Category: Reflections (Page 1 of 2)

Will the real conservative please stand up?

Who is a conservative? Burke or Buckley? Is Bill Kristol a conservative or Victor Davis Hanson? David Cameron or Peter Hitchens? Or are they all conservatives? Will Narendra Modi of India be considered a conservative? Is Vladimir Putin’s vision of a society conservative, or Rodrigo Duterte’s forceful authoritarian law and order imposition against deviant drug addicts a conservative approach? In that case what is conservative? How can it be defined and charted for this new young century?

For those of you paying attention, two of my colleagues recently started this topical and timely debate. Ben Sixsmith, critiquing Noah Rothman’s Commentary piece, stated that #NeverTrumpers are pseudo-conservatives. Mitch Blatt countered that they are indeed conservatives, because there isn’t any fixed definition of conservatism.

For a non-European/non-American reader of politics, the arguments of both sides might seem odd. Both are correct, both are circular and axiomatic. Both, in some ways, logically contradictory. And both, never tries to define what it tries to critique. Without summarising the aforementioned pieces, (readers can read them, in their due time) let me highlight the contradictions.

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When terror hits home

As a student of political science, and as a researcher in intelligence, I am no stranger to the concept, history, and effects of terrorism. It has been widely researched, and in recent years has become a staple in the education of any person with the remotest interest in international affairs. Certainly it is a centerpiece of tertiary education in political sciences. However, being Australian and having been educated in New Zealand, terrorism has always been a remote practice, removed from my everyday life. That changed this week.

I must first admit that I was slightly behind the times when I woke up this morning. As a full time PhD student that also works twenty hours a week and reviews books in her ‘spare time,’ I rarely have enough hours in the day to complete my work AND keep up on current affairs beyond my express area of research. See, my gym session with the trainer this morning was an hour earlier than usual, so I had a little time on my hands afterward; I decided to get a coffee and some breakfast. As is my custom when I have the time to do this, I asked for the paper to read. When it was delivered to me with my glass of orange juice, all I could do was stare.

Terrorist plot foiled, seven arrested, Christmas Day explosions planned. Headlines I’ve seen before, as I’m sure many have. But this time, the plot that was foiled? Was in my city. My home. Several full colour photos dominated the multiple page spread; Flinders St Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Federation Square. I was in two of those places just two days ago, and across the street from the other. Doing my Christmas shopping, glaring at the horse-and-buggies, laughing with my sister. My sister, who it occurred to me this morning, had we been in the wrong place at the wrong time, could have been killed. By terrorists. In AUSTRALIA. In Melbourne. In our home city.

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How you can get addicted to Twitter, and how you can break an addiction

A few years ago I was at the park with my kids and I saw a dad swinging his baby daughter in a baby swing. The baby chuckled and looked engagingly at her father but he missed returning her happy look because he was looking at his phone.
A small moment in time with a powerful impact.

Guest post by Salma Saad

Self-esteem comes from internalizing parental attention. The baby who repeatedly gets the shaft in comparison to the cell phone internalizes shame and inadequacy instead of a sense of self worth.

What kind of impact will our technology addiction have on our children? I myself regret with sadness that I have not always been as present with my own children as I would have liked to have been.

I worked in advertising and all the big brands that I worked on were addictive substances: soft drinks, fast food, technology, tobacco to name a few. If you watch the documentary “Hungry for Change” you can see how the food industry adds addictive substances to almost everything we eat because this keeps us buying more even though it makes us unhealthier.

As a society we are highly vulnerable to being manipulated by addictive products.

What makes us vulnerable and why are some people easier targets than others?

I don’t have what most people think of as addiction but in therapy I realized that I use a great many mechanisms to distract myself from my emotions. These included chronic work/busyness, daydreaming, technology, caretaking, etc. Most of us know what emotional eating is but eating isn’t the only thing our emotions leave us vulnerable to.

Image by Flickr user Sam Wolff. Shared under CC2.0 license.

Image by Flickr user Sam Wolff. Shared under CC2.0 license.

Stuffed feelings are a marketers dream because this makes us prone to unconsciously seeking out all kinds of material things to distract ourselves from our inner pains. We check social media, or eat some French fries, and it provides us with some temporary pleasure. But this takes us down the slippery slope of becoming dependent on external substances to regulate our emotions and achieve validation.

Over-working and over-exercising are examples of addictions that are often viewed positively and social media/technology addiction, serial dating and unhealthy relationships are regarded as “less serious” than substance abuse.

The nitty gritty of what goes on in our brain and bodies

I know people who say quitting addiction is about will power. There are those who can simply quit smoking cold turkey, for example. But doing so is not the same as a real recovery.

“White knuckling,” as it is called, relies on pure will power without addressing the underlying problems that continue to cause the craving. In fact, it often results in one replacing one harmful addiction with another.

Someone who stopped smoking and became obsessed with Tinder instead didn’t become any healthier. Yes smoking has harmful health affects but becoming hooked on validation from a dating app can have a detrimental affects too, such as long term loneliness.

So what happens inside your brain and your body that makes you vulnerable to addictive products?

Under normal conditions when a person gets scared the sympathetic nervous system automatically increases their heart rate, and then when the threat recedes the parasympathetic nervous system calms their body down.

In people who have experienced chronic threats in childhood the calming affect doesn’t kick in and the body stays on alert longer that it needs to.

Then when the same type of threat comes up again the body doesn’t go into alert as it should. For example, a woman who experienced domestic abuse as a child will disassociate instead of getting angry in her adult relationship therefore allowing the abuse to happen instead of stopping it in the moment.

If your body is too tense/alert when it shouldn’t be and also not tense/alert when it should be then you are going to be an easier target for addictive products and processes.

How I got better

I have had a problem with being too submissive due to the culture I was raised in. I have become more assertive by simply noticing my lack of anger because his helps me to feel the anger and stand up for myself. This started out very hit or miss but after a few times this got much better. I’m finding my voice and my anger is showing up appropriately and I am very glad about this.

Becoming aware and changing the behavior rewires neurons in the brain so that the behavior becomes easier over time.
If you feel that people get away with treating you badly, or if you have trouble saying no, or if you fail to stand up for yourself then pay attention to the activation level in your body in the moment when this is happening to you. Noticing the internal lack of response (not getting angry when you should) will help you speak up.

As you become more assertive your relationships will become more authentic.

I also grew up in danger and so my body is often on high alert even when there is nothing scary going on. I often pause and feel my body and I notice tension, shallow breathing, accelerated heart rate and a closed throat.

You can calm your body down by visualizing tender moments with people you love, such as your children, when you feel a high level of fear or defensiveness in your body. I sometimes wake up at night and I feel restless. I know that my body is highly activated for no reason.

At these times I visualize emotional moments with my kids or my kitten cuddling into my neck. Doing this calms my internal state very quickly and I am able to fall back asleep. I even had success with the practice of visualization during a stressful negotiation not long ago, and the result was very favorable for me.

People whose bodies are in a state of over- or under- arousal are not open to deep emotional connection and tend to have troubled relationships. My life has improved tremendously with respect to my relationships since I started therapy and mindfulness.

I’m not all better yet, rewiring the brain takes time but so much has already improved for me. I hope that sharing my experience will provide some value to others who are struggling with similar issues to myself.

Salma works in technology and is a mother to two boys and two cats. She enjoys writing on many different topics including parenting, technology, her upbringing in the Muslim culture, PTSD from growing up in the third word and other life experiences. You can find more of her blog posts on Medium.

The curious case of Ladislav Basternak

After spending a recent year in Italy and stopping in the UK on the way back, the long journey to Slovakia necessarily felt a bit anxious. Not only that there would be a lot of studying for the upcoming final state exam, together with all PhD applications and job/internship search; I have been also particularly curious about the state I will find my homeland in.

This summer, Slovakia has taken over the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Slovak representatives have started to unusually frequently inflect the adjective ´democratic´ in relation to the country. As if there´s the need to convince domestic and foreign publics of the nature of the Central European state. I am always suspicious when statesmen suddenly come to stress and overemphasize a single issue. And I have had a nagging feeling that instead of comforting increasingly distrustful Slovak citizens, leading politicians have rather been reassuring themselves of persistently democratic character of the Slovak Republic. Or, they have been painstakingly trying to conceal a maturing bummer. It would be a shame if a large- scale scandal in the Slovakia´s domestic politics breaks out right during the Council Presidency. Such an instance would deal a major blow to the country´s prestige and could even lead to a fragmentation of coalition. The growing incidence of and frequency with which the collocation ´democratic- Slovakia´ appears in the media recently calls for further investigation.

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What difference a year makes…

So, I posted this on FB today.

When Churchill had a dinner with Sir William Harcourt, just prior to the First World war, in the course of the conversation, Churchill asked him, what is going to happen. Sir Harcourt replied, “My dear Winston, the experiences of a long life has convinced me, that nothing ever happens.”

When Churchill retired after Second World war, Churchill wrote about this dinner and said, “since that moment, as it seems to me, nothing has ever ceased happening” .

It started with this meme I made, a year back, jokingly, somewhat drunk, back in Kolkata. Ukraine

After almost five years in New Zealand, and on my way to UK to start my research. In a comparatively saner world, with just a funny little war about to start in Europe (and that’s not my PhD I’m talking about, although the subject is related) which now seems like aeons away. People were laughing about it, and everyone thought it won’t last long. It’s Europe after all, post-modern and liberal. Wars, interventions, annexations, refugees and nationalist civil strife in Europe are history.

To rephrase Churchill, reflecting upon Europe in the last few months, “nothing has ever ceased happening” since then.


The Day After The Referendum

There is still a somewhat stunned silence around in relation to the referendum results. I have the pleasure of working in an environment where everyone was very vocal about their hatred of the European Union and have not spared their words on the topics of immigration and governance. Yet yesterday, when the results were confirmed and the markets started plummeting, there was a distinct silence around. The resounding feeling quietly expressed was ‘what have we done’. This juxtaposed with the roar on social media from those of us who are linked with academia, raging about lost opportunities, fearing for funding, and like myself, wondering how long it is before us ‘unwanted drains of the society’, the EU migrants, were marched out of the country by Farage and his team. All this was mixed with the Brexit campaigners glee of a victory many did not believe would not happen.

There is so much that could – and will – be said about the campaign and the politics behind it. The discourses on immigration were especially interesting as they dominated the campaign, leaving economic concerns behind. However, for the politically and legally minded, the situation now gets very interesting. The next official step in the process is the activation of Article 50, which in itself poses one rather interesting question in regards to departure of Britain from the EU. David Cameron has stated that the Article should only be activated once the Conservative Party gets a new leader, which is likely to happen in October this year. the EU leaders, however, want Britain out as soon as possible.

What is it that is so interesting about the Article 50?  The Lisbon Treaty states as follows:

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

During the process the country withdrawing is not allowed to be present in the negotiations. Those countries that remain decide among their own group the kind of an offer they will put on a table.  Although the discourses that can be read across different EU states are concentrating on keeping a close alliance between Britain and the EU even after the split, the question does remain: will Britain be made as an warning, the example of what happens if you leave?

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Ben Sasse and Marco Rubio: Only one deserves reverence

On a day when Donald Trump took to CNN and refused to disavow the Ku Klux Klan, and behaved as though he was clueless as to who David Duke was, Ben Sasse penned an open letter to supporters of Donald Trump. The letter gained the young Senator a good deal of publicity, but it also garnered him a great deal of rebuke.

Please understand: I’m not an establishment Republican, and I will never support Hillary Clinton. I’m a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the GOP establishment. My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option.

The Nebraska politician ended his sobering letter with the following:

Conservatives understand that all men are created equal and made in the image of God, but also that government must be limited so that fallen men do not wield too much power. A presidential candidate who boasts about what he’ll do during his “reign” and refuses to condemn the KKK cannot lead a conservative movement in America.


Thank you for listening. While I recognize that we disagree about how to make America great again, we agree that this should be our goal. We need more people engaged in the civic life of our country—not fewer. I genuinely appreciate how much many of you care about this country, and that you are demanding something different from Washington. I’m going to keep doing the same thing.

But I can’t support Donald Trump.

In May, a few months after his initial statement, Ben Sasse wrote another open letter – but this time to majority America.

With Clinton and Trump, the fix is in. Heads, they win; tails, you lose. Why are we confined to these two terrible options? This is America. If both choices stink, we reject them and go bigger. That’s what we do.

Remember: our Founders didn’t want entrenched political parties. So why should we accept this terrible choice?

He has since continued to hold Trump accountable for his lack of policy, as well as lack of good character. 

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Rage Monsters

The rise of Bernie and Trump: The issue of causality

Everyday there’s a new argument on the rise of Trump, or Bernie, for that matter…to a political scientist both are same, populists. There’s no qualitative difference between two old male, proposing free stuff to everyone, feeding on rage and nostalgia for a past that never existed, and blaming free trade for everything that’s ill in modern America. But is it prudent to attribute a chain of causality? Is the Rise of Trump and Bernia even monocausal?

It is interesting to see journalists, historians, and media pundits trying to draw parallels but as a political scientist, I have my doubts. First of all, it’s easy to call Bernie a socialist, he has fixed economic and social ideas, no matter how senile and craven they are. But to assert Trump is a fascist, or a racist, or a realist, or a mercantilist, is to ascribe a logical coherence, when there’s none.

It is not prudent as a political scientist to decide what factors gave rise to what, when the situation is ongoing, that’s why we don’t do research on current events. Deng Xiaoping once joked, when asked about the effect of the French revolution, and he said, we are still trying to find out. Imagine someone in 1970s thinking about if US won or lost in Vietnam, trying to imagine that in 2016, Vietnam and US would be in talks to balance against China? My point is, it is impossible to understand what might happen in future, and it will be foolhardy to ascertain why Trump chose to run this campaign and what was on his mind.

Does he feed on racism of a certain section of American population? Most definitely. Is he personally a racist? Maybe, anecdotal evidence might lead to that conclusion. Does his campaign strategy involve feeding on the rage machine including extreme xenophobic, insular, anti-semitic rhetoric? Absolutely. Is he an anti-Semite? We don’t have direct evidence, but we know his daughter married a man of Jewish faith. I don’t think David Duke would have allowed that. Is there a section of left, which blames Israel and Zionists for everything? Ofcourse. Is Bernie an anti-Semite? You must be joking.

It’s extremely contradictory, and fluid, and difficult to answer.

My hypothesis is Donald Trump is bigoted, yes, but he is more of an unhinged buffoon and a demagogue. He can say anything to win votes (or sell his book after election), but there is no logical coherence or principle in any of his policy, domestic or international. As of Bernie, he is stuck in a 1960s obsolete worldview. And his young supporters don’t care, as long as he promise to make everything free.

A far interesting academic challenge, and I am planning to build up on that later, is to find out the causes which led to the rise of this phenomenon, this perfect storm, obviously avoiding the trap of monocausality.

I came up with these three factors. 

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A hungry economist takes a cross country bus back home…

This is why you shouldn’t let hungry researchers on a long cross country bus ride back. Sorry I have been busy, I was in London, as most of you who follow me on Facebook already know. Will write about it more soon! However, this is about a bus I took back from London to Nottingham, and it made me realise some dark grave philosophical truths of human lives. I live tweeted some of them. It was grim.

Here they are…

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Here’s everything that’s wrong with Europe and Human Rights

Incase you missed.


If you don’t know this man, or what he did, you don’t deserve to call yourself literate or educated. But that’s beyond the point.

This…symbolises everything that’s wrong with Europe. 

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