Ray Bradbury, Journalism & Mr. Dark. “You can’t act if you don’t know.”

“Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he’s covering up. He’s had his fun and he’s guilty. And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells.” Charles Halloway, town librarian, in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors and I’m sad to hear he’s left this realm for The October Country. In some ways, he’s responsible for my decision to become an investigative journalist. Admittedly, he’s not the usual subject material for The Japan Subculture Research Center, so pardon me for writing about him here and what he meant to me. There’s a point to all this, trust me.

I admired Ray Bradbury so much I named my son after him. I considered naming him, Raymond, as in Raymond Chandler but decided on Ray after all. There was also a Special Agent in the Air Force OSI that I admired as well with that name.*

A few weeks ago I gave my son Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes to read.  I’ll let a reviewer summarize the book for me: It is the memorable story of two boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the evil that grips their small Midwestern town with the arrival of a “dark carnival” one Autumn midnight. How these two innocents, both age 13, save the souls of the town (as well as their own), makes for compelling reading on timeless themes. What would you do if your secret wishes could be granted by the mysterious ringmaster Mr. Dark?

The hero of the book is Charles Halloway, the town librarian,  has a son, Will,  when he’s very old. He worries that he can’t play with his son the way other fathers do and that his son may have to deal with his death earlier in life than most children would. He is filled with regret for the one time he wasn’t able to save his son from drowning and another man came to the rescue.

But Mr. Halloway turns out to be a great hero and a father as well.  They made a decent movie from the book and I watched it with Ray after he finished reading the novel. There are some lines that resonate long after the movie ends. Many of them are almost verbatim from the book.

The grand villain of the book is Mr. Dark. He is the voice of evil. He  reminds me of the worst of the yakuza. He’s a charismatic figure, charming, glib, menacing, and authoritarian. He tempts others to follow him and many do. He keeps his underlings in line with rewards for bad deeds done and terrible punishments for failures.  I can think of one yakuza boss who is almost a living incarnation of this fictional character.

Mr. Dark: Your torments call us like dogs in the night. And we do feed, and feed well. To stuff ourselves on other people’s torments. And butter our plain bread with delicious pain… Funerals, marriages, lost loves, lonely beds  that is our diet. We suck that misery and find it sweet. 

But while Mr. Dark gloats, Mr. Halloway does not give in.

“And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. With peace on earth, good will to men”…

There’s a moment in the book where Charles’s son Will asks for reassurance from his father that they will be safe, because after all, they are good people. His father is unable to give him that reassurance. I understand the feeling.  You know, it’s a scary thing to have to teach your kids or anyone that just being good won’t protect you from evil or death.

I don’t remember where I read it but somewhere Ray Bradbury once said that all great tales had a moral, that we all wanted a fairy tale in some sense. Maybe he never wrote that and my memory is faulty. But I believe it nonetheless. I’ve read most of his books. I loved The October Country, Death is a Lonely Business, and most of all, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I read it three times in my life. The first time, I felt like Will Halloway, the cautious and studious boy. The second time, I was Jim Nightshade, Will’s friend who longs for adventure, exotic worlds and wants to become an adult as fast as possible. And now I find myself feeling a little like the world weary but wise Charles Halloway. And that’s not a bad place to be in life.

Ray Bradbury’s work has some hard lessons for children and for all of us: doing good and helping others is not necessarily rewarded nor will it always bring ebullient happiness, but a clear conscience brings an inner joy that no wealth can ever buy. His advice on writing may also be taken as good advice in living your life, whether you are a writer or not, but hopefully at least a reader of books. Mr. Bradbury in the voices of his heroes, through their meditations on the importance of  friendship and community, the nature of evil, and the importance of knowledge, says things that still matter today.

In Charles Halloway’s discussion with his son about what it means to be good in the face of evil, Bradbury succinctly describes why journalism matters. Well, that just may be my interpretation but ponder the words. When I think back on them now, reading this passage in junior high school is probably what started me down the path that I have taken so far. Ray Bradbury gave excellent directions. Every one writes for different reasons. When I read this passage I know why I became an investigative journalist and why I continue to write.

“Have I said anything I started out to say about being good? God, I don’t know. A stranger is shot in the street, you hardly move to help. But if, half an hour before, you spent just ten minutes with the fellow and knew a little bit about him and his family, you might just jump in front of his killer and try to stop it. Really knowing is good. Not knowing, or refusing to know, is bad, or amoral, at least. You can’t act if you don’t know.” 

 ★★★★

 

*Note: The final reason I chose to name my son Ray is that Ray also works as Rei (礼)in Japanese. Rei (礼) means politeness or decorum or respect. .お礼参り/o-rei mairi is also a phrase in polite Japanese society meaning to go and pay your respects, but in yakuza slang, it means to take revenge. I liked that.  I hope Ray grows up to be a polite, honorable, and tough kid. And a good guy.


Japan Passes Draconian Secrecy Bill Into Law: Journalists, Whistleblowers are now “terrorists”

December 9th, Tokyo* (Updated from December 7th post) 

The Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (LDP) led ruling coalition passed the ominous new Designated Secrets Bill yesterday in the middle of the night on December 7th (Friday, Tokyo time), apparently fearing that the light of another day, or the harsh radiation of the truth, would cause the legislation to shrivel up and die. The ruling government cut off debate and forced a vote in the upper house of Japan’s parliament, The Diet, before the clock could strike midnight. 130 were in favor, 82 were opposed.

The law will punish journalists and whistleblowers who divulge government secrets with up to ten years in prison, and up to five years for those who “instigate leaks” (ask questions about state secrets). There is no independent third-party organization set in place to monitor how the law is applied and it gives every ministry and the smallest  government agency or related committee carte blanche to declare any inconvenient information “top secret.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP, Komeito, and “Your Party” relentlessly pushed the bill forward, despite a sudden dip in cabinet support rates to below 50% and increasing opposition within Japan and the world. Earlier this week, the LDP Secretary General, Shigeru Ishiba, labeled the growing protests “tantamount to terrorism” which prompted more public outcry. There were estimated to be 15,000 people outside Japan’s parliament (The Diet) chanting in protest when the bill was passed.

We don’t know what will be a secret. We don’t know who will be kept private under this law. And it’s a law that doesn’t inform the citizens of anything, so I oppose it… The current administration is slowly trying to create a country that has the ability to fight a war. I’ll continue to fight against this law, because it is the beginning of such a country. —Unemployed, 53, Yoriko W●●●, who protested the bill on December 6th

Every major news organization, publishing group, human rights group,  in Japan opposed the bill. Even the Doctor’s and Dentist’s Association finally voiced disapproval of the draconian legislation. According to opinion polls, only 25% of the public supported it, and 50% opposed it.

The aims of this bill are not drawn out that clearly. We already have many laws against the leaking of information. The Civil Servant’s Laws etc (国家公務員法)So I don’t know why this law is necessary. Japan is a country that needs information to be open. This law stops the free flow of information and makes it hard for journalists to report on their stories. Kanna M●●● (46)

The Committee to Protect Journalists, in a post, Japan: State Security Does Not Justify Restricting Information succinctly summarizes the major problems with law as follows:

The (law) will effectively allow the government to proclaim any potentially embarrassing information a “state secret” and to keep it from the public for 10 years with the opportunity to extend that period.  Under the new law, a whistleblower could face up to 10 years in jail for publishing what the government deems a “state secret.” That level of punishment for what is arguably not a crime is not protective. It’s repressive.

Over 80% of the Japanese population fears that the new laws will be used to cover up scandals and hide the truth from the public.

One individual who shares that fear is Michael Woodford, the former CEO of Olympus, Japan’s mega optical maker. Mr. Woodford courageously exposed 1.7 billion dollar accounting fraud at the company while he was still the CEO, at great personal risk, because he believed the truth had to be known. The mainstream Japanese media and associated parties went to great lengths to ignore his whistle blowing. Even the Financial Services Agency, which is supposed to ensure the transparency of Japan’s financial markets, made efforts to bury the story and leaked information which suggested that no criminal activity had been committed.  It was the persistent investigative reporting of Japanese magazines like FACTA (which broke the story), ZAITEN and follow-ups by the foreign press that made the case impossible for law enforcement to ignore.

Michael Woodford uncovered a 1.7 Billion dollar accounting fraud at Japan's Olympus Corporation. He blew the whistle and repercussions were swift.
Michael Woodford uncovered a 1.7 Billion dollar accounting fraud at Japan’s Olympus Corporation. He blew the whistle and repercussions were swift.

 

Here is what Mr. Woodford had to say in response our request for a comment. He eloquently summarizes the problems of the bill from his own personal experience.

“As someone who during the Olympus scandal experienced first-hand the
deferential and self-censoring nature of much of the Japanese media, I’m
profoundly concerned by the new state secrecy law. I remember a
discussion with a leading Japanese financial journalist in January 2012,
(held in front of Jonathan Soble of the Financial Times who broke the story)
as to what would have happened if I had given them the file supporting my
allegations, as opposed to a Western media outlet. The journalist was
extremely honest in stating that they would have loved to have run the story
but the editor would never have allowed this. The message was clear; you do
not challenge a large Nikkei listed company of wrongdoing, regardless of the
strength of evidence. I found this at the time profoundly depressing, as in
developed democracies it’s the media which is the most effective mechanism
for holding the powerful to account. We have seen this in practice from
everything from Watergate to British parliamentarians being exposed for
abusing their expenses. 

Of course, every country has a fundamental right to protect its citizens’
interests and there is an obvious need for some issues relating to national
security to be secret. However, it is the vague definition in the new bill
of what actually constitutes a state secret which potentially gives
officials carte blanche to block the release of information on a vast range
of subjects. Whenever I’m asked to comment on the disputed islands in the
East China Sea and ongoing tensions with China, I always emphasise that
Japan is a peace-loving democracy, but this loosely worded bill, in my
opinion, is more characteristic of the state controls of the world’s
autocratic regimes. In essence, anything which makes a journalist in Japan
even more uncomfortable with exposing wrongdoing, wherever it may exist, is
a worrying development when transparency and openness should be the way
forward.

 

 So it goes in the land of the setting sun….

★★★★

*Note: This and other articles on the secrets bill at Japan Subculture Research Center may be quoted at length without permission. If possible, please credit the source in your posts or article. Also, I consider Michael Woodford to be a stand-up fellow, good friend, and I wrote the afterword to his book. Therefore, I may lack objectivity in believing him to be absolutely correct. Just so you know.