31 July 2006

Can Buddhists Get Some ... Satisfaction?

In the wealthy world, the pervasive sense of lack drives people to worship at the oddest shrines, and to seek a solution to their formless malaise in bogus shamanism, crystal therapy, hands-free massage, rebirthing, sun salutations, flotation and pesticide-free food. Some people abandon the search for a transcendent explanation quickly, settling on materialism as an alternative, while others continue it for a lifetime. The process of being born and raised within the rituals of an established religion, which has been automatic for most people through the whole of human history, becomes rarer with each year that passes. For many people in rich countries, the certainties of earlier generations now seem implausible, especially the theories and dogmas of revealed religions.

For me, Tibetan Buddhism was a workable approach. Leaving the Roman Catholic faith of my childhood was not hard. It had long seemed less than credible, although its rituals could be reassuring and I liked the emphasis on moral inquiry. But the creator god, the conjuring of bread and wine into flesh and blood, the ban on contraception, the promotion of Christ's sexless mother as an example to women, the harassment of dissident clergy, the thought that ex cathedra pronouncements by the Pope should be taken seriously—all of these things had pushed me away from my inherited faith.

Buddhism appeared to create contentment among its followers, and reincarnation seemed a fair explanation of what happened to the spirit after death. So my admiration was partially utilitarian: it felt good to be around Tibetans, and if their religion brought good to them, it was worth pursuing. The outward aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, and the celibate male hierarchy running the show, were what I found least appealing, although I still respected the Dalai Lama. It was the Buddhist explanation of life, the universe and everything that drew me, rather than the ritual or the theology.

I was also drawn by the central principle that suffering is universal and pleasure is transient. In secular Western thought, an expectation of permanent satisfaction has become deeply ingrained, and is an important cause of the prevailing discontent. People believe that they can expect fair treatment from life. The idea that loss, death and suffering are to be expected has become obsolete, and a relatively minor trauma can provoke great emotional upset. The Buddha taught in the First of the Four Noble Truths that "discontentment, unhappiness and disappointment are universal ... all the things we desire and cherish, not least our own lives, must eventually come to an end." The Second Noble Truth states that suffering is caused by desire, and that the immediate satisfaction of desire brings only illusory, passing pleasure. By surrendering the self and attempting to break down the delusions of desire, ignorance and hatred, it is possible to find freedom from suffering, and to attain a state of liberation. This free state of mind should be our aspiration. The Dalai Lama has gone as far as to say that "the very purpose of our life is happiness."
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 24-25

Portrait of Sakya as an Old Town

In the town of Sakya, dung patties were stacked along every wall, covered with brushwood to keep off the rain. There was an empty official building flying China's national flag, topped by a satellite dish. I found a place to stay. Outside, an aluminium-coated scoop focused the sun to a point on a stand, boiling a kettle with solar power. An outdoor pool table stood nearby, being used by monks with chunky watches and more hair than monks are meant to have. Nearby there were sheds containing a disjointed generator, and drums of oil. In the evening, after several false starts and lots of black smoke and cacophonous noise, lights came on, so dim that you could see only the outlines of things and people. But it was electricity, for three hours. The weather became very cold that night.

I was the only foreigner in town. The next day a wizened old man in a baseball cap saying BOY LONDON came to stare at me. Four young men, with braided hair and trilbies, were flaying sheep by the grain depot, smoking cigarettes while they worked. They peeled off the fleeces easily, like peeling the skin off an orange, using a pair of daggers, one short, one long. The sheep flailed as if they were alive. There was a metal tub filled with blood, and the air was filled with the smell of the blood. Children dressed in rags, with tousled hair and speckled cheeks, played in the puddles. One girl wore shoes made out of a biscuit packet. A slaughtered cow was hanging from a hook, for sale. Before long, only the head was left.

Old men with turquoise earrings and high leather boots circled the monastery, holding rotating prayer wheels. The walls of the monastery were grey, marked with red and white stripes in the Sakya tradition. Prayer flags flew from sticks at the corners of the building. The central part of the monastery had high ochre walls, and behind it across the river were hundreds of derelict buildings from the days of destruction, the Cultural Revolution.

Inside the monastery, I went up a steep metal ladder to a tiny, dark chapel, with an uneven floor and low wooden beams, where monks were chanting and young boys were carrying butter and tubs of tsampa. Rice and banknotes were stuck to the deities. An old monk sat cross-legged on a cushion reciting page after page of scriptures, a low, constant, soothing chant, a torch and a thermos by his side. An opening in the thick wall, like an archer's slit, let in a bar of light, enabling him to read. In the darkness I could make out katags, thangkas, ferocious masks and butter sculptures, all crammed together. There was a sense in the little chapel of something timeless, that had kept Sakya going for centuries, regardless of the violent intermissions. I felt that this was a remote, independent place, a place that was used to running its own affairs and did not want outside assistance.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 236-237

28 July 2006

Alex Golub on Unfulfilled Consumers in PNG

Another Pacific-area article that caught my fancy is Alex Golub's Who Is the "Original Affluent Society"? Ipili "Predatory Expansion" and the Porgera Gold Mine, Papua New Guinea in the latest issue of The Contemporary Pacific at Project Muse (subscription required). Here are a few paragraphs from the introduction and conclusion (some references removed).
In the 1970s, first-world fantasies of "ecologically noble savages" were key to the creation of alliances between indigenous groups, environmentalists, and affluent first-world publics. More recently, however, anthropologists have grown increasingly critical of such stereotypes of indigenous people. In areas as diverse as Amazonia, Australia, North America, and Indonesia, indigenous peoples find their political leverage derives from filling first-world fantasies that are often essentialized and stifling.

This dynamic has taken another interesting twist in Papua New Guinea. Unlike many Commonwealth countries, Papua New Guinea has no settler population, and, unlike many African states, it has no majority ethnic group. Furthermore, Australia's administration of Papua New Guinea was both well meaning and under-resourced. As a result there has been little alienation of land and it is difficult to recognize Papua New Guineans as "indigenous people" separate from "settler" populations, as is typically done in Australia, Africa, and the New World. At the same time, however, Papua New Guinea is highly reliant on resource rents, and the activities of international logging, mining, and hydrocarbon companies present a picture of a David-and-Goliath struggle between local people and transnational capital that is comfortably familiar to many first-world activists.

Like scholars elsewhere, Melanesianists are increasingly dissatisfied with stereotypes of grassroots Papua New Guineans as ecologically noble savages. A growing literature has, for instance, emphasized the ways in which compensation claims for damage to the environment are part of a complex local politics. Glenn Banks has argued that compensation claims are often a way of expressing a sense of disenfranchisement by people outside of mining lease areas (2002), while Martha Macintyre and Simon Foale have argued convincingly that even for people within mining lease areas, claims of environmental damage are often expressions of dissatisfaction with social concerns couched in environmental idioms (2002).

But there is a danger that these responsible works could be misread by policy elites in Port Moresby, the national capital, who often see landowners as savages more nasty than noble. Papua New Guineans have one of the best track records in the world for extracting concessions from foreign developers and the national government, and the demands of landowners have become so strident that the overall perception nationwide is that they are corrupted opportunists who have given up their traditional culture in order to "go for money" (Filer and others 2000). Thus, at one industry conference in 2000, the president of the Papua New Guinea Chamber of Mining and Petroleum claimed that "people issues are at the forefront of the mining and petroleum industries" in Papua New Guinea. The industry's biggest challenge, he claimed, were "community problems that could have been avoided" and that were caused by "so-called 'landowners'" who ripped off the government. "The rip-off is so blatant," he said, "[that] it penetrates into the fabric of the government" (Golub fieldnotes 2000). Other speakers were more blunt. "Community affairs issues will shut down this country," said one mining executive, himself from the highlands region (Golub fieldnotes 2000)....

To an audience familiar with stereotypes of noble savages, the reaction of the Ipili to the mine can be startling. Elites in Port Moresby who romanticize a traditional "Melanesian Way" feel betrayed by landowners who fail to conform to their expectations. At the same time, first-world activists interested in finding "guardians of the forest" in Porgera will be disappointed indeed at the alacrity with which the Ipili, as they say, "traded their mountain for development."

But it may be that the unease the Ipili instill in others is due to the fact that they are driven by concerns remarkably like "our own." Their desire for new commodities, time-saving devices, and prepared food is in many ways not so different from what one would find in any major city in the United States. Thus it could be said that "they" are not as bad as "we" are, or, to put it another way, that "we" are as good as "they."

So which is the original affluent society? Just as we see our own weak points in Ipili prodigality, so do Ipili imagine whites, as a version of their present or possible selves. This examination of Ipili culture reveals them to be a bit more like ourselves than we have been led to believe. Sahlins looked to hunters and gatherers to explode the Western, Hobbesian conception of infinite need. Studying the Ipili suggests that the West is not the only place plagued by need and want. Ipili do not denounce consumer society in the name of a pristine, authentic primitivism. They denounce it for failing to make good on its promises. The problem, as they see it, is not enough affluence.

27 July 2006

Pacific Voyaging: Building Pride or Testing Hypotheses?

I've been catching up on some reading about the Pacific after concentrating so long on Asia, and especially Japan. I came across this interesting countercurrent in Atholl Anderson's review of Ben Finney's Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging (Bishop Museum Press, 2003). The whole review is online (PDF) in the journal Asian Perspectives at Project Muse (subscription required).
[Finney] declines to address the various criticisms that have been leveled at the voyaging project throughout the years and especially recently. These center on the incompatibility of the original objectives, described as "an effort in cultural revival as well as an experiment in voyaging" (p. 10). They have never rubbed along well, and too often the scientific experiment has been compromised in the interests of cultural pride.

Hawai‘iloa was meant to answer some of the criticisms of Hōkūle‘a by construction entirely in traditional materials, but it ended up with spruce hulls and modern lashings, rigging, and sails, as tests of sennit and pandanus disclosed that these were too weak to be used in voyaging. But surely, isn’t that the point? If my Mitsubishi station wagon cannot do 200 mph unless I install a Ferrari engine, then doing so could hardly validate my inflated sense of its potential speed; if reconstructed vessels can only sail as desired with modern materials in critical areas, then they cannot validate various propositions about prehistoric voyaging. Hawaikinui, similarly, abandoned its original traditionally cut sails and opted for those of a modern yacht, while some canoes have chosen nontraditional gunter rigs and often added headsails as well. The voyages, too, do not inspire confidence in the conclusions for prehistory that are drawn from them. In the Rarotongan gathering, the Atiu canoe capsized at the beginning, the Mitiaro and Aitutaki canoes were towed part of the way, and the Mangaian canoe made an accidental passage that left its captain and escort vessel behind. The irony of these events was lost on the Cook Islands premier who, as Finney reports, welcomed the eventual gathering of the crews by roundly condemning Andrew Sharp [who suggested Polynesians had only discovered new islands by accident].

Yet in experimental terms, the voyaging project has failed to dispose of Andrew Sharp’s criticisms of traditionalism. Indeed, Finney’s project is cast very much in a neotraditional mold that takes assumed achievements of the ancestors as the benchmark against which to measure contemporary voyaging. Finney declines to explore the serious implications of substantial departures from traditional marine architecture and rigging that are involved in modern Polynesian voyaging and refuses to engage in the recent discussions of these. I have the impression that what matters most to him, and always has, is the building of Polynesian pride in the generic activity of long-distance sailing. That is a worthy objective and one not under attack by recent criticism of the scientific aspects of the project. Were Finney to separate the two objectives—as, for example, by dropping the subtitle of this book—and allow modern voyaging to stand in its own right, then other issues need not get in the way of the cultural achievement that he has done so much to foster.

26 July 2006

Mao's Cadre of the Living Dead in Tibet

Although most exiles would consider Tibetan members of the Party to be merely collaborators, I felt that their position was more complex. Some, at least, were working within the system as away of defending the interests of Tibet. They were not altruists; it was a pragmatic and sometimes cynical decision, a career choice that brought them material benefits. But in the course of doing their job, they tried to develop and defend their homeland. Many were openly resentful that the key decisions about the running of Tibet were taken in Beijing, and that the Party Secretaryship, the top job, had never been held by a Tibetan.

The younger Tibetans who worked in the government did not seem very different from their Chinese counterparts in education or ambition. The generation that intrigued me was the next one up, people aged around fifty or sixty, who had been elevated on Mao's instructions in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, solely on the basis of having a good "serf" background. Little was known about these officials, except that they would usually have been active Red Guards, and were installed in positions of authority in the late 1960s for ideological reasons, as part of the backlash against the old aristocracy. They were sometimes seen on state television, walking in and out of meeting rooms, but were rarely heard to speak. They had no popular power base, and no profile as individuals. Their importance lay in what they represented: impeccable, old-style proletarian credentials and open reliance on Beijing. Among Tibetans in Lhasa, this generation of cadres was perceived as ruthless, aggressive and stupid, and viewed with scorn and fear.

They were to be avoided, but I found myself among them, by chance, without realising what was happening. The men were paunchy bureaucrats in brown suits, v-neck jerseys, ties and soft shoes, and the women were dressed in skirts or chubas. Many of them wore dark glasses. They all looked drunk. These officials disliked the idea of me, a stranger and a foreigner, in their midst. I was not drinking alcohol, but they decided that I should have a glass of chang, or barley beer. I refused politely. They said it was the custom. I was caught in a crowd. One of the men grabbed the back of my head and shoved it forward, while another pushed a glass against my lips and poured liquid down my face and clothes. I wriggled free. They grabbed me and began again, this time with a glass of fruit spirit, angry now at being opposed. Some Chinese cadres intervened and extricated me, and we moved to another part of the park.

The Chinese were acutely embarrassed by what had happened, and apologetic about the disrespectful behaviour of their colleagues. I was shocked, but they were not. "Our Tibetan brothers always behave in this way, it is part of their culture," they said with a smile—the Chinese smile of awkwardness and shame. I had never come across Tibetans like this before. Boisterous drinking and singing are popular Tibetan hobbies, part of the culture, but the difference here was the aggression, expressed towards a guest. The Chinese, from a younger generation than my Tibetan coercers, wore a look of pained apology, as if they were caught in a social trap from which there was no escape. They seemed to see the Tibetan cadres—who were tied to Mao and the damage he had done, with their immobile political position stemming from the chaotic aftermath of the Cultural Revolution—as Frankenstein's monsters who had to be tolerated.

The Tibetan cadres reminded me of the "living dead" of pre-Buddhist Tibet. In the old times, when a king died, his loyal ministers and servants would move to a secluded place near his tomb. They were not permitted to be seen or spoken to by outsiders. Food and offerings would be left for them at the tomb, with a horn being blown by the living to warn them of their arrival. If a wandering yak or sheep happened to reach them, the living dead would brand it with a special mark, and it would be slaughtered and returned to them, unseen. Their separation from normal society continued until all of them had died.

These men and women were Mao's living dead.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 153-155

25 July 2006

Tibetan Red Guards vs. Tibetan Muslims, 1969

At first, the idea of a Tibetan Muslim had surprised me; a Tibetan seemed, almost by definition, to be a Buddhist, a follower of the Dharma, although on consideration the notion was no odder than a Tibetan being a Christian, which had happened, or an Italian being a Buddhist, a prevalent conversion. The Habaling Khache [= 'Kashmiri'] were part of traditional Lhasa society and the economic life of the city, a minority in an outwardly uniform land. According to one writer, "Unmolested by natives to initiate whatever trade they desired, and inspired by incentive, the Muslims became commonplace features in the major cities of Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse and Tsethang." They were renowned for speaking in chaste, courtly Lhasa dialect, even if they did sometimes eat dishes from Central Asia, which gave rise to the Tibetan warning not to be taken in by sweet words: "Do not listen to a Muslim's voice, look at what he is eating."

Most of the Habaling Khache were indistinguishable, physically, from other Tibetans. Only the names were different: Hamid, Abu Bakr, Salima, Fatima. In the past, most of them were merchants, but some had been given posts in the Dalai Lama's government as writers or translators, and been allowed to wear a special court uniform. A second group of Lhasa Muslims lived beyond the Potala, having been given a plot of land by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Their imam, Abdul Ghalib, told me that most of his small community had fled in the 1950s, and there were now only a few dozen of them left. Abdul Ghalib, with his Central Asian face, lived by an orchard with chickens and cows and apple trees and an old water-pump. It was an idyll, but he knew his world would soon disappear.

Mariam's uncle, the imam of the Habaling Khache, had known the history. He was responsible for the documents, going back to the twelfth century, which recorded the important marriages in their community, how the traditions had begun, what lands and privileges were granted to them in Lhasa by previous Dalai Lamas, and how their ancestors, merchants and traders, had made their way up from coastal China through the mountains to Tibet. There were about two thousand indigenous Tibetan Muslims left in Lhasa now, trying to preserve something that had been nearly washed away, their position undermined by the arrival of ambitious new Hui and Chinese Muslims from the east.

When the Red Guards—all of them Tibetan—came to purge Lhasa's main Muslim quarter, Thelpung Khang, in 1969, there was a moment of bafflement. The Habaling Khache, being Muslims, had no idols or statues that could be smashed, no painted frescoes that could be defaced, no sacred pictures that could be ripped. There was nothing to destroy. So, after retreating to discuss this problem, the Red Guards sought out the ledgers, the old legal papers, the name-books, the dustar or ceremonial prayer caps, the maps, an ancient decree granting Muslims an exclusive graveyard on the edge of the city (Buddhists do not bury their dead), and every copy of the Holy Quran, including the imam's own, which was several centuries old, and made them into a great bonfire in the courtyard in front of the mosque. The history of the Habaling Khache went up in flames.

The mosque was made into a cinema, for the watching of propaganda films; farmers and their animals were sent to live in the precincts and in the madrasa. The imam, Yahya, aged about eighty, was paraded through the streets to the east of the Barkhor wearing a conical white paper hat with the word "ghost" written across it. Later he was slapped and pushed and told that he was an exploiter of the people.

"But he was a purely religious man," Mariam kept repeating, tugging at the straps of her black lace headdress, "a purely religious man." He died soon afterwards, she said, of grief.

Mariam tried to describe the effects of this destruction. There were no words for it. For much of the Cultural Revolution, she had "just felt like dying." Finally, she compared the Habaling Khache to a person who has eyes but is unable to see. There was a problem translating exactly what she meant. She seemed to be saying, miming, that they were like someone whose vision was blocked by a cataract. They had the capacity for sight, but they could not see.

The Habaling Khache were deracinated. They no longer had any way of knowing what had made them what they were. And so, in this way, another part of Lhasa was destroyed.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 155-157

UPDATE: Wow. I've never had an Instalanche, nor ever expect to get one, but a reddit.com/rec is pretty impressive by my low-crawling standards.

23 July 2006

The Economist on Japan's Economic Recovery

"As Japan emerges from an era of a zero interest rate," the Economist recaps its long economic downturn and its rising prospects for recovery. Here are a few excerpts.
Japan's experience is unique. The country's decade and a half of stagnation stands in bleak contrast to the blistering growth that preceded it and that enjoyed more recently by many other rich economies, notably America. Japan is not alone in having had a banking crisis brought on when an asset bubble burst. America had its “savings-and-loan” mess in the 1980s. Sweden had a crisis like Japan's in the early 1990s. And in 1997-98, a financial typhoon tore through most of Asia. Yet in all these instances, action was, on the whole, fairly swiftly taken to write off bad debts, clean up banking systems and restore economies to growth. By contrast, Japan was mesmerised. For too long, instead of seeking to bring its financial system back to health, it appeared to place its hopes in great dollops of spending on public works to get the economy moving....

Japan was lucky. It began its long malaise as one of the richest societies on earth. But its subsequent performance was abysmal. Between 1990 and 2005, real growth averaged just 1.3% a year. Without the malaise, Japan's GDP would have been about 25% higher in real terms than it is now. In nominal terms, Japanese GDP remains below its 1997 level, thanks to deflation (see chart 1). Over that same period from 1997, the nominal GDP of neighbouring South Korea, which bore the full brunt of the Asian financial crisis, has risen by 65%; America's is up by 50%. Japan's stagnation, then, represents a great squandering of wealth and opportunity....

Why did the recovery not arrive earlier? One reason must be that, with the real level of non-performing loans in the banking system undeclared for so long, huge provisioning by the banks merely aggravated a state of financial disruption: banks could not afford to make fresh loans, even to good prospects. Another related reason is that until the banks had cause to deal with their loans, the troubled companies that had taken the loans out had little incentive to restructure. Japanese companies are now in much ruder health, but that is largely because of measures taken only in the past few years.

At the policy level, the government made two huge blunders. The first was to raise the consumption tax in 1997, which wrecked economic confidence. Just as confidence appeared to be recovering in August 2000, the BoJ declared an end to deflation and raised rates. The economy again went into a tailspin and the bank decided to retreat to zero six months later. But with prices falling, the expansionary effect even of a zero rate was lost, since real interest rates remained positive. A radical new measure was tried by the BoJ: in effect, printing money by stuffing the accounts that banks hold at the central bank with free cash. That super-loose liquidity, known as “quantitative easing”, was withdrawn this spring.

Ho-hum: Asashoryu Wins Again

The Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament this year started out with many hopeful contenders, from the giant Estonian rookie Baruto to the veteran Japanese ozeki Tochiazuma, but each began to fade during the second week while the sole yokozuna Asashoryu cruised to his 17th victory, clinching it on the second-to-last day with a record of 14-0. His nearest rival, newly promoted ozeki and fellow Mongolian Hakuho stood at 12-2 when he faced Asashoryu in the final bout of the tournament, which turned out to be the most exciting bout of all. Hakuho won it, finishing just one loss behind the grand champion at 13-2. Barring injuries, there is a very good chance that the Sumo Association will promote another Mongolian to yokozuna by the end of the year.

21 July 2006

Ode to English Majors

The Chronicle recently carried a column entitled "Goodbye Mr. Keating [the teacher in Dead Poets' Society]: To succeed as a Ph.D. in English, you have to give up all of the things that attracted you to the subject in the first place." It appealed to me for two reasons. (1) I thoroughly enjoyed my graduate work in linguistics because it involved a lot of fieldwork and language-learning, two achievements that proved unfortunately of no great consequence in pursuing an academic career in linguistics, for which I believe I lacked the necessary temperament. (2) My daughter is scheduled to graduate with a B.A. in English next year and is pondering what to do after that. The pseudonymous author of the Chronicle article, an English professor at a midwestern university, waxes romantic about the qualities of undergraduate English majors, many of which ring true.
In a course I taught last spring, after three months of tracing the development of literary theory from humanism to structuralism to poststructuralism to the dilemmas of the present, I finally asked my students the question: "So, why do you want to study literature, knowing what you now know?" I wondered if studying a century of cynicism had altered their motives in the slightest.

They were all considering graduate school, but their answers had little to do with what I knew they would need to write in their application essays. Sitting in a circle in the grass, backed by purple hydrangeas, they offered the following motives:
  • Formative experiences with reading as a child: being read to by beloved parents and siblings, discovering the world of books and solitude at a young age.
  • Feelings of alienation from one's peers in adolescence, turning to books as a form of escapism and as a search for a sympathetic connection to other people in other places and times.
  • A love for books themselves, and libraries, as sites of memory and comfort.
  • A "geeky" attraction to intricate alternate worlds such as those created by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George Lucas.
  • Contact with inspirational teachers who recognized and affirmed one's special gifts in reading and writing, often combined with negative experiences in other subjects like math and chemistry.
  • A transference of spiritual longings — perhaps cultivated in a strict religious upbringing — toward more secular literary forms that inspired "transcendence."
  • A fascination with history or science that is not grounded in a desire for rigorous data collection or strict interpretive methodologies.
  • A desire for freedom and independence from authority figures; a love for the free play of ideas. English includes everything, and all approaches are welcome, they believe.
  • A recognition of mortality combined with a desire to live fully, to have multiple lives through the mediation of literary works.
  • A desire to express oneself through language and, in so doing, to make a bid for immortality.
  • A love for the beauty of words and ideas, often expressed in a desire to read out loud and perform the text.
  • An attraction to the cultural aura of being a creative artist, sometimes linked to aristocratic and bohemian notions of the good life.
  • A desire for wisdom, an understanding of the big picture rather than the details that obsess specialists.
Those answers defied everything they had been taught in my theory seminar. Nevertheless, they were all, in different degrees, the answers I would have given as an undergraduate. They reflected the drive toward imaginative freedom expressed by Keating, but they also reflected a deep traditionalism that is equally crucial to English as a discipline. Both impulses, however, are intractably emotional, irrational, and romantic.

Not one student said, I am studying English "because I want to make a lot of money" or "because my parents made me."

English is, almost always, a freely chosen major — and sometimes it is chosen in spite of parental and material resistance. English is a rebellious major, even as it draws on a tradition deeper than the contemporary American dream of success.

It surprised me that none of my students mentioned a commitment to social justice or to some specific political ideology as a motive. Nearly all of them would have skewed to the left on most of the usual subjects.

When I asked about that, one said, "If I wanted to be a politician, I'd major in political science. If I wanted to be a social worker, I'd major in sociology." English is, among my undergraduates at least, one of the last refuges of the classical notion of a liberal-arts education.
via Arts & Letters Daily

In Memory of Joe Stanka, Jr.

This blogpost illustrates the small world phenomenon. Japan-based blogger White Peril recently posted about Japan's latest, long-running consumer safety scandal.
Manufacturer Paloma Industries has produced on-demand water heaters (the usual type in housing here in Japan) that have been linked to several carbon monoxide poisonings over the years. You know the script for these things by now, don't you?
We had a similar water-heater installed in our drafty apartment in south China in 1987-88, but we put the heater in the toilet behind a separate wall rather than in the room with the bath, partly because I remembered that a former fellow high schooler in Japan had died from gas poisoning in Kobe in 1965-66 (though it may not have been a water heater). His name was Joe Stanka, the son of Nankai Hawks pitcher Joe Stanka, a major reason my brother and I were ardent Hawks fans at the time. (I'm no longer a Hawks fan. My current Pacific League favorite is Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines.)

Joe Jr. was in my brother's class. Here's a poignant follow-up from the spring 2004 issue of the alumni magazine, Canadian Academy Review (PDF).
Foad Katirai ‘68 [Columbia ‘72] felt that he was meant to join this field trip [to the former site of Canadian Academy on Nagamine-dai hillside in Nada-ku, Kobe, Japan] as he came across something of special significance to his class. Upon entering Matsushita Gymnasium, Foad saw a plaque in memory of his classmate, Joseph Stanka Jr., still hanging on the wall above a trophy case. Joe, who died in a gas poisoning accident during their sophomore year [1965-66], was the son of Joe Stanka Sr., a pitcher for the Nankai Hawks, formerly of the Chicago White Sox. While at CA, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a pitcher for the [CA] Falcons. When the Matsushita Gymnasium opened in 1966, the trophy case was dedicated to him. Unfortunately, during the move to the new campus [on Rokko Island], the plaque was left behind. Upon its discovery by Foad, the plaque was returned to Canadian Academy.
I didn't really know that much about Joe Sr. at the time, but he is profiled in baseball-reference.com.
Stanka went to Nippon Pro Baseball in 1960; playing for the Nankai Hawks, he went 17-12 with a 2.48 ERA in 38 games, finishing sixth in ERA and making the Pacific League All-Star team. In 1961, he went 15-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 41 games. Joe fell to 8-10 with a 3.61 ERA in 1962. He rebounded in 1963, going 14-7 with a 2.55 ERA in 34 games. He was part of a three-way tie for the PL lead with four shutouts.

Stanka had his best year in 1964, as he posted a 26-7 record with a 2.40 ERA in 47 games. As a result Stanka became the first American pitcher of non-Japanese descent to win an MVP award in NPB. His six shutouts led the league, he was second to reliever Yoshiro Tsumajima (2.15) among the ERA leaders and was four wins behind PL leader Masaaki Koyama. Despite winning the MVP award, he lost the Sawamura Award to the only American to win it as of 2005, Gene Bacque of the Central League Hanshin Tigers. Stanka also was the MVP of the Japan Series that season. After shutting out Hanshin in the opener and beating Minoru Murayama by a 2-0 score, he dropped game three 5-4 to Midori Ishikawa. In game six, with the Hawks on the ropes and trailing three games to two, Joe came back to beat Bacque 4-0 with his second shutout. When Nankai skipper Kazuto Tsuruoka asked him if he would be willing to work game seven the next day, Stanka agreed. Despite his fatigue, he threw nothing but goose eggs again, with a 3-0 shutout win over Murayama. He had gone 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 0.65 WHIP in the Series.

During Stanka's final year with Nankai, he went 14-12 with a 3.28 ERA in 34 games. Stanka joined the Taiyo Whales in 1966, where he slipped to 6-13 with a 4.16 ERA in 32 games. Stanka was the first American pitcher to win 100 games in the NPB. His record overall there was 100-72 with a 3.03 ERA.
You have to wonder how much his son's untimely death during the 1965-66 school year ruined his concentration during the 1966 baseball season. Not a hint of family trauma appears in a retrospective SABR-Zine interview last year entitled Joe Stanka, First American All-Star in Japanese Baseball.

19 July 2006

Indonesia Received Tsunami Warnings

Officials in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, failed to issue a tsunami warning despite receiving data about Monday's earthquake 20 minutes before the first wave struck the island of Java.

One official told the Guardian they were too busy monitoring the aftershocks of the 7.7-magnitude quake that triggered the tsunami to raise the alarm. The government's science and technology minister, Kusmayanto Kadiman, confirmed last night that Indonesia had received bulletins from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii and Japan's meteorological agency after the quake, but "we did not announce them"....

Aerial television footage showed that virtually all the wooden buildings hit by the tsunami were swept away, along with about half the brick structures. Buildings up to half a mile inland were damaged. Some 30,000 people are thought to have fled their homes.

Who's Indigenous in Indonesia?

On 17 July, the Jakarta Post ran an interesting opinion piece by Endy M. Bayumi on what it means to be indigenous in Indonesia. The question arose because Miss Indonesia, Nadine Chandrawinata, doesn't look sufficiently "indigenous."
It was a coincidence that around the time she gave this interview, the House of Representatives last week unanimously endorsed the new citizenship bill that cleared up the legal definition of "indigenous".

The bill defines citizens of this republic as Indonesia asli, or indigenous Indonesians, and it goes on to define "indigenous" not by one's race or ethnicity, but rather by one's being born on Indonesian soil, and never having taken up any foreign citizenship....

Prior to this law, Indonesians of Chinese descent -- and to a lesser extent those of Arab, European and Indian blood -- have had to put up with discriminatory treatment because they were not considered indigenous, although they may have been born here or their families may have been here for many generations....

The term "indigenous" itself is a misnomer.

The Malays in Indonesia may lay claim to being the indigenous people in the western part of the country, but the Melanesians (with a darker complexion) dominate the eastern part of the archipelago. So we have two indigenous groups in this country.

But can the Malays in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi truly claim to be Indonesia asli? Shouldn't that claim belong more to the aborigines, like the Suku Anak Dalam in Jambi and others whose existence is on the verge of extinction?

One theory has it that the Malays currently inhabiting much of mainland Southeast Asia and the archipelago are descendants of people who migrated south down the Mekong River many thousand years ago. [Or ancestral Austronesian speakers came off the south coast of China, or out of Taiwan, down through the Philippines. So what? Malay dialects spread throughout the Indonesian archipelago much more recently—hundreds, not thousands, of years ago—probably spreading with Muslim traders along the coasts and up the major rivers of island Southeast Asia.--J.]

The Malays therefore are not Indonesia asli. But they can claim to be "more indigenous" by being here first, long before the Indians, Arabs, Chinese and Europeans came to this part of the world.

Malaysia, being a federation of sultanates, claims that all land belongs to the rulers, and thus to the indigenous Malay and Muslims. Non-Malays (the Chinese and Indians) are guests of the land and treated as second-class citizens with fewer rights.

Thankfully, Indonesia was a republic from its inception, and the land (and the water between the islands) belongs to the republic and its people, and not to any exclusive race or religious group.

The new citizenship law thus essentially recognizes that we are all indigenous, irrespective of the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the religion we follow.

This land is our land. If some of us want to claim to be more indigenous than others, let them be, but don't expect the law to treat them differently.

And as for Nadine, she has as much right to represent Indonesia at Miss Universe 2006 as anyone else who is an Indonesian by blood and by law.
I don't care at all about Miss Indonesia, but the new citizenship law sounds like a good thing.

via Colby Cosh

My favorite restaurant in Indonesia's Ambon City during my academic junket in 1991 was named Pondok Asli, a place fancy enough to be translated Maison d'Indigènes rather than Native Hut. It was destroyed, like most of urban Ambon, after the Laskar Jihad invaded in 2000. Our Fulbright group tour was housed with host families in Poka and Rumah Tiga, near Pattimura University, which was also utterly destroyed by foreign jihadis. I'm not sure how many of our host families were slaughtered in the process. I have fond memories of eastern Indonesia, whether Muslim or Christian, but I scorn anyone who tries to make excuses for the jihadis.

18 July 2006

Hollywood Tibetophilia

The impasse over Tibet's future has increased the volubility of foreign support for the Dalai Lama. When he visited the USA in the summer of 2000, for instance, he had meetings with the National Security Adviser and eminent Washington politicians, and thirty-five minutes with the President. Encased by a huge entourage of State Department security people, he promoted a peaceful solution for Tibet to the American people. His supporters put him on Larry King Live on CNN. He had been on the show six months earlier for a Millennium Special, when King had asked the Dalai Lama, as a leading Muslim, what he thought about the new year celebrations.

This time, the host knew that his guest was a Buddhist, but it was a sorry spectacle, the Dalai Lama, the bodhisattva of compassion, being forced by the exigencies of global politics and celebrity culture to compete for airtime with the passing flotsam of high-speed television ...

American Tibetophilia even provoked a two-week happening at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, including a public speech by the Dalai Lama which drew a crowd of tens of thousands. The Monlam Chenmo, the great prayer festival founded in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, was plucked from its regular home among the exile community in India and incorporated into the commotion. Dozens of monks from Drepung Loseling and Namgyal monasteries were flown into Washington DC to chant in suitably guttural tones and look impressive in maroon and saffron robes. Nobody seemed to notice that the Monlam Chenmo was a central date in the Tibetan state calendar, which had never been hijacked in this way before, and that its cancellation in Dharamsala that year led to acute religious and financial tribulation for the many Tibetan refugees who depend on it.

Meanwhile, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, the Dalai Lama blessed a new Shi-Tro mandala (a three-dimensional religious sculpture) in front of a large, paying audience. The mandala had been created by a Tibetan monk who ran a local Buddhist centre, assisted by his American wife, who worked in creative marketing for Warner Brothers Records Inc. She had generated volumes of publicity, using the slogan "Shi-Tro Happens." The Los Angeles Times described this as "marketing the mandala in a hip and humorous way." So, there was the Dalai Lama, up on stage, Shi-Tro happening, the ceremony compered by the requisite Hollywood star, in this case the actress Sharon Stone, famous for lacking underwear in the movie Basic Instinct, but this time wearing a feather boa and bare feet. After musing aloud for a while about how she might introduce the Dalai Lama, she finally settled for, "The hardest-working man in spirituality ... Mr. Please, Please, Please let me back into China!" The fact that the Dalai Lama came from Tibet was momentarily lost....

This is what is so curious about the phenomenon of his fame: devoid of egotism, committed to his religious vocation, the Dalai Lama has little interest in the way in which he is re-created by the world. The side-effect of his celebrity, and the way it is projected by his apparent backers, is that the battle over the future of Tibet has become curiously apolitical. We are left with the cry of longing, the repeating slogan of the foreign campaigner, the plaintive call of the refugee, the emphatic claim of the born exile, "Tibet! Tibet!"
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 115-117

Get your Free Tibet bumper sticker. Just US$2.95. Or $0.75 on eBay, plus $3.00 shipping worldwide. Or buy the T-shirt from CafePress.com.

17 July 2006

Gandhi Has No Message for the Tibetans

The China specialists Frederick Teiwes and Warren Sun have argued that "Westerners think of politics in certain ways which make it difficult to accept Chinese realities," presuming that "politics is about policy, that a great country has a large policy agenda which naturally preoccupies the politicians," and that "political power flows to people with certain skills and capabilities."

In a nationalist dictatorship founded on blood, like the one which gained power in China in October 1949, the assumptions that are taken for granted in a democracy do not hold true. Leaders are selected not for their ability to do a job or to represent the nation, but for their willingness to uphold the Party's authority and suppress dissent. Vocal popular pressure does not cause a change in policy. Institutions do not act as a check on those in power. Only when the Chinese system starts to fracture from within will it be vulnerable to methods of open defiance, such as street protests and non-cooperation. Mohandas Gandhi, often invoked by the Dalai Lama and his supporters as an exemplar, has no message for the Tibetans. (Mao's student years might be contrasted with those of Gandhi's heir, Jawaharlal Nehru: while Mao joined a revolutionary militia in Changsha, where people were hacked to death and a head was paraded outside the governor's residence on a stick, Nehru studied at Cambridge University, where he joined the college boat club and played plenty of tennis.) Gandhi's strategy of mass civil resistance was a tactical response to the British political system; had he tried it against Mao or Stalin, he and his followers would have been rounded up and shot.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 114-115

16 July 2006

Roots of Tibet's Modern Military Incompetence

The optimistic view of [Tibet's] military incompetence would be that it came from instinctive pacifism. Martin Scorsese's 1997 movie Kundun, a beautifully crafted piece of Dalaidolatry, opens with the claim that "Tibetans have practised non-violence for over a thousand years." The Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, Robert Thurman, has similarly depicted Tibet as a land of "psychonauts," where "the cool-revolutionary counter-culture" entered the mainstream. Tibet was "a laboratory for the enlightenment movement to create its model society," replete with "pacifist monks and nuns spending their days in learning, meditation, and creativity." Helped by the teachings of the Buddha, the country had developed "industrial-strength mass monasteries in which individuals conquered their innermost energies and transformed their world into a buddhaverse."

The idea is appealing, but unreal. The Dalai Lamas rode to political power on the back of the military might of the Mongols. Tibet's history, like the history of any country, is full of war, gore and male domination, even if revenge slaughter never became as popular as in neighbouring lands. As late as May 1947, the footballer Reting Rinpoche was punished for insurrection by having a silk scarf stuffed down his throat, or his testicles crushed, or being poisoned with yellow pills, depending on which version you prefer. Tibet's lack of initiative in the 1930s came from the loss of focus and ambition caused by extended reliance on the mediation and patronage of outsiders. As the historian Owen Lattimore has written, "the tributary or feudatory status of Tibet" began when the Sakya sect submitted to Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century: "Politically, the supreme pontiffs of Tibet have from the beginning acted as the agents of one or another alien overlord."

So, while the newly discovered Fourteenth Dalai Lama grew to adulthood and Mao's Communist rebels edged closer to victory in China's civil war, the Tibetan government remained rudderless, unsure how to proceed. The three great monasteries—Drepung, Sera and Ganden—continued to be a powerful bulwark of tradition, opposing the very idea of change and progress. As an unnamed British diplomat noted in 1940, "Tibet's military weakness is a danger to her continued independence, if ever the Chinese should have time and energy to spare to attempt once more to establish their domination over the country."

Most of the reforms attempted by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama during his lifetime had failed. Ambitious modernising initiatives such as the creation of paramilitary units and secular schools, where football might be played, were overturned by the entrenched conservatism of the monastic establishment. When the army did turn out on parade, it was not for rifle-shooting or machine-gun practice; rather, the soldiers concentrated on the maintenance of decorum, tradition and precedent. Each year, on the penultimate day of the Monlam Chenmo, the Great Prayer Festival, a military review was held at Drabchi.

This was Tibet, alone, reliving its glorious past. Symbolically, it was the days of empire that counted. During the Monlam Chenmo, a pair of Tibetan aristocrats would be temporarily awarded the Mongol title of Yaso, making them commanders of the two wings of the ancient army. Dressed in stupendous brocade robes trimmed with fur, supported by noble attendants, in the decade in which Salvador Dali gave a lecture in a diving-suit in London, they would watch the cavalry turn out in scraps of ancient chain-mail and peacock feathers, each horseman carrying a quiver of five plumed arrows. At their head rode two standard bearers holding tall lances and painted banners, wearing cherished helmets, possibly dating to the eighth century, with the name of Allah inscribed on the front in gold filigree.

The Arab influence, from the days long before Tibet became the forbidden land of European invention, was not forgotten by Tibetans. The past lived. During the early ninth century, soldiers of the Tibetan empire had harassed Muslim forces in Central Asia, and laid siege to Samarkand. Correspondingly, Arab troops, stirred by the spread of Islam, had captured parts of Kashmir and Wakhan, and taken the Tibetan general ("the commander of the cavalry of al-Tubbat," they recorded) and his horsemen back to Baghdad where they could be paraded in triumph, like downed airmen during the Gulf War.

Martial influence travelled in all directions, with Chinese and Arab sources reporting the superiority of early Tibetan armour. A Tang historian noted the quality of the weaponry of a joint Turkic-Tibetan army in the early eighth century.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 101-102

13 July 2006

Bobby Valentine's Japanese Improving Fast

Daily Yomiuri reporter Yoko Mizui recently profiled Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine's thrilling success in mastering Japanese in his mid-fifties.
"The most exciting thing that ever happened to me was not winning the Asian Championship and the Japan Championship last year. Nor was it winning the Major League. It was not even winning koryusen [interleague competition] this year," said Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team manager Bobby Valentine. "The most exciting thing was that at the age of 50 plus, I could discover Step Up Nihongo and learn the language."

Valentine talked about how he learned the Japanese language and utilizes it in managing his team at a seminar to introduce a new e-learning system, "eSUN," in Tokyo on June 26....

In 2004, Valentine returned to Japan once again as the manager of the Marines after managing the New York Mets for seven years. He started to study Japanese seriously with the book and CD. "It made me successful--not only in my personal life, where I have derived great satisfaction from learning to communicate in another language, but also in my workplace, where I have been able to gain the respect of the players and the coaches who work for me," he said.

Although he has hired an interpreter "to ensure that my communication with the players and coaches is always accurate," he finds it important that he has been able to understand what the players and coaches are saying. "I believe that communication is about words, feelings and actions. What I found with Step Up Nihongo is that it teaches me more than just words," he said.

"I've become able to see and understand so much with my players. Very often, they think they don't need an interpreter when they come and talk to me in my office. When I'm talking with my players, my coaches, my friends and my fans, I feel very comfortable speaking Japanese."

Valentine also uses an interpreter when he speaks to the press. "Because I think it is very important to use the correct words as they are writing down what I say and sending it out to the fans," he said.
Like any dedicated athlete, he spends a lot of time on drills.
SUN employs a lot of pattern drills, as Yamauchi believes mastering the patterns is the best way to rapidly learn Japanese. Valentine studies Japanese during his workout. "I use an exercise bike for about 35 to 45 minutes every day and that is my time for study," he said.
via Colby Cosh

My father learned Japanese well enough to preach, teach, and counsel in it (starting about age 25), but found it much harder to learn Spanish in his late 60s.

12 July 2006

Tempting a Tibetan Exile "Home"

Wangdu went with his father to pay a courtesy call on two local officials, one Chinese, one Tibetan.

The officials had a proposition, communicated gradually over several cups of tea in a squat government block off the muddy main street. Wangdu would be given a senior position in the tourism department if he returned from exile. There were great new opportunities coming up. Tourism was booming, with the forests and lakes of northern Sichuan already attracting the adventurous new rich from cities like Chengdu. The trouble was that local people lacked knowledge of the outside world. Wangdu was an educated man. He spoke English. He knew what tourists would enjoy, and would be able to improve the town's commercial prospects. He should return to the place of his birth, where he would be honoured as a favoured son.

Wangdu was dismayed by what he heard. He had a good clerical post in a bank in Seattle. The idea that he might abandon the life he had worked so long and hard to create in order to live in such a backwater was inconceivable. Returnees were known dismissively by the exiles as "gyal tshong pa," or "country-sellers." His wife, Pema, also a Tibetan although from another part of Tibet, had a job selling white goods in a department store in the suburb of Maple Leaf. Their children, one still in college, the other two just starting out on their careers, would laugh at the idea of migrating to Communist China. They knew the plight of their homeland; even the official statistics looked bad. According to a recent report from CPIRC, China's state body on population, 60 per cent of people in the Tibet Autonomous Region were illiterate, against a national average of 16 per cent. It had the lowest rural per capita income of any province, and was the only one where life expectancy dropped below sixty years of age, against a national average of sixty-nine. Infant mortality towered at ninety-six per thousand, eleven times the rate in Beijing. Here in the ethnically mixed borderlands the situation was a little better, but the underlying privation was the same.

Wangdu tried to explain all this to the officials as politely as he could. They were not convinced. Naturally, he should bring his wife and children with him; the paperwork would be arranged. The town needed people like him. The pitch continued, and it became apparent that Wangdu's father, a strong and resolute old man, conscious of the respect that was being shown to his son, was in favour of the plan. He told Wangdu that he should take up the post, but not join the Party. There were several young Tibetans in influential positions in the town who would look out for him; the days had long gone when Tibetan officials were mere stooges, with Chinese "secretaries" controlling their every move.

Repeating a refusal became embarrassing, so Wangdu left the meeting, saying he would think it over. He let the matter drift for a few days, hoping it would go away, despite frequent remarks from his father. He had his return air ticket. His daughter Sonam was keen to get home. I knew that he found it awkward and painful to be put under pressure in this way, and that he would never be persuaded. He was displaced, an exile; it would not be possible for him to feel a true sense of belonging in his ancestral land—or not until Tibet was free.

Wangdu's dilemma struck me. A Tibetan was being sought for a prominent post in a Chinese province. According to the material put out by Western pro-Tibet groups, much of which I had read and some of which I had written, the authorities discriminated systematically against Tibetans. Words like apartheid, racism and genocide cropped up. Yet from what I had seen so far, the regime was far from homogeneous. Most officials in China seemed to be unsophisticated, poorly educated and badly paid, and envious of those who had made lives abroad. Local people paid fortunes to criminal gangs to smuggle them to Australia, Europe and North America. Although the top Party jobs were occupied by Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 per cent of China's population, the middle and lower ranks of the bureaucracy in these border regions included many Tibetans, Hui and other minorities. The official newspaper the People's Daily said that nearly three-quarters of the officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region were ethnically Tibetan.

I asked Wangdu why his father was so keen for him to move back to Amdo: Surely he understood that his future lay in America?

"I guess he doesn't see it like that. He was in prison for eighteen years," said Wangdu, in an offhand way, "and he wants the family to be reunited before he passes away."
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 41-42

11 July 2006

One Tibetan Activist's Language Policy

Pemba spoke good English and fluent Chinese. She still used Tibetan at home, but saw Chinese, pragmatically, as the language of progress and communication. Even when speaking in Tibetan, she would break into Chinese to transmit a piece of data, such as a telephone number. Like the younger generation of Tibetan fiction writers, she felt that the Chinese language offered a way to reach out and speak to a larger audience. Pemba had no view on this; unless you used the tongue of the dominant power, you would go nowhere. Many of her friends were Chinese. She avoided discussing Tibet's political status with them, but otherwise they had similar views on the need for change in China, and matching scorn for the corruption within the Communist hierarchy. "It's not the Chinese that are the problem," Pemba had said, "it's the Communists."
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), p. 50

Tibet's Absentee Rulers

Chen Kuiyuan, ruler of the Tibet Autonomous Region [1992–2000], lived here in Chengdu [in neighboring Szechuan Province], and flew the two hours to Lhasa only when his presence was required. His predecessor as Party Secretary, Hu Jintao ..., had even lived in Beijing for the last two years of his tenure. The official explanation for this was that both men suffered from respiratory problems at high altitude. Another reason, which I learned some weeks later, was that Chen was so despised by Tibetans, including those who worked within the Party bureaucracy, for the severity of the crackdown when he arrived in Lhasa in 1992, that he tried to avoid going to Tibet at all. The wandering British mathematician Thomas Manning had noticed a similar problem in 1811, writing: "The Chinese lord it here like the English in India ... It is very bad policy thus perpetually to send men of bad character to govern Tibet. It no doubt displeases the Grand Lama and Tibetans in general, and tends to prevent their affections from settling in favour of the Chinese government."

Party Secretary Chen was an old-style ideologue, resolutely against the political flexibility encouraged by elements within the Party leadership in Tibet. He often lashed out at the Dalai Lama and Buddhism, which he called a "foreign" religion. His speeches did not inspire confidence that he had anything to offer his fiefdom but further repression. In a radio broadcast in 1994, he had said:
As long as Party organisations around Tibet remain pure, strong and capable of fighting, the disturbance caused by the splittist forces is nothing to us ... We should never give up our education and guidance to the people and should not allow a laissez-faire attitude towards religions under the pretext that people are free to profess a religion. Communists are not allowed to have any religious belief, much less participation in religious activities.
So Tibet was run from Chengdu, by remote control, in the colonial way. The rulers of empires are rarely interested in those they rule; they administer and deal with them, trying to project a sense of permanence, but find their subjects frustrating and ungrateful. The colonised reciprocate with resentful over-interest, looking to conspiracy to explain their plight, thinking their rulers must have some overarching idea or policy towards them, when really they are doing no more than muddling through, defending their position, trying not to lose control. No Chinese paramount leader—not the emperors of old, not Mao Zedong, not Deng Xiaoping—has been to Tibet, although the Tibetan plateau makes up almost a quarter of China's land mass. Jiang Zemin visited Lhasa in 1990 before he became president, but has not been back since.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 30-31

10 July 2006

Only Bluebloods Battle for Japan's LDP Leadership

In an opinion piece on 3 July in The China Post, longtime Japan-watcher Joe Hung offers both genealogical and historical perspectives on the three top contenders for leadership of Japan's ruling LDP.
Nobusuke Kishi vowed on his eighty-eighth birthday he would revise the Constitution to make Japan a normal country. Standing by the side of Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, who organized the birthday party for him in 1984, Kishi said he would dedicate the rest of his life to the rewriting of what is popularly called the MacArthur constitution, which forbids Japan from waging war. Kishi was the prime minister who signed a new mutual defense treaty between Japan and the United States in 1960 and stepped down after he had rammed it through the Diet for ratification against the opposition-led boycott, that forced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to cancel a scheduled visit to Tokyo after Taipei to celebrate the exchange of ratifications. Abe was Kishi's son-in-law....

Shinzo Abe, the son of Shintaro Abe, is Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's chief Cabinet secretary. He is far in front of rivals in the Liberal Democratic Party race to succeed Koizumi, come next September.... His chief rival, Yasuo Fukuda, trails far behind with a mere 14 percent support. After Fukuda comes Taro Aso, foreign minister. Both are political bluebloods: Fukuda, the son of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, was the chief Cabinet secretary before Abe, and Aso is a grandson of the legendary Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.
via Japundit

British Capture of Manila in 1762

I've heard the Seven Years War (aka the Pomeranian War or Third Silesian War in Europe, the French and Indian War in North America, and the Second Carnatic War in India) described as the first "world war"—in the sense that its battles took place all over the globe—but I hadn't heard about the British assault on Manila until reading a review of Nicholas Tracy's Manila Ransomed (U. Exeter Press, 1995) on dannyreviews.com.
The British had conceived a bold plan to attack Manila even before Spain's entry into the Seven Years war in January 1762. Their execution of that demonstrated their naval ascendancy and military prowess, but the aftermath highlighted the problems inherent in government through the East India Company.

The inspiration for the attack was as much dreams of loot as plans for commercial advantage or geopolitical advantage, and the expedition received limited support from the East India Company. But General William Draper and Vice Admiral Samuel Cornish managed to assemble in Madras a force of around 1750 soldiers (the 79th regiment, sepoys, and French deserters and other assorted troops), eight ships of the line, three frigates, and four store ships. Despite problems with elderly ships and the dangers of largely uncharted waters, all but two store ships arrived in Manila Bay on 23rd September 1762.

An immediate attack was a success. A landing south of Manila was followed by a bombardment and an assault, leading to a capitulation by October 7th. Acting governor Archbishop Antonio Rojo provided uninspiring leadership and surrendered the citadel and the port of Cavite as soon as the city fell.

07 July 2006

What "Mindfulness" Now Means in Tibet

From verifiable sources, you can learn much about the Tibetan empire of the seventh and eighth centuries, or the history of particular monasteries, rulers or Buddhist lineages. What has disappeared for those inside Tibet is the link between the past and the present. This link has been broken systematically by the imposition of an alien political ideology, exported from industrial Europe, and the physical destruction of texts and objects. The effect of the period of mental cleansing—which was at its most intrusive in the 1950s and sixties—has been to kill the processes of thought and memory that define a society, and enable the people within it to communicate and interact. This rupture has left those in Tibet, both Tibetans and Chinese, in a state of something like atrophy. As Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote in Hope Against Hope, her memoir of Stalin's terror, "An existence like this leaves its mark. We all became slightly unbalanced mentally—not exactly ill, but not normal either: suspicious, mendacious, confused and inhibited."

It was only towards the end of my time in Tibet in the fall of 1999 that I came to understand the extent of the abnormality. The Lhasa hotel I was staying in, the Raidi, was under surveillance. There was nothing peculiar about that. I had been in the Tibet Autonomous Region for too long, and try as I might, the places I went to and the people I met prevented me from seeming the tourist I claimed to be. So there were men, Chinese men in double-breasted suits, who came to the hotel each day and asked questions and examined my room when I was not there. A man with a wide-brimmed hat sat in the window of the shop opposite, watching people going in and out of the hotel.

All this I could accept, although it made me sick with tension. What shocked me was the discovery, a little later, that the smiling, joking Tibetan receptionist, barely out of her teens, with whom I chatted casually most days, was working for the PSB, the Public Security Bureau. I was told that she was required to report foreign tourists who behaved suspiciously: if they met the wrong sort of people, if they spoke Tibetan, if they had professional-standard film cameras, if they knew too much. She did not want the job. Her father had been compromised by the PSB over a minor irregularity; she had no choice but to do it.

To Tibetans in Lhasa, none of this seemed strange. It was how things worked. Anyone, even a member of your family, might be betraying you. Most of the betrayers betrayed not for political or financial gain, but because they felt they had no alternative.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 9-10

Sounds like the Romania I experienced in 1983–84.

POSTSCRIPT: French's acknowledgments (p. 295) reveal a writer's subtle revenge.
I owe a great and lasting debt to the friends, interpreters, contacts and facilitators in Tibet and China who helped me when I was doing the research and interviews for this book. Since they cannot be identified, I felt it would be wrong to name the many people elsewhere who, while often extremely generous with their knowledge, did not risk their livelihood or their safety to assist me. I would however like to mention the Public Security Bureau chiefs serving at county level in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1992 (as listed in Conner and Barnett, pp. 68-83) who have, without being asked, lent their names to several people in these pages, enabling them to remain anonymous.

06 July 2006

Who and/or What Constitutes the Nation of Tibet?

During Tibet's brief period of de facto independence between the First World War and 1950, the Tibetan government controlled territory roughly corresponding to the borders of today's Tibet Autonomous Region. Like the Balkans, Tibet's fringes have long been inhabited by a patchwork of different ethnic groups: a Han Chinese village, a Hui Muslim village, a Qiang village and a Tibetan village may sit side by side. In the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan—which border Tibet—there has for many years been a substantial ethnic Tibetan population, living on untamed land that was often under no clear external control. In modern times, Beijing's response to this diversity has been to carve out nominally autonomous Tibetan counties and prefectures within the four border provinces. More Tibetans now live there than in the Tibet Autonomous Region itself.

According to official Chinese census statistics (which are regarded by demographers as wanting but usable) there are 2.5 million Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region and 2.9 million in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. But if you take the province of Qinghai, for instance, which has almost all of its land under "autonomous prefecture" designations, you find there are approximately 838,000 Tibetans and 619,000 Chinese living in Tibetan prefectures, and another 141,000 Tibetans and 799,000 Chinese living in non-Tibetan autonomous areas. In Sichuan, a large province of eighty-five million people, there are 1.2 million Tibetans living in Tibetan prefectures, but the same areas also contain 780,000 non-Tibetans. So although the autonomy of these prefectures and counties is largely fictional and their boundaries are often inept, it is apparent that the different ethnic groups within them could never be easily disentangled.

The exiled Tibetan government in Dharamsala ("by far the most serious" government-in-exile in the world, according to the Economist magazine) has responded to this complex, historic demographic problem in a dramatic way. To keep things simple, it lays claim to all land inhabited by Tibetans, covering a total of 2.5 million square kilometres, more than twice the area of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Astonishingly, this territorial sleight has been swallowed and endorsed by most foreign supporters of the Tibetan cause, despite much of the land, especially in the north and east, never having been administered from Lhasa.

I had tried asking the Dalai Lama's foreign minister, T. C. Tethong, why the exiled government maintained a claim over territory that it did not control before 1950. Surely this position weakened its chances of ever reaching an accommodation with the Chinese government? His response was loose: they were "still looking into it." The border was based on "ancient claims," as well as on oral history and the demands of different Tibetan exile groups. "We made our map so as not to leave out any Tibetans," he said, "so that they didn't feel isolated. We are going for the whole of Tibet. But I accept there will have to be give and take. His Holiness the Dalai Lama wants a fair compromise."

The demand for a greater Tibet is rooted in the politics of displacement. In order to maintain the unity of the emigre community after the Dalai Lama's flight across the Himalayas in 1959, his exiled administration developed the idea of a giant, theoretical Tibet. In the early 1960s, with the arrival in India, Nepal and Bhutan of large numbers of Tibetan refugees (many of them from the border areas close to China, who had endured the worst of the reforms and suppression), it became necessary to develop a pan-Tibetan identity. Its focus was the idea of "Po Cholkha Sum," the unity of the three historic regions of ethnic Tibet: Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang. People who had previously identified themselves with a particular region now became consciously Tibetan.

A sense of Tibetan nationhood was created deliberately, in exile. The Lhasa dialect served as the basis of a shared refugee language; a regimental banner devised in the 1920s by a wandering Japanese man (which had been displayed at the Asian Relations Conference in India in 1947), featuring red and blue stripes and a pair of snow lions, became the Tibetan national flag; a song written by the Dalai Lama's tutor Trijang Rinpoche (himself a reincarnation of the Buddha's chariot-driver) was adopted as Tibet's national anthem; the Dalai Lama's birthday became a day of popular celebration; and an invocation used at the new year festival of Losar, "tashi delek" or "good luck," was promoted as a versatile greeting, which could be picked up easily by foreign helpers.
SOURCE: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, by Patrick French (Vintage, 2004), pp. 13-15

05 July 2006

Pearl Buck in Rehab--at least in China

Sheila Melvin, writing in the Spring 2006 issue of Wilson Quarterly, chronicles the ups and downs of Pearl Buck's reputation in both the U.S. and China.
Although she had been born in West Virginia in 1892 while her missionary parents were home on leave, China was the country where she had grown up, first married, and written her most famous novel, The Good Earth (1931). Chinese was her first language, the one in which she mentally composed sentences before putting them to paper in English. China had provided much of the material for many of her 70-odd books, mostly novels but also plays, short fiction, children’s stories, biographies of her parents, essays, and poetry. China had inspired her humanitarian work. And it was in China that her adored mother, her father, two brothers, and two sisters lay buried....

Her most popular work, The Good Earth, was the best-selling novel of both 1931 and 1932. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, was made into an acclaimed Hollywood movie in 1937, and was instrumental in leading the Swedish Academy to award her the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938, making her the first American woman to be so honored. The book became so influential in the United States that some scholars credit it with contributing to the 1943 repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which had barred virtually all Chinese emigration to the United States since 1882.

Other scholars go even further, claiming that Buck’s writings so changed the average American’s impression of Chinese people in the years before World War II that Americans became eager supporters of China in its war against Japan. As the Chinese scholar Kang Liao wrote in 1997, Pearl Buck “single-handedly changed the distorted image of the Chinese people in the American mind through literature. Chinese people were no longer seen as cheap, dirty, ridiculous coolies or sneaky, vicious, insidious devils. The majority of Chinese were seen for the first time in literature as honest, kindhearted, frugal-living, hard-working, gods-fearing peasants who are much the same as American farmers.” In 1992, historian James C. Thomson Jr. called Buck “the most influential Westerner to write about China since 13th-century Marco Polo.”

Although she was an intellectual educated in both the Chinese and Western classics, Buck took up her pen with a populist approach, one that was phenomenally successful with the public even as it earned her the derision of the literary elite, many of whom considered her writing too lacking in stylistic complexity and irony, too didactic and moralistic, and—perhaps most important—too extraordinarily popular to be awarded the Nobel Prize. William Faulkner, who won the Nobel himself 11 years after she did, wrote to a friend that he would rather not win it than be in the company of “Mrs. Chinahand Buck.” ...

Early antipathy of critics in the United States toward Buck has had a lasting influence, as have Buck’s prolific output and her popularity with readers, either of which is often reason enough within the American academy to regard an author with slight contempt. Perhaps more critical to her legacy is that as a consequence of her rejection by the critical establishment, she has not been included in college syllabuses, though she remains a perennial favorite on high school reading lists. And at a time when critics and academics seek to add diverse authors writing about their own cultures to the literary canon, a white American writing about China can’t compete with the likes of Chinese author Maxine Hong Kingston, as critic Edmund White maintained in The New York Times in 1993. But while Buck remains largely ignored in America, she is finally finding a home in China.

As China has grown stronger and more confident during the past two decades, the old sensitivities have gradually receded. “The Party has done a 180-degree turn on Pearl Buck,” says the author’s son, Edgar Walsh. “They now see her as a friend of China and someone who has always been supportive of the Chinese people.” ...

Another powerful source of interest in the rehabilitation of Pearl Buck’s reputation in China is the local elites in the places where she once lived. Foremost among these former homes is her childhood home of Zhenjiang, a city on the Yangtze River about an hour’s drive from Shanghai, where she is now regarded as something of a patron saint, or at least as the city’s best hope for enticing foreigners to visit and invest. Buck lived in Zhenjiang for nearly 20 years as a girl and young woman, mostly in her family’s nondescript Western-style house in the city’s rural outskirts.

In 1992, the Zhenjiang government renovated the house, which miraculously had survived the chaos of the 20th century, and opened it to the public, with financial assistance from Zhenjiang’s sister city of Tempe, Arizona. In 2002, Zhenjiang marked the 110th anniversary of Buck’s birth by convincing the provincial government to declare her former residence a historic landmark. And in 2004, it unveiled a monument to Buck and even renamed a city park “Pearl Square” in her honor, a rare distinction in a nation of “People’s Squares.” ...

Buck’s rehabilitation in Chinese academic circles and at the grass-roots level finally led to a reevaluation of her work by the government. In the early 1990s, cultural officials refused to let a PBS affiliate from Buck’s home state of West Virginia film a documentary about her, but in 1999, when the U.S.-based Chinese actress Luo Yan sought permission to film an adaptation of Buck’s novel Pavilion of Women, it was easily granted. The script—about an unhappily married Chinese woman who falls in love with a Western priest—raised no hackles, and the makers were allowed to film in protected historic sites. The movie attracted large crowds and considerable publicity in China, where it fared much better than in the United States.

Since then, China’s Central Television network has produced several documentaries and docudramas about Buck, including one that aired this past summer in which she is played, rather fittingly, by an American expatriate named Aly Rose who learned fluent Chinese while living among Chinese peasants. And events related to Buck are regularly covered in the national press. When Oprah Winfrey chose The Good Earth for her book club in autumn 2004, the English-language newspaper China Daily reported on the selection, noting that “the Pearl S. Buck phenomenon used to be controversial and rejected by both the Chinese and American literary worlds,” but that it has recently become “a friendly cultural bridge between the East and the West.”
via Arts & Letters Daily

Seven Deadly English Shibboleths

There are, however, seven words that the English uppers and upper-middles regard as infallible shibboleths. Utter any one of these 'seven deadly sins' in the presence of these higher classes, and their on-board class radar devices will start bleeping and flashing ...
  • Pardon ...
  • Toilet ...
  • Serviette A 'serviette' is what the inhabitants of Pardonia call a napkin. This is another example of a 'genteelism', in this case a misguided attempt to enhance one's status by using a fancy French word rather than a plain old English one. It has been suggested that 'serviette' was taken up by squeamish lower-middles who found 'napkin' a bit too close to 'nappy', and wanted something that sounded a bit more refined. Whatever its origins, 'serviette' is now regarded as irredeemably lower class. Upper-middle and upper-class mothers get very upset when their children learn to say 'serviette' from well-meaning lower-class nannies, and have to be painstakingly retrained to say 'napkin'.
  • Dinner ...
  • Settee ...
  • Lounge And what do they call the room in which the settee/sofa is to be found? Settees are found in 'lounges' or 'living rooms', sofas in 'sitting rooms' or 'drawing rooms'. 'Drawing room' (short for 'withdrawing room') used to be the only 'correct' term, but many upper-middles and uppers I feel it is bit silly and pretentious to call, say, a small room in an ordinary terraced house the 'drawing room', so 'sitting room' has become acceptable. You may occasionally hear an upper-middle-class person say 'living room', although this is frowned upon, but only middle-middles and below say 'lounge'. This is a particularly useful word for spotting middle-middle social climbers trying to pass as upper-middle: they may have learnt not to say 'pardon' and 'toilet', but they are often not aware that 'lounge' is also a deadly sin.
  • Sweet ...
SOURCE: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior, by Kate Fox (Hodder, 2004), pp. pp. 76-78

04 July 2006

Illegal Aliens: Black Bass in Biwako, Asian Carp in Chicago

Invasive fish species are upsetting the ecology of one of the world's oldest lakes and one of the world's largest river systems. The unique ecology of Lake Biwa, Japan, is threatened by bluegills and largemouth bass from North America, while the North American Great Lakes are now threatened by Asian carp that have been spreading up the tributaries of the Mississipi, including the Illinois River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
Lake Biwa hosts 491 species of plants and 595 species of animals. Recent studies of the lake bottom suggest that many more species remain to be discovered. About 50 species and subspecies are found nowhere else. These include such animals as the freshwater pearl mussel (Hyrlopsis schlegeri). Other species reach their southern limit in Lake Biwa, where they persist in the cooler temperatures of deep waters. An example of this are a small snail Cincinna biwaensis.

Other species have been intentionally or unintentionally introduced into the lake. In 1883, for instance, salmon were introduced and have supported a small fishery. Other species of fish, such as North American bluegills (Lepomis macrochilus) and largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) have come to dominate the fish community since the 1980s. These top-level predators have profoundly altered the ecosystem of the lake.
Among the species threatened are carp and crucian carp.
Naikos (attached lakes) of Lake Biwa served till mid sixties both as spawning grounds and as breeding areas for the endemic species such as round crucian carps. Environmental destruction over time and introduction of alien species drastically affected their biota. Nowadays, bluegills, one of the most rampant alien species in Japan, are dominant in all the naikos, while largemouth bass (commonly called "black bass" are dominant in more than two-thirds of all the naikos.

A series of field research in 2001 in Nodanuma naiko revealed that up to 95% of the collected larvae and juveniles were from invasive alien species. This has caused the occurrence of larval/juvenile carps and crucian carps, including some endemic species, to be limited to the earlier part of their original spawning period, namely from April through early and mid-June.
Meanwhile, Asian carp are moving in on the Great Lakes.
Asian carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem....

Two species of Asian carp -- the bighead and silver -- were imported by catfish farmers in the 1970's to remove algae and suspended matter out of their ponds. During large floods in the early 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed their banks, and the Asian carp were released into local waterways in the Mississippi River basin.

The carp have steadily made their way northward up the Mississippi, becoming the most abundant species in some areas of the River. They out-compete native fish, and have caused severe hardship to the people who fish there [except those fishermen who have begun to rely on the carp!].

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, where the barrier is being constructed, connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes via the Illinois River. Recent monitoring shows the carp to be in the Illinois River within 50 miles of Lake Michigan....

Asian Carp are a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. They are well-suited to the climate of the Great Lakes region, which is similar to their native Asian habitats.

Researchers expect that Asian carp would disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes. Due to their large size, ravenous appetites, and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem. Eventually, they could become a dominant species in the Great Lakes.

02 July 2006

The Importance of Not Being Earnest

At the most basic level, an underlying rule in all English conversation is the proscription of 'earnestness'. Although we may not have a monopoly on humour, or even on irony, the English are probably more acutely sensitive than any other nation to the distinction between 'serious' and 'solemn', between 'sincerity' and 'earnestness'.

This distinction is crucial to any kind of understanding of Englishness. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: if you are not able to grasp these subtle but vital differences, you will never understand the English – and even if you speak the language fluently, you will never feel or appear entirely at home in conversation with the English. Your English may be impeccable, but your behavioural 'grammar' will be full of glaring errors.

Once you have become sufficiently sensitized to these distinctions, the Importance of Not Being Earnest rule is really quite simple. Seriousness is acceptable, solemnity is prohibited. Sincerity is allowed, earnestness is strictly forbidden. Pomposity and self-importance are outlawed. Serious matters can be spoken of seriously, but one must never take oneself too seriously. The ability to laugh at ourselves, although it may be rooted in a form of arrogance, is one of the more endearing characteristics of the English. (At least, I hope I am right about this: if I have overestimated our ability to laugh at ourselves, this book will be rather unpopular.)

To take a deliberately extreme example, the kind of hand-on-heart, gushing earnestness and pompous, Bible-thumping solemnity favoured by almost all American politicians would never win a single vote in this country – we watch these speeches on our news programmes with a kind of smugly detached amusement, wondering how the cheering crowds can possibly be so credulous as to fall for this sort of nonsense. When we are not feeling smugly amused, we are cringing with vicarious embarrassment: how can these politicians bring themselves to utter such shamefully earnest platitudes, in such ludicrously solemn tones? We expect politicians to speak largely in platitudes, of course – ours are no different in this respect – it is the earnestness that makes us wince. The same goes for the gushy, tearful acceptance speeches of American actors at the Oscars and other awards ceremonies, to which English television viewers across the country all respond with the same finger-down-throat 'I'm going to be sick' gesture. You will rarely see English Oscar-winners indulging in these heart-on-sleeve displays – their speeches tend to be either short and dignified or self-deprecatingly humorous, and even so they nearly always manage to look uncomfortable and embarrassed. Any English thespian who dares to break these unwritten rules is ridiculed and dismissed as a 'luvvie'.

And Americans, although among the easiest to scoff at, are by no means the only targets of our cynical censure. The sentimental patriotism of leaders and the portentous earnestness of writers, artists, actors, musicians, pundits and other public figures of all nations are treated with equal derision and disdain by the English, who can spot the slightest hint of self-importance at twenty paces, even on a grainy television picture and in a language we don't understand. [Unless, of course, it's ideologically appealing self-important revolutionary sentimentalism from the lesser regions of the former empire, about which we remain sincerely, but just short of earnestly, laden with guilt.--J.]
SOURCE: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior, by Kate Fox (Hodder, 2004), pp. 62-63

When I was a teenage thespian, I played the part of Lane the manservant (and understudied for Merriman the butler) in a high school production of The Importance of Being Earnest. The last exchange before Lane makes his final exit is much quoted.
ALGERNON: I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane.

LANE: It never is, sir.

ALGERNON: Lane, you're a perfect pessimist.

LANE: I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.