Back to Common Ground Archive

Week of April 13, 2004

Program 0415


America’s Foreign Army | Transcript | MP3

Iran Appearances | Transcript< | MP3

Water Wars | Transcript | MP3

Viva Las Moscow | Transcript | MP3

China’s Returning Elite | Transcript | MP3

Disappearing Languages | Transcript | MP3

Flamenco Fusion | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

CADET CAPTAIN TROY VAUGHN: The language barrier is a little bit difficult sometimes, but it offers a lot to the academy as far as bringing diversity to the personnel and it allows everyone to mix and to see opposite sides of the world and different mentalities and it really brings a lot to the individual.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, America’s foreign army.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, Iranian women go under the scalpel.

ATENA: [via a translator] Because only our faces are shown outside of our scarves, nose surgery is common today. Just a few people may get surgery done for their cheeks or lips, but nose surgery is more common.

PORTER: And Russia’s booming casino industry.

IAN LIVINGSTON: And this is really all based upon how, how Russia and Moscow is developing itself. And as business continues to boom, only good things can happen to the casino industry.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

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America’s Foreign Army

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MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Amidst the ongoing debate about whether the military is spread too thin to meet commitments around the globe, America’s armed forces continue the drive to transform themselves, to counter the perceived threats of the future. In a post-9/11 world, it’s not just a question of purchasing new, high-tech weapons systems. There’s also an effort to produce young leaders who can operate in far-flung conflict zones. Malcolm Brown visited the storied US Military Academy at West Point, to see how it’s adapting.

[The sound of cadets rappelling down a cliff.]

MALCOLM BROWN: These cadets, members of the newest class at West Point, are part of the largest intake in the academy in more than a decade. It’s a fact which officials here attribute to the publicity surrounding the institution’s 2002 bicentennial and a continued patriotic surge, inspired by the 9/11 attacks.

CADET SERGEANT JOHN HITCHINGS: I was there for a year prior and then afterward. I’ve seen a great increase in motivation and dedication in the Army.

BROWN: Cadet Sergeant John Hitchings, who’s in his third year at West Point, witnessed firsthand the effect of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the sense of purpose at the Academy. Since then the US military has fought wars in Afghtanistan and Iraq. The Academy Superintendent, Lieutenant General William Lennox, says the lessons of September 11th and the subsequent conflicts are already reflected in the West Point syllabus.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM LENNOX: We now have a counter-terrorism center. We’ve invited in instructors that are knowledgeable in certain areas of the world. I think the whole attitude has changed. The cadets now are very focused. They know that when they come in, just a short time after they graduate four years later they could be on the ground anywhere in the world.

[The sound of cadets rappelling down a cliff.]

BROWN: That knowledge adds an edge to the training which takes place on the academy’s 16,000 acres. Here, first year cadets watch instructors rappel down a rock face, knowing that these are skills that could one day be tested in somewhere like mountainous Afghanistan.

[The sound of applause.]

BROWN: Instructor Lieutenant Ian Grimstad says the prospect makes the training more realistic.

LIEUTENANT IAN GRIMSTAD: We really feel we need to train now. We would have trained on it anyways, but now it’s more purposeful.

[The sound of chanting cadets undergoing military training.]

BROWN: Basic training provides six weeks of military instruction to newly arrived cadets. And it’s not just Americans being put through their paces.

LEE MOO HYEONG: My name is Lee Moo Hyeong. I am from South Korea, in Seoul.

BROWN: Cadet Lee was one of 11 foreigners to join the class that is due to graduate in 2007.

LEE MOO HYEONG: So fun. So fun. Yes, so exciting.

BROWN: The enthusiastic Lee is not the first South Korean to attend West Point—a reflection of his country’s long alliance with the US. But there’s also evidence of the recent shake-up in international relations. Afghanistan and Pakistan—neither of which have ever produced a West Point graduate but both of which are now on the frontlines of the war on terrorism—were among those given priority in the admissions process for the class of 2007. Despite that, there are no Afghanis or Pakistanis at the academy at the moment. Instead, the latest international intake of nearly a dozen included cadets from countries as far afield as the West African state of Benin and the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, in Central Asia. Troy Vaughn, a cadet captain, says that after a period of adjustment the whole class benefits from the international presence.

CADET CAPTAIN TROY VAUGHN: The language barrier is a little bit difficult sometimes, but I think it offers a lot to the academy as far as bringing diversity to the personnel and it allows everyone to mix and to see opposite, opposite sides of the world and different mentalities and it really brings a lot to the individual.

BROWN: Cadet Sergeant Ryan Chlebek says he’s certainly learned from his overseas counterparts.

CADET SERGEANT RYAN CHLEBEK: Talking with them, you know, gives us a broader aspect of what their army is like, how it maybe differs from us and they have a lot of good input that they give to us.

[The sound of chanting cadets on parade.]

BROWN: At West Point, getting used to foreign military cultures and planning for the wars of the future, all takes place against the backdrop of two centuries of tradition. Dr Stephen Grove is the academy’s historian.

DR. STEPHEN GROVE: The heavy hand of tradition is very powerful at the military academy. When the military academy had success on many occasions, those people who tried to bring about reforms were talked down by the academy leadership, saying, “We are the institution that brought you Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant and Phil Sherman and Stonewall Jackson. Why do we need to change anything?”

[The sound of chanting cadets on parade.]

BROWN: Dr. Grove says that West Point overcame the resistance to change and now actively seeks out feedback on the recent graduates it sends to the army.

DR. GROVE: We get responses back from the commanders in the field. Do these new second lieutenants have the skills and training that they are looking for from an academy graduate?

BROWN: The task that West Point sets itself is to innovate continually and plan for the future, while retaining the sense of history which permeates every aspect of life at the academy. For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown at West Point.

[The sound of chanting cadets on parade.]

[Musical interlude]

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Iran Appearances

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PORTER: In recent years, many Iranian women have been helping transform their society. As more and more women attend universities, they’re earning important positions in the workplace and battling for more equal rights with men. At the same time, many Iranian women are using other tools—makeup, hair, and clothes—that challenge the rules and norms of the Islamic Republic. As Roxana Saberi reports from Tehran, these women are trying to defy boundaries set for them by using their appearances.

ROXANA SABERI: Iranian women have a saying: “Kill me, but make me beautiful.”

[The sound of a woman speaking Farsi.]

SABERI: Words to keep in mind if you ever try “threading,” a method Iran’s salons use for removing women’s facial hair from its roots. Here at Padideh No Salon in northern Tehran, a beautician uses a heavy string to grasp the hairs of a customer and pull them out. Any facial hair other than eyebrows and eyelashes fall victim to Zahra’s thread.

ZAHRA: [via a translator] Iranians like to pay attention to the way they look. Women like to put on makeup and do their hair. They like to look nice at parties, and they don’t like to have hair on their faces. They like to be neat.

SABERI: Many Iranian women say they’ve always cared for their appearances. But they also say they began to care much more after Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Since then, one of the most persistent battles over the control of public space has been over the way women look.

UNNAMED IRANIAN RESEARCHER: The Koran says that women should wear a veil around their head, covering the hair and their entire body from the sight and from the viewing of outsiders.

SABERI: This Iranian researcher of women’s studies, who preferred not to be identified, says there have been many interpretations of the Koranic verses about the issue of veiling. Some say it was a commandment exclusive to prophets’ wives. Others disagree.

UNNAMED IRANIAN RESEARCHER: Some say that no, it was a permanent commandment that should be observed throughout the times and by all Muslim women. But the practice in Muslim countries shows that the second interpretation has been accepted.

SABERI: The second interpretation became the law in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which requires women to observe good “hejab” by concealing the shape of their bodies and covering their hair. But this hasn’t stopped women from wanting to look good. When they’re indoors, their scarves can come off in front of other women, small children, and close family members, though in practice some women do so in front of others as well. This means hair is still quite important.

[The sound of someone cutting hair.]

SABERI: Indeed, as Zahra the beautician points out, many clients are visiting Padideh No Salon to get the latest hair style.

ZAHRA: [via a translator] We color their hair—light and dark, blond, olive. Did you see that old lady? She is about 70 or 80 years old and came here to curl her hair.

SABERI: It is true that many Iranian women wear veiling not because of the law, but because they are Muslim. But it’s also evident some women are trying to resist the rules of the Islamic Republic in various ways. When they’re outdoors, some have mastered a gravity-defying trick by wearing their scarves as far back as possible without falling entirely off their heads. And many women say the required hejab has just made them pay more attention to their faces. Many women in Tehran wear plenty of makeup. At one cosmetics shop in Tehran, shopkeeper Roshanak says business is running strong.

ROSHANAK: [via a translator] I think that may be because women cannot attract attention in another way. Only by putting on makeup can they do so because they can only show their faces.

SABERI: Which might explain why another business in Iran is also booming—facial cosmetic surgery.

[The sound of busy Tehran streets.]

SABERI: It’s common to see women—and men—walking on the streets with white bandages plastered on their noses. The style seems to be either slightly upturned or if anything, always a bit smaller.

ATENA: [via a translator] Because only our faces are shown outside of our scarves, nose surgery is common today. Just a few people may get surgery done for their cheeks or lips, but nose surgery is more common. The first part of the face that people see is the nose.

SABERI: 20-year-old Atena paid about $600 to have her nose done. Some of her friends have had nose jobs as well.

ATENA: [via a translator] It has become usual or like a fashion for the young generation. It depends on the doctor. If the form of the nose improves, it gives a person self confidence. Fortunately because my doctor did a good job, I am satisfied. I think that my appearance has become better.

SABERI: This evolution of women’s attention to appearances has gained pace since Reformist president Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997. Since then, the Islamic Republic has tolerated a relaxation of the hair and dress code. While many women prefer to wear long, black chadors, others sport manteaux—or jackets or coats—that have gradually become shorter, tighter and brighter. But some of Iran’s hard-line ruling clerics are trying to smother this rebellion. Morals police have stepped up their street patrols, and some shops and restaurants have been told to bar women who don’t respect the dress code. In May, Iranian authorities issued an order calling for an end to the manufacture and sale of see-through headscarves and short, tight-fitting jackets.

[Sounds from a busy shopping center.]

SABERI: The call is drawing criticism from women like Elmira, shopping at a mall in western Tehran.

ELMIRA: [via a translator] It’s not good. They should not do this. You know that it’s summer and it is hot. Just imagine—wearing long trousers and a manteaux will do away with us!

SABERI: This resistance is adding pressure to the tug of war between President Khatami’s Reformist camp and hardliners. While the president does not promote getting rid of the hejab, he believes women should not be forced to wear it, or at least not be punished if they don’t. Many women waging their battle with hairstyles, makeup, and clothing, agree. They say what they want is the right to choose for themselves. For Common Ground, I’m Roxana Saberi in Tehran.

MCHUGH: The politics of thirst, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Water Wars

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MCHUGH: In the United States access to clean water for most people is as close as the kitchen tap. But globally nearly 40 percent of the population hand carries their water from rivers, streams, and other small sources. And more than a billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water at all. Journalist and author Diane Raines Ward believes the global thirst for water could fuel conflicts even greater than today’s battles for oil and other natural resources. Diane Raines Ward visited five continents and spent a decade researching her latest book: Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly, and the Politics of Thirst.

DIANE RAINES WARD: It depends a lot on where you live. I live in the eastern United States, so I’d grown up in a green landscape. People who live in the American West have a different story to tell. And it’s much more serious an issue there already. But I suspect many people are going to be facing water shortages now, water crises of one sort or another. Even Christine Todd Whitman, who was George Bush’s head of the EPA, said that she thought that water was going to be the big problem of this century. And she had no idea what we were going to do about it. Water problems are certainly in our future. While the population doubled after the middle of the last century, water withdrawals tripled. At the same time we’re just pulling more and more things into our water. Whether directly or indirectly we’re polluting more and more water. Half the world’s rivers are now either very polluted or running dry.

MCHUGH: In the book you use the term “water stress.” How do you define water stress? Because you say that a third of all countries already suffer from water stress?

RAINES WARD: 1.5 billion people don’t have enough water to meet their daily needs. I tend to think of it in a simple way these days because when I wash my dishes at night I have water to wash my dishes. I can take a shower, I can water my plants. But I’ve seen women around the world washing their dishes with a dirty rag. Or sometimes with dirt. It’s very hard for us, when we get our water from a tap, to envision what real water shortage is in the lives of people who don’t have enough. Two million people die every year—that’s, I think, the rough figure—I’ve heard it be higher, I’ve heard it be lower, I think two million is safe to say, really—a lot of those people are children and they’re dying of water-related diseases. That’s water stress.

MCHUGH: What’s the number one reason for all of that stress.

RAINES WARD: Well, nothing about water is simple. So there’s never one answer to anything nor is there one statistic. There are many reasons. Just adequate treatment of sewage, adequate water supply systems in developing countries are a major, major problem. But really, enough water is also getting to be more and more of a problem as our population grows. It took all of our history until 1830 A.D. to put a billion people on the planet. But the next billion were added in only a hundred years and the last billion we’ll put on the planet in 12. So we’ve got to face now what it means to keep this population alive, because agriculture takes about 70 percent of our water use around the world. At the same time we’re fouling more and more of it with the stresses of industry, the things that industry adds to water. There’s agricultural pollution—fertilizers, pesticides. Those things don’t necessarily get dumped directly into a river but they go into aquifers that go into the ground and what happens on the ground happens to our water.

MCHUGH: I wonder, when does the population top out? Ten billion? Twenty billion? Then the Earth can no longer handle all of that in terms of water supply.

RAINES WARD: That’s a very interesting question. And I think we don’t have the answers to that. Scientists use the term “carrying capacity.” A lot of people use the term “carrying capacity.” And you have to think about land which can carry enough agriculture to feed six billion people for awhile, may be so damaged by that process that it cannot feed even a quarter of that number indefinitely. It takes a thousand tons of water to produce a ton of grain. Two thousand tons of water for a ton of rice. And 20 tons for a pound of hamburger. A hundred tons of water for a one kilo steak. And your automobile, by the time it hits the road has sucked up 50 times it’s own weight in water. So the amounts of water we use in agriculture and industry are staggering. And, in fact, our consumption is enormous compared to people in developing countries.

MCHUGH: It was interesting in reading your book, it struck me that it’s human intervention—whether it’s building a dam or redirecting water—that seems to cause a number of the major crises around the world in terms of water. And yet, you argue that human intervention is necessary to save water. It seems a bit ironic in some ways.

RAINES WARD: [laughing] Well, it’s not simple. And human intervention has done a great deal of harm and it can do a lot more harm. There are 261 rivers that flow from one country into another. An example that I like to use of the damage that can be done is, of course, a country like Turkey, which can deprive Syria and Iraq of water. But also China, in a wetter place, China is building a series of large dams in the upper Mekong delta which endanger all of the nations that depend on that river for life. So when you have this kind of intervention you have politically difficult situations.

MCHUGH: There seems to be a number of conflicts that are always fought over natural resources. Do you think that conflicts in the future will be fought over water?

RAINES WARD: This is a big question. And obviously the title of my book, which my publisher encouraged, by the way—that actually wasn’t my title, I have to admit that—my title was Praying for Rain because the book is more about people than water. But the subject of water wars is an interesting one. I think water has been a factor in many wars that have been fought. It certainly was a major factor in the Six Days War in, with Israel and her neighbors. In Iraq, if you are a Marsh Arab and your, you had been deprived of all the water in which you lived by Saddam Hussein, who built a canal to send that water away, essentially cutting off the life flow of your home, you’d think you were the victim of water war. So, although it has been part of wars it hasn’t really been a single major cause of wars.

MCHUGH: So whose responsibility is it to help the world’s water system stay intact and provide enough benefits to everyone all around the world.

RAINES WARD: All decisions about water are made by governments. Every dam that’s built, there’s government approval. In a study that recently looked at water shortages and how many people have water than in a country like Haiti, where the government is less responsible and there’s less care many more people are without water than next door on the same island in the Dominican Republic, which has a more responsible government and its people really have more water. Governments make all the difference in the world. And a wonderful thing to me has been to see an explosion in the United States of coalitions and groups of people, all kinds of people—from environmentalists to government organizations to Kiwanis Clubs—working together to save their rivers, save their urban water supply. I just spoke to a group in New Paltz, New York, the Mohonk Conservancy; they asked me to come and speak and they’re getting interested in water issues. They formed a group to deal with pollution in their watershed. Things like this are enormously encouraging. It used to be somebody else’s issue but now I think certainly it’s our issue for our own, our own water. And if we get involved on that level then I think that word spreads.

MCHUGH: One final question. It might seem a little strange. But you’ve traveled all over the world. You’ve been to, I don’t know, a countless number of countries. What is the one spot that has the best tasting tap water?

RAINES WARD: [laughing] The best tasting tap water? The best tasting tap water… It might be here. Because in many of the places I’ve traveled I don’t drink the tap water. I have no idea what the tap water tastes like. You know, it comes out of a bottle for me. And I know if I don’t drink that water I’m gonna be very unhappy before long. Because I’ve drank the tap water in some places where I really shouldn’t have. So I, I tend to be very careful. New York City tap water has long been famous as supposedly the best tap water in the country. That’s unfortunately, as there are more and more ‘burbs, and more population, and this beautiful old system of reservoirs that delivers our water to us is quite creaky. So the water isn’t as good as it used to be. And I now boil my water, filter my water, even here in New York City.

MCHUGH: Diane Raines Ward is the author of Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly, and the Politics of Thirst. I spoke with her in New York.

[Musical interlude]

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Viva Las Moscow

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PORTER: Investors who have put their money into Russia over the past 10 years have often felt that they were taking a gamble. Today, with the Russian economy slowly recovering, many Russians themselves are feeling the same way. Correspondent Anya Ardayeva took a roll of the dice and reports now from Moscow on a new trend sweeping the city.

ANYA ARDAYEVA: Every night Moscow is lit up with numerous neon signs and filled with the sounds of slot machines. Welcome to Las Vegas Russian style where dozens of casinos open their doors daily for the city’s high rollers.

IAN LIVINGSTON: I think that there is a very strong future for the gaming industry in Moscow.

ARDAYEVA: Ian Livingston manages one of the biggest Moscow casinos, Metelitsa. He says Moscow is a dreamland for gamblers and gambling enterprises alike.

LIVINGSTON: And this is really all based upon how, how Russia and Moscow is developing itself. And as business continues to boom, only good things can happen to the casino industry.

[Sounds of rolling dice at a busy Moscow casino]

ARDAYEVA: The average stakes in his casino are not exceptionally high, although gamblers can bet up to $4,000 dollars per game—and often they do. Casino managers say Russians are more than willing to take a chance. In a country where the economy is still cash-driven, rich Russians account for 99 percent of casino visitors. Most are already wealthy enough to own their own homes and cars. With little to invest in here, they have plenty of cash-in-hand. It’s a gold mine for casino owners.

LIVINGSTON: I would say that there is nowhere else in Europe right now where you have the type of action that Moscow casinos see and it is quite a high level. It’s certainly, I would put it at the highest in Europe.

ARDAYEVA: However, not many Russians can afford an evening in a classy casino like Metelitsa. That doesn’t mean they can’t gamble. There are plenty of smaller places in Moscow that position themselves as gaming enterprises for general public, or simply slot machine arcades.

[The sound of slot machines]

ARDAYEVA: Like the Golden Joker. You don’t get free drinks or food on the house, but the buzz is certainly here. Even an average Russian salary of 4,500 rubles—about $150—will get you through a relatively pleasant evening here.

RUSSIAN GAMBLER #1: [via a translator] I like spending time here, even if I lose. The stakes here are much smaller then in the big casinos. I bet only two rubles here while in a bigger casino I’d have to put at least 50 rubles on a game.

ARDAYEVA: Gaming experts estimate that Moscow will remain a promised land for casinos for another two or three years. So if you feel lucky and eager for an easy buck—ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. For Common Ground, I am Anya Ardayeva in Moscow.

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, China’s elite return to their homeland.

HAIPENG: Some of my friends who are in the States, who have, you know, who bought a house, you know, who have a basement, they have a ping-pong table in their basement. After, maybe after 20 years, 30 years, when they think back, they may feel, you know, regret.

PORTER: Plus, the world’s disappearing languages.

DANNY ABRAMS: There are a few examples of cases where a language has begun to decline and it’s been slowed or stopped by an active response on the part of a government.

PORTER: And, Spain’s Flamenco fusion.

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China’s Returning Elite

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MCHUGH: In China, increasing prosperity and relative political stability has lead many overseas Chinese to make the choice to return to their homeland. As Celia Hatton reports from Beijing, many returnees are the lucky ones who are increasingly able to reap the benefits of the Communist country’s growing relationship with capitalism.

[The sound of children playing at a playground.]

CELIA HATTON: In China, they call them “turtles.” In Mandarin, it’s a homonym for the word that describes Chinese nationals who migrated to the West to work or study and then—in a decision that was unheard of 15 years ago—decided to return to live in China. Today, most of the kids running around on the playground outside this luxury apartment complex are not the offspring of highly-paid traditional expats, but the children of wealthy returnees.

[The sound of children playing at a playground]

HATTON: In China, turtles are no longer a rare breed. In fact, they are seen by many as the rising stars of China’s booming economy. Highly educated, fluent in both Chinese and English, and most importantly, comfortable with both Western and Chinese business practices, they are the toast of China’s business community. Jinjin Zhang is one of these returnees. She left China in 1996 to study in the US and returned five years later to work at an investment bank in Beijing.

JINJIN ZHANG: I think in the bottom of my heart, I thought I would come back. It’s sort of my country, and my family’s here—my parents, my brother. And I think also China provides much more opportunities for us than in the US.

HATTON: Jinjin also believes that her career received a major boost when she returned to China.

JINJIN ZHANG: Maybe if I worked in the States for like 20 years, I might have got that opportunity, but right now I have the opportunity in China. So, it’s really much more meaningful for me in terms of my career.

HATTON: Jinjin’s husband, Haipeng, is also a returnee. After completing his MBA degree in the US, he was recruited by a major international consulting firm to work as a manager in Beijing. Like Jinjin, he also felt a desire to live in his home country.

HAIPENG: No matter how beautiful America is, you know, it’s other people’s country and it’s a friendly place, I can live there, but you know, I cannot totally enjoy myself there.

HATTON: Jinjin and Haipeng represent a growing number of well-educated employees who have given up comfortable lives in the US to return to China. Although the majority of Chinese nationals still choose to stay overseas once they leave the country, China’s Ministry of Education says that the number of returnees has risen 13 percent every year since 1998. Emre Demokan, a Beijing-based recruitment consultant at BMI Consulting, says that returnees are immensely valuable to China’s rapidly expanding professional workforce.

EMRE DEMOKAN: Well, with regards to returnees, I do believe that there is a definite and growing trend to the number of people that will be taking up high-level positions in China and those employees will be very valuable to the future developments of the Chinese economy.

HATTON: Chinese leaders recognize the value of overseas Chinese and have been doing everything they can to lure returnees back to the mainland. In 1990, the government launched a national fund that allows returnees to conduct their own research. Some provinces have set up preferential policies to help returnees start their own businesses, enroll their children in top local schools, and pay fewer taxes. In short, the life of a returnee is a comfortable one. Jinjin thinks that her Chinese friends who have chosen to stay in the US don’t realize what they are giving up.

JINJIN ZHANG: All my friends, they come back for a vacation, they come to our apartment. They say “Wow, it’s great. If this is the life I’m going to have in China, I definitely want to move back!”

HATTON: Nonetheless, Emre Demokan still envisions a place for traditional expats in foreign companies in China. He says that they are more likely to enforce the wishes of the company headquarters than a returnee.

DEMOKAN: A returnee may not follow the company’s guidelines as closely as an expatriate would because simply they may think, “This does not work in China. This is China and things work differently here.” When you start using that type of attitude, then any objection can be answered with a “This is China. We do things differently here.” So, really an expatriate can be very valuable in, you know, in solidifying the systems used, especially early on when a company is set up here.

[The sound of a busy cafeteria.]

HATTON: As many office workers eat lunch in this busy cafeteria in central Beijing, it’s easy to see that China is home to many highly educated professionals. Although it’s unlikely that traditional expats will completely disappear from the Chinese workforce, it is becoming more and more likely that returnees will be the ones at the forefront of China’s economic revolution. As Haipeng Zhang sees it, his Chinese friends who choose to live a comfortable life in the US will someday realize what they’re missing.

HAIPENG: Some of my friends who are in the States, who have, you know, who bought a house, you know, who have a basement, they have a ping-pong table in their basement. After, maybe after 20 years, 30 years, when they think back, they may feel regret.

HATTON: For Common Ground, I’m Celia Hatton in Beijing.

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: Coming up next, the death of language. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Disappearing Languages

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PORTER: Somewhere between 50 and 90 percent of the world’s 6,000 languages are in danger of dying out, possibly with the current generation. A new study published in the journal Nature has found that the social status of a language may be the most important factor determining whether it will survive. The unusual thing is that this study, by Danny Abrams and Steven Strogatz from Cornell University, used math to study language. Judith Smelser asked lead author Danny Abrams why an applied mathematics Ph.D. candidate was dabbling in the field of linguistics.

DANNY ABRAMS: I actually received a fellowship to do interdisciplinary work for my first two years, and this project is the result of that fellowship. I was looking for something that I could apply some quantitative techniques to that is normally maybe seen as a field, as a softer science such as linguistics.

JUDITH SMELSER: And through working with that different sort of medium, your study found a new leading cause of language death that hasn’t been discussed very much in past studies, and that’s the social status of the language. Tell me a little about what you mean by that and how it affects a language’s ultimate fate.

ABRAMS: The status of a language has been recognized before in the linguistics literature as an important factor in determining whether people will continue to speak that language, but it’s always been discussed in the sense of case studies or in the sense of kind of a qualitative idea of what makes people want to speak a language. But the difference is in, my study is I think the first quantitative view of this concept.

SMELSER: And your study found that concept of status to be very important, I know. In fact you found that nearly every language in decline has a low social status. Now, you did some field research for this report too, I understand, in South America. What was that like—seeing your numbers and formulas playing out in real life?

ABRAMS: I did travel and collect some of my own data for one language, which is Quechua; it’s called Quechua. It’s the former language of the Incan empire. It’s still spoken by about 10 million people throughout the Andes in South America, the Andes regions.

[The sound of a song sung in Quechua]

ABRAMS: And I experienced first hand the sad sight of a language that is, that is on the verge of disappearance. Although Quechua is considered one of the most healthy indigenous languages of the Americas—it’s the largest—it unfortunately is disappearing very quickly because children and young people are not learning it. They associate it with rural areas and with farmers and with an older lifestyle that they don’t want to be a part of, and for that reason, all the adults in many of the cities in Peru and Bolivia and Ecuador can understand Quechua, but their children might not be able to, and it can be as extreme as the children not being able to even communicate with grandparents who are monolingual—grandparents that are monolingual in Quechua and grandchildren that are monolingual in Spanish.

SMELSER: Did you see evidence in South America of Quechua having a low social status, like your mathematical model would suggest? For example is it hard for Quechua speakers to get jobs there?

ABRAMS: I certainly think that, that’s a big part of it. The truth is if a monolingual speaker of Quechua today really does not have any opportunity to at least find work in a city as a monolingual speaker of Quechua. Or there’s very few opportunities, if there are any. Also, education is difficult to find in Quechua; there’a very few, there are a few programs that have been started recently, but it’s difficult to find. And there’s no, very few published books in Quechua, very few TV shows in Quechua, so I think all these things are indicators and possibly causes of the low prestige of the language.

SMELSER: You suggest in your study that it is possible to prevent a language from dying out. How could this be done?

ABRAMS: Well, there are a few examples of cases where a language has begun to decline and it’s been slowed or stopped by an active response on the part of a government or groups that want to prevent the loss. One good example is French in Quebec. About 25 years ago, French was dropping fairly quickly in the Quebec region of Canada. But Canada passed—or Quebec passed—a series of laws that required publications in French whenever something was published in English. They also required education in French and they paid for advertising to increase the status of French in the sense that it would encourage people to take pride in the French language in Quebec. And this had a good effect. It really did slow down and has now stopped the decline of French in Quebec.

SMELSER: Two examples you give of languages that are under threat are Welsh and Scotch Gaelic. Those of course being languages that are spoken in the United Kingdom. And there are, I know, radio stations in Wales and in Scotland that broadcast solely in those languages. For example, BBC Radio Cumry in Wales.

[The sound of the radio broadcast in the Welsh language]

SMELSER: Do you think that’s the kind of thing that could help raise the social status of a language and help bring it back from the brink of extinction?

ABRAMS: I think that’s a very good first step. I think one of the common features of this problem is that languages that are dying are often associated with, with an older world. They’re not associated with modern technology and modern—and modern occupations. And so when you put a language like Welsh or Scotch Gaelic on the radio, at least it sends the message that it is still part of a modern world, and I think it can help increase the status. But of course it’s just one step in a process that really requires a lot of dedication if you really want to stop the decline of a language.

PORTER: Danny Abrams is a Ph.D. student in Cornell University’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. His study on language death was published in the August 21st issue of Nature.

[Musical interlude]

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Flamenco Fusion

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PORTER: Barcelona has long inspired musical innovation. Some 40 years ago, musicians there developed rumba Catalana, a style of flamenco popularized by the Gypsy Kings. Today, Barcelona is home to numerous flamenco fusion bands. Common Ground‘s Reese Erlich reports from that city in northeastern Spain.

[The sound of flamenco fusion]

REESE ERLICH: In the late 1980s Spanish youth tired of the traditional singing and dancing of flamenco. Innovative musicians such as Chano Dominguez experimented by combining flamenco with elements of jazz.

[The sound of flamenco-like clapping, followed by a jazzy sound]

ERLICH: Other groups added elements of rock and blues. By the ’90s, flamenco fusion took off. Soon it attracted bigger audiences than the old style, says Xavi Turull, percussionist with the flamenco fusion group Eyes of the Wizard.

XAVI TURULL: Flamenco fusion is more popular than traditional. There’s more people listening to it, you know, because it’s more easy to understand. Well, the real traditional, it’s more old people, you know. All the new people, they’re looking for all these bands, you know, like us.

[The sound of flamenco fusion]

ERLICH: Turull says Eyes of the Wizard often improvises songs during jam sessions. As in this song, Tahita, they start with the basic flamenco rhythms.

[The sound of flamenco fusion]

TURULL: The first part is one, two, three, one two three. And the second part is one two, one two, one two. You know, so then you go one two three, one two three, one two, one two, one two, one two three, one two three, one two, one two, one two. And that keeps the main beat all the time. And we start improvising, but then we find the, the structure.

[The sound of flamenco fusion, but this time with a hip hop sound]

ERLICH: Turull says fusion bands have also incorporated hip hop into their music.

TURULL: We’ve like kind of mixed even more elements into it, you know. And it’s something more sophisticated. That’s what they say. Also we’re surprised that there’s a lot of people that can understand this, you know, that they really, they are liking it.

[The sound of flamenco fusion, this time combined with a hip hop sound]

ERLICH: Hugo, who only uses his first name, is a singer with the flamenco fusion band Elefantes. He says the city of Barcelona has a long history of traditional flamenco, and these days it also provides inspiration for the younger, fusion bands.

[The sound of Hugo speaking in Spanish]

ERLICH: Hugo says above all else this movement has attitude, a lifestyle that’s seen specifically in the city of Barcelona. It’s wonderful that there are lots of young people like ourselves and bands like Eyes of the Wizard and Monkey. We all are getting close to the roots of flamenco in a very spontaneous way.

[The sound of a flamenco ballad, accompanied by a solo guitar]

ERLICH: Hugo’s group, Elefantes, has written upbeat fusion numbers as well as quiet love songs that subtly incorporate flamenco rhythms, like this one called The Brunette.

[The sound of a flamenco ballad, accompanied by a solo guitar]

ERLICH: Other flamenco fusion bands write songs that expose society’s injustices. In its very popular song, Nothing in the Fridge, Eyes of the Wizard raps about the poverty facing Spanish workers.

[The sound of flamenco fusion with a hip hop sound]

TURULL: It talks about when you don’t have anything in the fridge to eat, you know. But it doesn’t matter. You just have to keep going and feel happy. And it’s all this rap in the first part and then on the second part it goes with this more four-beat rumba style that keeps going faster and faster. And it’s our big hit to finish the live concerts.

[The sound of flamenco fusion with the four-beat rumba sound]

ERLICH: Like jazz and blues, flamenco continues to evolve in ever new directions. It keeps the music alive from one generation to the next. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich, Barcelona.

[The sound of flamenco fusion]

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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