Thursday, 28 March 2013

PUTTING THE STEALTH BOMBER BEFORE THE WARHORSE

Nothing to see here, just keeping track of the links. Apologies if you clicked here looking for something vaguely amusing, insightful or one of Our Man's latest doodles. If he can meet his 1,000-word daily quota for his novel and has any words left before midnight, you'll be the first to know.

N. Korea nuke threats a gift to the US military industrial complex

US B-2 stealth bombers in South Korea drill

Carry on.

BEND OVER AND TAKE YOUR MEDICINE


You don't have to be schizophrenic to write about North Korea, but it helps. Are they the biggest threat to world peace since the last biggest threat to world peace, or are they incapable of tying their shoes?* Take your pick, you can't have it both ways. Or maybe you can.

Is this North Korean Hovercraft-Landing Photo Faked? 

Western media set up North Korea for war

Think Again: North Korea

A photo that makes North Korea look a lot less scary

*The correct answer is yes.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

JAPAN TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGING


Some pretty big news in the English language Japanese print world, if there is still much of that left. The New York Times is going to be published with the Japan Times. This is pretty awesome news for the bunker, which still subscribes to the print Japan Times, only now we'll get some stuff written for an international audience, edited in Paris and London and Kita Kashiwa or somewhere, er, oh… it's the old International Herald Tribune.

So it will be as dull as AP, but more long-winded.

But wait, as a Japan Times print subscriber, I'll get free access to the New York Times paywalled content (you do anyway - that's what Twitter links are for - ed.) so I can read all those features on John Updike's geniusness and Jonathan Franzen's inability to set a video timer, and travel features for drones and, er, lifestyle pieces about Japanese using fax machines and stuff, er, that Hiroko Tabuchi already tweets on Twitter anyway. Hmmm.

Well, no matter, it will ensure the survival of two great papers, while maintaining the independence of both. Like when the IHT tied up with the Asahi Evening News. That worked out well for both, er now defunct papers, eh readers?

Anyway, the two will be delivered in two sections Monday to Saturday and my spies tell me the Sunday edition will be Japan Times only and a tabloid to boot (It's the JT wot won the war, eh readers?)

Well, since I like the JT and the NYT (and Hiroko Tabuchi) I'm pleased as punch. I can't help wondering though if the JT will get the shittier end of the stick. How will Debito fare being in such close proximity to decent writers? The Japan Times is already down to one edition a day, joining forces with the Grey Lady and going tabloid are probably the last rolls of the dice before it's digital only, and then, well… let's not go there.

Did Our Man ever tell you his NYT story?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

TWO STEPS FORWARD...



What are we to make of this report?:

 North Korea ordered its foreign diplomats to become drug dealers 

Could this be a sensational example of just how depraved/desperate the North Koreans are, ordering their embassy officials (they have embassies? - ed.) to sell 20 kilos of drugs each to innocents abroad? Could this be a bit more anti-Nork propoganda to keep us buttered up for the coming war? Or just shoddy, anonymous-source reporting in the WaPo? But who reads that muck rag, eh readers? Don't worry, since the Iraq debacle, no big paper journalists would fall for unsourced anonymous briefings from foreign intelligence agencies without backing it up. Well, not again, anyway.

OK, how about this. Folk close to power in DC have been debating the merits of taking a pre-emptive strike against the Norks the next time they wheel one of their firecrackers out on the tarmac. Not sure if the Pentagon has the green light to up stakes like that, but they are talking about taking out Nork command and control sites or knocking a few floors off the Juche Tower as serious options. Oh, you want evidence? Sorry, if the WaPo doesn't have to show theirs, don't see why I should show mine.

So, there's that. Let's hope the Norks understand it's all just talk, eh readers, and wouldn't fancy a bit of pre-emptive striking of their own the next time the B-52s fuel up.

Well, talk is cheap. But on the plus side, two stories paint a picture of a world singing in perfect harmony.

China's Xi says willing to promote dialogue between Koreas | Reuters

China's vice president expresses confidence to solve Senkaku issue (Kyodo)

I'll raise my coke to that. Carry on.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

SAY IT WITH FLYOVERS


Now is not the time to panic. There's no way that any sane person would think we're heading for a war in these parts. Why, the United States, headed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner only wants peace, right? That's why they sent a nuclear-capable B-52 flying over South Korea the other day, just to pass on a friendly peace-loving message to North Korea. It's not the peace-loving US's fault if the Pyongyang posse interpreted that as an escalation. So when the Norks remind the US that all their bases are within range of Nork nukes, that's just unprovoked hostility? Right? You with me, soldier?


And the Norks are hacking South Korea. Even though the South Koreans say the attacks came from China, we know better. It must have been the Norks. American war planners never, ever bait and switch, right? 


And so when the world's only peace-loving, Asia-pivoting, laser-guided superpower joins with the pacifist, not at all imperialist-denying Japan to draw up plans to retake rocks in the ocean (that haven't been taken), this is also a supreme act of peace that cannot be interpreted as speeding up the drumbeat to war.

I'm sure I'm wrong, just jumping to faulty conclusions, armed as I am with only faulty, one-sided intel. But that's all I've got. That, and a horrible sense of déjà vu that comes over the amateur student of history every fin de siècle. I hope I'm wrong. I probably am, French was never my strong point. But I'm not certain enough not to start sitting up and taking notice. So, until my spider senses stop tingling, I'll be keeping a list of war drum links just to help the future me see clearly where it all went wrong.

War? That's unthinkable! That's what smart folk said in 1813. And 1913. And 2013.

China 'extremely concerned' about US-Japan island talk

North Korea threatens US Pacific bases over B-52 flights

Troubling Japanese denial of war crimes - Los Angeles Times

South Korea traces cyber-attacks to Chinese IP address

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES



I found myself at lunchtime watching a fundamentalist preacher on YouTube tie himself in knots trying to answer a sixth-grader's questions on how Noah's Ark could be literally true, given the existence of Mount Everest (the kid's point was that if all the animals were destroyed in the flood, then the floodwaters would have had to have reached the tips of Everest where there were mountain goats) when it dawned on me: I should be doing something else with my time. I mean, if a religion struggles to cope with the silliest of points from a 12-year-old, why on Earth was I wasting my lunch break on it, when there is so much better stuff out there. (Like goats sounding like humans? - ed.)

Like Spike Japan. Only Spike-san has thrown in the virtual towel, darkly hinting at an Orwellian forces (skip to the bottom of this post) snooping on our every move by our traceable online habits and waxing lyrical about the good old analogue days, when writers used to write for money. Well, I hope he writes a good old fashioned paper and ink book with his observations, I'll buy a copy and then we can both be happy. It's easier than ever now with the internet and print on demand, btw. But maybe I'm missing the point.

I'd like to believe there is a happy medium between the infantile optimism of the internet #lifegasm futurists (skewered right here) and the baby-killing drones of that film with Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves or somebody. I suspect that the internet is neutral, neither a force for goat  or Evel Knieval.

Anyway, somewhere along the line I came close to making a decision: the time is nigh to stand up and be counted. Er, that is, to emerge from the anonymity of the internet trolls and reveal my identity. The train of thought goes something like this: if the powers that be are watching our every move then they know who Our Man in Abiko is anyway, and always have. Alternatively, if they don't care, then why should I? Or as FDR's adviser (and not the good Dr Seuss) said:

Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Just got to clear it with the wife first, who might not mind, but certainly does matter. Like all of my best decisions, I haven't thought it through, but I'm not such an egotist as to assume anyone cares all that much. Also, I have a book of essays that is just about ready to release and then I could call it "The Last of the Abikans" then rather than the rather more tepid "Last Tango in Tokyo" that is the working title.

Anyway, don't expect any plumes of white smoke over the Abikan parish just yet, but there may be a new Papa in town soon.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

FALLING OUT


Self-publishing ain't as easy as it looks. I have the utmost respect for anyone who takes it on themselves to create a book from scratch. And 3/11: The Fallout took that challenge and added another. Its author, Patrick Fox, disappeared.

I'm assured he is still alive and well, though you wouldn't know it from the book. The hinting in the foreword made me think he had committed suicide, and from the plea for him to get in touch in the afterword, it was clear the editors had a problem.

Trouble is, so do the readers.

The book is a collection of tweets, blog posts and musings of the author from the time of the Tohoku earthquake to a year after, when he disappeared. Although presented as a mystery, perhaps the only one in the book to pull you through the disjointed posts, the absence of the author made me wonder about the motives for publishing his words. I'm sure they are admirable ones, I hasten to add, in that there is a sense that the book is a kind of memorial to Fox and a past time in which he played a starring role. That's a worthy motivation for friends and family, but I wonder if it is enough to make a compelling book. I suspect it is not, on its own, unless the person is of extraordinary insight. Also, now that the editors know Fox is alive, shouldn't they update the readers on his whereabouts? Otherwise his absence comes across as contrived.

As it stands, the book is something of a mess. There is meat here, but it needs a lot of gristle removing to make it palatable. The author does go on a bit. And then there are references to earlier blog posts. Is this a book or a blog? It can't be both. And 368 pages is at least 168 too many. Editors must be ruthless in the pursuit of helping the reader. If this means treading on the writer's toes, tread away. Good writers will understand.

A more fundamental problem than the lack of editing is that although the author went through the earthquake in Tokyo, he had no direct experience of Fukushima or the tsunami, or has spent any time in any disaster zone, unless I missed it. So, frankly, his thoughts about it all are second-hand, informed by the media, not personal experience, and as such are interesting up to a point, but not the stuff of historical record that can resist the editor's scalpel. I would pay to read the 368-page experiences and thoughts of a genuine survivor of the tsunami. A fellow ex-pat in a dead-end job in Tokyo, unhappy with what he sees on TV, is a harder sell.

A Fallout editor assures me the folks behind it plan to edit it further and update the print on demand book. I hope they do, because there's some good stuff buried within.

Friday, 15 March 2013

LAST CALL FOR RECONSTRUCTING 3/11

In a few hours, or minutes if you are late getting this post, Reconstructing 3/11 will no longer be download-able for free. So, hurry before the Amazon coach turns into a pumpkin at midnight in Seattle, March 14th. Details are here. From tomorrow, the book will only be available to download for $4.99 from Amazon or as a print book for $9.99 from Amazon and from Create Space here.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

THE CAT IN THE HAZMAT COMES BACK: 3/11 AND ALL THAT



While out on a run, I snapped the picture of bags that have been appearing around Abiko's beauty spot a few days before the second anniversary of March 11th. An army of bored middle-aged men were deployed with shovels and back hoes to remove the topsoil from 18km of verges of the walking and cycle path that snakes round the 18km of marsh known as Teganuma. I thought it was just the usual make-busy-work, end-of-the-financial-year-use-up-the-budget-before-they-cut-it routine in Japan, but apparently no, this was a matter of utmost importance. Although pictures of middle-aged men in back hoes makes for worse picture than bags of soil. At least the bags of soil convey an air of menace and mystery.


"Come on! Kill those spots!
Kill the mess!" yelled the cats.
And they jumped at the snow
With long rakes and red bats.


You see, those verges are radioactive. Well, everything is radioactive, but more than usual, dammit. Well, no one is exactly sure since nobody bothered to measure the verges for radioactivity before March 11th. And why should they have? But now the all topsoil from the verges are in bags. And if the soil was not much of a health hazard before (I don't recall anyone walking or cycling on the verges in the five years I've lived in Abiko, they tend to do that sort of thing on the asphalt path) it is now, because now we have a thousand bags of suspect soil that must be disposed of. Perhaps we could swap them with China for some of their yellow dust?


Oh, the things that they did!
And they did them so hard,
It was all one big spot now
All over the yard!



I'd ponder the significance of all this in my backyard, but then it too must be as radioactive as the verges, being no more than a kilometre away. And I measured my yard with a Geiger counter, and it is no more radioactive than Kansas and a lot less than Colorado. But perhaps I should scrape the topsoil up into great bags, just to be safe. Part of the be seen to be doing something rather than actually doing something of significance. Like this sample from the February 2013 Reconstruction Committee report (The 33-page report is here as a PDF if you suffer from insomnia):


It's been two years since the disaster, there are still 316,000 evacuees displaced living on folks' floors or in freezing, stinking metal temporary homes, but don't worry, "construction will get underway in due course." Why, 80% of districts are expecting to implement projects. I can hear the gratitude in evacuee ghettos all around: "Hey, kids don't worry about living out here in this newtown shithole in a stinking metal box, 'disaster stricken municipalities are devoting their energies to formulating reconstruction plans and reaching consensus among citizens'."
"Phew, that's a relief, Mother!"
"It will be, in due course, in due course."

Then the Voom...
It went VOOM!
And, oh boy! What a VOOM!

But it's all good now because Prime Minister Abe had a landslide. And now we can focus on important things like rocks in the ocean, rewriting the history of Japanese imperialism and building more nuclear power plants. Really, this is all going on now. And to think that I believed things might be different this time round, given how humbling the disaster was. How naive I was. I look at the essays in Reconstructing 3/11 written a year ago, and I see the sales job the Liberal Democratic Party did on 3/11 has gone largely unchallenged, and seems most folks are happy with that, they just want to move on. The ones that can.

Now, don't ask me what Voom is.
I never will know.
But, boy! Let me tell you
It DOES clean up snow!

Reconstructing 3/11 is available as a free download until March 14th, or a $9.99 print book forever more. Details and links are here. I recommend reading it, particularly if you labour under the illusion that Kan was a useless prime minister, the Japanese never protest, the Japanese media are more truthful than Western media, volunteers are not needed, business has no answers, Japan cannot change. Read it, it's just what the doctor ordered.

Monday, 11 March 2013

MONKEY MAGIC



There's much that can be said about 3/11, the second anniversary of the triple disaster. I'll add my two yen's worth if I get a chance later tonight. I tried to sum up something of what most folk feel and add a bit of gravitas without sounding like a sentimental old fool. And then I noticed I had four minutes to go before 2:46, the time the earthquake hit, and just rattled off these few words on the Quakebook site.

Building a consensus in times of peril is fairly straight-forward. It's when the imminent danger has passed, the memories of shared endeavour fade, that's the problem. When once we were all united, as time goes on we fracture into our familiar philosophical factions and then you don't know which path will lead you to the Emerald City, and which to a mess of flying monkeys. Although they helped Dorothy in the end, right? I forget.

Anyway, more of all that later.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

POPPING CHERRIES


"Let's get a second pop at the cherry."
The editor stuck out his lower jaw and jabbed the air with his right hand.
That's how I remember the editorial meeting anyway. I don't now remember what story it was that The Derby Evening Telegraph was attempting to follow up and pop the cherry for a second time. The editor's speech was always very macho, sexual and so unlike that of the old ladies who formed our readership that it seems unreal now to think folk talked like that and inspired respect, or at least managed to command fear in the newsroom, which the hierarchy of newspaper news demanded.
I'm not even sure Derby still has a newsroom now, emasculated as the media biz has become by technology.
But that's probably for the best.
Why wait for the diktats of a bully to decide the news agenda when we all have eyes and ears and an internet connection? Laziness, I suppose is the answer, but I'll have none of that tonight.
See, tonight I had a second pop at my own cherry, if you like. A couple of days after the Japanese election in December I published Guts Pose as an ebook (like an ewok, but less profitable). But it's taken me until now to fix the typos, scan in the pencil sketches and turn the damn thing into a real ink and paper book. But I did it. And you can buy it from here. Or learn more about it from here. Or just carry on regardless. And whatever you do, wherever you click, or not, it's all good. Really.
Because just the knowledge that what I have pulled together in my spare time, armed with nothing more than an ageing computer and a streak of obstinacy, is beyond the abilities of my old boss.
He scares me no more.