Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Few Recently Bookmarked Links

The Top 60 Popular Japanese Words/Phrases of 2008. Provides an interesting snapshot of Japanese society this year. I was happy to find out that the garishly overdecorated cell phones my students have (#9) have a name ("Princess Phones"), and the video of the "Whispering Matron" from #50 is pretty amazing.

The Orality of Twitter. I've been trying to get my poor head around Twitter. This didn't actually help. But it was an interesting look at how the very mundanity of Twitter is a sign of our secondary-orality culture.

Wow! America is Cool. Garrison Keillor on the election, with his usual grace and understated wit.

The Blitz Line Starts Here. James Wolcott writes for Vanity Fair about the recent trampling to death of a Wal-Mart employee. "What you don't see in these Black Friday updates are interviews with the people who work in these mall chains, who have to show up at even more ungodly hours than do the shoppers in order to stock the shelves and prepare for the store openings." A vicious, incisive analysis.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

One Who Helps People Throughout the Land

Spotted this ad hoc sign posted in the subway station on a bigger sign for a nearby Native American jewelry store. Failed to get the first printout in the picture, but the ones I got (if my shoddy Japanese is right) explain that Obama has been elected the 44th President of the USA. "There are neither white nor black people, yellow nor red people, but a Rainbow Tribe, as the Crow Nation used to call it." The poster continues that Obama has been made an official member of the Crow Nation and they've given him an official Crow name: "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land."

I'm sure people wondered why the crazy foreigners were snapping pictures in the subway. :)

As a side note, there's a town in Japan on the northern coast called Obama (小浜, or "Little Beach.") Apparently they're pretty happy Obama won and are peddling Obama merchandise. Dan and I have been thinking about going there, just to say we did it. :) Maybe bring back some Japanese Obama keychains...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Explaining Religion in Japan

So I was in argumentation class and mentioned that there was a church in North Carolina that told its members hat they couldn't have communion if they voted for Obama until they confessed and did penance.

Students: Communion?
Jen: Yes. Well, it's...see, in the Bible, Jesus gave his followers bread and wine and told them it was his body and blood, and they needed to eat it to go to heaven.
Students: [look slightly appalled]
Jen [struggling to keep the English simple]: most Christian churches we eat bread and drink wine together, and it means our sins are forgiven and we can go to heaven. So by telling people they can't eat the bread, this church is telling people they can't go to heaven.
Students: So...Christians believe that if you don't eat special magic bread, you don't go to heaven?
Jen: It's a little more...complicated...well...uh, sort of, yeah.

Moral: Everyone should have to explain their religion in language simple enough to be understood by people who've only studied it a few years. It definitely forces you to look at it in a different way.

We went on to discuss snake handling (when discussing stereotypes of Southerners, one of the arguments we were looking at mentioned the practice). So I found them the passage in the Bible that explains that followers of Christ have "power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Luke 10:19), and explained that a few churches have been known to use that as a reason to handle poisonous snakes in their ceremonies.

Students: This seems a case of excessive literalism to us. [I'm paraphrasing here just a bit].

Living abroad is a lot of fun some days, even when it's very surreal. :)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Still pretty giddy

I promise--really!--that I will stop talking about President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama real soon.


President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama.

Hell yeah.


But I did want to mention a couple of things that I enjoyed reading recently on the topic.


The Onion has owned my heart and soul since it came back from hiatus after 9/11 with this story: Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake. I remember being really reluctant to read it at the time, because I didn't want how I was feeling to be mocked, but the Onion managed to delicately and tenderly break my heart with it.

It re-captured me with this week's Kobe Bryant Scores 25 in Holy Shit We Elected a Black President. It's beautiful, beautiful writing, and the last two paragraphs made me cry all over again.


Newsweek has an amazingly detailed and fascinating account of the race for the presidency, Secrets of the 2008 Campaign. It's a long read--seven chapters of five or six sections each--and totally worth it. This is the report you've been getting all those horror stories about Palin's ignorance from, but I was a lot more interested in what I learned about Obama from it. Three things especially caught my eye:

--The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

--Holder, a former deputy U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration and an old Washington hand, was struck by Obama's half-open, half-inscrutable manner during the nearly eight hours of meetings they spent together going over potential veeps. Obama was diligent, bringing up small morsels of information hidden in the fat briefing books, and he acted like a law professor who calls on reluctant pupils ("I haven't heard from you," he'd say to anyone around the table who had been silent too long). A lot of politicians pretend to be inclusive; Obama actually was. But "at the end, you didn't know where he stood. When you got down to the final judgment, I had a sense, but I didn't have any kind of certainty." Holder thought Obama was being shrewd to not signal his intentions too clearly—since "people want to say what the boss wants to hear, and if they don't know, you'll get more honest advice."

I find this one of the most encouraging anecdotes about Obama I've heard. It's a sign of a person who knows how groupthink works and wants to make sure to avoid it whenever possible.

--Obama's debate coach, Michael Sheehan, a veteran of many campaign psychodramas over the years, was struck by the senator's calmness. The candidate was always in control of his feelings. During one afternoon prep session, Obama begged off. "I'm a little tired and a little cranky," he told a roomful of aides. "I'm going to my room for a half hour and I'll be in better shape to work with." He reappeared 30 minutes later, ready for work. Obama was, as ever, self-possessed—his own best judge of his mood and strength. After a full-dress mock debate in the evening, when it was time to review the tape of his performance, Obama turned to Sheehan and said, "Michael, I'm tired." He was not complaining, Sheehan recalled; he was just being matter-of-fact. Nothing seemed to rattle Obama. He had a way of retreating into his own little world. During one of the debate preps, the lights blew, flickering on and off like a strobe light from the 1970s disco craze. Obama stood behind the podium, quietly singing the song "Disco Inferno," last popular in the heyday of "Saturday Night Fever."

I'm especially struck in the essay with how distant Obama is. People who work with him say consistently that he's not a huggy, affectionate man. He keeps people at arm's length. Staffers were constantly disappointed that he didn't enjoy hanging out and schmoozing with them like Bill Clinton always did. He's very self-assured, very self-contained. He doesn't seem to crave approval from the people around him. All of which suggests that America has managed to pull off something almost as unthinkable to me as electing an African-American: we've elected a cerebral, intellectual man. Unbelievable.

Okay, I promise I'll try to get back to discussing books, movies, work and other fun things. But just one more time for the record:


Thursday, November 6, 2008

A couple of videos today

I woke up this morning to greet the first full day in which Americans elected an African-American president.

So much hope. So much promise. Surely so much of it will go unfulfilled, but I didn't even think I could feel it anymore.

When I see those two little girls and think how their ancestors were kidnapped from Africa, hauled across the hideous middle passage and enslaved, how this country was built on the backs and blood of their ancestors, and how soon they will play in the Rose Garden and their father will be the leader of the free's enormous.

Martin Luther King's last speech: "I Have Been to the Mountaintop"

Martin Luther King: "I Have a Dream"

We haven't gotten there yet, Rev. King. It's just another step. But I wish you were here to see it, to hear freedom ringing.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tuesday Can't Come Too Soon...

Let's see...this weekend I saw people discussing how Barack Obama is the son of Malcolm X AND a discussion of how Obama is using hypnotic mind-control techniques to brainwash the masses. I've also seen McCain supporters quoted as saying they believe Obama is secretly raising an army of stormtroopers to impose his will upon white folks and that he plans to change the American flag to something with Muslim themes.

These people are all totally sincere. They really believe all this. They are completely insane. I'm actually totally terrified of what they're going to do if he wins. I like Obama. I don't think he's the Messiah, but he seems a decent and thoughtful man with two lovely little daughters, and I dread what will come to him in the next four years if he wins. I think he's willing to take that risk, and I admire him for that. As Greil Marcus closes in a beautiful essay called "I Believe All of the Polls, and None of Them,":

There are also comparisons to Lincoln, and these map the desert Obama as president would have to cross. "Instead of glory, he once said," the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote of Lincoln, "he found only 'ashes and blood.'" For the moment, for the country, perhaps for Obama too, that would be reward enough.

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