U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joins Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (l) and Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (r) at the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bonn, Germany, on February 16, 2017. (Photo: State Department)

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Japan’s New Leader

The Economist magazine continues its usually astute and detailed coverage of the Japanese political scene with an article about the country’s new prime minister, Kishida Fumio, who was recently elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Fumio has taken the reins of office from Yoshihide Suga, an unpopular leader who announced last month that he would not seek reelection as leader of his party. Fumio’s record in Japanese politics and international diplomacy is uneven. As foreign minister under prime minister Shinzo Abe in the last decade, Fumio drank vodka with Russian diplomat Sergei Lavrov, but the somewhat forced conviviality did not achieve the hoped-for breakthrough in Russian-Japanese relations. Fumio also organized a visit by then-U.S. president Barack Obama to his hometown of Hiroshima and tried to work out an agreement whereby Japan would compensate South Korean women whom the Japanese military forced into sexual slavery during the Second World War. No such deal ever came about, but the Economist’s article blames a change of government in South Korea rather than any failure on Fumio’s part.

Tucker Carlson speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, December 22, 2018. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The New Republic Slams Tucker

The New Republic’s October issue features a cover story highly critical of Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Before getting into the content of this piece, it is worth noting that there was a time well within living memory when TNR was popular among some conservatives. Not just neoconservatives, who shared its concern for Israel and U.S. policy in the Middle East, but even social conservatives who found some of its in-depth articles in the 1990s to be quite trenchant. The examples spring to mind of Heather Mac Donald’s scathing piece on diversity training programs that enriched those who conducted them while bullying and ostracizing the employees who had to undergo them, and Stephanie Guttmann’s cover story debunking the politically correct hype about a gender-integrated military and exposing the serious problems that integration has caused. TNR also blasted the incompetence and corruption of the police force in Washington, D.C., and the force’s bungling of murder cases.

Since the magazine’s acquisition by Facebook billionaire Chris Hughes and its sale in 2016 to Win McCormack, a once-lively and eclectic publication has grown much more consistently left-wing. For a magazine trying to tilt the country in a more progressive direction, Fox News host Carlson, one of the most outspoken and prominent conservative commentators on the planet, is an obvious target.

Facebook’s Darkest Hour

The server outage causing a loss of access for several hours, and the testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen, were a double-punch to the gut of the world’s most entrenched and powerful social network during the week of October 4. Facebook attributes the outage to a temporary loss of Border Gateway Protocol routing. People around the world found themselves unexpectedly shut out of the network. What may matter far more in the long term is their loss of faith in the technical expertise of a platform already dogged by numerous allegations of malfeasance, which brings us to Haugen’s testimony.

An article in the Guardian on October 8 written by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, calls this widely aired and analyzed testimony the biggest PR disaster that Facebook has experienced to date. It summarizes Haugen’s denunciation of the psychological harm that she accuses Facebook, or more precisely Instagram, of having inflicted on teen girls concerned about their appearance and popularity. The article also contrasts Haugen’s broad audience with the relatively scarce attention paid to an earlier whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, who sounded the alarm about how political figures in foreign places, from Honduras to India, have misused Facebook for antidemocratic ends.

Haruki Murakami Library Opens in Tokyo

Finally, returning to Japan, we’ve got a story by yours truly on Book and Film Globe chronicles the official opening of the Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo. One of the most admired writers in Japan today, Haruki Murakami, is also the impetus behind the launch of an institution that is sure to be popular in a Covid-wracked nation nursing its wounded pride after the letdown of the 2021 Olympics. Amid the pandemic, the 72-year-old Murakami has emerged as one of his country’s most candid and empathic public figures, and his bold move is a salve to a nation in tormented times. According to a Kyodo News report, the five-story Kengo Kuma-designed building at Murakami’s alma mater, Waseda University, will be home to a vast body of books and papers donated by the writer, including a number of handwritten manuscripts. Fittingly, it will also go by the name of the Haruki Murakami Library.


By Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist. He is the author of the short story collections Scenes from the Catastrophe (2016), The Uprooted and Other Stories (2018), When We're Grownups (2019), and Stranger, Stranger (2020). Michael's story "Confessions of a Spook" won Causeway Lit's 2018 fiction contest.