Saturday, July 12, 2003

A couple of days ago I was watching a Nightline report on Admina Lawal, the woman condemned to be stoned to death in Nigeria for being the mother of an out-of-wedlock child that the (absolutely known by everyone) father has been declared innocent of fathering. During the discussion phase there was a gentleman who kept saying you have to put this in a cultural context...


I am tired of being asked to understand the rape and murder of women as a cultural phenomenon. Screw you and your culture. I would say, screw your Prophet too, except that I know enough about the life of Mohammed to know that you are about as close to his interpretation of a woman's role as Pat Robertson and his ilk are to Jesus's.

I am no longer willing to play the culture game. I don't care if this makes me "insensitive" or incorrect" or whatever the hell moniker you're giving these days to those who make cultural judgments and find some cultures wanting. Women are valuable beings in their own right, and a culture that systematically victimizes them is not one that I consider worthy of survival. I don't care if it's based on the Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads or the Sixteen Commandments of UggaBugga.

It's all made worse by the smug rattling of God's bones in my face. It's God's will. We are doing our duty by God. THE HELL YOU ARE. You are purging your psychoses, your fears and loathings, your sense of powerlessness and exclusion, on the bodies of women, and scrabbling through your religious tome of choice to justify your actions.


Thursday, July 10, 2003

Japan Inc. or Why Capitalism Doesn't Trump History
Often, when I have expressed doubts about imposing American-style capitalism on other countries, someone will bring up Japan. The argument was that the imposition of American-style capitalism on a defeated militarized feudal society produced a modern capitalist society that functioned much like America.

I wasn't quite convinced. It didn't seem at all evident to me that Japan was "like" America. At this point, my interlocutor would ask me impatiently to focus not just on the social issues. Didn't they have an elected government, a stock market, entrepreneurs, modern corporations? Wasn't that like America?

Well, it turns out that it wasn't.

In an article published in the Financial Times July 3rd,(Japan Inc feels crushing weight of history, p.9) Randall Morck and Masao Nakamura take a quick spin through the history of Japanese corporate ownership. It's a striking example of how history and culture create the shape of a country's economy.

Commodore's Perry unilateral opening of Japanese markets brought down the Shogunate and led to the restoration of the Meiji emperor. The emperor's supporters were led by merchants tired of living at the bottom of the feudal heap (In Japan, merchants ranked lowest of all, below farmers and craftsmen). These merchants created an pyramidal corporate ownership structure based on family control of companies that in turn controlled other companies. These zaibatsu allowed a small merchant elite to perpetuate its control of the Japanese economy. WWII was only a blip in their radar:

The postwar US occupation force associated the zaibatsu families with the wartime government and ordered their shares to be distributed in public markets. Thus, in the immediate postwar period, most large Japanese companies were widely held, like large UK and US companies. This led to unacceptable outcomes including hostile takeovers and "greenmail" tactics. Japanese chief executives again saw the need to constrain shareholder influence--and the great banks devised a solution. Each company scattered new shares across the other companies in its former zaitbatsu until they held most of its stock. These new networks of intercorporate ownership, called keiretsu, cost nothing to set up or run...although any company's stake in any other is minuscule, each keiretsu company is majority controlled by the other members...

Basically, these companies control Japan. Even after the stock and property market debacles of the early 1990s, the political power of entrenched construction, manufacturing, and banking executives has prevented the Japanese financial authorities from forcing deadbeat companies into bankruptcy and recapitalising the financial sector.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines oligarchy as Government by a few, especially by a small faction of persons or families. Japan, for all its modern trappings, is an oligarchy that developed quite naturally from its history and cultural values. All the parliamentary votes in the world cannot yet trump the power of the keiretsu families.

Americans often make blithe assumptions about the transferability of our institutions, both financial and governmental, to other countries. We forget that they developed from our own specific history and cultural values. Immigrants like myself come to the United States because theose cultural values--personal freedom, protection from tyrannical government-- are fantastically appealing. But imposing them on other cultures can create something that looks like us from a distance but cannot bear closer examination.

I believe democracy is the best political system yet devised, in spite of its messiness, or maybe because of it. I also believe that restrained capitalism is the best economic system yet devised. But we cannot continue to confuse the one with the other, or worse yet, to conflate them as if one could not exist without the other. People will take from each what is suited to their own cultural values and refuse the rest.

And that is as it should be.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Riding the Wave
I haven't been blogging much lately, mostly because I've been riding a creative wave I have not experienced since I was eighteen and everything seemed possible.

Some of you may remember that I was taking an embroidery design class online. One of the exercises was to take a shape provided by the teacher and create our own interpretation. Mine was an evocation of a formal 17thC parterre garden. Somehow that just triggered an avalanche and I have been designing up a storm. I've finished two "gardens" and am working on a third, and have some drafts for a fourth and fifth. It's pouring out like good wine, and I'm bottling it as fast as I can. Once the designs are completed and embroidered I may submit them for competition.

It's an amazing, exhilarating feeling. I had always thought if I ever undertook true creation it would be in the written word. This I did not expect, as I can't even draw very well. But I'm not going to complain...

Buzzards in the Bookstore
I'm going to say, right up front, that I am not a Kennedy lover, or even admirer. My feelings are tied up with a little incident in a place called Bahia de Cochinos, when then President Kennedy decided to recall the air support for a group of Cuban freedom fighters. They were slaughtered on that damn beach, because, moving to the agreed-upon timetable, they had already committed themselves to the fight. Among those who died were at least one relative and several family friends. Because of our family connections my mother ended up in Morro Castle for a couple of weeks while my father had to take to the hills (neither of them were involved in the actual event).

Save the e-mails, ok? This is not an area of my history in which I am willing to compromise. Kennedy left those men to die. The reasons make a piss-poor excuse. Period.


Jesus Christ on a Harley. The book that just came out about John Jr. and his wife sounds like the most vile assault on the dead imaginable short of actual intercourse with cadavers. What is it about these so-called authors, what kind of calluses do they have on their souls to do that?