Friday, December 30, 2011

reflections on 2011: anything can happen

Michael: You can be a butterfly!
Jane: Or just stay larva!
-Mary Poppins (theatrical musical)

I googled "anything can happen," and found this song Any Thing Can Happen as one of theatrical musical Mary Poppins songs. I've never seen this theatrical version. I wondered if this song was in the Disney classic film, and looked up Wikipedia--it wasn't, even it wasn't among the deleted songs. So, it was not Disney's conspiracy not to give the audience a sense that an alternative world or something like that was possible (the theatrical version was also made by Disney, anyway). There are many differences between the theatrical version and the film. The theatrical version was made 40 years later than the film had been made.

And then, I revisited the film in order to refresh my memory (I used to like classic musicals). If my memory is correct, in an early episode of Neil Gaiman's THE SANDMAN, Death suddenly bursts out, "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!" and then tells her brother Morpheus that she likes Mary Poppins even though the story is "not for everyone." It is interesting that she called it "not for everyone." I don't know why she says so. Does she feel it too moralistic?

The film Mary Poppins depicts a fantasized Edwardian London--chimneys, smog, a countryside, hunting, a horse race, a tea party, cops, British gentlemen, Cockney tongue, discipline, social classes, bankers, political activists, colonialism, politeness... all of them melt into an fairly tale and thus are "Disneyfied." "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" may refer to a polite way British gentlemen put things into words. "Link your elbows, step in time! Link your elbows, step in time! Never need a reason, never need a rhyme. Link your elbows, step in time..." reminds me of this year's "festive" popular uprisings (the chimney sweeps are eventually dispersed by the Admiral Boom who appears to live in his Victorian dream)--I'm not writing obituaries or post-mortems to those popular movements. They're still going on.

It started with Tunisia, and then Egypt... I felt that anything could happen. I was simply moved by that people there lost fear and collectively transformed themselves. That time I was also watching some YouTube clips of Michael Hardt's lecture at European Graduate School. He proposes a secular version of "love" as a political concept ("love" has been a political concept in theological domains). According to him, many think that it takes some kind of collective transformation of people in order for them to govern themselves, otherwise we are trapped in a dichotomy between spontaneity and dictatorship (in other words, "anarchism" or "communism"). He proposes that reviving love as a political concept can be useful to think about how a collective transformation can be possible because love is incalculable, transformative, and that it requires learning. He continues to say that what makes love as a political concept impossible is dividing love into eros and agape (stoicism represses creativity) and convictions such as that love can be applied to only your proximity and that love is something that only happens to us (so Hardt tells that you can make it happen). The latter conviction is interesting for me because love causes fear and that is why we at least pretend that love is something that just happens to us. You cannot manipulate it. If you want to manipulate it you need a third person...someone like Dolly Levi.

Actually what this year gave me was this sense that "anything can happen"--even if you don't try to let it. Things are what just happen to you--the impact is massive, even though the sound of it is something quite passive. After 3.11 in Japan there was little time for collective mourning...but there was a collective gasp, followed by doubt, and then anger--"You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" (By the way, I searched if there is a parody video of the famous ending scene of Planet of the Apes that replaces the Statue of Liberty with the crippled Fukushima reactors, but I couldn't find the one). My blog went political.

Blogosphere, translations, and films
Like many Japanese people, I knew little about nuclear power plants, though I could remember some public debates over the issue in the 1980s. It was like that when the Cold War ended the debates ended. My thoughts about the nuclear issue and the global emancipatory movements--which is entitled Fill Up the Square, Square the Circle is published by through europe and project east 306. It was written before Occupy Wall Street started, but at this moment I have few things to add to it. For east 306 I provided some translations revolving around the nuclear issue, such as the ex-engineer Norio Hirai's I Want You to Know What a Nuclear Power Plant Is and photo-journalist Kenji Higuchi's lecture. I actually need a native English speaker's assistance in order to make my writing publishable (I know I'm blogging in rather clumsy English). For this I thank Adrienne Hurley and Jayda Fogel. I'm planning to write some more essays.

I hadn't paid much attention to the contemporary Japanese protest culture until Julia Leser and Clarissa Seidel, who were researching the Japanese protest culture after 3.11 for their documentary film entitled RADIOACTIVISTS: PROTEST IN JAPAN SINCE FUKUSHIMA contacted me. I volunteered to provide transcripts and translations. Here's the trailer.

Radioactivists: Official Trailer from ginger blonde on Vimeo.

They introduced me to Keisuke Narita, who runs an anarchist infoshop called Irregular Rhythm Asylum in Tokyo. He and Adrienne Hurley organized screenings of Franklin Lopez's END:CIV. I helped part of Japanese translation of the END:CIV website. I knew Franklin Lopez as a journalist who provided footage for Democracy Now!. Lopez's submedia tv channel called stimulator is amusing, hilarious, and serious.

Media watching
We've observed many media blackouts in many countries. My main news outlet has long been AlJazeera English. I don't consider this news outlet particularly left-wing, why I like this is that they cover Asia, Africa, and Latin America with their brave correspondents. When it comes to reporting about Japan, actually AlJazeera first introduces the governments' official view, and then its correspondent such as D.Parvaz reports about the other views. I also check Democracy Now!. I usually check these, and then go on to check the others such as, the BBC, the Guardian, and the PBS. The BBC correspondent Paul Mason is insightful. Ignore right (FOX, Sankei, etc). That's waste of time.

Books
The bank manager Mr Banks dislikes anarchy, chaos, and moral-disintegration, but in our real world those who go wild are those financial institutions (there is a certain sense of nostalgia when watching Mary Poppins or Hello Dolly! depicting bankers and business owners as very disciplined people, contrary to the contemporary images). I think that Mary Poppins's message is that "capitalism is a bitter pill to take, but a spoonful of sugar, be it equal voting rights or a welfare state, helps medicine go down." David Graeber's DEBT: THE FIRST 5,000 YEARS introduces you to an alternative way of seeing money. It is interesting to compare this book with, for example, the PBS's educational program The Ascent of Money--this program tells a dominant narrative about history of money.

Music
The UK-based netlabel called Electronic Musik published my modest album Diderot's Clock Man.

It was fun to exchange audio materials with SoundCloud friends such as Wilhelm Matthies and Chris Lynn and then process the materials. Chris Lynn has his own blog called Framing sounds. I have to upgrade my SoundCloud page in order to add more tracks.

If you are a designer or translator, you may know that there's such a thing as corporate culture and that you have to deal with it in order to make a living. I'm also doing it, but it's not so worth talking about.

My other references (at random)
Disquiet, I cite, infinite thought, JFissures, L'√ČTRANGER, RADIO PANIK 105.4FM, BRUSSELS, Lenin's Tomb, New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science, Occupied London-from the Greek Streets, Penny Red, Stephanie McMillan, Verso, Interactivist Info Exchange

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"a cold shutdown condition"-an irrelevant use of the term

I believe that many people in Japan feel strange that the officials call it "a cold shutdown condition" even when the things (fuel rods) that heat up the pressure vessels in those crippled reactors are already gone (melted away). The temperature inside the reactors may be reduced to a certain degree, but they are stable as long as water still continues to cool down the vessels--so things have changed little for months. They are only "stable" in this sense. Declaring "a cold shutdown condition" is indeed performative one. The term itself has no content like the broken pressure vessels. The officials wanted to declare something anyway and they did it on Friday. Moreover, the problem whether the reactors can be stabilized is one thing--the problem whether the people can go home is another. But the officials and the media conflate those problems.

The biggest problem for me on Friday was, however, that the world media including the BBC, AlJazeera, etc., repeated the official announcement verbatim. AlJazeera aired a nuclear scientist praising the way the Japanese officials handle the disaster. And I only feel how strong the nuclear industry is.

reflection on 2011: the funniest music i encountered

This made me laugh out loud this year.

The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Beethoven's Sonata Op. 90/2 - Suicidal Thoughts [pianist/prod: Dan Kreiger] by Dan Kreiger aka For Jerz

I actually love Op.90-2 very much and often play it though.

Monday, December 12, 2011

markets and capitalism are different things

Wherever I go, I visit local markets. By saying "markets" I mean this kind:

10 years ago, I spent much time in Zagreb. There I learned how to make Turkish coffee (well, it can be called differently, depending on where you are...Lebanese people may call it Lebanese coffee...I mean the coffee that you can read your fortune after drinking) and roasting capsicum (paprika). Dolac market in the footage above is great, but the other places in Zagreb are also wonderful. I stayed in Nova Cesta ("New Street"?), I liked the market near there. One day I found my landlady bringing a bucketful of capsicum from the market into the kitchen and then that she put all of them into the oven. Later on, after I left Zagreb, I once complained about the price of capsicum in other cities such as Frankfurt am Main or Brussels, talking with my Bulgarian friend. He agreed, saying that in his country also buying veggies was like stealing from farms.

I've heard that it is not so good news for the local cheese farmers in Croatia that Croatia will participate in the EU in 2013.

By the way, the footage below shows John Cage in 1985 visiting Dolac market.

In his DEPT: THE FIRST 5,000 YEARS (Melville House Publishing, 2011), David Graeber in the chapter which explains how the Chinese authorities traditionally promoted markets and regulated merchants simultaneously, argues that the Chinese elites were "pro-market but anti-capitalist," and then concludes that such policies led that "For most of its history, China maintained the highest standard of living in the world.(p. 260)" He explains that capitalism has to do nothing with "free market," but requires certain monopoly over markets to the contrary and that is why capitalism needs political power and military forces. Here I quote him:

This despite the fact that Confucian orthodoxy was overtly hostile to merchants and even the profit motive itself. Commercial profit was seen as legitimate only as compensation for the labor that merchants expended in transporting goods from one place to another, but never as fruits of speculation. What this meant in practice was that they were pro-markets but anti-capitalist.

Again, this seems bizarre, since we're used to assuming that capitalism and markets are the same thing, but, as the great French historian Fernand Braudel pointed out, in many ways they could equally well be conceived as opposites. While markets are ways of exchanging goods through the medium of money--historically, ways for those with a surplus of grain to acquire candles and vice versa (in economic shorthand, C-M-C', for commodity-money-other commodity)--capitalism is first and foremost the art of using money to get more money (M-C-M'). Normally, the easiest way to do this is by establishing some kind of formal or de facto monopoly. For this reason, capitalists, whether merchant princes, financiers, or industrialists, invariably try to ally themselves with political authorities to limit the freedom of the market, so as to make it easier for them to do so. From this perspective, China was for most of its history the ultimate anti-capitalist market state. (p. 260)