Saturday, July 28, 2007
Today's Retrospection comes courtesy of Rob. Rob and I have both been working on the old Calvin videos lately. I've been busy converting them to DVD, and Rob has been burning them onto his computer at his end. Hopefully more videos will follow.
Rob edited this video and uploaded it onto the Internet. The original video was something like 20 minutes long, so Rob deserves a lot of credit for editing this down to something watchable. He also has this video posted on his blog, along with a few brief words of introduction.
Partly for the sake of completeness, and partly to emphasize what a good job Rob did editing, here is the unedited version (which I had to break into two parts because it was so long).
Since Rob already introduced the video on his site, and since it's fairly self-explanatory, I'll keep my remarks to a minimum. Calvin Chaos Day Fall 1996 the Boer Bennick theme was "Jurassic Park". Nate and Brett stole one of the Jurassic logs decorating the lobby, and took it up to their room, after which it became a fixture of their dorm room and all their visitors were asked to sign the log.
Sophomore year Brett roomed with Cecil and me and brought his log with him, after which Brett's log became our log.
After we moved out of the dorms, the log got stored in my parent's basement for a couple years (much to their dismay). Once we finished our senior year, I decided it was time to give into my parent's demands to dispose of the log, but being the sentimentalist that I was, I was reluctant to just throw it away.
So Brett and I made this video where we talked about all our memories of the log, and then destroyed it on camera. One of us would film while the other one talked, and then for the final scene we just set the camera on the table.
This was not, however, the last of the log. When Rob came over later in the day he rescued the remnants of the log and a couple months later he brought them out on a camping trip to ceremoniously burn the last bits of the log.
PS--For the nickname Chewie (Or Chewbs, as it's used in this video) see here.
Link of the Day
Obama, Nuclear Power and Coal: All About the Green...I know I've been linking to a lot of articles critical on Obama lately. Like every other progressive, I'm in love with Obama and I think he's the best candidate out there, but it is important to keep him honest.
Friday, July 27, 2007
So while I'm back in town I thought I would squeeze in an anti-war demo or two. (This is something I don't really get to do in Japan, and given my strong feelings about the war I try and be active when I can.)
This Friday there was a demonstration sponsered by the Iraq Summer Campaign. Media Mouse gave a nice summary of this group a few weeks ago, of which I will quote a brief paragraph:
""Iraq Summer" is a nationwide campaign organized by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which is dispatching nearly 100 organizers to the home states and districts of Republican Senators and Representatives who have opposed setting a timeline to end the war in Iraq. The program is modeled on the "Freedom Summer" civil rights project. Organizers will be in fifteen states from Nevada to Maine, a total of 40 congressional districts." (end qoute)
I talked to one of the organizers (a gentleman from Colorado) at the protest. "If we can get just some of these Republicans to vote against the war, we can have a veto proof majority to end the war," he said. "Vern Ehlers is one of the people we decided to target because he talks very moderately when he is back in Grand Rapids, but then when he goes to Washington he consistently votes with the right wing."
"You know I've had this conversation with a few other people," I said. "They said that Vern Ehlers doesn't really have a choice because if he bucks the party they'll just find someone else to run against him in the primary."
"That is a tactic that they use to keep a lot of these guys in line," the organizer responded. "But with Vern Ehlers, he wants to retire. He didn't even want to run last term but the party insisted he did. So he's got nothing to lose with an anti-war vote."
So there you have it folks. So if you hate this war, and you're in Vern Ehlersr district, he's been targeted as one of the people who could serve as a tipping point. Give him a call and let him know how you feel.
(616) 451-8383 or write
2182 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
As always it is difficult to know how effective these little protests are. With all the little protests combined across the country, I like to think the total combined effect is creating pressure to end the war. But then Nixon was famous for ignoring anti-Vietnam War protests, and there's no indication that our current President is any more receptive.
We did get several honks of the support from the passing cars. (Now what would be really nice is if all those people who honked and gave us thumbs up would get out of their cars and join us on the street. Now that would be a movement! But for the moment I guess I'll take what I can get.)
And as always there were some people who were very upset and yelled at us. I've mentioned my frustrations with these kind of people on this blog before.
When someone is driving by and only stopped briefly at a light, it is difficult to have an indepth political discussion with them and show them the error of there ways. For instances a man in a pick up truck shouted this out at us:
"What's going to happen if we leave? Tell me that, what's going to happen if we leave? It's going to be a blood bath! Just like when we pulled out of Vietnam and 2 million people were killed in the blood bath! Do you want that on your hands?"
It's difficult to know where to even begin with this statement. First of all there was no blood bath when we pulled out of Vietnam. In fact the massive retailatory killings that the right wing was sure were going to take place (and was used as an argument to extend the Vietnam War)never happened. I mean it wasn't a Utopia, don't get me wrong, there were a lot of people put in re-education camps and a lot of boat people but there was no massacre that the right wing had predicted. And it certainly wasn't anyway close to the estimated 3.4 million Vietnamese civilians who died during the war.
But the right wing has created this myth about the bloodbath after the fall of Saigon that never took place, and have used it to justify every foreign debacle since then.
(There was actually 2 million killed by the Khmer Rouge, which came to power as a result of our illegal bombing of Cambodia, and was actually ousted in 1978 by none other than our arch enemies the Vietnamese Communists).
Not to mention that the level of US bombings and killings and massacres in Vietnam during the war. And that some estimates are 10,000 being killed in Iraq every month now by US forces.
But what's the use of trying to explain all that to a guy driving through a light? If someone is getting all their information from Fox news and right wing talk radio, it's hard to even communicate with them they are so far removed from reality. He drove away, and I turned to the lady next to me and said: "I think his statistics were a little off, but what's the point in trying to correct him."
I had another small exchange with another woman stopped at the light. "I think the war was a mistake, but we have to support our president now," she said. "It's just going to take time. Look at Germany and Japan. It took us ten years before we could get out of there."
"We're still in Germany and Japan," I said.
"Yeah, well, whatever," she replied.
Not everyone in our group was as laid back as me. There was a Vietnam Veteran who would shout at anyone who supported the war that they ought to go over there and fight it themselves. He got in one particular shouting match with a couple of middle aged woman. "Oh yeah, why don't you go over there then? Yeah, you're of age, go over! Don't you give me that crap, I fought in Vietnam. You don't know what you're talking about."
It seems like in our political climate being a veteran gives you a sort of saints status that no one can disagree with whether you are pro-war or anti-war. I'm not entirely sure I approve of that, and yet I can feel the guy's frustration. Imagine serving in Vietnam and then being told you don't have the right to protest the war by two fat middle-aged surban republicans.
Link of the Day
1,106 soldiers ordered back to recruiting duty
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Bear and I rented this movie the other night.
This movie was big news in Japan a few months ago. Like a lot of movies it got a delayed release date in Japan, so around March or April I think there was a week when this movie was all over the news and everyone was talking about it.
As I've mentioned before there are a lot of American movies dealing with Japanese themes, and some of them catch on in Japan and some don't. This movie got a lot of press because the Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for an Academy Award. And I think the Japanese fascination with Brad Pitt also aided this movie. Shoko really wanted to see it when it came out, but very few movies make it to the little Nakatsu movie theater, and we can't justify paying for train tickets all the way to Fukuoka just to see a movie.
This movie is often compared with movies like Crash, Traffic, and Syriana, and with good reason. (In fact while watching this movie I thought it had been made by the same people as those other movies, but according to wikipedia apparently not). It uses the same kind of directing and the same kind of story telling though. And the same idea of having 4 separate stories, loosely connected with each other but all dealing with similar themes.
As the title suggests, the main theme of this movie is language, but some of these four stories are more language related than others.
There are a number of points in the movie where characters do things that are illogical or don't seem to make a lot of sense. Of course people in real life do things that don't make a lot of sense, so it is difficult to know how critical to be of this. But there were a number of points in the movie where Bear and I said to each other: "Now why doesn't he just do this instead of that?" Or "That doesn't make any sense. If she would only do that all the problems would be over."
The Japanese segments deal with a deaf mute girl who can only communicate with sign language. (I thought I was going to get an opportunity to test my Japanese language skills out during this film, but the majority of the Japanese segments deals with sign language).
Interesting factiod: did you know that Japanese sign language is different than American sign language? I just assumed it was a universal language, but it's not. (This came up in a lesson from the textbook we taught out of last year: the difference between American and Japanese sign language).
Both of the main Japanese actors looked very familiar to me while watching the movie. It took me a while to place them but Rinko Kikuchi was also in "69" and Koji Yakusho, who played the father, has actually been in a number of famous Japanese movies, including the main part in "The Choice of Hercules" and the American movie "Memoirs of a Geisha".
Link of the Day
The Squandering of Obama
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I remember seeing previews for this movie last December and thinking it looked pretty funny. I know it got pretty mild reviews, but my sister had a copy laying around the house, so I decided to just throw it on this afternoon for the hell of it.
Like a lot of people, I think I was partly attracted to this movie because of the star power: Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams and more. (Of course I guess this is nothing new. You ever notice lately how kids movies are always packed with famous stars, even though kids could care less about name recognition in their movies? Why is that?....Oh yeah, for the parents. Duh.)
I don't care what everyone says, I think Ben Stiller is a funny man. I've been a fan ever since they started re-running the Ben Stiller show on Comedy Central way back in the early 90s.
(Or at least Ben Stiller can be funny if they give him good material to work with. I'd say he's batting about 50% in this movie, but I'll get to the flaws in the writing later.)
Like the rest of the world, I've been a big Ricky Gervais fan ever since I discovered "The Office". In fact Ricky Gervais is a big part of the reason I wanted to see this movie, although it turns out though his total screen time is something under 5 minutes. But for the brief time he's on screen, he's pretty funny. He does his usual clueless manager thing.
This is a typical family movie. It is told from the point of view of the parent, but it has the usual cheesy fortune cookie type life lessons and inspirational speeches built in. There are some funny parts in this movie, but I wouldn't say there is a lot of sophisticated adult humor such as in some of Pixar's movies. On the whole, the humor is aimed at the lowest common demoninator: cheap slap stick, funny voices. It's not quite as bad as Jar Jar Binks, but it's the same idea.
Link of the Day
Feingold to introduce censure resolutions against Bush.
Monday, July 23, 2007
My brother and his wife just got married in our front yard Saturday afternoon. Sadly at the moment I have no pictures or video handy to go with this blog posting, but plenty of both were taken at the event and hopefully some of it will make its way into blogland at some point.
Because my brother, his wife, and my niece have all been living together and under common law marriage for the past two years, the actual wedding itself was anti-climatic in a way. At least it certainly didn't change anything. But it was nice to have the whole family together. (As I mentioned before, this is the first time all the Swagman kids have been together since 2004.)
The wedding took place at our house on a shoestring budget. My sister Jess was made the official wedding organizer (she writes a bit on her blog here about that). So most of the stressing out about the wedding was done by her, the bride, and my mom. The men of the family basically just did what we were told to.
There was a bachelor party on Friday night (actually it was a Bachelor party that wasn't really a bachelor party. It just ended up being everyone taking the bride and groom out). Because my dad had taken us out to dinner the same night, the bachelor party didn't start until 11, and I was just wiped out because of JET lag, so I gave my apologies and didn't go. I got the usual guilt trips and ragging, but I was just completely exhausted.
The day of the wedding, I was given the job of video taping (possibly because of all the great videos I've made in the past). In the morning I annoyed everyone by asking for interviews and taping the pre-wedding set up. During the wedding ceremony there was no tripod (or that is we decided at the last minute it was too short) so I got a bit of a sore arm and tried to keep a steady hand as much as possible. For the reception in the back yard I handed the camera off to other people (I figured it was good to get in a different perspective, and I had already harassed everyone I knew with the camera).
I was also asked by my sister-in-law to give a toast, and tried to think of a few appropriate words, although I really wasn't sure what I was supposed to say. (I have been to amazingly few weddings in my life, partly because I've been in Japan while all my friends have been getting married. Until Saturday I had only been to 3 Weddings:
1) My Aunt and Uncle (way back when I was still in elementary school)
2) Paul and Kellie
3) Bosch and Margaret
(Plus one wedding in Japan, although that doesn't count because that's a whole different set of traditions and etiquette).
Anyway, I said a few words, got a few laughs, and gave what I hoped was a half way decent toast.
Best wishes Kyle, Amy and Haven. My the rest of your married life be as wonderful as that toast I made you!
Link of the Day
Youtube video Generation ChickenHawk (Via thismodernworld). A few cheap shots in here, but on the whole good satire.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Yet another novel-based- on comic book characters
This book is actually a result of my internet surfing. (I mean my coming across it that is, not the creation of the actual book itself).
I don't remember the exact path that lead me here, but I was wasting time on wikipedia one afternoon reading about different comic book characters. And somehow I ended up on the wikipedia page for "Challengers of the Unknown".
"Challengers of the Unknown" is a super-hero group (although sans super powers) that Jack Kirby created for DC comics in 1960 before he went on to work for Marvel. This is often looked upon as the first draft of "The Fantastic Four".
Wikipedia went on to say that in 1974 "Challengers of the Unknown" made their debut as a novel by the famous science fiction writer Ron Goulart. (My book is copyrighted 1977, but I won't quibble).
There was a time in the not too distant past when I would have thought to myself, "Interesting. I wonder what my chances of ever running across this book in a used book store would be."
But thanks to amazon, everything is available now, and one day when I was feeling like I hadn't read anything fun for a while, I thought to myself: "This book is probably just cheesy enough to be a lot of fun. I wonder if amazon has any copies."
At 155 pages, it is incredibly short, and I was able to read the whole thing in a few hours. (I, being a slow reader, seldom finish a book in less than a day, but this one was cake). In that respect, it might not be worth the trouble of ordering it on-line, but it was more or less everything I expected: light, cheesy, fun.
The cast of characters is very reminiscent of silver age comics (or 1960s TV shows for that matter). The dashing leader and Jet pilot "Ace", the lady's man and professor, the former wrestler and muscle man, and the circus acrobat who doubles as comic relief. And of course the chick, who doubles as a reporter.
And although this team has no super powers, watching their relationship with each other and team dynamics it is easy to see how this lead into "The Fantastic Four."
This book also has a surprising political edge, which I guess shows it was written in the 1970s. The American CIA (or its comic book equivalent, the National Espionage Agency) is plotting together with an oil company to plan a coup in a fictional South American country because they don't like the politics of the democratically elected president. (Although I wish Ron Goulart would have done a little better thinking up fictional names. At first I thought the fictional country of Ereguay was just a typo).
For better or worse the book never gets too preachy, and simply uses this as their back ground story. (The main story includes a monster in a South American lake and a Nazi plot). But whilst I'm on the subject it is worth noting that these kind of things are not regulated to the realm of science fiction, but CIA coups have occurred several times throughout the 20th Century. (Guatemala in 1954, Argentina in 1973, Congo 1960, et cetera). Of course most Americans don't know about this because it's not taught in American schools.
Link of the Day
Notes on the Young Left, from Two of Its Own
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I was in the bookstore a few weeks ago, and looking over the cover of this book, and it looked just interesting enough for me to shell out a few Yen and give it a try.
(A bit of digging around on the Internet reveals that this book was actually made into a movie in 2002, but I never heard of it before. Perhaps because I was in Japan at the time).
The book jacket advertised it as Stephen King's take on counter-culture, the Vietnam War, and the 1960s. (King being a member of the Baby boomer generation himself).
Being a bit of a 60s nut, and having moderately enjoyed the last two Stephen King books I read ("The Gunslinger" and "The Stand") I thought this book might be right up my alley.
It turns out the story isn't exactly as advertised, but it was still a great read nonetheless.
Actually before I started up this book review project, I also read one more Stephen King book: "On Writing". In that book, among other things, Stephen King emphasized that the best books are not plotted out before hand. You just start writing the story and see where it goes. (Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy, used to say the same thing: "The best stories are the ones you make up as you go along, because if I don't know what's going to happen next, how can the reader?")
There may be something to this, but all the same in my (albeit limited) experience with Stephen King, when I get to the end of one of his books I always think to myself: "you know, I could tell he made that up as he went along." There's always too many themes and plot lines that don't seem to go anywhere.
The same can be said about this book. It is not so much a single story as a collection of 5 stories with some overlapping characters. King makes an effort to emphasize some of the same themes throughout, but I highly suspect that these started out as 5 unrelated stories that he rewrote into one book.
That being said: It's a real page-turner. I don't remember the last time I was as hooked on a book as I was on this one: staying up late into the night to find out what was going to happen next, sneaking in little breaks at work to read a couple pages, et cetera.
The first half of this book takes place during the summer of 1960 when Eisenhower is still President. A mysterious stranger moves into the block, and he appears to come from another world. It probably more accurately belongs as one of King's "Dark Tower" series than a 1960s time piece. (I didn't get very far into the "Dark Tower" series, but I am familiar enough with the general concept to recognize the cross over).
This part doesn't fit exactly right with the rest of the book, but it is well written and suspenseful.
The next part is about a college experience in 1966. An entire boy's dormitory is in danger of flunking out of school because of an obsession with Hearts card game. At the same time the beginnings of consciousness about the Vietnam War are stirring.
At first I had a hard time believing a stupid card game could be addictive enough to cause everyone in the dorm to be in danger of flunking out. (I played Hearts a couple times in college, and never felt it was anything I wanted to give up my GPA or my social life for). And then I remembered all the people I knew from college who almost flunked because of on-line video games. So I guess in the days before video games, Hearts is as good a reason to flunk out of school as any.
Whether King accurately captures the atmosphere of the 60s is not for me (born in 1978) to say. However he does a good job of recreating the tension of a boy's dormitory. At times it reminded me of "A Separate Peace" or the beginning of "Catcher in the Rye". King never quite rises to this level, but at his best parts he gets close.
The last 3 chapters are in the 80s and 90s, and deal with the legacy of the Vietnam War.
The themes, like the plot lines in this book, are a bit too jumbled and numerous to come out too distinctly and be neatly summarized. King manages to touch on a variety of subjects, but doesn't linger on any of them: human nature and "Lord of the Flies", the potential of the Baby boomer generation and their failure to live up to it, the irony of the peace movement turning towards violence, the Mi Lai massacre and the horrors of Vietnam, the lives of the veterans after the war, et cetera.
It's almost a pity King wrote this book in 1999, because I'm sure the conflict in Iraq now, and the similarities to Vietnam, would allow him a whole other direction to go in. As it is however this book should just be taken as a pre Iraq War take on the legacy of Vietnam.
The book also showcases King at his usual macabre self. Even when not writing horror, King never seems to get away from his fascination with gore and death. Some of the Vietnam War scenes, with pilots getting their skin burned off, could easily have come out of a horror book instead. And yet at the same time, this book comes off as strongly anti-war.
Link of the Day
Bush administration opposes increased pay and benefits for soldiers
Friday, July 20, 2007
This book is a historical novel based on the Paris Commune. It may be compared with "The Debacle" by Emile Zola, although only the last quarter of "The Debacle" actually dealt with the Paris Commune (the rest of the book being about the Franco-Prussian war that preceded it.)
In "The Voice of the People" the rise and fall of the Commune plays a much more integral part to the story. The very first scenes of the book take place on the first day of the Commune uprising on March 17th, and the very last scene deals with the fall of the Commune. Numerous historical characters from the Paris Commune also make appearances and interact with the book's fictional characters.
The plot is a bit complex and slightly Victor Hugo-esque . Grondin is an ex-convict prisoner who has escaped from his past and become a police commissioner under an assumed identity. He seeks revenge on Tarpagnan, who he believes killed his heir. Tarpagnan is a former army officer who turns over and joins the Paris Commune on the March 17th Revolution. He also falls in love with Gabriella Pucci, who is the mistress of the most powerful crime underlord in Paris. The three paths eventually converge on the barricades during the fall of the Paris Commune (okay, maybe that's more than slightly Hugo-esque).
The first confrontation between Grondin and Tarpagnan is cleverly woven in with the historical March 17th uprising on the Butte Montmarte. The final scenes are again interwoven flawlessly with the collapse of the Commune and the fighting on the barricade.
Although the book starts with a bang and finishes with a bang, it lags a little in the middle as the plot turns towards the Paris criminal underworld, and moves under the radar of the politics of the Paris Commune. I suppose the meeting rooms of the Central Committee and the Paris Commune government debates don't make for as exciting a back drop as the barricade scenes, but it would have been nice if the book had explored a little more about life under the Commune rather than simply using the rise and fall of the Paris Commune as a way to book end the plot.
Nevertheless numerous historical characters from the Paris Commune pop up during the book. Louise Michel is prominent at the beginning of the book during the initial uprising, and she is referenced repeatedly throughout the story. Dombrowski, the Polish general who was in charge of the defence of the Paris Commune (and became a symbol of the Commune's internationalism) is also featured in this book and fights alongside the fictional Tarpagnan. Gustave Courbet, the Communard artist who was accused of organizing the destruction of Napoleon's Vendome Column, pops up as another friend of Tarpagnan.
But of the historical Communards it is Jules Valles who figures most prominently in this book as a kind of mentor to Tarpagnan.
Jean Vautrin has obviously read Valles's memoirs, and at times seems to be trying to show off his knowledge by cramming too many biographical references into all of Valles's conversations. This book provides a fictional explanation for why Valles chose to write his memoirs under the roman-a-clef name Jacques Vingtras, although that part is also slightly overdone. It should have just been a throw away joke, but it is really over emphasized as if the author is afraid we won't catch the reference.
Valles also seems to serve as a mouthpiece for Vautrin's own views about the Commune. Although most of the views Vautrin puts in Valles's mouth fall short of profound analysis and are are more vague and cryptic. When describing the reasons for the fall of the Commune, for example, Valles answers, "It's because philosophers and artists confuse their dreams, their cigar smoke and the range of their spectacles with the hopes of hands distorted by toil!"
On the whole though, Valles comes off more or less how I pictured him after reading his books, and his dramatic escape from the massacre at the end of the Commune is also integrated into this story.
While this book may fall short of analysis about the Paris Commune, it does attempt to give it a fitting eulogy. Vautrin laments the slaughter of the poor by the Versailles army. He has several scenes depicting the slaughter, and even integrates Victor Hugo's famous poem about a Communard boy who asks to return his watch to his mother before being executed.
That said, I'm not sure he entirely succeeds in this either. Maybe I'm just unromantic, but I thought the systematic listing of the Versailles atrocities by Lissagary in his "History of the Paris Commune" made the massacres seem a lot more real than Vautrin's or Hugo's poetic interpretations.
Stylistically the book is a bit confusing. I'm not sure if it is the author's fault or the translator's fault, but here is a typical example:
"Thirty-six years old, a townsman born and bred, he was a long pallid beanpole of a man, dressed in dark blue and at present giving a fair imitation of a heron being mobbed by rooks. He was sticking his head out from behind the timber piling."
This is further compounded by Vautrin's aversion to using the same name for a character twice on the same page. Vautrin might refer to a character once by his given name, once by his family name, once by his rank or position, and then once by his height, hair style, or home town before he feels comfortable reverting back to the proper name again. It's a bit confusing at the beginning remembering who is who, but it got better as I read through the book. I think the style just grew on me after a while.
All in all, a good read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It requires a bit of patience at first, but if you stick with it you do get caught up in the story and forget about the clunky prose. Also it should probably be supplemented with a non-fiction history of the Paris Commune.
This review has also been put on Media Mouse here.
Link of the Day
07/19/07: Constituents Protest Ehlers' Recent Iraq Vote
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Anyway, enough of my whining. It is good to be back and everyone is excited about the wedding. This is the first time all four Swagman kids have been in the same place at the same time since New Years 2004, so it is a nice little family re-union. I'll keep you updated on the actual wedding itself.
Shoko was unfortunately not able to make it out with me this time, which is disappointing, but hardly surprising. In the 4 years we've been going out, she has received numerous invitations from me to visit Michigan, and so far she has made it out only once. And even that one almost didn't happen. But to be fair to her, it is a long trip and requires a bit of time, energy and money, and Japanese companies are not famous for being flexible with their employees work schedules.
She did feel bad about missing the wedding, and also not meeting people. (Because she was sick last time she came out here, she has only met a couple of my friends to date.) So she wanted to send this video greeting:
Anyway, hope to get in touch with everyone. I'll be busy with the wedding through Saturday, but from Sunday I should be free to hang out.
Link of the Day
If Republicans Represent Their Districts, There's a Veto-Proof Majority to End the War
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Shoko was her usual camera shy self and insisted on being behind the camera for most of the video, but I got her to make a brief cameo at the end. Also I had trouble uploading the video, so I had to split it up into two smaller parts. (Although I've posted longer videos in the past, so I don't really understand how this works.) Anyway, without further ado...
and Part 2
Link of the Day
"Accidents" of War
The Time Has Come for an Honest Discussion of Air Power
I've mentioned this once before, but at the end of my Senior year, I was asked by the Chapel committee to be one of the speakers at the end of the year Senior Chapel.
I put off writing this speech as long as I could, and then the weekend before I finally locked myself in my room for a while to stress over it. I had various half starts and crumbled up notes before I had eventually worked myself up into a state where I really couldn't think straight. (I guess in these situations they say best thing to do is to tell yourself to relax and not worry, but I didn't know that at the time).When I eventually wrote the speech below I was so stressed out I felt like I had lost all critical faculty and couldn't tell if my own writing was any good or not.
Getting up to speak that Tuesday was perhaps the most nervous I had ever been in my entire life. My sister (who was in the audience at the time) says my hands were visibly shaking, and I don't doubt it.
Fortunately the audience was very generous. Everyone in first chapel laughed at the jokes. By second second chapel the audience was more awake and warmed up and I was getting really rich long laughter at all the jokes. (For four years I had listened to chapel speakers say things like "Wow, you guys at second chapel are a lot more awake than the first bunch." But it really was true).
I got plenty of compliments on this speech. In fact sometimes even two or three years later I would meet a Christian High alum at Calvin who was a year or two behind me, and the first thing they would say was: "You were the guy who did that chapel speech, right? That was the funniest thing I ever heard." (In fact Bosch, who had been a year behind me at Christian High, said this to me when we met for the first time in the Boer-Bennick Dorms).
Re-reading this speech now though, 10 + years later, is a rather painful experience. The whole thing just makes me want to cringe. Not only the corny jokes, but also the corny sentimentality, and perhaps worst of all the style. (And I used to wonder why I got such bad grades on English papers). Also some of the opinions and content seem incredibly naive to me now.
When I first thought of posting this, I wrote up a huge introduction which was just one long apology for the content of this. But in the end I decided to delete that. Hopefully it goes without saying that this represents me at 18, and if I had to re-write it today it would be completely different. Other than that, I'm just going to let it stand on it's own.
When I was asked to speak here today, I had a hard time coming up with something to say. I decided to look in my Freshman yearbook, at what people had wrote in it, to see if I could try to find some inspiration, or some sense of unity for these four years. Well, I couldn't read most of the signatures. I had given all my friends a pencil to sign the yearbook with. So my advice to Freshman is when you get your yearbook this Friday, give your friends a pen to sign it with.
That failing, I thought about other senior chapels I had attended in the past, and what was said there. A popular thing to do was to give advice to the underclassman, so I made a list of all the things I had learned over the four years I've been here, so that underclassman could benefit from my vast wisdom and experience. I put down things like: get involved in a lot of activities, be as nice as you can to everyone, don't wait till the last minute on those English papers because they always take twice as long as you think they will, work hard in whatever you do, follow your interests, think for yourself, and so on.
I looked at the list, and it was all commonsense. It was stuff everybody knew, and when I thought about it, I knew most of these things back in Middle school. Yet I sure didn't do a lot of these things as a Freshman. I guess during my time in high school I didn't learn very many new things, as much as I learned how to apply what I already knew. All those things I knew I was supposed to do, but I didn't do them. Then, as time passed, I began doing them, and practiced on them. Right now I still don't do most of these things all the time, but I'm a lot better than I was.
I remember one of the first times I entered this school. I didn't have any older brothers or sisters, so one of the first times I set foot in the building was to buy my books Freshman year. The whole place seemed unbelievably huge to me. my mom was with me. I was a little embarrassed to be seen with her, but I really didn't have another ride, and I needed someone to pay for the books. After I got my schedule, my mom suggested to me that I find out where all my class rooms were in order to make the first day a little easier. I thought the idea was pointless. Even if I did locate all my classrooms, the building was so big I'd never remember where they were.
The first day of school came, and I was greatly relieved to find out that all the rooms were numbered in order, so I could find everything easily. Gradually, the building didn't seem so large anymore. I remember I was always late to my fifth hour classroom. No matter how fast I went, I just could not get from my fourth hour, to my locker, to fifth hour. Then, about halfway through the semester, I discovered a hallway I didn't even know about. Using it, I was able to cut my trip by a quarter, and was never late since.
The time I've been here has really gone quickly. Looking back, it seems like I've spent a lot of the time confused. I was confused about what was expected of me, I was confused about math assignments, I was confused about what other people thought of me, I was confused about where to go to college, I was confused about school policies. I was confused about a lot of things, and about a lot of things I still am, but as I moved through the years, it seemed like a lot of things got clearer.
This year, I've heard a lot of things said about Christian High students from fellow students. I've heard that most people at Christian High only want to be your friend if there is something they can gain from it. If they aren't your friend, they don't really care about you, and wouldn't help you out unless there was something in it for them. I've heard that most of them don't really care about what's right or wrong, but only care about themselves. I don't know everything these people have been through, but it certainly hasn't been my experience.
There are a lot of things I'm thankful for here. I'm thankful for people who gave me rides in their cars when I needed one. I'm thankful for people who shared their lunch with me when I forgot mine. I'm thankful for people who took time to explain my homework to me when I didn't get it. I'm thankful for people who loaned me money when I needed it. I'm thankful for people who took the time to talk to me when I was feeling down. I'm thankful for people who gave me advice when I needed it, and I'm thankful for people who were just good friends. I'm going to miss a lot of you next year.
Link of the Day
This Modern World has a blog posting on the Michael Moore/ CNN debates. I don't like to spend a lot of time on these pundit debates because I believe they're the equivalent of counter productive energy for politicos, but I thought this made a good point
This other bit from Gupta, attempting to trash France’s heathcare system, is laughably bad :
GUPTA: I also think the whole idea, Michael, of just calling it a free system I think is a little bit nebulous to people who don’t fully understand what you mean by that. Yes, you’ve got to raise taxes significantly. I mean France is drowning in taxes. They’re running a $15.6 billion debt.
$15.6 billion! That would be scary if we weren’t spending that much money every month in Iraq. In France, they’re willing to go into debt to keep their citizens from dying of preventable diseases and injuries. Here in America, we save our debt for wars and tax cuts.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Regular readers of my blog will perhaps note this is the third biography of Marx I have read within the past year after Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin and Karl Marx: A Life by Francis Wheen. Because my interests are more historical than philosophical, I tend to look for a book that tells the interesting events in Marx's life without bogging the reader down in the specifics of German Hegelianism. And although I enjoyed the previous two books, this was the book I was looking for.
Ultimately this probably comes down to personal preference, but if, like me, you are interested in biographical and not philosophical details about Marx, then this is the book for you. Although Marx's philosophical works are mentioned, very little understanding is asked of the reader.
Not that this book is perfect. There were several interesting incidents and fascinating biographic details found in the first two books that were not in this book. Or at least not fully elaborated on in this book.
The style of the book at times is very easy to understand and text book like, making for a fast read. It does get a little dry at times however and one senses Saul Padover is not having as much fun with his subject as contrasted with the light tone of Francis Wheen or Isaiah Berlin.
But this book gives a very clear outline of all the events in Marx's life. It does a very good job of explaining, for example, all of Marx's (albeit limited) role in the revolutions of 1848.
Although the book is largely chronological, the last 20 years in England are divided up into chapters by subject. For example one chapter is on Das Kapital, on chapter is on the rise and fall of the First International, one chapter is on the Paris Commune.
In reality of course all of these subjects were intertwined. For example one of the reasons Marx got so little work done on Das Kapital (and never got around to finishing the subsequent volumes) was because of his involvement in the First Communist International. And the event that thrust the Communist International into the public spotlight was the Paris Commune.
I wouldn't go as far to say this is confusing because Saul Padover's style is very clear, but it does make the story lose some of its forward momentum. Also it makes many of the events in Marx's story anti-climatic. For instance in a chapter on Marx's children, Padover mentions the death of Marx and Engels. Then later he has to go back and retells the story in his final chapter.
Quibbles aside though, this represents a very concise, clear, biographically focused and easy to read introduction to the life of Karl Marx. A great starting point for anyone wanting to learn more.
This review has also been printed on Media Mouse.
Link of the Day
62 Immigrants Die in US Jails
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Monday, July 09, 2007
During the Vietnam War there was a school of thought which alleged that because of the massive carpet bombings of civilian populations, forced relocations , and massacres at Mi Lai and similar massacres, that the Vietnam War had become equivalent to genocide. And my own reading of history makes me sympathetic to this argument.
If the allegation that 10,000 Iraqis are being killed every month by US forces is true then I think we have to question if the Iraq War is approaching genocidal proportions.
And then I think the thought most of us must feel is: "however much I've been doing to try and stop the war, it hasn't been enough."
Of course its hard to actively protest the war from Japan, but the past couple days I've been nagged by the feeling that if I really believed in my own convictions, and if I felt that human life had any value at all, then I would quit my job, go back to the US, and protest the war full time. To the extent I've protested this war at all over the past few years, it's been mostly just by writing posts like this on my blog. And that is too easy an out.
But then I remember when I was back in the US last year and attended several anti-war protests, and I'm not really sure of the good it did anyone except for relieving my own consciensce.
A few years ago during the lead up to the Iraq war back in 2002 I organized a letter writing campaign in the Japanese town I was living with (I started just with my adult English students, and the thing just took off on its own after that). I also printed off petitions and pledges from ANSWER's web-page and was going around at parties trying to get all my friends to sign them.
At the time a Republican friend gleefully told me that I could overflow the White House mailroom with letters and petitions, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. And the frustrating thing was I knew he was right.
Back in the US last year I was a faithful attender at the weekly Peace Presence, where we held anti-war signs on the street corners every week. And I attended a couple of Media Mouse's anti-recruiting protests. And at times I doubt any of it did anything.
A generation ago the frustration over the war in Vietnam and the failure of conventional protest tactics drove groups like the Weathermen, the Japanese Red Army, and the Baader-Meinhof gang to acts of (mostly symbolic) violence. But even if I did have the guts to do something like that (and let's face it, I don't) I'm convinced that these isolated acts of violence are not helpful (as I wrote in this article for Media Mouse).
All of which just brings me back to square one.
Although I like the look of this "Iraq Summer" campaign, mentioned on Media Mouse's website, seems like a good start. (I won't be able to participate much from Japan, but it is good to see the organizing is becoming more focused).
I'll likely still be struggling with these questions for a while, but in the meantime I'm going to at least try and shout out the news from the roof tops. Everyone should think about the death toll in Iraq now.
Link of the Day
Iraq violence: Monitoring the surge
Saturday, July 07, 2007
For various reasons I'm trying to get into the habit of submitting regularly, but sometimes coming up with topics are a problem. I decided to write something up on the Ajimu Winery. This seemed like a good idea at the time because I had spent three years in Ajimu, and Shoko works at the Winery, so between the two of us we should have had a lot of information.
Unfortunately, after submitting the idea to the editor, the idea of writing about the Ajimu Winery absolutely bored me. The article became like a homework assignment. I waited until the last minute, and then wrote some crappy little piece. You can probably tell just by reading it that my heart wasn't in it.
Shoko, who had hoped to be consulted more on this, was absolutely furious when she saw the finished result. "This is terrible," she said. "It doesn't give any useful or interesting information out to anyone. And the whole idea of you writing this article was stupid in the first place because you don't even drink wine, so you can't be a very good guide. And furthermore," she added, "while we're on the subject I thought your article on Oita Library was pretty boring also."
Anywho, for better or for worse, here is the Ajimu Winery article below.
Many people are unaware of it, however there is a winery located right here in Oita Prefecture.
(Actually there are three, if you count the winery in Yufuin, and the newly opened winery in Kuju. But since I’ve not been to either of those, I’ll leave it to someone else to review).
Ajimu town has long been famous for its grape production (well, famous might be pushing it. They’ve been noted for their grape production). Due to the “one village, one product” movement in Oita prefecture they’ve increased their specialization.
In the fall of 2001, the Sanwa Shuri Company decided to take advantage of this by opening up it’s winery in Ajimu. (Now technically part of Usa town due to the town mergers a couple of years ago).
Much of the wine sold at the Ajimu winery is actually made in Ajimu itself from local grapes. Some of it is imported from other parts of Japan and just labeled Ajimu Wine. But either way, if you’re a wine lover, it offers a great variety of wines to try out.
The Winery offers free tasting every day except Tuesday. The purpose of the free tasting is to increase the brand recognition of Ajimu Wine, so you don’t need to feel any pressure to buy anything. The staff at Ajimu Winery is just happy if you walk away with an increased knowledge of their product. (It is considered bad manners to come to go to the free tasting with the intention of getting drunk, although some people have been known to do it).
Ajimu winery is located in the beautiful countryside of Ajimu, on a particularly picturesque hill overlooking the Ajimu Basin. This is perhaps its greatest selling point, however from an accessibility standpoint it is also the greatest weakness. The nearest train station (Yanagigara in Usa) is a good twenty minute drive away. You could catch a bus into Ajimu (although the bus system in Oita isn't great). Other than that your only option is to drive in.
And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how strict the drinking and driving laws are in Japan. Plus the roads leading in and out of Ajimu winery frequently have speed traps setup by waiting cop cars.
Therefore it’s always a good idea to go with a designated driver. The Ajimu Winery has free grape juice for designated drivers, and the Winery café sells excellent coffee at cheap prices (250 yen a cup, which is cheaper than you’re likely to find at any other Japanese café).
The Ajimu town also hosts a wine festival during September, although the same transportation issues exist.
And while you’re in Ajimu, be sure and check out their famous waterfalls (one of which is rated among the best in all Japan). The Winery staff should be more than happy to give you directions.
Link of the Day
Is the United States Killing 10,000 Iraqis Every Month? Or Is It More?
Friday, July 06, 2007
I rented this movie mainly out of historical interest. You see, being a history geek (and a bit of a 60s nut to boot) I knew that this was the movie that made Jane Fonda famous as a sex symbol for the 1960s. Which was why the red blooded American boys in Vietnam felt so betrayed when she became an anti-war symbol.
Also (and I didn't know this until I started watching it) it turns out this film has some relevance to music history as well. Throughout the movie Jane Fonda is searching for a mad scientist named Duran Duran which is (you guessed it) where a certain 80s rock group got their name from. (Wikipedia has a whole list of the cultural influences of this film.)
Unfortunately aside from this film's value as a historical curiosity there's little else of value here.
Where to begin?
For starters, the poster is slightly misleading, as it makes it looks like this movie is a bad science fiction film, when in fact it is actually a bad psychedelic film. A bad science fiction film I could have endured. In fact I spent much of my youth watching bad science fiction films rerun on cable, and even enjoyed some of them.
But as for psychedelic films, even the good ones can be hard to sit through unless you're taking psychedelics while watching it. Or possibly if your at a party and it's on in the background. But if you're just a guy on the couch with some donuts and a bottle of soda, it can be a long two hours.
Much of the draw of this film is supposed to be based on Jane Fonda's body and the revealing costumes she wears. But personally I've never understood the draw of these kind of tease movies. If all you want out of a movie is to see the female form, there is a different genre located in the back of the video store and you don't even have to sit through the bad psychedelia.
Plus given how much standards have changed over the past 40 years, this movie is pretty tame by today's standards. The film makers of the time were obviously trying to get away with as much as they could: Jane Fonda is shown in numerous tight fitting or revealing outfits, and even naked in a few scenes with carefully positioned camera angles. But it's nothing today's kids haven't seen before on MTV.
The plot line of this movie is just ridiculous, and its more or less just an excuse for Jane Fonda to wander around in tight clothes. (I know reviewers say things like that all the time, but in this case it really is true). At times the writers seem to be trying to create an "Alice in Wonderland" type story, but they try and substitute strange and random for true imagination.
The special effects, even by the standards of the time, are pretty awful.
During the entire 90 minutes, I can think of nothing worth seeing in this movie.
The Verdict: If, like me, you want to watch this movie for its cultural significance, then I guess there are a lot worse reasons to rent a movie. But consider yourself warned.
Link of the Day
Via This Modern World
I strongly encourage you to sign this Moveon petition:
“Congress must force Vice President Cheney to respond to its subpoenas. If he continues to obstruct justice and disregard the rule of law, Congress has no choice but to begin impeachment proceedings against him.”
The fact that Moveon has gotten to this point is significant. The Democratic leadership listens to them, because they have to—and Moveon rarely moves too far away from the Democrats. Sign this and send it to everyone you know. Push Moveon to keep going.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
This is another Retrospection by request. Sorry it took me so long to post it. I was working my way around to it.
I'm not sure if this is the specific waterfight you were refering to Kellie, but it is at least a waterfight. And it happened to be among the journal entries I brought with me to Japan.
Woke up and went down to Eastern Avenue Church to help tutor immigrant workers. I carpooled down with Graham Reeves. On the way we discussed various issues of the Calvin Social Justice Committee. Because the Calvin Economics department is hosting a speaker from the world bank, I agreed to draft a letter on behalf of the SJC asking that speakers critical of the World Bank also be invited to speak at the college.
The actual tutoring itself was a complete waste of time (which is frustrating after getting up so early on a Saturday morning). There were more than double the amount of tutors needed, so Graham and I and some other girl were all assigned to tutor the same student. I mostly just sat and watched as Graham and the other girl did most of the tutoring.
Once I got back to my apartment I promptly went back to sleep and slept until 2. When I finally woke up there were two people I hadn't seen for a long time hanging around.
First of all Jonna Vanschepan, who was talking to Brett in our living room. She and Brett were having a long conversation. I said hi to her, and that was as far as my interaction went.
The other person we hadn't seen for a long time was Brian Schraeder, our old RA from last year. He was outside visiting everyone, and Brett and I went out to talk to him. As with all old friends you haven't seen for a while, once you get past the "Good to see you, what have you been up to lately?" stage of the conversation, the conversation can begin to lag and it can be slightly awkward. To help keep the conversation moving I brought out my photo album and showed Brian pictures of what we had been up to this past year.
A bit later on, just as Brian and his wife were leaving, Rob and I came out and threw water balloons at them. We didn't get them really soaked, but we got them a little wet, and everyone had a good laugh about it.
Once we had the water balloons out, Rob began making other plans. Rob had actually gotten in a water fight the day before with Melissa Essenburg. (I had missed out on this because I was at Michigan State University yesterday joining their protest against the World Bank commencement speaker). Apparently Rob had come out the worst in the water fight, and Melissa had soaked him. Now he wanted to get her back.
After we had gotten all the water balloons ready, Rob made a phone call to Melissa to let her know we were coming after her. In retrospect this probably wasn't our best move, because then Melissa just locked herself in her apartment and refused to come outside.
So we recruited Joel Hoort to our side. Joel Hoort was of course a good friend (and one of Rob's campus safety buddies) but not normally someone who participates in our pranks, so we thought Melissa wouldn't suspect him, and we could use him to trick Melissa into coming out of her apartment.
Bear, once he found out what we were up to, asked to be included on the prank as well, and Bear recruited his friend Dan Schewe.
Hoort telephoned Melissa and tried to get her out of her apartment, but she was too smart to fall for it and guessed that he was helping Rob, despite his attempts to tell her otherwise.
When this failed, Hoort went over to her apartment in person to try and get her to come out. He had an embarrassing picture of Michelle, and he told Melissa he needed her to take him to Meijers to make copies of the picture, so he could post it around campus. Melissa was intrigued by the idea, but still wary of leaving her apartment.
While this was going on, the rest of us were able to gain access into the apartment building because Rob Wieringa let us sneak in through his apartment. Melissa had her door open because she was talking to Joel Hoort, so once we got in we were able to get Meliisa and drag her outside. (We took advantage of Rob Wieringa's apartment on the way out as well).
Once Melissa was outside the fun began. We had 2 garbage cans full of water waiting which I doused her with. [The small apartment sized garbage cans, not the big road side collection variety. But still she got pretty wet.] And then we bombarded her with the water balloons.
Afterwards it was Melissa's turn to try and get revenge on us. She tried various tactics to try and get Rob and I, but at each turn we were able to turn the tables against her and just get her more wet. Eventually she gave up, but warned of revenge.
Rob and I hung out for a while after that. Eventually we ended up going to Reeds lake for Melissa’s surprise birthday party. A bunch of old Boer-Bennick people were there.
Rob had to leave early. I wanted to stay longer so I just gave him the keys to my car and told him I'd hitch a ride with someone else.
Many people were talking about throwing Michelle in Reeds Lake, and finally we did it (Jared English, Jori Murchi, Joel Hoort and I).
Michelle tried to get us back after that. She tried to get frosting from the cake on Jori, but instead Jori ended up getting it on Michelle.
Then Michelle made peace with Jori, and the two of them teamed up on me. They attacked me with cake frosting. I was able to evade them for a while, but Jori eventually succeeded in smearing me with frosting, so I chased Jori down and got frosting on her arms.
Eventually this generated into a free for all with all sorts of spur of the moment alliances being formed and everyone going after everyone else.
While all this was going on, by chance I happened to run into an old high school friend Dan Luke, who was taking a stroll around Reed's lake with his girlfriend. (I don't remember her name, but I had met his girlfriend before at Phil Ratchz's open House).
Dan is a student at MSU, so I mentioned I had been at the protest yesterday, and mentioned my surprise about how little political activity and organization there seemed to be at MSU. Because it was a big state school, I had expected massive numbers of students to be at the demonstration, but after the sparse turnout the impression I got was Calvin College (small, religious, conservative college) was more politically active than MSU. Dan agreed with me about the lack of political activity at MSU.
While I was talking to Dan, Jared English and Paul Steen got in an epic wrestling match. Jared got Paul in a super wedgie and tore off the elastic strap on his underwear. Afterwards Jared wore it as a head band for a while(kind of as a trophy I guess) before giving it to me. I used it like a big rubber band and stretched it out, then shot it at the girls. After being thrown around and shot at different people, it eventually ended up in the cake.
Afterwards everyone went to Steak and Shake. Since I had already let Rob take off with my car, I had to catch a ride with someone else, so I had to cut short my conversation with Dan Luke.
I got a ride with Paul Steen to Steak and Shake, and everyone hung out there for a while. Jared was on a mission to drink as many Root beers as he could, and told the waitress to keep bringing him free refills. She brought out six. Jared made a valiant attempt to drink them all, but ended up getting sick and going into the bathroom to puke.
Paul took his opportunity for revenge and took what was left of his underwear and threw it on Jared while he was puking.
Maria Gort shot ice through her straw at various people, especially targeting Michelle. Michelle threatened revenge.
After Steak and Shake, we all ended up back to Theta 21. I hung out there for a while, and they taught me how to play the Nintendo 64 version of Tetris. I gave Kathryn a back rub upon request, and otherwise just talked to people. Jared showed a video from the April 21 trip to his uncle’s farm. I was slightly hurt that I never got an invitation to this especially when I saw the video and it looked like everyone else in our circle of friends was there. Then again, maybe it was for the best. I tend not to have a lot of patience for these big group outings especially ones that involve long drives.
Before bed I went back to the courtyard and hung out with Bork, Buma and their group. They had seen the movie “Gladiator,” and were telling me about it.
Brett got back from his night out, and I talked to him for a long time. I tried to convince him to stay in Grand Rapids for the summer, and I think almost succeeded. I told him he could live with me and the rest of the boys in our apartment, but the real attraction for Brett is that Sara Schipper is planning on living in Grand Rapids during the summer.
Link of the Day
Losing the War in Afghanistan One Civilian Massacre at a Time