Saturday, December 31, 2016

I've said it before, I'll say it again

Here's to the new year; may it be a damn sight better than the last. (It would take some doing to be worse than 2016.)

Friday, November 11, 2016

"It'll be FINE! Just give him a chance!"

"Well, golly. Folks sure do seem to have a bee in their bonnet about the new president. He hasn't even taken office yet -- what could they possibly be protesting?"

You could just write them off as sore losers... but you'd be badly mistaken. Maybe it's people reacting in horror that enough people were OK with voting for a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot that a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot got elected president. News flash: Voting for a racist who openly advocates racist policies makes you complicit in racism, no matter how noble you believe your intentions to be. And if being called out for enabling racism makes you angry or uncomfortable, maybe take a moment and consider the effect your actions have had on those whose lives have become exponentially more difficult thanks to what you've enabled.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What now?

So, that happened. Now what?

I'm seeing calls to "unite", to "heal", to "come together as a nation" under the new president. Fuck that, and fuck anyone who thinks shrugging their shoulders and going with the flow will make things better. I refuse to "unite" behind a man who got himself elected on a campaign of attacking Mexicans, Muslims, women, LGBT people, the handicapped, people of color, immigrants, and others. I will not passively sign on to the aims of a government that seeks to roll back the Affordable Care Act, repeal the Obergefell decision and Roe v Wade, and make the United States a hostile environment for women and non-whites.

Odds are not all Trump voters are racist, sexist, xenophobic bigots -- some of them, I assume, are good people. But if their actions help a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot become the leader of the country, the result is the same. Actions matter, not words or intentions. Half the country voted in favor of fear, hatred, and white supremacy. I count women, Muslims, LGBT individuals, African-Americans, Latinx, and other minorities among my friends -- am I supposed to just stand by and watch as the new regime takes over and starts eliminating the rights and protections they fought so hard to secure? Do I just go about my merry way, under the assumption that I -- a white, heterosexual American male -- will not be inconvenienced by my country's government?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Confession of a reluctant Hilldawg

I'll make this short and sweet, because there's already an overwhelming amount of election coverage online. I have voted -- by mail, so there's no sticker to prove it, but the Nebraska Secretary of State's website says they've received and accepted my ballot. It's just that I was asked several times today, so I figured I'd go ahead and reveal my vote.

I voted for Hillary Clinton for president. No, I'm not particularly pleased with how everything has gone. Preserving the status quo is part of why American democracy feels so sclerotic right now, and Clinton is nothing if not the personification of business as usual (the whole "being a woman" thing aside). She is far too hawkish for my liking, and there is a long record of behavior that suggests that even if she does not consider herself above the law, she certainly acts thusly. There are real concerns that her close ties to Wall Street will hamstring any meaningful financial reform. Clinton is a very flawed candidate, and in any run-of-the-mill election she'd be well behind a generic Republican (step forward, Tim Pawlenty).

That said, the alternatives this year are worse. Gary Johnson and the Libertarians have some good policy ideas, but on balance I can't support them or a candidate who seemingly can't even take himself seriously. The Greens? I donated to, and volunteered for, the Green Party once upon a time. I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 (albeit in Nebraska, where there was no danger of swinging the election). But Jill Stein? Wi-Fi fearing, conspiracy-mongering, more-progressive-than-thou Jill Stein? Nein, danke. My kingdom for a Green Party that can put forward serious candidates on a consistent basis and not just pop up for attention grabs every four years.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"How come you don't drink?"

Of all the questions I've been asked during my adult life, the one about why I don't drink is either at or near the top (though 日本語を話せますか [Nihongo o hanasemasuka, or "Do you speak Japanese?"] is closing quickly). I'm not put off by it as, in general, it's asked more out of curiosity than malice. It does make me something of a odd duck -- not only am I among the 15 percent of American males who report never having consumed alcohol, but my not drinking flies in the face of the stereotype of an expat journalist. My people are commonly associated with heavy drinking and smoking, occasional drug use, and general irascibility, none behaviors in which I partake.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Research unearths the darndest things

It's funny the things you dig up when you're looking for something else. I was doing research for a paper on the Tang Dynasty for my Chinese history class when I found this quote, which not surprisingly resonated with me. It's printed in Chapter 7 of Life Along the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield:
"There is no rest for the one of intellect and refinement in his locality, so leave your homeland.
Travel, and you will find a replacement for that which you left, and exhaust yourself for therein is the sweetness of life.
Verily I saw water become putrid in its stagnation, and become sweet when it flows.
And the lions would not be fierce if they didn't leave their grounds, and the arrow would not strike if it didn't leave the bow.
And if the sun stayed in its place in the universe, people would have grown tired of it,
And if the moon did not disappear every now and then, the anticipating eye would never spare it a glance.
And raw gold is as good as the dust that covers it, and the staff covered in dust is mere firewood.
In leaving your destiny will change, and in emigration you will become precious, like gold."

Imam Al-Shafi'i (767-820 CE)
I don't know about calling myself "one of intellect and refinement", but the rest rings pretty true. For all the difficulties I've experienced since leaving Nebraska, aside from a couple costly financial decisions, I'm not sure there's much I would do differently.

Friday, September 30, 2016

There is clearly something wrong with me

I am 35 years old. As of a little bit ago, I have moved house for the 26th time during my time on this planet. My memory might be a little shaky at the start, but I'm pretty sure this list is accurate.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Citius, altius, brutus

It's an even-numbered year, so we must have an Olympics on our hands. The quadrennial orgy of sun, fun, and infrastructure spending that is the Summer Games is taking place in Rio de Janeiro and blessedly drawing some attention away from the ongoing conflagration that is the United States election cycle.

The Olympics were designed to celebrate excellence in athletics -- hence the motto "citius, altius, fortius", or "faster, higher, stronger". While the best and brightest eventually get their due when they reach the business end of their events, for me that's only part of the allure. I also enjoy hearing the stories of people such as Siri Budcharern Arun, a 14-year-old swimmer from Laos.
Laos has one Olympic-sized swimming pool, but it is rarely used and too far from the capital for the athletes to reach regularly.
Instead, Siri Arun trains five times a week in the public, city-centre pool, without any lanes reserved for professional swimmers and sometimes under the monsoon deluges that hammer Laos.
While she tries to hone her rhythm and technique, kids clown around and launch themselves off diving boards nearby.
So far she has got her personal best down to 33.71 seconds, a good 10 seconds shy of the world record and a time that is unlikely to see her progress beyond the early heats.
But she keeps coming back, hoping to give herself the best possible chance in Rio.
In addition to athletes who qualify based on their performances, Olympic organizers also provide competing nations a small number of wild-card entries to make sure all 204 member nations have representatives at the Games. This Olympics also features the first team comprised of refugees fleeing conflict in their home countries. This isn't merely an exercise in handing out participation ribbons; it's about spreading the message of the Olympic movement and providing further inspiration for athletes from developing nations. Without this kind of outreach, the Olympics would quickly resemble cricket or European soccer, a closed shop accessible only by those with the best resources.

In proper doses, inspiration and patriotism can do great things. It is all too easy to overdose on them, though, and the Olympics is no exception.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Oh, Nebraska

My home state doesn't make the national news very often. We Nebraskans tend to be staid, good-natured but somewhat vanilla folk. That unremarkable nature can be annoying. When my old junior high was evacuated in 1998 because of a foul, unknown odor, several national news reports gave the city as Grand Island, New York. (Thankfully, when a stray accordion case caused a similar evacuation earlier this year, there was no such confusion.)

When Nebraska does make the news, though, it tends to be entertaining. Take for example the story that broke this week of state Sen. Bill Kintner being asked to resign over allegedly having an explicit sex video starring himself on his state computer. Kintner, of Papillion, is a Tea Party-backed politician with a track record of deriding gays, women, minorities, and the poor. From Joe My God:
Kintner has loudly opposed same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and transgender rights. He has also publicly declared that Christians should let gays know their business isn’t wanted by providing them with bad service.
The good senator appears to have a keen eye for other people's splinters. Pity he can't turn that hawk-like gaze on his own actions.

As I said, Nebraska rarely makes the headlines, but I've managed to compile a fun, if modest, set of stories over the past year or two. Some of my favorites are below the fold.

Commies to the left of me, Christians to the right

Upon moving to my new neighborhood, I rather flippantly called it a "barren, suburban hellscape". Part of that was probably born out of frustration at being so far from... anything, really. It's a 90-minute commute to campus, with the train station alone at least 15 minutes' walk from the apartment. It's akin to commuting between Grand Island and Lincoln five days a week.

There's also the fact that the most notable buildings in the immediate area are a recycling center, a building supply store, and a wastewater treatment facility. Affordable rent in Tokyo still comes at a cost.

All that said, poking around the neighborhood has produced a few interesting findings. Pictorial evidence of said findings is below the jump.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Your long read for the weekend

A reading recommendation for those with a bit of time on their hands -- check out this deep dive from the New York Times, "When You Dial 911 and Wall Street Answers". It's the first in their "Bottom Line Nation" series on the growing influence of private equity firms in daily public life.
The business of driving ambulances and operating fire brigades represents just one facet of a profound shift on Wall Street and Main Street alike, a New York Times investigation has found. Since the 2008 financial crisis, private equity firms, the “corporate raiders” of an earlier era, have increasingly taken over a wide array of civic and financial services that are central to American life.
Today, people interact with private equity when they dial 911, pay their mortgage, play a round of golf or turn on the kitchen tap for a glass of water.
Private equity put a unique stamp on these businesses. Unlike other for-profit companies, which often have years of experience making a product or offering a service, private equity is primarily skilled in making money. And in many of these businesses, The Times found, private equity firms applied a sophisticated moneymaking playbook: a mix of cost cuts, price increases, lobbying and litigation.
In emergency care and firefighting, this approach creates a fundamental tension: the push to turn a profit while caring for people in their most vulnerable moments.
This is nothing new, of course. The US has a... colorful history with private fire departments, for example. Still, the effects of turning vital public services over to private firms driven by a profit motive are worth remembering when we hear certain people extolling the virtues of deregulation and privatization as a panacea against the evils of "inefficiency".

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A pause that refreshes

You might have noticed a slowdown in posting here. The summer semester -- in which we cram 13 weeks of material into eight weeks -- is every bit as hectic as I feared. I'm never taking a language course in the summer again if I can help it.

In the meantime, here's three Ireland fans singing in a French train station. Enjoy. (HT Chris Jones)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

For those about to Crock, we salute you

Sometimes it's the little things that make you feel at home. Maybe it's peanut butter, or finding your favorite TV show from home on a local channel. Or maybe it's finding a particular kitchen appliance of which you are particularly fond.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Teetotal like you mean it

Here's the thing: I don't drink alcohol. I don't make a big deal about it or judge those who do imbibe; it's just never been something that interested me. This makes me an odd duck among expat journalists, of course, as we're expected to drink, smoke, have the occasional illicit drug experience, and cavort with women. I don't care, but it has led to some sideways glances at social gatherings.

In truth, I've been cutting out quite a few beverages from my life. I've been in the new apartment for about a month and haven't had a caffeinated beverage this whole time. Yes, I'm going off caffeine. Yes, again. Don't judge me.

I haven't even had non-caffeinated soda save for two glasses of ginger ale (assuming that counts). Part of it is down to another self-improvement kick. Caffeine is a stimulant, after all, and cutting back wouldn't be a bad idea seeing as heart trouble is not uncommon in my family. Even though the evidence behind the claims that drinking diet soda leads to weight gain is inconclusive at best, I figured eliminating it would be a good idea all the same. There's also the cost savings to consider. I have to make what little savings I have stretch until December 2017, so every bit helps.

So if soda and non-carbonated drinks are out, what's next? Find out below the jump.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The nickel tour, Tokyo edition

A brief tour of my humble abode. It's a bit more spacious than my lodgings for my first four months in Tokyo and the rent is much cheaper, but the trade-off is being way out in the western suburbs and a 90-minute door-to-door commute to campus. Let's just say I probably won't be falling behind on listening to podcasts for a while.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Another day, another drink

Coca-Cola Orange. Surprisingly enough, it doesn't suck. Still a bit too syrupy for my tastes, and I'm not a big fan of drinking one's calories, but it's far from the worst fruit-flavored cola I've ever tasted. (That honor belongs to Pepsi Blue.) 5.5/10, might buy if it's on sale.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sheet of Integrity 2016

Old habits die hard. Even when I'm away from the US and unable to watch college basketball, I can't help but fill out a bracket for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It just feels like the right thing to do, and this year I even have an excuse -- I am a Temple student now, and Temple managed to squeeze into the tournament.

As per tradition, I fill out one bracket and use those picks in any contest I enter -- two this year, one for the Tony Kornheiser Show and the other for the Living Room Times Memorial Pool. I reject the practice of strategically tweaking and submitting multiple brackets in the pursuit of filthy lucre.

Picks are below the fold. Yes, I know the tournament play-in games have started, but I have evidence to show I already picked every game. I've just been too busy with damn near everything else to actually post it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Chocolate That Should Not Be

I know, I know. "Another blog post about food in Japan? Just give up already." Again, I beg your indulgence. I saw something recently that threw me for a loop, and if I don't say something it's going to drive me batty. Plus, my day is almost entirely made up of eating, sleeping, studying, and listening to podcasts, and the latter three don't make for good blog posts.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

In a twist, Chinese imports make headlines

As usual, when a sudden shift takes people by surprise, closer analysis shows the elements leading up to said shift have been percolating for quite some time. For Euro-centric football fans, the most recent shock to their system is the "sudden" emergence of China as a competitor for some of the world's most in-demand talent.

Between them, Jiangsu Suning and Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande combined to break the Chinese transfer record three times in the space of a week. Jiangsu bought Ramires from Chelsea (21.5 million euros, or US$24 million) before Guangzhou signed Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid (31.7 million euros), only for Jiangsu to trump them with a 50 million euro move for Alex Texeira of Shakhtar Donetsk. This last transfer seems to have put some European noses out of joint as Texeira was considered a hot candidate to sign with Liverpool, whose bid was rejected in favor of Jiangsu's.

Predictably, this led to howls of derisive laughter and claims that Texeira and those joining him in moving east were sabotaging their careers for the promise of filthy Chinese lucre. It's fashionable to mock players who move in pursuit of more money, but stop and think for a moment. While estimates vary, the average length of a professional player's career is about eight to 10 years. If they're still playing in their mid-30s, when most workers start entering their peak earning years, they get accused of being "past it" and hanging on for one last paycheck. Think about that -- eight to 10 years to earn the vast majority of the money you'll have to support yourself and your family for many years to come. No wonder many players take the approach of getting what they can, when they can. If you could triple or quadruple your paycheck for the next eight to 10 years but had to move to Ulaanbataar to do it, how many people reading this would say no?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I'm toleratin' it

I try not to make a habit of eating at American chain restaurants while I'm overseas. It can get expensive, the quality isn't always great, and more often than not there's a local place that is just as good, if not better.

That said, sometimes nothing else will do. This weekend was one of those times. I'd just finished a walk through the Meiji Shrine grounds and was in the mood for something quick and unhealthy. Unbeknownst to me, though, the Burger King and KFC near my closest train stop are undergoing renovations and will be closed for two weeks.

That just left the old standby, McDonald's, a couple blocks away. As it turned out, it was quite the opportune time to grace the Golden Arches.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The land that forgot Diet Coke

I know, I know. If there's one thing more cliche than someone new to Japan talking about small accommodations, it's someone new to Japan talking about the wide variety of food and drink you don't find anywhere else.

Just deal with it. I've been here two weeks already and there's something I need to get off my chest.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

One week of remedial Tokyo

It's Saturday, which means the start of a three-day weekend -- Coming of Age Day is Monday -- and the end of TUJ's week-long orientation. It was equal parts an introduction to the university, preparation for the coming semester, and a primer for life in Tokyo. It was a bit of a whirlwind at times, but I'll sum up the highlights as best I can below the jump.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My friendly confines

Unless they have some first-hand experience with the city, mentioning Tokyo to those in the general populace evokes a certain handful of images. Expensive? Sure. Tons of people? You bet. Raw fish, fast trains, and all manner of assorted weirdness? You could say that.

Another topic sure to come up is Tokyo's cramped spaces and the challenges they pose in finding housing. We're not all crammed into capsule hotels, thankfully, but admittedly there is a kernel of truth to this, too. I'm getting my first taste of this as I settle into what will be my home for at least the first few months of my time as a Tokyoite.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Stop me if you've heard this one...

...but New Year's resolutions are bunk. What, other than the turning of the calendar and the end of the holiday season, makes this a better time than any other to undertake self-improvement?

Then there's the resolutions themselves. For all the fuss about making them, it seems it's taken as a fait accompli that they will come up short, as though a New Year's resolution carries all the weight of your average political campaign promise.

Given all this, Mark Twain perhaps best summed up the occasion in his 1863 New Year's Day editorial in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise:
Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. To-day, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient short comings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.
Happy 2016 to everyone. If you're not already living the life you want to live, here's hoping this is the year you start.