Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pre-chewed pencils

The ultimate in easy living: pencils sold with the manducation done for you. It is this point in the rise and fall of civilisations, I suppose, that necessitates a second Great Depression or some other great calamity, lest we disappear up our own collective backside (a horrible thought).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Old photos

"Bloodstained coat worn by Yugoslav Archduke Franz Ferdinand when he was slain by Gavrilo Prinzip in 1914, assassination triggering World War I"... and 10,000,000 other images from the LIFE magazine archives hosted by Google (most never published). If you are into old photos, this website is very good.

Japanese Americans being despatched to internment camps by Ansel Adams. Click on image for full size.

The photographs are often more detailed than they have ever been displayed. Modern digital impressions of the original negatives are often far better than even the very best prints published at the time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Japanese packed lunch mums for Obama

Photograph lifted from Kasumin. Go look at the links below.

A neglected demographic in the 2008 election were Japanese packed lunch obsessed housewives. Ridiculously ornate packed lunches are a thing among some absurdly underemployed Japanese mums. This photo is from the blog of the woman who helped popularise this fad (she herself seems to have made a profession out it, appearing on all sorts of shows and publishing numerous books). She explains her concept here. Here are some of her more recent creations.

This "bento mania", by the way, is a thoroughly bad thing. A. spent ages this morning hovering over G.'s packed lunch for a trip to the park with his nursery. She was thoroughly intimidated by what elaborations the other mums might come up with. Peanut butter and raisin sandwiches in brown bread and cling film never did me any harm!

True dedication

There are a lot of finely sharpened stilettos, all morning make-up jobs and architectural hairdos in Tokyo ... and that is just among the men. Sometimes, though, one is privileged to witness exceptional dedication to the art. Let's take a closer look at that photo.

I can only speculate what may have injured the ankle but the doctor's orders are clear to see:

Doctor: "That's a nasty sprain you have there. It should be mended in a week or so. But, in the meantime, I want you to use this." [Hands over NHS General issue crutch]

Girl: "Hey, thanks!"

Doctor: "Before you go, it would be a particularly good idea if you went out with those stiletto boots you were wearing at the time of the injury. You know, the ones with a total foot to ground surface area of less than the rubber plunger on the bottom of the crutch."

Girl: "Good thinking, Sensei! Toodle pip!"

She hobbled onto the train, a martyr to medical research.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Wonderful photo ...

... of the atmosphere. Vulnerable.

The next Republican candidate

I was interested by this story which, along with many others, is talking about Palin as a possible runner for the next presidential election. Absolutely ridiculous! We need to look closely at who in US politics is actually saying these things: extremist rightwingers and Democrats. The second group are significant. There is nothing the Democrats would like better than to stand against Palin. Barring disasters in this administration, they would definitely win.

Let us just asume that Obama is going to go into this next election as an averagely performing first term President. He has disappointed many but also reassured many. He has not been a great president but not a terrible one either. His message of change somehow feels a little unfinished, as such messages almost always do after one term. The economy has improved a little in the final years of his Presidency. (The health care thing, I am assuming, has not been done because if he has managed to do that he will have rewritten the electoral map). So, like most incumbent Presidents, he is going into the election with a decided advantage. It is not brain science: you can't run the same losing tactic against the same man twice and expect to win, especially when he has a distinct advantage on the second play.

What should the Republicans do? I am going to keep out of questions of what the Republicans can do, because their party may not be capable of following the only strategies that have any hope of putting them into power in 2012, but, assuming they are a functioning political force, they need to look at the nature of the new Obama coalition. It delivered a landslide, remember, so they have to address it, not the crazy notions flitting around in their own heads. If they try to analyse that coalition on an age group basis they are going to end up with their heads in their hands, so I reckon an ethnic breakdown is their only way forward. Boiled down to its bare essentials, Obama's winning formula was this: a 40 per cent or much better split of all the main voting groups plus monolithic (and voting) black loyalism plus a large majority of Latinos. The black group is going to be a little bit less motivated next time but the other groups are going to firm up for Obama, in all likelihood, so, if I was a Republican strategist, the group to aim for are the people from Latino backgrounds. The only thing I am not entirely clear on is the significance of Latinos in terms of the important electoral votes but the way I see it, not that I give two hoots, is that the only hope for the Republicans in 2012 is not Palin at all, but a socially conservative Latino man (?) with a massive dollop of charisma. If they try to do that with a VP pick they will fail. US politics has changed. After Obama, the next Democratic candidate will probably be female. If Obama gets a good health care package for the broad mass of the population through, by the way, the peeling off the Latino vote will not work and Obama will have built a historically enduring electoral coalition (including many of those lost working class whites).

Saturday, November 08, 2008



Friday, November 07, 2008

Smushy but...

Tugged forelock to this site.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Some really good photos...

... of, who else, Obama.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Polyphonic Spree

A beautiful puzzle game being used to promote a band`s music. Click on things to get your people through.

The Unfinished Swan

A video of an interesting new game called The Unfinished Swan.

And a bit of propaganda from the Obama campaign. It was done by a local group but is quite compelling:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tuvan Rapper

I have always had a soft spot for Tuvan throat singers. Here is a Tuvan throat rapper. Works.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Something about this photo

Obama preparing before the first debate.
Understated. Something to show children trying to study.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I had to laugh at this...

I was looking for a site to explain Japanese address formats. I came across this helpful post. It was not exactly what I needed, but the way it introduced itself entertained me greatly. I suppose my reaction relates to my Ron`s Nihonjin observations (a project which I seem to have dropped, by the way):
Japanese addresses reflect the primacy of the group in Japan.
They proceed from the general (the prefecture, or Japan itself for mail to Japan) to the particular (the addressee).
I just love the pervasiveness of this foreigners` language of packaging up just about every experience in Japan in these crap descriptive ideologies. Even in addressing conventions, people can find evidence for this stuff (or, rather, they simply have to apply the ideology, which has no need for evidence and does not rely on it). I am sure some Japanese old choffer has written something like this, but that of course is only evidence that Japanese old choffer writers of the "Nihonjinron" school are notorious bullshitters. I just can't help thinking that, rather than reflecting "the primacy of the group in Japan", this might be rather better understood as simply another (the other?) logical way to order an address from which very little can be concluded.

Friday, August 29, 2008

In case you missed them...

The full speeches by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Barack Obama at the Democratic convention.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A very interesting new game.

Braid. Unfortunately, only for the Xbox 360.

Friday, August 08, 2008

End of malls. A new urbanism?

Mall culture is, apparently, dying and something is rising in its place.

(First I had heard of this. In Japan, they are still largely pre-mall. I am always wondering why they don't just build a big mall and make our shopping a lot easier. Anyway, we buy more and more stuff online, so I suppose they might just skip the mall stage.)

Fuel economy



This one was a bit of a classic too:

These and others here and here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Potential slip ups

A website devoted to London banana skins and a post about WWI propaganda maps.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ron`s Nihonjin

I went to the immigration office the other day and had a thoroughly good experience. The immigration people were polite and efficient. My previous visit had not been so positive.

It got me to thinking about the ways in which experiences in Japan can be categorised. This is a bit complicated and off the top of my head, so bear with me: it seems to me that there is a language for speaking about Japan that is common among foreigners. Almost any experience can be categorised within it. I am thinking about common tags like: "Japanese efficiency", "Japan is a group society", "those crazy Japanese", "Japan as ultra modern society", "Japan as a tradition bound society". The language goes on and on and I haven't got a real handle on how it works, but my intuition is that it contains all sorts of contradictory or at least paradoxical categories, which allow pretty much anything to be put in a box within it. In this sense it is a "language" rather than a useful analytical system, because languages have to have this ability to swallow all facts, whether contradictory to another proposition in the language or not.

Like all languages, it not only describes but shapes the way we experience the world. I'll take that a bit further in this case: I get the feeling that this is an extremely crude language - people seem to be able to pick it up and speak it fluently within weeks of getting here, some people even speak it without ever having visited Japan - so I think it really does crudely shape people's views and experiences. My feeling is that it cannot be contradicted, that it has a category for (almost) every eventuality and is in that sense ideological and unfalsifiable.

As I say, I haven't really got a grip on how it works. So, what I am going to over time is to record experiences and how they might be categorised by a hypothetical speaker of this language sitting on my shoulder. I will call him "Ron". I am also going to record other categories within the "Ron's Nihonjin" language that do not apply to the given experience and/or seem contradictory to it.

I am not going to do this systematically. Partly because I am not trained to do so and also because there is something very unsystematic about the way people use this system. It is all very haphazard, so I am going to haphazardly apply categories as they occur to me. I am not going to be making factual claims - for instance, in the immigration office experience below I am not saying that the experience contradicts the proposition that sometimes Japanese organisations act irrationally. This language is usually not used in that sort of empirical way. In my "contradictory/unapplicable tags category" I am just recording tags that would commonly be used in other situations by speakers of this language that seem not to fit the case in hand. I also might find over time that some tags actually mean the same as others in the language. Let's see how it shapes out:

22. 5.08
Go to Tokyo immigration bureau. Speedily and politely dealt with on a difficult issue.

Ron's tags:
"Japanese efficiency", "Japanese politeness"
Related tags: "Japan ultramodern"

Contradictory/uncomfortable tags: "Japanese bureaucracy", "Japan's irrational organisations"
Related tags which don't fit comfortably: "Japan's racist society", "Japan as rigid society"

Friday, May 23, 2008

This video has been seen by 1 million people.

The internet is a serious player in this US election:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Interesting educational game

Balance the US budget. As you know, I am interested in games as an emerging media.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A new instrument

The Tenorion.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Understanding your food

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Oh, and totally ignore "nutritionism".

Obama`s running mate?

It would help Obama and the Democratic party to have a woman VP candidate. Not Clinton, of course. I don't think he has given it a second thought. Too many people of all political stripes dislike her and she will compromise his message about the need for change fatally.

Perhaps Kathleen Sebelius, governor of Kansas? She supports abortion and opposes capital punishment, which might be seen as negatives in getting together the broad coalition that Obama wants to build, but is a proven winner away from the liberal heartlands. Some would say he needs an old Washington head because of his own newness to the Washington game but I can't see that: he needs to double on the change not limit it.

23.5.08: Or Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona?
Five minutes later: No, not a good idea at all. Arizona 9-11 memorial disastrous.

Meanwhile, in the Clinton camp, the last days (in very rude language):

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dali on "What's my line"

Because we can trust our leaders

John Dasch and Peter Burger

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States government approved the use of military tribunals to try captured terrorist suspects. The key precedent for these tribunals, and any future court for "unlawful combatants" that avoids normal justice, is a 1942 case against eight German agents called Ex parte Quirin. Read what happened.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jeremiah Wright

Set aside few dozen minutes to watch this interview with Jeremiah Wright, the "nutter" who has been getting Obama into hot water. It is in two parts.

Serving recommendation: Load up the video, press play and don't watch it. It will keep getting stopped by the internet lag. Go and have your breakfast or something. When you return, drag the play bar back to the start, press the little square icon to get a full screen and enjoy with a cup of coffee. I found it enlightening.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A bit of colour on Newcastle

I was trying to persuade G. to watch the Chelsea-Manchester United game tonight. It is quite amazing how partisan he has become.

G. (eyes wide in expectancy, hands in the air, shouting): "Newcastle United!"
Me: "No, this one is Chelsea versus Manchester United."
G. (displeased) : "No, Newcastle"
Me: "Well, there are lots of teams in England..."
G. (furrowed, shouting): "No, NO! ONE!"
Me: "There are lots of teams and they all play each other and they get three points if they win. They add it all up and this game will decide the winner..."
G. (totally unconvinced): "Football is goalkeeper and ball [burble, burble, not sure I understood it] the goalkeeper touches it. And the 6 players kicking it. And score a goal. And Newcastle wins!" (Eyes again wide with conviction.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Type racer

On your marks, get set, go!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Digg for victory

Digg this (kind of ironic I suppose!) or Reddit here.

AT THE height of the Ron Paul frenzy, I got heartily sick of hordes of Paulites filling up Digg with pro-Paul propaganda. I quite liked the man but it all felt too much like mob politics.

And now I find myself in the middle of the mob carrying the longest scythe! Over the past two or three days, I have become the worst of Obama-spammers. I was just so incensed by Clinton's empty cynicism over this "bitter" thing that I began digging every pro-Obama piece I could find. I'm not even an American voter!

I think I may lay off my new addiction now but, before I do, I feel Obama-spammers, and all future mobs of political diggers, need a slogan. The British Government, c. 1939, came up trumps:

"Digg for victory"

They even provided us with a song which would only need the addition of a few Gs and the substitution of "worms" with "trolls" to be a great theme tune!
Dig! Dig! Dig! And your muscles will grow big
Keep on pushing the spade
Don’t mind the worms
Just ignore their squirms
And when your back aches laugh with glee
And keep on diggin’
Till we give our foes a Wiggin’
Dig! Dig! Dig! to Victory"

The original "Dig for Victory" campaign, by the way, was about trying to get British people to grow their own food during the Second World War to avoid national starvation. It was extremely successful. If you don't know what Digg is, get with it!

Update: I have thought about this a bit more. Having experienced this transformation - from being an onlooker deploring the mob to a member of the Obama-spammer fraternity - I think it works remarkably like a real mob. One of the characteristics of a mob (say a riot over food prices) is that it temporarily empowers people. It is not only their original anger that moves them but also the intoxication of suddenly being able to do something about it. Participants go from being insignificant and powerless, to being part of a huge combine that has real strength. I have been quite an enthusiastic Digger over the years. I have submitted and Digged dozens of articles in my time, but they are almost always buried in the snowdrift of material coming from others. I think my tastes may not be exactly populist but I suspect this is the experience of many people participating in services like Digg. So when, suddenly, you find yourself Digging things and KNOWING that what you support will be on the front page because you are part of an internet mob, you keep on Digging. You Digg furiously and, just like in real mob politics, it can all become a bit mad sometimes. Observing the Ron Paul frenzy a few months ago, I strongly suspected that the mass Digging was being coordinated by someone. Now, I feel it is much more likely that this sort of phenomenon is just a large group feeling empowered by being able to make a mark on Digg's front page with something they strongly believe in.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Obama: an elitist?

Sometimes even big media talking heads have to call it how it is:

And Obama's response:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Along my jogging route

We`ve just moved into Tokyo. The entire length of my new jogging route along the river Kanda has suddenly come out in a blaze of white:

This is the season of "hanami" (flower viewing) , when everybody goes out and has picnics under the cherry trees and many get unreasonably drunk on sake. Some parks have even gone alcohol free to try to protect the flowers from stumbling fellows. Not our nearest park though. Plenty of stumbling:

And a long line at the toilets, especially (for once) the men's one:

Monday, February 25, 2008

A seriously good movie musical?

Don't like horror and don't like musicals, but I want to see Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd.

The Hollywood musical done right.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New Hampshire recount

I think there is a danger of conspiracy theory here but that election process is SERIOUSLY flawed.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bush`s favourite picture

And an explanation here.


Rap superstar 50 Cent and Jimmy Shand mashed up by someone cheeky.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An old documentary on spin

Click on the video and you can make it a bigger image in Youtube.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Northern Rock problem

It seems there is a bit of a problem with Northern Rock, the bank that sponsors that other great and discredited north eastern institution Newcastle United. The solution is so blindingly obvious that it amazes me that no one has thought of it before me: put Kevin Keegan in charge.

While they are at it they might put the whole of the UK mortgage sector in the hands of the Messiah.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Techno Victoriana

The Japanese are in on this steampunk thing. Keep up!

The steampunk raptop
The steampunk desktop

Funny. Some of the delight in mechanical detail reminds me of a book I read about the Mavo artists in early 20th Century Tokyo. They often used mechanical environments and aggressive abstract shapes suggestive of riveted steel. But they were very different, the exact opposite in fact: they were all about the future - ripping apart the past and present to smash themselves into futurist reality in which man and mechanism could be reconciled.

Now, it seems, those unsettling industrial and mechanical objects and environments have become reassuring. Steampunk has its roots in long established tendencies in science fiction, comics and anime films but I think the mechanisms it fetishises definitely have a partly nostalgic appeal. This attraction seems oddly connected with neo-Arts and Crafts yearnings like this. Strange really: the mechanisation and industrialism that worried the Arts and Crafters has become part of the same sort of alienated yearning for something solid and meaningful in the past. As Arts and Crafts showed, nostalgia like this can be very fertile soil for creativity. As fertile as futurism?

Okada Tatsuo in the "Gate and Moving Ticket-Selling Machine", 1925
from "Mavo" by Gennifer Weisenfeld