Sunday, July 31, 2005

You Can't Go Home Again

Recently I was reading an interesting article that talked about how people often misinterpret the phrase: “you can’t go home again.” People think this phrase refers to physical returning home, and so try and contradict it with tales of businessmen going back to their hometown and finding success.

But what the phrase really means is that when you go home, you find that the niche or psychological space that you once occupied no longer exists. And so in this way you can never truly return to the way things used to be.

I’m reminded of this while I’m back in Oita. Of course Oita isn’t Home with a capital “H”, but for 3 years it was a home of sorts. And in a way perhaps this phrase applies even more to temporary homes. Permanent homes, or hometowns, we always have established roots in no matter how long we’ve been away. Temporary homes you leave for a short time, and find your base very quickly crumbles.

I’m sure all of us have had adopted hometowns or temporary homes at some point, and know this feeling well. The weird feeling of returning to familiar surroundings, and yet having the sense of no longer belonging.

I don’t want to overstate this. It’s great to be back. It’s great to see old friends again. It’s great to get out of Gifu for a while. Etc, etc, etc. And yet there is a strange feeling of deja vu.

It’s probably characteristic of my life to say that I don’t handle transitions well. I tend to overstay my welcome in one stage of life, and only move into the next stage when I’m dragged kicking and screaming.

For instance my junior year of Calvin, when I moved into upper-classroom housing, I quickly began to miss the excitement of the dormitories, and was back to visit the dorms every single day. Some people thought it was a bit strange, and I did get a lot of comments like, “What are you doing around here all the time? Aren’t you a junior now? Isn’t it pathetic that you come back to the dorms everyday?”

Or for the first semester after I graduated from Calvin I was hanging out every evening in the Calvin library and the student lounge. I put up with a lot of comments then as well, but I wanted to be where all the people were, and enjoyed the Calvin social scene.

And now, one year after I finished JET, I find myself back in Oita again and it seems like déjà vu from my Calvin days. “What are you doing here? Didn’t you finish JET last year? Are you still in Japan?” are fairly typical of the comments I get whenever I go out.

Not only that, but this is the time of the year where the old JETs go back, and the new ones arrive. So my old friends in Oita are disappearing fast. In fact already I feel like I can’t count my remaining old friends on one hand, and the rest of my Oita social life is made up of people who I barely knew when I was here, or people who were just arriving as I was leaving.

It is nice to see the new JETs come in and feel connected to the next generation. I enjoyed meeting the guys who are going to by in Ajimu next year. And yet there is a sense of having overstayed my welcome in Japan.

I was saying to a friend the other day, “Japan is like University. If we could freeze time and stay 19 forever, I think we’d all stay in University as long as we could. But when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You don’t want to stick around too long. I think maybe I’ve stayed here too long.”

Friday, July 29, 2005

Finding Death at the Waterfall

A friend from Oita once asked, “So how are you finding life up in Gifu? Do you miss the people and places in Oita?”

“I miss the places,” I answered. “Not so much the people.”

“You son of a bitch!” he replied. Then he added, “Boy, I really set him up for that one. I set him up and he took it.”

Actually I was only half joking. I really do miss the places in Oita almost as much as the people. The area I live in now is just essentially urban sprawl from Nagoya. It’s a bit more convenient than Ajimu, but very ugly. I miss all the nature in Oita. I miss the greenery. I miss the valleys. I miss the little enclaves of houses hidden away in the middle of the mountain.

I especially miss the waterfalls. The topography of Japan is a little different than that of Michigan. There are lots of mountains, lots of rivers, and, by consequence, lots of waterfalls. In most areas the Japanese construction companies are hard at work destroying everything, but in areas like Oita, where the nature is left relatively untouched, there are a couple waterfalls in just about every town. In my former town of Ajimu there were 5 very beautiful waterfalls, but everyone’s favorite waterfall is in Yabakei, because we can slide down it.

The place is very picturesque. I suppose, as the very word “picturesque” implies, it is hard for words to do this place justice. The river comes down through the mountains. It widens up at one point where some of it has been damned off to create a children’s pool. Then a little ways down, it narrows again as it squeezes through some rocks. Then there’s an abrupt drop off where it falls into a small lagoon at the bottom. The river expands briefly into a swimming area, and then carries on down the mountain. As a friend of mine once put it, “This place is straight out of the movies. It is the kind of place Disney would spend millions of dollars trying to re-create, and here it is hidden away in the middle of nowhere.”

The only thing that worries me slightly is another friend once pointed out there are little rice fields all along the river. Who knows what kind of agricultural chemicals get washed down stream? But I try not to think about that too much.

Anyway, it makes for a perfect natural waterslide. The rock has been carved out by the water to be as smooth as any amusement park waterslide. Of course we’re all skeptics the first time. I remember my first time I kept asking if the rock was really so smooth. “Really? You’re not jiving me here? There’s no snags or jagged rocks along this slide?”

“No, actually, there’s sharp rocks at the bottom, and you’re going to die. Now will you go already man?”

How time flies. Now I’ve gone from one of the newbies to the grizzled old man on the block, giving advice to the new people. The other day someone was saying to me, “Is it very scary sliding down the waterfall? I’ve jumped off the cliff, but I haven’t worked up the courage to slide down the waterfall yet.”

“What? No, it’s much easier to slide down the waterfall than to jump off the cliff. If you jump off the cliff, you’ve got to look over the edge and work up the courage. But if you slide down the waterfall, you start higher up on the river where you can’t even see the drop off. And once you can see the drop off, the water is already carrying you along, so it’s too late to try and stop. You just hold your breath and go over the edge. Once you hit the lagoon at the bottom, the force of the waterfall will push you underwater briefly. You’re a strong swimmer, right?”

“Um….Not really.”

“Well it’s still okay. The water only pushes you under briefly, and then it lets you back up again. It’s the easiest thing in the world.”

He didn’t end up sliding down that day.

While we were there, we observed all sorts of flowers placed around the waterfall. “Someone kid died here on Sunday,” someone told me. “That’s why all these flowers are here.”

“What? How?”

“We don’t know. All we heard is that he died here somehow.”

“How could he have died here? This is the safest place in the world. The waterfall is really safe to go off of. The water is deep enough so that even if you jump off of the cliffs it is all right. How could he have died?” I thought for a moment. “I guess sometimes people do stupid things around here. Like sometimes people will jump out of that tree over there.”

“Wow, that is stupid,” someone said.

“Yeah, who could possibly be so stupid as to do something like that,” someone else said. There was a lot of laughter.

“You guys were jumping out of that tree before I got here, weren’t you?” There were some mutterings. “It is kind of dangerous though, isn’t it? If you’re not careful you could hit those branches on the way down. Or, you could hit that rock over there.” I stopped to consider. “I guess if you’re careful though, the tree isn’t really that dangerous.”

“But if you’re not careful, it’s not just the tree that will get you,” someone else said. “You could hit your head on the waterfall going down. Or what about the cliffs? If you jump from over there it’s okay, but anywhere else is really sketchy. When I was here last time I saw a bunch of guys following around at the top, and someone slipped through and fell on that cliff over there. He was okay, but he took a few bumps.”

“Yeah, I guess when you put it like that, there’s probably lots of ways to die at this waterfall.”

“I feel kind of guilty swimming here,” I confessed.

“Yeah, we do too, but what can we do. We didn’t find out about it until we got here.”

I suppose we all have those moments where we are forced to contemplate the commonness of death. Someone’s entire existence, all his thoughts and dreams and hopes and loves, were just wiped out, and it didn’t even stop us from having a good time.

I was back at the waterfall a couple days later with a slightly different crowd. Again, the same debate aroused. “I don’t feel right swimming here if a kid died on Sunday,” someone said.

“But we’re already here anyway.”

“And,” I said, “If it didn’t stop us from swimming here on Tuesday, there’s no reason why it should stop us from swimming here on Thursday.”

“And since we all seem to be talking ourselves into it anyway…” someone else said.

We found out later it was a 16 year old boy; a first year high school student. Apparently he hit his head on the way down the waterfall, and then got sucked under by the current. He was from Nakatsu city, just visiting for the day.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Jamaica Festival

Every year in the town of Innai there is a Jamaican festival. This is my 5th summer in Japan, so it is my 4th time attending the festival. (I missed the festival one year when I went home for summer break).

It is 2 days of ska and reggae music, and lots of Japanese reggae enthusiasts. Pretty much it’s the coolest thing that ever happens out in the countryside. The rest of the year is uneventful and consists of old people out planting rice. For two days only the Innai countryside becomes a hip place.

Seeing Old Students
I just came back to Oita prefecture the day before (see previous entry) so I enjoyed seeing everyone at the Jamaican festival. Since my old town of Ajimu is only 5 one town over, I saw a lot of my old students as well.

Great to see my old students again of course. But as I wrote during spring break, time apart does somewhat break the relationship. They were glad to see me, but I think they thought it a bit weird that I was still around, and they weren’t quite sure how to react. It wasn’t the friendly greeting I used to get when I was still living in the area.

I saw a group of 3 girls who used to be junior high school students of mine, and talked to them briefly. “Let me see, what grade are you this year?” I asked them.

“We graduated,” one of them said. “We’re all finished with school. I’m a salaried employee at a company now.”

“What? Really? But it was only a short time ago you were all in junior high school.”

She smiled. “Time goes fast, doesn’t it?”

I wrote last summer that I knew very few students by name, but most of them by face. Well, a year later, and it’s hard to even recognize them by face. I know, that’s pretty bad. But I never had a homeroom class or anything. I taught all the students at the school, and I was spread out over 7 schools in the town. When I was actually doing it, I knew everyone’s face. But now I’ve been in Gifu for a year, and a new batch of students’ faces have all entered my memory and pushed out the old students.

Two boys came up and talked to me at the Jamaica festival. I did my best to cover for the fact that I had no idea who they were. I just assumed they were former students, made small talk about school, etc. After they left I mumbled to a friend, “It’s a good thing they remembered me, because I had no clue who they were.”

At least the confusion seemed to be somewhat mutual. I ran into a few girls. “Do you remember us?” one of them asked.
After looking at their faces for a few seconds, the recognition did come. “Ah, yes, you were at Ajimu elementary school,” I said.
“No, we were at the junior high school,” she corrected me.
“Yes, but, when I first came to Japan, you were still in the elementary school,” I said.
They talked among themselves. “No, the ALT at the elementary school was different. He used to wear pink bunny rabbit slippers, and hop around the school like a rabbit.”
“Yes! That was me! Those were my slippers!” They looked at me for a while, and then decided maybe it had been me. They also couldn’t remember if I had been gone for one year or two years. “I’ve only been gone for a year now,” I assured them.
“Really? It seems like longer than that,” they answered.

Shiri ni Shikareru

The second day of the Jamaican festival I went together with Shoko. We had only been there a couple hours, when Shoko wanted to go back. “Really?” I said. “OK, if you want to leave, we can leave. But we did just drive an hour to get here. And we paid $25 each for a ticket. Don’t you think it’s a bit of a waste to leave now?”
“If you want to stay, we can stay,” she said.
“No, we can leave whenever you want,” I said. “I just wanted to make sure you thought it through first, that’s all. If you still think you want to leave, we’ll go whenever you feel like it.”
A 3rd Japanese friend observing this conversation said, “Ah, ‘shiri ni shikareru.’”
“What does that mean?” I asked.

Shoko exploded. “Oh no, that’s not true at all. Actually I’m very good to him. When he stays at my place, I do all the cooking and cleaning. I even wash his clothes for him. He just sits on the couch and watches movies all day. He doesn’t lift a finger to help. Isn’t that so, Joel?”

I shrugged. “I’m a man.”

“No!” Shoko replied. “No, that is not an excuse. That’s the way Japanese men think. But you’re an American. You’re supposed to know better.”

“I’m just trying to respect the culture while I’m here in Japan.”

“You’re not supposed to copy the bad things! You’re supposed to learn the good things about Japanese culture.”

“What does ‘shiri ni shikareru’ mean anyway?”

Neither of them would tell me. The Japanese man tried to explain it to me, but his Japanese was too fast and difficult. I was a bit more used to Shoko’s Japanese, but she refused to explain it. “I don’t want to explain it, because I don’t think it’s true” she said. “If you really want to know, you can ask Eoin.”

The Japanese man agreed. “Yes. Ask Eoin.”

“Why do I have to ask Eoin? He’s not even Japanese.”

“But his Japanese is very good. He can explain it too you.”

I hated to ask Eoin. Despite the fact that we both came to Japan at the same time with no prior Japanese knowledge, his Japanese is now a lot better than mine. But I hated to actually admit it by asking him a question. I went over in Eoin’s direction, but addressed the question to the Japanese girl he was talking to.

“What does ‘shiri ni shikareru’ mean?”

There was a moment of confusion before she understood what I meant through my heavily accented Japanese. Then she replied, “It means to be sat on by someone. It means a relationship where the women is stronger.”

“Why do you want to know this all of a sudden,” Eion asked.

“Ah, no reason. Just something I’m curious about.”

Eion started to laugh. “Let me guess. Someone said it about ‘a friend’ of yours? Is that it? This has absolutely nothing to do with you?”

“Right. Exactly. Anyway, the woman wants to leave, so I’m going to be leaving now I guess.”

“But you just got here.”

I shrugged. “The woman wants to go.”

I said my good-byes to Eion and company, and then went back to Shoko and the other Japanese man. “I found out what it means,” I said. “That’s not true at all.”

Monday, July 25, 2005

Summer Break

Oh, lest I forget to mention it….
It’s Summer Break!

Summer break in Japan is very short, only about 5 weeks.
And actually, I’ve always thought the words “summer break” were a bit of a misnomer in Japan, because no one really gets a break. The students have homework, the teachers come in to the office everyday, and everyone has sports practice and sports tournaments daily. (That’s Japan for you. Their motto is, “keep everyone busy.”)

But yours truly is a bit more fortunate. As an ALT I do actually get the summer break off. It’s a nice deal that is the envy of all my Japanese colleagues, and even a lot of my foreign friends as well. Even most of the foreigners don’t have this nice of a deal. You’ll recall perhaps that when I was a JET I didn’t have the breaks completely off, but had a limited amount of leave time that I had to negotiate with.

But with this new company I get the breaks completely off. The trade off is I don’t have any “vacation days” during the year to use at my discretion (which prevented me from attending Brett’s wedding last fall), but it is still a nice deal. So, now everyone else I know in Japan absolutely hates me because I’ve got the whole summer break off.

Fortunately I can deal with that. The plan this summer is to return to the old stomping grounds in Oita-ken to spend time with Shoko. Regular readers of this blog may recall that on my previous visits back to Oita, the lack of a car severely handicapped me. The train system in Oita is pretty worthless for all of the places I want to go.

Shoko suggested to me I drive down for summer break. That was actually my original plan for spring break as well, but I wimped out on it at the last minute. Because of the toll roads in Japan, driving down is actually more expensive than an airplane ticket. And it’s an 11-hour drive, which I’m not crazy about. And I’m using a company car right now, and I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to be taking it on a road trip down to Kyushu.

I mentioned my concerns to Shoko on the telephone. “When we were talking about this way back during the spring, I said it would be no problem to drive down,” I said. “But the closer I get to the actual date, the more I’m having second thoughts about this plan. I’m not sure if I want to sacrifice a whole day for driving, and besides an airplane ticket would be cheaper.”

“Okay,” Shoko said. “But it’s too hot in this weather for me to bike to work, so you’re not taking my car again. And you know from previous experience that none of your friends are willing to drive out to pick you up. So, while I’m at work, you’ll just be sitting at my house watching movies all day just like you did during Spring Break.”

So I drove down. Actually it wasn’t so bad. I drove during the night to avoid the traffic and the blazing Japanese summer heat. Which was one of my better ideas actually, driving at night was really smooth, I just cruised down the road.

The only problem with driving at night of course is the danger of falling asleep, especially with express way driving. But I had my Enka music and my “learning French” tapes to keep my company.

Shoko had sent me detailed directions on which roads to take. And Monika, who had made the same trip during Christmas break, gave me a couple maps and some advice on difficult points. But really, it was pretty simple. I just got on the express way and headed South. Japan’s not that big of a country.

The first landmark was Kyoto, which I passed within the first hour. Shortly after that was Kobe. The next big landmark after that was Hiroshima, which I got to in 3 hours. And then by that point I was seeing signs for Kitakyushu already, so I knew I was almost there.

Since I was a bit ahead of schedule, around Kitakyushu I pulled over for a couple hours sleep in the car. The car I’m using is a compact car, and really probably too small for me under normal circumstances, let alone to sleep in. I put my ass in the back seat and my legs dangled over the front seat and I managed to sleep for a couple hours. Wasn’t the best night of sleep I ever had but I managed.

When I got into Oita prefecture the sun was just coming up, but the heat was still a few hours away, so the drive had been very pleasant. It was a bit of an adventure I guess. That is, if sitting in the car for 11 hours and having my ass go numb counts as an adventure.

Anyway, summer break and I’m in Oita now visiting the girlfriend and hanging out. Since I usually do most of my writing at work, you perhaps can expect a bit of a drop off in the blogging during the next few weeks. Either that, or you’ll know for sure that I’m hopeless addicted to the internet and there is no hope for me. One or the other should reveal itself. Stay tuned to this blog to find out which (if you can stand the suspense).

Friday, July 22, 2005

Night Out in a Pizza Restaurant

I have a bit of bad news to report actually. My Japanese teacher (who has popped up in this blog several times, perhaps most notably in this entry), has been hospitalized after a blood vessel ruptured in her brain. All the information I get is passing through the language barrier, so I’m not exactly sure of the details, but apparently it is pretty serious.
The good news is we found out she won’t need surgery, but she will be in the hospital for a long time doing rehabilitation. This means no Japanese classes for the foreseeable future.

Since I was enrolled in two of her classes, both her intermediate class on Thursday nights and her advanced class on Friday nights, my week has suddenly become a lot more open. I’m trying to find new ways to occupy the time.

My friend Matt, who is also in the Thursday class, and I decided to go out for dinner last Thursday instead. We went to a chain fast food Italian family restaurant.

As we drove up, we asked ourselves the same question as always: smoking or non-smoking. Neither of us are smokers, but we have noticed that the hot girls in the short mini-skirts are almost always sitting in the smoking section. (This seems to be more true in the Gifu/Nagoya area then it was in Kyushu).

We tentatively decided on non-smoking, but when the waitress informed us that non-smoking would be a little bit of a wait, we happily changed to the smoking section. The girl situation was much as we had anticipated: lots of cute girls in skimpy clothing in the smoking section.

I had previously written that we ALTs always seem to frequent the same places and always seem to run into each other. This fast food Italian place is a magnet for other ALTs. When Matt got up to use the bathroom, he noticed our other classmates Jimmy and Franz sitting in a booth at the back of the restaurant.

Jimmy and Franz rounded out the other two students in the Thursday class, so now all four of us were in the same place. “No Japanese class, and it looks like we all had the same idea,” I commented. The difference between Jimmy and Franz, and us, was that their table was covered with study materials. “Wow, we get a night of from class, and you guys are still hitting it hard,” I said in admiration. “That’s dedication, isn’t it?”

We talked briefly about our Japanese teacher, exchanging information about what we had heard. “I heard that Adam… you guys know Adam right? He’s in the Friday class with me. Anyway, he called her, and she couldn’t even speak on the phone.”

“Yeah, that’s the fucked up thing,” Jimmy said. “The part of her brain that controls speaking has been damaged. She can write and send e-mails fine, she can understand everything fine, but she can’t speak. Isn’t that fucked up?” Indeed, especially since her job was teaching, it did seem pretty awful.

We talked to Jimmy and Franz for so long that the waitress gave our table away to another couple, but we sneaked back into the smoking section and slipped into another open table. “Man, those guys are always studying,” I said. “It makes me feel guilty whenever I see them. I feel like we should be studying now instead of just goofing off.”

Matt changed the subject slightly. “You know whenever I talk to you, you’re always down on yourself about how bad your Japanese is. I don’t think you realize how good it actually is. I know lots of people who have been in Japan ten years and can’t speak as well as you.”

“Well, that’s true. There are some people who just never study. At least I do study. But it depends what the comparison is. If you compare me to these people who have been in Japan for ten years and don’t study at all, then I look pretty good. But on the other end of the spectrum there are people like are friends Adam and Mike who have been in Japan for a year and a half and have already passed the 2nd level of the Japanese Proficiency Test. I’ve only past the 3rd.” (The levels go from the 4 up, with 1 being the highest).

“Yeah, but those guys had to study hard every night of the week for the whole time they were here. It’s just a question of what your priorities are. I think it is more important to enjoy the experience in Japan and have fun.”

This was a good point, but I couldn’t help but think of all the evenings I wasted watching English movies or just doing nothing. That would have been great studying time. “I guess my problem now is lack of motivation. I can’t see what I’d want to use Japanese for in the future. None of the jobs that require Japanese appeal to me.”

As we were talking, we noticed a little girl, maybe 5 years old, standing shyly by our table and watching us. Matt turned and smiled and said sweetly, “Oh, Hello.”

“Hello,” she replied.

“What’s your name,” Matt said in his simplest English.

“My name is Yuki,” she replied in the usual sing-song voice that all children in Japan use to repeat the English phrases they have memorized.

“Nice to meet you Yuki.”

“Nice to meet you too.” This was apparently the extent of her English, and she broke into a huge smile at having been able to recite it all.

Matt changed into his Japanese, “Your English is very good.”

“That’s because I’ve studied English at school,” she said, also in Japanese. She became so excited she started jumping up and down. We waved good-bye to her and continued with our meal.

But a short while later she returned, this time with 3 other friends. All four girls simply stood by our table watching us, waiting for us to talk to them.

I should note that this is not an unusual experience in Japan. Every foreigner has similar stories. Back in Oita, Shoko used to get a big laugh out of the fact that whenever we went out together, little kids would always come up and introduce themselves to me. “You’re so famous,” she used to say teasingly. “It’s like I’m dating a rock star.”

It’s a good thing of course and shows the success of the ALT program. Little kids have such a good time learning English with the ALT in school that they associate all foreigners with positive experiences, and are eager to go over and use their English. It is certainly a positive change from the older Japanese, who sometimes go to great lengths to avoid talking to foreigners.

But ideally, after the kids have used up their two or three sentences of English, they are supposed to return back to their own seats and let us finish our dinner. In this instance, they stayed at our table for a good 15 minutes.

Very quickly we used up all the English questions they were able to answer. “What’s your name?” “How old are you?” “How are you?” The rest of the time we talked to them in Japanese, asking where they went to school, and what grade they were in, and other things like that.

When I felt like I was running out of things to say to them, I leaned in close and said, “Actually, there’s another English teacher in this restaurant.” They clapped their hands with excitement. “Mr. Franz and Mr. Jimmy are sitting in that booth in the back over there. Do you want to talk to Franz and Jimmy?” The girls ran off in that direction.

As soon as they were gone Matt gave me a high five. I was very proud of myself because I had accomplished the double purpose of finding a nice way to get rid of the girls, and also played a practical joke on Franz and Jimmy. Matt and I laughed as we imagined how Franz and Jimmy would react when the girls crashed their studying session. They were so serious about their studying, we didn’t think they would be happy.

But our laughter was cut short when the girls almost immediately returned. “What? Didn’t you find Franz and Jimmy?” I asked.

“We looked, but we couldn’t find them,” one of the girls said.
“They’re right over there. Franz is the one studying Japanese,” I said desperately. But the girls were not interested in going for a second look. I suspect that because Franz was Filipino American, and Jimmy was Chinese American, they did not look like the blond-haired blue-eyed English teachers the girls had undoubtedly been expecting.

So for the rest of the dinner we were entertaining the girls. “Where are your mothers?” I asked. “Do they know you’re here?” No use. The mothers had no problem with us occupying their children will they ate dinner.

Although I have to admit they were pretty cute. One of them had started jumping up and down, and pretty soon they were all jumping up and down like a bunch of rabbits. In fact Matt commented that they looked like rabbits, and they made bunny ears with their fingers while they hopped up and down. Also after recovering from their initial shyness they climbed into our booth and sat down next to us.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” one of them asked me.

“I have many girlfriends,” I answered. That’s my stock answer to what is a standard question in Japan. If I say I have a girlfriend, then there are a lot of follow up questions. If I say no, then it makes me look pretty pathetic.

“Do you want to be Joel’s girlfriend?” Matt asked.

“Yes, yes!” answered a couple of the girls.

“What? You son of a bitch,” I yelled at Matt. “What are you doing?”

At one point we started blowing on each other. I don’t remember how this started. It might have been me. The kids were making bird noises, and blowing a lot of air out at the same time. So I took a deep breath and blew it on their faces, and then they responded in kind. Matt got dragged into it as well when the kids started blowing on him too. “Oh, nice going,” Matt said to me. “Now we’re all going to get sick from each other’s germs.”

The kids, being kids, would occasionally spray us with saliva as they got more and more excited about blowing. Matt, who works in a pre-school, was well accustomed to this. “This is just like work,” he said. “I’m going to have to go home now and take a shower.”

Eventually the kids’ mothers got up to pay their bill, and called over to their children that they were leaving now. They gave us the usual bow as a thank you, and quietly left.

“That’s just like every day at work for me,” Matt said.

“It’s the same with me when I go to the elementary school,” I said. “I don’t usually expect it when we go out to eat though.”
“It’s not all bad,” Matt said. “Sometimes if you get swarmed with kids like that, and you handle it well like we did, it really impresses all the women around. Did you see all the looks we were getting from all the young ladies in the next table?”

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Random Trivia

Here’s an interesting little tidbit of information you probably didn’t know: In Japan, lemonade is made with hot water, and served during the winter. My English class was quite surprised when I told them that in America we drink lemonade in the summer.
Feel free to use that one to impress your friends the next time there is a lull in the conversation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Emma Goldman Visits Grand Rapids....And Loves It!

As I’ve mentioned a few weeks back, I’m slowly working my way through Emma Goldman’s autobiography. Very slowly. After all these weeks, I’m still less than half way through it.

But in reading the book I’ve stumbled upon a West Michigan connection, and these are always interesting.

When in San Francisco, Emma Goldman delivered a lecture on “Patriotism”. After the lecture a soldier came up to shake her hand and thank her. For this crime the soldier was court martialled for “attending Emma Goldman’s meeting and for shaking hands with her.” That soldier’s name was William Buwalda from Hudsonville Michigan.

In the end he was dismissed from the army, degraded, and sentenced to the military prison on Alcatraz Island for 5 years. Emma Goldman and the other anarchists immediately set about publicizing the case and working for his release, and in the end he was pardoned by President Theodore Roosevelt after only ten months imprisonment.

When he finally met with Emma Goldman again, she describes the encounter this way, “His fine, open face, intelligent eyes, and firm mouth were indicative of an independent character. I wondered how he had stood fifteen years of military service without becoming warped. Buwalda related that he had joined the Army mainly because of tradition. American-born, he was of Dutch stock and nearly all the men of his family had done military service in Holland.”

Later Buwalda organized a speaking engagement for Emma Goldman in Grand Rapids, and apparently the audiences there loved her. She describes her trip to Grand Rapids in “Mother Earth” magazine as follows:

"GRAND RAPIDS furnished a new experience, doubly pleasant because of the opportunity it offered to meet once more our ex-soldier, William Buwalda. Our readers have probably been wondering what has become of our friend after his release from the tender arms of the government.
William Buwalda has exchanged the iron bands of mental deception for a free and broader outlook upon life, while his soul, dwarfed for fifteen years by the soldier's coat, has since expanded and blossomed out like a flower in the fresh and unrestricted air of mother earth. Our comrade has been left with an old mother to look after his father having died last year. He often longs to go back to the world and to more vital activity, but with his usual simplicity he said, "What right have I, as a free man, to inflict burdens upon others that I am unwilling to carry?" Therefore he remains to take care of the old lady; yet he has not become rusticated. On the contrary, William Buwalda has used his time well, not merely for extensive reading, but for the absorption and assimilation of our ideals. The old Dutch mother, the kindly hostess moving about in her quaint Dutch surroundings, was like a study of Rembrandt. It made one feel far removed from the mad rush of American life.
Buwalda's efforts for the Grand Rapids meeting proved a great success. It was one of the few splendid affairs of this tour."

(the whole article is available on line here).

I’ve also found out that another famous Anarchist, Voltairine de Cleyre, lived and lectured in Grand Rapids for several years. Voltairine was friends with Emma Goldman, and her name pops up several times in Emma Goldman’s autobiography, but she was also famous and well respected in her own right. An on-line biography is available here. (Strange what how I can live in Grand Rapids all my life, and then find this information out in Japan).

One final note on William Buwalda before closing this entry: In 1909 Buwalda sent a letter to the military authorities, which was also published in “Mother Earth” magazine, in which he gives the reasons for returning his medals from the Philippine War. Since, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this war has been completely removed from the history textbooks, I thought it would be interesting to reproduce the letter here:

Hudsonville Michigan
April 6, 1909

Hon. Joseph M. Dickinson
Secretary of War,
Washington, D.C.

After thinking the matter over for some time I have decided to send back this trinket to your Department, having no further use for such baubles, and enable you to give it to some one who will appreciate it more that I do.
It speaks to me of faithful service, of duty well done, of friendships inseparable, friendships cemented by dangers and hardships and sufferings shared in common in camp and in the field. But, sir, it also speaks to me of bloodshed—possibly some of it unavoidably innocent—in defence of loved ones, of homes; homes in many cases but huts of grass, yet cherished none the less.
It speaks of raids and burnings, of many prisoners taken and like vile beasts, thrown in the foulest of prisons. And for what? For fighting for their homes and loved ones.
It speaks to me of G.O. 100, with all its attendant horrors and cruelties and sufferings; of a country laid waste with fire and sword; of animals useful to man wantonly killed; of men, women, and children hunted like wild beasts, and all this in the name of Liberty, Humanity, and Civilization.
In short, it speaks to me of War—legalized murder if you will—upon a weak and defenceless people. We have not even the excuse of self-defence.

Yours sincerely,
Wm. Buwalda
R.R. No. 3 Hudsonville, Michigan

Video Version

Monday, July 18, 2005

One from the Vault: Joel's Political Test

My thoughts were wandering the other day, and for no particular reason I remembered this political test I made 4 years ago. That was back in the days before blogging, so at the time I just sent it to my friends via e-mail. But it is the kind of thing that I would have posted on the blog if it had been up and running back then.

So, I decided to rescue it from the vault and post it here. Fortunately the Yahoogroups list serve still has the all the archives stored on line, so all I had to do was copy and paste.

Many of you will remember this thing. But if you haven’t seen it yet, why not give it a try and see how you score on the “Joel Political Scale”? And let me know how you score and what you think.

At the end I've included as an addendum some of the original e-mails I used to send this out 4 years ago. First is the original (and more thorough) introduction to the test and the philosophy behind it.

There were some criticisms of this test, and so I'm also including some of my responses. I'm trying to observe good internet etiquette by reproducing only my half of the correspondence. This might make it a bit confusing since it is ripped out of context, but I think it is still understandable though. [Update 2008: Actually I've gone back and added the original comments to help make this more coherent. Feel free to contact me if you want your comments removed.]

With that in mind I’m going to keep my introduction here very short, because the philosophy behind this test is explained in a lot more detail in the attached e-mails at the end. But by way of a quick introduction:

During the month right before I left for Japan, it had been popular among my group of friends to have fun with various political tests on the internet. I took a few of them myself, but was never really happy with the framework of any of them.

I was at the bar one night when my former roommate and frequent political sparing partner Rob announced that he had taken an on-line test, and had tested as a political moderate. “You are not a moderate Rob,” I said. “You are one of the most conservative guys I know.”

“Nope, I’m a moderate,” Rob said. “The test said so. You are just an extremist, so from your perspective I might be conservative. But from the perspective of the ordinary person, I’m just a moderate.”

“That test is flawed,” I said. But Rob refused to budge. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll make my own political test, and will see how you score on that one.” Because I was never really happy with any of the political tests floating around the internet, designing my own test had been something I had wanted to do anyway.

(Rob ended up scoring as an “Anarchist Communist” on my test. I accused him of not taking the test seriously. He replied that he was simply answering all the questions “as if we lived in an ideal world.” I didn't think that was fair, but what could I do?)

Anyway, a few other people took the test as well and gave me their feedback. Four years later, I can see a number of flaws in it myself. In order not to bog this entry down too much in the front, I’ll attach my own self-criticisms at the very end, after everything else.

Quick explanation: Go through the questions and choose the option that most closely represents your view. You must choose only one option, and you must answer all the questions, even if you feel like you are being boxed in or that your view isn't represented.

After finishing, go back and circle the 3 questions which you feel most strongly about.

Then, go to the key at the bottom and find out how you scored on each question, and which ideologies that corresponds to. Many of the options presented line up with several ideologies at once, so you may have several numbers for each question. Just keep track of them all. Keep a total of how many times you line up with each ideology, and give triple weight to the answers on the 3 questions that you circled. Then, see which ideology you end up corresponding to most.

(You might want to print this out and do it with paper and pencil.)

1. The Ownership of the means of production should be…
A. Privately controlled without government interference
B. Privately controlled with Government supervision to protect labor and environmental concerns
C. Controlled by the government, which operates in the best interest of the Nation
D. Controlled by the Government, which operates in the best interest of the workers
E. Controlled by the people, through elected representatives
F. Controlled by the community in which it operates
G. Controlled directly by the worker

2. Freedom of Speech…
A. Should be preserved no matter what
B. Should be controlled to make sure the morals of the community are not offended
C. Should be controlled to ensure the value of equality is not threatened
D. Should be controlled to make sure the government is not threatened

3. Gun Control
A. Guns should not be regulated
B. Guns should be regulated to protect society from anti-social individuals
C. Guns should be regulated to protect the government from society

4. Abortion
A. Legal
B. Illegal, except when the mother's life is in danger

5. Homosexuals in the work force
A. The government should ensure that homosexuals are granted equal employment rights
B. While the government itself should not discriminate against homosexuals,it should not interfere with the practice of private businesses
C. Homosexuals should not be guaranteed equal employment rights
D. Homosexuality is a deviation from the norms of society and should not be tolerated
E. Workers should control the means of production, and operate them in such a way as to ensure all have equal rights

6. Military
A. The military should be used whenever the nation's interests are threatened.
B. The military should be used whenever human rights are threatened
C. The military should be abolished.

7. Structure of Government
A. People rule through elected representatives
B. Ruling party firmly in control
C. Hereditary ruler
D. Non-Hereditary ruler
E. Local Communes are self-governing through direct democracy

8. The impoverished
A. The poor should receive government assistance
B. Religious and private organizations should help the poor, but the government should stay out of it.
C. Wealth should be redistributed to ensure a classless society

9. Environment
A. Private industries should take it upon themselves to protect the environment, and the government should not interfere
B. The government should put reasonably restrictions of private businesses to protect the environment
C. Protecting the environment should take priority over industry

10. International Trade
A. Capital should be able to flow freely across international boundaries
B. Trade barriers should be erected to protect domestic industries
C. Trade barriers should be erected to protect international labor rights and the environment.
D. Ideally, there will be no boarders between worker's communes. However, until this happens capital should not be more mobile than the workers.

11. Affirmative action
A. Acceptable in the interests of creating an equal society
B. Unacceptable. It's reverse discrimination
B. Private businesses may adhere to whatever hiring policies they please, but the government should not encourage affirmative action

12. Prostitution
A. Should be outlawed because it is morally offensive
B. Should be legalized
B. Should be legal, provided economic policies are such that participants are not forced into the activity out of economic desperation.

13. Illegal drugs
A. Should remain illegal
B. Should be legalized

14. The Media should be
A. Controlled by corporate or private ownership
B. Controlled by the government
C. Controlled by the people through elected representatives
D. Controlled directly by the people
E. Controlled by the journalists

15. The Church
A. Should maintain a strict separation from the government
B. Should exert an influence on Government and government institutions
C. Should be subservient to the government
D. Should be outlawed.

16. Police
A. We should increase police funding and get more police on the streets
B. We should put more restrictions on the police to protect against police brutality.
C. Institutional police should be abolished. Local communities should police themselves.

17. Euthanasia
A. Legal
B. Illegal

18. Death Penalty
A. Not getting used enough these days
B. Reserved for the most appalling crimes
C. Reserved for Class enemies
D. Get rid of it completely

7=anarchist Syndicalism

1 a(1,5) b(2) c(3) d(10) e (4) f(6) g (7) Not Offered (8,9)

2 a (5,6,7) b(1) c (2,4) d (3,8,9,10)

3 a (1,5) b(2,4) c (3,8,9,10) not offered (6,7)

4 a (2,4,5,6,7,10) b (1,3) not offered (8,9)

5 a (2,4,10) b (5) c (1) d (3) e (6,7) Not offered (8,9)

6 a (1,3) b (2,4,10) c (6,7) Not offered (5,8,9)

7 a (1,2,4,5) b(3,10) c (8) d (9) e (6,7)

8 a (2) b (1,3,5) c (4,6,10) Not offered (7,8,9)

9 a (1,3,5) b (2) c (4,6,7,10) not offered (8,9)

10 a (1,5) b (3) c (2,4,10) d (6,7) not offered (8,9)

11 a (2,4,10) b (1,3) c (5) not offered (6,7,8,9)

12 a (1,3) b (5) c (4,6,7) not offered (2,8,9,10)

13 a (1,3) b (2,4,5,6,7,10) not offered (8,9)

14 a(1,2,5) b(3,8,9,10) c (4) d(6) e(7)

15 a (2,4,5,6,7) b (1) c (3,8,9) d(10)

16 a (1,3) b(2,4,10) c (6,7) not offered (5,8,9)

17. A (2,4,5,6,7,10) B.(1,3) not offered (8,9)

18. a(3) B(1) C(10) D(2,4,6,7) Not offered (5,8,9)

Original Introduction Sent to List Serve

Joel's Political Test
(Alternate title for this e-mail: Does Joel have way too much time on his hands or what?)

Well, we had a great time at Z's last night (thank you Karen for setting that up, sorry for those of you who missed it). Unfortunately that damned political test came up again in the course of conversation. You know which one I'm talking about, the short one off the libertarian website.
Anyway, I had never been completely happy with that test before, because I had tested as a Libertarian and I don't consider myself a Libertarian at all. But, what really blew my top is Rob Patton apparently tested as a moderate. I tried to convince Rob that the test was off and that he was actually a reactionary, but Rob would not let go of his new found moderate status. So, I got him to agree that if I would design my own political test, he would take it, and we could see where he ended up on the “Joel Political Scale”. And, after all the work I put into it, I off course had to share it with you all as well.

Joel's Test
It is of course hard to group political ideologies into a logically consistent framework. Everyone is familiar with the traditional left-right distribution. If your high School civics class was anything like mine, it read from right to left in the following order: Right Anarchism, Nazism, Fascism, Libertarian, Reactionary, Conservative, Moderate, Liberal, Radical, Socialist, Communist, Left Anarchist.

Since we're all college educated people here, I think everyone is probably familiar with faults of trying to graph political ideologies on a one-dimensional axis. What one factor determines how far right or left an ideology is graphed? What does one do with the Libertarian Party, which is "socially liberal, economically conservative?" And if one takes a single issue and follows it along the graph, sometimes the results are ridiculous. For instance, Freedom of Speech is an absolute under Right Anarchism, then it becomes none existent under Nazism and Fascism, then an absolute again under Libertarian, then it becomes restricted under Reactionary and Conservative, and then grows under Moderate, Liberal, Radical, Socialist, and then becomes non-existent under Communism, and then an absolute under Left Anarchism.

A simple way of solving this is to move the discussion to a two dimensional schema, which is what the old test did. One axis represents government interference in the social realm, the other represents government interference in the economic. Conservatives like government interference in the social, but not in the economic, liberals are the reverse, and Libertarians favor no government interference in either. And I don't know what you would call someone who likes Government interference in both realms. My Calvin intro Poli Sci prof called it populism, so I'll just go with that.

Pater did an excellent job of exposing the libertarian bias of the old test, but does that mean the schemata itself is flawed? I think it is good for generalities, but if one presses it too far it falls apart. For instance, Gun control is an issue in which liberals favor more government interference in the realm of social affairs, and conservatives want less. And this can be an issue that decides how some people end up voting. Affirmative Action, and protection of civil rights is another example of how liberals can favor increased government interference in the social realm. As is the increasing tendency by some liberal groups to curtail free speech in favor of political correctness, or attempts to outlaw hate speech entirely. What's more, the schema doesn't allow for questions about the ownership of the means of production, the place of the military in society, and police conduct.

I once had a prof. who explained it to me like this: Conservatives will sacrifice freedom for the sake of maintaining law and order, while liberals will sacrifice freedom for the sake of equality. I like this definition, and used it a bit in creating my test, but of course we are now back to the one-dimensional schema, and all the problems it brings with it.The frustrating thing, I thought to myself, is everyone knows what the difference between a liberal and a conservative is, but try to explain it in a graph and everything gets screwy. It was at this point that I decided to drop the graph framework, and instead try and line the testee up with various political categories. It makes it a bit of a hassle to score yourself, but if I favored simplicity over accuracy I would have just gone with the old test.

Categories:There are ten possible categories in Joel's test: Conservative, Liberal, Fascist, Socialist, Libertarian, Anarchist-Communist, Anarchist-Syndicalism, Monarchist, Dictatorist, and Communist. Of course these overlap somewhat. One could easily have a Fascist dictator, or a conservative Monarch. Therefore, not every question will have options for every category. Although it was somewhat difficult at times to include Anarchist opinions in some of these questions which revolve around scope of government, I did not exclude political ideologies from any question because of the scope of the question. I simply added more options to make sure all views were represented. The only times I didn't include an ideological option under the question was times when the ideology seemed divided among itself. For instance, I could see a monarchy functioning under both pro-life and pro-choice, so Monarchists will not an option for themselves under that question. Similarly, I don't think anarchists as a whole have articulated any consistent theories about Gun control, so there is no Anarchist option under that question.

I have done my best to avoid equating Nazism with Fascism here, because I believe theories of racial superiority are not intrinsic to a fascist government. Instead, for the purposes of this test, Fascism can be described as a strong, authoritarian government which operates for the best interests of the State as a whole.

I also have decided to present Communism in theory rather then in fact. For instance, expressing a strong desire for human rights in this test could end up classifying you as a communist, even though Communist regimes in actuality have had some of the worst human rights records imaginable.
However, I have still went with the Leninist brand of communism, which even in theory is a very authoritarian kind of government and tolerates no dissent from the parties views.

Although the words Socialism and Communism have often been used interchangeably, the Socialist category here is patterned after the American Version of the Socialist party, which can be easiest described as a democratic version of communism.

And, as I alluded to above, I have still maintained some elements of the left-right distribution graph in placing some of these categories. For instance I have assumed that most Socialist share liberal views about abortion, environment, and affirmative action, and I have assumed that fascist will likely share conservative views on the same issues.

Oh, and one more thing, this test is geared towards an American audience, and the terms liberal and conservative are defined accordingly.

The Rules:
Go through, answer all the questions by picking one and only one answer. You have to answer for all the questions, even if you feel unrepresented by the choices being offered, just pick which one you feel closest to.

When you are done, go back and pick the three answers that you feel strongly about. (These will be given more weight in the scoring. Since there are a lot of single-issue voters out there, I thought this would be a good way to give a more accurate picture).

Okay, since unlike a certain other political test, I have not yet written a computer program which scores your results for you, this could be a bit of a pain in the ass, but bear with me. There is a key at the bottom of the test which lines up numerals with different ideologies.
Conservative=1, Liberal=2 and so on. So, for question 1, if you choose (A), you would get a score of 1 and 5, meaning you had answered the way a Conservative and a Libertarian would answer, so you just add those to your score. If question 1 was an issue you had marked as feeling strongly about, then you would triple your score for that answer (that is give yourself three 1s and three 5s). When the test is done, if you have a lot of 1s and 5s, you would consider yourself somewhere between a libertarian and a conservative. If you had more 5s than 1s, you would consider yourself more of a libertarian than a conservative.

Still with me? Okay, here's the problem. As mentioned above, there are a number of questions where not every ideology is mentioned. This could throw things off somewhat, but I'm hoping that by counter-balancing the scoring towards the 3 issues the testee feels strongest on, it will even things out somewhat.

A couple more things. I am looking for feedback on this before I give it to Rob, so tell me what you think. Is my understanding of Communism conditioned by class enemies? Did you turn out totally different than you thought? Is the wording on these questions slanted towards the left? (Oh, and in the interest of revealing my bias, I should acknowledge that I classify myself as Anarchist-Communist).

And, without further ado, here is Joel's Political Test.

Ok, I took the test and think it's a little skewed. Yes, I am a conservative(obviously), but fascism is close at my heels, which is ridiculous. Because of the overlapping numbers, I think that conservatism is placed much too close to fascism. For all the socialists out there who are too far from the right to make distinctions, fascism is a dictatorship, normally taken by military force.It is a centralized government that breeds extreme nationalism and elevates nation above individual. I would dare to say: "Scratch a fascist and you get a communist." These qualities (except for the dictatorship part) seem to be strikingly similar to the communist regimes of history. Amazing.

Since Communism and Fascism are both authoritarian regimes, they have tended to be remarkably similar to each other in practice. And no doubt Communist and Fascists share some ideas about the power of government over the power of the individual (and I think my test reflects that). Although there have been fascist dictators and communist dictators, I don't think dictatorship is necessarily a component of fascism (at least in theory).
The assumptions made about both Communism and Fascism in my test are that Communism is an authoritarian government that relies on leftist principles, and Fascism is an authoritarian government that relies on rightist principles. (And, as I alluded to in my introduction, left right distinctions are made along the "I can't give you a definition of either, but I'll recognize it when I see it principle"). Therefore a liberal may find him/herself uncomfortable close to communism in Joel's test the same way a conservative may find him/herself close to fascism. I hope the questions that allude to the structure of government and the rights of an individual above government will separate conservatives from fascists in the same way it will separate liberals from communists.
But, that's only my take on it, and I'm open to dialogue.

In many ways you have captured it, but you have not done _exceedingly_ well in dividing Nazism from fascism. For example, an issue such as homosexuality was fought against by the Nazis, but that does not mean that a fascist would oppose it. Fascism does not necessarily want to uphold the _morals_ of the nation (as seen in Nazi Germany), it only seeks to retain its hold on society.

I tend to think of a fascist society as one where law and order are the primary good so much so that it over rides all other goods. Therefore, in making this test I thought that since Homosexuality was a deviation from the accepted norms, it would be a threat to the order of society and therefore not acceptable in a fascists regime. But again, I'm open to dialogue here.

So this would not necessarily put a fascist on one particular side of issues like homosexuality, abortion, and welfare. As for welfare, it may be more accurate that the fascist government would get in it a small amount so they could control it.

Again, I am interpreting fascism here as an ideology which seeks a greater purpose than simply to keep itself in power (even if we don't agree with that purpose). In practice, I think you are right, a fascist regime might well take the "bread and circuses" approach to keeping the population content. I'm not sure if this is also true of fascism in theory.

So there's my rant (as quick and largely unreasoned as it may be). Here's some particulars, though. I didn't know how to answer on a few questions. For #3,most conservatives would not necessarily argue for unregulated guns, but instead for minimal regulation (such as no semi-automatics). And perhaps the answer should be added "Guns should not be regulated to keep society free from government," which would obviously be a libertarian response.

Yes, perhaps one of the flaws of this test is that it doesn't allow much room for moderation on a number of these issues. (Abortion and illegal drugs are also examples where the testee is supposed to choose between extremes). However, I do hear some rhetoric from some conservatives(although not all) that even minimal gun regulation is unacceptable. The test does unfortunately not allow for distinction between moderate conservatives and extreme conservatives, but you can imagine what a nightmare it would be to add a moderate and extreme category to all of the existing ideologies I try and sort through. If you feel like you are boxed in on any of the questions, just don't mark that question as on of your 3 to be given extra weight.

For #5,is "private business" inclusive of religious organizations? This is a question we're facing now as congress wants to ignore the Civil Rights Act of 1960(which gives religious organizations the freedom to not hire someone that does not reflect their system of beliefs) and force religious organizations receiving federal money to be under state and local anti-discrimination laws.Private business should comply with equal rights laws, but religious organizations should not be forced to.

Ok, I agree with this. You’re absolutely right, I didn't make a clear enough distinction between Private associations and businesses operating in the public sphere. I'll try to fix this in the re-write.

For #7, the answers really don't go together. It should be more like "republic," "direct-democracy," "monarchy,"etc.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. I thought I did have options for all of the above

"Strong ruling party" is not a form of government, but a characteristic of government.

As you can see, this option corresponds with Fascism and Communism. What I meant by this wasn't like West Michigan, where the Republicans are firmly in control, but a system where it is not allowed to vote for any candidate who does not espouse the accepted views.

And what do police have to do with anything? If I think there is too much crime that is going unchecked, I will want more police. I think the same would go for any person despite political philosophy (except for anarchist or libertarian). That question is not an adequate reflector.

Again, this is a question where the testee is forced into choosing between two extremes. One might well argue that we need both more police and more protections against police brutality. However, by forcing the testee to pick, I think a value is transmitted in the answer. Choosing more police would highlight law and order as a higher value than protection against police brutality, and choosing the opposite would say the reverse. (And I do believe that law and order is an issue that at least some conservatives feel strongly about. These conservatives accuse liberals of coddling criminals, and that we need to get tough on crime). And of course, getting ride of police entirely would show a strong anti-authoritarian bias which would be Anarchist. (I didn't include a libertarian option on this question, because I don't think the libertarian party has a consistent view on this issue).

Thanks for the quick response, Swagman. And sorry for going off the handle fora bit there, I just get really touchy when I'm bordering fascism in any test. I think our problem lies in that I don't think fascism is any more concerned with law and order than any other authoritarian-type government. A communist government would be just as concerned with law and order in order to keep peace and avoid revolution, rebellion, or anything else that would make the people in charge lose power.My question with #7 lies with a contradiction of terms (in my mind). Whereas direct democracy, republic, monarchy are all _forms_ of government, strong ruling party, repressive, and multi-party (to give added examples) are_characteristics_ of government. When you ask what type of government structure is more ideal, strong ruling party may describe a structure, but it is not in and of itself a structure. For example, you can have a strong ruling party in a republic and a constitutional monarchy just as you can have a strong ruling party in a fascist or communist system. Hope that clears up what I'm trying to get across.

I think in practice you are right. A communist government would be just as concerned about law and order as a fascist government would. I was trying to compare both ideals in theory though, rather than practice, and I think in theory a communist government would put equality as it's highest goal, and a fascist government would put law and order as it's highest goal. Though in practice, you're right, it's very hard to tell the difference between Stalin and Hitler.

If number 7 was changed to read Oligarchy instead of ruling party, would that alleviate your concerns?
And, included in this message, is my new revised test (in case anybody out their cares). I changed the question on Homosexuality so it only deals with hiring practices, I softened the question on Abortion to read "illegal, except when Mother's life is in danger", and in the interest of being comprehensive, I added a question about Euthanasia and a question about the death penalty (both of which must have slipped my mind in the original).
But, nothing is set in stone, so let me know if you see something you don't like.

And from another friend:
OK, Swagman, what am I? and here are some complaints I have on the questions, though this is surely a better political test than any other I'm familiar with.
[Ed. note--I'm only reproducing the questions where there were comments/ complaints.]

#4. Abortion
A. Legal
B. Illegal
>>Whoah, whoah, whoah. Too simple here. It should be legal in the case of danger to the mother's life, including cases where the strain of having the baby causes loved ones to fear suicide. And it should probably be phased out as other safety nets for pregnant mothers are phased in, to save us from a sudden coat-hanger crisis. So I pick C.

#5. Homosexuals
A. The government should ensure that homosexuals are granted equal rights.
B. While the government itself should not discriminate against homosexuals, it should not interfer with the practice of private businesses.
>>Depends on the size of the business. A Baptist day-care shouldn't have to hire gay people if it's against their principles. But if you're the only employer in a small town, then it gets hazy.

#6. Military
A. The military should be whenever the nation's interest are threatened.
B. The military should be used whenever human rights are threatened.
>>I honestly can't pick

#9. Environment
A. Private industries should take it upon themselves to protect the environment, and the government should not interfere.
>>Yeah, in an ideal world where businesses were owned by responsible sane people.
C. Protecting the environment should take priority over industry

13. Illegal drugs
A. Should remain illegal
B. Should be legalized
>>depends which ones

14. The media should be
A. Privately controlled
>>(but people should raise their personal standards)

My response:
Ahh, you broke the rules. You opted out of answering some questions and you didn't chose the 3 questions you wanted given extra weight.
As for the abortion issue: I totally agree with you that the debate has gone to the extremists. I myself would have a hard time answering the question as it is framed, since I agree with abortion in the early stages but not in the last trimester. However, I had difficulty deciding how to gauge the moderates on this issue. Perhaps you could give me suggestions. Otherwise I'm counting on the assumption that those who feel uncomfortable in either extremes will not choose this question as one of their 3 that will be given extra weight.
As for illegal drugs, your right again that there are a whole lot of shades of gray not accounted for, but you can imagine what a headache this would be if every shade of gray were accounted for, and it would be difficult to correspond the gradations to political ideologies. So again, I'm open to suggestions, but as the test stands just swallow you reservations and force yourself to choose one, and then make sure it isn't one of the questions you choose to give special weight to.

From the perspective of four years later, I don’t think there’s anything seriously wrong with this test. It does what it sets out to do.

On the other hand there is nothing really right with it either. Because I felt that political ideologies could not be graphed in relation to each other with complete accuracy, I just designed a simple system of statements matching up to corresponding ideologies. Quite frankly a monkey could have done that. There are absolutely no surprises in this test, and it offers nothing of value. If you’re old enough to understand the questions, you probably have a pretty good idea of where you fall politically anyway.

The genius of all the other tests is that they attempt to arrange this all in some sort of schemata. Of course some accuracy is sacrificed when they do this, but the appeal is in seeing the attempt to make sense of the complex even if it can’t be done with absolute perfection. My test, by contrast, was just telling people what they already knew, and brings nothing new to the table.

Also the test is designed for ideologues. The questions all assume that the testee has already formulated a position for each of the issues, and those kinds of people are the kind of people who have a pretty good idea of where they stand politically anyway. The tests that are of value are the ones that seek to ferret out the underlying values behind the positions chosen.

This test offers no space for moderates. That is partly by design because I thought that moderate wasn’t so much an ideology in itself as it was a compromise between other ideologies, and thus impossible to fit into my test. That is why I insisted that, even though questions like abortion and drugs were phrased to only either one extreme or the other, the testee must force him or her self to answer. Again, since the test seeks to differentiate between different ideologies, it is adequate for what it set out to do, but it assumes everyone is an ideologue.

And this leads into what is perhaps the major problem of the test is that it tries to do too much and be too comprehensive. It is almost ridiculous to put anarchism and monarchism on the same test as questions which seek to differentiate conservatives from liberals. Questions concerning the structure of society are mixed together with questions dealing with ideology. For instance it could be argued that the only questions that matter are question one (owner ship of the means of production) and question 7 (structure of government). These are the ones that ultimately sort the ideologies out from each other. All the other questions are simply matters of degree. And yet these two questions are given no more weight than the rest of the test. In fact, if they are not among the 3 questions the testee chooses to emphasize, they are given less weight than some of the other questions.
Oh well, if nothing else creating this test kept me out of trouble for an afternoon in the summer before I came to Japan.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Old Friends, New Place

Last weekend I met up with Johnny and Greg, two old friends from Oita prefecture. Both are people I used to know in Japan, who have left and now come back. Johnny is now working at the Nagoya World Exposition, and Greg was just back to visit us.

I really don’t have any stories that are too exciting from the weekend. Greg caught the train to Gifu on Friday night and met up with me. We had some dinner, and then just hung around and reminisced about old times until the sun came up at 5 in the morning. We had plans to go hiking on Saturday, but the rain spoiled that, so we slept in till 2 and then spent the rest of the afternoon in restaurants, video arcades, and shopping centers. We met up with some friends of mine in Nagoya, and then met up with Johnny when he finished work. We crashed at Johnny’s place, and then Greg left the next morning.

Nevertheless, the weekend and time spent with the two did bring to mind several thoughts and emotions. The first just being the simple…
Realization that I had old friends in Japan

I guess I tend to regard my experience in Japan as just an extended working holiday, so it is weird to think that I have been here long enough not only to acquire friends, but now to have people I can put into the category of “old friends”.

For instance when I met Johnny I said, “It’s been two years since I’ve seen you last.” And then I thought to myself, “Wow, two years. And this is a friend from Japan. Just think of how long it has been since I’ve seen many of my college friends.” Time goes by so fast.

Since Greg is from England, the second thing I noticed was that…
I’m not as used to British English as I used to be.

For whatever reason, during my time in Oita most of my friends were either British, or from countries whose English was closer to British English than American (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia). There were a few notable exceptions of course, but for the most part it seemed like I spent a lot of time in Oita hanging out with British English speakers.

In Gifu, for whatever reason, the majority of my friends are now fellow Americans or Canadians. Again, a few notable exceptions, but I don’t feel like I’m exposed to the British English as much as I used to be. Listening to Greg I heard a lot of words and expressions I hadn’t heard for a long time. And, to the extent that my own speech patterns are easily influenced by the people around me, I myself began to use a lot of words and expressions I hadn’t used for a long time.

Some examples:

Superfluous use of expressions like “isn’t it?” or “wasn’t it?” or other expressions used to confirm the listener’s agreement. These expressions are used rhetorically without expecting a response on the part of the listener, in much the same way a Canadian will use the word “eh?”

Use the word “shag” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Before coming to Japan I thought this was just something invented by “Austin Powers”, but Brits really do use it.

Using the word “fit” to denote not physical stamina, but attractiveness in a person of the opposite sex.

Placing “Fuck me” at the beginning of a sentence to alert the listener that the information immediately following deserves to be emphasized.

Using the word “keen” to indicate an action one is inclined to do.

An example sentence might be: “Fuck me, that girl is fit, isn’t she? Be quite keen to shag her.”

(This is an abbreviated list of course. I suppose one could write a book on the differences between British and American English, but the above example sentence seems fairly typical of something that would pop up in our conversation walking around the streets of Nagoya.)

Third observation
Reverse Culture Shock and Things I’ll Miss About Japan

I’ve been a little down about Japan recently, and I’ve been taking it out on this blog a little. But it was interesting seeing Japan through Greg’s eyes, since he was someone who had been in Japan for a long time like me, but returned home last year. He talked about all of the things he had missed about Japan, and the troubles with returning home.

His stories about struggling to find employment, and deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of the life, reminded me that both of these things are awaiting me when I will return next March. And I’m dreading them both.

Also it sounded like Greg had gone through a bit of reverse culture shock over the last year. He talked about all the things he had missed about Japan. He mentioned how polite and friendly everyone was, and how easy it is in Japan to make friends. He talked about the JET parties we used to have, and the mix of different cultures that were always present. Even that night at the bar he observed how great it was that four different nationalities were represented at our small table.

Even things I had thought of as a negative, Greg put a positive face on. For instance I had previously been complaining about how vapid Japanese girls are. Stereotypes are dangerous of course, but it seemed to me that most Japanese girls were concerned only about shopping and fashion, and that it was impossible to have a meaningful conversation with many of them. But when we were at the bar, Greg pointed out to me the joy and energy that seemed to emanate from our female companions. “Isn’t it great how happy Japanese girls always are,” Greg said. “They’re always laughing and smiling. It really brings your spirits up just being around them. You never have that back home; everyone is so serious all the time. I’ve really missed that.” Looked at through Greg’s eyes, I thought that maybe it was something I was really going to miss as well.

I’ve been home on holiday 3 times since I came to Japan, but reverse culture shock doesn’t typically set in during short visits home. Reverse culture shock usually only hits you hard when you leave Japan with the knowledge that you are not coming back.

I was talking to Johnny’s roommate, who has also been in Japan and then left for a period. “I was thinking just last week that I couldn’t wait to get out of Japan,” I said. “But now after talking to Greg I’m really dreading reverse culture shock. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to stay in Japan, and I don’t want to go home.”

Johnny’s roommate put it in perspective for me. “The thing about reverse culture shock is just to know that it’s coming. When I first got back from Japan, I was totally unprepared for it. It messed me up for a long time. But if you realize in advance that it’s coming, then it’s not quite as much of a shock, and it won’t be as bad.”
Anyway, I’ve got another 8 months, so I guess it’s a little early to be worrying about it too much.

Friday, July 15, 2005

My Obsession with Blogging

I've already done a few of these self referential “blogging about blogging” type posts, and I’ll try not to do to many of them for obvious reasons…

But, I've noticed, and I’m sure you have too, that lately I've been blogging more than anyone else I know. (Matt Lind might be nipping at my heels a bit). And I’m sure a lot of you are thinking: “Is he alright? Has Joel become one of these people who spends too much time on the internet to the exclusion of actually living real life? Has he become one of these bloggers with an inflated sense of self-importance? Isn't there something better he could be doing with his time?”

(I guess the short answer to all of these is probably yes, but allow me to offer some explanations).

There are several reasons why I blog frequently. For one I’m in a foreign country and sometimes have a lot of unusual experiences I think are worth blogging about. I also can write more freely because a lot of my subjects can’t speak English and will never find this blog.

There is a sense of isolation from living in a foreign country, and I use this blog as a means of self-expression.

Also, as I am currently in a period where I am confused about what direction my life will take, I use this blog to help make sense of things. Or in other words, I think I seek to somehow justify my existence by documenting it.

But I think the biggest reason is the most obvious: I blog because I have time to blog.

As an Assistant English Teacher I have a fair amount of free time on my hands every day at work. Most of the classes I teach I’m not required to do a lot of preparation for, so during free periods there is a lot of just sitting at my desk.

I used to study Japanese, but recently I've lost motivation on that. I read a bit, but there’s only so much of that you can do. I’m not supposed to tie up the school computers, so I can’t do e-mail or surf the net during this time. But I do have my own computer. It’s an old clunker with no internet access, but perfect for writing posts like these, and then later transferring them online.

So that's the big reason for my blog obsession, just time on my hands.

However, I did also find a passage in a book (“How to Write, Speak, and Think more Effectively” by Rudolf Flesch) that I think describes me quite well. I’ll quote at Length: (Oh, and fair warning, this lengthy quotation contains a quotation within the quotation. Hope that doesn’t confuse anyone).

“Thinking back over the years, I arrived at the conclusion that about one out of fifty adults Americans suffer from graphomania—which is defined in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary as a ‘morbid desire or mania for writing’….
There is some statistical evidence for what I just said. In 1949 someone took a public-opinion poll in the city of Louisville, Kentucky, and found that 2.1 per cent of the voting population ‘wanted to write’. I don’t doubt that this figure is true for the country as a whole. There are about 2 per cent graphomaniacs among us—people who have desk drawers full of stories and essays and unfinished novels, people who fill evening classes in creative writing, people who have the dairy habit—in short, people, whose nervous systems crave the activity of putting words on paper, just as those of alcoholics crave liquor.
Of course among those 2 per cent there are a few that are successful and have made a name for themselves as authors. But they too can be classified as neurotics, just like their more unfortunate fellow writers who get nothing for their efforts but rejection slips. Dr. Edmund Bergler, well-known psychiatrist and author of the book ‘The Writer and Pyschoanalysis’, states categorically that he has never encountered a normal writer, either in his office, or in his private life, or in examining the life histories of writers. There is no such thing as a normal writer, he says: normal people just don’t feel impelled to write.
I could illustrate this verdict with literally dozens of statements by famous writers who have described their neurotic attitude toward writing. I’ll just quote one, which struck me as unusually pathetic when I read it. This is from the essay, ‘Voyage with Don Quixote’ by Thomas Mann, the late German Nobel prize winner, written during a slow boat trip across the Atlantic:

May twentieth: I ought not to do what I am doing: sitting bent over to rite. It is not conducive to well-being, for the sea is, as our American table-mates say, ‘a little rough,’ and though I agree that our ship moves quietly and steadily, yet her motions are more felt up here on this desk where the writing room is than they are below. Nor is looking through the window advisable, for the rising and falling of the horizon attacks the head in a way well known from an earlier experience but forgotten until now. Also it is not very healthy to gaze down upon paper and script. Curiously, obstinately persevering is the old habit of settling to composition so soon as breakfast and morning stroll are over. It persists under the most contrary circumstances.
Isn't that pitiful? Here is Thomas Mann, sixty years old and world-famous, and yet unable to enjoy his ten days’ trip to New York without the daily dose of his writing drug. (Having no other project on hand, he decided to reread Don Quixote and write a long essay on that.)”

End quote. Although one could quibble with Flesch’s figure of 2 percent, (I think the explosion of the blog phenomenon shows that this graphomania sickness affects much more of us), I saw myself as someone who fit into his description. At just about every point in my life, I've had some writing project going, whether it was writing amateur novels, diary, Chimes articles, or writing long winded e-mails (and often several of these at once).

And looked at that way, blogging I think seems much more productive than a lot of these other projects I used to spend so much time on, such as personal diaries or long unfinished novels that no one else will ever read.

Of course I think this graphomania description applies to several of you as well, and it’s just that I’m the one with time on my hands right now.

And also perhaps Brian Bork hit the nail on the head a few months ago when he noted:

I've been doing this blogging thing for over a year now, and as I looked over the archives of this blog, I've noticed that there's been a bit of a decrease in the quality of writing here. Funny how that works - When I started this thing, I was working a shitty job, crammed under fluorescent lights until 2 in the damn morning. My writing flourished. Now, it would seem that I have all the things important to being a good writer: stimulating academic environment, cushy bookstore job, plentiful coffee, new penchant for poetry and the warm glow of 60 watt bulbs. Yet most of what I've tried to write these past few weeks has been froth. Go figure.

Perhaps when you feel like your life has purpose and direction, and when you are busy with other intellectually stimulating projects, there is not so much need for self-expression. But when you are stuck at the office wondering what you are doing with your life, writing becomes a great release.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Japan, World War II, and Me

The subject of Japan and World War II is a bit nebulous to cover in a single blog posting, without making one of those long rambling blog postings for which I’m becoming famous.

It’s always been in the back of my mind to tackle this eventually, but there are a few things which have pushed it back to the front of my mind. Of course with the big anti-Japanese protests in China and Korea, Japan’s World War II legacy is back in the news. Advertisements for the movie about the new movie about Hitler’s last days have already started here, and it is interesting to see the Japanese reaction. And then there was the comment of the returning student, mentioned in the previous blog post. Of all the things about Japanese educational system, the first thing he zoomed in on was the difference between the way World War II is told.

After four years living in Japan, this is my assessment as well. I mentioned it was good to for him to hear both sides of the story, both the American side and the Japanese side. Indeed I think there are problems with both versions.

The American Side
The Americans tend to look at the war as the forces of good arrayed against the forces of pure evil. But human relations, and foreign relations, are never that simple. As long as we live in a fallen world no country has a monopoly on virtue or on evil. My East Asian studies professor at Calvin once said, “You’ve been taught to look at this war as good versus evil, but I want to challenge you to look at the war as evil on both sides.”

Of course the holocaust is something that should make us all stop and shudder. Stalin and Mao may have ultimately killed more people, but there is something chilling about the cold efficiency of the holocaust. (Stalin and Mao were both on our side during the war, but more on this later).

But nor should it be forgotten that in the years leading up to World War II anti-Semitism was so high in the U.S. that American opponents of Nazi Germany felt they had to de-emphasize the Jewish holocaust to get their fellow country men involved in the war. And that America fought World War II with a segregated army.

And of course there was the British Empire and it’s imperialistic holdings around the world. I remember another of my Calvin professors who mentioned that although Winston Churchill is regarded as a hero in the West, he is not well remembered in India. Because of Churchill’s hard-line stance against the Indian independence movement, and the massacres that resulted under his watch, the professor said many Indians regard Churchill as just as bad as Hitler.

And of course there was also Apartheid South Africa, and White-Only Australia on our side.

And Stalin and Mao. Okay, Mao might be a little unfair because he was only in command of a guerilla army at the time he fought the Japanese (and apparently the new biography challenges even that). But there is Stalin. The American history books often de-emphasize the role played by the Soviet Union, but the European war was essentially fought and won on the Russian front. By the time we invaded in Normandy, the Germans were already in retreat on the Eastern front.

So it is good to remember that the allies were not the white knights in shining armor that they are sometimes made out to be. And this is just the set up going into the war. I haven’t even talked about the way the war was conducted: the total warfare philosophy, the decision that civilians were legitimate targets, the saturation bombings of civilian cities, the fire bombing of Tokyo and Dresden, and the atomic bombs. There’s no need for me to go into detail on any of these points because they’ve been adequately covered already by writers like Howard Zinn.

In Japan, and perhaps this will come as no great revelation, no one supports the decision to drop the atomic bombs. Neither the Japanese left nor the Japanese right nor the man on the street thinks it was morally defensible to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And there is often an assumption that no one anywhere in the world could defend the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. I can shock Japanese people by saying, “look, if you go to America, there are a lot of people who still support the decision to drop the atomic bombs. It’s not universally agreed that those bombings are indefensible.” But more often than not, no one really believes me.

And in fact the longer I’ve been in Japan, the more I start to fall into the trap of the same way of thinking. It’s dangerous I think, because any debate must start out by acknowledging the opposition’s points. The result in Japan is that there is a lot of hollow anti-nuclear talk, but very little of substance added to the debate. But the longer I’ve been here, the more I forget that anti-nukes is not an agreed upon universal sentiment. I’ll find myself thinking, “Are there really people back home who defend the Hiroshima decision, or did I just dream that all up?”

Japanese Side
Much of the mythology of World War II in the US is connected to the strong emotions that are brought up by Hitler and the Nazis. But the Japanese people almost view that as a separate war entirely. I guess the comparison I would make is that they view their alliance with Hitler the same way we view ours with Stalin. They feel no more guilt over Hitler’s crimes, than we Americans feel about Stalin’s.

When the subject of the holocaust does come up, I sometimes feel like the tone is, “How can you Westerners do such terrible things to each other?”, and I will have to remind them that Hitler was their ally.

In fact I’ve learned that there isn’t even a Japanese word for “the axis powers”. Or if there is, then most Japanese people don’t know it. As a Japanese friend said, “I know what you’re talking about. Germany and Italy and Japan were all friends for a while, but I don’t think there’s a special word for it.”

There is almost a cold detachment. Movies about Hitler can open in Japan with seemingly little to no emotional connection. As I’ve written before, the swastika seems to be regarded in Japan as an historical oddity, and people will wear it or flash it around ignorant of the emotions the symbol evokes in the West.

But of course even if the association with Germany is minimalized, there is still the matter of Japan’s own war crimes, and the recent (reoccurring) textbook controversy, and the protests in China.

China’s position is hypocritical, and I think the US columnists have done a good job of pointing this out, as has Jared English on his weblog. Or, as my Japanese teacher said, “What we did during World War II was wrong, and I wish the textbooks would be more honest about it. But we’ve apologized many times since the war, and we’ve given billions in development aid to China since then, and the Chinese government doesn’t tell its people any of this. So their government can whip them into an anti-Japanese frenzy so easily, but it is not honest.”

So, it’s hard to take the Chinese side too much. But I find myself getting more upset at the Japanese. I was relating my feelings to a friend, “I think there is something about proximity that makes us angry. For instance I’m sure there are right-wing idiots in every country, but the right-wing idiots in say France and Australia don’t really bug me that much. It’s the idiots in my own country that makes my blood boil. The longer I stay in Japan, the more I feel like I’m part of this country, and the less patience I have for the right wing. Even though China may be more at fault for this dispute, I find myself just getting so angry at the Japanese. I want to scream, ‘You fucking idiots. You fucking knew this was going to happen when you published that textbook, and now you’re complaining about anti-Japanese sentiment, and whining like you’re the victim.’”

Like most ex-patriots here, I’ve read “The Rape of Nanking” by Iris Chang. It’s one of those books that everyone who comes to Japan reads sooner or later. It just gets passed around from ALT to ALT, much like “Dogs and Demons”, which is the other book every ex-pat here reads sooner or later.

I’m not sure how popular “The Rape of Nanking” is outside of ALT circles, but I would highly recommend it to anyone. Even though the massacre itself is ancient history, the failure of Japan to fully recognize what happened is still a current issue.

Of course, as I mentioned a while back in a previous blog post, one can never mention Japanese history text books without pointing out that the US does the same thing. And this is a separate problem in its own right. But one does not justify the other.