Friday, March 30, 2007

Tombo Times Article: Natsu-Mero For Dummies

Now that I'm in the Japanese countryside again, I figured I might as well make the best of it and get back in the habit of submitting articles to the "Tombo Times" (the monthly English publication for foreigners in Oita Prefecture). I had played around with submitting a few articles during my third year on the JET program, and I thought I'd start that up again as a way to help keep occupied while I'm out here in the boondocks.

Fortunately for me, I have a blog which contains long rambling posts about just about every subject imaginable, and I figured some of these could easily be retuned into articles. Therefore long time readers of this blog might recognize some of this article from previous blogposts "Japanese Music and Me" or "More thoughts on Japanese Music".

I'm told that after a two year holiday, Tombo Times has come back online. But I'm having trouble with the link, so I'm just reproducing my article below for those interested. (I also moved my previous Tombo Times articles onto one of my other blogs some time ago, so if anyone is interested you can read: "Tezuka Osamu: Astro-boy and Beyond", "Al Franken Book Review" and "Kimigayo Blues".)

Anyway, here is my article on Japanese oldies. For those back home who want to check out some of these groups, I do realize that it is almost impossible to track some of these groups down in the States. As I mention in the article, sometimes its hard enough finding them in Japan. But recently Youtube has been a good bet. I discovered how much Japanese music was on Youtube a while back, and I have since linked at one time or another to almost every group mentioned in this article. Of course, because of Youtube's copy right laws, most of those videos have been yanked. A few of them can still be found saved under my favorites, and you can always do your own Youtube searches as well.

Natsu-Mero For Dummies

I’ve always liked old music, for reasons even I am not sure about. Maybe I like imagining what life was like before I was born. Maybe I like listening to the words, and thinking about how much of human nature is essentially the same through the ages. Or maybe the philistine in me just likes the simple, undemanding Do-Wop melody.

For whatever reason, since I’ve come to Japan I have made a point of trying to seek out Japanese oldies. This is a difficult task, because old music gets no respect in Japan. In our home countries, it maybe quite acceptable to admit you listen to Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, or The Sex Pistols (depending on which group you hung with). And although Western oldies maintain a certain amount of marketability in Japan (heard anything by The Beatles lately?) a 20-something Japanese person would rather stab out their eyes than admit they know anything about old Japanese pop.

So don’t even bother asking your Japanese friends to recommend any Japanese pop classics to you. They won’t know, and they won’t understand why you would want to know. To the extent that old music exists in Japan, it is marketed entirely as nostalgia. Hence the Japanese word for pop oldies: Natsukashii melody or Natsu mero. You can sometimes see old performers singing their classic Natsu Mero on Sunday afternoon TV, or find Natsu Mero CDs in the bargain bin outside the local supermarket, but that’s about it.

Fortunately there is hope for the uninitiated. CD rental shops in Japan provide a relatively cheap way to build up your music collection. And if weave your way through the latest SMAP and Orange Range releases (or whatever the hell you kids are listening to now) and make your way to the back, there is always a small Natsu Mero section.

What’s more, most CD shops should carry the “Seishun ka nenkan” series, which chronicles the greatest hits on the Japanese pop chart on a year by year basis, from 1960 all the way to 1990. You might have to be a bit crazy to do this, but I actually went through and copied the whole series. I even had to go to several different rental stores to fill up the gaps in my collection. (I probably shouldn’t be admitting this.)

Once you’ve done this, you should be familiar with several names of old Japanese pop stars and the kind of music they do. And then can navigate the Natsu Mero section and rent artists according to your tastes. And then you’re on your way.

To help get you started, here’s a short list of some of my favorite artists and sub-genres in natsu-mero.

Boogie Woogie: During the post-war days and early 50s, Japan underwent a Boogie-Woogie craze. The most famous of these songs was “Tokyo Boogie-Woogie” (briefly featured in “Memoirs of a Geisha”), but there are several other notable songs like “Shamisen Boogie Woogie”, or “Kaimono Boogie Woogie”. Great songs to get your feet taping.

Sakamoto Kyu: Actually Sakamoto Kyu is the one person on this list who needs no introduction. If you’ve been in Japan for any length of time, you’re probably already heard his famous “Sukiyaki Song” several times by now. And you already know that this song has nothing to do with Sukiyaki, but that the Japanese title “Ue o muite arukou” was too difficult for American DJs to remember. So I won’t patronize you by recounting how Sakamoto Kyu was not only the sole Japanese artist to break into the US pop charts, but that his song made it all the way to the number 1 slot for two weeks in 1960, edging out “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”

The Peanuts: This singing duo is most famous in the West for being the twin fairy priestesses in the “Mothra” movies. But they also had a string of hits on the Japanese pop charts through the 60s and into the 70s.

Kayama Yuzu: Japanese crooner and heartthrob. Perhaps equivalent to a Japanese Elvis, if you only count the slower songs in the Elvis cannon. I didn’t like him much on my first hearing, but he’s grown on me. Good music to have on during a date.

Suizenji Kiyoko: One of the first artists to cross over between Enka and pop. Most of her songs qualify as “Enka, but a really bouncy and fun type of Enka.”

Group Sounds: Group Sounds is the Japanese name generically applied to all the British Invasion rip-off groups in the mid to late 60s. This was the first time the Japanese domestic rock industry exploded, and as a result there are hundreds of different groups in this genre, each one a clone of the other. (The Tigers, The Spiders, The Tempters, The Jaguars, Lin and the Linders, etc). As most of these groups sound the same anyway, you might want to start out with a “Best of Group Sounds” CD. It’s not great art, but there are a number of catchy pop tunes in the Group Sounds cannon.

Folk Songs: During the early to mid 70s, Folk Music reigned on the Japanese charts. Not to be confused with traditional Japanese music, Fo-ku refers to Western influenced folk singer music. Most of this was electric or melodic folk, more in the vein of “Simon and Garfunkel” than Bob Dylan. This may come down to personal preference, but for my money this is when Japanese pop ceased being a cheesy rip off of the West and really came into it’s own.

Like Group Sounds, Japanese folk music is often available in compilation CDs. Also my personal favorite artists are Yoshida Takuro and the super group Kaguya Hime. Kaguya Hime includes Minami Kosetsu, native son of Oita prefecture, who later went on to have a successful solo career.

Finger Five: The Japanese response to (slash rip off of) the Jackson 5, this is J-pop at its cheesiest. And yet because of the energy behind these songs, Finger Five has had a surprising amount of staying power. Their songs are still used as background music in Japanese movies and variety shows. If you watch a lot of Japanese TV, chances are you already know a lot of Finger Five songs.

The Candies/ Pink Lady: These two girl groups were really popular in the 70s, the Candies in the early part of the 70s, Pink Lady in the latter part. Again, not high art, but fast paced bouncy songs that are great as guilty pleasures. Today both groups often remain popular among women in there 30s.

Hopefully this article is able to guide you a bit in your search for Japanese music. If nothing else, at least try casually dropping a few of these names in your office, and watch them collectively gasp: “How do you know about that?”

Update: This article is online here.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Rumors that Rage Against the Machine could reunite at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were circulating in mid-January,[19] and were confirmed on January 22.[20] The band is billed to headline the final day of Coachella 2007 on Sunday, April 29.[21] The performance was initially thought to be a one-off,[22] but that was cast into doubt following Chris Cornell's exit from Audioslave.[7] Three more performances are planned as part of the Rock The Bells Festival with the Wu-Tang Clan[23] and will be played in New York as well as northern and southern California.
The reunion will primarily be a vehicle to voice the band's opposition to the "right-wing purgatory" the United States has "slid into" under the George W. Bush administration since RATM's dissolution.[24]

Link of the Day
The Nuclear Industry By Phil Christman

Monday, March 26, 2007

General Update

Since I haven’t given a life update on this blog for a while, I thought I’d jot down a few things.

Um…not much to tell actually. Life continues to go fairly well for the present (although questions about what the hell I’m going to do next year continue to plague me).

I’m enjoying my job (as much as a job can be enjoyed) for all the reasons I mentioned before. I like working with adults, enjoy having other native English speakers in the same office to take off stress in between classes, and I am working pretty convenient hours (although, in contrast to my JET and ALT days, I’m actually very busy during those work hours-which is good and bad I guess).

I’ve taken out a subscription to the English version of the Daily Yomiuri newspaper in Japan, which helps keep me abreast of current events. And I also bring in the paper to work everyday to share with my co-workers, although I’ve noticed nobody really seems to read it as thoroughly as I do.
Actually of the two, I actually prefer “The Japan Times”, especially since the Daily Yomiuri has a reputation for being a conservative mouthpiece. But the Daily Yomiuri was about $15 cheaper a month, and I figured it wouldn’t kill me to be exposed to other points of view. (I enjoy reading their editorials about how all teachers should be forced to stand and sing the national anthem, or how there is no evidence that Japanese soldiers took comfort women from Korea and China during World War II--actually to be fair the Daily Yomiuri does also contain inserts from American papers which offer contrasting points of view).

I like all the people I’m working with. We go out occasionally at Tropicocos, and also get together for a weekly poker game. I’ve never really been into Poker before. My old Calvin roommates didn’t get into poker until after I had already left for Japan, so previously I had only played when I was back home for Christmas. I’m starting to get the hang of it now though.

Shoko works early mornings, so unfortunately she doesn’t come out with us most nights. We did host a “nabe party” (kind of like Japanese Fondue-maybe) a couple weeks ago, and invited over everyone from work. The party itself went pretty well, although Shoko did entertain everyone by telling everyone stories about my poor hygiene and nutrition habits. Next time I’m going to have to prep her on appropriate topics beforehand.

I also brought Shoko along for Poker one night. Everyone tried to teach her in a mixture of simple English and our poor Japanese. She just sat out and watched the first few hands before deciding to buy in. And then she proceeded to knock everyone else out of the game, and ended up coming in second. I was instructed never to bring her to the poker games again.

I’ve gone out to a couple parties with Shoko’s friends, in which I generally tried to play the role of the friendly foreigner and smile a lot. Shoko says I’ve been making a good impression on her friends, so I guess I’m good for something.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Only a few of the Simpsons "Tracy Ulman Shorts" have been released on DVD. "Good Night" was included on The Simpsons season 1 DVD. Five of these shorts were later used in the clip show episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular" on the half-hour show, which was released on the season 7 DVD. These five shorts were "Good Night", "The Perfect Crime", "Space Patrol", "World War III", and "Bathtime".[9] Groening has announced that all of the shorts will be available on mobile phones.[10]

Link of the Day
Are We Politicians or Citizens?
by Howard Zinn

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

(Book review)

This book, for those who haven’t heard of it yet (and until about a year ago I hadn’t heard of it myself) is supposed to be one of those great classic 19th Century Russian books. I first became aware of it while reading “What is to be Done” by Chernyshevsky, in which the translator’s introduction and footnotes referenced “Fathers and Sons” as one of the books Chernyshevsky was replying to.

I never finished “What is to be Done” (and consequently never reviewed it on this blog--although I've referenced it in the past) because I was leaving Gifu at the time and had to return the book to the library. Although I think I read enough of it to get the general feel, I do hope to track down another copy of it and finish it someday. But in the meantime, I thought I would knock off some of the books that inspired it.

This book is about generational conflict in 19th century Russia, when the moderate liberals of the 1840s generation are confronted with their radical sons from the 1860s.

Given the upheaval in Russia in the 19th century, this has the potential to be some very interesting reading. However the radical sons in this case are portrayed as being nihilists and to the best of my knowledge (and the publishers introduction confirms this) very few of those creatures actually existed in 19th century Russia. There were lots of Social Democrats, Socialists, and Anarchists of all shades among the Russian radicals, and all of them shared a common hatred of the establishment, but they all had detailed visions of what they wanted to put in its place.

The young heroes of Turgenev’s novel believe their duty is simply to destroy everything in front of them, and leave the new society up to the next generation. They repudiate the serfs and the peasants, the traditional heroes of the left, just as much as the church and the Tsar.

In my opinion, since the philosophical basis of the story is so far removed from the actual reality, the novel looses a lot of its punch. I had a hard time swallowing the idea that these young men would seriously take nihilism as a philosophy. Of course the idea of nihilism itself isn’t supposed to be central to the themes of generational conflict in the novel, but I found that was the stumbling block I couldn’t get past.

At the very least though, this novel is very short, compared to the epics of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. Less than 300 pages, and (about a third of that the publishers introduction) you could easily read this book in a week and then brag to your friends how you got another Russian classic under your belt.

Speaking of the introduction…Like all republished classic books this contains a lengthy introduction, in this case about 1/3rd of the pages of this edition. The edition I read was introduced by Isaiah Berlin (whose biography on Marx I just recently completed), and contains an interesting summary of Turgenev’s own political views, and the big controversy this book caused when it was first published. According to Isaiah Berlin, one of the reasons the philosophy of this book is so muddled is because Turgenev was under pressure both from his radical friends and his conservative publisher. In some ways I found the introduction more interesting than the actual book.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Following the song's release, musical similarities between "My Sweet Lord" and The Chiffons' hit "He's So Fine" led to a lengthy legal battle over the rights to the composition. Billboard magazine, in an article dated 6 March 1971, stated that Harrison's royalty payments from the recording had been halted worldwide. Harrison stated that he was inspired to write "My Sweet Lord" after hearing the Edwin Hawkins Singers' "Oh Happy Day".
In the U.S. federal court decision in the case, known as Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music, Harrison was found to have unintentionally copied the earlier song. He was ordered to surrender the majority of royalties from "My Sweet Lord" and partial royalties from All Things Must Pass.
The Chiffons would later record "My Sweet Lord" to capitalize on the publicity generated by the lawsuit.
Shortly thereafter, Harrison (who would eventually buy the rights to "He's So Fine")[1] wrote and recorded a song about the court case named "This Song", which includes "This song, there's nothing 'Bright' about it."

Link of the Day
SDS Anti-War Actions Continue

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Free Writing 10/26/93

(Retrospection)
This was one of those infamous free writing assignments high school English teachers love to give out. The idea is you write whatever pops into your head. The only rule is you never stop writing.
As such, it does not represent my most polished piece of writing, but I think it does reflect my priorities at 15.

I hope I don't have much homework this weekend. I should read those books I bought. I hope my mom remembered to buy that compass I need for science class. I would like to buy more comic books soon, but I'm short on money. I am planning on getting more mail subscription as soon as the titles I have now run out. I think next I'll subscribe to "The Flash" and "Wonder Woman" because I don't have many of those comics yet. I would like to watch Star Trek this Sunday as well.

Tonight is the city meet for Cross Country. After that the season is over. Next is swim season. But until swim season starts, we have to work on lifting weights. I hope to improve my swimming this year, and help other people swim better. I really hope to slim down my lap time this year. I also hope I have enough time for homework once swim season starts. Last year it was sometimes a struggle to get everything done.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The B.C. strip on December 7, 2006, attracted criticism for defining "infamy" as "a word seldom used after Toyota sales topped 2 million." The day was the 65th anniversary of the Japanese military's attack on Pearl Harbor, and the punchline of the strip references Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Infamy Speech" which requested from Congress a declaration of war against Japan. Toyota is a Japanese company, and apparently became the target of Hart's criticism solely on the basis of nationality. The day's strip was pulled from at least one newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News. The paper's managing editor, Brett Thacker, said the comic was "more than just a feeble attempt at being topical, it's a regressive and insensitive statement about one of the worst days in American history.... [Hart's comic represented] an old way of thinking. The preceding generations lived through that horrible era -- I can certainly appreciate their sacrifice. The world has changed, and much to our benefit. Unfortunately, some people haven't."[6]

Link of the Day
Antiwar March Confronts Congressman Ehlers at his Home
and
Local News Coverage of Antiwar March Sensationalized and Biased

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Truth by Terry Pratchett


(Book Review)

Yet another novel in the Discworld series. After reading “The Color of Magic” this fall, I had announced that I was going to read the remaining books in this series in order. However going to Japan has somewhat buggered that plan. It is obviously possible to get a hold of English books in Japan, but it’s hard to get a hold of specific English books here. You kind of just take what’s in front of you. So instead of proceeding onto the second book, I jump to the 25th book in the series, “The Truth”. (If nothing else, I think we can all agree Terry Pratchett is at least a prolific author.)

While it may be hard to track down the Pratchett books in order over here, fortunately it is never hard to find Pratchett books in general. Terry Pratchett may have a cult following in the US, but he’s practically a household name in England. And since there are a lot of British English teachers here in Japan, Pratchett books tend to pop up a lot in the ex-patriot community (which is how I first discovered him about this time last year in Japan). And so, a couple weeks ago a British co-worker brought this book into the office and said to me, “You mentioned you were a Pratchett fan, right? I’ve got this just laying around my apartment and I thought you might be interested.”

As I said before, I do feel like I’m running out of complimentary things to say about Pratchett without repeating myself. This book was very funny, and as usual when I read a Pratchett book, I find myself laughing aloud as I read it.

This particular book is about the creation of the newspaper industry in the fictional Discworld. It reminded me a lot of “Going Postal” (the first book in this series I read) which traced the beginning of the Postal service in Discworld.

Also thrown in is a parody of the Watergate/ Deep Throat story, and some light parodies of Nixon era conservatism and conservative values:
“Apparently he says he’s looking forward to a new era in our history and will put Ankh-Morpork back on the path of responsible citizenship, sir….Apparently he wants a return to the values and traditions that made this city great.”
“Does he know what those values and traditions were?” said Vimes, aghast.

The photographer for the newspaper is a vampire with a fascination for flash photography. And if you think a vampire is the last person who should be playing with bright lights, perhaps you can see where some of the humor is going.

Also like the other books in the discworld series, Pratchett does a clever job of explaining away potential anachronisms in his sword and sorcery era fantasy world. For example, there are cameras and tape recorders in this novel, but they are all powered by magical imps. (It is kind of similar to the old Flinstones gag of having all the modern appliances performed by dinosaurs.) Some of it boarders on corny, but mostly its good fun.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
White Day is a growing tradition that was created through a concentrated marketing effort in Japan. White Day is celebrated in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and some other East Asian countries on March 14, one month after Valentine's Day. On Valentine's Day, women give gifts to men; on White Day, men who received chocolate on Valentine's Day return the favor and give gifts to women

ed. note: Guess who's in trouble for forgetting...

Link of the Day
West Michigan Remembers the Fourth Anniversary of Iraq War
March 14, 2007
While antiwar protests and organizing take place around the year in West Michigan and in particular in Grand Rapids, the next week surrounding the fourth anniversary of the war will see an increase in local activity. Each year since 2004 (see 2005 and 2006 coverage), antiwar protests in Grand Rapids and beyond have marked the annual anniversary. Instead of having the usual one-day march, there are a wide variety of events planned in West Michigan:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bungo-Takada/ 豊後高田

(Better Know a City)

First a quick bloggy note. After my last entry on Usa I got 3 separate e-mails all along the lines of “you should really just suck it up and buy a digital camera”.
It turns out Shoko actually has a digital camera. After repeated bugging by me, she finally remembered to get it from her parent’s house and bring it to our apartment. Then it turns out she forgot the battery. So now I’m bugging her about that. Maybe the next entry will be complete with digital pictures. In the meantime I’m going to keep going forward with more cities. I’m behind on this project already as it is.

So, Bungo-Takada…
Bungo-Takada is a city I remember driving through a lot, but never really exploring thoroughly. They have some famous festival were they shot flaming arrows into a hay tower, which I went to a couple times. There’s a bowling alley that I went to once with some JET friends. There was an Izakaya (Japanese bar) there that we frequented occasionally, mostly because the owner’s daughter was part of our social group.

And, during my last year as a JET, I started attending a Church in Bungo-Takeda. And since I went through a period where I even tried to attend every week, I at least remember the drive to the church very well.

And now, it is time to see what sights Bungo-Takeda has to offer.
Not so much, as it turns out.

The most well known sight seeing spot in Bungo-Takada is “Showa-Machi” which translates as Showa Town, Showa being the name of the Japanese Emperor from 1925-1989. The Japanese are still in the habit of counting the years by the reign of the Emperor. For example, right now is the 19th year in the reign of the Hesei Emperor. My driver’s license is stamped with an expiration date of May 21, 20th year of the Hesei Emperor. I’m not entirely sure what my driving status is if the Emperor dies prematurely. I’ve asked this question to Shoko several times, but she just rolls her eyes and tells me not to ask stupid questions.

Although we in the US tend to divide think of eras in terms of decades (the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, etc), the Japanese think of everything from 1925-1989 as the Showa era. They talk about Showa era music, Showa era fashions, Showa era lifestyles, etc. It never really made sense to me because the year 1925 and say, 1943 or 1969 or 1985 are really not the same thing at all. I suppose the American system of thinking in terms of decades is just as arbitrary, but at least it’s a smaller period of time and so the cognitive dissidence isn’t quite as great.

So you never really know what you’re going to get when you walk into a Showa themed attraction. Maybe everything will be re-created just the way it used to be in 1989, and you’ll think to yourself: wow, it’s difficult to imagine Video games were ever that primitive. Generally speaking though, common usage of Showa Era seems to me to usually refer to the immediate post war period, or about the 1950s or 60s maybe. (Although, I did see a couple of old VCRs on display at Showa Town).

I had actually been to Showa Town once before. I had gone into Bungo Takada for Church with a Japanese friend I had started car pooling with, and for some reason or another Church had been cancelled, and so we figured as long as we were in Bungo Takada anyway we might as well see Showa Town. I remember it as being a huge disappointment, but I don’t remember any details, so I decided to check it out again.

Well, it has been re-confirmed. It is a huge disappointment.

For one thing, it is a very half-assed Showa Town. It would have been really cool if they had made an effort to recreate everything like it had been in the 1950s, but this Showa Town is just a few blocks of normal looking streets. Within these blocks some of the stores have signs indicating they are participating in the Showa theme. The rest are just normal stores.

Most of the nostalgia is based around food. Restaurants claim to have Showa era home style cooking, or, for a mere $10, a recreation of a Showa style school lunch. Now that is marketing, isn’t it? Paying top dollar for that old food you used to hate at school just because it is marketed as nostalgia.

Having spent 5 years in the Japanese school system, I was in no hurry to relive the school lunches. In fact everything there seemed really redundant, because the countryside of Kyushu is about 50 years behind the rest of Japan anyway. It’s not like out here in the countryside I ever felt like I was lacking in traditional old-style food.

There were some old style cars parked around. Some old music playing from the loudspeakers, (but I had all those albums at my apartment anyway). There was a museum dedicated to Showa era sweets for $5 entry fee, which, if it had been on any other subject, or any other price, I might have considered going to.

A lot of nostalgia in Japan seems to center around the old candies. And although these are not sold at the local convenience store anymore, they’re far from rarities. Many department complexes will have at least one store dedicated to old toys and candy. So I don’t see what is so special about Showa Town selling them.

So, long story short, I spent all morning just confirming what I already knew: Showa Town is one big tourist trap. Onto the next stop. But, what is the next stop? I knew Bungo-Takada was a big area, but I wasn’t sure where a good place to go was.

When in doubt, a good place to go is either the town hall or the train station. No train station in Bungo-Takada, so I went to the Bus center. No help there, so onto the City Hall. Which was also lacking in any sort of sight seeing materials. I found this surprising since even a small town like Ajimu has a pretty organized tourist reception area, but maybe I was just going to the wrong places.

In these cases, sometimes a man just has to drive around until he finds something interesting. I did this for a while, but this can be frustrating. Plus, back in the day I spent a couple Sundays driving around Bungo-Takada after Church, and I don’t remember finding a lot interesting in my excursions.

So, after driving back and forth for a while and wasting gas, I decided to just go back to the main strip, park my car again, and walk around town. I’m the kind of person who likes walking better than driving anyway. You can’t cover as much ground as quickly, but you see more, and I figured I was just as likely to see something interesting while walking as while driving around.

Bungo-Takada, like most towns in Oita, dissolves into countryside very quickly, even on foot. I started at the city center (and walked through Showa Town again), but pretty soon I was out into the residential houses, and after that I was into the farmland.

I spent about 4 hours walking in all, two hours out and two hours back. Not a lot interesting. Some nice scenery, but, (alas) no digital camera to share it with you. Lots of little temples at the side of the road.

As I got deeper into the countryside I followed roads that went through Bamboo forests. Occasionally there would be a footpath branching out into the bamboo, and I would always take it hoping it was a nature path or a hiking trail. Even though I’ve been in Japan long enough to know better. Hiking is not big here, and the paths inevitably just lead to a rice field, or to a small clearing with some Mushroom crops and a sign in Kanji reading “Please don’t take my Mushrooms”. (At which point of course I grabbed all the mushrooms and ran away while the farmer chased me and Benny Hill music played in the background). Despite my initial disappointments, I still kept following every footpath I could find. The old hikers eternal optimism that this trail will be the one that leads to something interesting.

As usual, an unidentified Foreigner walking through the countryside can cause all sorts of consternation. Around 3, when I started heading back into town I met some of the school children going home from school, and a couple of them turned in the opposite direction and ran away from me.

A few people asked me who I was and what I was doing. Not in a rude way, they were just curious. And I turned this into an opportunity to ask if there was anything interesting in Bungo-Takada. “There are some temples in the mountains,” an old man said. “Bungo-Takada has lots of famous temples.”

Either this is the biggest lie in Japan, or I’m not translating the word “famous” very well. Every town will tell you they have lots of very famous temples, and no one outside of that town has ever heard of any of them. Given how many temples I’ve seen already over my short life, I would have been perfectly content to leave without seeing these, but I still had a couple hours left in the day, so I returned to my car and followed the signs out towards the main temples.

In the end I took in 3 before dusk. I don’t remember their names, but the names aren’t really important.
The first one I’m really glad I went to. The temple itself was very ordinary, but across the road was a mountain river that someone had made a foot path around and planted a lot of flowers. I had fun just walking by the river.

Just as I was getting ready to go, I noticed the top of the mountain had some very interesting ridges, and I could see a small foot bridge connect to of the ridges, indicating there was some kind of foot path up there. I spent some time trying to find out how to get up there, but there was no trail as far as I could see. I went up a couple of dead ends, which either ended in more mushrooms, or just seemed to just plain fade out. (Trails in Japan have the annoying habit of going for a while, gradually getting less distinct, and then fading away into the mountain. Being the persistent person I am, I always try and push my way through anyway thinking if I just go through a little more bramble the trail will start up again, but it never does).

The second temple was nothing special. The 3rd one was one the top of a mountain, so it was a bit of a drive up, and then I had to hike up some temple steps in addition. And for all that work, there wasn’t much of a view, but the surrounding forest was very beautiful. During the short time I’ve been living in Nakatsu, I’m already starting to forget what green areas look like, and perhaps this temple in the forest impressed me more than it should have.

UPDATE**** Additional Photos and Videos--To compensate for the fact that this post has no pictures or video, here's a few different pictures gleaned from other posts. For a description, go to the link provided.

From my post on Matama Town:
Upon consulting a map, I think these photos from Nishii dam Greenland park actually fall within the boarders of Bungo-Takada, so I'm reproducing them here.




From my post on Kunisaki Town: Although it is a bit hard to tell from the map, there's a possibility that Futago Shrine might be in Bungo-Takada. At the very least, it appears to be right on the boarder, so I'm reproducing these pictures and videos here.













From my post on Yamaga Town: These pictures of the stone statues of Buddha (Kumanomagaibutsu)actually occurred inside Bungo Takada's boarders, so I'm including them here.








Useless Wikipedia Fact
Andrew Johnson married at a younger age (19) than any other President before or since.
Johnson was also the only President who was illiterate at the time of his marriage. His wife taught him how to read and write. As far as his approach to these skills, Johnson is credited with saying "It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word."[14]

Link of the Day
Senator Debbie Stabenow: A Consistent Supporter of the Iraq War

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Say Anything

(Movie Review)

Whiskey Prajer mentioned this as a good John Cusak movie and a generation X classic in the comments section a couple weeks ago. Typical me, I had never heard of it before that, but afterwards I noticed my local video store had it, so I decided to check it out.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of it. Judged as a whole I would say I didn’t really like it, but taken as individual scenes or moments, there’s a lot to like.

I’ll start with the negative first. One of the big reasons I didn’t care for this movie is because it is another teenage romance that follows the typical boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl again format. I hate that format. I’m not a huge romance fan in general, but I can live with “the hero overcomes huge obstacles to get the girl at the end” type story. But to have the hero win the girl’s heart twice during the same movie seems needlessly repetitive to me. Whenever the hero gets the girl in the first half hour of the movie, you know you’re in trouble, because there will be some manufactured crisis that doesn’t make any sense that will cause them to split, and then there will be a lot of sappy emotions and fake crying, and then there will be another manufactured crisis at the end that will cause them to get back together again.

(At least this movie didn’t follow the boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl-again, boy-gets-girl again, etc format. Like “10 Things I hate about you”, which could have been a great movie if it would have just ended an hour and a half earlier than it did.)

Also I didn’t really care much for the actress who plays the heroine of this movie. And I could have done without most of those father/daughter sappy scenes.

John Cusak however is great. He does a good job of playing up the friendly guy, but nervous talker who doesn’t know when to shut up.

Also at points I thought his character in this movie reminded me of my old roommate Rob. Which is why I think John Cusak is such a great actor. He does a great job of playing the everyman, and has a way of vaguely reminding you of somebody that you actually know from real life. And when you think about it, this quality is surprising rare in Hollywood actors. When was the last time Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt actually reminded you of someone you know?

Also the quirky humor in this movie is great if particular scenes can be isolated. Like the conversation about old people and the way their mouths move. Or the scene with the guys out in front of the drug store on a Saturday night. Or John Cusak as the awkward dinner guest. All of those scenes are enough to redeem this movie into the category of watchable and even re-watchable.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
An Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman are sitting in a bar. All of a sudden, three flies dive into their beers. The Englishman says, "Barman, a fly just dived into my beer. Bring me another one." The Englishman got another beer. The Irishman says, "Ah, to hell with it," and empties his pint, fly and all. The Scotsman pulls the fly out of his beer and screams, "SPIT IT OOT, YA BASTARD!"

Link of the Day
Interview with Noam Chomsky: War, Neoliberalism and Empire in the 21st Century

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Journal: 4/8/00

(Retrospection)

In the morning, Bear stopped by to accuse us of stealing his keys. I didn’t know anything about this, but since the boys had been talking last night about getting Bear back for not coming out with us, I thought it was very possible they had done something and I told Bear to talk to them. It turned out Bear had just misplaced his keys, and he later found them. The boys interpreted the whole thing as divine retribution for Bear’s not coming out on Bosch’s birthday the previous night. (“See boys” Bosch said, “We didn’t even need to prank Bear. Vengeance is mine says the lord.”)

I went to the gym to do some weight lifting. I got Darin D’apolito to spot me.

I went back to the apartment. Since we had developed a trail of ants, I began doing some heavy duty cleaning. Bosch joined in when he got back, and we worked on the place. Cakes went outside without a shirt on, and Kevin Gort organized throwing snowballs at him. This turned into throwing snowballs at Bear as he walked by. Not thinking much of our aim, Bear spread out his arms and invited us to take our best shot. We all threw and we all missed (although Brett managed to break one of the street lights). Then as he was turning to go, Bear slipped on the ice and fell into the snow. We all had a good laugh about that one.

Bosch and I returned to cleaning the apartment. Bosch was making liberal use of various cleaning chemicals, and our RA Athania Pfister stopped by and told us the whole building reeked, and wanted us to open up our patio door. At this time we had no screen on the patio door because of Keene and the cheese incident. I complained that bugs would come in if we opened the door. This was of course ridiculous because of the excessively cold spring we were having (there was still snow on the ground), but I just felt like being difficult for some reason. {Ed. Note: When I saw Athania over the Christmas holidays this year I finally apologized to her for this-She didn’t even remember}.

Athania and I compromised by leaving the door halfway open. But later I decided the apartment really did reek of cleaning chemicals, so I went to Johnny’s café to avoid the smell.

Shawna Bowers was already at Johnny’s, so I sat at a table and studied with her. Shawna was really studying intently, so for the couple hours or so I was there neither of us really talked much.

Eventually I went back to the apartment, only to find everyone was gone. Not only had my roommates disappeared, but the whole courtyard apartment area seemed really dead. I’m not sure where everyone went, but I went over to see Bear and Prodigy, and made plans with them to go to the theaters and see “Black and White”. (Technically watching movies during the school year is a violation of my rules, but I’ve been having so many lapses on this point recently that I thought I might as well go watch something I was interested in instead of just whatever happened to be on in my apartment, and I was very interested in seeing this new “Black and White” movie.)

I went back at my own apartment, where Rob was hanging out. Bella called Rob up to see what he was doing. Since Rob was up to absolutely nothing that night, I invited Bella to come see the movie with Bear and Prodigy and I, and she accepted.

The four of us drove to Showcase Cinema. In the lobby we saw Kyle Park, Lena, and Tu-in there. Since Lena and Tu-in were dating, Kyle was the proverbial 3rd wheel. He didn’t seem to mind, but we jokingly tried to get him to ditch Lena and Tu-in and come watch the movie with us.

There were not that many white people in the theatre, so I was embarrassed when, after a preview for a Spike Lee movie, Bear commented on how much he hated Spike Lee. (Actually to be perfectly honest, Bear was discreet enough that it wasn’t a big deal at the time, but when I retold this story to the boys later in the night I exaggerated it somewhat.)

However because the movie was sexually explicit, I was genuinely embarrassed that I had invited Bella, a girl I hardly knew, along to see it. (Bella, by the way, was much more talkative that night then she usually is. We chatted about movies in general the whole way there, and we talked about our impressions of the movie we had just seen the whole way back.)

When we got back, I invited Bella to hang out with us, but she gave it a pass. I think she said she wanted to watch Saturday Night Live, but I have trouble understanding her through her accent sometimes. Dave Vanderboom was hanging out at my place. We decided to try and find Bosch, and I went with Dave to look for Bosch in Margaret’s apartment. Although Bosch nor Margaret was there, but we talked to Wizzy for a while. Wizzy accidentally let slip something about a surprise birthday party being planned for Bosch, which I wasn’t supposed to know about, because Dave and Wizzy doubted my capacity for secret keeping. Once the secret was out, Dave and Wizzy swore me to secrecy.

I ended up going on an hour or so long walk with Dave. We talked about girls and how frustrating they are. Basically it was the same conversation I always have with Dave.

When I got back to my apartment, Keene and Cakes were in the living room taking shots. John Patton had also shown up to hang out with his big brother Rob.

Earlier that night, Rob had actually gone with Keene and Cakes to a party, and then once he got there he decided he didn’t want to go after all, so he told them he had to work as an excuse for them to bring him back, despite the fact Joel Hoort was working that night.

This was the first night Keene had hung out with our apartment since the infamous cheese and the screen door incident. Rob told me later that Keene had actually apologized for it.

Keene and the boys started to make prank phone calls again, (they had been up to this earlier in the evening as well).) The game was that they would use the Calvin student directory book, call up random girls and ask them out on dates, and giving out the Bear's name and phone number.

One of the girls apparently called the bear back to try and figure out what was going on. The bear of course didn’t know, but he had a pretty good idea of which apartment the calls were originating from. He called over to ask what was going on, and then he came over in person.

When the bear walked in the door he seemed pretty upset, and started shoving Keene. Keene reacted in kind, and for a moment I was worried that I might have to break up a fight between Bear and Keene (a prospect I did not enjoy) but then the bear laughed the whole thing off and everyone was friends again.

As the night progressed, Cakes got pretty drunk off the shots, and Butterball and I had a good laugh when he went into the bathroom to puke, and then wandered around the apartment with bloodshot eyes.

Bear insisted he didn’t want to take any shots, but was finally convinced to by Keene. When he finally did take a shot, it did not seem to agree with him because he had a hard time swallowing it. During that time, when we asked him how it was, he just communicated by gestures and by humming. Cecil and I had a good laugh at this.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Despite urban legend, Crapper did not invent the flush toilet (the myth being helped by the surname). However, Crapper put in effort to popularise it and did come up with some related inventions. He was noted for the quality of his products and received several Royal Warrants. The noun "crap" was in use long before he was born, but no longer used in Victorian Britain

Link of the Day
Mr. Guam's take on Conservapedia.
and
FBI Investigations Faulted in Scathing Report

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin

(Book Review)

Because of the way my brain is wired, I take a lot more interest in the historical than I do in the philosophical. Even though Marx spent a good chunk of his life sequestered away in the reading room of the London Library, I still find the narrative details of his life fascinating: his banishment from one country to another, his participation in the 1848 revolutions, the numerous petty squabbles he had with other 19th century revolutionaries, his involvement in the politics of the International, and his last great fight against Bakunin.

It’s always a struggle to find a good biography that focuses on the historical instead of on the philosophical. And after reading Isaiah Berlin’s take on Marx’s life, I am beginning to appreciate how good the biography by Francis Wheen was that I read this past summer.

Isaiah Berlin does a good job of summarizing Marx’s life in under 300 pages, but most of the book lingers on Marx’s philosophical development, with whole long chapters devoted to topics such as “The Young Hegelians” and “Historical Materialism.” I would have preferred more emphasis on the narrative sections, but when reading a biography of a philosopher, I suppose it is hard to get away from the philosophy.

One thing Berlin does which I thought was very interesting was that he emphasized the paradoxes in Marx’s legend. For example Marx lived during the age of romantic revolutions in which popular revolutionary figures like Herzen, Mazzini, Blanqui, and Lassalle commanded almost religious like followings. Marx spent most of his life in obscurity in the London library, and yet today his name is still known by almost everyone on the planet. Marx’s central thesis, that historical material conditions and not ideas influence history, has been undercut by its very success.

Or how the German and Austrian communists, who followed Marx’s advice about organizing from the bottom up, were eventually overwhelmed by the fascists, where as the Bolsheviks, who committed the most un-Marxist act of a revolutionary coup, was the first (and for a time the only) successful Marxist revolution.

Bakunin, as seems to be the case with any biography vaguely sympathetic towards Marx, comes off a bit badly here. I suppose that’s to be expected. (When I was in my big anarchist phase at College, I used to read biographies about Bakunin in which Marx came off badly.)

There is no denying that Bakunin had his flaws. Anyone who has read any piece of analysis by Bakunin knows he didn't have the brilliance of Marx’s pinky. He was a romantic without a clear ideology, and he didn't share Marx’s horror for Revolutions that went off half-cocked with no chance of succeeding. And, as every biography of Marx makes clear, he was an anti-Semite.

And yet, he was right (well, not about the anti-Semite part). But history has shown all of Bakunin’s criticisms of Marx to be true. And, to his credit, Isaiah Berlin does include some of Bakunin’s extended quotations:
“We believe power corrupts those who wield it as much as those who are forced to obey it. Under its influence, some become greedy and ambitious tyrants, exploiting society in their own interest, or in that of their class, while others are turned into abject slaves. Intellectuals, positivists, doctrinaires, all those who put science before life…defend the idea of the state and its authority as being the only possible salvation of society-quite logically, since from their false premises that thought comes before life, that only abstract theory can form the starting-point of social practice…they draw the inevitable conclusion that since such theoretical knowledge is at present possessed by very few, these few must be put in control of social life, not only to inspire, but to direct all popular movements, and that no sooner is the revolution over than a new social organization must be at once be set up; not a free association of popular bodies…working in accordance with the needs and instincts of the people but a centralized dictatorial power concentrated in the hands of this academic minority, as if they really expressed the popular will….The difference between such revolutionary dictatorship and the modern State is only one of external trappings. In substance both are a tyranny of the minority over the majority in the name of the people-in the name of the stupidity of the many and the superior wisdom of the few-and so they are equally reactionary, devising to secure political and economic privilege to the ruling minority, and the…enslavement of the masses, to destroy the present order only to erect their own rigid dictatorship on its ruins.”

Berlin gives a surprisingly hostile account of the Paris Commune, which he appears to have based completely off the Bourgeois press. And he also advances the interesting idea that Marx actually opposed the Paris Commune because it was more along the lines of Bakunin's revolutionary ideology, but once it was clear the Commune was going to fall, Marx embraced it for the cynical reasons of the desire to link his name with the most infamous revolution in Europe at the time. Berlin is the first writer I have come across who claims this, and well it certainly is not an impossible conclusion, it would be nice if he gave some more evidence for it.

Update: In an effort to fool myself into thinking I'm being productive politically, I am sending all of my politically related book reviews to Media Mouse with slight edits (ie-removing all the bloggy type stuff and self-referential links). They've printed it here.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson was vocally critical of Jim Davis and his decision to license his strip Garfield to so many different things, saying that it "cheapened" the originality of the strip. He particularly hated U.S. Acres, citing it as "an abomination" and "an insult to the intelligence."[1]

Link of the Day
Tell the FCC not to give more control to Corporate Media

Sunday, March 04, 2007

突入せよ!あさま山荘事件/ The Choice of Hercules

(Movie Review)

As I mentioned in my review of “69”, the Japanese Red Army, a wacko splinter group, is a favorite subject for Japanese film makers, while, unfortunately, the broad based student movement which it grew out of receives little to no attention.

The Japanese Red Army may be a nominally leftist group, but really they were so far removed from reality that political labels are meaningless. What else can you say about a group of students who, while hiding out in the mountains, began holding nightly purges until 14 members had been killed off?

Then, in 1972 the surviving members took over a lodge resort on Asama Mountain and held hostages in the infamous “Asama Mountain Lodge Incident”. The resulting standoff with the police was broadcast live on Japanese TV for several days and in Japan it remains one of the images that defined the era.

Several movies and TV specials have been made about the “Asama Mountain Lodge Incident” over the years. A few years ago I rented and watched 雨の光 (Ame no Hikari) which I quite enjoyed. It was an attempt to try and explain how these normal middle class students could end up doing such a horrible thing. The concept was done as a film within a film. The director would shoot a scene about the red army purges in the mountains, and then the actors would discuss why their characters would do such a thing. It was a unique approach, but perhaps the only way a story as bizarre as this could be done justice on the big screen. (A good review of that movie is here).

“The Choice of Hercules” came out a few years ago, and although I’ve been aware of it for a long time, I have avoided watching it because:
1) There’s only so many films on the “Asama Mountain Lodge Incident” a man can watch and…
2) This movie was from the perspective of the police, so it didn’t seem like my kind of movie.

But last week, when the topic came up in class, one of my students told me that this was his favorite movie. And then when he went onto say that the DVD version came complete with English subtitles, I was sold.

I thought this would be just another “Asama Mountain Lodge Incident” exploitation movie, but this is actually a very interesting story. It is based on a book by one of the head police officials at the incident, and it details the absolute chaos in the police ranks that went on behind the scenes.

As it turns out, behind the scenes of the television cameras, there was an ongoing turf war between the Nagano Prefectural police and central Tokyo police. Also because of special promotions made to deal with this incident, even within the Tokyo police the chain of command wasn’t clear.

And there was just one screw up after another. To give just one example:
Near the end, they conceive the idea of using a wrecking ball and a crane to knock the roof off the lodge, and expose the Red Army. Since none of the police could work the wrecking ball, there was a debate about whether or not they could use someone from the wrecking crew. They finally compromised by agreeing that he could do it if he wore a police uniform during the operation, but then fierce arguments broke out whether he would wear a Tokyo uniform or a Nagano uniform. Then the power lines, which were supposed to be cut because they were in the way of the wrecking ball, were left standing because of a miscommunication. Then because the crane and wrecking ball were used at the same time as the police water cannon, the engine got flooded and the battery died.

Even during the final rescue operation as the police squads swarmed into the mountain lodge, the police were still shouting at each other and even physically fighting with one another.

All this may sound like a comedy, but it’s played seriously in this movie. It’s done as a historical suspense movie, kind of like “Apollo 11”. Even though you know what the end is going to be, you still wonder how they are going to get out of this next mess.

The Red Army members themselves are just faceless gun barrels shooting at the police for the entire film. There is one scene when the mother of one Red Army member is brought to try and talk reason into her son, and that is a poignant scene, but other than that no historical context is given, nor any mention of the Red Army purges which preceded the hostage crisis. (In real life, the frozen bodies of the purged Red Army members were not discovered until after the hostage crisis was over.)

Not having read the memoirs on which this movie is based, I’m not sure how much of this movie is factual, and how much is Hollywoodized (or whatever the Japanese equivalent of Hollywood is). However there was at least one minor detail I noticed because of another book I read. According to the book "Blood and Rage: The Story of the Japanese Red Army " by William Farrell, the lodge owner was killed when he snuck through police lines and tried to negotiate with the Red Army himself. This incident is still in the movie, but in a slightly altered form. Instead of the lodge owner, it is a random civilian who sneaks through police lines and is killed by the Red Army. I assume this was done to give the movie a happier ending, and allow the lodge owner to be re-united with this wife after she was rescued from the Red Army by the police.

Also-another review of this movie is here for those interested.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The following is the will of Joe Hill:
His will, which was eventually set to music by Ethel Raim, read:
My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide,
My kin don't need to fuss and moan-
"Moss does not cling to a rolling stone."
My body? Ah, If I could choose,
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my last and final will,
Good luck to all of you, Joe Hill

Link of the day
ACTIVATE, a local Grand Rapids antiwar group, has signed on to a "call to action" circulated by various chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that calls for a national day of "student and youth resistance" to the Iraq. As an affiliate of SDS, ACTIVATE became the 44th group around the country to endorse the call to action. ACTIVATE had previously signed on to a call to action being circulated around the country calling for "Days of Resistance" to the war on March 19th and March 20th. Plans have not yet been announced by the group for March 20th. However, the group has announced plans for an antiwar march on March 17. People will meet at the corner of East Beltline and Burton at 12:30pm. In addition, ACTIVATE is also planning a protest at Senator Debbie Stabenow's office on March 14 due to her continued votes funding the occupation of Iraq.
(Complete article Here)

Broken Flowers

(Movie Review)

There’s no denying Bill Murray is a very funny man. And his recent successes demonstrate he’s just as funny now as he was when he was in his prime.

But, if you’ll allow me to state the obvious, his recent movies are a lot different than the kind of acting he used to do back in the early 80s. Most of his recent movies involve a minimalist acting in which he is placed in frustrating situations and just uses his facial expressions to show his exasperation. He’s the perfect straight man to a crazy world all around him.

As such, he was hilarious in “Rushmore”, “Lost in Translation” “The Royal Tennebaums” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”. But with all his recent successes, I wonder if he isn’t in danger of too many trips to the well. Does there become a point in which all these performances start to seem too much the same?

“Broken Flowers” was pretty much exactly what I expected it would be. Bill Murray was absolutely hilarious, but I did have the sense that I had seen this movie before with Bill Murray as the lonely old man awkwardly fumbling his way through uncomfortable social situations.

The plot of this movie, by the way, sets up these awkwardly social situations perfectly, if somewhat unrealistically. But I thought the funniest parts of the movie were all in the beginning before the plot really got underway, when Bill Murray was hanging out with his amateur detective neighbor, and interacting with his neighbor’s kids. Once the road trip gets underway, the movie kind of lags a bit.

The movie ends unresolved. I can’t decide if that’s really cool or really annoying. Right now I’m leaning towards really annoying. I know we are spoiled by Hollywood endings, and that open endings are a lot more true to life. On the other hand, if there was ever a movie with a ridiculous Hollywood set-up, this one is it: a man gets an unsigned letter with no return address (and a postage stamp conveniently too faded to read) telling him he had a kid 20 years ago, and because he slept with so many women he has to take a road trip and visit them all to find out who sent the letter. And, for unclear reasons, he can’t just come out and ask them if they sent the letter, but he has to try and guess by picking up clues from their conversation. If you’re going to give me a ridiculous plot like that, at least give me an ending where I can get closure.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation as a bad film, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" does not appear on the Internet Movie Database's "Bottom 100" list of the 100 worst-reviewed films on the site. Reportedly, in his research for the film Ed Wood, Martin Landau watched all of Bela Lugosi's movies and said Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla "made the Ed Wood films look like Gone with the Wind."

Link of the Day
D-R-M, (link via Mr. Guam) has started his series of comic books from his youth. For other comic fans, this first entry looks pretty promising.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Ice Harvest

(Movie Review)

Ever since “High Fidelity” came out, I’ve been a big John Cusak fan. Before “High Fidelity” I had never really heard of him (I can be a bit out of it sometimes), but after “High Fidelity”, he has been one of two actors whose face on the box alone can be enough to make me rent a movie. (Kevin Spacey being the other one).

Of course that can be a dangerous policy because John Cusak has been in as many stinkers as successes, but fortunately this time around “The Ice Harvest” is highly watchable. It’s a suspense about a mob lawyer who tries to steal money from his boss, and then finds he can’t trust a lot of his friends as well. A lot of dark comedy is thrown in as well. The dark humor aspect of it reminded me slightly of “Things to do in Denver when you’re Dead.” And Billy Bob Thornton is pretty good in this movie also.

Not anything I would recommend you go out of your way to see, but if you’re looking for a video on a slow Wednesday night, you could do a lot worse.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Modern fantasy literature has revived the elves as a race of semi-divine beings of human stature. Fantasy elves are different from Norse elves, but are more akin to that older mythology than to folktale elves – they are unlikely to sneak in at night and help a cobbler mend his shoes. The grim Norse-style elves of human size introduced Poul Anderson's fantasy novel The Broken Sword from 1954 are one of the first precursors to modern fantasy elves, although they are overshadowed (and preceded) by the Elves of the twentieth-century philologist and fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien. Though Tolkien originally conceived his Elves as more fairy-like than they afterwards became, he also based them on the god-like and human-sized ljósálfar of Norse mythology.

Link of the Day
Today, the local antiwar group ACTIVATE delivered a packet to the Grand Rapids Press calling on the Press to take specific steps to improve its coverage of the Iraq War. Citing an analysis performed earlier this week as well as numbers compiled at various points since the start of the war in 2003, ACTIVATE is asking the antiwar movement and the citizens of Grand Rapids to send an email to the Grand Rapids Press demanding that the Press utilize an increased variety of sources, that the Press report on the human and economic costs of the war, and provide improved coverage of the antiwar movement. ACTIVATE has scheduled a meeting with the Grand Rapids Press and is seeking emails from the public as a means showing that concern over the Iraq War coverage extends beyond their group.
(Full Article Here)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

(Movie Review)

This is the kind of movie that would have been really hip about 15 years ago. You know what I’m talking about: the kind of modern post-Tarantino movie that first started appearing when we were in high school. Stuff shown slightly out of order, esoteric Seinfeild-like conversations at key dramatic points, and a main character who is aware that he is part of a movie and often addresses the camera or takes over the narration. Part “Pulp Fiction”, part “Get Shorty”, part “Fight Club.”

Despite the fact that all the cool kids quit watching these kind of movies years ago, I still think they’re great popcorn flicks. When I spend a full 8 hours talking in incredibly simple English to Japanese students who just give me blank looks in return, and I want to come home and relax, this is exactly the kind of move I look for. Simple enough that I can turn off most of my brain, and yet with enough twists, sharp editing, and funny voice over narration to cater to my ruined attention span. Perfect for just shoving in the popcorn (or, in my case, the coffee and gyoza the girl made).

I wouldn’t really recommend this movie, and yet the two hours I spent watching it were pleasant enough. It’s not the best movie in its genre, and often it seems like it is trying too hard to be funny. Robert Downy Jr. as the main character/ narrator sometimes seems like he’s doing his Woody Allen impression as an incredibly verbose narrator who runs every joke into the ground. Whether that’s his fault, or just the script they gave him, I’m not sure, but often through the course of this movie I felt myself feeling embarrassed on behalf of Robert Downy Jr. But that’s part of the fun of this movie as well; the perverse pleasure of seeing another human being make a fool of himself.

And some parts of the movie were actually kind of funny. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse in my time.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Alas, so ends my one and only adventure into Wikipedia editing--edited out.
Al Pratt: I looked through the link, it appears that the "Calvin College" in the comic was named for a fictional town "Calvin City" and probably has no relation to this school.
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Calvin_College"

Link of the Day
I was hanging out with Eoin yesterday, and he showed me this blog he and Greg have started to chronicle the bike trip they took to Hungary 3 years ago. Similar perhaps to the Retrospections on this blog in the sense that this is something being chronicled after the fact instead of in real time, but worth checking out if you like a good travel story.