It seemed like a fair trade, until…: a ‘Tokyo Panic Story’

In which I encounter a pair of drunks, one of whom tried to grab my crotch…

At Minami-senju Station in Tokyo, this guy was drunk beyond belief and reeked of booze. But he let me take is his picture.

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Tokyo Panic Stories: a city of the dead

Touring a Japanese graveyard…

The surreality of it was astounding. In Minami-senju, Tokyo, while I was looking for the barely- and roughly-living, through a haze of my own cigarette smoke I found a city of the dead. I savored the irony of that.

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He scared me: a ‘Tokyo Panic Story’

An excerpt from a photographic diary in which I encounter an angry Tokyo drunk…

Down in Sanya, he was calm at first. But he shot me this look that put me on edge. There were empty Ozeki One Cup jars near him, and I’m pretty sure he was drunk as a bastard.

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What if Russia’s invasion of Crimea is really a post-democracy problem?

The Crimea crisis may feel like a throwback to the Cold War, but it’s actually reflective of 21st century democracy.

ImageDemocracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Despotism is “the exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.”

A child denied any access to sweeties, despite abject pleas to the contrary, is experiencing despotism. A child offered a choice of two sweeties, but not one of the fifty they actually wanted, is experiencing democracy.

History is messy. Continue reading

CATEGORY: World

Japan and the whaling court ruling: not a great victory, but better than expected

Several months ago we posted about in interesting case in front of The International Court of Justice at The Hague—about whaling. Specifically the Australian government had petitioned the court to prevent Japan from whaling in waters designated as a protection area for whales by the Australian government in the Southern Ocean. Japan has been continuing its whaling practices for several decades under the guise of “scientific research” in spite of a formal ban on whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Well, yesterday the International Court of Justice, in a strong opinion that probably surprised even the most ardent supporters of Australia’s suit, essentially called bullshit on Japan’s policies. Continue reading

MH370-path

MH370 infographic in the National Post: the facts are confusing and the reporting is making it worse

The media’s coverage of the MH370 story could benefit from more journalists and fewer infographic designers.

Malaysia-370The search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 continues. Malaysian authorities have now decreed, on the basis of evidence derived from an innovative new data analysis procedure, that the flight ended in the southern portion of the Indian Ocean.

I’m looking at the latest reporting and I’m not going to lie. If I was intrigued before, I’m now downright baffled. We know – or at least we think we know – that the flight veered off course in a manner that certainly indicated active human decision making and control. We know it was headed not northward toward China, as scheduled, but westish, in the general direction of India.

But my perplexity over the facts, such as they are, is only being compounded by the ineptitude of the journalism being devoted to the story.

Take this morning. I was looking over the coverage and map/infographic in the latest National Post story. Ideally, infographics are supposed to make things clearer, but in this case… Well, have a look.

First check out the top section of this map, which shows the track that has become familiar enough to those following the story. Then have a look at the bottom, where they mark the spot that the flight hit the water.

The design staff at the National Post is taking a pretty cavalier approach to geography. (We’ve warned you before about infographics, if you’ll recall.) This one does what modern infographery all too often does – it adjusts the objective truth of things in order to make best use of the available space. As in, you have x number of pixels by y number of pixels – make the world fit cleanly. This makes for a pleasant viewing experience, perhaps, but I’m not sure how well the reader’s sense of what actually happened is served.

To illustrate the point I hit Google Maps and plotted out the relevant points of the MH370 case I’ll let you compare and contrast and draw your own conclusions.

1: Kuala Lumpur, the flight’s point of origin.
2: The point where things went sideways.
3: The location of the last ping.
4: The spot where they say the flight ended – 1500 miles southwest of Perth.

Notice anything odd? As in, how far does Perth look to be from Indonesia on the infographic vs. how far it is on the actual map? Scale? Fuck scale. We only have x pixels, so let’s scooch Malaysia over here a little and move Australia a few hundred miles to the north. Yeah, there we go!

I’d love to see the National Post infographic group’s map of the world. You know, the one where Ecuador is 20 miles south of Omaha.

This works fine, I suppose, in a world where everyone is pretty good with geography and can be counted on to instantly get what’s happening. It’s also no big deal in situations where it’s no big deal. That isn’t the case here, and it even took me a few seconds – because I was trying to parse the fact that the plane wound up making another left turn, apparently – because I stopped and said wait a second – this isn’t right.

Here the infographic actively warps the story. Why? Because if we’re attempting to understand what may have happened to MH370, the infographic fails to accurately convey the scope of the flight. You can look at it and have some questions. But when you look at the actual map, the scale of your questions can’t help but change. A few hundred miles and a few thousand miles – those are potentially different sets of questions, aren’t they?

Thinking Americans have long since given up on journalism, I suppose. I don’t expect stories to be covered in depth. I don’t expect much in the way of insight. Objectivity has devolved from myth into cruel joke. And if someone is bright enough to grasp technical issues, they’re probably also bright enough to land a job that pays better than the scraps your average reporter has to live on these days.

But dammit, is it asking too much for your infographics department (yes, there are people whose jobs are dedicated specifically to developing infographics, because readers like how they can quickly “communicate a story”) that they not actively mislead us? I mean, I expect this kind of silliness out of US outlets, but National Post is Canadian. You’d think they’d be embarrassed to behave like Americans.

[sigh]

I hope investigators find the wreckage. I hope they find the black box. I hope they find an explanation. But I’m not sure I’m optimistic. Right now it feels like the Question-to-Answer ratio is 1:1,000,000. And even if we do get something like a conclusive answer, I’m going to have Sean Paul Kelley’s observation on the trustworthiness of the sources lodged firmly in the front of my mind.

But at the moment, I’d be satisfied if the media outlets covering the story employed more journalists and fewer infographic designers.

Malaysia-370

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: three things you should know

Anonymous intelligence sources and modern journalistas – we’ll never be able to trust another word we’re told.

Malaysia-370As I suggested the other day, Malaysia Airlines MH370 might go down as one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Or it might not. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been tracking the story with all kinds of curiosity, and there has certainly been a lot of material generated to serve the market for our curiosity.

If you’re following the story, there are three things to know/think about/keep in mind as it develops:

1) Anonymous sources. It seems like every article I’ve read in recent days has quoted Malaysian government officials who could not be identified because they were not authorized to speak about the story. Continue reading

Malaysia-370

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: is it doomed to be one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries?

The case of the missing plane is confounding all my attempts to construct a plausible theory, and it’s driving me crazy.

We all love a good mystery. But only if it comes with a resolution. If we can figure it out, that’s ideal. If not, we need somebody else to figure it out and tell us.

Books and TV shows and movies are perfect if you have the mystery Jones because the case is always solved in the end. In real life, we’ve gotten pretty good at investigating and when all is said and done, we usually walk away with at least a strong suspicion as to whodunnit.

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Fukushima

Fukushima: Gone, just gone

For the children, for everyone, Japan lost on March 11th, 2011

Gone, just gone, replaced by an ever-flowing teardrop.

They’re the bubblegum kids no one is ever going to know,

rotting out their lives in the cold of Mishima’s boiling sea.

There’s grace in the truncheons of justice they may have become.

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Pussy-Riot

П is for Pussy Riot: thinking ahead to the next Russian Olympic Games

Pussy Riot’s commitment to social justice in the motherland is more than admirable. It perhaps merits a spot in Russia’s artistic canon.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia closed today, and if you set aside the homophobia and generally strong-armed approach to governance by the host, one Vladimir Putin, these games were remarkable in just about every way.

The images of the opening ceremonies have lingered with me for the past couple of weeks. If you watched, you know that the creative team built their narrative around the highwater marks in the nation’s glorious history, honoring their accomplishments in the arts, literature, science and technology. Given Russia’s considerable heritage, the little girl’s interaction with Cyrillic alphabet primer, associating a historical moment with each letter, couldn’t help being an impressive reminder to the world of the nation’s rich cultural legacy. Continue reading

Assad poster

Is Syrian President Assad following the Pakistan model?

Like the Pakistan military and ISI, Assad may be aiding jihadists who operate on his own soil.

Assad posterIn an article at Foreign Policy titled The Disappeared, James Traub reports on journalists who have been kidnapped in Syria, either by Islamist extremist rebels or by forces for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At one point he was introduced to (emphasis added):

… Hamza Ghadban, a Syrian journalist. … He was convinced, as many rebel sympathizers are, that the regime has subterranean connections with the foreign jihadists. Continue reading

Dimona Nuclear Reactor 1968

Ever wonder exactly why the U.S. keeps Israel’s nuclear secret?

Hint: it’s not just the Israel lobby.

Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

In a piece titled The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal at the Guardian, Julian Borger writes about how Israel began its nuclear-weapons program.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft [more on that down-post ― RW], include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway. Continue reading

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Sochi opening ceremony: when Goebbels and Reifenstahl met Cirque du Soleil

Alexander Putin may not be preparing to invade Europe, but he understands the value of spectacle in establishing a nation’s place in the world.

Sports_OlympicsThe Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in Sochi may have been the grandest show in history. It may also have been the grandest propaganda spectacle in history. It’s easy to get caught up in an artistic endeavor of that magnitude – I sat here with my jaw hanging open for a couple of hours – and the fluency with which President Putin’s creative department embedded a boldly geo-political program within some of the most breathtaking artistry we’ve ever seen. Continue reading