30 June 2004

Greater Armenia Impearled

To add depth to the brief mentions of Armenia on this blog and elsewhere, the wonderfully informative Impearls "proceeds to reveal its own look at medieval Armenian history, drawing from a now public-domain chapter in the first edition of the renowned Cambridge Medieval History, by early twentieth century French scholar of Armenia Frédéric Macler (1869-1938), Professor of Armenian for many years at the École nationale des Langues orientales vivantes, Paris." I'll post just a few paragraphs from each part. Visit Impearls for the rest, plus illustrations, maps, notes, and acknowledgments.

Lying across the chief meeting-place of Europe and Asia, Armenia suffered immeasurably more from the conflict of two civilisations than it profited by their exchange of goods and ideas. If the West penetrated the East under pressure from Rome, Byzantium, or crusading Eruope, if the East moved westwards, under Persian, Arab, Mongol, or Turk, the roads used were too often the roads of Armenia.

This was not all. East and West claimed and fought for control or possession of the country. Divided bodily between Rome and Persia in pre-Christian times, an apple of discord between Persia and the Byzantine Empire during the early part of the Middle Ages, Armenia for the rest of its national history was alternately the prey of Eastern and Western peoples. When the Armenian kingdom was strong enough to choose its own friends, it turned sometimes to the East, sometimes to the West. It drew its culture from both. But, belonging wholly neither to West nor to East, it suffered consistently at the hands of each in turn and of both together....

The Arab Conquest

... In this long period of foreign rule, the Armenians invariably found a change of masters a change for the worse. The Persians ruled the country th{r}ough a succession of Marzpans, or military commanders of the frontiers, who also had to keep order and to collect revenue. With a strong guard under their own command, they did not destroy the old national militia nor take away the privileges of the nobility, and at first they allowed full liberty to the Katholikos and his bishops. As long as the Persians governed with such tolerance, they might fairly hope to fuse the Armenian nation with their own. But a change of religious policy under Yezdegerd II and Piroz roused the Armenians to defend their faith in a serious of religious wars lasting until the end of the sixth century, during which Vardan with his 1036 companions perished for the Christian faith in the terrible battle of Avaraïr (454). But, whether defeated or victorious, the Armenians never exchanged their Christianity for Zoroastrianism....

Shortly after the Arab conquest, the Armenians turned once more to their old masters, the Greeks. With the help of Leo the Isaurian, Smbat (Sempad) Bagratuni defeated the Arabs, and was commissioned to rule Armenia by the Emperor. But after a severe struggle the Muslims regained their dominion, and sent the Arab commander Qâsim to punish the Armenians (704). He carried out his task with oriental ferocity. He set fire to the church of Nakhijevan, into which he had driven the princes and nobles, and then pillaged the country and sent many of the people into captivity....

Recovery and Independence

As the long period of gloom, faintly starred by calamitous victories, passed into the ninth century, the Arab oppression slowly lightened. The Abbasid Empire was drawing to its fall. While the Arabs were facing their own troubles, the Armenian nobility were founding principalities. The Mamikonian family, it is true, died out in the middle of the ninth century without founding a kingdom. Yet, because they had no wide territories, they served Armenia disinterestedly, and though of foreign origin could claim many of the national heroes of their adopted country: Vasak, Mushegh, and Manuel, three generals of the Christian Arsacidae; Vardan, who died for the faith in the religious wars; Vahan the Wolf and Vahan Kamsarakan, who fought the Persians; David, Grigor, and Mushegh, rebels against Arab misrule.... Many other principalities were also formed, each claiming independence, the largest and most important of them all being the kingdom of the Bagratuni.

Like the Mamikonians, the Bagratuni seem to have come from abroad.... The Bagratuni were also wealthy. Unlike the Mamikonians, they owned vast territories, and founded a strong principality in the country of Ararat. Their wealth, their lands, and their history made them the most powerful of Armenian families and pointed out to them a future more memorable than their past. Midway in the ninth century, the power of the Bagratuni was inherited by Prince Ashot. The son of Smbat the Confessor, he refounded the ancient kingdom of Armenia and gave it a dynasty of two centuries' duration. Under the rule of the Bagratuni kings Armenia passed through the most national phase of its history. It was a conquered province before they rose to power, it became more European and less Armenian after their line was extinct. Like Ashot himself, his descendants tried at first to control the whole of Armenia, but from 928 onwards they were obliged to content themselves with real dominion in their hereditary lands and moral supremacy over the other princes. This second and more peaceful period of their rule was the very summer of Armenian civilisation. [See Map of Bagratid Kingdoms in Armenia (964-1064).] ...

The Arabs return, but are driven out

Under Smbat I (892-914) the lesser princes did more mischief than under his father Ashot because they made common cause with the Arabs of Azerbâ'îjân, who hated Armenia. For more than twenty years Smbat held his kingdom against the persistent attacks, now separate, now connected, of the Ostikans of Azerbâ'îjân and of the Armenian princes, and for more than a generation he and his son looked perforce to the Greeks as their only source of external help....

To thwart the new-born power of Armenia, Yûsuf [Ostikan of Azerbâ'îjân,] crowned a rival king and provoked a fierce civil war, which was finally ended through the mediation of John, the Katholikos. Many other internal revolts followed, but Ashot suppressed them all, and Yûsuf turned aside to attack the peaceful kingdom of Van. Here, too, he was unsuccessful, but he appointed a new Ostikan of Armenia. The purpose of this new Ostikan and of his successor Bêshir was to capture the Armenian king and the Katholikos. But Ashot retired to the island of Sevan, and built ten large boats. When Bêshir marched against him with a strong army, he manned each boat with seven skilled archers and sent them against the enemy. Every Armenian arrow found its mark, the Arabs took to flight, and were pursued with slaughter as far as Dwin by Prince Gêorg Marzpetuni, Ashot's faithful supporter. After this epic resistance, Ashot left Sevan in triumph, and took the title "King of Kings of Armenia" in token of his superiority to the other Armenian princes. He died in 928.

(Mostly) Peace and prosperity

Two reigns of perpetual warfare were followed by nearly a century of comparative peace (928-1020). Ashot's successors were content with more modest aims. At home they confined their real rule to their own patrimony and exercised only a moral sway over the other Armenian States. Abroad they sought the favour of the Arabs, rather than that of the Greeks. In this way alone was it possible to secure a measure of peace....

Armenian culture was pre-eminently ecclesiastical. Its literature did include chronicles and secular poems, but was overwhelmingly religious as a whole. Armenian manuscripts, famous alike for their antiquity, their beauty, and their importance in the history of writing, are nearly all ecclesiastical. Most interesting of all in many ways (especially for the comparison of text and variant readings) are the numerous copies of the Gospels. The Moscow manuscript (887) is the earliest Armenian manuscript actually dated, and two very beautiful Gospels of a later date are those of Queen Melkê and of Trebizond. A collection of theological and other texts executed between 971 and 981 is their earliest manuscript written on paper. Other important writings were dogmatic works, commentaries, and sharakans or sacred songs composed in honour of church festivals. Armenian art, again, was mainly ecclesiastical, and survives, on the one hand in the illuminations and miniatures which adorn the sacred texts, and, on the other, in the ruined churches and convents which still cover the face of the country. Architecture was military as well as ecclesiastical, but it is hard not to believe that the people of Ani were prouder of their galaxy of churches than they were of their fortress, their walls, and their towers....

Greeks and Turks

Two generations of misfortune (1020-1079) opened with civil war. Gagik had left two sons. His successor John-Smbat (1020-1040), timid and effeminate, was attacked and defeated by his younger and more militant brother Ashot, who was helped by Senekherim Arcruni, King of Vaspurakan (Van). Peace was concluded through the mediation of the Katholikos Petros Getadartz and Giorgi, King of the Georgians, but only by a division of territory. John-Smbat kept Ani and its dependencies, while Ashot took the part of the kingdom next to Persia and Georgia (Iberia). On the death of either brother the country was to be re-united under the survivor....

By the end of the eleventh century not a vestige remained of Byzantine dominion over Armenia. The Greeks saw too late the fatal consequences of their selfish hostility towards a country which on south and east might have served them as a rampart against their most dangerous foe.

Little Armenia and Aftermath

The national history of Greater Armenia ended with the Turkish conquest and with the extinction of the Bagratuni line. Little by little, numbers of Armenians withdrew into the Taurus mountains and the plateau below, but though their country rose again from ruin, it was only as a small principality in Cilicia. The fruits of Armenian civilisation — the architectural splendour of Ani, the military strength of Van, the intellectual life of Kars, the commercial pride of Bitlis and Ardzen — were no more....

After the Turkish victory of 1453, Mahomet II founded an Armenian colony in Constantinople and placed it under the supervision of Joakim, the Armenian Bishop of Brûsa, to whom he afterwards gave the title of "Patriarch" with jurisdiction over all the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. From that time to this, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople has carrried on the work of the Katholikos and has been the national representative of the Armenian people.

29 June 2004

The Ngatik Massacre, July 1837

In July 1837, a ship sailed into Ngatik atoll near Pohnpei on a nefarious mission.
The ship was the trading cutter Lambton, out of Sydney, Australia, manned by the classic motley crew of runaways, villains, adventurers, and entrepreneurs--the sort who abounded in the European population of the Pacific in the early nineteenth century. Any of those words could describe the Lambton's master, C. H. Hart. Hart had roamed the Western Pacific for years, making his way by a mix of fair trade and sly schemes. Hart traded Islanders beads and knives, guns and ammunition, tobacco, cloth, and rum, driving a hard bargain for the bêche-de-mer, pearl shell, and tortoiseshell that he loaded aboard the Lambton. Bêche-de-mer, sea cucumber, went to China for soup. The Chinese paid well for it, but it had to be boiled and cured in a foul, messy job. Collecting pearl shell, like processing bêche-de-mer, was labor intensive.... Tortoiseshell, from hawksbill turtles--that was the stuff. It was made into ladies' combs and mirrors, decorated boxes, and knickknacks. The Victorian world, Far East and West, was wild for it, and hawksbill turtles were being decimated to fill the demand.

It took time and hard work to find the turtles, though they were easy enough to kill once you located them. But what Hart had, or thought he had, on the atoll called by its inhabitants Sapwuahfik (but by Hart "Ngatik," and on navigational charts by a dozen other names) was a hoard of tortoiseshell without the trouble of work--except the work of taking it from the island's people, who would, no doubt, object. They had objected when Hart's crew first found the treasure trove of shell, more than a year earlier. Two of the Lambton's men had gone inland and discovered a cache of turtle shell, but the Islanders would not sell and resisted theft. In fact, a group of men chased the sailors down to the beach, and the crew escaped by quick oar strokes. The Lambton returned to island trading and a trip to New South Wales, but Hart did not forget the shell, nor the close call he and his crew had experienced. Greed and revenge took root, and in Hart's mind he marked Sapwuahfik for a return trip.

The Lambton sailed to the region again in mid-1836, arriving at Pohnpei Island in August, just after a group of whalers from the ship Falcon had been killed following an altercation with Pohnpei men. The Europeans in the area, Hart among the leaders, joined forces to take revenge, culminating in the murder of a Pohnpei nobleman. (By involving himself with these events, Hart made sure that his name went down on the list of persons to be investigated two years later by a British warship, HMS Larne, under Commander P. L. Blake. Blake was a thorough and principled investigator, cautious but relentless in his pursuit of evidence of criminal activity. Because of Blake we have a historical record of Hart's crimes.)

After the Falcon incident, Hart went back to business, sailing between Guam, Manila, and Pohnpei. Then, on the last days of June or the first days of July 1837, he made ready for his return to Sapwuahfik--where, he said, he wished to "trade quietly" with the natives--by making cartridges and taking on extra hands from Pohnpei.

When he arrived at the atoll, Hart tried to land where he had landed before, but this time he was met with hostility. Sapwuahfik men beckoned them ashore, indicating their intentions with a display of their own weapons. The people of Sapwuahfik had known from divination when the ship would return; they had been watching, and when they saw it appear on the horizon, they prepared for war, readying clubs and slings.

Hart thought better of an immediate landing, taking the crew to spend the night on another islet of the atoll. The next day he loaded them into the ship's boats for a straightforward assault. Despite the defenders' preparations, the battle turned against them. In two days of fighting, every Sapwuahfik man but one was killed or fled by canoe. Though one woman was accidentally wounded, the invaders did not make targets of women and children.

Soon after the Lambton sailed from the atoll--which, now that the native voices were stilled, would be called Ngatik for more than a century--it returned to leave a group of Pohnpeians and a European in charge of what Hart saw as his conquered domain. The plan was to operate Ngatik as a business, producing tortoiseshell. They would bring in more settlers, marry the widows and girls of old Sapwuahfik, and see how much money they could make in this pretty place. So survivors and murderers began a curious interaction that would eventually produce a new population and a unique culture [and language]. Sapwuahfik's history had come to an end. The story of Ngatik had just begun.
SOURCE: The Ngatik Massacre: History and Identity on a Micronesian Atoll, by Lin Poyer (Smithsonian, 1993), pp. 1-3

Ngatik Men's Creole and Its Legacy

One result of the massacre of all the men on Ngatik atoll in 1837 and their replacement by their killers from aboard the cutter Lambton was the creation of an unusual language, Ngatik Men's Creole, described in Ethnologue as:
A creolized language from the Sapuahfik dialect of Ponapean and English whose genesis is the direct result of a massacre in 1837 of adult males on Ngatik by British traders. Spoken by adult males who are also native bilinguals of the Sapuahfik dialect of Ponapean. Adult male speakers. Women and children understand it.
Most Pacific creoles are built out of words from the colonial languages (chiefly English or French) in a grammatical framework based on local languages. Ngatik Men's Creole is the reverse: The nouns, verbs, and adjectives are mostly of Pohnpeic origin, but the pronouns, prepositions, and such are mostly from English. It appears as if the foreign men started by speaking (some Pacific maritime variety of) English to each other, but gradually replaced the English content words as they became bilingual in the language of their wives.

Partly for linguistic reasons, the people of Ngatik later came to identify strongly with Americans. Among the nonlinguistic reasons is the relative egalitarianism of Americans compared to the more explicitly (but fluidly) hierarchical orientation of Pohnpeians.
Sapwuahfik people explicitly compare their perceived egalitarianism to American ways, and mehn Pohnpei share the recognition of American style as egalitarian....

Sapwuahfik's sense of having special ties with Americans is founded on a number of historical incidents, beginning with uncertainty about Hart's nationality, which for some people has become the determination that he was American (from the documents, he appears to have been a British citizen; the Lambton was registered in Sydney, Australia). (One man joked to me about filing a claim for damages against the United States on account of the massacre.) Sapwuahfik's history of affiliation with Americans can be traced through stories about the immediate postmassacre period (when several memorable Anglophones, some American, lived there), the American missionary era, World War II (when the U.S. military visited and bestowed gifts on the atoll) and the post-1960 era of U.S. economic generosity. Anecdotes of World War II include personal encounters with flyers and soldiers that emphasize the bravery, friendliness, and generosity of the Americans. Because they alone spoke English, Sapwuahfik men on Pohnpei acted as interpreters and assistants to incoming U.S. troops.

Today it is the people of Pohnpei, and to an extent other Micronesians in the Eastern Carolines, who have greatest access to and familiarity with American ways. Yet Sapwuahfik people retain a sense of identification with Americans. In their view of the past, they moved from a state of darkness through the trial of the massacre onto a path of increasing enlightenment, which today is consonant with the general shift in Micronesia toward political democracy and decreasing emphasis on traditional rank as a source of power. The construction of history is thus strengthened by American ideals of democracy and social equality, in which mehn Sapwuahfik see themselves as more like Americans than are their Eastern Carolines neighbors.

A second symbolic elaboration of Sapwuahfik identity is as sincere Christians, in distinction from neighbors who are thought to use sorcery. Concern about possible magical harm pervades discussions about illness or misfortune, and caution about sorcery dangers accompanies Sapwuahfik visitors to Pohnpei. Throughout much of the Pacific and elsewhere, it is "others" who employ magic, and "we" who are true Christians. The Sapwuahfik claim partakes of this general phenomenon. Yet beyond this, the notion of Sapwuahfik virtue (like the assertion of egalitarian socioeconomic relations) is supported by a historical argument: atoll people rejected pagan ways as a result of the massacre and are now firmly committed to increasing "enlightenment" in both religious and political terms. God's mercy on the island after the terrible punishment of the massacre is a reward for their faithfulness to his religion. Sapwuahfik's claim of special divine protection rests on uniquely local indicators--people point out that Sapwuahfik does not suffer from typhoons or food scarcity, as other islands do, and that it was preserved from bombing in World War II.

Egalitarian and religious considerations are thus potent markers, affirming the forward-looking, allied-with-power, "enlightened" qualities of Sapwuahfik culture.
SOURCE: The Ngatik Massacre: History and Identity on a Micronesian Atoll, by Lin Poyer (Smithsonian I. Press, 1993), pp. 232-234

28 June 2004

Camel Loathing

John DeFrancis's loathing for camels grew with every step across the desert.
The very first sight of them filled us with distaste. When they arrived at the Temple of the Larks their burdens had made them seem bigger than they actually were. After they were unloaded Martin [his Canadian traveling companion] said they seemed tiny compared to the strapping geldings he had seen at Georg's ranch. They were made to appear even smaller by the fact that they had shed half or more of their wool, exposing big pinkish blotches of skin. Although such shedding was perfectly normal, the mangy appearance gave them an air of utter decrepitude.

This impression was heightened by the forlorn way in which their two humps lay all flopped over, like the limp watches in a Dali painting. These stand firmly erect on camels in good condition. Contrary to popular belief, the single hump of Arabian dromedaries and the two humps of our Bactrians are reservoirs of fat, not water. The limp humps of our camels showed their complete lack of any reserve of fat that they might draw on.

We might have felt pity for the beasts if they had not had about them an air of hauteur that did not at all accord with their actual appearance--ungainly bodies with spindly legs, serpentine necks with reptilian heads, misshapen faces with doubly cleft harelips and unblinking eyes, protruding mouth and jaws that chewed the cud with a silly sideways motion. They made me think of scrofulous aristocrats with frayed cuffs and dirty collars, monocle in eye and ivory-handled cane aswing. At first I felt almost guilty to have such a visceral dislike for these supercilious creatures, but then I remembered reading that camels never evoke in humans the sort of relationship that dogs and horses often do.

A camel never looks you in the eye, the way an adoring dog does. They hold their arrogant heads up high and look right past you, as if you were not there, and indeed they appear to be totally indifferent to anything in their environment. It is not that they are lost in their own thoughts, for thinking, to redirect the male conceit of Henry Higgins, is something that camels never do. It takes them several years to learn to kneel, and even then they constantly need to be reminded by a sharp downward tug at their nose-cord.

Even the basic intelligence needed for survival is lacking. Other animals learn to avoid poisonous plants, but they have given their name to a plant called "camel poison" because only they are so stupid as to eat it, with dire results that they never foresee. From time to time disaster strikes whole caravans whose camels have all succumbed to the plant.
SOURCE: In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan, by John DeFrancis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1993), p. 138

27 June 2004

Internet Censorship in South Korea

In an incredible move, at once childish and paternalistic, the South Korean--I repeat, the "liberal" democratic South Korean--government has implemented measures similar to those of the People's Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran to disable access to a wide range of blog servers (blogger.com, blogspot.com, typepad.com, blogs.com, blog-city.com, among others) in an effort to prevent its citizens from viewing the beheading of one of its citizens, Kim Sôn-il. (The South Korean government would do the world a much bigger favor if it would concentrate on shutting down the multitude of spam servers in its domain.)

Of course, bloggers left, right, and center are dismayed, to put it mildly. The following letter was posted on The Marmot's (Final) Hole. I'll quote it without further comment.
Fellow blogger,

I am sending this message to the bloggers on my blogroll (and a few other folks) in the hopes that some of you will print this, or at least find it interesting enough for comment. I'm not usually the type to distribute such messages, but I felt this was important enough to risk disturbing you.

As some of you may already know, a wing of the South Korean government, the Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC), is currently clamping down on a variety of blogging service providers and other websites. The government is attempting to control access to video of the recent Kim Sun-il beheading, ostensibly because the video will have a destabilizing influence. (I haven't seen the video.)

Many Western expat bloggers in Korea are in an uproar; others, myself included, are largely unsurprised: South Korea has not come far out of the shadow of its military dictatorship past. My own response to this censorship is not so much anger as amusement, because the situation represents an intellectual challenge as well as a chance to fight for freedom of expression. Perhaps even to fight for freedom, period.

South Korea is a rapidly evolving country, but in many ways it remains the Hermit Kingdom. Like a turtle retreating into its shell, the people are on occasion unable to deal with the harsh realities of the world around them. This country is, for example, in massive denial about the atrocities perpetrated in North Korea, and, as with many Americans, is in denial about the realities of Islamic terrorism, whose roots extend chronologically backward far beyond the lifetime of the Bush Administration. This cultural tendency toward denial (and overreaction) at least partially explains the Korean government's move to censor so many sites.

The fact that the current administration, led by President Noh Mu-hyon, is supposedly "liberal"-leaning makes this censorship more ironic. It also fuels propagandistic conservative arguments that liberals are, at heart, closet totalitarians. I find this to be a specious caricature of the liberal position (I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative), but to the extent that Koreans are concerned about what image they project to the world, it is legitimate for them to worry over whether they are currently playing into stereotype: South Korea is going to be associated with other violators of human rights, such as China.

Of the many hypocrisies associated with the decision to censor, the central one is that no strong governmental measures were taken to suppress the distribution of the previous beheading videos (Nick Berg et al.). This, too, fuels the suspicion that Koreans are selfish or, to use their own proverbial image, "a frog in a well"-- radically blinkered in perspective, collectively unable to empathize with the sufferings of non-Koreans, but overly sensitive to their own suffering.

I am writing this letter not primarily to criticize all Koreans (I'm ethnically half-Korean, and an American citizen), nor to express a generalized condemnation of Korean culture. As is true anywhere else, this culture has its merits and demerits, and overall, I'm enjoying my time here. No, my purpose is more specific: to cause the South Korean government as much embarrassment as possible, and perhaps to motivate Korean citizens to engage in some much-needed introspection.

To this end, I need the blogosphere's help, and this letter needs wide distribution (you may receive other letters from different bloggers, so be prepared!). I hope you'll see fit to publish this letter on your site, and/or to distribute it to concerned parties: censorship in a supposedly democratic society simply cannot stand. The best and quickest way to persuade the South Korean government to back down from its current position is to make it lose face in the eyes of the world. This can only happen through a determined (and civilized!) campaign to expose the government's hypocrisy and to cause Korean citizens to rethink their own narrow-mindedness.

We can debate all we want about "root causes" with regard to Islamic terrorism, Muslim rage, and all the rest, but for me, it's much more constructive to proceed empirically and with an eye to the future. Like it or not, what we see today is that Korea is inextricably linked with Iraq issues, and with issues of Islamic fundamentalism. Koreans, however, may need some persuading that this is in fact the case--that we all need to stand together as allies against a common enemy.

If you are interested in giving the South Korean Ministry of Information and Culture a piece of your mind (or if you're a reporter who would like to contact them for further information), please email the MIC at:


Thank you,

Kevin Kim
(Blogspot is currently blocked in Korea, along with other providers; please go to Unipeak.com and type my URL into the search window to view my blog.)

PS: To send me an email, please type "hairy chasms" in the subject line to avoid being trashed by my custom-made spam filter.

PPS: Much better blogs than mine have been covering this issue, offering news updates and heartfelt commentary. To start you off, visit:


Here as well, Unipeak is the way to go if you're in Korea and unable to view the above blogs. People in the States should, in theory, have no problems accessing these sites, which all continue to be updated.

PPPS: This email is being cc'ed to the South Korean Ministry of Information and Culture. Please note that other bloggers are writing about the Korean government's creation of a task force that will presumably fight internet terror. I and others have an idea that this task force will serve a different purpose. If this is what South Korea's new "aligning with the PRC" is all about, then there's reason to worry for the future.

Kim Jong-il: Born in the USSR (as Yuri Kim)

Andrei Lankov's latest column in his "Another Korea" series in the Korea Times is entitled "Born in the USSR":
In late November 1945 a Soviet ship arrived at the Korean port of Unggi. Among those disembarking were several women dressed in Soviet military uniforms. Some of them had small children with them. The children spoke Korean and looked Korean, but this was their first encounter with the land of their ancestors. It was how the would-be Dear Leader Chairman Kim Jong-il first saw the country he was to rule half a century later ...

The would-be Dear Leader Kim Jong-il was born as Yuri [Ilsungovich?] Kim in a small village of Viatskoe (or Viatsk), not far from the city of Khabarovsk in the then USSR. His birth date is less certain. The official histories allege that he was born on Feb. 15, 1942, but there has been speculation that he is actually a bit older.

The North Korean media never recognized that Kim Jong-il was born on a foreign soil. From the early 1980s official propaganda insisted that he was born in a secret guerrilla camp located on the slopes of the sacred Paektu Mountain (the first such statement appeared in February 1982). This was necessary to present the young boy as a participant in the guerrilla epic, long seen as the spiritual foundation of the North Korean state, and as a pure national leader, untarnished by any undue foreign influences.

26 June 2004

Nestorians and Prester John on The Argus

Speaking of palimpsests: P F has a long and informative post over at The Argus on Nestorians and the Legend of Prester John. The first few paragraphs follow. Read the rest.
Nestorius was a fifth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, deposed and driven into exile for having preached heretical Christology, reportedly maintaining (though Nestorius himself denied it) that the Logos lived in the person of Jesus, who would thus be the bearer of God, and not the man-God, the orthodox position, two natures in one substance. Surprisingly, the decision to anathematize Nestorius turned out to have interesting consequences in Central Asian history, and perceptions of Central Asia in medieval Europe.

The Persian church had been autonomous from 410, possessing its own Patriarch, independant of the authority of the Western churches, and in 486 made a decision to uphold Nestorius's teachings, in part to distinguish themselves from the West and reduce the chance that Persian Christians would gravitate to Antioch and Constantinople; non-Nestorians were driven from the country (though the Armenians condemned the move). Symmetrically, Nestorians fled Western areas to Persia, just as three hundred years earlier Christians had fled the then-pagan Roman Empire to take refuge with the Persian church.

By the middle of the sixth century, Nestorians churches had sprung up all over Asia, from Sri Lanka to Mongolia and from Egypt to China, and everywhere in between, including Turkestan, India, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Like many missionaries confronted with illiterate societies, the Nestorians were led to create writing systems for the languages of peoples they wished to convert, such as Mongolian, Uighur, Sogdian, and Manchu, all based on Syriac.

The Taste of Gobi Rations in the 1930s

Travel rations in the Gobi were somewhat less varied in the 1930s than they are now.
We started by drinking a bowl of "brick tea." This was tea made by hammering off a chunk from a brick measuring about 6" x 10" x 1" that weighed about two and a half pounds and was formed by compressing tea leaves into the least possible space in order to reduce the cost of transportation. Such bricks were widely used as a medium of exchange in the barter trade between Chinese and Mongols.

The chunk broken off from the brick is pounded, usually in a mortar, to loosen the compacted elements. Most teas are steeped in hot water according to the taste of the drinker. Brick tea is made by boiling. Mongols and Tibetans drink tea au lait, with added milk, butter, and salt. Chinese prefer it straight.

We had ours Chinese style. At first sip the tea tasted a bit like water in which a strip of rubber has been boiled. It improved only slightly with more sips.

Next we had a bowl of roasted or parched millet. Although millet is generally considered to be poor people's fare, especially in contrast to high-status rice and wheat, it seemed to me not a whit inferior in taste to many of our cereals that are well known to be the breakfasts of champions.... Camel drivers generally eat the millet dry, washing it down with copious bowls of brick tea. Others prefer the somewhat more efficient technique of pouring handfuls of the cereal into their tea and then slurping down the combination. This was my preference, too ...

We also had a small taste of two other cereals. One was a kind of oatmeal, not the flaky sort such as graces American breakfasts, but rather a finely ground flour, also roasted or parched. We ate it in a bowl of hot tea, making a sort of porridge, with the optional addition of a bit of sugar. I found it quite tasty. The other cereal, also a parched flour, tasted like bran. We sampled a few spoonfuls in our tea, again with a bit of sugar. It too seemed to me quite palatable.
SOURCE: In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan, by John DeFrancis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1993), pp. 94-95

The Feel of the Gobi Underfoot

John DeFrancis trekked across the Gobi in 1935, mostly on foot.
The term "Gobi" requires a bit of explanation. It is a Mongolian word with the literal meaning "gravel desert." The term "Gobi Desert" is therefore redundant, but it is now firmly established in general usage, where it is applied to an area extending seven hundred miles from north to south and twelve hundred miles from east to west. This is centered along the border running east and west between Inner and Outer Mongolia.

But this huge expanse, the central portion of which is often designated "the Great Gobi," actually consists of stretches comprising different kinds of terrain--sandy belts, barren rocky hills, patches of grassland, and gravel-covered soil. It is only the last of these, the gravel-covered stretches, that Mongols refer to as "gobi." Foreign travelers in the area soon learn to use the term in both the restricted sense of the Mongols and the looser sense established by popular usage.

The distinction, which is sometimes expressed in writing by capitalization versus small letters, is important if we are to make sense out of a statement like "After crossing this sandy stretch we'll have a belt of gobi before running into more sand." When hoofing it through the desert one can hardly fail to be impressed by the differences in terrain and by the utility of the restricted Mongol usage of the term. And after slogging through a stretch of sandy soil it is a relief for one's legs to come to a belt of good firm gobi.

We developed a refined feeling--literally a feeling--for the differences in the ground under our feet. Sight was not a completely reliable guide. Except for differences in color, one stretch of gobi often looked much like another. But our feet felt a difference.

Some stretches of gobi consisted of a thick layer of hard-packed gravel that held up well under our weight and made walking a pleasure. Others consisted of a thin covering of gravel on a friable crust that gave way to softer earth underneath. Walking over such terrain was almost as tiring as walking on sand.

There were differences between sandy areas too. Wind-blown sand that covered the ground with drifts and dunes was so tiring to walk on that we often made long detours to avoid such areas. Sand in dry riverbeds was occasionally somewhat compacted and so provided better footing.

Zhou said that there were actually five kinds of gobi--white, black, yellow, red, and blue. These colors refer to the kinds of gravel that covered the ground. The sand, soil, and rocks in their various hues added still more color to terrain that not only varied from place to place but changed shape before our eyes, sometimes because we saw the wind literally remaking the face of the land, always because in our progression we saw things from constantly changing perspectives. We found no little pleasure, or at least fascination, in the desert kaleidoscope.
SOURCE: In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan, by John DeFrancis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1993), pp. 84-85

25 June 2004

Naipaul on Javanese Hindu-Buddhist Christians

Naipaul's chapter profiling a Javanese Christian poet from Yogyakarta is entitled "Below the Lava":
It was because of the Christian preaching against polygamy, and the suffering it had brought in their own lives, that Linus's father and mother--as recently as 1938--had converted to Christianity. They had not been Muslims before, but Javanists, with a mixed local religion made up of survivals of Hinduism, Buddhism, and animism. They had both attended Christian schools; they had learned about Christianity there. The Christianity they had adopted had not meant a break with the past.

"Here even when we became Christians we continued with our old customs. Taking flowers to the cemetery, praying to the spirits of our ancestors. When someone dies even today in our Christian community we have mixed rituals. The ceremonies three days after the death, seven days, forty days, a hundred days, one year, two years, a thousand days." Because of his father these death ceremonies would have been on Linus's mind.

Linus said, "Christianity is important because it teaches you to love somebody as you love yourself. It means teaching us to become tender persons, not wild or aggressive persons. In Javanism also we have the concept of restraint. It is easy therefore for Javanese people to embrace Christ's teaching."

High up on the inner concrete wall, above the central doorway, out of which Linus's mother and sister had come from the room at the back, there was a big brown cross. It was above a grotesque leather puppet. It was the standardized puppet figure of the clown, Semar, from the shadow play, a character, Linus said, from one or the other of the two Javanized Hindu epics, the Ramayana or the Mahabharata: "a god turned into a man, always supporting the good people."

In 1979 there had been a leather puppet there, but I didn't remember Semar. I remembered another figure. I couldn't say what it was, and I didn't ask Linus about it. It was only while working on this chapter that I checked, and found that in 1979 the mascot figure on that wall, the associate divinity of the house, above the horizontal ventilation slits and below the cross, was the Black Krishna. Not the playful Krishna of India, stealing the housewife's freshly churned butter and hiding the clothes of the milkmaids while they swam in the river; but the Black Krishna of Java, a figure of wisdom. That Krishna would have been a sufficient protector of a man starting out as a poet. Now, in a time of deeper grief and need, Semar--the man-god who helped the good--was a more appropriate divinity....

[Linus] said, "Six or seven feet below us here are many Hindu temples or Buddha temples or Hindu-Buddha temples, buried by eruptions of Merapi a thousand years ago and also two thousand and fifty years ago." Merapi, the active volcano of the region, creator of the lava that enriched the soil, and showed as black boulders in the beds of streams. "This creates a job for people who want to study about Java culture and religion, because behind these phenomena we can catch the spirit of Javanese people today."
SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (Vintage, 1998), pp. 81, 85

Naipaul on the Pesantren Palimpsest

V. S. Naipaul has a keen sense of the palimpsest that is Indonesia.
In 1979 Mr. [Abdurrahman] Wahid and his pesantren [think madrassa], the Islamic boarding-school movement, had been thought to be at the forefront of the modern Muslim movement. The pesantren had the additional glory at that time of having been visited by the educationist Ivan Illich and pronounced good examples of the "deschooling" he favored. Deschooling wasn't perhaps the best idea to offer village people who had been barely schooled. But because of Illich's admiration the pesantren of Indonesia seemed to be yet another example of Asia providing an unexpected light, after the obfuscations of colonialism. And a young businessman of Jakarta, a supporter of Mr. Wahid's, arranged for me to visit pesantren near the city of Yogyakarta. One of the pesantren was Mr. Wahid's own; it had been established by his family.

There had followed two harrowing days: looking for the correct places first of all, moving along crowded country roads between crowded school compounds: usually quiet and sedate at the entrance, but then all at once--even in the evening--as jumping and thick with competitive life as a packed trout pond at feeding time: mobs of jeering boys and young men, some of them relaxed, in sarongs alone, breaking off from domestic chores to follow me, some of the mob shouting, "Illich! Illich!"

With that kind of distraction I wasn't sure what I was seeing, and I am sure I missed a lot. But deschooling didn't seem an inappropriate word for what I had seen. I didn't see the value of young villagers assembling in camps to learn village crafts and skills which they were going to pick up anyway. And I was worried by the religious side: the very simple texts, the very large classes, the learning by heart, and the pretense of private study afterwards. In the crowded yards at night I saw boys sitting in the darkness before open books and pretending to read....

Before Islam they would have been Buddhist monasteries, supported by the people of the villages and in return reminding them of the eternal verities. In the early days of Islam here they would have remained spiritual places, Sufi centers. In the Dutch time they would have become Islamic schools. Later they would in addition have tried to become a more modern kind of school. Here, as elsewhere in Indonesia, where Islam was comparatively recent, the various layers of history could still be easily perceived. But--this was my idea, not Mr. Wahid's--the pesantren ran all the separate ideas together and created the kind of mishmash I had seen.

While we talked there had been some chanting going on outside: an Arabic class. Mr. Wahid and I went out at last to have a look. The chanting was coming from the verandah of a very small house at the bottom of the garden. The light was very dim; I could just make out the teacher and his class. The teacher was one of the most learned men in the neighborhood, Mr. Wahid said. The pesantren had built the little house for him; the villagers fed him; and he had, in addition, a stipend of five hundred rupiah a month, at that time about eighty cents. So, Islamic though he was, chanting without pause through his lesson in Arabic law, he was descended--as wise man and spiritual lightning-conductor, living off the bounty of the people he served--from the monks of the Buddhist monasteries.
SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (Vintage, 1998), pp. 22-23

24 June 2004

Camel Train: Fueling Up, Heading Out

John DeFrancis describes crossing the Gobi by camel in 1935.
Our first day on the road turned out to be fairly typical of the routine we followed in more than two months of travel by camel. After breakfast [Cameleer] Zhou took the five camels out to pasture. The rest of us busied ourselves with various chores for the rest of the morning. At noon Zhou brought the camels back from pasture. We had dinner (this was always our biggest meal of the day) and then got everything ready for loading the camels. We had previously decided what we wanted to have access to on the march, such as windbreakers in case the weather turned cold, what would be needed when we made camp, and what would not be needed for several days or even weeks. When we ended our march for the day it would be night-time, too late to search for fuel for our camp fire, so we would have to carry some with us. Martin and I took a small basket reserved for this purpose and went scouting for the only sure fuel in camel country.

The Mongols call it argol. It consists of camel droppings about the size of the briquets popular in American outdoor barbecuing. One needs only a squishy mistake or two to learn to distinguish between fresh droppings and sun-baked ones. Well-seasoned "camel briquets" burn a little more slowly, and with a little less heat, than charcoal briquets, but they serve quite well in the absence of better fuel. After filling the basket with enough argol, we hung it on one of the camels along with a few other things that needed to be readily available.

The men brought each of the loaded camels to its feet by giving a tug on the cord attached to the peg thrust through the cartilage of its nose--gently at first, not so gently if the beast tried to ignore the summons to rise. Then they tied the cord of one camel to the load of a preceding camel so that all five of them were joined together in a string.

In larger caravans a string consists of ten or a dozen camels led by a man known as the camel puller. The last camel in his string has a bell attached to its neck so that, if no longer hearing the clanging sound behind him, the camel puller would be alerted to the fact that one or more of the camels had broken loose. Zhou went to the head of the string and took hold of the cord of the lead camel, since he had been designated to have the first stint as camel puller. We were to take turns at the task of leading the camels.
SOURCE: In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan, by John DeFrancis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1993), pp. 82-83

23 June 2004

How the (Mongolian) West Was Lost

Whether you consider land as won or lost depends on your point of view. In America, whites exult at how the West was won, Indians mourn at how it was lost. In our travels through the western part of Inner Mongolia we saw how the Mongols were literally losing ground before the influx of land-hungry Chinese.

In the years since then, there have been some changes in Chinese policy owing to the establishment of the new regime in 1949. For one thing, the Mongols, along with other minority peoples, have been exempted from the one-child policy that has been applied to the the major part of the population, those called "Han Chinese," so named from the great Han dynasty of 206 B.C. to A.D. 220. For another, the Mongols' demand that their tribal lands be merged into a single unit has been at least partially met by the de-gerrymandering of the old provinces and the establishment of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. However, the boundaries are still drawn so that Chinese far outnumber Mongols there. While the population of Inner Mongolia has increased fivefold, the Mongols themselves have increased by only 50 percent. Today they comprise only 2.5 million out of a total population of 20 million.

The more things change. ...

While trekking west of the Temple of the Larks [in 1935], we noted a pattern of Chinese penetration that differed somewhat from what we had encountered in the region directly north of Guihua ['return to civilization', now called Hohhot, which the Mongols used to call Koko Khoto 'the Blue City']. There the Chinese had taken over large tracts of land and settled close together in villages similar to those that dotted the farmland of North China. From these villages the peasants went out in all directions to till their plots of land.

In the area where grassland merged into gobi ['gravel desert'], however, Chinese families lived separate from each other, a pattern more closely approximating that of the United States in the frontier days. We encountered these isolated farmsteads only at long intervals in the course of our daily marches.

Another point of difference was that some of these farmsteads doubled as trading posts. Many of the families settled in this region did some supplementary buying and selling. They either acted on their own or served as agents of the trading houses based in Guihua and Baotou. It also happened that some Chinese who started out primarily as traders took to farming and sheep-raising as sidelines. The goods sold at these trading posts were supplied by caravans belonging to the parent companies with which they were affiliated. Supplies were dropped off by caravans on their outward journey to the Black River. On the return trip the caravans picked up the items that had been acquired by barter with the Mongols.

For all these little trading posts it seemed to be a pretty miserable existence. Only the Mongol princes who permitted the alienation of tribal lands, and the Chinese authorities who promoted the whole business, made any real profit out of it all. The worst losers were ordinary Mongols, who bought and sold at prices largely set by the Chinese and saw their best-watered land being taken over by these immigrants.
SOURCE: In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan, by John DeFrancis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1993), pp. 21, 84, 118-119

China's Unsettled West

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Joshua Kurlantzick reviews several books about China's "unsettled west":
After 1949, Beijing's brutal pacification of Xinjiang -- a vast province in western China -- was almost completely ignored in the West for the next 40 years. Unlike other groups persecuted by China (such as the Tibetans), Xinjiang's Muslim inhabitants, the Uighurs, have had no charismatic, English-speaking spokesperson or unified exile organization; the Uighurs' few prominent exiles lived in Turkey, and they spent most of their time squabbling among themselves. Xinjiang thus rarely made it onto the agenda of foreign governments, and with the region largely closed to foreigners, few academics or human rights groups could study it.

Within the past decade, however, news from Xinjiang has started to seep out. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, China was suddenly confronted with newly independent neighbors in Central Asia -- states with close ethnic ties to the Turkic Uighurs. Uighurs began traveling to these Central Asian states, Pakistan, the Middle East, and even the United States, often returning to Xinjiang more determined than ever to fight for independence. Worried about growing Uighur separatism, Beijing tightened its control of Xinjiang, turning the region into the death-penalty capital of the world....

The idea of Xinjiang as a contiguous entity is relatively new. As Tyler's book colorfully captures, from the premodern era until the mid-eighteenth century, Xinjiang was either ruled from afar by Central Asian empires or not ruled at all. Its vast, barren deserts made it difficult to conquer: in the early twentieth century, the well-traveled British archaeologist Aural Stein visited Xinjiang and was overwhelmed by its inhospitality, marveling at its "desolate wilderness, bearing everywhere the impress of death." When Chinese rulers did manage to conquer Xinjiang, they found maintaining large armies there nearly impossible. In 104 BC, Emperor Wudi sent 60,000 men to conquer the West; only 10,000 came back alive.

Tyler brings the region's premodern history to life, skillfully employing individual anecdotes to illustrate its wild past, including the introduction of Sufi Islam in the tenth century and the later development of the Silk Road trade route, which passed through Xinjiang. The other two books, which are drier but fact-filled, fill in Tyler's overly broad narrative with rich detail and more nuanced assessment.
via Asiapages via Peking Duck

Thailand's First Coup and Last Absolute Monarch

The Nation ("Bangkok's Independent Newspaper") recalls the end of absolute monarchy in Thailand:
"On that morning, we heard about the coup at the golf course," Queen Rambai Barni said, recalling the revolution that ended the Siamese Monarchy on June 24, 1932.
via Asiapages

22 June 2004

Blowback from Linguistic Nationalism in Sri Lanka

Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, by Neil DeVotta. Contemporary Issues in Asia and the Pacific (sponsored by the East-West Center). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. xxii, 276 pp. Cloth, $55.00; paper, $22.95. Available online from Stanford University Press or from University of Chicago Press Distribution Center, (800) 621-2736.

In the mid-1950s, Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese politicians began outbidding one another on who could provide the greatest advantages for their community, using the Sinhala language as their instrument. The appeal to Sinhalese linguistic nationalism precipitated a situation in which the movement to replace English as the country's official language with Sinhala and Tamil (the language of Sri Lanka's principal minority) was abandoned and Sinhala alone became the official language in 1956. The Tamils' subsequent protests led to anti-Tamil riots and institutional decay, which meant that supposedly representative agencies of government catered to Sinhalese preferences and blatantly disregarded minority interests. This in turn led to the Tamils' mobilizing, first politically then militarily, and by the mid-1970s Tamil youth were bent on creating a separate state.

21 June 2004

The Firing of Evan Dobelle

The summary dismissal for cause last week of University of Hawai‘i President Evan Dobelle made the news on CNN, MSNBC, and even the Guardian. The best coverage seems to be that of AP correspondent Bruce Dunford, whose 20 June 2004 report in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin seems to me the most comprehensive and fairest summation to date.
From day one, his $442,000 salary and perks have been an issue, including spending $1 million on renovations to his residence, the UH's College Hill mansion and guest house. It was three times the amount that had been planned.

Dobelle hadn't been on the job for a year when his spending habits caught the eye of Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa). He called for an audit of University of Hawaii Foundation money being used by Dobelle to take two dozen donors and staff members to a Janet Jackson concert at Aloha Stadium [a concert free of any "wardrobe malfunction"].

Despite such questions, the regents in their first year evaluation of Dobelle praised him for initiating progress and changing attitudes in the university system.

Things ran smoothly until November 2002, when in the closing days of the heated campaign for governor, Dobelle appeared in a television ad to endorse Democrat Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono over Republican Linda Lingle, who ended up winning....

Some see that as the root of the move to get Dobelle fired as Lingle began making appointments to the Board of Regents.

However, it was Democratic lawmakers who began pressing the point on Dobelle's spending, including personal use of University of Hawaii Foundation funds and his hiring of highly paid assistants [including his old buddy "Wick" Sloane as the university's CFO and Sloane's wife as head of the UH Foundation].

On July 6, 2003, House Higher Education Committee Chairman K. Mark Takai (D, Newtown-Pearl City), Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa), retired professor Ralph Moberly and UH official Amy Agbayani, a veteran Democratic Party insider, co-authored an article highly critical of the UH president.

"In Dobelle's two years, we see an institution where student tuition is being raised while administrative salaries are boosted by more than $4 million, where substance and services take a back seat to marketing and public relations, and where a globe-trotting president fails to bring home the money he promised," the article said.

Takai said he initiated a search for Dobelle's spending and travel records after the president and his top aides didn't show up at a House Higher Education Committee meeting on April 16, 2003, to answer questions about the $200,000 President's Protocol and Support Fund at the University of Hawaii Foundation, the legally separate nonprofit organization that raises funds for the school. It's to be spent on things that the president feels will advance the university.

Dobelle had notified the committee he would be at a mainland conference that day, but Takai said his staff checked with conference officials and determined Dobelle did not attend.

The lawmaker, who once headed the UH student body government and Manoa campus student newspaper, said a check of travel documents showed Dobelle was on Oahu that day.

"So in effect, he lied to us," said Takai, who added that the Dobelle spending and travel records obtained by the committee were turned over to the Board of Regents and likely prompted a private audit ordered by the regents. The report on that audit has yet to be made public....

In February, the board began a new evaluation of Dobelle, headed up by [Kitty] Lagareta, a Lingle confidante and key Lingle campaign official in the 2002 governor's race.

The tone for the new evaluation no doubt was set in April, when the previously confidential and highly critical report on Dobelle's 2003 evaluation was made public at the direction of the state Office of Information Practices.
The UH Board of Regents are in a tough spot. When they gave Dobelle a negative evaluation earlier in the year, he threatened to sue if they made it public. Now they're taking a lot of flack for not spelling out the grounds for Dobelle's dismissal, even though they risk lawsuits if they breach confidentiality in personnel matters. Both Dobelle and the Regents have hired lawyers.

Here are a few more background items from various sources.

Pacific Business News reported that Dobelle apparently knew something was up, suggesting he perhaps deliberately made himself hard to reach.
Two members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents say the regents warned Evan Dobelle he should attend their meeting this week, and when he didn't they tried repeatedly to reach him by phone to tell him what happened....

Board of Regents Chairwoman Patricia Lee replies that the meeting was not kept secret from Dobelle, who asked if he should be there for it and was told he should. She also says the regents made several attempts to reach Dobelle by phone, but never got a callback, and still haven't.

"Evidently the president chooses not to communicate with the board," Lee said Friday. "He has communicated with counsel."
Dobelle was rumored to have been job-hunting ever since he ran afoul of the legislature last year. Perhaps his prominent placement (cover and lead article) in the Winter 2004 issue of The Presidency was part of that effort.
"The American Council on Education's flagship magazine, The Presidency focuses on college and university presidents and chancellors."
Dobelle appears to be a master of PC PR, managing in 2002 to wangle a position judging the decidedly un-PC Miss America pageant and helping give it a PC spin (as reported by Jake Tapper of Salon).
"This selection validates an opportunity for young women who never would have considered entering this competition," says judge Evan S. Dobelle -- the president of the University of Hawaii and the White House chief of protocol during the Carter administration -- when it's all done. "By picking a multiracial, Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard Law School woman who's articulate and personable and was selected, in my opinion, because she was the smartest -- that is antithetical to the perception historically of the pageant."
Early in his tenure, Dobelle managed to "tread on dangerous ground politically when he handed out more than 200 termination notices to deans, directors and top managers" around Christmas 2002. "Even though most of the notices weren't acted upon, they left bad feelings, sentiment that reverberated all the way to the Legislature." The recipients never received follow-up letters whether each would be rehired or let go at the end of the year. Instead, clarifications were issued through press releases. UH administrators often had to read the local papers to find out what was happening at the university. In that respect, the manner in which Dobelle was fired gives him a taste of his own medicine.

I don't know. Dobelle seems to be someone a Texan might describe as "all hat, and somebody else's cattle" (rather than "all hat, no cattle"). The Regents who appointed him and gave him such a rich, long-term, iron-clad contract have as much to answer for as the ones who fired him.

UPDATE: More background information is coming out about Dobelle's dismissal. First, concerns about accreditation seem to have been a factor.
The dysfunctional relationship between University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle and the Board of Regents threatened the accreditation of three UH campuses, according to a strongly worded report that appears to have been a factor in Dobelle's firing.

A team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges -- the accrediting body for UH-Manoa, UH-Hilo and UH-West Oahu -- told the university last month that the "severe difficulties" between the regents and the president do not meet standards of accreditation for leadership of a university.
Dobelle's response was to send the regents for training. It was all their fault.
He described the board as "inexperienced" and said he set aside $50,000 for regents to get training from the Association of Governing Boards -- another recommendation in the report.

"It's a learning curve that they chose not to take," Dobelle said. "I wish we could work it out. They chose not to."
Next, a legislative fiscal hawk expresses concern about Dobelle's inability to deliver on his fund-raising promises.
Donna Mercado Kim, state Senate vice president, a longtime critic of Dobelle, said she doubts that Dobelle was fired because of his political support for Gov. Linda Lingle's opponent, former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.

"As a Democrat, I'd like nothing better than to point the finger to Lingle and say it was all politics and that she orchestrated it," Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa) said in an interview. "I know she is denying her involvement and I tend to believe it. I was talking to one of the regents. They said they wouldn't fire him unless the evidence was clear." ...

"I spoke to regents who left the board prematurely, and they said they did so because of Evan Dobelle and (they) were ones appointed by Cayetano [the previous governor, a Democrat].

"They said they couldn't stomach it any longer, so it was only a matter of time."

Kim recalled that she was impressed with Dobelle when he came to Hawaii in 2001, but after failing to get him to explain what he would do if he were unable to raise the $150 million for the medical school, she became frustrated.

"Time went by and he was making these promises, but he didn't have anything to show for it," Kim said.
Long-time UH faculty member Meda Chesney-Lind adds her perspective.
By way of introduction, I've been in the UH system since 1969, and in my time I've known and worked with five presidents [Harlan Cleveland, Fujio Matsuda, Al Simone, Ken Mortimer, and Dobelle]. Obviously, I worked with some more closely than others, but I was on the Senate Executive Committee of the UHM Faculty Senate when President Dobelle was first on the campus. I recall the excitement and all the hope that we had about his presidency.

I also recall the deep disappointment that began, for me, some months into his tenure. I'll spare you the details, except to say that after saying he was a "bottom up," "faculty driven" administrator, we hardly ever saw him again; his talks announcing major new University initiatives were all off campus. Ultimately, he barely avoided being censured by our senate (and that was avoided only because he threatened to make Deane Neubauer resign if we went through with it). After the first year, filled with cronyistic hiring, excessive and expensive foreign and domestic travel, and grand schemes, he sort of disappeared. Candidly, most of us felt that he was phoning in his performance for much of the last year.
Finally, Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Cynthia Oi editorializes under the headline Dobelle's team of outsiders acted as their own insiders:
No one has dared to say outright that he was seen as an uppity mainland haole [Caucasian] who snubbed local sensitivities, but undertones of the viewpoint were audible beneath careful remarks of politicians, faculty, community leaders and others.

There have been many times, private and public, when localism seeped into conflict and life in these islands. Slippery to define, the characteristic fuses values and attitude, social and economic standing, birthplace and ethnicity. It can be precious asset or parochial contaminant.

But in Dobelle's case, I don't think it can be marked as the overpowering toxin that produced this unseemly mess. It isn't an "only in Hawaii" situation. Disrespect knows no boundaries of ocean or land. It is not one-sided or singular....

Dobelle and his crew were their own dazzling insiders. As intelligent and experienced, as sophisticated and charming, as motivated and passionate about doing good, they seemed deaf and blind to the importance of engaging the community. Not just perfunctorily, not through "howzits" and other words, but through deeds, through showing up.

Dobelle may be unaware that he was cut a lot of slack. He made big shoulders about raising money, but the flash didn't match the cash. Give him time, was the initial reaction. But extravagances overshadowed fund raising, talk subbed for progress, and evasion and snubs became the norm....

Disrespect yields the same.
25-28 June 2004 UPDATE: Former regents appointed by Democratic Governor Ben Cayetano have begun to speak out.
University of Hawaii regents began having concerns about ousted UH President Evan Dobelle's leadership style on his first day in office, a former regent said.

Regents also began questioning Dobelle's travel spending and fund raising months before board members appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle took office last July, documents and interviews show.

When regent Michael Hartley resigned on Nov. 5, 2002, he cited Dobelle's public endorsement of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mazie Hirono as one of several incidents that led to his decision....

Hartley also criticized what he saw as Dobelle's "lack of respect" for the board by not consulting with regents before sending a fax announcing his endorsement of Hirono....

In a May 8, 2003, memo to Dobelle, former Maui regent C. Everett Dowling asked the president to provide the board a summary of his expenses charged to the UH Foundation and of his travel, including costs for other people traveling with him. As part of last year's annual evaluation of the president, Dowling also asked for a summary of Dobelle's fund-raising efforts....

Former board Chairman Bert Kobayashi followed up with another memo on June 17, 2003, repeating Dowling's request. [Former regent Bert Kobayashi is to former governor Ben Cayetano as current regent Kitty Lagareta is to current governor Linda Lingle--strong political allies in both cases.] ...

At a press conference announcing his hiring, Dobelle, with the regents standing behind him, announced several high-level personnel appointments.

Board members were stunned because personnel appointments have to be approved by the board, and no one had been given advance notice.
The business community seems far more stunned at Dobelle's firing than the university community does. The former have probably been drooling over all the promises of new campus construction projects. In October 2002, Hawaii Business magazine named Dobelle one of "The 10 most influential people in Hawaii" (in #3 position after First Hawaiian Bank CEO Walter Dods and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, both of whom were said to be among Dobelle's strongest backers; Dods was on the selection committee). In January 2003, Pacific Business News reported, "Evan Dobelle, president of the University of Hawaii, has been named as the 2002 Sales Person of the Year by the Sales and Marketing Executives of Honolulu."

Two MidWeek magazine columnists weigh in on opposite sides. Dan Boylan, a Democratic Party insider who served on the committee that selected Dobelle and writes a column called "Mostly Politics," manages in the 23 June 2004 issue to blame the whole affair on partisan politics, while explicitly acknowledging that Dobelle was a compulsively partisan political hack [which was very likely a feature, not a bug, for the selection committee].
Dobelle let his partisanship blind him to his responsibility to the university he led. [One could say the same for the selection committee!] Dobelle, the former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and protocol officer for Democratic President Jimmy Carter, couldn't rise above his party loyalty.
The other columnist, veteran newsman Bob Jones, is much harsher in the 30 June 2004 issue.
Three observations from one of the regents: 1) Six of the ten regents who voted for the firing are card-carrying democrats. 2) If the public knew the mountain of data we have they'd be asking why we didn't fire him earlier. 3) The BOR attorney said he felt they had a strong case for showing moral turpitude.
Jones's column on 23 June 2004 ends off on an equally harsh note.
We may find that the vice president who's now acting president and who previously ran the UH Business School, David McClain, is the right man at the right time.

I sure wouldn't want to go back to the same old search committee that brought us Trinity College's leftover [and his hapless predecessor].
A year ago, on 4 July 2003, long-time Hawai‘i muckraking reporter Ian Lind blogged a harbinger of Dobelle's problems:
Both Honolulu papers this morning report on the resignation of Maui developer Everett Dowling from the University of Hawaii's Board of Regents. Both focus on the flap over Dowling's potential conflict of interest in a proposed land deal. But Dowling also been one of President Evan Dobelle's key backers on the board, and his departure could signal rockier relations between the president and the board.
For decades, Hawai‘i's dominant Democrats have seen the University as primarily a construction site, not an instruction site. Dobelle certainly fit the bill in that regard.

Perhaps Dobelle thought Hawai‘i operated the way Connecticut operated under now disgraced Republican Gov. John G. Rowland (due to resign on 1 July), with whom he cooperated on urban renewal projects.

UPDATE (13 July 2004): KITV investigative reporter Keoki Kerr adds several new details about ongoing investigation of Dobelle's finances:
UH regents are investigating whether Dobelle's wife attended a college reunion instead of going to an official conference on a trip paid for by the UH Foundation, sources told KITV 4 News. An audit revealed the foundation spent $4,100 to send his wife, Kit, to a conference at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, representing her husband. However, investigators want to know how she attended a UM Amherst class reunion at the same time.

Another issue under investigation is why a UH fiscal officer who raised questions about pricey renovations to the president's College Hill mansion was forced out on administrative leave. In 2001, renovations there soared from an initial $170,000 to $1.2 million, including $500 for a birdcage....

[T]he regents are also looking into about $70,000 in renovations to Dobelle's office at Bachman Hall on the UH Manoa campus.

The Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii lent the president's office [$70,000] for the work in 2001 and Dobelle's office didn't pay the money back for nearly three years, until May of this year, sources said.

That raised eyebrows because RCUH's mission is research and training, not office renovations for the president....

Dobelle knew his job was in jeopardy months before he was fired. Sources said at least one regent told Dobelle to start looking for another job as far back as January of this year, six months before he was fired.

20 June 2004

Spicy SPAM Balls Wins Guam Cook-off

Guam's Pacific Daily News reports:
Ben Torres modified a local favorite dish to win the fourth annual SPAM Cook-off Islandstyle last weekend.

The 53-year-old Barrigada resident's "Spicy SPAM Balls," which is made up of ingredients used in fried rice, rolled into a ball and quick fried, bested the dishes of five other finalists. With the win, Torres received $1,000 in cash and a trip for two to Austin, Minn., the SPAM capital of the world.
The SPAM Museum is worth seeing, Ben. But bring your own food.

SPAM played a crucial role in World War II, and not just in the Pacific Islands.
As America entered World War II, SPAM luncheon meat played a crucial role overseas. With Allied forces fighting to liberate Europe, Hormel Foods provided 15 million cans of food to troops each week. SPAM immediately became a constant part of a soldiers' diets, and earned much praise for feeding the starving British and Soviet armies as well as civilians....
  • SPAM was used as a B-ration - to be served in rotation with other meats behind the lines overseas and at camps and bases in the States. However, many times GIs were eating it two or three times a day....
  • Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev wrote, "Without SPAM we wouldn't have been able to feed our army."
  • Margaret Thatcher, then a teenager, vividly remembered opening a tin of SPAM on Boxing Day (an English holiday observed the day after Christmas). She stated, "We had some lettuce and tomatoes and peaches, so it was SPAM and salad."

Political Shibai or Kabuki?

The Japanese word shibai 'performance, drama', as in Okinawa shibai or Ikari ningyo shibai 'Ikari puppet theatre', now seems well established in at least one regional dialect of English as a way to denote an empty political performance.

It has been used for a long time in Hawai‘i political talk, and someone recently (after 1999) submitted the following entry to the OED.
political shibai – (Hawaiian, from the Japanese) political shamming
Here's an example of its usage in a column by David Shapiro in the 5 May 2004 Honolulu Advertiser headlined "What reform? It's all shibai" about typical political sleight-of-hand by the Hawai‘i State Legislature.
With great fanfare, the 2002 Legislature voted to make Hawai'i the only state in the nation to impose price caps on gasoline.

Senators and representatives ballyhooed the new law in that year's election, congratulating themselves for bold action to reduce the crushing burden of high fuel prices on Hawai'i's consumers.

The problem was that the law was an illusion, a political sleight-of-hand that did absolutely nothing to regulate gasoline prices--not in 2002 or 2003 or now, it seems, even 2004.

That's because the Legislature, while saying consumers needed relief "now," delayed implementation of the caps for two years to study how to enforce lower prices.

Key agencies couldn't make the deadline, partly because the Legislature's misguided capping formula could have increased local gasoline prices by 10 cents a gallon.

So the Legislature is now delaying implementation again, from July 2004 to September 2005. The 2005 Legislature will have yet another chance to tinker or delay before the law takes effect.
HawaiiAnswers.com cites more examples from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (attesting usage dating back to the 1960s) and Linkmeister titled a 7 January 2003 blogpost "Shibai, crap and nonsense" but I haven't been able to turn up any convincing examples of political shibai used by people without Hawai‘i connections.

The more common synonym elsewhere seems to be kabuki, as in:
  • "Outrage Kabuki: When bloggers attack" by Julian Sanchez in reasononline on 5 April 2004 ("That means ritual outrage isn't just fun; it can be politically efficacious.")

  • "The Elephants in the Kabuki Theater" on Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal on 22 April 2004 ("the elephants in the kabuki theater: ... long-time Republican hawk Richard Clarke and ... bipartisan long-time security hawk Rand Beers")

  • "Energy Kabuki: House to repass energy bill to vex Democrats" by Amanda Griscom in Grist Magazine on 15 June 2004. ("The whole thing is a sham," said Jim Waltman, director of refuge and wildlife programs for the Wilderness Society. "It's just an elaborate Beltway blame game.")
The earliest online usage I turned up in a quick Google search is by AP reporter Ron Fournier quoting John McCain in an article in the Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News on 1 September 1999.
[McCain] called the congressional tax-cut plan an "exercise in political kabuki," criticizing GOP leaders for a bill that gives immediate tax cuts to special interests and delays reductions to taxpayers.
On 10 November 2000, during the legal maneuverings in the wake of the U.S. presidential elections in 2000, Bill Baker of Election Watch accused Al Gore of allowing "this outrageous and bizarre political kabuki theatre to continue."

On 10 August 2001, Jake Tapper writing in Salon slathers Kerry with the same face paint.
Kerry clearly is taking nothing for granted, but that doesn't mean he doesn't recognize what essentially right now is political kabuki theater. I cannot even hint that I want anything other than my Senate seat, lest they resent me for it.
In a retrospective published by the Japan Times on 23 September 2003, Japan-resident foreign correspondent David McNeill applied the same term in an imaginary story he wished he could have filed in 2001.
Koizumi wins political kabuki show

Bumbling Yoshio Mori has finally been replaced by the more media-friendly Junichiro Koizumi in a contest for leadership of the LDP that nevertheless leaves Japan's sclerotic political structure intact. Politicians in Japan have, in any case, very little power to influence policy in comparison to the bureaucrats who write it.
By now, political kabuki seems well entrenched, not just as a twisted borrowing from Japanese, but as a hackneyed meme, like most political reporting itself.

UPDATE: Semantic Compositions assembles some googlestats on (political) kabuki.

19 June 2004

Kamishibai Shrinks but Spreads

Kamishibai--"the picture card show"--is a kind of storytelling that, as late as 1950, was still enormously popular in the Japanese countryside. It has been estimated that at that date there were yet active some 25,000 players. In spite of the poor documentation (as is the case, incidentally, with nearly all other types of folk arts in Japan and elsewhere until recently), the magnitude of their impact on society was tremendous. Satoshi Kako calls kamishibai a type of early-day television. With the advent of that modern electronic device, however, its primitive forerunner faded from the streets with amazing rapidity.

Kamishibai now is to be found, for the most part, only in primary school classrooms as a teaching device and devoid of its traditional associations. Very few Japanese under age forty whom I approached had ever heard of kamishibai as a form of street entertainment.

"Uncle Kamishibai" usually carried with him three sets of pictures for telling separate stories. Each set consisted of approximately ten thick paper sheets or light boards of illustrations. The sheets would be inserted one after another into a box with a large, fixed-frame aperture. The most important words that went along with a given scene would be written on the back of the sheet. The box, during this century, was most often attached to the back of a bicycle. The kamishibai player would ride about from neighborhood to neighborhood, striking his wooden clapper or beating on a small drum to attract the attention of children. When a crowd had gathered, he would sell them sweets or, more rarely, books, medals, and trinkets that even poor children could afford. Those who bought from him would be permitted to stand up front where they could see and hear clearly. This is how the kamishibai player earned his living. One is reminded of the old folk doctor of the American frontier. It is difficult to say which of his wares were more important--the remedies, potions, and appliances or the bombastic rhetoric and showmanship. In both cases, what was important is that a minor entertainment "event" took place that relieved the participants of the tedium of everyday life.

The origins of kamishibai are lost in obscurity but may, perhaps, be traced back to so-called "shadow-pictures" (kage-e). It has also been suggested that they may have been imported from Germany during the nineteenth century. Peep shows ... were indeed introduced to Japan from abroad and were known during the Meiji period (1868-1912) as nozoki karakuri ("peep gimmick") or karakuri-megane ("gimmicky glasses") (note that puppets and marionettes may be referred to as karakuri-ningyoo "gimmicky dolls"). It would seem, however, that the technique of kamishibai was derived from a combination of influences (etoki ['picture-explanations' at temples dating back to Heian times], kage-e, Middle Eastern and European picture boxes, etc.). Be that as it may, kamishibai clearly falls within the general development of Asian picture-storytelling.
SOURCE: Painting and Performance: Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis by Victor H. Mair (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1988; now out-of-print), pp. 115-116. [Mair compares these traditions with Southeast Asian wayang 'shadow' plays, Indian bhopo, Chinese pien wen (Buddhist song-tales dating from Tang times), German bänkelsang, Italian cantastorie, and medieval European jongleur traditions.]

While kamishibai has shrunk down to a classroom technique in Japan, it has expanded to classrooms around the world. There is even a kamishibai version of Beowulf.

18 June 2004

Japaniizu Beesubooru, Hittingu

More creative Japanese baseball terms of English origin: Hitting Terms

abekku hoomu ran 'back-to-back home run' (lit. 'dating home run', from Fr. avec 'with' although most abekku are likely to be vis-à-vis, not dosey-do)
endo ran '(hit) and run'
ueetingu saakuru 'on-deck circle'
oobaa 'hit over the head of an outfielder' (thus, reefuto oobaa, raito oobaa, sentaa oobaa)
kushyon booru 'ball hit off the (cushioned) outfield fence'
jaasto miito 'just meeting the ball, contact hitting'
shooto rainaa 'line drive to short' (cf. fuasto rainaa 'line drive to first base')
suitchi hittaa 'switch hitter'
goro 'ground ball' (SANRUI goro 'ground ball to third')
hoomu in 'run, reaching home to score'
tsuubeesu 'two base hit, double'
taimurii 'a timely (clutch) hit that scores a run'
taimurii eraa 'a timely error that allows a run to score'
nokku 'fungo' (knocking balls into the field for fielding practice)
MANRUI hoomu ran 'full-base home run, grand slam'
ranningu hoomu ran 'running home run, inside-the-park home run'
fuoa booru 'four balls, a walk'

SOURCE: A Slightly Askew Glossary of Japanese Baseball Terms by professional translator Steven P. Venti

Herbert Nicholson, Grandfather Goat

One of the near-saints in the lore of the family I grew up in was an old man we called Yagi no Ojiisan 'Grandfather Goat', a Quaker missionary whose principal contribution to postwar Japan, Okinawa, and Korea was organizing the delivery of goats to farmers who had lost their means of livelihood in the wake of the horrible destruction of that war. The Goat Farmer ("The largest circulation goat magazine in the world") mentions one of his exploits:
Goat soup is traditionally served at various festive events, and served raw--as sashimi--it is considered a delicacy. Goat soup is often served before or after the athletic events as the meat is high in energy, and it is said to be the best cure for a hangover and thus served after drinking parties. However, most Okinawans are not so familiar with its milk.

People in their 50s and older may have some hazy memories from the past of drinking goat milk as children. Many doctors say that, for small babies, goat milk is far better alternative to cow's milk when mother's milk is not available. Right after the war, U.S. military provided many Okinawan children goat milk because of its high nutritional value.

After WWII in 1947, Pastor Herbert Nicholson of LARA (Licensed Agencies for the Relief in Asia) introduced about 200 goats to Okinawa. Over the following years another 2,615 goats were brought in by LARA to produce goat milk. The Okinawans popularly called those goats "LARA goats."
Okinawan associations in Hawai‘i also played a big role in providing relief for their ravaged homeland.
The various relief efforts spanned four years (1945-1949), during which time 150 tons of clothing, hundreds of small appliances, toys and sundry items were collected. But the relief efforts didn’t end there: Hawaii Uchinanchu [Okinawans] and other compassionate individuals and organizations sent $20,000 in medicine and medical supplies, collected $50,000 to purchase and transport 550 pigs and 750 milking goats, and demonstrated their foresight by assisting in the effort to build the University of the Ryukyus. These relief missions revived efforts to establish a unified organization of Okinawan individuals, clubs and groups.
After that concerted effort, the fractious associations from separate villages, towns, and islands of Okinawa finally managed to form the Hawaii United Okinawa Association in 1951.

The only other thing I knew about Yagi no Ojiisan as a kid (human, not goat) was that he was a Quaker and had a cabin at Karuizawa, in Nagano prefecture, where he kindly allowed us to stay for a few weeks during the summer of 1957, when the current Japanese Emperor Akihito met the current Empress Michiko on the tennis courts of the same resort. (My father was raised a Quaker, and it was by virtue of Quaker cronyism that Nicholson allowed us to use his cabin. It certainly wasn't any connection to royalty.)

But I wasn't aware of his earlier history:
Historians have acknowledged the important, even heroic, role of former missionary Herbert Nicholson in providing material aid to Japanese Americans from the Los Angeles area interned at Manzanar. Nicholson made literally dozens of trips to the camp, bringing news from home, personal belongings from storage, and gifts from friends, and handling numerous business transactions.... But others also combined opposition to removal and internment with concrete acts of service to improve conditions for the interned Japanese Americans.(27)...

(27) Betty Mitson, "A Friend of the American Way: An Interview with Herbert V. Nicholson," in Voices Long Silent: An Oral Inquiry into the Japanese American Evacuation, ed. Arthur Hansen and Betty Mitson (Fullerton, Cal., 1974), 110-42; Michi Weglyn and Betty Mitson, eds., Valiant Odyssey: Herbert Nicholson In and Out of America's Concentration Camps (Upland, Calif., 1978) [the latter being "Interview and personal stories of Herbert Nicholson, pastor of the West Los Angeles Japanese Methodist Church in 1941, who traveled to many of the internment camps during the war" according to the Go for Broke Educational Foundation]
Confirmation that Nicholson was a Quaker, not a Methodist, comes from testimony by Victor Okada of Los Angeles:
After 25 years as a missionary in rural Japan, Rev. Herbert Nicholson, a Quaker was asked to take over the Japanese Methodist Chruch in Pasadena. Nicholson and his wife visited Manzanar, Poston and Gila River camps. "While the majority of people on the outside kept their distance, we were fortunate that people like Reverend and Mrs. Herbert Nicholson, a Quaker missionaries who had served in Japan, would visit and bring a truckful of item like baby cribs, blankets, newspapers and magazines. Through his church in [Pasadena] other churches regularly donated things for the internees. P 105 Muts Okada"
UPDATE: A website on Quakerism in Japan indicates that Herbert and Aladeline Nicholson were among the Quaker missionaries near Mito (a conservative Tokugawa stronghold) during the early decades of the twentieth century. My father says we first crossed paths with Nicholson when we lived in Kokura, Japan, just across the straits from war-ravaged Korea during the early 1950s. Although Nicholson was ojiisan 'grandfather' to us kids, he was known as Yagi no Ojisan 'Uncle Goat' to Japanese school children at the time. Apparently Nicholson and Albert Schweitzer were among the few, if not the only, model foreigners profiled in Japanese schoolbooks in those days.