The surest sign to the reader that a columnist or regular feature writer has hit rock bottom and will never again be wortwhile reading is when he or she starts out a piece with:
"I was trying to think of what it is I should be writing about today..."
The second surest sign of reaching writer's having hit a nadir from which he or she shall not rise again is when the writer starts using sports metaphors.
I am about to commit the second of these two blunders.
Way back when, Major League Baseball was blessed with a team manager, Roger Craig. Most managers obsess about winning, seeking to motivate or cow either through bluster and rage, or through cool calculation.
Craig was different. He cared about winning, yes -- but he cared even more about putting on a good show, one where the players did their best, and the fans would leave the ballpark thinking only of the next time they and families would be coming to see the ballgame again.
Nothing encapsulated Craig's approach better than his handling of disputes. Whenever there would be a close play or questionable judgment, Craig would trot, never run, out of the dugout up to the umpire who made the call. He would then engage the umpire in a conversation, occasionally pointing his finger at the supposed location of the mistake, jawing away. Sometimes he would get ejected from the game, for some seeming insult to the umpire or other infraction.
What the fans and the players did not know was that more often than not, Craig's conversations with the umpires had nothing to do with what had just transpired on the field. He often agreed with the call the umpire had made. He would talk about family news or whatever was on his mind. In one conversation, he managed to arrange with the umpire a day when they both could get together to play a round of golf. When he would get thrown out, it was often after an umpire had given him a warning of not arguing more than a set amount of time, which Craig would then in a friendly way proceed to violate.
Craig's philosophy was that he had a job to do. Arguing with the umpires was what the fans expected him to do, what the players expected him to do. Getting thrown out of games from time to time was what the fans expected him to do, what the players expected him to do. Otherwise, the fans, the players would not have faith that he was fighting for the the team.
By keeping his arguments within limits, and being honest with the umpires that he and they were merely actors on a stage, playing their assigned parts, Craig gained a strategic edge. Having been shown respect and empathy, umpires would be favorably disposed toward making calls that favored Craig's teams.
What does this have to do with Japanese and/or East Asian politics?
We all have an obligation, when watching, listening or reading the news, to remember that what the actors are doing is their jobs, with a greater or lesser degree of skill depending upon their abilities. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko is doing his job. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei is doing his job.
"So what?" is the natural response, "Isn't everyone just doing his or her job?"
Yes, but first, there are those who do their jobs with relish, living inside the roles they are playing. These are the folks one must identify and quarantine, as they are completely nuts. Either these or those who have other persons doing their jobs for them, leaving the otherwise unoccupied to engage in self-indulgent extra-curricular activities (Yes, I am looking at you Ishihara Shintaro and Abe Shinzo).
Second, in talking about the various and sundry events of the day, one has a responsibility to state again and again, "But then, of course he/she is saying/doing X because that is his/her job."
Punching a hole in the fourth wall, deflating a fine tale by reminding the audience that it is only a tale, seems a poor way to sell a story.
Make it dramatic! Make it scary! Make it seem as though we are upon the brink!
Maybe, in the old days, when government officials had to convince ordinary individuals that some Amaterasu-forsaken pile of rocks was worth the dying for. Or when in order to sell the news, one really had to sell the news, as if it were some new, improved version of laundry detergent.
But not now. Not in the 21st century.
So as a pair of Chinese fisheries patrol boats steam for the Senkakus and a squadron of Japan Coast Guard ships maneuver into position to greet them, we should all pray and indeed shout out loud our desire that at the helms of these ships are a slew of Roger Craigs, trotting out to engage in a little make believe confrontation -- because and only because that is their job.