Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
IN HIS new book, “Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership”, Warren Bennis, a management theorist, tells a story about Sigmund Freud’s flight from Vienna to London in 1938. On arriving in his new home Freud asked Stefan Zweig, a fellow Viennese intellectual, what it was like. “London? How can you even mention London and Vienna in the same breath?” Zweig thundered. “In Vienna there was sperm in the air!”
Today there is no hotter topic in management theory than “sperm in the air”. How do companies generate new ideas? And how do they turn those ideas into products? Hardly a week passes without someone publishing a book on the subject. Most are rubbish. But “The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge” is rather good. Its authors are Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, two professors at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Last year Mr Govindarajan and Mr Trimble (hereafter: G&T) published a seminal article, with Jeff Immelt, the head of General Electric, on frugal innovation. In their new book they address two subjects that are usually given short shrift: established companies rather than start-ups and the implementation of new ideas rather than their generation.
The fashion these days is to focus on the supply side of innovation: for example, by encouraging everyone to think big thoughts. 3M, the maker of Post-it notes, expects its workers to spend 15% of their time on their own projects. Google expects them to spend 20%. This approach is attractively democratic: by giving everyone a chance to innovate, it makes everyone feel special. Or so the theory goes. G&T are ready with the cold water. The let-them-loose approach spreads resources thinly and indiscriminately. Companies dissolve into a thousand small initiatives rather than focusing on a few big problems. It also produces far too many ideas: managers have to spend weeks sorting through the chaff to find a few grains of wheat.
A second approach focuses on closing the loop between ideas and results. Nucor Corporation, a steelmaker, gives its workers bonuses if they can produce steel more efficiently. Deere & Company, a maker of farm machinery, has produced a detailed playbook on how to design new tractors. G&T concede that this approach is an excellent way of making incremental improvements to existing products and processes, but suggest that it has little chance of producing a big breakthrough.
G&T say that you need to start by recognising that innovation is unnatural. Established businesses are built for efficiency, which depends on predictability and repeatability—on breaking tasks down into their component parts and holding employees accountable for hitting their targets. But innovation is by definition unpredictable and uncertain. Bosses may sing a pretty song about innovation being the future. But in practice the heads of operational units will favour the known over the unknown.
Many would-be innovators deal with the trade-off between efficiency and innovation by rejecting traditional management entirely. They repeat mantras about “breaking all the rules” and “asking for forgiveness rather than permission”. They set up skunk works (small, autonomous units with a remit to innovate) and mock the boring corporate types who write their pay-cheques. But again this is counter-productive. Mocking the corporate establishment only encourages it to starve you of resources. And producing ideas in isolated skunk works ignores the basic reason for working for a big company in the first place—to use its superior resources to supercharge what you are doing.
G&T argue that companies need to build dedicated innovation machines. These machines need to be free to recruit people from outside (since big companies tend to attract company men rather than rule-breakers). They also need to be free from some of the measures that prevail in the rest of the company. But they must avoid becoming skunk works. They need to be integrated with the rest of the company—they must share some staff, for example, and they must tap into the wider company’s resources as they turn ideas into products. And they must be tightly managed according to customised rather than generic rules. For example, they should be held accountable for their ability to learn from mistakes rather than for their ability to hit their budgets.
G&T offer several examples of successful innovation machines. Harley-Davidson, a firm whose customers tend to be fiercely loyal, was struggling to woo new ones. So it created a group to come up with ideas for attracting beginner motorcyclists, such as safety courses and rental programmes. BMW, a carmaker, realised that its established system for producing brakes might be a hindrance when it came to designing brakes for hybrid vehicles (which benefit from capturing wasted energy and putting it back to work). So it set up an innovation team in which battery specialists regularly talked to brake specialists. Allstate, an American insurance company, noted that insurers had come to accept widespread customer dissatisfaction as a fact of life. So it asked marketers to help risk-adjustment specialists to design car insurance. They came up with industry-changing ideas such as accident forgiveness and cash rewards for good driving.
G&T undoubtedly get carried away with their model. Innovation machines come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is wiser to buy something than to make it yourself. Unilever, for example, would not have invented “Chubby Hubby” ice-cream if it had not bought Ben & Jerry’s. But G&T are nonetheless right to argue that students of innovation must pay more attention to big companies. They have the muscle to chase big prizes, from alternative fuels to clean drinking water. But they need to learn how to conquer new territories while continuing to cultivate old ones.
In a year or so, there will be a debate about the future level of the licence fee. For the BBC, this will be a moment for realism and a recognition of the scale of the challenge facing licence payers and the country as a whole.But do not believe anyone who claims that cutting the licence fee is a way of growing the creative economy or that the loss in programme investment which would follow a substantial reduction in the BBC's funding could be magically made up from somewhere else.
A staunch history of editorial independence from political and commercial influence has been as fiercely defended by the commercially funded public-sector broadcasters as by the BBC – think of Thames and Death on the Rock – and it is what makes possible the impartiality in and beyond the news which British audiences prize.
At the moment, and despite the anxieties expressed over the past year, this independence seems secure. The coalition government has been explicit in supporting the independence of the BBC and the charter which underpins it. Beyond that, the cross-party support which has sustained the independence of British broadcasting appears as strong as ever. But we should remain vigilant.
The same commercial and political forces which are undermining the independence of the public broadcasters in other European countries – Italy and France spring to mind – are at work here as well. In the UK, they know that a frontal assault will fail so they adopt different tactics – exaggerated claims about waste and inefficiency; nitpicking about the detailed mechanisms of governance and accountability.
In Italy, politicians are threatening to insist that the public broadcaster should disclose the amounts it pays to individual artists in the end credits of the programmes in which the artists appear. Everyone in Italy knows that this proposal has nothing to do with the public interest or real accountability and everything to do with an agenda of weakening and undermining the public broadcaster. In the UK, the tactics are usually subtler, the language loftier. Too often the underlying purpose is the same.
You can get an idea of the intellectual weight of some of the attacks from the freedom of information requests we get in. At the BBC, we believe in FoI. But it's still painful to spend public money that could be invested on programmes answering questions like these: How many toilets do you have in Television Centre and how many accidents take place in them each year? What's your policy on biscuits?
Sometimes this relentless negativity affects the political debate about broadcasting. But perhaps surprisingly there's no evidence that any of this is having any affect on public attitudes to the BBC. And that's true even of the readers of those papers which are most hostile to the BBC. Across the UK population, 71% of people say they're glad the BBC exists. Among readers of the Daily Mail, it's 74%. The Telegraph, 82%. The Times, 83%. The Sunday Times, 85%.
I believe that the reason they have so little traction on this subject is because their readers are able to compare what they read about the BBC with their own experience of its services.
Inside the BBC, there's been necessary and often gut-wrenching change. Achieving a smaller, more efficient, more distinctive BBC is a painful and contentious process. Over the coming months the rate of change and reform will go faster and deeper. As a proportion of spend, overheads are about half those in the 1990s. They will need to fall by at least another quarter.
We've committed to reduce senior manager numbers by a fifth by the end of next year. Expect further significant movement on executive pay. By the end of next year the total senior management pay bill will reduce by at least a quarter. And the review of senior pension arrangements means that in many cases total pay is likely to fall significantly in some cases, including my own, not by 5% or 10%, but by much more.
A year ago, in his MacTaggart lecture, James Murdoch fretted aloud about the lamentable dominance of the BBC. He was able to do that only by leaving Sky out of the equation altogether. Sky is already a far more powerful commercial counterweight to the BBC than ITV ever was. Moreover, if News Corp's proposal to acquire all of the remaining shares in Sky goes through, Sky will not just be Britain's biggest broadcaster, but a full part of a company which is also dominant in national newspapers as well as one of Britain's biggest publishers. According to Enders analysis, it will be a concentration of cross-media ownership which would not be allowed in the United States or Australia, News Corp's other two most important markets.
Sky has reached its preeminence as Britain's biggest broadcaster for the best of reasons. Technological innovation, a willingness to take big risks, strategic flexibility, an ability to get close to and understand customers. Sky is not the enemy of quality British television – it's an important provider of it.
But when it comes to investing in original British production, it's a different picture. When ITV was the dominant commercial player, it poured money into original programming and often in key genres like drama – in the 1980s and 1990s it did a better job than the BBC.
It's great that Sky is going to make the HBO archive available to British viewers over the next few years. It's great that they're announcing a few more drama commissions. But it's time Sky pulled its weight by investing much, much more in British talent and British content.
Sky talks of a programming budget in the year to June 2010 of around £1.9bn, of which sports, movies and carriage fees are about £1.7bn. Sky doesn't declare its annual investment in original UK non-news, non-sport content, but the latest estimate puts it at around £100m, not much more than Channel Five's UK origination budget this year – despite the fact that Sky's total turnover is more than 15 times that of Five's.
Sky's marketing budget is larger than the entire programme budget of ITV1. As a proportion of Sky's own turnover and its profits, its investment in original British content is just not enough.
People say to me: "Aren't you afraid that Sky is going to start spending more on original British programmes and will therefore be competing head-to-head with you?" But that's what should happen. It would be good for the BBC. It would be good for the public.
In Britain Sky pays nothing for re-transmitting the public sector broadcasting channels, despite the fact that, taken together, they are by far the most watched channels they offer. On the contrary, the PSBs pay a charge for the privilege of being on the platform.
Let me quote from someone who thinks that those who invest in content should get a better deal: "Asking cable companies and other distribution partners to pay a small portion of the profits they make by reselling broadcast channels, the most watched channels on their systems, will help ensure the health of the over-the-air industry in America."
The point is simple: it's the free-to-air US networks who invest the most in broadcast content, they're also the most popular networks in the US cable and satellite environments, so isn't it reasonable that the distributors should pay the networks a charge in return for the right to carry them? The man who made that case is Rupert Murdoch and in America he's winning the argument: Fox is now receiving distribution fees from the cable companies. So why not introduce re-transmission fees in this country as well? My modest proposal is that we accept those arguments and explore the adoption of retransmission fees.
Headlines in July about the possibility of a reduction in the licence fee and big cuts in BBC services provoked an extraordinary rash of Twitter feeds, email campaigns and letters to MPs. Some of those "I love the BBC" Twitter feeds trended in the top five in the world. They care about British television and, if necessary, they will be prepared to fight for it in their thousands and perhaps their millions. If you feel the same, if you think the battle for quality and creativity is worth winning, now is the time to stand up and be counted.
Mark Thompson is director general of the BBC. This is an extract from his MacTaggart lecture delivered at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival
Council bosses said it was ‘inappropriate’ for carers to form too close a bond with their clients and told them to visit on official appointments only.
The ruling comes despite the fact that Miss Coker has known some of the carers for 15 years and saw them very much as friends.
‘I’m spending my birthday on my own, although I do have my dog. The carers are too scared of losing their jobs,’ said Miss Coker, a retired nurse who lives in Milton Keynes. Her brother is too poorly with cancer to visit.
Before the ruling, four carers used to pop in ‘out of hours’ for a chat or to help with shopping.
Anne Walker, council service manager for older people, said unscheduled visits went against their carers’ code.
In a letter she said: ‘I therefore feel that although the visits from home carers were acts of genuine kindness they are not appropriate.’
Friday, August 27, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live.
They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.
On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"
"It was great , Dad."
"Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked.
"Oh yeah , " said the son.
"So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.
The son answered:
"I saw that we have one dog and they had four..
We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end.
We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night.
Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.
We have servants who serve us , but they serve others.
We buy our food , but they grow theirs.
We have walls around our property to protect us , they have friends to protect them."
The boy's father was speechless.
Then his son added , "Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are."
Saul Steinberg's 1976 New Yorker magazine cover of the world as viewed from New York City still adorns many walls in many homes in many countries. With the Manhattan streets drawn in close detail, the Hudson river in the middle distance and China on the far horizon, Steinberg's illustration brilliantly captures Big Apple narcissism. It deserves its much-imitated iconic status.
But how would a similar map of the world refracted through the mindset of London's metropolitan elite look in 2010? The City in the foreground, obviously. Perhaps Kensington eliding into the Cotswolds or the Welsh Marches in the near middle-distance. A strip of ocean with America looming large behind it. And, er, that's it.
There would be no place for Scotland or Ireland in this map. No surprise there, perhaps. More strikingly – and more surprisingly if compared with the kind of mental map that might have been drawn 20 years ago – there would be no place for continental Europe either. Not France, not Italy even. Certainly not Germany or Scandinavia. As for Russia, forget it. All out of mind. All out of sight.
It is hard to recall a time when the national, not just the London, mind was less informed about or engaged with Europe than it is today. Europe may still be this country's major export market. Millions may still take holidays there. Our football teams may still battle for the glamour of being "in Europe". In the larger sense, though, being in Europe has never impinged less.
This is not primarily a question of the rise and fall or marginalisation of the European Union. Clearly the union's diminished role helps to make Europe a harder sell. If the EU were more dynamic and effective – if it got its act together on common energy policy or with a shared global strategy for European universities, or even, however improbably, on defence or economic policy – then the current sense of Eurolassitude might be lessened.
But the national mental disengagement with Europe is not primarily political. It has grown independently of any events in Brussels. What we are experiencing is, above all, a cultural change. And it is being driven by our use of – and the commercial priorities of – all forms of new media.
The online information age, which should, in theory, have been expected to facilitate greater mental and cultural pluralism and thus, among other things, greater familiarity with European languages and cultures, has, in practice, had the reverse effect. The power of the English language, at once our global gift and our great curse, discourages us from engaging with those – the 93% of the world who speak some other first language than English and the 75% who have no English of any kind – outside the all-conquering online Anglosphere.
In the 20th century, political, cultural and intellectual Europe was a reality. Sometimes a threat, often an opportunity, but always a presence. That's not true now. In the 21st century, to a degree we seem slow to recognise, let alone think about, our minds have never been more narrowly oriented towards the English-speaking world, above all the US. For us, global vision is increasingly also tunnel vision.
This struck me most recently over the death in a plane crash last week of the former US senator Ted Stevens, of Alaska. Even a decade ago, the death of a former US senator, and especially one from a place like Alaska, which, as the cold and exhausted crow flies, is the best part of 5,000 miles from where most of us are sitting, would barely have registered in the British media. These days, though, anything that is a big story in the US media seamlessly becomes a big story in the wider Anglosphere too. The result is that most people in this country can name more Alaskan politicians than they can name Dutch ones.
And now it is not just America. Tomorrow there is a general election in Australia. An interesting event, of course. One of the few centre-left governments of the modern era, and now with a woman leader, battling to withstand a rightwing challenge led by a climate change sceptic. But it is getting far more coverage in Britain than any Australian election in my memory. Why? Not because it is more important, but simply because they speak English.
Don't get this wrong. It is good that people in Britain are being informed about the politics of Alaska and are getting engaged in the politics of Queensland. It's just that I want them to be interested in the politics of the Pas de Calais and to be informed about those of Lower Saxony, too. But these bits are simply not happening. Mental fog in the Channel; continent cut off.
This autumn we will be bombarded with news about the US midterm elections. Fair enough. These are significant elections in the world's most powerful country. But if we are to be intelligent and rounded beings we also need to be well informed about and engaged with elections in places much nearer to home, and especially those that arguably have more to tell us about the temper of the times in our part of the world – like those in Sweden next month – above all.
But that is not going to happen as long as we are voluntarily imprisoned in the Anglosphere. Yesterday, once again, the latest generation got fewer A-levels in French, German, Russian and Spanish than the generation before. Next week, there will be fewer GCSEs in modern languages too. The trend is inexorable. We are cutting ourselves off from the world. Another New Yorker cartoon, this time by Robert Mankoff, comes irresistibly to mind. A woman is talking to a man at a cocktail party. She asks: "One question: if this is the information age, how come nobody knows anything?"
The answer is simple. They are speaking to us from outside the Anglosphere but we no longer understand them. The internet – on which we all spend so much of our time, as Ofcom reported this week – is in danger of becoming Britain's staycation of the mind.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
A Saudi judge has asked several hospitals whether they would punitively damage a man's spinal cord after he was convicted of attacking another man with a cleaver and paralysing him, local newspapers reported today.
Saudi Arabia enforces strict sharia law and occasionally metes out punishments based on the ancient code of an eye for an eye.
Abdul-Aziz al-Mutairi, 22, was left paralysed after a fight more than two years ago, and asked a judge to impose an equivalent punishment on his attacker under sharia law, reports said.
The newspaper Okaz said the judge in northwestern Tabuk province, identified as Saoud bin Suleiman al-Youssef, asked at least two hospitals for a medical opinion on whether surgeons could render the attacker's spinal cord nonfunctional.
The attacker, who was not identified, has spent seven months in jail. The reports cited the letter of response from one of the hospitals and the victim.
Two of the hospitals involved and the court were closed for the Saudi weekend beginning today and could not be reached for comment.
Okaz reported that a leading hospital in Riyadh – King Faisal specialist hospital – said that it would not do the operation. The article quoted a letter from the hospital saying "inflicting such harm is not possible", apparently refusing on ethical grounds.
The story was also reported by Saudi English-language paper Arab News, though neither paper carried any response from a second hospital that reportedly received the request, King Khaled hospital in Tabuk province.
Sharia law in Saudi Arabia allows defendants to ask for a similar punishment to harms inflicted on them. Cutting off the hands of thieves, for example, is common.
Under the law, the victim can receive blood money to settle the case.
Human rights group say trials in Saudi Arabia fall far below international standards. They usually take place behind closed doors and without adequate legal representation.
Those who are sentenced to death are often not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them, or of the date of execution until the morning on which they are taken out and beheaded.
The headless body can then be crucified in a public place as a way to set an example, according to the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has been trying to clamp down on extremist ideology, including unauthorised clerics issuing odd religious decrees.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The mild bouts of seasickness and the boredom that comes with hours on the open sea finally seem worth it. The deck of the ferry erupts with excited chatter and the clicks of camera shutters as two rocky edifices take shape in the haze of a summer evening.
These remote islets, now obscured by thousands of hungry black-tailed gulls, are at the heart of a dispute that has cast a shadow over relations between South Korea and Japan for more than six decades. The Liancourt Rocks (or, if you are Japanese, Takeshima, or, if you are Korean, Dokdo) is a group of volcanic islets roughly midway between the two countries in the Sea of Japan (or the East Sea, if you are Korean).
The politically charged nomenclature says everything about the schism these islands have inflicted on bilateral ties, 65 years after defeat in the second world war loosened Japan's colonial grip on the Korean peninsula.
The islands' symbolic importance, not to mention their rich fishing grounds and untapped gas deposits, still have the potential to drive a deep diplomatic wedge between Seoul and Tokyo.
With both united in condemnation of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme and the March sinking of the Cheonan, the Takeshima question is at its most delicately balanced for years.
The competing claims are mired in historical ambiguity, and complicated by several name changes and cartographical evidence from myriad Korean, Japanese and western sources stretching back centuries. Only this month South Korea's media reported the discovery of a 1949 US military map that, according to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, "clearly states that Dokdo belongs to Korea".
South Korea insists the islands were among the territories Japan was forced to return at the end of the war. By the time the sixth and final draft of the treaty of San Francisco appeared, however, confusion reigned. Takeshima had been omitted, along with thousands of other tiny islands.
"Dokdo is a Korean territory, so there is no need for a dispute with Japan," said Shin Yeon-sung, the general secretary of the Northeast Asian History Foundation, a Seoul-based body partly funded by the South Korean government. "As far as we are concerned, Dokdo's omission from the San Francisco treaty was purely for convenience's sake."
To prove his point, Shin produces a copy of an 1877 map belonging to Japan's department of the interior that appears to rule out Japanese ownership, then another Japanese map that makes no mention of the islands. The first Japan really knew of the Takeshima, he said, was when imperial forces landed there in 1905 on their way to colonising the Korean mainland five years later.
"We have written, historical proof that Dokdo is part of Korea. The islands are first mentioned in 512 in the diary of the king of the Silla dynasty."
At the highest level, the feud is being played down by Seoul and Tokyo. Japan recently postponed publication of its annual defence white paper – which promotes its claims to Takeshima – to avoid causing friction with South Korea ahead of the centenary of the start of Japanese colonial rule on 29 August.
In another move designed to quell anti-Japanese sentiment, Japan's prime minister, Naoto Kan, last week expressed "deep remorse" for his country's 35-year occupation of Korea, a gesture welcomed by his counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, as "a step forward".
But ordinary South Koreans attach huge symbolic importance to Dokdo. Schools are being encouraged to deepen pupils' emotional connection with the islands, while nationalists have toured the world to push Seoul's claims.
Any counterclaim from Japan is guaranteed to provoke an angry backlash. When, in 2005, the Japanese prefecture of Shimane proclaimed 22 February "Takeshima day", a South Korean mother and son sliced off their fingers in protest outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
Today the islets are administered by a South Korean coastguard garrison and government officials, who live alongside the only permanent residents, an elderly fisherman and his wife. Japan, meanwhile, describes this presence as "an illegal occupation". The Japanese foreign ministry notes that Seoul has consistently refused a 60-year-old offer to settle the dispute at the international court of justice in The Hague.
"There is no change in our position," said Takeshi Akamatsu, a ministry spokesman. "But we don't want the territorial issue to harm our relations with South Korea.
"This is very simple. In light of the historical facts and international law it is clear that Takeshima is an inherent part of Japan. The Koreans have yet to demonstrate that they exercised control over the islands before the Japanese occupation. And we have documentary evidence to prove that they didn't."
Shin, however, dismisses an international solution as a diplomatic red herring. "We won't go to The Hague because this is not a legal issue," he said. "But we also want to avoid this becoming a thorn in the side of bilateral ties. A hundred years after Japan's colonisation of Korea, it is time to look forward."
Kim Seong-do, who has lived on the islets with his wife for more than 30 years, denies he is part of Seoul's propaganda machine. "I went there voluntarily," he told the Guardian during a rare trip to the mainland for emergency dental treatment. "As a Korean citizen, I am free to come and go as I please."
The 70-year-old describes a life of comfortable detachment from mainstream society, but with long periods in which he and his 74-year-old wife, Shin-yeol, are at the mercy of the elements. "Sometimes the wind is so strong we can't open the door or windows for days," he said. "But we feel comfortable there. We don't like coming back to the mainland. Dokdo is such a beautiful place."
After the long sea crossing, with just one quick refuelling stop on Ulleungdo island, 54 miles (87km) away, there are groans when the ferry's skipper informs us that high waves have made it impossible to dock at Takeshima/Dokdo.
But a fleeting glimpse of the two rocks, now cast in silhouette as dusk descends, is enough for Lee Jae-eun. "Even the American occupation forces said the islands are ours," said Lee, an office worker from Seoul. "They are Korean. There's absolutely nothing to discuss with Japan."
Rich source of a feud
The Takeshima-Dokdo islets, located 134 miles from South Korea and 155 miles from Japan, are the peaks of a 2,300-metre-high undersea volcano. They are made up of two main islands and almost 90 rocks and reefs.
Known in the west as the Liancourt Rocks, after a French whaling ship that was almost wrecked there in 1849, the islets appeared above the water about 2.7m years ago.
A freshwater lagoon helps sustain about 80 species of plants, and dozens of birds and insects. The meeting of cold and warm water currents has led to a profusion of fish and other marine life.
South Korean researchers say they have discovered dozens of new plankton and other species on Takeshima, but the presence of about 50 coastguard personnel, lighthouse keepers and government officials has also brought pollution to the area's coastline.
The islands house people's accommodation, a dock, helicopter pad, and postbox as well as a solar power station that will provide 30%-40% of the energy needs. Tourists have been allowed to make short visits to Takeshima since 2004. Only a handful of Japanese take the trip each year.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Once known for its extraordinary beauty, the valley of Kashmir now hosts the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. With more than 80,000 people dead in an anti-India insurgency backed by Pakistan, the killings fields of Kashmir dwarf those of Palestine and Tibet. In addition to the everyday regime of arbitrary arrests, curfews, raids, and checkpoints enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers, the valley's 4 million Muslims are exposed to extra-judicial execution, rape and torture, with such barbaric variations as live electric wires inserted into penises.
Why then does the immense human suffering of Kashmir occupy such an imperceptible place in our moral imagination? After all, the Kashmiris demanding release from the degradations of military rule couldn't be louder and clearer. India has contained the insurgency provoked in 1989 by its rigged elections and massacres of protestors. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that fill the streets of Kashmir's cities today are overwhelmingly young, many in their teens, and armed with nothing more lethal than stones. Yet the Indian state seems determined to strangle their voices as it did of the old one. Already this summer, soldiers have shot dead more than 50 protestors, most of them teenagers.
The New York Times this week described the protests as a comprehensive"intifada-like popular revolt". They indeed have a broader mass base than the Green Movement does in Iran. But no colour-coded revolution is heralded in Kashmir by western commentators. The BBC and CNN don't endlessly loop clips of little children being shot in the head by Indian soldiers. Bloggers and tweeters in the west fail to keep a virtual vigil by the side of the dead and the wounded. No sooner than his office issued it last week, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, hastened to retract a feeble statement expressing concern over the situation in Kashmir.
Kashmiri Muslims are understandably bitter. As Parvaiz Bukhari, a journalist, said early this week the stones flung randomly by protestors have become "the voice of a neglected people" convinced that the world deliberately ignores their plight. The veteran Kashmiri journalist Masood Hussain confessed to the near-total futility of his painstaking auditing of atrocity over two decades. For Kashmir has turned out to be a "great suppression story".
The cautiousness – or timidity – of western politicians is easy to understand. Apart from appearing as a lifeline to flailing western economies, India is a counterweight, at least in the fantasies of western strategists, to China. A month before his election, Barack Obama declared that resolving the "Kashmir crisis" was among his "critical tasks". Since then, the US president hasn't uttered a word about this ur-crisis that has seeded all major conflicts in south Asia. David Cameron was advised a similar strategic public silence on his visit to India last fortnight.
Those western pundits who are always ready to assault illiberal regimes worldwide on behalf of democracy ought not to be so tongue-tied. Here is a well-educated Muslim population, heterodox and pluralist by tradition and temperament, and desperate for genuine democracy. However, intellectuals preoccupied by transcendent, nearly mystical, battles between civilization and barbarism tend to assume that "democratic" India, a natural ally of the "liberal" west, must be doing the right thing in Kashmir, ie fighting "Islamofascism". Thus Christopher Hitchens could call upon the Bush administration to establish a military alliance with "the other great multi-ethnic democracy under attack from Muslim fascism" even as an elected Hindu nationalist government stood accused of organising a pogrom that killed more than 2,000 Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat.
Electoral democracy in multi-ethnic, multi-religious India is one of the modern era's most utopian political experiments, increasingly vulnerable to malfunction and failure, and, consequently, to militant disaffection and state terror. But then the west's new masters of humanitarian war, busy painting grand ideological struggles on broad, rolling canvases, are prone to miss the human position of suffering and injustice.
Indian writers and intellectuals, who witnessed the corrosion of India's secular democracy by Hindu supremacists, seem better acquainted with the messy realities concealed by stirring abstractions. But on Kashmir they often appear as evasive as their Chinese peers are on Tibet. They may have justifiably recoiled from the fundamentalist and brutish aspect of the revolt in the valley. But the massive non-violent protests in Kashmir since 2008 haven't released a flood of pent-up sympathy from them.
Few people are as well positioned as the much-revered Amartya Sen to provoke national introspection on Kashmir. Indeed, no one can fault Sen's commitment to justice for the poor and defenceless in India. Yet Sen relegates Kashmir to footnotes in both of his recent books: The Argumentative Indian and Identity and Violence.
Certainly, as Arundhati Roy's recent writings prove, anyone initiating a frank discussion on Kashmir risks a storm of vituperation from the Indian understudies of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. The choleric TV anchors, partisan journalists and opinion-mongers of India's corporate media routinely amplify the falsehoods and deceptions of Indian intelligence agencies in Kashmir. Blaming Pakistan or Islamic fundamentalists, as the Economist pointed out last week, has "got much harder" for the Indian government, which, has "long denied the great extent to which Kashmiris want rid of India". Nevertheless, it tries; and, as the political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of the few fair-minded commentators on this subject, points out, the Indian media now acts in concert with the government "to deny any legitimacy to protests in Kashmir".
This effective censorship reassures those Indians anxious not to let mutinous Kashmiris sully the currently garish notions of India as an "economic powerhouse" and "vibrant democracy" – the calling cards with which Indian elites apply for membership to the exclusive clubs of the west. In Kashmir, however, the net effect is deeper anger and alienation. As Bukhari puts it, Kashmiris hold India's journalists as responsible as its politicians for "muzzling and misinterpreting" them.
"The promise," Mehta writes, "of a liberal India is slowly dying". For Kashmiris this promise has proved as hollow as that of the fundamentalist Islam exported by Pakistan. Liberated from political deceptions, the young men on the streets of Kashmir today seem simply to want to express their hatred of the state's impersonal brutality, and to commemorate lives freshly ruined by it. As the Kashmiri writer Basharat Peer wrote this week in a moving Letter to an Unknown Indian, Indian journalists might edit out the "faces of the murdered boys", and "their grieving fathers"; they may not show "the video of a woman in Anantnag, washing the blood of the boys who were killed outside her house". But "Kashmir sees the unedited Kashmir."
And it remembers. "Like many other Kashmiris," Peer writes, "I have been in silence, committing to memory the deed, the date." Apart from the youth on the streets, there are also those with their noses in books, or pressed against window bars. Soon this generation will make its way into the world with its private traumas. Life under political oppression has begun to yield, in the slow bitter way it does, a rich intellectual and artistic harvest: Peer's memoir Curfewed Night will be followed early next year by a novel by Waheed Mirza. There are more works to come; Kashmiris will increasingly speak for themselves. One can only hope that their voices will finally penetrate our indifference and even occasionally prick our conscience.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Stephen Pax Leonard will soon swap the lawns, libraries and high tables of Cambridge University for three months of darkness, temperatures as low as -40C and hunting seals for food with a spear.
But the academic researcher, who leaves Britain this weekend, has a mission: to take the last chance to document the language and traditions of an entire culture.
"I'm extremely excited but, yes, also apprehensive," Leonard said as he made the final preparations for what is, by anyone's standards, the trip of a lifetime.
Leonard, an anthropological linguist, is to spend a year living with the Inughuit people of north-west Greenland, a tiny community whose members manage to live a similar hunting and gathering life to their ancestors. They speak a language – the dialect is called Inuktun – that has never fully been written down, and they pass down their stories and traditions orally.
"Climate change means they have around 10 or 15 years left," said Leonard. "Then they'll have to move south and in all probability move in to modern flats." If that happens, an entire language and culture is likely to disappear.
There is no Inughuit written literature but a very strong and "distinctive, intangible cultural heritage", according to Leonard. "If their language dies, their heritage and identity will die with it. The aim of this project is to record and describe it and then give it back to the communities themselves in a form that future generations can use and understands."
The Inughuits thought they were the world's only inhabitants until an expedition led by the Scottish explorer John Ross came across them in 1818.
Unlike other Inuit communities they were not significantly influenced by the arrival of Christianity in Greenland – so they retain elements of a much older, shamanic culture – and their life is not very different now to how it always has been. Many of the men spend weeks away from home hunting seals, narwhal, walruses, whales and other mammals. And while they have tents, they still build igloos when conditions get really bad.
Their language is regarded as something of a linguistic "fossil" and one of the oldest and most "pure" Inuit dialects.
Leonard was yesterday saying goodbye to family and friends in Eastbourne. On Sunday he flies to Copenhagen – "it's the only place you can buy a Greenlandic-Danish dictionary" – and then it's off to Greenland, taking two internal flights to get to the main Inughuit settlement in Qaanaaq on the north-west coast of Greenland, north of Baffin Bay.
There, Leonard expects to hone his linguistic skills and build contacts for seven or eight months before moving to the most traditional Inughuit outpost in Siorapaluk, the most northern permanently inhabited settlement in the world, where about 70 Inughuit live. It will he here that Leonard hopes to hear the storytelling that lies at the heart of the culture.
Leonard's interest in the Inughuits began 10 years ago when he read Marie Herbert's book The Snow People, an account of life with the Inughuits, but it is only recently that he learned how imminent the threat is to their way of life and their culture.
"I just hadn't realised how endangered the community was and this whole culture could simply die, disappear. Normally languages die out because it is parents deciding they don't want their children to speak it."
Leonard, who is 36, will have to adapt to many things, not least the extreme temperatures. Although the average temperature is-25C, it can plummet to -40 or soar to zero in the summer. Then there is the arctic darkness, with the sun expected to go down on 24 October and not rise again until 8 March. It is this time of year that elders talk and pass on their stories and poetry.
Nevertheless, Leonard admitted: "I don't really know how I'm going to deal with it, to be honest."
There appears to be a certain inevitability to the Inughuits being soon forced from their ancient homeland to southern Greenland, making Leonard's mission all the more pressing. Climate change is already leading to a noticeable reduction in seal numbers and the ice will soon become so thin that it will be impossible to use dog sleds.
Leonard intends to record the Inughuits and, rather than writing a grammar or dictionary, produce an "ethnography of speaking" to show how their language and culture are interconnected. The recordings will be digitised and archived and returned to the community in their own language.
"These communities, which could be just years from fragmentation, want their cultural plight to be known to the rest of the world," he said.
Although the climate change catastrophe facing the Arctic is well documented and the Inughuits are visited frequently, Leonard hopes his visit will be more meaningful than others.
"One thing I have been told is that they are tired of journalists popping in and reporting how awful it is that the icebergs are melting and then that's it, so they are keen that someone comes and lives with them and reports back."
Mind your language
A language dies every 14 days, and half the languages spoken today are expected to vanish by 2100. Languages on the endangered list include:
• The secret language of the Kallawaya, who live in the Bolivian Andes, is more 400 years old and is spoken by fewer than a hundred people. In daily life, the Kallawaya use Spanish or Aymara, but when discussing the medicinal plants central to their role as healers, the men speak their own private language.
• Aboriginal Australia holds some of the world's most endangered languages including Amurdag, which was believed to be extinct until a few years ago when linguists came across speaker Charlie Mangulda living in the Northern Territory.
• Mednyj Aleut is spoken by a handful of people in Eastern Siberia. Unlike most languages it has two parents, a combination of largely Aleut vocabulary and Russian verb endings.
• Siletz Dee-ni is spoken on the Siletz reservation in Oregon. When the reservation was created in 1855 it held speakers of many different languages. In order to communicate with each other residents adopted a pidgin version of Chinook, in the process nearly wiping out their indigenous languages.