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Saturday Commentary and Review #139
Ibram X. Kendi Under the Spotlight, Canada, India, and Khalistan Separatists, Germany's Near Future, Pornhub as "Rape Factory", Tsarist Russia's Caucasian Tropics
Every weekend (almost) I share five articles/essays/reports with you. I select these over the course of the week because they are either insightful, informative, interesting, important, or a combination of the above.
We are still coming to grips with what happened in the USA in 2020: a global pandemic that saw a significant decline in the rights of the individual from the top-down, combined with an elite-backed summer of riots that sacked dozens of cities, used to destabilize a presidency.
Racial relations, an overarching theme of US history since before the inception of the country, roared back with a vengeance. Millions in the USA genuflected in front of images of George Floyd, to show that they too were the “good guys” and not at all “racists” like Trump voters were. Loud calls to “defund the police!” spread across the country, with the effects of those who actually implemented such policies now being felt, their negative consequences entirely predictable. Corporations jumped on the anti-racist bandwagon, sending money to #BLM and to other organizations intent of “fighting systemic racism”.
One of the lucky people who shared in this largesse was author, professor, and “anti-racist activist” Ibram X. Kendi of Boston University. Best known for his best-selling book “How To Be An Antiracist”, Kendi’s then-new Center For Antiracist Research (CAR) was lavished with donations from Jack Dorsey of Twitter ($10 million USD), TJ Maxx, Peloton, and many others, to the tune of $43 million altogether. CAR is split into four offices: Research, Narrative, Policy, and Advocacy. Many of those who invested were most interested in seeing what CAR could produce in terms of “quantitative research about racial disparities”.
For almost an entire decade, Ta-Nehisi Coates was the leading Black intellectual on racial matters in the USA. Feted by liberals (a quasi-cult of personality grew up around his perch at The Atlantic Monthly), Coates spoke with the authority that being given a megaphone naturally grants its holder. Coates argued that racism is “America’s Original Sin”, an idea that has strong currency today. He also concluded that America will always be racist, and that battling racism is the duty of each and every American, even if it can never be defeated. Coates stepped back from his leadership role, contenting himself with writing comic books. It is very possible that he did not like the limelight that he was constantly exposed to.
The vacancy for leading Black intellectual on all matters race was quickly filled by Ibram X. Kendi, a more radical figure who insisted that every single thing must be viewed through the lens of race, and that everything is either racist or anti-racist. Nothing can fall outside of this Manichean worldview. For example, he urged the creation of an antiracist oversight arm of USGov, to ensure that all laws that are passed are vetted to ensure that they would not be racist:
Kendi is now under the spotlight, as his organization has blown through $30 million, with very little to show for it:
Three years later, after at least $43 million in grants and gifts and what sources say has been an underwhelming output of research, the Center for Antiracist Research laid off almost all of its staff last week.
Multiple former staff members allege that a mismanagement of funds, high turnover rate and general disorganization have plagued the Center since its inception.
The $43 million, according to 2021 budget records obtained by The Daily Free Press, includes general support, such as the $10 million from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, as well as donations for specific projects.
The document, which is not an all-inclusive list of donors, also lists TJ Maxx’s foundation, Stop & Shop and Peloton as donating over a million dollars.
“The pattern of amassing grants without any commitment to producing the research obligated to them continues to be standard operating procedure at CAR,” Grundy wrote to Morrison. “This is not a matter of slow launch. To the best of my knowledge, there is no good faith commitment to fulfilling funded research projects at CAR.”
A lack of leadership:
“It’s pretty hard for me to imagine they blew through $30 million in two years,” Piston said. “There’s been a lack of transparency about how much money comes in and how it’s spent from the beginning, which comports with a larger culture of secrecy.”
Multiple CAR staff members said the Center was disorganized, and Kendi was ill-equipped to lead. The Center hired an executive director to run operations in Jan. 2022, who left after 14 months.
“Just because you’re a good scholar in your field doesn’t mean that you know how to run an organization, and that’s why lots of people don’t do that,” Copeland said about Kendi. “I don’t know if it’s a disciplinary issue as much as just a leadership ability issue.”
Was there financial chicanery going on? It’s too early to tell….but in light of #BLM’s spending habits, it is realistic.
Kendi told the Boston Globe in 2020 that the Center’s goals included data science-based research.
“Data science is going to be one of the pillars of our new center and the University’s investments in data science were attractive,” he told the Globe.
The COVID Racial Data Tracker, a collaboration with The Atlantic that started during Kendi’s time at AU, is the Racial Data Lab’s sole project, according to CAR’s website. The tracker stopped collecting data a year later in March of 2021.
The Racial Data Lab only includes the now-defunct tracker.
“The Center has very, very much failed to deliver on its promise. It’s been a colossal waste of millions of dollars,” said Piston, noting that individual staff members did make progress on specific projects while facing high turnover and lack of support from management.
“More about Kendi than actual research”:
The 2021-2022 Antibigotry Convening, a Policy project mentioned in the Donor Impact Report, brought together 35 scholars for an output of short essays regarding different intersections of identity, all funded by a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, according to the CAR budget document.
The Convening was an academic-year-long virtual fellowship culminating in a report of collected essays that contributed “to public conversations about bigotry by focusing particularly on its structural aspects,” according to the Center’s website.
Grundy said several faculty affiliates who participated in the Convening “walked away from the project soured by what they feel was not only an exploitative ask, but also a deeply anti-intellectual endeavor,” anti-intellectual because the project solely promoted Kendi’s work, “not a scholarly dialogue.”
Calling Kendi to account for CAR’s failures:
Now, amid BU’s inquiry, Piston calls for accountability.
“We complained in writing years ago to the Provost, who did not even bother to respond to us,” Piston wrote in a statement. “A more appropriate response would be to remove Dr. Kendi from the directorship and hand governance over to the fired staff, who have been working intensely with deep commitment to the cause of racial justice.”
Defund the Police? Watch crime skyrocket and public safety erode.
Fund “antiracist” organizations? Watch your money go to waste…or possibly stolen.
Growing up in Ontario during the 1980s, the most visible minority in much of the province was the Punjabi Sikhs. Disparaged at first as “diaperheads”, they came to be accepted rather quickly by earlier arrivals to Canada, and especially by Old Stock Canadians of British heritage. “They’re bros”, was a common description of them when they were brought up in conversation.
Forming over 2% of the total population of today’s Canada, they are overwhelmingly located in Southern Ontario and in British Columbia. As they tend to cluster into their own ethnic neighbourhoods, they have also amassed a respectable amount of political power in Canada. One of the three main political parties is headed by a Sikh. The current government has Sikh ministers in cabinet. They have done well for themselves in their relatively short existence in the Great White North.
Like many diaspora populations in Canada, the Sikhs also have a hardline faction that seeks to create an independent “Khalistan” out of the Indian state of Punjab. This secessionism is not tolerated by India, and has caused political friction in the past between Ottawa and New Delhi. In June of 1985, an Air India flight exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, due to a bomb that was placed in it by Sikh terrorists. All 329 people aboard the Montreal to Bombay flight were killed.
This terrorist attack came on the heels of the Indian Army’s operation to clear out Sikh militants from the Golen Temple of Amristar, the holiest site in their faith. Indian PM Indira Ghandi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for this attack. Nevertheless, the Khalistan cause was set back, and many Sikhs from Punjab emigrated to Canada.
In the years since then, Sikh hardliners (especially in British Columbia) have re-organized and have increased their activism for their own independent state. This naturally concerns India, which actively spies on these groups in Canada. Recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of assassinating a Canadian Sikh on Canada’s soil, sparking a diplomatic conflict between the two countries:
The expulsions follow claims by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that there are “credible allegations” linking the Indian government of Narendra Modi with the death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar, a prominent member of the Khalistan movement seeking to create an independent Sikh homeland in the Indian state of Punjab, was shot dead on June 18, 2023, outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia.
What happened in the 1980s?
The Sikh uprising in the 1980s was a violent encounter between the Indian armed police and militant young Sikhs, many of whom still harbored a yearning for a separate state in Punjab.
Thousands of lives were lost on both sides in violent encounters between the Sikh militants and security forces. The conflict came to a head in 1984 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched Operation Blue Star to liberate the Sikh’s Golden Temple from militants in the pilgrimage center of Amritsar and capture or kill the figurehead of the Khalistan movement, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He was killed in the attack, and Sikhs around the world were incensed that their sacred place was violated by police action. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in retaliation by Sikh members of her own bodyguard.
The Khalistan movement in Canada:
After the Sikh uprising was crushed in the early 1990s, many Sikh activists fled India and went to Canada, where they were welcomed by a large Sikh community – many of whom had been sympathetic to the Khalistan idea. A sizable expatriate community of Sikhs has been growing in the country since the early 20th century, especially in British Columbia and Ontario.
Sikhs have been attracted to Canada not only because of its economic opportunities but also because of the freedom to develop their own ideas of Sikh community. Though support for Khalistan is illegal in India, in Canada Sikh activists are able to speak freely and organize for the cause.
Though Khalistan would be in India, the Canadian movement in favor of it helps to cement the diaspora Sikh identity and give the Canadian activists a sense of connection to the Indian homeland.
The clash between Canada and India:
Considering the high percentage of Sikhs in Canada’s population, Trudeau wants to assert the rights of Sikhs and show disapproval of the drift toward Hindu nationalism in India.
And this isn’t the only time that Trudeau and Modi have clashed over the issue. In 2018, Trudeau was condemned in India for his friendship with Jaspal Singh Atwal, a Khalistani supporter in Canada who was convicted of attempting to assassinate the chief minister of Punjab.
Max Abrahms says:
Canadian officials say their intel on India was in coordination with Five Eyes but no other Five Eyes country (US, UK, Australia, New Zealand) is reciprocating by vouching for the credibility of the Canadian claim that the Indian government was behind the targeted killing.
This is a very, very delicate situation as the West does not want to alienate India by condemning this targeted assassination. The USA in particular needs to stay on India’s good side due to its policy toward China, and because it is trying to woo it away from Russia.
Canada’s relative lack of weight on the global stage means that hard interests will trump principles, even when it comes to close allies.
German economic sociologist Wolfgang Streeck has long been a favourite of yours truly. Just type his name into the search bar at the top of this page and you will see how many times I have shared his thoughts with all of you.
The subject of Germany and its status and condition since the beginning of the war in Ukraine has also been a favourite subject of this Substack. In this long essay, Streeck looks back at Merkel’s (now tarnished) legacy, and provides us five points on what this conflict will mean for Germany going forward.
Seen from Germany, the war in Ukraine is part of a long history of mostly covert trials of strength with the United States over the extent to which the German state should be entitled to something like national sovereignty, after its unconditional surrender in 1945. This includes the German signature of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1969, immediately after Willy Brandt took office; ratified in 1975 under Helmut Schmidt) and, associated with it, the American assurance that it would defend Germany with nuclear weapons if necessary, despite doubts on the German side that were never entirely overcome; American suspicion of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and possible West German ambitions for greater national independence that might have been associated with it; the American mobilization against “Genscherism,”15 believed to be playing the United States and the Soviet Union against each other, in the years before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc; the Federal Republic’s agreement, in return for unification in 1990, to the permanent stationing of American troops on German territory, notwithstanding the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War; the American demand that a reunited Germany participate in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, especially the bombing of Belgrade (Operation Allied Force in May 1999) and the separation of Kosovo from Serbia; the expansion of NATO’s jurisdiction in 1999 beyond the territory of the alliance to include so-called out-of-area missions, etc.
The war in Ukraine offered the United States an opportunity to further tighten the reins on Germany (and the Europeans following the German lead) and to rule out Schröder- and Merkel-style insubordination for the foreseeable future, if not forever.
Recall that Schroeder stood with Chirac and Putin in rejecting to support the Americans in their 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Germany and the USA:
The American departure from “end of history” globalism came as a surprise to Germany, which in its wishful thinking had, for much longer than the United States itself, believed in the “rule-based” elimination of nation-state interests and power politics. For some time, Russia and China had been uncomfortable with the status assigned to them by the United States after 1990. When in the following decade, after years of economic growth, they felt sufficiently well-endowed to pursue something like strategic political autonomy, the price of their subordination to U.S. hegemony became too high for them to bear. As for Germany, as a non-nuclear power, it was too small to claim a say at the global level. It also had been a major beneficiary of borderless markets under U.S. law and with U.S. money. German industry prospered by buying cheap inputs in China for expensive final products sold there, while buying from Russia a good part of the energy needed for their production. This had long attracted the displeasure of American mercantilists, which Germany was increasingly made to feel as U.S. industry declined and tensions with the two breakaways from the American New World Order, Russia and China, grew.
In addition, the United States had realized that, under the conditions of global economic and financial interdependence that had grown in the neoliberal era, economic sanctions could be an effective first use of force between states. This was true especially for a country of continental size like the United States, for which something like economic autarky is in many respects within the realm of possibility. If sanctions are to be effective, however, they require the participation of other states, which must be persuaded or forced to join. Critical to this is Germany, with its uniquely extensive and diverse foreign trade. Germany, though, necessarily expects to be harmed by the fracturing of the borderless economic world of neoliberalism into geopolitical alliances. While from the American point of view, this would simply be collateral damage, and indeed with positive side-effects for the American balance of trade, seen from Germany it could amount to nothing less than the end of its business model. In this respect, the Ukraine war introduces acute economic strains between the United States and Germany, and possibly puts an end to the German mode of production and prosperity, forced by political disruption of global supply chains, energy sources, and export markets.
Germany must foot the bill for American adventurism, even if it costs them their own economy and prosperity.
Germany and France:
The redefinition of the boundaries of German sovereignty by the United States put an end to the old French project of turning a politically and militarily semi-sovereign Germany into the economic engine room of a French-defined European sovereignty. The question of whether what was left of Germany after 1945 should be primarily a transatlantic dependency of the United States or a junior partner of an independent French world power had been the subject of disputes in West Germany from early on, between two conflicting foreign policy schools of thought, “Atlanticists” and “Gaullists.” The outcome, however, was never really in doubt: only the United States and, under its command, NATO could offer Germany something like a reasonably reliable nuclear umbrella. France was nevertheless needed for German foreign policy, especially in the EU as a partner (senior, according to French belief and German diplomatic protocol, and junior increasingly in reality) of a “tandem” that was to advance the “European project” and thus serve fundamental West German postwar interests in regional political and economic inclusion. In the Merkel era, the Franco-German relationship then became the scene of a kind of seesaw politics by which Merkel could opportunistically signal to the United States, on one occasion, and to France, on another, that, unfortunately, their wishes could not be fully satisfied out of consideration for the other partner.
This leaves the French with no more than consolation prizes, as German diplomacy develops a certain routine of thinking up ever-new symbolic gifts to appease its tandem partner while Macron’s grand speeches on a Franco-German “refoundation” of Europe are being received with polite silence.
The war in Ukraine and the return of the U.S. hegemon to western Europe have more than ever transatlanticized German foreign policy and put an end to Merkel-style games of confusion. One result is that Macron finds himself forced, if he wants to avoid being left behind on the diplomatic battlefield, to forget his original demand that the West avoid defeating Russia and allow Putin to save face. As the war drags on, Macron’s public positions have turned increasingly Atlanticist, punctuated by occasional outbreaks of discontent, such as his earlier diagnosis of NATO as “brain-dead.”
In short: European “Strategic Autonomy” is dead.
Germany and the EU:
The disciplining of Germany by the United States within the framework of NATO and the accompanying strategic weakening of France are effecting deep changes in the politics of the European Union. German leadership, played down under Merkel, is now openly claimed as part of Scholz’s Zeitenwende,25 even though—or perhaps because—under the new conditions it can only be exercised with American authority. The EU of the future will for a long time be shaped by the tasks assigned to it by the United States and NATO in the Ukraine war. These include the design and implementation of a sanctions regime against Russia and, increasingly, China, together with internal rationing in response to supply-chain disruptions, whether caused by the EU itself, by the United States, or by an enemy, whomever that may be. Furthermore, there are likely to be changes in the EU’s admission policy, particularly for eastern Europe, long demanded by the United States and just as long opposed by France, not least to offload the costs of the postwar reconstruction of Ukraine onto Europe, predominantly Germany. Even if Ukraine were refused admission to the EU until the end of the war, having to be content with some sort of a timetable, the west Balkan states cannot be denied membership for long. This would require that the strictly rule-bound accession process be radically simplified and even more politicized than it already is. To avoid this, France is promoting a second-class membership status for countries wanting to join but needing to be socialized in the ways of the EU. Germany, at the same time, is proposing to make the admission of new members conditional on the introduction of majority rule for the European Council in foreign policy, apparently in order to be able, together with France, to deny countries like Poland and, later, Ukraine a veto on foreign policy matters.
The EU as an American satrapy, guarded/occupied by NATO.
Germany, the USA, and China:
Much will depend on how China acts in the Russian-American conflict over Ukraine and what this means for the looming American-Chinese conflict. Trump had already seen China as America’s real adversary and was anxious to prepare the United States for a military confrontation with the rising Asian superpower. Biden’s line differs from Trump’s and that of the Republicans aligned with him only in that it considers European assistance in the upcoming global conflict as desirable. The Ukraine war serves in this respect as an opportunity to bring the western Europeans up to speed as a geopolitical auxiliary of the United States. For this, Germany would have to give up the production facilities, supply chains, and sales markets in China that it has built over decades, and instead rely on trade and economic relations with the United States—a country that is increasingly as able and willing as China to exert economic pressure for political goals.
A reorientation of Germany’s economy toward the USA and away from China.
Streeck’s piece makes for dour reading, but it is a necessary one.
All of us know that pornography is bad, even if some continue to enjoy it. To be fair, there is a contingent that will insist that it is an actual good, so long as it is restricted to adult viewing.
The ease with which porn is produced, uploaded, and distributed (the internet is awash with free pornography) has created significant problems that were much smaller in scope in the pre-Internet era. One of the biggest challenges is the exploitation of minors, and how this content finds itself on the most popular pornographic websites.
The largest porn website is Pornhub, and it is rife with videos of underage people participating (willingly or unwillingly) in sexual acts.insists that it be “shut down” as it is a “rape factory”:
Serena Fleites was just 14 when an older boy at her school manipulated her into sharing nude videos with him. He sent the videos to other boys. Someone uploaded them to the pornography ‘tube’ site Pornhub. Fleites’ life became a living nightmare as the videos were repeatedly downloaded and re-uploaded, with Pornhub forcing her through the same laborious process every time before taking it down, all while monetising her images.
Fleites’ mental health plummeted. She dropped out of school and ended up addicted to drugs. Now sober, in 2021 Fleites became the lead plaintiff in a mass lawsuit against Mindgeek (now “Aylo”), Pornhub’s parent company.
The plaintiffs’ stories make grim reading. Here are just a few:
Jane Doe #1 was raped, trafficked, and exploited by a ring of powerful men from the age of 7, and forced to perform in pornographic videos from the age of 10. At the time the case was filed, least seven videos of her being sexually abused, as a child, were still live on various internet sites;
Jane Doe #2 was blackmailed by a now-convicted paedophile into providing more than 80 photos and videos of herself stripping and masturbating, which he then uploaded to Pornhub;
Jane Doe #8 was trafficked into the sex industry in Colombia, aged just 15. She was forced to have sex with now-convicted child trafficker and pornographer Victor Galarza, after which the video was uploaded to Pornhub. Despite her repeated efforts, aided by anti-trafficking nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad, to have the videos removed, the recording of her rape was (as of the case filing) still live on multiple sites.
The Internet as scaler:
But the digital content revolution has scaled that to an unimaginable degree. Firstly, the digital transformation means most consumers expect content to be free, with producers making money indirectly, via advertising. In turn, across all of media, the tiny margins this delivers for all but the most successful creators means intense downward pressure on production costs. And secondly, because the sheer volume of digital content means an intense competition for eyeballs, that incentivises the production of schlocky clickbait.
Meanwhile on the consumer end, a limitless supply of free, streaming porn that fuses shock-value clickbait with erotic stimulus turns out to condition demand, in ways that further intensify this dynamic. Studies suggest the neurology of porn consumption functions in a fashion similar to drug addiction, meaning that compulsive users need ever more extreme doses to experience the same ‘high’. This inexorably drags users toward violent, extreme, degrading and otherwise taboo-violating content: the very material most likely to be extracted without consent. Just-about-plausibly-deniable rape, then, including of children (the ultimate taboo) is not a bug or accident, on Pornhub. It’s a structural feature.
A very serious allegation:
Undercover recordings emerged recently in which Mike Farley, a technical product manager at Pornhub, acknowledged Pornhub’s active incentive not to moderate or remove abuse videos. Instead, Farley chuckles about the loopholes the site employs to avoid either needing age verification for abused girls, or any risk that men perpetrating the abuse could be identified.
Harming the revenue model:
For it’s in Pornhub’s interests to let rape and abuse to go un-traceable and un-punishable. For video after video to be uploaded and monetised, with minimal, slow, reluctant intervention. And for this material to remain available free, on demand, via the millions of smartphones that make up 97% of Pornhub’s traffic - an unknown number of which are in the hands of children.
Unsurprising, then, that discovery in the Mindgeek court case recently revealed that content is only grudgingly reviewed by Pornhub’s moderation team of one single person for millions of videos, once it received more than 15 flags. The moderation backlog contained over 700,000 videos.
Shutting down Pornhub would likely be at most a symbolic victory, as there are so many sites out there that are similar to it. It would be a continuous game of whack-a-mole.
We end this weekend’s Substack with a look back at how Imperial Russia tried to create its own tropics in the Caucasus:
If any tangible results of this early phase of the tropicalisation endeavour were anywhere to be found, however, it was in another botanical garden in Sukhum, a major tsarist outpost in Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast. Founded in 1840 by Lieutenant General Nikolai Raevskii, the commander of the military fortified line along the coastline and a passionate botany aficionado, it could boast some of the most exotic plant species growing in the Russian Empire in the open air, including varieties of citrus trees. An officer who visited the garden in 1842 gleefully anticipated that, thanks to it, the empire would have its own ‘oranges, lemons, almonds, olives, cotton, the best tobacco, and, maybe, coffee, tea, cork as well as many pharmaceutical plants.’ In just a few years, the first tea shrubs germinated in the garden’s soil. At the time Britain introduced Camellia sinensis to the Darjeeling area to become self-sufficient in the production of its favourite drink, Russia pursued the same goals in the South Caucasus. Unlike the former, however, it took some more decades before the first large tea plantations were set up in the region.
The rise of tea cultivation in the South Caucasus was a trans-imperial story from the outset. Walter Tschudi Lyall was the man behind it. A British colonial officer in India, he was a nephew of the chairman of the East India Company. His younger brothers were senior officials in the service of the British Raj, whose careers made them governors of Punjab and the North-Western Provinces. In the 1860s, Lyall attempted to establish a tea plantation in the Himalayan foothills, but failed and tried his luck in Tiflis, where he introduced himself to the local authorities as a tea planter with almost two decades of experience, offering his service in founding a company for the cultivation of tea on a large scale. The company planned to bring, just as the British did, Chinese labourers to work on plantations and to ship tea seeds and seedlings from China. The plans never materialised for the lack of money and enormous difficulties that the company met in the corridors of tsarist bureaucracy.
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