“Too Asian” — the Podcast

Time: it only took Maclean's decades to do a less intelligent and sensitive version of this article.

Over on the CBC radio program Q, I was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi about Maclean’s “Too Asian” article. You can listen to the show here. 

Interestingly, Maclean’s was asked if they wanted to appear on the show and debate the issue. They not only declined the request, they refused to make a statement on this matter. This adds to my general sadness on this topic: if Maclean’s wanted to raise such a provocative topic, they should have the courage of their convictions and argue it out with their critics. But it seems like Maclean’s wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to get attention for publishing something that angers people, but when objection are raised they duck out of engagement with the issue and act like their being unfairly singled out for criticism.

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Too Asian? Too Whyte?

David Suzuki: Canadian hero or too Asian?

 

Maclean’s magazine has raised the issue of whether Canadian universities are too Asian. (The link is to website that preserved the original version of the article, which has since been scrubbed and replaced by a slightly less offensive piece by Maclean’s). In a fit of irritation, I wrote a response in the National Post asking if Maclean’s is too white (I’m almost tempted to say too Whyte). My article can be read here.

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On Dave Weigel

Dave Weigel is leaving the Washington Post after some creep leaked off-the-record comments he made on a private list-serv. Matthew Yglesias and Adam Serwer  have both written superb blog posts that pretty much say everything that needs to said on the matter. But I want to make a few points that need to be stressed in the strongest possible terms.

1. Dave Weigel is a great reporter who has covered a tough and important subject (the conservative movement) with fairness and intelligence. The real losers in all of this are the readers of the Washington Post, who will no longer benefit from his intelligent and informed reporting.

2. Whoever leaded those private emails is a lowlife. The leaked emails were deliberately choosen in a way to make Weigel look bad and hurt his career.

3. In the back of all this controversy was a kind of conservative identity politics. Some conservatives are upset because Weigel is covering the conservative movement but he’s not part of it. Conservatives usually decry the sort of sort of identy politics that requires only blacks to write about blacks or gays to write about gays, but some conservatives have adopted the same ethos.

4. Every good reporter has private communications — letters, emails, conversations — that make them look opinionated. That’s because any good reporter is a lively and engaged human being with a strong point of view. It’s an absurd form of positivism to require reporters to be a blank slate — no such reporter could possibly exist. The merit of a reporter’s writing is to be judged by whether his or her articles are factually accurate, bring new facts and arguments to light, and advance the conversation on a topic in a meaningful way. By that criteria, Weigel is a superb reporter while some of his critics (notably Jeffrey Goldberg) are far inferior. Yglesias is especially good on this point.

Cyrus Habib: Hic Rhodes, Hic Saltus

Below is a fascinating interview of Cyrus Habib by Chesa Boudin; I am reprinting it from The Rhodes Project. I am proud to count Cyrus as a friend, and I have also had the pleasure of meeting Chesa on a few occasions. Apologies for my obscure Hegelian pun in the title of this post.

Chesa Boudin earned two master’s degrees from Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship (Illinois, Merton and St. Antony’s, 2003). In April 2009, Scribner published his latest book, Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America. He is currently in his second year at the Yale Law School.

Cyrus Habib (Washington and St. Johns, 2003) an interview

Chesa Boudin

At the Bon Voyage Weekend in September 2003, my class of newly-selected Rhodes Scholars descended on the Jury’s Hotel in DuPont Circle. Cyrus Habib (Washington and St. Johns) was easily the best dressed member of the group. His Armani tie complimented his tailored shirt and crisp pinstripe suit. He had a penchant for details – manicured fingernails, a unique wrist watch, cufflinks, and matching accessories. No matter the setting, he had on perfect designer sunglasses and would often switch between several in the course of a day. This focus on the aesthetic may seem odd for an intellectual powerhouse like Cyrus – or for the introduction to this interview. However, his attention to visual detail is particularly noteworthy because Cyrus is completely blind.

As a child Cyrus was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the retina. In his case it struck one eye, and then the other. He was lucky to receive world-class treatment that prevented the cancer from metastasizing to his brain; he was unlucky in that it left him with no eyesight whatsoever and unable even to distinguish light from dark. Unlike someone blind from birth, Cyrus has an abundance of vivid visual memory from before he lost his sight. Since Cyrus lost his vision in 1989, he imagines everyone today with mullet haircuts and plaid polyester pants. While he can no longer see red or green, he has an acute visual image of those colors and knows not to mix and match them except during the Christmas season. And if Cyrus has a conversation about a skyscraper or a forest, he can actually picture the subject in his head, rather than understanding or imagining it through verbal context as someone blind from birth would have to do. These memories, combined with an uncanny sense of physical space allow him to navigate the world so smoothly that on first encounters he often passes as not being blind at all. Yet for the last twenty years his brain has not accumulated any new visual memory, leaving space to develop in other areas – his sense of smell and hearing, his memory, and his ability to master complex information quickly epitomize the word “extraordinary.”

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Frum on Fox

Jeet has twice written thoughtfully herein on David Frum’s recent firing by the American Enterprise Institute (see both here and here), so I’ll limit myself to pointing out a couple of related items. The first is an essay on the topic by the estimable Scott Horton, who argues that the intellectual death of the Republican Party bodes very ill for American democracy, even if it bodes well for Democratic party fortunes in the short term. The second (again via Scott Horton) is a remarkable observation that Frum made to ABC Nightline’s Terry Moran in an interview only a couple of days before his firing (it’s also viewable on YouTube here), on the GOP’s anger-driven strategy for defeating the health care bill:

Moran: “It sounds like you’re saying that the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, hijacked the Republican party and drove it to a defeat?”

Frum: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.”

It has long been a rule of thumb in the partisan media that circulation goes up when the party one aligns with is out of power, and goes down when it is in power — it is more fun, more pulse-racing, to fiercely oppose the actions of a government than to debate the banal details and necessary compromises of real policy-making. So if Fox News and right-wing talk radio will always benefit more when the Republicans are in opposition than when they’re in government, it does seem short-sighted of the GOP to rely on these deeply conflicted institutions to help bring them victory.

What does Fox care about political power? They want ad dollars, and this means viewers — and the angrier and more engaged, the better. A lost cause can be such a sweet thing.

Refugees in Japan

The following is the first of several (slightly modified) excerpts I’d like to share from my book Japan’s Open Future.

The Japanese government affirms that “refugee assistance is a bounden duty of a member of the international community,” and “one of the important pillars of Japan’s contribution to world peace and prosperity.” The country does send money to support refugees overseas—it gave $75 million in 2006 to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But the reality inside Japan is a far cry from its rhetoric and money sent abroad; any refugee who seeks a home in Japan is playing against terrible odds. Between 1981, when Japan ratified the UN Convention on Refugees, and 2002, Japan accepted just over 300 people as refugees. Put differently, all the refugees Japan admitted over a twenty-year period under the convention could fit onto a single airplane. Consider the difference: whereas in 2001 Japan admitted 26 refugees out of about a million asylumseekers worldwide, in that same year the US admitted more than 20,000, Germany admitted more than 17,000 and Britain admitted more than 14,000. Even though the US and Europe have tightened their rules since 9/11, they still admit far more refugees than Japan. As TAKIZAWA Saburo, the UNHCR Representative in Japan, commented in a 2008 speech, “The ratio of asylum seekers coming to Japan is only 0.0013%”; when they look to Japan as a potential home, he said, they see “walls” and “structural barriers.”

Drilling down from the aggregate numbers, what is it like for an individual asylum-seeker in Japan? Saul Takahashi, former Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty International in Japan, tells the story of meeting with Mohammed, a Nuba from Sudan, who had been tortured and whipped by the army. Takahashi tries to get Mohammed to understand what he is up against in hoping to become a refugee in Japan: “I tell him that it is practically impossible to get asylum in Japan … It will take years and during this time he will not get a work permit or any aid at all, [and] after they turn him down, he may be detained and deported.” In response, “Mohammed is silent for a minute. Then he says that he must try. He has no choice. He can’t go home. He has no place to go.”

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A dank and claustrophobic universe

Detail from James Ensor's "The Tower of Lissewege" (1890)
Detail from James Ensor's "The Tower of Lissewege" (1890)

It is by now old news that blogging has forever changed the nature of how information is generated and consumed, but the full ramifications of this change continue to play themselves out all around us today — and will go on doing so for some time yet. The latest area to be transformed is the global war for public opinion over the issue of climate change. As my co-blogger Jeet Heer argues in a fascinating piece in this weekend’s Globe and Mail (“Climategate’s guerrilla warriors: pesky foes or careful watchdogs?“), climate change skeptics have found their greatest influence to lie not in peer reviewed journals or congressional hearings but in blogs written by passionate amateurs — sometimes highly intelligent ones — who are determined to subject even the smallest component of the international climate change assessment process to scrutiny and, once in a while, disproof.

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Immigration as a Source of Renewal in Japan

Here is a paper I contributed to the Carnegie Council’s journal Policy Innovations following a Sophia University conference on migration.

Japan’s population is on a downward slope, a trend which causes analysts no small amount of concern. As the Japanese government warned in a report a few years ago, “The speed with which the birth rate is falling is creating a situation that undermines the very foundations of society, the economy and the sustainability of local communities.” From its current population of more than 127 million, and extrapolating from current trends, the country may shrink to 100 or 90 million people by 2050.

Perhaps more important in economic terms is the narrowing of Japan’s demographic pyramid: Whereas 11 workers supported two retirees in 1960, the ratio was four workers to one retiree in 1999, and by 2050 the UN projects that only 1.7 workers will support one retiree. Those workers will face a heavy burden. A McKinsey study predicts that Japanese households will be no better off in 2024 than they were in 1997: “The continual improvement in living standards the Japanese have enjoyed during the last half-century will come to an end.”

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Banner image: Marguerita!

"Blue Experiment", by Marguerita Bornstein (2008)
"Blue Experiment", by Marguerita Bornstein (2008)

Marguerita Bornstein – an artist who has in the past been so well known that her first name sufficed to identify her to millions – is the kind of person whose need to create, and whose talent for it, causes her to work across a range of forms. Illustrator, animator, painter, sculptor, and mixed media artist, she has been lauded for drawings that have graced the covers of major magazines and for her contributions to post-modern art exhibitions. “One of the strongest and most sexual works in the show,” wrote a reviewer of 1997’s Sex/Industry (Stefan Stux Gallery, New York), “the mixed media work by Marguerita uses a metal box, an old gourd, and a coconut to create a piece more honestly sexual and arousing than most of the anatomically correct phalluses and cartoon animal jokes in the main gallery.” Alas, I can offer no pictures to match this intriguing description. Continue reading

The Optimism of Annie

Benjamen Walker interviewed me for his radio programme Too Much Information. He got me to talk about a favorite topic, Little Orphan Annie. You can listen to the show here.  He also interviews the great social critic Barbara Ehrenreich. As you’ll hear if you give the show some time, Benjamen is an unusually acute and well-informed interlocutor.