Friday, July 28, 2006

Stop the Lies

The 'myth':
Consistently, from the Hezbollah heartland, my message was that Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending . . . among women and children...
Jan Egeland, UN head of humanitarian affairs

Something probably closer to the 'truth':
Hezbollah fighters [...] avoid civilians like the plague. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian militants have been.
Mitch Prothero (link via Informed Comment)

Here I am! Kill me, please!
The implication of Egeland’s cowardly statement seems to be that any Lebanese fighter, or Palestinian one, resisting Israel and its powerful military should stand in an open field, his rifle raised to the sky, waiting to see who fares worse in a shoot-out with an Apache helicopter or F-16 fighter jet. Hizbullah’s reluctance to conduct the war in this manner, we are supposed to infer, is proof that they are terrorists.
Jonathan Cook

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Is it live, or is it Memorex?

My good friend Pierre over at Loser's Guide posted this interesting comment today about a movie review he read at Salon (the name of this Tunisian movie is Satin Rouge). Pierre informs us that the review "... dutifully belabours the fact that many Tunisians are Muslim [...] even though this movie is about friendship, middle age and loneliness," and then presents us with this little chestnut of a quote (with "righteous parentheses"!):
(Even if Islam as a religion doesn't necessarily preach misogyny, if one of its cultural interpretations is that a woman should be sentenced to death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock, there's no other word to use.)

Now let me quote Pierre:
I don't know. What do you call a religion that demands the death penalty thusly (Deuteronomy 22:20-21):

But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:

Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die.

As Pierre informs us, "And there's a lot more where that came from."
And then we have this story from Media Matters for America (link via SIVACRACY):
For the second time in three days, CNN featured a segment on the potential coming of the Apocalypse, as indicated by current conflicts in the Middle East. The July 26 edition of CNN's Live From ... featured a nine-minute segment in which anchor Kyra Phillips discussed the Apocalypse and the Middle East with Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Joel C. Rosenberg -- who share the view that the Rapture is nigh. At one point in the discussion, Phillips asked Rosenberg whether she needed "to start taking care of unfinished business and telling people that I love them and I'm sorry for all the evil things I've done," to which Rosenberg replied: "Well, that would be a good start." Throughout the segment, the onscreen text read: "Apocalypse Now?"

As Media Matters for America documented, the July 24 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now featured a segment examining what "the Book of Revelation tell[s] us about what's happening right now in the Middle East." CNN re-aired this segment the next day. Media Matters also noted that Rosenberg is just one of several conservative media figures who have identified and expounded upon the purported signs of the Apocalypse to be found in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. During his appearance on Live From ..., Rosenberg claimed that he had been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill, and the CIA to discuss the Rapture and the Middle East, and noted -- several times -- that the apocalyptic events described in his novels keep coming true.

So, CNN is giving serious coverage to the impending apocalypse? Is this what passes for news in the United States of America these days? Maybe the apocalypse ain't so far away after all... Japan seems saner the longer I live here...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My Head Hurts

I've been too busy reading (pretty much exclusively about this) the past few days to post anything new here. I feel a kind of mental 'paradigm shift' coming on. This happens periodically, and when it's over the world looks different to me (not necessarily better or worse, just different). In the meantime, it's a bit unsettling, and somewhat paralyzing, because right now I'm not sure what I think about anything. It's not any kind of real 'condition' or anything. This is just what happens to me when I'm about to change some long-held opinion or belief. I'm very unhappy about what's happening in Lebanon...
Anyway, I expect to be back real soon...

Friday, July 21, 2006

'The Peaceful Country'

The Yasukuni ('peaceful country') Shrine is located in Tokyo and is dedicated to the spirits of soldiers who died fighting for the Japanese emperor (english homepage here). It's essentially the Japanese version of a war memorial, and its Book of Souls contains the names of about two and a half million Japanese men and women who died in the service of their country. Anyone even passingly familiar with the current problems between Japan and its neighbors (most notably China and the Koreas) has likely heard of this place, and has possibly wondered what all the fuss is about. I mean, the leaders of Western nations (all nations?) pay annual homage to their war dead at war memorials, right? Well, yes, but...

In the Shinto tradition humans become deities (kami) when they die, so the "souls of the dead are worshipped rather than just remembered." Only the kami of 'remarkable' people are enshrined, and this is where things get sticky. In 1978, 14 Class A war criminals (including Hideki Tojo) were quietly enshrined as 'martyrs of Showa'. (When Emperor Hirohito, emperor of the Showa period, learned of this he stopped visiting the shrine altogether--more on this below.) Yasukuni also operates a museum which many believe offers a revisionist version of history. It claims that Japan's occupation of its neighbors was done to protect the region's independence from Western encroachment; it denies events like the Nanking Massacre; it says that the execution of convicted war criminals was "cruel" and "unjust"; etc. For Japan's war-time victims, and for many liberals within Japan itself, Yasukuni is a symbol of Japanese militarism and right-wing nationalism. Conversely, to many it is a symbol of patriotism.

The current controversy centers around annual visits to the shrine by recent Japaneser prime ministers, and whether these visits were done in an official or private capacity. Current Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has visited the shrine four times since taking office in 2001. Not surprisingly, relations with China and South Korea have grown worse during his tenure. Koizumi will step down as prime minister later this year, and many see Yasukuni as a central issue in deciding his successor.

Today saw a surprise development in this story. From The Independent:
The bitter debate over the annual pilgrimage of Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, to the Yasukuni Shrine war memorial has been given a new twist by a beyond-the-grave intervention from an unusual critic: Emperor Hirohito.

A memo has been found claiming the wartime ruler expressed "strong displeasure"at Yasukuni enshrining 14 Class-A war criminals in 1978, and refused to visit the memorial, which also honours 2.5 million war dead, until his death a decade later.

As the story points out, this is a "severe embarrassment" for Mr. Koizumi. Personally, I would imagine that right-wing nationalists all over Japan are embarrassed by this revelation. They act and speak, after all, 'in the Emperor's name'. For his part, Mr. Koizumi said that he has not changed his views about the visits, calling it "an issue of the heart". But as the article points out,
[...] proof that the monarch in whose name millions of Japanese fought in the Second World War staunchly opposed official trips to the Tokyo shrine will put intense pressure on Mr Koizumi to call off a final, politically explosive visit before he leaves office in September.

Also of note here is the timing of the memo's release, which is seen by some as an attempt by business interests in Japan to "sabotage the election of Mr. Koizumi's successor" and restore good business relations with the rest of Asia.

The current Emperor, Akihiko, has never visited Yasukuni shrine, despite pressure to do so, and now it's clear that his father, who was emperor during World War II, disapproved of Yasukuni. If this isn't a slap in the face to right-wing nationalists in Japan, I don't know what is. (Imagine the Pope declaring he was an atheist...) I believe the Royal Palace has the hearts of many, if not most, Japanese. This could signal a change within Japan and between Japan and its neighbors. Assuming, of course, that the Japanese themselves are actually paying attention...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thursday Night Japan Video Blogging

You know, as soon as I can figure out how to use the 'record' function on my DVD machine (it's in Japanese), I'll have an unlimited source of odd videos to post here. In the meantime, some more stuff culled from YouTube...

I'm not actually sure if the following commercial for copy paper is originally Japanese, but it certainly could be...

Police in Japan, and the contrast between reality and fantasy...

A nice anthropological study here. It's in Japanese, but you should be able to figure out that it's a lesson on how to grovel in Japan...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Depressing Europeans...

Wow. It's not often that I get the chance to talk about three of Japan's idiosyncrasies in one short post, but here goes...

To my mind, one of Japan's most enduring icons is the ubiquitous vending machine.
Canned coffee (hot or cold) is one of the most popular products offered by vending machines in Japan. The picture on the right is from an advertisement on a vending machine at a park near my place, and shows just two of the many coffee products offered by (I think) the biggest canned coffee company in Japan, Georgia. Georgia is owned by Coca Cola Japan.
The Japanese also (quite famously) have a penchant for using the English language, shall we say, creatively, sometimes with quite unintended results. You'll notice that one of the products in the picture is called "Deeppresso", a name which is no doubt intended to express the idea of this product's deep, rich espresso flavor. But really, say it out loud. Are you reminded of any kind of coffee? Would you want a nice hot can of deeppresso in the morning? Would you like to cool of on a hot day with an ice-cold can of deeppresso? Maybe you get my point... This is made even more amusing with the juxtaposition of Deeppresso with another of the company's products, "European". "Deeppresso European". Mmm... reminds me of Swedish movies...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Who's that dork with Ultraman?!

Believe it or not: in a goofy kinda way, one of my happiest moments in Japan!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ultraman Land!

We're taking a family trip this weekend. My lovely wife says if I behave myself we can go visit Ultraman Land. Needless to say, I'm quite excited! If I can, I promise to post pics of me and Ultraman in battle!
In a completely unrelated matter, I guess I'll have to change the "About Me" section of my profile, since I bought a new pc this week. May not look too imposing, but under the hood it's a lean, mean, clean, web machine. I'm very happy.
Wow! A new pc and Ultraman in the same week! I still sometimes wonder what I did to deserve it but, life is good...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thursday Night Japan Video Blogging

Ok, so I'm going to try to make this a regular thing, so long as I have time and can find half-way interesting videos (in the future I hope to make a few of my own). Here goes this week's entry...

It's perhaps not very common knowledge, but Japan has one of the most powerful and best equipped militaries in the world. In fact, in terms of conventional force, they are a match for damn near any country one might care to mention. The numbers vary from source to source, but Japan is generally recognized to be in the top 5 in terms of military spending (PDF file). So why am I wasting your time with this? Well, to introduce the first video, of course! Looks like some kind of promo used to suck young men and women into joining the forces. Starts out a bit slow, but later on they start blowing things up...

Summertime is typhoon season in Japan, and heavy rains frequently cause landslides. I've never experienced a landslide, and if the video below is any indication of what they can do, I don't want to anytime soon. This is worth watching...

This one pretty much sums up life in Japan...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again...

Well, I guess this is how it begins. Japanese government officials are discussing ways to better defend the country, including setting up the legal framework to allow Tokyo to launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korean missile sites.
"If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack ... there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.

Now, anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm no fan of North Korea. Nor am I especially fond of Japan's weak-in-the-knees constitution. I don't, however, believe that the Japanese government should be seriously considering making an end run around Article 9 with a pre-emptive attack on their minds. If the Japanese people want to change their constitution through a legal referendum (to my knowledge the only constitutionally legal method), that's one thing. It's quite another for the government to embark on a path of 'creative interpretation' and by-pass the people altogether.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's easier than writing...

Found this quite by accident. It was stupid enough to make me laugh...

Monday, July 03, 2006

Fight the Future

OK. Now, if this is gonna make any sense to whomever is reading this, the first thing ya gotta do is go over to Multi Medium and check out a pic with the caption "Orange wall with thingy." I was over there myself earlier today and saw the pic in question, and didn't think anything of it until later, when I happened to drop by Loser's Guide and saw an eerily familiar looking object in an article called "The Truth Is Right Here." It doesn't end there, people. I took the picture you're looking at right now with my cell phone (sorry for the poor quality). Look closely and you should recognize this object. Yes!! It's the same object! And do you know where I saw it? It was hovering over a rugby field in back of my condo!! The glare is from the field's lights, but this is clearly the same object. They'll never take me alive...

The Japanese workplace...

...can be a little dangerous sometimes. (Go ahead and click, it's less than 30 seconds!)

I've had days like that...