El Pato is an American style restaurant and bar in Koenji. Their burger is mighty fine, but it might be second best burger joint in Koenji-see Fatz's Burgers. However, they do have two types of Shiga Kogen craft beer (one of my favorite Japanese beer makers) on tap and outdoor seating.
I was looking for some background reading on contemporary Italy before my visit there later this year, and former The Economist editor Bill Emmott's Good Italy Bad Italy (2012) fit the bill. It is organized into eight chapters, and the first three deal mainly with problems in Italy: 1) "Italy's second chance" 2) "L'inferno political" and 3) "Il puratroio econmico." So I learned that between 2001 and 2010 Italy's average growth was only 0.25 percent a year and that the only countries that did worse were Haiti and Zimbabwe! Other weaknesses cited by Emmott were the lack of world-class universities, or of collaboration between businesses and universities as well as the low level of research and development spending along with outdated physical and communications infrastructure. And that the reason that Italy has a smaller car industry than Great Britain is because foreign investors find Italy's labor laws too byzantine and its justice system too slow and dangerous, and its visa rules and procedures for foreigners off putting. The court system is also in great need of reform: according to the World Bank's annual survey, Italy ranks 156th out of 181 countries in terms of average length of legal proceedings just below Gabon and Guinea. This deters foreign businesses from investing and is unfair to their citizens who must wait years for things like securing property rights.
Here Emmott sums up one of Italy's major and distinct cultural problems:
Italy is not typically a country that likes to be shocked, however, and certainly not by the new. Moreover, many inclinations and arrangements in business and in public organizations discourage innovation: the emphasis on loyalty rather than performance or merit, the strength of family, of patronage, and the widespread distaste for competition. So a search for innovation in such a country was always likely to test even my eternal optimism.
But he found them in the chapters: 4) "Inspirations from Turin" and 5) "Hope in the South." Emmott looks at positive attributes of which he mention there are many (no country is all bad or all good-his thesis of Italy)-for example Italy is the world's fifth largest manufacturer after Germany, which I found surprising. Turin, in particular, is singled out for reforms like fast justice, the base for the Slow Food movement, and civic projects like the new soccer stadium. All in all, a fascinating look at a country at a real cross roads.
Days Of Destruction Days Of Revolt (2012) is a collaboration between Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and comic reporter Joe Sacco. Of the two I am most familiar with Sacco and read his 2012 book Journalism earlier this year. In this volume the authors investigate the human misery that is taking place in America at the hands of the powers that be. Hedges calls these places "sacrifice zones, those areas in the country that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement." Each section has reporting by Hedges and illustrations from Sacco-most of Sacco's comics are the rendered experiences of a representative person from each location. The first of these places is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in "Days Of Theft"-which chronicles the poverty, violence, suicide, and alcohol abuse that personifies Indian reservations all over the nation. The next stop is Camden, New jersey in "Days Of Siege." This abandoned city is now home to violent crime and drug abuse after once having been a major industrial center. In "Days Of Devastation" the journalist move onto the mining community Welch, West Virgina that has chewed up and spit men out for more than a hundred years and now lays men low through the excessive pollution that comes from mountain stripping. Something that I know something about after having seen the award winning documentary Harland County, U.S.A. The mostly Latino population of the migrant worker is visited in Immokalee, Florida in the chapter "Days Of Slavery." After this depressing litany of exploitation Hedges and Sacco find hope in the Occupy movement in the final section "Days Of Revolt." I wish I could be as optimistic as they are in this chapter. But it seems that these injustices do not have to continue and that a push could be made toward stemming or staunching the waves of destruction unleashed by unfettered capitalism. This is especially poignant give that it is an election year. Perhaps, change will come about in the future, but I expect the status quo to march on in lock step in the near future. There is a lot of excellent information and reportage from Hedges and Sacco provides powerful profiles of those who have lived through the worst. It should be required reading for every conservative in the nation.
Jerusalem: Chronicles From The Holy City (2012) is the latest graphic novel from Guy Delisle, a graphic novelist I have come to greatly appreciate. Delisle is partners with a doctor who participates in Doctors Without Borders, which has led him to live in places like Jerusalem and Rangoon, which he recounts in his graphic novels. Earlier his job as an animator led to stints living in Pyongyang, North Korea and Shenzhen, China which both also got graphic novel treatment. I find Delisle very engaging in his observations of the culture, the day to day life in foreign locals, as well as his interpretations of life there. Jerusalem cannot help but give an analysis of the Jewish settlements and the slow systematic eradication of the Palestine state within Israel where walls, checkpoints, and settlements have disrupted the lives of thousands of Palestinians. Interestingly enough, this has been covered in graphic novel form before by the impressive Joe Sacco. This book is Delisle's longest, most comprehensive graphic novel. Check this link from Slate for a sample of his work.
South Of The Border (2010) is a documentary from Oliver Stone about the recent trend of South American countries that have started supporting left leaning governments of late. Stone visits five South American countries and interviews some of the leaders The following is a list of leftist presidents of the countries: Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (1998), Ricardo Lagos and later Michelle Bachelet of Chile (1999; 2006), Luís Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil (2002) and Lucio Gutiérrez and Rafael Correa of Ecuador (2002; 2006), Néstor Kirchner of Argentina, succeeded by his wife Cristina (2003 and 2007), Tabaré Vázquez and José Mujica of Uruguay (2004 and 2008), Evo Morales of Bolivia (2005), and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay (2008). Sometimes the interviews are fascinating, but I would have preferred more insight as to why these leaders came into power and more on why IMF (International Money Fund) and World Bank caused havoc to South American economies like Argentina in particular. An interesting and timely film, that could have been more focused and insightful.
Taming The Gods: Religion And Democracy On Three Continents Ian Buruma's latest book is a short treatise that looks at the relationship between democracy and religion in America, Europe, Japan, and China. In recent years, Bururma has written about the attitude of east with the west in Occidentalism and has investigated the clash between liberal Holland and Muslim fanatics in Murder In Amsterdam:The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance. I think these experiences have inspired him to search out the connections between the liberal democratic governments and the oppositional forces of religion of late. In the first section, "Full Tents and Empty Cathedrals" he looks at how democratic America and those of Europe differ. Buruma relies on the observations of DeTocqueville on America, which is such a religious country and the fact that religion has largely been left behind and continues to be distrusted in Europe as a reminder of the despotic rule of the church before the French revolution. Buruma rightly praises the division of church and state and analyzes the differences in the relations of politics and religion by looking at the views of influential thinkers like Spinoza, Hume, and Hobbes.
Buruma has written extensively on Asia and Japan and China in particular-he is fluent in both languages, thus he shows a strength in analyzing the connections between religion and government in this section. He begins with China from the Quing dynasty and in particular the influence of Confucius. He notes that there never was any true split between spiritual and secular authority. This is realized in the notion that secular power must be justified by moral ideology. He suggests that China must renounce their authoritarian claims on the moral and spiritual lives its citizens. Next, Buruma takes a look at Japan which likes to boast that religion plays no part in politics, which isn't completely true. However, he notes that is mostly in the past where Shinto crushed democratic aspirations and that religion played a role in Japan's response to superior Western power. The fact that Japan was on the periphery and therefore did not see themselves as superior to the Westerners as the Chinese did and who were subsequently subdued by them. Japan sought to learn from them and catch up instead. He also analyzes the influence of Nichiren sects on Tokugawa rule, which resulted largely in a separation of powers. This in turn allowed Japan to make the necessary changes to modernize and fight off western colonialism. it was then noted by a Japanese scholar that the western powers were able to be successful in their rule due to Christianity as a state religion and this led to the establishment of Shinto as the state religion. Thus, they brought state and religion back together. And this justified military conquest, impeded democratic institutions, and made it difficult for a secular dictator to take power. After their defeat, America established a secular democracy and ended state Shintoism. And Buruma suggests, the spiritual vacuum led to the establishment of dangerous cults like Aum Shinrinrikyo that dropped sarin gas in the subways in 1995. However, he suggests that it is not religion alone that promotes ethical behavior and the desire of the right to return to the past is unlikely.
The last section, "Enlightenment Values," takes a look at the the impact of the Enlightenment on christianity and in opposition to Islam. He ask whether or not can democratic governments can hold sway over religious people and it seems that they can with Christians, but the jury is still out with Muslims. He notes that most Middle Eastern Muslim countries have been autocratic for a number of reasons, but suggests democracies do exist: India and Indonesia. However, modern concerns are centered around becoming "Islamized." However, these revolutionaries are usually young people born and bred in Europe. He sees that the main challenge posed by Muslims in Europe is social and political rather cultural. How do you deal with Muslims who don't respect the law of the land? Buruma may not have the solution, but he defends the notion that there should continue to be a separation of church and state.
I found this to be a thought provoking discussion of the Muslim problem. And a good discussion of the modern history of the connection of religion and democracy on three continents. It is by no means a comprehensive study of the subject, but rather a compelling analysis for the general reader.
Every five years I need to complete 15 credit hours from a Washington state collegiate level courses in order to renew my Washington state teacher's license. In the past I did this via Seattle Central Community College since it seemed to be the cheapest way to gain the credits via correspondence courses. This time around I took two American history courses, HIST 136 Discovery to 1865 (Reconstruction) and HIST 137 1865 to Present, as well as a humanities course, HUM 105 Intercultural Communication, which was mostly reading and reporting about different minority groups in America.
The history classes in particular were quite comprehensive. Even though these are low level history courses there was significant amount of reading and 12 2-4 page assignments for each section, a midterm, a final, and a 8-14 research paper on a topic approved by the instructor. I choose the course because I am interested in history and have not formally studied it since high school. I have to admit that the most challenging and intellectually rewarding component were the research papers. The first paper I wrote was an exploration of the secular enlightenment influences on the American Constitution via Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. For the second section I showed how the "Hiroshima Revisionists" are being challenged by historians in their conclusions about how and why atomic bombs were used on Japan at the end of the Pacific War in WWII.
The last research paper, in particular, drove home the issue that historians can control the narrative that can effect how certain events are judged in posterity. The most useful books were Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism and Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (I would still like to have a closer reading of Downfall). These books show how the narrative that drooping the bombs were unnecessary and that the Japanese were ready to surrender without the bombs gained massive currency in the 1990s supported by the likes of Gore Vidal and marred the projected 1995 museum commemoration of the Enola Gay exhibition in Washington, D.C., which had to be cancelled because of the biased exhibition text. It suggested that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were racially and politically motivated-that it wouldn't have been dropped on the Germans and that Truman wanted to send Stalin a message about the postwar world order.
This narrative ignores many issues. For example, it fails to take into account the brutal fighting that has come under closer scrutiny with HBO's production of The Pacific. This includes the vicious fighting on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Saipan. The causalities among combatants was high and the misery of these protracted battles where the Japanese frequently led suicide charges (not to mention the kamikaze planes attacking ships), did fake surrenders in order to inflict casualties, and often fought to the last man or committed suicide rather than be captured. Their propaganda was so effective that many locals threw themselves off cliffs to avoid being taken prisoner by the savage Americans. It also discounts the rabid militarists that still wanted to force America to invade the homeland in order to inflict enough causalities to broker a better surrender AFTER both bombs were dropped AND after the Russians entered the war-it was at this point that Hirohito stepped up and called the stalemate and surrendered.
It also allowed the Japanese to promote the narrative that they were victims of American aggression without taking into account the Rape of Nanjing, the Bataan Death March, Unit 731's grisly human experimentation, the abuse of native peoples in colonized territories, Pearl Harbor, the use of slave labor, comfort women, and a host of other atrocities and belligerent actions. I think these issues are still a sore point among the former occupied colonies of China and Korea and are often criticized since they are often left out of Japanese history textbooks.
On an unrelated level I saw how this played out ina personal history. There has been a controversy about the legacy of Gandhi. It seems that he was very controlling about how he was portrayed in the media and went to great pains to make sure that the narrative of the great holy man who fought ceaselessly to free India was upheld after his death. The truth seems much more complicated. But this is the image that most of us have of what seems to be a much more flawed and complicated historical figure. But it seems beside the point if the narrative has been accepted into culture. I guess it would take a significant amount of time and many examples of debunking the accepted narrative to change the overall cultural view of a particular event or personage. And this underlies the importance of historians in creating a truthful narrative about history.
There's a really great article by David Grann about murder and politics in Guatemala in The New Yorker, A Murder Foretold. It's quite lengthy, 29 pages downloaded but worth the time. Here's What Slate's Brow Beat has to say about it:
There are many mysteries to unravel in the story, but the main one focuses on Rosenberg, a high-profile lawyer in Guatemala who becomes obsessed with tracking down the people who murdered a client and that client's daughter. (Why is he so obsessed? That's mystery #1.) As Rosenberg starts digging into the crime, he starts getting threats himself-and then, a month after his client is killed, Rosenberg is shot in the head while out on a solitary bike ride.
In and of itself, the assassination might not have been so newsworthy: Guatemala is a scary, corrupt place, as Grann explains. (Personally, I had no idea of the extent of the country's lawlessness.) But something truly strange happened at Rosenberg's funeral. A friend of his named Luis Mendizábal-who just happens to be a legendary spy-stood up and announced that Rosenberg had left behind a video, with instructions to release it in the case of his murder. Thatvideo, which subsequently spread across Guatemala like wildfire, opened with this bombshell:
"Good afternoon .... My name is Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano and, alas, if you are hearing or seeing this message it means that I've been murdered by President Álvaro Colom, with the help of [the president's private secretary] Gustavo Alejos."
Did the President really order Rosenberg's murder? Who is the shady "inside man" who fed the assassins secret information? Was the spy a double-crosser? In the way it twists and turns until the end, "A Murder Foretold"-while decidedly more violent-reminded me a lot of Grann's blockbuster article from last summer, about the investigator who finds fingerprints on works of art (a piece he discussed on Slate's Culture Gabfest). What elevates the story out of the realm of pulp are Grann's narrative grace notes-like the heartbreaking moment when one character, watching security footage of a loved one's murder, reaches out to briefly touch the television screen. It's a bloody tale, beautifully told.
One of the things I like about Chuck Thompson's travel writing, aside from his humor, is his reflective analysis of the places he travels, his role as a traveler/human in the context of other cultures. In his latest book, To Hellholes And Back, he travels to several of what used to be known as "third world" countries, however, I believe the current nomenclature is "developing" countries. he discusses what makes them appear so in the collective consciousness of the typical American and then offers a contrast in perspective by quoting from a discussion he had with a friend while living in Japan who essentially said:
"To the Japanese, the United States looks like a Third World country. Homeless refugees everywhere. Beggars. Police. Garbage on the streets. Institutional incompetence. People dressed like hobos. Cars on the road that by Japanese standards would barely be fit for scrap metal."
Here Andrew O'Heir discusses Alex Gibney's new documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, premering at the Sundance Film Festival. Gibney is known for his two excellent previous documentaries, Enron:The Samrtest Guys In The Room and Taxi To The Darkside. It sounds like another fascinating subject, ripe for discussion.
This piece in Slate discusses Salinger's influence to the literary short story with his seminal collection Nine Stories.