Monthly Archives: March 2009

Mosquitoes to Mars?

A few weeks ago, RIA Novosti reported on a type of mosquito that seems preadapted to the possibility of suspended animation during long space flights.

Cosmonauts who might fly to the Red Planet are learning how to survive in a forest outside Moscow. Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medical and Biological Problems are assessing the impact of cosmic radiation on living organisms, one of which even managed to survive in outer space.

Anatoly Grigoryev, vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RIA Novosti that a mosquito had managed to survive in outer space. First, it appeared that Grigoryev was talking about a spider running loose aboard the International Space Station. Incredibly, a mosquito slept for 18 months on the outer ISS surface. “We brought him back to Earth. He is alive, and his feet are moving,” Grigoryev said.

The mosquito did not get any food and was subjected to extreme temperatures ranging from minus 150 degrees Celsius in the shade to plus 60 degrees in the sunlight.

Grigoryev said the insect had been taken outside the ISS on orders from the Institute’s scientists working on the Biorisk experiment. “First, they studied bacteria and fungi till a Japanese scientist suggested studying mosquitoes,” Grigoryev told RIA Novosti….

“Professor Takashi Okuda from the National Institute of Agro-Biological Science drew our attention to the unique, although short-lived, African mosquito (bloodworm), whose larvae develop only in a humid environment,” Grigoryev said.

Rains are rare in Africa, where puddles dry up before one’s eyes. However, this mosquito is well-adapted to adverse local conditions, existing in a state of suspended animation when vital bodily functions stop almost completely.

When suspended animation sets in, water molecules are replaced by tricallosa sugar, which leads to natural crystallization. The larvae were then sprayed with acetone, boiled and cooled down to minus 210 degrees Celsius, the temperature of liquid nitrogen. Amazingly, they survived all these hardships.

The Japanese also studied bloodworm DNA and found that it could be switched on and deactivated in 30 to 40 minutes. “This is facilitated by the crystallization of biological matter,” Doctor of Biology Vladimir Sychev from the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems told RIA Novosti.

If Anopheles mosquitoes can do the same, it may not take long for the first humans settlers on Mars to melt some of its ice and turn barren landscapes into malarial swamps.

via Japundit


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Filed under Africa, Japan, malaria, Russia, science

Funereal Language Revival in Northern Ghana

The occasion of the 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation seems an appropriate moment to note a recent post by Mark Dingemanse of The Ideophone about an encouraging bit of language revival in Siwu, spoken in the Volta region of Ghana: the return of traditional funeral dirges. (Note that Siwu is the language, Kawu is the place, and Mawu are the people, suggesting a noun-classification system most definitely related to those in found Bantu languages.)

Speaking of parting, it is only rarely that dirges are heard in Kawu nowadays. Two factors are contributing to their decline: firstly the fact that many churches discourage their use, preferring edifying hymns instead. The reason behind this, I am told, is that the dirges reflect a pre-Christian worldview and as such are to be eschewed by true Christians. A second factor has been the coming of electricity to the villages halfway the nineties, which has led to loud music taking the place of the dirges during the wakekeepings. Elsewhere I wrote that “culture is a moving target, always renewing and reshaping itself”, yet at the same time I can’t help but lament the imminent loss of such a rich vein of Mawu culture.

However, during my last fieldtrip there were some signs of a renewed interest in the genre. For example, one pastor told me that he had been reconsidering the rash dismissal of the dirges by his church. Realizing how important the dirges had been in containing, orienting, and canalizing the feelings of loss and pathos surrounding death, he felt that the Christian hymns did not always offer an appropriate replacement. Another hopeful event was that I was approached with the request to help record a great number of dirges in Akpafu-Todzi in August 2008. This was not just to record them for posterity (although this was part of the motivation), but also very practically so that they could be played at wakekeepings. I gladly complied with this wish of course. The result is a beautiful collection of 42 dirges, sung by eight ladies between 57 and 87 years of age. The first time the dirges were played at a funeral they sparked a wave of interest.

via Culture-Making, where Nate adds a lead-in: The cultural fall and rise of the traditional funeral dirges performed in the Volta region of northern Ghana: brought low by Christianity and recording technology, brought back by the same.

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Filed under Ghana, language, religion

The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944

From Red Storm over the Balkans: The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944, by David M. Glantz (U. Press of Kansas, 2007), pp. 372-378 (reviewed here and here):

Strategic Implications

Every officially sanctioned Soviet and, more recently, Russian history of the Soviet-German War published since war’s end categorically asserts that, immediately after the Red Army completed its successful winter campaign in the Ukraine during mid-April 1944, Stalin ordered his Stavka and General Staff to begin preparations to conduct a series of successive strategic offensives through Belorussia and Poland during the summer of 1944, which, from a military and political perspective, were designed to hasten the destruction of the Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Third Reich in the shortest possible time by exploiting the most direct route into the heart of Germany. Only after completing these more important offensives, these sources argue, did Stalin finally unleash the Red Army on an invasion of Romania and the Balkan region. According to this strategic paradigm, when the Red Army actually implemented the Stavka’s plan, it began its offensive into Belorussia in late June, its offensive into southern Poland in mid-July, and its offensive into Romania in late August.

Furthermore, these same histories argue that, just as the Balkan region was a secondary strategic objective for Stalin during the Red Army’s summer-fall campaign of 1944, it remained of secondary importance when the Red Army conducted its offensives during the winter campaign of 1945. Therefore, just as the Red Army invaded Romania in late August 1944, but only after its offensives in Belorussia and eastern Poland succeeded, likewise, during its winter campaign of 1945, the Red Army captured Budapest and western Hungary and invaded Austria in February and March 1945, but only after its offensive through Poland to the Oder River succeeded.

However, the “discovery” of the Red Army’s attempt to invade Romania in mid-April and May 1944 casts serious doubts on this prevailing strategic paradigm. In short, the precise timing, immense scale, complex nature, and obvious objectives of the Red Army’s offensive into Romania during April and May 1944 now clearly indicate that Stalin and his Stavka were paying considerable attention to strategic imperatives other than those described in this prevailing strategic paradigm. Simply stated, vital military, economic, and political factors prompted Stalin to order his Red Army to mount a major offensive of immense potential strategic significance into Romania between mid-April and late May 1944….

In addition to these purely military considerations, there were also strategically vital economic and political motives for Stalin and his Stavka to mount an invasion of Romania during April and May 1944. Economically, for example, as von Senger pointed out, if successful, a full-fledged Red Army invasion of Romania could deprive the Axis of its vital oilfields in Romania, thereby seriously degrading Germany’s ability to continue the war. More important still from a political standpoint, a successful invasion of Romania would likely topple the pro-German Romanian government and drive Romania from the war, and perhaps even force Bulgaria to abandon its looser ties with Hitler’s Germany. In fact, the loss of a significant portion of Romania to the Red Army would shake if not shatter the Axis’ defenses throughout the entire Balkans, inject a sizeable Red Army presence in the region, and end all hopes by Stalin’s “Big Three” counterparts, Roosevelt and Churchill, that they could halt the spread of Soviet influence into the Balkan region.

In short, since Stalin’s Western Allies were already planning Operation Overlord to land their forces on the coast of France, the Red Army’s entry into Romania would end, once and for all, Stalin’s anxiety over his Allies establishing a “second front” in the Balkans. Ever the realist, Stalin judged that the potential political gains associated with the Red Army’s advance into Romania during April and May 1944 more than outweighed any associated military risks. Nor was it coincidental that, after his spring 1944 venture failed and the Red Army’s summer offensives to the north succeeded, Stalin unleashed the Red Army forces on a new invasion deeper into Romania and the Balkans during August 1944.

Furthermore, although it will be the subject of a future book, it is now quite clear that Stalin continued to pursue a similar “Balkan strategy” during the winter of 1945 after his Allies assured him at the Yalta Conference in early February that Berlin would be his for the taking. As a result, within hours after receiving these assurances, Stalin abruptly halted the Red Army’s advance on Berlin along the Oder River, only 30 miles from Berlin, and instead shifted its main axis of advance—first, into western Hungary and, later, into the depths of Austria—for essentially the same political reasons that had motivated him to invade Romania during April, May, and August 1944. Just as Stalin had altered his strategy for a drive on Berlin by attempting to invade Romania in April and May 1944 only to resume his advance along the Berlin axis in June, a year later the Red Army began its final drive on Berlin on 16 April 1945, the day after Vienna fell. Therefore, the Red Anny’s failed offensive into Romania during April and May 1944 is remarkably consistent with Stalin’s strategic behavior during 1945.

Lesson Learned

Regardless of Stalin’s motives for authorizing the offensive into Romania, for a variety of reasons, the Red Army’s first Iasi-Kishinev offensive ended as a spectacular failure. After failing to overcome Axis defenses from the march during mid-April, Konev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front was equally unsuccessful in its better-prepared offensive aginst Axis forces defending in the Tirgu-Frumos and Iasi regions in May. During the same period, although Malinovsky’s 3rd Ukrainian Front was able to seize some bridgeheads across the Dnestr River in early April, its twin efforts to expand those bridgeheads later in the month achieved little more. Complicating the Stavka’s strategic plans, while Konev and Malinovsky were organizing a third effort to capture Iasi and Kishinev during mid-May, for the first time since late 1942, counterattacking German forces actually managed to inflict serious defeats on major Red Army forces defending bridgeheads across a major river….

The defending German forces had also been fighting for as prolonged a period as their Red Army counterparts and had suffered many serious and costly defeats and heavy losses in men and equipment. Furthermore, when Konev’s and Malinovsky’s forces invaded Romania, in many sectors they faced green and poorly motivated and equipped Romanian troops. Despite this fact, fighting with a determination born of desperation, the Axis forces were able to hold firmly to most of their defenses in April and early May and, thereafter, mount successful counterstrokes of their own during early May and early June.

Difficult spring weather conditions and the adverse effect of the heavy rains and flooding on the terrain also certainly exacerbated the already significant logistical problems the two fronts were experiencing as they operated at the end of their overextended lines of communications characterized by a rickety patchwork logistical network that was just being constructed. First, the two Ukrainian fronts were conducting offensive operations in a region whose hilly, broken, and often lightly wooded terrain differed substantially from the rolling grass-covered flatlands of the Ukraine to which their troops were long accustomed.

Second, for the first time in the war, the two fronts were attempting to conduct offensive operations after warmer weather melted the icy surface they had exploited to conduct mobile military operations in previous winters. Predictably, the rasputitsa proved as formidable an obstacle to the two fronts’ advancing forces as the Germans’ resistance and, in some cases, even more formidable.

Third, compounding the problems cited above, pursuant to orders, as they conducted their fighting withdrawal, the Germans systematically destroyed everything of value both for destruction’s sake and to create obstacles to the Red Army’s forward movement. They blew up railroads, beds, tracks, and culverts alike; they cratered roads and demolished dams; and they destroyed every building or installation regardless of military value. In short, they left a vast wasteland for the Red Army to traverse in their wake.

As a result, whether attacking or defending, in addition to experiencing customary shortages of food, which made soldierly foraging an essential art, and the normal effects of prolonged combat attrition, virtually every formation and unit within the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts suffered significant losses in weaponry and heavy equipment and experienced severe ammunition and fuel shortages. For example, archival documents indicate that, prior to its offensive along the Tirgu Frumos axis on 2 May, the 2nd Ukrainian Front’s 2nd Tank Army was supplied with between two and five combat loads of ammunition and two to two and one-half refills of gasoline and diesel fuel, which was not excessively low to conduct such an operation. However, it would be disingenuous to offer these realities as excuses for Konev’s and Malinovsky’ offensive failures, since, as was always the case, the two front commanders, as well as their subordinate officers and soldiers alike, frequently relied on sheer ingenuity or “native wit” to resolve their logistical dilemmas.

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Filed under Germany, Romania, USSR, war

From Tight Ethnotowns to Dispersed Ethnoburbs

The latest issue of Southeastern Geographer (on Project MUSE) has an article by Paul N. McDaniel and Anita I. Drever that examines Immigrant Businesses in a New South City (Birmingham, Alabama), asking: Do they form an Ethnic Enclave or International Corridor?

Here’s the abstract and a bit of the introduction that I found interesting. I have eliminated most of the in-text citations and cross-references in the extracts that follow.

Abstract: Immigration is changing the U.S. South in unprecedented ways. First and later generations of Latinos and Asians comprise increasing portions of the population in towns and cities across the region. Some of these newcomers have started entrepreneurial business ventures rather than going to work for someone else. This research examines the forces driving the spatial patterns of and civic leader response to immigrant-owned entrepreneurial establishments in Birmingham, Alabama, a middle-tier metropolitan area. The paper answers the following questions: (1) Why did immigrant businesses begin moving into Birmingham during the last decade and a half? (2) Where are ethnic entrepreneurs opening up retail shops and why? (3) What are the attitudes of city officials towards these multi-ethnic business enclaves? These questions are addressed using a mixed-method approach that includes census data analysis, archival research, personal observations and semi-structured open-ended interviews….

Historically, ethnic businesses have been spatially concentrated…. Ethnic neighborhoods in gateway cities developed at a time when city inhabitants traveled on foot or by streetcar. Ethnic businesses and residences therefore had to be located in close proximity. The ethnic businesses that have opened up in the U.S. South during the past ten to fifteen years largely cater to a clientele within driving rather than walking distance. Many of the recent arrivals to the South have also lived in other parts of the U.S. and are therefore less dependent on ethnic intermediaries to find employment or housing. Research on the residential settlement of new arrivals to the South reveals minimal spatial clustering…. Walcott (2002) did find that ethnic businesses were spatially concentrated along the Buford Highway international corridor between the northeast Atlanta suburbs of Chamblee and Doraville; however she saw minimal evidence of spatial clustering by nationality within this area.

Contrary to the findings in studies of several other southern cities (see Mohl 2003), Asians and Hispanics appear to be settling largely in white neighborhoods …. Dissimilarity index calculations by the authors based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census indicate that one-and-a-half times as many Asians and Hispanics would have to move to evenly distribute their population among blacks as among non-Hispanic whites.

What attracted these immigrants to Birmingham?

The shift in the locus of U.S. economic growth from the Rustbelt in the Northeast to the Sunbelt in the South brought biotechnology firms, large banks, and multinational corporation headquarters to the Birmingham metropolitan area. These global companies—along with Birmingham’s universities—recruited talent from around the United States and the rest of the world…. Like in other locales, Birmingham’s expanding well-paid, highly educated workforce has demanded better housing and more services. This has helped to fuel job growth in construction and basic services and the foreign-born have arrived to fill these jobs (Mohl 2003). And as a result, like in many parts of the country Birmingham has attracted a foreign-born population that is both more and less educated than the metropolitan area as a whole: 19 percent of immigrants have a graduate degree as compared to 9 percent of the total metro population and 27 percent of immigrants have less than a high school education compared to 16 percent of metro Birmingham’s population as a whole….

Where are they living and working?

First, although the residences of the foreign-born are fairly dispersed …, new immigrant businesses in Birmingham are clustered…. A second important characteristic of Birmingham’s ethnic business concentrations are that they are multiethnic in contrast to the Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Latino barrios that evolved before the automobile era in gateway cities…. Third, ethnic businesses in Birmingham are located along suburban corridors rather than in neighborhoods per se. In the walking cities of the past, ethnic businesses were located on contiguous neighborhood blocks to accommodate customers traveling on foot or by streetcar to do their shopping. In addition, immigrants often lived in the dwellings above the street level shops. By contrast, Birmingham’s ethnic businesses are moving into a suburban, automobile dominated landscape where zoning ordinances have purposely separated residential and commercial landscapes….

And what kinds of attitudes do they encounter?

The interviews with Hoover and Homewood city officials suggest immigrant business owners receive more verbal support from city officials in Homewood. The fact that the international corridor in Homewood is larger and more complex than in Hoover may in part be the result of the warmer welcome it received from the local government. It is also likely that city officials’ positive attitudes toward ethnic businesses make it easier for immigrant businesses to acquire permits and influence local ordinances.

The author of a key work cited in this article recently published a book titled Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America, by Wei Li (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008).

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Filed under Asia, economics, Latin America, migration, U.S.

Rushdie on Slumdog Tourism

In a dyspeptic disquisition on screen adaptations from books in last Saturday’s Guardian, Salman Rushdie coughs up some colorful bile in the general direction of the recent Oscar favorite.

It used to be the case that western movies about India were about blonde women arriving there to find, almost at once, a maharajah to fall in love with, the supply of such maharajahs being apparently endless and specially provided for English or American blondes; or they were about European women accusing non-maharajah Indians of rape, perhaps because they were so indignant at having being approached by a non-maharajah; or they were about dashing white men galloping about the colonies firing pistols and unsheathing sabres, to varying effect. Now that sort of exoticism has lost its appeal; people want, instead, enough grit and violence to convince themselves that what they are seeing is authentic; but it’s still tourism. If the earlier films were raj tourism, maharajah-tourism, then we, today, have slum tourism instead. In an interview conducted at the Telluride film festival last autumn, Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity. Listening to him, I imagined an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away.

via LaurenceJarvikOnline

Like most Oscar winners, Slumdog had not yet enticed the Outliers to make an effort to go see it in a movie theater. Nor is it likely now to find a place in our never-very-long Netflix queue. We’ve already seen, courtesy of Netflix, Thom Fitzgerald’s award-winning, disgusting, poverty-porn movie, The Wild Dogs (2002), which views Romanians as nothing but beggars, con-men, sex workers, or dog catchers—and compares them with heavy-handed symbolism to the wild dogs of Bucharest, which the government is determined to euthanize. All foreigners there (or at least all Canadians!), on the other hand, are either corrupt exploiters or naive do-gooders. And the path from exploiter to do-gooder requires finding your own personal beggar to support: the Canadian ambassador’s wife takes on a legless beggar boy, who follows her around like a puppy; the Canadian pornographer tries to redeem himself by repeatedly giving stuff to a reverse-kneed, hand-walking beggar, whose companions promptly steal it from him; and the Romanian dog-catcher tries to redeem himself by creating a refuge for dogs he was supposed to have euthanized, only to be arrested and have his dogs taken away. I fully agree with the reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes, whose review (no longer available online) includes the quote, “No one in this sterile film is redeemed, condemned or even particularly humanized…. Ultimately, Fitzgerald’s gutless film is a muddled, grotesque travelogue.”

Sorry. Next time I’ll tell you how I really feel.

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Filed under anglosphere, Canada, cinema, economics, India, Romania, travel, U.S.

Kaiten Sushi Plate View of Its World

なにこれ? Did you ever wonder what the world looks like from a kaiten sushi plate?
via Culture Making


Filed under Japan

How Doth Lotte Love Baseball?

In the Los Angeles Times, John M. Glionna profiles the unlikely manager of a once hapless Korean baseball team, the Lotte Giants of Busan: former LA Dodgers infielder Jerry Royster.

Reporting from Busan, South Korea — Jerry Royster isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry: The umps just don’t speak his language. Every time he races out of the dugout to argue a play, he has to bring along an interpreter.

Last year, the former Dodgers infielder took the helm of this city’s wildly popular Lotte Giants, becoming Korea’s first foreign manager….

In his first year, he took the cellar-dwelling Giants to the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Even with a shorter 126-game schedule, the Giants attracted more fans than many major league teams and doubled attendance from the year before.

Long-suffering loyalists dubbed their new manager “Hurricane Royster” and composed a rally song in his honor.

But Royster, now in his second season, said it’s not just fans who excite him: Koreans play good baseball.

Korean players’ ability is well-known — except in the U.S., where only a few, such as former Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park, are household names.

But that is changing. Korea won the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics without losing a game, and in the 2006 WBC lost only once — to archrival Japan in the final. Only Cuba was ranked ahead of Korea in the International Baseball Federation’s world rankings.

“We’re not a secret to most countries,” Royster said. “It’s only the Americans who are now starting to realize there’s good baseball being played here.” Royster didn’t know what to expect in late 2007 when old friend Bobby Valentine, manager of Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines, called him.

Shin Dong-bin, owner of the Lotte teams in Japan and Korea, wanted to shake things up by putting a foreign manager in the southern city of Busan. Valentine recommended Royster, who’d just been fired as manager of the Las Vegas 51s, then the Dodgers’ triple-A team.

“I told him he was going to take over the Cubs of Asia,” said Valentine, a former Dodger who once managed the New York Mets. “They were a blue-collar team that never won but everybody loved anyway. The fans were dying for a competitive team and a leader.”

I doff my authentic Chiba Lotte Marines baseball cap to Mr. Shin—and also to Bobby Valentine, who showed the way. Now, if only Marty Brown can lead my old NPB Central League favorites, the Hiroshima Toyo (= Mazda) Carp, to win the Japan Series this year. And in Korea, Go Busan!

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Filed under baseball, Japan, Korea