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My first interview with an ‘A-List’ blogger

I did my first interview this week – it’s kind of early but the blogger was around and I wanted to take the opportunity. My planned schedule for research is somewhat messed up because the ‘traditional’ read --> fieldwork --> write-up stages are getting mixed up; my ‘fieldwork’ is blogging, taking notes and recording aspects of blogs, and meeting bloggers, and I’ve been doing that for about a year already. And I was blogging before anyway.
Fieldwork - how it used to be :-) (Source)

Anyway, I practiced on a fellow student last week (which was very useful), and met up with the first interviewee for about four hours. I’m calling this blogger ‘AlphaBlogger’: I decided to make them all anonymous, and this blogger gets ‘A’ as the first name – the blogger chose the name, I just said it should start with an ‘A’. The next one will be something starting with a ‘B’, and so on.

Unfortunately for AlphaBlogger the aircon gas in my car needs topping up (something I noticed in the morning only), so I drove an increasingly sweaty blogger through a somewhat jammed Bangsar and into PJ to try to catch some duck rice at the famous ‘Sunrise’ place in Taman Paramount, but unfortunately we were too late at 13.30! That place really runs out quickly. So we ate somewhere else, and after went to Monash for the interview.

Anyway, AlphaBlogger was very friendly and easygoing, which made it easier for me. The interview went well, and was very interesting; I learned a few things about the history of blogging in Malaysia, and blogging in general that I never knew. AlphaBlogger mentioned Blue’s News as one of the first ‘bloggers’ (not Malaysian) – apparently the website owner started a section called ‘Out of the Blue’, which was updates on his personal life and stuff. It’s something that has never come up in the literature: Blue’s News is a site related to gaming, whereas the typical chronologies are the one by (for example) Rebecca Blood, have blogs starting with tech/programmer-type people.

AlphaBlogger’s name is somewhat appropriate, as AlphaBlogger is [edited slightly - 1/8/08] a very early Malaysian blogger. There were very few Malaysian bloggers then apparently, but AlphaBlogger didn’t mention Oon Yeoh who’s been blogging since 2001. One of those mentioned was Absolutely Fuzzy who (according to the Copyright information) has had a blog since 2000.

This is also different from the ‘official’ story I’ve heard before about the ‘father’ of Malaysian blogging, Oon Yeoh, and Jeff Ooi , etc… It may have something to do with the divide between SoPo bloggers and ‘personal’ bloggers; SoPo bloggers always get more attention in the MSM, and – it seems to me – represent in most people’s mind what a blog is about. In fact, the great majority of blogs are not SoPo blogs.

Jorn Barger’s ‘Robot Wisdom’ is often cited as the first blog (1997), but I recently found out about Justin Hall who started in 1994 – said to be the first personal blogger. Again, it seems that in the conventional histories, the personal bloggers are often overlooked… interesting…

Anyway, it was very useful to talk to an ‘A-list’ blogger. I definitely learnt stuff that I would never know otherwise (unless I start getting thousands of daily visitors, which ain't gonna happen anytime soon). So, you know who you are, thanks again and hope to meet up sometime again :-)

And if there's anyone who has any information about the history of blogs in Malaysia, please tell me! I'm about to start a chapter on it, and all information is good :-)

A gentleman's honour

Well the news here in Malaysia is quite exciting - Penang has gone to the opposition, Samy Velu is out...

Anyway, on a completely unrelated note, there's a short piece on BBC about a sailor who was on a ship that was sunk by the Germans in 1940. He was pulled out of the water and
They were taken to Narvik and transferred to a German ship where they signed an agreement promising that when they returned to Britain they would not fight the Germans.

"We had to sign a declaration saying we wouldn't take up arms against them.

"That really upset me because of course I wanted to go back."

Imagine! "Ve haff blown a hole in your Englander pig-dog ship and vish ve killed you. But since you made it out, pliss sign this and promiss you von't try to shoot us again. Heil Hitler!"

Then, they let him go! And when he managed to get back to England from Norway
Unable to return to the navy - because of his declaration not to fight the Germans - he joined Ford where he worked as an engineer checking aeroplane engines.

Two things amaze me here:
1. He actually stuck to his word. I wouldn't fell bound by it.
2. He was allowed to stand by it at a time when there was a universal draft.

Was that the true 'British spirit'? Or perhaps he was not judged suitable for other reasons...

American Man’s Burden

I came across this the other day

It’s the official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in 1629. You can’t see it very well, but the Native American is represented as saying “Come over and help us”…

Interestingly, a Native American is also represented on the current day seal, though without the arrow (originally held downwards in a sign of peace) and no longer pleading to be force fed Christianity and foreign culture.

I wonder how many Native Americans are left in Massachusetts now? 0.6% of the population according to the 2005 census.

So what you may ask? Well, an article (which I can’t find anymore) made the point that the current attitude of Bush et al. , that they are doing the world a favour by spreading ‘freedom’ in Iraq and other places, is very much the same attitude that enabled the colonial nations to simultaneously destroy cultures and exploit people around the world while at the same time sighing about how tough it was to be so good to the natives…

Extracts from The White Man's Burden by Rudyard Kipling. It was written in 1889 after America took the Phillipines from Spain (full text)

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man's burden--
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Consider some more contemporary comments by American intellectuals (from here):
the US "has become an empire, the most magnanimous imperial power ever" Dinesh D'Souza

"And the truth is that the benevolent hegemony exercised by the US is good for a vast portion of the world's population. It is certainly a better international arrangement than all realistic alternatives." Robert Kagan

America has a "uniquely benign imperium." Charles Krauthammer

**Update 22/02** Here's an article about the American use of water torture in its colonisation of the Philippines.
**Update 23/02** Well, here's a quote that makes the point well I think, I came across it listening to a very interesting BBC Radio documentary about Arab-Americans Marines who served in Iraq. It's Bush announcing the beginning of the invasion of Iraq (18 March 2003):
My fellow citizens. At this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger. (George W. Bush)

... thanks, but no thanks mate.

Some thoughts on anthropology and history

Durkheim originally argued that a true sociology/history would come about as a result of the blending of history and social science (Rules of the Sociological Method [?]).

Collingwood provides a suggestion that anthropology, which is concerned with the analysis of ‘other’ cultures, also has similarities with historical analysis in that historians have to understand that fundamentally different presuppositions are brought to bear in different historical and/or cultural situations (Collingwood 1972)

Inden provides an example this blending of historical and anthropological analysis (Inden 1990).

Bakhtin also uses an exploration of historical analysis to challenge the monological nature of many theories cf.(Morson & Emerson 1990).

The impossibility of predicting the future also relates to an understanding of historicity. Bakhtin rejects the approach that claims that all is relative because this fixes the result of historical analyses in advance and argues that “…history requires unfinalizability.” (Morson & Emerson 1990: 44). One solution frequently proposed, the diachronic approach, is frequently deficient in that it is often “…nothing but a series of synchronic slices, with no intelligible historical links.” (Morson & Emerson 1990: 44), or is a synchronic view that unfolds over time. “Unfinalizability and prosaics are missing from such models, which make change the result of causes outside human agency, uniform in nature, and, at least in principle, knowable in advance.” (Morson & Emerson 1990: 44)

This leads us to question how one would be able to give a proper historical account – remembering that an anthropological analysis is by definition also a historical work, in that it is describing a past that has occurred. One answer is the format of the novel, according to Bakhtin, that is able to give " and 'thick' accounts..." (Morson & Emerson 1990: 27). This terminology, used by Morson & Emerson recalls Clifford Geertz's espousal of the 'thick description' (Geertz 1973), and also suggests a rejection of a cause-and-effect rationale.

David Kohn (Kohn n.d.) (pp. 7-8):
“…do anthropology and history study the same object, and do they study it in the same way? The answer to both questions is yes. In the introduction to The Idea of History, Collingwood asserts that history studies ‘actions of human beings that have been done in the past.’ (p. 9) Anthropology falls within this definition…”

Collingwood criticises what he calls a ‘scissors and paste’ approach to history where the historian merely collates information about the past as represented in texts and/or other artefacts, and then presents the final collection as a unified and definitive narrative. Instead the historian should adopt a ‘scientific’ approach that, according to Collingwood, means that s/he should make a systematic attempt to answer particular questions, to acquire particular knowledge.


I wrote that a long time ago; what interested me was the convergence between anthropology and history. Recognising that historical accounts are always contingent accounts based on the present interpretations means that - as in anthropology - we have to find a way to develop accounts that are in themselves diachronic and multivocal. In a way, a blog would be perfect for that: each page is placed chronologically, but all are simultaneously accessible; different people can contribute via the comments; multimedia can be used...

Works Cited.

Collingwood, R.G. An essay on metaphysics. Chicago: University Press of America, Inc., 1972
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Inden, R. Imagining India. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.
Kohn D. Collingwood and Clifford. Unpublished: (in Anthropology department library, SOAS), ND.
Morson G.S. & C. Emerson. Mikhail Bakhtin. Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.