Mystery Translator.

A reader writes “this article about the Yiddish translation of that NYtimes yeshiva article is super interesting,” and it certainly is; Zach Golden reports for the Forward:

The NYT report has been translated into an extraordinarily high-quality Hasidic dialect of Yiddish. The online version has been widely read and shared on Hasidic online forums. A PDF version, created to circumvent the community’s strict internet filters, has also been making the rounds.

In the Hasidic community, even worse than people who reject their way of life are those perceived as betraying their own community. Known as moyserim, or informers, they can face harassment, excommunication or even extrajudicial violence.

Members of advocacy groups for improved secular education in Hasidic schools have been labeled as such, making anyone perceived as supporting them — say, a Yiddish translator of a critical New York Times report — a persona non grata within the Hasidic community. It is for this reason that the identity of the Yiddish translator remains a secret.

The fear of backlash was so strong that many Yiddishist colleagues — including librarians, journalists and academics — asked us not to make public even the names of those who were suggested to The Times as possible translators. One directed us to a Twitter thread by the formerly Hasidic Forward contributor Elad Nehorai, who wrote that a Haredi Jew who had spoken out in favor of the report was threatened with eviction. The New York Times, for its part, has refused to share the name of the translator, how long the process took or how much the translator was paid.

But here’s what we do know, from someone with knowledge of the situation: A Yiddish translator and a Yiddish editor worked on the piece — and they are both Hasidim in good standing. We also learned that The Times allowed the translation to be interpretive rather than literal, to the degree it would help the report garner acceptance within the community. The translator took this liberty in many passages, while ultimately staying loyal to the article’s original meaning.

That much is clear from the language of the report itself. Only those who grew up in the Hasidic community could have properly done this translation. Most speakers of Yiddish outside of the Hasidic world use “Yiddishist” Yiddish (YIVO standardized Yiddish), which differs significantly in spelling, grammar, syntax and vocabulary from Hasidic Yiddish. Any hint of inauthenticity or inaccuracy in Hasidic Yiddish terms and usage would have made The Times’ translation easy to mock and dismiss. Instead, Hasidic newspapers, including Der Yid and Der Blatt, have written full responses to the article, suggesting that it is not easy for leaders to ignore.

Translation is an art, not a science, and the translator actively made choices to reflect what in the original report matters to their culturally different readers. The changes appear to fall into three broad categories. Some changes were made to demonstrate familiarity with Hasidic society. Several passages were changed to preserve the original language of quotes given in Yiddish. And notably, some language choices tone down negative descriptions of Hasidic groups or practices, while others underscore the seriousness of misusing public funds.

I refer you to the Forward piece for details, e.g.:

Conversely, the translator often refers to religious schools by their colloquial names instead of the official names used in the original article. For example, the school Kehilath Yakov is called simply Pupa (as pronounced within the community), after the Hasidic court that they follow.

(One think that slightly puzzles me: the Yiddish word for ‘informers’ is given as “moyserim,” but my Weinreich dictionary gives “mosrim” as the plural of מסור moser, which is backed up by this webpage. Dialect difference?) The whole thing is extraordinarily interesting; thanks, Andrew!

Comments

  1. Regarding that which puzzled you at the end, the first difference (regarding o vs. oy) lies in how to pronounce the Hebrew vowel Cholam, which differs even among Ashkenazi Jews depending on which area of Europe they come from. The second difference (the e in moyserim vs. mosrim) is probably just due to transliteration schemes, because I don’t think anybody actually vocalizes the letter samech in that word with a schwa na.
    Regarding the spelling מסור which should really be מוסר (as it is typically pronounced), see this discussion: https://forum.otzar.org/viewtopic.php?t=47344 (in Hebrew).

  2. !תודה רבה לך

  3. You’re welcome! And Happy New Year!

  4. Under the section heading “Not lost in translation” in Forward:

    # The translator also preserves English words to highlight the secular nature of proposed educational reforms — edyukeshun for state-mandated education and test for a test administered by the state. #

    That took me aback for a second: can’t even NYT reporters spell correctly ? Then I understood: those are transliterations of words written in Yiddish, which are transliterations of words written in English. I’m not sure I would call that “preserving English words” when the concepts involved are apparently so alien in the Hasidic community that there are no Yiddish equivalents.

    Let me preserve a German word by transliterating it into English: dooldoongshtarre. Is anyone the wiser ? Here’s a hint: it means unconditional submission to the will of another.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    While I know nothing of the actual issues, and feel that useful comment on them is likely only to come from Jews, I must say that I have some admiration for the determination of a community to maintain its culture and language even if that undermines secular prosperity. The argument against the use of Welsh and its banning in schools right up until my parents’ time was often that it would lead to financial impoverishment and the curtailment of life opportunities for children unless they were made to use English. Welsh-speaking parents were often persuaded by this argument too.

    From the outside, a lot of this particular issue seems to be about power: кто кого? But I suspect this is a case where an outsider’s viewpoint may not be all that illuminating.

  6. “Undermining secular prosperity” is not what the article reports on, but bringing up children so that they can’t cope at all outside of their “community”. To go no further than financing – whether to subsidize such schools is a matter on which Jews and non-Jews can and will vote.

    But I suspect this is a case where an outsider’s viewpoint may not be all that illuminating.

    That’s surely the reason why the Times had their article translated into “an extraordinarily high-quality Hasidic dialect of Yiddish”. Take it to the top.

  7. If you want some better takes on the whole situation, I recommend these articles:
    Eli Spitzer on the New York Times’s Controversial Yeshiva Report
    The Jews of the Jews, by Moshe Krakowski
    The New York Times‘s botched attack on Jewish schools, by Jason Bedrick and Jay P. Greene
    The Plot Against Jewish Education, by Liel Leibovitz

    (Full-disclosure: I was in the Yeshiva system my whole life until 2020 when my freelance editing/writing business really took off. I also have an MA in Jewish Education.)

  8. “Undermining secular prosperity” is not what the article reports on, but bringing up children so that they can’t cope at all outside of their “community”.

    Exactly. This isn’t about prosperity, it’s about a community (as represented primarily by its older males) trying to make sure that children (and, of course, women, as always and everywhere) have as little choice as possible. If young people (and women) freely choose to wear what from the outside look like shackles of ignorance and oppression, more power to them, but the ability to choose is all-important.

  9. Yer Welsh lad can, of course, bugger off to Llundain any time he likes with little or no repercussion if he so chooses. Not a comparable situation.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    Wrth gwrs.

  11. Reuven Chaim Klein: Thanks very much for those links! I’ve just read the first one so far, which is exceedingly well done; here are some salient bits:

    I would say something even more interesting—and no one has done the work on this, and I’m not even sure how you would do the work—anecdotally, I can tell you as someone who’s been in education for twelve or thirteen years, I would say a majority of parents, and I’ve dealt with thousands of them, would want a better standard of secular education. And yet, these parents wouldn’t consider sending their children to any other school. That raises the question, why? What are they getting from those schools that isn’t available anywhere else? That is the most important question. The lazy and wrong answer is that they’re all trapped there; they don’t have a choice. And the few members who have left and were interviewed by the New York Times are the few brave ones who managed to escape. That is not true. I don’t think I have to justify why that’s not true. I think it’s common sense; there isn’t this sort of mechanism of control that’s forcing people to stay there.

    Anyone can leave and people can stay and send their children to non-ḥasidic schools. Why don’t they? That is because the very purpose of ḥasidic schools is, as I put it in my piece in Mosaic, to cultivate Ḥasidim. Parents have an understanding, conscious or subconscious, where they know that they have set themselves a very difficult task: surviving against the forces of modernity. We live in New York City, we live in one of the most populous and one of the largest financial centers in the world, one of the epicenters of modernity, and we have to survive. We have to preserve our culture, our way of life against those odds. And there is an instinctive understanding that one of the most important ways of doing that is in the institutions that educate their children. […] I think most people, certainly people listening to this, probably can appreciate that the instinct of any parent is whatever way of life that they have chosen and they feel to be correct, they want their children to follow in their footsteps. Even if you pay lip service to “No, of course you make your own choices and do whatever you like,” if you have it your way, your preferred option is for your children to follow in your footsteps and have your traditions. The best guarantee that parents have for that is the ḥasidic school system, because what it does—and as I said before, it doesn’t focus on academic standards—it does extremely successfully cultivate children as the ones who are going to be future successful members of the ḥasidic community.

    Jonathan Silver:

    And by successful, we should pointedly specify, we don’t mean that they exit that community and earn financial rewards in the professional sphere outside of it. It may mean that in some cases, but that is not the primary meaning of what successful means. What successful in this case means is that they are fully integrated into the thick network of community, and crucially, the intergenerational families that make that community itself.

    […]

    Eli Spitzer:

    I think actually one of the quibbles that I had in terms of the accuracy of the piece in the Times is I felt that they sort of underplayed the significance of how much better secular education is in girls’ schools. I think the Times has sort of a throwaway comment, if I remember correctly, of saying, “Yeah, it’s better, but still 80 percent of girls failed some standardized tests,” or something to that effect. That’s by the way, a bit of a mystery of what those standardized tests refer to, what the context is, but I can tell you that my experience, and in London, certainly—there’s very little divergence among different ḥasidic communities internationally—the girls’ secular education is pretty much equivalent to any secular education in mainstream schools, which is quite remarkable given that they have about 50 percent, sometime even more, of their timetable dedicated to Jewish studies. They still manage to achieve very high standards across a full range of subjects.

    (I took the liberty of making your URLs into links to the titles, to make life easier for the reader.)

  12. The salient point for me is that “the instinct of any parent is whatever way of life that they have chosen and they feel to be correct, they want their children to follow in their footsteps” is incontestably true, and I understand the desire to enforce that instinct by providing schools that will as far as possible ensure the desired result, but I deprecate the instinct and insist that every child should have a free choice as to what path to follow in life. Yes, that is part of the essence of modernity: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” I understand why traditionalists do not like it (Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!). But I am an unrepentant modernist.

  13. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Yer Welsh lad can, of course, bugger off to Llundain any time he likes with little or no repercussion if he so chooses.

    More to the point*, possibly, your Gaelic balach can still, more or less, try to make himself a living out of some kind of selection of crofting/fishing/fish farming/a practical trade/work for estates, among other Gaelic-speaking and Free Church-going people. (Or even Gaelic teaching or the ministry or whatever – it’s a long time since they’ve not been part of that culture.) I’m not at all sure what the equivalent would be for a city population trying to cut itself off from all the workings of that city – it doesn’t sound like a culture of practical skills.

    (*Someone’s point, anyway. Maybe David’s. Maybe just mine.)

  14. your Gaelic balach can still, more or less, try to make himself a living out of some kind of selection of crofting/fishing/fish farming/a practical trade/work for estates, among other Gaelic-speaking and Free Church-going people.

    And good for him, say I! As long as nobody’s forcing him to croft or farm fish, I heartily approve.

  15. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I didn’t explain that very well, even to myself, but I think what I’m trying to say is that when David’s situation comes up it’s usually with a population which has supported itself in some traditional way – say fishing on a Pacific island, as well as our Celtic fringe examples – and is still doing that at least to some extent (even if crossed with tourism), but where the younger generations have been encouraged to see success only in terms of western-style education and moving long distances to university, and where there are very few jobs available within the community which would fit into a western-university model of success, so that once you move away, you stay away.

    It’s very fair then to stop and say ‘no, there are other kinds of success, and we need to demonstrate that to our children as they’re making their choices’ (possibly as well as trying to encourage a greater variety of jobs within the community).

    And of course a community is generally willing to support a certain number of people whose job is to carry out its rituals for it, whatever those are.

    I’m struggling (and maybe it is just me missing the point) to see here what the model of ‘adult success within the community’ would be – not in terms of riches, but just in terms of eating and keeping a roof over your head and keeping the community going. What do yeshiva students do when they grow up?

  16. Jen in Edinburgh says

    (And now I see that my last question is answered at the end of the article – I was having trouble getting access, and trying to read a slightly garbled version I’d copied into word. I’ll go away and stop making the comment section untidy.)

  17. January First-of-May says

    Then I understood: those are transliterations of words written in Yiddish, which are transliterations of words written in English. I’m not sure I would call that “preserving English words” when the concepts involved are apparently so alien in the Hasidic community that there are no Yiddish equivalents.

    I was under the impression (perhaps mistaken?) that the article specifically used the English words to emphasize the distinction between those concepts and the (presumably more Jewish-oriented) concepts normally designated by the Yiddish words that would usually translate those English words.

    In which case “preserving” meant “borrowing rather than translating”, and then NYT had to transliterate the relevant words back into Latin script because they didn’t think their audience would be able to read Yiddish (i.e. Hebrew) script directly. Makes sense to me.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    The thing about universal compulsory education is that (though assuredly a Good Thing in the abstract) it has in practice been intimately tied up with the idea of Building a Modern Nation State, which until recently also entailed the deliberate destruction of minority cultural identity and languages (and still does in some parts of the world), often from quite genuinely idealistic motives. (Wales was the target of this, as a deliberate government-inspired language-eradication policy, in the nineteenth century.)

    You don’t need to be an American-fundamentalist-style home-schooler* to experience a certain wariness about the government deciding what your children will learn and how. And I say this as one who is extremely dubious about “faith schools” and the like in a UK context, and actually does think that children should all go to the same local schools together.

    In the UK, this issue has been weaponised by right-wing bigots objecting to Islamic schools, and often spreading deliberate falsehoods about what happens in them, which makes it harder to discuss the underlying issues sensibly; but at the very least, the state ought not to be asking parents to do violence to their convictions in order to send their children to school – and segregated schools ought not to be the only escape from this, either.

    * A lot of the American missionaries I knew in Nigeria wouldn’t even think of not home-schooling in the US. This strikes even Brits as religiously strange as me as bizarre: though even here I know of a school where teachers are required to promise not to encourage the pupils to go to university. Way to go, deluded co-religionists!

  19. The thing about universal compulsory education is that it is compulsory.

  20. @Jen in Edinburgh: You make a very important point, and one that I would like to elaborate a bit upon. While this community is doing an admirable job of preserving their language (I wish I could speak fluent idiomatic Yiddish the way they do), the culture they are trying to preserve is not actually an especially traditional one—not at an economic level at least. The nominal goal of a young male Yeshiva student is to, as an adult, remain a full-time scholar of Jewish lore—particularly the Torah, of course. This was not a lifestyle that was available to impoverished Ashkenazic Orthodox Jews in the old country, in the nineteenth century and before. It is basically an innovation, created in post-Second-World-War New York and Israel.

    In Israel, the Haredi community receives quite a bit of direct government support, because Israel’s system of proportional representation. Communities of Haredi votes cast their votes as blocs, for “religious” parties that can act as kingmakers, partnering with the larger parties as part of the country’s coalition governments. The religious parties main demand as coalition partners is support for a strong welfare state, in a particular form that is advantageous to their Haredi constituents—supporting Orthodox families so that the men do not have to do work other than Torah study.

    Ironically, I know less about the economic practicalities of how the Haredi communities operate in New York than I know about them in Israel. This may be because the ultra-Orthodox in America are much farther outside the mainstream of Jewish culture than they are in Israel.

  21. Probably I am a crass philistine, but I don’t see the purpose of Torah study (or Bible study, or Koran study) as a life choice, regardless of how it is supported. Many generations have studied the holy books, and it seems unlikely that new generations are going to come up with striking or novel insights. I suppose they can pass down their methods and practice to the next generation, but that only postpones the question.

    What I am curious about, I guess, is what studiers of the Torah (or Bible or Koran) actually do all day. Read and memorize? Find obscure points of theology or history that (they think) no one has found before? It doesn’t seem terribly productive, even as a historical or intellectual exercise.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    Many generations have studied the holy books, and it seems unlikely that new generations are going to come up with striking or novel insights

    I can’t speak for Talmudic study or Qur’anic scholarship, but (Christian) Bible study continues to produce novel insights. Part of this is simple scientific progress in understanding of the relevant cultural and historical background (which, paradoxically, we moderns actually know more about in many ways than our predecessors who were actually closer in time to the events), the languages (understanding of Biblical Hebrew is better now than ever before since the language ceased to be spoken), and the history of the texts; a maybe even more important part is that the text needs to be (in a sense) reinterpreted in every new generation: not just “what does it mean?”, but “what does it mean to us, now?”

    That’s the story at least for academic Bible study; on the Protestant-style personal Bible-study level it’s a major intellectual endeavour just to catch up with what the clever bods have already discovered. There’s a lot of it. I suppose that’s more like the vocational training aspect of Bible study. (I’m leaving out the devotional aspect of Bible study, but that’s something that every reader needs to work out for him/herself.)

    I think the “vocational training” aspect is prominent in traditional Islamic scholarship, too: if you’re going to be an Islamic jurist, for example, there is a great deal of sheer learning about the Qur’an and the Hadith to be done, and a great deal to master when it comes to the principles of interpretation and application to everyday life.

    And after all, it’s not as if Classics departments have all come to the conclusion that they should now peacefully disband on the grounds that nobody is likely to come up with new insights into Aeschylus or Tacitus after all these centuries. Or that Classics dons do nothing all day and can’t think of anything worth publishing because it’s all been done already.

  23. those are transliterations of words written in Yiddish, which are transliterations of words written in English

    I would say rather that edyukeshun and test are transliterations of ad hoc borrowings of English words. There is of course a Yiddish word for ‘secular education’, but it probably isn’t current in the Hasidic dialect the translated article is written in. (I believe it is בילדונג bildung.)

  24. here’s an article (af yidish, mit an english taytsh) from katle kanye, one of the most visible hasidic voices writing in yiddish about the godawful, abusive system that passes for education in nyc’s courts.

    there are over 150 years of yiddish songs, poems, fiction, memoir, and reportage describing its horrors – every single detail in the NYT article, and in the years upon years of documentation and alarm-sounding from Yaffed and many others, can be found in them. the beatings. the rote memorization. the rejection of critical thought. the hostility to learning of any kind beyond the rabbinic canon. the lack of literacy in kids’ native languages.

    and that last is a vitally important point, especially here.

    quite aside from its two primary purposes – educating loyal followers for the rebbes, the rabbinate, and the hereditary rich (an interlocking yikhes-bounded ruling class), and laundering government money to help support that ruling class* – the hasidic education system is no friend of yiddish.

    yes, there is something of a renaissance of yiddish cultural production in the hasidic world. but the hasidic school system has fuck-all to do with it – it treats yiddish only as a medium.

    these schools are sites of study in yiddish, but not of yiddish. there is no significant attention in these schools to yiddish as a language, as a literature, as a cultural tradition. the focus, language-wise, is on getting boys capable of using hebrew and aramaic, the languages of toyre and talmud.

    the conventional metaphor is that yiddish is a “handmaiden”, while loshn koydesh** is the bride or queen. but it’s worth remembering that “handmaiden” is a very euphemistic translation. in the contexts the image comes from – which are very familiar to anyone who reads toyre** – it means “chattal slave”, with a strong implication of “acceptable to rape”.

    yiddish deserves better.
    and – much more importantly – the kids in my neighborhood deserve better.

    [edited to add: i’m probably not gonna be in this thread much, since i’m not interested in arguing the fine points of whether theocracy is a good idea. these schools – just like the ones that the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of most yiddish-lineage u.s. jews fled in the alte heym – are an abomination, and all i can do here is point folks towards the people and organizations who’ve survived them and are trying to end them, which i’ve done above.]

    .
    * i’ve cooked enough grant-funded books and done enough grant-writing for schools in my day (never at the same time, i hasten to say), and know enough about the economics of the court i live near, to make an educated guess at how little of those millions go to teachers and staff at these schools. and shitty pay for (abusive) kheyder teachers is another thing with 150+ years of songs, stories, and reportage behind it.

    ** i want to disagree a little with Reuven about “o”/”oy” in yiddish words that come from hebrew & aramaic. it’s not about regional differences (like most of the problems with YIVO transliteration) so much as the built-in biases of YIVO’s transliteration scheme. YIVO’s preferred transliterations for loshn-koydesh words are deeply arbitrary and inconsistent, and not based on any clear differentiation between registers. which is the thing here: yiddish speakers, in general, say these words with “oy” in all but a very few, formal and liturgical, registers (and sometimes in them as well: “adoyshem” being an excellent hasidic-euphemism example). there really is no meaningful reason for weinreich (himself not a cradle-tongue speaker, it’s always worth mentioning) to prescribe “loshn-koydesh” on one page and “moser” on another.

  25. just to contradict myself momentarily:

    i’m very excited about the NYT article’s yiddish version, and found the Forward coverage very interesting! and the only thing i’m certain of about the translation is that hillel halkin doesn’t have the range (but probably thinks he does).

  26. David Marjanović says

    (I actually tried to read the article in Yiddish. Had to give up very quickly – I don’t know the Hebrew words, and I’m not exactly used to the letters – but did notice very soon it’s in a coherent orthography that is not the YIVO standard.)

    Eli Spitzer:

    I think actually one of the quibbles that I had in terms of the accuracy of the piece in the Times is I felt that they sort of underplayed the significance of how much better secular education is in girls’ schools. I think the Times has sort of a throwaway comment, if I remember correctly, of saying, “Yeah, it’s better, but still 80 percent of girls failed some standardized tests,” or something to that effect.

    “I think”? The article isn’t even behind the usual paywall. Just read it again. That the secular education is much less bad in girls’ schools is mentioned at some length, and illustrated in the figure of test scores. It does, after all, go against all stereotypes of patriarchal religion; that’s “news fit to print”!

    The argument against the use of Welsh and its banning in schools right up until my parents’ time was often that it would lead to financial impoverishment and the curtailment of life opportunities for children unless they were made to use English.

    Of course that argument was flat-out wrong: it’s not knowing Welsh that led to (or contributed to) financial impoverishment and the curtailment of life opportunities, it was not knowing English. Up until the mid-20th century, lots of people in the West didn’t understand the difference, because they had somehow come to believe there’s only room for one language in one head. (That’s why my dad doesn’t speak Hungarian anymore. He disproved the silliness by picking up perfect French basically the next year without forgetting any of his by-then-native FYLOSC…)

    As the article points out, the schools in question leave the boys with a completely inadequate – for any practical purposes – knowledge of English. Yes, the examples given in the article look worse than they are because the English spelling system is so challenging, but the boys don’t just have trouble spelling, they have trouble with grammar and vocabulary, too. Never mind a “bullshit job” as a corporate pencil-pusher in some cubicle; they’re left unable to function outside their community.

    It’s similar with other fields of learning. If your arithmetic is below a certain level, you will lose noticeable amounts of money – even if nobody actively tries to rip you off. (And even if all written prices include the taxes, which is not the case in the state of New York.)

    A certain minimum of general education is a right. It’s hard to agree on what exactly that minimum is, but it’s really not hard to agree that what the article shows is well below it.

  27. The thing about universal compulsory education is that (though assuredly a Good Thing in the abstract) it has in practice been intimately tied up with the idea of Building a Modern Nation State, which until recently also entailed the deliberate destruction of minority cultural identity and languages […] You don’t need to be an American-fundamentalist-style home-schooler* to experience a certain wariness about the government deciding what your children will learn and how.

    Indeed, and as an anarchist I sympathize. But alas, if we ever live in the paradise of my vague Kropotkinist dreams it will be long after I am dust, and in this world government money is necessary to get the masses educated to a reasonable standard. Only after they have learned to think for themselves and read Kropotkin can they take appropriate action!

    I don’t see the purpose of Torah study (or Bible study, or Koran study) as a life choice, regardless of how it is supported. Many generations have studied the holy books, and it seems unlikely that new generations are going to come up with striking or novel insights.

    The purpose of Torah study is to satisfy God’s demands; of course if you don’t believe in the God of Abraham you’re not going to understand it. And you vastly underestimate the insights to be gained from pilpul — there’s a reason Jews have traditionally been very good at intellectual endeavors of all kinds. Once the intellect is exercised in one area, its comfort with dialectic and textual analysis can be applied to all sorts of fields.

    rozele: I was (of course) hoping you’d drop by and lay some knowledge on us!

  28. “A certain minimum of general education is a right.”

    1. A right as in “you ask a child if she wants it, and if she says ‘yes’, it is her right” or as in “I have the right to force the child to learn it even if parents don’t think it is necessary“?

    If it is the former, why no one refers to opinions of children? If is is the latter, maybe it is better to specify that we are discussing our rights…

    2. is it also a right of children in uncontacted tribes?

  29. Those are difficult questions, and I don’t have good answers.

  30. Once the intellect is exercised in one area, its comfort with dialectic and textual analysis can be applied to all sorts of fields.

    I remain skeptical. This reminds me of the idea, once fashionable in the UK, that studying the Latin and Greek classics equips a person to govern the far-flung British Empire.

    One could say the same thing, surely, about mathematics, or deconstructionism, or Shakespeare, or molecular biology, or baseball statistics…

    (The Wikipedia page on pilpul is not exactly a shining advertisement for it).

  31. @Brett In Israel, the Haredi community receives quite a bit of direct government support, because Israel’s system of proportional representation. … The religious parties main demand … [is] —supporting Orthodox families so that the men do not have to do work other than Torah study.

    In my time at a (left-leaning, secular) Kibbutz, this was a big bone of contention. The religiously supported Kibbutzim/Moshavim did not contribute to ‘the building of the State’ in material terms. Their young men were not required to do military service (or rather their ‘service’ was social work in religious communities). And of course at my Kibbutz, the particularly Orthodox religious contribution was seen as no contribution at all.

    There were veiled comments to the effect: those communities are leeching off us defending the State. This grates particularly when non-Orthodox soldiers are laying down their lives to defend ‘settlers’ who’ve set up communities in contested territory but then refuse to defend themselves militarily. Because Torah.

    Of course I defend to the death religious freedom, including a community collectively deciding to divert part of their wealth to promoting religious study rather than economic growth. But the Haredi community is effectively diverting everybody _else_’s hard-earned wealth to a very narrowly focussed sect. (Not to mention the huge siphoning off of funds from guilt-laden Jewry in USA.)

  32. @drasvi 1. If it is the former [a child’s right to choose whether/what education], why no one refers to opinions of children?

    Because if you’d left it to me to choose at age 5/11/14, I’d have made a whole bunch of bad choices, which would have meant I couldn’t enjoy the quality of life I now have. That is, ‘bad’ as I now see with the benefit of education. Did educationalists somehow ‘brainwash’ me into agreeing with them? I don’t think so. Because I didn’t know at that age it was possible to study Philosophy/Music/Linguistics/… Because you don’t know what you don’t know.

    I’m sad the education systems these days force kids far too early to make career choices and focus on ‘training’ to the exclusion of critical thinking.

    Did I need it to be Latin I studied? No, but I think it does need to be something abstract and fairly disconnected from quotidian concerns.

    I’m unconvinced ‘Talmudic studies’ fosters the sort of critical thinking I’m talking about. And I’m not defending the sort of force-fed propaganda of the ‘educational system’ under Xi Jinping, for example. Nor the religious indoctrination that seems to be creeping in to some U.S. schooling.

    (I don’t think it’s true “no one refers to opinion of children”: have you talked to teachers these days? who seem to me to spend an inordinate amount of time subjecting themselves to student ‘feedback’.)

    2. is it also a right of children in uncontacted tribes?

    _Somebody_ has to defend the rights of uncontacted tribes — to prevent their bit of the Amazon or Andamans from getting wiped out. It would be patronising for an outsider to do that without involving them. ‘Involving’ them needs explaining what’s putting their way of life under pressure which needs explaining a whole back story … OTOH in the case of the Andamans, perhaps uncontacting them is the least-bad compromise. Again they don’t know what they don’t know. And perhaps it’s better if they never know. I feel very uncomfortable saying that.

  33. From this: I must say that I have some admiration for the determination of a community to maintain its culture and language even if that undermines secular prosperity.

    To this: the beatings. the rote memorization. the rejection of critical thought. the hostility to learning of any kind beyond the rabbinic canon. the lack of literacy in kids’ native languages.

    I have to say my first instinct was to side with rozele, even before she posted her comment. Perhaps the only way for any community to maintain the utter purity of their language and culture against that of the wider world is the fanaticism of the Hasidim. Imagine if the Yupik or Yukaghir or Gabi Gabi or any other such group had such utter devotion to their language and culture, the world would still be filled with an amazing variety of languages. But to achieve this would require such a dictatorship of closed-mindedness that it would be repugnant from the start.

    The thing about universal compulsory education is that (though assuredly a Good Thing in the abstract) it has in practice been intimately tied up with the idea of Building a Modern Nation State,

    H.L. Mencken on Compulsory Education:

    “The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”

    edyukeshun for state-mandated education and test for a test administered by the state. #

    That took me aback for a second: can’t even NYT reporters spell correctly ?

    If you had any experience with Japanese katakana you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Take arubaito, for instance, derived from Arbeit in your best foreign language, but meaning “part-time work”, usually for a student. Once you’re used to that sort of thing, it all falls into place. For instance, if you transliterated ‘education’ into katakana (エジュケーション) and transliterated it back into English you would get ejukēshon. The pointedness of using that instead of the usual term kyōiku would be immediately apparent, although the significance in specific terms would depend on the context.

    I agree wholeheartedly with AntC’s last two comments, except for this: And I’m not defending the sort of force-fed propaganda of the ‘educational system’ under Xi Jinping.

    While there is a portion of the Chinese curriculum that is focused on political indoctrination, the Chinese education system is mostly designed to teach knowledge — of mathematics (to a higher level than many Western education systems), science, foreign languages, Chinese, literature, etc. The Chinese do not let political rigidity interfere with the education of their children, because it is the quality of that education that will allow China to continue to develop and become powerful.

  34. The Chinese do not let political rigidity interfere with the education of their children, because it is the quality of that education that will allow China to continue to develop and become powerful.

    So far, maybe (I have no relevant knowledge), but Xi is rapidly going down the road of God-Emperor (so popular these days around the world) in which the only goal is to maximize loyalty, the hell with abstract ideals of knowledge. That will not end well. (Look at what’s happened to Russian education, for example, and the best minds there have been fleeing the country for a while now.)

  35. I do have a modicum of relevant knowledge (from tutoring a Chinese primary-school girl). Ideology does not intrude into hard subjects. It does into subjects such as “politics”, which is not taken so seriously by students (although it’s obviously important to the government), and is designed to enforce the party narrative and Xi Jinping Thought.

    As for “God-Emperor”, I personally think he is truly sincere about creating a unified, powerful China, by strengthening science and technology (China is now one of the major producers of new patents in the world), strengthening the military, rooting out all kinds of corruption (even if that is a convenient way of rooting out rivals), and suppressing ethnic differences and creating a single Chinese identity based on the Han (ethnic languages are literally being phased out of existence through the education system). I personally don’t like him and I don’t agree with a lot that he is doing, but I don’t think he is doing it just to be adulated. He is a man with a mission, not just a megalomaniac.

  36. Power corrupts. If he’s not a megalomaniac yet, trust me, he will be.

  37. I am not sure if I’ve ever seen an ideologised course of a hard subject.

  38. The problem is not that all courses become ideologized, it’s that the emphasis of the system as a whole is on turning out loyal citizens, not people capable of thinking for themselves. If you get bad grades in math, that’s too bad, but no big deal; if you seem politically troublesome, you’re in big trouble.

  39. H.L. Mencken on Compulsory Education

    This is Mencken the anti-democrat, the man who believed that New York urbanites were mentally and morally superior, not just as a group but singly, to Kansas farmers.

    He is a man with a mission, not just a megalomaniac.

    Megalomaniacs do generally start as men (almost always men) with missions.

  40. Megalomaniacs do generally start as men (almost always men) with missions.

    Exactly. It’s a bad, though exceedingly common, mistake to think that the trouble with the world is that “bad people” are in power and that if we just put “good people” on the throne our problems would disappear. Above a certain power level, there are no good people. Power corrupts.

  41. H.L. Mencken on Compulsory Education
    As someone who (like, I assume, most everybody here) who has undergone compulsory government education, I can’t say I ever felt that the purpose was “to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality”, except if you define the standard so broad that it makes the word “standardized” meaningless. It may have been true in Mencken’s time (it was certainly true in Germany in the first half of the 20th century), but when I went to school in the 70s and early 80s, we were made acquainted with a wide range of opinions and had open discussions on social, ethical, and historical questions. Many teachers at my school had a conservative, catholic background (it was a government school, the teachers just reflected the general setup of the population in the region), and they weren’t hiding their opinions, but we also had some quite left-wing students and that gave some interesting discussions. And I didn’t have the feeling that I had to agree to a specific worldview in order to get good grades (actually, I was that pain-in-the-ass kid that embarrassed history teachers when they got their facts wrong).
    Just my personal experience; it made me very skeptical when people talk about school “indoctrinating” children, because that is what some of the more extreme socialist students would say about my school, even though it wasn’t what I saw with my own eyes.

  42. That’s good, but Germany has been understandably allergic to the whole God-Emperor thing for the last couple of generations. It’s obviously not impossible to have good government-run education, it’s just that when megalomaniacs get in power that’s one of the things they want brought into line (along with the security services, the press, and the judiciary).

  43. Going to school in Norway in the same era I had much the same experience as Hans. In the early years the teachers were typically religious and socially conservative (without ever expressing a clear political opinion, not even one recognizable in hindsight). In the later years, more teachers would have had their education in the seventies and would either be marxists or libertarian/conservative (thatcherite lite), but either way I never had a teacher who forced a certain interpretation of the world upon me. Some fellow students claimed to have been marked down for arguing the wrong opinions, but (1) that would be about a certain teacher, not the system, and (2) in the cases I was witness to myself, it was always about the style and quality of argument, not the opinions expressed.

    In fact, what I saw as the most dangerous force against critical thinking at the time was the political youth organizations (of all colours) who took in young people with interest for thinking deeply about society and schooled them in campaign argumentation.

  44. I understand the point of bringing education into line, but a wannabe autocrat can achieve that with private education as well, maybe even more easily than with public education, with tax rules and funding.

  45. Sure. There are so many ways to indoctrinate people!

  46. David Eddyshaw says

    I don’t think our own experiences of school are really to the point: our backgrounds meant that we were already the sort of product that the system is supposed to turn out. I’m thinking of something more fundamental than political differences: acculturation.

    This is alive and well as an actual objective of our school systems, and it remains the case that the object is to produce the kind of citizens that the state wants: speaking the State Language, able to contribute to the State GDP, and (above all) abiding by what the State feels are acceptable cultural norms.*

    There are good arguments that this is indeed what schools should be doing: but that should not blind us to the fact that the system is (a) coercive and (b) intended to eradicate “undesirable” aspects of the child’s home background. What counts as undesirable is decided by the state.
    This may well be as it should be: but the issue is neither trivial or beyond debate.

    As I said above, I do not myself agree with Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or Roma) who regard all this as a reason to withdraw their children from the state school system; but their concerns are comprehensible and not paranoid. And the fact that I don’t agree with them may well simply reflect the fact that my own values are not too far out of step with the State’s. (That might not always be so in future …)

    * Acceptable Islam, acceptable Judaism, acceptable Christianity. All these things are perfectly fine, so long as people don’t go overboard with them …

  47. I am, as usual, in agreement with the remarks of my distinguished ophthalmological/linguistical comrade.

  48. PlasticPaddy says

    There are a couple of things here.
    1. I believe originality is best exercised within a framework of assumptions and approaches found in the past to be effective. Are schools wrong to teach these assumptions and approaches with minimal examination, or does this dampen down student originality and creativity?
    2. Must teachers try to identify societal biases and encourage debate among students who, due to insufficient knowledge and experience, will only take away a crude simplification from any such debate? I agree you have to start somewhere, but maybe initial debate topics should be something cruder and more rooted in the students’experience?

  49. David Marjanović says

    “The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”

    I’ll just repeat what everyone’s been saying: that depends on whether, in current US terms, Republicans or Democrats are in charge. 😐

    I am not sure if I’ve ever seen an ideologised course of a hard subject.

    Nazi math textbooks routinely worded math problems in ways that heavily implied “isn’t it horrible how much this costs, shouldn’t we rather…”. Examples have long been included in the history schoolbooks here.

    I understand the point of bringing education into line, but a wannabe autocrat can achieve that with private education as well, maybe even more easily than with public education, with tax rules and funding.

    The largely openly stated goal and method of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary against education. Privatize all schools and take over the market.

  50. It’s obviously not impossible to have good government-run education, it’s just that when megalomaniacs get in power that’s one of the things they want brought into line (along with the security services, the press, and the judiciary).
    Yes, of course; I wasn’t arguing against that – as you alluded to yourself, Germany has suffered greatly from education steered by megalomaniacs into indoctrination, and before that from a militarised education system that contributed to WW I and Hitler. I was rather arguing against Mencken’s view that all government education is inevitably indoctrination. (And I get the points DE makes, I just can’t answer to them in the detail necessary, cause my family is calling to me to get in the car already 🙂 ).

  51. David Marjanović says

    1. I believe originality is best exercised within a framework of assumptions and approaches found in the past to be effective. Are schools wrong to teach these assumptions and approaches with minimal examination, or does this dampen down student originality and creativity?

    That’s a bit too abstract for me to follow. Could you give an example?

    2. Must teachers try to identify societal biases and encourage debate among students who, due to insufficient knowledge and experience, will only take away a crude simplification from any such debate? I agree you have to start somewhere, but maybe initial debate topics should be something cruder and more rooted in the students’experience?

    Like in teaching anything else, start with what the students know and then successively build on that.

  52. Nazi math textbooks routinely worded math problems in ways that heavily implied “isn’t it horrible how much this costs, shouldn’t we rather…”. Examples have long been included in the history schoolbooks here.

    Got a link for me ? Just curious what would “cost so much”. Taking Baustatik seriously, perhaps ?

  53. David Marjanović says

    No, because the history books probably aren’t online, and because I can’t remember keywords from the quotes to search for.

  54. What kind of history book ? About science ? For Gymnasiasten ? I can take it from there.

    All I need is an ankle bone.

  55. David Marjanović says

    About history, the school subject officially called Geschichte und Sozialkunde when I was going to Gymnasium in Austria.

  56. NS condemnations of “non-intuitive” science are well-known – relativity, 4-dimensional spacetime etc. But a “costs so much” objection to something mathematical is new to me. I can’t think what that might be.

    Mathematics is free, only mathematicians need money. One objection to math would thus be: was nichts kostet, ist auch nichts. The opposite of what you’re saying.

  57. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this discussion has left me feeling much less inclined to attend the Rosh Hashanah evening service tonight.

  58. It surprises me. But maybe that’s only because I operate on the principle: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

    I know nothing about Rosh Hashana evening services. Do they tend to get contentious over NYT articles ?

  59. PlasticPaddy says

    @dm
    For my first point I suppose I was really thinking about something like essay writing, Euclidean geometry or algebra, where certain basic postulates and techniques have to be mastered before creativity comes in to play.

  60. @Stu: was DM referred to was not the cost of maths, but using math problems for propaganda, like calculating the cost of supporting what the Nazis deemed “unworthy life”. You can find examples here (scroll down to “Beispiele zeitgenössischer Rechenaufgaben in Schulbüchern”).

  61. But a “costs so much” objection to something mathematical is new to me. I can’t think what that might be.

    My expectation would be that it referred to things that cost a lot because of the machinations of, ahem, international bankers, IYKWIM.

  62. David Marjanović says

    Hans found it.

    Creativity comes into play in story writing well before the story can be called an essay. In math… I don’t think creativity goes beyond different paths to the same solution.

  63. For my first point I suppose I was really thinking about something like essay writing

    Yes, this is an extreme form of acculturation. Speaking a language and being able to write in a language are quite different skills. When native speakers of a foreign language are acculturated into writing in English (I’m sure this happens a lot in Africa, but it’s probably common elsewhere as well — sorry for wishy-washy formulation*), it is very much an acculturation process. Even learning to write for legal purposes, for corporate purposes, or for administrative purposes, is a massive acculturation process. And these are much prized practical abilities, which people make a living from.

    * I remember seeing or hearing of examples where people have their own native language but are literate in English only, but can’t cite anything specific. I’m sure there are plenty of historical examples, e.g., Roman Empire, Imperial China, etc.

  64. @Hans: thanks, I see now what was meant.

    It’s interesting that setting up such school math problems costs almost nothing in effort. There’s a lot of work involved in dumbing people down, but it’s pretty easy given the right attitude. Was nichts kostet, ist auch nichts.

  65. There are plenty of hispanohablantes in NYC who are literate, in the sense that goes beyond the bare ability to encode and decode their native language in written form, only in English. Native Americans who retain their languages often don’t know how to read and write them even in that limited sense, and I suppose the same is true of their Australian counterparts.

  66. David Eddyshaw says

    I remember seeing or hearing of examples where people have their own native language but are literate in English only

    Very common in Africa. In fact, when I was first learning Kusaal and attempting to communicate with patients in it, Kusaasi colleages would sometimes interrupt me to say of the patient “He’s literate, Doctor”: meaning “He speaks English.”

  67. In contrast, the NYT took considerable consultative efforts to have that article translated. What a stunt.

    Whatever truth is in the original English article, having it translated for only several tens of thousands of adult Hasidim is a not-so-sneaky way of saying: “see, they’re so out of it they can’t even read the New York Times”.

    And, as to the identity of the translator(s), the newspaper starts a Dolchstoßlegende. All The Buttons Fit To Push.

  68. rozele, my deepest salutes to you.

    I just happened to run today into a cartoon representing how one orthodox cartoonist views secular schools:
    https://twitter.com/michaelzil/status/1573605651623837696

    The Hebrew on top reads ‘Back to school’, and in the appropriate places (r. to l.) ‘welcome’, ‘torah’, ‘alcohol’, ‘Hello class’ and (in tiny letters on the phone screen) ‘boom’.

  69. And yeah, Happy Rosh Hashanah, especially to all honest apostate Jews out there.

  70. Whatever truth is in the original English article, having it translated for only several tens of thousands of adult Hasidim is a not-so-sneaky way of saying: “see, they’re so out of it they can’t even read the New York Times”.

    A lot of Hasidim would probably not, in fact, have access to the article otherwise, for various reasons. Are you saying there’s something wrong with giving them access to it? And you seem to be suggesting the article itself is mostly bullshit (“Whatever truth is in the original English article…”) — did you even read it, or are you just going on the “everything sucks” principle?

  71. David Eddyshaw says

    The cartoon strikes me as potentially liable to misinterpretation, rather like the posters in Black Mischief:

    Finally, there resulted a large, highly coloured poster well calculated to convey to the illiterate the benefits of birth control. … Copies were placarded all over Debra-Dowa; they were sent down the line to every station latrine, capital and coast; they were sent into the interior to vice-regal lodges and headmen’s huts, hung up at prisons, barracks, gallows and juju trees, and wherever the post was hung there assembled a cluster of inquisitive, entranced Azanians.

    It portrayed two contrasted scenes. On one side a native hut of hideous squalor, overrun with children of every age, suffering from every physical incapacity — crippled, deformed, blind, spotted and insane; the father prematurely aged with paternity squatted by an empty cook-pot; through the door could be seen his wife, withered and bowed with child bearing, desperately hoeing at their inadequate crop. On the other side a bright parlour furnished with chairs and table; the mother, young and beautiful, sat at her ease eating a huge slice of raw meat; her husband smoked a long Arab hubble-bubble (still a caste mark of leisure throughout the land), while a single, healthy child sat between them reading a newspaper. Inset between the two pictures was a detailed drawing of some up-to-date contraceptive apparatus and the words in Sakuyu: WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE?

    Interest in the pictures was unbounded; all over the island woolly heads were nodding, black hands pointing, tongues clicking against filed teeth in unsyntactical dialects. Nowhere was there any doubt about the meaning of the beautiful new pictures.

    See: on right hand: there is rich man: smoke pipe like big chief: but his wife she no good: sit eating meat: and rich man no good: he only one son.

    See: on left hand: poor man: not much to eat: but his wife she very good, work hard in field: man he good too: eleven children: one very mad, very holy. And in the middle: Emperor’s juju. Make you like that good man with eleven children.

  72. I’d like to think it was sometimes misinterpreted, but it was published in a (Litvak) Haredi newspaper and was to reinforce what its readers were already thinking.

  73. And you seem to be suggesting the article itself is mostly bullshit (“Whatever truth is in the original English article…”)

    I suggest nothing of the kind, as my earlier remarks upstream make clear. To refresh your memory, feel free to scroll up.

    “Whatever truth …” means “what I am about to say does not concern the claims and counterclaims about how accurate the article is”. Reuven Klein linked to some of them. What I went on to say concerned only the tactics aspect.

    It may surprise you that the various aspects of a topic can only be addressed one after the other, but there it is. I believe it’s called linearity of speech and writing.

  74. “He’s literate, Doctor”: meaning “He speaks English.”

    @DE, wow, that’s beautiful!

  75. @Hans, LH, DE,

    I did not think about “indoctrination”:/ I attended a Soviet school, and… Direct indoctrination can, maybe, have a powerful effect: there are peoples who were converted to Christianity or Islam by very direct application of force and indoctrination.

    The (quite limited) amount of indoctrination I was exposed to annoys me, but whether you feel annoyed or repeat their propaganda enthusiastically, it feels superficial. Our TV news in 2014 strongly affected people’s emotions. “Something scary, very scary is going on in Ukraine”. The TV was making people panic.

    But what if you start hearing “Obama is a good guy, Trump is a bad guy” every morning? Will it affect your personality?

    Meanwhile the process that made you a modern Geman and not a Bedouin does not annoy you. You don’t even reflect on it and if you’re an English speaker rather than an educated Iranian, you can’t even imagine that it is possible to be different until you come to Iran.

  76. @Bathrobe While there is a portion of the Chinese curriculum that is focused on political indoctrination, the Chinese education system is mostly designed to teach knowledge — of mathematics (to a higher level than many Western education systems), science, foreign languages, Chinese, literature, etc. The Chinese do not let political rigidity interfere with the education of their children, because it is the quality of that education that will allow China to continue to develop and become powerful.

    (Gosh this thread’s moving fast — sorry to drag it back to all of … yesterday.)

    I’d agree that used to be the case; like @Hat, I’m unconvinced Xi is today upholding those values. In any case, _still_, Chinese technology advances mostly by stealing from the West. You might point to the rate of their filing patents: my info is they’re mostly tiny advances in improving Western-developed technologies; what Popper would call ‘Technology’, not ‘Science’.

    This is a huge problem for Taiwan with electronics (and therefore for the U.S./the West in general): the Taiwanese are genuinely innovative (a lot of it by partnering with the U.S.); currently the bulk of their manufacturing is in the mainland (they’re furiously trying to move it anywhere else); continually the PRC is trying to bribe/steal their best people — to the extent Taiwan now has legislation that anybody in high-tech who goes to work in the mainland is permanently banned from returning/or working in high-tech upon return.

    I’d also question the PRC’s abilities at medical innovations: their vaccines are notably ineffective compared to the West’s; neither do they seem to have ‘reverse engineered’ the West’s to improve their own.

    foreign languages, Chinese, literature, you mean non-Chinese literature? Please explain how a language learner can advance when the Great Firewall prevents them keeping up with current language use. Xi seems to be actively discouraging students going abroad to study.

    And a more general question to the floor — coming back to schools teaching by rote/a body of knowledge rather than ‘thinking’ skills: what’s the trick for encouraging critical thinking in some subjects (say Maths) but balkanising that thinking to only ‘safe’ topics, not (say) the manifest bullshit getting fed by the CCP?

    I’m asking because the most astute political critics I remember from school were studying Maths, not Social Sciences. I found myself somewhere in the middle: studying Maths, Physics (mostly rote stuff), Economics — where we had a tame Trotskyite who could only regurgitate dogma.

  77. About English speakers and Iranians – it is my very sad expereince from online forums. You say: “I want to learn more about other cultures”. Then you say: “there are good and bad people in every culture!”. Then whenever you deal with an actual cultural difference (other than cuisine, but including dress), you just think that you met a bad person. I don’t think it is anyhow different for Russian speakers (if the discussion is in Russian and majority of participants are Russian). I think these people would react very differently when immerced: when seeing how people treat each other differently rather than observing one foreigner behaving accoridng to her cultural norms. Accepting different values must be of course more difficult.

    An educated Iranian, conversely, always compares her culture to the dominant culture and reflects on how she is different. But for a Russian (and an Iranian?) peoples of N. Caucasus are people who “don’t know good manners”. You can see a “cultural difference” in different behaviour of a member of dominant culture, but it does not mean that you will take an effort and learn to recognize it among “uncultured” Barbarians.

    It is the step one (“I want to learn more about other cultures!”) that makes the whole thing so sad. People take an effort, even learn a foreign language, and yet. Take away your ugly tentacles, it was not like this in Star Trek! And I was not kidding about dress.

  78. PlasticPaddy says

    @drasvi
    I would like to give two examples from Ireland.
    1. The taoiseach made a statement to the effect that Russian invasion of Ukraine is incompatible with holding a seat on the UN Security Council.
    2. A journalist made a statement to the effect that this was the first time a nuclear power was going to be defeated conventionally by a non-nuclear equipped enemy.
    To me, these illustrate a gap, not just in factual knowledge, but in more general understanding of history and the workings of institutions like the UN. These are not stupid people, they just live in a bubble where certain information and analysis is by convention not presented.

  79. I’d agree that used to be the case; like @Hat, I’m unconvinced Xi is today upholding those values.

    Do you have evidence for this? Or is it just an ‘impression’? China is well past the stage where it rejects Western technical knowledge. That was a late 19th century thing. China now fully embraces science and technology as essential to its development.

    In any case, _still_, Chinese technology advances mostly by stealing from the West.

    I have no doubt they steal a lot. But is it true that “Chinese technology advances mostly by stealing from the West”? Unless you have the people and systems in place, stealing from the West won’t help you. Chinese have also demonstrated an ability to take outdated technology and upgrade it to world-class levels through those “incremental” improvements you mention.

    Please explain how a language learner can advance when the Great Firewall prevents them keeping up with current language use.

    China is trying to walk a fine line here, getting its kids to learn English while keeping out undesirable foreign influences, I will admit that. But the Chinese are aware how important English is. The girl I taught was being taught English, science, and maths in English by foreign teachers at her school. To be honest, it wasn’t taught well because the foreign teachers didn’t know enough Chinese to be effective. But I don’t think this kind of thing has been terminated. Are you just talking impressions or are you talking facts?

    what’s the trick for encouraging critical thinking in some subjects (say Maths) but balkanising that thinking to only ‘safe’ topics

    To be honest, I don’t think it’s difficult. I have read critiques of China by foreigners living and teaching there. Chinese students are well aware of the shortcomings of the system, a system they have to live by, much more than foreigners give them credit for. They have a cynical appreciation of that system, which they know they can’t change. When I have time I’ll dig one of these critiques out.

    Have you lived and worked in China? Not Taiwan, China. Unless you have, I don’t think your impressions hold much water.

    I’m not defending China or pretending everything is rosy. But I do think a lot of people are misled by the criticism and anti-China rhetoric.

  80. China now fully embraces science and technology as essential to its development.

    I would have though it obvious from what I said that I’m well aware of that. Stealing semiconductor manufacturing technology is not “a late 19th century thing”. Engineers Found Guilty of Stealing Micron Secrets for China, Taiwan raids 10 Chinese firms poaching chip engineers — and that list could go on and on, but I suspect Hat’s spam filter will barf. tsmc — Taiwan’s highest-tech chip manufacturer — is planning a huge plant near Kaohsiung, at what is really unfeasibly high costs, except it avoids sharing their technology into the mainland.

    Have you lived and worked in China? Not Taiwan, China.

    I’ve lived and worked in Hong Kong before the hand-back/before Xi. This was in a entrepôt corporation that traded extensively into the mainland.

    Unless you have, I don’t think your impressions hold much water.

    Getting accurate information is as hard for those within China — even for those trying to run it — as for those outside.

    Given the level of suppression of information within PRC these days, I’m unconvinced the impressions of somebody living/working in one particular city carry more weight than mine observing from outside. At least outsiders have means to grab and preserve outbreaks of dissent before the censors shut them down.

    Taiwan media does channel the many sides of debate within China.

    I think you can allow me credit for being able to detect Western “rhetoric” just as much as you’re crediting Chinese students with detecting “shortcomings”. Are you saying ‘tofu construction’ is not a thing? That having to tear down half-finished apartment blocks hasn’t wrecked the Ponzi scheme of property investment? Or that a whole bunch of dams didn’t collapse/could only be saved by flooding downstream this Summer? That the South-North water transfer Project is not in continual strife? (Since you’re concerned about holding water heh heh.) What does that say about Chinese technology?

    And yeah fair counterpoint that much U.S. infrastructure is now shaky. But at least it was well-constructed to start with, and has lasted its design life.

  81. The first time I heard about so-called langauge exchange (as in: I share my Russian with you and you share your Klingon with me), it was some Russian professor in Korea 20 years ago, he said that it was fashionable in China, and was getting fashionable in Korea too. Their teachers recommend students to approach foreigners on street and practice English and that is what they do: offer their service as guides in exhcnage for the opportunity to practice English.

    Some of major langauge leanring sites (for langauge exchnage and paid lessons) are owned by Chinese companies. One of them whcih I know well (it is one of those sites where learners publish essays and nastives* speakers correct them) offered limited fucntionality to people from mainland China. They could use paid services but not the forum. The forum was still full of (young) students from China… somehow getting there was not difficult. Maybe there was only an issue with the mobile app not the site? Or they fooled it somehow.
    Discussions of Chinese politics were not allowed.


    *not sure if I want to correct this typo

  82. I’m sorry if I sounded less than credulous. Some of your previous comments have suggested to me that you are getting a lot of your information from Language Log.

    Yes, all those criticisms of shoddy building are fair. But on the positive side, China now has one of the best high-speed railway systems in the world. China is putting people into space. That is not the result of a tinpot technological base, even if the technology was stolen. (The Japanese also stole a lot of technology in the early stages, which people don’t mention any more. And Japanese space exploration is a joke.)

    There are lots of horror stories about cheap, shoddy manufacturing in China, especially in its early stages. But China is slowly but steadily lifting its game and continues to do so. Maybe they are not yet ready to take over the world but they are a force to be reckoned with.

    I don’t think Xi is completely bad for China. Beneath that Western blather about a totalitarian state there was a lot of crap underneath (abuse of authority, fake stats, doing things for show to please higher ups, stealing children, stealing people’s dogs for the meat trade, fake goods, criminality at the local level, shoddy standards, the list goes on and on). Xi is actually trying to deal with this but rooting out these problems from the top is a gargantuan task. Despite this, I think that the overall trend is towards improvement. As I said, not rosy but by no means to be written off.

    drasvi: offer their service as guides in exhcnage for the opportunity to practice English

    Unless things have changed, quite a few of those who approach you on the street to practise their English are just trying to get you into a scam. Avoid them like the plague.

  83. @Bathrobe thank you, I did not know about it. But presence of actual langauge students who do it is also a confirmed fact, and I heard many times (from locals) that teachers do advise this method.

  84. I’m not defending China

    You certainly give that impression. You shade everything possible in their favor. And this isn’t about the Chinese people, who are great, it’s about the Chinese government, which is vile. When you say “I don’t think Xi is completely bad for China,” I hear resonances of similar remarks about earlier dictators (including Mao during the “cultural revolution,” which a lot of silly Westerners admired — thank God for Simon Leys). And your idea that his “war on corruption” is sincere and moral is laughable; attacks on “corruption” are part of every dictator’s playbook these days — it’s a very useful way of getting rid of rivals (since everyone in power is corrupt, and if by chance you can’t prove it you can always fake the evidence), and you look good to your people and credulous foreigners.

  85. @Y: The cop’s face is well done – just a few lines to convey a complex emotion – but overall, the cartoon reminds me of the Soviet satirical magazine, Krokodil. I thought it was a parody of the Haredim’s view of secular schools but the artist (Yoni Gerstein, right?) seems deadly serious. The apparently friendly and harmless dog seems to clash with the principal message – normally boys with cute pets aren’t schoolyard bullies. Perhaps it’s there because dogs are unclean to the Haredim? Also, the national flag is conspicuously missing from the Haredi classroom.

    By the way, why is “alcohol” spelled with a gimmel instead of a heh? Is this a hint at someone’s Russian accent?

  86. David Eddyshaw says

    similar remarks about earlier dictators

    Apparently the Fascists didn’t get the trains to run on time after all.

  87. Yup. For some reason foreigners are often eager to give credence to the claimed achievements of despots.

  88. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat, de
    Why make the trains run on time when you can spend less money on a controlled press and a small but dedicated internal security corps, served by informants who will gladly provide information for a nominal (or zero) fee? I think you would both fail Despotism 101.

  89. I think we were both agreeing with you.

  90. Hat, you have got to be kidding.

    I despise and fear Donald Trump and what he stands for, but fair’s fair, there is one good thing that he attempted to do: that was to extract the US from its constant, neverending string of overseas invasions and wars. Sure, the US is a “democratic” country, but that hasn’t stopped it from waging almost continuous war during its existence. It had only got the war against the indigenes in the West out of the way when it decided to occupy Hawaii and old Spanish territories as far as Asia.

    Maybe Biden is better than Trump, but he seems to be more aggressive and old school in his foreign policy attitudes — which is not a good thing.

    When I say Xi Jinping is not necessarily bad for China, I am talking about things like the constant abuse of power in the lower reaches of the Chinese military and bureaucracy. The idea of China being a “totalitarian dictatorship” is laughable; the sloppiness, abuse of power, and even collusion with criminal elements at the local level can be egregious, not to say the exploitation of their privileged postion by the national elite. To say that Xi may have had a good influence in that respect is not to “shade everything in his favour”. I don’t like the man or his policies, but at least I can see that the outcome may have good aspects for China. Sheesh.

  91. Alex K: Why a gimel? It clearly says אלכוהול.

    My understanding is that there is no general prohibition against keeping pet dogs or cats, but Haredis don’t keep them. I think it’s just a matter of traditional distaste (though I see online some after-the-fact excuses for it.)

    The artist is indeed Yoni Gershtein, the house cartoonist of Yated Ne’eman, a 79-y.o. graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (back before he found religion).

  92. Bathrobe: depends on your metric of “good for China”. GDP? Human Rights Index?

  93. David Eddyshaw says

    Also, the national flag is conspicuously missing from the Haredi classroom

    Yated Ne’eman appears indeed to be pretty hardline anti-Zionist editorially (which strikes me as cakeism worthy of Boris Johnson himself, but what do I know?)

    WP further tells us

    On April 3, 2009, the paper published a manipulated picture of Israeli cabinet ministers to conform to Religious sensitivities of its readers. Female cabinet ministers Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver were digitally removed from the published picture and replaced with male ministers Ariel Atias and Moshe Kahlon.

    In this context, the cartoon probably represents a model of understatement and restraint.

  94. I don’t like the man or his policies, but at least I can see that the outcome may have good aspects for China.

    As I say, that’s very reminiscent of things others have said about other dictators. You choose to look at things that way, I don’t.

    When I say Xi Jinping is not necessarily bad for China, I am talking about things like the constant abuse of power in the lower reaches of the Chinese military and bureaucracy.

    They abuse what little power they have; he will abuse the great power he is accumulating, which will be far worse. You can bet against that if you want, but you will lose your money.

  95. I hate dictatorships and authoritarian regimes as much as anyone, but I still think it’s reasonable to discuss their policies — specific issues as well as general outline. We do that for different historical regimes, almost all of them cruel and corrupt in different ways, so why wouldn’t we now? How long are we supposed to wait?

  96. Of course it’s reasonable — did I say it wasn’t? But there are ways and ways of discussing it, and I am allergic to ways that smack of justifying the brutality of those in power. “Well, they’re not *all* bad…” Some are worse than others, but yes, they are all bad. I think of the “revisionist” historians who felt it necessary to point out that Stalin’s repressions enabled a whole new cohort of citizens to get good jobs who otherwise probably wouldn’t have. Hey, Stalin wasn’t all bad!

  97. For one thing: If nothing makes a regime less bad or stupid, compared to its own history or to other regimes, how can anything make it worse? What did Stalin’s purges mean for the people of the Soviet Union? Their different phases? And the end of them?

  98. I mean, suppose I burn down your house and it turns out there was money buried in the basement which enables me to feed an orphan child. Is that going to make you feel better about my burning down your house?

  99. Or to put it another way: somehow people manage to discuss the policies of Nazi Germany and its rulers without coming across as implying that Hitler wasn’t that bad, or “not necessarily bad for Germany.”

  100. Heh. We hit the same example.

    Well, the resulting opportunities might explain why he had some support, and why some look back at his rule with nostalgia. That’s important history. But I agree that it shouldn’t be used to diminish the horrors.

  101. DE: “cakeism”? I like it, but what is it?

    Billboards featuring women are also routinely eliminated from Haredi public space (and increasingly other public spaces), either by defacement or by bowing to political pressure. Non-Haredi people are not happy about it.

    BTW, about Orthodox Jewish plutocracy: My dad told me a story (which must be apocryphal) about some famous and famously rich rabbi back in the glory days of the Pale, the floor of whose study was lined with gold coins, (here comes the punchline) placed on edge.

  102. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat
    There are several issues.
    1. If something is objectively bad, for me it is not useful to contend it is better than something subjectively worse.
    2. If something is objectively bad, is it capable of improvement or being constrained?
    3. If something is objectively bad and it is removed (think the witch in The Wizard of Oz), what is most likely to replace it?

  103. Well, the resulting opportunities might explain why he had some support, and why some look back at his rule with nostalgia. That’s important history. But I agree that it shouldn’t be used to diminish the horrors.

    Those are two entirely different things. I’m not talking about those who benefited from his rule — of course they were frequently fond of it — I’m talking about later scholars who knew perfectly well how it turned out and still felt they had to emphasize the good sides of it. That was, of course, not because they liked Stalin but because they wanted to advance in the academic world and one obvious way was by displacing those earlier “naive” scholars who insisted on Stalin’s evil. To quote Robert Conquest:

    They’re still talking absolute balls. In the academy, there remains a feeling of, “Don’t let’s be too rude to Stalin. He was a bad guy, yes, but the Americans were bad guys too, and so was the British Empire.” […] They say that we were Cold Warriors. Yes, and a bloody good show, too. A lot of people weren’t Cold Warriors — and so much the worse for them.

    Of course, in the 1930s there were plenty of Westerners who made excuses for Hitler; most of them later felt sandbagged: “How could we have known how he’d turn out?” Well, for one thing because he told you so himself in his very popular book; for another, brave exiles and reporters were telling you so. But you didn’t want to listen, because he was, after all, an Influential World Leader.

  104. (Er, that “you” was addressed to the Hitler apologists of the ’30s, not present company, as I hope was clear!)

  105. David Eddyshaw says

    “cakeism”? I like it, but what is it?

    The policy of having your cake and eating it too.

    On reflection, the comparison with the morally null Johnson is unfair to Haredi anti-Zionists in Israel, who actually do succeed in being anti-Zionist while enjoying the protection and support of the Zionist Entity; Johnson progressed well beyond mere hypocrisy by explicitly promising his xenophobic supporters that they could have the benefits of membership of the EU at the same time as not being in membership. The term is his own … shame, like honesty, is entirely foreign to his nature.

    The thing that really struck me about the Yated Ne’eman photo-manipulation story was not so much that they felt that their readers would object to pictures of women (which is, alas, factored in) but that they felt it necessary to manipulate the photograph to hide from their sensitive readers the existentially disturbing fact that there were, in awful truth, Women in the cabinet (as opposed to simply not using the offending obscene photograph of the Monstrous Regiment at all, which would surely have been the proper thing to do.)

  106. Interesting comments. I’m no expert, but if Xi and Putin can’t properly be called totalitarian dictators, then OED needs revision.

  107. I interpreted it “pictures of women” rather than hiding the fact that certain ladies work in the disreputable institution.

    Personally I am for gender equality and against xenophobia: I don’t want anyone to work in a government. Male or female, in any country.

  108. For some unexplained reason, I find it easy to imagine Johnson as a cake.

    The anti-Zionist religious parties are playing the long game. They can’t afford to stand on petty principles. Mild compromises are made and everyone’s happy. Everyone who counts, anyway.

  109. drasvi: It is indeed “pictures of women”. Voices of singing women are shunned as well.

  110. I’m no expert, but if Xi and Putin can’t properly be called totalitarian dictators, then OED needs revision.

    I understand a “totalitarian” regime or ideology as one that intervenes in numerous aspects of life where normal dictators usually don’t intervene. That thing that makes North Korea so different from the (very murderous) empire of Genghis Khan.

  111. Personally I am for gender equality and against xenophobia: I don’t want anyone to work in a government. Male or female, in any country.

    Mon semblable, — mon frère!

  112. David Eddyshaw says

    if Xi and Putin can’t properly be called totalitarian dictators, then OED needs revision

    I suppose that the issue under discussion is more whether a totalitarian dictator (rightly so labelled) might not nevertheless do some good for his country. Depending on how liberally you are prepared to interpret “Some good”, the answer is almost certainly Yes, except in extremely unusual circumstances.

    Mobutu Sese Seko, not what you might call a model ruler, nevertheless maintained the territorial integrity of Zaire, despite the cards being stacked against this from the outset by the way the Belgians summarily abandoned the country after having made no significant efforts whatsoever to prepare it for independence. I think you could make a good argument that this saved many lives and prevented much suffering.

    Also, according to WP, Transparency International reckoned he was only the third most corrupt world leader since 1984 (though the most corrupt in Africa.)

  113. Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga:(

    – Бонд. Джеймс Бонд.
    – Дамм. Ван Дамм. Клод Ван Дамм. Жан-Клод Ван Дамм…

  114. David Eddyshaw says

    I still don’t know what language that remarkable string of epithets is in. Ngbandi, presumably. Still, I think I can confidently say that the “official” rendering as “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake” is certainly bollocks, whatever language it is. And that, of course, is entirely appropriate …

  115. I suppose that the issue under discussion is more whether a totalitarian dictator (rightly so labelled) might not nevertheless do some good for his country. Depending on how liberally you are prepared to interpret “Some good”, the answer is almost certainly Yes, except in extremely unusual circumstances.

    I guess I don’t see the point of the question or the discussion. Surely any human being over the age of two (or whatever) had done both good and bad things; it’s trivial, like the fact that sometimes it rains and sometimes it doesn’t. It seems to me the only point of saying a totalitarian dictator has done some good for his country is to imply he wasn’t that bad. But that’s pointless and wrong. It’s a mystery to me why it strikes people as interesting to go in that direction.

    I still don’t know what language that remarkable string of epithets is in.

    I posted about it a decade ago but made the mistake of mentioning jamessal’s incipient career as a television critic, adding that he called Justified “the best show currently on television,” and the thread was totally derailed by that. There was no discussion of Mobutu’s name, and I still don’t know the answer.

  116. The Japanese also stole a lot of technology in the early stages, which people don’t mention any more.

    In Spider Robinson’s 1976 story “Half an Oaf” (search locally on the page for the title), a time traveler from 2007 buys a time machine in the form of a belt, but it’s defective: only his top half arrives in 1976.

    “If you’re not from the Enterprise,” Spud [12-year-old native of 1976] asked reasonably, “where are you from? I mean, how did you get here?”

    “Time machine,” scowled the fat man, gesturing angrily at the belt. “I’m from the future.”

    “Looks like half of you is still there.” Spud grinned.

    “Who ast you? What am I, blind? Go on, laugh—I’ll kick you in . . . I mean, I’ll punch ya face. Bug-huggin’ salesman with his big discount, I’ll sue his socks off.”

    The pool hall had taught Spud how to placate enraged elders, and somehow he was beginning to like his hemispheric visitor. “Look, it won’t do you any good to get mad at me. I didn’t sell you a Jap time machine.”

    “Jap? I wish it was. This duck-fucker’s made in Hoboken.”

  117. David Eddyshaw says

    Elderly Kusaasi still call shoddy workmanship zapan. The fame of postwar Japanese quality control standards reached even unto inland rural West Africa.

  118. David Marjanović says

    Apparently the Fascists didn’t get the trains to run on time after all.

    Nope! Mussolini managed to convince enough people that they were now running on time, but they still weren’t.

    I despise and fear Donald Trump and what he stands for, but fair’s fair, there is one good thing that he attempted to do: that was to extract the US from its constant, neverending string of overseas invasions and wars.

    What… the actual…

    Donald Trump tried to start a war with Iran in June 2019. That was in the international media. Ten minutes before the first missile was supposed to be launched, Putin or Erdoğan phoned him and got him to cancel the order. Did you seriously manage to miss that while it was happening?

    But, sure, trying to blackmail Zelensky is different from the US invading the place itself… though, in hindsight…

    Maybe Biden is better than Trump, but he seems to be more aggressive and old school in his foreign policy attitudes — which is not a good thing.

    Biden is the first POTUS in a long time to actually defend democracy instead of just using that as an Orwellian slogan.

    the morally null Johnson

    A perfect description that reminds me of the morally and intellectually null Gernot “Gernull” Blümel, Austria’s former minister of finance, who for example once forgot a zero (Null) in the federal budget.

  119. @Bathrobe there is one good thing that he [T****] attempted to do: that was to extract the US from its constant, neverending string of overseas invasions and wars.

    What @DM said.

    I don’t see you condemning Xi for involving China in escalating tension on all its borders — there’s now daily sorties of Chinese warplanes and frigates across the Taiwan Straits; the Taiwanese have taken to actually shooting down drones that overfly Qinmen; the build-up of military ports on islands in the South China Sea; the sabre-rattling at Japan; and of course not curtailing N.Korea’s threats in any way, despite the N. Koreans themselves starving.

    But since this is Language Hat, not bad-dictators-in-general Hat …

    Why is it essential to Xi’s purpose to suppress all languages and cultures inside his own borders? Not just in Tibet and Xinjiang — where it’s downright genocide, but even Canton/HK where Cantonese is getting squeezed out of schools and all official venues. No previous Emperor (and not even Mao) — not even the British in HK — wanted to suppress China’s glorious diversity of cultures to that extent.

    How does Xi’s behaviour-on-the-ground jibe with your earlier claim:

    the Chinese education system is mostly designed to teach knowledge — …, foreign languages, Chinese, literature, etc.

    Foreign languages, but not Chinese languages? Chinese literature but with huge gaps to avoid those Xi will not tolerate? You’re reminding me a lot of Edgar Snow.

    And how can you be so naïve as to claim Xi is rooting out corruption? As @Hat said, every official in a dictatorship is corrupt. Xi is cherry-picking the anti-corruption targets, to neutralise opposition. That’s why the anti-corruption laws are framed in such catch-all terms.

    Xi is not so bad because his opponents aren’t (yet) found to be ‘falling’ from balconies, is it? “China executes more people than all other countries combined.” [Amnesty International]

  120. Did you seriously manage to miss that while it was happening?

    Yes, I did. I think I was travelling in China at the time.

    But unlike Obama, who was a good, nice, reasonable guy who just managed to keep American embroiled in foreign conflicts, that nasty Trump arsehole did make moves to withdraw from them. Afghanistan, for one. But yes, you are right, Trump was inconsistent in everything he did, from economic policy to foreign policy, mostly ruled by his amygdala.

  121. Xi’s instinct, like that of many strongmen, seems to be to centralize control in his hands. There is only one way usually for this to end, in a state where every initiative is suffocated except for the corruption of a close circle around the leader (see Russia right now). Right now, China has a very vibrant economy (much more vibrant than Russia ever was) and officials on all levels can cream off from plenty. This vibrancy will take a couple of decades to be killed off, and maybe Xi will be gone by then and his successor(s) will loosen the screws again. But I agree with Hat and AntC that he’s taking China in the wrong direction.

  122. David Eddyshaw says

    Xi’s instinct, like that of many strongmen, seems to be to centralize control in his hands

    騎虎難下

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E9%A8%8E%E8%99%8E%E9%9B%A3%E4%B8%8B#Chinese

    It’s the Mugabe problem. There comes a point where retirement is likely to prove rapidly fatal.

  123. there’s now daily sorties of Chinese warplanes and frigates across the Taiwan Straits

    Virtually the entire world recognises Taiwan as part of China. That’s a fact. Now, I don’t want to see Taiwan actually absorbed into China, but I don’t think current Western diplomacy is helping Taiwan’s cause one bit.

    the build-up of military ports on islands in the South China Sea; the sabre-rattling at Japan

    The Chinese take-over of the South China Sea happened before Xi came to power. Sabre-rattling at Japan is also old hat. Xi is just continuing the policy of his predecessors, stepping them up a notch because he feels confident in his military and economic power to do so.

    I remember being told by a Chinese colleague in the mid 2000s that he was glad the US continued to be embroiled in the Middle East, because that would give China a chance to build up its strength while the US wasn’t watching. I had another (unmarried, male, frustrated) colleague who asked me circa 2012, if the Soviet Union could take over Karelia, why couldn’t China act the same. Both of these were before Xi took power. This has all been a long time coming; Xi has just decided that the time has come to be more assertive. Plus I think he has a big-dick complex — the dick being the Chinese armed forces, which have been gradually beefing up their strength. But despite its sabre-rattling, China is still fairly cautious in its military policy. It certainly doesn’t send in the troops at the drop of a hat. How it will turn out in future is another question.

    Why is it essential to Xi’s purpose to suppress all languages and cultures inside his own borders?

    The new ethnic policies reflect arguments from certain Chinese intellectuals, which also date to pre-Xi times, that the old idea of a multi-ethnic state is broken; it produces division and tension (see Tibet and Xinjiang), and only weakens the country. It’s essential for China to suppress these differences through a strong policy of assimilation. (I’m sorry, I don’t have time to root for sources.)

    The idea of unifying Chinese under the umbrella of standard Mandarin is nothing new, either. Goes back a long way.

    “China executes more people than all other countries combined.” [Amnesty International]

    How old is that statistic? I’m pretty sure it also predates Xi.

    In response to continued references here to Stalin, Hitler, and the rest, I don’t think Xi is a Stalin, a Hitler, or even a Mao. Hitler was preparing to wipe out Jews and, I suspect, invade Russia from the very beginning. Mao was prepared to lay waste to his country to stay in power. I don’t see Xi as being that bad. At any rate, we shall see how things turn out. There is a possibility that before Xi’s policies come to fruition there will be a major war. And if there is, I don’t think the blame will entirely lie on the Chinese side. China is nothing if not cautious. Its opponents possibly less so…..

    Again, I am not defending China or Xi. I’m responding to the over-the-top comments that I’m seeing here. Hat, because he hates any kind of dictator or strong man (“they’re all the same”), you because you seem determined to demonise Xi and China. One doesn’t have to love dictators to realise that demonisation is counter-productive.

  124. @drasvi (and DE, who made similar points):
    Meanwhile the process that made you a modern Geman and not a Bedouin does not annoy you. You don’t even reflect on it and if you’re an English speaker rather than an educated Iranian, you can’t even imagine that it is possible to be different until you come to Iran.
    Naturally, nobody grows up in a vacuum. But if the culture you grow up in is open, it will give you opportunity to reflect on the process, to show alternatives and encourage you to explore them. I think that the system I grew up in tried to do that; for me personally, it also helped that I had parents who were open and interested in foreign cultures (both my parents knew English and had English and American friends, my mother knows French and my father some Italian and spent time in Italy). But even the provincial Gymnasium in a quite conservative Catholic area of Germany that I went to promoted a degree of debate and openness that allowed us to understand that there are many ways of doing things.
    I see the point that this system might have been less welcoming to people from a non-Western culture. But here, I think, the question is not so much whether state education for such people necessary equals indoctrination or oppression and therefore is wrong, but what the goals and content of the education should be. It should enable them to participate in the society they live in while acknowledging their own cultural background and allowing to develop it, at least as far as it’s compatible with the society they live in. And for many children with an immigrant background in Germany, government school education is the best or even only way to actually obtain the knowledge needed to successfully participate; in my view the problem is not that they have to undergo that education, but that it’s often not up to the task due to lack of funding and commitment to the task of integration by the education bureaucracy and politicians.

  125. David Eddyshaw says

    if the culture you grow up in is open, it will give you opportunity to reflect on the process, to show alternatives and encourage you to explore them

    This is, of course, itself an expression of a particular culture, and a historically and geographically very unusual one at that. In fact, I agree with you that this is a highly desirable model of what education ought to be; but then, we share the same cultural preconceptions (mostly.)

    It is (nevertheless) possible to do great harm by imposing this model, with the best possible intentions and a genuine concern for the welfare of children. The treatment of indigenous children in North America and Australia comes to mind, for example.

    And I don’t believe that we have the one true working formula for the Good Life in our shared culture, remarkable, cherishable and uniquely valuable though it be. (Indeed, the logic of my own cultural preconceptions precludes this conclusion …)

  126. Virtually the entire world recognises Taiwan as part of China.

    No: most of the world adopts the U.S. policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’. (I except the poor countries that are getting monster hand-outs from Xi under the ‘belt and road’ initiative. “poor” both in the sense of impecunious; and in the sense to be pitied, because he’s now going to slowly strangle them.)

    But I can see further argumentation is pointless: there seem to be matters of bare fact on which we can’t agree. Yes to an extent Xi is amping up policies and attitudes that were already prevalent. No he didn’t have to pursue that route to such extremes. No he didn’t have to institute genocide in Xinjiang/Tibet. (I’ve been carefully avoiding drawing parallels with Hitler (Östpolitik) or Stalin, but on that, I can’t slide a cigarette-paper between them.) It’s reached the point where gradual quantitative change has morphed into qualitative change. And at the nexus of a collapse in the domestic housing/mortgage market (which was equally inevitable, ‘socialist economics’ notwithstanding) — so he’s now got to find something to divert domestic dissent.

    I don’t think the blame will entirely lie on the Chinese side.

    Xi with HK did not have to break faith so rapidly and sharply with the terms of the hand-back. If he’d continued ‘one country two systems’, the Taiwanese would at least have been more amenable to some sort of similar arrangement. As far as Taiwan is concerned, for HK _all_ of the blame lies with Xi. BTW Biden has just sold them an enormous quantity of high-tech military equipment.

  127. most of the world adopts the U.S. policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’

    Yes, but they pay lip-service to the One China policy. China has always believed in the One-China policy. If other countries signed up for it, even if in name only, they can only blame themselves if China takes them up on it.

    he’s now got to find something to divert domestic dissent

    And his covid policies, too. But I think that territorial issues would have come to the fore sometime or other. It’s just a question of when, and how.

    As I said, I don’t like Xi. But I do think that America is edging closer to war with China. And it’s not just because Xi is a ‘bad guy’.

    It’s reached the point where gradual quantitative change has morphed into qualitative change.

    I could see this coming for a while. I’ve always been against China’s occupation of the South China Sea and provocations in the East China Sea and Himalayas, its theft of technology, its internal assimilation policies, its all-out strengthening of its military, its policies on HK, etc. They all irk me. But irking me and seeing Xi as another ruthless, vicious dictator are two separate issues.

  128. It’s the Mugabe problem. There comes a point where retirement is likely to prove rapidly fatal.

    Hmm? Jiang Zemin is still alive, and gets trotted out at the occasional party plenary.

    The more wild-eyed Western China-watchers continue to talk of a ‘Jiang faction’, and explain the anti-corruption drive as rooting out Jiang supporters. I find it difficult to believe Jiang is in any sense active as a focus for dissent — not even as a figurehead.

    So Xi could retire to rest on his laurels — indeed the sooner the better, it’s about to get a whole lot worse for his ‘legacy’. But no: this Autumn he wants to get re-appointed for another 5-year term — which will in effect mean for life.

  129. Donald Trump tried to start a war with Iran in June 2019.

    I missed this too, but that’s because I don’t follow the news. But I found a NYT article about it, and they pointed out that the called-off air raids were very like the not-called-off air raids on Syria in 2017 and 2018, which were not referred to as “trying to start a war with Syria”. I really don’t know enough to account for all this.

  130. This has all been a long time coming; Xi has just decided that the time has come to be more assertive. … the Chinese armed forces,

    seeing Xi as another ruthless, vicious dictator are two separate issues.

    Reading back the debate, there’s perhaps something I’ve not made clear. This is nothing personal about Xi. He’s a figurehead/cipher/political representative for the armed forces. Getting rid of him individually won’t make a jot of difference. (Historians will debate forever to what extent Stalin became as much enchained by the monster he’d created versus him arriving there by intent. The fact of the worse parts getting dismantled rapidly after his death suggest there was nothing inevitable. China’s military-political complex OTOH seems far more organic. Of course they command much better tools for thought control — or at least for dissent control.)

    The PLA (to the extent it’s distinguishable from Xi/the political leadership) might reflect they’ve never engaged in an actual shooting war; and observe how Putin’s ‘professional’ army is going in Ukraine.

    Then observe they’re doing a terrible job of winning ‘hearts and minds’. “China to double down on Taiwan unification efforts” says one headline. “China’s Foreign Minister threatens violence against Taiwan before United Nations” says another. “Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be ‘devastating’ to world economy: Blinken points out Taiwan invasion would be catastrophic for global semiconductor supply chain”.

    The more Xi/the military back themselves into a corner of threats of force; the less likely bare force (in the absence of soft power) will be effective.

    But of course you’d have to have studied history/politics/the ineffectiveness of cultural hegemony to understand that. Which is where we came in …

    China has always believed in the One-China policy.

    Taiwan likes to point out that Taiwan has never been part of the territory of CCP’s ‘One China’. To find a time when Taiwan was ruled from Beijing, you have to go back before 1895. _Before_ there was a CCP. I don’t suppose Chinese schools are teaching that.

  131. @JC I really don’t know enough to account for all this.

    That’s alright. Neither did T**** know enough — on any subject.

    I can’t remember the news from 2019 — and I _do_ try to follow. There’s been a _lot_ of news since then. Cache overflowed … and then some …

  132. Personally, I’m fine with a unified China under President Tsai Ing-Wen. I think she’s doing a fine job.

  133. President Tsai Ing-Wen. … doing a fine job.

    Yes, and how! She’s rediscovered her Hakka and indigenous roots. There’s ethnic/cultural centres sprouting all over the country. The Taroko peoples have been granted rights over their tāonga (as we call it down here — cultural treasures), in recompense for their dreadful treatment at the hands of the Japanese.

    Perhaps she should try to change the constitution to be President for life. She’s an academic (economist) rather than a political careerist. Edukashun in’nit.

  134. But of course you’d have to have studied history/politics/the ineffectiveness of cultural hegemony to understand that.

    AntC, I think you should drop the condescending tone. It doesn’t help your argument one bit.

    I have also been concerned about the power of the military to influence policy in China. I personally don’t see any evidence, though, that the military are in charge. I do think that China’s leadership is emboldened by its increasing military power — a result of economic prosperity, and ultimately reform and opening up. Which is why many anti-China hawks seem to think it was a mistake to engage with China and allow it to join the WTO.

  135. Taiwan likes to point out that Taiwan has never been part of the territory of CCP’s ‘One China’. To find a time when Taiwan was ruled from Beijing, you have to go back before 1895. _Before_ there was a CCP.

    What an inane and benighted comment.

    The ROC has also supported One China — it’s just that they wanted to retake the Mainland in order to reunite the country. Since they can’t do that, the next best thing is to deny the legitimacy of any CCP claim on Taiwan.

    Anyway, why should it matter that you have to go back to 1895? The point is that Taiwan was taken from China by the Japanese and should have been returned along with all its other conquered territories. Since the Communists see themselves as heirs to the Republic of China and ultimately the Qing dynasty, it’s perfectly logical for them to see themselves as the rightful rulers of Taiwan. The only reason that Taiwan didn’t return to China is intervention by a foreign power (the US).

    I don’t suppose Chinese schools are teaching that.

    Such a wry little aside. Why should Taiwan be teaching that, either? It’s only a vain attempt to justify their own situation.

    I admit that I would like Taiwan to remain separate from the Mainland, but to put up such feeble arguments (and I’ve heard them before) is clutching at straws.

  136. drop the condescending tone.

    The satirical tone was aimed at those within China rewriting/obliterating Chinese history. I’m not suggesting anyone here is unaware of the history.

    It was a mistake to let CCP be the sole representative of China at the U.N., and then at WHO. Joining the WTO should have been on condition — with genuine sanctions — of opening their economy and not stealing IP. Also of genuinely implementing labour protections. Also of not using prisoners for cheap labour (that is, for the ones not executed). (Yes I know the U.S. uses prison labour: the same rules to apply for them.)

  137. This is, of course, itself an expression of a particular culture, and a historically and geographically very unusual one at that.

    In fact, I agree with you that this is a highly desirable model of what education ought to be; but then, we share the same cultural preconceptions (mostly.)
    I agree with both points.

    It is (nevertheless) possible to do great harm by imposing this model, with the best possible intentions and a genuine concern for the welfare of children. The treatment of indigenous children in North America and Australia comes to mind, for example.
    I again agree. But there’s a difference between conquering people, taking away their land, and then forcing them to acculturate themselves to the conquerors’ culture “for their own good”, compared to giving the means to integrate themselves to people who chose to immigrate to your country.

    And I don’t believe that we have the one true working formula for the Good Life in our shared culture, remarkable, cherishable and uniquely valuable though it be. (Indeed, the logic of my own cultural preconceptions precludes this conclusion …)
    I agree again. But there is still the question on whether that means that we should look the other way when cultures have practices that our culture sees as inhumane and cruel, or whether we have not only the right, but maybe even the obligation to try to stop them.

  138. @Hans, I do not think that not forcing a child to underwent compulsory education in a state-controlled environment (in a class of German kids as opposed to home-schooling) is cruel.

    FGM is.

  139. undergo:(

  140. David Eddyshaw says

    FGM is

    This is so completely accepted in our culture that even to discuss the issue can be quite dangerous*; yet millions of human beings who love their daughters as much as we do disagree (and the pressure not to abandon it often comes from women.)

    Incidentally, the practice of male circumcision, as practiced by Jews and Muslims (admittedly much less physically damaging, though much more radical MGM is actually seen in many cultures) has been lumped together with FGM as a precisely parallel “mutilation” perpetrated on children without their consent, and there have been sustained attempts to make it illegal in Europe.

    Last I heard, the only person in the UK to have been prosecuted for FGM was a blameless obstetric registrar whose “crime” was attempting (in an emergency situation) to repair childbirth-induced damage in a woman who had previously been subjected to FGM. His attempts to put things back as they had been before birth were construed as FGM. I much doubt that he would have been prosecuted if he had been white (his own culture does not practice FGM and he was personally in no way in favour of it.) There have been suggestions to make the gynaecological examination of “at risk” (i.e. African) girls compulsory in the UK, so that the Evil May Be Eradicated From Among Us. I think it is reasonable to wonder whether the motivation of all the campaigners involved is completely straightforward, and indeed whether all such campaigners are fully aware of their own motivations.

    * In honour of which, I hereby declare that I oppose the practice and think that it should be illegal. The Kusaasi have never done it, though possibly because their culture doesn’t really do rites-of-passage ritual things at all. Some of the most admirable campaigners I know of against the practice are African women who come from societies where it is practiced: they have the right to speak on this (and to be heard.) I’m not convinced that anyone else does.

  141. DE: are there African women in favor of FGM, even for their own daughters, the way it is with Jewish MGM? That’s when the ethics would become knotty.

  142. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes, indeed there are (Indeed, not so much “even”, but especially.)

    FGM does not exist in a vacuum, as some cruel practice simply devised to keep women in subjection. In many African cultures it is (part of) an important ceremony marking entrance to adult womanhood. From outside such cultures it’s easy to pronounce that the FGM is some excrescent rite that forms no real part of the “true” ritual. Our untroubled assumption of ethical superiority makes such discernments straightforward …

    I don’t know anything like enough about Islam to know about the place of FGM there. I’ve read that the Hadith support for the practice is accepted by Islamic jurists to be very weak, though. It certainly isn’t entailed by Islam, the way male circumcision is. However, it seems to correlate with Islamic influence in the Oti-Volta area. It is probably not coincidental that the Kusaasi are much less influenced by Islam in general than, say, the Mamprussi, who do/did traditionally have FGM. (It’s illegal in Ghana.)

  143. I don’t see Xi as being that bad.

    That’s abundantly clear.

    Again, I am not defending China or Xi. I’m responding to the over-the-top comments that I’m seeing here.

    There are no over-the-top comments, just comments that disagree with you. Mischaracterizing opposing arguments and trying to dismiss them in that way is not helpful. Similarly:

    Hat […], you seem determined to demonise Xi and China. One doesn’t have to love dictators to realise that demonisation is counter-productive.

    That’s absurd. I’m not “demonizing” them, I’m pointing out that Xi is a dictator who is dragging China in the same doom-spiral direction Putin is dragging Russia; that’s what dictators and wannabe dictators do. Apparently anything but the kind of respect shown by diplomats and the official press is “demonizing.” Come on now.

    You seem to feel in a vague way that Xi is not a great guy and some of China’s policies are not great, while simultaneously feeling very strongly that Xi and China are getting a bad rap. Maybe that form of cognitive dissonance is necessary for you for whatever reason, but it’s still incoherent.

  144. Yes, indeed there are (Indeed, not so much “even”, but especially.)

    As there have been for pretty much all forms of repression of women — foot-binding in China is my go-to example. It is always and everywhere the case that repression succeeds and lasts by coopting enough of the repressed to maintain and enforce their own repression. And bien-pensant Western support for FGM as “an important ceremony marking entrance to adult womanhood” infuriates me. It deprives women of the possibility of sexual pleasure for the rest of their lives; it is, as drasvi says, cruel, and there is no excuse for it. Does anyone imagine that if women ran the world, if their desires and needs were as unquestioned as men’s are in this wretched world we inhabit, that there would be such a thing? No there wouldn’t. The torture practiced on prisoners by many Native Americans several centuries ago was also an important element of their culture; I’m sure there are plenty of people (mostly overeducated, like we who are here assembled) who defend that as well, and point out that Europeans did bad things too. Yes they did; bad things are bad, no matter who does them. And I don’t want to hear any muttering about how it’s all relative. Mutilation and torture are bad, end of story.

  145. David Eddyshaw says

    I may be bien-pensant (or not*) but I do not support FGM.

    It is part of an “important ceremony marking entrance to adult womanhood” in many cultures, however awkward and infuriating that may be: facts often are infuriating.

    I have read of (successful) endeavours to repress the horrid practice which have been successful precisely because they appreciated the cultural significance, and not content with making everyone feel better about themselves by simply declaring FGM illegal, have worked to establish alternative symbolic ways of expressing the rite.

    * Can doctrinaire Calvinists and/or left-wing Socialists be “bien-pensant”? If so, I apply … let’s move that Overton Window …

  146. I may be bien-pensant (or not) but I do not support FGM.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you did! I take it for granted that you are a moral and sensible person. I was just grabbing and quoting your phrase for my own purposes; I should have made that clear. And of course you’re right that the cultural significance needs to be understood for effective opposition, in the same way that Trump voters need to be understood.

  147. David Eddyshaw says

    in the same way that Trump voters need to be understood

    Steady on, Hat! I mean, I’m all for cultural sensitivity but … Bridge Too Far!

  148. there is one good thing that he attempted to do: that was to extract the US from its constant, neverending string of overseas invasions and wars.

    What David said, but really Trump is not opposed to invasions and wars per se. He is opposed to nation building efforts and any thing that smacks of America giving assistance while not getting anything concrete back. Trump is completely transactional. He simply doesn’t understand why Americans would try to build a democratic civil society in Afghanistan. He is perfectly happy to bomb some Taliban camps as a show of strength and then leave. Remember his idea of how Gulf War II should have been fought was invade Iraq, “take their oil” and then leave. Trump’s vision is sometimes compatible with a “non-interventionist” model but very far from pacifist.

  149. Actually in Russian slang FGM meant (or maybe still means) фимоз головного мозга, brain phimosis.

  150. The point is that Taiwan was taken from China by the Japanese and should have been returned along with all its other conquered territories.

    Japan took Taiwan from the Qing Dynasty. Taiwan was never part of the pre-war Republic of China, which came into existence in 1912. The Republic of China made all sorts of claims on Qing Dynasty territories that everyone today agrees are ridiculous. It is not clear why the PRC has any greater claim to Taiwan than it does to Outer Mongolia, Khabarovsk or Korea.

    at least I can see that the outcome may have good aspects for China

    Certainly compared to the Russian government, the policies of the PRC look pretty good over the past 30 years, and even past 10. Still, those of us who have lived in Taiwan or Hong Kong can’t look at what Xi is doing without seeing massive waste, incompetence and cruelty. Chinese people don’t actually require authoritarian governments to thrive, and in fact seem to do much better in a decentralized system with more local control.

  151. The situation with Trump is that his predecessors’ foreign policy is so profoundly fucked up that…

  152. The Republic of China made all sorts of claims on Qing Dynasty territories that everyone today agrees are ridiculous.

    When I was living in Taiwan some of the people I talked with didn’t seem to think the idea of reclaiming Vietnam as part of China was ridiculous.

  153. David Eddyshaw says

    Sinae Est Imperare Orbi Universo.

  154. I did follow the news in December 2019 and in January. It is one of reasons why I am not ready to claim that Trump is much better than Obama.

    But what is the source of information about phone calls from presidents?

  155. Drasvi: @Hans, I do not think that not forcing a child to undergo compulsory education in a state-controlled environment (in a class of German kids as opposed to home-schooling) is cruel.
    I’m not sure whether you’re arguing with me here or whether you’re just adding your own opinion. In any case, I also wouldn’t generally claim it is cruel in the same way torture or physical abuse are, although I think that if it leads to not enabling a child to function in the society it is surrounded by and making it dependent on a small community, it is a form of abuse, even if the parents think they’re doing their child a favour.
    I have read of (successful) endeavours to repress the horrid practice which have been successful precisely because they appreciated the cultural significance, and not content with making everyone feel better about themselves by simply declaring FGM illegal, have worked to establish alternative symbolic ways of expressing the rite.
    Changing hearts and minds is generally preferable to force.

  156. Speaking of public images and etc.:
    https://twitter.com/TomerPersico/status/1572175365858119680/photo/1

    This is an ad for eggs. The face of the four-year-old female was covered with spray-paint. This is presumed to to have been done by someone whose Haredi sensibilities were offended.

  157. Changing hearts and minds is generally preferable to force.

    Unless the situation is intolerable. “With all deliberate speed” didn’t do much to alter the situation of black people in the US, for example.

  158. I’m not sure whether you’re arguing with me here or whether you’re just adding your own opinion

    @Hans, sorry for this. I did not mean to argue with you.

    The topic was schooling and then DE spoke about cultural identities and then you spoke about cruelty/inhumane practices. There is an overlap between “cultural identity” and both educational practices and cruel practices, DE’s comment does connect both topics. But I wanted to indicate that these are two very different topics.

  159. When I was living in Taiwan some of the people I talked with didn’t seem to think the idea of reclaiming Vietnam as part of China was ridiculous.

    And there were maps that showed Outer Mongolia as part of China. But that is ancient history to a 25 year old. The PRC needs to come to terms with an independent Taiwan in the same way.

  160. I agree, of course, but I don’t see any way that’s going to happen.

  161. This thread drifted while I was traveling the last few days away from the issue of the nature of education offered by private Hasidic schools in N.Y. state, but I am intrigued to notice that at least according to control-F the word “Amish” does not seem to have been mentioned. For weird and semi-contingent historical reasons, the Amish are the one distinctive American ethnoreligious minority that have been allowed to opt out de jure from the notion that even private schools must meet some government-mandated minimum in terms of curriculum offered. The Hasidim have essentially tried to get de facto what the Amish have de jure, and that keeps sparking controversy. The accommodation of the Amish (with some foreshadowing in the 1920’s Supreme Court decisions that nullified heavy-handed WW1-era laws intended to prevent private religious schools, I think in practice mostly Lutheran, from using German as their primary language of instruction) was a historical high water mark in saying that the state should not forcibly impose majority notions of the One Right Way (or majority-specified range of Right Ways) to raise children on dissenting families and communities.

    One salient difference that makes the Amish status quo comparatively uncontroversial is that Amish communities are generally perceived as economically self-supporting, with members quite frequently declining to avail themselves of various sorts of government-funded benefits for which they might be technically eligible, whereas U.S. Hasidic communities are generally (I don’t know how much variation there is from group to group) perceived as assiduous consumers of any and all taxpayer-funded benefits for which they might be able to claim eligibility. Many Hasidic communities also have a reputation for aggressive participation in the political process (in the sense of voting en bloc for whichever candidate their leaders perceive to be most supportive in fairly short-term and transactional terms) whereas the Amish tend not to be active participants in elective politics, which combined with the prior factor makes their “we just want to be left alone to do our thing” narrative more straightforward and sympathetic. Although one can in principle argue that policy toward various sorts of dissenting-from-liberal-modernity niche groups should not be based on how sympathetic/cuddly particular groups are or aren’t.

  162. On a totally different topic from more recently in the thread, I have long thought that being the ROC bureaucrat in charge of maintaining the formal claim to sovereignty over Outer Mongolia from behind some desk in Taipei had to be one of the cushiest/lowest-effort public-sector sinecures out there. But maybe Pres. Tsai’s administration has cut back funding for the position?

  163. the ROC bureaucrat in charge of maintaining the formal claim to sovereignty over …

    Taiwan calls time on Mongolia and Tibet affairs commission

    It appears nowadays to be ‘Department of Hong Kong, Macao, Inner Mongolia, and Tibet Affairs’ of the ROC ‘Mainland Affairs Council’ [wp]. So there’s four territories to be cushy about.

    And MAC appears to have ceased any face-to-face meetings with PRC — on pretext of the pandemic. Also the daily sorties of PRC warplanes across the (informally-defined) Straits median line hardly declares good faith. Those sorties got ramped up at Nancy Pelosi’s visit and I guess will continue at least ’til after the 20th National Party Congress.

    Amongst the Taiwanese political parties, it’s only the KuoMinTang who continue any sort of mythology about claims on the mainland. They did terribly in the elections early 2020 — which was even before CCP stomped into HK; their star has sunk almost out of sight since then.

    To the extent they’re now opinion-polling third amongst the main parties: they’ve been overtaken by the newly-formed ‘party’ of the mayor of Taipei — scare quotes because it’s barely formed as such, and stood hardly any candidates in that 2020 election.

    So yes Pres. Tsai/the DPP/alliance could without adverse consequence redirect any funding to buying armaments from USA.

  164. @Hans, about abuse: possibly you have a particular example in mind.

    Generally, I can’t see why the fact that some society surrounds (literally) some community (like Botswana has surrounded Bushmen) should mean that a child must be unhappy if you don’t “integrate” her.

    Not getting integrated can be a bad idea some times and getting integrated can also be very bad some times.

  165. @AntC: Well, the Dept. of “Inner Mongolia” etc. Affairs wouldn’t cover Outer Mongolia, so that would need to be someone else, elsewhere in the bureaucracy. The KMT/ROC claim to Inner Mongolia is more straightforward, in that it is part of the territory that was ruled de facto by the KMT/ROC before the Japanese invasion but then fell under Communist-bandit occupation along with the rest of the mainland. By contrast, the ROC (before the KMT came to power there) permanently lost de facto control of Outer Mongolia in 1921 after a decade of back-and-forthing.

    It turns out that the U.S. did not establish formal diplomatic relations with the then-still-Communist regime in Outer Mongolia until 1987. According to something I found online (interesting transcript of a panel of aged Foreign Service types reminiscing about the backstory to that development), up until Nixon’s sucking up to Mao in the early Seventies the lack of such relations may in part have been in deference to the CKS/KMT/ROC position as to sovereignty. Not that Chiang had a formal veto but the cost of aggravating him was perceived to outweigh the minimal upside of formal recognition.

    After that it was more inertia and lack of interest (driven in part by the then-common perception that even compared to the Eastern European satellites the Mongolian regime was so Moscow-controlled it might as well just be another SSR formally incorporated into the Soviet Union. But then lo and behold by 1985 one of the tiny handful of Foreign Service Officers who had back in the Sixties studied Mongolian and gone to Ulan Bator for a single international conference had by happenstance become our top diplomat in Havana, running the “American Interests” section in the Swiss Embassy that filled the gap created by our lack of formal diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. And of course conveniently enough Havana had embassies from all of the regimes out there (all Communist, once the pariah regime in Southern Rhodesia had given up power) that we did not at the time have formal diplomatic relations with. So this fellow had a conversation with the Mongolian Ambassador to Cuba, who said so how come we don’t have official diplomatic relations with the U.S. yet, and the American guy said “well, we were waiting for a signal of interest from you” to which the Mongolian guy responded “but we were waiting for a signal of interest from you.” So then it finally happened, although the first U.S. ambassador stayed based in D.C. until an embassy could be built in Ulan Bator, since it was thought that having him work temporarily out of either Moscow or Peking would have looked bad symbolically.

  166. That’s a great story.

  167. Just yesterday, I was thinking about the unfortunate terminological fact that the post-1911 state named “Mongolia” is essentially only the historical region of Outer Mongolia. In fact, since the border was never very rigorously defined, it is normal now to take “Inner Mongolia” by definition to be the part of the historical region that is today part of Communist China, and “Outer Mongolia” to be the separate (former Soviet client) state.

  168. part of the historical region that is today part of Communist China, and “Outer Mongolia” to be the separate (former Soviet client) state.

    I think you have that the wrong way about 😉 China, Russia, swathes of Europe are client states of Mongolia — even to Japan and t’Egypt.

    This is the trouble (pace Bathrobe, and pace Putin’s claims wrt Ukraine) with going back over historical geographies. At what point in time do you put the stake in the ground? Why then? Why not a hundred or a thousand years earlier or later?

  169. “Outer Mongolia” to be the separate (former Soviet client) state.

    It rather reminds me of the decision of independent Western Samoa to rename itself simply Samoa.

  170. And then the Samoa rugby team renamed itself “Manu Samoa”. New Zealand commentators are most fastidious about using this, to allow them to complain when furriners say “New Zealand” when they ought to say “All Blacks”.

    [Author’s confidence in truth of above assertions: moderate to low. Note to editor: Replace this footnote with appropriate emoji.]

  171. pace Bathrobe

    I’m not sure what claims you are imputing to me.

  172. Presumably because you say things like:

    Anyway, why should it matter that you have to go back to 1895? The point is that Taiwan was taken from China by the Japanese and should have been returned along with all its other conquered territories.

  173. @Hans, about abuse: possibly you have a particular example in mind.

    Generally, I can’t see why the fact that some society surrounds (literally) some community (like Botswana has surrounded Bushmen) should mean that a child must be unhappy if you don’t “integrate” her.

    Not getting integrated can be a bad idea some times and getting integrated can also be very bad some times.
    What I said was “if it leads to not enabling a child to function in the society it is surrounded by and making it dependent on a small community, it is a form of abuse”. Our society offers a wide range of choices and opportunities. Any person should know them and be able to decide whether to pursue and reject them. If a group of people wants to follow a traditional life style or reject certain elements of modern society, they should be free to do so, but isolating members of their group and not giving them the opportunity to learn of the choices or preventing them from pursuing them by force means denying them the rights the group members claim for themselves.
    Trying to isolate and control people often goes together with other forms of abuse; to decide when things go to far and when government organs should interfere is often difficult, as e.g. in the case of the “Twelve Tribes” community in Germany (I’m linking to the German WP entry, as it had a more detailed discussion of the conflict than the English version).
    the then-common perception that even compared to the Eastern European satellites the Mongolian regime was so Moscow-controlled it might as well just be another SSR formally incorporated into the Soviet Union
    A perception shared by many inside the USSR, as one can see from the popular saying Курица не птица, Монголия не заграница (“A chicken is not a bird, Mongolia is not abroad”).

  174. January First-of-May says

    Курица не птица, Монголия не заграница

    I’ve heard this about Bulgaria, which is of course another good candidate for such, though not quite as much as Mongolia, I believe.

    (Tannu) Tuva, next to Mongolia and also theoretically claimed by ROC, used to be one of those in the 1930s, then it did end up formally incorporated (as a part of RSFSR) sometime around WW2.

  175. @Hans, thank you for the example. All I could remember in the context of Germany specifically was a certain scandal about a rich Syrian refugee who did not want to send his daughter to German school.

    My replies are short because I’m afraid of flooding here. It’s a topic where nothign is clear (eventually, “happiness” – if we include self-realization in it, not just emotions after having drunk a bottle of some substance like vodka – the measure of a good life, the happiness you wish to children – is a religious concept). And people compensate by having very fierce views, I’m not an exception. One can write a book of Right or Wrong and take a machete to make the distinction between the two move obvious.
    I’ll try to write something longer.

  176. Taking up moysrim again… there is something I am curious about.

    Max Weinreich, in the English translation of his History of the Yiddish Language (1980), volume II, has this to say on p. 682, section 9.7.4:

    We have already spoken (8.8.4) about the contrasts os (holem in a closed syllable; O₁) ~ oysiyes (holem in an open syllable; O₃), yordim (holem in a closed syllable; O₁) ~ yoyred (holem in an open syllable; O₃), and so on.

    (See also page 387, section 7.16.1)

    Unpacking M. Weinreich a little… Yiddish אות os ‘letter (writing symbol)’ is from Hebrew אוֹת ʾôt and had the vowel holem in a closed syllable. Plural אותיות‎ oysiyes, oysyes ‘letter, epistle’ is from PBH אוֹתִיּוֹת‎ ʾôtiyyôt, and had holem in an open syllable. Similarly יורדים yordim ‘impoverished men, men fallen on hard times’ had holem in what had eventually become a closed syllable (-rd-) at some date, perhaps very early (Hebrew plural יוֹרְדִים yôrədîm, with holem in a syllable that eventually closed). The singular is Yiddish יורד yoyred (from Hebrew יוֺרֵד yôrēd qal active participle of יָרַד yārad ‘to go down, sink, be prostrated’), which had holem in an open syllable. I just note here the alternation between oy and o in the Yiddish outcomes of the singular and plural of active participles.

    Here is a link to a description of the same alternation from a scholar very much outside the YIVO circle, S. A. Birnbaum in Yiddish: A Survey and a Grammar, p. 63 (second edition, 2016).

    And so, returning to the moyserim that Hat asked about, and taking Yiddish מוסר as from Hebrew מוֹסֵר mōsēr, qal active participle of מָסַר māsar ‘deliver, hand over, betray’ (rather than from מָסוֹר māsōr, the פָּעוֹל pāʿōl noun (pattern for professions, agents of functions) to מָסַר māsar, following the discussion that Reuven Chaim Klein linked to above)…

    In those Yiddish varieties that have the pronunciation oy from holem in an open syllable, the original pattern would have been moyser מוסר, pl. mosrim מוסרים, I gather. For varieties that have the plural moysrim, was the diphthong oy of the singular analogically extended to the plural, yielding moyser, pl. moysrim? Or are there varieties of Yiddish in which the outcomes of Weinreich’s O₁ and O₃ (holem in a closed syllable and holem in an open syllable) simply fell together as oy by regular sound change? Or is something else going on?

  177. This is the trouble (pace Bathrobe, and pace Putin’s claims wrt Ukraine) with going back over historical geographies. At what point in time do you put the stake in the ground? Why then?

    I was not talking about “historical geographies”. I was talking about legitimate claims to a territory.

    In the light of your response, a pertinent question might be: what right does the ROC have to claim Taiwan? It was annexed by the Japanese well before the ROC came into existence, as Vanya pointed out. The ROC never controlled the island of Taiwan (although, as the successor state to the Qing, it continued to claim it) until the Japanese were defeated. The ROC then took over the territory of Taiwan — a place it had never controlled. When it was on the verge of defeat by the Communists, the government of the ROC fled to Taiwan, where it still holds out against the PRC, a state which is almost universally regarded as the legitimate successor state to the ROC.

    So much for arguments that Taiwan has never been part of the territory of CCP’s ‘One China’. To find a time when Taiwan was ruled from Beijing, you have to go back before 1895. _Before_ there was a CCP. And yes, before there was a KMT.

    We all know that the Chinese have long memories when it comes to claiming territories. Vietnam is a great example. They are also great at manufacturing claims out of thin air, such as the ROC’s very late claim to the South China Sea, which the PRC has taken over intact. But that’s not my point. I was merely pointing out the speciousness of the “have never controlled” argument.

    (Wikipedia does have this to say, however: In 1945, following the end of hostilities in World War II, the nationalist government of the Republic of China (ROC), led by the Kuomintang (KMT), took control of Taiwan. The legality and nature of its control of Taiwan, including transfer of sovereignty is debated, with the United States and United Kingdom saying there was no transfer of sovereignty.)

    Outer Mongolia was a different matter. The Soviet Union long continued to recognise that Outer Mongolia was actually Chinese territory, although it refused to allow the Chinese to regain control. Both the ROC and then the PRC continued to claim Outer Mongolia as part of Chinese territory. Chiang Kai-Shek briefly recognised Mongolian independence (as a kind of tit-for-tat for regaining Manchuria) then changed his mind. The PRC continued to press its claim to Outer Mongolia until the 1950s, when it was essentially forced by the Russians to recognise Mongolian independence. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Stalin (around the time of Yalta?) who decided that Mongolia should have its independence. And to the chagrin of pan-Mongolists, he rejected Mongolian aspirations for Inner Mongolia to be included in this.

    As far as I know, the PRC has relinquished any claim to (Outer) Mongolia and recognises its independence. I suspect that is probably because the matter was decided by Mao Tse-Tung and is thus essentially irreversible. This could conceivably change, however, if the Chinese felt they were strong enough (and the Russians weak enough) to annex Mongolia. But for the moment, China recognises the independence of Mongolia. They have never recognised the independence of Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau.

  178. what right does the ROC have to claim Taiwan?

    I am precisely _not_ making an argument from historical geographies. So your blah blah is irrelevant.

    Ask the people of Taiwan whether they want to be governed by CCP. (For that matter, they appear not to want to be governed by today’s KMT.) Likewise, ask the people of HK or Macau.

    I was talking about legitimate claims to a territory.

    Do you regard the CCP as having legitimate claims to the mainland? (I’m excluding Tibet, Xinjiang.) On the basis that … they turned out over the long term to be more brutal thugs than KMT post-1945? (Sadly there’s no meaningful way to ask the population/which is rather the point. So I might as well declare ex cathedra that CCP has abnegated any legitimacy it might once have had.)

    PRC, a state which is almost universally regarded as the legitimate successor state to the ROC.

    No: it was not accepted as successor prior 1971. Since then, most other countries follow the U.S. approach of strategic ambiguity.

    But we’ve been over this before. We might as well stop.

    BTW I’ll be unable to post much here for the next few weeks/don’t take my silence as implying you’re making decisive points: I’ll be in Taiwan. I won’t be entering CCP territories, because I’d fear arbitrary arrest and imprisonment — despite being a sovereign citizen of another country. Legitimacy?

  179. PlasticPaddy says

    @AntC
    I know you are not going to reply for now, but perhaps you understand “legitimate” in a sense of “rightful” or “with consent of the population (absent reasonably free elections, how is level of consent to be assessed?)”. In cases like this, it might be more practical to think of “legitimate” in a narrower sense, i.e., “reflecting the long-term stability of the Government (especially the absence of effective organised opposition) and the security and well-being of the population”. I agree that, although under such definition the GDR Socialist Government would probably have to be regarded as legitimate from the mid 60s until at least the rise of Solidarity in Poland (with related developments in other countries). But this definition would exclude Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, and North Korea (probably also most governments in the Middle East and Africa also, but you have to start somewhere😊).

  180. it might be more practical to think of “legitimate” in a narrower sense

    Practicality is not the point. I entirely agree with AntC (who I hope is enjoying Taiwan; I still miss the people and the food there).

  181. What, AntC doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of the People’s Republic of China? I’m sure that will have Xi Jinping blubbering in his cups.

    I won’t be entering CCP territories, because I’d fear arbitrary arrest and imprisonment

    You have an exaggerated sense of of your own importance. The PRC authorities are not interested in insignificant people like you. Unless there is something you haven’t been telling us….

    it was not accepted as successor prior 1971. Since then, most other countries follow the U.S. approach of strategic ambiguity. I don’t think “strategic ambiguity” stretches to recognising the ROC government as the legitimate government of China. You do have a wonderful sense of hyperbole.

    I am precisely _not_ making an argument from historical geographies. So your blah blah is irrelevant. Neither am I. So your bluster is irrelevant.

    Hope you enjoy your time in Taiwan. I quite liked Taiwan the times I went there. But the KMT/ROC have their own shady history, both on the Mainland and on Taiwan. It’s wonderful that Taiwan has embraced democracy, but that didn’t happen so long ago.

  182. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat
    I suppose I was thinking of examples where an invader or radical revolutionary used the “illegitimate” label to replace a flawed Government with something qualitatively worse, with long-term negative consequences for the unfortunate population.

  183. People misuse all sorts of ideas for their own ends; that doesn’t invalidate the ideas. Governments that rule through violence are not legitimate, end of story. What to replace them with, and how, is a different issue.

  184. PlasticPaddy says

    Some anarchists or pacifists would say that any Government rules ultimately through violence, and I would find it hard to argue against this. But if you do not want to take this position, I think you need to say at what point the use or threat of violence renders the Government illegitimate. There have been various events called “X- Massacre” or “Bloody X-day” in the history of the U.S. and other countries, and many more not labelled explicitly, where more or less peaceful demonstrators were killed by security forces. Is one such event enough? Or does the violence have to be orchestrated in some way? Please note also, I have a very dear friend who was born out-of-wedlock, so I may have emotional baggage here😊.

  185. David Eddyshaw says

    Governments that rule through violence

    All governments rule through violence, ultimately. By itself, I don’t think that can be used as a criterion for legitimacy. Of course, you may feel that that simply demonstrates that all governments are illegitimate.

    [Ninja’d by PP]

  186. I find it touching that people seem to believe that if the people of China were given the chance they’d vote the CCP out. To be honest, I personally think they would not, for various possible reasons: brainwashing, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”, general satisfaction with what the Chinese government is doing, etc. Of course, as AntC has pointed out, they will not be given that chance, but my general feeling is that people in China are reasonably happy with what the government is doing.

    And yes, all governments rule through the threat of violence. Remember that the next time you refuse to follow the rules (laws) that the government has laid down.

  187. Some anarchists or pacifists would say that any Government rules ultimately through violence, and I would find it hard to argue against this.

    I am exactly such an anarchist.

    All governments rule through violence, ultimately. By itself, I don’t think that can be used as a criterion for legitimacy. Of course, you may feel that that simply demonstrates that all governments are illegitimate.

    See above. To the argument that that point of view is impractical because there will always be governments, I counter that exactly the same argument was used to pooh-pooh anti-slavery sentiment. We can’t change things until and unless we recognize where they have gone wrong; if enough people recognize it, they will figure out what to do about it. I strongly oppose the idea that people are inherently bad and thus need to be kept in chains.

  188. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Covid-19 put paid to most of my Chinese contacts, but I used to know quite a few Chinese students. None of them ever expressed any opposition to the government.That could of course just mean that anything they said would get back to the authorities, but who knows? There is one who from the beginning has been very forthright in her condemnation of the government; however, she is from Hong Kong.

  189. I remember being surprised by the apparently almost universal support that I heard from people from Hong Kong for reunification with mainland China, at the time the transfer from British authority occurred. Although I know a low fewer people from Hong Kong today, this attitude seems to have flipped almost completely around since then.

  190. people from Hong Kong for reunification with mainland China, at the time the transfer from British authority occurred.

    I was working in HK at the time Thatcher sold it down the river. People were very circumspect/already they were wary. But they were — shall we say — disappointed. Those working for international countries were trying to get overseas postings so they could clock up residency status. (They found it hilarious for Chris Patten to bring in talk of democracy.)

    By the time the handover was happening it was inevitable/put a brave face on it.

  191. I won’t be entering CCP territories, because I’d fear arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.

    Bathrobe: You have an exaggerated sense of of your own importance. The PRC authorities are not interested in insignificant people like you.

    I said “arbitrary” — as in: for no rational reason.

    I’m sure they weren’t “interested in” the two Canadian businessmen who were impounded tit-for-tat at the time the U.S. asked Canada to hold that Huawei executive. Sheesh! Canada was only on the periphery.

    I’m sure New Zealand could manage to find itself on the periphery of something similar. And I’d happen to be the first NZer the CCP authorities come across.

    (You seem to know a surprising amount about the workings of “PRC authorities”. Is there something you‘re not telling us?)

  192. I was working in HK at the time Thatcher sold it down the river.

    I despise Thatcher, but there wasn’t a lot she could have done there.

  193. David Eddyshaw says

    She could have offered full UK citizenship to (a significant number of) the inhabitants of Hong Kong.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_nationality_law_and_Hong_Kong#Creation_of_the_British_National_(Overseas)_status

    Difficult politically when you’ve been stoking xenophobia for years for fun and profit, but that is no excuse at all.

  194. Thatcher, but there wasn’t a lot she could have done there.

    Thanks @DE, quite. I was working for a UK holding-group. Every employee wanted that.

    She was willing to send battleships across the Atlantic and engage in an actual shooting war — for a tiny population that she decided were Brits. But of course they were white.

    I’m not suggesting military action wrt HK, nor the façade of democracy á la Chris Patten, but if Bathrobe wants to go all legalistic: the Island and TsimShaTsui were just as much (or as little) British territory as the Falklands. HK’s entrepôt status could have been guaranteed by entangling international trade — there were already plenty of U.S. (merchant) Banks with significant presence.

  195. if Bathrobe wants to go all legalistic

    Why are you invoking my name every time you want to make a point? And about Thatcher!?!

    Yes, Kowloon and HK island were ceded in perpetuity. So on strictly legal grounds, Thatcher should have sent the navy to Hong Kong just as she did to the Falklands. Ok.

    I’m sure they weren’t “interested in” the two Canadian businessmen who were impounded tit-for-tat at the time the U.S. asked Canada to hold that Huawei executive.

    I knew you would come back with that. And no doubt you think I support the Chinese government in arresting them. But other people have been equally badly treated in Western countries (e.g., Australia). Why should I reserve my criticism for China?

    The fact is that I don’t support the Chinese government in a lot of the things they do. I certainly don’t support Xi Jinping. The only reason that I am being pilloried here is that I won’t go all out and support the proposition, put forward by a former UK expat in HK, that “the PRC government is illegitimate”, and the view of an avowed anarchist that Xi Jinping’s rule is inherently, totally, and irretrievably bad.

    I can’t believe the bile that is being spilt here because I won’t go along with such shrill and extreme views. If I see any good in Xi Jinping I’m accused of “cognitive dissonance”. If I point out that the PRC does have a reasonable case for claiming Taiwan I’m accused of supporting ancient “historical geographies”. (Etc.) I find it richly ironic that I find myself defending Xi Jinping when I don’t support the man at all!

  196. Nobody’s spilling bile on you! I trust we can disagree like reasonable people. (And I make no claim to being any more reasonable than anyone else.)

  197. you think I support the Chinese government in arresting them. [the Canadians]

    No I didn’t say that. I was pointing out that from my concerns about my personal safety (and the very broad framing of CCP’s ‘security’ laws — which have seen people arrested in HK and abducted/imprisoned in the Mainland), that seems entirely reasonable grounds for me personally to not travel to CCP territories. YMMV. Please visit and report back whether you have ‘minders’ trailing you everywhere — as I did even back before 1989.

    I find myself defending Xi Jinping …

    You don’t have to. Or at least you don’t have to defend everything about him. You might notice there’s plenty of people making criticisms of Britain/U.S.A. (or of particular leaders) as well as of CCP. I was careful _not_ to say HK should have remained part of Empire in perpetuity. I _do_ say the UK Government had a duty of care over HK citizens; and Thatcher derelicted that duty. (mutter, mutter I suppose at this point for balance I should find something positive to say about Thatcher …)

    My intent is to take aim at CCP — apologies if I’ve occasionally slipped and appeared to personalise to Xi. Politburo machinations are so obscure, it’s impossible to tell whether Xi is prisoner or prison-guard. Double apologies if I’ve slipped and said ‘PRC’. Possibly in another world, PRC could have earnt a claim on Taiwan. At the moment PRC is a legal fiction indistinguishable (same machinations) from CCP.

    other people have been equally badly treated in Western countries (e.g., Australia).

    Sure. I do criticise the Howard government for its immigration policies. Morrison seemed no better. Apologies if my every comment doesn’t come attached with a list of IMO nasty politicians and countries.

    @HatNobody’s spilling bile on you! [Bathrobe]

    Quite. I apologise if my shorthand appeared to be spilling bile on you personally; it was the ‘legalistic’ argument I was denying.

  198. Apology accepted.

    You sometimes have a very pugnacious style. (You managed to scare away that nice Chomskyan linguist at a thread earlier this year.) I was being pugnacious back.

    In fact, I am defending neither Xi Jinping nor the system that the Chinese inherited from the Soviets. I don’t disagree with many of your comments about the direction that Xi Jinping is leading the country.

    Still, there does need to be a bit of balance. Blanket condemnation and rejection is useless. The government of the PRC is the government of China, whether you like them or not. They are not going to disappear in a puff of smoke simply because you declare them ‘illegitimate’. Nor is their claim to Taiwan as illegitimate as you make it out to be.

    As you suggest, the Chinese political system is what it is. It’s a political system that has moulded the likes of Xi. I don’t think it could be easily changed by one man, even if he were minded to. Moreover, the damage done to British and American democracy by unscrupulous, opportunistic people working within the system (Johnson and Trump, although the rot goes back much further, and I’ll include Australia’s Morrison for good measure) certainly doesn’t seem calculated to recommend it to the Chinese.

    To the best of my knowledge I’ve never been tailed by the Chinese government — I don’t think I was ever important enough for that. As a capitalist running dog from Hong Kong I’m sure you were a much more promising target.

    Anyway, I’ll leave the matter to rest here.

  199. You sometimes have a very pugnacious style.

    Sure. As I say in the sidebar, “I have strong opinions and sometimes express myself more sharply than an ideal interlocutor might, but I try to avoid personal attacks.” You should have seen me several decades ago! (My first wife used to complain that my friend Dave and I spent half our time shouting “You stupid idiot!” at each other.)

    You managed to scare away that nice Chomskyan linguist at a thread earlier this year.

    Not sure which one you’re referring to, but the long-time LH Chomskyan commenter certainly isn’t going to be scared away — he knows the lay of the land here, and he knows we’re civil to him because he’s civil to us. He shows up every few years and we all have a good time. If someone comes in belligerently pushing idiocy, on the other hand, they won’t get a warm welcome.

  200. Hat, I think Bathrobe’s remarks you quote here were directed at AntC rather than you; at least, I consider him far more pugnacious.

  201. David Eddyshaw says
  202. Hat, I think Bathrobe’s remarks you quote here were directed at AntC rather than you

    Oh! Quite possibly. But I can be pugnacious too, goddammit!

  203. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes you can, Hat. Nobody’s disputing that. It’s OK … we don’t mean any harm, honest.

  204. J.W. Brewer says

    One problem is that of course people will mean different things by “legitimate.” The Communist bandit regime currently squatting in Peiping is as an empirical matter the de facto ruler of mainland China (as well as of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, East Turkestan, and Tibet) and has for many decades effectively exercised authority over that territory without serious challenge. That plus recognition by most other nation-states due to their own realpolitik considerations at various points in time may make it the legitimate government as sort of an empirical matter within a certain amoral worldview. Is it legitimate in some more demanding moral sense? That’s a different question, and is further complicated from my perspective by the facts that (i) I I am not convinced that the ROC/KMT regime was ever the “legitimate” ruler of mainland China and (ii) the current legitimate government of Taiwan headed by Pres. Tsai mostly has better things to do with its time then play-act at being a government-in-exile of the mainland. There has perhaps been no morally legitimate ruler of mainland China since 1912 — and even empirically/amorally there were very few years between 1912 and 1949 when the nominal ROC government that the Western powers recognized exercised effective de facto rule over all or almost all of the territory it claimed, what with first regional warlords and later Japanese invaders having de facto control of quite a lot of total acreage. (The Manchu regime like its predecessor dynasties was not the result of free and fair elections, but did meet the traditional criteria of legitimacy for rule of China as established in China’s own illiberal political/cultural tradition in a way that IMHO the Communist bandit regime does not.)

    As to hat’s naive Rousseauean decrying of wicked governments that want to keep people in chains due to their own perceived propensity for wickedness, I will retort (w/o getting into the matter of original sin) with the famous quote from Burke:

    “Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”* Unless and until soi-disant anarchists figure out a way of reliably producing more self-disciplined humans than the current batch, we are going to be stuck with some degree of coercive government, with the degree of such government that is minimally necessary varying notably from time to place depending on the level of internal control a given society manages to socialize its members into.

    *Bob Dylan’s pithier “To live outside the law you must be honest” is consonant with this theme.

  205. As to hat’s naive Rousseauean decrying

    Oh, please, I’ve defended my beliefs against savvier attacks than famous quotes from Burke. I’m not about to do so here, but please consider that I am not a first-year college student and I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot longer than you have. You might also consider that when dealing with someone whose ideas are different than your own, it may not simply be a matter of their stupidity or ignorance (of, say, a killer Burke quote).

    Or, to quote Eschaton:

    One thing about being on The Left is that a standard rhetorical cudgel is painting all your ideas as childish, naïve, utopian. And then ideas like, “we will blow the shit out of Iraq, send some 24-year-old Heritage flunkies in to run the place, and the flowers of Democracy will bloom,” get treated as hard-headed Very Serious Realism.

  206. Yes, Hat, I was replying to AntC. Although the pincer attack from a PCR-hater (?) and an anarchist, each on what seem to be rather different grounds, did make things more difficult.

    JWB’s comment on anarchism cum “the need to physically enforce law/morality” brought to mind one of my main reservations about anarchism: the presence of out-and-out criminals and psychopaths in society. It’s fine to assume that if people are left alone they will all be good and honest, but there seems to be an element that makes a living by preying on society — the drug operations, thieves, pickpockets, etc., etc., etc. Perhaps I am being naïve, but it seems that any society needs some kind check on this kind of behaviour. Ok, a huge area of debate — think “A Clockwork Orange”; the fact that the current government of China has perhaps been more interested in maintaining political control (or the appearance thereof) than in controlling crime; the fact that there is all-too-often corrupt collaboration between criminals and police (the stuff of hard-boiled detective stories)…

    I am completely aware that the above is full of holes (I’m thinking as I type) and I’m sure Hat has thought this through far more thoroughly than I have, so I welcome his feedback, including scorn for my naïveté.

  207. I consider him [AntC] far more pugnacious.

    Well thank you for the compliment, but I demur: Hat is at least as pugnacious, just far more eloquent at it.

    quote from Burke

    So has any government in France been legitimate since 1789? How about governments in Britain since 1649? Or in America since 1765? Political Philosophers have an uncanny knack for justifying their own status quo/ante — and only their own.

    some degree of coercive government,

    doesn’t make all governments much-of-a-muchness. You don’t have to chime with all of Hat’s beliefs to think that a once-legitimate government can become so coercive that it loses legitimacy.

    (Or indeed that a usurping regime can over time become — if not legitimate — at least less illegitimate than other contenders. British control over HK being a case in point.)

    the current legitimate government of Taiwan headed by Pres. Tsai mostly has better things to do with its time …

    Another case in point: cessation of martial law in Taiwan 1991, and the subsequent vibrant democracy is what makes Taiwan legitimate; and gives it legitimate choice over whether to be governed from Beijing. (I think the only reason Taiwan retains a nominal claim on the mainland is as a bargaining chip against Beijing’s claims on Taiwan. If Taiwan dropped those claims, Beijing would only be sending more warplanes/drones/naval vessels to push at the de facto border.)

    (And yes I am travelling — fading from here in the manner of the Cheshire Cat.)

  208. J.W. Brewer says

    Belief in the innate goodness of human creatures if left to their own devices is so contrary to all of the empirical evidence that it is, to be charitable, an ignorant belief, or perhaps a belief held on a priori ideological grounds not subject to falsification by empirical evidence. The arguments for anarchy or near-anarchy that are IMHO more plausible are those that instead focus on the fact that any would-be exercisers of coercive authority over other humans inevitably suffer from the same defects as those they would rule over. But Burke’s point is not so much that coercive government is necessary but that how much coercive government is necessary varies, and depends on the particular historical circumstances of a given society at a given point in time. Which IMHO ought to inspire one to think about what historical/cultural etc. circumstances tend to create populations who need comparatively less rather than comparatively more of that sort of regrettable thing.

  209. I am completely aware that the above is full of holes (I’m thinking as I type) and I’m sure Hat has thought this through far more thoroughly than I have, so I welcome his feedback, including scorn for my naïveté.

    As I say, I’m not going to get into it here, but just to put your mind at rest: obviously I’m aware of all the obvious objections about Bad People and the need to keep social order, and I have no desire for a world in which we all go around bashing each other over the head and taking each other’s stuff. There is no prospect of any kind of anarchist society (in the desirable sense, not the head-bashing sense) in the foreseeable future; that does not mean one cannot want such a society to come into existence. The analogy I like to use is with slavery; if you were born a couple of thousand years ago, what could you do with the insight that keeping other humans enslaved was irredeemably evil? People would look at you as if you were mad and ask how exactly you expected the necessary grunt work to get done, and you wouldn’t be able to tell them. You wouldn’t have any idea how to run an economy on other lines. And yet you would know that keeping other humans enslaved was irredeemably evil, and no insulting remarks about childish naivete would sway you. I expect that if humanity survives the rough patch it’s heading into, it will eventually figure out how to run a society without the “obey or die” motivation current society is based on, and that in fact that is the only way we will survive. I also strongly believe that rule by violence is intimately tied in with masculinist ideology, but again, I’m not going to go into it; I have no patience any more for pointless back-and-forth point scoring. That’s what I believe; hardly anyone agrees with me, but I’m comfortable with that.

  210. Belief in the innate goodness of human creatures if left to their own devices is so contrary to all of the empirical evidence that it is, to be charitable, an ignorant belief, or perhaps a belief held on a priori ideological grounds not subject to falsification by empirical evidence.

    You are boring me and I will not respond further. Feel free to declare victory and proclaim your intellectual superiority.

  211. fading from here in the manner of the Cheshire Cat

    Don’t fade too far — I need pugnacious comrades!

  212. J.W. Brewer says

    @AntC: French history is an extremely distressing study of the repetitive succession of one badly flawed regime by another. I am willing to concede that France had a legitimate government as recently as the reign of Louis XII (+1515). Maybe more recently than that, but I haven’t dug into the details deeply enough to be willing to commit.

  213. pointless back-and-forth point scoring

    I don’t believe I was engaging in that, but anyway, thanks for the comment.

  214. I don’t believe I was engaging in that

    No, you weren’t, and that wasn’t directed at you — you were asking an honest, well-intentioned question, and I appreciate it! Sometime maybe we can get together over beers and solve the problems of the world, but the internet isn’t a good venue for that.

  215. J.W. Brewer says

    I apologize for boring our congenial host. One can certainly not discount the possibility that some unspecified future transformation in human affairs will make possible various non-coercive modes of societal organization that have not hitherto been able to manifest themselves, but there does not seem to be much useful consensus on how to get there from here. In the meantime, I think it important (but perhaps this is just my idiosyncratic interest) to reflect on how governments at the less-oppressive end of the currently-existing spectrum are not a historical inevitability but may require certain historical/cultural/etc. contexts and preconditions in order to thrive and be sustained, and it thus behooves those interested in the flourishing and survival of comparatively-less-oppressive governments to try to understand just what it is they need in order to flourish and survive.

  216. David Eddyshaw says

    The moral case for Anarchism strikes me as perfectly sound: ever since the first lugal put one over on his fellows with all that agricultural revolution lark*, the absolute morality of compulsion from above has depended entirely on the notion that a thief can legitimately leave his loot to his offspring and/or his mates.

    The difficulties are entirely in the practicalities.

    I can conceive that there may be solutions to the thief/psychopath problem which are compatible with all but the most ultraist Anarchist principles (perhaps by medicalising such things, though that is a can of worms … to put it mildly.)

    Moreover, Marxist-adjacent as I am, I can subscribe to the idea that most (though not all) sociopathy actually arises from the iniquitous effect on individuals of out current far-from-just regimes.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Withering_away_of_the_state

    More difficult is the question of how the world could ever get there … is Anarchism in one country viable? (On the parallel Marxist question, it seems Trotsky was right and Stalin was wrong …)

    Seems to me that Anarchism is a long game. The ultimate objective of Socialists … trying to get there directly won’t work.

    * This seems to be actually a Just So Story. It looks like many pre-agricultural societies were thoroughly hierarchical, and in modern times Kusaasi peasant farmers got on just fine without chiefs until they were attacked by their Mamprussi neighbours (and, indeed, for a long time after that, too.)

  217. try to understand just what it is they need

    Cue quote from Churchill about democracy being a bloody awful system of government …

    To those measuring by U.S.A. and U.K. models of democracy, I’d like to point out how refreshing has been the experience of N.Z. introducing Proportional Representation. (And of course this will be d’uh for Europeans.)

    Suddenly there’s no need for the two major parties to be ‘broad churches’. The extremists of both left and right can be segregated into their own little corners, and get told in the polls just how unpopular they are — despite huge electoral funding from millionaire nutters. The anti-vaxxers and anti-mask-wearers can discover that all their clanging and shouting on the interwebs amounts to a statistically insignificant blip.

    Disclaimer: NZ didn’t get there at the first PR election. I’d describe that as the last first-past-the-post election.

    how to get there from here.

    Aye, there’s the rub. And if the electorate is utterly pissed off already, how to beseech patience for a constitutional change to flower?

    The two-party system seems to be written into the U.S. Constitution. Hence Trump; more seriously hence Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy and utter contempt for democracy. I don’t get why the Democrats continue to try to be nice people. As Bill Maher puts it: it’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

  218. J.W. Brewer says

    On further reflection, if one considers the work of James Scott on “anarchist”* societies up in the hills in Southeast Asia, internet discourse about how to get from here to there may be self-defeating, since one absolute sine qua non of an anarchist society in his schema is a steadfast refusal to become literate – literacy inevitably being the handmaiden of tax-collection and military conscription and etc etc. Rejecting literacy is in his schema almost as important as rejecting rice-cultivation as a major food source.

    *The societies in question had well into the 20th century fairly impressive track records in evading forced amalgamation into imperalistic flatlander-ruled nation-states, whether Chinese, Burmese, Thai, or whatnot, but whether they were perfectly free of internal hierarchy and coercion is perhaps another issue.

  219. David Eddyshaw says

    One of the many nice touches in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is that her anarchist utopia, Anarres, is actually not all that utopian (though still presented as noble in its way.) The problems haven’t just all gone away …

  220. it thus behooves those interested in the flourishing and survival of comparatively-less-oppressive governments to try to understand just what it is they need in order to flourish and survive

    Is the standard answer that what is needed is a broad middle class, not satisfactory enough on either observational or theoretical grounds?

  221. Crawdad Tom says

    I was going to stay out of the discussion about Taiwan and China, but I feel I have to say something, since I’ve lived in Taiwan continuously since 1983, and before that 1975-1977 and 1980-1981. AntC sounds to me like an enthusiastic cheerleader, while Bathrobe’s comments have kind of surprised me, based on other comments by him that I’ve read on different topics. I think J.W. Brewer’s comment–“The Communist bandit regime currently squatting in Peiping is as an empirical matter the de facto ruler of mainland China (as well as of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, East Turkestan, and Tibet) and has for many decades effectively exercised authority over that territory without serious challenge”–can apply both ways, sort of. Since 1949, first the authoritarian KMT government, and since around 1991 (though martial law officially ended in July 1987), an increasingly democratic system, with the first change of power in 2000, has governed Taiwan. Right now, a very clear majority of the people of Taiwan has no wish to become part of the PRC. In my view, this fact makes historical-legal-geographical-cultural claims to Taiwan moot. Not to mention that all such claims are highly debatable.The current political system in Taiwan is of course not perfect, but it is a workable and working system, and the great majority of Taiwanese accept it.The PRC should just leave it alone. Its need for Taiwan is ideological and for face-saving purposes. In a sensible world, death and destruction shouldn’t come about for those reasons. If only this were a sensible world.

  222. @ Crawdad Tom

    I appreciate your comment. I agree about the face-saving and ideological aspects on the part of the PRC. I personally would like to see the status quo continue.

    My point was that legalistic arguments like “Taiwan stopped being part of China before the PRC ever came into existence, and the PRC has never exercised control over Taiwan; what claim does the PRC have on Taiwan?” are not quite the clincher some people seem to think they are. The viewpoint of the PRC has good grounds, and simply denying the “legitimacy” of the PRC is not a valid counterargument.

    One problem, of course, is that the PRC’s stances are inconsistent. The Qing claimed (and held) Taiwan, and as a successor state to the Qing and then the ROC, the PRC not unreasonably expects to regain Chinese territory that the Japanese had earlier seized and were forced to relinquish after the war.

    When it comes to the South China Sea, however, the Chinese stance is completely different. The South China Sea was never claimed by the Qing — that was an action of the delusional ROC government in the late 1930s (IIRR). And yet Chinese propaganda would have us believe that China has owned the South China Sea “from time immemorial”. This claim is based on flawed arguments by Chinese intellectuals under the ROC, that the presence of Chinese shipwrecks, Chinese cargoes (porcelain, etc.), Chinese maps, and Chinese sailing directions in old documents prove that the South China Sea belonged to China. This is a complete fiction and utter nonsense, but as we all know, China is a past master at manipulating ancient documents for its own purposes.

    Mongolia is an interesting case. The Mongolians took the view that Mongolia was a possession of the Qing but was never part of China (meaning “China proper”, the eighteen provinces). Mongolia thus had every right to withdraw when the Qing fell. The Chinese counter with (again) legalistic claims that the Qing signed international treaties with foreign powers in the name of “China”, in which they treated Mongolia and other territories as “part of China”. Under this interpretation, the PRC has a perfectly valid right to all the old Qing territories, including Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia, and Manchuria.

    While the stench of bullshit hangs over a lot of Chinese territorial claims, for “face-saving and ideological” reasons (as you have pointed out), the Chinese are dead set on regaining Taiwan at some time in the future. Unfortunately, it is probably only a matter of time before they are militarily strong enough to do so.

    When China took over Hong Kong, it was generally believed that Hong Kong was too valuable a goose to slaughter. With its economic and technological progress, China seems to have become increasingly confident in itself. Xi Jinping does indeed appear to have concluded that the Hong Kong goose can be slaughtered, although he was (let’s face it) partly pushed into that position by increasingly violent anti-PRC demonstrations.

    Let me reiterate though: I am not supporting a Chinese invasion of Taiwan; I am merely pointing out that arguments “proving” Taiwan isn’t part of China are actually rather weak.

  223. Come to think of it, the PRC is entirely consistent. They claim everything the ROC claimed — except Mongolia, which they gave up because of Russian pressure.

  224. Crawdad Tom says

    @Bathrobe

    And I appreciate your comments. I guess what I want to say is that I don’t believe the idea that the PRC as “a successor state to the Qing and then the ROC” really has a valid claim to Taiwan. True, the Communists defeated the Nationalists, but the Nationalists were not wiped out or disbanded. They moved to Taiwan, where they had already set up in 1945 after the Japanese surrender, and since that time it has been as I said before: the ROC has continued to exist, in a very different form, and gradually developed (through much suffering by a lot of people) into a democratic system that is still the ROC. Taiwan is a democratic country, with a popularly elected president and legislature, it has its own military, it does business all around the world, and very, very few people here want to be governed by the Chinese Communists. The PRC has no right of any kind to take over Taiwan. I understand that it is dead set on doing so, but there is nothing right or legitimate about it.

  225. @Crawdad Tom: that’s not the position under international law – except for the dozen or so countries that still recognize the ROC aka Taiwan as the sole representative of China, all other countries recognize the PRC as representative of China, including the territorial claim to Taiwan. What the U.S. and many of their allies do not recognize is a right of the PRC to establish control over Taiwan by force.

  226. [I]f you were born a couple of thousand years ago, what could you do with the insight that keeping other humans enslaved was irredeemably evil?

    There were, in fact, Greek philosophers (or at least one) who believed this a couple of thousand years ago. I can’t think of their name(s); they exist in fragments, as of course only Aristotle got copied.

  227. The two-party system seems to be written into the U.S. Constitution.

    I take it you haven’t read it, or you’d have noticed the complete absence of any mention of parties. How it got baked into the practice of American politics in very short order is another story.

  228. The Communist bandit regime currently squatting in Peiping is as an empirical matter the de facto ruler of mainland China (as well as of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, East Turkestan, and Tibet) and has for many decades effectively exercised authority over that territory without serious challenge

    (1) Surely Manchuria has been overwhelmingly Chinese since well before 1949?

    (2) Do you really still say “Peiping”? I thought that went out with Dean Rusk.

  229. Crawdad Tom says

    @Hans

    The US acknowledges that China makes a territorial claim to China; it doesn’t recognize that claim as legitimate (or not). And anyway, when it comes to the US, China, and other powerful countries, what difference does international law make? When an arbitral tribunal at the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled overwhelming in favor of the Philippines in its case against the PRC’s claims in the South China Sea, saying (among many other things) that China’s claims to historical rights were without lawful effect, did the PRC back off?

  230. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I can’t claim any expert knowledge on this, and may need to beat a hasty retreat when my errors and misunderstandings are pointed out. However, I seem to recall that in the days when the Republic of China was no more democratic — not much more than a puppet state of the USA — than the People’s Republic of China, there was one thing that both sides agreed wholeheartedly on, that Taiwan was a part of China. So the view of the Republic of China was that the government in Taipei was the government of all China. Didn’t the parliament contain hundreds of old men representing districts on the mainland and vastly outnumbering the representatives of districts in Taiwan? Most of the old men must have died by now.

  231. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The two-party system seems to be written into the U.S. Constitution.

    I take it you haven’t read it, or you’d have noticed the complete absence of any mention of parties. How it got baked into the practice of American politics in very short order is another story.

    I take it you didn’t notice the words “seems to be,” rather than “is”?

  232. J.W. Brewer says

    @AC-B: Members of the ROC national legislature elected in 1947 from mainland constituencies that subsequently fell under Communist occupation (and who accompanied the KMT regime into exile on Taiwan) continued to serve (albeit under a regime where the legislature didn’t have much real power) until the earlier of their individual deaths or 1991. I don’t know how many were still alive in 1991 when the rules were changed. I wouldn’t call the KMT regime on Taiwan a “puppet state” of the U.S. back in the relevant decades – it was an authoritarian regime that relied on U.S. support but did not always reliably do what the U.S. government of the day might have wanted it to do rather than sometimes pursuing its own agenda and relying on its various supporters within the U.S. to be able to block the administration of the day from doing much about that. The historical process by which the actual government in actual power in Taipei eventually lost any genuine enthusiasm for play-acting as the government-in-exile of the mainland (other than as necessary to, ironically, avoid antagonizing the Communist regime on the mainland by not treating Taiwan’s de facto independence from the mainland as de jure) took many decades and was not necessarily a smooth and linear one.

    @Rodger C.: The name of Peking was changed to Peiping when the KMT decided in the 1920’s to make Nanking the capital of the ROC instead, as it had been in various prior periods in Chinese history. The ROC/KMT regime AFAIK never decided to switch back; that was a Communist-bandit decision (as both Peiping and Nanking had fallen under their occupation) which from a theoretical ROC perspective may still lack legitimacy. That said, I suspect most atlases published in Taiwan these days do not attempt to maintain that position (and ditto the usage of Taiwanese government spokespersons) and I don’t use that name myself outside of certain historical or rhetorical contexts.

  233. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The name of Peking was changed to Peiping when the KMT decided in the 1920’s to make Nanking the capital of the ROC instead,

    I suppose that was because Peking (Beijing) means “northern capital,” which became inappropriate when it wasn’t the capital? (Nanjing, likewise, means “southern capital.”)

  234. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, the standard modern poli sci account is that electoral systems that combine single-member legislative districts with first-past-the-post conditions for winning a district’s seat by plurality tend strongly toward having only two major parties. This is “Duverger’s Law,” although “law” is probably too strong a word because it’s a tendency that’s not exceptionless.

    Both of those key conditions have been traditionally present in elections in most parts of the U.S. most of the time, inherited from pre-1776 English practice. But I don’t think either is actually mandated by the federal Constitution. If California decided, through a process consistent with its own constitution, to divvy up all 52 of its seats in the federal House of Representatives by proportional representation in a single statewide ballot, that wouldn’t obviously violate the federal Constitution although it’s certainly possible it might violate certain federal statutes that would need to be repealed or amended to allow the change. Members of the U.S. Senate, by contrast, are necessarily selected from single-seat (well, double-seat, but typically with only one seat up for election in a given year) constituencies, although a minority of states now provide for run-offs (or the simulated run-off of a transferable-vote system) rather than allowing for victory by plurality if no candidate gets an absolute majority of first-round votes.

  235. J.W. Brewer says

    @AC-B, yes, re motivation for Peiping although Nan[k/j]ing has historically been able to hold on to that name during certain eras when it was not, in fact a or the capital, including under current Communist rule, so the KMT’s renaming gesture seems a little petty and/or unduly influenced by the Etymological Fallacy. OTOH, a little bit further east the change of name of Edo to Tokyo had a lot to do with marking its new status as the national capital – yet without renaming Kyoto.

  236. January First-of-May says

    Separately, the standard modern poli sci account is that electoral systems that combine single-member legislative districts with first-past-the-post conditions for winning a district’s seat by plurality tend strongly toward having only two major parties. This is “Duverger’s Law,” although “law” is probably too strong a word because it’s a tendency that’s not exceptionless.

    Indeed, and AFAIK some further research (and simulations) suggested that at least in some cases, intra-district systems other than FPTP*, and/or multi-member districts with only a few members, would result in the same pattern.
    OTOH it turns out that regional parties (or in some cases even single-district independent candidates) can sometimes overtake the major parties in their regions, so there are often much more than two parties actually represented in the legislature. This hadn’t been much of a thing in the USA (excepting sporadic “independents canvassing with…”) for several decades, and I’m not actually very sure why.

    As a side-note, it turns out that many of the alternatives to single-member districts very much do require formalized parties to function**, much to the detriment of any independent candidates and/or splinter factions. (Case in point: Ayelet Shaked, the current Israeli interior minister, who is trying to run for Knesset as her own faction, and probably won’t be able to get in because her faction is so small.)

     
    *) Of course, in a single-winner election, if there are only two candidates (and they are not exactly tied) then almost all sensible systems will produce the same winner as FPTP, and if more than half of the voters prefer one particular candidate to all the others, most*** sensible systems will produce the same winner as FPTP. AFAIK those two scenarios [the first being technically a subset of the second] cover the vast majority of elections in the USA.

    **) IIRC it’s possible, technically, to run a multi-member election without formalized parties, and indeed AFAIK technically something very much like that, masquerading as proportional representation, had been the case in some elections in Australia.
    In some, especially lower-level, contexts it might also be possible to get away with a FPTP-like election where the top X candidates pass instead of just the top 1.
    Actual proportional representation, however, does in fact require formalized parties to function.

    ***) Score-based systems, Borda voting, and some other similar systems can let a popular second or third choice beat a majority first choice that is strongly unpopular with the minority, especially if there are many other candidates down the ballot. Technically in some score-based systems even a two-candidate election can go for a minority choice.
    In Borda voting this can actually quite easily happen by accident if there are several competing groups and candidates unaffiliated with rival groups are artificially raised in the voters’ scoring.

  237. Athel Cornish-Bowden, yes, I observed the words “seems to be” but couldn’t assign any definite meaning to them. But I’m probably hypersensitive. As a retired American academic, I spent 37 years correcting my students’ notions about the Constitution. No, it doesn’t mandate that there should be only two parties (something many of them believe). No, it doesn’t say that God is the foundation of America. When I was in school, we actually read and studied the Constitution, article by article. Today’s students, at least where I’ve taught, seem to get only vague exhortations from football coaches. I suppose that after 1968, it was felt that it was a bad idea to give students too many ideas.

  238. (1) Surely Manchuria has been overwhelmingly Chinese since well before 1949?

    (2) Do you really still say “Peiping”? I thought that went out with Dean Rusk.

    I think JWB was speaking ironically by adopting this quaint old language. I’m surprised he didn’t use “Formosa”.

  239. J.W. Brewer says

    Well, Formosa’s an exonym, although in some late 20th century use among anti-KMT Taiwanese nationalists. Come to think of it Tung-ning (or Tong-lîng) would be a good old-fashioned name for a free-of-mainland-bandits Taiwanese polity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Tungning

  240. Question: Which name is older, Taiwan or Formosa?

    “Formosa” is only an “exonym” (given by the Portuguese) if you accept that Taiwan (named in Chinese after a particular place on the island) is “Chinese”. Did the native inhabitants have a name for the island before the Chinese came?

  241. Did the native inhabitants have a name for the island before the Chinese came?

    It’s quite possible that they didn’t. It’s a big place. In any case, there were and remain many different indigenous peoples there, with no common pre-Chinese lingua franca.

  242. J.W. Brewer says

    @Bathrobe: Well, it’s an example of what the Kids These Days disparage as “settler colonialism,” innit? “New Zealand” is an exonym until the majority of the population is of European/non-Maori descent, but then it’s an endonym.

  243. @ JWB

    What does that make “Aeoteroa”, then? (I note this name was originally only used for the North Island…)

  244. January First-of-May says

    Question: Which name is older, Taiwan or Formosa?

    As a name for the entire island, Formosa is indeed older (1542). “Taiwan” appears to be (a slightly mangled form of) the native name for a village, and/or a tribe (which is now known as Taivoan), near the spot where the Dutch established their colony, which was very quickly extended over the entire island by metonymy.
    Of course, as Y correctly pointed out, the locals (used to) speak many very distantly (if at all) related languages, so even if they did have a name for the whole island, they probably had several. AFAIK no such names (prior to the Qing takeover) are actually attested.

    It struck me that the Chinese probably had a pre-1542 name for the island, and indeed they did: Liuqiu. However, this seems to have been used as a generic term for the entire island chain forming the southern boundary of the East China Sea, and Japan co-opted the name for its own part of the chain – the modern Ryukyu islands.

  245. J.W. Brewer says

    @Bathrobe: a multilingual/multi-ethnic society can have more than one endonym, innit? The endo- and exo- concepts are in my mind somewhat deictic, referring to actual usage by particular groups at a particular point in time (generally, “now” if not other specified) rather than letting earlier history or etymology govern.

  246. So calling Americans “Yanks” is an example of an exonym? (Or is it an exonym that has become an endonym? Or an endonym that became an exonym and later became an endonym again. I’m a bit unsure about all of this…)

  247. “Yank” is an exonym used by Brits and Australians. “Yankee” is an obsolete (?) endonym used by non-Southerner Americans, and an exonym used by Southerners.

  248. Ah, so ‘septic’ is rhyming slang based on an exonym…

    Everything is so convoluted.

  249. Attributed to E. B. White:

    To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
    To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
    To northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
    To easterners, a Yankee is an New Englander.
    To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
    And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

  250. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not saying that there necessarily aren’t any (Northern white) Americans still alive who self-identify as Yankees, but I can say that no such person has ever, to the best of my recollection, so self-identified in my presence. Although the fact that I am not a New Englander may limit my perspective?

  251. (Would love to comment further – on both Taiwan and Aotearoa. But have now got from NZ to actual Taiwan, pecking on a phone.)

    If Chinese sailors/ traders had a name for Formosa the island before the Portuguese ‘discovered’ it, that’s not recorded. J F-of-M is correct.

  252. Well, check in when you can — just the thought of your being in Taiwan makes me nostalgic for steamed dumplings…

  253. nostalgic for steamed dumplings…

    Hanh yaa I’m eating as fast as I can!

    You seem to be under some illusion Taiwan hospitality is a force that can be negotiated with or directed. The schedule for eating steamed dumplings will be advised on a need-to-know basis.

    I’ve at least located a dumpling/tea shop on the street I’m staying. Seems to carry the standard selection.

    Yesterday was noodles and ‘classic’ Chinese. Today sushi in a place the size of a badminton hall, crammed full, half hour queueing on a Thursday lunchtime. With a high-tech conveyor belt system to deliver to your table. _how many_ varieties of smoked fish?

  254. You seem to be under some illusion Taiwan hospitality is a force that can be negotiated with or directed.

    Not in the least — I remember staggering away from one dinner with a hospitable family overstuffed and drunk and wondering if I would survive my time on the island.

  255. Wow, sounds like the South China Morning Post is totally in the bag for Xi — somehow I thought they were more independent.

  256. David Eddyshaw says

    “The wave of applause from party delegates reflected wide consensus.”

    Indeed. Indeed. And if even party delegates were in agreement with the Leader …

  257. South China Morning Post is totally in the bag for Xi.

    It certainly sounds that way. Note how it says:

    “Xi made it clear that the next five years under his leadership is mission critical to the vision of China becoming the leading power in the world by mid-century in two stages – first by completing modernisation by 2035 and then by becoming a pacesetter and goal-setter of global development by 2050.”

    The Straits Times has a (paywalled) article that starts: “Whatever personnel and policy changes emerge from the 20th party congress, China’s ambitions and revanchist ethnonationalist goals will endure.”

    The “revanchist” bit is the fact that China wants to reclaim the place it held before it was bullied, oppressed, and partially dismembered by the Western powers. I suspect a lot of Chinese would agree with that assessment. Getting Taiwan back is part of the revanchism.*

    Get ready for a rocky ride.

    *By these lights, Putin is also a revanchist.

  258. John Cowan says

    Nowadays a Yankee is probably someone who subscribes to Yankee Magazine.

  259. In Japan, Yankee refers to a certain kind of delinquent young person and their fashion tastes. It is a style designed to look strong and intimidating.

    Or so Wikipedia tells me.

    I heard the term quite a bit but was never totally sure what it referred to.

  260. “it’s certainly possible it might violate certain federal statutes that would need to be repealed or amended to allow the change” — yes, the Uniform Congressional District Act of 1967.

    “it’s possible, technically, to run a multi-member election without formalized parties” — Ireland has used STV since 1921 but parties were long ignored in statute law; party labels were not included beside candidates’ names on the ballot paper until 1963. Of course parties existed and campaigned and had a modicum of recognition in the standing orders of the legislature. True proportionality requires the entire n-member assembly to be a single n-member district, whereas Ireland’s ~160-member Dáil has ~40 constituencies electing 3-5 members each. In theory this is little better than FPTP but in practice the correlation between a party’s share of the national first-preference vote and its share of Dáil seats is close enough not to cause complaints. It helps that Ireland’s system is locally called “PR” rather than “STV”. As well, in many contexts in Ireland “not as crap as the UK” is ipso facto “good enough”.

  261. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Denmark uses a sort of hybrid system where about half the seats are chosen in districts of varying size, and the rest are filler mandates that will normally make the numbers come out as if the whole country was a single constituency. Historically, I think proportionality has only been broken once when a comedian without party affiliation got a district mandate — he would not have been able to get enough signatures to register a party and he would not have been able to pass the 2% threshold to have filler mandates allocated, so under true proportionality he would not have got in.

  262. Historically, I think proportionality has only been broken once when a comedian without party affiliation got a district mandate
    Winning a constituency is the only way for an independent candidate without a party to get into parliament in Germany, too. I don’t think it ever has happened since the current system was established after WW II, but winning individual constituencies has enabled parties without enough votes to pass the 5% threshold to get into the Bundestag nevertheless.

  263. @Lars, @Hans, NZ has similar ‘Mixed Member Proportional’.

    In one strongly right-leaning constituency, the right-centre ‘National’ doesn’t stand a candidate. This enables the very-right ‘ACT’ to get a toe-hold despite their national vote being well below threshold 5%.

    So far the centre-left ‘Labour’ doesn’t adopt a similar tactic, but in recent elections ‘Greens’ have comfortably cleared the threshold.

  264. @Hat sounds like the South China Morning Post is totally in the bag for Xi

    Yes, to find SCMP showing (some) critical independence, you need to go back before the 2020 clampdown.

    Taiwan News reports on Xi’s speech

    taking the path of military reinforcement with Chinese characteristics,

    They are just as likely to have taken a biased (in the opposite direction) translation. Can anybody here elucidate “reinforcement with Chinese characteristics”?

    The (Socialism with) ‘Chinese characteristics’ bit is long-familiar. Is it new to attach it to military threats?

  265. David Eddyshaw says

    Sounds as if “with Chinese characteristics” now simply means “doubleplusgood.”

  266. Meanwhile, Taiwan continues to gladden the hearts of language diversifiers everywhere:

    Taiwan think tank organizes forum on implementing multilingual policy

    (I’m not sure Belgium is an appropriate model to learn from, but Taiwan will take friends from anywhere …)

    I can vouch that Taiwanese/Hokkien is alive and kicking: spent a full day yesterday on a coach trip temple-veneration. The whole proceedings were in Hoklo, so my scanty Putonghua was even more useless than ever.

    There’s been no venerating of temples allowed for two years, so it was massive. I was the only white face amongst ~2,500 devotees, so of course I was compelled to absorb all the ‘hospitality’ — including (as @Hat alluded to above) substantial quantities of whatever was in that Johnny Walker bottle. (Strangest colour whisky I’ve ever seen.)

    I’m staying in a suburb of Taichung; there’s a tiny temple; the drill seems to be to take all the relics to parade at the sister/mother temples in the far-flung countryside; eating yourselves to exhaustion en route. It also seems required to make enough noise at the one they can hear you coming at the next: gongs, tam-tams, shawms, deafening percussion of any sort. Firecrackers at every turn. Proper fireworks when we got back to the city.

    So for the sake of my liver: get yourselves to Taiwan; there’s no mainland tourists arriving; hotels and tourist activities are practically giving away trips.

  267. substantial quantities of whatever was in that Johnny Walker bottle.

    Yes, at the dinner I mentioned I was offered “wine” and accepted gladly, thinking the rich and well-connected family that had invited me (I was the teacher of their eldest son) would surely have some nice Bordeaux; turned out what was on offer was Johnny Walker (Chinese does not routinely distinguish between wine and hard liquor — it’s all 酒 jiǔ). And 干杯 gānbēi, though translated ‘cheers!’, literally means ‘dry cup,’ and by God you’re expected to empty your glass (whereupon it’s refilled for the next toast).

  268. and the rest are filler mandates that will normally make the numbers come out as if the whole country was a single constituency

    Ah. Titular districts, or as the Catholic Church used to call them, districts in partibus infidelium. Perhaps they should be named after (improbably small) villages in Norway, Estonia, and the Danelaw.

  269. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    @JC, yes, except all the filler mandates are localized to specific larger districts. I’ll elaborate in the next post; this started as a temporary post because Akismet and I won’t have time to do a proper job within the edit deadline.

  270. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Omnia Dacia in tres partes divisa est, which is actually relevant. Further details, enough to make your eyes glaze over (kindly provided in English by the Ministry of Interior, and unlike most such explaining-to-furriners texts it looks like it has all the nitty-gritty).

    TL;DR: 135 primary seats are notionally elected from 92 “nomination” districts, but since the distribution of primary seats is done by d’Hondt’s method at the level of 10 “multi-member constituencies,” there is never a FPTP element. However, parties may order their nomination lists differently in each district, which can influence which candidate gets how many votes transferred from whom.

  271. and by God you’re expected to empty your glass (whereupon it’s refilled for the next toast).
    Heh. I was once in a situation (back in the 90s) where I was accompanying a delegation from various Central Asian republics to Shanghai. After a dinner, we were invited to drinks, and as the Chinese side only had an English-Chinese translator, I was asked to translate Russian-English. After two bottom-ups of Maotai (one of the vilest spirits I ever had to drink), I told the hosts that they could choose between either me translating comprehensibly or me continuing to drink, and they gave me a dispensation from drinking.
    If you’re interested in the outcome, the Central Asian side drank the Chinese side under the table; nothing beats Soviet training.

  272. nothing beats Soviet training.

    Damn right!

  273. Taiwan News reports on Xi’s speech

    Got a 404.

    the Central Asian side drank the Chinese side under the table

    As I would expect. And not something to be especially proud of.

    Although it loses out to the Russian/Central Asian variety, the Chinese heavy-drinking culture is pretty vicious, leading to something resembling a dictatorship of drunks. If you can’t drink, your prospects for getting anywhere in politics, business, and society are limited. This is just my personal opinion, but any culture where your masculinity and powers of leadership are judged by your ability to imbibe large amounts of poison is seriously distorted.

  274. This is just my personal opinion, but any culture where your masculinity and powers of leadership are judged by your ability to imbibe large amounts of poison is seriously distorted.
    I haven’t been to China after that trip in the 90s, so I can’t say a lot about Chinese drinking culture, but in the former USSR, that had a lot to do with lack of trust. Part of this heavy drinking was about opening up and revealing your true colours. Obviously, that’s not a reliable method, and drinking also became an end in itself.
    I can say from own experience that the need to drink for business has become much less in Central Asia since then (and according to what I hear from colleagues, in Russia as well), as the old guard has been replaced by young professionals, and even in private life the kind of drinking banquet after which you stagger home (if you’re able to move at all) has become much rarer.

  275. My take on the culture of drinking in China is at The culture of drinking in China, written not long before Xi Jinping came to power. Better analyses and descriptions have been written since but most have similar things to say.

  276. There is a long article in The Economist about Xi Jinping: The making of a dictator. Interesting reading.

  277. … drinking culture, but in the former USSR, that had a lot to do with lack of trust. 

    Yes, in the movie ‘Death of Stalin’, after a heavy drinking session the main characters are all desperately trying to remember what they said, and especially what S said.

  278. It’s a well known way to establish a contact (here I imagined a flying saucer landing in Russia…).
    When you are 10, you play with people, when you 20 you drink. And flirt, of course.

  279. My take on the culture of drinking in China is at The culture of drinking in China
    A lot of that also holds for Soviet drinking culture as I experienced it in 90s Central Asia. Women, especially Russian and Kazakh, participated more strongly; if they wanted, they could get a pass or stick to wine or beer, but I met a lot who drank on competitive levels with men. Toasting was equally important.
    Do the Chinese have an equivalent to the position of Tamada – normally a respected person neither host nor guest of honour who determines when the next toast is said and by whom? These announcements are often small pieces of art themselves, and there are professional Tamadas who are hired for big events like weddings.

  280. In USSR and Russia it is normal for women to get drunk, but they rarely practice harmful drinking styles.

  281. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Yes, in the movie ‘Death of Stalin’, after a heavy drinking session the main characters are all desperately trying to remember what they said, and especially what S said.

    Time for a spot of boasting. The music in Death of Stalin was composed by my nephew, Christopher Willis. (I know which a lot of it sounds like Shostakovich, but it isn’t, though it was certainly inspired by Shostakovich.)

  282. Well done Christopher Willis! You have every right to boast about such a nephew.

  283.  a lot of it sounds like Shostakovich,

    Props to your nephew. I indeed spent lots of the movie trying to guess which of Shost’s pieces the music was from. I thought I knew his symphonies and suites pretty well. Turns out I did.

  284. @ Hans

    No, there is no tamada in Chinese drinking. The head of the table dominates. Participants round the table are aware of their pecking order. However, they are very eager to participate in the toasting, walking round the table to personally toast the host in particular. There is both bonhomie and forelock tugging involved.

    (The only tamada I know in Chinese is the curse word 他妈的 ta ma de.)

  285. (The only tamada I know in Chinese is the curse word 他媽的 ta ma de.)

    233333333333 🤣

  286. 🎶 You say tamada, and I say ta ma de…

  287. When I checked my Breton teacher’s blog (or FB) – I usually don’t follow my freinds’ blogs, what to say about teachers – she was in Georgia (I think she visited some local Assyrian cultural activists for she’s Assyrian), and one of the upper posts was addressing her daughter’s question. “mom, why do you always come home drunk?”.
    She did so because she went to get a manicure and it was st. Barbara’s day so they offered her wine and then as the lady was working on her nails they discussed men and she drank another glass and another and then she came home drunk again.

    She did not tell what was on other days, but I think our Lord made it so that all days of a year were adopted by some saint. Several saints, actually.

  288. J.W. Brewer says

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the best teachers of Breton are drunken Assyrian ladies.” — attr. J. Austen.

  289. John Cowan says

    Perhaps. But women discussing men generally have every reason to get drunk (to whatever degree).

  290. She did not tell what was on other days, but I think our Lord made it so that all days of a year were adopted by some saint.
    But women discussing men generally have every reason to get drunk (to whatever degree).
    Было бы, что выпить, а повод всегда найдется.

  291. David Eddyshaw says

    This seems as good a place as any to repeat my perfectly true story about the Bulgarian midwife who used to come to our Anglophone Bible study sessions in Nigeria. She told us that she used to go to the Russian Bible study, but had been put off by the “drinking and fighting.”

  292. @AntC: “Yes, in the movie ‘Death of Stalin’, after a heavy drinking session the main characters are all desperately trying to remember what they said, and especially what S said.”

    That was more about Stalin taking pleasure in humiliating his lieutenants, enjoying their (self-)abasement. Catching them off guard had its value too, but they were all very closely watched anyway. Probably wiretapped as well.

    Although a it’s a black, grotesque comedy very loosely based on facts and memoirs, some say the movie was prophetic. Having watched a semi-televised meeting of Putin’s “security council” before the February invasion of Ukraine, lots of commenters said it was a like a movie scene and a plurality named The Death of Stalin.

  293. very loosely based on facts and memoirs, …

    As opposed to the actual truth — which is unknowable. Then the movie (which mostly is a dramatization of a comic strip) has the ring of artistic truth.

    The opening scene at the unrecorded concert is from Shostakovich’s (maybe) ghost-written memoirs smuggled out to the West, published after his death, but repudiated by his son — but he would say that, wouldn’t he? In any case, the concert – if it happened – was several years before Stalin’s death.

    Nevertheless everything in the movie is true, though we don’t vouch for it. (To quote an entirely different composer)

  294. J.W. Brewer says

    There are typically dozens of saints (many quite obscure, but if you need something to celebrate, you can look them up …) for every date of the calendar year. One quick reference for recognized-by-Orthodoxy saints for today (New Calendar today) has chronological coverage running from a lady mentioned in the New Testament to a New Confessor of the Bolshevik Yoke who survived until 1963. It is also, in both (New Calendar) East and West St. Crispin’s Day today, and one of the wackier political news stories of the day is that one of the more eccentric (to use a neutral word) members of the U.K.’s Parliament dated his resignation letter from his cabinet post (getting out of the way of the new Prime Minister) thusly rather than as Oct. 25.

    St. Barbara is a more interesting case, perhaps, because her feast day falls during a fasting season in which the faithful are presumptively to refrain from wine unless the date falls on a Saturday or Sunday. But there are always disputes about how important a saint needs to be for his or her feast day to override that default and make wine appropriate and St. Barbara may have the necessary clout. (This year the feast falls on a Sunday, so the override issue does not arise.)

  295. “Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the Christian patron saints of cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers.” If I knew that, I’d forgotten. They don’t seem to be recognized by the Orthodox Church; the Russian Wikipedia article, oddly, includes Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast in its Literature section.

  296. David Eddyshaw says

    Trumping mere saints, Lugh of the Long Hand may have been the patron god of cobblers; this perhaps accounts for why his instance Lleu Llaw Gyffes and his uncle Gwydion disguise themselves as cobblers in Math fab Mathonwy. Or not. As you may think.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lugus#Inscriptions

  297. The public humiliation of Hu Jintao a few days ago seemed Stalinistically gratuitous.

  298. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Props to your nephew. I indeed spent lots of the movie trying to guess which of Shost’s pieces the music was from. I thought I knew his symphonies and suites pretty well. Turns out I did.

    Perhaps a little explanation won’t come amiss. Christopher deliberately set out to compose music of the sort Shostakovich might have written in similar circumstances. Plenty of people have been quite sure that it really was Shostakovich they were hearing, so apparently he did a good job. It’s not his expert subject, however: he did his doctoral work at Cambridge on 18th century music in general and Domenico Scarlatti in particular. Neither of his parents, and neither of his two brothers, are particularly musical. The picture of him on his Wikipedia article was taken by me, though it doesn’t say so.

  299. But, of course! Rees-Mogg (I assume it was him) obviously nods or winks toward Shakespeare and Agincourt. What a contemptible man.

  300. David Eddyshaw says

    That hotbed of Socialism, the Economist, has described him as a “grotesque”, and “more fit for a museum than for the Cabinet.” (I disagree on the latter point: he is a fake antique.)

    (Also described Nadine Dorries as “a cabinet toady.”)

  301. Rees-Mogg … What a contemptible man.

    Indeed. His father — with whom I would agree on pretty much nothing — I greatly respected as a journalist; his editorials were always magisterial.

  302. J.W. Brewer says

    It is to be regretted that the perhaps Shakespeare-besotted younger Rees-Mogg did not instead note the date as the feast of the Holy Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius, Notaries of Constantinople. Byzantine-restorationism has much undone work even amongst the most reactionary-seeming Young People. (Although some youngish UK dude with the hopefully-fictitious name Henry Hopwood-Phillips is doing good pro-Byzantine work on the internet.)

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