"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The great Victorian poultroon rides again
Kevin Wood Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Flashman on the March
By George MacDonald Fraser
HarperCollins, 293 pp, 17.99 pounds

Thirty-five years after he first skulked into the pages of (faux) history, Harry Flashman, the greatest hero of the British Empire's Victorian era, returns in George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman on the March.

The 12th packet of the notorious Flashman Papers tells the tale of Flashman's role in the Abyssinian War of 1868, and once again the author whom Auberon Waugh called "20 times better than Ian Fleming" is in fine swashbuckling form with his 19th-century protagonist best described as the anti-James Bond.

Fraser lifted the character of Harry Flashman from the pages of Thomas Hughes' 1857 chronicle of Rugby School, Tom Brown's School Days, as a means of escaping the toil and drudgery of a journalism career.

Posing as the editor of the late Gen. Flashman's candid, tell-all memoirs, only recently found in manuscript form at an estate sale, Fraser gives us the hero's first-person eyewitness account of some of the major events and important people of 1800s.

In his 1969 debut, Flashman, Fraser tells the tale of how young Harry is kicked out of Rugby School for drunkenness and convinces his father to buy him a commission in Lord Cardigan's 11th Light Dragoons. Thus began the most astonishing military career in literature since that of Homer's Achilles.

Flashman relates Harry's considerably larger-than-life exploits as he fights a duel, is wed, leaves the regiment for the British East India Company Army and survives the historic disaster of the retreat from Kabul only to become the only heroic survivor--found wrapped in a bloody Union Jack no less--of the battle of Pipers Fort. Decorations and fame follow, launching young Lt. Flashman on the road to adventure and success.

It sounds like boilerplate Boy's Own adventures by way of G.A. Henty and H. Rider Haggard, but the comic catch is that Flashman is a complete fraud. The duel is fixed, the wedding is of the shotgun variety and his survival in India is the result of his shameless and admitted cowardice, villainy and dishonesty. He is every inch the bully of Tom Brown's School Days and more. As editor of the Flashman Papers, Fraser frequently points out that the only speck of honesty in Flash Harry is in his appalling accuracy in recalling his own sins. Though an honest observer, he is by his own admission a bounder and a cad whose only interests are drinking, fornication, filling his own pockets and protecting his ill-deserved reputation as a hero.

Further installments in the series over the next 30 years have put Flashman at the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, the Indian Mutiny, the first Sikh War, Rorke's Drift, the Taiping rebellion and John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry. At various times Flashman is duped, dragooned or blackmailed into working as an intelligence agent, slaver, wagon scout, chief of staff to the White Rajah of Sarawak, sergeant-general to the queen of Madagascar, horse trader and imposter of royalty among other unlikely occupations for a professional scoundrel. As a spiritual forefather to Forrest Gump, Flashman meets all the notables of his era, from Abraham Lincoln and Kit Carson to Otto Von Bismarck and Sherlock Holmes.

Flashman on the March brings us more of the same as Flashman, on the dodge from an enraged German admiral for seducing his grandniece, finds a unlikely escape route through an old school chum now in the foreign service who thinks bluff, tough Flash Harry is just the man to escort a cool half million in silver dollars from Trieste, Italy, to Her Majesty's Army in Abyssinia, the funds being needed to bankroll Gen. Sir Robert Napier's campaign to free a group of British captives from the mad King Theodore.

Despite Flashman's best efforts to bow out of the campaign gracefully, Napier decides the newcomer's reputation for derring-do makes him just the fellow to send on a secret mission to recruit the savage tribes of Southern Abyssinia as allies. Flashman's arsenal of lechery, treachery, poltroonery, deceit and dereliction of duty serve him well as he traipses across the landscape guided by a beautiful and deadly claimant to a savage throne, goes over one of the world highest waterfalls, becomes boy toy to a barbarian queen with a habit of throwing enemies to her pet lions, and the last friend to a mad, doomed monarch.

As always, Fraser's careful historical research and meticulous footnoting make the books educational, as well as vastly entertaining reading.

Being the first full novel in the series in 11 years, Flashman on the March is bound to delight the faithful followers of Flash Harry and may well win over new fans. At the same time however, it is certain to cause a certain amount of frustration among longtime fans who have been hoping for years for a book concerning Flashman's misadventures in the American Civil War and Mexican revolution. Fraser has mentioned in many of the earlier books that Flashman fought for both the Union and Confederacy, and Flashman on the March begins with his departure from Mexico after the execution of Emperor Maximillian, to whom he had been aide-de-camp despite earlier deserting from the French Foreign Legion. Flashman's Civil War and Mexican adventures have been alluded to so often in the various volumes that one wonders if Fraser doesn't already have the books plotted and merely waiting to be fleshed out.

Or maybe those manuscripts from the estate just have some missing pages.

Friday, April 08, 2005

How screwed up is the U.S. mass media?

Watch the whole 40 minute documentarty to see the whole story, but if you just want to see how completely dim Ann Coulter is, watch the shorter version offered in which Ann tries to argue that Canada fought in the Viet Nam war.
CBC: The Fifth Estate - Sticks and Stones

Thursday, April 07, 2005

I surf the web so you don't have to

Your peacenik grandmother could be a terrorist Good thing sherriff Cletus T. Cornpone is watching . And did I hear right, are the cops in Boston starting to wear brown shirts?

Attytude in philly has a great link-loaded post on the right wing indignation over the Pulitzer Prize given a group of AP photojournalist for their work in Iraq

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
The John Butler Trio
Sunrise Over Sea
Lava Records, 1,790 yen

The first lines of the first cut on The John Butler Trio's Sunrise Over Sea tell you most of what you need to know about these wonders from Down Under:

"Don't call me a hippie 'cause the way that I look
'Cause I got a recipe and you know I can cook."

Judging by his white-boy dreadlocks and occasionally tie-dye-tinted, patchouli-scented lyrics, U.S.-born Australian guitarist-singer-songwriter John Butler deserves the hippie label, but his recipe for a spicy blues-rock stew generously seasoned with a sunny splash of reggae, a dash of Appalachian folk and soupcon of Led Zeppelin definitely hits the spot.

After starting out as a market busker in tiny Pinjarra, Australia, and moving on to release a few indie EPs, Butler hit the big time last year in his adopted homeland with this album. Sunrise Over Sea won Australian Recording Industry Association awards in 2004 for best male artist, best blues and roots album and best independent release. A recently signed deal with Atlantic Records' subsidiary Lava Records allowed international distribution in March and Butler and his bandmates, double bassist Shannon Birchall and drummer and percussionist Nicky Bomba, seem poised to make a well-deserved splash in North America.

Butler's warm voice and deft playing drive the album from the opening lapsteel blues romp of "Treat Yo Mama" to the ethereal "Bound to Ramble," though Birchall's bowed bass makes a major contribution to the latter. Other standout tracks include the bouncy "Zebra" and "Sometimes," which builds beautifully from quiet ballad to arena rock bombast.

In both the variety of stylistic influences in evidence and the rich slide guitar sound, Butler is very reminiscent of Ben Harper, but shows a warmer, more acoustic side on this album. Expect big things from this hippie bluesman in the future, but for now, enjoy one of Australia's heretofore best-kept secrets.

Ben Folds
Songs for Silverman
Epic, 2,520 yen
Ben Folds' quirky, intelligent piano-driven pop is always a treat for the ears, and his latest--Songs for Silverman--is no exception.

While Folds is now rocking the suburbs in Adelaide, Australia, instead of Anytown, USA, he is still the product of his childhood. As with his previous work, Folds wears his baby boomer pop influences on his sleeve on Songs for Silverman. The backing vocals are a bouncy, harmonious mix of the Beach Boys and Beatles, while the songs share some attitude with Randy Newman, Elvis Costello and Louden Wainwright.

Folds' main talent is as a songwriter and the 11 tracks here feel like a collection of letters he's written, received or never got to send--as in the case of "Late," his tribute to late singer-songwriter Elliot Smith.

"Gracie" is a sweet, but not saccharine, love letter to his daughter. "You to Thank" and "Give Judy My Notice" look at love affairs that unraveled. The two most likely tracks to become hits are "Landed," about returning to the world after escaping from a bad relationship, and "Bastard" a sly dig at young fogies:

"Close your eyes, close your ears young man
You've seen and heard all an old man can
Spread the facts on the floor like a fan
Throw away the ones that make you feel bad"

In the hands of a lesser artist these songs could become self-indulgent or hackneyed, but the self-effacing, arch and expert Folds makes them ham and cheese on wry.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

historical revisionism, misinformation alive and well and living in Japan

Okay class, compare and contrast these little tidbits:

first the balanced view
Gov't OKs nationalist text; sex slavery glossed over

Wednesday, April 6, 2005 at 07:25
Kyodo News
(Tokyo) --The education ministry on Tuesday authorized for school use a nationalist-written history textbook which China and South Korea accuse of glossing over Japan's wartime atrocities.
The ministry approved the controversial book as one of eight that can be used to instruct students aged 13 to 15 from April 2006. The book is an updated version of the textbook which triggered formal protests from Beijing and Seoul upon its release in 2001.

The decision immediately drew flak from China and South Korea.
South Korea says the textbook whitewashes over Tokyo's wartime atrocities. Protestors burnt Japanese flags in Seoul Tuesday afternoon.
"The government expresses regret that some of the authorized school textbooks still include contents that justify and glorify Japan's past wrongdoing," foreign ministry spokesman Lee Kyu Hyung said in a statement. "The government again calls for Japan's efforts to correct this."
While some of the eight history textbooks approved in the latest round of ministry screenings mentioned wartime sex slaves in simplified terms, most avoided going into detail and none used the term "comfort women" where some had done in the past.
The issue of North Korean abductions of Japanese nationals was introduced in all history and civic studies textbooks.
Tuesday's authorizations, which included screenings for history and eight other subjects, are likely to add fuel to Japan's already smoldering relations with Beijing and Seoul over historical and territorial disputes, analysts said.
In particular, an amended description in one civic studies textbook, which says "South Korea is illegally occupying" two disputed islets in the Sea of Japan, is certain to worsen Tokyo's relations with Seoul.
The two islets, collectively known as Takeshima in Japanese, Tokto in Korean and the Liancourt Rocks in English, are administered by South Korea but claimed by Japan.
Meanwhile, China summoned Japan's ambassador to Beijing and expressed strong resentment over the approval of the controversial history textbook that "distorts history," according to local reports.
Beijing also filed a protest via its envoy in Tokyo, saying the approval "hurts the feelings of victims" of Japan's past aggression in China and other parts of Asia.
In previous screenings in 2001, three of eight history textbooks used either "comfort women" or "comfort facilities." This time, only one publisher's textbook had the term "comfort facilities."
One of the textbooks referred to wartime sex slavery by simply saying, "Young women from Korea and other parts of Asia were assembled and sent to the battlefield for Japanese soldiers."
All textbooks used in the 1997-2001 school years made reference to "comfort women," or women, mostly from Asia, who were forced to work as prostitutes or sex slaves for the Japanese military.
Many textbook publishers attributed the trend of glossing over descriptions of Japan's past aggression to the influence of a nationalist group of academics known as the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform. The second edition of the group's controversial history textbook was approved Tuesday.
"Education boards tend not to choose textbooks that contain a lot of the so-called 'self-denigrating' content," one publisher said.
Senior vice education minister Hakubun Shimomura said earlier the word "comfort women" is unfit for junior high school textbooks.
As for the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in China, with the exception of one textbook that says the number of victims "is said to be as many as 200,000," all the textbooks gave no specific numbers, saying only that "many" were killed.
Prior to the previous screening in 2001, six of seven history textbooks gave specific figures.
The most controversial history textbook is authored by the nationalist group and published by Fusosha Publishing Inc. Launched in 1997, the group criticizes mainstream Japanese history textbooks as being "biased against Japan" and marked by "self-denigration."
The textbook, first approved in 2001, was criticized by China and South Korea as justifying and glorifying Japan's past military aggression. The group had hoped the textbook would be used by 10% of junior high schools in Japan, but the actual adoption rate was significantly lower at a mere 0.04%.
In the latest approved edition, the authors complied with all 124 revision requests from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to correct content it deemed misleading or inaccurate, slightly toning down its nationalistic content.
Among the changes was the deletion of an entry that said Japan's annexation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910 was "accepted by some people in Korea" and the insertion of a portion noting Koreans were forced to assimilate under policies that included making them adopt Japanese names.
In a civic studies textbook also authored by the group and published by Fusosha Publishing, the draft referred to the disputed island issue saying, "South Korea and Japan are in conflict over its territorial rights."
The ministry said the wording "may lead to misunderstanding over the sovereignty" of the island. As a result, it was rephrased to adhere to the government's stance that the island "is Japan's sovereign territory but South Korea is illegally occupying it."
This comes amid South Korean fury over education minister Nariaki Nakayama's remarks that Japanese education guidelines should be revised to clarify Japan's claim to the island as well as a Japanese prefecture's designation last month of a commemorative day for Takeshima Island.
The focus will now be on which textbooks local educational authorities and school principals decide to use for the school year beginning next April.
All public and private schools in Japan — elementary to high school — must use textbooks that are either authorized by the education ministry or which have copyrights held by the ministry. (Wire reports)

Then there's the Basil Fawlty "Don't mention the war" version:

Advance items approved for new textbooks
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Education, Science and Technology Ministry on Tuesday released the results of its screening of middle school textbooks to be used in the 2006 academic year, in which the content for the first time was permitted to go beyond ministry-defined courses of study.
Such advanced content was permitted for the first time in high school textbooks approved in fiscal 2002.
The idea behind the added content is to make textbooks better suited for students who have higher-than-standard academic interest by including subjects that are generally taught at higher grades.
Of the newly approved middle school textbooks, some augment more basic content in the hope of increasing the basic academic abilities of students, which is said to have been declining recently.
Textbooks for all of the nine subjects taught at middle school, except for art, have had advanced content added to them.
The number of pages in textbooks for the main five subjects--Japanese, mathematics, science, social studies and English--have increased by an average of 10 percent.
The advanced content includes: Inequality (in mathematics for the first grade), quadratic formula (in mathematics for the third grade), regularity of inheritance (in science) and ion (in science). Also, the periodic table of the elements is used in all science textbooks.
Many of the textbooks place a great deal of emphasis on measures for students who need to strengthen their basic academic skill sets. For example, a mathematics textbook includes content that is taught in primary school, and a Japanese textbook has a section that lists 100 books recommended for the three years of middle school.
Altogether, 103 textbooks covering nine subjects had been submitted to the government for screening. A health and physical education textbook was initially rejected because it had "many inaccurate descriptions," but it was approved after being rewritten.
After the screening, the ministry issued 4,854 requests for corrections, about 500 more than during the previous screening. The textbook that required the most corrections was a home economics and domestic science, which contained 171 passages in need of amendment. The second was a science textbook that required 146 revisions.
Setting kids right on Takeshima
The ministry asked the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform to correct 124 points in its history textbook, and 75 in its civic studies textbook. The society made the corrections to the books, which are published by Fusosha Publishing Inc.
One description the ministry wanted corrected was on Takeshima, known as Tokdo in Korea, in the civic studies textbook. Initially, the textbook said; "South Korea and Japan are at odds over sovereignty" of the islets, which the ministry claimed "could mislead students regarding the sovereignty over the islets." After correction, the textbook says the islets are "our nation's own territory" and "illegally occupied by South Korea."
ROK expresses anger
South Korea expressed anger Tuesday over newly authorized Japanese textbooks, labeling them as "justifying and beautifying" Japan's Imperialist past, Yonhap News Agency reported. "Our government expresses regret that some of the authorized Japanese textbooks...still include contents that justify and beautify past wrongdoing," South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Lee Kyu Hyung was quoted by Yonhap as saying

And then there was the editorial - I'm not sure if or when David Irving joined our editorial board, but this certainly reads like his work

Publishers correct mistaken views
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Education, Science and Technology Ministry has announced the results of its screening of middle school textbooks to be used next spring.
A major focus of public attention on this year's screening has been on history and civics textbooks. All textbooks by the eight publishers--including those written by members of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform and published by Fusosha Publishing Inc.--eventually passed the ministry's examination.
Only one history textbook mentions the so-called comfort women. Currently, three history textbooks are being used that include references to women who provided sexual pleasure for soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army at military brothels during World War II.
History textbooks toe the line
History textbooks produced by seven publishers and used until the end of the 2001 school year touched upon the subject of comfort women. But four of these seven publishers dropped the references in textbooks to be used in academic 2002. This was also true of one produced by Fusosha, which published a history textbook for the first time.
The publishers' initial decision to include references to the "comfort women" in their history textbooks in those days largely reflected the widespread mistaken perception about so-called comfort women. It was believed both at home and abroad that those women had been transported for sexual servitude. Some groups in this country propagated the misguided notion that the wartime system created to form corps of women volunteers assigned to work at military factories and other facilities could be regarded as an attempt by the Imperial Japanese Army to forcibly recruit women as "comfort women."
However, the perception has been proved wrong. Given this, publishers had a good reason to remove references to "comfort women" from their textbooks.
Another focus of attention was on the rekindled territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea over the Takeshima group of islets. Civics textbooks compiled by Fusosha and two other publishers, as well as a geography textbook produced by another publisher, include a reference to the controversy.
Fusosha's textbook also incorporates a photograph of Takeshima island, which South Koreans call Tokdo. The photo caption included in the textbook submitted to the ministry for screening described the dispute as having "pit this country against South Korea over its right of possession." During the ministry's screening, however, Fusosha's textbook was rewritten to read that "South Korea unlawfully occupies Takeshima."
There is no wonder publishers that mentions any territorial dispute reflect the government's view about the problem in their textbooks.
Chinese, S. Koreans upset
The Chinese and South Korean governments appear to have been antagonized by the results of the ministry's latest textbook screening. The South Korean government reportedly intends to set up a team that will support a joint campaign by Japanese and South Korean citizens groups to prevent middles schools from adopting the textbooks compiled by the Japanese Society for history Textbook Society, known as Tsukuru-kai.
Obviously, Seoul's move should be regarded as interference in the internal affairs of Japan.
Shortly after the ministry's textbook screening four years ago, a similar campaign was conducted, targeting officials of education boards in some areas where Tsukuru-kai's textbook was being considered to be a final choice. While staying at home, these officials received telephone calls from members of organizations urging them no to adopt the textbook.
Three years ago, the Textbook Authorization Research Council, a ministry panel charged with screening school textbooks, urged the government to create "a peaceful environment" for officials responsible for selecting school textbooks to be used at schools in their areas. In those days, a prefectural school in Ehime Prefecture whose teaching system integrates middle and high school curriculums was disturbed by confusion as it sought to adopt Tsukuru-kai's textbook. The prefectural office was surrounded by a human chain formed by groups opposing the school's decision.
The ministry's textbook screening is a system established as a form of sovereignty to be exercised by this nation. No foreign country should be allowed to exert pressure on the Japanese system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 6) Copyright 2005 The Yomiuri Shimbun