Quotulatiousness

April 21, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore’s amazing economic success

Filed under: Asia,Economics,Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Earlier this month, Alvaro Vargas Llosa examined the economic success of Singapore under the authoritarian rule of Lee Kuan Yew:

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s legendary statesman, who died last month at the age of 91, posed a challenge to those of us who believe in political and economic freedom (and all other freedoms). His combination of authoritarianism and economic freedom, of social engineering and self-reliance, worked. The result was a society that is more prosperous than most others, but free only in some respects.

For years, the best examples one could come up with to show that the marriage of economic and political liberty could work were the liberal democracies of the developed world, whose achievements originated in centuries past and different circumstances.

Lee Kuan Yew’s credentials became strong as many countries that also gained independence in the 1950s or 1960s opted for a mix of nativism and collectivism that kept them poor while tiny Singapore, with no natural resources, emerged as an economic powerhouse. While Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Castro — not to cite Mobutu, Idi Amin Dada, and others — destroyed the chances of a decent life for many generations, Lee Kuan Yew created the conditions for a 124-fold increase in Singapore’s per capita income in half a century.

[…]

Singapore’s case is exceptional, which makes it a tough challenge for those of us who think freedom is best served by not carving it up. My belief is that Singapore has been able to preserve its curious mix because of the absence of prosperous liberal democracies around it. But its model is based on globalization, and it’s therefore porous to good ideas.

In a world in which more countries, including Asian ones, end up successfully embracing democracy under the rule of law as well as free trade, it will be impossible for the city-state to avoid the comparison and the contagion. It is one thing to preserve an authoritarian model because your neighbors espouse a less successful one, and quite another to perpetuate it in the face of equally or even more successful societies that espouse a freer model.

April 20, 2015

QotD: Mezcal and other “downmarket” drinks

Filed under: Asia,Humour,Japan,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I think the nastiest drink I’ve ever drunk in my life was some stuff called mezcal in a Mexican market town. It’s made, I find, from the same aloe-like plant that gives us tequila, of which mezcal is a kind of downmarket version, if you can imagine such a thing. When I bought my bottle at the grocer’s it had a small packet tied to the neck. Inside was what looked like a shrimp in talcum powder. “What’s that?” I asked my American friend. “That’s the worm,” he said, “the best part. You can try it without.” I tried it without. My head filled with a taste of garage or repair shop — hot rubber and plastic, burnt oil and a whiff of hydrochloric-acid vapour from the charging engine. When I sold Mack the rest of the bottle he emptied in the pounded-up worm, recapped, shook, and poured himself a tumbler of greyish liquid with little pink shreds in it. Give me Tizer any day.

I haven’t yet sampled Ruou Tiet De, a North Vietnamese mixture of rice alcohol and goat’s blood, or Central Asian koumis, fermented from mare’s and camel’s milk. Sake, a sweetish rice beer from Japan, goes well with Japanese food, so if you happen to like eating raw fish and seaweed this is obviously your tipple. You drink it warm. I may say that when I heated some on the stove recently to check that it was as horrible as I remembered, it took all the deposit off the lining of the saucepan.

You needn’t go as far afield as that to find a drink offensive to any person of culture and discrimination, especially if mixes are on the agenda. In South Wales you’re likely to find them throwing down Guinness with Lucozade and Ribena, or Mackeson and orange squash — not in the more refined areas, true. In Scotland they put fizzy lemonade in their whisky. Yes, in respectable places in the Highlands there are quart bottles of the stuff on the bar alongside the Malvern water and the siphon. The objection is not that it’s vulgar, but that, of course, it kills the Scotch and tastes frightful.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

April 14, 2015

Strategies of the Sri Lankan civil war

Filed under: Asia,History,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Diplomat, Peter Layton looks back at the strategies that eventually ended the twenty-five year civil war in Sri Lanka:

How to win a civil war in a globalized world where insurgents skillfully exploit offshore resources? With most conflicts now being such wars, this is a question many governments are trying to answer. Few succeed, with one major exception being Sri Lanka where, after 25 years of civil war the government decisively defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and created a peace that appears lasting. This victory stands in stark contrast to the conflicts fought by well-funded Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. How did Sri Lanka succeed against what many considered the most innovative and dangerous insurgency force in the world? Three main areas stand out.

First, the strategic objective needs to be appropriate to the enemy being fought. For the first 22 years of the civil war the government’s strategy was to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table using military means. Indeed, this was the advice foreign experts gave as the best and only option. In 2006, just before the start of the conflict’s final phase, retired Indian Lieutenant General AS Kalkat in 2006 declared, “There is no armed resolution to the conflict. The Sri Lanka Army cannot win the war against the Lankan Tamil insurgents.”

Indeed, the LTTE entered negotiations five times, but talks always collapsed, leaving a seemingly stronger LTTE even better placed to defeat government forces. In mid-2006, sensing victory was in its grasp, the LTTE deliberately ended the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire and initiated the so-called Eelam War IV. In response, the Sri Lankan government finally decided to change its strategic objective, from negotiating with the LTTE to annihilating it.

To succeed, a strategy needs to take into account the adversary. In this case it needed to be relevant to the nature of the LTTE insurgency. Over the first 22 years of the civil war, the strategies of successive Sri Lankan governments did not fulfill this criterion. Eventually, in late 2005 a new government was elected that choose a different strategic objective that matched the LTTE’s principal weaknesses while negating their strengths.

The LTTE’s principal problem was its finite manpower base. Only 12 percent of Sri Lanka’s population were Lankan Tamils and of these it was believed that only some 300,000 actively supported the LTTE. Moreover, the LTTE’s legitimacy as an organization was declining. By 2006, the LTTE relied on conscription – not volunteers – to fill its ranks and many of these were children. At the operational level some seeming strengths could also be turned against the LTTE, including its rigid command structure, a preference for fighting conventional land battles, and a deep reliance on international support.

April 13, 2015

QotD: The real man behind Kipling’s Man Who Would Be King

Filed under: Britain,History,India,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is quite possible that Kipling based Daniel Dravot, the hero of The Man Who Would Be King, on Dr Harlan. He would surely have heard of the American, and there is a strong echo, in Dravot’s fictional Kafiristan adventure (published in 1895), of Harlan’s aspirations first to the throne of Afghanistan, and later successfully to the kingship of Ghor. as described in Gardner’s Memoirs (published in 1890); whether Harlan’s story was true is beside the point. Like many passages in his astonishing career, it lacks corroboration; on the other hand it was accepted, along with the rest, by such authorities as Major Pearse, who was Gardner’s editor, and the celebrated Dr Wolff.

Josiah Harlan (1799-1871) was born in Newlin Township, Pennsylvania, the son of a merchant whose family came from County Durham. He studied medicine, sailed as a supercargo to China, and after being jilted by his American fiancée, returned to the East, serving as surgeon with the British Army in Burma. He then wandered to Afghanistan, where he embarked on that career as diplomat, spy, mercenary soldier, and double (sometimes treble) agent which so enraged Colonel Gardner. The details are confused, but it seems that Harlan, after trying to take Dost Mohammed’s throne, and capturing a fortress, fell into the hands of Runjeet Singh. The Sikh maharaja, recognising a rascal of genius when he saw one sent him as envoy to Dost Mohammed; Harlan, travelling disguised as a dervish was also working to subvert Dost’s throne on behalf of Shah Sujah, the exiled Afghan king; not content with this, he ingratiated himself with Dost and became his agent in the Punjab — in effect, serving three masters against each other. Although as one contemporary remarks with masterly understatement, Harlan’s life was now somewhat complicated, he satisfied at least two of his employers: Shah Sujah made him a Companion of the Imperial Stirrup, and Runjeet gave him the government of three provinces which he administered until, it is said, the maharaja discovered that he was running a coining plant on the pretence of studying chemistry. Even then, Runjeet continued to use him as an agent, and it was Harlan who successfully suborned the Governor of Peshawar to betray the province to the Sikhs. He then took service with Dost Mohammed (whom he had just betrayed), and was sent with an expedition against the Prince of Kunduz; it was in this campaign that the patriotic doctor “surmounted the Indian Caucasus, and unfurled my country’s banner to the breeze under a salute of 26 guns … the star-spangled banner waved gracefully among the icy peaks.” What this accomplished is unclear but soon afterwards Harlan managed to obtain the throne of Ghor from its hereditary prince. This was in 1838; a year later he was acting as Dost’s negotiator with the British invaders at Kabul; Dost subsequently fled, and Harlan was last seen having breakfast with “Sekundar Burnes”, the British political agent.

Thus far Harlan’s story rests largely on a biographical sketch by the missionary Dr Joseph Wolff; they met briefly during Harlan’s governorship of Gujerat, but Wolff (who of course never had the advantage of reading the present packet of the Flashman Papers confesses that he knows nothing of the American after 1839. In fact, Harlan returned to the U.S. in 1841, married in 1849, raised Harlan’s Light Horse for the Union in the Civil War, was invalided out, and ended his days practising medicine in San Francisco; obviously he must have revisited the Punjab in the 1840s, when Flashman knew him. Of his appearance and character other contemporaries tell us little; Dr Wolff describes “a fine tall gentleman” given to whistling Yankee Doodle”, and found him affable and engaging. Gardner mentions meeting him at Gujerat in the 1830s, but speaks no ill of him at that time.

His biographer, Dr Joseph Wolff, D.D., LL.D (1795-1862), was a scholar, traveller, and linguist whose adventures were even more eccentric than Harlan’s. Known as “the Christian Dervish”, and “the Protestant Xavier”, he was born in Germany, the son of a Jewish rabbi, and during his “extraordinary nomadic career” converted to Christianity, was expelled from Rome for questioning Papal infallibility, scoured the Middle and Far East in search of the Lost Tribes of Israel, preached Christianity in Jerusalem, was shipwrecked in Cephalonia, captured by Central Asian slave-traders (who priced him at only £2.50, much to his annoyance), and walked 600 miles through Afghanistan “in a state of nudity”, according to the Dictionary of National Biography. He made a daring return to Afghanistan in search of the missing British agents, Stoddart and Connolly, and narrowly escaped death at the hands of their executioner. At other times Dr Wolff preached to the U.S. Congress, was a deacon in New Jersey, an Anglican priest in Ireland, and finally became vicar of a parish in Somerset. As Flashman has remarked, there were some odd fellows about in the earlies. (See Gardner; The Travels and Adventures of Dr. Wolff (1860); Dictionary of American Biography; D.N.B.)

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

April 12, 2015

The Great Firewall of China has a new capability

Filed under: China,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At The Register, Shaun Nichols talks about the new, weaponized Great Firewall of China:

China has upgraded the website-blocking systems on its borders, dubbed The Great Firewall, so it can blast foreign businesses and orgs off the internet.

Researchers hailing from the University of Toronto, the International Computer Science Institute, the University of California Berkeley, and Princeton University, have confirmed what we’ve all suspected: China is hijacking web traffic entering the Middle Kingdom to overpower sites critical of the authoritarian state.

Typically, connections to web servers in the People’s Republic must pass through the nation’s border routers, which may inject malicious JavaScript into the fetched web pages. This code forces victims’ browsers to silently and continuously fire requests at selected targets.

These sites may end up being overwhelmed and crash as a result — a classic denial of service — meaning no one in the world can access them.

It is a clear case of China engineering a way to knock arbitrary websites off the internet for everyone, it seems.

Such an attack was launched last month at California-based GitHub.com, which was hosting two projects that circumvented the Great Firewall’s censorship mechanisms, and GreatFire.org, a website dedicated to fighting China’s web blocking. GitHub mitigated the assault to mostly stay online.

This weaponized firewall has been dubbed the Great Cannon by the researchers, and typically hijacks requests to Baidu’s advertising network in China. Anyone visiting a website that serves ads from Baidu, for example, could end up unwittingly silencing a foreign site disliked by the Chinese authorities.

April 9, 2015

Former US Army colonel would be “disgusted” if US doesn’t have plan to invade Canada

Filed under: Cancon,China,Military,USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Retired US officer-turned-SF writer Tom Kratman thinks heads should roll in the Pentagon if they do not have up-to-date plans to invade Canada … among other current allies … because creating and maintaining plans is what the general staff is supposed to do:

Since at least the time of world class fool, blunderer, jackass, and complete and utter failure, Woodrow Wilson, there’s been a lot of confusion about what military planning is and means. For these purposes, it falls into two categories: planning to actually do something you intend to do, and planning to react to something you do not really want to happen but must be prepared for.

In terms of the latter, I would be not just surprised but disgusted if somewhere in the bowels of the five-sided puzzle palace there are no plans, kept more or less up to date, for invading Canada. I would be at least as surprised and disgusted if Canada doesn’t have some plans to resist that invasion, too. Sure, ours might be hidden as a response to a humanitarian crisis, or couched in terms of responding to a request from Canada’s government for help/intervention, while theirs – for all I know – may reference “Fenians,” or the like. Still, if the plans don’t exist – quite despite that none of us want to invade Canada – then a large number of multi-starred idiots need to be relieved. Why? Because you never really know. Because the future defies prediction in any detail.

That is different in kind from things like Hitler’s invasions of Poland and the USSR which fell not into the category of things that the planner would rather not happen (but had to be prepared to react to) but of things the planner absolutely intended to do.

So is China planning for a war as some claim? Sure they are; it’s their general staff’s job to do that planning. Do they want that war or wars? Puhleeze; as discussed previously, a real war is about the last thing they want. They’re much, much more likely engaged in the first, contingency, class of planning than the second, aggressive, class.

April 2, 2015

QotD: Punjab and the Sikhs, 1845

Filed under: Britain,History,India,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

First of all, you must do as Sale bade me, and look at the map. In ’45 John Company held Bengal and the Carnatic and the east coast, more or less, and was lord of the land up to the Sutlej, the frontier beyond which lay the Five Rivers country of the Sikhs, the Punjab. But things weren’t settled then as they are now; we were still shoring up our borders, and that north-west frontier was the weak point, as it still is. That way invasion had always come, from Afghanistan, the vanguard of a Mohammedan tide, countless millions strong, stretching back as far as the Mediterranean. And Russia, We’d tried to sit down in Afghanistan, as you know, and got a bloody nose, and while that had been avenged since, we weren’t venturing that way again. So it remained a perpetual threat to India and ourselves — and all that lay between was Punjab and the Sikhs.

You know something of them: tall, splendid fellows with uncut hair and beards, proud and exclusive as Jews, and well disliked, as clannish, easily-recognised folk often are — the Muslims loathed them, the Hindoos distrusted then, and even today T. Atkins, while admiring them as stout fighters, would rather be brigaded with anyone else — excepting their cavalry, which you’d be glad of anywhere. For my money they were the most advanced people in India — well, they were only a sixth of the Punjab’s population, but they ruled the place, so there you are.

We’d made a treaty with these strong, clever, treacherous, civilised savages, respecting their independence north of the Sutlej while we ruled south of it. It was good business for both parties: they remained free and friends with John Company, and we had a tough, stable buffer between us and the wild tribes beyond the Khyber — let the Sikhs guard the passes, while we went about our business in India without the expense and trouble of having to deal with the Afghans ourselves. That’s worth bearing in mind when you hear talk of our “aggressive forward policy” in India: it simply wasn’t common sense for us to take over the Punjab — not while it was strong and united.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

March 28, 2015

Singapore

Filed under: Asia,Government,Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Back in 2009, the government of Singapore used some of Bryan Caplan’s writing to defend their policies against accusations of authoritarianism. In return, Caplan pointed out some aspects of Singapore’s government he finds appalling:

1. Conscription. Though they laughed at me in Singapore, this is clearly state slavery — and there are plenty of less draconian means to defend the city-state from conquest. (Like… paying soldiers market wages). Only a democratic fundamentalist would imagine that the right to vote is more important than the right to say “No” to a job offer.

2. The death penalty for drug trafficking. Jailing people for capitalist acts between consenting adults is bad enough. Murdering people for selling intoxicants to willing buyers is sheer barbarism.

3. State ownership. While Singapore’s state-owned companies act surprisingly like capitalist firms, why settle for second-best? And if you needed further empirical evidence that state ownership undermines personal freedom even if it is “run like a business,” take a look at the Straits Times or Singaporean television.

4. Defamation law. Letting people sue people who badmouth them is bad enough. But Singapore takes defamation law to its logical, absurd conclusion: You can’t even badmouth government officials unless you can prove that your charges are true. The problem with these laws isn’t that they’re undemocratic — after all, Singapore still allows criticism of policies. The problem is that they violate human freedom. People should be allowed to say what they like about whoever they like, whether or not they can prove it, and whether or not they’re right.

5. Censorship. The Internet has made Singaporean censorship largely obsolete, but it’s still an outrage that you need the government’s approval to stage a public performance.

Bottom line: Singapore’s critics have plenty of genuine grievances to denounce. (And under Singaporean law, it’s legal to do so — just don’t get personal!) So why do the critics keep complaining about “lack of democracy” when the real story is that most Singaporeans persistently prefer the PAP to the opposition?

March 23, 2015

QotD: Simla

Filed under: India,Media,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It was a glorious spot then, before Kipling’s vulgarians and yahoos had arrived, a little jewel of a hill station ringed in by snow-clad peaks and pine forests, with air you could almost drink, and lovely green valleys like the Scotch border country — one of ’em was absolutely called Annandale, where you could picnic and fête to heart’s content. Emily Eden had made it the resort in the ’30s, and already there were fine houses on the hillsides, and stone bungalows with log fires where you could draw the curtains back and think you were in England; they were building the church’s foundations then, on the ridges above the Bazaar, and laying out the cricket ground; even the fruits and flowers were like home — we had strawberries and cream, I remember that first afternoon at Lady Sale’s house.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

March 16, 2015

Parallels between the Regia Marina of the 1930s and the PLAN today

Filed under: China,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Diplomat, Franz-Stefan Gady shows how it could be that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) may be following a similar strategy to Mussolini’s Regia Marina (Royal Italian Navy):

The history of the inter-war Italian navy, the Regia Marina, which faced a strategic outlook similar to the PLAN and was also confronted by technologically superior naval opponents, provides a great lesson in why overestimating your enemy’s capabilities is maybe just as dangerous as underestimating military power.

In short, miscalculating the fighting strengths of Mussolini’s navy prior to and during World War II diverted precious allied resources from dealing with more important military challenges (and as a consequence it inadvertently contributed to various allied defeats in the first three years of the war, such as during the Battle of France, and especially during the campaigns in North Africa). It also influenced policy making by granting Italy too big of a say in European politics (e.g., look up the history of the signing of the Munich Agreement) in comparison to the country’s real military capabilities.

Like the PLAN today, the Italians were engaged in many military innovations throughout the 1930s. For example, one article notes: “The Italian navy was impressive for its pioneering naval research into radar and its prowess in torpedo technology — the latter resulting in powerful aerial and magnetic torpedoes and contributing to the maiali, or small human-guided torpedoes — the ultimate weapons in asymmetric naval warfare.”

Also, the post-World War I Italian Navy, similar to today’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, harbored regional aspirations. With the conclusion of the war in 1918, the Italian admirals agreed that the navy must first dominate the Adriatic Sea and then expand into the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. China has a similar sequential strategy with attempting to dominate the Taiwan Strait as well as the South China Sea, followed by a push beyond the First Island Chain, and finally projecting power all the way to the Second Island Chain and beyond.

March 11, 2015

China’s “Catch up” growth

Filed under: China,Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Forbes, Tim Worstall looks at last week’s announcement that China is (slightly) lowering their economic growth forecast.

On that larger scale though what people are worrying about is this. Catch up growth is easier than growth from the technological frontier. What is meant by this is that it’s a great deal easier to generate economic growth if you have an example in front of you of how to do things. To take a trivial example, if you can go and buy a mobile phone, take it apart to see how it works, it’s a lot easier to copy that technology than it is to invent it for the first time. And this is true of how you make cement, how you put up buildings, how you farm a field and so on. And at root that’s what economic growth is: becoming more efficient at doing all of these things as well as everything else. Each time you become more efficient at doing one task you free up resources to be doing something else. Thus you get both the original thing plus the new one from the same resources: this is the very definition of economic growth.

However, there’s a limit to such catch up growth. In certain areas China is right at that technological frontier (in some areas ahead of the rest of the world in fact). Which is where things become more difficult: there’s no one to copy. Therefore that invention has to happen domestically. This is obviously more difficult. But also it rather requires a certain set of institutions. The rule of law, property rights and so on. These aren’t things that China notably has (although things are very much better than they were decades ago). It’s those headwinds that need to be beaten. Bringing in these new institutions, embedding them in the society and the economy, without causing so much disruption as to slow down growth while they are done.

The standard jargon for this is “middle income trap”. To be crude about it the general feeling is that it’s pretty easy to go from dirt poor to middling income. The essence is really just to stop doing stupid things that hold economic development back. China’s done that very well even though they did start from a very low level of an immense number of very stupid things that Maoism did to hold economic growth back. The middle income trap is where the transition over to those institutions that promote technological frontier growth don’t appear (or are not imposed). And thus the stunning growth peters out.

March 7, 2015

Indian government about to discover the Streisand Effect

Filed under: India,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The BBC made a film called India’s Daughter. The Indian government decided that the film made them look bad, so they banned the film in India and attempted to force the film out of worldwide circulation. In the internet age. It hasn’t been going well for the would-be censors so far:

The Indian government has remained defiant over its ban on a BBC documentary about the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student in Delhi despite a groundswell of acclaim for the film from prominent Indians who watched it online.

After India’s Daughter broadcast in the UK on Wednesday night, the hour-long film surfaced on YouTube, where the Guardian was able to view it on Thursday afternoon despite reports in Indian media that the government had ordered it be taken down.

India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, has threatened to take action against the BBC, though did not elaborate on what form this may take, save that “all options are open”.

Police in Delhi continue to pursue the investigation against filmmaker Leslee Udwin, who has left the country, and her Indian crew. Officers visited the homes and offices of Indian crew members on Thursday in a bid to collect the entire footage of the film.

Though online viewing figures for the documentary about Jyoti Singh’s death remained in the low thousands, there was much acclaim from influential literary and Bollywood figures who questioned the necessity of the government’s ban.

“It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen – it’s moving and makes you think,” said the novelist Chetan Bhagat. “It’s bone-chilling, yet it shakes you up – it’s a must-watch film.”

H/T to Perry de Havilland for the link.

March 5, 2015

QotD: Shalamar and the Khalsa

Filed under: History,India,Media,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Between the Sutlej and Lahore lie fifty of the hottest, flattest, scrubbiest miles on earth, and I supposed we’d cover them in a long day’s ride, but Sardul said we should lie overnight at a serai a few miles from the city: there was something he wanted me to see. So we did, and after supper he took me through a copse to the loveliest place I ever saw in India — there, all unexpected after the heat and dust of the plain, was a great garden, with little palaces and pavilions among the trees, all hung with coloured lanterns in the warm dusk: streams meandered among the lawns and flower-beds, the air was fragrant with night-blooms, soft music sounded from some hidden place, and everywhere couples were strolling hand in hand or deep in lovers’ talk under the boughs. The Chinese Summer Palace, where I walked years later, was altogether grander, I suppose, but there was a magic about that Indian garden that I can’t describe — you could call it perfect peace, with its gentle airs rustling the leaves and the lights winking in the twilight; it was the kind of spot where Scheherazade might have told her unending stories; even its name sounds like a caress: Shalamar.

But this wasn’t the sight that Sardul wanted me to see — that was something unimaginably different, and we viewed it next morning. We left the serai at dawn, but instead of riding towards Lahore, which was in full view in the distance, we went a couple of miles out of our way towards the great plain of Maian Mir where, Sardul assured me mysteriously, the true wonder of the Punjab would be shown to me; knowing the Oriental mind. I could guess it was something designed strike awe in the visiting foreigner — well, it did all of that. We heard it long before we saw it, the flat crash of artillery at first, and then a great confused rumble of sound which resolved itself into the squealing of elephants, the high bray of trumpets, the rhythm of drums and martial music and the thunder of a thousand hooves making the ground tremble beneath us. I knew what it was before we rode out of the trees and halted on a bund to view it in breathtaking panorama: the pride of the Punjab and the dread of peaceful India: the famous Khalsa.

Now, I’ve taken note of a few heathen armies in my time. The Heavenly Host of Tai’ping was bigger, the black tide of Cetewayo’s legions sweeping into Little Hand was surely more terrifying, and there’s a special place in my nightmares for that vast forest of tipis, five miles wide, that I looked down on from the bluffs over Little Bighorn but for pure military might I’ve seen nothing outside Europe (and damned little inside) to match that great disciplined array of men and beasts and metal on Maian Mir. As far as you could see among the endless lines of tents and waving standards, the broad maidan was alive with foot battalions at drill, horse regiments at field exercise, and guns at practice — and they were all uniformed and in perfect order, that was the shocking thing. Black, brown, and yellow armies in those days, you see. might be as brave as any, but they didn’t have centuries of drill and tactical movement drummed into em, not even the Zulus, or Ranavalona’s Hova guardsmen. That was the thing about the Khalsa: it was Aldershot in turbans. It was an army.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

March 2, 2015

Food naming oddities

Filed under: Cancon,India,Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren on the oddly named “Digby Chicken” and “Bombay Duck” along with a paean to the joys of food shopping in Parkdale:

Parkdale, which is to say, the inner core of the Greater Parkdale Area, in which the High Doganate is located, is a melting pot of innumerable overlapping ethnications. Among our most exotic immigrants are those from the far east: Nova Scotia, for instance, and Newfoundland. Shopping, at least for food in Parkdale, is a treat. We have every sort of specialist grocery, and in effect, groceries within groceries. One gets one’s Tibetan yak sausage, for instance, from a Serbian butcher whose store is cowboy-themed; ingredients for one’s Somali maraq from the Sinhalese grocery (via their Maldivian connexion); but the exhilarating, cardamom-infused gashaato instead via the Sikh Punjabis, as supplement to their Bengali sweets. Note, this culinary cross-dressing is the opposite of multiculturalism. Rather I would call it, “downmarket fusion.”

This being Lent, I try to avoid fish on Fridays. There’s enough of that for the other days, beans on rice will do, or perhaps sinfully on the last two Fridays, I indulged a craving for sweet potato in a Siamese red sauce. I woke this morning with a craving for salt, as well as protein, and as God is merciful, recalled to mind a little platter of Digby chicks in my fridge — obtained some days before from the Maritime ethnic section of a cheap local supermarket.

Digby Chicken has long been Nova Scotia’s answer to Bombay Duck. The latter, also salty, and so powerful in flavour and scent that it requires careful packaging, is actually a fish, the bummalo. Gentle reader may already be trying to construct an etymology from that, but there is no hope for him. The fish is actually harvested from the waters off Bombay. It was transported from there by rail, in the good old days of British Imperialism, aboard the Bombay Dhak (i.e. the Bombay Mail), which gave rise to such expressions as, e.g. “You smell like the Bombay Dhak.” Surely, that will be enough to go on.

February 18, 2015

QotD: The Honourable East India Company

Filed under: Business,India,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“John Company” — the Honourable East India Company, described by Macaulay as “the strangest of all governments … for the strangest of all empires”, was Britain’s presence in India, with its own armed forces, civil service, and judiciary, until after the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when it was replaced by direct rule of the Crown. Flashman’s definition of its boundaries in 1845 is roughly correct, and although at this period it controlled less than half of the sub-continent, his expression ‘lord of the land” is well chosen: the Company was easily the strongest force in Asia, and at its height had a revenue greater than Britain’s and governed almost one-fifth of the world’s population. (See The East India Company by Brian Gardner (1971).)

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, 1990.

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