Letters to the Editor

Turning xenophobic about the Japanese Plus: Stephen Prothero's article is a simple case of Skull and Bones envy; so what if Al inhaled? We all did

Published January 26, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Turning Japanese

In Mr. Bradley, apparently his university has found a teacher to match the dismal quality of its students. The arrogant contempt Bradley evinces for his charges, and the culture on the whole, no doubt, comes through clearly in his classroom demeanor.

I don't find it the least bit surprising that his students decline to open up to him. Bradley's depiction of his classroom is representative of nothing but the Japanese tendency to shut down in the face of unpleasant, abusive or intimidating people. It says far more about Mr. Bradley than his students. And he'd best be careful what he wishes for, because there's no shortage of opinions among the Japanese, and Mr. Bradley might be distressed to find out what his students really think of him. The shortage is one of teachers who can create an environment conducive to taking the risks that public disclosure in this culture can entail.

I'm teaching at two universities in Tokyo. No, the students don't interact verbally in class the way they do in some cultures. And yes, the educational system is in need of serious reform if it is going to meet the needs of the future, but it is a system that is part and parcel of the culture. And Bradley's ugly screed is indicative of nothing so much as his ignorance of that culture.

-- Ruskyle L. Howser

Bradley's portrait of Japan and Japanese students is an absolute masterpiece of xenophobia. If his attitude is indicative of the general behavior of U.S. citizens while they are in other countries, no wonder the term "ugly American" has become so commonplace.

I expected, on reading "Turning Japanese," to find out more about the Japanese system of education. Instead, I merely learned that the author hates -- monotonously, repetitively -- Japanese education and Japanese culture in general. Perhaps a better writer would have felt an obligation to provide some kind of corroborating evidence to accompany such histrionic claims about Japan; Bradley, however, was content to provide the reader with a few tattered American clichés about Japanese education and business practices -- nothing new or concrete, nothing beyond the most tiresome generalizations.

This piece reminded me of nothing quite so much as pre-Civil War diatribes about the inferiority of African-Americans and their practices, beliefs and cultures -- blatant attempts, for the most part, to justify prejudice and elevate it to the level of moral indignation.

-- Eva Foster

Tom Bradley's article perfectly captures my experiences with meeting Japanese students; a more bovine, unimaginative, soul-dead lot it would be hard to imagine. It's not their fault; they've had it knocked into them by one of the most sadistic school systems in the world, the sheer horror of which makes the bullies and despots of Western schools pall in comparison. It lacks even the most basic counseling facilities, and bullying of a scale that can only be described as torture is rife.

The situation is even worse for those unfortunate souls who were brought up in the West or have a different ethnic background than vanilla Japanese. Those cultural conservatives who deplore the liberalizing influence of the 1960s upon Western education might change their views after having a look at Japanese schools.

-- James Palmer

Tom Bradley teaches English at a Japanese university. He describes his students as "incurious and intellectually languid, with only nervous energy and shallow greed to fill the mental vacuum," and extends this characterization to all Japanese. I teach at a Japanese university, but I teach neither English nor in English. Maybe that's one reason I don't regard all Japanese as idiots. From my perspective, an idiot is someone who would write Bradley's brand of superficial nonsense about an entire nation.

-- Andrew DeWit

Washington, 90210

Sean Elder's criticism of my column is off-base in a couple of respects.

I am hardly a "booster" for the arrangement between the drug czar's office and the networks. Nothing in my column suggests that I approve of the deal. My criticism of Salon's story was limited to the inaccurate but sensational claim that the drug czar's office made some effort to keep this secret. Indeed, I acknowledged that Salon deserves credit for its reporting on several aspects of this story.

Elder should also have taken a look at McCaffrey's Daily News op-ed piece before describing it. McCaffrey mentioned "General Hospital" and "Home Improvement" as two programs that had gotten credit for working anti-drug themes into their scripts. McCaffrey made it pretty clear that the networks were making an aggressive effort to work anti-drug messages into their entertainment programs.

As I wrote, I'm willing to accept my share of criticism for having known in general terms about the matching deal for a while and not making a bigger deal of it, as Salon did. My latest column makes amends for that by examining in some detail the deal the New York Times cut with the drug czar.

-- Josh (not Jeff) Gerstein


Smoke in his eyes

It should not be relevant to a campaign that Al Gore, or any other presidential candidate, smoked pot or used any other kind of drug. These guys are my generation, the baby boomers. We all smoked pot. Too much time is wasted trying to find out who did what. Forget about it.

-- Sara Hall

Even if this story is true and this mentally ill fellow's story is promoted by the press, Al Gore's honest admission of pot use years ago is a lot better than G.W. Bush's dishonest waffling on his probable use of a far more dangerous drug, cocaine. I dare you to go down to Texas and investigate that.

-- Aleck Bansa

Tapper fails to emphasize, or even note, that this story was first seen by most Web-heads at Matt Drudge's site, and not the other sites mentioned in Tapper's piece. This is important to note because Michael Isikoff, Newsweek's chief anti-Clinton/Gore reporter and VRWC (vast right-wing conspiracy) conspirator, uses Drudge as point man to break those journalistically dubious stories that a respectable periodical dare not be the first to touch.

The fact that Newsweek, usually so eager to jump on anti-Clinton/Gore stories, is in fact very carefully scrutinizing each portion of [former Gore friend] John Warnecke's tale before publishing it, is a telling sign that Warnecke's story stinks like week-old used diapers.

-- Tamara Baker

Skulls in the Closet

It seems to me that your magazine is solely concerned with trying to demean everything Gov. Bush has done in his past, the associations to which he belonged and his record of accomplishments here in Texas. I understand that people in Boston, particularly the author of this story, do not quite understand the governor's record. However, I would be shocked to find out if the author has visited the great state of Texas and really analyzed the governor's achievements. Having said that, I would welcome a chance to visit with the author and discuss with him the issues that Texans and most Americans care about and focus less on the things that he highlights in this article. As the second largest state and the world's 11th largest economy, one would think that there are more substantive issues to spend time discussing.

-- Chris Chapman

In Prothero's "exposi" on Skull and Bones, his technique was ludicrous: Take legitimate arguments against Bush, throw in some commentary on diversity and class divisions, then run that alongside some rumors and century-old "history" and make Skull and Bones look like some latter-day Illuminati.

I'm a member of the oldest social fraternity in North America, also a secret society and seven years older than Bones. Our members include William Bennett and a fair number of the folks who ran Canada during World War II. No one outside of us gives a damn about our secrets, nor should they -- any freshman level sociology class will tell you why they work to help build groups of this nature.

You want to worry about elitism, class divisions and Ivy League schools perpetuating old boy networks of entrenched power? Fine -- take a whack at the $30,000 tuition that precludes many qualified students from attending. But don't be a pissant about what they choose to do when they get there.

-- Jeff Porten

While Prothero illustrates that secret societies are an anachronism, his whole article smacks of jealousy. Succeeding in politics, and business for that matter, has always been more about who you know than what you know. Did he miss this harsh life lesson at Yale when he wasn't chosen to be "tapped"?

-- Mike Bishop

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