Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Jehovah and a Wrinkled Blue Collar

Heaven has been kind to me this week. The annual Sokeisen (“War” (sic) between Keio and Waseda), and annual baseball championship, had to be extended, giving me a day to play at home with a complete sense of freedom.

Just as I began to get seriously engaged in contemplating the luxury of so much free time, the doorbell went. I thought it was the cleaning lady (she comes on Tuesdays), ¬ so I shouted out that I would be right there so she wouldn't drop dead of a heart attack when she used her key and saw me standing there unexpectedly. And I hear this male voice, shouting out, "Mr. McCornick? Can I speak with you?" in native-speaker American-English.

I open the door and this Greek god is standing there, wearing a suit and tie and a cotton shirt with an imperfectly ironed collar. My first instinct was to tell him to come in and take off his shirt. The iron was still hot. But then I saw there was a modest young lady standing just behind him.

"Mr. McCornick?"


"I've come from Kamakura to talk to you."


"Would it be all right?"

"Talk about what?"

"About the truth of modern times."

Now normally I give out that I don't give a rat's ass about truth or modern times, but I won't pretend to you that I'm sincere about that. And when I smell organized religion my mind tends to roar through the halls of memory and courses of action available to me for dealing with it. Like push you down stairs. Poke you with sharp objects. Fart. Remove all clothing and stand naked. Inform you that I have a small child cooking on the stove.

But all these circuits get shorted when faced with a Greek god. What is there about Greek gods that does this to me? Must go into meditation and find the answer.

"Would you two like to come in and have a cup of tea?"

(Would you like to come in and take your clothes off and lie down on my bed... and you, miss, please wait here?")

"Oh, really?"

Bright eyes of excitement. Happy anticipation. Deep churning satisfaction that I could make GG smile like that. If there's anything better than a GG on your doorstep, it's a GG with a smile from ear to ear.

"Yes, and bring your Bible. I'll put the kettle on."

I run downstairs to get into some respectable pants. Pajamas won't do for a serious exploration of truth. If I'm going to go gaga, I need some dignity in my uniform. And there's a small chance my gaga is showing.

So he begins to talk. I watch his mouth move. He has a charming teenager English. One of hundreds of Japanese kids I have listened to over the years who learned to talk in the high schools of Westchester, Winnetka or San Diego. He's dead earnest, and his brow furrows each time he struggles to find just the right word. He's well-rehearsed, and his fingers fly through the good book with total familiarity. He starts with Daniel. Daniel tells me that God's kingdom is going to be established on earth.

"Right now?"


"I don't see where you found the dates."

"Oh, Daniel doesn't say when, but it is clear that he means now."

I decide to continue focusing on the mis-ironed shirt collar. I wonder if his mother did it. I decide he probably ironed his own shirt, and I see him in my mind's eye standing there in his underwear, biting his lip the way he did when he told me about Daniel's prediction. Such an earnest young man. So good to look at. Hunky. Big thick eyebrows. Soft eyes and strong hands.

He sits across from me with a tall posture, thanks me for the tea and sips from the cup, using each sip to collect his thoughts. He's hard at work and I admire his dedication. His female companion sits between us at the table, so when he quotes from Scriptures, she is able to follow and open her Bible so I can read for myself along with GG. It is a well-rehearsed performance.

We're talking about Isaiah now, but I'm only half listening.

"Are your mother and father also Jehovah's Witnesses?"


"And yours too?" I ask the young lady.

"Well, my father isn't but he sometimes comes to church with us."

"I think it's wonderful that you are working so hard about something you care about."

"Thank you," they both say. Again, it's ear-to-ear smiles.

It's obvious they have been doing this together for a while, and this response is not something they're used to. I begin to feel devilishly powerful.

"What made you Jehovah's Witnesses?" I ask.

"I learned about it from my mother and I want very much to do God's work."

A boy who looks like a god who loves and respects his mother. Allah is great.

What's not to love about this guy. I wonder if he would like to move in. He hasn't a clue how gorgeous he is. Clear, open, honest eyes, a genuine smile that makes even your cold worldweariness melt, this little voice says, a modesty that keeps his message from cloying, a desire to please and to share what he knows.

"Some more tea?"

"Do you mind if I ask about your religion?"

Aha. Time for T h e C h a l l e n g e. Can I tell him about "my religion" and keep him interested long enough for it to sink in that I am not the steward of the devil.

"Let me tell you what I think I share with you."

They're listening intently.

"I think there is good and there is evil. I am not surprised that people explain the world in those terms, because they come from direct human experience."

"So you believe in God?"

"Well, yes. And that's something else I share with you. You believe God is beyond our understanding, right?


"That he is bigger than any of us and that no matter how hard we try we can't understand the true nature of God."


"And that the best we can do is think and talk and share our ideas with people, and check with those who have gone before and see what they have discovered, and then come up with a 'best guess.'"


This is too easy. They're listening as much as they are talking. When was the last time a Bible salesman came to the door and actually listened? What is this, affirmative action for Angel School month? Reaching out to Jehovah's Witnesses this year maybe? My mind races for an explanation. Too much cognitive dissonance. A face and a body like that and an ability to listen as well as talk?

He's waiting for me to go on!

"And because God is so big and so far beyond our understanding, all our attempts will be imperfect ones, because just as God is perfect we are imperfect and everything we do is imperfect."

"Yes, that's true."

"And the Muslims and the Jews and the Buddhists have all made their best guesses, and their imperfect conclusions are unsatisfying to us."


"And the Christians who went before us, with their Crusades and their Inquisitions and their arguments over whether the pope was the sole owner of the keys to the church, and all those battles over who should speak for Christ, all that, too was a sign of our limited understanding of god and his plan for the world."

"I guess so."

"See how much we share about God?"

"I'm glad to see you believe in God."

"Well, I'm glad to see you want to be good and to do good."

So far so good. Haven't said a damn thing yet I don't sincerely believe. What is it about male beauty that drives me to be all that I can be?

I change the subject, ask them about their English-learning experiences, about life in San Diego as a child. We are having a good time. I don't want them to leave.

"May I read you another passage from the Bible?"

"OK, if you want to."

This one is the one about beating swords into ploughshares. I'm tempted to ask them if they could draw me a picture of a ploughshare, but as I've been telling you, his beauty keeps me on the high road. Besides, I want to steer clear of the imagery of beating swords into anything.

"Very beautiful poetry, don't you think?"

They do think so.

They turn to the creation story and want to tell me how man disobeyed God. I let them read the part about the casting out from Eden and then I say to them,

"Wasn't it interesting how consistent God was? He created us 'in his image' and that means, you just told me, we have the features of God. And the most important of those features is our mind, that which, as you said, separates us from the animals. God's plan was for us to live in the garden as children. We would know no evil, and be like children who can count on being fed when we're hungry and paid attention to when we're needy. But God's plan was that we would have the freedom to choose, and we made a choice. We said to God 'This choice between living here in Eden with you or eating the fruit of knowledge? We choose knowledge.' Isn't that marvelous? God actually gave us the freedom to choose knowledge. With all his power, he could have removed that choice-making ability from us, but he didn't."

"But we were evil, and we chose to disobey God."

"And we used the gift God gave us of choice."

"But God told us not to choose disobedience."

"Then it wasn't a real choice. It was a temptation. Do you really think God acted the role of a Tempter?"

"I never saw it like that."

"Is that your image of a loving parent? One who toys with you, "I give you a free choice, but if you make the wrong choice, I'll make your life miserable?"

"That's not the way Christians see it."

"How do Christians see it?"

"We think we had a choice but we should have chosen God."

"Then there would have been no need for Jesus Christ. Obviously Christians also believe God came to terms with the choice of knowledge. He didn't give up. In fact, he came around to forgiveness. That first image of an angry god throwing his kids out into the street was later changed to a God full of remorse about having lost his children and willing to go to great sacrifice to get them back."

"Yes. That's what the Bible tells us of God's love."

"God loved us so much that he gave us freedom to disobey him. And he knew we would, obviously, since God knows everything. Doesn't that make you suspect that our disobedience was part of God's plan?"

"But he wanted us to obey him."

"The image is of a father who wants his kids to like him, and tests to see if they do. When they don't live up to his expectations, he kicks them out. Later, he regrets the harsh decision and takes steps to bring them back. That is a beautiful image to me. Not consistent with my idea of god as an all-knowing creator, or a force of nature, or a manifestation of beauty. What I see in the biblical creation story is a wonderful image of an imperfect but loving parent. It's more of a Greek god on a human scale than a Middle Eastern god of total power and knowledge. But I love the imagery used by the Hebrew writers of Genesis."

"So you love the Bible. That makes you a Christian."

"Yes. If you mean that a person who loves the imagery of the Christian faith is a Christian."

"Well you also have to believe Jesus was the son of Jehovah."

"Then I'm not a Christian. I don't believe he was not, it's just that that's too much particular information for me to swallow. You see, I am also a Jew, because I love the imagery of justice and righteous behavior that the Jews cling to. And I am also a Muslim, because I love the imagery of the total surrender to a force larger than your own comprehension, the humility of recognizing human limitations. And I am also a Buddhist because I love the wisdom of recognizing balance is superior to imbalance, and that day is always becoming night and night is always becoming day and there is nothing on earth than never changes. I am impressed by how much wisdom humankind has collected over the centuries."

"You have a very wide idea of God."

"And so do you. You just told me God is beyond understanding."

"But if you believe all these different religions know God, then you don't believe that the Bible tells us Christ is the answer?"

"That's the answer to the questions that the Christians raise. Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and Hindus all have other answers to other questions and they all have scriptures where they wrote all these questions and answers down and they all have people just as earnest as you telling me what they think."

"We are not trying to convert you. We are just trying to tell you what we believe."

"I know that. And it wouldn't matter if you were trying to convert me. I saw earnestness in you, so I invited you in to tea."

Oops. Here it is. The moment of truth, if you'll pardon a pun. If I were totally honest, I would have to say, 'your earnestness, and more importantly, the unearthly beauty of your mortal coil.'

I leave off the bit about the mortal coil.

They smile again. And thank me again. And it looks like it may be time to go.

"Do you see God in nature?"

Now where did that come from? Something outside the routine string of biblical readings.

"I don't see God; I see what I think is God. I am humbled by the magnificence and power of nature and by the thought there might be a single creating force, and that almost makes me a deist. And I like to think there is a powerful a force for good, and that makes me an ethical being. And I like to think of God as the essence of beauty. (And that definitely makes you a vessel of God, young man.) But these are images I get of God through just two or three little holes in the curtain of ignorance separating me and God. I don't really understand the connections between creation and good or between good and beauty. I just sense that there may be something tying them all together, and I'm not surprised that people are claiming all over the globe they've found that unifying force and it is the basis of their religion. But I've been blessed to have had conversations like this with Muslims and with Jews and with Buddhists and with Hindus and with Christians who tell me that Jehovah's Witnesses are mistaken but they are right. If you never go out into the world, if you never meet anybody who thinks differently from you, you can carry on in your certainty. But when you do go out and you do listen carefully, you see conflicting descriptions of truth. Having lived so long among Hindus and Muslims and Christians and Jews and Buddhists, it's not possible for me to take any one description too seriously. Instead, I come away with the idea that we are all blind children describing an elephant. You think he is built like a tree trunk; somebody else says he's like a wall, a third person says he's like a fire hose. All I can do is observe how we all do best when tell it like we see it and allow others complete freedom to do the same."

"But you believe in good and evil."

"I was raised in Western Civilization; it's hard for me to escape the division of the world into good and evil, black and white. But I am fascinated by Buddhists and the ancient Greeks and others who didn't separate them so clearly. One time when I was grieving the loss of someone dear to me and I felt I had died and was living in hell, I came to realize that this encounter with the dark spirits was also giving me insight into the nature of things. I understood my fellow man much better in that grief than I did normally. And I saw a creative force in me, and saw how it was that painters and writers and other artists can work through depression and misery to create things of beauty. And I developed a new respect for the Buddhists and the Greeks and others who did not divide the world into black and white, good and evil, like the sons and daughters of Abraham do, the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims."

"What you say is very interesting."

"And now I seem to have a choice. I can say, "You're all wrong! You're all running around like chickens with your heads cut off pretending to know God when you're all mired in ignorance." Or I can say, "Isn't it wonderful how much we have all accomplished, each in our own way, to put together an understanding of God." When I'm feeling angry and depressed, I tend to look at it the first way. When I'm feeling good, I tend to look at it the second way. You will agree with me, I suspect, that, given the choice, the second way is better."

"Oh, yes."

"Then let me tell you again how glad I am you are wearing that suit and blue shirt and tie and going from door to door trying to share good news rather than wearing a military uniform and carrying a gun and dropping bombs on people in some far-off country."

"I'm glad you feel that way."

"And I hope you will think about how many different ways there are to think about God and be glad he gave us the freedom to choose the tree of knowledge rather than live in childish ignorance in paradise and the freedom to think and share our thoughts with all his children all around the world and work together to map out a way to be good."

"I will. Thank you for teaching me."

OK. We're done. I haven't let on to either of them that it was his earthly beauty that stopped me in my tracks. Or that it was the odd circumstances that I suddenly found myself with an extra day in the week to do with as I pleased. Or that the sun was shining in and I felt more generous than usual and I was going to make an extra cup of tea anyway and was delighted to have the company of people who wanted to share something they valued with me. Or that one of them could have had the gold in my teeth for the asking. But outside of those omissions, I haven't lied.

We exchanged names and he asked if he could come back some day. I told him he would be welcome anytime, but that normally I am working on Tuesdays. "What about Fridays?" he asked. I'm home on Fridays, but I do my work at home on those days, so normally I don't have an hour free like I did today. But I will always have time for a cup of tea, so if you're in the neighborhood, do knock.

And I'll iron that collar right for you next time.

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Some Reflections on Being a Gay Uncle

At times, my friends get carried away talking about their children. And sometimes they hesitate, almost as if they wanted to say, "I'm sorry. It must bore you to hear us 'breeders' go on like this about our children." "Don't stop," I want to say. "I love it that you have this passion. I love it that you can be so unbalanced. That you reveal to me how much something matters to you outside of yourself and your work and passing interests. Something wonderful happens when people talk of their children. There is an atmosphere of love and security. You're safe when you're with people who love their children, and you know you are looking at their best side.

Gay people, at least in the United States, are now having children in ever greater numbers. I read the news and the academic studies of gay families with interest. Unlike some, I find it not at all surprising that gay people, once they have children of their own, often comment that they then come to feel they have more in common with straight people with children than they do with gay people. Certainly, for most, the "gay scene" recedes in importance. They learn that raising children takes a village, as Hillary put it, and it must be not only that the children raise the quality of their lives, but that there is value in finding connectedness with people you might otherwise avoid.

Gay men and lesbians have always been around as a part of larger families. That is what makes the "Save the Family" wagon-circling by the frightened right so grotesque. The family is coming to be understood differently as our society slowly evolves into a more democratic and inclusive one. Gay people are anything but a threat to the family. Just as San Francisco and other cities came to appreciate how gay men with wealth could spruce up a neighborhood and engender civic pride, people who welcome gay siblings and friends into their lives often find a surprising bonus of love and attention for their children in return. Gay men and women fill in some of the blank spaces in families, and add a dimension to healthy ones as well.

Sociobiological explanations of homosexuality (why do we constantly have to explain the human condition to death) have included the notion that it provides a natural buffer between the family as a vulnerable institution and the outer world. Gay men and women are supposedly designed that way by nature so that they will not have children and thus be around to lend a hand, financially and in other ways, to their siblings' children, providing more resources to the family than a lone set of male and female parents might.

This notion has always struck me as dumb. First off, it doesn't consider the cultural variation in patterning. The whole world is not structured like the American family in the first place. But far more importantly, it draws a line between reproduction and sexuality where it shouldn't, and misses an important point. One "reproduces" on both sides of the gay/straight line, in other words, and reproduction does not come in a package necessarily with family. Many gay men - and far more gay women - produce children of their own. And the fact that the number of gay adoptions is rising further challenges this functional theory of evolution, along with the idea that nature has a purpose in the first place.

But while the explanation doesn't fly, the phenomenon is real. My view of family is not the orthodox one. For me, who includes my biological sister in my chosen family, it is not that the biological relations create the "real brothers and sisters" and the close friends are brothers and sisters only in a metaphorical sense, but the other way around. Real family is as family does, and if you're lucky, the biologicals will be true brothers or sisters as well.

I have a large family. It includes more than a few nieces and nephews (far more nieces than nephews for some reason). Right up there second to none is Amy, the daughter of my longest longterm sister- and brother-by-choice, Harriet and Craig. She's fully grown, making her way in the world, and when I talk of her I hear the sound in my voice I hear in the voices of my friends with children—a pride and an inclination to overdo the praise.

Amy's mother and father died and left her to her own devices at much too young an age. But not without resources. Besides the certain knowledge that she was a much loved child of loving parents, Amy also has a large collection of aunts and uncles, some "natural," and some members of her parents' chosen family. Included in these are a number of gay uncles. At her mother's funeral service, her Aunt Jane (a natural aunt) presented Amy with a key to her house, a real key, one she could use any time. All she needed to do was come and she would be "at home," Jane told her. It was a touching moment, and some time later, at a dinner with Amy and her several gay uncles, we decided we'd make it explicit what we hoped she understood anyway — that we all wanted to match and extend the offer.

Anthony, for example, used to take Amy shopping. An annual splurge. I was never so good at largesse, but I felt a pride of connection nonetheless with Anthony for playing that particular avuncular role. My idea of how to play it is to fly to Paris, where she has been the past few years, and take her to dinner. (Obviously, we each have our own way to play.)

I have several other chosen nieces. Elizabeth, for example, who sends me videos of West Wing, and lots of meat-on-the-bone ideas to chew on. I'm not going to tell you so much about her, because I couldn't do that without mentioning her sister, Rachel, and then I'd want to talk about watching Paz and Sol grow up, and more recently the awareness that I will have a lifetime connection with two little girls named Anna and Ziva. And I haven't begun to tell you about my Japanese nephew and niece, Stuart and Leslie (and now their spouses, Juli and Simon) and their children, Jessica and Aston and Graeme and Olivia and Connor. But I didn't start this to go there. I started this reflection on being a gay uncle because my thoughts are now with my good friend, Bill. Let me tell you about Bill, instead.

Bill is the closest thing I've got these days to a soulmate, somebody I can talk to without having to finish my sentences. He lives in Indiana and we talk by phone once a week. Last summer, after many years of hearing about his nephew, Kevin, I finally got to meet him. Kevin suffered from cystic fibrosis and moved around only with the aid of an oxygen tank and a long hose. Twice a day, Kevin would have to go into his room and cough until the blood came, to clear his lungs. He would then need to sleep to recover the strength it took till the next time.

I was horrified at the sight of this oxygen tank, and at having to live with the noise of a pump going 24-hours a day. And listening to the coughing was almost unbearable. Bill went about the house keeping his normal routine. He had lived with this burden for some time. The other thing about Kevin that caught your attention was his full-body tattoos. I have an unabashed loathing of tattoos, for their associations with the yakuza and other thugs. But here, suddenly, was the great object of my best friend's affection, challenging me to come at this from another direction.

Within five minutes of meeting Kevin, we were talking about death. Kevin was barely into his twenties, but he knew death. It was coming soon for him. He talked about death as the framework to his life. Cystic fibrosis used to kill kids long before they reached their twenties. With current medications they can go much longer, and the medications give hope there will be a cure found eventually. That first evening, while Bill cooked dinner, and for the rest of the days I spent with them, we moved from death and the meaning of life, through the existentialist literature he was reading, to films, sex, and the nature of friendship at a level I had never imagined discussing with someone his age. Kevin was obviously wasting no time with trivial pursuits. He was squeezing it all in, and he was a fascinating conversationalist. I saw Bill's reflection in this man and could trace the ideas in many cases to their source. They had, however, been sifted and filtered through his own quick mind. Bill beamed with parental pride as over and over again he would read the look of surprise on my face at discovering so much wisdom in someone so young, and at learning once again the paradox of how embracing the dark side could bring light, how touching death could make evident the joy of life.

Being with Kevin took me out of my own life almost completely. It was the highlight of the summer for me, and it held much of my attention for weeks afterward. Kevin gave such pleasure. He had the insight to make talk meaningful, and he had not lost the freshness of youth, even with the burden he was carrying. The only incongruity in the picture was the tattoos.

In time, I came to see what was going on. Nature had ravaged Kevin's body and rendered him powerless. Nothing he could do could reclaim it. At his age one expects he would drive too fast, maybe jump off bridges on a bungee cord, certainly experiment with sex and relationships and possibly drugs, and quite likely turn up the music until the walls shook as the beat came through his feet and up his legs—all in the firm conviction that the body is invincible and mighty and something to be used to bring pleasure. Kevin had no body of his own to speak of. He was thin and pale and not in charge. The tattoos gave him what little decision-making power over his own body he could muster. He could determine what his body would say, and he used to ponder up to a year just what markings he would have put where, and who he would have do it.

Kevin came to stay with Bill again this summer. Each of these journeys from Pennsylvania to Indiana involved renting a van big enough to transport the oxygen tanks and arranging for their replacement locally. It involved seeing the medication is there, the preparations are made in case a sudden trip to the hospital is required. It is a life-consuming process. Bill lived for those summers when Kevin would come to stay, and regularly made the trek back to his sister's home when he couldn't.

If you have access to a good library, have a look at the American Arts Quarterly, the Summer/Fall edition of 2000. On page 29 of that journal you will see a picture of Bill and Kevin in a review by Karen L. Mulder of the portrait made of them by Catherine Prescott. With luck, you may find the portrait itself, although I believe it is not on public display at the moment. Mulder's review captures, I think, what the portrait artist's eye saw in their relationship:

In Body and Mind: Kevin with Uncle Bill (68in. by 68 in., oil on canvas), Prescott puts a name to a complicated relationship fostered by tragic circumstances. An ascetic young man, slightly larger than life, co-inhabits his space with a man crowned by an aureole of white hair. The relationship is not immediately apparent, but a dynamic between them virtually hums with layered possibilities. Their postures and expression may initially seem adversarial, as one leans away from the other, yet both glance toward each other with gazes that barely miss in flight. What may seem an expression of sullen rebelliousness or disaffection in the youth matches, in intensity, the older man's hunched pose of concern, and patient submission.
The avuncular Bill is a university English professor from Indiana; the terse Kevin is a 22-year-old in the midst of a losing battle with cystic fibrosis. Neither one, according to Prescott, fits their world. Bill is set apart because he is the sole intellectual and the only gay man in a family of pragmatists. Kevin is also separated from the rudimentary associations with life that most of us take for granted by his disease, which alternatively forces him to face the unwanted pity of others, or to grapple with a mounting set of limitations, or to weather exclusion from his peers. Kevin's slumped posture reveals the weight of his trajectory.
Losing physical stamina forces Kevin to travel with his mind. Like Dante's Virgil, Bill feeds the journey with Plato and the classics, humor, satire, and studies in aesthetics. The book Kevin leans upon is emblematic of his fundamental reliance on reading at this stage; it is actually one of David Sedaris's witty commentaries, Naked. The first time Prescott saw the two together she intuited the deep bond between them; they were simultaneously conjoined and self-contained. Both sat in ways that immediately struck Prescott as iconic, so fixed in memory that she was driven to capture each man's presence. "I liked it so much that they had each other," she says. "It became such a stunning image; I had to remark on it, not preserve it, because what I made is not more real than what I saw. I had to make it mine."

There is more, which you can find if you're interested. I just wanted to demonstrate that I am not alone in recognizing the relationship between this uncle and his nephew and the meaning it gave to both their lives. Bill and I talked a long time this week about his fear that he would not be there for Kevin when he goes, and that he would not be able to bear the grief.

Kevin died last night. His Uncle Bill was there. Now comes the test of Bill's ability to bear the grief.

Oiso, Japan
October 20, 2001

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus

I think we’re doing the wrong thing. Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus said the Romans. "Sometimes even good Homer nods off." The Japanese have a similar saying I like even better: Saru mo ki kara ochiru. "Even monkeys fall from trees." Even the best of us make mistakes, and I’m worried now this is one of those times when good people do bad things.

Like having at Barbara Lee, for example. Barbara Lee is my representative in Congress and this week she was the only member of Congress to vote no to the approval of $40 billion along with broad authority for George Bush to take military action in response to terrorism. It now seems to be raining bullets around Barbara Lee, and she deserves better. She’s not telling us terrorism is not worth fighting; she’s simply saying throwing billions into the military is the wrong approach. Even close friends of mine are criticizing her for "not getting behind the president in this hour of need," and I think we’re all going a little mad.

I spend my days in academia, a world politicians and other ‘doers’ routinely sneer at because academics can so easily lose themselves in endless discussion. Looking at all sides of an issue slows you way down, and when quick action is called for academics can be dangerous. But the art of life has to include knowing when to act and when to stop and think, and I believe the current sabre-rattling by the American Military-Industrial Complex, George Dubya, prop., is the wrong call. Now is not a time for action, it seems to me, but for deep reflection and discussion. For recognition that there has been too little thought, that Americans in particular are too uninformed about what led up to the terrorist attacks on September 11 to take sensible action.

Look at the complexity involved. We are steeped in Christian tradition, so we don’t call IRA terrorists or the people who kill doctors at abortion clinics, "Christian terrorists," but we do call Atta and his band "Islamic terrorists." On the other hand, those who make this point and try to compare it to calling Timothy McVeigh a "Christian terrorist" miss the point that McVeigh wasn’t acting in the name of Christ and that there is a tradition of martyrdom in Islam which provides some with a context for suicide. How do we sort out these overlapping truths and not surrender to bigotry?

It is tempting to tie terrorism to religious zealotry. We see the damage done by Islamic jihad, by the abortion clinic bombers, by the Jewish fundamentalist claims to land in Israel, by idiots like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. In that last example, fortunately, tragedy has recently turned to farce, and the two bozos are eating crow over their little chat on television about how God is angry at being "poked in the eye" by gays and lesbians, the ACLU, and the American Supreme Court, and about how our support of secularism convinced God to allow the terrorists in instead of protecting us from them. I have wished for going on three decades now that somebody would shut these guys up. But in the end I realize the right response is not silencing, but supplementing. There is the voice of Cynthia Tucker, for example, of the Atlanta Constitution, who describes these their comments as "lunatic ravings" and a "sick perversion of Christian values." Finally! I say. Some recognition by the mainstream that not every "Christian" is a Christian. And although some Christians have stolen Jesus and some Muslims have misread the Koran, religion can lift us up as well as dash us on the rocks.

It's not religion; it's the absence of thought that's the problem here. Some time ago I got into a discussion with one of my students at my university in Japan. Fascinated with the kamikaze pilot mentality, he offered the view that if he had lived "in those times" he would have thought "as those people" did. I asked him who "those people" were. He answered, simply, "the people who lived in those years." "You mean like General Tojo?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "Why General Tojo and not Chiune Sugihara?" I asked him. "Sugihara? Who’s that?"

The part of me that is Japanese smarts at moments like that. Sugihara was the Japanese consul to Kaunas, Lithuania in 1940 who cabled the Foreign Office in Tokyo asking permission to grant travel visas to Jews storming the consulate in an attempt to escape the Nazis. The Foreign Ministry refused, of course, but Chiune and his wife Yukiko sat down sat down and wrote out some 3000 visas by hand and left behind the official stamp permitting others to continue after they had to leave. "Why do you suppose you are so quick to think of General Tojo and not Chiune Sugihara when you think of ‘those’ people in ‘those days,’" I asked this kid. He didn't even understand my question.

In 1972 I met some drunken officials of the Japanese Ministry of Education at a bar in a mountain village in Kyushu, far away from the Tokyo Office. "Why don’t Japanese young people know about Nanking or the bombing of Singapore?" I asked him. Today, I would have added "and the pressing into sexual service of young girls from Korea and elsewhere and the medical experimentation on prisoners of war." "Because in Japan," one of them answered, "we value harmony above all, and we are afraid if our young people learn of these things they will lose respect for their elders and there will be chaos."

I was sobered by the response. It had never occurred to me that such a rational response was possible. Never mind that I disagree strongly with their conclusions. I recognize it as a rational, if misguided, course of action. And ultimately counter-productive. The consequences of this lack of discourse are spilling over into Japanese-Korean and Japanese-Chinese relations today, and will continue to prevent Asian unity where unity could do so much good. It took time to reach the conclusion that what was wrong with the ministry official's conclusion was that it shut down thought instead of encouraging it, that it assumed the few could manage thought for the many. In other words, that it was profoundly anti-democratic. Never mind that it insults the intelligence of the kids, sees them as nothing more than blank slates. Never mind that many of them will set this knowledge in stone and not unlearn it later.

What’s going on in the United States at the moment is much more heartening. We have no Ministry of Education to slow down the educative process. We do have a penchant for black and white thinking, though, the modern tendency to reduce complexity to cant and witty-sounding soundbites. "This is your morning wake-up call, Saddam" the T-shirts said during the Gulf War, showing pictures of bombs dropping over Baghdad. My niece came home from high school upset by the dilemma she was in. On the one hand, she was furious over the T-shirts. "The bombs are not falling on Saddam," she said. "They’re falling on innocent Iraqis!" At the same time, the students were marching out of school in protest over the war not because they understood what it was about but because they were in Berkeley, and in Berkeley "people protest war!" She had not been mind-handled into government-approved thought; she was dealing with complexity and dilemma. If only her experience were more broadly evident.

I’m so much less comfortable with my own liberal politics these days. So much more frustrated at my own inability to grasp the complexity. Should Barbara Lee have shown support for Bush in this time? I think not. Should we stop using the term "Islamic terrorists" out of a sense of political correctness? I’m not sure. Should we spend billions on munitions to hunt down bin Laden? I’m afraid not doing so would encourage terrorism and demoralize Americans. I also fear that doing so is likely to increase terrorism. Should I buy a flag and hang it from my second-story window? I’d hate to think I could be adding to the war-frenzy, but I’m closer than I was before 9/11 to at least going out and buying one.

$40 billion for war powers? How much for planes? How much for the teaching of Arabic? Or Farsi or Dari or Pashtu? If we do study the Middle East and their languages and cultures more closely, will it help us to stop shooting Indian Sikhs in Arizona because the terrorists this time came from an ethnic group which happens to come from the same hemisphere the Indian-Americans came from? Would respect for diversity trickle down to the thugs anyway?

And who does the greater harm here, the morons who lash out at women in headdresses and men in beards or the boys at the top with the guns and the Realpolitik? Is it true that the wars in Iraq and Vietnam were justified on economic grounds? That it is OK for the power structure to speak of liberty and mean profits? That Americans would riot in the streets if gas prices and unemployment figures got too high? Do we have to beggar the Afghanis not already beggared by the Soviets and by their Taliban "saviors" to save face and to "send messages?" Is it really naïve to make moral arguments in the international arena?

America is doing itself proud at the moment. The shoestore owner who went out into the street with sneakers for the women running north away from the scene of mayhem in high heels. The people who run to the bloodbanks trying to give blood faster than the machines can receive it. The suppliers of clean socks for the rescue workers. The heroism of hundreds of police and firefighters. The recognition of these people by Americans who had previously stopped seeing blue-collared people. The announcement by Bush’s press secretary that we should go to our "churches, synagogues and mosques" and the Imam and the Rabbi walking down the aisle together at the service at National Cathedral in Washington and the announcement by California’s Governor Davis that California was proud to be made up of Americans "from the Mission (San Francisco’s Latin district) to the Middle East." These are the reasons, I think, I wish I could find a flag to wave.

We’re supposed to go back to business as usual. I don’t think so. I think we need to stop business as usual and talk. I think the government is limited to tunnel-visionaries and the media seems to think we can’t handle complexity. We need to talk around both of these estates, the government and the media, and up the exchange of views. Americans amuse the world with their Monica Lewinsky scandals, but more than a few people outside the United States have expressed admiration for the American practice of letting it all hang out. Right now it needs to all hang out. There is no other approach to complexity but richer and deeper discussion. Let it all out now; we’ll distill it later.

If we are to avoid hasty military solutions, we have to get to the questions, kids in school and the rest of us in the workplace and around the dinner table. All the questions, rude and uncivil as well as profound. Is there something wrong with women in headdresses? Is moral and cultural relativism a good idea? Is Henry Kissinger really a war criminal? Does our support of Israel make us responsible for the terrorist attacks? Can I be pro-Jewish and anti-Israel? Can I be uncomfortable with belly dancers and women in veils and respect the Arab world? Can I absorb the paradox that America is responsible for driving people to suicide but that it’s the terrorists and not America responsible for the attacks? Is there a difference between the 12-year olds in Pakistan who believe it was the Jews who attacked the Twin Towers and are trying to blame it on bin Laden and the 30, 40, or 50-year olds in the United States who believe Barbara Lee is a traitor? Does the fact that Iraqis and Libyans and others have been terrorized by American bombs mean we too are terrorists? Is there logic in the claim that you are only a terrorist if you don’t have a state? Is saying pacification to mean destruction of a village and collateral damage to mean the death of innocent bystanders a form of brain-washing or simply a creative use of language necessary for a wise and just government to drum up support?

What do you think? Is it divisive? Do we need to rally behind the president and show solidarity? I think the opposite is true. I think democracy works when we show solidarity in our support for the democratic process and practically nowhere else, and when we recognize democracy cannot work when we let the media tell us what our opinions are. And when the idea we can fight terrorism with guns—or any other idea—is taken on faith.

All democratic governments come up with things like a "war powers act" that enables them to cut civil liberties in times of crisis, and few would argue such means are never necessary. But each time they are called into force, a democracy, if it is going to remain a democracy, needs to supplement such moves with increased vigilance and discussion. Bring out the guns if you’re going to, but bring out the people who believe the emperor has no clothes as well.

There are good reasons and bad for waving the flag. Some people are waving it because they want to show we’re tough. Others because they want to proclaim we’re superior. I’m out of step with those flagwavers. I don’t believe America is necessarily a better place to live. I don’t think we’re right more often than the rest of the world. I don’t even think we have more liberty. I have my own reasons for wishing I could find a flag to display. It's because I think America, when it thinks about it, does a pretty good job with complexity and paradox, dissidence and confusion, and the delicate balance of reason and passion. When America is thinking, it is a marvelous place to be. Not because it is the home of the brave and the land of the free. But because it is such a good home to democracy.

September 19. 2001

Thursday, February 22, 2001

A Christian's Right to Harass

Mayor Giuliani has decided Renée Cox's depiction of the Crucifixion with her on the cross instead of Jesus is "anti-Catholic," among other things (disgusting, outrageous…)

Anti-Catholic? Well, so what? So blinkin' what! Who says anybody has to be pro-catholic? What does he think Brooklyn is (the photographic exhibit is in Brooklyn), the goddam Vatican Embassy?

It's America, for chrissakes. US of goddam home-of-the-brave America! We get to be anti-catholic if we feel like it! So long as nobody steps in and tells the good catholic people of America they can't build churches, schools, hospitals and bingo parlors to do their (sometimes very good) things in, it's none of Giuliani's friggin business if Renée Cox wants to take a picture of herself on a cross.

Meanwhile, across town in Pennsylvania, a Pennsylvania appeals court says that a school district policy must not interfere with conservative Christian school children's right to harass. "We have found no categorical rule," says Judge Alioto, "that divests 'harassing' speech, as defined by federal anti-discrimination statutes, of First Amendment protection."

That makes David W. Saxe very happy indeed. He had lost the case he brought to the lower court, claiming that the two children under his care have a Christian right to "bear witness" to their faith, and that includes letting homosexuals on the playground hear loud and clear that they are living in sin. Leave aside, for the moment, that two 4th grade boys in my experience seldom practice anal sex with each other in front of others at recess, and that what we're really talking about here is terrorizing some boyish girl or girlish boy for simply being.

Gay activists are up in arms. They see a parallel with other examples of violence of the mouth. How would you feel, they ask, if you were a minority Jew and some skinheads exercised their First Amendment right to say to you, "I'm glad your mother died at Auschwitz. I wish you had, too." Or a minority black surrounded by some white thugs saying things like, "Go back to Africa, junglebunny." The difference, say the religionists, is religion. Skinheads and thugs have no constitutional right to thuggery, but Christians have a right to express their religion. Never mind that these creeps once exercised that same religious right to preach the children of Ham were in slavery with God's express approval.

One of the most challenging responsibilities of maintaining our civil liberties is maintaining the willingness to "fight to the death" for the right of racist, religious, or other bigots to speak their mind. I'm going to part ways with my gay friends seeking to get the law to shut these "Christians" up. I'm going to say, as much as the picture of a witness-bearing thug having at some confused and vulnerable young man in the schoolyard wrenches my gut like little else does, that he has the right to speak his mind so long as it doesn't lead to physical violence.

Someday, I want to tell these gay youngsters, you will grow up and know the ecstasy of defending Maria Callas against people who complain her voice is second rate. Or live with other women who, like yourself, agree that dinner party menus are balanced when they contain both wholegrain salads and potato chips. Until that great day, I regret all I can suggest is growing a thicker skin.

And, of course, turning the other cheek.

February 22, 2001

Thursday, February 1, 2001

So Long As It’s Biblical

Did you know that if you have celiac disease you can't eat wheat? And if you have celiac disease and you're catholic and want to take communion you're screwed? Jenny Richardson, age 5, has just gotten a letter from the Archdiocese of Boston informing her she is not eligible for her First Communion unless she is willing to flatten the villi in her small intestine and get sick. Sorry, sometimes you just got to be true to the "image of Scripture" says the Archdiocese.

Boston is not the only place in scriptural turmoil. Remember Kansas? The place where the school board (run by protestants, if I remember correctly) decided to toss the Big Bang out of the curriculum. Wasn't biblical.

Something that is biblical, evidently, is the theory that it was Adam who first pronounced the word "dinosaur." If you go to the website www.christiananswers.net, and click on dinosaurs and then on "Why did God create dinosaurs" you'll see what I mean. I realize some of you have lives, so I've fetched it for you.

To wit:

God brought many animals to Adam for his personal inspection; the dinosaurs may have been included. God watched to see what Adam thought of all these wonderful creatures. He waited while Adam made up a name for each one (Genesis 2:19). Each new animal must have been an interesting surprise, displaying their Creator's power and creativity. Why did God invent so many different kinds of beautiful, interesting and surprising animals? Perhaps because He wanted to delight Man with His power, wisdom and love. Part of God's purpose for creating the particular types of dinosaurs that become very large was surely to impress Man. Dinosaurs showed the great power of the Creator. No matter how big these creatures got, Adam knew God was always far greater. God designed every part of them, right down to the smallest cell. Even the largest dinosaur was like an obedient puppy in God's wise, powerful hands.

Now that's biblical. Except for the puppy, maybe, which I don't find in my concordance Bible for some reason.

I remember when I was seven and first learned that kangaroos existed only in Australia, I asked my Sunday School teacher if the Garden of Eden was in Australia. She said no, and she imagined the kangaroos from the Garden of Eden died out elsewhere after they emigrated to Australia. She was from Kansas, so one assumes she got a good education. The web site says the very same thing, incidentally. It also answers the question every inquiring mind has been dying to know: Adam did not have a belly-button.

Anyway, I'm writing to tell you how thrilled I am to live in a Christian nation (Well, when I go there, I mean). And how glad I am my new President is getting us back on track by directing the Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor and Education to open "faith-based centers" within 45 days.

I mean when he said Jesus Christ was his favorite politician, I knew we were going places. I never believed for a minute that crap about governing from the center. When you're on a roll, you're on a roll.

I'm so relieved. No more worrying about Saddam Hussein. We're just going to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). All them ICBM's? Ploughshares! (Micah 4:3). Those scruffy street people? No need to take us to court to get the coats off our back. We'll just hand them over, and our cloaks also (Matthew 5:40).

Had me scared there for a minute, Mr. Ashcroft.

I guess I just have to remember that if you take political action to prevent abortion for a girl raped by her brother I have nothing to worry about. I live in a Christian nation and we're going to do the right thing. We'll help her get it adopted out. "Child of brother-sister team needs a loving home." I'm sure the good Christian folk of America will come running.

Trigger locks? You're right. Wouldn't be biblical.

Guess it's OK to steal an election, if you're stealing it for Christ.

February 1, 2001

Sunday, January 28, 2001

A Letter from Snow Country

I went to work yesterday in a kind of mini-blizzard. Had to invigilate. That's what my British colleagues call it, anyway. You folks in the American colonies call it exam proctoring. Funny how to American ears invigilation sounds like something you do when you expect the ninja to climb the walls at any moment, and proctoring to British ears must sound like rummaging around in the nether regions looking for uninvited growths. When asked to post a notice to foreign faculty about the whole process I suggested we give both the Brits and the Yanks their due and use both terms and announce "Invigilation/Proctoring" Duties, but that sounded too much like staying keenly tuned at the ramparts waiting for somebody to come give you a ride to remember. One of those times to just use the Japanese word "Kantoku" and let everybody do their own translation.

As it turned out, it was the fourth snowfall of the season. Big heavy snowflakes that piled up on the road, accompanied by a swirling wind that slashed through your bones and made you squint. The trains were on time, but the busses, with chains, crawled from bus stop to bus stop, sliding in and not quite stopping and sliding out again. It took an hour to get to school from Tsujido, a trip that normally takes twenty minutes. Exams were delayed, of course. And because of the low showing, we've got to go back and repeat the whole process next week for those who didn't show. The joys of living in Snow Country.

It precipitated all day, and about noon the snow turned to rain, so by 5 o'clock all the foot or more of snow on the ground had been washed away. And today, the temperature warmed to almost no-jacket weather, and I was out hiking around after a week of huddling near the stove wrapped in Scottish woollen blankies.

I was hoping to capture the moment yesterday morning when it all started. The snow, I mean. My brother-in-law had called at 2 a.m. to tell me my father had finally passed away, and I didn't sleep the rest of the night. At 6, at first light, I was sitting (huddled by the fire) in my study looking at the snow piling up on the palm trees outside my window. Nobody was stirring yet, and I felt like Mother Nature had decided to give me a precious moment of her time, this one just for me. The snow looked almost violent, swirling as it did, but in the end it hit the ground in a way that not only demonstrated silence, but commanded it. I don't do well here in Japan with all these "communing with nature" claims, the haiku on the single plum blossom of spring, the chime and the cicada in summer. Always comes over as false, somehow. All too contrived for my taste. But this morning I sat and watched the snow fall and felt myself calming effortlessly. Instead of having to talk myself down from stress or from too much busyness, I had a hand from Mother Nature this time and just observed it happen, as if I were watching myself from outside.

If I could only capture that moment and make it last. I had it for no more than an hour and it was gone for good. I was hoping the snow would stay a couple days till I could get to the onsen. Last week, I went down with friend Mark to the rock garden retreat with three steaming hot pools, one comfortably warm and one cold one. It was icy cold outside, but if you sit in one of the hot pools for a long time, you can move from one to another with absolutely no discomfort. I know of no other place where people are so good at creating spaces like this, or so comfortable with public nudity. Perhaps I'm closer to nature than I realize. Sitting in the hot water, splashing your face against the icy wind, gives you a sense of both the potential of nature to freeze you to death and the reality that it is protecting you from itself. There is no hurry. You can sit there forever, watching the curvacious muscular lines of the human body silhouetted against the dusk with steam rising from backs and arms when the men rise up out of the water and sit on the edge of the pool for awhile. The only thing that could improve on that picture would be a snowstorm like the one outside my window yesterday.

My father died, finally, after months of pain and discomfort, one of those deaths that make caretakers and loved ones sigh with relief. A good death, in the end, one that came in its time. There will be time to miss him, to remember the goodness I knew in him, and to regret the connections we never made. Not just now, though. Now, I just want to enjoy this gift Mother Nature just gave me, like a kid with a first bicycle or a first party dress.

I remember the discovery, one time some ten years ago or so, when a broken heart seemed like it was going to kill me, that a soujourn in Hades has its own peculiar reward. I was in tune with others' suffering, for example, and with the small pleasures that spelled relief from the monotone misery. I don't stay depressed long, fortunately, and that time I found myself fighting it as I began to rise up and get back to normal. I wanted to stay there and milk the moment. But life wouldn't let me.

This time is similar. A moment of exquisite peace, and I want to make connections with other moments and tie them all together and make a net I can put all around me, a hammock to swing in, maybe. But it isn't working. It's back to normal today already. Shopping and taking out the garbage, final semester grades, rude knocks at the door when the vegetable man, who forgets this is 2001 and nobody enters without knocking anymore like they used to when I lived here 30 years ago, suddenly is inside my house informing me the daikon are cheap this week. Friends calling about year-end parties. Reminders of the lousy stock market, the power blackouts, the mugging. Time to pay the rent.

Am I asking too much? Must somebody else die for that beautiful moment to repeat? Is that all we get? Just a moment once in an age that we're supposed to remember, but don't get to relive?

It was a lovely moment, though. I e-mailed the immediate folk in my life and they all responded by e-mail or by phone, and that, actually, extended the moment, come to think of it. The blanket of affection, like the blanket of snow, come to tell you the world can be a warm, calm and peaceful place from time to time.

Suppose I can't justify comparing myself to Oliver, I guess. Saying to God, "Please, Sir, may I have some more?" What would that be, anyway? Would I know it if I saw it? I've seen sunsets and snowfalls before and paid them no mind. Watched the ocean for a while and got impatient for lunch. Maybe there is no way of knowing joy without the awareness of pain or loss. Or maybe I'm now too cynical for unadulterated joy and have to take my pleasure in melancholy.
Now I know the moment is over. I'm tearing it apart to see how it worked. Time to go back to the rectum jokes. Or the Republican jokes. Time to get angry that Ashcroft hasn't been ridden out of town yet on a rail.

So much to do. So little time.

January 28, 2001

Thursday, January 11, 2001

Japanese Racism

Not all racisms are alike. Here in Japan racism is of a kinder gentler sort, in keeping with a culture world-renowned for its subtlety. In fact, the local take on racism is that it isn’t even happening at all.

Japan and Korea are unusual places in the world in that race, language, culture and ethnicity are isomorphic categories. That is, the lines around these categories are the same, as opposed to multicultural nations like the U.S. (and most other modern nations) where a citizen can belong to any number of constellations of categories and still be fully American. Or so it seems to the Japanese.

In truth, Japan’s islands are home to thousands born and raised here who speak Japanese but cannot claim Japanese national identity because their parents are from elsewhere. This includes the descendants of Koreans brought here by force, many of whom now have Japanese names, speak only Japanese, but do not have the civic rights of Japanese citizens. When you add to that the refugees that have managed to enter the country, the thousands of workers the country needs to survive, and the thousands of others, like myself, that have made Japan their home, you come to realize Japan, too, is a multicultural nation. But the racists are holding on to the insider/outsider distinction for dear life. And the racists are often the gentlest and kindest of people.

Japan is also a wealthy nation, and like most wealthy nations, its citizens have realized that to take advantage of that wealth you need to not burden yourself with lots of children. People are marrying late so they can get their careers started, women are gradually being freed from banishment to the kitchen, and the birth rate is disastrously low. By 2007, for example, there will be more university positions available than students to fill them, and this means universities will begin to close and standards of admission will fall drastically. The alternative of letting faculty go being, of course, unthinkable. More importantly, the number of persons in the workforce available to support the aged dependent will drop from four to two, and there is no way that is going to work economically.

So the situation is desperate. The solution is either to completely gear down the economy so that we survive with a smaller population—a suggestion absolutely nobody takes seriously—or to bring in more immigrants, or to up the birth rate. Of the last two options, everywhere you see people opting for more “Japanese” (i.e., racially Japanese) babies, as in the Japan Times and Sankei Shimbun editorials to which I responded below.

What is stunning is the near total blindness on the part of most people to the fact that this is racism and that racism has sinister implications. They get away with it by arguing the furtherance of Japanese culture, the implication being that you have to be racially Japanese to carry this off. What everybody seems to be missing is the fact that the (so-called racially pure) Japanese themselves are fostering the evolution of their culture, as everybody everywhere always does, and that outsiders who come in to stay tend to get in the swing and help that evolution in much that same way as insiders do. There will always be an England, despite (or possibly because of!) the Caribbeans and Indians who live there, and there will always be a Japan. And there is no stopping the changes.

But for now, they are giving it a hell of a fight.

If any of you would like the original article to which I responded, let me know and I’ll forward it to you. For now, I’ll just include this letter to the editor. They chose not to publish it, by the way, as I anticipated. It’s simply too far out of line by current thinking.

Readers in Council
The Japan Times
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023

Dear Editor:

You and the Sankei Shimbun suggest (your opinion page, 1/10/01) the solution to Japan's declining population problem is to keep women in the workforce, on some curious illogical assumption that if women are allowed to work more they will make more babies. The Sankei worries that if we don't turn things around Japan's population in 3001 will be a mere 83 Japanese people. Both of you convey a sense of panic about the fact that the only alternative to having women up their baby-production is to allow more foreigners in.

What causes this race panic? Is there a tunnel-vision virus? Is it something in the water? Do reasonable people really believe that the distinction between Japanese and gaijin can and should be maintained another thousand years? How much longer must we view women as economy-fueling machines?

We give citizenship to some two-bit Latin American dictator on the basis of race and deny it to Japan-born Japanese-speaking "Koreans," we deny non-Asian Japanese citizens entry to onsen and other establishments, and you in the press go on about race preservation. If the Sankei Shimbun is genuinely concerned about these islands a thousand years from now (and not just dramatizing statistics to stir up racial fears), it needs to stop fussing over class, race, linguistic and other ephemeral distinctions and devote itself to something more worthy, like justice, creativity, or an orderly immigration policy.

The foreigners are coming to stay, and they will become us. Some of "them" already are "us." The political leadership is dead in the water, but you don't need to join them. The proper response is welcome, not panic. Where is your moral imagination? Help the police see that not all Chinese are criminals, and help Japanese citizens with names like Suzuki and Tanaka see that their fellow-Japanese with names like Brown, Kim, Singh and Lopez are already at work helping to turn the economy around and keep it strong. And leave the women alone!

Alan J. McCornick
1007-8 Higashi Koiso
Oiso, Kanagawa 255-0004

phone/fax (0463) 61-9248


January 11, 2001