RE: Burma/Myanmar

From: Reynolds, Gregg (
Date: Tue Oct 05 1999 - 17:59:23 EDT

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Reynolds, Gregg []
> Sent: Monday, October 04, 1999 6:05 PM
> To: Unicode List
> Subject: RE: Burma/Myanmar
> Ken -
> I hope you will reread your post and think very hard about
> it. You have
> missed the boat, completely, not even close. I'll spare you
> my explanation
> of why until I'm less steamed and less likely to offend you,
> since you seem
> like basically a decent guy who just doesn't get it, as the
> saying goes.
> -gregg

Oh boy, sorry about the pissy tone. (must remember: not post at end of long
annoying day.)

FWIW, what set me off (fortunately I had the sense to reread and delete my
first highly edifying missive (must remember: read _3_ times before
sending)) was the part about how friendly and earnest the delegates were,
plus the part about white liberal guilt.

I don't want to belabor the issue, since the note that started the thread
was careful to address the specific case of naming. But since Ken brought
up the who and the how, and Michael confirmed, I hope a few brief
observations won't be construed as too holier-than-thou:

 - Dastardly malevolents like the ruling gangsters in Burma/Myanmar place a
very high value on the symbols of political legitimacy associated with
participation in prestigious international fora.

 - I doubt very much if Ken or anybody else can tell who is a thug and who
isn't based on table manners and enthusiasm for Unicode. Satan no doubt
throws a wonderful dinner party; wife-beaters come in all forms, and
technocratic functionaries, because of their narrow focus, are probably
among the most useful of dupes. Then again, maybe the delegates are heroic
members of the resistance. I doubt it very much, but who knows? Its very
easy for us in the West at least to maintain a regal neutrality, but I don't
think that is the case at ground zero.

 - "Myanmar Information Technology Standardization Committee" sounds very
much like a governmental or quasi-governmental body; by definition, such a
body does the work of SLORC; extending the welcome mat to such a body
confers some degree of legitimacy, however slight, on the criminals in
power. So the personal characteristics of the delegates are not relevant.

 - The crack about white liberal guilt is sufficiently addressed by Michael
Everson in a post in another thread.

 - "Polite" seems a rather odd choice of words to discuss dealings with such
a brutal regime.

So I guess the gist of my little cri de conscience is that in the larger
picture it's not really about the names of characters, and that bodies like
ISO and Unicode should not be allowed to imagine they operate in a political
vacuum. Doesn't mean its easy, but neither were decisions about dealing
with South Africa 15 years ago. Not that I think Ken suffers from any great
political disconnect (although his note could give that impression, IMHO);
but its up to pipsqueakers like me to hold his feet to the fire now and

Anyway, since I opened my big mouth I figured I owed everybody an
explanation. I'm not looking for a great debate on political responsibility
in the digital age. Although it would be fun it's pretty clearly beyond the
scope of this list, so I'll stick to Unicode issues. Unless somebody
dangles some really juicy bait out there.


Gregg Reynolds
Oh, yeah, these are my personal opinions only.

> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: []
> > Sent: Monday, October 04, 1999 5:02 PM
> > To: Unicode List
> > Cc:;
> > Subject: Re: Burma/Myanmar
> >
> >
> > Glen Perkins said,
> >
> > >
> > > I don't consider anything SLORC says or does to be any more
> > "official" than
> > > the proclamations of the Bloods or the Crips in Los
> > Angeles, but my opinion
> > > isn't relevant when it comes to the naming of Unicode
> > characters. If the
> > > people of Burma prefer the new name, there's no issue, and
> > I'd like to know
> > > it so that I can call them by the name they prefer. If the
> > name "Myanmar" is
> > > a SLORC logo, though, I would feel bad if the Burmese had
> > to endure it
> > > forevermore as a descriptor of their writing system in the
> > UCS. (As in
> > >
> > > Of course I realize that the UTC can't put itself in the
> position of
> > > deciding who is and who isn't a "legitimate" government, so
> > it has to defer
> > > to some international body that will take the heat for
> that type of
> > > decision. The UTC has enough things to worry about without
> > having to raise
> > > its own army. ;-)
> > >
> > > My question then comes down to:
> > >
> > > Do the people of Burma prefer the name "Myanmar"?
> > >
> >
> > The UTC decides very few Unicode character names, except for those
> > originating in proposals coming from the UTC itself -- and
> even those
> > are subject to change during the international ballotting. WG2 is
> > the arena in which most character names are decided.
> >
> > As regards Burmese/Myanmar, the changes were the results of the
> > unanimous, strongly held and expressed opinion of the 5 members of
> > the Myanmar Information Technology Standardization Committee who
> > attended the London WG2 meeting last year and the Fukuoka WG2
> > meeting last February. Those five people were bright, educated,
> > personable, and very excited about participating in the encoding
> > of their script in the international standard. There was not a
> > "SLORC thug" among them. And while it is conceivable that somebody
> > somewhere connected with an unsavory general is responsible for
> > the original insistence on "Myanmar" for the country, language,
> > and script names, and that the MITSC was bound by that
> > general decision,
> > that is hardly sufficient reason for white liberals with bad
> > consciences to object to a polite consensus decision taken by
> > an international committee responsible for the character names.
> >
> > In any case, as John Cowan pointed out, this is a matter of
> > transliterations of what is ultimately the same name in either
> > case--not even your typical example of a local group objecting
> > to an English name for themselves that is not the name *they*
> > use for themselves.
> >
> > And while it may not currently be possible to conduct a
> > nationwide public opinion poll in Myanmar to ask the general
> > populace what they think about use of the term "Myanmar" (and
> > ask yourself anyway about the premises for considering that such
> > a mechanism should be used for determining the "answer" anyway),
> > the people of Myanmar that WG2 heard from clearly *did* prefer
> > "Myanmar". And since they were also very knowledgeable about
> > character encoding, computers, and software implementations,
> > and since they were engaged in the process, their opinions
> > weighed heavily in the decision that WG2 made.
> >
> > --Ken
> >

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