Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
M. Randolph (May 4) and A. Charles Muller (May 8) both agree that my letter writing is an example of how NOT to write an opinion letter, citing lack of supporting ideas or clear logic. Sticks and stones! Letters are a literary form, like a gospel, a haiku poem, or a will, so don’t read too much into them. And, a 300-word limit does not lend itself to a lot of exposition and fails to constitute an “opinion essay” properly speaking. So, these are not essays, they are letters. That is why they are called that.
One function of an opinion letters page is to allow members of the public to air their views - complaints, praise, observations, alternate views and analyses, etc. - safely and freely. One way of limiting this safety and freedom is to limit or regulate the definition of “acceptable”opinion and thereby not only censor people’s thoughts, but censure them as well. This is a common ‘security’strategy of some governments, and it seems to be shared by M. Randolph.
In this country, due to a generally poor level of public discourse on and critique of public issues, it seems often to fall to foreigners to provide these, which tends to cast us in a bad light, as cranky and eccentric complainers, and this is what often makes it onto the Readers in Council page. But I think The Japan Times does a good job of printing a variety of readers’ views that I enjoy reading in letter form - even those of Randolph and Muller.
As for the recent cosmetic changes to the paper - the font size, the indentation, the border justifications, capitalization, the weather section, etc. - these are mere tweakings that keep the paper looking visually appealing. I don’t mind them and everyone will quickly get used to the new format. It’s nothing to have a conniption about.
Published on Sunday, May 18, 2008 as “A little slack for letter-writers.”
I am surprised, but The Japan Times did indeed print my rebuttal of M. Randolph and A. Charles Muller in today’s newspaper under the title, “A little slack for letter-writers.” I don’t like the title and I don’t like the way the letter was edited. I prefer my original letter to the edited one printed in the paper. The changes to the printed letter were not great, but like some previous letters the editing destroyed some of the style and zing of my writing. I want to stress the point that things are what they are and that that is why they are called that, nothing more. Things are not what they are not, and if we are sincere then we do not mis-label them. So M. Randolph is at least insincere by calling letters-to-the editor“opinion essays,” and editing out my sentence that “That’s way they are called that” compromises my argument about opinion letters. Mine is a classical Nominalist position: the reality of a thing rests in the name of it. It’s also a classical mythopoeic concept - the symbol of the thing is infused with the reality of the thing it symbolizes. I don’t think that letter writers need “a little slack.” Instead I think that readers should be more intelligent and not mis-read letters - either literally misread them, or else mistake them as another form of literature.