13 March 2011

Far Outliers Off to Africa for Two Weeks

The Far Outliers leave tonight for a two-week trip to Cameroon to visit my historian brother who's on sabbatical there helping to document some languages from neighboring Central African Republic, where he served in the Peace Corps many years ago. It's a long way for a short trip, but it's the chance of a lifetime. It'll be our first trip to the continent. We'll be in good hands, but we'll have very limited access to email and the web, so I may not be able to respond to blog comments. I hope to take plenty of photos to share via Flickr and to get some firsthand exposure to the English-based pidgin, Kamtok, which I understand still thrives in the northwest region (former British Cameroons).

With all the economic woes facing highly developed economies, it's heartening to read some good news about economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The economic transformation that has taken place over the last decade has laid out a solid foundation from which to build on. According to the International Monetary Fund, real GDP in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 5.7% annually between 2000 and 2008, more than double the pace during 1980s and 90s.

The collective output of it’s 50-plus economies, meanwhile, reached US$1.6-trillion, far greater than, say, global industrial power Republic of Korea.

Not surprisingly, Africa’s impressive economic momentum over this period owes much to its natural resource wealth that includes a majority of the world’s platinum, chromium and diamonds and a large share of global oil and gas reserves and gold and uranium deposits. However, rising prices for these commodities is only part of the story. According to McKinsey, natural resources and related government spending accounted for 32% of Africa’s GDP growth, with the remaining two-thirds nicely distributed across other sectors, notably wholesale and retail, agriculture, transportation and telecommunications.

Underlying this economic breadth, says the report, is the African consumer. From 2005 to 2008, consumer spending increased at a compounded annual rate of 16% and rose in all but two countries. Millions of Africans have moved from the “destitute” level of income below US$1,000 a year to the “basic needs” level between US$1,000 and US$5,000. A smaller portion have moved into the middle income bracket of US$5,000 to US$25,000.

“There is a lot more going on than just natural resources,” Mr. Field-Marsham says. “The middle class is exploding. They are buying soap, they’re buying beer, they’re buying telephones, they’re building housing, and they’re buying cement. Now, everybody has a stake.”
We're taking a few small electronic gifts for my brother's friends and colleagues: flash drives, memory cards, rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, and such.

Two Kinds of 'Missing' Stats in Japanese News Reports

When natural disasters hit in Japan, it is customary to report the number of people killed, injured, and/or missing. For smaller-scale disasters, the word for 'missing' is usually 行方不明 yukue fumei 'whereabouts unknown' (lit. 'movement-direction not-clear'). This term for 'missing' seems to imply that rescuers have searched the site of the disaster but failed to find any trace of some of the people they hoped to find there.

But in the widespread aftermath of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami, the word for 'missing' that now appears in Japanese news broadcasts is 安否不明 anpi fumei 'safety unknown' (lit. 'safe-or-no not-clear'). This term for 'missing' suggests that rescuers have in most cases not yet arrived on the scene or not yet completed their investigations to determine the condition and whereabouts of all the people they hope to find there.

This distinction between a sort of preliminary ('unaccounted for') and postmortem determination of who might be 'missing' has not always made it into the English-language headlines about the multiple disasters affecting so many people in Japan right now.

Speaking of which, the term 原発 genpatsu 'nuclear reactor' was also new to me, despite having lived in Hiroshima, where I early on learned the term 原爆 genbaku 'nuclear explosion', short for 原子爆発 lit. 'primitive-child (= atom) burst-discharge'.

The character 原 is read hara when it occurs in so many native Japanese proper names, where it means 'field, plain, prairie, tundra, moor, wilderness'. The 'wilderness' sense seems primary in the Sino-Japanese usage of 原 gen to mean 'original, primitive, fundamental, raw', as in 原因 gen'in 'root cause', 原色 genshoku 'primary color', 原油 gen'yu 'crude oil', and 原発 genpatsu 'nuclear reactor' (or 'atomic discharge').

12 March 2011

Hirohito, the Rare Decider

From the Editor's Preface by Marius Jansen in Hirohito: The Shōwa Emperor in War and Peace, by Ikuhiko Hata (Global Oriental, 2007), pp. x-xiii:
The emperor's personal thoughts and inclinations remain shrouded in considerable ambiguity. In the immediate post-surrender days when he broke precedent by responding to four questions posed by a New York Times reporter, he seemed to place responsibility for Japan's failure to declare war before striking at Pearl Harbor on General Tōjō by saying that that had not been his intention. The suggestion that he was avoiding responsibility by placing it on his official advisers caused so much consternation that the Home Ministry tried to prevent publication of that response in Japan. Two days later, on 17 September 1945, when the emperor first visited General MacArthur, he took a different position by accepting full responsibility for everything that had been done in his name.... This accords with the testimony of the many diaries of court officials that have appeared in recent years. True, the Meiji Constitution of 1889 had given the emperor exclusive control as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but those forces, too, were structured and bureaucratized.... On the whole, these bodies reported to the emperor, but did not request decisions from him. Actual military decisions had been reached at Liaison Conferences beteween [sic] the Imperial Army and Navy. Those in turn had to be validated by Imperial Conferences, but those were largely ritual; the emperor remained silent, and responses to occasional questions posed by the head of the Privy Council did not constitute real discussion.

Hirohito had accepted those limitations, as was expected of him. On three occasions he had emerged with clear-cut personal opinions. At the very inception of his reign he had been appalled by the indiscipline involved in the Kwantung Army's arrangement of the assassination of the Manchurian warlord Chang Tso-lin, and his sharp questioning of Prime Minister General Tanaka Giichi had led to the cabinet's resignation. But soon afterwards, he recalled, complaints were making the rounds to the effect that unnamed senior statesmen and a palace cabal had brought the government down. Alarmed senior statesmen remonstrated with the young (he was twenty-six) emperor and stressed the restraint expected from a constitutional monarch. He, in turn, had resolved to keep a lower profile in the future.

On two later occasions, Hirohito had departed from this position. The first was in 1936, when young army rebels tried to force a change in government by murdering senior statesmen and surrounding the palace. The emperor's role in suppressing this, the subject of Professor Hata's first chapter, could be explained by the fact that because of the absence of a prime minister, who had been thought to be murdered, it fell to him to govern. The other came in August 1945, when the cabinet was split on the manner of surrender and the prime minister turned to the emperor to ask him to decide.

We are left with puzzles that will probably never be resolved. Clearly, as Professor Hata and others have shown, Emperor Hirohito had immense power, but the condition of retaining it was judicious restraint in exercising it. His role in the normal procedures put in place by the Meiji Constitution made it unlikely that those powers would be tested. With the military, where his will was less explicitly restrained, lines of authority were also institutionalized in General Staff and command functions. It is clear that the military, and particularly the army, authorities frequently flouted his will. It is also true that his disapproval could blight a career, as seems to have been the case with Ishiwara Kanji, the key planner in the Manchurian Incident whose brash behaviour at a Palace function is recorded in the opening chapter. The summary of planning sessions before the occuption [sic] of French Indo-China, recorded in the papers of General Sugiyama Hajime, shows the emperor as an intelligent and worried participant, asking questions about the adequacy of the preparations and about the possible reaction of the democratic powers to that momentous step. But at other times, as with the reinforcement of Guadalcanal, Professor Hata shows that the emperor's opinion carried little weight with even field-grade officers at headquarters. Yet, as was seen in 1936 and again in 1945, the possibility of his intervention was always there.

In his monologue Hirohito pleaded constitutional restraints as explanation for his failure to intervene in 1941. 'In truth the (American) embargo on oil placed Japan in a dilemma', he said, and made the military call for war while it was still possible. 'Believing at the time that even if I opposed it, it would be pointless, I remained silent.' And yet, 'In hindsight, I probably would have tried to veto the decision for war if at the time I had foreseen the future', but it would have been at the possible cost of coups and violence that would have made it impossible for him to act in the final crisis in 1945; Japan might have been even worse off than it was.

On the other hand, there is every reason to think that Hirohito shared in the national exultation for the initial victories as Japanese armies stormed through Asia. A flurry of rescripts and congratulatory statements greeted the news of Pearl Harbor, Singapore, the East Indies, Manila, Burma and the Coral Sea. In each case, the warriors were assured, Chin wa fukaku kashō su, 'We are deeply gratified' [朕は深く嘉賞す? Is kashō 嘉賞 'approve' or 過賞 'overpraise'?]. There is also evidence that he remained optimistic of a military victory that would provide leverage for negotiation on surrender long after it was realistic to do so, and that the slowness of his move towards the position of the peace faction, made without advance signals of any sort, lengthened the conflict and the casualty lists.

Railroad vs. U.S. Army Jobs, 1854

From A Most Magnificent Machine: America Adopts the Railroad, 1825-1862, by Craig Miner (U. Press of Kansas, 2010), p. 188:
Similarly elaborate was a great excursion celebrating the completion of the Rock Island in 1854. Two trains of twelve cars each left Chicago loaded with 1,300 people to the cheers of a vast crowd. They proceeded through the prairie and stopped for people to gather wildflowers and grasses and to observe the substantial stone houses and gardens already established along the line. The prairie, a traveler on that train said, "was in its way as grand as the White Mountains, or Niagara Falls." Arriving at Rock Island and the Mississippi to a cannonade, there was a banner at the depot reading- "The Mississippi and the Atlantic Shake Hands." Drawn up to the wharf were six of the largest Mississippi River steamboats—War Eagle, Galena, Lady Franklin, Sparhawk, Golden Era, and Jenny Lind. Each had a band playing on the upper deck.

The "Conquests of Civilization" looked especially impressive that day comparing favorably with any military conquests of old. Wrote a man celebrating the excursion opening the Rock Island: "Our invasions, instead of desolating and laying waste the regions into which they are carried, spread fertility and abundance on their track, and they bring us back, instead of weeping captives to minister to our ostentation and pride, the fruits and riches of the earth, garnered from the most distant climes and kingdoms." The Illinois Central Company was bigger than the U.S. Army. That army had 10,000 in 1854. The Illinois Central railroad employed 19,000 who earned a total in wages of nearly $4 million per year. In three years it would build 700 miles of railroad, whereas in thirty years the federal government had spent $200 million on the army "for which they have nothing to show but some old forts, guns, battered uniforms, and demoralized veterans." Soon enough, in 1856, trains passed over the Mississippi on the great Rock Island Bridge, 1,581 feet long with a draw in the center. "Yes, the Mississippi is practically no more. It is spanned by the mighty artery of commerce and enterprise—the railroad."

The uninhabited prairie might be sublime and a "solemn" sight, but seeing the plains of Illinois divided into farms was more exciting still The fields would "drop fatness" when in time "the old fogy sod, matted conservatism of centuries, is overturned by the revolutionists, the ploughshares, and penetrated by those radicals, the grain roots, and the wheat fields stretch out green and wavy as the seas."

Wordcatcher Tales: Jishuku, Hōgyo

From the Editor's Preface by Marius Jansen in Hirohito: The Shōwa Emperor in War and Peace, by Ikuhiko Hata (Global Oriental, 2007), pp. xvi-xviii:
Hirohito's final illness began with his collapse in September 1988. His death would end the Shōwa Era, and he was posthumously renamed Emperor Shōwa. As he lay dying a curious mixture of new and old came into play. The Imperial Household Agency kept the public informed with daily bulletins of blood transfusion and blood count with a precision that only modern technology could manage, but at the same time terminology long disused came into play with archaic expressions of awe and respect. Japanese were asked to observe self-restraint, or jishuku [自粛] a term last heard during the darkest days of the Second World War.
Neighbourhood festivals were cancelled one after another, along with weddings in November, the preferred month for matrimony. On field days at school, races began limply without the pistol shot ... In addition to the national promotion of 'self restraint', numerous preparations were made for the day of the unthinkable itself: movie theatres consulted department stores about whether to close and for how many days, or how to stay open and still convey mourning. Athletic facilities consulted movie theatres. Decisions were made about supervising audience conduct at the instant of the announcement, about the status of the game, depending on the innings. [quoted from Norma Field's 1993 In the Realm of the Dying Emperor]
Television stations searched for appropriate programming and video rentals soared.

The emperor lingered on beyond the baseball season, however, and his death was announced on 7 January 1989, a Saturday morning with schools in winter recess, the holiday rush over for the stores, and markets closed. Now came forty days of preparation for the state funeral, which received the designation of hōgyo [崩御 'collapse, crumble' + 'imperial honorific' (also 'control, govern')], a term reserved for emperor and empress, dowager-empress, and grand dowager-empress, and adopted by all newspapers except the two on Okinawa [which Hirohito never once visited] and the Communist Red Flag.

The services combined the present with the past. With the disestablishment of State Shinto, Hirohito's disclaimer of divinity in 1946, and the 1909 Imperial Household Mourning Ordinance superceded by the 1947 constitution, the Shinto ceremonies were private and paid for by the Imperial Household. A total of 160 world leaders, led by President George H.W. Bush, sat under temporary tents arranged for them on a cold and rainy day to watch on closed television what Japanese watched in the comfort of their homes: fifty-one members of the Imperial Guard, dressed in the style of a millennium before, carried in the one-and-a-half-ton palanquin as Shinto priests made ritual offerings of 'two-and-a-half cups of rice, twenty quail, seven carrots, three lotus roots, sweet bean paste, sake, nine apples, assorted freshwater fish and bales of silk' before the 'geat mourning ceremony', a purely secular event in which speeches by the new Emperor Akihito, the prime minister, and three other prominent Japanese addressed the departed emperor (who, 'even after his death ... both in the public and in the numerous private rituals, was treated as someone who could be communicated with, a property he would retain, as an imperial ancestor, into the indefinite future') after which the foreign representatives were called up one by one to bow to the coffin. Thereafter, the procession proceeded to the imperial mound at Hachioji, a suburb of Tokyo, where ceremonies lasting another five hours were attended only by members of the Imperial Household and not televised. All the structures utilized had been put together especially for the occasion.

11 March 2011

Railroads in the Antebellum South

From A Most Magnificent Machine: America Adopts the Railroad, 1825-1862, by Craig Miner (U. Press of Kansas, 2010), pp. 169-171:
In 1849, [Georgia] was ahead of all southern states in rail mileage and estimated to be ranked third or fourth among all states in the Union. When the Western & Atlantic was completed in 1850, the company was still seeking more state appropriations, and there were still those who thought it could be better managed by a private concern than by the state. But many thought its shortcomings were based on unrealistic public expectations. Compared to most, it was a successful railroad indeed. Wrote the Macon editor: "Great confidence seems to be felt in whatever Georgia lays her hand to. I have often heard it wondered how the citizens of Georgia had succeeded so in building railroads, keeping out of debt, and making their roads pay well." The reason was that Georgia, as its governor noticed in his 1855 address, had a "definite system" and a "uniform principle" in granting railroad charters. It had supported railroads with state aid and management without going overboard in doing so.

Already the myth of southern backwardness was strong in the North. Amid the tensions of the 1850s, which would lead so soon to civil war, the South defended itself partly by pointing out how well it had done in railroad building. "It is fashionable," wrote a man in Louisville, "for a certain class of people at the North to taunt the people of the South with a want of enterprise. It is regarded as necessary to establish the evils of slavery, that it shall be shown that it encourages indolence, and represses enterprise; and to illustrate the truth of the positions assumed, the superior progress of the free States in railroad building is cited as proof positive." History proved that false. The South had built some of the first railroads and some of the best railroads in the United States.

It was also false that southern railroads ran well because northern men ran them or because they used northern supplies and equipment. There were southern ironworks and southern locomotive and car builders. The South argued that slave labor would be a great advantage in railroad building. Just as cities were buying slaves to do urban tasks, so railroads would in the future, and the institution of slavery would become less tied to plantations and the growing of cotton. Northerners were speculators, and eventually there would be proof that the more conservative way the South had proceeded in building railroads was best. It had largely avoided the "chaos of panic and bankruptcy" that characterized northern rail enterprises....

Southern railroads were slightly slower in schedule than northern railroads, but they were safer and more comfortable. The food "would be hard to boast of," but it was tolerable. The pace at depots in the South was more relaxed, with none of the "running headlong, with coat tails flying," typical of boarding a train in the North. The conductor boarded the passengers in a leisurely way. Then "the whistle gives a gentle toot, and gradually, as a duck swims against a current, the train moves, and nobody is in a perspiration; no one has lost his baggage, or torn his clothes; no one is left lamenting his hard fate in being a moment too late." Once aboard a train in the South, the passenger found sociable fellows, and the black "servant" who carried water, apples, and oranges through the cars also distributed ice cream. It made travel by rail actually enjoyable.

Far from being a sideshow, railroad development in the South provided a viable alternative to the way things were practiced in the North. Its example gave a strong indication that there was more than one way of adapting to railroads. The technology did not itself dictate its appropriate uses by people and states.

05 March 2011

Railroads and State Debt, 1839

From A Most Magnificent Machine: America Adopts the Railroad, 1825-1862, by Craig Miner (U. Press of Kansas, 2010), pp. 79-81:
The progress of the years preceding the 1837 Panic surely would resume, many wrote. Apparently insurmountable obstacles had been overcome. The "howling wilderness" was disappearing. "McAdamized highways, railroads and canals, have pervaded the country in every direction, giving free circulation to the products of mechanical skill, of art, and of labor, and animating the whole, immense, diversified country, with every sort of active business and intelligent enterprise." That was no mean feat. No wonder, however, that types arose who tended to abuse the opportunity—people all too "shrewdly alive to their own interest." There came a "universal mania" for wealth. "The old beaten track of plodding for our gains, was forsaken and contemned by the restless anxiety for change, and all seemed to engage in the alluring game of running hazards." A long period of peace and prosperity emboldened them, as though the boom would never end. Yet there was wide consensus that the achievement was impressive. "We take the ground," wrote a Baltimore man, "that the laborer who turns up a spadeful of earth in excavating a canal, or strikes a blow in constructing a railroad, becomes, by so doing, one of the builders up of a system, the benefits of which will endure so long as the continent on which we live shall endure."

In the wake of the panic came a long and related crisis over state debts, a large proportion of which had been contracted in order to build railroads. The national debt was nonexistent; in fact there was often a surplus, but it was different with the states, which had borne the brunt of subsidizing rail finance. An Ohio editor estimated in 1839 that eighteen states had authorized public stock for canals and railroads amounting to $170 million, "which is as much a mortgage on our farms as was the national debt." Interest ran about $12 million per year. It was ridiculous, the regional press thought, that Ohio had an agent in Europe to try to arrange more debt. The Ohio state legislature at its last session had, according to one critic, done more to "degrade the State abroad, and beggar its people at home, than the accumulated energy and labor of years can undo."

Maybe it was not all bad, a New Yorker commented. Speculation had created 3,000 miles of railroad. "The parent may die, but the offspring will live to enlighten and bless." A Massachusetts man argued that the Western Railroad there would be completed eventually and would be a good thing. Delays required credit, and credit required the payment of interest and the raising of taxes, but this was not "inconsistent with the business-like character of a business people." The states received many indirect benefits from the railroads that did not show on their balance sheets proper.

To some that seemed cold comfort. People had been too extravagant in generally prosperous times, importing, for example, $41 million per year in foreign wines—half as much as was spent for railroad iron. Depressions came from overtrading. People seemed to have commenced business on too large a scale. There was a penchant for outright gambling. "Confidence has been destroyed; public and private faith and credit have been grossly abused, and foul deeds of iniquity have been committed." Public business seemed to be influenced primarily by private business lobbies, and no producers appeared in proportion to the growth in borrowing. The credit of the states had been all too good. New York owed $23 million in 1839, Louisiana $23 million, Pennsylvania $27 million, Maryland $11 million, Massachusetts $4 million, Alabama $10 million, and Tennessee $7 million. And states were adding debt all the time. "Our credit is so good that it will ruin us, if we do not stop and think of the consequences of so severely testing it.... Are we not getting in jeopardy the dearest interests, the honor and independence of our country, and selling our glorious national birthright for a mess of pottage?"

New Hampshire Skeptical of Railroads, 1840s

From A Most Magnificent Machine: America Adopts the Railroad, 1825-1862, by Craig Miner (U. Press of Kansas, 2010), pp. 119-120:
Why were railroads so great? Who had benefited? When the Eastern [Railroad from Massachusetts to Maine] was proposed, stated one letter to the editor, people along the projected route in Massachusetts and New Hampshire were "lunatic" on the subject. "One would suppose that there was no other road in existence, that indeed to them belonged the discovery of the power of steam, engines, Railroads, &c, and that their fame exceeded the fame of any and all ancient and modern cities. It was said that the old men of the city assembled at the depot in the morning, and really forgot to go to their meals." Yet by 1841 most of the towns that had been courted had become minor way stations, hearing only the buzz of the engine on the way to Boston. It seemed a bad bargain altogether.

New Hampshire debated the right-of-way issue into the mid-1840s. Enterprise should have full scope, wrote the paper in Concord, but the point in dispute was the right of the legislature to empower a private corporation for private gain to take from a man his land against his will. In that regard the New Hampshire debate was much like the modern controversy over the proper uses of the eminent domain power, and here the state did not regard railroads as a true public use. The chief purpose of a railroad, the legislators thought, was to make money, not to serve the public. "If the constitution must be violated and the rights of individuals molested, it seems no good citizen can favor any project, which shall encroach upon the rights of freemen." This led one commentator to write in dismay that he was certain that in the state's "lamentable" stance toward railroads, it had "shut itself out from one of the most beneficial improvements of modern times."

Inevitably, the state eventually had more or less its share of railroads, and it learned to do what was necessary to accommodate them politically and socially. But New Hampshire remained proud that it had not swallowed the whole package. An editor in Portsmouth noted that credit could not be separated from character: "Integrity, industry, virtue, and character it is that commands the capital which changes the sailor boy in his tarpaulin to the captain of the beautiful packet ship." So at least it should be. New Hampshire retained its strict laws about individual liability and its narrow interpretation of eminent domain for some years.

The Albany Argus wrote in 1841, in the wake of the Panic of 1837, that "New Hampshire may well congratulate herself, that she has never embarked in any of the wild and visionary schemes of internal improvements, which have plunged other states into such an embarrassing and wretched state of want and indebtedness. She has escaped the bitterness of learning by experience the folly of a large community attempting to carry on public works with prudence, economy or even honesty." Would that Pennsylvania and Indiana, burdened with state works not paying even their current expenses and repairs on state railroad systems, not to mention the debt service, had done the same. The manic policy of the rest of the country was, according to some in New Hampshire, the "high road to beggary."
Boston thought such a policy was a "dreaded obstruction" to its enterprise. It was suspicious of presidential candidate Franklin Pierce just because he was from New Hampshire.