Sunday, June 29, 2008

a death in Guiyang

I saw a link to a BBC news story with the headline Chinese riots over girl's death. There's so much Chinese news these days, what with the upcoming Olymic Games, the ongoing tragedy following from the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, the Tibetan conflict in which the Dalai Lama figures, the slowing of China's unbelievably fast-growing economy, Chinese massive energy requirements, Chinese environmental problems, and social problems stemming from the fast growth of China's middle class. The BBC article piqued my interest partly because I'd seen a recent headline on the Chinese power structure which pointed out that Communist Party leaders in local areas were practically autonomous. That article tallied with conclusions I'd drawn from reading Qiu Xiaolong's gritty detective stories set in southeast China.

News accounts of the riots are interesting partly because they don't all say the same thing. In the west, it seems to me, when there's broad coverage of an event, all the reporters have pretty much the same sources and their accounts differ very little from one another. It's more difficult to cover a closed society like China and -- sources being more difficult to find -- the accounts differ somewhat more.

In this case the western stories tend to build on one another as the set of facts enlarges. They differ in that, but also in the emphasis they place on the story's main elements. The current lead paragraphs in the AFP account gives some of the basics up front:
Rioters in southwestern China torched government buildings and cars after anger over a probe into a schoolgirl's death exploded into violent protests, locals and state press said Sunday.

The riots occurred Saturday in Guizhou province when protesters ransacked three government and police buildings after the girl's uncle died from an alleged beating by police trying to stop him from protesting against the handling of the case, locals and Internet postings said.
The BBC gives the map I put above and adds a crucial point:
Local residents were angered after a police inquiry concluded that the girl, found dead in a river earlier in June, had committed suicide. Her family accused the son of a local official of raping and killing her.
Reuters makes the cause of local anger more plain:
"Local residents were very angry about the injustice exercised by local authorities," the resident, who is an official at a local government office, told Reuters by telephone.
It's not surprising that the account in the politically-controlled Chinese news agency contrasts dramatically with the reports in free-press media. The Chinese story tells that there's been a riot, but the reporter tells us that a bunch of misguided people went overboard and attacked the local police station and government buildings because they were "dissatisfied with the medicolegal expertise on the death of a local girl student." The emphasis is on destruction of public property and efforts to restore order. The action of the mob is described as torching government office buildings and assaulting local officials. The scene is characterized by the word chaos.

You'd think that all reports coming out of China would be similarly slanted, so I was surprised to find an account on a Shanghai web site that I find better than many of the news stories that originate outside China. The site gives succinct coverage and a number of useful links:
Riot in Weng'an County, Guizhou Province

Several thousand rioters have gathered in Guizhou's Weng'an County, torched a police station, ransacked government buildings and overturned police cars, after allegations of a cover-up over a 15 year old girl's death blew up. Ming Pao reports the son of the county's vice-deputy mayor had raped and murdered the girl along with another youth and tossed her body into the Ximen River. Police only detained the suspects for five hours and released them without charge. EastSouthWestNorth says unconfirmed, conflicting reports are now swirling around the Internet but has several telling pictures which indicate a large proportion of the population was out on the streets. [Xinhua] [Reuters] [AP] [AFP] [Youtube videos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

By Kenneth Tan in News | Link
You can learn more about the shanghaiist site from their about page. It seems they actually publish from Shanghai in China. The wikipedia article on the city makes it sound like a very interesting place.

Here are photos from a site called eastsouthwestnorth. Notice that they all come from, the Chinese myspace site that went live about a year ago.

This is the young woman:

This shows the size of the crowd:

The city apparently has a large central square surrounded by government buildings:

One of the accounts says that locals hate their police:

One account says how much smoke there was:

Here you can see, in the aftermath, that young people participated:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Windmuller, Heine, and Lorelei

Catching up with Arts & Letters Daily after a couple weeks, I've found a lot of interesting stuff. I've put some of the teasers at the bottom of this post so you can see what I mean.

One of the items deals with the German poet, Heinrich Heine, with whom I have a remote familial connection. The item is a book review by Michael Dirda in the Wall Street Journal. Here's the link: Touring With an Eccentric Guide (June 14, 2008; Page W11). The book is Travel Pictures, by Heinrich Heine (Translated by Peter Worstman, Archipelago, 223 pages, $17).*

Dirda's review is typically good. He says
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) once described himself as the last of the romantics and the first of the moderns, which may account for the winning combination of the playful and the serious in his writing. Today he is largely remembered for his ballad-like poetry, much of it set to music by Schubert, Wolf and other lieder composers. In his own day, however, this author of such verse masterpieces as "Die Lorelei" -- about the siren who lures Rhine boatmen to their doom -- was equally celebrated as a prose writer, spending much of his adult life in Paris as a journalist, explaining the French to the Germans and the Germans to the French.

Throughout his life, though, this witty man of letters was utterly serious about defending civil liberties and religious freedom, counting among his friends not only artists like Balzac and Berlioz but also revolutionaries like Karl Marx. In one of his plays Heine, who was Jewish, presciently observed that "where they begin by burning books, they will end by burning people."
While I was reading this review the family connection with Heine came to mind. My great grandfather, prominent New Yorker of the late 19th century, once led a committee that collected funds to have a statue to Heine installed in a New York park. The effort succeeded and the elaborate fountain can be seen in what is now called Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx.

The New York Times did an article on the appearance of my forebear before the park commissioners to request the installation: THE HEINE MEMORIAL MONUMENT Description Furnished the Park Board -- Mr. Windmuller's Plea (April 4, 1895, Wednesday, Page 16).** It includes a sketch of the statue with description by an art expert. Here's the sketch; click image to view full size:

Here are excerpts from the art expert's description of the monument:

And here is a bit of history from the web site for Kilmer Park.
The Lorelei fountain celebrates the German poet, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), author of an ode to Die Lorelei -- a siren from German mythology who lured sailors to their deaths on the Rhine. The fountain was created by German sculptor Ernest Herter for the poet's home city, Dusseldorf. However, political groups opposed to Heine's Jewish origins and political views blocked its installation there. The fountain was finally erected in the Bronx in 1899, thanks to a subscription led by Americans of German ancestry. Funds are now being raised to restore the fountain, the victim of decades of weathering and vandalism, to its former glory.
Windmuller shared Heine's politics and (by birth anyway) his religion. He contributed much to promoting German arts and culture in New York and the welfare of Germans in America. He sided with German liberals like Heine and Karl Schurz in opposition to the growing irrationality of men like Wagner, Nietzsche, and Spengler. There's no proof, but it's pretty likely he emigrated from Munster in 1850 as an indirect result of his participation in the radical uprisings of 1848.

There's a park in Queens that's dedicated to his memory which, a year ago, was the "park of the month:" Windmuller Park. A Google search turns up information about it.

For what it's worth, New York has a park named after Carl Schurz too, but none for Wagner, Nietzsche, or Spengler.

Here are the promised teasers from today's Arts & Letters Daily

Share your grief and you may double your sorrow. Better, perhaps, that all you’ve seen, and all that you suffered, should go with you to the grave... more»

The rise of the therapeutic and the eclipse of the tragic ensures college students’ expectations soar even as their intellectual abilities to handle life’s setbacks erode... more»

We get the art we deserve, and today what we deserve is the splashy, pretentious, dumbed down trophy art that dominates the art world ... more»

An “it-wasn’t-my-fault” industry now produces books like Scott McClellan’s White House memoir. Next in line: Donald Rumsfeld... more»

Country music knows what it means to be trapped by poverty, a lousy job, lust, and booze. To grasp the USA, just listen... more»

John Updike started with art as a small child, newspaper comics at first. Edward Hopper and Mark Rothko came later... more»

A butterfly flaps its wing and a hurricane hits Mongolia. Or whatever. Everybody loves the “butterfly effect,” and everybody gets it totally wrong... more»

Q: “So is Marxism-Leninism scientific?” A: “Surely not. If it were, they would have tested it on animals first.” Old Soviet jokes... more»

For all of Churchill’s faults, we may still be grateful for a 1930s politician who found it intolerable even to breathe the same air as the Nazis... more»

The British invented curry? Not quite. But the Madras curry (Tamil: kari) was born with the East India Company... more»

Will unplugging our cellphone chargers or turning TVs off standby reduce energy use and help fight global warming? How do the numbers stack up?... more»

“I am astonished that the Bush people are so robotic,” says Peggy Noonan. Criticize the boss and you’re banished from the kingdom... more»

Add more signs, directions, and limits on the road, and drivers will be safer, right? Wrong. Drivers tend to compensate... more»

Paris is a miraculous city in no small measure because modern architects have not been able to get their hands on it. Roger Scruton explains... more»

Under Kinderarchy, parents are little more than indentured servants. It’s all about the kids: their schooling, brightness, cuteness, and their quite astonishing creativity... more»

The central image of Samuel Johnson in James Boswell’s Life is that of a heroic figure battling his demons and keeping them at bay... more»

Critical texts to go with contemporary art are so twisted and woolly they could pass for self-parody. Yet they require us to take them seriously... more»

*You can download an older translation of the book from Google Book Search: Pictures of Travel, by Heinrich Heine; translated by Charles Godfrey Leland (New York : D. Appleton, 1904).
**I'm not sure why, but I had to use Internet Explorer to follow the Times link to the pdf article.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

country life, 1905

{click to view full-size}

This photo is from the Smithsonian Institution's photostream on flickr. The Smithsonian has joined the Library of Congress in making available some of its vast collections of images in taggable sets. The intro page is here. A post on the subject on the flickr blog is here. The flickr inititative by which public institutions post their photos is called The Commons. The other two participants in the project are the Powerhouse Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

The description line for this photo says the subjects are unidentified. It's from the National Postal Museum collection and shows a rural free delivery post carrier using a two-wheel horse drawn mail cart.

The curator who wrote the description says the carrier is a man The person with reins in hand looks like a woman to me. So maybe the other person is the one they mean. Or, maybe I'm wrong about the sex of the driver.

I like how this photo is nicely unlike other documentary shots of its time. It was taken in 1905, when photo subjects still tended to be stony-faced, yet this group is pretty cheerful. I like how the horse is observing the camera along with the people. And I like to think that the driver is a woman.

My son told me about the Smithsonian photos on flickr. Thanks to him!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

June that breathes out life for butterflies

Do you know anything about Amy Winehouse? I was only vaguely aware of her existence until some lyrics she wrote turned up on a web page devoted to John Keats. Turns out she's won umteen awards and gets enormous press coverage for her troubled life as much as her musical achievements. She also has a striking appearance with trademark beehive hairdo. She's a Londoner to the core, and not posh West End.* The web page is good: Amy Winehouse.

The Keats site on which her name appeared is Keatsian News. I began tracking it after reading a book of Keats' letters, a short biography on him, and re-reading the poems. I recommend the letters; despite the too-frequent horrors of his brief life, he was a prolific and wholly engaging correspondent. The web site quotes from one of these letters:
I heard that Mr L Said a thing I am not at all contented with - Says he 'O, he is quite the little Poet' now this is abominable - you might as well say Buonaparte is quite the little Soldier - You see what it is to be under six foot and not a lord - ' (John Keats in a letter to his brother George, February 1819).
The web site entry for June 1 gives a quote for the day from his poem, To the Ladies Who Saw Me Crowned: 'June that breathes out life for butterflies', which evokes the month well does it not?

The Keats news site led me to Winehouse when its author got snide about an article in which a student was quoted as saying: 'Poetry doesn’t have to mean Keats and Byron.' Of this he says, 'Indeed, it does not. On that note, let's all wallow in some crappy modern stuff.' He goes on to say: 'And kudos to the English prof who compared the Bee Gees to King Lear. Way to encapsulate the sad decline of your discipline with one smudgy quote.' It was in following up on the Bee Gees comparison that I wandered into Winehouse-land.

The student was quoted in an article in The Times (UK of course): Amy Winehouse gets into Cambridge, by Nicola Woolcock. A blog on covers the same story:
Cambridge Exam has Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Raleigh and Amy Winehouse?

Cambridge University students were surprised when they had to compare Amy Winehouse lyrics with Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth for their exams.
The final-year English literature students at Cambridge University were surprised to find Amy Winehouse in their practical criticism exams.

The students received the following lyrics from the song “Love is a Losing Game” from her album “Back to Black”.
Though I'm rather blind
Love is a fate resigned
Memories mar my mind
Love is a fate resigned,
Over futile odds
And laughed at by the gods
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game.
The students were then asked to compare these lyrics from Winehouse with Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Milton and Wordsworth for literary analysis.

There were mixed reactions from the students; some were surprised, some were irritated and the others praised the teachers who prepared this exam.

One student told AFP:

"It was really bizarre…I sat there looking at the paper in shock. I wouldn't consider a controversial pop singer a literary figure."

The exam asked students to compare a Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem “As You Came from The Holy Land” from 1592 with the song lyrics from Amy Winehouse, “Fine and Mellow” by Billie Holiday and “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Bob Dylan.

Winehouse's "Love is a Losing Game" won a British Ivor Novello (music) award for Best Musical and Lyrical Song, last week.

One student told AFP:

"I think it's cool…Poetry doesn't have to mean Keats and Byron. That said, there were a lot of surprised people."

Winehouse, best known for her song Rehab, was arrested after being secretly filmed at her home in East London, apparently taking drugs. Police decided not to press charges, for lack of evidence. Her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, is in jail awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Amy and Will

OK, so what about the Bee Gees and King Lear? A site called explains:

In July 2001 undergraduate students at Cambridge University were asked to write about Bee Gee lyrics in their final exam.

The question, one of 27 on a three-hour English finals exam, asked students to discuss: "Tragedy, when you lose control and you got no soul, it's tragedy," with reference to characters and plots from Biblical and Greek stories. They were also told to make use of the writings of Nietzche, Dostoevsky and Racine.

John Kerrigan, the chairman of the English finals examination board, said that the question was intended to examine the forms tragedy takes in the modern world.

He said: "We wanted to see how far tragedy survives into modernity; whether it has died in the face of science and rationalism. Tragedy is essentially an archaic form. We wanted to see if it had metamorphosed into different forms.

"There are elements to the Bee Gees songs that could have directed you to the great central canonical texts. The line in the Bee Gees song where he sings 'the feeling's gone and you can't go on' is a fair summary of the end of King Lear," he added.

A spokesman for the Bee Gees said the brothers would be proud at being compared to great literary figures. "They have been compared with songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Burt Bacharach, but never Ibsen and Shakespeare."
(The Telegraph)
Here's the whole of Winehouse's lyric plus Raliegh's for comparison:
Amy Winehouse

For you I was a flame
Love is a losing game
Five storey fire as you came
Love is a losing game
Why do I wish I never played
Oh, what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game
Played out by the band love is a losing hand . . .
Taken from
Love is a Losing Game

Sir Walter Raleigh

As you came from the holy land
Of Walsinghame,
Met you not with my true love
By the way as you came?
How shall I know your true love,
That have met many one,
As I went to the holy land,
That have come, that have gone?
She is neither white nor brown,
But as the heavens fair;
There is none hath a form so divine In the earth or the air . . .
Taken from
As You Came from the Holy Land
Here are two Youtube videos of Amy singing the song:

*From wikipedia: "Amy Winehouse was born in the Southgate area of Enfield, London to a Jewish family who shared her love of jazz music. She was raised in a family of four: her father Mitchell (a taxi driver), her mother Janis (a pharmacist), and her older brother Alex. She attended Southgate School before leaving to go to Ashmole School.[citation needed] At age ten, Winehouse founded a short-lived rap group called Sweet 'n' Sour with childhood friend Juliette Ashby. She was trained initially at The Susi Earnshaw Theatre School from the age of eight years old. She stayed for four years before seeking full time training at Sylvia Young Theatre School, but was allegedly expelled at fourteen for "not applying herself" and for piercing her nose. With other children from the Sylvia Young School, she appeared in an episode of The Fast Show in 1997. She later attended the BRIT School in Selhurst, Croydon."


What is there in the universal earth
More lovely than a wreath from the bay tree?
Haply a halo round the moon--a glee
Circling from three sweet pair of lips in mirth;
And haply you will say the dewy birth
Of morning roses--ripplings tenderly
Spread by the halcyon's breast upon the sea--
But these comparisons are nothing worth.
Then there is nothing in the world so fair?
The silvery tears of April? Youth of May?
Or June that breathes out life for butterflies?
No none of these can from my favorite bear
Away the palm--yet shall it ever pay
Due reverence to your most sovereign eyes.

My images are from The Times,, and the Keats news site.