Easter Island reconsidered

From LongNow.Org:

In the most isolated place on Earth a tiny society built world-class monuments. Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is 1,000 miles from the nearest Pacific island, 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. It is just six by ten miles in size, with no running streams, terrible soil, occasional droughts, and a relatively barren ocean. Yet there are 900 of the famous statues (moai), weighing up to 75 tons and 40 feet high. Four hundred of them were moved many miles from where they were quarried to massive platforms along the shores.

Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began their archeological work on Easter Island in 2001 expecting to do no more than add details to the standard morality tale of the collapse of the island’s ecology and society—Polynesians discovered Rapa Nui around 400-800AD and soon overpopulated the place (30,000 people on an island the size of San Francisco); competing elites cut down the last trees to move hundreds of enormous statues; after excesses of “moai madness” the elites descend into warfare and cannibalism, and the ecology collapses; Europeans show up in 1722. The obvious lesson is that Easter Island, “the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself“ (Jared Diamond), is a warning of what could happen to Earth unless we learn to live with limits.

A completely different story emerged from Hunt and Lipo’s archaeology. Polynesians first arrived as late as 1200AD. There are no signs of violence—none of the fortifications common on other Pacific islands, no weapons, no traumatized skeletons. The palm trees that originally covered the island succumbed mainly to rats that arrived with the Polynesians and ate all the nuts. The natives burned what remained to enrich the poor soil and then engineered the whole island with small rocks (“lithic mulch”) to grow taro and sweet potatoes. The population stabilized around 4,000 and kept itself in balance with its resources for 500 years until it was totally destroyed in the 18th century by European diseases and enslavement. (It wasn’t Collapse; it was Guns, Germs, and Steel.)

What was up with the statues? How were they moved? Did they have a role in the sustainable balance the islanders achieved? Hunt and Lipo closely studied the statues found along the moai roads from the quarry. They had D-shaped beveled bottoms (unlike the flat bottoms of the platform statues) angled 14 ° forward. The ones on down slopes had fallen on their face; on up slopes they were on their back. The archeologists concluded they must have been moved upright—”walked,” just as Rapa Nuians long had said. No tree logs were required. Standard Polynesian skill with ropes would suffice.

“Nova” and National Geographic insisted on a demonstration, so a 5-ton, 10-foot-high “starter moai” replica was made and shipped to Hawaii. After some fumbling around, 18 unskilled people secured three ropes around the top of the statue—one to each side for rocking the statue, one in the rear to keep it leaning forward without falling. “Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho!” they cry in the video, the statue rocks, dancing lightly forward, and the audience at Cowell Theater erupts with applause. Progress was fast, even hard to stop—100 yards in 40 minutes. A family could move one.

Stone statues to ancestors are common throughout Polynesia, but the enormous, numerous moai of Easter Island are unique in the world. Were they part of the peaceful population control and conservative agriculture regime that helped the society “optimize long-term stability over immediate returns” in a nearly impossible place to live?

During the Q & A, Hunt and Lipo were asked how their new theory of Easter Island history was playing on the island itself. Shame at being the self-destructive dopes of history has been replaced by pride, they said. Moai races are being planned. Polynesians were the space explorers of the Pacific. They completed discovering every island in the huge ocean by the end of the 13th century, colonized the ones they could, and then stopped.

Easter Island is not Earth. It is Mars.

On the Value of Internet Properties

The dotcom boom of the late 90s was often referred to as the internet land rush – the thinking being that as with land, there was a limited amount of space and as with early market movers in traditional industries (governed largely by control of physical distribution channels) the early settlers would be able to build strongly defended market positions.

This thinking continues today, despite a long list of dotcoms that were said at some point to be “taking over the world” which are now, only a few years later, seen as relics. Wasn’t Friendster supposed to “own” the social networking market (until Facebook)? Wasn’t Geocities supposed to own the personal webpage market (until myspace)? Wasn’t Yahoo supposed to own search (until Google)? Etc.

The pattern seems to be an ever increasing rate of production new, more specialized forms of tools and communication. For example, flickr is a social network of photography, youtube is a social network of video, lookbook.nu is a social network of fashion and goodreads.com is social network of avid readers. Will some Facebook app replace these? It seems more likely to me that we will instead see these networks diverging into ever more specialized interests.

And as the rate of divergence increases, the ability to control the market for any (wide) amount of time plummets. Eventually, the model of large investments to take market share reaping large profits in the long run dies, as there will be no long run for large market shares.

from “dekorte.com”:http://dekorte.com/blog/blog.cgi?do=item&id=4057

The Mythology Of The ‘Moral’ America

* Covertly overthrew President Salvador Allende in Chile and replacing him with Augusto Pinochet who would kill and torture over 100,000 people
* Currently providing over $3 billion a year in military aid to Israel while it systemically cleanses greater Palestine of non-Jews
* Currently providing over $3 billion a year to Pakistan and Egypt, despite wide-spread human rights abuses and lack of democratic rights
* Spearheaded efforts to impose a UN Blockade to Iraq, leading to an estimated 200,000 deaths in the late 1990’s
* Currently providing over $1 billion a year to Saudi Arabia, including $3 million dollars of electro-shock devices used to torture inmates and political prisoners
* Funded and headquartered in Georgia the School of the Americas Assassins (currently named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), which trained and armed ‘anti-Communist’ fighters in Latin America. These have included dictators and gross human rights abusers such as Bolivia’s Hugo Banzer and Panama’s Manuel Noriega.
* Overthrew the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953 and replaced it with the dictatorship of the pro-Western Shah
* Funded the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, including Osama Bin Laden, to fight the Soviets in the early 1980s
* Provided Saddam Hussein with the chemical weapons he would use to kill over 100,000 Kurds
* And that’s just a brief list, not including America’s involvement in Vietnam, the bombing of civilians in Cambodia and subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge, the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, or the funding and arming of Contra death squads in Nicaragua.

“Link”:http://www.prosebeforehos.com/international-relations/04/29/the-mythology-of-the-moral-america/?polred via “dekorte.com”:dekorte.com

Thơ Ông Trinh

Bài thơ của em ông Nội tôi nhắc nhở con cháu trước khi xa nhà.

bq. Bố nhắc con khi xa nhà
Con ra đi phải chăm chỉ học hành
Nhớ gia quyến nhà ta mà cố gắng
Đời cha con đã nhiều điều cay đắng
Từ tuổi thơ ông bà Nội qua đời
Bao cực khổ của quãng đời đi ở
Nhờ cách mạng vùng lên tháo gỡ
Bao xích xiềng nô lệ đã qua
Đời cha con khói lửa lại xông pha
Đuổi Nhật đánh Tây nước nhà no ấm
Trong quãng đời lòng con phải thấm
Bao nghĩa tình đồng đội đã khuất xa
Giành cho con một thế giới bao la
Con phải nhớ lời ông bà ta dạy
Muốn trí lớn phải có công rèn luyện
Muốn vinh quang phải khiêm tốn học hành
Muốn hạnh phúc phải đấu tranh xây dựng
Được phần chung sẽ có cả phần mình.

Reading List: Vietnam A History

“Vietnam: A History”:http://www.amazon.com/Vietnam-History-Stanley-Karnow/dp/0140265473 by Stanley Karnow.

This is a second book about the Vietnam War I have read from American journalists. Compared with the “Bright Shining Lie”:http://www.amazon.com/Bright-Shining-Lie-America-Vietnam/dp/0679724141 by Neil Sheehan, this book covered more about the internal politics among American leaders; the book is also more journalistic. Sheehan’s book has a fictional feel and covers much more in details the actions in ground.

Karnow gave a very good summary of the French colony period. He started from the very early efforts introducing Christianity into the country, and under that cover the French and foreign merchants sponsored the priests conducting activities undermining the Vietnamese monarchy.  One point Karnow seems to emphasized from this part, IMHO, is the the development of the Vietnamese nationalism. Vietnam as the independent country had a very long history; it was formed as early as the England was formed. Karnow and many other authors pointed out that both the French and the Americans underestimated this point and thought they could impose on the populace client governments.

While this book is a good source to understand the war, it is a book written by American journalist. By that, I mean it is nowhere near non-bias. The bias nature happens at many levels. For example, the author literally said twice in the book that Vietnam war (or American war as the Vietnamese call it) was a civil war in which Americans tried to support the democratic government in the South against the communist force from the North. However, the whole book (of course written by the same author) showed exactly the opposite. It was the war created by the American government, initiated right after the WWII when they funded the French effort to recapture the colony. The South Vietnam government was built mostly through CIA activities. All the details are well presented in the book. A lot people countered this point by saying that the North Vietnam government was a client state of Russia and China. Though the North was heavily influenced by Russia and China because they depended on them for the supplies, but they are nowhere near a client state. During the French war, Viet Minh was the only force has mass political support and the strength to fight the French. Russia and China did not and could not dictate who would be the next president of the North Vietnam.

The author was bias in the way he described actions of both sides. While talking about the crimes committed by Americans during the war, Karnow tended to describe them at abstract levels. For example, he described very little about the My Lai massacre, the bombing of the South Vietnam, the bombing of the North Vietnam, the bombing of Cambodia and Laos. He did mentioned in his book the event which B52 wiped out the whole Kham Thien street in Hanoi, however it was described as a mistake a collateral damage. In contrast, he went into details about the Hue massacre, told a lot of personal stories of several victims.

As human we cannot completely be non-bias, however as a professional journalist, I supposed Karnow should have tried to be more neutral. Obviously, he did not manage to do so in this book, or maybe he really think that was the way things went. Whatever the reason, be aware of this mental model bias when reading any political works.

I was surprised at the number of grammar errors in the book. The Vietnamese names are comprised of seperate words, so “Hai Phong” is the name of the city in the North. The Western authors usually wrote as Haiphong which is not considered a correct way In Vietnamese. Regardless of which way you want to use, you should use it consistently. Karnow sometimes write Hai Phong, sometimes Haiphong. And many times, he just got names wrongly. For example, on page 200, a town called Lao Cai was written as Laokay.

Having said all these, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the war. Just be aware of the limitations.

Promised Land?

Three-part series examining the origins, violent creation, and modern-day reality of the state of Israel, told through the stories of individual Israelis.

“Link”:http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/general/2008/05/2008615173216317.html via Al Jazeera

Note: Look like a good series.

Reading List:Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm

Available in English at Amazon as “Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram”:http://www.amazon.com/Last-Night-Dreamed-Peace-Diary/dp/0307347389/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217815904&sr=1-1

Một người bạn thân của tôi viết:

Các bạn yêu quý, cho phép tôi được chia sẻ những cảm xúc của mình với các bạn về nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm – Sulico.

Tôi đã từng rất tự hào khi nói với một chị nhà văn người Mỹ rằng “my father, he was a soldier”, đã rất xúc động khi xem những thước phim tài liệu về chiến tranh Việt Nam, nhưng quả thực chưa bao giờ tôi xúc động như vậy, sau khi đọc nhật ký của chị Đặng Thị Thùy Trâm. Không mượt mà đằm thắm như Nguyễn Văn Thạc, nhưng những gì tôi đã cảm nhận được về chị, từ sự cảm phục sâu sắc tâm hồn chị, mà với tôi – cho dù trước đây đã từng cho rằng – ngôn ngữ C có thể diễn tả mọi sắc thái cảm xúc, :D, cũng không thể diễn tả hết, đã tiếp thêm sức mạnh cho tôi khi tôi chớm bắt đầu lo lắng và mất dần niềm tin của tuổi trẻ.

Tôi đã đọc, ngập ngừng, nửa muốn đọc tiếp, nửa muốn dừng lại, vì khốc liệt quá, mỗi một dòng là một sự hi sinh, nếu cứ thế này thì chết hết à, :D, nhưng sau mỗi mất mát đó, tôi lại thấy chị trưởng thành lên, thế là tôi lại đọc tiếp, và không muốn nó kết thúc, vì tôi biết, khi nhật ký kết thúc, cũng là lúc chị hi sinh. Các bạn ạ, chị hi sinh đấy và nhật ký đang viết dở đấy, nhưng lòng thương tiếc của tôi chẳng thể nào sánh bằng sự cảm phục cách chị đã sống và cách chị đã ngã xuống, như một huyền thoại.

Các bạn yêu quý, tôi gửi đến các bạn những dòng này không phải muốn tuyên truyền kêu gọi các bạn hãy noi gương chị Trâm, :D, mà chỉ đơn giản là muốn chia sẻ với các bạn, một niềm tự hào mà tôi vốn có, rằng tôi là người Việt Nam, tôi cũng trẻ, và tôi cảm phục chị. Tôi xin trích dẫn vài dòng mà Fred – người đã giữ cuốn nhật ký suốt 35 năm – đã viết cho mẹ chị Trâm: “Con gái bà đã một mình chiến đấu với 120 lính Mỹ để bảo vệ các bạn mình. Ở bất cứ đất nước nào trên thế giới điều đó đều được gọi là ANH HÙNG và những người anh hùng đều được tất cả mọi người tôn kính, dù người đó là đàn ông hay đàn bà. Thế giới phải được biết về sự dũng cảm của con gái bà và mãi mãi học hỏi được điều gì đó từ tình yêu và những suy nghĩ của chị.”

Nếu các bạn quan tâm mà không có điều kiện mua sách, thì hãy vào trang web báo tuổi trẻ, http://www.tuoitre.com.vn, mục phóng sự – ký sự, đang đăng tải cuốn “Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm”

Chúc các bạn ngày nghỉ cuối tuần vui vẻ!


Tuấn Cận,