But I fear more for Muninn...

Dec 02, 2003 - 01:35 PM
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Posted by: kmlawson on Saturday, November 29, 2003 - 07:02 AM
Personal I found a great ramen noodle place in the middle of Kichijoji today as I was hunting for dinner in my neighborhood. It is called Tenbunkan (天文館) and both their Kyûshû-style tonkotsu miso ramen and gyôza dumplings were fantastic.

I love Japanese ramen. I'm not talking about the kind we survived on as poor college students. I'm talkin' about the real thing. Noodle soups with carefully kept secret recipes, a variety of vegetables, and sometimes an egg or thin round cuts of meat. Unfortunately, I never found any noodles in Beijing that I liked, and I tried many of their huge variety of noodles when I was there.

In Japan, ramen noodles are a highly developed food industry, with a cult following. See the movie Tampopo for an excellent and humorous peek into the ramen world of Japan. In addition to being delicious, even the best noodle stops are quick, relatively cheap, and totally fill you up. There are of course a lot of bad noodles in Japan with a kind of standard drab taste, but there are also thousands of branded and often highly unique ramen shops all over Japan. You can buy any number of ramen guidebooks to help you explore the variety available in your city and there is always the Ramen Museum where you can taste some of the best that Japan has to offer. Tonkotsu miso, spicy miso, and regular miso styles are my favorites. I think I might have to eventually add a page here listing my favorite Tokyo ramen places.

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Link time
Posted by: kmlawson on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 01:14 PM
Random Stuff
  • Very bizarre but interesting search engine which gives you a sort of a concept map for your search with hits spacially distributed.
  • I didn't include it in my last article on resistance but here are some documents related to General Stroop's reports on his clearing out of the Warsaw ghetto, and here is a good concise article on the uprising.
  • BBC had an interesting article about a mystic who can apparently survive long periods without food and water and was recently tested by doctors to prove his claims.
  • There is some great anti-war propaganda posters for sale on sale.
  • An amazon rip-off site offers a really great range of movies, books, and music from Japan, Chinese speaking areas, and Korea. I recently bought a DVD from them, a Chinese movie on Kawashima Yoshiko, the Manchurian princess/Japanese wartime spy also seen in the Last Emperor.
  • Tony Laszlo pointed out this award-winning site on language education, and specifically promoting the teaching of mother tongues in Swedish schools.
  • My "fun" reading now is a Seagrave book on the "Yamashita gold" and a alleged postwar conspiracy by the US to use Japanese loot for its coldwar slush fund. There is a glowing review of the book by Chalmers Johnson online. I'm about half way through the book, and have very mixed thoughts about it. I have very deep concerns with some of their outlandish claims and exaggerations which I might blog about when I finish the book.

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    Telling Stories of Resistance
    Posted by: kmlawson on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 06:09 AM
    Thoughts I am very interested in the retelling of stories of armed resistance against oppressors. This is partly because they inevitably also include a portrayal of collaboration, which is something I expect to be spending a lot of time studying.

    I recently watched the TV dramatization of the 1943 Jewish ghetto uprising in Warsaw called Uprising.

    The uprising gets brief mention in many movies about the Holocaust, most recently with a single scene in the movie The Pianist. In that movie, the hopelessness of the uprising is viewed from the window of the hiding musician. That scene is very reminiscent of a portrayal of Chinese resistance against Japanese troops entering Shanghai in an early scene of Empire of the Sun.

    Uprising takes a very different look at the Jewish resistance, awarding it more honor, glory, and considerably more German casualties than earlier portrayals or the historical record suggests. It has all the limitations of a made for TV movie, but does a fair job, especially with its more complex and careful consideration of the Jewish Council and its collaboration with the Germans. A Danish review of the movie is less forgiving, concluding that in its own way it is a wonderful old fashioned movie but that it never quite convinced us of the need to tell the story of the uprising again ("Det er på sin vis en ganske glimrende, lidt gammeldags film, som aldrig helt får overbevist os om det nødvendige i at fortælle denne historie igen"). I agree wholeheartedly with the review when it complained that the "Allo Allo english" everyone spoke was taxing.

    When I see movies like this I realize that the art of portraying the nobel resistance has been been perfected to a fine art. Not to detract from the horror that faced those living in the ghetto, or under any kind of oppression that has bred resistance and artistic narratives of that resistance, I'm interested in how consistent these portrayals all are. First you need to introduce a few humble figures who just don't want to get into any trouble, and are just trying to survive. You subject them to a series of atrocities at the hand of their oppressors, and you need to include a few scenes with completely diabolical and laughing evil soldiers who have no respect for people or the value of their lives. The main characters then become hardened realists who will do anything to kill their enemy in armed resistance, portraying anyone who has not yet been converted as weak cowards. Overnight, collaborators go from figures who are negotiated with and reluctantly obeyed, to being the targets of assassination and torture. Once this polarization is complete, the movie stands on firm black and white moral ground and can proceed with uncontrolled violence.

    What I liked about Uprising is that it gives a little more time to the period before this polarization takes place, and Donald Sutherland does well portraying a conflicted leader of the Judenrat, Adam Czerniakow (who eventually commits suicide). The time and effort spent looking at the complexity of the decisions that people faced at the time is well worth it, but dangerous for any of these artistic narratives to attempt. Show the audience hate, love, good, and bad, but for goodness sake keep it simple! Leave them with feelings of disgust, regret, anger, or an appreciation for their current lucky and peaceful lives. But don't leave the audience confused and by all means don't force them to think! I know there are lots of books and movies which ignore these principles but they are all too few.

    Now I come to my most controversial point. All the while I was watching this movie I couldn't help thinking about how the Iraqis will one day portray their resistance to American occupation. Ok, before I go any further, obviously the Americans are not shipping Iraqis out on trains for mass slaughter in death camps. Also, Iraqi stories of American oppression probably don't have many cases of laughing diabolical maniacs among the US soldiers, or tales of resistance forces being lined up and summarily executed. I'm not trying to compare the the US with any historical oppressor, so let us not get distracted by this.

    I am suggesting, however, that when you tell these stories, it doesn't really matter how unfit such a comparison is. Keeping this on the general level of narratives of resistance, as I watched the movie, I thought of a dozen ways we could create an excellent, moving movie about Iraqi resistance to the US.

    We have an invader, we have bombed out homes, massive post-invasion looting and local bandits lurking about. We have US soldiers who are ignorant of the language and customs. We have soldiers who have killed many people who have turned out to be completely innocent. The relatives and friends of those innocent who were killed will provide our movie with its hardened resistance fighters to serve as the main characters. We have soldiers who have subjected thousands of locals to countless insults in their attempt to find the resistance and maintain order. We have collaborators by the hundreds, and we have lots of informers who will turn in resistance fighters to the US. We have checkpoints and lots of asking for ID papers etc., and we have plenty of American propaganda floating about. We have images of poor Iraqis fighting to survive amid blackouts and other postwar chaos. I'm sure we can find lots of images of Americans dining on good food, enjoying good entertainment, and making racist and condescending comments about the locals (a necessary scene to provide a contrast to wretched poverty in any good resistance movie). We can have that important scene where the leading generals and politicians angrily criticize the officers in the field, yelling, "Why haven't you found the leaders of the resistance? You must crack down on this filthy little rebellion or I'll have you dismissed." When the general gets off the phone he'll gather his underlings and say, "Send out troops in the thousands, I want this resistance crushed now! Twist all our informers, interrogate all the prisoners again and sweep that 'rat alley' for those scum!" American troops will fan out anew and turn hundreds of home upside down. They will violate the sanctity of mosques, and hassle religious leaders. Hundreds of new fighters will flood the ranks of the resistance.

    Our movie will, of course, leave out all mention of suicide bombings which involve massive civilian casualties. We will, however, include all those roadside bombs which have killed American soldiers. We will include the scene of the American soldiers being killed and then celebrating locals dragging out the bodies and doing all sorts of nasty things to the corpses. A young impoverished child will come forward and give the corpse a kick saying, "Here's for what you did to daddy." The audience will be moved and will applaud this act of vengeance. They will of course take the US high-tech weapons to add to the cache of our outmatched resistance forces. Resistance leaders will tell everyone to be really careful with ammunition, one bullet for one American. We'll show triumphant resistance forces shooting down the helicopters of the evil Americans and we'll show how a mother, who lost her young son to an American attack on a resistance holdout, attack a "collaborator" police station, blowing herself up and taking with her half a dozen traitorous police officers. This, of course, will have to come after the scene of the American trained police officers extorting bribes out of everyone who wants to get past. Or perhaps a scene of an evil collaborator giving up information to the Americans about a training camp outside the city. He will be visited by a resistance member the next day and be shot in the chest after being told, "The United Iraqi Resistance Committee has found you guilty of treason and of crimes against Islam and the people." -- BANG! Another traitor eliminated. The people nearby will cheer wildly. They'll whisk the assassin to safety as American troops arrive on the scene. The evil Americans will be shown frustrated and will demand to know what transpired and where the assailant fled. The US vehicles will blast announcements saying, "You must give us information about the terrorists. Help us restore peace and order to Iraq and rid your society of terrorism."

    In the end, the resistance will be completely victorious (with about half of our main characters dying) or fail completely (with all but a few characters dying). It doesn't matter. Iraqis who watch the movie will remember that there were a few brave souls who did the right thing and inspired a whole new generation. They asked the question (as is asked in "Uprising"), "Can we obey morals laws in a world that is immoral?" with a resounding "Yes!" and they will be moved deeply when they hear the phrase that is almost mandatory in some variation for all resistance movies, "We may not come out of this alive, but we can at least choose the means of our death! Better to die free than live like a slave!"

    Americans who watch the movie will be disgusted, of course. How can they portray us like that? We aren't all ignorant beasts who invaded their country for our own gain. Why can't those Iraqis understand that we were just trying to help them? Why don't they understand that we really believed, and had lots of evidence that they had big nasty weapons that could have destroyed us? Why don't they understand that most of us thought they had something to do with 9/11? Why do they leave out everything about the evil regime we replaced or the fact that the resistance was really in bed with terrorists? Why don't they see that those who worked together with us were just trying to build a new and better Iraq and don't deserve to be executed or blown up for collaborating?

    I strongly believe though, that asking these questions is missing the point. Unless the occupation is to continue indefinitely, official and personal memory of this period will not be ours to control. Their movie, should they like to shoot it in the manner I described above, already has more than enough scenes. And like all resistance movies, they could always fudge the details.

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    Better than my rental
    Posted by: kmlawson on Thursday, November 27, 2003 - 11:45 AM
    Random Stuff I rented some movies to watch while staying warm under a blanket and recovering from a nasty cold. None were any good so I cut them all off soon after they started but by chance I saw that Japanese TV was showing a US movie without dubbing it (for once). It was "The Way of the Gun" and initially looked like a pretty mindless way to drift in and out of sleep. However, after watching it I have to say it is probably the best kidnapping/action movie I have ever seen.

    I was impressed by the complexity of its characters, their interaction, and the fact that the audience isn't treated like an idiot. I never thought a movie with a name and plot like this could have subtlety. The action, for what it is worth, was also impressive, with everyone behaving like they actually had training in tactics rather than growing up on too many cheesy police shows. The bad guy bodyguards are even given a little more than the usual, with them hatching their own plots and affairs and also behaving half way intelligently.

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    Social Butterfly or Asocial?
    Posted by: kmlawson on Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - 11:24 AM
    Personal Chia-ying says I have too many friends. My taiwanese friend from graduate school in New York complained that she never felt like she could get to know me because my social circle was too wide. She said this to me some weeks ago in Taiwan but her words have stuck with me.

    Chia-ying might be surprised to hear another story from my time at a summer language program in Beijing some five years ago. I used to spend everyday with my roommate Stuart and almost every meal at Korean restaurant on the northern side of the Beijing Normal University campus where I first discovered Bibimbap. I spent hours a day making and studying little paper vocabulary flashcards and when I needed a break I would ride my bicycle around the back streets of Beijing. A Chinese-American classmate, who I called Da-lin and had a crush on at the time joined me for lunch at my favorite little restaurant one day. While I was loudly slurping some noodles she suddenly put her chopsticks down and broke (for the first time that I had seen) the vow that we all signed that summer promising to speak nothing but Chinese for ten weeks. She said, "Lin Shudao, you are asocial, aren't you?" Without waiting for my answer, she continued eating and our discussion resumed in Chinese...

    I think she was right, by any definition of the word. I spent little or no time with other students in the program. Here in Japan, my friend Lars has essentially accused me of the same, claiming that I rarely emerge from my cottage to "go out" with friends, resembling a hermit if anything else.

    Yet if you ask my Danish friend Jens here what I'm doing and he'll claim that I'm always off meeting yet another friend in Ginza, or Shinjuku or Shibuya, as if I was some high-spending social butterfly.

    In New York, I spent almost all my time with Sayaka and Jai (Sayaka was worried the amount of time I spent with Jai was revealing some kind of bisexual tendencies, which I have ever since tried to convince her is unfounded). And yet Chia-ying and other friends believed that I was all over the place.

    In thinking about Chia-ying's memorable words, and Da-lin's before that, I tried to explain the seeming contradiction by saying, "I just don't settle well into groups of friends, but prefer to develop strong friendships with people one-on-one, without 'inheriting' their whole social network." Yes, I liked that one. It gives me that individualist, rugged traveler and leader type of image.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't work....

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    Remnants of another era...
    Posted by: kmlawson on Monday, November 24, 2003 - 11:10 AM
    Personal It is about four in the morning and I am reading through a book on the history of Chinese law for my research on Chinese treason trials. The book, however, is a mainland Chinese work, a bit heavy on the Communist propaganda, entitled A Legal History of the Chinese Revolution (中国革命法制史). I saw plenty of this kind of work in many a Beijing bookstore. However, I didn't get it in Beijing, but photocopied relevant sections from the library of Taiwan's Academia Sinica when I was there last month.

    As I was copying the publication information in order to correctly cite the book in a paper I'm working on, I noticed something straight out of the cold war and China's unfinished civil war between mainland China and nationalist China on Taiwan:

    A stamp on the middle of my photocopy of the book's cover which reads:

    "Restricted Reading"

    I realized that this, like many books once locked up in libraries and archives across Taiwan, was marked as a Communist book, and thus during most of Taiwan's postwar period would have been off limits to most readers.

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    Trip to the Hospital
    Posted by: kmlawson on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 10:09 PM
    Personal Just went to the hospital. No no, nothing life threatening, but that's where you go when you get sick here. I have had a breathing problem of late and went to have it looked at. I went once before to the Adventist hospital in Ogikubo, which is the biggest hospital in my area, but the sign on the entrance said they only accepted walk-ins from 8:30 to 10:30 in the morning, which is a pretty bad window for me.

    I went back today just before 8:30 and was really impressed with the whole experience. I was told to sit down along with three rows of other patients in a little TV salon. A hospital employee came to welcome us promptly at 8:30, announced the opening of services and explained the procedures like we were about to start a ride on a roller coaster. Well, we were...sort of. By 10:10 they had supplied me with my own new patient card; sent me to a nurse for the measurement of height, weight, and blood pressure; sent me to a doctor who discussed my problem with me; sent me to their X-ray division for a chest X-ray; sent me to their "heart" section for an EKG, and their "general inspection" area for a blood test. Everyone was incredibly friendly and simply took my patient card, and one of the pieces of paper that the doctor had handed to me, performed their section's task and sent me packing to the next stop. Most of my time was not spent waiting for anything, but in getting from one section of the hospital to another. From the time the doctors started working at 9, it took just over a single hour to go through everything, including the half hour that the doctor spent with me. Since I am on the $25 per month national Japanese insurance plan my hospital visit and all of these tests cost about $110.

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    Garbage Regimes
    Posted by: kmlawson on Wednesday, October 29, 2003 - 08:52 AM
    Thoughts We are all struggling with garbage. It comes in so many varied forms. In the world of information the battle against garbage may not take the form of a threat to the environment, but its threat to our time, sanity, and intellectual positions is clear and present. Like any researcher in an archive or a student in their favorite library, the moment all of us began using the internet for our work, study, or daily questions, we have all needed to refine our garbage filters. The arts of skimming, sorting, and analysis are combined with our most powerful weapon against garbage on the internet: the back button.

    Of course, one researcher's garbage, is another's gold mine. The same, I think, can be said for some of the physical garbage we are filling our landfills and furnaces with. However, I'll leave that question for another time. It is the many different ways of dealing with this physical garbage which has caught my interest of late...

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    ICICE Presentation
    Posted by: kmlawson on Friday, October 24, 2003 - 01:43 PM
    Personal I gave my presentation today at the ICICE conference being held at the Yuanshan hotel here in Taipei.

    To be honest, it was a spectacular failure, and I record the story of it here for posterity. From the time I arrived, well before the conference formally opened with smoke, flashing lights, and Las Vegas boxing match intro-music and drums I was memorizing various notes I had taken in Chinese and working out the exact minute by minute allocation for my presentation. I slipped out a little early from the last morning session and ran down to the lunch area where downed a boxed lunch in about 5 minutes in order to use the lunch hour to make final preparations for my presentation.

    Almost an hour before I presented, I confirmed my Power Point presentation was working on the conference supplied laptop, and tried to open the web pages of the OWLS software that I had developed. We soon discovered that their whole wireless network was down (a room nearby with dozens of laptops for conference participants to use were all also being scanned for viruses and reconfigured by a group of techies, which is never a good sign). I explained that I was presenting on some software and giving a demonstration that was online and would need to know if the network was going to be down during my presentation. If so, I could use various snapshots of OWLS and Sutaitai.com which I had brought on a CD. I was assured the net was going to be working by 13:30 and indeed, they resolved the problem within 15 minutes. I then tested the network every ten minutes or so until my presentation started. I also made a change to the order of my presentation file.

    I estimate there were between 50-100 Chinese instructors and other conference participants in the audience for my presentation. As I approached the podium to begin my presentation, while they were introducing me, there were suddenly two conference employees hovering about the computer I was to use. I looked at the screen - the Windows XP machine had crashed and she was restarting the computer. Meanwhile, my 20 minutes for the presentation were already ticking and the audience was waiting while I was surrounded by conference employees whispering Chinese SOS signals into the CIA style radio sets attached to their uniforms.

    I lost all composure. I completely lost all the stuff I had memorized and, between trying to work with the staff on the technical problem, tried to start a presentation by just casually introducing software and features that I had neither a Power Point presentation or a working computer to demonstrate. It was a nightmare. My Chinese totally failed me in this desperate moment of required spontaneity.

    Half way through, the computer was up and running and I quickly tried to demonstrate the Sutaitai.com site. After finishing this, with again horrible Chinese, I then moved to my climax: trying to show the instructors how simply anyone with OWLS can create interactive exercises. Of course, just that moment, the whole wireless network of the conference hall died again and was I faced with a beautiful white Microsoft IE connection failure screen.

    Again losing all my composure I fumbled for words for a minute or two while hoping the network would revive itself, again finding myself swarmed by conference employees who had no technical ability but who decided to stand around me and whisper into their radio sets. My time quickly came to an end.

    There were two comments and two questions. A Chinese instructor teaching in South Africa was kind enough to be blunt, "Your software isn't useful" (没有用).

    Another Chinese instructor who teaches US military personnel caught me in the elevator as I was trying to flee the conference in despair. She tried to be polite by saying the same thing in about 15 minutes of indirect criticism.. From what she said, I realized how completely I had failed to communicate some of the most basic features of the software and the limited applications for which it can truly be useful.

    There was one technical question about the software and the other question was simply a request for the password to be removed from Sutaitai.com so the teachers can evaluate for themselves how effectively the software can been used.

    I learnt a few things from today's complete humiliation: 1) When I panic, anything stored in short-term memory gets fried, especially when it is in a foreign language. 2) Try at all costs to avoid doing presentations which heavily depend on technology or computers not under your direct control. If you can't, make sure emergency plans (like my snapshots) are available for fast and immediate implementation. 3) When you are giving a presentation, make sure you front load and heavily emphasize points which can funnel constructive criticism into the areas where it is most useful and relevant. 4) My Chinese, and especially technical Chinese, still needs a lot of work. 5) When measuring time for parts of a talk, double the time it takes you when you practice your presentation. 6) Know your audience well. Preferably speak their language fluently.

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    A Diabolical B-Tree Crash
    Posted by: kmlawson on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 01:29 AM
    Personal It has been quite busy since I arrived in Taipei. I have been trying to pack paper research, PhD applications and rewrites of my statement of purpose, spending some time with Sayaka and preparations for next week's conference all into my limited two weeks here.

    Last night I began working on the powerpoint presentation (due today) for my talk at the conference this Friday when I got an email with some brutal, but much needed and appreciated comments back from my friend Jai on an early draft of my PhD statement of purpose and was just moving between Microsoft's email application for Mac, Entourage, and Word when everything froze up and I couldn't force quit anything. My computer is a Mac, this is not supposed to happen. We don't have crashes anymore.

    When I restarted the machine in "verbose" mode to read what was going on in the background as the machine starts up, I find that I have been hit with the infamous B-Tree corruption, and in all likelhood, my hard drive, and all of its contents are lost...As far as I can remember, this is about the 4th time I have had B-Tree corruption destroy my hard drive's contents in as many years and every time it happened just as I was using Microsoft's email application. The demons of Microsoft must, of course, be responsible for my ills, trying desperately to get me to abandon the outlaw world of Apple for the imperial XP operating system. Jai, who is a Windows user, is of course their agent, and was instructed to deliver the order to strike via the trojan Microsoft application on my machine...

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    "Fascism rejects in Democracy the conventional lie of political equality, the spirit of collective irresponsibility and the myth of happiness and indefinite progress...One should not exaggerate the importance of Liberalism in the last century and make of it a religion of humanity for all present and future times when in reality it was only one of the many doctrines of that century...Now Liberalism is on the point of closing the doors of its deserted temple...That is why all the political experiments of the contemporary world are anti-Liberal and the desire to exile them from history is supremely ridiculous: as if history was a hunting preserve for Liberalism and professors, as if Liberalism was the last and incomparable word in civilization...The present century is the century of authority, a century of the Right, a Fascist century."

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