Tag Archives: the mortal bath

Inspiration is everywhere

If there is one thing I have learnt from the last couple of weeks of reactions to the London Olympics on the social media sites, it is that you can look at event of this nature and see whatever takes your fancy. All manner of commentators from an array of political standpoints have been able to use the Games to support their previously held views. As pal and mortal bath-dweller, Mark Woff so eloquently puts it:

There seem to be thousands of humans spending hundreds of hours commenting on threads with such earnestness, glibness, vitriol, lack of self-awareness… one wonders what drives it. More crassness in people hissing comments over the Twitterfeeds at athletes, people seeing and sustaining the dark side everywhere…

And yes, there was plenty to hate, especially the grasping behaviour of some of the companies involved, the empty seats a slap in the face for everyone who had tried to get tickets in the ballot and failedincluding athletes’ familiesthe Tory MP who deemed the celebration of British accomplishments in the opening ceremony to be ‘leftie multicultural crap’. All buzz-killers.

But also, yes, plenty to celebrate, even for those of us in parts of the world who had to experience serious sleep deprivation to follow our heroes. I don’t know if I have failed or passed the Norman Tebbit ‘cricket test’, but I have been keeping an eye on the Japanese victories as much as the TeamGB ones, if only because national broadcaster NHK seemed to have a policy of only showing events Japan was doing well at.

Japan’s women footballers – nicknamed the ‘Nadeshiko’ after the name of a flower – may have been disappointed not to stun the US again following their victory in last year’s World Cup, but showed a lot of heart to take the silver. The game could have gone their way if they had taken all their chances, but they still surpassed the men’s team and – perhaps – earned a seat in business class on the way home.

Seen from here, where gender equality lags far behind that of comparable countries, the most inspirational outcome has been the pleasure Japan has taken in the success of its female athletes, especially in wrestling, table tennis and judo. It is too soon to tell if that will be enough to overcome the workplace inequalities, lack of affordable childcare and adherence to traditional gender roles common to most of Japan. Hopefully it is a start.

In addition to this celebration of the kids at school who were really good at running and suchlike, there was good news for the ones who prefer to be nose-deep in a book too. NASA managed to land a robot the size of a small car on Mars, following a journey of eight months and a landing by way of a sky crane and parachute. Sending back pictures, communicating via Twitter – both on 100% real and verified, as well as the predictable but still funny spoof feeds – the Curiosity should be enough to get us dreaming of space again.

And so, just as every other commentator has used these events to reinforce whatever it was they already believed about something, so I choose to see them as a light in the dark, proof that so long as there are people prepared to risk it all, work harder than the self-confessed lazies like myself ever could to push their minds and bodies to achieve more than was thought possible, we might not be quite as doomed a species as previously suspected. Who knows what our future could hold?

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

- David Bowie, Starman

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Seeking for the words

My good friend let off from soaking in the mortal bath long enough to send me an email and, having been moved by its words, I believe it is worth sharing. Taken from the newsletter of Ichiroya Kimono Flea Market in Osaka, it is a heartfelt reflection on the anniversary of two weeks ago.

The words of the owner of the kimono store resonate with emotions that will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in Japan in the last 12 months, as he contemplates how life has been changed by the events of 11 March. He wonders if positive messages can be of much help to the people of Tohoku in their struggle to continue. He feels sure that he wouldn’t be able to, that it must be too soon to be ‘getting over’ the losses they have suffered.

In a letter full of apposite thoughts, however, these are the words which particularly resonated with me:

There are so many charity concerts and events, but on the other hands, there are also many writers, artists, and singers who became not to write, or play music. One popular woman writer was saying in an interview the other day, she feels very responsible to express in appropriate words about this disaster but she is still seeking for the words.

I have written a lot about Japan in the last 12 months, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t write on 11 March 2012. I didn’t attend any of the formal memorial events, but chose to spend time with a book and a tea in my favourite Tokyo park, hoping that a normal Sunday – kids playing, adults relaxing, sun shining – would stand as its own memorial to the lives destroyed that day.

But the sadness was a weight on my chest that I couldn’t lift and the normality felt shocking, as if the city by continuing with its usual weekend routines had somehow forgotten what had taken place, although there can have been little else on people’s minds as the hands of the clocks moved round to 2:46.

Perhaps attending one of the memorial events in Miyagi would have helped, but I know from reading the accounts of those who did that there were other troubling thoughts to contend with. This excellent account by Kimberly Hughes and Sheila Souza, volunteers with Foreign Volunteers Japan, talks about how hard it was to avoid feeling like a voyeur, especially while surrounded by news crews. They also write of how, in the face of such destruction, encouraging people with the word ‘Gambatte!’ (do your best/hang in there) is not enough.

Perhaps a better choice of words – closer to those appropriate ones that we are seeking – is simply to say to everyone who suffers: ‘we are here’. Whether that means physically assisting with the rebuilding effort, donating cash or supplies or standing by to provide what Ruthie Iida so astutely notes as essential in her illuminating essay:

listening ears, understanding hearts, kind words, and shared grief.

Twelve months is too soon for many people, I am sure, and the anniversary for some is a beginning not an ending. There will be many more days of sadness before the pain can heal. Although words now seem weak in the face of such anguish, my hope is that we won’t be discouraged from the search for those that may eventually provide some small comfort to all those who mourn.

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ten minutes love

Haven’t got the heart for a rant this weekend.  Looking forward to fun times with good people, the sun is shining and – in spite of the usual piss-artists and their attempts to spread misery around – life is good.  So here are a few things I’ve been feeling the love for, watched over by my favourite Tokyo Metro poster of the moment.  The caption reads: ‘Please be careful not to lean against the person sitting next to you should you fall asleep’.  Valuable life advice for us all.

  1. Ben Six on when censorship is a Good Thing
  2. Mark of the Mortal Bath is enjoying his new commute to work
  3. Our Man in Abiko went above and beyond the call of duty in answering my call for help. Great novel-writing assistance is over here.

May you all enjoy the weekend like I’m going to!

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Scorcery

ten minutes hate is moving to a new location and, unfortunately, unlike in my dreams last night, my possessions are not jumping into boxes of their own accord to this soundtrack…

Which is one very elaborate way to say that posts here might be light over the coming weeks.  So, in the meantime, why not amuse yourself by catching up with some of the hate you might have missed:

  1. Marvel at the warnings from history that saved the ‘miracle villages‘ of Iwate from the tsunami
  2. Ponder whether writing can ever flow so well as Dudley Moore playing the piano in this clip, as well as the genius of Jonathan Miller
  3. As I reach my 10-month anniversary in the country, why not check out this one written a few days before I got on the plane to Japan
  4. 10mh used to be a political blog, in the days before earthquakes started happening in its vicinity. This is an old but good post from me and Mark Woff, in which I think we predicted the whole Summer of Discontent thing
  5. It isn’t Sunday, but any excuse for some ska

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WikiLeaks: the sound of a stable door slamming

Dorothy Parker, LCD Soundsystem, Paul Auster, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Jack Kerouac, Jimmy Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Muhammed Ali, MC5, Hunter S. Thompson, Blondie, Joel & Ethan Coen, Bruce Springsteen, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp…

At times such as these, when America behaves more like a belligerent teenager than the Land of the Free/Home of the Brave, my friend and co-writer Mark Woff advises to take a minute out of your day to compile your own variation on the above list.  The aim is to hopefully cheer you up a little and remind yourself that a nation responsible for nurturing such a list of talents can’t be completely beyond hope and redemption.

I feel it is important to keep this in mind when considering what looks to be about to become the case of USA v WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  The extent to which America is focusing on punishing the source of the information rather than addressing the more pressing concerns contained within it almost defies belief. Sure, diplomats, you got caught with your pants down.  But worrying about the secrecy of a database that can be accessed by millions of people does appear to involve a certain amount of stable door slamming post-exit by horse.

Of greater importance to this writer are the fascinating insights into the cozy pillow talk between governments and corporations as they conspire to brutally stitch up their countries’ populations and of how just how relaxed they can be when lying about details some would find electorally embarrassing:

The leaks make it abundantly clear not just that the US-Anglo-European adventure in Afghanistan is doomed but, more important, that the American, British and other Nato governments privately admit that too.

The problem is that they cannot face their electorates – who also happen to be the taxpayers funding this folly – and tell them this. The leaked dispatches from the US ambassador to Afghanistan provide vivid confirmation that the Karzai regime is as corrupt and incompetent as the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon was when the US was propping it up in the 1970s. And they also make it clear that the US is as much a captive of that regime as it was in Vietnam

Also of lasting importance is the wider war being fought by WikiLeaks, alongside this particular battle, as it has far-ranging implications for the freedom of information on the internet.  As Richard Wilson writes in his excellent article:

The very existence of Wikileaks also seemed to point towards a larger question – how durable is the scale of freedom that has developed on the internet in recent years? Will the net really lead to a permanent “redistribution of data” – the mass availability of information previously so jealously guarded by the media and political elites? Or will the current era come to be seen as a short-lived blip – an involuntarily loosening of controls that lasted only as long as it took for the elites to figure out the dynamics of the new technology, devise new systems for bringing it under control, and develop the political means to apply those systems worldwide?

However, none of these arguments should be taken to imply that Assange is himself beyond suspicion, at the very least as Justin McKeating argues, he is guilty of being a ‘great honking idiot’.  While Modernity reminds us that governments are not above using indirect means such as court actions to target those they perceive as enemies, if there is a case to be answered on the charges, he should answer it.  Perhaps I am displaying a naive believe in the rule of law, but if the case is dismissed, it is rendered redundant as a tool to smear Assange and the WikiLeaks project.  Greater damage is done by declaring him to be innocent or above the law because of his actions in leaking the documents, even if, as noted by Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape, it does appear strange that he has been hunted across the globe for a crime with staggeringly low conviction rates in both Sweden and the UK.

To anyone with an acquaintance, either from memory or through the writing of Hunter S.Thompson and others, of those dark days at the end of the Sixties that saw a political class create the My Lai massacre, the Kent State shootings and the Watergate burglary, it must appear that this is all familiar territory, that America is indeed doomed to repeat its history having failed to learn the lessons the first time around.  In such circumstances, we do well to remember that it is better to be a Daniel Ellsberg than a Richard Nixon.

The final word goes, as ever, to this man:

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act

- George Orwell

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Float on

Sometimes, as pal of ten minutes hate Mark Woff says, you have to not force it.  The sun is out, this is just up the road…

… and I have books to read, work to do, not to mention Japanese to learn.  There are plenty of things upon which to direct the ire but others are channeling it better.

So let’s all float on, ok.

Picture of the local beach by Julia

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Justice League

I wrote earlier that Amir Choudhary was ‘wrong, plain wrong’ and was rightly called up on it by this bloke over here in the comments. Rightly because, in one important aspect, Mr Choudhary is right, for reminding us of the non-British war dead, albeit for some very wrong reasons: getting his name in the papers. We lost count as the Afghani and Iraqi body counts increased far in advance of our own, widely mourned, totals. Except that is too kind an analysis, because we didn’t lose count, we decided not to count. Partly out of embarrassment and partly because we found it more convenient to turn the dead into terrorists:

The problem is: in Afghanistan the peasants do suspicious things, too. Some then die because they are indeed Taliban, while others become Taliban for being dead

There is a road safety ad on TV at the moment which shows a man haunted by the mangled body of the dead child he hit with his car. Everywhere he looks he sees the broken, twisted limbs. You have to wonder if that’s what Tony Blair’s dreams are like. Except there’s not just one child, there are hundreds, all eyeballing him through the dark nights, silently demanding to know why they couldn’t be allowed to live.

Over Christmas I watched the film Frost/Nixon, the showbiz and glitz world of the interviewer warily treading onto the unfamiliar territory of dead Vietnamese and Laotians. We all want a Frost/Nixon moment, where the wrongdoer looks at the camera and it hits him, that there is so much blood on his hands he is looking at about 200 billion years in Purgatory. That he caused all this pain because he couldn’t admit to being wrong. It is probably too much to hope for that we get such a moment on Friday afternoon. As Blair realises that he, like Nixon, is now tainted unto death and probably in his obituary too, as a man who waged an illegal, doomed war when all sensible advice counselled against it. Then he looks straight to camera as a single, unwiped tear drifts down his cheek and finally, we have our absolution.

I don’t expect it to end so neatly. Real life has a tendency to be, of course, less dramatic than dramatists would hope. However, the Iraq Inquiry has gone about its work with a calm dedication that, although I almost hate to admit it, has done more good than throwing Blair, Campbell and Straw into the Coliseum and releasing the lions.

Banning dissent, ignoring international law, disregarding Parliament. For a bunch of lawyers, New Labour has shown a strange disrespect for all things legal. Speaking truth to power is never a comfortable job, but good counsel has rarely been at such a low premium, at stages ignored, disregarded and, a final humiliation, ‘encouraged’ to provide more favourable advice. The Guardian’s legal affairs correspondence, Afua Hirsch:

What also came across with fresh clarity was the government’s dismissiveness of the legal expertise in its own departments… In his evidence, Wood said Straw’s dismissal of his advice was ‘probably the first and only occasion’ that a minister rejected his legal advice in this way

So it is all the more heartening to see the forces of justice fight back, not like the superheroes Blair and Bush imagine themselves to be, but via calm reasoning and careful sifting of the facts, the Supreme Court and the Iraq Inquiry have, this week, given a small glimmer of hope that the rule of law still prevails.

Picture from the Hollywood News, with thanks!


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A blog is for life…

…not just for Christmas.  Right?  Right.

So, it is two weeks to Christmas and you are bored of work.  In a short time you have to spend enforced periods with your nearest and dearest convincing them that you have more to offer than tales of a boring job and an embryonic drinking problem.  With that in mind, let ten minutes hate help by offering a slew of great writing and opinion pieces that you can shamelessly pass off as your own over the turkey this festive season. 

So you got very angry about the Daily Mail, Jan Moir thing.  You emailed everyone you knew to tell them to do something and then, like most sensible people, you moved on.  Unlike the writer of the Enemies of Reason, who instead dives headfirst each day into the immense ocean of shit that is the Mail and the Express and their comment pages, to provide superlative source material for the winding up of Daily Hate-reading relatives, like this post.  

 Then there is markwoff, navel-gazing in the warm surroundings of The Mortal Bath and pondering if responsibility for climate change can, after all, be pinned on ocelots.

Hop out of the bath and head to The Flying Rodent for gems such as this on why right wing-nuttery is a good thing:

Veiled nastiness is devilishly difficult to combat, but open idiocy and naked meanness defeat themselves. The Labour Party have proved that one single-handedly.

On the day I write something so good on here, I will probably close down the site and have it immortalised in bronze for future generations.  Unlikely though. 

If all this political commentary is sitting on your tummy like a million over-cooked sprouts, you should check out Neil’s songs of the year at The Bleeding Heart Show.  Alternatively, if you long for more politics like you long for extra helpings of Christmas pud, check out his explanation of the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend culture of UK political blogging and be astounded.

Or you could try to demonstrate that you have been surviving in the big city on more than Pret sandwiches and late night kebab shop forays by memorising some of DeboraJane‘s recipies and hitting the kitchen when everyone has had enough of turkey.  Only you might want to tell your mum that this one is called something else…

Finally, for commentary on Tiger Wood’s dalliences which doesn’t fall into the temptation of referring to the women involved as ‘birdies’, read Alex Song’s Cultured Right Foot.  Sport journalism so insightful, you could almost forgive him for being a Gunner.  I said almost.

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ten minutes hate

When this blog was named (by a very talented writer, if a slacker when it comes to updates) and I was looking to see if anyone else had been similarly inspired, I stumbled across something from the States defining a ten minutes hate as the home straight in a hotly contested election.   So now here we are.  Just five days away from something which we are promised will be a cross between Judgement Night, the Second Coming and Armaggeddon. Does everyone have their popcorn and beers at the ready?

Because there is nothing the people of Britain enjoy more than a little light bear baiting.  Although, given our reputation for loving animals and since Parliament rather stupidly outlawed the use of bears in 1835, these days we have switched to chaining politicians to a stake and poking them with sharpened sticks instead.  Much more humane.

This could be the least optimistic election since records began, since this time we will not be voting FOR anything, especially not the change of government that we would mostly like to see, but simply chucking a well-aimed, ‘NONE OF THE ABOVE’-shaped spanner into the works.  I know what I would like to vote against: expense cheats; fascists; expansions in state control.  Where to find a party that reflects all that?  And so, like many other people, I follow a party like it is a football team: my side, right or wrong, trying not to notice that the old loyalties are as outdated as the ideologies.  Labour don’t want to be the party of the workers any more than the Tories want to be toffs.  The Libbies would love to be the natural alternative, and are happy that people are suddenly thinking of them, but how can you vote for a party that can’t even run a website?

A parliament of individuals, independant and owing nothing to any outside interest, whip or Beloved Leader would be ideal.  A bloody nightmare in practice.  The European model of loose coalitions of like-minded fellow travellers perhaps.  Or instead, what some commentators seem to fear, a Parliament of celebrities coalescing around populist issues like the Gurkha campaign.  For myself, I would need to find a party believing in low taxes, shorter working hours and the right to stay up late.  Find me that party and they can have my ‘X’.

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Riot of my own

declaration of intent

declaration of intent

There were riots in Northern Ireland earlier this month.  As the news showed pictures of balaclava-wearing youths with petrol bombs in their hands, I thought ‘how old fashioned’ – as if this kind of thing had died out a long time ago.  You knew that our rulers thought they would never see the like again: a young, disaffected population, prepared to burn their world down over something that irked them.  Meanwhile, on this side of the Irish Sea, business continued as usual: the Government made promises to throw a few more billions after the good ones already lost and we were all too preoccupied with the redemptive death of a former racist to notice.

I look around me at the way that people live and think that either you must all be mad, or I am.  Constantly failing to make choices that would bring happiness, as if afraid of it.  Grinding out a dance towards ruin accompanied by a soundtrack of ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ while humming the refrain ‘what can I do to change things?’ to a backbeat of ‘why should I care?’  Watching my peers at play in the bars and dens of East London, I am afraid for us.  There can’t be enough great jobs, stylish loft apartments and beautiful girls and boys to go around, can there?  Which means that most, if not all, of us are going to miss out, consumed by a sense of failure over an unattainable dream, created in an advertising storyboard and sold to us by a magazine, instead of conjured up inside our own heads.

Yet, I wonder.  If, as Orwell noted, when ‘the comfortable were uncomfortable, the professional optimists had to admit that there was something wrong’, it becomes easier to convince that things can’t go on as before.  For in recent years, the sense that our way of life was crazy hovered in the background, but it seemed disingenuous to point it out while the good times rolled.  Like a dream or a retelling of the Emperor’s New Clothes, to suggest that the bubble could pop at any time seemed the action of a killjoy.  After the Battle in Seattle, the accidental death of an anarchist in Genoa, protest seemed dangerous.  But it must be obvious now our foolishness has been exposed for all to see, that the days of keeping quiet on the sidelines are finished.  The sight of the ruling classes displaying their innate drive to maintain the exact structure and neatly chaotic flows of information and capital that keep 200 pharaohs watching six billion slaves toiling at the pyramid demands a response.

But what?  I can only stand and point at politicians suckling at the foul paps of softly grunting swine, briskly wanking the dwindling cock of an embarrassed banker, murmuring soft words of reassurance and telling them it doesn’t matter, we will soon have their icy black ejaculate streaming over our faces once more.  They leave us to rot without work, signed up to a dazzling array of benefits, happily ignoring the jizz dribbling down our chins so long as they don’t get in the way of our 42” plasma screen.  Watch the telly for any time at all and it is obvious that we are more loyal to corporations than to each other, less likely to change our bank than to cheat on a lover.  ‘Money doesn’t talk, it swears’, drowning out all whispers of endearment.

Eighteen years of the Tories plus twelve of New Labour has added up to the creation of a ruling class completely focussed on the lining of its own pockets at our expense, gone even the pretence of contributing to the social weal.  The Home Secretary, caught claiming £116,000 expenses for her second home, breezily asserts that she could have had more, e.g. £40,000 per annum for her husband to fiddle ineffectively with his flies and expenses.  Army personnel purchase their own kit before deployment to war zones, while the Ministry of Defence spends millions on the redecoration of its office building.  Resigning offences once, now politicians on either side are happy to lie to our faces and then, on the rare occasions they are caught, even happier to amend the rules to allow their thievery to become law.  What call for writers when the satire is writing itself?

Reality is only going to alter for Britain when we realise that it is us v them, but not Tory v Labour, asylum seeker v native, British workers v Italian ones.  Not Left v Right, like two football teams in which a victory for your side results in a defeat for the other.  Instead it is us v Mandelson.  Us v Brown.  Us v Cameron.  Us v Osborne.  Time to realise that they do not have our best interests at heart.  They are all in hock to the spread betting billionaires, the formula one team owning billionaires and, er, the steel plant owning billionaires.  Meanwhile us poor, ordinary, non-billionaire folk are ignored apart from during elections, our rulers content to dole out the prolefeed to distract us as the numbers become more meaningless – it is bubillions, cajillions, flabillions, chenkuibodillions of nonsense.  Wherever you mark your cross the outcome is the same: the shafting of our hopes and dreams, until, like an abused cellar-child, we have actually grown used to it.  We have to stop dancing to their tune.  Ignore the opinion polls, the leader writers, the professional soothsayers who want you to believe that a Tory victory is the only true outcome, because it is another victory for them.  We have to hold them to account.  And when there is nothing else left, we have to riot.

Words by Julia and Ampleforth

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