Women of the Silk – Gail Tsukiyama

I read The Samurai’s Garden early in 2016 in my push to start reading a more diverse array of books and liked it well enough that I decided to pick up a copy of Tsukiyama’s acclaimed debut novel, Women of the Silk.

Women of the Silk is a slow story that unfolds over nineteen years (1919-1938) in southern China. Pei is the second daughter of a peasant son-less farmer who dedicated his life to mulberry bushes and fish ponds. A series of lean years force the family to make difficult decisions, one of which is to ostensibly sell Pei, about age eleven, into servitude at the Yung Kee silk factory where her wages will help support the family. The novel unfolds slowly, following Pei and her new family (the eponymous women of the silk), be they her surrogate mother Auntie Yee or her friends like Mei Li and Lin. It is a story about friendship and everyday life, with characters grappling with love, labor, and their liminal position between the truly rural existence that Pei was born in and the urban environments of Hong Kong. There are limited climaxes as tension builds over some conflict, but the story ultimately builds to the end of this existence when there appears the specter of war with Japan.

Unlike most stories that deal with child labor, Women of the Silk portrays the situation in terms of sadness, not horror. The work is difficult, but, while there is one incident of labor unrest, it is not brutal and the women are taken care of. Moreover, Tsukiyama focuses on how Pei and the other women formed a surrogate community within a culture extremely dependent on family, doubly so when the women perform a commitment ceremony to symbolically wed the work. Work is difficult, but the pay offers freedom that did not exist for women like Pei’s biological sister whose life is entirely at the whim of her father or husband. Thus, silk work is likewise attractive even to Lin, whose background is diametrically opposite Pei and equally as restricting.

Tsukiyama’s prose is lyrical in a way that suits Women of the Silk‘s narrative as it builds the relationships in the silk factory. That said, I found myself frustrated because the book seemed to be giving vignettes of particular importance that I did not think were all completely earned. It goes without saying any book will have to focus on these episodes and none of them were necessarily inappropriate for the characters, but in several the story drops in without either developing the characters directly involved in the episode or focusing on Pei’s reaction to the events. The result is a dissonant sensation where the prose gives a sense of depth, but the story only sometimes allows for this to be realized. It was for this reason that while I didn’t dislike Women of the Silk, I much preferred The Samurai’s Garden. In other words, Women of the Silk is a first novel with a lot of promise, but left me wanting more.

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Next up, I finished Andrey Platonov’s curious and increasingly esoteric novel The Foundation Pit and am now reading nobel laureate Mo Yan’s The Republic of Wine.

Last Words From Montmarte – Qui Miaojin

Last Words From Montmarte is far afield from my usual reading tastes. It is an experimental epistolary novel published posthumously that is part memoir, serving as a suicide note for Qui Miaojin, and deals substantially with lesbian sexuality. Last Words is necessarily a deeply intimate novel that investigates the emotional anxiety of the narrator, while leaving the other characters as sort of unknowable phantoms and sources of the anxiety as the narrators wants to become intimate with them. Nor is there a strong plot, since the author tells the reader that the letters can be read in any order. As a result, the story–by which I mean the gradual understanding of the narrator’s psyche–unfolds more than progresses, skipping between Paris, Tokyo, and Taipei, and being by turns wrenching, gleeful, depressed, and anxious.

As a technical piece of literature, there was a lot I appreciated about Last Words and I came away understanding why many people connect with it so deeply even though I did not. I generally do not like novels that are this interior unless they also have something else that I can grab onto, largely because unless i feel some sort of kinship with the person being examined, I have a hard time getting into the story. There were moments in this book that I could relate with, particularly to being an outsider, but it has been a long time since I have been even remotely this lovesick and so many of the other defining characteristics of both the characters and the social circles were so far beyond my personal experience that I often ended up almost forcing myself to read the book in a way that was not altogether enjoyable. As noted, though, this is more a “me” problem than a problem with Last Words which is not meant necessarily to explain anything to the reader so much as to give an emotional jolt. That emotional jolt just didn’t land as cleanly as it might have for me for all those different reasons.

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Next up, I am currently reading Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature and just started Ursula K. le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

The Conquerors – André Malraux

I can still hear the prattle of democracy at dinner, the trite formulas, ridiculous in Europe, harbored here like rusty old steamers, again I see the solemn enthusiasm they ignite among all these men.

My deepest hostilities aren’t so much against possessors as against the stupid principles that they spout to defend their possessions.

I finished The Conquerors a couple of weeks ago, so what follows are half-digested, half-forgotten thoughts on this book by Charles de Gaulle’s Minister of Information and Minister of Cultural Affairs. My copy, and therefore this write-up, consists of two distinct parts: the novel, published in 1928, and a reflective essay on the topics of the novel, published in 1949.

The Conquerors is a novelization of the 1925-1927 Cantonese revolution in Hong Kong. The unnamed narrator is a Frenchman who traveled by way of Vietnam to meet his old friend Garine working as a propaganda officer for Mikhail Borodin, the Russian agent in Hong Kong. Despite nominally working toward the same end, there is tension between Garine and Borodin since the former is a true believer in the cause, while the latter is primarily working to advance the soviet political agenda. Yet, as these two men with European connections play out their drama, there is a larger conflict between Chinese revolutionaries, Chinese warlords, and the Europeans in Hong Kong. Garine and Borodin both intend to use the Chinese to accomplish their objectives, with a powerful pacifist (compared to Ghandi) and a young anarchist. The situation in Hong Kong deteriorates under repeated assaults from European capital and Chinese arms before ending on an ambiguous note.

The Conquerors is something of an odd book in that it is utterly driven by the plot, being told in chronological narration with a date and time for nearly every entry, while not actually being about the plot at all. The plot of The Conquerors is a vehicle for Malraux to talk about issues of colonialism and revolution, which he opposes and favors, in that order. Despite the flatness of some of the Chinese characters and the problems posed by the large number of Chinese factions, Malraux is most critical of European influence in the revolution since both capitalists and communists are, ultimately seeking to effect some sort of colonial project.

Where the novel The Conquerors ultimately fell flat, the concluding essay was a thoughtful critique of Western Civilization. Among other issues, he talks about how Russia is in some ways a European country and, in others, wholly un-European. In the conclusion to this essay he wrote:

When was France great? When she did not take refuge in France. She is universalist. To the rest of the world the greatness of France is much more the cathedrals or the Revolution than Louis XIV. Some countries, like Britain — and it may be to their honor–are the greater the more alone. France has never been greater than when she spoke for all mankind, and that is why her silence is heard so poignantly today.

Of course, this passage struck a particular note in the wake of the recent American election. There were individual scenes in The Conquerors that were excellent, but the book as a whole did not leave enough of an impression that I can remember it well several weeks later. This passage in the concluding essay did.

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Next up, I have finished Last Words from Montmarte, a posthumous, postmodern, epistolary novel by Qiu Miaojin, a Taiwanese lesbian author. I am also in the middle of reading Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, but am up to my neck in grading and editing right now so have only just started Ursula K. le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

Night Heron – Adam Brookes

Prisoner 5995, a.k.a. Peanut, escapes from a work camp somewhere in Western China after serving nearly twenty years of a sentence, eludes the manhunt and makes his way to Beijing. He finds the world has changed dramatically since his arrest and falls back on his training to evade notice while developing a plan that will punish those who he blames for his incarceration and allow him to get out China. Toward the former, he makes contact with Wen Jinghan, an engineer who had supplied him with state secrets in his former life as a spy, and with Philip Mangan, a reporter who works for the same newspaper that employed his former contact with British Intelligence. Bewildered, Mangan turns reaches out to contacts in the British government, who decide to use him as Peanut’s handler after Peanut supplies the cover page to a report detailing the state of the Chinese missile system.

The tension grows as Chinese are alerted to an intelligence leak and begin to close in on Mangan and his associates, including on his photograph and girlfriend, and the British services change the parameters of the mission. Peanut doesn’t particularly care about the secrets he is peddling and Mangan is more bewildered than dedicated, but both find themselves trapped in the space between agencies, neither of which cares about their wellbeing except to how it serves their impersonal ends.

I picked up Night Heron, Brookes’ debut novel, because of a recent interest in reading more spy/detective thrillers and it appeared on a list of best new books in the genre. There is good reason for this. Brookes, a longtime journalist in East Asia, gives enough detail about China and how it has changed in recent years, both in terms of the relationship between the citizens and the government and in terms of the physical space that there really is a particular setting. He also successfully builds suspense in this sprawling story by showing how many characters are working multiple angles, while Peanut is lost in a modern world, and Mangan is befuddled by the games within games. The lack of certainty does its job.

Brookes describes Night Heron as his “efforts to understand something of what goes on in the world of intelligence,” and this shows through. Mangan takes on the role of author and reader surrogate, trying to understand what is happening so that he can stay one step ahead of the agents trying to stop Peanut. Mangan was also the most fully-realized character, as the large number that appeared led to a number of flat characters such as the beautiful Chinese spy who seduces a married American contractor who fill out archetypes and exist for the purposes of moving the plot along more than adding much to the story in their own right. Similarly, Brookes is more adept at identifying how technology might cause a spy unfamiliar with it to go obsolete than he is at developing the consequences of those themes.

My favorite thriller novels usually raise the tension with a tight narrative that is ultimately a cat-and-mouse game between two entities. Night Heron is a small story with big stakes, but something is lost in that it also stretches to at least four or five distinct locations and with at least three distinct plots. For much of the novel the tension is that of the paranoia of the unknown and is (appropriately for this story, in my opinion) juxtaposed with the chess players back in England whose lives are not immediately at stake. The cats are not awake yet, but the mice know they are there. Toward the end of Night Heron the cats awaken, but this part of the story felt somewhat perfunctory–a frenetic chase that places the mice in danger, causes the arrest of minor characters, and validates their paranoia in spades, but was also a transition that I found jarring. These were all issues I had that were well within the parameters of the story, but that detracted from the pacing and depth of the novel in ways that struck me as signs of a first book while also giving me hope that he can mature as a storyteller.

Night Heron is a good first novel from an author who is worth keeping an eye on and gives plenty to think about, but was to my taste flawed. Hopefully the stories become tighter and more fully fleshed out as Brookes develops his craft and if good reviews continue to come in I will check back in in a few years.

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Next up, I have been slowly making my way through Stefan Zweig’s beautiful The Post Office Girl while doing some recent travel. I also splurged on too many books to list here and as a result have no idea what I am going to read next, but am particularly looking forward to To Each His Own and The Day of the Owl, two short novels by the Sicilian author Leonardo Sciascia.

Tun-Huang – Yasushi Inoue

What can set in motion a chain of events that will, in hundreds of years, lead to a remarkable archeological find? More concretely, what can set in motion events that will cause a man to bury hundreds of pages of buddhist scripture in isolated caves?

This is the question that Yasushi Inoue answers with his work of historical imagination, Tun-Huang, so named for the caves where the monk Chao Hsing-te will end up burying the scrolls. The story opens hundreds of miles away. Hsing-te comes from a bureaucratic family and studied for years to take the civil service exam except, after cruising through the first two rounds of testing, he falls asleep in the waiting area and sleeps through the final round of testing. Faced with the prospect of waiting years for the next round of testing and being devastated, Hsing-te wanders through the market and chances into a merchant selling a Hsi-Hsia woman, one body part at a time. Moved by the spectacle, Hsing-te her freedom, and then sets out to see her homeland. Along the way he becomes a warrior, falls in love with a princess, becomes associated with a dangerous and violent merchant and a Hsing-te officer of Chinese origin with a near-suicidal mania for throwing himself into battle. All of these events are formative, but, ultimately, the most important development is that Hsing-te converts to Buddhism and dedicates his living to saving the documents before the flames of war consume them.

Tun-Huang is a book on which I am torn. The text forms the backbone of an epic story, and Inoue mimics the form of historical narrative from a detached vantage point. It is an epic in two hundred pages. Hsing-te’s transition is a worthy subject, and the Chinese soldier Wang Li, the merchant Kuang, and the Uigher princess are viable, if somewhat shallow, supporting characters. The book moves, and I agree with one review I read that compares the story to the form and style to that of the movie Western, but I still found myself dissatisfied. My problem was the sense of predestination in that, while not in form, the story is built to start with the end and then builds back the events that led up to it. As a result, individual scenes were moving–the sacrifice of the princess, the greedy merchant pawing through the ground for riches–but in part because I found the characters hard to connect with, I suspect because of the style, the overall the story lacked sufficient drama for my taste.

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Next up I am currently reading Klaus Mann’s Mephisto about actors and theater in Nazi Germany and The Struggle for Sea Power, a global naval history of the American Revolution.

The Samurai’s Garden – Gail Tsukiyama

Stephen, a Chinese man from Hong Kong, has tuberculosis and so his family has sent him to join his father in Japan to get away from the heat and dampness. From Kobe, he travels to the small, seaside resort town of Tarumi where his grandfather has a cabin. The slow pace of life in the small town is an adjustment from the bustling city, but the mountain air and the sea are healthful. However, while Stephen adjusts to life with the cabin caretaker, Matsu, the world seems to be falling apart outside of his bubble. The year is 1937 and the imperial Japanese army is advancing into southern China.

The Samurai’s Garden fundamentally balances these two contradictory forces. On the one side there is the failing relationship between Stephen’s parents, the horrors of the Japanese campaign in China, and the associated tensions, such as the refugee crisis in Hong Kong, the lack of young men in Tarumi, and the hostility felt by some Japanese against the wealthy Chinese interloper. On the other, there is the tranquility of the garden, the shrine, and how Matsu and his friend Sachi adopt Stephen as though he is their own child.

The entirety of the story unfolds in the course of the more than a year Stephen stays in Tarumi, and the reader only meets his friends, mother and sister through their letters and his memories. Other than brief visits with Stephen’s father, on whom his opinion changes radically, the story mostly focuses on the four Japanese people he meets in Tarumi: the young girl Keiko and four older folks who have a long history together, Matsu the caretaker, Kenzo the owner of the tea house, and Sachi the leper, who they both love. Stephen is the focal point, but his relationship with Matsu and later Sachi is more important than the one with Keiko, which is more closely tied to the broader developments beyond town. There something fleeting about young life, but there is something eternal about Tarumi and the tensions simmering for decades between the older people.

The Samurai’s Garden was deceptively simple at the start, but turned into a deeply contemplative meditation on solitude, companionship, love, and loss. I admit to being a sucker for such stories, and the isolated, seaside, mountain village was a breath of fresh air I longed to visit. At the same time, issues of class, nationality, illness, jealousy, and growing up surround the story, sometimes creeping into the forefront of the narrative, but always silently underpinning its developments. For instance, Matsu is a “strong silent type,” but takes on the role of father, always leading by example and dominating the house he has lived in all these years. Yet, despite being a Japanese man in a Japanese village at the time when the Japanese were conquering China, he is still officially a servant. Stephen doesn’t treat him that way, except in the assumptions he makes.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Samurai’s Garden, but it is an idyllic fantasy. Stephen never wants for anything, with someone else paying for the house and the food, having no deadlines, and never needing to interact with anyone who he doesn’t want to see. He pines to see certain people and suffers physical hardship, but is not forced to grapple with most serious concerns. I legitimately enjoyed the book and it offered deep perspective on issues of loneliness, but I do wonder if part of my fondness grew out of the vision of a beautiful garden where the outside world can only intrude with a rain of white blossoms. There are real problems in the world of The Samurai’s Garden, but the garden is a refuge.

Next up, Louis de Berniéres’ Birds Without Wings, a love story between a Christian woman and a Muslim man in early 20th century Turkey.

Lessons from Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Early this month, I finished reading the first volume of Lo Kuan-chung’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is touted as China’s oldest novel. The book combines oral stories and written histories about the period (c.200 CE) when the decaying Han Dynasty fell apart under the influence of rival warlords and eventually split into three rival kingdoms. Dated translation aside, the text is fairly dry and repetitive as people run, walk, ride, and march from place to place (without a map, for those of us unfamiliar with large swathes of Chinese geography), with duels generally consisting of two heroes waging bouts against each other on horseback until one dies or flees. In this regard, the video game series Dynasty Warriors largely captures the essence of the romance. At the heart of the conflict in the story is the struggle between the clever and ruthless minister Cao Cao and the virtuous and royal Liu Bei [these are not the transliterations used by my text, but are those in Dynasty Warriors, and the ones I am most familiar with]. In the time honored tradition of reading classic Chinese texts and extracting lessons for westerner audiences, I have found a few.

  1. Every stratagem has been used before and has a name. Usually this name will be a literal rendition of the trick and, sometimes, the end objective.
  2. If a man you respect comes into your house, you should feed him meat. If you have no animal meat, you should still try to feed him meat, but if the choice comes down to serving him your wife or mother, you should kill and serve your wife, because you will likely be compensated with cash to purchase yourself a new wife. However, a reputation for this behavior will have a deleterious effect on getting local women to marry you.
  3. Unless you are going for sympathy points with your guest, do not just leave your butchered wife on the kitchen table overnight because your guest will likely stumble upon the body. If the guest finds out, though, this is the surest way to be compensated for your loss.
  4. If you happen to be a guest at a dinner like this, do not be overly alarmed at the possibility of cannibalism and make sure to pay the host for his loss. If possible, get your rival to actually make the payment.
  5. Wives are expendable, but less so than peasant soldiers. A single hero can trump hundreds of peasants, and one of the most effective forms of misinformation is to thrash peasants within an inch of their life and then release them to the enemy.
  6. Children are replaceable, talented subordinates are not. If subordinates risk their lives for your children before the children grow up and amount to anything, they should be rebuked.

A few thoughts on the third debate

*Warning: what follows are a few thoughts with some semblance of structure about the foreign policy debate from last night. I don’t like the foreign policy of either candidate and find the American political coverage both of the debate and of foreign issues to be utterly disheartening. I have done little to no new research on any of the topics, do not offer solutions (yet), and at several points make opinionated statements that I have not necessarily adequately defended with examples pulled from my recollection of the debate or by briefly skimming through the debate transcript. Words are wind.

-“There is no reason that Americans should die [when we have Afghans for that].”

-Dear Mitt Romney, Barbados, Burundi, Palau, and the Vatican City are all four years closer to the bomb, too. That is how time works.

I sent out two tweets during last night’s foreign policy debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (though I have since modified the wording of the first to make it pithier). I had one tweet for each presidential candidate, neither positive. For most of the day today I have monitored the coverage–everything from that this debate didn’t matter to which candidate appeared more presidential. Most of the coverage was inane, repetitive, and (if possible) more vapid than the actual talking points during the debate. Just one article truly went too far for me. I will get to this one in a moment, but I will say now that it was not the comments that Ann Coulter made. I’ve long since decided that, at least when I want to be serious, nothing she says is coherent or dignified enough to warrant a response. I prefer to deal with rational people and, as far as I can tell, she is not one.

To be honest, what Romney said scared me more than what Obama did. On one hand, I have significant qualms with how the administration is handling Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, and most of the rest of the world, not to mention drone attacks. On the other, I was never at any point surprised by what Obama said and I could see a mixture of pandering and basic precedent set in his first term in the answers. Romney never really provided answers of his own, but it was nonetheless interesting that he was the one who brought up the various militant Islamist groups that the President has not publicly addressed, particularly Mali and the student protests in Tehran.

Romney’s answers were often nonsensical, culturally imperialistic, and (borderline) offensive. To give one example, Romney repeatedly mentioned that Israel is the closest ally the United States has in the Middle East (Obama made the same claim at least once). This may be true, though I could easily see a case to be made for Turkey–a NATO member–officially and substantively being closer to the United States than Israel. On the Arab Spring, he said:

“I wish that, looking back at the beginning of the president’s term and even further back than that, that we’d have recognized that there was a growing energy and passion for freedom in that part of the world, and that we would have worked more aggressively with our friend and with other friends in the region to have them make the transition towards a more representative form of government, such that it didn’t explode in the way that it did.”

In short: perhaps this whole supporting dictators and rigging elections thing doesn’t work so well in this age of instant technology–and while we support free elections, did you really have to vote for those guys?

Romney also pointed out the opportunities for US business in “Latin America,” claiming that there were “language opportunities” (whatever that means), brazenly claimed that Europe would support whatever sanctions the US wants on Iran, and that his relationship with Netanyahu will help determine Israeli policy on Iran. Romney said that we need to “indict” Ahmadinejad, though for what, it isn’t entirely clear (something about his words inciting genocide?). And, somehow, the teacher’s union is a foreign policy imperative. Presidential though he may have seemed, my biggest sense was that the President’s primary critique of Romney–that his foreign policy is rash and all over the map–seemed to ring true. And, yes, the United States does dictate to other countries.

As has been noted in a few places, this debate was notable for what was left out. Europe was hardly mentioned, Central and South America came up rarely, and climate change was never mentioned. It was also remarkable in that the candidates often agreed. Neither wanted to be involved in the regime change in Syria and both support increased defense spending, and on a number of occasions Obama was forced to counter Romney’s statements with statements that the administration already does what Romney proposed. More egregiously, though, both candidates lived in a world of blissful ignorance about history of even relatively recent events. For instance, there was a lot of talk about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but none that the United States supported Hosni Mubarak for decades–not to mention at least one gloss made between Tahrir Square and Tienanmen Square. And, of course, there was the role of America in the world:

“I absolutely believe that America has a — a responsibility, and the privilege of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that — that make the world more peaceful. And those principles include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections. Because when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don’t vote for war.”

“America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America, and it is stronger now than when I came into office.”

The perpetual myth that is the American responsibility to civilize and defend the world–and the perpetual myth that democracies don’t go to war. Leaving aside that democracies don’t actually exist, the Melians probably have something to say about this and Kipling would love these guys. Sort of. They talk the talk, but really don’t want to get their hands dirty.

So, the article. I looked through the debate transcript and tried to recall some of my reactions from watching the debate last night. The accusation against Romney that comes up in the article posted above, but not here is that Mitt Romney made a geographical gaffe about Iran’s access to the sea. What we watched last night was an hour and a half of political bickering in front of a national audience and, for all we know, Romney might have been thinking about the Mediterranean as “the sea.” I would be more concerned if Romney was looking at a map and couldn’t figure out where Iran was, but I am fairly certain that he can pick Iran out on a map and would notice the other bodies of water. It is a misstep, but I dislike using this type of misspeaking to discredit his candidacy only slightly less than I dislike making fun of his name. It is something he said, but it is also something of even less significance than everything else he said during the debate.

If political language is meant “to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” then it seems that now, more than ever, the media tries to do the same.

Assorted Links

  1. Tension Between Turkey and Syria at NATO Border Escalates– An article in Spiegel about the issues at the border between Syria and Turkey (which has the largest army in the Middle East). There have been several incidents spanning several months, including the shelling of a Turkish town and downing of a Turkish aircraft by Assad’s military forces and Turkish army providing weapons to the rebels. What this article points out, though, is that there are several additional issues going on at the border as Turkey is increasing the number of troops stationed there. The first is that Turkey still has a relatively large Kurdish population that may be seeing the Syrian rebellion as another opportunity to attempt independence along with the Syrian Kurds. If this is the case, the Turkish military build up could be directed against them. The second is that if there is another shelling of a Turkish town, the Turkish army may invade Syria. Unmentioned by Spiegel (but appearing in a NPR story) is that there is also an Alawite minority in Turkey that opposes the Turkish government and its ties to the United States and supports Assad. At the same time, stories about videos from al Qaeda fighters promising to come kill all Alawites after they eliminate Assad have surfaced. For anyone keeping score at home, this makes at minimum four distinct groups spanning the Syrian-Turkish border all of whom mistrust and dislike each other.
  2. China’s Liu Yandong carries the hopes – and fears – of modern feminism– An article in the Guardian about Liu Yandong who is poised to be the first woman on China’s standing committee of the politburo. The author notes that this is a bit a coup for women in China since they have historically been excluded from power (though she points out Mao’s ironic decree that women hold up half the sky), but also that her pronouncements have been conservative and there is no sense that she will push for reforms–either generally or for women specifically–thus limiting the short-term optimism of the move. It is possible, though, that this first step will result in more drastic changes in the future.
  3. EU Foreign Ministers Agree on Military Deployment in Mali– According to Spiegel, EU leaders have a greed to send military instructors and planners to Mali to help train security forces and thereby stabilize Mali. Much of the country is still held by militant Islamists and nomadic tribesmen. Evidently, the mission is modeled after a similar one in Somalia that began in 2010.
  4. Gawker, Reddit, Free Speech and Such– Some commentary by John Scalzi about the idea of anonymity on the internet, journalism, and the apparent scandal when a controversial, but anonymous, Reddit user was outed by a reporter at Gawker. He brings up good points about the internet and when and where free speech is applicable. Perhaps the most valuable points he makes are that on websites owned by private companies, users have as much free speech as the company allows, and that true anonymity does not exist–and is not an inherent right–online is delusional. I agree with him, but I should also note that I cannot really speak to Reddit since I can count the number of times I have been to the site on one hand.
  5. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

  1. The Writing Revolution– From the Atlantic, this information that every educator, particularly those in the humanities, should take to heart. In short, it is the realization that schools have been failing to teach students how to logically compose their thoughts and use their own native language. Once the problem is identified, educators have begun to systematically teach language and writing composition from a young age. This is something I very much support since I often feel the need to teach this information to my students who have reached college without being able to write. Likewise, I feel that teaching these underlying skills will best prepare students for life.
  2. Anti-Japan protests: Outrage to a point– An article in the economist about a series of protests in China about Japan. Some of the people involved suspect that mixed in with the ever-present and historic tension between Japan and China is suppressed social unrest in China.
  3. Minnesota Twins Joe Mauer-A rosy account of the catcher Joe Mauer and his efforts to overcome injuries.
  4. Western Lifestyle Leading to Dangerous Bacterial Imbalances– An article in Spiegel suggesting that western lifestyles are leading to a number of health issues because essential bacteria transfers and growths are not taking place.
  5. Want to Change Academic Publishing?– An article in the Chronicle suggesting that academics should stop giving away labor to for-profit publishers on behalf of peer reviewed journals. The author’s idea is that work done for journals put out by non-profit presses could be considered pro bono, but if the press is in the business of making money (and limiting access to articles), then doing the work pro bono is absurd. Publishing peer reviewed writing is the toughest publishing job by academics and is done without immediate financial reward. I am not sure that a change is viable, at least in the short term, because articles help earn jobs so there is a sort of financial gain obliquely.
  6. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?