Sunday, March 30, 2003

Home again.
Are there two more beautiful words in the English language?

Friday, March 28, 2003

Personal update: If all goes well, I'll be getting on a plane back to the States today, but I'm flying standby, so I might get bumped till tomorrow. I hope to god not, as I'm homesick as a Mama's boy on his first night at camp, but it could happen.
I feel like being overseas lends me a unique and valuable perspective on the war. That is, I get to watch a couple of hours of war coverage a night, and I'm watching it while FOX, CNN, and BBC are asleep, so frequently the news I do watch is on a 30 minute loop, telling me without telling me that even if there has been a major development, I won't hear about it until tomorrow. And with limited Net time, I don't even have my usual sources to fall back on. But I do occasionally watch Japanese news. I just don't understand it.

The friend I'm staying with in Tokyo is a FoxNews disciple, and when we got home last night, Ari Fleischer was giving a press conference. the Foxies were pissed that people were asking tough questions, while I was pissed they were asking tough questions now. The gripes they were bringing up were nothing that couldn't have been foreseen two weeks ago, but two weeks ago I didn't see any of these questions being debated with significant coverage. But now that it's too fucking late, they start asking questions. Of course, it can't help that we have an administration whose most consistent message on the war has been, "We don't care what anyone says or does, we're going to war. Any questions?"

I'd like to thank the Bush administration for removing any vestiges of political apathy I might have had left, but I'm saving it up for after the war. Why? Because the question of whether or not we go to war is past, and the absolute worst thing that could happen right now is for us to lose resolve and pull out, reinforcing the perspective that America can't stand to see American casualties (thereby inviting more terrorist attacks on our overseas bases) and leaving Saddam, who was harmless outside his own country before we went in, a hero in the Arab world for facing down the great Satan. In terms of lives ruined and bodies in the ground, making a hero of Saddam is the worst thing that could come out of this.

That's why I'm not protesting, though my anger at this administration grows with every casualty, American or Iraqi. We were never given a good reason for this war, only told that the President wanted it and we could come along or not. If the American people said, "Let's get Saddam", then I'd accept the loss of life on our side and hope that the Iraqi lives saved by ousting Saddam could balance out the Iraqi lives lost and ruined by the war. But the support the American people have shown for this war is marginal at best, and clearly came from the top down. There is blood on Bush's hands, and I will do everything I can to see that he doesn't have a second term. Hell, I might even support impeachment if it was demonstrated that he broke the law somewhere in this drive to war.

But not until after the shooting stops.

Monday, March 24, 2003

I'm sure they'll fix it soon, but right now, Newsweek's front page has a graphic talking about "surgerical strikes". I think that's taking wartime loyalty to the president just a little too far.
For those of you that worry about such things, I'm back in Tokyo now, out of range of North Korean artillery, though not his long-range missiles. And tomorrow I'm off to rural Japan (Uwa-cho on Shikoku, to be specific).
One Korean's Perspective on the War

"You are American, yes?"

"Yes."

"Ah, then you must be against the war, yes?"

"Kind of. I don't see why we need to attack Iraq right now, and I suspect Bush thinks he's smarter than he really is. I'm not sure he knows what he's doing."

He laughs. "Ah, well, yes. But I'm for the war. I think it's good. It's good to scare North Korea. I was born in Pyongyang, came south fifty years ago because things were so bad up there. And they've gotten worse. Children are starving, and Kim Jong Il spends money to build nuclear weapons. Little children, tiny ones! are dying, but he has to have his weapons! We send them lots of money, lots of rice so the people can stay alive, and he never shows appreciation. He takes what he wants, like a spoiled child. This is how it should be between nations, just like between individuals: You must show respect, show appreciation!

"Kim Jong Il is very bad; if he sees the US take out Saddam, then he knows he can't just do whatever he wants to do. It's good. He needs to know that."

It's not exactly a new argument, that taking out Saddam may have a chilling effect on North Korea, but the fact that it was actually voiced to me by a Korean lends the argument authenticity, if nothing else. The most interesting thing to me, though, was that he assumed because I was an American that I opposed the war.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Woke up yesterday morning in Tokyo, to, "So, do you think Bush'll start bombing in five minutes?" I thought she was kidding, till I saw the countdown on Fox News. As it turns out, it was more like ten minutes than five. Woke up in Seoul this morning to "So, we've got troops on the ground in Kuwait..."

This is, to say the least, an interesting time to be travelling abroad. I wish I spoke Korean so I could get more of the local coverage of the war. On the plane in, there was a subtitled broadcast, and it was surprisingly fair, in that it was equally skeptical of the motives of those who support and those who oppose the invasion. As it is, I'm just getting the opinions of ex-pats who are almost exclusively opposed to the war. Being abroad, I feel like I ought to be priviledge to some kind of unique insight, but my media sources here are pretty much the same as they'd be at home: CNN and the web. Not speaking the language, I'm left with the same feeling I've had all week of skipping across the surface of another culture, with no real clue about what's going on beneath the surface.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Well, on the bright side, I was really hoping to watch the Oscars and wasn't sure I could find a place to watch them while I was in Korea. Now maybe I'll be able to watch them when I get back.

On the downside, thousands of people are most likely going to die because our president is an incompetent diplomat. Yeah, that's kind of a bummer.
This has nothing to do with nothing, but I was just looking over Josh Marshall's site (hey, I'm flying to Korea tomorrow, this is must-know shit), and read the best description of David Horowitz ever: "a sort of Tasmanian Devil of right-wing agitprop and political hyperventilation."
Sorry, folks, the net ate my homework. I wrote this wonderfully long post, filled with my thoughts and feelings about travelling abroad, emotional snapshots from Hiroshima and Kyoto, and, I think it's safe to say, some of the finest writing ever to grace this humble blog. Oh well, serves me right for composing in Blogger when I should have been using something else. At the very least, I could have copied it to the clipboard before I hit "post". I would say that I'll know better next time, but as I almost brushed my teeth with hair gel this morning, I'm rather doubtful that I will. Jetlag's a bitch.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Well, I made it. I'm posting this from Tokyo. If I wasn't tired as hell, I'd post something incredibly insightful about cultural differences, or the smallness of the world, or some such shit. But my body thinks it's 5 a.m., and I've had less than 8 hours sleep in the last 50 hours, so I'm gonna crash before I burn.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Search Terms - So far I've managed to avoid doing one of these, but I just found out somebody got to my page by searching for "no blood for oil smelly hippie". Ah, democracy.
I'm always panicked just before a trip. Hell, even a weekend in Springfield is enough to have me running around in circles, which is why I usually pack at the last minute, thereby turning my fear that I'll forget something into a self-fulfilling prophecy. But is it really? When I was in grad school, Carrie and I went to Colorado for spring break. It was our first big trip together, and we were packed and ready to go a couple of days before we actually left. And when we did leave, we left the toiletries bag sitting next to the bed.

My plan was to pack last night, or at least get all the clothes together and laid out, so I could start culling them down to what I'm actually going to take. Unfortunately, I ended up with a migraine, so I spent a good chunk of the evening on the couch, getting it together just enough to make a list of things I have to do today in addition to packing. But I'm young, I'm relatively healthy, and I've made good headway on marking things off the list. As long as I remember the important stuff, like phone numbers, money, railpass and passport, I'll be fine. After all, anything essential that I leave behind will be replaced by something cool that I pick up in Japan. And you know how I love to shop.

I only have one problem. I'll be going to Japan and Korea, so naturally I picked up Japanese and Korean phrasebooks. But I've looked through them both, and they don't seem to have the one phrase that I really need. Maybe you can help me out. Does anybody out there know how to say, "Please stop yelling at me; I didn't vote for him" in either Japanese or Korean?
The cat must have been playing with the controls of the electric blanket, because I slipped my foot over to your side of the bed at some point in the night, and it was warm, as if you'd just slipped out of bed to use the bathroom, and any second now you'd come back to bed.

Except, of course, you didn't.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

If you feel your personal sense of outrage at the injustice of the world is too low, particularly when it comes to how we prosecute death penalty cases, this oughta fix it.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Screen names that make you go Aaaaaaahhhhhhh! (Part one of a potentially neverending series)
Anything that contains the question "Where's my daddy?"
So I'm at the drive through, and it's lunch hour, so there's a nice long line, but it's a beautiful day, I've got Richard Thompson on the stereo, and life is good. As I get up to the window to pick up my food, it becomes clear that the line for the drive through is now so long that it goes completely around the building. In fact, the woman in the car in front of me can't go anywhere because of the cars blocking her in. I pull as far forward as I can, about half a car length (and I drive a Tercel, so half a car isn't much), and while that tiny gap is working its way back around the building, one of the people in the line that's blocking us realizes that she doesn't really want to be in the line for the drive through, so she pulls out of line. The guy who was behind her has apparently realized that if we can't go anywhere, he can't go anywhere, so he stays where he's at and makes a "go on through" motion, which the woman in front of me does. I follow, but I realize as I'm following that he started to pull forward as soon as she went through. And considering that he was starting from a dead stop, he got going fairly fast.

Now, as you already know, I drive a Tercel. Moreover, it's an old Tercel. Not ancient, but definitely not new. And because its value is dropping faster than my payments are cutting down my loan, I currently owe more than the car is worth. But I have "gap protection" from the bank, which means that if the car is totalled, I won't be stuck with the thousand dollars or so that I would still owe after the insurance paid the bank what they think its worth. Whereas if the engine just craps out on me, I'm screwed, which is why, I suppose, the thought that went through my head wasn't "Holy shit, this motherfucker's going to hit me!" so much as it was, "Hmph. This motherfucker's going to hit me."

But he didn't, of course. He stopped just shy of hitting me, leaving just enough room for me to squeeze through and get on with my life. I looked back as I drove off, and he was glaring angrily at me, middle finger extended. Naturally, I returned the favor, but I was (and am) more incredulous than angry. Sure, I suppose you could make an argument that I cut him off, that I should have waited, but this guy was pissed off at me because I made him wait an extra twelve seconds before he was able to pull forward about six feet. And then he would have been stuck there, because I was the head of the line, motherfucker, and if I'm not going anywhere, you're not going anywhere.

I can think of two possible explanations. Either, one, he resented me because I already had my food, and he was really, really hungry, or, two, he thought I was going to steal his place in line. And now that I think about it, an apple pie would have gone real nice with my freedom fries.
Watching Bush on TV last night, it occurred to me that we very much have the president we deserve. In the last presidential election, 24% of us voted for Bush, 24% for Gore, 1% Nader, and 51% for "Whatever." It gives me an idea for a "Get Out the Vote" ad. I want to make it very clear that this idea is not copyrighted. I mean, if you put it up on your blog and tell people it was your idea, then, sure, you're a bad person and I reserve the right to tell you so. But if you find yourself in a meeting discussing possible strategies for getting out the vote, feel free to throw this idea on the table. In fact, please do. No matter what your political persuasion. And if you're a better graphic artist than me (and most of you probably are), then feel free to create it and send it to me. In fact, let's make it a contest. The person who creates the best version of this ad will receive an email from me, saying, "Wow, that's really good." You know you want it.

Here it is: The graphic is a ballot with three choices on it, "Smith", "Jones", and "Screw Me". A hand is marking the box next to "Screw Me". The caption says, "When you don't vote, you're voting."

Thursday, March 06, 2003

The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research is dedicated to, as they call is, the "Scientific Study of Consciousness-Related Physical Phenomena". A good example of the kind of work they do is the random mechanical cascade experiment, in which a human operator is asked to attempt to influence the results of a cascade of balls running through a sort of flipperless pachinko machine. The results? The operator had a tiny but undeniable effect. In their own words, "The observed effects are usually quite small, of the order of a few parts in ten thousand on average, but they are statistically repeatable and compound to highly significant deviations from chance expectations."

The Global Consciousness Project is a cousin to PEAR, in that it is directed by Roger Nelson, who was the coordinator of experimental work at PEAR until he retired in 2002 to spend more time with GCP. The central idea of GCP is that if consciousness can have an impact on observable phenomena, then perhaps there is a sort of global consciousness, and maybe there are ways we can observe it. This is what they do: They've created a network of random event generators all over the world that run continuously, recording the results of all these random events. Because they're random, a graph of these results would show a line that staggers either side of a nice straight line (the average).

Think of these random event generators as electronic coin flippers, running 24 hours a day. The longer the flipper is flipping, the closer the average gets to 50/50, right? Well, GCP looks for anomalies in the data, periods of time when things are way off 50/50. Like ten heads in a row. The idea, if I'm understanding what I'm reading, is that they've already found that the consciousness of a single human being can have a small but statistically significant effect on random processes. So, if we set up a bunch of random events happening all over the world, all the time, significant anomalies in the data could be construed as evidence for a global consciousness, if they fit certain criteria, such as being widespread and coinciding with major world events. Like September 11th.

In my experience, folks who are inclined to believe in things like global consciousness see evidence for it everywhere, and people who aren't see evidence against it. And that's fine. But here's a guy whose life's work has been in statistics and the hard sciences, and when the dust is settled and the numbers have been run, there's something there that's just plain weird.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

There are times in a man's life when he's got no choice but get the hell out of Dodge, when the cruft of mixed metaphors and lived life has built up to the point that you can hardly fucking move, and the only way out is to put some goddamn miles in the goddamn rearview mirror. My people are a wandering people, explorers with a whispering wind in their ear that lured them to places like California, Wyoming, and, um, Kansas. It's time I stepped up and out of my hole, put my foot to the road, and let adventure have her way with me, the wanton wench. Yes, that's right, I'm going...on vacation.

Not yet, actually. In two weeks. And I'll try and do a little blogging from the road, because, well, because I'll be in fucking Japan, and while I'm certainly leery of the thought of spending my precious time away surfing the web, of wasting time writing life instead of living it, the thought of posting to my blog from Tokyo makes my little geeky heart sing, just a little.

I just wanted to give you the chance to emotionally prepare yourself for a couple weeks of Mikelessness. You'll probably be fine, but if you find yourself feeling short of breath or just listlessly clicking from site to site, please, get help.