Saturday, October 31, 2015

Other Desert Cities

We squeezed in a stop at Cyrano's Thursday night to see Other Desert Cities.   We didn't really know what we were going to see except that it had won acclaim Outside. 

It turned out to be a perfect play for the theme of this blog - it's all about knowing, our memories, their limits, and how our own emotions color our mind's records of our own experiences.  It's about keeping secrets and the damage that does. 

The cast of five was fantastic - to me, they were all the characters and not actors playing the characters.  And all the characters were rich blends of strengths and weaknesses.  And you should stay right to the end. 

If you're paying attention, you'll have noticed that the titles of the post and the book in the picture are different.  The book is what the character Brooke presents her family (in manuscript form) over the Christmas holidays in Palm Springs.  Not the novel they thought she was writing, but a memoir that includes them all.  She wants their blessings.  

The play is Other Desert Cities. I'm not really sure I'm excited about the title or understand why it was chosen to label this play.  Yes, I caught the mention in the play, but I still don't think it's a great title for this story. 

It's at Cyrano's for those of you in or near Anchorage, this weekend and the next two and definitely worth going to see. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shmira - Sitting With Crysta

I got an email Tuesday afternoon that a good friend had died.  A good friend, to me, is someone you have an ongoing mutual affection for and with whom you can talk openly about things big or small.  When you see each other, no matter how much time has passed since you were last together, you pick up the conversation as though you'd just been away an hour or two.  Crysta was such a friend.

The email also asked if volunteers were available "to perform the mitzvah shmira."  I've been Jewish, more or less, all my life but I didn't know what shmira was, so I consulted Rabbi Google, who introduced me to Elizabeth Savage at Tablet who'd written about her shmira experience earlier this year:
"Shmira, which literally means guarding, is one of the prescribed Jewish rituals surrounding death. The group in charge of these customs is called the Chevra Kedisha (literally “holy group/community”), which attends to the preparation and protection of the body between death and burial—a time when it’s believed the soul hovers in a sort of liminal space. Someone must clean and dress the body, and someone must sit shmira at all times."
The Chevra Kedisha website offers a little more:  
The Concept of Shmira
Many of the traditions and laws that pertain to the care and preparation of the Jewish dead are founded on two basic principles:
1. The body as the container of the soul is to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
2. Although at death the soul departs the body, it still remains present near the body and is fully aware of all that transpires in its vicinity.
Thus the Shmira serves two purposes:
1. To guard the body from becoming prey for rodents and insects.
2. To give respect to the remains and consolation to the soul by not leaving the body
unattended like something useless and no longer worthy.
As I said, Crysta was a good friend, and we still had some things to tell each other and this seemed like a good opportunity.  So I emailed back we were available except Wednesday evening.  I guess I hadn't thought it through completely.  The email with the Shmira schedule had us down for Wednesday morning from 4:30am to 6:30am.  It took a few minutes for me to realize it was already Tuesday night and that meant we were expected in less than 10 hours.  I told J she didn't really have to come with me at that hour, but she insisted. 

Actually, I do like it when I manage to get up and out really early in the morning when no one else is out and about.  We knocked on the back door at the funeral home and the people before us let us in and even offered to leave some chocolate for us.  I'd already learned that I wouldn't be literally sitting with the body, but rather in the same building.  But there was no one else there but us and whatever bodies were there with Crysta. 

I can't imagine Crysta not being around.  She can die, yes, hard as that might be on those of us left behind, but I know she'll always be around.  That strong English accent despite her 50 some years in the US, always gave her a veneer of class and authority that hid, until you got to know her better, the very warm and funny woman she was.  We chatted a bit and I read her from the The River of Smoke.  Everything now is taking place in Canton and the Pearl River down to Hong Kong and I knew that Crysta would enjoy it.  Crysta and Ray had asked, way back when I was going to teach a graduate class on Chinese Civil Service Reform that included a trip to Hong Kong and Beijing, if they could come along.  It would help with the cost of the travel for the students so no one had a problem.  And despite being 30 years older or more than all of the students, Crysta and Ray never wore out, so none of the students could complain that I was pushing them too hard.  And their calm demeanor and travel experience made them great chaperons for the students, most of whom had never been out of the US.  And it raised our friendship to a whole new level. 

So I read and I could hear Crysta asking questions or correcting me, always with an impish smile in her voice.  And as I thought about our special relationship, I was reminded of Lydia Selkregg's funeral when one person after another stood up and talked about their special relationship with Lydia.  What, I thought at the time, everyone had a special relationship!?  It took a while to realize that didn't diminish the relationship I had had with her.  I know that's also the case with Crysta.  It's good to know that you can love lots and lots of people without diminishing any of those relationships.  I remember wondering when J was pregnant with our second child:  I love my son so much; how can there be enough love for yet another child.  And after M was born, I learned that love is infinite. 

Thanks, Crysta for being in my life.  Your departure would be much more difficult if you hadn't lived life so well that seeds of your goodness are planted in so many people's hearts. 

"When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes."

AIFF 2015: Features In Competition From Turkey, UK, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Iran

"In competition" means these films were selected by the screeners to be eligible for awards at the festival.  "Features" are 'stories' that are full length. While there are always other features which different folks like better than those in competition, it's a good bet these are among the best features at the festival.  This year's picks are all from outside the US.

The point of this post isn't to tell you what each of the features in competition are about, but rather to just give you a glimpse of something about the film I found interesting.

I don't have the times and locations yet.  I'll add them later and I might make other changes as things come to my attention.  

Here's the whole list and below I look at each one. 

Film (all are in competition) Director Country Length
And The Circus Leaves Town Mete Sozer Turkey 99 min
Creditors Ben Cura United Kingdom 81 min
Jasmine Dax Phelan Hong Kong 80 min
Magic Utopia Shoji Toyama, Shuichi Tan Japan 88 min
Orphans & Kingdoms Paolo Rotondo New Zealand 74 min
The Descendants Yaser Talebi Islamic Republic of Iran 80 min

And The Circus Leaves Town  
Mete Sozer 

Turkey √
99 min
And the Circus Leaves Town is the story of a village caught in between life and death. This is the story of the moment when the paths of the village which wants to forget its past and the “Stranger” who wants to grasp his past converge. The “Stranger” gets off the train with an old, wooden, red suitcase. His destination is a village where only a handful of people are left, where the young have left and the babies cease to be born, where each moment repeats a previous moment. The arrival of the “Stranger” is met with curiosity first, and suspicion later. The dark, covered memories of a bloodied wedding night are revived. Is the “Stranger” someone from the past, or a brand new hope... (From the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts iFKA)

Won for International Feature Film at the 5th Underground Film Festival in Cork City, Ireland this past August.


Ben Cura   
United Kingdom √
81 min

Much of what I know about Ben Cura comes from a recent in-depth interview with Film Courage.    Cura wrote the screen play,  directed the film and acts in it.   But it also has some strong, established actors, like Christian McKay, Simon Callow, and Andrea Deck.
"At times disturbingly funny and cruelly bleak, "Creditors" deals with the most private aspects of human relationships. From questioning our concepts of marriage and fidelity, to trying to establish the role of the modern woman in a world still trapping her within the confines of old fashioned canons, the film's story stirs, moves and sometimes even angrily rebuts our very own personal definitions of each."
The interview covers a wide range of topics from Cura's background (his father is a major opera singer which meant as a child Cura traveled the world); adapting the film from August Strindberg's 1888 play; the challenges of being a first time director and of black and white;  budgeting, and more.

 The film's world premiere is October 31, 2015 in New York's Nordic International Film Festival.  Then, it appears, to Anchorage.  Those who seriously want to prepare for the festival can read the original Strindberg play here.  


Dax Phelan  
Hong Kong √ 
80 min

UPDATE Dec. 10:  Just opened an email from Dax Phelan who said the second review quoted here was of an unfinished version of the film.  So take it with a grain of salt.

TwitchFilm liked it:
"Dax Phelan, veteran screenwriter and producer based in Los Angeles got the Hong Kong bug on a writing research trip to the city in 2005. By his own tongue-in-cheek admission, it had become somewhat tedious being handsomely paid for writing screenplays that rarely if ever get made. Citing inspiration by such auteurs as Lodge Kerrigan (The Killing TV series, Keane) and the Dardenne brothers (Two Days, One Night) Phelan sensed that Hong Kong could be fertile ground for a psychological thriller that would be his directorial debut. He penned Jasmine based on a story that he had co-written with Jason Tobin. . .

For the first time ever, Hong Kong plays a characterful, if inhospitable backdrop to an english language film with artistic sensibilities, a restrained, rhythmical build, and a chilling and thought-provoking climax. It explores themes of loneliness amongst the masses, fear of postponed regret, and most poignantly our ability to invest everything in our own flawed narratives."
Screen Daily wasn't as kind:

"Writer-director Dax Phelan uses the trope of the unreliable narrator to mixed effect in Jasmine, a classically-executed slow-moving descent into paranoia set on the streets of Hong Kong. Working from an idea by Phelan and Tobin, Jasmine’s script is too thinly fleshed-out to be fully successful, and the production tends to drag through its final frames. This moody noir will find a slim audience locally, and works best as a calling card for its director and lead actor, who are clearly capable."
Guess we'll have to see for ourselves who's right.   As of Oct 26, Anchorage isn't mentioned on either the director's Twitter or Facebook pages. 


From Keiko Shiga's Tumblr page
Magic Utopia
Shoji Toyama 
Japan √
88 min

Finding out about this film isn't easy.  There this from
"A young girl who lost her mother suddenly begins to float in midair when she meets a man trapped in a past of painful memories. At the same time, an old man receives a message on his answering machine from his long dead daughter."
 And this from what seems to be the film's website:

  1. 思い出せない秘密
  2. 抑えられない衝動
  3. 真実しかない孤独
 But this picture on their website suggests this could be good. 

Image from Orphansandkingdoms website gallery
Orphans & Kingdoms
Paolo Rotondo 
New Zealand √
74 min

From an interview with Director Paolo Rotondo in the New Zealand site Flicks:

How did you discover the three young leads?

They all auditioned. Calae who plays Kenae was the only kid who could really stand up to an adult actor in the audition and hold his own. Hanelle (Tibs) had auditioned for me when I was helping to cast a US TV film, she was so strong I wanted her for Orphans. Jesse auditioned and proceeded to teach me about the real world of the characters I was exploring, he didn’t need a script – he knew the story.
Director bio from a story generator workshop he ran:
I am a passionate and accomplished Artist who has worked in New Zealand’s Film, Theatre and Television industries for twenty years. My need to tell stories began as an Actor and inspired me to develop my skills as a Playwright and consequently Filmmaker. I offer a depth of experience in Film and Theatre, ranging from acting, to producing, to writing and directing.
The short films I have written have won awards and garnered international acclaim. This year I will be releasing my first full-length feature film ‘Orphans & Kingdoms’ which I wrote and directed, funded by The New Zealand Film Commission.
As a Playwright my works have been published and have toured nationally and internationally to universal critical and audience acclaim. “In 2014 my Play “Strange Resting Places” was invited in the New Zealand showcase at Edinburgh Festival.


The Descendants

Yaser Talebi 
Islamic Republic of Iran √
80 min

From the Youtube description:
"Jacob's family worries about Farrokh, the son of the family. Farrokh left Iran to continue his studies but he has not been in touch with them for a long time. Jacob travels to Sweden to look for his son..."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Summary Of The 10 Chuitna Decision Appeals, Plus The Actual Docs, And What's Next?

First, A Brief Overview Of What's Transpired And What's Coming Next 

PacRim is "a Delaware Corporation owned by Dick Bass and William Herbert Hunt"developing a 300 million ton coal mine across the inlet from Anchorage on Alaska Mental Health Trust  (AMHT) land..  Chuitna  Citizens Coalition (CCC)  had applied for three water reservations (actually instream flow reservations or IFRs) to protect the water and salmon from the future coal mine.  They were granted one for the Lower Reach of Middle Creek which is outside the proposed mine area.  The other two requested water reservations  - Upper Reach and Middle Reach - are in the proposed mine area and those applications were denied.  [Note: The PacRim website says nothing about who owns the company, so I had to get that information from the CCC website.]

CCC was given one of the three IFR's they applied for.  PacRim and other development and mining groups who opposed all the IFR's had 20 days to appeal the decision.  The deadline was the day before yesterday - Monday, October 26.

A total of ten appeals were submitted to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Mark Meyrs Monday,  opposing the decision by DNR's Water Division head to grant one (of three) applications for water reservations on the  Middle Creek (also known as Creek 2003). The commissioner's office emailed me copies yesterday.

I also spoke to David Schade, the head of the Water Division, and the person who made the Oct. 6 decision.  He told me the decision was unique in that the decision will grant a community group a certificate for a reservation of water, something the various resource development organizations strongly protested at the October 6, 2015 hearing.  And it's an argument that is echoed in nearly all their appeal letters.   He also told me that  the DNR Commissioner has at least three options:
  1. Uphold the decision;
  2. Remand it back to the water division in whole or in part; and
  3. Change the decision
There's no specific time limit for the decision and it might take awhile.   Schade also said having so many objectors was unique.

So, while this decision gets appealed, PacRim, presumably will continue the work of getting all the various permits from the different state and federal agencies.  Schade said PacRim had applied for 44 water rights and these were 'substantially complete' but additional information will be required before the Water Section will review them and, at the same time, a Chuitna River Reservation of Water application which was filed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  Before then, there will be other permit decisions coming in from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Mining Section of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mining, Land and Water, and from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  After these permitting processes are substantially complete, then the water right applications can be adjudicated.

So, I asked, since the two CCC applications were denied because there was not enough information, will they be able to reapply when the competing PacRim applications are complete?
No, he said.  Those are done.  But DNR is required to protect the public interest including all other competing water rights and impacts on the watershed.   CCC will be able to oppose the PacRim applications just as PacRim and others opposed CCC's applications.

Synopsis Of The Arguments Against The Decision And The Full Letters

I've tried to briefly summarize the key arguments each group or person that appealed the water reservation decision.  Some were easier to do than others.  In any case,  each synopsis is followed by the group's appeal letter, so you can check the details yourself.

1.  Alaska Miners
  • Delegation of DNR Regulatory Authority to private group wrong
  • “Need” for awarding water reservation not met
  • Instream flow reservations as a tool to stop resource development wrong
  • Permitting uncertainty

2. Alaska Mental Health Trust - They own the land and stand to earn substantial revenue from a mine which they can use to support mental health in Alaska.
  • The Trust must develop its lands to improve its ability to meet Alaskans’ mental health needs, but its power to do so would be threatened by overly expansive regime of reserved water rights.
  • There is no need for a reservation of water rights in Stream 2003
  • Granting CCC a reservation of water rights in the Lower Reach of Stream 2003 is contrary to public interest
  • If the Commissioner affirms the Division’s decision, he should clarify the scope of the reservation and how it will be administered.
  • The Commissioner should deny the reservation requested for the Lower Reach

3. PacRim  The mining company that wants to develop the mine.
  • “ CCC did not demonstrate that a need existed for a reservation.”
  • “DNR used an approach to determine stream flow that lacked transparency, that has no correlation to the level of water necessary to protect fish and fish habitat, and which could require PacRim to maintain stream levels below the mine area that generally do not naturally exist in the Lower Reach of Streem 2003”
  • “DNR’s public interest analysis was flawed because it did not evaluate fisheries information for the Lower Reach and failed to address the potential impact of the reservation on upstream users such as the proposed Chuitna Mine”
  • “DNR’s decision establishes a troubling precedent that transforms private citizens into regulators of natural resources projects.”

4. Pacific Seafood Processors Association
  • “Water is a public resource and PSPA believes it is in the public’s best interest that reservations be held by public entities that are formally accountable to the public.”
  • “the public interest, through the formal public processes, is best served by balancing the trade-offs of public interests such as conservation impacts, economic benefits, and opportunity costs.”

5. Alaska Oil And Gas Association (AOGA)
  • DNR cannot abandon regulatory supremacy
  • Applicant fails to meet threshold “Need” Requirement
  • Decision represents an invitation for further frustration
  • Decision discourages investment in Alaska

6.  Howard Grey  (Involved in Alaska development, former board member of Alaska Miners)

  • “we should consider whether or not the applicant is qualified to administer water resources management duties”
  • “we should look at the surrounding ownership to determine if such conveyance will affect the upland owner’s future use and enjoyment of the area or will they be stymied by the proposed segregation?
  • “we should consider whether or not the proposed conveyance is in the best interest of the public.”


7.  Council of Alaska Producers (“trade association for large metal mines and major metal development projects in the state”)

  • “It is fundamental that the State should never delegate authority to a private party to manage these resources, because agencies are accountable to the public and elected officials, but private citizens are accountable to no one.”
  • “…DNR must find - that a “need” exists for the reservation.  The applicant failed to do this and DNR’s analysis of the “need” relies of unsupported conclusions about hypothetical impacts where no water from Stream 2003 reaches the Chuit River"


8.  Resource Development Council
  • Creates further uncertainty in Permitting Process
  • Undermine existing regulatory process and set dangerous precedent for community and resource development projects
  • Jeopardize investment
  • Tool for anti-development groups to stop projects
  • Delegation of Public Resources to Private Citizens

9.   Borrel Consulting Services  ("Heart and soul of the Alaska Mining Industry")
  • No need has been demonstrated
  • Robust permitting process already exists, and this reservation process undermines that.
  • This loose application of the statute and regulations will likely result in future infringements on private and Native-owned private lands.
  • Not following proper procedures (not requiring a need) is bad precedent.
  • DNR can’t disregard clear requirement to demonstrate a need

10.  Alaska Chamber
  • “DNR is abdicating its statutory responsibility, not to the whole of Alaska’s citizens, but to specific individuals, some not even residing in our state.  This is a decision that assaults the very foundation of the State’s regulatory process.  It pulls resource management from the public interest and concentrates that authority in the hands and interests of individuals.
  • This striking, precedent-setting reservation is in direct conflict with the department’s published mission to “develop, conserve and maximize the use of Alaska’s natural resources and lawful 
  • processes . . .”

I'll try to analyze the arguments in a future post.  But I have some calls I'll need to make before I can do that. Meanwhile you can look at past posts on the Chuitna mine project here. [Reposting because of Feedburning problems]

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bahram nodded, 'Democracy is a wonderful thing, Mr Burnham,'

he said wistfully.  'It is a marvellous tamasha* that keeps the common people busy so that men like ourselves can take care of all matters of importance.  I hope one day India will also be able to enjoy these advantages - and China too, of course.'
'Let us raise a glass to that!'
 This conversation takes place on page 377 of River of Smoke, by Amitav Ghosh.  It takes place in 1839 in the foreign enclave (really the small island ghetto, the only place foreigners are allowed to live in Canton, China).  The occasion is a goodbye party for William Jardine who was returning to England, to lobby the British government to force the Chinese to open to more trade.  The Chinese were trying to shut down the opium trade which had made Jardine, the Indian trader in the book, and Burnham very rich. 

Wikipedia describes this event:
Jardine left Canton on 26 January 1839 for Britain as retirement but in actuality to try to continue Matheson's work. The respect shown by other foreign opium traders to Jardine before his departure can be best illustrated in the following passage from a book by William C. Hunter.
A few days before Mr. Jardine’s departure from Canton, the entire foreign community entertained him at a dinner in the dining room of the East India Company’s Factory. About eighty persons of all nationalities, including India, were present, and they did not separate until several hours after midnight. It was an event frequently referred to afterwards amongst the residents, and to this day there are a few of us who still speak of it.
The farewell dinner to Jardine was held on 22 January 1839 with several members of the Foreign settlement in Canton mostly traders. Among the guests were the Forbes brothers of the prominent Forbes family and Warren Delano, a senior partner in the trading firm Russel & Co. and maternal grandfather of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Qing government was pleased to hear of Jardine's departure, then proceeded to stop the opium trade. Lin Zexu, appointed specifically to suppress the drug trade in Guangzhou, stated, "The Iron-headed Old Rat, the sly and cunning ring-leader of the opium smugglers has left for The Land of Mist, of fear from the Middle Kingdom's wrath." He then ordered the surrender of all opium and the destruction of more than 20,000 cases of opium in Guangzhou. He also ordered the arrest of opium trader Lancelot Dent, the head of Dent and Company (a rival company to Jardine Matheson) since the Chinese were more familiar with Jardine as the trading head and were quite unfamiliar with Matheson. Lin also wrote to Queen Victoria, to submit in obeisance in the presence of the Chinese Emperor.
It's interesting how Ghosh has developed in this reader an affection for the trader Bahran and the men who work for him.  Even though we know that his whole life is defined by smuggling opium into China.  I think the positive side of this, is that as human beings we can connect to the way have to fight to make their way in life and how they can do evil things, yet the path to getting there seems quite reasonable.  If we can have empathy and understanding for such people, surely the differences among American citizens are not insurmountable.

It seems that their view of democracy is shared by quite a few who hover around state capitals and Washington DC.  

* tamasha is defined in an earlier post I did on River of Smoke and the richness of the language

Monday, October 26, 2015

At Least Eight Appeals Received By DNR On Chuitna Water Reservation Decision

I've been planning to do an update on the Chuitna Decision, but I needed to go through it carefully and figure out reasonable questions.  I thought I'd ask David Schade, the head of the Water Division, who signed the decision and then some of the other interested parties. 

But life happens and I only got through to David today.  We haven't had a chance to discuss my questions, but he did tell me that he'd been told there were eight appeals by late this afternoon - people had 20 calendar days to get appeals in, and the decision was on October 6.  He hadn't seen them yet, so he didn't know who submitted them. 

Here are some of the kinds of questions I had:

1.  Was this decision a postponement of the decision or a denial?  It seems to me that at one point the decision says that the Upper and Central fork portions of the Middle River, which are in the proposed mining area, are ripe for decision yet because the the mine's water reservations aren't complete.  That sounds like things are postponed.  But elsewhere it says the reservations have been denied, which sounds final. 

2.    What is the state of PacRim’s water reservation applications?  Different references were made to their applications but it wasn't clear where they were.
- not ready to be submitted because not enough info?
- have they submitted incomplete applications?  What does this mean?
- if submitted, when were they submitted?

3.  The Department finds that it is in the public interest to allow the PacRim permitting review process to be completed, and therefore that it would not be in the public interest to issue a reservation of water on the Main or Middle Reaches of Middle Creek/Stream 2003 at this time.
Is this a logical fallacy?  If one is in the public interest, does that automatically mean the other isn’t?  What this does seem to be saying is that if the reservation is issued, the permitting process would end.  

4.  Can PacRim really close down the Middle Fork above the Lower Reach and divert the water around and back to the Lower Reach and this won't harm the salmon?  Is there a difference between naturally flowing stream water and water that goes through culverts and how does that impact the quality of the water when it gets returned to the natural water way?  And how long would the water be cut off from the Lower Reach while this is being constructed?  Or are those questions people are still waiting on answers for?

There are more questions, but this gives you an idea.  The Oct 6 decision is linked at the earlier post on this.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Would More Women Police Officers Reduce Police Violence?

My previous post looked at FBI Director Comey's comment that crime was going up and the only single cause he could correlate with this was that police were more timid because of fears of viral video tapes.
I went through a number of issues that affect crime and people's response to police.  After posting, my mind kept rolling on.  I'm a big proponent of the idea that many of our intractable problems stem from people's models of the world, which cause them to draw different conclusions from the same facts.  And this year's media coverage of white police killing unarmed black men illustrates my hypothesis.

Police easily get jaded about human beings. They see people at their worst - when they are pulled over for traffic violations, when they crime victims, when they have committed crimes.  And if an individual officer grew up in a household that had racial stereotypes, that saw things in absolutes, then it's easy to think about the world as made up of good guys and bad guys.  Anyone who doesn't cooperate with the good guys (the police) is automatically a bad guy.

African Americans all have stories of being treated differently - whether it was a lowered expectation by a teacher, being followed by security in a department store, or in any of hundreds of other small slights.  Lynching stories are in every African-American family history.  For many if not most blacks, the kind of treatment they've seen in those viral video tapes is surprising only because the national media are actually covering their story. 

While I think that there are lots of different factors that affect the crime rate in any particular community at any particular time, I think those two different interpretations of police action are the underlying cause of the tension between police and blacks at the moment.  And why the New York Times and others, came down so strongly against Director Comey's statement.

So, to the title question:  Do Police Have To Be Violent And Macho?

I googled 'demographics of US police' hoping to get some data on the economic and education background of  US local police officers.  Yesterday, I quoted the Department of Labor saying that a high school diploma and GED are required everywhere, and that some places wanted some college or even a bachelor's degree.  I was trying to get information on the actual number of officers at different educational levels because I think this is part of the problem.

But what google gave me were stories about women in law enforcement and I think this Washington Post article is a good start for answering the question about violence.  I'll give you a couple of quotes that I don't think need any comment from me.  The first is from David Couper, the former chief of police in Madison, Wis
  • "As David Couper, the former chief of police in Madison, Wis., recently wrote: Women in policing make a difference — a big difference — they make for a better police department. Haven’t you wondered why women police are not the ones involved in recent officer involved shootings? After all, they are usually smaller, somewhat weaker in physical strength, and yet they don’t appear to shoot suspects as often."
  • ". . . In fact, over the last 40 years, studies have shown that female officers are less authoritarian in their approach to policing, less reliant on physical force and are more effective communicators. Most importantly, female officers are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations before those encounters turn deadly."
  •  "One of the earliest studies, sponsored by the Police Foundation in 1974, found that women encountered many of the same kinds of situations (involving angry, drunk or violent individuals) and were as capable as men. The study’s most important finding, though, was that 'women act less aggressively and they believe in less aggression.'”  
  • ". . . In a 1988 article in the Journal of Police Science and Administration researcher Joseph Balkin reviewed the U.S. and international research spanning 14 years on the involvement of women in police work. He found uniformly that women not only perform the job of policing effectively, but are better able to defuse potentially violent situations: 'Policemen see police work as involving control through authority,” he wrote, 'while policewomen see it as a public service.'”
  • ". . . the 1992 Christopher Commission report on police brutality in the Los Angeles Police Department. The commission was created in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the subsequent devastating riots: “Virtually every indicator examined by the commission establishes that female LAPD officers are involved in excessive use of force at rates substantially below those of male officers.” The commission explained: “Many officers, both male and female, believe female officers are less personally challenged by defiant suspects and feel less need to deal with defiance with immediate force or confrontational language.”
  • ". . . A 2002 study by the National Center for Women & Policing of excessive force incidents in seven major city police departments found that “the average male officer is over eight and a half times more likely than his female counterpart to have an allegation of excessive force sustained against him … [and] two to three times more likely than the average female officer to have a citizen name him in a complaint of excessive force.”
 The author, Katherine Spillar, then points out:
"local police departments averaged just 12 percent women in their ranks, only slightly higher than the 7.6 percent of women in local departments 20 years earlier."
 She says larger police departments have a higher percentage - 18% - but that's only because of many anti-discrimination law suits from the 1970s which are now beginning to expire.

She blames the lack of women on three things:
"Misguided recruiting practices, ongoing discriminatory hiring processes and hostile work places."
I would also raise again, the issue of education.  Is there a way to get better educated police officers?  Police work, because of high level of conflict inherent in the job, tends to isolate officers from the rest of society  Thus, there is probably more camaraderie among police.  This might be another obstacle to women.

One of my older posts that still gets lots of hits and may offer more insight on women in law enforcement is Early Women In The FBI.

[Sorry for reposting - Feedburner problems.]

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Blaming The Victim: FBI Chief Uses Gut Rather Than Data To Blame Protesters For Increasing Crime

Here, from the NY Times (I read it in the Alaska Dispatch), titled, "F.B.I. Chief Links Scrutiny of Police With Rise in Violent Crime":
"The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said on Friday that the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.

With his remarks, Mr. Comey lent the prestige of the F.B.I., the nation’s most prominent law enforcement agency, to a theory that is far from settled: that the increased attention on the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals. But he acknowledged that there is so far no data to back up his assertion and that it may be just one of many factors that are contributing to the rise in crime, like cheaper drugs and an increase in criminals who are being released from prison.

This is so bad.  So outrageous.  I know, I should settle down before I post this.


That's how I started this post.  Actually I wrote very indignantly about the FBI chief.  And then I stopped and decided I needed to read the whole article, not just what was on the first page.  I also decided  I needed to read Comey's whole speech to see if they reported it accurately.

Having done that I still think that Comey is mostly wrong.  And I think the NY Times is right to call him out on it.  They quote people at the Justice Department and other police chiefs who disagree with him on the impact of greater police scrutiny and they disagree that crime is even going up.  It varies among different kinds of crime and different cities.   

So, I've edited and added to what I wrote earlier today, and at the end I'll try to summarize some conclusions. 


Cops have been killing unarmed black men for years and years.   Killing unarmed black men while wearing white robes went out of style  (translation:  it was harder to get away with) in the late1960s and 70s.  But if you did it wearing a blue uniform, it was still ok.  But cell phone cameras have changed the narrative and this year the media have suddenly paid attention to the "Cops kill unarmed black men (and sometimes women)" story.

Now, Comey thinks, that geez, cops reacting to the bad press and not beating up and shooting  suspects is causing crime to go up, with the implication that people saying "black lives matter" are the problem.  And he did say 'all lives matter' several times in the speech. 

Give me a break.  The LA Times recently reported that crime had gone down in LA because the cops under-reported crimes by mis-classifiying them to lower level crimes.   Now that they are reporting them more accurately, maybe that's the cause of the increase.

OK, I understand.  There are lots of mean nasty dudes out there and there are times when the cops have to be tough.  But the last year of reporting has demonstrated that there are also lots of cops whose brains are programmed to see bad motherfuckers when they are really looking at decent, law abiding, citizens. Sometimes irritated law abiding citizens, who get pissed when, say, the cop tells them not to smoke. We've seen cops who can get mad easily and start taking it out on kids who don't obey them immediately.

Maybe there's an issue here about policing shifts that put cops under great pressure, about understaffing due to years and years of cutting budgets.  

Maybe the problem is how police recruit and train their cops.

Maybe it's the whole message the federal government sends to Americans: glorifying the military and the idea of getting 'bad guys' around the world, bringing back a lot weapon savvy, but mentally and emotionally unstable vets to the US and funneling them into police jobs,  and selling military equipment to local police departments to make the cops look like movie robo-cops rather than humans.  Maybe it's the macho cop story we see over and over again on television and movies and internet.  Maybe it's the violent video game industry which teaches kids to shoot as quickly as they can.  All these messages matter;  they infiltrate our brains and alter how we see reality.

But dammit, blaming the protesters (yes, that's what he's doing, because he's implying without them, cops would still be shooting unarmed black guys with impunity, I mean, being appropriately aggressive when needed) is just wrong.

This is like saying Americans are becoming less religious because of all the accusations and lawsuits against the Catholic church.  It's the people complaining, not the church that's the problem.  But I say, if the church hadn't tolerated priests abusing little girls and little boys, adolescents, and grown ups, there wouldn't have been any protest.

And if police violence hadn't been tolerated all these years, there wouldn't be any protests now.

And note - this is a 'theory'.  Actually, it doesn't reach the level of theory.  This is a defensive, gut reaction.  It reveals a lack of real police science and inability to break out of old policing modes so they can objectively reevaluate the role of policing in the US.  In fact policing cannot be isolated from everything else going on - particularly the fact that the US has 16 million kids living in poverty.
I know, for Ben Carson, this is a minor challenge, but for many people it is insurmountable.

These law enforcement officers' 'theory of good policing' is roughing up the 'bad guy' and making him scared of the cops.  I'm sure that's part of the thinking with all the Darth Vader riot police costumes.   When cops think in terms of good guys and bad guys, they aren't seeing people as whole human beings who have good and bad all wrapped into one person.  I know cops will tell me there really are bad guys.  And I'd respond, I'm sure there are, but they were once cute little babies.  How did they get that way?  Why do so many boys and men think their best choice is to join a gang?  It's probably because they live in dangerous neighborhoods where if you don't join a gang, your life is even more in jeopardy.  And if cops lose their cool and get violent with kids, why should we expect kids not to do the same thing? 

And Comey has the nerve to publicly voice a 'suspicion' he has that crime has gone up because cops aren't being violent enough.  Of course my tone is angry.  This is the best Obama can do for the head of the FBI?  

OK, that's when I went back to see Comey's whole speech.  It's on the FBI website here.
I wanted to see if he gave more possible causes than the protests against cops.  He does, but then he says, that for him the change in policing in response to protests is the real answer:
Maybe it’s the return of violent offenders after serving jail terms. Maybe it’s cheap heroin or synthetic drugs. Maybe after we busted up the large gangs, smaller groups are now fighting for turf. Maybe it’s a change in the justice system’s approach to bail or charging or sentencing. Maybe something has changed with respect to the availability of guns.
These are all useful suggestions, but to my mind none of them explain both the map and the calendar in disparate cities over the last 10 months.  (emphasis added)
He came to this conclusion, he says, by talking to cops.
"But I’ve also heard another explanation, in conversations all over the country. Nobody says it on the record, nobody says it in public, but police and elected officials are quietly saying it to themselves. And they’re saying it to me, and I’m going to say it to you. And it is the one explanation that does explain the calendar and the map and that makes the most sense to me.
Maybe something in policing has changed.
In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?"
There is something to be said about getting on the ground and listening to what people say.  And I'm a firm believer about saying out loud what people are whispering.  But only if what they are whispering makes sense.  He talks, in his speech about getting data.  But random anecdotal accounts are not good data.  They may be useful for suggesting what data to pursue, but they reflect the biases and fears of the people who report them as much as, and often more than, the 'truth.'   I suspect if Comey had gone around the country and talked with people living in high crime areas, law abiding citizens and gang members too, he would have gotten a totally different account of why crime was going up.  Well actually, some of those folks would have agreed that they need somebody to stop the gangs and other violent characters in their neighborhoods.  And in Comey's speech he does talk about doing this in particular neighborhoods where he was in gang busting units.  But there are also neighborhoods where people are relatively safe from gangs and it's the cops they fear. 

Law enforcement has been fighting gangs seriously since at least 1982.  Maybe if the time and money spent on fighting gangs had been used for Head Start and school lunch programs, for parent training and after school programs, fewer kids would have felt they had no choice but to join a gang.

But as I say, anecdotal data, isn't any good for making policy.  And how prepared are today's police to think through complex socioeconomic and political issues to determine the causes of crime and the solutions?  The cops on the beat are too close to the problem and not really trained to do good diagnosis of the causes of crime.

Back in the 1970s the LEEP program gave police departments lots of money to send their officers to college and graduate school.  Those funds dried up long ago.  Today's police officers are not particularly well educated.  Here's from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Standards Handbook on police work:


Police and detective applicants must have at least a high school education or GED and be a graduate of their agency’s training academy. Many agencies and some police departments require some college coursework or a college degree. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and in certain geographical regions.
Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually be at least 21 years old, have a driver’s license, and meet specific physical qualifications. Applicants may have to pass physical exams of vision, hearing, strength, and agility, as well as competitive written exams. Previous work or military experience is often seen as a plus. Candidates typically go through a series of interviews and may be asked to take lie detector and drug tests. A felony conviction may disqualify a candidate.
Are these they guys Comey spoke to?
"I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, “We feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.”
These cops and these kids need to be playing basketball or pool together, like Comey said he did in law school.  They need to get past the facades of tough guy on both sides and relate as human to human.  Back to Comey's speech:
I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.
So the suggestion, the question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country.
And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior."  (emphasis added)
And it should change behavior.  Cops should be going after criminals, but they shouldn't be treating law abiding citizens like criminals.  Cops now are increasingly isolated from the people they are supposed to protect.  Cops can no longer be this separate unit to take care of problems after the fact.  They need to be working with parents, with schools, with social workers, and with kids.  They need to be part of the neighborhood.  They need to part of a community health and educational team that prevents crime by helping kids stay healthy, stay fed, stay in school, stay off drugs, and get legal work that is enough to pay the bills.   We need more Mr. Rogers cops than Terminator cops.


1.  Did the Times misconstrue what FBI Director Comey said?
No, but they left a lot out which shows Comey to be a lot more sophisticated than the article suggests.  The structure of the story stacked the worst stuff in the first paragraphs and then quoted all the folks who disagreed with him.  Only then did it give more context of what he said.  But that context of other possible causes of the increase in crime were basically dismissed in favor of the 'theory' (basically what cops have been telling him they were experiencing) that crime was rising because cops were afraid of viral Youtube videos.
The Times also pointed out that in most places most crime (except for murder) has actually been dropping not rising.
 But the Times didn't mention Comey's story about integrating the neighborhood basketball team in the south side of Chicago when he was in law school.  (It would be nice to hear what his teammates thought of him.  Did he keep in touch with any of them, or is this just a good story he uses?)  They didn't mention his long discussion about how crime has dropped dramatically since 1990 and cities have been transformed.  People could sit on their porches and get on with their lives because lots of criminals had been put in prison.  He also acknowledged that many of those put in prison were black, because, he said, many of the criminals were black.  He also pointed out that many of those killed by criminals were black, so that by putting those violent criminals in prison, many lives were saved.  He talked about Richmond, Virginia in detail and also about northwest Arkansas.

2.  Is Comey's analysis of the cause of the increase in crime reasonable?
No.  I don't doubt that there are cops who tell him that they are afraid of breaking up a bunch of guys standing on the corner at 1am because the encounter might go viral.  I know college professors who were afraid to say anything about race or religion in class because they were worried about a student saying they were discriminating.  But those aren't the best cops or the best professors.  Those are people who don't get the bigger picture.  Comey says:
“Lives are saved when those potential killers are confronted by a police officer, a strong police presence and actual, honest-to-goodness, up-close ‘What are you guys doing on this corner at 1 o’clock in the morning’ policing,” Mr. Comey said.
I'm sure that's true.  But too many of those folks who have been confronted this year were unarmed, ,  decent folks of the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.   And they died because of the police, not because of criminals.

Comey gives stats showing increases in crime rates this year.  The Times cites other law enforcement leaders disputing the kinds of increases he mentions and disputing that increased scrutiny causes the increases.

3.  Should Comey bring to light the things cops are saying among themselves?
I think such discussions, if they are widespread, should be brought to the public and allowed to be scrutinized.  But Comey went further than that.  He essentially says he thinks the cops are right - that he can think of no other single cause for the (disputed) increase in crime.
I would argue that there probably isn't one single reason, that there is a myriad of reasons.  And that they differ from location to location.

Comey could have raised this and not taken a stand on it.  He could have said it needs to be studied further.  He did acknowledge there wasn't any data to prove this.

4.  Is Comey's characterization of crime increasing because cops are less aggressive because of the protests and fear of viral video tapes a good one?
No.  It blames the victims.  If you blacks wouldn't complain so much about police violence, there'd be less crime.  Women are being blamed for being raped too.  What was missing for me in his speech, was the acknowledgement, not just that there were some bad cops, but that the whole world view of most cops - we're the good guys fighting the bad guys - helps cops justify their bad behavior.  And even 'good' cops carry racial prejudices in their heads that lead them to be more confrontational with blacks.  And I recognize that cops often have good reason to fear people on the street.  It's not easy.  But innocent black men and women shouldn't have to fear cops and most black mothers of sons worry every time their kids go out - worry how the police will treat their sons.  That's a fact.  If cops think the mothers are wrong, well the mothers think the cops are wrong.  Maybe they should have cops and black mothers sit down and talk.  A lot.

5.  Is the media coverage of all this fair?
No.  It wasn't fair back when cops were always believed and it isn't fair now when the worst is believed of the cops.  But we really only hear the stories that are backed up with video tape.
And I think we should listen to the people of Ferguson who complained that all their peaceful demonstrations got very little press.  It was only when there was violence that the media jumped on the story.  That's a problem the media needs to deal with.
Most reporters have word limits, so they have to choose what to cover and what to leave out.  Comey's speech covered a lot more than what the Times focused on.  What they left out gives nuance to who Comey is and how much he understands about neighborhoods and crimes and getting to know people better.  But I couldn't find a link in the Times  online version to Comey's whole speech.  That's the least they could have given.
Finally, even if the reporters wrote a longer story, would the public have read it?  If they hadn't packed the most sensational parts of the story in the beginning, would anyone have read it?  I have the luxury of not worrying about selling blog posts.  That means I can be lazier about cleaning up what I write and about organizing it (like this rambling story), but I can also write longer pieces and those couple of readers who want to read the whole thing can. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

River of Smoke - A Word Junkie's Heaven - What A Tamasha!

"Everywhere you look there are khidmatgars, daftardars, khansamas, chuprassies, peons, durwans, khazanadars, khalasis and lascars.  And this my dear Puggly, is one of the greatest of the many surprises of Fanqui-town - a great number  of its denizens are from India!  They come from Sindh and Goa, Bombay and Malabar, Madras and the Coringa hills, Calcutta and Sylhet - but these differences mean nothing to the gamins who swarm around the Maidan.  They have their own names for every variety of foreign devil:  the British are "I-says" and the French are "Merdes".  The Hindustanis are by the same token, "Achhas":  no matter whether a man is from Karachi or Chittagong, the lads will swarm after him, with their hands outstretched, shouting:  "Achha! Achha! Gimme cumshaw!'
  They seem to be persuaded that the Achhas are all from one country - is it not the most diverting notion?"
In Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke the pages are sprinkled, sometimes dripping, with words odd to the American ear.

Some, like Achha, are explained, as you can see above, in the text itself.   And we'd learned a couple of pages earlier about Fanqui-town:
"And so at last to the foreign enclave - or 'Fanqui-town' as I have already learnt to call it!"
And we'd also just learned about the 'Maidan':
"And so, following my young Atlas, [a coolie carrying his luggage from the boat] I stepped upon the stretch of shore that forms the heart and hearth of Fanqui-town.  This is an open space between the factories* and the river-banks: the English speak of it as 'The Square', but Hindusthanis have a better name for it.  They call it the 'Maidan' which is exactly what it is, a crossroads, a meeting-place, a piazza, a promenade, a stage for a tamasha that never ends. . ."

But many other words are left there for the reader to either figure out or skip over, or gradually pick up through hearing it used, just like we learn words in our own language.  And, after all, the basic linguistic ingredient in this book is English. 

It was about this point - page 173 of a 500 page book - that I thought perhaps I should look up some of these words to see how much actually knowing what they mean adds to the reading.  I googled up a couple:


noun: Lascar; plural noun: Lascars; noun: lascar; plural noun: lascars
  1. a sailor from India or Southeast Asia.
Origin early 17th century: from Portuguese lascari, from Urdu and Persian laškarī ‘soldier,’ from laškar ‘army.’"


noun Indian
noun: tamasha; plural noun: tamashas
  1. a grand show, performance, or celebration, especially one involving dance.
    • a fuss or confusion.

      "what a tamasha!"
Origin via Persian and Urdu from Arabic tamāšā ‘walk around together.’"
But when I started jotting down a list, I was on the page with the quote at the top and quickly my list was:

I'll never finish the book if I have to look up all these words.  But, I thought, maybe someone has already done this.  

It turns out Neel [one of the characters in the book] did.  While it's not in the book, it's on Ghosh's website.  It's not a glossary, he calls it a  chrestomathy.

"The Chrestomathy then, is not so much a key to language as an astrological chart, crafted by a man who was obsessed with the destiny of words. Not all words were of equal interest of course and the Chrestomathy, let it be noted, deals only with a favoured few: it is devoted to a select number among the many migrants who have sailed from eastern waters towards the chilly shores of the English language. It is, in other words, a chart of the fortunes of a shipload of girmitiyas: this perhaps is why Neel named it after the Ibis.
But let there be no mistake: the Chrestomathy deals solely with words that have a claim to naturalization within the English language. Indeed the epiphany out of which it was born was Neel’s discovery, in the late 1880s, that a complete and authoritative lexicon of the English language was under preparation: this was of course, the Oxford English Dictionary (or the Oracle, as it is invariably referred to in the Chrestomathy). Neel saw at once that the Oracle would provide him with an authoritative almanac against which to judge the accuracy of his predictions. Although he was already then an elderly man, his excitement was such that he immediately began to gather his papers together in preparation for the Oracle’s publication."

I learned about the Chrestomathy at The Asia Collection which adds this insight into the language:
"It wasn’t until I had almost finished the book that I came across a glossary – and not just a regular glossary but a chrestomathy (technically, “a collection of literary selections, especially in a foreign language, as an aid to learning a language”), no less! The Chrestomathy, appearing at Ghosh’s website, was originally compiled by Neel, a character in both the first and second books of the Ibis triology, but also an ancestor of Ghosh, who passed down to him his love of words. Neel, according to Ghosh, “was of the view that words, no less than people, are endowed with lives and destinies of their own,” and his Chrestomathy “is not so much a key to language as an anthropological chart, crafted by a man who was obsessed by the destiny of words.” Like a number of Neel’s earlier descendants, Ghosh was given the task of not actually recreating the Chrestomathy but of “provid[ing] a summary of a continuing exchange of words between generations.”
It was in the Chrestomathy, then, that I found all those words and phrases that had challenged me while I was making my way through the book. Neel’s research and documentation in the late 19th century and Ghosh’s “summary” must have entailed painstaking work, indeed. And if you think all the above is a goolmaul, a gollmaul, atamasha – a puzzle, also, an uproar or a big fuss – try and work it out as I did with Ghosh’s masterpiece, or better still, read the book! And by all means use the Chrestomathy to ease your way through it."

Here's another example of mixing languages. 
"Patrão, the munshi's here - Freddy sent him.
Achha, munshiji, he said.  Why don't you sit on that kursi over there so we can look each other in the eye.
As you wish Sethji
In stepping up to the chair,  Neel had a vague intuition  . . . ."
Patrão comes from the Portuguese because Vico is from Macau and this is how he addresses his boss
Kursi, like some words, becomes clear in the next sentence, as Neel steps up to the kursi.

But what about munshiji?

From the Chrestomathy
+ munshi/moonshee: see dufter
+ daftar/dufter: This was another word which had already, in Neel’s lifetime, yielded to an ungainly rival, ‘office’. This too carried down with it, a lashkar of fine English words that were used for its staff: the clerks known as crannies, the mootsuddies who laboured over the accounts, the shroffs who were responsible for money-changing, the khazana-dars who watched over their treasuries, the hurkarus and peons who delivered messages, and of course, the innumerable moonshies, dubashes and druggermen who laboured over the translation of every document. It was the passing of the last three, all concerned with the work of translation, that most troubled Neel: those were the words he would cite when Englishmen boasted to him of the absorptive power of their language: “Beware, my friends: your tongues were flexible when you were still supplicants at the world’s khazanas:  now that you have the whole world in a stranglehold, your tongues are hardening, growing stiffer. Do you ever count the words you lose every year? Beware! Victory is but the harbinger of  decay and decline.”
Shroff was actually a word we learned the year we lived in Hong Kong.  To get your parking ticket validated at the mall, you had to go to the schroff.

I'd note the warning here to the British about their language.  Ghosh is a Bengali Indian.  English was imposed upon his country and in these books he's stretching his tongue (and maybe sticking it out a bit at the British) and saying, you left this here so don't tell us how to use it.  We're going to spice up  this language you left behind with all sorts of exotic linguistic ingredients.  

Just as the English have discovered how bland their food was when they started eating Indian found, they will discover how bland their language was too before the Indians stopped worrying about writing it 'properly'. 

But it's not just words from the subcontinent that flavor this book.  Other former British colonies also contribute phrases.

The Cantonese we learned in Hong Kong helped in other parts of the book.   Here's where Neel begins writing the Chrestomathy.  He meets the Chinese printer who is the author of a book Neel has seen often in the hands of Chinese trying to speak pidgin to the foreigners:
"The title of this short booklet was translated for Neel as "The-Red-Haired-People's-Buying-and-Selling-Common-Ghost-Language'.  It was more commonly known however as 'Ghost-People-Talk' - Gwai-lou-waah - and it sold very well . . ."
He does explain the words, but  Gwai-lou is what white foreigners are still called, and waah is the word for language. Both still alive and well in my brain.  Does it add to one's appreciation of the book to also independently recognize the words?  Made me feel good anyway.

That night Neel wonders why a similar book hasn't been written for the foreigners.  He decides fate has brought him together with Compton, the printer, and the next day he proposes they do it together.  Compton says he had thought of it too but couldn't find a foreigner to partner with him.
"'They think-la, pidgen is just broken English, like words of a baby.  They do not understand.  Is not so simple bo.'
'So will you let me do it?'
Yat-dihng!  Yat dihng! [Somewhere from my dusty brain I heard "Certainly! Certainly!"]
'What does that mean?' Neel inquired a little nervously.
'Yes. Certainly.'
Do-jeh Compton. [And thank you was one of the first words we learned, though Cantonese has a thank you that is only for physical gifts and another one for helpful actions.]
M'ouh hak hei  [This is obviously, 'don't mention it'.  I get the M'ouh  which means 'not' or 'nothing' but I don't remember the hak hei.]

Neel could already see the cover:  it would feature a richly caparisoned mandarin.  As for the title, that too had already come to him.  He would call it:  The Celestial Chrestomathy, Comprising a Complete Guide to and Glossary of the Language of Commerce in Southern China."

One other link to an interesting discussion of the language in River of Smoke from a bi-lingual culture blog. 

A final note on doing something I've never done before 

Words and books are semi-sacred to me.  Highlighting books always seemed like a desecration and I still don't mark books with anything more than a pencil.  So it was with a giant effort today that I ripped out the first 115 pages of the book.  I told myself what I used to tell students:  You should do something you've never done before, every day.  I try to do that, but this one was a particularly big one and I put it off as long as I could.  But I've invited a friend to be a guest at our book club when we discuss River of Smoke.   I've tried to get him a copy but neither Title Wave nor Barnes and Noble had copies.  The public and university libraries didn't have available copies.  Amazon wanted $46 to ship it in two days.  So I decided to give him a chunk of the book I'd already read.  If I gallop through the rest, maybe I can finish it before he needs more pages.  

I know for many this is no big deal.  I've even heard of travelers who would rip out the pages after they read them so their book was lighter.  That's not me.