Monday, December 28, 2015

Giant Squid

A giant squid swam into a harbor in Toyama Prefecture, and thank the gods of technology, people recorded videos.  It's so beautiful.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Magic of The Atom

So, I’ve been seeing this around the interweb’s various social media lately:
        Now, I have no knowledge of the identities of the two posters, just-shower-thoughts and mallemerok.  I don’t know if they are Americans or not.  I don’t care.  Even if they were just having fun, the internet is taking them at face value.  And that’s where I come in.  I know I’m nerd-raging, but this is the sort of thing I started this blog to talk about.  The first poster is wrong.  You can find nuclear-spawned heroes and monsters in both American and Japanese popular culture.  The second poster is also wrong, because the narratives you get in our two countries are more the same than anything else.  The tumblr posters think the difference in the narratives is the outcome, but the heart of both narratives is that nuclear radiation is a source of power that is in effect, magic.  I do know that mallemerok is talking about the atomic bomb, and that event casts a long shadow over the Japanese imagination.  If I do not mention it, someone will think I need it pointed out.
When we think of nuclear spawned monsters we think of Godzilla and The Hulk, the Beast From Twenty Thousand Fathoms, and just about any movie featuring a giant version of an ordinary animal.  Amongst the heroes, Spider-man and the Hulk are the most famous and enjoy a large following in Japan.   But Japan’s Astro Boy also gets his powers from nuclear fuel and the lesser known Inazuman owes his powers to a radiation-triggered mutation.   The common connection between the stories about Spider-man and Godzilla is that nuclear radiation created them, but both characters go against the laws of physics.  Well, to say the likes of Spider-man and Godzilla break the laws of physics is to under-sell it.  There really is no science whatsoever in these stories.  They are so far from reality almost no one even bothers to go through the bad science of comic books and Japanese tokusatsu.  
What you have in these stories is: a) nuclear science is a source of power, b) so it confers power on other beings.  Well, a) is true.  Conferring power on another being is something that magic does.  In other words, popular culture treats nuclear science like a classic superstition.  With the right invocation, the atom gives its gifts.  Spider-man does not know the right invocation, but he could reproduce the accident that gave him his powers if he experimented.  Astro Boy’s creator Dr. Tenma did know the right invocation.  So did Albert Einstein, Edward Teller, Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

So You Want to Talk About Hitler

Ok.  Good.  We should talk about Adolf Hitler. He was a significant historical figure after all.

Let’s just make sure we get all of our facts right.

Unfortunately, people often don't.  There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Hitler and the Nazis.  If you expect to learn from history, you have make sure you get everything right.  And speaking of everything, in History that happens to be what context is.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Two high profile gun rampages within a week.  A lot has been said.  Every once in a while, when one of these makes the news overseas, my Japanese friends ask me to explain what the hell is even going on.  I do my best, I don't know how well my answers work for them.  My friends ask me these questions because mass shootings really do not happen in Japan.  Japan does have the occasional knife rampage, vehicular homicide, and gangland shootings, but not the kind of seemingly random events of violence we Americans deal with.   They do have very strict weapons control.  Almost nobody in Japan owns a gun and the police rarely carry them.  But that does not mean that Japan has no interest in weaponry.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A few weeks ago I announced that this blog was going to have weekly updates.  I apologize for not following through on that.  I haven’t given up, and I intend to keep writing here. 
So, on to today’s subject: changes in Chinese population control laws.  It is now legal for Chinese couples to have up to two children without special permission or pain of punishment.  A seemingly simple change speaks volumes about China.  If you remember, the Communist Party first announced plans for this round of reforms two years ago at the Party Congress that also anointed Xi Jinping as paramount leader.  In that post, I mentioned that Chinese Communist Party reformers like to work slowly, carefully and very deliberately.  And here we are, two years after they first announced it, the government of China relaxed the birth control laws.  The announcement made a lot of waves, and raised a lot of questions about it’s actual significance to China. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What We Know and When We’ll Know It

It’s been a long road.  After eight years of negotiations 12 countries finally agreed on something.  That alone is a pretty big deal.  Getting 12 people to agree on one thing is hard enough.  Unfortunately, I think much of the story about the TPP so far has been distorted by misinformation and anxiety on the part of the general public.  It has been hard to debunk the myths, scaremongering, and misconceptions about the TPP thus far because there is not enough information to present in response.  We had that problem because until last week, there was nothing.  We had statements of priorities from various trade representatives, but no actual deal.  A statement of your priorities has all the standing of a grocery list.  You need your partners to agree to the same things for them to have any meaning. 

I'm back!

Hey there, fellow Asia-philes!  It's your old Uncle Alex.  After a very long hiatus, I'm finally ready to return to blogging.  A lot happened in the last year, and I just needed fewer things to deal with for a time.  I'm settled in at a new job, new digs, new city and eager to return to my old interests.  So I'm planning to revive the blog and commit to a regular schedule of a writing.  I intend to do at least one major post a month; a nice long analytical piece.  In between those, whenever my muse inspires me I will post something, shorter.

There is plenty to talk about out of Asia.  For instance, Japan's new defense policies, the Trans Pacific Partnership, economic temblors in China, and of course, a mainstay in this space: North Korea!