Monthly Archives: July 2012

Manituana by Wu Ming

Having been bowled over by ’54’ from the four writers who make up the Italian collective known as Wu Ming, a book which weaves a tale around the defeats and compromises of post-war Italian politics via a supporting cast including Cary Grant, Lucky Luciano and Tito, I was keen to get my hands on the English translation of their latest, Manituana.

As ambitious in scope as their earlier novels, expertly translated by Shaun Whiteside, Manituana concerns itself with a period of history I was shamefully ignorant of until reading this novel, the bloody birth of the United States and the unravelling of alliances between the British Empire, its colonists and the Six Nations of the Iroquois.

Again weaving the histories of real people – such as the Mohawk war chief Joseph Brant and his supernaturally gifted sister Molly – into those of an array of allies and enemies, Manituana moves from the ancient forests of America through dank and dangerous London streets to Westminster audiences with British Royalty, before returning to the land so filled with opportunity that it seems it cannot be left in the control of its original owners for long.

‘Fire gives life, and yet it consumes’, remarks Joseph Brant’s friend and ally Philip Lacroix, and those who set the fire are not always saved from the flames. As war becomes inevitable, no side escapes unharmed, atrocities and betrayals are met with fierce reprisals until the soil of the new country runs red. No hand remains unstained. The parallels between this beginning and more recent episodes of nation-building by Americans in Iraq have been commented upon by the writers. Promising to be the first of a trilogy of books to explore this neglected or airbrushed period of history, Manituana manages, despite achieving its epic ambitions, to be a fast-paced and entertaining read, one not to be missed.

Now the only thing to do is to see if I can wait patiently for the next part.

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Eight methods to beat the blues

My pal the Japan Camera Hunter has written this great post, all about escaping a photography rut and beating the blues. While it is no doubt useful to those with a camera permanently affixed to their hands, I was struck by how much of his advice – read a book, change of scenery, look at your old work – could also apply to writers and, I am guessing, to other creative types too.

I have been feeling like I have been in a rut lately, probably something to do with the summer heat encouraging indolence, so will be giving this advice a try – with some luck and hard work you will be seeing the results here soon! In the meantime, take a look at JCH’s excellent post and see what you think.

I hope it helps with whatever you are working on…

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The Teas That Bind from Lulu

Lulu are running a special offer at the moment, so you can get 20% off  the price of the paperback of The Teas That Bind by using the code SILVERUK, as long as you do it before Friday 27 July.

Don’t miss out!

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Where things change very slowly

Seems I wasn’t the only one who heard the call of the anti-nuclear power plant protestors outside the Japanese Prime Minister’s residence and decided to see what was happening. In amongst the crowds that gathered yesterday was former PM Yukio Hatoyama. The wheels-within-wheels and behind the scenes machinations of politics being what they are, it seems less than likely that he had entirely pure motives for wanting to join in calling for no more restarts to the country’s nuclear power plants.

Still, as we were held for a time behind barricades, watched over by bored police officers and an array of cameras, it was difficult to escape the feeling that all this celebrity attention could mean that the weekly protests are becoming too big to ignore. That hasn’t prevented some of Japan’s media from trying, with coverage of Monday’s huge Yoyogi Park gathering making headline news… on page 38 of certain publications.

And some remained unimpressed by Hatoyama’s appearance at the demo, with one attendee quoted in the Japan Today story saying:

He can come here and say something impressive but it doesn’t really matter. This is a grass roots movement. Things change very slowly in Japan, but we must continue to protest.

I would agree with that assessment. The crowd I saw on Friday night was striking not only for the people you would have expected to see – students and seasoned protestors among them – but also the business people, families and retirees that I imagine could be experiencing standing in the streets outside the Prime Minister’s house shouting slogans for the first time.

It would be easy to say that there are no easy answers to Japan’s current energy difficulties. The protestors in the streets understand that glib soundbites won’t provide the necessary solutions, here’s hoping that the politicians, former amd current, are also cottoning on to that.

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You say you want a revolution?

I have a confession to make. I’m not in this picture.

You say you want a revolution, well you know,
we all want to change the world

- The Beatles, Revolution

Protestors have been coming together in Tokyo each Friday evening, gathering outside the Prime Minister’s residence to demonstrate against the restarting of some of the country’s nuclear power plants. Not me though. Instead, your fearless correspondent was sipping a vodka tonic, pontificating on what it all meant and making bold statements all over the internet about what an heir to Orwell she is.

If Orwell had walked into that bar he probably would have told me to go to hell and he would have been right. I don’t have the excuse of working on a Friday, or having commitments, or living far away from the district where the demonstrations have been taking place, like others who would have loved to attend but couldn’t. With no good excuse, only my own preoccupations, I’ve been lazily watching as the protests built via word of mouth to the point where organisers and police could argue about tens or hundreds of thousands attending (organisers say around 150,000, the police 20,000).

So I sipped my drink and pondered the more-than-fifty shades of grey area that surround The Nuclear Question:

Because it’s dangerous, sure. There could be another earthquake and tsunami at any time. But we need the electricity. Except TEPCO (the utility in charge of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant) falsified safety test results, while METI (the Government department with oversight of the industry) looked the other way. You like electricity, especially the lights, the music and the air conditioning that it brings, but when the yakuza are all but running some plants, who is really overseeing them? Fukushima Daiichi was years out of date, as well as poorly maintained and inspected, they don’t build nuclear power plants like that any more.

Maybe alternative power can make up the gap, Panasonic is planning to build a town where all the houses are energy self-sufficient to show it can be done or we could just switch all the old power plants back on and this time make sure they get checked properly. Can Japan innovate again, this time on renewables and will we really do setsuden (power saving) properly when the air conditioners are already running full blast and it’s only July?

I heard they want to make Miyagi a hub for green manufacturing as part of the reconstruction but it’s a big gamble, the Oi nuclear power plant is built on a fault but up and running at full capacity and the kids of Fukushima have radiation in their thyroid glands but still talk on the Children of the Tsunami video about how they want to go home but people must know that’s a never by now. If we switch all the plants off the economy is doomed, it will mean no jobs, but the lakes are radioactive, parents aren’t letting their children drink tap water although the neon and screens are loud and bright in Shibuya and please show me the box where I mark the ‘X’ that makes this all go away for another few years…

How to cover all those thoughts with a slogan like ‘no nukes’ is beyond me, so I drink more vodka and lime and try to pretend it isn’t happening, for an evening at least. How do we begin to fix this mistake, sixty years in the making? Collective errors that brought nuclear power plants and prosperity to the regions of Japan, yet left them mismanaged and vulnerable to natural disasters. It is easy to forget, but the plants weren’t dumped on places like Fukushima, they were welcomed by populations desperate for the jobs and incomes they brought with them.

And I can’t help thinking that if Fukushima Daiichi had possessed a back-up generator on a hill somewhere – or even on its own roof – if the inspectors had made sure the company was prepared for the once in a lifetime event, if everyone had done their jobs like they were supposed to, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. No anger, no disbelief, no mistrust, no demonstrations.

The banner I want to hold says ‘no stupidity’ or ‘no hubris’, perhaps. No more cosy lunches between regulators and the regulated. I don’t know if we can un-invent nuclear power now it exists, or make it safe enough to be used to power us into a greener future. I don’t know if we can convince politicians to look beyond the short term and their own self-interest. I do know that if enough of us put down our drinks, get involved, engage with the problems that have us wide-awake and staring at 4am instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, maybe we can get a little closer to that revolution after all.

I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse

- Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I know where I’ll be next Friday evening. See you there?

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I’m wicked and I’m lazy

Recently returned from a deliciously lazy holiday, during which I swapped the noise of Tokyo for a room with a tinkling river running past, where everything as far as the eye could see was green and the most pressing decision was which restaurant to head to for dinner. The weather co-operated – or didn’t, depending on your point of view – so the torrential downpour which lasted about 20 hours from my arrival meant that there was little else to do other than get wrapped up in the cotton yukata provided and read, nap, write, nap, drink tea and… nap.

I have a gift for idleness, which often gets overlooked in this fastest of all the fast-paced cities. Forget New York, Tokyo is the city that really doesn’t sleep, unless it is catching a few winks of shuteye on the train, in the coffee shop or slumped on a bench. The first six months of this year have whipped by in a blur of writing, volunteering, working and socialising – all essential and mostly enjoyable – but it was equally as rewarding to drop out from the world for three days and indulge my gift completely.

So I was heartened to read this NY Times opinion piece, in which the writer laments our furiously busy lives and the diminished returns we suffer from living life at such a pace. This quote is of particular interest:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body…

Especially in light of this nonsense from British Foreign Secretary William Hague, exhorting business leaders to ‘stop moaning and work harder’ to restart the country’s flat-lining economy. Running ourselves into the ground in the name of increased productivity, more of the same as went before this latest economic crisis, seems only doomed to bring about the same effect a little later on down the line.

Instead, I call for more laziness, more time spent musing, reflecting, pondering. Less time rushing means more time to spend with those we care about, or nose deep in a book, or sitting idly watching the rest of the world race by. It will continue without us, for a time, and those insurmountable problems should seem easier to contend with when using a refreshed and recharged mind.

Start this weekend by indulging your lazy and wicked side.

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