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Sunday, July 13, 2008

COUNTERPOINT

Self-praise abounds in the pages of wheeler-dealers' own obituaries


Japanese politicians are known for their perseverance and ingenuity, and the Diet may well be the last place in the country still offering lifetime employment.

Ex-prime ministers effortlessly retain their seats and most of their influence. It's a phenomenon that politicians in other democracies can only look on with envy and awe.

Now some Japanese leaders are bolstering their popularity, while augmenting their income, by publishing books.

A book by ruling Liberal Democratic Party's strongman Taro Aso, known for his love of manga and manganese, has gone into its 12th printing. I particularly liked the chapter in "Totetsumonai Nippon (Stupendous Japan)" titled "Asia's Happiness," and suggest that the publisher, Shinchosha, brings out Korean and Chinese editions of the book so that descendants of those forced to work at the Aso-family mines before the war can partake of its happiness, too.

Like Aso, another LDP contender for the post-Fukuda prime ministership, Kaoru Yosano, has also gone into print. His "Dodotaru Seiji (Fair and Square Politics)," published in April, has already topped in 60,000 sales. Then there's LDP Diet member Yuriko Koike, whose most recent book is "Koikeshiki Konseputo Noto (Concept Notes According to Koike)." As if that weren't enough, there are rumors that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — whose "Utsukushii Kuni e (Toward a Beautiful Japan)" sold more than 500,000 copies two years ago — may now be putting the finishing touches on his latest magnum opus, "Hazukashii Kuni kara (From a Shameful Japan)."

If, as Ruth Benedict wrote many years ago, Japan's is a "culture of shame," one need look no further for it than to the thoughts of Shinzo Abe.

Well, dear readers, I am also happy to be able to report to you that leaders in the West are becoming "almost Japanese" in their enthusiasm to let it all hang out in print. Here, revealed for the first time, are some of the books now being written by those with an eye to living as high on the best-seller hog as they ever did on their tax-funded expenses.

"Swiftboating America" by President George W. Bush, with Karl Rove: This is an exciting day-to-day account, in simple language, of decisions made by the U.S. commander-in-chief. Bush disarmingly discloses here that for spiritual guidance he looks to the Bible; while for hints on war strategy and disaster control, he relies on "My Pet Goat."

"Eats, Shoots, Misfires and Leaves" by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney: Published in a glossy National Rifle Association hardback edition, this is a must for anyone interested in learning how to make a killing through the ballot box.

"Look Back in Anger — How Iraq was Lost Thanks to Lily-Livered Liberals and an Insufficient Supply of Fresh Flowers on Liberation Day" by Donald Rumsfeld: The former U.S. secretary of defense stunningly reveals his new plan to train 5,000 Iraqi florists how to make bouquets, so that the next time their country is liberated by Americans it will look good on television.

"Rebel Without a Clause — The Sheer Torture of High Office" by Alberto Gonzales: You will shed genuine tears of empathy when you read about the sufferings this former U.S. attorney general had to endure when he was forced by circumstances within his control to look the other way as evil anti-Americans were being "subtly cajoled to spill the vicious beans of terror," to quote a highly poetic phrase from the book.

Meanwhile, in what can only be described as the publishing coup of the century, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, the current and former U.S. secretaries of state, respectively, have come together to write a definitive study of the Bush administration's foreign policy. "Selling Out Gender and Race" is bound to top the best-seller lists. Publication is set for Jan. 21, 2009, the day after the inauguration of the next president. Subtitled "Out, Damned Spot," for the reference to Lady Macbeth washing her hands of her deeds, "Selling Out Gender and Race" is chock-full of classical references and spirituality, and proves to all that being a woman or a member of a minority group is no hindrance to the ruthless exercise of power in the interests of (what is conveniently seen as) a higher cause.

But it isn't only ex-Bush administration politicians who will be cashing in by telling the public that their crimes were committed by someone else. It seems that everybody is getting into the lucrative memoirs business.

The former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair is reportedly hard at work on his account of his years in 10 Downing Street, to be titled, simply and eloquently, "Poodle," with an uplifting forward by Pope Benedict XVI.

Then there's former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton, who have coauthored their massive blueprint for America under the title "It Ain't Over Till the Fat Lady Stings." Set for publication in August, every delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Denver will receive a free copy, together with a badge reading, "McCain in 2008, Hillary in 2012."

As well, with a nod to Gertrude Stein, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will reveal his vision for Russia in the 21st century in "The Autobiography of Dmitry Medvedev." In this unauthorized autobiography of the present president of Russia — that is secretly about Putin himself — the author puts his cards right on the table concerning Russian domination of Europe in chapter one, titled "A Borscht Belt from the Atlantic to Siberia."

With all of these books by famous politicians coming out and making a fortune for their authors and ghost writers, it can't be long before we see the following . . . "How I Came to Love the Bomb and Got America to the Table" by Kim Jong-Il; "Cozy-Cozy with Sarkozy" by France's premiere madame, Carla Bruni; "Rubbish! — The Visions of Silvio Berlusconi" by Italian President Berlusconi (the appendix includes some deadly recipes for Spaghetti Napolitano).

But there's one tome above all others that's bound to take the world by storm: President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe's long-awaited, introspective study of power written together with South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, "After All, What are Friends For?", boasting a forward by ex-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Altogether, it's a volume that anyone who saw and loved "No Country for Old Men" will want to buy and cherish.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with politicians writing books to set out their vision for their country under their rule. Such works are, in effect, obituaries written by themselves and about themselves, extolling how they would like to be fondly remembered. Some have controlled the lives, and dictated the deaths, of others with a malevolent cynicism, and they naturally are desperate for the last word to belong to them. Some, however, couldn't care less.

Earlier this year, Bush remarked to reporters in Israel, "I'll be dead before the true history of the Bush administration is written." Cold comfort for the millions of people who have suffered at his hands.

It appears that for some leaders, the old saying "publish or perish" means only one thing: I publish, you perish.



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