Friday, June 30, 2006

Philadelphia Newspaper Article, Aug. 2000

(Retrospection)

This is my 15 minutes of fame, me quoted in the front page article of a Philadelphia Newspaper during the protests surrounding the 2000 Republican National Convention.

I thought I came off sounding pretty good in this article, despite the fact that I got the impression the reporter thought I was a complete idiot when she was talking to me. She would ask me a question, I would answer, and she would shake her head dismissively as if to say, "What a dolt!"

And then she gave me a pretty nice write-up. I suspect she just needed something to tack on a "good protester" at the end of her article to counter-balance her less than complementary portrayal of the "spoiled, angry rebels."

Obviously she has a few axes to grind against the protesters. Kind of surprising that this was a front page article instead of an editorial. A lot of her claims I view with suspicion. I don't remember seeing any "urine filled balloons", although I certainly can't claim to have omniscient knowledge of every part of the protest. Likewise I'm not sure about the validity of the protesters wearing "top-of-the-line Nikes", and even if it was true I'm not sure that it matters. Does wearing Nike shoes invalidate the political beliefs? Would you comment on the shoes if this were any other groups?

Anyway, with that aside, here's the article:

The Masked Teen-agers looked like spoiled, angry rebels without a cause as they smashed police cruisers, overturned Dumpsters and hurled smoke bombs and urine filled balloons at cops.

The way they see it, they had no choice.

"We had to create a spectacle," said Timothy Doody, 26, a community organizer from New York, as he stood near City Hall yesterday, wearing military camouflage pants and googles around his neck and reflecting on the running clashes between police and protesters throughout Cneter City on Tuesday.

"If we just came to explain the need for campaign reform and said, 'Come listen,' no one would come. So we had to throw up blockades. the media is very event-oriented. If we frame it right, we instantly get attention."

The protesters, mostly white, middle-class, college-age kids in top-of-the-line Nikes, belong to a host of groups. Some, who seem to care more about fame than revolution, say smashing cars is OK because they're inanimate objects. Others appear like thoughtful, independent, social activists who don't believe in violence.

They combine idealism with cynicism.

They're frustrated with a corporate world that they say runs government and alienates, almost suffocates, minorities, the poor and disenfranchised. They eschew maintsream political parties because both, they argue, are dominated by big business....

...One protester who calls himself "Ayr" defended the vandalism of cop cars.

"I don't think we should be just smashing up random car windows," he said, "But police, it's like they have all this aggression and all this authority on their side, and they really do bad things to people sometimes."

Others are more traditional protesters who speak of equality and economic disparity.

"I don't agree with vandalism. It gives the movement a bad name," said Joel Swagman, a 22-year-old student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., who marched for women's rights yesterday.

"The people who did the violence, did it, then got out of there. The peaceful protesters were the ones who got arrested. They didn't run away," said Swagman. "I can see a great deal of frustration out there. One percent of the population owns 98 percent of the wealth."

"I can understand where these kids are coming from, but smashing police cars was going too far," he added, as he adjusted his women's rights banner.

"I think those methods are counterproductive. People don't know what the protesters are about.

"All they see are a bunch of vandals."

Update: full article on line here.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Spock's Brain" where aliens steal Spock's brain to power their computer, is widely considered to be the worst Star Trek episode ever.
A close second is "The Way to Eden" when the Enterprise is captured by space hippies.

Link of the Day
Re-Interpreting Iraq: Propaganda Campaign Under Way

Thursday, June 29, 2006

More pictures



We just got the last roll of film developed, so here are a couple more pictures from the trip out West. One picture of me in the national park, and then one picture of me with my brother and niece. If you're interested in seeing more pictures of me (and why not, I'm a good looking guy), Amy has posted 11 pictures of this same trip on her own website here.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The last words of Sir Walter Raleigh, after he was allowed to view the axe that would behead him, were "This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all Diseases."

Link of the Day
I recently found the Japan SAQ (Seldom asked questions about Japan) archived on line here. While in Japan I used to enjoy reading these in the Japanzine, an English based publication.Perhaps you have to have spent some time in Japan to really appreciate these, but it sure answered a lot of things I have always been curious about. For instance:
Why are urinals in the men's public restrooms visible form the outside?
Why do foreign movies take so long to get to Japan?
Why do Japanese school girls wear sailor suits?
Why did people stop adding the suffix 'ko' to women's names in the 1970's?
Why is 'tentacle porn' so popular?
Why is the parliament in Japan called a diet?
How do you explain the frequency of female Japanese office workers running for no apparent reason?
Why do cyclists set their bicycle seats so low? And many other fascinating questions.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

That Guy...

Last winter break, when I was talking about my plans to come home permanently in the Spring, the Bear said to me, “Chewie, you realize when you come home, you’re going to be ‘That Guy’. You know what I’m talking about.”

And so I do. 28 years old, jobless, moved back in with the parents, eating the parents’ food, and borrowing the family car. Pretty pathetic really.

It’s been over a month since I got back from Japan, and still no job. (Subtracting the time I was out West, I think it’s been about a month even). That’s a bit discouraging, although by national averages I suppose that’s not too bad yet. Brett and Sarah were telling me the national average is about 6 months. I suspects that’s for “real jobs”, and not for the kind of service industry/temporary type jobs I’m looking for at the moment, but most people I know who came back from overseas (whether coming back from Japan, or back from the army) did have a rough transition period finding new work.

Part of the problem is that not only do I not have a job, I’m not even sure what kind of job I want to do. As I wrote before on this blog, I’ve been thinking about going on to graduate school (it seems everyone with a history major eventually ends up going back to school sooner or later) but the more I think about this I’m not sure this would be realistic with having to support Shoko as a dependent. (Perhaps the easiest thing would just be to just go back to Japan. I’m reluctant to do this because at the moment I’m so happy about being back in America, but Shoko already has a job in Japan, and English teaching jobs are never hard to find.)

Initially the magnitude of the task of figuring out my future somewhat paralyzed me to action. I would look at job postings, and think of all sorts of reasons why I couldn’t do it. (I read recently that first borns often tend to be “frustrated perfectionists”. They want to do everything perfectly, and so often end up putting off major tasks instead of slowly chipping away at them. I think some of this might apply to me). Now that I’ve settled into a routine a little bit, I make it a policy to try and send out two applications a day, whether or not I think I’ve got a good chance or not. I’m still applying for temporary jobs as well. I had an interview last week at a well known supermarket chain in West Michigan, although I’m not sure if this will lead to a job. (My sister wrote about this in somewhat critical terms on her own weblog).

Other than that, I’ve been doing my best to renew my involvement in the West Michigan activist scene. I’ve been going to a lot of interesting presentations and meetings. A lot of people have been asking me how I find out about all these events, but it’s pretty easy actually. West Michigan is a lot more politically active than you might think, you just have to know where to look. Media Mouse is always a good site to follow, as well as the West Michigan Peace and Justice Calender on IGE’s Website. I’ve put both of these on my list of permanent links to the left, and if you’re in Grand Rapids I highly recommend checking them out from time to time. I’ve really been learning a lot from the various teach-ins and lectures that are posted on the Calender.

And of course meeting old friends, and good conversation. As Mr. Guam noted on his weblog, he and Lucretius and myself had a very good night discussing Roman history and comic books (as separate topics that is.) Those are the kind of conversations I really missed having when I was in Japan.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Tentacle rape is a concept found in some erotic horror Japanese animation titles, where various tentacled creatures (usually fictional monsters) rape or otherwise impale young women (or, less commonly, men). Much of the genre also consists of domination/humiliation and bondage fetishes, since the "victim" is typically restrained by the appendages. Tentacled creatures appeared in Japanese erotica long before animated pornography; Maeda explained that he invented the practice to get around strict Japanese censorship regulations, which prohibit the depiction of the penis but apparently do not prohibit showing sexual penetration by a tentacle or similar (often robotic) appendage.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky spoke at West Point Academy in April, but for some reason it's just starting to make the blog rounds now. It was on "This Modern World" recently, and off of Phil's blog as well. As Phil says, this kind of thing sure warms the heart. Unfortunately it's the exception rather than the rule, but when it does happen it makes you proud to be an American. This is the diversity of opinion that America should be. If West Point can listen to Noam Chomsky, maybe Calvin can get well known commencement speakers who aren't right wing politicians.

The whole thing is availabe here. It's about an hour long, but worth the time (and you can always put it on in the background while you do other things). If you can't spare the hour, then at least watch this 5-minute clip which contains several excellent points.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Regime By Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

 (Book Review)
When I was home last for Winter break I was driving around Grand Rapids with Shoko and the radio was stuck on Christian music. (Wait, wait, stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this.)
When I was at Calvin, I used to really hate Christian music. I guess more because of the kind of people who listened to it than the music itself; the people who thought they were too holy to listen to regular rock music, or the people who believed that secular music was evil and they had to shield themselves from it. But I also parroted all the usual lines by Calvin liberals: that Christian rock music wasn’t so much music as propaganda, or at worst it was an attempt to cash in on the gospel.

But listening to it in the car several years later, I had a hard time remembering why I hated it so much. It wasn’t hurting anyone. Nobody was doing any harm by listening to it. It was cheesy sure. Some of it was cheesy as hell. But being cheesy isn’t a crime. A lot of secular pop is really cheesy these days. And some of the Christian music was even kind of catchy. I caught myself singing along to a DC Talk song that I remembered from junior high school.

All of this brings me to “The Left Behind” series, which was something else I passionately hated back at Calvin, but now I don’t really remember why. I remember it was fashionable for Calvin Liberals to criticize these books for one reason or another, most often for their faulty theology. (Such as this 2001 Chimes article by Nathan Bierma).

But if one takes these books not as doctrinal theology, but as escapist fiction, than what really is the harm? After all, the fascination with the book of Revelations and the end times has already inspired plenty of Hollywood horror films (and Japanese Anime). Why shouldn’t Christians share in the fun? What’s wrong with a fictional story about the end times based on Christian mythology?

At least that was what my attitude was going into this book. I got 100 pages into “Left Behind”, and then I realized that there were 3 prequel books, so I thought, “Well, why not start at the beginning.” I shelved “Left Behind” (I might finish it someday) and picked up “The Regime.” “The Regime” isn’t the very first book in the series, but I could find it at the local library, and it’s the second of 3 prequels, so I figured it was close enough. After reading the book, I have to say that I’m not overly impressed. As Dick Cheney might say, “Sigh, where to begin?”

First of all there’s the problem of prequels. They’re a tough genre to write well (which is one big reason why the new Star Wars movies sucked so much). A prequel’s end is already predetermined before the author even sets pen to paper. The characters aren’t free to develop naturally because they all have to end up at a predetermined spot. Thus instead of fully developed people who could almost walk off the printed page, you get puppets being manipulated as slaves to the plot. The characters can’t undergo any personal changes or developments. And, if the author really has his eye on good continuity, they can’t even experience any major events, because then it would seem strange that they never referred back to these events in the regular series.

This prequel isn’t quite as bad as George Lucas, but it is obviously laboring under the limitations of the genre. I’m going to give the rest of the series the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it gets better once you get into the main books.

“The Regime” has the duel purpose of tracking the rise of the Anti-Christ, and also setting up the characters who will be left behind once the Rapture occurs in the first series. The former plot line is kind of interesting. The latter is definitely not.

Basically all of this is set up for the first book, of which I think I’ve read just enough to understand where all these plot lines are heading. The main characters of the “Left Behind” series have to be left behind, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story if everyone vanished in the rapture. But they also have to be sympathetic and open enough to Christianity to learn the error of their ways and convert over to God’s team after the rapture occurs. And so in “The Regime” they must be urged close to God, but object just at the point of being saved.

Half of the book revolves around the plot line of Irene trying to get her husband Rayford and daughter Chloe to come to church, and the latter two resisting. This is not a plot line which should occupy so much space, especially since (due to the nature of prequels) none of the characters are allowed to develop at all during this extended argument, and it is just a lot of the same ground being repeatedly retread.

Stylistically this isn’t a great work of literature. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read either. I mean I could be a lot more snooty about it if I wanted to be, but it’s no worse than those cheap paperback “Star Trek” books I used to read as a kid. The problem is that LaHaye and Jenkins seem to be unable to resist plunging into religious cliches when they’re writing about letting Jesus into your heart, or the importance of going to church every Sunday. As someone who grew up in the church and Christian schools, I had a lot of flashbacks to my old Sunday school tracts. You know, the ones that read like: “Judy really wanted to tell John about Jesus, but she didn’t know how. She prayed that God would open up John’s heart to the good news, and she asked God for guidance about how to share her joy about Jesus.”

As a religious pluralist, I find myself in opposition to the main premise of these books: that there is going to soon be a division between the elect and the unsaved. I’m willing to accept that a story based on traditional Christian mythology is going to follow that line, but I could have done with a little less preaching about it. This book wasn’t so much a story as a sermon. (Again, I’m assuming the books do get better as you get out of the prequels.)

But while I’m on the subject, I don’t really understand what the obsession is with getting asses in the pews on Sunday morning, as if that were the be all and end all of Christianity. Read the Gospels and see how often Jesus says, “You must attend Church regularly to be saved.” Now compare that with Jesus’s calls for social justice and compassion for the poor. If you want to make distinctions between the elect and the unelect, go and reread the separation of the goats and the lambs, and see how much of a factor church attendance was in that decision.

Anyway, I’ll pull myself away this before I get into a long rant....Theological issues aside, politically this book was pretty non-offensive. I know these books are associated with the religious right, but in “The Regime” I couldn’t find a lot. I thought there was a slight Republican bias when a fictional United States president was compared to Lyndon Johnson because of his habit of using obscenities. Now when you think obscenities in the White House, do you think Lyndon Johnson, or do you think of a certain Republican who was famous for tape recording obscenity laden conversations? Also the Russians as the bad guys might indicate a bit of a cold war mentality hangover, but that’s the worst I could find.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Chuck Cunningham syndrome is a term of criticism applied when a regular character in a television series leaves with little or no explanation, and is never referred to again despite the character's previous importance either to the show or to the other characters. The term derives from the Chuck Cunningham character in the American series Happy Days (1974-1984).

Link of the Day
Laos: Secret War Still Killing Thousands Of People

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Karl Marx: A Life by Francis Wheen

 (Book Review)
Following my interest in Marx, I’ve been looking for a good biography for quite some time. This proved impossible in Japan, and even in the US it takes a bit of searching. Try out this experiment the next time you’re in a good-sized bookstore: Walk around the biography section, and check out the rows and rows of books about just about everyone you can imagine, and try to find a biography of Karl Marx. I’m guessing there won’t be one. Given Marx’s huge influence on history, isn’t that a little strange? I mean I know Karl Marx was never very popular in heartland America, but then neither were Hitler, Stalin, or Che Guevara, and you never have any trouble finding their biographies.

Anyway, just a little question for you to ponder....Onto the book itself...
Francis Wheen’s book is highly readable, and serves as an excellent introduction to Marx’s life. Wheen writes for the general public, and has a good eye for picking out the interesting antidotes and leaving out the boring stuff.

Marx lived during very interesting and revolutionary times with the Revolutions of 1848 and later the Paris Commune. And yet Marx himself never fought on a barricade. (Wheen suggests that one of the reasons Marx was so prickly in regards to his fellow revolutionary exiles is that he felt inadequate compared to their genuine experiences in revolutions). Although in his younger days, Marx was expelled from one European country to another, once he settled in London his travels were done.

So, since there are no stories of revolutionary bravado to tell, Wheen instead chooses to focus in all the juicy Victorian gossip. Such as the Marx’s illegitimate child with his housekeeper. Or the time Marx wrote a thoughtless condolence letter to Engels, and almost ruined their friendship. Or the duel Marx fought in his younger days. Or his family squabbles with his parents, and then later in life with son-in-laws. Lots of very interesting tidbits about Marx’s life are included.

Wheen’s writing style is very refreshing as well. He doesn’t get bogged down in academic writing, and there’s a lot of dry humor mixed into his prose. He’s not above poking a bit of fun at his subject, and one of his favorite techniques is to quote a letter from Marx, and then comment ironically after it. At times he brings in pop culture references like Monty Python to illustrate his point.

This book is meant mainly as an introduction to Marx, although occasionally Wheen will take digressions away from his narrative to correct what he views as false assumptions. This book is generally a very easy read, although the sections explaining Marx’s philosophy I had to take a little slower. To be honest I was hoping for a book that was almost all about Marx’s life and none about his philosophy, but maybe it’s impossible to write a biography of a philosopher and completely ignore his ideas. I suppose it would be a little strange to read, “Oh, and by the way, also that year Marx published ‘Capital’.”

Wheen makes a lot of fun at Marx, such as his tendency to write long polemics against his personal rivals when he should have been doing more productive work, or his lifelong inability to make his finances balance even with his ample support from Engels. However on most serious philosophical matters Wheen is usually sympathetic to Marx and seeks to rescue him from his critics. Of particular interest to me was Wheen’s account of the Marx/Bakunin rivarly. Wheen paints a very ugly picture of Bakunin (the father of modern anarchism) which was at odds with most of what I had previously read about the man.

All in all, a fascinating read even if I didn’t agree with every word of it. If you’re looking for a good biography, and you want to know more about the man who shaped so much of world history, this is a good book for you. (Check the internet or your library. I doubt your bookstore would have it).
Useless Wikipedia Fact
In the final season of "The Flinstones" a new character named the Great Gazoo was introduced. He is a tiny, green, floating alien having been exiled to Earth from his home planet Zatox. The only people who are able to see him are Fred, Barney, and the children. He was parodied on "The Simpsons" by Ozmodiar.

Link of the Day
How US hid the suicide secrets of Guantanamo

Monday, June 19, 2006

Seek My Face by John Updike

 (Book Review)
John Updike was one of those many authors I encountered briefly in a college literature course, was moderately intrigued by, meant to read more of, and than never did.

This winter however I came across Updike again while reading “On Writing Short Stories”.
In that anthology was an Updike short story “A&P”, which I really enjoyed. (And if you missed it the first time I linked to it, the whole thing is available here on-line).

“A&P” was about a 19 year old kid working at a small town grocery store, and I thought that, not only was it pretty funny, it was pretty insightful as well. Reading it I thought, “Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of thing that would be going through a 19 year old’s head.”

Once I got back to the USA, my first library trip I looked for an Updike book, and found “Seek My Face,” one of his newer ones. This was a little harder to get into for me than “A&P” was.

The novel is the story of an old woman who was a famous artist, and was also married to some famous artists during her life. She is being interviewed by a much younger woman for a magazine article, and during the course of the interview the older woman recalls all the stories of her life.

Obviously this was a lot harder for me to identify with than “A&P” for a number of reasons. And for that matter I wonder how easy it was for Updike to write. I suppose that’s the job of an author, the ability to write from another persons perspective. But (and you can call me sexist if you want) somewhere in my gut I believe that woman can write from a man’s perspective, but men can’t accurately write from a woman’s perspective. I don’t have any logical reason for that, it’s just one of my prejudices. Maybe because I can’t understand women, I assume all men can’t understand women. I’m always suspicious of men writing about the thoughts and feelings of woman characters. I had the same problem with “I am Charlotte Simons”. If there are any women reading this weblog, I’d be interested in your perspective.

As the book moves through the years, there’s a lot of art history mixed in with the fictional story. As someone who knows nothing about art, I had a hard time telling where the fictional world of the novel ended, and where the real art history began. Someone who is into art might get a lot more out of this book than I did.

Because most of this book is just a conversation between two women, the narrative doesn’t feel like it has a lot of forward force. Rather, as the older woman looks back on her life, it’s much more of an introspective book. Nothing good or bad about that, but you should be warned going in. It’s not a gripping page turner by any means.

I say “page-turner” but I actually did this as an audio book. I’m not sure I would have had the patience to stick with this if I had been reading it in print. But then that’s the beauty of audio books: great for taking on those books you wouldn’t otherwise read.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Tony Blair, and U.S. President James Polk are among famous politicians who have worn mullets.

Link of the Day
This was in my inbox last week:
This was linked to on mediamouse.org . It's pretty much the greatest
thing ever.
The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army of Oakland, California
shuts down a military recruiting station.
http://www.indybay.org/news/2006/06/1827497.php
This picture's my favorite.
http://www.indybay.org/uploads/14-gettingclowned.jpg

Sunday, June 18, 2006

U.S.! By Chris Bachelder

 (Book Review)

It seems like a lot of people these days get their reading lists off of talk radio, and I must add myself to the list. I first heard of this book after listening to an NPR show (via an internet cafe) whilst still in Japan. (You can listen to the program here if you want.) I thought to myself, “That sounds like a really cool idea for a book,” and when I got back to the USA this was one of my first purchases.

The idea of the book is that Upton Sinclair (who you might remember from your high school days as the author of “The Jungle”) is brought back to life by modern day liberals who seek to reinvigorate the leftist cause. He is subsequently assassinated by the right, brought back to life again, assassinated again, and so on. The book is a satire on modern politics, both the left and the right.

As ideas go, I thought this sounded just silly enough to be kind of cool. Unfortunately the execution suffers somewhat. The author seems to have forgotten the cardinal rule of satire: “sometimes a subtle knife slit is more effective than a sledge hammer.” The humor in this book is anything but subtle, the jokes are too obvious and, most damning of all, a lot of it’s just not funny. I felt like half of the jokes either fell flat or were real groaners.

It’s difficult to sum up this book, because there’s not much of a plot. Instead there are a serious of “sketches”, almost as if the author were auditioning for Monty Python. Clearly the author must have asked himself, “What are all the comic possibilities about Sinclair being raised from the dead?” And then went with all of them.

For example, there’s a literary review of Sinclair’s latest book which claims, “Apparently being dead has done little for the artistry of Upton Sinclair.” There’s a description of a video game about resurrecting dead leftists from the grave. There’s a panel discussion featuring the various Sinclair assassins. There’s a Sinclair hotline in which people call up and report Sinclair sightings. et cetera.

The last 3rd of the book is a more traditional narrative, containing a story which brings together most of the themes of the book. I don’t want to give away any of the plot, but I’ll say I liked this part of the book the best.

As for the themes of the book: It has been said that a work of satire is a failure if it is possible to accurately summarize it into a few sentences. But then, the satire in this book isn't too deep.

Basically the themes, as I understand them, are that the left has run out of ideas, and is hanging onto outdated socialist doctrines from the last century--hence the need to keep resurrecting Sinclair’s body. The right has absolutely no ideas at all, and has simply made a career out of opposing the left, hence the various Sinclair assassins, and the cult like status they achieve among the right in this fictional world.

Whether either of these is true is questionable in my opinion. Certainly there's an element of truth is in both of them. Large parts of the Left do talk as if they still live in the 19th century. And Philip Gold, in his book “Take Back the Right,” admits that many conservatives, as a matter of principal, simply are against whatever liberals are for. Thus the right has ended up being on the wrong side of simple issues like environmentalism, feminism, equal rights, and other issues that, taken objectively, are really hard to argue against.

But as with any generalization, I think this is very fragile and could easily go the other way depending on which examples you pick. You could easily argue that the right is an anachronism, and the left has made a career out of simply being oppositional.

At any rate, I think Chris Bachelder has taken one or two satiric observations about modern politics, and stretched it too thin over a 300 page book. He keeps hitting the same jokes over and over again. This is true with his literary jokes as well, such as the running jokes that Sinclair uses too many exclamation points (which is obviously something only English professors care about) and that Sinclair always writes the same story.

All that being said: this wasn't the worst book I've ever read either. Moderately entertaining, parts of it sort of funny, and enough different scenarios and sketch situations at least to keep you from being bored. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give this a solid 5, maybe a 6.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Star Wars Holiday Special was a two-hour television special (including commercials) set in the Star Wars galaxy. It was broadcast one time only on Friday, November 17, 1978 on CBS-TV from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (EST). In it, Chewbacca and Han Solo visit Kashyyyk, Chewbacca's home world, to celebrate Life Day.
The program also features some cameos (although the cameo actors are listed as stars) by other Star Wars characters, including Luke Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia (who sings the film's "theme song", set to the music of John Williams' Star Wars theme, near the end). The program is probably best known for an animated cartoon produced by Toronto-based Nelvana that introduces, for the first official time in the Star Wars universe, the bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Link of the Day
So, the Synod is once again debating the question of women in office. I've enjoyed reading the bloggings of Mary Hulst, the first woman ordained in the CRC, about this issue. She's written several entries now: here, and here, and here and here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

First Email from Japan (Aug. 9, 2001)

(Retrospection)

Greetings from Japan. First of all, sorry about this mass e-mail. I know it's impersonal, etc, but I thought for starting out this would be the best way to go. And some of you recieving this have also been guilty of mass e-mails in the past (you know damn well who you are).

And, a word about the randomness of the receipients. I have some free time now, and I'm by a computer, so I thought I'd just send this e-mail out. So, I didn't bring my e-mail address list with me, and I just went and clicked on the names that were already in my address book, and then added those of you who have easy to remember e-mail addressess. So, if someone could forward this to the people I forgot about, I'd appreciate it. (Sigh, no one is going to do it. I know you guys too well. Seriously, if someone can take the time and do that for me, I'd appreciate it.)

And one more word of business before I get started on the message. I realize this might be of minimal interest for those on the chimes listserve who don't know me very well. Just hit the delete key and no whining.

I am in Ajimu-Machi now, arriving here yesterday afternoon. I've never been to Japan before, but it is everything I pictured a small Japanese town to look like. Very scenic too, right up in the mountains.

Japan is kind of like a bad science fiction movie. The kind of movie that you watch and think to yourself, "This is so fake. If they have the technology for laser guns and hoover crafts, why are they still living in caves?" Okay, so the analogy is a bit of a stretch, but it's interesting here. Lots of their little gadgets and gizmos are much more advanced than the stuff available in the US, but the big things like central heating, insulation and decent roads are all very primitive.

I arrived in Tokyo on Sunday night, and had two days of orientation. Unfortunately, we were so busy during orientation I didn't get a chance to see much of the city, but we went out a little bit at night (while fighting Jet lag).

The rest of the JETs are from all over the world. Britain, Ireland, New Zeeland, Australia, and even some places I didn't expect like Singapore and Germany. I know this is old hat to all you international travellers, but it is a new experience for me, and I like meeting a lot of cool people with weird sounding accents. I met a guy from Liverpool (with an accent so think I could barely understand him) and I said, "Ah, Liverpool, where the Beatles are from right?" And he said, "I'm so fucking sick of everyone saying that." Similarly, I've discovered people from Australia don't like it when you bring up Crocodile Dundee. The British Embassy had a night where they hosted all the British people. I didn't go (naturally) but it was funny to hear the Brits talk about it. Appearently the ambassador was saying things like, "Jolly good that you're here lad, now go out there and have a bloody good time." And someone complained to me, "This is the last thing we need. That's why everyone thinks we Brits are such Tarts, isn't it?" (By the way, I've discovered that Brits use "isn't it" or "wasn't it" in the same way Canadians use "eh.")

Hope to hear from you all (I'm still easing my way into the office here, so I'm hesitant about using e-mail. I only use this machine when I'm offered, but I think as I get settled in I'll be able to write longer and more frequently. We'll see how things go on a day by day basis)
Joel

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Comic book death is a term used somewhat cynically in the comic book fan community to refer to the killing off and subsequent return of a long-running character. A synonymous term is Marvel Death, because Marvel Comics supposedly engages in this gimmick more frequently than other publishers.

The prominence of comic book deaths has lead to a common piece of comic shop wisdom: "No one in comics stays dead, except Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben," referring to Captain America's sidekick (dead since 1964), Batman's second Robin (dead since 1989 and killed-off as a result of a fan poll) and Spider-Man's uncle (dead since 1962), respectively. With the return of Bucky and Jason Todd in 2005 and the apparent return of Uncle Ben in 2006, this saying has been sarcastically amended to "Absolutely no one in comics stays dead."

Outside of comics, this device has also been used in Dallas, Sherlock Holmes, Star Trek, and McGyver.

Link of the Day
(I'm a bit late in linking to it, but Bierma really hits the nail on the head with this one).
Xenophobia in the U.S. Senate
Sigh.
Declaring English to be the national language of the U.S. is about as necessary and meaningful as declaring Going To The Beach to be the National Summertime Activity. The myth that immigrants to the U.S. lack the incentive and the will to learn English is pervasive but silly.
The problem that there aren't enough English classes for immigrants is very real, and widely ignored.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

 (Book Review)
It’s an unusual combination for a book to be laugh out loud funny, and yet very depressing at the same time, but “Babbitt” manages to achieve this. Easily one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, and yet I also felt sad reading it.

The book revolves around the adventures of George F. Babbitt who is a successful businessman, striving socialite, respected community member, family man, conservative political orator, active church member, and absolute idiot.

In a lot of ways Babbitt reminds me of Homer Simpson. He’s not quite as stupid as Homer, there are limits to the analogy, but the same essential characteristics are present in both. Both characters have a strong self-righteous streak, both characters no nothing about anything, and yet truly believe themselves to be experts about everything, and both characters experiment with different life philosophies as if putting on different hats, only to end back at the same starting point at the end of each episode. And both characters are comically hypocritical without realizing it. Frequently Babbitt will be expounding on some principal, only to contradict it in the next chapter, or sometimes even the next paragraph. Not very subtle, but it can be pretty funny.

Also a number of the escapades in “Babbitt” struck me as straight out of “The Simpsons”, such as Babbitt’s scheme to increase membership in Sunday school by introducing a system of army style ranks and privileges for the children based on how many friends they convert. It could easily have been one of Homer’s ideas.
Or the part when a famous Duke from England is in town, and Babbitt feels snubbed by not being invited to any of the parties, only to later meet the Duke in Chicago, and discover the Duke is just a regular guy who hates fancy parties and becomes best friends with Babbitt. Very Simpson-esque I thought.

The main theme of the novel is about the emptiness of suburban middle-class life. Babbitt tries various ways of escaping this emptiness, and goes through several phases throughout the course of the book, trying out politics, religion, libertinism, and even near the end a conversion to liberalism. At the end of which he almost always ends up back where he started, even more frustrated with life. The book ends on a slightly redemptive note, but all in all it can be a pretty depressing read in between the laughs.

Of course Sinclair Lewis is hardly the only author to write about the emptiness of modern life. Perhaps this theme wasn’t quite so worn out in the 1920s as it is now, I’m not sure. Many of his main points may have a feel of “been there, done that,” to the modern reader. But then again, in the words of Solomon there is never anything new under the sun. Great literature doesn’t introduce new themes, it handles well known themes with new brilliance. And in that regard, I think “Babbitt” is one of the best books of its genre.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Toledo War (1835-1836; also known as the Ohio-Michigan War) was the largely bloodless outcome of a boundary dispute between the U.S. state of Ohio and adjoining territory of Michigan.

Link of the Day
I thought this was kind of interesting. A history professor blogs about a Freshman student who is angry that the class spends so much time on the Civil Rights movement and concludes by saying, " I'm not a Democrat! I don't think I should have to listen to this stuff!" Is that where we're at as a society?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

(Book Review)
This is the fourth book that I've read in the discworld series. Given how few books I manage to get to the end of, I guess the fact that I've now read 4 discworld books might indicate I'm a big fan.

I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan (not yet anyway), but Terry Pratchett is a funny guy. The great thing about a discworld book is that if you see it in the bookstore, you know it's going to be a good investment. If nothing else you're bound to get a few laughs out of it.

Besides which, Terry Pratchett and I seem to share a number of similar interests. Free Market Capitalism versus Goverment regulations in "Going Postal", anti-war themes in "Monstrous Regiment", and the Chinese Communist revolution in "Interesting Times".

And now "Night Watch" is based on the European Revolutions of the 18th century, which have long been an interest of mine.
The basic plot is that Sam Vimes, head of the Discworld police, is chasing a dangerous psychopathic criminal, when both he and the criminal are accidentally transported 30 years back in time which, in Discworld, is the age of barricades and revolutions. While trying to track down the criminal, Sam Vimes finds himself thrown into the middle of the Revolutions.

The parallels to real history are of course loose, but I think a lot of parallels could be made to the Revolution of 1830. There is an event in the book that is very similar to the Peterloo Massacre in England, involving cavalry trampling civilians.
And there's a seamstress revolutionary who reminded me slightly of Madame Defarge from "A Tale of Two Cities."

Although the nature of the story is somewhat tragic, there's a lot of humor as well. As always with Pratchett can be very funny. There were a couple passages in particular where I was suppressing the urge to laugh out loud as I read. Also the plot is very tight and well constructed. The fact that Vimes is chasing a murderer at the same time he gets involved in the revolution makes for a suspenseful story. (The Washington Post, by the way, apparently compared Pratchett to Chaucer in their review of this book.)

And yet I wouldn't recommend this book to someone as their first introduction to Discworld. Because of the time travel in particular, the plot is a bit more complicated and there are more characters and story threads to keep track of. If you aren't already somewhat famalier with the Discworld universe, I imagine it could be pretty confusing.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The novel "The Phantom of the Opera" was originally inspired by the Paris Commune, or at least by a dead body in the Opera House discovered during the Paris Commune.
Link of the Day
Media Mouse has expanded its Military Recruitment Database to Facilitate Counter-Recruitment Organizing in Grand Rapids

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Vacation Pictures








Here are the pictures alluded to in the previous post. First some pictures of me and Amy and my niece.

And on top are pictures from Arches National Park in Moab. I said in the previous post that words can't really do this place justice, but perhaps pictures can't either. You probably just have to see it to appreciate the full majesty. We have two roles of film, and so I had to do a bit of picking and choosing to decide which photos to include. In the end I just decided to put in all the pictures that had me in it :)

Useless Wikipedia Fact

The most controversial edit George Lucas made to the new edition of Star Wars was to have Greedo, the bounty hunter, fire the first shot at Hans. Fans feel this takes away from Hans anti-heroic qualities.

Link of the Day

American Bar Association to Review Bush's Ignoring of 750 Laws

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My Trip Out West

So, now that I'm back in the USA, what better way to welcome myself back to America than with a road trip across it?

Last week I headed out West with my mother and sister for the dual purpose of:
1) Escorting my sister out to Lake Tahoe, California, where she spends her summers and
2) Finally meeting my new niece and soon to be sister-in-law

Growing up, my family would fly out to Colorado or Utah once a year for ski vacations. But to the best of my recollection, the only time I've actually road tripped out West was for CHIC, back when I was 15 or 16. (CHIC stands for Covenant High Congress...(The Covenant Church's version of Young Calvinist's Convention, for all you CRC people)). But that was only as far as Colorado. Plus it doesn't really count because we took chartered busses and rode through the night, and so missed a lot of the scenery.

So, it was nice to finally get to see America and all her glory. To go from the cornfields of the midwest, to the praries, rocky moutains, desert areas, et cetera.

The down side was that it was a family trip. As I've noted on this blog before (and Bork concurs, by the way), no matter how old you get, it seems that when you are put back in close proximity to your siblings you automatically fall back into old bickering patterns. And it doesn't get much more close proximity than a road trip. There were times when I admit to feeling greatly annoyed with my siblings (and if they had web-logs, I'm sure they could say somethings about me). But we did have a couple of really great bonding nights to even it out. The night my sister and brother went out for pizza, and then later met Amy for at a Hookah bar, was really a great time, and we were all clicking together wonderfully.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...Best to start at the beginning.
After driving for two days, we arrived in Denver Colorado where I finally met Amy and my niece Haven. Call me biased, but Haven has got to be the cutest Baby ever. (For anyone who's interested photos of Haven, and lots of photos, are always available on Amy's Photosite page).

We saw their apartment, my brother told us about his job and his new life in Colorado, we went to a state park for some brief hiking, and to the museum to see "Body Wars" (or something like that).

Monday night my mom babysat Haven, to let us kids go out and bond together. Amy and Kyle took us to the above mentioned "Hookah Bar" where we sampled a few of the local Hookahs.

And then we baid a fond farewell, and it was off in the car instead. We made a two day detour to stop at Arches National Park in Utah, and hiked around a little there. If you haven't been there yet, Arches is one of those places that words really can't do justice to. So I won't try. I'll just say it's amazingly beautiful. (My mom took a lot of pictures, and maybe later I'll try and scan a few on-line. But for now just use your imagination, and my apologies to Dr. Doodle).

After that onto Lake Tahoe, on the California/ Nevada boarder. Lake Tahoe is another beautiful spot. My sister says it's the most beautiful place she's ever been to. I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but its a blue lake surrounded by snow capped mountains. Hard to beat that.

Leaving my sister in Tahoe, my mom and I flew back again to Denver for Amy's Birthday party, and Haven's 100 day celebration. (Apparently in accordance with a Korean tradition of celebrating the 100 day mark).

And then yesterday after brunch with my brother's family, my mom and I flew back to Chicago, and drove in last night.

So, all in all a good week, and I once again managed to put off the question of "What am I going to do next?" for yet another week. Back to reality now.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Biblical scholarship in 2005 revealed an early Papyrus scroll which showed that 616, not 666, is most likely the number of the Beast.

Link of the Day
The Evangelighouls -- How the Christian Right Exploits War's Youngest Victims

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Trip to the Beach

still on vacation till June 6th, but in the meantime here's another (Retrospection)

This was a "What I did during Summer Vacation" essay I wrote in 8th grade. Like most students, I hated these essays, partly because my family never seemed to do anything exciting. All my other classmates would write stories about trips to the Grand Canyon or Mexico or hiking expeditions. This was apparently the best story I thought I had from that summer:

"One day, during the summer, I went to the beach. My cousins, and my family also came along. We drove an hour to get there. We were going to park right by the beach, but the parking lot was full. We parked away from the beach, and had to walk one mile to get there.

At first everyone went swimming. Then gradually, one by one, we got out of the water.

We made a sancastle in the sand. First my sister made a pile of sand and then smoothed it out into a dome. Then one of my cousins dug a moat around it. Then while other people were adding other details, I made a little tunnel so the water in the moat could flow into the castle for the little sand people to drink. I got a little carried away, and before I knew it I had hollowed out the whole inside of the castle. Pretty sooon the castle caved in.

After a while we decided to bury my youngest sister in the sand. We buried all of her except her head. We kept on piling sand on her util she couldn't get out. We would have left her there but my mom made us dig her out.

After that we walked on the pier. Some people were jumping off of the pier and into the water. I wanted to, but my uncle wouldn't let me, and he was the only adult there.

We did a little more swimming, then we walked back to the car and went home.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Japanese refer to their country as "Nihon" or "Nippon". The English name "Japan" is believed to have been acquired by the Portuguese from southern Chinese languages via Malaya in the 16th century. In southern Chinese languages, the name of the country is pronounced as "Yih-pun" or "Yat-bun", which literally means Sun Origin, referring to the country's location on the east coast of Asia, an equivalence of Japanese "Nippon" in kanji. The name was exported to Southeast Asia through Chinese merchants. The earliest European form was Marco Polo's "Chipangu" which later became Japan.

Link of the Day
Shooting to Kill on the Border