Thursday, March 31, 2011
The International Herald Tribune has on a couple of occasions–most recently today–included what at first glance seems a Chinese news supplement. A second glance shows that it is “prepared by China Daily, People’s Republic of China.” It is a “news” advertisement section. Scanning through it is like a trip down memory lane–the days of State Controlled Media–and a reminder that, in fact, such is still the case in China. Its lead story, “Road Map Unfolded,” is a breathtakingly uncritical account of Premier Wen Jiabao’s announcement of China’s five-year social and economic development plan. The business article is called “Executives: Outlook is good for business.” It is intended, apparently, to give English-speaking Europe insight into China. It does–but surely not in the way its makers meant. It is written in passable English–no garish gaffes. But it is dead, ghostly. Rather than show us that the New China is just like the West, its message is whiplash retro: a throwback to Chairman Mao.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Kurt Lovelace, a German-American poet who I knew back in the day, just sent me some of his poetry, among which was this very fine thing: Put Some Relish on Your Plate, Pontius Pilate I started out believing in everything: the open field, plow in hand, horse waiting to be worked, words hedged in the furrow of a somnambulant dream, irises open to the moment of opening as if posturing a proof were proof enough but without the heavy lifting of burdens, the concrete blunders one must make clearing the way to ubiquitous insight. If the hurt would stop helping the scrunched imp of all our days rolled into aphasias of dreaming that stream down like sunlight through the wet branches of Spring, it might be enough. Perhaps I can ask you about it someday and you’ll tell me everything I’ve ever wanted was within reach, if only I would have put out my hand, wide palms like bells ringing: but to wedding, a funeral or just praise at the hours and minutes granted us? The world is flat as we make it to be and dysfunctional as any academic journal that needs must exclude much to get out each … Continue reading
Has the western media gone bonkers in reporting the hazards of Japan’s nuclear plant crisis? The people at japanprobe.com seem to think so. Whether they are right or wrong (or are just being very very hopeful), they turned me onto a site that visualizes the radioactive particles raining down on selected cities. If only one could read the Kanji at: microsievert.
One of the upsides–if it could be called that–of the Japanese nuclear nightmare has been a new focus of critical attention on nuclear energy. It was sold as super-cheap. In fact–pick your study (here’s one)–it is hideously expensive–and that without addressing the health and environmental risks. Here in Europe, France has gone whole hog for nuclear power, with 75% of its power coming from nuclear reactors. The Japanese sold nuclear to their public as the only viable way of powering their densely populated archipelago. In the U.S., many environmental groups were long skeptical, but eventually went along for the ride, on the grounds that nuclear is cleaner than fossil. Time says the irony of nuclear politics in the U.S. is that while the government keeps pushing nuclear, Wall Street is backing away. Meanwhile, Japan’s prime minister has just told parliament: “The earthquake, tsunami and the ensuing nuclear accident may be Japan’s largest-ever crisis.” I used to live in Tokyo, and I can tell you: the Japanese are not given to overstatement.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Japanese government has a long history of denial. There was an official policy of denying Japan’s 1937 massacre in the Chinese city of Nanking, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered and tens of thousands of women were raped by Japanese soldiers. For decades the Japanese government denied that its military ran brothels–staffed by “comfort women” from around Asia–especially during World War II. This was despite overwhelming evidence that hundreds of thousands of women were forced into prostitution. Only in the 1990s did the government begin to change its line. The Japanese government similarly denied for decades that it had an agreement with the U.S. military whereby American nuclear vessels could use Japanese harbors, and held to its denial even after American documents detailing the agreement were declassified. The lack of information coming from Japanese official sources in the unfolding nuclear catastrophe has to be put in historical context, for the sake not only of the Japanese people but those in other parts of the world who may be at risk. See: Japan Times, The Rape of Nanking, comfort women.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Joris Luyendijk–one of the most nimble and far-ranging Dutch writers today–told me something last evening that could provide a new frame for understanding recent events in the Middle East. Luyendijk lived and studied in Cairo, and one thing has struck him in blogged comments of young Arabs he has been following. The organizers of rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere are–as has been endlessly reported–of a new, digital-savvy generation, and their way with Twitter and Facebook has caught the old guard looking old and off-guard. These new revolutionaries are, we are led to believe, the latest incarnation of the crossbow-wielders and the musket-shoulderers, changing the military/political game with new technology. But does their focus come with crippling limitations? Luyendijk said he has heard more than once comments like this: Once [Insert Tyrant Name] is gone, I’m done with politics. That, safe to say, was not the sentiment of a Jefferson or a Lenin. Luyendijk made these comments over a dinner we had with Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, is a warning about the shallowing of all sorts of discourse that is taking place in the internet age. Are the leaders of the would-be revolutionaries steeped in politics to … Continue reading