28 February 2005

Macam-Macam Update on the Tsunami and Aceh

Last week, Macam-Macam posted a wide-ranging update on the "Boxing Day Tsunami" that included a link to a long backgrounder on the history of Aceh in, of all places, Margo Kingston's web diary at the Sydney Morning Herald. The backgrounder is entitled "The Aceh conflict: past, present and Quo Vadis?" by a "PF Journey" of Chinese Indonesian background. Here's a sample of what it has to say. (I've corrected a few of the typos that seem to be a Margo Kingston speciality.)
From Sabang to Merauke – Can 225 millions Indonesians be wrong?

Another one of Sukarno's famous catchcries was "From Sabang to Merauke". Sabang is located on an island in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra, the westernmost island in the Indonesian archipelago. (It was badly hit by the Tsunami). Merauke is located in West Papua near the border with PNG, and is the most easterly city of Indonesia.

It was the catchcry Sukarno and his nationalists of the 20s and 30s used to rally the people of Indonesia against the Dutch colonial power. It was also a nation building tool, for there was no Indonesia in those days. Indonesia, as the political entity as we know today, is a recent creature.

Every Indonesian student from Kindergarten to University has been constantly brainwashed and taught songs about "From Sabang to Merauke". The Indonesians like to say that the sun rises at Meurake and sets in Sabang. To the average Indonesian, the unity of Indonesia from Sabang to Merauke is firmly etched in their consciousness. East Timor was more like an adopted son, whereas Aceh is like the number one son in the family.

Aceh is also known as Serambi Mekkah, the gateway to Mecca. Before the age of air transport, ships carrying Indonesian pilgrims on the way Mecca for the Haj had to stop at Sabang before crossing the Indian Ocean. Aceh has also been described as "the front porch of Mecca". To a lot of Indonesian Muslims, Aceh is their holy land, so the spiritual and emotional attachment to Aceh is far far stronger than to East Timor.

Obviously this cut no ice with the Acehnese, especially with the Aceh Nationalists. Tengku Hasan Di Tiro, head of GAM (Free Aceh Movement), declared in 1976:

"There never was such a people, much less a nation, in our part of the world by that name (Indonesia). No such people existed in the Malay archipelago by definition of ethnology, philology, cultural anthropology, sociology or by any other scientific findings. Indonesia is a Javanese republic with a Greek pseudo-name." (Indo- (combining form of India) + Greek nes(os): islands + -ia (suffix for country).

Indonesia's total population is about 230 million. There are about 5 million Acehnese. Can 225 million Indonesians be wrong? ...

The tsunami wildcard: curse or blessing?

A blessing? It puts Aceh on the front page. The world now knows where Aceh is and its problems. It exposes the incompetence of the Indonesia government and the military.

It provides a circuit breaker for GAM and the Indonesian Government, with a face saving opportunity to secure a peaceful deal. The AP reported recently:

"BANDA ACEH, Indonesia Rebels in Aceh Province said Monday that they were willing to put their demand for secession on hold if Indonesia accepted a "face-saving" formula that would allow the tsunami-hit region to hold an independence referendum within 5 to 10 years. Members of the Indonesian government and rebel leaders from Aceh Province held talks over the weekend in Helsinki to consider a possible cease-fire and to reopen a peace process that was broken in May 2003 by the Indonesian military."

With the aid money that is pouring in, estimated to be US$5-10 billion, Aceh can be re-built, providing its long suffering people with better facilities and infrastructure. Aceh will not and cannot be closed again to the outside world by the military or the Islamic fundamentalists.

A curse? Conservative estimates put the tsunami's death toll at about 5% of the population and it has affected about 40% of the population. The tsunami destroyed whatever basic infrastructure the region had. The Acehnese fear that after the initial shock and horror of the disaster the outside world will forget Aceh and things will go back to normal, out of sight and out of mind.

Influential Islamic clerics have declared that the tsunami that hit Aceh is Allah's warning to the Acehnese against the influence of decadent western values and that they must more strictly observe their religion, including putting a stop to Muslims killing Muslims.

Another red flag needs to be raised here - the size of aid money that is pouring in for Aceh. Will this become the new honey pot for the corrupt officials from both sides? If so, the poor people of Aceh will be hit by a triple whammy: Firstly, the never ending war; secondly, the Tsunami; thirdly, another betrayal.

Taiwan's 2-28 Incident

On the evening of February 27 [1947], six police officers attempted to arrest a women selling cigarettes illegally in Taibei. A policeman struck the woman, an angry crowd gathered, and violence broke out after an officer fired his weapon, killing a bystander. The next day, 2,000 to 3,000 Taiwanese marched to the [cigarette] Monopoly Bureau Headquarters, and hundreds moved on to [Nationalist administrator and garrison commander] Chen Yi's office. Besides protesting the beating and shooting, islanders complained of unemployment, food shortages, inflation, political repression, and corruption. That afternoon, a soldier or police officer at the office fired into the crowd, sparking an islandwide uprising. Vandalism and violence against police, soldiers, bureaucrats, and any mainlander unfortunate enough to be on the streets spread beyond Taibei.

The provincial administration had badly underestimated the willingness of Taiwanese to transform their discontent into concrete action. Incident turned into uprising as urbanites and government forces battled over buildings, railroad stations, and police stations in large towns and cities. Taiwanese gained control of most of the island since Nationalist soldiers, almost exclusively young draftees from the mainland, had little stomach for a fight. Many mainland officials and businessmen abandoned their posts and stayed home throughout the crisis. In some cities, officials and police sought safety together in local military outposts. Railroad, telephone, and telegraph traffic throughout the island ground to a halt in the first days of March. After two or three days of conflict, the situation calmed, although occasional shots were still heard in Taibei.

This crisis was not simply a revolt against the state. Many different groups used the opportunity created by the temporary power vacuum to pursue their own agendas. For example, while educated youth sought immediate political and economic reform, secret society and gang members took advantage of the chaos for personal profit. Urban workers and youth wanted economic recovery and jobs. Youth who had received Japanese military training reconstituted their old units in many of the island's cities and took to wearing their old uniforms, singing wartime songs, and sporting swords. This naturally served to justify the suspicions of mainlanders that the Taiwanese had been "Japanized." Ironically, many of these youth had joined the [Sun Yat-sen's] Three Principles of the People Youth Corps after retrocession. Just as they had done immediately after Japan's surrender, these young men helped maintain public order.

As had been the case under Japanese rule, the elite's political agenda placed them between the state and Taiwanese society. They sought the restoration of order and reform of the provincial administration, but found themselves dragged into a maelstrom by the actions of less wealthy Taiwanese. In fact, Taiwanese politicians had frequently raised the problems of poor and homeless islanders in the town, county, and islandwide consultative assemblies. Their solution, however, was reform to facilitate greater Taiwanese control of the island's resources. In late February and early March, prominent islanders often attempted to limit violence between Taiwanese and mainlanders. For example, Xie E, one of the few Taiwanese women involved in politics at that time, tried to calm islanders through a broadcast that suggested soldiers had not fired on the crowd on February 28. [Prominent Japanese-era reformer on Taiwan] Lin Xiantang personally protected Yan Jiagan, a Nationalist official, from angry Taiwanese. In another instance, some Taiwanese sheltered the Taizhong county magistrate from an angry crowd that wanted to cut off his nose.
SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 75-76

Let's hope Lebanon's "2-28 Incident" achieves better results sooner than Taiwan's 2-28 Incident did in 1947 or Beijing's Tiananmen Incident did in 1989.

UPDATE: Reader David of One whole jujuflop situation recommends a U.S. diplomat's account, entitled Formosa betrayed of the bloody aftermath of the 2-28 Incident in Taiwan.

26 February 2005

The Guomindang in Taiwan: Liberators or Recolonizers?

The February 28, 1947 Incident and its aftermath represented a conflict between decolonization and reintegration, when the legacy of Japanese rule and the drive for local self-government clashed with the centralizing mission of Jiang Jieshi's [= Chiang Kai-shek's] Nationalist regime. Nationalist incompetence and misrule caused the short-lived uprising, but long-term Taiwanese political goals shaped its denouement....

The Taiwanese considered both the Chinese and Japanese regimes exploitative, but deemed the new government particularly dishonest, incompetent, unpredictable, and inefficient. Suzanne Pepper, in her review of the Nationalists' takeover of occupied China in late 1945 and early 1946, noted four major problems: inability or unwillingness to punish collaborators; corruption; ineffective measures to rebuild the economy; and "condescending attitude adopted by returning officials." The last three were amply evident in the Nationalist administration of Taiwan. The first point, however, is more difficult to assess in regard to Taiwan because of its complex colonial legacy. Policies on important issues such as the disposition of Japanese assets and economic reconstruction, cultural reintegration and language, and political participation engendered disappointment, frustration, then resistance. The Nationalists did nothing to dispel the ambivalence of Taiwanese toward the colonial experience. Because so many islanders soon came to see few major differences between the Japanese and the mainland Chinese economic and political systems, they began to discuss Nationalist rule as a form of colonialism.

The island faced two difficult economic transitions in late 1945: from the Japanese to the Chinese orbit, and from wartime mobilization to peacetime reconstruction. The Nationalists inherited an industrial infrastructure worn down from the demands of Japan's war effort and American bombing. The most damaged areas included harbors, housing in coastal cities, sugar refineries, and communication and transportation facilities. Work on repairs ceased upon surrender, as Japanese technical experts and managers began to return home, and spare parts for equipment became difficult to obtain. Agricultural production, insufficient in late 1945, remained inadequate because of a lack of fertilizer. Food shortages and unemployment worsened as hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who had been soldiers, laborers, students, merchants, and low-level bureaucrats in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia were repatriated. In such a situation, any government would have had a difficult time managing the island's resources. The Nationalists magnified these problems by connecting Taiwan to the mainland's economy even as the latter struggled, then failed, to recover from the war.
SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 64-65

Taiwan's Transition from Qing to Japanese Rule

The extent of Taiwanese participation in Qing-era government is closely connected to the issue of the island's historical relationship with the mainland which, in turn, forms part of the debate over the island's independence from China today. As one of the last parts of China settled and brought into the Middle Kingdom, Taiwan was more weakly tied to the central government and Confucian culture than other areas populated by Han peoples. For example, the Qing imperial bureaucracy had been less developed on the island than in mainland provinces. This made it easier for the Japanese to rule once they acquired the island, since there existed few leaders with strong political ties to the former central government to compete for legitimacy. As the historian Chen Ching-chih writes, "there were no more than 5,350 degree holders in Taiwan on the eve of the Japanese takeover. This figure would give Taiwan, which had a population of 2,546,000 in 1896, 21 degree holders for every 10,000 people. Taiwan thus proportionately contained a smaller group of degree holders than each of the eighteen provinces in China."

The decisive defeat of the Qing dynasty in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 marked a major turning point in Taiwan's history. The island became distinct from the mainland in an important way--of all China's provinces, it was the only one surrendered completely and permanently to imperialists by the Qing. The island was no longer tied to a chaotic and crumbling China, but became part of an increasingly powerful and economically developed Japan. Colonial rule created the island's post-1945 elite and shaped its attitudes toward a national-level government. Under the Japanese, the Taiwanese experienced the benefits of a relatively efficient and honest administration as well as its rigid and intrusive demands. Islanders were excluded from full citizenship in the Japanese nation, even as the colonial regime held out the prospect of limited participation in the state. The Japanese era presented a tangle of contradictions: law and order with repression in a police state; economic development and exploitation; and education and employment opportunities limited by systematic discrimination. Wealthy and educated Taiwanese reacted ambivalently, organizing a series of reformist political movements that vacillated between seeking further assimilation into the empire and demanding greater autonomy from it. In particular, the elite's attitude toward the dual character of Japanese rule became clear in its attempt to expand self-government without seeking independence--setting a pattern for interaction between the islanders and Jiang Jieshi's regime after 1945.
SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 6-7

Taiwan at the Fall of the Ming Dynasty

During the Ming, Taiwan was not under the control of the Chinese state, although traders, fishermen, and pirates from Fujian Province had established themselves on the west coast of the island. Political upheaval on the mainland helped link Taiwanese and Chinese history. When the Ming collapsed in 1644, Taiwan became a redoubt for a fallen regime that claimed to represent the true China and its culture against alien rule, an image the Nationalists revived after 1949. The life and career of Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), known in many Western histories as Koxinga, a regional strongman and pirate who gained increasing influence as the Ming collapsed, linked Taiwan to the mainland's political history. Zheng's support of the Ming court against the non-Han Manchu invaders made him a permanent icon of Chinese patriotism. Even today he remains a particular source of local pride in Tainan, the city on the site where Zheng's forces brought about the Dutch evacuation from their small colonial outpost in 1662. A combination of effective military strategy and generous peace terms, however, in 1683 enticed Zheng's heirs to surrender to the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1912).
SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), p. 4

25 February 2005

The Last Yankee in the Pacific

In the Winter 2004 issue of American Speech (Project Muse subscription required) two dialectologists, Daniel Long of Tokyo Metropolitan University and Peter Trudgill of the University of Fribourg, have traced the linguistic heritage of an English-speaking native of Japan's Bonin Islands back to a very distinctive accent found only in eastern New England.
ABSTRACT: On the isolated Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands in the western Pacific Ocean, the English language has been in use for close to two centuries. The first human residents arrived in 1830, and one individual from Massachusetts, in particular, left his progeny and his mark on island society. In this paper, we analyze tape recordings made in the 1970s of a speaker born (in 1881) and raised on the islands and demonstrate that his vowel system remarkably resembles that of Eastern New England, in particular that he maintains a phonemic distinction between NORTH and FORCE vowels. We discuss other conservative dialect features of his speech, such as a nonlabiodental variant of /v/ ([ß]) [like the Spanish /v/], which appears in complementary distribution with the mainsteam [v] variant, and contact features, such as th-stopping [i.e. th sounds like t or d]. In order to place this language variety, this speaker, and these recordings within their sociohistorical context, we provide a description of these unique islands and their complex linguistic heritage.
Here's one of the key pieces of evidence: the vowel distinctions or lack thereof among LOT, THOUGHT, NORTH, FORCE (or stock, stalk, stork, store). (I've replaced phonetic symbols with lay equivalents: ɔ = aw, ə = uh.)

Conservative General American: LOT ≠ THOUGHT ≠ NORTH [awr] ≠ FORCE [or]
Modern General American: LOT ≠ THOUGHT ≠ NORTH = FORCE [awr]
Canadian: LOT = THOUGHT [a] ≠ NORTH = FORCE [or]
Scots: LOT = THOUGHT [aw] ≠ NORTH [awr] ≠ FORCE [or]
Conservative RP ("Received Pronunciation"): LOT [a] ≠ THOUGHT = NORTH [aw] ≠ FORCE [awuh]
Modern RP ("Received Pronunciation"): LOT ≠ THOUGHT = NORTH = FORCE [awh]
Eastern New England: LOT = THOUGHT = NORTH [a] ≠ FORCE [awuh]
19th-Century Bonin English: LOT = THOUGHT = NORTH [a] ≠ FORCE [owuh]

23 February 2005

The Power and the Glory

When Andrés Gentry asked me to cite the most influential book I have read, I listed Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, which I read in high school, as a missionary kid questioning the faith of my family heritage. When I googled the title, I found an interesting take on the book's Themes, Motifs, and Symbols at SparkNotes.com. I'll give one example of each.
Theme: The Dangers of Excessive Idealism

To put it simply, an idealist is one who imagines that the world can be a much better place than it is. What could be dangerous about that? The [Mexican revolutionary] lieutenant, in many ways, illustrates the danger. Obsessed with the way things could be, he remains mired in dissatisfaction and bitterness about the way things actually are. Although the wish to help the poor is a noble sentiment, dreams of "starting over", erasing history, and wiping out all religious belief are simply not realizable. Moreover, being unable to bring about the impossible leads the lieutenant to feelings of frustration and anger, an even more keen awareness of how imperfect the world is, and hatred for those people whom he views as obstacles to the realization of his dream. Moreover, his conviction that he knows what is best for the people is itself a form of arrogance. The priest, on the other hand, comes to accept suffering and death as a part of life; that is not to say that he does not wish to help alleviate suffering, but his faith in the next world helps him to accept the trials and hardships of this one....

Motifs: Abandonment

Many things are abandoned in this novel, and the words "abandoned" or "abandonment" crop up repeatedly. Many of the townspeople feel that the clergy has abandoned them, and the priest, in turn, feels that the people have abandoned him. Mr. Tench has abandoned his family, Captain Fellows and Mrs. Fellows abandon their house and their dog, and the priest tries to abandon the mestizo on the road to Carmen. These are just a few examples. It is an important motif, because it implicitly raises the most important question, whether human beings have been abandoned by God and left to the cruelty of nature and each other. Significantly, the greatest act of heroism in the novel--the priest's decision to return to help the gringo--is a refusal to abandon someone in need, and a refusal to abandon a dangerous and ugly world....

Symbols: Alcohol

Alcohol recurs throughout this book as a symbol with two very different meanings. On the one hand, it represents weakness for "the whiskey priest"; a mark, to him, of his unworthiness and the decadence of his former life. The authorities' attempts to rid the state of alcohol are a manifestation of the impossible and detrimental desire to purge the world of all human weakness. On the other hand, alcohol is an integral part of the Catholic mass, evidenced by the priest's persistent attempts to procure wine. As we see throughout the book, the sacred and the profane are often portrayed not as opposites, but as two halves of the same coin.
Not bad for SparkNotes. The other two companion books I cited were Endo Shusaku's Silence and Ooka Shohei's Fires on the Plain.

Ideological Prejudice Test

Why are there so few women in the academic hard sciences? Why are there so few conservatives in the academic humanities and soft sciences? Here are some frequently offered answers to each question. Are your answers the same to both questions?

1. They lack the required the mental capacity for such specialized intellectual endeavors.

2. They lack the necessary intellectual stamina.

3. They don't find such careers sufficiently rewarding, either personally or financially.

4. They are subtly--or not so subtly--discouraged by their potential mentors already established in the field.

5. They are not sufficiently willing to sacrifice their families or family values to pursue such demanding career goals.

22 February 2005

Ian Buruma on Uncaptive Minds

Cliopatria's Ralph Luker alerts us to a wonderfully moving essay, Uncaptive Minds, by Ian Buruma in Sunday's New York Times Magazine: "What teaching a college-level class at a maximum-security correctional facility did for the inmates — and for me." Here are a few excerpts:
The main business of Napanoch, N.Y., is a maximum-security prison, Eastern New York Correctional Facility, also known as Happy Nap....

There is ... a reason that inmates call the prison Happy Nap. Eastern is more relaxed than other maximum-security prisons, or "maxes," in upstate New York, with less hostility between staff and prisoners, and as a result fewer U.I.'s, or "unusual incidents" -- stabbings and the like. It is said that the farther upstate you go, the harsher the prison conditions can be. Among New York's maxes, Eastern has one of the best reputations. It is one of only three maximum-security prisons in the state where you can still get an education -- not just in manual skills, but a proper college education with a degree at the end, thanks to privately financed initiatives....

The Bard Prison Initiative now runs an associate degree program at Eastern. There are plans to introduce a bachelor's program soon. Inmates have to go through an application process like any prospective college student: an essay, test scores, transcripts (G.E.D.'s for those who didn't finish high school) and an interview by Kenner and his colleague Daniel Karpowitz. "The admission process," Kenner said recently, "is emotionally the hardest part of our work. Up to 200 apply for 15 spots." Only 50 students, out of a prison population of more than 1,200, are now enrolled....

My class of nine consisted of a Puerto Rican, who had been to the Bronx High School of Science, one of New York's prestigious magnet schools; two white military veterans; a Vietnamese-American; four black men, two of them Muslims; and one young white man who had been incarcerated since he was 16.

I had been assured ... that the students would be enthusiastic. This was an understatement. But as I learned in my first weeks of teaching, the main difference between these students and those on the Bard campus was their polite formality. I was invariably addressed as "professor," not so much for my sake, I sensed, as for their own self-respect. Somewhat patronizingly, I suppose, I had expected talk about sword-fight movies and Oriental wisdom. Instead, from the very start, questions of a far more sophisticated kind came quick and fast: about the economics of the Opium Wars in China, about the criminal activities of unemployed samurai, about the impact on Japanese cultural identity of Western ideas. One of the black Muslims, a tough New Yorker, mentioned Alexis de Tocqueville in the context of the Meiji Restoration.

The students were smart, streetwise and funny, and I found it impossible not to be charmed by them. They were also clearly grateful to be in class, where they were treated as intelligent adults. It is easy to feel a little smug about dealing with these men, to feel a sentimental solidarity with them against the guards and the rest of their oppressive world. This soon leads to the kind of phoniness that any inmate can see through in an instant....

It is a tricky situation. Education widens the gap between students and corrections officers and can easily increase hostility. Many of the officers have not been to college themselves and probably don't expect their children to either. But higher-education programs should also make life easier for the C.O.'s, since the prisoners who benefit from them are more inclined to behave themselves. Indeed, a C.O. once told a colleague of mine that life at Eastern was a trifle dull. At the previous institution where he'd worked there were shakedowns, stabbings on the galleries, mayhem in the solitary-housing unit. At Eastern, a guard was liable to fall asleep.

My second class was on the failed samurai rebellion in the 1870's against the Westernized Meiji government, on which the movie "The Last Samurai" was very loosely based. I mentioned a book, by Ivan Morris, titled "The Nobility of Failure," and explained the admiration in Japan for rebels who die for lost causes. We discussed how this ethos compared with the American celebration of success. Perhaps, I said a bit facetiously, there was no such thing as a noble failure in America. One Muslim among my students laughed and said, "This room's full of them."...

It was obvious to me, as a teacher, how precious education was to the students, not only because they could practically recite every sentence of the books and articles I gave them to read but also because of the way they behaved to one another. Prisons breed cynicism. Trust is frequently betrayed and friendships severed when a prisoner is transferred without warning to another facility. The classroom was an exception. We talked about Japanese history, but also about other things; one topic led to another. One day a guest lecturer spoke about pan-Asianism in the 1930's -- the Japanese aim to unite and dominate Asia by defeating the Western empires. My Vietnamese student remarked that he was a pan-Asianist with "a small a," but that really he was a "panhumanist," for "we are all one race, right?" One of the black students snorted in a good-natured way. The Vietnamese smiled and said: "I know we have disagreements about that."

There cannot be many places -- in or outside prison -- where blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Muslims and Caucasians can discuss race and religion without showing hostility. A Muslim student, a big man from the Bronx, said he'd encountered little animosity to Muslims in prison. "Sure, that's because we know each other," another student said. I found this surprising, since prisons are not known for racial or religious tolerance. But perhaps they were referring not to the prison system in general, or even to the narrower confines of Eastern, but simply to the class. Then a black student, in for robbery, piped up: "If I hadn't been in prison, I'd never have met any Jewish guys. I had all the stereotypes in my head, you know, cheap and mean. But now I'm hanging with a Jewish guy the longest time."

Eastern is different. But why? Why was Eastern more receptive to the Bard Prison Initiative than other prisons in the state? Why is Eastern "the place to be"? Several men pointed out that "the tone is set by the top." The superintendent and his deputy both started their careers as teachers.

South Korean Romanization Nazis

Diversity-challenged South Korean opposition Grand National Party legislator Kim Choong-whan wants to legislate standard romanization for Korean names in English (and presumably other languages that use the latin alphabet). If he were serious, he would have first changed the spelling of his own name to Gim Chung-hwan (which google translates as Kim Insect Exchange).

What would Bak Jeong-hui think? This is an especially sensitive issue in Korea, whose citizens were forced to change their names under Japanese colonial rule.

20 February 2005

Disconnecting Thought and Language

BBC News recently reported results from a new study that seems to show that certain mathematical operations in the human mind can continue despite loss of verbal syntax.
The study undermines the assumption that language is the key quality that makes our thought processes more advanced than those of other animals.

"We are kicking against the claim that it is language that allows you to do other high order intellectual functions," lead research Rosemary Varley, from the University of Sheffield, told the BBC News website.

Severe aphasia

The researchers made the discovery by studying three patients who were suffering from severe aphasia - they had lost the ability to understand, or produce, grammatically correct language.

For example, although they understood the words "lion", "hunted" and "man", they could not tell the difference between the sentences "The lion hunted the man" and "The man hunted the lion".

But when they were presented with sums like 52 minus 11 and 11 minus 52, which were structured in a similar way, they had no problem.

"Our patients can clearly do those problems which show the same reversibility," said Dr Varley. "So that shows they have a good insight into these very abstract principles.

"Despite profound language deficits these guys showed advanced cognitive abilities, which indicates considerable autonomy between language and thinking."

The new findings contradict previous studies which used brain imaging techniques to work out how people process mathematics.

16 February 2005

A Russo-Japanese Alliance?

Here's an interesting development:
Japan and Russia are weaving closer military and economic relations, and the reason lies just across the Amur River from here -- China.

That is a big change for Russia and Japan, which for two centuries have eyed each other warily in Northeast Asia. To this day, Japanese are slow to forgive Russia for the deaths of thousands of World War II prisoners in Siberian work camps. Russian dead at the hands of what they call the samurai are memorialized at Soviet-era monuments. The two nations have never even signed a peace treaty ending World War II.

Yet visits by navy and coast guard units of each country have become annual affairs. In 2004, bilateral trade jumped 38 percent over 2003 levels. Japan has become the largest foreign investor in the oil and gas projects of Sakhalin, the largest foreign investment in Russia today. Toyota, Japan's largest corporation, has announced plans to build an auto plant in Russia.
via The Marmot

Radio Free Nepal

Rebecca MacKinnon's RConversations and Jeff Jarvis's Buzz Machine have introduced a new blog, Radio Free Nepal, with this "chilling intro":
King Gyandendra of Nepal has issued a ban on independent news broadcasts and has threatened to punish newspapers for reports that run counter to the official monarchist line. Given that any person in Nepal publishing reports critical of "the spirit of the royal proclamation" is subject to punishment and/or imprisonment, contributors to this blog will publish their reports from Nepal anonymously.

Being Foreign in the Soviet Union in the 1960s

David McDuff's series finishes off with a few posts about what it was like to be a foreigner in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The following are only short excerpts from each post.

Going Back IX
Writing this now, nearly forty years later, I'm conscious that much has changed in the world and in Moscow since those slightly eerie days of the mid-Cold War. Back then, the mere sight of anything "Western" - nye nash - on a Moscow street was enough to arouse suspicion, and alert the ubiquitous enforcers of order and discipline as well as those who sought to elude them. If one wore jeans, one was likely to be asked to sell them; if one was discovered to be carrying a bag full of Kellogg's cornflakes boxes, Kit-Kat biscuits, cartons of sterilized milk and jars of Nescafe (shopping was often done for several members of the group), one was likely to get a similar request, or even simply have the things taken away by an officious "citizen". At GUM (the large universal department store) or along Gorky Street, it was usual to be approached by touts trying to conduct the illegal exchange of Western currency for rubles. There was therefore quite a strong motivation to remain anonymous and nondescript – being conspicuously Western was not such a good idea....

One morning, while shopping at GUM with a friend, I witnessed something I hadn’t seen before: from a point on the second tier of the balconies around the store, a young woman suddenly threw a bunch of leaflets into the air, and there was a brief flash of metal as she chained herself to the railings. The leaflets fell among the crowd of shoppers below. No one picked them up. Suddenly, I heard two or three voices chanting what later turned to have been slogans. Then the young woman was gone, and the chanting stopped. It was all over within about a minute. The demonstrators were removed by police, and the crowds went on with their shopping as if nothing had happened.
Going Back X
The strangeness and massiveness of the university environment and also of the urban environment in Moscow itself led to a certain degree of alienation, which in turn prompted many of us to withdraw into private rituals. After a morning and early afternoon session at the Library, for example, a few of us would often repair to one of the large hotels in the vicinity – usually the National or the Moskva – for "lunch". I put the word in quotes, as it was really the Russian obed. For the equivalent of about six dollars, one could eat a perfectly decent four-course meal with Soviet champagne in the vast and almost deserted tourist restaurant of the National, looking out at the snowy square. In the restaurant it was warm and comfortable, and I think we saw it as a kind of escape from the travails of Zone V, where there weren’t even the basic prerequisites of comfort – not even a laundry that was anywhere within reasonable walking distance: clothes were generally washed in the shower, with soap powder brought from the embassy store. So there we sat, while the snow fell outside, and the light began to fail, and we passed the hours in pleasant conversation. It was really a kind of withdrawal.
Going Back XI
I’d met quite a few Russians during my stay – in particular, there were Tolya and Aida: they had links with dissident painters and sculptors, whose studios we visited. I was always struck by the intensity and passion with which Russians discussed art and literature – it was quite unlike anything I had ever come across in the West. There was a genuine hunger for information about life in the West – even "dissident" Russians had many strange preconceptions about it, which was inevitable given the almost total block on such factual matter in the official media, and the lack of knowledge of West European languages: most Russians we met knew practically no English, for example.... In general, the political climate in the Soviet Union climate at that time was such that it was almost impossible to strike up real and lasting friendships with ordinary Soviet citizens. The degree of suspicion and fear was palpable: even on an informal night out, there was always the possibility of being followed and spied on, and I witnessed this on several occasions. It was also generally impossible to discuss Soviet politics, even with those Russians who considered themselves "freethinking": the reality of eavesdropping and surveillance was everywhere. Only in the more than slightly Dostoyevskian atmosphere of Viktor's room back at MGU did I ever witness political discussions that were completely uninhibited: but then the participants were often working hand-in-hand with the authorities, and "provocation" was the watchword of the hour.

15 February 2005

The "Charter Generation" of American Slavery

Geitner Simmons of Regions of Mind has a fascinating post in response to the new PBS series on Slavery and the Making of America. He quotes from Ira Berlin's Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Harvard Belknap, 1998):
In regard to free blacks during that period, Berlin writes: "A considerable portion of these new arrivals — fully one-fifth in New Amsterdam, St. Augustine, and Virginia's eastern shore — eventually gained their freedom. Some attained modest privilege and authority in mainland society."

Of free blacks in the 17th-century Chesapeake region, he explains: "When they found the weak points, they burst the constraints of servitude, race, and impoverishment. The fluidity of colonial society, the ill-defined meaning of slavery, and the ambiguous notions of race allowed Atlantic creoles to carve a place for themselves in the Chesapeake and occasionally achieve a modest prosperity, despite the growing weight of discriminatory legislation."

A fascinating aspect of this history involves the legal circumstances in the Chesapeake:
Like their white neighbors, free people of color were a litigious people. Throughout the 17th century, they sued and were sued with great frequency, testifying and petitioning as to their rights. Though many black men and women fell prey to the snares of Anglo-American jurisprudence — bastardy acts, tax forfeitures, and debt penalties — their failure was rarely one of ignorance, as members of the charter generation proved adept at challenging the law on its own terms and rarely abandoned a losing cause without appeal.
The rise of plantation slavery brought wide-ranging change. Berlin writes: "The touchstones of the charter generations — linguistic fluency, familiarity with the commercial practices of the Atlantic, knowledge of European conventions and institutions, and (occasionally) their partial European ancestry — vanished in the age of the plantation."

14 February 2005

North Korean Recipe for a Personality Cult

The Kim cult combined images of Confucian familism with Stalinism, elements of Japanese emperor worship, and overtones of Christianity. Confucian familism, and particularly the virtue of filial piety (hyo), was perhaps the most distinctly Korean element of this "cult." Kim's revolutionary family background was frequently stressed in the propaganda literature, focusing especially on his father, who was a member of an anti-Japanese nationalist organization when Kim was a child. Thus, Kim Il Sung was a filial son (hyoja), perhaps the most revered virtue in Confucian Korea, carrying on his father's legacy. Of course, the precedent of Stalinism played a role in this cult formation, and the term suryông itself seems to have been used as a translation of Stalin's title vozhd' ("chief"). But suryông had a deep resonance in Korean history, going back to the tribal chieftains of Koguryo, and was a term of great respect for political leaders in postliberation Korea, including Yô Unhyông and Pak Hônyông in the South (before Pak became a subordinate of Kim's). The use of suryông for Kim Il Sung began shortly before the DPRK was founded, and it became his main title after the mid-1960s.

As for the Japanese cult of the emperor, the frequent use of the image of the sun as a metaphor for Kim Il Sung, especially as the "sun of the nation" (minjogûi t'aeyang), seems a deliberate reversal of the sun-image of the Japanese emperor, in whose direction Koreans had been forced to bow as colonial subjects. The benevolent, fatherly, but awesomely powerful image of the sun-god was North Korea's answer to the foreign god of the Japanese--our sun (uriûi t'aeyang), as the novelist Han Sôrya described Kim in the first recorded use of this appellation, in 1946. Finally, Christian imagery appears in the early hagiography of writers like Han Chaedôk, who wrote in 1948 that Kim's emergence as a leader was marked by a brilliant star, his return to Korea was equated with the coming of the sun, and he shed his "precious blood" for the sake of national salvation. To what degree Kim's own Christian background contributed to his personality cult can only be speculated.

Korean Christianity is both a contributing element and useful comparison to the cult of Kim Il Sung. Like Christianity, Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism in Korea was indigenized, blended with folk belief, and thereby made more comprehensible to the popular masses. Also as in Christianity, ideological purists condemned this popularization. Kim also embodied and symbolized political power in a highly personalized, quasi-supernatural manner reminiscent of the bundle of Korean folk beliefs often referred to as "shamanism." For example, ... Kim was attributed with an almost magical power over nature in North Korean publications, which credited him with personal responsibility for the bumper harvest of 1946 and control of the winter floods of 1946-47. Furthermore, it was not by accident that this popularization was propagated by and centered on Kim Il Sung, a man who understood Christianity at least as well as he understood Marxism-Leninism. What he understood most of all, however, was of the psychology of Koreans, especially northern peasants. Both evangelical Protestant Christianity and "Kim Il Sung-ism" took root in the same area of northern Korea. Both derived their unique strength and peculiar nature from the way in which they appropriated and subverted the language of popular belief.

In the symbol and "cult" of Kim Il Sung, a popular nationalism of multiple practices became a single, elite narrative of the minjok ['nation, tribe'], and national subjectivities were reduced to one class, one party, and finally one man. If the nationalist project in modern Korea has been an attempt to re-create a center of national identity and politics, a center that is "connected with the way the world is built," in North Korea, Kim Il Sung became that symbolic center. He became father, village chieftain, and priest, embodying and monopolizing previous symbols of authority in North Korea's peculiar variant of the "cult of personality."
SOURCE: The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, by Charles K. Armstrong (Cornell U. Press, 2003), pp. 223-225

13 February 2005

The Selling of the Last Savage

The February 2005 edition of the travel magazine Outside has a long article by Michael Bihar entitled "The Selling of the Last Savage" in which he recounts his experience on a savage-spotting tour in West Papua.
On a planet crowded with six billion people, isolated primitive cultures are getting pushed to the brink of extinction. Against this backdrop, a new form of adventure travel has raised an unsettling question: Would you pay to see tribes who have never laid eyes on an outsider?
Why, no. No, I wouldn't. Nor would I pay to shoot the last spotted owl, or harpoon the last sperm whale. I just don't understand the attraction. Nostalgia for the pith-helmet era?

How Not to Do Comparative Linguistics

The March/April issue of the pop science magazine Archaeology contains an article by UC Press editor Blake Edgar about Cal Poly San Luis Obispo archaeologist Terry Jones and UC Berkeley linguist Kathryn Klar entitled “The Polynesian Connection: Did ancient Hawaiians teach California Indians how to make ocean-going canoes?” The short answer is, “No.”

Edgar cites convincing archaeological counterevidence from Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History archaeologist John Johnson before conceding that “their strongest evidence may rest on a few words.” That’s sad, because the linguistic argument is almost a textbook example of how not to do historical and comparative linguistics. Here’s the essence of it, as presented in the article.
Any language, says Klar, includes words that are native to it, words borrowed from other tongues, and others of unknown origin. When Klar began studying the island variant of Chumash, she found words alien to mainland Chumash dialects. She looked at distant native languages, from Aleut to Uto-Aztecan, whose speakers could have had contact with Chumash. Each time, Klar came up empty--until she tried Hawaiian, a member of the Polynesian language family.

Klar noticed a Hawaiian word that translates roughly as “useful tree,” kumulaa‘au. This bears a striking resemblance to the ancient Chumash word for “sewn-plank canoe,” tomolo‘o, which Klar reconstructed from the terms for “plank canoe” in different branches of the Chumashan language family. The first letters differ, but in Hawaiian “k” words often derive from older words that begin with “t.” Both the Hawaiian and Chumash words contain four corresponding consonants. That’s too many for a coincidence and to a linguist signals the virtual certainty of genetic kinship or borrowing from the native language. Since Hawaiian and Chumash don’t share a traceable ancestry, that leaves borrowing.
So what’s wrong with this linguistic evidence?
  • Normally, you’d expect Polynesian linguistic evidence to come from a specialist in Polynesian, or at least Austronesian. Not Celtic.

  • Polynesian ocean-going canoes are either double-hulled (like catamarans) or have outriggers. In fact, outriggers are standard all over Oceania. The Chumash canoes were single-hulled, without outriggers.

  • Hawaiians call their canoes wa‘a, from Proto-Polynesian *waka, which has cognates all over Polynesia--and Oceania more generally. They don’t call their canoes ‘useful trees’.

  • The Hawaiian word mistranslated as ‘useful tree’, kumulaa‘au (where aa indicates a long a), translates better as something like ‘tree (with trunk)’, from kumu ‘bottom, base, foundation, trunk’, plus laa‘au ‘tree, plant, wood, timber, forest, stick, pole’.

  • The semantics are a stretch. If the Chumash islanders were going to borrow a form for ‘sewn-plank canoe’, why didn’t they borrow Hawaiian wa‘a ‘canoe’ or kaula ‘rope, cord, string’, or even humuhumu ‘to sew’, instead of the word for ‘tree (with trunk)’. ‘Treetrunk’ would be a better match for ‘dugout canoe’.

  • The sound correspondences are haphazard. The “ancient Chumash” form tomolo’o is paired with modern Hawaiian kumulaa‘au. But the “ancient” Eastern Polynesian form for the latter would have been something like *tumu ‘trunk’ plus *la‘akau ‘wood’. It wasn’t just Polynesian *t that shifted to k in Hawaiian (and that fairly recently); Polynesian *k had earlier shifted to (glottal stop). So, if we’re going to restore Hawaiian kumu to Polynesian *tumu to make it match Chumash tomo- then we also need to restore Hawaiian laa‘au to Polynesian *la‘akau, where *la‘a would have to match Chumash -lo and *kau would match Chumash -‘o. Let's not even talk about the vowels, which famously count for little in historical and comparative linguistics.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising if ancient Polynesians had visited the coast of North America. They apparently reached the coast of South America, from which they brought back the sweet potato. But the evidence they had anything to do with Chumash ocean-going canoes is far from convincing.

SOURCE: Hawaiian Dictionary, revised and enlarged edition, by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1986).

12 February 2005

Gen. Sheridan's Black Spy, 1864

The victory of the Union's Army of the Shenandoah on 19 September 1864 at the third battle of Winchester (Opequon Creek) shattered the Confederate army in the upper Shenandoah Valley. Partial credit for the success of General Phil Sheridan was due to Thomas Laws, a Berryville, Clarke County, slave owned by prominent Winchester attorney Richard E. Byrd. Sheridan, in need of confirmation about the disposition of Confederate general Jubal Early's 2d Corps, sent two scouts to gather military intelligence. Laws and his wife were sitting outside their cabin one Sunday evening when the pair approached and soon ascertained that the black couple lacked admiration for the Confederacy.

Discovering that Laws possessed a pass from the local Confederate commander permitting him to sell vegetables three times a week in Winchester, the scouts arranged for him to meet Sheridan personally. After the two men discussed the impending mission, Sheridan, completely convinced of Laws's loyalty, composed a message on tissue paper to Rebecca Wright, a Unionist Quaker schoolteacher. The note was compressed into a small pellet and wrapped in tinfoil so that Laws could conceal it in his mouth to be swallowed if he was searched or captured. At worse, Wright risked imprisonment or banishment to Union lines, but for Laws death, the ancient penalty for espionage, loomed as a distinct possibility. Described as "loyal and shrewd" in Sheridan's memoirs (the general did not mention him by name, only as "an old colored man"), Laws delivered the message without detection. Wright's reply confirmed that Early's forces had been substantially reduced by large transfers to Petersburg to reinforce Lee; three days later the Union achieved a major victory, but few knew that the patriotism of one Afro-Virginian had made it all possible. Afterwards Rebecca Wright was rewarded with a position in the Treasury Department in Washington; Thomas Laws died a free and respected citizen in 1898.
SOURCE: Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, by Ervin L. Jordan Jr. (U. Press of Virginia, 1995), p. 285

Black Confederates as the Great White Hope

The Confederacy, in dire straits by 1864, began seriously to consider the arming of black men for its armies. Desperate times gave impetus to desperate measures and the need to exploit every possible resource. Southern whites began suggesting the forging of a new biracial military coalition, the war's second, for the North had begun to enroll black soldiers in 1863.

Afro-Virginians had reason to assume that their situation was going to improve, however slightly. It remained to be seen if the Southern revolution's alliance with loyal blacks would lead to legislated policies benefiting blacks and eliminating most slavery. However, Afro-Virginians were likely to comprise the majority of any Confederate States Colored Troops (CSCT). Black political and social equality in the fullest sense was an impossibility, but gaining a few minor rights was not inconceivable. Not all Southern blacks acquiesced in the belief of white supremacy, but most ascertained that their peculiar status might be ameliorated into racial coexistence....

The arming of slaves gained in popularity despite objections from Virginia's neighbor, North Carolina, which passed resolutions denying the confederacy's right to undertake this precarious war measure. A bill authorizing the use of black soldiers was introduced in the Confederate Congress by Ethelbert Barksdale of Mississippi and approved on 13 March 1865; ten days earlier Virginia's General Assembly had repealed the restrictions on the bearing of arms by black soldiers after General Lee expressed his crucial need of them....

The new law established a quota of 300,000 blacks between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to be called up from Virginia and the other Confederate states. The slaves and free blacks were to be organized into companies, regiments, battalions, and brigades.

Afro-Confederate soldiers were to receive the same allowances, clothing, pay, and rations as their white counterparts. The Confederate Congress, satisfied with its work, adjourned but not before giving itself a collective pat on the back in the form of a resolution by Virginia representative Frederick W.M. Holliday commending its accomplishments. "We shall have a negro army" wrote a not-too-surprised government clerk. "It is the desperate remedy for the very desperate."...

Accurate and balanced appraisals must take into account the potential contributions of Confederate States Colored Troops: the availability of black manpower, the potential paralysis of segments of the Union war effort due to Northern blacks being viewed as "fifth columns," and carefully fostered divisions among black populations South and North to maintain white superiority. Blacks who wore Confederate gray have been denied or forgotten by history. Under appropriate situations the South could have mobilized them into a potent fighting force for independence, but the successful enlistment of black Confederate soldiers could have transpired only with the active participation of Afro-Virginian males, even though one suspects they were inclined to fight for Virginia rather than the Confederacy. But Virginia disregarded the gallant record of black soldiers and seamen during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Many Afro-Virginians awaited a similar call to arms during the Civil War. It came too late.
SOURCE: Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, by Ervin L. Jordan Jr. (U. Press of Virginia, 1995), pp. 232, 237, 242, 251

P.S. General Lee surrendered at Appomattox on 9 April 1865, less than a month after the bill was enacted.

11 February 2005

Studying in the Soviet Union in the 1960s

David McDuff's retrospective on studying in the Soviet Union in the 1960s continues. The following are only short excerpts from each post.

Going Back V
It's hard now, in retrospect, to recreate or even re-invoke the atmosphere of those years. At home, in Britain, there was a sense of social change, the dropping of old certainties and taboos and also a degree of willingness to experiment with new lifestyles and patterns of living. This was accompanied by the burgeoning pop culture, the new cults of fashion, drugs and sex, the advent of rock music, the Beatles and the Stones, and the Wilson government with its slightly tongue-in-cheek, but none the less real commitment to the "white-hot technological revolution". It all had an air of adventure, but at the same an innocence whose essence is hard to recapture or understand nowadays. In some ways, as students (our official designation was that of "scholars") travelling on British Council stipends and the recipients of a Foreign Office briefing, we were, I guess, meant to be representatives of the New Britain, carrying the Western way of life into the heart of the Soviet monolith, in the hope – entertained by some – that some of it would rub off and act as diplomatic grease for the rather rusty state of British-Soviet relations at the time (strangely, perhaps, the installation of a Labour government at Westminster and Whitehall had led to more, not less tension between London and Moscow).
Going Back VI
In the morning, we all left the train with our luggage and were herded into another bus. Our mood was generally cheerful, though also somewhat apprehensive. To begin with, the group was housed at a university hostel (studencheskoye obshchezhitie) on Lomonosovsky Prospekt, with the promise that in a couple of weeks’ time we would be transferred to the main university building. The university district, in Moscow’s south-western suburbs, is a rather characterless and sprawling area of geometrically planned avenues, which also takes in Lenin Hills (Lenskie Gory, now Sparrow Hills, Vorobyevye Gory), and the university skyscraper. Our hostel was a five-storey building, indistinguishable from the other five-storey apartment blocks that stretched for kilometre after kilometre on either side. We were fortunate enough to each receive a room to ourselves, though we soon realized what a luxury this was – most of the Soviet students in the building had to share two, three or even four to a room. For the first day or two we restricted our outside forays to such activities as finding the nearest foodstore – something of a necessity, as the university stolovayas (dining-rooms) were situated some distance away. We got used to queuing for such items as bread, kolbasa (sausage), cheese, and so on, and then joining the second queue at the cashier’s desk, in order to pay. The whole process could take as long as an hour. Back at the hostel, we experimented with cans of pork and salted fish, which we prised open and devoured in the floor’s communal kitchen.
Going Back VII
In the basement of Zones B and V were the stolovayas (dining rooms) and shops and stores. Here we could spend our money. We were fortunate by comparison with our Soviet colleagues, receiving a monthly stipend of 250 rubles, supplemented with a monthly British Council grant of £25 in hard currency traveller's cheques. Most Soviet students had to subsist on a maximum monthly stipend of 150 rubles, many receiving less than this. At this time, one ruble was supposed to be equivalent to one US dollar. The main stolovaya was a self-service canteen which, for very little money, provided a basic diet of shchi (cabbage soup) or borshch (borsch), kotlety (meatballs, usually served with rice), cabbage and/or carrot salad, sour cream, kumys (fermented mare's milk), kompot (stewed dried fruit in a tumbler, really a kind of fruit juice), black bread and/or white bread, and tea. This was served for all meals, including breakfast. It could be eaten for two or three days before becoming intolerably repetitive. There was also a coffee bar, which was supposed to serve coffee, though I never saw any during all the time I spent in MGU. There was also a store selling such delicacies as Soviet champagne, wine, cigarettes, Cuban cigars and candy. Outside the main building, on Prospekt Vernadskogo and Kutuzovsky Prospekt there were foodstores (gastronom) which sold staple groceries, and it was even possible to buy fresh meat if one was prepared to queue for a long time. If one was feeling especially extravagant, in certain areas of town there were also the so-called beryozka hard currency stores, earmarked for the use of Communist Party officials and high-ranking bureaucrats, but also open to foreign diplomats and their families. Some of these stores sold fresh fruit (often virtually unobtainable with rubles) and superior quality cuts of meat, and after a little argument one could usually be served by presenting one's traveller's cheques to the kassirsha behind the often brutally overcrowded sales counter, though this often involved prolonged arguments about whether one's signature was genuine or not.
Going Back VIII
Lidiya Prokofyevna, or "L.P." as we soon began to call her, was in charge of all the foreign "philology" (arts and humanities) students in the building and its environs. Her office was therefore often very busy, and the time spent waiting outside it for one's appointment, which was sometimes delayed by up to two hours or more, could be considerable. When one did gain access to the inner sanctum, one began to realize why these delays occurred. To begin with, L.P. would fix you with her somewhat steely, but none the less friendly gaze, through thick glasses, and ask you questions about your zayavlenie, or application for research and archive facilities. When she had learned what she wanted to know, she would pick up the telephone and call the relevant authorities – however, the people at the other end of the line usually seemed to be busy or absent: the phone would go and ringing and ringing, and L.P. would sit there looking at you through her glasses. She might then briefly change the subject to the questions of how you were faring in Zone V, or who your group leader was, or some such topic, but would then revert to silent waiting, as the phone at the other end of the line continued to ring and ring. Sometimes this process of waiting went on for ten minutes or more – then she would call another number, with the same result, and so on. Eventually the required information would come through, and L.P. would issue instructions about the appointment with the archive director, librarian or other official. I think most of us found these sessions in L.P.'s office something of a Kafkaesque joke – and what made the joke even funnier was that L.P. seemed to share an awareness of the absurdity of the situation. Eventually one day, the leader (or starosta) of our group and his deputy brought her flowers and chocolates, which finally seemed to break the ice.

Soviet vs. Western Dissidents

Here's an excerpt from what A Step at a Time has to say about Cold War dissidents.
In the 1960s and early 1970s there existed an almost complete disparity, a dislocation, even, between the dissident movement in Soviet Russia and the radical movements in the West (those which gravitated around the Paris "revolution" of 1968, for example). While Western radicals sometimes paid lip service to Soviet dissidents - and there was a mild flurry of sympathy for them during the events that immediately followed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 - in general there was an almost total lack of comprehension on both sides. Western radicals could not understand the admiration felt by most Soviet dissidents for Western democracy and culture, while most Soviet dissidents were appalled by the disdain and hatred felt by much of the Western radical left for Western society. Later, this dislocation crystallized out in the situation described by Sharansky in The Case for Democracy, where Western "ban-the-bomb" marchers walked side by side with KGB operatives who were bent on exploiting the radical left-wing and peace movements, while in the Soviet Union, anti-nuclear protesters and peace activists languished in jails and prison camps.

Looking back on it now, it's hard to see how anyone could seriously have compared the two movements - the radical Western left and the Soviet dissidents. While the Western students and activists were free to utter their opinions, hold public demonstrations and even burn down buildings, in the Soviet Union those who resisted the established order were imprisoned, tortured and killed. "Who could turn away from themselves even under enormous strain, after seeing Ginzburg's tenacious refusal to compromise?" Cali Ruchala writes. Although the dissident movement was by no means homogeneous, and comprised different levels and qualities of disagreement with the power of authority, the example of fortitude, moral sanity and defiance, even under impossible conditions of repression, shown by Ginzburg and others like him was simply over the heads of most Western observers, even those who for their own political and ideological reasons wanted to sympathize with the Soviet outcasts.

10 February 2005

Nick Kristof on North Korea

In the 10 February edition of the New York Review of Books, Nick Kristof reviews two recent books about North Korea: Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's) and Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies by Victor D. Cha and David C. Kang (Columbia University Press).

Kristof captures at least two interesting ironies:
Americans routinely try to increase the country's isolation by trying to cut off its few links to the outside world, even though this only increases the longevity of the regime. [This, of course, is exactly why the Kim dynasty tries to keep its subjects isolated.]

For example, Western journalists and commentators have periodically written exposés about North Korean labor camps on Russian territory in Siberia. These are typically logging camps or occasionally mines where North Korean laborers, under North Korean supervision, work for negligible wages, without any freedom to engage in political activity, under constant guard so that they cannot escape. Westerners have assumed that the workers are slave laborers forced to toil in the grim conditions of Siberia, and they have demanded that Russia crack down on such abuses.

The articles seemed persuasive to me. But in fact, Martin writes, the laborers were not forced to go to Russia but went willingly:
Indeed, they had competed fiercely, using bribes and any other means available, to exert enough influence on North Korean officials to get themselves on the list. They saw going to Russia as their tickets to wealth otherwise almost unimaginable by North Korean standards. The work was approximately as arduous as what they would have experienced back at home. The big difference besides huge salary increases was that it was possible to leave the camps occasionally and interact with Russians and ethnic Koreans and Chinese in nearby communities. Many loggers were transformed by experiencing Russia's relatively liberalized atmosphere.
Martin cites interviews with defectors like Chang Ki Hong, who said that the average income in North Korea was about sixty won a month, but that in Russia he got nine hundred won a month. The thousands of North Korean workers in the camps were all under North Korean supervision and were not permitted to leave the restricted area without a pass but they did get to see something of the country. But those allowed to work in the camps were transformed by the experience. "Until I got to the Soviet Union, I believed in the regime," Chang Ki Hong said.
But when I got to the Soviet Union and started meeting people there, I realized there must be something wrong back home. It was after I had been there about six months that my mentality started to change. We are taught that the whole world worships Kim Il Sung. I met Russians who made fun of this Kim worship, and then I realized that he was not in fact worshipped by the whole world.
Ultimately, Chang defected from the work camp, as did others among these laborers in Russia. But partly because of pressure from Western human rights activists, and partly because of Russia's 1998 economic crisis, almost all of those North Korean laborers have since been sent home—a loss, it would seem, for human rights.
Shades of blackbirding (PDF) in the South Pacific! Now compare the role of missionaries in the South Pacific, or the relative success of Christian missionaries in Japan and Korea.
The evidence suggests that Kim Il Sung was a genuine nationalist hero and guerrilla leader, albeit not nearly so heroic as the later hagiographers would suggest, since his group's attacks on the Japanese were not decisive in the war.

More remarkable, it turns out, Kim's father was a Christian. Korea was fertile ground for Christianity in the early twentieth century, partly because Christianity was a way to quietly express defiance of the Japanese colonial rulers who had formally annexed the country in 1910. Kim's father attended a school founded by missionaries, and later attended church regularly; he was also a church organist. He taught Kim Il Sung to be an organist as well, and the boy attended church throughout his teens. "I, too, was interested in church," he once wrote, but later "I became tired of the tedious religious ceremony and the monotonous preaching of the minister, so I seldom went," although he acknowledged receiving "a great deal of humanitarian assistance from Christians." Still, after taking power, Kim completely wiped out Christianity from his country, keeping a couple of churches for show but staffing them with actors and actresses to impress foreign visitors with his tolerance.

Ironically, in view of his ideological extremism in later life, Kim was initially accused by other guerrillas of being a "rightist deviationist," and he complained that some guerrillas were too ideological and not pragmatic enough. Yet Kim genuinely did fight hard against the Japanese at a time when many Koreans (including many future South Korean officials) were quislings of the hated occupiers. Those nationalistic credentials gave Kim Il Sung an authenticity and moral authority among Koreans that leaders in the South lacked, and that is one reason why many ethnic Koreans in Japan (even those from the southern half of Korea) have sided with North Korea rather than with South Korea. They weren't Communists; they were nationalists. Some moved to North Korea in the 1960s, thus ruining their own lives and those of their families.
via The Marmot

North Korea Tries to Censor Czechs

For those of you who are still a bit befuddled how everything on this disparate bunch of blogposts ties together, I give you this headline from the CBC: North Korea calls for ban on 'Team America' in Czech Republic. Go Czechs! And congrats Japan! And go Canada!

via NKZone

Pol Pot's Slave State

In the 1 February edition of the Christian Science Monitor, Clayton Jones reviews journalist Philip Short's (psycho)biography of Pol Pot.
Reading the biography of a 20th-century tyrant takes courage. The tales of atrocities can be numbing, the motives unclear, and the lessons uncertain. Evil seems like a lurking character in such books, either in one man, the body politic, or foreign players, and is eventually exposed as, well, a rather stupid mistake....

Short's contribution is in describing Pol Pot's Cambodia as a modern slave state, as North Korea still is. Even today, Cambodia is ruled autocratically by former minor Khmer Rouge leaders, despite the efforts of the United Nations to bring democracy there. (Pol Pot's top men may face trial next year.)

Much like slavery's demise, the Khmer Rouge's downfall was due largely to its internal contradiction in denying each person's basic humanity. Its leaders eventually turned on themselves in a paranoid purge that provided an opening for Vietnam to invade Cambodia.

Just before he died in 1998 in a jungle hideout - unrepentant and unpunished - Pol Pot claimed in an interview that his conscience was clear and that he had done it all for his country. Like other tyrants of his century, we may never know enough about him to draw the right conclusions. Short's book, however, takes us more than half way there.
via Arts & Letters Daily

09 February 2005

Generals Grant & Sherman vs. the Press

"Grant was a long way from the flagpole, and he had a pretty long leash. He had taken thirteen thousand casualties at Shiloh, and while he finally had a national reputation, he knew that if he failed here he would be cast aside."

So far, Grant's Civil War career had demonstrated how war, like the frontier, provides the opportunity for meritocratic advancement. Grant had exploited one narrow opening after another. Having failed at farming and real estate, Grant, who had finished in the unimpressive lower middle of his class at West Point, showed a knack for leadership once the war began: he volunteered for the army, then recruited, equipped, and drilled troops at Galena, Illinois. In late 1861, he captured Belmont, on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Memphis, but this campaign had not been specifically ordered, and the press criticized Grant for an unnecessary engagement. Then, in February 1862, Grant won the first major Union victory of the war when he captured fifteen thousand Confederate troops at Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. In April at Shiloh Church, near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, Grant repulsed an unexpected Confederate offensive, but with such heavy losses that the press raged at him, though military historians now see Shiloh as a Union triumph. The captains and majors [on an excursion from Fort Leavenworth] argued that had the interfering press then been more influential than it was, Grant and Sherman both might have been removed from command and the war prolonged for lack of aggressive Union generals. (Sherman celebrated with his aides when he learned that four reporters had been killed near Vicksburg.)

As I had learned at Fort Leavenworth, the power of the media foreshadows the end of the heroic period in American military history. Great battles of the type fought by Grant and Eisenhower mean risk and blood and a wide berth for error.
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 346-347

When Vicksburg was the Frontier, and Grant a Frontiersman

This post is for Geitner Simmons, of Regions of Mind, who's writing a book about the South and the West.
"Gettysburg changed the war less than Vicksburg did," explained Chris Gabel, a military historian [at the School of Advanced Military Studies] at Fort Leavenworth, who led one of the four seminars into which the large group of captains and majors was divided. Gettysburg was an accidental, set-piece battle. After Gettysburg, the Union field commander, [General George G.] Meade, kept doing what he had always been doing. The Confederate commander, [Robert E.] Lee, kept doing what he had always been doing. Little of strategic importance happened. But Vicksburg cut the South in two, and it brought Grant east, to take control of the Union Army."

Though situated in the Deep South, in 1863 Vicksburg was considered "the West," just as Leavenworth was during the later Indian Wars, and just as the Rockies and the Cascades are today. Grant, the Union commander at Vicksburg, was in every respect a westerner. He grew up in Ohio and lived in Illinois, both part of the original "Northwest," the first territorial possession of the young United States and in the early nineteenth century--the time of Grant's youth and early adulthood--a frontier, with its own Indian wars. Grant had also served in California and Oregon. This experience of the Pacific may have steeled his commitment to a united union, which he shared with Lincoln.

As a general, Grant was blunt and practical, lumbering ever forward, risking what he had achieved in the knowledge that standing still means failure. And because he considered himself no better than his men, he was the ideal democratic leader. For Grant, war was never heroic: like everything else in America, it was business. Grant exemplified the serviceable engineering education at which West Point excelled: so American, so unlike the more theoretical "chessboard" curriculum of European war colleges. Grant's Personal Memoirs, written at the end of his life, is the archetypal American narrative, perhaps more so than Thoreau's Walden or Whitman's Leaves of Grass, to which Edmund Wilson favorably compares it. With rough austerity, it tells of its author's struggles, setbacks, and ultimate rise, through sheer practical application in the course of extraordinary events. If I could boil America down to a single, exemplary personality, it would be Grant. For me, Grant, in his rough-hewn, unsophisticated ambition, was America. I was taking this bus journey on a hunch that learning more about Grant and what he had accomplished at Vicksburg might allow me a final insight into this country.

At Vicksburg, Grant truly came into his own, pulling the Union and the coming Industrial Age nation along with him. Vicksburg is about process: the little-by-littleness of change. Though Grant's victory there gave Union forces strategic control of the settled part of the continent, the exact moment of that victory is obscure; for Vicksburg was not so much a battle as a complex campaign of several battles and skirmishes. The turning point in the dense malarial marshes of the lower Mississippi Valley occurred in the midst of bloody weeks of drudgery, between Grant's seventh, failed attempt in late March 1863 to cross to the east bank of the Mississippi (where the Confederate fortress was) and the Confederates' final surrender on Independence Day, the same July Fourth when the guns stilled at Gettysburg.
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 341-343

08 February 2005

Studying the Soviet Union in the 1960s

Siberian Light has dawned upon a blog by longtime Russian translator David McDuff entitled A Step at a Time, which describes itself as "Reflections on the world post 9/11, by a writer and translator who engaged for many years in the debates of the Cold War, and who tends to see the world's present troubles as a continuation of the old common struggle with tyranny and oppression." Here's his Normblog profile.

McDuff was an exchange student in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and has written a fascinating, serialized essay entitled "Going Back" about his experiences during those years. I'd like to excerpt a paragraph or two from each installment--except the introduction, which I'll quote in its entirety. (Perhaps it will incite me to set down a few of my memories of life in Ceausescu's Romania.) So here goes:

Going Back
In writing the entries about "Dissidents" [link added], I've begun to realize that for me the issues in this subject go back a long way – probably to the beginning of my involvement with Russian studies in the early 1960s. In those days, such an involvement also inevitably entailed a prolonged encounter with the Soviet Union. Since for someone from a Western democracy it's almost impossible to understand cognitively the reality of the fabric of life in a totalitarian state, a Westerner's memories of contact with that fabric are almost always bound to be selective, personal and subjective to an extent that may make them irrelevant in terms of historical truth. Yet I believe that since part of the legacy of the Cold War has been a consciousness of the old divide between East and West, and the barriers it created between human beings on either side of it, it's perhaps important for those in the West who did have first-hand experience – however partial and "cushioned" – of life in the Soviet reality, to talk about it and discuss it. For it was a world that was not merely physical and geographic, but also extended far into realms of thought, morality, political awareness, aesthetics, and other regions, while at the same time functioning as a kind of reversing mirror of Western social and intellectual norms.

"A man cannot bear the thought of being crushed by a physical compulsion; therefore he deifies the force that rules over him, investing it with superhuman traits, with omniscient reason, with a special mission; and in this way he saves a bit of his own dignity. The Russian writer Belinsky, for instance, made use of Hegel during a certain phase of his life, to deify czardom." This is how, towards the end of his autobiographical work Captive Realm, the great Polish-Lithuanian author Czeslaw Milosz illustrates the choice between "madness" (the refusal to recognize necessity) and "servility" (the acknowledgment of one's complete powerlessness), which he saw as a defining characteristic of life in a totalitarian society. I think it was a dawning consciousness of this choice – or rather, of the fact that in certain conditions of social and political development such a choice might have to be made – that eventually made clear to me, somewhere around the end of the second year of my studies in Russian literature and history, the essential difference between Russian culture and the culture of the West, and made me want to understand it further.

In future postings under this heading, I'll try to describe how that process of discovery and understanding developed for me.
Going Back II
I'd grown up in Edinburgh, Scotland, far away from the complexities of East European politics, but had had at least some small experience of “physical compulsion” at the school I attended, which in itself in those distant days of the 1950s was probably not unlike a totalitarian entity of some kind, with its cult of obedience, its prefects, its canings and beatings, and its assertion of a monolithic, corporate identity....

Occasionally the Russian department received visits from Soviet writers and public figures, but these were nearly all rather obscure – no one had ever heard of the "poet" who arrived one day, accompanied by two "minders", with a slim volume of verse in written in the most austere and conventional social realist style. He was an engaging man, who had taken part in the defence of Moscow in 1941, and had later fought in tank battles – he told us that all the skin had been burnt from his body, and had had to be re-grown. As a military man, he was interested in the technical problem of how best to scale the rock on which Edinburgh Castle stands, and I remember that we students spent a long time discussing the logistical details of this with him, as it was good practice for our knowledge of Russian.
Going Back III
I visited the Soviet Union for the first time in the summer of 1966, travelling with my girlfriend in a white Morris Minor convertible which we took aboard the Soviet ship Mariya Ulyanova (named after Lenin's sister) from London's Tilbury Docks, via Copenhagen and Helsinki, to Leningrad....

That summer we didn't stay in hotels, but slept in a tent we'd taken with us, striking camp at official State campsites whose locations were entered on our visas, together with the obligatory time of arrival at each site. We started with a week in Leningrad, then drove to Novgorod and Kalinin, followed by a week in Moscow, then to Kharkov and Kiev, and finally out of the USSR via Vinnitsa and Chernovitsy, into Romania – four weeks in the Soviet Union in all. In general, at first we were surprised at how "normal" everything seemed – the weather was warm and sunny, the streets and thoroughfares of Leningrad looked much like those of any European city, and it was only when we got out of the car and gazed at the actual texture of the place – the strangely rough, unmodernized surfaces of the roads and buildings, the dust that blew everywhere, the absence of commercial advertising, the old-fashioned look of people's clothes – that we realized we were in another world from the one we were used to. Even so, during those first days I think we were so pleased to have reached our destination that we didn't really notice much of this – my memories are mainly of visits to the Hermitage and other museums, to the Petergof Palace and park, of walks along the Neva embankment, and so on. For us, it was almost like being back in Vienna or Copenhagen – or even Edinburgh....

Engaging as some of these encounters were, we were, I think, glad to leave Soviet territory. At Chernovitsy, after the car had been searched for nearly 2 hours by Soviet border guards, who extracted every single piece of paper from it, we crossed into Romania, where we underwent the ritual of having the car sprayed against foot-and-mouth disease, and washing our hands in disinfectant by the roadside. We were then told by the Romanian personnel that we could pitch our tent "wherever we liked", as long as it wasn't in a forestry zone. The year before, Nicolae Ceausescu had been chosen first secretary of the central committee of the Romanian Communist party.
Going Back IV
The drive through northern Romania, Hungary and Austria, back through West Germany to Ostend and the United Kingdom, was fairly uneventful. We didn't go down to Bucharest, but stayed in the foothills of the Carpathians, where we were treated almost like royalty by the staff of the local tourist office in Suceava, the first town over the border, which didn’t appear to have seen many British tourists in a long while. We tried on local national costumes, let the tourist office director's twelve year-old cowherd son drive our right-hand drive Morris Minor round a field, much to the boy's delight, experimented with speaking Romanian, had our photographs taken, drank fruit cordial, had our palms read by the local gypsies, ate in a really nice restaurant, and in general had a pleasant time. It all seemed light years away from the Soviet Union – more like being in France or Italy. Moving on westward the landscape soon become rather more industrial and sombre, and when we entered Hungary there was something of the Soviet 'feel' again, especially along the shore of Lake Balaton, with its organized groups of vacationers and their mostly Soviet-made cars. In Budapest I remember the blackness of the uncleaned buildings, and the bullet scars from 1956, which still lay everywhere on the street facades and masonry. Also the incredibly dense and tall barbed-wire fortifications on the Hungarian-Austrian border, just after Sopron....

In January, I had an interview in London with the British Council, in connection with the Moscow visit I was planning to make. The British Council's offices on Davies Street seemed quite unassuming, and very British, with cups of tea and copies of the Times. One was therefore slightly unprepared for the rather East European nature of the interviewing panel, which consisted of a row of dark-suited personnel, some academic but others very definitely from the Foreign Office, who fired questions at one about one's plans, intentions and reasons for visiting the Soviet Union. Some weeks later, I received a letter telling me that I'd been accepted as a postgraduate exchange student. Later, there was a briefing session, where all the accepted candidates were gathered together in a room at Davies Street. We were given demonstrations of bugging devices that had been found in university, diplomatic and business premises in the Soviet Union, and then received an illustrated lecture on the workings of two-way mirrors, with a real "live" two-way mirror. We were sworn to secrecy, and told that we must not on any account divulge anything of what we'd seen and heard to the press, or in writing of any kind. Somewhat taken aback, and slightly amused, at the end of the session we emerged on to the street, wondering if this had been a rehearsal for some spy drama.

07 February 2005

Free to Protest, and Nobody Cares

In 1997, Robert Kaplan found the boundary that divides Cascadia into two nations to be a fading anachronism.
YET WHEN I went to dinner at the Portland home of an Iranian immigrant, Jim (Jamsheed) Ameri, it was as if Sousa's patriotic march music had jumped in volume, as if mid century Industrial Age America had never receded. Jim is a real estate developer and lives with his wife, Goli, in Tigard, on the southwestern fringe of Portland, in an opulent home at the head of the Willamette Valley. From their impeccable lawn, punctuated with majestic Douglas firs in a fine, pellucid mist, the valley, its homes and its gardens, unfurled. This was the bountiful Pacific Northwest as seen by the first pioneers, now savored by this latest migration of Oregon settlers. Jim and Goli had invited a number of their Iranian friends to dinner to discuss their experiences as very successful immigrants in America.

Sipping drinks on the porch in the sunset, Farsheed Shomloo, an immigration lawyer, pointed to a book on the patio table and told Jim, "You should read this new book about Iran, it's really interesting." Jim replied:

"I don't want to read it. I know the outcome already. In Iran, there is beautiful poetry and everything turns out a disaster. Here the poetry is not so beautiful, but people are free to discover the best in themselves; that's why America has happy endings. Here it's a negative system: there is no entrenched depotism, no will to dominate. We immigrants can remake the whole country if we want to. It's ours for the taking, as if there is a perpetual clean slate where nobody is ever owed anything. I'll tell you, the Iranian revolution was a disaster for Iran and a success for America, because it brought a lot of talented, ambitious Iranians here. Every time there is a disaster in the Third World, it's a good thing for America, since the best of the middle class finds its way here."

Farsheed agreed. "What is this country that sucks you up and draws out the best in you, and allows you for the first time to be yourself?" he asked passionately. "Periodically I reread the Constitution. I am amazed. What is this incredible system built by pessimists, yet built so as to unleash the human spirit? You know why I chose to live in Oregon? I looked in a book and saw that there was no sales tax here. In Iran I was oppressed by taxes and everything else. At the University of Oregon in Eugene I used to participate in protests against the shah [in the 1970s]. Then I realized that nobody in Oregon gave a damn about the shah or about me protesting. I was free to criticize U.S. government policy, and nobody cared! You cannot imagine what a revelation that was for somebody from Iran. That's when I stopped focusing on Iran and truly became an American."
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 336-337

But look at it from the point of view of someone whose principal involvement in politics is to participate in protest demonstrations and political fund-raising. How discouraging is it to stage more demonstrations and raise more money and still lose elections? Free to protest, and nobody cares!

Sleepless in Garden City, Kansas

Quang Nguyen owns the Garden City Specialty Cleaners. At night, he prepares federal tax returns for Vietnamese and Mexicans who do not know English well. He files the returns electronically on his laptop computer. I met him for breakfast at a franchise restaurant. In a part of America where people dress informally, he wore a pin-striped shirt and tie and had a collection of newspapers under his arm.

Nguyen was born in 1959 in South Vietnam, the son of a businessman. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, he escaped with hundreds of others on a rickety fishing boat. They drifted with little food or water for three days in the open sea before an American vessel rescued them. Nguyen and the others were sent to a refugee camp in Thailand. In 1981, after years of delay, he arrived in Oakland, California, then flew to Wichita, Kansas, where he knew a Vietnamese family. He soon learned that the new pig-raising plant in Garden City had jobs to offer. "So I came here and never left.

"I came with a friend, another Vietnamese I had met in Wichita. I was young, thin, and short. I was one of the first Vietnamese to come here. The people at the plant wouldn't hire me. They said I was too small to hack pig meat all day with a knife. My friend and I slept in an old car we had--we had no money to rent a room. We slept all winter of 1981-1982 in the car, by the highway and in the park. We came back to the plant every few days, begging for work. Finally, one of the foremen felt sorry for us. I started working nights at the pig plant and immediately registered for school during the day. I had studied electrical engineering in Vietnam. but I knew that I was not in a position to continue that here: I had to learn proper English.

"I saved money to sponsor my sister to come, and I always studied. I tried never to sleep. I got together with some other Vietnamese to start a restaurant. and I worked there for two years after quitting the job at the feeding plant. But the restaurant was not really a success. So I read manuals about fixing cars and in 1985 opened a body shop. In 1987, I sold my share in the body shop and bought the Rainbow Laundry, then the Specialty Cleaners. After I became a citizen. I studied the U.S. tax system and started preparing tax returns for the other Vietnamese. In 1991, I married a Vietnamese. My wife and I met at a bowling alley.

"My youth was all work and struggle and cold and heat and lonely with a strange language. In this country, if you don't work hard you either sink or stand in place, which is just as bad. You always have to calculate to get ahead. You know, I have to pay $250 each month for health insurance, and then there are the mortgage payments. I have four children; two are in Head Start programs. If I didn't have to sleep, I could make more money, though." He smiled.
SOURCE: An Empire Wilderness: Travels into America's Future, by Robert D. Kaplan (Vintage, 1998), pp. 259-260