Friday, January 15, 2010

Something fishy in whaling debate

Ecoterrorists are actually likely to prolong Japanese whaling, says Australian anthropologist Adrian Peace. Pearce has an excellent coverage of the Japanese viewpoint but rather inexplicably overlooks something very basic about all East-Asian socities: Face. If the Japanese yielded to the ecoterrorists, it would be a huge loss of face -- and as such will be strenuously resisted. So as long as the ecoterrorists keep up their publicity-hungry antics, the Japanese will continue whaling

IF the profits were high and it required a substantial labour force, it would be possible to understand why the Japanese run the gamut of international condemnation at this time of year. But whaling nowadays entails minimal economic return and directly employs only a few hundred workers. A number of social scientists, Japanese and non-Japanese, have tried to explain why this intensely capitalist country persists in this seemingly irrational economic behaviour. The main points they make are worth thinking about.

The first explanation lies in the realm of Japanese culture and national identity.

When the International Whaling Commission holds its annual meetings, the intensity of the media gaze provokes pro-whaling claims about the Japanese being involved in this maritime industry for several centuries. But it is not necessary to go that far back. In the early 20th century, canned whale meat became a staple food for the Japanese military, while in post-war years the entire population acquired almost half of its animal protein from whale meat.

Older Japanese believe whale meat has saved them from famine. Subsequently, it became a regular item in lunch boxes (obentos), while for many people today whale meat in the form of sushi and other dishes is a special treat.

So the notion of an exceptional and distinctive whale eating culture (gyoshoku bunka) is a significant one which Japanese discourse (nihinjin roh) incorporates into a sense of national identity, for a unique population. As the anti-whaling movement has become the dominant international discourse, the consumption of whale meat has become a significant counter symbol of belonging to an inimitable Japanese tribe. As one anthropologist puts it: "The whaling issue serves to strengthen much-cherished Japanese myths about their identity, which itself helps fuel one form of Japanese nationalism."

The second explanation is that the Japanese do not think about whales in a manner similar to Western societies. Japanese categorise whales as fish, rather than as mammals, and this is indexed by the fact that the character (kanji) for the whale (kujira) has two parts, the first being the sign for a fish (uo-hen).

The Japanese do not raise strident objections to other societies' routine ways of eating. So on what grounds do Australians so vehemently object to the situation in Japan? The typical Japanese response is that cattle, pigs and chickens are often reared under horrendous conditions throughout their brief, caged lives, while whales live long ones in complete freedom. In this light, it is difficult to see why it is morally questionable to kill a whale rather than to slaughter a pig for much the same purpose; but easy to specify which population makes its food source suffer most. This explanation specifies the political hypocrisy of the West.

At another level, the Japanese do not see whales as having intrinsic value. Consequently, they look upon current conflicts in the Southern Ocean as little more than a political sideshow, and express minimal interest in non-government organisations such as Greenpeace that claim otherwise.

The third explanation directs attention to more rudimentary questions of the organisation of the Japanese state. Since whales fall in the category of fish, they are under the aegis of Japan's Fisheries Agency. Not only is this a notoriously conservative part of the Japanese state, it is also dominated by the ideology of science which it practices to the exclusion of all other ways of thinking about the world.

The Fisheries Agency and its ministry strive to ensure that their scientific understanding of whale stocks, and thus the continuation of whaling, is not somehow watered down by the politically responsive and ideologically liberal Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its position is also informed by the threat of a domino effect on other fish supplies: if the whaling industry is curtailed by external pressure, then dolphin, tuna, salmon and the rest will quickly come under threat too. Since the organisation of whaling in the Southern Ocean is directed by the Fisheries Agency, it is hardly surprising that the hunt proceeds, whatever the level of international outcry.

The fourth explanation is the most radical. It is argued that an alliance of senior politicians and public servants, a prominent media agency and other media figures mobilised the government and popular opinion behind whaling to maintain the status quo. This is not to say that whale meat was not part of Japanese cuisine. It is claimed, however, that those considerations most likely to sustain governmental and popular support behind whaling were strategically packaged for popular consumption to realise maximum political effect in society.

This strategic management of meaning began in the aftermath of the 1982 moratorium over commercial whaling. Industry representatives, concerned politicians and powerful figures in the Fisheries Agency and its ministry set about persuading, cajoling and seducing influential media representatives into adopting and then broadcasting select perspectives on whaling and the consumption of whale meat.

Once again, the relative autonomy of major institutions within the modern state was integral to the success of this calculated approach. What was critical was the distinctive political arrangement known as the kisha kurabu system in which editors, journalists and the like are incorporated into select political circles, with all the material and other perks this entails, to ensure they report faithfully what their political and industrial masters tell them.

This political arrangement thrives, according to this line of argument, because scientific specialists in particular are accorded a high level of infallibility. Their findings are broadcast without qualification or critique. As it worked to promote and privilege a particular set of understandings about Japan's whale eating culture and the threat to it from abroad, the kisha kurabu exercise especially exploited this unqualified deference towards scientists in the Fisheries Agency.

The twist to this fourth explanation is that, while at the outset the goal was to end the 1982 moratorium on commercial whale fishing, current arrangements have come to serve national interests. The Japanese can kill a substantial number of whales each year; there is little serious opposition inside the broader society; and the many government subsidies that have become available since 1982 to prop up an industry that is commercially non-viable continue to flow unabated.

There is some truth to all of these explanations. Militant action by the Australian government is most likely to reinforce a broadly nationalist response from the Japanese people and a narrowly bureaucratic one from those who effectively determine the country's whaling policy. This is not to suggest militancy is a poor option, only that it is more likely to draw out the conflict instead of foreshortening it.


Rogue social workers on a power trip -- again

Man arrested and baby taken from the mother on NO charges. The only redeeming feature of the matter is that the decisions by the social workers will be subject to a court review

MOMENTS after a dad cut his newborn daughter's cord and kissed her, a posse of armed police burst into the delivery ward and arrested him. The man had only just handed the infant across over to her mother when 10 heavily-armed Special Task and Rescue (STAR) group officers burst through the bedside curtains and pointed a pistol over his head. The incident happened in a delivery room at the Women's and Children's Hospital, Adelaide, at 7.05pm on December 10.

The baby was then taken by Families SA workers from the father who's believed to be a violent, convicted criminal. He was handcuffed, frog-marched to a car, driven home and ordered not to return to the hospital. Independent MLC Ann Bressington has now hit out at "rogue social workers on power trips".

The father, who has a "very extensive criminal history", was not charged with anything, but says he was told he would be arrested if he returned to the hospital. His lawyer, Michael Figwer, who has relayed the man's account of the dramatic removal of the child from the family to The Advertiser , said there were no outstanding warrants for the man, who cannot be named. "He cut the umbilical cord and kissed her before passing his daughter to the mother," Mr Figwer said.

"He was sitting between the mother and the wall. "Two midwives and the man's mother were in the room when the curtain came flying back, as two STAR Group officers armed with Tasers, flak jackets and helmets burst through. "One was armed with a semi-automatic pistol, which was pointed at his head across the bed where the baby was lying on the mother's stomach." He says there were probably another eight STAR Group officers outside the room in the corridor with machine guns. "Families SA staff were in the hospital, in the waiting areas."

Mr Figwer said the father claims he was taken to a stairwell, handcuffed and told he would receive an explanation outside the hospital. When out of the building, he was given the option of being taken to the city watch-house to "calm down" or be driven to his home. At his house, police showed him Section 16 of the Children's Protection Act and told him he would be arrested if he returned to the hospital.

Families SA yesterday confirmed STAR Group officers assisted social workers to take a newborn child from its parents in a delivery room on December 10.

The man, who cannot be named because of a pending Youth Court hearing which will determine who cares for the child, has an extensive criminal record in South Australia and Victoria, with convictions including discharging a firearm in a public place and threatening to cause harm. He has previously been detained under mental health orders and, in November, prosecutors dropped a charge of aggravated assault with a weapon and hindering police...

Ms Bressington, part of a select committee inquiry into Families SA practices, said Families Minister Jennifer Rankine had failed to "rein in the excesses of her department". "It was my hope that the Minister for Families and Communities, after reading the report into Families SA, would take stock of the identified failings and begin to rein in the excesses of her department," Ms Bressington said yesterday. "The Minister must accept that some of her staff are out of control and that rogue social workers on power trips account for most of the problems experienced by families coming to my office for assistance."


Coverup for speeding Victorian top cop

Outed by newspaper. The speeding is forgiveable. Virtually everybody does it at times. It is the coverup that is disturbing

ACTING Attorney General and Police Minister Bob Cameron has come out in defence of Ken Lay after his speeding offence revelation, saying his record spoke for itself. Mr Lay says he has to rebuild his credibility with the public after the Herald Sun revealed this morning that he had been nabbed speeding through a country town last October. The Deputy Commissioner also admitted he kept the offence under wraps until now to avoid undermining the Christmas road safety campaign.

“Ken has been a very good deputy commissioner for road traffic,” Mr Cameron said today. “What has occurred is a disappointment and I know Ken is very disappointed in himself.” Mr Cameron shook off claims that Mr Lay’s confession was media managed, saying it was up to Mr Lay and Victoria Police to decide the best time to tell the public. Mr Cameron would not say exactly when he was told about Mr Lay’s indiscretion, but said he was told sometime this week. “I was told about it this week and Ken told me about it himself yesterday," he said.

He said the timing of Mr Lay's revelation did not bother him and that it had been up to Mr Lay to tell Chief Commissioner Simon Overland about the incident and then it was at Mr Overland's discretion. Mr Cameron said while he has been caught speeding himself, he has not received a fine in about 15 years.

This morning, Mr Lay said he kept the $245 fine a secret - he only confided with Mr Overland - until now because he was the front man in a heavily promoted Christmas campaign to keep the state's road toll down over the holidays. Mr Lay, who lost three demerit points for doing 80km/h in a 70km/h zone when he passed through the town of Tooborac on the Northern Highway on October 1, said it was his first blunder in 35 years of driving. "One of the real problems I had at this time was we were launching Operation Raid, our biggest drink-driving operation leading into Christmas, so I made a very clear decision that I didn't want to undermine it," he told 3AW radio this morning.

"I also understood that when I did come out with it at the end of the Christmas period I would be criticised for holding onto it. "But I made that decision, I made it in good faith, and made it in the interest of making sure all Victorians were focused on slowing down and doing the right thing rather than Ken Lay doing a dumb thing and getting a speed camera fine." He said he spoke with Mr Overland after finding out he had been "pinged" and told him that he didn't want his mistake to take the focus away from the Christmas road toll campaign. "I made what I thought was in the best interest of road safety and I need to cop the criticism if it comes," he said.


Wong struggles to shift focus

DOESN’T the government have anything else to talk about other than climate change? More to the point, doesn’t it have anything better? Copenhagen, after all, was as much of a success for Kevin Rudd as the vote on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. But Penny Wong is at it again. She started another climate-change countdown yesterday, this time giving the opposition 21 days “to guarantee pensioners and seniors will be fully compensated under any alternative Liberal Party climate-change policy”.

Wong was so excited that she issued two different versions of the same statement. “The government has today called on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to guarantee pensioners and seniors will be fully compensated under any alternative Liberal Party climate-change policy,” said Mark I. “Under the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, all pensioners and seniors will, on average, be fully compensated for the costs of acting on climate change. “Mr Abbott has indicated he will provide a . . . fully costed climate-change policy . . . in February. That is just 21 days away. Mr Abbott must guarantee pensioners and seniors won’t . . . foot the bill under his alternative climate-change policy.”

Mark II covered similar terrain, but Wong also got stroppy that Abbott told Sydney radio on Monday: “The so-called settled science of climate change is not nearly as settled as the climate catastrophists would have us believe.” Abbott had a fair bit to say in that interview, but it was these lines that grabbed House Rules’s attention. “Governments always try to make the opposition the issue, as if our policy, or our thinking on things really mattered. It’s the government which has the power. It’s the government which is able to put its thinking into practice.”

The one-time boxer may be ducking and weaving furiously, but he is absolutely right. The current debate is all about the government’s policy. And its tactics have left one political player nonplussed. Independent senator Nick Xenophon asked yesterday: “Why start the new year reminding people of the bad bill they tried and failed to get up last year. Unless they change the bill, I won’t change my vote.”


Here’s a release just out from Wong’s office. You’ll never guess what the headline says…


With just 20 days to go to unveil a climate change policy, the time has come for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to accept the climate change science. Mr Abbott cannot claim to be a ‘fair dinkum environmentalist’ if he does not accept that climate change is real. The evidence is clear that the globe is warming and that human activity is contributing to this.

At the end of Australia’s second hottest year on record and the hottest decade in Australian history, Mr Abbott still doubts the existence of climate change."

More here

1 comment:

Paul said...

Trouble with "speeding" is its so easy to "speed" when governments set limits so artificially low because they become drunk on the revenue it generates. Just think the incompetent and bankrupt Kirner Labor Left Government in Victoria who introduced speed cameras to the world.