CRC Conference Programme December 16th, 2017

Good evening,

This is the conference programme for next Saturday, December 16th: there will be some changes as new people will join and others cannot attend. The programme is Con-Pro Dec 17.

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Review of The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell

The Archer’s Tale

Bernard Cornwell

London: Harper Collins, 2005

ISBN: 10-0-06-093576-6

374 pp

In this enjoyable romp through the Hundred Years’ War, we follow the adventures of the sponymous Thomas of Hookton, who travels through France with the English army aiming to make a fortune at the expense of the unfortunate local people. Thomas has the additional goal of seeking revenge against the unknown French raiders who destroyed his home village and, also, there are some unfinished issues relating to his heritage – his father was a priest of unknown provenance and, as readers, we expect there will be gradually revealed through the course of his novel and, since the front cover presents this as the first book of the Grail Quest series, over the course of other books as well (I am going to guess it will be three altogether).

Along the way, Thomas has various adventures and the strumpet fate pushes him down and pulls him back up again. Cornwell is a veteran of the historical genre and readers may be familiar with others of his works (e.g. the Sharpe series and The Last Kingdom) which have found their way into being adapted for the screen. The characters are vivid and deployed deftly so that the villains appear when needed and the heroes have to suffer enough for us to bond with them. The language and style do not really compromise with the needs for contemporary readers to be able to understand the text without thinking much about it and there is nothing to suggest the depth of consciousness that the medieval mind might enjoy and which has been portrayed so brilliantly by Dorothy Dunnett, among others. However, as the concluding historical note observes, nearly all of the principal incidents described did in fact happen in pretty much the way that was described. These were, indeed, grim events and although the nitty-gritty of the rape and pillage is kept off the page, it is certainly there in the background.

The main theme of the book is the role of the archer, specifically the English archer – there are some Welsh archers (Pat, for example) but they have the grace to wait in the background. It seems to have been true that archers were a particularly dangerous force on the battlefield but, assuming we are not guilty of exaggerating their importance, why did other countries not seek to replicate them? Cornwell himself has no answer other than that it must have been a very difficult skill to acquire and to require very time-consuming practice and people from other countries were not up for it. There have been archery specialists in Southern Britain since Neolithic times and perhaps the yew wood was particularly helpful. Other places specialised in other forms of warfare and there are various geographic, cultural and social issues that interact with each other to produce specific forms of military practice. For example, in this book we have the well-known Genoese crossbowmen, while the French are of course busy with the flower of their chivalry. Meanwhile, I remember going to school every day past St. Mary’s Butts in Reading, at which men came to practice archery under the orders of King Edmund IV (who is featured in this book, although for some reason his vital Reading links are overlooked). It is one of the few things for which Reading is known, together with Queen Victoria’s enmity, the statue of the lion which would fall over in real life and Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment (now that the biscuit factory has closed down).

As mentioned previously, this is an enjoyable romp through history – we end up at the Battle of Crecy (spoiler alert, we English won) and there is plenty more of the story to come. There is also the Holy Grail to be found and, one suspects, some heresy and persecution to come. Fun.

Review of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen

London: Collins Classic, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-00-736860-0

XIV + 258 pp.

At the risk of suffering from the curse of Morris Zapp, I did not read Jane Austen while pursuing my undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature – it is necessary to choose which courses to take on the basis that one person cannot read everything and I preferred Old English, Medieval literature and so forth. I have tried to catch up with some of the things I missed over the years since but there are so many other books and, besides, I have to spend a fair amount of time reading things for work. Anyway, the point of this preamble is that Northanger Abbey was new to me and, one afternoon having popped I to Sanmin (sanmin.com.tw) I thought it was about time to change that situation and I am glad that I did.

The plot follows Catherine Morland, a young woman from a family at the lowest possible level of ‘quality’ and her adventures in exotic Bath and beyond. Her life appears to be a crushingly boring round of household chores and she has aimed to avoid the worst effects by allowing her mind to become filled with various notions. Her understanding of the world and the people who live in it is challenged after she gratefully accepts an invitation from the neighbouring Allen family to spend a fortnight in Bath, where people go to take the air or the cure or somesuch thing on an annual basis. She must then navigate the issues of what to wear, what to talk about with other people and, over and above all, how to get an introduction to someone else, almost anyone else. Without such an introduction, one must be passed over in silence even in the height of one of Bath’s notorious balls, so full of a violent press of people it seems like it might literally be dangerous.

Fortunately, such introductions are eventually secured and Catherine faces new challenges, including how to evaluate the intentions and impressions formed upon certain young men around whom she now orbits and is orbited. She finds on the one hand that opinions can differ (even in the case of profound issues such as preferences for novels and novelists) but that it is the nature of polite society that such differences might be managed without the need for unpleasantness. She is subsequently invited to spend time at the Tilney Estate, which is the eponymous Abbey and there, too, certain other of her notions are disabused, albeit that the essential and sturdy carapace of the emerging bourgeois social system must not be seriously threatened. Sinister events are shown to have perfectly respectable motivations and the need for heroic individual acts are, like Adam at the end of Paradise Lost, no longer required.

We have been living in the age of the veneration of Auntie Jane for some time now and her cultural footprint may now be found not just on the screen and the stage but also in the contemporary video game and the mash-up horror parody, among other places. In addition to the pleasure of reading her work, therefore, it is appropriate to note that she really was a very good writer. The critical eye most commonly focuses, of course, on the nature of the relationship within small households which may be considered in isolation, as if the rest of the world did not exist. However, although the proletariat does not raise its head, it does seem to be present, around the edges and the margins, keeping the whole thing going by virtue of slow accumulation and endless sacrifice. Her work needs no recommendation from me, of course but she may have one anyway.

Review of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger

Alastair Reynolds

New York, NY: Orbit, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-55556-2

425 pp.

The evidence of alien life and successful human attempts to transcend planetary geography are all around the people in this swashbuckling new novel by leading science fiction writer Alastair Reynolds but, alas, our ability to take advantage of these resources has been drastically diminished by the impact of entropic ageing. Like our understanding of the people of Dark Ages Britain, who looked upon the works of the departed Romans as the products of the Age of Giants, so too does humanity consider alien artifacts with a wild surmise. Those brave pirates who are able to penetrate the artifacts (which act according to predictable although gnomic rhythms) and can bring back swag from the inside without meeting catastrophic failures might be able to live very well on the proceedings for years to come. Yet the proceeds will quickly be watered down if the crew size is too large and so the pirate captains have an incentive to minimise crew numbers by ensuring that those who are enlisted re appropriately skilled for their main function and, also, preferably with other strings to their bows. Some skills may be obtained through hard work and aptitude but others are arcane and difficult to find. Principal among these skills is bone reading. For some reason, aliens have left behind a series of extra-solar system skulls from which, given the right equipment and conditions, may be coaxed communications from across space. A good bone reader would be capable, therefore, of providing a significant competitive advantage for their captains and that leads to benefits all round.

Enter, then, our two heroines, Adrana and Fura Ness, who hail from a solid bourgeois background which they are obliged to leave and seek their fortunes among the stars. As natural bone readers, they are able to obtain employment and lodging with Captain Rockamore and his crew, where prospects seem initially bright. Alas, not all who dwell in space are well-intentioned and the Monetta’s Mourn becomes victim of a space-jacking and forced to suffer the none-too-tender ministrations of notorious pirate Bosa Sennen. This sets the course for the rest of the book and we await the eponymous ship to arrive on the scene and set things aright.

I have to admit that when I first heard of this book, my heart sank slightly. I am a fan of Reynolds and I have seen what can happen when otherwise sensible writers (e.g. China Mieville and Steven Erikson) dip into parody and would-be satire. However, Revenger does not suffer from these kinds of problems. The universe created is detailed and vivacious and the characters must take the consequences of their actions seriously. There is a pirate-like energy and roister to the action but this does not lead to childishness or superficiality. The characters provoke an emotional response and clearly change and mature as the result of their experiences. The conclusion of the novel suggests that a sequel (and perhaps more) would be possible and, if that is the case, I would be happy to read that too.

Regulating the Governance of Special Economic Zones in the Greater Mekong Subregion

 

I am back from the International Research Symposium on Public Management in Asia: Innovation and Transformation, which was held at the Education University of Hong Kong. My paper was “Regulating the Governance of Special Economic Zones in the Greater Mekong Subregion.”

Abstract:

 

The countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) (i.e. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) have all adopted the special economic zone (SEZ) as a means of facilitating their trajectory through the Factory Asia paradigm of import-substituting, export-oriented intensive manufacturing based on low labour cost competitiveness. The SEZs supplement and in some cases supercede the previously built places of development which are industrial estates and industrial parks of various sorts. They offer the benefit of having demonstrated success (as the hundreds of millions of Chinese people raised out of poverty testifies) with a political system that does not require democracy or political pluralism. This is also not required by the international treaties that are in place in ASEAN and in its relationships with trade partners. In terms of governance, each country has introduced new legislation to regulate SEZs and, thereby, encourage further inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the benefits it is believed that will bring. The range of legislation includes prime ministerial decrees and comprehensive laws aiming to provide all-encompassing treatment of activities. By definition, these regulations apply to specific pieces of territory and not to the remainder of the country. They may also be limited in time, as in Vietnam, where the use of SEZs as a policy experiment is most clearly evident. However, it is not clear that international best practice has been achieved in SEZ governance because each country feels the need to adopt an individual approach to it and each has designed SEZ policy for its own developmental and political goals. These goals range from the need to maintaining good relationships with China in the case of Kyaukphu SEZ in Myanmar to the security issue of migrant workers in Thailand’s proposed border SEZs to the fostering of cross-border activities in the Mohan-Boten zone. This paper examines the different legal frameworks that have been used to regulate SEZs in the GMS and seek to identify which aspects are more useful in attracting FDI and in delivering developmental goals more generally. The paper then goes on to explore the extent to which these regulations may be brought into national usage, which is based on international comparisons.

Keywords: development, governance, Greater Mekong Subregion, policy, special economic zones

Nation-Building in Myanmar: The Role of Drug Eradication Schemes

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Announcing: Lomethong, Jen and John Walsh, “Nation-Building in Myanmar: The Role of Drug Eradication Schemes,” The Myanmar Journal, Vol.4, No.2 (2017), pp.31-40, available at: http://www.komyra.com/bbs/board.php?bo_table=articles&wr_id=74.

Abstract:

ABSTRACT : Production of opium has been problematic in Myanmar for many
centuries, particularly in the contemporary era where there has been a
shortage of alternative suitable cash crops for subsistence farmers struggling
to face the challenges of globalization. Various drug eradication programmes
have been tried in the country, often in conjunction with international
partners but these have been of limited success because the military
government was unwilling to allow access to many parts of the country to
observers and, indeed, some parts of the country were not available even to
the military government. In addition, local warlords had patronage networks
which extended into government circles and caused divided loyalties among
at least some of those people charged with eradication. This paper explores
the existence and performance of drug eradication schemes in contemporary
Myanmar and then argues that none is likely to be successful until steps are
taken to raise confidence in peace and stability among all important
stakeholders. This, in turn, can only be achieved with nation-building
initiatives. It is recognised that the current political settlement is fragile and it
is not impossible that democracy will be lost again. The example of the
Rohingya refugees and the recent outbreaks of ethnic violence in urban
Myanmar show the limits of state institutions and technical capacity in this
regard.
Key words : drug eradication, Myanmar, nation-building, state capacity

Myanmar’s Mothers at a Time of Structural Change

Announcing:

Win, Sandi and John Walsh, “Myanmar’s Mothers at a Time of Structural Change,” The Myanmar Journal, Vol.4, No.2 (2017), pp.13-30, available at: http://www.komyra.com/bbs/board.php?bo_table=articles&wr_id=73.

Abstract:

ABSTRACT : The intersectionalities of Myanmar’s patriarchic system have
represented significant challenges to the country’s women, particularly its
mothers. The confluence of class, ethnicity and patronage networks contains within itself the numerous barriers to women working outside the house, particularly after marriage. This manifests itself is social mores as well as practical issues relating to the ability to balance child care with outside activities. This situation is now changing because of the relative opening of the state to democracy and the forces of globalization. In Mandalay, capital of the Northern Division of the country and centre of agricultural production, globalization is represented by the physical infrastructure of the road linking the city to Thailand, India and China, the dry dock and special economic zone, the spread of capitalism to more sectors of society and the opportunities to consume international products through newly-opened retail spaces such as in Ocean Plaza, as well as the access to information from mobile internet access cross-border television shows. These changes are affecting the decisions women can make about their lives and the expectations placed upon them to be not just wives, mothers and daughters but, also, modern consumers and producers in a developed capitalist society. This paper reports on qualitative research conducted with a diverse range of mothers in Mandalay through in-depth personal interviews. A semi-structured research instrument is used to encourage the respondents to discuss issues related to work-life balance, aspirations, life chances and relationships with other people, including family members, institutions and the market. The findings are presented within a framework that combine practical, cognitive and spiritual elements.
Key words : gender, modernity, mothers, Myanmar, work-life balance