A good cause, but it's keeping me busy.
A good cause, but it's keeping me busy.
A Transylvanian named Attila Ambrus makes a daring escape from Ceaușescu's totalitarian Romania to try to make his luck in Hungary. Unfortunately, being a third rank goalie for a middling hockey club doesn't really pay the bills, especially as the Soviet Union falls apart and the nation begins a rough transition to a capitalist system. Fortunately, Attila is a charming and resourceful gentlemen and quickly finds ways to make end meet through pelt smuggling and a bit of bank robbery.
Rubinstein has found an amazing true story to anchor this non-fiction tale. Attila himself is fascinating and despite a variety of poor life choices has the pathos to provide this story its core. Critically, while no doubt a criminal, the man is a robber, not a gangster, which is why he became a widely adored Robin Hood-esque figure in his adopted land over the course of more than a score of often whiskey-fueled heists.
However, the book is more than just the superbly reported slice-life tale of a strangely compelling criminal. The book also follows the adventures of the police officers chasing him, but in a larger sense it tells of the triumphs and more often travails of Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Romania, as they chart a post-Soviet path. Suffice to say, Atilla is hardly the biggest crook in the country. This is a great story and an important one, as Prime Minster Viktor Orbán has been in the news in recent months for all the wrong reasons.
I would recommend the book for anyone with an interest in heists or contemporary Eastern Europe. But first and foremost, it is a character study of a fascinating man, by turns extravagant and self-effacing, who does extraordinary things in interesting times.
Source: Present from Moti, thanks Moti!
As ever, speaking strictly for myself and not my organization.
I was deeply troubled by news in the Washington Post today.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served under Obama until last year, became the latest high-profile skeptic on Thursday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that a blanket prohibition on ground combat was tying the military’s hands. “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” he said. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”
Mattis’s comments came two days after Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took the rare step of publicly suggesting that a policy already set by the commander in chief could be reconsidered.
Despite Obama’s promise that he would not deploy ground combat forces, Dempsey made clear that he didn’t want to rule out the possibility, if only to deploy small teams in limited circumstances. He also acknowledged that Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander for the Middle East, had already recommended doing so in the case of at least one battle in Iraq but was overruled.
My hypothesis is that Gen. Mattis is missing the more important part of the picture. Over commitment can backfire on us, leading partners to avoid making hard choices because they know the U.S. will solve their problems for them. The outcome will primarily depend not on what the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, aka ISIS, aka, Islamic State) thinks about our credibility to escalate. Instead, what matters more is what the Iraqi government, the Gulf States, and to a lesser extent the Kurdish autonomous regional government, think about whether they can free-ride on us. Prime Minister Maliki was pushed out in large part because Iraqi power brokers [knew we] would not bail him out. Unfortunately, P.M. Maliki was more a reflection than a cause of Iraqi sectarian problems and in the near future we'll likely need to keep the pressure up to control Shia aligned militias and to increase the chances of Sunni militias breaking with ISIL. Our Gulf State partners do appear to be genuinely horrified by ISIL, but [private funders] from their nations were directly complicit in its rise and you can bet that they'll be happy to slow walk their support if they the United States will just escalate if things get out of control. Bargaining credibility matters less with autonomous Kurdistan which has more at stake than even the government of Iraq, though presumably
But Greg, didn't you support similar calls when it came to the Iraq war?
Yes. Here's the big difference to me. If an invasion or conventional war is under-resourced the consequence can be large scale U.S. casualties or U.S. troops being stuck in a quagmire for years made worse by a badly implemented start. In this case, if air power isn't sufficient, we can reevaluate, but we won't be stuck in the midst of an occupation or facing large scale casualties.
But aren't the generals right that we may not be able to destroy ISIL without ground power?
Yes, but we also can't guarantee the destruction of ISIL with ground power either. Can we pacify portions of the country for a period at high cost? Sure, but unless you're willing to do a ground invasion of Syria they'll still potentially have a base. If you are willing to send U.S. ground troops into a three way civil war in Syria, then we have a bigger argument.
So how can President Obama assert that we'll destroy ISIL
That word is puffery, perhaps ill-chosen, perhaps a rhetorical excess common in war, quite possibly both. Regardless, Gen. Dempsey effectively tested the premise of which is the higher priority in the strategy, destroying ISIL or preventing the U.S. from being drawn into another Iraq or Afghanistan. President Obama has clearly made the strategic choice that avoiding another large scale U.S. war is the higher priority [Zach Beaucamp does a good job of laying this out in greater detail]. Weighing these fundamental priorities is a strategic choice, not a resourcing choice. It is entirely fair game to point out that the administration has made this choice and hawkish politicians are certainly free to argue for more wars, its a free country, that's there right. However, now that the priorities are clear, from a civil-military perspective this as primarily a debate about strategy, not about implementation.
[Update: Tuned wording slightly after posting. Second update added a few more links and some word changes in brackets.]
When the rest of the group went off to try tracking down the Transportation and Human Rights museums, Francis and I were taking our normal leisurely pace through the rest of the Living Museum, and we decided to branch off to try our own side trip. So after we finished up the museum, we took a walk to the nearest Osaka Loop Line station, Temma, and hopped over to Osaka Castle.
We came in the back of the castle area, where the JR station is, and walked up on a large number of people waiting around outside Osaka-jo Hall for a Porno Graffiti concert to start. It took a couple of beats to remember that this is a band, but they’re actually pretty good.
We made our way up past the concert venue area, and walked up towards the castle. Like many of the castles now standing in Japan, it’s a reconstruction, as the actual castle had been destroyed decades ago. Different from many other large castles in Japan, though, this one had been destroyed and rebuilt a few times over the course of its history. As the final main castle of the Toyotomi family, who briefly ruled over Japan before the Tokugawa shogunate, it has a lot of symbolic resonance.
It’s also just stunning, rising up in the middle of Osaka in the middle of a still-open space. You can’t really tell that it’s a reconstruction from the outside. As you walk up the slopes and around the battlements, you can get clear views of the castle, and imagine how imposing it must have been to come there when it was still a seat of power.
Once we reached the castle entrance, we found out that the interior now is devoted to a history museum, largely focusing on the period immediately before the third shogunate and Toyotomi Hideyoshi himself. While I find Hideyoshi a very interesting historical figure – he was of very low birth and infamously ugly, so you can imagine how charismatic and skilled he must have been to become the leader of Japan – Francis was not very interested in seeing the inside of the castle, and the entry fee was fairly steep, so we just watched some buskers and had ice cream before heading out a different gate.
We then walked towards Dotombori to meet up with the rest of the group, and spotted some interesting buildings a long the way, like the NHK building above and to the right, or this Luther hotel on the left, attached to the Lutheran church. The contrast between the castle and surrounding buildings, like the NHK station, is very striking, and both were different from Dotombori, where we ended up next.
They won, so we're pleased about that. It did break our streak of every game this year having at least one team get ten runs or more. But that's okay, as two of the four times, that team wasn't the Orioles.
Also we got free T-shirts with the O's playoff slogan "We Won't Stop" so that's neat. Everything they've managed this year has been a continual pleasant surprise to me.
Ticket source: Mom! Thanks Mom.
While my wife and mother were cooling their heels at the the closed Modern Transportation Museum, I was at a different station, searching for the Osaka Human Rights Museum. It was a bit of a walk from the station, made longer by my misreading of the map. I ultimately gave in and turned on data roaming to pull down some digital navigation assistance. Thankfully for you, dear reader, I'm not subjecting you to another post (primarily) about wars, past or present. This museum is primarily focused on the human rights situation in modern Japan and many of the displays, including AIDS quilts and rainbow flags, were instantly recognizable even though the displays were in Japanese.
The first zone of the single floor of exhibits was entitled Shining Light. This section could be a bit sign-heavy, but there were pictures to help and I got both an English audio guide and a printed notebook with translations to help. The displays were also rich in photographs and pictures taking on issues of gender discrimination, LGBTQ rights, the rights of the disabled, and even a significant section on children. My comprehension level wasn't quite high enough to grasp how some of the displays might have been different than their equivalent in the United States, although I know that the struggle for gender equality in Japan is very much ongoing.
I dwelled the longest in the second zone, Living Together/Creating Society which focused on ethnic minority groups within Japan as well as other communities facing human rights issues, often for health or environmental reasons. Displays included rich coverage of Korean and Chinese immigrants, the Ainu people, and native Okinawans. In the Korean section, I found particularly affecting a set of captioned home videos on the post-War Korean community in Japan including a celebration in Kyoto of the liberation of the peninsula on the first anniversary of Victory in Japan day. The section on the Ainu and the Okinawans both focused on their living culture, although of course in the latter case the U.S. military base adds a whole different set of issues to the discussion.
One piece that did particular catch my eyes was a flag that was both instantly recognizable and unfamiliar. To the left is a was the banner of a Christian group in Japan, a red crown of thorns on a black field. The museum really did do an admirable job getting at the history of a range of groups and the last section on Dreams/The Future as well as the staffers in the front office and bookstore all left me feeling good about the Japanese activist community.
I left a bit before closing, rushing back to the loop train to try to get a half hour in at the Modern Transportation Museum, which unbeknownst to me had been closed this whole time. I somehow managed to miss Kate and Mom on the platform and wandered around the building once before running into them. Happily, we did have one fond train story coming out of that particular excursion. At the transfer station on the way to meet up with Moti and Francis we spied the poster on the right, celebrating the 110th anniversary of Osaka's transit system. One of the booth attendants saw us doing that and rushed up, but gladly this was not a fusspot of the paranoid American-style. Instead, the gentleman had just recognized us as transit geeks and gave us three post card copies of the poster to send out as we wished. That encounter brightened our day and took some of the sting out of the missed connections at the museum.
Speaking for myself here, you know the drill.
My last post was fairly critical of the President's announcement, and I'm now satisfied that the critiques have been thoroughly covered. Similarly, the flaws in the legal rationale are being well reported. Thankfully these critiques have included debunking of some of the alarmist rhetoric, done here by a one-time colleague I admire;
Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce,” with “members of the cabinet and top military officers all over the place describing the threat in lurid terms that are not justified.”
As disturbing as I find threat inflation by the administration, it's important to remember that the context is relentless alarmism from hawks, primarily in the opposition but not limited to that. So let me start with praising the way the President has handled Iraq. Marc Lynch discusses the details:
Obama did very well by acting to prevent the fall of Erbil or Baghdad, while conditioning additional U.S. military support on political change. He correctly understood that military aid prior to Maliki’s departure would simply enable his destructive, sectarian style of rule which played a key role in both the revival of the Iraqi Sunni insurgency, with ISIS as its vanguard, and the stunning collapse of the Iraqi army. His replacement by Haider al-Abadi, a similar Shia Islamist that has nevertheless committed to forming a more representative polity in Baghdad, was a necessary, but not sufficient, step to begin the engagement of deeply alienated Sunnis. U.S. diplomats must be prepared for the real risk that Iraqi politicians will revert to their destructive, self-interested and sectarian ways once the existential threat recedes.
This is one example of what it means to say that a problem doesn't have a military solution. There is a common phenomenon in legislative politics where final passage is preceded by a crisis and only when passage is imperiled can various members be convinced to stop free-riding and compromise their demands. Those that followed Iraq widely knew that P.M. Maliki was bad news, but it was only possible to push him out once it became clear that we would not be bailing him out. Unfortunately the challenge in Syria is just as political but even larger, increasing the unity, not just the firepower, of the opposition. Again, here's Marc Lynch with the Center for A New American Security's tourniquet strategy:
The immediate goal in Syria should be the securing of a strategic pause between the rebel forces and the regime in order to focus military efforts on ISIS. Crucially, this strategic pause does not mean cooperation or alignment with Asad, or a retreat from the Geneva Accord principles of a political transition. It should be understood instead as buying the time to shape an environment in which such a transition could become plausible. As the administration clearly recognizes, an alliance with Asad against ISIS would cause more problems than it solves. Even setting aside the moral objections to aligning with a regime responsible for large-scale war crimes, working with Asad would almost certainly drive horrified opposition fighters and civilians toward ISIS and critically divide the regional coalition. There is little chance at the moment of his overthrow by force at any rate, however. Indeed, like Slobodon Milosevic in the Balkan wars, Asad is less likely to survive a de-escalated but internationally penetrated political landscape than he is to cling to power against Syria’s insurgency.
The longer-term goal should be to translate this anti-ISIS tacit accord into an effective agreement by the external backers of both Asad and the rebels on a de-escalation of the conflict. Rather than a military drive on Damascus, the international community should build upon UN Resolution 2165 authorizing cross-border aid to support the delivery of serious humanitarian relief, security and governance to rebel controlled areas and refugees. And it should build upon UN Resolution 2170 sanctioning ISIS and focus upon the joint restriction of the flow of funds and fighters to all sides of the Syria conflict. Asad will not voluntarily agree to such an accord, of course, and would seek every opportunity to disrupt the process.
This aligns with what I've read of the political science (here's Dan Drezner's summary). This will be challenging, as the results of the air campaign will not give results that will be satisfying in the short term. I have critiqued the administration before and will again, but I think they are making a bigger picture strategic mistake by what Drezner calls "the consolidation of policy authority inside the White House." Part of this is just that the President's comparatively less interventionist instincts leaves him somewhat isolated in the policymaking community. However, this is a self-defeating response. Consolidating control reduces the pool of talent you can call upon and might help you in a single area - say the vital negotiations with Iran - but hurts you elsewhere. By comparison, respecting Congress's constitutional role in matters of war would add a veto point and force critics in the legislature to actually participate in the governing process rather than just pontificating. The downside - fewer interventions when the President does have a case - is manageable and looks appealing when you survey the Presidential field for 2016.
Strategic critique aside, successfully implementing the tourniquet strategy demands avoiding mission creep. To take an earlier wise comment from Sam Brannen, a current colleague I admire:
Much now remains up to the Iraqis, from the hard fighting on the ground to political reconciliation. And the White House must craft its Iraq strategy on the fly, reacting to a highly fluid environment, balancing doing too little or too much and always risking mission creep or mission failure. But so far, the use of force by the United States has shown strength in a part of the world where, unfortunately, the tip of the spear is the coin of the realm.
Military force is a coin of the realm in the Middle East, not because of intrinsic cultural characteristics so much as the fact that it always accompanies great power competition and widespread autocracy (or unconsolidated democracy). But to extend the metaphor, other powers will always be happy to have you spend your coin on their behalf but that doesn't make it good strategy. As a final note, to take one lesson from my classes in negotiation and past trips to China and Egypt, you haven't begun bargaining until you've threatened to walk away. That's not a lesson one should apply to marriages or treaty alliances, but thankfully in the Persian Gulf we're dealing with neither.
As ever, speaking for myself and not my employer.
In the end, aren't the president's personal convictions all that prevent any military operation from escalating?
It's a fair point, and I'm glad he brought it up. The answer, I think, lies in congressional approval for military action, and this is one of the reasons I think it's so important. If Obama is truly serious about not sending combat troops into ISIS-held areas in Iraq, then let's get a congressional resolution that puts that in writing. Let's get an authorization for war that spells out a geographical area; puts a limit on US troop deployments; and specifically defines what those troops can do.
Would this be airtight? Of course not... But nothing is airtight—nor should it be. It's always possible that events on the ground really will justify stronger action someday. However, what it does do is simple: It forces the president to explicitly request an escalation and it forces Congress to explicitly authorize his request. At the very least, that prevents a slow, stealthy escalation that flies under the radar of public opinion.
Presidents don't like having their actions constrained. No one does. But in most walks of life that deal with power and the use of force, we understand that constraint is important. Surely, then, there's nowhere it's more important than in matters of war and peace. And that's one of the reasons that congressional authorization for war is so essential.
ISIS did heinously execute two Americans that were already in Syria, and they should be punished for that. However, as Zack Beauchamp pointed out, the President implicitly noted that they are not a significant threat to the United States and there is no immediate crisis preventing getting congressional authorization. Syria continues to be an extremely challenging foreign policy problem and as Marc Lynch summarizes, the political science research on the civil wars does not support the idea that we could have just fixed it by intervening to a greater extent:
Would the United States providing more arms to the FSA have accomplished these goals? The academic literature is not encouraging. In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (for more on this, see the proceedings of this Project on Middle East Political Science symposium in the free PDF download). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective. The University of Colorado’s Aysegul Aydin and Binghamton University’s Patrick Regan have suggested that external support for a rebel group could help when all the external powers backing a rebel group are on the same page and effectively cooperate in directing resources to a common end. Unfortunately, Syria was never that type of civil war.
So put me in the skeptic camp on the benefits of striking Syria. I was less skeptical with the war in Libya, but I take the same position now as I did then: if the President thinks this is a good idea, then take it to Congress. It's in the Constitution for a good reason and there aren't any circumstances that prevent it. Were I in Congress, I'd be inclined to vote no absent notable constraints. However, I'm in the minority there apparently, so what's the harm in asking?
On the upside, I've worked with Typepad technical support to slowly nail down the nature of some of the typographic glitches this blog has been suffering from. Looks like turning off smart quotes in livewriter will fix most of it going forward. However, I'm going to need to figure out the least painful way to fix things going backwards.
The role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) has finally been making its way into the larger culture in a salutary way. While any number of fantasy universes drawing inspiration from the game have been depicted, to the extent they touch on the experience of role-playing itself they tend to lean heavily on in-jokes or camp. As a result, even when they are good, the larger relevance is more limited. She Kills Monsters escapes that trap, as did two episodes of Community and an element within an episode of IT Crowd before it. I’d affirm positive reviews from Michael Poandl of DC Metro Arts and Peter Marks of the Washington Post that the play does a good job of sticking to its emotional core in a way that transcends any particular fandom. Critically, the play avoids wallowing in either nerd self-pity or triumphalism. It is true that “some rudimentary knowledge of D&D” would help, but frankly if you lack it and are curious at all, this is a great way to explore it. If anything, a lack of knowledge of 1990s culture might prove more challenging than a lack of familiarity with role-playing games.
Questing to better know the sister she lost
She Kills Monsters (written by Qui Nguyen, directed by Randy Baker) focuses on two sisters, Agnes (Maggie Evans) and Tilly (Rebecca Hausman), separated by about ten years and by Tilly’s death, a tragic accident described in the prologue. Agnes is explicitly quite an average person and teacher at the high school Tilly and her friends attended while Tilly is described as that uncommon jewel for the time of a female player and dungeon master, not to mention one of extraordinary ability. Agnes finds a module that Tilly wrote and goes to seek out someone to run it with. She finds Chuck (Robert Pike), a one time compatriot of Tilly’s whose skill at running the game is only somewhat undercut by his mild lechery and difficulty describing his platonic relationship with an older woman.
The staging is clever, bringing in the excitement of fantasy conflict (chorography by Casey Kaleba) while staying grounded in the emotions of the players. The set itself is fantastic, various real world and fantasy locations rest at the edges while the core is a game world map with hexagons of various elevations standing in for terrain. While in a sense, Chuck portrays all the non-player characters, in actuality each role has its own actor, or troop member in the case of the monsters. However, he still has sidebars with the characters, interacts with other people in Agnes’s life, and sometimes intercedes to explain a role playing choice, noting that there is some improvisation involved when defending Lilth’s (Emily Kester) line that violence makes her hot. The underdressed demon queen Lilith is one of the party written into the module, along with dark elf Kaliope (Tori Boutin) who has a Vulcan’s relationship to emotions, and slacker king of the underworld Orcus (Lous E. Davis) who is one of several reliable sources of comedy in the proceedings. Tilly herself has a self-insert character in her module, Tillius, the powerful and storied paladin and driving force behind the quest.
A surprisingly plausible campaign
Any role-playing gamers in the audience by now may have noticed that the module Tilly wrote violates any number of rules of good adventure writing by making the player character a sidekick to her favorite heroes. However, bad design can be good drama and this module was probably only intended for Agnes anyways. More important, Agnes increasingly drives the action as the story gets further along and she has to confront Tilly’s demons and her own. It should also come as no surprise that game mechanics don’t feature that much in the play - a key battle is resolved in an entirely improvised manner - but to me it all felt quite authentic. This is the story of a player who despite her newness was entirely willing to buy in and a skilled dungeon master collaborating with an author to give her the sometimes harsh story she needed.
I’d endorse this without reservation for role playing game fans, their curious friends and family, and anyone just curious. While the tale is heavy at times, the comedy also helps carry it through. This certainly won’t be starting a new subgenre; the setup is ingenious but also very specific to this tale. Instead, it addresses one particular part of the human condition: how games can both help us escape reality and how they can help us face it.
Image credit: Promotional photos from Rorschach Theater Company.
Since we only had one day in Osaka, we went our separate ways in order to better catch the things of most interest. This was complicated by the fact that our portable wifi hotspot hadn’t yet been delivered, so we were limited to the one working rental phone. Over the course of the trip we had trouble with meet ups a couple times, in part because I’d forgotten how to properly use public phones. Turns out you dial first then put in the money, which is not how pay phones in the US (used to) work. Regardless, Kate and Mom got off to go to the Modern Transportation Museum (MTM) and I went on to check out the Osaka Human Rights museum. Fun fact about the MTM: it’s moving and the current location closed on April 6th. This hasn’t merited mention on the English language website and it didn’t get planned in time to get picked up by our guidebook, although wikipedia notes it, so score one for the wiki model. So they spent several hours hanging out on the platform at Bentencho, after attempting to check out a tea shop that was full and not accepting more customers.
On my end, I walked around a bit searching for the Human Rights Museum before realizing I was misreading the map by looking where the label text was written rather the connected dock. Fortunately once I found the place, it was actually open and will get a write-up next.
The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living is easy to reach off the subway. It is on the eighth floor of the Housing Information Center and well worth the price of admission. The tour starts by going up another two stories and giving you a view down on the reconstructed Edo-period 1830s village. It’s in the midst of a summer festival, so shops display their wares through fanciful displays, the streets are in their full regalia, and fireworks can be seen in the nighttime portion of the cycle of the hours. After the overview you go down a level to walk the streets yourself. The whole experience was enhanced by the people wandering in festival-appropriate yukata, but unlike the similar wanderers in Higashiyama, here you have a chance to don the outfits yourself. We sadly lacked the time to wait, but those that made the change seemed to quite enjoy themselves and enriched the experience for everyone else.
There was a mix of shops, baths, workplaces, and houses on display. The displays throughout the museum were predominantly in Japanese, only fair given that Commodore Perry hadn’t yet arrived to force the opening of Japan by 1830. I believe an audio tour was available although there was a lot you could get by just observing.
The lack of English is a bit more challenging after you return to the eighth floor, but the diorama of life in Osaka across the past two centuries by strength of the models alone. The bustling commercial district of Kitasenba on the right could easily be mistaken for a Western city of the 1930s and that development by emulation is certainly not a coincidence.
While a far lighter visit than the Hiroshima Peace Museum, the dioramas also cover the post-war reconstruction period, with the Shirokita Bus settlement shown on the left. Each of the dioramas had both the wider overview and a more intimate scene like this one that gave more of a feel for what life was like in the period in question. After you finish seeing reconstructions and artifacts from multiple points in Osaka history there’s a rotating special exhibition to round out the visit. This time it was focused on a particular architect with Scandinavian ties if memory serves.
Afterwards, we split up to go on separate (mis)adventures, but that will have to wait until the next travel post.
As ever, I speak for myself and not my organization in this post.
These are interesting times, in the perhaps apocryphal Chinese curse sense of the term, to attend the American Political Science Association annual meeting as news from the Ukraine was being tracked on many smart phones. First, a bit of perspective, as Jay Ulfelder notes, the worst world ever in the past five or ten years.
If you read those stories, you might infer that the world has become more insecure than ever, or at least the most insecure it’s been since the last world war. That would be reasonable, but probably also wrong. These press accounts of record-breaking trends are often omitting or underplaying a crucial detail: the data series on which these claims rely don’t extend very far into the past.
It’s very good that we have these sources, but we need to remember their limitations.
Of the crises in Ukraine and Iraq/Syria, I’ll cover Ukraine in this post, as that’s the more dangerous one. Any great power confrontation between nuclear states, even via proxies, exercises, and economic measures should focus the mind. So how is this likely to play out? Robert Farley had a fairly cogent set of predictions back in early August based on analysis the motivations of each actors, and so far he’s been on the money.
My guess is that we’ll see a short, conventional war of maneuver between Russia and Ukraine, that the Russian will win, but will restrain its activities to Donetsk, Luhansk, and environs. It’s going to be very difficult for the Ukrainian military to restrain itself short of complete victory over the separatists, and the drive for victory will probably spur Russian intervention. With luck, however, the war will be quick, only moderately destructive, and the political aftermath will be manageable.
This can correctly be viewed as a bad outcome, Russia is violating the UN charter and past agreements to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine. However, I do not believe that this merits military intervention to change this outcome. Why not? Because Ukraine is not in NATO and Russia is only using a fraction of its available forces. The last estimate I read was from Michael Birnbaum and Annie Gowen’s article “at least a 1,000 Russian soldiers.” Thus in a limited war Russia could easily engage in tit-for-tat escalation, this would raise the price for Russia, but also the price for Ukraine. There’s some forms of aid we can and often are providing Ukraine, most notably intelligence, but we should not provide false hope, which has proven historically that it can be as deadly as most weapons in the arsenal.
The Ukrainian government faces a very challenging political dilemma: how much are they willing to concede and how unified will they be in the fight for the rest? Their answer to the second question has been impressive so far despite remarkable problems in their parliament. Notably, the Ukrainian armed forces, after an initial reorganization, has been fairing far better than many sides that we have trained or been actively backing, which is an outcome worth pondering. While Ukraine will lose the war of maneuver, the question of how it loses and how much unity it can manage in the loss will be key determinants of how favorable the terms that end the war will be.
In the bigger strategic picture, this is a conflict about how much control Russia maintains over its sphere of influence. President Putin is not a grand chess master, he is instead a gambler who prefers playing for lower stakes but that keeps buying in every time he loses. His attempt to keep Ukraine primarily in Russia’s economic orbit through aid and debt failed, he lost his preferred elected proxy to popular protests and parliamentary action, he successfully took Crimea, his attempt to disrupt the Ukrainian elections failed, his arming of rebel groups backfired disastrously when they accidentally shot down an airliner, and the rebel forces he was backing were steadily losing territory. His doubling down through escalation has enabled a U.S. strategy of conditional containment. The center of gravity in this larger fight is economic support and political acquiescence that comes from trading partners in Europe. President Putin has faced significant losses on that front and the Russian economy and thus future Russian military capacity will pay the price. The coming NATO summit shows just how much he has lost, there will now be a rapid reaction force of 4,000 NATO soldiers capable, rotating through bases in Eastern Europe, and capable of responding within eight hours. That is on top of threatened further sanctions should the direct intervention of Russian forces continue.
Thus, to take a report that I do often find insightful, I disagree with Max Fisher of Vox in his evaluation of President Obama’s performance. Fisher rightly critiques U.S. policy in Egypt, but our relationship and options with a partner that we give substantial aid to is rather different than our relationship to Russia. Fisher’s complains that Obama “is steering a race car as if it were a cruise ship, and while history will likely thank him for keeping US foreign policy pointed in the right direction, it may not so easily forgive him for the damage taken along the way.” A race car is a bad analogy, there’s a reason the idiom is the ship of state, like a cruise ship, or an nuclear air craft carrier, big picture choices on course are made carefully because they’ll have long lasting consequences. The President has to make hard choices every day, as Fisher says, but one of the things that makes them hard is that the right course is often unsatisfying in the short term. This isn’t to say that there’s aren’t a series of important tactical choices big implications, an air craft carrier holds airplanes after all, but if there was a clear option that would have de-escalated this conflict rather than lead to an escalating Russian response, I’d like to hear it from Fisher.
There are certainly cases that would prove me wrong. If Russia makes a drive for Kyiv or broadens its current destabilizing campaign to other nations in the near term, that would demonstrate to me that attempts to preserve a face-saving way out for Russia may have unwisely trumped inflicting a near term price. However, while WWII also began with a great power accumulating territory from neighboring states in part by exploiting those locals that were sympathetic, the overall strategic picture is very different. In those days, the biggest economic power in Europe was the aggressor, Germany. Today, the aggressor is a natural resources dependent power in demographic decline and the biggest economic powerhouse is still Germany, and Germany has lost faith in Russia. Even though Piotr Buras in that piece argues that at present Germany is feeling helpless, I think Matt Yglesias is right when he argues that, Europe is slow, not weak.
Japan’s third largest city (second being Yokohama off Tokyo Bay), Osaka is a short bullet train hop from Kyoto. For train purposes, Shin-Osaka station works a bit like Chicago, one of the main meeting points for those heading west or east. Shin means new, the station itself is a bit out of town and so after arriving, and admiring a fancy new model train on a far platform, we quickly caught the train to the central Osaka station and the city’s loop line.
Our first destination was lunch and perhaps unsurprisingly, we settled on trying this vaunted Osaka-style okonomiyaki at the first available opportunity. That opportunity came via the tunnels that undergird the area around the station. Nearby department stores and a range of subway stations all are accessible without crossing a single street. The tunnels were quite well lit with waterfalls and natural light in sections. That said, navigating them can be a bit of a challenge and the distances aren’t trivial, so visitors would be well advised to keep an eye out for signs and to keep a map at hand.
Once we fed, we headed to the Osaka Housing and Living museum, which looks at what life was like at various point in the city’s past. To get there we took the subway’s Purple Line, which wouldn’t particularly resemble the planned Maryland light rail line except in color, but that didn’t stop us from taking a picture! For those readers that don’t know, that particular transit line has been in the works for a generation and I put in my volunteer time trying to get us a system with some of the easy connections between various lines that cities like Osaka have. It’s late enough, that I’ll put off the museum entry for tomorrow night, but if you’d like to know where the project stands I’d recommend Robert McCartney’s column in the Washington Post.
Sadly for us, the next morning we had to leave the quaint and affordable Gojo Guest House Annex as it had been booked for the coming days. Since it will be at least a week until we again stay in a ryokan, I’ll take a moment to review two things that make them distinct. First, on the floor there are tatami mats. They are traditionally made of rice straw and have a combine some aspect of walking on nice wood with the softness of carpet. They aren’t made for walking on with shoes or slippers, but are quite comfortable barefoot or with socks. According to wikipedia, they originally arose as a luxury good. I’d guess that traditions of shoe removal and the relative scarcity of brick and stone construction go a long way to explaining why they worked so well for Japan. The point of note in the picture on the right is the tokonoma, an alcove that displays art or flowers or the like. The specific implementation, importance, and prevalence is the main contrast with such settings in other cultures. The big thing one remember as a visitor is not to put your bags in one nor to sit or stand in it.
We ate at our favorite local cafe and I took a few pictures back from the annex roof, but after completing checkout we were off to Kyoto Station. This remarkable building was around the last time I’d visited, though this trip I had more time to appreciate it. Designed by Hiroshi Hara, the station is a futuristic contrast to the ancient city. The exterior has a fairly uniformly glass surface, but manages to be intriguing without relying on detail work. It accomplishes this trick by significantly changing its form from section to section while still holding to an overall theme.
Critically, the interior is just as remarkable. The grand atrium in a different building might simply be a courtyard separating two skyscrapers. Instead, the buildings are are joined into a single structure and provide a indoor space that’s remarkably vast. The next day we’d return at night and see a whole different part of the station.
We dropped our bags at the Hotel Keihan Kyoto and then caught our train for our the day trip to Osaka. I will confess that we did get a bit lost navigating the station several times. It wasn’t particularly labyrinthine, it’s just that finding the efficient path from one part to another sometimes proved more complex than one might think.
After crossing the Kamo River, Mina-san lead us one one Kyoto’s narrow commercial streets. This one was quite popular; it was the way to get to restaurants with decks over the river. Adding to its character was a plover theme; the birds, called chidori in Japanese, were found on many of the paper lanterns.
We’re both quite fond of plovers, although for a while I had them mixed up with sandpipers. Chidori are energetic little birds, delightful to watch around the beach. They’ll rush into the receding tide, looking for a snack, only to flee moments later as the waves return.
Mina-san had made reservations for dinner at one of the riverside restaurants, and we were thrilled to be led out onto the dining deck after first removing our shoes. Seating proved a bit tricky as half of the members of our party haven’t quite figured out how to manage cushions with chair backs (the chair backs make the traditional kneeling hard to do, but the smaller space made lounging difficult as well) but the view and the fresh air made any discomfort far worth dealing with. I’d trained up on that skill back in 2002 in preparation for the chance to attend a tea ceremony, but I’ll confess I still had to shift my weight every so often.
After ordering drinks, primarily be ers and plum wine, Mina-san and Moti navigated the menu, selecting a lovely variety of dishes. The style was reminiscent of tapas, and we tried everything from vegetables to tofu to beef to sashimi. As night fell, we relaxed and watched the people on the decks nearby, those walking along the riverbed, and those strolling along the canal. We’re both extremely fond of outdoor dining and this was one of the loveliest settings we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
Following our dinner, we took a stroll through more of the nearby neighborhoods, passing eateries and other shops that had been in business for many years. The night was cool and pleasant, a wonderful contrast to the heat of the day, and the streets of Kyoto are particularly scenic after dark. In a different sort of contrast, we also saw a handful of specially-lit motorcycles traverse the streets in a manner more typical of Neo-Tokyo than the old capital. Incongruous fun aside, we stopped only because all the day’s activities had tired out Kate and my mother, and so we walked back to the Gojo Guest House for our last night there, bidding farewell to Mina-san along the way.
Update: Typo fixed.
It’s been fun, and getting to meet an intellectual inspiration or two. However, the combination with work has burned out all my posting energy and time.
The main exit to Kiyomizu-dera deposits you on Matsubara-dori and a series of stone-lined streets and enticing storefronts. I had fond memories of this walk to Yasaka-Jinga (also known as Gion Shrine and regularly in our journey around that neighborhood). The shops were a fun place to wander and pick up some of the range of chopsticks and tchotchkes we’d promised the family. The rest of the group also stopped for snacks while waiting and kindly shared with my mother and I.
Further along the walk, the balance shifts more in the direction of restaurants, tea houses, and other higher class establishments set back a bit from the main road. If memory serves, one of my favorite gardens in my prior trip was somewhere in this district. I did not find it again this time, and doubtless the first time some of the romance was its hidden nature behind the gate. But I quite enjoyed the trip nonetheless.
We took a short break in Maruyama Park, sitting on benches around a pigeon statue and appreciating the garden which much be stunning when the trees are in blossom. I fear on my prior visit to the park I didn’t maintain proper decorum as my stomach proved highly upset. The consequences were thankfully not long-lasting then, and I attributed the ill-affects to some combination of octopus and jetlag. Being in better state this time, we had the chance to admire the fine detail work of the shrine on the way out and back to the streets of Gion.
We were headed on to dinner on the far bank of the Kamo River, again swinging by the aforementioned statue of Kabuki founder Izumo no Okuni. We would see performers there later that night, which is fitting. The statue apparently dates only to 2002 although it was in November so I could not have seen it on my first trip in January of that year, which makes sense as otherwise our professor would likely have told us about it. I go on about this statue, as I did with Mina-san while walking, because it does get to a contradiction at the heart of my enjoyment of Kabuki. That highly stylized form of theater was easily my favorite of the several kinds I saw in 2002, even beating the Bunraku puppet theater that was my assigned research area. However, thanks to Tokugawa-era social restrictions, female parts are typically played by onnagata, male actors specializing in female roles. Some day, I shall have to find a performance that finds good ways to nod to the theater’s traditions but also lets women back in on the fun and the art.
What I most remembered from 2002 was not standing on the grand promenade of Kiyomizu-Dera itself, but instead the view back along the path that traversed the hill. The skyline of Kyoto is visible through the haze in the distance, as it has been for the hundreds of years the temple has been in its present form.
The buildings behind us were also under reconstruction, so we quickly proceeded down the the path. The picture on the right, taken earlier in the visit, gives you a feel for the mix of old and new in the renovations methods. I’ve seen bamboo used in that manner before, most prominently in Hong Kong and mainland China. I’m guessing they may have used that approach to comply with UNESCO world heritage site rules, although I’d imagine it may also just be cheaper when a ready supply of bamboo is available. It wouldn’t have come from the immediate vicinity, though; preservation issues aside the slope was covered with deciduous trees. There were also a large number of thin signposts, each looking around a meter tall. We never did figure out their purpose.
Continuing along the path, we climbed up to the base of a pagoda dedicated to easy childbirth. Certainly a noble cause and likely indicative that of the historic need for such a thing. I do wonder if there are any historic records of what prayers and petitions were offered up at any given shrine or temple. They would be a fascinating means of studying the concerns of the day. I did for instance note a fair number of charms for safe driving, which is quite a sensible place to focus one’s concerns. That said, there are always the classics, for example while we do not have any news to announce on that front, the picture on the left of the two of us was taken by my mother with great enthusiasm.
Near the base of the main hall of Kiyomizu-dera is terminus of Otowa waterfall, the source of the pure water and the name of the shrine. Visitors can line up for a more elaborate version of the cleansing ritual found at the entrance to most any shrine or temple of significant size. Cleaning one’s hands and mouth is a way of preparing oneself and showing respect, even though I accidentally mucked it up back at Itsukushima shrine. The cups on poles may be longer than usual here, but they are a standard feature, aside from the fact that they are stored on a shelf in back, bask in some sort of UV light meant as health measure, and are used with a spring rather than a basin. The water was indeed cool and fresh and while I cannot say if it will extend our lives, it certainly was a welcome respite on a hot and humid Kyoto day.
We then proceeded back up the hill to the gate of the shrine, preparing to re-enter Kyoto. I’ll close with a picture of a cobblestone track down that seems like it would be an excellent path to skateboard down. Moti and I had a rather silly discussion about that, and since he’s my top commenter, he gets little perks like this.
Jishu-Jinja is a moon apart from the rest of Kiymizu-Dera. Stairs wind up to a cluster of close-packed small buildings including a number of places to buy charms. The shrine is also a satellite in that it backs onto the hill rather than being surrounded by the larger temple as was the case in Ginkaku-ji. Such joint arrangements mean that it is often a bit of a challenge to discern temples from shrines, although after having played that game in 2002 in my cultural arts class I did try to regularly train up my mother in telling the difference. The sometimes colocated places of worship and the commonality of many elements between various branches of Buddhism and Shinto reflect a larger intermixing in Japanese religious life.
The term is syncretism rather than the Christian concept of ecumenism. The majority of Japanese people don’t profess a particular faith but do engage in both Buddhist and Shinto practices at various stages of life. To try to de-exoticize that a bit, every culture has rituals and traditions particularly when it comes to birth, marriage, and death. In the U.S. context even secular weddings often have Christian wedding accouterments. I’m told that they have become popular in Japan, and indeed I saw a fair number of ads to that effect.
Also, traditions that persist are often appealing in their own right. Moti’s friend and our gracious hostess Mina-san did take the challenge of the shrine to wander between the two stones embedded in the floor of Jishu-Jinja with her eyes shut. She had ready help, as the rest of our group had all had the blessing of having found terrific matches, although with my father’s passing a few years ago we did only have two couples. The main obstacles of the walk are the other visitors, although to my surprise there weren’t very many attempting the walk on that day. The ground atop was flat, although if your quest is heedless and rushed, you could speed past your goal and face disaster on the stairs. However, there’s no restriction from being helped by a potential partner or, in this case, friends. By tradition, it means that any matches will take some help from others, but that hardly seems a terrible burden to bear.
Finally, in the picture to the left,just behind the statue of patron god Ōkuninushi, is a helpful reminder that some parts of Japanese folk practices may prove more familiar than a Western traveler might first think. The three foot tall rabbit is no Easter bunny, but instead played a role in the stories of the god’s successful match. As seems to be common in stories the world over, this hare was a fairly gentle trickster, one that got in over his head and paid dearly for it. I was born on Easter and since I’m not Australian I’m quite fond of rabbits and do like taking pictures of them where err I see them. I’ll leave to my treasured readers whether this indicates a tendency towards being a bit of a rogue although I do confess that I enjoy garden vegetables (that I pay for).
After finishing the Philosopher's Walk, we were ready for lunch. Fortunately, Moti’s friend Mina-san had recommended a place for us to eat. It was a prix fixe menu with ten distinct bowls per person on a tray, each having a serving of a different culinary treat. This is not an uncommon style of Japanese meal. We ate at a long thin table along a plywood wall with Venetian-inspired art hanging from it. The size of a truly small Japanese eatery may be familiar to a Manhattanite, but is fairly unfamiliar throughout the rest of the U.S., as space is rarely at that much of premium.
We then met up with Mina-san herself on the way to our next attraction, Kiyomizu-dera. My memory had tricked me on the approach to the heritage site. I was incorrectly thinking it was further out of town, but instead we climbed directly from the streets of Gion to the entrance gate. The day was quite hot, but I recall the elevation helping. The aquatic theme of the complex certainly didn’t hurt; the name Kiyomizu means pure water and refers to a cascade down the foothills on which the mountain was built. As the picture on the left shows, the giant blocks were quite real, a consequence of renovations. Which is only fair as the current wooden buildings date back to 1633 and were constructed without nails.
The main building has a vast balcony, from which you can gaze out on the hills, see a pagoda dedicated to easy childbirth, or look down at the stone building where the water flows out of the hill and into the extended cups of waiting visitors. The view I most remembered from 2002 was looking back at this balcony, but before we would get there some of the group would brave crowds to walk up to Jishu-Jinja.
That Shinto shrine to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and good matches, is accessible through the Buddhist temple in a way that is not at all unusual in Japan but represents a blending of religions that I’m used to only seeing in ecumenical collaborations often driven by necessity or seeing in pictures of the trips to the Holy Land where sites are revered by multiple religions operating in close proximity. We’ll pick up with the visit to that shrine tomorrow.
Copland’s Appalachian Spring is a fairly well known and loved bit of Americana and a ballet piece in its own right. This past spring, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra at the Clarice Smith Center gave a performance of that piece I believe will be with me the rest of my life. I was overjoyed to discover today that it is up on youtube. I do not doubt the recording won’t compare to having been there, particularly when by necessity the technical aspects of dance and concert both must make compromise when performed by the same people simultaneously. But watching Liz Lerman’s choreographed piece again still leaves me crying, both for the memory of the entire experience and the story told by the two lead dancers.
The performers had to memorize a twenty five minute piece in addition to simple choreography, to the extent that doing something wholly unfamiliar with your instrument, such as swinging one’s contra-bassoon, can be called simple. This fit the frontier nature of the piece quite well, as you’d multiple people circling around said contra-bassoonist in a way evocative of line dancing or see the brass sections standing together to represent part of the town waking up. The two dedicated dancers acted both as the leads and to an extent the conductors, walking through and at times directing the action. The skill set and blending of art forms is perhaps most like a marching band, but the tone and mix of instruments is starkly different than any such band I’ve ever seen.
For a more elegent review, I recommend Anne Midgette's review in the Washington Post:
On Sunday afternoon at the Clarice Smith Center, the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra offered a literally moving performance. Playing Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” from memory, the musicians stood, and walked, and swayed, and danced, and even lifted each other and their instruments. From the very first notes, when the players offered quiet arpeggiated awakening phrases from one side of the stage, gently bathed in quiet blue light, the performance felt powerfully, viscerally emotional. Freeing all the latent creative forces in those usually still players brought a powerful sense of release. I finally realized, in a kind of epiphany, that this is what “moving” really meant…
Or best of all, just watch it for yourself.
Source: Tickets from my mother who saw the show with us. Thanks Mom!
Wilson believed that an intimidating police presence didn’t prevent confrontation, it invited it. That didn’t mean he didn’t prepare, but he put his riot control teams in buses, then parked the buses close by, but out of sight of protesters. Appearances were important. In general, instead of the usual brute force and reactionary policing that tended to pit cops against citizens—both criminal and otherwise—Wilson believed that cops were more effective when they were welcomed and respected in the neighborhoods they patrolled. “The use of violence,” he told Time in 1970, “is not the job of police officers.”…
Maj. Max Geron is in charge of the Media Relations Unit, Community Affairs and Planning Unit of the Dallas Police Department… cautions against setting arbitrary expectations, such as mandatory dispersal times. “Most protesters will meet, protest, and go home when they feel they’ve made their point. If they aren’t breaking any laws, they can be left to express themselves.” Establishing a dispersal time then gives protesters something to rebel against.
That’s just a sample of two points I found particularly interesting, Balko has interviewed a range of police officers actually using the community policing approaches to great effect.
One final, important point: Policing is often cast as a balance between safety and freedom. The problem with that formulation is that it implies that to get a little more of one, we have to give up a some of the other. You need only look at Ferguson to see why that isn’t true. I doubt the residents of that town feel particularly safe or particularly free right now. The corollary to this is that there’s also a zero-sum relationship between officer safety and less aggressive, less militaristic more community-oriented policing. You have to give up some of one in order to get more of the other. Again, Ferguson is a pretty compelling argument to the contrary. The town is essentially a martially law zone right now. And I’d be surprised if you could find many officers on duty these last few nights who would tell you they feel safer today than they did a few weeks ago.
As ever, speaking for myself and not my employer.
Ferguson Missouri has been patrolled by body armored, heavily armed and equipped, nominal police officers. As Matt Yglesias notes, among many others, this hasn’t worked out so well. Reporters have been arrested, largely peaceful crowds have been tear gassed, and the situation is getting tenser. As Kelsey D. Atherton documents with testimony from veterans, U.S. military doctrine and training intentionally cuts against what was being done there.
Having gone to grad school during the Iraq War and having followed humanitarian interventions before that, there’s a range of reasons that taking a para-military approach runs into trouble. If you’re interested in reading more about grappling with the line between military and policing and various attempts to effectively straddle it, check out Where is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? by Robert M. Perito for the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Military and paramilitary approaches can be escalatory
James Gerrond notes “In the USAF, we did crowd control and riot training every year. Lesson 1: Your mere presence has the potential to escalate the situation.” This is fairly easy to understand on a human level. Being around people with weapons out, particularly if you don’t trust them, is just stressful. That can even extend to body armor, which is why many NGOs intentionally eschew it even in conflict zones. Worse, if heavy-handed tactics are used in response to genuine provocation or simply without justification, those already protesting suddenly have more cause. Ferguson does not have a notably higher violent crime rate than the nation as a whole. This entire thing was quite avoidable.
Policing is challenging and political
Military force is hardly apolitical, but in the strict sense of the term national defense and a focus on external enemies means that the military isn’t responsible for enforcing the domestic social order, be it good or ill. However, when keeping the peace, particularly in reference to a protest, police can’t avoid confronting the fissures and fault lines in society. This of course is especially true when they represent the target of the protest. Most any occupying military will want to rely to the extent possible on local police forces, but those forces will often have political problems of their own if the country has notable existing fault lines.
The question of whether people trust the those patrolling the streets is both squishy and critical. CSIS’s Bob Lamb put out a report this summer on assessing legitimacy that does a good job of nailing down the concept and what it provides:
Legitimacy is a worthiness of support (or, in some contexts, of loyalty or imitation), and illegitimacy is a worthiness of opposition. Legitimacy sustains and illegitimacy impedes. In the short term, legitimacy also induces compliance with demands and requests and encourages supportive participation and public action, while illegitimacy induces opposition.
The Ferguson Police Department’s legitimacy was already tarnished by the shooting of Michael Brown and was further squandered through their choice of tactics. Most everyone is now hoping that the Governor Nixon’s deployment of the State Highway Patrol will change that dynamic not because they know the territory better or they’re more trained in crowd control, but because they’re avoiding escalation and are trusted in a way that the local police no longer are.
We’ll know soon enough if that works, but I think there’s a good chance it will. The most successful form of foreign intervention, as Rolan Paris elaborates, are peacekeeping operations. The biggest advantage peacekeepers have is legitimacy. They are coming into a situation with the agreement of all major parties to a conflict.
Last night’s police response in Ferguson was certainly an example of ineffective militarization, but it’s important to remember all the advantages they had. They lived there, they knew the territory, they spoke the language. It’s that much harder for even far better-trained outsiders to play that role. Peacekeeping shows that it can be done, but I suspect that a key enabler of success is having a measure of legitimacy from the start. Meanwhile, I’m gratified that there appears to be a widespread realization that our police forces shouldn’t try to act like occupying forces: they aren’t good at it, and it makes their job harder in the first place.
After visiting Ginkaku-ji, we headed South via the Philosopher's Walk to Nanzen-ji temple. The canal-side route is known for cherry blossoms in spring but is still a pleasing diversion in the hot and humid Kyoto summer. There were even a few animals about, from butterflies, to cats, to ravens, to koi. The east side led up into the same sort of hills that the Silver Pavilion was built on and seemed to hold other older temples, shrines, and estates. The west side seemed more commercial or suburban and is the part you walk through once the path diverges from the canal.
Unlike many of the prior spots we’d visited in Kyoto, the walk was not especially crowded. There was reasonable foot traffic, including the kimono-garbed strollers you see on the left. Walking around in traditional formal garb seemed to come up more in Kyoto than any other part of Japan we visited and did add a fun touch of class to the city.
Taking our time on the journey, we arrived at the sanmon, the grand gate, of Nanzen-ji temple after about an hour. Most of us took the opportunity to climb to the top; my mother declined, not out of a fear of heights so much as a leeriness of thin steps. The sanmon have impressive views, whether looking at them, from them, or around the upper level. They doubtless have a crowd control function but they tend to stand independent of any walls, making them rather different from city gatehouses.
After paying to climb the tower we did visit the gardens in the back right side and were confounded by the sizable brick aqueduct running through it. Given its historic character, if you know some Japanese history you might correctly place it as Meiji Period (1868-1912) construction. That was a time when Japan invited foreign experts wholesale to visit the country and apply their expertise. This sort of inspiration from outside is a longstanding Japanese cultural tradition but one especially applied to a Western audience after Commodore Perry’s fleet effectively opened up the country. As we would learn later in the Tokyo-Edo Museum, even laying aside later politics these borrowings weren’t always for the best. Brick is far better against fire but by default does little good against earthquakes.
That was the question I was asked by the first group students that interviewed us, just prior to my return to Kinkaku-ji. But I couldn’t answer that question for myself until we’d seen both. We’d gotten up that morning, returned to the same cafe, and then took the bus over Ginkaku-ji’s neighborhood, passing a giant Torii gate along the way. The path up to the temple was full of small charming shops, catering to visitors with souvenirs and treats. The pavilion itself was is not actually silver, as you can see on the right, instead maintaining the naturalistic feel common to Japanese temple design.
So why isn’t it silver? The history of pavilion, officially the Jishō-ji, temple of shining mercy, is outlined on the wikipedia page and is fairly interesting. As you might expect, wars and lack of funds appear to be the culprit, although the history of the gold in Kinkaku-ji may also be quite different than what is visible today. However, rather than focus on the history, I’m more intrigued by the idea that the pavilion represents the Japanese cultural aesthetic of wabi-sabi, an acceptance of transience and imperfection. This should not be mistaken for accepting less than excellence, as you can tell by admiring the elegant gardens that fill the center of the grounds.
After admiring the other temple buildings and garden, we walked up the hill to enjoy the view down and the landscape of northern Kyoto. I don’t know if that is part of the wabi-sabi aesthetic, but I found the grounds more appealing than those of the more luxurious pavilion in part because they stood on their own to a greater extent rather than primarily being a vehicle to often literally reflect the main attraction.
We stopped by the temple shop as well as the stores leading up to the temple on the way out. This time Moti again was chosen for an student interview as we walked out. Particularly appealing to me was a rabbit themed store. They’ve been my theme animal since my Easter birth and are generally fairly well represented in Japan, although not nearly to the degree of cats.
As you might guess from that slightly silly end, I greatly enjoyed both temples, but I do give the edge to Kinkaku-ji. I quite respect both opinions, Moti goes the other way on the matter. I admire the aesthetic behind Ginkaku-ji more. I think there’s genuine wisdom in embracing imperfection and the actual state of the building as the creator last saw it rather than the grandest vision for it. There are some parallels to epicurean virtues which place emphasis on living modestly and tranquility. [The golden pavilion is remarkable in part because it was singular, creating more, even in a mix of other metals, misses the point.] However, what one finds most beautiful is not always the wisest nor the most practical. Taste is ever a thing to cultivate rather than an endpoint to immediately achieve or a resting point to complacently lounge in.
[Update: A few edits as this was a late night post. There may be a few more coming.]
I was excited to discover that Guidebook now offers the ability to share one’s schedule. Two years ago, I was hoping for this social feature, and now that it’s here I’d like to exploit it. I’ve tied it to my Google+ account and am happy to connect with friends. Because of Otakon preparations and a crunch period at work, posts may be sporadic over the next few days.
In addition, I’ve slowly been getting photos up on Flickr. Check out my Japan collection to see them as they get posted. I’m also going back and adding them to older posts as I go and hope to start including them in new posts regularly.
Kate’s Mother passed on a reminder to me.
I thought I would pass on the link to http://www.worldpeace.org/ in case it was of interest to anyone that’s been reading along.
[Update: Fair warning, audio quality on the stream is not the best, there’s a buzzing, hopefully that’ll get fixed.]
[Update 2: We’re guessing it’s actually cicadas in the background which does make sense for summer time in a park.]
After returning from Daitoku-ji, we decided to grab something to eat. Francis’ guidebook recommended the Karafuneya Coffee shop, which apparently not only specialized in a wondrous variety of sweets, but had incredibly detailed models of them to look over while waiting to be seated. If you’ve ever wondered what over two hundred varieties of parfait would look like, look no further. From individual treats to a 50000-yen variety that would likely feed an entire school class, it was here. Kate reveled in the sheer concept and ultimately decided on a caramel apple pie parfait.
The shop didn’t just serve dessert, it also had a selection of diner classics including salads and onion rings, but the displays at the front showed you where their heart was. Our visit also showed us how attitudes on smoking were evolving. We were given a choice sitting at two tables or sitting together but within close proximity of the smoking station. We’d later dine at places that did not have a non-smoking section, but the balance did seem to be shifting both in the restaurants and on the streets. In that latter case, smokers were increasingly clustered and carrying a lit cigarette while walking was discouraged, at least in the larger cities.
After we finished we crossed the Kamo river at Sanjo Dori and made our return to Gion. Looking up the Kamo and walking the streets of Gion were disproportionately strong memories from my 2002 trip, and the actual reality did not disappoint. The west bank (the right of the picture) was backed with restaurants often with deck dining and that seemed to be open much later than those we encountered the prior night in the depths of Gion. The east bank had a linear park that helped serve as a transition between the two parts of the city.
Kyoto can be a hot city. It certainly was while we were there, with easily the highest temperatures of the trip, hitting the eighties and nineties. This made the attraction of the Kamo quite obvious and tall buildings with rooftop decks proliferated in a delightful mix of styles. However, there’s nothing new about gathering by the river for entertainment; that’s where Izumo no Okuni founded Kabuki on dry riverbeds. The Kabuki-za theater, shown on the left, and a statue of the lady both owe their proximity to those origins. Famously, though, Kabuki subsequently became entirely the domain of male performers, as a consequence of the social controls of the Tokogawa era, a subject we’ll return to in a future post.
We then proceeded to weave through the streets of Gion. The section by the Kamo seemed densely packed with any number of diversions housed in an eclectic mix of architectural styles and accouterments. Our destination for the night was the Gion-Shimbashi district, a charming historic pair of streets and canal that had quieted down for the night but still was an exciting new atmosphere for most of us. At the end of the strip was a restaurant with its own patron cat, shown at the right. If you look at the slideshow below you’ll see that it even has a shelf at the base of the hostess stand with a pillow for it to rest on. I won’t try to draw any larger observations from that, aside from noting that distinctive character proved easy to find in that part of town.
After completing our circuit, we headed back towards our guest house, along the well lit streets of Shijo Dori. We made it home more easily this time, the twisty avenues at the end of the journey were becoming more familiar. Also welcoming was the sight of the Yasaka shrine at night, which unlike the many other portions of that walk actually shows up nicely in nighttime photography.
Kyoto was Japan’s ancient capital. It is overflowing with temples, shrines, and history. The closest equivalent for the United States may be Philadelphia if the historic core were both far older and scaled up. Amusingly though, there were more odd moments of familiar culture than even Tokyo, although part of that is that hip hop is a bit more popular in the present capital. The Omerice (Omelet + Rice) let us sample a fairly common Japanese take on a western classic, although my dish with yuba, layers of the skin of soybean milk, was tasty but particularly unfamiliar. Nonetheless the Beatles were playing on the sound system in the second story dining room.
We then finished our walk from Kinkaku-ji to Ryōan-ji temple, which apparently translates as the Temple of the Dragon at Peace. It is known for its dry garden and I read of it in 2002 although I still need to verify whether I had a chance to see it on that rainy day more than a decade ago. As is often the case, the temple grounds have far more than just the elements its most known for. There are traditional gardens, with a central pond, that all visitors first pass by. After ascending the stairs, the temple building itself is a remarkable mix of white plaster and find architectural detailing. The interior has illustrated mountain landscapes or floral depictions, the former being a favorite of mine that I tend to associate more with Chinese art.
The paragon of Zen gardens itself has more than a dozen stones, although they are arranged such that you are not likely to see them all from a single position. Several of the clusters of stones blend together when viewed from a distances but are clearly distinct when gazed at directly. I don’t know the specific theology or aesthetic behind the arrangement, but it certainly does reward study from a range of perspectives and contemplation.
After leaving, we meandered the remainder of the path around the pond, seeing both ducks and turtles. The ducks were more common, and a favorite of Francis dating back to childhood, although I went with the turtles in this instance because it had the better broad picture of the pond and perhaps also because of my University of Maryland bias.
Our next stop was another Zen temple, Daitoku-ji. The day was coming to an end, and we proved only able to visit one of the four sub-temples. Based on the walking book we had with us, subsequently returned, that temple was strongly associated with Sen no Rikyū, a pivotal figure in the evolution of the Japanese tea ceremony. I had the opportunity to participate in a tea ceremony in 2002, at a different temple that I’d gotten confused with Daitoku-ji. However, it was still interesting to wander the moss garden grounds and read once again about the history of the ritual.
One critical thing to note about the ceremony: it is meant to be a place apart. The entrances can be fairly small, require humbling ducking, and are not conducive to carrying a sword. The practices do promote a certain equality among the participants, which may have contributed to Hideyoshi ordering Sen to kill himself, an incident allegedly prompted by Sen placing an image of himself near the top of a gateway the leader of Japan passed through. How can such a fancy ceremony promote harmony? I think the short answer is that clear rules of interaction can be empowering to those with less prestige and social capital.
After Francis successfully rescued himself from the closing temple, we proceeded out to a bus and back to central Kyoto.
Language is important to all of us, in a lot of ways. Readers of this blog may have more of an interest in international relations, and foreign language, but even if you're monolingual, the question of how language works can be quite important. Gentleman, scholar, and trained linguist and teacher Moti Lieberman is debuting a new channel that will episodically explain concepts in linguistics on September 3rd. The trailer for the channel is below and was a lot of fun for me as it gave me a chance to witness why he's such an effective teacher. Ling Space should be a lot of fun. I've seen a preview topic list and there's going to be a good mix of ones of broad interest and dives into deeper questions in linguistics. Check it out and subscribe! Even if the deep dives aren't of interest, there should be something for everyone that uses language and likes to think about how things work. [Update: Typo fix]
The official name of the landmark is Rokuon-ji, the Deer Garden Temple. Based on the wikipedia page, the appearance of the shrine has changed many times over the centuries. The crowds are quite intense but friendly and we twice more encountered groups of students; this time they interviewed Moti and then Kate.
There are other buildings and gardens around the temple complex, none of which quite rival the building and its mirror reflected in the pond. This was actually my second time through, though the first time was a rainy day back in 2002. There were fewer people about but the mood was understandably dampened.
Watching Moti interact with the students was fun in its own right. He has an excellent command of Japanese, but like a proper teacher and linguist, he stuck to English for the questions because if he just gave them the words for everything in their native tongues then it wouldn’t really be much of a lesson.
Kate’s interview came later, after we’d walked up the hill, past waterfalls and smaller ponds, and by an excellent sitting rock and a nearby tea shop. Hers was the first coed group of the bunch and they even eschewed the traditional v-sign in the group photo. I’m guessing that was because they were a bit older.
We went on to see other temples at my suggestion, to be covered in a future post. If I’d actually planned a bit further ahead, I’d have realized that the cost was our opportunity to see the Manga Museum or the Kyoto Peace Museum. That was a shame, but one that can be remedied by visiting the city again in some future year.
Morning in Kyoto broke gently. Despite having the windows open there was not that much noise on our tiny side street. My wife and my mother’s first night on futons may have been eased by exhaustion, but they are generally notably more comfortable than the American convertible couches baring the same name. As the view down the street shows, what Gion lacks in navigability, it does make up for in charm. There was even a small ukiyoe (Japanese woodprint) museum down the street, though lamentably we never did make it in.
After settling in to our new abode, taking advantage of the showers two flights of stairs below (Kate’s only real complaint about the place, particularly as the last set was rather steep) and doing a bit of planning, most of us went off to breakfast at Café 3032. We would return regularly; it was just a block and a half away, the food was good, and it was one of the first places open of a morning. The breakfast was more a Western style with a Japanese twist, as was the music from a cover band with a name that translated as Adult Reggae and included songs by Nirvana and an instrumental cover of Sublime. When we asked, we discovered that apparently the Japanese female vocals were popular with the American guests, so apparently they know their audience. Regardless, if you visit, I recommend the French toast; it was delicious.
After regrouping and delivering a carryout sandwich, we walked down to one of Gion’s main thoroughfares to catch the bus to Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion. Just before we got to the stop, we discovered that we happened to be traveling in the midst of school trip season. Delightfully, we were one of the attractions. Several groups of students we met in Kyoto and Tokyo had assignments to interview foreigners and practice their English. The first group of schoolgirls picked me, asked their questions clearly, and handed around the assignment book so everyone got a chance to participate. The questions were fairly standard: I like baseball, sushi, and did not yet have an opinion between Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji as I had not visited the silver pavilion on my last trip. I’ll likely never forget the enthusiasm of my lead questioner and was charmed in a way that didn’t wear off when we boarded the standing room only bus to one of Kyoto’s best known landmarks.
Routine reminder: I speak for myself and not my employer.
What’s a reputation for resolve? The summary below will lay out the technical definition, but the short version is that those calling for more coercive action (be it military or economic) backing up U.S. threats and red lines regularly cite reputational benefits that will go beyond the immediate incident. Alternately, those believing in the importance of reputation for resolve may simply argue for making more limited use of threats and red lines, as is outlined below. This ties into a variety of related concepts; reputation in general, deterrence, and credibility all tie together to the concept, but the biggest controversy lies in the resolve component.
The Foreign Entanglements show on Blogging Heads TV recently had a debate on the matter that I summarize below because I think that you often can learn more of the strengths and weaknesses of each side when they actually talk to one another. To more succinctly summarize the discussions, I’ve grouped arguments thematically rather than by when they occurred in the video. For a literature review going in, check out the blogging heads link or this Drezner piece from a few years back.
Mercer’s Deterrence Theory:
Deterrence is based on credibility/reputation which has three parts:
Critiques to a reputation for resolve
Going back five years or so, the resolve portion of that triad has faced substantially more skepticism from academic political scientists. Farley was defending the strong critique, not just that a reputation for resolve is not applicable as the situation varies, but that it is not even well enough understood to be a useful concept. Farley argues that the reason for this is that we cannot predict how actions that send messages will be received. There's too many moving parts. Specifically, had the U.S. bombed Syria without overthrowing Assad, this might have been viewed as a result that failed to demonstrate resolve.
Debating the examples
Farley countered that we we have not seen a reputation for resolve in practice. Our red lines against Iran include, for example, mining the Straits of Hormuz. These have not been pressed and what we have done in Syria has made no difference. The reason for this is that we obviously have greater interests at stake in Iran. On the other hand, red lines often do not work when our interests are weak; for example, our red line in Syria did not work even though we had just deposed Qaddafi in Libya.
Gartenstein-Ross argues resolve when your interests are highly involved is different than when they are peripheral. He outlined the reputation for resolve as relevant in two categories 1) where U.S. interests are low but a clear threat is made, 2) where U.S. interests are directly involved but the situation is messy. He argued that Syria was reacting not to Libya but instead the lack of U.S. response to Iran's support of insurgents that killed Americans in Iraq and Assad's allowing foreign fighters to transit through Syria to Iraq.
Farley argues that we have no real visibility into the Assad regime; one could tell a competing narrative that the U.S. would be interested in payback when an opportunity arose due to the weakness of his regime. This leaves reputation for resolve as a variable without predictive content. Gartenstein-Ross agreed that the Assad regime would consider both stories. This is a case of acting with incomplete information.
Farley points to Cold War history, saying that if academics and historians can't establish a how a reputation for resolve works with the extensive archives from the Cold War, then policymakers should be extremely careful about making any decisions on the basis of a reputation for resolve.
How to implement academic humility
Gartenstein-Ross laid out that he believes that reputation for resolve is a case where the academics are experiencing a bias towards variables they can measure. In one example, for a time the statistic-oriented baseball fans undervalued fielding because there wasn't a good way to report on it, unlike hitting. Leaving out an important variable could then lead to an undervaluing of certain players and worse performance for the team despite a more scientific-seeming approach. Gartenstein-Ross specifically believed that academics were prone to make this mistake and believed they made the same error when discounting the specific religious content of belief systems in militant organizations.
Farley replies that practitioners are not acting in a theory-free zone; they are operating with theories that come out of Cold War deterrence theory and Thomas Schelling. They continue to operate with this Cold War understanding because that's where they gained much of their experience. Those with the strongest and most visceral feel of reputation and resolve were old Russia hands. Academics should be humble, but that humility encourages tearing down previous academic theories that are now obsolete. It is possible that we will find a way to show the impact of reputation for resolve in the future, but in the absence of such evidence we should not expend blood and treasure to maintain a reputation for resolve.
Gartenstein-Ross says that the two views are not necessarily irreconcilable. He is not arguing for expenditure of blood and treasure to maintain a reputation for resolve. Instead, when things are not in our interest, we should be very hesitant to make any sort of threat if we are not willing to fulfill it. By this means reputation can be obtained, and we should use this mechanism.
The utility of bluffing and a reputation for resolve
Farley queries whether this means Gartenstein-Ross wishes to take the bluff away from the United State's strategic toolkit. He further charges that many of those who say we should have acted in Syria are doing so on the basis that we could better bluff our way through Crimea. Farley raises the example of the Chinese air identification zone. In that instance, the U.S. flew B-52s, planes that you cannot possibly overlook, through the zone and China did nothing. Similarly, he says that Putin has effectively deployed bluffing on multiple occasions.
Gartenstein-Ross stands by his view and argues that the Chinese bluff was counterproductive. During the unipolar moment in the 1990s we had a high ability to bluff. However, our relative decline over the past thirteen years have weakened our ability. He finds the U.S. bluff on Syria to be outmoded thinking much as Farley argues that the reputation for resolve is outmoded. Bluffs are now more likely to be called, both because of the reduced capability and because of the vicious circle of he reputation for resolve because bluffs that are called.
Gartenstein-Ross then returns to the Iran example in pointing to the utility of a reputation for resolve. The U.S. has a variety of red lines with respect to Iran. Some are clear, like the Straits of Hormuz. However, there are subtler moves regarding the nuclear program where a reputation for resolve can matter. Reputation for resolve is not as important for the bluff, or the big policy areas and matters of war and peace, but for subtler decisions it plays a bigger role. He says that while he's more skeptical than Farley of political science's ability to truly measure something like the reputation for resolve and thinks Farley overstates a legitimate critique, he believes that it's something that should be better understood.
My own thoughts
Gartenstein-Ross argues the more limited case for reputation for resolve and I think to really judge that debate we’d have to get into the literature on bluffing. That said, it is important to remember that in the specific case of Syria, tons of chemical weapons were removed from the country and their existing facilities were demilitarized. There are allegations of continued use of chlorine gas and continued atrocities by the Syrian government are indisputable, but the significant quantity of weapons and facilities destroyed is a boon in its own right.
What’s more telling is that the Gartenstein-Ross’s limited case for a reputation for resolve points to greater restraint when U.S. interests are low. He repeatedly argued that President Obama’s mistake was setting the red line, not in failing to enforce it. While he noted that our reputation for resolve was diminished by failing to engaged in unspecified retaliation against Iran and Syria for aiding insurgents in Iraq, he did not lay out any positive mechanisms by which to increase our reputation for resolve. If spending blood and treasure are off the table and limited strikes will make little difference, than wherefore complaints from other commentators about the President’s policy in Ukraine? U.S. sanctions have slowly been ratcheted up. European allies have been slower to act, but due to greater connections with Russia their actions have had greater effect.
What about complaints from allies?
This debate did not touch on one source of complaints of ill-resolve: those from U.S. allies. Gripes have been made in public and in private. Vehement critiques of resolve like Daniel Larison do not dispute the existence of such complaints but instead argue that they play to Washington’s pride and insecurity. I don’t doubt that some of that goes on, but I think some of the behavior may have a less harsh interpretation, namely allies bargain about who should bear the burden of common interests. Matt Yglesias gives an example of how this works in European debate over sanction policy:
The biggest gas importer is Germany, which would rather see someone else's ox gored. Angela Merkel has been talking up the idea of a ban on the export of military equipment to Russia. Conveniently, Germany doesn't have a big outstanding weapon sale to Russia. But France is scheduled to sell advanced Mistral naval vessels to Russia. Much of the international community wants France to cancel that deal, hurting the Russian military and the French economy while leaving others unscathed. Meanwhile, from the French viewpoint a better countermove might be for the UK to seize Russian funds and property squirreled away in London.
It’s not that France, Germany, and the UK doubt one another’s resolve, they’d just genuinely prefer that someone else pay the bill and no doubt can come up with compelling normative reasons why this is so. Rather than applying the deterrence-elated concept of reputation and credibility writ large to allies, I would argue that we should apply a range of appropriate tools, such as collective action problems to negotiation theory to security dilemmas. This is not to say that complaints from allies are merely bluffs and puffery – the current alignment of the Middle East in particular is genuinely unstable - but that their use of the word credibility should not dictate our choice of intellectual framework.
The trip back to Okayama Station from the Kōraku-en gardens was much tighter than I hoped, but we made it. My favorite landmark on the remainder of the trip to Kyoto was seeing Himeji castle. Like many of the castles in Japan, it was reconstructed after World War II. However, it was rebuilt using not just the original floor plan, but also with classical building methods. I toured it with friend and co-traveler Chad back in 2002. We were considering trying for Hiroshima, but when that was rejected as too far, seeing the castle at Himeji was an appealing alternative. After touring it, in slippers that were at least two sizes too small, we went on to check out their botanical garden. It was more of the scale you see in the West, but still quite nice. So while we did not stop back in Himeji this time, it maintains a fond place in my heart.
We also passed through a train yard on the way into Kyoto Station. All of the engines pictured on the left are part of full blown shinkansen. I suspect that a good part of the system’s timeliness is that they have ample reserves. By comparison, I still didn’t have my act entirely together on hotel directions, so between the comparatively small lunch earlier, we ended up getting into Kyoto with a crew that was starting to get grumpy. Moti had some success with station wifi and I cross-referenced street names, but he did end up having to call to be guided into the place once we were within a few blocks. Not my finest hour, although I’m proud to say that for every subsequent stop on the trip, there was a copy of a map saved in the trip google doc. Our residence, the Gojo Guesthouse, proved to be a terrific experience, but we were disappointed to learn that we had yet more travel to do through intricate streets, as we were not staying in the most prominent of the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) buildings.
So, instead, we did the only sensible thing and went for food. Gion is quite a wonderful neighborhood, but unfortunately, it also can be a tricky place to eat as it gets later in the evening. Not because it’s dangerous - not in the slightest - just because so many of the restaurants, including most everything in our Lonely Planet guide, was closed. Moti and Francis scouted about and soon enough we found our salvation, an okonomiyaki place! This was not Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki but was instead in the more common mode of nearby Osaka. The meal was quite good, although we did get rushed out the door despite having ordered a succession of dishes and drinks, so we won’t be specifically recommending the place in question.
The last stretch to our rooms was not that far, but it did seem so at the time, in part as I was carrying an extra backpack. However, from here on out the news was largely good; the guest house certainly does earn our recommendation and proved a fantastic launching point for our adventures in Kyoto. But that shall have to wait until tomorrow.
I forgot to bring my laptop power chord home tonight, so I'm going to be lazy and skip the travelogue entry.
Let's start with Bond. Moti pointed me to Film Hulk critics four part analysis of the entire franchise (you can click to all four parts from the fourth). It's made me feel a bit time for the time I compliment Yaphet Kotto on his performance in Live and Let Die. I still liked that he had a character willing to take out Bond and shoot him, but really I need to familirize myself with more of the man's work beyond Homicide and Live and Let Die. I still quite loved Casino Royale, but was left with the feel that I'd really drifted away from that sort of thing. After reading through Hulk's discussion of all the films and his argument that the best Bonds are romances, I'm instead left feeling that I might want to watch From Russia with Love and On His Majesty's Secret Service again, though those two will likely suffice. That's a nice place to be.
He also made one interesting argument about overthinking pop culture:
It's not that we can't have adult conversations about our childlike impulses, it's that we can go so far as to dress up our stuffed animals and bring them to a fancy dinner. We can't just want to make our childish things seem adult.
As I mentioned in the last post on the series, I enjoyed both seasons 1 and 2 of Legend of Korra but felt let down by the respective endings. Some of that might just have been expecting too much on my part; it's a kid series and ultimately more nuanced bad guys can get away from problems that a super-powered character like the Avatar can solve. That said, I do think some of the graphic novels have gotten to this a better, although I've disagreed with a friend on that matter.
Anyhow, based on episodes four and five of the present season, Legend of Korra is doing a great job of focusing on the sort of stories it can tell well and that are still ones I'm very interested in. The issues of Mako and Bolin's class background, a critique of the conscription power of the state, and a family dispute between two sympathetic characters all have a lot of potential. Also Varrick, our favorite sketchy magnate is back. I have high hopes for him! The most direct villains are a group of superpowered criminals that appear to be enemies of the whole one powerful spiritual person will be charged with keeping power system. There's a whole lot of potential there without needing a great shades of gray main conflict.
Finally, one bit of possibly spoilery speculation on episode 5. I believe a quote from Honoré de Balzac will prove appropriate: "The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a crime forgotten, for it was properly done."
In any event, if you aren't watching, you can wait to see if Nickelodeon posts full episodes, but I continue to feel well rewarded for buying it on Amazon after missing that first air date. That said, if you wish to be patient, it will probably eventually be on the Nickelodeon site and it's probably still safer to buy the physical form of series as digital distribution doesn't seem any cheaper.
Journey, by thatgamecompany, has already been well considered by adoring critics, but we wanted to briefly interrupt our travelogue to give our impressions. I played it for the first time on Saturday and had a chance to watch Kate play last year. We both loved it. One playthrough is about the length of a film and the name is quite accurate; the game is a pilgrimage through wondrous and at times frightening lands towards the glowing mountaintop on the horizon. There are challenges to unravel, secrets to find, and threats to avoid. However, they are all minimalistic to focus on the core themes of the game and make it accessible even to those often neglected by high profile video game releases.
So does it even qualify as a game? Yes, for two reasons. First, Michael Abbott argues that the mechanics serve the aesthetic and help the player achieve flow, a meditative sort of enjoyment that videogames are well-suited to deliver. In addition, on a less theoretical level as Jason Killingworth discussed the jumping is just delightful.
“Psychology has proven that the behavior of our physical body directly impacts our emotional state. Test subjects who were tricked into arranging their facial muscles in the shape of a smile were more likely to claim to find a cartoon amusing. In the same way, a game that effectively imparts a sense of physically lifting off the ground will engender in the player a sympathetic emotional response of uplift and inspiration. Journey’s leap has a frolicking grace to it. Not only do you lift into the air, but your character will occasionally even twirl playfully like a sea otter before drifting back to earth. You may even grin while doing it.”
Going into a little more detail, your character can make small jumps just by navigating the world, but with the power of their elongating scarf or the help of the various friendly fabric creatures that inhabit this stricken land, you can for a time bound into the air. Your ability to do this is limited by geography and the charge on your scarf, but in either case is readily charged by visiting with the wildlife or spending time close to your traveling companion. In this way, the leaping is moderated but unlike power pellets or a time-based recharge, the way to replenish the power ties you closer to the world and your companions.
The companions are where the real wonder of the game comes in. After the first stage, you will often be paired with another player, elsewhere on the internet, but given only the most rudimentary means of communication. Perhaps surprisingly, this results in interaction that is entirely different than the hostility that too often defines online interaction. This was entirely intentional. Jenova Chen, one of the designers, discussed his influences and motivations with Simon Parker of Eurogamer.
"I believe that there are only three ways to create valuable games for adults. You can do it intellectually, whereby the work reveals a new perspective about the world that you have not seen before. The closest thing I can see to this is Portal. The second way is emotionally: touching someone. You can touch kids emotionally very easily, but it's far harder to touch adults because they are so jaded.
"The only way you can touch an adult is by creating something especially relevant to their lives, or by creating something that is so authentic that it becomes empowering. In order to reach those heights you have to reach catharsis. So that after the strong emotion the adult can begin to reflect on his own, start to find meaning in his own life. That's how I can see I can make games for people around me. The third and final way is by creating a social environment where the intellectual or emotional stimulation could happen from other people. Those are the only three ways."
Earlier in the piece, he noted that that third piece is often challenging because most multiplayer videogames are about killing one another. It’s well worth reading the entire piece, about how they choose to take out many of the puzzles, elaborate interactions, and even collision detection while working to reinforce the loneliness of the places.
And it works. Scott Juster discussed how this changed his outlook to fellow players. So many of the discussions of Journey focus on what happened with their companions, be it Jamie Love’s and Brendan Keogh’s reviews or the collection at Medium Difficulty and the Journey Stories Tumblr.
We shall post a discussion of our own Journeys on a future night.
Image credit: Promotional screenshot from thatgamecompany.
This was an interesting book that changed its character over time. Adelstein managed the comparatively rare feat of becoming a Western reporter working directly for a Japanese newspaper. The start of the book focuses broadly on workplace culture, the police beat and policing practices, and crime in Japan. The latter is actually fairly rare even though laws against the native organized crime outfits, called Yakuza, were so weak that membership was printed on business cards. Similarly, as Adelstein got more on the vice beat, he’d realized the extent to which human trafficking can be difficult to crack down on because the system’s first priority would often be to punish the victims for immigration violations.
The latter half of the book gets seedier, focusing on a few stories and reflecting the costs of the vice beat of the years. Adelstein broke a huge scoop about a Yakuza boss (and confederates) that was given priority treatment for a liver transplant at UCLA. As an interesting side note for a longtime Washington Post reader, John Pomfret, experienced Asia hand, actually played an admirable key part in helping Adelstein get the story out. The book unflinchingly documents the cost of getting that story, although the individual passages tend to be less connected and I often lost track of time in the back part of the book, perhaps because Adelstein was no longer embedded in the structure of his paper and seemed to be slipping away from his family.
The seediest places we actually saw in Japan were in Tokyo’s Akihabara Electric Town, not the sort of thing that even gets a cursory mention in this book. This is to be expected; in most any developed and safe country, investigative reporters can and should find the gaps and weaknesses that the ordinary person doesn’t encounter unless they are hard up for a loan or try their luck at an overseas job offer or the like. That said, I think the extremes can be useful to read about as they do tell you something about the country; for example just today in the Washington Post there was a story by Petula Dvorak about visiting a free medical clinic that got 1,500 attendees in Southwestern Virginia, a region that’s economy had been reliant on diminishing coal jobs. Those coming out, sometimes camping overnight, would be covered by Medicare were it not for sadists in the Virginia legislature who are among dozens of states rejecting the expansion that comes with the Affordable Care Act. While the magnitude varies greatly, there’s systemic cruelties in every country. However, understanding them, and the larger culture they reflect, requires the sort of solid reporting Adelstein manages.
To end on a lighter note, how do visitors to Japan, and indeed everyday citizens, interact with the police? Based on our experience, the answer is traffic management and police boxes, called Kōban. Between the two, we saw police out on foot a lot more than we do in a typical American city. The Kōban are particularly great because they’re also there to go to when you need help or directions, as most tourist guides will mention. We didn’t end up needing that service, but it shows the advantages of integrating police more into the community rather than having them patrol on cars.
Image credit: We had taken the Kōban picture, but the picture of the book is a promotional image from Japan Subculture, the site for which Adelstein is chief editor.
We’ve enjoyed both prior seasons of Legend of Korra, although they both had weaknesses in their endings. That seemed in part driven by taking on a bit too much and then not being able to rely on finishing them in subsequent seasons. There also tends to be a turn towards fewer shades of gray in the endings than the start.
So far this season has done fairly well on two fronts. First, it has been reincorporating often antagonistic characters and forces from prior seasons or shows as part of the new status quo. I’d actually like even more of that, but there’s been a great start so far. Second, the characters face problems that resist easy solutions for sensible reasons. This will probably prove even more true as they try to take on Ba Sing Se, a corrupt, oppressively unequal monarchy that seems to be in a position roughly comparable to China at the end of the Qing Dynasty.
One somewhat costly change is that they’re no longer posting full episodes on the website fully after broadcast. We missed the show times, so I did end up buying the first three episodes in HD at about $3 each. I’m okay with that, although I’m a bit annoyed that they took a few weeks to put them up. If they’re going to charge, please at least let us catch up to the where the show is now.
Japanese tourism promotions like to work in threes. Miyajima is one of the three great scenic spots in all of Japan, along with Matsushima which we would visit far later in the trip, and one more which we did not visit. The town of Okayama, meanwhile, has one of the three great landscape gardens of Japan, Okayama Kōraku-en, and conveniently was right on the way to Kyoto. We ended up scheduling things a bit tightly, although my mother helped make sure we had a bit more time than we may first have planned.
The station itself was a bit challenging, as we ended up having to split our luggage across multiple locker locations. Thankfully, Japan is saner than the U.S. on this front, so station lockers are easily available. However, they are still fairly costly and the time picking up our luggage on the way back our nearly made us miss the train. Thankfully, at least the bus ride to and from the garden was quite pleasing and we got to see some of Okayama’s trams on the way. We had to pause for a moment while negotiating lunch and figuring out which bus to take back. However, once we were inside the garden proper it was easy to see how it earned its reputation.
The crow castle on the horizon to the left of the picture is not part of the garden, and the best views of it cost a separate admission, but even for the frugal it provides an atmospheric backdrop. The proximity to the castle is not coincidental, as Kōraku-en had been the garden of the daimyo (local lord) until it was opened to the public in 1884. While the view from the castle is no doubt impressive, the garden has its own mound that we proceeded to next that offered a look down at the pond and the inaccessible island buildings.
On the way down from the mound, Moti and Francis encountered a cat. Feline wanderers were not uncommon on the trip, but I don’t think we encountered them that much more frequently than we would in the U.S. This is perhaps slightly surprising, as cats are definitely a favored animal and well represented in souvenirs and anime characters. This particular sunbather looked fairly well fed, but I wouldn’t venture to guess whether it was actually a pet or was just well-treated by gardeners and visitors.
If you want a full view of the garden, you’ll have to come back once we have the slideshow attached to it; there’s too much there to summarize even in a long post. We’re definitely fans of both Japanese and Chinese gardens. we saw three to five of each on our last trip to the Pacific Northwest, so we weren’t caught by surprise by classic elements like teahouses and zig-zag bridges. However, what did surprise me was finding a building with a stone-strewn stream running through it. It was quite a meditative place to sit with one’s shoes off and I’ve never seen the like before or since.
We split up some throughout the journey. My mother actually went at a slightly faster pace and was rewarded with a closer look at the cranes kept in a large enclosure at one end of the garden. The rest of us did more swift dawdling, taking the time to buy teahouse snacks for later consumption aboard the train later and then looping through the agrarian fields and forests of the garden.
This was actually the second time we’d seen such plantings in a garden in Japan, but they were still rather surprising based on our past experience with such gardens in the United States.The forests were arboretum worthy and showed remarkable color even in the summer. In this case, I believe the well known kaede, red maples, was the source. However, throughout the trip we saw a bit more color than we expected for the season. Classically speaking, I slightly prefer Chinese gardens to Japanese because such fancies as large rocks and elaborate courtyards appeal to me. This visit changed my mind to an extent. I still am quite in love with the Summer Palace park in Beijing, but Okayama has definitely made it into my top list of gardens. Fortunately, as an American, I can pick a top ten rather than needing to limit myself to three.
Update: Minor typological fixes.
After we finished at the Hiroshima Peace Museum we explored the city a bit more while Moti and Francis finished their visit. The next step our trip was Kyoto, but during research during brief down periods, I’d discovered that our initial scenic plan along the Sea of Japan just wasn’t going to work. While the Japanese rail system is amazing and extensive, it sensibly isn’t high all speed rail, particularly when crossing from one coast of the country to the other. As a result, there were a few different points along the trip where our desire to check out interesting routes was foiled as we realized that the train trip alone would take an all day commitment.
Thankfully, there is HyperDia.com which, while not primarily a mapping tool, is far and away the best route planner I’ve had the pleasure of using. For example here’s the search we used to get to our next destination, a stopover in Okayama on the way to Kyoto.
The output format is fairly straightforward and familiar. The strength is really found in the speed and stability combined with a wisely designed interface. It isn’t without flaws - use of the back button rather than scrolling down to the bottom will result in you having to regularly re-input parameters - but I found it a stalwart companion throughout the trip and only once did it not cover all the modes of interest.
There are a few different aspects that makes the interface so convenient:
This doesn’t mean that you don’t want a companion book or the like; we certainly recommend Japan by Rail although most any reliable guide should mention station names. Hyperdia isn’t meant to be the Amtrak Interactive Rail Atlas or the like; you’ll still have to figure out where you want to go and what you want to see on your own. But once you have a couple possibilities worked out, it’s easy enough to experiment with a range of ways of running your trip. To be fair to the American sites, Hyperdia is such an amazing tool because it works with such an fantastic infrastructure backbone. The trains stick to their timetables and three-minute transfers are both achievable and not catastrophic in the event of a failure. The sprawling stations do have consistent numbering systems that are reported through the trip planner. Best of all, most anywhere you want to go, you can get there by train, possibly with a bit of help from a bus for intra-city travel or when going off the beaten path.
Content warning: The main museum gets most directly into the consequences of the bombing of Hiroshima, beyond even what is shown in the East building.
Walking through corridors showing the damage done to Hiroshima to property and to people, I certainly felt a moral imperative that these weapons never be used again. However, how is it that nuclear weapons have only been used twice in battle? I believe deterrence and mutually assured destruction is part of the story, but a key related concept is what Thomas Schelling calls the nuclear taboo. At first the escalation to nuclear weapons was seen as more of a continuation of existing policy than a radical break during WWII, and President Eisenhower made nuclear first use a policy in the event of a conventional Soviet invasion of Europe. However, by 1964 President Johnson declared “Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a conventional nuclear weapon. For 19 peril-filled years no nation has loosed the atom against another. To do so now is a political decision of the highest order.” This reflected earlier decisions not to deploy them in Korea and subsequent avoidance by the U.S. in Vietnam, by Israel against Egypt in 1973, and by the Soviets in Afghanistan. Nina Tattenwald discusses the origin of the taboo (summary by Patrick Lam) and the main building passionately and decisively makes the case that this taboo must be maintained whether you believe in full abolition or that they’ve contributed to the decline in great power war.
The displays (excerpted online) covered the multitude of ways that nuclear weapons can visit destruction upon cities: the rays of heat, the blast itself, the conflagration of flammable materials, and of course the radiation. The picture on the left shows a portion of the facade of a bank where someone was sitting at 8:15 that morning, likely waiting for it to open. Given the location, the person died on the spot, the stone around them was blasted white while the steps underneath them left the remnant of their “shadow” in the middle of the picture.
The mangled remains of the city, stone, wood, and steel filled many of the displays showing the widespread extent of the damage from a single nuclear bomb with a small yield by today’s standards. The museum did its best to mark where each piece came from within the blast zone. The details filled out the almost incomprehensible damage shown in the photographs and the detailed model on the right. One piece I don’t have the heart to include in the display was the shredded remnants of the school uniforms of children who died in the bombing or the days thereafter (let alone the photographs of the burned bodies directly afflicted). Some had been evacuated to the country but others were conscripted to create firebreaks and in anticipation of conventional bombing.
Death and devastation can come in many forms. As I’ve earlier mentioned, more people died from a single raid in the firebombing of Tokyo; however, that raid involved 334 B-29s with 279 dropping bombs. By comparison, the Enola Gay flew with only two other planes, suggesting a terrible potential to scale that was achieved by both sides in the Cold War. This is also where the radiation comes in, as experienced by many of the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombs. Sadako Sasaki, who helped inspire the Children’s War Memorial, had been two at the time of the bombing but died years later of leukemia despite having been quite healthy in the interim. The picture on the right are some of the cranes she folded; you may have read or heard of her story when you were a child.
The remainder of the museum focused on the stories of survivors, the rescue and recovery efforts, and even pictures drawn by those who were there. This was complemented by prayers and wishes for peace from around the world and a view out to the rest of the park. Based on the wikipedia page, one million people visit the museum a year. I hope, in addition to whatever else we do to make this a better world, we all work to keep this taboo from fading.
The first floor of the museum continued to show a variety of consequences of the bombing, but I’d like to focus on the letters that make up the wall undergirding the model of the A-Bomb Dome. They are written on behalf of the people of Hiroshima to protest every nuclear weapons test. The letters continue until present day and are primarily not driven by states like North Korea, but instead are by ongoing sub-critical tests by Russia, China, and the United States. Such test produce no yield of fissile material and are allowed under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. However, while such tests are safer than other forms of testing, the city government objects to their intent as it seeks nuclear disarmament. I’d be interesting in discussing those issues in further depth at some point, although it was not my international relations focus and at my think tank (who I continue not to write on behalf of) the topic is handled by a different program. However, suffice to say, the topic is not a flight of fancy. The arsenals of the U.S. and the former Soviet Union have shrunk dramatically and there are any number of steps that disarmament advocates call for, such as de-alert weapons or ruling out first use, short of total abolition.
The second level dealt with Hiroshima under Allied occupation, specifically British Commonwealth forces in this city’s case. This is a topic I am somewhat familiar with, although it has been several years since I read Embracing Defeat. The exhibit focused on the ramifications of the bombing, from the Red Cross hospital where survivors were treated on the left, to the U.S. government studies of the effects of radiation poisoning that at times prioritized secrecy of treatment of the afflicted. Particularly hard-hitting for us, due to my Mom’s prior work at the United States Information Agency (not extant at the time), was the discussion of censorship on reporting of the extent of the damage to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Restrictions imposed after the outbreak of the Korean War also prevented public gatherings including the 1950 peace festival, although the mayor did travel abroad to speak on the topic in France. The occupations of Japan and Germany are widely viewed as the best examples of the potential of rebuilding an enemy after a war. I still agree with that assessment, although I think there are many factors that resulted it in not being an applicable model elsewhere and it’s important to remember that even after the war ended there remained policies that put security concerns above ethical ones.
Finally, the top floor focused on the current state of nuclear weapons in the world, with the globe on the right showing declared stockpiles. I found this part to be informative and well-argued. I also particularly appreciated the sheer number of languages offered in the digital displays. That said, there’s a few other books I’ll be ordering and a few debates I wish to watch before I write in greater detail on these topics. The next portion was the museum shop, from which we acquired a good number of bilingual children’s books on the Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and other materials before proceeding to the second building. That one was rawer now that the the context has been established, and included more artifacts. It reminded both Moti and myself of nothing so much as the Holocaust Museum, both in content and caliber. I am yet unsure if I can do it justice in this format. I may continue on with the trip in the next post and save any further discussion for writing that is not travelogue.
To end on a slightly more hopeful note, I do want to emphasize the extent to which the de-escalation and then end of the Cold War has dramatically reduced the global stock of nuclear weapons. This should not encourage complacency; North Korea has gone nuclear and even now the world powers are in talks to reach a deal with Iran to prevent further proliferation in the Middle East. But if anyone tells you that the world is scarier now than it was at the height of the Cold War, they are trying to sell you something or just don’t know what they’re talking about. The progress we’ve made on preventing the annihilation of the human race is vital, and some credit must go to those who have made it their lives’ work to convince leaders and peoples of the world that these weapons must be constrained.
Some years ago, in my home town of Washington, D.C., the Air and Space Museum had an exhibit about the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I believe I went through it, but I may just be conflating pictures of the plane with past trips to the museum in my ever fallible memory. Regardless, that exhibit unsuccessfully sought to avoid controversy by focusing on the technical aspects and avoiding politics and context. Worse yet are museums that actively distort the past for propagandistic purposes. By comparison, the Peace Museum takes an extremely challenging topic and addresses it in a forthright and informative matter.
The initial section gives the history of Hiroshima leading into the Second World War. Hiroshima was a garrison city a staging area for troops in various wars, one of the centers for emigrants from annexed Korea, and an industrial town with a significant reliance on mobilized students and forced labor. The panel on the right discusses the invasion of China: “Early in the War with China, the Japanese Army occupied many Chinese cities. In December 1937, it took the capital city, then called Nanking. The occupation of this important city cheered the Japanese people, who considered the war in China a holy crusade. Hiroshima’s residents celebrated with a lantern parade. In Nanking, however, Chinese people were being massacred by the Japanese army.” It goes on to briefly discuss varied estimates of the death toll. Wartime atrocities are not the subject of the museum - for that there is the Kyoto Museum for World Peace - but it squarely addresses the context of the bombing before making the hard case against it.
After reviewing the history, the museum proceeds to the actual attack. There are any number of artifacts, although the greater detail is held for the second building and a future post. On your left is a pocket watch donated by Akito Kawagoe, stopped at the exact moment of the bombing. The discussion of the decisions of the U.S. government does not rely on hyperbole. Instead it presents key memos and minutes from the debates, showing various competing views. As is somewhat widely known, the old capital Kyoto was also considered as a possible target. However, its selection was vehemently opposed by Japan experts within the U.S. government as a sacrilege which would destroy any hope of future peace with Japan. The museum did not specifically argue that there was a clear course that would have achieved peace without the use of the bomb, but did highlight that possible concessions, such as allowing the continuation of the imperial system as the occupying forces did anyways, were not deeply explored before the attack.
The destruction of the bombing was shown in multiple forms, including the two models above. One related point mentioned by the museum, but not an area of primary focus, was that the firebombing of Tokyo and not the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki is widely cited as the source of the largest casualty count from a single air raid. The horrifying specter of nuclear war is not just the enormity of the individual bombings, but that the threat can scale up in a way that more air force-intensive operations could not. This relative continuity in death toll is perhaps one of the reasons why the specific morality of the atomic bomb was not as hotly debated. In many ways it was a continuation of existing policy by other means. However, the questions raised there require research beyond the scope of this post.
Sorry about that. I had a medical appointment and was feeling a little wiped out. Although that may have just been biking up to Georgetown in the summer.
I’m also deciding if I want to put all of the Peace Museum posts sequentially, probably two to three of them are coming and they’ll be a bit heavy, as you’d expect. If you have any thoughts on that question, weigh in via comments.
The entire group wanted to spend time at the museum, but Kate, my mother, and I decided to get up earlier and attend the daily carillon ringing at Peace Memorial Park one last time. The chimes toll electronically, with a slight background buzz, but I’m still moved every time I hear it.
When approaching the carillon, we passed by a large number of students, respectfully gathered at the Children’s Peace Memorial. They presumably were there with similar intent when it came to timing. Moti was not with us, so I could not tell you what exactly was said, but the sentiment was unmistakable.
We then walked to the west side of the island, which we had not yet explored. It was perhaps the portion in which the weight of history was felt most heavily as it included the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound which sat over a vault holding the unclaimed remains of many of the victims of the bombing.
Further south is a monument specifically to the Korean victims of the attack. It estimated their number at twenty thousand, about ten percent of the dead. [The total casualty count estimated by the memorial is higher than most other sources, but the estimate of the number of Korean dead is in line with what I’ve seen elsewhere]. Japan occupied Korea well before the U.S. had entered the second World War and the garrison city of Hiroshima had a population that were soldiers, mobilized students, and ordinary civilians. Later in the trip, at the Osaka Human Rights museum, I got to see video of other Koreans, then residing in Japan, celebrating the end of the war and as one might expect very glad to see the end of the occupation of their nation. The placement of this memorial on the main island is actually a relatively recent change, one that happened only within the past few decades. I’m very glad that it did.
Update: Fixed the date in the title and add a note on the casualties.
With my family’s longstanding advocacy on behalf of Maryland’s prospective Purple Line, we check out light rail most anywhere we travel. An interesting thing about trams and streetcars, at least in cities that have had them for some time like Hiroshima, is that there is a huge variety vehicles in service. I’m sure there are multiple factors at work, but one big one is that many cities abandoned their surface rail networks in the latter half of the twentieth century. As a result of that, and the standardized gauge, many cars seem to have shuffled around the world to various cities and transit museums.
This is not to say that the city doesn’t have a range of shiny new cars. There were several varieties about, including an underground line I visited on our last day there, after finally going to the Peace Museum. The underground line thankfully had a machine to get a Paspy, the local smart card. As I believe I’ve earlier mentioned, the trick to getting these cards is to look for machines labeled IC, probably for intelligent chip or the like. The best strategy is typically to just find the card when arriving in the station, a task that has grown much easier than it once was. Just a few years back, finding cards normally involved hunting down an authorized retailer or one of a small number of valid distribution points. As you would expect, things vary greatly from city to city, but I think that smart chip cards have just gotten cheaper and more widely available, so distribution has gotten more convenient.
For me, the trams really epitomized the city’s charm and resilience. They were running again at an astonishing pace after the atomic bombing and even with a wide range of types of cars they manage to provide service with remarkable regularity. If you missed one, there always seemed to be a new car just down the line. The interiors were often crowded, but the riders were courteous and sometimes the cars themselves were full of whimsy such as the art contest winners depicted on the right. The friendly and welcoming nature ultimately comes from the city and its people; the infrastructure just reflects and reinforces it. But the enjoyment of the place’s vibe was common throughout the group. Francis was pleased to discover that one of Hiroshima’s sister cities was Montreal. I can see it.