cambodia, sounding

2013 Elections and Social Change

So the elections are finally over. The CPP retained enough seats to form a majority government on its own, though it lost so much ground to the CNRP that some are calling the results a “wake up call” for the CPP [Phnom Penh Post, 2].

All in all, given the (different types of) threats of violence, this may be the best possible outcome. The next 5 years will provide evidence one way or the other. Meanwhile, I expect the nastiness from folks who do literally nothing but complain in private, but scream nastily at everyone they know (and lots of strangers) during election season, to drop off.

Which is part of the problem, actually. Not the absence of nastiness, which is rarely useful, but the absence of real engagement. More than anything else, representational politics encourage disengagement, punctuated by shrieking madness around every election. When political parties seem like the only possible route for change, more substantial and positive ways of improving the world are ignored. I’ve heard that Facebook is ‘the’ place to be for the Cambodian election, but I left Facebook during the last American election, when people who hadn’t done a lick of organizing or work to improve society in four years suddenly started accusing all their friends of being on the wrong side of history. Then, a week afterwards, they were back to watching sitcoms and guzzling diet soda. This version of politics is entertainment. Distraction. Not change. Continue reading


The Role of Metrics in Racist Science

**Trigger Warning for those who find the predatory collection and scientific examination of human remains disturbing.**

Stephen J. Gould’s enormously influential book, The Mismeasure of Man, took on the most influential examples of racist science, ranging from IQ tests to phrenology. In this excellent book, he demolished the racist preconceptions of such science, and demonstrated convincingly that these pseudoscientific measures of racial intelligence (how big is cranial capacity, what’s the shape of the skull, etc.) were not only wrong in the details, but far more importantly, useless in proving their points: that intelligence is influenced by racial inheritance.

With the current rise in extreme right-wing, racialist ideology in the United States, and its increasing acceptance and popularity in the mass media, some academics have predictably joined the bandwagon, and are attempting to recuperate some of the most egregious examples of racist science.  Murray and Herrnstein tried this with IQ tests back in the 90s with their wildly popular and now debunked book The Bell Curve. Even stranger, these current academics are attempting to recuperate the work of Samuel G. Morton, grand head-collector of the racist science.

In earlier work of mine on the collection of Native American remains by museums and private collectors, I had an opportunity to examine an original edition of Morton’s Crania Americana, which included a hand-written note from Morton, encouraging the recipient of the book to collect as many Indian skulls as he could get his hands on, for Morton’s collection.

The report in question is “The mismeasure of science: Stephen J. Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias.” published by PLoS Biology.  In this article, funded by the University of Philadelphia, whose museum houses Morton’s collection, the curators and physical anthropologists, almost all of whom currently work for the university or have a significant connection to it, remeasured the skulls in Morton’s collection.

Ignoring for a moment that these skulls should not be in this collection, but be repatriated to their descendants, their argument is both interesting and facile.  Having re-measured the skulls, they determine that Morton’s measurements were indeed correct.  They acknowledge that Morton was a racist, but argue that his measurements and science were sound, that Gould was the hostage of his own ‘anti-racist ideology’ (a strange phrase, that), and that his book should be repudiated.

Hogwash. I accept that Gould’s measurements may have been inaccurate, but that’s really neither here nor there: the larger point is that these measurements are understood to not have a relationship to intelligence.  The seemingly sympathetic statements made by these folks, including Janet Monge in the video below, are loaded with assertions and implications that ought to disturb not only other ‘anti-racist ideologists (like myself), but also scientists and teachers who would like to help people distinguish between evidence and conclusions.

There’s so much to say about this, but I’ll attempt to let this be enough.

In watching this, I *almost* feel sorry for Monge, who is standing in the front here, trying to defend racist conclusions from irrelevant metrics without sounding like a racist.  On the other hand, like Murray and Herrnstein’s best-seller The Bell Curve, the article has received enormously positive responses from academics and non-academics alike.

Now that it has apparently been shown that all non-African peoples are partially descended from Neanderthals, I wonder if the racists will adjust their positions, so that neanderthals will suddenly start to appear somehow smarter and more superior than full homo sapiens sapiens.


Thailand Exports Hundreds of handicapped, aged, and underage Khmer as ‘hardened criminals,’ in violation of their own laws

Thailand's Idea of a Hardened Criminal

It’s hard to not wake up sick to your stomach when you’ve been thinking about this all night long:

On Jan 11, Deputy Prime Minister Maj Gen Sanan Kachornprasart, in a suit, tie and face mask, gave a press conference at the National Immigration Bureau. He was joined by Immigration Bureau Commander Pol Lt Gen Wuthi Liptapallop, also in a face mask; Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) Minister Issara Somchai; and 557 Cambodians, some who had lost their legs, and who were the apparent cause for face masks.

The officials, standing before the cameras and a table piled high with crutches and prosthetic limbs, claimed the day kicked off their campaign against human trafficking and smuggling gangs.

The 557 Cambodians – a group of 220 men and 337 women, many elderly or severely disabled – were deported as illegal migrants and dumped rather unceremoniously at the border the next day.

Stay Classy, Thailand. And there’s nothing classier than rounding up a bunch of cripples, elders, and children, and then treating their prosthetic limbs as illegal implements in some sort of cop-on-steroids photo op. Continue reading


Comment: “Yuon.”

There have been ugly and largely irrelevant conversations in the press and blogosphere on the Khmer word “yuon.” យួន.  Only two major arguments are advanced. Both are incomplete and largely incorrect.

On the one side, some Vietnamese (though rarely, in my experience, ethnic Vietnamese with much experience in Cambodia) find the term terribly offensive and claim it must always be considered an intended linguistic assault on their person or ethnicity. This is more frequently raised by ethnic non-Vietnamese from a “Western” background.

On the other side, Khmer nationalists line up to defend the term as ‘non-racist, because its linguistic inheritance (variably derived from either “yavana” (Sanskrit: Newcomer) or “Yueh-*” (Southern Chinese term for Vietnamese).  Because Yuon can be derived from a term which is arguably non-racist in origin, it cannot be racist in use.

Bollocks: a term can be ‘innocent’ in conception and ‘racist’ in use, as terms are all the time.  Usage and context is always at stake.  Yuon is “sometimes” racist, and “sometimes” not.  My favorite example on this front is the wonderful meal:

This is politely referred to as “Sour Yuon Soup,” and rudely referred to as “Our Friend’s Soup”

Continue reading


Still More on Haiti

I’ve avoided mentioning Pat Robertson’s energetic kick to his own tonsils here, for the same reasons I avoided mentioning Brit Hume’s awesome attempt to evangelize Tiger Woods – it’s obvious, and the world doesn’t need more commentary on such obvious bone-headed racism and arrogance. Still, found this via anthropophagus, and thought it represented my own thoughts on the matter rather nicely, to wit:

The racism implicit in Robertson and those like him both secular and New Age is obvious. If a nation of black slaves threw off the shackles of imperialism and slavery, they did so only by a pact with the devil. They are a nation of cursed, wretched people who are worthy of only a sort of detached, preaching pity.

via The Haiti Disaster and Superstition – Anarkismo.

And, if that weren’t enough, go read Tenured Radical‘s response to the way this is being covered in the MSM:

Why do even good news reports allow US government officials talk unchallenged about the grossly underdeveloped economy in Haiti, which amplifies disasters like the recent earthquake because of substandard housing and thin state resources that snap when taxed, as if it has nothing to do with centuries of European and American colonialism? In this story Timothy Carney, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti from 1998-1999, speaks of the Duvalier regimes as emblematic of Haitian governments who “bled their people dry.” Well yes, but weren’t the Duvaliers and others virtually in the formal employ of Cold War-era United States foreign aid programs while they did that? And didn’t the United States think that an oligarchical regime that kept its people brutally policed was a good defense against Communism? And didn’t the the United States keep Haiti in its thrall by foisting a crushing load of international debt on the country that was banked by its rulers in Geneva as the country’s infrastructure collapsed?


Eurozine – What is postcolonial thinking? An interview with Achille Mbembe

A fantastic interview with the great Achille Mbembe in Eurozine. The interview is (contrary to almost any interview you’d get in a similar magazine in the States) lengthy, in-depth, and unafraid of appearing…’intellectual.’ Similarly, Mbembe is unafraid of making clear what so many American appropriators of continental thought are always unwilling to acknowledge, that whatever the successes or failures of most modern continental philosophy, the most important movements have been “chiefly concerned with the issue of self-creation and self-government.” He then goes on to quote my man Castoriadis, who deserves far, far greater recognition and discussion in the anglophone world than he has yet received….

Indeed, colonization never ceased telling lies about itself and others. As Frantz Fanon explains so clearly in Black Skin, White Masks, the procedures for racializing the colonized were the driving force behind this economy of duplicity and falsehood. In postcolonial thinking, race is the wild region, the beast, of European humanism. To borrow Castoriadis’s terms on racism, I’d say that the beast puts it more or less this way: “I alone possess value. But I can only be of value, as myself, if others, as themselves, are without value”.

Postcolonial thinking aims to take the beast’s skeleton apart, to flush out its favourite places of habitation. More radically, it seeks to know what it is to live under the beast’s regime, what kind of life it offers, and what sort of death people die from. It shows that there is, in European colonial humanism, something that has to be called unconscious self-hatred. Racism in general, and colonial racism in particular, represents the transference of this self-hatred to the Other.

via Eurozine – What is postcolonial thinking? – Achille Mbembe An interview with Achille Mbembe. Check out the rest of the interview, which includes, among many other topics, important discussions on ‘memory’ and on Fanon and Marx’s reception by the ‘non-West.’