Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Uyoku

Uyoku (Japanese nationalist right-wing groups) drive by my place in their scary-looking noisy sound buses at least once a week (or so it seems to me). They came by the other day while I happened to be out on the balcony with my video camera. Here's a short (27 seconds) clip in case you're interested (or just curious):

More Birds

Cell phone pic.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Flower Porn



The 08/09 Miyazaki Maroons

Of all my geeky interests, my yearly participation in a fantasy hockey league is maybe the most passionate. I love hockey, but here in Japan there are very few games to be seen on TV (ESPN Asia shows about a game a week, but this is hit and miss due to the vagaries of licensing rights, etc.). Fantasy hockey is a useful and fun way for me to keep up (on a daily basis) with the game I love.

(I'm fairly certain that none of this blog's regular readers are much interested in hockey (let alone "fantasy" hockey!) but, as I've said before, it's my bloody blog, and I'll blog about what I want to blog about! With apologies...)

The league I'm in, the Pacific Rim Hockey League, had a live online draft this morning in order to set our team rosters (there are eleven teams in all). Until I ruthlessly dump under-performing bums and replace them with even more worthless under-performing bums, here are the 2008-2009 Miyazaki Maroons [*]:
  • Goal: Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks); Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes); Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins)
  • Centre: Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks); Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings); Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins); Steve Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Left Wing: Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta Thrashers); Vaclav Prospal (Tampa Bay Lightning); Christopher Higgins (Montreal Canadiens); Milan Lucic (Boston Bruins)
  • Right Wing: Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks); Jason Pominville (Buffalo Sabres); Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Minnesota Wild)
  • Defense: Dennis Wideman (Boston Bruins); Braydon Coburn (Philadelphia Flyers); Shea Weber (Nashville Predators); Andrej Meszaros (Tampa Bay Lightning); Marek Zidlicky (Minnesota Wild); Paul Martin (New Jersey Devils); Mattias Ohlund (Vancouver Canucks)

I'm excited. Aren't you?

[*] That I have the coolest team name in this (or perhaps any other) league is beyond dispute. This should be clear to anyone with a general knowledge of a) hockey history b) English vocabulary c) Bugs Bunny d) my life and interests.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bench

She Doesn't Understand English

My grasp of the Japanese language is, to put it somewhat charitably, shit. Sure, I can get by pretty well in most daily situations--shopping, eating out, stuff like that, but as soon as I'm required to comment on something of substance, or express a nuanced opinion (i.e. something a bit beyond, say, "yes, I like sushi!" or "no, I don't like natto!"), it's like walking into a brick wall. Fortunately for me most Japanese that I meet sense this, and very gracefully avoid putting me in a position where I might embarrass myself. Sometimes though, circumstance (or my own stupidity) forces me into a position where I'm required to speak Japanese at a level far beyond my abilities.

For example, if someone were to ask me, in Japanese, about the financial bailout currently being debated in the US, I might be lucky enough to catch a key phrase or two, allowing me at least to have a vague idea about what exactly it is that I'm expected to expound upon. Assuming I'm that lucky (and it's a big assumption), my strategy then is to resort to a type of linguistic flailing: I spout as many terms and phrases as might pop into my head that are in any way related to the topic at hand, in the (usually vain) hope that I will hit upon the desired/expected response.

I had planned to make up an imaginary dialogue to give you, gentle reader, an idea of what I'm talking about. But then I stumbled upon a video excerpt from a recent interview Katie Couric conducted with American vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Here is a concrete example of what it is like to speak about difficult topics in an unfamiliar language:
COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? Allow them to spend more, and put more money into the economy, instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That’s why I say I, like every American I’m speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in. Where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it’s got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and getting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade — we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.

Sarah Palin clearly does not understand English.

[Dialogue via Sadly, No!]

[UPDATE: URL (above) for "natto" fixed, courtesy natto nitpicking Brendan.]

Escape Hatch

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rural Scene

Thank You for Smoking!

There was an interesting little nugget last week on the website of The Mainichi Daily News, discussing the benefits of raising taxes on cigarettes.
The government can expect to make an extra 9 trillion yen in tax revenue over the next 10 years by raising the price of cigarettes to 1,000 yen a pack, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced Wednesday.

"Many people won't be able to give up, even if they want to, so raising the price will lead to an increase in tax income," said a representative of the ministry's research team.

[...] The currently-planned price increase to 500 yen is predicted to make an extra 4 trillion yen in tax over the next 10 years.

I found it interesting that, in an announcement about tax increases on cigarettes, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (!) is looking only at the bottom line. How much money can we rake in? There is no discussion of the dangers of smoking, the cost to society, and the usual crap. In fact the single quote in the article suggests that they actually want people to continue smoking!

Amazing...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Water

Orwell or a Sociologist: Who Would You Rather Have a Beer With?

Moving right along, we have this article in The Telegraph, which informs us of a list of words and phrases that the British Sociological Association would like to see banned by universities and publishers. Frankly, after reading some of the "objectionable" words and phrases, the only thing I'd like to see banned by universities and publishers is sociologists...

First up, "Old Masters" (which, as the article points out, "has been used for centuries to refer to great painters - almost all of whom were in fact male") is to be replaced with "classic artists." This is clearly over-compensatory (and extremely vague). My recommendation: if the artist was a woman, then she's an "Old Mistress." There's nothing ambiguous about that!

The sociologists would also like to ban the word "brainstorm" because it may be offensive to epileptics. I'd be quite happy to concede this one; not because I find it offensive to epileptics, but because I find the whole notion of "brainstorming" to be stupid and a waste of time. "Shitstorm" would be a more appropriate descriptor.

Now two of my favorites: "seminal" and "disseminate" are to be avoided "because they are derived from the word semen and supposedly imply a male-dominated view of the world." Well, what are we to do here? Clearly if we replace these with "oval" (or "ovular") and "ovulate" confusion will reign: "Layla, long considered one of Clapton's ovular works..."; "We need this information ovulated right away..." Whatever.

Sometimes, folks, the words we have are perfectly descriptive. If someone wants to be stupid enough to describe a woman's work as "seminal" well, there's no accounting for idiots. What the fuck is the point of attending a university if it isn't to learn simple things like this, anyway? A well-read, well-educated person has no problem making these distinctions, and has no problem modulating his (or her) speech and/or writing to suit the context. What I see happening is a sort of laziness on the part of educators. Ban this, ban that. Then I don't have to worry about it. Hail, NewSpeak!

Here's one more: "Able-bodied person" should be replaced with "non-disabled person." If the British Sociological Association is serious about this, then they're a bunch of fucking retards...

The Triumph of the Communists

Free markets, capitalism, responsibility, my fucking ass. George W. Bush is a fucking commie! Commie, commie, commie! Everyone, and I mean everyone who benefits from this is a fucking commie! Commie, commie, commie! Commie traitors!

Ahh, fuck it...

Vending Machines, No. 43

Friday, September 19, 2008

Typhoon

In a slow year for these things, the year's first typhoon is blowing through Miyazaki. I don't know if it's because the typhoons here are a lot less intense than the hurricanes that blow through the American cities some friends of mine live in, or if construction methods here are superior, or whatever, but I've yet to feel any sense of emergency during one of these things (and I've been through at least 20 of them in the past 10 years).

No, no emergency. Just bloody inconvenience. The dog hasn't been out for a couple of days. My daughter's kindergarten (and probably others) mis-timed the whole thing and canceled tomorrow. This, of course, means that either me or my wife will have to take a day off work. My wife is a "part-time" (i.e. practically full-time with no benefits) nurse, so she doesn't get paid holidays. I'm a university teacher with full benefits, and second term doesn't start here until October (so I have nothing pressing to cancel). I may be a selfish bastard, but I know a losing argument when I see one. I'm staying home tomorrow. With crap weather outside. With a dog that by this time is ready to start eating her family. With a 5-year-old daughter who by this time is about ready to burn the condo to the ground. It's amazing the amount of energy that gets pent up from staying inside just for a day or two. Believe me, I know. That's what beer is for. Hey...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Satan's Soldiers *

Sheikh Muhammad Munajid, a Muslim cleric in the U.K., informs us that "[...] according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases."

This might actually seem like a pretty reasonable proposition to many (at least when their 5-year-olds aren't in the same room). Munajid doesn't stop while he's ahead, though. He claims that "the mouse is one of Satan's soldiers and is steered by him," and that "both household mice and their cartoon counterparts must be killed."

Ponder this for a minute: both household mice and their cartoon counterparts...

Later in the article Sheikh Munajid really muddies the waters, calling the Beijing Olympics the "bikini Olympics," and claiming that "nothing [makes] Satan happier than seeing female athletes dressed in skimpy outfits."

Satan, at least, sounds like he's got his priorities straight...

[* Damn, I love a snappy post title!]

Smile

Monday, September 15, 2008

Untitled

Stage Fright

A nice lyric:
See the man with the stage fright,
Just standin' up there to give it all his might.
He got caught in the spotlight,
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again.
--The Band, "Stage Fright"

Can I try that again?

Unrelated Segments

The Daily Star ran a contest to elicit Britain's worst joke. Most were groaners, but not as bad as you might imagine. In fact, I found this one both inspired and funny:
A Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman walk into a pub. The barman says: “Is this some kind of joke?”

A New Japanese translation of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov has sold over a million copies since it was first published in 2006. I'm pleased and encouraged by this news. I'd love to comment on the translation, but I'm still trying to learn English...

Blogs: I should probably do this more often, but some of my blogging buddies have been doing some good stuff recently.
  • Online friend Absolute Vanilla has been running a really good series of posts with pics and text about the flora and fauna of South Africa.
  • Brendan, another on-line buddy, has been very busy posting about the upcoming American election. Yeah, he's a fag-loving commie hippy (in the modern vernacular--which by my reckoning is just as much a badge of honor as "Democrat"), but where else you gonna go for the straight dope these days?
  • I also want to mention my good friend Pierre Drano at Loser's Guide. After a brief break he's back posting about... I dunno, what the hell do you post about, Pierre? Just kidding. He posts about a lot of different stuff (wasn't that helpful?). You'll just have to check it out for yourselves. Before I came to Japan Pierre was my best friend in the "real world." These days he's my best-friend-that-I-only-get-to-see-once-every-couple-of-years-or-so.

Detroit has long been a breeding ground for some of the best rock 'n' roll in the world. The Muggs are an excellent recent example. I hope you enjoy the next two and a half minutes as much as I did.

The Muggs-Motown Blues (Reprise)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bored

Vending Machines, No. 42

Our Mission

You know, people often accost me as I'm walking down the street here in Miyazaki, and they all seem to have the same question: "Kyklops, just what is it that you're trying to accomplish with this blogging thing?"

You, dear reader, might well be wondering the same thing, but what I tell my fellow Miyazaki-dwellers is this: In a few years I will likely have the world's largest on-line compendium of pictures of Japanese soft drink vending machines and utility pole wires. Mmbwahahahahaha!!!

Some people are visibly put off by this answer to their question. Others, however, politely smile and nod as they go about their business.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Slight Variation (1)



Wrong

From The Guardian's website, a silly person speaks:
Creationism and intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons, according to a leading expert in science education.

The Rev Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, said that excluding alternatives to scientific explanations for the origin of life and the universe from science lessons was counterproductive and would alienate some children from science altogether.

If I've got this straight, the good Reverend Professor is saying that science teachers should teach non-scientific things in science class to kids who don't believe in science.
He said that around one in 10 children comes from a family with creationist beliefs. "My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science," he said.

Finally, an explanation for why I suck at math. If only my teachers had accepted some of my wild guesses wrong answers I could be doing calculus today!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurry Up!

The Hells of Beppu

The Hells of Beppu are "nine spectacular hot springs for viewing rather than bathing." There are nine of these "hells" in total (seven of them can be seen simply by walking from one to the next), each with its own unique characteristics. Each one is presented in a rather gimmicky fashion to lure tourists. In fact the whole thing is actually pretty tacky, so it comes with my highest recommendation!

I didn't have time to visit all the hells when I was there a couple of weeks ago, but I've got a few pics that should give you a fair idea of the place.

Outside the entrance to one of the hells (I can't remember which!).

Oniishibozu Jigoku is apparently named after the boiling mud bubbles that "look like the shaven heads of monks."


The "Sea Hell" (Umi Jigoku) is so named because of the blue color of the hot water.


Same hell as above...


Kamado Jigoku ("Cooking Pot Hell") "features several boiling ponds and a flashy demon statue as cook."


Onsen tamago (eggs cooked by the heat of the hot springs) are a very popular (and tasty) item.


On this particular trip we also visited Oniyama Jigoku ("Monster Mountain Hell"). This picture I posted a couple of days ago should give you an idea of what to expect there. Other "hells" are "The White Pond Hell," "Golden Dragon Hell," "Blood Pond Hell," and "Spout Hell."

All in all, The Hells of Beppu are a nice blend of tackiness and geology. Who could ask for more?

More Random Cell Phone Pics



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

If It Were Real, I Couldn't Bear to Watch

Back in my university days I was a big fan of pro wrestling. I can't say why, exactly, but I suspect it had something to do with the clear delineation of good and evil in the personae of the wrestlers (or some other bullshit, I don't know). The bar I worked at in those days used to organize parties around various wrestling pay-per-view events. Me and my friends would all go to cheer our heroes on the big screen and get really drunk.

At one of these events there was a title match between my favorite wrestler, Bret "The Hitman" Hart, and his arch nemesis at that time, "Razor" Ramone. Of course by the time the title fight came on we were all pretty well-lubricated. At one point in the match The Hitman had pinned Ramone and the ref was counting "one, two..." At that moment excitement got the better of me and I leaped out of my seat, punched my fist in the air, and yelled "yes!!" A split second later I came to my senses and noticed my friends looking at me with a curious mix of amusement and envy.

For a brief moment I had forgotten that none of it was real.

Cyclist

Oita's "Monkey Mountain" (4)

OK, this is probably the last batch of pics from Mt. Takasaki in Oita





Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Apropos of nothing in particular...

... there's this:

Fun Facts: Bottled Water

Confirming what reasonable people have suspected all along, a study by Statistics Canada has shown that people with high incomes but low levels of education are more likely to choose bottled water over perfectly safe and healthy tap water. According to the study,
Though there is often a link between households with high income and households with higher education, this does not extend to drinking bottled water in the home [...] The higher bottled water consumption among high-income households was driven by households where no one had completed a university degree.

Although I'm smugly pleased by this, I'm also troubled by some of the implications...

Bicycle

A few months ago I took the training wheels off of my daughter's bicycle, and we went out behind our place with the intention of "teaching" her how to ride. She tried two or three times, got frustrated and gave up. She's only five, so I figured there was no real point in pressuring her about it.

The other day we decided to give it another go. I was expecting something similar to our first attempt, so I was mentally prepared for a certain amount of frustration. This time we packed her bike into the car and drove to a park. (I figured that if things went unsuccessfully again, we could at least have some fun playing at the park.)

We arrived at the park and I took the bicycle out of the car. As I'm rooting around for some protective gear (knee pads, etc.) my daughter jumps onto the bicycle and rides off, leaving me standing there, slack-jawed, and feeling a strange mixture of happiness and uselessness. I guess I'd better start getting used to this feeling.

Random Cell Phone Pics

I've said it before, but cell phone cameras are a great boredom-breaker/time-waster...



Saturday, September 06, 2008

Oita's "Monkey Mountain" (3)

Still more pics from Mt. Takasaki in Oita (with still a few more more to come):




An overheard snatch of conversation between an elderly man and his grand-daughter:
She: Grandpa, what are those monkeys doing.
He: (After a long pause) Well... I guess they're practicing, dear...

I laughed out loud...