dijous, 31 de desembre del 2009

2009, comiat des de Mataró



"Si vas néixer de la mar com la petxina

et voldria de la mar com vela blanca

oblidant-te un xic del fum que es despentina

i amb què el vers que em surt de dins se m’entrebanca."


Josep Punsola.

dimarts, 29 de desembre del 2009

Japonesos de segona

"Han passat 20 anys des que el senyor Sakurai va arribar al Japó procedent de la seva Argentina natal i encara manté un accent llatí inconfusible. Els seus avis van ser part del milió de japonesos que van emigrar a l'Amèrica Llatina des de finals del segle XIX fins passada la Segona Guerra Mundial fugint dels conflictes al seu país. A mitjans de la dècada dels 80, els seus descendents, latinos en cor i ànima però amb fesomia oriental, van iniciar l'èxode contrari, en direcció al Japó, per aprofitar que el govern promovia la repatriació de japonesos a l'exterior per cobrir la demanda de mà d'obra a les seves fàbriques. L'economia japonesa s'ha frenat i els primers a perdre la feina han estat els japonesos llatins. Per fer front a l'atur, les autoritats fins i tot els volen retornar a Amèrica.

Sakurai dedica el seu temps lliure de jubilat ajudant en el Kanagawa City Union (KCU), un sindicat de la prefectura de Kanagawa, a l'est del país. La seu de la KCU és a la ciutat de Kawasaki, on tenen centres de producció importants fabricants d'automoció i electrònica. Sakurai va treballar muntant peces de proveïdors de components de Mitsubishi i Toyota fins que se l'acomiadà de manera improcedent juntament amb un altre immigrant un any abans de la seva jubilació. Sakurai va contactar amb el KCU, un sindicat conegut per defensar els drets laborals dels nikkei, la paraula que denomina els japonesos emigrats i descendents d'aquests vivint a l'exterior. "En un principi no volia adreçar-me a cap sindicat, però vaig canviar d'opinió quan vaig descobrir al Japó que la lluita obrera pot ser pacífica", explica.

Kanagawa és la prefectura japonesa amb més nikkei peruans. Del miler de membres que té el KCU, un 85% són japonesos llatins. Els seminaris i l'assessorament que realitza el sindicat són en japonès i castellà. Sorprenentment, els membres brasilers són minoria malgrat que són la major comunitat nikkei al Japó, amb gairebé 290.000 persones; els peruans són la segona, amb 55.000 membres. El nikkei peruà més conegut és l'expresident Alberto Fujimori. L'Asociación Peruano Japonesa de Lima resumeix que l'èxode de japonesos peruans va començar a finals de la dècada dels 80 "a causa de la hiperinflació [que patia el país] i la violència terrorista".

El nombre total de nikkei supera els 400.000. La xifra total és difícil d'aclarir perquè, segons dades de la Universitat de Califòrnia, hi ha com a mínim 110.000 immigrants il·legals, a part de llatinoamericans que haurien falsejat documents per atestar que tenen alguna arrel japonesa. Japó és criticat habitualment pel seu xovinisme i per jornades laborals extremadament llargues. Si se sumen aquestes condicions, el nikkei té totes les de perdre. Amb el lent però progressiu augment de l'atur -del 4,7%, una xifra alta per als cànons japonesos-, els primers a quedar-se sense feina són els treballadors d'origen estranger. Segons el ministeri d'Educació japonès, les escoles privades brasileres i peruanes haurien perdut aquest any un 39% dels seus alumnes perquè els pares s'han quedat sense feina.

El KCU destaca que els nikkei estan especialment afectats per contractes precaris que no els concedeixen drets com les indemnitzacions per acomiadament.
Un altre problema és que molts vivien en residències de les seves companyies i un cop acomiadats han d'abandonar la casa. Sakurai relata que els és més difícil obtenir feines qualificades o llogar un pis. Tot i això, assegura que la situació ha millorat i fins i tot s'han rebaixat molt els impediments que abans posava el govern per concedir la nacionalitat japonesa.

Aquest 2009 ha entrat en vigor una nova normativa per donar ajudes extraordinàries als nikkei per integrar-se a la societat japonesa. Tot i això, en una conferència recent a San Francisco del professor d'antropologia de la Universitat de Stanford Harumi Befu, es destacava que "els treballadors estrangers pateixen una discriminació arrelada profundament entre molts dels líders polítics del Japó". La nova llei del govern afegia una polèmica clàusula que oferia 2.200 euros per cada adult nikkei, i 1.500 euros per cada membre familiar que en depengui, que accepti tornar al seu país de naixement, amb la condició de no tornar mai a treballar al Japó. A la KCU consideren xenòfob aquest instrument per eliminar l'atur i avisen que poca gent ho acceptarà perquè a l'Amèrica Llatina la situació mai és prou estable."


Cristian Segura, Diari Avui. Inmigrants llatins: japonesos de segona.

(nota 1: aquest text va ser escrit fa gairebé 4 mesos. nota 2: informació més emocional sobre els nikkei, aquí)

dilluns, 28 de desembre del 2009

China 2050

"It is wise to remember that the Chinese Communist leaders have had a story quite different from their Russian counterparts. Before they came to power, many of the Russian leaders spent their lives in underground work, jail or exile. Through the sudden collapse of the Czarist regime, they were able to seize control of their country in two or threeyears, and soon went into the isolation which goes with great power. It was easy for them to think in theories and treat the Russian people as statistics on a piece of paper.

But Mao Tse-tung and his colleagues prepared for national power gradually, over more than twenty years. From 1927 on, they lived in parts of China they controlled. And right until the day they entered Peking in 1949, they were in villages or small towns where they could not be isolated from the people around them. Since they had to extend their power village by village, county by county, and had to do so much of it by persuasion, they had to study these people and fir their theories to them, rather than vice versa.

I think it is just possible that Chinese Communism may be something new and unique, based on the same ideas which produced Western communism, but growing in such different circumstances, among a ver un-western people, that its final form is unpredictable. The Chinese revolution has taken a century to work up to the collapse of feudalism, so I suspect that if it meets no outside interference, its larger stages will spread over at least one more century; it cannot be considered complete until China is fully modernized. By that time the Chinese government may be Communist, non-Communist or of a type not known yet."


Graham Peck, Two kinds of Time. (written in 1950)

divendres, 25 de desembre del 2009

Y se salvó de la lapidación

"La generación de Jesucristo fue de esta manera: Su madre, María, estaba desposada con José y, antes de empezar a estar juntos ellos, se encontró encinta por obra del Espíritu Santo. Su marido José, como era justo y no quería ponerla en evidencia, resolvió repudiarla en secreto. Así lo tenía planeado, cuando el Ángel del Señor se le apareció en sueños y le dijo: «José, hijo de David, no temas tomar contigo a María tu mujer porque lo engendrado en ella es del Espíritu Santo. Dará a luz un hijo, y tú le pondrás por nombre Jesús."

Evangelio según San Mateo.

dijous, 24 de desembre del 2009

And things started to grow







Brian. The babe they called 'Brian',
He grew,... grew, grew, and grew--
Grew up to be-- grew up to be
A boy called 'Brian'.

He had arms... and legs... and hands... and feet,
This boy... whose name was 'Brian',
And he grew,... grew, grew, and grew--
Yes, he grew up to be
A teenager called 'Brian'.

And his face became spotty.
Yes, his face became spotty,
And his voice dropped down low
And things started to grow
On young Brian and show
He was certainly no--
No girl named 'Brian',
Not a girl named 'Brian'.

And he started to shave
And have one off the wrist
And want to see girls
And go out and get pissed,
A man called 'Brian'--
The man they called 'Brian'--"
This man called 'Brian'!


Monty Python, Life of Brian. Brian Song.

dimecres, 23 de desembre del 2009

Chinese tourists pay respects to an old enemy

"The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan's capital city, doesn't look very different from monuments devoted to communist icons in mainland China. The Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) both create propaganda scenarios that mix ideological fanfare, a lack of historical rigor and the colossal architecture commonly used to worship dictators.

Maybe because they find it familiar, hundreds of tourists from the mainland gather every day at the late generalissimo's memorial with no sign of displeasure at such a demonstration of totalitarian kitsch. On the contrary, they say they are delighted to discover that Taiwan praises Chiang, who was once the mainland Communist Party's fiercest enemy.

Chiang, a lifetime rival of Mao Zedong, had long been portrayed as devil No 1 in Communist Party propaganda. And it was not long ago that the KMT was still regarded as an enemy by the CPP. But as Taiwanese pro-independence movements gain weight, the two former rivals find more things in common, the most important being the long-term process of reunification as both maintain there is only one China and that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to that China.

In 2005, the CCP and the KMT started high-level talks. Since then, Beijing has noticeably modified its propaganda strategy, and the KMT is no longer a rival but a trusted ally in the fight against Taiwanese pro-independence forces.

Against such a backdrop, Chiang's role in history, as well as his legacy, is being re-evaluated on the mainland. His role in leading the nation against the Japanese invaders during World War II is affirmed (previously only the CCP had been said to be the main force against the Japanese). In particular, Chiang is praised for his "iron fist" crackdown on any pro-independence activity in Taiwan to "safeguard national integrity".

A recent example of this transition is the film Jianguo Daye ("The Founding of a Republic"), a movie sponsored by the Chinese government to commemorate the 60th birthday of the People's Republic of China. In the movie, Chiang is depicted as an honorable man who tried his best for China and betrayed the CCP because of human mistakes incited by bad advisers.

"Whether in China or Taiwan, everybody can make mistakes," said a Taiwanese guide for a group of retired workers from a steel company in Xian, capital of Shaanxi province in northwestern China. Some of them were wearing their blue factory uniforms. They had finished the tour of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and were heading to their bus when I asked them their opinions about the generalissimo. They looked reluctant to talk to this journalist, but they nodded when a woman answered that Chiang was a good influence because he fought for the unification of China.

A trendy batch of urbanites from Chongqing was at the same time taking pictures of soldiers marching past the feet of Chiang Kai-shek's giant sculpture, a show that was banned in 2007 during the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidency. Back then, the hall was renamed "Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall" and it was devoted to the struggle for democracy under KMT martial law (1949-87). The building recovered its original name last July with the approval of the KMT legislative majority. An editorial in the English-language newspaper Taipei Times said the reason for restoring the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall’s name was "to honor a symbol of one China" now that on the mainland Chiang's role "has gradually been rehabilitated" and mainland tourists "are eager to visit the mausoleum in Taiwan".

Ms Wu, one of the senior members of the Chongqing group, asserted that Chiang was "a good politician and a good fellow of Mao". Her mainland guide declined to talk about the issue and deferred to the local guide, who concluded, "Chinese people don't want to remember the disputes that divided us in the past."

It is historical irony that Chiang has become a symbolic link for the two sides across the Taiwan Strait. His memorial hall, as well as some other places in Taiwan where the late KMT leaders stayed, has become a major attraction for mainland tourists, whose arrival the KMT government under President Ma Ying-jeou hopes will help boost the Taiwanese economy, which is struggling to recover from the global financial crisis.

More than 760,000 people from mainland China visited Taiwan between January and October, nearly five times the number in the whole of 2008, according to the Taiwanese government. An increase in direct cross-strait flights has pushed forward this flood of tourists, and mainlanders are now the second-largest group visiting the island after the Japanese. Last spring, both sides of the Taiwan Strait approved that the weekly number of round-trip flights should be increased to 270 this year from 108.

The arrivals at Taoyuan International Airport demonstrate this trend: there are announcements flashing on the screens for flights from all over Japan, China and, in a lesser amount, the United States. Surrounded by hordes of mainland Chinese following the flags of their guides, the occasional Western traveler looks like an unexpected guest.

However, political and military hostility officially remains between mainland China and Taiwan, despite increasingly frequent economic and people-to-people exchanges. Taiwan imposes strict restrictions on mainland tourists and such tourism is inevitably vulnerable to any change in the political climate across the strait.

While the Taiwanese government is easing visa restrictions for Hong Kong residents, the requirements for mainland Chinese tourists remain tough. The Taiwan National Immigration Agency released in the first week of December a new set of rules governing mainland tourists. The China Post, an English-language newspaper in Taiwan, reported that they are not allowed "to engage in any activities that challenge national security, social stability and constitutional laws. They are not permitted to take part in any political activity such as electoral campaigns and political talk shows." The China Post also quoted the 20 activities allowed for mainland tourists: "participating in exhibitions, contests, opening and closing ceremonies, international auctions, new year flag-raising ceremonies, enterprise-sponsored award ceremonies, year-end dinner parties, company meetings, clansmen associations, temple fairs, concerts, sporting events such as swimming across Sun Moon Lake, wedding ceremonies, undergoing cosmetic surgeries, dinners with political officials, visiting companies, tomb sweeping, visiting relatives or friends, city tours and shopping".

The agreement between Beijing and Taipei on mainland tourists traveling to Taiwan also establishes several measures to avoid illegal migration and political conflicts. In Taoyuan Airport, mainland visitors are seen waiting for immigration clearance with the required documents in their hands: a passport with at least six months of validity, a special identification card required for Taiwan entry, and a certificate stating that they have a job or a full-time student position back home.

Tourism is only allowed for groups of five to 40 people, and a tour group must be organized by two authorized travel agencies - one on the mainland and its local partner. Some 146 mainland travel agencies were accredited at the beginning of 2009 to offer trips to Taiwan after passing the examination of the Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association. Taking mainland tourists to Taiwan has many risks and a potential financial burden that only big agencies can assume. Taiwanese law demands that a company arranging tours for mainlanders provide a deposit of NT$1 million (US$31,000). If a tourist overstays on the island after the expiration of his or her visa, the government will deduct from the deposit a fee of NT$200,000.

Travel agencies should also receive the approval of the authorities for the planned schedule and itinerary that the group will follow. Leisure trips for mainlanders are a very basic introduction to Taiwan. They include such places as the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, the National Palace Museum and the 510-meter Taipei 101, the world's tallest habitable skyscraper, as well as Sun Moon Lake and Mount Ali in central Taiwan.

Even though the law is clear about the control norms, the call center of the China International Travel Service (CITS) informs that it allows its customers "to leave the group for a while when they ask for permission in advance".

Most mainland tourists are moved by bus straight to their next destination, and it is uncommon to see them walking on the street by their own. This is probably too much control, even for people used to the CPP security paranoia. The China National Tourism Administration said in November that a delegation of state travel agencies went to Taiwan to study the possibility of arranging a new kind of "in-depth tour". The CNTA reports that the mainland tourism industry has shown concern about the development of the business because customers complain that the tours in Taiwan are too superficial. "The aim of this in-depth itinerary is to understand Taiwanese society. It is necessary to introduce more features [compared with] the way these [tours] have been formulated until now," said the CNTA.

Beijing also imposes restrictions on activities of its citizens visiting Taiwan. The CITS informs customers of its "Deluxe Taiwan Tour" - an eight-day trip that costs 6,600 yuan (US$970) - that they are forbidden to accept propaganda pamphlets from Falungong or talk with representatives "of this evil cult", which is banned on the mainland but not in Taiwan.

On the last Saturday of November, a congregation of Falungong followers was praying at the main entrance of the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The museum was crowded with thousands of mainland tourists running a kind of "cultural marathon": their goal was to see every section of the world's most renowned museum of Chinese art in the time set by their tour leaders. The National Palace at present features the first exhibition jointly organized by the Taiwanese and mainland authorities, a show about the Yongzheng Emperor (1678-1735) of the Manchu Qing Dynasty. The Falungong gathering was praying and handing out pamphlets about their faith and the repression they suffer on the mainland. "Falun Dafa is good" is the motto they were using to gain the attention of tourists from the mainland. Most of the tourists took a quick look at the scene but refused to accept the pamphlets, leaving the place in a matter of seconds.

There are cultural attractions in Taiwan that are unlikely to be added to the routes of travelers from the mainland. The memory of Taiwan under Japanese rule (1895-1945) doesn't incite a fiercely hostile reaction, as it does in the People's Republic of China. Therefore, it would be complicated for a travel agency to arrange a visit to Fort Santo Domingo, on the outskirts of Taipei, erected in the 17th century by the Spanish Empire and later rebuilt by the Dutch colonial powers. The fort, where the History Museum of Danshui is based, is presenting an exhibition about the infrastructure and public-service development achieved during the Japanese occupation. Visitors even have the opportunity to be photographed with actors disguised as former Japanese officers and geishas.

The Wall Street Journal revealed in 2008 that several towns on the west coast of Taiwan, expecting to receive tourists from the mainland, had removed their public anti-Communist emblems. This is a serious matter, because any negative publicity could block a region from being included on the list of places recommended to groups from the mainland.

For its part, Beijing seems aware that mainland tourists could be used to fight against pro-independence forces in Taiwan.

A spokeswoman of the Taiwan Affairs Office, a department of China's State Council, said in October that a sudden decline of mainland tourists to Kaohsiung city in southern Taiwan was because its DPP mayor, Chen Chu, invited the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, to attend a memorial service for the victims of Typhoon Morakot that the local government held in September. According to the Taiwanese media, Kaohsiung also offended mainlanders by allowing the screening at the Kaohsiung Film Festival of The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about the life of Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled Uighur leader who is considered a terrorist by Beijing.

Although both Beijing and Taipei may have taken every possible precaution to prevent unpleasant happenings involving mainland tourists, some unexpected things could still happen with such a big number of them arriving on the island. Would something go wrong if mainland travelers entered a military recruitment center in Taipei? And what if they are present at one of the military and patriotic addresses that Taiwanese high-school students periodically attend?

Even worse, how would Beijing react if a group of mainland tourists became involved in a fight during an election campaign in Taiwan? This could happen in a political system known for violent clashes between voters of the KMT and the pro-independence DPP."



Cristian Segura, Asia Times Online. Cross-strait tourists see double.

dimarts, 22 de desembre del 2009

Los jabalíes del Ussuri

"La carabina del gold humeaba. Durante algunos segundos se oyó todavía en el bosque el crujido de las ramas secas. Después, se restableció la paz. La bestia muerta por Dersu era una javata de dos años. Tenía la piel parda, el lomo y las piernas negras, como todos los jabalíes del Ussuri, la cabeza en forma de cuña, el cuello corto y poderoso. El jabali del Ussuri (Sus. leucomystax continentalis) se parece al jabalí japonés. Su peso puede alcanzar alrededor de los doscientos kilos; los colmillos del macho son muy puntiagudos y a veces tienen veinte centímetros de longitud. Como al jabalí le gusta frotarse contra los pinos y los cedros, su piel está a menudo impregnada de resina. En invierno se acuesta en el barro, y el agua helada y los témpanos que se forman sobre su cuerpo, son tan espesos que traban sus movimientos. El jabalí del Ussuri es tan astuto como vigoroso. Herido, resulta muy peligroso. Desgraciado el cazador que osara sin tomar grandes precauciones. Yo le pregunté a mi compañero por qué no había abatido un jabalí adulto.
-Bah! Un viejo -respondió, entendiendo por viejo todo jabalí macho con los colmillos bien desarrollados-. Es malo para comer y la carne tien mal olor.
Me sorprendió comprender por fin que el gold llamaba 'hombres' a los jabalíes, y le interrogué sobre este asunto.
-Son realmente hombres -me aseguró-. Aunque vestidos de otra manera, conocen el engaño, la cólera y todo el resto. Son como nosotros...
Me di cuenta de que este ser primitivo profesaba una especie de antropomorfismo y lo aplicaba a todo lo que le rodeaba."


dilluns, 21 de desembre del 2009

'La résistance'



"From Jullian's journals the reader might get the impression that life in wartime Paris was almost normal. Germans are barely mentioned. Food was short, to be sure, but something could always be rustled up at dinner parties attended by a young aesthete with the right connections.

Of course, Jullian was not exactly representative of the French population. But the impression that life went on, and that the horrors that afflicted the Berrs, and many others, could be safely ignored by those who were not marked with yellow stars, is not totally false. Paris, unlike other European capitals under Nazi occupation, was meant to look normal. Nominally, it was under French (Vichy) rule, and German policy was to encourage cultural life there as long as it was not unfriendly to the German cause. Francophile administrators, such as the German "ambassador," Otto Abetz, were sent to Paris expressly to cultivate French writers and artists.

Herbert von Karajan conducted the German State Opera in Paris. Cocteau's plays were performed all through the war. Jean-Paul Sartre published his books, as did Simone de Beauvoir, and German officers were among those who came to see Sartre's plays. Albert Camus was patronized by the German chief of literary propaganda, Gerhard Heller. Film studios thrived under German supervision. And Sartre and Camus wrote for the resistance too. Things were even easier for French collaborators. For them, as Robert Paxton observes in Collaboration and Resistance, "life in occupied Paris was sweet."
[...]

When General de Gaulle returned as a French hero in 1944 and told his compatriots that there was only one "eternal France," and that all French patriots had stood up to the Nazi invaders, this myth was gratefully received. The more complicated reality was slow to emerge. It took an American historian, Robert Paxton, to start the flood of literature on Vichy France. But even though the murkier picture of collaboration and compromise, as well as heroic resistance, is now generally accepted in France, a confrontation with the superficial normality of wartime Paris can still come as a shock.

The French photographer André Zucca was not a Nazi. But he felt no particular hostility toward Germany either. And as the historian Jean-Pierre Azéma remarks in his preface to the riveting book of Zucca's photographs, Les Parisiens sous l'Occupation, he "was not a shining example of philosemitism." Zucca simply wanted to continue his pre-war life, publishing pictures in the best magazines. And the one with the glossiest pictures, in fine German Agfacolor, happened to be Signal, the German propaganda magazine. When a cache of these pictures was exhibited at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris last year, the press reacted with dismay. How could this "celebration of the victor," "underlining the sweetness of life in an occupied country," take place "without any explanation"?

Perhaps there should have been more explanation, but the pictures are only tendentious in what they do not show. You don't see people being rounded up. There is only one blurred image of an old woman walking along the rue de Rivoli wearing a yellow star. There are no photographs of endless queues in front of half-empty food stores. There are no pictures of Drancy, where Jews were held in appalling conditions before being transported east in cattle trains. But what Zucca's pictures do show, always in fine Agfacolor weather, is still revealing. They are disturbing to the modern viewer precisely because of their peculiar air of normality, the sense of life going on while atrocities were happening, as it were, around the corner.

We see nice old ladies doing their knitting in the gardens of the Palais-Royal. We see a café on the Champs-Elysées packed with well-dressed Parisians enjoying their aperitifs. We see young people bathing in the Seine. We see fashionable ladies in elaborate hats at the races in Longchamp (this, in August 1943, when mass deportations were in full swing). The streets, to be sure, are weirdly empty of cars, and there are German men and women in uniform popping up here and there, drinking coffee, entering the métro, playing in brass bands, paying their respects to the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. Still, the overall impression is one of a people engaged in what the French call se débrouiller, coping as best they can.

For some French men and women—perhaps more than we would like to know—the occupation was actually a source of new opportunities. That life was sweet for the "collabos" is clear. But a remarkable new book on the sexual aspects of foreign ocupation, 1940–1945 Années érotiques, the second in a two-volume set by Patrick Buisson, shows that the presence of large numbers of German soldiers meant liberation of a kind for large numbers of French women: young women rebelling against the authoritarian strictures of bourgeois life, middle-aged spinsters yearning for romance, widows, women alone, women in bad marriages, and so on. Buisson does not ask us to admire these tens of thousands of women engaging in "horizontal collaboration," but to comprehend the complexity of their motives.

He is scornful of the movie stars, fashion folks, and social climbers who did better than most, thanks to their German contacts or lovers: Arletty, Coco Chanel, Suzy Solidor, et al. But he is just as hard on the men who took their revenge after the war on the army of unknown women who had strayed into German arms. Such women were stripped naked and paraded through the streets, shorn of their hair, their bodies daubed with swastikas, jeered at by the mob. Buisson writes:

When the Germans were defeated, or about to be defeated, the "Boche's girl" served as a substitute to prolong a battle that no longer held any dangers and affirmed a manliness that had not always been employed in other circumstances...."


Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books. Occupied Paris: the sweet and the cruel.
(Photo by André Zucca).

dissabte, 19 de desembre del 2009

Predictions

"North Korea is often described as ’strange’ or ‘paranoid’ country. Nothing can be further from the truth, leading North Korea-watcher Andrei Lankov argues. North Korea’s leaders are rational and far-sighted, and they are successful survivors and master diplomats who have outsmarted even the most formidable adversaries.

They know that doing as many tell them to — surrender the nuclear programme and emulate Chinese reforms — will be almost suicidal. The existence of the rich (and free) South makes their situation completely different from that of China. Their stubborn unwillingness to abandon the old system, however inefficient and brutal it might be, is a rational strategic choice.

That said, North Korea is changing — often against the clearly expressed wishes of its rulers, says Dr Lankov. The North Koreans have discovered markets and the old hyper-Stalinist system of surveillance lost much of its efficiency. In the long run, these changes will probably be decisive.

For all the predictions of North Korea’s impending collapse, Dr Lankov, who is based in Seoul, argues that the endgame is probably years ahead — and is unlikely to be smooth."


Foreign Correspondent's Club of China. The logic of survival: North Korea, against all odds.

divendres, 18 de desembre del 2009

Los hombres del chándal azul

"El Comité Organizador de Pekín 2008 (BOCOG) quiere que el relevo de la antorcha olímpica se cumpla a toda costa. La misión es casi imposible pero como en el cine, el gobierno chino ha encargado la responsabilidad a un puñado de agentes especiales. No tienen la elegancia de James Bond porque les toca vestir en chándal azul, pero sí que le ganan en porte físico y mala leche.

Los Hombres de Azul reciben las 24 horas del día la atención de cámaras de televisión y fotógrafos, rodeando la antorcha en su calvario por medio mundo sin abandonarla ni un instante. Son la última línea de seguridad del relevista y en su país se han convertido en héroes. Fuera de él se han ganado la fama de ser excesivamente duros, como el gobierno que les manda.

Los hombres de azul son un equipo de 30 miembros de la policía paramilitar china debidamente seleccionados por su excelente condición física y altura. Han sido especialmente entrenados durante los últimos seis meses para la protección de la antorcha, desde realizar un encendido de emergencia a bloquear el asalto de un manifestante mediante sus habilidades en artes marciales.


Pero a su paso por Londres fueron duramente criticados. Sebastián Coe, presidente del Comité Organizador de Londres 2012, les calificó de “matones” después de que le apartaran a empujones del grupo de la antorcha. “La organización debería desembarazarse de ellos”, opinó Coe, según la prensa inglesa. La oposición parlamentaria ha pedido explicaciones al gobierno laborista del por qué se permitió la actuación de unas fuerzas de seguridad extranjeras en territorio británico.

El presidente del Comité Olímpico Internacional (COI), Jacques Rogge, ha explicado que la seguridad y el desarrollo del relevo del fuego olímpico son responsabilidad del BOCOG. Rogge recordó ayer en Pekín que desde Atlanta’96, los comités organizadores han utilizado seguridad privadas en los relevos de la antorcha y destacó que si a los chinos se les permite seguir el relevo es porque el gobierno de cada país al que han accedido así lo ha autorizado. Sin embargo, ayer se produjo la primera negativa. El gobierno japonés informó que no permitiría a los agentes chinos que operen en Nagano, el próximo día 26: “Mantenemos el principio que es la policía japonesa la que se ha de preocupar de la seguridad”. El BOCOG no quiso pronunciarse al respecto pero la embajada china ya se ha reunido con la dirección de policía de Nagano para intentar ubicar de algún modo a los Hombres de Azul, según la agencia de noticias Kyodo.

Nada de esto parece preocupar a la sociedad china, que les tiene en un pedestal, o al menos eso es lo que muestra la televisión pública. Miquel de Moragas, director del Centro Estudios Olímpicos de la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), opina que “asistiremos a una gran diferencia entre la vivencia de los Juegos a escala internacional y en China” porque en el país anfitrión, según de Moragas, “se convertirá la antorcha y los otros símbolos olímpicos en símbolos de adhesión popular al actual proceso político y de crecimiento”.

Cristian Segura. Versión reducida en El Mundo Deportivo, abril 2008. Los James Bond chinos del chándal dan miedo.

dijous, 17 de desembre del 2009

A deadly privilege becomes a right for all

Beijing municipality's No 1 Detention Center is one of the top penitentiaries in China, but there are no signs to guide visitors there. Abandoned yards and demolished factories surround a complex that seems like an island in the middle of an ocean. If the cells had windows - that's not the case - prisoners would be able to see only construction sites in the distance.

Unlike the adjacent heavily fortified Beijing Second Prison, No 1 has no special security measures for its perimeter - only high walls and closed-circuit TV cameras. The guards are the same unarmed young migrant workers in oversized uniforms that one sees patrolling local residential areas. They even have time to play with two stray dogs that regularly wander across the main check point. The scene is quiet, but the facility is often the focus of media attention, due to the notorious political and white-collar prisoners detained for sentencing in it. Public interest in the center is likely to grow even more next year as all death sentences for Beijing will be carried out in it. The executions will all be by lethal injection, part of nationwide plans announced by the People's Supreme Court in February to discontinue execution by a bullet in the back of the head by 2010.

To date, at least 15 provinces and municipalities have adopted the policy. The China Daily reported on Friday that Liaoning province in the northeast had become the nation's first to adopt the policy. "Lethal injection can reduce the fear and suffering experienced by criminals," the Higher People's Court of Liaoning said in a statement on its website. Despite a raging national debate over capital punishment, local rights groups estimate that at least 5,000 people are executed each year in China - more than four times the rest of the world combined. Since 1949, executions were carried out mainly by firing squads, but the revised Criminal Procedure Law in 1996 stipulated that "the death penalty could be executed by shooting or injection". In 1997, China became only the second country after the United States to use lethal injections.

The China Daily reported in November that "Beijing's first permanent lethal injection facility has been completed, ahead of plans to abolish execution by firing squad for criminals next year". The state-owned newspaper confirmed that "most criminal executions this year were carried out by a firing squad at various sites in suburban Beijing''. Zhao Bingzhi, a leading member of the China Law Science Society, told the China Daily that the decision to replace the firing squad with lethal injection was fair because firing squads "horrify the public and torture the criminals, who also deserve decent deaths".

The best-selling author and dissident, Ma Jian, recounted in his book Red Dust the experience of attending a public execution:
Public executions take place throughout China in the run-up to [October 1] National Day. I have grown up reading these death notices and have attended several executions. I once watched an army truck stop, a young man called Lu Zhongjian come out, handcuffed, and two soldiers escorted him away. When he started to scream, they slung a metal wire over his mouth and tugged it back, slicing through his face. Then they kicked him to the ground and shot three bullets into his head.

Despite no official edict stopping the practice, observers have not been aware of public executions in China in recent years. However, The Washington Post reported in July 2008 that three young men were shot in a public square in the city of Yengishahar in Xinjiang - the mainly Muslim region of northwestern China - after the local government bused in several thousand students and office workers for the spectacle.

At the end of the 1990s, in provinces with high crime rates, police were given special buses to carry out lethal injection executions. Mobile executions vans, converted 24-seater buses, were distributed to many courts across the country. The windowless execution chamber at the back contained a metal bed on which the prisoner was strapped down. Once the needle was attached by the doctor, a police officer would press a button and an automatic syringe inserted the lethal drug into the prisoner's vein. Liu Renwen, a prominent expert on the law relating to the death penalty at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, said in a 2008 interview for the newspaper The Beijing News that the use of buses had decreased because they were too expensive to maintain.

Jiang Xinchang, vice president of the Supreme People's Court, told the China Daily in February that a lethal injection "is considered more humane and will eventually be used in all intermediate people's courts". The cost of an execution by firing squad is 700 yuan (US$102), while a single drug dose for a lethal injection execution costs 300 yuan, said Liu. The drug used is a mixture of barbiturates, a muscle relaxant and potassium chloride, according to the Xinmin Evening News. The barbiturates are used to make the prisoners lose consciousness, the muscle relaxant paralyze the heart and paralyze pulmonary activities, while the third ingredient, potassium chloride, can lead to cardiac arrest, according to medical experts. The lethal injection formula has faced controversy in the United States, where the Berkeley School of Law has claimed that if the anesthetic fails, the use of potassium chloride causes extreme pain: "There is no medical dispute that, if an individual is not unconscious, the intravenous injection of this drug causes excruciating pain, likened to setting one's veins on fire." Liu admits there is a risk because "some unqualified prison staff members have been known to take too long injecting the drug".

He said that prison authorities tried to relieve the pressure on executioners. "We have a superstition here that administering a death penalty is not auspicious," said Liu. He explained that executions were carried out with "four needles with the same dosage and color ... One contains a fatal drug; one is supporting medicine and then there are two injections of saline water. Four bailiffs will choose their injections randomly. No one knows who gave the fatal drug, which is helpful for relieving psychological stress among the operational staff."

The Chinese Criminal Defense Network, a national criminal law bar, sets lawyers' fees for death sentence trials at an average of 50,000 yuan, or US$7,313. This is expensive in a country where the per capita annual income is US$6,000. At least under the new method the family of the condemned prisoner is not expected to pay for the drugs. In the past, families of condemned prisoners were sent a bill for the bullet used in the execution. Zhao Li, a lawyer specializing in the death penalty, told Asia Times Online by telephone, "Generally, persons who commit economic crimes or crimes by taking advantage of their duty are executed by lethal injection. And for general crimes, criminals are less likely to be killed by lethal injection."

Fewer death sentences have been carried out in China since the Supreme People's Court in 2007 assumed the final say in approving the sentence. The Dui Hua Foundation, an institution devoted to defending the rights of Chinese prisoners, states that a sharp decline in capital punishment began at least 10 years ago. Then, about 10,000 people were executed each year; Dui Hua expects that in 2009 the number will drop to 5,000. Wang Jun, director of the Forensic Division of the Kunming Intermediate People's Court, said in 2008 that one of the reasons for using lethal injections was the risk of HIV infection presented by clearing up after firing squads. About 20% of those condemned to capital punishment in Yunnan had the HIV virus, said Wang, as most were heroin addicts who used shared needles. Yunnan borders the Golden Triangle, the notorious drug-smuggling area that includes Myanmar and Thailand.

Dui Hua points out that another reason for the Chinese authorities' support of the lethal injection may be that this method better preserves the body for organ donations. In August, the China Daily reported that 65% of transplants that originated in China came from executed prisoners, who reportedly were voluntarily donors. But Zhou Zhenjie, an expert on criminal law at the Waseda Institute for Advanced Study, ruled out the relation between lethal injections and organ donations. He said the main reason behind the change in policy was that it caused less pain to prisoners. Zhou believes that China is taking "steps in order to limit the application of the death penalty and ensure its accuracy and transparency", but adds that the great majority of criminal law scholars want the complete abolition of the death penalty."

Cristian Segura, Asia Times Online. China injects 'humanity into death sentence.

dimarts, 15 de desembre del 2009

Frontier psychiatrist

-Is Dexter ill, is dexter ill today?

-Mr. Kirk, Dexter's in school

-I'm afraid he's not, Miss Fishborne. Dexter's truancy problem is way out of hand. The Baltimore county school board has decided to expel Dexter from the entire public school system.

-Oh Mr. Kirk, i'm as upset as you to learn of Dexter's truancy but surely expulsion is not the answer!

-I'm afraid expulsion is the only answer. It's the opinion of the entire staff that Dexter is criminally insane."

The Avalanches. Frontier Psychiatrist.






And he disappeared

"In 1977, a 22-year-old truck driver named James Cameron went to see Star Wars with a pal. His friend enjoyed the movie; Cameron walked out of the theater ready to punch something. He was a college dropout and spent his days delivering school lunches in Southern California’s Orange County. But in his free time, he painted tiny models and wrote science fiction — stories set in galaxies far, far away. Now he was facing a deflating reality: He had been daydreaming about the kind of world that Lucas had just brought to life. Star Wars was the film he should have made.

It got him so angry he bought himself some cheap movie equipment and started trying to figure out how Lucas had done it. He infuriated his wife by setting up blindingly bright lights in the living room and rolling a camera along a track to practice dolly shots. He spent days scouring the USC library, reading everything he could about special effects. He became, in his own words, “completely obsessed.”

He quickly realized that he was going to need some money, so he persuaded a group of local dentists to invest $20,000 in what he billed as his version of Star Wars. He and a friend wrote a script called Xenogenesis and used the money to shoot a 12-minute segment that featured a stop-motion fight scene between an alien robot and a woman operating a massive exoskeleton. (The combatants were models that Cameron had meticulously assembled.) The plan was to use the clip to get a studio to back a full-length feature film. But after peddling it around Hollywood for months, Cameron came up empty and temporarily shelved his ambition to trump Lucas.

The effort did yield something worthwhile: a job with B-movie king Roger Corman. Hired to build miniature spaceships for the film Battle Beyond the Stars, Cameron worked his way up to become one of Corman’s visual effects specialists. In 1981, he made it to the director’s chair, overseeing a schlocky horror picture, Piranha II: The Spawning.

One night, after a Piranha editing session, Cameron went to sleep with a fever and dreamed that he saw a robot clawing its way toward a cowering woman. The image stuck. Within a year, Cameron used it as the basis for a script about a cyborg assassin sent back in time to kill the mother of a future rebel leader. This time, he wouldn’t need any dentists. The story was so compelling, he was able to persuade a small film financing company to let him direct the picture. When it was released in 1984, The Terminator established Arnold Schwarzenegger as a huge star, and James Cameron, onetime truck driver, suddenly became a top-tier director.

Over the next 10 years, Cameron helmed a series of daring films, including Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and True Lies. Generating $1.1 billion in worldwide box office revenue, they gave Cameron the kind of clout he needed to revisit his dream of making an interstellar epic. So in 1995, he wrote an 82-page treatment about a paralyzed soldier’s virtual quest on a faraway planet after Earth becomes a bleak wasteland. The alien world, called Pandora, is populated by the Na’vi, fierce 10-foot-tall blue humanoids with catlike faces and reptilian tails. Pandora’s atmosphere is so toxic to humans that scientists grow genetically engineered versions of the Na’vi, so-called avatars that can be linked to a human’s consciousness, allowing complete remote control of the creature’s body. Cameron thought that this project — titled Avatar — could be his next blockbuster. That is, the one after he finished a little adventure-romance about a ship that hits an iceberg.

Titanic, of course, went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. It won 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director. Cameron could now make any film he wanted. So what did he do?

He disappeared."


Joshua Davis, Wired Magazine. James Cameron's new 3-D epic could change film forever.

dilluns, 14 de desembre del 2009

¿Ven bien la TDT?

"Tras más de medio siglo de existencia, el Ministerio de Defensa británico ha clausurado el departamento que investigaba los ovnis que se ven en aquel país. Costaba una pasta injustificable, puesto que, en cincuenta años, no han dado con ninguna evidencia de nada. En los últimos tiempos, sólo había ya un oficial, que se encargaba de leer y escuchar los mensajes de los ciudadanos que explicaban que habían visto alguno. Los datos exactos los da un despacho de Reuters: "El portavoz del ministerio dijo que no habían encontrado pruebas de amenaza alguna contra Gran Bretaña, ni de la existencia de extraterrestres, a pesar de los miles de avisos de personas que dicen haber visto ovnis, tanto al teléfono directo del ministerio como al correo electrónico. Dijo también que no tienen opinión ninguna sobre la existencia o no de vida extraterrestre". A partir de ahora, las amenazas extraterrestres serán controladas como cualquier otra amenaza aérea: con radares y con los aviones de la RAF.

Es una noticia a la que, antes de octubre, yo apenas hubiese prestado atención. Hubiese concluido: un departamento de ovnis cerrado, una tontería menos. Pero hace dos meses saltó a la prensa la noticia de que Robert Llimós había visto un platillo volante. El pintor Llimós estaba en Brasil, en Fortaleza, pintando dunas. De pronto vio un platillo que se acercaba e intentaba hipnotizarle. Como sus ocupantes no lo consiguieron, lo escanearon. Finalmente vio a dos seres de ojos grandes y rasgados. Explica Llimós que, hasta ese avistamiento, a él todo eso de los extraterrestres no le interesaba. Mantenía la misma distancia escéptica que mantiene la mayoría de la humanidad, a excepción de Sebastià d'Arbó y algunos otros. Por eso a Llimós le debe de ser fácil entender que la gente dude de sus palabras. A propósito de Llimós, semanas atrás Juan Bufill escribió en el suplemento Cultura/s de este diario: "Hasta hace unos días no había conocido a nadie que afirmara seriamente haber tenido contacto con alienígenas". Eso es exactamente lo que nos pasa a muchos con Llimós. Yo, de alienígenas he oído muchas historias, pero siempre de boca de gente que me la repampinfla. Pero, caray, Llimós es Llimós, un grandísimo pintor y escultor, una persona inteligente. Con Llimós he bebido en más de una ocasión y de dos, en bares y en alguna fiesta, e incluso he comido con él (en el hotel España de la calle Sant Pau, por ejemplo), y no me parece un tarambana. Por tanto, si Llimós dice que ha entrado en contacto con ellos, me lo creo, por mucho que el Ministerio de Defensa británico haya decidido pasar definitivamente. Lo que me gustaría, si Llimós vuelve a entrar en contacto, es que intente averiguar cuál es su situación en un asunto que últimamente me trae de cabeza, no sólo a mí, sino a mucha gente que conozco: ellos, los extraterrestres, ¿ven bien la TDT?


Quim Monzó, La Vanguardia. V: El retorno de los visitantes.

(ilustración de Robert Llimós)

diumenge, 13 de desembre del 2009

Leçon de démocratie de Pékin

"Après 1949, la clique de Tchang Kaï-chek du Guomindang a appliqué la loi martiale pendant plus de 40 ans à Taiwan, privant ainsi le peuple taiwanes des droits démocratiques. Sous une telle situation politique, il est compréhensible que les compatriotes de Taiwan souhaitent "redresser la tête".

dissabte, 12 de desembre del 2009

60 years ago, a wise advice on democracy

"As a nation, we seem over-eager to attribute our own character to other countries. When we see foreigners who can speak glib American English and seem familiar with our ways, we assume that their minds work like ours. When we notice that a foreign country is buying American automobiles, airplanes, and other goods we like to believe it is becoming modernized in all ways. One of the chief reasons why the Kuomintang was able to get so much American aid was because its relations with us were handled by untypical Americanized Chinese like T. V. Soong and Madame Chiang. I don't suppose I need to remind any Americans how widely it used to be assumed that because T. V. Soong could act like an American businessman in a serge suit, and the Madame had been to Wellesley, China must be full of many little replicas of them, ready and able to turn the country into an imitation America. The current notion that the Germans and the Japanese are becoming democratic because they play baseball is part of the same American failing.

It was always rather improbable that a society like the American one could be established in China, because of the vast difference in the size and the nature of the classes. All that we think best about America -democratic government, a relatively decent industrialization by private interests, a fairly strong tradition of Christian behavior- had to be developed painfully in Western Europe and America over the course of several centuries. The only thing which made this possible was the growth of a middle class with enough economic security for public interests and enough education to use the increasingly complex ideas and techniques of our civilization."


Graham Peck, Two kinds of time (1950).
(illustration by Graham Peck)

dijous, 10 de desembre del 2009

Das Projekt Tod

„Das ist das Projekt Tod“, sagt fassungslos ein Passant. Ohnmächtig blicken die Menschen um sich. An mehreren Orten steigen dunkle Rauchwolken in den wolkenverhangenen Bagdader Winterhimmel. Es war sehr schnell gegangen.

Um 10.25 Uhr verlassen wir gerade das irakische Außenministerium, da zerreißt der erste Knall wie ein Kanonenschuss die Luft. Drüben in Dora, jenseits des Tigris, steigt die erste Rauchwolke auf. Es vergeht keine Minute, noch ist kein Sirenengeheul zu hören, als aus der entgegengesetzten Richtung ein zweiter Knall ertönt, auf den gleich ein dritter aus derselben Richtung folgt. Später erfahren wir, dass die Maghrebstraße das Ziel war. Noch haben wir nicht den Ausgang des Ministeriums erreicht, da folgt im Westen der Stadt eine noch wuchtigere Detonation. Die Menschen zucken zusammen. Für einen Augenblick steht in der lauten Stadt das Leben still, gespenstische Stille legt sich über die. Hilflos laufen auch die Sicherheitsleute auf und ab, ihre Kalaschnikows anschlagbereit in der Hand. „Wer die Explosion hört, hat überlebt“, tröstet einer sich selbst und die anderen auf dem großen Hof. Wieder knallt es, diesmal stärker, der Boden bebt, Sirenengeheul setzt ein. Rechts neben der Rauchwolke senkt sich eine irakische Flagge."
Rainer Hermann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "Wer die Explosion hört, hat überlebt"

("This is the Death Project", says a stunned passerby. People look each other confused. Clouds of smoke rise from different spots up to the winter sky of Baghdad. All happened very fast. As we left the Iraqi foreign ministry at 10:25 a.m., the sky trembled with a first explosion that sounded like a cannon shot. Over Dora, just across the Tigris, arose the first cloud of smoke. Less than a minute later, when there were no sirens moaning yet, another bomb exploded on the opposite direction, and then a third one on the same direction. Later I realized that the target was the Maghreb Street. Before we reached the exit gate of the ministry, we heard another massive detonation on the West part of the city. Scared people wince at once. For a while, the noisy city remain silent. Police agents carrying their kalaschnikovs wander powerless. "Those who heard the explosions are the ones that survived", says a grateful person at the main station. Again there is an explosion, this time even stronger, that shakes the ground. Sirens sound and just right to the column of smoke, a national flag of Iraq fells down")

dimecres, 9 de desembre del 2009

Momentos estelares de la humanidad







"¿Cuál es la efectividad real de los preservativos en África? Si nos atenemos al prospecto de una caja de profilacticos, vemos que da las siguientes instrucciones: Mantener en un lugar fresco y seco, algo imposible con el clima del continente. También tener cuidado y no rasgar el producto con las manos. En fin, la manicura de África no destaca. Pero si a esto sumamos que los ciudadanos del tercer mundo no saben leer, el uso del preservativo puede ser un peligro.

El preservativo no es una medida 100% fiable contra el SIDA, existe un margen de entre 2 y 5% de usuarios del condón que podrían contraer igualmente la enfermedad del VIH. Pero si nos centramos en África, la funda elástica puede llegar a ser una auténtica trampa en favor de la enfermedad, que afecta ya a 40 millones personas en todo el mundo. Para una correcta conservación de los profilácticos se requieren lugares frescos y secos, pero la inmensa mayoría de las poblaciones de África no se encuentran precisamente en el desierto, único lugar seco aunque cálido. El clima del continente es generalmente uniforme y predominan los tipos cálidos debido a su posición en la zona tropical, el impacto de ciertas corrientes oceánicas y la ausencia de cadenas montañosas que sirvan de barrera climática.

Prácticamente toda la población del continente se encuentra en zonas donde el clima es eminentemente caluroso, lo que hace difícil la conservación de los preservativos. Además, en el mundo occidental lo normal antes de hacer uso del condón es leer las instrucciones convenientes. Pero si tenemos en cuenta que África tiene el índice de alfabetización más bajo del mundo, difícil es que sus ciudadanos comprendan el texto y puedan aplicar correctamente el producto. Aun enteniendo lo que leen es dudoso que los africanos lleguen a aplicar directrices como la de tener cuidado al desplegar la funda. Muchos habitantes de zonas rurales del continente negro tienen unas manos que pueden ser no aptas para la manipulación del preservativo, lo que hace evidente el peligro al que se enfrentan los países que apuestan por el profiláctico como medio de prevención de enfermedades.


La doctrina de la Iglesia sigue siendo clara y segura. No a la promiscuidad y que en toda relación primen los sentimientos."

Intereconomía.

dimarts, 8 de desembre del 2009

Nazis al Tibet

"La premsa del Partit Comunista Xinès (PCX) dispara contra el Dalai-lama amb artilleria de gran calibre. L'acusen d'assassí, de ser un esperit maligne i també de nazi. Però darrere del surrealisme de la propaganda hi ha justificacions per a cada adjectiu. Al Dalai-lama se'l titlla de nazi perquè entre el 1946 i el 1951 va tenir com a professor Heinrich Harrer, alpinista austríac i membre de les SS que va arribar a Lhasa fugint dels britànics. Cèlebre per la pel·lícula Set anys al Tibet -basada en la seva vida-, Harrer és el més conegut dels nazis que veien en l'Himàlaia "les muntanyes destinades als alemanys", una definició de l'historiador Karsten Jedlitschka. Conscient del risc que suposava per a la seva imatge, el mateix Dalai-lama ha tret sempre importància a la trobada amb Harrer.

A The Story of Tibet. Conversations with the Dalai Lama, del periodista Thomas Laird, el líder tibetà afirma que ell no considera Harrer un mentor d'infància sinó algú "amb qui seia per xerrar, gràcies al fet que parlava un bon tibetà". El Dalai-lama sí que admet que Harrer va ser el primer a explicar-li aspectes del món exterior. Les teories del PCX poden tenir poc fonament, però el cert és que fa setanta anys el govern tibetà va establir contactes amb l'Alemanya nazi, no se sap si amb cap altra intenció que no fos tenir bones relacions amb una potència que volia conquerir el món.

Anys abans de l'arribada de Harrer a Lhasa, els nazis ja havien fet acte de presència al Tibet a través d'expedicions promogudes pel cap de les SS, Heinrich Himmler. Cinc científics de l'organització militar van estar nou mesos al Tibet, entre el 1938 i el 1939, convidats per Reting Rinpoche, el regent temporal tibetà després de la mort del XIII Dalai-lama. Era la primera missió alemanya que tenia permís per visitar el Tibet tot i les suspicàcies que va provocar entre les autoritats colonials britàniques, amb qui la teocràcia tibetana mantenia una aliança com a contrapès a la Xina.

L'expedició, dirigida pel reconegut zoòleg Ernst Schäfer, era oficialment una missió científica destinada a l'estudi etnològic i de la fauna. La realitat és que els científics tenien ordres de Himmler d'indagar en les fantasies nazis que apuntaven al Tibet com a possible origen de la raça ària indoeuropea. Schäfer va rebre l'encàrrec de les SS d'establir un vincle diplomàtic amb l'elit tibetana i, de fet, va aconseguir que Reting escrigués una breu carta de presentació a Hitler. Shäfer volia, a més, portar a Alemanya membres de l'aristocràcia local. Cap d'aquests plans es va complir perquè la Guerra Mundial va esclatar setmanes més tard.

L'últim llibre que dóna detalls de l'expedició és Tibet in 1938-1939, un compendi d'assajos i fotografies dedicat a mostrar l'excepcional documentació científica que va deixar la missió. L'obra intenta demostrar que els expedicionaris no tenien objectius polítics, però hi ha evidències en contra. El llibre Nationalsozialistische Expeditionspolitik. Deutsche-Asien Expeditionen, de l'expert en alpinisme Peter Mierau, explica com Schäfer va preparar per encàrrec de Himmler una expedició militar per envair el Tibet el 1940 amb suport soviètic. L'aventura es va oblidar quan Hitler va trencar el pacte amb Stalin.

El llibre recull com Schäfer es va aprofitar de l'ús nazi de l'esvàstica -icona tradicional d'harmonia per al budisme- per guanyar-se la confiança tibetana. Fins i tot els assegurava que el símbol va arribar a Alemanya des del Tibet feia 5.000 anys. Al llibre hi ha una imatge del líder religiós de la ciutat de Gyantse, l'abat Labrang Kungo, lloant l'espiritualitat de l'esvàstica alemanya. Patrick Booz, tibetòleg i un dels editors de Tibet in 1938-1939, opina que Labrang sí sabia què era el nazisme perquè a Gyantse hi havia una important representació britànica, amb qui els caps tibetans mantenien una relació periòdica."

Cristian Segura, Diari Avui, primavera 2008. El Tibet i els amics nazis.


p.d. Artículo en castellano sobre el asunto, cortesía de Andrea Rodés en Público

diumenge, 6 de desembre del 2009

Farewell, revolution

-“You were visiting your brother, weren’t you?” the driver asked.

My eyes met the driver’s in the rearview mirror. “How did you know?”.

-“Oh, we know the Second Prison folks pretty well. My father used to work there. Your brother is a Democracy Party guy, right?”

-“You know about them?”

-“Oh, yes, they want a multiparty system. How many years did he get?”

-“Nine. He’s halfway through.”

-“Getting any sentence reduction?”

-“Nope, because he doesn’t admit to any crime.”

The driver spat out the window. “What they did is no crime! But it’s useless to sit in a prison. Is he in touch with Wuer Kaixi?”

This gave me a start. Wuer Kaixi was a charismatic student leader of Tiananmen Square, who, after years of exile in the United States, now lives in Taiwan. “No! How could he be?”

-“But you know some foreigners, don’t you? You should tell your brother to get out, and get together with the folks in America and Taiwan. Most important thing is: get some guns! How can you beat the Communist Party? Only by armed struggle!”

-“That’s an interesting idea,” I said, taken aback and trying to hide it. “But then China would be in a war. It would make for bloody chaos.”

-“That would be great!” the driver said.

[...]

Gradually, a tacit consensus emerged, which was captured in the title of a book published in the late nineteen-nineties: “Gaobie Geming” (“Farewell, Revolution”). The book was written by two of the star intellectuals of the previous decade, Li Zehou, a philosopher and historian, and Liu Zaifu, a literary critic. Both men had been hugely influential figures during the movements that led up to Tiananmen. Both became involved with the Tiananmen demonstrations, and ended up living in the United States in the nineties. Yet their book was a scathing critique of the radicals and the revolutionaries. Looking back upon the past century of Chinese history, Li and Liu observed that attempts to bring about radical change had always resulted either in disaster or in tyranny. China was too big, its problems too numerous and complex, for any quick fix. Incremental reform, not revolution, was the right approach. In a separate article, Li also laid out four successive phases of development—economic progress, personal freedom, social justice, political democracy—that stood between China and full modernity. In other words, achieving real democracy wasn’t a matter of throwing a switch"


Zha Jiangying, The New Yorker. Enemy of the State.

divendres, 4 de desembre del 2009

Suffering souls

"Psychopaths are as old as Cain, and they are believed to exist in all cultures, although they are more prevalent in individualistic societies in the West. The Yupik Eskimos use the term kunlangeta to describe a man who repeatedly lies, cheats, steals, and takes sexual advantage of women, according to a 1976 study by Jane M. Murphy, an anthropologist then at Harvard University. She asked an Eskimo what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, and he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”

The condition was first described clinically in 1801, by the French surgeon Philippe Pinel. He called it “mania without delirium.” In the early nineteenth century, the American surgeon Benjamin Rush wrote about a type of “moral derangement” in which the sufferer was neither delusional nor psychotic but nevertheless engaged in profoundly antisocial behavior, including horrifying acts of violence. Rush noted that the condition appeared early in life. The term “moral insanity” became popular in the mid-nineteenth century, and was widely used in the U.S. and in England to describe incorrigible criminals. The word “psychopath” (literally, “suffering soul”) was coined in Germany in the eighteen-eighties.

[...]Although the number of psychopaths who are not in prisons is thought to exceed the number who are—if the one-per-cent figure is correct, there are more than a million psychopaths at large in the United States alone—they are much harder to identify in the outside world. Some are “successful psychopaths,” holding down good jobs in many types of industries. It is generally only if they commit a crime and enter the criminal-justice system that they become available for research."


John Seabrook, The New Yorker. Suffering souls.

dijous, 3 de desembre del 2009

Tart








"Hear silver trumpets will trill in Arabic streets of Seville
Oranges roll in the gutter
And you pick them up
And peel back the skin
To the red fruit within

But the flavour is… Tart
And the flavour is…Tart
Is it something you crave?
And you say that you only feel bitterness
When you know it's a lie, lie, lie…

Wild with a blackberry bush
There were blossoms of cherries to crush
There, at the edge of the asphalt tempting fingertips
They stain your hand, press too hard
They'll colour your lips…

But the flavour is…Tart
And the flavour is…Tart
Is it something you crave?
'Cos you say that you only feel bitterness
Would it kill you to show us a little sweetness?

Odd, where nothing else grows
It was something like love that she chose
Always a creature of habit
When pity would do
She wore down that heel with no feeling
She kept on her shoes

Nylon was hung from a peg
And a kohl black seam ran down her leg
Fishermen look for their nets
And send their regrets
The bug lay there broken
She spoke, "Is this some kind of joke?"

But the flavour is… Tart"

Elvis Costello, Tart.

dimecres, 2 de desembre del 2009

The Iceberg aircraft carrier

"Geoffrey Pyke, one of a group of scientists Mountbatten nurtured at Combined Operations, was his coconspirator in the greatest of all his flights of fancy. Habakkuk was to be an aircraft carrier, fashioned out of a colossal molded iceberg. It could be frozen in Canada or Russia and then dragged to the North Sea to fight Hitler. Pyke invented a special extra-strong ice, which he named Pykecrete, made from paper pulp and seawater. A prototype Habakkuk, sixty feet long, thirty feet wide, and twenty feet deep -- about the size of twelve double-decker buses -- was set up on Canada's Patricia Lake, so that Mountbatten could sell the idea to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Quebec. With typical theatrics, Dickie produced two blocks of ice -- one standard, one Pykecrete -- pulled out a revolver and shot each one. The standard ice exploded; the Pykecrete survived, and so impressively that the bullet glanced off it and stung the American chief of naval operations in the leg before lodging in the wall. The Americans vetoed the project."

Alex von Tunzelmann, Indian Summer.

(La teoria de l'iceberg is one year old. Thank you for reading us!)

dilluns, 30 de novembre del 2009

A penniless lieutenant

"Philip’s credentials for marrying the world’s most eligible woman were tenuous. His father was a playboy who had disappeared into the champagne bars of the Cote d’Azur; his mother, abandoned, had gone mad and become a nun; his sisters had all married Nazis; he himself was only a naval lieutenant, and a penniless one at that. He had been a prince of Greece before a coup ousted his family, but the revolution had left him poor and nameless. He met Princess Elizabeth for the first time on 22 July 1939, when the royal family visited the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth under the proud supervision of Dickie Mountbatten. Philip was eighteen years old; Elizabeth was thirteen and playing with a clockwork train. Their eyes met over lemonade and ginger biscuits, and Philip was among the cadets invited to lunch on the royal yacht. There he impressed the princesses by being able to jump high and eat an abnormal quantity of shrimp, though not simultaneously. When the time came for the yacht to sail, the cadets followed in rowboats and motorboats for a while; Elizabeth watched the tall, blond, strikingly handsome Philip row his little boat farther than anyone else."


dijous, 26 de novembre del 2009

Una decisión histórica

-P: "Fue una paradoja que de todos los gobernantes de Europa Occidental no fueran Thatcher ni Mitterrand, sino un español, Felipe González, quien apoyara la unificación alemana tal como la planteó Kohl.

-Jordi Pujol: No, no fue una paradoja. Francia es una adversaria tradicional de Alemania, y procura que sea débil y muy condicionada. Y a Gran Bretaña tampoco le ha agradado nunca una Alemania con mucha fuerza en el Continente. Por otra parte, a mi entender es uno de los momentos de Felipe González en donde tuvo una actuación más brillante y además con efectos muy positivos para España. Con ello, Felipe González se puso a Kohl en el bolsillo. Luego González obtuvo gracias a Kohl aquellos fondos de cohesión europeos que han sido tan importantes para las inversiones públicas en España.

-P: Su posición respecto a la unificación alemana tampoco ofrece dudas.

J.P.: Creo que había que hacerlo a pesar de todos los inconvenientes, y se hizo bien. Se podría criticar tal vez a Kohl, por ejemplo por la equiparación que hizo entre el marco occidental y el oriental. Pero en una conversación que tuve con Pöhl, el entonces gobernador del Bundesbank, me dijo que técnicamente era un disparate y que así se lo había indicado al canciller hasta tres veces. Era más bien de tendencia socialista y fue el único que le planteó resistencia a la paridad entre los dos marcos, pero no porque fuera anti-Kohl. El canciller le comentó que no había más remedio que hacerlo y Pöhl llegó a una conclusión: esto no es una decisión técnica, ni tan siquiera una decisión política; es una decisión histórica. Y ante una decisión histórica, el gobernador del Bundesbank asumió que la responsabilidad era del Canciller y punto. El ya había dicho lo que tenía que decir."

Lluís Bassets, El País online. Una conversación con Jordi Pujol.

dimecres, 25 de novembre del 2009

A cotton pad over their heart

-The Beijing News: Do you talk with prisoners before the lethal injection?

-Wang Jun: Not the first time, because everyone was too nervous. But I did on November 4 [,1997], when I gave a lethal injection to Zhang Rongcai. Beforehand, I asked him if he was afraid, and he said he was not. So I asked him to assist me, as I very much wanted to know people’s sensations before they died. I remember that when I had injected about one-third of the drug, he said that he felt as if he were floating. I asked again later, and he said the sensation was quite comfortable. I then asked again and he didn’t answer, and I felt that he died very peacefully. So the majority of condemned prisoners all request and hope they can receive lethal injection.

-The Beijing News: Speaking from your personal experience, what types of psychological changes does lethal injection induce in prisoners?

-Wang Jun: I don’t particularly like to recall what takes place at the execution site. I have known a lot of condemned prisoners, especially female prisoners, who know they will soon be executed. They all sew a small cotton pad over their heart, because they don’t want their deaths to be too gruesome, with blood flowing all over. Now they don’t need to stitch on [such a pad].