Japanese Lies

A book review via The Gude. I say ‘book review’ but it is really more of a heartfelt diatribe:

And yes, I did see the islands of Matsushima the second time around. The skies were clear. I listened to the guide explaining the splendid sights. The tourists around me didn’t seem to be paying much attention to what she said. Well, well, I thought, Japan has changed. Then I realized they were all Chinese.

Having read it i have no idea if the books being reviewed are any good, and will have to resort to buying them to find out. That said, i have a great deal of sympathy with the tone of said diatribe, and recommend reading it.

Do let me know if you’ve come across either of the books, and can make a case for them being purchased / avoided. In theory i’ve had my fill of westerners having a japanese navel gaze.

Isolation, anyone?

Really not sure what is going on in England. Don’t people have anything more pressing to worry about?


A majority want to leave the EU, and then what do they want to do? Solider on in magnificent isolation, getting increasingly sniffy that the rest of Europe doesn’t feel like letting them benefit from the open market without burdening themselves with any of its responsiblities, presumably.

As M. pointed out to me in response to my bemoaning the short-sightedness of little england, it wasn’t long ago that something like 75% also said that they had considered emigrating. Admittedly they’re mostly wanting to go to Australia for the weather. But then a year later… Many no doubt would also say they want to go to get away from the “flood of immigration”.

Famous for our sense of humor…

Idiot Mode

A while back i bought a Fujifilm Natura Black ƒ1.9 off Yahoo! Auction!, and then forgot about it until we were in Japan last month. They are supposed to be hard to find, but maybe that’s an issue with not many getting outside japan, or not so many getting produced. My idea was that it would be a good small camera that i can take everywhere, and it’s fast enough to use out and about at night.

Let’s not talk about me not having taken anything since getting back… ok?

This afternoon i took apart the scanner and removed the single fiber on the underside of the glass that has been bugging me for months, and did some scanning. The backlog had got a little out of hand… there was (and still is…) stuff from Berlin, and stuff from Japan. There is also stuff to be developed. Oops.

One of the shots from Berlin Hauptbahnhof i’m very happy with. Has all the layers and complexity that floats my boat. The only issue i have with it is the size of my head… but that’s nothing new.

But, back to the Natura Black. It has a feature of printing the date on the shots… and a manual in Japanese. Consequently the first couple of films are going to be a little… derp.

Espsecially as i didn’t bother to set the date in the camera…

The other amusing consequence of not reading the manual was that i didn’t know how to override the film speed, which is automatically picked up from the DX encoding on the canister. This resulted in me sitting in a bar in Shinjuku looking at wikipedia on someones iPhone and scratching paint off film with some keys. Surprisingly it actually worked! And, while i have subsequently worked out how to disable the timestamping, overriding the film speed is still a mystery.

Update: an update from Tom. Apparently the way to override the film speed is via exposure compensation. Thought i’d tried that and it wasn’t making it past turning the camera off / on. The other option is buying some stickers – which i’d assumed existed, but was having a hard time finding. The ‘paint removal with a key’ method turns out to be only removing one square of the matrix for my most common push (ASA 400 –> 1600)


The PPC elections look like being one of those rare moments where english humour is used to proper effect. Not only has the turnout been low, but the number of spoiled ballot papers has been something like ten times higher than normal. I’m sure those elected by ~7% of the electorate will command respect. There is a rumour that in North Yorkshire the number of spoiled ballots was larger than the number of votes gained by the winning candidate. Now all they have to do is track down Batman, Judge Dredd, or whoever actually won!

There are a number of reasons why it’s a stupid idea to politicize the police, but the real point is surely that this is a sneering veneer of democracy, that will have very little impact beyond limiting the independence of law enforcement. If there was representative democracy in england, and the views of the people where of importance to those in power, this might be a logical next step, but currently it seems an irrelevance.

Oh, and A.C.A.B. is what i learned today… sheltered upbringing, and all that.

Edit: bah! the site showing all the spoiled ballots has been taken down 😦


Didn’t know very much about Byzantium. Now i’ve read a book about it and know a few things.

Despite promising to tell me about the many aspects of a society, it was hard to come away feeling that what i really learned were the myriad ways that christianity can screw up a society. If it wasn’t internal wrangling over the worship icons, it was the external haggle with the church in Rome over the primacy of St. Paul, and liturgical baking methods. Yes, baking, they actually managed to argue over whether sacrament should consist of leavened or un-leavened bread. Nothing like worrying about liturgy when it comes to keep the invaders outside your walls…

On the upside, it is at least structured more creatively than a dash through the timeline, noting the changes at the heads of dynasties. The chapters detailing what is known about daily life for various section of society in the empire are the much needed asides from stretches of, “Constantine III was succeed to the throne by Leo IV” (honestly, he was, and ‘the Khazar’ no less!)

The End of the DPJ?

It is somewhat sad. A case where the promise of change has evaporated in the face of the white heat of bureaucratic intransigence. On the other hand, it was certainly one of the more likely outcomes. As usual i feel a fool for having been even remotely optimistic. Japanese politics is a cruel game…

Over at the Shisaku blog, there is some hand wringing, and it’s not hard to sympathize. In the end it realistically comes down to this:

“Why not hold an election then? If all the first-termers and lefties fry, so what? We will just take our place at the table as the Noda Faction of the LDP.”

A level of cynicism and disregard for public service that you almost have to admire… still, have to hope that the public at least see some sport in trying to break Abe again. One might reasonable suggest that there are tough times ahead for japanese progressives – it’s going to be a long slog through the wilderness while the rightwing popularism sweeps the nation back to the dawn of the Meiji era.

Edit: as an aside, i have some sympathy with the idea that Japan should attempt to become a more normal state (one of the popularist goals) but very little sympathy with the idea that imperialist throwbacks like Abe, Aso, Ishihara, Hashimoto, et al. are the means to achieve such a normalization.

All they want is a de facto remilitarization (via constitutional change) of Japan. This seems like suicide in a region dominated by a resurgent China. And as the voice of progressives is essentially inaudible over the blaring sirens of these blowhards, more radical options to achieve a regional power balance aren’t even discussed. Improved relations / cooperation with China and the Koreas are unquestionably the only way forward, but that is trumped by the right’s (unachievable) desire to return to empire, and need for the US to maintain a client state as counter-balance to China.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Another thing about reading / books. Perhaps i’m slowly getting back to being a reader. No idea what had happened but for an extended period of time it was difficult to take an interest.

It is really quite hard to write about Debt: The First 5,000 Years. It’s a challenging book. And, perhaps the very fact that it is challenging tells you more about why it’s should be read than anything that i can write here. That said, i’ll try and get down what made this a thought provoking read, and something that i’d recommend everyone to have a go at getting through.

David Graeber is an anthropologist and one of the voices in the Occupy movement. Writing about the role of money / debt during various periods of history, in various societies, he comes across as brilliantly eloquent and insightful. These sections, covering the origins of money / debt / virtual money, when various combinations of them have been in use, what might have prompted the changes in use, etc., are really well written, feel excellently researched and are a joy to read.

And then there are the ‘conclusions’:

What I have been trying to do in this book is not so much to propose a vision of what, precisely, the next age will be like, but to throw open perspectives, enlarge our sense of possibilities; to begin to ask what it would mean to start thinking on a breadth and with a grandeur appropriate to the times.

Which is what makes it difficult to come down on one side and say that this is a truly great book. Maybe it’s because Graeber is trying too hard not be be proscriptive, or maybe it’s that he needs a better editor when he’s writing ‘off piste’ with respect to his academic area, but the final chapters feel kind of ‘soft’. But… then this:

There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist-most obviously, as ecologists keep reminding us, because it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet, and the current form of capitalism doesn’t seem to be capable of generating the kind of vast technological breakthroughs and mobilizations that would be required for us to start finding and colonizing any other planets. Yet faced with the prospect of capitalism actually ending, the most common reaction-even from those who call themselves “progressives”-is simply fear. We cling to what exists because we can no longer imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.”

Agree with all of that right up to the ‘no longer imagine’, was there a time when we could imagine? Did nobody write that down?!

Sarcasm aside, the very serious question asked by Graeber seems to be, ‘how can we break out of the destructive cycle that we’re in, and start to look for better ways to organize human relations?’ That’s a big question, and one surely worth asking.

My current feeling is that this time there is simply too much invested (population? simple greed? complexity? belief? resilience?) in the current system to allow for the reset (jubilee) that is needed. We will therefore grind on until such a point as the losses start to reach the ‘deciders’. Which, given how well ‘insulated’ they are from reality, might take a while…

Fragments of Tokyo Exhibition III

It that time again! Next week the third Fragments of Tokyo exhibition will be hanging at the Place M Gallery in Shinjuku, Tokyo. We had planned for this year to be five members, Toshiya Watanabe, Thomas Orand, Diarou Koga, Sean Wood, and myself, but somewhere along the way Koga-san gained a son (congratulations!) and we lost a contributor. The end result is that we’re still doing a four man show and hopefully we have enough photography to make it worth making the trip to the gallery.

My contribution this year is a little reduced, just six prints. But, they are, in my opinion, six very nicely printed pieces. As i’m a beginner in the darkroom, and really didn’t have time to focus on improving (it has been a busy year…), they’ve been done professionally by Larry at Lazurus Fine Print.

And, i just got back from Japan two weeks ago. Which means that sadly i won’t be there for the show. It feels a little odd to be doing this and not turning up, but it’s just the way that things worked out this year.

Anyway, please visit the show if you can. There will be an event next Saturday (pretty sure) where everyone else will be there. Maybe even Koga-san!

From Brokdorf to Fukushima

A long and interesting piece in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on the nuclear phase out in Germany. Along with being a good summary of the what, when, where, who, and why, there is this:

What is remarkable about these early events is that the opposition to the Brokdorf and the Wyhl projects did not explicitly target nuclear power per se, or even focus on particular issues of nuclear power, such as reactor safety or waste disposal (Radkau, 1983: 458). Instead, the early opposition movement largely developed in response to the nontransparent and authoritarian style in which the federal government pursued its big-industry projects, exemplified by excessive use of police force.

Which should probably have parallels in Japan, not so much with excessive use of force, japanese police tactics are more subtle, and one might say insiduous, but the “nontransparent and authoritarian” part is spot on.

It is clear at this point that nuclear is not a cheap, risk free, ‘too cheap to meter’ supply of energy, and the discussion really needs to move on to why national governments are so enthralled with the interests that would like to pretend otherwise.

ps. arrived back from Japan last weekend, but my brain has only just turned up. It seems to be taking longer and longer for it to make the journey across Siberia…