31 August 2007

So long sweet summer

The summer that wouldn't go right is finally going away, after one final coda: a miserable grade on my Translation Studies paper that, though ultimately inconsequential (I've always been a 75% student anyway), sucked.. I'm trying to stay positive, but staying positive is not something I'm particularly good at. Summer of 2007, you can go straight to hell—bring on the fall.

You know, what did indie rock ever do for anyone? What a load of bullshit...

Speaking of pirated DVDs, the Sex and the City ones I bought are of a very poor quality. The quality of season one is way better than season too. Anyway, they are all still better than the Internet and I didn't get arrested in Narita, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

A Related Post

29 August 2007

Baby photos still coming

Sorry, haven't posted a baby picture in a while. She's laughing a lot now and being more pushy. 'Okay, okay,' I say, 'I'll come over there.' She likes to look at the John Lennon poster for some reason. And she's starting to try to roll over. I woke up this morning to her laughing at me.

Baby is thoughtful


Baby eats hand

Chance of progress

Screenshot



There is a growing chance that I may actually nail my MA dissertation and the journal article it is giving birth to. But now I need to sleep.

28 August 2007

Look, I want to be a Finn


So I'm looking into what it'll take for me to get dual Finnish citizenship. I heard that if your ancestors are Finnish, it's easy enough. Getting Finnish citizenship isn't all that great in and of itself but it does allow you to get an EU passport which allows you to attend some EU universities at a discounted rate. We'll see what the consulate says. If I can't get it that way, I can just move there and wait 6 years. Then you can apply, no problem.

27 August 2007

Viva la revolution! Photos!

All of the photos are here. Go now! Pay later!
Brother Leo

Market

Stephen presents... looking sharp!

(blank) sweet (blank)

I am back in Japan now, back at school in the world of 分からない classroom English. I am very happy to be with my wife and daughter, but unfortunately, I still have to go to work. I got in at 5 this morning and got into bed at 6. When the alarm went off at 8:45, Yoko said, 'You're in Japan.' The baby seems to have grown up a little while I was gone. She can play by herself now. I missed our little apartment and our bed. I missed having someone in bed with me.

When I was standing in line at immigration, some Japanese guy, noticing that I was standing in the Japanese passport line, said, 'Are you Japanese?' which made me much angrier than it should have as I am tired of people pointing out that I am not, in fact, a Japanese citizen. 'I have a re-entry permit,' I explained, but he didn't know enough English to understand this and said, 'This line is for Japanese.' I just stopped talking to him. I hate when a Japanese person who knows less about Japan than me tries to help me with something they don't know anything about. Then when I got on the bus, the man next to me asked in English, 'Where are you living in?' and I just about lost it. I went from 'We're sending a car for the honourable delegate from Japan' to conversation study buddy in just about 16 hours.

I should use this frustration to fuel my dissertation, journal resubmission, PhD research proposal and personal statement writing. The dissertation is due in 25 days, but the PhD deadlines are all still at least five months away. Maybe I can relax a little bit until then...

26 August 2007

Viva la revolution: Day Seven

Wednesday's turmoil was a conspiracy of vested quarters who tried to tarnish the image of the interim government," General Moeen U. Ahmed. chief of Bangladesh army told officials on Saturday.
I left Dhaka as planned late last night. The curfew had been re-imposed, but the hotel staff assured me that it did not apply to me as I was a foreigner and I had papers. We left the hotel at 11:30 and the street that had been wall-to-wall traffic just three hours earlier was completely deserted. We came to the traffic light and were stopped twice by the army, asking what we were doing. The driver put on the light in the cab so they could see that I was white, and when they saw I was white, they let us through. Bill, the leader of our group, told me that if I got stuck at the airport, all I needed to do was click my heels together and say, There's no place like home. Then he added, 'But your yellow brick road will lead to the toilet.'

We had a dinner together last night which was quite exceptional, except that I was still not feeling 100%. I ate nan and chicken and talked about moderate Islam with one of the teachers from Dhaka. In all, I think I had discussions about Islam with three Muslims and several Catholic monks. Bangladesh is a secular Muslim country that seems very reasonable (as far as religion goes). It was good for me, a corn-fed, Midwestern boy who has always been sort of afraid of Muslims, to see how it actually is, rather than how someone is telling me it is. After actually being in a Muslim country, I have more hope for the East and West to make some sort of mutually acceptable peace (as we have traditionally had, I guess).

On the plane, there were so many migrant workers headed to Malaysia. They were all wearing hats and shirts of the company they worked for-- addresses and numbers pinned to them. When I came to the ticket counter, they were all shoo-ed away for me to be helped first. On the plane, they all spread out and needed help finding their seats.

Obviously a trip to the third world brings up a lot of thoughts about privilege, responsibility, colonialism, neo-colonialism, globalism, and the cost of revolution. I don't know if I am in any place to put together any coherent thoughts on it now as I am still not feeling well. Maybe in the next couple of weeks.

25 August 2007

Viva la revolution, 2007: Day Six

Well, I have risen from the dead. As promised by the doctor, I got everything out of my system and now, I feel like a new man. Well, not entirely, but I feel much, much better and will be making my presentations at the conference as planned. Parts of the conference have been disrupted by the riots, but things will go on today as planned and I will give two presentations before going home early tomorrow morning. I am looking forward to getting out of the hotel again. This trip has been a pretty wild ride, but certainly will give me a good story, so I can't complain.  Now, to pack.  More from Malaysia...

24 August 2007

Viva la revolution, 2007: Day Five

Well, I spent today sick as a dog. The doctor came and prescribed me some medicine that came about ten minutes ago. From 12 to 8, I felt sicker than I have in about fifteen years. The kind of sick where your body just is desperate to get whatever is inside of it out. We're doing better now though. The goal is to be healthy enough to get on the plane on Sunday.

23 August 2007

The Floods are Rising Tour, 2007 becomes Viva la revolution! Day Four

Excuse my French but Holy Freaking Cow. The student riots in Dhaka went from about a 4 to an 11 throughout yesterday and the government called a state of emergency and a curfew. We went out before the curfew started, walked up the street and hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets, walking away from the South part of the city because there were no cars allowed on the streets. We came up to a crosswalk and a couple of miles away, could see the smoke rising in the sky. After eight, we stayed behind the gates of the Catholic High School where we were staying and waited it out. Very few people could travel to the conference in the morning and we were told that there were police at the corner and someone had seen a student being beaten.

It's funny in a situation like this, the information is transmitted like gossip. The cell phones were not working. The news is censored. Everyone is saying what they hear or think they have heard. There were rumors that the workers were joining with the students and if this were to happen, there will be martial law and a full scale revolution. Talk about an experience. I am very happy to be here and be a part of everything.

Anyway, they lifted the curfew for two hours and we were able to get to the hotel, where I am now, watching cable TV and enjoying the Internet. I'm traveling with the greatest people, too. Everyone is wicked relaxed about it, joking and just having a good time.

It has been an amazing trip. Really fascinating.

22 August 2007

The Floods are Rising Tour, 2007: Day Three

I am in the office at the high school where we have our first conference, waiting for my turn to present in about thirty minutes. The conference participants here don't seem to really understand English as well as they might at the national conference that starts on Friday. Anyway, it should be fun.

We were watching BBC last night and saw the University of Bangladesh on the TV: apparently the students are rioting because of some military brutality that happened after a football game. It's shut down part of the city, but not where we are at. The school I am staying at is behind high walls, and here it is quiet except for street sounds. The morning and evening calls to pray are the loudest thing we hear. I have been writing a lot in my room, but I don't see a USB port on this computer so I can't post the more profound what have you, or pictures. Please, be patient.

It's really a fabulous place. The people are kind and sincere. The food is very good as well. Our team leader is feeling much better as well which is very encouraging.

I took down some posts with music videos because they were bedevilling my site. Please understand.

More this afternoon, perhaps. Or tomorrow.

21 August 2007

The Floods are Rising Tour, 2007: Day Two

Now, I am in Dhaka and it is hot and sticky, but no flood waters. It is not nearly as dangerous as I was led to believe. I slept under a mosquito net. Our team leader is very, very ill though. He is going to the doctor today, but when we left the airport last night, he threw up for a while. Needless to say, I have washed my hands about thirty times. People are very kind, but very poor. Luckily, I had been expecting the worst of the worst, so I haven't really been surprised by anything I've seen. We found water though and this cafe is nice enough. I am not wearing any shoes because we had to take them off to get in. Just this until now.

Publication II is forthcoming in the proceedings to these conferences I found out. I also just got a resubmit on my dissertation for the Journal of CMC. Gotta a lot of work to do there, but it looks promising.

More tomorrow, I hope.

20 August 2007

The Floods are Rising Tour, 2007: Day One

Well, I am in Malaysia, at 'WORLD'S BEST AIRPORT'. I appreciate the free WiFi at Starbucks, although I did not appreciate the 700 yen cup of coffee. The sun is setting though and I am looking out over the Malaysian hills and enjoying the fact that I am a person who has seen hills in Malaysia and has (I counted today, sitting on the toilet in Narita) over 50 stamps in his passport. We also saw Fuji as we flew over.

I was sad to leave the wife and baby this morning, but I managed to pull myself away. I bought travel insurance for the first time in my life after thinking about it for a while. I am certainly not concerned, but Dhaka is probably the most dangerous place I have ever traveled to. That's really sad, when you think about it, because Bangladesh is not particularly dangerous. I've lived a pretty safe life.

On the plane, I watched 'Reign Over Me' and started crying twice. God. I think I'm in trouble. How could you go on, I kept thinking, without your wife and kids. The Malaysian Arline synopsis of the movie noted that 'This film depicts opinions about the 9/11 incident that some might find offensive.' Incredible, I thought.

This airport reminds me of last October, when Yoko and I were here at the beginning of our honeymoon. Yoko was sick from the baby and I was angry. I remember I lost her in the airport and that I walked around for about thirty minutes looking for her. It was terrifying until I found her: I thought for a second that she had left me.

Now, I really should do some work on my presentations and also my dissertation as my supervisor e-mailed me to remind me that I only have about four weeks before it needs to be in Birmingham. And I am going to be back at work on Monday. 7 days left to live it up.

More from an Internet cafe in Bangladesh, I assume. The rains came down and floods came up, but Stephen was undeterred. He battled on.

19 August 2007

Exactitudes

This is so right.

Tokyo US Citizenship Campaign, Day Three


We had another day of wall-to-wall excitement in the big city. I met with a professor from Birmingham this morning then lunch with Uncle Neal and then to the Apple Store in Ginza. The Apple Store in Ginza will change your life if you ever get a chance to go there. The baby has been taking it all in and trying not to die in the sink during bath time.


I had a good time last night with Uncle Neal and some people from around the world. The South Africans told me not to worry too much about Malaria in Bangladesh because even if I catch it, I won't die. I'll just be really sick, but people don't usually die from malaria anymore. And Neal encouraged me to take the dysentery pills before I go.

So anyway, tomorrow morning it is out of the big city and into the mud. The first day of the 'The Floods are Rising Tour, 2007'. This will be huge. Next post from the Kuala Lumpur Airport which has both a Burger King AND a Starbucks. And wireless Internet. Stay tuned.

Noted: I didn't take these photos. Click the photos to get to the photg's page.

On the Road

Sal Paradise:
 The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time. The ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

18 August 2007

Tokyo US Citizenship Campaign, Day Two

Today was filled with all sorts of adventures at the zoo and the museum. The baby spent most of the day looking like this:
Baby, annoyed

while mommy and daddy kept saying, Hey, can you see the giraffe? There's a giraffe right there! Needless to say, she was not really impressed.

Baby on Elephant

Jackasses

Stephen and Sheep

17 August 2007

Tokyo US Citizenship Campaign, Day One

Baby is a US citizen, a passport on its way in three weeks. Dude, she is super-excited about it. And I gotta say, the US embassy gets big points again for getting us in and out.

What does my baby have to look forward to as a US citizen? This nonsenseThis too.

Lastly, I'll admit it, I finally bit the bullet and bought a purse. Well, not strictly a purse. A small bag. About the size of a purse. But not a purse. It's a fabulous thing.

Summer time, in the city

With a little help from the saturation control, I caught the feeling of summer, I think.
Naomi

Naomi and Yoko

Naomi and Yoko

16 August 2007

Going now to Bangladesh

Well, I just about finished packing for my trip to Bangladesh. We are headed down to Tokyo tomorrow to get baby applied for a passport, spend a couple of days in the city, enjoy ourselves, and then on Monday, I am headed out.

A couple of people have asked me how I got signed up for this trip. Well, it's sort of complicated, but it all begins with the maxim that I live my life by: apply for everything you're interested in, try anything you get a chance to try, and always try to compete in a small pool. These philosophies has served me well: gotten me to Japan, gotten me a beautiful and intelligent wife, improved my job situation on several occasions, and some other stuff.

So last spring when I was trying to pad my CV for applications to Japanese Universities, I was looking for places to present my 'research' (I say 'research' because my 'research' isn't really much of anything). In the Language Teacher (the quasi-academic journal put out by the quasi-academic Japanese Association of Language Teachers) advertised this conference (the Bangladesh Association of Language Teachers' annual conference) and called for submissions. I sent in three abstracts and was accepted.

And now, the time has come for me to actually go and I'm realizing that I'm going to be a bit over my head, looking at the people who I am going with. But that's okay. Another part of my maxim involves being over-confident. And if all else fails, I can just push everyone into the flood waters.

Talk to you from Tokyo...

Hello old friend, and wait a second

You think I would be happy to see this friend again:
IMG_1489.JPG

And even happier that he made a new friend:
IMG_1490.JPG

And don't get me wrong, I am happy. But a trip to Japanese Immigration seriously discouraged me, yet again.

IMG_1492.JPG

That's right, another ONE YEAR spousal visa. Last year, when I was wicked pissed off about getting a ONE YEAR spousal visa, they told me, the first time I would get one year and the next time I could get three years. Well this year, they explained to me because last year I 'changed' my visa status and this year I am 'extending' my visa status, that this is really my FIRST visa. Next year, they say, I can apply for three years.

Everyone I know in this damn country has a three year visa. I'm married. I have a baby. I've had the same job for two years. Why do I have to keep going back to that damn office every damn year with the same damn papers and prostrate myself before the damn immigration officials? Please let me live in your country, pay taxes and contribute to your fledgling population growth rate. I know my eyes are the wrong color and people like me are contributing to the dissolution of what it means to be 'Japanese', but really, if you let me stay, I'll do my best to stay out of your way.

That's all.

14 August 2007

Dharma anyone?

“Believe nothing.
No matter where you read it,
Or who said it,
Even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.”
-Buddha, The Dhammapada Wisdom Quotes

File this under

WTF? How is this news?
Presidential hopeful Barack Obama was warned by a friendly voter Monday to avoid public spats with his Democratic rivals — but remarks he made later could add fuel to the criticism against him.

Maggie North of Claremont told Obama he risks becoming part of the usual political scene if he keeps being drawn into well-publicized disputes with rivals. He and chief rival Hillary Rodham Clinton have jabbed at each other over foreign policy, the war on terrorism and the use of nuclear weapons.

13 August 2007

It was only a matter of time

Thefam.jpg

The Fam


Excuse my overthinking, but it was odd that in the application you have to choose a color of skin and you can't mix and match. Is the baby yellow or Asian? I chose yellow. But I guess she technically isn't...

(HT: The Hodge)

A good book

So Norwegian Wood, a gift from former hero and mentor Mr. Neal, is pretty good. More than pretty good. It was caught up in what I think is important about the novel: the moment. We're talking about the little things that happen in life, the shutting of a refrigerator door. A call after death. Also, it explains, through these sorts of moments, what it means to be an immigrant.

It also shows some of the finest--or more importantly, real--explanations of regret in a novel. The kind of regret that define someone and shows up in the oddest times. But it manages to explain regret in the light of the rest of one's life.

Anyway, I encourage you to please, check it out. Now, onto Bellow's Henderson the Rain King.

The ladies

Baby Close

Baby and Mommy

Upside downBaby

12 August 2007

On X

(Let me reiterate my support for the revolution. My comments on X are not intended to be, in any way, seen as critical of the revolution.)

Today was another lazy, boring Sunday afternoon, spent fending of thoughts off going to Bangladesh, my visa, and my work situation in the future. So I watched a fascinating documentary on Malcolm X. Malcolm X said famously of JFK's assassination:
"Chickens coming home to roost never made me sad. It only made me glad."
The point being that because the US had supported violence all over the world, the death of JFK, who he saw as being one of the agents of this death, was to be expected.

This is terribly ironic when one thinks about X's own death at the hands of Nation of Islam assassins. It turns out that X was right: if you court violence, you have the chance of falling victim to that same violence.

An atomic truth

atomicbomb

As many of you know, we've had the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this last week. If you weren't aware of this, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were an unmitigated disaster that cost hundreds of thousands of civilians lives. It was a moral catastrophe for the US that appealed to the worst part of our American story: it is better that we do injustice to stop more injustice than do act justly at the cost of American lives.

Yoko and I watched two part television drama on the bombing of Hiroshima that was produced by the Japanese. It was interesting to me because the message of the drama was (basically) war is bad, atomic bombs are bad, and Japanese people are strong.

The show upset me for a couple of reasons. The first was that the show portrayed the Japanese as primarily the victims of WWII. Although there was obviously a peacenick message, the story did not seriously criticize the Japanese or talk about any of the awful atrocities they committed in Korea, China, the Philippines, and other places in Asia. If someone wants to do some seriously groundbreaking film and put it on TV, how about a Japanese film from the Korean perspective. Now that might make some waves. I would be more forgiving if this drama existed among other dramas depicting those problems. But, unfortunately, it does not.

Second, the drama was far, far too easy on the Americans. You get the feeling that the atomic bomb fell out of thin air--that it just happened. An official with the government just had to resign over saying the bombing was しょうがない (or 'couldn't be helped'), but I get the feeling that most people feel that way. Or, if they really feel it was wrong, they don't have any animosity towards the US. I don't get it. The film said almost nothing about the Americans.

Third, the drama was just really, really bad. Poorly acted and incredibly cheesy. Over-wrought. In 'Letters to Iwo Jima', Clint Eastwood did a better job of capturing the real sense of the war and the spirit of the Japanese and the cult of Shinto. This drama had all these campy, false moments that were supposed to make you feel bad, but it was like getting hit over the head with the emotion bat. I need some nuance. Someone give me some nuance.

The highlight, however, was the CG of the bombing. It was stunning. Bottles melting in the heat. City blocks being consumed in fire. The rest of the film looked like it was filmed on a sound stage, but that moment was shocking.

I think we both (the Japanese and the Americans) still have a lot to work through about our war. Unfortunately, we've both been moving backwards in the past couple of years.

11 August 2007

Today, a disaster

Well, today could have gone worse, but I would have had to have been eaten by a large elephant.

It started with baby, whom I love. She was doing great, hanging out in her crib, so I took her out and played a little. But then she started crying. And not like the normal crying. The real serious, something real is going down kind of crying. I took her to Yoko and she was just getting more and more upset and having trouble breathing, she was crying so hard. We got her on the bed and got her clothes off and her legs were turning purple. Yoko picked her up again and she suddenly threw up everything she ate that morning. That was, apparently, the problem because she calmed down and got her color back. But for about a minute and half, I was just about to call an ambulance.
Naomi looks up

My passport disaster is still that: a disaster. I think my travel agent might well be the most incompetent travel agent in the whole of Asia. Will I go to Bangladesh? The doubt is growing.

09 August 2007

Complains

Well, due to some grave ineptitude, my visa to Bangladesh is currently hanging in the balance. The source of this ineptitude is my Japanese travel agency which is unable (apparently) to understand the art of putting pressure on a government official. Or, even simpler, talking to someone other than the person at the visa counter. Please, learn at my feet:

This is a classic problem in the Land of the Rising Sun. One goes to a government office and the guy at the window, who passed a government entrance exam 10 years ago and has been drinking tea since then, tells you no. No they can't do this, or no they can't do that. Just simply no. And generally, given the passivity in this culture, most people accept that.

Fortunately, in these situations, you have to push a little bit and talk to more than the person at the window and you can get whatever you want. This is basically (as far as I can decipher) the problem at the Bangladeshi Embassy right now. There's a shitload of problems in that country so the answer for everyone is no. Except that they have already given permission to the rest of my team, and the person at the window just hasn't gotten that memo yet. So my travel agent just needs to investigate a little harder and talk to someone else in the office. Instead? I get this e-mail:
1. Please let me know your family's name in Japan.
2. Please let me know your school's president name.
3. Please let me know local contact(address, name, if he or she is your friend, need connection with you.)
All of this completely unrelated to my visa claim and unintelligible.

The bottom line? Stay out of countries where you need a visa and don't ask a Japanese to elbow for you.

08 August 2007

おはよ〜

Ohayo.JPG

Thoughts on conversion

So a discussion with my good friend Berto last week got me thinking about a lot of things. Berto is well on his way to Bhuddahood, heaven, or Ghadihood. One of the three. Or all three.

The first went something like: We tend to think that when we shift ideologies or ways of thinking, whatever kind of thinking we came out of is wrong and our new way of thinking is right. This makes sense experientially in that we usually shift ways of thinking after we have acquired more knowledge.

There's a problem, however, when we think that our growth is universal; that is, that people who hold the opinion or religious belief or political affiliation that we once did are simply immature and given enough time or a new experience, they will come around.

This leads to people saying all sorts of asshole things. Kirk Cameron denouncing Atheism because he once was one. Some supporter of Mike Huckabee denouncing Brownback because the supporter was a 'recovering Catholic'. The problem is that people go back and forth from ideologies all the time. Catholics become Protestants. Atheists become Deists. Republicans become Democrats... Shifts in ideology are natural because we grow and learn, but most importantly because we experience new things.

I am a good example of this as my shift in political and religious thinking has come directly out of living in Japan. There are a lot of reasons why my thinking has shifted, but the impact of learning another language, marrying a Japanese, living in a nominally Atheist culture, and eating raw fish is certainly not small. But, being the kind of person that I am, I expect that everyone who comes out here will see what I see and realize what I realize. Sitting in a hot spring in the middle of a Japanese forest with my father, I looked around and felt what I sense to be the magic of the forest here. It's linked with the religion of Shintoism, the bamboo, the mist. For me, the Japanese forest is an enchanted place so I say this to my father who then looks around, shrugs and says, 'Forests everywhere are pretty much the same.'

Well, yes, I guess they are. Depending how you look at them. But neither of us was strictly right or wrong. We just had come out of different places and were headed to different places. And I suppose that's okay. So let's cut the Atheists and Sen. Brownback some slack.

Web Economy

maximize dynamic synergies

orchestrate frictionless applications

monetize end-to-end convergence

reinvent revolutionary web services

Make your own!

07 August 2007

The beach

Many of you know I took an illustrious position teaching English part-time at a technical college in Niigata. This job has been less illustrious then I thought, but the students--after we worked through the initial uncomfortable atmosphere--have been really great. At the end of the course, I only had to fail one of them and I had a pretty good relationship with the rest. So good in fact, that this e-mail came to my cell phone last week:
For some reason! stephen! Because a place of BBQ was decided, I report it. If weather can cry by a squall, I carry it out. Because I attach a map, please refer to it. Let's talk about the detailed junction method later.
The party turned out to be for the ham radio club at the college and we all went out to the beach for a cookout and swim. I gotta say, although I was skeptical, the ham radio club guys from the technical college are terribly sweet and polite and talented at the ham radio. I even got a ham radio handle: 'Guest 4'. Some other kid had already taken RoboCop, apparently. I also harrassed them about not having girlfriends. One of them asked, 'Did you have girlfriends before you were married?' to which I answered, 'Well, of course'. Ah yes, they said, Americans are very cool.

My Empirical disaster.

Here, now, is my simple defense of Empiricism.


Two religions make equally irrational claims. I say irrational not to tap into all the negativity surrounding the word, but to tap into the true nature of religious claims of the big three and Mormonism that are, at their core, not rational. Muhammad talks to an angel. Abraham talks to God and God chooses a whole nation of people to bless, excluding others. Jesus rises from the dead. Golden tablets come from heaven. All of these things are irrational, and we don't accept them easily because we don't (or can't) experience things like this. They are outside of anything we know or can know.

Now, irrational claims are okay. I'm not going to say religious folks shouldn't be religious or that faith is not a worthwhile endeavor, so long as it is understood as faith, and not knowledge. Because the truth is one can never really know if Muhammad was spoken to by an angel or if Jesus rose from the dead or if Abraham talked to God or if there were any golden tablets. If you ascribe any of these beliefs, you are acting on faith, not on reason.

The problem is, I think, when two religions, both making irrational, non-empirical claims both demand that you follow their message or face damnation. Because, if you take rationality out of the equation, how do you choose? If you leave it up to the 'spirit' (however you conceptualize of it), people will end up choosing all four religions depending on where they were born and how their culture gives them access to or excludes them from the irrational message of the faith group. The spirit tends to act pretty predictably within party lines.

Might I throw my metonymical hat into the metonymical religion hat, uh, ring?

The message of these faiths is that there are two boats in the water. One will sink when you get in it and the other won't. Once you get in, you can't get out. In both boats you have people shouting that theirs is the right boat. You see people getting into both boats. Everyone is shouting that all you need to do is trust your heart.

Kirk Cameron and that Australian guy have said to me on several occasions, 'So what, do you want some cold scientific world where everything is dependant on what can be proven? You will just be trusting scientists then and we all know how much they have to gain from leading you astray.' The vision is of a Maoist wasteland with no art or music or love. Well, no, I don't want that. What I want is for people making irrational claims to cut the rest of us some slack and realize that faith and knowing are two different things and pretending that one is the other is ridiculous.

Honest and clever responses are necessary.

Cautious good news

 Tied? Again, a win in Iowa would be important. The key to this poll is the second choice option. Do you think Edwards voters are more like to go Obama or Clinton?

06 August 2007

Uh oh

The team leader from this trip I'm taking has a strange way of encouraging us:
Dear THT Bangladesh members,

Tomorrow I will be flying to Bangladesh. I will send you a complete report from Dhaka when I arrive there.

As you know Dhaka is now being threatened by floods but the part of the city where we will be working is on higher ground and safe for the moment. Most of the flooding is in the suburbs and countryside. Forty percent of the country is under water. Please do not worry!! You will be safe. (If not, you will have an adventure?)

Check the weather channel on the Internet. You will see that Dhaka is schedule for a lot of rain in the days to come. All that being said, the programs we planned will continue as scheduled.
A defense of Empiricism, forthcoming!

05 August 2007

All of that

So Obama and Clinton at the DailyKos convention perked up my ears. You might have heard that Clinton got boo'd and laughed at on a couple of occasions, namely trying to defend taking lobby money. 'Lobbyists represent Americans' was her basic argument. Of course, no one bought it and Obama capitalized fairly well, although he is sort of taking Lobbyist money himself. I'm not really sure how it works, but it does.

As many of you know, for Obama to win, Clinton has to slip up in a big way, or Obama has to do something epic. Or a little on both side. Or he has to win Iowa and New Hampshire. As it stands now, it's not looking likely anyone's going to do anything epic one way or the other, and Obama will likely (all things equal) come in third in Iowa and second in NH and be finished.

Unless what happens this weekend keeps up. As Clinton already has this second coming aura around her, I think she has already begun trying to position herself for the general election. This, however, might be a very, very big mistake because most of us on the Left do not want to hear about nuking anyone. We don't want to hear about how Lobbyists are okay. And when Clinton says stuff to that effect, it makes people like me (in the pink underwear) doubt her credentials and less likely to swing her way in a primary.

This is where Obama can capitalize. He's gotta pound this to death, how he's the real deal and Clinton is not. How he hasn't been in Washington for 15 years. And I'm happy that he's not giving into this 'young and experienced' goat the media has tied around his neck. It's crazy because everything he says, suddenly, he's young and inexperienced. Not will to nuke Bin Laden? Young and inexperienced.

So I hope this keeps up. And all you white, fundamentalist Christians out there give a black Christian (who isn't Alan Keyes) a chance.

04 August 2007

Fascinating

So I was watching the most fascinating documentary on Patrick Henry College on Britian's Channel 4 called 'God's Army'. This is a college that recruits bright-eyed homeschooled kids and teaches them all about getting more 'Jesus' (that would be the American-flag totting, gay-marriage hating, patriot one, not the pacifist) into the US political system.

Now, there's a whole lot I could say about the show and the school, but one thing really stuck out at me: conservatism and youth don't go together very well. That's the role of old people in a society. Young people push for reform and old people push back and we have balance. It's just the nature of the beast. But when you have a bunch of clean-cut, sweater vest wearing Republicans talking about family values? It's doesn't quite fit.

Contrast this with the other documentary I saw, 'The US vs. John Lennon'. Now there, my friends is a youth movement. Doing drugs, singing songs, burning draft cards and shouting, '1-2-3-4, we don't want your fucking war!'

Also, for anyone who sees Iraq and doesn't see Vietnam, I gotta say, I don't doubt you, I doubt your eyes.

Anyway.

Department of State

Hey, so I have a reader from the Department of State? What exactly does the Dept. of State do and why are they interested in Stephen? Well, Wikipedia answers the first part of the question:
As stated by the Department of State, its purpose includes:
  • Protecting and assisting U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad;
  • Assisting U.S. businesses in the international marketplace;
  • Coordinating and providing support for international activities of other U.S. agencies (local, state, or federal government), official visits overseas and at home, and other diplomatic efforts.
  • Keeping the public informed about U.S. foreign policy and relations with other countries and providing feedback from the public to administration officials.
  • Provides automobile registration for non-diplomatic staff vehicles and the vehicles of diplomats of foreign countries having diplomatic immunity in the United States.
Hm.

01 August 2007

Immigration

Long political post follows, read it for all the juicy details. The synopsis?
Japanese robots = no Filipina nurses

Right around August of every year, I get sort of down on Japan. This has something to do with having to go to the immigration office as I have been unable to secure a three year visa since I first came to Japan. Going to the immigration office sucks in every country, I suppose, and the Japanese one isn't really that bad. But it accomplishes something very Japanese: reminding you quietly that you don't belong in this country while treating you kindly and politely.

I am now on a spousal visa and every year, I have to go back to immigration and provide a litany of papers, the exact same papers I presented the year before, proving that I have paid my taxes, that my wife and I are still married, and that I make enough money to support my family. This whole dog and pony show ends up costing me about $100 and results in another year of life in this great country.

Japan is facing a very serious problem in that it is getting older and people aren't having babies. This is not a big problem now, but it is a growing problem that will only get worse. There are a couple of solutions to this problem. First, have more children. Second, bring in more people to fill the gap. Getting people to have kids is hard, but the government has seemingly chosen this solution rather than the second. What's the problem with the second? Well, those people (those people being anyone who isn't Japanese) are not Japanese and somewhere in the Japanese psyche, although they have been made to reject the cult of Shinto which claimed they descended directly from the gods, there is still a sense of someone being 'purely' Japanese.

You can see this understanding of purity when people talk about my daughter, as the choice word for referring to a bi-racial child is 'ハフ' or Hafu. This is Japanization of the word 'half'. The point is that she is not Japanese, entirely.

Of course, the idea of 'pure' Japanese blood is pretty silly anyway as the truth is that the Japanese and everyone else in Asia comes from Mongolia, by way of China, by way of Korea.

But the Japanese politicians (who are largely male and over the age of 60), although they seem to understand the blood thing intellectually, do not seemingly understand it emotionally. They do not see immigration a solution, but as something to be tolerated and avoided when possible. They seemed tied to the idea that grew up after the war, that by working hard, the Japanese can accomplish anything. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the young people share this sentiment and, at least from what I experience at work, don't care about the political state of the country so much as their individual security in the future.

Maybe this is the problem (as I suppose it is in America at the moment): the leadership doesn't see the future. They are trying to return to the past and convince people that if they just went back to the bubble economy, everything would be okay. Rather than bring in nurses from Southeast Asia to care for the aging population, they would rather build robots to do it. Think about that the next time you read about great Japanese health-care technology for the elderly.

America, for all it's problems, is not built on blood. It's built on an idea, and the people who subscribe to that idea (namely that every human has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) are Americans. It's not about English. It's not about being white. It's about that idea. The President is always telling us how we are uniquely American because we stand up to terrorists. This is bullshit. We are uniquely American because our founding document told us that we have a right to pursue our own happiness.

And although our politicians are largely crusty, old white men too, we have at least some possibility to elect people who see the future and are ready to confront it with a new paradigm. This is leadership: saying we can't look at new problems with old solutions. And we can't look at danger and be afraid. The Republicans will lose next year because they are looking for Ronald Reagan. But the country doesn't need Ronald Reagan. We need something different.

So. I should get my stamp in my passport in the next couple of weeks and be less pissed off at the Japanese, at least until next year. And next year I will likely be trying to secure another visa in another country. But for now, remember: Japanese robots = no Filipina nurses.
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