Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Need for More Black Narratives

In the latest American Scholar, published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society (I am not a member), Charles Johnson, the author of The Middle Passage, talks about the need for more diversity in narratives of what it means to be black in America.

When compared with black lives at the dawn of the 21st century, and 40 years after the watershed events of the Civil Rights Movement, many of Du Bois’ remarks now sound ironic, for all the impossible things he spoke of in 1926 are realities today. We are “full-fledged Americans, with the rights of American citizens.” We do have “plenty of good hard work” and live in a society where “men create, where they realize themselves and where they enjoy life.” Even more ironic is the fact that some of our famous rappers and athletes who like “living large,” as they say, seem obsessed with what Du Bois derisively called “the tawdry and flamboyant” (they call it “bling”). Furthermore, some of us do use the freedom paid for with the blood of our ancestors to pursue conspicuous consumption in the form of “powerful motor cars,” “elaborate estates,” “striking clothes,” and “the richest dinners.”

To put this another way, we can say that 40 years after the epic battles for specific civil rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, after two monumental and historic legislative triumphs—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—and after three decades of affirmative action that led to the creation of a true black middle class (and not the false one E. Franklin Frazier described in his classic 1957 study, Black Bourgeoisie), a people oppressed for so long have finally become, as writer Reginald McKnight once put it, “as polymorphous as the dance of Shiva.” Black Americans have been CEOs at AOL Time Warner, American Express, and Merrill Lynch; we have served as secretary of state and White House national security adviser. Well over 10,000 black Americans have been elected to offices around the country, and at this moment Senator Barack Obama holds us in suspense with the possibility that he may be selected as the Democratic Party’s first biracial, black American candidate for president. We have been mayors, police chiefs, best-selling authors, MacArthur fellows, Nobel laureates, Ivy League professors, billionaires, scientists, stockbrokers, engineers, theoretical physicists, toy makers, inventors, astronauts, chess grandmasters, dot-com millionaires, actors, Hollywood film directors, and talk show hosts (the most prominent among them being Oprah Winfrey, who recently signed a deal to acquire her own network); we are Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists (as I am). And we are not culturally homogeneous. When I last looked, West Indians constituted 48 percent of the “black” population in Miami. In America’s major cities, 15 percent of the black American population is foreign born—Haitian, Jamaican, Senegalese, Nigerian, Cape Verdean, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somalian—a rich tapestry of brown-skinned people as culturally complex in their differences, backgrounds, and outlooks as those people lumped together under the all too convenient labels of “Asian” or “European.” Many of them are doing better—in school and business—than native-born black Americans. I think often of something said by Mary Andom, an Eritrean student at Western Washington University, and quoted in an article published in 2003 in The Seattle Times: “I don’t know about ‘chitlings’ or ‘grits.’ I don’t listen to soul music artists such as Marvin Gaye or Aretha Franklin…. I grew up eating injera and listening to Tigrinya music…. After school, I cook the traditional coffee, called boun, by hand for my mother. It is a tradition shared amongst mother and daughter.”

No matter which angle we use to view black people in America today, we find them to be a complex and multifaceted people who defy easy categorization. We challenge, culturally and politically, an old group narrative that fails at the beginning of this new century to capture even a fraction of our rich diversity and heterogeneity.

via A&L Daily

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Battling Militias in Defeated Austria

From: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 142-146:

Another European state to receive the Vatican’s blessing was the ‘State of Estates’ – or ‘Standestaat’ in German – created by Engelbert Dollfuss in the ruins of the first Austrian Republic. Since the turn of the century, Austrian politics had been dominated by a clash between ‘Red Vienna’, where the atheist and militant Social Democratic Party held sway, and the provinces, where the parties that made up successive governing coalitions – that is, the Christian Socials, the Pan-Germans, and the Agrarian League – had their greatest support. In this respect, Austrian politics resembled other countries with a ‘Red’ metropolis hated by many provincials, notably Berlin and Madrid in the same period, although it is important to note that since the days of Mayor Karl Lueger the Christian Socials had support among Vienna’s petit-bourgeoisie who were drawn to his demagogic antisemitism, antiliberalism and deference towards the Catholic Church. The intellectual and political leadership of the Party was also based in the capital….

Both the Christian Socials and the Social Democrats had large paramilitary armies, which were soon augmented by the strong-arm groups of the Austrian National Socialists. The Christian Socials (and in some places the Pan-Germans) were close to many of the regionally based ‘home defence groups’, or Heimwehren, originally established after the war to protect villages from looters and deserters. These had evolved into a strike-breaking force financed by the employers and armed by the Italians and Hungarians. In the Korneuburg Oath, which they swore in May 1930, the Heimwehr leaders resolved to replace democratic government with an authoritarian corporative system modelled on the ideas of the political economist Othmar Spann. In 1923 the Social Democrats formed their own Schutzbund, after the Heimwehr had crushed a strike in Styria. The nature of the problem faced by the state becomes clear from the fact that its army of thirty thousand men faced sixty thousand members of the Heimwehr and ninety thousand equally well-armed members of the Schutzbund. In 1927, following the acquittal of Heimwehr men accused of murdering socialists, the latter stormed and set fire to the Courts of Justice during three days of rioting. The Heimwehr threatened a Fascist-style March on Vienna. Austria’s domestic disturbances were intensified by the obtuseness of France and the Little Entente in blocking a customs union with Germany.

In May 1932 Engelbert Dollfuss, an able peasant boy and war hero who had risen to be agriculture and justice minister, was appointed chancellor. At thirty-nine he was Europe’s youngest head of government; at four feet eleven inches he was also the slightest in stature. Dollfuss immediately negotiated a foreign loan of 300 million Schillings, only to find that the Pan-Germans voted against it, on the ground that renunciation of union with Germany was among the loan’s conditions, while the Social Democrats also refused to support the government out of doctrinaire bloody-mindedness. He achieved a narrow majority only by bringing Heimwehr leaders into his cabinet…. Dollfuss turned to Italy and the Vatican for external support against Hitler…. Rather than relying for mass support on the Christian Socials, on 20 May 1933 Dollfuss established a new Fatherland Front, which was supposed to absorb all existing right-wing potential into one governing party, along the lines already essayed by Primo de Rivera in Spain and Piłsudski in Poland in the 1920s and by Salazar in the 1930s.

The regime faced two challenges: one from the left, which it won, and another from the Nazi ‘brown Bolsheviks’, which it eventually lost. In February 1934, the Heimwehr arrested Schutzbund leaders and expelled representatives of democratic parties from provincial diets. In Linz, the Social Democrats decided to fight back, and met police incursions into their headquarters with machine-gun fire. In Vienna, the socialist leadership dithered so that the general strike they declared was imperfectly implemented against a regime that was well prepared for just this eventuality. Martial law was proclaimed while Heimwehr troops surrounded working-class suburbs. A full-scale shooting war ensued, with artillery and tanks firing into housing projects with such resonant names as ‘Bebelhof’, ‘Liebknechthof’ and ‘Karl-Marx-Hof’. One hundred and ninety-six workers were killed and 319 wounded, with 118 dead and 486 wounded on the government side. The government banned the Social Democrat Party and neutralised the trades unions by subsuming them into its own corporatist entities. Socialists were expelled from the national and provincial civil service. Courts martial were used to sentence twenty-one people to death – one of the nine eventually executed being taken to the gallows on a stretcher. Even Hitler managed briefly to occupy the moral high ground when he condemned ‘the criminal stupidity of letting people shoot down socialist workers, women and children’. The Vatican secretary of state, Pacelli, intervened in vain on behalf of those sentenced to death.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Nebaneba Land

Start of the Philosopher's Walk (Tetsugaku no michi) near Ginkakuji, Kyoto, JapanI started my second day in Kyoto by taking an early bus to Ginkakuji-guchi, near where I used to live as a kid, then taking the Philosopher’s Walk (哲学の道 tetsugaku no michi) along a ditch above my old neighborhood, most of which has long since been torn down and rebuilt enough to be almost unrecognizable. But when my rechargeable lithium-ion camera battery gave out unexpectedly about 8:30 a.m., I wasted the rest of the morning running errands. First, I tried to find somewhere to recharge (再充電 saijuuden) or replace it. I had to wait until Bikku Kamera at Kyoto Station opened at 10 a.m. to find that (a) they couldn’t recharge it for me, and (b) if I bought a replacement battery, it would have to be charged before use. And they didn’t have any disposable (使い切り tsukaikiri lit. ‘using-up’) digital cameras I could buy. And I had to check out of my hotel before 10 a.m., so I had a full backpack to schlep around, too.

So I gave up taking more pictures and went shopping to replace my overstuffed backpack (ryukkusakku), which had begun to fall apart the previous day on Mt. Hiei. (I had inherited it from my daughter when she upgraded hers after junior high school—nearly a decade ago!) The Isetan department store at the train station had poor selection and high prices, so I headed to Daimaru in midtown, where I still paid more than I wanted to. The helpful sales clerk asked me if I wanted to transfer everything into the new pack (詰め替える tsumekaeru ‘stuff-exchange’) right there (詰め込み教育 tsumekomi kyouiku is education that stresses cramming facts, rote learning). But I wanted to do it over a leisurely and refreshing lunch, so I began hunting for a likely place to eat.

I found the right spot along Nishiki-koji Food Market, a narrow, covered street parallel to Shijo-dori where you can find all sorts of Kyoto specialties. Genzou (元蔵) drew me in with a sign that offered cold nebaneba-bukkake-udon ‘sticky-topping-udon’: noodles in broth topped with slimy natto (fermented soybeans), okra, tororo (grated yam), seaweed (a bit like mozuku), and a runny soft-boiled egg. Sticky food is supposed to give you quick energy on a hot day, and this one served me well. Of course, I also had to sample a few other local kushi-katsu (‘breaded kebab’) seasonal specialties, like 穴子 (anago ‘conger eel’), 鱧 (hamo ‘pike eel’), 賀茂 (= 鴨 ‘Duck’, the name of the main river) Kamo nasubi ‘Kamo eggplant’, and 小柱 kobashira lit. ‘small pillars’, which looked like small scallops (帆立の貝柱 hotate no kaibashira) but were the adductor muscles of a smaller round clam, also called bakagai.

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German/Austrian Catholics vs. Nazis, 1930

From: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror, by Michael Burleigh (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 170-171:

Both the Austrian and German Catholic bishops were more condemnatory of Nazism than may be popularly realised. In 1929, bishop Johannes Gföllner of Linz warned the faithful against the ‘false prophets’ of Nazism: ‘Close your ears and do not join their associations, close your doors and do not let their newspapers into your homes, close your hands and do not support their endeavours in elections’ being as unequivocal as one could reasonably expect, although it was not incompatible with his advocacy of ‘ethical antisemitism’. The Austrian Catholic newspaper Volkswohl even parodied life in a future Nazi state in a manner that seems extraordinarily prescient. Every newborn baby’s hereditary history would be checked by a Racial-Hygienic Institute; the unfit or sickly would be sterilised or killed; dedicated ‘Aryan’ Catholics would be persecuted: ‘The demonic cries out from this movement; masses of the tempted go to their doom under Satan’s sun. If we Catholics want to save ourselves, then it can never be in a pact with these forces.’

The German bishops were similarly condemnatory of National Socialism when in 1930 the Nazis broke through the ceiling that separated a marginal sect with less than 3 per cent of the vote from a mass political party. Adolf Bertram of Breslau warned Catholics in 1930 against the Nazis’ radicalism, ‘racist madness’ and their schemes for a single supra-confessional ‘national Church’. The archbishop of Mainz went further, by declaring that Nazism and Catholicism were simply irreconcilable:

The Christian moral law is founded on love of our neighbour . National Socialist writers do not accept this commandment in the sense taught by Christ; they preach too much respect for the Germanic race and too little respect for foreign races. For many of them what begins as mere lack of respect, ends up as full-blown hatred of foreign races, which is unChristian and unCatholic. Moreover the Christian moral law is universal and valid for all times and races; so there is a gross error in requiring that the Christian faith be suited to the moral sentiments of the Germanic race.

The provinces of Cologne, Upper Rhine and Paderborn warned clergy to have nothing to do with the Nazis, and threatened the leaders of parties that were hostile to Christianity with denial of the sacraments. The Bavarian bishops banned Nazi formations from attending funerals or services with banners and in uniform, while condemning both Nazi racism and their eugenic contempt for unborn life.

The statements of these bishops so shocked the Nazis that Göring was despatched to Rome to smooth things over. Since Pius XI instructed Pacelli not to meet him, Göring had to vent his grievances against the Catholic Church on Pacelli’s under-secretary. His approach was to combine defence with attack, the latter diplomatically couched as ‘regrets’, such as the claim that many of the priests who belonged to the Centre Party were attacking Nazism in private. At the same time he disowned the writings of Rosenberg. Interestingly, as a prominent and sincere Protestant, who had married his wife Emmy in a Lutheran ceremony and whose daughter Eda underwent a Lutheran baptism, Göring tried to justify Nazi racism with reference to the theology of orders of creation, ‘for races had been willed by God’. He contrasted the silence of the Lutheran Churches with the ‘attacks’ the Party had received from the Catholic clergy, warning that the Nazis would defend themselves.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kuhi, Ayu, Ukai

Our spirits were sagging after a long spell in the steamy, body-temperature heat of Gifu, Japan, during last week’s day trip there from Nagoya. We had arrived in Gifu on an early train, then walked 3 km through still-empty side streets to the cormorant-fishing area near the base of Mt. Kinka, site of Gifu Castle. We spent the morning taking the ropeway to the top, having a look around, then walking down the so-called 100-bend (百曲 hyaku-magari) trail, said to be shorter than the 7-bend trail that started from the same spot at the top. The trail proved to be not only much steeper and rougher, but also more twisted than we had expected. The last 35 bends from the bottom were marked with milestones and signs that counted down from 35 out of 135, rather than 100. We arrived at the bottom overheated and soaked with sweat.

We cooled off in the air conditioning of the wonderful Nawa Insect Museum, founded in 1919 by a Japanese entomologist from Gifu, Yasushi Nawa, who discovered what is now called the Gifu Butterfly, Luehdorfia japonica. Cormorant fishing would not start until nightfall, so we spent much of the afternoon relaxing in two hotel lobbies that overlooked the Nagara River, first the bland new Park Hotel, then the more storied 十八楼 (juuhachi-rou ’18-storey’) hotel.

Nawa Insect Museum sign, Gifu, Japan

句碑 kuhi ‘verse monument’ – On the far side of the lobby, we found a bench by the window looking directly onto a stone monument in a tiny garden beside a low flood wall bordering the river. We were well into our beers, served in bottles with stoneware goblets, when I noticed a small plaque by the window that explained the significance of the monument, into which had been carved a replica of a verse that the famous traveling poet Bashō was said to have composed on that very spot in 1688. The term for such a monument is kuhi: the ku is the same as in haiku (俳句), while the hi can be read in native Japanese as tateishi ‘standing stone’ or ishibumi ‘stone writing’. The monument itself was not erected until much later, during the late Tokugawa period.

Haiku by Basho at the Nagara River, Gifu, JapanThough my opinion matters little, the verse itself does not strike me as Bashō’s best work. The 5-8-5 – rather than 5-7-5 – syllable (or mora) structure is not that important. The haiku tradition was much less rigid in its early days, and Bashō was one of its principal creators. But that verse monument certainly did lend a certain caché to an otherwise unremarkable hotel lobby overlooking a cool river on a hot day. (Of course, the taste of the 啤酒 [Ch. pijiu ‘beer’] also made a vital contribution to all that was refreshing about that spot at that moment.)

このあたり 目に見ゆるものは 皆凉し
kono atari / me ni miyuru mono wa / mina suzushi
this spot / things the eye beholds / all is cool
(= in this place all that meets the eye is cool)

ayu ‘sweetfish’ – Both the cormorants and the humans of Gifu eat a lot of ayu ‘sweetfish’ from the Nagara River. So we rewarded ourselves for a grueling day by eating dinner at a nice restaurant that specialized in ayu, the Kawaramachi Izumiya. We ordered the shortest multicourse dinner and a small bottle of a local sake named 三千盛, which means ‘3,000 peak/prime/zenith’ but sounds like michi sakari ‘the highest point on the road’. The appetizer (前菜 zensai) course included a pungent bit of fish that resembled anchovy, some tiny pickled ayu, and a more subtly fish-flavored breadstick along with some vegetables. Next came a smelt-sized ayu broiled on a skewer, to be eaten whole, from head to tail. The tempura course featured ayu and vegetables, with a salt mixture rather than sauce (dashi) to dip them in. The ayu porridge (zōsui) course also featured a tiny fish steak wrapped in kelp, cabbage pickles, and pickled red turnip (aka kabu). The dessert course was a slightly savory sorbet flavored with mountain vegetables (sansai, 山菜). It was a memorable meal, and much better than what we would have been able to take or buy aboard the riverboat.

Statue of fisherman and cormorant, Gifu, Japan鵜飼 ukai ‘cormorant feeding’ – The actual exhibition of cormorant fishing involved a lot of waiting around interspersed with bits of verbal and video orientation. The word ukai literally means ‘cormorant feeding/raising’, not ‘fishing’. Despite being leashed to prevent them swallowing large fish, the birds do manage to swallow the smallest fish. On the night we attended, the catch itself was not all that impressive. After the exhibition, we were quizzed a bit by a Canadian photographer aboard our boat who was doing a magazine article on cormorant fishing. He was concerned with the animal cruelty angle, but it seems to me that most city people from developed countries have lost touch with the concept of animals as coworkers, and are only able to view animals as pets—as pampered dependents, not working dependents.

UPDATE: The same word for ‘feeding/raising’ (飼い) occurred in a sign imploring citizens to pick up after their dogs and not let them ‘run loose’ (放し飼い hanashigai ‘loose-raise’).

UPDATE 2: Doc Rock quotes another fitting haiku by Onitsura (鬼貫) that I like better than the one Bashō is famous for in Gifu. It’s more visual and kinetic. Here’s Onitsura’s verse, my transliteration, and Donald Keene’s translation.
夕暮は鮎の腹見る川瀬かな
Yuugure wa / ayu no hara miru / kawase kana
At the close of day / you see sweetfish bellies / in the river shallows

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Another Milestone, Another Rest Stop

I have now uploaded over 1,000 photos to my Flickr account, which I started over two years ago while on sabbatical in Japan. Now I’m headed back to Japan for one week of vacation, to Nagoya, where I might get the chance to attend a bit of the sumo tournament now underway there. I’ll also make a side trip to my old stomping ground in Kyoto, from my elementary school years there half a century ago. I recently managed by chance to get in touch with one of my elementary school classmates I haven’t seen in half a century. He was the son of an eccentric English bibliophile of some renown, not a missionary kid like most of my other classmates.

These days I’m spending more time posting photos on Flickr, and adding or refining content on Wikipedia, than posting text on this blog. In all three venues my approach is much more documentarian than artistic. Nearly everything turns into a little research project. That’s what keeps it fun for me.

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Lankov on the Origins of Commercialized Prostitution in Korea

In my reduced blog-reading of late, I’ve been a little slow to note an interesting take, by Andrei Lankov in the Korea Times, on the origins of what is now a highly developed industry in Korea (and elsewhere, in both supply and demand): commercialized prostitution.

Traditionally, most East Asian countries have had few scruples with regard to extramarital sex as far as males were concerned, but before 1900, Japan was remarkable in the development of commercial prostitution on a grand scale.

In this regard it was different from Korea, where in old times only the rich and famous could afford to buy expensive sexual services from gisaeng girls, while the “low orders” usually had no access to commercial sex whatsoever.

The Korean nationalists love to stress this fact, explaining it as another indication of the alleged “spiritual purity” of Koreans. Well, less lofty explanations are more likely, but it is difficult to deny that the large-scale prostitution industry was created by the Japanese presence.

In the 1850s, Japan was “opened” to the world, but for decades afterward it remained a very poor place, so “export-oriented” prostitution became a major industry there.

The Japanese working girls, known as “karayuki-san” (“those going overseas”), plied their trade across Asia, from Sydney to Vladivostok, from Shanghai to Singapore, usually supervised by Japanese brothel owners.

A Japanese prostitute and brothel remained ubiquitous components of urban life in the Asia-Pacific for the decades between 1870 and 1920, and remittances from these girls, who duly sent their earnings back home, were said to be the third biggest foreign currency earner for Japan at the turn of the 20th century.

Of course, neighboring Korea became one of the areas where Japanese prostitution flourished. Contrary to the now common misperception, typical commercial sexual encounters in Korea before 1900 did not involve a poor Korean girl serving some lusty Japanese male.

If anything, the situation in which a Korean male purchased sex from a Japanese female was probably more common. Until the 1910s, the vast majority of prostitutes operating in the country were Japanese.

Koreans may want to blame Japan for commercializing prostitution in Korea, but Japan can hardly be blamed for the growth of prostitution everywhere else in East, Southeast, and South Asia, except insofar as it led the way in creating a model of economic growth that spread the wealth beyond a narrow elite.

via The Marmot

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