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?