Friday, July 31, 2009
"Why was Mohammad Jawad tortured? Why did military officials choose a teenage boy who had attempted suicide in his cell less than 5 months earlier to be the subject of this sadistic sleep deprivation experiment? Not that anything would justify such treatment, of course, but at least in the case of the other detainees known to have been subjected to sleep deprivation, they were believed to possess critical intelligence that might save American lives. Unfortunately, we may never know. I've asked to speak to the guards who actually carried out the program, and I've been denied. In the absence of information to the contrary, which the government would surely provide if it existed, we are left to conclude that it was simply gratuitous cruelty.
The government admits that Mohammad Jawad was treated "improperly," but offers no remedy. We won't use any evidence derived from this maltreatment, they say, but they know that there was no evidence derived from it because the government didn't even bother to interrogate him after they tortured him. Exclusion of non-existent evidence is not a remedy. Dismissal is a severe sanction, but it is the only sanction that might conceivably deter such conduct in the future…
Sadly, this military commission has no power to do anything to the enablers of torture such as John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Robert Delahunty, Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, David Addington, William Haynes, Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for the jurisdiction of military commissions is strictly and carefully limited to foreign war criminals, not the home-grown variety. All you can do is to try to send a message, a clear and unmistakable message that the U.S. really doesn't torture, and when we do, we own up to it, and we try to make it right."
Scott Horton explains in Harper's Magazine:
"When historians search through the materials relating to Guantánamo for a handful of cases that give a good sense of what was done there in the nation's name, they'd be well advised to pause over the file of Mohammed Jawad. On December 17, 2002, a grenade was hurled at a passing convoy of Americans traveling in Soviet military vehicles, resulting in injury to several soldiers. Jawad was arrested and accused of the act. He may have been 12 years old at the time, and certainly was no older than 14. American officials consistently misrepresented him as older. Jawad states that he was near the passing convoy because he had been hired to clear landmines; he says he did not throw the grenade. The Government has never produced any meaningful evidence that he did.
The torture of young Jawad was not limited to American proxies in Afghanistan, however. In Guantánamo he was abused repeatedly, particularly by means of a form of sleep deprivation known as the 'frequent flyer program.' This regime involved prison guards waking a prisoner every 2-4 hours and moving him to a different cell, ensuring that he would not sleep for days. Jawad was subjected to this process 112 times, according to military records."
Thursday, July 30, 2009
The scholar Liu Xiang (劉向, 79-8 BCE) told the following story in his book Shuo Yuan (說苑, A Garden of Stories):
Duke Ping of Jin  asked Shi Guang, "I am seventy. I want to study but I am afraid that the sun is already setting." Shi Guang replied, "Why not light a candle?" Duke Ping said, "How can a subject poke fun at his Lord?" Shi Guang responded, "Would I, a blind servant, dare poke fun at my Lord? I have heard that love of learning in youth is like the rising sun; love of learning in the prime of life is like the radiance of the of the sun at noon; and love of learning in old age is like the light of a candle. If you can have a lit candle, why would you wander in the dark?" Duke Ping said, "Excellent!"
晉平公問於師曠曰：「吾年七十，欲學恐已暮矣。」師曠曰：「何不炳燭乎？」平公曰：「安有為人臣而戲其君乎？」師曠曰：「盲臣安敢戲其君乎？ 臣聞之，少而好學如日出之陽，壯而好學如日中之光，老而好學如炳燭之明。 炳燭之明，孰與昧行乎？」平公曰：「善哉！」（《劉向．說苑》）
 Duke Ping of Jin reigned from 557 to 532 BCE.
 According to the 國語辭典, Shi Guang was a musician during the Spring and Autumn period (722 BCE-421 BCE).
 Kirill Sereda pointed out to me that 孰與 ... 乎 means "then, why on earth would you / one..." Thanks Kirill! Every time we correspond, it's a case of 拋磚引玉: I throw bricks and you return jade.
Particular pleasure is derived [by Isaiah Berlin] from the failures of other dons who were pursuing comparable Alpine peaks:
I have seldom enjoyed an event more than Trevor-Roper's inaugural lecture, it was amusing in itself – I must send you a copy – but what was funny were the preliminaries; he had hoped for a large incursion of smart persons from London and deputed Lord Furneaux and Chips Channon's son – he wrote them that he gathered that they were socially-minded and would know the faces of Cabinet Ministers and Ambassadors – to act as ushers. He caused four rows of the School to be kept empty for "the quality"; it was terrible to see aged dons and white-haired ladies rudely pushed away from these empty places which were waiting to be filled by elegant persons from London. In the end, apart from the Duke of Wellington and about eight members of the Astor family and his own wife and her sister Doria nobody came and the seats were filled by plebeians in the end.
The editors plainly hero worship Berlin, but they have done him a questionable service by revealing his blatant treachery. "He was never sneaky or malevolent", says Noel Annan in The Book of Isaiah. The letters, alas, do not bear out this kind judgement. Bowra and David Cecil are supposedly among his closest friends, but Berlin, an intellectual as well as a social snob, who despises what he calls the "upper middle brow", is only too anxious, when corresponding with American academics, to deplore Cecil and Bowra's publications.
The 800 pages are peppered with malice about poor A. L. Rowse (a more interesting man than Berlin and ultimately more intellectually distinguished). Rowse "grows more and more impossible and awful daily". Rowse's absence is "a source of happiness". Rowse is "more Malvolio like than ever". Yet to Rowse himself, Berlin writes an Iago-like letter in which he says, "One cannot live for twenty years on and off with someone as wonderful & unique as, if you'll let me say so, you are & not develop a strong and permanent bond". It is hard to like the author of this letter. The whole volume, indeed, fills the reader with a gloom which was surely not intended by the editors. If the reader, and even more the conscientious reviewer, who has read each page with notebook in hand, feels that the exercise of reading was a waste of time, that only half explains the misery that the exercise provokes. Reading the book, after all, takes only a week. But writing these tedious, infelicitous, prolix letters took fourteen years of a clever man's life. While he was writing them, and regurgitating the same old thoughts about Maistre, Herzen and co, A. L. Rowse was producing those readable, well-researched volumes The England of Elizabeth, Ralegh and the Throckmortons, The Early Churchills, The Later Churchills, etc. Berlin's repeated jokes about Wittgenstein, likewise, seem counterproductive on the page. "Nothing is more terrible than religious Wittgensteinism", he writes – merely making this reader think that the author of The Hedgehog and the Fox was not worthy to lick the boots of the author of Philosophical Investigations. [...]
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Cathy Gere, writing in the London Review of Books, July 23, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Slavoj Žižek in the London Review of Books
In the same issue of the LRB (July 23), Ervand Abrahamian writes:
"Iran has a healthy respect for crowds – and for good reason. Crowds brought about the 1906 constitutional revolution. Crowds prevented the Iranian parliament from submitting to a tsarist ultimatum in 1911. Crowds scuttled the 1919 Anglo-Iranian Agreement, which would have in effect incorporated the country into the British Empire. Crowds prevented General Reza Khan from imitating Ataturk and establishing a republic in 1924 – as a compromise he kept the monarchy but named himself shah. Crowds gave the communist Tudeh Party political clout in the brief period of political pluralism between 1941 and 1953. Crowds in 1951-53 gave Mohammad Mossadegh, the country’s national hero, the power both to take over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and to challenge the shah’s unconstitutional control of the armed forces. Crowds – aided by clerics – provided a backdrop to the 1953 military coup organised by the CIA and MI5. Crowds in 1963 began what soon became known as Khomeini’s Islamic Movement. And, of course, crowds played the central role in the drama of the 1979 Islamic Revolution – with the result that the new constitution enshrined the right of citizens to hold peaceful street demonstrations."
Sunday, July 26, 2009
It was good enough for Byron, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens,
Trollope, and more:
An 18th-century prescriptivist schoolmarm is to blame for the silly
rule that "he" is sex-neutral:
Shanghai promueve la 'política de dos hijos' para luchar contra el envejecimiento de la población
Se trata de la primera vez en décadas que las autoridades de la ciudad china más poblada fomentan la natalidad
Shanghai ha decidido atacar de frente los problemas que planteará en el futuro el rápido envejecimiento de su población. El Gobierno municipal ha lanzado una campaña para animar a las parejas en las que ambos sean hijos únicos a que tengan dos hijos, con objeto de aumentar la población activa y aliviar la carga para las arcas públicas y las familias.
Que este tipo de parejas puedan tener dos niños no es nuevo, pero sí es la primera vez en décadas que las autoridades fomentan de forma activa que los matrimonios tengan más descendencia. Responsables del servicio de planificación familiar y voluntarios van a ir casa por casa y entregar octavillas en la capital económica y financiera de China para animar a los padres. El Gobierno municipal ha asegurado que proporcionará asesoramiento emocional y ayuda financiera. "Recomendamos que las parejas que reúnan los requisitos tengan dos hijos porque puede ayudar a reducir la proporción de gente mayor y aliviar la falta de fuerza laboral en el futuro", ha afirmado Xie Lingli, director de la Comisión de Población y Planificación Familiar de Shanghai.
El 21,6% (casi tres millones de personas) de los habitantes de la ciudad más poblada de China tiene 60 años o más, una proporción que para 2020 se estima que llegará al 34%. Las cifras están calculadas respecto a los 13,7 millones de residentes permanentes registrados, ya que si se incluyen, entre otros, los inmigrantes llegados de otras provincias, Shanghai ronda los 20 millones de almas...
El resto de este artículo aquí.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Ilham Tohti argues that China's Xinjiang policy is worse even than "colonialism". When foreign capital comes to china or other less-developed countries, local people at least have the chance to be "exploited" in "sweatshop factories". But when China establishes state farms, businesses, and oil companies on its own territory, it imports large numbers of Chinese workers to the area concerned. Uyghur workers have in the main not been absorbed by state factories in Xinjiang; some though have been sent 4,000 kilometres away to work in factories in Guangdong province, where the deaths of two of them in a conflict with Han Chinese workers on 25-26 June 2009 played a role in the outbreak of the violence in Urumqi (see Henryk Szadziewski, "The discovery of the Uyghurs", 9 July 2009).
See also Uyghur Scholar Calls for Jobs
In the American and European press, Xinjiang is yesterday's news.
"It isn't often that I encounter an English word that I don't know other than names of chemical compounds, but I recently learned a new word for something not all that obscure. In a context in which I expected the word monopoly, I encountered monopsony. At first I thought it was a mistake, but it recurred. It turns out that economists distinguish between monopolies and monopsonies. When there is a single source for a product, that is a monopoly, but when there is only a single buyer for a product, that is a monopsony. Who knew?
The classic example of a monopsony is what I have hitherto known as the Chinese salt monopoly. Throughout most of Chinese history, anybody could produce salt, but they had to sell it to the government, which then sold it to consumers. This is why the classic work of Chinese economics, the proceedings of a conference held in 81 BCE with appended commentary, is entitled 塩鉄論 Discourses on Salt and Iron."
By the way, as one LL reader comments, 塩鉄論 is Japanese; the Chinese version is 鹽鐵論 (traditional) or 盐铁论 (simplified).
Another reader comments, "The Chinese 'salt monopoly' was both a monopsony (as purchaser from producers) and a monopoly (as reseller at perhaps abusive markup to consumers), so it makes sense that it would be commonly known in English by the more common word, which is also usually the more salient word (since presumably every household in China needed to buy salt but only a tiny percentage of the population would have been in a position to sell it). I am not an economist and managed to get through four years of college without a single economics class, but I've known the word since I don't know when; I assume I probably picked it up in the context of antitrust law, where the lawyers and judges had borrowed it from the economists."
And another: "On NPR's Planet Money not too long ago, there was a story on the economics of piracy, which explained the monopolist-monopsononist relationship, that is, there is only one seller (the pirate), and only one buyer (the ship's owner), and yet they still have to agree on the 'market' price. Well worth a listen!"
And a third reader: "I learnt this word from a student's essay I was marking a few months ago. I then used it with confidence in the next week's class. Ah, the legerdemain of academe."
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
"The US military has, understandably and correctly, condemned the coerced video of a US soldier taken hostage by Taliban in Afghanistan.
But I fear that the argument that the public humiliation of prisoners is against international law won't take the US very far after 8 years of Bush-Cheney.
After the evidence surfaced that the US military took all those humiliating pictures of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to blackmail them by threatening to make them public, the US assertion of support for this principle of the Geneva Conventions will be met with, well, let us say substantial skepticism.
In fact, as I was reminded by a former ambassador, the Bush-Cheney-Yoo-Addison gutting of US conformance with the Geneva Conventions really makes it difficult for Washington credibly to complain about the treatment of any of our captured soldiers. The Taliban could hold the soldier hostage forever if they follow the principle put forward by Sen. Lindsey Graham. They could (God forbid) put him in stress positions naked and threaten to release the pictures to his family, and they would have done nothing that Rumsfeld's Pentagon had not done routinely and on a vast scale."
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
John Bachar, free-climber, died on July 5th, aged 52
THE rocks of the California mountains, in the Joshua Tree National Monument and the Yosemite Valley, rise in polished granite towers from the scrubby floor. For most of the daylight hours, the wildlife of the place—coyotes, ground squirrels, lizards, road-runners—seek rare, small spots of shade. But in recent years knots of people often gathered there to watch an odder creature creeping, by feet and hands alone, across the high sheer face of boulder, buttress or cliff.
John Bachar climbed slowly, like a spider—or, as he preferred to say, a starfish. He seemed to move in slow motion, swinging his legs out in parallel to seek a ledge, pulling to a crouch, raising one graceful arm to grab a hold. Nothing was hurried; all was smooth and unforced. Being southern Californian to the core, there was an air of the surfer about him. He climbed sometimes in skimpy black singlet and white jeans, sometimes in minute running shorts, with his long blond hair dangling as he inched across a layback or relaxed, hanging by his fingertips, for a while. His only equipment, apart from rubber-soled boots, was a bag of chalk slung at the back of his belt, into which he dipped his hands to dry the sweat and improve his grip. He had no ropes, bolts or pitons, and preferably no knowledge of the ascent except what he had gleaned from the ground, telling himself "Dude, there's some holds here, man." There was just John Bachar, working out the rock. He could only have been more pure, he said, if he had gone up naked.
Wouldn't he fall? He seemed to be catching on nothing: propping his boot on a pimple, gripping a "smear" or a hairline crack, freeing both arms from the rock to make a lunge. More than 50 feet up one mistake meant death, and he was often on faces of 200 feet or more. He was, he admitted, terrified of heights. But he had got over it, practising his moves first on boulders from which he could fall five feet onto sand, gradually working higher, until some hundred feet up he could confidently climb with his palms open and relaxed, as calmly as if he was walking to the store. Did he ever dare look down? "Of course. It's beautiful up there." Besides, "just looking down isn't going to kill you."
To become the world's best free-climber, as he had set out to be and as, in the 1970s and 1980s, he was, took years of training. At 14 he was a weakling who could do only two pull-ups; at 16, when he made his first free ascent at Joshua Tree, he could do 27. By his mid-20s he had mastered doing pull-ups with one arm, or with 140lb of weights. Tightrope-walking helped his balance. At Camp IV in Yosemite he built his own gym among the trees, in which he and his fellow ponytailed dreamers trained to be "masters of stone".
The training was also mental. He made himself relax and concentrate until all he saw was the "little circle of rock" ahead of him, and all he was thinking of was the fluidity and perfection of his moves. If he needed a surge of strength, he imagined throwing an electric switch to flood his muscles with power. He pictured his fingers as steel hooks, himself as a dancer. It was better to backtrack, every move elegantly reversed, than to climb in a clumsy or scrappy way.
Working by numbers
Craziness was also necessary. Mr Bachar's fellow-climbers often thought him mad—mad to free-climb on faces such as the 400-foot New Dimensions in Yosemite, and especially, in 1981, to leave a note at Camp IV offering $10,000 to anyone who could follow him, unroped, for a day. No one tried that challenge. His first safety tip was to give free-climbing up. He never took his own advice. He found it as cool and addictive as "being on another planet". And it was the only professional sport with no coaches or rule-books, where each climber planned his tactics himself. It was, in his own soft words, the real deal.
Yet his climbing was the reverse of reckless. He was a mathematician and the son of a mathematician, majoring in maths at UCLA until he dropped out to climb rocks. Each venture up a rock face was, for him, an act of analysis. Each boulder problem was mentally broken into sections before he started. Even his mental state he divided into three zones. Zone one, no harm if he fell; zone two, hospital, but he'd survive; zone three, death if he made a mistake.
Unlike mountaineers, he felt no urge to conquer the rock-face. Getting to the top didn't matter. All that counted was the grace, control and style of how he got there. The rock was his superior and, he felt, should remain as if he had never climbed it. He was horrified to find, when free-climbing in France, that holds had been chiselled in the rock face and stone-like grips glued on. He was offended to come across rusty bolts, or so-called free-climbers setting advance protection for themselves. The effect of all this was to "lower the rock to your level", removing its capacity to challenge and surprise.
By the same token, if he escaped after making a mistake, the rock had merely let him get away with it. He got away many times; a bruised back was the worst injury he suffered until, on July 5th, he fell from Dike Wall in the eastern Sierra. He must have made some move that was ugly, clumsy or distracted. If he had kept the climb focused and beautiful, he could not possibly have died.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
At a Factory, the Spark for China's Violence
By ANDREW JACOBS
SHAOGUAN, China — The first batch of Uighurs, 40 young men and women from the far western region of Xinjiang, arrived at the Early Light Toy Factory here in May, bringing their buoyant music and speaking a language that was incomprehensible to their fellow Han Chinese workers.
“We exchanged cigarettes and smiled at one another, but we couldn’t really communicate,” said Gu Yunku, a 29-year-old Han assembly line worker who had come to this southeastern city from northern China. “Still, they seemed shy and kind. There was something romantic about them.”
The mutual good will was fleeting.
By June, as the Uighur contingent rose to 800, all recruited from an impoverished rural county not far from China’s border with Tajikistan, disparaging chatter began to circulate. Taxi drivers traded stories about the wild gazes and gruff manners of the Uighurs. Store owners claimed that Uighur women were prone to shoplifting. More ominously, tales of sexually aggressive Uighur men began to spread among the factory’s 16,000 Han workers.
Shortly before midnight on June 25, a few days after an anonymous Internet posting claimed that six Uighur men had raped two Han women, the suspicions boiled over into bloodshed.
During a four-hour melee in a walkway between factory dormitories, Han and Uighur workers bludgeoned one another with fire extinguishers, paving stones and lengths of steel shorn from bed frames.
By dawn, when the police finally intervened, two Uighur men had been fatally wounded and 120 other people were injured, most of them Uighurs, according to the authorities.
“People were so vicious, they just kept beating the dead bodies,” said one man who witnessed the fighting, which he said involved more than a thousand workers.
Ten days later and 1,800 miles away, the clash in Shaoguan provoked a far greater spasm of violence in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region. On July 5, a demonstration by Uighur students protesting what they said was a lackluster investigation of the factory brawl gave way to a murderous rampage against the city’s Han residents, followed by killings carried out by the Han.
In the end, at least 192 people died and more than 1,000 were injured, according to the government. Of the dead, two-thirds were Han, the authorities said. Uighurs insist that the toll among their own was far higher.
Shaoguan officials, who said that the rape allegations were untrue, contended that the violence at the toy factory was used by “outsiders” to fan ethnic hatred and promote Xinjiang separatism. “The issue between Han and Uighur people is like an issue between husband and wife,” Chen Qihua, vice director of the Shaoguan Foreign Affairs Office, said in an interview. “We have our quarrels, but in the end, we are like one family.”
Li Qiang, the executive director of China Labor Watch, an advocacy group based in New York that has studied the Shaoguan toy factory, has a different view. He said the stress of low pay, long hours and numbingly repetitive work exacerbated deeply held mistrust between the Han and the Muslim Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking minority that has long resented Chinese rule.
“The government doesn’t really understand these ethnic problems, and they certainly don’t know how to resolve them,” Mr. Li said.
In the government’s version of events, the factory clash was the simple product of false rumors, posted on the Internet by a disgruntled former worker who has since been arrested.
A few days later, the authorities added another wrinkle to the story, saying that the fight was prompted by a “misunderstanding” after a 19-year-old female worker accidentally stumbled into a dormitory room of Uighur men.
The woman, Huang Cuilian, told the state news media that she screamed and ran off when the men stamped their feet in a threatening manner. When Ms. Huang, accompanied by factory guards, returned to confront the men, the standoff quickly escalated.
The Uighur workers have since been sequestered at an industrial park not far from the toy factory. Officials refused to allow a reporter access to the workers, and a large contingent of police officers blocked the hospital rooms where two dozen others were recovering from their wounds.
“They want to lead a peaceful life and not be bothered by the media,” said Mr. Chen, the Shaoguan official. He said the government of Guangdong Province, where Shaoguan is located, and the factory would provide them employment at a separate plant.
Officials at Early Light, a Hong Kong company that is the largest toy maker in the world, declined to comment.
In the city of Kashgar, the ancient heart of Uighur civilization, the Shaoguan killings have inflamed longstanding anger over the way China manages daily life in Xinjiang. Many Uighurs complain about policies that encourage Han migration to the region and say the government suppresses Uighurs’ language and religion. When it comes to employment, they say coveted state jobs go to the Han; a 2008 report by a United States Congressional commission noted that government job Web sites in Xinjiang set aside most teaching and civil service positions for non-Uighurs.
“If we weren’t so poor, our children wouldn’t have to take work so far from home,” said Akhdar, a 67-year-old man who, like many others interviewed, refused to give his full name for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
The Uighurs who work at the Shaoguan toy factory, all of them from Shufu County outside Kashgar, are part of a growing wave of 1.5 million people who have migrated from Xinjiang to more prosperous cities of coastal China. This year, more than 6,700 young men and women left Shufu County, according to government figures, part of an ambitious jobs export program intended to relieve high youth unemployment and provide low-cost workers to factories.
According to an article in the state-run Xinjiang Daily, “70 percent of the laborers had signed up for employment voluntarily.” The article, published in May, did not explain what measures were used to win over the remaining 30 percent.
But residents in and around Kashgar say the families of those who refuse to go are threatened with fines that can equal up to six months of a villager’s income. “If asked, most people will go, because no one can afford the penalty,” said a man who gave his name only as Abdul, whose 18-year-old sister is being recruited for work at a factory in Guangzhou but has so far resisted.
Some families are particularly upset that recruitment drives are directed at young unmarried women, saying that the time spent living in a Han city far away from home taints their marriage prospects. Taheer, a 25-year-old bachelor who is seeking a wife, put it bluntly. “I would not marry such a girl because there’s a chance she would not come back with her virginity,” he said.
Still, a few Uighurs said they were thankful for factory jobs with wages as high as $190 a month, double the average income in Xinjiang. One man, a 54-year-old cotton farmer with two young daughters, said he was ready to send them away if that was what the Communist Party wanted. “We would be happy to oblige,” he said with a smile as his wife looked away.
Once they arrive in one of China’s bustling manufacturing hubs, the Uighurs often find life alienating. Mr. Li of China Labor Watch said many workers were unprepared for the grueling work, the cramped living conditions and what he described as verbal abuse from factory managers.
But the biggest challenge may be open hostility from Han co-workers, who like many Chinese hold unapologetically negative views of Uighurs.
Many Han say they believe that Uighurs are given unfair advantages by the central government, including a point system that gives Uighur students and other minorities a leg up on college entrance exams.
Zhang Qiang, a 20-year-old Shaoguan resident, described Uighurs as “barbarians” and said they were easily provoked to violence.
“All the men carry knives,” he said after dropping off a job application at the toy factory, which is eager to hire replacements for the hundreds of workers who quit in recent weeks.
Still, Mr. Zhang acknowledged that his contact with Uighurs was superficial. When he was a student, his vocational high school had a program for 100 Xinjiang students, although they were relegated to separate classrooms and dorms.
If he had any curiosity about his Uighur classmates, it was quashed by a teacher who warned the Han students to keep their distance. “This is not prejudice,” he said. “It is just the nature of their kind.”
Zhang Jing contributed research.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's first steps on the surface of the
Moon. I've seen those same snippets many times since then. Last night,
though, I saw, for the first time, a documentary that included
extended footage of Armstrong and Aldrin's two and a half hours of
extravehicular activity (moon walking and driving) and of their
journey to the Moon and back to Earth. I was moved by Armstrong's,
Aldrin's, and Collin's intelligence, courage, sense of humor,
professionalism, and - how shall I put it? - spiritual joy,
enthusiasm, and excitement at the adventure they were living. Their
right stuff, to use Tom Wolfe's phrase, was infused with humility,
wonderment, and a sense of awe. There was very little Wolfian macho
bravado about it. At one point, for instance, Armstrong and Aldrin
bounced and tripped and danced on the Moon, tickled pink with
excitement. Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the documentary,
so I don't know the title. But it was more gripping stuff by far than
Ron Howard's Apollo 13. I've never understood how anyone could argue
that manned space exploration is a waste of money - money that would
be better spent on humanitarian projects or education or somesuch. I
can think of many ways money is wasted (the principal of which is
war), but sending people "where no man has gone before" is surely a
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
polymath for whom I once had the privilege of doing a translation),
with audio clips of Uyghur and Mandarin pronunciations:
A Little Primer of Xinjiang Proper Nouns
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Maldigo del alto cielo
la estrella con su reflejo,
maldigo los azulejos
destellos del arroyuelo,
maldigo del bajo suelo
la piedra con su contorno,
maldigo el fuego del horno
porque mi alma está de luto,
maldigo los estatutos del tiempo
con sus bochornos,
cuánto será mi dolor.
Maldigo la cordillera
de los Andes y La Costa,
maldigo, señor, la angosta
y larga faja de tierra,
también la paz y la guerra,
lo franco y lo veleidoso,
maldigo lo perfumoso
porque mi anhelo está muerto,
maldigo todo lo cierto
y lo falso con lo dudoso,
cuánto será mi dolor.
Maldigo la primavera
con sus jardines en flor
y del otoño el color
yo lo maldigo de veras;
a la nube pasajera
la maldigo tanto y tanto
porque me asiste un quebranto.
Maldigo el invierno entero
con el verano embustero,
maldigo profano y santo,
cuánto será mi dolor.
Maldigo a la solitaria
figura de la bandera,
maldigo cualquier emblema,
la Venus y la Araucaria,
el trino de la canaria,
el cosmos y sus planetas,
la tierra y todas sus grietas
porque me aqueja un pesar,
maldigo del ancho mar
sus puertos y sus caletas,
cuánto será mi dolor.
Maldigo luna y paisaje,
los valles y los desiertos,
maldigo muerto por muerto
y el vivo de rey a paje,
el ave con su plumaje
yo la maldigo a porfía,
las aulas, las sacristías
porque me aflige un dolor,
maldigo el vocablo amor
con toda su porquería,
cuánto será mi dolor.
Maldigo por fin lo blanco,
lo negro con lo amarillo,
obispos y monaguillos,
ministros y predicandos
yo los maldigo llorando;
lo libre y lo prisionero,
lo dulce y lo pendenciero
le pongo mi maldición
en griego y en español
por culpa de un traicionero,
cuánto será mi dolor.
Monday, July 13, 2009
From James Fallows' blog:From Shannon Kirwin of Beijing, this photo of a "Help Wanted" sign outside the Postal Hotel (邮政宾馆) in Kashgar in China's Xinjiang region a few days ago. Click for larger.
Here's the significance of the sign: It's an advertisement for restaurant staff at the hotel, in roles from cooks to supervisors. Kashgar, of course, is a historic trading town on the extreme western frontier of China, much closer to Lahore, Kabul, and New Delhi than to Beijing. The original population there would be of Uighur or other Turkic ethnicity, rather than Han Chinese. But the last line of the advertisement says, "This offer is for Han Chinese (汉族) only, ages 18-30."
newspaper articles about him:
"Ji chose to major in Sanskrit in 1936, when he was a student at the
University of Gottingen in Germany. The reason was that 'Chinese
culture has been so much influenced by Indian culture, and great
discoveries can be made in research on the two nations' cultural
relationship,' he wrote in his best-selling biography 10 Years in
In the following seven decades, he made discoveries not only about the
spread of Buddhism from India to China but also about the export of
the skills of making paper and silk from China to India.
He wrote seven books, including a short history of India, apart from
translating Ramayana from the original Sanskrit to Chinese in poetry
He did the translation secretly during the 'cultural revolution'
(1966-76). His memoir of the 10-year turmoil, titled Memoirs from the
Cowshed and published in 1998, touched the hearts of millions of
Chinese readers with the dignity of an intellectual in the face of
both physical and mental torture. "
"Even in the dark times during the fascist reign, Ji, with an empty
stomach, still continued to work hard in subjects such as Greek,
Latin, and Sanskrit. When he got an "A" in all his PhD subjects, Ji
said, "I haven't disgraced my country; my scores are the only comfort
that I can give to my motherland."
Soon after returning to China, Ji Xianlin began to work in Peking
University and since then has engaged himself in applying his
patriotism into the teaching and research profession to pay back to
his country, starting numerous new research topics and devoting
himself to academic research, proudly finishing 40 articles and 13
academic papers within three years.
Setting his heart on serving the country with his academic
achievements, Ji started to translate the world famous Indian epic
Ramayana in secret. After five years of strenuous work, he finally
finished translating the 80,000-line epic into Chinese, erecting a
monument in the history of China's translation and Sino-Indian
cultural exchange. "
And an informative Wikipedia article on Ji Xianlin:
Although I know little about the history of European art, and Laura nothing, the two of us have spent hundreds hours over the past three years reading Greek myths and the Bible. Laura's knowledge of Greek mythology and the best-known Old and New Testament stories helped her interpret and enjoy many of the paintings we saw.
But Laura is nine years old and what she enjoyed most was eating Spanish food, playing with other kids in the hotel pool, and rowing with me in the Parque del Retiro.
We'll be going back to Madrid.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
by Hubert L. Dreyfus
California Magazine, March/April 2008
Second Life—a 3-D virtual environment—offers its "residents" a chance to invent a whole new life for themselves. Can it deliver on that promise?
Of the more than 11 million people signed up as "residents" of Second Life, roughly half a million spent at least an hour a day in that world in December. Through avatars they create to represent themselves, residents visit art galleries, shop for virtual goods, go to concerts, have cybersex, worship, attend classes, have conversations, and buy and sell real estate. Residents also design clothing and buildings, write poems and books, compose music, and make paintings and movies. Others enjoy the way Second Life allows them to meet and converse with people all over the world. It's left to the participants to work out how realistically they present themselves. The Vatican has taken on the task of saving souls there, and Sweden has opened a virtual embassy to sign up residents to become real-life tourists in Sweden.
Second Life isn't a game. There is no overall goal and no way of ranking your success. "You are the one who determines what Second Life means to you," writes Philip Rosedale, the founder and CEO of Linden Lab, which created Second Life. "Do you enjoy meeting people online, talking to them, and doing things together in real time? Welcome to Second Life. Do you enjoy creating stuff and making it come alive? Welcome to Second Life. Do you enjoy running a business and making money—real money? Welcome to Second Life." Entrepreneurs can earn Linden dollars—the currency of Second Life—and, indeed, convert them into U.S. dollars at an exchange rate of around 260 Linden dollars to the U.S. dollar. Established enterprises such as Coca-Cola, Sears, IBM, and Toyota are open for business in Second Life, and other businesses are rushing to follow.
Second Life offers the possibility of a virtual world that is more exciting than the real one. But at what cost? In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard tries to enlist the aid of Captain Kirk, who has recently retired to a holodeck-like virtual world. Picard finds Kirk jumping challenging chasms on a handsome horse. He reminds Kirk, however, that although the horse and scenery are magnificent and the chasms daunting, the whole set-up is virtual so there is no real risk. Thus, no courage is required and no thrill and satisfaction can result. After thinking it over, Kirk returns with Picard to the risky real world.
A few philosophers have sought to describe better possible lives than those offered by our current world. Martin Heidegger tried to capture what life at its best was, and might again be, by studying the enchanted world of the Homeric Greeks and their relation to their gods. Friedrich Nietzsche imagined a world after the death of God in which higher human beings whom he calls "free spirits" would engage in constant creativity, enjoying transformation for its own sake. Now, for the first time, philosophers have access to a "real" virtual world in which one can take up residence, investigate other styles of life, and compare their satisfactions and disappointments.
The drawbacks of our own world are obvious. We are bounded by fallible individual and group perspectives, experience physical and mental suffering, and sense the vulnerability of all we care about. We can try heroically to confront the world we are thrown into, face up to our situation, and struggle to live in a way that accepts and incorporates our vulnerability without despair. But as the 17th-century existential philosopher Blaise Pascal pointed out: "Men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, [so] they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all." Pascal calls this escapist approach "diversion" and gives as examples of diversions billiards, tennis, gambling, and hunting.
The Internet's virtual worlds offer us diversions on a much grander scale. Indeed, thanks to virtual worlds like Second Life, we can lose ourselves in a rich, safe metaverse. We now face a clear choice between a captivating life of diversion, which existential philosophers like Pascal consider inauthentic, and the authentic life they favor in which one faces up to one's wretchedness.
But how much misery should one confront? In contrast with Picard's rescue of Kirk in Generations, consider the 1966 Star Trek episode "The Menagerie." Spock "delivers" Captain Pike, whose body has been terribly deformed in an accident, to a dream world created by the Talosians, who are masters of illusion. Pike decides to remain in his virtual world, young and handsome, dallying with the beautiful image of a fellow deformed crash victim.
In this extreme case, illusion may well be a wise choice. Diversion only looks obviously wrong if one holds that facing the truth is our highest duty, or, more specifically, believes like Pascal that we are all called by God (or, as Martin Heidegger would say, our ontological conscience) to take on the hard work, risk, and sacrifice required in answering our calling. After all, we do admire those, like Franklin Roosevelt, Itzhak Perlman, or Stephen Hawking, who, instead of identifying with an invulnerable avatar and diverting themselves by enjoying virtual successes, have struggled with their disabilities in order to respond to the call of something that matters crucially to them and gives their life meaning.
To existentialists like Pascal, indulging in a virtual life is the ultimate form of diversion to avoid facing the vulnerability of a real-world life and the joy that can come from doing so. When your second life is not going well, you can simply abandon the troublesome situation—your fickle friend, your lost love, even your avatar body and your identity. What you do has few consequences, so you are free to make commitments with fewer risks. After the failure of a virtual marriage you do not have to go through a real divorce. When your business fails in the virtual world you don't have to face bankruptcy. In short, you don't have to clean up the mess you leave. You can always just walk away. But as usual there is a trade-off. Nietzsche would presumably say that Second Life is like a masquerade. It offers cautious experimentation but misses the rewards of the bold experimentation only possible in the real world. Risk-free experimentation does not give one serious satisfaction. What, then, might be missing?
According to Søren Kierkegaard, lasting meaning comes from a hard-earned skill for which one has made a life of sacrifices, or a love that defines what matters in one's world, or an enterprise to which one has dedicated oneself. At the same time, such commitments make one vulnerable to accidents, humiliation, and, grief. In answering a calling you must be ready to risk everything for what defines who you are. Only then are you aligned with and blessed by an authority greater than any merely human authority, be it a god, history, a tradition, a lover, or something else that our practices show us is worth our total devotion.
Starting with Nietzsche, many post-modern thinkers have claimed that such an unconditionally committed life is rigid and restrictive and therefore less and less appealing, while a life open to experimentation and change has come to be seen as more and more attractive. The rapid growth of Second Life itself confirms this observation. But an experimental life lacks seriousness and focus. So the question arises whether our culture, or any culture, has practices that support a rewarding way of life that avoids the narrow focus and immutability of traditional unconditional commitments as well the hyper-flexibility and dispersion characteristic of life in our post-modern world.
In answer, Martin Heidegger has pointed to a familiar but now endangered species of practice that is more flexible than unconditional commitment but which, nonetheless, can provide focus, enchantment, and a minimal sort of meaning that can combat rather than conceal emptiness. Heidegger has in mind practices that encourage local gatherings around things or events that, as he puts it, set up local worlds. According to Heidegger, such local worlds bring out the best in those involved. He gives as an example drinking the local wine with friends, where a celebratory occasion, friendship, and a sense of being blessed can come together radiantly and forcefully. Likewise, the family meal requires the culinary and social skills of family members and draws fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and children to come to the fore at their best. Such focal practices make family gatherings matter. But such practices tend to remain in the background during the meal, and in fact during most of the family's life. Indeed, to do their work they must remain in the background.
One reason we cannot program them is that we are so immersed in them that we cannot stand back from them and make them explicit.
Take distance standing. We are not aware that, when interacting with friends, colleagues, and loved ones, we stand at what we feel to be the appropriate distances from them. If we thought about the appropriate distance, we wouldn't know how to do it. Our parents and peers passed it on to us. They felt uneasy and backed away when we stood too close and moved closer when we were too far away, and now we do the same. Like many social skills, we master distance standing by our body conforming to other people's bodies.
Anthropologists try to measure and codify the distance-standing practices in various cultures. But our distance-standing skill, like any skill, is endlessly flexible. We feel comfortable standing farther away if the person we are interacting with has a cold, closer if there is a lot of noise in the background. In a library reading room or a church we speak more softly and stand closer. All these subtle discriminations and responses are further inflected by our relationship with the people involved.
So just how could such practices be introduced into the virtual world? The answer is surprising and important: The bodies of the users controlling the avatars smuggle them in. Without thinking about it, users tend to position their avatars in relation to each other at what would count as the appropriate distance in the real world. This has important implications when we think of moods.
Heidegger would point out that a minimally meaningful life requires sensitivity to the power of shared moods that give mattering to our world and unity and meaning to events. Indeed, focal occasions require a shared mood, as well as the sense of all who are present that they are sharing and contributing to that mood. This sharing creates a sense of a self-contained world. Consider the dinner in the film Babette's Feast. At the beginning of the dinner, bickering among the guests over issues brought in from the past almost spoils the occasion by preventing it from becoming self-contained. But then, with the wine and good food, a mood of openness and care for others specific to the occasion descends and, when everyone senses that these feelings are shared, the feast works as a self-contained world.
The same phenomenon occurs when there is a brilliant play at a baseball game and the crowd rises as one. What is so moving is not just that all are swept up in the same excitement, but that each one senses that they are all swept away by it together. On such occasions, one feels extraordinarily in tune with all that is happening, a special graceful ease takes over, and events seem to unfold on their own—making the moment an unforgettable gift. Such practices can bring us in touch with a power that we cannot control and that calls forth and rewards our efforts—a power that we, therefore, recognize as sacred.
Much that gives life meaning is organized around such focal occasions. There are not only dinners and sporting events, but also celebrations such as weddings, graduations, and reunions, solemn commemorations such as memorials and funerals, as well as religious rituals such as Seder or the Eucharist. All these focal events depend for their success on the gift of a shared mood and the appreciation that it is shared. But to what extent can moods be experienced, communicated, and shared in Second Life?
Until recently, if philosophers thought about moods or feelings at all, they thought of them as inner mental states. On this view, often called "Cartesian" after the French philosopher René Descartes, people are not really in a mood but moods are in people. A person's private feelings are expressed (made outer) by bodily movements, which can then be observed, interpreted, and responded to by another person through his or her movements.
Feelings in Second Life are currently communicated in the way Cartesians envisage the transmission of feelings in the real world. A resident sitting at her computer commands her avatar to signal a private feeling by means of a preprogrammed public gesture. The viewer then must interpret the gesture. If he succeeds in figuring out the feelings of the sender from her avatar's gesture, he can then command his avatar to respond with an appropriate gesture. But this is highly unsatisfactory. Iris Ophelia, one of the residents of Second Life, while praising its attractions, complains: "This whole world has been created, with so much to see and do and experience, and yet there's so little genuine emotion. The crying gesture is used as a joke 90% of the time. If you were really crying, how could you convey it in Second Life?"
In Second Life, you couldn't. You must select an appropriate gesture and then command your avatar body to make that movement. But such stepping back and choosing a gesture would take us out of our immediate feelings and transform them into self-conscious activities—as if we were performing like an actor deciding which bodily expressions to use. In the real world our bodies spontaneously communicate our feelings.
Until recently, the direct pick-up of feelings and intentions was mysterious, but neuroscience has now cast light on the subject. Researchers have found brain cells that they appropriately call mirror-neurons. These neurons fire both when you make a meaningful movement and when you see another person make that movement. That suggests that whenever we see an action we are directly put into the brain state that causes such an action. So, if not inhibited, you would imitate an action upon seeing it. Yawning is a case where the inhibition seems to be missing: Seeing someone yawn directly makes you yawn. Moods, like yawning, are contagious, and such direct body-to-body sensitivity is impossible for an isolated computer user deliberately controlling his public avatar.
The current Cartesian model for expressing emotion in Second Life thus poses an insurmountable barrier to genuine communication. But Rosedale tells me that the programmers at Linden Lab are now working on just the sort of direct communication I would have thought impossible in Second Life. His programmers, he says, are developing software that, if you train a webcam on yourself, will enable the computer to pick up and use your head and upper-body movements to control the movements of your avatar directly. In this way, your avatar could directly manifest your spontaneous feelings.
Still, even if the camera captured your posture, style, speed, energy, and facial expression, it is an open question how much of that information could be manifested by your avatar. The avatar's body, especially its face, would have to be sufficiently human-like to reproduce your subtle body movements. If that were possible, people at their computers, already in a mood although they didn't know it, would smuggle their moods into their avatars' reactions without realizing they were doing so, just as they now smuggle in distance-standing practices from real life. Like an atmosphere, such a mood would be beyond the control of any one person and would draw in each new participant's avatar like a raindrop into a hurricane.
Given the current Cartesian model, however, the best one can do is direct one's avatar to go through the motions of a wedding, a funeral, a sporting event, or a family dinner, but there is no possibility of a global atmosphere. Moods can be experienced only as private inner feelings communicated between isolated individuals by controlled body movements, just as Cartesian philosophers have held. There can be no contagion, no excitement of being swept up into a shared atmosphere, no self-contained world, and no sense that something important and gratifying is happening. So, as long as Second Life avatars operate within the Cartesian framework, a valuable, cross-cultural, ancient and modern way of making life worth living will inevitably be unattainable. If we want to live life at its best, we will have to embrace our embodied involvement in the risky, moody, real world.