Noilly Prattle: September 2012

Saturday, September 29, 2012

them thar's fightin' words....

         The heated tit for tat verbal (so far) confrontations in the United Nations among the East Asian powers disputing the ownership of a few scattered rocks in the seas around here are digging up the bitter roots of discord left over from the aftermath of the Pacific War theater of World War II. Unlike Germany, Japan has never really confronted its role in the run up to the war, nor has it seriously acknowledged its role in fostering enmity with its occupied neighbors or come to terms with its defeat. And, so we have the current escalating rounds of accusation and counteraccusation in the United Nations.

A few quotes from these confrontations tell the story:

The Japan Times--Kyodo News

Kim Sung Hwan
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan said: "We are victims of Japanese colonial rule. When the Japanese government claims Dokdo is their territory, Korean people (take) it as another attempt to invade our country. So that's the Korean sentiment and I hope that the Japanese government understands this."
"It's in sharp contrast with what Germany did to get the support and respect from the neighboring countries" after World War II, Kim said. "If Japan does it, I'm sure they can (get) respect from neighboring countries."

Yang Jiechi
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi...claiming the East China Sea isles have been part of Chinese territory since "ancient times," said that "Japan stole Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands from China" after winning the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War. He claimed that Japan "forced the then Chinese government to sign an unequal treaty to cede these islands and other Chinese territories to Japan," but after its defeat in World War II, Tokyo was obligated by international treaties to return them to China.

Osamu Fujimura

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference that Yang's remarks were "totally groundless," and called on both sides to “act calmly with each other from a broad perspective, while fostering and maintaining communication."

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang dismissed Japan's acquisition of the islets as "totally invalid and illegal," and said that by taking such unilateral action "the Japanese government has grossly violated China's sovereignty. This is an outright denial of the outcomes of the victory of the war and poses a grave challenge to the postwar international order" and the U.N. Charter, he said.

Japan's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Kazuo Kodama, said, in a rebuttal session, the Senkakus are "clearly an inherent territory of Japan based on historical facts and international law." Kodama alleged that China only laid claim to the Senkakus in the 1970s after U.N. studies indicated potentially lucrative gas reserves may lie around them.

China's ambassador to the United Nations, Li Baodong, then escalated the rhetoric, saying: "The recent so-called island purchase by the Japanese government is nothing different from money laundering. Its purpose is to legalize its stealing and occupation of the Chinese territory through this illegal means and to confuse international public opinion and deceive the world."

As one of our dearly departed writers used to say: And so it goes.....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Size matters

 Check out the video; you'll split a gut laughing

In the latest dust-up in the neverending farce of the Senkaku, Diaoyu Tiaoyutai melodrama the children in the sandbox (or pool, maybe) still haven't learned their basic kindergarten to play nicely, share your toys and don't kick sand in the other kids' faces.

Today, Taiwan got into the act and sent some 40 "fishing boats" and government patrol boats to add their ante to the already simmering poker pot. This seems to be a game about who is going to blink first. Crossing some invisible red line in the water that supposedly marks "Japan's territorial waters" and taunting the Japanese patrol on the "other side" of the red line, the ensuing skirmish looks something like a water pistol fight in the playground pool. 

These buffoons were shooting water cannons at each other in a parody of Hollywood style sea battles, where the only real danger is getting wet and maybe catching pneumonia. 

I have a modest proposal. They should line up the sailors on the deck, bare ass, facing each other. Then the two ships can make a close pass going in opposite directions and the sailors could have a big pissing contest. Naturally, the guy with the biggest and strongest wang would have the advantage in pissing on the other guys. Or, alternatively, they could circle each other and have a big circle jerk.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Of Control Freaks and Fundamentalists

Ryo Isobe - Japan: the Country
Where You Must Not Dance

Drinking, dancing and doing it won't do!

There is a book recently published in Japanese with the delicious title: 踊ってはいけない国日本 "Odotte wa Ikenai Kuni, Nihon (Japan: the Country Where You Must Not Dance)" by Ryo Isobe, a freelance writer specializing in club music.

America has its constipated fundies whilst Japan has its anal retentive control freaks. Unfortunately, these control obsessed types aren't satisfied with controlling themselves; oh no, they want to control everybody else as well.

I'll leave the American scene alone, you can read and hear all about it in the Republican presidential campaign platforms and ads. Were they to have it their way we'd all be wearing hair shirts, on our knees or squirming on butt hard pews singing Hallelujahs twenty-four/seven with one-at-time toilet breaks every four hours and be sure to “keep the door ajar”.

But, back to the country where “you must not dance”.

In this country where you must not dance there is a world, once called “the floating world”, now called the “mizu shobai” 水商売「みずしょうばい」(literally “water business”) referring to the entertainment industry. Any city in Japan of respectable size has its mizu shobai district and everybody knows where it is. It's composed of often tiny broom-closet size watering holes, restaurants, hostess clubs, massage parlors, hotels, etc. Ubiquitous among these “shops” are little places called “snacks” usually run a middle-aged motherly figure called, appropriately, “mama-san”, with the mind of a cash register.

Although it's apparently not OK to be young and healthy and energetic enough to dance, it's OK to be neurotic and depressed and cry in your "mizuwari" (whiskey and water) on mama-san's bosom (figuratively) while drowning your sorrows in your “bar keep” (usually a bottle of Suntory Whiskey with a little label with your name on it). You're one of mama-san's regular visitors to her confessional or psychoanalyst's couch, however you want to look at it.

Maybe it's because it's quieter. After all, Japan is a country, or so it thinks of itself, as culturally and emotionally “refined” (an outsider might think repressed), where such outre behavior as dirty dancing is thoroughly unrefined and vulgar, immoral, corrupting of the youth and disturbing the neighbors with loud noises until the wee hours. You have to wonder what the “neighbors” are doing living in the entertainment district in the first place. The kind of neighbors living in the district are usually denizens of the district who, far from complaining about the noise, are the ones busy making a living from it.

At any rate, that's the excuse the authorities used to explain their reasons for the clampdown on dancing in a large number of clubs when interviewed by the author of this book.

I wish I could read Japanese. The book sounds like a lot fun to read.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bread and..... well, Circuses anyway

DID you ever think of modern politics as entertainment—a kind of Colosseum without the blood of throwing anybody to the lions?

Forum Romanum and Colosseum
(composite image)
It could be argued that the greatest contribution to politics and government made by the Roman emperors was the discovery and development of distraction and entertainment for the masses. They realized that a large percentage of the population didn't have that much to do that was actually productive, for any number of reasons, but needed to be fed and kept occupied lest they turn on the leadership. When we visited Rome and the Colosseum a few years ago, our guide explained how the spectacles in the arena were provided free of charge for the citizens of Rome who, in turn, reciprocated with affection for and loyalty to the emperor. Thus, the emperors were left free to pursue their interests and intrigues without having to watch their backs--from the common folks at least.

In our modern mass societies, of course, no “emperor” is wealthy enough to provide free spectacles à la Colosseo. Therefore, I am suggesting, that modern politics and governments themselves are the theater that provides entertainment through the outlet of mass media: news programs, talk shows, newspapers, magazines, supermarket tabloids, talking heads, late night comedy, political party conventions, the Internet, etc. Marshall McLuhan once famously said of mass media that the medium itself is the message. He might readily agree that, however warped, the modern media is a kissin' cousin of the old Roman Colosseum and the message of the media is entertainment and distraction from the tedium of everyday life or, perhaps, a red herring to keep the spotlight off what's really going on.

Heiligenkreuz (12 Century Abbey church)
Between the downfall of Rome and the advent of the mass societies of the modern world, I further submit, religion provided the same service of entertainment and distraction behind the veil of sanctity. If you visit some of the older, relatively simple and chilly stone churches in Europe, say from around the 10th to 12th centuries, they seem to evoke how hard life must have been for their parishioners. Their very primitiveness suggests the huts that the people of the Middle Ages lived in and the drabness and hardship of everyday life. How magnificent, in contrast, the church, in spite of its cold stone walls, with its ceremony, colorful costumes, music and pageantry must have seemed—how entertaining and distracting.  

speaks for itself, doesn't it?
Undoubtedly the greatest show on earth has to be the modern perpetual American presidential campaigns. These non-stop and very expensive mud slinging extravaganzas are widely disseminated in attack ads and fervently reported by the hungry for scandal, red meat and profits 24/7 media “news” outlets for an equally hungry for scandal and red meat viewing public. Our public figures are media stars and celebrities, often enough notoriously so. Royalty is especially big in the entertainment biz. Tabloids and paparazzi shadow them relentlessly in hopes of something salubrious to photograph and/or “report” on. The closer to full frontal nudity the better. The British royals are super stars in this respect.

looks more like a holiday than pissed off protesors
Shit happens, true. But, once it does, it's “entertainment” and manipulative value becomes exploited in commemorative anniversary ceremonies “lest we forget”. Heaven forbid that we should ever forget something that would be better forgotten. Amen. Which brings me to the supremely entertaining flap over a few rocks in the East China Sea. Pure theater! Videos of fishing boat flotillas, screaming mobs, burning flags, upended and overturned cars, burning buildings, blown out windows, paint and egg smeared embassy walls. It's really looking more and more like a B-grade action film. I wonder if Hollywood producers were consulted before the shooting (with cameras) began? Forsooth, truth is stranger than fiction or vice versa.

So, who is producing and directed this comedy? Best guess? Political interests in both countries involved. Why? For the usual reason that the main function of modern governments is the provision of circuses—as a cover for what they don't want publicly understood. What's that? Why, keeping themselves in power or trying to get themselves back in power. What else? The Chinese are in the middle of a party power transition while trying to juggle a slowing economy, a non egalitarian society where over a billion people are still not benefiting from China's recent, admittedly remarkable, growth rates. When domestic issues need to be kept on the back burner, what better way than to encourage a little foreign-country bashing to entertain and distract and keep a restless element of the population occupied. The Chinese government has neither openly encouraged nor seriously discouraged the demonstrations against Japan over the islands dispute.

Japan is also approaching a political showdown it seems. The present administration is showing itself increasingly inept and the sharks of the opposition parties smell blood in the water. My impression is that the clueless administration is being manipulated (into “buying” the islands and stirring up a hornet's nest) by the more savvy party, out of power after over half a century of one-party rule. It makes great theater with the Japanese adding their voices (especially in provocative race-tinted blogs on the Internet) to the rising cacophony and hysteria. The islands issue may be passing its “use by” date, though. People seem to be getting bored with it and it it's getting dwindling media coverage. Maybe we need to throw somebody to the lions? What fun!

Best part of all this entertainment is it doesn't cost a dime or a yen or a renminbi....

Caesar would be proud.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Senkaku, Diaoyu, Tiaoyutai

Senkaku, Diaoyu, Tiaoyutai Islands
These strange sounding names all belong to the same set of ROCKS in the East China Sea. Problem is that this same set of rocks is claimed by three different countries—well, almost different, if you consider Taiwan (formerly Formosa) a separate country. Mainland China doesn't. Anyway, Japan, China and Taiwan all claim ownership of these rocks. The rocks themselves are uninhabited (and essentially, perhaps, uninhabitable for all practical purposes) but may contain mineral wealth (especially oil and gas) on the surrounding seabed. The waters around them are also rich in fisheries.

The islands lie about 150 km. northeast of Taiwan, which is, in effect, the nearest claimant to ownership of the islands. The disputed ownership of these islands comes to the surface every once in a while, but the latest opening of this particular can of worms may have hidden dimensions related to history and politics as well as exploitation of potential natural resources.

Put in historical context, the ownership of some of the islands is claimed by a Japanese family dating back to the Edo Period of Japanese history. The country was then ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family from 1603 to 1868. Of course, how valid any kind of deed from that period would be today is questionable at best.

More recent historical and political developments in Japan, however, may play a more determinant role in the current spat. Japan, since the end of World War II until 2009, was ruled basically as a one-party monopoly of the Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP became deeply entrenched under a basically three legged stool of support: agriculture, the construction industry and the bureaucracy. Agriculture benefited lavishly from government subsidies and the construction industry got lucrative contracts for infrastructure spending on large scale public works projects. Then came the collapse of the speculative real estate bubble in the early 90s, effectively ending Japan's gogo years and ushering in the now 20 years (two “lost decades”) of stagnation and loss of confidence in Japan's future prospects.

Enter the new inexperienced administration of the Democratic Party of Japan in September of 2009. After over half a century, the LDP found itself out of power, but it had some secret information that it failed to pass on to the new administration related to the Senkaku islands, also known as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai.

Shintaro Ishihara,  Governor of Tokyo
The current dispute over the islands was instigated by the right wing Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, a former LDP Diet member. The Senkakus are, it would seem, his personal irredenta. In August this year, some activists from Hong Kong landed on one of the islands (their Diaoyu), were arrested and released by the Japanese government and reprimanded by the Chinese government. Ishihara, who has a history of needling the Chinese, couldn't pass up another opportunity. Instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, he added more fuel to the fire by offering to “buy” the islands “owned” by a Japanese family and started a drive to raise funds from private donations, eventually raising about 1.5 billion Yen (around $19,000,000) and sending a “survey” craft to inspect the islands, clearly as further provocation. He also wants to build landing infrastructure for use by Japanese fishermen “in case they need a refuge from storms”. The government decided to outbid the Ishihara tribe by buying the islands for about 2.1 billion Yen (around $27,000,000) and nationalizing them but allowing no infrastructure to be built nor allowing landings and “surveys”.
Ishihara's "survey team"

These actions on Ishihara's part seem like intentional right wing provocations designed to stir up the Chinese and Taiwanese and consequently inflame the nationalist sentiments of the Japanese—all of whom have political and ethnic “issues” stemming from the war—as well as discredit the DPJ Administration. The question is why and why now?

My guess is it's political machination and manipulation to discredit the DPJ Administration as inept at governing the country, force a national election and put the LDP back at the helm. At the time of the transition from LDP to DPJ rule a crucial back door agreement between the governments of Japan and China was kept from the new administration. At the time of normalization of relations between the US, China and Japan (then under the LDP) with Nixon's visit to China in 1972 an agreement was made to shelve the issue of the islands until a later date when, hopefully, cooler heads would prevail. This secret deal was kept from the incoming DPJ Administration, perhaps intentionally to use as an Ace up the LDP's sleeve for future use—i.e., when the time was ripe for the LDP to perhaps regain power.

Nobuteru Ishihara [2nd from right]
The approval rate for the DPJ has sunk to the 20 percentage points range. It has soured relations with the US over the military bases in Okinawa issue. It hasn't been able to dig Japan out of its 20 years of negligible growth. The Japanese export engine has lost steam with the global economic meltdown. Off-shoring of Japanese companies has led to a two-tier economy at home with many young people stuck in low paying no benefits part time jobs. Agitation for a change in government is on the rise. A charismatic new leader is rising in Osaka with a new party called Japan Restoration offering platform planks that dovetail nicely with the those of the LDP. There is talk of pushing for a general election as soon as possible. There is a reasonably good chance that the LDP allied with one or two other parties including Japan Restoration could regain control of the government. It may be worth noting that Mr. Ishihara's son Nobuteru is an LDP presidential candidate running for election this year.

What I'm saying here is I think the party now out of power, salivating to get back in, is manipulating the islands issue to further discredit and weaken the DPJ and use it as a wedge issue to manipulate a gullible population into voting the LDP back into power.

We could find out if I'm right or wrong in the not too distant future if events proceed on the current track.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


red "chochin" lantern
       MY friend Hank and I were whiling away an evening in one of the local watering holes recently; the sake flowed and tongues loosened up along with inhibitions. These places are called “izakaya” and are close cousins to pubs and bistros or even the neighborhood bar/cafe where you can buy food and drink. The atmosphere is friendly and warm and relaxed and conducive to “letting it all hang out”--in the right company, of course.

As the evening wore on and the bottomless sake cup began to blur the edges, Hank began to talk about how his relationship with his significant other was going through a rough patch. Communication had broken down over what seemed to him a misunderstanding but, to her, callousness. “So, what happened,” I asked. “It's a long story that started a few month's back. In a nutshell, she felt that I was putting my own interests and those of an old friend before hers,” was the way he put it. “Is that true?” I asked. “Well, in a manner of speaking, you could say that, I guess,” he mused somewhat absently and more than a little boozily.
“In that case, shouldn't you apologize and be done with it?”

“It isn't that simple,” he said, “we both have a history of less than admirable behavior in times of crises.”

“What do you mean?”

“We both tend to be good time Charlies, and don't handle it well when the party suddenly comes to a screeching halt—as it inevitably does sometimes. When the shoe drops it all depends on whose foot it hits that determines who behaves less than nobly. This time it fell on mine,” said Hank as he upended another cup of sake without going into detail.

Hank went on to describe how accusations were met with counter accusations, debates of escalating heat about misunderstandings and/or seeing things through the dark filter of your own circumstances and feelings of hurt and betrayal ad infinitum. In psychobabble terms they were essentially talking at or over each others heads instead of talking to and listening to what the other guy was saying, intent on being 'right' and scoring points.

“So, sounds like your basic he-said-she-said kind of dead end. How does the story end? Sounds like you and your s.o. are at a crossroads,” I pressed.

“You got tha' right, awright,” he slurred at bit. “We did get as far as deciding that we didn't want to throw all those years away lightly. Still, there was an empty place that wasn't going away. Something was missing and neither of us could summon up the courage to state the obvious.”

“Oh, and what was the 'obvious'?” I queried.

“It's hard to put my finger on it. We were too polite and deferential and accommodating while at the same time the warmth and touch were missing,” he mused a little sadly.

“You mean no sex?” I commented, coming right to the point.

“Not exactly. Well, yes, that, but more importantly the easy communication that comes when you feel free to touch another person just matter of factly and that seems impossible to do when the underlying norm is the tension of unresolved and unfinished business brooding in the background,” he clarified.

“You're using quite a bit of past tense,” I noted. “Has the 'unfinished business' gotten resolved or is the relationship kaput?”

Hank brightened up a bit through his now pretty dense alcoholic haze. “I don't know the ending, yet. But I think we made a small breakthrough. Sometimes, a song can say things much better than you can. We had both been listening (although not together) to Dave Mason's We Just Disagree and Elvis singing You've Lost That Loving Feeling--both songs just pregnant with meaning in our impasse. After a couple drinks we got into a 'discussion' about an incident involving some mutual friends in which our own mutual antagonisms resurfaced. The discussion segued into a rehash of our old argument about the most recent letdown and my transgressions. One thing led to another as the heat escalated. Finally, she concluded with, 'This is what I'm hearing from you. What do you have to say about that'?”

He was really primed now, on a roll.

“I guess the booze loosened my tongue.” he said. “Without offering any counterargument this time, I just said that what I'm hearing from you is that you just don't like me anymore. You said before that deep down you still love me. That may be true, but you don't like me anymore and that's more important. You've lost your feel for me and I've lost mine for you.”

“Wow! That must have hit a nerve,” I exclaimed.

“Well, I guess so. It did break the ice. It cleared away a lot of the detritus and left us both metaphorically naked with no place to hide. It was a simple honest statement of true feelings of loss and sadness, some reaching out and a lot of swallowing of pride. She responded in the same spirit coming over and hugging me and saying, 'I do still like you and love you, too, but was afraid and didn't know how to reach out. It seemed more like caving in to me'.”

“Yeah, me too,” I laughed. “Pride is a son-of-a-bitch. It's like an addiction that keeps you hooked even when you know it's no good for you. But, about that 'caving in' thing..... it's not caving in I think, it's more like jumping off a cliff into the abyss. I think we just stepped back from the edge.”

“Sounds like a potentially happy ending,” I said.

“I sure as hell hope so. And I think I've had enough of these, too,” Hank smiled for the first time that night. “Let's get the hell out of here and go home!”

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Crashing Sound of Silence

Bill Clinton convention speech

Romney acceptance speech

The conspicuousness of absence!

Where was their ex-president?

The Republicans seem to be ashamed of their past presidents. I wonder why? Except, of course, for the ghost of a B-movie actor who co-starred with an ape in his most memorable film.

OK. Romney [above link] looks and acts like a marionette. Wooden. Quite a few nips and tucks Clinton [also above link] still knows how to work a crowd. Folksy. He looks like you hope you will at his age. The man's a policy wonk with charisma. Although a little exaggerated here and there, his assertions could probably pass the fact checker test with a reasonably good grade. In spite of a couple of doozies about a certain past sexual indiscretion! But, hey, we all make mistakes, right? At least he's not "not letting the fact checkers interfere" with the content of the ad campaign.

The moral of this story is that it's good to have an all too human but charismatic ex-president in your corner.

So, where is theirs?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shiva in the Kitchen

Shiva Nataraja the cosmic dancer
In Hindu mythology the god Shiva Nataraja is the cosmic dancer who performs his divine dance to destroy a weary universe and make preparations for the process of creation.

Well, it seems that Shiva had a hand in the kitchen today. With the intense heat and humidity of high summer in Japan we don't have much appetite for hot food and are always looking for new ways to prepare cold dishes. We decided to make an old favorite, a spicy cold tomato and cucumber gazpacho soup for dinner and went to the market and bought the necessary ingredients. This recipe requires no cooking and is made entirely in a blender. So we took out the blender and gathered the ingredients including tomato juice.

I unscrewed the tomato juice cap and poured half the required amount to form a liquid base for blending the raw cucumber, tomato, onion, green pepper, celery, etc. When I turned on the blender it started making an uncharacteristic banging sound. I thought that maybe the cucumbers were hard to blend or the base housing the blade wasn't screwed on properly and causing the noise. I stopped the blender and poured the contents into a glass bowl, adjusted and re-screwed the base of the blender. When I continued with the remainder of the ingredients the blender sounded normal.

When the blending was finished we looked for the tomato juice cap, but it was nowhere to be found. Then the possible source of the banging in the blender occurred to me and we checked the soup and found, first of all, small bits of something white floating on the surface, a sampling bitten into revealed that it was hard and gritty, suspiciously like plastic. A ladling soon pulled up a sizable chunk of the cap. Mystery solved, soup destroyed and thrown out.

But Lord Shiva doesn't destroy without creating anew. So, we started thinking (a little desperately) about what was left in the refrigerator. We still had half the tomato juice capped with saran and a rubber band. We had some carrots, onions, green pepper, Spanish olives..... Without measuring we added these ingredients raw bit by bit and sampled the taste as we went. Spicing was added at random and as the spirit moved: some salt, rice wine vinegar, sweet Noilly Prat vermouth, garlic, even some Thai Basil—sampling and tasting as we went. Then we covered the glass baking dish and chilled the soup. We ended up with a Carrot Gazpacho with a hint of anise imparted by the Thai Basil. Should be delicious after a good stiff Martini!

If you'd like to try it just get creative and add stuff as the spirit moves you. You might be surprised!

Paraphrasing an old saw, Shiva doesn't close a window, but he opens a door. Now we have a new addition to our cold summer dishes repertoire.