Monday, April 30, 2007

The Constant Gardener

(Movie Review)

I was slightly disappointed in this film. It had been recommended to me by a couple different people, and I had been led to believe it was a true story about real African history.

It’s not exactly a true story, but the plot does revolve around drug companies using untested drugs on African countries. Which is a real issue. So I guess it’s close enough.

The big problem for me is that the film uses that issue to create a sort of suspense thriller. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I have to admit that this film (and the internet researching I did following it) did increase my awareness of the unsavory practices of pharmaceutical companies in the 3rd world, but I did feel that the movie was simply using it as a background to make their suspense story and sappy love story more compelling. And on top of that, it wasn’t all that great of a suspense movie.

“The Nation” actually has a great review of this film, and the issues it deals with, which I would highly recommend you read in its entirety. In fact, stop reading my blog, click on this link, and go over and read The Nation’s review.

Here are a couple excerpts for anyone too lazy to click on the link.

But challenging these practices is not nearly as black-and-white as this film would have it. Tessa Quayle, the martyred activist, stands up to yell "bullshit" at public lectures, shaking her lovely dark mane while she's at it. At cocktail parties, she loudly embarrasses the health minister, who marches off in a huff. Good stuff, but the reality is that uncompromising activists--even if they look like Rachel Weisz--rarely enjoy this kind of privileged access to power so effortlessly. Tessa has it too good and too bad, too. She ends up paying with her life for her exposure of the botched trial; in real life, bad drugs and unethical research practices often continue unhindered despite mountains of data and reports detailing their defects.
As I found while researching a book on the topic, experimental protocols that would be condemned as unethical in the West--including placebo trials among ailing AIDS patients--are frequently described in the medical press; when the subjects are poor Africans or Asians, nary an eye is batted. (Recall that papers describing this country's most egregious scientific study, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which government doctors denied treatment to black syphilitics, regularly appeared in the medical press from the 1930s onward. That study wasn't terminated until 1972.)
In the film, the trial's results are so dangerous that they must be suppressed by an international conspiracy of corporate execs and state authorities. If only. The trouble is that most of the time new drugs aren't uniformly deadly, rendering unequivocal data showcasing their killer properties. Rather, new drugs do work, just not very well, or not for everyone, or not without side effects or, most frequently, not any better than older, safer drugs. What that means is that challenging unethical trials requires more than wrenching a few critical reports from official dustbins.

Link of the Day
100 companies -- and federal agencies -- are connected to 40 percent of the worst toxic waste dumps

The Constant Gardener: Move Review (Scripted)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

(Movie Review)

As I’ve noted before, it is often difficult to predict how the Japanese will react to Hollywood movies about Japan. Some movies they hate, some movies they ignore, and some movies they absolutely love. (Although you should always take what I say with a grain of salt, because I don’t watch a lot of Japanese TV or pay much attention to the Japanese media).

But this movie seems to be really popular here. There were lots of posters for it when it was in the theaters, and it got a hyped up release at my local video rental store. I’m sure the all star Japanese cast isn’t doing this movie any harm either. And according to Wikipedia, this movie made more money in Japan than in the U.S.

Interestingly enough, the companion film “Flags of our Fathers” (which I haven’t seen yet) was nowhere to be found. I looked around the video store for a while, but with no success. When I got back home, Shoko was pleased with my selection and said everyone had been talking about “Letters from Iwo Jima” lately, but she was completely unaware “Flags of our Fathers” even existed.

At the bar the other night, I commented to some of the other ex-pats about this.

“Well, does that really surprise you?” someone said. “The Japanese aren’t interested in watching the American perspective.”

“But ‘Pearl Harbor’ was very popular in Japan,” I said.

“Yeah, but ‘Pearl Harbor’ was a sappy Hollywood love story,” someone else said. “You know how much the Japanese love sappy Hollywood love stories.”

“Okay, but ‘The Thin Red Line’ got released over here as well,” I said. “Even those old John Wayne World War II movies you can usually find in the video store.”

Some light was thrown on this mystery yesterday when I was in the convenience store the other day and saw an advertisement for “Flags of the Fathers”, which is apparently going to be released next month. I believe this is the opposite order these movies were released in the U.S., but perhaps it is not a bad idea to switch the order in Japan.

Despite the movie's popularity, it did not completely escape criticism in Japan. (And again, because I don’t really follow the Japanese media, I’m mostly relying on this wikipedia entry here).

My resident Japanese, Shoko, said that on the whole she thought the film was fairly accurate, but she did make the following critiques.

1). The gushy emotional letters the soldiers wrote home to their wives and children would have been unusual for Japanese men of that era.

2). Shoko thought the frank talk by the common soldiers and some of the complaining they did was something more reflective of the American soldier than the Japanese. A Japanese soldier of that era wouldn’t have dared to complain about his superiors even out of their earshot.

3). Likewise Watanabe Ken’s character (the general) was too much like an American manager, who was concerned about the moral of his men and felt the need to explain his orders to his subordinates. A Japanese general, especially in that era, would have simply barked out his orders and assumed blind obedience. Perhaps the intended explanation for this was that Watanabe Ken’s character had spent in America, but it still didn’t smell right to Shoko.

4). Lastly Shoko claimed the dialogue in the movie was hard for her to catch at times, and theorized that since this movie was made for Americans who would be reading the subtitles, speaking Japanese clearly wasn’t a priority for the filmmakers. As for me, I can’t tell one way or the other (from my perspective, any movie with Japanese dialogue is hard to catch). Since I haven’t heard this criticism from anyone else, and since all the actors in this movie are professionals, and should in theory be able to speak clearly for the camera, I’m reporting this last one with a grain of salt.

I do not claim to have seen every Japanese movie under the sun, but there is an obvious difference in tone between this movie and a Japanese war movie like “The Men of Yamato”. Both films may be arguable anti-war in their own ways (although I retain my reservations about “The Men of Yamato”), but the disillusionment of the Japanese soldier and the criticism of the Japanese government were completely absent from “The Men of Yamato”. In short, “Letters from Iwo Jima” is probably a movie about the Japanese perspective of the war that could only be made in America.

Which doesn’t completely invalidate it. The film still has a strong message even if it wouldn’t be exactly the same way the Japanese would tell their own story. And as a movie made by Americans for other Americans, it does an excellent job of humanizing the enemy and trying to imagine the war from their perspective. And although this is not necessarily new (I’m told “Tora! Tora! Tora!” showed the war from the Japanese perspective as well. And even “Pearl Harbor” shoehorned in a couple of scenes giving the Japanese perspective) it is a continuation of a positive development.

I guess without seeing “Flags of our Fathers” it is hard to give a complete opinion. After all, it is all too easy to make an anti-war film from the enemy’s perspective alone.

From a cinematic viewpoint I thought this film was a bit long to sit through. It could probably have done with some more time in the editing room. But still worth seeing.

Link of the Day
1968 to 2007--Antiwar Student Movements in the US Then and Now

Letters from Iwo Jima: Movie Review (Scripted)

Friday, April 27, 2007

History of the Paris Commune by Prosper Olivier Lissagaray

 (Book Review)

This book is regarded by Marxists as the official history of the Paris Commune. The author, Lissagaray, participated in the Paris Commune and fought on the barricades although, in his own words, he was “neither member, nor officer, nor functionary of the Commune”.

Following the fall of the Commune, Lissagaray was one of the lucky ones who escaped the massacre and he spent the next 6 years writing his “History of the Paris Commune.” In exile in England, Lissagaray became part of Karl Marx’s inner circle. The English edition of “History of the Paris Commune” was translated into English by Karl Marx’s daughter, Eleanor Marx, and Karl Marx himself expanded and corrected some of the analysis for the English edition.

(Interestingly enough, although Karl Marx approved of Lissagaray’s historical work, he strongly disapproved of Lissagaray personally, and was greatly distressed when his daughter Eleanor became engaged to Lissagaray. Among other books, “Karl Marx: A Life” by Francis Wheen provides a fascinating look at the intense drama this doomed engagement caused the Marx family.)

It is for this reason that the publisher’s introduction recommends that for full effect this book be read in combination with Karl Marx’s “The Civil War in France”. However, having read “The Civil War in France”, I think I can safely say that the reading of one is not essential to the understanding of the other by any means, although it is interesting to see occasionally some of the exact same phrases in both books.

I do recommend, however, that Lissagaray’s work not be read as an introduction to the Paris Commune. It was written only 6 years after its fall, and as a contemporary history assumes the reader is familiar with many of the names and events in the book, and is seeking only a greater analysis of what happened.

The ideal reader of this book is already familiar with at least the basics of the Paris Commune and its place in history. Some knowledge of the geography of Paris is a plus (although I was able to struggle through without any). The ideal reader is also interested in both military and social history. He or she wants to know exactly what ideological issues divided the members of the Paris Commune as well as what order the barricades fell during the Versailles invasion.

This is not a light read, but for the historically minded willing to put in the effort to engage it, it will yield a wonderful treasure of knowledge that will take the reader directly into the meetings of the Communard government and also right into the thick of the street fighting. It is hard to find a more detailed work on the Paris Commune, and Lissagaray even goes so far as to explore in detail the short lived Communard uprising that rose up in French provinces at the same time, a subject usually neglected by contemporary histories.

The lessons to be drawn from the book are numerous, and the book is just as heavy with analysis as with details. The reader learns very quickly that in Lissagaray’s vocabulary being called a “leftist” or a “liberal” is not a compliment. Right from the September 4th republican revolution, where Lissagaray begins his history, he shows how the left had no courage at all, and the men who claimed to represent the Paris working people (Louis Blanc, Leon Gambetta) consistently betrayed them. This theme is carried throughout the book, and Lissagaray demonstrates again and again how the left not only abandoned the people, but also the bourgeois liberal representatives in Versailles actively supported many of that government’s atrocities.

However if the bourgeois left is crucified in Lissagaray’s writings, the radicals and representatives of the Paris Commune do not always come off better. Although an obvious partisan of the Paris Commune, Lissagarary’s purpose in writing was not to enshrine the members of the Paris Commune in revolutionary saint hood, but provide an unflinching look at where they erred. As Lissagaray writes in his introduction, “The child has the right to know the reason of the paternal defeats, the Socialist party the campaign of its flag in all countries. He who tells the people revolutionary legends, he who amuses them with sensational stories, is as criminal as the geographer who would draw up false charts for navigators.”

Some members of the Paris Commune are criticized more than others. Most of Lissagaray’s venom is directed against Felix Pyat and Gustave Cluseret. Felix Pyat is shown as a loudmouth who is more concerned with scoring points against his political rivals inside the Paris Commune than protecting the revolution against Versailles. In fact Lissagaray lays the blame for most of the divisions among the Communards at the feet of Pyat. At one point in the book, another member of the Commune tells Pyat, “You are the evil genius of this revolution.”

Cluseret, charged with the defence of the Commune, is portrayed as being incredibly arrogant and criminally negligible, and personally responsible for many of Versailles early victories.

Other members of the commune are treated with much more respect, (although no one completely escapes criticism). Charles Delescluze emerges as one of the heroes of the commune, and his heroic death on the barricades is reported with great reverence and apparently even witnessed by Lissagaray himself.

The great tragedy of this book, also emphasized again and again by Lissagaray, is that the Paris Commune did not have to fail. If the Commune leaders had been able to better defend Paris, or if the Commune uprisings in the provinces had been better organized, the revolution could have succeeded. It was not for lack of popular support, either in Paris or in the provinces, that the revolution failed, but as a result of first the leftists betraying the people, and secondly the radical leaders bungling the task.

The last third of the book is dedicated to the fall of the commune, the mass execution of the communards, the kangaroo trials of the survivors, and the fate of the exiles in New Caledonia. The vicious cruelty of the bourgeoisie displayed here in these chapters almost has to be read in its entirety to be appreciated. Lissagaray shows very clearly how little the life of the working poor is worth, and contrasts the moderation and humaneness of the Commune with the massacres sanctioned by Versailles. The Commune did execute 62 hostages, but this was an act of desperate mob fury not sanctioned by the Commune government. The Versailles government engaged in a planned systematic massacre of the proletariat of Paris. Lissagaray also demonstrates how the priests and nuns of Paris approved and aided in this massacre.

The English edition of this book is not currently in print (although it can be found easily enough on Amazon). It has also been posted on-line in its entirety at this link here, but as it is a lengthy book I personally much prefer having a hard copy in hand.

(I've also sent this review into Media Mouse's website)
Link of the Day
Mass amnesia makes Americans forget the story behind May Day

History of the Paris Commune by Prosper Olivier Lissagaray: Book Review (Scripted)

Part 2: History of the Paris Commune by Prosper Olivier Lissagaray

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This Week in Joel

I got off the train on Friday, and noticed it was unusually smoky in the air. Even the train conductor was coughing as he stepped onto the platform.

I could see a cloud of smoke coming from the direction of my apartment, and thought, “Ah great, the neighbors are burning their weeds again.”

(Of the many things that bug me about Japan, the habit of burning all your weeds and grass in your back yard has to be near the top. It can’t be good for the environment, it’s completely unnecessary (you could easily compost it) and I can’t begin to count the number of times I've been smoked out walking down the road or sitting in my apartment. My neighbor in Ajimu used to burn his weeds all the time without so much as a warning. I’d be reading a book in my apartment, and smoke would start pouring in through my windows.)

Anyway, the neighbors over here have continued this tradition of burning their weeds and rubbish in their back yard, which is right under our apartment window. Bugs the hell out of me. And a lot of those green plants and stuff can produce a lot of smoke, so it wasn't unusual to see a big cloud of smoke coming from their yard.

But perhaps you can tell where this is going.....As I got out of the station, I noticed lots of people were lined up along the train tracks, and talking about the cloud of smoke. I went over the footbridge to get to the other side of the train tracks, and there was a father pointing out the fire to his children.

At this point I could see the neighbors were not just burning their weeds, but their whole house was on fire. There were two fire trucks there, a police car, an ambulance, and the TV news cameras.

Let me tell you, nothing brings a neighborhood together like a fire. As I walked back to my apartment everybody was outside gawking at it, people were calling the kids out of the house or calling their friends on their phone. People were chatting about it outside, and taking pictures with their cell phones. I met several of my next door neighbors for the first time that afternoon.

Because the house in question was directly behind my apartment, I had a hard time making it through the smoke to my own living quarters. And I even questioned whether it was a good idea to go straight back to my apartment, but once I was inside it didn't smell that smoky. (Fortunately we had closed all the windows that morning before leaving for work). Besides, there was nowhere else I could go really. There was no chance of getting my car out with all the crowds and fire trucks.

Sensing a blog entry in the making, I searched the apartment for Shoko's digital camera. (We finally have her digital camera up and running now, so hopefully you’ll see more pictures on this blog in the future). Turns out Shoko had the digital camera with her that day, so I had to content myself with cell phone pictures. Which, as you can see, aren't that great.

I’m not sure you can even tell what is going on in these pictures. And one of them is rotated at a 90 degree angle. (Without the benefit of photoshop, I’m not sure how to fix that. Just turn your head for now). But for what it is worth, these are pictures of the fireman putting out the fire, taken from my bedroom window.

Shoko took a picture on her digital camera the next day. The excitement was over by this time, but you can still see the house was gutted. (This picture was also taken from our bedroom window).

As far as I know, no one was hurt. And I’m still not sure what the cause of the fire was, although these houses out in the Japanese countryside are often fire hazard waiting to happen. (Old and wooden, all cooking done with gas stoves, all heating done with kerosene space heaters. I’m also told by my students that most house fires are a result of smoking cigarettes indoors, which, as anti-tobacco consciousness is a few years behind in Japan, is still very common).

In other news:
I didn't do much for my birthday, partly because this Saturday was a work day for me, partly because I wasn't feeling great owing (I think) to the all you can eat Japanese restaurant we went to on Thursday night, after which it took me a couple days to recover.

Link of the Day
The Washington Post today had a couple of great editorials
Some People Love Guns. Why Should the Rest of Us Be Targets?
I agree with this almost completely. My only reservation is that I have resolved not to criticize hunters until the day I become a vegetarian. But I wouldn't mind a bit if they had to give up their guns and use bows and arrows.

And next this column on the management style of Wolfowitz at the World Bank:
Does He Hear the World's Poor? Don't Bank on It.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean 2

(Movie Review)

Ah, alas, here I cannot use Japan as an excuse for my tardiness, as I was back in the states when this movie came out last summer.

Funny thing about these summer blockbuster movies. During the first couple weeks after they come out you think you absolutely have to see it in order to live a fulfilled life. But if you wait a month or so, like I did (mostly because all my friends went and saw it opening weekend without me, and then there was no one to go with), all of a sudden the hype goes away and you forget all about it.

Well, as you can see from this blog, I’ve been on a bit of a video kick lately. And while strolling through the video store, I thought I might as well throw this one into the cart and see if it was any good.

Turns out I really enjoyed it. I know there are a lot of reasons why it might be fashionable to dislike this movie: because it is made by Disney, because it is a summer blockbuster, because it is based of a theme park attraction, because it is a sequel, because of the heartthrob actors in this movie and its popularity with middle school girls….

But when you get right down to it, it’s actually just a really fun adventure movie: part Indiana Jones, part Treasure Island, part 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Sure some of the jokes are a bit corny, some of the plot doesn’t really make senses, (and for that matter, neither does a lot of the physics), but there’s enough pirates, sword battles, sea monsters, and explosions to satisfy the 12 year old boy in all of us.

Although the movie was bloodless, there was a fairly high body count by the time it was all over, and I’m a little surprised it got released under the Disney banner instead of under Touchstone or one of their other labels. Maybe this is a sign of how the standards have changed over the last 20 years. (I also have it one good authority from a New Zealand friend that the word “Bugger” is offensive enough over there that only in the last few years has it been allowed on television, but Johnny Depp makes good use of it in this Disney movie.)

It was nice that this movie brought back all of the major characters, and even most of the minor ones, from the previous movie. I always enjoy a franchise that takes care of its casting continuity. In fact the only person I thought was noticeable missing from the first movie was that woman on Johnny Depp’s crew (what was her name again?).

As a fan of “The Office”, I especially enjoyed the fact that McKenzie Crook, who played a minor character in the first movie, was brought back and given a slightly expanded role. What do you reckon, did the cult following “The Office” has in the US play any bearing on this casting decision, or did they just like his character from the first movie?

And now that I’ve finally gotten around to seeing this movie, I hear the next sequel is only a few months away. I imagine I’ll be seeing that as well when it comes out.

Link of the Day
While Friday's protest outside of President Bush's East Grand Rapids speech was one of the largest antiwar gatherings since the start of the "War on Terror," the local corporate media failed to adequately explain why people were protesting. Similarly, the media failed to examine Bush's claims and reported them uncritically.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Movie Review (Scripted)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Year Book Pictures

When the yearbooks came out my senior year of high school, a couple friends told me they had done a count of the yearbook, and I emerged as the most pictured person in the whole school that year.

I’m not sure of the scientific validity of this study, and I’ve never undertaken to personally verify it, but I suspect it has a good chance of being true. Because it was my senior year, I was pictured in all the usual senior sections. And then I was in a lot of school clubs and activities, and was pictured in most of those (Cross Country, Swimming, Track team, Forensics club, school play, homecoming court).

And then a couple random pictures of me also snuck its way into the book, like the two above. (I must have had a friend on the yearbook committee). After the yearbook was published, someone from the committee gave me the original pictures, and said I might as well take them because no one needed them anymore, and they were just going to get thrown out.

The picture of me studying in the hallway during a free period appeared on the math department page with the caption “Joel studies for an upcoming pre-calculus test.”

The other picture was in the back, and was captioned, “Joel and Peter greet each other at a basketball game.” I must have missed the photographer, because I didn’t even know this picture existed until I opened up my yearbook at the end of the year.

Link of the Day
Email Action: Express Disappointment over the World Affairs Council Hosting Bush

Saturday, April 21, 2007

29 Today!

Today, April 21st, is another birthday under the belt. This one is the infamous 29. To be followed next year by the even more infamous 30.

For those of you keeping track, this is now the 6th Birthday in Japan, and the 4th Birthday that I’ve blogged. How time flies.

Last year I played a game with the date. The year before that I reflected on aging. (For the 26th birthday I just reported on it after the fact).

Anyway, I thought this year I would take a page from Sara’s blog, and write about the 10 most defining events that have happened during my 20s. This is arguably 1 year premature, but since Sara started the ball rolling on this, I’ll just follow her lead.

1. I figured I would just lump all the usual stuff into one point, such as turning legal drinking age, graduating from college, getting my first real job. (Well, okay, first full time salaried job at least. Perhaps the world of teaching English in Japan can’t really be considered part of the “real world”.) Moved into housing that was owned neither by my parents nor my school. In theory became independent. (Although it’s amazing how much stuff I still relay on my parents for, but I at least manage to get my pants on and get to work on time by myself).

2. Going to Japan. I had been to both Korea and China when I was 19, so this was not for first time abroad or even my first time in Asia. It was, however, the first time I was out of Grand Rapids for longer than 2 weeks since my family moved here when I was 5.

3. Picked up a second language. Not fluent exactly, but conversational at least

4. And of course Japan related adventures. All told I’ve led a pretty quiet life over here (especially compared to some of the Japan travel stories I’ve heard from friends). But there was the hitchhiking trip with Greg from the South of Japan all the way up to Hokkaido one summer. The home stay trip I led. My bellicose adventures in bars and with angry Germans.

5. Became engaged.

6. Became an Uncle

7. Was politically active (for a time at least). From about 17-20, I was developing strong political beliefs, but not doing a lot to act on them. From about 23 onwards I was in Japan, but there were a couple years in between there where I was attending meetings of every progressive group on campus, writing Chimes articles and debating the Republicans, writing -articles and making videos with Media Mouse, getting escorted out of the mall, attending major protests all over the country, getting shoved by Police in Washington D.C., and tear gassed in Quebec, and arguing with school administrators over the commencement speaker.

I miss those days. Now I’m just one of those people who thinks they are being politically active by occasionally writing something on my blog.

8. Speaking of which, I should add starting the blog to this list. I know that will label me as a geek, but given how much time and energy I’ve put into this thing since I started it up at 25, I’d say it warrants a place on this list.

9. Developed lines under my eyes.

10. On a more somber note, I’ve known a handful of high school and college friends and acquaintances who, for one reason or another, died before reaching 29. And as much as we hate to get old, it is a reminder that everyday is a blessing.

Link of the Day
Media Failed to Examine Bush's Lies when he gave a Grand Rapids Speech on Iraq in 2003

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Child by Jules Valles

(Book Review)

I’m reading these out of order, but this is the first book in the “Jacques Vingtras” trilogy, which is the Roman-a-clef tale of Jules Valles’s childhood from hell.

(The middle book in the series “The Graduate”, which describes the 1848 Revolution, the 1851 coup by Napoleon III, and the struggle of Jules Valles and his friends to keep the socialist movement alive during the repressive period of the second empire, has, as far as I can tell never been translated into English. Or at least my search of the Internet reveals neither current nor used copies available for sale, nor in any library.)

Interestingly enough, although “The Insurrectionist” has long been out of print, and “The Graduate” never translated into English, “The Child” has recently been republished by the New York Review Books in 2005, and should be much more easily available for anyone interested.

Although I hold out some hopes that this may signal a plan to republish all of Jules Valles’s works, the publishers introduction states that they wanted to bring “The Child” to a larger audience because they believed this book, unlike the rest of Jules Valles work, is of interest to everyone whether they are political or not.

The book begins with the words: “I dedicate this book to all those who were bored stiff at school or reduced to tears at home, who in childhood were bullied by their teachers or thrashed by their parents.” Although this story is certainly anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment, it is largely apolitical (except for the last few chapters when Valles becomes interested in the history of the French Revolution).

Because of the excessive misfortunes of Jules Valles (or Jacques Vingtras, his Roman-a-clef counterpart), and the humorous way in which they are related, this work has often been compared to Charles Dickens.

No doubt if Jules Valles had lived today, no one would begrudge him years of therapy after this childhood. As it was, it is small wonder that this man grew up to become a lifelong rebel and outsider. And the tone of the book is set right from the beginning:

Was I breast-fed by my mother? Did I get my milk from some peasant wet nurse? I just don’t know. But whatever breast I may have gnawed at, I don’t remember, when I was tiny, ever being cuddled, made a fuss of, pampered, indulged, given little kisses…I was given lots of beatings.
My mother says: spare the rod and spoil the child. And every morning she gives me a beating; and if she doesn’t have time in the morning, she’ll save it until the afternoon, hardly ever later than four o’clock.
Madame Balandreau…is a kindly old spinster of fifty. She lives downstairs. In the beginning, she was quite pleased: not having a clock, she used me to tell the time. “Slap! Bang! Wham! Whack! Whack! It’s that youngun upstairs getting his walloping, time to make my coffee.”

And from this beginning, Valles continues through the rest of the book to detail every cruelty his parents ever inflicted on him.

As a child who was beat regularly by both parents, some of Valles’s complaints are no doubt valid. But as the book continues, some of the things he chronicles seem to be almost petty, such as the ridiculous clothes his mother sent him off to school in, or how his paranoid mother, fearing for his safety, was always forbidding him to do anything the other children regularly enjoyed.

Especially for a man who, in his adult life, lived on the streets, was imprisoned, shot at, and witnessed the massacres at the end of the Paris Commune, it seems a bit strange that near the end of his life he was still obsessed with chronicling everything that was denied to him as a child. It’s amazing how deep the wounds of childhood can be.

This book could have ended up being a very depressing read, but fortunately Jules Valles keeps his sense of humor with him as he writes it, and so I found myself mostly laughing as the young Jacques Vingtras goes from one childhood misadventure to another. The tone does occasionally darken, such as when Valles describes a childhood friend of his who was beaten to death by her father, and how this incident convinced him the rest of his life he would stick up for the defenseless. But on the whole, it was one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time.

The mother in the book is described by some reviewers as a sadist for all the ways she thinks up to torment her husband and her child. Her stubbornness in the various battles of wills she gets into reminds me a lot of the mother from “Malcolm in the Middle”. Consider this scene from one of the family’s journeys.

“You’re not hungry?” my father inquired on the way.
“Why should I be hungry?” my mother retorted.
I have to tell you that in the course of the previous evening, my father had suggested eating at the buffet in Vierzon, in case we weren’t able to find anywhere to eat later on. My mother had turned down this suggestion and she had no intention of letting her decision be questioned by being asked if she was hungry now….
My father didn’t argue…because his hands were tied; when we left, he acted most unwisely: he handed over all our money to his wife.
My mother had said in an innocent voice, “I’ve got bigger pockets than you, they’ll hold the money better. I can pay for everything on the journey.”
Initially my father didn’t appreciate the full extent of his misfortunes of the seriousness of his error; but at the first change of horses, the blow struck home: he had no money at all, not a single franc, not even a couple of sous. He’d given away all his small change in tips to railway porters and such. Now he didn’t even have enough to buy a glass of currant brandy….

This battle over money continues over the rest of the chapter, with the father and son continually trying to find ways to get some food or drink.

Aside from his parents, Valles’s second target is his education. Valles details all the ridiculous antics that go on during his thoroughly classical education. Some of this seems straight out of Monty Python, like the Latin poem they are supposed to write about the death of a parrot:

We’d been told to write about the death of a parrot. I’d said everything anyone could say when confronted by such a calamity: that I’d never find consolation; that when he saw the cage-now transformed into a coffin-Charon would drop his oars; that moreover I’d be burying him myself-triste ministerium-and that we’d be scattering flowers-manibus lilia plenis.
In one of my ingenious lines, I’d exclaimed: “Now, alas, you can plant parsley on the tomb!”
The teacher compliments me on this last subtle touch, but I’ve come second to Bresslair, who showed even deeper emotion and more sincere grief…He hit on the idea, borrowed from hymn tunes, of introducing a repeated refrain:
Psittacus interrit! Jam fugit psittacus, eheu!-The Parrot has died! It has already passed away, alas!

And my favorite part was the commotion young Vingtras caused in his examination when he stated that there were 8 (instead of 7) properties of the soul.

All in all, a very funny and moving book. Definitely worth reading.

Link of the Day
“Politicizing” events and “exploiting” tragedies

The Child by Jules Valles: Book Review (Scripted)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Battleship Potemkin

(Movie Review)

Having watched a lot of junk lately, I thought I’d throw some broccoli into the diet. (Although let’s be honest, the only difference between me and some of you is that I’ve just chosen to blog my viewing habits).

And it’s hard to get more broccoli than “Battleship Potemkin”. Not only is this a classic film, not only is this a classic foreign film, this is a classic foreign silent film.

My first (and until now only) encounter with this film was in a high school film studies elective I took. The teacher showed the scene of the massacre on the Odessa stairs, and the baby carriage, and then showed us clips from various other movies that had imitated it.

In the years since I’ve always been glad I knew that little piece of film trivia, because it does pop up every now and again, everywhere from the Naked Gun movies to the most recent Star Wars film.

And that one scene alone probably makes this movie worth watching, if for no other reason than to be able to catch the various references to it in other films, and then pat yourself on the back for what a cultured person you are.

For anyone interested, the whole movie is on youtube here. Or you can just watch the Odessa Stairs scene here.

As for the rest of the movie…
I’d love to say that it was actually really interesting once you get into it, but lets face it, this is a silent film made for a generation with longer attention spans and lower expectations. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any parts I yawned through. However once the action does get started, it is surprising intense, especially given how old this film is.

This movie is also one of the first examples of film propaganda, and so is interesting in that respect as well. Obviously as one of the first attempts it’s not perfect, and hits you over the head a little bit too hard. (The art of good propaganda is not letting the audience realize they’re being propagandized). My favorite is the over the top portrayal of the evil priest.

Then again, I can think of several Hollywood movies that lack subtlety. Maybe we only notice how ridiculous this movie is because it is old and because it’s communist.

I suppose it’s probably pointless to debate the moral qualities of this movie because it is now nothing more than an historical oddity. It is old, the techniques it employees are no longer effective on the modern audience, and the regime that created it no longer exists.

And yet, perhaps because of my protestant upbringing, I still have the urge to examine this film and classify it as either good or bad.

Obviously this film is tainted by its association with Stalin, but the actual events portrayed in the film (the failed 1905 Russian Revolution) are safely removed from the evils of the Bolshevik regime. Can a person with progressive politics watch this movie and simply appreciate the story about soldiers who refused to open fire on the people when ordered, and instead joined in a popular uprising? This is, after all, not only the story of the Russian Revolution, but Europe in 1848, Paris in 1871, and the German Revolution in 1918.

The various historical liberties the film takes makes it slightly harder to defend. Apparently there was no actual massacre on the Odessa steps, although there were a few demonstrators killed in scuffles with the army. And the circumstances of the Potemkin mutiny are also in debate.

Of course if historical accuracy becomes factor, a lot of Hollywood films are in trouble. Granted some of Hollywood’s creative liberties are for narrative or entertainment purposes, but others are more troubling. Remember “Pearl Harbor”, which showed the Japanese planes attacking hospitals, despite the fact that there is no historical record for this? Is the way that movie seeks to manipulate our thoughts and emotions any different than the exaggerated massacre on the Odessa steps?

And one last point on propaganda. It is worth noting that the US army has been actively engaging in its own Hollywood propaganda campaign for years now. Did you know that the US army provides equipment, troops, and technical advisors to any Hollywood film that portrays the army in a positive light? And I probably don’t even need to say that none of these things are provided to any film projects that have a more critical view. So if you were wondering why you haven’t seen any Hollywood anti-war movies recently, that’s a big part of the reason.

Link of the Day
US Abstinence Groups Target Africa

Battleship Potemkin: Movie Review (Scripted)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another Update

It’s been a few weeks since my last update, so I’d thought I’d throw another general one up here.

There is not a ton to report, as life has settled into a pattern here, and is pretty much the same old, same old from week to week.

You may notice I haven’t been very diligent about my “Better Know a City” Project recently, but I have been doing some local hikes. A couple weeks ago a co-worker asked to come along on one of my hikes, and I took him back to Mount Hachimen in Sanko-Mura. I basically took the same route I had done before, but it is always fun to show a new person what trails you have discovered. He had a really good time, and brought back a good report to everyone else, and now I’ve got several more requests to go hiking. I may soon be as famous here for my Mount Hachimen hikes as I used to be for my Ajimu tours.

We’ve had a bit of turnover at my office recently, which is pretty common for these kind of English teaching companies. I’m no longer the newest member of my branch, and in fact we’ve had three people leave and two new ones come in. There has been a bit of stress involved all around in the reshuffle, but all in all I think the new members are fitting in very well here, and suddenly I am in the position not of newbie but of experienced veteran. Being the kind of person who likes to give out his opinions and advice frequently, I’m enjoying the change.

I was walking into Nakatsu station last week, when I saw Ron and Nikki, two friends who I knew back from my JET days. They had come back into town for Ted and Yumiko’s wedding. Shoko and I only attended the after party for this wedding, but Justin and Lisa have pictures from the actual ceremony on their blogs.

And one quick news commentary:
Like everyone else, I am shocked by the latest shooting. I am tempted to use this as a platform to go into my opinions on gun control, but I'll hold off for now.

Shoko and I tried to catch some information on the news about it last night, but in Japan the American news was overshadowed by the shooting of the Nagasaki mayor on the street yesterday. I'm not sure if that made the news back in the US or not, but it took up over half of the news broadcast in Japan, and they didn't even mention the American shooting until the second halfhour of the news broadcast.

Interestingly enough, they then showed a few news pieces that had obviously been prepared ahead of time that talked about America's long time problem with gun massacres. After the pieces finished airing, one newscaster said to his colleague, "Earlier I would have said it was only an American problem, but I guess this evening shows it is something in Japan as well."

Link of the Day
Protest Outside of President Bush's Grand Rapids Visit Announced

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


(Movie Review)

Although this movie was advertised as being a new break out independent movie, it’s not as original as the filmmakers would have you believe. It’s main gimmick is that it features a bunch of different stories which intersect with each other at various points, such as you have already seen in “Love Actually” or “Crash” or a million different other movies.

That being said, it’s not a bad little movie. I had quite a few laughs during the course of it, and, although it’s not a new trick, it is always fun to see the stories intersect with each other.

Because of the cynical take this film has on love and relationships, it struck me as kind of a darker version of “Love Actually”. However most of the characters still arrive at some sort of a happy ending.

As a former Star Trek fan, I particularly enjoyed Colm Meaney playing a tough guy police man with a fondness for Celtic music. Funny thing: Colm Meaney’s Star Trek character, Miles O’Brien, was easily the most bland and boring character in both “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine.” But Colm Meaney himself can be a great actor, as seen in this movie, and also “Snapper” (another independent Irish movie that I saw on Eion’s recommendation a few years back). Obviously the Star Trek writers did not know how to use him to his fullest potential.

Link of the Day
"We Talk about the Truth, and That's Hard for People to Accept Sometimes": A Conversation with Three Iraq Veterans against the War

Intermission: Movie Review (Scripted)

Monday, April 16, 2007


(Movie Review)

Because I was in Japan, I completely missed the buzz over this movie (if there was any). I just saw it in the video store and picked it up.

This movie also falls into the category of what I would call “hipster movies”. Lots of loud cool music on the soundtrack, slightly out of sequence, words flashing up on the screen, narration by one of the characters and lots of cool references to other movies, and celebrities appearing as themselves. It maybe a rip off of every other hipster movie over the last 15 years, but there is still plenty of brain candy, flashing lights, and quick cuts to cater to my ruined attention span.

(Particularly amusing, since one of the themes of this movie is the title characters hatred of “90210”, is two of the actors from 90210 appear as themselves and actually have a major role in this movie playing washed up actors. If nothing else, at least it shows these guys have a sense of humor, which I guess partly redeems them.)

Like a lot of other recent hipster movies, this one also features a lot of black humor and boarder-line sadism. Like “Kill Bill”, it features protagonists willing to hack off the limbs of their enemies, and then taunt them about it later. If you’re part of the club that’s cool enough to laugh at this, go ahead and enjoy that scene. I could have done without it, but found the movie entertaining enough in spite of it.

This movie is extremely loosely based on the life of female bounty hunter Domino Harvey who, I found out from the DVD extras afterwards, was actually a real person, although the movie took a lot of liberties with the story.

Since the film features a strong female character it might be thought of as a feminist movie, although Domino Harvey is not afraid to use her sexuality to get her out of tough spots. For example, when surrounded by bad guys with guns drawn, she offers to give one of them a free lap dance to get out of the situation and gain information. Something tells me this isn’t exactly the way John Wayne or Sylvester Stallone would have handled the situation, but I guess whatever works, right?

Like “Charlie’s Angels” (which this film references) it seems to call into question the line between a female character using her sexuality as power, and exploitation, especially the way the camera loves to point out the curves on Domino Harvey’s body.

Strangely enough, most girls I know seem to love these kind of movies. I once got my head bitten off by a female friend for saying I didn’t think “Charlie’s Angels” was a very feminist movie.

There is no doubt that we men are absolute idiots when confronted with a shapely woman, and if woman want to use this as part of their arsenal against us, fair enough. But at the very least, let us not fool ourselves into thinking we are doing something new or making progress with these kind of movies, because the “strong, seductive, kick ass but also easy to ogle” female characters have been around for a very long time. (I’m reminded particularly of the 1970s era Japanese heroine “Cutey-Honey".)

Link of the Day
Student "Hate Group" and College Republicans Unite to Bring Anti-Immigrant Vigilante to MSU

Domino: Movie Review (Scripted)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Insurrectionist by Jules Valles

(Book Review)

This book is the third part of Jules Valles Roman-a-clef autobiographical Jacques Vingtras trilogy, in which he describes his participation in the workers movement of the 1860s, and his role in the Paris Commune.

Jules Valles was elected a member of the Paris Commune, and later appointed Minister of Education under the Commune, during which time he created free and undenominational public schooling. After the fall of the Commune, he was condemned to death, but escaped to Belgium and later England.

Partly owing to the politicized nature of his work, Jules Valles has long been regarded as one of the French Literary cannon’s minor writers. However like many overlooked writers, Valles’s works are periodically rediscovered by different generations and thrust back in the limelight every now and again.

During the May 1968 Revolution in France there was renewed interest in Jules Valles. He was found quoted by student graffiti on the walls of Paris during the student rebellion, and his works were republished in both French and English.

The English edition of “The Insurrectionist”, is not currently in print, but thanks to it is easy enough to find used books these days, and I was able to order a copy, and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you have an interest in social history, and you ever find you cross paths with one of Jules Valles’s books, I can’t recommend it enough.

The story begins with Jules Valles in 1857 having gone against his morals and accepted a job as a teacher after living on the streets for many years. His former friends criticize his cowardice and hypocrisy, but after years of starving himself he is unable to resist the lure of steady meals and a paycheck. However his new found security is not to last long. Valles loses his job after telling the students never to pay attention to anything they are taught in school.

He then briefly becomes a government clerk, and loses that job after giving a seditious speech at one of the clubs. He struggles to find work in journalism. He participates in several anti-government demonstrations, but he and his colleagues are never able to mount a serious challenge to the Napoleonic Empire.

Jules Valles was recruited by his socialist friends to run against the moderate republican Jules Simon in the governmental elections. Although Jules Simon was the leader of the republican opposition to Napoleon at the time, some of the socialists thought it was important to provide a socialist alternative in the election. Others thought the candidacy would take votes away from Jules Simon and strengthen Napoleon. Jules Valles ended up being caught up in the middle of this debate. Of course since these strategic electoral issues are still debated by radicals today, the candidacy of Jules Valles and the debate around it should still be of interest.

Then the Franco-Prussian war begins, and Jules Valles is beat up while participating in a peace demonstration. Since he is beat up not by police but by workers, the very people he had spent his whole life trying to help, he feels particularly discouraged.
“I regret my sacrificed youth, the life I have given to starvation, the pride I have given to the dogs, the future I have spoiled for a mob I thought had a soul, a mob I wanted to honor by giving it all the strength I had so painfully amassed.
“And now I see that very same mob sucking up to soldiers, dogging the steps of regiments, cheering colonels whose epaulets are still still sticky with the blood of December, shouting “Kill them!” when we say we want to silence the trumpets by ramming rags down their bells. It is the greatest disillusionment of my life.”

However as every historian knows, the initial war euphoria soon gave way to anger and disillusionment when the French army started loosing. Valles chronicles in his book first the republican revolution of September 4, next the failed socialist uprising of October 30, and finally the Paris Commune.

Although he sat as a member of the Commune, Valles work offers almost no insight into the ideological struggle behind the Commune, although he does describe some of his personality clashes with other members. It is for this reason that Valles is frequently accused of adventurism by Marxist critics, but in “The Insurrectionist” Valles is much more interested in chronicling the experience of revolution than the ideology behind it.

“The Insurrectionist” repeatedly deal with the intersection of the political with the personal, probably the most striking example of which is the following scene from the fall of the Commune, in which Valles witnesses an accused spy about to be executed:

Another one denied being a traitor and asked to be led “before the proper authorities.” He spoke as a coupon clipper from Le Marais. “I’ve never been mixed up in politics.”
“That’s why I’m killing you,” replied a fighter who’d been hit in the left paw one hour before, and was using his right paw to aim a revolver at the man in the grip of the crowd.
And he was about to shoot when it was decided that people perhaps should not be executed without proof and that this man should be led to Public Safety the “authorities” he was begging for as often as his sobs would allow.
“The committee’ll let him go….as sure as I’ve lost five fingers,” grumbled the wounded man, shaking his red stump. “Not mixed up in politics!…They’re the biggest cowards of all. I hate that kind of a son of a bitch! They wait until after the slaughter to see who to spit on and who to suck up to!”

Valles himself can probably be classified as an anarchist, although he belonged to the generation of anarchists more influenced by Proudhon than Bakunin. He was part of the Proudhonist minority on the Paris Commune which was consistently outvoted by the Jacobin majority, but once again Valles prefers to describe this in terms of personality instead of politics:

“I hate Robespierre the deist, and I don’t think we should ape Marat, the galley slave of suspicion, the lunatic of the terror, the maniac of the bloody age. My curses join with [the majority] when they attack [the reactionists]…but more sacrilegious than they, I also spit on Robespierre’s vest.”
Almost no time is given to the Commune’s deliberations, but Valles gives a lot of space to the fall of the Commune and bloody week. Most of the Commune’s members were killed, and Valles barely escapes himself by disguising himself as an ambulance driver.

Both the massacre of civilians by the Versailles army and shooting of hostages by the commune horrifies Valles, and he makes a vain attempt to save some of the hostages. If there is a consistent ideological thread to Valles’s work, it is the horror of cruelty and killing, and yet he is not without his mixed feelings about the necessity of violence in a revolution as revealed by this exchange following the execution of a spy.

A man came up to me. “Citizen, do you want to see what a traitor’s corpse looks like?”
“Someone’s been executed?”
“Yeah a baker, he denied it at first, then he admitted it.”
The federal saw me turn pale.
“Maybe you would have voted for acquittal-Jesus God! Can’t you see that to smash in one Judas’ head saves the heads of a thousand of your own men! Blood horrifies me, and my hands are covered with it; he grabbed me and held on when I shot him! But where would you be if you couldn’t find anybody to kill spies?”
Someone intervened in the debate. “That’s not all! You want to keep your paws clean for the time when you stand before the court or posterity! And we’re the ones, the poor, the workers, the ones who always have to do the dirty work….So everyone can spit on us later, right?”
That angry man was speaking the truth. Yes, you want to stay clean for history and not have slaughterhouse filth attached to your name.
Admit that to yourself, Vingtras, and don’t consider it a virtue that your face turned white before the dead baker.

One final note: for those with a historical interest, “The Insurrectionist” is also delightful for the first hand description we get of other famous French radicals, such as Blanqui, Rigault, Varlin, Vermorel, and Michelet. However for those unfamiliar with French history, there can be a lot of strange names and references to keep track of, so be forewarned.

Extra note: As stated before, 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.

Link of the Day
You tube video: Noam Chomsky - Questions about Anarchism
Barry Pateman of the Emma Goldman Archives interviews Noam Chomsky, who discusses the anarchist principles that have guided him since he was a teenager and that lie behind the social and political analysis he's been producing for the last four decades

The Insurrectionist by Jules Valles: Book Review (Scripted)

Useless Wikipedia Facts: The Complete Collection

In the previous post, I announced my decision to stop doing Useless Wikipedia Facts.
Adding in a random Useless Wikipedia Fact at the bottom of each blog post was something I thought would be a fun way to just throw out random bits of trivia.  It was all based solely on what I personally thought was interesting, and thus was highly self-indulgent, but I had fun looking up all these random facts, and hopefully at least some other people found them interesting as well.
However, I've been feeling lately that my blog posts have been getting a bit too cluttered with stuff, and I wanted to drop the Useless Wikipedia Facts in order to make cleaner, shorter, less cluttered blog entries.  (I'm going to keep my Link of the Day feature going, but I think one feature at the end of a blog post is more than enough.  No sense making things overly cluttered by having a Link of the Day and a Useless Wikipedia Fact.)
But just for the sake of a trip down memory lane, here are all the random facts I collected over the past year in one post.
All of these Useless Wikipedia Facts accurately represented Wikipedia on the date they were posted, but since Wikipedia is constantly changing, there's no guarantee they represent what Wikipedia is currently saying.

April 13, 2006 The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Useless Wikipedia Fact: (A new feature I'd like to start up to celebrate the amount of useless information now online)
Ernst Stavro Blofeld appears in six James Bond movies, making him the most popular James Bond Villian

April 17, 2006 Coming Home

April 20, 2006 The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

April 21, 2006 28 Today

April 22, 2006 What I've Been Up To

April 23, 2006 V for Vendetta

May 6, 2006 Golden Week

These details were left out of the various Hollywood movies of Helen's life.

May 14, 2006 Further Thoughts

May 17, 2006 Back in Grand Rapids
Useless Wikipedia Fact: Borrowing from Mr. Guam, who brings to our attention this Wikipedia story of a cat named Wilberforce, the chief mouser at 10 Downing street which includes incidents of birdicide, being lost, and being turned out of the job because of Cherie Blair.

May 17, 2006 Retrospection

May 21, 2006: Anti-War Protest
1.privatization of Iraqs 200 state-owned enterprises;
2.100% foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses;
3.national treatment of foreign firms;
4.unrestricted, tax-free remittance of all profits and other funds; and
5.40-year ownership licenses. 

Bremer also enacted order 17, which grants foreign contractors, including private security firms, full immunity from Iraq s laws

May 25, 2006 Adjustments

May 31, 2006 More Anti-War Protest

June 1, 2006 Trip to the Beach

June 6, 2006 My Trip Out West

June 8, 2006 Vacation Pictures

June 11, 2006 Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

June 16, 2006 First Email from Japan (Aug. 9, 2001)

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.

June 18, 2006 U.S.! by Chris Bachelder
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.

June 20, 2006 Karl Marx: A Life by Francis Wheen

June 21, 2006 The Regime By Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

June 27, 2006 That Guy...

July 29, 2006 More Pictures

A close second is "The Way to Eden" when the Enterprise is captured by space hippies.

July 7, 2006  Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

July 9, 2006 Coach Burning
They are very well known from their appearances in Mothra and Godzilla movies of the 1960s, in which they appeared as fairies called shobijin (small beauties) who had telepathic communication with Mothra. (A bit cheesy perhaps, but one of my favorite Japanese groups. I'm listening to their CD as I write this).

July 12, 2006 For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

July 14, 2006 Halloween 1999
Useless Wikipedia Fact: Fictional Japanese Superheroes in the DC Universe:
Tsunami, aka Miya Shimada, an American citizen, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. She has superhuman control over the waves.
Doctor Light, aka Kimiyo Hoshi has the ability to manipulate ambient light for a variety of purposes. She can absorb all forms of illumination, and release that absorbed enregy as blinding flashes or light, or destructive laser beams. (Probably more, but those are the only two I know about).

July 19, 2006 Paris Babylon by Rupert Christiansen

July 21, 2006 Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

July 24, 2006 Pictures of Shoko

July 28, 2006 Journal Entry 1/24/99
Marge: Come on, Homer. Japan will be fun! You liked Rashomon.
Homer: That's not how I remember it

July 30, 2006 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

August 2, 2006 Working Man
"He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:12)
"And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property." (Exodus 21:20-21) (Newer translations like the New Living Translation, New International Version, New Century Version, etc. show verse 21 to mean "if the slave lives and returns to health in a day or two, then the owner is not to be punished.) 

August 4, 2006 Thoughts on the New Job

August 9, 2006 Conservative Logic
Useless Wikipedia Fact: Essex girl jokes, which consisted primarily of variations of the dumb blonde gag, became popular in the United Kingdom during the autumn of 1991. The jokes' derogatory nature and persistence caused some commentators to speak out publicly against them. This is something that was completely off my radar until I went to Japan and interacted with Brits, and learned what a big deal it was if someone happened to be from Essex. Anyone else encountered this?

August 12, 2006 DC Universe: Inheritance by Devin Grayson

August 16, 2006 Rabbit, Run by John Updike

In 1980, DC bought the rights to the Fawcett characters outright, and in 1987 relaunched the character in a miniseries, Shazam!: The New Beginning. Captain Marvel has not proven to be a modern-day success for DC to the degree it had been for Fawcett. As a recurring inside-joke, DC often writes Captain Marvel and Superman as battling opponents.

August 29, 2006 Update on Stuff
Useless Wikipedia Fact: Continuing the Captain Marvel theme (the most famous Superhero you never heard of)
Did you know that...
Captain Marvel was, based on sales, the most popular superhero of the 1940s, since the Captain Marvel Adventures comic book series sold more copies than Superman and other competing superhero books during the mid-1940s.

Captain Marvel the first comic book superhero to be depicted in film.

Captain Marvel introduced the phrase "Holy Moley" into the English language.

Captain Marvel was the first major comic book hero to have a young alter ego. Although kid superheroes had generally been neglected before Marvel's introduction, kid sidekicks soon became commonplace shortly after Marvel's success: Robin was paired with Batman in May 1940, and Captain America was introduced with sidekick Bucky in March 1941.

Even more than ten years after the character first disappeared, the superhero was still used for allusions and jokes, in films such as West Side Story, TV shows such as The Monkees, M*A*S*H, and American Dad!, and songs such as "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" (1968) by The Beatles and "Shazam" (1960) by Duane Eddy. Elvis Presley was a fan of Captain Marvel, Jr. comic books as a child, and later styled his hair to look like Freddy Freeman's and based his stage jumpsuits and TCB lightning logo on Captain Marvel Junior's costume and lightning-bolt insignia.

September 3, 2006 1632 by Eric Flint

September 8, 2006 Miss Boer Spring 1997
"I'm glad the Chicago Police Censor Board forgot about that part of the local censorship law where it says films shall not depict the burning of the human body. If you have to censor, stick to censoring sex, I say. ... But leave in the mutilation, leave in the sadism, and by all means leave in the human beings burning to death. It's not obscene as long as they burn to death with their clothes on."

September 15, 2006 New Job
Useless Wikipedia Fact: Harley Quinn and Detective Renee Montoya are both examples of characters introduced first in the Batman animated series, and then later incorporated into the comic books.

September 20, 2006 Rosa by Jonathon Rabb
The phrase "the bee's knees", meaning "the height of excellence", became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s along with "the cat's whiskers" (possibly from the use of these in radio crystal sets), "the cat's pajamas" (pajamas were still new enough to be daring), and similar phrases that didn't endure: "the eel's ankle", "the elephant's instep", "the snake's hip" and "the capybara's spats".
The phrase's actual origin has not been determined, but several theories include "b's and e's" (short for "be-alls and end-alls") and a corruption of "business" ("It's the beezness.")

September 22, 2006 Journal 4/28/2000

September 27, 2006 Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman

September 30, 2006 Caesar by Colleen McCullough

October 2, 2006 Peace Breaks Out by John Knowles
Support for the letters was added in the most recent version of Unicode, version 5.0.0

In November of 2004, the Norfolk, Virginia-based Virginian-Pilot ceased running Malkin's nationally syndicated column. Fellow columnist Bronwyn Lance Chester explained, "I think [Malkin] habitually mistakes shrill for thought-provoking and substitutes screaming for discussion. She's an Asian Ann Coulter." Malkin responded "I'm not Asian, I'm American, for goodness' sake. I would take the comparison to Ann Coulter as somewhat of a compliment. I have a lot of respect for Ann Coulter." (Looks like I'll have to eat my words from this post. I agree that Malkin is incredibly obnoxious, but in a perfect world she could be obnoxious without people responding in racist ways).

October 10, 2006 Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
"There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She's become irreligious basically because she found sex, I have a big problem with that."
Others read the passage more critically, including allegations of sexism. Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, who has been quoted as saying "I hate the Narnia books...with a passion...", interprets it this way:
"Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn't approve of that. He didn't like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up."

October 13, 2006 New Job Finishes
Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”

later became an arch conservative and spent several years on the staff of Senator Jesse Helms.

October 20, 2006 Japan E-mails August 12, 2001

October 22, 2006 Video Interview

October 25, 2006 Kissinger in Grand Rapids

This is parodied in the Simpsons episode where Homer finds Kissinger's glasses in the toilet and recites the same thing. He is corrected by the person in the next stall.

October 31, 2006 Rabbit Redux by John Updike

November 1, 2006 It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

November 2, 2006 The Dragon and the George by Gordon Dickson
Also during an argument Ringo walked out, and the drums on this song were done by the other Beatles. Lennon, later in an interview was asked "Do you think Ringo is the greatest rock drummer in the world?" To which Lennon replied, "He's not even the best drummer in The Beatles."

November 3, 2006 Harajiri Waterfall

November 8, 2006 Infinite Crisis by Greg Cox

November 17, 2006 email: June 7, 2000

November 20, 2006 Crazy Toys

November 22, 2006 Delurking Week

November 24, 2006 The US Vs John Lennon

November 27, 2006 Thanksgiving Day Weekend
The song also mentions famed English author and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh by name, calling him a "stupid git" for bringing the tobacco plant to England.

November 28, 2006 High School Reunion

November 29, 2006 Part 2: The Reunion Itself 

November 30, 2006 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

December 1, 2006 Sept. 5, 1990 "What I did this summer"
Useless Wikipedia Fact: "Don't Pass Me By" was Ringo Starr's first solo composition and he sang lead on this song, which apparently became a #1 hit in Sweden. Its earliest mention seems to be off a BBC chatter session introducing "And I Love Her" on the Top Gear program in 1964. In the conversation, Starr is asked if he wrote a song and McCartney proceeded to mock it soon after, but the song is unmistakably Don't Pass Me By with very slightly different lyrics. The song has a very predictable 3-chord blues structure, of the root, fourth, and fifth, with the chorus having the same chords and rhythm as the verse, apparently leading McCartney to mock it. The fact that it wasn't recorded until 1968 contributed to Starr temporarily quitting The Beatles during the White Album sessions. Ringo Starr refused to do more than one take on this song, thus getting all the mess ups on the album itself.

Lennon was said to have been fond of sarcastically citing "Why Don't We Do it in the Road" as the "best song Paul ever wrote."

December 7, 2006 The October Horse by Colleen McCullough

December 8, 2006 Imperium by Robert Harris
Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Birthday" begins with a blues progression in A (in the form of a guitar riff doubled by the bass) with Paul singing at the top of his chest voice, "They say it's your birthday/ Well it's my birthday too, yeah!" Afterwards, a drum break lasting eight measures brings the song into Lennon's section, which rests entirely on the dominant before returning to a third section, sung by McCartney. It is among the latter's most intense vocal performances due to the range in which he sings during the blues run. The female backing vocals that sing the "birthday" were performed by Yoko OnoLinda Eastman and Patti Harrison.

December 15, 2006 E-mail: August 13, 2001
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Lennon apparently intended the song "Yer Blues" as a parody of British blues, but it was delivered with such spirit that it has been hard for some listeners not to take it seriously. The lyrics are extremely suicidal, and include references to Bob Dylan's Ballad of a Thin Man as well as cosmology.

December 19, 2006 Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The lecture by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that inspired "Mother Nature's Son" also inspired John Lennon's unreleased song "Child of Nature," the tune of which he later re-used to completely different effect in "Jealous Guy."

December 22, 2006 Crash by J.G. Ballard
Useless Wikipedia Fact
On "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey" Musicologist, Alan W. Pollack, commented: "The shaken (cow?) bell only seems to be incessant. If you manage to track it (come on, you can do it yourself this time), you'll note how neatly it is dropped out and back in over the course of the song; typical Beatlesqueattention to detail."

December 28, 2006 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Originally titled "Maharishi", The Beatles changed the title to "Sexy Sadie" to avoid possible litigation as the song's lyrics portray the Maharishi in a less than favorable light. John Lennon became discouraged after the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had allegedly made a pass at one of the female members of their entourage. John Lennon once said about this song: "That was inspired by Maharishi. I just called him, 'Sexy Sadie,' instead of (sings) 'Maharishi what have you done, you made a fool...' I was just using the situation to write a song, rather calculatingly but also to express what I felt.

December 29, 2006 Brett Comes to Japan
Useless Wikipedia Fact
McCartney was inspired to write the song "Helter Skelter" after reading anewspaper review of The Who's latest single, most likely "I Can See For Miles". The review described the single as the loudest, wildest song ever recorded, with distorted guitars, reverb, and screaming. McCartney took this as a challenge to write something louder and "Helter Skelter" was the result. Some historians of popular music believe that this song was a key influence on the development of heavy metal.

January 1, 2007 Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Critic Richie Unterberger writes that "Long, Long, Long" is one of the most underrated songs in The Beatles' large discography." [1] It is a relatively quiet, calm song, especially when compared to the raucous "Helter Skelter" which immediately precedes it on The Beatles.

January 3, 2007 The Martian Tales Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Revolution 1" (the album version) contains a notable lyrical difference to the version released as a single: Lennon's vocal for the track adds the word "in" following the line "When you talk about destruction/ don't you know that you can count me out". Lennon stated in interviews that he was undecided in his sentiments toward the song's theme so he included both options.

January 4, 2007 Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The song "Honey Pie" is a direct homage to the British music-hall style. It concerns a famed actress, known through the hypocharisma "Honey Pie", and her old lover, who wishes for her to rejoin him in England. The premise – a humble admirer yearning for the return of his lover – is not unlike a typical music-hall plot. In order to establish an appropriate, old-timey sound, 'scratches' were added to the third line, "Now she's hit the big time!" from a 78 RPM record.

January 5, 2007 My Holidays
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Because "Savoy Truffle" is such an obscure song, some believe that George Harrison might have written it to spite John Lennon andPaul McCartney. The theory is that because George was always limited in the number of songs he could write for each album, he got frustrated and came up with a ridiculous song about a box of chocolates

January 9, 2007 Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories Volume 1 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Useless Wikipedia Fact
John Lennon insulted the song "Cry Baby Cry", as he did most of his songs, by calling it "A piece of rubbish"

January 11, 2007 Gerald R. Ford and Me
Useless Wikipedia Fact
On "Revolution 9": As with Revolution itself, the theme was inspired by the contemporary May 1968 riots in Paris, and "Revolution 9" was meant to capture the violence of a revolution in progress. At over eight minutes it was the longest track on the album, as well as the longest Beatles track ever officially released.

January 12, 2007 Journal 4/7/00
Useless Wikipedia Fact
John Lennon apparently didn't want to perform the song "Good Night" because it didn't fit his "hard-rocker image". It is sung by Ringo Starr, the only Beatle to appear on the song.

January 14, 2007 The Time of the Dragons by Alice Ekert-Rotholz
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Shakespeare's Play "Troilus and Cressida" has rarely been popular on stage and there is no recorded performance between 1734 and 1898. It was not staged in its original form until the early twentieth century, but since then, it has become increasingly popular due to its cynical depiction of people's immorality and disillusionment especially after the First World War. Its popularity reached a peak in the 1960s when public discontent with the Vietnam War increased exponentially. The play's main overall themes about a long period of war, the cynical breaking of one's public oaths, and the lack of morality among Cressida and the Greeks resonated strongly with a discontented public and led to numerous stagings of this play since it highlighted the gulf between one's ideals and the bleak reality

January 15, 2007 I've Gone Beta
Useless Wikipedia Fact
When animation company Hanna-Barbera licensed the animation rights to the DC Comics characters and adapted the Justice League of America comic book for television, it made several changes in the transition, not the least of which was the change of name to Super Friends. In part, it was feared that the name Justice League of America would have seemed too jingoistic during the post-Vietnam War Era.

January 17, 2007 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
Useless Wikipedia Fact
In discussing the 2004 American presidential elections, Wallis said "Jesus didn't speak at all about homosexuality. There are about 12 verses in the Bible that touch on that question ... [t]here are thousands of verses on poverty. I don’t hear a lot of that conversation." [2]

January 18, 2007 That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
Useless Wikipedia Fact
"More Cowbell" is a line from an April 82000 Saturday Night Live comedy sketch about the recording of the song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult. The sketch featured guest host Christopher Walken as music producer Bruce Dickinson and Will Ferrell as fictional cowbell player Gene Frenkle. The line itself has grown into a pop culture catch phrase.

January 18, 2007 The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
Useless Wikipeda Fact
Mountain Dew was originally marketed as "zero proof moonshine" and had pictures of hillbillies on the bottle until 1973. In the 1970s through the late 1980s Mountain Dew had the crude nickname of "hillbilly piss" due to the carry-over bottle art and yellow coloring, but that usage has since fallen out of favor.
Today's marketing target is radically different. The drink is mainly marketed to people in the 20-30 year old demographic group, creating a connection to extreme sports and video game culture. The name Mountain Dew was first trademarked by two brothers, Barney and Ally Hartman, who ran a bottling plant in Warner, South Dakota.

January 20, 2007 ...And I Get Feedback
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The tannins in coffee may reduce the cariogenic potential of foods. In vitro experiments have shown that these polyphenolic compounds may interfere with glucosyltransferase activity of mutans streptococci, which may reduce plaque formation. In rat experiments, tea polyphenols reduced caries[14

January 22, 2007 Ilium by Dan Simmons
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Al Pratt (Golden Age Version of the Atom from DC Comics) was portrayed as a student of Calvin College in the 1940s comic books. He later became a professor at Calvin College.

[Ed. note--I actually added this one myself. It is my first (and so far only) venture into the editing of Wikipedia. It should be interesting to see what happens with it. Those Wikipedites move fast. It's already been moved from "notable alumni" to "fictional potrayals"]

January 23, 2007 Back to Japan
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Similarities between Captain Marvel and Calvin and Hobbes:
The modern-day Tawky Tawny was a stuffed tiger doll who was animated by Lord Satanus to assist the Marvel Family in their battle against Satanus's sister Blaze. He only appeared as an animate being to Billy, Mary, and later Dudley, much in the same way that Hobbes only appears sentient to Calvin in Calvin and Hobbes).
Miss Wormwood. In modern-era comics, Billy's schoolteacher (and later principal), presented as the typical "mean teacher" stereotype. Her name is referenced in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, where Calvin's schoolteacher was also named Miss Wormwood.

January 24, 2007 The Past 8 Months
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Ben Wildeboer teaches Earth Science and Physics at Whitmore Lake High School in Whitmore Lake, Michigan. He resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan. On July 152006, he was married!

January 27, 2007 7th Grade: What I Did this Weekend
Useless Wikipedia Fact
In the Divine Comedy Dante sees the soul of Paris in the second circle of Hell, being tossed around eternally by a fierce wind, along with Helen and others who succumbed to the sin of lust.

January 29, 2007 Watership Down by Richard Adams
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Yakuza is a 1975 post-noir gangster film written by Leonard SchraderPaul Schrader and Robert Towne and directed by Sydney Pollack. Following a lackluster initial release, the film has gained a cult following. The film has influenced such contemporary movies as Black Rain (1989), Brother (2001), Kill Bill (2004), Into the Sun (2005) and Blade Runner (1982)

January 30, 2007 Better Know a City
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Blogger service often has problems of various kinds. These problems can last a couple of minutes and/or hours and possibly even days. The new term, 'bloggered', is now applied in situations where Blogger suddenly and inexplicably goes down, causing readers to be unable to read the affected blog and preventing the blog author(s) from posting/updating posts, or a myriad other potential difficulties.For instance, when a blog that goes down due to technical problems or upgrades, the author of that blog may state "I have been [B]loggered." But soon enough, Blogger is working properly and bloggers can resume their blogging activities.

January 31, 2007 Nakatsu/ 中津
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Lion-O's aging from a 12-year-old child to a 24-year-old man is considered one of the series' biggest plot holes by fans. Although it was explained that some aging would take place within the suspension capsule, none of the other ThunderCats aged to the same extent. While no further explanation was ever given, fans have speculated that Lion-O's capsule may have malfunctioned, causing him to age more rapidly.

February 1, 2007 New Job
Useless Wikipedia Fact
In 1981, Jackson County, Florida challenged the novel "1984" on the grounds that it contained pro-communist material and sexual references. [4][5]

February 3, 2007 Further Thoughts on Settling In
Useless Wikipedia Fact
In the Zelda games, Link is described as a young man who lives in the land of Hyrule. His age varies from game to game, ranging from 10 to 18. He is also one of the few left-handed protagonists in video games (with the exception of his appearance in the Wii version of Twilight Princess, where he is right-handed for control purposes).[2]

February 8, 2007 Sanko-Mura/ 三光
Brutus (Welsh: Bryttys), a descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, was known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain. The Historia Britonum states that "The island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul" who conquered both Spain and Britain. A more detailed story, set before the foundation of Rome, follows, in which Brutus is the grandson or great grandson of Aeneas.

February 9, 2007 Movie Reviews
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Endymion received scathing criticism after its release, and Keats himself noted its diffuse and unappealing style (see, for example, The Quarterly Review April 1818 pp. 204-208). However, he did not regret writing it, as he likened the process to leaping into the ocean to become more acquainted with his surroundings; in a poem to Haydon, he expressed that "I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."

February 10, 2007 Japan e-mails August 14, 2001
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution, and specifically the events of the 28 July 1830 in the centre of Paris. A woman personifying Liberty leads the people forward over the bodies of the fallen, holding the tricolore flag of the French Revolution in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other.

February 11, 2007 The Job Update
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The book, "The Grapes of Wrath" is frequently banned in schools across the United States, and in 1986, in Graves County, Kentucky, an adult was arrested for possession of a copy.

February 13, 2007 The Magnificent Seven
Useless Wikipedia Fact
While the plot of "Destroy all Monsters" resembles that of Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965), this entry is significant in that it showcases 11 daikaiju, a record for the Godzilla series until Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).

February 14, 2007 女囚701号 さそり/ Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Eikaiwa teachers come from a variety of backgrounds, and are generally native English speakers. Most come fromAustraliaCanadaNew Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States. 97% (according to 2004 statistics from the Ministry of Immigration) spend less than 3 years teaching in Japan (Average of 1 year)

February 15, 2007 High Noon
Useless Wikipedia Fact
In reality, the scarcity of royals alluded to in the film "King Ralph" is not possible. There are currently 901legitimate heirs to the British and other Commonwealth thrones. The first of those who do not reside in the UK is 60th in the real line of succession, and belongs to the Royal Family of Norway. Even if the fictional Wyndham dynasty had a different genealogy, there would still be many heirs who do not belong to the extended royal family present in the photographing tragedy.

February 16, 2007 The Producers (2006)
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland suddenly found itself in vogue with the times almost two decades later the initial release, following the North American success of George Duning's animated feature Yellow Submarine. In fact, because of Mary Blair's art direction and the long-standing association of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland with the drug culture, the feature was re-discovered as something of a "head film" (along with Fantasia and The Three Caballeros) among the college-aged and was shown in various college towns across the country. The Disney company resisted this association, and even withdrew prints of the film from universities, but then, in 1974, the Disney company gave Alice in Wonderland its first theatrical re-release ever, and the company even promoted it as a film in tune with the "psychedelic" times

Useless Wikipedia Fact
When Doonesbury ran the names of soldiers who had died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, conservative commentators accused Garry Trudeau of using the American dead to make a profit for himself, and again demanded that the strip be removed from newspapers.
After many letter writing campaigns demanding the removal of the strip were unsuccessful, conservatives changed their tactics, and instead of writing to newspaper editors, they began writing to one of the printers who prints the color Sunday comics. In 2005, Continental Features gave in to their demands, and refused to continue printing the Sunday Doonesbury, causing it to disappear from the 38 Sunday papers that Continental Features printed.

February 20, 2007 The Davinci Code
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The "27 Club" is a popular culture reference to a group of several rock musicians, each of whom had a meteoric rise to success that was cut short by a drug-related death at age 27. The musicians are:
Brian Jones (February 281942 – July 31969) (The Rolling Stones)— Drowned in his swimming pool.
Jimi Hendrix (November 271942 – September 181970) (The Jimi Hendrix Experience) — Asphyxiated on vomit while sleeping after presumably unintentional overdose of sleeping pills
Janis Joplin (January 191943 – October 41970) (Janis Joplin, Big Brother & The Holding Company) — Heroin overdose
Jim Morrison (December 81943 – July 31971) (The Doors) — Heart failure
Kurt Cobain (February 201967 – April 51994) (Nirvana) — suicide by shotgun

Ed note: Isn't it weird to think we're now older than all these famous rock stars we spent most of our lives looking up to?

February 20, 2007 Good Night and Good Luck
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Gartner Group forecasts that blogging will peak in 2007, levelling off when the number of writers who maintain a personal website reaches 100 million. Gartner analysts expect that the novelty value of the medium will wear off as most people who are interested in the phenomenon have checked it out, and new bloggers will offset the number of writers who abandon their creation out of boredom. The firm estimates that there are more than 200 million former bloggers who have ceased posting to their online diaries, creating an exponential rise in the amount of dotsam and netsam (i.e. unwanted objects) on the Web.

February 22, 2007 シクスティナイン/ 69
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Critics say frequent use of ain't is a marker of basilectal — which is to say, "vulgate" or "common people" speech. The same applies for using i'n'it (normally written as innit) instead of "isn't it". There is little justification for this judgment on etymological or grammatical grounds, but it remains a widespread belief that the word is "not a word" or "incorrect".

February 22, 2007 Usa/ 宇佐
Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Hey Joe" is an American popular song from the 1960s that has become a rock standard, and as such has been performed in a multitude of musical styles. Diverse credits and claims have led to confusion as to its authorshipand genesis. It tells the story of a man on the run after shooting his wife. It is most widely known for the version recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The song title is sometimes given as "Hey Joe, Where You Gonna Go?" or similar variations

February 24, 2007 Brett Visits Japan Part 2
Since the 1960s, Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips has become very controversial, because of its portrayal of the Japanese and Bugs' attitude and casual violence toward them. Despite its dated anti-Japanese slant (in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drawing the United States directly into World War II against the Axis powers), and because the cartoon was not one of The Censored Eleven, it was occasionally shown on television in syndicated packages with other pre-1948 Warner cartoons that were under the ownership of Associated Artists Productions. It debuted on home video in December 1991 on the first Golden Age of Looney Tuneslaser disc collection. The niche market format did not cause a stir, but when the 5 disc set was later issued in the more accessible VHS format on 10 separate tapes, Japanese rights groups protested its distribution, and both releases were withdrawn. Reissues for both formats replaced the cartoon with Racketeer Rabbit. The VHS reissue combined volumes 4 and 7 of the 10 tape set.

February 28, 2007 Olympus by Dan Simmons
Useless Wikipedia Fact
It was common among 1960s and early 1970s United States leftists to write Amerika rather than "America" in referring to the United States. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] and is still used in political statements today. [6] [7] It is likely that this was originally an allusion to the German spelling of America, and intended to be suggestive of Nazism, a hypothesis that the Oxford English Dictionary supports. It may additionally have been an allusion to the title ofFranz Kafka's 1927 novel Amerika

February 28, 2007 North Country
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Pygmies were a tribe of diminutive humans in Greek mythology
They were involved in a constant war with the cranes, which migrated in winter to their homeland on the southern shores of the earth-encircling river Oceanus. The old Greek poet Homer was the first to describe the battle.
In art the scene was popular with little Pygmies armed with spears and slings, riding on the backs of goats, battling the flying cranes. They were often portrayed as pudgy, comical dwarfs.
the term "Pygmy" remained essentially mythological until applied by nineteenth century European explorers to people they encountered

March 1, 2007 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
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 ""

March 3, 2007 The Ice Harvest
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 fantasywriter 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.

March 4, 2007 Broken Flowers
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation as a bad film, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" does not appear on theInternet Movie Database's "Bottom 100" list of the 100 worst-reviewed films on the site. Reportedly, in his research for the film Ed WoodMartin 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."

March 4, 2007 突入せよ!あさま山荘事件/ The Choice of Hercules
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

March 7, 2007 Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson was vocally critical of Jim Davis and his decision to license his stripGarfield to so many different things, saying that it "cheapened" the originality of the strip. He particularly hatedU.S. Acres, citing it as "an abomination" and "an insult to the intelligence."[1]

March 10, 2007 Journal 4/8/00
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

March 13, 2007 Say Anything
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!"

March 14, 2007 Bungo-Takada/ 豊後高田
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]

March 18, 2007 The Truth by Terry Pratchett
Useless Wikipedia Fact
White Day is a growing tradition that was created through a concentrated marketing effort in Japan. White Day is celebrated in JapanSouth KoreaTaiwan and some other East Asian countries on March 14, one month afterValentine'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...

March 24, 2007 Free Writing 10/26/93
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 adeclaration 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]

March 25, 2007 Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
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."

March 26, 2007 General Update
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]

March 30, 2007 Tombo Times Article: Natsu-Mero For Dummies
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]

April 1, 2007 The Corporation
Useless Wikipedia Fact
After the Boston tea party, as far as tea drinking itself was concerned, many colonists, in Boston and elsewhere in the country, pledged to keep away from the drink as a protest, turning instead to "Balsamic hyperion" (made from raspberry leaves) and other herbal infusions. This social protest movement away from tea drinking was not, however, long-lived.

April 2, 2007 Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Fat Albert first appeared in Cosby's stand-up comedy routine "Buck Buck," as recorded on his 1967 album Revenge. The stories were based upon Cosby's tales about growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia. In 1969, Cosby and veteran animator Ken Mundie brought Fat Albert to animation in a one-shot prime-time special entitled Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert.

April 3, 2007 Walk the Line
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The 256th and final level in Pac-Man is generally considered unplayable due to corrupting map glitches. However, in December 1982, an eight-year-old boy named Jeffrey R. Yee received a letter from U.S. President Ronald Reagan congratulating him on a worldwide record of 6,131,940 points, a score only possible if the player has passed the Split-Screen Level. Whether or not this event happened as described has remained in heated debate amongst video game circles since its supposed occurrence.

April 4, 2007 Top 10 Hollywood Biopics I would love to see
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Adventures of the Gummi Bears was Disney's first successful foray into television animation (it was released back to back with another show, The Wuzzles, which lasted only 13 episodes). At the time of its first premiere, very few, if any, animated television series were on par with Gummi Bears' production values. It even exceeded the quality of much Japanese animation made for TV at the time. Gummi Bears is often credited by animators and animation historians as having helped jump start the massive boom of television animation in the late 1980s all through the 1990s.

April 6, 2007 Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Wiggles are an Australian band that specializes in children's entertainment. Since its formation in 1991, the group has achieved worldwide success with its children's albumsvideostelevision series and concert appearances.
According to Business Review Weekly magazine, The Wiggles were Australia's highest grossing entertainers for the year 2005, earning more than AC/DC and Nicole Kidman combined.[1]

Useless Wikipedia Fact
In any form, a minute amount of odorant such as t-butyl mercaptan, with a rotting-cabbage-like smell, is added to the otherwise colorless and odorless gas, so that leaks can be detected before a fire or explosion occurs. Sometimes a related compound, thiophane is used, with a rotten-egg smell. Adding odorant to natural gas began in the United States after the 1937 New London School explosion. The buildup of gas in the school went unnoticed, killing three hundred students and faculty when it ignited. Odorants are considered non-toxic in the extremely low concentrations occurring in natural gas delivered to the end user.

---Shortly before I came back to Japan, Brett, Sara and I had a debate about whether the breathing of natural gas by itself was harmful, or if it was just dangerous because of its likeliness to blow up. Thoughts anyone?

April 9, 2007 The United States of Leland
Useless Wikipedia Fact
It was The Wolf Man that introduced the concepts of werewolves being vulnerable to silver (in traditional folklore, it is more effective against vampires), the werewolf's forced shapeshifting under a full moon, and being marked with a pentagram (a symbol of the occult and of Satanism). These are considered by many as part of the originalfolklore of the werewolf, even though they were created for the film. Unlike the werewolves of legend, which resemble true wolves, the Wolf Man was a kind of hybrid creature. It stood erect like a human, but had the fur, teeth and claws of a wolf. There had been similar depictions of werewolves in several earlier movies but this was by far the most influential, and subsequent movies have built on this image.

April 10, 2007 Riverworld
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Peter Lorre (June 261904 – March 231964), born Ladislav (László) Löwenstein, was an Austrian-Jewish stage and screen actor and director, who later became a naturalised US citizen. He was especially known for playing roles with sinister overtones in Hollywood crime films and mysteries. He is arguably the first Bond Villain, playing alongside Barry Nelson (who played an Americanised Bond) in the first screenplay adaptation of James Bond in 1954.

The practice of emulating Peter Lorre's unforgettable voice, look, and mannerisms is quite notable throughout television and cinema, dating from impersonations in various cartoons such as Looney Tunes; indeed, most persons doing impressions of Lorre's voice are actually imitating Warner Brothers' Mel Blanc doing his Lorre impression (Blanc is much broader and louder than Lorre generally was, and the cartoons seen much more often than Lorre's actual work). This can be noticed in characters such as Ren from Ren and StimpyMorocco Mole from Secret Squirrel, Rocky Rococo from various Firesign Theatre sketches, Surface Agent X20 from Stingray, Mr. Gruesome from The FlintstonesStaring Herring from Beany and CecilMarlon Fraggle from Fraggle Rock, Cruel from Count Duckula, Harry Slime from Avenger PenguinsDoctor N. Gin from the Crash Bandicoot series, Boo Berry from Boo Berry cereal, the hanging lamp from The Brave Little ToasterCosmos from TransformersFlattop from The Dick Tracy Show, Wart from Rescue Rangers, and Digitamamon from Digimon were based on Lorre's mannerisms. In the episode "The Tick vs. Chairface Chippendale" from The Tick animated series, one of the villains attending Chairface's birthday party is "The Man Who Looks Like Peter Lorre." The script for Godspell includes a line which is suggested as being done in the style of Peter Lorre. Also, Rob Schneider ably played Lorre's character in theSaturday Night Live sketch, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Tom Smith, award-winning filk singer, wrote a song in 1988, "I Want to Be Peter Lorre."[2] Even today, films show his distinct characteristics in characters, such asArnold Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a routine Robin William's genie character did in Disney's Aladdin and themaggot in Corpse Bride. And even in video games, the 2005 video game Destroy All Humans! features aliens that look similar to Lorre. As well, during gameplay, some humans will shout; "Help! We're being invaded by Peter Lorre!"

April 11, 2007 男たちの大和/ Men of Yamato
Useless Wikipedia Fact
Cutie Honey (キューティーハニー, Kyūtī Hanī?) is a Japanese media franchise created by Go Nagai. Cutie Honey first appears on volume 41 of the 1973 edition of Shōnen Champion. The titular character of Honey is considered the prototype for the transforming magical girl.

April 12, 2007 Young Sherlock Holmes
Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Candidate" is a derivative of the Latin word "candida" (white). In Ancient Rome, people running for political office would often wear togas chalked and bleached to be bright white at speechesdebatesconventions, and other public functions

April 13, 2007 Freddy Vs. Jason
Useless Wikipedia Fact: Today is actually the one year anniversery of the Useless Wikipedia Fact on this blog, which is as good as time as any to end it. I certainly have enjoyed finding lots of useless information on Wikipedia, and I hope you have too, but I don't envision it as something I want to do in perpetuity. Hopefully new and other distractions will follow.