Friday, January 13

On working conditions for foreign university professors in Japan

Last week, I learned of the decision at my place of work to change the status of foreign full-time teachers from contract work (任期雇用) to lifetime employment (終身雇用). Currently, all full-time foreign teachers (and, until recently, I was the only one) are given contract positions, requiring renewal every three years, while all Japanese full-time teachers are given life-time employment upon being hired. I had no idea why this two-tiered system exists, nor did anyone else seem to understand it, much less care about it. It has always felt to me like a vestige from the war years.

A foreigner seated with the rest of the faculty
I was told by two different colleagues that no one at the school was responsible for the policy and that if I wanted to question it, I would have to face off against politicians. My colleagues seemed to want to discourage me.

Visions of myself making halting speeches in some legislative body occasionally did cross my mind. However ridiculous those visions may have been, what possible justification could anyone make for such a policy? I wanted to ask, in particular, how does it benefit the prefecture to introduce such instability into the lives of certain employees?

I also wondered with respect to my own case: what if I wished to remain in Japan? Should I rent an apartment for only three years at a time? Should I consider home ownership as being too risky? Plan to get a new girlfriend or wife every three years, just in case my contract is not renewed? Lease a car for three years at a time rather than purchase one? In short, how is a person suppose to plan a life by three-year increments? And why should anyone have to?

Such segregationist rules would be blatantly illegal in the United States, and it's great to see that many public colleges in Japan have decided to discontinue them. The matter didn't seem to attract any interest from my fellow employees, but to me, it is a matter of great relief and even celebration. It will remove a number of unjust, irritating, and humiliating conditions to my job.

What were those conditions? And what did I learn from the situation? That's what I would like to explain.

Every three years, in renewing my contract, I have to reapply for my position, including submitting a report of all my academic activities for perusal by other members of the Literature Department and, eventually, all other faculty members, and absent myself from the general faculty meeting while all full-time teachers discuss my reapplication. Weeks after this, there is a formal ceremony in the president's office, attended by the highest administrators and conducted as if no one had met me before. Second, I have to undergo a second health examination -- in addition to the annual one that all employees take. This costs more than the equivalent of 130 US dollars and once required my receiving two chest X-rays within the same week. I have gone through this twice and will have to go through it once more in two and a half years.

But these are just irritations. What is worse is the mere fact of being treated like a second-class employee.

When I decided to come to Japan, I suppose that part of my curiosity was to know what it is like to live as an extreme racial minority. I could have remained part of a racial majority in the United States, but I made this choice and knew I might face unfavorable treatment. But I think members of a majority often have a kind of "imagination gap" with respect to minorities. It is not impossible but it is very difficult for them to imagine what the experience of the minority is like. Moreover, very few of them ever take an interest in minority issues or empathize with minorities. They remain protected by the larger group and its conception of itself as being not only normal but fair and just in most matters. Similarly, before coming to Japan, I did not fully imagine what it would feel like to be treated as being a less dignified employee simply because I am not Japanese.

I asked about the contract terms of my employment when I interviewed for my job at the school and was willing to accept it. It was the best offer I had at the time. However, something happened two-and-a-half years into my first three-year contract that enlightened me about the unjust nature of such professional segregation. First, I came to feel that one higher-up seemed not particularly favorable to the idea of my renewing my contract. This person actually questioned me whether it was my intention to renew, as if that had to be clarified verbally. Worse, another employee, jealous of the fact that that this first employee had always managed to get me to do extra personal work for her, decided, months before the new contract was processed, that it could be altered in such a way that such duties be included as part of my general job description. No other full-time employee at the school has any such "additional responsibilities" written into their contract. I had always done this work -- editing of academic papers -- even though it was not my duty to do so and simply because I did not know better. But the second colleague saw my contract renewal as a chance to serve her own interests and acquire the use of my labor by making it an official duty. The result of this machination, which was discussed openly in front of me during a sectional meeting, is that I became aware that i) changing fellow teachers' contracts is deemed illegal by the administration (amazing, huh?!) and ii) I became aware of the fact that the work that the first employee had always insisted was my duty to do for her was in fact not my duty. It should have been considered a personal favor. I also understood why I was never thanked for doing the work, since doing so would have acknowledged the favor as being just that--a favor and not a duty. Gullible me, I had just assumed that arrogance was the reason I was never thanked!

So, what did I learn from this? I think I learned something about the discriminatory nature of segregation. What makes segregation unfair is not that it is intrinsically discriminatory. It is not necessarily unjust to separate people into groups. Rather, the act of separation is like an open door that any person who wishes to discriminate against others may pass through easily. It can suggest discriminatory behavior and provide a smokescreen or appearance of legality and fairness to those who engage in discriminatory behavior. This is obvious when one group is given worse conditions or worse treatment from the outset, but I think it is also true when mere separation of groups is established.

Separating foreigners and non-foreigners in one's hiring conditions is unfair and needs to be banished in every institution in Japan. There will always be someone who will try to manipulate the administrative differences for some personal advantage. The 1954 US Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education rejected the idea of people being "separate but equal" on the evidence that, in fact, blacks were always given worse treatment. That is different than the point I have made here. To my mind, segregation is discriminatory because it enables acts of discrimination, whether or not evidence of the discrimination can be found.

None of my colleagues seemed particularly interested in the topic -- there was no actual discussion of it -- but, as members of the majority, why would they be? They are already taken care of, and the whole system perhaps only looks to them like a minor inconvenience to me. Only a few persons I know of might have reason to object to my being treated on equal terms, but those are purely selfish reasons that they cannot defend publicly. With this decision, their tyrannical behavior towards me will no longer be tacitly encouraged by the school itself, and they will have to treat me with the same professional dignity that they show towards others.

I don't know if I will remain in Japan till retirement, but it doesn't matter. The point here is one of fairness, and it is not only about me. It is about other foreigners and it is about Japan as a society. In short, for the sake of foreigners working in Japan, and for the sake of Japan itself, it will be a great day when the system of contract employment for foreigners is abolished in all public institutions. I was delighted to hear the news and I applaud my fellow colleagues and for the administrators around Japan who first put this process of change in motion. Thank you!

Of course, the national trends are going in the other direction, as contract positions are increasing in number for both foreigners and Japanese, but this is a bright moment that I would like to acknowledge.

Thursday, January 12

外国人教員の終身雇用

先週私の雇用が任期雇用から終身雇用に変わることに 決まったと知らされました。現在、常勤の外国人教員は全員(最近までは私1人だけでした)3年ごとに更新が必要な任期雇用です。一方で日本人の常勤の教員 は全員終身雇用で雇われています。なぜこの2層のシステムが存在するのかまた、なぜ他の誰もそれを理解したり気にしてないようなのか分かりませんでした。 私にとってはそれは戦時中からの名残のようでした。

2人の違う同僚にこの学校には政策に対して責任がある人はいないので、 それを問いたいなら政治家に言わなければならないだろうと言われました。同僚は私を思い止まらせたかったようでした。立法の権限がある人々の前でたどたど しい演説をする自分の姿が頭をよぎりました。しかしながらそれらの思い浮かべた場面がどれだけおかしくても、そのような不当な政策を正当化する証拠として 何があったのでしょうか。特に、外国人教員の生活に不安定さを取り入れることは県にとってどのように利点があるのかと尋ねたかったです。

自 分自身についても考えてみました。もし自分が日本にずっといることを望んだら?3年だけアパートを借りるべきなのだろうか?家を持つことをそんなにリスク を負うものとして考えなければならないのだろうか?もし契約が更新されなかった場合のためだけに、3年ごとに新しい恋人や妻を得る計画を立てるべきなのだ ろうか? 車を購入するより3年間借りるべきなのだろうか?要するに、なぜ人生が3年ごとに計画されるべきなのでしょうか? そうしなければならない人がいるのでしょうか?

そのような差別的な規則はアメリカでは明らかに違法となります。同僚たちは にとっては興味を引くことではなかったようですが、日本の多くの公立の短期大学それを廃止するを目の当たりにするは素晴らしいことです。そのことは私に とってはとても安心できることで、仕事において多くの不公平やいらだち、屈辱的なことを取り除いてくれ、祝いさえしたいことです。

それらの条件はどのようなものだったのか?あの状況から私は何を学んだのか?それが私が説明したいことです。

3 年ごとの契約更新では、私は学術活動のすべてのレポートを提出して文学科の他のメンバーや他専攻の教員たちに精読してもらうのも含め今の職に再応募し、私 がいない教授会で他の常勤の教員は私の再応募について話し合います。その数週間後、学長室で最も地位が執行部の職員たちが出席して行われる正式な儀式があ ります。そしてまるで誰も私に会ったことがないかのように振る舞います。次に職員全員が毎年受ける健康診断に加えて2回目の健康診断を受けなければいけま せん。これは130米ドル(日本円で1万円ちょっと)以上かかり、一度は同じ週に2度胸部のX線検査を受けなければいけませんでした。私はこれを2度行 い、終身雇用になる前の2年半でもう1回行わなければいけません。

しかしこれらは単なるいらだちです。最も悪いことは劣った職員のように扱われることでした。

私 が来日することを決めたとき、極端な人種的少数派として生活することはどんな感じか知りたいというのは好奇心の一部だったと思います。アメリカで人種的な 多数派で居続けることもできましたが、わたしはその選択をし、好ましくない扱いに直面するかもしれないことは分かっていました。しかし多数派の人たちは少 数派に対してしばしば「想像力のギャップ」のようなものがあるように感じます。彼らにとって少数派の経験がどのようなものか想像するのは不可能ではありま せんが困難です。それが理由で、少数派の問題に興味を持ったり少数派に共感する人は非常に少ないです。彼らはより大きなグループやほとんどのことにおいて 普通であることだけではなく、公平であるという概念に守られています。

同じように、来日前、単に日本人でないから劣った職員として扱われるのはどのような感じか完全には想像していませんでした。

私は面接の際に雇用契約について尋ねそれを喜んで受け入れました。それは当時私にとって最も良い条件でした。
し かしながら、最初の3年の契約の2年半の間に専門的な区別の環境について知らされる出来事がありました。まず、1人の上司は契約を更新するのにおいては特 に好ましいとは思えないと感じるようになりました。その上司は実際にはっきりと言葉にしなければいけないかのように契約更新する考えはあるのかどうか尋ね てきました。さらに悪いことに、同僚の1人は最初に話した上司がいつも私に個人的な仕事をさせていることにずっと嫉妬していて、新しい契約が手続きされる 数ヶ月前に、それが私の通常業務の一部として含まれるよう変更することを決めました。他の常勤の職員には契約に書かれている "追加の責任" はありません。私にそうする義務はありませんでしたが、単によく知らなかったので、その論文を校正する仕事をしました。しかし2人目の同僚は私の契約の更 新をそれを公式な義務にすることによって自分の興味のために役立て私の労力の使用を獲得する機会だとみなしたようです。専攻会議で私の面前で話し合われた この策謀の結果気づいたことが
あります。

1) 同僚の教員の契約を変えることは執行部によって違反だと考えられている(ビックリですよね?!) 2)1人目の同僚がずっと私の義務だと主張してきた仕事は実際は全く私の義務ではなかった。個人的な頼みだと考えられるべきだったのです。またなぜそのよ うな仕事をして感謝されなかったのか理解しました。そうすることは義務ではなく、頼みはそうあるものであるとしてとらえられていたのです。 (私は騙されかけていて、その横柄さが私が感謝されなかった理由だったのです!)

私はこのことから何を学んだのでしょう か?区別から来る差別について学んだのだと思います。区別を不公平にするのはそれが本質的に差別だということではありません。それは人々を不当にグループ に分けることは必要ではありません。むしろ、区別という行動は 他人を差別することを願う人が誰でも簡単に通り過ぎる開かれたドアのようなものです。それは差別的な振る舞いを暗示したり、偽装や規則厳守と差別的な振る 舞いをする人々への公平さを生みま
す。

これはあるグループが最初からより悪い条件をあたえられたり、扱いをされた時明らかですが、単なるグループの区別がされた時もそうであるのは事実だと思います。

雇 用条件で外国人と外国人ではない人を区別することは不公平であり、日本の全ての組織で廃止される必要があります。個人の都合のために行政の違いを操ろうと する人は常にいます。1954年のBrown v.Board of Educationというケースで米最高裁は人々が「区別されているけど平等」という考えを実際に黒人は最悪の扱いをされているという証拠に基づいて却下 する決定をしました。それは私がここで述べる点とは違います。私の考えでは、差別の証拠が見つかろうと見つからなかろうと、区別は差別の行動を可能にする ゆえ区別は差別と同じなのです。

私の同僚は誰もこのことに特に興味はないようでした。それについて実際の話し合いはありま せんでしたが、多数派の一員として、なぜ興味を持つでしょうか? 彼らはすでに面倒を見てもらっていて、私からすると恐らく彼らにとってシステム全体は不都合なことは少ないように見えているのだと思えます。私が知ってい る人のうち私が対等な関係で扱われることに異議を唱える理由があるのはほんの数人だけなのかもしれません。しかし、それらは公式には支持されない利己的な 理由です。この決定で彼らの私に対する制圧的な振る舞いが学校自身から暗黙に助長されることはなく、彼らは私を他の人に見せているのと同じ専門家としての 威厳を持った扱いをしなければなりません。

私は定年まで日本にいるか分かりませんが、それは関係ありません。ここで大切な のは公平さの1つであり、私についてだけではありません。他の外国人についてでもあり、社会としての日本についてもです。要するに、日本で働く外国人や日 本自身の利益のためであり、 外国人への任期雇用の制度が廃止されるのは素晴らしいことでしょう。私はその知らせを聞いて嬉しく、自分の同僚や初めてこの過程を始めた日本中の執行部を 賞賛します。

もちろん日本人と外国人のどちらも契約という位置付けは増えているので、全国的な流れは別の方向で進んでいます。ですがこれは私がお知らせしたい明るい瞬間です。

Wednesday, January 19

Democratizing the Arab World


We blow a hole in the national treasury, poison our foreign relations, kill over a million people, mock the Bill of Rights, lay waste to an entire society, torture and kidnap hundreds, send thousands of our own to premature deaths, injuries, and madness, and all for "a democratic Iraq" which would "serve as an example to the Arab World." But when an Arab nation seems set to accomplish the feat for its own sake with relatively little violence and bloodshed in just a few weeks of outward tension, our press gives a communal sigh and turns the sports page.

I guess it's not about democracy, then, either, is it? And for all of you who followed the Bush Administration up the garden path all these years, and who argued with the likes of Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times that all the homicidal madness we unleashed in Iraq was worth it in the end, if it favored democracy, what can one say now but "Suck on this!"☆

☆ Words of Thomas L. Friedman, addressing the people of Iraq and threatening them for no rational reason.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOF6ZeUvgXs


(Clip of Friedman talking apparently from the future, at a time when the war in Iraq is already over.)

Friday, December 31

Healthful living for lefties


It's time to draw up some New Year's resolutions. I usually start with those relating to health. Now, if you're like me and consider yourself to be a person of the left, politically speaking, then consider that you have an advantage over your friends on the right when making your New Year's resolutions. The right-wingers can boast a robust rhetoric of total liberty, entrepreneurship, and so on, but such high-minded ideas are usually meant to put one's conscience to sleep and rarely inspire anyone to take persistent action to improve their affairs. Most often, they are just cover for the privileged, who hope by championing this rhetoric to hoist more burdens and labors on the back of the currently underprivileged. Now, that is no way to lose a few pounds or go easy on the bottle. No one is going to go jogging or avoid insalubrious food items because these actions promote "freedom." In fact, plenty of well-fed right-wingers overindulge in food and drink precisely to demonstrate that they deserve to be overstuffed. If their luxuries are not the proof of triumphant initiative, at least they do not exclude the possibility that, one day, they, too, might hold a job down and not simply live off inherited wealth. The image of a starving entrepreneur inspires no confidence. What really works in these situations is something that pisses a person off. And what better target than the pernicious intrusion into our lives of corporations?

Make a list of your 10 worst habits; those that compromise your health in the short or long term. It is very likely that corporations can be blamed in part for every one of them. Who has been trying to seduce you to eat sweets, drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, sit in front of your TV for hours and hours? Who has poisoned your air and water by assuring deregulation of heavy industry?

If you want to get back at some of these inhumane forces of greed and improve your health in the bargain, just imagine that in abstaining from unhealthful habits, you are doing so in a spirit of revolt. You don't have to blame Monsanto and Dupont and the rest of them directly; and there may well be no causal link between your unhealthful living and their routine violations, but even if you are fully conscious of this fact, the placebo effect will help you along.

Compare these two resolutions.

i) I am going to stop smoking because I am totally free and am moved by the spirit of personal initiative.

ii) I am going to stop smoking because I know that some evil corporations have lied to the public for years about the dangers of tobacco, filled cigarettes with hundreds of poisons in an effort to increase their appeal, and done everything to sicken the public so as to enrich themselves.

Left-wingers, you have a huge advantage here. Now, put it to use!

p.s. photo taken during a morning walk made in a spirit of revolt against the manufacturers of automobiles, which I know have corrupted governments the world over to disfavor public transportation and unassisted mobility.

Tuesday, October 27

A la poursuite du blaireau anglais

Pardon the French title; it's the only way I could manage the necessary word play on Blair's name. Blaireau: i) badger ii) fool.

Enough for the title.

Have you ever felt like making a citizens' arrest of Tony Blair for his unpunished crime of aggression against the people of Iraq, of whom anywhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 were murdered -- yes, that's the correct word here -- as a direct result of Blair's and Bush's commands? (Let's forget Bush for the time being. There's simply too much material when it comes to this homegrown criminal.)

Maybe you have felt it more than once. Maybe you simply dreamed of seeing others making the arrest and sighed in deep nocturnal relief. Well, if so, consider that Guardian journalist George Monbiot has neatly spelled out not only the case against Blair but also a somewhat plausible means for having him arrested. The only problem with the scheme is that it involves first putting Blair back into a position of great authority: the presidency of the European Union. Such a risk would in no way be worth taking if it were Bush we were talking about. Few Americans wake up these days without feeling profound relief that that murderous buffoon no longer disturbs the public peace at home or abroad. Oblivion does him and the rest of us little justice; but at least it gives us a workable peace of mind.

Tuesday, October 20

Embarrassing Face of the Nation

The public TV station I receive shows a series of news reports from around the world with a doubled voice-over (so that you hear both the original and the Japanese interpretation), each 15 or 30 minutes in length. Consistently, the ABC broadcast comes off looking, in comparison, like Teen Magazine presented by a bunch of serious looking men and pin-up girls. It is truly the most embarrassing awareness of being an American that I ever experience. This last week was so bad, I felt ashamed to leave my apartment for a few hours after the program came to an end. There was the boy-in-the-balloon hoax, pursued as if it were a matter of national security, then a drawn-out investigation into John McCain's daughter having shared a picture revealing her cleavage on some social networking site. This was preceded and followed by other nations reporting on climate change, terrorist attacks, international summits and the like: the sort of stuff traditionally associated with the word "news." The American programming included a few other pieces of fluff that were so insubstantial that I cannot even recall what they were about. And of course there was the chitchat to top it all off and make everyone feel good.

No wonder why Jon Stewart is so funny. His writers have an embarrassment of material. And corporate news in the US is now a parody of itself to the point where I'd be pressed to distinguish much of it from the Onion's intended parody.

Monday, July 6

Happy Birthday, Not

12 shot at birthday party

There's always more gun violence going on in the US on any given day than a person could possibly keep up with, but in a report of one of today's colorful episodes, the following statements caught my attention:
Police around the country are increasingly seeing shootings with high-powered assault rifles.

"This is a sign of the times. It's no longer a .32-caliber," Timoney said. "We're finding dozens upon dozens of rounds, innocent people getting hit. It's just an awful situation."
I wonder if there's a connection between this "sign of the times" and the federal government allowing the ban on civilian ownership of assault weapons to expire in 2004. The journalist who wrote this report didn't think to mention it, but it's not as if such nationwide trends materialize spontaneously out of the ether.

Sunday, July 5

The Best and Brightest Now Dimmed



photo by terrette

Vietnam War Engineer Has Died

The early comments at the Times suggest that the deceased Robert McNamara is getting little love from the public, to wit:
Hell welcomes a new 'platinum tier' member. Robert, may you burn there slowly for eternity for the evil you so willingly brought to this world.
McNamara is dead, but according to the Wiki, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.
Judging from the tenor of the earliest posted comments, "de mortuis nil nisi bonum" has apparently been set aside for a special occasion.

At least McNamara, the Rumsfeld of the previous generation, found it in himself to do some soul searching. I, for one, can never see Rumsfeld mustering even the slightest blink of self-criticism. And McNamara went as far as to say that he was a war criminal and would have been prosecuted as such had the US not been victorious in WWII.

Thursday, June 25

Public forgiveness, puh-lease

This is delicious. Mark Sandford, Governor of South Carolina, gives a rambling, groveling discourse rich with flattery, self-adoration, requests for forgiveness, flamboyant adverbs, and, at times, it's-just-hard-to-make-out-exactly-what. (Maureen Dowd gets her claws into this one with gusto.) Two women can be seen smiling and, it seems, giggling at times in the background. I was totally with them. It's not out of Schadenfreude, it's just that the performance is brilliant in a self-pitying but steadfastly delusional way. It's impressive, however you cut it. My favorite line of all:

"The biggest self of self is, indeed, self."

I am tempted to turn the best parts of this into a 7-minute Dylanesque ballad, a comic tribute to that distinctly American art wherein politicians fess up to their extramarital affairs. Can't you just hear Dylan croon?: "The biggaaaast... self of se-huh-elfuh... is-a selfuh."

Uh, no, I can't either.

Wednesday, June 24

Washington doublespeak



1. 'Dozens dead' in US drone strike

2. Obama condemns 'unjust' violence

No, those titles do not both refer to the same incident, one that has repeated itself time and again since Obama took office. I reconstituted these two BBC titles just as I had first found them on the BBC news feed. I thought they were highly eloquent when placed next to one another. And I wondered whether in being reshuffled, the titles' embarrassing proximity had been noted by someone at the BBC. I don't think I need to translate, but seeing "US president kills scores of innocent people" and "US president bemoans deaths and brutality against scores of innocent people" next to one another like that gave me pause. Obama's quote was equally eloquent in its lack of self-criticism: "We deplore the violence against innocent civilians anywhere it takes place." Did he merely forget to say, except for when it takes place in Pakistan and/or Afghanistan under my command? One wonders, because it's hard to put much sense to his words without postulating such an omission.

While my courageous Yellow Sth Sth friend seems at the end of his patience with the corporate control of the political process in the US, which seems incapable of delivering the health care that the people want and need, Obama keeps pursuing his vain attempt to crush resistance to foreign intervention in Afghanistan. And it doesn't seem to disturb the president one bit to take words from the mouth of Martin Luther King Jr., a man who would have been the most influential and strident critic of the campaign of violence in Afghanistan if he were still alive today. The arc of the moral universe might be long, but it doesn't bend toward the indiscriminate and unjustified bombing of civilians.

According to the Pakistani government, there have been 60-something drone attacks, which have resulted in 14 "bad guys" killed and over 700 civilians. When your "precision weaponry" is proven to be that bad, isn't it time to shelve it? And when its only significant consequence is that the flames of hatred against the US have been fanned far and wide, can you find a better example of the meaning of "counterproductive"? That's the most generous word that can be used to describe this campaign.

Let's see Obama quote MLK Jr. meaningfully and not spit on all that he stood for. Let's have the president make the same connection that MLK Jr. made between the unjust and costly military adventures abroad and the denial of services that are a public right to citizens at home.

Wednesday, April 22

Armagideon Times

The ice age is comin'
The sun's zoomin' in
Meltown expected
The wheat is growin' thin
A nuclear error
But I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning and I
Live by river
Well, latest reports put to rest even that one sliver of comfort. Joe Strummer of the Clash did sing that last line tongue in cheek, but were he still alive, he could add that the rivers are drying up, too. Such are the findings of certain "US researchers" who have studied the world's major rivers over the past 50 or so years.

The thing about this sort of report is that it is becoming as habitual as the endless number of health studies that are carried out every year around the world and that, whatever their initial pretext, all lead to the conclusion that consumption of fruits and vegetables, accompanied by regular exercise, is good for one's health. The growing sense is that, whether we are getting sufficient vitamins and exercise or not, as a species, we are on an inevitable path to self-destruction for which none other than the Four Horseman seem bound to serve as our guides.

Kind of makes you want to start a big family, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 5

Chuckling at the mainstream

I've just read a series of articles in so-called mainstream online press that all made me laugh because of their ridiculous use of English. Consider these samples, from the two tabs that remain open on my screen at this moment.

First, in the New York Times article on a Korean missile launch, I encountered this surprising assessment of a certain international mindset:
Nonetheless, the series of tests in recent years — in 2006 and 1998 — is prompting fears of North Korean proliferation among Japanese, Chinese and Western leaders.
Indeed, it would be at the very least odd to have "North Korean proliferation" among the leaders of other nations, especially if this means the language spoken in that country. Unless, of course, the infected leaders were from South Korea, where the Korean language has already proliferated to an astonishing degree. However, since "North Korean" does not refer to a distinct language, perhaps what is feared is that a proliferation that is somehow related to the habits and customs of North Korea will spread throughout the leaders of the world. (If it refers to the habits of North Korean leadership, I tremble at the thought that leaders around the world might also wear dark sunglasses at all hours and consume pornographic movies daily.) Or perhaps the writer just meant to say this:
Nonetheless, the series of tests in recent years — in 2006 and 1998 — is prompting fears among Japanese, Chinese and Western leaders of weapons proliferation in North Korea.
The other one comes from an unnamed BBC journalist who was dispatched to Binghamton, NY, to report on the conditions surrounding the shooting spree that took place there a few days ago.
Sheltering from the rain in a doorway, smoking a cigarette, I found Darlene Trunkowski, who speculated that economic pressures could have been a factor.
It's a mystery to me why the reporter felt it was necessary to report that he or she was smoking a cigarette while out reporting. I also wondered, how do you "discover" someone in a doorway while you are sheltering there from the rain, smoking? Just how big is that doorway? And how long were you there before you made your discovery? And what was Darlene Trunkowski doing in the doorway, if not also sheltering from the rain? (I doubt she was also smoking, for that would have given her away at once; never mind any discovery.)

Let's see if we can repair the sentence while our BBC friend likely remains ensconced somewhere in a doorway, smoking, awaiting new discoveries.
I found Darlene Trunkowski sheltering from the rain in a doorway, smoking a cigarette, and she speculated that economic pressures could have been a factor.
Has copy editing also fallen victim to the economic downturn? Sheesh.

Friday, January 23

In Tokyo

Friday, January 16

Climate debate (or something like it)

Have a look at this debate over climate change, hosted and posted by Channel 4 in the UK. (You have to click on "watch the report" within the first lines of the write-up.) This shows what any such debate should really look like, as long as it's not manipulated from the get-go by corporate news handlers. In short, the side without evidence should be exposed as such and summarily trounced.

I am not an expert on US media by any means, and in recent years my exposure to it has been minimal; but I do not recall ever having seen such a debate as this one. Partly this is due to the preparedness and sharpness of George Monbiot, the Guardian journalist who faces off against David Bellamy, the botanist, prolific author and, more recently, freewheeling denier of anthropogenic global warming. Monbiot makes the easy task look easy. I have seen other such debates in US media where global warming deniers are given equal credence -- such stand-offs seem to be the rule, not the exception -- but none in which they were trounced by competent spokespersons for the scientific community, as they should be in every case. In the States, one is exposed to much louder and more arrogant versions of Bellamy's line, notably from that great source of intellectual darkness, Rush Limbaugh; but Limbaugh and his ilk are never seriously challenged on air.

What this debate really shows is that people like Bellamy have had their little moment of noise-making and that such false debates -- false because based on the moronic assumption that whether global warming exists and is caused by fossil fuel consumption is still in doubt -- need to be replaced with the truly pressing question: what to do to reverse course and slow the destruction of the biosphere even as it may already be too late?

The only recourse the denier, Bellamy, has, is to repeat: "show me the evidence." It is not enough for him that thousands of peer-reviewed articles present that evidence. (Does he dislike reading to that degree?) Apparently, for Bellamy to take notice, one would have to raise a glacier above him and have it commence melting into his lap in voluminous waves of bone-chilling water, with a convoy of SUVs rolling noisily by.

This was a debate that concluded as it should have, with the humiliation of the professional denier, but it should also be the last of its kind. It's time to stop asking the brain-dead question of whether glaciers are melting and whether global climate change is real. It's time to stop denying that the burning of fossil fuels is at the root of the problem. And it's time for radical policy shifts across the globe and especially in the United States.

Thursday, December 25

Harold Pinter, a writer of conscience

On the occasion of the death of the British author Harold Pinter, I invite visitors to this site to take a moment to watch a true writer of conscience give his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for literature. Such writers are increasingly rare, and one of the few remaining has just left us.

In his speech, Pinter reminds Americans that, with its 702 military installations in 134 countries, the U.S., which is now on a permanent military footing, maintains as its core policy the threat of nuclear annihilation. Moreover, it does this while selling its countless crimes in the post-war period as democracy promotion and effectively--that is, successfully--brainwashing its population on a massive scale.

In light of this, to have confidence in a Clinton-Obama foreign policy today would require one to forget or actively not to care that, since W.W. II, the U.S. has supported and in some cases engendered right-wing military dictatorships that have provoked the violent deaths of millions of innocent people in Indonesia, Greece, Brazil, Vietnam, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines, Haiti, Turkey, Iran, and Chile, among other places, and to imagine, like the completely useless idiots that most Americans are when it comes to assessing the state of the world, that the administration heading to Washington D.C. repudiates this long history of deception and violence and in no way intends to extend its tyranny into the future.

Saturday, November 8

Hiatus

I am taking a hiatus from blogging and may return early next year. Thanks, Steve Bates, the Yellow Doggerel Democrat, Charles2 of The Fulcrum, and others for stopping by through a tumultuous but victorious election season. For the time being, I am going to focus on my non-virtual existence--teaching, writing, living a life.

Frank Rich has penned a masterful summation of the Obama election that I'd rather tip my hat to than try to rival ("It Still Felt Good the Morning After," November 9, 2008). And should anyone care to see a good movie, I recommend The Visitor. This modern Bildungsroman takes place within a very Bushy post-9-11 New York City, a once-vibrant community now splintered by paranoid security overreaches and strangled with xenophobic immigration nets, and we can only hope that the film will begin to appear dated in some respects by early next year. The human element of the film, buoyed by superb acting, will surely not fade, but it's hard to watch this film and not feel bitter about the cruel turn given to American society under Bush and Cheney.

Wednesday, November 5

The grand democratic hand

Tonight's victory of Barack Obama and Joe Biden signals a defeat for many very bad things. I have no political enthusiasts around me; so, to celebrate, I am going list a few of the horrible people and things that have been smacked upside the head tonight by the grand democratic hand of American voters.
The Republican Party, Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch, John McCain, George Bush Jr., Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, racism, hate, ignorance, corporate fundamentalism, election theft, dirty politics, the Religious Right, and that woman with a big mouth in the video posted below.
These pestiferous people and things will surely not go away any time soon, but it is very comforting to know that, tonight, they have been solidly rejected by a majority of Americans. Do you know how long I have waited for this day? It feels like a lifetime. And it is exactly what I have been asking for ever since I started blogging.

Tuesday, November 4

Palin is beyond help

If the thought of Sarah Palin wielding executive power has not yet stunned you, you should listen to her take a completely wacko prank call completely seriously for nearly 6 minutes. After provoking her repeatedly with nonsense claims and irreverent comments, the prankster has to come out and tell her "you have been pranked" before she realizes what she has been rolling in giddily. This comes after the prankster, for instance, refers to Johnny Holliday as his "special American advisor" (in fact, he's a miserable French pop star) and praises "Nailin' Palin," a porno flick that derides Palin which the prankster calls "a documentary they made on your life." Palin, ever the shrewd one, thanks him joyfully for complimenting her on the "documentary." Throughout the entire conversation, Palin keeps pushing out the memorized "good energy" phrases, flatters "Nicolas" (who sounds nothing like Sarkozy), and generally acts like she's about 9 years old and in the midst of her first sleep-over with friends.

Executive material, you think?

It is no wonder that many prominent conservative commentators have abandoned the Republican ticket for the first time in modern history.

Saturday, November 1

A plea for Barack Obama

I do not have the time before November 4th to present a fully reasoned endorsement for Barack Obama. This is partly because I have many other responsibilities before me and partly because the reasons for the choice are too numerous to be explained in a few words. However, it seems to me that the vicious tenor of the McCain-Palin campaign -- both its strategy to bury its main opponent with tireless mud-slinging (an example?) and the concomitant rage and ignorance that flared up among McCain-Palin supporters -- is a very pregnant sign about not only what sort of leadership those two would provide, but also of what sort of country the United States would become with them in power. In short, McCain-Palin promise more years of divisiveness, hate, aggression, government-fed falsifications and bald-faced denials of substantiated wrongdoing, increased social stratification and increased wealth distribution to those few at the top who least need it.

There are those toward whom I would be silent if they gave their votes to McCain and Palin: for instance, the super wealthy, who clearly have it in their interests to see Bush's tax cuts for the super wealthy become "permanent" in accordance with McCain's will. Or, again, those for whom anti-abortion rights legislation is the only issue that matters. I do not fathom that such people will ever be persuaded to see the world differently; they shall forever be led by the rigors of their single ideological pursuit: making all abortions illegal. However, there is apparently a stunningly large number of people who are ready to vote, or who have already voted for, McCain-Palin simply out of a spirit of partisanship or on the basis of an erroneous and misguided sense of what that ticket may offer them. For these masses -- many of them fans of Fox News, the Drudge Report, or Rush Limbaugh -- I think the best response might be something like the full-page advertisements taken out over the past few years by the religious right in an attempt to persuade homosexuals to "convert" to heterosexuality. That advertisement campaign was offensive for its erroneous assumption about the nature of homosexuality; but the strategy might well fit if applied to those who apparently cannot learn from the eight-year example of failure upon failure that the Republicans have put on display for them in virtually every domain of government. After all, no one is born Republican. And certainly no one without special issues is born incorrigibly stupid.

Of course, time is tight, and the resources for such an advertisement campaign are lacking. Nonetheless, should any Republican supporter read these words and feel moved, by courage or other human sentiment, to testify that they are determined not to be duped any longer, and not to be brought once again to vote against their own economic and political interests on the basis of bogus fears, kindly leave a few comments below.

Is it just me, or are 95 percent of the reasons given for opposing or fearing Obama truly just cooked up somewhere?

I close this post with lines sent to me from a friend who works in Cleveland, Ohio. A sign of the times, for sure:
I volunteered one afternoon for the Obama campaign to knock on doors to encourage voters to vote early. One registered voter told me he wouldn't vote for Obama because he said Obama was a Muslim and would use weapons of mass destruction against America. I started chuckling because I thought he was joking and tried to continue my conversation with him. When he continued to stare at me without saying anything, I realized he was serious. These people are out there.

I've always hated college football coaches who run up the score against weak opponents. That being said, I have a lust for running up the score in this election.

Tuesday, October 28

Fish, Milton, Lennon

I never imagined I would discuss the literary critic and sometimes New York Times editorial writer Stanley Fish favorably, but his recent opinion piece is a stinger, especially if you read it with the religious Right in mind. Fish has a penchant for casting tame arguments in scandalous terms or, at other times, for making truly scandalous claims in an off-hand manner. The upshot of his most recent piece is that, in one important respect, Obama is like Jesus while McCain is like Satan. Forget for the moment whatever Fish might mean by that, because the comparison is bound to create a storm. This may well be the objective for Fish, a veritable storm chaser of essay writing.

Fish's piece reminds me of the famously twisted words of John Lennon, who at the height of Beatlemania in the United States quipped that the Beatles seemed to be more famous than God. The religious Right went bazookey, running wild with the assumption that Lennon meant something like, "I think that I should be more famous than God" or some such blasphemy, and destroying Beatles paraphernalia, getting the group banned from radio, etc. Could a similarly mindless little storm be kicked up in the wake of this oddly couched argument from a literary critic? Fish's piece is really nothing more than an appreciation of the Obama campaign articulated on the basis of Fish's reading of Milton's "Paradise Regained." It is reasonable enough and somewhat colorful, but I can just imagine its getting twisted into something truly execrable -- for instance, final proof that Obama IS the anti-Christ. Let's see. I'll give it 48 hours. Check back.

Thursday, October 23

How to win a crime



Senator McCain keeps bellowing forth that, as president, he is going to "win" the greatest crime of the Bush administration -- the violent invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. (Of course he doesn't call the crime a crime. He prefers the inaccurate, righteous-sounding word "war." But let's be serious.) McCain's claim is that, by contrast, Obama can only lose the crime by seeking an end to it. Well, not only is there very little possibility that Obama will end the crime or prosecute those who are responsible for it, the idea that McCain can in any way "win" it is simply inconceivable -- that is, unless by "win" McCain means perpetuate the greatest international crime of the last 60-some years and crush any idea of justice and democracy in Iraq. What a win that would be, huh? And what a whopper of a campaign promise. If this is what is meant, McCain's achieving "victory" would require us to invent a new expression in English -- "to win a crime." But, if that is not the sense intended, it remains unclear how McCain intends to achieve "victory" in any honest use of the word. How, precisely, would McCain appease the vast majority of citizens in Iraq, those who have always rejected U.S. presence there, let alone bring real security and a functional infrastructure back to what remains the most dangerous nation on the planet? And does he intend to do this without withdrawing all US troops, in accordance with the wishes of the Iraqi people?

I don't know if Senator McCain pays much attention to events in Iraq, or to the criminal nature of Bush's designs on that nation and its resources, but it is worth underscoring that the
US president has just signed, or issued a signing statement, showing the intention of the US government to take control over Iraq’s oil.
So notes Raed Jarrar, an architect in Washington, D.C. who translated the relevant documents. Here are his comments:
I think this is an amazingly frustrating and shocking thing to do at the same week that the Bush administration is trying to sign a long-term agreement legitimizing a long-term occupation of Iraq. So, it gives, I think, the wrong—or maybe the right—message to the Iraqi people, that the US will continue occupying their country to secure oil, to control their country’s oil...
Jarrar's blog, Raed in the Middle, presents the translated document in full (also pdf'd here) and also shows photos from anti-occupation demonstrations that just took place in Baghdad. According to Jarrar,
the city witnessed another demonstration with more than one million Iraqi, Arabs and Kurds and others, Muslims and Christians and others, Sunnis and Shiites and others demonstrated together against the occupation and the long term agreement, asking for a complete withdrawal the leaves no permanent bases, no troops, and no mercenaries.
Put the pieces of this puzzle together. On the one hand, you have massive public rejection among Iraqis of all forms of U.S. occupation and intrusion into their nation -- a fact that is left without comment in the U.S. other than in a few independent news sources such as Democracy Now! (see, in particular, show of October 21, 2008); on the other, you have a U.S. president who, never having been even censured for his massive crimes there, continues to pursue, via the ruse of a signing statement, his ultimate goal of controlling Iraq's natural resources, thereby sitting on and butt-smearing any notion of justice or democracy for the foreseeable future.

In the midst of this conundrum peeps up little soldier boy: "I will never concede defeat, my friends. I will never surrender in Iraq!"

Sounds impressive, Johnny.

Now, what the hell does it mean?

terrette photo: Etretat, France 34173

Wednesday, October 22

Choose your elites with care; it matters

Noam Chomsky speaks on voting without illusions and on why it is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama articulated health care initiatives that, while still falling short of the needs and stated desires of most Americans, nonetheless promised improvement to the currently dysfunctional and brutally expensive health care system:

THE VIDEO WAS MADE UNAVAILABLE WEEKS AFTER THIS POSTING

After years of mulling this question over and at times drawing different conclusions, I can say solidly that I concur with Chomsky's view on the value of a disabused approach to voting, and my vote for Obama in the State of Ohio reflected that.

Sunday, October 19

Our dysfunctional way of life

Andrew J. Bacevich makes a number of insightful comments about the state of the nation in his two-part interview with Bill Moyers. A sample from the online transcript:
I think that the Bush Administration's response to 9/11 in constructing this paradigm of a global war on terror, in promulgating the so-called Bush Doctrine of Preventive War, in plunging into Iraq - (an) utterly unnecessary war - will go down in our history as a record of recklessness that will be probably unmatched by any other administration.

But (that) doesn't really mean that Bill Clinton before him, or George Herbert Walker Bush before him, or Ronald Reagan before him, were all that much better. Because they all have seen military power as our strong suit. They all have worked under the assumption that through the projection of power, or the threat to employ power, that we can fix the world. Fix the world in order to sustain this dysfunctional way of life that we have back here.
The implication here is that equating "freedom" with consumer choice, as so many Americans do, is going, eventually, to lead to a perilous financial and political state for the nation as a whole.

I think the nation would be served well if Bacevich were asked to be the next president's speech writer. His are hard truths that need to be told repeatedly and heard far and wide.

Saturday, October 18

Holy fraud!



The Washington Post reports that Sarah Palin, noting some "movement" in the polls (of the statistically irrelevant sort), attributes the apparent pause in her ticket's weeks-long trouncing to the influence of none other than God.
Giving credit to a higher power for the day's poll ratings, the Alaska governor told the roughly 500-person audience that things might be changing. "We even saw today, thank the Lord," she said, looking upwards and raising her fist, "We saw some movement."(source)
I understand that Palin has been shielded from news -- both voluntarily, over a long period, and, of late, by advisement from her handlers. That is unfortunate, for had she been paying attention, she would have noticed that a recent case brought against selfsame God, seeking a permanent injunction to prevent "death, destruction, and terrorisation (sic)," was dismissed on account of the fact that the defendant has no address and that therefore no legal papers can be served. (BBC report)

This fact should give pause to those like Palin in the GOP who like to imagine that God is on their side in a political campaign. Imagining that God would take a partisan stake in such a matter comes dangerously close to imagining that God would, in essence, cast a vote in favor of the GOP. And, as we have seen, lacking any address, God cannot in fact be registered legally to vote. And since the Holy One has no dog in this fight and no legal means of intervening, any advice or influence God might exercise upon the proceedings would surely be unwarranted.

To stop appearing absurd, Palin and those like her who hype charges of voter fraud need to stop evoking the Godhead as an active member of their team. Is it reasonable to whine publicly that Mickey Mouse has been registered to vote while at the same time boasting that the Creator of the Universe is pushing one's campaign forward by tinkering with poll results? The most Mickey could ever do is toss a single vote in for Obama and Biden; whereas God, if we are to believe Palin, could actually alter the votes of millions of legally registered citizens. Try to tell me that such unwarranted intrusion would not be voter fraud on a massive scale and the end of democracy as we know it.

It is only fitting that I end this post with a retouched quote from John McCain's debate-delivered tirade:
"We need to know the full extent of Governor Palin's relationship with God, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

terrette photo: Carpathian Mountains, Poland.

34096

Friday, October 17

Ohio voter?

If you vote in Ohio, know that this page, from the League of Women Voters, gives you a heads-up on all state issues that you will be asked to make a choice on. I just sent my ballot in. For Americans living in Japan, the postage costs the equivalent of about three dollars and ninety cents this year, which is a little better than in years past on account of the weak dollar.
(34078)

Monday, October 13

Chalmers Johnson on a national blind spot

If you have a moment, watch this video of historian Chalmers Johnson explain how US military spending cannot go on at its maddening pace without threatening the prospects of our presumably democratic nation (via the Real News Network).


Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw. Photo: terrette

This is a point that right wing sympathizers, political conservatives, Limbaugh fans, Republicans, and so on, would do well to consider. It is also a point that sorely needs to be raised in the October 15 debate. Of course, for structural reasons relating to party power and owing to the industrial complex stranglehold on political discourse in the United States, there's not a chance in hell that it will.

Saturday, October 11

McCain pulls up, wherefore?

I am not sure what to make of McCain's shift in strategy. After a week of ludicrous mud slinging, he has confronted, albeit timidly, some of the animosity, ignorance, and rage stoked by his and Palin's distortions and distractions about Barack Obama. Le Monde presents a video that brings together a few of these moments where McCain confronts his own supporters. This could be a momentary truce in the preparation for the third debate. More interestingly, it could be another white flag of surrender from the McCain camp (after the one raised in Michigan). Or it could be simply an acknowledgment that the mud slinging had no effect on public opinion at large and that swift-boating your opponent out the way with slander is not going to work this time. In all three cases, it is a sign of desperation. Things look very bad for Republicans this election cycle. And they seem startled to find that hiding their harmful and bankrupt policies behind slander of their opponents is not working anymore. (Links to NYTimes op-ed by Bob Herbert and NYTimes article on the "rough week" for the McCain campaign.)

In the Washington Post, novelist Khaled Hosseini writes that
pretending to douse flames that you are busy fanning does not qualify as straight talk.

What I find most unconscionable is the refusal of the McCain-Palin tandem to publicly condemn the cries of "traitor," "liar," "terrorist" and (worst of all) "kill him!" that could be heard at recent rallies. McCain is perfectly capable of telling hecklers off. But not once did he or his running mate bother to admonish the people yelling these obscene -- and potentially dangerous -- words. They may not have been able to hear the slurs at the rallies, but surely they have had ample time since to get on camera and warn that this sort of ugliness has no place in an election season. But they have not. Simply calling Obama "a decent person" is not enough.
Well said, Khaled. Incidentally, the BBC has added another document to the series of videos from various sources showing "delusional voters" who support McCain and Palin. This time, they interview the clueless in Ohio and sound a note of warning. The warning, on its surface, is that Obama could lose Ohio and the election as a whole; there is also the implication, however, that his personal safety may be compromised by the degree of suspicion and hate being cooked up against him.

Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, provides a solid summation of this whole issue. His article ends with these words:
The McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism, and each day the mob howls louder. The onus is on the man who says he puts his country first to call off the dogs, pit bulls and otherwise.

Friday, October 10

The Annointed One

The relatively new-to-the-net The Daily Beast, not to be confused with the wonderful source of provocative satire and anti-right wing commentary from Buffalo, NY known as The Beast, has posted video from in and around Sarah Palin's house of worship. Some of those interviewed will surely strike non-initiates as downright wacky. To take them at their word, Sarah Palin has been chosen by the Lord to lead the nation from the "crown" of all fifty states, Alaska. There are also several moments within the secretly recorded church service of "crush our enemy" types of chants that seem to anticipate the "Love Israel, death to everyone else in my way" foreign policy Ms. Palin delivers with a smile and a wink. If this is a glimpse of what a Palin vice presidency or eventual presidency would look like, I'd say we risk having more than just one disaster on the nation's hands at the moment.

Personally, I'd really like us all to avoid another four years of editorial warfare of the sort we saw relating to George Bush Jr., as writers of various political stripes weigh in on the question, "is he/she really an idiot? or is this just political cunning shrewdly enveloped in down-home manners?" Let's just avoid such vain questions all together this time, shall we? President Barack Obama would save our many fine editorial writers the mental anguish involved in trying to postulate hidden capacities and God-appointed leadership.

Tuesday, October 7

The pre-approved debate

On the "town hall" debate between Senators McCain and Obama: Wow, those were horrible questions. Those were NOT questions from human beings (except for, perhaps, the one about whether health care is a commodity, which, not surprisingly, neither of the candidates answered). Those were questions that surely, in one way or another, made a tortuous route through the hands of party operatives. I don't know how these questions were selected, wheedled down, and packaged for public voicing, and if anyone has any light to shed on that, please comment below, but this "town meeting" was more smoke and mirrors from the "Presidential Debate Committee" and another lost opportunity for the American public.

Update 1: Democracy Now! reported that all questions were "pre-approved." The host, Amy Goodman, also picked out the one "real" question that I highlighted in the paragraph above, written just as the debate ended. Goodman also noted that, although, like McCain, Obama dodged the question about "commodifying health care," he did remark later that health care "should be a right for every American." I note that between "is a right" and "should be a right" can easily slip many millions of Americans-without-health-care. It's plenty dainty to say what "should be a right;" but saying that health care IS a right is the only honest way to approach the issue. It's too bad that Obama's answer was also apparently pre-approved.

Update 2: Associated Press writer Philip Elliott reports that, "Tom Brokaw of NBC, the moderator, screened their questions and also chose others that had been submitted online." So, the party influence was not perhaps hands-on, but this is hardly a sign of democratic health. Tom Brokaw is another furrowed-brow showmaster-masquerading-as-a-journalist. Who in their right mind could expect a tough question, let alone a glimmer of light, or a capacity for feeling, from dud-on-arrival Brokaw? This doubles the shame of the process. Not only do we have our democratic process to mourn, we also have the state of journalism to execrate.

Can you imagine questions such as the following? Warning: you are about to enter the Realm of the Politically Unthinkable.

What will you do to alleviate the suffering the Palestinians, who have seen their land and water supply taken, divided up, and parceled off for consumption by the State of Israel?

The American Society of International Law Newsletter, March-April 2004, maintains that,"the invasion (of Iraq) was both illegal and illegitimate." Do you agree with the majority of legal scholars who have studied the matter, that the so-called war in Iraq was undertaken by the Bush administration both illegally and illegitimately, and, if not, why not?

And I could go on, but I think my point has been made. This was a duping of the American public. There should have been a boycotting of the entire damn event.

Monday, October 6

夢の船


Near Hakone

Sunday, October 5

Stuck in the past, but who?

After repeatedly accusing Joe Biden of being stuck in the past whenever Biden made the reasonable and verifiable claim that Palin's and McCain's policies would largely continue those of the current Bush administration, Governor Palin is now parading an attack on Barack Obama by focusing on an acquaintance he had some forty years ago. As Michael Cooper, writing in the NYTimes on October 4, reports:
Stepping up the Republican ticket’s attacks on Senator Barack Obama, Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday seized on a report about Mr. Obama’s relationship with a former 1960s radical to accuse him of “palling around with terrorists.”
The fact that no substantive link has been established between Mr. Ayers and Obama and that the matter is very, very far from relating to anything like an Obama policy seems a small matter to Palin, the sprightly hypocrite.

So we should all ask, I think, who is truly stuck in the past, and why?

Turning decidedly toward the future, with a very scary insinuation, Frank Rich has penned an incisive commentary on the present state of the McCain/Palin ticket, which concludes like this:
You have to wonder how long it will be before (certain Republicans) plead with (McCain) to think of his health, get out of the way and pull the ultimate stunt of flipping the ticket. Palin, we can be certain, wouldn’t even blink.
For "social conservatives," those who, for instance, vote on the issue of abortion alone or on a few "moral" issues while ignoring issues of war and the economy, Palin is the perfect candidate. For them, it matters not that she is ridiculously ignorant of politics in the full sense of the word. Should a ticket-flip be pulled on the American public--McCain's health, argues Rich, may well warrant it--it would be a victory for the most radical social conservatives within the Republican party, whether or not Palin actually succeeds in her presidential ambitions this time around.

On a related note, Maureen Dowd has made a sobering assessment of Ms. Palin's "inspiring" use of language, and it ain't pretty.

Friday, October 3

On the VP debate

I watched the debate between Palin and Biden and here are a few thoughts.
Beyond all that can be said about substantial differences between the candidates' statements of facts and proposed policies, the whole debate stank a stench of party control the likes of which we have not yet seen, even when accounting for the prosthetic brain that Bush had had wired under his coat on one occasion. It was obvious that both candidates knew every question that was going to be put to them, as well as the order in which they would be raised. It is no wonder, then, that the two parties, who control these debates so as to exclude all other parties and prevent serious questions from being asked, refused to divulge the terms of their agreement concerning the conduct of the debate. That's why the criticism of Gwen Ifill that was launched before the debate even took place was particularly foul -- because it ignorantly or willfully neglected the much larger fact that the entire debate process and its "committee" lacked fairness and objectivity. None of the four candidates for office even deigned to mention the fraudulent name of the committee, which was hatched to give it an air of officialdom and legitimacy. It is no wonder, given this highly concocted and safe-guarding strategy on the part of Democrats and Republicans (and especially the two representatives of those parties who have undemocratically and in a highly partisan way controlled the whole debate process since stealing it away from the League of Women Voters) that "bipartisanship" was praised with such mad insistence by the candidates. Shouldn't they, in fact, be ashamed of it? Where is there any resistance anymore to the policies of these two parties' leaders? They seem delighted whenever they find a issue on which they agree (as in the cruel and one-sided policies towards the Palestinians or the totally unjustified rejection of same-sex marriage). Caving in to the other side, which is the "other side" many times only in name, has become synonymous with being a "maverick," something McCain surely is not.

As for the exchange, I will leave aside commenting on Sarah's mannerisms, which Saturday Night Live did a good job of portraying. I cannot stand but care not to discuss the winking, the cutesy and cheap one-liners like "Say it ain't so, Joe," and so on, all of which made Sarah's performance look trivializing, fake and inept. What really pissed me off was the glaring falsity, one that seems to be at the heart of the Republican party, in which Sarah claimed, out of one side of her mouth, that government has messed up and, out of the other, that government should be weakened. Somehow, by means of this double speak, we are supposed to believe that the government messed up because it was too strong or that it exercised oversight too well, when obviously the opposite is true and the opposite conclusion should follow. (And we are also supposed to forget, as well, that in principle the government serves as the representation of the people, not as its adversary.) By listening to Sarah, you would think that if government could only be reduced to a barely functioning outpost, then pathological corporations and enterprisingly happy families could finally exist in a state of endless harmony. That's forgetting that, at the same time, this idealized pair, having crushed their own government, would have also to maintain an ever-expanding military and economic empire across the globe. We've seen how well the first steps in that direction have turned out.

In case you think I am going exaggerating the contradictions of this candidate to one of the highest offices in the land, recall what Sarah said the other night:

"Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper."

What a goddamn idiot assessment of how the country and its government work. Is there any way to shake this stupidity out of American society, now that the Republicans and their fawning media empire has spread it far and wide?

I was pleased to see that the NYTimes underscored some of this rubbish in their editorial, which included these lines:
When it came to domestic issues, Ms. Palin mainly relied on enthusiasm and humor, talking about hockey moms, soccer moms and Joe Sixpack almost as often as she used the word “maverick” to describe Mr. McCain or herself.

[....]

Ms. Palin’s primary tactic was simply to repeat the same thing over and over: John McCain is a maverick. So is she. To stay on that course, she had to indulge in some wildly circular logic: America does not want another Washington insider. They want Mr. McCain (who has been in Congress for nearly 26 years). Ms. Palin condemned Wall Street greed and said she and Mr. McCain would “demand” strict oversight. In virtually the next breath, she said government should “get out of the way” of American business.

[....]

In the end, the debate did not change the essential truth of Ms. Palin’s candidacy: Mr. McCain made a wildly irresponsible choice that shattered the image he created for himself as the honest, seasoned, experienced man of principle and judgment. It was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.
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Wednesday, September 3

Fun zealotry

Obama may have been president of The Harvard Law Review, but Palin graduated from the University of Idaho with a minor in poli-sci and worked briefly as a TV sports reporter.
For the first time in many tries, I have been amused by an op-ed signed Maureen Dowd. Here is the link, or permalink, which I hope means that it will never go away; that it will be accessible as is until at least the Armageddon.
Could thinking on the Republican camp be as "refreshingly cynical" as Dowd would have us believe? I cannot stomach the thought. But only because it smells plausible.

Wednesday, August 20

Shooting down everything

Guardian journalist George Monbiot has penned another incisive article. This time he writes of the missile defense system that was restarted by Reagan, the man who, according to a pet phrase of those who pollute US media with child-like formulas for understanding the world, 'won the cold war.' How anyone could have won a war that, as continued US government spending on missile defense shows, still seems to require hundreds of billions of dollars to be waged, is no small mystery. The system, which apparently has not a chance in hell of ever working, seems to amount to a singular ambition: shoot down everything that is evil. However, since this ambition, while perhaps comforting if placed within the narrow confines of right-wing political discourse based on irrational fear and illusory solutions, would amount, for reasons that Monbiot explains, to that of shooting down everything and bankrupting the US government in the process, one wonders why opposition to it is never aired in US media. But that is almost like asking why favorable results from the Cuban olympists are never featured by US media covering the athletic events in Beijing. It remains beyond the pale of the thinkable.

Sunday, June 22

Kinko Bay

Featuring the ever-active Sakurajima stratovolcano as seen from Yoshino Park.

Friday, June 20

Life-threatening Livestock

I discovered Mark Bittman giving a thought-provoking speech on livestock and its impact on the planet. Bittman highlights the fact that, after energy production, livestock
is the second highest contributor to atmosphere-altering gases. Nearly one-fifth of all greenhouse gas (18 percent) is generated by livestock production, more than transportation... And it's not just methane (that is a problem). Livestock is also one of the biggest culprits in land degradation, air and water pollution, water shortages, and loss of biodiversity.
Given this, one wonders why Al Gore never mentions meat consumption in his talks, including his most recent one. One also wonders why people continue to eat meat everyday. Of the many reasons why anyone might not eat so much meat, cruelty to animals, Bittman argues, is, by comparison to the environmental impact of livestock production, a red herring. As Bittman suggests,
let's get the numbers of the animals we're killing for eating down, and then we'll worry about being nice to the ones that are left.
He's referring to the fact that in the US, for example, every year 10 billion animals are killed for eating. And the important thing is not simply that that amounts to 10 billion acts of cruelty per year in the US that could be avoided altogether and in so doing promote health across the nation, but that the overproduction and overconsumption of livestock worldwide currently swallows up 30 percent of the Earth's service and that the amount of land needed is predicted to double in the next 35-40 years. In short, what Bittman argues is that eating beef regularly is not only bad for an individual's health, but bad for the health of the planet and in a very serious way.

Bittman's NYTimes article on the same subject can be consulted here.

Thursday, May 29

This is homeland

When I fly home to the US, I inevitably have the same impression. Even if I anticipate it in advance, the sight of so many fat people startles me. It starts with the middle-aged men's bellies I see being walked around in airports.

All the pot bellies on men in airports moving steadily by, almost as if they were arriving to attend the same pot-belly convention. As my eyes are drawn to them, it seems that they stare back at me, leaving me to wonder if they might be communicating something from behind the shirts, and imagining that they are whispering something as they pass each other by. Perhaps a code word or merely the sustained wink of knowing comrades. Like cyclops with fabric wrapped over their heads, they communicate to one another in complicit squints, each in its gentle rocking motion excreting the idea of a comforting, forgetful homeland.

After living for years in Japan, a country that like so many in the world has few extreme body types, I find that the bellies really stand out. It's as if they had all just popped out the moment you entered the airport. So, is this what MEN look like?...you can't help but wonder. The impression hits you like that. And then you start to notice the floating masses that somewhat resemble human limbs, you see colossal bodies laboring to fix themselves upon chairs that are swallowed up in the hovering mass, and you begin to feel you are in a hospital ward rather than an airport. It's interesting to me how you get used to that, too, when you stay for a time in the States. The hospital ward for the morbidly obese expands and becomes your society. You begin to see much of humanity in that condition and not to think twice about it. But when you consider it with respect to the peoples of the world, the anomalous nature of it gets stuck inside you.

It is no secret that the US leads the world in obesity and its related health problems. It is also known that the societal patterns that lead to obesity are spreading around the world with great rapidity, especially in the UK. However, I think of all the visitors to the US who must also get hit with the same impression. They might not see cyclops, exactly, but I am sure that like me they are shocked.

Sunday, May 18

Our local friendly volcano


Here's a photo I took in April while riding my bike to the grocery store. Just another eruption that no one paid much attention to. The kilometers-high cloud of ash was swept away into the wind within 30 minutes or so, with very little of it reaching the city, as far as I could tell. I don't know how often this happens, since some of the eruptions of ash occur when it's dark or simply when I am unaware, indoors. I don't believe they all get reported in the local news, but I don't watch that regularly, either. If you miss the eruption, its consequences can be wiped away within an hour. And, unless the wind pulls the ash into the city, which usually only risks happening in summer and only a couple of times a year, then you would have no idea it had occurred.

I live 7 or 8 kilometers from the volcano's base. Only a couple of times over a few years has it exploded with noise that reached me, shaking the windows the building where I work. I took a ferry to the volcano a couple of weeks ago to visit a friend who lives along its base and it was steaming and belching low clouds of ash. If you show enthusiasm about an ongoing eruption of ash to locals, you risk getting an impatient glare in return. Unbridled displays of joy, however, are common at the sight of the faintest winter snowflake, a far rarer occurrence.

The school children who live on it all wear yellow hard hats when outside. The volcano also spews lava, but I have not seen that or heard of it happening in recent years. Its last massive eruption was in 1913 or 1914, when it went from being an island (thus it's name: Sakurajima, meaning "Cherry Blossom Island") to its current status as a peninsula (no name adjustment was bothered with).

Especially when you're on the volcano, you may feel that you are in some pre-historic era. Ferns, gawky sea birds, palm trees, and the tumultuous volcano above... only dinosaurs are wanting.

Tuesday, April 8

Farewell report

Fellow gun-control proponent M. Moore has an implicitly caustic juxtaposition at his site today of a memorial link for Charlton Heston and links to news reports of a typical day's carnage of gun violence in the U.S.

He had only the Heston link up, front and center, for a couple of days, out of apparent respect for the deceased. But Moore's broader conscience apparently kicked back into gear as he reflected upon the legacy of this former head of the National Rifle Association and weapons enthusiast.

Being at wit's end over the entire issue of gun proliferation in the U.S., I cannot say I am offended by the juxtaposition, but I can imagine that some would be; especially those who would kill to keep their guns, as Heston once said he would do.

Wednesday, February 27

The Power of "They"

This post has been updated to reflect current estimations for the largely unpaid for invasion and occupation of Iraq by U.S., private, and other forces.
If you want to be the president of the United States, you have to speak like the president. This means, among other things, identifying "enemies" by using vague third-person plural pronouns with abandon -- especially when discussing "terrorists," which, when you consider all the different (and many innocent) persons it has been applied to, is scarcely a surer target than indeterminate "they," "those," their," and "them." "Terrorists," or, for short, "they" (and its likenesses), are just two versions of the same dark cloud against which the leader of corporate America now expediently channels public energy and expense into hysterical group hate or--what often assures the same results--warps the general perception of history and current events.


Wroclaw Residence

By repeating the simple pronoun "they," spiced up here and there with neighboring adjectives like "ruthless" and "heartless," the leader discovers that he or she can wrench the people of TV LAND USA into a massive brain-lock and a state of nebulous dread. "They hate our freedom." "They hate us because we're so good." It hardly matters what material is stuffed into the predicate of such assertions, which perhaps explains why Bush's "because we're so good" did not at once evoke deafening and undying laughter. There, as always, the case is closed by the sweeping pronoun that comes first. "They are somehow analogous to a small group of people who we know did something wrong." "They are somehow connected to grave threats that may gather or wander or take a stroll through the park." And, an assertion that surely expresses the depth of metaphysical angst for any true patriot: "They are not us." Spoken in the earnestly menacing tone that many pretenders to the executive office seem to have practiced at their medicine-cabinet mirrors, any one of these could warrant all-out invasion of just about any country on earth.

And so it is that, by virtue of "they," "those," "their," and "them," suspicion of evil is swiftly balled up into a target of general scorn. Little matter if the actual target turns out to be hundreds of thousands of civilians, as in Iraq, or if the cost of exterminating such civilians and destroying their society and poisoning their cities may surpass three trillion US dollars (which amounts to approximately $33,000 for each US household). The case was shut long before any of that was mentioned. And if actual threats emerge precisely because of this or that invasion, the leader will simply dispatch those into the same airy plurality that was at the root of evil in the first place. Let the pundits bicker over 'chronology.' After all, they still hate us, don't they?

Such thoughts occurred to me when I heard the following morsel of wisdom not from President Bush but from Senator Hillary Clinton, who, among other things, refers to the illegal and illegitimate US invasion of Iraq as a "war" while conflating the murderous invasion with the events of 9/11:

"I do think we are engaged in a war against heartless, ruthless enemies," she said. "If they could come after us again tomorrow they would do so."

Far be it from the public to ask, "Who the are 'they'?" "And why do we need to kill 'them'"? Or even, "How does denying Iraq its sovereignty or spitting in the face of democratic opinion there (which overwhelming calls for complete US withdrawal) protect 'us'"? Why does our "freedom" depend upon the annihilation of so many others? And so on.

It seems clear to me that calling "they" and "them" whoever happens to be next week's victims of US torture, aerial bombs, or radium-dipped weaponry is only the first step of dehumanization that is required by those who with the disinformed support of US citizens would crush Iraqi society to pieces and send all its humanity to hell for the sake of sucking the nation's oil from under it and leaving the Zionists in Israel to grin. Believe it or not, that's what they would not hesitate to do. That's the heartless, ruthless, and in the final analysis faceless plurality that wish to lead "us." It's amazing that, in listening to them, you might think that it is Americans who should feel some sort of privileged claim to the sentiment of terror... But if that is the case, is it because of the largely voiceless "they" that gets blamed tirelessly from election podiums and the White House, or is it rather because of those who are always blaming them?

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Monday, February 19

Blog-Power Strikes in Japan

When a Japanese publisher distributes to convenience stores nationwide a magazine dedicated single-mindedly to demonizing foreigners, whom it portrays as lawless, heartless, and lewd, what's a foreign-born resident to do?
In the case of Japan's minority Anglophone community, dispersed throughout the archipelago, the answer was clear: blog, organize, resist. The results of these efforts, made over the first few weeks of February, provide a case study in civic resistance to exploitative racism. And since individually maintained blogs were the main vehicle of resistance, lessons can be drawn as well for the progressive power of blogging. This was something of the sort I had never witnessed in the United States, though perhaps readers can cite analogous cases.

I will let the original Web sites and documents bear witness, inviting readers to click into the story themselves as I limit myself to a thematic progression of events as I understand them.

Blogging: On February 1st, the American-born Japanese citizen Arudou Debito, a tireless activist for human rights in Japan, is alerted by an American-born educator friend of the February 29th publication of "Foreigner-Crime File," and posts scanned pages and a gist of the magazine's contents. The popular website Japan Probe echoes Debito's notification and requests information from readers.

Organization: Eventually, Japan Probe goes a step further and calls for a boycott of Family Mart convenience stores (the first of several stores recognized as carrying the magazine). Debito composes a letter of protest in both English and Japanese that he invites others to politely distribute to store managers in stores where the magazine is sold. Through his efforts and other channels, the foreign press is alerted and articles appear in, among other places, the Guardian and the Times (London) Blog.

Resistance: Perhaps a few dozen people participate in the distribution of letters. As a result of this pressure, as well as the full documentation of the issue online, after an initial gesture of resistance, Family Mart sends letters of apologies to those who had contacted it in protest and orders that the magazine be removed from all of its stores as of February 5th. These steps can be followed blow-by-blow as they are recounted at Debito's blog and Japan Probe, the two prime movers against the magazine and its publisher.

Reflection: It is particularly noteworthy that the magazine's editor responds to his critics at Japan Today. Indeed, Shigeki Saka's comments are themselves a case study in right-wing xenophobia and self-blinding racism. The responses to Mr. Saka by both Debito at his blog and James and other commentators at Japan Probe are forceful and in many ways enlightening.

The curious may peruse the entire magazine online.

One estimate put the total cost of the magazine's production and distribution at a quarter of a million dollars. The publisher, who could not find any sponsors to advertise within its vehicle for hate speech, will surely think twice before once again financing a project of shameless racial scapegoating or assuming that the English-speaking community will not notice when foreigners are viciously targeted in a Japanese-language publication.

The incident surely has increased the organization of the progressive English-speaking community in Japan. It remains to be seen if further chapters will be added to this resounding success.

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Saturday, February 10

Joe Sets the Record Crooked

When Vladimir Putin articulated in a restrained and unprovocative way a view that is both held on a majority basis throughout the world by populations and leadership alike and supported by legal scholarship, it was the trusty warmonger, Senator Joe Lieberman, who denounced the Russian leader and denied that the US government of George Bush has increased global insecurity through its illegal use of international violence (full article, quoted below). Having removed himself from the Democratic Party, Lieberman now pursues a course of unimpeded US lawlessness across the planet while deriding anyone who seems to notice it.

The AP Writer, David Rising, reports that, in Munich,

Putin told a security forum attracting top officials that "we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations" and that "one state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. "This is very dangerous, nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law."

And here, from the same piece, is the delusional response of ol' Joe:

"Even our involvement in Iraq, certainly Afghanistan, is pursuant to United Nations resolutions."

The hesitant phrasing suggests that ol' Joe smells deception in the very words he speaks. "..., certainly Afghanistan.." This should give us pause. Hesitation over the invasion of Iraq is found in the speech of never-saw-a-military-expenditure,-corporate-lobbyist, -or-US-invasion-I-didn't-like Lieberman. And with reason.

Joe knows that he is bullshitting. The head of the United Nations at the time of the invasion proclaimed it illegal. To cite one respected legal opinion among the vast majority that concur on the matter (as Lieberman surely knows), Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and president of the American Society of International Law, puts the matter plainly:
"the invasion was both illegal and illegitimate."
(American Society of International Law Newsletter, March-April 2004)

The use of both "illegal" and "illegitimate" suggests that the two have different meanings. However, the words should not be twisted in such a way. Slaughter, who had once herself given the pseudo-distinction credibility, puts the matter this way to shut the door on the potential ambiguity. (The ambiguity was first created to excuse the US-led 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, which was deemed "illegal but legitimate." That is, its illegality was determined by the Head of International Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Kosovo war, who then called it nonetheless "legitimate" because "all diplomatic avenues had been exhausted" -- a claim that ignores two concrete diplomatic options on the table at that time, one by Serbia and one by NATO. The expression is now commonly used to patch over criminal actions of the US government with the appearance of necessity.) Nonetheless, putting strictly legal questions aside, the fact that the invasion of Iraq was perceived widely and accurately to be illegitimate (i.e., self-serving, based on falsehoods) is in some sense more significant, because it is this recognition that fuels and in some cases legitimates politics of violence and desperation across the world (assuming that others are allowed to use the same rationales for violence as the US government does). It is this that does the greatest damage to efforts on all sides to resolve disputes by non-violent and non-catastrophic means. The voices that refuse to recognize this increased insecurity, which are curiously grouped together within the US government and its client state Israel, believe perhaps that their actions enhance their nations' security. It is nonetheless worth remembering that the beliefs of the mad should not be held up as beacons of guidance for the world at large.

Indeed, the predictable deception on the part of one of the invasion's biggest supporters needs to be kept in the context of issues of global security. The opening lines of the Preface to Noam Chomsky's Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, a book that richly documents the trashing by consecutive US administrations of the international security consensus that emerged after World War II, serve that purpose well, and so it is with the opening lines that I close today's post:
"The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these catastrophes {and as Chomsky explains, not the American people, who as a whole do not support the illegal government initiatives and its trashing of international treaties}."

On the US government's violation of international law, see also Howard N. Meyer
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