Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Iraq and Vietnam
I'm sure many of you have already seen this, but Noam Chomsky wrote an interesting piece a while ago saying the situation in Iraq was not at all similar to the Vietnam war. There are some good points in it, but I certainly find that when ever I read about the Vietnam War it sounds like something from today's headlines. Although I think Chomsky is somewhat right in the sense that "you never step in the same river twice", history does repeat itself. And repeat itself. And repeat itself. For instance the other day I was reading an article "Vietnam and the Dynamics of Guerrilla War" written by historian Eric Hobsbawm in 1965. At this early time, well before the height of the anti-war protests, Hobsbawm predicted the US would lose the war in Vietnam because they had not learned the lessons from the French in Algeria. It's interesting reading, so I thought I'd take the trouble of typing it out. Read it and see if you can't see any parallels today.

"What remains in such a situation are illusions and terror. The rationalizations of today's Washington policy were all anticipated in Algeria. We were told by French official spokesmen that the ordinary Algerian was on the side of France, or if not actually pro-French, that he wanted only peace and quiet but was terrorized by the FLN. We were told, practically once a week, that the situation had improved, that it was now stabilized, that another month should see the forces of order regain the initiative, that all they needed was another few thousand soldiers and another few million francs. We were told that the rebellion would soon die down, once it was deprived of its foreign sanctuary and source of supplies. ... We were told that if only the great centre of Moslem subversion in Cairo could be eliminated, everything would be all right. ... In the last stages we were told that there might just conceivably be some people who really wanted to get rid of the French, but since the FLN obviously did not represent the Algerian people, but only a gang of ideological infiltrators, it would be grossly unfair to the Algerians to negotiate with them. We were told about the minorities which had to be protected against terror. ... What was the result? Algeria is today governed by the FLN."

Monday, November 22, 2004

What I've been up to lately
I've been doing a lot of writing on this weblog lately, but I haven't really wrote about my own life or what I've been up to in the past couple weeks.
Not, of course, that it's any information anyone couldn't live without, but since this is my weblog after all I thought I'd just write up a bit.

post election blues
Needless to say all us liberal expatriots were a little upset after the election. We've all been complaining to each other about it.

I was also called upon to talk to one of my 9th grade classes about the election result. As with the previous time something like this had happened, I was given no advance notice. I went to class like normal with the Japanese teacher, and she said to me, "Why don't you talk to them about the election in America." So, as before I was caught a little off guard but I did my best. I said a lot of the same things I've written on this weblog (well, minus the swearing). The students listened nicely.

Funny things that have happened
The first of these is only funny to me in retrospect, but I really nailed my head on the door frame on the way out of school a couple weeks ago. These fucking Japanese doors are always so low.

I think I've actually hit my head less than many of my other ex-pat friends here, which I attribute to the fact that since I'm tall even by Western standards perhaps I'm just a bit more used to watching my head. But the thing is you can be careful almost every day of the year, but it only takes one time of not paying attention to really whack your head on the way out the door. (Okay, and I'm just a Clumsy idiot who tends to be prone to do this stuff).

Most of the door ways in the school are actually okay for me, but the entrance way in and out is very low. Some days I have to leave the Junior High School after lunch to teach classes at the elementary school. The transition time doesn't have as much cushion as I would like, so often I'm in a hurry. It was cleaning time as I was leaving, so I was in a hurry, juggling all my books, and trying to say good bye to all the students who were cleaning as I rushed out the door. WHACK.

I actually hit the door hard enough that I fell down, and my head starting bleeding a little. The students initially started laughing, but then noticing that I wasn't getting up very fast, and wasn't being very talkative, they asked if I was angry at them for laughing. Which I wasn't really, but at the moment all I could think about was how much my head hurt, and I was in no mood to be like, "No, it's okay kids. I feel great."

I told a friend here about that story, and he agreed that there really is no graceful way out of that situation. "You just have to cover your face and go to the car," he advised.

On an unrelated note: my cell phone bill has been a bit higher than normal recently. I went into the shop to ask why. The clerk punched in my data, than she agreed that my cell phone bill the past few months has been a bit high. "Have you been using the cell phone more than usual?" she asked. Yes I had. "Well that's probably the reason it's a bit higher than," she responded.

Again, I related this incident to a friend, and he commented, "Boy, you must have felt like a real idiot then. Did you just get up and leave at that point." Pretty much I answered. "And then you hit your head and fell down again on the way out, right?" That would have been the perfect ending.

One more story: I was on a crowded train last weekend heading into Nagoya city. Fashion in Japan, as I've written in the past, can be a bit over the top and it is very interesting to watch. So I wasn't surprised when 3 high school girls dressed as hamsters got on the train. It quite frightened the young child next to me though, who kept crying out, "They're scary! They're scary!"

Her mother tried to calm her down. "It can't be helped. The train is too crowded. There's no where else we can go." But the child got more and more upset until the mother had to appeal to some of the other passengers to switch places with her.

So, there I am, standing on a packed train, 3 girls dressed as hamsters to my left, a terrified child to my right. I guess maybe you had to be there, but I was laughing to myself about that scene for the next couple days.

Friday, November 19, 2004

I've recently gotten into the habit of reading "The Japan Times" on my cell-phone. I find the articles in their life and culture section especially interesting. You may notice I've linked to a couple of them already. Perhaps one of these days I should just establish a permanent link. If you're interested in learning about the oddities of Japanese culture, this would probably be a lot more informative than my blog is.

Anyway, here is another article I found interesting about a love story between a otaku (Japanese for geek) and a beautiful woman. One of the things I thought was most interesting was the assertion as a result of the digital age a generation gap has developed even within people in their 20s. "Twenty-eight-year-olds are the pocket-paper generation; they tend to write long, letter-style e-mails. Twenty-four-year-olds were raised on cell phones (but during the transition period to broadband Net access), while 20-year-olds have only known fixed-fee, broadband access to the Net."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cell Phones and Japan
Perhaps the biggest thing that surprised me when I first arrived in Japan was all the cell phones. I think the US has caught up some since, but when I came to Japan in 2001 very few people I knew had cell phones. In Japan everyone had a cell phone. And not just that, but it was amazing what these cell phones could do. Surf the internet, send e-mail, take pictures, play video games, do calculations, store schedules, etc. Again, I think the US has caught up since then, but in 2001 this was very surprising to me. I thought the US, as the world's super power, had the best of everything, and I didn't expect some of Japan's electronics would be more advanced. And then I wondered, "If they have all these advanced electronics, why are the toilets and the houses so primative?"

Being a bit of a hypochondriac, I was very cautious about getting a cell phone at first because of the health risks. But when you are the only one who doesn't have a cell phone, you really get left out of the loop. Plus cell phone use was so prominent in Japan, I figured the health risks couldn't be that bad. I mean if cell phone's cause brain cancer, the whole island of Japan is pretty much doomed.

And then once and a while you read articles like this which make you cautious again. This is an article from the Japan times (Which, ironically enough, I first read while surfing the net on my cell-phone).

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Responding to Comments
[Editor's note: In spring 2005 I changed my template on blogger, and lost all the comments that had been made on this blog up until then. (In the early days of blogger, there wasn't a comment section built into the template, and like many people I used Haloscan's comments as an added feature. All these comments were erased when I changed templates.) Therefore, the original comments that I was responding to in this entry are no longer present. Although it is probably easy to infer their nature from my response.]

The last few entries I've posted have attracted a few comments (just when I thought no one was reading this thing). I really enjoy getting feed back on what I write, so thank you to everyone who took the time not only to read this blog, but found what I had to say worthy of thinking over and commenting on.

I thought I'd take a moment to respond to some of the concerns raised. I hope I'm not breaking any rules of blogging etiquette here. I've noticed from reading my friends' blogs that standard practice seems to be responding to the comments in the comment box itself, but since my comment box apparently can't handle long messages without breaking it up (I'd fix that if I knew how), I'm responding by blog entry.

Election Day in Japan
I'm going to have to improve my writing, but that entry was actually my attempt at humor. The joke being that all the liberals get together and discuss why there are no conservatives, and inevitably arrive at the conclusion that it is because conservatives are so close minded. If there was a conservative present, a different conclusion might be reached, but if there was a conservative present the question wouldn't exist, and so it's a bit of catch-22. I was trying to poke a little fun at myself by saying I also agreed with the consensus, but what do you expect from me?

As to why actually there are no conservatives in the expatriate community, I'm still stumped on this one. You'll notice, however, if you read the comment box, that Chris Baker backed me up on this one. I wasn't jiving you kids.

Abortion
comment: "More likely than not, those evangelical voters were trying to vote in a president who would fight for less abortion rights rather than Kerry who is for more rights like partial birth abortions.”

This is actually a really good point if taken simply on its face value that undoubtedly a lot of people did vote this way, and this was something I think Bork and I both missed initially. (As I've been reading more about the election, it appears I in particular under-estimated the impact of values on the result.)

But let's keep reading. More comment: "In this sense, there have been millions more deaths domestically vs. Iraq. I believe that many of us are more concerned with these murders from abortions because the numbers are so much higher and therefore more significant than the deaths in Iraq"

And here I have some disagreements. Abortion is a tough issue to discuss because it is so polarizing. In my year and a half of writing crazy left wing articles for the Chimes, the only article that really got people mad (aside from the Rehnquist affair) was this article on abortion, which which resulted in both harsh verbal and written criticism. (In my opinion much of it unfair.) Although I do note with a bit of pride that someone found it worthy to link to.

Where was I? Sometimes I get so carried away talking about myself. Right, abortion. I still believe what I said in the introduction to my Chimes article. If I may quote myself:
"It is with a tired attitude that most writers now approach the issue of
abortion. After being a controversial topic for the past 30 years, what is left to say that has not been said already? You have heard all the arguments; if you are not already convinced of one position or another, who am I to think my rhetoric will win you over?"
But let's go through the motions anyway.

Bork already laid out some of the ground for this, but look, nobody likes abortions. We just need to ask the question: will making abortion illegal stop or even diminish the practice? If you believe the statistics Bork and I have put forward, (although admittedly not everyone does), the answer is no. The result is only to put in danger the life of the teen-age girl with the coat hanger.

Secondly (although I again stress I do not like abortion) I have problems equating a fetus with a fully developed human being in Iraq. Most abortions occur in the first term when the fetus has neither a brain or developed nervous system and no sense of self-existence. Now I do understand the concern of the pro-life movement that the moment when a fetus receives a soul is not something humans know, but I still find it hard to equate these abortions with the deaths of children in Iraq.

If one really believed this, that a fetus was equal to a human life, than wouldn't the logical conclusion of this be to shoot abortion doctors and bomb abortion clinics? Wouldn't killing a few doctors be justified if it saved more lives?

Although the newspapers tell us that indeed some have gone down this path, the majority of people are still repulsed by the murder of abortion doctors. Furthermore let me suggest that in all other aspects of life a fetus is not equated to the life of a human being. When a miscarriage occurs, the fetus is not given the last rites by a priest. Miscarried fetuses are not buried in grave yards. Mothers who drink and smoke while pregnant are not charged with child abuse.

It is only recently with in the past 30 years that this concept of "fetus equals human being" has arisen, and in my opinion largely for political gain. If the Republican party really cared about the life of a fetus, than why isn't the Republican party concerned that currently 1/5 of expectant mothers do not receive pre-natal care? This is one reason why the US has the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world (twice as high as Japan's). Furthermore every fifty minutes a child in the US dies of poverty or hunger. (Source-Saasta; Institute for Policy Studies Harvest of Shame; Ten Years of Conservative Misrule Washington, D.C. Institute for Policy Studies 1991 page 11).

Now it has been estimated that for $1 billion dollars the US spends to maintain just one of it's aircraft carriers for a year, free natal care could be provided to 1,600,000 expectant mothers, saving the lives of thousands of babies (Source: Prenatal Care costs $625 per mother: Background Material and Data on Programs with the Jurisdiction of the committee of Ways and Means Washington DC, US Congress 1990)

So if the Republican party is so concerned about the well-being of fetuses, why have they so strongly opposed all measures for mothers in poverty? And why is the party that is Pro-Iraq war, pro-capital punishment, pro-guns and anti-National Health Insurance, take such a strong stand on pro-life when it comes to opposing abortion? Allow me to suggest (even though I know I'm going to get in trouble for it) that the pro-life movement is not so much concerned about the fetus as it is about combating sexual liberation.

I know every pro-life advocates strongly deny this in public, but having grown up in a conservative religious environment I'm well aware of what they say in private. And the lectures I heard at my Christian schools growing up always railed against sex and abortion in the same breath. Furthermore I'm not convinced it is a coincidence that people who have strong religious views against pre-marital sex are the same people who tend to be the strongest anti-choice. This last point is anecdotal, so I guess no one has to accept it who doesn't want to, but I suspect many other people who grew up in conservative environments are nodding their heads in agreement at this. As for stem cell research one could take that either way. You could look at the half of the Republican party who opposes it and say, "Well, at least there's ideological consistency here." Or you can look at the half of the Republican party who is in favor or it and say "I knew that anti-abortion thing was just about the sex anyway."

I've probably gone to far now and alienated any moderates I could have hoped to win over. Look, the basic point is what Bork already said. When all is said and done, the Democratic party, which tries to provide medical benefits to the poor, is much more pro-life than the Republican party. Until we can provide adequate medical coverage for all expectant mothers the abortion issue shouldn't even be on the table.

Swearing
comment: "And, doesn't the Bible clearly state to not swear at all? Maybe I am pushing too far today, but you do have a comments section to expose my feelings and right now I am annoyed with your Blatant lack of considerate language you used."

No specific verse is given, but I'm assuming this is a reference to Matthew 5:33-37. Correct me if I'm wrong. I'm sure you all have that verse memorized already, but I'll quote it in case there are any heathens reading this.
"33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one."
I'll admit that I don't know Greek, so I will open myself up to correction on this, but my interpretation of this passage has always been that it is a reference to swearing in the sense of "I'll clean my room tomorrow, I swear it." And not referring to any specific four letter words in a language that didn't even come into existence until 1000 years after Christ's death.

There are many "swear" words in English, but for the sake of discussion let's use the word "Fuck" because it is the most offensive and because it's the word I used.

What is so offensive about this word? It is not the letter F or U or C or K. Dare I say that it is not any of these letters or even their combination together. And it isn't the sound. After all the Vietnamese name "Phuck" is not offensive. Is it the meaning of the word that makes it offensive?

But often when we use this word it is stripped of it's meaning. You'll note my usage of it was once as an adjective and once as an exclamation, both usages being far removed from the original meaning of the word as "to have sex". But even the literal meaning of the word, is it that offensive? After all, if I said, "I slept with her," or "I fucked her" what is the difference, really?

May I suggest that "Fuck" is just a word like any other word and is only as offensive or as inoffensive as we care to consider it. May I suggest that the taboo surrounding the word "Fuck" is a matter of societal custom, and not a moral issue.

But if we are going to choose to be offended by the word, then let's at least be consistent about it. The FCC was flooded by letters of complaint after Bono said "Fucking" on TV, but after Dick Cheney said, "Go fuck yourself" on the floor of the US Senate, most of the letters that arrived at his office expressed support. It's as if people thought to themselves, "Of course the Vice President of the United States is going to talk like that, but I expected better from a rock star." Dare I say this is another example of the Right-wing being extremely reluctant to criticize anything this administration does ever.

As for me, I've chosen not to be offended by the word. And so I do make frequent use of the word "fuck" among like-minded people. In fact I quite enjoy the many different ways the word can be used in various linguistic functions. I am aware that the word does offend some people, and so generally speaking I make a point of trying not to use it on this blog, but sometimes there are points where it is hard to find a good substitute. I actually originally had typed "Ah nuts" on my blog, but it just didn't seem to have the punch I wanted, so I deleted it and wrote fuck. Sorry if this offended anyone, and I'll try not to make a habit of it.

Okay, obviously I have too much time on my hands tonight. After this entry I probably won't be updating this blog for a while again, but if anyone has any thoughts on anything, as always feel free to use the comment post. I do enjoy feed back.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Making sense of the Election
I'm not going to apologize for this entry, because it's my blog and I think it's fair to use it as an outlet for self-expression. I can, however, think of several reasons that you may not want to waste your time reading this. For one thing the election has already been analyzed to death by everyone else. For another thing I've been out of the country for the past 3 years, and probably not the most qualified person to analyze the mood of the country. And also I'm very bitter about the election results, and that bitterness is seeping into what I'm writing.

Let me also say that several of my friends have also written pieces on the election, all of which are much better than mine, so if you only have the time or energy to read one of these things, read theirs instead of mine.
Brian Bork wrote this piece which I think is the best thing he's written on his blog so far.

My friend Aaron here in Japan, although not an American, does a good job of capturing the frustration I also feel.

Phil Christman apparently had his piece wiped out by his computer, but maybe by the time you read this he'll have written some of it again. Whatever it is I'm sure it will be better than mine.

Still with me? Okay, then for anyone who wants it here is my two cents...
For organizational purposes I've divided this into the Right, the swing voters, and the South. Let's start with
The Right
I've mentioned before on this weblog, but I recently read an interesting book called "Take Back the Right" by Philip Gold. In the book Gold, a life long conservative, describes what he feels is wrong with the conservative movement. Obviously I'm coming from a slightly different angle on things than Gold is, so I don't agree with everything he says but I think he has a few good points.
Gold says that the right is so antagonized by the left that it has long ago adopted the policy of automatically reacting against what ever the left is for. For instance Gold says that no one intelligent person in their right mind could be against the basic principles of environmentalism, feminism, or gay rights, but conservatives have become so infuriated by the confrontational tactics of the left that they have adopted as their motto, "we are against whatever they are for."
Gold says this trend began during the Vietnam war, and states that "It is arguable that popular support for the war would have faded years before it did, had not supporting the war become a form of protest against the protestors." The war in Iraq has already been compared to the Vietnam War in many ways, but perhaps this is another area where similarities are apparent. And if we can extend this to include support for not just the war but the administration as a whole, I think this is in fact why a lot of conservatives voted for Bush.
Janeane Garofalo in her appearance on the daily show (which you can watch here), puts it somewhat differently when she says that at this point a vote for Bush is no longer an indication of an ideology, but of a character flaw. At this point there are so many flaws evident in the presidency that anyone who is still supporting Bush is just doing so out of pride and ego and a refusal to give into the left.
But never under estimate the human capacity for stubbornness. And this is I think a large reason why Bush won the election.
The lessons for this are two-fold. First obviously we on the left need to improve our dialogue with the right, and to try and talk to them in a way that won't have automatically put them on the defensive. Perhaps it is time to soften the rhetoric a bit in the hopes of coming to an understanding, and try and talk to the right in a way which lets them know we respect them even as we disagree. And secondly those of you on the right need to stop being such fucking idiots and grow up. (Yes, that is humor, just so there's no misunderstanding).
Moderates
As for the swing or moderate voters who went with Bush: hard to say obviously. When I was watching the election coverage on TV Wednesday afternoon (my time) I heard the talking heads say over and over again that the poor showing for Kerry is an indication of how much the Democratic party has lost touch with the American people.
Somewhat maybe, but let's keep things in perspective. This is the first election Bush actually won. Four years ago the popular vote went to Al Gore. If you add the Nader votes to the Gore votes in 2000, the popular vote was heavily weighted to the liberal side.
Now you can spin this several ways of course. Nader in 2000 to a certain extent functioned the way any popular 3rd party candidate functions in the sense that he drew support from many people simply frustrated by the two party system. However he undeniably ran on a liberal platform, and it's probably fair to say at least a majority of people who voted for him agreed with his platform.
As for Al Gore: I wrote an article for Chimes after the 2000 election commenting on the Gore votes. Chimes actually declined to run the article, so it never saw the light of day, but in the article I argued that Al Gore was a terrible candidate. He was stiff and cold. He had a reputation for dishonesty. Historically sitting vice-presidents have difficulty getting elected president, and on top of that Clinton was one of only two impeached presidents in the nations history and his administration was plagued by scandals (real or imagined). Therefore, I argued, the votes for Al Gore can not be attributed at an Al Gore charisma, but instead perhaps indicated the majority of Americans simply agreed with Al Gore on the issues.
Again I do realize you can spin that election different ways, but that's the way I see it. So what changed between 2000 and 2004? Did the majority of Americans suddenly have an epipheny and realize they agreed with the Republicans? Or was this election more about terrorism and security than about domestic issues?
Richard Clarke in his book "Against all Enemies" argues that the Bush administration carelessly ignored the terrorism before September 11th. Afterwards, Clarke says, Bush took the obvious measures that anyone in his position would have taken, and got enormous political credit for it. And then Karl Rove shamelessly advised the Republicans to run on September 11 for during the midterm election.
I obviously don't need to clarify my views on this. But there's no denying that the Bush administration played the terrorism card for all it was worth. Dick Cheney even said repeatedly that if John Kerry was elected president it would make another terrorist attack more likely.
So I think we need to ask if this election indicates agreement with the Republican issues, or simply shows that the Republicans were successfully able to scare the swing voters into line.
But when I say that this election was about security and terrorism, I mean that it was about security and terrorism to the extent that it was about anything at all. I think about what issues dominated the news in this election. Kerry's service in Vietnam and the swift boat veterans. Bush and his lack of service. Kerry and his flip-flopping. American politics are always a circus, and this election should almost be seen more as a competition between two men rather than people voting to advance the issues they care about.
The South


I'm going to try and keep this short because, let's face it, I know nothing about the South. Aside for a couple Spring Break trips I've spent no time in the South. But the "Solid South" as a reliable Republican voting block is a significant handicap to any Democrat candidate. All Bush had to do was pick off a couple Northern states and he could win the election.
If you've been reading the same newspaper articles and websites I have, you have seen the accusations that the Bush administration has revived Nixon's "Southern Strategy" to cater to some of the more ultra-conservative (read racist) elements of the South. But I'll just bring up the point and leave it at that. Someone who knows more about the South can perhaps comment on this more. You can send me an e-mail or post a comment on the blog.


Anyway, that's my take on the whole thing for what it's worth. Needless to say I'm pretty crushed by the outcome of the election, but... Ah fuck. I can't think of a silver lining right now.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election Day in Japan

Before I start this story, there's an oddity about the ex-patriot community here I should explain. Namely there are no conservatives here. None. There are none in Oita, none in Gifu, none in Sapporo. In my 3 years plus here in Japan I've only meet one conservative I can think of.

Some of you may be thinking, "That's just Joel's liberal bias", or "He's just hanging out with the wrong people". But I assure you it is not I alone who have made this observation. Several other American expatriates have observed to me, "There's so many Bush supporters back home, how come we never run into any of them here in Japan?" Even Japanese friends have occasionally commented, "The news reports say Bush is very popular, but how come every American I meet hates him so much?"

Now as to why this is I can't really say. The expatriate community, or at least the English teaching expatriate community, is almost entirely composed of people in their 20s, and as an age demographic that is obviously pre-dominantly liberal. Also in order to get into many of the English teacher programs a university degree is required, and statistically people with higher education degrees tend to be proportionately more liberal than the population as a whole.

But of course there are plenty of college educated young conservatives, and indeed I knew many of them at Calvin College. Why do none of them seem to end up in Japan?

It is a question we Americans here in Japan have often pondered among ourselves. The usually answer is that conservatives are very small minded and so don't tend to want to travel outside of their own country. Or, as a corollary, any one who does a lot of travelling can not help but become more liberal as they are exposed to different view points outside of the American media.

I imagine this is an answer which would infuriate many of my conservative friends back home, but in the absence of any conservatives to refute it over here, it has become a sort of conventional wisdom.

And I will confess to believing it as well. I say this at the risk of making my conservative friends angry, but also with the knowledge that they probably expected me to say something like this anyway.

However if anyone else has any thoughts on the matter (whether you've been to Japan or not) feel free to post a comment on this blog or send me an e-mail and I'll try and give all view points a fair shake.

Right, the point of that all that is this: in Japan, among the expatriates, it is assumed you hate Bush. You don't even need to feel people out over here, you can just start into an anti-Bush tirade and all people will say is, "Amen brother," or "Tell me about it."

November 3rd in Japan is a public holiday, so we all had the day off. Since Wednesday morning here is Tuesday night in the states, someone who had satellite hosted an election party to watch the results come in.

I heard about the party through the grape vine. I'm still new here and don't know a lot of people, but I knew before I even showed up that everyone would be for Kerry. And I was not disappointed.

At the time of this writing the election results are still not final, but we spent most of the day at the party glued to the TV and munching snacks. It was a fun social occasion, despite the results.

We were all pretty lively and excited in the morning. As the afternoon dragged on the mood became sluggish and depressed, but I'm not sure if that was because of the disappointing results or because of the zombifying effect of watching TV all day. People were definitely feeling very down at the end of the day. Myself certainly among them.

I save my thoughts on the actual election itself for another post though.

Monday, November 01, 2004

I had an interesting experience last week in the classroom.

I went in to team teach a 9th grade class with a Japanese teacher. She's a bit of a comedian and always opens the class up with a bit of a monologue unrelated to English. Much of what she says is lost on me, but it must be quite funny because I've never seen kids laugh so hard.

Anyway, we go into class and she goes into her usual routine. I couldn't catch all of it, something about a Japanese friend of hers that was staying in America, and gave out rice biscuits to trick or treaters on Halloween, and had to deal with a bunch of angry children. The students were just pissing themselves laughing.

Then, once the story is over she turns to the blackboard and starts writing down the grammer point for the day. "Talk to the students while I'm doing this" she says.

"Uh, okay," I say. I turn to a student in the front row. "So...how are you today?"

"No,no," she says. "Talk to them in Japanese. They want to hear your Japanese." So I repeated the same question in Japanese, and while the grammer point was being written on the board I just proceeded to talk about various aspects of my life in Japanese. When the teacher had finished writing everything down, she turned to the students and said, "It's interesting listening to him, isn't it? We don't have to study today. You can just listen to him talk."

Right, so there I was. Up in front of the classroom. No remarks prepared. Speaking in a language I was not proficient in. And I had to take the fill up the next forty minutes. What did I talk about?

Whatever came into my head. Talked about my daily routine a little bit. I mentioned I had seen the Japanese movie "Devilman" last weekend. (By the way, worst movie ever). That got me talking about comic books and their film adaptations for a while. (The kids really eat that stuff up). Eventually someone asked me about the upcoming election, and that got me talking about American politics for the rest of the time.

What was amazing was how fascinated the students seemed to be with what I had to say. I did have a few high points and interesting things to say (if I do say so myself), but as I had not prepared for this, I had easily just as much time where I was just rambling about nothing and struggling to think of what to say next.

Add to that the fact that my Japanese is so terrible. At JET meetings in the past I've had to listen to speeches in English by Japanese people. I've discovered no matter how good the English is, invariable the rythem and tone are somewhat off and it is grating to listen to for long periods of time.

So I'm a bit confused as to why my speech was so well recieved, other than the fact that these students still do not know me very well yet, and the foreigner is always an object of fascination in Japan.

Actually I've had a few similar experiences back in my days in Oita. I once was asked to explain American politics to a social studies classroom in Fukami Junior high school, and the students listened very well despite my stumbling Japanese.

Also the ESS club at Ajimu High school. Albiet that was in English, but the same principle applies about me blathering on about something inconsequential, and the students seeming fascinated by my every word. That was one of the reasons I enjoyed coming to that club so much. The high school was Ryan's territory, but on days when he was absent from school I would teach the club myself. The Japanese teacher would say something to me like, "The students don't want to study today, just talk to them for a while." I'd go into the classroom, and just talk, and the students would hang on my every word as if I was the most interesting person alive. It was a great feeling.

Now why won't students listen like that when I'm actually trying to teach a class?