Rie shook off the dust and the sayings

December 27, 2013 § 2 Comments

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The Yomiuri Shimbun has published an account of the events leading up Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine two days ago. If the timeline and the quotations in the story are accurate — and there is no reason to doubt that they are — a picture emerges of a ruthless Abe, unbound by courtesy or caution in his dealings with his most prominent political allies.

Here is the snippet on Abe’s call to Yamaguchi Natsuo, the leader of the party whose House of Councillors votes Abe relies upon to guarantee the passage of legislation:

“I’ll visit the shrine at my own discretion,” Abe told Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of his Liberal Democratic Party, over the phone at about 11 a.m. on Thursday, about 30 minutes before he headed to the shrine.

“I cannot support that,” Yamaguchi told Abe.

“I didn’t think you’d agree with me,” Abe said before hanging up the phone.

Abe also informed LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba of his intention to visit the shrine in the same morning.

What the Yomiuri narrative fails to clarify is that Yamaguchi and Ishiba already knew Abe was on his way to Yasukuni before the PM made his courtesy calls. Major news outlets began publishing and airing alerts regarding the Abe visit 30 minutes prior to Abe’s 11 a.m. call to Yamaguchi. Ishiba found out about the visit from the reporters covering him, when they all started shouting at him, “What is your opinion of the prime minister visiting Yasukuni?” An exasperated Ishiba replied, “Why are you all asking me my opinion of a Yasukuni visit?” The reporters shouted back, “Because it has been announced!” Ishiba, trying to appear nonchalant, turned and walked away, repeating the news to himself, “Oh, it’s been announced. Hmmmm.”  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: [unattributed]

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Marx said that quantitative differences become qualitative ones, but a dialogue in Paris in the 1920s sums it up even more clearly: FITZGERALD: The rich are different from us. HEMINGWAY: Yes, they have more money

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

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The most heavily reported unauthorized release of Japan’s defense information in recent years concerns a video recording of a Chinese fishing boat ramming a Japan Coast Guard vessel near the Senkaku (Chinese: Diaoyu) islands in September 2010. But the video itself was not classified as a “defense secret,” so its release cannot be considered a breach of the Self-Defense Forces Law (“SDF Law”). The leaker, who was identified as a member of the Japan Coast Guard, was not prosecuted for any crime. However, the 2010 incident incited demands for stronger secrecy protection laws and led to the appointment of a new government committee to study the issue.

The rarity of high profile leaks of confidential Japanese government information is a sharp contrast to the United States, where federal prosecutors have brought as many as eight cases against accused leakers since President Obama took office in 2009. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are known all over the world for releasing masses of secret data for publication in mainstream news media and online publishers like Wikileaks.

For open government advocates, one of the most fundamental questions concerns the life cycle of defense secrets. Secrecy designations are ordinarily limited to fixed periods of time. The proposed Designated Secrets Protection Law would set a maximum term of five years. At the expiration of this term, officials could either decide that information remains sensitive and therefore extend the secrecy term or that it is no longer sensitive and the information can be declassified and released to the public or transferred to a public archive for easy access.

When NHK reporters recently asked Defense Ministry officials to describe the life cycle of defense secrets under the 2001 Law, they received a detailed response. During the five-year period from 2006 through 2011, approximately 55,000 records were designated “defense secrets” under the SDF Law. What is the current status of these 55,000 records? According to Defense Ministry officials, 34,000 were destroyed once they reached the end of their fixed secrecy period. When asked how many of the records were de-classified for potential release to the public, the officials delivered a very precise response: one.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Li Hui

William Shakspar’s ‘Living, or not living’ soliloquy · PBS’s Ozymandias · John Milton’s On His Glaucoma · Thomas Hood’s No · Arthur Gordon Pym’s Black Bird · Arthur Rimbaud’s Vocalisations

September 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

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A 71-year-old man in Gifu Prefecture made headlines recently when he attempted to initiate a lawsuit against broadcaster NHK. Through its excessive use of foreign derived words, the man claimed, NHK had caused him 精神的苦痛 (seishinteki kutsū, psychological pain). He demanded ¥1.41 million in 慰謝料 (isharyō, damages).

The local court refused to hear the case. But Nikkan Gendai newspaper (July 5) rose to the man’s defense, saying その気持ち、よく分かる (sono kimochi, yoku wakaru, that feeling is well understood), adding 政治もビジネスも、今やカタカナ語だらけ (seiji mo bijinesu mo ima ya katakana-go darake, now more than ever, politics and business are full of katakana loanwords).

だらけ(darake) is a useful descriptive suffix implying, negatively, that something is full of, or crawling with, whatever.

The term カタカナ語 (katakana-go) is used alternatively with 外来語 (gairaigo, words that come from outside, i.e., of foreign origin), but differentiates such words specifically as being written using the katakana syllabary, as opposed to borrowings from Chinese written in kanji.

Nikkan Gendai’s writer recalls that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his first-term inaugural speech back in 2006, had used such awkward expressions as イノベーションの創造 (inobēshon no sōzō, creation of innovation) and テレワーク人口の倍増 (terewāku jinkō no baizō, doubling the number of teleworkers, i.e., telecommuters). These terms, said the writer, resulted in 多くの国民がチンプンカンプンだった (ōku no kokumin ga chinpun-kanpun datta, came across as gibberish to many citizens). チンプンカンプン (chinpun-kanpun, gibberish) is of indeterminate origin, although its close resemblance to the Mandarin Chinese phrase 聽不懂,看不懂 ting bu dong, kan bu dong, (literally “hear-not-understand, see-not-understand”) has not escaped notice.  read more

ART: Maija Luutonen

I made no attempt to contact any of the people who had been so important to me in the past. I had already let important connections unravel through inattention, and that carelessness has been a bane to me all my life

August 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

 

Debate is heating up in Tokyo about the advisability of hiking Japan’s consumption tax. Which should come first- economic growth or fiscal reconstruction? The prime minister must decide in a matter of weeks.

It’s after midnight and I’m sitting in a Roppongi bar discussing the subject with a knowledgeable Japanese bureaucrat.

“It’s essential to raise taxes,” he says, cradling a well-aged Islay malt. “If we don’t, investors will lose confidence and our bond market will collapse.”

“Aren’t you risking a serious recession?”

“A temporary blip, maybe. But the strengthening of public finances will be good for future growth.”

The year was 1997.  read more

FILM: Longplayer

It’s one which I think, actually, came in with Milton Friedman. I used to read about it, I used to look about – it’s not a doctrine, it’s a theory to which I’ve never subscribed

April 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

In a series of stunning decisions starting on 7 March 2013, Japanese High Courts have turned the tables on the Abe government. Out of 16 cases filed, the courts have ruled the expected way only twice. Fourteen cases ended with the justices determining the election to have been unconstitutional, without question or qualification. In a post-war first, two courts ruled the election districts unconstitutional and invalidated the results.

Even more surprising were the justices’ arguments. The key point was not a violation of the ‘2.0’ standard; indeed, the decisions invalidating election results came in areas where this was not a problem. The key consideration for the justices was the contempt shown by the legislative branch for the judicial branch. Justice Junko Ikadatsu, who handed down the first of the historic decisions to invalidate an election result, said that by taking more than 18 months to even consider redrawing electoral boundaries, the legislature could not be said to have fulfilled its constitutional role. Justices of the Tokyo and Sapporo High Courts condemned the +0/-5 solution as being not at all what the Supreme Court had demanded.

The Supreme Court, which will take all the cases on appeal, is not expected to hand down its decision before the upcoming House of Councillors election. This means that in strict legal terms the Abe government can claim legitimacy from its victory in the tainted 2012 election and its projected landslide in the 2013 election. However, a penumbra of illegitimacy will descend over the Abe government once the Supreme Court finds the 2012 election unconstitutional. While previously unthinkable, such an outcome seems almost guaranteed given the preponderance of High Court decisions finding the election results unconstitutional (14 out of 16) and the Supreme Court’s own warnings in 2011.  read more

FILM: Bea Fremderman

According to the most up-to-date investigations, the unconscious is a sort of cognitive ghetto – a home for homeless thoughts. Alas, many thoughts are now homesick

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

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If the current public opinion polls hold up, and the Democratic Party of Japan suffers losses commensurate with its betrayal of the high hopes the voters had had for the party when they voted it into power in 2009, leaving the Liberal Democratic Party and the Japan Restoration Association as the top vote winners, then we are all in big trouble.

How do we know this?

Calligraphy.

The leaders of the eleven parties held a joint press conference yesterday at the National Press Club. The hosts had the party leaders write down, with felt-tip pens on giant stiff paper flip cards, the main theme(s) of their campaigns.

For those not familiar with this business of writing down slogans or mottoes, the request would probably seem a tad odd. The practice is quite common, however. A major sports figure can hardly get out of a one-on-one, sit down interview without being handed a white square of stiff paper and a felt tip pen.

Given the place of this little ritual in public life, the variation in the performance of the eleven was stunning. The majority of the leaders proved incapable of writing down a few legible characters in a white rectangle.  read more

STILL: Harry Lachman

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