Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sushi burgers

In Tokyo I often eat at kaiten sushi restaurants.

These are the places where patrons are seated around a large oval-shaped counter and plate of sushi revolve on the counter on a conveyor belt. When you see something that catches your fancy you grab it. You can also shout out your requests and the sushi chefs will musically shout back something like “one freshwater eel coming up!”

My wife, and other Japanese women I have known, have told me that they have never been to a kaiten sushi. Indeed, you don’t see many women there by themselves. The shouting of orders, the repeating of orders by the chefs, and the occasional humorous interactions that follow are perhaps more in tune with a male kind of camaraderie.

Anyway, yesterday I walked past a new HUGE kaiten sushi place. I was looking for a place to have lunch and was curious about this place so I walked it. It was unlike any others I had seen. The counters were very large and there were about four of them in the restaurant. There were entire families there, not just the usual cadre of men by themselves. In such a large place you would have to shout your requests pretty loudly to be heard. With so many customers a veritable cacophony would be the inevitable result. So they got around this problem by placing intercoms in front of each customer!

But the most striking feature was the menu. While the orthodox sushi bar fare was available – and really good, I may add – there were some pretty bizarre items. There were cakes going around on the conveyor belt, a nice-looking chocolate cake, a sedate cheesecake and a gaudy pink strawberry-icing cake. They also took freedoms with the sushi. They actually had strips of roast chicken or roast pork on little beds of rice. But what really took the cake (no pun intended) were the miniature hamburger patties on rice. They were cute and looked good. I was in the mood for the standard fare and put a rain check on the weird stuff.

Needless to say, I will be back.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Conservatives and Racism

A couple of weeks back, Michael Jackson’s parents, Joe and Katherine Jackson, spoke to ITV interviewer Daphne Barak about how they were dealing with the recent travails of their son.

Joe told Barak that he believed that racism played a part in why America had turned against Michael.

Predictably, commentators at Free Republic and various conservative blogs began their knee-jerk diatribes against Joe’s accusations of racism.

A thought occurred to me. Maybe the right wing bashes political correctness because for them such bashing is the next best thing to out-and-out racism. Since the latter no longer works in America, this is the only way they can express their basic intolerant impulses.

These are the people, had they been adults in the early 60’s, who would have voted against integration of schools. In the 30’s, they would have been the ones supporting broad-based Jim Crow segregation. In the 1800s, they would have been the good-ole boys supporting slavery.

I am not saying that every single conservative out there is a racist but I suspect that a large number of them would be in slightly modified circumstances. Conservatism in a nutshell is the worldview is that life is a battlefield and you have to bunker down and look out for number one. You could be a perfectly nice person at heart, and many conservatives I have met are, but as long as you hold this worldview you are going to be more susceptible to racism and xenophobia than someone whose worldview is based on kindness and inclusiveness.

As for Joe Jackson’s comment? I certainly do not believe that racism is to blame for all of Michael’s troubles. He has shown incredibly poor judgment. He may be guilty as charged. But I think it is true that when a black man in America is successful, wealthy and powerful, it helps him to be polite and deferring to the establishment like Colin Powell. If he speaks his own mind, there will often spring up a movement to take him down. So many famous blacks actually end up doing jail time. How many famous white people end up in the big house, besides Martha Stewart?

At the end of the day what really got me was the alacrity with which any accusation of racism gets attacked by the right, without any discussion of the possibility that there may actually have been some racism in the situation.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Flu epidemic

Man, I can't seem to get better.

One thing after another since I returned to Japan in mid-January. For a while I was sick with the flu, a bit of an epidemic going around.

Then as I started feeling better it came back. After shaking that I was OK for a while.

Then last weekend I wanted to see a movie in Ikebukuro. My usual course is to have lunch at this gaudy sparkly restaurant called Milky Way that is packed with high school kids, then go to the movie theater on the Sunshine Dori street. Well I order my food, this really good Italian-style gratin dish, and while I am waiting I feel this quesy feverish sensation come over me. For the rest of my meal I was feeling slightly cold with this subtle stiffness in my muscles and bones. That goddamn flu-like feeling again. So I did the smart thing, skipped my movie and went home to bed.

Then over this past week I started getting this inflammation on my upper right gum. It got worse and worse and now it is really awful. The right side of my head hurts. The dentist gave me medicine and told me to take it easy. I don't know if this has anything to do with the flu but the dentist did say that flus and colds and fevers can make one susceptible to gum infections.

I am getting tired of taking it easy weekend after bloody weekend, I wanna party but I can't.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Gaijin can't aim their wang?

In Japan I find that whenever there is something slightly amiss in a public space and foreigners have been observed in the area, suspicion immediately falls on us.

For example a number of foreigners work in the building where my main client's office is located. I guess the cleaning staff have complained of having to to, well, go beyond the call of duty when cleaning the washrooms. So guess what, warning signs go up in English.

Actually, to their credit the signs are bilingual, but the English portion is definitely more prominently displayed. And I have to say that I am impressed by their command of English, this is way above and beyond the level you normally encounter here.

In fact I doubt I could even have come up with this!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Suez Canal Crisis

One thing I love about working at home is that there are some TV shows that you can only see during the daytime. Stuff that you are not so impassioned over that you will record them, but that you are happy enough to give snippets of attention to as the TV does its thing.

This week on two consecutive mornings I saw bits and pieces of a multi-part program on Discovery Channel on the Suez Canal. It was nothing short of fascinating.

It seems that 50 years ago, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower was France and France was George W. Bush. The British and the French had an evil imperialist agenda in the Middle East and America was the voice of moderation and respect for other nations’ sovereignty.

The British and French, with Israeli cooperation, launched an attack on Egypt with the motive of ousting (“destroying” was a word that was also bandied about) the legendary Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser and take control of the Suez Canal. With Israel initiating the attack, the plan was for the British and the French to follow suite under the pretext of “separating” the opposing armies and establish a presence in the Canal Zone.

The U.S. was highly opposed to the plan. Diplomatic tensions between America and its European allies ratcheted up.

Finally, the day arriveļ½„, October 29, 1956 to be precise, and the Israeli invasion began. British and French forces began bombing Egypt on October 31.

The United States then decided to put some teeth behind its rhetoric and threatened to dump its holdings of British currency, which would cause the value of the Sterling to collapse. This threat put the screws on the British economy and the Egyptian operation came to a halt.

I actually knew about this Suez Canal story, I just had not thought about it for many years. However it seems so relevant now. With America transmogrifying from republic to empire, I wonder why it is not brought up more frequently in the media. This lack of interest in history and the resultant collective amnesia may be why humanity seems to progress only to regress, progress again, regress again, ad infinitum ad nauseum.

If only the U.S. could remember its role as a voice of reason in the world.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Tech Tuesday

As usual, useful and interesting news on Yahoo! Tech Tuesday.

Today was the eminently relevant topic of XP tweaking. There were three articles specifically: Tweaking Windows XP, Safely Disabling XP Services and XP Window Dressing.

The first was the main article containing general advice on OS optimization. The second focused on the Service Control Manager and a few services that you may consider disabling. The second was really focused on appearance tweaks to speed up performance.

Now, I have to say I have tweaked and re-tweaked my OS for the past couple of years now, and these articles taught me nary a new thing. Particularly the last was sounded from its title that it might involve some under-the-hood kind of black arts but this was normal documented Windows stuff.

Still if you are one of those people who usually has better things to do than OS optimization I suggest this trio of articles as a quick and easy starting point. It could save you a lot of time in the long run through improved PC performance.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Cosby going off the deep end?

I spent the entire day inside except for a short walk outside. Never-ending administrivia on the computer and with receipts and bills and such nonsense. It's almost like this kind of stuff piles up faster than you can keep up with it. I'm trying to stay on top of it all as it happens so I don't have to rush at tax time next year. But aren't I admirable, already thinking ahead to tax time of next year!

This is old news but today I was net-surfing Bill Cosby's infamous "Pound Cake Speech" at the NAACP. I had not followed it closely at the time it happened. Among other things he had complained about black kids having names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed, and all of them being in jail.

While that speech may have had some good points, I can't help but wince at his griping about people's names. Give me a break, these kids might not even be responsible for their names! And so what if they are? I assume it's the being in jail or getting lousy grades or whatever that is the real problem. What if someone had a name like Mohammed or Kareem or whatever and was a straight-A student?

And worse, what if such a kid were to hear this speech? It's likely that until that point he held up Cosby as a figure of great respect. Then to be berated merely for having this kind of name would doubtless feel like a real poke in the eye.