Thursday, May 31, 2007

Classroom AIDS

Aside from some occasional, generally un-focused griping about my students' English ability (or lack thereof), I usually try to avoid making fun of them outright. You'll have to take my word for it that the following is in no way meant to ridicule my students (really, I'm serious). It is kinda funny, though...

In an essay entitled "Watch Out for AIDS!", one of my students has informed me that, aside from the "usual precautions" one should take to avoid becoming infected with AIDS, we should "[...] also avoid having sex with the general public".

Well damn, there goes my weekend...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Some more photos today. (I'm swamped reading the atrocious English of my students, and can't seem to shake the feeling that, somehow, they've "infected" me. I have no will, no strength, to write anything. Weird...)

Anyway, the photos below were taken on the same day as the ones in my previous post. Although it's completely unintentional, I suppose these shots, all of "rocks", give some balance to the "clouds" of the previous post.

The four shots immediately below were taken at a park in Kitago, south of Miyazaki city (click to enlarge).

The following shots were taken in Aoshima, and feature an interesting geological formation known locally as "the Devil's Washboard" (Oni no Sentakuita).

Monday, May 28, 2007


I went for a Sunday drive with my family yesterday, and on the way home noticed that there were some interesting looking clouds in the sky. The four pics below were taken from the back seat of my car as we were driving home. As usual, you can click the images and they will, like magic (!), become bigger...

When we arrived home I saw some different interesting looking cloud formations. The following three pics were taken from the rear balcony of my condo.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Skiving Off Work Video: Jimi

If you had to pick a single performance of a single song that encapsulated everything that rock 'n' roll is about, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example than Jimi Hendrix's version of "Wild Thing" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Powerful, primal, sexual, destructive, spectacular, irreverent, spontaneous, minimal... whatever. It's all there.

Now please have a beer and smash something...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Learning Japanese ( Least I Think So)

I've had a lot of students' homework to look at lately. I've got about 200 students, and they all write something for me most every week. It's tiring work to read it all, week in and week out. In fact, there's nothing obligating me (beyond my own sense of "doing my job") to give them any homework at all, but the result is that these days I'm tired...

On a more positive note, I have resumed, after a pause of about six years, my Japanese language studies. It's actually a source of personal embarrassment to me that, after living and working here for nine years, my Japanese ability sucks big time. Aside from sheer laziness, probably the biggest obstacle to my learning Japanese has been kanji.

Not knowing kanji means that I can't read anything in Japanese (or at least nothing substantive). Anyone who knows the abc's, for example, can pick up a newspaper and, dictionary in hand, start reading in English. This is not possible with Japanese (at least not initially). I happen to know that "宮崎" is spoken as "Miyazaki" (because I live here!). Without that knowledge, however, there is no way I could look it up in a dictionary. One has to learn the kanji, then it's meaning, then how it is spoken (and most kanji have two readings: the original Chinese reading and the later Japanese one).

Conversely, I suppose you could learn only the spoken language, which would allow you to look words up in a dictionary and from there learn the kanji. Um, after you've learned hiragana and katakana, the two alphabets that supplement kanji, that is. In this case you would simply look up "みやざき" ("mi-ya-za-ki") in order to arrive at the kanji and/or the word's meaning.

All in all, a messy business, this Japanese...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Are We Not Men?

[NOTE: This story originally appeared here.]

"Get that thumb out of your mouth right now, Joey," his mother is scolding him. "You're almost five, it's time you grew up." He liked sucking his thumb. It felt good. Eventually, though, he stopped.


He's in the principal's office. He's in trouble. "Joey, Nancy says you stuck gum in her hair and that several times you've punched her on the shoulder. Is this true?" "Yes, sir." "Well, son," the principal says, "that kind of childish behavior is unacceptable. You'll be going to junior high next year, so I think it's about time you grew up and started acting like a man." "Yes, sir, I'll try."


He has a black eye. His father is looking at him with a strange mixture of pity and disgust on his face. "For Christ's sake, Joe, you mean you didn't fight back?" "No, I didn't, Dad," he replies. His father thunders, "listen up, boy. No son of mine is going to be the high school punching bag. If you're going to be a man, you have to grow up and learn to fight like a man. You got that?" "Sure, Dad."


He's in court. He's in trouble. A few weeks ago he got drunk and took a baseball bat to a bunch of cars in a parking lot. He's done stuff like this before. The prosecutor is speaking. "...and so, your honor, we can see a clear pattern of alcohol abuse coupled with violent, anti-social behavior..." Later, after sentencing him to probation and community service, the judge looks right at him and says, "Joseph Ryan Johnson, this is your last chance in this court. It's time to grow up, young man, or the next time I see you you'll be going to prison. Do you understand me?" "Yes, sir. Thank you."


He's standing in the delivery room. His wife has just given birth to a baby boy. He's a father. He's overcome with joy, but later, as he's standing outside smoking a cigarette, his joy is replaced by terror. He's terrified of the responsibility that's just been delivered to him. He's talking out loud to himself. "Jesus H. Christ, Joey-boy, what are you gonna do now, eh? You can't fuck this one up, asshole. No siree. It's time to grow up, boy, and start acting like a man... whatever the fuck that means..."


He walks into the living room and sees his four-year-old boy on the sofa watching TV. The boy is sucking his thumb. A reprimand springs to his lips, but he stifles it. He pauses for a moment, and then joins his son on the sofa.

"Hey Tommy, whatcha watchin'?"

"Spiderman. But it's finished."

"Uh huh. Let's have a talk, OK Tommy?"

"OK, Daddy."

"You know how me and Mommy are always buggin' you about sucking your thumb?"


"I want to tell you a secret. When I was a little boy I sucked my thumb, too."

"... really...?"

"Yeah, really...."

"Why, Daddy?"

"Well, let's see..."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tired... but a winner, by golly!

For the few friends who still drop by here (where has everyone gone?), I've been really busy the last couple of weeks, and haven't had the energy to post much of anything. Hopefully I'll come around soon.

Now for the good news! I posted a couple of weeks ago about the fiction contest over at The Moon Topples. Well, yours truly won second place in the "jury" category! I'll post my story here sometime next week, but in the meantime why don't you click here (scroll down a bit) and check out all of the great stories (including my own not-so-great one)?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oh Canada!

Restoring the hockey world (i.e. "the known universe") to its natural order, Canada won the World Hockey Championship yesterday. Good job, boys!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Skiving Off Work Videos: Vintage Rock and Blues

Two classic videos, both of which I've just seen for the first time.

"Tales of Brave Ulysses" by Cream. Oh my, oh my. Young men, this is how they used to rock. Holy shit. And Ginger Baker? I bow down in awe, a worm, not worthy of oiling your kick pedal. O yea, a worm, I say, unfit for the polishing of the sacred cymbals, too low to sweep the splinters from your mighty sticks...

"I Can't Quit You, Baby" by Otis Rush. Oh yeah. Vintage blues from a master. Enjoy!

Now please stop listening to crap and have a beer!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Greek of the Week: Nomos and Physis, Pt. 3

Picking up where we left off with Callicles last week, we observed that many of his ideas were indicative of a certain mood which found varying expressions in fifth century Athens.

We've already seen, in Aristophanes' Clouds, for example, the notion of holding animals up as models for "natural" human behavior. And as for nature as the basis of international relations we need not look any further than Thucydides (The History of the Peloponnesian War 5.105.2 (quoted below) and 4.61.5): in the course of trying to negotiate peace between rival Sicilian cities, Hermocrates of Syracuse warns the other delegates of the dangers of internal fighting amongst themselves while Athens sits waiting to move in (4.60). He finds the Athenian strategy to be perfectly understandable, and says that he lays no blame on those who are resolved to rule, because "it has always been human nature (for the stronger) to rule over those who submit" (πέφυκε γὰρ τὸ ἀνθρώπειον διὰ παντὸς ἄρχειν τοῦ εἴκοντος).

Continuing with Callicles, what justification, he goes on to ask, did Xerxes or his father have for invading foreign lands, if not that they were acting according to the nature of right (κατὰ φύσιν τὴν τοῦ δικαίου), indeed according to the law of nature (κατὰ νόμον γε τὸν τῆς φύσεως), though this is not a law that humans have made (483d6-e4). Here we have the first coinage of the paradoxical term "law of nature". For the sake of clarity it should be mentioned that the sense in which Callicles uses the term should not be confused with the later Stoic lex naturae ("natural law"), nor with the "laws of nature" with which modern scientists are concerned.

This formulation does have an earlier parallel in Thucydides 5.105.2 ("The Melian Dialogue") where we see the Athenians inform the Melians that he should rule who can as a matter of natural and eternal necessity:
ἡγούμεθα γὰρ τό τε θεῖον δόξῃ τὸ ἀνθρώπειον τε σαφῶς διὰ παντὸς ὑπὸ φύσεως αναγκαίας οὖ ἄν κρατῇ, ἄρχειν· καὶ ἡμεῖς οὔτε θέντες τὸν νόμον οὔτε κειμένῳ πρῶτοι χρησάμενοι, ὄντα δὲ παραλαβόντες καὶ ἐσόμενον ἐς αἰεὶ καταλείψοντες χρώμεθα αὐτῷ...

From our opinion of the gods and of human nature we hold that clearly it is a general necessity of nature to rule where one is able. We did not make this law, nor were we the first to utilize it once it was made. It existed when we received it, and it will continue to exist forever when we have left it behind...

There is no denying the similarities between the positions of Callicles and the Athenians in the Melian Dialogue. Particularly striking is the notion of some principle in nature which says that the strong rule the weak regardless of any human-made laws. It is also obvious that both positions can be reduced to one of self-interest. Where they part ways, however, (and the difference is perhaps a subtle one), is in the Athenians' lack of any appeal to a consideration of "right".

The Athenians are "realists": "we are doing this because that is just the way the world is." Callicles, on the other hand, is not arguing that just because it happens this or that way in nature it is better (he is not reducing "ought" to "is"). In his rejection of conventional in favor of natural "right" as something better and morally superior he is saying that clear thinking individuals have come to judge that what is right by nature is superior because it is the nomos of nature, it is what nature prescribes (P. Shorey, What Plato Said (1933) 154).


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sunsets, Mountains, Palm Trees, and a Dork with a Camera

Bleh. I'm too tired to write anything, but I'm becoming addicted to posting stuff on my blog. What to do? Hmm... I know! How about some random photos. Yeah, let's ponder the randomness of the universe, ponder the imponderable, as it were...

A sunset from the back balcony of my condo.

A different sunset, as viewed from the back balcony of my condo.

A river and some mountains, as seen from the back balcony..., heh, just kidding...

Some more mountains.

Two palm trees in front of some kind of fitness centre. Look closely enough and art will emerge... (again, I'm just kidding...).

I'm fairly certain (and I think you'll agree) that this is a dork with a camera. Have I ever mentioned that it's not easy being me?

To Hell and Back, Pt.2: Roller Coaster

This is a special post for me and a landmark post for this blog. Why? Well, because the poorly shot, badly lit, crappy video you see below is my first video uploaded to YouTube!

In the past year I've been forced to endure several "theme" parks and general amusement parks. I hate the theme parks, but the non-franchise amusement parks are not so bad. On the second day of last week's family trip we went to a small but rather well-thought out park, Kijima Amusement Park, in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. I've become something of a roller coaster fan recently, and the clip below shows the Super LS Coaster in action. I enjoyed several spins on this little coaster!

For me, though, the highlight of the trip was the ride I took on a beautiful, old-school wooden coaster called Jupiter. Of course with wooden coasters you don't have any of the gravity-defying loops and rolls ("inversions" in coaster jargon) that make steel coasters so exciting (and terrifying!). I have to tell you, though, Jupiter was one white-knuckle ride into terror! This was my first time on a wooden coaster, and I'll never forget it. This ride was absolutely bone-jarring! At every moment, through every rise, drop, and curve, I was convinced I was about to die. On top of that, it was raining! The wind and rain were battering my face, I was hurtling through space, I was scared shitless! What an experience!

To give you some idea of Jupiter's size and construction here are a few pics (click to enlarge). It's too bad that it was cloudy and rainy. These photos don't really do justice to Jupiter.

Monday, May 07, 2007

To Hell and Back...

Last week I mentioned that I would be going to the Hell known as Harmony Land, one of the many homes of the nefarious cat-character Kitty-chan, spawn of Satan and purveyor of feline fetishes. Well, I've been, and I'm back.

The good news: The primary goal of pleasing my four-year-old daughter and giving her enough cherished memories to last at least one month was met.

The bad news: Daddy feels like a sucker every time he so much as thinks about the concept of "theme park". Yes I feel like a sucker, and I don't care how many thousands, nay, millions, of happy faces you see grinning back from grainy cell phone photos, Junko with Kitty-chan, Hiro with Mickey, Billy Bob and brood with the T-rex from Jurassic Park, whatever... I don't care about any of that. What idiot in his right mind would be happy, positively fucking gushing with gratitude, to spend a wad of his hard-earned cash, cash that he's likely had had to whore himself out in some way to get, on nothing? No, check that. Here's what you get. You get sunburn from standing two hours in line to get on a ride that you've already paid for; talk about shooting fish in a barrel! You get to be jostled and trampled and generally abused by throngs of "happy" customers, who tend to have a dim view of the fact that you don't seem to be smiling much. What, am I wearing a sign that says "stupid"? I'm actually at the wrong park, right? I wanted the amusement park. I wanted to be amused. I didn't want this manifestation of Hell on Earth. This must be the masochist's theme park, right? And the sheer inanity of it all. How have we been duped into letting ourselves believe this is fun for our children? Who has pulled this con? The average kid's senses are under assault the moment she sets foot into one of these shit holes. Sensory overload--here's everything she thinks she wants, right here, right now. It's just too much. You will never hear more blood-curdling cries of rage and anguish coming from children than you will at one of these places. It's inhuman, I say.

All in all, though, things went about as well as could be expected. I didn't kill anyone, my wife didn't kill me, and my daughter, between fits of impassioned crying and bouts of maniacal laughter, seemed to enjoy herself. Below you'll find some photos I took that pretty much capture what I remember of Harmony Land (click to enlarge, if you really think it's necessary...).

Hello Kitty.

Hello Kitty has a train.

Hello Kitty has a bazaar.

Here's Kitty-chan's castle.

I don't fucking know...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"It'd Be Better for Me if You Don't Understand..."

Sometimes I get homesick. I'm homesick. The Tragically Hip will help me through these troubling times. You think you know Canadians? Heh...
Morning broke out the backside of a truck-stop
End of a line a real, rainbow-likening luck stop,
Where you could say I became chronologically "fucked up"
Put ten bucks in just to get the tank topped off
Then I found a place it's dark and it's rotted
It's a cool, sweet kinda place where the copters won't spot it
And I destroyed the map, I even thought I forgot it, however,
Everyday I'm dumping the body
It'd be better for us if you don't understand
Even better for me if you don't understand
Let me out...

--The Tragically Hip, "Locked in the Trunk of a Car"

Please enjoy the Tragically Hip performing live...

Now think again about Canada and have a beer!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Friday Skiving Off Work Videos: Special Thursday Edition: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

I won't be anywhere near a computer for the next couple of days, so here's a special Thursday version of our regular Friday videos.

I mentioned Nick Cave last week, so here are a couple of excellent songs for anyone who's curious. The first song, "Nature Boy", is a favorite of mine--great music and wonderful lyrics. I don't usually bother much with song lyrics, but anyone who can rhyme "hysteria" with "wisteria" is OK in my books:

I was walking around the flower show like a leper
Coming down with some kind of nervous hysteria
When I saw you standing there, green eyes, black hair
Up against the pink and purple wisteria
You said, hey, nature boy, are you looking at me
With some unrighteous intention?
My knees went weak,
I couldn't speak, I was having thoughts
That were not in my best interests to mention

Check it out and enjoy, it really is an excellent tune!

And here's a pretty good live version of the song I mentioned last week, "There She Goes, My Beautiful World":

Now buy the album on your way home from work and then have a beer!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here...

It's Golden Week in Japan, which means I have four days off work beginning tomorrow. It also means that, following Japanese custom, my family must travel somewhere, preferably some place inconvenient, expensive, and (especially) crowded (hot, muggy weather is optional). My wife (code name "Virgil") is generally responsible for planning and organizing these little excursions.

Tomorrow I'll be going to Harmony Land with my wife and daughter. Harmony Land is also known as "Kitty-chan Land". While there I expect to experience more "cuteness" in a few short hours than my consciousness has hitherto accumulated.

I'm not a religious man, but I would not deem your prayers for my well-being (mental and physical) inappropriate, if you should happen to feel so inclined. On the off chance that I'm still capable of rational, coherent thought when I return (if I return), pics and details will follow.

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate...

Quote of the Week

Our loathing of dirt may be so great as to prevent our
cleaning ourselves--"justifying" ourselves.

--Friedrich Nietzsche
Beyond Good and Evil (Chapter IV, Apophthegms and Interludes, 119)

'Nuff said...

Greek of the Week: Nomos and Physis, Pt. 2

For the character of Callicles in the Platonic dialogue Gorgias, nomos and physis are, for the most part, opposed or contrary to each other (ὡς τὰ πολλἀ δὲ ταῦτα ἐναντί᾽ ἀλλήλοις ἔστιν, ἥ τε φύσις καὶ νόμος) (482e5-6). Callicles, however, goes well beyond anything known to have been said by either Hippias or Antiphon.

For Callicles, laws are made by the majority (ὁι πολλοί), who are the weak (ἀσθενεῖς, 483b4-6). Because they fear the strong (δυνατοὺς ὄντας) they make laws for themselves and to their own advantage (συμφέρον). In order to prevent the strong from gaining an advantage (πλέον ἔχειν), the many try to frighten them by telling them that it is shameful and evil to claim a larger share (πλεονεκτεῖν), and that injustice consists of seeking (τὸ ζητεῖν) to have the advantage over others (483b7-c5). Callicles supposes that, because they are inferior, the many enjoy their "equality" (τὸ ἴσον), and that it is for this reason that they call it shameful and unjust to have advantage over them (483c5-8).

Callicles does not think, however, that this is the way that things are supposed to be:
ἡ δέ οἴμαι φύσις αὐτὴ ἀποφαίνει αὐτὸ ὅτι δίκαιόν ἐστιν, τὸν
ἀμείνω τοῦ χείρονος πλέον ἔχειν καὶ τὸν δυνατώτερον τοῦ
ἀδυνατωτέρου. δηλοῖ δὲ ταῦτα πολλαχοῦ ὅτι οὕτως ἔχει, καὶ ἐν
τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐν ὅλαις ταῖς πόλεσι καὶ
τοῖς ψένεσιν ὅτι οὕτω τὸ δίκαιον κὲκριται, τὸν κρείττω τοῦ
ἥττονος ἄρχειν καὶ πλέον ἔχειν.
But to my mind nature herself shows us this: that it is right for
the better to have more than the worse, the strong more than
the weak. And it is clear in many instances that this is so
among animals and among races of men and in entire
nation states, that right has been judged in these terms:
the stronger have more than and rule over the weaker.

Although Callicles ultimately surpasses everyone in the extreme nature of his formulations, many of his ideas are indicative of a certain mood which found varying expressions in fifth century Athens...