RIP, Martin Riesebrodt

I found out late.

I guess that’s the first thing to say. I found out months after he’d passed. I was out of touch, focusing on my own family, local contacts, and particular field of study. It’s the lateness that increases my sadness that Martin is gone, an indication that I failed to maintain my relationship with him in the way I had wished.

Martin Riesebrodt passed away from cancer at his home in Berlin on December 6, 2014. I hadn’t known he was ill. He is survived by his wife, the artist Brigitte Riesebrodt, and their son, Max. I knew them for a period, while I was a student in residence at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School (2000-2003), and his research assistant (2001-2003). In passing, I taught his son the rudiments of guitar (he wanted to learn heavy metal, but all I knew was fingerstyle acoustic; he suffered patiently and is now, I believe, I devoted Heavy Metal musician who I hope would look indulgently on my old-fashioned love of Black Sabbath, and my current love of Mastodon), and got to know the family a bit. They were, without a doubt, the kindest and most coherent social grouping I met during my time in Chicago, and I will forever be grateful for the space they made for me in their lives, and the role modeling that Martin was to me. Continue reading


NOTICE: RIP, Georges Condominas

I’m deeply saddened to hear that the great anthropologist Georges Condominas, whose work has been an important influence in my own approach, has passed away. His amazing ethnographic style, on display in We Have Eaten the Forest, would have been sufficient to make him a master. But his thoughts on ritual, agriculture, religion, and ethnic identity (via the concept of emboîtement – ’emboxment’) have influenced so many at this point, that his presence in the field is undoubtedly assured for a great while.

The Vietnamese Language Centre in Singapore has this excellent obituary.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Condominas.

A Farewell to Georges Condominas The passing away of Georges Condominas is very sad news for all those who are interested in the study of Vietnamese culture and society. As an anthropologist he was recognized as a giant in the field in France and in Vietnam, but somehow less so in the English speaking world. ‘Condo’ was born in Vietnam in 1921 from a mixed background, went to Lycée in France in the 1930s and came back to Vietnam to study visual arts at the École des Beaux-Arts d … Read More



RIP, Yoneo Ishii, great scholar of Southeast Asia

The great scholar and historian of Southeast Asia, Yosheo Ishii, has passed.  He passed on February 12, 2010, at the age of 81.  His published work on Buddhism in Thailand, including most especially his influential and magisterial work, Sangha, State, and Society.

A guru of Southeast Asian scholars, the great professor cultivated, encouraged, and influenced an enormous number of students, some of whom are themselves continuing this tradition of  generosity to their next generation. The memorials on the Thailand/Laos/Cambodia email list continue, and some of these scholars have made touching declarations, including this excerpt from one of my own teachers, Professor Charles Keyes of the University of Washington, who wrote touchingly that

Although Aj. Ishii has left behind his moral remains, his karmic legacy will continue to have very positive influences on generations of scholars of Thailand to come. I personally owe him a great debt for providing a model for being a student of Thai culture and history.

Rest in Peace, Ajaan Ishii.


RIP, Howard Zinn

The sad news is echoing around the interwebs, so very little is necessary here in the way of comment. Comrade, teacher, fellow worker, anti-imperialist, and decent human being Howard Zinn, has passed on. He was a heroic and decent inspiration to generations seeking a model of humane, radical opposition. From the Boston Globe obituary:

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did.

Thank you, Howard.


RIP Studs – 96 Years was not enough

Studs Terkel died a few days back, and I was unable to write about him at the time. Studs was an astonishing man – fearless and gentle, a fighter for the people, and unfraid of reporting, straightforwardly, what those people were like, no matter what that was. His style of oral history was driven, I thought, by a sense that people were smarter, and better, than anyone – including themselves – ever gave them credit for.

I met Studs only once – at a party/celebration dedicated to the martyrs of the Lincoln Brigades from the Spanish Revolution/Civil War – at the Hothouse Club in Chicago’s South Loop. I had no more than a moment to shake his hand and say thank you. He was already very elderly, but it was clear that he wanted to sit down with every person he made eye contact with, and a tape recorder, and tell their story.

His moral compass seemed always to run true, and when the United States was patting itself on the back for having once fought a ‘decent war,’ in World War II, Studs himself (who had served in the Army Air Force during that war) wrote a book which directly undermined the myth-making that was underway.

Here’s a link to 3 stories about the Angola 3, about which I’ve blogged once previously, that Studs would not have been afraid to tell. NPR is starting to tell it, decades too late. Goodbye Studs. You will be remembered in this month of memory. [see also Danny Fisher’s tribute].

Below, find the 9-minute tribute video to Studs from Democracy Now!

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Is the Vietnamese Government Going to Try to Control Thich Huyen Quang's Funeral?

[via Danny Fisher’s blog]

Thich Huyen Quang gave up his liberty for 30 years in a quest for greater human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “His followers should be allowed to pay their last respects without government interference, at a ceremony of their own choosing.”

The UBCV plans to hold funeral services for Thich Huyen Quang on July 11 at Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh province. Thich Quang Do – the patriarch’s deputy, close associate, and likely successor – will preside over the ceremony. However, the Vietnamese government has already taken steps to wrest control over the funeral and the patriarch’s legacy by announcing that the proceedings will be organized by the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church. Government-controlled media has run vitriolic denunciations of Thich Quang Do, accusing him and “extremist elements disguised as Buddhist monks” of plotting “devious schemes” to exploit the patriarch’s death for political purposes. On July 6 the state television station, VTV1, broadcast a statement saying: “Confronting the immoral actions of the Quang Do group, the students and disciples [of Thich Huyen Quang], as well as the genuine monks of Nguyen Thieu Monastery, have vehemently reacted and they are determined not to let the Quang Do group organize the funeral ceremonies.”

“The Vietnamese government is risking unnecessary confrontation with the patriarch’s followers by trying to control him in death as in life,” Adams said.

You’d think governments would have learned at this point. While an uncontrolled funeral may spiral into a situation that challenges their control, interference in a funeral is almost guaranteed to do so. see also, Katherine Verdery, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies.