Cultural Relativism…An Example

Apropos of nothing except the spirit of Friday afternoon, I present the following.

As regular readers may know, in a rather lengthy comment to my compadre kevvyd’s item here, I made reference to the concept of cultural relativism. Simply put, it is the unfortunately rare ability to judge a culture, or its members, on its own merits, and not on the basis of another country’s cultural norms. The opposite of cultural relativism could therefore be called ethnocentrism.
Other cultures are different, that’s pretty much why there are other cultures. It makes the world an interesting place to live, all too often in the sense conveyed in the Chinese curse.

Japan, as a culture, has some interesting and unique qualities similar to our own, but just different enough to make us cock our heads sideways like a dog when you make a funny noise. For example, comic books are for the most part intended for adult consumption, and many cartoons are also so intended. The output of the anime culture, as it is called, is immense.
For quite a while, different business interests have made deals to bring some of these products to North America – the comic books are experiencing an unprecedented surge in popularity, for example. The cartoons have enjoyed a longer history, with Astro Boy closely followed by Speed Racer. Japanese cartoons, as a rule, have often seemed badly animated, and poorly dubbed, which is partly true: often the dubbing is a result of the stories needing to be changed to more appropriately, shall we say, North American values.

Which leads me to this: many of my generation look back with an embarassed fondness on a show called Battle of the Planets. You know, the one with the flaming spaceship. In said battle of the titular spheres, Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop and Tiny save the world each weekday (or whatever) from the forces of the evil Zoltar, from the planet Spectra.
With me so far? Great.
Not long ago, I was excited to find at my local library a copy of the Ultimate Collection of B.o.P. (if you’ll excuse the acronym). What intrigued me, however, was the inclusion of the original Japanese episodes of the series that became, after the meaty paws of Sandy Frank was finished with them (anybody else thinking about the ‘Sandy Frank’ song from MST3K?), Battle of the Planets.
Originally, the series was entitled ‘Science Ninja Team Gatchaman’. In this series, Ken, Joe, Jun, Jinpei and Ryu battle the forces of Galactor (from somewhere on earth, not from space), represented by the evil Berg Katse. In this series, the characters, particularly Joe (the moody one), swear a fair bit, using the ‘S’ word more than once, per episode. As I said, these things were relatively easy to remove, since the dubbing process would change the language anyway.
Further to this, the show is considerably more violent – in one episode, we are shown the corpses of victims of one of the monsters, and people obviously die by the hundreds in some of the attacks on cities. This content was cut to reflect the North American culture at the time, and since it resulted in a considerable amount of material being cut, the U.S. producers hastily animated the robot 7-Zark-7 to act as a narrator and time waster.
This is going somewhere, honest.
As I watched one of the episodes, I was completely surprised by something. We open the episode in a fictional country, in which there is a large peak, Blue Mountain. Upon said mountain are carved the faces of three of the country’s past presidents (sound familiar?). The work has taken three generations to complete, and the young lady is just about to finish the fourth head, that of Jesus. Yes, Jesus.
The Gatchaman episode is, in the original translation from the Japanese, “The Magma Giant: Emperor of Hell”. One of the heads from the mountain is used by Galactor as the head for the roughly 500-foot tall lava monster. Can you guess which one?

Cultural relativism: the ability not to totally laugh your ass off at any culture in which this phrase is even possible:

500-Foot Tall Molten Lava Jesus.


Working in the Arctic

I don’t mean to get my online virtual bitchyandwhiny life tangled up with my real one, but I wanted to get this link out there. The flesh and blood me works for the federal government at a technical level on issues relating to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It so happens that right now we (not me, but others on the project) are working north of Ellesmere Island on a collaborative seismic project on the ice of the Arctic Ocean over a subamarine feature called the Lomonosov Ridge. The work is part of a project called LORITA and it is being done with the GEUS, the Danish national geological organization. GEUS is kindly hosting a more or less daily update on the project from their website at the link above.

If anyone is interested in how science is done in the Arctic, check it out. There are links on the right side of the page that link to the regular updates.

For the record, I am not posting this on orders from anyone in the government, or as part of my job – simply because the project updates are interesting and I think it’s good for people to see some of the work that the government is doing, especially on this project.

And Briguy, you might see a couple of familiar faces in the pictures.


Why do the Conservatives need a majority government?

When there is effectively no opposition in Parliament?

As has been remarked in other blogs recently, Jack Layton and Stephen Harper have been in close talks recently that appear to have resulted in some cooperation between the two parties. I haven’t discovered exactly what the meat of the conversation has been, but buying into the basic premise of the child care plan appears to be part of the NDP committment.

As for the Liberals, I’ve long thought that Bill Graham’s blowing on about holding being prepared to be a tough opposition and being ready for an election any time (“oh yeah, you wanna step outside?”) was just wind. Now I know – it appears that the Liberals are also afraid to take on the Conservatives on child care.

So that’s the most contentious of the “Big Five” down. Of the other four, reducing wait times looks to be the most difficult, but because the Liberals botched or avoided it in the past, they will likely not be held to task if they at least make some expensive motherhood statements to provincial treasuries.

By my estimation, the Opposition has til about early 2007 to begin acting like one, or Harper will be able to put some form of tick mark beside each of the five boxes and drop the writ for a new election. One that he will stand a really good chance of winning.


It takes an unprincipled one to know a partisan one…

(h/t to Briguy)
So David Emerson is surprised that Stephen Harper is a bit of a partisan bastard? Why on earth would he have expected otherwise? Emerson has apparently complained to a former aide that Harper is a (gasp!) “hard-ass” and (great Scot!) “has no people skills”.

This has already been blogged at length by many others, so I won’t dwell a great deal on it, but it leaves me with a few questions. If Emerson is so smart (and that’s the cited reason Harper poached him – being a Vancouver-area MP had nothing to do with it!), how is it possible that he didn’t see this Harper coming a mile down the track? After all, he basically had him pegged during the election campaign but walked across the floor anyway. What does it say about Emerson, the man? Did he have no faith in his own much-vaunted cranial capacity that he might have been wrong about Harper? Or was he gullible andflattered when Harper, the prime minister came knocking after the election? Or did he really believe that he has too much ability to serve merely as a little opposition MP?

In any case, it’s a good thing we have his wife holding him hard to the grindstone. After all, he has a tremendously important job, one in which the first major project, softwood lumber, he’s probably not going to be allowed to say word one on.

I really, really want to believe that our leaders and elected officials are smart – we need them to be. But it’s so so so hard.