Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How many racist voters are there still left in America?

If there aren't as many racists as people think, this Barack Obama chap is a very fresh and exciting Presidential candidate.

He seems to be off the narrow, self defeating script that centrist politicians have written for themselves. He is not just charismatic, he seems to have a sharp brain and integrity. When much of the rest of America and Britain, including all the main Democrat Presidential candidates, were moving towards war in Iraq in 2002, Obama made this observation:
...even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.
Does building a broad, non-partisan centrist bid for the US presidency have to just mean schmoozing Rupert Murdoch? Or can it mean doing something more exciting? This election in 2008 is very important and I would hate to see the Democrats getting carried away with some pet project, only to find America is not like what they want it to be, but, looking at Obama, I get a growing feeling that Hillary Clinton and Senator John Edwards, a Clintonesque politician and my previous favourite, are blasts from the past. Barack Obama has a couple of rather insignificant skeletons which he seems to be happy to take out of the closet and be honest about (experimenting with drugs and a small property deal with a shady developer).

America has a way of surprising the world, not only with its occasional stupidity and bigotry but also with extraordinary innovativeness, reinvention and audacity. If he does run for President, Barack will tell us something that I want to know about what America is.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Winter cleaning

It is the done thing in Japan to get your house spic and span before New Year. Yesterday, A. bought a magazine entirely devoted to this thing called cleaning. It will most likely be disposed of on top of the toilet cistern or under the sofa.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

German Philosophers vs. the Ancient Greeks

The final.

Beyonce Knowles

Apparently, not just a pretty booty:


But there is another interesting female singer around at the moment.

The Megumigaoka Illuminations

There is a new housing estate behind us called Megumigaoka. It is an interesting place in itself. None of the houses are remotely Japanese or even functionally modern. It is a kind of theme park of Japanese fantasies of foreignness: a hodgepodge of American West timber ranch houses, Mediterranean villas and Alpine ski lodges. These kinds of estates are everywhere in Japan nowadays. They seem to be built for young professional families. Why people want to live in these theme parks is an interesting question. Maybe they are just fun.

Anyway, what certainly is fun is the Christmas decoration that seems to go with these houses. Megumigaoka is a mass of neon at the moment. Every other house seems to be decked out in the most amazing displays. Three houses in a row, in the middle of the estate, have gone particularly bonkers. Terrible pictures taken with my mobile but:

I think this is new. Ten years ago, when I was last here, Christmas was celebrated a bit. It was a kind of imported consumer festival, similar in feeling to the Americanised Halloween that has become popular in the UK: meaningless really, but a bit of fun. At the moment in Japan, Christmas seems to be getting bigger. It is still essentially meaningless, still consumerist, but bigger and a lot brasher. I'm not sure I'm talking about all that goes with Christmas in the West. The food, the presents, in fact much of what you would expect to happen on the day itself, are all pretty low key, if they happen at all. Perhaps it is just the decorations that are becoming a thing among a certain group of people.

When I think about it, this weirdly displaced Japanese version of Christmas may say something about the Christmas I know. It seems very familiar. Of course, there is a family get-together aspect to Christmas in the UK that is really meaningful. This has its equivalent in the Japanese New Year celebrations. But what of the public festival? This Oriental Christmas ain't so different from our own religion-shorn Christmas, festooned with imported traditions like Christmas trees and turkeys and Coca-Cola red Santas and such like. Perhaps the only difference is that Japan's version does not claim to be "authentic". Or is that just how it seems to me? Maybe it does or will?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What does "proving the rule" mean?

Ah, the TLS!

Personally, I read mine on the toilet: heated seat, nice poo-length chunks of learning on a galaxy of unknown subjects, plus the incomparable letters page for briefer visits. Perfection. Tried the London Review of Books for a while. Didn't cut the mustard. The personals page is fun but you would need a very severe case of the trots to get to the end of one of their articles in a single sitting.

Anyway, the TLS:

Sir, – In his review of Kate Teltscher’s The High Road to China (October 27) Bernard Porter refers to the well-known saying “the exception that proves the rule” and says, “I’ve never entirely understood that expression”. He is in the majority; few people do.

When the word “prove” entered our language it came, via the French, from the Latin “probare”, meaning to test or try (put on trial) and carried the meaning of the original. This meaning survives now only in the usual locations for obsolete expressions, such as trade terms, proverbs, and closely defined expressions in, for example, religion, philosophy and law.

Thus, a printer’s “proof” copy is his “trial” copy, and the “proof of the pudding is in the eating” means that the only way to “test” a pudding is to eat it. In English law a case goes to “trial”: in Scots law a case goes to “proof”; the two words mean exactly the same. This, incidentally, also explains another universally misunderstood usage, the Scots verdict of “not proven”, which does not mean “not proved”, but “case not tried”, for if the burden of evidence is insufficient to reach a decisive verdict, the case is not concluded, and is therefore not “tried”, i.e. not proven.

This too is why the “not proven” verdict could mean the reopening of the case, whereas the other two verdicts closed the matter. Thus, “the exception proves the rule” simplifies to the obvious: you have a rule, up comes an exception, and that rule is immediately put on trial.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006


This lady deserves several awards, including the coveted Standing Up and Being Counted in a Foreign Land Shield and the Order of the Heroic Bicyclist with a special citation for Services to the Undermining of Smelly Machismo.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Beware the man in coat and sunglasses

Only one rifle between us but the geezer to my right is a vigilant sort and who knows what kind of button my friend to my left has his finger on?

(Bit of a hostage to fortune moment here, I half fear)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Six word stories

Wired magazine has a feature about six word stories composed by their "favorite auteurs" (including, A., your favourite Ursula Le Guin). Bit more strict than my six url story. Here is my effort at the Wired format:

Magnum opus. Champagne magnum. Bullet (Magnum). Bloody mess.

Yeah, Ok, it is early in the morning.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The changing of the season

Just switched on the heated toilet seat.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Great Expectations

"People are put in the Hulks because they murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions. Now, you get along to bed!"

Troll taekwondo

Many great minds have worried over important issues such as "pirates versus ninja", "samurai versus knights" and "Smurfs versus Snorks", but a much more pressing question for me is:

Who would win, Gruffalo or Totoro?

Both seem to be trolls of a sort but Gruffalo has the poisonous wart while Totoro has the flying ability and, presumably, the help of the mouse.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Do not trust anyone who...

... substitutes the word "honest" with the word "transparent" [1].

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chelsea woe

Don't normally blog much about football but this article, about Chelsea's goalkeeper problems, made me chuckle. The last three paragraphs:

Cech faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on a depressed fracture of his skull.

Cudicini was also concussed and carried off during the match but was released from hospital later on Saturday.

The Italian, however, is doubtful for Wednesday's Champions League home tie against Barcelona and Chelsea are likely to turn to third choice keeper Hilario.

What a very unfortunate name for a third choice keeper! If only his dad had been called Solidio or Leapio or something. I hope he is very very good. The headline writers will struggle if he messes up because it is too obvious. It is really best left to the last word of the article, as in this one.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Arugorizumu Koushin

Let's recap, shall we? Back in July, in a post praising Japanese children's TV, I mentioned the Arugorizumu Koushin (Algorithm March), a dance led by two comedians which is a daily feature of the programmes. Adults of various occupation groups are roped in to accompany the comedians in their ridiculous dance. The main thing is the whimsicality of it all. Here, for instance, is the Ninja Arugorizumu Koushin(the bit after the solo dance). They have also done maiko (trainee geisha) and footie players. Anyway, getting to my point, I'm not sure the governor of this prison in the Philippines (where, presumably, the programme has been exported) got the spirit of the whole thing. Not exactly whimsical, more horrifying.


To my eye, grain elevators are monumental, in a lost civilisation kind of way, and also slightly sinister.

Monday, October 09, 2006


I'm not sure whether it is a good or a bad thing for a load of white politicians [1,2,3,4,5] to be debating in public the issue of Muslim women wearing veils. That is a genuine "not sure". This debate is teetering right on the faultline between multiculturalism and integration and there are relevant truths on both sides.

In the end, I found this guide to the veil the most informative thing to come out of the debate [2].

One little footnote I might add is that anyone saying that the covering of women's heads per se is somehow fundamentally alien to British culture should first read their St Paul and then might usefully take a look at the Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon DVDs [1,2], which show footage of working class women at the start of the 20th Century in and around Blackburn, the consitutuency of Jack Straw, the politician who started this debate:

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Waiter, this wine is corked!

We connoisseurs of Martin Jacques's articles about Japan in the Guardian newspaper have come to savour the ill-informed stereotyping and gross over-generalisations that normally spice his work [1,2]. It was with some considerable disappointment then that I read his latest offering. Call that Jacques Japan article! The old platitudes are there but none (well, little) of the of the normal raving nonsense and ex-pat bar room theorising.

I suspect this article must have been poorly stored at the Guardian's offices. The sommelier must have taken a holiday or something. The subtle piquancies of Jacques's oriental meanderings must have been allowed to be oxidised by contact with the real world or something.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The cigarette fete

G. and I were playing on the swings in the neighbouring town of Hadano this weekend when we heard the distant sounds of merrymaking. We decided to investigate.

It was a town "matsuri" (festival or fete). At first I didn't notice anything strange, just the usual sideshows and fried chicken stalls. But then I read the banners festooning the main street. This was the "Hadano Tabako Matsuri" or, in English, "Hadano Cigarette Fete". There is sometimes something wonderfully un-P.C. about Japan. I can't imagine such an event surviving into the modern era in England but here it was, in full swing, the 59th Annual Hadano Cancer-Stick Jamboree!

Hadano's farmers have apparently been heavily into tobacco production for years and the town was out in force to support the evil weed. The whole of the main drag was given over to the festivities. The river was lined with big triangular pyres, presumably intended to be lit when night fell in a kind of incantation to the smokers' god.

The local school bands were playing, the scout groups marching and the sports clubs giving demonstrations. The Kanagawa Police Brass Band had turned out to add a bit of pomp. All in all, it was quite a day.

There was an official stall of nice old ladies selling bumper packs of ciggies for knock down prices and a tent handing out free ash portable ashtrays for matsuri goers inspired to indulge.

I presumed this notice, on the ashtray stall, was a warning rather than an instruction:

But I was particularly taken with the "SmoCar2", a luxury air-conditioned vintage bus set aside so that patrons could enjoy a tab in peace and quiet:

On the way home, G. and I passed this lady getting into the spirit of things:

Saturday, September 23, 2006

All you know about British and Irish ancestry is wrong

The Basque flag

All this talk about Celts and Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Romans ignores the fact that the British and Irish are actually much more Basque. The genetic impact of the rest is about the same as the post-war immigrants to the UK, according to Professor Stephen Oppenheimer .

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The most expensive game of scissors, paper, stone?

Scissors, Paper, Stone is very big in Japan as this story, from last year, shows.

Ghostly meanings

G.`s language is getting better by the day. One area we are getting a lot of practice with is "words to say `Don`t do THAT!`" I`m pretty sure he has a quite precise understanding of these words but, going by his reactions, this is what he makes of them:

I feel a bit bad about using "O-bake". Perhaps we are giving him a complex, some deep seated fear of the dark (which he associates with O-bake) that will harm him in later life when he wants to become a potholer or something. But it works and sometimes you need something that works.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The perils of cheap printer cartridges, or the horror of this "war on terror"

Maher Arar arriving at Ottawa airport from his home in British Columbia.

A completely innocent man. So why was he arrested by the FBI on the way back from a holiday, bundled off to Syria and repeatedly flogged with shredded metal cable while being kept in a tiny cell for a year?

Incompetent and morally degenerate security agencies, that's why. Could there be any worse description for the authorities in which the public entrusts its safety? And, by the way, Syria? Syria!

The chronology. The cartoon. Maher Arar's case is by no means a isolated example of this sort of thing.

Eat lead-free sucker!

The lead-free bullet offers "clear advantages over the traditional variety which can harm the environment and pose a risk to people."

The Ministry of Defence has also "proposed quieter warheads to reduce noise pollution and grenades that produce less smoke".

Father Ted

Old but very good.

Shiver and timbers and suchlike

Today is Talk Like A Pirate Day, don't you know?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Dope?

"If the Vatican says something dumb about Muslims, people will die in parts of Africa and churches will be burned in Indonesia..." Father Thomas Reese, April 2006.
Apparently, the Pope has provoked "anger among Muslims" by saying Muhammad has brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things. Hmmm. The Pope's speech (full text here) does quote a Byzantine emperor saying that. I don't know why because it is quite tangential to the theme.

The real argument with Islam goes this far and no further: the Pope believes that true Christians believe that "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature." God is reasonable. But, according to the Pope's idea of Muslim theology, "God is absolutely transcendent [in Islam]. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." Implicit is the idea that this is why Islam supposedly can countenance forced conversion, which was the abomination that the emperor thought was unreasonable, evil and inhuman. The largest part of the Pope's speech is really arguing against "deHellenization" within Christianity and has nothing to do with Islam. So why is such a sensitive subject being reported so poorly by the BBC?

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I was driving along and, as is my wont, slagging off fellow road users. This motorcyclist was a particular target: driving with his helmet on but with the chin strap undone.

"What an idiot," I chuntered to A. as the offending one zoomed into the rear view mirroï½’."If he has a crash, that thing will fly off immediately and he will be dead and everybody else will have to deal with it."

"Don't criticise him without knowing anything about him," an umbraged A. replied . "You don't know, do you? He might be an idiot. But you don't know! He might have glued it onto his head permanently. That might be the way he goes about."

It was possible.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

So what do you do if you have billions of images to label?

Employ tens of thousands of people?

Or create a game and get the world to do it for free. Quite brilliant. Not the game, the thinking.

The game is quite compulsive too. You are given a partner across the internet and have to bang as many one word descriptions of each image put in front of you as possible. When you match with your partner, you get points and move on. Frustrating if your partner is a dimwit or a rheumatic typist; strangely rewarding if you get someone on the same wavelength. My best score was 1100 in the allotted 90 seconds.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


G. is well into playing with his toy cars at the moment. I have noticed he is generally more interested in lining them up bumper to bumper rather than zooming them around. Whether this has to do with some developmental stage or the nature of traffic around here I don't know.

Everyday, as we walk back from the nursery to the car park, we get a great view of the rush hour jam. G. likes to name all the different types of immobile vehicles. Then its home (slowly) to play traffic jams with the "brrm brrms". What fun!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Sunday, September 03, 2006


G. and I have taken to going outside at night and looking at the moon and the stars. He loves shouting their names: "moooon and pikapik".

I admit to being a little worried two days ago when, looking at the moon, he started howling. I mean, quite literally, howling like a wolfman. He had his head thrown back and everything. Yesterday, I went out half worrying that he was going to start sprouting hairs on his back, but the lupine diversion was forgotten. Instead, he made a repeated motion of reaching out to the moon, grabbing it and putting it in his mouth. To eat, presumably. Cheese or mochi?

Thursday, August 31, 2006


A work colleague of an in-law has a problem. He has recently married but a relationship with a former girlfriend refuses to go away. He still feels very strongly towards the former girlfriend and has been confiding his dilemma to my in-law.

Anyway, said in-law was discussing the whole tangled affair with his wife a week ago. Unbeknownst to them, their seven-year-old twin daughters were listening in from the next room. Later, one of the daughters asked her mum what Daddy had been talking about. Mum decided the best policy was to explain it all in terms the child would understand. Something like this: "Well, sometimes people fall in love with each other, like your father and I. We fell in love before you were born. When you are lucky, like Mummy and Daddy, you get married and love each other for ever and ever and ever. Then you have two wonderful little girls like you two and you love them and they love you and everybody is happy. But some people are not so lucky. Sometimes their love does not last forever. Or sometimes they can't get married. Sometimes they get married to someone else. And that causes problems. Anyway, Daddy's friend loves his wife but he also loves someone else and that is very confusing for him..."

The seven-year-old rolled her eyes: "Oh Mum, that's one of those triangular relationships. They are happening all the time." And walked off.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Verbs bad

No need


There is a new craze in Japan for pedal powered karaoke at weddings.

Basically, the groom has to pedal an exercise bike which powers the backing music for his bride's karaoke performance. If he flags, she has to continue without backing. All very overloaded with metaphor.

Update: It seems there are a number of other pedal powered innovations waiting for the couple once they have settled into married life. These include:

The food pedalessor

The velocleaner

And, for after the little one arrives:

The Tour de Train Set (tandem model, just in case Mummy is getting complacent)

Finally, to work off all those mince pies, the Christmas bike ride

I think there is a serious side to all this stuff - pointing out the energy we use - but the wedding karaoke idea has been a hit beyond the wholemeal types.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Funeral strippers

I've written about Japanese rural funerals, but it seems a certain type of Chinese rural funeral has rather a lot more going for it. In some parts of the backwoods of that country, it is customary to have strippers at funerals! The authorities don't like it and have set up a "funeral misdeeds" hotline to put a stop to all the lewdness.

Funeral Stripping also seems to be part of the Taiwanese mourning scene and has prompted much scholarly headscratching.

(Incidentally, the photo above is actually of a Taiwanese wedding stripper but, hey, whoever said I was accurate?)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


The Raffles Hotel, Singapore. One of those names with a load of baggage - a great dusty caravan of it borne along by a thousand native bearers, oxen carts, elephants and the odd moustachioed man in a sweaty red coat. I popped in on the way back to Japan yesterday.

After falling into a dribbling postwar dotage, the Raffles was renovated in the late 1980s. The shopping arcades that now swaddle it are standard international hotel stuff. A little regrettable. Mind you, it still has some class. When I presented myself at the Bar and Billiard Room for my Singapore Sling, I was quickly ushered away because I was wearing sandals. I have always followed the sound principle that I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member anyway, so (after rejecting the Long Bar, which seemed to be filled with a most ill-favoured bunch of sandal wearing Billiard Room reject types) I humbly diverted to the delightful courtyard bar and had my Sling. Quite tasty. The picture is of the end of the cocktail after that, a little skew-whiff.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Amartya Sen and Identity

The renowned economist Amartya Sen published an interesting article in the New Statesman a few weeks ago about identity. It asks why it appears to be so easy for formenters of hate to to reduce people from "multidimensional human beings to one-dimensional creatures".

My first exposure to murder occurred when I was 11. This was in 1944, in the communal riots that characterised the last years of the British Raj, which ended in 1947. I saw a profusely bleeding unknown person suddenly stumbling through the gate to our garden, asking for help and a little water. I shouted for my parents, while fetching some water for him. My father rushed him to the hospital, but he died there of his injuries. His name was Kader Mia.

The Hindu-Muslim riots that preceded independence also led the way to the partition of the country into India and Pakistan. The carnage erupted with dramatic suddenness, and it did not spare normally peaceful Bengal. Kader Mia was killed in Dhaka, then the second city (after Calcutta) of undivided Bengal, and which would become, after the partition, the capital of East Pakistan. My father taught at Dhaka University, and we lived in an area called Wari in old Dhaka, not far from the university, in what happened to be a largely Hindu area. Kader Mia was a Muslim, and no other identity was relevant for the vicious Hindu thugs who pounced on him. In that day of rioting, hundreds of Muslims and Hindus were killed by each other, and this would continue to happen day after day.


Over 60 years after Kader Mia's death, as I try to recollect the deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in the 1940s, it is hard to convince myself that those terrible things did actually happen. But even though the communal riots in Bengal were entirely transitory and ephemeral (and the few cases in which riots have been fostered later on in other parts of India do not compare in size and reach with the events of the 1940s), they left in their wake thousands upon thousands of dead Hindus and Muslims. The political instigators who urged the killing (on behalf of what they called "our people") managed to persuade many otherwise peaceable people of both communities to turn into dedicated thugs. They were made to think of themselves only as Hindus or only as Muslims (who must unleash vengeance on "the other community") and as absolutely nothing else: not Indians, not subcontinentals, not Asians, not members of a shared human race.

Even though the vast majority of both communities did not think in those narrowly frenzied terms, too many were suddenly trapped into that vicious mode of thinking, and the more savage among them - often at the troubled ends of each community - were induced to kill "the enemies who kill us" (as they were respectively defined). Many-sided persons were seen, through the hazy lenses of sectarian singularity as having exactly one identity each, linked with religion or, more exactly, religious ethnicity (since being a non-practitioner of one's inherited religion would not give a person any immunity whatever from being attacked).



Sectarian violence across the world today is no less crude, nor less reductionist, than it was 60 years ago. Underlying the coarse brutality, there is also a big conceptual confusion about people's identities, which turns multidimensional human beings into one-dimensional creatures.

Hating people is not easy. Ogden Nash's poem "Plea for Less Malice Toward None" got this just right: "Any kiddie in school can love like a fool,/But hating, my boy, is an art." How does this "art" work? The illusion of singular identity is skilfully cultivated and fomented by the commanders of persecution and carnage. It is not remarkable that generating this illusion would appeal to those who are in the business of fomenting violence. But there is a big question about why the cultivation of singularity is so successful. To see a person exclusively in terms of only one of his or her many identities is a deeply crude intellectual move, and yet, judging from its effectiveness, it is evidently easy to champion and promote.

The martial art of fostering violence draws on some basic instincts and uses them to crowd out the freedom to think and the possibility of composed reasoning. But it also draws on a kind of logic - a fragmentary logic. The specific identity that is separated out for special action is, in most cases, a genuine identity of the person to be recruited: a Hutu is indeed a Hutu, a "Tamil tiger" is clearly a Tamil, a Serb is not an Albanian, and a Gentile German with a mind poisoned by Nazi philosophy is certainly a Gentile German. What is done to turn that sense of self-understanding into a murderous instrument is (1) to ignore the relevance of all other affil iations and associations, and (2) to redefine the demands of the "sole" identity in a particularly belligerent form. This is where the nastiness as well as the conceptual confusions are made to creep in.


Forcing people into boxes of singular identity is a feature also of many of the high theories of cultures and civilisations that are quite influential right now. These theories do not advocate or condone violence - far from it. However, they try to understand human beings not as persons with diverse identities but predominantly as members of one particular social group or community.

For example, civilisational classifiers have often pigeonholed India as a "Hindu civilisation" - a description that, among other things, pays little attention to India's more than 145 million Muslims (not to mention Indian Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Parsees and others), and also ignores the extensive interconnections among the people of the country that do not work through religion at all, but through political, social, economic, commercial, artistic, musical or other cultural activities. In a less straightforward way, the powerful school of communitarian thinking also hallows exactly one identity per human being, based on community membership, and in effect downplays all other affiliations that make human beings the complex and intricate social creatures that we are.

Sometimes Sen's analysis of this reductionism reads like a civilised older man unable to come to terms with the barbarity surrounding him but the description of the problem is rewarding enough.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Mooching around

BookMooch is a free book trade and exchange community

Friday, August 04, 2006

At Changi

Wow. Never had a airport transit quite like this one. I had about 6 hours to spare at Singapore's Changi airport. I walked off my plane from Tokyo expecting a real grind.

Then, as I cruised the shopping area like some kind of consumer zombie, I saw the gym. It cost only a £5 for an hour. They gave me the shorts, t-shirt, socks, trainers and towel and I pedalled for all I was worth for my allotted time. I then had a shower, which was also included in the price, and, feeling rather virtuous and refreshed, went to the Singaporean restaurant, where I consumed a massive chilli crab, which apparently is a bit of a thing in these parts.

Another thing to note about this airport is that it has very few PA announcements. This is bad for the alcoholic airport bar types who are habitually late for their boardings but great for the rest of us. Famous last words. Better be off.

(Picture of the crab nicked from 'z dead' because I couldn't download from the airport computer. My table looked exactly the same, down to the Tiger beer)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bradshaw Art

There are up to 100,000 rock paintings spread over 50,000 sq. km of the Kimberley area of Australia in a style quite distinct from Aboriginal rock art. These paintings are believed to be at least 17,000 years old, perhaps much older.

Some people believe it is evidence of a pre-Aboriginal culture. The thesis has caused controversy in Australia, where claims of a culture being displaced by the Aborigines are politically sensitive. Some Aborigines have condemned the paintings as "rubbish art" and there are accusations in this article of vandalism and overpainting by some Aborigines (although I always thought overpainting was a feature of Aboriginal rock paintings in general). The article does not give enough space for cool analysis of what may be an overstretched theory but it is worth reading if you have a few moments.

Anyway, the paintings are beautiful. Below is a Bradshaw painting with more recent Aboriginal paintings below:

More Bradshaw art here.

The World Map of Happiness

Here. Don't know how it was worked out but I find it interesting because I had always thought I had been told that there was no positive correlation between people's assessments of their own happiness and their economic well being. At first sight, it seems money and access to resources does appear to have some influence.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Broken bonds

Nearly a year ago I wrote an entry about "Love and Locks", about how it has become a thing among couples to attach locks to Shonan Diara tower as testaments to their undying love.

Well, evidently, not all love is undying. G. and I were walking around Shonan Diara yesterday when I found this, just about chucking distance from the tower:

It had been opened with a key. Had one of them had kept the key and returned in hysterics months later after a cruel betrayal? Or had someone returned the very next night? Perhaps they had no wish for undying love with the previous night's partner? Maybe there is another lock on the tower for their true love? Or had the couple had an argument as they put the lock on? "No, not that way, that way, like that one" ... "Oh, bugger it. Damn your stupid lock anway!" (Hurls lock into the gloom). I kind of like the last couple. I'm sure their's will be an undying love.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Thomas Paine

On Thomas Paine:
It was widely believed by the devout of those days that unbelievers would scream for a priest when their own death-beds loomed...Dying in ulcerated agony, he was imposed upon by two Presbyterian ministers who pushed past his housekeeper and urged him to avoid damnation by accepting Jesus Christ. "Let me have none of your Popish stuff," Paine responded. "Get away with you, good morning, good morning." The same demand was made of him as his eyes were closing. "Do you wish to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?" He answered quite distinctly: "I have no wish to believe on that subject." Thus he expired with his reason, and his rights, both still staunchly defended until the very last.

Eleven years before Paine's death:
In the year 1798, seeking to choke the influence of French and other revolutionary opinions in their own "backyard", the British authorities jailed the radical Irish nationalist Arthur O'Connell. As he was being led away, O'Connell handed out a poem of his own composition that seemed to its readers like a meek act of contrition, and a repudiation of that fount of heresy, Thomas Paine:

The pomp of courts and pride of kings
I prize above all earthly things;
I love my country; the king
Above all men his praise I sing:

The royal banners are displayed,
And may success the standard aid.

I fain would banish far from hence,
The Rights of Man and Common Sense;
Confusion to his odious reign,
That foe to princes, Thomas Paine!
Defeat and ruin seize the cause
Of France, its liberties and laws!

If the reader has the patience to take the first line of the first stanza, then the first line of the second stanza, and then repeat the alternating process with the second, third and fourth lines of each, and so on, he or she will have no difficulty in writing out quite a different poem. (How much the British have suffered from their fatuous belief that the Irish are stupid!)
From Christopher Hitchens.

We all know about the "Boston Tea Party"

... but did you know there was also a "Boston Molasses Disaster".

Well, it's come to this...

... the last of the Shakers.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Miss Murderous

So, apparently, the Miss Universe contest has a section in which the lubbly beauties dress up in their national costumes. It's great for the gals. They get to show off their deepest patriotic feelings and share a small part of their traditional culture with the rest of the world.

This type of thing:

Miss Japan thought long and hard about her garb. The unrivalled elegance of the kimono would almost certainly have gone down well with the judges. Somehow, though, none of the outfits Kurara Chibana tried on had that extra something she was reaching for.

After careful consideration, she opted for the murderous red ninja costume that so typified the Japanese woman of yesteryear. As No-Sword memorably puts it: "Miss Japan went in the traditional garb of the stiletto-heeled red ninja, reflecting Japan's past as a largely agricultural nation of peaceful farmers and ruthless, garishly-dressed assassins. I suppose it has a certain quaint charm." Those high-heels must have been a bind when they were sneaking through the paddy fields.