Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mmm, breakfast

There's nothing like Nacho Cheese Doritos and clementine oranges, washed down with milk tea for Sunday breakfast. What can I say, I'm outta food. More on the reasons why later.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A nice surprise

I got two nice surprises last night, shirts from both my brother and my folks. I've had trouble getting shirts with sleeves long enough for me to wear, so it's good to get a fresh supply just as the weather has turned and short-sleeves aren't cutting it, even under a jacket.

Today I get to celebrate Thanksgiving, a few friends and I are headed up to Tokyo for a turkey lunch, then it's back to Hiratsuka in the evening for a potluck dinner party. I'm going to try and recreate my pumpkin soup recipe. The key is the blending.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What're you thankful for?

I'm thankful for my life as it is. Out of all the possibilities, sure, there are a hundred scenarios in which I'd have a better job, stable family by now, or something like that. Of course, I could also have ended up dead in a ditch at 16 if that car had hit me a hundredth of a second earlier. So on the balance, I have a pretty good life.

I do wish that I had an animal, but with my forgetfulness, it'd be a pile of bones by the time I remembered to water it. This is why I don't have kids, and why my plants are perpetually brown.

I'm thankful for my friends in Japan, the US and around the world who hang out with me, put up with my crap, and let me sleep on their couch. I'm thankful for being able to enjoy my life to the fullest. That's what matters.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Alternative to a Detroit bailout

This actually occurred to me one day, and then I pushed it aside as I was deciding whether to make pumpkin or potato soup. But it really is a theoretical possibility, as much as it may be a cartoon. Although, in my version, in exchange for a bailout, the Big 3 automakers were required to manufacture rails and train cars that the US government would then buy to construct a high-speed rail service in the Midwest. Considering the bailout is around $5 billion more/less (c'mon, what's a few billion when we're handing out trillions to the financial sector anyway?) than the high-speed service California's constructing. I, for one, will not move back to the US anywhere that doesn't have some form of decent public transit. Prompted by Keith Knight's cartoon

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Children of Japan

Speaking of WWII, this is an interesting video of Japanese life in pre-war Japan. It's interesting that even then the Japanese-as-photo-nuts stereotype is well-established. I also like how the narrator uses 'oftener'.

Dehumanizing the enemy

I came across an interesting discussion online about video games, and particularly the portrayal of different races as the villians. The game referenced here is a(nother) WWII first-person shooter, that's set in the Pacific theater. A gaming journalist took offense at the opening scenes, bringing up memories of his family, specifically his (Japanese-American) grandmother who was interned in the camps in the western US. If you feel uncomfortable, that's fine, but he goes on to use the Nazis as an example of a group that he has had no problem gunning down in other WWII shooters.

The discussion at Ars has ranged pretty widely, and I think it's notable that it hasn't descended into typical Angry Internet Man territory. There are some very thoughtful comments on what the use is of dehumanizing the Nazis, and how some people conflate the Germans of today with the Nazis of the 30s and 40s. I would highly recommend it, and I'll restate my comment there that it's important not to call the Nazis monsters, because it removes their humanity from them, thus making it less likely that the rest of us will be on guard for that same potential to commit atrocious acts. The best way to honor the victims of concentration camps is to realize that all of us are capable, and to protect against becoming what we decry.

The most interesting comments were about Japan, and how they were so much worse than the Nazis, and thus are even more deserving of dehumanization. My father wrote me recently, asking about the Japanese Air Defence Force general who was forced to resign after writing that Japan was forced to bomb Pearl Harbor, and specifically my reaction to a blog post he read.

History is written by the winners, but that only works if you eradicate the opponent. Otherwise, what you get are different versions written for different audiences. I'm going to assume most of you know the schoolbook American version. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, we fought back, it was very difficult, but we overcame the hardships and dropped atomic bombs because we had no other choice. This is not exactly how it went, and deserves some thought about revision. Why was Pearl Harbor bombed? Hint, it wasn't because we Americans were minding our own beeswax when the Japanese decided to conquer the US.

The Japanese schoolbook version is a bit different, and there's not actually one set version. There are some versions that are more true, but there are also a few revisionist versions that whitewash everything from the occupation of China to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the basic gist of what schoolchildren learn is basically that Japan started the war, people fought, then America dropped the bomb on poor, little Japan and now we should pity them and they have a cudgel to beat Americans with every August (which is reason #53 I leave during August, in between #52 80% humidity and #54 being bored out of my skull not doing anything for a month).

Neither the Japanese version nor the American schoolbook versions are entirely correct. Each one emphasizes what benefits the country's narrative (Americans fighting back after being unfairly attacked, Japan suffering the only atomic bombing in history) and minimizes embarrassments (American Marines boiling Japanese skulls for sending home as souvenirs, the firebombing of Tokyo, the Rape of Nanking, the death marches, "comfort women").

With my parents, I visited Yasukuni shrine, the one that gets Asians all upset when Japanese politicians visit because all war dead are enshrined there, including a number of class A war criminals. There's a history WWII there, told from the Japanese perspective. It's very illuminating, especially the parts about pre-Pearl Harbor events. Most Americans think Pearl Harbor just happened. There's no mention of the US oil embargo on Japan, nor how they were being strangled economically because of their involvement in China.

I'd really like to know more about Japanese sentiments, but it's very difficult to have this discussion with people. It's still an emotional topic.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Indiana went for Obama we know, now check out the video at this link (I'm too lazy to embed it). It's worth it, though. It's got Luke Russert, son, I presume, of Tim, at IU discussing the election. Just wait for the verrrry end:


The new setup

I've been saving my money up lately, since I got back from my summer vacation, and with my evening private lessons, I've been able to afford a new computer monitor. Well, that's what I call it. It's actually a hi-def Sharp AQUOS 37" TV. Does the job quite nicely as well. I'm still mucking about with the dual-monitor setup, and I've managed to get my shows, movies and games to play on the big monitor, while I can still use the smaller one for web browsing and chat programs, to see if they're worth pausing my movie for :P

Here's the pic of the new setup. What you can't see is the mound of crap I've shoveled out of the way to make this all nice and neat. Saturday and Sunday will be living room straightening day, though I've got a date Saturday in Kamakura (and I'll get your paper, Mom), which might preclude me from getting this stuff done. Ah well. Hopefully I'll have it ready in time for some Thanksgiving party action.

I'm still futzing about with stuff, so the arrangement will probably change due to space considerations. I'd also like to get a more sturdy rack for my CPU, barely visible behind the small monitor. They're some cheap-o 100 yen things I had lying around. Ye olde computer desk, inherited from my friend Nicole, will probably go to roommate Mike, who's about to start online classes. Which also means I'll have to get some headphones to play Fallout 3 in 1900x1080 resolution. Happy happy happy.

(And yes, that's a bottle of sake and a tupperware of Japanese pickles. The green bottle is water, and the rope....use your imagination)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back from Gifu

I had a three day weekend, so I took off to visit Ana and Damien in Gifu Prefecture, a ways off. We visited an old postal town on the Nakasendo (the inland route from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto). The main street is very well preserved, and full of little shops and wonderful restaurants. I had some awesome soba noodles and the local specialty, gohan-mochi, which are rice balls grilled and dipped into sweet peanut sauce. Good, but a tad messy. It was chilly out, so after the warmth from the soba wore off, we stopped in and warmed up at a little hirori (I think), which is a square of hard-packed earth with an open fire in it, and usually an iron pot cooking something over the fire. Very traditional.

We bought some local beers, and Sunday we visited a tiny village nearby to visit a sake brewery owned by one of Ana's students. The owner was in and allowed us to sample his wares. We probably could've gotten a tour had he not been the only one minding the shop that day. I got a bottle of something for myself to take home. It'll be good.

I just got home, then immediately sped out again to do some food shopping. Now it's bedtime, I'm wiped out. I'm uploading photos as I write this, so I'll linkify things when they're done (or more probably tomorrow)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Proud to Be an American Again

I've travelled a lot since 2000. I've been on 4 continents, the only white face in the room countless times. I've lived outside of the USA for longer than I've been in it. And to my discredit, I've often found myself wishing that I weren't an American citizen.

An old man on a train in Morocco asked me where I was from. I replied that I was from America. He said, "Ah, Bill Clinton," and started cackling. I was pretty embarrassed then. Little did I know...

In 2000 I watched the election from my boarding house in Madrid. I watched the Floridian fiasco play out to Spanish guffaws and ridicule. When Bush finally won, I wondered what was wrong. How did a nepotistic loser gain the highest office in the land?

I once got pinned into a crowd of pissed-off North Africans in 2000, demanding my nationality. I told them I was German and they left me alone.

I watched the Towers fall on a sunny, beautiful morning at Purdue University. People cried, constantly phoning, trying to reach family and friends. Some douchebags in my classes tried to convince the profs that we should have a day off from classes and get out early. One professor said we should just "continue on, because what the people who did this want more than anything was to disrupt our lives, and we can't let them."

I flew to Denver a month after, when the TSA changed the rules for baggage while I was gone, and I was stuck trying to repack everything at the check-in counter to match their specifications. The next three years were spent exactly as the professor said the terrorists wanted: in fear, confusion, orange alerts and duct tape. Shoes off at the airport, suspicion of everyone, some asshole driving a car into the mosque in Plainfield. My Indian girlfriend going to a supermarket in Carmel, IN and being treated like she was going to blow the place up. Racist fucks.

I don't even want to get into Iraq. Trillions of dollars squandered, thousands of dead Americans, multiples of that are now maimed or scarred, physically and/or mentally for life. Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, with at least a million chased from their country by ethnic strife. All because Saddam was bad, he had WMD, was complicit in 9/11, we needed to free the Iraqis. Bullshit. As Friedman said, we wanted to flex our muscles and tell the A-rabs to Suck. On. This. Yes, that's turned out well.

I went to Japan, where it's still reasonably pleasant to be an American, unless you live near a military base, where 18-year olds drunk on hormones and booze brawl and make general nuisances of themselves. Don't get me started on the military. It's hard to thank someone for their service when they're busy puking on your shoes or starting a brawl or raping the occasional Japanese schoolgirl.

Bush: worst President in post-WWII America, probably since the Civil War. A drug addict, failed businessman, draft dodger (yes, poppy pulling strings so you don't have to fight is dodging) and 'Christian' who should by all rights have been living in a halfway house were his daddy not rich. I was raised by my family to make your way on your own merits. This sad excuse for a man hasn't ever done that.

Two more months, then our long, national nightmare will end. We've elected a charismatic man, someone who truly worked their way up from nothing. The poor guy's grandmother passed away mere days before the election, the last person to raise him that was alive.

I don't expect him to be perfect, contrary to what many say, I don't believe he's the be-all end-all of our hopes. Him getting elected was half the battle. Now making sure he carries through on his promises and trying to get him to relinquish the powers Bush has seized for the office is the other half. And we won't win all of them. But we'll do better under him than under anyone else.

The McCain campaign used dirty tricks, claiming he was a socialist, with one hand egging the racists on, while with the other hand pretending to distance themselves. McCain probably isn't that racist, and he attempted to tamp down some of the more extreme stuff. But he certainly took what he could, and didn't bother to do much about it. Maverick my ass. Anyone who still thinks he's an independent man is deluded. He's only for his own glorification.

But that's in the past. We've got a long way to go. Civil unions for gays have been banned in at least 3 states and gay adoptions banned in Arkansas. Energy policy needs tackling, we've wasted 8 years to take the lead internationally. We seriously need national healthcare. We're the only developed nation without some form of national healthcare. We need fix so many things that have been broken or left untended for so long. Worried about Obama raising taxes? Shoulda thought about that before you cheered on two wars replete with war profiteering and watched our economy tank. Conservatives always trumpet personal responsibility, but they never want to take responsibility for the fallout from their bad ideas. Suck it up, boys.

We're on our way to something better, I hope. Get on board folks. Whatever comes, it's going to be interesting. And I'm finally proud to be an American again.