Saturday, 24 October 2009

I'm not racist but...

And like, I'd never support the BNP, God no, I mean, that Nick Griffin, what a sleaze bag. But you know, they do have some good points right, I mean, it's not racist to say we've got an immigration problem...

Well, no, you might not be racist, but you are wrong. Furthermore, you're feeding the underlying sentiments that cause racism and that allow the BNP to prosper as they do today.

As I'm sure any of you with English connections know, the leader of Britain's far right BNP party, Nick Griffin, was given a spot on BBC's Question time a couple of days ago. You can watch the episode in full here. Lots has been said about whether or not is was right for the Beeb to let him on. I think that the BBC had to treat him like the leader of a party with voters in the millions, though one could question whether Question Time was the right program and other such things. On balance, I'm sure some potential BNP-voters/ex-BNP voters were turned off by his holocaust denial, his obscene and outlandish claim that he shared the platform with a leader of a - not "totally non-violent", as he's been quoted, but more ridiculously - "almost totally non-violent" KKK sect, and all us liberal sorts feel good seeing him get the beating he deserved, but this has brought him more publicity than he could have dreamed and having got our vitriol out of the way, brings the BNP one step closer to the political mainstream.

But anyway, we all know the BNP are racist reactionary prick fucks. What really concerned me was the attitude of some of the audience members and the Labour and Conservative panelists on the show. An audience member asked if the recent rise of the BNP could in part be blamed on the Labour government's immigration policies. This audience member clearly meant "The BNP's recent rise is due to the Labour government's immigration policies". Jack Straw from the Labour party obviously said, that no, it's not Labour's fault, of course there are worries about immigration, but we're dealing with them, for example, for actually example of what he actually said as an actual good thing "asylum number have come down to around a third of where they were". Really! That's great Jack! I'm so glad to know that out country is housing 66% less people seeing relief from poverty, despotism, human rights abuse, racial, sexual and homophobic discrimination, genocide, etc. The other parties didn't agree, Labour haven't "done enough" about immigration, the BNP are popular because our immigration policies are too relaxed.

Watch the video, and observe the tone and language of the debate, and you will see what all of this amounts to. "The BNP are crazy racists, you don't need to vote for them, our parties are sensibly racist". When we cave in to 'tough on immigration' talk, we support the narrative that racism is based on. So let me start with the single preposition that will allow us to defeat this noxious ideology:
Britain does not have an immigration problem.

Of course, this is over simplified. Racism, for example, is a problem that plagues immigrants, and thus counts as a problem to do with immigration. There are others. I could go into sexism and homophobia in the Islamic community for example. Maybe I will explore it. But as middle class white people, as the majority of the readers of this blog certainly are, we've got more than enough blame on our hands to need scapegoats. So here I present the problems and not-problems of immigration.

Race - Not a problem. The one thing all the mainstream parties all agreed on is that the color of your skin bares no relation on one's nationality or character. The arguments of "scientific racism" have long since been annihilated, and anyone who thinks that race determines anything more than skin colour and a couple of hereditary diseases here and there can kind get the hell off my blog and out of my life. In fact, race only means anything when someone is treated different because of their skin colour. But this is where race issues become issues of...

Culture - We've got some problems. Regarding language, I think there is a strong humanitarian and anti-racist argument for compulsorily English lessons. I don't care if a person looks different, eats different food, and has celebrates different festivals to me. But obviously it's a breeding ground for mutual hostility when two people literally can't understand what the other is saying. And of course this doesn't exclude the fact that we Brits are by and large lazy when it comes to language learning and need a dollop of humility and perhaps a large dose of grammar cramming. Nor does it exclude the fact that more native English speakers should learn minority languages to facilitate English language teaching, and we should offer language teaching universally to those who settle in this country. But when multi-culturalism suggests we can co-exist without a common language I think it works against itself.

The second cultural concern I would raise is that of religious values. Quite frankly, the attitudes of large swaths of Islam towards women and sexual minorities are repulsive to me and have no place in this country or any decent society. But then quite frankly, I feel same way about the attitudes of large swaths of Christianity. Stick Judaism in there for good measure, but also include Jewish attitudes to Palestinians in their list of religious extremism. And you essentially find that in the modern world we have a religious problem, not an Islamic one. If we are to condemn certain immigrant attitudes towards women and sexual minorities, and indeed we must, the we must do so for a position of moral authority. Nick Griffin is not allowed to express disgust at Islamic treatment of women because he is the leader of a sexist party - we all remember that "rape is like force feeding a woman chocolate cake" line. And of course he's no defender of gay rights, which he finds "really creepy". But then, papers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, which love to morally condemn Islam while presenting a 1950s vision of Britain in which most women stay at home in the kitchen and gays stay in the closest where they belong. The only position to condemn sexism and homophobia is from one of moral consistency that codemns racism and islamaphobia at the same time.

And one final cultural point about the loss of British culture. Let me just start with a couple of facts before moving to the argument proper. Where we have urban ethnic ghettoisation it is because white people move to the suburbs leaving immigrant communities in the city centres. And yet, this is happening less and we are statistically living in ever more diverse areas. To repeat, people of different racists are ever more living nearer each other. Furthermore, the 'ethnic group' that is increasing most rapidly in percentage terms is that of 'mixed race'. Far from the race war scenarios presented in the tabloids, our country is one where more and more people of different racial backgrounds are choosing to spend their lives with each other.

So is English culture dying off? In some ways, the answer is an obvious yes. But the culprits by and large happen to be rich white men (and one special rich white woman).
Immigrant culture is flourishing in this country, and English culture of an older sort (I will not here talk about 'native' or 'indigenous', but certainly diverse and traditional) is waning. In many ways we're quite happy about this, we're all glad about the culinary riches brought by Britain's immigrant communities, and most 'English' kids willingly choose to hiphop over English folk because they prefer it.
But regardless, English culture is not waning /because/ of a flourishing immigrant culture, but rather the immigrant culture does so well because the grounds on which the traditional cultures of these isles stood on have been dug from beneath them. Our culture has been thoroughly commercialized.

Since the 1970s and Thatcher's neo-liberal revolution, we have been fed an ideology that says that everything has its price, and it it doesn't turn a profit it's not worth making. The indigenous culture of the mining towns in the North was smashed in the name of this neo-liberal experiment. Whatever the economic justification (the mines, were in fact, profitable and subsidized other sectors of British industry), strong, proud local communities were destroyed in the pursuit of profit and a torn social fabric and institutional poverty remains today - the breeding grounds for BNP supporters. Our country, once the "land of shop keepers" has become the land of cashier. Where once stood hundreds of local shops producing unique cheeses, hand made shoes, home baked cakes, we now have out-of-town shopping centers and ubiquitous Topshops. So if you're concerned about local, English culture, you'd do better boycotting Tescos than the local kebab shop. Is it any wonder that immigrant communities would seek to preserve their own cultures when our relentless drive for profit has decimated what used to be England?

And just a quick point about those two great defenders of British culture, The Times and The Sun, owned by the Australian Rupert Murdoch. These papers consistently pit themselves as the enemies of two of the genuinely praise-worth British institutions, the BBC and NHS.

And to top it off, if we want to get rebuilding anything approximating a traditional culture any time soon, we best get over ourselves and start integrating better into the European Union. The EU is consistently portrayed as an enemy to national sovereignty and a threat to English culture. Bullshit. The EU has support for local cultures as one of it's founding goals. Through EU monies we have seen an increase in language teaching in Welsh and Scotch Gaelic. We also see initiatives such as the European Capital of Culture, recently awarded to Liverpool, which sees money directed to support local arts and communities.

If this section has seemed winded its way a bit too widely over too much information I apologize, but if there's one theme I hoped linked this all together is that what we perceive to be cultural issues are often in fact...

Economic - Racism, as with all prejudices, exists because it benefits capitalism for it to exist. When a poor white person's energies are spent attacking a poor black person, they are both distracted from the cause of their poverty. When poor white voters in the American south vote Republican because they dislike gays, they vote for a party who will cut the funds going towards their education and health care. When the white British working class complain that immigrants get a head start in the queue for social housing (this is simply not true), they ignore the fact that the problem isn't brown people taking social housing that should be going to white people, but rather more simply, there's not enough social housing! And Labour are fine with this because it means they can announce polices that promise that immigrants will not get a head start on social housing (they already don't!), rather than having to pledge money to build the social housing this country desperately needs.

Our country has a lot of immigrants because other countries are poor. Other countries are poor partly because of British government policy that ties third world debt reduction to privatization of third world assets and infrastructure, the profit of which ends up in the hands of the rich which the Africans are still unable to feed themselves. If we want less immigrants from Africa and India (and I will here accept the argument that as a small Island, immigration must slow down /eventually), the only humane way of achieving this is not with the stick that imposes harsh immigration laws for those seeking to enter Britain, but with the carrot that reduces poverty around the world and makes economic migration (as opposed to cultural migration or migration for marriage and the the like) a thing of the past.

If we are to support 'British' culture, then we must repudiate our fetishism of profit. The starts with support for cultural institutions such as theaters that can not survive on a for-profit basis, and ends with rolling back corporate Britain, urban planning that protects local businesses, a taxation and regulation regime that cuts the biggest companies back to size, and political reform that takes power away from these monied interests and puts it into the hands of local communities.

If we are to repudiate racism, we can not do so by accommodating it. Racism, sexism, homophobia and all other discrimination must be tackled together, and must be tackled with the awareness that they share a common route in dividing the oppressed peoples of the world against each other to the benefit of the ruling classes. The representatives of the major parties did their best to show Nick Griffin as the racist leader of the racist party that he is, and landed some good blows, but their attacks rang hollow for one reason. They are all representative of capitalist parties. And the only consistent way to stand against racism and for local communities is to stand against capitalism and for socialism.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Papa's got a brand new bag

Good Morning!
Is "Ohayo" in Japanese, and you say it at any time of day, because apparently "Konnichiwa" is just for nerds. This and other fun facts below!

Hey! As is becoming usual, it's been a while. I'm afraid I've lost the ability to write balanced prose, so I shall move from last post's polemic to photographic phluff. One of the things I've not been doing in Kyoto is campaign work, not quite yet, in terms of practicalities, I'm afraid rather more petty bourgeois concerns of job-hunting and the like have distracted me, but high on the to-do list is to use my contacts in the JCP and to get active!

A drawn out recap of what I've been up to since I've last written about, you know, being in Japan.

My dad came to visit! Wow, that was a little while ago now. It was only for a few days but they were fairly packed and it was a lot of fun. He's got a pretty interesting perspective on the place, having spent a lot of time here in the 80s, and beyond it simply being nice to see him, it felt like he was glad for the change of pace after a very long business trip.

We went to a gig of one of my favorite Japanese bands, Mama!Milk in an amazing gritty live house:




I found something about the accordion player unbelievably sexy, is the accordion known as sexy instrument? It should be!

Another day we hung out in Osaka:


Got Takoyaki:

Then got the train to Kobe for a public bath (one just goes with it, it's Japan) and some Kobe Beef:
I've said it before and I will say it again, Kobe beef is one of the greatest physical experiences to be had on the planet. We should all cut back on meat (especially beef), because it takes tons (literally!) of water and grain to feed a cow which could and should be used to feed people. But back in day, when people lived on subsistence farming, and the only time they would eat beef is when their cows reached the end of their milk producing lives, you can bet they enjoyed their beef as much as I enjoy the marbley delights of Kobe.

I show these pictures to my friends. He was well received. One friend said he looked like a suave film villain, another (girl) just said how young he looked. Pa, I think you've still got it~


In other news, I'm getting close to having a job! I've got an interview for a private English teaching organization on Sunday, and if all goes well I'll be getting between 3000-4000 Yen and hour for a one-on-on conversation class, which at the current exchange rates works out to between 10 and 12 billion pounds (£19-26).

But mostly I've not been up to news, I've been up to life. I now have a routine, and it's one which works pretty well.
A Day in the life of me.
I go to school at 9, EVERYDAY. I have lessons until 12:15. I eat lunch at the cafeteria then waste time chatting with friends for an hour or so, before either going and doing a practical job/looking around town, or go home and nap for a few hours. Then there's the early evening, at which point it goes like this:




Udon, Donuts and free refill coffee, Donuts and free refill coffee, free refill cofee, meanwhile, homework! Home by 12/1, chatting till friends until 2/3, go to sleep, then a healthy, happy 5/6 hours later, I wake up. The student life~

But essentially, Kyoto's just a really cool place:










Oh, actually, one last thing:





Night night!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Why I am so wise

Thoughts on how to save Japan/the World.

Japan needs more pride visa-vi the West and more humility visa-vi the East. Japan needs to assert itself against America and heed to the fears of China and Korea.
I was thinking about fat, ugly white guys dating sexy skinny Japanese girls. This is neo-colonialism. Literally, I swear down. Now, love is subjective, sure. But objectively, these girls are wrong. These guys might make lots of jokes, but they're not funny. They're only here because they can't get girls back home. Obviously, I'm really great, so this doesn't apply to me. But the fact is, as a westerner in Japan, one does, or can, feel like a big shot. People assume you're interesting, you can strike up a conversation with anyone and they'll appreciate it. One gets so much good attention as a white person in Japan. White people who say they experience racism are wrong: they are merely experiencing bad vibes brought about by being bad people.

Now the fact of the matter is that it is wrong to make assumptions about people based on their race or nationality and I fight for a society without the irrational and invented notion of what we call the 'nation state', but within existing perimeters, there is a truism in the fact that most of the white people in Japan think that the Japanese are cooler than them, and part of the reason is that the Japanese are indeed cooler than most of the white people in Japan.

The Japanese are too quick to heap praise on foreign actors, bands, films, whatever, without taking enough credit for or pride in her own cultural achievements (and this is not to talk simply ikebana and haiku, which do get a fair bit of attention, but rather Japan's modern literature, film, music, whatever - her culture which influenced by foreign culture and deserves to influence foreign culture).

But pretty Japanese girls dating fat white guys, cool Japanese kids listening to uncool British indie, these share common roots with the fact that Japanese foreign policy is merely a subsection of American foreign policy. Since Commodore Perry's arrival on big black ships in 1852, Japan has more often that not taken a highly subservient position to the West. This results in the world's second (but-soon-to-be-third-if-not-forth) largest economy having on the most cursory influence on world affairs.

This subservience to the West is closely related to Japan's chauvinism towards the East. Surely at least part of Japan's rough-handed attitude towards her weaker neighborhoods is due to her powerlessness within the old powers. At the turn of the century Japan was told to colonize or be colonized. She has been through periods of both and now enjoys the position of being emasculated from one side while making powerless imperial noises at the other.

Japan is at her worst when she is in this position. Her support for America leads her to aid the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Her imperial pretensions lead her to deny or play down the horrendous war crimes she inflicted on the peoples of Asia. And these positions support each other in a vicious circle. People often talk about the "national conservatism" of the Japanese people. Japanese conservatism is not natural: it is socially and politically engineered. In the Pre-War period, the education system raised generations of soldiers willing to die for the Emperor. In the immediate Post-War period American policy killed the emerging, vibrant Japanese Left in it's cradle by funded the conservative Liberal Democratic Party who were in power (with less than one year's exception) from 1955 until this years election. The LDP consisted of many people in positions of power in the war years. Many of these people's sons and grandsons remain in the party. While LDP members public play around either side of the line of historic sensitivity, many implicitly or covertly support the actions of the out and out Far-Right.

Japan's tight relations with America have fostered a political climate that keeps Japan distant from Asia, while her distance from Asia keeps her dependent on America.

But with the election of a new government things look positive. Though there are many gaping faults in the new government's policies (like their plans to cut the number of seats rewarded by PR, which would certainly reduce the influence of the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democrats) and questions about their ability to enact even their best of policies (calls of change can ring hollow from a party packed with ex-members of their opposition) It seems things are on the right track. The new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times. Conservative commentators called crazy and a communist. He's neither. Within this promising article he asks the key question - "How can we put an end to unrestrained market fundamentalism and financial capitalism, that are void of morals or moderation, in order to protect the finances and livelihoods of our citizens?" - and makes a key, though blindingly obvious, observation - "I believe that the East Asian region, which is showing increasing vitality, must be recognized as Japan’s basic sphere of being". In fact, he's even been floating the idea of an EU-esq Asian Union. Though his plans of monetary union are highly unlikely, great Asian co-operation is clearly at the front of his thinking and, hopefully facilitated of a final exorcism of Japan's imperial ghosts, it is neigh on inevitable

A Japan based around Asia will be one with greater self-confidence and greater liberalism, less imperial hubris. But I also think this has progressive implications for the whole world. While on human rights, democratic rights, workers rights, America is clearly a better place than China, on they key moral, scientific, economic challenge of our lifetimes, China is now a more progressive force than America.

If North Korea is a failed state in feeding its own people, America is failed state in securing future provisions of food for the whole of humanity. America is failed state on climate change. With the vital Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change 58 days away, the chances to get a comprehensive global deal on climate change, one that will prevent run-away global warming and the immense /human/ suffering and death that this would cause, is getting smaller and smaller. (If you want to get involved, a good place to start would be here). America is playing petty politics with (literally!) hundreds of millions of people's lives. China is calling a spade a spade. America with her lopsided democracy gives god fearing climate deniers in Kansas and Wyoming, with their few millions citizens (but two senators each) a veto over the fate of the planet. China, with her dictatorship and reverence for science is ready to push through the necessary Carbon Cutting measures without having to worry about the public opinion of the stupid.

The world needs to start bullying America into doing her part to salvage a planet we can all live on from the wreack caused by her capitalism. Britain should jump ship to Europe. Japan should jump ship to Asia.

(Oh, I spent three days writing this. Which is definitely not an plea for you comment it or anything).

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Too school for cool

Why hello there, how are you doing? I know, right, it's been ages! But you're looking good, is that a new hair cut? But enough about you.

University! I am now in my second week of lessons at Doshisha, which means that 'learning' and 'thinking' are now both things I do, which as I mentioned in my last post, I have not done in a while. It's actually all going rather well.

I have made peace with Level IV. This is both because it has picked up in speed but also because of an important realization. I should be in Level V, if not VI. By this I mean that, considering the time I have spent learning and the lessons available to me, my Japanese should be at that level. But it is not. I have studied much of what is in Level IV at various times, but the truth is that I have not remembered enough of it. Even what I remember I can often not use it precisely enough to sound like a really natural, native speaker rather than the struggling foreigner I am. I have never been a good worker. I blagged a good set of GCSEs and A levels, a place at a top university and a near miss of a 2.1 in the first year of said university with - excepting a few honorable months here and there - little hard work. For this my Japanese is okay, in the way that words are only so much a part of communication and grammar only so important to words, I can communicate pretty decently in Japanese. But it's not really 'good', and it's certainly not as good as much English which is is the level I would one day like to reach. So while I would like to be in Level V, while a large part of me rebels against the idea of studying what I have studied so often before, I understand now the need to get, not so much the basics, as the intermediates really, really solid, before my Japanese can mature to a level I can be really proud of. I need to work.

And it seems that I'm able to! There are a lot of amazing cafes open until 24:00/25:00 (Yes, 25:00 is a time, as is 27:00 apparently...) and the combination of coffee + nice atmosphere + no internet seems to = 6 hours productive homework a day.

So I'll let you know how the language goes, but I feel like things are off to a good start.

But oh yeah, I met some students from Sheffield. All us Cambridge students were amazed to hear that they had to write at least one essay in Japanese every week, and that they got regular oral/conversation classes. But what's more amazing is that all the Cambridge students were amazed that language students at another university had to write essays and speak the language as part of there course. I learned a lot in my first year, especially regarding history and literature. Our language textbooks, written by university staff, are really good and explain grammar in a very intelligent way. But when it comes down to it, second year Japanese teaching at Cambridge is a fucking shambles, the compromise being less on the line of guided teaching/independent learning and more like independent learning/not providing an education. Having seen the language opportunities students at other unis have, I'm sure this class will have a lot of questions for our teachers upon our return.

Oh yes, my dad was here! Which was really nice. I've got some amusing photos - he has been rated from "he looks so young and cool" from one girl to "he looks like an action film villain, in the best possible way" from one guy" - which I need to upload, so I'll make our 3 day adventure it's own post.

And as for my social life, the key word is 鴨飲み which is read かものみ which is read kamonomi which means to nomu by the Kamogawa, which means to drink by the Kamo River. That's a Doshisha student word. So now you know a Japanese word which only cool Japanese people know. Congratulations! OH AND I went to a vegetarian festival Where someone tried to send me energy from the common spirit. OH AND I went to a gig in Osaka at a British Pub and felt really cool for being British.

This post is lacking in links and pictures. It's because don't have the time to sort out links and pictures if I'm gonna sleep at a sensible time.

Which would be now, night night