Tuesday, January 31, 2006
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE TIME?
After close and considerable study under the carefree tutelage of my granddaughters, I've come to the conclusion that little kids perceive time the way it really is; i. e., completely differently from the way grownups do. Indeed, my recent and prolonged exposure to toddler time has given me a new understanding of the true nature of what's really going on. Which is another big reason for grandchildren.
Ever since I departed childhood I've held to the tacitly received conviction that time remained the same old chronic railwayline that we all travel along in life, with maybe a tangent here and there depending on the destinies we choose (insofar as we can affect the trip), and that we simply accelerate as we get older and the scenery becomes familiar, until maybe we get going so fast we're out of here and into the great beyond and all that conventional unthought thinking, but now that as an elder I've spent a lot of toddler time perforce and seen time for what it really is, I know that none of my former view is true.
As anyone with grandchildren understands, this is hard to explain. It's not that toddler time is fundamentally different from grownup time, but that the wee ones still have the gift: they can still actually see time all around them. To little kids, time is in fact a world-filling, elastic, brightly colored, jello-like fun material that is entirely theirs to do whatever they want with, and of which they are each the center. For them, there is no other point to time. There is no yesterday, there is no tomorrow, there is no age, no ago, no future: all of time is right there in their hands, like silly putty.
For us grownups, though, time has become a calendar-mache Gibraltar of schedules and yesterdays, appointments and tomorrows all pinned together with second-hands, a monolith of jitters, with in my case my eighth grade teacher's face on it as she glares down, tapping her foot.
Which understanding gives me great appreciation for the genuine kindness of nature in giving little kids, all little kids, including you and me once, a sort of introductory paradise, to show them how things could be, if they play it right, but then in our growing struggles to gain more time we turn all that beauty and wonder into nostalgia and anxiety. Which is a pity, once you've seen it.
But since nature has given it to the little ones, they in turn have passed it on to me, which is clearly the way it was intended all along. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back in time.
Monday, January 30, 2006
JAPAN INVENTS NEW HARPOON WITH WHICH TO KILL REMAINING WHALES
While most of the developed world is working to nurture the world's remaining whales (even the current US 'administration,' though pro-industry and anti-nature, is giving whales lip service (maybe it hasn't clicked that nature includes consumers too)), Japan is not only working hard at killing whales for 'scientific research,' they're working hard at ways to kill them more thoroughly. But you can't stop human ingenuity, especially when it comes to rapine.
"Because new species have been added to the research project this year which are larger than a minke whale, we thought we would need a bigger grenade on the end of the harpoon..." says Masayuki Komatsu, head of the Japan Fisheries Research Agency.
Figured I should pass on this little bit of Japanese harpoon news just to keep the whos and whats of the story straight when one day our children are explaining to their children what whales were and why they went away.
(And just in case you were planning a trip to Japan, or were about to purchase something Japanese and might prefer to do otherwise.)
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Saturday, January 28, 2006
US IN TECHNICAL DEFAULT
"On January 24th they [US Treasury Dept.] breached it [the national debt ceiling] brazenly and openly and with nary an accompanying explanation. Neither have any lawmakers broached this indelicate subject.
I suppose we could write this off as merely an unsurprising development from a government that no longer bothers to even appear to be adhering to rules, laws and procedures, let alone actually doing so.
But the silence is all the more troubling because there is an unprecedented level of government borrowing on the books for 1Q06 within the next 2 weeks (Feb 1st to Feb 9th) an especially busy period of time. An ambitious ~$70-$80b in Treasury paper will hit the market.
Another odd facet of this story is the deafening silence out there in the financial press (and I use that term loosely) regarding this matter. Leaving aside the issue of a technical default, one wonders why nobody is asking any questions about the rate of debt accumulation.
And whether it is sustainable.
Factoring out the plundering of excess social security contributions, the US government borrowed $52B in 3Q05, $96B in 4Q05 and expects to borrow $171B in 1Q06. A trend nearly as mind-boggling as the soon to be discontinued M3 series.
Why do I even bother to pen such distressing factoids?
Because in all my time studying economics I have determined only one thing; there's no free lunch. Pay now or pay later but pay we will.
Or, more accurately, we hope that our kids will, and not stiff us for the bill. But if they did, who could blame them?"
Dr. C. H. Martensen
Friday, January 27, 2006
COMMON SENSE RELIGION
"I am urging, on the contrary, that anybody who professes that a particular point of moral conviction is not discussable, not debatable, not negotiable, simply because it is the word of God, or because the Bible says so, or because 'that is what all Muslims (Hindus, Sikhs...) believe, and I am a Muslim (Hindu, Sikh...)' should be seen to be making it impossible for the rest of us to take their views seriously, excusing themselves from the moral conversation, inadvertently acknowledging that their own views are not conscientiously maintained and deserve no further hearing.
It is time for the reasonable adherents of all faiths to find the courage and stamina to reverse the tradition that honors helpless love of God — in any tradition. Far from being honorable, it is not even excusable. It is shameful. Here is what we should say to people who follow such a tradition: There is only one way to respect the substance of any purported God-given moral edict. Consider it conscientiously in the full light of reason, using all the evidence at our command. No God pleased by displays of unreasoning love is worthy of worship."
In case you haven't heard, there's a whole new theory of gravity, which I have to tell you is a great relief to me because it dispenses with dark matter, that amorphous stuff that gets under your eyes and slowly replaces money, among other things the scientists never mention. Theoretically, it puts the big pull on everything and has certainly been a drag on me now and then. You know those kinds of days - today is a good example - when you feel a lot heavier than usual, slower, less quick of mind and so forth, well until the scientists just now got their gravity act together, all that drag was due to dark matter (in my case compounded by toddling-twin granddaughters). Not any more. Things will be lighter now.
Actually, scientists were never really happy with dark matter anyway, they didn't understand it very well and it wouldn't fit their theories (isn't that just like dark matter?), so they’ve made up some new theories to explain what they're seeing far out there in the galaxy (when there's so much more gravity to see right here!).
One of the new theories holds that there are two types of gravity, which I definitely go along with, from personal experience. This theory holds that above a certain acceleration, called a0, objects move according to the conventional form of gravity, whose effects weaken as two bodies move further apart in proportion to the square of distance, as after a divorce for example. But below a0, which is where I am on days like today, objects like myself are controlled by another type of gravity that fades more slowly, decreasing linearly with distance, though my a0 - which I call negative a0 - increases with distance, making each step heavier, each task more difficult than the previous one. The scientists will have to deal with negative a0 at some point, when one of them has twin granddaughters.
Another type of gravity currently competing for reality has the nickname STVG. The nice thing about STVG is that it allows for a hypothetical particle called a graviton, which seems in the actual world to concentrate around bathroom scales, so now that it has a name we can maybe expect a graviton remover somewhere down the line and get some realistic numbers going. Science has many benefits. I can feel the new gravity already.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
"It is a scene of ongoing and apparently undending destruction, of natural chaos: a kewpie doll gazing upward as if pleading with heaven, an abandoned spaceman, a deflated something, pajama parts, a doll carriage on its side, one green frog slipper, an empty finger puppet, a fire truck, a magic box, a wooden spatula, something unscrewed from something important somewhere in the house, a toppled toy ambulance, a calculator, lots of books opened up and thrown face-down in a random pattern, a deflated big pink boxing glove - the list goes on - one twin perpetrator sits on the big gray elephant, the other dressed as Pooh chews strategically on a pink toothbrush, while Kaya cleans up some sox that have been thrown around…"
That's just a brief and harried excerpt from some notes I managed to scribble yesterday afternoon while minding Kaya (who helped with the minding, actually) and M&M for two gigantic hours, hours jammed with minutes packed with seconds made of a special age-old material that stretches to infinity without breaking or showing any other sign of change, apart from what kids can do to scenery.
Out in the snow, in by the fire, upstairs spilling water, downstairs spreading ink, scissoring paper or curtains, magic-markering table or floor... One twin, pausing in her labors, runs to me and opens her mouth to show me how full of cookie it is, then heads off to crumple up some playing cards while the other dances with a pink plastic coat hanger, shouting in Twinlingo "An jeeyan, an jeeyan!" ("Look at this, look at this!" or in Japanese: "Mite, mite!"[meeteh, meeteh] just to show how far Twinlingo is from either)
Neither twin can stand still for long, but soon begins helplessly bouncing forward with no particular destination in mind; as a direct correlation I too can't stay still for long, but I'm not bouncing. When I manage to grab a quick sitdown, Mitsuki (or is it Miasa?) comes up to me and in all earnestness strikes me three times on the forearm, then runs off to shake a pink elephant watering can full of cutup paper fragments as Miasa (or is it Mitsuki?) comes up in her turn and earnestly strikes me once on the knee, before bouncing off to chat privately with a small tiger.
With afternoons like these, who says you can't live forever?
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD TAKE WITH YOU IF YOU GO CAMPING IN 1877
Ammon'd opodeldoc, Beeswax, Bible, Blacking and brush, Chalk, Clothes-brush, Firkin, Harness, Milk-can, Portfolio, Shingles, Song-book, Watch and key, several dozen other items...
And only a century and a half ago...
SOME GRANNY D WORDS
"If a senator in his Lexus or Mercedes speeds by a homeless family after voting down a budget item for affordable housing, it is not because he is cruel, for he is working for the larger goal of building a prosperous society that encourages people to get to work and take care of their own families, and he is doing that today by helping an oil refinery avoid smokestack regulations. It is not because he doesn't want clean air and water, but because there is a price to pay for jobs and growth, and you have to break some eggs to make that omelet. In fact you may have to allow some mercury into the eggs. The fact that the wealthy elite of the community agree with him and forever finance his reelection is but a happily synchronous fact of life and maybe even a sign from the big CEO in heaven that all's right with the world.
The fact is, meetings with lobbyists at all hours, endless committee hearings listening to whiners from the community, and the non-stop fundraising events make for a tough and thankless life of public service.
Well, it was all interesting and sadly amusing while it lasted, but it's time for we the ungrateful people to put these dedicated martyrs out of their misery."
From Granny's Jan 24 speech in Madison Wisconsin
Big change coming in November...
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
ARTICLE BY AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN
"People in places once considered remote are increasingly aware of statistics such as these:
- Transnational corporations have taken control of much of the production and trade in developing countries: For example, 40 percent of the world's coffee is traded by just four companies; the top 30 supermarket chains control almost one-third of worldwide grocery sales.
- A trade surplus of $1 billion for developing countries in the 1970s turned into an $11 billion deficit by 2001.
- The income ratio of the one-fifth of the world's population in the wealthiest countries to the one-fifth in the poorest went from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1995.
- Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations; of those, 47 are U.S.-based.
- The overall share of federal taxes paid by U.S. corporations is now less than 10 percent, down from 21 percent in 2001 and over 50 percent during World War II; one-third of America's largest and most profitable corporations paid zero taxes -- or actually received credits -- in at least one of the last three years (according to Forbes magazine).
- Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned 40 times as much as the average manufacturing employee. For the top tier of American CEOs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, in addition to income, were taken into account. By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1.
- Pre-Civil War slaves received room and board; wages paid by the sweatshops that today serve many U.S. industries will not cover the most basic needs.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Kaya stayed here last night, sleeping downstairs in front of the stove as it snowed heavily all night, and you should have heard the footsteps when she got up first this morning and ran from window to door to room to window opening curtains to see all the snow that had fallen, the most this year, all the trees were white even the air was white, the big fat flakes still falling...
I was still in bed and listened to the little footsteps running everywhere, pulling back the curtains and yelling Snow! Then to the big doors out to the deck, in all this running every now and then a jumping-up-and-down break, then to the downstairs bedroom to look out back, then back to the deck where the snow was drifting to her height, all in rapid tiny footsteps exactly the sound of joy.
Then after an apple pancake breakfast we went outside but Kaya (who had said Let's go out!) was suddeny afraid of the snow, it was such a new deepness, so I carried her out to the road, set her down in the wheel ruts and we walked up the mountain road in the heightening storm, then across the slope and down and back for home, but by then Kaya was having so much fun she didn't want to go inside, so I went and got the sled from where it was snowburied between the firewood cords and Kaya rode it down the steep road, slid and zipped, tumbled and rolled and squealed then did it all again and again until she became a walking snowgirl.
Then we gathered up some nice clean mountain snow in a ricebowl and brought it inside where we poured black cherry concentrate all over it and ate it with smiles and spoons, while musing over getting some really big spoons and buckets full of black cherry concentrate to splash around outside and eating all the snow that was out there, how great that would be, just like our own little bowl of snow.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
GRANNY D's LATEST MOVE
January 24th, this coming week, is Doris "Granny D" Haddock's 96th birthday. She will spend it in travel, returning from a speech in Wisconsin to support their effort to enact the public financing of campaigns--a key issue in this Abramoff age.
On Saturday, February 4th, she will speak in Washington, D.C. at a counter-State of the Union rally, 11 a.m. at 17th and Constitution.
Check out her new site at http://TARandFEATHERS.org
"Don't feel like a straw in the wind; when straws band together we are mighty brooms!"
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Friday, January 20, 2006
As part of my objective of keeping an eye or other body part on various aspects of progress in Japan, I have been on top of the toilet story in this country for some years now. In the flush of my most recent discovery I bring you the latest news from the cutting edge of the toilet seat (cue Star Wars theme): The TOTO Apricot Toilet Seat, with remote-control MP3 capability! What foresight!
What hindsight too! This is the toilet seat for the elite. In addition to the usual bottom-coddling features like seat heater, automatic washer (with hot water! We have one in the office!), electronically controlled seat parameters etc., the Apricot comes with an SD card slot (it's about time, says the Japanese consumer, we were getting bored in here!). This enables you to play MP3 files on your toilet, which doesn't seem to say much for MP3 files.
Yes, you too can listen to Madonna on the toilet by remote control. There are buttons for functions such as bideting and bottom drying, in addition to the regular Pause and Play buttons found on audio equipment, which I suppose could get confusing, physico-audio functionwise: here you're expecting your favorite tune by Metallica or Nine-Inch Nails and instead you get sprayed and dried. Or vice versa or worse.
The control panel can be mounted on the wall and will play sixteen of your favorite tunes if you want to spend that much time in there (Random playback, One Tune playback (if you've just gotta hear that one again) etc.). Could be the top ten or the top 5, or at bottom just a couple of quick jingles if you're in a hurry. Cost? $1750. Pretty steep for what used to be a hole in a board, but you're callin' the tune.
For those seeking further details on this fascinating subject, here's more than all you ever wanted to know about Japanese toilets (Wooden toilet paper!?)
THE SUITS vs. THE T-SHIRT
"In a land of dark-suited, largely anonymous executives, it is hard to miss the jeans, sneakers and spiky hair of Takafumi Horie, founder of livedoor, an internet and finance company. A survivor of the internet bubble in the late 1990s, the brash 33-year-old is known for his outspoken defiance of old-style corporate Japan—as well as his love of the spotlight and gorgeous women. After starting his first internet company, aptly named Livin' On The Edge, a decade ago when he was still a student at Tokyo University, he dropped out of school to ride the internet wave, advising like-minded students to do the same.
Even in its early days, people took note of his company, tucked away in the back streets of Shibuya, Tokyo's hotspot for the young. Since then, Mr Horie has made a fortune: first by listing his company on Mothers, a stockmarket for start-ups run by the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and then by using the profits to buy livedoor, a defunct internet-service provider. Chiefly through financial engineering (his company, renamed livedoor in 2004, has split its stock 30,000-fold) and a succession of often surprising mergers and acquisitions, the market value of the empire Mr Horie built rose to about ¥930 billion ($8 billion) at its peak. Livedoor controls around 50 companies, including an accounting-software house, an online travel agency, a securities company, a mail-order retailer and a second-hand car firm. In the year to last September livedoor's profits quadrupled, to ¥15 billion.
Yet on January 16th it was Mr Horie who was taken by surprise. His company, now located in Roppongi Hills, a prestigious Tokyo landmark, was raided by prosecutors and investigators from the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC), on suspicion of securities-law violations. They also raided his home in a probe that lasted until dawn."
"For Japan Inc., which long seethed at Horie's unconventional and cheeky ways, a sense of revenge is in the air. Rather than delighting in Horie's woes, the establishment should appreciate what he's done for an economy struggling to find new sources of growth amid China's rise.
Last year, the scrappy entrepreneur shook things up by waging a hostile takeover battle with Fuji Television Network Inc., the nation's largest broadcaster. Such a move was almost unheard of in Japan. His unsuccessful campaigns to buy a baseball team and enter parliament also challenged Japan's stuffy ways.
If only Japan had 100 such entrepreneurs defying the status quo, taking risks, testing financial market rules, questioning shareholder-unfriendly practices and urging executives to change with the times, its economy might be far more dynamic."
Thursday, January 19, 2006
THIS IS NEWS TO SOME
"What people do no longer just affects themselves, but can determine the health of their children and grandchildren in decades to come. 'We are,' as Marcus Pembrey says, 'all guardians of our genome.'"
I'd say the reality of this goes beyond the edge of matter, into realms beyond the grasp of science.
TODDLING AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT
Yesterday afternoon Echo and I went across the Lake to babysit (while Kasumi went to the dentist) and found 4 out of 6 nostrils running. The twins had twin colds. Kaya was still coldless, and wanted to stay that way by avoiding contact with the flooding-nostril bearers. (She's very practical for a five-year-old.) But since the twins touch and chew and sneeze on everything with a generosity that would otherwise be heartwarming, avoidance is pretty much out of the question.
Me, I just dove right in, so to speak. Around the twins I'm just one big playground anyway, so forget it. I served as swings and sliding board and seesaw, junglebob and whirlygig for as long as I could, then I said let's go outside and play. I meant in the yard, but when we got out there it was a prison break like there were searchlights and sirens, the plan apparently being for the trio to regroup at the playground down the street.
I had the driveway gate down and the front gate locked and am still fast enough to cover all the gaps, but there were three of them and one of me, so I had to deputize Kaya, which didn't go down too well, since she was really more on the twins' side than mine - but then not really, they're so young and uncouth - so she sort of drifted back indoors while the twins took turns stealing my attention as they figured out how to outflank me, which didn't take long (you take this end of the driveway while I take the other), they’re crafty little scamps, and deceptively fast; you'd think it would be impossible to toddle at the speed of light. Of course that may be just an illusion, since they both look the same… still, I wondered…
So inevitably I had to get physical and pick them both up at the same time to be sure I had two of them, and brought them back into the house kicking and screaming until they saw lunch, with Kaya setting the table and a good example for her ill-mannered sisters. So after we ate and when Kasumi came back we took Kaya bowling. She had a great time; broke 50, using a pink Hello Kitty ball. Not bad for a 5 year-old. Back home by 5pm I was really ready for bed, having walked all the way to Mars and back, but cut a lot of firewood instead. Big snow coming.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
BETTER CHECK ON THAT PENSION...
"Many [US] companies freezing pensions say they are bolstering 401(k) plans, making set contributions while leaving workers to manage for their own retirement. Small firms started the trend, but in the past year some large employers followed suit in freezing pensions for at least some of their workers, including Sears Holding Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
Pensions and other retirement benefits have stirred controversy in accounting circles for years. Critics say while companies made expensive promises to workers, accounting rules let them engage in a shell game and mislead investors about the value of stocks, bonds and other assets held by pension plans. While they can fluctuate widely, the rules let companies smooth the numbers, creating distortions in their balance sheets that can make a whopping liability look like a sizable asset."Source
"According to Labor Department figures, the 29,651 companies that offer single employer private pension plans underfunded their pension liabilities last year by $450 billion."
JAMES LOVELOCK FORESEES
"'We will do our best to survive, but sadly I cannot see the United States or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back in time, and they are the main source of [CO2] emissions. The worst will happen...
We have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act, and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as long as they can.' He believes that the world's governments should plan to secure energy and food supplies in the global hothouse, and defences against the expected rise in sea levels. The scientist's vision of what human society may ultimately be reduced to through climate change is 'a broken rabble led by brutal warlords.'"Environment in crisis: 'We are past the point of no return'
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
You could have knocked me over with a bathtub full of artificially flavored ice cream slathered with trans-saturated synthowhip topped with ten pounds of Monsanto Red Lake 45 GM maraschino cherries all lavishly sprinkled with dayglo sprinkles by DuPont followed by a pallet of frozen chemolemon neomeringue pies washed down with a dumpster full of artificially flavored and colored orange soda when I read that some British researchers (offspring of centuries of kidney pie, bangers and mash, spotted dick) had through assiduous research concluded that “Changes in diet over the past 50 years appear to be an important factor behind a significant rise in mental ill health in the UK,” to say nothing of elsewhere, where things may very well be worse... The thing is, can we trust the mental judgement of these people?
FROM THE LEHMAN'S LIFE NEWSLETTER
DO YOU KNOW OF ANYONE ABOUT TO LEAVE
THE CITY AND MOVE TO THE WILDERNESS?
Perhaps leaving their desk job to pursue a dream of self-sufficiency in
the great outdoors?
DISCOVERY CHANNEL IS CREATING A NEW TV SERIES AND THEY ARE LOOKING FOR
FAMILIES MOVING FROM THE AMERICAN SUBURBS TO A SELF-SUFFICIENT LIFE IN THE WILDERNESS.
They are looking for couples and families who are preparing to move, but
have not yet moved, into the wilderness. They will film the entire process
over a period of several months in a format called Observational
Documentary. They are also looking for someone currently living
off-the-grid in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as well as local
"wilderness guides" to mentor the families new to the homesteading
If this sounds like anyone you or anyone you know, and to find out more,
Glenda Lehman Ervin at
330-828-8828, ext. 2240,
or e-mail her at Glenda.Ervin@Lehmans.com.
The show is scheduled to air in the fall of 2006.
GOTTA PAY THE PIPER
I see in the news that good old upstate New York is getting all windy over wind power (they should see the highway into Desert Hot Springs), and flaky too: "Group members also warned of health problems ranging from strokes caused by the sunlight as it pulsates through the spinning turbine blades to mange in cattle. Others claimed that women living near the wind farms are having as many as five menstrual cycles a month."
It's interesting to see upstate New Yorkers involved in debates over alternate energy sources and new income flows. One wealthy Republican (the only kind that can afford to run for office) is expected to run for governor on the strength of his anti-wind platform, but a politician without wind is basically a hermit. Now if they'd put up a wind turbine in the State Capitol building, they could power all of New York.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
HOME ALONE NOT
Yesterday while Kasumi and a school friend went off and had great fun shopping and Echo and Kaya went off to soak luxuriously in the local hot spring, I was alone in the Moriyama house on the other side of the Lake for TWO hours, with no escape and no hope of escape (and no desire to escape, if the truth be known) with the identical duo Mitsuki and Miyasa (also known as The Indistinguishables) their circus of stuffed animals and their deviously crafted plan.
Their knowledge of every nook and cranny of that house, and their instinctive understanding that this was an opportunity that might never come again, blended with all the cunning that is native to two-year olds, but in this case geometrically compounded by their twinhood, made it an unfair match. They knew where all the soda was stashed, all the candies were hidden, all the cookie places, the makeup, the tools, the gooey things, the things that stain or are pointed and so on.
When they were near they were noisy as a catfight; when they were far they were quiet as a puddle of honey. One would keep me busy while the other drifted off; then the one remaining would show me how she could open a door and pass through and close it again, then there would be silence... that would grow... that would force me to open the door and pass through into unknown horrors... but there would be no one... I would go upstairs and into the rooms there (the twins move as silently as mayonnaise), and then into the closets where I'd find one attempting to open a can of soda with her teeth, the other brushing her hair with a vacuum cleaner brush.
Talking gently while putting away the soda and vacuum cleaner, speaking as though I were promising even more and better things, I'd make up a game to get them downstairs, then another game to keep them there, then another... so now I'm good for pretty near two hours of games, which I could stretch to three with a cage made of chocolate bars...
Saturday, January 14, 2006
THE COLLAPSE OF COMPLEX SYSTEMS
"In order to avoid systemic breakdown, we must change our concepts of prosperity and growth. We need to stop measuring our health in terms of dollars, or we need to incorporate true social and environmental costs into those dollars. We must forge a new socioeconomic system not based on conspicuous consumption and constant economic growth.
We need to begin restructuring our lifestyles, our households, our neighborhoods, and our communities. We need to adapt for self-sufficiency and sustainability. And while we are doing this, we need to evolve some new criteria for measuring prosperity, and a new respect for our environment and for each other. These are things that we can undertake at a grassroots level, and which will do the most good in the long run."
Friday, January 13, 2006
DO THEY HAVE AN IMPERIAL BLOOD BANK?
"Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, cousin of Emperor Akihito, has criticized a government panel on imperial succession for rushing to propose allowing female monarchs in Japan, according to a monthly magazine scheduled to go on sale Tuesday. The prince suggests in an article in Bungei Shunju that the panel should explore other options such as reinstating the royal status of imperial branch families and said there is 'no need to immediately' come to a decision. He also expresses concern that the imperial family will become no different from ordinary Japanese families if it allows female monarchs, who would marry commoners."
In other words, imperial women are so like common women in their flightiness (or imperial males so unattractive) that as a result the public would in time become its own emperor. Then the Prince wouldn't be a Prince anymore, poor guy, he'd be just like everyone else. What a tragedy, all that pricelessly princeful imperial blood going to waste. He could still cut ribbons in his own home, though, and rail on in the shower about the tainting of imperial hemoglobin and loss of all those congenital perks... Truly a heartbreaking situation.
KYOTO JOURNAL JANUARY EVENT
Brother Anthony of Taize, translator of Korean literature, including classics by Korea's Nobel Prize nominee poet Ko Un, will come to Kyoto and give a public reading at 2pm on Sunday January 22nd. Brother Anthony contributed the article "Pain and Truth: A Pilgrimage with Some Korean Poets" in Kyoto Journal #60 (special Korea issue).
Thursday, January 12, 2006
JAPANESE JUSTICE ADOPTS THE TELEPHONE
Few of us foreigners are well versed on specifics of Japanese law, but it was a relief to learn that "the Justice Ministry plans to allow criminal suspects or defendants waiting for trial under detention at police stations or at detention centers to contact their lawyers by telephone." This change will occur not all that long after the telephone was invented. In terms of Japanese legal system time, which differs only in minor respects from geological time, adoption of the telephone will be a relative snap of the fingers when it maybe happens next year partly. Only one more year and partly you may be able to partly call maybe your lawyer.
But all you folks who are or plan to be in city detention shouldn't start glacially jumping for joy just yet. The defendant-lawyer phone communication system in the initial stage likely will cover detention facilities far from urban areas (where the lawyers, courts and public prosecutors' offices are). So if you're in a city jail, the best you can hope for is probably carrier pigeon, until a century or so after the fax was invented.
Until the telephone becomes available, though, defendant-lawyer communication will still be done the old way, by exchange of letters, which apart from postal delays could be a problem if you can't use scroll paper and writing brush - if you can write Japanese. If you can't, you may have to communicate with your translator by runner, as in Edo days.
For their part, lawyers (those pushy agitators for legal reform) will be allowed to call their clients from police stations and public prosecutors' offices, so as to obviate any unwarranted sense of confidentiality.
You can almost feel the thrill of liberty in the land...
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
WHALES: IN DEEP TROUBLE
"Minkes are there, too. At 30ft long, they are the smallest rorquals, but we do not know how they breed, or how long they live. Yet these are the animals which Japan, Norway and Iceland kill in their thousands each year. Indeed, Norway has just increased its quota from 796 in 2005 to 1,052 this year.
The Japanese call minkes 'cockroaches of the sea', serve their sperm as a delicacy, and their meat as burgers to fast-food addicts. Since the 1986 international moratorium on whaling, Japan has taken, under the guise of 'scientific research', 7,900 minkes, 243 Bryde's whales, 140 sei whales and 38 sperm whales. And despite the use of grenade-tipped harpoons, there is no humane way to kill an animal this big:"
WALKING BACK HOME ALONG THE LAKE SHORE IN WINTER AFTER A ROOT CANAL
As I stroll along in person through the as-always splendid lakeside scenery, I have all the time I need to transcend a few of the pro tem observations of life at certain moments, such as that leafless trees are nerve ends screaming into an empty sky. One needs to overcome such beliefs as a function of one's advance through time, much as one takes steps at a heartbeat pace to advance on the long walk toward home. The anesthetic is a factor as well in negating other temporary convictions, for example that lakes are giant naked cavities filled with ice water.
Such apparent facts are simply not true as stated. Unlike the pith of reality, they have to do with mere appearance, sensual deception, momentary mismentation. The trees look that way because trees and nerves accord with a similar principle of design, that's all. Trees do not scream the way nerves do. And although the lake is in fact a huge cavity filed with ice water, that's because it's winter now; it has nothing to do with not brushing optimally for half a century. The lake has no dental bills.
There are ways around these illusions, as there are ways around lakes, like a tongue exploring the extent of the change...
I'm just being dramatic. It didn't hurt at all, actually; my dentist is eminently capable. The only real drawback is that I can't whistle a note until the anesthetic wears off.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
THE SNOWBALL OF RIGHTS
As I was driving up the snowy road through the village yesterday morning, I heard and felt a metallic "bong" as a glob of snow struck the van. I reacted instinctively, turning my head to search for the snowball-throwing culprit, when with a newer instinct I caught myself turning my head to look for the culprit and thought: culprit? In Japan? There aren't any snowball-throwing culprits in Japan because, believe it or not, nobody throws snowballs at cars in Japan. It just isn't done, it's not a source of fun. I'd known that unknowingly for nearly 30 years, and had just that moment realized it.
For the rest of my drive up the mountain I thought about how when I was a boy (there's that phrase again), moving vehicles were an alien species in the struggle of the winter city streets, legitimate targets in the theaters of snowy battle that were the neighborhoods, where cars were like mastodons or other slow-moving objects worthy of a good throw (What a shot!); it was an antagonistic but fundamentally good-natured relationship between young boys and vulnerable (and therefore, in the ancient hunting tradition) targetworthy automobiles.
The snowball was as well the ad hoc manifestation of the ongoing conflict between youngers and elders, between freedom and school; in motion the snowball flew as the round white symbol of liberty, of revolution, of primal rebellion, Manifest Destiny, the right to bear arms, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all rolled into a solid orb and thrown on behalf all our forebears into the face of all inequity... It was a pretty American thing.
Here in Japan, that's all sort of moot. Nobody can bear arms here, where school is freedom (though there are distinct signs of unrest in that quarter) and liberty and revolution are seldom spoken of -- nor was Manifest Destiny ever much of a big thing in this country. Cars here, however, are just as much an extension of the driver as they are in the US, as witness my instinctive reaction, learned from driving in NY where, in my earlier kidhood, when the packing was good just about anything that moved was a legitimate target, excepting maybe widows and orphans, if you knew such to be the case. But I was now on the other side of the planet.
So there was no one there, no kid hiding behind a tree all excited, it was just a lump of snow that had fallen from a power line or something. Which on the one hand is good, I guess, not having kids out there in winter sharpening their aims, pegging their best shots at all those moving targets piloted by drivers with eagle eyes. On the other hand, there's something about the lack of such kids that seems to portend an unexciting future...
Monday, January 09, 2006
Out today in the clear blue air chainsawing firewood because we fell behind in our stockpile of stove-sized stuff owing to the snow and the hordes of 5 year-old and twin-like beings that for the past few days have invaded our house and devoured our time like the cutest chronovores in the world, which was no problem really, except that it gets cold when the fire goes out.
So today the kids were across the Lake with other relatives, Echo was in Kyoto and I was out there in the snow shoveling off the firewood tarp so I could peel it back and get to work, which I did and made a goodly pile of right-size chunks, enough for a week or so.
By then it was afternoon, so I went into the snowclad garden where the weight of the white stuff had crushed a couple of my raised bed covers; I fixed them and then uncovered another undamaged bed to get some beautiful green crisp mizuna (which I highly recommend for your winter garden) to use in the onion garlic pepper rice tomato pumpkin pinto bean chick pea soup I was making for late lunch.
When I had cut a good big handful, the mizuna stems cold and strong in the hand, I stood and realized that from there, with the leaves of the trees now gone, in the winter-cleared air I could see the Prussian blue lake and above it, with no division below, the snowy peak of Mt. Ibuki beyond the far shore, above that an edgeless swath of blue-gray and above that a swath of rose pink that faded imperceptibly into the full blue sky capped by half a moon like sun through an opening in a temple dome.
All that went into the soup too.
HEAVY SNOW DEATH TOLL NOW 68, OVER 1000 INJURED
"Some of the victims lost their lives when their homes collapsed under the pressure of the snow.
'It's frightening,' an unnamed elderly women in Akita City on the island of Honshu told Japan's TV Asahi. 'There were creaking sounds and I couldn't open the doors because of the weight of the snow.'
Others died in falls while trying to clear the snow from their roofs."
Death toll from heavy snow since early December now 68
Japan Struck by Deadly Snowdrifts
Sunday, January 08, 2006
It snowed about 20 cm during the quiet night, till now in the clear blue morning all the trees are leaved in white while the air is still cold and dry, though now stirring lightly at the change to day from night, so every time the sun coaxes some snow from high up in the trees and that snow dislodges lots more on the way down, the morning is filled with gold sparkles that drift here and there glowing like partying sprites, much the way Kaya and M&M are doing even now, in more solid and noisier form.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
THE STORM BEFORE THE STORM
So today - this very snowy day - we have Kaya all day from morning (half a meter of snow so far; too deep for Kasumi (2WD) to come up the road,I had to go down to the flatlands to pick Kaya up). Then later we additionally get the twins for the night as Kasumi takes a much-deserved break with old school friends in Kyoto. Should be quite a frenetic many hours in the old mountain cabin. Thank goodness Kaya has grown up enough to be of some help at reining in the matching dervishes. For now, though, all is quiet as the snow storms, Kaya plays with her toys in front of the warm woodstove and I get a bit of editing done, post this quick note...
Friday, January 06, 2006
Woke up early this morning to the sound of snow avalanching off the roof, raising clouds of even more white outside the windows. We're on the edge of snow country up here, plus being high on a mountainside. A dozen kilometers south along the Lake road and there's no snow at all.
Even so, we haven't had nearly as much snow as folks in Niigata and Shinshu, where Echo is from, they've had nearly 4 meters(!) of whiteness; when they shovel through it the walls of snow are more than double their height! As often as not, it's a tunnel. They leave their houses from the second floor! The able ones keep shoveling the deep snow off their roofs before it collapses the house, but some elder folks can't do it.
They interviewed one elder couple on tv, who said that they could hear the house straining under the hourly increasing load, more snow than they'd seen in their lives. The husband used to shovel their roof off, but he's too old now and the whole place is snowed in. And it's early winter yet! I read yesterday that this is Japan's coldest winter in 20 years. We could use some global warming up in Niigata.
For the moment, though, it is supremely beautiful here, with the woodstove glowing and all silent white outside, as the whole world rises into the air...
NANJING WILL SEND DELEGATION TO FUNERAL OF 'CONSCIENCE OF JAPAN'
"His death is a loss for both those in Japan who dared to acknowledge the truth of history and all righteous people," said Zhu Chengshan."I used to hate the Japanese so much," said 78-year-old massacre survivor Jiang Fugen. "But when I saw the old Azuma in tears, bowing and kneeling before us in repentance, I couldn't hold back my tears."
Thursday, January 05, 2006
A REALLY LIVING LANGUAGE
Interesting fact observed during my utterly biased investigation of the grand-twins Mitsuki and Miyasa (identical): they have their own language. In my professional capacity as grandfather I have dubbed this new language Twinlingo, which the two speak to each other and which their mother Kasumi understands a bit of (in its old form), and their elder sister Kaya does too, but there's no way to keep up with the growth of a spontaneously generated and unwritten language created by a couple of not yet two-year olds who have no real need to speak importantly to anyone but each other, and for whom gestures and simple sounds suffice for all communication with the many non-twins of their world, thus far at least. Nor do the twins mind at all that they so easily manage to stay linguistically ahead of the rest of us, or that we understand progressively less of what they're saying to each other. When dealing with us they simply use baby talk if they have to, which works fine, gets them food and toys and stuff, which is all they need from us.
Meanwhile the rest of the twintourage is falling behind in Twinlingo, colloquially known in our house as M&Mese. Developing a dictionary of the language would be pointless, since the book would be outdated in a week, as in Twinlingo the process of linguistic evolution is greatly accelerated; even this morning's meaning is not necessarily this afternoon's meaning. It's a lot like politics. Unlike those around them, however, the twins instinctively know the new meaning and get along fine in their mirror world.
And I suspect they find the utterly predictable Japanese and English languages we adult humans use on them very boring and conventional, full of tacit assumptions that should have been put aside no later than yesterday, as is their own practice, reflective of their ongoing growth. As compared to us stodgy quotidians.
I got to hear a bit of Twinlingo when the blurry duo visited on Monday; it sounds quite elegant in its polished smoothness, having done away with all the angular sort of sounds, in the way that water works on rocks, the twins preferring a rolling sophistication more like the wind itself, sort of like an improved version of the US southern accent with all impedances removed.
I'd try to get an audio file of it up here, but that would involve the initial use of Japanese or English, at which M and M just smile and look at each other knowingly.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
THE DERIVATIVES OF DAMOCLES
What an interesting difference a day can make. One CIGA asked me today: “Now that the $530 mark has been hit, what will gold do?” Forget for a moment the truths you already know about the gold price. Gold, as I see it, is headed to $682 and then through $750. All the rest is drama.
It doesn’t matter if it happens now or later this year. No one can be absolutely sure of the timing because there is a hidden hand in the market equation called over-the-counter derivatives ["This statute was intended to provide certainty with regard to the legal enforceability and regulatory status of most OTC derivatives." Ha-ha-ha...] which supersedes the US Dollar/Gold relationship, the price of oil, the Fed minutes or any other potential motivator.
What is most critical today is what the media refuses to discuss in print or on business television. The code of silence being applied to OTC derivatives is not happening without a good reason."
And what that reason might be is you and me.
Kaya now returned to her alter-home across the Lake, I go out in the silence onto the deck in crisp air to enjoy a glass of Rothschild Chardonnay - very nice at 1000 yen a bottle (amazing price compared to 30 years ago) - and sip as I watch a small snowstorm falling on the Lake in the silence snow knows, the stormswath covering a few acres or so far out there - a small oval in comparison to the Lake shore - heavy snow in a small locus, gliding in a skywave of whiteness across the sapphire blue like a brushpainting brush, scribing great happenings between sky and earth, happenings that we share, as calligraphically as ever...
There is no sound in the world more beautiful in a long life than your own little granddaughter’s hearty laughter. We had a lot of it at breakfast this morning, when Kaya matter-of-factly asked:
“Where's the lady bug?"
"The one that was here when I was waiting for breakfast, she was walking over my chopsticks.”
As we ate we looked under the paper cranes Kaya had folded before breakfast; we looked under various dishes, under each of Kaya's hands, under her tea, carefully in her hair, in her rice, behind her ears, in her ears of course and - most importantly - under her chin, which was extremely difficult to get to but in such cases it simply must be done...
We listened for tiny ladybug snores in case the lady was sleeping maybe behind either of Kaya's knees, for example, and we spoke at length about ladybug habits and hiding places in a kitchen where a little girl is having breakfast, but the shiny black lady with two bright red spots (as ladybugs are in these parts), who had been right there just a few moments ago, could not be found even on Kaya's new blue chopsticks.
So we decided to go for a walk in the woods, where Kaya found a windfall evergreen branch covered in bright red berries exactly like ladybug spots. I could see in her delight how it all comes together.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
IMPRESSING THE BARON
Out for a walk in the snow with Kaya, who is with us for a few days of relaxation into herself away from the twins, and to let the twins relax into themselves. As we walk, I keep pointing out the tracks the animals have made in the snow during the night: "Here's where Mr. Pheasant walked into the woods, here's where Baron the buck enters and exits his forest grove hideaway" etc.
As we walk along the road, every now and then I stop and point out the Baron's footprints, muse on his comings and goings and doings, when Kaya, rightfully feeling that she's at least as important as the Baron, selects one of the Baron's better footprints and puts her own bootprint in the snow nearby, then places several of her own handprints to surround the Baron's print, much as our prehistoric ancestors put their handprints where it was important for animistic linkage and spiritual continuity with the unknown; it's ancient and it's deep, and Kaya did it instinctively, as it's done best. Like me, the Baron will be impressed.
LEAPING ECONOMISTS Japanese economists are jumping up and down because prices have risen for the first time in quite a while here, as per the CPI, but I don’t see anything to smile about, nor do all the other consumers who for decades have paid higher prices than anywhere else in the world for both foreign and domestic goods.
Japanese consumers have been enjoying “low” prices for some time now, and would like to see it continue, but government economists, strange non-consuming beings that they are (they feed on stats), prefer inflation (theft of currency value by accelerated printing of fiat money) to deflation (lack of consumer interest in spending the value they have). It’s not all that strange, though, when you think about it; economists serve the folks in power, and historically folks in power everywhere have much preferred legal theft over public enlightenment. The creation of the US Federal Reserve System is a good example of the smoke and mirrors approach.
What got me on this cynical take - apart from the improbable sight of Japanese economists jumping with joy - was the Quality of Life index for 2005 [pdf] published by the Economist, in which Japan, formerly 16th, is now 17th on the list (just above Hong Kong and below Netherlands) about where it was last year, just floating along with its head above water (Ireland, in contrast, rose from 3rd to 1st), but the US fell from 2nd to 13th! A very big drop for the world leader in so much else...
I remember when America was always first...
Good starting point for fiat money divestment decisions: The Mess That Greenspan Made
Monday, January 02, 2006
Kasumi and Tatsuya, Kaya, Mitsuki and Miyasa are in Shiga for the New Year holidays, staying at their house across the Lake. They came over for lunch yesterday for a brief first visit; it was the first time since August that we'd seen the kids.
As it always does, it amazed me how much they had grown in just a few months - the miracle of life runs deep, in many more ways than time - though they still had their old characteristics, at which experience has made them more professional. They are so cute I want to take away all their playtime and just hug them. Not fair, either way.
Kaya has graduated from jealous elder sibling to iron-willed mentor of the ignorant undersiblings, which is much easier all around, and suits her thus far. M and M ignore her, anyway (when they're scolded by their mother they just look at each other and laugh), preferring to fight each other to bitter twinly extremes as they battle for unattainable supremacy, the desire for which is slowly waning as time wises them up.
They still make excellent faces, and are much harder to catch now. It was just a warmup visit for us, though, as I said; we'll be ready the next time, now that we know what to expect in terms of speed, bulk and cunning, and have had some time to work out and plan a comprehensive three-pronged strategy we call "Operation Giant Marshmallow."