Thursday, January 29, 2004

So we've been having a little snow last week...
things have cleared up now, but it was a bit of a pain in the neck at the time.
The thing about the snow down here is that no one is prepared for it. There are no snow plows, no snow shovels, no warm winter clothing, not even those little thingys to scrape the ice off of your windshield in the morning. Me and my neighbors just come outside with a bottle of hot water to pour on the windshield instead.
So when it snows, everything shuts down. Just a little bit of snow makes the roads undriveable. The cars don't have tires fit for snow, and the mountain roads are very dangerous when slippery. And unlike the big wide roads we have in American, there is no shoulder on the roads here in the country side of Japan. No room for error. If you slide a little bit, you're into the ditch.
And, since my town is in a valley (with no trains), I have to go over a mountain to get out, and then back over one to get back in again. (Or a big hill at least. They call it a mountain in Japan). Which means for a couple days I was essentially trapped in Ajimu. It did get a little bit boring. I was pretty happy to see the snow go away, because cabin fever was beginning to set in.
But all that being said, the snow was also quite beautiful. Since I couldn't leave my town, I took a few walks at night and watched the snow fall. It was very beautiful seeing the snow fall on the Japanese gardens. I wish you all could have seen it, I'm sure my words don't do it justice.
It reminded me of the final scene in "Kill Bill". As much as I had mixed feelings about that movie, that last scene with the snow in the Japanese Garden was visually brilliant. And that's what things looked like around here (or in the gardens at least). The ground was covered in white, with snow falling through the air illuminated by the street lights and landing on the bonsai trees.
To further appreciate the beauty (and to kill time because I couldn't drive anywhere) I walked up a temple on top of a hill. It was a bit sketchy climbing up the icy steps at night, but once I got to the top, it was really beautiful to see the snow falling on the temple. And from the hill I could see the city lights of Ajimu (um...such as they are).

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Came across this while surfing the web...
Check out this link, it's pretty interesting (that is in a really disturbing kind of way).

Margaret Cho, a left of center comedian, apparently did a performance at a Moveon.org show. In the set she criticized President Bush, and so the transcript was posted by Matt Drudge, which was then posted on to the conservative website freerepublic.com site. After that, Margaret Cho received all sorts of hate mail, which she has posted on site linked to above.

I'm not familiar with exactly what Margaret Cho said at the event, so I can't vouch for whether or not her comments about Bush were over the line. But, as indicated on her website, it appears from the hate mail that her biggest crime was being an Asian American. Go ahead and follow the link, it's shocking the sort of racist things people wrote in.

Which begs the question: what sort of person reads freerepublic.com?

Perhaps this is just stating the obvious, but there seems to me to be a strong racist undercurrent in the Republican party. Of course there is all the stuff about Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, Southern Strategy, Rehnquist, Pat Buchanan, Confederate Flag and Bush's race baiting with the Judge Pickering nomination, etc, etc, etc. But even all that aside, it seems that when ever you scratch the Republican Party (like Margaret Cho did) racists come pouring out.

I'm not saying that all Republicans are racists, but can you imagine a conservative comedian/commentator getting such racist hate-mail from angry liberals? If anyone can show me an example of that, I'll eat my figurative hat.
State of the Union
(Yeah, I know I'm a few days late on this, but news is sometimes hard to come by over here in Japan.)
I was a Freshman at Calvin College during the fall of 1996, and as one of the few liberals in my dormitory, I remember having many a debate about the presidential election. Back then Bob Dole was running on a platform of increasing military spending, cutting taxes, and balancing the budget (and you'll recall, all three of these were major parts of his campaign).
To me this made absolutely no sense. But when I tried to point this out to my Republican friends, they just shrugged it off. It really confused me that otherwise intelligent people seemed to either not realize this breakdown of logic, or not care about it.
So....what then to say about George Bush's State of the Union address? What to say about all the Republicans applauding as George Bush asked for numerous new and expensive projects, while at the same time promising to cut taxes, while at the same time promising to cut the deficit in half over the next five years?
To be fair to my conservative friends: A lot of them have parted ways a long time ago with the Bush administration over it's fiscal irresponsibility. Some of them are even talking about voting democratic in the next election. And what is true for many of my friends seems to be true of more prominent conservatives as well, such as Andrew Sullivan.
But for you Bush supporters still out there: You people do realize that this doesn't make any sense, don't you?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

I don't think President Bush is a Christian
I've been reading a lot of editorials recently claiming that Howard Dean really isn't a Christian, and that he is just claiming he is for political gain.
And that may well be true. But what I don't understand is why Bush gets a pass for doing the same thing. I've long suspected that Bush is not really a Christian, and is just using religious rhetoric for political reasons.
Of course I guess ultimately there's no way of knowing for sure either way. It's between Bush and God. And of course the same could be said of Howard Dean. I think most of the people who are accusing Howard Dean of being duplicitous about his faith are a little biased. Because they disagree with his policies, they don't think he can possibly be a Christian.
And perhaps the same could be said about Bush and I. Over the past few years, it has become apparent that Bush and I have very different opinions on what it means to be a Christian. I just can't imagine Bush looking in the mirror with a straight face and saying: "I think the Christian thing to do would be to invade another country without provocation, and then lie to the American people about it."
So I'll admit it, I'm biased. I don't really have any smoking gun here, just a gut feeling that Bush's policies haven't been very Christian. And these feeling colors how I perceive any evidence. But that disclaimer aside, I'm going to make my case anyway.
A good part of my argument centers on the fact that Bush doesn't know his Bible. I know what you're thinking: Biblical knowledge isn't necessarily a prerequisite for sincere faith. And I agree with that. But since Bush claims Jesus is his favorite philosopher, it seems reasonable that he should know something about Jesus. Since Bush claims to read the Bible everyday, it seems reasonable he should know something about it. Since he claims to have attended a two year scriptural boot camp...Well you get the point.
I remember when I was in eighth grade my Bible teacher once questioned the Christianity of George Bush the elder (who was president at that time). Apparently George Bush the elder had been foolish enough to be out in the Mediterranean sea during October, and had gotten caught in a storm. Of course had he remembered his Bible stories, he would have remembered Paul was ship wrecked in the Mediterranean sea in October, which is apparently a stormy time of year in the Mediterranean. "George Bush, you say you're a Christian, but you obviously don't remember your Bible stories" my teacher said with a shrug.
Naturally I won't be applying this strict of a standard. I'll just be asking the question, "Does Bush know anything at all about the Bible?"

Item #1.
The famous Bushism "We must all hear the universal call to like your neighbor just like you like to be liked yourself."
Okay, I'll admit this isn't one of my stronger pieces of evidence. That's why I'm putting it first. I've got better stuff coming.
This is just another example of Bush mangling the English language again. And he's done it so many times that I suppose that this isn't a big deal, even if he is misquoting his favorite philosopher in this case.
It's just that after all the years I've been going to Church, I can't possibly imagine misquoting this. I mean every Christian knows this quote backwards and forwards. Can you imagine the old guy in the back of your Church misquoting this? Think of all the people you know who claim Jesus is really important to them, and who read the Bible every day. Can you imagine them misquoting this passage?
And secondly, this isn't just a slip of the tongue here. He's not even close. In fact really it looks like he's combining, "Love your neighbor as yourself", and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Again, this is from a man who says Jesus is his favorite philosopher.

Item #2
Remember the Republican primary debates that were held at Calvin College? Remember near the end of the debate when the candidates took questions from the audience? Bush received a question from David Dykhouse "what do you think Jesus would say about the death penalty?" Bush completely side-stepped the question, and instead went into a general speech about how he believed in the value of the death penalty. It was Alan Keyes who jumped in and quoted Jesus saying to Pilate, "all power you have comes to you from above".
Now, as a strong opponent of the death penalty, you can probably guess I don't agree with Alan Keyes's exegesis. (Alan Keyes argued that Jesus acknowledged Pilate's power came from above, and therefore God had given Pilate or the government power of life and death). But still, one has to admire the way Alan Keyes was ready with a Bible verse in hand. I was less than impressed with the way Bush avoided the question.

Item #3
In January 2000, Bush was interviewed by Jonathan Alter and Howard Fineman. Since Bush's campaign had been claiming Bush read the Bible, Fineman asked him what Bible passage he had read that day. According to Alter, instead of answering the question Bush got really angry at this point, and answered, "You know something, I think you're trying to catch me as to whether or not I can remember where I was in the Bible."
I tend to believe that if Bush was really reading the Bible everyday, he would have just simply answered the question. Certainly he must have known that politically that would have been the wisest move. His campaign was already making a big deal about how he read the bible everyday, so he wasn't shy about using this sort of thing for political gain.

Item #4
This last item comes from Al Franken's book, which I'm quoting at length because I think it deserves to be quoted (and I hope this falls under fair use laws). He is describing his evening at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Begin quotation

I had my most interesting and perhaps most significant conversation that night with Commerce Secretary Don Evans. Evans is among Bush's closet friends and was featured heavily in Howard Fineman's Newsweek cover story "Bush and God." That was the top-selling Newsweek since 9/11.
As you probably know, until his fortieth birthday, Bush was a heavy drinker. Or, as we call them at Harvard, a "drunk." According to many accounts, Bush was also an "obnoxious drunk." Finally, Laura Bush laid down the law. Threatened with losing sex from his wife, Bush decided to quit drinking and turn to Christ. (That part about sex is not in the Newsweek article).
It was Evans, a fellow oilman, who coaxed his old friend George into joining a Bible-study group in Midland. According to Newsweek:

"It was a scriptural boot camp; an intensive yearlong study of a single book of the New Testament, each week a new chapter, with detailed reading and discussion in a group of ten men. For two years Bush and Evans and their partners read the writings of the Gentile physician Luke--Acts and then his Gospel."

Now, I'm a Jew. And I grew up knowing zip about the New Testament and still know next to zip. But as it so happened, a few days before the Correspondents Dinner, I ran into economist Paul Solman at the Harvard gym. Paul...is also a Jew, but an educated one. So he knows the Bible. He, too, had read Fineman's cover story.
He told me he found it ironic that Acts was one of the two books Bush and Evans had studied. Acts, Paul told me, is Luke's account of the formation of the Church after Jesus' death. The book is almost a socialist tract, full of admonishment to the rich to share their wealth with the poor.....
I saw Evans sitting alone at his table. I sidled into seat next to him. "Mr Secretary, do you mind if I speak with you?"
"Not at all Al." I liked him immediately.
After some niceties, I steered the conversation towards Acts and how its message seemed at odds with the shape of the Bush tax cut. I led into it with "Did you read Howard Fineman's cover story in Newsweek on Bush and God?"
"Yes," Evans said.
"Did you like it?"
"Yes."
"So did I," I said. "So you know what Acts is about."
Evans looked a little uncomfortable. Long pause. Then, "No."

"It was a scriptural boot camp; an intensive yearlong study of a single book of the New Testament, each week a new chapter, with detailed reading and discussion in a group of ten men. For two years Bush and Evans and their partners read the writings of the Gentile physician Luke--Acts and then his Gospel."

"No?"
No.
Based on what Paul Solman had told me and a subsequent glance at The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Life of Christ, I explained to the scriptural boot camp survivor what I understood Acts to be about. Then I went into my spiel about the unfairness of the tax cut.
"Ah," Evans smiled. "But Acts also has Jesus' Parable of the Talents."
"No," I said. "That's in Matthew.".....
.....I've noticed that the only Biblical parable supply-siders ever mention is Talents. And, for all I can tell, it might be the only one Evans knows. But even I was surprised Evans didn't know what book it was from.
What do you suppose those ten guys were really doing during their "scriptural boot camp"? Watching football? Eating pretzels? Plotting with Karl Rove how to use religious rhetoric to reassure the Christian right that George W. was one of them?

End quotation

Now I know what you're thinking: Al Franken is a polemic, and so he's unreliable. In the interest of full disclosure, item number 3 came from Franken's book also. But that item was Franken quoting another source, where as this whole story is dependent only on Franken's say so. So if you don't want to believe it, fair enough.
But I tend to believe that since this book was published by a major publisher, and since it became a number one best seller, there would have been a lawsuit if this story was apocryphal. Or at the very least a correction by Don Evans. I couldn't find a counter story by Don Evans. A yahoo search for Don Evans and Al Franken only indicated that Al Franken has been telling this story several other times in interviews and TV appearances. Which again, would further make you think that if it were completely untrue, a lawsuit or something would have happened.
Okay, even if it is true, it's about Evans, not Bush. Although as Al Franken indicates, Evans complete ignorance of the book he supposedly studied for two years indicates these bible studies never really took place, and by extension then that Bush or somebody in his campaign lied about it.

So that's my case. Again, like I said at the beginning, it isn't too much. If you are predisposed to think Bush isn't a Christian, like I am, than these probably confirm it for you. Otherwise I don't imagine this would tip you over. Sorry about that. I did try and find more stuff online. I typed into the Yahoo search engine sentences like, "Bush doesn't know his Bible" or "Bush isn't a Christian." Of course really I didn't use quotation marks, because I figured the likely hood of finding that exact quote was pretty small, but searched for an article that contained the words "Bush" "doesn't know" and "bible".
And do you know what came up? All sorts of articles about how Al Gore or Howard Dean or some other democrat doesn't know his Bible, or isn't really a Christian.
And whatever, I'm not going to defend religious posturing by Democratic candidates either. They probably are a little bit disingenuous as well.
But, to return to the point I started out with: Why is everyone so convinced that these guys are lying, but no one on the right ever questions Bush's religious sincerity? I'm just sick of everyone talking about what a good Christian man Bush is. Doesn't it ever cross people's minds that maybe, just maybe, he's only saying all this religious stuff because he knows it will appeal to his political base?
Just asking.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Why I don't vote Republican
(sorry, every so often I have to do one of these political rants).
Has anyone else been following this whole FCC controversy about Bono saying the word "fucking" on TV? Is anyone else confused about what the big deal is? Here's a link to a CNN article that talks about bills the Republicans are introducing in congress to deal with this "problem".
I guess I should be careful about painting all Republicans with the same stroke. Undoubtedly some idiot democrats will cross over to support this bill, just like Al and Tipper Gore used to be advocates of censorship. Also The libertarian wing of the Republican party, if nothing else, does at least have an ideological consistency which I admire, even if I disagree with it.
However there is a certain element in the Republican party's religious right that I am at a loss to understand. You know, the wing of the Republican party that believes the government has no business providing aid to the poor or protecting the environment, but that it is the government's job to keep four-letter words off of TV. Why is it important for the government to keep the f-word off of the television, but it isn't the government's job to help parents who can't provide for their children? Could someone explain this to me because I just do not understand.
And from here I can easily make a transition into the other issue that seems to have the religious right excited this year, "Gay Marriage." According to the logic of the religious right, it is not the job of the government, but rather the Church and other private organizations to prevent children from starving in the streets, but it is the job of the government to tell us who we can and can not marry. Seems to me it ought to be the other way around, but I guess I'm just a crazy leftist.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I got name dropped
...in Jared English's weblog. Check out my link to his web page, and then look under the entry named "TV Show!!"

Update: Jared has since taken down his website, but, preserved for posterity, here's the excerpt in question.
"When they introduced me, I didnt merely wave at the camera, but did an English salute! That's right. I learned that one from Good Ol' Joel Swagman."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Back in Japan
Arrived in Japan Sunday night (Japan time). A bit of deja-vu on the return trip. Just like the previous time, my plane was delayed in Detroit, and so I by the time I arrived in Osaka it was too late to catch the train home. So, just like last time I ended up sleeping in the Osaka airport, and catching the train home Monday morning.
In the airplane I mentioned to the fellow next to me that I would probably end up sleeping in the airport. He said I should go up to the service counter, and ask NorthWest airlines to put me up in a hotel for the night, since it was their fault I wouldn't be able to catch my train back. I replied that I had spent the night in the Osaka airport before and it was not too bad. They had padded benches that I could stretch out on, and it was really quiet at night. But the fellow next to me said, "Yeah, but if you can get them to spring for your hotel, that would be a lot better than sleeping in the airport."
I thought about it, and decided he was right. However, by the time we arrived in Osaka, and by the time I got my baggage and went through customs, the Northwest service counter was shut down, and the employees had all gone home for the night. But, like I said, sleeping at the airport wasn't bad at all. I've certainly had worse nights of sleep.
Now that my trip home is over, I hope to write down some reflections on what it was like being home again. If time allows,I hope to post them in a couple days or so.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Homer Simpson Moment
I went to Taco Bell this afternoon. There is no Taco Bell in Japan, so I figured I had to go at least once when I was in America, even if I knew it was going to make me feel slightly sick afterwards (which it's doing now...but I digress).
I ordered a Gordita, and the clerk asked me if I wanted it with beef, chicken or steak. I remembered the Mad Cow scare in the news, and thought maybe it would be best to avoid the beef, so I said, "I'll take steak." D'oh!

Friday, January 02, 2004

book recommendations
I know it is kind of almost kind of silly to give book recommendations out, because everyone already has a huge list of "books they've been meaning to read when they get some time" anyway. And I'm the same. I still haven't read "The Great Gatsby", which Mr. Buma has been telling me for years is his favorite book of all time. And I keep meaning to pick up, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", but somehow keep putting it off.
But recently a friend in Japan gave me a copy of Kurt Vonnegut's "Galapagos", and insisted that I read it. I had every intention of just pretending to read it. (After all, I like everyone else, have so many other books on my "read someday" list, I have no time for new books.) But somehow I found myself reading the first few lines, and then I was hooked.
After reading and enjoying "Galapagos", I wanted to read something else by the same author. I figured, "Slaughter House 5" was the most famous thing he had ever written, but I was unable to get a hold of a copy in Japan. Now that I'm back in the U.S., I was able to buy and read a copy, and it also was a really good read. It's been called the greatest anti-war novel ever written. At this point I'm in no position to agree or disagree with that statement, but it is pretty damn good.
So, for what it's worth, it has my recommendation. Add it to the long list of books you're going to read someday.