Germany’s hate on Scientologists

Some readers may have been wondering exactly why Germany hates them so much. And while Slate doesn’t exactly answer the question, today’s column does make a half-hearted attempt.

Some German officials believe Scientology’s ideology is rooted in a kind of political extremism—a bit of a sensitive area for Germany since World War II. They also argue that Scientology is not a religion but a business, since local churches operate like franchises of the main organization.

How much do they hate Scientology in Germany? Well, aside from a ban (later overturned ) on Tom Cruise from filming at German military site, there was also the following statement made against him.

Thomas Gandow, 60, chief spokesman on religious cults for the German Protestant Church, described Scientology as a “totalitarian organisation” and said that Mr Cruise had become “the Goebbels of Scientology”.

Germany also apparently considered forcing Microsoft to debundle the Diskkeeper anti-fragmentation software from Windows 2000, not for anti trust reasons, but because the company who licensed the product to Microsoft is Scientology-led.

Another fringe religion (although probably a much larger one) getting a lot of attention recently is Mormonism. It is a widely known piece of computer history trivia that the late, great Wordperfect was created by Mormon, and despite the shaky reputation that Mormonism has in some quarters, as far as I know there was never any particular controversy over using software developed by them.

Bonus trivia: Bruce Bastian, one of the two original Mormon developers of Wordperfect, later came out as gay and now devotes his time and fortune to gay activism.

Scientology (again)

After seeing today’s news that Germany had banned a Tom Cruise movie from filming in military owned sites due to the star’s connection with the cult, I thought it would be fun to repost this piece I put up back in May 3 of last year. Below is the post originally presented a bit over one year ago.

May 3, 2006

Andrew Sullivan today calls for a boycott of the Tom Cruise vehicle Miss:ion: Imp:oss:i:ble: 3.

How creepy is Tom Cruise? The Washington Post asks; and readers answer. All I can say is: after the way this guy treated South Park, we owe it to ignore him and any movie with which he’s associated. The Boycott “MI:3” movement starts here. Blogospheric solidarity much appreciated.

Well Andrew, I am completely with you on this one, but the boycott does NOT start with you. I was walking around Manhattan with my camera on April 16th and snagged this photo on 9th Avenue somewhere between 45th and 50th Street.

It seems that some people have already had the idea.

As it so happens I ended up passing through Times Square a few minutes later, where there was a pair of tables full of copies of Dianetics, a pair of e-meters, and a bunch of money-crazed bad pulp scifi worshipping Scientologists trying to indoctrinate passers-by. (I normally avoid Times Square, but I wanted to stop by Midtown Comics on the way home and couldn’t remember exactly which cross-street it’s at, only that it’s near the corner of 7th and 40-something. For the record, it was 40th Street.)

All of the following photos taken on April 16th on the west side of Times Square with a Canon EOS 300D and 65mm Hartblei Super Rotator lens.
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Tokyo bridges and their late German relatives

If you want to get a glimpse of the Weimar Republic, one way to do it is by visiting Tokyo and walking along the Sumida River. There, you can see two famous bridges inspired by German bridges that didn’t manage to outlive the Third Reich.


Eitaibashi (“Long Reign Bridge”) is one of the most famous bridges in Tokyo, and rightfully so. It crosses the Sumida River close to what would naturally be Tokyo Bay, were it not for Odaiba and all the other little islands built up there over the last few decades.

Back in the days of old Edo, Eitaibashi was a sharply arched wooden bridge, as captured in this classic woodblock print by Toyoharu Utagawa. This first bridge was built in 1698 to commemorate the 50th birthday of the fifth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. It was a Big Deal at the time, because the only other way to cross the river was by ferry.

The Tokugawas planned to dismantle the bridge in 1719, but the locals on the east side (the opposite side from central Edo) were so adamant on keeping the bridge that they agreed to take over the bridge themselves. This proved to be a bad idea, because the bridge collapsed in 1807 under the weight of travellers trying to get to the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine on the east side. 1,500 people died.

Although the later Tokugawas discussed building a second Eitaibashi, the Meiji Restoration put a hold on their plans, and the new bridge was not built until 1897. It was the first iron bridge in Japan, although much of it was made of wood. This also proved to be a bad idea, because the Tokyo earthquake of 1923 tore the wood apart and ruined the second bridge.

So the third and final Eitaibashi, constructed almost immediately after the earthquake, was built entirely of iron. It was modeled after the Bridge at Remagen on the Rhine River in Germany. This wasn’t a bad idea per se, although the Bridge at Remagen was itself ill-fated: the Germans blew it up to stop Allied troops from crossing into central Germany, inspiring a Hollywood production in the process.

Anyway, the third Eitaibashi is (perhaps miraculously) still intact. Its sky-blue paint job makes it not particularly picturesque during the day, but its lighting at night is downright gorgeous. The lights turn off around midnight, much like the Tokyo Tower’s.


Kiyosubashi (“Pure Cay Bridge,” named after the adjoining districts of Kiyosumi and Nakasu), just up the river from Eitaibashi, is equally famous, although it’s more picturesque during the day thanks to its lovely blue paint job. It was also built right after the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, although it had no predecessor in that location since “central Tokyo” was not quite as big in those days.

The inspiration for Kiyosubashi was the old Mülheim Bridge in Cologne, not far from the Bridge at Remagen. Ironically, the Mülheim Bridge was also blown up, just days before the Remagen Bridge. This was only partially intentional. The Germans had set up explosive charges on the Mülheim so they could blow it up if the Allies began to cross. Then, before the Allied troops were even close to the bridge, a bomb went off near the bridge. The strengh of this bomb wasn’t enough to damage the bridge, but it was enough to set off the charges on the bridge, thus causing the Germans to suffer the ignominy of accidentally destroying their own bridge. A more modern, utilitarian Mülheim Bridge was built after the war and completed in 1951.

Today’s trivia – 2007.2.19

Joseph Conrad’s famous novel Heart of Darkness was based on the author’s experiences in the Belgian Congo. King Leopold II of Belgium had originally wanted to establish his colony in the Philippines, but Spain refused to sell the islands to him. When the film Apocalypse Now, set in Vietnam and based on the novel Heart of Darkness, was made they filmed it in the Philippines.

Fewer Japanese people studying English in the UK

The changing landscape of Japanese people’s English learning practices is a factor keeping Japanese students out of ESL classrooms in the UK, reports Kyodo News:

(Kyodo) _ The number of Japanese learning English in Britain has slowed in recent years, amid signs that growing numbers of young people from East Asia are opting to study in their home country rather than venture overseas.

Experts put the tailing off down to many factors, including the state of the Japanese economy, falling birthrate, the popularity of Chinese and the increasing provision of English language teaching in the region.

According to figures provided by the Council, the number of weeks spent in Britain by Japanese studying English fell between 1997 and 2001, and has plateaued out in recent years. In 1997, Japanese spent 170,100 weeks in Britain. By 2001, this had fallen to 123,626 weeks.

In 2002, the figures picked up again and in 2004 Japanese spent 135,347 weeks in the United Kingdom. However, numbers are expected to be down for 2005.

Emma Parker, education promotion officer at the British Council in Japan, said all of the large English-speaking countries — Britain, the United States and Australia — had seen reductions in Japanese students. She added that the number of Japanese going to overseas universities appeared to be falling, and this inevitably impacted on applications for English courses. (many students take English language courses before studying at a foreign university).

As well as the simple fact that there are fewer younger Japanese people, Parker put the decline down to “more and more potential study destinations, and so increased competition.”

She said there were several Japanese-owned English language schools located in nearby Asian countries and, “although English skills remain very important in Japan, people’s interests and employers’ requirements are diversifying.

Essentially, if this article’s assertion that people are choosing to study at home is to be believed (though why they chose to measure that in hours as opposed to people escapes me), that would mean Japan’s domestic ESL market (for Japanese adults, anyway) has become so developed (to the point of saturation) that people may be taking seriously the idea expressed in top English conversation firm NOVA’s slogan of “study abroad near your local train station.” That would be a sad development — the peculiar nature of the still-flourishing interest in the English language in Japan has now been officially blamed as a factor keeping Japanese people from studying abroad, which ironically means less overseas exposure for the average Japanese. The pros and cons of eikaiwa-style English education aside, it simply cannot serve as an effective replacement for studying abroad if one’s goal is to learn how a language is used and the culture it comes from.

That said, it would take more study to see how true that claim is (I wish I could get my hands on that report for one). And it seems like this story is talking about ESL students only, not undergraduate or graduate degree programs. I’m having trouble locating more recent statistics, but as of 2000, the number of Japanese people studying abroad (including all 3 categories and more, and most of them going to English-speaking countries, presumably) continued to rise, though at a much lower rate than in years past. My guess is it’s a combination of factors: families who are facing lower incomes (and shrinking disposable incomes) may be forced to see eikaiwa as a second best option since they can’t afford to send their kids to study abroad. Or there may be other factors at play: Japanese universities are becoming easier to get into (fewer kids, same number of universities) meaning that studying abroad isn’t being used as Plan B for kids who had trouble on the entrance exams; or perhaps parents/students are getting wise to the fact that ESL programs often aren’t what they are cracked up to be. One explanation mentioned in the report that I don’t buy is the competition from other languages. English is still king in Japan and will be for the foreseeable future.

I’ll try and keep an eye on things, but in the meantime: what do you think?

Aso’s cultural diplomacy: so far so good

If Foreign Minister Taro Aso can keep wonderful photo opportunities like this up, I would support him for prime minister no matter who he might want to nuke:

Aso Bulgarian Sumo l2305389.jpg

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, front centre, poses with Bulgaria’s sumo wrestlers during the opening ceremony of a donation to Bulgarian Sumo Federaton, in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, Thursday, Jan.

Bulgaria was likely singled out as it’s the home country of star Sumo wrestler Kotooshu. Kotooshu is currently an ozeki, one rank under Yokozuna, though he is unlikely to achieve yokozuna status, the top rank in the sport, for some time (Japanese  Mongolian wrestler Hakuho might make it this year to the delight of people who want to see more Japanese Mongolian faces in the sport).

Aso has made promotion of Japanese cultural exports, chiefly anime and manga, a priority as he sees it integral to cultivating Japan’s “soft power.” You can read the details of his cultural diplomacy ideas (essentially, the main pillar in building a “Japan brand”) here.

And I thought Bobby Fischer was crazy

Well, Fischer is still plenty crazy, but it turns out that even within the world of competitive chess, they come far crazier. Case in point, Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov, president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia (a tiny former Soviet republic which is Europe’s only Buddhist nation)and of the world chess body. This article from German’s Spiegel Magazine is so impossibly absurd that I almost have trouble believing it, but then again we are talking about chess masters here.

He claims that he can communicate with aliens. Once, he says, he was even taken on a tour of one of their UFOs. “The extraterrestrials put me in a yellow astronaut suit and showed me their spaceship. I was on the bridge. I felt quite comfortable in their company.” And who is the lucky space tourist? None other than the president of the Russian Republic of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

The 44-year-old multimillionaire has other interests than just space aliens. In the past, he regularly consulted a Bulgarian fortune teller named Babushka Vanga. About 13 years ago, the blind psychic told him that he would be appointed leader of Kalmykia and elected president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), would open a factory to clean the wool of Kalmykian sheep and, last but not least, would have an oil pipeline built through the Caucasian steppes.

The pipeline doesn’t exist yet, but the psychic’s other predictions have all come true.
And what about the extraterrestrials? “The day will come when they land on our planet and say: ‘You have behaved poorly. Why do you wage wars? Why do you destroy each other?'” the president says. “Then they will pack us all into their spaceships and take us away from this place.”

Given his psychic’s success rate so far, we may want to start packing.

Unsurprisingly, Ilyumzhinov is an admirer of Bobby Fischer. Please do yourself a favor and read the entire article.

Bobby Fischer update

I mentioned Bobby Fischer’s flight to Iceland all the way back in March of last year and hadn’t heard anything new about him since then until now. Thankfully, the AP (article via WaPo) has cornered his maybe fiance/maybe wife and gotten a status update from her.

Bobby Fischer is still living the quiet life in Iceland, the home he adopted after being held in Japanese custody for nearly a year.

He still refuses to play chess _ at least the version that everybody else plays. And he’s still a wanted man, as far as the U.S. government is concerned. Beyond that, there are many things the world may never know about the reclusive chess icon _ and Miyoko Watai, Fischer’s longtime companion, says she isn’t going to break the silence.

“I prefer not to talk about private things,” said Watai, who is in Qatar to manage Japan’s chess team at the Asian Games.

Watai got swept up in the Fischer saga after he was detained _ “kidnapped” is the word she and Fischer use _ by Japanese authorities at Tokyo’s Narita airport in July 2004. He ended up staying in a Japanese immigration detention center for nine months fighting extradition to the United States before fleeing with Watai to Iceland.

While he was in Japanese custody, Fischer and Watai, who is also head of the Japan chess association, got engaged. At a news conference before leaving Japan, she denied allegations the engagement was a ploy to confound Japanese immigration officials, saying Fischer was her king and she wanted to be his queen.

Leica Freedom Train

I was browsing photography discussion forums, as I do once in a while, and stumbled across this fantastic little story, which I also had somehow never heard before.

I carry my Leica camera a bit more proudly these days.

The reason? A story I had never heard before – a tale of courage, integrity and humility that is only now coming to light, some 70 years after the fact.

The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. From a nitpicking point of view, it wasn’t the very first still camera to use 35mm movie film, but it was the first to be widely publicized and successfully marketed.

It created the “candid camera” boom of the 1930s.

It is a German product – precise, minimalist, utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that, during the Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty.

E. Leitz Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany’s most famous photographic product, saved its Jews.

And Ernst Leitz II, the steely eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, “the photography industry’s Schindler.”
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