What Were They Thinking?


Everyone should have a hobby. Mine is collecting names of businesses that don’t make sense. Below are some real examples:

1. Icarus air Travel. Icarus only had one flight and it ended badly.

2. The Abelard School, a private academy. Abelard was best known for sleeping with a student.

3. Gandhi’s Fine Indian Cuisine. Gandhi was not a known to be a hearty eater or gourmand.

4. Mecca Jeans. Is it good idea to wear jeans at Mecca?

5. Ponce De Leon Federal Bank. Ponce De Leon supposedly went searching for the fountain of youth. Even though the story is not true, still that’s what his name means to most people. Would you trust him with your life savings?

Curses From an Old Manse

Winston Churchill: a cool man with a quip.
Winston Churchill: a cool man with a quip.
Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:
Teddy Roosevelt stated the problem well when he said, “A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.”  Obama got in trouble for saying that the Cambridge Police acted “stupidly” when they arrested Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  You know what’s stupid?  People thinking that Obama was wrong for using the word stupid.  I’m just happy to finally have a president who knows when to use an adverb.  In days of yore, politicians ripped each other apart leaving a path of verbal destruction as far as the monocled eye could see, and people didn’t care.  (However, TR also said “Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.”  So maybe sometimes it’s actually better not to say exactly what you think, especially if your opinions are stupid.) 

Global Citizenship Expert Reviews Japan’s Open Future











I’d like to share a recent review of my book Japan’s Open Future: An Agenda for Global Citizenship by Dr. Hans Schattle, an expert on global citizenship and author of the 2007 book The Practices of Global Citizenship

I have not yet had the chance to read Schattle’ s book, but according to the Amazon review, it “provides a detailed and vivid account of how the term global citizenship has been interpreted and communicated in recent years,” and it “includes numerous fascinating conversations with global citizens from many nations, revealing how notions of global citizenship have been put in practice by an ever-increasing number of governing institutions, non-governmental organizations, corporations, schools, and universities.”

 It was exciting therefore to be reviewed by a global citizenship expert who could assess Japan’s Open Future in this broader context. Dr. Schattle wrote the review for Global Asia, a publication of the East Asia Foundation. The East Asia Foundation was established in Seoul in January 2005 with the goal of promoting “peace, prosperity security and sustainability in East Asia,” while Global Asia aims to “provide a compelling, serious, and responsible forum for distinguished thinkers, policymakers, political leaders and business people to debate the most important issues in Asia today.”

Here is his review in full.

“THE CONCEPT OF ‘global citizenship’ has gained momentum in recent years as a metaphor to describe both communities of individuals and professional and advocacy networks that operate across national boundaries. While global citizenship often comes across as an idea that transcends the limits of nationalism, much of the contemporary public discourse on global citizenship also uses the concept as a way to evaluate the policies and practices of national governments. It is this view of global citizenship, as a series of enlightened and responsive policy choices carried out by nation-states, that drives the authors of a sweeping new volume, Japan’s Open Future: An Agenda for Global Citizenship. John Haffner, Tomas Casas I Klett, and Jean-Pierre Lehmann have channeled their experiences in academic and business circles in Japan into a tour de force of the country’s recent history and the imperative for Japan to establish a new foreign policy ‘rooted in an enlarged conception of humanity that identifies Japan’s interests integrally with the fate of people everywhere.’
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Slaughter Nick for President

The people of Serbia have passionately embraced an out-of-work Canadian actor who once starred in an obscure TV show called Tropical Heat. A knock-off of Magnum P.I., Tropical Heat revolved around hero Nick Slaughter, and was broadcast in Serbia during the tumultuous final days of the Milosevic regime. The actor who played Slaughter, Rob Stewart, recently returned to Serbia to film a documentary about the show’s unlikely popularity and received a hero’s welcome:


The anticipation in Serbia had been building since March, when it was leaked to the press that Stewart would perform with a Serbian punk band at its 20th-anniversary concert. “It broke out all over the papers that Nick Slaughter was coming to Serbia,” says Stewart. “It was overwhelming.”

Stewart’s Serbian host, prominent political activist Srdja Popovic – whom Stewart had contacted through Facebook – says that after a national newspaper published a photo of him with Stewart, “within 15 minutes, I got 300 calls – everybody asking, ‘Will you introduce me to Nick Slaughter?’ and ‘I want a photo with Nick Slaughter.’ I couldn’t live my normal life.” . . . . 

What baffled the filmmakers were the emotional outpourings they found during their visit – what the Serbian newspapers dubbed Slaughtermania. “These huge guys with tears in their eyes saying, ‘You’re my hero,’” says Stewart. “It was the emotional context for these people: what they went through in the 1990s while this became their favourite show.

The whole hilarious story, complete with a guest appearance by Canada’s ambassador to Serbia, is here

Eclipse first, the rest also important to know about



 Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

Today there was a total eclipse of the sun.  This should never be confused with a total eclipse of the heart.  The latter is categorized by getting a little bit lonely, a little bit tired, a little bit nervous, a little bit terrified, followed by falling apart.  In total eclipses of the heart, forever starts.  In total eclipses of the sun, the moon passes between the sun and the earth, thus covering the sun.  This can only happen during a New Moon, which explains why the entire cast is so pale.   It could also be because they blanche at the thought of being in a non-sucky movie.


Today’s eclipse was only visible in Asia.  In some places it lasted over six minutes.  One of the fastest Eclipses was born in 1764, and he ran undefeated his entire career of eighteen races.  He was the maternal grandson of the stallion Regulus, who every nerd knows is the brother of Sirius Black (Harry Potter’s godfather), who was killed by Bellatrix Lestrange (Tim Burton’s girlfriend).

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A Garden at Last for Kolakowski










I was sorry to hear from Jeet’s recent post that Leszek Kolakowski had died. As an undergrad I read and read again his penetrating collection of essays in Modernity on Endless Trial – an inspired title, I always thought. Fittingly enough for someone who was influenced by Kant, he shook me from some of my immature dogmas.

For instance, Kolakowski convinced me of the pointlessness of efforts to resolve and overcome doctrinal differences among the various Christian denominations, an insight that helped inform what became my commitment to secular pluralism.

He also helped me to question and resist lazy ways of speaking about left and right, as though these terms were static and self-evident. His essay “How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist,” which Jeet has already reprinted in his post, should be required reading in Poli Sci 101.

And his amusing piece “The General Theory of Not Gardening” reminds us that intellectually we get what we project: whatever school of thought we are trained in shapes how we see the world and so much within it, and often to the exclusion of competing schools and methodologies. The essay in my view is a tacit argument for an interdiscipinary education. But perhaps for Kolakowski it was rather meant as a witty caution against too much learning, because, as he wrote, “it is much easier to have a theory than to garden.”

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World’s leading black-studies scholar arrested

Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard University Professor who specializes in African-American studies, has been arrested at his home on dubious charges of disorderly conduct. A statement by Gates and link to the police report are here. Some judicious comments are found in this thread on Crooked Timber (where I found out about it).

Noblesse Oblige from Japan Tobacco














The Wall Street Journal has just translated from Japanese a hilarious interview with Hiroshi Kimura, ostensibly Japan Tobacco Inc.’s president and chief executive. Either we are being had by another Sascha Baron Cohen character, or the translator is a  wicked prankster. This is high comedy: 

… Mr. Kimura has a law degree from Kyoto University and joined the company in 1976 when it was still a government domestic monopoly called Japan Tobacco and Salt Public Corp. “I wanted to work for an international firm, and so Japan Tobacco initially wasn’t within my top 10 choices, but it helped that I liked tobacco,” said Mr. Kimura, who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day.

WSJ: What did you learn from your first job?

Mr. Kimura: … When I first joined I learned from a senior the [French] phrase noblesse oblige, which I understood to mean not shirking the responsibilities of your position. In my early days I was given many challenging tasks to stretch my abilities, which gave me the foundation to develop into the manager I am today.

WSJ: Who gave you the best business advice?

Mr. Kimura: Our customers. As a cigarette company, similar to makers of food or medicine, our products are consumed by our customers and have a direct impact on their lives. To meet their high expectations, we have to be constantly aware of the market pulse and make trusted and preferred products.

Leszek Kolakowski, RIP

Leszek Kolakowski
Leszek Kolakowski


The philosopher Leszek Kolakowski is dead. His dates are 1927-2009, meaning he lived through the most violent and tumultous period of Polish history: the Nazi conquest, the post-war liberation followed by Stalinism, the rise of the New Left and its crushing defeat in the 1960s (which sent him into exile), the triumph of Solidarity and the overthrow of communism.

I was not, on the whole, a fan. Of course his opposition to Stalinism was heroic and wholy admirable. But his approach to the history of ideas seemed to me too schematic and ahistorical. But I did like some of the wry, puckish essays in Modernity On Endless Trial, in particular “How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist”.

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Affirmative Action, Buchanan-Style

Rick Perlstein's great book Nixonland.
Rick Perlstein's great book Nixonland.


Pat Buchanan, among other conservatives, has been all arage over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be a Supreme Court justice. Sotomayer, Buchanan argues, is an affirmative action hire, selected not because she’s the best qualified candidate but because she’s a Hispanic woman. (For an example of Buchanan in action see this debate he had with Rachel Maddow). 


It’s worth reminding ourselves that for conservatives like Buchanan, affirmative action is only bad when its beneficiaries are women or non-whites. There are all sorts of affirmative actions programs that Buchanan supports.


In the early 1970s, Buchanan was speechwriter for Richard Nixon. In that capacity he often sent his superiors memos advising them on political strategy. One pet Buchanan idea was that the Republican party should chase after the Catholic vote in a more vigorous way (he also thought that the party was wasting its time trying to get support from blacks and Jews).

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