Monday, December 20, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Really Hope This Worked

Maybe it did. Maybe it didn't.

Lori Nix

This stuff is pretty rad. It looks like both the world that I want to live in and am absolutely terrified of.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Racism and the Ebizo Incident

If you are familiar with the news in Japan, you will be aware that it is a country with a lot of free time on its hands. The biggest story of the late summer/early fall period was the monkey on the loose in Shizuoka, biting grannies and running from police. Now the winter has its own saga, with the fall colors now gone, Kabuki golden boy Ichikawa Ebizo has now risen to a higher stage.

What has he done to be on the news, morning noon and night for over two weeks? Nobel Prize? No, try again. Cure for cancer? Too easy. Iditarod, not even. Got drunk and then was beaten at a bar. Bingo! This nonsense has not just been news, but has been the only news for the last three weeks. Why? I can develop theories but not give answers.

I don't really care about Ebizo. I only know that he is a guy that comes on TV and speaks with fake gravity and people are supposed to be impressed by him. He may in fact be the once in a generation kabuki preformer that his supporters claim, but how would we know when his is the only family allowed to have once in a generation kabuki performers and he is the son? Wouldn't it stand to reason that that is what he would be held to be?

My concern is that now that his partner in this violence- I hesitate to say attacker because, who knows- has been found, I am worried for where the coverage will, and has already turned.

The 26 year-old yakuza lacky turns out to have an American father. Shame, shame. I have no heard him described twice in the news as looking like Bob Sapp.

Here is a photo of Bobb Sapp:

Okay. Now here is a photo of Ebizo's alleged attacker, Ito Lion:

Alright. You got the resemblance there right? Check it again, just to make sure. Now here is a picture of the alleged victim, Kabuki god Ebizo:

Now, if forced to, just looking at these pictures, if you had to give police a description of alleged attacker Ito Lion, which man would you say he most resembled? Remember, Tiger Woods is not an option. Now, I will be honest, in his arrest pictures, Ito looks a bit more like a mope. He has put on some weight and has the hang dog look of a wannabe gangster. I know that look because I teach Japanese kids. It is very different from the look of a wannabe gangster in America. His whole body language says, "young Japanese kid gone wrong" to me. But that is not the context I have seen in the news.

Again, I might be reading this wrong. There is a lot of coverage that I have not watched. However, yesterday morning the panel discussion news involved a former model whose credentials were that one of her parents was Japanese while the other was American. They also had that ubiquitous Italian guy on. I might be constructing the racist dialogue in my own mind. I just wonder if the stroyline will ever run, "What is wrong with our country when a poor little kid with American and Japanese heritage gets sucked into our nasty Japanese underworld that eats wayward highschoolers and spits out their bones while being largely ignored by our justice system and public." I don't think we are going to hear that one.

Assange vs. Libby

May I ask a question, that I am sure has already been asked in you rown brain, if not in numerous media sources that I haven't seen? If the media and government are so put out over Julian Assange and want him to hang for his transgressions, then they must be just as furious over the Bush Administrations outing of Valerie Plame. Oh. What, they aren't?

Oh, wait, Democratic Underground is on it.

Rubio for Prez?

While I am on the subject of bias, here is an article on the tax cuts. And here is a logical fallcy that I think it illustrates.

It is two years down the road and there is a lot of dusty ground in between, but is everyone really going to turn out to fight for Obama again? The kind of fight that will get him Florida again? Or North Carolina or Virginia? How are we going to pull off a Democrat for President when the President won't be a Democrat. If, after 2 years in the Senate, the decide to run Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination, what are we going to do? I am putting the long money on him. Mark it down now. Not that I want him to win.

Our National Survivor Bias

The question has been posed about post World War II America; that our resounding success in winning that war adversely affected our post war foreign policy. That we took the lesson to be that since we won a huge war, huge wars could help solve world problems, like in Korea or Vietnam. Japan, on the other hand, go the opposite idea; Man war is a bunch of garbage. Don't misunderstand, I am thrilled America won and Japan lost, but, even though I lead off with this paragraph, I don't mean to talk about post-war foreign policy.

It seems that our current national dialogue is at a bit of a distance from where our dialogue as people is. It is starting to seep through somewhat, but not with the urgency and fury that it needs to. As to why, the answer seems quite simple to my mind, the governing class in our country, both the press and the politicians are burdened with a gigantic survivorship bias. I Imagine most of you are familiar with the term, but let me give a brief summation. Let us suppose that a commander orders 20 men to invade an enemy bunker. This invasion leads to a complete destruction of the bunker and only one dead soldier from the 20 person team. An amazingly successful endeavor. Unless you are the one soldier who was shot through the head running up the hill. From his standpoint, rapidly ascending to the spirit world, it seems like a gigantic waste and a terrible order, but we will never hear his side of things. We will only hear from the guys who survived, how it was tough going until they made it over the rise. How it was sad to lose one guy, but they knew that they would make it. They just had a feeling. Of course, that one guy had that feeling to, until he felt nothing.

In business survivorship bias is often discussed in relation to figures that omit failures. Let's say there is a new shopping mall and it has 5 stores that are making 20% more profits than the mom and pop stores that were on Main street. Well, this shopping mall must be miraculous. What if we knew that there used to be 15 stores in the shopping mall and that 10 of them went bankrupt? That shopping mall wouldn't seem so magical then.

How am I applying this to our national discussion? Think about how rife every national conversation we have is with survivorship bias. Even the passionate speech given by the television host or the brave actions of a lone congressperson are only a hazy refraction of what is really happening. They can, at best, empathize. By the very nature of the job, no one who delivers our nightly news is being adversely effected by the economy. In fact, they are probably at the apex of an upward course. Of course they feel that success is a by-product of their own hard work, and it is to a large degree. It is also luck and favor and timing. Our representatives as well, are, again by the nature of their jobs, successful. Without question, it was a high risk proposition and some candidates wipe out completely and disappear, but there are no poor representatives. Senators have a high paying job for 6 years and representatives in the house for 2. To many of us that is a dream. I would gladly settle for 2 years at a hundred thousand dollars. It is beyond my wildest imagination.

How can we expect decisions to be made on our behalf, and a dialogue to happen to our benefit when there is no real way for the people in charge of those decisions and that dialogue to understand the situation? On television poor people seem like an aberration and should, without question, be apologetic about their situation. The homeless might be a sad situation, but what mistakes did they make to get there? Not any mistakes that a TV host or a politician would make.

I am a school teacher, and I don't want to just speak for me, but I know that no one in the government or on TV works ten times harder than I do. I am sure they work hard, but the nature of my jobs ensure that no one outside coal miners and infantrymen work harder than I do. That applies to a lot of people out there. However, everyone on TV and in the government makes ten times what I do or more. How can we expect a fair conversation to happen under those circumstances?

We can't.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

UFC:124 Cosmonaut

UFC Commisioner Dana White rolled to the podium in a creaky wheelchair, with a tossled wig and a homemade wrestling club sweat suit. He was drinking a bottle of scotch and crying over a photo of Dave Schultz. "Let the games begin" he said, cracking a slight smile and projecting a graph of the tax cuts from a projector mounted to the metal frame of his wheelchair.

Makdessi vs. Audinwood

I don't know much. Makdessi is a kickboxer. I think Audinwood wins a decision by fighting MMA.

Bongfeldt vs. Nadal

Don't know much about the water bong or his opponent either. Bongfeldt is on quite a streak and has armabarred TJ Grant, so let's say Bongfeldt by sub in the 1st.

Riddle vs. Pierson

I haven't been sold on Riddle, but he is reaching that point now. Another stand-out wrestler who can hit really hard. Pierson has been on a knocking fools out roll, but Riddle has fought his whole career in the UFC and only has one loss. I put that as a check in his column. Riddle by decision.

Hazelett vs. Bocek

The guy I said I would stop picking against vs. the guy I can't pick against. Hazelett, who I love for so many reason, but mainly for his sick, sick jiu-jitsu game is moving down to 155. I don't know if the cut has hurt him or will make him into a huge, lanky opponent. Bocek is a great submisiion grappler and if Hazelett has been weakened by dropping weight, Bocek will be able to tire him out, but I think Hazelett's length and savvy make for a tough fight and he notches an exciting sub in the 2nd.

Almeida vs. Grant

I really like Almeida as a fighter. He is quite the dynamic sub guy. I am a little worried that the game is passing him by thought. TJ Grant can wrestle and submit. It should be a good fight, but I am calling Grant for the upset here, with a TKO in the 3rd after Almeida gets worn down.

Miller vs. Doerkson

Miller all the way, 100% with no reservations. He grabs hold of something and rips it off in the 1st.

Struve vs. McCorkle

Props to both guys for being amusing. Both are interesting stories in and of themselves. I certainly want both to do well, but I see more ways to win for Struve. Even if McCorkle can get and hold top position, I think Struve figures out a way to sub him. Struve by sub in the 2nd.

Stevenson vs. Danzig

I like both of these guys, but I like Mac Danzig more. Why? He also works as a photographer and is a Vegan. Stevenson is very likable as well. They are both good fighters who are on up and down kiddie roller coasters. One of them will probably be cut. Danzig has a much smaller frame for this weight class and doesn't have the raw strength of Stevenson. He does have a better boxing game and some good ground-work. I can see Danzig getting a decision, but I think it is much more likely that Stevenson pounds his way to a TKO in the 3rd.

Miller vs. Oliveira

This is the real fight of the night for me. Oliveira is supposed to be the next Jose Aldo, only a little bigger. Cool. I love a leg kicking jiu-jitsu phenom. However, as I have said, I am a 100% bus driver for the Miller brothers. I think that Jim Miller is a huge test for Oliviera and if he clears this hurdle he will have proved himself. Miller is he real deal. A tough, tough fighter. He might have already reached his ceiling, but on his best nights he can give anyone a beating. I think Miller fights to a hard won decision.

Alves vs. Howard

In a battle of two sluggers, anyone can win. I would not be dissappointed if Howard's free swinging, heel hooking game paid off. However, I think that Alves's style is a hard one to hang with unless you have some serious take-downs. Howard does not. Alves will batter his legs and stay on his feet to earn a TKO in the 3rd.

St. Pierre vs. Koscheck

I don't hate Koscheck. I think he is excessively talented and has worked very hard to get where he is. He has great takedowns and a hard, hard right hand. His foibles have been much discussed. Mainly, he closes his eyes and jumps in when striking. It gets him knocked out. Will that be what gets him this time? I don't know but something will. Let's be honest, Koscheck has a chance to win this fight. Even if he is just failing, a big right hand can disorient anyone and Koscheck can certainly follow up with a huge takedown and a savage beating. But GSP just has too many ways to win and he mixes them all together so well. I think GSP will try hard to finish this fight, but I am not sure if he will. Let's say GSP by a sub in the 4th.

And there you have it.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I hate to say it and I have held off for a while. I didn't want to be a reactionary malcontent who went boo-hooing off to his room when he didn't get his way, but I am in camp with these guys. I am having a very rough time supporting President Obama right now. If I had wanted Republican policies implemented, I would have voted Republican. I voted for Obama, not because I thought it would be an easy run and because I wanted him to do everything I wanted and leave me completely pleased, but because I thought he would fight. I thought he would fight for us the way we fought for him. Sadly, this week, he has shown that he has no inclination to do that and his administration sees it as their role to scold us, who supported him.

It is possible that the staff in the White House are so much smarter than me that I can't see the high-level manoeuvring that they are up to, but I doubt it. If you extend the god-awful Bush tax cuts that you campaigned against for the next two years then what do you expect to happen if the Republicans get back in power? They are the eternal tax cuts. They are the tax rates that we have always had. They are unchangeable, unless they are lowered. At the cost of our Social Security of course.

Politically, they are also terrible. They aren't the Bush tax cuts anymore, they are the Obama tax cuts. Make no mistake about it. At a time when people can't even afford to stay in their homes, this ransom will be paid to millionaires and they will still complain about the socialists and Marxists on their doorstep. I have said it before and I will keep saying it; They already hate you. They will always hate you. Nothing you do will please them, at least outwardly.

The White House tells us that it would be cruel to end unemployment benefits, and I agree, but why did we connect these issues? Fight and win on the issues because they are right. Make the Republicans stand up against the unemployed and the middle-class, not because we like to stand around and watch a dust-up but because we have to change the way things work. Ronald Reagan extended unemployment benefits for God's sake. Maybe next we can give the Republicans Star Wars to get them to sign on to START. It doesn't make sense. We win on the issues when we fight for them. John Boehner said on TV that he would vote for the middle class cuts if that is all that was offered. Show that clip until he gives.

Aside from politics it is terrible policy by the Obama Administration; stashing funds that could be being used to rebuild our economy in the safes of millionaires who already have enough. Let me state this again as well: Rich people don't create jobs, demand creates jobs. Did the decade of Bush tax cuts, shoved through in reconciliation, inspire our betters to scatter gold dust amongst the masses?

I hate it, but it is clear that our President, who I love and support, does not think like us and is not going to fight for us. I hate saying it and I hate it being true. What could he do? Fire Geitner as soon as possible. Fire Larry Summers. Fire Ben Bernanke. Why talk change and enforce establishment? I don't get it. If you are looking for good people who are already in the public eye, what is the matter with Stiglitz and Krugman, or Spitzer for Christ's sake. In this economy do we have time to worry about who he is paying for sex? I don't care.

I am scared of a lot of things: sharks, planes, debt, this guy at my gym. But there is one thing you should never be scared of, doing the right thing. You would think that the first post Spike Lee president would get that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why are Manga Characters White?

I get asked this question not infrequently. Here is a good explanation, which is similar to the one I usually give. My usual answer is that they just look white to you but that most people don't think of themselves as stereotypes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Real Pound Problem

For those who wonder why I go apeshit at the waste of paper that is Amy Chavez's defecation of a column, here is an interesting piece on Ezra Pound and the Japan Times. Should they really have worked for the same paper?

Abortion and the Economy

While all of the pro-life Republicans are crowing about their ability to turn of the spigot on unemployment benefits, condemning families to a joyless Christmas of stress and tension and promoting an economy that smashes the lower classes to benefit the upper, are they thinking about the consequences? I am looking for numbers, but I have to think that there are a good deal of families who find that a pregnancy is not a viable economic option right now. There are many factors in abortion but a family in crisis seems as prominent a reason as any to not have a child. Did they pause to think about that? If you really want to lower abortion rates, isn't a stable economy, along with education and access to health care, the best way to achieve them? Just questions on my part.

The New Site

Should I even call it that. I started a different site that is more focused on photography and writing and will hopefully grow to invovle other people's work. It took me a bit to get up and running which meant I was doing less here. I don't plan on stopping this blog as it is something completely different. Please check out the new on as well at

Andy Irons

Here is a good piece on some aspects of the life of Andy Irons. It is always a frustrating mystery to me reading about the downfall of people who seem to have absolutely everything. But that is too easy a comment, isn't it? I don't know what he had or didn't. I can't know what was going on in his head. In Japan, everywhere probably, but that is where I am, there is a strong tendency to look at successful people and talk about how great their lives are. I always say, more forcefully now that this conversation happens in my house, "We don't know. You don't know. What happens in people's lives isn't always great and being rich doesn't always make them happy." If I got paid to surf everyday and was one of the best in the world at it I would be so insanely happy that I wouldn't even hate Limp Bizkit. But then again, that is easy for me to say as I am completely broke and don't even get to surf poorly anymore. I suppose it is a lesson in the gap between what you can see and the reality, although Irons seems to have been showing us the truth about himself for a while. Nevertheless, he was a surfer, a great one at that, and I am sad to see him go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

UFC: 123 Sleep

Commissioner White was joined on stage by Majority Leader Harry Reid, who took a shot of Jose Cuervo and then dropped a deuce like he was GG Allin.

Kelly vs. O'Brien

O'Brien is here to lose. It is always possible that he wins, but not really. Kelly by GNP TKO in the 2nd.

Parisyan vs. Hallman

One guy who I never thought we would see back takes on another guy that I never asked to see back. Parisyan was one of the most exciting fighters in the sport right before it blew up. But his brain blew up before he could ride the shock-wave to stardom and security. Parisyan is an epic flake. He has put on some of the most watchable fights in history but he lost his grip to panic attacks and pain killers. Hallman has been in the sport since my first year of college. He has two wins over Matt Hughes and a surprsing record for someone no one has ever heard of. If Parisyan is in control of his faculties, I think he wins this on decision. But he isn't someone you can count on anymore. Hallman by boring, boring decision.

Barbosa vs. Lullo

Lullo is here to be a kicking bag for Barbosa, who will take the fight by KO in the 1st.

Davis vs. Boetsch

Boetsch beatdown of David Heath is still epic, and he is a barbarian, but Phil Davis's wrestling is just out of his reach. A big haymaker could end the fight for Davis, but I think his wrestling and Heath's conditioning lead to a TKO in the 3rd.

Griffin vs. Lentz

Both are good fighters. Neither will be champion. I think Griffin's superior wrestling and pace take over and give him the decision.

Foster vs. Brown

I have long discussed my affection for Brown's emergence as a pissy folk legend. I like taking him in fights, but he is infinitely beatable. There is no glaring differences in these two fighters ability levels, but there is a difference in what their abilities are. Foster can out wrestle Brown, and that matters. I would love to see Brown endure and turn this into a real scrap, but I think Foster probably takes him down and holds him there until he gets tired resulting in.....hmmm..a TKO in the 3rd?

Sotiropoulos vs. Lauzon

Now here is a fight I am interested in. This could be one of the better fights you see this season. Neither guy is a gifted athlete but they are both very good fighters. I have Purebred love for Sotiropoulos and I have crazy person respect for Lauzon. Neither look like fighters but they are both out to beat the stew out of each other. In the end, I think Sotiropoulos is just a little bit better and will get the sub in the 3rd. Who knows though.

Harris vs. Goncalves

Goncalves is from Chute Box and has a great record. But in Brazil. Harris has been winning, and winning well on the big stage. I think that carries him through and he gets a TKO in the 1st.

Simpson vs. Munoz

Two wrestlers going out and punching. Both of these guys were super high level collegiate wrestlers but they have been so-so in MMA. I don't have a real dog in this fight. Either can be knocked out. I think Munoz is a little more well rounded now, so let's say he gets the TKO in the 2nd.

Penn vs. Hughes

And now we come down to it. There is no secret here, Penn is one of my favorite fighters of all time and I can't stand Matt Hughes. Both of their previous fights are some of my favorites of all time. How to call this one? I think that Penn has progressed past Hughes but he has also gotten flakier. He can't be counted on. It all depends on his mental and physical condition. Hughes' size is still a bit of an issue, but not exceedingly. Penn's striking is leagues beyond Hughes. I don't think Penn can be taken down that easily. I worry that he is still having training camp with his cronies and not really pushing his boundaries. Hughes seems to be feeling it lately and hasn't regresse as much as I thought he would. If Penn comes in sharp and not completely without a gameplan like in his last fight, I think he out strikes Hughes for a KO in the 2nd.

Jackson vs. Machida

Speaking of flakes, witness Rampage Jackson. I have no faith in his predictability. He has a ton of skills and talent. His submission and striking defense are top notch. Striking defense with the exception of defending leg kicks. He just doesn't do it. He has knock-out power in both hands and covers up well. I just don't think he can compete with a focused Machida. Jackson has already sowed the excuse seeds saying that Machida's movement isn't fighting. Then make him stop moving Rampage. Machida will move in and out and take Rampage's legs away. He will land to the body and get a few trip take downs. I think Jackson tires and gets TKOd in the 3rd. I would like to see five rounds of this one.

I would love to watch this live but I will be playing Arashi covers on the school ground. Boo.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Conservatives Are Toddlers. Junior High Schoolers at Best.

I went to junior high with this kid named Sonny. He was a dick. A real dick. If it was now me instead of then me, Sonny would have worn a broken nose for graduation, instead then me just shut up and endured him. One day he came up to me at my locker. I was wearing a "49ers: Super Bowl Champions" T-shirt. I apologize, I liked Steve Young. "You know why I hate that shirt?" I was slightly confused but expected some absurdly firm voicing of a sports rivalry inherited from his parents. "Because you're wearing it." Even as a 13 year-old I think I was taken aback at how silly this was. What I was really receiving was an advanced course in conservative politics.

Witness this. I grew up in a conservative house, but what we watched on TV was Cousteau and Cosmos. Nova and National Geographic. Something has changed. The idea of playing for a team, for having a side is more powerful than even your own interests. I mean interests as personal, not just economic or political. The majority of conservatives aren't against doing anything about global climate change because of anything in the science or any fake controversy. They oppose it because it is a Democratic issue.

This is frustrating. Exceedingly frustrating but it is also freeing in a sense that I wish the national party would get. As a teenager, once I realized Sonny was fundamentally deranged, I could go about feeling however I wanted about him. I could act however I wanted because his baseline hate for me was established. No matter who the Democratic nominee for president is, they will be reviled as the most liberal ever. No matter who the nominee is, their past will be questioned without regard to truth. No matter who the Democratic leader is, they will be lambasted as a tyrant and no matter what the Democrats propose, it will be shot down as the vanguard of a progressive takeover. So fuck it. If whoever you nominate is going to be the most liberal, nominate the most liberal. If every bit of legislation is running interference for a new progressive age, let's bring it about. Having an opposition that has already decided to hate you isn't all bad, it is just them showing you their hand.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

David Broder is a Homicidal Maniac

I had been meaning to mention it for a bit. I am late to the party of course. I usually picture David Broder as a borderline dementia adled outpatient crossing his legs in an antique easy chair, smoking an old pipe in his perfectly pressed suit and smiling slightly while he shits his adult diaper as the pundits gathered in his parlour applaud. Now I picture him in smeared clown make-up, holding a butcher's knife while blood drips out the corners of his mouth.

Why? This article. You have probably seen it already. Broder begs for a war, (that he is absolutely in no way advocating, of course but wouldn't it be great) against Iran because it would...and wait for it here....stimulate the economy. However, Mr. Broder isn't a big fan of the stimulus. Now, how would a war help the economy? You got it, by introducing large amounts of government spending to employ the un and underemployed and get them working thereby circulating money back into the larger economy. One might think that a larger stimulus package could do this with out murdering innocent people, funding shifty contractors and killing American service people. Yes, but then you wouldn't be the Dean of the Washington Press Corps and you wouldn't have a stainless steel hard-on for death, destruction and power. In any sane environment Broder would be quickly shuffled into a back room and fed his pap from a wooden spoon and rocked to sleep by paid professionals. In the Washington press corps, he is fellated and hailed. He is a maniac, and homicidal to boot.

Welfare States

As usual, my apologies for being internetaly non-present. I have been super busy and am working on updating this website. We'll see.

A confluence. In this New York Daily News article, the Right's absurd canard about liberal states being welfare havens is called into question yet again, showing that Sarah Palin's oil rich Alaska takes $1.84 in federal funds for every dollar it puts into federal taxes. This pattern is repeated over and over again in Republican welfare states, while lefty cesspools like New York and California 79 cents and 78 cents respectively.

I first became aware of this phenomena during Senator Kerry's run for president. As he was from the much maligned imaginary state of "Taxachussettes", some brave investigator sought to look up their tax burden. This led to a list of what states paid in federal taxes compared to what they received in federal money. The most recent documentation that I have been able to find is from 2005 and it shows the same patterns. Namely, that liberal states support conservative states who then shout and complain about them. Among southern states, the only two that carry their own weight are Texas and Florida. Florida varies from year to year in these things depending largely on the hurricane season. I would imagine Texas comes in fine due to oil and being really gigantic. But that is just speculation.

If the import of this data doesn't strike you at first just picture the conservative babies in their old fashioned cloth diapers, constantly pooping and crying in their own mess, faces red and arms flailing, until big, liberal mommy comes to change them and they squirm and cry even more, but the adult does the changing that has to be done and the baby goes back to repeat the process.

Which brings us to Emperor Rick Perry of Texas who is making noise about seceding from Medicaid. This is one area where I have definitely seen my political opinion change over the years. Before, I would have argued for the importance of maintaining or national unity. Now, although I acknowledge its dangers, I feel that maybe states should be allowed to go their own way so that we can then stand back and laugh at them. Not that I want to see people in Texas suffer, as they most certainly would without Medicaid, but I feel that the radical conservative agenda is simply not feasible and is only functioning due to the largess of the liberal states. I say we provide an army to defend you from invading countries, help with your interstates and after that Texas...Have at it. One thing the national government could provide was free moving vans for everyone who wanted to leave. This includes South Carolina and Kentucky and every other state that wants to complain about the federal government while sucking it dry for every last cent to keep its failed ideology alive.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Tinkerbell Effect

It has been commented on recently, though I suspect the feeling has been around before, that what we are undergoing now is not just a conflict of political differences but rather a competition of divergent realities. I tend to think that I am on the side of the actual world but it is worth reviewing The Tinkerbell Effect and pondering whether what is happening, most notably with the Tea Party revelers, is a refusal to acquiesce to larger systems that the rest of society accepts. I don't pose the question to make them sound heroic. I believe they are very much not. That being said, what happens to our understanding of our society when some of us refuse to even acknowledge its right to exist? Additionally, isn't it great that economics and other social sciences come up with such great terms?

They Still Won't Get It

Politico have shown themselves the leaders of completely not getting the appeal and the reach of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. They don't set themselves up as completely indignant and dismissive like those on the Right do. However, the status quo media fail to understand The Daily Show because of all of the things that make them fail in general. The Daily Show has for at least a decade now been the best media criticism on TV. While Howard Kurtz was spitting Beltway wisdom and conservative talking points on CNN and Fox was pitting Cal Thomas against Mara Liasson, John Stewart was calling the system out at large for what it is, a product of its own solipsism and a prisoner of its love affair with itself. Politico reveals that they can't see this in any other context than Left versus Right in a battle that is waged for their own entertainment. I don't hail John Stewart as a visionary saviour. In fact I disagree with his emphasis on cordiality, as I insist that rationality is the more important priority. I think that demons should be demonized and there are times to panic. Nevertheless, the media at large can't find a way to take him seriously because he has steadily refused to play their game and worked actively to ruin it for them. What Politico, and others like them, miss is that the vast amounts of people who showed up in D.C. over the weekend are rooting for the demise of this very same media. There is no way that they could run the headline "Hundreds of Thousands Find Us Contemptible." So they talk about the political effect. The don't understand that carrying signs that are a commentary on the banalness of our mainstream political discourse is a way to upbraid them and unravel them at the same time so they treat it as light comedy. As I stated before, I don't necessarily march in lockstep with John Stewart and I think he goes a little heavy on the idea of civility, but the speech that he gave was absolutely right in illustrating everything that the kind of people at Politico get wrong everyday.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

UFC 121: The Sound of Mariachi Bands

UFC comissioner Dana White whizzed to the podium on a broom and began a power point presentation on civilian deaths in Baghdad sporting a Tuf Enuf polo shirt. He cackled and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

I apologize if I have titled another UFC with that name, however. On to the fights.

Yang vs. Camozzi

When I claim lack of evidence and throw my hands up, doesn't lend any less credence to the pick. I will have to throw all of the numbers in a spread sheet at some point and see if they meet statistical significance. I doubt it. Old .05, you shady mother. Who are these people? I have seen one fight, but wasn't moved enough to remember. Yang by being Asian in the 1st.

Yvel vs. Madsen

Yvel has always had some degree of talent, but it was incomplete and came in spells. He is also someone who has never seemed to take his career too seriously. I don't think that much of Madsen either, but Yvel has showed us nothing as of late. Madsen by TKO in the 2nd.

Stout vs. Taylor

There is a lot too like about this fight. Some might favor it because it is as close as one can get to a guarantee of a stand-up battle. That is not my reasoning, but it bears somewhat on it. I like this fight because both Stout and Taylor are technically good at what they do. They are both stand-up specialists, but they specialize there because they are skilled at it. In the end, I think that Stout has the variety of techniques and the creativity of implementation to get him a KO in the 3rd. Should be a good one.

Guymon vs Roberts

I must apologize, but neither guy has ever done it for me. I appreciate Guymon's battle against depression and his openness about the situation, but as a fighter, he has never been impressive. Robert's has a great record against low level guys and a medicore one against medicore guys. Guymon is much of the same. I go with Guymon by decision here, but I don't really care or claim any insight.

Cote vs Lawlor

Lawlor has been more entrance than results lately. Then again, my favorite fighter ever is Sudo Genki, so how can I fault him for that. Cote is a tough guy but is coming off of a serious knee injury. I don't count Cote out of most fights and I don't bet on Lawlor. Somehow though, I can't trust that knee injury and I think Lawlor wrestles for the split decision.

McGee vs. Jensen

This is becoming a theme here, but I don't think much of either guy here. Not personally of course, they are enchanting gentlemen. It is my belief that the last season of TUF, which McGee won, was Nick Ring's to lose, and after he dropped out with an injury, the results were slightly invalid. Not that McGee didn't earn it, I just don't think he is the strongest champion they could have had. Jensen has been fighting for 13 years and has a decent record. He isn't great, but I am picking him here. Why? I am waiting to see McGee in real competition before deciding on who he is as a fighter. Jensen by sub in the 1st.

Schaub vs. Gonzaga

I was a Gonzaga backer. I was sold. I am not asking for a refund, but I am don't believe in the product so much anymore. What you can never predict about a fighter is how he is going to react to getting hit in the face, and Gonzaga doesn't react well. He is insanely talented and has the tools to be a champion, but he is incomplete in a heavy weight division that is improving by the season. I like Schaub. I like that his striking is disciplined and his athleticism isn't theoretical. He can fire a straight jab and a good 1-2. I am picking Schaub by KO in the 1st.

Ortiz vs. Hamill

I never rode the Ortiz hype train. I never rode it either way. I always liked him as a fighter but was neutral on his shenanigans. Some people might forget the way he ran his division not that many years ago. WHen Hamill first showed up on the scene, i thought he was the new Koscheck at 205. He hasn't quite grown into what I expected, but I certainly think he defeated Bisping and I can see him knocking off plenty of other guys. He hits messy, but hard and he can wrestle. He has a tendency to get hurt though, and express it in weird ways. It seems to really take him out of a fight. One advantage I can see Tito having here is on the ground with submissions. If you can remember the nasty triangle/armbar he threw on Machida, at the end of their bought, then you can surely see ways for Hamill to lose. Nevertheless I am taking Hamill by TKO in the 3rd because I no longer trust Tito's health or his mental state.

Thiago vs. Sanchez

Sanchez is back with Greg Jackson, but is he back to being a guy I would never bet against? No. But Thiago is. Yes he is coming of a loss but he has rugged striking and real grappling and I see him as a hard match-up for Sanchez. If Diago is back to being the cardio robot, mentally focused fighter that he used to be, he can scarmble and threaten to get a decision, but I find Thiago to be mentally and physically tough and I think he is just not the right opponent for Sanchez. Thiago by decision.

Shields vs. Kampmann

I hate it when they match-up guys that I usually would pick against anyone else. Shields is finally in the big show and looking for a title run. I was calling for the ascendancy of Kampmann as soon as he came on the scene, but injuries have set him back. Kampmann's calling card has always been that he was a high level striker who could represent on the ground. Of course he was representing against Drew Mcfedries. Shileds has always been a guy that I thought was far better than people gave him credit for. Lately they have been giving him the credit. Now I think he is a fighter who gets just the right amount of credit. I can see Kampmann hanging in on the ground enough to get back up and get in his shots, but Shields has never shown that much of a chin deficiency. After Shields' defeat of Dan Henderson, I think I am going to have to go with him by decision.

Lesnar vs. Velasquez

I should be clear from the outset, I don't want Lesnar to win. I don't like him as a fighter or as a person. He has been less intolerable lately, but it is hard to make up for years of homophobia, attitude and ass-hattery. That shouldn't prejudice my ability to look at the fight, but it definitely colors my tone. Clearly I am not the only one who feels this way and many hard-core fans will strain to find reasons why it is clear that Velasquez will take this one running away. Whether it is his stamina or his heart or his kick-boxing skills. As usual, what people seem to forget about stamina is that it seems to go away quickly when you are getting beat on and hurting from it. If Lesnar can hold Cain down and drill him with his cannonball appendages that I think we might see Velasquez's vaunted stamina wane.

Lesnar is certainly progressing by leaps and bounds as a fighter. We have to be fair and attribute this to the hard work that he has been willing to put in and a very strong drive to maintain as champion. I respect him much more than I used to. What worries me about Lesnar, as a fighter, is something I mentioned in reference to Gonzaga earlier. He seems to have bad reactions to getting punched. It was amazing that he was able to survive Carwin's barrage in his last fight, but he reacted in lots of self defeating ways. Namely by curling up on he ground and waiting.

A strategy I would like to see for Velasquez is just jabbing and taking other punches that come while moving and avoiding take-downs in the first. I would like him to throw leg-kicks, but only at the end of punch combinations. And even then, not ambitious kicks but hard and precise. If he could stay with this in the second, Lesnar's legs might start to go on him and then Cain could be more aggressive with less power in Brock's shots. The big threat for Velasquez is that Lesnar has face-melting power in every punch and an incredible reach so that he can end the fight quickly even from awkward positions.

There is a lot we don't know about how this fight will play out, and that makes it interesting. I am calling a Velasquez TKO victory in the early 4th. Who knows.

Take it to the Dean's office.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Diplomat in Japan

I just finished reading Sir Ernest Satow's A Diplomat in Japan. It is not a breathtaking piece of literature, but a highly informative, if slightly skewed, window into the fall of the bakufu in Japan. His is certainly an exceptional story, coming to Japan in 1862 as a student translator with the British legation. He ended up mastering the language and being present at the most critical moment in the making of modern Japan.

Satow's view of the world is certainly as a man of privilege and power. He isn't insufferable but could surely be termed a man of his times. However, he isn't a blathering racist or an uptight pawn of the empire. He is a member of the elite, interacting with other elites in fairly extraordinary circumstances. The book was a good companion piece to the insanely popular NHK historical drama Ryoma Den, which I have been watching, pretty much, of my own free will. Although Satow only mentions Ryoma once, and that by his hilarious pseudonym, Saidani Umetaro, characters from the drama suck as Kido and Saigo show up frequently and as actual humans.

My real interest in the book was twofold. First, seeing the area that I live in and indeed the Japan of that time through Satow's eyes was incredible. The moment he crossed the mountains from Uji to Fushimi and caught sight of the Kyoto that he was forbidden to enter certainly made me ache for a time machine. One of my favorite things about the area that I live in is it isn't too hard to picture what he saw. I could probably set out this weekend and find the hill.

But at last we reached the summit, and gained a magnificent view of the great plain below, in the centre of which lies the mysterious and jealously guarded Kioto, like a Japanese Mecca, in which it was death for the heathen foreigner to set his foot. pg. 266

Second, wait, Let me pause before going into this reasoning to say that I am very skeptical of picking out little things in history, connecting them to the present and declaring that they are representative of any national character. Nevertheless there are chords that stretch through a culture and things in the past that have made or present will still be able to be seen in our future in a way that tomes like Gunfighter Nation illuminate for us. These kind of anecdotes dot the narrative laid down and one can only picture Satow coming on these scenes anew and not being able to see them manifest in our present.

For the idea then entertained by every Japanese was that the ford of the stream was too great for a boat to live in it, and that a bridge was impossible. As it has since been successfully bridged, the probability is that this belief was purposely inculcated. pg. 234

For anyone who has lost hours in modern Japan having explained to them how something completely feasible is utterly impossible, I think this will ring true.

It seemed curious...that the common people should be ready to obey him, but the Japanese...had a great appetite for being governed, and were ready to submit to anyone who claimed authority over them. pg 357.

Controversial. Possibly racialist. Up for debate? I should point out that he is referring to the "lower classes" here, not the samurai who, as befits the origin of their name, would submit to being governed, but would also kill to not be governed. Marinate on it.

A wretched being, who had been to the Untied States and had picked up a few words of low English was put... to wait on me, as if I was so ignorant of Japanese as to need an interpreter. It was explained that he was the only one of the clan who understood European manners. pg. 277

There is a lot going on here. I rather enjoy Satow's arrogance in this respect. He began his training in classical Chinese and was charged with translating documents from the Mikado and the Shogun. So, some samurai's throw a guy in front of him who speaks some sailors English in an attempt to communicate. I won't pin this one on the Japanese, this happens to me frequently in America when older gentleman who used to serve in the Navy gleefully give me their repertoire of Japanese. Classical it ain't. This passage also illustrates a trend I saw a good deal of as an exchange student and then as a friend of exchange students in the US. Often, new speakers of a language pick up the speaking habits of their cohort. And why wouldn't they? My Japanese is certainly shaped by playing football and spending a lot of time in fighting gyms. The only issue I have is when people aren't cognizant of this phenomenon and assume that a limited understanding on their part shapes the whole on the other. This is a bit of a stretch in the discussion, but the teacher next to me just asked, "Foreign people who come to Japan really like Japanese food don't they?" My completely non-entertaining response was that people who chose to visit Japan had an inherit bias to liking Japanese food, being willing to try new foods, and saying nice things as they were in another country. Swinging back to the original point, often, especially in my line of work, a person who has some foreign contact, whatever that might mean, is put in charge of handling you as you are foreign and can't interact on the same level with Japanese people. It doesn't matter if you are a professional in a world of professionals and the person placed in charge of you was a hard drinking working holiday visa college drop-out.

What the Kaga people feared was that this would lead to its being taken away from them by the Tycoon's government... But they did not venture to say this openly, and alleged therefore various other excuses, such as the inhabitants were not accustomed to see foreigners... pg. 248

Do I need to elaborate on this one? If you have ever tried to rent an apartment, or get a credit card or change your car title or buy an iPhone in Japan you will get a taste of this. You definitely will if you work in the bureaucracy. I have said before that Japan is the biggest nation of excuse makers I can think of. But, to some extent, they have had to be as responsibility is a hot potato time bomb that one has to distribute quickly and then back slowly away from until it is safe to start running.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TV Lies?

The wife and I have an ongoing.....discussion, shall we say, about the amount that TV, especially Japanese TV lies to you. I contend that the amount is somewhere between always and most of the time. Her contention is that that would be bad so it would be surprising if that wer to happen. By singalling out Japanese TV you may think that I am letting American TV off the hook. I am not, but we live in Japan and the exposure that we both have to American TV is usually trying to force her to watch Treme while she struggles to stay awake or of renting Lost on DVD.

If you have never witnessed Japanese TV you are probably picturing the kind of shows that become notorious in the US. Men seeing who can drink beer in a sauna until they die. Doe-eyed, dyed blonds in pink maid outfits up to no good. Absurd obstacle courses. Those programs must exist, but they aren't the staple of prime time viewing. What is the mainstay of Japanese television is a constant barrage of the same recycled celebrities providing inane commentary on everything that they either don't know about or I don't care about. If you follow martial arts at all you will be familiar with a dynamic. Often for a kick-boxing match the commentary team will be a retired baseball player and a model. They will provide critical information such as, "He is big." Or "He looks mean." Often the model will cry win the man they had tauted to win, but was weaker all along loses. They people are called "talent." This wasn't meant to be ironic. The main qualification seems to be, and yes I will go ahead and finish the though just for forms sake, is to have no talent. You will have a sure hit on your hands if a pop band that can neither dance nor sing, much less play any instruments, hosts a cooking show where they don't really cook.

I had avoided Japanese television for years because it works my nerves as well as rotting my brains. I avoided it until I got married and I could no longer avoid it. My wife, being Japanese, will feel terrible and alone if not plugged into the hive mind. That is largely what television in Japan is. There are only four or so channels and the same people are on all of them everyday. Literally. The real literally, not the figurative one. I should state that I don't mean this as an insult to my wife. I don't like her viewing choices, but, if we were in America, I would certainly feel left out if I didn't watch football on Sunday's and March Madness and everything else that is sewed tenderly into the fabric of our society. It would be normal.

As TV is TV, it is in the habit of lying. The truth is shaped to form the storyline as following reality can get messy. I could just sit back and scoff at all of this ironically, but in Japan, the storyline guides society. There aren't those who prefer MSNBC to FOX or who like HBO and AMC shows and forgo CSI:Miami. It is THE storyline for the nation. It is THE way the world works. And it is an absurd fable.

Last night I experienced a prime example. For some reason at my house we end up watching the same show most Tuesday's. Neither of us like this show. We never say, "I really want to watch that show." We never change or plans to see it or check what channel it is on. It just happens. Cafes usually have Tuesdays off. I am home. She is home. Whatever the cause. The show itself is awful. I am not sure how to translate it accurately in English. It is, according to the title, about witches. But not how we would envision them. Maybe magical princesses. It usually involves a lady in her mid forties who had a run of bad luck, got fat, and then lost the weight. They story will have a few amusing turns and people will call the hero names and she will try really hard, often coming up with a ridiculous diet or exercise program, and then she will triumph in the end. The show climaxes with the witch coming on stage in a soft, white, Warren Beatty like light, where the panelists of cross-dressers, comedians and washed-up pop stars can faun over them.

Yesterday featured a chubby girl who was watching TV and decided she wanted an American boyfriend so she moved to America. While there, in New York City of course, she found the perfect guy, wrote a manga about him, fell in love and got married. Everyone was amazed. She also dropped 20 or so pounds in the process. They showed a picture of her and her husband and told everyone how her manga was more popular than Harry Potter in America. I was sitting at the computer studying kanji and smelled something fishy, not just from y kitchen. During the whole story I had been voicing my disapproval, saying that someone who moved to America to get a boyfriend was pathetic and should be embarrassed to admit to it on TV. When the statement was made about the popularity of her manga, I immediately realized that that made the story verifiable and decided to check it out. Five seconds on Google later, I came up with this. This is an interesting story, but it is surely not the same thing. The wife was taken aback, my exposure of the falsehood of the storyline was rendered such, "So she is really famous!"
"Well, she is in the newspaper." I answered. "But look at the story. She was homeless and she got divorced and she was an exchange student, not just a boyfriend hunter. The story isn't true. It was much more textured and said a lot about the artists grit and the nature of trying to make it in America. It had all been sanitized into a vapid love story that only played to Japanese conceptions. Look, she says that American college was harder than Japanese college." I laughed, knowing the truth and being glad that the lady had realized it. "You just love to make fun of Japan!" I could pursue that argument, but rather I make the declaration, Japan just loves to make a fool of itself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Don't Blame JET

Well, the title was fortunate because I don't. Apparently there has been some uproar over the recent opinion piece by Debito Arudou. Who could have seen this? Before I weigh in, two points.

1. I generally like Debito even though I think he writes like a clod and might be a miserable bore to hang out with. I often say that complaining is the first step in a democracy and I think he is doing some serious stamina training on that first step. But if he didn't, who is?

2. There seems to be a particular rhetorical trait of my generation, or maybe it is of every generation and I just came to understand it as I grew into making arguments. I am not sure what to call this thing, this pattern, this discussive course. It goes something like this, "I don't agree with one hundred percent of what you are saying and I can find some small pieces that might or might not be flawed based largely on my opinion and the way I understand a few facts so your argument and how you feel must therefore be wrong." I think that part of this arose from a culture, internet and pre-internet, that found people rewarded for having "a take" more than having an opinion. For having something to say more than having actually, something to say. But that is just my observation.

Here is Debito-san's article on the JET Programme, of which, I am an illustrious alumni.

Where Debito goes wrong, as I have observed before, is that there are many different classroom environments than the one's he describes. Most teachers tell kids, "It is okay to make a mistake." Most classrooms are very forgiving. The real issue is that the Monbusho, the school boards, the schools and the individual teachers have no idea what they want from English education or from ALTs. The whole system in constrained by the racialist view that non-Japanese can't be real teachers and so the curriculum and approach are in the hands of people who may or may not be able to speak English. Most English teachers I have met have never been out of the country. Most high level English speakers I have met, would never be permitted to be teachers and would have been hard pressed to get into the system and to have spent time abroad.

I am glad that Debito points out that JET isn't necessarily about education. True and true. It know has alumni in government and business around the world. I am one of the few exceptions that stayed the course and went broke doing so. JET has never been about bringing in good teachers or shaping good teachers, although it does sometimes by accident.

As I have said before, under the current approach, and that is an important caveat, I think English should be done away with as a subject in junior high. It can have a meaning and a purpose, but right now, it is rudderless and foundering.

Here are a sampling or responses. I am not calling them wrong or right. As we all know; Every situation is different.

Two Weeks

Two weeks between postings is becoming regular and is ridiculous. A large byproduct of being married is that, while you still have a lot of free time at night, it isn't free time sitting around writing about stuff. Maybe it is just harder to concentrate, maybe it is because writing is a lonely game anyway. Who knows. In the mean time, Alabama lost, America tied, the Braves barely made the playoffs and are trying to bail out. I have gotten into several fights in the teachers room and then made up. It is hot everyday in October and I am being stung my mosquitoes. I have also completely given up on the Japanese educational system. Oh yes, I am also very busy at school and the computing situation has changed for the worse.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Japanese Education: For the Loss

Think about a school. All of the subjects that are taught and the teachers and students that work there. It is a junior high. Now picture a subject. Let's go with math. It is a big school so we will say that there are twelve math teachers. Eleven of these teachers have a reasonable exposure to math. One of them can do trigonometry. Some of them can multiply fractions. The majority of them know some simple algebra and all of their work has to be checked by the twelfth teacher who is completely proficient in the discipline of math. This teacher might make a mistake or two, but they know how to check on it and correct it and they understand the underlying principals involved. Not only can they do calculus and trig, but they use it in their life daily. The other teachers pretty much forget about math the second they leave the classroom. They don't read math books, or watch math on TV or navigate ships or moonlight as accountant. The one teacher who is capable of all this stuff, what do we figure about them? Are they the head of the department, or responsible for lesson planning? Do they get paid a higher salary? Are they tasked with making sure that the teachers who are weaker in the subject, much weaker in some cases, get up to speed and that their classes are imparting the correct information? Do they get bonuses like the other teachers? Is their job secure? If they find that some teachers are teaching students that 2 +2 =5 or that 20% of 100 is 33, do they have the ability to solve that issue and get things back on track? If the answer to all of these questions was a resounding belly laugh of a "no" would you be surprised? You should be. It would be absurd. Imagine the whole country hanging their heads and wondering why their math scores were so low and that their economy had been passed by China. Now, change the word "math" to "English" and substitute whatever you like for the equations. That is everyday that I am at work.

I am not saying this to aggrandize myself, although I think that I am good at my job, or to blow of some steam, even though the pot has boiled out and over and is burning through now that the last drop has evaporated. I want people to understand what a backwards, counterproductive, self-defeating system English education in Japan is. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, ridiculous. Laughable. A farce.

It is test time here at the junior high. It has been going to be test time for the last half of this week since the schedule was made at the beginning of the school year. This means that with an English listening test happening first thing Wednesday morning, English teachers will be scrambling to throw something together about four in the afternoon on Tuesday.

It has just occurred to me that before telling you about the listening test debacle of yesterday, I should first take you on a tour of how the listening test is recorded. I will substitute our hypothetical math teacher with me, a somewhat hypothetical English teacher at the largest junior high in Osaka prefecture. Look it up. One of my jobs at school is to provide the voice on the listening test. Why? Because I can actually speak English. Not that every teacher can't. Some can, surprisingly. Usually a script is handed to me as we walk into the recording room and I realize how fraught it is with awkward or even mistaken English which I try to correct on the fly. The recording room here is like the recording room in most junior highs I have been in, a small, dusty room with stacks and stacks of unused, expensive equipment lining the walls and piled on the floor in boxes and cases, left sitting where they were brought of the truck. There is always a large soundboard, like in a radio station with an MD player and other audio equipment attached. Dust covers this pricey table as no one has touched it. Cardboard covers the inside of the windows but the sound of balls whacking of of the fencing on the outside echoes. Through this room is a door to a smaller room, like a closet where stacks of unused audio equipment, mixers and mic-stands and chords, take up the majority of the space. In the corner behind the door is an old desk, with its metal drawer smashed in. On the desk sit two VCRs, a mic and a small, two-channel, audio mixer. The VCR on the bottom is used for playing an old tape that someone made years ago of hand drawn letters on a piece of poster board that read "Listening Test" in Japanese. A line runs through the middle of the tape when it plays but sometimes it bounces up or down. It dances around and turns to a covering of static. Sometimes it disappears. The video output of the bottom VCR feeds into the top VCR which is there to record this image over and over for as long as it takes to degrade into nothing and then someone will wonder how to make a new one and probably rig it up just like this tape was in the first place. The little mixer and Mic, one you would probably pick up for your home karaoke set, has an RCA out which goes into the audio in of the top VCR so that its audio is recorded over the slowly dying video image. That is how we record listening tests. When it is finished and the time for the test has come, the tape is transferred to another VCR which broadcasts to all of the TVs in the school. It is much the same system that we used when I was a junior high school student and we found that we could record 1970s funk songs over TV ministers and laugh as they coincidentally jumped and pranced in time to the music. That was at least twenty years ago. But it isn't the worst that I have seen. At my last school they would carry cassette decks into the recording room, set them on the mixing board and record the test into the little mic embedded next to the speaker, as tens of thousands of dollars of equipment set unused in boxes on the floor.

I have tried to change these practices wherever I have been. The other teachers look at me as if I just suggested that viruses were caused by germs and not seasonal temperature changes and revert back to their old ways as soon as I turn my back like children sneaking cookies from the jar.

I was surprised last week when the older lady who teaches the third years, let's call her "T-sensei", asked me to make the listening test. She is one of two third year English teachers. The other is younger and went to college in America and, for the most part, teaches English very well. I praised him highly to our principal last year, and now he is the head English teacher and a year or two younger than me. Let's call him "O-sensei." I don't mind making the test. I was glad that they think enough of me to find me capable. However, I teach every class in the school, all 28 of them. All 1,053 students. When making a test it is very difficult for me to dead reckon the general ability level and what material has been covered in which class and so on, so I asked what was to be included. It was determined by T-sensei that there would be ten questions; four pertaining to "_______makes me______." Four on the subject of "______is called ______" The last two would be about how to give directions regarding trains. I prepared a rough draft and showed it to T-sensei on Monday.
"Hmmm. mmmm. It would be nice to have pictures."
"Let's not do ten let's do eight."
"Eight total questions?"
"Yes, let's do two on 'make' two on 'is called' two on directions and the last four on the present perfect tense."
"So ten questions total?"
"Yes, eight."
"Two plus two plus two plus four. Ten"
"Yes. Here are some examples in the book."

Needless to say this conversation between two professional English teachers took place in Japanese because one of them would have found it impossible in English. I ran out of time on Monday and was left having to skip a first year class to clear time to make it on Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday morning on the staircase T-sensei says to me, "I am thinking we should make the listening test easier this time. Their level isn't so high." That was okay with me, however all I have ever seen of their English tests is the script I am given to read. I have never seen the answer sheet that the students will read from or the grading system that will evaluate and process it. In this vacuum, I made the test, skipping two hours of classes, going over the teacher's edition of the text books, which I am not in possession of as non-Japanese are not usually issued teacher's editions and importing lots of pictures for the answer sheet as requested. I attempted to adjust the dialogues to subjects we had touched on in class. For example, instead of "I have a dog who is fat and white, but we call him 'Pochi.' Do you like foreign countries Ratna?" Or whatever oddness usually surfaces, I made the statement, "His name is Obama, but I call him Mr. President." As we had talked about in class how it is rude to call a head of state "Obama."

It was a very nice looking test. I returned to my desk, satisfied, with final drafts copied and scripts prepared. Not being able to locate T-sensei, I saw O-sensei at his desk. I brought the test over. We are on fairly good terms.
"Here is the test I came up with, tell me if anything needs to be changed."
(Again, this is all in Japanese. This teacher is the head of the English department but cannot converse in the language without a great deal of patience.)

He hung his head in his hands. "This won't work. This is no good. I can't understand it."
"In what respect?"
"What is this question asking? I don't understand. The students will never figure it out. This. It is too easy."
"Is it too easy or too hard?"
"I don't understand it."
I was fairly upset. "Then don't use it. Make a new one, but don't ask me to make a new one as the only guidelines I had were issued by you."
"I don't know anything about that. Who told you to do what?"
"What did she say?"
"She gave me a rough outline and some examples."
"It won't work."
"I am sorry. I am not in class everyday. I don't know their level."
"It isn't a level problem, it is a test making problem."
"Then don't use it. Make a new one. It won't hurt my feelings if you throw it out, but you can't asks me to make something and give me no information on what you want or need and then say it isn't what you wanted because I don't know what you want."
"Maybe we can use the middle two questions if we change the answers."
"I am not asking you to use my test to make me happy. I don't care. I have other things I could have been doing. If I am not helping you I have other work to do."

I will spare you the remainder, but anyone who has been in a Japanese conversation understands that the degree of forward progress is better measured with sundials and farmer's almanacs. It was agreed that it was T-sensei's job to make the test, and not mine. That I am here to help rather than to contribute and that they would call me when it was time to record.

It was now three in the afternoon and the second year teacher who had set-up a time with me the week before stopped by my desk and we went over the script and recorded without a hitch. Around 4:30 the first years teachers came to find me and asked if I could record. This was the first I had heard from them, but that had been expected. The teacher in charge of the listening test is fresh out of college and had never recorded anything before. I am not sure I have ever heard him speak English and I had to show him how to work the double VCR dubbing system. Going in to each recording I always tell the teachers that we are going to knock it out in one take. Partially to encourage them. Partially because the room is small and sweltering and smells like dust. But really, mainly, because I worked for years in radio and adults stumbling over a 5 minute script makes me bleed internally. Teachers whose job is to speak in front of 40 teenagers every day saying that they are nervous when presented with a mic strikes me as foolish.

Halfway through the script, the young teacher began a panic-stricken motion for me to stop. "I forgot that we never taught them question three." It had to do with "Where" and no one could remember if they knew "where" and it was supposed that maybe they learned it in elementary school, or not. As a picture of a cat was already on the answer sheet I suggested that we just ask "Do you like cats?" Everyone chuckled and then considered scrapping the whole thing and rerecording me doing a self introduction. It was now 5pm and I am supposed to leave by 5:15. No third year teachers are in the office. The questions are changed, we go in, knock it out and it everything we recorded disappears from the cassette tape. It takes a while but I find it, an oddity of cassette tapes that things can be lost on them. It is now 5:10.

I find T-sensei in the hall, checking whether students memorized sections of the book that they never understood the meaning of. I ask her if we can record and she cobbles together the scraps of paper that are now the listening test. I glance over them. I realize that some sections involve a part A and a part B so that I will need her to record with me. As we sit down to record she tells me she hasn't come up with questions so I will just have to make them up as we go. Fortunately I am a pro. Halfway through she ask that I stop the recording.
"What happened?"
"You forgot to say 'Number 2'"
"No, I think I said it."
"You didn't. We have to go back and record it again."
"I am pretty sure I said it, but we will check."

After rewinding at restarting, it is there "Number 2" and we are off again. As usual, the script is awkward and flawed. I will try to represent the last question to the best of my ability,

"Mr. Kato has visited Australia and India but he has never been to any other country. How many foreign countries had Mr. Kato visited?"

To me this sounds like a trick question involving a Mr. Kato who happens to have dual citizenship with Australia and India but a strong dislike of travel. T-sensei couldn't understand the issue. It strikes me as a very Japanese question involving several assumptions that could just as easily be not true and an clumsy use of "foreign" which can only be used to solve the problem by making sure that Mr. Kato is Japanese and that other countries only exist in relation to Japan. Maybe I am overthinking it.

It is now past 5:30 and I get my things to leave. This is an tricky point too. It states in my contract that I have to leave by 5:15. Sometimes I stick around when I am helping with soccer or working on something, but I usually take off. Mainly because there is nothing to be done. But it is a barrier. Japanese teachers, in my experience, are terrible managers of time and take great pride in how busy they are and how late they stay at work. So my time being wasted and mismanaged and under-utilized, shouldn't make me angry when I view it as a waste, I should feel satisfied that I did less than I could have and think up ways to do things more inefficiently and cause myself to stay later garnering more respect.

Sometime this week there will be a TV show where experts wonder how it could be that Japan is slipping. How could it be?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

UFC 119: St. James Infirmary

Commissioner White rode to the podium on a plastic toy firetruck carry a go cup full of Micehlob and declared, "We may have left Iraq, but bitches still be dying" He fell off sideways, losing his top hat, beer coating his AC/DC t-shirt and denim vest.

Tavares vs. Audinwood

Hard to care. Not enough data. Tavares has tried to derail his promising career. A toss-up. Tavares by split decision.

Hunt vs. McCorkle

What people tend to forget in their jaded critiques and professional observations is that Pride was really fun to watch. Fun. And the big, fat jester in the middle of it all, atomic butt dropping Fedor and eating Cro-Cop high kicks like they were tasty cakes, was Mark Hunt. He was also a very skilled striker with nothing to offer on the ground. I like the guy and I want him to do well. I also think his striking is levels above McCorkle. Hunt by KO round 1.

Grant vs. Paulino

Again, not really enough data. We have been hearing about Grant for a while and he shows some promise and a nice single leg. I think it gets him the decision over Paulino.

Lowe vs. Lopez.

Really? Lowe should lose based on his belly-button tattoo. Lopez's record in indicative of nothing. So he beat The Gooch. So what? Errrrr. Lowe by decision.

Mitrione vs. Beltran

I enjoy Beltran, but he is particularly good. Mitrione has actually been fairly impressive. I like his hands. I think he gets the KO in round 2.

Dollaway vs. Doerksen

Which is worse, Dollaway"s sub defense or Doerksen's chin. That is the real battle here, and I don't really care. I have little faith in either. Let's say Dollaway by TKO in the 3rd.

Stephens vs. Guillard

I tried to dislike Guillard for a while, but he is fun to watch. He is also a fellow Gulf Coaster, and a gifted liver puncher. Stephens is a mean little bastard. I would like to think that being at Jackson's will help Guillard develop a plan and fight smart, but has that worked for Cerrone or Jardine? No, not really. However, Guillard's true weakness is sub-defense. Will Stephens threaten him there. This will be a real test of Guillard's chin. Hard to call. Stephens by KO in the 3rd.

Dunham vs. Sherk

I have missed out on the Dunham hype train and I briefly rode the Sherk hate train. I think Dunham is a little overvalued right now, and Sherk is undervalued. But, Sherk has been on the shelf for too long and I rate that pretty high against people. Dunham by decision.

Serra vs. Lytle

I love both of these guys and I think people are a little too cynical about their careers. Enjoy them for what they are. This is an awkward match-up for Lytle, whose skills I respect as much as anyone fighting. Serra is hard to KO and can hit back, hard. Serra is almost impossible to submit and is good at regaining position. I think this goes to a split decision in favor of Serra. I am looking forward to it unabashedly.

Nogueira vs. Bader

I wouldn't say that either of these guys as at a cross roads, but I could say their careers could take either path. What? Nogueira can prove that he deserves his reputation and that he can hover around the top. Bader can prove that his talent will be fulfilled and he can hang at the top. I think there are major holes in Nogueira's game, mainly his defense. I think Bader is a better physical talent. But, I need this fight for Bader to prove it to me. I am picking to Nogueira to get a clever sub in the 3rd.

Mir vs. Flipovic

Is it bad form to say I don't care? Not that I don't care about the fight, I am excited to watch it. However, it doesn't really matter to me who wins. I think Mir has the better shot, but he alternates between solid game plans and brain death. Cro-Cop seems to have had his intimidating uber talent sucked out of him. I would like to see Cro-Cop win, but I don't know how that unfolds. I don't know if his sprawl is still there. I think he can tag Mir on the feet though. Mir seems to love his boxing, but we'll see. Cro-Cop's sub defense has always been sufficient, but he is aging and Mir is much stronger. Errr....I don't know. I am going to call Flipovic by fracturing of Mir's orbital bone with a straight left in the 2nd. How's that?

Take it to the fake bank.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I-10 in NOLA

Here are some articles on the plan that David brought up. I will have to do some more reading on it. Having not lived there it is hard for me to really weigh in, but I am generally in favor of this kind of thing. When I lived in the Jackson Ward in Richmond a lot of older residents, and younger residents in the know, talked about the way the neighborhood was before they ran the interstate through the middle of it and put an on ramp like a stake in its heart. Around the period of time that interstates were going up, the thinking about planning was rather obtuse.

Update: I just found this Facebook group related to the issue. Maybe they will be the place to get updates. However, their latest status is just an add for working stay at home moms, so....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I finally got a chance to sit down and start watching Treme this week. It took me a while, but Natsuki was at her folks for the week and I don't have enough money to pay my gym fees, so I figured it would be a good chance.

I am going ahead and writing this as a half-assed post now since if I wait until I have time to give all of my thoughts I won't come out with anything until the last episode of season 5 in which NOLA Actual takes off into space with Kermit Ruffins sparkin' a J off of the exhaust.

First, let me single out the Times-Picayune's superb "Treme Explained" which is an essential companion to the show, even if you know the city well.

The Wire touched a special place in my heart, not just because it was exceptional television, as almost everyone acknowledges, but also because it was an homage and a eulogy for the great city of Baltimore that had impacted me so much as a kid visiting there and as a proxy for Richmond which I lived in the worst neighborhoods of as a young adult. It seemed to be about people I knew and spoke in a language that I understood.

Treme is a thicker stew as I already find myself loving it and yet have to question whether my affection for New Orleans is just a hackneyed reaction to a real tragedy. An effection maybe. I am definitely on record before the storm of declaring my hate for the city and my lack of a desire to be there. That is true, and looking back, I feel justified. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, New Orleans was like the brother that I didn't want to share the back seat with. However, it turns out, if said brother was torn from your home and unable to be found, you would miss them terribly and want more than anything to hold them close. Let me explain. I have been going to New Orleans since I was a little kid as my Godfather and his family are from Slidell. They live in a house on stilts in the swamp and say thing like "butta" and "watta" and eat cabbage even with worms crawling out of it. They are Cajuns; sturdy and round. We used to drive into the city for Mardi Gras and I can remember rolling through Algiers in the early '80s with a pistol on the front seat. Country paranoia or shameful reality, the city loomed. We would still stand on the parade route and soak in the sights and the sounds most of all. In Northwest Florida the doctors all have Carnival paintings on their office walls and are members of a Crewe that they bought or influenced their ways into. Hippies drive over to get high at Jazz Fest and rednecks to get drunk on Bourbon. Punks? New Orleans had nothing for us except for kids who enjoy playing at being homeless. So I tired of New Orleans. It was a rich fantasy and a drunk's toilet. At 15 they wouldn't let me check into a motel that I had reserved and so I spent all day at the fairgrounds after a downpour in a flooded muddy field with 90,000 other music fans trying to pull pizza boxes out of the garbage to sit on. New Orleans was parking lots and underpasses and interstates and gas stations with bullet proof windows where men with bottles in bags lurked just outside of the brightest lights. It was one wrong turn from being in more trouble than you felt like being in and panhandlers getting it in their head that you weren't poor just because you were white. Or white panhandlers thinking you might give up some change since you were young. It was being stuck all night, tired in Jackson Square while GG Allin played one of his last shows and his fans came out and made fun of us for not looking like them. That New Orleans never did much for me. The one where the police might kill you instead of the criminals.

Of course there were other times like when I went to see Bela Fleck in a park and Pensacola and Rebirth opened up. It was probably the best live music I have ever heard, but it was tennis tanned, khaki-shorted doctor's wives who lined up to dance behind them. There was also the empty, sunny New Orleans on the day after Christmas at Cafe Du Monde. Row after row of buildings making neighborhoods, full of people who knew each other. There was running into Winona Ryder in a used clothes store and finding a Crucial Youth record in a bin on some back street in Iberville.

Let me be specific, I didn't resent New Orleans for being dirty and poor and dangerous. I resented it for being idolized by people who didn't have to endure its dirty and poor and dangerous. Under those circumstances, it is no wonder that New Orleans doesn't love outsiders and tourists. Nowhere on the Gulf Coast does. We don't in Northwest Florida. Just give us your money and get back on the bus heading North. But New Orleans has done better than the rest of us in keeping its soul. It has had to be hard and cold at times. Making outsiders feel like they are on the outside, anyway, good for them.

And then my friends lived there. And then the storm came. And I won't lie and say there wasn't a part of me like Bill Clinton who cried on 911, partly because of the awfulness and partly because it didn't happen when he could have done something about it. Florida, so ready for the hurricane, so prepared will never be remembered for how it handled the big one. New Orleans will be loved and strangled and almost destroyed and certainly vilified for how it lost. So now, like the bother of a stolen child I can only love it while I still hate driving around under the interstate and the neighborhoods that can go from bad to worse and hearing about how drunk somebody got on Bourbon.

Back to the show itself. It makes the point that The Wire couldn't and that is more complicated in New Orleans anyway: The city is fueled by and unique because of the culture of the lower-classes who live there and are unwanted by the power structure except to the extent that they bring tourist dollars to the city which is fueled by and unique because of the culture of the lower-classes who live there and are unwanted by the power structure except to the extent that they bring tourist dollars to the city..... and on and on.

So far, the music has been exceptional and the amount of times that I have said "Hey, there's _______ where I saw_______ play." has been enjoyable. With few exceptions it has felt real to me, but I am only a visitor. There are lots of dynamics that I would like to see discussed but the scope of the show is limited and I think that is to good effect. There has been no game changing character like Omar Little to appear yet, but this is a different kind of show. Khandi Alexander is wonderful and has a real kind of strength. I have also enjoyed the Delmond Lambreaux character showing a very real divide between "serious jazz cats" and their feelings about the city's vernacular canon. Also, mad props for showing Galactic going off at d.b.a.

attempting to silence the voices in my head.