Japan from the inside out

Who’d a thunk it?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 11, 2011

The press is so powerful in its image-making role that it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal.
– Eldridge Cleaver

THE late Black Panther and codpiece trouser purveyor was speaking the truth, but he was also speaking before the Internet, personal computers, and social networking changed the topography forever. As Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and proprietor of the Instapundit website, put it 10 years ago:

We’ve got computers…21st Century warfare turns out to be marked, as much as anything, by the inability of people to spread outrageous lies undetected. This is a major loss of comparative advantage for the Fisks of the world.

By Fisks, he’s referring to the British journalist Robert Fisk, whose name has become a verb denoting the dismantling of a piece of journalism or op-ed of greater-than-usual stupidity, nonsense, or prevarication from the industrial mass media. Fisk himself was the original target of Fisking, and that target was as easy to hit as the proverbial broad side of a barn. Nowadays, however, people have bigger Fisks to fry and have moved on. Fire has more recently been focused on economist Paul Krugman, who shut down the comment function of his New York Times blog after so many people so easily and so frequently made sport of him. One can understand the Krugmanian dilemma — rare is the Nobel Prize laureate who will sit still for being exposed as a third-rate hypocrite.

After all these years — well, about 15 or so, starting with the launch of Windows 95 — even the lesser lights among them should have gotten a glimmer. They’re still groping in the dark, however, in part because they still manage the odd success, as those who paid attention to their treatment of candidates from both parties in the 2008 American presidential election will remember. Further, one aim of most of those working in the smokestack industry of the 21st century, young and old alike, is to push a narrative and specific political objectives. (As one of them explained to me, that is “to fight for social justice”.) The True Believers never give up, no matter how often they get their noses rubbed in their own fun, like puppies that have ruined a carpet.

They’re still marching resolutely into the 20th century at the Foreign Policy website operated by the Washington Post, one of the most porculent of the remaining Pterodactylus Americani. The parent company should have known the jig was up after the meltdown of Newsweek, the weekly newsmagazine they once owned. It was sold last year for the princely sum of one US dollar. The price was right, considering how many people still read it.

In this case, the gang at Foreign Policy offers a feature profiling the 100 Top Global Thinkers 2011. This exercise in mid-20th century journalistic self-importance has nothing to recommend it apart from the brief and unintentional comedy that results from wondering what FP thinks is thought after seeing their selections for the Hot One Hundred. One of the funniest choices is their token Japan representative: Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democratic Party, and her “partner”, Kaido Yuichi. They were deemed global thinkers because they are anti-nuclear activists.

The Japanese are understandably thrilled when one of their countrymen wins international recognition. Nobel Prizes, Olympic medals, Academy Awards, and astronauts are usually front page news, but not this time — one could almost sense the puzzled looks on the faces and unspoken WTFs in the minds of the reporters who were assigned to write up the story for the print media. Ms. Fukushima’s honor rated two short paragraphs at the bottom of page two in my local newspaper. It was as if they were embarrassed to even bring it up. I read three accounts (from that newspaper, the Asahi, and the Sankei), and none of them had much to say about it, other than a brief recitation of the facts. That even the Asahi, which shares the WaPo/NYT political philosophy, couldn’t get excited, tells the casual observer all he needs to know.

This isn’t a case of the prophet without honor in her own country, either. The only reason anyone knows about Fukushima Mizuho is that she has a Diet seat. The only reason she has a Diet seat is the proportional representation system, as she is incapable of winning a popular vote in an election district. (In fact, only one of the party’s handful of Diet members sits there because of an outright election victory.)

As for her “partner” (i.e., common-law husband) Kaido Yuichi, I’d bet cash money that I could stop 100 people at random on the street and no one will have heard of him…unless, perhaps, we were standing across the street from the Social Democratic Party headquarters.

What Foreign Policy didn’t tell their readers about Japan’s Foremost Global Thinker says a lot about Foreign Policy:

* The party she heads, the Social Democrats, was just the plain old Socialists until the fall of the Berlin Wall forced them into rebranding. Their charter included kind words for Karl Marx. They developed close ties with North Korea, and sponsored an annual “Peace Cruise” to Pyeongyang. (They disliked South Korea because it was a dictatorship rather than a People’s Republic.) As an attorney, Ms. Fukushima has been associated with the defense of radical terrorists of the left.

* She believes that Japan should adopt Costa Rica’s stance of unarmed neutrality. (Even the famously neutral Swiss are armed to the teeth with private weapons.) This is for a country whose immediate neighbors include China, Russia, and North Korea. Perhaps that position is not as suicidal as it seems: After all, the Social Democrats do share a philosophy with China, the old Soviet Union, and North Korea.

* When Japan sent troops to the Middle East in a UN peacekeeping operation, she objected because they were to be given sidearms for self-protection.

* She opposes Japan’s use of the anti-ballistic missile system. One of her arguments against the system in the Diet was that the successful interception of a missile over Japanese territory could create debris that might injure people on the ground. This caused audible laughter in the chamber.

* Not only is she opposed to nuclear power, she is opposed to all but the greenest power. If she has ever come forward with a credible plan for economic growth (she’s a party leader, remember), it’s escaped everyone’s notice.

* She managed to hoodwink the Wall Street Journal’s reporters last year into believing that her opposition to American military bases was limited to the Futenma installation in Okinawa. To be sure, there is some truth to that. The Japanese left has admitted that the American presence allows them to have their cake and eat it too. They get to bash the Americans in public while tacitly accepting their presence. They know the Japanese public would demand a robust domestic defense establishment if the Americans weren’t there to pretend to do it for them.

Stand up for the defense of one’s own country? Perish the thought!

There’s more, but you get the idea. Connect the dots and you get the same sort of blame-yourself-first leftist common in the West. The two paragraphs the Foreign Affairs website allots to her global-level thought are so thin, they’re almost not worth fisking. Here’s a sample:

Fukushima, the lawmaker who leads Japan’s Social Democratic Party, and her partner, Kaido, a public-interest lawyer, have spent three decades resisting Japan’s nuclear rise in their respective arenas: parliament and court. But the cozy nuclear plant operators and government officials who make up Japan’s so-called “nuclear village” largely ignored their efforts — that is, until this year.

The so-called “nuclear village” residents, as well as the rest of the country, are still ignoring their efforts, and will continue to do so. (Note, by the way, that “cozy” works in this sentence only if it modifies an invisible noun.)

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has now forced the island country to re-examine the safety of its nuclear facilities.


And isn’t it interesting that Foreign Affairs thinks it needs to remind its presumably adult readers that Japan is an “island country”?

Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister until he resigned in August, called in July for Japan to wind down its nuclear program, and his successor, Yoshihiko Noda, agrees.

As soon as Mr. Kan called for the nuclear program to wind down, his chief cabinet secretary, Edano Yukio, explained that the prime minister really meant “one of these days in the future”. Mr. Noda has offered lip service of his own, but he’s unlikely to offer more than that.

Kan also requested the closure and upgrade of a power plant in the earthquake-prone coastal city of Hamaoka, a facility whose safety Kaido had called into question nearly a decade earlier.

Since no one at Foreign Affairs seems capable of reading a Japanese newspaper, here’s what actually happened: Work on upgrading the safety measures at Hamaoka had already begun before the problem with the Fukushima plant. Kaieda Banri, then Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which is responsible for the oversight of nuclear power in Japan, had quietly negotiated with the plant operators and reached agreement with them for a voluntary suspension of operations. When Mr. Kaieda was about to make the announcement, Kan Naoto instructed him to stand down and went before the public with a demand for the shutdown himself.

And people wonder why Japanese prime ministers don’t last long in office.

Today, Fukushima and Kaido see a changed political horizon. As Fukushima told the New York Times in August, “Although I won’t be able to change the past, I think I can change the future.”

The national political horizon is still as occluded as ever, and she can’t change the future, no matter how much her fellow travelers in the West would wish it to be so. She doesn’t have what it takes to make a difference, either in the Diet or the greater marketplace of public ideas. Indeed, just this week the lower house of the Diet authorized the export of Japanese nuclear power technology to Vietnam, Jordan, Russia, and South Korea.

But to fully understand the pointlessness of this Foreign Affairs space filler, we can put aside Fukushima Mizuho and look at the other people cited as Global Thinkers. One of them was His Adolescency himself, the recipient of an equally irrelevant trinket — the Nobel Peace Prize — that renowned public intellectual and thinker of deep thoughts, Barack Obama.

Stiffen your stomach muscles — they actually praise him for his foreign policy vision of “leading from behind”. (This qualifies as comic relief too.) The FP also shows some diversity in their choice of “intellectual heavyweights”, as they put it. On the one hand, they hail the pacifist Fukushima, and on the other give Obama credit for greasing Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke and Dick Cheney also make the list.

To conclude, here’s some credit where credit is due. The illustration of Fukushima Mizuho on the Foreign Affairs website, crude though it is, does capture her personality well. Still, it is curious they didn’t use a photo of her, yet managed to come up with one for the other 99, including an obscure Egyptian novelist.

Bonus bogus journalism postscript from Forbes!

Here’s the headline:

Japan to adopt Bhutan’s principles of Gross National Happiness

This will come as news to the Japanese. With the DPJ government, adopting a fairy tale as public policy is a real possibility, but no one’s agreed to adopt anything yet.

Here’s the facepalm lede:

After a visit from the young King of Bhutan and his beautiful new pride (sic), Japan got “Gross National Happiness” fever, it seems…

Either Lisa Napoli needs to use a different thermometer, or should use the one she has on herself.

A minimally competent journalist aware of events in Japan would have known that then-Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was scheming with Kan Naoto and Sengoku Yoshito in January 2010 to hold meetings on GNH that summer. The fever caused by the pride of Bhutan had nothing to do with it. Since Mr. Hatoyama didn’t make it to the summer himself, I thought this idea had been relegated to the back of the closet, but it seems not. Leave it to the DPJ to ignore the real for the mochi in the picture.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on from the Forbes article, because the link they provide is a kissing cousin of gibberish. The article concludes:

Lots of other governments are investigating these principles, like France, Great Britain, Brazil, the state of Maryland and the city of Seattle….as it becomes apparent that numbers only aren’t enough.

Yes, lots and lots of other governments, and numbers aren’t nearly enough. Other “principles” need to be factored in, such as this one from the Bhutanese GNH pioneers:

Concerns about safety were high in Bhutan’s rural areas, for example, not because of crime, but because of fears of wood spirits and wild animals.

While it’s true that GDP is an inaccurate metric, as China’s potempkin cities demonstrate, there’s nothing to be gained from moving from the inaccurate to the invisible. Well, other than excuses for creating new, air-based and public money-funded social programs. How like the left to ignore the activities that provide the most people with the most well-being, security, and health in favor of taking the national temperature and worrying about passing clouds of emotional ephemera. How unlike Forbes to fall for it.

The last word on honors should go to the late Richard Feynman, a man who won the Nobel Prize for doing something real.

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2 Responses to “Who’d a thunk it?”

  1. camphortree said

    Congratulations Mizuho!
    You are now one of the 100 top global thinkers!
    Greetings to your common-law husband who is a former chief council of Green Peace in Japan!
    Mizuho’s SDP has been promoting a movement called “The Declaration of Defenseless Cities(無防備都市宣言)”.
    The core belief of that movement I guess, since there seems to be no clear written principle in it, must be very similar to what SDP activists have been saying. If each one of your hometowns is defenseless with no security measures like city police forces, Self-Defence Forces, and the U.S. Army bases the wars will disappear from the earth, green economy will blossom and human rights will reign for equal justice for all.
    Retired public servant workers, one day vacationer school teachers, musicians, poets, housewives and some salaryman workers are in the action. How do I know?
    If ten people showed up on their demonstration Asahi and Mainichi Shimbun would make an article in a very favorable tone, giving voices of the participants.
    Alas, the U.S. Army, the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Police helped milions of people in the Tsunami x nuclear accidents x earthquakes strucken Tohoku regions this year. Mizuho’s pet project, The Declaration of the Defenseless Cities Movement appears to have temporarily ceased.
    C: Thanks for the note. These are sometimes called Open Cities in English, and the only examples I could find all occurred in WWII. In other words, in the middle of a war and not during peacetime. The Communist Party of Japan also supported this at first, but changed their minds in 2007 and now vote against it whenever it comes up in a city council meeting.

    In Japan, they call it the Movement for Non-Defended Localities. I found this about the movement in Sapporo:

    In his essay, “The Movement for Non-Defended Localities,” Yaguchi favors us with an account of the way he used two of his poems in a public, official meeting to try to persuade local authorities in his home district to make Sapporo a “non-defended” location. The incident is a fascinating illustration of how poetry can be used in the praxis of peace-seeking.

    When it came to a vote in the Sapporo city council, only one member supported it.

    – A.

  2. N said

    “Since no one at Foreign Affairs seems capable of reading a Japanese newspaper, here’s what actually happened: Work on upgrading the safety measures at Hamaoka had already begun before the problem with the Fukushima plant. Kaieda Banri, then Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which is responsible for the oversight of nuclear power in Japan, had quietly negotiated with the plant operators and reached agreement with them for a voluntary suspension of operations. When Mr. Kaieda was about to make the announcement, Kan Naoto instructed him to stand down and went before the public with a demand for the shutdown himself. ”

    If you cannot trust the press how can you actually be sure what you think happened was what really happened?
    N: Thanks for the note. That’s what Mr. Kaieda said happened, and in fact warned one freelance journalist it would happen before it did. He also told the media he would resign because of it once some nuclear plant legislation for which he was responsible passed the Diet, but that became moot when Kan himself resigned. Kan’s handling of the incident pissed off even people who also thought the plant should be shut down.

    That plant upgrades were already underway is not at dispute.

    In this instance, we have the choice of believing people who seldom follow Japanese affairs, believing the entire Japanese print media throughout the political spectrum, or navel-gazing on the nature of reality.

    – A.

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