30 September 2007

Etymologically, Myanmar = Burma: Round Two

I've blogged on Myanmar = Burma before, but it seems to bear repeating before that sad country once again fades from international consciousness. Here's the email I sent to the PBS NewsHour last week.
As a regular NewsHour watcher, I find it painful to hear Jim Lehrer pronounce Myanmar as ME-and-Mar, for two reasons.

(1) One is the same reason English speakers insist on pronouncing Kyoto in three syllables. They can pronounce kyu in one syllable (as in 'cue ball'), but not kyo. I'm sure Jim can pronounce myu in one syllable, as in 'musing', but can't get mya out in one syllable.

(2) But I wouldn't bother to write you about it if I hadn't heard Jim offer a lame bit of newsroom CW to explain why he insists on using the name he can't pronounce rather than the name he can pronounce. Etymologically, Myanmar and Burma are the same word, just pronounced differently. One is formal and literary, the other more common and colloquial. Here's what a reputable academic specialist says on the matter: "Myanmar/Burma," by Bertil Lintner, in Ethnicity in Asia, ed. by Colin Mackerras (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), p. 174:
In 1989, Burma's military government changed the name of the country to Myanmar. The reason, it said, was that the British colonial power had named it 'Burma' after the main ethnic group in the country, the Burmese, who inhabit the central plains. 'Myanmar', it was argued, included the Burmese and all other 'ethnic races', including the Shan, the Karen, the Mon, the Kachin and more than 100 other nationalities. This is, however, historically and linguistically highly dubious. The once-British colony has always been called Burma in English and bama or myanma in Burmese.

The best explanation of the difference between bama and myanma is to be found in the Hobson-Jobson Dictionary, which remains a very useful source of information. 'The name [Burma] is taken from Mran-ma, the national name of the Burmese people, which they themselves generally pronounce Bam-ma, unless speaking formally and emphatically.'

Both names have been used interchangeably throughout history, with Burma being more colloquial and Myanmar more formal. Burma and Myanmar (and Burmese and Myanmar) mean exactly the same thing, and it is hard to argue that the term 'Myanmar' would include any more people within the present union than the name 'Burma'.

There is no term in the language that includes both the Burmans and the minority peoples, since no country with the borders of present-day Burma existed before the arrival of the British in the nineteenth century. Burma, with its present boundaries, is a colonial creation rife with internal contractions and divisions.
If an academic source is too arcane, then perhaps Jim will listen to what a fellow journalist, James Fallows, has to say. He, too, insists on saying Burma not Myanmar [but for political reasons].
The BBC has also weighed in on the topic, favoring the alternative Burma, but its pronunciation guide for those who insist on using Myanmar lists several possibilities—MYAN-mar, my-uhn-MAR, MEE-and-mar, and mi-AN-mar—but recommends myan-MAR (all without pronouncing the final r).

For more discussion, visit Language Hat.

UPDATE: I'm way out of my depth on the issue of Burmese orthography, but from what I understand, written Burmese and spoken Burmese are in a diglossic relationship perhaps akin to that between Classical Arabic and the rich diversity of contemporary colloquial Arabic, or between Classical Chinese and modern spoken Chinese languages and dialects. Written Chinese underwent drastic reforms during the early 20th century to reflect modern spoken Mandarin, but Burmese still awaits such orthographic reforms. So people may write Burmese as it was spoken 1000 years ago (e.g., Mran-ma) but pronounce the same words the way they have turned out after 1000 years of sound change (e.g., Bam-ma), even writing millennium-old grammatical elements that are now archaic or obsolete in the spoken language. It would be as if all English speakers shared no writing system except a Runic version of Anglo-Saxon.

29 September 2007

Sam Quinones on Two Mexicos

This post from its introduction concludes my series of excerpts from the fascinating book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001). I look forward to reading his newest book, which I ordered at the same time.
The Priista/licenciado is the modern version of the hacienda owner and the Spanish noble. He doesn't return phone calls to anyone less important than he is. He is accountable only to those above him. He keeps those seeking employment waiting in his lobby for hours because he can. His shoes are too well shined to belong to anyone who really works. His sinecure insulates him from the higher standards the world demands, and from this he derives his inertia.

The Priista/licenciado culture remains an anchor around the neck of Mexico's development. It assumes the superiority of those with power and thus is fundamentally unfair. Though clad in double-breasted suits, this part of Mexico remains emotionally stuck in the sixteenth century. It is the modern expression of the ossified top-down, hierarchical tradition left the country by the Aztecs, the Spanish, the Catholic Church, and the dictator Porfirio Diaz. This side of Mexico is hardly ready for the demands of democracy and the global economy. The very term licenciado is supposed to conjure up some kind of innate wisdom. The licenciado doesn't need to prove his worth; he is entitled to more than his labor produces. The Priista is a Priista precisely because adhering to the state endows him with special rights. Mexico's world-famous corruption has its roots here, and so therefore does Mexicans' belief that their society is unjust.

I mention all this because this part of Mexico is what the world seems to know best. Certainly the press, other governments, and tourists are most aware of the official, elite, corrupt Mexico; the Mexico that won't allow a poor man a chance; the Mexico behind the sunglasses. I've even been told by people, including Mexicans, that this is Mexican culture. But I know that's not true. There is another Mexico.

This other side is vital and dynamic and is often found on Mexico's margins. The other side of Mexico is not always pretty, but it is self-reliant and adventurous.

And this Mexico is what this book is about....

The emigrant stands for the country's vital side. He uses his wits and imagination. He strikes out on his own, looking for a future. One emigrant does not require two people attending to his needs. Some twelve million Mexicans reside year-round in the United States. Many millions more have lived and worked there or spend pan of the year up north. The United States is now part of the Mexican reality and is where this other Mexico is often found, reinventing itself.

Official Mexico holds their absence against them. Emigrants are resented for their daring. In official Mexico's twisted point of view, emigrants must explain why they aren't traitors to their country....

The country's greatest modern catastrophe is that it has treated the emigrant poorly and thus been deprived of his dynamism. His absence is of greater consequence to Mexico than the nineteenth-century territorial losses of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Mexico survives today largely because the emigrant cannot bring himself to fail his country the way the licenciado so miserably fails him.
Much the same could be said for the Philippines and so many other major exporters of migrant labor.

Mexico's Lumpendeputies, the Bronxistas

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 184, 187-188:
No Bronx was needed during the decades of PRI hegemony, when virtually all congressmen were Priistas. An occasional opposition critic at the podium was even a welcome sight, adding a democratic veneer to an authoritarian exercise.

Congressmen then were known as levantadedos—finger raisers. Cartoonists portrayed them asleep in their chairs with their fingers in the air. They took orders from the president and approved whatever he proposed. Some deputies couldn't read or write. It didn't matter. They had been powerless since 1933. [Sounds like one-party Hawai‘i during the 1980s—and probably the 1930s as well.]

A fire in the chamber [in 1991] forced the 55th [Legislature of the Chamber of Deputies] to spend many months in an auditorium at Centro Médico—the medical center several miles away. The auditorium had no offices, no secretaries, no telephones. Simple things like writing a letter were major undertakings. Most PRI deputies were already shut out of the decision making, which was the exclusive domain of an elite crew of twenty or so Priistas. Now they didn't even have secretaries. They felt like schoolchildren. Ghettoized, they commiserated, and soon a collective bond emerged among sixty or so deputies. As the months wore on, they hit on the idea of publishing a newspaper as an outlet for their festering frustration.... Their newspaper ... was to be a clandestine organ of dissent and barbed humor, written anonymously. [Arturo] Nájera was put in charge of collecting articles.

The paper was first published in December 1991 and was known as La Daga—The Dagger. La Daga looked like a junior high school newspaper. Only eleven editions were ever published.... La Daga was by and for the rabble. It had no budget. It was written on a typewriter—full of spelling mistakes—then xeroxed and stapled together. La Daga was a collection of gossip, anecdotes, sexual innuendo, and cartoons making fun of important chamber members—and in that lay whatever transcendence it achieved. Soon dozens of deputies were contributing. "You know, there were 250 or so underemployed congressmen," said Nájera. "If you're sitting there with nothing to do, in two hours you can write a poem or an article." There was often too much to publish.

Yet if this group of deputies showed signs of rebellion, its main function was to ridicule opposition deputies at the podium. "Lumpendeputies," one opposition-party colleague called them. Wisecracking sustained them in their discredit. Relegated, disrespected, crude—the group developed an esprit de corps around its name. How it got that name is in dispute. Nájera says it was given them by Esteban Zamora, a PAN deputy. One day, the story goes, they were attacking Zamora as he spoke from the podium. "You over there in the Bronx, leave me alone," Zamora supposedly boomed in response. Zamora denies coming up with the name, though he admits calling them "la broza del PRI" ("the PRI's rubbish"). "They'd already named themselves the Bronx. I didn't invent that," Zamora told me. "Please don't attribute it to me. It would be an insult to the district in New York."

Whatever the case, Mexicans had long associated the term with aggressive behavior. The group donned the name—La Daga became its voice. La Daga eventually published a map of the chamber. The PAN section was labeled Queens; the PRD, Harlem. The PRI leadership section was commonly known as the Bubble by this time, but it was labeled the Holy Sanctuary, while the group of powerful Priistas directly behind it was christened Manhattan. Left field, made up of Priistas who didn't yell or participate but more or less bided their time, was dubbed New Jersey. In right field was the Bronx. "I think among many of us who formed the Bronx, there was this spirit of independence, of not enslaving ourselves to an orthodox, closed regime," Nájera said. "We formed a wing that superficially could be seen as ‘rudos’—with the yelling and all that. But that wasn't the intention. Rather it was a way of permeating this impenetrable bubble of power."

28 September 2007

The 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments in the Pacific War

I have heard endlessly about the exploits of the Japanese American units during World War 2, the 100th Battalion and 442d Regimental Combat Team, but I had never heard about the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments. Here are a few excerpts from a much longer account at the California State Military Museum website.
The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 treated the Filipinos in the U.S. as aliens. Although the Philippine Commonwealth Constitution permitted the United States to draft Filipinos in the Philippines to defend American interests there, Filipinos in the United States, quite ironically, were exempt from military service.

Thousands of Filipinos had petitioned for the right to serve in the U.S. military immediately after December 7, 1941. On January 2, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a law revising the Selective Service Act. Filipinos in the United States could now join the U.S. Armed Forces and they were urged to volunteer for service. President Roosevelt quickly authorized the founding of a Filipino battalion, which would be organized for service overseas. It estimated the number of available Filipino volunteers between 70,000 and 100,000.

The 1st Filipino Battalion was formed on March 4, 1942 and activated in April 1 at Camp San Luis Obispo, California. Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Offley, who had served in the Philippines and spoke passable Tagalog, volunteered to be assigned to the unit as its first commander. He assumed command in April 8, 1942. The War Department also directed Philippine army officers and soldiers who were stranded in the United States at the start of the war to report to the unit. An unusual point is the designation of the unit. Previous Filipino units in the U.S. Army had been designated "Philippine" such as the Philippine Scouts. All units raised in the U.S. during the war were designated "Filipino." Also, it would not be until the end of the war that the Filipino military units would carry the designation "Infantry" in their title although their regimental colors from the very beginning were displayed on a blue field, the traditional color of the infantry branch of the army.

A number of wounded Philippine Army and Philippine Scouts had escaped to Australia from the Philippines on board the USS Mactan in December 1941. Some remained in Australia to form the nucleus of what would eventually become the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, but the rest were sent to the United States for further medical treatment. These men eventually reported to the 1st Filipino Battalion.

Contrary to popular belief, the 1st Filipino Battalion was not established as a result of the American policy of social segregation. Only Filipinos who volunteered for assignment to the unit were sent to it. Many others, such as Eutiquio V. "Vic" Bacho, served with distinction in "American" (white) units in the European theater of operations during the war. Doroteo Vite wrote in a national magazine that Filipinos should take the opportunity to serve in all-white units to educate them so that at the end of the war, white Americans would support the Filipino American agenda of equality....

In April 1942, Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt, Western Defense Commander, ordered the Japanese on the West Coast into concentration camps. Miguel Ignacio, secretary of the Filipino American community of San Francisco, called attention to several American-born Japanese women, citizens of the United States, who had Filipino husbands, and Filipino-Japanese children who were U.S. citizens by birth. Despite the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union, Dewitt ordered the women and children to spend the duration of the war in the internment camps. Many of these Filipino husbands went on to serve in the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments, defending the nation whose racist policies held their families hostage.

In September 1942, the first group of qualified Filipino enlisted men was sent to the Officer Candidate School, Fort Benning, Georgia. Upon graduation, they were commissioned second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. The War Department planned to have Filipino officers eventually command the majority of the combat units in the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments. Events beyond the control of the military planners in Washington, D.C. intervened to prevent this from being fully implemented.

So many Filipino volunteers came from all over the United States that the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment was formed at Fort Ord, California on November 22, 1942. In January 1943, the 1st Regiment was reassigned to Camp Beale, near Sacramento and the 2nd Regiment to Camp Cooke, near Santa Maria. The two regiments were to be joined by a third regiment consisting of Filipinos from the Hawaiian National Guard. However, the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Association argued successfully with the martial law commanders in Hawaii that not only was cheap labor on the plantations necessary to support the war effort, the Filipinos in Hawaii were forbidden by the Tydings-McDuffie Act from going to the continental U.S. The men could not leave the sugar plantations and were paid substandard wages for the duration of the war. This would have serious consequences in 1946 when the militant Filipino labor unions shut down the islands until their demands for wage increases and better working conditions were met.

As a result of a May 1942 Gallup Poll showing strong support for the naturalization of Filipinos, the Filipino Naturalization Bill was passed. Pinoy GI's were urged to apply for U.S. citizenship. A mass swearing in of over 1,000 soldiers was held at Camp Beale on February 20, 1943. Many of the men, however, resisted becoming citizens. T-5 Julius B. Ruiz stated that although he had lived in the United States for many years and was now serving in the U.S. Army, his goal was to liberate his country, the Philippines. by the time the 1st Regiment left for the western Pacific in May 1944, over half of the men in the unit were U.S. citizens....

Before the 1st Regiment departed for the western Pacific in May 1944, Colonel Offley had a major dilemma on his hands. Even though his regimental chaplains were prepared to perform marriage ceremonies between the Filipino soldiers and their white girlfriends, the strict anti-miscegenation laws in California prevented the men from applying for marriage licenses. Colonel Offley solved this by sending his soldiers and their sweethearts to Gallup, New Mexico on chartered buses that soon came to be called the "honeymoon express."

Meanwhile in New Guinea, the 1st Regiment quickly integrated its first batch of replacements consisting of Filipino Americans from Hawaii. Colonel Offley gave Lt. Col. Leon Punsalang, a West Point graduate, command of the 1st Battalion. This was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that Asian Americans commanded white troops in combat.

27 September 2007

Yap's Role in the Saipan Campaign, June 1944

When I was looking up stuff about Yap, Micronesia, for a recent post, I came across a very informative website, with both photographs courtesy of the Micronesian Seminar, and even video, about the bombing of Yap during the Pacific War, about which I heard many stories during my time there in 1974. I have corrected obvious spelling errors in the following extract.
At dawn, on the 15th of June 1944, American amphibious forces swept into Saipan to begin the hard ground fighting that was to bring the Japanese homeland within range of our Superfortresses. For more than two weeks prior to the landings, Thirteenth Air Force Liberators, based on Los Negros, had been pounding Truk to neutralize the strategic Japanese base and to prevent the enemy from reinforcing Saipan by air.

A large Japanese task force, estimated at 40 ships or more, was sighted some distance north of Yap Island, on the 19th of June 1944. Carrier planes from this task force lashed out at the powerful units of the United States Pacific Fleet which were then supporting Allied ground forces on Saipan. The conflict that followed was the first major battle between elements of the Japanese and United States fleets in nearly two years. As at Midway, two years earlier, all of the offensive action was by carrier-based aircraft. By the time the Japanese fleet broke off the engagement, U.S. Task Force "58" had destroyed nearly 400 enemy aircraft and had sunk or damaged 14 Japanese ships.

Liberators of the Thirteenth Air Force were called upon to reach out more than 1,000 statute miles from their Los Negros base to hit Japanese warships that might seek refuge or fuel in Yap Harbor. On 22 June, 33 Liberators were over Yap in the longest mass mission the Thirteenth had yet flown. Trained eyes peered down on the harbor far below. There were no warships to be seen. The heavies wheeled and made their run on the secondary target, Yap Airdrome. Their 33-ton bomb load struck the runway and the dispersal areas with devastating effect.

The Japanese were caught completely by surprise; not a single one of the more than 40 planes on the ground was able to take off and fly into the air. Nineteen enemy planes were definitely destroyed, and 15 were damaged; the runway was cratered and rendered unserviceable.

For six consecutive days after the raid of the 22nd of June, the Liberators blasted Yap, keeping the runway unserviceable and preventing its use in ferrying planes from the Philippines to the Marianas to aid the hard-pressed defenders of Saipan.

25 September 2007

English as an Indigenous Pacific Island Language

From English on the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands, by Daniel Long (Duke U. Press, 2007; Publication of the American Dialect Society, no. 91; Supplement to American Speech, vol. 81), pp. 3, 9-10:
IT IS A LITTLE KNOWN LINGUISTIC FACT that among a group of Western Pacific islands English is maintained as a community language of the indigenous population. These are the Bonin Islands. Today, these islands (also called Ogasawara Islands) are part of Japan and their population, Japanese citizens, but the English language has survived there, as both a tool of communication and a marker of their unique identity. This book attempts to provide an outline of the English of the Bonin Islands in its various forms and incarnations from 1830 to the present....

The Bonin Islands appear to have lain completely uninhabited until Pacific Islander women and European and American men of widely varying linguistic backgrounds began to settle there in the early 1800s (see sections 2.1 and 2.2). Evidence from a variety of sources indicates that a Pidgin English (with a substratum formed from the other settlers' native languages) developed as the community's common tongue. Later the children born and raised in this language environment are thought to have acquired this as their native language (i.e., creoloidization occurred).

In the 1860s and 1870s, Japan laid claim to the islands and they experienced a huge influx of Japanese settlers. The Japanese established the first-ever schools on the islands, initiating bilingual (English and Japanese) education. Increasingly intense bilingualism initiated the processes of SYNTACTIC CONVERGENCE, leading to the development of a second contact language (a Mixed Language) comprised of a Japanese substratum and a lexicon supplied by the earlier English-based creoloid.

After World War II, the linguistic situation on the islands took another sharp turn when the U.S. Navy took control, allowing only those islanders of "Western" ancestry to live on the islands and subsequently establishing a school conducted in English. This period of American occupation and absolute isolation from Japanese ended abruptly in 1968 when the islands were returned to Japanese rule and the displaced Japanese islanders (living then in mainland Japan for a quarter century) were allowed to return home. The Ogasawara Mixed Language and Ogasawara Creoloid English have long coexisted with Japanese and English acrolects, but increasing mobility and improved communication technology seem to be accelerating decreoloidization and (dare I say) "de-mixed-language-ization."

In the 170-year linguistic history of the Bonin Islands, the dominant language has shifted from English (from 1830) to Japanese (1876), back to English (1946), and back again to Japanese (1968).

23 September 2007

Judt on Ceausescu and His Downfall

I've been rationing my posts from the eminently quotable Judt in order to excerpt this whole section on Nicolae Ceauşescu (illustrated with my own photos from 1984) from Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 622-626:
[I]t seems clear that in December 1989 one faction within the ruling Romanian Workers' Party did indeed decide that its best chance of survival lay in forcibly removing the ruling coterie around Nicolae Ceauşescu. Romania, of course, was not a typical Communist state. If Czechoslovakia was the most western of the Communist satellite countries, Romania was the most ‘oriental’. Under Ceauşescu, Communism had degenerated from national Leninism to a sort of neo-Stalinist satrapy, where Byzantine levels of nepotism and inefficiency were propped in place by a tentacular secret police.

Compared with Dej's vicious dictatorship of the Fifties, Ceauşescu's regime got by with relatively little overt brutality; but the rare hints of public protest—strikes in the Jiu mining valley in August 1977, for example, or a decade later at the Red Star tractor works in Braşov—were violently and effectively suppressed. Moreover, Ceauşescu could count not only on a cowed population but also upon a remarkable lack of foreign criticism for his actions at home: eight months after imprisoning the strike leaders in the Jiu Valley (and murdering their leaders) the Romanian dictator was visiting the United States as the guest of President Jimmy Carter. By taking his distance from Moscow—we have seen how Romania abstained from the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia—Ceauşescu bought himself freedom of maneuver and even foreign acclaim, particularly in the early stages of the ‘new’ Cold War of the 1980s. Because the Romanian leader was happy to criticize the Russians (and send his gymnasts to the Los Angeles Olympics), Americans and others kept quiet about his domestic crimes.* (*At least until the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, after which the West had no further use for an anti-Soviet maverick.)

Romanians, however, paid a terrible price for Ceauşescu's privileged status. In 1966, to increase the population—a traditional ‘Romanianist’ obsession—he prohibited abortion for women under forty with fewer than four children (in 1986 the age barrier was raised to forty-five). In 1984 the minimum marriage age for women was reduced to fifteen. Compulsory monthly medical examinations for all women of childbearing age were introduced to prevent abortions, which were permitted, if at all, only in the presence of a Party representative. Doctors in districts with a declining birth rate had their salaries cut.

Stork nest, Rasinari, 1984The population did not increase, but the death rate from abortions far exceeded that of any other European country: as the only available form of birth control, illegal abortions were widely performed, often under the most appalling and dangerous conditions. Over the ensuing twenty-three years the 1966 law resulted in the death of at least ten thousand women. The real infant mortality rate was so high that after 1985 births were not officially recorded until a child had survived to its fourth week—the apotheosis of Communist control of knowledge. By the time Ceauşescu was overthrown the death rate of new-born babies was twenty-five per thousand and there were upward of 100,000 institutionalized children.

The setting for this national tragedy was an economy that was deliberately turned backward, from subsistence into destitution. In the early Eighties, Ceauşescu decided to enhance his country's international standing still further by paying down Romania's huge foreign debts. The agencies of international capitalism—starting with the International Monetary Fund—were delighted and could not praise the Romanian dictator enough. Bucharest was granted a complete rescheduling of its external debt. To payoff his Western creditors, Ceauşescu applied unrelenting and unprecedented pressure upon domestic consumption.

In contrast to Communist rulers elsewhere, unrestrainedly borrowing abroad to bribe their subjects with well-stocked shelves, the Romanian Conducator set about exporting every available domestically-produced commodity. Romanians were forced to use 40-watt bulbs at home (when electricity was available) so that energy could be exported to Italy and Germany. Meat, sugar, flour, butter, eggs, and much more were strictly rationed. To ratchet up productivity, fixed quotas were introduced for obligatory public labour on Sundays and holidays (the corvée, as it was known in ancien régime France).

Horsecart in Sibiu, 1984Petrol usage was cut to the minimum: in 1986 a program of horse-breeding to substitute for motorized vehicles was introduced. Horse-drawn carts became the main means of transport and the harvest was brought in by scythe and sickle. This was something truly new: all socialist systems depended upon the centralized control of systemically induced shortages, but in Romania an economy based on over-investment in unwanted industrial hardware was successfully switched into one based on pre-industrial agrarian subsistence.

Plowing with oxen in the western mountains of Romania, 1984Ceauşescu's policies had a certain ghoulish logic. Romania did indeed payoff its international creditors, albeit at the cost of reducing its population to penury. But there was more to Ceauşescu's rule, in his last years, than just crazy economics. The better to control the country's rural population—and increase still further the pressure on peasant farmers to produce food for export—the regime inaugurated a proposed ‘systematization’ [sistematizare] of the Romanian countryside. Half of the country's 13,000 villages (disproportionately selected from minority communities) were to be forcibly razed, their residents transferred into 558 ‘agro-towns’. Had Ceauşescu been granted the time to carry through this project it would utterly have destroyed what little remained of the country's social fabric.

The rural ‘systemization’ project was driven forward by the Romanian dictator's mounting megalomania. Under Ceauşescu the Leninist impulse to control, centralize and plan every detail of daily life graduated into an obsession with homogeneity and grandeur surpassing even the ambitions of Stalin himself. The enduring physical incarnation of this monomaniacal urge was to be the country's capital, scheduled for an imperial make-over on a scale unprecedented since Nero. This project for the ‘renovation’ of Bucharest was to be aborted by the coup of December 1989; but enough was done for Ceauşescu's ambition to be indelibly etched into the fabric of the contemporary city. A historic district of central Bucharest the size of Venice was completely flattened. Forty thousand buildings and dozens of churches and other monuments were razed to make space for a new ‘House of the People’ and the five-kilometer-long, 150-meter-wide Victory of Socialism Boulevard.

The whole undertaking was mere façade. Behind the gleaming white frontages of the boulevard were run up the familiar dirty, grim, pre-cast concrete blocks. But the façade itself was aggressively, humiliatingly, unrelentingly uniform, a visual encapsulation of totalitarian rule. The House of the People, designed by a twenty-five-year-old architect (Anca Petrescu) as Ceauşescu's personal palace, was indescribably and uniquely ugly even by the standards of its genre. Grotesque, cruel and tasteless it was above all big (three times the size of the Palace of Versailles ...). Fronted by a vast hemicycle space that can hold half a million people, its reception area the size of a football pitch, Ceauşescu's palace was (and remains) a monstrous lapidary metaphor for unconstrained tyranny, Romania's very own contribution to totalitarian urbanism.

Woodcutter’s pantheon, Maramures, 1984Romanian Communism in its last years sat uneasily athwart the intersection of brutality and parody. Portraits of the Party leader and his wife were everywhere; his praise was sung in dithyrambic terms that might have embarrassed even Stalin himself (though not perhaps North Korea's Kim Il Sung, with whom the Romanian leader was sometimes compared). A short list of the epithets officially-approved by Ceauşescu for use in accounts of his achievements would include: The Architect; The Creed-shaper; The Wise Helmsman; The Tallest Mast; The Nimbus of Victory; The Visionary; The Titan; The Son of the Sun; A Danube of Thought; and The Genius of the Carpathians.

What Ceauşescu's sycophantic colleagues really thought of all this they were not saying. But it is clear that by November 1989—when, after sixty-seven standing ovations, he was re-elected Secretary General of the Party and proudly declared that there were to be no reforms—a number of them had begun to regard him as a liability: remote and out of touch not just with the mood of the times but with the rising level of desperation among his own subjects. But so long as he had the backing of the secret police, the Securitate, Ceauşescu appeared untouchable.

Timisoara cathedral, 1984Appropriately enough, then, it was the Securitate who precipitated the regime's fall when, in December 1989, they tried to remove a popular Hungarian Protestant pastor, Lázslo Tökés, in the western city of Timisoara. The Hungarian minority, a special object of prejudice and repression under Ceauşescu's rule, had been encouraged by developments just across the border in Hungary and were all the more resentful at the continuing abuses to which they were subject at home. Tökés became a symbol and focus for their frustrations and, when the regime targeted him on December 15th, the church in which he had taken refuge was surrounded by parishioners holding an all-night vigil in his support.

The following day, as the vigil turned unexpectedly into a demonstration against the regime, the police and the army were brought out to shoot into the crowd. Exaggerated reports of the ‘massacre’ were carried on Voice of America and Radio Free Europe and spread around the country. To quell the unprecedented protests, which had now spread from Timisoara to Bucharest itself, Ceauşescu returned from an official visit to Iran. On December 21st he appeared on a balcony at Party headquarters with the intention of making a speech denouncing the ‘minority’ of ‘troublemakers’—and was heckled into shocked and stunned silence. The following day, after making a second unsuccessful attempt to address the gathering crowds, Ceauşescu and his wife fled from the roof of the Party building in a helicopter.

At this point the balance of power swung sharply away from the regime. At first the army had appeared to back the dictator, occupying the streets of the capital and firing on demonstrators who tried to seize the national television studios. But from December 22nd the soldiers, now directed by a ‘National Salvation Front’ (NSF) that took over the television building, switched sides and found themselves pitted against heavily armed Securitate troops. Meanwhile the Ceauşescus were caught, arrested and summarily tried. Found guilty of ‘crimes against the state’ they were hastily executed on Christmas Day, 1989.* (*The trial and execution by firing squad were filmed for television, but not shown until two days later.)

The NSF converted itself into a provisional ruling council and—after renaming the country simply ‘Romania’—appointed its own leader Ion Iliescu as President. Iliescu, like his colleagues in the Front, was a former Communist who had broken with Ceauşescu some years before and who could claim some slight credibility as a ‘reformer’ if only by virtue of his student acquaintance with the young Mikhail Gorbachev. But Iliescu's real qualification to lead a post-Ceauşescu Romania was his ability to control the armed forces, especially the Securitate, whose last hold-outs abandoned their struggle on December 27th. Indeed, beyond authorizing on January 3rd 1990 the re-establishment of political parties, the new President did very little to dismantle the institutions of the old regime.

As later events would show, the apparatus that had ruled under Ceauşescu remained remarkably intact, shedding only the Ceauşescu family itself and their more egregiously incriminated associates. Rumours of thousands killed during the protests and battles of December proved exaggerated—the figure was closer to one hundred—and it became clear that for all the courage and enthusiasm of the huge crowds in Timisoara, Bucharest and other cities the real struggle had been between the ‘realists’ around Iliescu and the old guard in Ceauşescu's entourage. The victory of the former ensured for Romania a smooth—indeed suspiciously smooth—exit out of Communism.

The absurdities of late-era Ceauşescu were swept away, but the police, the bureaucracy and much of the Party remained intact and in place. The names were changed—the Securitate was officially abolished—but not their ingrained assumptions and practices: Iliescu did nothing to prevent riots in Tirgu Mures on March 19th, where eight people were killed and some three hundred wounded in orchestrated attacks on the local Hungarian minority. Moreover, after his National Salvation Front won an overwhelming majority in the elections of May 1990 (having earlier promised not to contest them), and he himself was formally re-elected President, Iliescu did not hesitate in June to bus miners in to Bucharest to beat up student protesters: twenty-one demonstrators were killed and some 650 injured. Romania still had a very long road to travel.

22 September 2007

Liberal vs. Conservative Interfaith Dialogue

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal published an interesting op-ed on interfaith dialogue, something I'm in favor of if it also embraces those of us who are faithless—and we include them, too.
There is an assumption by commentators on the right and the left that as far as religion goes, it is liberals who work--and care to work--across faith lines. Interfaith activity is understood as a politically and theologically liberal enterprise. This stems in part from the fact that the most widely recognized examples of interfaith cooperation have occurred on the left. Martin Luther King Jr.'s partnership with Abraham Joshua Heschel (the prominent Jewish theologian and civil-rights leader) is probably the most famous. Other figures who have reached across religious lines include The Very Reverend James Parks Morton (former dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine) and international icons like Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

But during my years at the Interfaith Center of New York, a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering interreligious civic relationships, I found that the stereotypes about who is willing to form partnerships were wrong. When the center first opened, we received enthusiastic support from liberals and were ignored by conservatives. Our programs looked diverse, and they were, religiously speaking. But participants were homogeneously liberal.

The more conservative religious folks were not interested in talking about spirituality, peace-building and social justice. So we refocused our programs to include seminars and information sessions on issues such as domestic violence, health-care access and immigration rights. Suddenly, every kind of religious leader came, including conservatives. Their religious perspectives did not change, but our assumptions did.

Sheikh Musa Drammeh, an African lay leader who runs an Islamic school in the Bronx, first came to a retreat we held on immigration issues. Sheikh Drammeh believes that Islam is the one true path, that premarital sex is not moral and neither is homosexual behavior. He runs a school that teaches Muslim children these values. In preparation for opening the school in 2001 he introduced himself to local pastors and rabbis, inviting them to come observe his classrooms. He attended a week-long program on religious diversity to better understand the other religious groups in his community. He also works with a Latino Pentecostal minister on the Bronx District Attorney's clergy task force. For him, interfaith partnership is critical for good citizenship and safe neighborhoods. "The more friends we make," he says, "the less likely we are to shed blood."

Rabbi Emmanuel Weizer is another one of our regular participants now. An ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Rabbi from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he is the vice president of Congregation Beth Yitzthock. Rabbi Weizer strongly believes Orthodoxy is the right path (for Jews) and strongly disagrees with the theology of nonmonotheistic faiths. He will not participate in interfaith prayer services, nor will he enter another religion's worship space. But he has worked across religious lines for years, for example, on our interfaith mediation team, a program of the New York State court system that includes Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs.

Interestingly, it was the liberal leaders who had problems with our new conservative participants. Some wondered aloud "who let them in." Others wanted us to advocate for positions that would keep some conservatives out, like opposition to the war in Iraq and tolerance for homosexual behavior.

Instead of excluding conservatives, though, we adopted a different understanding of interfaith activity. It is not an understanding based on the idea that with a little conversation we can iron out all our theological differences. Rather, it is one based on the idea that religious beliefs are distinct, deep-set and deserve to be taken seriously. On that point, it turns out that Rabbi Weizer and Sheikh Drammeh understand each other well.

19 September 2007

Wordcatcher Tales: Huarachudo, Ejido, Municipio, Piloncillo

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 206-210:
The municipio of Turicato [in the State of Michoacán] has always divided along these town-rural lines. The hill folks resented the power, money, and education, relatively speaking, of the people in town. The city folk feared the hillbillies but saw no reason to extend power, or municipal services, to people they considered ignorant and barbaric. In these years the Barajas family—a family of local merchants—dominated Turicato politics....

In this atmosphere “Los Villa,” as the Villaseñor family was known, emerged first as rebels. They took up the cause of the “huarachudos,” the “sandal wearers”—whom they rallied to their cause against the city folk.... The Villaseñores were huarachudos themselves. They were sixteen children whose father, Tomás, had been born a peon on the hacienda San Rafael. In the 1930s President Lázaro Cárdenas ordered a section of the hacienda transformed into a communal farm—an ejido—owned by those who had worked it as peons....

The Villaseñor piloncillo operation also grew. Piloncillo is a small cone of brown sugar about an inch in diameter, processed by a simple mill. It is used to sweeten coffee, in household cooking, or by the soft-drink industry. In the 1990s, piloncillo has all but vanished as a product from the Turicato region. But in the 1970s and 1980s, many sugar cane growers were producing piloncillo. In the Turicato region in the 1970s and 1980s, owning a piloncillo mill was the difference between a life of comfort and one of hopeless poverty....

The emergence of a hillbilly family brought with it the kind of abuses that town residents had feared all along. “What happens is they form into groups,” says Trigo. “There's one who's a leader, and around him form people who like to fight and look for trouble. They like to walk into a cantina and throw everybody out. They figure that's a real achievement. This grows; the group gets larger. Then it becomes, 'Let's take over this land.'”...

Yet the Villaseñor family never did fully dominate local politics. They proved in the end to be poor politicians. Their frequent warring—“their bellicose nature” as one man put it—earned them many enemies. By 1989 a significant part of the municipio nurtured in dark silence a pure and vital hatred of the Villaseñores, and among them were many of the same poor peasants—the huarachudos—that the family once rallied to its side....

In 1994 the military put a roadblock between Turicato and Puruarán and set about arresting or killing off the bandit gangs. Others saw that the military meant business and laid down their guns. So five years after the Nueva Jerusalén vote threw Turicato into a civil war, a version of peace came to the municipio.
The chapter from which these excerpts come is a well-told tale, but one sadly familiar in its broad outlines: ambitious évolués (sponsored by distant elites, in this case the PRI) lead others among the oppressed to overthrow and replace an oppressive elite, only to impose a new kind of thugocracy at least as violent and oppressive as the old one. Sort of a Zimbabwe in microcosm. (Zimbabwe, whose independence I long ago celebrated at a big gathering of African students in Honolulu.)

But I want to comment on just two of the four words italicized in the extract.

The Spanish term municipio may have survived in the form of an English calque more than a century after the Spanish ceded Micronesia to the Germans. Each of the Federated States (formerly Districts) of Micronesia is divided into what are now called municipalities, a term that no subsequent German, Japanese, or American administrator would likely have come up with, although the Americans are credited with introducing the term by the anthropologist Lingenfelter, who worked in Yap during the early postwar years. If so, U.S. Navy administrators probably calqued on the basis of usage in the Philippines. Micronesian municipalities have never been centered around a town and its hinterland. Instead, they seem to be more like alliances of contiguous villages.

I'm old enough to have purchased a pair of Mexican huarache sandals in the 1970s, when I was a grad student in Hawai‘i. The dye made my feet break out, so I stayed with rubber slippers (zori). (I hardly owned a pair of shoes all through grad school.) The relation between Spanish huarache ‘sandal’ and huarachudo ‘sandaled’ is parallel to that between English beard and bearded. Spanish and English are both related languages. But the same parallel can be observed between, for example, Chamorro sapatos ‘shoes’ (from Spanish) and sinapatos ‘shod, wearing shoes’, or Chamorro relós ‘wristwatch’ (also from Spanish) and rinelós ‘wearing a wristwatch’. Among its myriad functions, the -in- infix in Philippine languages can form adjectives out of nouns in a manner similar to that of participial affixes in Spanish and English.

UPDATE: The Micronesian Seminar's Francis X. Hezel, S.J., weighs in on the antecedents of the term municipality in Micronesia.
The term as used in Micronesia after the war has no direct relationship to the Spanish colonial period in these islands. The Spanish weren't here long enough and they weren't influential enough to have the term stick. There are very few Spanish loan words that have made their way into the island languages. Actually, islanders used the Japanese term kumi to describe a segment of the island, even well after the war. Muncipality came into the languages through the English term, via the Navy.
The usage of Japanese kumi 'club, association, gang' is very interesting, and seems a much more appropriate term for the traditional political alliances before they were recast by the U.S. Navy as local-government structures. The Yapese dictionary translates municipality into Yapese nuug 'net' (presumably meaning 'network' of political alliances). Other Micronesian dictionaries I've consulted don't list municipality in the English finder list. So it seems U.S. Navy administrators were influenced by Spanish local-government terminology already long-established in the Philippines.

The U.S. Census Bureau glossary does not list the term municipality at all, but it does list and gloss municipio as: "Primary legal divisions of Puerto Rico. These are treated as county equivalents." The Wikipedia entry for Municipalities of the Philippines begins thus: "A municipality (bayan, sometimes munisipyo, in Tagalog) is a local government unit in the Philippines. Municipalities are also called towns (which is actually a better translation of bayan)."

SHARP DETOUR: My wife and I taught University of Hawai‘i extension courses on Yap, Micronesia, in the summer of 1983, just before heading off to spend a year in Romania on a Fulbright research grant. In fact, she was still there when I got the word that my nearly forgotten application from a year earlier had been approved and that the orientation in Washington, D.C., would begin before she got back to Honolulu. Trying to place a telephone call through to Yap was not easy in those days.

Anyway, for my introductory linguistics course on Yap I used the first edition of Peter Trudgill's little Penguin paperback Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. Even the main islands of Yap have a good deal of regional variation in pronunciation and word choice, and the outer islands speak dialects of the far-flung Trukic language continuum, only distantly related to Yapese. The variety of Yapese spoken in the major municipality (Rull) closest to Colonia—the capital and only urban center—provided the basis for the standard orthography, but the pilot school for testing Yapese language curriculum materials (with bilingual education funding from the U.S. DOE) was located in the major municipality (Tomil) with the most divergent pronunciation. The three major municipalities were those chiefly alliances (called kumi in Japanese) dominant at the time the Germans took control: Gagil, Tomil, and Rull.

My wife and I first met while we were both assigned to that school in the fall of 1974—she as a new Peace Corps teacher for two years, me as a visiting linguist for one semester—and we both learned our Yapese in that very rural municipality. (Mine faded much more quickly than hers.) So we were quite aware of regional variation and of the principal shibboleths of Tomil dialect, chief among them being the pronunciation of standard /ae/ as /ee/, as in the pronoun gaeg vs. geeg 'me' or the plural marker on verbs -gaed vs. -geed, both high-frequency items.

For my introduction to linguistics course in 1983, I decided that the most important things I should focus on were the respective relationships between writing and pronunciation, on the one hand, and between dialects and standard languages, on the other. One of my assignments was for my students to assemble a list of common words for which there were regional variants, then track down the boundaries between those variants (the isoglosses). The most interesting findings involved variants whose isoglosses failed to align with the existing boundaries between municipalities, perhaps revealing earlier linguistic and political fault lines.

18 September 2007

Lumpy Japanese Diaspora in a Well

Jonathan Dresner has a tantalizing post about lesser-known participants in the Japanese diaspora at Frog in a Well. Here's the introduction.
I’m always interested in interesting tales and connections regarding the Japanese diaspora. Here’s a couple that I’ve run across: New research on Japanese settlers in Korea; Jorge Luis Borges, the great surrealist, married a Nikkei Argentinian woman late in life; Japanese post-WWII settlers in the Dominican Republic abandoned by both governments. I love being part — a small part, but nonetheless — of the diaspora studies movement. We’re complicating the history of the world, chronicling the wonderful diversity of seemingly simple things.

I followed Konrad’s note about Sayaka’s new blog and the post at the top points me to this Asahi report about a new research conference about “Japantowns” in colonial Korea. The tendency of Japanese migrations to be … lumpy? maybe there’s a better word… anyway, they often involve a lot of people from the same region ending up in the same place. It happened in the Hokkaido settlement, it happened in the migration to Hawai‘i, it was deliberately built into the Manchurian settlement program.

17 September 2007

Mexico's Fayuca Boom and Bust

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 239-240, 242:
Fayuca. The word meant contraband, illegally imported merchandise: stereos, televisions, calculators, cameras, silk shirts, tennis shoes, blue jeans, blenders, and blouses. The government slapped this stuff with steep tariffs when imported legally as a way of protecting Mexican industry. Tepito brought it in illegally. To Tepito, fayuca meant easy money and lots of it. Despite the official prohibitions, Mexicans gorged themselves on the outside world's baubles. Tepito was their dinner table. It was a time tailor-made for the Tepito mind-set. In the go-go era of fayuca, what mattered was not what you sold or how you brought it in but how fast it would move. The trickle of suitcases containing small items like perfume, watches, and jewelry in the mid-1970s became, by the 1980s, torrential truckloads of twenty-one-inch televisions and full home stereo systems.

To a government running a desiccated economy, it quickly became clear that the contraband did two things. First, it appeased the middle classes, who didn't really care where they bought this stuff so long as they could buy it. Second, fayuca also helped dampen inflation. The prices in Tepito were usually well below what the same goods sold for in the stores that had legally imported them. "The authorities wanted to lower prices without really entering the global economy," says Gustavo Esteva, a sociologist who lived in Tepito for several years during the fayuca boom. "So the government used Tepito and the fayuca to fight inflation." Though fayuca was illegal, it was bought and sold openly in Tepito. The regime couldn't appear to allow it in and yet didn't dare keep it out. Eventually the industry was carved up among Tepito's fayuqueros, commandants of customs, the judicial police, the highway police, and other government officials. After a while the highway police in San Luis Potosí, midway between Laredo and Mexico City, decided they wanted their cut too. The wife of President José López Portillo, Carmen Romano, was said to be one of the greatest fayuca importers.

The arrival of fayuca was a key moment in Mexico's economic history. Fayuca was in its own way as important in rocking the regime's credibility as the 1968 Tlatelolco [student] massacre, the periodic peso devaluations, and the fraud-riven elections of 1988. Its presence showed that the protected, state-run economy no longer had a prayer of providing what Mexicans now expected out of life. Though Mexicans talked economic nationalism, they voted with their feet and mobbed Tepito, looking for the smuggled imports.

And for the first time Tepito got rich. In Tepito the fayuquero took the place of the boxer as the model for economic advancement, though in this case the road to riches was accessible to thousands of people and few of them missed the turnoff Since the fayuca, Tepito has produced no great boxers. Instead Tepito's fayuqueros took on the status of legendary renegades; at least two B movies were made about them....

Mexico's entry into GATT, then NAFTA, brought the fayuca boom to an end. The Mexican government began to lower tariffs on consumer goods. Customers began finding what Tepiteros were selling in legitimate stores that offered service, guarantees, and receipts and didn't have thugs around the corner waiting to rob the clientele. When the peso was devalued in 1994, sales plummeted further. People still go to Tepito, since merchandise is a little cheaper and carries no sales tax. But the fayuca gold rush is a memory.

15 September 2007

Disgust Usually Outweighs Detached Reasoning

Via Arts & Letters Daily, I came across a very interesting essay in Edge by Jonathan Haidt, entitled Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion. Here are a few excerpts.
In my dissertation and my other early studies, I told people short stories in which a person does something disgusting or disrespectful that was perfectly harmless (for example, a family cooks and eats its dog, after the dog was killed by a car). I was trying to pit the emotion of disgust against reasoning about harm and individual rights.

I found that disgust won in nearly all groups I studied (in Brazil, India, and the United States), except for groups of politically liberal college students, particularly Americans, who overrode their disgust and said that people have a right to do whatever they want, as long as they don't hurt anyone else.

These findings suggested that emotion played a bigger role than the cognitive developmentalists had given it. These findings also suggested that there were important cultural differences, and that academic researchers may have inappropriately focused on reasoning about harm and rights because we primarily study people like ourselves—college students, and also children in private schools near our universities, whose morality is not representative of the United States, let alone the world....

Surveys have shown for decades that religious practice is a strong predictor of charitable giving. Arthur Brooks recently analyzed these data (in Who Really Cares) and concluded that the enormous generosity of religious believers is not just recycled to religious charities.

Religious believers give more money than secular folk to secular charities, and to their neighbors. They give more of their time, too, and of their blood. Even if you excuse secular liberals from charity because they vote for government welfare programs, it is awfully hard to explain why secular liberals give so little blood. The bottom line, Brooks concludes, is that all forms of giving go together, and all are greatly increased by religious participation and slightly increased by conservative ideology (after controlling for religiosity).

These data are complex and perhaps they can be spun the other way, but at the moment it appears that Dennett is wrong in his reading of the literature. Atheists may have many other virtues, but on one of the least controversial and most objective measures of moral behavior—giving time, money, and blood to help strangers in need—religious people appear to be morally superior to secular folk.

My conclusion is not that secular liberal societies should be made more religious and conservative in a utilitarian bid to increase happiness, charity, longevity, and social capital. Too many valuable rights would be at risk, too many people would be excluded, and societies are so complex that it's impossible to do such social engineering and get only what you bargained for. My point is just that every longstanding ideology and way of life contains some wisdom, some insights into ways of suppressing selfishness, enhancing cooperation, and ultimately enhancing human flourishing.

But because of the four principles of moral psychology [outlined earlier in the essay] it is extremely difficult for people, even scientists, to find that wisdom once hostilities erupt. A militant form of atheism that claims the backing of science and encourages "brights" to take up arms may perhaps advance atheism. But it may also backfire, polluting the scientific study of religion with moralistic dogma and damaging the prestige of science in the process.
In my experience, secular academics are just as likely as anyone else to thoughtlessly dismiss in moralistic disgust not just behaviors, but beliefs they find repugnant, especially those emblematic of their social and moral inferiors.

13 September 2007

Judt on Spies: Professional, Part-time, Freelance, & Volunteer

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 697-698:
The Communist regimes did not merely force their rule upon a reluctant citizenry; they encouraged people to collude in their own repression, by collaborating with the security agencies and reporting the activities and opinions of their colleagues, neighbours, acquaintances, friends and relations. The scale of this subterranean network of spies and informers varied from country to country but it was present everywhere.

The consequence was that while the whole society thus fell under suspicion—who might not have worked for the police or the regime at some moment, even if only inadvertently?—by the same token it became hard to distinguish venal and even mercenary collaboration from simple cowardice or even the desire to protect one's family. The price of a refusal to report to the Stasi might be your children's future. The grey veil of moral ambiguity thus fell across many of the private choices of helpless individuals. Looking back, who—save a handful of heroic and unwavering dissidents—could pass judgment? And it is striking that many of those same former dissidents—Adam Michnik prominent among them—were the most vigorously opposed to any retribution for their fellow citizens....

In Germany ... revelations concerning the size and reach of the state security bureaucracy had astonished the nation. It turned out that in addition to its 85,000 full-time employees the Stasi had approximately 60,000 ‘unofficial collaborators’, 110,000 regular informers and upwards of half a million ‘part-time’ informers, many of whom had no means of knowing that they even fell into such a category.* (*By way of comparison, the Gestapo in 1941 had a staff of fewer than 15,000 to police the whole of greater Germany.) Husbands spied on wives, professors reported on students, priests informed on their parishioners. There were files on 6 million residents of former East Germany, one in three of the population. The whole society had in effect been infiltrated, atomized and polluted by its self-appointed guardians.

To lance the boil of mutual fear and suspicion, the Federal Government in December 1991 appointed a Commission under the former Lutheran minister Joachim Gauck to oversee the Stasi files and prevent their abuse. Individuals would be able to ascertain whether they had a ‘file’ and then, if they wished, come and read it. People would thus learn—sometimes with devastating domestic consequences—who had been informing on them; but the material would not be open to the public at large. This was an awkward compromise but, as it turned out, quite successful: by 1996, 1,145,000 people had applied to see their files. There was no way to undo the human damage, but because the Gauck Commission was trusted not to abuse its powers the information it controlled was hardly ever exploited for political advantage.
Two out of four of my East German classmates in Romanian language class in Bucharest in 1983-84 were politically reliable and spying on the other two, as I discovered when I chanced upon one of the unreliables at a reception in the West German embassy. She panicked and implored me not to tell anyone. I didn't, and when I went to the female foreign student dorm to pass my shortwave radio/cassette player on to one of my Chinese classmates before leaving Romania, Miss Unreliable insisted on giving me a grateful good-bye kiss. Saucy wench. I hope she and her fellow Unreliable survived reunification.

All my German classmates were primarily Russian translator/interpreters who added Romanian as backup. So perhaps one or both of the Reliables are now translating for former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder while he works for the Russians.

11 September 2007

The Oaxaca Diaspora's Protestant Ethic

My rule of thumb is to try to blog no more than about a page per chapter (depending on the lengths of the chapters) from the books I buy and read, but the following excerpt is from my favorite chapter so far in a book where I can hardly resist "reading aloud" every few pages. I was undecided about which of three thematic passages to cite: on Mexico's Okies (the victim angle), Oaxacan self-help (the agency angle), or religion (the spiritual angle). I ended up concatenating two of the three. So I'll have to do hard penance by biting my tongue through several other chapters. From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 102-103, 110-111:
Mexicans generally view the border and those who live there as only semi-Mexican—too close to the gringo, where too many of his ways are imitated. In truth, that is what shaped the [San Quintín] valley. With drip irrigation farmers saw the potential of growing for both the United States and Mexico and dropped subsistence farming for a very American capitalist ethic. Acres under cultivation went from two thousand in 1980 to almost twenty thousand in 1990. Nighttime electricity came to San Quintín. Then a few stores, a couple of motels, a movie theater, satellite television.

"I have uncles in the state of Zacatecas who grow chile," says Ruiz Esparza, "They harvest the crop, but only apart of the profits goes back into the fields. They're afraid of risking it all. Here, it seems they're a little crazy. They risk it all every year. People here aren't interested in having money in their wallet. Everything they have goes back into the fields.

"I look at the farmers of Oceanside, Bakersfield, Oxnard battling against the city, high water prices, taxes, and I see them keep going. They're very brave. I think having those people before us as examples inspires us to do the same. If they can do it, why can't we?"

From the north, San Quintín had its market, and from there it imported machinery, capital, and an entrepreneurial spirit. What the valley of San Quintín had never had was abundant labor. And that came from the south.

The Dust Bowl in all this became the states of Guerrero and, above all, Oaxaca, both states with enormous Indian populations who retain the customs and languages of their ancestors. Like the northerners with whom they now live, they are considered somewhat less than Mexican, disdained as "dirty Indians." It was a strange yet perhaps appropriate pairing: two outcasts coming together to create something in the dust of the northern Mexico desert.

Agriculture in Oaxaca, like that in Oklahoma during the Depression, is a limp and stagnant thing. Inefficient farming and the division of land into ever smaller slivers have bequeathed the state a withering poverty, bloody feuds over land ownership, and generations of uneducated children. Hundreds of thousands of Oaxacan Indians—Mixtecos primarily, but also Triquis and Zapotecos—have been leaving home for four decades now. They are Mexico's migrants, the cheapest labor in a cheap-labor country. "They provided labor that was easily exploited," said Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Human Rights Center in Tijuana. "They were docile, didn't speak Spanish, would accept almost any treatment and work hard."...

But in Tijuana, migrant Indians also discovered San Quintín's almost unquenchable thirst for cheap labor. Through the late 1970s and 1980s the valley evolved into a major stop on the Indians' migrant trail, part of what came to be known informally as "Oaxacalifornia"—the diaspora that starts in San Quintín and runs through North San Diego County and up the state. Entire families came to the valley to live in labor camps designed for transient men. The camps teemed, and the work was tough in the hot sun and choking dust. But it was work, which was something Indians had never had in Oaxaca....

Indians transformed their new home when they came here to live. But just as profoundly, their new home changed them. And the clearest distillation of all those changes is the Protestant Church. "If you take a poll, you'll find that 80 or 85 percent of those who are established here now are Protestant," says Meza. That number might be high. But Protestant churches—especially of the more fundamentalist bent—proliferate in the valley. Indians here have become Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals, and scads of obscure denominations to which Luther's Reformation gave rise. The new churches are symbols of economic success, of modernity, of the monumental power and attraction of the United States. The adoption of a Protestant faith is almost standard issue in leaving Oaxaca for a future.

And that process is best told by one man who, now in his late forties, stands clapping in unison with the rest of the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus. Twenty years ago Luis Guerrero took his family and left his Oaxacan Indian pueblo and its traditions, moved to the valley of San Quintín, and hasn't yet looked back in fondness.

Guerrero, a Mixtec Indian who speaks halting Spanish in a thick Indian accent, faced a brutish dead-end life as a subsistence farmer, depending on unpredictable rains, in the village of Santa María Asuncion, where landholdings were no longer measured in acres but in meters.

In 1972 Guerrero was among fifteen people who had to pay for the village's traditional party for its patron saint, the Virgin of Asuncion. It was the custom: every year a few people had to become deeply impoverished to throw the three-day party for everyone else. His job was daunting: he had to give 2,000 pesos—the equivalent of two and a half years' local wages at the time—to buy food and alcohol for everyone, fireworks, candles, and more. The responsibility almost broke him. He borrowed the money at high interest rates, then left his young family and pueblo for that year to pick tomatoes in Sinaloa to pay it back.

In 1974 he began migrating to San Quintín with his family. Finally in 1978 they moved here to live, leaving Oaxaca forever.

Away from the cloistered atmosphere of his Oaxacan village, Luis Guerrero began a religious and secular awakening, one he likes to illustrate by talking about the books he bought.

In San Quintín he bought his first book ever—a Bible. In Oaxaca he had never read a Bible; though the whole village was Catholic, no one owned one. Like everyone else, he depended on a priest to know what it said. "I began reading it and I began to awaken my mind.... I like knowing myself: I went to the Catholic Church, the Apostolic Church, Prince of Peace, Los Olivares, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Open Door—to see how each denomination preached." He finally settled on the Apostolic Assembly.

Now thirsting for more, he bought his second book—a copy of the Mexican constitution. "In our pueblos in Oaxaca, we didn't know the earthly law, or how to defend ourselves [legally]. Also we didn't know spiritual law. So I searched on my own to discover what constitutional law said. I searched on my own to discover what the Bible said so that I myself could understand earthly law and spiritual law.

"Earthly law allows you to speak up for your rights with the police, the bosses. That's why I put forth an effort to learn it. [In the villages] people don't have education. The [local] authorities pressure them to fulfill tradition. They want them to put on traditional parties. [In Oaxaca] you can't give your children education because the little money you earn you have to spend on parties for the saints. Our children have no shoes because of tradition. We came here to leave all that behind."

10 September 2007

On the Role of Linchamientos in Mexico

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 42-43:
Lynching has a long, rich history in Mexico. For centuries communities occasionally rose up in spasms of mob violence against priests, tax collectors, and other authority figures. In modern Mexico, lynching has not abated. If anything, it has grown more common.

The linchamiento is part of the Mexico that tourists never see, lying beyond the shimmering hotels of Cancún and the sunny hillsides of Cuernavaca, in benighted towns and pueblos where any justice that does exist is hardly blind. Dozens of linchamientos have taken place in the last few years across Mexico. The state of Morelos, just south of Mexico City, in recent years has become known for them. Residents of one village once took some state police officers hostage, doused them with gasoline, and threatened to burn them. Finally the attorney general came and they took him hostage until the governor relented and came down to talk. In another Morelos town, in 1994, four men accused of robbing a bus were shot, stabbed, kicked, hacked, beaten, stoned, and finally burned. In another town one man was hung from the town basketball rim. In a village in Veracruz in 1996, a crowd grabbed a man suspected of raping and killing a woman, gave him a quick trial, judged him guilty, tied him to a tree, drenched him in gasoline, and burned him to death while someone videotaped it all.

The Mexican lynching is different from its southern-U.S. counterpart, which was a weapon the majority used to oppress a minority. Nor is it similar to the lynchings in the Old West, where there was no law. Rather it is a bellow of rage by the powerless majority against corrupt cops and politicians, protected criminals—against a justice system that people know to be unfair. Lynchings rarely change the cause of community grievances. They are, however, Mexicans’ own clearest statement today on the quality of justice they expect—the horrifying, but not surprising, result of years of perverted justice.

09 September 2007

Judt on New, Not Old, Fissions in Yugoslavia

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 670-671:
Kosovo had historic significance for Serb nationalists as the last holdout of medieval Serbia against the advance of the Turks and the site of a historic battlefield defeat in 1389. The local Albanian predominance was thus regarded by some Serb intellectuals and politicians as both demographically troubling and historically provocative—especially since it echoed the Serbs' displacement by Muslims as the largest minority in the adjacent Bosnian republic. Serbs, it appeared, were losing out-to hitherto subservient minorities who had benefitted from Tito's rigorous enforcement of federal equality. Kosovo was thus a potentially explosive issue, for reasons linked only tenuously to 'age-old' Balkan feuds....

Whereas Serb dislike of Albanians fed on proximity and insecurity, in the far north of Yugoslavia the growing distaste for feckless southerners was ethnically indiscriminate and based not on nationality but economics. As in Italy, so in Yugoslavia, the more prosperous north was increasingly resentful of impoverished southerners, sustained—as it seemed—by transfers and subsidies from their more productive fellow citizens. The contrast between wealth and poverty in Yugoslavia was becoming quite dramatic: and it correlated provocatively with geography.

Thus while Slovenia, Macedonia and Kosovo all had approximately the same share (8 percent) of the national population, in 1990 tiny Slovenia was responsible for 29 percent of Yugoslavia's total exports while Macedonia generated just 4 percent and Kosovo 1 percent. As best one can glean from official Yugoslav data, per capita GDP in Slovenia was double that of Serbia proper, three times the size of per capita GDP in Bosnia and eight times that of Kosovo. In Alpine Slovenia the illiteracy rate in 1988 was less than 1 percent; in Macedonia and Serbia it was 11 percent. In Kosovo it stood at 18 percent. In Slovenia by the end of the 1980s the infant mortality rate was 11 deaths per 1,000 live births. In neighbouring Croatia the figure was 12 per 1,000; in Bosnia, 16 per 1,000. But in Serbia the figure was 22 per 1,000, in Macedonia, 45 per 1,000 and in Kosovo, 52 per 1,000.

What these figures suggest is that Slovenia and (to a lesser extent) Croatia already ranked alongside the less prosperous countries of the European Community, while Kosovo, Macedonia and rural Serbia more closely resembled parts of Asia or Latin America. If Slovenes and Croats were increasingly restive in their common Yugoslav home, then, this was not because of a resurfacing of deep-rooted religious or linguistic sentiments or from a resurgence of ethnic particularism. It was because they were coming to believe that they would be a lot better off if they could manage their own affairs without having to take into account the needs and interests of underachieving Yugoslavs to their south.

Judt on Favored Czechs, Disfavored Slovaks

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 659-660:
Czechs and Slovaks, however indistinguishable they might appear to perplexed outsiders, had markedly different pasts. Bohemia and Moravia—the historical territories comprising the Czech lands—could boast not merely a remarkable medieval and Renaissance past at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire but also a pre-eminent share of the industrialization of central Europe. Within the Austrian half of the Habsburg Empire Czechs enjoyed growing autonomy and a marked prosperity. Their major city, Prague—one of the aesthetic glories of the continent—was by 1914 a significant center of modernism in the visual arts and literature.

Slovaks, by contrast, had little to boast about. Ruled for centuries from Budapest they lacked any distinctive national story—within the Hungarian half of the Empire they were regarded not as ‘Slovaks’ but as slav-language-speaking peasants of rural northern Hungary. The urban inhabitants of the Slovak region were predominantly Germans, Hungarians or Jews: it was not by chance that the largest town in the area, an unprepossessing conurbation on the Danube a few kilometres east of Vienna, was variously known as Pressburg (to German-speaking Austrians) or Pozsony (to Hungarians). Only with the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918, and the Slovaks’ somewhat reluctant incorporation therein, did it become the second city of the new state under the name Bratislava.

The inter-war Republic of Czechoslovakia was democratic and liberal by prevailing regional standards, but its centralized institutions strongly favored the Czechs, who occupied almost all positions of power and influence. Slovakia was a mere province and a poor and rather disfavored one at that. The same impulse that led many of the country's three million German-speaking citizens to listen to pro-Nazi separatists thus also drove a certain number of Czechoslovakia’s two and a half million Slovaks to look with sympathy upon Slovak populists demanding autonomy and even independence. In March 1939, when Hitler absorbed the Czech regions into the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’, an authoritarian, clericalist Slovak puppet state was established under Father Józef Tiso. The first ever independent state of Slovakia thus emerged at Hitler's behest and over the corpse of the Czechoslovak Republic.

Just how popular Slovakia’s wartime ‘independence’ ever was is hard to know after the fact. In the post-war years it was discredited both by its own record (Slovakia deported to death camps virtually all of its 140,000 pre-war Jewish population) and by its intimate dependence upon its Nazi patron. After its liberation, Czechoslovakia was re-established as a single state and expressions of Slovak nationalism were frowned upon. Indeed in the early Stalinist years, ‘Slovak bourgeois nationalism’ was one of the accusations levied at putative defendants in the show trials then being prepared—Gustav Husák spent six years in prison on the charge.
Dumneazu's recent travel report on Slovak Diglossia offers a fairly optimistic assessment of Slovakia's economy these days.
Today Slovakia boasts East Europe's fastest growing economy. During the first ten post communist years the country stagnated under the government of communist-turned-nationalist Vladimir Meciar. When Meciar left office a new generation of Slovak leadership - educated in the west and up on the latest economic theories - took the reins. A combination of smart economists, flat taxes (in a small country) and generous benefits for foreign investors has suddenly trust Slovakia from the backwater of the post 1989 East European changes to the forefront. Unemployment is expected to disappear in three years, forcing the importation of labor. Towns that were once dusty backwaters, like my beloved Ruzemberok, are becoming smart regional investment centers, and tidying up their downtown areas.

07 September 2007

The Mexican Telenovela Wave, 1990s

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 53-54:
In 1992, as ex-Yugoslavia tore at itself in a frenzy of ethnic slaughter, a far sweeter note played on television. A Mexican telenovela—a soap opera—known as Los Ricos Tambien Lloran aired in the warring republics. The Rich Cry Too, starring Veronica Castro, was the story of poor Mariana, an orphan and maid to a rich family, who falls in love with the family's son, has his child, goes crazy and gives up her child when her lover is unfaithful to her, then spends the rest of the show fighting to recover the baby. And every night while it played in Serbia and Croatia, where at the time happy endings were at a premium, life would stop for an hour....

And it was the highest-rated show on Croatian television that year. Since then, Mexican telenovelas have swept the world up in their teary melodramas of romance, passion, good and evil, betrayal, lies, and happy endings. Televisa, Mexico's entertainment conglomerate and the world's largest telenovela producer, has sold them to all of Latin America and to 125 other countries as well, among them Armenia and Azerbaijan, Belgium and Bophuthatswana, Iran and Iraq, Singapore and South Korea. China has aired twenty-two Mexican telenovelas. Cuna de Lobos (Den of Wolves) was a huge hit in Australia.

Telenovelas have taken over daytime television in the Balkans. Serbian television producers have even begun filming their own, with plot lines revolving around characters who inherit lots of money, then scheme to get more by cheating their relatives. Three Televisa novelas compete on prime time every night on Indonesia's three main stations. The network's newest sensation, Thalia, was mobbed when she visited the Philippines in 1995 and 1996. The press reported Philippine women naming their newborns Thalia or Marimar—one of the heroines the actress plays. In Romania a change in broadcasting law decreed less sex and violence on television. Mexican novelas perfectly filled the void left by more violent programming. One novela, Esmeralda, became so popular that women copied the hairstyle of star Leticia Calderon, and Bucharest ambulance crews were said to be getting to their calls late; finally televisions were removed from the station houses.

By 1996 Televisa could claim its novelas were Mexico's largest export product, ahead of car parts and Corona beer.

06 September 2007

Authentic Mexican American Narcocorrido Polka

From True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones (U. New Mexico Press, 2001), pp. 11-12:
His name was Chalino Sánchez. His singing career lasted just four years and he was killed when he was only thirty-one, yet he's one of the most influential musical figures to emerge from Los Angeles or from Mexican music in decades. "When we were small, we always wanted to fit in, so we'd listen to rap. The other kids were all listening to rap, so I guess we felt that if we listened to Spanish music, we'd be beaners or something," says Rodriguez. "But after Chalino died, everybody started listening to corridos. People want to feel more Mexican."Six years after his death, Chalino Sanchez is a legend, an authentic folk hero. L.A.'s Mexican music scene and Mexican youth style were one way before Chalino Sanchez. They were another after him. After Chalino, guys whose second language was an English-accented Spanish could pump tuba- and accordion-based polkas out their car stereos at maximum volume and pretty girls would think they were cool.

Chalino renewed the Mexican corrido. In the Mexican badlands, where the barrel of a gun makes the law, for generations dating back to the mid-1800s the corrido recounted the worst, best, and bloodiest exploits of men. Corridos were the newspaper for an illiterate people in the days before telephones and television. Corrido heroes were revolutionaries and bandits—people who had done something worth singing about.

In Chalino's hands, the corrido came to reflect the modern world. The corrido became the narcocorrido, the Mexican equivalent of gangster rap, with themes of drugs, violence, and police perfidy and an abiding admiration for the exploits of drug smugglers. And because of Chalino, Los Angeles, an American city, is now a center of redefinition for the most Mexican of musical idioms. Chalino democratized the genre, made it modern and American, and opened it to the masses. In Los Angeles almost anyone can have a corrido about him written, recorded, and sold. "In L.A., without exaggeration, 50 percent of the [Mexican] music that's recorded here is based on the legacy he left," says Angel Parra, the engineer who recorded most of his albums.

It boiled down to this, in the words of Abel Orozco, owner of El Parral nightclub in South Gate: "Chalino changed everything."
Ever since I saw his interview with Ray Suarez on the NewsHour, I thought Quinones might turn into my new favorite writer on Mexican–American relations. My wife is reading his latest book, and I'm reading his earlier one, both of us enthusiastically.

05 September 2007

East Germany's Biggest Fan: West Germany

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 611-612:
To outside observers, the German Democratic Republic appeared among the least vulnerable of Communist regimes, and not only because it was universally assumed that no Soviet leader would ever allow it to fall. The physical environment of the GDR, notably its cities, might appear tawdry and dilapidated; its security police, the Stasi, were notoriously omnipresent; and the Wall in Berlin remained a moral and aesthetic outrage. But the East German economy was widely believed to be in better shape than that of its socialist neighbors. When First Secretary Erich Honecker boasted at the country's fortieth anniversary celebrations in October 1989 that the GDR was one of the world's top ten economic performers, his guest Mikhail Gorbachev was heard to emit an audible snort; but if nothing else, the regime was efficient in the manufacture and export of bogus data: many Western observers took Honecker at his word.

The GDR's most enthusiastic admirers were to be found in the Federal Republic. The apparent success of Ostpolitik in defusing tensions and facilitating human and economic communications between the two halves of Germany had led virtually the entire political class to invest their hopes in its indefinite prolongation. West German public figures not only encouraged illusions among the nomenklatura of the GDR, they deluded themselves. Simply by repeating that Ostpolitik was having the effect of easing tensions to the east, they came to believe it.

Preoccupied with 'peace', 'stability', and 'order', many West Germans thus ended up sharing the point of view of the Eastern politicians with whom they were doing business. Egon Bahr, a prominent Social Democrat, explained in January 1982 (immediately following the declaration of martial law in Poland) that Germans had renounced their claim to national unity for the sake of peace and the Poles would just have to renounce their claim to freedom in the name of the same 'highest priority'. Five years later the influential writer Peter Bender, speaking at a Social Democratic Party symposium on 'Mitteleuropa', proudly insisted that 'in the desire for detente we have more in common with Belgrade and Stockholm, also with Warsaw and East Berlin [emphasis added (by Judt)], than we do with Paris and London.'

In later years it would emerge that on more than one occasion national leaders of the SPD made confidential and decidedly compromising statements to high-ranking East. Germans visiting the West. In 1987 Bjorn Engholm praised the domestic policies of the GDR as 'historic', while the following year his colleague Oskar Lafontaine promised to do everything in his power to make sure that West German support for East German dissidents remained muted. 'The Social Democrats', he assured his interlocutors, 'must avoid everything that would mean a strengthening of those forces'. As a Soviet report to the GDR Politburo noted in October 1984, 'Many arguments that had previously been presented by us to the representatives of the SPD have now been taken over by them'.

The illusions of West German Social Democrats are perhaps understandable. But they were shared with almost equal fervour by many Christian Democrats too. Helmut Kohl, the West German Chancellor since 1982, was just as keen as his opponents to cultivate good relations with the GDR. At the Moscow funeral of Yuri Andropov in February 1984 he met and spoke with Erich Honecker—and did so again at the burial of Chernenko the following year. Agreements were reached between the two sides over cultural exchange and the removal of mines on the inter-German border. In September 1987 Honecker became the first East German leader to visit the Federal Republic. Meanwhile West German subsidies for the GDR continued apace (but no support was ever forthcoming for East Germany's internal opposition).

Flush with West German sponsorship, confident of Moscow's backing and at liberty to export to the West its more troublesome dissidents, the East German regime might have survived indefinitely. It certainly appeared immune to change: in June 1987 demonstrators in East Berlin opposed to the Wall and chanting praise for the distant Gorbachev were summarily dispersed. In January 1988 the government did not hesitate to imprison and expel well over a hundred demonstrators who were commemorating the 1919 murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht with signs quoting Luxemburg herself: 'Freedom is also the freedom of those who think differently'. In September 1988 Honecker, on a visit to Moscow, publicly praised Gorbachev's perestroika--only to make a point of studiously avoiding its implementation upon his return home.