Friday, February 28, 2014

Two Steps Back

Right on cue, the Japanese government seems intent on inflaming tensions rather than buttressing any reason for resolution.  Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary has announced plans to form a body of scholars to review the historical evidence around claims that comfort women were forced to work in military brothels.  Bowing to pressure from right wing nationalists, the Japanese government will effectively conduct a study to consider whether or not to rescind an apology. 

This kind of effort can be couched in historical discipline.  Members of the far right say: 
“there is insufficient objective evidence to support the testimony of the women that the Japanese military forced them to provide sex.”

Well, if something objective is what is desired, than it should be an international study.  There must be piles of evidence collected by the U.S. as it occupied formerly held, Japanese land.  There are still countless women and men alive China, the Philippines, Korea and other territories who could testify, if they haven’t already.  And rightists could deride all of this as somehow not “objective” it is true as it is the testimony of victims or conquerors.  But then where are Japanese themselves, who are certainly still alive as well, who issued orders, managed facilities and utilized brothels?  Is there no one left with the dignity to settle their guilty conscience on this?  Will the nation as a whole allow itself to somehow, 回心转意[1]?

Rhetorically China and South Korea feel as if they won’t give an inch on reconciliation matters with Japan.  Japan, meanwhile feels like it gave an inch and now wants to take it back.  I can understand that no nation wants to be pilloried ad infinitum.  But this recidivism is oil to the flames.  What possible benefits to Japan could there be from further isolating themselves, from what should be their enormous opportunity to participate in the transformation of their neighborhood.  This not only pushes South Korea, North Korea and China away, but it countries that would otherwise be allies, like the Philippines away too.  It even rattles affinities with their primary benefactor, the U.S. 

The path to a glorified future for Japan cannot be through backing away from the brave gestures of reconciliation made by the previous generation.  Abe wants a Japan that can stand up and be “normal.”  He doesn’t want a nation that cannot assert itself.  But part of being normal is embracing your past, warts and all.   Rewriting Imperial history, not with the goal of richer, objective data and analysis, but rather under the guise of academics politically harnessed to arrive at a foregone conclusion so as to distance the nation from any culpability in infamy, does nothing for Japan’s dignity in the eyes of anyone.  Where can Japan turn to for camaraderie with this disposition?  Nowhere, but in on itself.  There is no bucolic Edo period on the horizon to return to. 

Once again, I turn to an avant garde player, this time Steve Lacy, not so much to calm me down, but rather to testify to the complexity of this spaghetti bowl of hatred and recrimination. Beneath the anger, pride and self-defense there is a steady beating of something dignified, urgent, reliable that will not be denied.  I can believe in Lacy’s solo, just like I can Don Cherry’s on this 1961 set, "Evidence."  Evidence is subjective.  Neither one are harmonious, both are legitimate, compelling.  Convention, even in realm of ‘free jazz’ suggests they both get a turn to speak, and they both acknowledge something beyond the needs of one’s own voice that tempers and guide’s them.  Neither soloist wants it to descend into cacophony.

Born Steven Lackritz, in New York City in 1934, of Russian parents, Lacy made the trip through his life and his playing from Dixieland playing straight on out to the peripheries of the possible, as he grew during the sixties and seventies.  Growing up on the Upper West side, fascinated early with the music of Sidney Bachet, I enjoyed his quote that “no one could get more avante garde than Louis Armstrong.”  And throughout his career he seemed to return to the anchoring influence of Monk.  Reading about him now he was forever pushing to incorporate a range of artistic medium into his craft, so that dancers, artists, poets were tapped and engaged and collaborated with.  He died in Boston at the age of 69, in 2004.  The respective obits from the Times and the Guardian offer complementary detail on this remarkable protagonist in the great jazz narrative.

Bring on the avant garde solution, the evidence" of some bravery in the region to lead a reconciliation before the positions ossify so stiffly they break.

[1] huíxīnzhuǎnyì:  to change one's mind (idiom)

Shoot the Dead

It really isn’t over.  Vengeance deferred, festering.  Till what?   A mere apology apparently, could never suffice.  Irritation a constant, until you can have your hobnail on some innocent decedents throat, or until you move through the infamy and claim your own dignity that isn’t dependent on anyone else. 

An official Chinese news portal associated with the Party’s flagship paper has introduced a game that allows people to shoot dead convicted Japanese War Criminals.   The same War Criminals who were hung and lay buried in the Yasukuni Shrine.  The game makers claim this “exposes the crimes” of those who were already long since hung for their crimes.  This is simply racist jingoism.   The people who made this, the people who promote this, the people who play this, should be ashamed of themselves. 

China never had their moment with the boot on the throat at the end of the war.  These War Criminals each dropped to their deaths, with their necks snapped by their own weight, falling on the rope.  But neither China, nor Korea ever got to open the trap door, or to hold fast the rope.  And, this is the hard part, they never will.  The War Criminals, are already dead. 

It is shameful of Japan to officially honor these particular war dead.  They shouldn’t.  China and the United States, and South Korea and North Korea are right to say that such activity is offensive.  But officially promoting a vehicle where Chinese people, and in particular, Chinese young people who enjoy first person shooter games, can blow the heads off of War Criminals, executed some sixty-nine years ago, under the guise of education encourages violent fantasies and racist hatred and does nothing to educate, resolve, evolve or in any way speak to the majesty of Chinese civilization.  Instead, the nation is wilfully infantilized.  They cultivate what is most base, most craven and most cowardly in the national character and impede the China’s reclamation of anything glorious.

It is human to indulge in fantasies of wanting to put the boot on the throat of an aggressor.  If you're the victim of a mugging, you can’t help but heal by imagining, at least, revenge.  But to cultivate that sentiment as a national policy for generation, after generation, after the fact gets the nation absolutely nowhere. Indeed, it gets you further away from a point of healing and reconciliation.  Reasonably intelligent Japanese people will only dismiss this as the nonsense of a violent simpleton.  If you want to change behavior, if you want to cultivate what is best in the nation, show your degree of civility by arguing matters with dignity.  Japan will be influenced positively by a China it can once again, look up to, not some place taught to growl or endure stentorian, racist, theatrics. 

And certainly there aren’t more than a dozen people who give a toss about what I say on the topic.   Where is the Chinese person brave enough to stand up to this scurrying behavior and speak out clearly against racism, against the official cultivation of hate?  Where is the Japanese brave enough forcefully call an unconditional official reckoning, to shame the equivocation of the neo militarists with their trucks and their speakers? We need the courage of 淑人君子[1], not the fitful scurrying of 小人[2].

“Imani” is the Swahili word for “faith.”  Faith in humanity’s potential to evolve and cooperate is, if not a more likely an outcome than self destruction, at least a possibility.  We are here, after all.  I need a steel rail to hold on to when I reckon with all the default hatred in this neighborhood.  I’ll choose to ascribe faith, Imani in that.  But faith is dark, angular and tested, always, like the Dewey Redman song of the same name.  It appears on “The Ear of the Beholder” from 1973.  Majestic, sad, resolved, resolution of wounds long scarred will be a similarly complicated progression. 

Dewey Redman is usually associated with “free jazz’ or the avant garde through his work with Ornette Coleman that dates back to their time together in the high school marching band.  This disc is pushing the boundaries of melody in a way that, for that time at least feels warm and genuine.  Born in Fort Worth Texas in 1931, he lived long enough to see his son Joshua secure great fame as a tenor player as well.  I hope we will one day see the sons and daughters of bitter Chinese and complacent Japanese, do better than their parents and certainly their grandparents did at finding an honorable resolution.

[1] shūrénjūnzi: virtuous gentleman (idiom)

[2] xiǎorén:  person of low social status (old) / I, me (used to refer humbly to oneself) / nasty person / vile character

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

That's What I'm Talking About

Finally.  I feel like a farmer for whom life itself is tied to the weather.  It rained.  It cleared.  It’s lovely again.  See my notes below from yesterday early evening, when the precipitation first, miraculously appeared.

5:00PM:  Drizzle!  Late afternoon drizzle. Is this the government seeding the clouds or has the rain finally come?  The back porch looks like its been misted. 

6:30PM:  Proper rain.  I can hear it.  The smell of the earth finally accepting water, finally releasing all its brittle, pent up odors.  The seeds, finally considering the possibility of stirring.  Open up the skies.  Drive this nasty netting away. 

And that’s all it took. This morning the sun is up, what seems like, an hour earlier.  天晴[1]  The drive over to school with my daughter, no nasty, methane mist to cut through.  It actually looks like spring.  It’s all we can talk about on the ride in.  Mind you, it wasn’t a deluge.  There aren’t any puddles. It petered out after a while.  But we’ll take it.

One’s entire mood is reconfigured to something hopeful, instead of dreary.  If you live far enough up in the northern hemisphere, as the waning of spring in March turns into the glory of April you know it is something you earn.  No one ever feels like they “earned” a sunny day in Palo Alto.  It just is.  In a place with a proper winter, spring generally means warmth and the attendant rebirth.  But today, the second to last day of February, I’m very grateful for the clarity.  It ain’t spring yet.  But it’s getting there.  I can see. 

I just ducked out to snap a few photos from the same view I did yesterday.  This is what I’m talking about.

Take a look at yesterdays posting, for comparison sake.  
As Jimi Hendrix says after he solos on “Fire:”  “That’s what I’m talkin about”

Yesterday, in the murk, strutting away on the stair master, “Guns of Brixton” came on.  It seemed appropriately dreadful, Paul Simonon’ s faltering, utterly plausible opening “When they . . . “ He sings of “the Brixton sun” but you know its cloudy there.   I got to see them when they played the Palladium in Manhattan that year.  It was the second or third concert I’d ever seen and it changed, everything.  The cover photo from the album that “Guns of Brixton” would later appear on, “London Calling” of Paul smashing his bass, was snapped at that show.  They got no airplay, every single other person who heard them hated it.  No one at school knew or liked them.  Perfect. 

And the iTunes “genius” function sometimes works nicely, for by the time we were saying “good by to the Brixton sun”, with the final twang of the Jew’s-harp  and flex of the whammy bar, it threw on “Complete Control” from their first album.  That did it. The aural atmosphere of the mix on that album, on that song, throws open a window to urgent clarity of ones first year as a teen. That song, that entire album remains a flawless gesture.  The flag they planted there still flutters, defiantly, daring someone to knock them off the stage poised at the dawning of Thatcherism.

Years later, when they were bigger, and I, naturally hated them, my friend got talking back stage with Paul Simonon who he described as disarmingly friendly, in welcoming him along for a party and treating him with the utmost civility.  I like to think of that vision of him.  Topper Headon the drummer always seemed a bit vacant, what with his notorious habit.  All one had to see was Mick Jones berate the ‘Rude Boy’ after singing “Stay Free” in “Rude Boy” film to know he would perhaps be best not to approach for a stick of gum.  And then there was Joe, who of course looked cool and seemed wise, but would have had all the headlights blaring at him. 

I just did a quick check and I’m glad to see that all those council housing spawned miscreants, who channeled something perfect and timeless for a while together are all, with the sad exception of Joe Strummer, who passed in 2002, still alive.  I hope they're well and remain productive or at least happy.  When the punks start dropping like the jazz musicians I usually write about, we’ll know the game’s nearly up.

For now though, I’m gonna savor the hard-earned blue skies. 

[1]  yǔguòtiānqíng:  sky clears after rain / new hopes after a disastrous period (idiom) / every cloud has a silver lining