Monthly Archives: August 2007

East German Female Seeking North Korean Male

The Korea Times profiles a German woman seeking her North Korean husband, long since repatriated from the former East Germany to North Korea. Quite an unusual case of Ostnostalgie: “Liebe Kennt Keine Grenzen.”

A German woman has expressed hope that the upcoming inter-Korean summit will be a breakthrough toward meeting her husband, Hong Ok-geun, 73, who was sent back to North Korea 46 years ago.

“I believe that my long-time desire will come true now that talks between South and North Korea are taking place,” Renate Hong, 70, told a news conference in Seoul Thursday.

The now elderly Hong first met her North Korean husband when she was 18 and they were both students at a university in East Germany. The two fell in love and married after dating five years.

Hong, however, has not seen her husband since North Korea forcibly called back students studying abroad in 1961. They had been married for one year and Hong was pregnant with their second child.

via The Marmot’s Hole

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The Fall of the Ming and the Rise of the Dog Shogun

From The Dog Shogun: The Personality and Policies of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, by Beatrice Bodart-Bailey (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2006), p. 67:

Japan’s leadership was confronted with serious questions [after the fall of the Ming dynasty]. Northern China had more or less peacefully capitulated to the invading Manchu forces, abruptly ending the supremacy of the nearly three-hundred-year-old Ming dynasty. From Shoho 3 (1646) onwards over some forty years the bakufu received requests for military assistance from the supporters of the beleaguered Ming holding out in South China. These served as a constant reminder of the fallen giant. Chinese scholars seeking refuge in Japan readily pointed out that the Chinese imperial house in no small way had been brought down by misgovernment and the discontent of the commoners. The question of how Japan would stand up to a Manchu threat could not be ignored. We know that the senior councilor Matsudaira Nobutsuna probed Kumazawa Banzan on this topic. The latter feared that last-minute preparations for battle would create enormous logistical problems with regard to food supplies. Shortage of rice would cause mutiny and riots, making it easy for the invaders to conquer Japan. Even if the invaders were repelled, the social and economic havoc resulting from the attempted invasion would leave Japan in a state of anarchy and civil war.

A solution in accord with Confucian concepts was to better the lot of the commoners so that they would rally behind their government. This was to be achieved by Confucian-style benevolent government (jinsei), where the commoners were administered with increased expertise, efficiency, and dedication on the part of samurai officials. Education brought enlightenment and reduced violence. Yet education and appointment commensurate with performance challenged the inherited birthright of the samurai. Moreover such benevolent government often required financial sacrifice. Especially at times of natural calamities, the military was expected to forgo tax collection and contribute to relief funds.

In opposition stood the resolve to maintain the political status quo by consolidating the privileges of the ruling class. This strategy meant adherence to Ieyasu’s maxim that farmers were to be taxed so that they barely retained enough grain for seeding and burdened with corvee leaving just enough energy to produce good crops. Education encouraged insubordination. As Sakai Tadakiyo had advised Ikeda Mitsumasa, in these troubled times expenditures on military and public duties were more appropriate.

From the publisher’s blurb:

Tsunayoshi (1646–1709), the fifth Tokugawa shogun, is one of the most notorious figures in Japanese history. Viewed by many as a tyrant, his policies were deemed eccentric, extreme, and unorthodox. His Laws of Compassion, which made the maltreatment of dogs an offense punishable by death, earned him the nickname Dog Shogun, by which he is still popularly known today. However, Tsunayoshi’s rule coincides with the famed Genroku era, a period of unprecedented cultural growth and prosperity that Japan would not experience again until the mid-twentieth century. It was under Tsunayoshi that for the first time in Japanese history considerable numbers of ordinary townspeople were in a financial position to acquire an education and enjoy many of the amusements previously reserved for the ruling elite.

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Judt on the Lessons of 21 August 1968

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 444-447:

On August 21st 1968, 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the DDR and the Soviet Union marched into Czechoslovakia. The invasion met some passive resistance and quite a lot of street protests, especially in Prague; but at the urgent behest of the Czech government it was otherwise unopposed. The unfriendly reception was a source of some surprise to the Soviet leadership, who had been led to expect that their tanks would encounter widespread support. Having at first arrested Dubček and his leading colleagues, flown them to Moscow and obliged them to sign a paper renouncing parts of their program and agreeing to the Soviet occupation of their country, the Kremlin was now perforce obliged to accept that the reformers had the support of the Czech and Slovak people and allow them to retain formal charge of their country, at least for the moment. It was clearly imprudent to do otherwise.

Nevertheless, the repression of the Prague reforms—‘normalization’, as it became known—began almost immediately…. The ‘screening’ and purging of [dissident] intellectuals was carried out by lower ranking bureaucrats, policemen and party officials—more often than not the victims’ own colleagues. Their goal was to extract petty confessions—not so much in order to incriminate their victims but rather to humiliate them and thus secure their collaboration in the self-subjugation of a troublesome society. The message went out that the country had passed through a mass psychosis in 1968, that false prophets had exploited the ensuing ‘hysteria’, and that the nation needed to be directed firmly back to the correct path: induced by the carrot of consumer goods and the stick of omnipresent surveillance.

The threat of violence was of course always implicit, but the fact that it was rarely invoked merely added to the collective humiliation. Once again, as in 1938 and again in 1948, Czechoslovakia was being made complicit in its own defeat. By 1972—with poets and playwrights forced to clean boilers and wash windows; university lecturers stacking bricks, and their more troublesome students expelled; the police files full of useful ‘confessions’; and reform Communists cowed or else in exile—‘order’, in the words of a brilliant, bitter essay by one of normalization’s victims, had been ‘restored’.

There were ripples of protest throughout the Communist bloc…. East European army units engaged in the invasion of Czechoslovakia had been led to believe that they were defending the country against West German or American invaders, and some of them had later to be quietly withdrawn, their reliability—notably that of Hungarian units occupying Slovakia—seriously in question. In Poland, as we have seen, the repression in Prague both stimulated student protests and strengthened the hand of the authorities in stamping them down…. The attitude of Czechs and Slovaks themselves, hitherto among the most pro-Russian nations in the Soviet bloc, now shifted irrevocably to a stance of sullen acquiescence.

But all this was easily contained. The Kremlin had made its point—that fraternal socialist states had only limited sovereignty and that any lapse in the Party’s monopoly of power might trigger military intervention. Unpopularity at home or abroad was a small price to pay for the stability that this would henceforth ensure. After 1968, the security of the Soviet zone was firmly underwritten by a renewed appreciation of Moscow’s willingness to resort to force if necessary. But never again—and this was the true lesson of 1968, first for the Czechs but in due course for everyone else—never again would it be possible to maintain that Communism rested on popular consent, or the legitimacy of a reformed Party, or even the lessons of History….

Reflecting in later years upon his memories of August 21st 1968, when Red Army troops burst into a meeting of Czech party leaders and a soldier lined up behind each Politburo member, [Zdeněk] Mlynář recalled that ‘at such a moment one’s concept of socialism moves to last place. But at the same time you know that it has a direct connection of some sort with the automatic weapon pointing at your back.’ It is that connection which marked the definitive turning point in the history of Communism, more even than the Hungarian tragedy of 1956.

The illusion that Communism was reformable, that Stalinism had been a wrong turning, a mistake that could still be corrected, that the core ideals of democratic pluralism might somehow still be compatible with the structures of Marxist collectivism: that illusion was crushed under the tanks on August 21st 1968 and it never recovered.

One of the 80,000 Czechs and Slovaks who fled into exile following the Soviet invasion was my fellow fieldworker in Papua New Guinea and sometime officemate and housemate during my grad school years.

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Romania, 1984: Toilet Paper Tales

During our Fulbright orientation session for Romania in 1983, we had been warned about the difficulty of finding many of the basic consumer commodities to which we had become accustomed. In order to cope with the absence of fresh green vegetables during the long winter, we arrived with several kilograms of alfalfa seeds, which made Romanian customs officials suspicious but allowed us (and others) to eat fresh sprouts all winter. In order to make sure we had enough toilet paper to last the year, we ordered a box of 100 rolls of Scott tissue in the first of our three orders to Peter Justesen that the U.S. Embassy allowed us during our time there. We split that order with two other Fulbright households in Bucharest and we never ran short.

It wasn’t that our bums were too delicate for the coarse Romanian toilet paper. It’s just that the latter was rarely available. We always kept a sharp lookout for queues of shoppers on the streets in our long walks between our apartment and the University of Bucharest in the city center. We would join any queue at least long enough to find out what they were waiting to buy. Paper products appeared very rarely and were usually sold right from the sidewalk, with a quota of, say, six rolls of paper and two packs of napkins (serviettes) per person. Everyone carried an expandable shopping bag (pungă) or two, but some would carry rope as well, so that two people could thread it through their ten or twelve rolls and carry it between them on the way home. Or one person could wear a lei or bandolier of toilet paper rolls and still have two hands free to carry other goods.

Public toilets were never stocked with paper. Instead, you paid a small fee to the attendant at the entrance, and received in return a few inadequate squares of paper to use. It was safest to carry your own supply. As in France and Italy, public urinals (vespasiene) were named for Emperor Vespasian, who reinstituted Nero’s Vectigal Urinae. I remember entering one public toilet downtown where one of the urinals was clogged and overflowing, and someone had helpfully placed a perforated plastic waste basket underneath to collect rechannel the overflow.

Of course, few Romanians in 1984 could order paper products from abroad. They had to make do by other means. The most amusing alternative I encountered was in the house of a retired schoolteacher in Rădăuţi, Bucovina. He was a kinsman of the Romanian American Fulbrighter in our group. Next to his toilet was a small basket with scraps of used student papers he had once collected and graded. I’m sure he thought of his students every time he used their papers.


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Wordcatcher Tales: Dawasi, Kousapw, Sakau

Three words from the Micronesian language Pohnpeian (aka Ponapean) that surfaced in my background reading about the church shootings in Neosho, Missouri, tell stories of distant connections across time and space.

Dawasi – When I first heard about the Neosho church shooting, I assumed the Micronesians involved were from the Marshall Islands, because I know that many Marshallese work for Tyson Foods in nearby Springdale, Arkansas. But one key term (which I’ve italicized) in the following passage cited in a posting on the Marshallese YokweOnline network hinted that the Micronesians involved were from the state of Pohnpei, not the Marshalls. (They were actually from the outer islands of Pingelap, not the main island of Pohnpei.)

Kernel [Rehobson] owns a retail store that is a gathering place for Micronesians from dozens of miles around since he stocks his store with the type of down-home items that are so difficult to find in the US: the large plastic combs that women wear in their hair, zoris, dawasi and brushes for showers, and island-style skirts with embroidered hems.

Dawasiscrub brush’ (made of coir bristle) is the official Pohnpeian spelling for a word borrowed from Japanese before the Pacific War. The same word was borrowed by Palauans, who spell it tauas(i). In current Japanese, tawashi (束子) can refer to scouring pads made of acrylic yarn, but the bristle brush variety is such a Japanese cultural icon that tiny replicas dangle from cellphones and backpacks.

The passage above cited on YokweOnline comes from the article on Micronesians Abroad by Francis X. Hezel, S.J., and Eugenia Samuel, that I blogged about earlier. The two words italicized in the next passage from the same article tell of very different connections.

Our team intended to visit Kansas City, home of a growing Micronesian community, largely Pohnpeian, that sprang from students who attended Park College during the 1970s and 1980s. Small colleges, once well attended by Micronesian students, have frequently served as the seedbeds for migrant communities in the US, accounting in part for the seemingly odd locations of Micronesian strongholds. Kansas City is said to have been constituted a kousap by a Pohnpeian chief not long ago when he paid a visit to his compatriots who had settled in that city. He was feted with sakau—the type made from powder rather than pounded—and left a week or two later with several thousand dollars, which had been collected as tribute from Pohnpeians who are now living 8,000 miles from their own island.

Kousapw – The kousapw (sapw means ‘land’) is a Pohnpeian land unit—translated ‘section’ below—intermediate between a farmstead and a district (or “municipality”). According to Douglas Oliver’s (1988) Oceania: The Native Cultures of Australia and the Pacific Islands, p. 983:

Most sections extended from coast to island center, and consisted of from fifteen to thirty-eight farmsteads. Each section had a meeting house of its own, and was headed by an official known as a kaun or soumas, who was usually the senior male member of the section’s senior sub-clan. The section functioned mainly as an administrative subdivision of the district.

This raises several questions. (1) There seem to be many old cultural connections between chiefly high-island Polynesians (possibly from Samoa) and Pohnpei. Is it just coincidence that the kousapw in Pohnpei usually runs from seashore to mountaintop, like the ahupua‘a of Hawai‘i (and presumably other large islands in Polynesia)? (2) Which of the major districts on the island of Pohnpei was the Kansas City kousapw assigned to? (3) Does this mean we now have a third Kansas City to contend with: one in Missouri, one in Kansas, and one in Pohnpei?

Sakau – One strong indication of old Polynesian influence on Pohnpei is the cultivation and use of Piper methysticum, known in Pohnpei as sakau, in Hawaiian as ‘awa, and in Samoan as ‘ava. In fact, the Pohnpeian word sakau derives by regular sound correspondences from the earlier Polynesian article+noun combination *te kawa.


Filed under Japan, language, Micronesia, Polynesia, U.S.

Micronesian Emigration Rising

The Micronesian Seminar regularly publishes articles on issues facing Micronesians under a series called Micronesian Counselor. The latest in the series is on HIV/AIDS in Micronesia. In December 2006 MicSem published an article on Micronesians Abroad by Francis X. Hezel, S.J., and Eugenia Samuel. Here’s just the introduction.

Today there are over 30,000 FSM citizens and 20,000 Marshallese living in the United States and its territories. Add to that possibly another 10,000 Palauans, and you have a total of 60,000 Micronesians living away from home. These are not students, young people away for a short time, or islanders who are doing a brief stint with the military. These are people-young and old, fluent English-speakers and those who know no more than a few words of the language-who have chosen to take up residence abroad.

Emigration is not an entirely new phenomenon. Palauans have been leaving home since the late 1940s. Already in 1953, there were a hundred Palauans on Guam with their own Palau Association. As their numbers grew in subsequent years, they would meet in a Palauan bai and worship in a local language Protestant church. From the early 1970s, as hundreds of Micronesian students began heading for college in the US, thanks to the extension of the Pell Grant, emigration from Palau stepped up to about 250 a year. These were not young men and women on their way to college for a few years before returning home; they were people with a one-way ticket out. By the late 1970s, individuals from other parts of Micronesia as well were dribbling into Guam and the US with the intention of staying. The 1980 US Census recorded several hundred people from what was then coming to be known as FSM, most of them Outer Island Yapese, living in the US. These mostly educated, young people were loathe to return to their atolls where there was no wage employment, but reluctant to settle in Yap where they lacked status and land.

Then, in 1986 with the formal implementation of the Compact of Free Association in FSM and the Republic of the Marshalls, Micronesians were granted the right to live and work in the US for an unlimited period. The ensuing emigration was limited at first: the emigration from FSM was only about one percent a year, half of what it is today, and the early migrants were heavily Chuukese. The main destinations in those early years were Guam and Saipan. As both places suffered from a recession in the early 1990s and new jobs became scarce, more and more Micronesians headed for Hawaii. The migrant outflow increased sharply in the mid-1990s as the effects of the stepdown in Compact funding for FSM and RMI were felt and as the government reforms, initiated by Asian Development Bank, lopped jobs from the public sector.

Today we are witnessing an emigration comparable to those that other Pacific islands—Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands and Guam—have been experiencing for years. A decade or two ago, writers took delight in pointing out that the emigration population of, say, Samoans in California was half the size of its resident population, or that the Guamanians on the West Coast outnumbered those on their home island. Now Micronesia is rapidly moving in the same direction. With 2,000 FSM citizens, 1,000 Marshallese, and a couple hundred Palauans leaving home each year to live abroad, one out of every four Micronesians is now living in the US or its territories. If migration continues at this same pace, we can expect that the number of emigrants will be about half the size of the resident population just ten years from now.

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Some Micronesian Immigrant Success Stories

The article on Micronesians Abroad by Francis X. Hezel, S.J., and Eugenia Samuel, published in December 2006 on the Micronesian Seminar‘s very informative website, profiles several successful Micronesian immigrants in the various enclaves of such immigrants that the authors visited. Among those profiled was the most prominent of the recent church shooting victims in Neosho, Missouri: Kernel Rehobson. Here are some excerpts from each of the communities visited.


The Honolulu press has given considerable attention to the problem of homeless Micronesians. We found that a good many Micronesians are on welfare and quite a few have declared themselves homeless, partly because being listed as homeless gives people a leg up on finding affordable housing in a state where even the smallest unit is prohibitively expensive at market prices…. But that’s far less than half the story. Many Micronesians we talked to were angry at the “newcomers” for abusing the system and destroying the good reputation they had worked so hard to build up….

To their credit, many of the Micronesians we met were doing far better than just getting by. Serlino Harper, a young Chuukese, came to Hawaii more than ten years ago and lived with his older brother for a while before striking out on his own. His first job was as an employee at McKinley’s Car Wash. Today he is the supervisor of the car wash, which employs more than a dozen other Chuukese, and he lives in a small studio apartment with his pet cat. Xavier Fethal from Ulithi, married and with a family of six, has a good job selling medical supplies to hotels and still finds the time to play guitar in a local band and maintain a steady involvement in community activities. Bruce Musrasrik, born in Pohnpei but a resident of Honolulu for several years, manages one of the hotels in Waikiki. Then, too, there is Lubuw Falenruw, a Yapese, one of the most publicized success stories of Micronesians in Hawaii. He is owner of a computer graphics company that employs some 20 people, nets millions each year, and is famous throughout the state for its innovative displays.

Southern California

Our next stop was San Diego, where we spent more time with many of those we had met at the gathering in Pasadena. John Akapito, a Chuukese who has his master’s degree and teaches English to foreign students at National University, cut a fine figure in his suit and tie as we interviewed him in his private office on the campus. Like most other Micronesians in the San Diego area, John has close ties with the Micronesian Outreach Ministry based in Pasadena. Sabino Asor, former FSM congressman from Chuuk, is also in San Diego; he currently works in the service department of a car dealership, but aspires to getting into the real estate business before long. His spacious four-bedroom house with garage was rather typical of the homes occupied by Micronesians with large families. At the farewell party they threw for us the evening we left, we met dozens of other islanders, including the offspring of half a dozen well known Chuukese families: Masataka Mori’s daughter, Susumu Aizawa’s niece, Mitaro Dannis’ nephew, Tosiwo Nakayama’s granddaughter, and three Narruhn women, among others.

As we chatted, it became clear that the children were much more fluent in English than in their local language, even if both parents were from the same island. At nearly all the social events we attended, the parents used their own language whenever they could, while the young generation spoke English. Young people seemed to have understood the local language when they were spoken to, and they have all learned songs and hymns in an island language, but they did not feel comfortable speaking it. Acculturation happens quickly in the US mainland, much more rapidly, I suspect, than in Hawaii or Guam.

Corsicana, Texas

Corsicana, an hour’s drive from Dallas, might seem an unlikely spot for a Micronesian community, but there are about 300 islanders living there. The origins of this community date back to the late 1970s when dozens of young Micronesians were attending Navarro Community College….

One of the icons of the Corsicana community, by all accounts, is a Palauan woman by the name of Grace. Like so many others, she attended Navarro Community College and after graduation decided to stay. She is the manager of a Pizza Hut in the middle of town where she has worked for eighteen years. As part of her work, she supervises eight employees, half of whom are also Palauan. Her life has been a model of persistence in carrying out her responsibilities for her work and family. Others like her have worked their way up to the managerial level. She told us that she would hope to return home one day after her retirement, but for the present she has a good salary and a generous pension for her retirement. As much as she misses the laid-back pace of life at home, Grace plans to continue working in Corsicana as long as she can. After all, she reflects, there will always be time to enjoy the slow life in the islands after retirement.

Central Florida

This community—if it can be called that—is spread throughout an area that extends from Orlando to Tampa and Clearwater. This place differs from the other destinations we visited in that there are no senior founders of this community, “elders” who pull people together for gatherings and resolve community problems. Nearly all the Micronesians who settled in central Florida were brought out by recruiters to work at SeaWorld, Disney World, Busch Gardens, or one of the several nursing homes in the area. The community here, which is heavily Pohnpeian but with a few Mortlockese thrown into the mix, is composed mainly of young men and their starter families. We met no one who was there longer than ten years, and most have lived in central Florida for just five or six years. This group lacks the experienced leadership that has proven vital for binding together individuals in other migrant communities….

Some of the migrants have continued working in the theme parks. One young man operates the kiddie rollercoaster at SeaWorld while a Pohnpeian woman works the sky lift at Busch Gardens. Most, however, seem to hold jobs in food services, like the young lady from Pohnpei we found rolling cinnamon sticks in another part of the park. All seem to get along very well with their coworkers and enjoy the respect of their bosses.

A small Japanese restaurant called Kanpai employs seven Micronesians, one as hostess and six as chefs. When we went there for dinner one evening, we were treated to a virtuoso performance demonstrating what the Pohnpeian chefs could do with a knife, a hot grill, and bowls of vegetables and meat. The chefs came out, each in front of a grill surrounded by patrons, and did a juggling act with knives and food, as they chopped at lightning speed, swirled and twirled food on the grill faster than we could follow, and doffed their chef hats for the applause that followed their act.

Corner of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma

Neosho lies just a bit north of the Missouri-Arkansas border, no more than eighty miles from Springdale, Arkansas, the site of the large Tyson Chicken Factory and home to thousands of Marshallese immigrants. Another fifty miles west of Neosho, just across the state border, is Miami, Oklahoma, a town slightly larger than Neosho that has an island community of its own. We joined the 300 or so Micronesians to watch the baseball games and enjoy the mixed buffet, featuring island delicacies like banana pihlohlo along with such American standards as spareribs and chicken. Micronesians came from all over Missouri, some from northern Arkansas and Wichita, and even from as far away as Cincinnati and Corsicana, to attend. Most were Pohnpeians, but there were also a few Chuukese and Marshallese on hand. We were told that Cincinnati would, in turn, host the next Pohnpeian games, scheduled for September 11—a day celebrated on their home island as Liberation Day.

The person who organized the games—and who oversees most other activities that take place in Neosho—is a Pingelapese businessman by the name of Kernel Rehobson. Kernel owns a retail store that is a gathering place for Micronesians from dozens of miles around since he stocks his store with the type of down-home items that are so difficult to find in the US: the large plastic combs that women wear in their hair, zoris, dawasi and brushes for showers, and island-style skirts with embroidered hems. Kernel says that he had his troubles when he first settled in Neosho; people mistook him for a Mexican and kept asking for his papers when he tried to enroll his kids in school or gain access to any social services. He started out working for K-Mart as a warehouseman, worked his way up to manager, and later quit to begin his own business. Kernel also serves as pastor to the Pingelapese community in the church that they share with the Neosho Protestant congregation. Anyone from the islands who needs help of any sort-a social security number, a driver’s license, a job-always comes to Kernel first.

Portland, Oregon

The Willamette Valley between Portland and Salem has for at least twenty years been one of the favorite destinations of Micronesian migrants. The area represents one of the greatest concentrations of islanders anywhere in the continental US; and if the area is expanded to include the southern part of Washington and eastern Oregon, the Micronesian population probably numbers a few thousand….

In Oregon, as in other places, Protestants are able to attend Sunday services in their own language, while Catholics must assimilate into local parishes as best they can. Thus, Dio and his family attend mass at St. Lourdes with its international community, afterwards meeting Hispanics, Samoans, Asians and others over coffee and pastries. Chuukese Protestants generally meet on Sunday mornings at a large church in Aurora, an hour’s drive from Portland, where Mitaro Dannis and a few other ministers preach in Chuukese and discuss with their congregation the importance of raising funds so that they can build a church of their own.

Elsewhere in Portland Ken Henry in his late forties and Lisa Uehara in her late twenties, work for William C. Earhart Company, a business that helps administer employee benefit plans. Ken, a Pohnpeian married to an American woman, is an accountant, while Lisa, a Chuukese from Weno, is a receptionist. Lisa, her Chuukese husband and their nine children live in a very nice three-bedroom house that they own. Lisa’s sister and her family are conveniently settled right next door in a similar house of their own. Next to the children’s swings and slides in the back yard there is an earth oven that the two families use to bake pork and breadfruit on special occasions.


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Judt on ‘Uneasy, Unbalanced’ Czecho-Slovakia in 1967

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 438-439:

Brezhnev had long regarded Czechoslovakia as the least ideologically reliable element in the Warsaw Pact. [That’s something I still admire about the Czechs.–J.] It was because they knew this that the aging Stalinists in Prague Castle had tried for so long to hold the line. If they did not clamp down firmly on the intellectual opposition emerging in 1967 it was not for want of trying. But they were held back by two constraints: the need to pursue the recently implemented economic reforms, which implied a degree of openness and tolerance of dissenting opinion along Hungarian lines; and the emerging difficulties in Slovakia.

Czecho-Slovakia (as it was initially known) had always been an uneasy and unbalanced state. The Slovak minority in the south and east of the country was poorer and more rural than the Czechs to the northwest. Released from Hungarian rule in 1918, Slovaks were the poor relations in multi-ethnic inter-war Czechoslovakia and were not always treated well by Prague. Many Slovak political leaders had thus welcomed the breakup of the country in 1939 and the Nazi-sponsored appearance of an ‘independent’ puppet state with its capital in Bratislava. Conversely it was the urban and heavily Social Democratic Czechs of Bohemia and Moravia who had backed Communist candidates in the post-war elections, while the Catholic Slovaks remained indifferent or opposed.

All the same, Slovakia had not done badly under Communism. Slovak intellectuals fell victim to Communist purges, accused of bourgeois nationalism or anti-Communist plotting (or both). And the small number of surviving Slovak Jews suffered along with their Czech confreres. But ‘bourgeois nationalists’, Communists, Jews and intellectuals were fewer in number in Slovakia and much more isolated from the rest of society. Most Slovaks were poor and worked in the countryside. For them the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the first post-war decade carried real benefits. In contrast to Czechs, they were by no means displeased with their lot.

The mood in the Slovak region of the country changed sharply after 1960, however. The new ‘Socialist’ Constitution made even fewer concessions to local initiative or opinion than its predecessor and such autonomy as had been accorded Slovakia in the post-war reconstruction of the country was now taken back. Of more immediate consequence for most Slovaks, however, was the stagnation of the economy (by 1964 Czechoslovakia’s rate of growth was the slowest in the bloc), which hit the heavy industry of central Slovakia harder than anywhere else.

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Caleb Crain on the End of American Whaling

The 23 July 2007 edition of The New Yorker contains an article by Caleb Crain on the demise of American whaling entitled There She Blew. Here’s how it ends.

There are two ways to explain the end of American whaling.

First, history. During the Civil War, the North bought up aging whaleships, loaded them with stone, and sank them in Charleston Harbor in an attempt to block it. The South, meanwhile, purchased warships from Britain and set about catching and burning Union whalers. In all, Dolin reckons, more than eighty whaleships perished in the Civil War. Then, in 1871, pack ice descended on the northern coast of Alaska sooner than expected, pinning a fleet of whalers and cracking their hulls like so many eggshells. In this and a similar disaster five years later, forty-five more whaleships were lost. A new and far more destructive era of global whaling was about to begin—in the eighteen-sixties, a Norwegian named Svend Foyn devised a radically more efficient way to kill whales, by firing explosive-tipped harpoons from a cannon mounted on a steam-powered, iron-hulled schooner—but the American industry was too demoralized to participate.

Second, economics. If all had been well with whaling’s profit margins, the Civil War’s blow would have glanced like a blunt iron off a sperm whale’s snout. But for a long time beef tallow had been selling cheaper than spermaceti as an ingredient in candles, and lard oil had been underselling whale oil as a fuel for lamps. From the eighteen-forties on, more and more cities lit their streets with coal-derived gas, and a Canadian discovered how to extract from coal an oil called kerosene, which burned brighter and cleaner than whale oil. By the time crude petroleum was found underground in western Pennsylvania, in 1859, the whaling industry was already in retreat. Petroleum doomed it. In a single day, an oil well pumped as many barrels as a whaleship might collect in a three-year voyage. As sales shrank, the owners of whaleships cut costs by offering smaller lays, and the rate of literacy and the level of experience of the whaling workforce dropped, dragging productivity down with it. Davis, Gallman, and Gleiter surmise that the fashion for wasp waists in the late nineteenth century added about fifteen years to the dying industry’s life, by bidding up the price of baleen for corsets, but it was only a temporary reprieve….

But the economists tell us that whales are innocent of having damaged the whaling industry by becoming scarce, and nineteenth-century whalers had to keep searching for new grounds because whales in much-hunted areas grew more canny. Americans never caught enough sperm whales to throw them out of equilibrium. They did harm the populations of grays and bowheads, it seems, and maybe of right whales, too, but too late to have contributed to the decline of American whaling.

With Foyn’s new technology, the Norwegians hunted bigger and faster whales than the ones that man power and sail power had been able to handle; requiring new fleets, it was tantamount to a whole new industry. There was no reason to think that America would be good at it, especially since American labor cost more than Norwegian labor, so New Bedford’s millionaires quietly shifted their capital to railroads, petroleum refining, and textiles.

Whaling in the United States survived as a conscious antique, but only for a few decades. In 1914, the newspaper of the whaling industry shut down for lack of readers. Like “a staunch old whaling bark,” the editors wrote, the “Journal is to be hauled out on the beach.” As it happens, Melville dropped hints from time to time that the making of literature was like whaling. It, too, was a craft that lingered into the industrial age. It, too, expressed by a somewhat violent process the essence that a living creature collected in its head. In “Moby-Dick,” Ishmael even claims that, while working at his desk, he once saw in a mirror “a certain semi-visible steam” rising from his own head, like a whale’s spout. Perhaps writing, then, is the career to run away to—so long as you don’t mind figuring as both whaler and whale.

via Arts & Letters Daily

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New Journal: Language Documentation & Conservation

I’m at least a month overdue in calling notice to a new open-access, online journal from my old alma mater. The debut issue of Language Documentation & Conservation is sort of like a cross between a traditional linguistics journal and Popular Mechanics. Just look at the list of articles:

Endangered Sound Patterns: Three Perspectives on Theory and Description
Juliette Blevins

Solar Power for the Digital Fieldworker
Tom Honeyman and Laura C. Robinson

Copyright Essentials for Linguists
Paul Newman [no, not the salad dressing and pasta sauce magnate–J.]

Managing Fieldwork Data with Toolbox and the Natural Language Toolkit
Stuart Robinson, Greg Aumann, and Steven Bird

Ethics and Revitalization of Dormant Languages: The Mutsun Language
Natasha Warner, Quirina Luna, and Lynnika Butler

Writer’s Workshops: A Strategy for Developing Indigenous Writers
Diana Dahlin Weber, Diane Wroge, and Joan Bomberger Yoder

via the UHP Journals Log

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Filed under Hawai'i, language