Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ACMS Library Continues to Grow

Thanks to numerous donations and a robust acquisitions policy supported by the ACMS Library Development Fund, the ACMS Library collection continues to grow at an impressive rate. In August the collection added approximately 75 new books focused on topics relevant to Inner Asian Studies. The library acquired books to complete its set of books written by Owen Lattimore (19 total), and it acquired dozens more such as:
  • The Silent Steppe: the Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov
  • Russia's Steppe Frontier: the Making of a Colonial Empire 1500-1800 by Michael Khodarkovsky
  • Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong
  • The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century Vol 1 & Vol 2 Translated and Commented by Igor de Rachewiltz
  • Reins of Liberation: An Entangled History of Mongolian Independence, Chinese Territoriality, and the Great Power Hegemony, 1911-1950 by Xiaoyuan Liu
For more information about the ACMS collection, visit our website at http://library.mongoliacenter.org.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

ACMS Speaker Series

The ACMS Speaker Series starts up again for the fall semester August 28th. For more information about the upcoming lecture, please visit www.mongoliacenter.org/ss. Currently October 9th, November 6th, and December 4th are open for speakers. If you are interested in giving a lecture on one of these dates, please contact info@mongoliacenter.org.

Mongolian Second Gold Medal

A Mongolian athlete earned the country's second gold medal yesterday evening in a decisive bantamweight bout against a Cuban boxer. The celebrations Sunday evening were somewhat muted in comparison to the first gold medal, but thousands of people still made the most of the celebratory mood in Ulaanbaatar. Another Mongolian boxer also earned Mongolia's second silver medal yesterday. The total count for Mongolia during the 2008 Olympics was 2 golds and 2 silvers. Not bad. And, the icing on the cake was the Mongolian national anthem being played twice in Beijing, something one never tires of seeing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

What season is it?

The other day at the center our Deputy Director (Enkhbaatar) mentioned that he had greeted someone recently by asking "saikhan zusaj baina uu?" (Are you summering well?), to which the person responded that it was no longer summer so he should have been asking "Are you autumning well?" This was on a day it was about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Could it already be autumn in Mongolia?

Mongolian weather is fairly stable within seasons, but it becomes a capricious prankster in the transition between seasons. Autumn and spring in particular are times when one will invariably pick to wear long underwear on a day that starts out freezing and ends at 90 degrees or to leave the house without a jacket on a day that starts out mild and ends with two inches of snow.

This week has marked the first signs of the seasonal transition. It was so hot Tuesday in the ACMS that it was actually difficult to concentrate on work. By Friday it was a very brisk cold, and looking like it might dip below freezing over the weekend at night. It is truly Autumn. It feels and smells like it outside. It is not even September. At some point next month, I expect Enkhbaatar will ask someone if they are autumning well, and the person will respond, "Don't you mean am I 'wintering well'?" So it goes on the high Asian steppe...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mongolian Gold

It was impossible to not get swept up in the emotion of Mongolia winning its first gold medal at the Olympics last night. Around nine in the evening the sky erupted in fireworks over Sukhbaatar square as thousand of people cheered and sang the national anthem in honor of N. Tuvshinbayar, Judo Olympic Champion, and now the most popular man in Mongolia. It was amazing to see how many people were openly weeping tears of joy over the accomplishment, and I confess that even I am still a bit emotional about it, too. It was more than a medal and more than a victory on the international stage. It was a catharsis, too. An opportunity for everyone to let out the emotion that has built up in the last month due to the political crisis and to remember the greatness of Mongolia, something that has seemed somewhat in doubt at times. N. Tuvshinbayar won a medal for a whole nation yearning to be proud once again--a point exemplified by Bayar (MPRP) and Elbegdorj (DP) holding each other's hands above their heads on the steps of the parliament building screaming in joy as loudly as the thousands of people gathered before them on Sukhbaatar square . Some of the tears shed last night were brought about by renewed faith in Mongolia, I have no doubt.

Congratulations, Mongolia! Bayar khurge, Mongolchuudaa!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lattimore Colllection Grows

As part of preparing for the upcoming Lattimore conference, the ACMS Library made an attempt to purchase all of Lattimore's books to include in the library collection. Previously the collection contained only about 4 of Lattimore's 19 books (at least that's how many we've counted so far). With support from the ACMS Library Development Fund, 0ur library was able to purchase 18 books and several other materials related to Lattimore. We were unable to find one book titled "The Diluv Khutagt: Memoirs and autobiography of a Mongol Buddhist reincarnation in religion and revolution." If you know of an available copy somewhere in the world, please let us know at library@mongoliacenter.org so we can complete the collection.

The missing book notwithstanding, the ACMS Library may be able to claim, unsubstantiated with any real evidence, only a gut feeling, that it is the most comprehensive public collection of Lattimore's work available in Mongolia. As an exciting bonus, the Lattimore Family has also donated digital copies of all of Owen Lattimore's photos housed at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University and photos from David Lattimore's visit to Mongolia in 1964 to the ACMS Library collection. In terms of photographic history, this is also arguably the best collection of materials related to Owen Lattimore in Mongolia.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mongolian Press

A free press and freedom of expression are cornerstones of a healthy democratic political process. This is an idea that is so often repeated that I think sometimes we have a tendency to accept it uncritically without exception. The current political row in Mongolia has made me reevaluate this idea because increasingly I observe a democratic process being tainted by a seemingly unprofessional and irresponsible press.

Several news outlets seem to have taken the idea of press freedom and freedom of expression to the same logical but immoral conclusion that a prankster in a crowded theater might use to justify shouting "Fire!" That is, freedom of expression is the right to say whatever, whenever one feels the need to express oneself regardless of the consequences of saying it. Several online news outlets and print news agencies, as well as a couple of television stations, in Mongolia seem to apply this reasoning to their reporting. Whether factual or not, the press has the right to print or broadcast whatever, whenever it wants--so the argument seems to go based on the behavior of some of these media outlets.

When someone chooses to express oneself, one always runs the risk of saying something controversial that may produce adverse consequences. It is a fact of political life, and often this is the defense used by the press when unseemly information about the government is printed and politicians or bureaucrats try to silence legitimate reporting on the basis of libel or character assassination. In such cases, the argument goes that the right for the public to know and the need to inform for the public good supersedes any claim of libel. In other words, people generally have a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to the reporter reporting the information rather than the government officials claiming the information to be a lie, as to do otherwise puts society at risk of being unable to root out serious political malfeasance. It's probably not a bad assumption to make most of the time that claims of libel are intended to silence the reporter rather than set the record straight, at least in circumstances where the reporter has much greater credibility than the government officials. And, maybe that is a key point. The idea of credibility.

Freedom of expression comes with certain responsibilities. It is not totally free. We cannot shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater because we have a responsibility to help maintain the peace in society at the expense of a childish desire to play a prank. And, media outlets should not report false or unsubstantiated information, because they have a responsibility, too, to support a healthy democratic political process at the expense of their own desire to meet a deadline or sell more papers. Freedom without responsibility is simply anarchy. I wonder how often media outlets in Mongolia can participate in reporting that is closer to anarchy than legitimate freedom of expression before they lose all credibility to confront legitimate cases of political malfeasance? How many times can one shout "Fire!" before people stop listening?

I have come across numerous articles (www.news.mn and the UB Post are two print examples) of information being reported with little evidence to substantiate claims or without caveats such as "it is alleged" or "evidence of this claim was not forthcoming." Instead, articles contain claims without caveats or important supporting information, and many times they are presented as fact as opposed to speculation. Readers of the newspapers should look for these sorts of omissions, because they signal at best sloppiness and lack of journalistic integrity and at worst deliberate efforts to complicate the political process by misinforming the public.

Democracies cannot function without freedom of expression. But, they also cannot function without people respecting the responsibilities that go along with that right. The Mongolian media has a lot of work to do as an industry before it can rightfully claim that it has a substantially positive impact on the political process. Without integrity and trust, the industry is a purveyor of rumors and misinformation that potentially are dangerous tools for deliberately derailing the political process and harming the public.