1 April 2017

Past and Present - 04/2017 (last updated Apr. 20)

Been pretty tired and busy lately, which explains why I didn't update much during March. I'll try to do better this month. Also for Soil fans, don't worry, more releases will be coming soon. My editor for that was also tied up last month. And I'll get started on 2nd volume of Shiji this month too.

Ecological underpinnings of Peru's Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso): A two-part post that argues that El NiƱo is a critically understudied cause behind how Shining Path incited more and more peasants to violence back in 1980s Peru. One of many ideas cashing in on the increasing popularity of environmental history. I'll admit I'm not the biggest fan of environmental history but I do think it is a needed approach to inject some fresh air in stale topics. One can always use the environmental angle to explain the rise of angry debtor-peasants living barely on subsistence levels which usually end up triggering peasant revolts.

Indian De-industrialization in 18th and 19th centuries: An argument to overturn the traditional assumption, so dear to Indian nationalists, that globalization in the form of English competition was solely responsible for Indian de-industrialization. Instead, the Brits only get about half the blame, as rising grain prices and real wages in India (due to political instability and more frequent droughts) put the sub-continent on the trend towards lesser competitiveness even before British industry adopted factory-driven technologies. A compromise in the battle between ascribing external and internal forces driving causation in historiography, if you will.
Searching the Internet for Time-Travellers: Uhhh... Ok. This reminds me of how Stephen Hawking once held a party for time-travellers and nobody showed up.

Fiscal Capacity in Qing China and Absolutist Regimes: If you've ever read about Qing China, you probably know how surprisingly weak/thin its administrative capacity was (despite its centralized structure) in proportion to its ballooning population. I've heard of some general theories about corruption, inefficient bureaucracies, peasant rebellions, and Confucian ideologies on why that might be, but this paper gives a more detailed theory on why it paradoxically made good sense.


Mosul and Aleppo? What's the difference?: So back in 2016 during the siege of Aleppo, there was constant hysteria from Western media over the supposed war crimes and atrocities in which innocent civilians were killed by Syrians and/or Russians. This culminated in the wild claims that when Aleppo fell, it was a "meltdown of humanity" or a "humanitarian disaster" as the Syrian army was mass killing thousands and thousands of people. I saw a lot of non-mainstream journalists and news sites pointing out the hypocritical Western portrayal of Aleppo as a city full of brave, heroic rebels (good rebels, like in Star Wars) besieged by the forces of evil but portraying Mosul as a city full of ISIS terrorists besieged by the forces of good. That's why I'm surprised to see this article come from the Guardian also echoing those same exact arguments that the non-mainstream crowd made last year. But from the focus on Trump's free-reign approach, I get the sense that this negative coverage of the siege of Mosul was written not to admit our biases but to take another swing at Trump.

Polish Military Purge: Huh... From the news about NATO exercises held in Poland last year and the increasingly unfavourable Polish views on Russia, I'd assumed the country was generally gung-ho about NATO. I guess the situation is a little more complicated than that, as there's a desire to balance NATO security with sovereignty among the nationalists on the right.

Egypt's Coming Revolt of the Poor: Bread riots and the few exploiting the masses... It feels like I'm reading a chapter on the consequences of Anwar Sadat's neoliberal Infitah policy right out of a fucking history book. Are we in a time-loop or something?
Problem with Peter Pomerantsev: I recently read Pomerantsev's Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, which I had a lot of mixed feelings about. So when I googled him, this 2015 article by Ames turned up, which summed up a lot of my opinions on his book as well as dredging up a lot of unpleasant secrets behind Pomerantsev. Highly worth reading, considering the intensifying climate of Russophobia today.

Sino-Myanmar relations: Here's three articles that I thought were interesting, especially for anyone who wants to learn a little more about Southeast Asian geopolitics, specifically between China and Burma/Myanmar. Also of interest is the Burmese by-elections that'll test if Suu Kyi's popularity really has declined.

Xinjiang rolls out China's first laws to purge religious extremism:  Apparently, even "abnormal beards" will be targeted in this ban along with burqas. Obviously, China's increasing fears of Uyghur jihadists fighting with al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East has much to do with the ongoing crackdown. But perhaps more important is not China's fears of radical Islam, but Uyghur separatism which could cost them all of Xinjiang and jeopardize the One Belt, One Road project. As a result, you have an odd situation in Gansu (right next to Xinjiang) where Salafist Hui aren't taken too seriously by the government.

Similarity of Chinese and U.S. attitudes on Data Sovereignty: Seriously though, are there even any countries that actually respect people's rights over their data in the modern world?

France Dives Back into the South Pacific: Really interesting article on renewed French interest in their South Pacific island holdings. There's a lot of fuss over Chinese encroachment in Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, but the South Pacific is one place I never even considered. To be honest, I even frequently mix up Polynesia and Micronesia.
U.S. Secretary of State says Assad's fate should be decided by Syrians: Jesus fucking christ. Imagine how many lives and money would have been saved if the U.S. simply adopted this policy years ago.

Aiding Saudi Arabia's Slaughter in Yemen: Just as everyone predicted, the Gulf states and America will remain BFFs no matter who becomes President. You know, this whole situation of an imperial power supporting an oil-rich state wage war by mass starvation eerily reminds me of the exact same fucking thing the Brits did in the Nigerian Civil War, which resulted in millions of Igbo people starving to death. Imperialism never changes, I guess?

California "fake news" bill falters: Good to see there's still plenty of people in California that realize the lunacy of this.
Bannon removed from National Security Council: It seems more and more obvious that this is just another sign that the great U.S.-Russia rapproachement isn't going to happen, especially with National Security Advisor McMaster's influence rising.

Syrian Gas Attack?: So the latest gas attack in Syria has left a lot of people frothing at the mouth in anger or scratching their heads in confusion. I fall in the latter group, For people not following the Syrian Civil War, the Assad regime was basically seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It had firm Russian support and was making gains against rebels now mainly confined to Idlib, while even the U.S. secretary of state conceded that the U.S. would no longer insist on regime change. But then we hear of a gas attack just 2 days before the Brussels Conference being held to discuss Syria's future? This is the kind of situation when healthy skepticism is needed and people should wait for clearer evidence, but humans being humans, this is also the kind of situation when people want to point fingers and yell the most. I'm certainly guilty of this too at times.

Russia enters Myanmar conflict: Ruskies trying to make the most out of the deteriorating Chinese-Myanmar relations by worming their way in with arms deals. It likely won't fundamentally alter either Chinese-Myanmar relations nor Russo-Chinese relations as each partner has too much invested in the other, but still interesting to note.

St. Petersburg bombing conspiracy?: While I do give my sympathies for the victims of the latest terror bombing attacks, you gotta admit it's funny how both the West and Russia seem to take turns with these false-flag accusations anytime these tragedies happen, depending on who it happens to. Like they say, one man's tragedy is another man's false-flag operation.

Navigating Great Power Rivalry in 21st Century: I agree with all the points raised here. I think the biggest problem right now is that the net that is "U.S. interests" has been cast too wide a net and it's either angering countries, or even getting tangled up in other nets the U.S. has also cast. If my blogging makes it seem like I'm some sort of super anti-American person, I'm not. I think America is an indispensable global leader. I just want to see it act like a more responsible and wise leader rather than an arrogant bully that can only think in the short-term. 

US launches military strikes on Syria: FUCK. AT LEAST WAIT FOR A MORE CONCLUSIVE INVESTIGATION BEFORE STIRRING SHIT UP AGAIN. EVER HEARD OF A DUE PROCESS? The Syrian Civil War's gone on long enough. Fuck all the people who get hysterical over "chemical weapons" but are blind to all the people who die by more conventional methods. Do you not realize that U.S. forces have "accidentally" killed far more people through conventional bombs than Assad has supposedly killed with his chemical weapons? You have to be retarded to think just because ~100 people died from gas attacks, you're justified ramping up a civil war that's already gone on for 6 years and will kill hundreds more, displace and wound thousands, if not tens of thousands more! Ending the civil war should be the top priority for anyone who actually cares about saving lives. Seriously, fuck all the people in the U.S. gov and Western MSM who're giddy with joy over the possibility that regime change is now back on the table. If they want to feel like humanitarian egotists, they should go fucking solve the situation in Yemen instead. Fuck, I am furious right now. I just hope that at the very least, the Trump regime intended this as simply a warning strike against Assad and not doubling down on the regime change policy.
Make Furries Great Again: This story was just too bizarre and comical not to share.

Religious Decentralisation and Autocracy: There are people who often say that the problem with Islam is that it hasn't undergone a reformation like Christianity has. But the Protestant Reformation can be viewed as a form of decentralising religious organization, which happens every now and then in world history when the common, less-literate rabble feels alienated from the few, highly-literate elite who hold the monopoly on "truth." However, Islam at present is very decentralized compared to pre-Reformation Christianity. It's because of its decentralized nature that reform-minded, liberal Muslims will have a very hard time making any sort of widespread impact on the Islamic community on the whole, especially among the radicals who can always pick out a specific line from the Quran or hadith advocating violence to infidels and apostates. As this essay argues, centralisation, not decentralisation, is one possible way for an Islam more compatible with the modern world, but the problem is that this has to go hand-in-hand with a strong state that's also interested in reform. As it stands, the Islamic world is currently full of either weak states or strong states which prioritize stability (of the regime) rather than reform. So as a magic 8 ball would say: Outlook not so good.

Trump the back-stabber, puppet, mastermind, or retard?: So the recent missile strike was certainly notable from a Middle-East geopolitics view, but it's also equally notable from the standpoint of trying to understand Trump. This post does a good job of summarizing the main viewpoints wildly flying about right now. The Putin-puppet theory is just laughable and I can't believe there are people who still seriously think Trump asked Putin permission to bomb the Syrian airbase to deflect criticism for his failing domestic policies and trick people into believing that he's not a Russian stooge. But hey, anything to keep your pet theory alive, right?

North Korea Panic: I've already stated my opinions on the North Korea panic several times in the previous months and it remains the same. Nothing will happen like usual because nobody wants to risk a nuclear strike and millions of refugees and casualties. Not China. Not the United States. Not North Korea, South Korea, and Japan. But it makes good story for the media and an excuse for more military spending. I feel like there's a bigger panic this time because most of the media thinks Trump is either retarded and/or unstable. Still, a part of me actually hopes that I'm wrong, because a war with North Korea will likely lead to a unified Korea and the end of a brutal regime... of course, that will be at the cost of many, many lives which is why I'm not exactly wishing for it.

Comparing Bomb Sizes: Somebody say penis envy?

A date to be remembered, Apr. 16, 2017: Well here we are, exactly 8 months since the failed coup of 2016. Just one more day to go before Turkey's history will change... probably for the worse, but who knows? Either way, I'll be eagerly waiting for the results.
Turkey Referendum Results: So a ton of interesting stuff to note on the referendum. As many suspected, including myself, the yes-voters did beat out the no-voters to abolish the parliamentary system and adopt a presidential system with a strong executive presidency. The image shows the split between the more cosmopolitan and liberal residents near the coast or in Kurdish areas who voted no, while the more conservative, inland/rural residents voted yes. The Turkish opposition has claimed there was ballot-stuffing, not to mention the vastly unfair coverage of the referendum issue leading up to the vote, and made a futile attempt to also reject the results on the grounds that it was not a large enough majority. If there was indeed election rigging (which I believe there was but not sure how extensive), it is interesting that the results were still extremely close. One would think if you were gonna rig an election, you might want it close but not "too close" to make the results seem overly suspicious.

While European nations tsk-tsk'ed at the result, the more authoritarian-minded Trump congratulated Erdogan, as did Putin. While some consider this another blunder by Trump, I think it's more a sign of how US foreign policy can't exactly allow US-Turkey relations to wither and lose a major NATO ally to Russian influence. The relations are strained enough as it is already since the coup when Turkey blamed the U.S. for protecting and possibly even supporting the Gulenist conspirators. While it'll be a looong time before the truth of the incompetent coup attempt of 2016 is revealed, the truth is not so much as important as the fact that a lot of Turks believe it was a CIA-backed plot. So given this context, it makes perfect sense for Trump to congratulate Erdogan, regardless of what he personally thinks of Turkey.

The final interesting point is how Turks overseas voted, which is what I was really looking forward to since the hostilities over the issue which I noted back in March. As wikipedia lists here, some of the more notable majority yes-voter countries are: 75% in Belgium, 73% in Austria, 71% in Netherlands, 65% in France, 63% in Germany, 61% in Denmark,  and 57% in Norway. That's an anti-immigrationist's dream right there, serving as great ammo for their arguments. However, one shouldn't dismiss the majority no-voter countries: 84% in the US, 79% in the UK, 72% in Canada, 62% in Switzerland, and 58% in Australia. Perhaps this is more of an indictment into the specific type of immigration policies? Then again, this might be a more of a generational issue. Much of the immigrant Turks in European countries came back in the 1960s and 1970s during a time of labour demand and post-WW2 economic recovery. So the European Turkish voters include more 2nd generation Turks. There's a lot of literature on how "assimilation" works or fails to work for 2nd or later generation immigrants, but one theory for Muslim immigrants is that many don't have personal experience with the authoritarian and/or low-HDI countries their parents left and are much more willing to adopt a religious or nationalist identity. The European muslims in their 20s who went to join ISIS is an example of this.

All in all, a historic moment for Turkey. As much as I dislike Erdogan/AKP and their neo-Ottomanist agenda, I will admit that a strong executive presidency doesn't necessarily mean the entire country will go to shit. Will Turkey be more authoritarian? Sure. Will it be more corrupt? Sure. But does that inevitably doom it to a negative outlook? No, not necessarily. And perhaps several decades under a more authoritarian rule will politicize more Turks towards an anti-AKP view. After all, nothing is forever, especially in Middle Eastern politics.

Israel refuses to talk to Palestinian hunger strikers: "Issa Qaraqe, head of detainees' affairs for the Palestinian Authority, warns of a 'new intifada' if any of them die." DUN DUN DUN. Like I said back in February, with the 50th anniversary of the 6-day War soon approaching as well as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tensions, 2017 does not look bright.

Admitting Shi'ite Genocide: Oh wow, a sensible admission of the Sunni-bias in Western MSM. inb4 "b-b-but muh evil Iranians! Hezbollah! Think of the Jews!" You really gotta wonder how the world would look like if it weren't for the Iranian revolution of '79. That really was a watershed moment for the entire Middle East. It really ought to be taught more even at the high school level in social studies/history classes.

Trump says "Korea used to be a part of China": While the interview itself was surprising enough for once again making Trump look like a complete idiot only beginning to understand the complexities of the world, nationalist Koreans were put in a frothing rage at his seemingly uncritical acceptance of the claim that Korea used to be a part of China (not entirely wrong, but not entirely true either, which is standard for Trump's claims). For the average American/Canadian/Australian, history is trivial for the most part. I've seen a lot of this tsk-tsking from some Canadians who're so divorced from the ideas of nationalism that they think cultures who look too much at their history are "backwards." But most Europeans and Asians should be aware of just how alive history is for their current societies. From the cities you live in, to the idioms you use, the literature you're expected to read, and the cuisine you consider to be "normal," history isn't something you can just put on and off like a fashion accessory. For these societies, history is deeply entrenched in their worldview.

A Canadian friend once told me how when she briefly worked a few weeks in Portugal, her obnoxious co-worker couldn't shut up about Portuguese culture/history and beating her over the head with how "little culture/history" that her  ilk of Americans had (he couldn't care to differentiate between Canadians and Americans). Of course, this isn't to generalize Portuguese or Europeans (there certainly are those who also couldn't give a shit about history) but it does demonstrate a cultural difference between societies for whom history is like a dessert and for whom history is like a main dish. So yeah, if you think history doesn't matter, you're entitled to your opinion but please be aware that there are cultures who STRONGLY disagree.

P.S. I wish people bothered to actually understand the Chinese tributary system before commenting on it. It reminds me of how Westerners frequently misunderstand Confucianism to be a one-way relationship in which the socially superior exploit the inferior instead of a two-way relationship with mutual responsibilities. Here's a useful blogpost for beginners. There's a lot of interesting tidbits regarding the realities of the tributary system. The case of the Ashikaga shogunate is a humorous example, but I'll save that for another time.


  1. All those Syrians would've died at some point anyway. What difference, at this point, does it make?

    Also, since it's clear now that Russia stole the election, we need to impeach Trump, Pence, Ryan, Hatch, and every member of the cabinet as likely co-conspirators, and then call a special election to determine that I am the next president of the United States.

    1. I say we send every single politician to the gulags and start fresh. Call it creative destruction, if you will.

  2. Just line them up to the wall and...; just kidding.
    But honestly politicians really should have to take a sanity test before being allowed to take office.

  3. The navigating great powers article is interesting, but rather disheartening in the context of American officials' apparent complete lack of knowledge of Russian affairs.


  4. Hahaha, your reaction is priceless.

  5. Hah, I thought exactly the same this morning after I heard of the U.S. bombing Syria and was furious too. Funnily Trump is the darling of the MSM now and they all want him to bomb more.
    And a question Hox, do (did) you know Peter Scholl Latour?

  6. re: Syrian Gas Attack, this one is going to be a real shitshow in terms of attribution. Thankfully, Bellingcat is working on a series of articles about how Sarin actually works to dispel those "White Helmets not wearing sufficiently protective gear" myths, but of course certain "alternative" news outlets (namely, 21stcenturywire, which you've linked to before, cough cough) are already claiming it's all a false-flag. And with the strange timing of it, it's an easy claim to make.

    I'm honestly not sure about this one, and it might be a case of the (alleged) practice of "non-linear warfare", essentially the military equivalent of pretending to be retarded, but to confuse and manipulate public discourse.

    At any rate, bad times for the Syrian civilians on all sides of the frontline.

    1. Yeah, it really could have been either side. Definitely too early to take sides, as suspicious as it may seem.

  7. Dude, Hox, you magnificent fucking bastard. I remember you for the very first time you did Vinland saga and Hisotrie, posting on /a/ threads and actually contributing to the board. That was nearly a fucking decade ago and you're still out here doing god's work. A lot of things have changed in my life but still seeing you do your best is an inspiration to me. Go in good health and keep up the good fight mate.

  8. Hey Hox, do you have any plans of reading Seeing Like a State? I'd be interested in your take on it.

  9. Nonono, THIS time the gas attacks are real, not like all the other hoaxes before! I swear!