26 February 2006

Foreign Impressions of Korla, Xinjiang, China

Sunday's Japan Times ran a two-part special report from China's Xinjiang by Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus in Tokyo. Here's an excerpt from his impressions of the oil boomtown of Kuche.
About 60 percent of Korla's population is Han, and most of the unemployed and underemployed are Uighurs. The influx began in the 1970s, due to a major famine in inner China, and has gained pace since then with the development of the oil and gas sector.

Today, Korla exudes the air of a town that is going somewhere -- a place where big deals are negotiated in high-rise office buildings. On the swish Han side of town, designer boutiques, mirror-glass malls and upmarket hotels and restaurants cater to a well-coiffed crowd in shop-to-drop mode.

Only Uighur buskers remind one that this is Xinjiang, their hypnotic drumming and haunting flute-like horn riffs cutting through the din of modern commerce. Playing at the entrance to an underground mall, close to a traditional crafts shop that's also selling Barbie Dolls, their dark-hued clothes, beards and fingerless gloves set them off from the fashionable crowds studiously ignoring them.

Passersby also ignored the large street-side posters of self-sacrificing, quota-exceeding working-class heroes -- anachronistic Stakhanovs for the 21st century -- that nobody even pretends to emulate anymore.

Western news media and international human rights organizations regularly report about assimilation and migration policies that are marginalizing Uighurs in their homeland, and ethnic Han now constitute more than half the population. Chinese is the language of upward mobility, but even this is a limited option for locals, as Han-managed companies entice Han workers to relocate to Xinjiang with higher wages and better benefits.

Whether it is at the oil complexes or in the shopping malls, locals remain on the outside looking in.

The relative deprivation is one of the factors driving separatist political movements. There have been several uprisings and violent outbursts in Xinjiang over the past 50 years -- all have been resolutely quashed. The government is vigilant about this resource-rich, strategically located region contiguous to Russia and Central Asian countries where cross-border ethnic and religious ties are strong.

Foreign Impressions of Kuche, Xinjiang, China

Sunday's Japan Times ran a two-part special report from China's Xinjiang by Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus in Tokyo. Here's an excerpt from his impressions of the dusty outback town of Kuche.
Pulling into the dusty, smoky-as-a-BBQ-pit town of Kuche, the hotels also sport a pachinko glitter, while along the main streets the now familiar fake palm tree fronds wink away garishly through the night.

My PDA-toting, wireless-networking, text-messaging, gizmo-maxed companion put our hotel search in perspective-mandatory broadband. Coming from Japan, where thin band is the rule in the boonies, I thought "dream on."

As it turned out, our concrete Stalinesque mausoleum of a hotel served mediocre food and worse wine, did not deliver warm showers, and had a room temperature alternating between that of the Ar[c]tic and the Gobi Desert -- but it miraculously had broadband. Gizmo-journalist heaven! The operator gave me the access number for a cheap dial-up international call service while the cashier matter-of-factly accepted credit cards -- all eyebrow-raising events for one accustomed to traveling in Japan.

All this, mind you, in the outback, way closer to Central Asia than Shanghai.

Near Kuche we took a drive through China's answer to Monument Valley and Cappadoccia, a stunning surreal landscape with Uighur shepherds tending their flocks, pristine rivers, monastic ruins and rainbow-hued, oddly shaped rock formations. Stealing a page from the Japanese, the canyon we visited is ranked in the official Chinese canyon top 10, and small Han Chinese tour groups were equipped with both flags and bullhorns.

But the weekly Friday market is where Uighur Kuche comes into its own. A bustling open-air zone of frenetic haggling, shopping and snacking, nary a word of Chinese can be heard. Donkey carts, taxis and trucks snake their way thought the teeming crowds. Sesame nan are piled high and the delicious odor of lamb kebab wafts through the smoky market.

Aside from a few burkas, many women don their best, flirt with the male hawkers for bargains and revel in the festival-like atmosphere. Swarthy, handsome men sport a stunning array of furry and woolly headgear and most have beards and mustaches. Young men seamlessly shift from menacing scowls to beguiling smiles, comparing notes on the local hotties at a distance.

Although nothing here seemed Chinese, all that is set to change as the government plans to close the market and relocate it to a charmless mall where rents and taxes can be collected.

25 February 2006

Raymond Yoshihiro Aka, 1915-2006

Saturday's Honolulu Star-Bulletin notes the death of one of the key behind-the-scenes people responsible Japan's postwar reconstruction.
Raymond Yoshihiro Aka, who was honored by the Japanese emperor for his work strengthening U.S.-Japanese relations, will be buried Friday at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

Aka was 90 when he died Jan. 5 in Walnut Creek, Calif. The son of Japanese immigrants, Aka was born in Wailuku in 1915 but spent much of his childhood in Okinawa. He graduated from McKinley High School in 1939.

In September 1941, a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Aka was drafted while he was a student at the University of Hawaii. He served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II and then as a warrant officer in the Japanese Liaison Office in Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Tokyo headquarters after the war.

After his honorable discharge in 1947, he became a civilian employee of the U.S. Department of the Army during Japan's postwar reconstruction and was involved in the drafting of the Japanese Constitution, civil service, election reform and the establishment of the police reserves.

24 February 2006

Far Outlier Winter Olympic Favorites

I haven't watched that much of the Torino Winter Olympics, but my favorite medalists so far are:

23 February 2006

King Cotton Diversifies to Togo and Turkestan, c. 1890

Perhaps the most important impact of the American Civil War [on the global cotton industry] was the realization of cotton manufacturers everywhere of the dangers of depending on a single supplier of cotton. In consequence, manufacturers appealed to their respective national governments to open new and more reliable sources of cotton supply, most prominently among them the Manchester Cotton Supply Association, the British Cotton Growing Association, the Association Cotonnière Coloniale, the Kolonialwirtschaftliches Komitee, and the Central Asian Trading Association. Reliability, by implication, usually meant the political control of the territory in which cotton could be grown, and it was in these last decades of the century that cotton manufacturers and imperial states favored colonial cotton production--the French in Mali, the Russians in central Asia, the Germans in Togo, and the British in Egypt, Sudan, and India.

Britain most forcefully pursued such a policy, but other governments followed suit. Germany, for example, diversified its suppliers after the war, with India and Egypt enjoying a significant share of what had become the continent's most important cotton market. When in 1901 the nation's cotton spinners, along with the imperial government, sent a "cotton expedition" to the German colony of Togo, they issued a "Mahnruf zum Baumwollbau auf eigener Scholle" because more than a million people in Germany, they argued, had come to depend on a regular supply of cotton. Relying on countries such as the United States, India, and Egypt was dangerous, they believed, not least because these nations used ever more of their own cotton in their own factories. The solution to these problems was to be the growing of cotton in German colonial possessions. Eventually, these cotton manufacturers also helped to hire a number of African American cotton farmers from Alabama to settle in Togo, all of them recent graduates of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. These farmers, chosen personally by none other than Booker T. Washington, did turn Togo into a cotton-exporting colony.

In Russia, efforts to grow cotton on native soil had begun during the Civil War but were vastly expanded after the solidification of Russian rule over Turkestan in the 1870s. During that decade, a group of cotton mill owners got together in Moscow, creating the Central Asian Trading Association to find ways to expand cotton production in central Asia, with the strong support of the imperial government. Over the ensuing years, large-scale infrastructure projects were undertaken, especially the building of railroads and irrigation projects. While at first cotton was transported on the backs of camels--which took three to four months to cover the 600 miles to the nearest railroad depot--the building of railroads cut transportation time to a few days. By 1890 so much cotton was grown in Turkestan (nearly one-quarter of the total amount of cotton used in Russian factories) that one historian has argued that the province had in effect become "the cotton colony of Russian capitalism." By the end of the 1890s, thanks to these efforts, Russia had turned into one of the most important cotton-growing countries in the world, ranking fifth behind the United States, India, China, and Egypt.

In a major shift, the world cotton industry now came to be structured more by imperial states and their colonies and ever less by the workings of the markets organized by capitalists themselves. States intervened further by raising tariff barriers to the import of manufactured cotton goods. As a result, export markets in countries controlled by the imperial powers themselves increased dramatically in importance. Most significantly, whereas Great Britain had exported 73 percent of its cotton textiles in 1820 to Western Europe and the United States, by 1896 only 24 percent went to those areas and 76 percent was shipped to Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
SOURCE: "Cotton: A Global History," by Sven Beckert, in Interactions: Transregional Perspectives on World History, edited by Jerry H. Bentley, Renate Bridenthal, Anand Yang (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2005), pp. 56-57

22 February 2006

A Southern White Male Trinity

The history-teacher blogger at Civil War Memory has posted a wonderful tableau that could certainly stand behind the baptismal font of a Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated church in either Memphis, TN, or Danville, VA.

via Cliopatria

Coxinga, Everyone's Favorite Loyalist

The Zheng [clan of Coxinga] were defeated [in 1683], and the dream of restoring the Ming was officially over. For bringing an end to the resistance by surrendering, [Coxinga's grandson] Keshuang was named as the Duke Who Quells the Seas. He became a minor noble in the Manchu aristocracy, and remained in north China, where he was classified as a member of the Bordered Yellow Banner. Shi Lang, the man who defeated him, received even greater honours, and some years after his own death, was officially deemed a name worthy of worship in the Temple of Eminent Statesmen....

There, the story of the Zheng clan should end, except that Chinese biographies often extend into the afterlife. Coxinga, the Zhengs' most famous son, was no exception.

The desecrated graves of the Zheng clan were restored in 1700, as the first of several steps in which the Manchu conquerors paid their respect to the enemy who had caused them so much trouble. Coxinga remained a hero to the Chinese, and even to the Manchus, who could not help but admire his dogged refusal to betray his beloved Dynasty of Brightness [Ming]. The Manchu state, founded to a large extent on the willingness of Chinese defectors to switch sides, eventually recognised Coxinga as a Paragon of Loyalty in 1787. He was held up to successive generations as a hero to be emulated.

Coxinga's crowning glory came in 1875, over two centuries after his death, in a China threatened by foreign powers. In recognition of the first Chinese warrior to inflict a resounding defeat upon barbarians from beyond the sea, Coxinga was elevated to divine status with the dedication of a temple to him. In fact, statues and pictures of Coxinga had long been found on altars all around Taiwan, where local people were found to be seeking his aid from beyond the grave. To the Chinese on Taiwan, he was the 'loyal and pure' Prince of Yanping, or the Sage King Who Opened Our Mountains.

In 1898, when Taiwan was handed over to the Japanese as a spoil of war, the new Japanese governor immediately paid his respects to Coxinga, the 'Japanese' conqueror who had originally wrested the island from foreign invaders. Coxinga was honoured by the island's new masters with incorporation into the pantheon of Japan's native Shinto religion, thereby achieving the rare distinction of becoming a god twice.

Coxinga's sometime ally, the partisan Zhang Huang-yan once wrote that 'for a thousand autumns, men will tell of this'. Barely a third of that number has passed since Coxinga's death, and yet the hero remains a popular subject in plays, novels and filrns.

In the twentieth century, his memory became a rallying point for Republican Chinese determined to oust foreign aggressors. Coxinga was regarded as a saintly predecessor by Chiang Kai-shek's government-in-exile on Taiwan, but also became a hero for the Communists – he was both the man who banished the Western imperialists, and also the conqueror who helped make Taiwan part of China. None can agree if he was a pirate or a king, a loyalist or a madman. But in parts of Taiwan, people still pray to him for rain.
SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 259-260

19 February 2006

Michael Anti on Google and Yahoo in China

Michael Anti, the Chinese citizen whose MSN blog Microsoft deleted at the request of the Chinese government, defends Google and Microsoft, attacks Yahoo, and tells the U.S. Congress to butt out, all in a post translated on ESWN entitled The Freedom of Chinese Netizens Is Not Up to the Americans. (Anti's Chinese version here.)
On the eve of the US Congressional Hearings directed against the four big Internet companies (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Cisco) about their coloration [collaboration?] with the Chinese government, I am writing to state that I believe that this has nothing to with us whatsoever. This is a purely internal American affair. When we Chinese who love freedom attempt to promote freedom of expression, we never thought that the right for freedom of expression ought to be protected by the US Congress. Every single blog post of mine was written in Chinese, and every sentence was written for my compatriots. I have no interest to cater to the interests of foreign readers....

Companies such as Microsoft and Google have provided Chinese netizens with much freedom of information over these years. They have begun to compromise recently. This is the shame of American companies as well as the shame of the Chinese people. The solution from the American side is that these companies must adhere to their bottom lines and be more responsible. Not only do you need the Chinese market, but China also needs these American companies. Your negotiation conditions are not getting fewer, but there are more. The Chinese netizens need freedom to grow more and more.

For the US Congressional representatives who think that everything is black-and-white, the absurd proposal is that "compromise=retreat." They even treat the freedom of the Chinese netizens as a maid that they can dress us as they wish. This proves once again: the freedom and rights of the Chinese people can only be won by the Chinese people themselves.

The only true way of solving the Internet blockage in China is this: every Chinese youth with conscience must practice and expand their freedom and oppose any blockage and suppression every day. This is the country that we love. Nobody wants her to be free more than we do. I am proud to be your compatriot.

At the end of my statement, I must state once again that I have mentioned only Microsoft and Google as the American companies, but it is definitely not Yahoo! A company such as Yahoo! which gives up information is unforgivable. It would be for the good of the Chinese netizens if such a company could be shut down or get out of China forever.
via Asiapundit. Nick Kristof also weighs in behind the New York Times elite opinion wall. (Michael Anti now works for the NYT Beijing bureau.)
Google strikes me as innocent of wrongdoing. True, Google has offered a censored version of its Chinese search engine, which will turn out the kind of results that the Communist Party would like (and thus will not be slowed down by filters and other impediments that now make it unattractive to Chinese users). But Google also kept its unexpurgated (and thus frustratingly slow) Chinese-language search engine available, so in effect its decision gave Chinese Web users more choices rather than fewer.
UPDATE: As if on cue, Sunday's Washington Post carries a wonderfully detailed report by Philip P. Pan about how Chinese netizens are winning some battles for their own freedom.
BEIJING -- The top editors of the China Youth Daily were meeting in a conference room last August when their cell phones started buzzing quietly with text messages. One after another, they discreetly read the notes. Then they traded nervous glances.

Colleagues were informing them that a senior editor in the room, Li Datong, had done something astonishing. Just before the meeting, Li had posted a blistering letter on the newspaper's computer system attacking the Communist Party's propaganda czars and a plan by the editor in chief to dock reporters' pay if their stories upset party officials.

No one told the editor in chief. For 90 minutes, he ran the meeting, oblivious to the political storm that was brewing. Then Li announced what he had done.

The chief editor stammered and rushed back to his office, witnesses recalled. But by then, Li's memo had leaked and was spreading across the Internet in countless e-mails and instant messages. Copies were posted on China's most popular Web forums, and within hours people across the country were sending Li messages of support.

The government's Internet censors scrambled, ordering one Web site after another to delete the letter. But two days later, in an embarrassing retreat, the party bowed to public outrage and scrapped the editor in chief's plan to muzzle his reporters.
via Instapundit

This story kicks off a series on The Great Firewall of China.

The Manchu Great Wall Around the Sea, 1650s

From Canton in the south to the northern coastal region near Beijing itself, the [Manchu] Emperor of Unbroken Rule ordered the evacuation of the shoreline. For a distance of thirty miles from the sea, no habitation was permitted, on pain of death. The farmers and fishermen, along with their families, were given mere days to evacuate. Manchu soldiers then arrived and destroyed everything within the designated no-man's-land. Houses and barns were burned, crops wete razed and boats were sunk at their moorings.

People in some areas refused to take the edict seriously, convinced that it had somehow been garbled in its transmission. They stayed put, only to be surprised by the arrival of torch-bearing soldiers, who threw them out of their homes and burned down their villages. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese people became refugees, in a land stripped of food. Many died of starvation, or were hunted down by unsympathetic soldiers when the evacuation period expired.

The Manchus encouraged the conquered Chinese to share in their fear and ignorance of the sea. The former nomads preferred grassy steppes, mountains and lush forests – they had no wish to see a vast expanse of ocean, particularly when it harboured Coxinga and his followers. With their coastal prohibitions, they hoped not only to cut off Coxinga from his secret suppliers, but also to remove the sea from China's field of interest.
SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 182-183

The Ming Loyalist Redoubt on Taiwan, 1650s

The Manchu coastal prohibitions certainly made Coxinga take notice, but in the short term, they may even have helped him. His raiders raced to pick through whatever was left behind, and carried off what food and supplies they could from the abandoned villages before the Manchu demolition teams arrived.

The Manchus did not particularly care where the local population went; they merely wanted them to leave the coast. Leave they did, but many sought refuge with the Ming loyalists, who arrived to ship them across the straits to Taiwan.

Although the defeat in Nanjing might have finished Coxinga's reputation as an adversary of the Manchus, the ranks of his followers were swelled by thousands of disaffected coastal dwellers, who preferred to head east and out to sea, instead of west to an unknown fate on land. Zheng family ships took refugees in their thousands to colonies on Taiwan, swelling the Chinese population there.

As time passed, the effect of the coastal prohibitions began to make itself felt. [Coxinga defector] Huang Wu had been right – the removal of any coastal dwellers seriously damaged Coxinga's ability to obtain supplies from allies inland. Communication with the distant [Ming] Emperor of Eternal Experiences became more difficult, and the Zheng family clung only to a few coastal islands such as Amoy and Quemoy. However, Coxinga's fleet and followers remained supplied from anew source. Chinese refugees established in military colonies on Taiwan were able to clear land and farm new crops for the Zheng organization. Mainland China might have been all but lost to Coxinga, but the Taiwan Strait continued to keep a Manchu counter-offensive at bay.

Protected from his enemies by the sea itself, Taiwan could be the perfect place from which Coxinga could plan his next move. It might take years to rebuild his forces to a level suitable for a repeat performance of the march on Nanjing, but Taiwan had the resources to make such a project possible. There was only one small problem.

The Dutch would have to go.
SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 186-187

18 February 2006

China Needs to Get Rich Before It Gets Too Old

Bloomberg News columnist Andy Mukherjee explains why China needs to get rich before it gets too old.
Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Helen Qiao, an economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Hong Kong, posed an interesting question this week: "Will China grow old before getting rich?"

Qiao's research shows that China's dependency ratio -- the number of people too young and too old to work divided by the working-age population -- will start rising at the end of this decade and approach 50 percent in 2030, from less than 40 percent at present, making China as gray as Japan was last year.

By 2050, every 10 Chinese workers in the age group of 15 to 64 will support a total of seven younger and older people -- a dependency ratio of 70 percent.

An aging society may be an inevitable part of demographic transition, though "what makes China's case unique is that the sharp rise in dependency ratio will arrive earlier in terms of per capita income level relative to other countries," Qiao says in her report.

In 2030, China's annual per capita income will be a little more than $11,000 measured in current prices, compared with almost $36,000 in Japan last year, according to Goldman Sachs's estimates. South Korea's dependency ratio will approach 50 percent in 2025, with its citizens earning $52,000 a year.

Does it matter if China gets old before it gets rich? It does, for a number of reasons. First, economic growth rates taper off with aging: It's difficult for a developing nation to get rich after its population has already grown old.
via RealClearPolitics

Deep Thoughts: Cheney vs. Quail

Finally, a blogger (a karate fan, not a gun nut) gives the Cheneying of Whittington the deeply thoughtful analysis it deserves.
Gun Controllers can now add "vice presidents" to the list of people who should not be allowed to purchase or maintain a firearm. The list already includes convicted felons, so it isn't exactly a stretch to add politicians. If I were president, I wouldn't want my vice president to be armed, I can tell you that. It conjures up catchy business-sounding phrases such as "Accelerated Line of Succession." I imagine we can expect to see the Bush Administration starting to take a closer look at Cheney's roadmap for the administration. Now that Cheney has demonstrated how dangerous he can be, the White House staff is probably on edge....

I take some comfort in knowing that not only is The Left going to be laughing at Dick Cheney's little hunting accident, so are the quail. So, Democrats can take comfort from the fact that a lot of quail will be registering as Democrats this year. Especially since picture ID's being required at the voting booth is getting nowhere fast, quail should have no trouble voting using a touch screen. The results we get in our elections will probably be little different than they are today....

I guess what is most amazing about the entire incident is that Cheney didn't have a heart attack when he realized that he had shot his friend, embarrassed the White House, damaged the gun rights movement, and caused over a billion quail to become registered Democrats. His ticker must be in better shape than we thought.
via PhotoDude

17 February 2006

TNR on the Cartoon Intifada in Lebanon

The latest issue of The New Republic shatters another common illusion about the cartoon offensive.
For the Western news media, always eager to revisit Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war, the Muslim rampage through a Christian neighborhood in Beirut on February 5 was a disappointment. A mob of predominantly Sunni Muslims threw stones at a Maronite Catholic church--a desecration most militias refrained from even during the civil war--and yet Beirut's Christians turned the other cheek. A peaceful counterdemonstration that night felt like a Cedar Revolution class reunion: Young men and women milled around chanting desultory slogans, then went home. By nightfall, what was assumed to be a ham-handed Syrian attempt to stir up sectarian trouble in Lebanon had fizzled. "We will not fall in the trap," proclaimed Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. "Our national unity is stronger than Syrian destruction."

The cartoon intifada--as the sometimes violent protests over a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed have come to be known--has been portrayed in the Western press as an epic struggle between West and East, Christendom and Islam. The image of angry, stone-throwing Muslims assaulting the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh fit right into that clash-of-civilizations paradigm.

But, as the world tuned in to watch a classic Christian-Muslim image from Lebanon's last war, it missed another picture: mainstream Sunni clerics frantically trying to hold back a bandana-wearing, brick-throwing Sunni mob that no longer respects their clerical robes. "I asked those troublemakers, 'What do the people who live in Ashrafiyeh have to do with the people who published those blasphemous cartoons about our Prophet?'" lamented one Sunni cleric from Dar Al Fatwa, Lebanon's highest Sunni spiritual authority. "I asked them, 'Why were those men destroying cars and public property? Why did they throw rocks at a church, which is a house of God?' Those people were not true Muslims. They had other agendas."

In Lebanon and Syria, the cartoon jihad is not a battle between West and East. It's a struggle by mainstream Sunnis to contain a growing network of radical Islamists. The Sunnis who burned Beirut's Danish Embassy weren't there to defend their Prophet from Lurpak butter or an obscure Danish newspaper. They weren't even there, really, to assault Christians. They came to Ashrafiyeh--from Lebanon's northern Islamist pockets, its Palestinian camps, and from neighboring Syria--to teach the mainstream Sunni establishment a lesson. Most of all, they were there to send a message to Saad Hariri, the Saudi- and U.S.-backed figurehead of Lebanon's current parliamentary majority and the ostensible leader of Lebanon's Sunni community. The message was this: You cannot control us. What's frightening is that they might be right.
In a war between the Tolerant and the Intolerant, the Intolerant always have the tactical advantage--and never have as many enemy sympathizers in their midst. Fortunately, their tactical advantage can translate into strategic weakness, as their violent persecution of heretics alienates more and more potential allies.

T. G. Ash on Malaysia's Multiculturalism

Timothy Garton Ash, who did yeoman work reporting from Eastern Europe before and during its escape from the Soviet Empire, files a now-trademark world-weary report in the Guardian from Malaysia, headlined I respect your articles of faith - will you respect mine?
Measured by the standards of the Middle East, indeed of most majority Muslim states, Malaysia is an exemplar of interfaith coexistence.

As the maritime trading crossroads of south-east Asia, it has for centuries been a place where all of what Europeans have called "the east" has met - Indians, Chinese and Japanese, as well as the native peoples. Its population became even more diverse under the aegis, at once repressive and transforming, of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists. (From the window of the National History Museum, which is housed in a building where John Major once worked as a banker, you still peer down on a somewhat melancholy cricket pitch.) This place was globalised well before anyone talked of globalisation.

Look a little closer, however; talk to Malaysians from the minority faiths as well as critical observers within the Muslim community, and the picture becomes more muddy - as befits a city whose name means "muddy confluence". For a start, the communities coexist rather than co-mingle. I'm told there is relatively little intermarriage. This is no melting-pot. "We live and let live," says the Buddhist businessman of Sri Lankan origin. Apart from anything else, the different groups' religious prescriptions often prevent them eating each other's food.

Of course there's nothing wrong with such peaceful coexistence. The same was true of another often-lauded exemplar of multiculturalism, Sarajevo, before the second world war, and it is probably true of parts of London and New York today. Only advancing secularism (as in Sarajevo under the communist regime led by Marshal Tito) or farreaching assimilation (as has been traditional in France and America) produces the deeper mixing. But retaining separate communities does mean that politics remain group-based and there is always the potential for violent conflict to erupt, as happened here in 1969, if one group feels strongly disadvantaged.

In Malaysia, all communities are equal but some are more equal than others. Although the National Front coalition, which has been in power since 1957, includes Chinese and Indian parties, the Muslim Malay majority is dominant. While the Chinese still have a predominant position in the business community, there is affirmative action for the Muslim Malays, and other "indigenous" groups, in access to higher education, jobs in the civil service, government contracts and housing. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict is avoided not by the systematic balancing mechanisms of a liberal democracy, with fully representative politics, free media and independent courts, but by a semi-democratic, semiauthoritarian balancing act, with a distinct tilt towards the Malay Muslim side. The day I arrived, the government announced the indefinite suspension of the Sarawak Tribune newspaper, which published one of the Danish cartoons. It also made it an offence for anyone to publish, import, produce, circulate or even possess copies of the caricatures....

You may say: what right have I, as a westerner, a guest and a descendant of British colonialists to boot, to point these things out? Indeed, the religion with which I grew up teaches that one should start by criticising one's own faults rather than those of others. That seems to me a good principle. So my first responsibility is to look at the way my own communities - Oxford, Britain, the EU, the west - treat their own minorities, not least their Muslim minorities. We have plenty of discrimination and double standards of our own.

Does that disqualify me from commenting on other countries' shortcomings? I think not, especially when what I'm doing is reporting criticisms made to me by Malaysians, people who do not feel they can speak entirely freely in their own country and who would not be published if they did. In fact, I believe that as a writer with access to free media I have a duty to speak up for those who cannot speak freely for themselves. That's my strongly held belief, and I trust that political leaders of other faiths, including Islam, will respect my beliefs. Then we can have a productive interfaith dialogue.
via RealClearPolitics

16 February 2006

Why Asian Muslims Didn't Explode

Karim Raslan writes in the International Herald Tribune about differences within both the Muslim and the Western worlds.
The extensive violence and ugly rhetoric we are seeing broadcast from elsewhere in the Muslim world point to differences between the Arab-Muslim heartland and the Indo-Malay periphery.

Yes, we are part of the extended family of believers, the ummah. We cannot help but feel some sense of solidarity with our co-religionists in Damascus, Tehran or Cairo. But the explosiveness of the Arab street doesn't translate, somehow, to the tropics.

Many of us have a growing suspicion that we are culturally different from our Arabic- and Urdu-speaking brethren, perhaps more tolerant and less emotional.

I am reminded of how uncomfortable I felt last year when traveling through Saudi Arabia, surrounded by a people I found disquietingly alien.

For all we share as Muslims, we Southeast Asians don't really know what it's like to inhabit the cultures or politics of the Middle East.

Nor is the West a unitary culture. Europe's fervent secularism reminds me that the nation of the Great Satan, with its crowded churches and Sunday preachers who fill sports stadiums, is actually more like my world than Europe is.

Since Sept. 11, I've accepted certain verities that now I have come to question. Europe was supposed to be the neutral bastion of moderation in the face of a belligerent America. But in fact that Europe is godless and alone.
via Middle East Transparent

UPDATE: Malaysian blogger the _earthinc offers a much better take on the cartoon offensive that doesn't appeal to cultural (or "tropical") values. (After all, the English word amok was borrowed from Malay, not Arabic.)
When I first heard that a Danish media published caricatures of Prophet Mohammad (tag) last year, to be honest, being a Muslim myself, I was slightly irritated. Though it's an act of free speech, the Danish media abused its rights. That was that and I didn't expect it to balloon up unnecessarily. I didn't expect it because I don't think it's rational for such issue to take a center stage in world politics. Apparently, I have overestimated the Muslim world's sensibility. Muslim Malaysians on the contrary are acting coolly. Comparing Malaysians' response against Arabs and Indonesians' reaction on it, I can't help but feel proud to be a Malaysian.

In my opinion, what's happening in the Muslim world is a gross overreaction followed by impossible demand. The side at fault is the rightwing newspaper Jyllands-Posten, not the Danish government. Moreover, the Danish government has no right to censor the newspaper. Nobody should but that's another matter altogether. Hence, the Danish government has no reason to apologize....

The ability to discern between the government and a private entity is not lost on Malaysians, unlike Arabic countries and Indonesia. In fact, I think, Malaysia is the only Muslim-majority country that is not blaming the Danish government for a private entity's doing. I might be wrong but it seems like so.

To all Muslims out there, seriously, be sensible. The first thing to do is to realize that it's a rightwing paper that started this, not Denmark the country. Differentiate the two and then comprehend that the Danish government can't censor that paper. Blaming and targeting the Danish government and its people for things that they didn't do only complicates the matter at hand and bring about a much unneeded clash of culture.

So Denmark, I stand by thee. But definitely not by Jyllands-Posten.
via LaputanLogic

UPDATE 2: The culture editor of the Jyllands-Posten explains in a Washington Post op-ed what has been happening in Denmark since the publication of the cartoons.
Since the Sept. 30 publication of the cartoons, we have had a constructive debate in Denmark and Europe about freedom of expression, freedom of religion and respect for immigrants and people's beliefs. Never before have so many Danish Muslims participated in a public dialogue -- in town hall meetings, letters to editors, opinion columns and debates on radio and TV. We have had no anti-Muslim riots, no Muslims fleeing the country and no Muslims committing violence. The radical imams who misinformed their counterparts in the Middle East about the situation for Muslims in Denmark have been marginalized. They no longer speak for the Muslim community in Denmark because moderate Muslims have had the courage to speak out against them.

In January, Jyllands-Posten ran three full pages of interviews and photos of moderate Muslims saying no to being represented by the imams. They insist that their faith is compatible with a modern secular democracy. A network of moderate Muslims committed to the constitution has been established, and the anti-immigration People's Party called on its members to differentiate between radical and moderate Muslims, i.e. between Muslims propagating sharia law and Muslims accepting the rule of secular law. The Muslim face of Denmark has changed, and it is becoming clear that this is not a debate between "them" and "us," but between those committed to democracy in Denmark and those who are not.
via Peaktalk

On Trying to Reach H&R Block's Tech Support

I've been a little bogged down lately trying to complete my taxes for 2005 before heading off for Japan again in March. This is my second year of using H&R Block's TaxCut after more than a decade of TurboTax, whose customer service has got progressively worse after it was taken over by Intuit. (I'm not talking about either tax advice or tech support. They couldn't even manage to deliver their product to me the last two years before I dropped them.)

Well, after I recently took advantage of TaxCut's online tax advisors, who came back with useful advice, I tried to give a little feedback to their tech support, which seems to reside behind an impenetrable phalanx of automated responses. Here's the record of my attempts to get feedback to their tech support.

Joel to onlinetaxesfeedback@hrblock.com:
I posted a tax question to your online tax advisor. The textbox into which I typed by questions stripped all punctuation from my sentences and didn't allow me to navigate with up and down arrows (only left and right). Later, when I entered by payment information, the Address box only allowed [14 characters]; I can't imagine that many people have addresses short enough to fit in that box.

I trust that you handle numbers better than text input, but at this point I'm not very hopeful that I will get any useful text back in reply to my request for tax advice. If I get back an autogenerated reply, I am not likely to use your tax advisor again, nor to recommend it to anyone else.
Online Taxes Feedback to Joel:
Thanks for your feedback. We take customer comments very seriously and use them to continually improve our products. Thanks for taking a moment to share your thoughts.

Your message won’t reach technical support. If you need immediate assistance with your taxes or have a question about a product, click here to sign in to your account. Or, copy and paste this URL into the address bar of your browser: http://www.hrblock.com/customer_support/online.html. You can search the Help Center or click the Contact Us link at the top of the page to contact technical support by phone, e-mail or chat.

Thanks for using H&R Block.
Joel to onlinetaxesfeedback@hrblock.com:
I see. You make it absolutely impossible for customer feedback to get to your technical support. When I login, I just get shoved through to tax advisor screens, well past the Contact Us. When I filled out the message box at Customer Support, I got an automated reply from clarify@fin.hrblock.com. No wonder your online interface sucks. The main reason I switched to TaxCut from TurboTax was for the same kind of incompetent handling of customers.
Online Taxes Feedback to Joel:
Thanks for your feedback. We take customer comments very seriously and use them to continually improve our products. Thanks for taking a moment to share your thoughts.

Your message won’t reach technical support. If you need immediate assistance with your taxes or have a question about a product, click here to sign in to your account. Or, copy and paste this URL into the address bar of your browser: http://www.hrblock.com/customer_support/online.html. You can search the Help Center or click the Contact Us link at the top of the page to contact technical support by phone, e-mail or chat.

Thanks for using H&R Block.
Joel to clarify@fin.hrblock.com:
I posted a tax question to your online tax advisor. The textbox into which I typed by questions stripped all punctuation from my sentences and didn't allow me to navigate with up and down arrows (only left and right). Later, when I entered by payment information, the Address box only allowed [14 characters]; I can't imagine that many people have addresses short enough to fit in that box. I trust that you handle numbers better than text input, but at this point I'm not very hopeful that I will get any useful text back in reply to my request for tax advice. If I get back an autogenerated reply, I am not likely to use your tax advisor again, nor to recommend it to anyone else.
clarify@fin.hrblock.com to Joel:
Thank you for contacting H&R Block.

An H&R Block tax professional will be happy to assist you with your tax-related questions. With H&R Block's Satisfaction Guarantee, you can try us out risk free.

To locate a tax professional in your area, click on http://www.hrblock.com/universal/office_locator.html

If you prefer, tax help is available online for an affordable fee. To get the right answers to your tough questions, go to http://www.hrblock.com/taxes/doing_my_taxes/products/advisor.html

Should you have any future questions we would be happy to assist you. Please contact us at 1-800-HRBLOCK (1-800-472-5625) to speak with a Customer Support Specialist.

The Client Relations Team
H&R Block

Please do not reply directly to this e-mail address (do not use your e-mail 'reply' button). If additional help on this or any other subject is required, assistance is available via the Internet by going to http://www.hrblock.com.

Thank you for your inquiry.
Okay, then. Just keep your crappy online interface.

UPDATE: Reader Justin in DC describes even worse problems with H&R Block's total incompetence online and complete resistance to customer feedback. Are they hiring too many ex-employees of the IRS?
Found this on google, wanted to add that I totally agree how UNBELIVEABLY BUSH LEAGE HRBlock and their website really is.

I made the HUGE mistake of using it, rather than Intuit in 2003 for a return. I now have a problem where I need to access that old filing. I could not remember my password, and their 'system' to reset it reuqires you enter your Username, Social, and Birthdate to check against your filing. It then attempt to hit your credit card to 'confirm' your ID.

The problem is the credit card MUST be the same one one you used origingally with HRBlock. I have the card, but expired in 2005 before I moved. Their 'form' doesn't have 2005 even available in the year drop down, and if I use a current card I am told it does not match their records.

So basically if you move, there is LITERALLY no way to reset your password and get to YOUR finical info.

I did try to call on the phone and wade through the 40 automated menus and finally got to a customer Rep.

She didn't seem to have a clue, and walked through the form because 'I might be entering information correctly'. Once she understood what the problem was she asked me to hold, and after 5min I was greeted with the DIAL TONE.

I called back, and got a guy, who although didn't hang up on me wasn't any help. I have the HRBlock original registration emails, the email with my transaciton code and order id from HRBlock, any other info they want (I offered to fax birth certificate, anyting!) and was told too bad and "thats just the way it is"

I did inform the clown there, that their 'inteface' is retarded and designed with some VERY significant holes in it. He didn't agree, and I just thanked him for not hanging up with me and left it at that.

AVOID HR BLOCK (online at least) ALL ALL COSTS!!!!!!
Justin in DC | 04.28.06 - 4:39 pm | #

15 February 2006

Burma: The Next Iran?

Oh, great. Slate has just published an article by Ian Bremmer entitled "Is Burma the Next Iran?" And it's not talking about an explosion of blogging by Burmese young people.
The United States and its European allies worry that if they simply accept a nuclear Iran, other states will be encouraged to pursue nuclear ambitions of their own. But that ship may already have sailed. As the world watches the twists and turns of Iran's path toward the Security Council, the military regime in Burma may be quietly selling its energy resources to finance the acquisition of nuclear technology....

Burma's generals, known in state-controlled media as the State Peace and Development Council, routinely harass and imprison opposition activists. Citizens have been used as slave labor. The junta's security police have been known to strafe demonstrators with gunfire. In December, an Asian human rights group issued a 124-page report on the Burmese government's "brutal and systematic" torture of political prisoners.

To deepen the country's isolation, last November the generals began to move Burma's capital from the southern coastal city of Rangoon to the mountain stronghold of Pyinmana, deep in the country's interior. Perhaps the regime's oft-stated fear of a U.S. invasion prompted the retreat from the coast. That would explain press reports that the junta has surrounded its new capital with land mines. Perhaps the regime is even more afraid of the ethnically diverse and impoverished students of Rangoon. We can't look for answers to the United Nations' envoy to Burma. He resigned in January after failing for nearly two years to gain entry into the country....

Just as Iran's energy wealth frustrates U.S. and European efforts to sanction Tehran, foreign competition for gas contracts will obstruct international attempts to pressure Burma toward democratic reform. China has profited time and again by forging commercial deals with states that are the objects of international scorn, and other energy-dependent Asian countries (India and South Korea, in particular) don't want China to monopolize Burma's energy reserves. These states and others will continue to chase energy deals there, including agreements to build the infrastructure needed to pipe gas or petroleum directly to their consumers and industries. Even the United States and European Union have resisted pressure to ban all investment in the country—so energy firms Unocal and Total can join in the scramble.

The Burmese junta knows when it approves these deals that it's giving its Asian neighbors an important stake in the regime's survival. China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, is an especially useful provider of diplomatic cover. Energy revenues also help finance the domestic repression that keeps the opposition in check and the generals in charge....

Another reason Burma matters for regional stability is that it adds to the growing list of irritants in U.S. relations with China. Burma provides China with the use of a military base on the Indian Ocean. Sino-Burmese trade grew by more than 10 percent between 2004 and 2005 to more than $1.1 billion. Late last year, China outmaneuvered India for an agreement to buy 6.5 trillion cubic feet of gas. As China's dependence on Burma's energy grows, we can expect Beijing to help the junta resist international pressure—just as they have done for authoritarian regimes in Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. (China has invested around $300 million in Zimbabwe in return for mining concessions and direct supply of gold, diamonds, chrome, bauxite, and possibly uranium.) That will only add to Washington's diplomatic frustrations.

14 February 2006

Kunimoto Takeharu's Bluegrass Shamisen

Hiroshima-based blogger Wide Island profiles Kunimoto Takeharu.
Yesterday I posted a picture of my daughter playing with her mother’s sanshin, a banjo-like Okinawan instrument that is the direct ancestor of the Japanese shamisen. I thought I’d post today about the shamisen player Kunimoto Takeharu and his foray into bluegrass, a style of music I vastly prefer (and I realize I’m in the minority here) to pop, J or otherwise.

Kunimoto was born in Chiba Prefecture. Both parents were practitioners of a form of storytelling called roukyoku. Unlike the older and better-known art of rakugo comic storytelling, in traditional roukyoku narrative is combined with singing, and the storyteller performs standing, accompanied by a concealed shamisen player. There is an improvisational element as well, and the same piece may be dramatically different from one performance to the next. Roukyoku was widely popular at the height of radio, but like many older arts has lost a great deal of its audience in recent decades.
There's more. And the picture he refers to really is quite charming.

Muninn's Recent Japan Travelogue

Catching up on my favorite Asia blog reading, I came across Muninn's post from two weeks ago recounting a few wonderful anecdotes about his latest trip to Japan to present a paper at a conference. It starts off with his encounter with a Swedish-speaking customs official who tests out how similar Norwegian is.
This time, the inspector look at my passport, smiled, and said, “Hei!” I thought he was speaking to me in English and that I was thus being greeted with an exclamation of some kind. I looked around to see what he might be trying to bring my attention to. He then said, “Can I say … Hei!” Then I realized: He is saying “Hei” in Norwegian - that is “Hello.” He said, “In Swedish I can say Hei! Can I say Hei! in Norwegian?” I said, “Yes, it is the same in Norwegian.”

My immigration officer went about continuing to process my visa and after a few seconds he looked up and said, “Norwegian and Swedish is all the same right?” I replied, “Umm…ya Danish, Swedish, Norwegian are all very close, think of it as something like Osaka dialect and Tohoku dialect.”

A few more stamps got issued and mysterious commands entered into his computer as he went back to looking like the stern mechanical immigration officer I have come to expect. Then, suddenly, he asked, “Can I say, ‘Jeg elsker deg.’” I felt a bit weird, looked around to see if there were any laughing Scandinavians nearby but smiled and said, “Yup, in Norwegian ‘I love you’ is also ‘Jeg elsker deg.”
At the conference he attended, one speaker indulged in some uncontested fantasies about Asian values.
Some of these concerns can be seen in the content of the conference’s final talk. At the end of the conference, Iwate University president and former Waseda professor Taniguchi Makoto gave a speech about Asian community in English. I was the only non-Asian at the talk (or at the conference for that matter) and couldn’t help noting the irony that English was the necessary choice of language given that some of the guests from Thailand and Mongolia didn’t speak Japanese (they were also the only participants not to make their presentations in Japanese). Taniguchi speaks fantastic English and his eloquent presentation fit his Cambridge education and long years of experience working for Japan’s foreign ministry, the UN, as deputy head of the OECD, and elsewhere. After an interesting analysis of Japan’s recent failures in negotiations related to the formation of “an Asian community” (indeed, he argued that after losing control of the movement, the foreign ministry is actively trying to torpedo all attempts to make anything meaningful out of the concept), he launched a critique of “Western values”. In passages that remind me of the confidence of the bubble period Japan or Asian leaders before its humbling economic crisis, Taniguchi suggested to the audience that Asia should take pride in its own values and take a more critical stance towards the West.

He offered two pieces of evidence for the inferiority of Western values. He recounted a story of when he was criticized by colleagues in France for having dined with his own chauffeur, thus violating the aristocratic separation of classes. His second anecdote lamented the inhumane behavior of New York City police officers he witnessed rudely expelling the homeless sleeping in Grand Central Station. The message was clear: Asian values have a higher degree of compassion and are less class conscious. The problem, of course, is that this is absolute nonsense. I have indeed accompanied Chinese company managers when they have dined and socialized happily with their chauffeurs in Beijing, but I have also seen Korean executives treat their chauffeurs as barely human slaves on the streets of Seoul. And as for compassion towards the homeless, it is interesting to note that one of Japan’s leading headline stories today (January 31st) is about violent clashes between Japanese police and homeless being evicted from a park in Osaka; their blue tarp tents being torn down.
There's lots more. Read the whole thing.

A Chechen View of the Cartoon Offensive

David MacDuff's well-informed blog A Step At A Time keeps a close watch on events affecting Chechnya and Chechens abroad. From the Russian-language Chechen Society website, he translates posts a portion of an intriguing interview with Musayev Ilias, Copenhagen spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ICR).
- How are your relations with the Danish government?

- They are definitely good and friendly. If they were not so, I do not think that we could have the possibility to lead such a way of life as we do now. The Danish government practically helps us in all kinds of conflicts with Russian authorities by supporting the Chechen community here.

- I am sure that you have heard about the scandal of the published Muhammad drawings in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. What is the position of the Chechen community on this issue?

- Definitely, we consider the drawings to be scandalous but I think there is one very interesting point in this story: I realized Jyllands-Posten’s editor of culture is married to the daughter of a FSB [formerly KGB] general. And he had been working in Moscow as Jyllands-Posten’s correspondent. I suppose that this scandal is nothing else than another regular provocation of the Russian Special Services. Why did they do this? That’s another question. We all know very well that Russian authorities for a long time have been trying to close the North Caucasus' door for western humanitarian organisations, which have a good experience of supporting the Chechen population and also collected a large data archive about war crimes permitted in Chechnya. Of course, they do not want this information to be used by international human rights prosecutors. And the present situation with the Danish Refugee Council is not surprising. Of course the official position of our government in exile is that we would like the Danish Refugee Council to remain in Chechnya. Ramzan Kadirov, the prime minister of Chechnya, only has a 3rd grade education, and he is only a Kremlin mafia's puppet. He never had his own opinion. And he cannot do such kind of steps without the Kremlin's special edict. Also it is a possibility for FSB to create in Denmark the same massive phobia that we have now in Russia. It is the same dirty business, they only changed the picture of the public enemy. If in Russia it is Chechens blasting Russian buildings, in America and, now in Denmark , it is warlike Muslims burning the Danish flag. Using their own agent in Jyllands-Posten, they felicitously prepared the world for the 3rd World War. War between two civilisations – East against West. And I do not really think that Russia will take sides in such a war.
If this has any measure of validity, Putin's FSBocracy may have decided that turnabout's fair play. This time it's Russia's turn to play the nonaligned Third World role while the Islamists take over the role of the Third International in trying to overthrow bourgeois Western society--and impose a totalitarian war-footing on their compatriots until they achieve that goal. Putin can play one side against the other, just as much of the Muslim world did during the Cold War, when every frontline client state enriched its thugocracy and enfeebled its civil society in the process.

In any case, it's more than your run-of-the-mill conspiracy theory.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Richard Cohen in the Washington Post notes how stark the difference is between Putin's policy toward Hamas and his policy toward the Chechens. (via PeakTalk)

Stratfor has also weighed in on Russian's new game. A Step At A Time has the whole thing. Here's a small chunk.
Russia's willingness to speak to Hamas creates a new dynamic in the Muslim world. Syria and Iran are seeking "great power" support against the United States. Indeed, we could expect an evolution in which the Iraqi government also would be looking for counterweights to American power. By inviting Hamas and possibly opening a channel between Hamas and the Israelis, Russia is positioning itself to become a mediator in other disputes, and to walk away with relationships that the United States has been unable to manage.

Given the robustness of Russia's arms industry, which is much more vital and advanced than is generally understood, the Russians could return to their role as arms provider to the region and patron of governments that are hostile to the United States. The situation from 1955 to 1990 was a much more natural geopolitical dynamic than the current situation, in which Russia is really not present in the region. Russia is a natural player in the Middle East.

Remember also that Hamas is very close to Saudi Arabia, with which Russia has an intensely competitive relationship in the energy markets. And then there is Chechnya. The Russians have long charged that "Wahhabi" influence was behind the Chechen insurgency as well as insurgencies in Central Asia. In the Russian mind, "Wahhabi" is practically a code word for "Islamist militants," including al Qaeda. The Russians also feel that, while the Americans have forced the Saudis to provide intelligence on al Qaeda, they have not elicited similar aid on the issue of the Chechens. In other words, Moscow perceives the United States not only as having neglected to help Russia on Chechnya, but as actually hindering it.

The Russians badly want to bring the Chechen rebellion under control without allowing Chechnya to secede. They believe that the Chechen insurgents, and particularly the internationalized jihadist faction among them, would not survive if outside support dried up. They believe that the United States is not displeased to see the Chechen war bleeding Russia, and that Washington has discouraged Saudi collaboration with Moscow. All things considered, this is probably true. In reaching out to Hamas, Russia is also reaching out to the Saudis. The Saudis cannot control the Chechens, but they may have some means of determining the level of operations the Chechens are able to maintain.

13 February 2006

Sparks Hit Prussian-ruled Poznan, 1848

France provided the spark that touched off the unrest [of 1848]. Dogged by a powerful wave of opposition to his unpopular rule, on February 24 King Louis Philippe abdicated and fled to England, leaving the reins of power in the hands of a coalition of reform-minded moderates and liberals. This turn of events electrified opposition movements across the continent, and they immediately raised the pressure on their respective governments. On March 13 Austria's archconservative chancellor, Prince Metternich, was forced to step down, and the royal family fled Vienna soon thereafter. Surrounded by a large, angry crowd and fearing the same fate, [Prussian King] Friedrich Wilhelm IV made a series of extraordinary concessions. On March 18 he came out in support of a constitution for Prussia and the creation of a united Germany. The next day he appeared on the balcony of the royal palace to face the thousands of Berliners gathered there, and at their insistence he paid homage to the corpses of citizens killed by the military in recent street clashes. On March 21 he agreed to take part in a parade through the city following the black, red, and gold flag that had come to symbolize the cause of German unification. One of his closest advisers, Friedrich Wilhelm von Rauch, traveled alongside the king that day and burned with shame as the aura of the Prussian monarchy was reduced through such vulgar associations. "I cannot describe the impression that this ride made on me," he noted. "It seemed to me as if everything had gone mad."

The atmosphere in Poznan had been highly charged in the weeks preceding the Berlin revolution. Many nobles from the surrounding region had gathered in Poznan in order to obtain late-breaking reports from around the continent. When the courier arrived early on March 20 with news of the recent events in Berlin, the city crackled with activity. By ten o'clock almost everyone had heard, with the reports growing more exaggerated with each retelling. The Polish response was amazingly swift. Before long, women had hung dozens of red and white Polish flags from the windows of the Bazar and many private residences, and thousands of Poles filled the streets.

In his memoir Marceli Motty recalls his impressions of that memorable day: "The streets were choked with people like on a major holiday; without a trace of the police or army and with the government either in hiding or maintaining a very low profile.... Here in the market square teemed men and women and people of all ages. Seeing their faces and hearing their voices, one would have thought it was Poznan in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, for on this day just about every person and every word in circulation was Polish. The Germans and Jews were sitting at home, not sure of what to make of our intentions." Motty's comments capture how the initial breakdown of royal power in Berlin ignited the hopes of a broad cross section of the Polish population, unnerved most Germans and Jews, and paralyzed local Prussian authorities. His description also suggests how the events of that day displayed in dramatic, palpable fashion what was at stake for the city. For Motty and other Poles, the fluttering Polish flags and the chorus of Polish voices in the streets allowed them to imagine themselves back in time to a preferred Poznan that was proudly and indisputably Polish, an idealized past that could serve as a model for the future. For Germans and Germanized Jews, however, these same scenes likely brought less savory associations to mind. The temporary eclipse of the symbols of Prussian power and the presence of German culture underscored how fragile their privileged position in the city actually was.
SOURCE: Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City, by Robert E. Alvis (Syracuse U. Press, 2005), pp. 157-159

12 February 2006

Ajami on the Global Ideological Supply Chain

Fouad Ajami recently spoke to a gathering of Toronto's intellectual and business elite. The Toronto Star has just published an edited transcript. One theme that struck me is that the global grievance export/import business is not all that different from other global supply chains. You never know where all the parts were manufactured and assembled.
The real precursor to what is happening in Denmark today happened a generation ago, when Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses. The issues are exactly what we are witnessing today.

With Satanic Verses, the troubles began in Bradford, England. The book burning began in England. The activists who got hold of this issue and wanted to stay with it were in England. Ayatollah Khomeini, when he wrote his famous fatwa, came in on this issue a good month or two after. He happened onto it. He sensed its importance. He understood that this is really what you need to do, that this is a meaningful issue, and that if you are trying to walk away from the wreckage of the Iran/Iraq war and the defeat of Iran in this long war, if you want to give your revolutionary children, as he called them, something to think about, and if you want to situate Iran as the centre of the Islamic world, then why not turn to The Satanic Verses?

You would have expected European Islam to be more tolerant, but it was the other way around. The troubles migrated from England and made their way through the Islamic world, and we saw what happened.

In the case of these cartoons, this is exactly what happened. The Muslim activists in Denmark took their cause to the Islamic world. As they worked their way through the Islamic world, there was this exquisite little irony: They went into regimes that oppress Islamists, which kill Islamists, but which were more than willing to lend a helping hand, because such is what you have to do....

The city I grew up in, Beirut, has played a part. We watched the attack on the Danish consulate in Beirut. The people who assaulted the consulate came into a Christian area of Beirut, a city that is divided in the old-fashioned Ottoman way. There are Christian neighbourhoods and Muslim neighbourhoods. And the Lebanese know better than to go into a neighbourhood that is not their own. They know the rules of the road. But nevertheless, they stormed this consulate and they attacked a Mennonite church in east Beirut. [Mennonite? Perhaps Star reporters--and editors--can't tell Mennonites from Maronites.]

When the police rounded up some of these suspects, we learned something about them. The largest number of people who were rounded up were Syrians. The second largest were Palestinians. And the third, finally, bringing up the rear, were the Lebanese themselves.
via PeakTalk and Daniel Drezner

Reason Magazine on Middle East Transparent

On 9 February, Michael Young, opinion editor of Beirut's Daily Star, published in reasononline a fascinating interview with Pierre Akel, who runs the popular website Middle East Transparent, a trilingual forum that seeks to give a wider voice to Arab liberalism. The interview, entitled No Red Lines, is also reprinted on Middle East Transparent. Here are few excerpts of what Akel had to say. Read the whole thing.
To understand Arab liberalism, one has to understand not only what it now represents but where it emerged from: In Syria, it mostly comes from the remnants of the communist or Marxist left—just like the Eastern European dissidents of 30 years ago. In Saudi Arabia, it comes from the very heart of Islamic fundamentalist culture, but also from the orthodox Sunnis originating in the Hijaz, where the cities of Jeddah, Medina and Mecca are located. Hussein Shobokshi is a good example. It also comes from the Shiite minority in the oil producing Eastern Province. In Tunisia, it comes from the reformed Islamic university Al-Zaitouna. In Egypt, liberals are inspired by the great liberal tradition that was crushed by the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser....

In the Arab world, much more than in the West, we can genuinely talk of a blog revolution. Arab culture has been decimated during the last 50 years. Arab newspapers are mainly under Saudi control. The book market is practically dead. Some of the best authors pay to have their books published in the order of 3,000 copies for a market of 150 million. This is ridiculous. Even when people write, they face censorship at every level—other than their own conscious or unconscious censorship. Meanwhile, professional journalism is rare....

When it comes to satellite television in the region, Al-Jazeera is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, while many of the rest are under Saudi control. Al-Arabiya, for example, is owned by the Al-Ibrahim, the brothers-in-law of the late King Fahd. Even the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation cannot cross certain Saudi red lines. Yes, you can hear a liberal point of view here and there. But, to take one example, both Abdul Halim Khaddam, the former Syrian vice president who turned against the regime of President Bashar Assad, and Riad Turk, the Syrian dissident, have been under a Saudi ban from Al-Arabiya for the last month, because the Saudi leadership does not now want to annoy the Assad regime. For once, Al-Jazeera has also banned them, but for Qatari political reasons. Qatar is lobbying on behalf of the Syrian regime in Europe.

On the Internet, people can publish whatever they want: no red lines. They can use pen names if they want. People read, send comments, and they transmit information to their friends by email and fax, etc. The regimes' monopoly on information has been broken. Remember: Three months ago a Libyan writer was assassinated and his fingers cut for writing articles on an opposition Web site. The Internet is a historical opportunity for Arab liberalism.

Of course, liberals cannot compete with Al-Jazeera. We do not have the financial means to start a liberal satellite channel. Hundreds of Arab millionaires are liberals. Only, they cannot stand up to their regimes. Arab capitalism is mostly state capitalism. If you are in opposition, you are not awarded contracts by states. So, for the near future, we do not expect much help from these quarters.
via Belmont Club

Khrushcheva on Putinism

In today's Washington Post, Nikita Khrushchev's great-granddaughter, New School professor Nina Khrushcheva, gives her take on Putinism.
When I was growing up in the Soviet Union of the 1970s, it was President Leonid Brezhnev that I loathed. The dreaded Joseph Stalin seemed merely a name from a distant past. Back in 1956, he had been outed as a monster by my great-grandfather, Nikita Khrushchev, in the famous "secret speech" at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party and deleted from history....

After the anarchy that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a period when democracy came to represent confusion, crime, poverty, oligarchy, anger and disappointment, it turned out that Russians didn't like their new, "free" selves. Having for centuries had no sense of self-esteem outside the state, we found ourselves wanting our old rulers back, the rulers who provided a sense of order, inspired patriotic fervor and the belief that we were a great nation. We yearned for monumental -- if oppressive -- leaders, like Ivan the Terrible or Stalin. Yes, they killed and imprisoned, but how great were our victories and parades! So what if Stalin ruled by fear? That was simply a fear for one's life. However terrifying, it wasn't as existentially threatening as the fear of freedom, of individual choice, with no one but oneself to blame if democracy turned into disarray and capitalism into corruption.

This is why the country rallies behind President Vladimir Putin. Putin promotes himself as a new Russian "democrat." Indeed, Russians view him less like the godlike "father of all nations" that Stalin was, and more like a Russian everyman -- a sign of at least partial democratization. Putin often notes that Russia is developing "its own brand of democracy." Translation: His modern autocracy has discovered that it no longer needs mass purges like Stalin's to protect itself from the people. Dislike of freedom makes us his eager backers. How readily we have come to admire his firm hand: Rather than holding him responsible for the horrors of Chechnya, we agree with his "democratic" appointment of leaders for that ill-fated land. We cheer his "unmasking of Western spies," support his jailing of "dishonest" oligarchs and his promotion of a "dictatorship of order" rather than a government of transparent laws.

"Putinism," an all-inclusive hybrid that embraces elements of Stalinism, communism, KGB-ism and market-ism, is our new national ideology. A man for all seasons and all fears, Russia's president pretends that by selectively adopting and adapting some elements from his predecessors' rule -- the Russian Orthodox Church of the czars, the KGB of the Soviets, the market economy of the Boris Yeltsin era -- he is eliminating the extremes of the past, creating a viable system of power that will last. But his closed and secretive system of governing -- the "vertical power" so familiar from the pre-secret speech era, with information once again manipulated by the authorities -- suggests that his proposed "unity" is yet another effort to rewrite the past.

And so the secret speech is no longer seen as a courageous act of political conscience, in which Khrushchev, in order to secure justice for Stalinism's victims and liberate communist ideals from the gulag's grotesque inhumanity, called for reform of the despotic system he had helped to build. In the Russian media today, the speech is dismissed as something far more ignoble: Khrushchev's effort to avenge his oldest son, Leonid, whom Stalin had allegedly persecuted for betraying socialist ideals by serving the Nazis during World War II.

11 February 2006

How Coxinga Got His Name

Well, this passage answers a question I have long wondered about:
Coxinga ... was said to have greatly impressed the bookish Emperor of Intense Warring [the remaining Ming pretender who had retreated to Fuzhou as the Manchus invaded]. Still only a youth of twenty-one, the former Confucian scholar was made assistant controller of the Imperial Clan Court. The childless Emperor also commented that he was disappointed not to have a daughter he could offer to Coxinga in marriage, and bestowed him with a new name. Once Lucky Pine [Fukumatsu], then Big Tree [Da Mu, a nickname from Sen 'Forest'], the boy was now given the appellation Chenggong, thereby making his new given name Zheng Chenggong translate literally as 'Serious Achievement'. In a moment of supreme pride for his family, the boy was also conferred with the right to use the surname of the Ming ruling family itself. It amounted to a symbolic adoption, and he was often referred to as Guoxingye, the Imperial Namekeeper. Pronounced Koksenya in the staccato dialect of Fujian, and later transcribed by foreign observers, the title eventually transformed into the 'Coxinga' by which he is known to history.
SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), p. 124

UPDATE: As usual, Language Hat's learned commentariat sheds more light on the topic, among them Andrew West:
Early Portuguese accounts of China frequently use "x" in romanizing Chinese names (Xanadu from Xangdu from Shangdu 上都 is a well-known example). On the other hand, when does Dutch use "x" rather than "ks"?

Looking at the original Dutch translation of the letter from Coxinga to Frederick Coyett dated 1662, (images of the manuscript are available here), his name is consistently given as "Coxinja" rather than "Coxinga". Googling also produces a lot of Dutch pages which refer to the "Zeeroover Coxinja". Coxinja certainly gives a better representation of the final syllable of the Chinese Guoxingye.

In "An Introduction to Taiwanese Historical Materials in the Archives of the Dutch East India Company" here, Coxinga's name is apparently spelled as "Cocxinja" in the Dutch sources, which supports the hypothesis that the "x" in his name represents the initial sound of the second syllable rather than a combination of the final sound of the first syllable and first sound of the second syllable.

So I wonder when the spelling "Coxinga" is first attested?

09 February 2006

Is India or China Getting More Bang for Its Buck?

On last week's Foreign Exchange, Fareed Zakaria interviewed two economists about the differences between how China and India are growing their economies. The transcript is now online. Here's a chunk of it.
Fareed Zakaria: India and China are booming of course but investors worldwide are wondering who will boom more loudly in the coming years? And it’s not an easy question because it means going inside two complex developing economies and making projections about the future. But we’re going to do it anyway.

Joining us to talk about this are Yasheng Huang of the MIT Sloan School of Management and Sandeep Dahiya, Professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown and a former Consultant with McKinsey.

So let me ask both of you; the--if we focus in on the issue of Indian companies and Chinese companies, my sense is that you’ll actually find surprisingly that Indian companies are better known certainly around the world. You’ve--you people have heard of the big outsourcing companies like Infosys; people have heard of companies like Tata, whereas there are very few Chinese companies in that category. Let me ask you Yasheng why is that? China’s economy is growing much faster than India’s. It’s been growing faster for a long time, you know probably 15 years longer it’s had a boom and yet there aren’t those many Chinese world-class brand names.

Yasheng Huang: That’s right; I think this is one of the most interesting puzzles about Chinese economy and this is something that I have done research on. One of the main reasons is that the Chinese economic miracle has been created essentially by foreign direct investment. It is not created by the entrepreneurship, local entrepreneurship, indigenous private sector growth, whereas--.

Fareed Zakaria: Explain that; so you mean that it’s been created by Volkswagen coming into China?

Yasheng Huang: That’s right.

Fareed Zakaria: Getting the government to give them a great deal, employing Chinese and making low cost Volkswagens and export them?

Yasheng Huang: Yeah; essentially the Chinese economic miracle is a result of Chinese labor being cheap and very productive rather than the result of the capital accumulated by the Chinese capitalists and--and this is one of the principal reasons why even with eight or nine percentage growth rate every year we do not see the emergence of the world-class Chinese companies coming out of that economy.

Fareed Zakaria: Now what--why is that--because most people would say if you go to China you certainly see this. There’s a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in China, that certainly--

Yasheng Huang: That’s right; yeah.

Fareed Zakaria: You know to the extent that genetics or culture matter, they seem to be fine. I mean you look at Southeast Asia it’s all Chinese entrepreneurs.

Yasheng Huang: Yeah, absolutely; the Chinese entrepreneurs do very well outside of China. China--Chinese have this animal spirit, the business acumen capabilities and let me add a substantial engineering and scientific capability. The main issue is not a lack of these capabilities or entrepreneurial drives; the main reason is the lack of a financial system supportive of these entrepreneurial initiatives and growth. So you can get Chinese company up and running to a certain level; after that they stop growing because you need outside financing; you need outside capital; they can't get bank loans; they can't get listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange or [Shenzhen] Stock Exchange and from that perspective Indian firms have done much better because they have access to financing; they have access to legal protection in a way that the Chinese entrepreneurs so far have lacked.

Fareed Zakaria: All right; so let’s say that’s the good news about Indian firms--that they are real you know private sector firms. They use capital and they probably use it more efficiently because they don’t get as much of it. But can--can they grow in this environment of a pretty chaotic political system, very little sustained reform taking place? If you look at the Indian Government it keeps announcing reform programs that never get implemented. It keeps announcing infrastructure, roads, buildings and bridges that don’t get built. I mean do--what is your sense? Looking at companies, do they find this a major obstacle or can they find ways around it?

Sandeep Dahiya: You bring up a very interesting point Fareed and this is very true, which is this stop and go reform process in India and the fact that the political process is--is not always geared 100-percent towards making the economy as--as open--as liberalized as some economists would argue. And the world-class firms that we are talking about; what is so peculiar about them is they’re all concentrated in the IT sector. That is one sector which literally grew under wraps. It--the government knew nothing about it and before you knew it--it was a big sector. And that’s saying something about the--the lopsided growth of Indian companies--at least in terms of international recognition.

Fareed Zakaria: Well and the other big difference is--correct me if I’m wrong--but the other big difference is the IT firms are unique in that they don’t need infrastructure since what they transport is transported over the internet. If you’re--if you’re trying to send toys, manufactured toys, you need roads, you need ports, and that’s why it seems to me the Chinese--firms are able to do that so much better because their roads are better--their ports are better. If you’re sending services over the internet you--it’s the one area where you can transport goods without infrastructure.

Sandeep Dahiya: Precisely; it’s very true. About five years ago before the telecom made the communication cost come down a lot you could send people abroad which the IT firms did in the early ‘90s and in the last few years as the--the communication services and--and the capacity to--to work remotely has become much better, but you’re absolutely right. You do not need these busy ports or--or infrastructure.

Fareed Zakaria: But right now wouldn’t it be fair to say China is growing because of the state and India is growing because of its private sector?

Yasheng Huang: Well but you--you can argue about the quality of--of that growth. China invests about 40-percent--actually last year--50-percent of its GDP; India is investing about 20-percent of the--its GDP. The Indian growth rate is inching up to about seven--seven point five; Chinese growth is about nine and--and China is--

Fareed Zakaria: So you think it’s getting a bigger bang for its buck as it were?
Read the rest, including an interview with Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and a segment on a Spanish entrepreneur trying to turn fast food into healthy food. The latter interview was followed by a surprising chart:
Percentage Overweight/Obese Children:
Russia: 10%
Brazil: 14%
UK: 20%
USA: 26%
Iran: 30%
Spain: 34%
Source: Foreign Policy, World Health Organization

08 February 2006

The Yangzhou Massacre of 1645

Yangzhou was occupied by Shi Kefa, a 44-year-old general with fanatical loyalty to the Ming dynasty. The Manchus tried to win Shi Kefa over in a number of ways, sending numerous letters in the name of Dorgon, but actually drafted by turncoats. Shi Kefa had famously berated the Emperor of Grand Radiance on military matters, using language that would have led to the reprimand or imprisonment of a less valuable soldier. [Manchu Prince] Dorgon's messages capitalised on this, reminding Shi Kefa that, loyal to the Ming or not, he was currently serving a depraved master. While the Manchus fought the Ming loyalists, wrote Dorgon's scribes, both sides lost out on the opportunity to unite and pursue the true enemy: the remnants of the forces of [northern warlord] Li Zicheng. Dorgon urged Shi Kefa at all costs to avoid a situation in which there were 'two suns in the firmament'. But it was too late; already there were two people claiming to be the emperor of China--three, if one was prepared to count the fugitive Li Zicheng.

When the Manchu army finally began the assault of Yangzhou, Shi Kefa's [Jesuit-designed] guns killed them in their thousands. The bodies piled up so high, that after a time, there was no need for siege ladders, and fresh Manchu troops climbed a mountain of corpses to reach the battlements.

The defenders of the city began fleeing the walls by jumping onto the houses immediately below, tearing off their helmets and throwing down their spears, creating an unearthly clatter as their feet smashed tiles on the rooftops. The noise brought townsfolk out of their houses in time to see the defenders running away, and soon the streets were full of refugees. But there was nowhere to run. Someone opened the south gate, and the last possible escape route was cut off by more Manchu soldiers.

In the aftermath Shi Kefa ordered his men to kill him, but his lieutenant could not bring himself to strike the death blow. With the town now in Manchu hands, Shi Kefa was brought to [Manchu Prince] Dodo. The prince advised him that his loyalty had impressed his Manchu enemies.

'You have made a gallant defence,' he said. 'Now that you have done all that duty could dictate, I would be glad to give you a high post.'

Shi Kefa, however, refused to abandon his beloved Dynasty of Brightness [= Ming].

'I ask of you no favour except death,' he replied. Over several days, the Manchus made repeated attempts to persuade Shi Kefa to join them, but he was adamant that the only thing he wanted was to die with his dynasty. On the third day, an exasperated Prince Dodo granted Shi Kefa his wish, and beheaded him personally.

Despite his pleas to Shi Kefa, Dodo was intensely irritated at the human cost of taking Yangzhou. He told his troops to do whatever they wanted with the city for five days, and the ensuing atrocities reached such heights that it was a further five days before Dodo regained control of his men. The surviving Manchus avenged their fallen comrades on the population of the town, slaughtering the menfolk and raping the women. The clemency shown to turncoat towns further in the north was nowhere in evidence here, as Manchus and Chinese traitors looted what they could, and murdered all the witnesses they could find. Fires broke out in numerous quarters of the city, but were largely put out by heavy rain.

A survivor reported that the corpses filled the canals, gutters and ponds, their blood drowning the water itself, creating rivulets of a deep greenish-red throughout the city. Babies were killed or trampled underfoot, and the young women were chained together ready to be shipped to the far north. Many years later, travellers in Manchuria and Mongolia would still report sightings of aging, scarred female slaves with Yangzhou accents, clad in animal skins.
SOURCE: Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty, by Jonathan Clements (Sutton, 2005), pp. 116-118

Hear Four Sets of Anglospheric Accents

The University of Otago has mounted online samples of male and female speakers of four sample accents of English: New Zealand female and male, Australian female and male, North American female and male, and English female and male.

Part of their experiment involved asking people from other nations to evaluate the personality traits of the speakers along several dimensions based solely on their accents. The results are often surprising.

UPDATE: It's interesting that, in virtually every country, the North American accents rank most highly in the categories of solidarity (especially the female) and often competence, but much lower in the categories of status and power. The North American accents are American, not Canadian, but very few of the evaluators are likely to have been able to tell the difference. If you want to sharpen your ear for American-Canadian differences, just listen to the Winter Olympics coverage on NBC. There seem to be several Canadian-American pairs of announcers.