November 17th, 2010


[OBSCURA] "Cthulhu Mythos, As Imagined By Kids"

Daniel Milano did good.

The group consists of about 16 kids ranging from 8-18 years of age and a wide range of experience and comfort with expression and some of the various mediums of visual arts. Last time, not knowing the kids or their abilities I tried something kinda weird – I played a range of songs (jazz, r&B, metal…) and had the kids interpret the sounds and lyrics into pictures. I laid out a bunch of different art supplies (acrylic paint, watercolor pencils, crayons, pastel, charcoal) and some different types and colors of paper and just let them use whatever they wanted. It ended up working out very well and the kids and I had a lot of fun.

This time I wanted to try something more structured so I pitched the idea to them that since it was getting on to Halloween how ’bout drawing some monsters? And not just any monsters but creatures from the writing of H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos. Now, only two of the kids (the older ones) had any knowledge of who Lovecraft was or had read some of his stories. So, I was able to introduce the kids to these creatures pretty much fresh with no previous imagining of what these monsters look like.

I put on some creepy Lovecraft inspired music and over the course of about and hour I told them synopsis versions of three of Lovecraft’s tales (The Shadow Out of Time, At the Mountains of Madness, The Call of Cthulhu) getting quickly through the set up and on to the descriptions of the monsters.

I hoped, and was glad to see, it work out that with general descriptions of the shapes of these monsters the kids could come up with some really wonderful interpretations adding their own imaginings to the descriptions and creating a fantastic body of eldritch artwork.

[BRIEF NOTE] Portugal between Eurozone and Lusosphere?

Huh. Inter Press Service's Mario do Queiroz came up with another interesting story.

With the announcement that his country is ready to buy Portuguese debt, the president of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, set a precedent in international economic relations that was universally praised in political and financial circles in this southern European country.

The president of one of the poorest countries on the planet, whose per capita income of 600 dollars ranks it 130th in the world, offered a hand to its former colonial power to help it weather the financial crisis.

"I don't see difficulties for East Timor, in terms of buying Portuguese debt," Ramos-Horta said Sunday on a visit to the former Portuguese enclave of Macao in China, where he announced that the government of Prime Minister José Alexandre Xanana Gusmão had decided to diversify investments by East Timor's petroleum fund.

The oil fund was established by the government in 2005 to receive and distribute billions of dollars in tax revenue from emerging oil and gas projects in the Timor Sea, with the aim of ensuring the proper distribution of the earnings.

The president added that other investments could be made in highly successful public or quasi-governmental enterprises that guarantee high returns, such as companies in telecoms or renewable energy, an area in which Portugal is a world leader.

On Monday, State Budget Secretary Emanuel dos Santos described Ramos-Horta's announcement as "a gesture of friendship."

According to initial projections, East Timor's investment in Portugal, slated for next year, could total one billion dollars.

However, the Diario Económico newspaper of Lisbon put the amount at 700 million dollars, because the East Timor oil fund is worth around seven billion dollars and by law, 90 percent of the assets must be invested in U.S. Treasury bonds.

The article goes on to describe new Brazilian and Angolan investment projects in Portugal, a phenomenon also described in an earlier IPS article.

The idea that Portugal may receive substantial amounts of aid-cum-investment from its colonies--all of which have GDP per capitas well below the Portuguese average, recent growth notwithstanding, only one of which has a GDP larger than Portugal's (although admittedly Brazil's a huge exception to this)--is an interesting inversion of the standard postcolonial paradigm. It says much about the current weakness of Portugal, and at least as much about the strength of Portugal's more fortunate ex-colonies. It also suggests that, in one critical way, Portugal's integration with the European Union and the Eurozone isn't going to be as complete as (say) that of Greece or many other peripheral Eurozone countries, simply because Portugal is a periphery of the Lusophone world in addition to the Eurozone. Competition's never a bad thing, at least.

[LINK] "Provinces forging relations with China out of the spotlight"

The Globe and Mail's Adam Radwanski describes an emergent class of foreign policy initiatives at the sub-national level in Canada, in this case, individual provinces making direct connections with China and letting Ottawa deal with controversial issues.

“I represent a province that is three things to China,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty recently proclaimed, fresh off a plane in Shanghai. “A partner, a friend and a member of the family.”

It was the sort of line that might make some Canadians cringe – not least a few in Stephen Harper’s federal government, which came to office with noticeable antipathy toward the People’s Republic. Even Jean Chrétien, among the most China-friendly Western leaders when he was prime minister, probably wouldn’t have thought it a good idea to use the word “family” while paying one of his visits.

But for Mr. McGuinty, it wasn’t a big deal. He travelled to China unencumbered by perceived responsibilities when it comes to human rights, even as the controversy over jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo made international headlines. “That’s not really what I’m there for,” he said in an interview. “We have a national government that can speak to those issues. What I can do is move in and speak specifically to trade issues, keeping things on a positive footing.”

[. . . A]s national leaders, Mr. Harper and his senior ministers can’t escape questions about Tibet, or jailed dissidents, or the seemingly drier (but highly sensitive) matter of whether China’s currency should be allowed to float on the global market. The potential to cause offence is stratospheric, and caution is required in every communication.

Provincial politicians – whether it’s Mr. McGuinty or the three westernmost premiers, who visited ensemble earlier this year – don’t have that problem.

If invited into one of the “thornier issues,” Mr. McGuinty said in the interview, “I will do my very best to go around it.”

On his recent trip, Mr. McGuinty was able to bypass Beijing, where there’s the most potential for trouble. Through stops in Shanghai and Nanjing, alongside provincial governors at formal luncheons or teachers and administrators at a middle school, he was never forced off script.

That he had it relatively easy was impossible to miss at what had to be one of the strangest speaking engagements of Mr. McGuinty’s career, at an “executive leadership academy” which appears to be a sort of finishing school for up-and-coming Communist Party officials. At a question-and-answer session at which students were encouraged to ask whatever they wanted, a federal minister would have been pressed on Canada’s view of how China conducts its internal affairs. But the closest Mr. McGuinty came was when he was asked to speculate about the depreciation of the yuan. True to his promise to get around such things, he explained that if he were to offer “any dramatic public commentary here,” he would get in “serious trouble” back home.

[LINK] Two links on Indonesia as a BRIC

  • The Jakarta Post's noted a visiting professor from Columbia University who argued that in part respects Indonesia is already at BRIC levels, but that it needs to increase its investments in infrastructure and especially human capital markedly.

  • Indonesia’s competitiveness is ahead of that of Brazil, Russia and India, members of the “BRIC” emerging markets that are expected to lead the global economy by 2050, a Columbia University professor says.

    Among the four BRIC countries, Indonesia’s only competitor would be China, Prof. Xavier Sala-i-Martin said on Tuesday.

    “Indonesia is currently at 44th position in the global competitiveness index, ahead of Brazil [58th], Russia [63rd] and India [51st].

    “If there’s a competitor for Indonesia in terms of competitiveness, then it will be China, which ranked 27th,” Martin told hundreds of businesspeople attending an economic forum arranged by Bank Mandiri at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Mega Kuningan, Jakarta.

    Martin, who is among the founders of the global competitiveness report that measures current and medium-term levels of economic prosperity, said that to catch up with China and other leading economies, Indonesian policymakers needed to adopt a longer-term perspective, and mainly focus on two points: education and infrastructure.

    [. . .]

    Indonesia has got to invest in its people, said Martin, adding that it was not only about how much the country was spending on education, but rather how it teaches its people.

  • Meanwhile, at the Jakarta Globe, Wim Tangkilisan is proud of Indonesia's success--especially relative to many of the BRIC countries--but doesn't think that pursuing membership in BRIC, or BRICI, or CIBI, or whatever acronym of notable emerging acronyms you might think of matters to Indonesians.

  • BRIC and brickbats ­­— those are what President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono got for his efforts after the first year of his second term as chief executive.

    BRIC refers to the rising status of Indonesia as an emerging economy in the same league as Brazil, Russia, India and China, the countries for which the acronym stands.

    The brickbats are what his critics said and a few hundred protesters shouted in the streets of Jakarta and several other cities on the administration’s anniversary.

    They asserted that the government is failing in the fight against graft, failing to resolve cases of human rights violations, failing to protect minority groups like the Ahmadiyah from persecution, failing to protect Indonesian overseas workers from abuses and failing to stand up against Malaysia in disputes on various issues including territorial boundaries and cultural legacies.

    The critics are, of course, entitled to their opinions. This is, after all, the world’s third-largest democracy.

    What is poignant about those brickbats, however, is that most of them refer to real problems the government is addressing.

    [. . .]

    In August, Indonesia’s equity index skyrocketed by 22 percent, while that of Turkey made a strong 13 percent rise.

    Compare that to the equity indices in Brazil, Russia, India and China, which lost 0.6 percent during the same period.

    [H&F] "Kaarlo Kurko and ataman Bulak's soldiers"

    Jussi has another Kaarlo Kurko post up at History and Futility, this one exploring how, in Warsaw during the peace negotiations at the end of the Polish-Soviet war, there was all kinds of tumult including a Finnic-Belarusian connection.

    Some of the private warlords, regardless of their motives, were also genuine men of action who had distinguished themselves on the battlefield over the years, gaining substantial popularity among their men. One such figure – portrayed here on the right – was the enigmatic and ambitious ataman Stanislau Nikadzimavich Bulak-Balakhovich, a Byelorussian-Polish agronomist and a former Tsarist cavalry captain, who had literally fought his way through the Bolshevik lines to Poland, and eventually set up a recruitment agency at Hotel Savoy. After his first weeks in Warsaw, Kurko met two other Finns, who had already enlisted to Bulak’s newly-arrived forces. Without thinking the matter too much, Kurko followed the example of his countrymen and also joined Bulak’s operational group – a “division”, as it was generously called at the time – which was being organized in Brześć. The 20-year old Finnish volunteer was immediately accepted as an ensign to a cavalry reconnaissance company.

    The exact number of Finnish volunteers who served in Bulak’s division is unknown. Kurko claims that as many as eighty Finns, thirteen of whom were officers, joined the division in the spring of 1920. The division included a special Finnish company commanded by major Stenberg and lieutenant Hagman; most of the men in the company were veterans of the Finnish Civil War, the Estonian War of Independence and other campaigns of the revolutionary years. Sulo Nykänen, who was an Ingrian Finn, served as the chief of Bulak’s espionage section. Before his association with the Poles and the Byelorussian nationalists, ataman Bulak had served with general Yudenich’s White Russian forces in Estonia, and had apparently developed a high opinion of Finnish soldiers. The Finns were, of course, not the only foreign soldiers in Bulak’s forces; a large number of German soldiers also served in the division.

    [ISL] "The Disablement of the Netherlands Antilles: Does anything really change?"

    As a side project, Geocurrents blog (and professor) Martin Lewis has set up a community blog for his students. One post I'm fond of relates to the disarticulation of the Netherlands Antilles into a collection of autonomous islands. What happened, and what will this mean for this uniquely self-governing territory (territories, now)?

    Before October 10, the Netherlands Antilles consisted of five islands divided into two regions, the Lesser Antilles and the Leeward Antilles. The Dutch zone in the Lesser Antilles was comprised of Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire, while in the Leeward Antilles it encompassed the islands of Sint Eustatius and Saba, as well as half of the island of St. Martin (Sint Maarten). Aruba, a notable hotspot for European and American vacationers, began to distance itself from the rest of the Dutch Antilles in the 1970s, thus creating the first wave of political angst amongst the islands. In the late 1900s, Aruba emerged as a tourist haven. As a result it was deemed the “Vegas” of the Caribbean and had the economic clout to push for more autonomy from the Dutch. In 1986, Aruba separated from the Netherlands Antilles to become a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. With Aruba no longer a member, Curacao assumed the central position within the Dutch Antilles.

    For some time, the Netherland Antilles has had the ability to determine its own political organization and membership. Reorganization, however, has not been easy; as both the Dutch government as well as individual islands within the federation have impeded the process. In the early 1990s, the people of Curacao expressed a wish for separation from the Netherland Antilles, and for more autonomy from the Dutch. With its large population and geographical centrality, Curacao had emerged as the economic hub among the five islands. In 1993-1994, The Netherlands Antilles held referendums on the status of the union, but they showed high levels of disagreement among the peoples of the islands. The majority of Curacao’s voters supported restructuring the Dutch Antilles, while those on Sint Maarten voted to remain part of the Dutch Antilles.

    Although the residents of Saba, Bonaire, and Sint Eustatius found the idea of full independence appealing, they worried that it would be economically and even socially detrimental. Unfortunately, the potential benefits of independence are often undercut by economic mismanagement. Continuing political ties to the colonizing power can also bring their own benefits, whether through subsidies or immigration preferences. As a result, the residents of the former Dutch colonial zone in the Caribbean have generally sought autonomy as constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, rather than full sovereignty.

    The current state of autonomy for the Dutch Caribbean established in October was the result of a 10-year negotiation process. Due to the complexity of the process, several referendums had to be held. In 2008, the Dutch Prime Minster met with representatives from each island to create a preliminary design. The initial plan was to grant Curacao and Sint Maarten autonomy, and make Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius “special municipalities” with in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. During this period, the Dutch government desperately tried to stop the break-up of the Netherlands Antilles. The people of Curacao, however, were determined to proceed, and on August 27th, 2010, they held an election for the first parliament of the new, semi-independent country of Curacao. Gerrit Schotte, who had been the third largest receiver of votes in the final Parliament of Netherlands Antilles, won the seat of Prime Minister. Shotte ran on a campaign called the Mocementu Futuro Korsou, which emphasized development for the people and a healthy and state security.

    Go, read.