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2007-01-31 2:01 p.m.

the information is laughing at us

I've been growing out my hair. It's the longest it's ever been now, and I can even tie it in a ponytail. WTF switches off between telling me I look like a girl and telling me I look like a samurai. To Western eyes, it's probably the former. I'm not sure how long I'll keep it long, but I have decided that when I tire of it I will shave my head, which is another thing I've never done.

I would be a lot more into goth rock if it didn't suck.

I went to WTF's parents' home for New Year's, which is a major family holiday in Japan when everyone returns home. That was interesting. Her dad was actually pretty funny and her mom was actually pretty nice, though WTF says they put on a good face for me. I'm not sure what they thought of me, but I'd like to think they're giving me the benefit of the doubt for the time being. I only screwed up silly Japanese cultural protocols several times while I was there. I wasn't allowed to help clean up after meals because supposedly WTF's old man would get angry at her and her mother for making a man do such a thing. I did manage to help make the meal once, though. WTF was surprisingly unwilling to help out with anything and generally responded to her parents as if she was thirteen years old, which was the first time I had seen that side of her (I generally think of her as a combination of ages 5 and 80). What's even more interesting is that the things that annoy her about her mother will also almost certainly annoy her children about her… I tend to think she doesn't give her parents enough credit, but on the other hand, if it's true that they've been dead-set against almost everything she ever wanted to do (including going to college and moving away from home), then perhaps it's a little more understandable.

We watched crazy Japanese comedy shows on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. One of them was a quiz show where the contestants (they're usually professional comedians, actually) get put in uncomfortable situations and bad things happen if they answer incorrectly. For instance, they may put them all in a bus that is dangling from a crane over the open ocean, and if they get the question wrong they drop the bus in the water. Or they may attach bungee cords to their backs and launch them fifty feet in the air when they're wrong. Or they may tie them to the front of trucks whose drivers are blindfolded and whose windshield/grill will detach, almost falling to the ground and crushing them underneath. Or they may fire exploding rockets at them when they get it wrong (this one had George Bush pushing a red button to launch a missile).

The other one we watched involved taking three comedians and for 24 hours subjecting them to a string of strange/hilarious occurrences that are designed to make them laugh. They aren't supposed to laugh at anything, though, and when they do they're beaten with rubber sticks.

Another thing they've been doing on Japanese TV recently is a series of theoretical animal fights that was apparently adapted from some American television program. Who would win in a fight between a lion and a tiger, etc. They've got brackets and everything, and supposedly the winners are determined scientifically based on the known behavior and physical properties (skin thickness, force of bite, etc.) of the animals involved. WTF asked me, "Is this how Americans spend their time? Arguing over who would win in a fight between a shark and a hippopotamus?" Yeah, pretty much.

WTF emails me from work every day, often with random pictures of kittens, pandas, or (today) starfish attached.

Translation has been going fairly well recently. I'm making more now doing that than I was teaching English on JET.

I've been playing go a lot recently, as well. I think I'm addicted, and I officially like it better than chess. (If you want an essay on why and have not yet received one, all you have to do is ask.)

You know, one cultural attribute I seem to have assimilated during my time in Japan is that I now think that beds, garbage disposals, dish-washing machines, driers, and central heating anywhere that doesn't go below freezing in the winter are all completely unnecessary luxuries. (Actually, thinking of beds (not to mention pillows) as unnecessary is not new to me.) Though I would appreciate it if the Japanese would get into the insulation game a little more…

I'm going to Australia and New Zealand next month. I'm mostly interested in New Zealand, but it was a thousand dollars cheaper to buy roundtrip tickets between Japan/Australia and Australia/New Zealand than it would have been to buy a Japan/New Zealand roundtrip (go figure), and this will allow me to check another continent off the list (that will make four). I checked prices again today, and the price of the Japan/Australia ticket has gone up over a thousand dollars from what I paid for it yesterday. How's that for timing?

I need to buy a digital camera.

"A new Airbus 380 will use the equivalent of 3,500 passenger cars' worth of power—as if each passenger were driving six cars across the Atlantic. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's 2006 edition of the Transportation Energy Data Book, air travel by Americans (three fourths of it for pleasure) accounts for a little more than 12 percent of the country's carbon output, and since it is emitting CO2 at high altitudes and adding other potentially heat-trapping chemicals, including nitrous oxide, the resulting brew could be two to four times worse for the climate than a similar dose coming from the tailpipe of a car." -this article

Wow. I knew that airplanes are a major contributor of CO2, but I didn't realize it was that much. So I bought a Terrapass for my upcoming flights, and I think I will continue to do that in the future when I fly. (Not that I really think that erases the carbon footprint of my taking the plane, mind you.) This Bright Card thing also looks interesting.

On a related note, I saw An Inconvenient Truth recently, too. They were having a special where you could see it for five bucks (about 70% off the normal Japanese movie ticket price). The theatre was packed. I'm happy to say that most of it was not news to me, but I also have to say that I've never seen such a cogent presentation of the problem. It certainly reaffirmed my commitment not to move to Florida (that place is halfway underwater as it is)… One section I found interesting was the section on US fuel efficiency standards, which are not even close to China's standards, which are not even close to Europe's standards, which are not even close to Japan's standards. California has tried to introduce legislation to force all new cars sold in California to meet Chinese fuel efficiency standards by some date five to ten years away, but American automakers are suing to stop it saying it would hurt business. And then you look at how Japanese automakers are doing profit-wise and you just kind of scratch your head. (Japanese automakers also produce certain small, inexpensive, ultra-fuel efficient vehicles for the Japanese market that are not offered in the US because apparently there's not a market for them there.) Anyway, Al Gore, you're my hero. See the film if you haven't. 4 stars

Oh, here's an article that does a great job of explaining why my other favorite Al is so great: "[Weird Al] has singlehandedly tutored the MTV generation in critical thinking."

And I rag on America a lot, but here's an article (by one of my favorite journalists, Fareed Zakaria- somehow I always end up nodding my head in agreement and gaining a new perspective at the same time whenever I read one of his articles) that does a good job of expressing what I love about America and why, when it comes down it, I'm proud to be one (while at the same time pointing out some of the things that really annoy me about it). (I had originally intended to link to this article on the Fourth of July last year, but… I didn't get around to it until now.)

"The genius of America's success is that the United States is a rich country with many of the attributes of a scrappy, developing society. It is open, flexible and adventurous, often unmindful of history and tradition. Its people work hard, putting in longer hours than those in other rich countries. Much of this has to do with the history and culture of the society. A huge amount of it has to do with immigration, which keeps America constantly renewed by streams of hardworking people, desperate to succeed. ... That is why America, alone among industrial nations, has been able to do the nearly impossible: renew its power and stay at the top of the game for a century now."

I really should try to update more frequently and in smaller pieces, shouldn't I?

there is a war between those who say there is a war and those who say there isn't,