March 30, 2013

Will you kneel to a king who cannot die?


There is a dream that humans have been pondering for two thousand years, maybe more. In this dream, science provides a body that cannot get sick, does not need food, produces no waste, and can survive in any environment imaginable. People then upload their mental and emotional selves into this new body and in doing so, they become gods. One of the reasons the trend toward centralization of global resources has been accelerating over the past decade is that for those with the right connections and the right level of wealth, this dream is almost within reach and they know it. Over the past few years I have made dozens of posts similar to the one I made a few days ago (Will you kneel to a king who brings peace from chaos?). It was just this past January that I pointed out "The World Wants You to be a Peasant" and just last fall, on the day after Thanksgiving, I brought up the story of "The Scorpion and the Frog". If you browse through my archive you will find the same theme repeated over and over again: there is a small group of global elites who believe they should be kings while you and I should live for the sole purpose of serving them.

Today I learned that Dmitry Itskov, a young Russian who made his fortune on the internet, is planning to make this dream a reality for himself and people like him. According to CNN Money, Dmitry Itskov is looking for similarly rich investors to combine their capital together and take the next step in the "logical" evolution of the human species: the creation of immortal android bodies for the very rich. In conjunction with this summer's Global Future 2045 International Congress, Dmitry Itskov and several of the presenters have come together to draft and forward an open letter to the United Nations demanding the world take seriously their proposals for creating a better world, a world of immortal androids housing the personalities of the brightest, richest, best bred people in the world. Their proposal is to create a race of "neo-humans" to guide us into a more peaceful, prosperous world.

"We believe that to move to a new stage of human evolution, mankind vitally needs a scientific revolution coupled with significant spiritual changes, inseparably linked, supplementing and supporting of each other. The vector of future development provided by technological advancement should assist the evolution of the consciousness of humanity, the individual and society, and be the transition to neo-humanity."

As the article at CNN money brings out,

"A new corporate entity that the Russian multi-millionaire will formally announce at an event in June will allow investors to bankroll research into neuroscience and human consciousness with the ultimate goal of transferring human minds into robots, extending human life indefinitely. Early investors will be first in line for the technology when it matures, something Itskov believes will happen in the 2040s."

I have spent my entire life arguing against the idea that some people are simply more evolved than the rest of us. Although it is peripheral and symptomatic rather than direct, I first pondered this issue in this blog way back in 2003. My fourth blog post, "Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Right" deals with an oddity that at the time I was at pains to explain: the best service I'd ever received at any Denny's restaurant anywhere in the world was in the tiny Japanese farming community of Nihonmatsu. In the intervening decade since I wrote that post I've learned quite a bit about Japan and about the world. I've met people that at the time, I never would have imagined having the opportunity to meet. I've experienced worlds both real and virtual that ten years ago I never would have imagined having the opportunity to know. The research I've done and the experiences I've gained have given me a few insights on why that particular Denny's would have such incredible service while the last American Denny's I visited (Waikiki, July 2012) was just the opposite.

In September of 2004, in a post called, "The Role of History", I introduced a theme that has also been a constant throughout the ten year history of this blog. At the time, of course, I only half-realized the importance. As I point out in that post, ever since the day of ancient Sumer there have been individuals who believed they were gods while the rest of us were only peasants. Every king, every emperor, far too many modern politicians, along with most of the world's super-rich, all believe they are more evolved than the rest of us. If they have the opportunity to become immortal then their ability to oppress the remainder of humanity will be exponentially increased.

The waitresses in Nihonmatsu lived far from Tokyo, both geographically and psychically. Although they were aware of the corruption of modern Japanese politicians, it was a distant, almost fantastic idea. There is no one in Nihonmatsu with the kind of social and economic power the least important Japanese Diet member possesses. There are arrogant people, of course, but nothing like the financial contributors, old-family nobles, powerful bankers, super-rich real estate moguls, and other powerful people likely to show up at a Denny's in Tokyo. No one in Nihonmatsu would ever spend ten minutes pouring out condescending insults and humiliating deprecations at a Denny's waitress who drops a fork. Here in Tokyo, this is a daily occurrence for everyone who works in any kind of service job.

If the worlds richest, most powerful people gain access to immortality then we will once again find ourselves in a world with two distinct classes of humans. This time the divide will not just be social. It will be very, very real. There will be the rich who now have an eternity to grow ever richer, and there will be the poor who have no choice but to live from day to day as pawns in a great global chess game of power, greed, ambition, and manipulation as these people vie with one another down through the generations seeking ever more status and wealth.

Perhaps, Dimtry Itskov's new venture will also provide the real-world foundation for this:

"The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?"

If you think things are bad now, just wait until today's super-rich become tomorrow's immortal, invulnerable super-rich.



March 28, 2013

A gay man who opposes gay marriage


Go. Read. Learn.

Doug Mainwaring: I'm gay and I oppose gay marriage


Will you kneel to a king who brings peace from chaos?


There is a small but active group of extremely wealthy individuals who believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that only one thing can save the United States of America: a monarchy. And not only the United States. They favor, work toward, and develop strategies to achieve a global parliamentary monarchy, or better yet, a constitutional monarchy where the monarch and the nobility (such as Britain's House of Lords) have the power to override the popularly elected representatives. Hidden in the shadows of American political issues like gay marriage, green energy, and gun control, is billions of dollars of support from royalty in Europe and the Middle East. Monarchists sit on corporate boards of global companies, sponsor advertising campaigns through a variety of political action groups, and anonymously contribute to such everyday organizations as Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. I have personally met half a dozen of them myself, all quietly dedicated to developing strategies to save us from ourselves.

You see, they honestly believe that breeding and education have produced in them a superior sort of human being. In their minds, there are two kinds of people in the world: nobles and peasants. They, of course, are the nobles, either because they are descended from ancient royalty or because they feel a bond of kinship with those who are descended from ancient royalty. There are noble families in the Middle East who trace their lineage all the way back to the kings of Sumer and Akkad, along with the Medes and the Ammonites, while many of the more "modern" houses scattered through Europe can only trace their lineage back to Hellenic Greece or First Century Rome. There is still a Habsburg Peerage that is updated constantly (and fully computerized) and a Spanish group that controls and sells titles to half a dozen European heritages. Burke's Peerage, of course, must be mentioned in this context as well.

Many of these royal families are deadly serious about their assumption of entitlement. They contribute to political action groups around the world that are dedicated to restoring the rights and privileges of noble houses. Some of them are working behind the scenes right here in the United States. Why do you think one of the first stops Pres. Obama made after his election was to Saudi Arabia? Why do you think he bowed to the king of Saudi Arabia while treating the Queen of England with such disdain? In his mind, the Saud is a royal house with ancient roots while the Stewarts are upstart peasants who deserve neither title nor status. This is very, very real.

There are also around the internet dozens of uniformed but well-intentioned individuals who are trying to bring about the restoration of monarchy. None of them are very influential, but a few of them actually have access to persons of peerage who provide them emotional or financial support, and sometimes both. Every time the American bloggers go nuts over some British royal silliness, thousands of royal families around the world take it as strong evidence that their campaign is working and with just the right nudge, America will beg for a monarch of its own.

Those royal families who are ambitious and crave restoration of their ancient rights and privileges have a firm strategy in mind to achieve this end. They are using your own assumptions against you. Chaos in the streets of American cities is, for them, a good thing. It is more evidence that America needs a firm guiding hand instead of our stumbling, bumbling presidents. Why do you think so much money was spent to make George W. Bush look like an ignorant cowboy? Why do you think there are so very many well-funded groups that keep reminding you Barack Obama is nothing more than a community organizer who got lucky? Bush was a cowboy, by the way, and a failed oil man. And Barack Obama did get his start working as a community organizer. The problem is not the reality of their backgrounds, the problem is how you and I respond to every media talking head who points it out to us. We are being programmed to desire something higher, something better, something more dignified. Those internet bloggers and monarchist advocates who rave constantly over the antics of European royals are giving voice to something that millions of Americans feel, something programmed into them through carefully orchestrated images of wealth, luxury, status, and nobility. Nobody really needs a Rolls Royce or a Bentley for their morning commute, but how many of you are dying to own one?

All they are waiting for is the right level of crisis to step in, disarm us, and enforce their ancient prerogatives. They are patient. They have waited over a dozen generations and they are prepared to wait a dozen more. Whenever our media machine gets all of us wound up and arguing over some silliness like gun control and gay marriage while ignoring real issues like the Arabian drive to recreate a Shari'a based regional Caliphate or America's ticking time bomb of debt we move one step closer to achieving their idea of utopia: them in absolute power and us in chains.

Gay marriage is not about civil rights. Gay marriage is about economics. Gay marriage is about gold-digger homosexuals and lesbians who dream of being able to use their sexual wiles to strip the wealth from their lovers in the same way that celebrity spouses do. They sell it as hospital visits and health insurance, but those are minor, peripheral issues that could be solved in a myriad of different ways. Many of those ways would be far better than gay marriage. Civil unions, for example, would work just fine for homosexual couples with the added benefit of protecting non-sexual friendship-based partnerships as well. What gay marriage really is, and the reason it collects such immense financial backing, is one piece of a multi-prong strategy aimed at destroying the social fabric of the modern world. Once that fabric has been ripped to shreds and society is beset by chaos (think Chicago, Detroit, and California), the royals can step in and "solve" the problem of anarchy.

It is no accident that the same people who spend billions in support of gay marriage spend even more billions in support of gun control, green energy, and "social justice". These are all fantasy ideals that are designed from the very beginning to pluck at your heartstrings, offend your sense of justice, and drive you to add your pennies and dollars to the billions they are already spending in support of legal and political chains that will disarm and enslave you for your own good. It is no accident that Mayor Bloomberg has set his sights on the NRA, obesity, and cigarettes. He is backed by pharmaceutical companies, health co-ops, the royal family of Denmark, drug cartels and old mafia families who channel their money through civil service worker's unions and media advertising campaigns. Their advertisements have made him what he is so naturally he is more than happy to throw a small portion of that wealth into supporting their agenda. Tit-for-tat, what goes around comes around, they've scratched his back now he is scratching theirs.

But it makes no difference for me to point this out. I've been saying more or less the same thing since I was sixteen years old. The current topic changes, the strategy I employ changes, the media I exploit changes, but the message is always the same: learn to do for yourself or someone else will do it for you and when they do, you become their slave.



March 24, 2013

Book Review: Memoirs of the Warrior Kumagai


In sitting down to write this review I am taking on not one but two sets of deeply ingrained prejudices. The first are those held by the many dedicated and loyal fans of Donald Richie, who during his life became the voice of Japanese cinema in the West. It is entirely due to the life work of Donald Richie that names like "Akira Kurosawa", "Yasujiro Ozu", and "Kashiko Kawakita" are commonly known throughout the Western world. The other deeply ingrained set of prejudices that I must address are the assumptions the Japanese people make about themselves, their past, and their culture. In every human society there are immense gaps between how we think of ourselves and how we really act. In the absolute worst cases those gaps become so vast we call them "delusions" and the person holding them is labelled "insane", or if not insane, deeply troubled. Japanese culture as much as any other, and even more so than many, encourages the individual to perceive the world in one way while acknowledging that this perception is entirely false. They even have a word for it, "tatemae" (建前), the consciously created front each individual presents to the world regardless of how they feel inside.

So then, let us start with Kumagai no Jiro Naozone himself. The real one, or at least as real as we can verify. Kumagai (sometimes known as "Kumagae", and in death known as "Rensei") was born into a family of peasant farmers and hunters. Not content with his lot in life, Kumagai took charge of his own destiny when he chose to leave his home village and sign on with Minamoto no Yoritomo. Like many low-ranking ashigaru fighters of that era, he switched sides several times over the course of his career and was fortunate enough (or perhaps farsighted enough) to wind up in the ranks of the Minamoto when they finally defeated the Taira clan in 1185 at end of the Genpei War. In story, song, plays, and poetry he is credited with many stunning and important victories, the most noteworthy being the killing of Taira no Atsumori in one of the final, most bloody encounters between the two rival warrior clans.

This is where things get tricky and I have to throw up my hands in frustration. The only records anywhere of the encounter between Kumagai and Atsumori are stories and/or stage plays based on those stories. There is no historical document detailing the time and place of this encounter. Everyone simply assumes it is true because if it were not true then what would story writers have to write about? And yet, those very same academics who assume the story of Kumagai and Atsumori is completely true will dismiss out of hand any attempt to assert the Synoptic Gospels also tell a true story. Deeply ingrained prejudices indeed.

The Genpei War did take place. There is documentary and archaeological evidence in abundance to demonstrate this simple fact. However, the details of what took place in any one encounter during that war are largely missing from the factual record. Therefore, the people and events chronicled in stories such as Heike Monogatari and Makura no Soshi are assumed to be reliable indicators of who did what to whom and how each party felt about it. It is believed by academics everywhere, with no factual background whatsoever, that these stories represent real life during a violent, turbulent period in Japanese history.

And that brings us full circle to Donald Richie and his novel, "Memoirs of the Warrior Kumagai". In telling this story Donald Richie is doing far more than providing an entertaining action-packed fiction. He has an agenda. He wants this story to prove to a reader that these violent, head-taking warriors of ancient Japan are noble, honorable men doing their best for home and hearth. Richie is not only trying to replicate the poetic style of the ancient Japanese stories, he is also trying to show how superior the civilization of that day and age was to our own. To the fictional warrior who narrates this story, and to Richie as well, the pageantry and pomp, the infighting and scheming, the passion and romance of the Heian court represents a golden age that once passed can never come again.

And we were, after all, courtiers. That is what we had become under Kiyomori. A number of the officers had even taken to using makeup and adopted the courtly custom of lacquering the teeth black. The paint was mere vanity but the lacquer proved practical. In the coming carnage it offered a way to tell the Taira from the Minamoto heads. Ours were the ones with the blackened teeth---dead courtiers of Kiyomori.

If there a redeeming quality to either the battle-hardened warrior turned priest who narrates this tale or to Donald Richie who is presenting the tale to us, it is that every now and again Richie has Kumagai pausing over the impossibility and often complete absurdity of the chronicles and plays that claim to preserve for posterity the glamour of the Heian Era. There is definitely a level of self-criticism at work on this pages, but that self-criticism is never allowed to become cynical or revisionist. Even while poking fun at that creation of fiction, there is affirmation of the pomposity and grandeur of the lost Heian court, rendering the self-criticism as hollow as the stories and leaving the reader puzzling over why so much time is being spent telling a tale no one really believes. The reader is neither allowed a complete suspension of disbelief, not a complete immersion of belief, but instead is left hanging between the two from the first page to the very last.

As I pause, brush in hand, I am more mindful of the difficulties of the blind balladeers down the hall as they struggle with their own historical accountings. Just the other day these adolescents were improvising away and began to sing of the death of Emperor Nijo. He was a blossom fallen in the bud they decided. But this was not enough for the needs of the posthumous picture they were painting. So they made him a great gallant and have him asking a private in the guards to go outside the palace to procure women for him.

The reason for this singular account is that some Chinese emperor was said to have done just this and ended up with the beautiful Yang Kwei-fei. But our musical historians are not disturbed by the unlikeliness of it. Actually, had an imperial majesty felt this need he would have ordered a staff officer out---certainly no rank lower than that.

The point I am trying to make is that literature needs to do more than entertain us. A book of this stature should carry us to a place where we challenge our assumptions. When a modern Japanese reader or a modern western reader encounters something like Genji Monogatari, it excites and tantalizes, but it also shocks. There is an immediate, visceral reaction to the way Heian and post-Heian writers casually romanticize rape, murder, and combat. Gore and violence are part and parcel of modern entertainment. That is not the part that catches us by surprise. The true horror of Japanese literature of this period is how the writers go to so much effort to make life's most brutal, traumatizing experiences into something every bit as beautiful and endearing as an afternoon composing poetry under the cherry blossoms. When a Heian-era writer does this, we assume it is simply the conventions of the day. It is their very human effort to gather up the horror of their lives and deal with it. When a modern writer sits down and applies those very same conventions, however, it becomes something entirely different. Now it is manipulative and propagandistic. How could any modern writer so deeply embrace such horror and treat it so very lightly? What deeper agenda are they pursuing? What is the real theme behind this story they are telling? How could any modern writer so lightly dismiss wanton, willful rape and pillage?

When a post-WW2 Japanese writer deals with the Heian-era, the violence and sadism is either ignored completely (as in manga and anime), or it is judged and condemned as the evil that men do when greed and ambition are allowed to override their common decency (as in dozens of NHK dramas and hundreds of modern novels). If the modern Japanese themselves can look at their past with clarity, why should Donald Richie who built his reputation interpreting Japanese culture to the west do any less? Why this huge effort at mimicry and glorification of the most violent and disturbing acts humanity is capable of? Why does Richie's Kumagai, old and unrepentant, still celebrate the debauchery of his youth? Such self-aggrandizement is out of character with both modern expectations and the historic record of Kumagai's last years as a Buddhist monk of the Pure Land sect.



March 14, 2013

Book Review: 1Q84


George Orwell's "1984" is a novel of socialism gone extreme where life itself has no meaning because meaning is a commodity controlled by government propaganda. Haruki Murakami's "1Q84", on the other hand, is a novel of isolation in the midst of Tokyo's crowded city streets where the meaning of life is derived from the internal landscape of each character, a meaning they then force upon one another through their actions, and sometimes inaction, in the shared fictional reality of their parallel worlds. "1Q84" is a dark, nightmarish expansion on the same counter-culturalism behind "Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World". It is no mere coincidence that the central metaphor in both books is eschatology.

In line with this, it is surprising how many reviewers have stumbled over Murakami's use of "The Little People" as a kind of shadowy, gothic villain. Murakami's "Little People" represent normal, everyday people driven by cruel necessity to manipulate their world in ways that help them survive. George Orwell's "Big Brother" is government gone astray while Murakami's almost elvish "Little People" are stand-ins for the faceless, nameless, hardworking masses driven to madness by the deprivations of social and cultural forces they cannot control and do not understand. This passage on page 236, for example, is one almost every reviewer quotes in whole or in part because it is here that Murakami himself (speaking through the character of Professor Ebisuno) explains the relationship between the two books:

"George Orwell introduced the dictator Big Brother in his novel 1984, as I'm sure you know. The book was an allegorical treatment of Stalinism, of course. And ever since then, the term 'Big Brother' has functioned as a social icon. That was Orwell's great accomplishment. But now, in the real year 1984, Big Brother is all too famous, and all too obvious. If Big Brother were to appear before us now, we'd point to him and say, 'Watch out! He's Big Brother!' There's no longer any place for a Big Brother in this real world of ours. Instead, these co-called Little People have come on the scene. Interesting verbal contrast, don't you think?"

On the surface, "1Q84" is a surreal love story of two people, Tengo and Aomame. Tengo is the grown son of a dedicated NHK subscription collector while Aomame is the grown daughter of a woman wholly and completely dedicated to the "Society of Witnesses". The adult Tengo teaches mathematics in a cram school for his daily bread while dreaming of being a novelist. For her day-job Aomame works as a martial arts instructor/physical therapist and spends her nights killing abusive husbands whose wives have fled their homes and are now under the care of a wealthy dowager. As adults the two do not know one another, but they went to the same elementary and middle schools. Because of their parents, in school both children were social outcasts whose paths became linked when Tengo intervened one day to stop Aomame from being bullied. Shy and reserved, that one rescue made them aware of one another but they never actually interacted until after cleaning the classroom one day when Aomame grabbed Tengo's hands, stared deep into his eyes, and then ran from the classroom in embarrassment. That event also marked the point when each child broke from the oppressive rule of their parents which in turn meant their paths would never cross again.

That, however, is only the surface. The real story runs much deeper.

Haruki Murakami was born in 1949, putting him firmly in the middle of the post-World War Two baby boom generation. Just like his American and European counterparts, for Murakami the core assumption has always been that the primary purpose of their generation was to redefine the world and through that redefinition to bring about a unified global culture. Unfortunately, like so many of his generation, Murakami cannot conceptualize a clear distinction between individualism and collectivism except for the simplistic understanding that individualism is rebellion against "the system". This dichotomy, this paradox, is what has driven Murakami's entire generation into embracing the single greatest collectivist social movement in the history of our world. The dark side of Murakami, the "shadows" he tried to cut in "Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" and having cut now seeks to explore in "1Q84" are nothing less than his generation's horrifying realization that they have failed to bring our world into the utopia of their dreams and through that failure, they have created an "end of the world" just as destructive of human potential as the global thermonuclear war nightmare they inherited from their parents.

The destruction that so horrifies the baby boom generation is their perception of society being a fatal poison inflicted on their generation's human spirit. They have spent their entire lives seeking out that one narcotic, that one perfect sexual position, that one mystical piece of music, the one perfect sensual experience which will carry them away from the pain, guilt, and privilege of their lives and into a spiritual awakening capable of carrying them to the threshold of utopia. Consider, for example, this passage on page 242 where Aomame is contemplating the existential consequences of rape versus her own rape-free childhood:

"But decent motives don't always produce decent results. And the body is not the only target of rape. Violence does not always take visible form, and not all wounds gush blood."

What the baby boom generation and its quest for enlightenment has failed to realize is that their own narcissism and self-absorbtion is, in fact, the chief cause of the psychic damage that so horrifies them. Tengo's father was trapped in an endless parade of Sundays spent going house-to-house seeking out radio and television owners who had not paid the required fees for NHK broadcasts. Aomame's mother had likewise dragged her through a childhood of identical Sundays only instead of service to NHK's quasi-governmental bureaucracy, Aomame's mother was a sincere follower of the "Society of Witnesses" seeking to warn a dying world of impending divine judgment. Now, as adults, just like their parents were trapped in lives of daily toil so are Tengo and Aomame. Their upbringing coupled with their devotion to not following in their parent's footsteps alongside their dedication to living life in accordance with their own internal reality, has trapped them in orbit around one another where they are constantly circling and never fulfilling the passion that has grown between them. The real question of the "Q" in "1Q84" is not the identity of the Little People, the coming of the end of the world, or the success of the book-within-a-book titled "Air Chrysalis". The real question behind the "Q" is what is stopping Aomame and Tengo from being together? The answer, of course, is their own refusal to seek each out.

The Little People themselves finally make an appearance on page 249 emerging in the light of the alternate world's two moons from the mouth of a pedophile victim who Aomame's dowager friend has taken under her protective wing. The child is a girl found bruised and beaten in a train station after fleeing from Sakigake, a cult that up to now, has been pictured as mostly harmless but with odd, evil overtones. Fuka-Eri, the writer of the book "Air Chrysalis" that Tengo rewrote in order to insure it would win a contest, is the daughter of Professor Ebisuno's friends, the Fukuda family. The Professor has not been able to contact her parents in several years. He fears they are imprisoned within the cult compound after having been supplanted by someone as religiously radical as his friends were politically radical. The appearance of this girl (named Tsubasa) here late in the first book as a victim of violent, vicious rape at the hands of an unidentified messianic new Sakigake leader, takes us a step closer to discovering what great trauma Fuka-Eri endured right before she fled the cult and her parents vanished. To have the Little People make their first appearance from the mouth of this victim is grotesquely ironic, moving Murakami ever closer to tradition of writers like Tanizaki Junichiro, a tradition Murakami early in his writing career was dedicated to breaking away from.

He doesn't stop there, of course, he builds further by having the Little People engage in their signature activity, building an air chrysalis,

"Then they sat in a circle around the object and started feverishly working on it. It was white and highly elastic. They would stretch their arms out and, with practiced movements, pluck white, translucent threads out of the air, applying them to the fluffy, white object, making it bigger and bigger."

A few pages later (page 251), Murakami uses similar language to describe Tengo as he works on an original story he hopes to publish,

"Writing at night for the first time in ages, though, using a ballpoint pen and paper, Tengo found his mind working smoothly. His imagination stretched out its limbs and the story flowed freely. One idea would link naturally with the next almost without interruption, the tip of the pen raising a persistent scrape against the white paper. Whenever his hand tired, he would set the pen down and move the fingers of his right hand in the air, like a pianist doing imaginary scales."

This kind of parallel language in two scenes only a few pages apart occurs frequently throughout the story. By invoking similar metaphors in this way Murakami is using one storyline to expand the depth and breadth of the other. In this particular case, he is intentionally creating a sense of magic in both the creation of the air chrysalis and the writing of Tengo's new story. This congruence also builds on one of the underlying principle themes running throughout the story, a theme that is common in almost everything Murakami writes because it is key to the worldview of his entire generation. Taking their clues from Vonnegut and Kerouac, the baby boom generation accepts as an almost divine truth the Aristotelian ideal of the sacredness of all forms of art and creative venture. The plain, simple life of Tengo's hardworking NHK fee collecting father is not for them. This generation as a whole has long assumed that they are more evolved than their parents. Being more evolved also means they feel more entitled to live better and enjoy greater wealth without the backbreaking, knuckle busting, sweaty labor of their parents.

One of the thinly veiled condescensions running throughout "1Q84" and so many other literary works written by baby boomers is disdain for anyone who dares to criticize their artistry or their way of life. And yet, at the same time, like Tengo and Aomame, they have nothing but disdain for the way of life embodied in their hardworking, industrious parents. Earlier writers (such as Soseki in Japan and Fitzgerald in America) felt that same sense of personal evolution but they did not treat honest work as something too far beneath their station to even consider. Just the opposite, in fact. In both Soseki and Fitzgerald hard, honest work was both a means to an end and an important aspect of a character's moral development. But not here. No, in "1Q84" honest work serves merely as a cover for the far more important tasks of Tengo's fiction writing and Aomame's assassination of abusive husbands. So it is not surprising in the least when on page 252, Tengo has this thought,

"The concept of duty always made Tengo cringe. He had lived his life thus far skillfully avoiding any position that entailed responsibility, and to do so, he was prepared to endure most forms of deprivation."

In the end, "1Q84" becomes something I had hoped to never see Murakami attach his name to, an existential exercise in nihilism, a form of literary masturbation. I stopped reading Murakami when he came out with "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" because when I skimmed through that book in either English or Japanese (at the time my Japanese was much better than it is now!) I could see right away that a profound change had occurred in Murakami's approach to writing. Where "A Wild Sheep Chase" and "Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" had been playful, metaphorical flights of fantasy, "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" was dull, dreary, and about as entertaining as watching a dog chase its own tail. "1Q84" has much in common with "Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World". Both books are explorations in the schizophrenic nature of life in the modern world, both books are dark treatises on the failure of the modern world to live up to the baby boomer's utopian ideals, and both books carry the writer's own fear of death into a metaphorical and nightmarish exploration of eschatology. However, "1Q84" feels less like a brilliant, visual mind playing with ideas and more like a dark, brooding condemnation of life itself. For all his obvious hatred of the "Society of Witnesses", in "1Q84" Murakami reveals that he and they share a common philosophy: life is cruel and the reason it is cruel is because the human race is mostly composed of self-destructive idiots.



March 06, 2013

Firearms, self-defense, and the testimony of a rape victim



Denver Post: Sen. Hudak responds to criticism

Statistics are an excellent way to analyze large, overreaching trends. Statistics can never define any given individual situation. Statistics that compare unrelated quantities in an attempt to create evidence for something that does not exist in the real world are absolute lies disguised as science. They are no different than a murderous Taliban chief claiming their crime is justified because they serve a legal system higher than human law. Yes, I am equating the remarks of this anti-gun Colorado state senator to one of the worst criminals in the modern world. Her reliance on junk science to prove her claim that the "feelings" of some people are more entitled to legal protection than the real-world safety of others is no less fanatic, no less delusional, and no less criminal than the Taliban who shot Malala. They are morally and ethically identical and it is far past time for we as a nation to stop this foolish headlong rush into anarchy being led by the Democratic Party.

D.C. Clothesline: If they come for your guns, do you have a responsibility to fight
CNN: Far right extremist groups growing in number and potential for violence

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(Next day in America, which was later that same day in Japan, this video popped up as well.)

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March 04, 2013

Book Review: Tiger Lily


I don't remember how I wound up with Tiger Lily on my Kindle, but here it is and since I was in the midst of a flurry of Japan research I opened it up and read it.

Tiger Lily is a fantasy novel set in Japan during the Sengoku-Daimyo period. Japan at this time had two emperors, one of whom (Emperor Go-Daigo) eventually abdicated when it became apparent he could not win control over the entire country. The champion and general of the "legitimate" imperial line was Ashikaga Takauji who began by supporting Emperor Go-Daigo but switched his loyalty to Emperor Kogon (and later, Emperor Komyo) when Emperor Go-Daigo became tyrannical and attempted to destroy the political powerbase of the Bushi (early samurai). The official Imperial Court at the time backed Ashikaga's rebellion against Emperor Go-Daigo because they feared Emperor Go-Daigo was intent on building a Chinese-style dynastic throne which would also undercut the power of the court as a whole.

When transforming history into fantasy it is important to recognize what is truly important and to preserve the motivations and aspirations of characters who appear on the pages of your story, especially when those characters stand for or directly represent historic persons. J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and C.S. Lewis were masters of this technique of creating realistic fantasy characters, which is why we still read their stories long after the newness and novelty factor wears off. If this book is any indication, then Ms. Lincoln has a long way to go before the same can be said of her work.

The first two-thirds of the book are very, very good. Lily-of-the-Valley, the main character, is the daughter of a Shinto shamaness. Lily prefers to avoid working in the rice fields of her village by spending her days wandering in the woods singing her mother's ritual songs. Here is where the first major problem arises. Shinto is an animistic religion that depends on sympathetic magic and communing with "kami", the nature spirits that dwell throughout Japan. It is not based on spirit possession except for very, very rare occasions in certain divination rituals. In Tiger Lily, however, spirit possession is the basis of Shinto magic, bringing the story's magical foundation in line with Druidic and some Wiccan sects but placing it at the opposite end of the spectrum of genuine Shinto belief. Nonetheless, the characters are strong, the culture is reasonably accurate for the historic period, and I was more than happy to overlook this minor deviation because the main conflict driving the plot is the conflict between Buddhism and Shinto with the "legitimate" Emperor backing Buddhism while the "pretend" Emperor backs Shinto. A conflict which was key to much of the warfare of the 7th Century but had nothing to do with the political situation during the Sengoku-Daimyo period.

As the plot unfolds Lily uses her ritual songs to help the son of the local Daimyo (Ashikaga Yoshinori) win free of two ambushes by the Fox soldiers of the "pretend" Emperor Go-Daigo. So far, so good. A minor stretch, but after all, this is fantasy so the core of the story is supposed to be the metaphor and the iconography. Then, suddenly, about two-thirds the way through the book right at the point where the climatic crisis is approaching and without any warning at all, Yoshinori is revealed to be a woman and not a man. This revelation shifts the entire story into a sort of fantasy-based LGBT propaganda work based on the life of Jeanne d'Arc by casting Jeanne's story into a Japanese context. Now Buddhism becomes the Catholic church at the height of the Inquisition, Shinto is nothing more than a stand-in for Druidism and Wicca, and gender oppression becomes the new prominent theme.

If there had been any kind of precursor or oblique hint that this was the true intent of the story then I could forgive the suddenness as a really cool plot device. Instead, I as a reader felt I had been betrayed into reading a story I would not normally give a second glance to because the writer felt she had some deep compulsion to instruct me in how evil it is to treat LGBT people as second class citizens. Now, instead of an interesting and creative mixed metaphor, I find I'm reading a political treatise on gay marriage, the evil of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the necessity of always voting Democrat in American elections, a stance I most certainly oppose on every level. I as an individual never treat LGBT people as second class citizens. One of my uncles is homosexual and has a life partner who he has been together with for decades. In the Army I had several friends who were "in the closet" because I served long before "Don't ask, Don't tell" so by trusting me with the knowledge of who they really were they were in fact risking their military careers. I don't have a problem with two men or two women who fall in love and want to spend their lives together. I just cannot call that relationship a "marriage".

Transforming a pretty darn good fantasy story into a political treatise without warning is, to my way of thinking, about as dishonest and unethical a trick as a writer can pull. Nonetheless, Ms. Lincoln tells a good story with a reasonable plot and strong characters. It is still a very entertaining novel, but anyone I recommend it to is going to be warned ahead of time what the true nature of the fictional Ashikaga Yoshinori is. I suspect that will prevent many of them from bothering to read it at all.