Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


“What March 11 Means to Me”

Posted in Current Events,Japanese literature,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the March 13th, 2012

This past weekend, we hosted a remarkable event here at the University of Chicago: “What March 11 Means to Me: A Symposium in Honor of Norma Field.” A large audience turned out both days to hear a remarkable array of speakers from Japan reflect on the ongoing disaster in the Tohoku region of Japan.

Ryusawa Takeshi, former editor-in-chief for the Heibonsha publishing house and currently one of the central figures in the East Asia Publishers Conference, was the first speaker on Saturday. He reflected on the role of liberal, progressive journalists in the 1950s in disseminating the doctrine of “Atoms for Peace” in Japan and traced the fascinating history of the benign-sounding word genshiro (原子炉), the Japanese term for “nuclear reactor” that might more literally be translated as “atomic hearth.”

He was followed by Yokoyu Sonoko, a child psychologist and a leading voice on such issues as bullying and hikkomori syndrome (social withdrawal syndrome), who spoke on the mental health costs of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. Her talk included a number of moving stories about how families and individuals already struggling with psychological difficulties tried to cope with the disaster. She also described the rising incidence of PTSD and other forms of anxiety in the months following 3/11. She concluded by speaking about the sense of “hopelessness” shared by many in today’s Japan and on the possibilities for building new connections based on it–especially in response to the very real danger of fascism in today’s Japan.

The last speaker on Saturday was Takahashi Tetsuya of the University of Tokyo, one of Japan’s leading contemporary philosophers and a native of Fukushima Prefecture. He spoke quite movingly of his childhood in the region and his concerns for its future. Using the example of the recent People’s Tribunal trial of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and its management, he unpacked the complexities of the kinds of responsibility we need to consider in remembering 3/11. Of course, primary responsibility lies with what Takahashi called the “nuclear mafia,” the business and governmental figures who promoted the myth of absolute safety while neglecting to secure adequate safety measures. But those who allowed themselves to be deceived also bear some degree of responsibility, as do those who had remained indifferent while enjoying the benefits of cheap electricity generated by what Takahashi has called the “sacrificial system” of contemporary Japan.

Komori Yoichi of the University of Tokyo, one of today’s leading scholars of modern Japanese literature and one of the prime figures in the movement to preserve the anti-war Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, was the first speaker on Sunday. He provided a moving account of his and his family’s personal experiences on 3/11 and the days that followed, arguing for the importance of claiming the embodied experience of sense perception (taiken) of the ‘event’ as a kind of experience (keiken) shared with others through language and dialogue. He situated the events of 3/11 against the history of postwar Japan and of his own lifetime, going back to his birth at the time of the Lucky Dragon Incident and the initial promotion of “Atoms for Peace” as an American Cold War ideology.

Amamiya Karin, a well-known activist in the “precariat” and anti-nuclear movements, was the final speaker. She talked about her experiences traveling in the Fukushima region and the kind of unreal reality people now encounter there–when, for example, Tsutaya video rental stores now also offer to lend Geiger counters for personal use. She focused in particular on divides opening up among the affected populations–resentment, for example, that those who lived within the mandatory evacuation zone get greater compensation than those living just outside of it. As a result, the focus of popular anger is shifting away from TEPCO and the government to fellow victims. But she also discussed tactics being used in recent demonstrations to bring together disparate strata into a single, unified force, and showed videos from several recent protest marches.

It was a memorable event and a great tribute to my colleague, Norma Field. She will be retiring from the University of Chicago at the end of this academic year–though we know she will remain an active force for many years to come. Without her, there’s no way we could have brought together all of the people who made the symposium such an intense and inspiring occasion.

Postscript: Here’s local television station WGN’s coverage of an event commemorating the Fukushima disaster last Sunday right after the symposium, including interviews with Amamiya Karin and Norma Field.

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Chicago (History Museum) Rocks!

Posted in Current Events,Music by bourdaghs on the March 8th, 2012

The Chicago History Museum is launching “Chicago Rocks!,” a series of lectures, performances, and neighborhood tours celebrating the history of popular music in the Windy City.

Grab your dancing shoes and groove with us this Spring for a slew of events that celebrates Chicago’s rich musical past. Over the course of four weeks, we’ll explore various genres that have dominated the Windy City’s sound scene. From lectures and concerts to tours and dinners, the series will have something for any music aficionado and lover of Chicago history.

It’s a great range of events, covering R&B, soul, rock (both mainstream and indies), punk, house and hiphop. The series runs from next week through mid April, ending up somewhat incongruously with a big John Cage bash–the avant-garde composer apparently spent a fair amount of time here. The full schedule of events is available here.

One of the scheduled speakers is the “Duke of Earl” himself, Gene Chandler. I’ve always been a sucker for his 1970 hit, “Groovy Situation.”

March 11: One Year Later

Posted in Current Events,Film,Japanese film,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the February 29th, 2012

Next week marks the first anniversary of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan. In recent days, we’ve been learning that the situation was in fact far more dire than the government or Tokyo Electric were willing to admit at the time. It’s come out recently that the Japanese government was even considering an unthinkable scenario: evacuation of Tokyo. The New York Times:

in the darkest moments of the nuclear disaster, Japanese leaders did not know the actual extent of damage at the [Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power] plant and secretly considered the possibility of evacuating Tokyo, even as they tried to play down the risks in public.

Just today, a newly issued scientific report concludes that the total amount of radiation released into the ocean near Fukushima was likely much greater than previously estimated. The Asahi Shinbun:

A mind-boggling 40,000 trillion becquerels of radioactive cesium, or twice the amount previously thought, may have spewed from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the March 11 disaster, scientists say. […] The figure, which represents about 20 percent of the discharge during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is twice as large as previous estimates by research institutions both in Japan and overseas.

The disaster touched our own family in many ways. My wife was born and raised in Sendai, a city in the center of the affected region. I have lived there on three different occasions. In the early morning hours of March 11 last year, we watched in horror live pictures of the tsunami sweeping over neighborhoods that we know well. Fortunately, none of my in-laws were injured or killed. We did lose some very dear friends, though. And in the year since, we have watched old classmates, colleagues, and friends cope with the loss of children, spouses, parents. Their resilience has been nothing short of astonishing.

We are marking the anniversary with a number of events here at the University of Chicago. Earlier in the year, we hosted an exhibit of photographs from the region, highlighting the scale of the disaster and the enormous energy that has gone into the rescue and recovery efforts. (The same exhibit will be on display at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, March 4 through April 15: details here.)

On March 9 (7:30 p.m., Coulter Lounge in International House), we’ll host a free public screening of an acclaimed new documentary, “Fukushima: Memories of a Lost Landscape” (『「相馬看花」-奪われた土地の記憶』) with director Matsubayashi Yojyu in attendance. Details are available here.

Then, on March 10-11 we’ll host a major conference in honor of my colleague, Norma Field, who will be retiring from the university this summer. “What March 11 Means to Me: A Symposium in Honor of Norma Field” will feature five prominent public intellectuals and activists from Japan, each speaking on the personal and pubic dimensions of the disaster and its ongoing impact. The line-up of speakers is simply amazing:

  • Amamiya Karin: a prominent activist in the “precariat” and anti-nuclear movements

    Komori Yoichi: scholar of Japanese literature and leader of the movement to preserve Article 9

    Ryusawa Takeshi: former editor-in-chief of Heibonsha, one of Japan’s most important publishing houses

    Takahashi Tetsuya: a native of Fukushima and one of Japan’s leading scholars of ethics and philosophy

    Yokoyu Sonoko: a well-known clinical psychologist and advocate for children’s rights

  • A schedule for the event and profiles of the participants can be found here.

    Finally, on May 5 we will be hosting “Atomic Age II: Fukushima,” with two very special guests from Japan: Koide Hiroaki of the Kyoto University Reactor Research Institute, a scientist who became something of a public hero for his willingness to speak frankly about the risks of nuclear power, and Muto Ruiko, an activist in anti-nuclear citizen movements from Fukushima. Details are available here.

    Remarkable progress has been made in recovery over the past year. People from the region I’ve talked to express deep gratitude for the support they’ve received from around the world. But the disaster continues: rebuilding efforts in the tsunami-affected region have barely begun, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster is still unfolding, despite glossy governmental declarations that the situation is under control. Shutting down the reactors and decontaminating the area will take decades. It will take many years to assess the real human cost, too: I dread thinking about what rates of cancer incidence in the region will look like six or seven years from now.

    I hope you can join us for some of these events. Please keep the people of Tohoku in your thoughts. One way we can help is to make sure that we all learn the lessons that the disaster is trying to teach us.

    Second City in Japan Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Osaka

    Posted in Current Events by bourdaghs on the February 16th, 2012

    The Chicago Tribune is reporting this morning that Second City, Chicago’s legendary comedy improv theater (originally founded by University of Chicago students back in the day), has signed an agreement with Yoshimoto Kogyo, one of Japan’s oldest and largest entertainment management firms (whose origins, incidentally, are in Osaka), to open an improv school and theater in Tokyo.

    According to Aki Yorihiro, the CEO of Yoshimoto Kogyo’s U.S. operations, the time is ripe for such a move. “We have very strong comedy schools in Tokyo and Osaka,” Yorihiro said, “but the style of comedy is our own style. There is no improv-based training in Japan.”

    The new partnership is being worked out in phases, beginning with the school this summer. Yorihiro said that the whole notion of Second City will be introduced to the Japanese public by a TV documentary, to be filmed in Chicago this spring. By the fall, he said, the goal is to have the professional company in place, followed by a permanent resident show in Tokyo.

    Will manzai survive the challenge of the improv Black Ships? Next thing you know, there’ll be a McDonald’s and a Starbucks on every corner in Japan.

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    Rockin’ Out in Pyongyang

    Posted in Current Events,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the February 13th, 2012

    Everyone else is sharing this recent video, so I suppose I should follow suit. Here’s a North Korean accordion band turning in a fine rendition of a-ha’s “Take on Me.”

    For fun, here’s a piece I originally posted here in October 2009 about my own East Asian encounter with a-ha:

    Newspapers in the West and in Japan are reporting that the Norwegian rock group a-ha have announced they will disband next year after a farewell concert in Oslo. Back in 1985, they had one of the first really cool MTV videos with “Take On Me,” and they’ve soldiered on since. Remembered here in the States as primarily a one-hit wonder, they’ve always had a solid following in Japan.

    In 1987, my wife worked briefly at the front desk of the Plaza, one of the best hotels in Sendai. It was where touring musicians usually stayed when they passed through town for a show. A friend of mine used to own a ramen shop in front of the Plaza, and his walls were lined with signed photographs of pretty much every artist you can imagine, Japanese or Western, who had dropped in for a late night snack after the show. One of my favorite stories about his shop is the night Bob Dylan stopped by–and the high school kids working the late shift behind the counter didn’t recognize him.

    Anyhow, in 1987 I was going to stop by the Plaza one evening to pick up Satoko after work and take her out for dinner. I get to the hotel and see maybe a hundred teen-age girls milling around outside, as well as a handful of police officers keeping an eye on the crowd. That’s when I remember that a-ha are in town for a concert that night. It’s kind of fun, I think.

    So I keep walking toward the front entrance of the hotel. Suddenly there’s a stirring in the crowd and I realize: here I am, blonde, tall, moderately handsome, and about the same age as the guys in the band (in fact, I was born the same week as guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy). Every teen-age girl in the crowd has spotted me and I can feel them wondering: is he one of them?

    The moment lasts for maybe three seconds. Then, all at once, everyone realizes that I’m just an ordinary bloke. I continued on my way into the hotel, picked up Satoko, and we had a lovely dinner. But for a few seconds there, it was a-ha and me.

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    The Occupation That Never Ends

    Posted in Current Events by bourdaghs on the February 1st, 2012

    The top story on tonight’s NHK 9:00 p.m. news (following a breaking report about an avalanche in Akita Prefecture) was of the latest outrage from Okinawa. The Japanese government, supposedly the representative of the will of the people, has been caught trying artificially to manufacture that will. Over the last two days, repeated acts of interference by the Tokyo government in local Okinawan elections have come to light. The Japan Times:

    A senior Defense Ministry official came under suspicion Wednesday of not only trying to tamper with the upcoming mayoral election in Ginowan but taking similar action in 2010 for a vote in Nago — the two cities in Okinawa deeply connected to the controversial relocation of the Futenma U.S. air base.

    (Read the rest of the story here).

    Given the ugly history of American and Japanese manipulation of Okinawa, this is hardly surprising. Neither Tokyo nor Washington is willing to admit what has become obvious: the U.S. military occupation of Japan’s southernmost prefecture needs to end. People on the political left were the first to realize this. For example, in a recent update published on Japan Focus: The Asia-Pacific Journal, Gavan McCormack, Sakurai Kunitoshi, and Urashima Etsuko recap recent developments in the attempt to force Okinawans to accept a highly unpopular proposal to relocate the Futenma air base to the environmentally delicate Henoko coast.

    It seems that folks on the political right are also starting to see the light. Last week, Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and a former Reagan administration official, published “Give Okinawa Back to the Okinawans” in that radical rag, Forbes:

    Rather than resist Okinawan demands, the U.S. should voluntarily reduce its military presence on the island. Jeffrey Hornung of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies observed: “Given how much problems this is causing in Okinawa, it’s finally time to rethink things.” […] The U.S. should end its security guarantee and then remove, rather than relocate, its military facilities in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan. Indeed, instead of augmenting its forces elsewhere in East Asia, such as in Australia, Washington should withdraw and demobilize troops and close bases throughout the region. World War II ended 67 years ago. America no longer need guarantee the security of its many prosperous and capable allies.

    Indeed.

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    Music Sans Guitar

    Posted in Change is Bad,Current Events,Music by bourdaghs on the December 15th, 2010

    I’m feeling gorged in contemporary music that eschews the guitar. There is, for starters, the brilliant British charity holiday single by “Cage Against the Machine,” an all-star assemblage of performers gathered in one studio to record an epic cover version of John Cage’s 4’33” (you know, the one that is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence). It’s all designed to derail the evil Simon Cowell’s vice-grip on the annual competition to top the UK pop charts at Yuletide. It’s been quite successful, and now the inevitable remix versions are available, too. The Guardian has the story here.

    Then there is “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” a great new track by Chicago hiphop diva Kid Sister. Scheduled for official release early next year, the song’s been leaked and is available all over the Internet now — including here. Not a guitar in sight: voices, percussion (most of it seemingly synthetic), and a few electronic effects are all you need to produce a very catchy piece of music.

    Finally, there are the Agitators, a new band that is emerging as one of the musical voices of the ongoing British student rebellion. They’ve released a couple of singles and have appeared live at several campus protests. The Guardian has a nice feature on the band, which boasts a strict “no guitars” policy. Three voices and drums, and that’s it. “A new kind of music, nothing more than banging, stamping, clapping and voices,” they declare, “something anyone could do anywhere – on a march, at a protest, on the barricades.”



    I pick up my guitar and play,
    Just like yesterday,
    Then I get on my knees and pray,
    We won’t get fooled again.

    We’re tired of doin’ nothing,
    Let’s start marching

    Moneyball and the Limits of Managerial Science

    Posted in baseball,Books,Change is Bad,Current Events by bourdaghs on the December 1st, 2010

    I’ve finally gotten around to reading Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ now-classic 2003 portrait of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. A decade ago Beane led the statistical revolution in contemporary Major League baseball, using computers, the Internet, and statistics to identify sources of talent that were undervalued by traditional baseball wisdom (meaning, primarily, the collective wisdom of scouts) and thereby helping the A’s to consistently field teams that were competitive despite low payrolls.

    Beane clearly is a terrific general manager, and the book on the whole offers a good read. But there is also something troubling about it, something I’ll try to put my finger on here. The book identifies Bill James as the heroic pioneer of the new knowledge that Beane exploited, but it seems to me there is a decisive difference between James’ approach to the game and that of Beane and Lewis–a qualitative change in the nature of our enjoyment of baseball. For James in his classic Baseball Abstracts from the 1980s (I was an avid reader from 1983 on), statistics were a tool for identifying more precisely what made Joe Morgan or George Brett such invaluable figures: his focus was on the marvelous skills that major leaguers brandish on the field.

    James was interested in fun, while Lewis’ Beane is interested in power–and I don’t mean slugging average. For Beane and Lewis, statistics are weapons to shift power to the general manager. In their version of baseball, the heroes no longer wear spikes on the diamond; instead, they wear cuff links in the front office. You see this new focus in the explosive popularity of fantasy baseball games (which I enjoy as much as anyone), in which participants take pleasure in imagining themselves not as the batter at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but rather as a general manager trying to cobble together the best possible roster on a limited budget. The language used in recent editions of Baseball Prospectus (the annual publication that has largely replaced James’ Abstracts) reflects this: veteran players are perceived as suspect malingerers who want only to eat up too much salary.

    In Moneyball, this shift is rendered explicit. Lewis quotes A’s executive Sandy Alderson, the man who hired Beane as GM, as saying “What Billy figured out at some point…is that he wanted to be me more than he wanted to be Jose Canseco.” Alderson, according to Lewis, wanted to “concentrate unprecedented powers in the hands of a general manager,” a stance Lewis describes as “rational.” It requires (in Alderson’s words) shedding “player-type prejudices” (pp. 62-63).

    This isn’t just a question limited to baseball, I think. Moneyball crystallizes the celebration of what is sometimes called managerial science, a new branch of knowledge. Again, Lewis is explicit on this: the revolution he describes

    …set the table for geeks to rush in and take over the general management of the game. Everywhere one turned in competitive markets, technology was offering the people who understood it an edge. What was happening to capitalism should have happened to baseball: the technical man with his analytical magic should have risen to prominence in in baseball management, just as he was rising to prominence on, say, Wall Street. (p. 88)

    The essence: an outsider comes in and radically devalues the forms of specialized knowledge accrued by veteran insiders, reshuffles the deck, and thereby improves the bottom line.

    Don’t get me wrong: I recognize that this sometimes works. An outsider’s perspective often provides a valuable rethinking of the way things are done in a given field. Some of the greatest breakthroughs in history arose when someone crossed a boundary and transported knowledge developed in one sphere and applied it in a novel manner in a foreign discipline or field.

    It can also, however, lead to disaster. The trainwreck that is the Chicago Tribune arriving on my doorstep each morning provides ample evidence of that. Non-journalist managers have destroyed the paper (and the even better Los Angeles Times) by focusing on their outsider’s version of “the bottom line.” George W. Bush, the “Decider,” is another exemplar and proponent of this version of managerial science. Disasters such as the Iraq War, the Katrina bungle, and the banking meltdown are in large measure products of this version of managerial science. Still to come: radical climate change. In each case, the knowledge accrued by specialized experts over decades was disregarded by managers. We increasingly see this same tendency in education at all levels in the U.S.: managers are brought in from outside to improve “the bottom line,” and they proceed by radically devaluing the knowledge produced within the field over decades.

    Often, the error comes in the assumption that the new manager knows better than anyone else what the bottom line is. The bottom line for a baseball fan is, I think, enjoyment. The new approach Lewis champions provides its version of enjoyment, but at the expense of other kinds. In sum, the increasing stress on the power of quantitative knowledge is producing a qualitative change in our experience of the game. We see this change in fans, I think: the quality of watching a game at Wrigley Field today is quite different from what it was when I first visited the park in 1984, and the changes has little to do with the lights (another brilliant “innovation” courtesy of the Chicago Tribune Corporation). In 1984 the thought of booing the Cubs was absurd; it is a regular occurrence nowadays.

    This also relates to the increasing dominance of the financial sector in our world. Again, Lewis is quite explicit on this. He describes Beane’s sense of triumph when he acquired Nick Swisher in the 2002 amateur draft:

    There’s a new thrust about him, an unabridged expression on his face. He was a bond trader, who had made a killing in the morning and entered the afternoon free of fear. Feeling greedy. Certain that the fear in the market would present him with even more opportunities to exploit….Like any good bond trader, he loves making decisions. The quicker the better. (p. 113)

    Again we see a new species of hero being manufactured here, one with an “unabridged expression on his face,” whatever the hell that means. Other kinds of heroes are, of course, being displaced: the “fat scout,” for example, who is driven away with his outmoded knowledge (p. 118).

    What’s striking in Moneyball is that the book unconsciously presents a counterargument to its own thesis. Billy Beane’s rise as a general manager is in fact due to the experience he acquired as a (largely failed) major league prospect. The book narrates this as a prime instance of the failings of the “old” knowledge it aims to devalue, but it is Beane’s experience on the field that opened his eyes to the value of certain statistics. The book downplays the ways in which Beane’s knowledge is acquired the old-fashioned way: through hard work on the baseball diamond and the acquisition of “player-type biases.” He wasn’t just a geek with a computer.

    The value of so-called managerial science is the opportunity it provides to recognize the limits of existing forms of knowledge. Its disasters come likewise when it fails to recognize the existence of its own limits. Sometimes, the “bottom line” isn’t as clear cut as Lewis and his ilk believe. It’s often more enjoyable to be a fan of a losing team than it is to cheer on a championship club. Why? Because it’s fun.

    [Postscript (2 December 2010): I’ve now read a bit more of the book, and the early hints at giddy celebration of finance capitalism have grown even more explicit. It’s almost quaint today to read passages such as the following, celebrating the scientific overcoming of risk by the managerial wizards who invented arcane derivatives: “The fantastic sums of money hauled in by the sophisticated traders transformed the culture on Wall Street, and made quantitative analysis, as opposed to gut feel, the respectable way to go about making bets in the market. The chief economic consequence of the creation of derivative securities was to price risk more accurately, and distribute it more efficiently, than ever before in the long, risk-obsessed history of financial man” (p. 130) That old “fat scout” sounds better and better with each page I read….]

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    This and That

    Posted in Classical,Current Events,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other,The Kinks by bourdaghs on the November 5th, 2010

    It’s been a jumbled week, with little time for arranging thoughts into anything so orderly as sentences.

    A week ago Thursday, I made my first visit of the season to Symphony Center to see Jaap van Zweden lead the local favorites in a very fine program of Mahler, Shostakovich, and John Luther Adams. Both Andrew Patner of the Sun-Times and and John von Rhein of the Tribune loved the Shostakovich but had reservations about the Adams and the Mahler, but I heard it the other way around. My usual bad taste, of course.

    Adams’ “Dark Waves” was a hypnotic piece, a single sustained wave of sound that develops details of texture and dynamics across its twelve minutes. Adams was in the house and took a bow with the orchestra after the piece. The Mahler consisted of four songs from his “Des Knaben Wunderhorn,” in which the composer wears his charming hat, as opposed to his bombastic helmet (think, for example, of the last movement from his Fourth Symphony). Measha Brueggergosman was the guest vocalist, and she performed with grace and wit. Patner and von Rhein complained about her vocal chops, but my only fear was that we might all be blinded: she wore a shiny all-platinum dress and I thought somebody might take a flash picture. The program closed with Shostakovich’s magnificent (and seldom played) Symphony No. 8 in C minor. The local newspaper critics both fall over themselves in their rush to praise the performance, but I thought the long first movement was rather perfunctory. It did come to life in the latter half, though, with particularly brilliant performances from the woodwinds.

    I’ll be back to see the Chicago Symphony again in early December, when Pierre Boulez conducts Janáček and Schoenberg: more glorious twentieth-century classical. I can’t wait.

    In the meanwhile, out there in the world there appears to have been an election of some sort. Why anyone would hand the keys back to the same people who crashed the car two years ago is a mystery to me, but then again democracy always is a little bit mysterious.

    David Byrne, in the meanwhile, is marrying folks in NYC. Stew is out on the road, playing gigs (he’ll be here in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art next week). And Dave Davies makes it painfully clear that the Kinks won’t be reuniting anytime soon.

    Older brother Ray, on the other hand, continues touring in Europe. Let me leave you with some fan video from Sunday night in Paris and Monday night in Amsterdam. Here’s hoping next week is a quiet one, for you and me both.

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    The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands Dispute

    Posted in Current Events by bourdaghs on the October 26th, 2010

    My translation of a recent commentary by Wada Haruki on the Senkaku/Daioyu Islands territorial dispute between Japan and China has just appeared in the on-line Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. Wada, an emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo, is one of Japan’s leading historians of Korea and Japan-Korea relations.

    Wada provides useful analysis of the recent flare-up that occurred after Japan seized a Chinese fishing boat off the coast of the islands. He then goes on to trace the tangled history of territorial claims to the islands, before concluding:

    Given the present situation, haven’t we reached the point where we need to acknowledge the existence of this territorial dispute, where both sides should exchange and investigate in detail their respective claims? It is foolish for both sides to continue to assert “exclusive territorial rights” over these remote uninhabited islands. Extensive discussions should be held to determine how best to view the historical developments that led to the current situation. These should lead to proposals for a resolution to the dispute. Until then, both governments also need to discuss in realistic terms how the movement of fishing boats will be controlled in the interim. This is the sort of approach that is called for now.

    There are three ongoing territorial disputes in Northeast Asia: the four islands of the Northern Territories [disputed between Russia and Japan], Dokdo/Takeshima [known in English as the Liancourt Rocks, disputed between Japan and South Korea], and the Senkaku Islands. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to gather scholars from Russia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, China, Taiwan and the U.S. to engage in an overarching discussion that dealt with all of these disputes together? Above all, it is crucial to avoid having these burst into open conflict.

    You can real Wada’s whole essay in English here (Japanese and Korean versions here).

    Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus has run other recent essays on the territorial dispute, include pieces by Tanaka Sakai and Peter Lee.

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