Daily Archives: 4 December 2004

Siberian Light’s Russia News

Siberian Light is offering a roundup of news from Russia, which may become a regular feature if enough encouragement is received. By all means, go ye forth and encourage! Here’s a sample:

A gun amnesty program in Zmeinogorsk [in Siberia] got more than it expected when a man walked in demanding the $17.25 reward for surrendering his stash of plutonium.

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The Argus on Uzbek Elections

The Argus notes that Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s unusual criticism of Russia for interfering in Ukraine’s elections appears to be part of a more general warning to all outside parties not to interfere in Uzbekistan’s parliamentary elections on 8 December.

The warning comes just one day after an outlawed Uzbek opposition party staged a public protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Tashkent to ask for the U.S. president’s support.

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Filed under Central Asia, democracy

Nepal as a Failed State

The Acorn quotes The Economist (subscription) about the need for intervention in Nepal.

Like a severely disturbed individual, a failed state is a danger not just to itself but to those around it and beyond.

… there is no chance that the government can defeat the rebels; there is, however, a small but growing possibility that the rebels could defeat the government.

If this were purely an internal matter, the world could afford to look shamefacedly away. But it isn’t. Nepal’s Maoists have formed links with India’s own Maoist insurgents, who go by the local name of Naxalites, and, says India, with some of the vicious groups fighting secessionist wars in its north-east.

The Acorn‘s prescription follows.

It does not take much to take the wind out of the Maoists’ (already flagging) sail — usurp their agenda, especially the one calling for a new constituent assembly. Even in the absence of the Maoist threat, King Gyanendra has sufficiently distorted Nepal’s politics that a return to the 1990-system is next to impossible. Clearly, Nepal needs reconciliation, but the Maoists are the worst possible agents to provide it.

The constituent assembly can then decide whether Nepal becomes a republic, or ends up with a Japanese-style constitutional monarchy. India should intervene to bring about this outcome by bearing down on the king and his prime minister. Should the Maoists continue their armed struggle even after this, India would have no alternative left but to intervene militarily. In that case it must take up the responsibility, preferably but not necessarily with the sanction of the UN Security Council.

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Staying in the Closet in Japan

The White Peril posts an interesting take on gay life in relatively constrained Japanese society.

Still and all, there are benefits to Japan’s tradition-mindedness that I think a lot of gays in America have been too willing to cast off. The lack of gay ghettos means that it’s pretty much impossible to wall yourself into a queer-positive echo chamber and start seeing rank-and-file straight people as an enemy arrayed against you. It also means that very few people see their homosexuality as their entire identity, with anti-gayness blamed for every disappointment, setback, depressive episode, and failed relationship. You never hear Japanese gays getting into princessy snits about not being approved of or officially sanctioned exactly like straight people in every last finicking little detail. At ordinary gay bars, you meet brittle, desperate guys who are obviously using a constant stream of sex partners to avoid dealing with their issues much, much less frequently than you do here in the States. (Even here, they’re a minority, of course; their attention-whoring just makes them disproportionately noticeable. But the Japanese in general don’t put the burden of self-definition on sex to the point that we do in the US.)

The bad side, obviously, is that it can be hard for people coming out to find resources, and that people have to keep their most meaningful relationships hidden. It’s not uncommon for employees at the stodgier companies to be informed that they will not be promoted up the usual management-track escalator until they marry and start producing future contributors to the Social Insurance kitty. So many guys use pseudonyms in their gay lives that I only know the real first and last names of, I’d say, my ten or so closest friends. Japan’s shame culture puts pressure on vulnerable gay kids as much as our guilt culture–there’s no finessing that, and it sucks–but most adults who have come out to themselves seem pretty content.

via Simon World

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Tim Burke on Academic Groupthink

Tim Burke, a history professor at Swarthmore, weighs in on the groupthink controversy in what I regard as a judiciously balanced manner.

Academics are not motivated to groupthink out of a loyalty to liberal causes, left-wing politics or registration in the Democratic Party, though in many disciplines at the moment, they may end up predominantly having those affiliations in a smug, uninterrogated manner. They’re motivated to groupthink by the institutional organization of academic life. The same forces that help academics to produce knowledge and scholarship are the forces which produce unwholesome close-mindedness and inbred self-satisfied attitudes. These forces would act on conservatives as well were we to magically remove the current professoriate and replace them with registered Republicans. They do act already on academics who operate in disciplines where certain kinds of political conservatism are more orthodox, or in institutional contexts, like religious universities, where conservative values are expressly connected to institutional missions.

When I was briefly at Emory many years ago, I helped organize a one-day event about “interdisciplinarity”. After about six or seven helpings of young snot-nosed punks like myself rattle on about how cool and interdisciplinary we all were, a wise senior scholar named David Hesla finally intervened. “Virtually everybody’s interdisciplinary in some way”, he said. “You guys are unhappy with departments, not disciplines.”

What Hesla was pointing was that most of the constraints, both hidden and obvious, that produce forms of “groupthink” or suppression of innovation and debate within academia are the consequence of the administrative organization of academic institutions. Groupthink isn’t enforced by partisan plotters: it happens invisibly, cumulatively, pervasively, in the space in between scholars. It happens in department or faculty meetings, in peer reviews. It lives in what has been called “the invisible college”, the pattern of normative judgements that all academics make (including yours truly) about what is cogent, what is original, what is canonical, what is important. Those judgement are formed out all the things you know already, including those you scarcely consciously know that you know, and the heuristics you use to guide yourself to further knowledge.

That is the heart of the problem. It is one thing to talk about breaking down groupthink, to attack the insularity of academic life, and another thing to figure out how to do that without destroying the productivity and usefulness of scholarship and research altogether. The administrative constraints on my life as a scholar are not just noxious restrictions on what I can and cannot do, should or should not say. They’re also necessary in both practical and philosophical ways.

via Cliopatria

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Filed under education, scholarship

Regions of Mind on Ukraine

In case you missed it, Regions of Mind has a series of meaty posts on Ukraine, with unique contributions from an old friend who is a Ukraine specialist:

For more on the complexities of the language picture, see Language Log (via Language Hat).

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Noonan about Rather

As one who was scandalized and disgusted by Rathergate, I was quite impressed by Peggy Noonan’s gracious, illuminating, yet devastating retrospective in the Wall Street Journal (2 December 2004) entitled “The Education of Dan Rather.”

Life is complicated, people are complicated, and most of us are a jumble of virtues, flaws and contradictions. I like to try to understand the past, try to put it together in a way that makes sense to me. This can involve judging not only your own actions and decisions but those of others, which can be hard. I have a friend who once said in the middle of a conversation, “Don’t understand me too quickly.” Don’t categorize me; don’t decide you broke the code. Sit back and watch; it’s more interesting than you may know.

Beldar, on the other hand, isn’t feeling quite so generous.

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Filed under publishing, U.S.