18 December 2004

Holiday Hiatus Reruns

For the next few weeks, the Far Outliers will be traveling to the Far East Coast (NYC and DC area) for a refresher course in family reunions and unblogged lives.

I started this blog as an experiment almost exactly a year ago, inspired most of all by Regions of Mind and Rainy Day. I sincerely appreciate those who have stopped for a visit. As a small gesture of appreciation, I offer the following compendia of reruns, most of it my original writing.

Morobe Field Diary
Good Soldier OutlierEastern Indonesia

17 December 2004

North Korea's "Analectical Materialism"

The environment of the Soviet occupation of northern Korea, unlike that in Eastern Europe, was an East Asian agrarian society recently emerged from [Japanese] colonial rule. Certain policies, such as land reform, were immensely popular regardless of whether Russians or Koreans drafted the laws. Moreover, the Korean input into these policies, whether that of the regime in Pyongyang or in the process of ground-level implementation, was greater than a reading of Soviet sources alone would suggest.

In the area of ideology, for example, one of the most distinctively Korean elements of communism in North Korea was its emphasis on ideas over material conditions. Koreans shared this Marxist heresy with their counterparts in China and Vietnam, but this humanistic and voluntaristic emphasis was even more pronounced in Korea than in the other two East Asian communist revolutions, which may reflect the fact that Korea had long been more orthodox in its Confucianism than Vietnam or China. Korean communists tended to turn Marx on his head, as it were, valorizing human will over socioeconomic structures in a manner more reminiscent of traditional Confucianism than classic Marxism-Leninism. In short, the social and cultural context of the communist revolution in North Korea resulted in a society that looked less like Poland, a country occupied by the Red Army, than Vietnam, a country that was not. North Korea simply cannot be seen as a typical post-World War II Soviet satellite along the lines of East Germany or Poland, where leaders with longstanding ties to the USSR and long periods of residence in the Soviet Union were implanted by the Soviet occupation forces, where the Soviet Army remained the authority of last resort for decades afterward, and where the withdrawal of Soviet support quickly led to these regimes' demise. The North Korean revolution may not have been entirely autonomous, but its indigenous elements allowed it to endure.

Among the most important elements of this indigenization was Korean nationalism, which at the beginning was partially hidden under a veneer of fulsome praise for the USSR and for Stalin. But nationalism and pro-Soviet orientation were not mutually exclusive in East Asia at the time. For Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean radical nationalists, state socialism was a compelling route to national liberation and modernity, especially when the USSR had been the only major country to give material assistance to their struggles against colonialism.
SOURCE: The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, by Charles K. Armstrong (Cornell U. Press, 2003), pp. 4-5

North Korea's Hard "Soft Landing"

NKZone's Andrei Lankov posts a link to an analysis he presented in New Zealand last year raising doubts "about the now so fashionable ideas of North Korea's 'soft landing'"--the idea that it can reform its way into less-than-catastrophic unification with South Korea.

Lankov's talk, entitled Soft Landing: Opportunity or Illusion (viewable in IE, but not Firefox!), emphasizes the uniqueness of the Korean situation relative to that of Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and China.
Assumptions based on the Chinese, East European or post-Soviet experiences are not applicable to the North. The "market" or capitalist reforms in those countries were indeed beneficial to the former Communist elite or at least for more flexible and better-educated parts. Even a cursory look at the biographies of post-Soviet tycoons and top politicians confirms that the so-called "anti-communist revolutions" of the early 1990s often boosted the standing of those who were prominent apparatchiks in the 1980s. The first two presidents of the supposedly anti-Communist Russia were Yeltsin, the former Politburo member and Putin, the former KGB colonel. The same is true of other post-Soviet states and China.

However, North Korea is dramatically different from other former members of the Communist bloc. Its major problems are created by the existence of a democratic and prosperous "alternate Korea" just across the border, a mere few hundred kilometres away from even the remotest North Korean village.

The economic gap between the two Koreas and the corresponding difference in living standards is huge, far exceeding the difference which once existed between East and West Germany. The per capita GDP of the South is approximately 10,000 USD, while in the North it is estimated to be between 500 and 1,000 USD. Obesity is a serious health problem in the South while in the North the ability to eat rice every day is a sign of unusual affluence. South Korea, the world's fifth largest automobile manufacturer, has one car for every four persons, while in the North a private car [is] less accessible to the average citizen than a private jet would be to the average American. South Korea is the world's leader in broadband Internet access while in the North only major cities have automatic telephone exchanges and a private residential phone is still a privilege reserved solely for cadres.

The survival strategy of the North Korean political system has been based on the combination of three important strategies: intense police surveillance, harsh suppression of even the slightest dissent and maintaining a strict information blockade.

The last factor is especially important.... Economic reforms are unthinkable without large-scale foreign investment and other types of exchange with overseas countries (what is known in China as "openness"). However such "openness" would mean a decisive break with this system of self-imposed isolation. Under the present circumstances both investment capital and expertise are likely to come largely from South Korea.

The influx of foreigners, especially South Koreans, will however undermine one of the pillars of the regime's political stability, namely the system of information isolation. Even if these visitors carefully avoid everything which could upset their minders, the sheer presence of strangers will be disruptive. This was not such an issue in China or Vietnam where the visitors came from alien countries whose prosperity was seen as generally irrelevant to the local situation. It is likely to be a problem in the North, however, where a large proportion of foreign investors and experts will come from another half of the same country and will speak the same language.

Thus, any wide-scale cooperation with the outside world remains a dangerous option. Its obvious economic benefits do not count for much, since the associated political risks are prohibitively huge and the Pyongyang elite will not take chances....

If the populace learned how dreadful their position was compared to that of the South Koreans, and if the still-functioning system of police surveillance and repression ceased to work with its usual efficiency, then the chance of violent revolution or at very least, mass unrest would be highly likely. The proponents of a "soft landing" believe that the collapse of the regime (be it violent or otherwise) would not mean an end to a separate North Korean state. However, it is difficult to see how the North Koreans could possibly be persuaded to remain quiet if they knew the truth and were not afraid of immediate and swift retribution for their dissent.... In other words, the attempts to promote reform and liberalization are likely to lead to the exact opposite--to political instability, regime collapse and a subsequent "hard landing." ...

In Eastern Europe and the former USSR it was the second and third tiers of apparatchiks who reaped the greatest benefits from the dismantling of state socialism. Their skills, training and expertise, as well as their connections allowed them to appropriate sizeable chunks of the former state assets. They then used this property to secure dominant positions in the new system and quickly re-modelled themselves as prominent businessmen or even "democratic politicians." The North Korean mid-level elite does not have access to such an attractive option. Once again such a scenario is rendered unlikely by the existence of South Korea with its highly developed economy, large pools of capital and managerial skills. If the collapse of Kim's regime spells an end to the independent North Korean state which is a very likely option, the local elite would stand no chance of competing with the South Korean companies and their representatives. Capitalism in post-Kim North Korea would be constructed not by former apparatchiks who some day declare themselves the born-again enemies of the evil Communism, but by resident managers of Samsung and LG. At best, the current elite might hope to gain some subaltern positions, but even this outcome is far from certain. Something analogous to the "lustration policy," the formal prohibitions of former Party cadres and security officials from occupying important positions in the bureaucracy of post-Communist regimes, is at least equally likely. Some ex-apparatchiks might even face persecution for their deeds under the Kims' rule. Facing such dangers, the lower strata of the ruling elite is showing no signs of dissent and prefers to loyally follow Kim Jong Il's entourage....

This does not mean that the regime will last forever. However, its transformation is unlikely to occur according to the "soft landing" scenario. If the elite resists change for too long an implosion will be unavoidable and if it initiates reform now, the result is likely to be the same or perhaps only marginally less dramatic.
I suspect relations between the two Koreas after unification will soon evolve into a fierce antagonism between a North Korean colony offering little more than unskilled labor and raw materials, and a South Korean colonial occupation force that quickly loses patience with its helplessly dependent cousins. Fierce South Korean classism (and impatience) will soon overwhelm the abstract sympathies so many South Korean citizens now feel for their North Korean compatriots. North Korea will be like Yankee-occupied Mississippi during Reconstruction after the U.S. Civil War. Tough times for all, for at least a generation or two.

Vanuatu Disambiguates Its China Policy

The Head Heeb has the latest on Vanuatu ex-PM Serge Vohor's attempt to straddle the China-Taiwan divide. To make a longer story short, Vohor landed on his backside, leaving China standing tall.

15 December 2004

"Democracy has few supporters in Pakistan"

Democracy has few supporters in Pakistan. The army has been in power for nearly half the country's existence and it is commonplace for senior officers to complain wistfully that the politicians are too incompetent and too corrupt to govern. 'The Western type of parliamentary democracy', Ayub Khan once wrote, 'could not be imposed on the people of Pakistan.' Many civilians have shared his jaundiced view. The feudal landlords, the bureaucrats, the intelligence agencies and the judiciary have all shown a reluctance to accept, never mind promote, the rule of law. Pakistan's urbane, sophisticated elite and the country's Islamic radicals do not agree about much. But on the issue of democracy they can find common ground. 'It's a good thing', said Lashkar-e-Toiba's spokesman Abdullah Muntazeer speaking of Musharraf's 1999 coup, 'the parliament was un-Islamic and he's got rid of it.'

There have been three periods of civilian rule in Pakistan. The first, between 1947 and 1958, began with independence and ended when the chief of army staff, Lt. General Ayub Khan, mounted the country's first military coup. The second, between 1971 and 1977, belonged to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The third, dominated by Bhutto's daughter, Benazir, and her rival, Nawaz Sharif, started after General Zia's death in a plane crash and came to an end when Musharraf took over. Many Pakistanis explain the failure of democracy to take root by bemoaning the poor quality of their elected leaders. In reality, there are more fundamental reasons for the fact that no civilian leader in the country's entire history has ever completed his or her term in office.


Mohammed Ali Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a constitutional, parliamentary democracy informed by Muslim values. Many Pakistanis believe that, had he lived longer, Jinnah would have been able to transform his vision into reality. Yet, for all his ideals, Jinnah never behaved democratically. From the moment of independence he effortlessly assumed control of all the key levers of power in Pakistan. He was not only the governor general but also the president of the Muslim League and the head of the Constituent Assembly. As the founder of the nation, Jinnah had such massive personal authority that few dared to challenge him and, even if they did, a momentary scowl was enough to silence his most determined opponent. Arguably, the new country, lacking any political institutions, needed a strong leader. But even Jinnah's most ardent supporters concede that the concentration of power in his hands set an unfortunate precedent! When Jinnah died, thirteen months after Pakistan was born, there was no one capable of filling the vacuum he left behind.

Pakistan's first generation of politicians were inexperienced men faced with truly daunting challenges. As well as being confronted by fundamental national issues such as the demand for provincial rights, the status of the [small minority] Urdu language and the role of Islam in the new state, they had to deal with the millions of Muslim refugees who arrived in Pakistan at a time when an economy barely existed. It was perhaps inevitable that power inexorably slipped into the hands of the only people capable of delivering any semblance of governance: Pakistan's small cadre of highly educated civil servants. As Jinnah's aide-de-camp, Ata Rabbani wrote:
... our senior politicians had little experience of the running of a government for they had spent most of their lives criticising governments in power. Now saddled with the responsibility they took the easy way out. Instead of applying themselves to the task and working hard to learn the ropes they relied on the advice of senior bureaucrats.
SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 223-225

Heirs of the Moravian Brethren

Jednota bratrska [Union of Brethren] was persecuted with varying degrees of vigor from the time of Jiri z Podebrad--who wanted a unified Utraquist hegemony--onward, and Vladislav II's Saint James's Mandate of 1502, which closed the Brethren's churches and banned their writings, was several times renewed through the sixteenth century. They thrived nonetheless. From an originally plebeian, otherworldly sect rooted among peasants and craftsmen, the Brethren broadened their appeal both to burghers and to nobles, who since they controlled benefices could often provide support and protection. This expansion was helped by the Brethren's abandonment at the end of the fifteenth century of prohibitions, deriving from Chelcicky's teaching, on members holding worldly office, serving in the military, and engaging in business. Certain employments, like juggling or painting, remained forbidden, while office-holding and trade were deemed dangerous to salvation and thus deserving of particular moral scrutiny. The hardest times for the Brethren came, under Ferdinand I after 1547, when many of them were driven into exile in Poland, Prussia, and Moravia, which subsequently became a Jednota stronghold.
SOURCE: The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History, by Derek Sayer (Princeton U. Press, 1998), p. 44

As an atheist quasiacademic of Quaker heritage, it strikes me how robustly these otherworldly medieval prejudices--against holding worldly office, against serving in the military, and against engaging in business--survive among today's thoroughly thisworldly progressives in academia and the media. At least juggling, painting, acting, and other money-grubbing artistic pursuits are no longer forbidden. And the benefice-dispensing heirs of once crass burghers and nobles are valued every bit as much as they were 500 years ago. But what salvation awaits today's secular saints? Tenure? Emeritus status? A Pulitzer?

A quote from Robert D. Kaplan's recent essay in Policy Review entitled The Media and Medievalism provides a caustic gloss on the passage above.
As with medieval churchmen, the media class of the well-worried has a tendency to confuse morality with sanctimony: Those with the loudest megaphones and no bureaucratic accountability have a tendency to embrace moral absolutes. After all, transcending politics is easier done than engaging in them, with the unsatisfactory moral compromises that are entailed.

13 December 2004

Romanian Election Analysis

From Doug Muir Halfway down the Danube:
Traian Basescu has won, and will be Romania's next President.

Final result: 51.2% for Basescu, 48.8% for Nastase.

This was very unexpected, and may lead to a period of political turbulence.

One early development: the Humanist Party (Partidul Umanist Romania, or PUR) has announced that "for the best interest of the country", it is willing to enter into negotiations with any other party. Since PUR ran on a joint ticket with PSD [the currently governing Social Democratic Party], this is a major slap to PSD, PM Nastase and (about to be former) President Iliescu [the immediate successor to Ceausescu who has remained in charge most years since then]....

Ugly possibility: PSD joins with PRM [the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party]. This would give solid majorities in both chambers. However, it would mean letting PRM into government.
More here

Senkyoushigo: Macaronic Missionary Talk

Hey dode [partner < doryo], okinasai [wake up]! It's time I got a start on asagohan [breakfast] so we can have some oishii [tasty] muffins before benkyokai [study meeting]. You're dish-chan this week, so you go take the first fud [bath < ofuro]. Come on in and I'll show you how to tsukeru [turn on] the mono [thing].
This sample of Japanese-English mixed speech is from an article by former Mormon missionary Kary D. Smout published in the Summer 1988 issue of American Speech (pp. 137-149). He explains:
Because there were so few English monolingual speakers in southern Japan, I gradually eliminated standard English from my active language list over the next few months; eventually I spoke no English, about eight hours of Japanese, and about eight hours of senkyoshigo [missionary-language] per day. As is generally true of Mormon missionaries in Japan, I spoke senkyoshigo so much and standard English so little that, when I returned to America at the end of twenty-two months, I could not form a single English sentence without first mentally editing it in order to eliminate the senkyoshigo expressions it contained.
At lot of senkyoushigo consists of normal Japanese words in normal English sentences, but it does contain some unique combinations:
  • cook-chan Person assigned to cook
  • dish-chan Person assigned to wash dishes
  • Eigo bandit Japanese person who speaks only English to American missionaries
  • golden kazoku Family interesting in joining the church
  • kanji bandit, kanji jock Missionary who can read and write Japanese characters
Other unique aspects are anglicized slang truncations of commonly used Japanese terms:
  • benny [< obenjo] Japanese toilet
  • bucho, buch [< dendo bucho] Mission president, supervisor of the missionaries (pejorative)
  • dode [< doryo] Companion, assigned roommate and work partner of a missionary
  • fud [< ofuro] Japanese bathtub
Finally, there are English terms with alternative meanings specific to the mission context:
  • armpit of the mission Least promising and most unpleasant city within the mission boundaries
  • greenbean New missionary who has just come from America
  • trunky Excited about going home; unable to concentrate or work hard [packed and ready to go]
Some of the above may now be obsolete.

11 December 2004

To: Commander Jamalpur Garrison, 10 December 1971

In late November 1971, the Indian Army decisively invaded East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in support of the Bengali resistance army, the Mukti Bahini ('freedom fighters').
At Jamalpur, near Dhaka, the Indian brigadier, Hardit Singh Kler, surrounded a Pakistani unit led by Lt. Colonel Ahmed Sultan. On 10 December the two officers exchanged letters. The first, written by the Indian brigadier, was taken across the front line by an elderly man who delivered it by hand.
The Commander Jamalpur Garrison

I am directed to inform you that your garrison has been cut off from all sides and you have no escape route available to you. One brigade with full compliment of artillery has already been built up and another will be striking by morning. In addition you have been given a foretaste of a small element of our air force with a lot more to come. The situation as far as you are concerned is hopeless. Your higher commanders have already ditched you.

I expect your reply before 6.30 p.m. today failing which I will be constrained to deliver the final blow for which purpose 40 sorties of MIGs have been allotted to me.

In this morning's action the prisoners captured by us have given your strength and dispositions, and are well looked after.

The treatment I expect to be given to the civil messenger should be according to a gentlemanly code of honour and no harm should come to him.

An immediate reply is solicited.

Brigadier HS Kler. Comd.
The reply was sent a few hours later:
Dear Brig,

Hope this finds you in high spirits. Your letter asking us to surrender had been received. I want to tell you that the fighting you have seen so far is very little, in fact the fighting has not even started. So let us stop negotiating and start the fight.

40 sorties, I may point out, are inadequate. Ask for many more.

Your point about treating your messenger well was superfluous. It shows how you under-estimate my boys. I hope he liked his tea.

Give my love to the Muktis. Let me see you with a sten in your hand next time instead of the pen you seem to have such mastery over,

Now get on and fight.

Yours sincerely

Commander Jamalpur Fortress.
(Lt. Colonel Ahmed Sultan)
The next morning the fight did indeed begin when Lt. Colonel Sultan tried to break out of his garrison. Over 230 of his men were killed. They died in vain. When the Indian brigadier had written 'your higher commanders have already ditched you', he was absolutely right. The military and political leadership in Dhaka already knew that the war was lost....

Pakistan's hopeless military situation on the ground was matched on the diplomatic front. The Indians' diplomatic position would have been far worse if [Gen.] Yahya [Khan] had acted with greater speed and determination to isolate Delhi for what was, after all, a blatantly illegal invasion of a foreign country. Amazingly, Yahya failed to raise the Indian invasion of Pakistan formally at the UN Security Council. He probably feared that any ceasefire resolution would include a provision that he had to negotiate with the Awami League--something he was determined to avoid. But whatever the rationale, it was a significant blunder.

The Security Council did nevertheless discuss the situation in East Pakistan but successive resolutions were vetoed by either Russia or China. The Russians, backing India, wanted any resolution to include commitments for a transfer of power to the Awami League; the Chinese, backing Pakistan, did not. In his capacity of foreign minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went to New York but was unable to affect the course of events. With Pakistan's unity on the verge of destruction and frustrated by the Russians' Security Council vetoes, Bhutto decided to make the best of a bad job and strengthen his own political position back at home. On 15 December he told the Security Council that he would never address them again. As he ripped up some Security Council papers, he asked: 'Why should I waste my time here? I will go back to my country and fight.' It was the speech of a leader in waiting.
SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 178-181

10 December 2004

The Victim as Hero

The horror of the atomic bombings, the terror of the firebombings, the oppressive regimentation at the home front under a government at total war, the loneliness of civilians and foot soldiers abandoned by their state on the open Manchurian plain or in the Philippine jungle, the brutalization of the common man at the hands of fanatical militarists in the armed services--such was the crucible from which postwar Japanese rose to become a peace-loving, democratic people. But the victim-hero's sentimental pacifism harbored hidden meanings and sustained several agendas.

Heroes are public commodities, and in a democratizing postwar Japan it was inevitable that competing political groups would struggle over control of the powerful ideological construct of the people as victim. The U.S. military and Occupation reformers set the early parameters for the victim mythology. But it was the progressives, themselves among the prime beneficiaries of the American reforms, who were the first to put the image of the people as victims of the state to work for them in opposing the postwar conservative government. With the development of a national sense of atomic victimhood, conservatives too recognized the importance of establishing a presence in the contest over the meanings assigned to war victimhood. Thus "the people as victim" became a trope whose import was contested for domestic as much as for international purposes.

Although it is essential to recognize that an amnesia about Japanese aggression against Asia accompanied and abetted this Japanese victim consciousness, this study has shown that the ideology of Japanese war victimhood involved selective remembrance and reconstruction that often recognized the victimization of others. To be sure, neglect of Japanese responsibility is a key element of the Japanese discourse on victimhood, and it was a strong tendency in the ban-the-bomb movement. But it should be clear from the foregoing analysis that Asian suffering was a vital concern of both progressives and conservatives in many discursive fields, including war victimhood.

A central element of war responsibility and war victimhood in this regard was the desire to identify with Asian victimhood rather than deny it. This was certainly true of the progressives, who saw solidarity with Asian peoples as symbolic of the struggle against capitalist imperialism. The adoption of atomic victimhood as national heritage--and the emergence in the middle 1950s of independent states out of the former European colonies in Africa and Asia--made Asian solidarity a desirable goal again. Narratives that characterized these events as Asian and African ethnic national (minzoku) struggles against Western hegemony carried echoes of the wartime ideology that supported Japan's invasion of the Asian continent as a war of liberation....

Japanese history textbooks, which since the late 1970s have been remarkably frank in their admission of wrongs done to other nationalities, have toyed with a nationalist parochialism in the preponderance of "sentimental" passages that seem to accord equal status to Japanese and Asian war victims. Despite textbook recognition of a Japanese record of aggression and the need to own up to this past, the victim mindset does tend to qualify the people's sense of complicity and hence responsibility for Japan's wartime acts. Textbook revisions that emphasize Japanese victimhood and thus mitigate Japanese aggressions violate Asian sensibilities because they discount Asian victimhood. On the international level--as was evident in Chinese protests over (erroneous) reports in 1982 that Ministry of Education textbook officers directed that the Japanese "invasion" be termed an "advance"--the main issue is control over one's own history. In this age of tenacious nationalism in the face of increasingly rapid and thorough global communication, self-serving constructions of history are unacceptable when they violate other nations' mythologies. This modern reality is particularly clear, of course, when conservative cabinet members fail to exercise discretion regarding a colonial past they do not regard as shameful. But a pacifism that recognizes Japan's past as victimizer while insisting on elevating Japanese victimhood to an equal or higher level than Asian victimhood is also self-serving and ultimately apologist.
SOURCE: The Victim as Hero: Ideologies of Peace and National Identity in Postwar Japan, by James J. Orr (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2001), pp. 175-176

This book is reviewed on H-Net here and here.

Robert D. Kaplan also makes a few observations about victims as heroes in his essay entitled "The Media and Medievalism" in the December 2004 issue of Policy Review.
The cult of victimhood is another legacy of the 1960s and its immediate aftermath — when, according to Peter Novick in The Holocaust in American Life (1999), Jews, women, blacks, Native Americans, Armenians, and others fortified their own identities through public references to past oppression. The process was tied to Vietnam, a war in which the photographs of civilian victims — the little girl fleeing napalm — "displaced traditional images of heroism." The process has now been turned upon the American military itself. When not portraying them as criminals in prisoner abuse scandals, the media appear most at ease depicting American troops as victims themselves — victims of a failed Iraq policy, of a bad reserve system, and of a society that has made them into killers.

Yet the soldiers and Marines with whom I spent months as an embed in ground fighting units found such coverage deeply insulting. At a time when there are acts of battlefield courage in places like Fallujah and Najaf that, according to military expert John Hillen, "would make Black Hawk Down look like Gosford Park," media coverage of individual soldiers and Marines as warrior-heroes is essentially absent. The heroism of someone like Jessica Lynch is acceptable to the journalistic horde because it is joined to her victimhood. There are exceptions: The coverage of Pat Tillman, who left the National Football League to be an Army Ranger and who was killed in Afghanistan, is one. But serious analysis requires generalization, and pointing out exceptions — at which the media are especially adroit when they themselves are criticized — does not constitute a rebuttal.

09 December 2004

Siberian Light's Russia News Again

Siberian Light has another roundup of news from Russia.

Wie ein Beijinger zu sein

Simply fill in these blanks thoughtfully provided by IchbineinBeijinger.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China offers journalists new to Beijing this useful template for your first files. It has been used with great success by big-name reporters hundreds of times! Just fill in the blank with the appropriate phenomena, supply some names for sources, and voila! Instant China story.
By Kaiser Kuo

_________ Comes to China

BEIJING, November 18, 2004 - China is in the throes of another 'cultural revolution,' but this time it's not politics, but a growing class of hipoisie leading the charge. The latest western fad to breach the fabled Great Wall? (FILL IN THE BLANK), which many are calling the most revolutionary thing to hit China since Mickey Mouse.

"It's a revolution in cool," says (PROFESSOR), who teaches contemporary Chinese cultural studies at (UNIVERSITY). "It's not for your Average Zhou," he quips, "but ______ is really catching on with young people."


China, which has a history of 5,000 years, invented gunpowder, paper, the compass, sericulture, printing and the men's pleather clutch purse. It is also credited with discovering green tea as a Chivas mixer. Pride in their own creations makes western fads like ______ difficult for some Chinese to accept.

When ______ first appeared on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai, controversy followed close behind. Only a few years earlier, society was skeptical of such 'spiritual pollution' that fads like breakdancing represented in the China of the 80s, or the 'bourgeois liberalization' of the early-90s Klezmer craze.

"How can we Chinese, who have 5,000 years of history and invented gunpowder, paper, the compass, sericulture, printing and the men's pleather clutch purse be so easily seduced by western _____?" (CHINESE NAME) asks. "It's just a fad, and like McDonalds, Starbucks, and unleaded gasoline," he says sipping a cocktail of Chivas and green tea in a hip Sanlitun club. "As our leaders once said, 'It doesn't matter if it's a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches mice.' But what color cat is _____? And where are the mice?," (NAME) demands.

But like it or not, ______ is spreading fast, and not just in the cities. In Yellow Peony Gulch Village, a hardscrabble hamlet nestled amidst the dun-colored hillsides of Shaanxi Province, where even today some people still live in caves carved into the loess cliff faces, _____ is already making inroads. "Yes, we've seen ______ on the television. My wife thinks it's naughty, and so do many of the older people here in Yellow Peony Gulch Village. But the youngsters are already picking it up," says (CHINESE PEASANT NAME), 52, as a gap-toothed grin spreads across his deeply-creased, weatherworn face. "But I'm young at heart, and I think people should be willing to try new things!"
via Simon World

I'll add just one hint. When broadcasting on air, just be sure to pronounce Beijing as if it were French (i.e., with a zh), rather than Chinese. If you're an international reporter, it's much better to sound sophisticated than knowledgeable about the local language.

08 December 2004

Pakistan, 1971: Three Men, Two Nations

In the year 1971 the future of East Pakistan depended on a struggle between three men: a habitual drunk, General Yahya Khan; a professional agitator, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; and a political operator par excellence, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Relying respectively on military force, street power and pure guile, this volatile trio pursued their incompatible objectives. Yahya, Pakistan's military ruler, repeatedly claimed that he had one, and only one, objective: to keep the east and west wings of Pakistan united. If unity was assured then he was prepared to offer East Pakistan substantial autonomy. In fact, Yahya did go further than any other Pakistani leader in trying to make the necessary compromises to find a solution for East Pakistan. A durable settlement, though, eluded him. Ever since the defeat of 1971, many Pakistanis had complained about Yahya's drinking and womanising. But those were the least of his problems. Yahya was simply outclassed. Politically, intellectually and in terms of sheer drive, he was never in the same league as either Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or Mujibur Rahman.

Yahya viewed politicians with disdain and Mujibur Rahman was a politician to the core. Starting out as an angry activist addressing groups of ten to twenty students, he ended up as the founder of Bangladesh, speaking to the hearts of many millions. His creed never altered: he believed in Bengali nationalism. When Mohammed Ali Jinnah struggled for Pakistan he relied on legal arguments. Mujibur Rahman had to engage in a far rougher, dirtier fight for Bangladesh and, unlike Jinnah, he spent long periods in jail. From the moment he became interested in politics at Dhaka University he was never afraid of defying the authorities: on the contrary, he relished it. No one doubts that Mujibur Rahman deserves the title 'founder of the nation' but there are sharp differences of opinion as to when exactly Mujib became irrevocably committed to Bengali independence. Many believe this was his goal from the outset. Speaking after independence, Mujib himself claimed that he had been planning to divide Pakistan ever since 1947. As we shall see, however, there is good evidence that even as late as December 1970 or February or March 1971 he was still thinking in terms of a united Pakistan and did not foresee a complete rupture.

The third contestant in the struggle for East Pakistan had no particular interest in the place. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto may have preferred to keep Pakistan united but he shed few tears when Bangladesh broke away. Bhutto's role in the 1971 crisis has been fiercely debated. He has argued that he did his best to save the country from splitting up but many believe he played a sophisticated, cynical game to fulfil his personal ambitions, even if that meant the Pakistani nation was broken in the process. Bhutto was a man in a hurry. After the 1970 elections, one senior minister told Yahya that if Bhutto did not become prime minister within a year he would literally go mad. Bhutto himself made little secret of his lust for power and, at the start of 1971, General Yahya and Mujibur Rahman were standing in the way of his becoming prime minister. By the end of 1971, having lost a war with India, Yahya was in disgrace and Mujibur Rahman was ruling Bangladesh. The path was clear for Bhutto to take over in the west.

The complicated interplay between Yahya, Mujib and Bhutto had a decisive role in the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. But Bengali nationalism was alive and well before any of them were even born. The British had always considered Bengal to be a troublesome province: the Muslims there had been the most vociferous champions of Muslim rights and a Muslim homeland on the subcontinent. In 1906 the All India Muslim League was inaugurated in Dhaka and thirty-four years later it fell to a veteran Bengali politician to propose what is now seen as one of the fundamental texts of Pakistan, the Lahore Resolution. The resolution declared: 'the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in the majority, as in the north-western and eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute "Independent States" in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign'. The resolution plainly indicated a desire for 'Independent States' and not one independent state.
SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 147-149

What's the Etymology, Dude?

Dude! Today CNN.com posted a nerdy AP story about sociolinguistics and etymology and stuff like that. Here's the most boring part.
A linguist from the University of Pittsburgh has published a scholarly paper deconstructing and deciphering the word "dude," contending it is much more than a catchall for lazy, inarticulate surfers, skaters, slackers and teenagers....

Historically, dude originally meant "old rags" -- a "dudesman" was a scarecrow. In the late 1800s, a "dude" was akin to a "dandy," a meticulously dressed man, especially out West. It became "cool" in the 1930s and 1940s, according to Kiesling. Dude began its rise in the teenage lexicon with the 1981 movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

"Dude" also shows no signs of disappearing as more and more of our culture becomes youth-centered, said Mary Bucholtz, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"I have seen middle-aged men using 'dude' with each other," she said.
Middle-aged men? Eeeewww! Time to retire that usage.

07 December 2004

The Hawaiian Who Conquered Japan

On Pearl Harbor Day, it seems appropriate to commemorate a Hawaiian who rose to the top of the sumo ranks in Japan.
In 1988, Chad Rowan was an easygoing, eighteen-year-old part-Hawaiian living in rural Waimänalo, on the island of O'ahu. At six-feet-eight, he'd played basketball in high school but was not inclined toward sports involving more aggressive physical contact. His mother later recalled that, when he first went to Japan to try his luck at sumo, "I didn't think he'd last, because to me, I didn't know if he was tough enough." In addition to being disadvantaged by his gentle nature, his body type was also wrong for sumo. "In a sport where a lower center of gravity and well-developed lower body is prized," said sports writer Ferd Lewis, "Rowan was a six-foot-eight giraffe among five-foot-eleven rhinos."

Like most American kids, Rowan grew up knowing almost nothing about the national sport of Japan. But after being asked twice, he reluctantly allowed himself to be recruited to a sumo beya in Tokyo owned and led by a retired wrestler with the honorific name Azumazeki Oyakata. During a stellar professional career lasting from 1964 to 1984, Azumazeki Oyakata had competed under the name Takamiyama. He was born on Maui as Jesse Kuhaulua, was also of Hawaiian ancestry, and was the first foreign-born wrestler to win a major sumo tournament. By the time Rowan entered Kuhaulua's sumo beya, another recruit from Hawai'i, Saleva'a Atisanoe was wrestling in the upper, salaried ranks under the name Konishiki. In addition, two lower-ranked wrestlers from Hawai'i, John Feleunga and Taylor Wylie, were training in the sumo beya that had recruited Chad.

Rowan's introduction to the strict, hierarchical world of sumo was not auspicious, as this excerpt from Gaijin Yokozuna, Mark Panek's biography, makes vivid. Kuhaulua worried that he'd made a mistake by recuiting Rowan. "I remember the first time he put on a belt and wrestled. He didn't look very good," Kuhaulua said. "Smaller people--­a lot smaller people--­were just throwing him around in practice." From this shaky beginning, Rowan transformed both his body and his character, using great mental discipline and an unparalleled work ethic. He rose through the ranks at a phenomenal pace. Within three years, he was in the elite, salaried ranks himself. Two years later, wrestling under the name Akebono ("dawn" in Japanese), Rowan had reached the rank of yokozuna: the pinnacle of sumo. Rowan was the first foreign-born wrestler ever to attain this rank and was only the sixty-fourth yokozuna [a very new rank!] in the history of the ancient, tradition-bound sport, the written records for which date back to eighth-century Japan. In 2001, Rowan retired from sumo at the age of thirty-two.
SOURCE: Jungle Planet and Other New Stories, Manoa 16, no. 2 (2004) (Project Muse subscription required)

Gaijin Yokozuna sounds like a must-buy for me.

Sumo Adapts to Live Broadcasts

When radio broadcasting began in 1925, stations expressed an immediate interest in broadcasting sumo. The leaders of the Sumo Association, however, were leery of the new medium. Like the officials of other sport bodies around the world, they were fearful of economic catastrophe. Why should fans pay good money to crowd into the Kokugikan if they are able to sit comfortably at home and listen to the radio? Broadcasters persisted and the Sumo Association reluctantly agreed to allow radio coverage on a trial basis for the January tournament of 1928. Contrary to the association's fears, radio seemed to increase rather than decrease the desire to be present at the bouts. The stadium was packed, and radio broadcasts became a regular and popular feature.

To accommodate the new medium, however, there had to be adjustments in the traditional way that the matches were held. Before each match, the two wrestlers perform shikiri ['face-offs'], the long ritual preparation for what often prove to be very short bouts. During shikiri, they crouch in the center of the ring, glare at one another, stand, return to their corners for another handful of salt to throw upon the ground, move back to the center of the ring, and crouch again for more baleful glaring. Traditionally, shikiri continued indefinitely, until both men were ready to charge and grapple. Radio broadcasts, however, have an allotted time frame. To ensure that the day's matches finished before the end of the broadcast, wrestlers were told to limit shikiri to ten minutes, which--with a glare at the broadcaster--they did.

In fact, it took some time for the wrestlers to become accustomed to the idea of a curtailed warm-up ritual. On the first day, anxious not to exceed the ten-minute limit, most wrestlers cut short their shikiri and started their matches so quickly that the entire program moved at a furious pace. The radio broadcast, scheduled to carry only the last and most important matches, was supposed to begin at 5:20 P.M., but the horrified promoters realized that the last wrestlers were liable to have finished their match before the broadcast even began. Although five long intermissions were hurriedly introduced, the first day of broadcasts consisted of only the last match, which ended at 5:40. On the second day of the tournament, the broadcast was started earlier. This did not solve the problem. The wrestlers soon reverted to their old ways and indulged themselves in extended shikiri. By the time the top-ranked wrestlers had stepped into the ring, the station had already moved on to its next scheduled broadcast. It was some time before the wrestlers and the broadcasters were, metaphorically, on the same wavelength.

Although one might have expected that the arrival of television in the 1950s made it possible to return to longer shikiri, which are certainly more interesting to watch than to hear about, this was not the case. The time limit for the upper division has been reduced to four minutes, and the Sumo Association smoothly manages the progression of matches so that they usually end a few minutes before the 6:00 P.M. conclusion of the day's broadcast. From the fan's point ofview, however, managerial efficiency has its drawbacks. Before the time limit was imposed, each shikiri was potentially the start of the match, and tension built as one shikiri followed another. In our more programmed age, the ritual has become routine, the match begins when it is supposed to, and the shikiri tends to be, for the wrestlers and spectators alike, mere posturing.
SOURCE: Japanese Sports: A History, by Allen Guttmann and Lee Thompson (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2001), pp. 114-115

My interest in sumo began in Kyoto when I would come home from school and watch the final bouts of the day on black-and-white TV before supper. Like clockwork.

06 December 2004

A Ukrainian Caught in the Middle

The following emails are from a responsible adult Ukrainian friend of a friend who teaches at a university in the western part of Ukraine. It took a while to obtain permission to reproduce them (without naming names). I suspect these sentiments reflect a large number of people who are neither blogging nor talking in front of TV cameras.

27 November 2004

It is crisis. Our students as well as schoolchildren are on the streets. The democracy is at its top - those who want to study, come to Uni and study, those who want to go to meetings, go to meetings. Some Universities are closed, ours is working. The problem is that what is going on is very chaotic. Because many people who supported Ushchenko want to strike and are on strike, but I am not sure whether their salaries are still paid or not - nobody knows! The people of different views who understand the danger of ruining economics work - if we all strike, who will work?

Besides, if our students who paid money want to study, how can we not teach them? If we close for now, when will we work afterwards? On holidays? On Christmas holidays? So, there was a decision as meetings are all day round that from 8 till 1 our students study and then those who are eager to show his/her will, go to meetings. In Vinnytsia all the Unis go to meetings, so I won't give you the exact number - 2000-5000, etc? With Kyiv it is more complicated - they say up to 100,000 people! Or more! West and East are for different candidates and there are threats to divide Ukraine! Can you imagine, e.g., My situation, if my mom and her relatives come from East, who live there and my husband's family - all of them - live in West! We are really desperate!

The situation is very unpleasant because the majority understands that politicians who were unable to solve complicated problems at their work are using our romantic youth. The young people who are striking are also different: some of them are really supporting their ideas, others are having fun because of total freedom and friendship, some of them are using the situation not to study, some of them are innocent and idealistic, some ignorant and aggressive. I personally don't know what is going to happen, but I was shocked to know that our school teachers let their children go to meetings alone! (I am speaking about my son's classmates, he is 15.)

Thank God everything is friendly so far, but people are getting impatient! In Vinnytsia there are no threats as only one candidate is being supported while in Kyiv the situation is more dangerous - both candidates' supporters came to the capital. So far everything seems alright, but, you know that there are many indecent people who would like to provoke smth unpleasant. I do pray all the time.

3 December 2004

The situation here is really depressing for those people who tend to think and analyze. I believe that our main problem is that we forgot to count our blessings! It is always easier to criticize than do something. Our Uni doesn't work now - we have a week holiday. Still all the teachers go to work. From Monday we have to teach our students and plus give them all the classes they didn't come to!

God knows how hard we have been trying to survive all these years. You do remember the chaotic things a couple or more years ago in Ukraine. I can't say that we are great now, still, the houses are being built, the roads are repaired, you won't recognize our railway station! There are MANY pregnant women in the streets, my mom has 464 Hr pension (app $80) and she used to have 153 HR (less than $30). The currency rate was more or less stable, people started using bank accounts to keep their savings and what are we going to do now? Genetically we are scared of everything!

Besides, I can't understand who is fighting whom, as Yanukovitch is working as Prime-Minister for a year and a half and Yushchenko - from the very beginning of the independency of Ukraine (13 years!). Our town mayor (!) accused the government of frauds, etc. But HE IS THE GOVERNMENT! Our local one, isn't he? Sometimes, I feel really angry because THEY over there USE Me and MY COUNTRY for THEIR political games. My future, the future of my son!

Yes, the media IS very biased and disgusting. So, I have nothing against Joel getting my e-mail. I do have my opinion which is fortunately supported by many people I love and respect.

Sorry for such an emotional letter, I do love my country, I work hard and I am patriotic, but not nationalistic, racistic, fanatic and aggressive. I don't believe in the power of ultimatums, because they can and will boomerang and again chaos and disorder will flourish.

The Romanian Revolution Was Televised

The Romanian revolution was a complex affair. It was a dramatic triumph that had the whole world for its audience, a world that keeps wondering long after the final curtain how much of what it saw was real. If I hadn't lost my normally skeptical head to the euphoria of December, I would have questioned the single most evident source of news about the revolution: television. But it was precisely television that seduced me during my visit and made me lose sight of things I already knew. I have raged enough against TV to know that the medium is eminently manipulatable. But even though I knew that the extraordinary figure of sixty-five thousand dead (used as an accusation against Ceausescu at his "trial") was considerably lower, I did not ask anyone at the time what caused such astounding discrepancy. I had seen the bodies on television, but only a few and always the same bodies. I didn't ask how such thing could be possible.

Imagine the shock and dismay of our newsmakers and our idealists--including myself--when most of these horrible events we saw with our own eyes on television turned out not to have happened at all. How could the grizzled, experienced Western journalists who are sworn to hard facts have missed the many clues and glaring contradictions that pointed to artifice? The astounding truth of the matter is that much of the glorious Romanian "revolution" was, in fact, a staged play, a revolution between quotation marks. Let me also say that for all that, there were heroes, martyrs, and true revolutionaries. A mass uprising did take place, but it was skillfully manipulated by the men who run Romania today. It could also be true that for a few glorious moments the first rebels to arrive at the television station created a free atmosphere unparalleled in the history of the country, an atmosphere in which all ideas of "taste" and "propriety" lost meaning. Whatever could be put on the screen was, whether it was a one-legged beggar with a delirious story or a rock video brought out of a secret drawer. But it couldn't have been long after, however, the young revolutionaries (if that's who they were) started becoming "responsible," and the "spontaneous" provisional government showed up with its own TV script. The television station then became the headquarters of the new government, which, as far as most people were concerned, was born out of video like Venus out of the seashell. And hats must be off to the producers of the exceedingly realistic docu-drama of the strategic military center from where, in a charged atmosphere reminiscent of Reds or Dr. Zhivago, generals with telephones on both ears shouted orders at troops on vast invisible battlefields in every part of the country.

Today I stand abashed by my naivete. Much of that Romanian "spontaneity" was as slick and scripted as a Hollywood movie. If I were in charge of the Emmys, I'd give one to the Romanian directors of December 1989. Many aspects of the televised drama remain extremely mysterious. I still do not understand Secretary of State Baker's offer to allow the Soviets to intervene on the side of the "revolutionaries." He must have known at least in outline the true shape of the Romanian situation. I cannot believe that the CIA was as taken in by the exaggerated reports of massacres and fighting from East European news agencies as the more naive press organizations were. The administration must have had reasons for going along with the hysteria of the press, in part because it distracted from the U.S. invasion of Panama but also because a deal must have been made with the Soviets, a deal that, I am sorry to say, leaves Romania where it always was: in the Soviet sphere of influence. Many people now believe--in the face of mounting evidence--that the mastermind of the Romania operation was the KGB, that the Romanian revolution was a beautifully orchestrated piece of Kremlin music conducted by Maestro Gorbachev. What's more, the operation had the full cooperation of the CIA. I recently bought a T-shirt in Washington, D.C., that says: "TOGETHER AT LAST! THE KGB & THE CIA. NOW WE ARE EVERYWHERE." Even one T-shirt can sometimes be smarter than all the news media.
SOURCE: The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile's Story of Return and Revolution (Avon Books, 1991), by Andrei Codrescu, pp. 204-206

While I agree that even one jockstrap can sometimes be smarter than all the news media, I don't think Codrescu's faith in the omnipotence of the either the KGB or the CIA is all that grounded in reality. The CIA utterly failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union (and one or two other things more recently), and the KGB's successor FSB did a lousy job of predicting Ukrainian reactions to Putin's machinations in their elections. There's a difference between planning a new stampede in a particular direction and belatedly trying to ride herd on a stampede already underway. In 1991, Codrescu predicted that Ion Iliescu's National Salvation Front would keep Romania in the Soviet orbit. Well, we know how that worked out, even though Iliescu himself has managed to hang onto power.

The Head Heeb's guest blogger Alexander has more on the most recent Romanian elections, and so does Doug Muir at Halfway down the Danube here and here and here.

05 December 2004

Bohemia Un-Czeched and Counter-Reformed, 1619-1919

[By the 1600s] the Kingdom of Bohemia had for practical purposes already lost its independence, and its internal struggles could not be isolated from the religious and political conflicts engulfing Europe as a whole. It was no longer either in representation or in reality a matter of Czechs "against all." Bohemia was a pawn in a Continental game. Where the Hussite Wars had been integrally and obviously national, the conflicts of the seventeenth century were only secondarily so. Their result, nonetheless, was to jeopardize the very existence of a Czech nation.

Dissension came to a head in the Rising of the Czech Estates, which triggered the Thirty Years' War. Appropriately enough, the rebellion began with a second defenestration of Prague, 199 years after the first. On 21 May 1618 Protestant nobles convened a General Diet, and two days later a mob turfed three Catholic imperial officials (who survived the experience) from the windows of Prague Castle. In August of the next year a General Diet of all the lands of the Czech kingdom formally repudiated the Habsburg succession and offered the throne to Frederick, the protestant elector of the Palatinate, son-in-law of King James I of England and VI of Scotland. Frederick was crowned and moved into Hradcany on 4 November 1619. The "Winter King" reigned for just a year and four days. Despite some initial military successes, the rebellion was decisively crushed by the troops of Emperor Ferdinand II (1619-37), Matyas's legitimate Habsburg successor, at the battle of Bila hora--the White Mountain [cf. Serbian Cerna Gora (= Montenegro) and Czech Bila Rus 'White Russia']--on the western outskirts of Prague on 8 November 1620. Frederick and his court immediately fled the city, leaving it defenseless before Ferdinand's army. Bila hora settled the fate of the Kingdom of Bohemia for the next three centuries; it was without any doubt the most cataclysmic event in modern Czech history.

Ferdinand's revenge was swift, brutal, and overwhelming. On Monday 21 June 1621, between five and nine in the morning, twenty-seven Czech aristocrats and burghers were publicly executed in Prague's Old Town Square, Staromestske namesti. The executioner dealt with Jan Jesensky (Jessenius), the rector of Prague University, particularly cruelly; his tongue was cut out and nailed to the block before he was beheaded. The heads of twelve of the executed were displayed on the tower of Charles Bridge for ten years until, during the brief occupation of Prague by a Saxon Protestant army in 1631, they were ceremonially buried in the Tyn Cathedral. Literal was followed by social decapitation: the indigenous Protestant nobility, burgher estate, and intelligentsia were to all intents and purposes destroyed. The estates of Protestant lords were confiscated on a grand scale, and gifted or sold cheaply to Catholic loyalists. Over three-quarters of the land in the kingdom, Church and crown estates excepted, changed hands in the 1620s. Out of this a largely new--and often foreign--aristocracy emerged, even if some of the biggest beneficiaries, like Albrecht z Valdstejna, creator of the Valdstejn (Waldstein) Palace in Prague, were Czechs....

By the later eighteenth century the overwhelming majority of Czechs, from nobility to peasants, were once again Roman Catholics. Lusatia and most of Silesia were gone, and Bohemia and Moravia had been Habsburg possessions since time out of mind. Prague was little more than a provincial backwater. The upper classes, whether in origin Czech or foreign, had little organic connection to the Czech past, and oriented themselves mainly to Vienna. Like much of the urban population, they spoke German. Many town dwellers, particularly in the capital, were German incomers; Czech-speakers preponderated in Prague only among the lower classes. For the most part Czech had ceased to be a language of either learning or (higher) administration; the rich Czech literary heritage of the past had been mostly erased or forgotten. Where it was kept alive, ironically enough, it was Catholic priests who were mainly to be thanked. Bohemia's sociolinguistic splits were reproduced in the Church; while the episcopal hierarchy was German-speaking, most ordinary parish priests were the sons of Czech peasants. Contrary to some later assertions, the Czech language as such was by no means close to death. But it had retreated to the fields, the stables, and the kitchens. It was a badge not of nationality but of ignorance, the rude tongue of the common folk. Language no longer unified or divided nations, as it had for the Hussites, but merely social classes. It was as a written language that Czech so catastrophically declined after Bila hora. The most characteristic cultural monuments of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Bohemia are visual, rather than literary. The art of the baroque is a feast that appeals to the eye, not the intellect; its architecture is an architecture of sensuous power, designed to impress and intimidate. All those resplendent baroque palaces, churches, and burgher mansions that do so much to define Prague as "the magical metropolis of old Europe" (as Andre Breton once called it) are testaments to the destruction of the Hussite and Protestant Bohemia on whose ruins they were erected; and a goodly proportion of them were designed by foreigners rather than Czechs....

Had there been no medieval Bohemian state, there might very possibly have been no modern Czech nation either. But this modern nation is not so much rooted in that medieval experience as retrospectively reconstructed out of it. Bila hora fractured Czech history and identity; the links to the past were severed.
SOURCE: The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History, by Derek Sayer (Princeton U. Press, 1998), pp. 45, 50, 52

04 December 2004

Siberian Light's Russia News

Siberian Light is offering a roundup of news from Russia, which may become a regular feature if enough encouragement is received. By all means, go ye forth and encourage! Here's a sample:
A gun amnesty program in Zmeinogorsk [in Siberia] got more than it expected when a man walked in demanding the $17.25 reward for surrendering his stash of plutonium.

The Argus on Uzbek Elections

The Argus notes that Uzbek President Islam Karimov's unusual criticism of Russia for interfering in Ukraine's elections appears to be part of a more general warning to all outside parties not to interfere in Uzbekistan's parliamentary elections on 8 December.

The warning comes just one day after an outlawed Uzbek opposition party staged a public protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Tashkent to ask for the U.S. president's support.

Nepal as a Failed State

The Acorn quotes The Economist (subscription) about the need for intervention in Nepal.
Like a severely disturbed individual, a failed state is a danger not just to itself but to those around it and beyond.

... there is no chance that the government can defeat the rebels; there is, however, a small but growing possibility that the rebels could defeat the government.

If this were purely an internal matter, the world could afford to look shamefacedly away. But it isn't. Nepal's Maoists have formed links with India's own Maoist insurgents, who go by the local name of Naxalites, and, says India, with some of the vicious groups fighting secessionist wars in its north-east.
The Acorn's prescription follows.
It does not take much to take the wind out of the Maoists' (already flagging) sail — usurp their agenda, especially the one calling for a new constituent assembly. Even in the absence of the Maoist threat, King Gyanendra has sufficiently distorted Nepal's politics that a return to the 1990-system is next to impossible. Clearly, Nepal needs reconciliation, but the Maoists are the worst possible agents to provide it.

The constituent assembly can then decide whether Nepal becomes a republic, or ends up with a Japanese-style constitutional monarchy. India should intervene to bring about this outcome by bearing down on the king and his prime minister. Should the Maoists continue their armed struggle even after this, India would have no alternative left but to intervene militarily. In that case it must take up the responsibility, preferably but not necessarily with the sanction of the UN Security Council.

Staying in the Closet in Japan

The White Peril posts an interesting take on gay life in relatively constrained Japanese society.
Still and all, there are benefits to Japan's tradition-mindedness that I think a lot of gays in America have been too willing to cast off. The lack of gay ghettos means that it's pretty much impossible to wall yourself into a queer-positive echo chamber and start seeing rank-and-file straight people as an enemy arrayed against you. It also means that very few people see their homosexuality as their entire identity, with anti-gayness blamed for every disappointment, setback, depressive episode, and failed relationship. You never hear Japanese gays getting into princessy snits about not being approved of or officially sanctioned exactly like straight people in every last finicking little detail. At ordinary gay bars, you meet brittle, desperate guys who are obviously using a constant stream of sex partners to avoid dealing with their issues much, much less frequently than you do here in the States. (Even here, they're a minority, of course; their attention-whoring just makes them disproportionately noticeable. But the Japanese in general don't put the burden of self-definition on sex to the point that we do in the US.)

The bad side, obviously, is that it can be hard for people coming out to find resources, and that people have to keep their most meaningful relationships hidden. It's not uncommon for employees at the stodgier companies to be informed that they will not be promoted up the usual management-track escalator until they marry and start producing future contributors to the Social Insurance kitty. So many guys use pseudonyms in their gay lives that I only know the real first and last names of, I'd say, my ten or so closest friends. Japan's shame culture puts pressure on vulnerable gay kids as much as our guilt culture--there's no finessing that, and it sucks--but most adults who have come out to themselves seem pretty content.
via Simon World

Tim Burke on Academic Groupthink

Tim Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore, weighs in on the groupthink controversy in what I regard as a judiciously balanced manner.
Academics are not motivated to groupthink out of a loyalty to liberal causes, left-wing politics or registration in the Democratic Party, though in many disciplines at the moment, they may end up predominantly having those affiliations in a smug, uninterrogated manner. They're motivated to groupthink by the institutional organization of academic life. The same forces that help academics to produce knowledge and scholarship are the forces which produce unwholesome close-mindedness and inbred self-satisfied attitudes. These forces would act on conservatives as well were we to magically remove the current professoriate and replace them with registered Republicans. They do act already on academics who operate in disciplines where certain kinds of political conservatism are more orthodox, or in institutional contexts, like religious universities, where conservative values are expressly connected to institutional missions.

When I was briefly at Emory many years ago, I helped organize a one-day event about "interdisciplinarity". After about six or seven helpings of young snot-nosed punks like myself rattle on about how cool and interdisciplinary we all were, a wise senior scholar named David Hesla finally intervened. "Virtually everybody's interdisciplinary in some way", he said. "You guys are unhappy with departments, not disciplines."

What Hesla was pointing was that most of the constraints, both hidden and obvious, that produce forms of "groupthink" or suppression of innovation and debate within academia are the consequence of the administrative organization of academic institutions. Groupthink isn't enforced by partisan plotters: it happens invisibly, cumulatively, pervasively, in the space in between scholars. It happens in department or faculty meetings, in peer reviews. It lives in what has been called "the invisible college", the pattern of normative judgements that all academics make (including yours truly) about what is cogent, what is original, what is canonical, what is important. Those judgement are formed out all the things you know already, including those you scarcely consciously know that you know, and the heuristics you use to guide yourself to further knowledge.

That is the heart of the problem. It is one thing to talk about breaking down groupthink, to attack the insularity of academic life, and another thing to figure out how to do that without destroying the productivity and usefulness of scholarship and research altogether. The administrative constraints on my life as a scholar are not just noxious restrictions on what I can and cannot do, should or should not say. They're also necessary in both practical and philosophical ways.
via Cliopatria

Regions of Mind on Ukraine

In case you missed it, Regions of Mind has a series of meaty posts on Ukraine, with unique contributions from an old friend who is a Ukraine specialist:For more on the complexities of the language picture, see Language Log (via Language Hat).

Noonan about Rather

As one who was scandalized and disgusted by Rathergate, I was quite impressed by Peggy Noonan's gracious, illuminating, yet devastating retrospective in the Wall Street Journal (2 December 2004) entitled "The Education of Dan Rather."
Life is complicated, people are complicated, and most of us are a jumble of virtues, flaws and contradictions. I like to try to understand the past, try to put it together in a way that makes sense to me. This can involve judging not only your own actions and decisions but those of others, which can be hard. I have a friend who once said in the middle of a conversation, "Don't understand me too quickly." Don't categorize me; don't decide you broke the code. Sit back and watch; it's more interesting than you may know.
Beldar, on the other hand, isn't feeling quite so generous.

03 December 2004

Slate's Dispatches from Romania

Sarah E. Richards in Slate has a series on Romania that focuses exclusively on the negatives. All that's missing is Vlad Dracu (Dracula, not Vladimir Putin!).

Nostalgia for communism
"Yes, it was better under communism. You had a job, a house, a car," said 20-year-old university student George Pascaru. "But you could not have your own thoughts."

But such talk makes few feel better about the giant elephant making its way east. Romania, a country of 23 million, is lumbering toward entry into the European Union in 2007. Despite robust economic growth and low inflation, corruption is rampant, and the average Romanian makes slightly more than $2,100 a year, or just 30 percent of the EU average in purchasing power....

The mention of the European Union is met with cynical laughs. People tell how Hungarians have been forced to raid Romanian grocery stores because they were priced out of their own when their country joined the union this spring. There are rumors that EU regulations will force polluting old cars off the road, and drivers won't be able to buy new ones. And how will people buy houses?
Discrimination against Roma
"In Communist times, I worked 30 years in an iron factory," said Sandu Stana, who is 71 but looks 80. "In capitalism, it's hard to have a job. When the jobs are open, and they see our face, they say, 'Sorry, it's been taken.'"

Activists insist that embracing the Roma identity is the only way to move the community forward. For example, the government recently hired 200 health-outreach workers and set aside 400 university spots for Roma in 2004 compared with 10 earmarked in 1994. About 2,000 have graduated, said Marius Taba of the human rights group Romani Cris. About 80 percent of Roma drop out of the system before high school. For those who do go, there are tales of bus drivers refusing to pick them up and school officials segregating them in separate buildings. Discrimination is everywhere. A French film crew followed Taba and several other clean-cut Roma young men on a night out around Bucharest. Five of eight bars they visited kicked them out.

In an informal ghetto north of Bucharest, Roma residents had more immediate concerns. One woman showed me how they were stealing electricity by attaching wires from the power pole into their apartments because they couldn't pay their utility bills; they're worried the police will come soon.
Dysfunctional citizens
Eni Gall has one of the most depressing jobs in Romania. Equipped with a minimal range of social services, a couple of loaves of bread, and an earnest idealism, 25-year-old Gall works as a case manager visiting poor, dysfunctional, and marginalized families. Her assignment is to keep families together so they won't abandon their children.

Gall is one of a slowly growing number of social workers in a country that, during communism, didn't recognize it had social problems. Today, Romanians know they have problems, but there is scarce public funding to even begin to address them. They can clean up the orphanage system in an attempt to become a EU–worthy country by 2007, but there's no mechanism in place to stem the supply of deserted children. "There are no public social services in Romania, only institutionalized ones for the disabled or orphans," explained Calin Braga, director of Gall's employer, Arapamesu, a nongovernmental agency founded in 1995 by an American nun and funded by U.S., European, and Romanian donors. It provides counseling, tutoring, support groups, and children's activities for around 330 at-risk families in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu. "We need services, services, services!" he said....

Two years ago, residents of a gypsy ghetto north of Bucharest didn't even know contraceptives existed. I met health coordinator Florica Petre, who blushed as she recalled showing a roomful of men how to put on condoms. She said that whenever she gets a new delivery of prophylactics, the men scoop them up for visits to local prostitutes. (Apparently, the equivalent of $6 buys a visit to a French or a Japanese [!?] hooker, the neighborhood favorites.)
And the miseries of adoption
It's not easy to adopt a child in Romania, and at first the Heiseys thought they were following the law by hiring lawyers to notarize the signing over of the birth rights and applying for her birth certificate. That began a local legal brouhaha that involved more lawyers, social workers, court appearances, abandonment proceedings, commission meetings, and mandated visits of the birth mother to the Heiseys' home to confirm that she did not want this child.

There's an old joke that Romania is the land of possibility, where anything can happen—anything bad and anything worse. So, when Peter proudly plopped the file containing every single document carefully copied and collated on the desk of Larissa's assigned social worker at the local office of the National Authority for Child Protection, he wasn't surprised when the clerk told him she couldn't send it on to Bucharest. The Romanian government had passed an emergency ordinance forbidding international adoptions. For the previous three years, the government had imposed a moratorium stopping such adoptions after the European Union criticized the country for selling its babies to foreigners for as much as $50,000 apiece.

Hoping to join the union in 2007, the Romanian government said it would resume international adoptions once it had a chance to straighten out the corrupt child welfare system.
Va rog, Domnule Guvernamint, don't make me abandon my children! Don't make me steal electricity! Don't make me suffer through high school! Don't force me to find a job in a robust economy! Don't let me use your condoms on foreign prostitutes! Vai de mine! Jos cu libertate! Bring back Ceausescu! Et cetera.

Beware Ukraine! Life is so much worse for everyone in the West. The painful transition can hardly be worth the effort.

via Arts & Letters Daily

Infralapsarian or Supralapsarian?

Supralapsarians considered God's ultimate goal to be his own glory in election and reprobation, while infralapsarians considered predestination subordinate to other goals....

Infralapsarians were in the majority at the Synod of Dort. The Arminians tried to depict all the Calvinists as representatives of the "repulsive" supralapsarian doctrine. Four attempts were made at Dort to condemn the supralapsarian view, but the efforts were unsuccessful. Although the Canons of Dort do not deal with the order of the divine decrees, they are infralapsarian in the sense that the elect are "chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction" (I,7; cf.I,1). The reprobate "are passed by in the eternal decree" and God "decreed to leave (them) in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves" and "to condemn and punish them forever...for all their sins" (I,15).

Defenders of supralapsarianism continued after Dort. The chairman of the Westminister Assembly, William Twisse, was a supralapsarian but the Westminister standards do not favor either position. Although supralapsarianism never received confessional endorsement within the Reformed churches, it has been tolerated within the confessional boundaries. In 1905 the Reformed churches of the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church in 1908 adopted the Conclusions of Utrecht, which stated that "our Confessional Standards admittedly follow the infralapsarian presentation in respect to the doctrine of election, but that it is evident...that this in no wise intended to exclude or condemn the supralapsarian presentation." Recent defenders of the supralapsarian position have been Gerhardus Vos, Herman Hoeksema, and G H Kersten.
If I had attended the Synod of Dort, I suppose I'd have voted with the infralapsarian majority against the supralapsarians, but the older I get the more I incline toward the antilapsarians over the prolapsarians.

02 December 2004

Pakistan's Competing Nationalisms

My description of the partition as the greatest blunder in the history of mankind is an objective assessment based on the bitter experience of the masses ... Had the subcontinent not been divided, the 180 million Muslims of Bangladesh, 150 million of Pakistan and about 200 million in India would together have made 530 million people and, as such, they would have been a very powerful force in undivided India. --Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain, October 2000

'I have been a Baloch for several centuries. I have been a Muslim for 1,400 years. I have been a Pakistani for just over fifty.' The tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti Khan has little love for Pakistan. Secure in his heavily guarded, mud-walled fort deep in the Baloch desert, he runs a state within a state. Pakistan may have been in existence for over half a century but he still considers any Pakistani troops in his vicinity as part of an occupation army. Other tribal chiefs, feudal leaders and politicians in Balochistan, rural Sindh, NWFP and even some in southern Punjab share his attitude towards Pakistan. Islam was meant to be the binding force--but, for many, ethnic ties have proved to be stronger.

Like Israel, Pakistan was created in the name of religion. In 1948 there were just a few hundred thousand Jews living in their new country's territory; most Israelis came from elsewhere. When Pakistan was created, by contrast, there were already over 70 million Muslims living in the 'land of the pure' and they were by no means united. As well as the Bengalis in East Pakistan, the new state had to integrate five major groups: the Sindhis, the Baloch, the Pukhtoons, the Punjabis and the incoming Mohajirs [refugees from India; h-j-r as in Arabic hijrah 'flight']....

Whatever their background, Pakistani leaders have consistently seen expressions of provincial feeling as a threat to the Pakistani state. Nationalist leaders in the provinces have tended to associate such centralist attitudes with Punjabi arrogance. In reality, it has never been as simple as that. After all, [Mohammed Ali] Jinnah was born in Karachi, Ayub Khan was a Pukhtoon [= Pashtun, Pathan] and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came from Sindh.
SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 109-111

Kashmir Compromise Potential

Musharraf's speech on 12 January 2002 had clear implications for Kashmir. By announcing bans on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, he increased the chance that the insurgency in Kashmir would be weakened. If it faced a less intense battle in Kashmir, it is likely that the Indians would want to put the issue on the back burner. But it is worth bearing in mind two developments. First, the Kashmiri people are tiring of the struggle. Most informed Pakistanis now accept that, given the chance, most Kashmiris would opt for independence rather than a merger with Pakistan. But above all else the people of Kashmir want peace. That is not to say they will accept any settlement but it does raise the possibility that most would accept a compromise. The second new element is that many Pakistanis are also tiring of the conflict. Before Musharraf's January speech it was conventional wisdom that no Pakistani leader could confront the religious extremists and remain in office. The lack of any backlash to Musharraf's speech helped dispel that myth.

Might the same be true of Kashmir? Proponents of the view that no Pakistani leader can afford to back down in Kashmir rely on a number of arguments. First, the Pakistani people, informed by decades of intensive propaganda, are highly mobilised on the issue. Second, the army has made so many sacrifices in Kashmir that a significant climb-down would be seen as unacceptable. Not even an army chief, it is suggested, could compromise on Kashmir and expect to survive. That may be true, but there are counter arguments. Despite all the propaganda, many people in India and Pakistan are not particularly concerned about the Kashmir dispute. Many of those living, for example, in Sindh or Tamil Nadu would be quite happy to see any settlement of a dispute that is quite clearly holding back the subcontinent's social and economic development. After a decade of insurgency, there is a growing feeling in Pakistan that India will never pull out. Pakistan's size and economic weakness means it is not in a position to force the hand of a country with a billion people and great power aspirations. If General Musharraf or any subsequent Pakistani leader did make a compromise on Kashmir he or she might receive more support than is generally predicted.

In his account of the Kashmir dispute, the Indian author Sumantra Bose has rejected the idea of splitting up Kashmir because, he argues, none of the political districts are either ethnically or religiously homogeneous. In the Jammu region, for example, one third of the population is Muslim. Indeed, some of its districts have strong Muslim majorities. In Ladakh, meanwhile, the Buddhists may have a clear majority in Leh but the adjoining Ladakhi district of Kargil has a predominantly Shia Muslim population. Whilst Bose undoubtedly has a point, the history of the late twentieth century, for better or for worse, suggests that his objections to the possible partition of Kashmir are far from overwhelming. In the Baltic States and former Yugoslavia, to give just two examples, international boundaries were redrawn without regard to the fact that, in the process, new minority populations were created....

Ever since 1947 the views of the Kashmiris have been obscured by the dispute between India and Pakistan. With the insurgency over a decade old most Kashmiris are sick of the conflict and are desperate for a peaceful settlement. But for both India and Pakistan the symbolic importance of the Kashmir dispute means that they will inevitably follow their own perceived national interests rather than those of the Kashmiri people. If the Kashmiris had been conducring a straightforward fight for independence in the same way as the Chechens or East Timorese they would have had a greater chance of success. The tragedy of Kashmir is that the voices of the Kashmiri people themselves have been drowned out by the Islamists, nationalists and ideologues in Islamabad and Delhi.
SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 106-108

01 December 2004

Proto-Modern Czech Nationalism, 15th Century

In 1458, the Czech Diet elected as king of Bohemia the Utraquist leader Jiri z Podebrad (1420-71), who had been regent of the kingdom during Ladislav Pohrobek's minority since 1453. The "Hussite King" Jiri was the first Czech to sit on the Bohemian throne since the Premyslids over 150 years earlier.
Pope Paul II excommunicated him as a heretic in 1466 and proclaimed a holy war against him. Mathyas Corvinus of Hungary invaded but was defeated in 1468.
The following year there appeared a "Call to Arms in Defense of the Truth," addressed "to all faithful Czechs and Moravians, genuine lovers of God's truth and disciples of your own Czech language.... [The pope] inflames and incites all the nations and languages of the surrounding lands against us." It is a remarkable passage; but one quite typical of its time and place. Virtually all Hussite manifestos since 1420 had struck the same notes. It is evidently medieval in its Christian preoccupations and frame of reference; its fundamentalist certainty is alien, even repellent, to modern sensibilities. But it is no less evidently, and rather disconcertingly, modern--or what we are accustomed, at any rate, to think of as modern--in its identification of truth and virtue with a land, a people, and their language. The Hussites imagined their sacral community in unmistakably national terms and attributed sanctity less to Latin than to their native Czech.

All this happened without the aid of the printing press; the first known book printed in the Czech lands, Guido de Columna's Trojan Chronicle, appeared in Plzen in 1468. But it is perhaps worth recording that when print capitalism did arrive in Bohemia, it too came predominantly in the Czech vernacular. Of forty-four books known to have been printed in Bohemia before 1500, thirty-nine were in Czech. Over the next hundred years some 4,400 books were printed in the Czech lands. Many were of course religious, among them the magnificent Czech Protestant Bible kralicka of 1579-94. But there were also vernacular histories, geographies, medical works, moral homilies, and (perhaps most tellingly) cookbooks and manuals of household economy. Melantrich, the earliest Czech publishing house (as distinct from individual printer), employed eleven people in 1577. In its thirty-year existence it published at least 223 books--111 of them in Czech, 75 in Latin, and only 3 in German. Pope Pius II, who as papal legate Enea Silvio de Piccolomini visited Bohemia and subsequently wrote Historia Bohemica (1458; first published in Czech in 1510 as Kronika teska), was one who appreciated the importance to Czechs of their native tongue. Writing to Ladislav Pohrobek in 1453, the pope suggests that the Czechs will not let their new boy-king go "until he masters Czech and--beer-drinking."
SOURCE: The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History, by Derek Sayer (Princeton U. Press, 1998), pp. 40-42