Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Old Reason

I began lectures this week. No longer feel like I’m treading water or muddling through, although I’m not sure if that’s optimism or not. I had my first lecture on International Politics of the Asia-Pacific Region (another one of those course titles that are even worse to say than to type). It seems pretty interesting, much like Pacific Rivalry back at Kansai Gaidai. The lecturer doesn’t seem as witty and insightful as Scott, though. The moment of levity in the lecture came while telling us to buy the course textbook, which he had co-written, when he mentioned that the proceeds from the whole class purchasing a copy would amount to the price of a pint of lager.

When anybody asks me why I got into East Asian Studies, I always tell them: for the money and the women.

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Let uniblogging commence!

I moved all my stuff into the house in Leeds this weekend. However, as my intro week seems a little sparse and my new housemates all decided to head back home over the weekend, I’ve gone back to Cambridge for a couple of days to bring back more stuff. Leeds looks nice – it hasn’t changed much. I keep bumping into people I know on and around campus, which was nice as most of them I hadn’t seen seem in a year or so. As the year goes on, I’ll try to hold to my resolution to not bore people too much about my time in Japan. (This blog more than makes up for that.)

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Baggy trousers – not just for Madness

From newly-discovered PingMag (The Tokyo-based magazine about “Design and Making Things”), a piece on Japanese construction worker fashion. During my time in Japan, I would see construction and maintenance crews everywhere, all wearng much the same regalia – hard hats, overalls, very wide, baggy trousers and tabi (Japanese two-toed shoes). I was intruiged by the baggy trousers most of all, as I’d have thought they would get in the way. But this article says otherwise:

There are various theories why the lower part under the knee is pumped up like a balloon. The main reason, however, seems to be a simple one: the baggy pants make it easy to move, easy to bend, stretch and stride.

Other explanations can be, that when working on very narrow scaffoldings high up in the air, it is good to have some kind of sensor: the balloon part of your trousers touches obstacles before your legs do, which acts as kind of a warning system without necessarily having to look down. Besides, they can measure the intensity of the wind and the bagginess prevents the fabric from clinging to your leg even when you are sweating. It also works as a cushion when you drop spiky tools onto your body.

Right below the pumped up part, the trousers become narrow again in order to tighten up your calves. Why? Pressing the calves encourages blood circulation and helps you to work longer and to stand for hours without your feet swelling up.

As soomeone who grew up in Cambridge during the whole baggy skate pants craze, I feel weirdly reassured that the fashion survives somewhere.

(Incidentally, I go back to Leeds on the weekend. Not much to say about that at the moment.)

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Pub quiz triumph and tragedy

So here’s the story. We are at the regular Thursday night pub quiz at local pub The Boot – the scene of some heartfelt political discussion last week. Despite being a few members down, our team valiantly fights on, and we end up scoring 33/40 on the quiz, our best yet. However we are tied with another team. Pete had promised Paul (our rotund quizmaster) that if we won he would sing. We win the tie-break due to “amazingly good luck” (no fixing here. Hem hem) and then Pete steadfastly refuses to sing. Paul declares the other team the winners, and then hands us two instead of three bottles of wine as punishment for Pete’s refusal to sing. Treachery to the cause or perfectly understandable behaviour? (Obviously I know which one is right, but I’m just presenting the facts without comment.)

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Security vs. liberty: imbalanced, to say the least

While heroically competing in the regular pub quiz at our local with some old school friends, we got to talking about the increased security measures at airports following the anti-terror arrests back in August. I was away on holiday at the time, but it was big news – even Ouest-France, the local paper (for local people), swung away from their focus on small-town civic events and road accidents to provide coverage.

Anyway, one of our party brought up the old “would you rather wait an extra minute, or be blown up?” straw-man argument. I tried telling him that it wasn’t a matter of a simple two-way choice – there are different degrees of response to a terrorist threat. And in the matter of degrees, our government has cocked it right up.

Imagine the alleged terrorist plot had actually been executed. There would be mass panic, grounded flights, and intensive scrutiny of people’s baggage. Exactly the same, in fact, as what is happening now. If the arrests were successful, why the mass cancellations and bizarrely draconian airport security? If a major terrorist plot has been forestalled using existing laws, why the ‘threat levels’ nonsense and calls for ever more sweeping powers? Does anyone else remember not letting the terrorists win? Because our government certainly doesn’t:

The politics of fear. I was bored of it. Now I’m getting fucking scared of it. One side wants to kill us “because of our freedoms”. The other wants to deny us our freedoms in order to protect us. Excuse me? Why are we letting the terrorists win by default?

I know I’m late to the party on all this terrorblogging, but that argument in the pub brought up my true and honest opinion. What makes me feel uneasy is that some people do think of it as a necessary sacrifice. While there’s a definite case for looking at the balance between liberty and security, my feeling is that we’ve already given up far too much of one with only a slight return on the other (you can tell which one is which, I’m sure). U.S. news mentions that the alleged conspirators were caught through police work rather than any general screening; a fine testament to our ability to thwart the terrorist threat, which is then ruined by hysterical over-reaction at airports and on TV. As Bruce Schneier says in that last link: “The real lesson of the London arrests is that investigation and intelligence work.”

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