28 February 2007

China Train Trips: Back Home in the Cold South

In addition to the Far Outliers, there was one other foreign English teacher family in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China, in 1987–88. They averred that the winter we shared with them in “subtropical” south China was the coldest they had ever experienced—and they were from Winnipeg, Canada! The difference was that people in Canada heated their houses and transport and workplaces during the winter, while people in south China did not. So, below China’s Mason-Dixon line—the Yangtze River—there was nowhere you could go to get out of the cold. That was the strongest memory of our trip back home to Guangdong after our vacation trip for Chinese New Year that February.

We started south from Jingdezhen, this time traveling soft class. Our hosts in Jiangxi Province and fellow teachers in Guangdong Province boarded the same train but traveled hard class. (They didn’t have a child at that time.) We had to change trains in Yingtan, a cold and drab railway junction city on the Shanghai–Guangzhou line. We had a long layover, with not much to see, no nice places to eat, and nowhere to take an afternoon nap. Fortunately, our friends found a small, cheap restaurant with hot food, but with a dirt floor and a doorway open to the cold; then they took us to a railway workers’ dormitory and talked the supervisors into letting us all spend a little siesta time under warm blankets on dormitory beds.

The rest of our train trip south was uneventful, but we arrived at Guangzhou after midnight, too late to find a room in the fairly reasonable Liuhua Hotel near the station. So we tramped over to a much more expensive hotel where we spent the remaining few hours of the night in warmth before catching a bus back over the long, muddy, congested road to Zhongshan City the next morning. Our big concrete and tile apartment offered no respite from the cold. It had no heating, and the damp north wind off the rice paddies leaked through every door and window. It was cold, sweet home.

Pamuk on the Exotic—and What Was Done about It

In "The Return of the Flaneur," Walter Benjamin begins his review of Franz Hessel's Berlin Walks by noting, "If we were to divide all the existing descriptions of cities into two groups according to the birthplace of the authors, we would certainly find that those written by natives of the cities concerned are greatly in the minority." According to Benjamin, the enthusiasm for seeing a city from the outside is the exotic or the picturesque. For natives of a city, the connection is always mediated by memories.

What I am describing may not, in the end, be special to Istanbul, and perhaps, with the westernization of the entire world, it is inevitable. Perhaps this is why I sometimes read Westerners' accounts not at arm's length, as someone else's exotic dreams, but drawn close by, as if they were my own memories. I enjoy coming across a detail that I have noticed but never remarked upon, perhaps because no one else I know has either. I love Knut Hamsun's description of the Galata Bridge I knew as a child—supported by barges and swaying under the weight of its traffic—just as I love Hans Christian Andersen's description of the "darkness" of the cypresses lining the cemeteries. To see Istanbul through the eyes of a foreigner always gives me pleasure, in no small part because the picture helps me fend off narrow nationalism and pressures to conform. Their occasionally accurate (and therefore somewhat embarrassing) descriptions of the harem, Ottoman dress, and Ottoman rituals are so distant from my own experience that even though I know they have some basis in fact, they seem to be describing someone else's city. Westernization has allowed me and millions of other İstanbullus the luxury of enjoying our own past as "exotic," of relishing the picturesque....

What grievance I feel when I read western travelers on Istanbul is above all that of hindsight: Many of the local features these observers, some of them brilliant writers, noted and exaggerated were to vanish from the city soon after having been remarked. It was a brutal symbiosis: Western observers love to identify the things that make Istanbul exotic, nonwestern, whereas the westernizers among us register all the same things as obstacles to be erased from the face of the city as fast as possible.

Here's a short list:

The Janissaries, those elite troops of great interest to western travelers until the nineteenth century, were the first to be dissolved. The slave market, another focus of western curiosity, vanished soon after they began writing about it. The Rufai dervishes with their waving skewers and the Mevlevi dervish lodges closed with the founding of the Republic. The Ottoman clothing that so many western artists painted was abolished soon after Andre Gide complained about it. The harem, another favorite, also gone. Seventy-five years after Flaubert told his beloved friend that he was going to the market to have his name written in calligraphy, all of Turkey moved from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet, and this exotic joy ended too. Of all these losses, I think the hardest for İstanbullus has been the removal of graves and cemeteries from the gardens and squares of our everyday lives to terrifying high-walled lots, bereft of cypress or view. The hamals and their burdens, noted by so many travelers of the republican period—like the old American cars that Brodsky noted—were no sooner described by foreigners than they vanished.

Only one of the city's idiosyncracies has refused to melt away under the western gaze: the packs of dogs that still roam the streets.
SOURCE: Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk (Vintage, 2006), pp. 240-243

27 February 2007

Robert Lang: An American Master of Extreme Origami

The New Yorker this week profiles an American master of extreme origami.
One of the few Americans to see action during the Bug Wars of the nineteen-nineties was Robert J. Lang, a lanky Californian who was on the front lines throughout, from the battle of the Kabutomushi Beetle to the battle of the Menacing Mantis and the battle of the Long-Legged Wasp. Most combatants in the Bug Wars—which were, in fact, origami contests—were members of the Origami Detectives, a group of artists in Japan who liked to try outdoing one another with extreme designs of assigned subjects....

Lang is accustomed to being surprising. Some years ago, he was the mystery guest on the television game show “Naruhodo! Za Warudo”—the Japanese version of “What’s My Line?”—and he amazed the audience and the contestants, because they couldn’t believe that an American could be an origami expert. People who know him as a scientist are flabbergasted when they hear that he is one of the world’s foremost paper-folding artists, and are often surprised that such a thing as a professional origami artist even exists. People expecting him to be kooky—or, at the very least, Japanese—find his academic accomplishments and his white male Americanness puzzling. Recently, he was commissioned by Lalique, the French crystal company, to demonstrate folding at a launch for its new collection of vases, which are rippled and creased in an origami-like way. The launch was at a Neiman Marcus in Troy, Michigan, on a cold night just before Christmas. It was intended for Neiman Marcus’s favorite customers, and there was music playing and waiters offering hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine. Lang was set up in the china-and-crystal department, behind a Regency-style desk. On one side of the desk was a stack of thin, square sheets of Japanese origami paper, as brightly colored as a roll of Life Savers. He had with him a laptop computer, and during a break he showed me software that he was designing with his brother, a botany professor, which simulates the growth of cherry trees and will allow farmers to test pruning and fertilizing techniques on a computer, rather than in their orchards. Lang is now forty-five. He is tall, with slim, fine-looking hands, a tidy Silicon Valley-style beard, and the clean, comfortable good looks of a park ranger....

Lang was, by all accounts, good at his science jobs: he wrote more than eighty technical papers and holds forty-six patents on lasers and optoelectronics. All the while, he was plotting how he would find time to write origami books. He published several while he was still in the laser world, starting with “The Complete Book of Origami,” in 1989, but he knew that it would require all his time to write the one he had in mind, which, instead of providing patterns for folders to follow—the typical origami book—would teach them how to design their own....

Something about origami’s simplicity and its apparently endless possibilities appeals to people. In 2003, the Mingei International Museum, in San Diego, mounted an exhibition called “Origami Masterworks,” which included several of Lang’s pieces. It was supposed to run six months, but attendance was so robust that the show was extended for six months, then for eight more. In Japan, the “Survivor”-style show “TV Champion” has often featured contestants engaging in extreme origami—folding with their hands in a box, or while balanced on stools with the paper suspended above them, or while snorkelling in a fishtank. A surprising number of countries have origami organizations; the Origami Society of the Netherlands has more than fifteen hundred members—probably the highest per-capita membership in the world. There is a soothing element in the monotony of folding and unfolding. In fact, origami as therapy has its proponents: in 1991, at the Conference on Origami in Education and Therapy, a mental-health professional presented a paper detailing her origami work with prisoners. “The most rewarding of experiences,” she wrote, “was that of observing the effect that Origami had on psychopathic killers.”
via Arts & Letters Daily

My middle brother used to be able to fold a whole train—from locomotive to caboose—from a single, long piece of butcher paper.

26 February 2007

Kanak Language Academy

NOUMEA, February 27 (Oceania Flash) - New Caledonia's government has officially appointed late last week its Vice-President, Déwé Gorodey, to the position of Chairman of the newly-created indigenous Kanak language academy.

The cabinet decision follows the inception, late January, by New Caledonia's legislative assembly, the Congress, of the French territory's first indigenous Kanak languages Academy.

The main aim of the Kanak languages Academy is to preserve New Caledonia's rich cultural indigenous heritage of up to 40 indigenous known languages and dialects.

On the institutional level, the new academy's other task is to "normalise, promote and develop" New Caledonia's linguistic heritage....

The Kanak Language Academy (KLA) was a concept introduced back in 1998, as part of the autonomy Nouméa Accord that were signed by the French government, as well as pro-French and pro-independence parties.

The pact, which paves the way for a gradual transfer of powers from metropolitan France to local authorities and a possible referendum on independence between 2013 and 2018, also gave special recognition, for the first time, to the indigenous Kanak peoples.

"(Kanak) languages are an essential, but all too often forgotten component of the world's cultural heritage in so far as they represent not only a means of communication, but also a unique perspective of the world", New Caledonia's government said.

New Caledonia's Kanak indigenous languages are mostly classified as being part of the Austronesian family of human languages.

According to recent population data, it is also estimated that around 60,000 of the some 230,000 inhabitants of New Caledonia speak at least one of these indigenous languages.
See the Head Heeb for a characteristically thorough analysis of the political context and ramifications of the Kanak Academy.

Rats, Cats, and Mongooses

The January 2007 issue of Pacific Science (subscription required to either Project Muse or BioOne.2) inaugurates a new series of articles on the Biology and Impacts of Pacific Island Invasive Species with A Worldwide Review of Effects of the Small Indian Mongoose, Herpestes javanicus (Carnivora: Herpestidae) by Warren S. T. Hays and Sheila Conant, who explode a few bits of conventional wisdom.
Abstract: The small Indian mongoose, Herpestes javanicus (E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1818), was intentionally introduced to at least 45 islands (including 8 in the Pacific) and one continental mainland between 1872 and 1979. This small carnivore is now found on the mainland or islands of Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, and Oceania. In this review we document the impact of this species on native birds, mammals, and herpetofauna in these areas of introduction.
There is a common story in Hawai‘i that small Indian mongooses failed to control rats in areas of introduction because the mongoose is diurnal and rats are primarily nocturnal (Stone et al. 1994). Most published accounts dispute this story, asserting that the small Indian mongoose served as an excellent cane-field ratter (Pemberton 1925, Barnum 1930, Doty 1945), though it was eventually made obsolete by the development of improved techniques of rat poisoning (Doty 1945).

On Trinidad, Urich (1931) found that rats were rare in cane fields, though they had been a major pest before the introduction of the mongoose in the 1870s. By 1882, a government botanist estimated that the mongoose in Jamaica was saving the colony 100,000 pounds sterling (current value: $8.3 million) per year (Espeut 1882). Spencer (1950, cited by Seaman [1952]), however, found that roof rat populations were as high as 50 per hectare in some parts of St. Croix, despite the presence of mongooses. Seaman (1952) wrote that some cane fields on St. Croix still suffered 25% crop loss due to rats and believed that rats were as much a problem as before the introduction of the mongoose.

Another common story is that mongooses drove rats to become arboreal nesters in areas of introduction (Nellis and Everard 1983). On Hawaiian islands with mongooses, Polynesian rats (Rattus exulans) and Norway rats are terrestrial nesters, whereas roof rats are arboreal nesters. This appears to be true on islands with and without mongooses in Hawai‘i and throughout the world (Baldwin et al. 1952). There is, however, evidence that mongooses alter the relative abundance of rats in favor of arboreal roof rats (Walker 1945). In Puerto Rico, Norway rats are common only in mongoose-free urban areas, whereas roof rats are found in mongoose habitat (Pimentel 1955). Hoagland et al. (1989) made a census of populations of mongooses and rats on St. Croix and Jamaica, and found more roof rats and fewer Norway rats in mongoose habitat.

Nellis (1989) stated that mongooses ‘‘often dominate over’’ cats (Felis catus [domesticus]), though the degree to which they limit the abundance of feral cats in areas of sympatry has not been studied. Feral cats and wild mongooses peacefully share food at artificial feeding sites on O‘ahu, feeding within centimeters of each other (W.S.T.H., pers. obs.). More pertinently, on 3 June 1999, while doing a radio-tracking study, one of us (W.S.T.H.) observed two large male mongooses pass together within 3 m of an adult feral cat, in a relatively undisturbed woodlot and apparently by coincidence, without any of the animals involved showing any sign of excitement or stress even while making eye contact. This anecdotal observation suggests that adults of these species can coexist in peaceful sympatry, at least under some conditions, though it is also possible that they may harry or prey upon each other’s young....

In 1883, sugar planters imported the small Indian mongoose from Jamaica to four Hawaiian islands (Hawai‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, and Kaua‘i) and to the Fijian island of Viti Levu (Gorman 1975, Nellis and Everard 1983). For unknown reasons, the crate of mongooses was kicked off the dock at Kaua‘i, and to date the mongoose has apparently not established there, although a dead mongoose was found in Kaua‘i in 1976 (Tomich 1986). Mongooses were later introduced to the Hawaiian island of Moloka‘i and to the Fijian island of Vanua Levu.

22 February 2007

What Distinguishes Coastal Peoples?

The December 2006 issue of the Journal of World History (Project Muse subscription required) starts off with an interesting article by Michael N. Pearson on littoral society.
Who are the people who live on or near the beach, those who inhabit the coastal zone, not just the beach? They have been called the shore folk, or sea nomads, or members of a littoral society. The place of port cities in littoral society is a matter of dispute. In terms of location they may qualify, though Ashin Das Gupta in his classic book on Surat made an important distinction. "To begin with there was coastal Gujarat, marshy, irregular, often broken by estuaries of the rivers and dotted with tidal flats which were submerged at high tide.... It was peopled by the truly maritime men who fished and who sailed the vessels on which trade depended. The coastal cities usually stood back a little." On our other two criteria, occupation and culture, definition is more difficult, and things change over time. In premodern times port cities had more of a whiff of ozone about them than is the case today. The occupations of many of the inhabitants were intricately connected to the foreland and hinterland, thus making these people truly littoral. However, their economic functions and influences extended much further than their fellows on the coast, with much more extended forelands and hinterlands. Culturally, the port cities, where populations are more concentrated, are more exposed to external influences, such as élite norms from the inland, or the attentions of seafaring scholars and religious folk. Ibn Battuta traveled around the Indian Ocean, calling at port cities and being recognized for his scholarship. In return he tried to improve the quality of Islam in these places.

One way to separate out littoral from port city is to insist that littoral people live on the coast and seldom travel. Some people in the port cities—sailors, merchants—indeed go to sea and have important maritime experiences, but my concern is with fisherfolk, or people who tend the lighters that go out to meet the big ships. These folk live on shore, but work on the sea: they are very precisely littoral.

Greg Dening wrote, "Beaches are beginnings and endings. They are frontiers and boundaries of islands. For some life forms the division between land and sea is not abrupt but for human beings beaches divide the world between here and there, us and them, good and bad, familiar and strange"—an extravagant claim indeed, even if meant metaphorically. I would argue exactly the opposite, as does Jan Heesterman. He stressed that "The littoral forms a frontier zone that is not there to separate or enclose, but which rather finds its meaning in its permeability." Braudel wrote evocatively about coastal society, stressing that it was as much land oriented as sea oriented. The life of the coast of the Mediterranean "is linked to the land, its poetry more than half-rural, its sailors may turn peasant with the seasons; it is the sea of vineyards and olive trees just as much as the sea of the long-oared galleys and the round-ships of merchants, and its history can no more be separated from that of the lands surrounding it than the clay can be separated from the hands of the potter who shapes it."

Several modern scholars have described the shore folk of the Indian Ocean. John Middleton focused on the east African coast. "Part of the coast is the sea: the two cannot be separated. The Swahili are a maritime people and the stretches of lagoon, creek, and open sea beyond the reefs are as much part of their environment as are the coastlands. The sea, rivers, and lagoons are not merely stretches of water but highly productive food resources, divided into territories that are owned by families and protected by spirits just as are stretches of land. The Swahili use the sea as though it were a network of roads." The very term "Swahili" means "shore folk," those who live on the edge of the ocean. As Randall L. Pouwels has it, Swahili culture was "a child of its human and physical environment, being neither wholly 'African' nor 'Arab,' but distinctly 'coastal,' the whole being greater than the sum of its parts."...

Certain languages achieved wide currency, this providing commonality around the shores of the Indian Ocean. In the earlier centuries it was Arabic. There are some five thousand words of Arabic influence in Malay, and more than that in Swahili, and about 80 percent of these are the same in Malay and Swahili, so that we have a "corpus of travelling Arabic words." Later, a sort of nautical Portuguese and, today, some variant of English, have achieved a quasi-universal status.

Languages know no boundaries, and this also applies to coastal people. For most of history they knew little of political borders. Smuggling was an occupation, not a crime, as was the plunder of ships driven ashore. Dian Murray, an expert on piracy, wrote of a "water world," where boundaries were indistinct, just like Villiers's delta region. Robert Antony recently modified Murray slightly, writing of a water world of "shared social, economic, and cultural activities, and patterns that are not easily defined and delimited by ethnic and linguistic differences or by national boundaries." He and Murray are concerned with the southern China coast, but their findings apply precisely to other coasts.

In a water world, coastal religion is also distinctive. Littoral people, living in a more cosmopolitan environment than those inland, are more likely to convert. In the case of the Indian Ocean, the cosmopolitan, international aspect of Islam has often been cited as a prime motivation for conversion, and while this applied most strongly in the port cities, it also was evident on the coasts between them. Coastal people especially found their indigenous beliefs, localized and very specific, to be inadequate as their world expanded. When they were exposed to a universal faith—Islam as exemplified by visitors from the north—the attraction was obvious, and the results can be seen all over the Indian Ocean world from the early modern period onward. There were and are widespread Islamic religious connections around the coasts. In Zanzibar one group uses a certificate of authenticity and authority issued in Indonesia. In Mayotte, off Madagascar, South Asian Islamic reformers are active. A devotional text in Indonesia was probably originally written in Arabic, either in the Middle East or in Indonesia itself, and is now available in Javanese and Acehinese. In Zanzibar Islamic books, including Qur'ans, come from Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan.

21 February 2007

Gaddis on the Able Archer Missile Crisis, 1980s

Reagan was deeply committed to SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative]: it was not a bargaining chip to give up in future negotiations. That did not preclude, though, using it as a bluff: the United States was years, even decades, away from developing a missile defense capability, but Reagan's speech persuaded the increasingly frightened Soviet leaders that this was about to happen. They were convinced, Dobrynin recalled, "that the great technological potential of the United States had scored again and treated Reagan's statement as a real threat." Having exhausted their country by catching up in offensive missiles, they suddenly faced a new round of competition demanding skills they had no hope of mastering. And the Americans seemed not even to have broken into a sweat.

The reaction, in the Kremlin, approached panic. Andropov had concluded, while still head of the K.G.B., that the new administration in Washington might be planning a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. "Reagan is unpredictable," he warned. "You should expect anything from him." There followed a two-year intelligence alert, with agents throughout the world ordered to look for evidence that such preparations were under way. The tension became so great that when a South Korean airliner accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace over Sakhalin on September 1, 1983, the military authorities in Moscow assumed the worst and ordered it shot down, killing 269 civilians, 63 of them Americans. Unwilling to admit the mistake, Andropov maintained that the incident had been a "sophisticated provocation organized by the U.S. special services."

Then something even scarier happened that attracted no public notice. The United States and its NATO allies had for years carried out fall military exercises, but the ones that took place in November—designated "Able Archer 83"—involved a higher level of leadership participation than was usual. The Soviet intelligence agencies kept a close watch on these maneuvers, and their reports caused Andropov and his top aides to conclude—briefly—that a nuclear attack was imminent. It was probably the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis, and yet no one in Washington knew of it until a well-placed spy in the K.G.B.'s London headquarters alerted British intelligence, which passed the information along to the Americans.

That definitely got Reagan's attention. Long worried about the danger of a nuclear war, the president had already initiated a series of quiet contacts with Soviet officials—mostly unreciprocated—aimed at defusing tensions. The Able Archer crisis convinced him that he had pushed the Russians far enough, that it was time for another speech. It came at the beginning of Orwell's fateful year, on January 16, 1984, but Big Brother was nowhere to be seen. Instead, in lines only he could have composed, Reagan suggested placing the Soviet-American relationship in the capably reassuring hands of Jim and Sally and Ivan and Anya. One White House staffer, puzzled by the hand-written addendum to the prepared text, exclaimed a bit too loudly: "Who wrote this shit?"

Once again, the old actor's timing was excellent. Andropov died the following month, to be succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, an enfeebled geriatric so zombie-like as to be beyond assessing intelligence reports, alarming or not. Having failed to prevent the NATO missile deployments, Foreign Minister Gromyko soon grudgingly agreed to resume arms control negotiations. Meanwhile Reagan was running for re-election as both a hawk and a dove: in November he trounced his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale. And when Chernenko died in March, 1985, at the age of seventy-four, it seemed an all-too-literal validation of Reagan's predictions about "last pages" and historical "ash-heaps." Seventy-four himself at the time, the president had another line ready: "How am I supposed to get anyplace with the Russians, if they keep dying on me?"
SOURCE: The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 2005), pp. 227-228

That was the (American) academic year I spent in Ceauşescu's Romania, 1983–84.

20 February 2007

Debunking the Self-Esteem Industry

The latest issue of New York Magazine reports on new research that not only debunks the self-esteem mania that prevails in Western educational theory, but suggests why the constant criticism that prevails in much Asian teaching and learning seems to get better results.
Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.

[Carol] Dweck and [Lisa] Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”

Now he’s on Dweck’s side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction: He will soon publish an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: It’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”...

Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies where children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyer’s findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well—it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teacher’s criticism—not praise at all—that really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.

In the opinion of cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham, a teacher who praises a child may be unwittingly sending the message that the student reached the limit of his innate ability, while a teacher who criticizes a pupil conveys the message that he can improve his performance even further.
via Arts & Letters Daily

Two Hawaiian Canoes Reach Micronesia

Today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports that two Polynesian voyaging canoes have made landfall in Micronesia.
MAJURO, Marshall Islands » To the sounds of ukuleles and a conch shell, the Hawaiian double-hulled canoes Hokule'a and Alingano Maisu arrived at a dock here today, completing their 2,200-mile journey from Hawaii to Micronesia.

The vessels are on a pilgrimage to Satawal atoll to deliver the Alingano Maisu to renowned navigator Mau Piailug, who taught Pacific way-finding to native Hawaiians and sparked a renaissance in the building of voyaging canoes in the Pacific....

The welcome in Majuro was a celebration of two Pacific cultures that have kept sailing traditions alive, and of their ancient mariners who developed ocean-voyaging methods centuries before Westerners had nautical navigation equipment to cross vast oceans.

Majuro islander Alson Kelon, who escorted the vessels into port, said he felt proud to be a Micronesian and honored to support the voyaging tradition of his ancestors.

Kelon said he helped to found a canoe sailing group in Majuro after witnessing the Hokule'a make its first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976.

He said the teaching traditional voyaging integrates all kinds of learning, including mathematics, science, oceanography, astronomy, English and leadership....

The late Big Island canoe builder Clay Bertelmann promised to deliver a double-hulled canoe to Mau about five years ago, and his family has continued to fulfill the promise....

Mau's son Sesario said his father's health is waning.

"The main thing is to get it there while he's still around," he said.

Sesario said his family has to discuss what to do with the Alingano Maisu, but he hopes that it will be used to carry on his father's work teaching way-finding navigation.

Sesario, a police officer in Yap, said he would like to use the canoe as a way to reach youths at risk of becoming criminals.

19 February 2007

Origins of the South Pacific Coastwatching Network

The idea for a coast watching network originated in the year 1919, beginning as a defensive measure to protect the long, and virtually unprotected, coastline of Australia. At that time, the country’s population was concentrated primarily in the southeast section of the continent; in the event of war, an enemy could launch a surprise air attack on this area by crossing a wide expanse of desolate territory. To counter this threat, a plan was developed to use civilian spotters as coast watchers. They were equipped with telegraph and radio sets and were expected to act as an early warning system to report unidentified aircraft.

In September 1939, Lieutenant Commander Eric Feldt, Royal Australian Navy, was stationed at Port Moresby, New Guinea, and placed in charge of intelligence gathering operations. The coast watching organization comprised about 800 people—the majority positioned along the Australian shore. A Solomon Islands screen, to the north, consisted of a few hundred plantation owners and managers. This group of spotters was spread very thin along the coasts of Buka, Bougainville, New Georgia, and other islands of the Solomons chain.

Lieutenant Commander Feldt gave his Solomon Islands watchers the code name FERDINAND, after the storybook character Ferdinand the bull, who preferred to sit under a tree and smell the flowers rather than fight. Although FERDINAND comprised a small group of spotters, its intelligence-gathering network covered more than a half million square miles of islands and ocean. The nickname not only suited this band of observers but also reminded them of their assignment as lookouts, not fighters. During World War II, however, there were many times when the Solomon Islands coast watchers, with their backs to the wall, were forced to battle the Japanese.
SOURCE: Coast Watching in WWII: Operations against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, 1941–43, by A. B. Feuer (Stackpole, 2006), pp. xvii–xviii

Malabari's Impressions of Englishwomen, 1893

What strikes you most about Englishwomen is their look of health, strength, elasticity, all proclaiming a freedom of mind, to begin with. How they walk, and talk, and carry themselves generally! How they rush in and out, saying good-bye with the right hand turned towards themselves, meaning what our women in India always say, "vehela aujo," come back soon! How they kiss one another, and offer their children, even their cats and dogs to be kissed by the friends departing! Does this last ceremony show heart-hunger, or is it affectation? Here they are, half a dozen of them rushing into my omnibus (the Lord have mercy on an unprotected orphan!) squeezing themselves into their seats. I am between two of the prettiest and quietest, feeling a strange discomfort. As the bus hobbles along, I feel my fair neighbours knocking against me every moment. They do not seem to mind it at all; it is a matter of course. Why, then, should I cry out against the inevitable? Evil to him who evil thinks. We are all too busy here, reading the paper, chatting about the weather, minding our packages and our toes. Further, I find both my neighbours resting their parasols between them and me on either side. A straw shows how the breeze blows. The breeze that I have just discovered is very refreshing to my soul. I have also noted that respectable Englishwomen rather avoid entering a carriage occupied by men. It is mainly through such experience that I am learning to take a charitable view of ladies sitting on the knees of gentlemen, or gentlemen on the knees of ladies, when three of a family happen to be in one hansom, or more than ten in a railway carriage. These sights, queer as they are, do not offend me now. They would be an eyesore amongst our own people. I myself could hardly bear them at first; but that is no reason why I should judge others in such a matter, before I am well equipped to form a judgment.

I have said above that the average Englishwoman strikes me most by her healthy looks and active habits. But, as usual, there is another side to this picture. One often meets with the anaemic and the consumptive, victims of overwork, starvation, or dissipation, in themselves or their parents. How pathetic is the sight of one of these girls, moving softly like a ghost, with a frame so fragile as to be driven by the wind behind, with a transparent skin and glassy eyes, exhausted by the effort to creep on to the platform, and going directly to sleep in the carriage, with the delicate little mouth half open, as if to allow the breath of life to ebb out without a struggle! It fills me with grief to watch this fair slight being as if in the process of dissolution. And yet I sit there, fascinated by her presence, unmindful of time or distance.
SOURCE: "Malabari: A Love-Hate Affair with the British," 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. 374-375

18 February 2007

Hidden Turning Points in the Cold War, 1970s

Most experts would probably have agreed that [the global balance of power] had been tilting in Moscow's favor through most of the 1970s. The United States had acknowledged strategic parity with the Soviet Union in SALT I, while that country had claimed the right, through the Brezhnev Doctrine, to resist all challenges to Marxism-Leninism wherever they might occur. Despite Kissinger's success in excluding the Russians from the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations, the 1973 war had triggered an Arab oil embargo, followed by price increases that would stagger western economies for the rest of the decade. Meanwhile the U.S.S.R., a major oil exporter, was raking in huge profits. That made it possible to hold military spending steady as a percentage of gross national product during the 1970s, perhaps even to increase it—at a time when the equivalent United States budget, for reasons relating to both economics and politics, was being cut in half.

Americans seemed mired in endless arguments with themselves, first over the Vietnam War, then Watergate, then, during Carter's presidency, over charges that he had failed to protect important allies like the Shah of Iran or Anastasio Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator whose government fell to the Marxist Sandinistas in the summer of 1979. The low point came in November of that year when Iranians invaded the United States embassy in Teheran, taking several dozen diplomats and military guards hostage. This humiliation, closely followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few weeks later, made it seem as though Washington was on the defensive everywhere, and Moscow was on a roll. Kissinger captured the prevailing pessimism when he acknowledged in the first volume of his memoirs, published that year, that "our relative position was bound to decline as the USSR recovered from World War II. Our military and diplomatic position was never more favorable than at the very beginning of the containment policy in the late 1940s."

In this instance, though, Kissinger's shrewdness as a historian deserted him. For it has long since been clear—and should have been clearer at the time—that the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies were on the path to decline, and that detente was concealing their difficulties. One hint of this came as early as March, 1970, when in the spirit of Ostpolitik the East German authorities invited West German Chancellor Brandt to visit Erfurt, unwisely giving him a hotel room with a window overlooking a public square. To their intense embarrassment, hundreds of East Germans gathered under it to cheer their visitor: "[T]he preparation for the Erfurt meeting," party officials admitted, "was not fully recognized as a key component in the class conflict between socialism and imperialism."

More serious signs of discontent arose in Poland the following December, when protests over food prices led the army to fire on and kill dozens of striking workers in Gdansk and Gdynia. Significantly, this crisis did not lead Moscow to invoke the Brezhnev Doctrine: instead Soviet leaders ordered an increase in the production of consumer goods—and they approved imports of food and technology from Western Europe and the United States. This made stability in the region contingent not on the use of military force, but rather on the willingness of capitalists to extend credit, a striking vulnerability for Marxist-Leninist regimes.

Nor was the oil windfall without its downside. The Soviet Union chose to pass along price increases to the Eastern Europeans: this led to a doubling of their oil costs within a year. While not as dramatic as the increases the West faced, the unanticipated expenses undercut the improvements in living standards Moscow had hoped to achieve. Meanwhile, swelling oil revenues were diminishing incentives for Soviet planners to make their own economy more productive. It was no source of strength for the U.S.S.R. to be sustaining a defense burden that may well have been three times that of the United States by the end of the 1970s, when its gross domestic product was only about one-sixth the size of its American counterpart. "[W]e were arming ourselves like addicts," Arbatov recalled, "without any apparent political need." And oil fueled the addiction.

From this perspective, then, the Soviet Union's support for Marxist revolutionaries in Africa, its SS-20 deployment, and its invasion of Afghanistan look less like a coordinated strategy to shift the global balance of power and more like the absence of any strategy at all. For what kind of logic assumes the permanence of unexpected windfalls? What kind of regime provokes those upon whom it has become economically dependent? What kind of leadership, for that matter, commits itself to the defense of human rights—as at Helsinki in 1975—but then is surprised when its own citizens claim such rights? The U.S.S.R. under Brezhnev's faltering rule had become incapable of performing the most fundamental task of any effective strategy: the efficient use of available means to accomplish chosen ends. That left the field open for leaders elsewhere who were capable of such things.
SOURCE: The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 2005), pp. 212-214

17 February 2007

Pamuk on the Conquest of Istanbul

You can often tell whether you're standing in the East or in the West, just by the way people refer to certain historical events. For Westerners, May 29, 1453, is the Fall of Constantinople, while for Easterners it's the Conquest of Istanbul. Years later, when my wife was studying at Columbia University, she used the word conquest in an exam and her American professor accused her of nationalism. In fact, she'd used the word only because she was taught to use it as a Turkish lycée student; because her mother was of Russian extraction, it could be said that her sympathies were more with the orthodox Christians. Or perhaps she saw it neither as a fall nor a conquest and felt more like an unlucky hostage caught between two worlds that offered no choice but to be Muslim or Christian.

It was westernization and Turkish nationalism that prompted Istanbul to begin celebrating the conquest. At the beginning of the twentieth century, only half the city's population was Muslim, and most of the non-Muslim inhabitants were descendents of Byzantine Greeks. When I was a child, the view among the city's more vocal nationalists was that anyone who so much as used the name Constantinople was an undesirable alien with irredentist dreams of the day when the Greeks, who had been the city's first masters would return to chase away the Turks, who had occupied it for five hundred years—or, at the very least, turn us into second-class citizens. It was the nationalists, then, who insisted on the word conquest. By contrast, many Ottomans were content to call their city Constantinople.

Even in my own time, Turks committed to the idea of a westernized republic were wary of making too much of the conquest. Neither President Celal Bayar nor Prime Minister Adnan Menderes attended the 500th anniversary ceremony in 1953; although it had been many years in the planning, it was decided at the last moment that to do so might offend the Greeks and Turkey's western allies. The Cold War had just begun, and Turkey, a member of NATO, did not wish to remind the world about the conquest. It was, however, three years later that the Turkish state deliberately provoked what you might call "conquest fever" by allowing mobs to rampage through the city, plundering the property of Greeks and other minorities. A number of churches were destroyed during the riots and a number of priests were murdered, so there are many echoes of the cruelties western historians describe in accounts of the "fall" of Constantinople. In fact, both the Turkish and the Greek states have been guilty of treating their respective minorities as hostages to geopolitics, and that is why more Greeks have left Istanbul over the past fifty years than in the fifty years following 1453.

In 1955 the British left Cyprus, and as Greece was preparing to take over the entire island, an agent of the Turkish secret service threw a bomb into the house where Atatürk was born in the Greek city of Salonika. After Istanbul's newspapers had spread the news in a special edition exaggerating the incident, mobs hostile to the city's non-Muslim inhabitants gathered in Taksim Square, and after they had burned, destroyed, and plundered all those shops my mother and I had visited in Beyoğlu, they spent the rest of the night doing the same in other parts of the city.

The bands of rioters were most violent and caused greatest terror in neighborhoods like Ortaköy, Balıklı, Samatya, and Fener, where the concentration of Greeks was greatest; not only did they sack and burn little Greek groceries and dairy shops, they broke into houses to rape Greek and Armenian women. So it is not unreasonable to say that the rioters were as merciless as the soldiers who sacked the city after it fell to Mehmet the Conqueror. It later emerged that the organizers of this riot—whose terror raged for two days and made the city more hellish than the worst orientalist nightmares—had the state's support and had pillaged the city with its blessing.

So for that entire night, every non-Muslim who dared walk the streets of the city risked being lynched; the next morning the shops of Beyoğlu stood in ruins, their windows smashed, their doors kicked in, their wares either plundered or gleefully destroyed.
SOURCE: Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk (Vintage, 2006), pp. 172-173

Gaddis on Mao vs. Khrushchev

The Americans' difficulties in dealing with de Gaulle ... paled in comparison to those Khrushchev encountered in trying to manage Mao Zedong. The sources of Sino-Soviet tension lay, first, in the long history of hostility between Russia and China, which commitment to a common ideology had only partially overcome: Khrushchev and Mao had all the instincts and prejudices of nationalists, however much they might be communists. Stalin's legacy also posed problems. Mao had defended the dead dictator when Khrushchev attacked him in 1956, but the Chinese leader also cultivated—and frequently displayed—his memory of each of Stalin's slights, affronts, or insults. It was as if Stalin had become a tool for Mao, to be used when necessary to bolster his own authority, but also to be rejected when required to invoke the dangers of Soviet hegemony. At the same time, Mao treated Khrushchev as a superficial upstart, neglecting no opportunity to confound him with petty humiliations, cryptic pronouncements, and veiled provocations. Khrushchev could "never be sure what Mao meant.... I believed in him and he was playing with me."

Mao did so, at least in part, because picking fights abroad—whether with adversaries or allies—was a way to maintain unity at home, a major priority as he launched the Great Leap Forward. That had been one of the reasons for the second offshore island crisis, which had brought China to the brink of war with the United States during the summer of 1958. But Mao had already by then picked a separate fight with the Soviet Union. The Russians had made the mistake of proposing the construction of a long-wave radio station on the China coast, together with the establishment of a joint Sino-Soviet submarine flotilla. Mao responded furiously. "You never trust the Chinese!" he complained to the Soviet ambassador. Moscow might as well be demanding joint ownership of "our army, navy, air force, industry, agriculture, culture, education.... With a few atomic bombs, you think you are in a position to control us."

When Khrushchev hastened to Beijing to try to smooth things over, Mao accused him of having lost his revolutionary edge. "[W]e obviously have the advantage over our enemies," Mao told him, having already put the imperfectly aquatic Khrushchev at a disadvantage by receiving him in a swimming pool. "All you have to do is provoke the Americans into military action, and I'll give you as many divisions as you need to crush them." Struggling to remain afloat, Khrushchev tried to explain "that one or two missiles could turn all the divisions in China to dust." But Mao "wouldn't even listen to my arguments and obviously regarded me as a coward."

Defying the logic of balancing power within the international system, Mao sought a different kind of equilibrium: a world filled with danger, whether from the United States or the Soviet Union or both, could minimize the risk that rivals within China might challenge his rule. The strategy succeeded brilliantly. Despite a degree of mismanagement unparalleled in modern history—if such a euphemism can characterize policies that caused so many of his countrymen to starve to death during the Great Leap Forward—Mao survived as China's "great helmsman." What did not survive was the Sino-Soviet alliance, which had, as far as Mao was concerned, outlived its usefulness. Khrushchev, fearing the implications, tried desperately to reconstitute it right up to the moment he was deposed in 1964, despite repeated insults, rebuffs, and even instances of deliberate sabotage from Mao. But in the end even he had to admit—revealingly—that "it was getting harder and harder to view China through the eager and innocent eyes of a child."

How was it, then, that de Gaulle and Mao, the leaders of medium powers, were able to treat the superpowers in this way? Why were the traditional forms of power itself—military strength, economic capacity, geographical reach—so useless in this situation? Part of the answer has to do with the new kind of power balancing that was taking place here: de Gaulle's strategy of "defense in all directions" was not that different from Mao's of giving offense in all directions. Both saw in the defiance of external authority a way to enhance their own internal legitimacy. Both sought to rebuild national self-esteem: that required, they believed, the thumbing of noses, even the biting of hands that had previously provided food and other forms of sustenance.
SOURCE: The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 2005), pp. 140-142

15 February 2007

Pamuk on Linguistic Cleansing in Istanbul

After a long period when no one of consequence came to Istanbul, and local journalists interviewed all foreigners who turned up at the Hilton Hotel, the Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky published a long piece entitled "Flight from Byzantium" in The New Yorker.

Perhaps because he was still smarting from W. H. Auden's brutal review of the book recounting his journey to Iceland, Brodsky began with a long list of reasons he'd come to Istanbul (by plane). At the time I was living far from the city and wanted to read only good things about it, so his mockery was crushing, yet I was glad when Brodsky wrote, "How dated everything is here! Not old, ancient, antique, or even old-fashioned, but dated!" He was right. When the empire fell, the new Republic, while certain of its purpose, was unsure of its identity; the only way forward, its founders thought, was to foster a new concept of Turkishness, and this meant a certain cordon sanitaire to shut it off from the rest of the world. It was the end of the grand polyglot multicultural Istanbul of the imperial age; the city stagnated, emptied itself out, and became a monotonous monolingual town in black and white.

The cosmopolitian Istanbul I knew as a child had disappeared by the time I reached adulthood. In 1852, Gautier, like many other travelers of the day, had remarked that in the streets of Istanbul you could hear Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Italian, French, and English (and, more than either of the last two languages, Ladino, the medieval Spanish of the Jews who'd come to Istanbul after the Inquisition). Noting that many people in this "tower of Babel" were fluent in several languages, Gautier seems, like so many of his compatriots, to be slightly ashamed to have no language other than his mother tongue.

After the founding of the Republic and the violent rise of Turkification, after the state imposed sanctions on minorities—measures that some might describe as the final stage of the city's "conquest" and others as ethnic cleansing—most of these languages disappeared. I witnessed this cultural cleansing as a child, for whenever anyone spoke Greek or Armenian too loudly in the street (you seldom heard Kurds advertising themselves in public during this period), someone would cry out, "Citizens, please speak Turkish!"—echoing what signs everywhere were saying.
SOURCE: Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk (Vintage, 2006), pp. 238-239

Dumneazu blogger Zaelic comments:
True, but with holes in it. On my last trip to Istanbul I managed to find myself in several situations where other languages indigenous to Istanbul were openly used. Kurdish and Laz were not rare among my friends. On the street where we lived in Beyoglu (known as the Tomtom Kapitan neighborhood) Kurdish was never rare, Arabic was common and occaisionally I heard Romani. I found Ladino spoken both at the booksellers shops near Tunel, as well as on the Princess Island of Burgaz Ada. Also Greek on Burgaz Ada, as well as Pontic Greek among some Muslim Rumca-speaking friends from the Black Sea coast (who moved back to Istanbul after being raised speaking Rumca in Germany! They essentially had to learn Turkish in Turkey - in Essen they spoke Rumca as kids and thought it was Turkish! On the weekend ferry to Buyuk Ada - where the upper class Armenians of Istanbul have their weekend homes - I heard a lot of Armenian, something which my American friend who has resided in a strongly Armenian neighborhood of Istanbul for years (Samatya) says came as a great surprise to him. I wouldn't say that Pamuk is wrong, but things have loosened up in the last five years... people are less afraid to be heard speaking languages in the streets that have often been confined to the kitchen.
For a skeptical take on either Pamuk's Istanbul and his memories of Brodsky and Auden or the translation thereof, see House of Mirth, who notes that Auden, not Brodsky, was the author of the travelogue about Iceland.

14 February 2007

Romanian Synonymy: Romanian and French

The following synonym sets are formed from Romanian and French components.

  • călătorie ~ voiaj ‘trip’
  • întrecere ~ concurs/competiţie ‘competition’
  • convorbire ~ conversaţie/discuţie ‘conversation, discussion’
  • însufleţire/înflăcărare ~ entuziam ‘inspiration, enthusiasm’
  • cleveteală/bârfeală ~ calomnie ‘gossip, slander’
  • indignare ~ revoltă ‘revolt’
  • dovadă ~ argument ‘evidence, argument’
  • putere/tărie ~ forţă ‘power, force’
  • a înfăptui/îndeplini ~ a realiza ‘to fulfill, realize’
  • a zugrăvi/înfăţişa ~ a reda/descrie ‘to depict, render’
  • a contrazice ~ a combate/obiecta ‘to contradict, object’
  • a înapoia ~ a restitui ‘to give back, make restitution’
  • a pregăti ~ a prepara ‘to prepare’
  • a întrece ~ a depăşi ‘to overtake’
  • a înştiinţa ~ a comunica/anunţa ‘to inform, announce’

SOURCE: Section in "Formation of Synonyms" Probleme de sinonimie, by Onufrie Vinţeler (Bucureşti: Editură Sţiinţifică şi Encliclopedică, 1983) [my translation].

In sharp contrast to the mostly rural, earthy Slavic borrowings examined earlier, these adoptions from French seem to reflect usage by cosmopolitan, high-society types, thus conforming to one of the earliest assumptions about why speakers of one language borrow words from another: because the lending language has more prestige. However, note that the Romanian equivalents of French Bon voyage and Bon appétit are Drum bun and Poftă bună, respectively, where the nouns are in both cases of Slavic origin.

13 February 2007

Pamuk on Humiliation as a Teaching Method

In his memoirs, Falaka and Nights, Ahmet Rasim wrote at length about his school days a century ago, when teachers in Ottoman schools held rods so long they could hit their pupils without even rising from their seats; our teachers encouraged us to read these books, perhaps to show us how lucky we were to have been spared the pre-Republican, pre-Atatürk era of the falaka [= bastinado]. But even in wealthy Nişantaşı, in the well-endowed Işık Lycée School, the old teachers left over from the Ottoman period found in some "modern" technical innovations new tools for oppressing the weak and defenseless: Our French-made rulers, and especially the thin hard strips of mica inserted into their sides, could, in their practiced hands, be as effective as the falaka and the rod.

In spite of myself, I almost rejoiced whenever someone else was disciplined for being lazy, uncivilized, stupid, or insolent. I was happy to see it applied to one gregarious girl who came to school in a chauffeur-driven car; a teacher's pet, she was always standing up before us to do a croaky rendition of "Jingle Bells" in English, but this earned her no clemency when she was found guilty of doing sloppy homework. There were always a few who hadn't done their homework but pretended they had, acting as if it was somewhere in their notebook if only they could find it. They'd cry out, "I can't find it right now, teacher!" just to delay the inevitable for a few seconds, but it only added to the violence with which the teacher smacked them or pulled their ear.

When we'd moved on from the sweet and motherly women teachers of our early years to the angry old embittered men who taught us religion, music, and gymnastics in the upper grades, these rituals of humiliation became more elaborate, and there were times when the lessons were so boring that I was glad for the few minutes of entertainment the punishments provided....

I'd watch these scenes—first a scolding, then an angry shower of books and notebooks, while the rest of the class sat in frozen silence—thankful I was not one of those hapless pupils marked for humiliation. I shared my good fortune with about a third of the class. If this had been a school for children of all backgrounds, the line that set the lucky ones apart might have been more distinct, but this was a private school and all the pupils came from wealthy families. In the playground during recess, we enjoyed a childish fellowship that made the line disappear, but whenever I watched the beating and humiliation, I, like the awesome figure seated at the teacher's desk, would ask myself why it was that some children could be so lazy, dishonorable, weak-willed, insensitive, or brainless. There were no answers to my dark moral probings in the comic books I'd begun reading; their evil characters were always drawn with crooked mouths. Finding nothing, either, in the shadowy depths of my own childish heart, I'd let the question fade away. I came to understand that the place they called school had no part in answering life's most profound questions; rather, its main function was to prepare us for "real life" in all its political brutality. And so, until I reached lycée, I preferred to raise my hand and remain safely on the right side of the line.
SOURCE: Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk (Vintage, 2006), pp. 124-126

12 February 2007

The Two Koreas: Cold War Tails Wagging Dogs

"NON-ALIGNMENT" was not the only weapon available to small powers seeking to expand their autonomy while living in the shadow of superpowers: so too was the possibility of collapse. There was no way that staunch anti-communists like Syngman Rhee in South Korea, Chiang Kai-shek on Taiwan, or Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam could plausibly threaten to defect to the other side (although Diem, desperate to hang on to power as the Americans were abandoning him in 1963, did implausibly attempt to open negotiations with the North Vietnamese). Nor could such dedicated anti-capitalists as Kim Il-sung in North Korea or Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam credibly raise the prospect of alignment with the United States. What they could do, though, was encourage fears that their regimes might fall if their respective superpower sponsors did not support them. The "dominos" found it useful, from time to time, to advertise a propensity to topple.

Korea's history after the Korean War provides a clear example. Rhee had adamantly opposed the 1953 armistice that left his country divided, and in an effort to sabotage it, had released thousands of North Korean prisoners-of-war so that they could not be sent home against their will. Washington was as outraged by this as was Pyongyang, for Rhee acted on his own. He did not succeed in scrapping the armistice, but he did signal the Eisenhower administration that being a dependent ally would not necessarily make him an obedient ally. His most effective argument was that if the United States did not support him—and the repressive regime he was imposing on South Korea—that country would collapse, and the Americans would be in far worse shape on the Korean peninsula than if they had swallowed their scruples and assisted him.

It was a persuasive case, because there was no obvious alternative to Rhee. The United States could "do all sorts of things to suggest ... that we might very well be prepared to leave Korea," Eisenhower noted gloomily, "but the truth of the matter was, of course, that we couldn't actually leave." And so Rhee got a bilateral security treaty, together with a commitment from Washington to keep American troops in South Korea for as long as they were needed to ensure that country's safety. This meant that the United States was defending an authoritarian regime, because Rhee had little patience with, or interest in, democratic procedures. South Korea was what he, not the Americans, wanted it to be, and to get his way Rhee devised a compelling form of Cold War blackmail: if you push me too hard, my government will fall, and you'll be sorry.

The Soviet Union, it is now clear, had a similar experience with Kim Il-sung in North Korea. He was allowed to build a Stalinist state, with its own cult of personality centered on himself, at just the time when Khrushchev was condemning such perversions of Marxism-Leninism elsewhere. That country became, as a result, increasingly isolated, authoritarian—and yet totally dependent on economic and military support from the rest of the communist world. It was hardly the result Khrushchev or his successors would have designed, had they had the opportunity. They did not, however, because Kim could counter each suggestion for reform with the claim that it would destabilize his government, and thereby hand victory to the South Koreans and the Americans. "[I]n the interests of our common tasks, we must sometimes overlook their stupidities," one Soviet official explained in 1973. Both Washington and Moscow therefore wound up supporting Korean allies who were embarrassments to them. It was a curious outcome to the Korean War, and another reminder of the extent to which the weak, during the Cold War, managed to obtain power over the strong.
SOURCE: The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 2005), pp. 129-130

11 February 2007

China Train Trips: Via Nanjing to Jingdezhen

After an idyllic few days in Hangzhou during our Chinese New Year getaway vacation in 1988, the Far Outliers boarded a train for Nanjing, sitting on hard-class seats. We had decided to bypass Shanghai, which was dealing with a cholera outbreak. But throngs of people were heading in that direction anyway. The crowd on the way to the wickets and platform was so closely packed that we were afraid our two-year-old daughter might fall and get trampled.

We arrived in Nanjing that evening and found rooms at a somewhat dilapidated grand hotel a short taxi ride from the train station. The weather was foggy and rainy and the streets were snowy and wet, so instead of walking the city the next morning, we killed time in the warmth and luxury of the Jinling Hotel, trying not to spend any dollars. For lunch, we walked down the street to a place specializing in Mongolian hotpot (lit. ‘firepot’, 火鍋 or 火锅 huoguo), where we could spend renminbi.

Although the hotel complex overlooked the Yangtze River, thick fog prevented us from ever seeing either the river or the bridge. However, we did spend a lot of time listening to languages from all over the world in the sprawling lobby. One lady we chatted with challenged us to identify the language she was speaking with her friends. Her intonation sounded Scandinavian, but I couldn’t recognize any Germanic cognates, so I correctly guessed Finnish. She was sure I had relied on nonlinguistic clues.

As soon as we had arrived in Nanjing, we had booked soft-class sleeper tickets to
Jingdezhen for the following day, then sent a telegram to our friends awaiting us there. They were fellow teachers at Sunwen College in Zhongshan City in Guangdong Province, who had provided me with a Chinese-character telegram template into which I was to write the day and time of our arrival. The telegram worked fine. I felt sorry for the clerk who had to translate each character into a 4-digit Chinese telegraph code for transmission, but she had probably memorized most of the codes for times and well-used place names.

Jingdezhen in 1988 (pictured above) was a muddy, gray, dilapidated industrial city without any tourist hotels that we noticed, despite its long-standing fame for producing some of the finest porcelain in China. It gave us a feel for what life was like away from the coastal cities and a bit off the beaten track. Our friends had arranged for us to stay at a guesthouse for visiting delegations and they gave us for a walking tour of their hometown. Among the things that struck me as we walked past storefronts were tinsmiths that repaired pots and pans, and television vendors offering video games on black-and-white sets. But there were also a large number of porcelain shops as well as street vendors selling “factory seconds,” from whom we bought several small vases and tea sets with hand-painted designs.

Among the highlights of our visit was the chance to share lunch and xiuxi (‘rest time’) in the home of one set of parents near the city hospital where they worked, and dinner in the home of the other set at the edge of town across the river. The father, who had only seen Americans on Korean battlefields, was overcome with emotion when recounting his experiences. Only my youngest uncle served in the Korean War—as a sailor aboard a submarine tender. (All my older uncles, except the eldest, served in World War II, but only one served in the Pacific.)

Pamuk on Religion and the Secular Elite

My first trip to a mosque helped confirm my prejudices about religion in general and Islam in particular. It was almost by chance: One afternoon when there was no one home, Esma Hanım took me off to the mosque without asking anyone's permission; she was not so much burning with a need to worship as tired of being inside. At Teşvikiye Mosque we found a crowd of twenty or thirty people—mostly owners of the small shops in the back streets or maids, cooks, and janitors who worked for the rich families of Nişantaşı; as they gathered on the carpets, they looked less like a congregation of worshipers than a group of friends who had gathered to exchange notes. As they waited for the prayer time, they gossiped with one another in whispers. As I wandered among them during prayers, running off to the far corners of the mosque to play my games, none of them stopped to scold; instead, they smiled at me in the same sweet way most adults smiled at me when I was a young child. Religion may have been the province of the poor, but now I saw that—contrary to the caricatures in newspapers and my republican household—religious people were harmless.

Nevertheless, I was given to understand by the high-handed ridicule directed at them in the Pamuk Apartments that their good-hearted purity carried a price. It was making the dream of a modern, prosperous, westernized Turkey more difficult to achieve. As westernized, positivist property owners, we had the right to govern over these semiliterates, and we had an interest in preventing their getting too attached to their supersititions—not just because it suited us privately but because our country's future depended on it. If my grandmother discovered that an electrician had gone off to pray, even I could tell that her sharp comment had less to do with the small repair job he had left unfinished than with the "traditions and practices" that were impeding "our national progress."

The staunch disciples of Atatürk who dominated the press, their caricatures of black-scarved women and bearded reactionaries fingering prayer beads, the school ceremonies in honor of the Martyrs of the Republican Revolution—all reminded me that the nation-state belonged more to us than to the religious poor, whose devotion was dragging the rest of us down with them. But feeling at one with the mathematics and engineering fanatics in our own household, I would tell myself that our mastery did not depend on our wealth but on our modern western outlook. And so I looked down on families that were as rich as we were but not as western. Such distinctions became less tenable later on, when Turkey's democracy had matured somewhat and rich provincials began flocking to Istanbul to present themselves to "society"; by then my father's and my uncle's business failures had taken their toll, subjecting us to the indignity of being outclassed by people who had no taste for secularism and no understanding of western culture. If enlightenment entitled us to riches and privilege, how were we to explain these pious parvenus? (At the time I knew nothing about the refinements of Sufism or the Mevlana or the great Persian heritage.) For all I knew, the new class denounced as "rich peasants" by the political left held views no different from those of our chauffeurs and cooks. If Istanbul's westernized bourgeoisie gave support to the military interventions of the past forty years, never strenuously objecting to military interference in politics, it was not because it feared a leftist uprising (the Turkish left in this country has never been strong enough to achieve such a feat); rather, the elite's tolerance of the military was rooted in the fear that one day the lower classes would combine forces with the new rich pouring in from the provinces to abolish the westernized bourgeois way of life under the banner of religion. But if I dwell any longer on military coups and political Islam (which has much less to do with Islam than is commonly thought), I risk destroying the hidden symmetry of this book.
SOURCE: Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk (Vintage, 2006), pp. 181-183

10 February 2007

China Train Trips: Hard-class to Hangzhou

Nineteen years ago this month, the Far Outliers were very much looking forward to some Chinese New Year vacation travel after a semester teaching English at newly established Sunwen College in Zhongshan City, China. The school was very much worried about the prospect of our traveling alone and wanted to get two students to accompany us. But we felt that would be a terrible imposition on both the students and ourselves, and we felt confident that we could negotiate the Chinese train system. After all, I had spent a lot of my childhood traveling on Japanese trains. How much harder could it be in China?

Somebody may have helped us buy the train tickets from Guangzhou to Hangzhou. We booked hard-class sleeper berths because we were being paid exclusively—and not very lavishly—in renminbi ('people's currency'), which was not yet convertible in those days. We hoarded our dwindling supply of dollar savings acessible via credit card, but nevertheless came back to the U.S. flat broke, despite getting substantially more renminbi during our second semester teaching there. The latter at least enabled us to afford a trip to Beijing and Xian before leaving China that summer.

Hard-class sleeping compartments had four berths facing each other across a narrow walkway. I was on a top berth and my wife shared a lower berth with our two-year-old daughter. There was another young child in our compartment who spent a lot of time playing with a pear, alternately holding it with his unwashed hands, dropping it on the grime-caked floor, and taking bites out of it. By Chinese standards, our daughter’s habit of thumb-sucking was just as unsanitary, but we always made sure to travel with a clean washcloth, rinsed in boiled water, and she soon learned to ask “Suck this thumb?” and get a thumb-wipe before indulging in one of her favorite contemplative activities at the time: sucking her thumb and twiddling her belly button. (As a babe in arms, she used to like to reach in and twiddle her mom’s nipple while sucking her thumb.)

By dinner time, the train was winding its way through mountain valleys beside terraced rice paddies. Vendors came down the aisles selling meals in styrofoam boxes, and about the same time we began to notice a lot of styrofoam scattered along the fields beside the tracks. After we had all eaten, we found out where it came from, as janitors worked their way down the aisles sweeping all before them with pairs of handheld brooms. At the end of each railcar, they would open a window and chuck all the rubbish out, then move on to the next car. They also seemed entirely to ignore the toilets, whose floors were awash in urine-tainted water.

We arrived in Hangzhou—so serene compared to bustling Guangzhou—early the next morning, a bit too early to check into the exquisite, Austrian-run Shangri-la Hotel Hangzhou on the north shore of West Lake. So we dawdled over bowls of hot jook (congee, 粥) in the warm hotel restaurant before checking into our rooms, where we found chocolates on the pillow and were offered complimentary glasses of warm glühwein. That stay was worth the precious dollars we spent on it. Over the next few days, we visited some of the scenic spots, bicycled around the lake, and sampled the famous Longjing (龍井 or 龙井 Dragon Well) tea grown in the nearby hills. What a welcome respite those days were.

09 February 2007

The Iron Rooster Reaches Lhasa

The AEI's online magazine American.com reports that one can now ride the iron rooster all the way from the Forbidden City to the Potala and back.
The extraordinary technological challenges to building a rail line from scratch in Tibet are consid­erably easier to overcome, especially for a powerful centralized regime like China’s, than the legal and political challenges to improving a key rail connec­tion (like Boston–Washington) in the world’s most advanced economy. Also, at this point in history, the Chinese clearly value public infrastructure more than Americans.

The new western railroad creates a bittersweet reality. It will transform Tibet from a thinly populated nation with a largely nomadic population and exotic, remote tourist destinations into a more common and accessible place. For many Tibetans, especially adaptable youth, opportunities will multiply; the loss of a unique history will seem less troublesome to them than it is to the isolated, older population.

The Lamaist State of Tibet is already a memory. Chinese soldiers invaded in 1950, and Tibet became part of the PRC a year later. After an unsuccess­ful rebellion, the Dalai Lama went into exile in India in 1959, and it is clear that the Chinese will not tolerate the re-emergence of a the­ocracy—especially since the government has endowed the west with so much strategic impor­tance. In 1979, Deng Xiaoping declared that China should get on with development. “I don’t care,” Deng said, “whether the cat is black or white, as long as it can catch mice.”

Whether Tibetans will fare better under the Chinese government than they did under the Lamaist theocracy remains to be seen. The outlook for traditionalists is bleak, but for most Tibetans, the chances for a better future are enhanced by the construction of the rail line to Lhasa.
via RealClearPolitics

The author of the article takes the opportunity to bash the U.S. government for not investing enough in physical infrastructure, while lauding the PRC government for doing so. I suspect few Chinese citizens who live far from the coastal cities would share that view. They would likely be thrilled to have the equivalent of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System instead.

08 February 2007

Barry Obama at Punahou School in Hawai‘i

Today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin features a fluffy front-page profile of Barack Obama's time at Punahou School in Hawai‘i.
Long before he became Barack Obama -- junior senator from Illinois and presidential candidate -- he was just Barry, the good-natured, unassuming kid.

He loved basketball. He loved books. He always wore a smile. He got along with everyone.

He did not come from privilege, but was able to attend the exclusive Punahou School based on his achievement and with the help of financial aid....

"In retrospect, everybody enjoyed having him as a classmate," said Mitchell Kam, another member of the Punahou Class of 1979.

That is also why many say they were surprised to read about his internal personal struggle, which he detailed in his 1995 memoir, "Dreams from My Father."

"In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American," the book's jacket reads.

In it, Obama recalls the experience of his childhood and how he dealt with some discrimination, even in a racially diverse location such as Hawaii....

In an essay for the Punahou Bulletin, published in 1999, two decades after his high school graduation, Obama wrote, "The opportunity that Hawaii offered -- to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect -- became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear."

Australia–Japan Security Agreement to Be Signed

Japundit's Iron Chef reports that Australia and Japan are on the verge of signing a joint security agreement (that carefully avoids the word "treaty") when Australian Prime Minister Howard visits Japan next month. Although some Australian veterans of World War II still hold bitter feelings toward Japan, the Returned and Services League (RSL) has apparently come out in support of the treaty agreement.

07 February 2007

Romanian Synonymy: Latin and Slavic

Romanian synonym sets formed from Latin and Slavic components.

Nouns (Latin ~ Slavic ‘English gloss’):
  • lac ~ iezer ‘lake’
  • cale ~ drum ‘road’
  • călare ~ potecă ‘path’
  • pulbure ~ praf ‘dust’
  • nea ~ zăpadă ‘snow’
  • timp ~ vreme ‘time’
  • secure ~ topor ‘axe’
  • piuă ~ dârstă ‘mortar, fulling vat’
  • mâncare ~ hrană ‘food’
  • stup ~ ulei (regional) ‘beehive’
  • scoarţă ~ coajă ‘bark, crust’
  • vită ~ dobitoc ‘cow, ox, cattle’
  • fiară ~ dihanie ‘beast, monster’
  • vacă ~ ialoviţă (obsolete) ‘cow’
  • corp ~ trup ‘body’
  • cap ~ glavă (obs.) ‘head’
  • faţă ~ obraz ‘face’
  • popor ~ norod ‘people’
  • şerb ~ sclav, rob ‘serf’
  • spaimă ~ groază ‘fear’
  • tristeţe ~ jale ‘sorrow’
  • ştire ~ veste ‘news’
  • ceartă ~ svadă ‘quarrel’

Adjectives (Latin ~ Slavic ‘English gloss’):
  • deşert ~ gol ‘empty, barren’
  • roşu ~ rumen ‘red, ruddy’
  • umed ~ jilav ‘damp, moist’
  • sănătos ~ citov (obs.) ‘healthy’

Verbs (Latin ~ Slavic ‘English gloss’):
  • a lucra ~ a munci/trudi ‘to work, labor’
  • a treiera ~ a îmblăti (regional) ‘to thresh’
  • a săpa ~ a prăşi ‘to dig, weed’
  • a înnegri ~ a cerni ‘to blacken’
  • a păcătui ~ a greşi ‘to sin, err’
  • a se deprinde/învăţa ~ a se obişnui ‘to get used to’
  • a vindeca ~ a lecui ‘to cure’

SOURCE: "Synonymy and dialects" ( in Probleme de sinonimie, by Onufrie Vinţeler (Bucureşti: Editură Sţiinţifică şi Encliclopedică, 1983) [my translation].

The nature of the borrowings that gave rise to these synonym sets suggests to me intermixed language communities with high degrees of bilingualism, and not contact between old and new technologies at a linguistic frontier, as was typical during the expansion of colonial languages across the globe.

UPDATE: There are also synonym sets of purely Slavic origin, but some of the alternates are rare, regional, or even obsolete:
  • nămol ~ tină ‘mud, silt’
  • mlacă ~ mlaştină ~ mocirlă ‘marsh, swamp, mud’
  • stog ~ claie ~ căpită ‘hayrick, shock (of hair)’
  • coteţ ~ cocină ‘sty, kennel’
  • război ~ stative ‘loom’
  • cobiliţă ~ coromâslă ‘carrying pole’
  • cârpă ~ zdreanţă ~ otreapă ‘rag’
  • lele ~ nană ‘auntie’ (term of address for older women)
  • doică ~ mancă ‘wetnurse’
  • a osteni ~ a obosi ‘to tire’

06 February 2007

Truman's Other Atomic Initiative

Harry S. Truman claimed, for the rest of his life [after ordering that nuclear weapons be used in warfare], to have lost no sleep over his decision, but his behavior suggests otherwise. On the day the bomb was first tested in the New Mexico desert he wrote a note to himself speculating that "machines are ahead of morals by some centuries, and when morals catch up perhaps there'll be no reason for any of it." A year later he placed his concerns in a broader context: "[T]he human animal and his emotions change not much from age to age. He must change now or he faces absolute and complete destruction and maybe the insect age or an atmosphereless planet will succeed him." "It is a terrible thing," he told a group of advisers in 1948, "to order the use of something that ... is so terribly destructive, destructive beyond anything we have ever had.... So we have got to treat this differently from rifles and cannon and ordinary things like that."

The words were prosaic—Truman was a matter-of-fact man—but the implications were revolutionary. Political leaders had almost always in the past left it to their military chiefs to decide the weapons to be used in fighting wars, regardless of how much destruction they might cause. Clausewitz's warnings had done little over the years to alter this tendency. Lincoln gave his generals a free hand to do whatever it took to defeat the Confederacy: well over 600,000 Americans died before their Civil War came to an end. Civilians imposed few constraints on militaries in World War I, with devastating consequences: some 21,000 British troops died in a single day—most of them in a single hour—at the Battle of the Somme. Anglo-American strategic bombing produced civilian casualties running into the tens of thousands on many nights during World War II, without anyone awakening Churchill or Roosevelt each time this happened. And Truman himself had left it to the Army Air Force to determine when and where the first atomic weapons would be dropped: the names "Hiroshima" and "Nagasaki" were no more familiar to him, before the bombs fell, than they were to anyone else.

After that happened, though, Truman demanded a sharp break from past practice. He insisted that a civilian agency, not the military, control access to atomic bombs and their further development. He also proposed, in 1946, turning all such weapons and the means of producing them over to the newly established United Nations—although under the Baruch Plan (named for elder statesman Bernard Baruch, who presented it) the Americans would not relinquish their monopoly until a foolproof system of international inspections was in place. In the meantime, and despite repeated requests from his increasingly frustrated war planners, Truman refused to clarify the circumstances in which they could count on using atomic bombs in any future war. That decision would remain a presidential prerogative: he did not want "some dashing lieutenant colonel decid[ing] when would be the proper time to drop one."

There were elements of illogic in Truman's position. It made integrating nuclear weapons into existing armed forces impossible. It left unclear how the American atomic monopoly might be used to induce greater political cooperation from the Soviet Union. It impeded attempts to make deterrence work: the administration expected its new weapons to keep Stalin from exploiting the Red Army's manpower advantage in Europe, but with the Pentagon excluded from even basic information about the number and capabilities of these devices, it was not at all apparent how this was to happen. It is likely, indeed, that during the first few years of the postwar era, Soviet intelligence knew more about American atomic bombs than the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff did. Moscow's spies—having penetrated the top levels of the British intelligence establishment—were that good, while Truman's determination to maintain civilian supremacy over his own military establishment was that strong.

In the long run, these lapses proved less important than the precedent Truman set. For by denying the military control over atomic weapons, he reasserted civilian authority over how wars were to be fought. Without ever having read Clausewitz—at least as far as we know—the president revived that strategist's great principle that war must be the instrument of politics, rather than the other way around. Little in Truman's background would have predicted this outcome. His military experience was that of a World War I artillery captain. He had been a failed businessman, and a successful but unremarkable politician. He would never have reached the presidency had Roosevelt not plucked him from the Senate to be his vice-presidential running mate in 1944, and then died.

But Truman did have one unique qualification for demanding a return to Clausewitz: after August, 1945, he had the ability, by issuing a single order, to bring about more death and destruction than any other individual in history had ever been able to accomplish. That stark fact caused this ordinary man to do an extraordinary thing. He reversed a pattern in human behavior so ancient that its origins lay shrouded in the mists of time: that when weapons are developed, they will be used.
SOURCE: The Cold War: A New History, by John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 2005), pp. 53-55 (multiple reviews here)