Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Public Bathing and Me

This weekend there was a JET ski trip up in the mountains a couple hours north of here.

I’m famous for not going to these things because I’m a lazy bastard, but I usually have a good time once someone talks me into it. I had a couple friends who were leaning on me pretty heavily to sign up, and in the end I’m glad I did.

Not everyone on the trip went skiing, and there were several different options. One option was to stay in the ski lodge drinking hot cocoa and watching movies. One was to go skiing. And one was taking a tour of the local Onsens (public baths).

I come from a skiing family, and there was a time when I considered myself a decent skier. But I haven’t done any real serious skiing since high school. I went skiing once in Japan, and the ski place was small, over-crowded, and ridiculously expensive.

Of course that was down in the Oita days (South part of Japan). Up here the skiing is probably pretty good (and apparently is, according to reports of other JETs). But then the laziness sets in again. I don’t want to deal with trying to get together a bunch of ski gear and snow pants, asking if they have rentals my size (in Japan it’s never a guarantee), and then skiing on crappy rental equipment and fighting the crowds and the cold at another Japanese ski resort.

So, I opted for the public bathing course. While most of my friends were spending all day out skiing or snowboarding, it was a bit embarrassing to admit that I spent the whole day in the baths, and people joked about what an old man I had become. But I have no regrets.

Public bathing is a traditional part of Japanese culture, and is a bit of a culture shock to most people when they first arrived here. Some of you may recall getting e-mails about this from me when I first arrived in Japan. By the time I started up this blog, I was already used to it and so haven’t felt the need to write a lot about it.

I first went to a public bath during my first couple weeks in Japan. My supervisor had translated it as a “spa”, so I brought my bathing suit. I was slightly uncomfortable about the idea of being in a changing room with my supervisor. I figured after I saw him naked in the locker room, it couldn’t take him seriously at work ever again. On the car ride there I thought over how I would change as quick as I could, and then hopefully be out the door and into the spa before my supervisor even took his pants off.

But it turns out you go to these things completely in the nude. I was in my bathing suit and headed out the door when my supervisor tells me I have to take off the suit and go in completely naked. As you can imagine, I was really uncomfortable about that. Not only did I feel uncomfortable about sitting naked in a bath next to a middle-aged man, but his seventeen-year-old son was with us as well, and the whole thing just seemed wrong.

But the thing about nakedness is that it’s all in your head. We as humans aren’t naturally ashamed of being naked. We’re just conditioned to feel it’s shameful. Once you get over that mental block, it’s the most natural thing in the world.

By the end of the night, I didn’t feel a bit awkward about it at all. I was perfectly happy to climb into a big tub with a bunch of other naked men.

Since that time I’ve been to public baths many times in Japan. Down in Oita I used to go about once a week with other JETs. It’s really nice in the wintertime especially. It’s just like hot tubing, only naked. And it’s always nice to bath with friends because you can have all sorts of conversations while you’re scrubbing.

Up here I haven’t been quite as much, but I enjoyed the public bath tour this weekend. There was a group of about 10 of us going. We bought a ticket at the tourist information that entitled us to enter 3 different public baths. Only one other guy was there, so it was just the two of us in the men’s bath.

In Kyushu most of the hot spring baths are on the ground floor are outside, which gives an appearance of naturalness (although I’m skeptical about how natural a lot of them are). Up here the tradition seems to be to put the hot spring baths on the top floor of the hotel, so that you can see a great view while you bath, but takes away the illusion of natural hot springs. Allegedly the water is from a natural hot spring source even though it is pumped up through the pipes (but again, I’m skeptical).

Because Japanese don’t like to soak in their own scum, in a Japanese bath you must clean yourself off entirely before getting in the water. The stereotype is that foreigners don’t know bath etiquette, but in my experience we foreigners often spend the most time scrubbing before entering the water. Old Japanese men are liable to just pour a bucket of water over their privates and then climb right in.

Because we were in a tourist area, the bath had all sorts of novelty soaps and washing pads, and we tried out as many things as possible. Me and the other guy recommended different soaps to each other as we tried them out. There was a small rough stone in the shape of a pad. I figured this was supposed to be for scrubbing with, so I used it, and then passed it to my friend. He used it too, although not as vigorously as I did. It scrapped a bit against the skin, but I figured that’s what it was supposed to do. Get rid of all the dead skin cells or something.

But after finishing the bath, I looked in the mirror and saw how scrapped red my back was. “I wish I would have laid off a bit with that scrubbing stone,” I said.
“Yeah, it looked like you were really going at it,” my friend said.

(By the end of the night my skin even started bleeding a little. I asked some Japanese friends, and it turns out that stone is only supposed to be used for taking callouses off of the heel. It’s not supposed to be used for the back.)

In the end we only had the stamina for two baths. No one felt like getting in the third one. We saved our ticket for the next day, and used it to go bathing on the way back.

Link of the Day
I'm reliving my first few years in Japan by reading Chris's and Justin's respective blogs. Chris has pictures from the walk in Ajimu, sights I've often seen when taking similar walks (I'm an avid pedestrian). And here is an entry on rice cake making, complete with movies (again, another experience I had myself in Ajimu). And Justin's entry on his decision to stay another year reminds me of my own reasons for staying so long in Japan.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

 (Book Review)

We are of the generation that consumes more movies than books, and “All Quiet On the Western Front” is an example of a movie that is perhaps more famous than, and threatens to eclipse, the book.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s worth watching. In this day when there are a lot of pro-war movies masquerading as anti-war movies, it’s good to be reminded of what a true anti-war movie looks like. “Saving Private Ryan” may have been upfront about showing the horrors of war, but throughout the movie is also full of patriotism and American flags waving in the background to the swell of dramatic music. The message is war may be terrible, but its still a necessary struggle fought by heroic men for a noble cause.

Compare that to the speech Paul gives in “All Quiet in the Western Front” when he confronts his old patriotic teacher:

I heard you in here reciting that same old stuff, making more iron men, more young heroes. You still think it's beautiful and sweet to die for your country, don't you? We used to think you knew. The first bombardment taught us better. It's dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country, it's better not to die at all. There are millions out there dying for their country, and what good is it?
(You can read the text of the whole speech on-line here)

Picture a big budget Hollywood movie these days including that scene. They just don’t make movies like this anymore.

But if you have already seen the movie, why read the book? Well, for one thing, it’s a very short book. You can probably read it in a few days, a week easily, and then you’ll have another classic of Western literature under your belt.

But more importantly the book lets you get inside the minds of the characters in a way a movie can’t. In a movie you just watch people run around the screen. In the book you can actually share their thoughts and see what they are thinking.

I think we’ve all seen some sort of movie about a War veteran having trouble adjusting to civilian life before. I never really understood that before. Sure the war was terrible, but wouldn’t they cherish normal life all the more for having been through that experience and survived?

In reading “All Quiet on the Western Front” I got the sense for the first time of how these men would never be able to go back to civilian life, and I understood with new clarity the meaning of the phrase, “the lost generation.”

There’s a passage in which they just come back from the trench warfare at the front, and realize a play is going to be put on for the soldiers, and they ask each other, “Is it possible these kind of things still exist?” Or the passage when Paul is on leave back home, and can’t stand the company of any of his old teachers, also illustrates the point. Or there is Paul’s thoughts lying on the bed in the hospital, when he wonders what could thousands of years of Western Civilization have been if they could not have prevented this massacre.

But I’m not doing justice to any of this by ripping it out of context. You need to read the book to get the real sense of how lost these men became.

There are, as you would expect in a war novel, lots of battle scenes. Some of this gets repetitive, other times it is predictable. Maybe the clichés of the modern “War movie/ novel” were not yet established when Remarque wrote this, but they are now. I trust I won’t be giving much away if I tell you just about everyone dies, and the “best friend” character dies at the very end in a particularly senseless way.

Not all of this is pleasant reading, and often its very depressing. But I guess you don’t pick up a book like this for pleasure reading.

The most depressing thing about it all is how little we as a society seemed to have learned from the book and the war that inspired it. If the world had learned from World War I, then the book would have at least some hopefulness to it. But now, if you look at all the patriotism on display, it’s 1914 all over again.

Link of the Day
One of the frequent complaints about foreign residents in Japan is the way women are treated. A friend of mine once said, "I don't understand why Japanese people don't respect their own women."
The Japan Times ran an article on how Women were treated at the recent world exposition, which indicates it's still a problem (You're have to scroll down a bit to get it, but you can find it at this link under the heading: Sleazy snappers just tip of a volcano, say readers).

Also, stop by Rob's blog, and congragulate him on his recent baptism.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Survey

A while back a friend and I were sitting in the local Starbucks having a cup of coffee (this was back when we still had the local Starbucks) and as usual the conversation turned to girls.

“Who can understand girls,” my friend said in frustration. “Someone ought to write a book explaining them. Every guy would buy a copy.”

“The girls are way ahead of us on this one,” I said. “There already have plenty of books and magazines explaining men. And they’re always comparing notes with each other. They know much more about us then we do about them.”

Eventually, as the conversation progressed, I remembered a “Late Night” I had been to my Freshmen year at Calvin College. “There is one thing that sticks out in my mind,” I said. “I went to College at a really conservative religious school, and they always talked about dating in religious terms. You know, ‘finding the person God intends for you’ or stuff like that. They had a lot of devotionals and bible studies about dating.

“Anyway, my Freshmen year I remember going to a dorm devotional on dating. It was in three parts. One night the girls got together and talked about what they thought guys were looking for in a girl. One night the guys got together and talked about what they thought girls were looking for in a guy. And then they compared results.”

“And?”

“Well it was really interesting. When we guys got together, first all the usual obvious stuff came up. ‘Girls like sensitive guys’, ‘Girls like intelligent guys’, that kind of stuff. Then, as the discussion went on, people started to get more and more bitter, and some guys started saying stuff like, ‘You have to be sort of a jerk to get girls’ or ‘Girls always go for jerks.’”

“What did you say?”

“I was kind of quiet in those days, so I was just watching the discussion. Opinion was pretty divided. Some of the other guys were saying ‘Come on, that’s not fair. Girls don’t always like jerks’.
So the moderator said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll just put an asterisks by it to indicate not everyone agrees on this point.’

“So the third night we got together to compare results. And when we got to the part about the jerk, the moderator said ‘Now we have an asterisks here to indicate not all the guys agree with this.’ But to my surprise, several of the girls said ‘Yes, we usually go for the jerk’”. (Actually I think it was only two or three, but for some reason I felt the need to say several when I was retelling the story.)

“Why?”

“Something about how the jerk has a sort of cocky charisma, or a lot of self-confidence about him.”

“Wow,” my friend said. “That’s really disturbing. Do girls really think that way?”

“I don’t know. It makes a certain degree of sense, doesn’t it? Think about all the people we know here in Japan who get a lot of girls. They’re almost all jerks.”

“What else did you learn at that devotional?”

“I don’t remember. It was almost ten years ago now. Just that little bit sticks out in my mind.”

My friend thought for a moment, and then announced, “We’re going to find out. We’ll talk to as many girls as we can, and find out what kind of guys they like, and we’ll figure out once and for all if this jerk thing is true or not. Then we’ll put all our information together, and we’ll write a book that will help out guys everywhere.”

I agreed to it in the way I’ll agree to all sorts of ridiculous things when I’m sitting in a coffee shop talking. I didn’t think we were actually going to do it.

But my friend has been quite enthusiastic about it. He’s interviewed a number of women so far, and has been very meticulously writing down their information.

Occasionally he does this by himself, but often he brings up the subject when the two of us are together. “Joel and I have a question for you,” he’ll say to the girl. “How to explain it though? Better start at the beginning. Joel, why don’t you tell her about that devotional you went to your freshmen year.”

I wish we could just plunge right into it, but he insists on recounting the story every time. I’m not wild about retelling that story multiple times. First of all I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I attended something as lame as “A Dormitory Devotional on Christian Dating” and secondly, the story almost ends as an accusation, and I don’t want to turn into that guy who is always complaining about how nice guys can’t get girls. I mean, telling the story once over coffee to a friend was okay, but I didn’t intend to have this little antidote become “my story” that I have to tell to every girl we meet.

Also, the conversation has a nasty way of turning back on us. “Okay, we told you what girls wanted. Now you tell us what guys look for in a girl.” I always have a hard time answering this one.
“I don’t think we know,” I usually answer. “We don’t have a list of things we check off. We’re just walking around one day and then ‘Bam!’, we’re in love, and damned if we can explain what happened.” This is, I think, the most honest answer I can give, but it never makes the girls happy.
“What kind of crap answer is that? We just spent a good 15 minutes trying to honestly explain to you what girls look for in a man, and that’s the best answer you can give us back?” is a common response.

All that being said, we have learned a lot of really interesting and useful information. One girl even remarked, “Oh no, I’m telling you guys too much. Please promise you won’t use this information for evil.”
At the ripe old age of 27, much of this info is coming a bit late. Ten years ago it would have done me a lot more good. But, better late than never.

But after having built it up like that, I must confess I find it bit hard to draw generalities that I can post on the web in the form of absolutes. As you would expect, each subject had widely varying answers. (Which is good I suppose. If all girls liked the same kind of guy, the rest of us would all be in trouble).

Suffice it to say, not one girl has told us, “Yes, its true, we all like jerks.” Some have mentioned that liking jerks is a phase girls go through when they’re younger, but most grow out of it eventually.

There are interesting differences between the Japanese and Western women as well. Again, difficult to draw too many generalities, but Japanese women seem to place a higher priority on personal space. Many of them want a boyfriend who gives them some social freedom. I suspect this is because many Japanese guys are notorious for not doing just that, so it becomes something the women appreciate more.

Other than that, hard to draw any conclusions without posting every response we got so far. Which (don’t worry), I’m not going to do. Maybe when we finish this project we can make some more conclusions. Otherwise, I guess you should probably start doing some research of your own. And then let us know what you find. As Red Green would say, “Remember, we’re all in this together.”

Link of the Day
Troops and civilians at a U.S. military base in Iraq were exposed to contaminated water last year and employees for the responsible contractor, Halliburton, couldn't get their company to inform camp residents, according to interviews and internal company documents.
(Complete Article Here)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

 (Book Review)
So, wouldn’t you know it, I commit myself to this book review project, and then the first book I finish is one that I have nothing intelligent to say about.

I did this as an audio book. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of listening to audio books while driving or in my apartment because it allows me to get through a lot more books than I ordinarily would otherwise. And recently I’ve decided that Audio books is also the best way to get through all those books that I know I probably should read, but realistically will never get around to. Hence the audio book of “Crime and Punishment”, a book I doubt I would ever have had the patience read cover to cover otherwise.

But, audio books do have disadvantages as well. While listening to the tapes, I felt like the book was just washing over me without me fully absorbing much of it. I should probably listen to it several more times before I form an intelligent opinion. However since I’ve committed myself to this project, I will at least jot down a few thoughts.

My image of a Dostoevsky book is a long book with very little story, consisting mainly of characters making long speeches to each other, like “The Brothers Karamazov”, which I started but never finished. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that “Crime and Punishment” at least had several sub-plots running through it, which helped to keep the story interesting. I’m not sure if all the sub-plots were enough to justify the book’s length (brevity is obviously not Dostoevsky’s strength), but there was at least more action in this book than I expected.

What I found most interesting was not the story itself, but the introduction telling of Dostoevsky’s conversion from a young socialist to a conservative. Even though Dostoevsky and his friends did little more than make toasts to the revolution, in 1840s Europe this was a dangerous hobby, and he was arrested and sentenced to death. As he was standing before the firing squad, a messenger on a horse galloped up at the last minute to announce he had been pardoned. It was all part of a plot to scare the young intellectuals. Still shaking, Dostoevsky was lead off to Siberia to a work camp for several years, where his only allowed reading material was the bible. Then when his time in Siberia was up, he was made to serve in the army for several years. And when he came back to St. Petersburg, he was no longer the same man. He had become a religious conservative and a believer in Czarism.

I couldn’t help but think that if Dostoevsky had lived 100 years later, and had been born a conservative, and been converted to Socialism by those same methods, people would label it communist brainwashing, and disregard everything he had to say after his conversion.

That’s not of course to try and take anything away from his brilliance or try and make any cheap shots at “Crime and Punishment” or any of his other conservative works. It’s just something that I couldn’t help thinking about when I heard the introduction.

In the book Dostoevsky (or one of his characters) argues against the socialist doctrine that all crime is economically motivated. This is a fair point, although somewhat of a straw man. Even in the 1860s there was a great diversity of opinion among the socialists, and not all socialists believed this. And even if they did, it’s but one point of a larger platform, and demolishing this point does not demolish Socialism in general.

But I’m nit picking. That was not the main point of the book. The main point of the book was against the idea of killing for a cause. The main character believes his crime is justified because of his intellectual theory. And Dostoevsky does an excellent job of demolishing this. Every captured terrorist should be made to read this book as part of their rehabilitation.

But then let us be consistent. If it’s wrong for the young intellectual to kill for a cause, it’s wrong for the governmental authorities to kill as well. Although some references to Napoleon are made, I don’t think Dostoevsky comes down as hard on the government as on the individual.

But I close this review with the same thoughts as I opened it. I don’t think I fully absorbed this book yet, and need to re-listen to it. In the meantime, I welcome any comments from anyone who has more insight into this book.

Link of the Day
Like Phil, I've been reading Jana's blog with interest lately. As someone with two adopted siblings, I also found some of these thoughts uncomfortable, but thought provoking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

My Interview with the Chunichi Shimbun

Almost right after I posted the blog post on Friday, I got a call from the Chunichi Shimbun, which now wants to do an article on the exchange with the Israeli class.

The Chunichi Shimbun is one of the newspapers for the greater Nagoya area. I’m no expert on Japanese newspaper circulation, but it’s probably the equivalent of “The Chicago Tribune” or “The Detroit Free Press”. I guess the town hall guy must have mentioned the exchange to the Chunichi reporter.

I’m somewhat embarrassed about how much attention this exchange is getting. Ordinarily I’m as vain as the next guy. I want my 15 minutes of fame and recognition for my achievements just as much as anybody else, but this pen-pal exchange is not one of my finer moments. I got it dropped into my lap by Monika. One of the main reasons I went ahead with it was because it saved me from having to plan out new lessons every week. And I’ve been real half-assed about it. Sometimes my students’ letters will sit on my desk for up to two weeks before I get around to typing them all out and e-mailing them to the Israeli teacher. And I worry that if people keep tugging at the strings, eventually all of this is going to be revealed.

Fortunately the reporter is younger than me, and seems more intimidated by me than I am of him. He is only 24 and told me he is only just getting out of the layout room. I imagine he’s somewhat desperate for ideas, which is why he’s interested in writing this article. And he told me his stuff often gets cut by the editor, so the article may never see the light of day.

But he still interviewed me for an hour and a half last Friday. I’m not sure if it was because of his inexperience, or because these Japanese are so thorough, but he wanted to know everything. And I struggled through the conversation in my poor, stuttering Japanese.

“Are there any cross-cultural issues that come up in this exchange?” he asked.

“Oh yeah. For instance in December the Japanese teacher wanted to write a Christmas greeting to the class in Israel, and I had to intervene and stop the idea. Also the Israeli students often write about all sorts of things like Bar Mitzvahs or Hanukkah, and they just assume my students will understand, but my students don’t. I always have to do a lot of explaining.”

And then of course I had to explain Bar Mitzvah and Hanukkah. Like most Japanese people, the reporter knew nothing about Israel, and so I have suddenly been transformed into the local Israel expert.

“B-A-R space M-I-T-Z-A-H. I think that’s right. Maybe you should double-check it before you print it. Anyway it’s the ceremony when a Jewish boy becomes a man. It’s at 12. Or is it 13….”

And “…In Israel they don’t have Christmas. They celebrate Hanukkah. It has something to do with independence from Greece, and there was also this lamp that burned for 12 days, even though they didn’t have any oil. So they celebrate the lamp. Actually you might want to double check that part as well before you print it.”

“Shall we just say it’s the Jewish version of Christmas?” he asked.

“Yeah, that’s good.”

On Monday he came back to interview me for another couple hours, and also talk to the students and take some pictures. (I voluntarily excused myself when he was talking to the students so that my presence wouldn’t influence their answers, but apparently they all said good things about me.)

Now I guess we’ll just see what happens. He’s easily collected enough information to write a book on this little e-mail exchange, but there’s a good possibility his editor will kill the piece and it won’t run at all.

Link of the Day
My performance not withstanding, the Israeli teacher on the other end of this exchange is really very impressive. You can check out her website here, and in particular the unit she put together on the Holocaust is worth spending a few minutes. Also my class and the pictures we sent over to Israel are posted here. (I'm made a point of not being in the picture though, so its just my students.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Book Reviews

I'd like to start something new on this blog. I'd like to start posting reviews of every book I read.

Obviously I've already been dabbling in this. Since I've started this blog I've already posted a lot of book reviews or book thoughts. (Tokyo Underworld , Richard Clarke, Autobiography of Malcolm X, All the President's Spin, 1984, A Tale of Two Cities, How to Think like a billionaire and Reagan's autobiography, Marx’s Political Writings, Take back the Right, Street Fighting Years and God’s Politics, Norwegian Wood, Battle Royale and 69, Emma Goldman’s Autobiography, The Trojan War and War of the Worlds, Downsize This , Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them, Slaughter House 5 .....I think that’s everything).

But up until now I've just been writing down reviews in a half-assed manner, and only if I felt there was something I wanted to say.

I think, as an intellectual exercise, it would be good for me to force myself to review everything I read. This may or may not be of any interest to anyone else, but I think it would be good for me.

I don’t have any books to review at the moment; I just wanted to announce I was going to start this project. In fact, I haven’t finished any books in a long time. I read a lot, but I have a bad habit of starting, but not finishing books. I have a lot of half finished books littering my apartment. As part of my project, I will make a greater effort to finish the books I've started.

The only book I've finished in the past month is “Rock This!” by Chris Rock. And it’s not so much a book as just a collection of his stand-up act material in print form. And as such it can’t really be reviewed. The only comment one can make is whether it is funny or not.

So, I’ll just re-type one of the pieces I thought was particularly right on. I hope I don’t get in too much trouble for this, but it just struck me as really true.

Chris Rock:
Here’s how to make your woman happy: all you have to do is say, “How was your day?”
It’s a 45-minute conversation.
You don’t have to talk. You just have to act like you’re talking.
“Uh huh.”
“Get outta here.”
“You don’t say?”
That ain't right.”
“I tol’ you that bitch crazy.”
You have to say, “I tol’ you that bitch crazy,” because every woman has another woman at work she cannot stand. And every woman exaggerates the problem and makes it into some sort of “Dynasty” bullshit.

Her: She’s trying to destroy me.
You: What do you mean, “destroy?” You wrap bags at JC Penny. What are you talking about? Is the woman ripping your paper? Come on!

Link of the Day
If that didn't make you laugh, then check out Bierma’s transcript of the Monkey’s writing Shakespeare from “The Family Guy.”The only thing funnier than that is the scene from the Simpsons when Mr. Burns hires monkey writers. “It was the best of times, it was the…Blurst of times? You stupid Monkey!”

Friday, January 20, 2006

My Interview With the Town Paper

So far I have yet to achieve national fame within Japan. But if all my little appearances in local TV and newspapers were added up, I’ve probably had more than my 15 minutes.

This week someone came from the town hall to interview me for the town paper. They are doing an article introducing me and the other ALT.

The JET handbook has a whole section advising how to talk to the media. Most of the advice is common sense stuff, like “don’t badmouth your colleagues to the reporter.” More subtly implied, but not directly stated, is to always remember that blunt honesty is not thought of as a value in Japan.

I make it a point never to say anything bad when talking to a reporter. How is the town? Absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I’m living in a town like this.
And the children? Really intelligent. We don’t have kids this smart back home in America.

The trick is to be as complementary as possible without crossing the line into ridiculous. When he asked about how the students acted in English class, I mentioned they were really well behaved and enthusiastic about learning English. Then I grimaced slightly on the inside as I thought about my Japanese co-teachers reading that one in print.

Most of the time I felt like I was just trying to stop him from realizing what a fraud I was. For example, when he asked me what my teaching strategy was, obviously I didn’t want to say things like, “Look, the Japanese teachers do most of the lesson planning. I just show up and help with the pronunciation. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’m worth my salary. And it’s my last few months now, so I’m just trying to get by with as little effort as possible until I go home.”

So I tried to focus on the things I did do. Like I do all the lesson planning for the elective classes. And I was conducting a pen-pal exchange with a class in Israel.

“Israel? But they’re an Arab country.”

“Jewish,” I corrected. (Japanese people know nothing about Israel.)

“Yeah, same thing. They don’t speak English there, do they?”

I answered they study it as a second language, just like Japan. And I mentioned that my students get really excited about the pen-pal exchange, because they get a chance to use English in a real situation, which is true. But then when he kept asking questions about it, I eventually had to admit that the idea originally came from Monika.

Still, he was very impressed by the pen-pal exchange, and wrote down a lot of notes, and kept saying things like, “Wow, that’s so great.”

At the end of the interview he asked if it would be okay if he could change my words around and give them a different nuance. “Yeah that’s fine,” I said. “I realize my Japanese isn’t very good. If you can phrase it better, go ahead.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make you look good,” he answered.

I have no doubt he will. This is the town hall newspaper, not some muckraker. Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed until I see the actual article.

Link of the Day
Tokyo Love Quest Video from Ifilm. Actually this one's pretty lame to be honest, but it does provide a good look at typical Japanese fashion if nothing else.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Racist Books and Me

A while ago I linked to this newspaper article about the growing popularity of nationalist, racist comics in Japan. If you haven’t read it yet, click on the above link and check it out. Very interesting, if somewhat depressing, reading.

Of course it’s one thing to read about the books as removed objects, as books that are being read somewhere in Japan, but not by any people I know, and not in any places I usually go. It’s another to actually see these books on display.

Recently I saw the books on display in my local bookstore. And I emphasize the word “display”. They weren’t tucked in the back hidden somewhere next to the “science fiction” section. They were right on a display table as I walked into the bookstore.

I believe in freedom of speech for everyone, even the racists, but what disturbs me is the prominence with which these books were displayed. And this wasn’t in some Ma and Pop bookstore tucked in the middle of nowhere. This was a big chain bookstore, inside of “Riverside Mall”, a large suburban shopping center.

And no one seemed to mind. Absent was the Japanese liberal who should have been saying, “Wait a minute, there are children in this shop. What kind of message are we sending to the younger generation when they walk in and see these racists screeds calmly displayed in the middle of a shopping mall?”

Everyone was just walking around the shop as if it were no big deal. “Oh look, there’s a book of cooking recipes. Oh, and I see they have the new ‘Hate Korea’ out as well.”

Although I suppose what’s most disturbing is not the display stand these books were sitting on, but the fact that they have been selling well enough to warrant this kind of display. The above newspaper article had mentioned these books were bestsellers, but I guess I didn’t really let that part sink in tell I actually saw them being sold.

This same “Riverside Mall”, by the way, is the same place that I saw the Nazi flag on display. That was in another store, but still part of the same shopping center.

I commented to some friends the other day, “I’m going to have to stop going to Riverside Mall. Every time I walk in there I see something new to offend me.” I then told them about the books, and we discussed the issue a bit.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” someone said. “The only reason those books are on display is because they’ve been getting so much publicity from the newspapers. It’s just pure sensationalism. It doesn’t mean the shop-owners or the customers are racists.”

“Yes, but what does it say about Japan as a nation that this kind of thing goes on without anyone blinking an eyelash?” I asked. “Could you even imagine what would happen if a major bookstore in the US put ‘Hate Black People’ on the display case?”

But the question of “what to do about this?” is not clear cut. In the case of the Nazi flag, the issue was largely ignorance. Japanese people don’t really understand the meaning of the flag, or the strong connotations it has outside of Japan, so I attempted to bring these issues to the shop clerks attention. But in this case, the shop clerks know damn well what these books mean, so it’s no use trying to bring the matter to their attention.

I have twice so far gone into the shop with another foreigner, and made a point of explaining the books in loud, simple English. “Look at this. The title of this book means ‘Hate Korea.’ See, this kanji character means ‘hate.’ And this one means ‘Korea.’ ‘Hate Korea’. That’s the title of this book. And they have it displayed right here as you walk into the store. It’s like ‘Welcome to Japan! We hate Korea!’”

As protests go I suppose this is rather weak, but I want to tell the other Japanese people in the shop, “We know what you’re up to. You can have your little racists screeds if you want, but don’t think you’re pulling one over on us. We foreigners can read it also. So the next time there are anti-Japanese riots in Beijing or Seoul, don’t come whining to us like you’re innocent victims.”

Shoko, who always shows incredible patience when I make her listen to one of my anti-Japanese rants, responded, “Of course those books are bad. But you have the same thing in America.”

“We do not,” I said. “When we went into the American bookstores, did you see any ‘Hate Japan’ books?”

“No,” she answered. “But I saw a lot of ‘Hate France’ books. If the American government ever quarreled with the Japanese government, I’m sure the ‘Hate Japan’ books wouldn’t be far behind.”

When Shoko and I were in “Barnes and Nobles” over winter vacation, we saw several anti-French books in the history section. These books haven’t been selling in Japan, so it was a bit of a surprise to me, but I assume they’re old news to many of you. Apparently the American right, still sulking over France’s refusal to aid in the Iraq war, have begun writing hack job polemics against the entire French nation and history.

Somewhere in here is a discussion about the difference between European multicultural states and the ethnically defined Korea and Japan, and the question of whether an anti-Korean book is inherently more racist than an anti-French book.

But there is no question that both types of books appeal to the lowest level of humanity. The people who write, buy or read these books are absolute scum.

And we never did find any WMDs in Iraq. So why is this even still an issue for people? I guess it’s easier for people to buy the latest “Hate France” book, than to admit they were wrong.

Link of the Day
Check out Bork's excerpt from Martin Luther King's speech.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Alumni Magazine and Me Part 2

Well, it's been a year since my last "update", so it's time to send into the alumni magazine again.

After I sent my update in last year, my mother commented to me, "I saw your blog. How dumb do you think they are?"

And yet within a few days they had posted it on their website. Not only that, this summer it was printed on the actual magazine and sent out to the homes of all the other alumni.

So, because they took the bait the first time, I thought I'd push the envelope just a little bit further. Maybe this is getting too ridiculous, maybe I'm still playing a little bit too conservative, hard to tell really with these things.

Anyway, below is my new alumni update. Keep your eye on the website to see if they print this one or not.

Much has changed in the past year. I've been granted temporary residency status in France, and have found a job working as a civil servant in the suburbs of Paris. My primary job is to negotiate grazing rights between the expanding urban development and the traditional sheep farmers on the outskirts of the city. It is a sometimes tiring, but always rewarding, occupation. I've also become engaged to one of the local French girls and, pending the approval of her parents, we are to be married this June.

Link of the Day
I saw the new Chronicles of Narnia movie over Winter Break. I was considering writing a review of it on this blog, but Andrew seems to have nailed everything I wanted to say anyway (as well as adding a couple additional, interesting observations).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Anime: Geek Thoughts 2

In the summer of 2001, right before I left for Japan, the Bear said to me, “Chewy, you realize that if you go to Japan, there’s a danger you might get interested in Anime.”

This comment was in reference to an on-going dispute between us Camelot roommates. Bear had been one of the founding members of Calvin College’s Anime club the previous year. Because Bear was quoted in a Chimes article about the club, as a joke Bosch and Butterball wrote letters into the Chimes denouncing Anime and complaining about the club receiving Calvin funding. Bear didn’t think this was very funny, and wrote in the following week defending Anime.

(Um, Problem with the Chimes archives, can't find the damn links at the moment. Guess this isn't as funny without the actual letters, but just imagine).

I held aloof from this argument, and 5 years later I’m still trying to decide if Anime is as worthless as Bosch and Butterball made it out to be, or as great as the Bear claims it is.

Part of the problem is the question of whether we classify Anime as a genre or as a medium. A good case could be made for either. In theory, Animation is nothing more than a medium through which any sort of genre could be portrayed. In practice, there are certainly distinct genres into which Japanese Anime tends to group itself. I have nothing against animation as a medium, but the genre of Japanese Anime I believe is limited in what it can achieve.

Take for example the sexual content, which is one of the things most people associate with Anime. Before I came to Japan I used to tell people (in my typical way of shooting off my mouth about things I knew nothing about) that Anime is nothing more than a medium through which all sorts of genres can be portrayed. Some Anime may have a sexual content, and, because we Americans are perverts, most of the Anime imported to America has a sexual content, but this is not representative of Anime in general.

Within a few months of moving to Japan, I had reversed my opinion. The Anime that is popular in America is comparatively tame compared to what is common in Japan. Sex is everywhere in Japan. Even the comic books in the Junior high school library had a high degree of sexual content. And my jaw just about dropped to the floor when I flipped through the comic books sold at the local stationary store.

Any discussion of Anime and Manga must take it for granted that Japan has a different idea of acceptable sexual content. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is another debate, but its something that has to be moved past to get to a discussion of the other values of Anime (and Manga).

There are a lot of good things to be said for Anime. For one thing if you allow yourself to get into it, it can be pretty entertaining. And funny at points. And because it isn’t considered “only for kids” in Japan, it bites off a lot of deep themes and subject matters, such as environmentalism, War and pacifism, and the impact of the atomic bombings on Japan.

Now, whether it deals with these themes well or not is another question. I think (and you’ll have to forgive me for this Bear) that Anime defenders are too quick to give credit to Anime just for attempting these themes. But anyone can make an attempt. I mean, think of all the 1950s science fiction movies that deal with mutations caused by atomic bombings. Certainly this played off the culture of the time, but “Beginning of the End” (the one where the giant grasshoppers attacked) is hardly Shakespeare. I don’t care what people say on the Internet, the Godzilla movies are not an intelligent dissertation on the affects of atomic bombs.

I know I’m making straw men by picking at the weakest examples, but the point is you don’t get credit just for attempting deep themes. Nor do you get credit just for attempting symbolism. I know Anime is filled with all sorts of symbols and cultural allusions, but the question is not how much, but how well.

I once bought a book called “Anime Explosion” by Patrick Drazen. The author has a degree in Japanese culture, but it is difficult to know how someone can be so smart and at the same time so dumb. Almost every piece of Anime he talked about was high art.

I should have known he was full of it when he sung the praises of “Pokemon”, but I was still intrigued by his description of the “Giant Robot” series.

On the face of it, he argued, “Giant Robot” may seem like just another cartoon about a boy and a Giant Robot, but all of the characters were drawn from Ancient Chinese and Norse mythology. The plot had several parallels to Wagner’s “The Ring” cycle. The plot appeared to be a league of heroes fighting a league of villains, but as the series went on, the relationships and betrayals got more and more complex until it was hard to tell who was good and who was bad.

Fascinated by this description, I rented all the “Giant Robot” series and spent two days sprawled out on Shoko’s couch watching them. Boy, was it ever a bunch of crap. I guess the title “Giant Robot” should have warned me off.

That being said, I did find a lot of Anime and Manga I liked. I got really into to the comics of Tezuka Osamu, and even wrote an article about him for the local Oita magazine.

Although it is difficult to make generalizations about a whole genre (or medium), in the end I find myself comparing Anime to a good TV show. It can have good character development, interesting plot, good writing, etc, but in the end it’s just a TV show. You could find worse ways to spend your time, but it doesn’t rise to the level of art.

Link of the Day
Media Mouse's latest commentary: 30,000 deaths, more or less: When the media becomes subservient to government policy

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Geek Thoughts Part 1

Once again I’m going to go off about things probably only of interest to me. Although in a way this could also be filed under “thoughts on being home”, because these thoughts were triggered by revisiting the world of American comics whilst back home.

Like most children, I was always fascinated with “comics” in any form I could get my hands on them. But, due to strict parents, I didn’t get into super-hero comic books until late in childhood, about 15 years old, which is the age most people are beginning to grow out of them.

I had been sort of dabbling until I decided I wanted to get really into collecting. I was fascinated with the rich history of comic book characters, and the way comic book storylines develop over several years. Old superheroes like Superman have developed hundreds of supporting characters through their long history, each with their own sub-plots. Also, within a given company, characters will appear in each other’s comic books, making every magazine part of the same big story.

Because of all the characters and history to keep track of, and because I had limited funds, I decided to limit myself to one comic company. There are a lot of small companies running around these days, but the big ones have always been Marvel and DC. Both have long histories, and both have lots of recognizable characters.

Most of Marvel’s famous characters originated in the 1960s (such as Spider Man, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four, et cetera). Many of DC’s characters, on the other hand, go all the way back to the 1940s or before (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern). Therefore DC seemed to have the richer history, and I decided to start collecting DC comics. Also I was part of the generation that grew up watching “Super Friends” on TV, and the DC characters had more nostalgic value for me.

If I had to do it all over again though, I might go with Marvel instead, simply because of the “Crisis”.

There’s already a lot of Geek Ink spilled on the Internet detailing “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, so I’ll try and be simple here. (If anyone can out-geek me on this, feel free to correct the details in the comments section, but I think what follows is more or less accurate).

By the Golden Age of comics (1940s) the company that would become DC had launched most of their super heroes. By the 1950s, because of the government crackdown on Comics, most of these titles died out. Circa late 50s, early 60s, the government pressure let off, and the silver age of Comics began. DC re-launched many of the comics that had previously died out.

But instead of picking up where they had left off, heroes like “Green Lantern” and “The Flash” were re-imagined. They were given new origins, new alter-egos/ secret identities, and no reference was made to their previous incarnations.

This worked out fine at first because it was before the age of serious comic book geeks, and nobody really cared about these inconsistencies. But eventually people began to say, “Hey, wait a minute, what ever happened to the old Flash? How come Superman was friends with one version in the 1940s, and a different version in the 1960s, and he never noticed the difference?”

So to solve this problem, DC comics created the idea of “multiple earths”. The Current incarnation of Green Lantern and the Flash live on “Earth 1”. Their Golden Age incarnations live on “Earth 2”. Other superheroes like Superman or Batman who had survived the 1950s and remained intact into the Golden Age appeared the same in both earths, only aged slightly older in Earth 2.

This worked fine for the next couple decades. There were lots of crossovers between the two earths. Often, for one reason or another, the superheroes from “earth 1” would be drawn into “earth 2”, and interact with their golden age counterparts. Or vise-versa. To add in the fun, someone got the idea of creating “Earth 3”, a world in which all the super-heroes were villains, and Lex Luther was the hero.

In the 1980s, DC decided that the idea of multiple earths was just too much trouble to deal with, and it was confusing younger readers who had no idea about the golden age/ silver age history. So, they wrote “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. It’s a long, complicated, and confusing series, but basically the idea is that all the different earths merge into one. The golden age and silver age super heroes exist on the same earth. A new history is created, and everyone’s memory is erased, so that they forget that there was ever a time when multiple earths existed.

What this means is that, despite DC’s long history, most of its historic comics officially never happened in the new continuity. Some heroes like Superman were even re-created after 1986 with revised origins and powers. The idea of Superman might date back to 1938, but the version you pick up today was born in 1986. The DC characters do not have near as rich as history as you might think.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, “Crisis” created almost as many continuity problems as it solved, so it was necessary to re-boot the whole DC universe 9 years later with “Zero-hour”. And this still didn’t solve everything. Although I’ve stopped collecting, I understand currently DC is currently in the middle of re-booting again. It’s hard to get invested in a comic book company that completely restarts its continuity every ten years.

Marvel, as far as I know, has none of these continuity problems. And although their history may be a lot shorter, they do a much better job at cherishing it. When I was in the bookstores over the holidays I noticed Marvel has started selling the “Essential” volumes, which collect in, large volumes, all the early comics for famous Marvel characters.

That’s a great idea. In fact it’s difficult to imagine why they didn’t start doing something like this a long time ago. Marvel and DC are both sitting on decades of old archived Comics. They’re not making any money on the old issues, so they might as well release them to the public in a cheap form like this. Even though these early 60s comics are incredibly campy by today’s standards (the early Iron Man series reads like one long Anti-Soviet Cold War Polemic), people like me love reading old stuff like this. And I imagine it generates an interest in the modern incarnations of these characters, and helps their current sales as well.

(I noticed DC has started a similar project collecting old comics in the “Showcase” series, but they seem a bit behind the game. And besides, according to post-“Crisis” continuity most of those early issues officially never happened anyway, so who would be interested in them?)

While Shoko was doing other shopping in the mall, I was in the bookstore debating with myself whether to buy some of Marvel’s “Essential” collections. It was very tempting, but I had to remind myself that I was 27 now, and there were better ways I could invest both my time and money. I did spend a lot of time flipping through them in the store though. When Shoko found me in the bookstore she said, “Still in front of the comics? When you said you wanted to go to the bookstore, I thought you were going to look at serious books. Why are you wasting your time here?”

Well, that’s all for Comics. Thanks for indulging me on this one folks. I’ll post something on Anime next.

Link of the Day
This may be more interesting to me than most of you, but the Japan Times has advice on Cross-Culture Relations.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Long (Long) Flight Back Home

I’m glad for the time I’ve been able to spend in Japan, but 13 hours is a long plane ride, there’s no getting around that.

And man, do they really pack you into economy class or what? I could handle 13 hours in a decent seat, but in the airplane I can barely move, my knees get sore from being bent for so long, those chairs hardly recline, and I have trouble sleeping sitting up.

They show 3 movies on the flight, and the headphones are complimentary, but often the movies are so awful I’d rather read my book. This flight was no exception. “The Dukes of Hazard” “The Perfect Heaven” and “Oliver Twist”. (Actually Oliver Twist was all right). The worst part is always when the 3rd movie finishes, I feel like I can’t sit in the seat a moment longer, and then I realize I have 5 more hours.

I was able to make a couple new friends on the flight. Because the next stop on the plane was Manila, the plane had more Filipinos on it than Japanese. And, at the risk of delving into ethnic stereotypes, all the Filipinos I’ve ever met have always been really nice and friendly people.

Also, turns out the girl sitting next to me was an ALT in the same prefecture as me. How is that for coincidence?

When we arrived at Nagoya I was able to make my way through customs very quickly. As a resident Alien, I get to pass through the Japanese side of the immigration line, instead of waiting with all the other Americans. I feel really cool in those moments. It’s times like those that make the 5 years I spent in Japan all seem worthwhile.

The new Nagoya Airport is incredibly convenient for me since I live only 45 minutes away. It sure beats the days when I lived in Kyushu and had to travel all the way up to the Osaka Airport. Twice I had to sleep in the Osaka Airport because I had arrived too late to catch the train all the way back to Kyushu.

So, having an airport close by is great. Although they did lose my luggage. :(

I don’t know where my luggage ended up, but it didn’t come to Japan with me. The airline told me they would call when they found it. Misplaced luggage is (as anyone who listens to a stand-up comedian knows) simply part of airplane travel. I guess I should be glad this is only the first time it has happened to me.

Fortunately I had all my books and tapes on my carry-on luggage, so only unimportant things like my clothes and change of underwear. So, until they find my luggage, I’m going to see how long I can go with the same pair of underwear on. Either that, or break down and buy some new pairs.

Link of the Day
When Tim Holt spotted Maria Rabanales of El Salvador lying still in the Arizona desert this summer, he believed he had a God-given duty to save her.

He forced water through the woman's swollen jaws and poured ice down her shirt. Border Patrol agents later took Rabanales to a hospital, where she was revived.

Holt was praised by Humane Borders, sponsored by First Christian Church of Tucson, where he is a volunteer. But his actions that June day might soon be considered a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison or property forfeiture, if a Republican-sponsored bill that passed the House along partisan lines on Friday becomes law.

(Complete Article Here)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Thoughts on Being Back Home

I'll save my big "Reverse-Culture Shock" for when I come home permanently in the Spring. For now I'll just jot down a few observations.

It seems to me that many people, when returning back to the U.S. after visiting Europe or Africa, often comment on how they are shocked by all the materialism. People returning from Japan don't often say this. The materialism in Japan is just as bad or maybe worse than in the U.S.

There are, however, 3 things that I notice every year, and, from my conversations with other ex-patriots, seem to be held in common with most people returning from Japan. I noted these on the blog about this time last year, but I'll recap them again with some brief thoughts.

1. The lack of politeness. Shoko was very shocked by this, and it was noticable as soon as we got on the plane. The American flight attendents looked at you with mild annoyance whenever you asked for something, instead of bending over backwards and apologizing like a Japanese flight attendent would do.

But the nice thing about America is that, although we might not be as polite as the Japanese, we are often a lot friendlier. Shop clerks and waiters will often make small talk with you about various subjects. This doesn't happen in Japan.

When I first arrived in Japan I would try and make small talk with the convenience store staff as a way of being friendly and of trying out my Japanese. "How is it going? Very busy tonight? Nice weather today, huh?" I was doing this for over a year before someone told me that it is considered very strange to do this in Japan.

Shoko always gets a big laugh out of this story. "What were you thinking?" she asks. "Everyone in those stores must have thought you were so weird." After being in America for a few days she said, "Now I can see why you would do that."

2. The feeling that everyone I see is someone I know. I keep having to remind myself that I don't know everyone in Grand Rapids, even though everyone's face has a way of looking familiar after a year in Japan. There were a couple times in particular when I could have sworn I saw someone from high school, and almost went up and said something to them, but wimped out at the last minute. I'm still wondering.

3. And lastly, everyone in America seems really fat. I think this every year. Not too much to add this year.

And now some additional Random Observations:

*Okay, there actually are Starbucks everywhere. I take my previous comments back. I'm not sure if I just never noticed it before, or if most of them are new in the past five years. I suspect the later.

* I've been telling everyone in Japan that Sushi isn't popular in America, but I noticed a lot of Sushi places around Grand Rapids. Again, I'm not sure if these are new, or if I just never noticed them before.

* Ditto that for Japanese Anime and Manga. Every book store I went into had a huge Manga section. Do I just notice these things more that I've been to Japan, or has it increased in popularity a lot in the past 5 years?

* As Sarah noted on her Blog, during the time I was back West Michigan was officially the least sunniest place in the world. In a way though I think I've missed the cloudy skies of West Michigan. I hate always having to scrounge around for a pair of sun glasses before I can leave my apartment in Japan. Japanese people always ask me why my eyes are so sensitive to the sun, but now that I know West Michigan is the most un-sunniest place, I think I have my answer.

* My sister would want me to say that she never screamed at me once this trip. (She wrote the same thing on her blog). There were a few times when she raised her voice, but I've agreed not to count them as screams.

Link of the Day
Japan Times gives its picks for the best of 2005 in Japanese music. If you're interested in getting into Japanese music (and why spend your whole life just listening to Western Music when it's such a big world), this might not be a bad place to start.

The Clock's a ticking...

In less than 48 hours I'll be back in Japan. I'll write up some thoughts on this trip once I get back, but Shoko already left on Wednesday, so I'll write about her trip.

1. First of all she had a really good time, and thanked me for bullying her into making the trip despite her illnesses. She did sleep a lot of the time she was here, but she had a good time.

2. She put up very well with not being able to understand much of the conversation, and she was remarkably patient with me as I babbled with old friends in English, even though she couldn't understand.

3. When I take Japanese people to Michigan, it's always funny what they get excited about. When I took the Japanese students two years ago, after all the stuff we did, all they could talk about was Meijers and shopping.
Meijers was also a big highlight for Shoko. She was also very excited to eat at a Sushi restaurant in America. And she loved seeing the Bear's house, with the large collection of Japanese Anime. "I've never met American Otaku before," she said. "I can't wait to tell everyone back home."

Link of the Day
Speaking of Otaku, the Japan Times recently did an interesting article on how Otaku is becoming cool. "It's hip to be square," seems to be true in any culture.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bloggy Notes

Re-arranging My Links, And other Fascinating Topics
You'll notice I've added a few new links, and cut out some old ones. There have been a number of people that I've been meaning to make a permanent link to for a long time, but never got around to (Chris Powell, Rob Patton, Jared and Rachel's, new blogs, etc.)

I've also done my best to keep my list of links from spiraling out of control by trimming the fat a little bit. I cut out all the "Dead Blogs" from people who had stopped blogging (But if you're reading this, and you start blogging again, just let me know). Also I cut out my links to progressive organizations in Japan. It was a good idea, but I don't think anyone was checking them. I know I certainly wasn't. And there's no point having a link that I myself don't even check.

(Also in an effort to keep my list of links under control, I didn't link to every single blog that I regularly read. Especially if that blog was already linked to by other blogs in my circle, I felt it a bit redundant. Hope no one is offended. I'm still feeling my way through blogging etiquette).

You may notice I moved my list of "Stuff I Wrote" to the top. (I'm needy). And you may also notice I added a new blog to my list: "Papers I Wrote", because I thought what the world really needs is my undergraduate papers posted on-line.



Last year around this time I posted my amateur stories on line. Then the following Spring I created a link to everything I ever wrote on the web. Now I'm posting my old papers. That's right, I get more and more pathetic each time.

Here's the line of thought that lead me to do this: I was thinking one day about all of my friends who were in graduate school, and all the papers they were writing, and I remembered my own under-graduate experience. In this age of blogging, when everything is shared on the internet, it seemed so weird that there was a time when I would work my ass off on a paper, and then have it read only by my professor. I thought that if I was to go through college again, in the age of blogging, I should post everything I wrote on-line. It may or may not be of interest to people, but, hey, it's already on disc anyway, might as well just throw it on-line and see if anyone wants to read it.

And then I remembered that I still had a lot of my old discs lying around the house. I went through the discs I had in Japan and found a couple things of interest, but to get most of the stuff I had to wait until I came home for Winter break. So, now that I'm home, I've been going through my old discs and seeing what I could find.

In the end it was a bit random. You would probably have the same thing I imagine if you went through your old discs. Some of them were broken. Some of them were lost. Some of them had been cannibalized and copied over by my siblings, etc. There was a lot of stuff that I would have liked to post on-line that I just couldn't find anymore, such as my paper on the "Student Movement in Japan in the 60s" or "The Formation of the Chinese Communist Party", etc.  [Update: I have since recovered those papers and posted them here and here respectively.]

Here's what I did find though:

This paper critiquing the 1999 NATO bombings in Serbia. It was based almost entirely off of Noam Chomsky, and the Socialist Party Website. I got a decent grade on it (a B, I think), but I was criticized by the professor for basing it entirely off of Polemic sources. And he was probably right.

But then I wrote a smaller version of the same paper for another professor, and got an A on it, and he called it a solid indictment of the NATO airstrikes. You never can tell I guess.

For the final history course, I wrote this paper on the Sandinista Revolution as viewed by Christian Periodicals. The requirements for this paper was that it had to be "an original piece of historical resource based on primary sources". Which means it's the only truly original thing I ever wrote. And, (perhaps I flatter myself but you never know) it might be of use to somebody else online. On the other hand, because the bulk of it is just a year by year analysis of articles, it is the most boring thing I ever wrote, and I can't imagine anyone reading it for pleasure.

These papers on "The Conditions Leading up to the Berkeley Free Speech Movement" and "Communist Parties in Great Britain" were interesting to write for me, and if you share similar interests, you might find them interesting as well.

I also found this write up on the 2000 RNC protests, that I did at the request of a friend in Media Mouse for her Zine.

And speaking of protests...At the time I wrote up journal entries of each of the major protests I went to. I had the sense of participating in something historical, and I wanted to keep notes so I could remember it years later. I decided to throw them online also in case anyone else was interested in protest/ social movements, but be warned, they read like journal entries. I was simply trying to record everything I could remember, not write in elegant prose.

I found on disc my entries from the 2000 IMF protest, Windsor FTAA protest, RNC protest, and Quebec FTAA protest. Somewhere I have a write up from the Bush inaugural protest, but I couldn't find the disc.

I also found a couple of Chimes articles I wrote, but which Chimes never published for one reason or another. And, I couldn't resist adding the one article I wrote for the high school paper, even though I had to re-type it.

Link of the Day
Wow, Monster Post by Matt Lind on ideas for the Democrats running for Congress. If you need some bedtime reading, check this one out.