Friday, May 27

On Intellectual Death

Upon the death of the French phenomenologist Paul Ricoeur one week ago, the French press gave space to a number of reactions by members of the French government and prominent journalists. Le Nouvel Observateur, for instance, listed remarks made by everyone from the Head of State, Jacques Chirac, to the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, to Jean-Marie Colombani, chief editor of Le Monde.
Ricoeur is someone whose public speaking I have had the fortune to witness in person, and his work figures in my own "professional" writing. However, rather than sum up my own thoughts on this significant philosopher, I wish here only to mark a note of appreciation for a society whose political figures speak knowingly about the works of accomplished intellectual figures. (The responses to Ricoeur's work and life were in no way exceptional.) Can such a situation be imagined in today's United States?

When the current US president was asked who his favorite philosopher was, he replied, "Jesus." And when asked to explain his response, he was at a loss for words. (That should not surprise anyone who has ever read the words of Jesus and considered them in light of Mr. Bush's foreign and domestic policies.) In addition to the cheapened and popular spin on the word "philosopher" that the current president employed in this case, his reply betrayed total ignorance of his country's own rich heritage of philosophizing. More than that, when we compare it to the case of French politicians and members of the press, who regularly demonstrate that they are familiar with intellectuals' basic ideas, if not with their most accomplished publications, it seems clear that Bush's reply gave further currency in the United States to an already well-established disdain for the mind. In the United States, the president is applauded if it is suspected that he has read a book or newspaper, or possibly had his wife do the latter for his benefit.

* * *
To return to the figure of Paul Ricoeur, I would like to cite a few lines from an article that he penned in 1947 to address the question of colonialism in general, and French colonialism in particular. These remarks are not without resonance for the task of responsible blogging today. I will first inscribe my translation before copying the original text, which can also be read in its first extracted form.

This article's sole aim is to assess, in tandem with its readers, the breadth of responsibilities of the very person who is not a specialist of colonial questions and to determine a climate for the specialized examination that would be within our range of competence. This is precisely the responsibility of the non-specialist, of the man beyond the technocratic pale, that I wish to awaken within myself every day when confronted with the colonial question, despite all the voices within me that whisper such things as: "You don't know anything about the matter: if you had lived in Indochina, in Morocco, in Algeria, in Madagascar, you would no longer give any credit to the sentimental declarations of the utopians from the Metropolis." But I know well that my incompetence does not undo my total responsibility as a French citizen: I am one who sends the expeditionary corps to Indochina: and I don't have the right to abdicate my judgment for the sake of the colonists: thus it is that the Muslims and Annamese (Vietnamese) live, too, and as one might say, out of a sense of priority, overseas. Yet their righteous stance troubles me, when it turns against us the pathetic themes of national liberation that were raised in our own fight against the Nazis. I fear becoming a Nazi without knowing it. I listen to the Germans protest lamentably when one speaks to them of Auschwitz: "We didn't know." Upon which we pummel them triumphantly, "Your fault is not to have known." I don't know much about the French oppression in the colonies and I fear that my fault may be mostly one of not having enough information.
These are courageous words, especially given that they were written in 1947; in other words, in a mere moment's breath after France's triumph over the Nazis, and when most minds were still caught up in poses of vengeance or blindingly simple-minded opposition to "Communists everywhere." They also resonate with the current situation in which at times I find myself feeling helpless to keep abreast and oppose the Bush Administration-led, corporate feasting in Iraq, which is only another chapter in attempts by foreign powers to colonialize that oil-rich region and subjugate its people to the terror of indiscriminate violence and the humiliation of puppet rule.

Ricoeur's original words:

Cet article n'a pas d'autres prétentions que de mesurer avec nos amis lecteurs, l'ampleur des responsabilités de celui-là même qui n'est pas spécialiste des questions coloniales et de trouver le climat pour un examen technique qui soit de notre compétence. C'est précisément la responsabilité d'un non-spécialiste, de l'homme par delà le technicien, que je veux réveiller chaque jour en moi devant. la question coloniale, malgré les voix intéressées qui me soufflent : " Vous ne connaissez rien à la question : si vous aviez vécu en Indochine, au Maroc, en Algérie, à Madagascar, vous n'accorderiez plus aucun crédit aux prédications sentimentales des utopistes de la Métropole". Mais je sais bien que mon incompétence ne me délie pas de ma responsabilité totale de citoyen français ; c'est moi qui envoie le corps expéditionnaire en Indochine ; et je n'ai pas le droit d'abdiquer mon jugement au profit des colons : aussi bien les Musulmans et 1es Annamites vivent aussi, et si l'on peut dire par priorité, outre-mer. Or leur revendication me bouleverse, quand elle retourne contre nous, les thèmes pathétiques de la libération nationale qu'a amenés notre lutte contre le nazisme. Je crains d'être nazi sans le savoir. J'entends ces Allemands protester lamentablement quand on leur parle d'Auschwitz : "Nous ne savions pas ". Et nous les accablons victorieusement : "Votre faute est de n'avoir pas su". Je ne sais pas beaucoup de choses sur l'oppression française aux colonies et je redoute que ma faute ne soit principalement d'omission dans mon information.

Sunday, May 22

Coated Colors

photo by terrette (9490)

Saturday, May 21

This Blog Stops for Fair-Trade Oil

The only oil I use for regular transportation is sprayed from a can of WD-40 once every four months or so on my bicycle chain. This amounts to an estimated annual expense of approximately 75 cents. At the same time, I realize that, due to a series of political decisions made over the past century, the daily consumption of oil for the sake of transportation is, for most, an essential aspect of participation in American society. The fact that, in the last few years, I have been able to escape this requirement and thus know all the attendant inconveniences and, yes, benefits, of traveling relatively oil-free is due largely to the good fortune of living near my place of daily occupation. I know, too, that, it is possible that, one day soon, if I remain living in America, this good fortune may change and that, to earn a living, I may be forced onto expressways of unwitting, benumbed, or regretful oil consumers. In the following post, I will therefore not simply preach the use of eco-friendly bicycles.

Although bikes are beautiful in so many ways and riding them has become an act of political defiance, in America, as in other industrialized nations, oil-thirst has been thrust onto the landscape like so many indelible and inescapable scars. This fact was once decried in mock piety in song lyrics written by Englishman Andy Partridge that often resonate in my head as I negotiate the increasingly commuter-clogged streets of a Western New York community whose actual population continues to decline: "Roads girdle the globe / We['re] all safe in your concrete robe / Hail mother motor / Hail piston, rotor / Hail wheel."

My point is that we drivers and internet surfers of the industrialized regions of the planet need other means of resistance to oil-thirst than our wonderfully foot-propelled cycles. That is why, today, I propose that readers contemplate Citgo, an oil company, and Oil Wars, a politically astute blog that covers events in oil-rich and democracy-friendly Venezuela. Let me now make the relationship between the two clear.
The reference to Citgo comes from a short article by Jeff Cohen that is posted at Common Dreams. In "Buy Your Gas at Citgo: Join the BUY-cott!," Cohen points out that Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuala's state-owned oil company and that,
Of the top oil producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor. The country is Venezuela. The President is Hugo Chavez. Call him "the Anti-Bush."
Cohen also provides a handy link that will allow drivers to locate nearby Citgo stations of the 14,000 that exist in the US.

As Cohen explains,
With a mass movement behind him, Chavez is confronting poverty in Venezuela. That's why large majorities have consistently backed him in democratic elections. And why the Bush administration supported an attempted military coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez.
This brings me to my second recommendation. A relatively new blog, whose stated purpose in the words of its keeper is to "make sure progressive people have access to accurate and timely news on Venezuela," provides links to sources that document US resistance to democracy in Venezuela, and comments on press in the US and Venezuela with both a great command of Spanish-language documents and a keenly critical eye. Consider these typical lines from the author of Oil Wars:
What concerns the U.S. isn't Venezuela becoming another Cuba -- that certainly is not going to happen. As has been mentioned here before even most Chavez supporters neither think nor desire that Venezuela become another Cuba. And having another Cuba wouldn't scare the U.S. so. A dictatorial country with a failed economy certainly isn't going to serve as a role model for change in Latin America.

But the Venezuelan model, with complete democracy, freedom, and a very successful economy all combined with extensive and highly popular social programs most certainly is a model which people all over Latin America are seeking to emulate. When Chavez shows up on a stage in Brazil with Lula it is Chavez who is cheered and who has to tell the crowd not to boo Lula. From the Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande there is no one more popular right now than Chavez with his 6 years in office and 70% approval rating. You don't win office in Latin America these days by running away from Chavez, you win by getting him to stand on the stage with you. And THAT has the powers that be in Washington mortified.
To that, my sole commentary is, "Vive la mortification! Vive la démocratie!"

To close this post, I note that, while the question has been debated whether there could exist such a thing as "fair-trade oil," Cohen's article suggests that not all oil is pumped equal, and Oil Wars shows us with great vigilance what this means, in particular as it relates to the populist government of Chavez and the Bush Administration's opposition to it.

Friday, May 20

La Grave, Toulouse

posted with permission of the artist, Magali Vital.

Thursday, May 19

Memette 2

The first part of this post answers question 1.
Questions 2-6.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Absolutely not. No more than I have ever had a crush on a painted figure, statue, or billboard. To me, the very idea of a "crush" seems wholly inapplicable to written fiction and, what's more, somewhat restricted in use to a period of emotional development that for many coincides with grade school or junior high school. At that period of my life, I worked as a hotwalk on training grounds for thoroughbreds. My favorite books were Gulliver's Travels and Watership Down, and I read the poetry of Dylan Thomas -- hardly material for the emergence of a "crush." But who, among authors worth reading today, writes fiction to make readers develop a "crush" on a given character? The question might have been relevant in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries when serial novels may have had that effect among members of the leisure classes, but it seems irrelevant today.

3. The last book you bought is? Et puis, the French translation of Natsumé Soseki's (1867-1916) Sore Kara, which doesn't appear to have been translated into English yet. One reason I bought this novel, which is the second of a trilogy, is that the translator, Hélène Morita, finds remarkably witty and up-to-date formulas in French for Soseki's Japanese. I knew this by having read her translation of Botchan and I'd been waiting for her to translate another of Soseki's novels. Recently, I discovered that she has also translated, from English, interviews with Noam Chomsky.

4. What are you currently reading? See response to question 3. As for the category of what I might read next, I would cite Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (overview) and Joel Bakan's Just Words (reviewed intelligently).

5. List five books you would take to a deserted island. The question obviously weighs the answer towards large books, and therefore not necessarily toward books I have already read in their entirety. It also bends my thoughts towards "classics" and thus excludes from consideration remarkable works whose value cannot be appreciated as a capacity to bear rereadings.

Aside from the survival books that a clueless suburbanite like myself would have to take in order to survive long enough to read five other books at leisure, first on the reading list I would place Shakespeare's complete works, and preferably an edition that provides all the folio variants, including the three completely different versions of King Lear. The reason for this choice is that, like few other cultural productions of their type, Shakespeare's works, far from being the mere pet subject-matter of a few white male professors, are inseperable from both the evolution and undoubtedly the future of the English language. The call to read them is thus emitted from the English language and its history more than it is from a cabal of power-invested figures of patriarchy. Furthermore, since linguistic inventiveness experiences a rapture throughout Shakespeare's writings, one could, by reading Shakespeare, retain one's taste for words even in isolated conditions. Shakespeare does far more than provide simple scraps of neologisms to whet one's appetite for words. Not only does he invent a number of words that are now common (e.g., "assassination"), but he also wraps crushing phrases in lucid argumentation.

Second, I would, for similar reasons, take along Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu. Like Shakespeare, Proust is an author whose writings can provide illustrative quotations for the bulk of a given French dictionary's entries. More important, imitating his penchant for infusing incisive details with lifetime significance would serve a mind well when faced with what could otherwise appear a monotonous, if not purposeless, existence. What better way to pass the days on a deserted island than by remembering the populated past? Of the exercise of memory via the art of prose, Proust is the unquestioned master. After Proust's famous madeleine, who knows what reveries the taste of coconut milk might unravel?

Third on the list would be the largest volume of Immanuel Kant's work that I could find. The complete works I have in French separate the three critiques from the later essays, and so I would probably have to opt for the second volume containing the three critiques if I could find no other. If the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce could subsit, as he once claimed he had done, on reading the first critique alone for years and develop such a sharp mind as his, then surely the three critiques would provide sustenance on a remote island for mine.

Fourth would be Jacques Derrida's Voyous, translated this last year into English as Rogues. It's one of the greatest works by one of the last century's greatest minds, and although it concerns ideas of "sovereignty" and state power, its relevance for even a solitary island dweller could be argued. Indeed, it could be mined for illuminating parallels with a work of fiction such as Lord of the Flies.

Fifth: Lord of the Flies (if others were to inhabit the island with me) and Robinson Crusoe (if I were to remain alone).

6. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why? For two different reasons, I'm not going to pass this stick to anyone in an explicit manner. First, because, given my critical remarks above, I would first have to drop or radically reformulate the questions for the exercise to appear worthwhile and, second, because I think that, to respect the spirit of the idea of a "meme," as this was first proposed by Richard Dawkin in the 1970s to connote the "unit of cultural evolution" (on the model of the Greek word "mimema," meaning "that which is imitated," and with allusion to the opposed notion of "gene"), I will simply allow readers to pick up on my comments or not, to reproduce the questions on their own blogs if they wish, or to reformulate them anew. If the meme, or memette, as I have called my own replies, propogate and are adapted elsewhere, then so be it.


Wednesday, May 18

Garden panorama

photo by terrette (9225)

Tuesday, May 17

Petition PBS

Free Press has submitted a petition to remove the Kenneth Tomlinson, the Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) who, in public comments, has been casting dirt upon journalist Bill Moyers, the former host of NOW, for that program's supposed "liberal bias."
Apparently, to Mr. Tomlinson's mind, having one hour per week of excellent investigative reporting on Public Television represents an intolerable use of public money. (He has already succeeded in chopping NOW down to thirty minutes.) I invite all who come to this page to sign the petition to express the opposite opinion. Know, too, that, in signing, you will not have your home or e-mail address revealed to others.

Incidentally, if you would like to know which journalist Tomlinson considers to be "a model for broadcast journalism," it's Jim Lehrer. (See this piece for Tomlinson's comments.) That should give pause to anyone who may have mistaken Lehrer's impassive facial expressions as a sign of "impartiality." As I see things, Lehrer has provided increasing disservice to the nation as the years have passed. The more acceptable he becomes to the right-wing media overlords, the more intolerable I find him.

Monday, May 16

Moyers Replies

Everyone reading this is invited to take a moment to listen to Bill Moyers respond to charges of "liberal bias" that were recently made by Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Democracy Now deserves praise -- yet again -- and, where possible, financial support, for providing a platform for this kind of inspired and vital public discourse. This is even more so the case given that National Public Radio is, in many areas of the country, morphing decisively into the same sort of spineless and distracting info-tainment that is already blaring out of virtually all network media in the nation. (Micheal, of Musing's Musings, has a good post on this topic, which topic I will certainly return to. Someone needs to muffle Steve Inskeep and the whole gang of corporate-militarist apologists at NPR who provide light entertainment dressed up as "political commentary" in their "Morning Edition" program. Personally, I plan on submitting a petition to that effect very soon. I would like to see a total ban on all overtly political coverage by the staffs at "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." Let them stick to the "Man Eats 134 Hot Dogs" stories and stop deluding the public into thinking that they are providing political news responsibly.)

A transcript of Moyers's comments is also available. I will close this short post by citing one passage from them:

Mermin also quotes public television’s Jim Lehrer, whom I greatly respect, acknowledging that unless an official says something is so, it isn’t news. Why were journalists not discussing the occupation of Iraq? “Because,” says Jim Lehrer, “the word ‘occupation’ was never mentioned in the run up to the war. Washington talked about the war as a war of liberation, not a war of occupation. So as a consequence, those of us in journalism,” says Lehrer, “never even looked at the issue of occupation.” “In other words,” says Jonathan Mermin, “if the government isn’t talking about it, we don’t report it.” He concludes, “Lehrer’s somewhat jarring declaration, one of many recent admissions by journalists that their reporting failed to prepare the public for the calamitous occupation that has followed the liberation of Iraq, reveals just how far the actual practice of American journalism has deviated from the First Amendment idea of a press that is independent of government.”

Wednesday, May 11


photo by terrette (8757)

Tuesday, May 10

Holiday Fracas

“Showa Day” or “Green Day”?
[Contributed by Yoshihiro Yoshii and Fanni Terrette]

Recently, in Japan, a movement has sprung up among rightwingers, including the mayor of Tokyo and a number of celebrities and other public figures, to replace the current name of a national holiday, “Green Day,” with “Showa Day.” This has been seen by some as a symptom of rising nationalism within Japan. The following post analyzes a rightwing website and like-minded websites to which it provides links that all make arguments for preferring the name “Showa.” However, first, let us briefly consider the sense of these names.

“Showa” refers to Emperor Showa, or Emperor Hirohito as he is called outside of Japan in accordance with his family, rather than his honorific, name. His reign was from December 25, 1926 to his death on January 7, 1989. During this period, Japan’s postwar economy developed rapidly into the second largest in the world. Shortly after the Emperor’s death, the Diet changed the name of the holiday that formerly celebrated his April 29 birthday to “Green Day” because, the argument went, Emperor Showa loved nature. Undoubtedly, the thought also occurred to the Diet members that celebrating a deceased Emperor in name might not create the most relevant or inspiring holiday, especially as other Emperors (or, possibly, some would allow, Empresses) assume their privileged functions down the decades. Now, however, some argue that “Green Day” is not a suitable name for the holiday and that, moreover, “Green Day” should be moved to May 4 so as to be completely dissociated from a revived “Showa Day.”

To appreciate the mindset of the most ardent Showa enthusiasts, it is important to recall, as well, that according to Article III of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan as it remained in force until Japan’s defeat in WWII, the “Emperor is sacred and inviolable. The Sacred Throne was established at the time when the heavens and earth became separated (kojiki). The Emperor is heaven-descended, divine and sacred; He is pre-eminent above all His subjects. He has indeed to pay due respect to the law, but the law has no power to hold Him accountable to it. Not only shall there be no irreverence for the Emperor’s person, but also shall He neither be made a topic of derogatory comment nor one of discussion.” (Beasley, W.G., Japanese Imperialism 1894-1945, translation modified. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987: 32.)

Bearing the above historical background in mind, let us ask what exactly is at stake in this holiday fracas.

First, read this typical comment that, like the others that are quoted below, comes from the website of the self-glossed “Showa Day” Promotion National Network (SDPNN hereafter and, in Japanese, 「昭和の日」推進国民ネットワーク):

“The name "Green Day" is just a meaningless symbol that neither refers to a specific time period or to Emperor Showa. The government might have chosen the name in consideration of leftwing groups and without reflecting on public opinion.”

Consider, next, the following claim for the suitability of the later date:

This year’s “Golden Week” [the holiday week that falls at the juncture of April and May] must be a very suitable week for an ethnic celebration full of hope.

“今年のゴールデンウイークは、希望に満ちた民族の祭典にふさわしい週間になることは間違いない。” 「緊急声明書」 (source)
The language recalls the government propaganda that was employed in and before WW II. What do the authors mean by “民族の祭典” (“ethnic celebration”)? If this is supposed to refer to the Yamato race, which is very clearly an amalgam just as is every other presumably “distinct” race, do the authors harbor the notion that Japan consists of only the Yamato “race”? This claim would be easy to undermine by pointing out that the Ainu “race,” entrenched in Hokkaido since time immemorial, still persists, despite its near total appropriation into “mainstream” Japan, as a heritage of distinct cultural and racial components. If, however, “民族” is meant to include all Asian peoples, it would be hard to accept the implication that all Asians would want to celebrate “Showa Day” alongside this group of rightwing enthusiasts in Japan. One has only to consider the current tensions across the region. A revival of resentment over massive crimes perpetrated by previous Japanese leaders and the refusal of the current Japanese leadership to take full account of them is in full swing. This seems to indicate little shared enthusiasm across Asia for celebrating Japan’s former claim to divine leadership. Nonetheless, in their shortsighted nostalgia for notions of national glory and divine election, members of the SDPNN seem to believe that the questions of the holiday’s name and date concern “Japanese” alone. Not only is this clearly not the case, but the “Japanese” whom the holiday is supposed to concern exclusively do not constitute a pre-given, homogeneously racial or ethnic group. In the end, the SDPNN’s attempt to revive Emperor worshipping appears to be a desperate but futile effort at fixing Japanese “identity” once and for all by aligning the “Japanese” under the hold of a formidable figurehead.

Despite itself, the SDPNN, which would like to lay down the law of Japanese identity by means of reinvigorated Emperor worshipping on a national scale, provides a number of reasons for objecting to a return to “Showa Day.” One contributor to the SDPNN website provides two :


Only some people say that “Showa Day” is unnecessary; so, it seems, doesn’t it, that most citizens favor “Showa Day.”


There is no anti-“Showa Day” movement among citizens or the members of the Diet, so it is clear that a majority of Japanese citizens is calling for “Showa Day.” (quoted from 「昭和の日Q&A」)
It is absurd to argue thus that because there is no anti-“Showa Day” movement in the Diet, a majority of Japanese favors replacing “Green Day” with the name “Showa Day.” It would be just as persuasive to argue that, since there is no anti-Hula Hoop movement in the current Diet, April 29 should be declared “National Hula Hoop Day.” Indeed, it would make even more sense to declare April 29 or another day “National Hula Hoop Day” since hula hoops have till this point met with no opposition while the proposed return to “Showa Day” has. (Here, for instance, is the website of an "anti-Showa project.")

An April 11 article in The New York Times also warns of growing nationalism in Japan as evidenced by the "Showa Day" movement and the problem of textbooks recently sanctioned by the Japanese Ministry of Education that whitewash Japan’s imperialistic aggression. (Disregarding strong opposition from all over Asia, Japan’s Ministry of Education approved, on April 5, a New History Textbook that was submitted to it by the rightwing group, "The New History Textbook Compilation Committee.") Some members of the SDPNN seem to believe that the name of the holiday is a problem that concerns the Japanese alone, but can the Japanese government afford to think of such issues in the isolationist logic of previous centuries, as if nothing had occurred during all that time?

Consider, next, the following passage that was referenced at the SDPNN website. It attempts to establish, on the basis of an unsubstantiated anecdote, the existence of a sort of pan-Asian fervor for what could be called “Showanism.”

Title: Precious Showa History as Recounted by a “Malaysian.”
I had a chance to talk to a Malaysian on Jan. 9, 1988, 2 days after Emperor Showa’s death. After sharing his deepest sympathies over Emperor Showa’s death, he called the Emperor “Showa the Great” and told the following story: During the Great Asian War, we Asians fought against white Westerners. We drove the Westerners away and were overjoyed. Japan was the only country that fought with all its might, and the War was concluded by an imperial decree. We cannot fail to appreciate the role of “Showa the Great” in this turbulent period. (78-year-old, retired professor, Setagaya-ku, quoted in「国民の声」)

昭和天皇が崩御された二日後の平成元年1月9日のこと。来日した知人のマレーシア人と話す機会があった。… 彼は私にお悔やみを述べた後、昭和天皇を「昭和大帝」と呼び、次のような話をした。大東亜戦争は世界を相手に戦ったもので、緒戦で欧米の白人勢力を追い払い、アジア諸民族は歓喜した。アジアで国家の総力を挙げて戦ったのは日本だけだったが、天皇の詔勅で戦いの矛を収めた。… 激動の60数年間の中心にいた「昭和大帝」の役割は無視できるものではない。
It would require a heavy dose of naivety to assume that the “Malaysian’s” comments, assuming they have been reported faithfully here, reflect the attitudes of the vast majority of Asians. Possibly the “Malaysian” remains unaware of the fact that the Emperor’s forces killed millions of Asians, submitted women to sexual slavery, and raided the natural wealth of Asian nations with impunity? It would be difficult to imagine that, knowing all of these things, the “Malaysian” would deny the insensitivity towards other Asians of self-righteous Showa worshipping in Japan. Similarly to the professor cited above, some of those who write at the SDPNN under the rubric of “ethnic voices” (「国民の声」) use the expression “sacred and wise decision”(「ご聖断」) to refer to the decree issued by the Emperor to signal Japan’s cessation of hostilities in WWII. Although the one who declared the end of the war in an official capacity was, indeed, Emperor Showa, it is no less true that Emperor Showa was responsible for preventing the war from breaking out in the first place. Moreover, his “decision” was hardly sacred and “wise” in some courageous or self-assuming way, given that he was compelled to make it by General MacArthur’s forces. Had he not, his reign would surely have met a grim conclusion. Thus, it was less an act of “wisdom” than it was of self-preservation or commonsensical (and lamentably belated) prudence.

If certain Showa enthusiasts wish to impose their program on the nation, then, in our view, it would be necessary that they do so to have others recall not only Japan's spectacular postwar economic development but also the murderous folly of the war years and the crimes of Japan's fascist rulers.

As things stand under the current rightwing leadership of Prime Minister Koizumi, the “Showa Day” bill has passed the House of Representatives and is being discussed in the House of Councils (Upper House).

If anyone would like to express opposition to “Showa Day,” please write in English or Japanese here. Those who see good reason for a return to “Showa Day” may share their opinions by sending them as a comment to this post or as E-mail that we will upload as a separate post for the sake of discussion.

Sunday, May 8

Synchronized frolick

photo by terrette (8533)

Saturday, May 7

Memette 1

As host of this webpage, I have been invited by Steve, of Steve Bates, the Yellow Doggerel Democrat, to compose a "book meme." Steve describes the book meme as follows.
The "book meme" comprises a number of questions about the books in your life. The meme is self-perpetuating: you answer the questions for your readers, then tap three other bloggers whose answers you believe would be interesting. For your convenience, here are the questions.

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
3. The last book you bought is?
4. What are you currently reading?
5. Five books you would take to a deserted island:
6. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Although I do not feel that I am particularly well suited to compose a book meme, for the simple reason that, of late, I have been reading very little and certainly very few books, I will do my best to hurry the baton to a trio of other bloggers.

Parenthetically, I have to admit that I do not know even how to pronounce the word "meme," which looks like a cognate for the French word meaning "same." Nor do I know the word's origin or precise sense. I have nonetheless taken the liberty of likening it to my name, for the title of this post, by attaching the "feminine" or "diminutive" suffix to it. The reader is thereby invited to hear a tone of modesty in the self-description -- not feminine modesty, but the modesty of small sizes and small enterprises.

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

I don't recall exactly which books were memorized at the end of Bradbury's novel, but I do recall feeling terribly frustrated with the presumptions that lie behind the scene in which certain human figures heroically adopt the memorization of a given literary work to the point of having their identity swallowed up entirely by the work. These figures of resistance "become" the work they memorize. The idea that books and therefore human culture might be preserved not only by strict memorization in this way, but by a state of "being" or "oneness," that is, self-identification with a given work (whose contours are thereby assumed to be clearly defined or embodied), seems to me the most radically reactionary and impoverished way of confronting the despotic powers of a culture-phobic regime. It amounts to adopting the conservative and unquestioned view of culture as a static product. If all these culture zombies can do is endlessly repeat their chosen work, then culture has died by other means than by fire. It has, in a sense, been frozen -- but only in one sense, because the metaphor of "freezing" or "ice" is perfectly problematic.

I suppose the idea that Bradbury's characters put their faith in is that, one day, the frozen culture might be thawed and reawakened by others; however, the notion that one might transport a "book," where this is assumed to constitute a self-defined entity and thus one whose meaning can be carried about like sacks of flour from one time period to another, without concern for changing contexts and readers, is an insult to the ideas and language that any book worthy of its own heritage might contain. So, in short, my answer is that I wouldn't want to "be" any book. The question is poorly formed, and Bradbury is wholly to blame for that, I'm sure.

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, May 4

9.6 for difficulty

photo by terrette (8311)

Tuesday, May 3

Journalistic Sink, USA

Buffalo, NY, like many American cities, has seen its journalistic offerings greatly diminished over the past fifty years. Whereas most cities could once boast of a healthy competition between several major, locally-funded and locally-focused newspapers, now the phenomenon of the one-newspaper town has taken on the allure of "normalcy." Ideas are being hoarded in the bigger and tighter grasps of the few. At at time of living memory, Buffalo had, among others, four Polish-language newspapers that rivaled one another for scoops and insights on local and national politics. Today, the market is dominated by the overbloated, smug, info-taining, chock-full-of-advertisement and syndicated rehash called "The Buffalo News." The mere sight of the newspaper makes me cringe in horror.
Curiously, as the success of the Jon Stewart show seems to suggest, the best source of news and political commentary in today's severely news-impoverished America appears often to come in the form of parody. (I have only ever seen a single clip from Stewart's show, so my claim only echoes that of many others, and I leave it open for debate.) One other, notable example to this tendancy would be "The Beast." This is one of perhaps two freely-distributed newspapers in town that not only follows local politics assiduously, but also features editors and contributors who let fly their opinions without at first submitting them to corporate censorship -- the other is called Artvoice. As an example of the quality of the writing that appears in The Beast, I recommend this article, a funny and insightful demolishing of the latest heap of blather published in book form by the much-heralded New York Times editorial writer and all-around arrogant fool named Thomas Friedman.

Would anyone kindly share links to newspapers, parodic or not, that fight against the tide of one-newspaper dominance and corporate insipidness in their town or city?

Sunday, May 1

Warmth of Life

photo by terrette (8135) * click on to enlarge