It’s not too late to honor the atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The August 6 anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima has come and gone, but it’s not too late to watch Bill Whittle’s beyond brilliant deconstruction of Leftist moral idiocy regarding that bombing — in this case, moral idiocy as displayed by Jon Stewart, the intellectual light for too many leftists.

Longtime readers know that I routinely thank God for the Atom bomb.  My mother, interned in a Japanese concentration camp, had reached the point of starvation that saw her lose interest in food.  Death was days away.  Instead, because of that bomb, this is a picture of my mother five months after Hiroshima:

Mom photo

As a P.S., it’s worth recalling that Japanese concentration camps were no picnic, especially for the Western men caught up in Japan’s Bushido madness.

People are violent even without guns

(I find that I’m too thrifty not to get the most mileage out of my writing.  People who get my newsletter — and if you don’t, you can fill out the subscription form to the right — will have seen this post already, but I couldn’t resist a slightly wider audience for it.)

I wrote the other day about the extraordinary violence in England, a level of violence that increased dramatically after the Labour Party outlawed almost all guns.  After reading that post, a friend send me a link to an article by Tom Gresham, writing at the Tactical Wire.  Gresham’s article bounces off of Bob Costas’ inane little homily asserting that Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, would be alive if guns were outlawed.  After pointing out the most obvious fact, which is that Belcher could easily have killed Perkins with his bare hands, Gresham gets to the heart of the matter, which is the way the anti-gun Left abuses data.

Arthur Fellig photo of suicide 1936Gresham first tackles Costa’s claim that, even if guns aren’t used to kill innocent bystanders, they drive suicide rates.  Gresham has one word to demolish that argument:  Japan.  Japan’s laws almost completely prohibit guns.  Nevertheless, says Gresham, “the suicide rate in Japan approaches (sometimes exceeds) twice that of the U.S. No guns in Japan, but twice the rate of suicides of the U.S., which has perhaps 300 million guns.”

Gresham also points to a stunning statistic about America, one I hadn’t known.  In the 20 years since most states passed laws mandating issuance of concealed carry permits to qualified applicants,”the murder rate in the United States has fallen dramatically.”

We now have three interesting facts:  (1) Mostly gun-less Japan has twice the suicide rate of America; (2) mostly gun-less Britain has almost five times as much violent crime as armed America, a rate that increased dramatically when Britain banned most weapons; and (3) when American states enabled law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons, gun crime decreased, rather than increased.

Lion lying down with lambWe’ve talked before at the Bookworm Room about the fact that correlation is not the same as causation.  Those three facts taken together, though, indicate that it’s reasonable to assume a connection between guns and violent crime.  The connection, though, isn’t the one the Left wants us to draw, which is that guns increase the violent crime and suicide rate.  Rather, the connection is that an armed society is one that sees fewer violent crimes and fewer suicides.

Lingering fall-out from our trip to Japan

Our family has traveled a great deal, but I think few trips have affected us as much as the Japan trip we took this summer.  Two things account for that:  First, we took a comprehensive tour, so we saw more than we usually see on a trip.  Second, Japan is so very different from America.  Our European and even our Mexican trip have been to familiar cultures.  Japan, however, even though it has a Western gloss, was a radically different culture from any we’d previously experienced.  It’s therefore not surprising that the trip lingers on in our memories.

One of the downsides of the trip is that the kids are currently refusing to eat any Japanese food.  They’ve always been fairly adventurous eaters, and they liked a lot of the food we had in Japan, but it got to be too much for them.  In the months since our return, every suggestion that we enjoy some Japanese food for dinner (sushi, for example, as I have a gift card to this nice place) has been met with a resounding “No.”  I got one of those loud “Nos” just yesterday, when I was trying to avoid cooking dinner, so the subject is on my mind right now.  I assume that one of these days the children’s overloaded circuits will reset, but until then, it seems that Japanese restaurants are no longer part of our dining-out repertoire.

Another thing the has stuck with all of us is how immaculately clean Japan was.  Just yesterday, my son kept asking me to explain again why the Japanese have no garbage cans in public places (answer:  to limit the risk of hidden bombs or toxins) and why, if they have no garbage cans, Japanese streets, train stations and subway stations are entirely free of litter (answer:  the Japanese responded to the absent litter bins by carrying their own trash away).  Both kids came way with a heightened sense of social responsibility after having seen Japanese civic honesty and cleanliness in action.

We are also contemplating bringing a little bit of Japan home.  Our Japanese trip offered us some of the worst and some of the best toilet experiences we’ve ever had when traveling.  The worst were the squat toilets in public places outside of Tokyo.  We mastered them, but not happily.  Moreover, I kept wondering how in the world arthritic people manage to deal with them.  The best toilets, though, were the ones with the bidet seats (like these, at Bidetsplus.com).  They’re such a marvelous hybrid of cleanliness and efficiency.  Instead of trying to squeeze a stand-alone bidet into a small bathroom (and Lord knows, all the bathrooms were small), the Japanese turned every toilet into a bidet.  I won’t gross you out with details of their wonder (but you can see product videos here, which are cool), but suffice to say that they are wonderful — and affordable, and easy to install.  We’re thinking of giving these bidets as a gift to ourselves this holiday season.  They’re affordable decadence.

 

Lemmings and herded cats — musings on Japan and America

Spending two weeks in a country does not make one an expert on that country.  Indeed, I’m sure the opposite is true, which is that one learns just enough to be dangerous.  One sees the country without understanding it.  Nevertheless, both from looking at the Japanese in action and from speaking to myriad people, both Japanese and Western, I’m prepared to make the dangerous leap to conclusions.

I can’t speak for other people, but what struck me most strongly about Japan was the homogeneity — not just racially, although it is bizarre in today’s world to be in a country where everyone, with the exception of tourists and the American military, is racially Japanese — but also behaviorally.  No matter where we traveled in Honshu, the behaviors were identical.  Everyone said “Arigatou gozaimasu” (0r “thank you very much”) constantly.  And I do mean constantly.  Whether listening to shop keepers, desk clerks, train announcements, bus drivers, subway passengers, or anyone else in any other walk of life, that phrase must have popped up every third or fourth sentence.  So much so that one began to doubt that it had any real meaning.  It began to feel like a verbal twitch, akin to an American “um” or “like.”  Nevertheless, the Japanese fully understand its polite import, and someone who deletes that phrase from his or her vocabulary is definitely rude.

The bowing is akin to the thank yous — all the Japanese do that, to the point at which it feels leached of meaning.  However, had anyone failed to do it, it would have been quite obviously rude.  I found myself bowing reflexively and then, being American, felt guilty for doing so.  Americans shouldn’t be bowing.  I consoled myself, though, by telling myself it’s a meaningless, mannered act, rather than a showing of fealty to a sovereign power.  Given the reflexive bowing, I was almost inclined to forgive Obama for bowing to the Emperor — but not quite.  He’s the American president and it was just wrong to bow to the Emperor, no matter how nice a man the Emperor is and no matter the ritual nature of the bow.

Wherever we traveled, the bus drivers spoke in sibilant whispers.  As best as we could tell, they were constantly muttering under their breath such things as “Everyone sit down, thank you very much,” “we’re all on the bus, thank you very much,” “move to the back, thank you very much,” “the next stop is _______________, thank you very much,” or various other mindless nothings, many of which had already been announced on the overhead recording (complete with multiple pre-recorded “thank you very muches”).  Please note that it wasn’t just the repetitive phrases that were homogenous — it was that identical whisper that the drivers all over Honshu murmured into the microphones.  The first time it was funny, the second intriguing, the third, fourth and etc., it was kind of weird.

My overall sense was that the Japanese are obsessively attached to behaviors.  I liked their obsessive cleanliness, since it meant that travel was less onerous to me.  Since I was raised by a (Japanese) concentration camp survivor with a fetish for cleanliness (cleanliness in a tropical camp could mean the difference between life and death), I have a few obsessive behaviors myself.  Traveling always squeezes me emotionally, as I deal with musty beds and less-than-clean bathrooms.  In Japan, especially because we stayed in tour-group vetted hotels, I didn’t see anything that was less-than-clean.

Nevertheless, even with my appreciation for all things clean, it was strange that, everywhere we went, barring public venues such as train stations or stadiums, the bathrooms were equipped with virtually identical bathroom slippers.  They might be a plain tan color or, more commonly, a snazzy his-and-her toilet design (see below), but they were all styled the same.

The deal with these slippers is that, when you enter a bathroom barefoot or in socks (as is the case in all homes, hotels or nice restaurants), you immediately put on the toilet slippers.  If you forget to take them off when you leave the bathroom, it’s akin to walking out with toilet paper attached to your derriere. Being a fastidious type, I liked the fact that I didn’t have to walk barefoot onto a potentially urine-spattered floor.  Nevertheless, the ubiquity of identical slippers no matter where we traveled was peculiar.

The most fascinating example of the Japanese ability to function in unison was the baseball game we attended.  Although I’m no baseball fan, it was a very enjoyable experience.  The stadium was, of course, immaculate (including the bathrooms).  The fans were happy and friendly, making it a vastly different experience from attending, say, an Oakland Raiders game, which can be rather frightening.  The fans never booed the opposing team or a bad player on their own team.  Instead, they cheered for their own team.  We Americans cheer too, but in a chaotic, unstructured fashion.  The Japanese have cheerleaders in every section and the fans follow along with chants and rhythmic beats on their noisemakers (which look a bit like small bowling pins).  I’m not unique in observing this.  Others, too, have drawn the same conclusions about Japanese group think as played out in the baseball stadium:

The difference is in the atmosphere of the stadium as the game is being played. Both teams had huge bleacher-seating fan sections all of whom cheered for every batter during every inning. This is not just random cheering, it’s highly organized. Think college football games, except pull people from all ages and demographics. Everyone had noise makers and shirts. Businessmen in suits pulled a jersey over their shirt and tie. Old women screamed their hearts out.

The collective nature of the cheering reflects Japanese culture of groupthink, not standing out, etc. I’ve never seen such a highly organized cheering machine in any other sports venue or game I’ve attended. Such a collective fan spirit means many people show up by themselves but instantly join in. The fans cheer while their players are batting. Then they sit down and are quiet the other half of the inning, again reflecting the Japanese value of respect and dignity for opponents.

The whole baseball game experience was charming, but the groupthink bothered me.  You see, as far as I’m concerned, groupthink goes a long way to explaining how a polite, thoughtful, kind, decent group of people can suddenly morph into a monomaniacal killing machine.  The Japanese did it.  The Germans did it.  The Chinese did it.  If the lemming group moves in a nice direction, all is good.  However, if the lemmings get steered towards the cliff, nothing will stop them.  Since morality is defined by manners, when the manners dictate death, off they all go, engaging in mass suicide or homicide.

Americans, traditionally, have appeared more like surly herded cats than enthusiastic lemmings.  For every stain on American history (slavery, the treatment of the Indians, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, Jim Crow), there have been countervailing forces, vigorously protesting these injustices.  Yes, the injustices happened, but they were never the product of a unanimous society mindlessly going along.  Instead, they were the result of societal tension and were destroyed by that same societal tension.

Many years ago, I read Pierre Berton’s Klondike : The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899. I enjoyed reading the book, but with time’s passage, only two things remain in my memory. The first is Berton’s description of the Klondike mosquitoes, which were so big and aggressive that they could quickly kill a horse. The second is his description of a town that was split evenly down the middle between Canada and the United States. On the Canadian side, the townspeople instantly formed a provisional government, and quickly had an orderly, top-down society. The American side, however, was a Wild West town, with a pure democracy, in which every townsman had a voice. The streets were muddy, crime was rife, and little got done.

At the time I read the book, I was actually embarrassed by the American Klondike town — “What violent, disorganized losers Americans are!”  Since then, though, I’ve come to appreciate the American unwillingness to bow down to leaders.  We don’t — and shouldn’t — look to a strong leader for help.  We look to ourselves.  It may slow us down, but it also allows us to innovate and, most importantly, helps us put the brakes on bad ideas.  We herd as badly as cats do, and we should be grateful for that fact.

More random observations from Japan

We’ve all said it at one time or another — “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” In Kyoto, though, it’s very much both the heat and the humidity. When temperatures are around 100 and humidity is around 85 or 90%, it feels as if one is moving through a giant, heated sponge. One perspires, but doesn’t cool, because the humidity, combined with the fact that not a breath of wind stirs the air, means that one simply gets wet.

Kyoto is lovely, but the heat is off-putting. I know many consider it the most beautiful and interesting city in Japan, but I won’t be sorry to leave it tomorrow for cooler, mountainous climes.

We’ve been watching the Olympics on Japanese television. Or perhaps I should say, we’ve been watching the Japanese Olympics on television. As far as we can tell, Japanese TV shows only those events in which the Japanese are competing — never mind that it’s the fourth heat in a swimming race, without any possibity of a winning swimmer appearing on the television screen. Medal ceremonies, too, show only the Japanese competitor. If the Japanese competitor won only a bronze, you’ll never find out who won gold or silver. It’s a very narrow, parochial approach to a world-wide athletic event.

Japanese trains and subways are lovely. Because we’re not in Tokyo now, and because we’re not traveling at peak commuter times, we’ve seldom encountered oppressive crowds. Mostly, we’ve experienced insanely punctual, obsessively clean trains.

Speaking of obsessive, when it comes to respecting possessions, the Japanese put everyone to shame. On a crowded train, someone discovered a wallet. A general outcry went up, as everyone sought to find the owner. Opening the wallet revealed that it held no identification, but only about 500 yen (less than ten dollars). In America, someone might have pocketed it, or maybe just left it on the seat. In Japan, several teenagers had a quick discussion, and then opened a window to summon an employee who spirited the treasure away to Lost and Found. I think those kids would have had some sort of emotional breakdown if they hadn’t been able to turn it in.

We read about it before we left for Japan, of course, but nothing prepared us for the microscopically small hotel rooms. They’re immaculately clean, of course, but so tiny one person feels quite crowded in the bathroom. Thankfully, all of our hotels have offered “Western” toilets, rather than the “squatting” toilets popular outside of Tokyo:

One of the great pleasures we’ve had in Japan is reading t-shirts. The Japanese love having English words and sentences on their shirts. They don’t care that they make no sense; they just like having them. We’ve tried stealthily taking photos of a few, but it’s very hard to get the words to come out clearly when you’re sneaking up on someone. Today’s silly shirt boasted about the wonders of “State of California, City of Sacrament [sic].”

Department stores here are HUGE. They’re several stories tall and, as with every other place we’ve seen in Japan, they have about twice as many employees as a similarly situated American business would. It’s quite intimidating, really. What’s also different is the floor plans. In America, department stores tend to have open floor plans, with one department flowing into another. In Japan, the stores are broken down into myriad cubby holes, each dedicated, not just to a single type of merchandise, but to a single brand of that specific merchandise. I don’t like shopping at the best of times, and I was not enticed by the busy, claustrophic approach.

By the way, everything you’ve heard about Japanese packaging, wrapping, and presentation is true. Every product is exquisitely displayed, with a symphony of colors and textures. Part of me is gratified by the beauty and part of me is shocked by the waste. This is a culture that places a high premium on appearances. It’s not a shallow or superficial culture, although one could be forgiven for thinking that given the focus on the superficial, both in terms of how things look and how people behave.

On the subject of behavior, I commented on how polite the Japanese have been to us. I know some readers wrote back about the horrible behavior the Japanese have shown foreigners. I can see that we’ve been lucky. Also, there’s a difference between manners, on the one hand, which are formulaic and kindness, on the other hand, which comes from the heart. Not that long ago, someone told me that Americans are the most polite people of all, because they cut through meaningless gesture and go right to true kindness. (Having said that, we have been on the receiving end of genuine kindness while in Japan, as well as ritual politeness.)

I’m pooping out here, so I’ll wrap this up. My Internet access is random, at best, so no promises as to when I’ll next post. I can see, though that DQ is keeping things lively, so I can sign off with a clear conscience.

Some very superficial impressions of Japan

For me, Japan was something of a tabula rasa, as I knew little about it and had very limited expectations when I boarded the plane. So far, I’ve been charmed by what I’ve seen.

I won’t make this post a travelogue, in part because it’s very hard to approach Japan that way. I already discovered that fact when I was trying to plan this trip. Unlike many places that have target destinations (e.g., the Tower of London, Versailles, the Vatican), Japan has cities that are must-sees, such as Tokyo (of course), Kyoto, Kamakura, etc. Within each city there are beautiful gardens or temples, but they’re a subset of the whole.

The real target site in Japan, or so it seems to me after a few days here, is the Japanese culture. Everything that we’ve seen so far is, for want of a better word, “precious.” I adore the obsession with cleanliness, which makes me feel very comfortable. There is no litter, which is a bit peculiar, because there are few garbage cans. Unless you’re unlucky enough to find yourself on a “squat toilet,” every toilet in every airport, train station, hotel, or restaurant has sprays and seat warmers and all manner of wonderful stuff.

The people are lovely to look at: they are immaculately groomed and, if young, often eccentrically dressed. They are all, without exception so far, almost painfully polite. One of the things I like best about them is that they make my petite height seem normal. Everything is sized to me, and that’s a rare and wonderful thing.

I’d love to write more, but bed is calling. We’ve had long days of sight-seeing and travel, and I’m still a little jet lagged. I’ll leave you with this link, to Yunessun. We spent the afternoon here, and a more peculiar and delightful place it’s hard to imagine.

Does a slight level of societal chaos drive creativity?

I was discussing James Clavell’s Shogun with a friend. I have to confess here that I’ve never managed to read the book. I think the world of James Clavell, who was a Changi Prison survivor and a confirmed individualist who believed in Ayn Rand style independence.  His books are wonderfully well-informed and have fascinating plots.  And yet . . . .  His writing style just doesn’t work for me.  Much as I want to enjoy his books, I don’t.  Every time I try, I end up abandoning the effort after a few chapters.

Nevertheless, since my friend was reading Shogun, I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that it’s based on the life of a real Englishman, William Adams, who found himself shipwrecked in Japan at the very beginning of the 17th century, at a tumultuous time in Japan’s political history.  One of the interesting things about William Adams is how completely he embraced Japan.  He came to have the greatest respect for the culture, one based upon rigid social etiquette and one that was much cleaner than the Western world he’d left behind.

When I told my friend about this fact, my friend commented that Japan had a really great culture.  I agreed, but I pointed out that, as a general rule, while rigid cultures ensure internal harmony, they tend to stultify creativity.  The raucous, roiling, boiling, filthy, pushy Western world, while much less pleasant than the clean, organized Japanese world, was the one that drove exploration and innovation across the globe.

Am I on to something, or am I just letting my cultural chauvinism affect my thinking?  And is it even fair to compare one little country (Japan) to the whole of Judeo-Christian European/American civilization?

Two very different shame/honor cultures

Years ago, I read in an Efraim Karsh book something to the effect that the Arab honor culture is actually a shame culture.  That is, in America, honor is a personal standard, one by which we measure ourselves.  Arab honor, however, is a public face one presents to the world.  If something goes wrong, shame kicks in, and it is that shame that leads to so-called “honor killings.”

Japan is also a shame/honor culture, one in which a loss of honor is manifested by public shame, rather than private embarrassment.

What’s interesting is the way in which the two different cultures react to what the Japanese so elegantly call a “loss of face.”  The Japanese person whose honor has been lost to a public shaming dispatches himself.  He quits his job or, if he’s a hidebound (or masochistic) traditionalist, he commits seppuku (aka hara kiri).  In any event, he expunges the shameful loss of honor by expunging himself.

In the Arab culture, however, the Arab person whose honor has been lost to a public shaming dispatches the one who destroyed his honor.  That is, he expunges the shameful loss of honor by expunging someone else, be it his wife, his daughter, his daughter’s boyfriend, a corporation, or a country.

I don’t have any conclusions to draw from this.  It’s just something I was thinking about when I was discussing the two cultures with a friend.

Voters are left helpless and bereft when the political experts form a circular firing squad

I’m planning a trip this summer to Japan, a country about which I know nothing.  Actually that’s an overstatement.  I know some things:  it’s beautiful, historic, and clean (I love that part), and comes complete with great food and well-mannered people.  But that’s all I know.

Toji Pagoda

I don’t have this tabula rasa problem when I go to Europe.  Whether England, Germany, France, Belgium, or Italy, I have in my head enough information about the country to  be a little picky. It helps, too, that Rick Steves has published a series of European travel guides.  He’s not shy about being opinionated.  Indeed, that’s why people turn to him.  They have faith that they can trust his judgment so that, if he says a city is good and requires at least three days time, they can immediately book a hotel (one he recommends, of course) for two nights.  Likewise, if he says “don’t bother with such and such,” his readers know that Rick saved them time and money on a short, expensive trip.

Schloss Neuschwanstein

So far, I haven’t found a Rick Steves for Japan.  All the travel books make everything sound wonderful, without any rankings or priorities.  And I’m sure that, if I had unlimited time and money, I would enjoy traveling to every town, shrine and museum Japan offers.  But that’s not the reality of vacation travel, and I’m currently overwhelmed by the choices. Yikes!

My Japan conundrum isn’t unique.  In a world awash in information, there is no way one person can master all the data necessary to make important life decisions.  Inevitably, in various areas such as education, travel, politics, finances, etc., we select experts whom we trust and assume that, when they state an ultimate conclusion about their subject, we can rely on that conclusion.  This works both ways, of course.  Since I’ve long thought AlBore to be a rather foolish man with enough feral instincts to be a successful snake oil salesman, I have never believed in global warming.  Likewise, a friend of mine refuses to accept the rising tide of evidence against global warming, because it’s been published in “Republican” and “conservative” outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mail.  The fact that AlBore’s theories are based on computer models while the evidence against global warming is based upon actual data disturbs him not a whit.  He’s found his reliable sources, and he’s sticking with them.

Right now, my reliance upon political experts is creating a dilemma for me, because my “experts” are turning on each other.  Before the primaries, they were all united in their profound dislike for Barack Obama.  Now, though, the circular firing squad isn’t limited just to the Republican candidates themselves.  The shoot-outs are taking place at every major conservative website, not to mention many of my favorite blogs.  Just check out PJ Media’s front page at any given minute to see astute political commentators, all of whom I respect, battering away at each other and the candidates.

To some commentators, Mitt is a RINO’s RINO, who flops, then flips, while Newt is the fiery voice of conservative truth who can reclaim America.  To others, Newt is an unprincipled loose cannon, while Mitt is a steady, conservative politician whose problem-solving skills make him the only one who can defeat Obama.  Still others see both Mitt and Newt as RINOs (one of whom has a backbone of noodle, while the other has the ethics of an alley cat), while Rick Santorum is the only true conservative in the house — never mind the fact, say entirely different pundits, that Rick’s conservative stances on social issues assure that he’ll lose to Obama.

I find all of the above viewpoints both interesting and credible.  Newt is an exciting speaker who articulates core truths about America, the economy, and national security that too many Americans, intimated by the PC police, have been stifling for years.  His fund of knowledge is impressive and enjoyable.  And of course, he’s the man whose insider skills in the 1990s forced the entire political system slightly to the right.  On the other side of the scale, he’s a man who has cheated on at least two wives (and I really don’t want to find out if he’s been cheating on a third), he’s known to be a terrible manager, his relationship to truth can be distant at best, he’s erratic, he too often sees Big Government as the vehicle for his own eclectic brilliance, and so on and so forth.

(Image by Gage Skidmore)

Then there’s Mitt.  We all know and appreciate the Good Mitt.  This is the Mitt who understands the market; the Mitt who has impressive organizational abilities; the Mitt who has proven to be an adept, albeit unexciting candidate; the Mitt who makes the Republican establishment feel loved; and the Mitt who, we are told, can entice the independents whom Newt frightens.  But all is not wonderful in Mitt land.  There’s also the Less Good Mitt, the unrepentant architect of RomneyCare; the man who, when he isn’t flipping, is flopping; the man whose Mormonism worries those who believe he is committing a profound doctrinal error that reflects on his judgment and intelligence; and, which might be the worst thing of all in a hyper-media age, the man who has the charm and warmth of a first generation android.

(Image by Gage Skidmore)

And what about Rick?  My God, the man is a Boy Scout, and I mean that in a good way.  He’s honest, loyal, decent, moral, and truly conservative.  He’s definitely what we conservatives want.  Except for that little problem he has of fading into the woodwork, not to mention the fact that, with the nation trending further and further left on social issues, there’s the strong likelihood, say many, that he’ll be the poison pill candidate for independent voters.

(Image by Gage Skidmore)

Darn those independent voters!  They’re the real problem, because all three conservative candidate (and, yes, I am ignoring Ron Paul entirely) could easily win against Obama if we could automatically co-opt independents into conservativism.  We can’t, though, which paralyzes the Republican primary.  While the independents seem to dislike Obama with ever greater intensity, the mainstream media has trained them, like tens of thousands of Pavlovian dogs, to be very hostile to certain stand-out traits in the last three Republicans standing:  Newt is the evil architect of the Contract with America; Mitt is the evil Mormon; and Rick is the evil Christian who will imprison all your gay friends and relatives.  Evil!  Evil!  Evil!

The worst thing of all, though, considering all the alleged evil the MSM keeps highlighting, is the fact that America’s premier conservative commentators aren’t doing anything to help.  Rather than building up their candidate of choice, they too are just as busy as the MSM, and the candidates themselves, in the savagery of their attacks against the candidates they don’t like.

It’s worth remembering that Newt rose to prominence during the debates because, in the beginning, he kept a laser-like focus on Obama.  He pointed out Obama’s myriad, manifest flaws and failings, and articulated ideas that promised to help America recover from her experiment with a true Leftist in the White House.  His numbers rose.  When Romney went negative, though, so did Newt — and so did everyone else.  In the last couple of months, the flesh-ripping on the debate stage is sickening, and the political commentators, rather than stepping in to help focus the voters on their chosen candidate’s attributes, are standing at the base of the stage drinking up the flowing blood.

THIS IS NOT HELPFUL.  If you’re going to have an opinion, advance useful information that helps affirmative decision-making and that helps staunch the sanguinary stream we’re currently giving as a gift to the MSM.  Yes, it’s good for the candidates to get groomed to fight the dirty fight, because it’s going to be very dirty indeed when they stand on a stage opposite Barack Obama.  I think, though, that we can comfortably conclude that the current batch has the grit to take the hits.  It’s time now to give the voters the help they need to choose the best candidate, rather than just to avoid the worst.

My mother’s war, courtesy of Pearl Harbor

My mother’s heading to the hospital again today.  She’s not aging gracefully, in large part because of the damage done to her body and soul during WWII.  I thought that this would be a good day for me to reprint what I once wrote about her war (originally part of this longer post about Japanese atrocities).

In 1941, my mother was a 17 year old Dutch girl living in Java. Life was good then. Although the war was raging in Europe, and Holland had long been under Nazi occupation, the colonies were still outside the theater of war. The colonial Dutch therefore were able to enjoy the traditional perks of the Empire, with lovely homes, tended by cheap Indonesian labor. All that changed with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Most Americans think of Pearl Harbor as a uniquely American event, not realizing that it was simply the opening salvo the Japanese fired in their generalized war to gain total ascendancy in the Pacific. While Pearl Harbor devastated the American navy, the Japanese did not conquer American soil. Residents in the Philippines (American territory), Indonesia (Dutch territory), Malaya (British territory), and Singapore (also British) were not so lucky. Each of those islands fell completely to the Japanese, and the civilians on those islands found themselves prisoners of war.

In the beginning, things didn’t look so bad. The Japanese immediately set about concentrating the civilian population by moving people into group housing, but that was tolerable. The next step, however, was to remove all the men, and any boys who weren’t actually small children. (Wait, I misspoke. The next step was the slaughter of household pets — dogs and cats — which was accomplished by picking them up by their hind legs and smashing their heads against walls and trees.)

After this separation, the men and women remained completely segregated for the remainder of the war. The men were subjected to brutal slave labor, and had an attrition rate much higher than the women did. Also, with the typical Bushido disrespect for men who didn’t have the decency to kill themselves, rather than to surrender, the men were tortured at a rather consistent rate.

One of my mother’s friends discovered, at war’s end, that her husband had been decapitated. This is what it looked like when the Japanese decapitated a prisoner (the prisoner in this case being an Australian airman):

Japanese execution0001

The women were not decapitated, but they were subjected to terrible tortures. After the men were taken away, the women and children were loaded in trucks and taken to various camps. The truck rides were torturous. The women and children were packed into the trucks, with no food, no water, no toilet, facilities, and no shade, and traveled for hours in the steamy equatorial heat.

Once in camp, the women were given small shelves to sleep on (about 24 inches across), row after row, like sardines. They were periodically subjected to group punishments. The one that lives in my mother’s memory more than sixty years after the fact was the requirement that they stand in the camp compound, in the sun, for 24 hours. No food, no water, no shade, no sitting down, no restroom breaks (and many of the women were liquid with dysentery and other intestinal diseases and parasitical problems). For 24 hours, they’d just stand there, in the humid, 90+ degree temperature, under the blazing tropical sun. The older women, the children and the sick died where they stood.

There were other indignities. One of the camp commandants believed himself to have “moon madness.” Whenever there was a full moon, he gave himself license to seek out the prisoners and torture those who took his fancy. He liked to use knives. He was the only Japanese camp commandant in Java who was executed after the war for war crimes.

Of course, the main problem with camp was the deprivation and disease. Rations that started out slender were practically nonexistent by war’s end. Eventually, the women in the camp were competing with the pigs for food. If the women couldn’t supplement their rations with pig slop, all they got was a thin fish broth with a single bite sized piece of meat and some rice floating in it. The women were also given the equivalent of a spoonful of sugar per week. My mother always tried to ration hers but couldn’t do it. Instead, she’d gobble it instantly, and live with the guilt of her lack of self-control.

By war’s end, my mother, who was then 5’2″, weighed 65 pounds. What frightened her at the beginning of August 1945 wasn’t the hunger, but the fact that she no longer felt hungry. She knew that when a women stopped wanting to eat, she had started to die. Had the atomic bomb not dropped when it did, my mother would have starved to death.

Starvation wasn’t the only problem. Due to malnourishment and lack of proper protection, my mother had beriberi, two different types of malaria (so as one fever ebbed, the other flowed), tuberculosis, and dysentery. At the beginning of the internment, the Japanese were providing some primitive medical care for some of these ailments. As the war ground on, of course, there was no medicine for any of these maladies. She survived because she was young and strong. Others didn’t.

So yes, the Japanese were different. They approached war — and especially civilian populations — with a brutality equaled only by the Germans. War is brutal, and individual soldiers can do terrible things, but the fact remains that American troops and the American government, even when they made mistakes (and the Japanese internment in American was one of those mistakes) never engaged in the kind of systematic torture and murder that characterized Bushido Japanese interactions with those they deemed their enemies. It is a tribute to America’s humane post-WWII influence and the Japanese willingness to abandon its past that the Bushido culture is dead and gone, and that the Japanese no longer feel compelled by culture to create enemies and then to engage in the systematic torture and murder of those enemies.

The nuclear plant problem in Japan — and the problem with ideologues in science *UPDATED*

Mr. Bookworm, New York Times reader, was telling the children that there was a total catastrophe in Japan, with the Japanese and the world exposed to the possibility of massive radiation poisoning.  I calmed the children’s fears by telling them that the paper could be right, but it could be wrong.  First, newspapers sell well on disasters, so it’s in their interest to play them up.  Second, I said, it’s doubtful that most of the reporters have any understanding of nuclear technology, so they’re winging it.  (What I didn’t add is that, almost certainly, the Times’ reporters have as their only “experts” anti-nuclear activists.  There’s nothing wrong with getting the activists’ point of view, but the reporting would be more honest if (a) the Times revealed their biases and (b) the Times talked to some people on the other, non-hysterical side.)  The children, bless their hearts, said “Mom, we know that!”

Anyway, if you want a view from the other side, written in the clearest English I’ve ever seen in a science-based article, read Charlie Martin on the nuclear meltdown and the media.  Whether or not you agree with him, he writes so well, you will certainly understand him.

By the way, this is a great place to tell a story I’ve had in my brain for several days.  I have to digress a teeny bit to set the story up, so please bear with me.

I own a Kindle.  I love the convenience (no more suitcases full of paperbacks when I travel), but I find the book pricing off-putting.  With the choice of free books at the library, or cheap books at Goodwill, I’m not thrilled about spending $10.00 on a book.  What makes it worse in my mind is that, while hardback books are marked down about 40-50% (hence the $10 or $12 Kindle pricing), paperback books are priced down only about 5%.  I’m too cheap to buy a full-priced paperback at the best of times (preferring to gamble that I’ll find something I like at Goodwill or the library), so I’m certainly not going to buy the same book for a mere 5% discount.

So I’ve got a Kindle, but I’m unwilling to buy the books.  The answer is to get the free books that show up on Kindle.  Sometimes, there are real finds there.  For example, if a reputable author is publishing the most recent book in a long-running series, the publishers will put out the first book for free, as a loss leader, to entice people.  That works for me and I have been enticed.  There are also free classics (or low priced, 99 cent, classics).  There are a lot of books that are pure garbage and are free because no one will or should pay any other price.  And there are books that see a publisher just trying to get titles out there and gin up some interest.

That last e-publishing approach is how I ended up with a free copy of Sherry Seethaler’s Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort through the Noise around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies. The publisher’s blurb promises that the book will help savvy news consumers understand the science in the news:

Every day, there’s a new scientific or health controversy. And every day, it seems as if there’s a new study that contradicts what you heard yesterday. What’s really going on? Who’s telling the truth? Who’s faking it? What do scientists actually know—and what don’t they know? This book will help you cut through the confusion and make sense of it all—even if you’ve never taken a science class! Leading science educator and journalist Dr. Sherry Seethaler reveals how science and health research really work…how to put scientific claims in context and understand the real tradeoffs involved…tell quality research from junk science…discover when someone’s deliberately trying to fool you…and find more information you can trust! Nobody knows what new controversy will erupt tomorrow. But one thing’s for certain: With this book, you’ll know how to figure out the real deal—and make smarter decisions for yourself and your family!

Watch the news, and you’ll be overwhelmed by snippets of badly presented science: information that’s incomplete, confusing, contradictory, out-of-context, wrong, or flat-out dishonest. Defend yourself! Dr. Sherry Seethaler gives you a powerful arsenal of tools for making sense of science. You’ll learn how to think more sensibly about everything from mad cow disease to global warming–and how to make better science-related decisions in both your personal life and as a citizen.

You’ll begin by understanding how science really works and progresses, and why scientists sometimes disagree. Seethaler helps you assess the possible biases of those who make scientific claims in the media, and place scientific issues in appropriate context, so you can intelligently assess tradeoffs. You’ll learn how to determine whether a new study is really meaningful; uncover the difference between cause and coincidence; figure out which statistics mean something, and which don’t.

Seethaler reveals the tricks self-interested players use to mislead and confuse you, and points you to sources of information you can actually rely upon. Her many examples range from genetic engineering of crops to drug treatments for depression…but the techniques she teaches you will be invaluable in understanding any scientific controversy, in any area of science or health.

^ Potions, plots, and personalities: How science progresses, and why scientists sometimes disagree
^ Is it “cause” or merely coincidence? How to tell compelling evidence from a “good story”
^ There are always tradeoffs: How to put science and health claims in context, and understand their real implications
^ All the tricks experts use to fool you, exposed! How to recognize lies, “truthiness,” or pseudo-expertise

At first, the book seemed to live up to its promises.  Seethaler explained that it was entirely legitimate for scientists to disagree, because science is not as black-and-white as elementary, middle and high schools imply.  Different techniques, different equipment, and different starting hypotheses can all result in differing outcomes that are open to legitimate dispute.  Seethaler explains that, quite often, conventional wisdom has proven to be plain wrong.  The nature of hypotheses is that they are tested, and then tested again, especially as new information and technology come along.

Seethaler also talks about modeling.  The way in which a scientist sets up a model — the parameters he chooses, the information he enters, and the calculations he applies — may dramatically affect the conclusions he reaches.

In light of all these variables, Seethaler acknowledges that, as she says, “scientific revolutions really happen.”  Conventional wisdom frequently gets turned on its head.  Few things are fixed in the world of true science.  What’s important, she says, is that “disputes are not a sign of science gone wrong.”  Instead, they represent scientists dealing with all of the problems, and variables, and information, and scientific development described above.  This can mean, Seethaler writes, that one person, one outlier, can turn conventional wisdom on its head.

After all this, you’d think, wouldn’t you, that Seethaler would carry these conclusions through to the subject of anthropogenic global warming, right?  Oh, so wrong.  Turning her back on everything she wrote in the preceding chapters, Seethaler has this to say on global warming, in the context of a warning the newspapers like to play up conflict, but don’t really understand scientific methodology:

Another problem is what sociologist Christopher Tourmey referred to as pseudo-symmetry of scientific authority — the media sometimes presents controversy as if scientists are evenly divided bewteen two points of view, when one of the points of view is held by a large majority of the scientific community.  For example, until recently, the media often gave equal time and space to the arguments for and against humans as the cause of global climate change.  Surveys of individual climate scientists have indicated that there is discord among scientists on the issue, but that the majority of scientists agree that humans are altering global climate.  One anlaysis of a decade of research papers on global climate change found no papers that disputed human impacts on global climate.  Also, all but one of the major scientific organizations in the United States whose members have expertise relevant to global climate change, more than a dozen organizations in all, have issued statements acknowledging that human activities are altering the earth’s climate.  The American Association of Petroleum Geologists dissents.  Therefore, there is a general consensus within the scientific community that humans are causing global climate change.  While it is legitimate to explore the arguments agianst the consensus position on global climate change, it is misleading for the media to present the issue so as to give the impression that the scientific community is evenly divided on the matter.

Have you read any media in the last ten years that “gave equal time and space to the arguments for and against humans as the cause of global climate change?”  I haven’t.  With the exception of Fox, the media has monolithically climbed aboard the AGW bandwagon, and ignored or discredited any contrary voices.

Also, considering that Seethaler spent pages and pages and pages warning against assuming that science is fixed, explaining how different approaches to models and hypotheses can affect scientific conclusions, and applauding outliers who challenged (correctly) institutional consensus, do you find it as peculiar as I do to have her suddenly announce that AGW is definitely proven and that any voices to the contrary should be ignored?  It also doesn’t seem to have occurred to her that, in this monolithic intellectual climate, the absence of published papers challenging AGW may arise from the fact that the challengers are being barred at the gates.

I deleted Seethaler’s book from my Kindle at this point.  The woman is a foolish ideologue, incapable of practicing what she preaches.  She’s also probably pretty typical of the science writers and “experts” bloviating about the very real nuclear problems in Japan.  That is, there are real problems, and real risks, but never trust an ideologue to be honest with you when it comes to the conclusions to be drawn from the facts.

UPDATE:  Another good example of the media’s gross (and, I suspect, intentional) scientific ignorance.

What is it with this guy and bowing?

The Emperor of Japan is not a totalitarian dictator, thank goodness.  Indeed, he seems like a very sweet little man.  But what in heaven’s name is up with our president going around the world bowing?

APTOPIX Japan Obama AsiaWe’re Americans!  We show respect, but we don’t bow.  And there’s something really weird, too, about the most arrogant person on earth (that would be the guy on the left) turning into a gelatinous substance before male royal figures.  As you recall, he didn’t bow to Queen Elizabeth.  I thought that this had to do with his anti-British animus, which I still believe, but I’m ready to add his misogyny into the mix of reasons he didn’t fold at the middle.

My mom is a Hiroshima bomb survivor too *UPDATED*

Tomorrow is the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and you can expect the usual breast-beating about how unutterably evil we were to target Japan’s civilian population.  Here in Marin, a “Hiroshima survivor” is going to read poems and speak about her experiences.

I freely acknowledge that this survivor went through a horrific experience that I hope is never again repeated.  Still, I’d like to acknowledge the other Hiroshima bomb survivors.  My Mom is one of those survivors.

My Mom wasn’t in Japan when the Americans dropped the bomb.  She wasn’t anywhere near Japan.  She was in Java, a civilian in a Japanese concentration camp, on the verge of starving to death.  But for the fact that the atom bombs immediately terminated the war in the Pacific, she would have died.  She didn’t have another month or even another week.  She needed the war to end instantly.  It was the bombing at Hiroshima that enabled her to survive the war.

Nor was my mother alone.  Truman didn’t drop the bomb only to impress the Soviets or to play with an exciting new toy.  He dropped the bomb because he’d been credibly advised that the Japanese were not going to surrender, but would fight the war on their own ground — and this was true despite the fact that the Japanese knew as well as the Americans did that the Japanese could not win.  In July 1945, Truman was looking at the possibility of up to 50,000 more American deaths, plus all of the Japanese military and civilian deaths.  (And that’s not even counting the Marines already suffering unthinkable torture in Japanese camps and slave works, or American, Dutch and English civilians imprisoned all over the Pacific).  Given that the Japanese had started the war and then refused to end it (even though they were losing), one big bomb that would kill the same number of Japanese with no American casualties seemed like a very good idea at the time.

So as the media predictably inundates us with stories of Japanese Hiroshima survivors (or I assume it will based on past history), feel free to sympathize with their very real suffering.  Please, however, take a minute to remember the other Hiroshima survivors, those whose suffering at Japanese hands was ended because of that same bomb.

UPDATE:  Thomas Lifson, who was kind enough to link to this post, adds an important bit of information: D.M. Giangreco, a military historian who is one of the people most intimately familiar with the invasion of Japan, has written a book on the subject, Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947, which comes out in a month or two.  I’ve corresponded with Mr. Giangreco and can assure you that he knows the subject intimately.  If this subject is at all interesting to you, you should get the book.

Sheep? *UPDATED*

There is a horrific story out of Japan today about a man who crashed a truck into a crowd of people, and then proceeded to complete the carnage by stabbing as many of them as possible. The story says that the man ended his spree only when surrounded by police:

A witness told NHK the suspect dropped the knife after police threatened to shoot him. An amateur video filmed by a mobile phone showed policemen overpowering the bespectacled suspect.

I’ve never been in a violent situation (thank God), so I have absolutely no idea what the dynamics are. I don’t know what it feels like to be paralyzed by gut-clenching fear. I don’t know what I would do if a maniac headed towards me (or anyone else) with a knife. And I don’t know how many people were already incapacitated because of the initial truck crash. But . . . . But . . . .

It’s always seemed to me that the nature of a knife is that, in a crowd, it’s a “one person at a time” weapon. When Brits used to boast about their lower death rate from crime, it was easy to point out that they had just as many violent attacks, only they did it less efficiently with knives in bars. In other words, back then, they were as willing to kill as Americans but, because they didn’t have a gun culture (something that has changed, as they now have both a knife and a gun culture), the damage was more limited.

How is it, therefore, that this guy was able to inflict such spectacular damage with a knife? Was there no one there who could take on a guy wielding a knife? It’s possible, of course, that everyone in proximity was already too damaged by the car crash to be of any defensive use, but I do wonder.

I suspect that, as Ymarsakar (who blogs at Sake White) might say, modern Japanese society has bred itself down to sheep-like status, with its individual members incapable of defending themselves any more. All they do is wait for the guard dogs to come to their defense. (Jews, between 1938 and 1945, learned that the guard dogs often do not come. That’s why Israel, up until recently, has done such a damn good job of defending herself.)

Do you all have more information or different opinions? As you can see, I’m just wildly hypothesizing here about a story that struck me as both horrible and peculiar.

UPDATE: I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. As 11B40 points out in a comment, CDR Salamander made exactly the same point, only better, because he knows about combat and combat training.