To Pilger or Not to Pilger: Honoring a Legacy

As a journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, John Pilger has long stood as an unapologetic and determined foe of governments, wars and propaganda throughout his career. He has been equally a passionate seeker of facts and truth whenever they were being covered up by those in positions of authority. He also passionately followed the most important ethic of working in the news media: Be the voice of the voiceless.

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Mr. B’s Great Adventure and the Power of Yes

...Entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, it is reported through the static of the bus radio speakers, has just created a storm of controversy by criticizing Colin Powell, the secretary of state in the administration of U.S. president George W. Bush. In an interview with a radio station in San Diego, located on the opposite end of California from where I was living at the time, Belafonte had blasted Powell, a fellow Jamaican American, for kowtowing to the wishes of his white boss, Bush, instead of standing up on principle and condemning the dangerous direction the Bush administration was leading the USA post-911.

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A Supreme Teacher Continues On...

...It is August 2002, nearly a year after 11 September 2001, and the Native brother is participating in a sangha, or community, of Vietnam war veterans organized by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh at Stonehill College, a private Catholic school located in Easton, Massachusetts. Like me, Nhat Hanh was in the United States at the time of 9/11 and saw firsthand the dangerous wave of fear, ignorance and hate that quickly rose up throughout the land: A “war on terrorism” was officially declared, the nation of Afghanistan was soon invaded and now the U.S. government was preparing for a second invasion in Iraq.

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Accolades for the Archbishop

It is early morning somewhere in rural South Africa, the sun not yet rising over the horizon. In the dim morning light, through the slowly lifting fog — or is it smoke from the nearby shacks? — I am walking up some makeshift steps on the side of a steep ravine. I look over at the person walking up next to me and study the lines on his face: It is Desmond Tutu, the revered Anglican Church archbishop of South Africa. He is showing me around here, he explains, because he wants me to see how people in South Africa really live, the poverty they still have to face in the land of apartheid.

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Salute to a Soul Sister

Janice Mirikitani and a friend are walking down the sidewalk, as the friend’s recollection goes, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, California, USA — one of the city’s poorer and more merciless areas. Coming down the sidewalk toward them is a man of the streets who is making loud barking and growling noises like a dog; he is obviously in need of some help.

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First Steps to Freedom: A Mandela Moment in Time

It is the only historical event in modern times that literally takes my breath away whenever I see a picture of it or stop and think of it, with time itself standing still and my heart overwhelmed just in the simple act of remembering that day. No other event ever does that to me. I’m talking about the moment Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in South Africa on 11 February 1990 — today, exactly 30 years ago.

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From Syrinx to Rio, A Writer Remembered

The first time I heard Rush on the radio was the very moment when I began to take notice of rock musician Neil Peart as a writer in his own right. I even remember when and where it all started: It was sometime in early 1980; I had just turned 21. On a warm afternoon, in my car with the windows rolled down and the radio blasting, I was on my way to the beach and stopped at a traffic light at a major intersection in town when the “The Spirit of Radio” from the new Rush album Permanent Waves came over the airwaves of a local FM rock radio station. Peart’s drumming especially knocked me out, and I soon got the LP record and found an even greater musical feast to be had: the song lyrics that Peart wrote for almost the whole album.

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Hamba Kahle to a South African Son

Hamba kahle in the Xhosa and Zulu languages of South Africa is a commonly expressed heartfelt wish for a deceased person to “go well” on their spiritual journey in the Great Beyond. Another commonly heard English phrase at South African funerals is that someone “ran a good race” during his/her lifetime on Earth, having lived a life worthy of praise.

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One Hundred Years of Madiba

Nelson Mandela, in his lifetime, had a way of getting people’s attention. Whether it was living up to his African childhood name of Rolihlahla — “one who shakes the tree” or stirs up trouble — or serving as the first chief of a liberation army connected to his political party, the African National Congress, or going to prison for nearly three decades for his beliefs, or emerging from that prison hell to become the first elected president of a free and democratic South Africa, he commanded people’s attention and could not be ignored.

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Parry’s Way: Journalism as It Should be Done

All the recent obituaries, eulogies and rightful praise for the work of the late American investigative journalist Robert Parry have now moved on by, leaving us only to reflect on the impact that his kind of journalism has had on the mass media field in our time and, just as importantly, where that kind of journalism could and should go from here.

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Playing the Soundtrack of Our Lives

...A select few musicians in the world, though, rise to the status of soundtrack-makers for entire cultures, peoples and nations. Hugh Masekela, the South African jazz trumpeter who passed on recently at the age of 78, is among that highly regarded level of musical giants. His music was the soundtrack of a nation-in-the-making, South Africa, and spoke directly to countless numbers of people around the globe, especially in the African diaspora.

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Memories of a Grassroots Man

It has been heartwarming and heartbreaking, inspiring and saddening, all at the same time, to see all the tributes to and news coverage about Native American elder and activist Dennis Banks, in the wake of his passing on 29 October at age 80.

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The Boy in the Picture: A Remembrance

A 16-year-old Japanese boy lies face down on a hospital bed, his eyes closed and face partially obscured from view. His back and arms, oozing blood and pus, show the severe radiation burns he suffered during the atomic bombing of his city, Nagasaki, just five months before by the United States. He is still clinging to life and the Japanese doctors keeping him in a bath of penicillin to fight off infection seem amazed that the boy is still alive.

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Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (3)

High up in a skyscraper overlooking the port of San Francisco, California, Coral Talavera Baca began telling the story of “Dark Alliance” that no one in the USA had yet heard. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, 15 February 1997, and a TV documentary program crew from Japan (for which I served as coordinator) had her wired for sound and the video camera rolling. It was all going on the record — her first public comments ever in regard to the controversial “Dark Alliance” investigation by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb that was published the year before.

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Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (2)

There is nothing like a little police harassment to lend an air of authenticity to producing a TV documentary on the so-called “drug scourge”, and that, appropriately enough, is just what I and a couple other Japanese members of a video production team first experienced upon our landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Sunday afternoon, 9 February 1997.

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Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (1)

It was late in the afternoon on a September day in 1996, when my wife and I and our young son, then just a couple years old, visited a small retail store in West Los Angeles that U.S. filmmaker Spike Lee had recently opened to promote merchandise from his various films. Being a fan of Lee’s work at the time, I knew his store, “Spike’s West”, was one of the places we had to visit during our brief vacation in L.A. before we returned home to Japan.

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Peace Be to Brother Ali

As the news spread about the passing of former boxing great Muhammad Ali at age 74 earlier this month, a deep sense of grieving and mourning seemed universal. Not since former South African president Nelson Mandela died in 2013 did we see such a collective sense of loss spanning the globe, and it moved me beyond words.

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Bagdikian Remembered

I never met professor Ben Bagdikian in his lifetime, though I had always wanted to. So I did the next best thing: Over the past few years I introduced his classic book The Media Monopoly (the updated version) to students of my own journalism courses at the university where I teach in Kyoto, Japan.

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A Place Called ‘Motomenai’

The Japanese press reported widely in early January of this year about the recent death of someone I had known fairly well, Shozo Kajima, of old age. He was 92 years old. He was cited in most of the obituaries as the author of a mega-bestselling poetry book titled Motomenai [Not wanting], published in 2007.

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‘A Love Supreme’ at 50

I have given up long ago on making any kind of easily broken New Year’s resolution to mark the arrival of another year, so for 2016 I decided to do something different that will start me off on the right foot and stay with me through the year ahead: choosing my first musical selection of the year.

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In the Spirit of John Trudell

I had recently bought the newest CD release by John Trudell, titled Wazi’s Dream, but had not yet gotten around to listening to it when I heard the news online that the Native American activist/poet/truth teller did not have much longer to live. Prayers were going around for him, and a few days later on December 8, he departed for the spirit world at age 69.

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Healing for the Healer

He is said to be the only person who Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. personally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thich Nhat Hanh is a master teacher in the Zen Buddhist religious tradition, an exile from his native Vietnam, an accomplished author and world-renowned peace activist, and the type of person we would all consider to be a good human being.

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Song for All Fathers

Yesterday (21 June) being Father’s Day here in Japan, it seems appropriate to send out some belated warm wishes of the day — but not only for my own family. This tribute goes out to all the fathers of the world, that is, to the vaunted institution of fatherhood itself.

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An Outpouring Fit for a King

It was amazing to see how quickly and how widely the buzz had spread — in the news media, in social media, on mailing lists, everywhere. Musical royalty had passed on: B.B. King, the world’s reigning King of the Blues, had departed on May 14 at age 89. Tributes and story-sharing seemed to be coming in from every corner of the planet, an outpouring of respect and love for a man whose life as a musician seems to have left few people untouched, myself included.

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The Long Morning after Mandela

Today, 5 December, marks exactly one year since the passing of former South African president Nelson Mandela at age 95. In death, as in life, Mandela — arguably the greatest statesman of our time — seems to have left his own special mark on the world, and he most certainly has not been forgotten.

Has it really been one year already? These past 12 months have sped by, almost like they were one long morning after Mandela’s final rest. And who could ever forget the dramatic scenes we saw coming out of South Africa in the world’s media back then?

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Blues for Brother Hilton

It was around 1993, during an evening at the Osaka Blue Note jazz club, that I knew I was witnessing a moment in musical history I would remember for the rest of my life.

Tito Puente, the reigning mambo king on the timbales, had formed a new band, the Golden Latin Jazz All Stars, and was taking it on the road in the U.S. and overseas. A recording by the band released the year before, Live at the Village Gate, had been generating a buzz in the States and burning up my own CD player here in Japan for months. I dragged my wife along to the club with me, thinking I might never see the likes of this moment again. That turned out to be truer than I could have imagined.

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Goodbye, Hardbop Grandpop

In this new Summer 2014 edition of this website, I had planned to pay tribute to jazz master Horace Silver while he was still living among us and honor the rich legacy of his work in modern music. But in my race to meet the deadline, Silver beat me to the finish line.

As I was preparing to launch this new website edition with my tribute to Silver, I opened the pages of my morning paper, the international edition of the New York Times, over breakfast yesterday and was hit with this obituary of Horace Silver on page 2 of the paper. Although many fans and followers had been expecting such sad news about the aging and ailing Silver for quite a while now, his passing at age 85 in New York still came as something of a shock to me.

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A Mourning Moment

This poem, “Mourning Grace” by writer/master storyteller Maya Angelou, comes to me as I take in the news that she has just passed away in the United States at age 86. I listen over and over to the voice of Angelou herself as she recites these brief but touching words from a recording she first made back in the late 1960s.

I mourn her passing as I also celebrate her memory. Her words have touched and inspired millions of people around the world, and I am no exception. She is one of the writers I include as members of my extended spiritual-literary family around the world who have helped clear the path and led me to become the writer I am today.

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Mandela, the Man and the Myth

As we celebrate the life and times of the late Nelson Mandela in this website’s special tribute edition, it is perhaps appropriate to balance out the high honor and respect I hold for Mandela and his elevated place in world history (and in my life personally) with a few thoughts on Mandela the man vs. Mandela the myth.

As Nelson Mandela often told the story in his lifetime: When he was preparing to come out of prison in 1990 after 27 long years, his biggest worry was that the public would see him as what he called a “demigod” — someone who was saintly, morally perfect and closer to God than the rest of us. He wanted the people of South Africa and the world to see him not that way, but rather as an ordinary man with faults and problems of his own who was struggling like everyone else.

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Thank You, Pete Seeger

Word has just come in that the legendary musician Pete Seeger has passed away in New York at age 94. It is with a mixture of sadness and gratefulness that I write these words — saddened, of course, that the Old Folkie, as he is affectionately called, is no longer with us but grateful just the same to have been touched by his music and life, even from a distance.

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