News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

An amusing 1985 interview/lecture with Han Suyin, author of a number of highly readable novels and biographies on China. Am going through her sympathetic biography of Mao. Like Farley Mowat, she's quite the pleasure to read even if her judgement is questionable at times. Great to hear someone hyper, informed, and skeptical belly up to the mike. Quite the motor-mouth, and with a whiff of the fanatic about her, she runs amok over the interviewer. (audio link)

A massive archive of interviews with celebrity authors is here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

This is the last installment on the yakuza. Putting up these quotes isn’t efficient use of my time. I’m going devote myself to cramming in some more reading instead and follow up with proper essays, instead of this rag-tag stuff.

From: Yakuza - Japan's Criminal Underworld by David Kaplan (2003)

Yakuza perform various tasks that are left to lawyers or agents of the court in other societies, particularly when dispute resolution is involved. It is not well known in the West, for example, that is much as one quarter of all bankruptcies in Japan are routinely handled by yakuza gangs.... most Japanese do their best to avoid contact with the gangs, but often there are no alternatives. This, say legal scholars, is due largely to glaring holes in Japanese law and its enforcement, and most of all, to the stays delivered on the number of attorneys. Japanese are famous for their lack of lawyers and supposed reluctance to litigate. Lawyers number about one per 8500 people in Japan, compared to about one per 900 in Britain and one per 400 in America. Civil suits per capita are fewer than 1/10th of those in the Western common-law countries. But this may be due less to long-standing cultural values and more institutional barriers - lack of legal support, high filing fees for civil suits, and poor enforcement of judgments.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the yakuza’s public role is its function as a kind of alternative police force. Says criminologist Eric von Hurst, a fifteen year resident of Japan, "the one thing that terrifies Japanese police is unorganized crime. That's why there's so little street crime here. Gangsters control the turf, and they provide the security. (Sounds like New York in the 1950’s) If some hoods come around the neighborhood and start making trouble, chances are the yakuza will reach them first. Japanese police prefer the existence of organized crime to its absence." (Just as most pickpockets in the old US and in modern China pay off the cops) Among those who agree is former mob attorney Yukio Yamanouchi, who served for years as the Yamaguchi-gumi's counsel. "Japanese public security is very high," he told a reporter. "The crimes to be tolerated are a basic choice of the Japanese people."

Sakaiya Extortionists (page 159): why are these extortionists paid off? Largely to leave the companies alone, to stop disrupting the staid world of Japanese business. Traditional sokaiya gangs operate by buying shares of company stock, digging up scandalous information, and then demanding hush money. They ferret out embarrassing facts about the company's performance and top management: bookkeeping irregularities and payoffs, product liability claims and plant safety problems, officials who cheat on their income tax or keep mistresses. If the corporation refuses to pay up, at its next general meeting the sokaiya will appear armed with these unpleasant revelations and loudly berate the company management.

The practitioners of the sokaiya’s varied exploits fall into several classes. Those who run sophisticated organizations - working at times closely with company management - receive salaries comparable to the best paid corporate executives. They are chauffeured around town in limousines and maintain powerful particle connections. Most sokaiya, though, are petty thugs hoping for an easy payoff. The members come from varied walks of life: taxi drivers, tradesmen. Some are former student radicals who see little wrong preying on Japanese corporations. There are even the reputed "bartender sokaiya," former barman who switched to extortion after listening to conversations between top executives over drinks. Also in the lower ranks of the business is the so-called bonsai sokaiya, who walks around company offices shouting the exclamation "banzai!" When questioned he states that he has just become a shareholder and is merely expressing his joy and a desire to encourage greater worker productivity. Several thousand yen is usually enough to convince them that his joy is better expressed elsewhere.

So lucrative is the field that some corporate officials who once dealt regularly with the sokaiya have switched roles and turn up as sokaiya at company meetings... "The stockholders meeting is a solemn function," one sokaiya told the newspaper Yomiuri. "We help it proceed smoothly and protect the interests of the innocent shareholders. We are the prop men of modern capitalism."

As with there yakuza brethren, the openness of the sokaiya can sometimes be jarring. One Japanese publisher even sends out questioners to the extortionists and puts out an annual directory based on the results. While it's hard to imagine a New York publisher asking local mobsters which restaurants and contractors they extort, the sokaiya eagerly respond. The 1997 edition of the guide lists 650 sokaiya, complete with addresses, phone numbers, targeted firms, affiliated yakuza gangs, and helpful hints on their tactics. Retailing for some $250, the guide is purchased by corporate officials, investigators, and the sokaiya themselves. Among the characters profiled: Tatsuki Masaki, head of a Tokyo "debating club" who posts the latest corporate scandals on his web site; Makoto Kanehira, a rightist and from the Comrades of the Great Japanese Kamikaze; and Ichiro Yamate, described as a six-foot tall delivery van driver from Hiroshima with a "booming voice." There are even a few foreigners listed, who are reportedly sent to annual meetings to demand answers from embarrassed executives in English.

That both law enforcement and corporate officials allow such a corrupting criminal industry to flourish is difficult to fathom, particularly for Westerners. One reason... is the Japanese fondness for avoiding confrontation.... Still, the glaring success of an entire industry of corporate extortionists is due to more than simply a Japanese love of harmony. Western scholars who have studied the sokaiya believed these racketeers depend on a dismal pattern of poor disclosure by Japanese companies, lack of oversight by government officials, and a general lack of accountability.... the scores of prosecutions involving sokaiya payoffs between 1982 and 1999, only five sokaiya were sentenced to prison - and not a single executive.

I’ll leave it at this. In other words, the main problem is law and order, enforcement and ethics. Sounds primitive, feudal, retro-economics? Fascinating that a nation can operate in this manner.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Until the early 1990s the standoff between Beijing and Taipei was in terms of which government, the exiles in Taipei or the usurpers in Beijing, was the "real" government of China. Taiwan subsequently modified its stance to admit that there was a "political entity" on the mainland which was the de facto government, but it never claimed that China was another nation. While president Lee Teng-hui made this claim in 1999, reiterated by Chen in 2002, it has never been formalized in law. (link)

The fundamental issue is which alliance will prevail in East Asia: the autocratic coalition led by China that seeks to drive the United States from the region or the democratic grouping led by the United States that seeks a stable balance of political and military power in which trade and economic development flourishes. (link)

It's time to think about cars from China. It won't be too many years before China offers cars for sale in the United States. So says Robert Lutz, vice-chairman of General Motors, in a story in The New York Times.(link)

The flip side of the 21st century is ours crew: 東亞病夫已成世界病夫: 面對中國千瘡百孔的現狀,中國人的反應是怎樣呢?還有點良心的會說有心無力,絕大多數會是無動於衷,甚或對情況也不清不楚,總之是繼續莫談國事,繼續熱烈參與有中國特色的社會主義或市場經濟,繼續燈紅酒綠卡拉OK ,繼續相信中國的問題都是由天災、西洋人或東洋人所造成,繼續等待每一個獲官方御准的排外機會、以發泄被奴役的苦悶和奪回中國失落的自尊,繼續相信中國最需要的還是監獄一樣的穩定,繼續相信中國文化優越無比、繼續以身為中國人為無上光榮、繼續相信中國不管有沒有能力治國但統治面積還是越大越好(譬如中國官民日夜揚言要解放台灣和釣魚台等),尤甚者,他們會繼續越來越相信廿一世紀是中國人的世紀。
Just glanced at a couple of books written in the prevailing university style. They’re both good examples of why I detest academic writing and why four and a half years of university taught me nothing that I couldn't have learned much faster on my own. From Ideology and Practice in Modern Japan, chapter 2 "Symbols of Nationalism and Nihonjinron", by Harumi Befu:

Cultural manifestations of nationalism come in a variety of forms: physical symbols, personages, rituals and discourses. (So who doesn't know this? Enumerating four categories achieves nothing by way of clarification) Every nation uses these instruments as a way of creating a sense of national identity, reminding its citizens of the importance of patriotism and bolstering loyalty to the nation. (Of course they bloody do!) The most obvious symbols of national identity are the national flag, the national anthem, the national, and national monuments and rituals, which are all physical representations of national identity and national pride. (Fuck off!) The symbols acquired an aura of sacredness and inviolability and are designed to cause a surge of patriotic emotion when displayed in the proper place at the proper time. (Ditto!)

The hypothesis I want to develop in this chapter is... Shut up already! Rather than state the hypothesis, why not just get the fuck on with it. It's like going to a bar and telling your friends, "I'm now going to take a swig of beer," followed by, "I'm now going to put the glass down," and then, "I'm now going to rest my arm on the counter." Very quickly someone would be saying: "Just drink your bloody beer and shut up about it!" This prevailing attitude of the hacks of academe towards writing is not just a mockery of clear prose, but a professional disguise for mediocrities with nothing to bloody say, but with a will to publish. It's characterized by endless fluffing up of empty essays with intellectual cardboard and verbal stuffing, a lazy contempt for the reader, indifference to efficiency, and the presumption that some poor bastard somewhere is chained to a desk and going to be forced to read this.

Thus rather than have to appeal to descriminating readers, the writer tosses out a filibuster of high-blown blather ex cathedra knowing he or she is going to be read by a kowtowing grad student or one of the usual fellow suspects. Or, alternatively, they know they're writing fish-wrapper fit for stuffing a journal only good for lighting kindling in a Franklin Stove.

For whatever reason, these bastards have little incentive to write something useful. And of course people who need incentive to write something useful are usually the sort of people who are incapable of writing anything useful regardless of whether they have an incentive. Creative people are not creative only when they have an incentive. They're creative because if they don't do something interesting with themselves they get bored out of their minds and go stir crazy.

Here’s an alternative format, Brian Reading’s from the intro to Japan: the Coming Collapse (1993): The aim of this book is to show that Japan's postwar economic success is fatally flawed, while its political stability is dangerously fragile. There is no great plot or grand design. Japan is characterized by paralytic government, venal cell seeking politicians, pervasive corruption, gross inefficiency and inequity, lawlessness, latent violence and a total lack of any social purpose. The Japanese are not planning to take over the world. All they are doing is defending and promoting their own sectional interest against those of other Japanese. That this system has produced miracle growth and then massive trade surpluses was by accident rather than design.... Japan's economic system is not capitalist with warts, but communist with beauty spots. It is a halfway house between capitalism and communism, democracy and dictatorship. It is corporatist, with big business run for the benefit of stakeholders, management, employees and customers, not shareholders.... It is virtually a one-party state, corrupt, paternalistic and nepotism, a neo-feudal system operated for the benefit of powerful and wealthy political and industrial dynasties, in which fear and greed dictate how unequal votes are cast in unsecret ballots to select politicians without policies.

Agree or disagree with his thesis, but he’s got your attention. Not because he accurately predicted doom and gloom, but because he has something to say. He has an unfettered set of opinions, prejudices, and conclusions. Needless to say, at that time anyway, he wasn’t an academic. He was a features writer for the Economist and other magazines with paying customers. Ergo, he’s a money and factoid whore who’s pitching to a finicky set of near virgins in terms of their knowledge of Japan. What a difference having to earn your daily bread makes to quality. Viva capitalism!
More notes on: Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld by David Kaplan (2003)

This month I'm crash-coursing aspects of Japanese culture. We've all heard about the yakuza, sometimes called yakuzaks. While spending a couple of months in Japan a decade ago or so with an ex Japanese girlfriend, one day we were in a run-of-the-mill shopping plaza and I saw a middle-aged dude in a Hawaiian shirt and a perm. I lifted my arm and pointed to him and asked my girlfriend as he was a yakuza. At that point I'd been rubber-necking for one like an ethnologist whose grant money is about to run out. It had been a month at that point, and yakaza on the street were as rare as stuffed Ainu in the local natural history museum. My ex slammed my arm down and more or less heatedly said the following: “Never, never ever do that again! If you point at him and he curses you, you must apologize. If he slaps you across the face, you must apologize. If he beats you to a pulp, you must apologize. If he shoots you, you must apologize. No one will help you. The police will pretend they saw nothing. You're on your own. No protection.”

Later on, in the southern part of Honshu in the middle of nowheresville, I saw a couple of tanned pale-faces, Israelis, walking down the street. I said hi and asked them what was up. The one who spoke better English and who didn’t have a scowl said they were tramping around Japan, taking in the sights, and paying for their expenses by selling novelties on the street. Having heard the Jewish Mafia regulated foreigners busking and selling junk on the street, I asked about the yakuza. He said that whenever he came into a new town, he and his friend would slap their widgets down on a prospective busy sidewalk. Within 15 minutes, a black sedan would show up and they would be ordered to get in. They would be whisked off to make an appearance before the local chieftain who would ask what the hell they were doing. They would show them their card of introduction from an even bigger chief in Tokyo and then be issued with a pass good for one or two days relief after which they were to get the hell out of town.

Here in Taiwan, the mafia seems to have gone mostly legit. They've moved into for-profit business. And the sort of Japanese-style political assassination or business vendetta is rare; and in Taipei it seems to be nonexistent. A friend who’s an ADD bar fly and party animal spent three years in his southern one horse town before discovering that most of his pals were gangsters. So, quite a different beast down here.

From page 148: aside from a handful of reports on the yakuza, for years Western accounts about crime in Japan has been generally awash with praise for the police. Such points are usually made for good reason. The Japanese police in general do have a high standard of discipline, and violent crime is far lower than in the United States. A country with half the population of the US, Japan had only 1, 282 murders in 1997. (There were 769 that year in New York City alone, and 15,289 in the United States - a 31 year low.) According to official statistics, Americans are 22 times more likely to be raped, and five times more likely to be victimized by property crime. Perhaps most striking of all is the fact that from 1948 to 1973, official crime totals in Japan followed a downward curve. In other words, during a period of unprecedented economic and urban growth, while crime rates in America shot upward, those in Japan actually went down.

From the same page however: Other apparent victims of police misconduct are Japan's numerous immigrant workers; Japanese cops are by now notorious for ignoring the plight of foreign hostesses and prostitutes, and for their often brutal treatment of illegal aliens.

I have to wonder if these two events are not related. After all, Japan xenophobia has kept out immigrants and the argument has been made by such writers as Peter Brimelow, author of Alien Nation, that immigration is the leading cause of a chronic underclass of unemployed which turns to crime. Not that immigrants constitute the bulk of the criminals, but that their existence produces a situation whereby an echelon of the indigenous population has chronic trouble finding work. This because they have to compete with emigrants who are often hardier, smarter, and willing to work for less.

Same page: At regular intervals, for example, police have staged massive crackdowns on the yakuza, hauling in some 30,000 to 50,000 gangsters and associates each year. (Sounds just like Taiwan) but while they make for impressive reading, the rates are mostly a form of harassment and, in particular, of publicity... anthropologist Walter aims... wrote that "these raids assume an almost ritual air because most of the gangsters are released in a few days through lack of evidence of criminal acts or because their offenses were minor." Ames further pointed out that the gangs usually receive warning before the huge raids, and that well before the authorities arrive on the scene, virtually all contraband is concealed and the highest bosses have gone into hiding. The raids end with a uniquely Japanese twist: so the police can save face, the gangsters generally leave behind a few guns for the officers to confiscate. In one publicized case in 1995, three police went so far as to buy local yakuza several guns which they could then confiscate. Again, sounds much like Taiwan.

In keeping with the unusual openness of the gangs, there is a great deal of personal rapport between the yakuza and the police; local cops know local gangsters by name, and there's an easy familiarity between them. Such amicable relationships help form the bridge to police corruption. Department precinct captains, for example, traditionally collect cash gifts from local merchants, much as retiring bureaucrats and company officials do with their own contacts. (Ditto)

Police, though, are drawn to the yakuza for reasons other than bribery. Most Japanese lawmen are quite sympathetic to the highly conservative views held by the yakuza.... Like their criminal counterparts, many police have only high school educations and come largely from families of modest means. Also, more than a few Japanese cops admire and identify with the gangs professed ideals of giri and ninjo, and similarly fashion themselves as a kind of latter-day samurai. These traditional values are expressed in a genre of moving ballads that frequently have yakuza or oyabun-kobun themes, and are quite popular among the police.

The authors quote a policeman who confides: "Not all yakuza are bad... I have friends who are yakuza - poor yakuza - and they are honorable, chivalrous people. They show the true spirit of the Japanese people."

Page 150: for their part, the gangs traditionally have respected the police and understand their duty to enforce the law. After a gangland murder, for example, the guilty yakuza would turn himself into the nearest police station and make a full confession. The deed having been done, he is fully prepared to suffer the consequences. As syndicate boss Kakuji Inagawa commented when asked about his gang's relationship with the police, "We believe in the Japanese police. If they say that the Inagawa is bad, then it is so. I don't want to say this, but they are very capable lot. It is their duty to watch me. I respect them. Please convey my best regards to them." (Quite unlike Taiwan…haha…)

On the other hand, the Taiwanese mafia like their Japanese compatriots share, with the local police and some of the military regulars, a confidence and boldness typically lacking in the rest of the population. In these two countries of peaceable namby-pambies, when someone grabs you firmly and looks you in the eye without hostility, just because they want your attention, you (or at least I) tend to be positively impressed. At home, it would probably be a pushful crank. Here it's that rarest of things: personality.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

More inadvertent comedy here: “五主張”三次提“行動”胡錦濤擔心小泉只說不做 Hu Jin-tao: "Words of apology? Bah! Just words! Prove you're sincere!" How? Hmm... The conditions for a sincere apology turn out to include 'respect for history' (translation: the traditional pecking order is revived and China is top dog again. And no more humiliations: i.e. no more leadership by upstarts, first Japan and later the US). Another condition is 'agreement to the One China policy.' No apology for historical stretchers could be complete without turning over the nearest Chinese democracy, eh? So... the crude modus operandi tumbles forth. And Wen Jia-bao won't meet the damn Jap PM because his childhood school was bombed by dwarf pirates. Wen's feelings is hurt. Of course, Jiang Ze-min claims he defended the homeland against the Japs personally, though his age of three or so at the time mitigates the claim somewhat. And Mao started out opposing the One China policy. He wasn't even for China. He was a patriot for the Hunan nationalist cause. But thems just words! How do I prove I'm sincere? Either way, I'm sure all these good old boys have a patriotic story or three for public consumption. And playing the tender hurt feelings game goes over well with the hometown rubes. The PRC has 1.3 billion peckers in its pocket. But this dog and donkey show is a bit rich for most First Worlders. Not that these dudes know the difference. China needs free speech in the worst mf way.

Unrelated to China, but perhaps worth a glance. Roy Moore is the Alabama judge who put an ornamental edition of the Ten Commandments in his court and got cashiered. Here you can watch him talk circles around his astonished interviewer. I'm as atheist as they come but it's always refreshing and amusing to watch someone who can think on his feet plaster a simpleton, in this case a member of the fad-chasing MSM, with solid arguments. Watch the underdog bag his quota here: (video link)

Howard French photos of the North Korean border region (link)

[While the Japanese] tend to be quite persuaded that [they] are “unique,” Japanese are among the least nationalistic persons on earth. Japanese in general always score way down on the “patriotism” scale. [There is a] basic failure to distinguish the ordinary Japanese (product of the karma of military defeat, U.S. alliance, conservative political rule for five decades, and an educational system which by discouraging critical thought encourages acceptance of the status quo) and the Koizumis who indeed deserve whatever challenge the Chinese masses might serve up. ... I was put off by [Iris Chang's] assertion that the Nanjing Massacre had been “ignored,” and was the “hidden holocaust” of World War II. ...I questioned whether she should have attempted to explain the massacre in specifically cultural terms, as she had done (the samurai heritage, the Shinto religion); whether she should have repeatedly referred to “the Japanese” (as opposed to “the Japanese military” or “the Japanese government”) as the problem; and whether she should have depicted Japan---in the abstract---as in a state of denial about the massacre. There had in fact been numerous articles and monographs by Japanese scholars honestly relating many of the facts that appeared in her own work, which she, not proficient in Japanese, had not read nor adequately acknowledged. My quote is long but so is the original article. It rumble-bumbles in the professorial manner of Chomsky and VD Hanson mumble-bumbling to their sophomores. It would have been better chopped and repackaged as two or three articles. (Counterpunch)

[President Hu Jin-Tao's] idea of "peaceful" so far has included the blunt suppression of democracy in Hong Kong; outreach to rogue regimes around the world, such as Iran and Sudan; double-digit annual increases in defense spending; adoption of a law committing China to a war of aggression against democratic Taiwan if it fails to satisfy Beijing's demands; and now, the crude use of nationalist sentiment to intimidate Japan. (WP)

Folk in the People's Republic were taught to love the Soviet Union and then to hate it. India was esteemed in the 1950s and vilified in the '60s. Vietnam was "as close as lips and teeth" in the '60s yet invaded by Chinese armies in 1979. When Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka tried to apologise directly to Mao for World War II in 1972, Mao brushed him off, saying the "help" provided by Japan's invasion of China made possible the Communist victory in 1949. ... The main text for middle-school history in China devotes nine chapters to Japan's aggression against China in the 19th and 20th centuries, but does not mention China's invasion of Japan under the Yuan Dynasty. (Vietnam comes off even worse than Japan. Nothing is said of the Han Dynasty's conquest of Vietnam or of China's 1000-year colonisation of thecountry.) (link)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Notes on Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld by David Kaplan (2003)

The yakuza apparently emerged not from the samurai class as one might expect but from the businessmen and townsfolk of villages who fought off obnoxious bum samurai appearing with establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1604.

Half a million samurai became superfluous with the end of an era of insurrections and civil war. They ran out of folks to kill. Unemployed, they were put on the dole and put out to pasture. Many eventually joined the merchant class. Others became welfare bums and took up the murderous habits of modern folk heroes such as the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground. Quite a few, like US soldiers back from the Civil War and the Vietnam War, took to freebooting and became hobos and Hell's Angels. They got into wearing "outlandish costumes and strange their sides hung remarkably long swords that nearly trailed along the ground...outlaws swaggered through the streets of old Japan." The devil plays with idle hands, even the mitts of the oppressed. Bum samurai took it back to the Man, amusing themselves by testing the sharpness of their swords on members of the ungrateful pedestrians and the bourgeoisie (both restricted by law in their bearing of arms.) This practice, or its accompanying urban legend, produced a formal Japanese term for 'waylay(ing) a passerby to test a new blade': tsuji-giri.

The authors say the preceding is the popular, pulp fiction exegesis of the yakuza. However, the early proto-yakuza are apparently derived from a range of 18th century salt of the earth types like volunteer firemen, police detectives, labor gangs, sumo wrestlers, and crime syndicate members. The later proto-yakuza were 19th century gamblers and street peddlers whose entrepreneurial class formed rackets that protected and fed off their own.

Other applicants to crime included the bottom echelon of the national caste system, the burakumin, who handled dead animals disposal, leather tanning, and other work deemed unclean. This caste prejudice retains its popularity and the yakuza remains an employment outlet for members of the institutionalized demimonde. In the old days, members of this caste had to wear yellow collars for identification purposes, like Third Reich Jews. Also interesting is that employers in classical Japan were not satisfied simply paying their employees. So they hired professional gamblers to play card games with their employees and get their wages back into the right hands.

The yakuza were granted official recognition between the years 1735 and 1740. To reduce fraud amongst vendors and prevent turf wars, "the government appointed a number of... supervisors and allowed them to the dignity of 'a surname and two swords,' symbols of near samurai status."

Ironically, the word yakuza apparently comes from the worst possible score in a Japanese card game, zero:
a sequence of 8-9-3, or in Japanese, ya-ku-sa. The losing combination of ya-ku-sa came to be used widely among the early gambling gangs to denote something useless. It was later applied to the gamblers themselves, to mean that they were useless to society, born to lose.... there are still purists today among the Japanese underworld who insist that the only true yakuza are the traditional gamblers.

On finger chopping: "For serious violations not meriting death or expulsion, the bakuto introduced the custom of yubitsume, in which the top joint of the little finger is ceremoniously severed.... finger cutting reportedly began as a means of weakening the hand, which meant that the gamblers all-important sword could not be as firmly grasped. Such an act, whether forced or voluntary, succeeded in making the [underling] more dependent on the protection of his boss.

When amputated in apology, the severed phalange is wrapped in fine cloth and solemnly handed to the [boss].... a 1993 survey by government researchers found that 45% of modern yakuza members had severed finger joints, and that 15% had performed the act at least twice."

On tattoos: The other great trademark of the yakuza, the tattoo, also won widespread acceptance... during Japan's feudal period. ...[It] originally was a mark of punishment, used by authorities to ostracize the outlaws from society; criminals generally would be tattooed with one black ring around an arm for each offense.... as early as the third century, a Chinese account of the Japanese noted: "men both great and small tattoo their faces and work designs upon their bodies." By the late 17th century, intricate, full-body designs became popular with the gamblers and with laborers who worked with much of their bodies exposed... The traditional tattooing process is an agonizing one... such extensive tattooing, then, became a test of strength, and the gamblers eagerly adopted the practice to show the world their courage, toughness and masculinity. It served, at the same time, another more humble purpose - as a self-inflicted wound that would permanently distinguish the outcasts from the rest of the world. The tattoo marks the yakuza as misfits, forever unable or unwilling to adapt themselves to Japanese society

Also fascinating is that FDR's New Dealers wished to introduce their vote-winning socialist agenda into post-war Japan. Having dropped the floor out of the American economy through loony legislation - paying Paul to bake less bread and catch fewer fish, then ponying up to pay Peter to buy it now that he couldn't afford the resulting higher prices on his own - Uncle Sam went into serious hock, capital flight ensued, and the country plunged into a second even worse depression in the latter 1930's. Economically speaking, disaster. Politically speaking, like socialism every time and everywhere, the rhetoric was exceedingly popular with those who couldn't be bothered to spend a weekend reading up on economics. The US Mafia grew by leaps and bounds during Prohibition, taking advantage of the government monopoly on the alcohol trade to get some constructive corruption going. Likewise in Japan, commodity rationing led unsurprisingly to black markets. This inevitably revived the yakuza which had languished during WWII when it had been unceremoniously abandoned by the ultranationalists in government who found the yakuza a rival and a pest. They were tossed in jail or pushed into the war effort. Left-wing economics, as usual, was a medicine than only harmed the afflicted.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Annexation of Taiwan? `Oui,' says PM He earlier told Xinhua News Agency that China was becoming a "responsible, great nation" and the arms ban in place since the crushing of democracy campaigners in 1989 was outdated. "This measure is anachronistic, wrongfully discriminatory and in complete contradiction of the current state of the strategic partnership between Europe and China,"

Edward Cody, the Washington Post’s Beijing correspondent, wrote an alarmist article about Beijing’s military modernization a week or so ago. Cody’s piece of lazy, news analysis trash has a few paragraphs devoted to Beijing’s nuclear deterrent. Each and every one of the four sentences containing a factual statement is inaccurate in some way. (link)

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on Friday, in a speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the Asia-Africa Summit in Jakarta attended by both Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao. "Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility ... with feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in mind, Japan has resolutely maintained, consistently since the end of World War II, [the policy of] never turning into a military power but [rather] an economic power, its principle of resolving all matters by peaceful means, without recourse [to] the use of force." At almost the same time, China turned off the taps of the recent wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations... (link)

From a patriot's missive to the Atimes:
I appreciate the ATol publishing articles criticizing China for the purpose of pushing for improvements. I cannot understand why you are publishing fraudulent fabrications for white colonists for the purpose of diminishing China. Every reasonable Chinese can tell the lies from Marc Erikson's articles, regardless where they live. Your constant publishing such white colonist treachery will frustrate and anger even more Chinese youth. I do not think any of you or your readers will like the outcome. For more paranoid xenophobic blah and make-believe threats, go here. The problem with these long-suffering citizens is that they've been taught to believe they're racially and culturally superior and destined for glory, and yet they have private, top-secret suspicions that they've been had. Reality keeps taking its bite, its pound of psychic self-esteem. The confident squeek of an expatriate piss-ant fills their over-sensitive ears like the roar of a battle monster-truck. Ronald McDonald strikes a threatening pose and Mickey Mao shivers and shakes. The end is nigh! Or so they truly believe. Poor sods. China's going to have a great future. Too bad they'll have nothing to do with it. For China's future will be on Zhou Six-Pack's terms, not those befitting a right-thinking sunshine patriot whose conception of the future is infested with retro-tech and retro-think.

Another incrediburgable Falun Gong tale of woe from epochtimes: 大陸警察自稱國匪 對殘疾人施暴不止 This martyr's legs were allegedly amputated. Stupid cop brutality or brutal cop stupidity?

Learning the Thai Sex Trade: The trade in humans is an area where anyone seems pretty much able to say anything. David Feingold, international co-ordinator on HIV and trafficking for Unesco, analyses the statistics on these issues, but even he has not been able to get Unicef to explain its figure of 1.2m children. "Trafficking is a dangerous word," Feingold says. "It stops the brain working."If you ask the agencies how they get these figures, you get a weary response: "Why are you journalists so obsessed with statistics?" If interested in the psychopathology of international aid, a former Peace Corps worker provides some fascinating insight and not a few harsh words such as "a complete waste of money that succeeds primarily in keeping westerners employed" here.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Chinese, it turns out, can act as crazy in their patriotism as Americans. Even Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp. and until recently one of the world's great Sinophiles, was heard declaring in Washington last week that the Chinese miracle hasn't produced many dividends for foreign investors. Then there's France, which is always secretly competing with the United States to see which country can be more highhanded in asserting its national interests. This year France may take the prize. (Washington Post)

美漢擲石﹕日本不懂反省錯誤 : A news story from several days ago about a non-Chinese speaking Californian who joined in the recent demonstrations against the dwarf pirates. Seems he started by damning G. W. Bush which gave him enough steam to damn the Japanese. Given enough time, he was on track to animadvert Walmart and Starbucks, Karl Rove and the Gubernator. He's quoted as saying, "Look! China is changing!" On the other hand, a pale-face making an appearance is probably good for downsizing xenophobia. If he was Canadian, I'd suspect a Mountie in mufti: they've infiltrated many a demonstration in Canuckistan before. Given that he's a Californian, it's more likely he's Dudely Do-Right (sic). Either way, good for some hee-haws.

Part of the above HK Yahoo article is translated into English near the bottom of
this page. Money quote: "We were told this was an entirely spontaneous event, so the people leading the movement must have no role," said Tong Zeng, who has been organizing anti-Japan activities since the late 1980's. "The police wanted to maintain tight control."

北京嚴防「五一」「五四」大遊行: The PRC monolith cracking down as it must, for it's always been weak, not just in the knees but also between the ears. 1989 Tianmen started with bureaucratic inability to decide how or whether to shut down the students. Then Deng Xiao-ping was unable to recruit generals in Beijing to carry out his clamp-down and had to go head-hunting in the bumpkin south to find butchers worthy of the name. At the end of the clamp-down Deng had to step in to stop the wild shooting that broke out between two of the armies he brought up from the south to quell the students. The mad, mad PRC... May it soon rest in peace.

前美大使:中共在解體 全球大遊行事關重大: There's a lot of hype over at epochtimes about PRC commies leaving the party to the tune of nearly one million apostates. This exodus of the righteous indignant is credited to an inspirational series allegedly written by a communist party member. The series has been translated as The Nine Commentaries, but why be shy? If we're going to try to evoke cherished traditions, let's call it A Nine-Legged Essay on the Mandate of Heaven. The series digs up the PRC's smelly past and rifles through its rotten present. It's long winded though impressively readable as such things go. I got as far as number three before pausing for prayer and R&R (you'll see what I mean when you check out the length). The Chinese original of The Nine Commentaries is here.

Though [China] has taken steps to join the community of nations, it now appears to be launching a newly militant program of nationalism. Japan is the proximate target, but one ultimately suspects that all this is aimed at the U.S. The U.S., however, isn’t helping matters by threatening to launch a currency- and trade-protection war against China. (link)

Grassroots Interaction in the Sino-Japanese Relationship (link) Interesting how shallow the quoted writer's understanding of Japanese culture is. The product of a communist culture mass-manufacturing a proletariate with arrested critical thinkings skills, he's too much a local product, too much the peer-approved chauvinist and blue-nosed moralizer to have much interest in what makes these queer Japs tick. I'm not being snide. After all, it is fascinating stuff that someone can talk about his former pastime as a soldier raping and killing girls, and do so in front of his passive politely-smiling wife. But rather than an attempt to understand Japanese psychology and interaction, instead we have the all too common sight of an adult venting teenage angst in lieu of ventilating some curiosity, some ideas, some penetrating insight. With the Chinese MSM, presumably there's little tradition of popular psychology (not that US MSM is that much better, though at least political correctness makes media professionals crudely cautious about moral judgements that cross cultural lines). Myself I'm not a fan of morals at all. An obsession with morals by my lights are a sure-sign of a provincial mindset. Ethics however... Perhaps because China as an empire highly stressed assimilation of ethnic groups in the French colonial fashion (failure to speak the Empire's language was actively punished, empire-centric names had to be adopted by conquered peoples, the whitewashing of indigenous identity was aggressively pursued: though much of this has changed in today's China, in part as tourism in minority areas has become more popular and the mainstream developed a growing sympathy for minorities). For all these reasons and more, unlike the colonizing Japanese and English and the French, perhaps ethnology has been little pursued by China's several millenia of indigenous colonizing powers? I don't know. Yet.

When Hong Kong first became a British colony, flogging was a common practice used to punish criminals. (link)

Easily the most unfair and even ridiculous interview of a politician I've seen. I'm no fan of Charles Kennedy (candidate for British Prime Minister), but this BBC interview... Good grief! I imagine it's supposed to be hard-hitting, but it's really just cherry-picking a la Bill O'Reilly
(video link) It would have been more productive to put Kennedy on C-Span, give him ten minutes to freely yammer in a civilized setting and then turn him over to the harsh mercies of the call-in hoi polloi. I have one of interviewer Jeremy Paxman's books "The English" on a back shelf. Bait for dust-bunnies, it's just as relentlessly humorless as he is here in the flesh.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

More comments on Our Oldest Enemy: a History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France.

The contents of this book are basically summarized in the introduction beginning with page 6: The tale of Franco-American Harmony is a long-standing and pernicious myth. The French attitude toward the United States consistently has been one of cultural suspicion and political dislike, bordering at times on raw hatred, as well as diplomatic friction that occasionally has erupted into violent hostility. France is not America's oldest ally, but its oldest enemy.

The true story of Franco-American relations begins many years before the American Revolution, during the French and Indian wars. Lasting nearly a century, these conflicts pitted the French and their Indian comrades against the 17th and 18th century American colonists.... Indeed, America's first authentic sense of self was born not in a revolt against Britain, but in a struggle with France.... the French crown regarded the principles of the Declaration of Independence as abhorrent and frightening. French aristocrats viewed Lafayette with contempt and branded him a criminal for traveling to America against King Louis XVI’s explicit command.... To be sure, France did become an ally to the colonists for a few years in the late 1770s and early 1780s when American sovereignty served French geopolitical aims. But then the French believed that double dealing against their erstwhile friends after Yorktown served their interests as well. During the peace talks, France sought to limit American gains because it feared the new nation might become too powerful. If the French had achieved all of their objectives of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the United States today might be confined to a slender band of territory along the eastern seaboard, like a North American version of Chile.

In 1998, French Defense Minister Alain Richard declared that "France and the United States never fought each other." This is manifestly untrue. Within a generation of Yorktown, French and American forces were exchanging deadly fire during a little-known Quasi War of 1798-1800 during which France earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first military enemy of United States following the ratification of the Constitution.... In 1796 [the French ambassador] meddled in the presidential election in a desperate and failed attempt to prevent John Adams from becoming commander in chief.

During the Napoleonic era, France posed a constant threat to the United States and its westward expansion....[Napoleon] agreed to sell the Louisiana territory only after suffering a military disaster in the Caribbean and hearing threats of war from Thomas Jefferson. The war of 1812 was very nearly fought against France rather than Britain, and the Monroe Doctrine was written with France clearly in mind. In the 1830s, Andrew Jackson came close to declaring war on France for its persistent refusal to make good on promised reparations for French naval crimes during Napoleon's reign.

...Whenever French politicians want to generate feelings of goodwill among Americans, they invariably appeal to the memory of Lafayette and Yorktown. They neglect to mention the French role in the Civil War, when Napoleon's imperial nephew supported the South and incited disunion, carried out the first major transgression of the Monroe Doctrine, and engaged in what General Ulysses S. Grant considered acts of war against the United States.

By rejecting the advice of Woodrow Wilson and insisting on crippling and humiliating reparations, France fatally undermined the fledgling German democracy and planted many of the seeds of the Second World War - a conflict for which the French required another American rescue. Before the liberation could occur, however, American troops landing in North Africa in 1942 encountered stiff resistance from the soldiers of Vichy France. The GIs literally had to fight their way through the French to get to the Nazis.

... More than 60,000 Americans who gave their lives in these two world wars lie buried in French soil. Yet it was not long after the second world war had ended that many in France forgot the sacrifice. Anti-Americanism metastasized as a whole generation of French intellectuals embraced the West's totalitarian enemy, the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, French misrule in its Southeast Asian colonies made Ho Chi Minh's communist movement possible and set the stage for an American debacle. Indeed, if the French had followed the advice of Franklin Roosevelt and gave Vietnam its independence after World War II, the Vietnam War might not have been necessary, and today Vietnam might be a prospering democracy like South Korea.

And there's more, plenty more. A fascinating account although I suspect one could make a number of nasty claims against the British as well for various political intrigues against the US prior and during the war of independence, the war of 1812, support for the Southern Confederacy, the false propaganda of the British home office which lured the United States into the first world war and so on and so forth. Nevertheless, being completely unfamiliar with the manner in which France's political class has pursued its national interests, this was a fascinating read to be sure. Not that I ever mistook it for being impartial and unbiased. That, as one would probably suspect from reading the above, it is definitely not.

Worth mentioning is that this book is not a book of ideas. There is no explanation for the romantic, thoroughly moony psychology of generations of prominent French thinkers and political actors; at least how it appears from the Anglo-Saxon perspective. There is no digression into the national education scheme, urban legends, national myths, a caste structure that has reemerged from the grave like voodoo, and so forth. There's no incorporation of the French catholic take on morality, leadership, ethnic and religious chauvinism either. Where Lafcadio Hearn would have worked religion or Ruth Benedict traditional social behavior or Marvin Harris economic materialism or Victor Davis Hanson martial culture or Paul Johnson moral transgression, John Miller trots out a few platitudes and washes his hands clear of the difficulty. I would have liked to gape as the author limns the hodge-podge of values and goals that hobble and excite the citizen and which fetter and inflame the thinking of opinion makers and political leaders, making them heel to the left or the right like folk lost in the woods, walking in circles and chasing their tails yet fully convinced they're independent actors forging their own destinies, thumbs up, moving straight and going their own way.

Oh well. Instead, and yet done in a very satisfying manner, there is a vast piling up of vivid transgressions, of dates and details, of which bounder did what to besmirch the name of honor and the good intentions of our ancestors, less tainted with corruption and thus closer to God. And for what nefarious reasons did the evildoers commit their dastardly acts.

Nevertheless, as a primer, as an instigator, as an agent provocateur, this book works quite handsomely. Whatever else I'd say about this book, it's certainly not boring. Given that the author has little to say about the genesis of the monotonous and improvident lunging for French glory, the pitiful monomania of the citizenry to play Messiah and ring in the New Canaan, and the rest of the comic eschatology that apparently drives Gallic (and Chinese) political leadership, rather than botch the book as many an academic would through harassing the reader with self-evident definitions for phenonema that even a bright child would find superfluous, the author instead whets the reading appetite with hints of infamous behavior by a familiar and satisfying villain, rams us through a set of events that hurtles to a climax with the haughty, scheming, and opportunistic Gauls pulling endless fast ones on the long-suffering and provident Anglo-Saxons. The French antagonistes never quite win and never admit failure but survive to badmouth the Yankees another day and heap animadversion on cheap and tawdry Anglo-Saxon civilization, all the while strutting with tall talk about glory and the inability of the bovine to dream. The author sets the stage, draws the curtain, presents his showy characters, puts them through their lines, and prudently shuts down the show before the audience gets tired or gets to asking nosy questions about the deus ex machina.

I’m in a bit of a rush, but perhaps I should bring up my favorite act of treachery. I think you’ll enjoy it and it gives up the flavor of the book. From Page 52
: Sailors slipped on decks covered with blood. As night fell, the Bonhomme Richard [named after Benjamin Franklin’s almanac series] was taking on water faster than its crew could pump it out, and the ship began to sink slowly. "Do you call for quarters?" barked British Captain Richard Pearson. Upon hearing this invitation to surrender, John Paul Jones shouted back his immortal reply: "I have not yet begun to fight!"

As the fierce battle continued, [French commander] Landais maneuvered his ship into range. But instead of attacking the British vessel, he opened fire on the Bonhomme Richard. The first salvo killed two American sailors and forced many away from their stations. Subsequent French volleys proved even more lethal, and a chief petty officer was among those killed. Although Landais would claim that he was trying to attack the [British warship] Serapis, he would later confide privately to one of his colonels that his real goal had been to sink the Bonhomme Richard first and then overpower the exhausted man of the Serapis with the boarding party of fresh Marines. He believed this would make him - not Jones - the hero of the fight off Flamborough Head.

Yet Landais decided to pull away from both ships. Perhaps waiting for the Bonhomme Richard to go down before pouncing on the hobbled Serapis, he again held back as the naval duel entered its final stage. Jones, for his part, refused to give up, even though nearly half his crew was dead or wounded and his own sinking ship was doomed. The Bonhomme Richard did in fact sink, but not before Pearson asked his relentless American foe for quarter. The victorious Jones moved his flag and his men onto the captured Serapis and sailed to a neutral Dutch port. It was one of the most astonishing and dramatic naval victories in American history - and one almost ruined by the French.

Landais would go on to lose his command and spend much of his time trying to get Jones to honor his promise of a duel. Although the American preferred to battle his naval enemies at close quarters, he was not an expert swordsman and may have feared that Landais, an experienced fencer, would carve him up. When Jones suggested that a court-martial settle their differences, Landais refused and went on hating Jones for years. As late as 1787, Landais approached Jones in New York City and, so he claimed, spat in the face of his American rival.

Hilarious stuff, never were so many baddies and goodies set out in such brilliant contrast. And there’s 250 pages of it in this book. Franklin Roosevelt became so suspicious of France's de Gaulle during WWII that he would only meet with him after first preparing his own retinue of bodyguards armed with submachine guns. As mentioned above, French forces fought to the death to keep the Allies from liberating France on the grounds that the US and England were foreign powers! I take this sort of nonsense for granted from Chinese sunshine patriots, their inchoate critical thinking skills flayed at the sight of wheezing foreign devil with forked tongue whose women have uteruses affixed sideways (both sides of the equation are given to this racial hee-haw). But if even whole herds of educated officers in the French military were capable of this loony bravado, then I’ve quite underestimated the appeal of patriotism to the allegedly fully civilized.

These shenanigans continue right down the present day apparently. Of course socialism (romantic idealism meets politics) has something to do with Chirac’s maneuvers, given that socialism is systemically far more given to corruption than capitalism. Socialism imposes monopolies willy-nilly to control market behavior and protect us from ourselves. One of the problems with government monopolies is that they place whole sectors of the nation's business in the hands of just one bureaucrat, not a species known for its spine. Every slick customer in that sector, whether private or public, focuses his energy and imagination on seducing one paper-shuffling political appointee or brother/sister of someone's sister/brother who had a connection to someone else.
Can you imagine Donald Rumsfeld in a procurement scam, pulling a runner and on the lam in a foreign country for six months? And yet that's what a French Defense Minister did in the 1990s after getting caught bribing Taiwanese authorities (to purchase frigates) and mainland Chinese authorities (to keep quiet about it), while taking bribes from domestic manufacturers. Can you imagine George Bush as president designing a huge construction boondoggle to create jobs for his hometown of Crawford? But when former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had the Canadian government fund construction of a commercially unviable lumber mill in his tiny hometown, it was just another day in Canadian politics. Resign? Impeachment proceedings? That's for silly Americans.

All in all, a quite competently done book I thought, given the limitations of the author and the remarkable fact that he recognizes his limitations. He resists the ambition of so many Pulitzer authors to win applause at the bar of the subsidized literati. He never gave in to writing that tortured and worried journalese which fatigues and bores in that prize-winning way that promises gravitas and edification but instead delivers snoring in the main.

If, having got this far, you’re impressed by how empty my comments are, good for you! I don’t have time to think and lay out something innovative. Too many books to get down my craw on too tight a schedule. Besides, this wasn’t a book of ideas and the subject matter’s beyond my purview. For now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

China's Communists used to find it useful to vilify Russia in their history texts. These days, for reasons of China's aspirations to lead Asia, Japan makes a more convenient villain. Next year might be America's turn. The reasons may be complex, but none of them has much to do with facing history squarely. (Washington Post)


Derek Mitchell, Center for Strategic & International Studies, Senior Fellow, on the Chinese Military (video link) (Biff: as is often the case with Cspan, the zany questions from the national audience are often as interesting as the people interviewed. (A favorite that Richard and I enjoyed a couple of years back was an elderly lady caller asking why muslims didn't read the Bible more closely, followed by a painful explanation by the resident expert that muslims read the Koran.) Interestingly, D. Mitchell says the PRC wants Taiwan back for two reasons: strategic location and to avenge the imperialist humiliations of the past century. The tears are still flowing eh? But if Taiwan is occupied by fellow Chinese, as the PRC argument goes, how is conquering and plundering a Chinese island vengeance for the alleged humiliations of foreigners in the 19th and 20th centuries? Methinks a better rationale is that Taiwan is Free China and an embarrassing exemplar of Chinese democracy in action. Once Taiwan's democracy is smashed, then Hong Kong's democracy can be crushed.)

Mass protests are rarely tolerated by the Chinese authorities. The lenience on Saturday provoked wry comments from many ordinary Chinese. "They say it is fine to denounce Japan, but the government must know that people have even more serious grievances against the state of affairs in our country," said a man named Zhang, who declined to provide his full name. (New York Times)

Monday, April 18, 2005

(Biff: beyond the Cecil B. Demille mobs howling for the camera, there's the run of the mill 'Get stuffed!' public.)
他指出,大陸民眾高呼「抵制日貨」之際,一家中日合資的大型日式百貨商場在北京開幕,儘管當局出動數百名公安、國安在場戒備,但民眾不但無反日貨舉動,而且掀購物熱潮,現場幾乎被「迫爆」。有市民說:「誰便宜買誰的」. (link)

(Biff: A photo of three weekend patriots. Note the downcast three-stooges, nobody-loves me vibe. A girlfriend each would be more than enough to distract these bruisers from their messiah complex but quick. Not cute enough for rock & roll, too shy to bang on drums at a temple, they cram into a storage room, pull down the drapes, and pose for the camera: down but not out, valiant if not quite virile, pish but also posh) The story of their righteous odyssey to right history's wrongs and save Diaoyutai from explotation by everyone but themselves is here (link)

Homer's two great epic tales, the Iliad and the Odyssey, describe heroic actions of indomitable figures such as Achilles and Agamemnon during the Trojan War. Under the guise of increased economic cooperation and friendship, could this epic tale of deception be resurrected and used by China in a spectacular, lightening invasion of Taiwan? Could the hollow hulls and empty decks of Chinese container ships carry infantry and mechanized divisions for a devastating attack on Taiwan, securing the island before the U.S. could respond? China's Container Ship Fleet: Economic Savior or Trojan Horse? (Biff: loopy, or just crazy enough to appeal to PRC generals taking a minute from managing their business and gambling empires?. Container ships would be sitting ducks, collecting all the military eggs in one iron basket. But if secrecy could be achieved/bought and paid for...)

++官方一再強調,這場示威活動是民間的,是自發的,和官方毫無關係。這自然是彌天大謊,慾蓋彌彰,不值一駁。... 某些人對貼近的歷史不感興趣,對遙遠的歷史念念不忘,對切膚之痛的事情缺少憤慨,對那些缺少切膚之痛的事情反倒充滿激情。這樣的激情和記憶難道是正常的嗎? ... 其次,關於教科書問題。日本的中學歷史教科書並非由官方統一口徑,規定一套惟一的版本;而是由民間編寫,官方審定。這次報批的中學近代史教科書有八個版本,大多數是左翼編寫,引起中國方面抗議的只是一個由右翼編寫的版本,而採用這本右翼編寫的歷史教科書的學校在全日本還不到1%。這就是說,所謂教科書問題並不像很多中國人想像得那麼嚴重。說到篡改歷史,說到拒絕認錯,當今世界,誰比得上中共呢? (link) (Biff: better than the average blathersome Chinese article. States the obvious, which is to say it's unusually penetrating for epochtimes. Implies the obvious, which is to say that the HK media has an IQ, taking one hack with the next, that's 10~15 points above Taiwan's media.)
Quick opening comments on Our Oldest Enemy: a History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France, John Miller (2004)

Reading this because of the more interesting ideological follies, provincial nationalist sympathies, and moony patriotic feelings that are apparently shared by French and Chinese part-time patriots, neither of which has genuine or substantial interest in their own history. Given my growing experience with this, I’d be happy to make the argument that a precondition of peacetime patriotism is willful ignorance, for knowledge of history breeds an inconvenient tolerance for human weakness and a vision of humanity as perennially flawed and dysfunctional and yet which progresses nonetheless, its personal failures and communal clusterfucks be damned. The history buff is doomed to note that even as nations we’re all too human to be gods for anyone else’s dog. Not that we can’t set flawed but useful examples.

Plus the more knowledgeable you get, the less hyperventilating you do over the issues, as you see world-threatening calamities resolved again and again in the past. With history repeating itself endlessly, the present takes on a sort of ennui, and the reader ends up with an attitude of ‘whatever, dude...’ With this easy come easy go attitude comes a distaste for red-blooded nationalism and the hearty low-brow maniac it attracts in herds; though with all movements there tend to be the occasionally vivid twinkling stars: the Marx’s and Trotsky’s, the Huey Longs and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s, the thoroughbreds of cant and rhetorical blah.

Either way, this sort of popular silliness appears in Paradise Betrayed where French officials show up in the Seychelles spouting tall talk of French glory regardless of having lost WWII without a fight and being irreverently shoved off the international stage by the US and USSR.
Former Seychelles president, James Manchan, writes (page 200): To these prejudiced [French] politicians, if you were pro-British, you were anti-French. It was they who had pushed the call to cry 'Vive Quebec Libre'. To them the policy of bilingualism was not enough. They wanted French to be the language. Nor did I realize at the time that they could be stupid enough to believe that the imposition of their language was far more important than the risk of throwing a democratic ally into the Soviet camp.

Sounds like the follies of the PRC which desires recognition and huzzahs for its stabilizing influence as a non-expansionist power while threatening Taiwan with invasion and recently staking claims on territory in North Korea; and applause for its non-hegemonic 'same bed slightly different dreams' scheme while pushing hard for the instruction of Chinese in Indonesia and crying traitor to the Vietnamese, Koreans, and Japanese who dared throw out the clumsy Chinese character system in favor of a limited or full phonetic alphabet.

But some of what's most interesting in Our Oldest Enemy lies in the hot details pumping up the reader’s blood. The author's narrative is like a fast-paced novel: though not to be confused with the near-infotainment of Bernard Goldberg’s Bias, with its gaping spaces on each page and the memorandum-like attention span given to each story. Like O’Reilly, Franken, and the Wicked Witch of the Right, one wonders if telebrities do much reading beyond the teleprompter.

In Our Oldest Enemy the same old human themes naturally crop up over and over as they must given the tabula rasa which dooms us to lives of reinventing a thousand fly-blown wheels; not that we don't swell with pride at the novel products of our ingenuity.

Page 27:
When an opening cannon shot decapitated Oswego's commanding officer, the [British and colonial] troops lost all hope and surrendered. Ever attentive to the military etiquette that ruled his life as a soldier in Europe, Montcalm determined that their resistance had been too brief to warrant generous surrender terms. (Sounds like the WWII Japanese military's view of Allied POWs) Rather than allowing the men of Oswego to march away with their colors, as Villiers had permitted Washington to do at Fort necessity, Montcalm decided to make them his prisoners of war.... His Indian compatriots, however, had different plans. Greedy for the spoils of victory, they ransacked a hospital, seized captives, and scalped the wounded - as many as a hundred soldiers and civilians were murdered. Ashamed of what he had allowed to happen, Montcalm arranged for ransoms for many of the captives...

As with rural Japanese soldiers mowing down WWII POWs as if still on the farm exterminating field mice and fruit-thieving macaques, and as with my ancestors burning virgins alive to spiritually fertilize the ground and up the harvest of haggis and mince-meat pies, barbarians all. And yet of course the same thing wouldn't happen today. One reason is the magnificence of the modern economy without which mass education and information access and expert opinion would be impossible. Without those we're back to being true believers in conspiracy theories, superstition, racialism and tribalism. With economic prosperity has also come the imposition of new taboos (on murder for sport, vendettas, vigilantism, ritual suicide, cultural and sexual chauvinism) while old taboos have been lifted (on forensic medicine, public education, sex gay and straight, religious heterodoxy, enthusiasm for foreign cultures).

With Ward Churchill in the news it's worth pointing out the behavior of some of his alleged ancestors during the French and Indian war of colonial times. Worth noting the nobility and righteousness of a simpler, less overwhelmed generation of mankind whose paragons gleam and beckon at us from a less corrupted, more human age: a time blissfully free of corporations assaulting third world sovereignty, farmer-bankrupting global trade, and the cruel cultural hegemonies of the information explosion which destroy ethnic identities and languages at a breakneck speed.

From page 28:
Bougainville was a brilliant man of high culture and intellectual distinction. Before traveling to the New World, he had written a book on calculus. After the war, he went on to fame as the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe. (The flowering bougainvillea plant and the largest of the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific Ocean, are named for him.) In a letter, the amateur ethnographer describes the indigenous allies his general was gathering for a renewed assault on Fort William Henry: "Indians, naked, black, red, howling, bellowing, dancing, singing the war song, getting drunk, yelling for 'broth,' that is to say, blood, drawn from 500 leagues away by the smell of fresh human blood and the chance to teach their young men how one carves up a human being destined for the pot. Behold our comrades who, night and day, are our shadows. I shiver at the frightful spectacles which they are preparing for us."

Indeed, Bougainville understood what it meant to make war with Indian allies. Here is how he put it in a letter to his godmother, sent just before Montcalm ordered his army south: your son shudders with horror at what he's going to be forced to witness. It is with great difficulty that we can restrain the Indians of the far west, the most ferocious of all men and cannibals by trade. Listen to what the chiefs came to tell M. de Montcalm three days ago: "Father, don't expect that we can easily give quarter to the English. We have some young warriors who have not yet drunk of this broth. Raw flesh has led them here from the ends of the earth; they must learn to wield the knife and to bury it in English hearts." Behold our comrades, dear mamma; what a crew, what a spectacle for civilized man.

For all of his private outpourings of disgust, the cultured Bougainville never shrank from the actual practice of unleashing Indian massacres upon British soldiers and American colonists. He may not have enjoyed it, but he was willing to overlook the carnage so long as it served French interests. In Bougainville's view, North America was a hopeless moral cesspool to be shunned rather than confronted and reformed: "The air one breathes here is contagious," he said of North America, "and I fear lest a long sojourn here make us acquire the vices of a people to whom we communicate no virtues."

So much for the French Enlightenment idealization of the Indian as a noble savage whose pristine innocence was contrasted with the stifling morality and corrupt civilization of Europe.

... Bougainville also had a more direct knowledge of human behavior in a state of nature than virtually any other member of Rousseau's nodding readership. It might even be said that he was the leading French authority on the subject. Had he challenged Rousseau, Bougainville would have performed an enormous service to European thought.... The failure to reconcile bad theories with undeniable realities would prove to be an enduring theme in French culture...

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Busy reading up on Japan this month. The book reviews/ commentaries will have to wait...

Big Trouble in Little China 2 (the comments are the best part)

Although China is not quite the militarily expansionist force that Imperial Japan was in the 1930s, its strategic situation is perhaps analogous. Will China choose north or south?

Not that I need any more incentive to distrust reporters. THE BOSTON GLOBE'S BOGUS SEAL HUNT STORY is about a lazy reporter faking a Nova Scotia seal hunt which because of inclement weather failed to take place. It includes numerous links to other stories on reporter-fudgers.

The Ward Churchill Notoriety Tour It's enough to recall the words of Austrian satirist Karl Kraus, who said, "The secret of the demagogue is to make himself as stupid as his audience, so they believe they are as clever as he."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

More on Japan at War: An Oral History

From page 44:
++The rest of the injured were expected to kill themselves, but some Japanese were captured because they couldn't take their own lives. Massacres of civilians were routine. They cooperated with the enemy, sheltered them in their houses, gave them information. We viewed them as the enemy. During combat, all villagers went into hiding. We pilfered anything useful from their houses or, in winter, burned them for firewood. If anyone was found wandering about, we captured and killed them. Spies! This was war.

Well, sort of. Most Western wounded were not expected to kill themselves, and the promiscuous chopping of heads and bayoneting of live dummies wasn't just an enthusiastic excess of war either. But then again, neither was attacking civilians. This modern democratic practice probably began with Napoleon's populist armies, received further encouragement with Sherman's scorching of Georgia, and reached its climax in WWII with the bombing of German and Japanese, British and Chinese, cities.

During feudal times, armies were more likely in Japan to fight only one another. You could take the kids, ramen and manga. As a civilian you were in no danger. Mass warfare, the sort were everyone is a target, where kill zones are established, and search and destroy missions are arranged, is an efficiency manufactured by the modern age. Democracy has brought most cultural artifacts up to their historical peak through evolving arts into sciences.

On the other hand, the Afghan and recent Iraq campaigns are moving in the opposite direction, minimizing casualties, and targeting military targets almost exclusively. Until the past several decades, collateral damage didn't even have a name because it didn't need one. For most of two centuries, there was no need for a distinction in military jargon because there was little formal distinction on the battlefield.

From another interview:
++ Looking back at the war years, many people claimed they supported the war only because there was no other choice. I think that's a lie. Intellectuals, journalists, educated people, all supported the war actively. The only exceptions were the Communists, they were in prison. Nobody truly thought Japan would lose.... we held so many lantern parades to celebrate our victories! Why have we forgotten that in defeat?

In other words, had you or I been there, it's highly likely that we too would have supported the war to the hilt as well: which is about as good a departure point as any for studying what the hell was going on in the Japanese mind at that time.

Also interesting are a couple of parallels with contemporary Germany and contemporary People's Republic of China. With regard to first from page 51:
++ Japan and Germany would only have to combine forces to break the Anglo-Saxon hold on Asia, and redistribute the colonies. That's how we felt then. Beginning in 1939, Hitler's newsreels were shown every day. When I played hooky, I always went to see them. I'd watch those stirring movies about Hitler and wonder, "What's the matter with the Japanese army in Manchuria? Why can't they just annihilate the British or the Americans? Hitler took all of Poland and united it with Germany!" And I bought Hitler's heroic autobiography Mein Kampf. Japanese youth at that time adored Hitler and Mussolini and yearned for the emergence of a Japanese politician with the same qualities. We wanted decisive action.

That offers insight into the simplicity of the national mindset. It also suggests that without several generations of free speech, people were easily swayed by rhetoric, slogans, and plugs (as is the case in the PRC today). The same sort of rhetoric which would be laughed at today, was swallowed, praised and admired, and the dazzled yearned for more shellacking.

++Whenever extreme right wing talks were given on subjects like "Attack Britain and America," enormous crowds came. People brought box lunches and formed long lines from six in the morning to get in and hear Nakano Seigo endorsing the liberation of Asia.

The liberation of Asia meant replacing those beastly foreign colonizers with chemically-pure colonists from the home team. From a modern perspective, the first fallacy with this is the obvious one: the presumption that the home teams colonizers will do a better job than the foreign colonizers. But better job ring to a more moral, uplifting, and technologically effective job. Down with evildoers, carpetbaggers, and resource rapers. The second fallacy with this is that colonization was a bad thing. Colonization was simply the result of an authoritarian regime keeping its people down and preventing them from developing superior economy and weaponry. A country which did last two repressive citizens naturally have a stronger economy and improved weaponry. Given human nature, sooner or later, someone or someone's from the less repressive nation were going to invade the authoritarian nation with such excuses as the threat of war, lebensraum, and to save it from itself. And yet, all of these excuses, and many others that I could probably come up with, are all valid.

In my experience its racism and cultural chauvinism that drive the idea that the people of one country do not have the right so-called to interfere in the lives of the people of another country. But all governments interfere with people's lives so interference ain't the issue. Good government is. So if a set of Japanese speakers or English speakers or Chinese speakers are better qualified to run national affairs, then I say turn it over to whoever is best qualified regardless of national origin.

In many instances, it can be argued that not protecting a country from an incoming colonizing nation was clearly the smartest option. Would the average Japanese citizen have benefited in 1853 by being levied into a suicidal effort to keep out the Americans and other Europeans? Would the average Taiwanese citizen been better off if the island had risen up in a patriotic revolt and tens of thousands of civilians been massacred by the incoming Japanese Army in 1895? Chang Kai-shek, who was a thoroughly familiar with the Japanese military's capability, opposed defending Shanghai against the Japanese army. The avoidable slaughter of both Chinese and Japanese which took place in Shanghai can be argued to have led directly to the similarly avoidable prophylactic slaughter of Chinese men in Nanking (pulled out of the security zone and shot as suspected guerrillas). I make a similar argument in favor of the Opium War. It freed up trade and cheapened the price of opium, thus dropping the cost of living and providing people then (as today despite the useless US Drug War) with more affordable, higher quality designer drugs. (needless to say, I'm a libertarian on these things)

Next money-quote:
++You would be shocked by what we were taught. "Democracy" meant you could do whatever you please. If we found ourselves where we had to fight America, we were assured we would not have to worry. America was a democratic nation and so would disintegrate and collapse. That was common talk. In America, they can't unite for a common purpose. One blow against them, and they'll fall to pieces.

Not so shocking these days. Sounds much like the sort of rhetoric you can find amongst PRC hobby Patriots and Al Qaeda pre-9/11 types. As with most people who take their news from newspapers, and not from books, these types don't realize that the media in authoritarian regimes only prints favorable news, as opposed to the media of democracies which concentrates on providing bad news. Bad new sells.

During times of political stability, authoritarian regimes are highly regimented and democracies are unruly and messy. However, battlefields are always chaotic and given the chance, the soldiers of an authoritarian regime will scatter like quail because they're justifiably paranoid and don't trust anybody and aren't sacrificing themselves for the dictator-for-life who murdered their uncle or whose forces raped their neighbor.

With democracies, when the shots fly and the band begins to play, a conspiracy of the willing emerges to deal a death blow to the enemy. Democratic soldiers don't scatter because they trust each other, have professional pride, like their government, and so on. And this is nothing new. It's the history of democracies, starting with the ancient Greek armies who elected their generals once a year, conducted post battle assessments, and ended up either hanging or driving most of their generals out of the country. It continued through to Rome, Renaissance Italy, Spain, and on down to the British and today's American forces. Democracy remains in the ascendant, not because it's citizens are enamored of it, but because it wins on the battlefield.
First Thoughts on Japan at War: An Oral History

The short oral history contained within, and entitled Qualifying As a Leader, caught my attention. I quote from it in the following:

· "Heads should be cut off like this," he said, unsheathing his army sword.... "Yo!" The head flew more than a meter away. Blood spurted up in two fountains from the body and sprayed into the hole. The scene was so appalling that I felt I couldn't breathe... When my turn came, the only thought I had was "don't do anything unseemly!" I didn't want to disgrace myself. I bowed to the regimental commander and stepped forward.... I unsheathed my sword... I steadied myself, holding the sword at a point above my right shoulder, and swung down with one breath. The head flew away and the body tumbled down, spouting blood. The air reeked from all that blood.... at that moment, I felt something change inside me. I don't know how to put it, but I gained strength somewhere in my gut.... some of the officer candidates slashed the head by mistake. One prisoner ran around crazily... everyone got covered with blood as we butchered him. We returned to our companies. Until that day I had been overwhelmed by the sharp eyes of men when I called the role each night. That night I realized I was not self-conscious at all in front of them. I didn't even find their eyes evil anymore. I felt I was looking down on them....

· A new conscript became a full-fledged soldier in three months in the battle area. We planned exercises for these men. As the last stage of the training, we made them bayonet a living human.... The soldiers dashed forward to bayonet their target at the shout of "charge!" Some stopped on their way. We kicked them and made them do it. After that, a man could do anything easily. The army created men capable of combat. The thing of supreme importance was to make them fight. It didn't matter whether they were bright or sincere. Men useless in action were worthless. Good soldiers were those who were able to kill, however uncouth they were. We made them like this. Good sons, good daddies, good elder brothers at home were brought to the front to kill each other. Human beings turned into murdering demons. Everyone became a demon within three months. Men were able to fight courageously only when their human characteristics were suppressed. So we believed. It was a natural extension of our training back in Japan. This was the Emperor's Army.

I left in the part about the Emperor's army because it relates to previous posts and it's good to keep in mind the religious underpinning to this popular/populist slaughter. (Just as it's good to keep in mind the animism at the roots of official Chinese paranoia and urban legends, and likewise for Pauline Christianity and attitudes that condition Western paranoia)

As to the slashing and butchery, it's not how one would do it these days, but you can see the point. George Orwell pointed out in Homage to Barcelona that many partisans in the Spanish Civil War, including himself, refused to fire their weapons. This was particularly the case when the enemy was not shooting at them and instead on the way to the latrine, delivering mail, or just careless watching the sun go down. Orwell's humanity and pacifism were in part what got him a bullet through his neck. He didn't blast the blighters when he had the chance. Once the Spanish Civil War had begun, not using weapons appropriately caused the war to malinger on and on instead of being settled with short shrift.

Paul Fussell wrote about US Army statistics for men in WWII firing weapons in combat and presented this reader with the surprise that only about 15% were doing any shooting. Post-war, I believe, the training format was reorganized and now stresses crushing recruit character and rebuilding it to facilitate military's goals. In other words the US military, facing the same problem as the Japanese military, came up with a less brutal training format so its soldiers pull their triggers and shoot more often to kill.

Anyway, it was a different uglier time, in this and many other ways, and I'm glad not to have been a part of it. (Though, no doubt, the next generation will say the same about today's world too) The Japanese Army's training methodology of the time was certainly primitive and barbarous. But all things happen for a reason. Unless you're literally unreasonable.

When it comes to part-time patriots, most blame their enemies (usually imaginary and invented for convenience) for being, not what they are or can be in future, but for what they were (again, a matter of convenience because it's impossible to change the past). However, the sort of person who shouts shame! shame! is typically a moral genius with no proposal in pocket nor in the pipeline for changing the present or future. That's not his or her bees wax. Because it's not their forte. Intellectually speaking, it's sawdust and yesterday's news between their ears. They're blank cartridges. For, after all, if you have an active mind and imagination, why would you settle for guilt trips? No challenge. Too easy. Boring. And it puts you in good graces with a gang of lofty frauds, the sort of fence-sitting sloganeers that ought to be the sort of enemy one is judged by and puts one in a positive light.

Naturally, investigating bad behavior in detail and then proposing and perhaps even executing a methodology which will persuade baddies to change their behavior and show them the benefits of doing so is likely to work much better.

Either way, all this comes back to determinism. I'll be glad to take part in pogroms of scapegoating from safe distances when I'm satisfied that a boy growing up in a French-speaking middle-class home is free not to be male, a native French speaker, and grow up with middle-class values. Similarly, blaming the Japanese of that era for being the Japanese of that era is a nonstarter if you're trying to understand what happened and why. Of course if one is more interested in facilitating one's will to power, getting a leg over the competition, and finds thinking a discouraging snobbish pursuit then the blame game will do just fine.

Either way, fortunately those days are long gone. In Japan that is. In a previously reviewed book, Thunder from the East, one of the authors goes into detail about his first-hand experience with the way some village Indonesians dealt with the Asian financial crisis of 1998. They grabbed strangers in their villages, accused them of being sorcerers causing the collapse. Now that they had been snatched up by human hands the sorcerors were now incapable of turning back into wild beasts, their preferred form, and were disposed of on the spot. They were summarily decapitated. This happened in many parts of Java.

And these were/are not gangsters or any other form of evildoer, to cop a clumsy term, but instead were "good sons, good daddies, good elder brothers at home." The BBC around the same time carried an audio interview with an Indonesian woman who gaily introduced why her brother was going out and slaughtering sorcerers with his watermelon stabber. She was very upbeat, giggling and gabby. Cheerful abettors of murder defending what they do in a confident and articulate manner, cleaning the stables of human rats as it were, is the kind of thing that sticks to the brainpan for a while.
Some things you won't find in Chinese history textbooks: the 1989 democracy movement, the millions who died in a famine caused by misguided communist policies or China's military attacks on India and Vietnam. As China criticizes Japan for new textbooks that critics say minimize wartime abuses like the Japanese military forcing Asian women into sexual slavery, Beijing's own schoolbooks have significant omissions about the communist system's own history and relations with its neighbors. (link)

Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, News Corporation, speaks on journalism issues and takes questions at a luncheon hosted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
(video link)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Second thoughts on The Politics, Money and Culture of Japan: after nearly demonstrating that rejection of Chinese characters was a sign of shallow partisanship, the author goes on to show that the Uncle Sammy tested the Japanese and found the literacy rate to be higher than that of the average American or European. I have no doubt this is correct, but still there's a sixth sense that somehow he's piling up proofs to prove his conjecture, rather than giving his conjecture a test run or considering alternatives that might inconvenience an objective patriot.

The author goes on to prove the prodigal flexibility of characters in the next paragraph. By the end of the paragraph he's so bursting with confidence that he explodes in a fireworks of patriotic fustian and philological codswallop. Chinese characters have unlimited powers of expression! (That's a quote) In combinations and permutations, characters have unlimited capacity to form words. (Ibid) Using just 2000 Chinese characters 4,000,000 words and sentences can be bricked together and accommodate all the incoming information that the information explosion can explode. (A quote only gently stretched)

What's interesting about this is not so much the professor getting carried away but the fact that he can do so in a competitive publishing industry. This is someone who has been a senior editor for a national newspaper, who graduated from universities in Taiwan and Japan, who has served as a researcher at a top local university, and who has under his belt several published books of analysis, short story collections, and so forth on Japan.

So he's blinkered. Well, many of us are. I plead guilty too. But what is it about his field that gives him the serene confidence to make such glorious missteps?

I turned to former Taipei City Minister for Culture Long Ying-tai's 1985 Literary Criticism Collected Essays for counsel. In the preface (translated here by me) she writes: In Taiwan, writing any sort of literary criticism is difficult. The primary reason is because the Chinese people don't separate moral comportment from professional endeavor. Highly stressing loyalty and protocol, how can one be acutely critical of someone else's work? Most people are unwilling to hurt someone's feelings by writing something critical. The opposite side of the coin is that when someone is criticized their reaction is particularly vehement and they are incapable of thinking calmly.

Over the last nearly one year critiquing fiction, I have received much encouragement and praise... but I have also been under a lot of pressure from personal attacks. One person sent me ghost money with the corners ripped off, probably because I was critical of one of his works. Thus, he hoped that I would be crushed by a truck one day. (I cherish this ghost money though, particularly because he took great care tearing off the corners thus ensuring that his curse would come to fruitiony. This thin coarse ghost money paper, which represents unbounded hatred, is yet also permeated with a highly representative aesthetic appeal.)

The Chinese people are not in the habit of promoting themselves and in their comportment they strive for humility and politeness. Myself, I have no interest in humility or politeness. When it comes to my professional affairs and my professional efficiency, however, I care a great deal.

In other words to be a critic worthy of the name, Long Ying-tai had to choose between being Chinese and being a critic worthy of the name. Betraying the national character resulted in nasty letters and voodoo. Fortunately she has a sense of humor. Unfortunately, she points out in another passage that of those who praised her courage, not one was willing to critique the work of others forthrightly, i.e. honestly.

Quite a statement. More like an indictment. Of course it's just the opinion of one person, or should I say two because I'm happy to add myself to the number. There was another wild apostate in her day, Nobel nominee Li Ao, but it will be remembered that he had to publish his work outside the country. It surely says something when the nation's top critic can't get published in his own country.

And all of this helps account for the vacuum come comfort zone that allows the author of The Politics, Money and Culture of Japan to spout well-meaning claptrap and not be held to account for it. Worse, be quite unaware of the titters outside his inner circle. Worse yet, be so shocked and insulted when some freebooting naysayer like myself breaks the bad news, that he has to work up a conspiracy theory to explain it all away.

In my experience, one voice of criticism rarely persuades anyone of anything except that the voice belongs to a crank. For reasons perhaps having to do with weak critical thinking, lack of imagination, and a general instinct for evasive maneuvers when under attack, most folks only react sensibly to criticism when they see the teeth of more than one persecutor gleaming. In other words, only when they're forced to and not because they thought their way through and saw the light, per se. In other words, being outnumbered and cornered, they don't see any possibility for evasive maneuvers anymore. Which is to say, they're still not convinced. Which is to say they were probably never convinced of their original opinion either. Which is to say they're probably incapable of figuring anything out for themselves. But I'm ranting. And off topic again.

How about this then? Why did modern American fiction authors begin to show up in numbers only in the early 20th century? What's more modern than the reality show, which first showed up in print, then film, and only then on TV? And early reality show scribblers would include Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Steinbeck, and so forth.

So what caused the extinction of the amiable hocus pocus that only occasionally took a well-deserved hiding from the latter 19th century's only honest, when it didn't threaten his pay book, American critic, Mark Twain?

Here's a clue from Edmund Wilson's collection of literary critics' works The Shock of Recognition (1943). Amy Wohl (1874-1925) opens up a book of her literary criticism with "Gentle reader, the book you're about to peruse has only one object, which is to amuse. If, as over its pages you may chance to potter, you discover its rather more pungent and hotter than this simple pretension might lead one to think, recollect, if you please, there's devil in ink..."

Killer cute dude. Well, ahem, here's the late Edmund Wilson, the New Yorker's favorite 20th century literary critic writing about the appearance of Henry Mencken (1880-1956), "The effect of Mencken's criticism was startling to the young people who had been brought up in the Howells era. Howells had tried very hard to be hospitable to new talent from everywhere, but he had himself kept quite close to the genteel tradition. Mencken had the temerity to put his foot through the genteel tradition... The cobwebs dropped away, and we were able to look out across the country and to see what was actually being produced in the way of interesting work - which seemed scarcely at any point to coincide with the kind of thing admired by her most impressive critics, such as WC Brownell."

In other words, a scathing critic who became popular and then "imitated to nausea" by many, did much to clean up the writing profession's act. Of course there are myriad other factors, but when the leading literary critic was the shock jock of his age and promoted writers indifferent to tender feeling such as Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, George Bernard Shaw and Nietzsche (ex: Mencken wrote the first English language literary biography on the man), standards went up everywhere. Taiwan, amongst other things, lacks a herd of critics on the loose and bawling for blood to sow fear into the local literati, most of whom are still snoring under their writing tableaux.

Back to the original book. The author carries along and lists a series of obscure Chinese characters disinterred from the crypt, thus proving once again the grand flexibility of characters. However, he skips over the basic problem which is that nobody ever knows the pronunciation of these damn things except for himself and his fellow grave diggers. As opposed to English, where a word's pronunciation can be accurately guessed at because of the phonetic alphabet. For example, Superbowl X (We in the farm country called it Superbowl Ex. Seriously.).

Soon, the next paragraph indeed, the pathology of the patriot emerges as it must with its implacable loony force. The author tells us that because Japan has used Chinese characters it is now a member of the Chinese language family. As such it has familial responsibilities (I'm not making this up) and has inherited the responsibility to promote Chinese characters and to defeat the communist scheme to abandon Chinese characters. This is the first I've ever heard of this scheme, one which the author believes is blasting full steam ahead at the time of writing, 1999.

In the very next paragraph the author introduces us to several Japanese enthusiasts who have developed a methodology enabling students to commit Chinese characters to memory at an incredible rate. He says that when the news got out, it spread immediately around the world. But of course, given the context we know just how big the world is to this patriot: Chinese speaking regions only.

The author, finally persuading me that he's incapable of detached judgment, bipartisan patriotism and other sundry good things, and being captain of my own fate, I regained authority over my credulity, and launched full steam ahead out of this godforsaken book.

The End.

Postscript: I read a full fourteen pages. At a quality bookstore near you.

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