Let’s talk about Japanese emperors!
I know next to nothing about Japanese emperors, so this will be quick and easy, and then we will talk about something else. You all know that during that war we had with Japan, they had an emperor whose name was Hirohito. I bet most of you didn’t know that since he died in 1989, he has been known as Emperor Abundant Benevolence. Wikipedia is brilliant.
So his son Akihito is emperor for now, but he’s tired of it. I guess being emperor is a drag when you’re 83. For me the surprise in all this was that they had to pass a law to allow him to step down.
President Donald Trump could step down any day, any hour, any minute, and walk away into the sunset, but emperors of Japan have to get permission. I had no idea of such a thing.
If and when Akihito exercises his new freedom, he will be known as Retired Emperor until he dies, and thereafter as Emperor First Year – Peace Everywhere. The double meaning derives from an obscure play on the meaning of “Heisei,” the actual name to be used.
Speaking of meaning, what does anything mean? Philosophers have asked this question. I have taken courses — Philosophy 101, 105, 405 and others — and I have seen and heard philosophers ask this very question with a smirk.
I have learned that it is dangerous to pretend to know what anything means around those people. They’ll take you for a ride and ditch you at the end of a cul-de-sac in Maple Valley. The usual trick is to change the meaning of meaning out from under you.
For example, if you are Emperor Akihito, your abdication probably means more time to fish and finally watch “Game of Thrones.” But if you’re a regular Japanese citizen, evidence suggests it could mean it’s not Year One anymore, or, so much for peace everywhere.
Or, you could decide that the act of abdication is the historical equivalent of noise. It is neither message nor music.
For another example, the City Council is planning to upzone in various districts in the city. This would be part of the mayor’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program. Developers who want to build larger and taller buildings in the newly upzoned areas would have to devote space in the buildings to “affordable housing” or pay fees that the city could use to build it. What does any of that mean? From where I sit it might as well mean the abdication of the Japanese emperor.
I live in the International District. Will it be dug up and replaced with buildings twice the size, and fees go to enable the city to build affordable housing in Rainier Beach? Where will I eat dinner on Christmas Eve 2020?
If “affordable” can’t always mean affordable to people with very low incomes, can it at least mean that sometimes?
According to a report by the city’s planning department, each single-family home demolished in the areas affected will be replaced by 14 new homes. That is so many they are talking about putting a new bridge over the ship canal to help all the extra people get around.
In the past, the trick has been that “affordable” meant to the city something way different than what it means to me. When I say affordable, I mean I can afford it on my income. When the city says affordable they are talking about affordable to someone who makes four or five times what I make. This is the way it’s been so long that I and anyone who works with homeless people hear the city say “affordable” and translate it as “so far out of reach as to not be worth talking about.”
If “affordable” can’t always mean affordable to people with very low incomes, can it at least mean that sometimes? Can there be a spread of different degrees of affordability to meet the needs of everyone who needs housing (i.e. everyone)? And while we’re at it, can we arrange to distribute a large part of the very affordable housing in or near downtown and the services that the very poor need?
If those things can happen, I’d say that the upzoning could potentially reduce homelessness in Seattle.
But otherwise, for me, it will be only noise.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his regular humor column, Adventures in Irony.
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