JAPAN’S KIDNAPPING PROBLEM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about Japan’s strange (to us) cultural norms regarding women’s roles. The blog elicited a lot of interesting comments so I decided to follow up with another blog about a different cultural phenomenon in Japan that is even more appalling to Westerners.

Japan has a unique approach to child custody that differs from most of the rest of the developed world. Japan does not recognize the concept of ‘joint custody.’ Instead, courts give custody to one parent, applying what is called the ‘continuity principle.’ This states that if the child is settled in one household, the continuity of their care should not be disturbed. This, in turn, means that if one parent kidnaps a child, once the ‘new’ household is established, the court will consistently award custody to the kidnapper.

This bizarre system is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, where children are not viewed as having individual rights or even as ‘belonging’ to their parents. They are seen as the ‘property of the household’ where they live, so as soon as a child moves to a new household (say, with the kidnapping parent), the estranged parent automatically becomes an outsider with no right to ‘disturb’ the newly established household.

As a result (surprise, surprise), tens of thousands of Japanese children are kidnapped EACH YEAR, by one parent, usually the mother. And the other parent, usually the father, has no recourse to the authorities or the courts for help. Hundreds of these parents/fathers per year who are kept away from their children are foreigners who married Japanese citizens.

In one situation, an American man was married to a Japanese woman and they were living in Washington state. There was a divorce and the father was awarded custody. He dropped the six-year-old child off with his mother for a visit and she immediately took the child to Japan. The Japanese government refused to help him and, in fact, the Japanese embassy in Portland, Oregon actually helped the mother escape to Japan by getting her young child a passport in just one day.

Campaigns have been organized here, in other countries and even in Japan, to protect the rights of the outsider parents as well as the children. An American pressure group is called “Bring Abducted Children Home” and represents over 400 American parents whose kids have been abducted to Japan by a Japanese parent.

The Prime Minister of Italy and the President of France have raised this issue with Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, calling the situation ‘unacceptable.’ A formal complaint has also been filed with the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, arguing that Japan has violated the Convention on the Rights of Children and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

But this only deals with the plights of foreign parents who are deprived of access to their children. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese parents are in the same boat.

Apparently, momentum for change is building domestically and internationally. This past February, Prime Minister Abe acknowledged that children would want to see both their parents, which is a huge concession and opens the door to giving rights to ‘outsider’ parents.

 

Also, the U.S. State Department says that progress is being made regarding enforcement of the Hague Convention on abductions since 32 kidnapped children have been returned to the U.S. since 2014. That’s just a drop in the bucket and more abductions are happening every year. But it is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, it seems that the best policy for foreigners is to avoid marrying and having kids with a Japanese citizen until Japan joins the rest of the developed world in their views on custody and parental kidnapping.

HUSBANDS AND WIVES – UNIVERSAL CHATS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

 

THE TOILET SEAT

ME Honey, you left the toilet seat up AND you didn’t flush!

TOM – I know. I did it on purpose.

ME – What? Why would you do that?

TOM – Easy. Because I knew I was going to have to blow my nose after I took my shower.

ME – What does that have to do with anything?

TOM – Because if I wait to flush until after I’ve blown my nose, I only have to flush once, instead of twice. I’m saving water.

ME – Why don’t you put the seat down and flush after you use the toilet. Then throw your used tissue into the wastebasket.

TOM – (SILENCE)


PAPER TOWELS

TOM – Why do you leave used paper towels lying around in the kitchen? Why don’t you throw them out?

ME – Because I can use them again. I’m saving paper.

TOM – You can’t use paper towels over again! That’s the whole point of DISPOSABLE paper towels. They’re disposable!

ME – That’s ridiculous! You can use regular towels again if they’re not too dirty. So why can’t you do the same with paper towels?

TOM – Because I don’t want to have to look at dirty paper towels on the kitchen counter.

ME – Okay. I’ll hide them so you don’t have to look at them.

TOM – I guess that works.

ME – (Sigh) Now I just have to remember where I put them.


TRASH TALK

ME – Tom, please take the garbage out. The bag is overflowing, as usual.

TOM – Damn it! I hate dealing with these overstuffed garbage bags! Garbage is falling out everywhere! This is ridiculous.

ME – Then why don’t you just empty the garbage one of the first three times I ask you to. BEFORE it starts to overflow.

TOM – Where’s the challenge in that?

MR. ROGERS AS PARENTING GURU – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist who originally specialized in child psychology. Throughout life, I had a personal role model for parenting through the way she treated me and from what she actually taught me about relating to children.

Her philosophy was to respect your child as an individual but understand how he or she thinks and what he or she understands at each level of development. You should talk to children as you would an adult, but using words and concepts they can understand at each developmental stage.

She believed that you should explain whatever is going on in your child’s life, including why you want them to do something or not do something. I always got a reason for what was expected of me so I was a very reasonable and cooperative child, most of the time.

My favorite photo of my mom and my son, David

I was nineteen in 1968 when Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood started its 30 plus year run on television. I didn’t get to know him until around 1987 when my daughter was two.

She became a huge Mr. Rogers fan, as did I. I immediately realized that he was motivated to help parents as much as kids. He was a wonderful example of the calm, consistent, patient demeanor parents should exhibit towards their kids as well as a model of how adults should communicate with children.

He showed parents how to tune into what their kids were feeling, to respect those feelings and how to appropriately address them. He was particularly good at showing parents how to help kids through difficult times in their personal lives or in society as a whole.

He started his TV run in 1968 and that year he filmed an episode especially for parents, showing them how they could talk to their children about the assassinations and social turmoil that was erupting in the society at the time. His last address specifically for parents was after 9/11 in 2001, when he was talking to a generation of parents who had grown up watching his show.

Mr. Rogers’ parenting style was familiar to me because it mirrored my own mother’s approach to parenting. It apparently had a huge influence on many other parents for decades.

He became a parenting icon, or guru, to millions. His influence could be compared to the influence of Dr. Spock. He also wrote several books for parents. The real wisdom he conveyed was through his overall persona and gestalt. Parenting philosophies have changed over the years but his example of nurturing and sensitivity has had a lasting impact.

Celebrations last year marking the 50th anniversary of his TV debut were received with enthusiasm and huge ratings. There was a PBS special and a critically acclaimed documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which made 22-million dollars at the domestic box office and became the top-grossing biographical documentary in American history!

The trailer for the new movie coming out about Fred Rogers, starring Tom Hanks, also received an enormous outpouring of affection and support on the internet.

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers is obviously beloved by both the children and the parents who watched his show and he was a comforting presence to parents as well as children. He gave parents confidence that with some empathy and patience, they could handle any situation with their children. But he also made it clear that there had to be a real connection between parent and child for this magical relationship to work.

To be a parent like Mr. Rogers, you had to talk to your child, ask him questions, read to him and play with him in order to develop the rapport and trust that predicates the “Mr. Rogers’ style” relationship.

Above all else, his message was to accept and love your child “just the way you are” and to give that dependent being all the time and attention he deserves. This approach is timeless, compassionate and caring.

Mr. Rogers set a high bar for generations of parents, particularly working parents whose time with their children was more limited. He also gave these parents the roadmap and confidence to reach his lofty goals.

You could say that Mr. Rogers has played a major role in shaping American society through his influence over generations of kids and parents because society is made up of individuals, and parents shape the character of the individuals who populate society.

Mr. Rogers helped shape parents since 1968.

THE ODD LEGALESE OF WINNING AND LOSING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My ex-husband, Larry Kaiser, was a young litigation attorney in New York City in 1979. His law firm assigned Pro Bono Appeals cases to junior associates as part of a public service program.

Larry was given the appeal of a defendant, Eric Michaels, who had been convicted, in a second trial, of rape, sodomy, robbery and burglary. His first trial had been declared a mistrial. It was clear that the defendant was rightfully convicted. He had definitely done it. So Larry had to look for a procedural irregularity that he could exploit to try to get the conviction overturned on appeal. That was his job, unsavory as it was.

Larry discovered that the trial judge, Judge Arnold Fraiman, had declared a mistrial for a questionable reason – he and several jurors were scheduled to leave on vacations. I believe the judge even had his wife and his packed suitcases in the courtroom. If this was seen as an abuse of discretion by the appellate court, it would invalidate the guilty verdict of the second trial. The entire second trial would be considered invalid as a violation of double jeopardy. You can only be tried once for any crime or crimes.

Larry was drowning in work so I helped him write this Pro Bono brief. It was very much a joint effort. I was practicing law at a small New York City law firm at the time. We won the appeals case and Eric Michaels was released from prison.

One morning shortly after the appellate verdict was rendered, I was getting out of bed and I heard Larry yelling from the living room. He had just opened the New York Times and found his case on the front page! The misconduct of Judge Fraiman was considered a big enough deal to warrant a prominent story. This was particularly true because his misconduct resulted in the release of a convicted rapist. The District Attorney of New York had described Eric Michaels’ crimes as some of the more vicious crimes prosecuted by the state in years.

Judge Fraiman was now in the spotlight. Larry was interviewed by several newspapers. Over the next few days, reporters dug into the Judge’s prior cases. And they discovered that the exact same thing had happened before. Judge Fraiman had previously declared a mistrial for the same reason – he was due to leave on vacation. His prior mistrial declaration had also been considered inappropriate by an appellate court. And again, an appellate court had released another guilty defendant back onto the streets because of Judge Fraiman’s actions in court.

This was now a really big judicial scandal. The story stayed in the news for a while and destroyed Judge Fraiman’s reputation. I think he may have been censured by the judiciary or by the Bar Association.

Larry always had mixed feelings about this case. He had won a major legal success and got his name in the New York Times.

On the other hand, he also helped get a rapist released from jail. This is often the plight of lawyers in the criminal field. It was also a prime reason I didn’t go into criminal law. Winning isn’t everything.

POLITICS AND RELATIONSHIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently read an autobiography by the Saturday Night Live actress, Rachel Dratch, called “Girl Walks Into A Bar…” I enjoyed the book, particularly the adjustment of a single 44-year-old woman to motherhood, a committed relationship, and co-parenting.

Rachel Dratch

Rachel started a long distance (California to New York) relationship with a lovely guy and after six months, discovered she was pregnant. This was a minor miracle at her age. There was no question that she wanted the baby. The open question was what kind of relationship she would have going forward with the baby’s daddy, John.

This guy sounded like a real gem and was wonderful to Rachel. He even stepped up and moved to New York City to be near Rachel and their unborn son. He wanted an active role in the child’s life once he was born.

My problem with this story is that Rachel is a New York City liberal and Democrat and John was an ‘independent’ who supported George W. Bush and the Republican agenda.

Would he also support Donald Trump today?

I started wondering if I could overlook someone’s political views and have a serious relationship with a Republican in today’s political climate. The answer, for me, is no. During the George W. Bush era, the comedian Janine Garofalo said that being a Republican was no longer just an opinion, but was ‘a character flaw’ which is many times truer today.

The problem I have with Republicans/Trump supporters today is not their ‘political’ positions. I have no issue with someone who has a different view from mine on deficits, trade policy, or interest rates. I’m beginning to question the judgment and relationship to reality of people who still believe in trickle-down economics after so many years of contrary, hard evidence that it does not work. That’s a side issue.

The problem I have with Republicans today is their morals or lack thereof. Anyone who is willing to accept and/or support Trump’s level of lying, corruption, bigotry, venality, narcissism, misogyny, mean-spiritedness, arrogance, ignorance, anti-intellectualism and overall lack of caring about anything or anyone outside of himself is not my kind of person.

Anyone who is willing to look the other way when Trump says there are ‘good’ Nazis, or when he separates immigrant children from their parents because they are seeking asylum in the U.S. has a major ‘character flaw’ in my book.

I can’t accept rationalizations or excuses for Trump’s words or deeds. I have no common values or perspectives with people who share these views– even though I understand that many of them are working with a different set of ‘facts’ than what I get from the mainstream media. If we can’t agree about the facts, there is no basis for discussion or agreement about anything else.

In 2019, who you identify with politically says a lot about who you are as a human being. I have to respect my partner’s mind and character. I don’t respect Republican/Trump supporters. I also need to feel that my partner is a caring, tolerant, compassionate person. There seems to be a compassion gene missing in most Trump supporters.

They have a strong bias in favor of corporate ‘rights’ — greed — at the expense of individuals. They appear to have a need to look down on all sorts of people. Equal treatment and opportunity, fairness, and helping the underprivileged, the sick or the disabled does not seem to even be on their radar. How can I believe in the dignity and rights of every human being if I give aid and comfort to those who want to take that dignity and those rights away?

I admit that Rachel Dratch’s partner, now her husband (I believe) seems to be an involved parent and a decent, supportive partner to her. But what values will he teach their child? What kind of world does he want that child to grow up and live in? I’m suspicious of his emotional makeup if he could ‘exonerate’ Trump’s outrageous behavior and cruel policies.

There is no moral middle ground anymore.

Either you want Americans to have affordable healthcare or you don’t. I have no tolerance for selfish people who don’t care about the quality of life of their fellow humans. I do believe these uncaring SOBs should get healthcare, a living wage, civil rights, equality and the right to make decisions about their own bodies even though they don’t believe that I should have any of these things.

Does that make me a ‘better’ person in my moral universe? Yes, it does.

LIVING WITH ANTI-SEMITISM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I am Jewish. My parents were both born in America but my grandparents were all born in Russia/Ukraine. I grew up on stories from my maternal grandmother about living in a Shtetl, where murderous, anti-semitic rampages by the Kossacks were commonplace. Jews were not allowed to integrate freely with the gentile population, let alone socialize or intermarry. My great grandfather was a respected Rabbi and one of the rare Jews who was allowed to do business with the Gentiles in the big town of Minsk.

In addition to these stories, I heard a lot about the plight of the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe as the Nazis came to power. As a child, I used to think about what I would take with me if that ‘knock on the door’ came one night to take me away from my home and my life. I often wondered if I would be the kind of person in a Concentration Camp who shared my bread and tried to help others, or if I would do whatever I had to do to protect myself.

Nazi Concentration Camp inmates

I am terrified when I read some of the anti-semitic stereotypes and accusations that are used today. They sound just like the propaganda used against Jews, not just in the ’30s and ’40s but all the way back to the Middle Ages in Europe. Romans probably also used similar rhetoric against Jews even before they started hating Christians as well.

Anti-Semitic propaganda from the Middle Ages in Europe

Overt and virulent anti-semitism has been relatively dormant in America for decades. Jews seemed to have assimilated into the mainstream to the point of almost becoming invisible. Or so I thought. Anti-semitism has clearly not been socially acceptable for a while. So it wasn’t expressed openly that much and I didn’t have to think about it or experience it.

American Anti-Semitic propaganda from the 1930s

I always knew that it was still ‘out there’. But I assumed it was less prevalent, less vicious and less relevant. Now I have to face the fact large numbers of Americans, in fact, do still nurse the same hatred and stereotypes that have plagued Jews for literally centuries. Americans are more tolerant and enlightened overall today, but some things just won’t die out.

I never thought that I would have to sit and watch a Nazi rally in an American city, complete with swastikas, arm salutes, and anti-semitic chants. Charlottesville was a wake-up call for many American Jews.

Charlottesville, NC Rally

For now, it’s ‘just words’. But my family is a testament to the fact that words can turn into acceptable attitudes than actions and finally into social norms and policies. I don’t think we are poised to become a Nazi state. I don’t think that anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican or anti-semitic language or behavior will be tolerated by the majority of Americans.

Anti-Anti Semitism

But it is still uncomfortable for me to deal with the hatred that I know is there for me because of my lineage and/or the religion I don’t even practice. I liked it better when all the haters had to hide under a rock somewhere and were afraid to come out in the open. I hope we can send them back to that place where they are afraid of us instead of us having to be afraid of them.

SIDEWALK WARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I never really gave sidewalks much thought. If I had thought about them at all, I would have imagined they had always existed, which is only partially true.

The first sidewalks came into being around 2000 B.C. – a millennium or two after the invention of the wheel. Here’s the interesting part: they were rare luxuries in most of the world until as late as the 19th Century.

Ancient Roman road with no sidewalk

That’s when big cities like London and Paris built hundreds of miles of sidewalks to deal with the chaos in the roadways. Until then, “For most of human history, vehicles, pedestrians, vendors, musicians, drinkers and strolling lovers all mingled in the same amorphous muck of the avenue.” Washington Post, June 30, 2019, “The Death of the Sidewalk,” by Avi Selk.

The 1800s saw the first attempt to make the roadways more efficient by dividing them up into sections with regulated use designated for each section. The word “jaywalking” didn’t even exist until the early 20th century. That’s the first time pedestrians were fined for using the part of the street where they weren’t supposed to be.

Non-walkers were also penalized for using the sidewalks without proper authorization. Cities started prohibiting and/or regulating all kinds of sidewalk activities, like vendors, food stands, musicians, panhandlers, and prostitutes.

Cobbled street with narrow sidewalk

The division of space into walkers and vehicles eroded over time with bicyclists and stationary homeless people, among others, invading the precious territory of the walkers. Cities kept coming up with new limitations, like bike lanes, to try to deal with the problems that came up. But as vehicles became more prevalent, from horse-drawn carts to trolleys to cars, streets got widened and sidewalks narrowed.

Urban bike lanes

In 1896, The Times started a “Crusade against the sidewalk grabbers.” It wrote, “The pedestrians now … must spend their time in a hurdle race over skids, climb platforms, dodge moving boxes or else run the risk of being crushed under horses’ hooves in the street.” Washington Post article cited above. Apparently, pedestrians felt they had to fight for a safe walking space among the vendors and construction crews that were encroaching on their walking space.

Today there’s a new threat to the safety and sanity of pedestrians all across America.

Electric scooters are usurping sidewalk space at a dangerous, 10, 15 or even 20 miles per hour. They clog the sidewalks, endangering walkers and creating obstacles when they are left strewn carelessly in the streets. There have been many reported injuries from collisions as well as from people tripping over randomly abandoned scooters.

Scooters on a modern city street

As in the past, there’s a backlash of pedestrians trying to “… restore the sanctity of the sidewalk, with anti-scooter vigilantes appearing wherever the machines do.” Washington Post article. Disgusted pedestrians are throwing scooters into dumpsters and rivers, setting them on fire and hanging them from bridges. So cities now have to try to make peace in the scooter/pedestrian wars. Washington, D.C is experimenting with solar-powered charging docks in the hopes of getting people to stop dumping scooters wherever they happen to stop.

Another possible solution is limiting scooters to the bike lanes, where those already exist. Nashville gave up trying to negotiate a cease-fire and is trying to ban scooters from the sidewalks entirely.

Scooters left randomly on the street

Understanding the history of urban roadways gives perspective to the current sidewalk wars. This situation keeps cropping up periodically as new uses for sidewalks come into vogue. Cities have been dealing with these issues for centuries so this will be resolved over time – until the next sidewalk crisis emerges.