Wednesday, May 31, 2006
BLACK RASPBERRY FOR GODSAKE! CHOCOLATE WALNUT! ALMOND JOY! BUTTER ALMOND CRUNCH! BY THE QUART!! WHERE IS THE MERCY IN THIS WORLD?
In a recent post I lamented one of my recurring luxury laments about the overall vanillaness of the ice cream and other sectors of choice here, and in a comment Pam linked to the above flickr photo of hers, where a genuine range of flavor choice is clearly displayed and dealt with by clients without dissolving into the ice cream shop floor. In the comment Pam casually adds that the other ice cream place has 75 flavors. Those folks know how to make choices. I used to do that too. I look forward to the coming nightmares.
PS: Am I hallucinating already? Does that say about 500 yen (in dollars) per quart, tax included? It's about $3.50 for a shot glass of Haaaagen Daeazsz vanilla here...
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Monday, May 29, 2006
A CULTURALLY LONE COUNTRY
"If the media is responsible for the first draft of history, then in Japan it has yet to be written. It's no surprise that the nation's collective narrative -- spelled out in its history textbooks -- is as fragmented, incomplete and misleading as it is. The Japanese media has failed its people -- it has fostered a 'culture of amnesia' that not only keeps the country from obtaining its much coveted seat on the U.N. Security Council; it has set Japan on a collision course with China that will have consequences the world has yet to fathom."
Japan's 'Culture of Amnesia'
"The Japanese people may soon be asked to make a momentous decision in a nationwide referendum. As I write this, the major political parties are at loggerheads over conditions under which that referendum will be conducted. Behind the closed doors of the Diet, but barely touched on in the media, this debate will lead to a decision that, perhaps more than any other, will affect the lives of everyone living in Japan."
Japan sleepwalks by design toward peace-renouncing poll
Sunday, May 28, 2006
CLOSE YOUR EYES AND LISTEN
If right now you need to know joy and timelessness, a heart filled with light, beauty that has been and will be always, overflowing with the splendor you are fashioned from, knowing all that is your own, that you are only in the least important sense alone, with nothing to fear other than never perceiving any of this, close your eyes and listen to the Duettino Sull’aria from Le Nozze di Figaro...
As I was doing my daily pre-breakfast garden tour this morning I couldn't help but sense the tiny loud music, pounding rhythms and sounds of general revelry coming from my row of broadbeans.
One doesn't often make a connection between broadbeans and Las Vegas, but that is what came to mind when I bent over and peered down into what was in fact the main thoroughfare along each upper stem of my broadbean plants, where crowds of touring aphids careened here and there, bumping into one another while on their way to even greater delights somewhere ahead as though waving fistfuls of cash, the caretaker ants rubbing their hands together in satisfaction at the house cut. Each stem resembled Sin City on a busy night when Elvis hadn't yet left the building.
I've read somewhere that low to moderate numbers of aphids will do no harm to a plant, so I decided to let the aphids party for now and give the Carrie Nation ladybugs a chance to get things back in balance; but if those aphids keep me awake tonight...
SOMEHOW THEY RING A BELL
“Never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”
Saturday, May 27, 2006
CHINA BECOMING ASIA'S PREMIERE TOURIST DESTINATION
"Instead of Japan dominating Americans' itineraries, China suddenly emerged as Japan's rival in 2004. Each welcomed about 1 million Americans that year, and China is expected to soon take the lead. The United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts China will be the most-visited country in the world by 2020.
'Where Japan used to be the engine that drove Asia, today, China's the engine,' says Vincent Wolfington, chairman of the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council."
Apart from all the cultural and other attractions, such as far lower prices, the Chinese know the value of welcoming visitors, who don't get fingerprinted and photographed upon entry...
China tourist engine
Thursday, May 25, 2006
SO I GO WITH THE CHOCOLATE
We went out on an excursion in the sunny yesterday across the Lake to the splendid Botanical Garden where we had a wondrous walk among the colorful plants and then went off into the hinterland to find some quality soba for lunch but what I want to talk about is ice cream.
So from where I'm eating my soba I can see the ice cream counter at the entrance to the restaurant and I'm looking forward to getting some ice cream after lunch because at a quick side glance on the way in I noted EIGHT ice cream tubs, an unprecedented number of choices for an ice cream counter out in the country, where, if they have a radical two tubs it's usually vanilla on the left and vanilla on the right, in what I call Japan's Vanilla Syndrome (which applies to other aspects of Japan as well, such as its politics); if there's a rare third choice in the middle, it's vanilla too, so it's a long time since I've had any chocolate.
Eight tubs! Be still, my heart! So when I finish I get right up and head over there with no further ado whatsoever, my mind is already filling with darkly sweet visions of cool smoothness welling up from the chocolate depths of the psyche in nirvanal anticipation.
Expertly I note at once that they have Vanilla, what a surprise, then beside that a visually undistinguishable flavor tantalizingly called "Milk," then comes an identically white flavor called "Rich Milk," for the more daring connoisseur, then there's a radical shift to a remotely pink-tinged vanilla item brazenly labeled "Strawberry," then a vanilla with vaguely dusty flecks of a darker something in it, presumptively labeled "Chocolate Chip" - we're getting warmer - then comes a pale kind of mixture called "Green Tea" that I can't really say is green, there's more of a vanilla look to it, then comes "Blueberry," identical in color to a shirt I once planned to wear to Woodstock, but I can't see a single berry; then we cut to the chase! Beside the berryless blue stuff, filling the number 8 spot, there's: empty space, crammed with the absence of superbly flavored chocolate, maybe with roasted almonds in it.
So I go with the absence of chocolate. It's invisible but free. And immediate. Tastes like vanilla.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
THE DA VINCI LOAD
I read The Da Vinci Code a few years ago, or tried to - just had to see what all the fuss was about - but right from the opening pages my mind kept asking intelligent questions, like "Omigod, do you believe what that dying guy managed to do?" or "Surely no one would ever say anything like that under such circumstances without everyone around them cracking up?" or "Don't you wonder why these characters take all this so seriously?" As Mark Twain said about an earlier version, once I put it down I couldn't pick it up. My disbelief was simply too massive to be suspended without some serious bridge cable, anchored maybe on the moon.
So, as one who was raised Catholic, I find it interesting that mobs of folks who fervently believe in immaculate conception, resurrection, ascension and transubstantiation (for starters), are getting all up in arms and being deeply offended by a clumsy patchwork of fictual faction that basically says Jesus got married and had some kids.
Truth is indeed stranger than... whatever fiction is.
[I speak, of course, as a descendant of Jesus... or not...]
[Is nothing sacred? Even the "DaVinci Code nun" is ersatz...]
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
THE COSMETICS OF IT ALL
Had the good train fortune this morning to be seated next to one of those renegade make-up girls who so upset the prim elderly ladies by putting on their makeup in public, which was unthinkable just yesterday. To do the makeup routine on a moving train takes that bravado to a level I cannot but admire in these fearless young women, much as we admire triple acrobatic somersaults without a net. I'd observed their work from a distance before, which is difficult on crowded rush hour trains, as all the swaying bodies keep blocking the view.
Anyway, there were no grandmas harrumphing nearby (which I've heard can start a fight these days), so the young lady went on the cosmetic attack with all the practiced efficiency of a SWAT team. With her large bag of finely crafted tools and name brand materials on her lap creating a sort of mobile cosmetic clinic, the various devices clinking and clanking as she picked them up and put them down, the brushes and powders, tweezers and files and creams, salves and colorants, unguents, rouges, lipsticks and glosses, pancakes and highlighters, curveballs, sliders, twin cams, turbochargers, dual carbs, afterburners, ramjets, re-entry procedures and whatnot, after our fast ride to the Big City she would be ready to face the world from behind precisely arranged layers of various materials.
It was fascinating to watch how, while one hand held the mirror as she surveyed her progress and decided upon the next phase of the campaign (on a tight train schedule), the other hand delved in the lap clinic, finding everything by feel as she organized the steps of her shading, layering, highlighting, sanding, spackling, resurfacing, grouting and pruning, now and then grabbing and whisking with a sable brush to level everything out in a cloud... Then at one point she dove back in and came up with - shudder - a large gleaming pair of gawky eyelash curlers, opened them wide and... and...
As linked to above, I'd previously seen a similar but less threatening technique used on another train in the application of mascara, but to watch a young woman with lovely eyes approach those same eyes with a gaping metal scissory object - while the country train bounces, lurches and careens along - grasp the short straight eyelashes, close the scissors tightly, hold that position long enough to put a good curl in without yanking everything right out, lurch, careen, then release and go for the other eye, is to approach a level of horror first staked out by Oedipus.
This young lady avoided a similar fate, however, by employing some sort of biogyrotechnique while using the curlers, as the train did its best to remain upright. It occurred to me that this technique might be of great use in mobile surgery, and that microsurgeons could learn much from these daring females. Might even have given Oedipus second thoughts.
Then she got off the train and all the city saw was the makeup.
Monday, May 22, 2006
CROW ENTERS FAT CITY
He usually hangs around on his highest oak tree, his tallest cedar or atop his private telephone pole to survey the far reaches of his realm, whose particulars have been pretty much the same since the beginning of crow time, as succinctly stated in the crow holy book handed down orally over the generations, all its meaning finally compressed into a single supremely holy word, which Dr. Crow utters all day at preordained times. As that one loud, harsh syllable indicates, everything has been pretty much the same since Crow Eden.
That is, until one day not long ago, when Echo trimmed some raw fat off of a bit of pork she used to make some gyoza, and asked me to put the fat outside; maybe Dr. Crow would like it. Not wanting his dark eminence to simply gobble up big gobs of fat, but rather to actually savor it bit by bit in somewhat of a human culinary style, I broke the fat up into pea-sized portions that I arranged in a cuisinally interesting geometric pattern atop the flower pot shelf out in the garden, so as to impart a new dimensional and proportional aspect to the Doctor's tradition-bound scarfing habits, and to see what he would do when confronted with it.
I watched for a while from inside the house, then did some stuff for a minute and all the fat was gone. I did the same stylistic arrangement a couple of times after that before I finally managed to spot the good doctor in the high-speed act. He didn't even fly away when I came out the door, he was so enthralled with his new taste experience. He had no problem geometrizing around the top of the shelf and getting off every last little dot of fat, beaking the shelf clean as one of his feathers and looking around for more.
The dark doctor hasn't been the same since. He hangs around here a lot now, and closer than he ever used to, keeping an ever sharper eye on all his fat-related things, such as the house, me, the shelf and the garden. He seems more attentive to my comings and goings now that I am his servant. When I come outside I can sense an intensified alertness in the vicinity, a proximal readying of feathers.
He huffs to a nearby tree to see if I'm doing anything maybe geometric atop his new cuisinal shelf in his enjoyable garden. Now and then he flies a new geometrical pattern low overhead in quick scans and hangs out in the garden generally, doing nothing in particular, just stretching his legs and admiring the flowers, kicking at the weeds, nice verbena we got there, arugula's coming up well; that shelf is sure pretty too...
But most of the time my activities are not fat-related, I'm only out planting basil or something non-crow focused, which rankles the feathered presence. I'm holding nothing that looks like fat: he double checks, tilting his head this way and that from the cherry tree, rumbling and mumbling calorific sounds.
I don't know how he's going to make it till the next time we have gyoza.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
It is nonpareil amazing that I find myself at this age, stemmed directly from a youth far back in time to a here and now of living high on a mountainside in Japan, where elder men and women of local families come to tend the greening rice fields of spring and summer. We wave to each other, me still a kid from NY astonished.
The vastness of the daily truth is beyond invigorating...
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Friday, May 19, 2006
ABOUT THAT FINGERPRINTING LAW...
[The immigration bill that just passed the Diet on Wednesday] "illustrates something I have been denouncing in my reports for four years. It is the fact that, especially since Sept 11, there has been a process of criminalization of foreigners all over the world"
"Speaking to reporters in Tokyo Thursday, the U.N. envoy says Japan suffers from what he called a 'deep and profound' racism - which needs a legal remedy."
UN pans Tokyo's 'racist' new law
UN Envoy Urges Japan to Adopt Anti-Discrimination Legislation
Racism rapporteur repeats criticism
Japan anti-terror law may criminalise foreigners
Thursday, May 18, 2006
THE FORCE OF NO BEANS
The monkeys come for a preliminary survey of my early spring garden this morning and look around in disbelief, their heads soon hanging in disappointment, their clipboards unmarked. They nibble at weeds; I laugh at their inconsequence!
Why do I scoff at the monkeys, why do I mock them, yet pay them no heed, other than a few token rocks? I pay them no heed in the depths of my soul - where it counts - because I have no tomatoes! I mock the unscrupled simians because the force of no beans is with me! The existential forlornness they find in my garden is my nourishment! They are jewel thieves at my rhinestone convention!
I note that they have brought their infants and children to the big disappointment as well, which is good. It is a source of deep joy to me that the genetically unscrupulous offspring are learning of this abject pointlessness at an early age. It does me profound good to observe their infant despair, it compensates in part for all those absconded onions, it offsets the long-term tomato anguish, eases the chronic pain of protracted bean loss, erases the grisly pictures of purloined pumpkins and cadged cucumbers...
Yes: bring the young ones here, I say! Show them all there is! For all there is is ginger root! Lettuce! Arugala! Red radishes! Mizuna! Rosemary! Stuff they hate! Thyme! Two kinds! St. John’s wort! Peppermint! All monkey yucks! Lemon balm! Oregano, Spinach and Verbena! Nyah-hah-hah! It is good to subject the new marauders to ongoing human mockery!
Yes, my garden is purged of all that monkeys love! Of course the beasts themselves taught me these things over the years, and for all their ruthless and painstaking instruction I scoff in gratitude.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
THE LAND OF THE RISING SUSPICION
For years, Koizumi has been trying to promote international tourism to Japan, where the new airport greeting will now be something like: "Welcome, possible terrorists! Fingers in the ink please, and don't smile for our mugshot database! You folks into the holding cell, if you would..."
Japan has a history of fingerprinting foreigners (who have been viewed suspiciously since Tokugawa times), but some years ago the feudalists in the government were forced by public pressure to discontinue fingerprinting aliens - they'd been doing and defending it for decades as essential to the nation's well-being, and the loss was devastating to their power plan.
But with so many terrorists now lining up every day at international air terminals to get into the US, even living there and making dangerous phone calls, and with US authorities fingerprinting and photographing terrorist tourists left and right upon entry (not to mention creating the world's biggest citizen telephone call database), it's the perfect chance for Japan's overlord wannabes to build a similar data base for future use, just in case... I doubt they'll even have to announce that they're recording all the phone calls, if they aren't doing that already.
You can imagine how many terrorists are trying to get into Japan, where they can blend in so easily, live here unobserved and use the phone, just look at all the terrorism that has occurred here at the hands of non-Japanese! Well, I can't recall any, offhand, but there must have been some... maybe one... anybody? I think somebody climbed an embassy fence once…
I like the wording too: "[The new law] allows Japan to deport any arriving foreigner it considers to be a terrorist..." [emphasis mine]
I've been living here and paying taxes without a vote for nearly 30 years, now I'll have to get fingerprinted and mugshot too... Hope this post isn't enough to get me "considered..."
FOR THE FUTURE
In re aspects of the previous post, on another recent morning train into the big city a young man sat across from me who was clearly of Japanese and African heritage -- a slim, handsome and intelligent looking young fellow with an Afro pony tail, on his way to university -- and for some reason that surprised me, I felt proud of him.
I felt proud because in his multicultural nature he reminded me of Keech, of whom I am proud for his having emerged integrally and strongly from his own school experiences here, becoming all the stauncher and wiser for that challenge-- wiser in many ways, at his age, than I am now.
I was proud of this young fellow, as of Keech, for having got this far with such strength of spirit: he was clearly his own man. I was proud of him for all he must have gone through in growing up these past 20-plus years out here in the Japanese countryside while looking so different, and for learning to honor that difference; it must have been tough in grade school.
Had I been able to talk to that young man about all this I would have congratulated him on his courage in getting this far while remaining true to himself. I would have noted that his experience will make him stronger than his contemporaries in ways they know little of, as will the broader heritage that is his gift.
I would say to that young man, stay rooted in your heritage, take pride in it, for you embody change, you are progress. Pay no heed to the fearful who are everywhere in life; they are not your guides. You are your own guide, as it was meant to be. The deepest hopes of all the world rest especially in you.
He and his fellows will likely never read these words, yet I must say them... I am proud of them all, and of all that they hold for the future of the world...
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
On this morning's commute the fellow sitting in the window seat beside me got off the train, so I moved to the window seat, freeing up an aisle seat beside a young woman who had been standing for several stops. Before sitting down, she looked around carefully to see if there was maybe another seat available. Not finding one she sat down, though she would have preferred to sit elsewhere.
Any westerner (though perhaps mainly males?) who commutes in Japan has experienced this, both with male and female passengers. I couldn't begin to count the number of times the seat next to me on the rush hour train was the last to be taken. I'd stopped paying attention to it long ago, or so I thought. But the other day I realized that I was still subconsciously aware of it when on the train home, while fully absorbed in a book, I nevertheless noticed that the last seat available was being taken by a hurried commuter several rows away! I had been second to last! The minishock had caught my attention.
It's generally not prejudice in the sense we know it in the West (where differences in appearance are not generally as stark as they can be here); it's more like tacit - even subconscious - non-inclusion, as though you're not really 'present' in the Japanese sense, since you're not Japanese. Though there may on rare occasions be some element of conventional prejudice involved, more likely it's simply the fear that the unreadable (and therefore unpredictable) foreigner might turn (horror of horrors!) and speak to the person next to him. It has been known to happen. (It's rare for a Japanese to talk spontaneously to strangers on trains (or anywhere else) in Japan; Hitchcock could never have made his movie here.)
Foreigners are clearly the most likely to turn and ask directions, or even (gulp) say something in English, French, German - who knows what - bringing undesired attention to the unfortunate person spoken to. And because foreigners are prominent and look different, they attract attention de facto, and whoever sits next to them will also by default attract attention, which is not desired.
As for me, I am a touch over 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, with long white hair and two earrings, dress differently and never wear suit and tie, so I certainly don't expect anyone in the exurbs to race to sit beside me. Still, I've been taking this particular train with these particular commuters at this particular time for a dozen years now, and when I lived in Kyoto, another same train for 15 years, so I've had some time to observe the phenomenon. (It's also interesting to be the passive cause of so many dilemmas.)
The phenomenon had at one point begun to slip beneath my notice, when one day a guy from California who worked at our office told me of the satisfaction he'd felt that morning upon watching two commuters race to get the second-to-last free seat across the aisle from him, the loser then having to bite the bullet and sit in the last seat beside the foreigner, knowing that the foreigner had observed the 'contest.' I recognized in my own history the experience of that particular satisfaction, though it hadn't really registered until the fellow mentioned it. It's a feeling akin to that I referred to above at discovering that the last seat hadn't been next to me.
Anyway, it's nothing personal, really, it's just that you're clearly not Japanese and therefore potentially problematic. Someone will probably sit next to you eventually. And it has its good side: there are times when you're the only person on the train with a whole seat all to yourself!
Monday, May 15, 2006
Local festival time at Akanoi shrine in a small ricefield village across the lake, few outsiders, I'm probably the most outsider here... everyone waiting for the procession either comes to the shrine that is the destination or sits on the narrow streetside verandas where they will watch the procession pass by with its rocking omikoshi and dangerous naginata spear dancing, which starts at another distant shrine and wends its way here through the old narrow neighborhood streets of two-horse width.
While waiting we enter the small local supermarket, which in its own way is especially interesting to us. It offers items never seen in the big city or suburban markets, not even in the broadly rural areas like where we live. There are dozens of varieties of fish in dozens of raw and prepared forms, many other foodthings I've never seen before, it's like stepping into the distant past: types of rice and bean sweets that Tokugawa likely enjoyed as a boy.
We wait then for a while at the shrine, where someone is idly practicing on the big drum, evoking the Seven Samurai theme... The elder folks huddle together to talk of family matters, farming, prices, politics and elderly health, while the young folks go off to the gaudy carnival area, bright even at noon, to play and win prizes, get even more excited-- a little boy comes along with a big bag of cotton candy (they sell it in bags here, not on paper cones as in the US)-- a little girl wrestles hungrily with three sticky rice-paste dango on a short wood skewer-- various local officials arrive in suits and ties-- the pace of these farming village festivals is slow, like hand-tilling a rice field...
Then the procession nears-- we can hear the chants and music-- we go and find a strategic vantage-- and slowly along come the young men in the parade, dressed in only fundoshi as they labor over kilometers to carry and bounce the heavy omikoshi on their shoulders, get to show off their muscular prowess to the young women who stand in the doorways and sit on the verandas that line the way...
Following come the children and the tots, the little ones guided by fathers and mothers but performing on their own, all dressed in traditional finery, twirling their swords and spears in time to the rhythm of the drums and gongs and chanting, over kilometers, slow step by slow step in the hot sun, an immense task for one who just wants to run and play but they stick to it, out of deep respect they hold to their assigned task, concentrating, learning intense discipline with everyone watching along the way full of praise, and the little girls dressed in rainbows of beauty with big flowered hats, dancing and playing percussion in time as they too move very slowly along together but alone, whirling and slow-stepping their way down the street in close-up for the happy eyes of all the proud grandmas that lean forward to see and smile...
It is spiritfood to see what can be done, what is still being done where few from outside come to see, to see the strength of a culture made visible in its youth, precisely where elsewhere in the world it is being lost...
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Gardening is the ideal mentor for those who might think themselves no longer in need of one. When you're young and urgent, when your aims are racy and you expect the soil to act like time, do your bidding rapidly and unattended (hurry up and grow!), you're still too fast to get the lesson.
Soil is ancient, been around forever, knows its tasks, works at its own pace. So as you age, if you've gardened enough, the garden has slowed you down to the point at which you can learn from it. You begin to act at garden speed. You can then perceive the year-round instruction, and learn to pay attention. The only fee.
When I went out early this morning to prepare the basil beds, on the way - as I often do - I wound up going off on a tangent to attend to a more immediate task, in this case deadheading the daffodils, which had already put too much of their energy into making seeds. That led to my deciding to deadhead everything around the house while I was at it, so as to ensure a good blooming next year.
Singular repetitive garden tasks are a great meditation. I can always use a great meditation, and this was not wanting. As I went around pinching off the new seedpods with their crisp scarves of withered petals, I got to thinking that because we humans tend to blossom year round, the need for occasional deadheading is not so obvious, especially to ourselves. But others can often sense the need for a fresh blossom atop our shoulders.
When at last I began preparing the basil bed I realized that, instead of racing through the task as I used to do, impatient to get to the basil part, I had learned at last to enjoy the pre-basil part, having seen enough summers of basil to know that it cares, and will respond sensitively to what I am doing now. It will show offense at shoddy treatment; basil can sense these things. So now I hunker down and take my time weeding and rooting, getting out pebbles, breaking up clods, mineralizing, and finally tilling carefully.
We are the same way in the gardens of ourselves, if treated poorly over the seasons...
Saturday, May 13, 2006
FILM NOIR LIVING
All these thought-police whispers here have me thinking in a creepy film noir vein these days, a state further catalyzed by the Catch-22 tactics of the NSA in the US, where:
"The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers security clearance." You can't investigate us because we don't give you permission to do so. The KGB was every bit as democratic.
A recent NEWSWEEK poll on domestic surveillance shows that “53 percent of Americans think the NSA’s surveillance program ‘goes too far in invading people’s privacy,’ while 41 percent see it as a necessary tool to combat terrorism.”
So all those Americans don't mind the government listening in and recording their phone calls for storage in "the largest database ever assembled in the world." I guess that in their phone conversations they didn't talk about TAXES or their JOBS or INVESTMENTS, POLITICS, BUSINESS PLANS, FAMILY SECRETS, AFFILIATIONS or such things, anything someone might someday be able to use against them in any way... If they did talk about such things, they'll always be talking about them, in all those stored files; you never know who might very much want to listen in, if the American equivalent of the Reichstag should ever go up in flames...
Told you it was film noir...
"For instance, would a journalist covering national security be regarded as an 'ordinary American'? What about a political opponent or an anti-war activist who has criticized administration policies in the Middle East? Such 'unordinary' people might number in the tens of thousands, but perhaps not into the millions.
Also, isn’t it reasonable to suspect that the [...] administration would be tempted to tap into its huge database to, say, check on who might have been calling reporters [link added later; it's coming true] at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker – or now USA Today – where significant national security stories have been published?
Or during Campaign 2004, wouldn’t the White House political apparatchiks have been eager to know whether, say, Sen. John Kerry had been in touch with foreign officials who might have confided that they were worried about Bush gaining a second term?
Or what about calls to and from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald while he investigates a White House leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, the CIA officer married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an Iraq War critic?
What if one of these 'unordinary' Americans had placed a lot of calls to an illicit lover or a psychiatrist? Wouldn’t Bush’s aggressive political operatives know just how to make the most of such information?"
DC RUMOR: MADONNA TO PERFORM IN IRAN?
Whispers in Washington have it that, in response to the philosophically meandering letter recently received from Iran's president, the White House is asking Madonna to whip up an "Immaterial Girl" show to be performed in the Majlis - featuring a new song entitled "Like 70 Virgins" - for the President, the Mullahs and their many Taliban visitors.
According to an occasionally reliable inside source, "she’ll have to wear a burqa, maybe a red one if we can get anything that racy past the censors. This will be a unique opportunity for someone of Madonna's -- caliber to perform in Iran; and since she'll be completely invisible, she won't actually have to be there in person! This is all on a par with current relations between the two countries anyway, and for any performer of Madonna's -- caliber, not being in Iran is always a pleasure.
She can stay home and relax, just have a trained stand-in fly to Tehran and go through the moves inside the burqa. Who's to know?"
It all seems a bit far-fetched to me, though...
Friday, May 12, 2006
I JUST HAD AN ILLEGAL THOUGHT AND YOU ARE NOW MY CONSPIRATOR
Thought crimes are about to make a comeback in Japan. Not that there are so many crimes being thought of here, but with all that citizen-spying going on in the US, certain bottom-feeding elements in the Japanese government are beginning to feel like they're missing out on a great chance to ramp up the general nefariousness. (If we could just have the kempeitai back again, or even the tokkou keisatsu [thought police]!)
Now they appear to be getting closer to their wish. A new and generally unheralded thought-crime statute is about to become law in Japan that "defines 'conspiracy' as an agreement, whether overt or tacit, fanciful or earnest, between two or more people that might be construed as planning to violate any statute..."
Somehow that doesn't sound like a law to me, since logically (if not legally) speaking, a law has to exclude something, whereas "overt or tacit agreement" pretty much locks up every you and I in the country, and "might be construed as planning to violate" neatly stockades the entire universe of thought, so the next few years should be interesting in the proverbial Chinese sense.
Oops... I just had an illegal thought... and there's another tacit one... maybe if I turn myself in... Now that I've gone overt and told you, you should come too...
Then there's the other key factor...
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
CUTTING AND BURNING AT 90
My father-in-law Kodaira Keiji (Keiji Kodaira in the Western style), who is descended from a long line of samurai, and about whom I posted earlier when he did his Beiju ceremony, will be 91 years old in October. In addition to having been a teacher and principal all his working life, he is a woodcarver, athlete, painter, calligraphist, writer, pianist, theatre director, actor and mountain climber, though he sticks to the flatlands these days, where he lives with wife Kazuko, who will be 90 this year.
I'd known from before I met him that Keiji was a renaissance man, and I was impressed when he became the second oldest person ever to get a college degree in Japan (at 80). But I was amazed to learn, when my wife Etsuko returned from a recent visit to her parent's house in Nagano, that for the past 50 or more years Keiji has been composing old-style Japanese songs, with lyrics.
Even more amazing was the fact that he and his younger brother Kozo, a stripling of 85, had, completely by themselves, on computers and using complex music and printing software, cut and burned a CD selection of Keiji's songs, engineered and vocally introduced by Kozo, with Keiji introducing the collection and doing all the illustrations for the cover and disc labels, the latter including a photo of the smiling composer with his Imperial medal for honored public service.
Keiji wrote the music during his travels as a teacher and in later years, about scenes and moments in his life and experience. It's called 'Pampas-Grass Field: 38 Years in a Teaching Life,' and was produced under his artistic name, Kofunami Koichi (roughly, Rainbow Viewing from a Small Boat). The music is evocative of Japanese times past, and is lovely to have playing; I'm listening now, to half a century and more ago...
The disc also includes a Keiji-illustrated complete songbook! As Kozo says in the introduction, it took them two months, working day and night (not counting the 50+ years) to do Volume 1, and they have just completed Volume 2 (50 copies each, for relatives and friends)! I am astonished on many levels. Even if I knew how to write music and had been composing for half a century, I'd still have to live another 25 years before I could even begin to do the same; heartening stuff for a boy of 65!
That's another great thing well-lived elders do: besides setting examples as they lead the way, they raise the bar.
[It was my honor to have this (in slightly different form) posted earlier as a guest blog on Ronni Bennett's Time Goes By.]
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
GONE COMPLETELY FISHIN'
I'm not much of a fisherman myself, but I couldn't help notice that the high point of America's Compleat Angler was catching a 3.5-kg (7.5 lb) stocked bass in an artificial lake on his instant ranch. Seems like a pretty low high-point for a two-term American presidency, but then I'm too young to remember the Grant administration.
Of course, the guy was only trying to be folksy and down-to-earth, which gives the world quite a bit of insight into his mind and how how it perceives his role as world spokesman for the only remaining superpower. Guess "Mission Accomplished" was undersized and had to be thrown back.
I'm not president of anything, but as the highlights of my past five years I'd name the birth of my three beautiful granddaughters and every single one of their visits here, with my beautiful daughter and her handsome, smart and talented husband.
No fish comes to mind, except maybe the 4-kg bass my son Keech caught in the pond a couple of years ago. His own personal high points are a lot higher than that fish, but then he'd make a better president.
The actual interview transcript. Excerpt: "The interesting thing about him [George Washington] is that I read three -- three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting?"
Monday, May 08, 2006
Saturday, May 06, 2006
LIKE A CLEAR SKY
The older I get the more it occurs to me, as beneath a clearing sky, that like liberals, conservatives are necessary, indeed essential; indeedier, both are fundamental to the inevitable political discourse that must follow the first yearnings of breath itself, given the transcendant facts of day and night, hot and cold, male and female (not necessarily in that respective order) and that the result of this eternal juxtaposition will be, as with all cosmic elements, as it has ever been: a mean agreement of opposing forces, as for example with the weather, which also remains unpredictable and subject to interpretation even in its reality; and as appropriately, out of our subjective hands.
It should come as no surprise therefore that there will always be contention in these regards, always disagreement, always polarity, the ultimate result being at times a cold that makes some unhappy, followed by a warmth that makes others uncomfortable.
The karmic point of this short and humble essay is the thrust that we respect each other for the weather we produce together, a phenomenon that plants understood long before we came to be. Let us, like the plants, move on in our congruously disparate harmony, to the season that awaits. Let us acknowledge that we are all in our weather together. Let us work to plant our seed and roof our houses, in appreciation of what we continuously achieve.
THE PROFESSIONAL LEVEL
In my younger days I often had the feeling that, despite the relentless excess of vigor and flex, there was some unfulfillment lingering nameless-- something other than the lack of wisdom that so patently earmarks the premature years.
It wasn't until I reached my late fifties that what had been missing all those flashy decades at last came to me like a dream-filled pillow: I had finally developed the necessary skills to take the professional-level nap.
And what a pleasure it is, to find something new that equals the youthful thrill of a home run, even surpassing the derivative endorphins of the near four-minute mile (neither of which, I might point out, is repeatable at will, the way a professional nap is). As a youngster of course I used to feel derivatively drowsy now and then - mainly during history, math, language, biology, economics, anthropology, philosophy and the other classes I don't recall - or after staying up till dawn wasting my life in one inventive way or another; but then, if by any chance I perversely laid down in the afternoon, I just stared at the ceiling with all that unused vigor streaming through me, the sheer energy of the whitewater years making it impossible to sleep. But not any more; nothing is wasted now.
Decades of sheer effort have at last imparted to me another precious secret of age. One uncovers these secrets, as I say, develops these skills, only after many years, years of survival and of perceiving from experience that if you do stop and take a nap, you won't miss much at all, because nothing much happens on sleepy afternoons when you're in your fifties and beyond that couldn't just as well happen later. After a nap.
Besides, there is something sacramental about hearing the call and at last, after all these dramatic life stages, being able to answer it, like a seed in spring: one simply must lie down and germinate. Not only physically, but ethically as well. Summoned thus from on high to stretch out in this agreeably supine way of things, for just a little while, to fulfill this sacred duty known only to god and the successfully aged survivor: now this, this is purpose.
And believe me, I give it everything I've got.
Friday, May 05, 2006
SURROUNDED BY MIRACLES
Late this sunny afternoon the wild wisteria pods began exploding like miraculous tiny cap guns, shooting their seeds hard and far into the undergrowth and beyond, while I was watching the barn swallows line their tails up on the telephone wire and scan the blue sky for insects.
Once in a while I too would see an insect up there; instantly one of the swallows would be off and headed in that direction, tracking the insect in a display of aerobatics that would put any 'top gun' to shame. Within seconds the swallow would be passing through the precise point where there was suddenly no insect. How do they do that? How do they anticipate the random meanderings of all the various winging insects and make their moves so ideally that, within the shortest distance and with the least expense of energy, they wind up right where dinner is?
It is miraculous thing to watch on a fine blue afternoon, especially while listening to life in the form of hard seeds pinging all around, filled with ancient knowledge of summer.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
SMILING BOB’S EXTRA-SPECIAL POLICE ADVENTURE
There I was - as I've been doing a couple of times a week for over 10 years now – tootling down the little street behind the train station on my way south, when I passed a watchful policeman standing by the roadside, which was ok because my seatbelt was on, I'd come to a complete stop, used all my signals properly, paid my taxes, possessed a proper visa and hadn't done anything felonious within the statute of limitations, so all was cool...
The first thing I thought when the several nice policemen at the other end of the street flagged me down was that the street must be blocked at that end for construction or something, maybe a local festival, but no, it wasn't that at all, it was something much more stimulating and informative. The police helpfully explained that, as of an uncertain time ago, the street was no longer a street on some days between 2 or 3 to 4 or 5pm and 6 or 7 to 9 or 10 pm or was that am, while pointing out, by way of proof, a sign that was not a traffic sign.
On one end of the cyclone fence that parallels the street, someone with a delightful sense of humor had hung a sort of banner featuring a smiling cartoony grandmother and some cartoony smiling schoolkids, kind of a peripheral vision safety poster that careful drivers would observe only out of the edge of their eyes since, in the interest of public safety, careful drivers turning into the street wouldn't dare take their eyes off the road - or the de facto grandmothers and schoolkids thereon - to read the detailed print at the bottom of a delightful cartoon sign that didn't, after all, say Drivers, Watch Out for the Elderly and the Schoolkids around the Station, and Have a Nice Day! Believe me, I could only grin from ear to ear!
I took particular delight in the fact that nobody at all had informed anybody at all about the change in the standard way, for example via the internationally recognized round red street sign with the white bar through it that is posted in prominent visibility at each end of subject streets everywhere else in Japan, indeed the entire world, with below that sign a smaller rectangular white sign where, forewarned, you look to find out the particulars; charmingly, they did nothing like that on either end of the half-block thoroughfare. So I couldn't help but smile at the nice policemen and their cute sign, while radiating goodwill.
Stopped in the middle of the street where I could actually read the entertaining cartoon, it informed me that the street was not a street not every day between 2 or 3 to 4 or 5pm and 6 or 7 to 9 or 10 pm or was that am? I had to chuckle at the acute wisdom and broad generosity all this involved, taking comfort as well in the judicial economy and select forethought that had gone into it, what with the waning tax base and the need to sustain essential boondoggles while somehow coming up with a way to maybe cover the salaries of the nice policemen as they stand around on little back streets and flag down the citizenry to share in the public joy.
I thought the whole thing was a knockout of an idea, and immediately made my 70-dollar contribution so that the law's eager minions can keep on with such approaches to safety, the better to preserve us all from the many problems that come with having finally got a little money in the bank. But I frowned at having to break the law once more by driving the rest of the way down the little street so as to become legal again, when I could smile heartily once more.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Sipping fine wine at evening
all the trees
Each night before heading off to bed I step out on the deck to check the sky and the weather, maybe get a gaze of stars to take with me. This being the burgeoning of Spring, when I stepped out last night I was only expecting the quiet of starlight but I walked into the sound of joy sky high, it was almost deafening - no doubt surpassing the limits of human hearing - the kaeru (frogs) had begun their full-blast, mountainside-sized annual mating party.
The paddies, all freshly flooded now but as yet unplanted and faceting down the night mountain in silver slabs of sky, have a long history as the local venue for amphibian romance. The frogs have a week or two before the rice is planted, so they take advantage of these intense nights when the water all belongs to them and their eggs.
It had been sunny all day for the first time since the paddies were flooded, and throughout the bright warm time the kaeru had just dined and basked in quiet, gaining in strength while awaiting the night, when they would hop on the wild side. Now it was party time and every one of them was putting a whole day's sunlight into song, song that filled the air with fundamental happiness, all those thousands of lives giving back to the night what they'd received from the day, in a whole mountainside of non-stop kaeruoke.
Monday, May 01, 2006
THE GRACE OF ELDERHOOD
Time is kidding, of course; I'm not 65, except in mere years, or maybe when caught by surprise in the mirror, but then only in the morning or when I try to look serious about being my age, as in a passport photo. Tilt that head, crook that brow.
Otherwise I look just as I please and do just as I please, only more wisely, more richly now in every respect (excepting all-out gymnastics, which are more considerately done) than when I was a mere stripling unfamiliar with the wide, deep world I was racing through on my way to the life-richness I am presently savoring (sort of as fine wine in contrast to cherry coke).
At my new age it's a miracle to me that I am being afforded this grand perspective of life's shoreless ocean, while no longer needing to expend any of the outrageous physical costs I wantonly spent in the rush to get here. So impetuous an expenditure it was, in fact, that at this far retrospect I stand amazed by all that has carried me this far without a creaking joint to my name.
But then youth, in the nature of vigorous haste, always underlooks the full extent of life; the grace of elderhood is to perceive at last the full breadth and depth of life becoming.