Friday, November 20, 2009


Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us worthy evidence of the fact. Attributed to George Eliot, who, like everything else in this world, was not really what one would think.

I have found that I can no longer abstain:

Perhaps it's a mid-life crisis, but the last 13 months since the September 2008 near collapse of the financial system have to have been the most startling, confusing, shocking, amazing, unbelievable---I can't find a word that really fits---that I have ever experienced. I sorta feel as shocked as Alan Greenspan admitted to being in that my view of the world was not right and not working. However, unlike Greenspan, I mean more than just the financial world. I mean what I previously knew as "reality."

Now I find that very little surprises me. I recently read Tokyo Vice and was not at all shocked by anything that was in it. It just seemed like something to be expected. I have been prone to cynicism for the last 10 years, but now I have taken that to an extreme.

Whenever I talk to anyone whom I don't know well*---native or not---I find myself trying to figure out what their angle is; what they really mean. Is anything I am being told truthful, or is it just window-dressing to make everyone feel good? It doesn't succeed in the latter since we both/all know that it is elk scat. I find myself wanting to say, "Knock off the BS---err elk sh*t---and just spit it out." I can't remember having that sort of feeling as default 2, 3, 10 years ago. What's worse, I am succumbing to doing that sort of sugar-coating.

There are certain things that I now have to re-educate myself about. I knew most of them before---some at an almost subconscious level---but now I have to try to make bring them to the forefront of any thoughts. Something not easily done in a consistent manner.

1. As much as I hate to admit it, and as much as I previously rejected it, I now think that it is necessary to read any article or statements attributed to a politician or other "controversial" figure in the original Japanese. I have no sympathy for the standard claim by certain people who get caught in making embarrassing/bigoted/racist/inconvenient statements and then blame it all on mistranslation (Nakasone, Abe, et al), but as we learned from the Yukio Hatayama article from a few months ago, sometimes this is at least part of the problem. This is often very difficult for me because although I studied Japanese in college and still study it, I have not been able to achieve the native-speaker ability that seems so common on the Internet. (Meaning the native English-speakers who come here for 2 or 3 years and somehow become fluent. I have met exactly 2 folks like that in my life. One had bipolar disorder. The other was on his 3rd language.) And believe me, when I read something longer than a Google ニュース linked article in Japanese, about the last thing I am interested in reading is something concerning politics.

2. "Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" - Axel Oxenstierna (Translation to English stolen from Observing Japan.)
OK, I should have known that. I think I did know that. I just did not realize to what extent it was true. How do we measure "how little"? Can we apply a negative? Look at the US reaction to the DPJ. I had foolishly assumed that people in high positions in the US government would perhaps be a bit more aware of what was going on in Japan. I mean, if we cannot gather such basic intelligence about a friendly country, what chance have we against an enemy? Next thing you know, we will be going to war in the Middle East to find weapons of mass-destruction that don't exist or something. I was once told by an economics professor in college to "Never trust an expert." He was right, and the warning is not limited to the field of economics.

3. Skepticism toward the media is good. Cynicism may be even better. Long ago I had a life. In that life, I occasionally dealt with the media. Usually it was more of a casual thing, but occasionally I was interviewed or was a part of an interview, or (more commonly) was present when others were interviewed. One thing we learned was to never trust the press**. My opinion of the press was so bad that I assumed that some members would do the most vile, disgusting, unspeakable things if they thought that they'd get a story. Since then I have becomes friends with a couple of folks in that profession and have toned down my beliefs, but have never completely rejected them. It didn't help when, a few years ago, US NBC TV came out with a program which came very close to confirming my earlier opinion. Simply reading articles on Japan*** shows how little faith one can have in the media. Or I could be wrong and there could be a lot of people running around Tokyo who disguise themselves as vending machines when they feel threatened. How would I know? I don't check every vending machine to see if it is real or if it is a costumed human. This makes my first point about reading sources in Japanese problematic as those sources are likely just as prone to, shall we charitably say, "boo-boos" which will never be retracted as any other.

I suppose I could continue the infinite list, but for what reason? Sooner or later a person has to realize that there is nothing he can do about any of it anyway, so why worry. I know people who live the don't worry, be happy life, and they get along just fine even if a they seem a bit daft. Which is better, being daft and happy, or being daft and worrying about something you can't do anything about anyway?

*This mainly applies in any business/work-related contact. Perhaps I had simply been naive before.

**I use press/media interchangeably.

***Rest assured that this sort of stuff is not limited to coverage of Japan.

****Thanks in advance for any advice on the use of boke, either as generally used in Japanese, or in the pixel peeping world. I know. Boke doesn't really fit the photo, but I used it and the title as boke fits a mental state and with imagination, the photo.


  1. The media is no worse or better than anyone else. Besides, these days "the media" means the likes of you and Our Man (Lord have mercy).

    To summarise, yeah you're just getting that middle-aged spread of cycnicism. But thank goodness you are writing again, Our Man had worried that the world had lost one of the "best new cynics writing today"*

    *Completely fabricated quote.

  2. Anonymous9:41 AM

    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." - George Bernard Shaw

    Welcome back.

  3. "Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman. Believing what he read made him mad." George again.

  4. "Besides, these days "the media" means the likes of you and Our Man (Lord have mercy)."

    We are definitely doomed, Our Man.