Archive for the ‘News’ category

No longer prohibited

August 29, 2013

Spotted in downtown Santa Cruz:


Can anyone guess what is no longer prohibited there? (Hint: it’s a short word.)



March 22, 2011

That’s the Japanese word for earthquake. You know their word for tsunami.

I actually toured a nuclear power plant in Japan in 1998, on the weekend trip every graduate level seminar is required to take (we also toured a sock museum (!?!) and the port where Japanese soldiers & civilians arrived after years spent in Chinese and Soviet camps, in the decade following World War II –from the ridiculous to the unforgettable). Apart from the “character goods” in the gift shop (that is, Atom Boy and Atom Girl merch) my biggest memory was the emphasis placed on seismic safety. The tour guide assured us that the instant a major earthquake was detected, the plant would shut down safely, etc.

I don’t know much about the nuclear power industry in Japan, but I instinctively agree with Ian Welsh on this matter. Nuclear power may be the only way to tide us over to the post-oil economy (although I also know some have suggested more optimistic scenarios) but the industry that exists in Japan and the U.S. is like any other industry –prone to cutting corners in the name of profitability and coddled by “regulators” who shuttle back and forth between corporations and government. Japan is no different than the rest of the world in that respect.

On the other hand, I’ve also read that Japanese people are not panicking precisely because they are receiving good information, as opposed to the sensationalism being fed to world publics, even though TEPCO has not exactly been forthcoming about the conditions in Fukushima. When I lived there, I found Japanese news sources to be remarkably sober and informative. Japanese culture is, for better or worse, biased toward quantifiable knowledge. And I would never assume that the Japanese people’s sober response to this tragedy is cultural; it’s clearly human nature to respond altruistically to disaster.

But I know that the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo resulted in large-scale massacres of resident Koreans (who were accused of poisoning wells, etc.) and the murders (in jail) of left-wing activists rounded up by the police in the earthquake’s aftermath. Japan has been under much pressure in the last decade to become more like the United States: to reduce or renege on its social safety net, to put short-term profitability ahead of long-term value creation, to become –in short– more “efficient.” Will this become another instance of “disaster capitalism” or will it provoke a different kind of response? Japan’s northeast is the poorest, oldest (in terms of the average age of its population), least economically vibrant part of that country; it is, also, one of Japan’s most important agricultural regions. It’s a place young people can’t wait to leave. How and for whom will it be rebuilt? What will be the impact of radiation in the rice crop –two of Japan’s most potent cultural symbols combined in a new and horrific way?

Events like this are not the causes of anything in particular. They leave their mark on history because of the way they reflect cultural and economic attitudes at the time. The 1923 earthquake allowed Tokyo to be rebuilt as a modern city, and signaled an authoritarian shift in Japan’s politics. The 1995 earthquake in Kobe made it clear that Japan’s swaggering decades of economic triumphalism were over; the government could barely cope with the aftermath of that disaster. It’s too soon to tell, obviously, what this event portends.

My guess? More muddling through. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have your house or your loved ones just washed away –gone in a frightening instant. But the survivors will have to deal with the very same world that existed before the tsunami struck.

We’re all united in that struggle.

The news intrudes

February 22, 2011

A wonderful collection of links from zunguzungu on the protests in Wisconsin and related matters. And because I love bagpipes. What is the altnernative, you ask? Maybe a democratic workplace?

Also, please spare a thought for Christchurch, New Zealand. Solidarity is not so strange when disasters strike.

Artistic question

January 5, 2011

I did a double take when I saw this item on SFist:

Attorneys for noted artist Jeff Koons sent a letter asking Park Life (220 Clement) right before Christmas asking the local store to stop selling and advertising their charming balloon dog bookends, “return them to some mutually agreed upon address, [and] tell Koons how many have been sold and disclose the maker of said bookends.”

It’s funny– i was doing xmas shopping at Park Life [very cute boutique knickknack/design store] in the Richmond a few weeks ago and saw these items.  And the first thought *I* had was “Hmm..  I wonder if Koons is a partner in this?  Or are they copying his work?”.  Guess I know the answer now.  I’m sorry I didn’t buy any of you these bookends for the holidays—  I suppose they might be worth a lot more now.  Of course, you also might have received letter from Koons’ lawyers…

As SFist notes, given the artist’s history, is he being hypocritical?

Saturday Sample Sentence

November 14, 2009

“Marcel, that chicken cacciatore was an absolute poem.”


A poem.

Most subtle tribute to MJ?

July 7, 2009

My nomination is This American Life.  I listened to the 6/26/09 podcast yesterday during my commute home.  Originally broadcast a few days after Michael Jackson’s death, the singer was never mentioned by name, but each act was titled for a MJ song.  And for a show that was obviously already in the can at the time of his death.  Nicely done.

Imagine, in your best Ira-Glass-intro voice, and introduction to a show about the theme “Fall Guy”, brought to you today in four acts:
Act One. Beat It.

Act Two. Be Careful Who You Love.

Act Three. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.

Act Four. Man in the Mirror.

RIP MJ (and FF)

June 25, 2009

I never thought I’d be blogging about Michael Jackson on SIAJ. Celebrity culture isn’t really much what this blog is about. But I was surprised by how hard the death of Michael Jackson hit me today. I suppose the premature death of a pop star from my formative years forces me to face my own mortality in ways that Ed McMahon’s passing does not. So, fwiw, my favorite MJ memory would have to be being blown away by the Thriller video on MTV with my brothers and sisters in Knoxville. I remember excitedly running around out front of the South Monticello house afterwards. I also remember buying the Thriller cassette and then making my own bootleg copy, even photocopying the now classic cover. I have no idea why.

So we are drinking Pegus and playing our MJ tracks in memorium tonight. Dan reminds me that we also have a track in our iTunes that honors the passing of Farrah Fawcett today: (key segment starts at 2:50)

Bonus video from Janet J. from 11 yrs ago— even more poignant now: