1.30.2007

Don't Click The Link!

...if you're a sane person. It will make your brain bleed.

But if you're morbidly curious, Crooks and Liars has a post featuring video footage from an HBO documentary on evangelical christianity. Specifically this footage is about how they teach creationism to young people. See if you can watch Ken Ham speak without it making your blood boil. What he's doing in that video is child abuse and he should be arrested.

[via Pharyngula]

Japanic! Jams (3.0)

Some more jams coming your way.

1. The Shadows - Apache
PZ Myers linked to this horrible disco cover of "Apache" earlier in the week and watching that abomination reminded me of what a great song the original is. Kinda sounds like it could be the ancestor of that Earth album from 2005.

2. Elvis Costello - No Action
This song rocks. Whenever I listen to that opening line I wish I could write a song that kicks you in the face the way this one does.

3 & 4. The Max Levine Ensemble - Jazzonia/Back To Point 0
It was a stroke of genius on TMLE's part to set the Langston Hughes poem "Jazzonia" to music. They also managed to attach it to an amazing original song to make something that's probably better than both individual parts. Although sometimes they play the parts separately...so whatever. Good music!

5. Matt & Kim - Silver Tiles
For anyone who has yet to hear this band. Two rockin' folks from Brooklyn whose jams with force you to dance like an idiot.

6. The Mountain Goats - Sail On
No need to explain this one.

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1.27.2007

Just a couple of plugs...

I wanted to point out that I've finally posted music over at my often-neglected band blog, Tanuki Suit. I posted a new demo and the old songs I recorded over summer.

Also Ben has finally announced the completion of his documentary about The Slackers. Look for more on that, because I've seen the rough cut and it is awesome!

Enjoy.

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1.26.2007

Hmm

So this is something I've struggled with for quite some time...but here goes:

I have four very special girls at Kanagi Junior High school. Well, in truth I have many students who are special to me, but these four I have known since day one, and they never fail to bring a smile to my face. They're all members of the Japanese English teacher's homeroom class and are all great English speakers (whether they know it or not). I wasn't sure I ever wanted to get into mentioning any of my students by name in my blog, but after today I just felt so happy about knowing these four that I felt I had to share.

[Side note: When reading any romanized Japanese, names or otherwise, separate out all the syllables by isolating the vowels or consonant/vowel pairs to get the correct pronunciation. The only vowels in Japanese are "ah" (a), "ee" (i), "ooh" (u), "eh" (e), and "oh" (o).]

First we have Eiko. She's not the best English speaker, but she always makes the effort to talk to me and she never gets embarrassed when she's wrong. The others refer to her as "spacy"...but I like to look at it as "pensive." She clearly has a lot on her mind, and as one prone to daydreaming myself I know how she feels. She's an amazing pianist and I never waste a chance to let her know how cool I think that is.

Next we have Misaki. Misaki is cute, sensitive and a little bit of a tomboy. She soundly beats all the other girls at arm-wrestling. She once told me a story about her father going bald that had me in stitches. She kept using a Japanese word I didn't know to describe how her mother felt about her father's hair. Later I looked the word up, it meant "to give up." Misaki is the one out of all my girls who will always try to convey exactly how she feels to me, in a mixture of English, Japanese and sign language. I really appreciate it because most Japanese people are not so free with their feelings.

Then there's Misato. Misato is very, very kind. She always smiles at me in class when she can see that I'm lost or bored or whatever. When I first came to Kanagi she made a point of always letting me know what I should be doing, whether at lunch or cleaning time or whatever. She's kind of like my custodian, as most of the teachers are just as happy to watch me flailing around ineptly than to lend a hand. Her English is amazing, although she isn't always as confident as she should be. I was really excited today when she told me she ordered an electronic dictionary for high school. This means she plans to take her English very seriously.

Lastly there's Fumie. Fumi has amazing English. She has relatives that live in the States and has been there on vacation. She was recently accepted into Gotsu High School for their English program. She often acts as the translator for the other girls when they can't think of the English they want to use, and sometimes she's even quicker than me at explaining things from English to Japanese. All this English stuff aside, she's also a phenomenal human being. She always seems to be able to cheer me up when I'm having a rough day, and we're never at a loss for things to talk about. She also really enjoys music and is learning the guitar. Often times I actually feel more like Fumi's friend than a teacher.

Of course the best thing about all four of these girls is that they actually make an effort to include me in their lives, and to that I thought I'd make this effort to include them in mine.

So why today?

Today was a relatively normal day. At lunch most teachers are assigned seating, but I get to sit wherever I want. As I often do, I chose to sit with my English teacher's class. After lunch my wonderful girls came up to talk to me as usual. They always ask how I am, partially because it's a bit of English that's constantly drilled into their heads. There's constant "Hello, how are you?" "I'm fine thank you, and you?" But with these girls I can always tell that they actually want to know how I am, and they'll always let me know exactly how they feel.

Today, Eiko was having a hard time expressing something to me in English so she paused, thought, and said "I want to play piano for you." So my four girls and I rushed away to the music room where Eiko and the others took turns playing music for me and talking about all the music we liked. They'd done many things to include me before, but for some reason this simple gesture really touched me a lot.

So that's that. I wanted to introduce you to some of my kids, and it's been a long time coming. I have many more special kids, but I'll leave introducing them for another time. I'm tired and I need to sleep before the snowball fighting tourney tomorrow! Goodnight!

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1.25.2007

A Word On Internationalization

Early this week I participated in the JET "Opinion Sharing Sessions" with other JETs from around my area. We met with the lovely PAs, Will and Nicola, and discussed many aspects of our jobs here in Japan. I thought the experience was, on the whole, a lot more positive and useful than I had initially expected it to be.

The basic idea of the exercise was to have us share ideas that might help future JETs, as well as discuss some concerns about or jobs and work situations. In fact, our superiors at the BoE were in a similar meeting down the hall talking about similar things. The discussions opened up my eyes to a lot of goings on, including the fact that our current situation in Hamada is not as positive as it could be, and a lot of it is due to a lack of communication between the JETs and the people who are in charge of us. And a lot of that is truly our fault.

For those who don't know, I'm contracted to a municipal Board of Education. I serve under a supervisor in the BoE, but on a daily basis I work out of one of the two schools to which I am assigned. Some time ago our BoE hired an amazing young woman named Nori to work as a liaison to the local JETs. She is not our supervisor, she's basically a psuedo-BoE employee and our friend. It's not clear whether they did this because our actual supervisor was overworked or just didn't want to deal with us or whatever, but the end result has been that our current supervisor has little or nothing to do with us on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis, yet she still remains officially in charge of us. This is how the divide has grown between the JETs and the supervisor, and sadly we haven't done much to curb it.

So back to the Opinion Sharing Session. The part of the meeting that struck me the most was when the PAs read some input they had received from JET supervisors in another city, just to give us an insight into what their typical complaints were about JETs. Disclaimer: These weren't our supervisors, they were a random sampling from elsewhere, and most of the observations were fairly reasonable. However, there was one thing that kept creeping up in many of the complaints that really fucking pissed me off.

[Objectivity goes out the window here, what follows is all based on personal experience and opinion...]

A fair number of the supervisors had the gall to suggest that we weren't doing our best at "internationalizing."

The list of complaints under this heading went something like: "They don't try to speak enough Japanese" "They only befriend other JETs and don't have time for Japanese people" "They show little interest in local events and culture" et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

Well, sorry to use annoying blog-o-speak but: I call bullshit.

Who moved away from their home country and chose to come live in Japan? Who agreed in their contract to basically take whatever situation they were given and never complain about it? Who tries, day in and day out, to make English seem interesting and attractive to kids who'd much rather be doing something else?

Being a JET is not difficult by any stretch. I almost never complain about it, and why would I? I get paid very well to do a job that isn't that hard (simply frustrating at times). I understood as part of that job that I would be expected to foster "internationalization" within my community, and believe me at any given chance I try. So it really hurt to hear that many of the people we work with feel like we aren't making the effort. [Again, I will admit the opinions read to us did not come from our town...]

What I really felt like, after hearing the opinions of those supervisors, was that maybe these people don't understand internationalization. In fact it seemed to them that the idea of internationalization was simply us acting more Japanese! This, to me, is the absolute center of the bullshit. The process of internationalization has to be a two-way street, a give-and-take. They can't sit back and expect us to practice being more Japanese unless they also make the effort to act a little more American, or Canadian, or British or Austrian or Kiwi or whatever.

All to often I feel like Japanese people take for granted the fact that we're here, and hearing those opinions I couldn't help but think maybe I've been right about that. I learned Japanese before I came here, and I try to avoid using it on purpose in order to give people the chance to practice English. I would love to make Japanese friends, but too many Japanese people look upon us simply as entertainment or a free English lesson. They love to go out drinking with us, but they'd never invite us over for dinner or to meet the family. And as for attending cultural festivals and the like, my understanding of Japanese is mediocre at best, but I can't imagine what it must be like for those who can't read newspapers and signs or understand the radio and television! What I'm trying to say is, we got on the plane and came here...is it too much to ask to throw us a fucking bone every now and then? This isn't our homeland, we're just visiting!

And I'm not trying to criminalize the nation of Japan, some people do honestly try. Nori is a prime example. She bends over backwards for us, I'm sure because she knows how hard it is to live in another country due to the time she spent abroad in America. There are surely some amazing, kind people who will reach out to you, but even some of them will only reach so far, because in the end you're still just a foreigner.

[End tirade]

So anyway, I felt I needed to get that off my chest. Obviously I don't hate Japan, I'm staying here for another year, but there are some things about it that really piss me off. Interestingly enough they were highlighted in those compliants I heard on Tuesday and I felt like I did a relatively decent job of articulating them here.

I will concede that I think I can do a better job as a JET. I will try harder to communicate with the people who live around me and the people with whom I work. However, I hope they also make the effort to learn something from me, and not just treat me as a novelty, or as Ken or someone said, "like the circus. They love to see you come to town, but you kinda creep them out and they're happy when you leave."

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This Is Why We Can't "Win" In Iraq

I was reading an article over at the New York Times and I was suddenly struck with the reality of the current state of the Iraq conflict: We cannot "win."

Now believe me, I know a lot of us have said or thought that before, I definitely have. But just think about it for a second. We cannot win. And I don't mean in the mushy "nobody wins in a war" sense, what I mean is there is absolutely no strategic victory that can be achieved (short of dropping a "Wrath of God" on the board).

I think this bit of the article said it best:
As the morning wore on and the troops came under fire from all directions, another apparent flaw in this strategy became clear as empty apartments became lairs for gunmen who flitted from window to window and killed at least one American soldier, with a shot to the head.

Whether the gunfire was coming from Sunni or Shiite insurgents or militia fighters or some of the Iraqi soldiers who had disappeared into the Gotham-like cityscape, no one could say.

“Who the hell is shooting at us?” shouted Sgt. First Class Marc Biletski, whose platoon was jammed into a small room off an alley that was being swept by a sniper’s bullets. “Who’s shooting at us? Do we know who they are?”

Our soldiers don't even know who they're fighting, so how will 20,000 more make a difference?

I could launch into a huge summary of the history of this Iraq war and its various failures and blunders, but I think everyone knows that the real mistake is that we let our government get away with the criminal act of declaring a never-ending war on an idea. It used to be Communism, now it's Terrorism, which is even more broad and ill-defined.

The war won't end in Iraq; the war can't end in Iraq.

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1.23.2007

Japanic! Jams (2.0)

Here are the Japanic! Jams for the week of 1/23 (J!J is now officially a Tuesday thing):

1. The Magnetic Fields - The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side
2. LCD Soundsystem - All My Friends
3. Defiance, Ohio - Condition 11:11
4. The Falcon - Blackout
5. Captain Chaos - When A King Of Hell Fell In Love
6. The (Young) Pioneers - Drown In The James
7. Gorillaz - Dirty Harry

[hosted by zShare]

Enjoy!

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1.22.2007

1 More Year! 1 More Year!

It's official: like some kind of Steve Holt, I will be repeating a year of Japan.

While I feel like the time I'm spending here is static and non-productive for me, at the end of the day I really like my job and above all I really love my kids. It horrifies me to think of what kind of job I'd have to get back in the States to live as comfortably as I am right now. I do feel as if there's a lot I'm missing out on back home, but there's also a lot I could be doing here, I just need to make a greater effort. I'm mostly talking about improving my Japanese, but I also hope to be making a lot more music soon.

As I said before, this is my home for now, I need to start treating it as such.

More Japanic Jams tomorrow! Look out!

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You've Gotta Love Girls

So today one of my girls asked my to hang out with her after lunch and talk in English. This wasn't a strange request by any means, but little did I know it was a clever ploy to entrap me in a MASH-like game she'd learned about from an internet chain letter. Aparently I have "forbidden love" for one of my girls, and the song that defines my life is Defiance, Ohio's "Condition 11:11." Of course, much giggling ensued.

Today has been a reasonably decent Monday, though I'm still sore from this weekend's JET Ski Trip. The weather was tropical, a balmy ten degrees centigrade, and I wore just a t-shirt and polyprops most of the day. After the skiing/boarding we had a quick onsen and then went out for all you can eat/drink beef and beer. I think I got meat poisoning.

Tomorrow I get to participate in a JET "Opinion Sharing" session. If I thought it would actually help I could share some opinions, but I'm really going just to listen to everyone else complain (and to get the afternoon off).

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1.16.2007

Japanic! Jams (1.0)

So after I made that little offhand comment about "Running Out of Angels" in my last post I decided that I'm going to do a short, weekly mixtape for you people. Basically it's going to be a summary of what I'm listening to over here. It may give you a little bit of an insight into my life over here, or it may just open you up to some new tunes. Or you may not even listen to it. Who cares. This is probably what the internet was made for.

1. Elvis Costello - Running Out of Angels
2. MIND OF ASIAN - 雨ニモマケズ
3. Orchid - Weekend At The Fire Academy
4. Pegasuses-XL - Run The Gauntlet
5. The Black Heart Procession - Blue Tears
6. Bomb The Music Industry! - Anywhere I Lay My Head (Tom Waits cover)
7. The Slackers - Yes, It's True

[hosted via zShare]

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I've failed yet again

Hamada English Camp was this past weekend...and yet again I failed to take any pictures. However, plenty of other kind folks were snapping shots left and right so maybe I'll get to bogart theirs if I'm real nice.

The English Camp was pretty sweet though. Since you can't see any pics yet you're just going to have to take my word for it. At least one of my kids liked it. She wrote in her daily school diary:
Darrell is soooooo cool [heart, heart, heart]
I want to have a mixed marriage!!!

By which I can only assume she means with me. In fact I think my stock went up with all my girls after they saw me play "Hello Goodbye" at the camp with the handsome (and musically-talented) Leif. Go figure, crappy Beatles song = popularity. Wish I'd figured that out in high school.

In other news, either in spite of that fact that it has the same rhythm part as "Tequila" or because of it, "Running Out of Angels" is one of Elvis Costello's best songs.

1.10.2007

This thing is fun

Check out The Church Sign Generator, with which I made the following awesome images:

Fun With Church Signs: Jesus Garcia

Fun With Church Signs: PYGMIES AND DWARVES

Fun With Church Signs: Young Earth Creationism

Ben, I think you in particular will love this little toy.

(found via Greg Laden)

1.09.2007

Back to work...well not really

Today I'm back in school after spending two short days in the Board of Education last week. I came into work prepared to teach, but I guess I just briefly forgot where I'm living. There's no work going on today...it's much more important to have an "Opening Ceremony" for the new semester, cover lots of "important" school business in two periods of homeroom, and give a couple tests that probably should have been handled before the break. I simply don't remember the school wasting this much education time when I was in junior high...but maybe we did.

Oh well.

So here I sit in the staff room, not alone as usual, but joined by most of the staff who are all trying to look busy at their desks. Luckily I have a little outside-of-school ALT work to do today or I'd be bored to tears.

This weekend Hamada has an English Camp lined up for the junior high students. My duties involve participating in English activities with the students and performing Hello Goodbye by The Beatles at the "Closing Ceremony." Yeah, I'm not quite sure how I got roped into that one either. Luckily my good buddy Leif will be accompanying me on the keys...and I don't have to sing, just play the guitar. w00t.

And I don't even know what I'm complaining abot...tomorrow I have five periods of English - in a row!

1.05.2007

I'm sure I've said this before...

FLCL is the greatest thing ever commited to animation.



Just thought I'd share.

1.03.2007

Winter Vacation 2006/7

So the family came to Japan for the winter break.

see?

We had a really good time. We hit Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and briefly Hamada. We ate tons of good food, saw a lot of temples and old Japanese stuff and got to spend quality time together. We even got to see the Furusawas for the first time in like 9 years. You can check out our adventures visually here.

Tomorrow it's back to the grind...though school doesn't start again until next Tuesday.

How were your guys' winter breaks? Let me know!

The obligatory "I'm not dead, just tired" post

Hey you,

I just got back from two weeks of vacation, most of which was spent in the company of my wonderful family. I have a ton of nice pictures, and I'll post more on it later, for now I need to unpack, do lots of laundry, and sleep. Not necessarily in that order. Take a peek at Flickr to see some shots from my cell phone camera.

Let's catch up soon, okay?