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Michael Ubaldi, June 7, 2004.

In a brief e-mail exchange with Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, she sent me information on a chilling Islamic Republic of Iran handout recently distributed in Tehran. It's apparently a job application — of sorts. Here's her translation in English, with no prize for reading past the euphemisms:

In the Name of God

Preliminary Registration for Martyrdom Operations

I _____________, child of _____________, born 13_______ (Islamic calendar), the City of: _________________

proclaim my preparedness for carrying out martyrdom operations:

___ against the occupiers of the holy sites (referring to Najaf, Karbala, and other places in Iraq.)

___ against the occupiers of (Jerusalem)

___ for carrying out the death sentence of the infidel Salman Rushdie

Also, I would like to become an active member of the Army of Martyrs of the International Islamic Movement. yes ____, No _____

Contact telephone:

Applicant's address:

Applicant's signature:

I can't read Farsi but Ms. Zand-Bonazzi's sincerity and veracity is easily confirmed. Islamofascist Iran's intentions have been clear for decades; their support of Muqtada al-Sadr, to the reported tune of $80 million, very well known. That the Iranian people themselves want nothing to do with the designs of Tehran's mullahs, seeking instead to depose them for a thoroughly articulated, secular democracy makes a sea change in Washington's posture towards Iran all the more imperative.

Michael Ubaldi, June 7, 2004.

I found a gem in my e-mail inbox this morning:

Hello, I stumbled upon your blog and enjoyed seeing that you support our movement for a free Iran. My father, Siamak Pourzand, is an Iranian journalist and intellectual, political prisoner in Iran...I work with a vast network of Iranian activists and freedom-fighters. We definitely appreciate all the support we can get from insightful non-Iranian around the world, like yourself. Please keep spreading the world.

It's from Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, who has been featured on National Review at least three times before. Form letter or not, her sentiments are sincere; her subject line "Iranian activist salutes you." Banafsheh, an American salutes you. The words of Harry Truman echo as if from yesterday:

Our allies are the millions who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

In due time, as our stability becomes manifest, as more and more nations come to know the benefits of democracy and to participate in growing abundance, I believe that those countries which now oppose us will abandon their delusions and join with the free nations of the world in a just settlement of international differences.

Millions have discovered and set for the defense of freedom since January 20, 1949. Millions more wait in want. As I wrote back to her: Thank you very much for your kind words, Banafsheh. Your peoples' struggle for the rights and freedoms deserved by all mankind is an inspiration to me — and an example for the rest of the oppressed world. Godspeed.

Michael Ubaldi, June 2, 2004.

Small mercies speak volumes:

A 10-year-old Iraqi boy with an injured eye on Wednesday received a visa for visiting Japan to undergo treatment there following the killings of two Japanese freelance journalists who wanted to help him.

Mohamad Haytham Saleh received the visa at the Japanese Embassy in Amman with his father Haytham, 32, who is traveling with his son. The two also received travel documents because they do not have passports.

As noted here before, it's no coincidence that a country democratized through American occupation is helping out none other than a country in the process of being democratized by Americans. Iraq will take more than a decade to completely modernize and compete globally but that won't be too long a time for the country to be ready to help its neighbors as they liberalize.

Michael Ubaldi, May 24, 2004.

The move to throw away its post-Second World War chains is by no means imminent but as public opinion polls and anecdotes from younger generations suggest, Japan's coming of age is inevitable:

A quiet pride is evinced in the dispatch of Japan's Self-Defense Forces troops for peacekeeping in Iraq even though the polls say a bare majority opposes the deployment. Says a business executive: "That's their profession; that's what they've been trained for." A debate over revising the pacifist Constitution, particularly Article 9 — that forbids the use of military power to resolve disputes — is under way. Some say an amendment is unnecessary, that a mere reinterpretation would permit Japanese forces to take part in collective security.

...On a wider front, Japanese say their nation should be more active internationally. Another executive says: "Japan should make more of an international contribution." Many Japanese still wince over criticism that they contributed only money ($13 billion) to the allied effort in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 while the soldiers of other nations died in battle. Japan has begun drafting a new five-year plan on defense that will focus on forces for peacekeeping and reconstruction in war-torn countries. The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, is preparing its delegation at the United Nations to take a seat on the U.N. Security Council next year.

Older Japanese point to a generational change in which younger Japanese, meaning those born after the end of World War II in 1945, are entering the establishment that governs Japan. They are said to be more assertive and less constrained by today's rituals. Hiroshi Nakanishi, a 41-one year old political scientist at Kyoto University, was quoted in a Tokyo newspaper: "We instead prefer to be rational, and we think it's all right to change what can no longer meet the times."

Conditions dictating Japan's obligation to pacifism have long since dissipated. The democratic, capitalist ideals introduced by the American-led occupation of 1945-1952 are now tradition — the emperor firmly entrenched in constitution and culture as titular, the specter of authoritarianism extinguished. With the Cold War's end thirteen years ago and Islamic terrorism's rise as the new immediate threat to free nations, the United States is no longer needed as protector while self-sufficient regional allies are exactly what America needs. For decades the Japanese have viewed military matters with a combination of embarrassment and revulsion, unable to clearly see the defense of self-governance apart from their militarist era and the reparations and international shame that followed. But democracies at war are far different in conduct and purpose than dictatorships. It's time the the Japanese distinguish between the two.

Michael Ubaldi, May 19, 2004.

It was towards the end of a discussion at lunch today that I realized why I haven't been able to expound more on news items or event narratives. Certainly, one scroll downward shows that I've found topics to attach observations to — and without question, sometimes pith strikes far deeper than five paragraphs. Intelligent economy is blogging's greatest gift to writing. Even so, my per-entry volume has seemed to me a little shy and I thought hard about it this morning.

Finishing my sandwich, setting down an interesting but unsurprising batch of headlines on the Wall Street Journal editorial page I thought back to what I'd read today. Before showering, I switched my apartment rig on to check e-mail and gave Kevin O'Brien's fortnightly column a glance. Good, as always; I disagree with what I believe is a peer-pressure/generational non sequitur call for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, but thoughtful and sharp nonetheless. Ringing up Instapundit, I found myself won back to Bill Safire's dignified wisdom, who pulls no punches today on the topic of sarin and mustard gas, Abu Ghraib and errors in judgment. But in revisiting the two columns, I finally faced the conclusion that had been nagging at me all morning: I've read this before. For goodness' sake, I've written about it before, Safire's nearly point-for-point.

I link almost daily to Glenn Reynolds because he's top dog for a reason: he throws down a lot of words for an efficient writer and most of it is either smack in the middle of the most relevant topics or at the bleeding edge of the next cardinal issue. He's been chiseling away at the mainstream press' news monolith. Oh, they have many — one for every occasion, as fashion is to any society — but the most egregious and mortally consequential party line has been their reporting on the two prominent election issues of America's marketplace and Iraq. Glenn believes that professional respect and authority are quantities as finite as they are elusive, and suspects that in today's information culture elite journalists will tell a story divorced from reality for only so long before they squander their reputation. A collapse of free speech (which he ponders) is less likely than a humbling of the media caste system, prosecuted by Americans with their choice of information source. That's an argument I've made on this weblog several times in two years, yesterday writing to Wretchard the Cat to comment on his own recognition of the political onslaught from television, radio and print: The doubt slowly sown in [that aristocracy] will do much to destroy the pretense of objectivity that sprang up over the last century. If we can't have detached observers, I said, the least we could ask for would be correspondents who disclose their bias and leave judgment up to us.

One look at television ratings shows that information exchanges beyond the charter members — the internet, talk radio and cable news — are gaining popularity. There is no longer a monopoly held by Cronkite's brood, the Gray Lady and the Washingtonite news magazines. Short of statist usurpation or Luddite revolution, there never will be again. But there is yet a controlling interest. As long as a majority of Americans still learn about the world through the same old guard, the old guard will remain the fulcrum, selecting most of the stories and their respective context: building and defending a unitary narrative.

It is this stubborn narrative, I believe, this intellectual corral, that has not only wreaked havoc in terms of lives and public support for the war but forced commentators who wish to be relevant to continually answer the press' assertions that masquerade as reporting. Why is more attention paid — from both the left and the right — to Abu Ghraib than the Blackwater murders or Nick Berg? It could be that Abu Ghraib is more important. But it could also be that Abu Ghraib is the story the public knows better because it's been deluged with it hourly, day after day, for weeks.

Turn the recent discovery of sarin and mustard gas on its head. Pretend that the metric of success in Iraq and the vindication of George W. Bush, Tony Blair and their bipartisan supporters were in Iraq's lack of WMDs. Bush had held a press conference several months ago declaring "Iraq is WMD-free from this day on." Would the press sniff at these stories, shrugging their shoulders that, Hey, it's just two shells, old stuff, it doesn't portend a larger find unless we find more evidence, Bush did his job, let's forget about it? Would they?

If you haven't completely lost your perspective in these thirty-two months, you'll know the answer without a second thought. It's a strange feeling, one of relief cut across frustration, to realize that your debate topics consist of beliefs you thought were implicit, that used to be agreed on by all serious parties; the fundamentals from which debate topics were drawn. One need not make too long a leap of faith to conclude that if the argument were truly one of how to defeat the enemies of civilization, rather than whether or not to actually fight them: not the press' irresponsible reporting, nor the contentious debates, nor the grating and even nationally detrimental politicking would be the currency of our times.

How is a find of sarin gas where it wasn't supposed to be not a red flag the size of, well, California? How is the abuse of prisoners, cruel but anomalous both operationally and culturally, morally equivalent to the salacious killing sprees of terrorists — those with their own states and without? Well, it isn't. And I shouldn't have to defend that statement. No one should.

What O'Brien and Safire wrote is well done. It's also old news. I've had trouble finding energy to write on the world's developments at late because much of it is made up of stories with flimsy prosthetic legs. It's healthy to write and read and speak and listen, again and again and again, those beliefs you hold dear. That's what we call preaching and yes, the usage is complimentary. Care is involved: too much focus on the elements rather than their application to current events is preaching to the choir. Trying to convince loonballs that the sky, goddammit, is blue, is preaching to the devil and his advocate. Neither is productive, both are fatiguing and self-defeating.

I stopped reading the funnies in the newspaper because they stopped being funny. I stopped reading news sections in the newspaper because I was reading news less often than Johnny Journalist's own crusade for postmodernist enlightenment. The internet, though it dips from the same well, offers a broader range of news agencies, some of which do in fact employ reporters who simply report. Information isn't set into permanent ink and the ethical correct and notate their mistakes. Not surprisingly, information moves more swiftly and easily in the ether.

In 1986, Berke Breathed's comic strip Bloom County had reached a wonderful apex of wild and inexplicably connected stories. Breathed managed to injure himself in a skydiving accident and upon his return to the comic, set aside [two] strips as a transition for readers from months of reruns. Milo, Binkley and Opus set about introducing the thrills about to be unleashed. But the delivery wasn't enough for character Opus, who, after failing to direct attention to his own fantasy — an affair with Madonna and death warrant from Sean Penn, Steve Dallas "playing leapfrog with a scantily clad Imelda Marcos" — sulked in his own corner. Asked, in the [second] strip, if he had anything to add, Opus sneered, "Me? I read Garfield."

I'm sure the fiction daily injected into the newspapers and networks is all very compelling but it's not true, not real and not right. The liberation of fifty million people is just that, no matter who accomplished it, and it's not something one is expected to apologize for. There's a world out there, shut out in favor of what "ought to be." In the elite press, stories run in circles, characterizations are cartoonish and more than a little of the lot runs entirely on cheap gags. That's stuff not to be taken seriously. Don't they read Garfield?

Michael Ubaldi, May 13, 2004.

Having begun its rise alongside the American economy, Japan's marketplace rebound is looking robust:

Japan's economy appears to be recovering strongly after more than a decade of decline and a series of spluttering attempts to bounce back, a top U.S. economic official said Thursday.

...While U.S. officials in the past have criticized Tokyo for not doing enough to contribute to global growth, [U.S. Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, John B.] Taylor said he was fully supportive of the measures taken by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration. "I have a great deal of confidence in the leadership" to steer the Japanese economy toward a sustainable expansion, he said. The central bank has maintained short-term interest rates near zero and has flooded the financial markets with cash to curb deflation. The government has also forced banks to begin shedding a mountain of non-performing loans they were left with after the end of the bubble economy in the early 1990s. Japan is beginning to see the benefits of those policies, Taylor said.

The Wall Street Journal has been one of several voices hammering the need for Tokyo's loosening of the reins on Japan's market while putting paid to zombie banks and bad loans. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has maintained a commitment to economic reform, and according to other comments made by Taylor, Koizumi's promise is earnest. According to an undated report from the Yomiuri Shimbun and this analysis from the Heritage Foundation, Japan's sprawling public pension system is in as sorry a state as our own Social Security. Heritage notes that nearly half of Japanese citizens able to decline entering the system are doing so, a circumvention of lumbering, New Deal welfare colossi many Americans my age would love to do.

Japan's back in business. Here's to its staying there.

Michael Ubaldi, May 6, 2004.

Steven Den Beste has written a telling reflection on psychology.

Steven, such is the rare agony that abstract thinkers face. As I'm sure you've discovered over the years, about three in every twenty people will respond enthusiastically to conceptual thinking; the other seventeen might play at it for a while but will tire before long. And many of those seventeen will interrupt you, catching you up in concrete minutiae, often taking you literally. They will not step back to appreciate the broader idea if too many minor points disturb them. As David Keirsey notes, for a very few, facts illustrate principles; for most, facts speak for themselves.

Glenn Reynolds is a very interesting contrast to you. As far as I can tell, you're both Myers-Briggs NTs, abstract utilitarians. You're both holistic thinkers. But Glenn is extroverted and informative in his systemization while you're introverted and directive in your systemization. If one reads Instapundit regularly for a week or two, they'll notice the same kind of theoretical determination that one finds in a single, highly organized U.S.S. Clueless essay. It's just that Glenn doesn't mind coming to quod erat demonstrandum indirectly, or leaving some aspects open to further consideration, or allowing for a multitude of exterior influences to move his theory along. This corresponds with Glenn's ease and comfort with allowing e-mails to go unanswered or unread; if he has a large enough sample, I suspect he will find what he needs to further his argument within a small percentage and let the rest go. You, fundamentally concerned with order and loathe to miss an important point on account of whim, are methodical — and thus heavily inclined to sift through every last piece, from thoughtful pith to dull, oblique stinkers. Enter the frustration described in the first paragraph, exacerbated by the fact that much of your work is independent of conversations with other people. (And here, Glenn is more interested in give-and-take, and can accept or repel criticism with greater ease.) Two similar goals, two psychologically similar methods, two entirely different practices and experiences.

I am an NF, if one glance at my collection of philosophical writing, bursting with colorful imagery, hasn't hit people over the head like a dinette set dropped eleven stories. Believe me, it's that stuff — and not straightforward, literal descriptions — that comes more easily when I put pen to paper. My concepts are abstract but instead of the logical progression that so typifies the work of NTs like Reynolds and Den Beste, the work reflects a sort of random-access, associative bonanza that one finds in, perhaps, Victor Davis Hanson. While I may arrive at similar conclusions as Steven, I more than likely used intuition rather than logic to travel there.

Abstract utilitarians' internal, logical construction fascinates me; I have an NT composer friend who operates in exactly the same way as Steven, building a score in his head and then throwing it all down on staff paper with, as he says, "hardly any use of the eraser." He can be flexible but is probably bothered by nitpicking because, by God, he examined countless details twice over in his head.

I can explain my intuitive leaps about as easily as the NT logical construct; there are truths which I delineate through experience, knowledge and independent movement through associations; a kind of jumping through metaphorical hoops. At the same time, I am quite orderly, fond of outlines and definition — my love in college and to this day is line drawing — and admire the phlegmatic, even-minded profile of those who work in logical conception. As a nod to Clueless, reading Steven certainly has inspired in me a greater attention to unhurried, objective and critical thinking.

I'm most successful with psychology: for many years I've prepared for difficult conversations by anticipating, almost to a script, how the other party will behave. Familiarity helps but is not entirely necessary if I can at least roughly size them up beforehand. If I concentrate, I can define motives and predict actions accurately. Sociological conclusions involve myriad variables and exceptions, far more contradictory subsets in culture than individuals, and are therefore more difficult and problematic. Even so, I am compelled to understand the nature of society and culture through the prism of a moral and ethical order. I enjoy the process and the rewards, both in my own self-awareness and the responses I receive from readers.

Likewise, one of the greatest accomplishments I've made is to have influenced, persuaded, taught and inspired others. Most of my grade school friends are one year younger; during my freshman year of college I was told that several younger students in high school — most in the marching band that I led as president the year before — had begun to emulate me, mostly in clothing and style but also ideationally. I was surprised and at first wondered how I so significantly affected people but then I realized that I had led by example. The forest, as it were, was a place where more than one person wanted to be.

Steven has the unfortunate task of reading more unhelpful e-mails than satisfied responses on a daily basis. Without a doubt, many more readers enjoy and reflect his work in their own — sans e-mail. A silent majority, yes, but better that way for the sake of Steven's inbox and patience.

ALSO: Steven mentions eidetic memory, which I believe I may have in some form. While I lose names in chance social meeting, faces stay fresh and I can recognize people I've met or seen once or twice years later; even if I don't immediately place the individual I'm struck by an overwhelming sense of recognition. I also recognize and classify sounds and timbres, able to identify their association and, if relevant, location in a particular instance or recording. (Thanks to David Holsinger's To Tame the Perilous Skies, I hear an Eb tone in my head.) I can quickly memorize and repeat strings of words and numbers; a favorite parlor trick is to repeat one, like my credit card number, backwards, and I accomplish it by referring to the impression in my mind. It drives one coworker amiably crazy. This is all probably why I can recite, at unwelcome moments, this name. There's merit in nerdiness.

Michael Ubaldi, May 5, 2004.

If Japan's renunciation of Article 9's non-offensive dictates is uncertain, its intent to expand its work towards democratization is not:

Japan is considering sending ground troops on a non-combat, humanitarian mission to Afghanistan where a US-led force continues operations to stamp out extremist militants, according to a newspaper report. The daily Yomiuri Shimbun reports Japan wants to contribute to the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan ahead of the country's general elections, which are scheduled for September.

"To support President (Hamid) Karzai who is trying to promote the democracy in Afghanistan, further assistance for the nation's recovery is needed", a government source is quoted by the newspaper as saying. Senior Japanese foreign and defence officials have been unofficially requested by the US Government to dispatch Japanese ground troops. Yomiuri quotes Government sources saying that Japanese troops could provide medical support for Afghan residents and help transport daily necessities such as food, clothes and pharmaceutical supplies.

Where Old Europe has buckled, run and hid, Japan has stepped forward with its prestige and domestic tranquility on the line. Since the advent of the island's economic miracle, the determination and ability of the Japanese people has never been in doubt; it is only now, finally, that their leaders might direct the country's energy towards international security and peace through strength. This progression of policy and philosophy is welcome news from Tokyo, a long time in coming, with hopes that more is to follow.

Michael Ubaldi, May 4, 2004.

The swelling crescendo towards Japan's sovereign rite of passage is a story that has made headlines for months, one stretching back decades. With celebration and public debate, the country approaches an incredible decision:

Supporters of Japan's existing Constitution and advocates of constitutional revision held rallies Monday in Tokyo to mark the 57th Constitution Day, with proposed revisions focusing on the war-renouncing Article 9 amid ongoing operations involving Japanese troops in Iraq.

In Hibiya Park, about 5,000 people, including lawmakers from the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party, gathered to protest moves to revise the Constitution. Meanwhile, at a mass meeting, a pro-constitutional amendment group expressed the hope that discussions would proceed on the creation of a new constitution.

A democracy, forged by a victorious opponent and then set free to be prosperous — that is a moment seen very few times in man's history. That such a nation contemplates the mantle of authority in its region, to assume it and safeguard life, liberty and happiness with the instruments of war is unprecedented. Vanguard, inventor and conservator, Japan is toeing the boundary of its self-imposed, postwar cultural confines. This news deserves more attention than it's receiving.

Michael Ubaldi, May 3, 2004.

The Pacific's most poorly served free nation has been given a hand up from the region's most powerful democracy:

Diplomatic authorities from Taiwan and Japan signed a pact on Friday to increase the number of Japanese cities included in Taiwan-Japan bilateral weekly flight services, according to a report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

...The renewed air pact is a shot in the arm for Taiwan in its efforts to double the number of foreign tourists arriving in Taiwan by 2008, MOFA officials said. The pact, which took immediate effect, will not only help attract more Japanese tourists to Taiwan, but will also help boost economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries, the officials added.

Mutual investment is a natural economic boon to both islands. Increasing normative recognition of Taiwan from countries like Japan, a rising international star in its own right, is the perfect poke in China's eye.