Monthly Archives: November 2006

Talking it over, Part 2: in which your hero finds his flow seriously messed wit’

I’m looking forward to it – going over the experience made me realise what a great time I had over there. Considering how apprehensive I was in the run-up to my departure, I want to convince everybody that it will be as good for them as it was for me.

Oh, I had a plan. I had a plan alright. A plan that disappeared the moment I saw Ilkka had come to the meeting as well.

Ilkka and I were at Kansai Gaidai together. He was a professional cynic, and his heart certainly was in it. We’d had some great times together, but considering that he’d spent most of the year bashing Gaidai and its large American population, I wasn’t looking forward to doing the presentation with him.

We got up and stood in front of the first years. After a brief introduction, I began telling them a little bit about Kansai Gaidai. As soon as I paused, Ilkka was ready…

Ilkka: You might hear that Kansai Gaidai is a Japanese university. It’s actually an American university…
Me: Well, there are a lot of Americans th-
Ilkka: …where the foreign students are kept separated from the rest of the students!”

And on it went. I was giving a presentation on Kansai Gaidai, and Ilkka was constantly interjecting with observations from the Twilight Zone. He said that Hirakata was a hellhole, and that Japan was the only country in the world where he’d been attacked on the street. (Given that I there at the time, I think the reference was a sly dig at me, as he thinks I was responsible for it).

Every one of Ilkka’s asides met with shocked laughter from the first years, and sotto voce pleas from the teachers to say “something positive”. I was out there on my own trying to hold the show together, as the presentation degenerated into a back-and-forth exchange of bizarre and contradictory statements like some twisted manzai routine. In fact, I wish it was manzai – at least then I could shout at Ilkka and slap him every time I wanted to. Which was a lot.

After the talk, I had a few first years coming up to me and asking if the stuff Ilkka said was true. I replied “No” to every one and tried to give them some real gen on Kansai Gaidai, to make up for the damage done. Everyone, from the teachers on down, seemed universally stunned. If there’s any kind of lesson I can draw from this, it’s that you have the best plan ever, but it won’t work if you’re confronted with someone determined to screw it up.


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Talking it over

The year abroad briefing meeting for first-year Japanese students is this afternoon. As part of it, students who have returned from their year abroad give small talks about their universities I’ve offered to talk about going to Kansai Gaidai. I’m looking forward to it – going over the experience made me realise what a great time I had over there. Considering how apprehensive I was in the run-up to my departure, I want to convince everybody that it will be as good for them as it was for me.

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"It’s ironic, this revolution. The rich are even richer now,"

Good news from Venezuela!

President Hugo Chávez has warned that “capitalism will lead to the destruction of humanity” but seldom has there been a better time to make, spend and enjoy money.

The economy is surging at 9.4% and banks and credit card companies are reporting exponential increases in deposits and loans. Car sales are expected to more than double this year to 300,000, many of them luxury models, and property prices rival Manhattan.

Oh, come now. I didn’t say who the news was good for, did I? If the main protion of your country’s wealth is from rising oil prices, it stands to reason which portion of the population will become richer. (Clue: there aren’t that many slum dwellers or rural peasants owning refineries and distribution centres.)

Chávez is an interesting case in present-day Latin America. He’s treated by Westerners on both sides of the political divide as a resurrection of Cold War stereotypes, representing either a blood-soaked Communist dictator looking to turn his democratic neighbours red, or a heroic saviour cocking a snook to the evil imperialist Yanquis, depending on whether you have the National Review or Daily Kos in your bookmarks.

The reality is that Chávez is more of an old-school populist-nationalist along the lines of Juan Perón – ruling by charisma and personal appeal to the poor, strengthening his connection with them through personal largesse rather than genuine egalitarianism. This is all well and good when you’re riding high on an oil boom, but relying exclusively on energy exports is a recipe for instability. However, something tells me the country’s elite won’t get hurt as much as the people at the bottom, who Chávez professes to care for so much.

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Stop the war, I want to get off

As the situation in Iraq increases in brutality, and outside commenatators look at the mess created and sustained within the country, the most enthusiastic neoconservative cheerleaders for war are again outdoing themelves in their eagerness to jump on a bandwagon, this time for the opposite cause:

As he looks into my eyes, speaking slowly and with obvious deliberation, Perle is unrecognizable as the confident hawk who, as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, had invited the exiled Iraqi dissident Ahmad Chalabi to its first meeting after 9/11. “The levels of brutality that we’ve seen are truly horrifying, and I have to say, I underestimated the depravity,” Perle says now, adding that total defeat—an American withdrawal that leaves Iraq as an anarchic “failed state”—is not yet inevitable but is becoming more likely.

More likely? Good Lord, Perle, where is your confidence in the End of History and inevitable triumph of Western democracy? Right now the general carnage in Iraq seems too widespread for even the really big lies to paper over. But, even at this terrible point, will they put their hands up and admit responsibility?

Sadly, No!

Know what, Richard? Go to hell. You brought Chalabi and his merry band of crooks to the White House and had them feed the CIA bogus intel. You kept insisting that the invasion was a success long after it was clear to all … that it was an abject failure. And you and Frummy wrote An End to Evil, the ultimate book of neocon wingnuttery that recommended, among other things, that the United States declare France an enemy state. To say that you bear no blame for this sad human catastrophe is beyond reprehensible. You and your buddies need to be banished completely from the national discourse and be forced to beg on the street for food. Just go away. Never come back.

Reading through the excerpts, the neocons blame everybody (the President and the President’s advisors are choice targets) except themselves for ramping up pro-war sentiment with dodgy intelligence. Still, I don’t think much will be achieved from this turnaround. Just as with the mass recantation of the Decents, both the the recent rash of pro-war chest-beaters and the opponents waiting in the wings assume that it’s all a game, the outcome of which is no more important than who gets the biggest space for their op-ed page, in which they outline what they would have done to make it all better, never mind the blood on the streets in the present day. I don’t think anyone far from the bloodshed is entitled to finger-pointing, let alone a bit of a gloat. Given the amount of killing that has taken place as a direct consequence, this recantation is far too little, too late.

(Bearing in mind I’m writing this on the eve of the US midterm elections while listening to the Beeb World Service report on the voting, where Iraq is treated as just another talking point. Never mind the piles of corpses, what about the exit polls?)

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Oh, my sweet potatoes

So here I am, having been learning Japanese for seven years now, and I yet somehow I never happened to learn from a book like this…


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Facebook + Mixi = very little real social life

Time was when I thought reading blogs (and writing my own) was taking up too much of my time. Then this summer a friend introduced me to Facebook, which started out as a social networking site for university students. Having no time for the vagaries and vicissitudes of MySpace, at first I didn’t really think it was for me. However, I got hooked pretty easily, and tracked down a load of international students I knew from Kansai Gaidai. I think the great advantage of systems like this is that it enables you to keep in touch easily with people you know but haven’t seen in a while. I don’t email that much, and it can be easier to leave a few words on someone’s wall than to compose a long letter to them.

Then, at the start of this year, our Japanese teacher signed us up to Mixi, a Japanese social networking site. I knew about it from a recommendation by the guys at Mutantfrog, which is certainly good enough for me. Mixi has gradually crept into my life, until it threatens to become a full-time obsession like Facebook. It’s a good way to improve your Japanese, as you’re navigating your way through a completely Japanese-language interface, and rather than, say, translating a news story that you can get from the English-language site of that newspaper, Mixi is full of stuff you want to read, from your friends and in the groups you can join.

Of course, does all this virtual socialising leaves little time for a real-world social life? I don’t know. I’ll answer that question when I get back from the Japanese Society Halloween party.

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