conglomerate. And it is no secret that the RSS has a pro-Nazi ideology, and that Hitler is not a bad word for RSS.

Similarly, one of the main parties in the city of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, and of the state of Maharashtra, namely Shiv Sena (the Army of Shivaji) is also very well inclined towards both Hitler and his ideology.

The problem is not that “Hitler’s name is seeping into India’s popular culture without any appropriate context” but that the very ethos of Fascism and Nazism has become (over the last eight decades or so) deeply embedded in India’s culture, and not just popular culture. And it has happened with a lot of very (in)appropriate context.

The coyness of the Wash Post and the Israelis and the ADL in pointing this out is because of the fact that the RSS (and the BJP) are strongly pro-Israeli. You see, the US doesn’t have a monopoly on unholy alliances.

The question to ask is this: Would it be okay if the RSS (and the the Indian middle class, for the RSS is dominant among the Indian middle class) were to stop explicitly using Hitler’s name and continue on its Fascist path without that, targeting Muslims and other minorities, pogroms and all?

But asking such questions is not the job of the mainstream media. If you are under the impression that these two reports are reporting something about the realities on the ground, you are mistaken (to put it mildly). What they are doing is that they are sending two messages to their audiences and to the concerned parties.

The first report is conveying a message from the Establishment that it is time now for a new Prime Minister (and perhaps a change of the party-in-power) in India because the current PM has fulfilled his role and has now become a liability. It is time now for him to go. The message comes from the combined Indo-Western Establishment, a neo-colonial phenomenon, if you like. It is like the message that was delivered to Newt Gingrich in the middle of the Primaries.

The second report is conveying a message from the same Establishment (that, of course, includes Israel) that you may be as Fascist as you like, but it is not okay to use that bad six letter word lightly. That is not acceptable, so Behave!

And it is in the spirit of those same two universal tricks that the Establishment rewards its new allies, selecting meritorious individuals with great care:

Aamir Khan: Only a matter of Time

To tell them, you are one of us now. So keep in mind the responsibilities that come with this honour.




Europe: are there Nazis living on the moon?




Racism in Israel




Public against Democracy: the case of the Gujarat Pogrom 2002




“Is Hollande going to expel us all?”




The Life And Death Of An Australian Hero, Whose Skin Was The Wrong Colour


Correction (8th May, 2019): There remained an inexcusable error above for a long time. The Shiv Sena is not named after Lord Shiva, but after the Maratha Warrior Shivaji, who was most probably named after Lord Shiva. It is common for Indians to be names after various Gods, as there are plenty of them.

Dissidence Management in the 21st Century: The Insult Trick

Ad-hominem in general is a very effective weapon for Dissidence Management, but there are a few advanced forms of it that are even more effective. In the 21st century, one of these forms has been honed to perfection.

This advanced form of ad-hominem is called the Insult Trick. It is a targeted and more intelligent form of ad-hominem, and much more devastating.

The main idea behind the Insult Trick is to baffle the mind of the target to an extent that he will be likely to lose his bearings and be not even able to come up with a coherent response. In fact, the very idea of giving a coherent response will seem to be embarrassing. But to not give a response (as can be done with the normal ad-hominem) might seem to be (or easily made out to be) self-incriminating.

People, and particularly dissidents, can easily get used to being called idiots, charlatans, nihilists, cynical etc. This kind of name calling may be very irritating, but it may not stick and it may not have the same effect.

The Insult Trick overcomes this limitation by taking advantage of the knowledge of human psychology. What can be most disturbing than being accused of something that you have always opposed very strongly? And, as a variation of this, what can be more disturbing than being insulted by those very people whose side you are taking on any particular issue (or in general)?

The Insult Trick is not completely new. It is, in fact, a generalisation of the old Anti-Semite trick. People who were the most ardently opposed to all kinds of Fascism were (and still are) often called anti-semites. The charge is, naturally, infuriating, but the great thing is that, with just a little effort, it can be made to stick.

The Insult Trick takes this much further. You want a dissident to be neutralized who defends the rights of the poor? Well, get him insulted by some poor people. Or call him anti-poor. A dissident defending Muslims? Get him insulted by Muslims. A dissident defending women’s rights? Get him insulted by women. A dissident aligning himself with the blacks? Get someone with a black skin to insult him. Students’ rights? Insult by students. Teachers’ rights? Insult by teachers. Public services? Insult by public service employees. And so on.

Here is the best of them all. You have a dissident? Get him insulted by other dissidents! Hurrah!

Is it difficult to arrange, this last one? No, it isn’t. For the simple reason that most dissidents are likely to be some kind of lefties. And, hey! aren’t they the most fractious lot on the planet. They are always eager and over-ready to insult one another. There is not much you need to arrange, unlike the other cases.

The idea is to send the dissident reeling, thinking, Why are they insulting me?! I am on their side!

Which might, after some time, make him into a cynic, saying nothing ever changes. No one is any good. Let everyone go to hell. Let me try to just live my life.

He might even be tempted to take arsenic instead of bearing with this.

If the dissident is already isolated, the effect will be exponentially higher in relation to the degree of isolation.

To give a more specific form of insult, here is the newest rage. You don’t like someone criticizing the system that benefits you as a liberal or neo-liberal? Is that person opposed to neo-liberal (and neo-conservative) Capitalism, privatization of everything etc.? Well, call him Romney! Make him out to be the kind of man that Romney is. That will blow his mind! If he tries to defend himself, he will only make himself look ridiculous.

The less similarity there is between the name you call him and himself, the more effective the insult. The concreteness of the name (as opposed to the vagueness of something like ‘idiot’), combined with this total travesty of similarity creates the desired effect.

Make no mistake all you pro-Establishment liberals and neo-liberals (Capitalist also, but we don’t say that here). The Romney insult is the insult of the day (or of the year or of the election cycle) right now. Go ahead and make full use of it!

Earlier, it was Newt Gingrich. Before that, it was George Bush.

Just think about it. A leftist trying to explain to other leftists (or other anti-conservatives, because conservatives do not go out of their flock to listen to leftists or anti-conservatives), trying to point out and list what is wrong with Romney. Think of the absurdity! What a waste of words! It is so self-evident! A self-respecting leftist would rather spend time on pointing out what is wrong with Obama! Or better still, what is wrong with electoral democracy. Isn’t it? What a blessing for Dissidence Management! Wasted if they do, damned if they don’t!

The conservatives and neo-conservatives (and others to the right of them) may also use this trick, but they will have to use other names. Indeed, some might argue that it is they who first perfected this trick. Such as by taking on someone who was (and is) a well known neo-liberal corporate-friendly Capitalist and calling him a socialist, a radical (leftist), even a Hitler (that last one goes into very unsophisticated territory and loses its effect). That sent him and his supporters reeling for quite some time. The reason it didn’t work was because the target was far from being isolated.

Always, always, never forget first isolating the dissident before trying to finish him off.

And also, before you launch such attacks, make sure that there are enough people ready to do the same against the same person. A lonely attack of this kind is not going to be that effective.

A Hefty Bonus

By the way, when you do manage to finish off a lefty dissident, there is a good chance that those waiting in the right-most wings can easily take over the legacy of that dissident. Remember Gorge Orwell? Establishment: Safe and Secure.

When Chomsky Misled Me

One of the interns who had worked with me and had done some good work, had, after joining higher studies at an Ivy League university, sort of blamed me for filling his head with the kind of stuff that Chomsky and others write and talk about. His point was that all this, meaning (crudely speaking) all this talk of injustice and the responsibilities of intellectuals and the need to try to change the world for the better etc. ends up harming young people, who have to go out and live in a world where it is not really possible to try to make the world a better place. Thus, people like Chomsky, and, to a much more modest extent, people like me, end up harming the lives of young people and they should not do that. They harm the young people, so to say, by misleading them.

I, of course, don’t agree with that. But Chomsky did, in fact, mislead me once, with some noticeable repercussions. In a very different way from what that intern said, however.

When I joined PhD in Computational Linguistics in 2003, at the age of 35 (something very unusual in India for someone who is not already in academics formally, say, working as a Lecturer and looking for a promotion), I was not in very good condition in career terms. But since building a career was never a goal for me, that was not a problem. The problem was that I was also not in a very good condition in many other ways. For one, I was unemployed and was hardly earning anything. And there didn’t seem to be any good prospects in the near future.

One of the main reasons I decided to join PhD in Computational Linguistics was simply my interest in the two related areas, language (and Linguistics) and Computers (and Computer Science). I did not have a formal qualification in either of these areas, but I had read extensively and had studied on my own, as much as I could. To be able to work, especially do research, therefore, in Computational Linguistics, was something that can be called a dream (one of many, but a very important one).

But there was another important reason. At that time, I was not only in a ‘bad condition’, I also had had so many bad experiences with people that I was not very hopeful (to put it mildly) of getting a job with good working conditions where I would be treated with at least some degree of fairness.

Also, not the least, I wanted to work for Indian languages, something that had been a passion for me ever since I started thinking about working life, that is, from the time I was in early teens.

Several years before that, when I was studying Linguistics and anything else on language, I had come across a passage in a book by Chomsky that went something like this. He said he had done some ‘little work’ long ago in Computer Science (which is taught in every Automata Theory or Formal Languages course to Computer Science students) and he had presented this work to the Computer Scientists of the day. And, he said, since these people were (I am paraphrasing) true scientists, they did not care about what his political views were or what kind of a person he was or any such thing. They just looked at his work on its own merits. He was contrasting this outlook to the outlook that some other people have, for example, the political analysts and establishment intellectuals. I don’t have the source at hand, so I am only writing what I remember, but I hope the point is clear, even if there is an error in the details.

That description had filled my head with the dream of being able to work with such people. And here I was getting the opportunity to do just that by joining PhD. Now, I wasn’t really interested in PhD as I wasn’t interested in a career. I was even prepared (in the worst case, if I did not get an RAship or Research Assistant’s salary) to take up a part time job and do research in Computational Linguistics.

I wanted to work (for a living or for creative satisfaction) with people, you know, who will not care about my political views or with the kind of person I am or am not.

That’s where I got mislead.

After about two years of working in this area (mostly with Computer Scientists), I found out that Chomsky had mislead me. That the people I was working with were as much concerned about my political views and about the kind of person I am (or am not) as any other people.

Not only were they concerned, they often (more than often) tended to judge my work accordingly. Not based on its own merit.

Just the use of words like ‘funding’ and ‘privilege’ could bring on very unpleasant consequences. Both of these are supposed to be taken for granted (as externalities) and not mentioned explicitly, even though they ultimately decide who can do research and what kind of research and on what languages. And where.

I found out that they could be mean, they could be vindictive, they could be given to the ad-hominem and their feelings towards me ended up influencing strongly their view of my work. They could be all that relentlessly. Not quite the thing I had in mind.

In this, I guess, they were just being human.

But it didn’t help, of course, that the Computational Linguistics (or the Natural Language Processing) community was not very friendly (an understatement) towards Chomskian Linguistics. In fact, in research papers these days, you can find statements about how liberation from the Chomskian dominance in Linguistics (and Computational Linguistics) has made it possible to proceed further in the research in this area, which was stuck (according to them) in a stagnant stage because of the tyranny of Generative Grammar and the focus on Syntax.

It also didn’t help that most of the members of this community are votaries of neo-liberal Capitalism. It didn’t help further that the research in this area is now not only dominated by commercial concerns, but that a large portion of it is oriented towards serving the post ’9/11′ Security-Surveillance Industry. Both of these things I have been opposing vocally wherever I could.

Right now, barely two years after completing my PhD, I am already effectively blacklisted, a fact that can be easily established on the basis of empirical evidence. I don’t have a stable job and have little hope of finding one, unless I reform myself and prove that I have reformed, which might involve (to put it bluntly) getting my nose rubbed into the mud as a rite of passage.

I get reviews in which often the reviewer seems to be talking not so much about the paper, but about perhaps me. Or I don’t know what.

I am done with it. From now on, I am not going to submit any paper as the first author to any journal or conference or workshop. I will only contribute to papers initiated by others, to the extent required in my job that I do for a living. If I do write articles of this kind, I will put them on the Web somewhere.

I understand that this decision will effectively end my research career, but it is effectively ended anyway. I am just refusing to be an object in this matter and become and agent, if you know what I mean.

(I already have fewer options than others as I had decided not to work on topics like sentiment analysis or deception detection etc. because I know the dubious purposes for which they will be used. I know that almost anything in this area can be used for dubious purposes, but, as Chomsky said in a speech, almost anything can be used for the war purpose. I was just trying to restrict myself to work on topics like Machine Translation or creation of language resources for resource poor – less privileged – languages.)

It is as if all my work is going to what is known in Computer Science jargon as a ‘bit bucket’.

The positive side is that I will save some time.

I still like working in this area and would like to continue to the extent possible. I spent seven years doing PhD in this area from the age of 35 to 42 and several years before that studying informally.

What will I do now? No idea.

And, of course, I don’t blame Chomsky for it. By dragging Chomsky into it, I am just trying to bring some sense of humour here, which is very hard in this case. As it ain’t funny. (And perhaps I am also trying to get some courage from his name).

If I had to take the decision again, I would take the same decision. After all, I have done some work and have had some good experiences, along with many bad ones.




How Psychologists Subvert Democratic Movements

My Jerusalem Win

Soon after I started following the news, mainly by reading all kinds of newspapers and magazines and listening to various radio stations and watching news on television, I had to face this periodical barrage of coverage coming from the US of the presidential elections there. And unlike the Indian general elections, it did not last for a few months, it dragged on for two years, from the start of the search for candidates for primaries and till well after the presidential elections and the inauguration of the new president.

Those were days when the Soviet Union was still there, or after some time, had collapsed only recently. India was already shifting its alliance aspirations to the West, lead by the US. Never mind the leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Being a nationalist (and being still politically somewhat naive and idealistic), it almost offended me that the Indian ‘National’ newspapers were giving such disproportionate coverage to the US presidential elections. There were elections in other parts of the world. Why so much coverage of candidates whose names meant nothing to me? And of issues which (or many of them) meant little? For me, and I guess for many others (even Arundhati Roy had at some place
mentioned this), this was an embarrassing display of a kind of subordination to the West. And the West for us was (and still is) the Colonial West. We had attained independence in 1947, didn’t we? The US (or the UK) was not our ‘mother country’. Then why such obsession with the US elections, or the UK elections, to a much lesser extent?

Those were valid objections then. Not completely, but to a large degree.

Times were already changing then, and now they have changed drastically. Those objections cannot be raised now. If they are raised, they are not valid anymore. For, as Arundhati Roy also said, we are all now subjects of the new Empire, the US Empire. There are still some liberal-progressive apologists who put the word Empire in quotation marks or mock others for calling the Empire by its name, but they only make fools of themselves, because the organs of the Empire and those working for it have long since stopped pretending that it is anything other than an Empire. They themselves use this same word and with a great deal of pride. Hillary Clinton’s Caesar-comment (“We came. We saw. He died.”) is remarkable only because it went much further than just using the word, and made the spirit of empire visible on world television from the very top of the Empire’s pyramid.

Therefore, since all of us, especially those living in the Third World, and even more so those living in countries allied to the US, are subjects of this Empire, we have to know what is happening there. Because the fires that starts there (or often even the festivals that start there) have repercussions for us in our own countries, usually not very pleasant ones.

It is in this context that I have been following the coverage of the US presidential elections for the last more than one year, but only on the dissident media (with occasional exceptions), as I have been boycotting the mainstream media for several years now.

I have also been watching this coverage on television, but only on Democracy Now!, which is almost the only television that I have watched for last all these years (again, with occasional exceptions).

It was thus that I came across that episode in which the Democratic Party showed what (even electoral) democracy means in the 21st Century. In which Jerusalem was recognised as the capital of Israel in a very revealing manner. A section of the Democratic Party won a victory for the Republican Party as well as for Israel, while (in the opinion of some) harming its own interests.

Be that as it may, I have my own story of my Jerusalem win.

I was in the first year of the four year Mechanical Engineering degree course at a reasonably reputed college in India. The ragging period had ended and I think the Fresher’s Party was also over. Some kind of festival was going on, I have forgotten which one. As part of this, a quiz competitions was organised.

This was in Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan. But most of my early education had been in the much maligned government schools of small towns of that state. And all of my education till one year before entering the engineering college had been in Hindi medium. But within that context, I had not done badly as far as school went, though I did not put in as much effort as I thought I should. I was also quite good in what is called in India ‘General Knowledge’ or ‘GK’, the kind of thing these quizzes are based on. In fact, I had participated in several competitions and had received certificates and, in one case, even a monetary prize. So, naturally, I thought I could do well in this quiz. Since the competition required a group, I became part of a group and we competed. The first step was an ‘objective-type’ written exam: with negative marks for wrong answers.

We failed miserably. We were not told the marks, but as the answers were read out, our guess was that our total must have been below zero. So we were obliged to be spectators for the main oral quiz rounds and just watch the proceedings.

Now, I had not only participated in GK competitions before, I considered myself (with some justification) to be a well read person. There had not been many people around me (in the physical vicinity, not in the out-there World), at any time, who (I thought) knew as much as me. It was, therefore, with consternation that I pondered over the fate of of our written exam, and even more so, over the questions that were being asked (there were many of them in each round). I had no clue about most of the questions. And yet many participants were answering a lot of those questions.

The head of the quiz committee happened to be the son of the college Principal. But I don’t think that had anything to do with the kind of questions in the quiz.

What had to do with it, was the background of the committee members and the people who were doing well in that quiz. They were all ‘convent educated’ people. When I refer to the Indian Elite or the English Elite in India, these are the people at the centre of that group. This too, by the way, is changing now, as the eliteness in India has changed its meaning somewhat, what with the Liberalisation and all. But that’s a different story.

This Elite formed only a small group in our college, because the entrance exam allowed students to read and answer in Hindi, the state language of Rajasthan. And the overwhelming majority of students who cleared those exams then were from Hindi medium background. I myself had shifted to the English medium only one year earlier, so that I didn’t have to face problems in the college itself and was prepared for education in English medium. Still, I was a Hindi medium person, basically.

The Elite group was not much liked by the others in the college and some nasty names were given to them.

Anyway, I kept wondering (and still do) about the secret of their knowledge, which, superficially, seemed stupendous. There was, I was sure (and am now) something fishy about it. Not in the cheating way, however. They knew a lot of facts, but did they really *know*?

As I watched from the sidelines, I could answer only a few a questions that were asked. And one of them, which none of selected participants could answer was about a very important historical event that took place in 1812 and which involved the crossing of a border.

Where did they get their knowledge from? I was the one who was always reading and reading all kinds of things, not in the ‘studious student’ sort of way. How come they were answering all the questions and getting recognition and rewards?

I didn’t get an exact answer, but it so happened that one of the questions that was asked was: What is the capital of Israel?

The participants answered (I don’t remember what), but the correct answer, according to the quiz master (the Principal’s son) and the committee, was Jerusalem.

Now that was wrong! This was my territory. I knew the answer. And I had found a gap in their armour.

So after the festival was over and the classes restarted, I confronted the quiz master with this fact. I wasn’t very active in school (or in college) and the Elite perhaps viewed me as another one of the dumbos. The quiz master (sitting in his group) mockingly asked me what was the correct answer and I said Tel Aviv. They laughed with derision. I then patiently tried to explain the background of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The fact that both claimed it as their capital and that most countries of the world, including India, officially recognised Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, not Jerusalem. That only brought more derisive laughter as if I was talking nonsense, making up silly stories. I then said I can give references, and I was challenged to do so. That was not easy, as I did not have any books on the matter. It was hard to find this explanation (in so many words) in the newspapers and the library there was hopeless for this purpose. An Year Book, called the Manorama Year Book (a popular one in India, published in several languages) came to my rescue. That was the only thing available to me and after some plodding through it, I found an explicit passage in it that basically said what I had said.

In the next class I presented them with this reference and that settled the matter, though they didn’t look very pleased. I guess they didn’t appreciate the joys of learning something new. Or perhaps the source was not right. Didn’t have the right credentials, you know.

But I had my Jerusalem win, after the debacle of the quiz.

Twenty five years have passed since and the actual matter of Jerusalem (and related things) has still not been resolved. It still drives many things which it should not be driving. And it is still debated and decided by those who should not (need to?) be debating it or deciding it.

(And, a few degrees and a lot of hard work later, I am not much better off either).

The Democratic National Convention, 2012, at one level, seemed to me like a re-enactment of that silly quiz.


Why don’t you talk about the RNC?

Ask the Black Left. My counter-question is: Why the kid-glove treatment with the DNC?

No Means No

I don’t want anyone entering my apartment without my knowledge or permission. It’s a modest apartment, actually a studio apartment with two small rooms with a corner kitchen. There is nothing much in it of value to anyone. I spend more than a third of my salary on the rent for it. The salary itself is at around minimum wage levels. I have no ill-gotten (or even well-gotten) wealth hid up somewhere. My savings are very modest after twenty years of work, indeed a disgrace for my middle class family. I hold no political office. I hold no office at all. I am a nobody, just a white collar worker. And that’s what I have always been. I have no connections to anyone of public importance. So there is no reason upon Earth for anyone to enter my apartment without asking me. So I don’t want anyone to do that.

Ditto for emails, phones, physical mails and so on.

No means No. Anyone remember it? If you don’t, I am telling you now.

No means No.