31 January 2007

Ibn Battuta's Impressions of Mali, 1352

This desert is bright, luminous. Traversing it, one breathes deeply; one is in good spirits, and safe from robbers. The desert here contains many wild cattle. A flock of them might come so near to a caravan that people can hunt them with dogs and arrows. However, eating their meat creates thirst and, as such, many people avoid it as a consequence. If killed, water is found in their stomachs and I have seen the Massûfa squeezing the stomach and drinking the water. There are also many snakes.

A merchant of Tilimsan known as al-Hajj Zaiyân was in our caravan. He had the habit of catching these snakes and playing with them. I had asked him not to do this but he would not desist. He put his hand into a lizard's hole one day and found a snake there instead. He grasped it and was about to mount his horse. But the snake bit the finger of his right hand, inflicting severe pain on him. The wound was cauterized, but in the evening the pain worsened. He cut the throat of a camel and kept his hand in its stomach all night. The flesh of his finger loosened and then he sliced off his finger at the base. The Massûfa told me that the snake must have drunk water before biting him, or the bite would have killed him.

When the people coming to meet us with water had reached us, our mounts were given water. We entered an extremely hot desert. It was not like the one we had just experienced. We would leave after the afternoon prayer, travel all night and stop in the morning. Men from the Massûfa and Badama and other tribes brought us loads of water for sale. We reached the city of Iwalatan at the beginning of the month of rabi'i [17 April 1352] after a journey of two months from Sijilmasa. It is the first district in the country of the Blacks. The Sultan's deputy here is Farba Husain; farba means 'deputy'.

On arriving, the merchants deposited their goods in a clearing and the Blacks assumed responsibility for them. The merchants went to the Farba who was sitting on a mat in a shelter. His officials were standing in front of him holding spears and bows, and the Massûfa notables were behind him. The merchants stood in front of him, and he spoke to them through an interpreter as a sign of his contempt for them even though they were close to him. On observing their bad manners and contempt for white people, I was sorry I had come to their land. I retired to the house of ibn Badda', a kind man of Sala from whom I had let a house by request.

The inspector of Iwalatan, named Mansha Ju [lit. Royal Slave], invited those who had come in the caravan to a reception. I refused to attend. My companions urged me very strongly to accept, and finally I accompanied the rest. At the reception coarsely ground anli was served mixed with honey and curdled milk. This was put in a half gourd shaped like a large bowl. Those present drank and then left. I asked them: 'Is it for this that the Blacks invited us?' They replied: 'Yes. For them it is the greatest hospitality.' I became convinced that no good could be expected from these people, and I wished to join the pilgrims travelling out of Iwalatan. But I decided to go and see the capital of their king before leaving. I stayed in Iwalatan for about fifty days in all. Its people treated me with respect and were hospitable... The town of Iwalatan is very hot. There were some small palms and they had sowed melons in their shade. Water came from underground sources. Mutton was plentiful. Their clothes were of fine quality and of Egyptian origin. Most of the inhabitants belong to the Massûfa. The women are of exceptional beauty and are more highly respected than the men.
SOURCE: "Ibn Battuta, World Traveller (b. 1304)," in Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 294-296

Also see Ibn Battuta and His Saharan Travels and Ibn Battuta on the Web.

30 January 2007

Montessori Schools Turn 100, Find New Fans

The Montessori approach to education is now 100 years old, reports today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Its teaching methods once revolutionary are now used in traditional classrooms, with many public schools, including a few in Seattle, making a home for Montessori programs. Still, the trend toward standardized tests -- and the need to prepare students for those exams -- is making Montessori a little less popular in public school districts.

At the same time, the unpopularity of standardized tests is driving some parents to Montessori schools....

"It's a lot more free-form," said Troy Basel as he finished his lunch. "It's a lot easier to get to the teachers."

Montessori does have structure. But classrooms are based on creating natural connections to reading, writing and arithmetic. Children study algebra, U.S. history, Shakespeare, physics, biology and chemistry, yet are also "free to be who you want to be," added 14-year-old Kate Rzegocki.

Pacific Crest also is predominantly white -- 10 percent of its students are members of minorities. Historically, people thought of Montessori schools as dominated by wealthier, and often white, families, even though Maria Montessori created the system to serve poor children, said Laura Holt, who is on the board of the Pacific North West Montessori Association.

The image is changing around the city. Today, the Islamic School of Seattle offers a Montessori program. On Capitol Hill, one quarter of the students at the Learning Tree Montessori preschool are members of minorities, and the same percentage receives tuition subsidies, said Holt, assistant director of the school.
After a very regimented year in a Chinese preschool when she was 2 (and passing for 3), our daughter attended Montessori schools from preschool through 6th grade, and still thinks fondly of those years. I still remember how excited her teachers were when she finally found the courage to cross the threshold into the room where slightly older kids were doing their activities.

29 January 2007

The Shah of Iran's Travel Diary, 6 July 1873

I have noticed today a curious state of mind among the French: first of all they are still in mourning over this recent war with Germany and all of them, young and old, are sad and melancholy. The women of the people, ladies and gentlemen still wear mourning dress, with few ornaments and of a great simplicity. Some of them cried occasionally 'Long live the Marshal! Long live the Shah of Persia!' I heard one cry while I went for a promenade in the evening: 'May his reign be firm and long-lasting!'

It seems that in France several parties want a return of the monarchy. Among them there are three tendencies: one wishes for the return of the son of Napoleon III; another that of a descendant of Louis-Philippe; another that of Henri V; who belongs to the Bourbon dynasty, and who is descended from the family of Louis-Philippe, but by another branch. The advocates of a republic are equally numerous, but they too are divided in opinion: some want a red republic, that is a radical one; others want a moderate republic which would have the institutions of a monarchy, but no king; others want something else again. At the moment, governing in the middle of all these parties is very difficult and this situation may have detrimental consequences, unless all these tendencies come to an agreement, and a real monarchy or a real republic is established. Once the French state was the strongest of all, and everybody had to take it into account. Now with all these numerous divergent opinions it is difficult to preserve order within the country ...

The Palace in which we reside was previously that of the Parliament, that is, the assembly of deputies of the nation. After the fall of Napoleon III and the installation of a Republic, the deputies and all the figures of State have left for Versailles and have left the city of Paris completely deprived of government administration. The city of Paris, in fact, belongs to the plebeians and the peasants. They may do as they like, the government does not have the means to oppose them. The Palace of the Tuileries, which was the most beautiful palace in the world, is now totally destroyed: the Communards set fire to it. Only the walls remain. I was very sad about it. But thank God, the Palace of Louvre, which was next to that of the Tuileries, has been preserved and has not suffered damage. The City Hall, which was a beautiful monument, and the Palace of the Legion of Honour have both been burnt to the ground. The Communards have broken down and removed the column of Vendome, which Napoleon I had built from cannon conquered from the enemy, on top of which his statue had been erected and on which scenes from all his battles had been engraved. Now nothing remains except the plinth of the column.

Paris is a very beautiful city, pretty, pleasant, generally sunny; its climate is very similar to that of Iran.
SOURCE: Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 258-259

28 January 2007

WW2 Interservice Rivalry in the U.S. and Japan

Interservice rivalry existed in Tokyo, to be sure, but on the fighting front both services cooperated fully, as was evident in Malaya, where General Tomoyuki Yamashita and Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa displayed perfect teamwork. In the Guadalcanal operations, also, the Japanese Army and Navy cooperated.

The Americans at the front, however, did not yield to each other. One conspicuous example of this occurred when an emergency policy conference was held on 4 September 1942 at Noumea to discuss the Japanese counteroffensive, which was endangering the American forward lines. Present at the conference were Admiral Nimitz, CINCPAC; General Arnold, Air Force Chief of Staff; Admiral Ghormley, Commander in Chief, South Pacific; General Sutherland, Chief of Staff, Far Eastern Army; and General Turner, Commandant of Marine Corps. General MacArthur refused to come to the meeting. When Admiral Nimitz asked General MacArthur for 10,000 soldiers as reinforcements, MacArthur turned down the request, saying that he could not divert a single man from the New Guinea operations—even though he then had 55,000 men under his command. When MacArthur in turn asked Admiral Nimitz for a fleet with two carriers, one Marine division, and a squadron of large bombers for his northward operations, Nimitz refused and explained that operations at Guadalcanal would not permit such a diversion of his forces.

When the situation at Guadalcanal became critical for the United States, President Roosevelt finally took direct measures to dissolve the interservice rivalry. On 24 October 1942 he sent an emergency order, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, directing the immediate reinforcement of Guadalcanal....

Turning to Japan, we see a different kind of rivalry. The battle of the Solomons was fought mainly by the Naval Air Force. Plane losses ran to the staggering total of 7,000. The nation's capacity for plane production should have been mobilized to replenish these losses. The Army, however, insisted on one half of all aircraft production for its own use. Since the Army Air Force had sustained no losses in the Solomons, it should have relinquished its quota to the Navy, but it did not. Two decades earlier, when the Navy under Admiral Tomosaburo Kato was feverishly trying to build its 8-8 Fleet, the Minister of War, General Giichi Tanaka, offered to divert part of his appropriations to assist the Navy's expansion. Such understanding and cooperation, however, could not be expected from the Army leadership of General Tojo. The Navy's antipathy toward Tojo was extreme, and men in the Navy Ministry were correspondingly disturbed by their weak leadership in Admiral Shigetaro Shimada. In the United States, harmony prevailed at the highest level of command, while discord erupted between field commanders. In Japan, on the other hand, there was harmony among field commanders of both various services, but disunity and friction at General Headquarters.

Meanwhile, the scheduled offensives were launched by Admiral Nimitz in the Gilberts and the Marshalls, and by General MacArthur in New Guinea. Japan had no way of knowing which was the main offensive line. She abandoned the Solomons operations, gave up her outer perimeters, and was forced to withdraw to an inner defensive line along the Marianas and the Philippines. This forced withdrawal left Japan with makeshift lines which were indefensible. If she had been content with these inner defensive lines in the first place, and had devoted her efforts to establishing strong positions along these lines, she would have given a much better account of herself.
SOURCE: The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, by Masanori Ito, trans. by Andrew Y. Kuroda and Roger Pineau (Jove Books, 1984), pp. 88-92

Sending Cash Home to Eastern Europe, Central Asia

Many newly liberated/orphaned economies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are now depending more and more on remittances from their citizens working abroad, like so many Pacific Island countries whose economies are based on MIRAB (PDF): MIgration, Remittances, Aid, and Bureacracy.
The largest amount of remittances, as a share of GDP, was sent to Moldova.

The study, using data from 2004, indicated that money sent there by migrants was equivalent to 27% of GDP, an estimated 705 million US dollars. Bosnia and Herzegovina (21%; $1.83bn), Albania (16%; $1.16bn) and Armenia (9%; $336m) were among the larger recipients.

Russia attracted migrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union, while poorer Central Asian workers were drawn to countries such as resource-rich Kazakhstan....

About 80% of Bulgarians and 62% of Romanians said they were not sending cash back to their home countries while working abroad....

While the report focused on the ECA nations, the Bank said that Tonga was the nation which had the largest level of remittance income as a proportion of GDP.

In pure monetary value, the latest World Bank figures show that India was the largest recipient of remittances, with about 22 billion US dollars being sent home in 2005. China and Mexico were also at the top end of the table.

In that year, total remittances globally topped 230 billion US dollars of which developing countries received 167 billion, more than twice the level of development aid from all sources.
via Colby Cosh

27 January 2007

Dancing Destroyers and Submersible Freighters, 1942–43

In November [1942] there were on Guadalcanal nearly 15,000 Japanese officers and men, thousands of whom were incapacitated by sickness—malaria, stomach disorder, malnutrition. All day they had to fight against steadily growing enemy land forces. At night they were engaged in receiving such food, ammunition, stores, and medical supplies as might be brought in by fast destroyers or submarines. The "grocery runs" were made at full speed, under cover of darkness on moonless nights.

In hope of avoiding air attacks, Japanese destroyers stayed by day at Shortland Bay in Bougainville. Yet even there they were subjected to bombing attacks by the far-ranging American planes. These regular bombings were dubbed teikibin [定期便], meaning scheduled runs.

When the air-raid alarm sounded, all ships would get underway and maneuver violently, swinging their bows hard left or right to dodge the falling bombs. These attacks came so frequently and regularly that the destroyer skippers began to look forward to them as a chance for practicing evasive tactics. Admiral Tomiji Koyanagi, commander of the destroyer squadrons, nicknamed these evasive maneuvers the "Bon Dance" because of their left and right swinging movements, so reminiscent of the dancing in the annual Bon Festival of Lanterns. The dance of the destroyers was laughable, if one could ignore the deadly consequences of a misstep....

Deplorable as was this destroyer situation, the story of misused submarines is even sorrier.

When first-line submarines were employed almost exclusively in the demeaning task of supply operations, the war for Japan on a gloomy aspect despite many great naval victories.

Early in the effort of supplying Guadalcanal by surface ship, it was realized that nocturnal destroyer runs could not bring in enough material. Accordingly, submarines were detailed to the same task. As need for supplies increased, more submarines were assigned until, by January 1943, thirty-eight submarines were eventually involved. This "submerged freight service" cost Japan the loss of 20 submarines and their seasoned crews. During this period another four submarines were sunk in the Solomons area while on regular patrol. The loss of 24 submarines in a few short months was bad enough, but it was especially painful that 20 of these aggressive fighting machines should be lost in the course of nonaggressive operations for which they were never intended.

Submarines assigned to this duty were stripped of all torpedoes, shells, and guns to make room for supplies. Crews were dejected when informed of their mission, even though they realized the importance of bringing needed materials to Guadalcanal. It was a further blow to morale when the crews witnessed enemy submarines, on proper offensive missions in the same area, attacking our ships and disrupting our supply lines.

Quite naturally our submariners felt that their proper and primary task was to cut off the line of supply between the mainland of the United States and Guadalcanal, or to attack the line of communication between Guadalcanal and Australia. Disruption of the enemy's line of communication to Guadalcanal—so much more extended than that of Japan—would have been far easier for Japanese submarines had they been allowed to pursue their proper function. And it would also have been far more profitable to the Japanese war effort.

With only three Japanese submarines engaged in offensive operations around Guadalcanal, it is to their great credit that they succeeded in sinking the enemy aircraft carrier Wasp. The poor showing of Japanese submarines in World War II, as compared with those of Germany and the United States, must be attributed in major part to their unwise employment in late 1942 and early 1943.

If the thirty-odd Japanese submarines available in the Solomons had been mobilized offensively to the east and south of Guadalcanal they could have seriously disrupted enemy convoys and been a great threat to the supply strategy of the United States. When Japanese submarines were finally released from logistic support operations and resumed regular offensive tasks, there was a marked increase in their effectiveness against enemy ships.
SOURCE: The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, by Masanori Ito, trans. by Andrew Y. Kuroda and Roger Pineau (Jove Books, 1984), pp. 79-83

26 January 2007

Wordcatcher Tales: Rengou Kantai, Ketteisen

The other old mass-market paperback that I recently bought for $1.39 was The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy, by Masanori Ito (1956), translated by Andrew Y. Kuroda and Roger Pineau (1962). It offers an interesting critical retrospective on the Pacific War from the point of view of the Japanese Navy's high command. It also offers a chance to combine book excerpts with Wordcatcher Tales.

聯合艦隊 rengou kantai – 聯合 rengou 'combined, united' has now been simplified to 連合. The first character also occurs in the abbreviated name of the old Soviet Union (ソ連 soren [so- is short for sobietto 'Soviet']) and in the translation of United Kingdom (連合王国 rengou oukoku). The second word, which can mean either 'fleet' (if large) or 'squadron' (if small) is composed of 艦 kan 'warship' and 隊 tai 'squad, troop'. In Japanese, navy submarines are warships, not "boats": 潜水艦 sensuikan 'submerge-water-warship'. The 隊 tai can also translate 'corps', as in 挺身隊 teishintai 'volunteer (lit. 'offer-body') corps', which is the standard term for the military 'comfort women' in Korean (chŏngshindae).
TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE "Rengo Kantai" is a familiar and honored term meaning "Combined Fleet." When World War II began, the Japanese Navy—the third most powerful in the world—included some of the mightiest ships in naval history and was a force worthy of the pride and trust of the Japanese people. Then, in less than four years, this great war machine fell from glory to oblivion. Of ten battleships riding in Hiroshima Bay in December, 1941, nine were sunk. The lone survivor, Nagato, died at Bikini Island as a target in an atomic bomb test.

As early as the spring of 1946, Bungei Shunju magazine urged me to write of the last days of the Combined Fleet. I refused because I did not wish to disturb the dead bodies of my friends. Even if I had forced myself to write, I would not then have been able to assemble all the material now available to me. In the years since Japan's defeat, the war-troubled mind of the people has been calmed, but I find that there is still nostalgia for the Combined Fleet in many hearts. It was at the request of Japanese readers that my newspaper articles were assembled into this book.

Movements to romanize our language may some day succeed [!!], but the ideographs for Rengo Kantai [聯合艦隊] will always stir Japanese hearts, just as do some of Admiral Heihachiro Togo's famous words. His dispatch as battle was about to be joined at Tsushima Strait: "The enemy has been sighted; the Combined Fleet is moving to annihilate him. The waves are high but the day is clear." [pp. 1-2]
決定戦 ketteisen 'decisive battle, showdown' – The components are 決める kimeru 'to decide', as in the Sino-Japanese compound 解決 kaiketsu 'solution, settlement'; 定める sadameru 'to decide, fix', as in the compound 定食 teishoku 'set meal'; and 戦う tatakau 'to fight', as in the compound 戦争 sensou 'war'. The term can refer to any kind of decisive showdown, whether between sumo wrestlers, gameshow contestants, or dinosaurs.
Army leaders in Japan believed that the United States could be easily defeated. But Admirals Yamamoto and Nagano knew the temper, traits, and character of the American people, as well as the military history of the country, and they had no illusions of an easy victory for Japan.

Their hope was that Japan might quickly achieve such overwhelming successes that the United States would accept a compromise peace. There was risk involved, but Yamamoto decided in favor of decisive battle. The question then remained as to where the battle should be fought. The Naval General Staff hoped that it could be in the Solomons.

The Solomon Islands, stretching southeasterly from Rabaul to Guadalcanal, could provide valuable bases for the Japanese fleet. The General Staff figured that seizure of these islands would constitute such a threat to Allied lines of communications that the United States Navy would oppose their occupation, and could then be annihilated. This concept depended heavily on the enemy's rising to the bait. If the enemy shied from decisive battle in the Solomons, Japan would be faced with a long war.

Admiral Yamamoto, on the other hand, advocated Midway as the battleground. He reasoned that Japanese occupation of Midway and the Aleutians (all part of the same operation plan), would guarantee a challenge from the United States Navy. He felt that Americans could accept the fall of Guam and Wake, but that they would not tolerate Japan's advance beyond the 180th meridian. He also felt that his Midway plan had a better chance of success than the Solomons strategy.

The Midway strategy, however, involved a greater risk. The distance from Japan's Inland Sea to Midway is more than twice the distance from Pearl Harbor to Midway. Midway's comparative proximity to Pearl Harbor would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Japan to support an island garrison. The chance was very great that the enemy could easily recapture the atoll.

But Admiral Yamamoto argued that the opportunity for a decisive battle must be expected to entail risk. Midway should be seized. If the enemy came out to regain the island, Japan's long-sought opportunity would be provided. A fleet-opposed action of Japan's choosing would lead the way to another "Pearl Harbor," in which, this time, enemy aircraft carriers could be destroyed. With the U.S. Navy's strength divided between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Yamamoto felt that the Pacific half would fall easy victim to the concentrated Combined Fleet of Imperial Japan. [pp. 52-53]

24 January 2007

Operation Bismarck Sea, 2–4 March 1943

One reason I've been posting a bit less is that I've been reading a book that is not very bloggable—Operation Bismarck Sea, by Lawrence Cortesi (Major Books, 1977)—which I picked up for $1.39 at a used book store. It interested me because it describes a major air–sea battle in the area of Papua New Guinea in which I did fieldwork in 1976, and where I heard many stories about the Pacific War in that neighborhood. I shan't keep it. There are much better resources online these days.

The little mass-market paperback book has all the accuracy of a TV docudrama by Ollie North. In other words, it has lots of accurate and fascinating facts and figures, but it's quite one-sided. Among the earliest tipoffs that the Japanese side was badly misrepresented was the improbable name Yukata Tishayuna, a fictional captain subordinate to the real admiral Masatomi Kimura (citing the names in English order). That, plus the fact that the captain addresses his superior as the 'Honorable Kimura', and the Japanese speak in orientalized clichés:
"Before the first buds of cherry blossoms seek the sunlight of spring," the aide said, "we shall destroy the cancer at Wau."

"Banzai," Okabe answered softly with a grin.
Other names are also screwed up: a Japanese ship named Arishio (蟻潮 'ant tide'?) instead of Arashio (荒潮 'rough tide'); and an island called Undoi instead of Umboi (the former somehow distinguished from Rooke Island, the latter synonymous with Rooke Island, and also known as Siassi Island).

Nevertheless, there is one passage that seems worth quoting on pp. 182-183:
The Imperial Japanese Staff had always been too cautious, even when they possessed far superior numbers. They were never willing to commit more troops or planes or ships than necessary, especially in air and sea battles.

At Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had come up short of a true knockout blow because they were too cautious to move in for the kill and perhaps occupy the Hawaiian Islands. In the Battle of the Coral Sea, though their forces far outnumbered the understrength Allies, they retired after suffering the loss of a single carrier, even though they had sunk two American carriers. In the Battle of Midway, although Japan's air and sea units had suffered losses, they still had a formidable, unscathed striking force in the area; but instead of pressing on against the depleted American carrier force, they again retired.

The same might be said of the Solomons campaign. Japanese caution was the major reason for American success at Guadalcanal. In most of the naval fights during the Solomon campaign, the Japanese task forces did more damage to the American navy than the Americans had meted out. Yet, after successful naval engagements, such as the Battles of Savo Island or Cape Esperance, the Japanese naval units retired after their victories instead of pressing forward. As a result, they had allowed the American navy to lick its wounds and regain its strength.

As to Japan's aerial strategy, the worst kind of caution prevailed. While American pilots were generally superior to Japanese pilots, and while the American P-38 was superior to the Hamp and Zero fighter plane, the Japanese could muster many more planes. Further, they were superior to the earlier P-39 and P-40 used by the American air force prior to 1943. Yet they never sent more than a squadron or two of fighter planes into an aerial engagement. They thus allowed even terms to inferior numbers of Allied army and navy units, which could rarely muster more than a squadron or two of planes to meet a Japanese challenge. So, because of the superior training of Allied airmen, the Allied pilots usually defeated their opponents.

The Japanese also followed this caution in the use of their bombers. Hundreds of Sally and Betty bombers sat on the many Japanese air bases in the Bismarck Archipelago, especially at Rabaul. Yet they rarely committed more than 20 or 30 bombers to an air attack against an Allied base. Against navy ships, the Japanese only used their light naval fighter-bombers. They rarely sent their heavy and medium bombers that were only a stone's throw from the Ironbottom Strait [or Sound] in the Solomons where most of the action took place during the Guadalcanal operation. The biggest raid ever conducted by the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific was the 5-plane raid on Port Moresby in February, 1942.

At the conference in Rabaul in February 1943, where the Japanese staff planned operation 157, Admiral Junichi Kasaka of the Imperial Eleventh Naval Air Fleet, boasted of his great airpower. He could count hundreds of planes scattered among the various Japanese airfields in the Bismarck Archipelago. Why then, didn't Admiral Kasaka maintain a cover of a hundred or even two-hundred planes over the convoy all the way from Rabaul to the Huon Gulf? Kasaka's land-based aircraft were never more than an hour or two from the route of Kimura's convoy. And, ironically, Kasaka did maintain heavy air cover over the convoy during the early part of the voyage, when the convoy was far into the Bismarck Sea and out of range of Allied medium or light bombers. But he failed to maintain this cover as the convoy neared Huon Gulf, within range of any Allied plane in New Guinea.

Moreover, Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, commander of the Eighth Outer Sea Fleet, could proclaim that he had all but chased the American navy from the Bismarck Archipelago because of his superior numbers in naval ships. Why then, didn't he allot one or even two aircraft carriers to escort the hugely important 22-ship convoy into Lae? Again, because the Japanese had an obsession with safeguarding their heavy strength. They kept planes and ships ever in reserve for future emergency.

My Reaction to the State of the Union Speech

I was only half-watching U.S. President Bush's State of the Union speech on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, but I came away very disappointed in Speaker Pelosi. Why? Well, for passing up the perfect chance to give the President a surprise shoulder-massage like the one he gave to German Chancellor Merkel. The House Speaker might have one more chance next year, but tensions between his shoulders and between the two political parties will be even worse in 2008, I expect.

22 January 2007

Mongolia and Polynesia Have Japan Surrounded

The Champions List has now been posted for the most recently concluded Grand Sumo Tournament, the first for 2007. The winner of the highest division (Makuuchi) is, for the 20th time, the Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu (14-1). Ho-hum. The winner of the lowest (Jonokuchi) division is Hisanoumi (6-1), who hails from Tonga. About time another Polynesian worked his way up the ranks! And the winners of all the divisions in between—Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme, and Jonidan—are Japanese. That, too, is good for the future of Japan's unique sport.

Bougainville in Wonderland

The latest issue of The Contemporary Pacific (now online at Project Muse), contains a review (PDF) by Donald Denoon of what looks to be an interesting set of perspectives on Bougainville before, during, and after the worst of the recent conflict. Here's the beginning and end of the review.
Bougainville: Before the Conflict, edited by Anthony J Regan and Helga M Griffin. Canberra: Pandanus Books and the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 2005....

Events in Bougainville would challenge even the Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1873), who sometimes believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. In 2004 the arch-secessionist Francis Ona, ignoring seven years of peacemaking and the election of an Autonomous Bougainville Government within Papua New Guinea, had himself crowned king of an independent Bougainville. His ally Noah Musingku, another fantasist and creator of fraudulent pyramid schemes, conducted the rites and became Prince David. But when Ona died, he received a state funeral from the state he did not recognize, subsidized (the ultimate insult?) by Australian aid.

Early in 2006, veterans of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and their once implacable enemies in the Resistance united to denounce Musingku’s dishonest fund-raising. The Autonomous Bougainville Government demanded that the Papua New Guinea Defense Force arrest Noah and disband and deport his Fijian soldiers. Meanwhile, the Bougainvillean minister for mines in the Papua New Guinea government offered to negotiate with multinational companies to resume copper mining at Panguna or elsewhere. Evidently anyone who understood Bougainville politics was misinformed....

It is impossible to summarize the richness of these studies, memoirs, and vignettes. James Tanis’s reflections (“Nagovisi villages”) are unusually eloquent but typical of the analytical and emotional power of these contributions. He left the university to join the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, fought to the end, engaged in peace negotiations, and served as a minister in Bougainville’s postwar government. He parted company with Francis Ona when Ona boycotted the peace process. Tanis reviews the prewar circumstances of Nagovisi and the land disputes that led to Ona’s supremacy—and his tragic descent into mysticism and irrelevance.

This is not a run-of-the-mill monograph. Like many other perceptive writers, Tanis raises more questions than anyone could possibly answer. He asks about the nature of Papua New Guinea’s stake in Bougainville; he ponders Australia’s interests in Panguna; and he wonders what unseen forces—global and regional—contributed to the destruction of the environment and years of civil war in Bougainville. And he concludes with the most radical of all questions: “After gaining political independence from colonial masters, do all third world nations enjoy only brief periods of real independence? Must they all then experience civil wars and revolutions and go bankrupt and join the queue awaiting solutions from elsewhere?”

21 January 2007

How to End Another (Anti-)Opium War

I've been too busy with other projects lately to follow up on some news reports that relate to my recent excerpts from Rory Stewart's travels in Afghanistan, in particular Anne Applebaum's column last Tuesday advocating control rather than eradication of opium, the country's largest cash crop by far.
Of course it isn't fashionable right now to argue for any legal form of opiate cultivation. But look at the evidence. At the moment, Afghanistan's opium exports account for somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of the country's gross domestic product, depending on whose statistics you believe. The biggest producers are in the southern provinces where the Taliban is at its strongest, and no wonder: Every time a poppy field is destroyed, a poor person becomes poorer -- and more likely to support the Taliban against the Western forces who wrecked his crops. Yet little changes: The amount of land dedicated to poppy production grew last year by more than 60 percent, as The Post reported last month....

Yet by far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is that it exists at all -- because it doesn't have to. To see what I mean, look at the history of Turkey, where once upon a time the drug trade also threatened the country's political and economic stability. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could "bring down the government." Just like Afghanistan, Turkey -- this was the era of "Midnight Express"-- was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.

As a result, in 1974 the Turks, with American and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn't necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report-- which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn't mention Turkey -- but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as "narcotic raw materials" from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.

Why not add Afghanistan to this list?
Registan contributor Joshua Foust notes an ominous sign that the U.S. seems to be taking the opposite approach.
President Bush has named William Wood as the new ambassador to Afghanistan.... Wood hails from Colombia, which makes sense. The theory must be that he has experience running an anti-narcotics effort. Of course, the anti-cocaine effort in Columbia is an abysmal failure, and repeating the same tactics in the anti-opium effort in Afghanistan look set to make the security problems—to say nothing of the drug problem—far, far worse.

Another Profile of Japan's Brazilian Workers

Associated Press reporter Joseph Coleman recently talked to a few people in Oizumi, home of Japan's largest Braziltown, in international Ota City in Gunma Prefecture just north of Tokyo, and just across the river from the recent Outlier haunt of Ashikaga City in Tochigi Prefecture. It's no surprise that the children of the immigrant workers seem to be having trouble fitting into either culture.
A labor shortage during the economic boom of the late 1980s produced a change in visa laws to let in descendants of Japanese emigrants. But if officials figured the immigrants would blend easily back into Japanese society, they were disappointed.

Today, Japan's 302,000 Brazilians are its third-largest foreign minority after Koreans and Chinese. Watanabe and the other foreigners of Oizumi are the human legacy of that policy.

Instead of a chain of schools to absorb the newcomers into Japan, the reverse seems to be happening.

In 1999 the Brazilian education company Pitagoras opened a school in Ota, a town neighboring Oizumi, to improve the foreign children's Portuguese and prepare them for a possible return to Brazil. Japan now has six Pitagoras outlets.

Maria Lucia Graciano Franca, a teacher at the Ota school, said many of the workers' children speak neither Portuguese nor Japanese well and have trouble fully adjusting to life in Brazil or Japan.

"They go back to Brazil, they stay for a while, and they come back here," she said as children practiced dance moves for a school concert. "And the ones who stay in Japan follow the same route as their parents - they work in the factories."

The grown-ups are torn too.

19 January 2007

"Poor students need only love, idealism and martyrdom"

In today's New York Times, a 10th-grade history teacher at a public school in
the Bronx reviews Hollywood's latest inspirational-teacher flick.
The great misconception of these films is not that actual schools are more chaotic and decrepit — many schools in poor neighborhoods are clean and orderly yet still don’t have enough teachers or money for supplies. No, the most dangerous message such films promote is that what schools really need are heroes. This is the Myth of the Great Teacher.

Films like "Freedom Writers" portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job....

"Freedom Writers," like all teacher movies this side of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," is presented as a celebration of teaching, but its message is that poor students need only love, idealism and martyrdom.

I won't argue the need for more of the first two, but I'm always surprised at how, once a Ms. Gruwell wins over a class with clowning, tears, rewards and motivational speeches, there is nothing those kids can't do. It is as if all the previously insurmountable obstacles students face could be erased by a 10-minute pep talk or a fancy dinner. This trivializes not only the difficulties many real students must overcome, but also the hard-earned skill and tireless effort real teachers must use to help those students succeed.
It seems to me that Hollywood takes exactly the same short-attention-span approach to foreign policy. Each international crisis is a movie project. Activists devote their attention to it for six months or so, generating media events and raising tons of cash. When that's done, they take several months off, then they're ready for new causes, new projects, new scripts, new locations, new casts, new marriages. Nothing can't be solved by media events, cash, and lots of feel-good self-congratulation. Who cares if their solution bombs with the people it aims to rescue. They're not really the audience. They're somebody else's responsibility. And it was all somebody else's money to begin with.

14 January 2007

Wordcatcher Tales: Iwo, Kakka, Kisamara

Yesterday I went to see the best Japanese movie I've seen in a long time: Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima (硫黄島からの手紙). Although Eastwood deserves the lion's share of the credit, and the Japanese actors were excellent (especially the leads, veteran Watanabe Ken as the commanding general and boyband star Ninomiya Kazunari as the slacker private), I appreciated above all the superb screenwriting by Iris Yamashita, who did an amazing job of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps. The wording of the Japanese dialogue and the English subtitles often diverged radically in order to make each appropriate to the context. Here are a few of the divergences.

硫黄 iou (also ryuuou, yuou) 'sulphur, brimstone' - Note that there is no /w/ in the current Japanese pronunciation of this most appropriate name for an island in the Volcano Archipelago (火山列島 Kazan Rettou) that was hell on earth for the men who fought there.

UPDATE: The Mandarin Chinese reading for this compound is liúhuáng. The second character, optional in many contexts, means 'yellow', but in this compound it is sometimes written with a 'stone' radical (硫磺). The regular Sino-Japanese match should be ryuukou (once written riu-kuwau), but both syllables of the island placename have suffered erosion: ryuu- > yuu- > yu- > i- and -kou > -ou.

閣下 kakka '(Your/His[/Her]) Excellency' - The commanding general is both addressed and referred to as kakka, a term of great deference but not a military rank. I learned my first two Japanese military ranks while watching the Japanese-dubbed Adventures of Rin Tin Tin as a kid: 軍曹 gunsou 'sergeant' and 中尉 chuui '1st lieutenant'. In English, several of the names for the officer ranks come in pairs: 1st and 2nd lieutenant, lieutenant and lieutenant junior grade, colonel and lieutenant colonel, commander and lieutenant commander, and (my favorite) rear admiral upper half and rear admiral lower half. In Japanese (and Chinese and Korean, I believe), they come in groups of three, each coming in small, middle, and large size:
  • 少尉 shoui, 中尉 chuui, 大尉 taii for the company-grade officer ranks (USA/USN) '2nd lieutenant/ensign', '1st lieutenant/lieutenant junior grade', 'captain/lieutenant';
  • 少佐 shousa, 中佐 chuusa, 大佐 taisa for the field-grade officer ranks 'major/lieutenant commander', 'lieutenant colonel/commander', 'colonel/captain';
  • 少将 shoushou, 中将 chuushou, 大将 taishou (as in 将軍 shougun 'general of an army') for the general officer/flag officer ranks 'major general/rear admiral (2 stars)', 'lieutenant general/vice admiral (3 stars)', 'general/admiral (4 stars)'.
The much more problematical in-between ranks of 'brigadier/commodore' (with 1 star) are rendered by 准将 junshou '(lit.) quasi-general/semi-admiral'. In the U.S. Navy, commodores are now rear admirals (lower half).

貴様ら kisamara 'you collective (derog.)' - Japanese has a host of ways to translate English 'you'. (See the useful summary at the end of the Yale Anime Society glossary.) The most common ones used in the military context of the movie were the gruff, male-bonding omae (お前, etymologically 'honorable facing [person]') and the familiar, superior-to-subordinate kimi (君, etymologically 'lord'). The latter etymon is also the source of -kun, a familiar (usually male) equivalent of neutral -san 'Mr., Ms.' and polite -sama (様). As the derogation of 君 'lord' attests, the most derogatory terms often have the most noble origins. And few terms of address have dropped farther down the scale of politeness than 貴様 '(lit.) exalted/sacred-sama', which is now best rendered in English as 'you son-of-a-bitch, you bastard', in other words, the 'you' that precedes a fight.

I had heard kisama many times, but had never heard it with its collective suffix -ra—the impolite equivalent of -tachi—until I heard abusive officers use it in the movie script to address troops about to be punished, in fact, troops about to be summarily executed in one episode. That got me thinking about the contexts appropriate for using -ra vs. -tachi. At one end of the scale, you would not combine highly derogatory kisama with a neutral collective marker: *kisama-tachi sounds socially bizarre. At the other end of the scale, you would not (except ironically) combine polite anata with impolite -ra in *anata-ra (although the less respectful anta-ra sort of works, for me anyway). However, either collective suffix seems to work on the gruff, male-bonding terms: omae-ra and omae-tachi both work for 'you guys', just as ore-ra and ore-tachi do for 'us guys'.

UPDATE: Another tricky term of address I heard in the film was onore (己), which my electronic dictionary defines as either (1) 'oneself' (syn. jibun), (2) 'you' (syn. omae, anata), or (3) "Hey!; Damn it!; You son of a bitch!" [syn. kisama—J.]. In the film script, it was used by a gallant but kind-hearted commanding officer addressing his men after their situation was hopeless, telling them to do what they think is right (like Polonius: "to thine own self [onore] be true"), thus implicitly allowing them to choose surrender. The officer himself chose solitary suicide after being blinded by shrapnel.

13 January 2007

The Shape of Neocolonialism: afghangov.org

For the last three months, whenever I checked my e-mail at a Nepali town with an Internet cafe, I had received a message from someone just gone to govern Afghanistan. The UN application forms started passing around in October 2001, and then the circulars appeared: "Please don't expect to write to this e-mail—there is no Internet connection in Kabul." Finally, messages popped up from new addresses—@pak.id, @afghangov.org, @worldbank.org, @un.org—talking about the sun in the mountains. I now had half a dozen friends working in Afghanistan in embassies, think tanks, international development agencies, the United Nations, and the Afghan government, controlling projects worth millions of dollars. A year before, they had been in Kosovo or East Timor and a year later they would be in Iraq [like the author himself] or offices in New York and Washington.

Their objective was (to quote the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) "the creation of a centralized, broad-based, multi-ethnic government committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law." They worked twelve- or fourteen-hour days drafting documents for heavily funded initiatives on "democratization," "enhancing capacity," "gender," "sustainable development," "skills training," or "protection issues." They were mostly in their late twenties or early thirties, with at least two degrees—often in international law, economics, or development. They came from middle-class backgrounds in Western countries, and in the evenings, they dined with each other and swapped anecdotes about corruption in the government and the incompetence of the United Nations. They rarely drove their SUVs outside Kabul because their security advisers forbade it.

Some, such as the two political officers in Chaghcharan, were experienced and well informed about conditions in rural Afghanistan. But they were barely fifty out of many thousands. Most of the policy makers knew next to nothing about the villages where 90 percent of the Afghan population lived. They came from postmodern, secular, globalized states with liberal traditions in law and government. It was natural for them to initiate projects on urban design, women's rights, and fiber-optic cable networks; to talk about transparent, clean, and accountable processes, tolerance, and civil society; and to speak of a people "who desire peace at any cost and understand the need for a centralized multi-ethnic government."

But what did they understand of the thought processes of Seyyed Kerbalahi's wife, who had not moved five kilometers from her home in forty years? Or Dr. Habibullah, the vet, who carried an automatic weapon in the way they carried briefcases? The villagers I had met were mostly illiterate, lived far from electricity or television, and knew very little about the outside world. Versions of Islam; views of ethnicity, government, politics, and the proper methods of dispute resolution (including armed conflict); and the experience of twenty-five years of war differed from region to region. The people of Kamenj understood political power in terms of their feudal lord Haji Mohsin Khan. Ismail Khan in Herat wanted a social order based on Iranian political Islam. Hazara such as Ali hated the idea of centralized government because they associated it with subjugation by other ethnic groups and suffering under the Taliban. Even within a week's walk I had encountered areas where the local Begs had been toppled by Iranian-funded social revolution and others where feudal structures were still in place; areas where the violence had been inflicted by the Taliban and areas where the villagers had inflicted it on one another. These differences between groups were deep, elusive, and difficult to overcome. Village democracy, gender issues, and centralization would be hard-to-sell concepts in some areas.

Policy makers did not have the time, structures, or resources for a serious study of an alien culture. They justified their lack of knowledge and experience by focusing on poverty and implying that dramatic cultural differences did not exist. They acted as though villagers were interested in all the priorities of international organizations, even when those priorities were mutually contradictory.

In a seminar in Kabul, I heard Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, say, "Afghans have been fighting for their human rights for twenty-five years. We don't need to tell them what their rights are." Then the head of a major food agency added privately, "Villagers are not interested in human rights. They are like poor people all over the world. All they think about is where their next meal is coming from." To which the head of an Afghan NGO providing counseling responded, "The only thing to know about these people is that they are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

The differences between the policy makers and a Hazara such as Ali went much deeper than his lack of food. Ali rarely worried about his next meal. He was a peasant farmer and had a better idea than most about where his next meal was coming from. If he defined himself it was chiefly as a Muslim and a Hazara, not as a hungry Afghan. Without the time, imagination, and persistence needed to understand Afghans' diverse experiences, policy makers would find it impossible to change Afghan society in the way they wished to change it.
Rory Stewart then adds the longest footnote in the book, presaging the topic of his next book, The Prince of Marshes.
Critics have accused this new breed of administrators of neocolonialism. But in fact their approach is not that of a nineteenth-century colonial officer. Colonial administrations may have been racist and exploitative, but they did at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing. They recruited people prepared to spend their entire careers in dangerous provinces of a single alien nation. They invested in teaching administrators and military officers the local language. They established effective departments of state, trained a local elite, and continued the countless academic studies of their subjects through institutes and museums, royal geographical societies, and royal botanical gardens. They balanced the local budget and generated fiscal revenue because if they didn't their home government would rarely bail them out. If they failed to govern fairly, the population would mutiny.

Postconflict experts have got the prestige without the effort or stigma of imperialism. Their implicit denial of the difference between cultures is the new mass brand of international intervention. Their policy fails but no one notices. There are no credible monitoring bodies and there is no one to take formal responsibility.

Individual officers are never in any one place and rarely in any one organization long enough to be adequately assessed. The colonial enterprise could be judged by the security or revenue it delivered, but neocolonialists have no such performance criteria. In fact their very uselessness benefits them. By avoiding any serious action or judgment they, unlike their colonial predecessors, are able to escape accusations of racism, exploitation, and oppression.

Perhaps it is because no one requires more than a charming illusion of action in the developing world. If the policy makers know little about the Afghans, the public knows even less, and few care about policy failure when the effects are felt only in Afghanistan.
SOURCE: The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt, 2004), pp. 246-248

11 January 2007

Indian Travel Tales from Vilayet, 1765

The [French] houses in the country are built of stone slabs, with roofs of terra cotta tiles. As the bamboo doesn't grow here the scaffolding for the roofs is built of wood. The poorer classes live on a diet of broth and barley-bread and wear coarse wool or clothes woven from hemp, of which ropes are also spun. Most of them cannot afford leather shoes. Paris, the capital of France, is several hundred miles from either Calais or Nantes. Frenchman and foreigner alike sing high praises of the buildings and gardens of that city, its artistic innovativeness, scientific and technological advancement, the polished manners, cultivation, well-spokenness and wit of its inhabitants. In these respects it far surpasses all other cities in the Firinghee world.

The French claim that they have taught music and horsemanship to the English. Wealthy Englishmen send their children to French schools to polish up their manners and taste. The French say that the present excellence of the English in the arts and sciences, trade and industry, is the result of French education; in the past, when they lacked this education, they were ignorant like the mass of Indians. However, even the French admit that the English have always been outstanding soldiers.

The French say that the lower classes of Englishmen do not go to foreign countries to seek trade or employment because, being stupid and without any skills or business acumen, they would fail to earn a decent livelihood....

The [Scottish] Highlanders wear a jacket and a cap, but neither breeches nor boots. The lower part of the body is covered by a skirt called a kilt, but the knee is bare and cotton stockings are worn on the legs. Instead of shoes they wear wooden sandals fastened to the feet with leather straps. They carry a double-edged sword. I was told that their courage was beyond compare. But they are also simple-minded and doltish.

A Highlander who had gone to London was sightseeing about the bazaars, followed by a curious crowd of Englishmen and boys. One of the Englishmen in sport lifted the skirt of the Highlander's kilt from behind. He was overcome with shame at this, but at the same time his wrath was inflamed and with a stroke of his sword he cut off the offender's head. The Police and townspeople surrounded him but could not force him to surrender. He undauntedly stood his ground, prepared either to kill or die: He wounded many people, and on whichever side he charged they fled before him. No one had the courage to approach him, far less seize him. Word of this strange situation eventually reached the King, who sent a courtier to summon him. The Courtier went before him and said, 'His Majesty has sent for you.' On hearing the King's name the Highlander immediately bowed his head and followed the royal envoy. When he appeared in the royal presence the King asked why he had heedlessly murdered a man. The Highlander knelt on one knee, according to the custom of Vilayet, bowed his head and after making obeisance, replied in a respectful tone, 'When that man exposed a shameful part of my body I felt my honour had been ridiculed, and therefore in a state of rightful anger I struck him dead. But when I received your royal summons I hastened to surrender myself to you and I feel proud to have been permitted to kiss your threshold. Otherwise none would have been able to capture me alive.' The King was impressed by this simple and courageous man's defence and pardoned him.

There are amusing stories about the English too, particularly their country people, who are ignorant and stupid. One of them went to town where he was feted by a friend. He greatly relished a sheep's liver kebab, which he had never tasted before, and took down its recipe. Before returning home he went to a butcher and bought a sheep's liver, which he tied in a napkin and carried in his hand. A pie dog came up from behind, snatched the liver, napkin and all, and scampered off. The rustic shouted jeeringly after the dog, 'You silly beast, you've got the raw liver, but the recipe is in my pocket!'.

Such stories only prove the truth that Allah did not create all five fingers equal. There is no country in the world where there are no stupid and ignorant people. In fact, everywhere they are the majority.
SOURCE: Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 322, 325-326

See Wikipedia for the various meanings of Vilayet.

10 January 2007

An Evasive Brother of Martyrs in Afghanistan

Seyyed Kerbalahi joined me after dinner. His real name was Rasul. He was called Kerbalahi, he explained, because he had been to Kerbala in Iraq to visit the sacred Shia shrine of Imam Hussein twice in the late 1950s, once for three months and once for five. I asked him why he had not completed the Haj by going on to Mecca.

"It would have been too expensive."

"But Mecca is quite close to Kerbala by the time you have gone from Afghanistan to Iraq."

"It would have been a seven-day trip so I came home."

He tuned the radio to a Pakistani channel broadcasting in Urdu. "Can you understand Urdu?" I asked.

"No," he said. "I have put it on for your benefit."

He then began praying. Every minute or so, he interrupted his prayer to throw out a comment such as, "Later I will arrange for someone to dry your socks." Then he would start his prayers again from the beginning. I suggested gently that he finish his prayers before we spoke.

"But a guest is ordained by God," he said reprovingly.

"Thank you," I replied. "Well, there was something I wanted to ask you ..."

"I am praying. We should talk later."When he had finished, he picked up a large Koran and began to mumble over it and then glanced up and asked if I had any photographs.

I handed him the pictures of my family. He frowned at them briefly and handed them back.

"I have walked here from Herat," I said.

"I'm reading the Koran and your Farsi is not good enough for a conversation," he replied.

We sat in silence till I decided to lie down and sleep.

At dawn he began his lengthy prayers again. By the time he had finished, a crowd of villagers had gathered in the guest room. Seyyed Kerbalahi picked up my Dari-English dictionary and began looking at it a page at a time. Usually people who wanted to be seen reading my dictionary knew which way up to hold it. Seyyed Kerbalahi didn't.

He then moved to another position in the room, carefully opened a sandalwood box, and unwrapped a different copy of the Koran. The morning continued with rambling prayers, a little browsing of the Koran, and occasional bad-tempered visits to his balcony to tell anyone who wanted to see him that he was too busy with his religious devotions to be disturbed. I imagined this was the pattern of most of Seyyed Kerbalahi's days.

Finally I took my leave. On my way out I noticed two faded photographs on the guest room wall.

"They are my brothers," he said, "martyrs ... One was killed in Lal and one on the path to Yakawlang." They were not dressed like most martyrs as Mujahidin but in neat Russian dress uniforms.
SOURCE: The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt, 2004), pp. 218-219

09 January 2007

A Quaker Transition to the Talkies

On New Year's Day, my father turned 82. His Japanese driver's license says he was born in the 14th year of Taisho. All during my childhood in Japan, his age advanced in parallel with the Showa reign year. Here's a short, preliminary tribute to one of his best-honed skills:

Perhaps there’s an element of truth to my teasing claim that Dad left the Quakers to become a Baptist because he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough. But that cheap hypothesis fails to explain why the rest of his siblings also abandoned their Quaker roots.

Of course, Dad didn’t leave all his Quaker values behind. Not even the value of silence. During Wednesday night prayer meetings at the First Baptist Church in Winchester, Virginia (my mother's home church), where he served as associate pastor one furlough, he made some of the Baptists uneasy enough to speak up when he allowed periods of silent prayer to go on a little longer than they were used to.

But Dad does believe in the value of talk—for preaching, for teaching, for learning, for sharing, to be sure, but most of all for healing. That must be why he chose to concentrate on pastoral counseling at seminary and to serve as an institutional chaplain, rather than a church-planting evangelist, during his first two terms as a missionary in Japan. And later to teach pastoral care at Seinan ('Southwestern') Seminary in Fukuoka.

He does preach a good sermon, though. He doesn’t shout, thump the Bible, or silently wait for the Spirit to move him. Nor does he read a dry lecture on comparative theology or religious history. Instead, he keeps his sermons fairly short, fairly conversational, and almost always tells a story to get his message across. He knows that great truths are best conveyed by great stories. His homilies have surely come a long way since he practiced his first sermons while plowing, preaching temperance to the back end of a mule.

Appalachian Roots of the Klezmer Revival

Dumneazu (whom I think of as Klezmerescu) has a fascinating post about the Appalachian roots of the revival of Klezmer musical traditions in the U.S.
Like a lot of folks who play Klezmer music, I got my start playing American traditional folk music back in the 1970s. New York was a magnet for folk music, and there was a very active scene of people playing traditional Appalachian fiddle music and old-time southern music styles. One peculiarity of the New York Appalachian fiddle and bluegrass scene was that almost all of the local music enthusiasts were either Jewish or Italian.... Young New York musicians would make the pilgrimage south to North Carolina or West Virginia to learn to play at the feet of some of the old masters of traditional folk fiddling, like Tommy Jarrell of Toast, North Carolina. Tommy's style (generally known as "Round Peak" style) became the New York City default mode for fiddling.
UPDATE: Nathanael at Rhine River sees the "Hillbilly Klezmer" pair of aces and raises the bet with a link to a current story in the Hartford Courant headlined However Unlikely, Connecticut Becomes A Center In The Ukulele's Resurgence.
To stand in the Clinton home of Jim and Liz Beloff is to find yourself in an unofficial Ukulele Information Center.

The husband-and-wife team, both in their 50s, have carved out a rather singular niche for themselves as experts on all things to do with the plucky four-string instrument. They're widely credited within the ukulele community (indeed, there is one) for the recent resurgence in uke activity....

Beloff figures we're in the "third wave" of the ukulele (the first being in the early 1920s, the second in the 1950s). This new wave has produced a breed of ukuleleists, mostly from Hawaii, who defy expectations of what the ukulele can do. John King plays classical music on his uke (it sounds a lot like a harpsichord).

The current uke superstar is Jake Shimabukuro, a lightning-fast player who lists guitarists Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen as influences. In concert, he often uses guitar effects to manipulate the sound.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has brought an avant-garde sensibility to the ukulele by deconstructing old standards. Though not so big in its namesake country, the group is popular in Japan.

"Many started taking it up for the philosophy and for the iconography that the ukulele represented," says Bill Robertson, whose recent documentary "Rock That Uke" chronicled the punk and alternative ukulele scene (yes, there is one). "Since that time, it has become the instrument for musicians to demonstrate their virtuosity."

08 January 2007

Earliest Filipino Immigrants to North America

In 2006, the State of Hawai‘i celebrated its centennial of Philippine immigration, but the earliest Filipino immigrants to North America arrived in 1763, and their story was first brought to the attention of Americans by a writer chiefly famous for his ties to Japan, Lafcadio Hearn, according to The Filipino Americans (1763–Present): Their History, Culture, and Traditions, by Veltisezar Bautista (Bookhaus, 2002), excerpted at length here.
About 235 years ago, a settlement was established by Filipino deserters from Spanish ships at Saint Malo in the bayous of Louisiana, near the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. The people who settled there were called Manilamen, who jumped ship during the galleon trade era off New Orleans, Louisiana, and Acapulco, Mexico, to escape Spanish brutalities. Known as Tagalas, they spoke Spanish and a Malay dialect. They lived together—governing themselves and living in peace and harmony—without the world knowing about their swamp existence.

Thus, they became the roots of Filipinos in America.

It was only after a journalist by the name of Lafcadio Hearn published an article in 1883 when their marshland existence was exposed to the American people. It was the first known written article about the Filipinos in the U.S.A.

(Note: This write-up was adapted from Hearn’s article entitled Saint Malo: A Lacustrine Village in Louisiana, published in the Harper’s Weekly, March 31, 1883.)

The Times-Democrat of New Orleans chartered an Italian lugger—a small ship lug-rigged on two or three masts—with Hearn and an artist of the Harper Weekly on board. The journey began from the Spanish fort across Lake Ponchartrain. After several miles of their trip, Hearn and the artist saw a change in scenery. There were many kinds of grasses, everywhere along the long route. As Hearn described it, “The shore itself sinks, the lowland bristles with rushes and marsh grasses waving in the wind. A little further on and the water becomes deeply clouded with sap green—the myriad floating seeds of swamp vegetation. Banks dwindle away into thin lines; the greenish, yellow of the reeds changes into misty blue.”
UPDATE: In the comments, Lirelou expresses some doubts about the location and date of this account.
There are some definite disconnects here. First, no treasure galleons operated anywhere near Louisiana. Spanish treasure from the Philippines was off-loaded at Acapulco and transported across the country (through Mexico City) to Veracruz, from where it travelled to La Habana, and after that, off to Spain. Second, Filipinos were not unknown in Mexico. Indeed, the Mexican national dress (la Poblana) is generally agreed to have been inspired by the the Filipina wife of a prominent colonial official in Puebla, who was known throughout the city as "la china poblana". The "chinese" allusion is in reference to her race. Filipinos were classified as "chinos" in Mexican colonial records. More to the point, when the city of Los Angeles was founded in the 1780s, one of the founding families was listed as "chinos" whose place of birth was "Manila, Islas Filipinas". So, Filipinos played some minor roles in Mexican colonial history as far north as California. The tone of the original article suggests that it was written at a time when tales of Spanish atrocities against their colonial subjects abounded. This does not mean that Saint Malo was not founded by Filipinos who had jumped ship from Mexico. Spain received Louisiana from France in compensation for the loss of Havana in the Seven Years War (1[7]63), and had a tough time recruiting colonists. After several failed attempts in Spain, they turned to Acadians recently paroled to France, with the end result that enough of these latter volunteered to leave us the Cajuns of today. The colony was, until its return to France, sustained and supplied out of Mexico.

Baghdad Merchant at a Viking Funeral, A.D. 922

When the day arrived on which he and his slave-woman were to be burnt, I went down to the river where his ship lay. It had been dragged on to the shore, and four supporting poles had been cut for it from birch and other wood. Moreover, something that looked like their big wooden sheds had been placed around it. Then the ship was placed on the wooden scaffolding, and people began to walk up and down speaking to each other in a language I did not understand. The dead man was still in his grave as they had not removed him from it. Thereupon they brought a bench, put it in the ship and covered it with silk rugs and cushions with painted patterns from Byzantium. An old woman, whom they call 'the Angel of Death', spread the rugs on the bench. She was in charge of the sewing of the clothes for the dead man and in charge of the preparation of his body. She is also the one who kills the slave-women. I saw that she was an old giant of a woman, thickset and sombre of aspect.

When the people came to his grave, they first removed the soil from the wooden palisades and then the palisades. Then they dragged him out in the clothes he had died in. I noticed that he had turned black because of the great cold in that country. Together with him in the grave they had put silk, fruit and a stringed instrument. All of this was removed as well. Oddly, the man did not smell, and nothing had changed about him, except the colour of his skin. So they dressed him in trousers, top trousers, a kind of coat and mantle of painted silk with gold buttons, and on his head they put a cap of silk with sable fur. They carried him into the tent they had put up on the ship, where they placed him on the rug and supported him with the cushions....

Meanwhile, the slave-woman who wished to be killed was walking up and down, and she went into one after another of their tents, and the master of the tent had intercourse with her, saying 'Tell your master that I only do this out of love for him.'... So they took her to the ship. There she took off the two armbands she was wearing and gave them to the old woman they call the Angel of Death, who was the one who was going to kill her. Then she took off her two ankle rings and gave them to the Angel of Death and her daughters. Thereupon they led her into the ship, but did not let her into the tent. Then the men came and they were carrying shields and wooden batons, and they handed her a beaker of nabîdh [a liquor]. She sang over it and drank it out. The interpreter said to me, 'She is now taking leave of her friends with it.' Thereupon another beaker was handed her. She took it and lingered somewhat longer over the song, but the old woman hurried her to make her drink it and enter the tent where her master was.

When I looked at her, she looked utterly confused. She wanted to go into the tent, but put her head between it and the ship. Then the old woman took hold of her head and got her into the tent, and the woman followed her. The men now began to beat the batons against the shields to drown the sound of her screams, so that the other girls should not get frightened and refuse to seek death with their masters. Then six men entered the tent, and they all had intercourse with her. Thereupon they put her next to her dead master. Two of them held her legs and two of them her hands. And the woman called the Angel of Death put a rope around her neck and gave it to two men for them to pull. Then she stepped forward with a dagger with a broad blade and thrust it between the ribs of the girl several times, while the two men strangled her with the rope so that she died.

The one who was next of kin to the dead man thereupon stepped forward. He picked up a piece of wood and set it alight. Then he walked backwards, with his back to the ship and his face to the audience, carrying the torch in one hand, while he held the other behind his back; he was naked. In this way they torched the wood they had placed under the ship, after they had put the slave-woman they had killed to rest next to her master. Then people arrived with wood and kindling. Everyone carried a piece of wood on fire at one end. This they threw on to the pyre, so that the fire caught first in the wood, then the ship, then the tent and the man and the slave-woman and everything in the ship. Thereupon a strong and terrible wind rose, so that the flames grew in strength and the fire blazed even more strongly.

Next to me was a man of al-rûs [the Viking settlers in Russia], and I heard him speaking to the interpreter who was with me. I asked the latter what he had said to him. The interpreter answered, 'He said you Arabs are stupid.' I asked why. He answered, 'Because you throw the one you love and honour the most into the ground, and the soil and worms and bugs consume him. We on the other hand burn him in a moment, so that he goes to Paradise immediately.' Then he roared with laughter. When I asked him why he laughed, he said, 'The master of the dead man has sent the wind out of love for him to carry him away immediately.'

And really an hour had not passed before the ship, the wood, the slave-woman and the master had turned to ashes and dust of ashes. Thereupon they built in the place where the ship had stood something that resembled a round mound. In the centre of it they erected a large pole of birch. On it they wrote the name of the dead man and the King of al-rûs, and then they left.
SOURCE: Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 277-280

06 January 2007

Migrant Heroes from the Philippines

Today the Philippines is the biggest labor-exporting country in Asia and is ranked second in the world after Mexico. As of December 2003, the number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) was estimated to be 7.7 million; the population of the Philippines is some eighty million. Forty-three percent of these emigrants were on temporary contracts, 68 percent of which were placed in Asia. The remittances sent by OFWs are the Philippines' largest source of foreign exchange, contributing US$7 billion to the national economy in 2003....

The primary destinations of labor emigration in the Philippines have gradually switched from North America and Europe to West, East, and Southeast Asia. Among the land-based OFWs deployed from 2001 to 2004, 46 percent of them were located in the Middle East, 41 percent departed for East and Southeast Asia, and only a small number went to North America (1.7 percent) and Europe (6.7 percent). Taiwan has become a major host country for Filipino migrants since the mid-1990s. In 1998 it was the second-most-popular destination for newly hired migrants from the Philippines, next to Saudi Arabia, and in 2004 it was the fifth major destination, after Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Filipino workers have occupied a dominant position in the global labor market because of their proficiency in English and level of education. Both male and female OFWs are well-educated: over half have completed college or have at least taken some college subjects, and one-third complete secondary education. But the large outflow of experienced, skilled, and professional human resources constitutes a brain drain that poses a threat to development in the Philippines.

Annual changes in the numbers of overseas Filipino workers have pointed to a growing trend toward feminization. Women constituted only 18 percent in the 1980 outflow of OFWs, but that percentage rose to 36 in 1987 and 69 in 2002. Most women are employed in service occupations such as housemaid, caregiver, and entertainer. Domestic work accounted for one-third of overseas female deployment in 2002, despite the fact that most Filipina migrants were educated and skilled workers.

Some demographic characteristics of Filipina migrant workers deviate from the profiles of male migrants. The majority of migrant women are in their late twenties and early thirties, younger than their male counterparts, who are mostly in their thirties and forties. Official statistics provide no details about the marital status of OFWs. One survey showed that the majority of Filipina migrants were single (56 percent) while 37 percent were married. In contrast, a much larger proportion of male migrants were married (71 percent), and only 27 percent were single. The differences suggest that the decisions to migrate are embedded in the gender roles and ideologies in the Philippine family. Also, migrant women tend to face greater difficulties than their male counterparts in building or maintaining a family during their overseas journey.

Labor migration in the Philippines fluctuated in reaction to several crises in the 1990s. The Gulf War in 1991 resulted in the repatriation of 30,000 workers, mainly from Kuwait. Overseas deployment declined by 13 percent in 1995 after the hanging of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina domestic worker found guilty of murdering a Filipina coworker in Singapore. To mitigate the public outcry over this case, the Ramos government banned deployment to Singapore for a short period. The Congress passed the Migrant Worker and Overseas Filipino Act (RA8042) in 1995 to announce its intention to ensure the welfare of migrants. But legal protection has proved to be nothing but a symbolic measure, and the halo of "national hero" only glows when politicking takes place.
SOURCE: Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan, by Pei-Chia Lan (Duke U. Press, 2006), pp. 44-47 (footnote and reference citations omitted; reviewed here)

05 January 2007

Migrant Maids from Indonesia

Religion has also played a significant part in migration links between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Muslim Javanese work abroad to make money as well as to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Some work agreements even state that employers must fund their workers to go on the haj at the end of their work contracts. If Saudi Arabia can be seen as a destination for Muslim pilgrims, then newly rich Asian countries might be seen as a capitalist version of Mecca, hosting an increasing number of Indonesian migrants making a secular pilgrimage to modernity.

Taiwan has been a popular destination for Indonesian migrant workers except for the two-year period of government ban (from August 2002 to December 2004). The number of Indonesian migrant workers in Taiwan grew with amazing speed: in 1991 there were only 10,000 Indonesian workers, but the number reached over 90,000 in 2001. Most Indonesian migrants in Taiwan are women from East Java, and the majority of them are placed in private households. Parallel to the increase in Indonesian housemaids was a decline in Filipina migrant workers. A similar transition also occurred in Hong Kong and Singapore. The share of Filipinas among all foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong decreased from 85 percent in 1995 to 72 percent in 2000, while the number of Indonesian migrant domestic workers tripled. In Singapore, Indonesian migrants only amounted to 20 percent of foreign domestic workers in 1995, but one recruitment agency has estimated that about 70 percent of newly hired foreign domestic workers are now from Indonesia.

Indonesia has become a major source for housemaids across Asia. Women have dominated the official outflow of labor migrants in the last two decades. Domestic service accounted for 70 percent of overseas jobs between 1984 and 1989, and 60 percent between 1989 and 1994. Almost 95 percent of migrants engaged in domestic service were women. Surveys of Indonesian female migrants found that they tend to be in their twenties or early thirties and have relatively low levels of education. Migrant women tend to be single or divorced, with the exception that married women are predominant among housemaids in Saudi Arabia....

The fact that Indonesia is the only Islamic country in Asia that allows the recruitment of women as housemaids overseas has nevertheless made some Indonesians uncomfortable, particularly social elites. In 1997 the then Minister of Women's Affairs urged the government to ban the export of housemaids because women, as the pillars of the nation, should be treated with respect. Twice, in 1980 and 1986, the government placed a ban on sending domestic servants to the Middle East in response to prevalent cases of rape and abuse, including one case in which an Indonesian household worker was sentenced to death for murdering her employer in Saudi Arabia. These bans were lifted only a few years or months after their imposition. Nana Oishi has pointed out that in Asia the emigration policies for female migrants are more value-laden—driven by social values and moral concerns—than policies for male migrants. Indonesia is no exception to this. Women must be at least twenty-two years old to work abroad, and they need to present letters of permission from their father or husband upon application. The state policy of emigration is torn between the moral discourse of "protecting" women and the economic interest of promoting them as better servants than migrant women from competing countries.
SOURCE: Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan, by Pei-Chia Lan (Duke U. Press, 2006), pp. 49-50 (footnote and reference citations omitted; reviewed here)

04 January 2007

An Irreligious Holy Warrior in Afghanistan

We saw a young boy drawing water and Abdul Haq threatened to kill him. The boy cried. Then Abdul Haq laughed and said, "I drove over the edge of this road three years ago, in a jeep. We crashed into the ditch where the boy is whining. The other six people in the car were killed. But I was thrown over a wall and survived because God loves me."

An hour later we had to cross the Hari Rud. I took off my boots and overtrousers, tied them around my neck, and waded into the cold water. The river—which in a year of normal rainfall would be impassable without a ferry boat—was now barely two feet deep. Without speaking, Abdul Haq stopped on the bank and stooped, and Qasim climbed onto his back. Then Abdul Haq stepped into the stream, roaring like a bullfrog with delight at his strength and the shock of the cold. Having deposited Qasim on the farther shore, he returned and Aziz clambered on. Midway across, Aziz dropped the sleeping bags. Abdul Haq put him down in the water and charged after the bobbing sacks. When he caught them, he spun and danced on the shore like a paper puppet caught in the wind, shouting, "Man Ghaatar Hastam" (I am a mule). On the flats ahead, a camel loped easily across the sharp gravel.

I opened a packet of Iranian orange cream cookies and offered them to Qasim. He took one, sighed heavily, said, "Allah-u-Akbar" (God is Great), and put it in his mouth.

Abdul Haq looked at me and winked. Qasim, the oldest and least open of my three companions, was also it seemed the most religious. Abdul Haq described himself as a Mujahid, a holy warrior, and his leader, Ismail Khan, had fought an Islamic crusade to expel the atheist Russians before implementing Sharia law in Herat. But Abdul Haq was not very religious. In Iran young city types had talked to me about Nietzsche and said they were atheists. I never met an Afghan who called himself an atheist and Abdul Haq had never heard of Nietzsche. But during the time I was with Abdul Haq, he never prayed, never fasted, never paid a religious tithe, and had no intention of going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Generally I only heard him refer to God when he fired his Kalashnikov. Then he would sing "Allah-u-Akbar" like a full-throated muezzin in the dawn call to prayer.

Abdul Haq took the packet of cookies from my hands, tipped it out onto a cloth to encourage us to eat more, and threw the wrapper over his shoulder. It was the only piece of trash on the desert plain and the silver foil glittered fiercely among the gentler colors of the soil.
SOURCE: The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt, 2004), pp. 76-77

Negotiating Hierarchy with Strangers in Rural Afghanistan

Our host picked up the teapot.

"No, no," said Abdul Haq. "I will pour it."

"I insist—you are my guest."

Abdul Haq grabbed the handle; Haji Mumtaz took it back. This was a ritual I had gone through almost every night as I walked across Iran. This village had been part of an empire centered in Persia for most of the previous two thousand years. In both Iran and Afghanistan, the order in which men enter, sit, greet, drink, wash, and eat defines their status, their manners, and their view of their companions. If a warlord had been with us, he would have been expected, as the most senior man, to enter first, sit in the place farthest from the door, have his hands washed by others, and be served, eat, and drink first. People would have stood to greet him and he would not normally have stood to greet others. But we were not warlords and it was best for us to refuse honors—not least because no one else's status was clear. Status depended not only on age, ancestry, wealth, and profession, but also on whether a man was a guest, whether a third person was present, and whether the guest knew the others well.

Qasim had not struggled very much before taking the most senior position. He probably thought he deserved it as a descendant of the Prophet, the oldest guest, and the most senior civil servant present. But he could have made more of an effort to hold back. Our host, Haji Mumtaz, showed his manners by ostentatiously deferring to Qasim. The more he did so, the more we were reminded that he had done the pilgrimage to Mecca, was the village headman, and was twenty years older and much richer than Qasim, his pushy guest.

Abdul Haq sat himself at a junior position, folding his long legs beneath him with a natural easy smile. Aziz's poverty was evident from his scrawny frame, ill-kept beard, and poorly fitting clothes. He was only walking with us because he had married Qasim's sister. He moved to the bottom of the room with a defensive scowl. Only I deferred to Aziz, but then I was very low on the scale: visibly young, shabbily dressed, traveling on foot, and, although they might not know this, not a Muslim. But, perhaps because I was a foreign guest and had letters from the Emir [of Herat], I was promoted after a long debate and made to sit beside Mumtaz. When other senior men from the village entered, we all rose in their honor. But when the servants brought the food, I was the only one to look up. Servants, like women and children, were socially invisible.
SOURCE: The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart (Harcourt, 2004), pp. 38-39 (see also his Iran Diary in LRB)