Sounding Sociology and Food on July 8 2011

I’ve regularly been bowled over and had socks knocked off by the wonderful wonderful sociological blog “Understanding Society.” Really, you should all subscribe to this blog, which makes complex, and current, sociology comprehensible, while explaining its relevance (I also like “Philosophy Bros,” but that’s a different matter).  Here are some of the posts which have entranced me most recently:

Dude, was “Marx an analytical sociologist?” 1. Microfoundations 2. Rational Individual Choices 3. Causal Explanations.  Could be.

Dissecting the social,” more on current analytical sociology.

Thank gods there are also “Alternatives to analytical sociology.”

As for Food Stuff, there are new confirmations of what we’ve known for a long time, all of which have come to me via the excellent blog “Ancient Foods” and the “Agrobiodiversity Weblog.”

There’s a fascinating note that the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s relied on manipulation of the same gene that ancient domesticating farmers manipulated over 10,000 years ago.  “Ancient Farmers Started the First Green Revolution.”

And of course, agriculture played havoc with our population’s overall health, something we’ve known for a very long time (though few enough of us seem to remember it, day to day). in the Science Daily, (via Ancient Foods), “Dawn of Agriculture took Toll on Health,” including this opening paragraph:

When populations around the globe started turning to agriculture around 10,000 years ago, regardless of their locations and type of crops, a similar trend occurred: The height and health of the people declined.

For you rice fanatics, there’s increasing evidence that rice seems to have had a single origin point of domestication (the Neolithic Yangtze River Valley), and not separate points of domestication.  Southeast Asian patriots may moan about this (there is another theory which argues for a local domestication), but I’m thrilled to know more. Check out the Rice Domestication Roundup at agrobiodiversity weblog.


Sounding Cambodia on July 8th 2011

Howdy, readers.  I’ve been in the great Cascade Mountains of Washington State, and far from the internet.  But I’m back now, working on my manuscript (yes, really), and trying to keep households and students from imploding (sort of).  While I was gone, a lot of important things happened.  Here are some of them!

Over at Slate magazine, Ken Silverstein does an excellent job skewering the self-serving culture of the NGO elites who rule Cambodian in tandem (and not a friendly one) with the CPP.  It won’t be news to anyone who’s ever lived in the ‘Bodge, but it’s a good refresher.  Go read.

Meanwhile, the Closing Order from the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, aka the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) has been released, and the media are starting to talk about Brother Number Two, Nuon Chea, again. Here’s an article in the Guardian from the  redoubtable Thet Sambath, the Cambodian journalist responsible for the most important film on the Khmer Rouge made, Enemies of the People.  Enemies of the People is available on DVD now – buy it, watch it. Learn.  As a different article said, it’s like watching a documentary on the Nazi Genocides narrated by the bad guys.

Also, there was a fascinating, important election in Thailand, which could have enormous implications (hopefully and likely positive ones) for Cambodia.  We’ll see, but the upshot is that Thailand just elected its first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the army has indicated that it will respect the results.

Also, important economic news out of Cambodia.  Rice exports quadrupled, which is good for business, but should make Cambodian nationals nervous, since food security is getter worse every year. Cambodia experienced a 6.5% rise in food prices over the last year. Food security analysts point out that other countries have experienced 20% rises, and call that stable.  Tell that to the peasants. If they’re interested in eating meat, prices are at least double the rise of general food increases:

In the first six months of 2011, beef has increased some 12.07 percent to 26,000 riel a kilogramme, smoked fish has seen a 22.63 percent increase to 16,800 riel, and pork has climbed 25.37 percent to 21,800 riel on Phnom Penh markets, the Commerce Ministry’s daily report on Friday showed.

As for the manufacturing sector, the Garment Manufacturer’s Association of Cambodia (GMAC) predicts a thirty percent rise in exports this year, while the anti-union draft law is receiving unified opposition from the unions.  Meanwhile, primitive accumulation proceeds apace, with the cruelty in evidence, for example, in the repeated destruction of the shelters of already-evicted villagers from the notorious Dey Krahom collective.


Sounding Cambodia for June 6 2011

The end of the semester got away from me folks, which means that today’s Sounding Cambodia will consist of a lot of links, videos, and topics, with minimal commentary. Lots of important stuff in there, though.  Go read!

  • Sand mountains during Khmer New Year (Video)
  • Cash pledges from politicians – exactly what is going on?
  • Violence against Cambodian Labor by the government
  • Interviews with Rich Garella of Who Killed Chea Vichea?
  • Nuon Chea and Cases 002 and 003 in the Extraordinary Chambers/Khmer Rouge Tribunal
  • Would you like some Borax with your Cambodian food?  Formalin? You’re welcome.
  • Tiny Toones NGO – “Hey Babe” video.
  • Cambodian Rice Exports to the Philippines
  • Judy Ledgerwood’s awesome Summer ethnography school in Cambodia
  • Damned Dams and their impacts on damned-near everything; an article in Critical Asian Studies by Ian Baird
  • Book Review of Constance Wilson’s edited volume on the Middle Mekong River Basin
  • Thai Politics – an election primer from Duncan McCargo
Click through to see the actual content Continue reading

“Maybe the dead were starving…”

Excellent two-part documentary from Al Jazeera on the ongoing Cambodian tribunal of the Khmer Rouge. There’s little discussion (but some) on the extremely limited number of leaders in the dock, but some great discussion. The talented Nic Dunlop, author of The Lost Executioner, takes lead on this report.

In the clip above, starting at about 10:43, note the following quote, which is characteristic of the way in which people have talked to me about ghosts and the dead during the Khmer Rouge period (Democratic Kampuchea, 1975-1979). Seng Yao, 81 year old survivor of prison camp M-99, says

At least ten prisoners died each morning and we would take the bodies away. We kept moving the corpses. I was not afraid of ghosts at that time. I would sometimes sleep on graves but ghosts did not haunt me. Maybe the ghosts did not have the energy left to haunt us because they died of starvation.

[Note that the speech in Khmer is actually somewhat less conditional about the reasoning]

I only interviewed a few survivors of Khmer Rouge prisons during my fieldwork. But such expressions and reasoning about ghosts were common among many survivors, not just former prisoners.  I was frequently told that “there were no ghosts during the Pol Pot time,” because “they had nothing to eat.” I had a hard time understanding this at first, because it was my assumption that whenever there was mass death there would necessarily be more ghosts, not fewer.

But the explanations I received were consistent with what Seng Yao expresses in the documentary clip above. In January 2005, an 85 year old man in rural Kompong Cham province expressed it this way:

When the country is rich, there are lots of ghosts. When there is nothing to eat, what will the ghosts eat? Nowadays, there are lots more ghosts than during the Pol Pot time.

Note that the reciprocity between humans and the dead is assumed to be the basis of the ‘health’ of the dead, and that the basis of this reciprocity is food. This point underlies almost all my work thus far on death and deathpower in Cambodia.


Rat Meat in Cambodia

Not sure what to make of this – the rat under discussion is Paddy Rat – not the nasty urban sewer rats of victorian England imagination, and considered a ‘delicacy’ by many meat-hungry Cambodians, especially in the Northwest (Battambang Rat is supposedly the tastiest). I think we need Phil Lees to weigh in here.

The price of rat meat has quadrupled in Cambodia this year as inflation has put other meat beyond the reach of poor people, officials said on Wednesday.

With consumer price inflation at 37 percent according to the latest central bank estimate, demand has pushed a kilogram of rat meat up to around 5,000 riel (69 pence) from 1,200 riel last year.

Spicy field rat dishes with garlic thrown in have become particularly popular at a time when beef costs 20,000 riel a kg.

Oddly Enough | Africa –

On the other hand, if the Cambodian government decided that this was a solution to hunger in Cambodia (while they are proclaiming increased rice harvests and over 40 percent of the country goes to sleep hungry), I would share Raj Patel’s outrage (over a similar situation in India).


"Oh Snap!" Somebody Got Told, Vol. 1

This lovely flowchart may be of use to those who find it difficult to know the appropriate moments at which to say, ‘Snap!’, or its variant, “Oh, Snap!”

Sure, we all know that it’s something you say when a person nearby was just humiliated, proven desperately wrong, or smacked in the face. But is that enough?

I didn’t think so, so I’ve culled a few examples from recent news stories. You decide: “Snap!”, or “No Snap!”?

  1. Heard of Argus? Neither (so he claims) has Marc Bousquet, whose excellent How The University Works should be required reading for all new and aspirant faculty. He was just invited to be an informer on his colleagues and fellow workers, ratting them out for their politics and teaching. He wasn’t amused, but his post is deeply amusing. One short snippet:”Every time I catch someone who thinks we should all have health care, I get a prize, working all the way up to a flying broomstick!”

    Snap or No Snap?

  2. The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has announced that the Cambodian ‘theft’ of Preah Vihear should be considered a serious violation of human rights. Andrew Walker has the smack-down:”The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand has taken leave of it senses….There are many important human rights issues to be addressed in Thailand. This is not one of them.”

    Snap or No Snap?

  3. Sam Rainsy objects that he lost the election in Cambodia. He was the only person surprised about this. I’m sure that there was intimidation and vote-buying (it was an election, after all), but to complain that the entire election was stolen? DetailsAreSketchy reports on the European Union’s smackdown. See also KJE’s post, “He Just Doesn’t Get It.” You want to see real electoral corruption? Just wait a few months and pay attention to the USA. Or watch this documentary.

    Snap or No Snap?

  4. After thousands in Milwaukee rioted over food vouchers, Raj Patel calls down the smackdown on those who were surprised about it, titling his post “Spank me and call me Cassandra!“:”Were we perhaps expecting the event to come to us pre-labelled?”

    Snap or No Snap?

  5. George Orwell’s diaries are going to be serialized on wordpress, thanks to the Orwell Trust, Political Quarterly, and the Media Standards Trust.No smackdown there – yet. Keep reading those diaries, though, and you’re certain to read a few.

Cambodian Poorhouse Prisons and Fast Food

How did I miss this story? Thanks to Jinja for blogging up this horrible set of juxtapositions in Cambodia, on his normally extremely non-confrontational (wonderful) blog.

KFC Cambodia

(Above: KFC on Monivong Boulevard)

It came as a small surprise when I read in the paper that fast food restaurants existed on  Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Somehow the idea of interrogators stepping out of a prison waterboarding session for a latte seemed… incongruous. (The idea of them rewarding prisoners with ‘Happy Meals’ even more so.)

Many bases have features like this, making them small pockets of American culture in unlikely locations.  And the controversial detention center is a recent addition to a much older institution.

Now, like ‘Gitmo’,  Cambodia has its own Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, which was unveiled with much fanfare.  More than simply providing fatty food, it showed that Cambodia was being wired into the global system of international commerce – so much so that chain stores now feel secure enough to open up shop and boot out their cloned counterparts.

KFC Cambodia

With Cambodia’s entry to the World Trade Organization, and the Stock Exchange opening up in 2009, it seems the sky’s the limit. Now, if only we could just get rid of those pesky homeless people and beggars who get in the way of all this new prosperity!

(Above: Licadho)
Well, Cambodia got its own island prison camp too: Koh Kor. After some starving inmates escaped, and the news media got wind, it was quickly shut down and the inmates were dumped back on the streets. Most of them.

Still running on the outskirts of Phnom Penh is Prey Speu detention center.  With an election officially in progress, it’s surprising that no party has taken this up as an issue.  Maybe they’re happy to have clean streets for their election caravans.

Fast food and arbitrary detention. Cambodia is joining the world of global ‘convenience’.  For those who can afford it.

Would you like fries with that?