Saturday, April 30, 2005

Unemployment Just Went Up ...

... by one.

As of midnight last night, I am unemployed. I will be finishing up a few things here, clearing out the Closet, travelling around Japan a bit, and heading back to Oklahoma.

Life, and blogging, will be fair to partly crazy for the next ten days or so.

Updates to follow as reality permits.

Have a good day!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

It's a Wild Life

From The Kansas City Star:
The Elvis of birds has been spotted: The sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird believed to have been extinct since the 1940s, has been confirmed in the "Big Woods" region of eastern Arkansas.

I'm sure an investigation of the failure of US intelligence agencies to find this bird is impending. Will Graceland be implicated? Stay tuned ...

In other wild news, German toads are exploding.

Yet another US intelligence failure regarding Wildlife of Mass Destruction! Who can believe them anymore? It's time for a complete overhaul of these agencies. Exploding toads. What is this world coming to?

Update: For those readers who are now wild with anxiety about our amphibian friends, I send you good news that I hope will balance your fears with hope*:
Peruvian officials saved some 4,000 endangered frogs from being whizzed into popular drinks.

As Comrade Tovarich notes, today is Green Day (緑の日, midori no hi) in Japan. Nothing like woodpeckers, toads, frogs and solar power to celebrate, I say.


*Not for the toads, of course.

Update: Well, I was worried, anyway.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Shocking Conversation

So there I was tonight at a Japanese-style pub talking to a couple of Europeans, a Southeast Asian, and a Canuck. We were having a (very clean, mind you) discussion of human mating habits, sparked by opposing comments by the Canuck and a Euro on the value of marriage in the modern world.

I, the only American in the place, the only Bush supporter at the table, with a fundamentalist Christian background that I rather like, made the (or so I thought) rather conservative claim that surely a million years of human evolution must have exerted some influence on human social patterns. Shockingly, one of the European gents down the table, a Bush hater and general all-around liberal sort, in all seriousness says: "Evolution, that's just a theory, isn't it? Is there any evidence that we came from monkeys or apes or whatever? I mean, have they found any kind of link or anything?"

He wasn't joking. I checked.

I had no clue how to respond. Really. After about two full, long seconds I started out with the fact that Darwin never claimed humans evolved from monkeys or apes but rather that at some point in the distant past we must have had a common ancestor, but got nowhere, as you would expect with such a lame statement. I was in fact ridiculed by the Euro, as you wouldn't expect. No one else was willing to defend the theory either, probably because they just didn't want to get into it at that point. Too nice an evening and whatnot.

The Canuck gave no surprises; he pooh-poohed the idea that evolution had anything to do with it and claimed marriage was entirely a cultural construct determined by human tradition. Tradition - bah!

The other European was too engrossed in his girlfriend (providing an experimental sample, if you will), and the Southeast Asian was having none of the conversation at all for reasons I was never able to determine. (As you would expect. Very typical inscrutible Asian.)

But really, if you believe in evolution, can you honestly suggest that it has played NO role whatsoever in determining human social behavior? Haven't you ever watched National Geographic or anything?

Hmph! What a bizarre world.

You know, I love being in Japan. What a great bunch of guys I work with!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Good News From Iraq

Chrenkoff's Part 26 is up.

One of the interesting Reuters news stories he points out is that the Iraqis are planning to broadcast their entire primary and secondary school curriculum for students who can't go to the schools.
Iraq's Ministry of Education (MoE) is establishing a new education television channel in April to give primary and secondary school students the option of taking additional lessons at home and for those who are not attending school due to insecurity.

"The idea of this channel is similar to the educational TV established during the 1970s. We are going to present the entire curriculum for all grades, along with scientific programmes which are useful for the students," Baha'a Yehyah, director of the education channel, told IRIN in the capital Baghdad.

The channel will broadcast for at least six hours a day, seven days a week. "Specialised supervisors in the education field and good teachers will participate in preparing the programmes and teaching lessons," Yehyah added.

Japan right now has a problem with primary and secondary school students who refuse to go to school for various reasons. Maybe they could do something like this to address the issue?


I'd like to thank the Australians and New Zealanders for everything you've done for freedom and democracy and us foreign mates of yours down through the years.

You've stood by the rest of us through thick and thin, and given more than a fair share of your best for it, and we won't forget that.

For those who may not be familiar with ANZAC Day, here's Chrenkoff on it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Dammit, Jim, I'm a Doctor,
Not Stonewall Jackson!

This, ladies and gentlemen, is unbaRI-babo-*:
"We thought about how meticulous those Civil War re-enactors are about having historically accurate uniforms and equipment," says OTB President Hugh Lessjo. "Then we thought, 'Who else is so obsessive about having the right props and costumes?' "

The answer: Star Trek fans.

"We have Star Trek fan clubs in our area, and Sunday's battle re-enactment already includes a 'what-if' scenario featuring a Confederate counterattack," says Lessjo. "So we started thinking outside the box, and we thought, 'Why not have Trekkies join the battle?' They already have the equipment." ...

(Shakes head in disbelief. Which is a good thing, maybe ...)


*That would be Japanese for "unbelievable." No, really.

Mug tip to Evil White Guy, of course.

Torrent of Consciousness ...

... brings us For Serious Linguafiles Only, a fascinating post on Latin, Hebrew, German, Coptic, and Choctaw. Oink.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

One Response to SimTerror '05

Got a link to this via email - thanks Izzy!

SimTerror '05 kicked off earlier this month, and Call Me Ishmael responds:
Top five reasons why we shouldn't worry about the (simulated) bombings in Australia:

(5) Removing the city returns the land to its original inhabitants

(4) Solves the koala overpopulation problem

And the top three reasons? Click to read 'em!

By the way, SimTerror '05 has been a pretty interesting read so far. Check out the main page for lots more.

Monday, April 18, 2005

In Memoriam

9:01 At Murrah Building Memorial


Update: First person accounts by Oklahoma bloggers

Cutting to the Chase gives a reporter's account of the day.
Lip Schtick gives her account in several posts, starting here. Check her main page for more.
Oklarama remembers seeing the bombing on TV in Cincinatti, and then visiting his home state afterwards.


(Image hosted at Flickr.)

Pulse of Freedom

A great new blog out of Lebanon:
Rafik Hariri Awakened Us
Posted on Thursday 14 April 2005

We were outraged and shocked when the honorable martyr Rafik Hariri was murdered. He is the man who rebuilt Lebanon and made it a prosperous beautiful place again after the war. We want to know the truth about why he was killed. We know that if he was not safe, none of us are safe. We are not safe inside our own country.

For fifteen years we did not want to think or talk about politics. Now young people all over the country are thinking about talking about politics. We must have change, not only political change but cultural change.

Freedom is not an idea. It is a way of life. Freedom means not being controlled by other people or by other countries. Freedom means we can go wherever want. Freedom means we can say whatever we want. Freedom means we can feel at home in our own country.

Whether they are successful or not, this is an age of heroes. I hope and pray that in fifty years there will be a new crop of Arab, Afghan and Persian heroes in the history books, men and women who risked their lives to fight tyranny and bring freedom to their homelands for their people.

Mug tip to Instapundit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Middle Kingdom & the Kingdom of Wa
A Mistory of Sino-Japanese Relations to 1868

The Daily Demarche has started another of its fine group blog efforts with the theme of The China Syndrome: 2015 and beyond. Check out the good doctor's update post for links to many better-informed and serious comments on China's possible futures. I did a China forecast already, so instead of following the call of China in the future, I'll look at the history of the area and at some Asian attitudes in a series of posts over the next week or so.

If my memory, such as it is, serves, the first encounter between the nations of China and Japan, such as they were, was around the 3rd century AD. The encounter is recorded in Chinese histories from the period as emissaries from the Kingdom of Wa coming to offer tribute and the servitude of their distant nation, because, of course, China is the center of the world (hence “The Middle Kingdom”) and who doesn't want to come and pay tribute? The encounter isn't recorded in Japanese histories from the period at all, mostly because the Japanese hadn't imported writing from China yet, but probably also because they were too polite to correct the Chinese.

(We will skip an early Japanese invasion of Korea, as the Japanese undoubtedly wish they had.)

Over the next nine centuries, the Japanese didn't pay any further tribute, but rather acquired Chinese writing, Buddhism, Confucianism, poetry, architecture, etc., etc., etc., which I think is their comment on who was serving whom. In the 1200s, the Chinese invented accounting, got their books straightened out and figured out the Kingdom of Wa hadn't been paying taxes for about 900 years. They turned the matter over to their collection agent, Kubilai Khan, who decided to repossess Japan (it's the interest that gets you, don't you know). Two different invasion fleets attempted to carry this policy out, but both were destroyed by storms. These storms were dubbed Mitsubishi Zeroes by the Japanese in an attempt to show how much tax they felt they owed China.

Fast forward through three centuries of war, upheaval, flea-bitten Dutch sailors living in filth, English pirates having affairs with samurai wives, and Japanese pilots swaggering around singing "Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of sake" at the local karaoke boxes.

The Japanese decided not only did they not owe China any taxes, but China owed them. They invaded Korea in the late 1500s, but were informed the Khans had moved and the Chinese hadn't invented postal forwarding services yet. The Koreans very vigorously helped the Japanese pack up and leave. The Japanese, who were unfamiliar with the custom, did not tip them, which caused resentment among the Koreans.

Just after 1600, the Portuguese took up karaoke, which a few years later caused the son and second successor of the former shogun Toranaga to decide he didn't want anything at all to do with most of the rest of the world. He closed all of Japan's ports except one, Nagasaki. Only Chinese and Dutch traders were allowed there because, hey, the Chinese were useful nerds who invented things like spaghetti, the printing press, and gunpowder, and the Dutch could sing. The off-key Portuguese and randy Brits were kicked right out, and those arrogant upstarts, the Americans, who were so backward they didn't even have a country yet, were banned as well just to show the shogun (who had forgotten everything America will do for Japan) meant business. Or rather, meant no business.

Around 1750, after a century and a half of peace, the ruling military class of Japan went through an identity crisis. They looked for the answer, among other places, in Neo-Confucianism and its attendant focus on loyalty to the emperor. Of course, China had gotten significantly weaker in the intervening years, and the Japanese Neo-Confucian philosophers had to explain that. So they claimed, as the nation is held together by the emperor's mandate from heaven, and China had rather fallen apart, that the true Mandate of Heaven had passed to the Japanese Emperor, making Japan the Middle Kingdom, and yet still the Kingdom of Wa. The identity crisis continued.

In 1854, the US Navy (which finally had a country) steamed into Edo Bay, where it was met with anti-foreigner protestors (who had forgotten everything the US will do for Japan), and forced the Japanese government to open some ports to American trading ships and whalers. As an afterthought, the US Navy also demanded exemption from Japanese laws for all US citizens in Japan, and the right to send John Wayne to open a consulate. Other European nations, competing with each other to exploit the rest of Asia, followed the US lead in Japan, all the while deriding the Americans for their unilateralist lack of diplomacy.

In the 1860's, upset at the number and influence of foreigners coming into Japan, two rebel Japanese fiefdoms hired British mercenaries to help them train their peasantry for war. As the British had been recently fighting for their right to sell opium in China, there were plenty of arms in the area, so these rebel fiefs forked over the gold to British gunrunners and helped themselves. Afraid of losing control to the rapidly modernizing forces of these fiefs, the Japanese government bought French weapons and hired French mercenaries to train their troops. Quite naturally, the government lost, and in 1868 the rebels took over Japan. In the name of restoring tradition and following the code of bushido, the rebels abolished the traditional class system, including the samurai class1, imported thousands of foreigners to help them modernize, and began their long love-fear relationship with the English language by establishing the JET program.

Well, that brings us to the end of this period of Sino-Japanese relations. I hope you've all taken good notes for the test. Next class we'll cover the eventful years 1868 to 1945, as well as Formosa, Taiwan, and the Republic of China.


1Strangely, despite having good-quality British training and years of combat experience in defeating the previous government's armies and then rooting out and destroying a number of insurgent samurai armies, and despite being officered almost entirely, from lieutenants to generals, by ex-samurai, the new Japanese army had to hire US cavalry officer Tom Cruise to teach them basic infantry skills, bring them to an understanding of samurai-style warfare, and lead them against the last deadender samurai army in 1877 (although he defected instead of doing this last). The not-terribly-astute nature of this hiring has led some historians to suggest that this was merely a government program to boost the sagging economy, and that it was later replaced by a series of transportation infrastructure expansion programs that built superhighways to rural villages in New Zealand.

Monday, April 11, 2005

SimTerror '05 Kicks Off

At Silent Running:
SimTerror '05 will be an interactive blog-based hypothetical scenario in which a terrorist attempt to stage an attack on Australian soil will be simulated in real time, over two weeks in April 2005.


Bloggers have opinions. It's what we do. But how many of us have actually wondered what we might do, and how we might respond, in the event of a major terrorist attempt at replicating a 9/11 scale attack? It's all very well for us to opine to our hearts content about what the West ought to do in the face of a generalised threat from radical Islam, but how would the blogosphere respond in an actual emergency? Can we put ourselves emotionally in that position? It isn't easy, is it?

Would we fall to pieces? Would we be simply struck dumb? Would we urge massive lashing out in retaliation? Or would blogs become a useful resource of opinions, options, information, argument and debate? Would it become the closest thing this planet has to a gigantic neural network of linked minds, all concentrated on a single issue?

SIMTERROR '05 is an experiment designed to help us think about the ways blogs might be able to respond to a sudden crisis using a simulation of real world events, but getting blogs to respond as if the events were real. In a sense, SIMTERROR '05 will be the first test of the Emergency Blogger System.

The first posts are up - three (simulated) explosions have rocked Sidney. Check out the main page for further posts, and see how the blog world reacts.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

And Here's A Look At Current Sino-Japanese Relations

When Dr. Demarche began his group blog effort on China's future, he emailed to see if I'd be interested in doing something on it. Of course I was, but my mouth was bigger than my schedule book. Other things came up and I am still working on my first post for this.

However, Gaijin Biker, over at Riding Sun, is doing a great job of covering current Sino-Japanese relations:
Textbook example points out some of China's hypocrisy in dealing with Japanese textbooks.
Japan's past vs. China's present points out some more Chinese hypocrisy regarding Japan and violence.
Taiwanese politicians getting the picture discusses why some Taiwanese politicians are embracing Japan.

Excellent posts all, and I will be touching on some of these issues in my posts on Sino-Japanese relations. Assuming I ever get time to post them, of course.

Update: Heck, check out his whole front page right now. Tons of Sino-Taiwanese-Japanese posts.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Today's Season Word: 花 (hana)

Blossoms (Meaning, of course "cherry blossoms.")

Cherry Blossoms

One of the two most important images in all traditional Japanese poetry (the other being the moon). ... Unless some other blossom is specified, in Japan the word blossom or blossoms (hana) will be taken to mean the blossoms of the ornamental cherry ...

from Haiku World, by William J. Higginson

One of the most important events of spring in Japan is 花見 (hanami), or blossom viewing. When I first heard about hanami, I thought it strange that everyone in Japan would go out and spend an afternoon just looking at cherry blossoms. Then, of course, I found out what hanami really is -- a great excuse to party.


These folks are out early, the day after the cherry trees started blossoming. Rain was forecast for the weekend, so this might have been the best time. Given trees in full blossom and a weekend, the whole area would be full of groups like this. Castles, shrines, and parks often have quite a few cherry trees. Groups gather at places known to have cherry trees, stake out some ground, eat, drink and be merry for a few hours.

I love the tradition because there's no formal meaning to it -- no great historical event to remember, no political meaning, no religious meaning, nothing other than getting out with other people and enjoying yourself under some pretty blossoms. It's a national event that's just fun.

Of course, for those inclined to symbolism, the cherry blossom is also associated with the samurai, and often the best place to do hanami is on a castle grounds. Why is such a lovely blossom associated with warriors? After blossoming in the spring, they spend a few days, and then fall all too soon.

Life is short. Enjoy!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Whatcha Gonna Do With A Blogger

(Cue fiddle, guitars, and general twanginess.)

I can see you got your eye on this old blogger,
And I can tell you've never had one for your own,
Or you've never been around one,
Now you're thinkin' that you've found one,
Well it might be kinda fun to take him home.

You giggle every time that I say blogosphere
And I get this feelin' if I held you tight,
You'd be seein' his and hers,
Servers, snark and shirts,
But that's a feelin' you'll get over overnight.

Cause whatcha gonna do with a blogger
When that alarm clock rings at dawn,
When he's fiskin' the Beeb instead
Of gettin' out of bed
And packin' up his laptop and gettin' gone?
Whatcha gonna do when he says “Honey,
I've gotta post this, can I stay”?
Whatcha gonna do with a blogger,
When he won't get offline and go away?

You can see it takes a special kinda woman
To put up with the life a blogger leads,
Cause his PJs are kinda funny,
And his blog readin' buddies
They'll camp out on your couch and never leave.
Don't even start to think you're gonna change him,
You'd be better off gettin' broadband and joinin' in.
What he is is what you've got,
And he can't be what he's not,
And honey you can't hide him from your friends.

So whatcha gonna do with a blogger
When that alarm clock rings at dawn,
When she's fiskin' CBS instead,
Of gettin' out of bed,
And packin' up her laptop and gettin' gone?
What you gonna do when she says “Honey,
I've gotta post this, can I stay”?
Whatcha gonna do with a blogger,
When she won't get offline and let you play?

Yeah whatcha gonna do with a blogger
When she won't get offline and let you play?


(To the tune of "Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy," with apologies to Garth Brooks, Mark D. Sanders, and Chris LeDoux.)