Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the world is alive

A poignant reminder in this most precarious, saddest, happiest of seasons.

Poised between weariness and hope.

Longing and waiting.

In the rain.

*       *       *

Winter and Summer

All the sweetness of nature was buried in black winter's grave, and the wind sings a sad lament with its cold plaintive cry; but oh, the teeming summer will come, bringing life in its arms, and will strew rosy flowers on the face of hill and dale.

In lovely harmony the wood has put on its green mantle, and summer is on its throne, playing its string-music; the willow, whose harp hung silent when it was withered in winter, now gives forth its melody -- Hush ! Listen ! The world is alive.

--from the Welsh; Thomas Telynog Evans; 1840-65, in A Celtic Miscellany, Sel. and Trans. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (London: Penguin, 1971), p. 87.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

tatemae & honne (3)

Goodness gracious.

Even in their 'unpredictability' these chaps can be depressingly predictable.

It seems that friendship for them is some kind of ledger book, where favours gained and given are regularly and painstakingly tallied.

Everything is subordinated to the strictest calculations.

Anything offends their fragile egos, anything makes them change their minds and loyalties, anything un-balances their damn books.

If at least they told it loud and clear or spat it out, for God's sake. But no. These folks are so repressed that they pile up resentment and cowardly slam the door in your face when you least expect it (well, not anymore really; you become so used to their duplicity that they no longer catch you off-guard).

A gross, gross mistake then to expect things like candour, integrity or character from people who seldom look inside themselves to discern right from wrong. Individual conscience and guilt just do not seem to form part of their moral landscape. Facades are everything.

The other day an expat friend told me that their murky mindset is neither right not wrong but just not right for him, personally. Instead, I would rather conclude that our moral worlds are just way too different -- that we perceive the world in radically distinct, incommensurable ways.

With few, very few exceptions, no common ground is possible, alas. (Nor do most of them have the time or interest outside their regimented routines and habits of thought to establish any.)

Yet I cannot say I have closed the book(s) on the Japanese, because I have never kept any books from the very outset.

'Friendship' accountancy is simply not my cup of tea. I won't let go of what is for me the last stronghold of uncalculatedness, spontaneity and freedom, whatever the cost.

For the sake of sanity.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


To those dear souls who still believe that all-nuclear Japan is a wonderfully safe place to live in this period of widespread seismic activity and that the 3/11 catastrophe was an 'exception', here are some disquieting thoughts.

Perhaps Bill McGuire, one of the world's leading volcanologists who once claimed that 'Tokyo is the city waiting to die', should rephrase his (in)famous motto into something like 'Japan is the country waiting to die'.

(I doubt whether this would do much to awaken this apathetic people, though.)

*       *       *

The Nuclear Disaster That Could Destroy Japan – On the danger of a killer earthquake in the Japanese Archipelago

Hirose Takashi
Translated and with an introduction by C. Douglas Lummis

Translator’s note

(Nuclear) Power Corrupts

A puzzle for our time: how is it possible for a person to be smart enough to make plutonium, and dumb enough actually to make it?

Plutonium has a half life of 24,000 years, which means that in that time its toxicity will be reduced by half. What could possess a person, who will live maybe one three-hundredth of that time, to produce such a thing and leave it to posterity to deal with? In fact, “possess” might be the right word. Behind all the nuclear power industry’s language of cost efficiency or liberation from fossil fuel or whatever, one can sense a kind of possession – a bureaucratized madness. Political science has produced but one candidate for a scientific law - Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. But the political scientists haven’t noticed that the closest thing we have to absolute power is nuclear power. Nuclear power corrupts in a peculiar way. It seems to tempt the engineers into imagining they have been raised to a higher level, a level where common sense judgments are beneath them. Judgments like (as my grandmother used to say) “Accidents do happen”.

At their press conferences, the Tokyo Electric Co. (Tepco) officials say, as if it were an excuse, that the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan were “outside their expectations”. Look it up in the dictionary; that’s the definition of “accident.” For decades common-sense opponents of nuclear power, in Japan and all over the world, have been asking the common-sense question, What if there is an accident? For this they were ridiculed and scorned by the nuclear engineers and their spokespersons. We, suffer an accident? In our world there are no accidents!

Playing with nuclear power is playing God, which is by far the most corrupting game of all.

In Japan, one of the loudest, most persistent and best informed of the voices asking this common sense question has been that of Hirose Takashi. Mr. Hirose first came into public view with a Swiftean satire he published in 1981, Tokyo e, Genpatsu wo! (Nuclear Power Plants to Tokyo!).(Shueisha) In that work, he made the argument that, if it is really true that these plants are perfectly safe (“accidents never happen”) then why not build them in downtown Tokyo rather than in far-off places? By putting them so far away you lose half the electricity in the wires, and waste all that hot water by pumping it into the ocean instead of delivering it to people’s homes where it could be used for baths and cooking. The book outraged a lot of people – especially in Tokyo – and revealed the hypocrisy of the safety argument.

In the years since then he has published volume after volume on the nuclear power issue – particularly focusing on the absurdity of building a facility that requires absolutely no accidents whatsoever, on an archipelago famous as the earthquake capital of the world. Again and again he made frightening predictions which (as he writes in the introduction to his latest book Fukushima Meltdown (Asahi, 2011) he was always praying would prove wrong. Tragically, they did not. In the present article he reminds readers that the recent earthquake was not the last, but one in a series, and that the situation at Japan’s other nuclear power plants is as dangerous as ever. The nuclear power industry would like us to believe the 3/11 catastrophe was an “exception”. But all accidents are exceptions – as will be the next. CDL

C. Douglas Lummis is the author of Radical Democracy and other books in Japanese and English. A Japan Focus associate, he formerly taught at Tsuda College.


Earthquakes and Nuclear Power Plants

The nuclear power plants in Japan are ageing rapidly; like cyborgs, they are barely kept in operation by a continuous replacement of parts. And now that Japan has entered a period of earthquake activity and a major accident could happen at any time, the people live in constant state of anxiety.

Seismologists and geologists agree that, after some fifty years of seismic inactivity, with the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (Southern Hyogo Prefecture Earthquake), the country has entered a period of seismic activity. In 2004, the Chuetsu Earthquake hit Niigata Prefecture, doing damage to the village of Yamakoshi. Three years later, in 2007, the Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake severely damaged the nuclear reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. In 2008, there was an earthquake in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, causing a whole mountain to disappear completely. Then in 2009 the Hamaoka nuclear plant was put in a state of emergency by the Suruga Bay Earthquake. And now, in 2011, we have the 3/11 earthquake offshore from the northeast coast. But the period of seismic activity is expected to continue for decades. From the perspective of seismology, a space of 10 or 15 years is but a moment in time.

Because the Pacific Plate, the largest of the plates that envelop the earth, is in motion, I had predicted that there would be major earthquakes all over the world.

And as I had feared, after the Suruga Bay Earthquake of August 2009 came as a triple shock, it was followed in September and October by earthquakes off Samoa, Sumatra, and Vanuatu, of magnitudes between 7.6 and 8.2. That means three to eleven times the force of the Southern Hyogo Prefecture Earthquake. As you can see in the accompanying chart, all of these quakes occurred around the Pacific Plate as the center, and each was located at the boundary of either that plate or a plate under its influence. Then in the following year, 2010, in January there came the Haiti Earthquake, at the boundary of the Caribbean Plate, pushed by the Pacific and Coco Plates, then in February the huge 8.8 magnitude earthquake offshore from Chile. I was praying that this world scale series of earthquakes would come to an end, but the movement of the Pacific Plate shows no sign of stopping, and led in 2011 to the 3/11 Earthquake in northeastern Japan and the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant.

Is the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant Safe?

There are large seismic faults, capable of producing earthquakes at the 7 or 8 magnitude level, near each of Japan’s nuclear plants, including the reprocessing plant at Rokkasho. It is hard to believe that there is any nuclear plant that would not be damaged by a magnitude 8 earthquake.

A representative case is the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant itself, where it has become clear that the fault under the sea nearby also extends inland. The Rokkasho plant, where the nuclear waste (death ash) from all the nuclear plants in Japan is collected, is located on land under which the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate meet. That is, the plate that is the greatest danger to the Rokkasho plant, is now in motion deep beneath Japan.

The Rokkasho plant was originally built with the very low earthquake resistance factor of 375 gals. (Translator’s note: The gal, or galileo, is a unit used to measure peak ground acceleration during earthquakes. Unlike the scales measuring an earthquake’s general intensity, it measures actual ground motion in particular locations.) Today its resistance factor has been raised to only 450 gals, despite the fact that recently in Japan earthquakes registering over 2000 gals have been occurring one after another. Worse, the Shimokita Peninsula is an extremely fragile geologic formation that was at the bottom of the sea as recently as the sea rise of the Jomon period (the Flandrian Transgression) 5000 years ago; if an earthquake occurred there it could be completely destroyed.

The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant is where expended nuclear fuel from all of Japan’s nuclear power plants is collected, and then reprocessed so as to separate out the plutonium, the uranium, and the remaining highly radioactive liquid waste. In short, it is the most dangerous factory in the world.

At the Rokkasho plant, 240 cubic meters of radioactive liquid waste are now stored. A failure to take care of this properly could lead to a nuclear catastrophe surpassing the meltdown of a reactor. This liquid waste continuously generates heat, and must be constantly cooled. But if an earthquake were to damage the cooling pipes or cut off the electricity, the liquid would begin to boil. According to an analysis prepared by the German nuclear industry, an explosion of this facility could expose persons within a 100 kilometer radius from the plant to radiation 10 to 100 times the lethal level, which presumably means instant death.

On April 7, just one month after the 3/11 earthquake in northeastern Japan, there was a large aftershock. At the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant the electricity was shut off. The pool containing nuclear fuel and the radioactive liquid waste were (barely) cooled down by the emergency generators, meaning that Japan was brought to the brink of destruction. But the Japanese media, as usual, paid this almost no notice.

The Hamaoka Nuclear Plant and the Approaching Killer Earthquake

The Hamaoka Nuclear Plant is located at Shizuoka City, on Suruga Bay. Despite predictions of a magnitude 8 earthquake on Suruga Bay, it has continued in operation. If you look at the illustration showing the configuration of the plates beneath the Pacific Ocean, you will see that there is a point at which the Philippine Sea Plate, the huge Pacific Plate, the North American Plate, and the Eurasian Plate all meet; directly over that point is the Japanese Archipelago. And the very center of the area where these four plates press together is Shizuoka.

As shown in the chart below, large scale earthquakes in the eastern and southern seas have occurred regularly at intervals of between 100 and 250 years. Today in 2011, 157 years have passed since the Great Ansei Earthquake of 1854, so we are in a period when the next big one could come at any time. And the predicted center of this expected major earthquake is – though this is hard to believe – exactly under the location of the Hamaoka Nuclear Plant. (Editor’s note: On May 6, 2011, following a request from Prime Minister Kan, the Hamaoka Plant was temporarily closed in light of the prediction that there was an 87% chance that an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or more would strike the area in the next thirty years.)

And sonar readings at the site indicate that from thirty years back the Eurasian plate has been bending, which means that it is in a condition where it can be expected eventually to spring back.

--Hirose Takashi and C. Douglas Lummis, "The Nuclear Disaster That Could Destroy Japan – On the danger of a killer earthquake in the Japanese Archipelago," The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 21 No 2, May 23, 2011.

life is elsewhere

After an exhausting day putting up with too many of these atrophied creatures who seem afraid of their own shadow, and culminating in a surreal train ride among zombified salarymen clinging to their briefcases as if to a crucifix, one badly needs to come to one's senses and feel alive and free and responsive.

These guys are dead, most definitely -- and somebody has forgotten to bury them.

*       *       *

We are forces on the move, we are free, because we shed the images of ourselves as we go, and do not whip around to gather them up. We are active because we release our fevers and our fervors into the things we pass. We are strong because we discharge our forces into things that roll and rise. We laugh because we release our light and our warmth gratuitously, without asking in return, feeling happiest, as the sun does when it pours the excesses of its gold upon the seas. We are free because we are not imprisoned in our form or in our forces.

--Alphonso Lingis, Wonders seen in Forsaken Places (Chester Perkowski, 2010), p. 132.

Monday, May 23, 2011

exit wounds

Not that it can ever be mended with dirty pictures and colourful balloons, but at least we can turn the never-ending pain of departure into a thing of beauty.

Like this song -- and, for that matter, all the others by these lovely architects & engineers building their huts on the tiny, storm-bruised plots inside of us.

Permission still fully valid.

Longshore Drift - Sweet Billy Pilgrim from Frances Main on Vimeo.

Longshore Drift
© Tim Elsenburg (Copyright Control)

Lovers’ crooked little stitches
Pinch and tug the skin
And all those pillow fights and Sunday mornings
Hurt like shiny pins
And every earnest kiss departing
Leaves an exit wound
But we can patch it up with dirty pictures
And colourful balloons

Saturday, May 21, 2011

if he should die while I was gone

Though battered and subdued, the heart still lives -- and loves, loves this poem by Emily Dickinson and what David Sylvian has done with it in his new album.

If there's a name for shattering beauty, this is it.

I Should Not Dare by Samadhisound


I should not dare to leave my friend,
Because—because if he should die
While I was gone, and I—too late—
Should reach the heart that wanted me;

If I should disappoint the eyes
That hunted, hunted so, to see,
And could not bear to shut until
They “noticed” me—they noticed me;

If I should stab the patient faith
So sure I ’d come—so sure I ’d come,
It listening, listening, went to sleep
Telling my tardy name,—

My heart would wish it broke before,
Since breaking then, since breaking then,
Were useless as next morning’s sun,
Where midnight frosts had lain!

--Emily Dickinson, from The Complete Poems, Part Four: Time and Eternity, LXXVI.

Friday, May 20, 2011

hands have no tears to flow

The poem was written in a wholly different context -- public, political -- but it has been in my mind a lot ever since I got the paper.

And I have been thinking how this forceful separation between hand and heart, so contrary to my innermost beliefs, becomes sometimes a necessary evil. (A temporary one though, I hope.)

How, to keep life open, to feel alive and continue to grow and reinvent yourself, you must perforce bring certain things to a closure, however heartbreaking this is.

For a greater good.

To let the hand have dominion for once (as the ailing heart still lags a little far behind) -- and sign the damn paper.

No more tears to flow.

*       *       *


The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose's quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor pat the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.

--Dylan Thomas

Thursday, May 19, 2011

a letter in a bottle

Sad indeed how, in their self-absorption and masks, people here seem so pitifully blind to its signs, to its precarious conditions of possibility.

To the intimate bonds of trust, to the promise and risk of close friendship.

To the last remains of our humanity.

A letter put in a bottle and cast into the sea; or an extended hand, half waving, half drowning -- so endangered and fragile has it become.

And thus all the more precious.

*       *       *

It has long seemed to me that a friendship where one does not teach one another becomes shallow and meaningless. Everyone who, while wandering along the shore of whatever continent or island, has found a letter put in a bottle and cast into the sea, has found a friend.

--Alphonso Lingis, Abuses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. viii.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

writing matters (3)

I return to it ever so often, because herein lies its imperative, its pleasure, its despair, its endless beauty.

Finding the right words.

To whomever, I will keep on writing thus. Even if at the risk of being misunderstood, distorted, smeared. (As you invariably are.)

Does it matter, anyhow?

Because it is always to a past or to a future friend that you write.

Never here, he or she has already left -- or is as yet to arrive.

My beloved absent.

*       *       *

Nowadays people only write letters to record requests, transactions, and detailed explanations, or to send brief greetings. When they want to make personal contact, they telephone. Conversation by telephone communicates with the tone and warmth of the human voice, but what moved one deeply can only be shared through language when one has found the right words. Finding the right words takes time, and the one to whom they are addressed is no longer the one you thought  he or she was when you wrote. One sends one's letters to an address he or she has left.

--Alphonso Lingis, Abuses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. vii.

Monday, May 16, 2011

twists of fate... (4)

Well, this one has really nothing to do with the previous twists.

It's in a category of its own, violent and tender, frail and strong, bold and bashful, ridiculous and lovely.

A twist, nevertheless.

Because it's just what you'd expected from a flesh-and-blood beloved.

And couldn't find.

*       *       *

I smashed my wings
against the rain-soaked deck
and was happy you lifted me
into your safe fingers and palms.
If not too disgusted, hold me
close forever keenly.

--Barry MacSweeney, 'Looking Down From the West Window', from Pearl, in Wolf Tongue (Tarset, Northumberland: Bloodaxe, 2003), p. 195.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

twists of fate... (3)

... or how much less fun life would be without certain amusing sexist stereotypes.

A recent chat with a friend has brought back memories of this absolutely glorious videoclip, which I so much cherished in my salad days.

Some displays of masculinity are eternal indeed, like the white knight upon a fiery steed or the superman sweeping you off your feet.

The crack of the whip, the pistol point, the shiny, racy red car...

And these lovely lads, of course.

Still holding out for a hero, after all these years!

Bonnie Tyler, Holding Out for a Hero

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where's the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and turn and dream
of what I need


I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the morning light
He's gotta be sure
And it's gotta be soon
And he's gotta be larger than life

Somewhere after midnight
In my wildest fantasy
Somewhere just beyond my reach
There's someone reaching back for me
Racing on the thunder end rising with the heat
It's gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet


Up where the mountains meet the heavens above
Out where the lightning splits the sea
I would swear that there's someone somewhere
Watching me

Through the wind end the chill and the rain
And the storm and the flood
I can feel his approach
Like the fire in my blood

Friday, May 6, 2011

twists of fate... (1)

Dicksee, Chivalry, 1885.

... or how so very often the would-be saviour, the rescuer of damsels in distress turns out to be the one in dire need of being saved (from himself).

Or how the smasher ends up smashed.

Goodness gracious, how I hate sanctimoniousness indeed. More and more.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

half life, imperfect

I hadn't listened to it for such a long time, perhaps out of fear of its bleak spell, of its truth. But today I let it soak me through and through again, and the message remains as baffling as ever.

And yet so consoling, and yet so sad, when there is nothing else.

*       *       * 

lyrics & vocals: David Sylvian

music: Dafeldecker / Fennesz / Moser / Rowe / Sylvian

There's a man down in the valley
Who doesn't speak in his own tongue
He bears a grudge against the English
The tune to which his songs are sung

There's a man down in the valley
Who is moving back in time
It's a physical ascension
You can watch him as he climbs

The farmer's wives are at their windows
They've seen him wind his way for hours
They tell the kids to lower their voices
And pretend that they are out

There's a man down in the valley
Trying to stop time in its tracks
His boots lie heavy on the grasses
But it keeps on pushing back

And his wife she was a painter
But now she stains the altar black
He's out bird watching on the islands
And she wishes he'd come back

There's a man down in the valley
And he dreams of moving west
Of battles raged against the furies
That might see him at his best

There's a man down in the valley
Don't know his right foot from his left

Don't know his right foot from his left

(Source: http://www.davidsylvian.com/texts/lyrics_and_poetry/manafon_lyrics.html)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


How to put this, when you never listen to the things I so badly want and don't want to say?

That when I speak to you I'm a small shark swimming around and around an uninhabited island.

Toothless, to no avail.

*       *       *

Speaking is difficult and one tries
To be exact and yet not to
Exact the prime intention to death.
On the other hand the appearance of things
Must not be made to mean another
Thing. It is a kind of triumph
To see them and to put them down
As what they are. The inadequacy
Of the living, animal language drives
Us all to metaphor and an attempt
To organize the spaces we think 
We have made occur between the words.

--W. S. Graham, from 'Approaches to how they behave' in Collected Poems 1942-1947 (London: Faber, 1979), p. 170.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

being alive

Some people, some things are still worth waiting for, though - and for this particular one I waited over a year. An immense joy to find it inside my mailbox yesterday. I shall immerse myself in it as soon as I finish some pressing tasks on my desk.

I've been reading each and every work by Tim Ingold and never cease to be amazed at how he gets better and better every time.

And how can you not feel energised by someone who proposes such an exhilarating and, at the same time, sensible, down-to-earth approach to scholarship?

Why do we acknowledge only our textual sources but not the ground we walk, the ever-changing skies, mountains and rivers, rocks and trees, the houses we inhabit and the tools we use, not to mention the innumerable companions, both non-human animals and fellow humans, with which and with whom we share our lives? They are constantly inspiring us, challenging us, telling us things. If our aim is to read the world, as I believe it ought to be, then the purpose of written texts should be to enrich our reading so that we might be better advised by, and responsive to, what the world is telling us. I would like to think that this book serves such a purpose.

--Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description (Oxford: Routledge, 2011), p. xii.

More, much more on this soon...

Monday, May 2, 2011

in transit

Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the Woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys; Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). It is Woman who gives shape to absence, elaborates its fiction, for she has time to do so; she weaves and she sings; the Spinning Songs express both immobility (by the hum of the Wheel) and absence (far away, rhythms of travel, sea surges, cavalcades). It follows that in any man who utters the other's absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized.
--Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), pp. 13-14.

*       *       *

And does it follow, I wonder, that the woman who does not patiently wait nor weaves nor sings, Penelope-like, but journeys and sails away is disgracefully masculinised?

Or does this woman cross into some liminal space where she remains forever untouchable, unrecognisable, neither home nor away, unloving beloved, loving unbeloved?

Forever in transit. Intransitive.