Sunday, 28 December 2014

How the Thais Lost Laos

Although Thailand may have more freedom of speech than any of the countries it shares a border with, it nevertheless lacks freedom of speech.  Some aspects of the political history of the country are very, very difficult to talk about, within the bounds of what's permissible (I've just seen a few statements on Wikipedia that would be punishable in Thailand).

The feelings of the Thais toward Laos are too intense to be changed by facts.  Is there anything I can compare this to in contemporary Europe?  The English don't care nearly so much about the Scottish, nor do the Spanish have any such feeling toward the Portuguese, despite the long histories of war and rivalry in both cases.  Perhaps the only comparison would be the feelings that Russians have toward Crimea, in now claiming the latter as a province: more than just a claim that in the future they should form one-and-the-same country, the attitude is based on a presumption that the smaller country never had a right to exist, and that the border separating them only came about by trickery.  The sense that --somehow-- both sides were cheated out of their national destiny is strong in Thailand; it would make more sense if this sentiment were paired with the notion that the Thai and Lao are "one race" (as the Russians consider themselves the same race as Crimean Russians --although not the same as the Crimean Tatars) but, instead, it is juxtaposed to the very fundamental belief that the Thai and Lao are two separate races, and, unsurprisingly, the Thais consider themselves racially superior to the Lao.

An old book that I recently rediscovered on (link below) provides a reminder of a terrible truth that is inconvenient to both sides, as they now write the 19th century's history.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Mason's Pali Grammar, New for 2015

If a whole mess of historical anecdotes, grammatical tables, and etymological theories (about a dead language!) sounds like your idea of fun… then, well… this is the Pali textbook for you!

Mason's Pali Grammar was book that faced technical challenges at every stage, and ended up having several fonts created especially for it (at my demand!).  It is finally available for download from Google Books, about ten years after I completed my work on it… and almost 150 years after its first author began work on it, I suppose.

Admittedly, it's not for everyone…

Monday, 22 December 2014

Following up with Prof. Erick White (Buddhism and/or/as/vs. Politics)

Did you read about this in the J.I.A.B.S.? No? In any other academic journal?

There are two messages below: the second one is much more amusing than the first one, so you might as well just skip to it.  The first message  shows that I tried to be reasonable and somewhat polite (even finding something to apologize for, in a message that really isn't shouldn't contain an apology) --and then the second message is a bit more brutal.

The photo at the top (with its caption) sums up my feeling on the matter: real political history is unfolding in Theravāda Asia, and Buddhism is deeply involved, and if you can read about it anywhere it won't be in academic journals connected to Buddhism (so far as I know, it isn't covered in any academic journals at all!).  I do think that we have a real problem in that the journals who could be engaging with these issues have the attitude of either (i) no politics please, we're Buddhist, or else (ii) no Buddhism, please, we're political/historical/some-other-discipline.  Honestly, however, the most frequent obstacle I encounter is, (iii) "No Cambodia, please, we're Asian Studies" --and "Asia" is so often implicitly defined as "China plus Japan" (even if they do not say "East Asia" overtly).

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Brutality of the Cultural Revolution (a Small Reminder)

Translation by "Nomfood":
"One day, while everyone was working in the fields, a class enemy disregarded others and tried to attack them. Jin walked over and beat him up nicely, and immediately set up a criticism meeting. The poor farmers lauded the criticism meeting, saying that it raised the spirits of the revolutionary proletariats, and defeated the self-prestige of the class enemy."

Another Buddhist Publication Steals Another One of My Articles

These guys took the time to create an original illustration to accompany the article they stole (i.e., a time-consuming effort, even if inspired by the pastiche I made myself).  It would have taken much less time for them to send me an e-mail, asking for permission to re-publish the article.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

When Budgets Run Into the Millions

Britain's House of Lords has been having difficulty reducing its catering budget (ca. 1.3 million pounds); part of the problem, it was revealed, is their consumption of Champagne, amounting to 17,000 bottles from 2010 to some point in (mid?) 2014.*

The House of Lords has 790 members (not all of whom participate regularly, but we leave that aside).  The budget seems to allow for more than six bottles of Champagne per member, per annum.

Last year, here at the University of Victoria, more than $5.3 million dollars were spent on office supplies in a single year.  I do not know if that number includes Champagne.  Don't believe me?  See the screenshot [below], or check the numbers yourself (they're publicly available, as with the accounting for any charity registered in Canada).

Monday, 15 December 2014

Buddhism and/or/as/vs. Politics (Discussion)

A very short, informal article (and my first time posting to New Mandala in a few years, I suppose):

On Youtube: Kang Youwei's Utopia & Mao's Revolution

大同書: Kang Youwei's Utopia & Mao's Revolution (康有為 & 毛澤東)

What was the philosophy of Datong (大同) anyway?  Kang Youwei (康有為) was both an important influence on Communists and anti-Communists in China's 20th Century.

On Youtube:

Read more if you want to know more:

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Dream is Dead, The Dreamer Remains

One of the peculiar but pervasive effects of Google on my life is this: I use some turn-of-phrase and then wonder if I'm quoting someone without realizing it.  Here, in response to the question of what motivated my past work on Buddhism, I conclude with the quip, "That dream is dead.  The dreamer remains."
Was I remembering a line from some other source?  Was I saying something that ten different authors have said before?  According to Google, no, it's original.  I'm left with the feeling that Google can't be trusted (somebody must have said it somewhere, after all).

The article the stranger was responding to happened to be this one (Mind and the Material Elements, in large part a critique of Richard Gombrich & Alex Wynne).

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Putting my own name into Google Books search

The complete Chinese translation of "Canon and Reason" remains difficult to find online, so I decided to reformat it and to try uploading it to Google Books (as a mere 50 page "book", for free download, of course). [Update: click here for the finished product.]

It still is available from Medium, but that website changed the way that one story links to another, and so you'd now need to be able to find the following page (within this blog) in order to really read the thing:

Every so often, I do see indications that people are (still) reading and responding to that essay, but I also notice that they seem to be sharing old PDF versions of it (apparently unaware of the other formats, still using an incomplete Chinese translation… and who can blame them?).

So, Google Books will be an experiment, perhaps resulting in an easier-to-find (and easier to use) format, perhaps not.

As the thing is now supposedly available online under the title 南傳佛教研究中的“經典”與“理性”問題, I tried searching Google Books to find it.  No salient results (yet).  So, I then tried searching for my own name.

Friday, 12 December 2014

On the Ostensible Sources of Mao Zedong's Utopia: Kang Youwei & Saneatsu Mushanokoji

The Young Mao was influenced by Kang Youwei's The Great Harmony and the Japanese warrior Mushanokoji Saneatsu's New Village (Atarashikimura) Movement.  Mao had joined with others to plan a "New Village" in Yuelushan where thinkers could work and study together and share their assets and the fruits of their labor.  He had never had the opportunity to put that plan into practice.

In 1958, Mao believed the time had finally come.  He had written "When Kang Youwei wrote The Great Harmony, he had not and could not have found a road to that Great Harmony."  Mao believed he had found that road in the communes [of the Great Leap Forward].
(Yang, 2012, p. 170–171)

This essay provides a simple exploration of some of the ostensible sources of Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) ideology, following the cue provided by Yang Jisheng's (楊繼繩) Tombstone (quoted above).

The first and most general discovery is that the connection between Maoism and the sources discussed in this essay has attracted very little attention in the English-language evaluation of Maoist Communism.  Chinese and Japanese sources are outside of the scope of this essay, but, in English at least, it seems that remarkably little attention has been paid to this aspect of the legacies of Mushanokoji (武者小路 實篤, also writ Mushakoji) and Kang Youwei (康有為, also writ K'ang Yu-Wei).   Both names remain famous, but their significance for Maoism --specifically-- seems to have escaped notice in English.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Era of Unpaid Authorship

A newspaper office in Bangor, Maine, 1920.
Eisel: everything you say is true, except the last sentence. We know so many people who continue to find ways to make a living out of writing, including people your age.

For instance, try sending short stories to The New Yorker, which pays well. They feature one in each issue, and once a year have an all-fiction issue. Your kind of writing is very close to what they print. Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant first made a living out of writing by selling short stories to them, then book publishers wanted to collect their stories etc. I know that's a previous generation, but new writers are constantly appearing, some in books, some online, most in multiple formats.



That world is over.

That economy no longer exists.

Alice Munro was born in 1931.  Mavis Gallant was born in 1922.

I met an American in Yunnan (who was not particularly sagacious) who remarked to me, "Given the circumstances I was born into, it would have been relatively easy to become a lawyer, but difficult to become a drug-dealer".  Somebody else, born and raised just a few blocks away, would have been in the reverse scenario: easily able to become a drug-dealer, but facing tremendous obstacles separating him from becoming a lawyer.

Making money out of authorship now relies on the same sort of personal connections that would give you access to a career as a drug-dealer.

If I published in the most prestigious Canadian literary magazine imaginable I would either be paid nothing at all, or else a merely-symbolic honorarium (seriously: we're talking about $50).

A full-length article for "" (allegedly reaching 15 million readers) earns a merely symbolic payment of $150.

The famous Rolling Stone magazine pays $250 for an article of up to 1000 words.

The Washington Post pays $250 for a feature essay of up to 1000 words.

Talking to Idiots

[What's that you say?  "We will take discard your work  ."  You certainly will, old boy, you certainly will.]

[Updated March 26th, 2015: the same website actually stole my work a second time, a few months after this absurd dialogue!]

You have stolen an article of my own authorship, that I reserve the rights to: [link omitted].

You do not have the right to have this text on your website.  You should not have copied-and-pasted this content.

However, you _do_ have the right to discuss my work, and then to provide a link to the location of the article on my website (or to just provide a short notice with the link, etc.).

Here is a link to the article, as it appears on one of my own web-pages (with illustrations of my own selection, etc.).


Hi Eisel Mazard

First of all we have not stolen anything, your article as much I know its available in internet .

We thought you are a Buddhist because you  wrote about  the Buddha , and Buddhist usually share knowledge freely but in your case it seems totally opposite.Are you against to spread knowledge about Dharma

Secondly, usually people are happy that their work are listed in our Encyclopedia, because its   probably the biggest collection of Buddhist materials in web and its just the beginning of it

We will take discard your work  .

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Mongolian Democracy, Chinese Dictatorship (1989–2014)

In both symbolic and economic terms, 21st century Mongolia is defined by the railway that links Russia to China.  This railway was created by a handshake between Joseph Stalin and Zhou Enlai in 1952, (Rossabi, 2005, p. 226) and it is a strategic connection that Russia and China are still competing to control today ("A new Great Game has started between China and Russia to control the direction and route of Mongolia’s railway lines," Bulag, 2010, p. 100).  In this interstitial economic position, Mongolia is always in danger of coming under the overweening influence of one or the other of its two neighbors, if not both.  In contrast to the Soviet period, Mongolia has effectively avoided such domination since 1989 through what we could call "a democratic gambit" that has paid off.

There have been some remarkable political events in Mongolia just within the last few months of 2014, but they are, perhaps, remarkable for being unremarkable: they affirm what Western Democracies would consider to be "normal politics", in stark contrast to what passes for normal in the rest of post-Communist Asia.  Reuters reported an orderly parliamentary vote to remove the Prime Minister, with 14 days of debate ensuing to select a replacement. (Reuters, 2014)  This deliberative transition-of-power may be favorably compared to recent events in the would-be democracies of Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar (dare we say Laos?); and, of course, it is an even stranger contrast to Mongolia's immediate neighbors, Russia and China.
One quite attractive thing about the Mongolian transition [to democracy] was that we made the political and economic transitions side by side. Some skeptics say that it’s impossible to make dual transitions, political and economic transitions, in Asian countries. But Mongolians broke that stereotype. We proved that it can be done in every country, in every corner of the world; it can be done. We proved that… Imagine—just 20 years ago we had a North Korea-like society and today we are chairing the Community of Democracies…  (Elbegdorj, 2011, p. 179)
In asking when and how Mongolia made its transition to democracy, we have a useful metric provided by the Freedom House rankings of political rights scores.  We can see at a glance in figures 1 & 2 that Mongolia underwent momentous change of some kind in the years 1989–1991, in a transition punctuated by elections in 1990 and 1992.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

[大躍進] Mao Zedong's "Smoking Gun" Quotation [黑金政治學03]

"…the emperors the Chinese people most reviled —Qin Shihuangdi, Emperor Zhou, and Sui Yangdi— were the ones Mao most admired…" (Li Zhisui, 1994, p. 296)

Some further discussion of the great leap forward [大躍進] and great famine [大飢荒]. In a controversy between two current historians, a famous quotation (used to attribute blame to Mao) turns out to be spurious. The controversy reveals more of interest than just the question of how to lay the blame.

On Youtube:

Monday, 27 October 2014

Devil's Advocate Amongst Atheists: Thunderf00t vs. Richard Carrier

Atheist vs. atheist; here's my response to a long-simmering dispute between two public intellectuals from opposite ends of the academic spectrum… but, wait, who are you calling an academic anyway?

On Youtube:

Saturday, 25 October 2014

From Kunming to Kyaukpyu (Colonialism Lite?)

There is a striking resemblance between China's current plans to connect Yunnan to the coast of Myanmar (by train, road and oil-pipeline) and one of the greatest colonial fantasies of the 19th century: Holt S. Hallett's expedition of 1876 sparked a race between the British and the French empires to see who would be the first to build this railway connection. (Mazard, 2008)  In the end, neither one of them ever did it.  In contrast to the plans drawn up in the 19th century, the 21st century fantasy has a fairly good probability of being realized.  Although there are doubts surrounding the viability of the project, China's ambassador to Myanmar confirmed that the railroad is still underway as recently as July, 2014, (Wang, 2014) and the creation of oil-pipeline infrastructure for the route is already fait accompli, according to reporters who visited the site. (Robinson, 2014)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

On Youtube, China's Great Famine & the Great Leap Forward [黑金政治學02]

On Youtube: An overview of new publications including Tombstone [墓碑] by Yang Jisheng [楊繼繩], Mao's Great Famine by Frank Dikötter, and The Xinyang Incident [信阳事件] by Qiao Peihua [喬培華], with a rapid introduction to the general subject of the Great Famine & the Great Leap Forward.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

One of the greatest titles in the history of peer-reviewed articles

The article doesn't live up to its title, but then, what could?

"Why Most Published Research Findings Are False."

Now just imagine if this type of analysis were applied to articles on politics, religion or (even worse!) the overlap between politics and religion… I don't think anyone even wants to measure what percentage of research findings are false in the social sciences and humanities.

Another amusing article in the same vein: Research paper publishing sting reveals lax standards.

Shout Out to Young Droog, Shout Out To Myanmar.

In an art-form defined by non-sequiturs, this one was genuinely unexpected.

The line appears in the midst of a track called Hoodie Weather (click), and no, it doesn't otherwise comment on the politics of Southeast Asia.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

On Youtube, Chinese Politics Now: the Mass Line & Document Number Nine

"As with many other turning points in China's past, the new direction indicated by the manifesto has been demonstrated --first and foremost-- by the Communist Party turning against itself, purging, persecuting and imprisoning its own members."

On Youtube:

Friday, 29 August 2014

Vegan Documentary Film "Cowspiracy" (my comments on Youtube)

My face on Youtube:

This is a ten minute discussion made with an awareness that most of the people who see it will (i) already be vegan, and (ii) already have seen the film being reviewed.  This is probably not what anyone is expecting to hear from "a political science perspective", nor from a vegan perspective, but I do reflect on what I feel is the core tension of the film; and, for me, it raises familiar questions about the NGO/Charity sector...

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sinomania: Can Anything Justify the Hype about the Chinese Economy?

Why is there so much hype about the Chinese economy?  I’ll mention just one factor among many: people don’t want to believe they’re living in a world where the rich get richer, while the poor are trapped in poverty.  The idea that China is suddenly becoming more affluent than Japan appeals to a (false) sense of upward mobility, on a massive scale.

The chart above (that I made myself) shows the I.M.F. projections for 2013–2017, GDP per capita at PPP.  China isn’t catching up with Japan.  In fact, China isn’t even catching up with poverty-stricken Chile.

Wealth, Poverty and the Perception of Corruption

When Transparency International first started publishing their corruption index, I hoped that it would spark other innovations in measuring corruption that would soon make it obsolete.  That never happened (click), and so it remains an important (if imperfect) measurement, with very little competition to compare it to.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

How the Beatles Influenced Buddhism (via "T.M.")

[Question:] A bit of a flippant question, so I won't be offended if you don't want to stir this particular pot any longer... but why do you think there's such a strange passion among westerners to believe that eastern religions are not religions?

[My reply:] I think it's a very meaningful question (and I'm not offended by it at all)…

The packaging of Buddhism for western consumption has tried a variety of strategies, some sui generis, and some in direct response to other precedents (and competition from other religious groups, making the leap from East to West).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Combat Jack Identifies as Buddhist

In the midst of a long discussion of the politics of ethnicity in the United States, Combat Jack snubs Charlamagne by pointing out that his reasoning supposes that everyone is Christian; in reply, Charlamagne asks if Jack is an atheist.  No, instead, Combat Jack identifies as Buddhist (audio link below).

On Youtube, "Gods with a Lower-Case G"

Daoism and the deification of Douglas MacArthur.  The video is only 5 minutes long; why summarize?

Friday, 8 August 2014

Metta (A Pali Word Drops Out of Common Usage)

The artist formerly known as "慈善·世界和平" (Metta World Peace) is changing his name to "熊貓的朋友"… or, at any rate, something in Chinese that means "The Panda's Friend".
This isn't the first time I've mentioned the man named Metta World Peace on this blog (click).

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Language-instruction videos: why are the actors always flirting?

Admittedly, I'm offering a somewhat infamous example from a Modern Greek language course here, but in almost every living language I've studied, you run into this again and again, and you find the students laughing at the material…

…because it seems flirtatious even when the script doesn't remotely call for the actors to be flirting.

[Click here for the video on Youtube, it's only 30 seconds long.]

George Monbiot, a lifetime of excuses for eating meat

The most remarkable thing about George Monbiot's saga of alternating between veganism and endorsing meat-eating is that he has gotten paid to publish his opinion at every stage.  What he has to say it isn't any better than the type of diaristic writing that now floods the internet for free, and, really, it isn't any better-informed, either:

"While researching my book Feral, I also came to see extensive livestock rearing as a lot less benign than I – or [my colleague] – had assumed. The damage done to biodiversity, to water catchments and carbon stores by sheep and cattle grazing in places unsuitable for arable farming […] is out of all proportion to the amount of meat produced. Wasteful and destructive as feeding grain to livestock is, ranching appears to be even worse."

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Genocide Lite

This "tribute to the traditions of the ancestors" is now a ditch between two parking lots.  It's a ditch with a memorial plaque, in a city that is itself named "as a tribute" to the same queen who authorized Treaty One.  Genocide Lite.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

A short list of long articles (at

A number of my articles (old and new, in English and in Chinese) have been posted or re-posted at, often after appearing elsewhere.  In many cases, I've posted the text at because I'm concerned the articles could eventually disappear from other websites that have hosted them.

This seems to be the most useful link (click) if you want to rapidly scroll down the list.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Snapshot of San Francisco

舊金山市. They still worship 地藏 there, on a regular schedule, at the top of that staircase on the right.

Chinese before the squares became square

Chinese before 口 became 方.

Vaguely dated to the late Zhou Dynasty (周朝), i.e., earlier than 221 B.C.

Click below for larger images that zoom in (allowing you to see the text clearly).

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Endangered Languages, Chatter (On Youtube)

Endangered languages (克里語的美洲原住民語 & 閩南語).  Some informal chatter on Youtube, and a link to an informal article (examples from China, Canada & elsewhere).


千字文 (One Word at a Time)

Despite its lofty reputation, the 千字文 is, really, just a vocabulary list.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Poverty and Participation

Currently, Taiwan hovers around 4% unemployment (and people complain that it is not 3%).

That is an amazingly low number from a European perspective or a Canadian perspective, however, we can view it with a difference sense of scale when we place it alongside the labor-force participation rate.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Measuring Poverty Through Overcrowding

The overcrowding rate is an extremely useful statistic, even though the subjective notion of what "overcrowding" really means will differ from one culture to the next (and baseline values will reflect the distribution of urban-vs.-rural population, the availability of cheap rental housing, and numerous other factors unique to each milieu).

I've disaggregated the data (for each country) into two lines: (i) the darker line shows the overcrowding rate for families with children, and (ii) the brightly-colored line shows the overcrowding rate for households without children.  So, at a glance, we can see that the direction of the change is very different for each of the countries shown (in the last few years), and, also, we can see that the gap between the two lines is different in each case.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

How I Ended Up Learning Chinese (Part Three)

How I Ended Up Learning Chinese
Divorce and Consequences.
Divorce can mean different things in different circumstances.  When I accepted that we should get divorced, my assumption (initially) was that I would just rent an apartment elsewhere in the same city, and that we’d continue co-operating in raising our child, at least for a significant period of time, or until one or the other of us had a better idea.  I assumed I would still be seeing my wife 6 or 7 days per week, partly just because she would need my help (on a daily basis) with caring for my daughter, and in helping with a range of trivial duties (that become difficult when your hands are always busy with a small child).

There was no such period of time.  I agreed to the divorce on January 10th, and my wife was on an airplane (with my daughter) on January 14th.