Nice interview with Karel Van Wolferen in the 朝日新聞 today:

“Japan has been on autopilot. It has been drifting without a good steering mechanism,” van Wolferen said in a telephone interview. “Sunday will be an opportunity for the electorate to give their country a steering wheel.”

This is obviously the big fear:

Skeptics, past prime ministers among them, have criticized the sharp rhetoric of certain core DPJ members who have gone so far as to vow to “destroy the bureaucracy.”

Van Wolferen said he “understands such concerns.”

One key to the DPJ’s success as a governing party will lie in its “ability to work with bureaucrats in a productive way,” he said. That would involve creating allies within the bureaucracy to convince those in key posts to cooperate with the party’s policies, or at times subtly utilizing rivalries within the bureaucratic structure to push forward policies in the public interest.

“Whether they (DPJ) succeed is a big question,” van Wolferen said, cautioning that the party’s inexperience in dealing with bureaucrats could lead to foot-dragging or sabotage by the latter.

Although, i suspect that if the bureaucracy sees that the times have indeed changed, it will be more open and accommodating. The easiest way to get them to see that is to get an unquestionably convincing win tomorrow, and follow it up with a majority in the upeer house election in 2010.

“Japan should not represent the United States in this region. It should represent itself,” he said, adding that Tokyo should work more closely with its East Asian neighbors, particularly within the so-called ASEAN Plus Three framework, formed by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, South Korea and Japan.

People seems to think that there is no chance that DPJ will do anything in the diplomatic sphere for at least a year – they’ll be tied up at home. However, i suspect there is probably more support for normalising relations with the U.S., rewriting the SOFA, etc. than the press is willing to report. Or maybe i’m projecting…

Thinking About the Hard Stuff

This article in Scientific American is the great:

There is another possibility: that, in most instances, depression should not be thought of as a disorder at all. In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits.

One reason to suspect that depression is an adaptation, not a malfunction, comes from research into a molecule in the brain known as the 5HT1A receptor. The 5HT1A receptor binds to serotonin, another brain molecule that is highly implicated in depression and is the target of most current antidepressant medications. Rodents lacking this receptor show fewer depressive symptoms in response to stress, which suggests that it is somehow involved in promoting depression. (Pharmaceutical companies, in fact, are designing the next generation of antidepressant medications to target this receptor.) When scientists have compared the composition of the functional part rat 5HT1A receptor to that of humans, it is 99 percent similar, which suggests that it is so important that natural selection has preserved it. The ability to “turn on” depression would seem to be important, then, not an accident.

It goes on to conclude that getting depressed is a good way to spend time thinking about difficult things:

Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.

There you go – it was time well spent… at least it would be  if i could remember actually reaching any meaningful conclusions!

Yes, of course i’m being glib and lighthearted. Depression is a serious problem for many people. However, it’s interesting to be able to see it in evolutionary terms.

A Style… Who Knew?

Yesterday, while pulling together a bunch of shots for a prospective show / gallery exhibition, i had a something of a revelation. It would appear that i’ve developed quite a distinctive style of photography… or actually, a couple of different styles, that are more or less apparent depending on theme.

You’d imagine that this would be hard realisation to arrive at with any element of surprise. However, one of the side-effects of uploading stuff, in a general haphazard fashion, both here and at Flickr, is that it’s easy to lose track of the threads that run through things.

This doesn’t seem like anything to get upset about, after all, it was a nice moment of, “oh! that’s all come together rather better than i expected!” And, i’ve long acknowledged a begrudging respect for those who can maintain a single minded focus in their artistic endeavours (at the same time as enjoying rolling around in my own little puddle of chaos…)

If i’m honest with myself, i guess i’ve been more focused than it appears (not that you’d guess from the mess that you see on flickr…), and been quietly plugging away at a couple of themes for most of this year. It comes and goes, of course, but that’s the way it has to be. This is a hobby not a work assignment. When i enjoy it, it’s great. When i don’t, it’s not the end of the world… although it sometimes feels like it!

It’s also worth acknowledging that limiting choices, in terms of, film, development process, lenses, etc. seems to have as much to do with developing a sense of style, as the actual approach you take to the setting up and capturing the shot. It’s harder to realise this until you stick with a certain combination for a period of time, but it’s certainly there and part of the deal.


New research from two professors at the University of Bergen, Norway, reveals that nature absorbs much less greenhouse gas from the atmosphere than estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The two professors, Eystein Jansen and Helge Drange of the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, have contributed to the IPCC.

The Bjerknes center has made the first simulations for the coming IPCC assessment report. The models show that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere could likely be 20 to 25 percent higher than previously estimated. Consequently climate change will happen faster, writes the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen.

Unpleasant Surprise – COP15

Why on earth (…) is this a surprise to anyone? The biggest surprise would be if we were actually being realistic, and facing up to the fact that we’ve designed a system for living that is optimised for destroying the environment.

All this positive thinking, and pushing for a tough agreement at Copenhagen flies in the face of the reality that very few of the (largely symbolic) Kyoto Agreement pledges have been met.

No doubt people feel better for thinking that they are doing something, but as long as capitalism is the worlds driving ideology… we’re not going anywhere cooler.

Ah, haven’t had a decent seething hatred on for a while. That was fun.

The Boot on the Other Foot

This has just about made my week:

Japan’s finance minister yesterday highlighted growing desperation in the ruling Liberal Democratic party by claiming a looming landslide victory for the opposition Democratic party of Japan in Sunday’s general election could lead to “one-party dictatorship”.

Japan faces one-party rule, says frantic LDP –

Which you have to admit takes some balls, given that the person saying it belongs to a party that has ruled in Japan for almost all of that last fifty years.

It’s looking increasingly likely that 民主党(DPJ) will win 300 seats (out of 480), and maybe even get close to a super-majority. While it’s easy to fret that they’ll waste their opportunity, i’d like to be allowed to savour the idea of 自民党 (LDP) getting a good whipping.

Giddy as a schoolboy, i’ve even persuaded my wife to vote. We read through the electoral papers yesterday. The DPJ candidate lists all the things that you’d expect: age, education, work experience / qualifications. Where as the LDP candiate lists: height, weight, body type, hobbies, and his love of meat. It reads more like a profile at a dating agency than an attempt to get elected.

Labour of Love

This shot has been something of a challenge. It has taken several attempts to get this far, and although it has something of an enigmatic quality to it, it isn’t yet the shot that i want it to be.

The statue is no more than 10cm tall and is recessed in an alcove (god in an alcove!) at the base of another statue. What i really need is a longer lens, so that i can get the shot using extension tubes, but still get enough light to shoot it at f/22 / or, even better, f/32… off a tripod. All very tricky… but eventually worth it i hope. A real natural light challenge.

Complicitous Silence

I’m liking Gillian Tett’s writing in the FT. She references a phenomenon that i’ve touched on here several times: the ability to give advice that needs to be headed much closer to home. This feels pretty insightful:

Three decades ago, Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, observed that elites in a society typically maintain their power not simply by controlling the means of production (ie money), but by dominating the cultural discourse too (ie a society’s intellectual map). And what is most important in relation to that cognitive map is not what is overtly stated and discussed – but what is left unstated, or ignored. Or as he wrote: “The most successful ideological effects are those which have no need of words, and ask no more than a complicitous silence.”

Eliminate financial double-think, Gillian Tett,

Not much point in following the rules if you feel that you’re in a position to change then whenever it suits…

The point that Tett makes so well is that the dysfunction of the system now looks so obvious that it seems impossible that these fools believed their own hype.

August (but not august) Diving

Failed, yet again, to dive two days in a row. Partly psychological, and partly a feeling that my eardrum still isn’t quite right. It has been slowly getting better, but some days, especially when i have slept that well, it just doesn’t seem like a great idea to push my luck – the last thing i want is to put another hole in it, and end up being unable to dive again.

Ended up at a BBQ after diving, getting drunk, and stumbling home (not easy with 25kg of wet diving gear) sometime after midnight. There is something… melancholic about riding on the shinkansen, coming into Tokyo late at night. Most definitely not a party train…

Summer has bought blue to the water… and someone has planted trees on the sands. Makes for a somewhat surreal view.


One day i’m going to get a real housing and strobe. Do this properly. Broke another diffuser this time and will have to see about replacing it. Hope it can be replaced without buying another housing… might end up tempted.