1 March 2017

Past and Present - 03/2017

>mfw watching all the crazy current events
March edition of Past and Present.


Political reform through systems-engineering?: Not a peer-reviewed paper, but a very interesting essay by Dominic Cummings (Brexit Vote Leave's Campaign Director) on the perils of our increasingly ineffective and sluggish governments, and how the principles of systems-engineering may be applied for healthy political reform. I linked his Brexit essay back in January's post, but here it is again. Long, but really fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff.

Japan's Inca Boom: Fascinating account of how Incan archaeology shaped post-war Japanese national consciousness. I've read a bit about how Imperial Japanese archaeology in the Korean peninsula served to reinforce imperialist notions of Japanese national consciousness but I had no idea about this. Who knew the Japanese liked to identify themselves with Incans or other ancient Peruvians of all fucking people.
Long-hair of Merovingian Kings: If you've read any of the recent literature on the nature of Frankish kingship, you'll know there's been a rejection of the Germanic sacral kingship in favour of stressing Christian and Roman influences. This paper is firmly within that revisionist spirit and argues that the sacred long-hair of Frankish kings had already taken on Biblical meanings during Merovingian rule. Might seem a little trivial for some, but kingship imagery and symbolism is a pretty cool topic, especially when you look at it in a more global context.

Persistence of False Beliefs: Game theory modelling on how false beliefs detrimental to individuals can persist nonetheless. For anyone's taken a basic evolution course, this should be extremely familiar with the hotly debated idea of group selection.
Viking Great Army Society: Makes a lot of sense to me. Guess it's not too different something like the Cimbrian invasion, which was as much a mass migration of tribal communities as it was roving warbands.

Al Qaeda, once the most hated enemy of America to now an Oscar-winner after some snazzy name-rebranding and flashy PR work. Allahu Ackbar!

Guy's got some big matzah balls.


My Love Letter to the Deep State: Such a cheeky write-up. Laugh your frustrations at the world away.

Hating Comic-Sans is Able-ist: Wow, I had no idea. To be perfectly honest, I've always found it mildly harmless. I didn't even realize it was hated before browsing 4chan.
Robert Mercer, Billionaire waging war on MSM: So the right has... Robert Mercer? Well, the left has had George Soros for years. Certainly, the means of influencing public opinion has been evolving rapidly with the advent of the internet and data mining, but powerful people and interest groups have been doing this forever.

A more interesting meta-take on this article, especially if you're a history fan, is the exogenous vs. endogenous forces debate, so prominent in historiography. Should Southeast Asia, as its alternate name "Indochina" implies, be studied as a reflection of exogenous Indian and Chinese cultures or endogenous developments? Were the changes in 19th century Swahili society attributable more to external European imperialism or internal economic consumption patterns? Does human society actually have internal "agency" or are we merely responding to external forces like climate and geography?

When studying the past in a more detached fashion, it seems obvious that both factors must be given due consideration. But when mired in the heated present, people vastly favour one over the other. Hence you get stuff like "Nefarious/Russian figures are engineering the death of Western liberalism!" instead of a more nuanced look that takes into account of the mounting failures by the leaders of Western liberalism.

Truth on Swedish Crime and Immigration: Seems everyone in America had a lot of fun over the Sweden fiasco back in late February. The Left smugly mocking Trump for getting his "alternative facts" from Fox News, followed by the Right smugly mocking the Left when an immigrant riot did break out. This is a good article reminding people on what's actually the important point to take-away: Government unwillingness to even study the issue.
Japan's First Lady linked to Far-Right Kindergarten: When it comes to the whole "Japan must apologize for war-crimes" issue, I'm frustrated about both sides. On one hand, I realize that Japan has repeatedly expressed apologies and even used war reparations (and commercial loans) to help Korea build POSCO. So Koreans shouldn't push their luck in complaining that the Japanese didn't apologize the "right way." You can't force sincerity in an apology, so take what you can get and focus on the future. Of course on the other hand, a lot of the so-called apologies are really limp "statements of regret" and aggravating actions by key Japanese figures have spoken faaaaar louder than apologetic words.

In my naive fantasy world, nations would not need to be forced to re-compensate victims nor constantly apologize for the past (I'm not a fan of the original sin-like sons answering for their fathers' crimes), but both the aggrieved and the respondent prove through present actions that they're dedicated to building a healthy relationship. But events like this just show you how far-off from that ideal we are. Seriously? Indoctrinating kindergartners with "ultra-nationalist, master-race purity" propaganda? Absolutely disgusting. Video footage of kids being forced to recite this garbage here.

If you're interested in the subject of contemporary Japanese nationalism and the use of revisionist history, this and this will give a good overview.

Another round of anti-immigration riots in South Africa: South Africans showing redneck Americans how it's done. Ironic, considering how Nigeria actually helped South Africa in the anti-apartheid struggles. But I guess that's just a blip in the radar compared to the remarkably consistent historical trend for humans to blame out-groups.
Trump's Defense Budget Increase: 54 billion or 18 billion? What does it matter, both are ridiculously huge sums. The U.S. needs to get its head out of the "bigger is better" mentality and learn to do with less like the Russians. But when just about everything in the globe qualifies as a "vital U.S. interest," I guess you gotta spend like there's no tomorrow. One can only wish people at the top could learn to see things another way, but as Smedley Butler said, "War is a racket."

Wikileaks on C.I.A. hacking capabilities: While none of this is particularly surprising, considering all that's happened since Snowden, what I find far more interesting than the actual article is the comments section to get a sense of the changing public mood. Here's two of the most-liked comments by the readers.
If anyone still has doubts that Wikileaks and the Russians are working together to undermine and destabilize our government institutions, erode public confidence in our government, and generally wreak havoc in our country, this latest document dump should erase all doubt. We are under attack by an adversarial nation, with a President here at the helm who seems not to take any of this seriously. Spy agencies spy, this should come as no shock -- this is how they infiltrate potential terrorist plots against America and keep us safe. We are less safe today thanks to Wikileaks and Assange's unholy alliance with Putin. (-karma2013-)
 Until they publish Trump's tax returns, Wikileaks is just a pawn in someone else's game. (-Uncle Eddie-)
Death of Global History?: As much as I love global history, as the article points out, only 13% of historians in the Anglosphere study the non-Western world. So instead of trying to do trendy stuff like subaltern gender studies perspective or global perspective on Country X, I wish historians would fucking give us some basic national, political history first. This isn't because a national framework is somehow more accurate or interesting, but that national framework is likely what's taught to the average non-Westerner and most likely to be influential in constructing their present views/identities. For example, it's easy to underestimate or misunderstand Cambodia's seething hate for Vietnam unless there are books showing us what the Cambodians themselves are taught about their past, which hearkens back to the glories of the Khmer Empire and denounces Vietnamese aggression. Nationalism might be wavering in the post-industrial West, but it never went away in the East, and it'd be nice if there are historians who recognize that.

China asks U.S. support to solve N.K. problem: Seems like we go through this song-and-dance routine every time North Korea rattles its sabre. U.S. tries to puff its chest to threaten N.K. to submission and demands China to rein in N.K., while China asks U.S. to make de-escalating concessions. But just put yourself in the shoes of Kim Jong Un. Would you really give up your ultimate trump card of nukes for an official peace treaty to the Korean War or U.S. troop withdrawal? War could always start again, and U.S. still has several bases right next door in Japan even if they withdraw from South Korea. And when you look at how the U.S. has been only too happy to label you as the axis of evil in the recent past and been gung-ho about regime change around the world, from Iraq to Libya to Syria, would you really trust the U.S. never to invade you? Of course not. This is why it seems ridiculous for me to ask China to rein in N.K. or to ask U.K. to make concessions. Maybe it'd be a different story if N.K. was still years away from developing nukes, but as it stands, I can't think of any reason for Kim Jong Un to not proceed with the missile development no matter what other countries do.

From Russia with Panic: Neat article giving a brief rundown of the "Russian hacker" angle that the U.S. media and government have been running along with. A good reminder that this panic didn't just start with DNC leaks.
I already talked about this book before, but I'll recommend it again for those who might be wondering
in light of this news how the fuck rampant corruption in South Korean politics didn't prevent economic growth.
Park Geun-Hye BTFO 8-0: While this is good news for fans of democracy, the bigger question is what'll come next. For people interested in geopolitics, the key takeaway point is that the upcoming presidential candidate favourite is Moon Jae-In, who's known to advocate for a more conciliatory approach with North Korea and China. As South Koreans are split over the THAAD issue (I've seen various polls giving 40~60% in favour of, 20~40% against), he's tactfully refrained from making a hard-line commitment for either side, but he has expressed doubts over its supposed benefits as well as stating that its deployment (which is being currently undertaken) should be deferred until the next presidency. If he becomes president, I sort of doubt he'd be bold enough to say to the Americans to pack up the already deployed equipment, but it nonetheless may mean Korea will be much less willing to go along with the American pivot to contain China. Since Korea exports two times as much to China than U.S., that would seem like a sensible decision but who knows?
KEEP CALM AND BLAME RUSSIA: So up here in the Frosty-moe region of Canada, the foreign minister Chrystia Freeland's been trying to gloss over her grandfather being a Nazi collaborator by the good ol' tried-and-trusted tactic of blaming those nefarious Russian bears... which blew up in her face when the truth surfaced. While I don't think being the editor of a Nazi newspaper in an occupied country is so "heinous" that she needs to apologize for him(face it, not all of us are brave enough to resist when it means life or death, feeding your family or starvation), it's the fact that she tried to pass it up as a Russian disinformation campaign that really pisses me off. Maybe it's because our current political institutions churns out politicians who're so good at shifting blame and saying platitudes that populism and distrust in the media is on the rise? Nah, that's crazy. I'm sure it's those crafty Ruskies.

Women's March in Turkey: Valiant stand but sad to see the tides are completely against them. I wouldn't be surprised if the women who participate in these protests will be profiled for future discrimination. Someone oughta tell Lindsay Lohan to go participate in them if she wants to refashion herself as a "humanitarian" rather than being a propaganda tool for Erdogan.

Netherlands denies landing permission for Turkish foreign minister:
>threaten country with sanctions to allow campaigning for your domestic matters on their lands
>get told to fuck off so you call the 2nd best country in press freedom as "Nazis"...

And all this a few days after doing pretty much the exact same shit in Germany, too. Fucking Turkey is just outta control. Can you imagine how vilified it'd be in the West right now if it weren't a NATO ally? In any case, it would be quite interesting to see how the Turks in Netherlands and Germany vote on the upcoming referendum. Surely those long-time residents in the West can see how Erdogan is trampling over Ataturk's legacy, right...? Or could there be a surprising longing for a more religious and authoritarian life, like with the European jihadists who volunteered to join ISIS?

Sinn Fein just one seat behind DUP after Northern Ireland assembly election: Looks like Scotland isn't the only thing the UK has to worry about. While there's still plenty of unionists and people who prefer to see themselves as British or Northern Irish rather than Irish in Northern Ireland, these things can change surprisingly quickly in a few decades. Economic issues behind the idea of a unified Ireland are another matter, but it's starting to feel like anything could happen in the 21st century.
US insists that Cambodia pay debts: Bomb the shit out of Cambodia without even a formal declaration of war, kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, create millions of internal refugees, and possibly help radicalize the populace into supporting the Khmer Rouge and de-legitimatize the ruling Khmer Republic... And still have the audacity to ask a loan contracted by a now-defunct government nearly 50 years ago to be repaid!? In an international climate when Cambodia is drifting more and more towards Chinese influence? ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE, USA? As a modern-day liberal would say, "I'm literally shaking right now." Like this editorial argues, Cambodians owe nothing and if anything, it should be the U.S. making amends.

Rationality of North Korea: This article pretty much exactly sums up my opinions on North Korea. Stop expecting either confrontation or negotiation to work. North Korea has its own rational way of securing its dynasty and ruling elites, and won't easily bend to either American OR Chinese interests.

Geert Wilders Effect: Well-written article on the greater effect that Wilders is having on Dutch politics. The rightward-shift in public sentiment can only be ignored to an extent. Also, I never realized how the PVV only actually has Wilders as the lone member. Wow. Just wow.

Mission Creep in Syria:
>tfw your web of alliances is so messed up that you have to use your own troops to stop them from fighting each other

It's surprising how the U.S. hasn't totally abandoned the Kurds yet, but we'll see how long that lasts once the Battle for Mosul is over and Turkey's political situation becomes a little clearer after the referendum.

Countering Neocon Gutman's Propaganda: A thorough look at the craft of a modern-propagandist. Amazing what people can get away with in the age of facebook/twitter sharing click-bait article titles.


  1. quoting "Russia Today" as reliable source...dude..

    1. All news sources have their biases. You can't just handwave away every single story that comes out of any news source, whether it's HuffPo, WaPo, Independent, al-Jazeera, just because their journalistic standards are lacking in one area or another.

      I posted the RT link because it's a handy video to start off with but it's easy enough to google and judge for yourself shady connections that White Helmets have, such as actual pictures of them posing with radical Islamists.

      Again, I want to state for the record that I, in no way, claim that what I post here is the "truth." It's hard enough for historians with access to declassified government archives to understand what really happened in the past, and it's obvious that how any of us understand the present is going to be rather different than how people in the future understand it. As such, I think we need to recognize our humility whenever we argue over "reliability" because they're never as "reliable" as we wish them to be.

    2. You have 'Russian Ties' now, Hox... ;)

  2. Hox, what is your view on the Trump administration? What do you think of the propaganda campaign being directed at it and the general undermining of the government? I'm not trying to be polemic, just genuinely curious.

    1. I'm fairly neutral about Trump's administration, but it's too early to say anything substantial. The one thing I will give him credit for is actually trying to carry out his campaign promises, regardless of how wise/foolish the Mexico wall or travel ban is.

      I think the more important thing to note is that the Trump administration is the greatest "Wizard of Oz moment" for us millenials, when the curtains of the American political system are pulled back. The deep state vs. Trump administration over Russian relations is a good example of this. Maybe it's because I was younger, but back in the 90s, I think you would've been labelled as a "tinfoil-loony" if you tried to seriously discuss the very existence of a "deep state" in the U.S.

      Now, after the NSA scandals, military failures, and economic crises, people are more aware than ever about the root of corruption. It's definitely exciting, but also worrisome at the same time, since historically, fun times have not followed the loss of public trust in social institutions.

      Then again, maybe I'm living in a bubble. I don't really talk politics irl with any of the age 16~24 demographic who're only now becoming politically conscious for the first time, so I don't know how they see the propaganda wars. But certainly the growth of anti-MSM discourse (such as on youtube, twitter, 4chan, etc.) seems to indicate otherwise?

  3. I don't follow Canadian politics, but if Freeland has been trading on her grandfather's (altered) history for political points as the article suggests, calling her out on him being a collaborator is fair game.

    1. Oh yeah, certainly. And she certainly shouldn't be painting a man with such sinister dealings as either some hero or innocent person who was "just following orders."