Whilst in Japan I read:
Footsteps by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
The last book in the Buru Quartet. I have mentioned this series before - so won't repeat myself here except for this: If you want to be part of a nationalist uprising, or wish to suppress one, you can learn lot from this amazing quartet and its author.
Perfect Spy - The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An by Larry Berman
Pham An was a Vietnamese Communist agent, and a reporter for Time Magazine, and this an excellent biography by a historian who sat down and talked with An and had access to his personal collection of documents. One of the things I am interested in is the media. One of the over-whelming messages in becoming a professional reporter is 'objectivity'. Now I believe quite seriously that 'objectivity' is a ideal that cannot ever be reached. My belief in this stems from my previous study in Philosophy of Science - where 'being objective' is taken very seriously, and found to be rather a complicated beast even for the hardest of sciences. In reportage, being objective seems to have various meanings. One meaning is 'balanced'. Another is 'authenticity'. What strikes me about Pham An is that he appears to have been an excellent reporter on many levels, as judged by his fellow (American) reporters, even after he was exposed as having been a Communist agent. He seemed to understand that his cover was based on being authentically good at his cover-story - being a reporter. He wasn't just acting as being a reporter - he was being a really good reporter - and had more reasons to be so than most. And by this account he successfully balanced his nationalistic duties, his reporting duties, and his duties towards his friends. That is quite a remarkable feat. There are many things in this book that made me think - and if nothing else - it is a damn fine spy read - the better for being based on fact. And also the guy was a chain smoker for life - he died of complications from emphysema. In my present state, I give honour to someone who died by these little 'tubes of joy'. (I have a feeling that 'tubes of joy' came from a quote by playwright Dennis Potter - though I am unsure. Watch this section from Dennis' 'The Singing Detective' that provides some insight into his view of the medical profession.)
Bias - A CBS Insider Exposes how the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg
Whilst in Japan I visited the bookshop Bookoff that has a fine selection of second-hand English language books. I bought four. This was the first that I read. How 'Media Distort the News' - it grabbed my attention - this is what I have been currently interested in. And for only $2! Later when I read the blurbs I was confused... 'Again and again he saw that the news slanted to the left... no one listened. The liberal bias continued'. Hold on, the US TV news, slanted to the left? I needed to read the book to find out why I was so confused about the US mass media - I had always thought it was a little the other way... I read, and the book made me angry. I was also trying not to smoke, which made me angry, so perhaps it wasn't the book's fault? The basic premise of the book - the US mass TV news media slant the news coverage to the left. They continuously promote liberal observations and experts and ignore conservative observations and experts. This slant can be seen in reportage of: affirmative action, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, and men. My observations on objectivity have concluded that objectivity depends on your standpoint. And if you are a patriotic conservative in the mainstream American media - I think Goldberg is right. The media is biased to the left, a liberal bias. If you are a patriotic liberal in the mainstream of American media - I think their observation that Goldberg is a traitor to their efforts is correct. If you are not in the main stream American media - perhaps say in the media outside of the US - or perhaps a foreigner not in the media at all - you can agree with Goldberg that the main stream media in the US is only concerned about making a profit and that motivation seeps into every part of their coverage. Goldberg labels them as hypocrites. Sure. I would just like to extend the term to the 'conservative' section of the main stream US press as well. US main stream media coverage can seem strangely alien to people outside of the US - my guess is it feels the same to many within the US too.
The problem I had with the book was that it was purely domestic, aimed at the domestic audience. It barely mentioned the world outside the US. But where it did was instructive - the second last chapter 'Connecting the Dots... to Terrorism' the domestic media is lambasted... 'Why would journalists, so interested in connecting the dots when they thought they led to Rush Limbaugh, be so uninterested in connecting the dots when there might actually be dots to connect - from hateful, widely held popular attitudes in much of the Arab world straight to the cockpits of those hijacked jetliners?' (pg.211, italics in the original). And does this lead to a comment about US foreign policy? No. The dots are not connected from 'widely held popular attitudes in much of the Arab world' to possible reasons why many people may hold those attitudes. Which leads me to the next book I read...
Rogue State - A Guide to the World's Only Superpower - by William Blum
This book also made me angry - but more the anger I felt after reading The Shock Doctrine (Naomi Klein) and The Age of the Warrior (Robert Fisk). It is a very dense and concise summation of US Government's sins both overseas (largely) and domestically. If you want to 'connect the dots' here is a good place to start. Blum has been praised by both Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal - so it is easy to see by association whether you want to read this book or not. To me this is a valuable reference book - it has a detailed reference section - unlike Bias. Find the author's (in need of a web designer) site at: http://www.killinghope.org/. Why not check out his 'Anti-Empire Reports', but beware of liberal bias!
At present I am reading Noam Chomsky's 'Middle East Illusions'. What a left wing pinky I must be ;-) Whilst reading these books I have come across a number of strange and interesting websites. This man's blog (Bill Totten) links to many articles from American's not at all happy with where the USA is going. Note - he is based in Japan and has given up his American citizenship to become Japanese. I was surprised to see how many people in the current economic crisis see the seeds of the US downfall (especially see Cluborlov). I do not follow this line of thought. I feel the current economic problems are not accidental, not unforeseen, and are largely used as the instrument to move a lot of public money into private hands. Similar in line to the main thesis espoused by Naomi Klein. I don't see this as the last gasp of capitalism - just another grab - before the next one. For more insight into the US economic crisis check out The Baseline Scenario. If you are worried about bias in the media - perhaps this is a useful link: Source Watch.
Onto other things:
I once worked at a University - and sometime lecturers would want to put up videos of themselves talking about dull subjects - talking heads streamed to your computer. It was widely acknowledged to be a terrible format for educational purposes - but still continues today. Here is a short talking head video whose dull (and problematic in my eyes) subject is enhanced by a few simple cartoons. For any online educational institution that is forced to put talking head videos online - perhaps hire a cartoonist to make them more palatable, even entertaining.
The Culinary Institute of America
Perhaps I've been reading too much reactionary material about the exploits of the CIA - but I took a double-look at this site before I could decide it was authentic. Was the web-designer possessed with a rarified sense of irony and humour? (Under Quick Links: Cooking Programs: Boot Camp, Flavors of Latin Cuisine [first 2 listed]). Or watch 'Cooking Secrets of the CIA', a PBS television show. The New Haven Restaurant Institute was created in 1946 as a 'vocational training school for returning veterans of World War II'. The Central Intelligence Agency was created in 1947. In 1951 the New Haven Restaurant Institute became the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). One of its notable alumni is Anthony Bourdain, whose book "A Cook's Tour" planted the seed in scratchindog's head all those years ago to move to Vietnam. To the paranoid, there are connections everywhere...
Music pick of the week
I have been killed only once to my knowledge. That is, cut-off so entirely and utterly from another person as to have all the appearances of being a ghost. Not that long ago I quietly and privately held a one year wake of the day I heard the absolute last word from my assassin - 'disappointed'. I deserved the treatment - I was very bad - and the following utter silence was a devilishly successful punishment if that was its intention. Walking around Hanoi with my ishuffle on random - I kept hearing some fantastic music which I couldn't place. I have tracked down who it was from playlists from before my fall from grace. I still mourn the loss of my friend - finding this band is a small bright jewel found in the rubble over a year later. Röyksopp (Norwegian electronic music duo Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge) use a sample in their music (e.g. around 2:04 minutes into the version of 'Röyksopp's Night Out' I have - but also in other tracks) that sounds exactly like the default alert for gchat. It has had me switching windows for days and wondering what the hell is going on. Tricky bastards...
Little Red Riding Hood
By Tomas Nilsson, music by Slagsmålsklubben
Beautiful - but note also Röyksopp's similar video concept which is also lovely.