30 September 2004

Good Soldier Outlier: Civil Affairs

My first thought when I got my orders to report to HQ Co., 95th Civil Affairs Group at Ft. Gordon, GA, after I finished language school in 1970 was, "Wow. I wonder if I'll be working with civilians and can wear civilian clothes." Little did I know that Civil Affairs was just a euphemism for what used to be called Military Government, and that my unit's insignia showed a traditional Korean city gate on it from its first and last major deployment--during the Korean War. (Its only other component, the 42nd Civil Affairs Co., was briefly deployed to the Dominican Republic in 1965.)

The 95th CA Grp. was an officer-heavy skeletal battalion (only HQ Co. and 42nd Co.) with no critical mission, so it functioned as a holding unit for people either awaiting levy to Vietnam or just back from Nam. As a Romanian translator-interpreter, I was initially assigned to the amiable 2Lt Gorniak, who had mastered German, Dutch, Danish, and Afrikaans while in college ROTC. But, like most officers, he was assigned to one of the combat branches--Infantry, Artillery, and Armored Cavalry--and soon came down on levy to Vietnam. (His name was among the handful I looked for a couple decades later when I dragged my daughter over to the Vietnam Memorial on a visit to DC. I was relieved not to find the names, but found the experience too emotional to explain to my daughter at the time.)

Among those just back from Nam were Sp4 McLaughlin, a crazy fearless helicopter door gunner who never hesitated to step between belligerent drunken soldiers; Sp4 Blaisdell, a radio DJ with a mellifluous voice who spent most of his tour in PsyOps, eating dog and other delicacies with Vietnamese villagers; and three former juvenile delinquent New Yorkers, Pfcs Carter, O'Neill, and Melendez (black, white, and Hispanic, respectively), about which more in later posts.

We did only one field exercise: Driving south on bivouac to Florida, where we pitched tents in a wooded military reservation overrun with armadillos (called 'turtle-rabbits' in Nahuatl), many of which had themselves been overrun on the road. The excess of officers over enlisted in our unit meant that each of us peons had to do twice the amount of set-up and clean-up that we would otherwise have done. I remember spending one long evening in our tent listening to Sgt Kerwin tell stories and recite Robert W. Service poems. When I asked him why a person with his wide interests stayed in the Army, he said he and his family very much needed the medical benefits.

By that time, I had become company clerk, and rode in the company First Sergeant's jeep. Just before departure, 1Sg Davis had gone off to take a shit in the woods. Unfortunately for him, he was very short and hadn't noticed that he had squatted over the back of his own trousers. Unfortunately for me, I had to ride behind him all the way back to Ft. Gordon. (Fortunately, it was an open jeep.) From then on, his epithet was Sgt Shitty Britches.

The only official public service we performed was guarding railroad crossings while a trainload of nerve gas was shipped to Savannah for eventual destruction (perhaps on Johnston Island). We were all issued gas masks and atropine, but were not allowed to keep them on our persons so as not to alarm the populace. So we kept them in the back of our truck, knowing there would be no possible way for us to get to them and put them to use within the 7-10 seconds that nerve gas would take to kill us.

Civil Affairs was relocated to Ft Bragg in September 1971. As a short-timer, with barely 6 months left to serve, I was transferred to Ft. Gordon's PCF--Personnel Control Facility (the brig), not Patrol Craft, Fast (Swiftboats). In December 1974, the 95th CA Grp was deactivated, and nowadays most Civil Affairs units are found in the National Guard, which I'm sure performs far more capably than the mixed bag of transients in the 95th CA Grp would have.

28 September 2004

Laos: Minorities

Laos is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in mainland Southeast Asia.... Laos lies between the major states of the region: China on its northern border, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the far south, Thailand to the south and west, and Burma in the northwest. Populations from all of these neighbours overlap into Laos. Unlike these other countries, the lowland, ethnic Lao after whom the country is named, do not constitute an overwhelming majority of the population. The 1995 census shows the Lao making up around 2.4 million of a total population of just over 4.5 million, that is, just over half the population. If, however, an ethnolinguistic classification is used--lumping together all speakers of Tai dialects, of which Lao is one--then the Tai-Lao group rises to just over 3 million, or just over two-thirds of the population. By contrast, in all the neighbouring countries the dominant ethnic group--Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Cambodian, Burmese--make up 80 per cent of the population or more. The balance between the different ethnic groups in Laos is therefore unusual, with political attractions to particular ways of drawing the ethnic map....

For centuries the region was dominated by Theravada Buddhist kingdoms that waxed and waned until the idea of national states took hold in the nineteenth century, largely in response to pressures from European colonial powers.

Culturally the minorities in Laos apparently fall outside the framework of these Theravada Buddhist kingdoms. However, some of them, such as those around Luang Prabang or in Champassak, played a central role in various state rituals presided over by a Theravada Buddhist king or prince. Besides the minorities directly caught up in traditional Lao state ritual there may also be important symbolic congruities between Buddhist polities and some of the upland societies. The overthrow of the monarchy in Laos in 1975, however, gutted the traditional symbolic forms of integration, with only less encompassing symbols of Lao nationalism substituted.

French colonialism (1893-1953) brought with it the trappings of the modern state, which demands much greater control over its citizenry than any premodern state. This often upset traditional arrangements, sometimes causing revolts. These revolts, however, were not 'anti-colonial' in any simple sense. For example, a 1914 revolt by Haw Chinese traders against the French occurred because the latter were trying to enforce their monopoly on the opium trade.

The Hmong were relative newcomers to Laos, their migrations beginning in the early nineteenth century, and therefore their growing presence finally demanded a redistribution of power in the highlands, which the French facilitated. They were also important economically because they grew opium. The centre of Hmong population was Xieng Khoang Province, and a dispute among clans there would ultimately lead one side into the arms of the Lao communists and the others to support the Royal Lao Government (RLG).

As the new Lao state took shape, the administrative integration of this important highland population gathered pace. In 1946 Touby Lyfoung became the assistant governor of the province, while in 1947 his brother Toulia became one of the province's representatives in the new National Assembly. Touby regarded the granting of citizenship to the Hmong in the 1947 Constitution as truly momentous. In 1965 he even became a member of King Sisavang Vatthana's Council. He encouraged Hmong participation in Lao national and annual festivals, and in particular the learning of Lao language and education. While social and cultural change among the Hmong accelerated in the 1950s, including the influence of Christian missionaries, it was not traumatic.

The war that swept through the highlands of Laos in the 1960s, and Xieng Khoang in particular, not only severely upset the highland habitat, but also led to high casualties among the minorities. One Hmong soldier, Vang Pao, rose to the rank of general and he and his multi-ethnic troops, many of them irregulars, spearheaded fighting against the Lao communists, and in particular North Vietnamese regulars sent against them. The military defeat of the RLG by the communists caused hundreds of thousands of minorities to flee as refugees after 1975.
SOURCE: "Laos: Minorities," by Grant Evans, in Ethnicity in Asia, ed. by Colin Mackerras (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), pp. 210-212

26 September 2004

Ethnicity in Cambodia

Cambodia is the country in Southeast Asia with the smallest ethnic minority population, both relatively and in absolute numbers. Among about 10 million inhabitants almost 90 per cent are ethnic Khmer. Khmer dominance is ancient: for the Khmer, the kingdom of Angkor (ninth to fifteenth centuries) still remains very much the exemplary origin both of Khmer civilization and the Cambodian nation.

The ways in which governments, officials and elites in post-colonial Cambodia have perceived and treated the country's non-Khmer ethnic groups reflect an attitude of Khmer supremacy. This attitude is not so much directed against other ethnic groups (except for the Vietnamese), as manifesting a profound ethnocentrism, a conviction that Khmer culture is superior to others. This ethnocentrism puts the Khmer in line with the constructivist view, as opposed to the essentialist .... Already at independence (1953) it was officially recognized that one could 'become Khmer' (coul kmae) by adopting the Khmer language and customs.

The Khmer see themselves as fundamentally agrarian, their primary crop, paddy rice, being not only the mainstay for all but an important symbol of the human condition in general. Consequently, the ideal society is one of rice-farming peasants. It was the Khmer Rouge that most explicitly pursued this ideal, but cities generally do not figure positively in the Khmer imagination. There is an implicit association between urban life and foreign, non-Khmer customs. From a Khmer perspective, the capital Phnom Penh is a place in some sense outside Khmer cultural space and inhabited mainly by 'foreigners'. The traditional 'foreigners' in Cambodia are the Chinese and the Vietnamese, and these have always to a large extent been urban populations. The rural-urban dichotomy is thus a significant dimension of ethnic relations.

Historically Cambodia has felt politically and territorially pressed between its two more powerful neighbours, Siam (Thailand) and Annam (Vietnam). Siamese armies contributed to the fall of Angkor in the late fifteenth century, and Cambodia was effectively under Siamese suzerainty for much of the period after this until becoming a French protectorate in 1863. Thailand temporarily annexed the northwestern provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap (where Angkor is located) during the Second World War; the name Siem Reap means 'Siam conquered', perhaps implying conquered both by and from Siam.

Nevertheless, since independence, the Cambodian governments and the Khmer educated elite have always regarded Vietnam and the Vietnamese as the big threat to Cambodian political, economic and territorial sovereignty, not Thailand and the Thais. Thus, the Khmer consider the Mekong Delta as kampuchea krom, a Cambodian territory unlawfully annexed by Vietnam. The Cambodian border provinces of Prey Veng and Svay Rieng have a significant Vietnamese rice-farming population who have settled ('encroached') in search of land. Vietnamese expansionism is a recurrent theme in Khmer propaganda.

The main cultural divide running through Indochina is that which divides mainland Southeast Asia between the 'Indianized' states of Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and the 'Sinicized' Vietnam. This cultural divide may explain why the attitude of the Khmer towards the Vietnamese is significandy different from that towards the Thai. So, also culturally speaking, both Vietnamese and Chinese are perceived as foreign. But in contrast to the Chinese, the Vietnamese in Cambodia are regarded by the majority of the Khmer as intruders, whose presence in the country many perceive as a threat to the Khmer-ness of the nation. Although the Vietnamese do not form one coherent ethnic community, the Khmer nationalist elite, who have pursued anti-Vietnamese propaganda since independence, have tended to ignore this fact, and little allowance has been made for the diversity of Vietnamese communities within the ethnic category 'Vietnamese'. Consequently, all members of this category have been victims of violent persecutions in recent Cambodian history.
SOURCE: "Cambodia," by Jan Ovesen and Ing-Britt Trankell, in Ethnicity in Asia, ed. by Colin Mackerras (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), pp. 194-195

Cambodia's Cham Minorities

The name Cham indicates a purported origin in the 'Hinduized' kingdom of Champa that occupied the coast of present-day Vietnam until the Vietnamese destroyed its capital in 1471, reducing it to its southernmost principalities. At this time the Cham underwent a gradual and partial conversion to Islam through the influence of the coastal trade of Arab, Persian and Indian merchants.

The ethnic label Cham in Cambodia covers virtually all the country's Muslims. They number about 230,000, many of them traders. The Khmer view the Cham with apprehension because of a reputation for possessing strong magic. At the same time, both Khmer and Cham believe the latter belong firmly in Cambodian society, and as a well established Cambodian minority they are 'good to think with', as their land was once conquered by the Vietnamese and they thus exemplify a fate that many Khmer fear may one day become Cambodia's.

Three separate groups may be distinguished within the Cham ethnic category. The Cham proper trace their ancestry to the Champa kingdom, but emphasize their religion (Islam) rather than their historical origins as their main defining feature. Most still speak the Cham language, which belongs to the Austronesian family [and appears most closely related the language of Aceh, Indonesia], but all are bilingual in Khmer. They are found mainly in Kampong Cham, Kampot and north of Phnom Penh.

A second group is referred to as 'Chvea', which is the Khmer word for 'Java', suggesting a penultimate origin in the Malay-Indonesian area. Today they speak Khmer. They prefer to call themselves not 'Chvea' but 'Khmer Islam' - stressing both their linguistic and national belonging and their separate religion, rather than their 'foreign' origin.

Both these groups are recipients of various forms of Islamic aid from the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Arab Emirates) as well as from Malaysia. The aid consists of schoolbooks and religious literature in Arabic, and contributions to building schools, mosques and wells. It also involves annual travel funds for some prominent members of local communities to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Cham and Chvea welcome this attention from the world Islamic community, feeling it gives international recognition to their importance as Cambodian Muslims.

The third group of Cham are the Jahed. Although Muslims, they identify themselves primarily in terms of their historical origins in the Champa kingdom. Their ancestors formed part of an exodus from a Champa principality after its ruler's defeat by the Vietnamese in 1692. Today they number about 23,000 people, all speaking Cham, but most being bilingual in Khmer. In terms of religion, the Jahed belong to a minority within the Muslim population. Their somewhat unorthodox version of Islam (superimposed on a basically Hindu type of cosmology and influenced by Sufi traditions) sets them apart from the other Muslims groups in Cambodia, the Chvea and the Cham. Their possession cult featuring the spirits of their royal ancestors in Champa still flourishes, another sign of their unorthodox approach to Islam.

The Jahed are adamant in following the Muslim customs they have preserved from Champa. Central among these are the weekly prayer meetings at the mosque (instead of the five daily prayers of orthodox Muslims), the use of the Cham language (rather than Arabic) for prayers, and the preservation of their religious literature in the Cham script. In the long run it is doubtful that these traditions will survive, as orthodox Islamic missionaries exert pressure through promises of financial support for mosque-building and distribution of cheaply printed prayer books in Arabic.
SOURCE: "Cambodia," by Jan Ovesen and Ing-Britt Trankell, in Ethnicity in Asia, ed. by Colin Mackerras (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), pp. 204-206

24 September 2004

Buddhism and Sino-Indic Trade, 600-1400

Wow. The following is one of the most glowingly positive academic reviews I've ever read. It's by Colin Mackerras of Australia's Griffith University reviewing Tansen Sen's Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600–1400. Asian Interactions and Comparisons. (Honolulu: Association for Asian Studies and University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003).
This is a splendid book. It has an overarching theme buttressed by immense detail. It has a central argument, one that defies and challenges a conventional view. Its scholarly appurtenances are superb, including notes, documentation, and index. It is well written and interesting. Indeed, I found it quite difficult to put down, despite its length, weight, and academic content.

Professor Tansen Sen tells us that his primary objective is to rectify an "outdated model of pre-modern Sino-Indian relations" (p. 12). In essence, this model says that, after reaching an apogee in the ninth century, Chinese Buddhism declined and with it trade and commerce between China and India. The famous persecution of Buddhism under Tang Emperor Wuzong in the 840s dealt it a blow from which it never fully recovered. Sen believes, on the contrary, that Buddhism continued to thrive in China under the Song dynasty and at the same time in eastern India. In addition, exchanges between the two countries proliferated in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and trade exploded during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He suggests that Chinese Buddhism became more indigenous in the tenth and eleventh centuries, meaning that it depended less on Indian Buddhism. However, this means only that Indian influence on Chinese Buddhism declined. It does not mean that Chinese Buddhism itself declined or that exchanges and trade between China and the Indian regions diminished.

I admit to having been raised in the school of thought that Sen believes is outdated. I was taught that Buddhism never fully recovered from Wuzong's persecution. Sen has a bit to say about this episode (for instance, on p. 74), but given its importance in the conventional view, I would have liked more attention given to it in the formulation of the new interpretation of history.

Yet I must concede that Sen has done a truly masterly job in presenting his alternative view of how Buddhism developed in China and the function it played in Sino-Indian relations. I commend his mastery over the sweep of history, the way he interrelates not only Sino-Indian relations but also the role of other neighboring states like Nanzhao and Khotan, and the way he balances out domestic conditions in both China and India.

Sen's scholarship is broad in its scope and sweeping in its coverage. One of the strengths of his approach is the way it links religion and mercantilism. In the seventh and eighth centuries, merchants "assisted the expanding number of Buddhist monks travelling across the overland and maritime routes, met the growing demand for ritual items, and actively financed monastic institutions and proselytising activities" (p. 210). Although mercantilism thus had its place from the start, Sen believes that trade and markets replaced Buddhism as the crucial factor in Sino-Indian relations in the later period. He also takes the big-picture approach in the way he places the Sino-Indian trading relationship in the context of the broader trading patterns that emerged over the whole of the great Eurasian continent in the five centuries that began roughly in 1000 and ended in 1500. The combination of the big picture and minute detail is one of the factors that makes for good scholarship and contributes to making this an excellent book....

Overall, this is a remarkable book. It is a real tour de force of religious and diplomatic history and has put forward a new and convincing historical interpretation. It is the most thorough book on the subject of Sino-Indian relations and Buddhism in medieval China and India yet written and will certainly become the standard book on the subject. I suspect it will retain that status for quite a long time. I strongly recommend this book to all those interested in the history of Buddhism, the history of China and India, and of the interrelationship among these topics.
This is historical revisionism at its best. The prevailing view in Korea, too, has been that the Chosôn Dynasty (1392-1910) persecuted Buddhism and favored Confucianism. But perhaps Buddhism had just been fully assimilated, while Neo-Confucianism was the latest fashionable import.

23 September 2004

Japan Baseball Strike Ends

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese baseball players and club representatives reached a deal Thursday to end the first strike in the 70-year history of the sport in Japan, with owners agreeing to let newcomers into the leagues as early as next season.

The players, backed by the majority of fans, went on strike last weekend to protest a planned merger and to press owners to ease requirements for new teams. Weekday games have continued.

Pitcairn's Trial of the Century (or Two)

For the best coverage of celebrity justice in Pitcairn, one cannot beat the Head Heeb:
High drama will begin in Pitcairn today as seven islanders go to trial on sex crimes charges that have divided the island since 1999. The trial will take place before the Pitcairn Supreme Court, which sits in New Zealand, with some defendants attending court in Auckland and others via video hookup from Pitcairn. The accused face 96 counts, some dating from 45 years in the past, and the trial is expected to last several weeks.

If the defendants are convicted, they could be incarcerated in a prison they built themselves:
In the past few days, the men who stand accused have helped to heave the final shipment of barbed wire up to the newly built prison that may soon incarcerate them. Locals have dubbed it the "chicken run." Children have been moved out of the schoolhouse so that it can be turned into a court....
Their conviction would also threaten the economic viability of the island, which would be left without enough able-bodied men to unload supplies from visiting ships.

Language Politics in Rwanda?

KIGALI, Sep 20 (IPS) - Since the 1994 genocide, relations between France and Rwanda have been chilly due to France's links to the Hutu-dominated regime which incited the carnage.

Up to now, France seems unwilling to come to terms with the fact that the former rebel movement, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), led by exiled Tutsis mainly from neighbouring Uganda, is now in control in the tiny central African country.

In July 1994, Rwanda, whose official language had been French since independence in 1962, decreed that all laws be published in both French and English and that daily transactions take place in either.
via the Head Heeb, whose post attracted an interesting comment.
It's worth mentioning that one of the reasons that France was so strongly opposed to the Tutsi rebels was that they'd grown up in Uganda, a former British colony, and therefore spoke English, rather than French.

Over the medium term, I don't think that we'll see much switching between English and French in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, we'll see a continuing erosion of minority colonial languages as former Portuguese and Spanish colonies align more closely with the Anglophone and Francophone neighbors.

22 September 2004

Korean Language Learning at DLI

KoreAm Journal profiles the DLI Korean program at Monterey. (Korean was at the top of my list when I enlisted for language school in 1969.)
MONTEREY, CALIF. — The next generation of Korean speakers at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLI) does not necessarily share the same ethnicity [unlike 95% of Korean language learners in the U.S.]. Hailing from all over the United States, the 300 students who graduate from the school's Korean language program every year are united by their passion to learn. Plus, they all have a soldier's discipline needed to endure its demanding training.

Those who are undergoing the minimum of six hours of instruction every day, five days a week for 63 weeks, are men and women of the U.S. armed forces who volunteered to extend their military duties by meeting the needs of the military's demand for Korean speakers.

"I actually asked for Korean or Arabic because I figured that was probably the two languages that they needed people for the most, and I didn't want to do something too easy," said Marine Lance Corporal Tyler Joyner. [What *is* it about the Marines?]

He is just one of the soldiers [bzzt! Marines are not "soldiers"] getting more than basic training on the DLI's sprawling facilities along California's Central Coast, where deer still graze on the grounds [and buffalo roam ...]. Here, Joyner is sitting through classes to develop the skills needed to be fluent in most Korean conversations at the street level, as well as for military operations in South Korea.
via Budaechigae

One of my unforgettable experiences at DLI about 1970 occurred at the on-base movie theater, where the national anthem was played before each movie. A military dependent and his date stayed sitting as the anthem started, whereupon the man behind them reached over and yanked the guy to his feet. After the anthem finished, someone complimented the Enforcer with a "Good work, soldier!"--whereupon the Enforcer replied, "I'm not a soldier. I'm a Marine!"

Fine. Whatever.

21 September 2004

Sgt Jenkins's Trial for Desertion

CNN reports:
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (AP) -- The U.S. Army is preparing for its biggest desertion trial in decades following the surrender of Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins, wanted for allegedly abandoning his patrol nearly 40 years ago and becoming a North Korean propaganda tool.

But while publicity is guaranteed, the prosecution might have a hard time winning the case, experts say. And if Jenkins does a plea bargain, as is widely expected, he may suffer nothing worse than a dishonorable discharge.

Jenkins has been living at this base just southwest of Tokyo with his Japanese wife and two North Korea-born daughters since he surrendered on September 11.
My last assignment in the U.S. Army was at a Personnel Control Facility (aka "brig") where a surprising proportion of the inmates were trying to get a dishonorable discharge by deserting three times (going AWOL for over 30 days each time). Unfortunately, their local sheriffs often turned them over to the military (for a bounty, it was rumored) before the 30 days had expired. It took a lot longer than getting 3 purple hearts, of course, but it was a good bit safer route.

Taiwanese Investment in Africa

While China is investing in oil pipelines in Sudan, Taiwan is investing in garment factories in Lesotho. Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia reports on a global shift from Asia to Africa.
Most of the discussion about “global shift” over the last two decades has been about manufacturing moving to Asia. Many of my students have asked me when we might see a shift to Africa. Well, I can tell them now. The congested industrial zone in Maseru, Lesotho's capital, houses one of Africa's biggest clusters of textile and garment factories. Nearly all are Taiwanese owned and export their wares to the US. Some labour and environmental activists have complained about the plants' pollution levels and labour practices.

But for most people in the landlocked kingdom, a job cutting or sewing denim destined for US stores is a prized position with a common salary of more than $100 a month (higher than in some parts of Asia). Lesotho benefits from the US's African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), that exempts some clothing made in the continent's poorest countries from strict duties and quotas....

CGM, a Taiwanese-owned factory, offers a striking tableau of globalisation. The Chief Executive is Indian and the factory employs 8000 people in Lesotho. It uses cheap fabric from China, India and Pakistan to produce jeans and trousers destined for Levi Strauss, Gap, WalMart and other American chains.
via Foreign Dispatches via Simon World

Indonesian Presidential Election Run-off

The Swanker at Macam-Macam is back from hiatus with a post on the Indonesian presidential elections.
You can add the name Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the pantheon of misfits, megalomaniacs and kleptocrats that have taken residence in Merdeka ['Freedom'] Palace as President of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, following:

- Megawati Sukarnoputri,
- Abdurrahman Wahid,
- BJ Habibie,
- Suharto,
- Sukarno.
The Christian Science Monitor strikes a more positive note.
With 155 million eligible voters, Indonesia directly chose its president for the first time on Monday, as well as electing local, regional, and national legislators. The voting was largely peaceful and, despite many complexities, conducted on one day (although official results are two weeks away).

Civic activism has taken root in Indonesia since the ouster of former dictator Suharto in 1998, despite attempts by Islamic political parties to gain power. Voters feel so independent in fact that it's likely the current president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, may have been defeated in this election, according to early estimates. The candidate expected to win, former Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is popular for his secular leadership and record on fighting terrorism.
But even more positive coverage is at Agam's Gecko, which I can't resist quoting at length.
It was a fabulous day yesterday for Indonesians, and for their growing and strengthening democracy. The entire procedure -- one of the largest scale exercises in democracy in the world -- came off very smoothly. So much so, that it seemed to excite many of the mid-day commentators as the results came in. The fact that they could, in an election taking place across tens of thousands of islands spanning three time zones, be in a position to confidently declare the next president only hours after the polls closed in the western time zone, was taken as a point of pride in the efficiency and use of modern election techniques which have been implimented. It seems like they've had quite a lot of practice this year -- parliamentary elections in March, first round presidential election in July, and yesterday's presidential run-off between Megawati Sukarnoputri and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono....

Megawati just seems tired, I think she's known for a while now that her term would be ending here. People are grateful for the measure of stability that she was able to maintain, and for moving some of the reforms along (such as these first direct presidential elections), but they are looking for a more energetic leader.

Best of all, this is a very fine answer to all those in other parts of the world who nervously wonder whether Islam is compatible with democracy. Indeed, if all those pundits and opinion-shapers of the mainstream media world would take time out from listening to their own voices, they might have noticed that a very important example was taking shape right under their noses. It still amazes me how little attention this country gets these days, considering that it is the most populous Muslim country in the world. And we can have any number of Agams of Tapaktuan telling anyone who would listen, that Indonesian Muslims are practically the most generous, tolerant and good natured people one is likely to find on this earth -- it will never have the impact of just having our information gate-keepers giving it the attention it warrants.

In fact, and you won't find this in any of the MSM [the universally reviled MainStream Media] coverage, there were some positively inspiring demonstrations of how to work the democratic process into the local cultural milieu. In many polling places, some in Bali and East Java that I saw on tv, every voter came dressed in the traditional clothing of the area -- and in several examples that were covered by local media, the polling station officials and workers went all out to make it a special day, with ballot checkers and counters done up as traditional characters from mythological stories. One polling station in Yogyakarta was absolutely fantastic, with everyone in full costume from the wayang stories. When Arjuna hands you your ballot paper, and Gatokaca offers the ink pot to dip your pinky in while the gamelan chimes gently in the background, that's pretty damn cool in my book. These were excellent examples of the Indonesian people saying, "This is democracy, this is what we struggled for, this is what reformasi was all about, and we want it. This is democracy, and this is our way of doing it."

And they make it look like so much darn fun. All this in the wake of the horrendous terrorist attack in the heart of the capital less than two weeks ago. I think part of the giddiness that I noticed toward the end of the day, was sheer relief that none of the terrible possibilities that one could not help worrying about, actually took place. There had apparently been bomb warnings and phoned threats, those had been happening ever since the embassy blast on the 9th. There were definite worries on most minds, yet they turned out (early, most of them) to vote for their head of state, for the first time ever. They did it joyfully, and they made it their own. Yes, democracy is definitely compatible with Islam, no question about it....

AFTERTHOUGHT: So like, the next thing is trying to get our journalistic profession to actually learn how to say the name of the next president of the biggest Muslim nation. Would that be too much to ask? I mean, watching CNN the past few days, in addition to the BBC's Rachel Harvey and her stupid persistent use of "Bang-Bang", I've heard everything from "Yuhodio" to "Yuhohohodo". It's ridiculous! OK newsreaders, so it looks a bit intimidating with that one seemingly superfluous h. Don't let it get to you, and just take five seconds to look at it. Take it slow: YUDHOYONO. You. Dough. Yo. No. Is that so hard? Or if you want to be a perfectionist: Yude. Hoe. Yo. No. Say it fast. Faster. Just like it's spelled. You got it.

20 September 2004

Good Soldier Outlier: Gays in the Draft-era Military

The only long-term friend I made during my Army days was gay. And he wasn't even in the Army; he was a sailor, one of my roommates at the Defense Language Institute. It didn't strike me until many years later that a fair number of my fellow students at DLI must have been gay. What a shame it would have been if all their language skills had been rejected.

Gary was an ardent film buff from Tulsa, OK. He and I went to many movies in Monterey, Carmel, and elsewhere on the Peninsula, from Sergei Bondarchuk's epic "War and Peace" to Russ Meyer's graphic "Vixen." We also spent a lot of time exploring local history, from Steinbeck to Robert Louis Stevenson.

One weekend when we had planned to hike over the top of the Presidio along a section of 17-mile Drive and down toward Carmel, he failed to return to our room on Friday night. When he finally got back Saturday, he gingerly confessed to me that he had spent the night with a gay acquaintance in town. I was the first straight person he had revealed himself to, and he seemed to think it would be the end of our friendship. But it wasn't. The next day we took a long hike together, either all the way to Carmel or to a Carmel Valley movie theatre. I can't really remember.

After he finished his Spanish course at DLI, he was assigned to Puerto Rico, with some time in Guantanamo. He would write long letters about the local scene there, but nothing quite so explicit as what he later wrote once he got out of the Navy and settled in Westwood Village, Los Angeles, where he found work in a factory that employed a lot of Spanish-speaking employees. Once there, his letters began to reveal much more about his active sexlife, including his bathhouse adventures.

By then, I was in graduate school in Hawai‘i, and my life seemed hopelessly boring by comparison, except when I did a spell of fieldwork. However, it was during graduate school that a lesbian friend recruited me to participate in a new gay rights parade right down the length of Waikiki. I only did it for Gary's sake. There were hardly more than a dozen of us, and I got filmed passing right in front of a TV camera on the local news. When we got to the end, near the Honolulu Zoo, I spent a long time looking at the monkeys--with considerable empathy.

Later in the 1970s, I visited Gary in LA and we made a nostalgic trip back to the Monterey Peninsula, stopping at Hearst Castle en route. When we stopped at a public rest room after a hike around Point Lobos, Gary confessed he was pee-shy. He couldn't use a public urinal if other men were around. I don't know how the hell he survived 4 years in the Navy.

I finally lost touch with him in the late 1970s, after I began writing my dissertation and he began writing about his prior incarnations as Amenhotep. La-La-Land must have begun to take a toll on his sensitive mind. I hope his dangerously promiscuous lifestyle didn't make him a victim of the early stages of the AIDS pandemic.

19 September 2004

Kyokushuzan Grabs Sumo Lead

The Japan Times reports
Mongolian magician ["supermarket of tricks"] Kyokushuzan bundled out Tokitsuumi on Saturday to take sole possession of the lead [at 7-0] heading into the second week of the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.
Lowly maegashira Kyokushuzan kept both his perfect record (8-0) and his lead on Sunday, with ozeki Dejima (at 7-1) right behind him, and 5 rikishi just one loss behind (at 6-2).

It's been a very, very unusual tournament. Top-ranked Asashoryu lost two in a row, for what may be a personal worst since becoming yokozuna. And there are more foreigners than ever in the top Makuuchi division. In addition to the five Mongolians--Asashoryu, Asasekiryu, Kyokushuzan, Kyokutenho, and Hakuho--there's the Georgian Kokkai, the Bulgarian Kotooshu, the Russian Roho, and the Korean Kasugao.

UPDATE, Day 9: After fellow maegashira (and former ozeki) Dejima beat Kyokushuzan on Day 9, they both share the lead, at 8-1, with yokozuna Asashoryu, ozeki Kaio, and sekiwake Wakanosato right behind, at 7-2.

UPDATE, Day 10: After losing again, Kyokushuzan is tied with Dejima, Kaio, and grand champion Asashoryu at 8-2.

As usual, more at That's News to Me.

UPDATE, Day 12: Kaio grabs the lead, at 10-2, after Dejima and Asashoryu lose, dropping to 9-3. Asa is having his worst tournament of the year.

UPDATE, Day 15: Ozeki Kaio (13-2) defeats yokozuna Asashoryu (9-6!) to clinch the tournament. Kyokushuzan ends up with an 11-4 record. The foreign rookies Roho (10-5) and Kotooshu (9-6) did as well as the sole yokozuna. What a strange, fragmented tournament full of upsets!

Good Soldier Outlier: Language School Idyll

For two weeks after Basic Training, I visited my family at the Foreign Mission Board in Richmond as they were getting ready to return to Japan, then I flew military stand-by across the continent on July Fourth and reported for duty the next day at the Defense Language Institute, West Coast (DLIWC, "dillywick") at the beautiful Presidio of Monterey, CA.

I'll never forget what the sergeant who greeted us said after he formed the new students in ranks and marched us off to our barracks: "Not bad for school troops." What a world of difference from our initial reception at boot camp!

Our barracks were cinderblock dormitories, with two or three students to a room, a mix of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. My first two roommates were sailors studying Spanish. (Spanish took 6 months, Romanian 9 months.) The Romanian class ahead of me consisted of a half dozen airmen, headed for listening stations in Turkey, and one sergeant in military intelligence. My class consisted of only three students: on my left, a soldier in military intelligence fresh out of Yale; on my right, an FBI agent from Chicago; and right between them, me, a 20-year-old college dropout. Most students at DLI seemed to be college graduates.

We spent 6 hours a day in class, 5 days a week, and were expected to spend a few hours afterward studying. But I found the classwork easy enough that I hardly spent more than 15 minutes after breakfast memorizing the daily dialog. We had few other duties, just keeping our rooms shipshape and regularly mopping and buffing the hallways. The TV lounge in the far wing of the barracks was where I watched the first moon landing, just 2 weeks after I arrived.

Somebody in the barracks, maybe it was the company clerk, kept a small boa constrictor in his room, and he would gather a crowd of spectators whenever he put a live lab mouse in the terrarium for the snake's weekly feast. The Marines who took the crash course in Vietnamese at DLI had a far better chance of surviving than those poor mice.

I had a lot of time to read. Before getting to know the area, I spent a few long weekend afternoons at the snackbar on post, sipping a beer while wading through Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, deciphering Mme Chauchat's French on the basis of my high-school French. But once I had ventured out the back gate of the Presidio and walked straight downhill to Cannery Row, I read everything I could find by Steinbeck, nonfiction as well as fiction. This was before Cannery Row had been completely made over as a tourist attraction.

Romanian classes were known to take an excessive number of fieldtrips. One long weekend in August, our combined classes went to LA to attend a Romania Day picnic. When we tried out a few phrases of our new language, matronly ladies would praise us for maintaining the language--unlike their own kids. One evening on that trip, a group of us attended a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

Perhaps the most memorable weekend trip, however, was not a class excursion. A group of us drove up to San Francisco in November to participate in a huge peace march, where I remember being a bit bothered by the number of North Vietnamese flags on display. That evening, we went to see the risqué rock musical Hair. We wore civilian clothes, but our short hair made it obvious we were military.

In some ways, DLIWC was the best school experience I've had: getting free room, board, and pay to study nothing but language for 9 months straight, and all in a beautiful setting like the Monterey Peninsula. Despite being in the military, it was a far more Athenian than Spartan existence.

16 September 2004

Review of Living Dangerously in Korea

Korean Studies Review has posted online a review by Don Baker of Donald Clark's book Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience 1900-1950 (Eastbridge, 2003), portions of which were excerpted on this blog back in June. Excerpts from the review follow.
In his title, Don Clark advertises this book as an account of the Western missionary experience in Korea over the first half of the twentieth century. He is too modest. This book is much more than that. Because he writes about how the missionaries responded to the various situations they found themselves witnessing, and sometimes caught up in, he has actually provided a history of Korea from 1900-1950, albeit one filtered through the eyes of Western residents....

Since Western missionaries, including Charlie Clark, remained in Korea after the annexation of 1910, Clark is able to provide a different view of Japanese rule than is usually found in Korean accounts. First of all, he points out that most of the missionaries (with the conspicuous exceptions of Hulbert and Allen) were at first ambivalent about the Japanese takeover, hoping that a colonial government more modern than the Confucian government it replaced would open up more space for missionary activity. However, they soon found out that the Japanese were not enthusiastic about the spread of Christianity in Korea and in fact raised barriers to it....

A more serious problem for the missionaries in the 1920s was the rise of resentment by some Korean Christians of the missionary domination of Korean Christianity. Koreans wanted control of Christian schools such as the Chosen Christian College (now Yonsei University) to be turned over to them faster than the missionaries wanted to relinquish control. Clark tells us that such prominent Korean Christians as Paek Nakchun and Yun Ch'iho resented what they considered "missionary paternalism" in this and other matters. However, such disputes paled in comparison with the issue that confronted both the missionaries and Korean Christians in the 1930s. When the Japanese demanded that Christian schools permit their students to participate in Shinto rituals, both the missionary community and the Korean Christian community were split over how to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's while remaining faithful to the laws of God. The issue was soon rendered moot for the missionaries by the rise of tension between the US and Japan which led to the expulsion of most of the missionaries in 1940. Korean Christians were left behind to resolve that moral dilemma for themselves.

Phillip Knightley's "Interesting if True"

Granta 53 (1996), entitled News: Scoops, Lies and Videotape offers online an extract of the lead contribution, "Interesting if True" by veteran journalist Phillip Knightley. Here's the tail end of it.
The most glamorous round [= beat] at the [Melbourne] Herald was of course the police one. The chief police roundsman [= beat reporter] was Alan Dower, a tall, distinguished man with a military moustache and bearing, whose act at parties was to borrow a broomstick, pretend he was on the parade ground and carry out drill as ordered by an imaginary sergeant major. His deputy was Lionel Hogg, who could well have been a detective himself had he not opted for journalism. It was Hogg's job to give an occasional lecture to the cadets on the mysteries of reporting. One sticks in my mind. 'A little twist to the most mundane of stories can turn it into a front page lead,' Hogg began. 'Now take what happened to me last week. The police got a call to a restaurant where the chef had just beaten off an armed robber. I interviewed him and asked him how he had done it. He said he chucked a plate of food in the man's face and the guy ran away. That's a pretty boring story. But I noticed that the restaurant was a Hungarian one. So I asked the chef what the plate of food had been. He said that in the excitement he hadn't noticed. So I wrote a lead that said the chef of a Hungarian restaurant had foiled an armed robber by chucking a plate of Hungarian goulash in his face. It made page one.' We thought about it for a second or two; then one of the cadets said, 'But, Lionel, that wasn't true.' Hogg laughed. 'No,' he said, 'but it should have been.'

Hogg arranged for each cadet to accompany a night police patrol car crewed by three detectives so we would get a feel for police work. On my night we crawled around the darkened inner suburbs of Melbourne hoping that the radio would crackle to life with some exciting crime in our area, but the only message we got was an order to check out a man sleeping on a bench in a park near the state parliament building. He did not speak English, and the detectives were losing their patience with him, so I felt justified in intervening and with some schoolboy French discovered he was a crew member of a ship in harbour and had missed the last bus back to the docks. Instead of being grateful, the police became wary of me. Squashed between two of them in the back seat of the squad car, we maintained an uneasy silence until they spotted an old drunk urinating against a tree in St Kilda Road.

'Dirty bastard,' the driver said. 'Teach him a lesson.' The two detectives in the back of the car jumped out. One grabbed the old man's hat and flung it far into park. The other began methodically kicking him in the backside as the old man staggered away mumbling protests and then fell over. The detective gave him one final kick and came back to the car. The exercise must have made them hungry because we headed off to the city centre and stopped at a late-night restaurant. The proprietor, a Greek, came hurrying up. 'Oyster soup and steaks, Tony,' one of the detectives said, 'and put some bloody oysters in the soup.' When we were leaving, I made an effort to pay for my share. 'Put it away,' one of the detectives ordered. 'It's on the house. We look after Tony, he looks after us.'

Did I write any of this? Did I tell the Herald readers that their police were less than perfect? I did not. Hogg had made it clear that we were guests in the squad car and that anything that happened had to remain confidential, otherwise the cosy relationship between the police and the Herald police roundsmen would be endangered.
Thanks to Rainy Day for the lead. I don't believe that the standards of either politics or journalism have declined so much as the public trust in both has plummeted while public demand for transparency has risen.

15 September 2004

Legal Reform in the Muslim World

The 13 September edition of the New Statesman has a cover story by Ziauddin Sardar on reformation in the Muslim world, starting from the peripheries.
The Muslim world is changing. Three years after the atrocity of 9/11, it may be in the early stages of a reformation, albeit with a small "r". From Morocco to Indonesia, people are trying to develop a more contemporary and humane interpretation of Islam, and some countries are undergoing major transformations....

[I]n July, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board declared that triple talaq ['I divorce thee'] was wrong, promised to prepare a model marriage contract (which would require both husband and wife not to seek divorce without due legal process) and asked Muslim men to ensure that women get a share in agricultural property....

For the vast majority of Muslims, changes to Islamic law have to be made within the boundaries of the Koran's teachings if they are to be legitimate. Without the co-operation of the religious scholars, who bestow this legitimacy, the masses will not embrace change.

This is where Morocco has provided an essential lead. Its new Islamic family law, introduced in February, sweeps away centuries of bigotry and bias against women. It was produced with the full co-operation of religious scholars as well as the active participation of women....

Elsewhere, the focus is not so much on Islamic law as on Islam as a whole. In a general election last March, the Malaysian prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, argued that Islam was almost totally associated with violence and extremism and needed to be formulated anew. He called his new concept "Islam Hadhari", or progressive Islam. It was pitted against the "conservative Islam" of the main opposition party, the Islamic Pas. For the first time, the governing coalition won more than 90 per cent of federal parliamentary seats. Pas, and its version of Islam (full implementation of the sharia, without modification; a leading role in the state for religious scholars; and so on), were routed....

While Malaysia has a top-down model, Indonesia has opted for the bottom-up route. The reformist agenda is being promoted by Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the two largest and most influential Muslim organisations. Established at the dawn of the 20th century, they command between 60 and 80 million followers in mosques, schools and universities throughout Indonesia.

NU, essentially an organisation of religious scholars, is usually described as traditionalist, while Muhammadiyah, dominated by intellectuals, is seen as modernist. Since 9/11, however, the two organisations have acted, in some respects, as one. Both are committed to promoting civic society and reformulating sharia. They are campaigning jointly against corruption in public life and in favour of accountable, open democracy. The newly formed Liberal Islam Network - intended to resist radical groups such as Laskar Jihad (Army of Jihad) and Jemaah Islamiyah, which was implicated in the October 2002 Bali bombings - follows a similar programme. Its membership consists largely of young Muslims.

All three organisations promote a model of Islamic reform that they call "deformalisation"....

Both Malaysia's Islam Hadhari and Indonesia's deformalisation emphasise tolerance and pluralism, civic society and open democracy. Both are likely to spread. Malaysia is trying to export Islam Hadhari to Muslim communities in Thailand and the Philippines. Meanwhile, Morocco is trying to persuade Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to adopt its model of family law.
via Arts & Letters Daily

Macam-macam also offers a lengthy backgrounder Islam in Indonesia in the wake of the recent bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

14 September 2004

Naipaul's Magic Seeds

Sunday's Guardian profiles Naipaul, who has yet another book out.
His latest, a novel, Magic Seeds, is the bleakly comic story of Willie Chandran who responds to the anxiety of his own displacement by trying to find 'his war'. Chandran also featured in Naipaul's last novel, Half a Life, in which he migrated from India to England to southern Africa, mostly in search of a sex life. Now he returns to India and joins up with a Maoist revolutionary group, lives in the jungle, wondering all the while what on earth he is up to....

Naipaul says he has always travelled with one question in his head: will this be interesting in 20 years' time? His inquiry on the rise of Islamic states, Among the Believers, in 1981, has proved, in this respect, particularly prophetic. Most of the world still has not confronted its implications, he believes. 'The blowing up of the towers: people could deal with it as an act of terror, but the idea of religious war is too frightening for people to manage. The word used is jihad. We like to translate it as holy war, but really it is religious war.'

Naipaul has always been clear about the iniquities of the world. 'Hate oppression,' he says, 'but fear the oppressed.' The thing he sees in the current terrorism is the exulting in other people's death. 'We are told the people who killed the children in Russia were smiling. The liberal voices were ready to explain the reasons for their actions. But this has no good side. It is as bad as it appears.'
via Arts & Letters Daily

Willie Chandran's Identity Makeover

Willie Somerset Chandran, a youth from a starkly dysfunctional mixed-caste family in India, manages to attend university in England during the 1950s.
Willie was living in the college as in a daze. The learning he was being given was like the food he was eating, without savour.... He was unanchored, with no idea of what lay ahead....

At the college he had to re-learn everything that he knew. He had to learn how to eat in public. He had to learn how to greet people and how, having greeted them, not to greet them all over again in a public place ten or fifteen minutes later. He had to learn to close doors behind him. He had to learn how to ask for things without being peremptory.

The college was a semi-charitable Victorian foundatioin and it was modelled on Oxford and Cambridge. That was what the students were often told. And because the college was like Oxford and Cambridge it was full of various pieces of "tradition" that the teachers and students were proud of but couldn't explain. There were rules, for instance, about dress and behaviour in the dining hall; and there were quaint, beer-drinking punishments for misdemeanours. Students had to wear black gowns on formal occasions.... The academic gown probably was copied from the Islamic seminaries of a thousand years before, and that Islamic style would have been copied from something earlier. So it was a piece of make-believe.

Yet something strange was happening. Gradually, learning the quaint rules of his college, with the churchy Victorian buildings pretending to be older than they were, Willie began to see in a new way the rules he had left behind at home. He began to see--and it was upsetting, at first--that the old rules were themselves a kind of make-believe, self-imposed. And one day, towards the end of his second term, he saw with great clarity that the old rules no longer bound him.

His mother's firebrand uncle had agitated for years for freedom for the backwards [low-caste people]. Willie had always put himself on that side. Now he saw that the freedom the firebrand had been agitating about was his for the asking. No one he met, in the college or outside it, knew the rules of Willie's own place, and Willie began to understand that he was free to present himself as he wished. He could, as it were, write his own revolution. The possibilities were dizzying. He could, within reason, remake himself and his past and his ancestry.

And just as in the college he had boasted in the beginning in an innocent, lonely way of the friendship of his "family" with the famous old writer and the famous Beaverbrook journalist, so now he began to alter other things about himself, but in small, comfortable ways. He had no big over-riding idea. He took a point here and another there. The newspapers, for instance, were full of news about the trade unions, and it occurred to Willie one day that his mother's uncle, the firebrand of the backwards, who sometimes at public meetings wore a red scarf (in imitation of his hero, the famous backward revolutionary and atheistic poet Bharatidarsana), it occurred to Willie that this uncle of his mother's was a kind of trade-union leader, a pioneer of workers' rights. He let drop the fact in conversation and in tutorials, and he noticed that it cowed people.

It occurred to him at another time that his mother, with her mission-school education, was probably half a Christian. He began to speak of her as a full Christian; but then, to get rid of the mission-school taint and the idea of laughing barefoot backwards (the college supported a Christian mission in Nyasaland in Southern Africa, and there were mission magazines in the common room), he adapted certain things he had read, and he spoke of his mother as belonging to an ancient Christian community of the subcontinent, a community almost as old as Christianity itself. He kept his father as a brahmin. He made his father's father a "courtier." So, playing with words, he began to re-make himself. It excited him, and began to give him a feeling of power.

His tutors said, "you seem to be settling in."
SOURCE: Half a Life: A Novel, by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, 2001), pp. 56-58.

13 September 2004

HNN on Liberty, Power, and Knowledge

Steven Horwitz has a good long essay on History News Network about the evolving roles of bloggers and media and other contributors to "open source" knowledge.
It seems to me that this incident is a triumph of liberty over power. For years, we've heard from both Right and Left that the "Big Media" are a problem. Each group thinks they are the handmaiden of the other group. What both appear to agree on is that they are near-all powerful entities who are growing unchecked like some electromagnetic cancer upon the land. The Left has long had the small alternative press, which tried to counter the power of the Big Guys, but with limited success, and it had academia. The Right, since the 80s anyway, has had the think-tank world (which I've always viewed as the alternative university for libertarians and conservatives who perceived themselves, perhaps wrongly, as being closed out of academic by what they saw as leftist power). However it had no real media of its own (Jim and Tammy Faye don't count) until the advent of the Internet. There's a reason the earliest and most well-known blogs lean conservative or libertarian: there was a latent demand for their services.

The net finally reduced the cost of publishing to near zero, at least on the margin, and radically democratized the knowledge production industry, especially investigative reporting.
via Trent Telenko's compilation on Winds of Change headlined Mapping the Blogosphere's Group Mind, which observes:
This is a radically egalitarian cultural development that is highly subversive of elitist hierarchies everywhere.
However, a WoC commenter links to a New York Post column by Ralph Peters that provides a sharp counterbalance. Headlined Net of Hate: Terror's Tool:
In the 1990s, the Internet was destined to bring the world together, to the immeasurable benefit of humankind: Once we all were able to communicate cheaply and swiftly across borders and cultures, we would learn to understand and respect each other, to embrace and sing, if not "Kumbaya," at least the latest download of Senegalese pop.

Instead, the 'Net has become the most powerful tool for spreading hatred in history ...
And yet, in a place where the official media foment hatred, people can find love on the Internet. Hossein Derakshan (Hoder) reports:
Internet: Iran's Most Trusted Medium

Results of a recent interesting poll shows why hardline conservatives are so determined to shut down oppisition websites.

According to ISNA, the nation-wide poll shows that among various media, people have the most trust in the internet (45.5%), followed by Iranian TV and Radio (43.7%), satelite channels (25.2%), press (23%), and foreign-based radios (20%).

This could partly explain the recent aggresive crack down on reformist news websites.

Old Soviet Forgeries

Regions of Mind has a meaty post on Soviet forgeries from the Cold War, along with a sample of propaganda posters from that era.

Media Bigotry toward the South

Tim Chavez, a columnist for the Tennessean, apparently ignited a firestorm with a column about news media bigotry.
Ah, there's nothing like igniting an electronic civil war from coast to coast. My Wednesday column on news media bigotry toward the South got lots of folks worked up....

Many print journalists do not want to understand. From most but not all of their responses, my industry is one of the few businesses in which the customer is always wrong. [Higher education is another!] Readers supposedly don't understand the mystical ways of journalism. Readers supposedly do not understand the difference between news and editorial pages.

Bunk. These news consumers are smarter than they are given credit for. And journalists give themselves too much credit.
He includes several reader reactions. Here's one.
Sally Logan wrote: "I've lived in New England all my life and now work at a typical New England, liberal arts college, and hardly a day goes by that I don't hear some off-hand disparaging remark about the South or Southerners. I find the bias in the media and academia to be symptomatic of the lazy, liberal thinking that has dominated our culture for over three decades. Northern liberals are exactly what they believe Southerners to be: hidebound reactionaries who think in stereotypes."
via One Hand Clapping

The Mediahood of all Receivers

Arguing with Signposts posted a provocative entry on 03Sep04 (that's how we did dates when I was in the Army) entitled The Media Reformation. I linked to it (at "Protestant Reformation") in my last post, but I'd like to quote more of it here.
One of the core doctrines of the baptist strand of the Christian faith is the "priesthood of all believers." This is a doctrine that flows from the Protestant Reformation which essentially says that all believers act as their own "priest," able to approach God individually.

This is in contrast to the traditional Catholic understanding, whereby individual believers must seek absolution for their sins through the priest, who acts as a "go-between" for the believer to God. The Catholic understanding was based in the old testament Jewish practice, where one priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple, representing the entire nation of Israel.

In the rise of the blogosphere, and alternatives to the mainstream media (like Talk Radio), I see a "Media Reformation" taking place.

This is becoming evident in something I am calling the "Mediahood of all Receivers."

No longer are the professional journalists the "priests" of the temple of information. Rather, information receivers are able to go around the media to access information on their own. But more than that, individual receivers are able to publish their own thoughts, in effect "becoming" the media.
As someone with both Baptist and Quaker roots, this certainly resonates with me.

11 September 2004

From Watergate to Rathergate: 1972 vs. 2004

I've been asking myself lately how a widely reviled incumbent like Richard Nixon could have won in a landslide of such monumental proportions over a well-known U.S. senator--and a courageous war veteran--like George McGovern in the 1972 U.S. presidential election.

Full disclosure: I reviled Nixon, and I voted for McGovern in 1972. In fact, I've never voted for a Republican presidential candidate unless you count John Anderson's third-party bid in 1980, when I helped collect signatures to put him on the ballot. In 1968, I was too young to vote, but did campaign a bit for Hubert Humphrey. In 1972, I was fresh out of the Army, old enough to vote, and newly arrived in Hawai‘i to finish college. But even staunchly Democratic Hawai‘i went for Nixon that year, as did McGovern's home state of South Dakota.

So, what happened? When I did a web search on "1972 Nixon McGovern" Google's top-ranked page was a synopsis for a political science course at Kennesaw State College, GA, which provides decent fodder for a compare-and-contrast essay. (I've corrected a few minor errors therein.)
1972's election outcome was decided early on in the Democratic primary. The Democrats were trying to oust a sitting president who, although not very popular, was an effective president. What made their task even harder was that the Democrats lost their front runner candidate, Edmund Muskie, early because the media portrayed him as an emotionally unstable person because he appeared to be "crying" while he was denouncing a news paper editorial that attacked his wife. The incident left the Democratic party without a candidate capable of unsetting the President.

Since the outcome of the election was not in doubt, the only thing that was memorable about the 1972 election was the Watergate scandal that started out small and eventually forced the President to resign for the first time in the history of the U.S.A. The Democratic Party was in disarray as they were in the 1968 election. They nominated McGovern who was known as a very left wing liberal and an ineffective campaigner. In addition, the candidate's first choice for a running mate was forced to resign because the media found out that he had received shock therapy. The candidate was forced to look for another Vice President nominee at the time he should have been focusing on getting his message across to the voters. The person he picked for the Vice President was President Kennedy's brother in law, Sergeant Shriver, who had never run for elected office and his only experience in the government was being the first Peace Corps director under the Kennedy administration.
This sounds familiar. The Democratic Party is once again now in disarray, with weak leadership unable to decide whether it's a war party, a peace party, or a party of irrelevant anachronism.

The role of the major media in the 2004 election, however, seems almost exactly the opposite of what it was back in 1972.
The press constantly criticized the Democratic candidate for everything from his stand on the issues to his strategy. President Nixon's campaign was portrayed as an efficient and superior model of how to run a successful campaign. The press took the Nixon campaign portrayal of the McGovern policies as out of the main stream and ran with it without investigating it and finding out for themselves. The McGovern campaign was no match for the Nixon campaign organization and their constant distortion of his ideas to the media. The media took as a fact most of the distortion without trying to ascertain the fact....

The media hated Nixon until he became President.... Once he became President, he mostly eliminated the reporters he did not like by not granting privileges to the White House and by not granting access to the administration officials. The action forced the media to be exceedingly fair to the Nixon administration until the Watergate scandal erupted. Many reporters did not want to report negative stories about the administration because they feared losing sources and access to the White House. The media also did not like the Democratic candidate and many newspapers endorsed President Nixon. That is one reason why many newspapers, except the Washington Post, did not bother to dig deep when the Watergate scandal broke out....

With the help of the media, Nixon won a second term in one of the biggest landslide elections in the U.S. history.
Despite the various scandals their respective enemies attempted to uncover or create, however, Nixon was re-elected, Clinton was re-elected, and G.W. Bush is likely to be re-elected. A party that relies on scandal to win elections is intellectually bankrupt, especially when it has to dig down 30 years to find them. I heartily agree with the following conclusion of the synopsis cited above.
The lasting legacy of the Watergate scandal is that the media now thinks every mistake a President makes is another Watergate that needs to be investigated and reported as a scandal without any evidence. Not only do reporters portray small mistakes as a scandal, they also go out of their way to investigate and dig for "dirt" to see if the person is clean and worthy of being a President. The unintended cost of the media's obsession with scandal and investigation is that it turns people off from seeking elected office because they do not want their privacy to be violated. It also makes it harder for the candidates to convey their messages to the voters because what the media reports give priority to the scandal, not for the candidate's ideas.
The saddest omission from this political science synopsis of the 1972 presidential race is the failure to mention any of the real issues of the day. The sole focus is on who controls the discourse, as if the voters are mere "sheeple" who would be lost without the press to let them know what they should think. Well, those days are long over, if they ever existed. And ever since this very date three years ago, the major parties and the major media have both been rapidly losing what control they once had over public discourse.

Speaking for myself, I've been subjecting my whole epistemology to a deliberate but thorough reassessment over the past three years, and have severely downgraded the reliability of most of my traditional sources. Fortunately there is a greater variety of sources available now than ever before.

As far as I'm concerned, the partisan hacks of both major parties have now thoroughly disgraced themselves. Throughout the Clinton presidency, the Republicans discredited themselves by focusing too much of their energy on obstructionism and scandal-mongering. During the current Bush presidency, the Democrats have discredited themselves by doing precisely the same.

All the while, for the duration of both administrations, the major media have disgraced themselves twice over, by devoting far, far more coverage to anti-incumbent scandal-mongering than to constructive analysis of issues. And now, as Dan Rather just demonstrated on 60 Minutes II, they've gone beyond looking for and vetting incriminating evidence. Now they're accepting whatever meets their agenda, regardless of its merits; and dismissing whatever doesn't, again regardless of its merits.

I served as a company clerk in the Army in 1970-71, producing official documents on a sturdy old manual typewriter with a Courier typeface. Every document I produced had to conform to a uniform template. Never did I see any officer type his own document. In fact, one of my company commanders was taking extension classes at a local college and he had me type his papers for him. In graduate school during the mid 1970s, I did most of my work on an IBM Selectric, using mostly the Prestige Elite and Letter Gothic type balls, which were standard in many military and civilian offices in those days. In 1979, I used the clunky IBM Composer in a publications office to produce justified text in a proportional typeface that was a relatively crude (and unkerned) version of Times.

I have enough experience in typefaces to be able to distinguish easily among a manual typewriter's Courier, an IBM Selectric's Prestige Elite, an IBM Composer's crude Times, and MS Word's Times New Roman typefaces. The last was used in the CBS forgeries, which don't even pass the laugh test to anyone who knows much at all about both military documents from the Vietnam era and the evolution of typefaces on standard office equipment over the past three decades. 60 Minutes apparently doesn't even have that level of talent in their research department.

Fortunately, a huge army of bloggers of all ages has reported for duty over the past three years, while the smug patricians in the media have either slacked off or gone AWOL. The bloggers are much more evenly divided along partisan lines than the major media, and there seems to be more indirect cross-dialog in the blogosphere, thanks to a small cadre of fair-minded partisans and a few resolute centrists.

Blogger networks provide a level of distributed intelligence that no newsroom can match. Perhaps the most comprehensive round-up of the many blogger contributions to Rathergate can be found at Hugh Hewitt and Powerline. The latter has also added a dismal (and somewhat over the top) postmortem on the willingness of mainstream "news" organizations to trade their most valuable asset, credibility, for political goals.

Although the major media continue to be far more influential than bloggers, parts of the blogosphere are gaining credibility while some major news media are throwing theirs away. Moreover, many bloggers on the right feel that Rathergate is the 2004 equivalent of the old media's Watergate in 1972, even though the former are in this case defending the White House, rather than attacking it. And their enemy of the moment, Dan Rather, is responding much the way the Richard Nixon did. Third-rate forgeries, compounded by stonewalling and cover-up, are destroying his pretense of professional detachment. Other media bigwigs, like the Boston Globe, are responding similarly. Watergate may have marked the zenith of the press as honest broker. Rathergate marks the nadir of a long decline.

This has of course led to a certain degree of overwrought blogger triumphalism on the right. Some bloggers had already begun to compare blogging to the Protestant Reformation, during which the printing press helped a broader audience bypass the religious monopoly of a corrupt priestly class. Belmont Club, who reads the media the way Kremlinologists used to read the Soviet press, calls Rathergate the Shot Heard Round the World, and quotes a bit of King Henry V's rousing St. Crispin's Day speech at the battle of Agincourt, where his scruffy band of brothers defeated the flower of French chivalry.

The world has changed much over the past three years. For September 11th people, many pillars of conventional wisdom began falling with the twin towers--and they're still falling. For September 10th people, who appear to predominate in the media, every development since that day has just confirmed their earlier conventional views of the world. The saddest people of all are those who now, in 2004, are still refighting the election of 1972.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen's PressThink has further analysis of the implications for Big Media, including the following Big Picture quote from Belmont Club.
The traditional news model is collapsing. It suffers from two defects. The "news object" can no longer be given sealed attributes in newspaper backrooms. The days when the press was the news object foundry are dying. Second, the news industry is suffering from its lack of analytic cells, which are standard equipment in intellgence shops. Editors do some analysis but their focus is diluted by their attention to style and the craft of writing. The blogosphere and other actors, now connected over the Internet, are filling in for the missing analytic function. And although the news networks still generate, via their reporters, the bulk of primary news, they generate a pitiful amount of competent analysis.
QandO offers a compendium of the typographical, stylistic, and personal evidence. A Carnegie-Mellon computer scientist who was a pioneer in electronic typesetting presents a detailed technical analysis of the typography. His verdict:
The probability that any technology in existence in 1972 would be capable of producing a document that is nearly pixel-compatible with Microsoft's Times New Roman font and the formatting of Microsoft Word, and that such technology was in casual use at the Texas Air National Guard, is so vanishingly small as to be indistinguishable from zero.

10 September 2004

Mansoor Ijaz on Jihad and Islam

In an opinion piece headlined Jihad in Chaos: The extremist ideology is in collapse, Mansoor Ijaz sees hope arising out of the latest jihadist atrocities.
Zawahiri's appearance on al Jazeera this week to once again threaten the U.S. was particularly poignant, since it was the Egyptian physician who, in his infinite wisdom, wrote in 2001 prior to the September 11 attacks that if the "jihadist vanguard" improperly executed its plans to spread Islam's words by force, the movement would become isolated and separated from the Muslim masses. He was right, and is now desperately trying to rekindle the unified spirit al Qaeda had achieved prior to the 9/11 attacks....

Just look at recent terrorist acts to see how desperate the jihadists have become to regain their footing among Islam's increasingly skeptical masses. The most informative example is what happened in Russia last week.

The massacre of innocent children at Beslan, where terrorists turned guns on each other to coerce obedience to the plan, demonstrated the very failure of extremist Islam's ideology to inspire — and how the hideousness of their actions could sow doubt in even the most criminally hardened minds. When even the terrorists are at a loss to see how killing over 150 schoolchildren can help their cause, you know they have a problem. Most Chechens have now turned away from the very radicals who seek to free them because they see the horrific lengths to which the extremists will go, and realize that they too could be the targets of the assassins.

Like him or not, Vladimir Putin's resolve to stare down Beslan's terrorists — about whom he understood nothing — will (if by accident) be seen one day as a turning point in the war against extremism, because the depravity of Beslan's architects has turned the silent majority in the Muslim world on its ear. Editors, political leaders, and mullahs from Jeddah to Istanbul to Jakarta are decrying the insanity of the Beslan murders. And they are beginning to realize that always blaming others for their woes won't help elevate their disaffected people or spread the word of their failed vision any faster or better.

Macam-Macam on the Jakarta Bombing

Macam-Macam has photos and a series of updates on the suicide bombing outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, and Simon World has a round-up of blog and news media reactions.

Cronaca on Forgeries

Cronaca, who has returned from a brief hiatus, has an interesting post on art forgeries.

Jodi in Kyrgyzstan, 11 September 2001

Jodi of the Asia Pages, has posted a memoir of where she was three years ago on 11 September.
I was in the town of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a country not too far from Afghanistan. As one of the few volunteers who had a telephone, I was automatically designated as a safety warden, the go-to person Peace Corps contacted in a time of emergency and the person who is then responsible for relaying that message to the many phoneless volunteers in her area.

September 11 also happens to be my birthday.

When I received the phone call, the selfish person that I am thought, "Oh, how nice! Peace Corps is calling to wish me a happy birthday."

08 September 2004

Good Soldier Outlier: Boot Camp Methodologies

As soon as our bus full of new privates arrived at the Basic Training barracks, our "wait" phase was over and the "hurry up" phase hit full crescendo. The DI aboard the bus must have softened us up with a lot of doom-talk, then as soon as the bus stopped he joined the welcome party of DIs, all angrily shouting at us to get ourselves and our gear off that bus yesterday and form a straight line. Then they went down the line, checking each name off their list and finding something to insult or criticize in each of us.

These boot camp teaching methodologies were new to a nerd like me. I would have preferred gentler methods of instruction, The Silent Method, say, or Suggestopedia. But our DIs preferred The Shouting Method. They addressed us at a full shout, even directly into our faces, and we quickly learned to respond at a full shout, invariably announcing our agreement with a hearty "Yes, sir!" or "No, sir!" or "Yes, drill sergeant!" or "No, drill sergeant!"

Sins of omission, commission, or hesitation often elicited a different methodology, Total Physical Response. For instance, we might be ordered to drop to the "front lean-and-rest position" and do 10 or 20 push-ups, sometimes more, as if the DIs were priests dispensing so many Hail Marys and so many Our Fathers as penance after confession.

The primary goal of TSM was to reinforce hierarchy and unequivocal response to orders. TPR had much wider uses, perhaps the most common being PT (physical training).

Sometimes TPR reinforced verbal objectives, as in a chamber full of tear gas, where we each tested our mask, then in turn took it off and stood at attention while reciting name, rank, and serial number before being allowed to cut and run for the door, as tears, snot, and slobber began to overwhelm us. I have never forgotten my old (pre-SSAN) serial number--which started RA119...--despite never having used it in 35 years. (Nor have I forgotten my name!)

Sometimes verbal cues aided TPR objectives, as when we chanted cadence while jogging or marching, both to keep in step and to keep our minds from drifting. Cadence calling was one of two areas where DIs could indulge a little creativity. The other was thinking up amusing exercises or punishments, like having the whole platoon lie on our backs, wave our arms and legs in the air and yell, "I am a dying cockroach!"

I still remember a nonce couplet our DI concocted to razz the DI of a competing platoon. These were like jazz chants, another language-teaching methodology.
Sergeant White is turning green, 1, 2, 3, 4
Someone pissed in his canteen, 1, 2, 3, 4
TPR also helped teach an important distinction that some of us needed to learn, the difference between our rifles and our guns. The physical portion involved each of us raising our (M-14, not yet M-16) rifles into the air with our right hands, and grabbing our crotches with our left hands. (I can't remember the M-number assigned to our reproductive equipment.) The poetry that accompanied that motion follows.
This [shaking right hand] is my rifle
And this [shaking left hand] is my gun!
This [shaking right hand] is for fighting
And this [shaking left hand] is for fun!
We also did a lot of group and pair work. We always had to go across a horizontal ladder on the way to the mess hall entrance, and had to carry each other from the exit back to the barracks. If someone was waiting, you got to ride piggy back. If no one was waiting, you got to carry the next soldier.

The showers and toilets, too, involved groupwork. There were only six commodes for 40-50 privates, with no partitions, so you sat face-to-face and cheek-by-cheek during the peak times. At least we didn't have to shout while grunting.

One example of pairwork was land navigation. Each two-man team was given a compass and a treasure-map set of directions: so many paces in this direction, then so many paces in that direction, and so on, through hilly, but not densely forested terrain. The person with the compass would direct his partner to the end of one leg, then move there himself, then they'd start the next leg. I held the compass on that one, and my partner and I were one of the few pairs who ended up close to the final target.

Whatever the Army's goals and objectives might have been, I learned a few things not on the list.

I learned that DIs are capable of rough-and-ready sensitivity. Our (black) DI platoon sergeant addressed identity issues head on in his welcoming speech: "Y'all may think of yourselves as Georgians or Alabamans, as black or white, but y'all just look green to me."

I learned that, despite being relatively unathletic, I could take at least as much physical punishment as anyone else in the rather sorry lot I trained with (about which more later).

Finally, I learned that, after a long day's march, followed by live-fire night-infiltration exercises that involved a lot of low-crawling under barbed wire, Army field-kitchen food can taste mighty good, even when the only meat is liver.

07 September 2004

Naipaul on the Fundamentalist Political Impulse

Naipaul finishes A Turn in the South at Chapel Hill, NC, not far from where he made his first foray into the American South.
I had been told that the politics of the region were "tobacco politics," small-farmer politics, in which a promise of a continued subsidy for tobacco-growers could somehow also be read as a promise to keep blacks in their place.

But Reverend James Abrahamson, pastor of the Chapel Hill Bible Church, thought that this ridiculing or underplaying of the conservatism of eastern North Carolina was foolish.

He said, "The fundamentalist political impulse has always been there. From the 1930s it has been repressed, largely because it did not have the support of the universities. Ideologically, the universities pulled up their tent pegs and moved to another side. Ideologically, they moved from a world view which embraced a Christian God to a place where the only reality that was recognized was material, could be measured, scientifically defined. They are reappearing--the fundamentalists--largely because they have seen or felt the pressure of a secular society.

"That eastern-North Carolina conservative side is viewed by many as being redneck and knee-jerk. Irresponsible--fanatical, almost. Unenlightened, lacking what I call the three 'I's--intelligence, information, and integrity. But they've got a stronger argument. They're easy to laugh at, and they'll never be popular. Our culture may self-destruct before they have a chance to articulate clearly the common sense they represent--for a culture that is based on more than self and materialism."

Jim Abrahamson--it was the way he announced himself on the telephone--was from the Midwest. He was a fundamentalist himself, and he felt that his Bible Church was meeting a need in Chapel Hill. He had a number of Ph.D.'s in his congregation; and his church was expanding. Extensive construction work was going on when I went to see him. American society, he said, had been built on a religious base. It couldn't float free. A recent poll had found that one out of every three Americans was a born-again Christian. "That's a lot of people."

But he had his quarrel with the fundamentalists of North Carolina. "I think there are powerful and legitimate and almost eternal principles that would recur again and again. But the people fighting for those principles are not able to articulate them palatably. The religious right appear not to understand the world view the left or the secular intelligentsia embrace. They tend to dismiss them as God-haters or infidels. And they have a difficulty about knowing how to translate religious ideals into a political policy."

It was the Islamic problem too--since the Islamic state had never been defined by its founder--and it was the prompting to fundamentalism in many countries: how to know the truth and hold on to one's soul at a time of great change.

It was strange that in a left-behind corner of the United States--perhaps the world motor of change--the same issue should come up, the same need for security.
SOURCE: A Turn in the South, by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, 1989), pp. 284-285.

North Carolina's Research Triangle is a "left-behind corner of the United States"? Anyway, it's a book full of insights and fine writing. RTWT.