Fencing in Chinese nomads (to get the coal under them?)

You have to read this New York Times article pretty closely to catch that China’s destruction of its Inner Mongolian nomad cultures is probably about getting to the coal under their grazing lands:

In Xilinhot, a coal-rich swath of Inner Mongolia, resettled nomads, many illiterate, say they were deceived into signing contracts they barely understood. Among them is Tsokhochir, 63, whose wife and three daughters were among the first 100 families to move into Xin Kang village, a collection of forlorn brick houses in the shadow of two power plants and a belching steel factory that blankets them in soot.
Not everyone is dissatisfied. Bater, 34, a sheep merchant raised on the grasslands, lives in one of the new high-rises that line downtown Xilinhot’s broad avenues. Every month or so he drives 380 miles to see customers in Beijing, on smooth highways that have replaced pitted roads. “It used to take a day to travel between my hometown and Xilinhot, and you might get stuck in a ditch,” he said. “Now it takes 40 minutes.” Talkative, college-educated and fluent in Mandarin, Bater criticized neighbors who he said want government subsidies but refuse to embrace the new economy, much of it centered on open-pit coal mines.

Here’s the cultural cost:

In what amounts to one of the most ambitious attempts made at social engineering, the Chinese government is in the final stages of a 15-year-old campaign to settle the millions of pastoralists who once roamed China’s vast borderlands. By year’s end, Beijing claims it will have moved the remaining 1.2 million herders into towns that provide access to schools, electricity and modern health care.
But the policies, based partly on the official view that grazing harms grasslands, are increasingly contentious. Ecologists in China and abroad say the scientific foundations of nomad resettlement are dubious. Anthropologists who have studied government-built relocation centers have documented chronic unemployment, alcoholism and the fraying of millenniums-old traditions.
Nicholas Bequelin, the director of the East Asia division of Amnesty International, said the struggle between farmers and pastoralists is not new, but that the Chinese government had taken it to a new level. “These relocation campaigns are almost Stalinist in their range and ambition, without any regard for what the people in these communities want,” he said. “In a matter of years, the government is wiping out entire indigenous cultures.”


Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China (Credit: Wikimedia)

Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China (Credit: Wikimedia)

Similar Topics from Arsenal For Democracy:

“The Battle for Xinjiang (and its energy riches)”

Ancient Syrian city safe from ISIS for now

Two days later, on May 20, 2015, the Army made a hasty retreat and the city fell to ISIS.

State and opposition media both confirm that the Syrian Army has pushed back and blocked an approaching ISIS offensive on the ancient city of Palmyra (pictured below).

The international community was very concerned that the city’s antiquities would be dynamited as ISIS has done in many other areas. The counter-offensive was likely undertaken more over strategic concerns about Palmyra’s position relative to other key regime-held cities than over concern for the heritage sites, however.

The regime and FSA, in western Syria, have both systematically shelled and destroyed at least five of six UNESCO world heritage sites in Syria when they became battlefields. Palmyra is one of the six sites and has been subject to looting and some moderate battle damage.

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

Palmyra, 2009 pre-war view from Qalaat Ibn Maan, Temple of Bel and colonnaded axis. (Photo Credit: Arian Zwegers via Wikimedia)

ISIS obliterates ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud dig sites

Priceless undiscovered antiquities in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, 20 miles south of Mosul (and ancient Nineveh), were lost forever in recent days as ISIS continued its purge of pre-Islamic history in Mesopotamia by packing dig sites with explosives and blasting them into oblivion.

Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News consultant, could not confirm that the site being destroyed in the video is in fact Nimrud, but it said “online chatter does seem to corroborate the claims, and the rest of the video does follow the group’s pattern of destroying ‘idols,’ as they call it.”



The city was built more than 3,000 years ago in the Middle Assyrian Empire and eventually became the capital of the later Neo-Assyrian Empire, under King Ashurnasirpal II, a brutal conqueror who shocked much of the surrounding region but also loved art promoting his success.

Last month, the terrorist organization destroyed exposed/above-ground excavation sites (some opened in the mid-19th century) with bulldozers and released footage showing fighters smashing ancient statues — including the world-famous lamassu winged bull-men — and wall reliefs from the city that is mentioned in the Book of Genesis.

Even some early Islamic sites have been devastated or erased by ISIS attacks including the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah in Mosul last July.

California environment laws now include more Native input

A law signed last week in California has finally amended existing environmental laws to establish a pathway for more direct and cohesive input from Native American communities when they are concerned that land-use approvals for development might negatively affect heritage and sacred sites. Crown City News:

“This is an important step toward aligning California’s environmental laws with the values that are often espoused about respecting tribal heritage and history, not only for this generation, but for future generations of all Californians,” said Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. “We deeply appreciate Assemblymember Gatto for his leadership, and the legislature’s support.”
California is struggling to preserve the last remnants of its Native American past. Recently, thieves stole carvings from an unprotected sacred site on the Volcanic Tableland, north of Bishop, and developers have sought to place everything from dumps, to housing developments, to granite mines, near or on top of ancient sacred sites.

“If we don’t do something, future generations will wonder what happened to California’s pre-Columbian heritage,” said Gatto.
Currently, tribes are not treated as coherent sovereign entities under CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act], but instead as mere members of the public, even if wishing to express a unified opinion about a site which has been a unique part of the tribe’s heritage for thousands of years.

With this oversight finally rectified, it’s expected that other long-sought reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act will now be passable, because new measures to “streamline” the law won’t risk the unintended side effect of making it even easier to roll over Native concerns.

Never Alone: Video game brings an Alaska Native story to life

Note added January 11, 2015: We are hoping to have a review of the game available on this website soon from one of our correspondents. Unfortunately, he has reported that there’s a bug that stops the game about a third of the way through. You might want to wait for it to be patched before buying the game.

NPR recently reported on a very cool video game that brings to life a traditional Iñupiat adventure story from Alaska. It’s called “Never Alone” and is produced by “Upper One Games,” a studio founded in 2013 by Cook Inlet Tribal Council of Alaska to help promote the native cultural heritage to a new generation of its members and to the wider world.

The game, which brought on board a number of respected veterans from the video game industry, was developed with extensive input — on plot, in-game art, and structure — from those who know the story best:

“We didn’t want this to be an outsider’s view of what the Inupiaq culture was. We wanted it to come from the people themselves.”

Never Alone is based on a traditional story known as Kanuk Sayuka and the experiences of Alaska elders, storytellers and youth. The story follows a young Inupiaq girl and an Arctic fox as they go on an adventure to save her village from a blizzard that never ends.

Game developer Sean Vesce has 20 years of experience in the industry working on action titles like Tomb Raider. He recently went to Barrow, in far northern Alaska, to watch the students play a demo of the game. He says that day was his most memorable experience from the project.

The puzzle platformer game will be released for Windows (via Steam), PS4, and Xbox One in November. Here’s the official trailer:

It looks like an incredible game, and it features a female lead playable character, as well as bringing both cultural diversity and an unusual structure (since it was built around the Iñupiat cultural/linguistic worldview and oral traditions, rather than around the industry-dominant Euro-U.S. cultural framework).

Here’s the gameplay description from the official website:

– Play as both Girl and Fox – switch between the two characters at any time. Girl and Fox must work together to overcome challenges and puzzles as each has unique skills and abilities. A second player can join at any time for local co-op play.

– Explore perilous Arctic environments, from tundra to coastal villages, from ice floes to a mysterious forest. Brace yourself against gale-force winds and blizzards; face treacherous mountains.

– Meet fascinating characters from Iñupiaq folklore – Manslayer, the Little People, Helping Spirits, Blizzard Man and more. Never Alone was crafted in partnership with Alaska Native elders and storytellers for true authenticity.

– Hear the story of Kunuuksaayuka as told by a master Iñupiat storyteller in the spoken Iñupiaq language — a first for a commercial video game.

– Unlock special video Insights recorded with the Iñupiaq community to share their wisdom, stories and perspective.

They also worked to appropriately balance the game play with the source material:

One famous Iñupiaq storyteller named Robert Nasruk Cleveland, born in the late 1800s, was renown for his storytelling skill. Many of the great examples of traditional Iñupiaq stories are closely associated with him, including the story of Kunuuksaayuka.

The Never Alone team located Robert Cleveland’s daughter, an Iñupiaq elder named Minnie Gray, to obtain permission to use the story as the inspiration and main narrative spine of the game. The team worked directly with Minnie to ensure that, as the story was adapted to the needs of a video game, it maintained the wisdom and teachings of the original.

Here’s another video on the impact they hope to have with “Never Alone”:


Poverty Point becomes 1001st UNESCO World Heritage Site

Poverty Point National Monument, an early pre-Columbian indigenous earthworks near the Mississippi River in far northern Louisiana, has just been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s the first place in Louisiana — and only the 22nd in the United States — to earn World Heritage Site status. There are 1,001 World Heritage sites around the globe.

“Welcome to the cradle of Louisiana civilization,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, whose office nurtured the eight-year Poverty Point application process. “It all started here 3,400 years ago.

It wasn’t the first such site but is famous for its massive scale, and it likely inspired other subsequent earthworks projects by other native societies in what is now the American South.

The Poverty Point complex comprises five mounds, six concentric semi-elliptical ridges and a central plaza. It was created and used for residential and ceremonial purposes by a society of hunter fisher-gatherers between 3,700 and 3,100 B.C.

Its population’s achievement in earthen construction in North America wasn’t surpassed for at least 2,000 years.

It’s particularly impressive because it was built and enhanced over six centuries by a non-agrarian society — unlike Stonehenge or the Pyramids at Giza — which means they had to keep returning to the site to work on it for hundreds of years, no matter how the local food supply was doing.

The site is, unfortunately, currently at serious risk of erosion damage.

(You can get more info on the Poverty Point peoples at Wikipedia.)

A wide view of the Poverty Point site. (Credit: US Government via Wikimedia.)

A wide view of the Poverty Point site. (Credit: US Government via Wikimedia.)

Thailand’s food-robot army is nearly ready

Pre-coup and post-coup, Thailand’s leadership can agree to remain committed to one thing: Shaming overseas restaurants for insufficiently authentic Thai food. And now their food-tasting (killer?) robot is doing well in testing and may soon be sold to high-end restaurants in southeast Asia and beyond:

The government-financed Thai Delicious Committee, which oversaw the development of the machine, describes it as “an intelligent robot that measures smell and taste in food ingredients through sensor technology in order to measure taste like a food critic.”

In a country of 67 million people, there are somewhere near the same number of strongly held opinions about Thai cooking. […] But there does seem to be some agreement on one point at least: Bad Thai food is a more acute problem overseas.

Thais, who can establish an immediate bond discussing where they will get their next meal or the merits of particular food stalls, complain that Thai restaurants overseas cater to non-Thai palates by pulling punches on spice and not respecting the delicate balance between sweet, sour, salty and four-alarm spicy.

For designing and building a robot from scratch, the project has a very low price-tag overall and will supposedly be earned back by sales of the robot.

Anyway, the way it works is that it performs a rapid chemical analysis of a food sample, teasing out both the constituent ingredients used and the ratios used, and then it compares it to a database of ingredients and ratios used in a sample “ideal” recipe for that meal — with the ideal as determined by the ratings of a small research study with a hundred or so ordinary Thai people (not food critics).

But I’m pretty sure we all know it’s going to end up chemically analyzing mankind and find us insufficiently spicy to remain alive. And just as Thailand was one of the few countries in the world to resist Western colonialism (more or less), Thailand’s robots will no doubt be the first to take on humanity successfully.