Click HERE for today’s photos. Its a small set of images that I took during my most reent trip to Kyoto (November 2008).
I REALLY didn’t need to read this news story today.
I’ll be flying to Chicago for a business meeting next week, and could very likely be flying on that same plane. In all likelihood that Air Force Sgt saved the lives of everyone on board. The flight crew might have diverted based on the fact that they did recognize that they seemed to be loosing fuel, but then again they might have chalked it up to a gauge malfunction and pressed on. We might have all ended up watching this on an episode of “Air Crash Investigation”.
I shudder to think how it could have worked out differently had it been a plane full of Japanese people, with no gaijins around. I’m not bashing Japanese people, and it is a very gross generalization, but I am also thinking that it just might have turned out very differently.
After more than nine years in Japan I can’t remember how many times I have seen Japanese people do their best to ignore a situation that they either did not want to get involved with, or thought that someone else would or should handle. Granted, any person does who is riding an airplane has a vested interest to make sure that plane continues to fly, and not drop out of the sky like a stone. But Japanese people, more than any other culture I have seen, are extremely good at ignoring things.
Those of you who have experienced the culture know exactly what I am talking about. Especially when it comes to people in positions of power or prestige. Doctors for example are treated as all-knowing gods. A second opinion is basically unheard of in Japan, with patients taking their doctors word as gospel. I don’t know about you, but it does not instill a great amount of confidence in me when, no matter how long a doctor has been working, you still refer to it as “Practicing” medicine. The same thing holds true for lawyers.
Again, I know I am making some gross generalizations. I guess that’s just the kind of mood I am in today.
I apologize for the digression from a Japan-centric topic, but today I feel like writing about todays U.S. Presidential election. It is an historic day for America, the first time an American President elect, Barack Hussein Obama, has a set of initials that are an anagram for a premium home movie channel.
OK, just kidding (although I do raise a valid point) the real historic thing is that for the first time an African American has been voted into the highest office in the land. But while the broad ranging social impacts of this solid step forward for a country that more and more has become a mixture from all corners of the Earth. But there is also the ugly truth that racism played at least some part in the results of this election.
It is a fact that there are those that did not vote for BHO for the sole reason that he is black. These people are obviously racist. But there is a flip side to that coin. There were also a lot of people that voted for BHO only because he is black. This is just as racist as the first case. Now I am in no way insinuating that the reason BHO won the election is because he is black. Not at all. I think he won the election for a whole bunch of reasons.
Who in my humble opinion do I think would be the best leader for America, John McCain or Barack Obama? My simple answer is neither. I didn’t vote for either of them.
My vote went to Ralph Nader as his platform is (to me) the most reformist of the bunch. And when I cast my vote for Mr. Nader I knew there wasn’t a snowballs chance in hell of him actually getting into the Whitehouse, I still had to vote for the one that I agreed with the most, not the one whom I thought had the best chance of winning.
After all we are seleting our next leader, not puting some money down on the outcome of a ball game. But sadly there are a lot of peopel that vote that way since they wat to feel that their vote counted. But I don’t believe in that, especially with a thing like the Electorial College doing the actual deciding about who will be the next president. As it turned out the popular vote agreed with the Electoral College vote, and there have only been three cases in American history when a president lost the popular vote but was still elected as president. (And I might note, let me remind you that NONE of them had initials that were an anagram of any premium home movie channels) But even if it happens only rarely that the Electoral College vote disagrees with the popular vote, I still think that each and every vote should have the same weight as all others. Scrap the Electoral College, and truely give the choice to the people.
I wish President Elect Obama the best, but I think he has his work cut out for him. The economy is in the toilet, and the flush handle has been pressed. So grab your wallets my fellow Americans as our government continues to try to tax and spend our way out of a recession. The recent bank bailout is going to do more damage to the economy than most people can imagine at this point for the simple reason that the “money” is being printed out of thin air, and this will result in serious inflation. There is no gold backing for the dollar (and there has not been since 1971 when the government basically declared bankruptcy by dropping the gold standard) so the only value that this paper has is what people believe it has. And the confidence in the dollar has started a decline that we have yet to even begin to see the scope of. (I KNEW things were bad when I saw rappers in videos flashing Euros instead of greenbacks)
And why on earth are we bailing out banks that made bad decisions? Let them fail for crying out loud, let the free market sort out the winners and losers, and let the economy naturally evolve into a stronger animal instead of subsidizing the gross incompetance (or rampant corruption) of those that made bad decision for whatever reason.
If I go to Vegas and blow my retirement funds at the craps table is the government going to bail me out? No. And they shouldn’t. Decisions have consequences. Live with them.
Yup, the dollar is headed south, and there is nothing that can be done to stop it ,short of going back to the gold standard, but the federal government will not be able to do that since it has been enjoing the short term benefits of a using a fiat currency for so long they don’t know how to deal with real money.
But enough of this doom and gloom (even though I believe it all to be true) , I’ll be doin as much as I can topump as many dollars as I can into a portfolio of solid foreign stocks, as well as some gold so as to protect my own financial future. The bottom line is that even though the U.S. markets will once again go up, the continued decline in the value of the dollar relative to other currencies will effectively cancel out these gains. What’s the point of making a lot of dollars if they are not worth anything?
OK, that’s enough politics and economcs for one night. And as I said before, sorry for the digression.
This year I spent New Years Eve in Tokyo. Shibuya, to be specific. The reason why I wanted to be there for the change over into the new millennium (Because we all know that 2000 was the END of the last millennium. The years did not begin to be counted with year zero, but rather with year one. Hence 2001 is the first year of the new millennium) At least that’s the logic I use so I don’t feel so bad about not being in Japan for last new years eve (2000).
On the way to Tokyo, traffic was actually a little lighter than usual. Once I got into Tokyo though, traffic ground to a near halt. It was about that time that I wished I was one of those maniacs on motorcycles, weaving in and out of traffic, leap-frogging between lights. When traffic snarls to a halt, motorcycles are still able to make really good time. Great if you are the guy on the motorcycle. Sucks if you are the guy planted in your car as this guy zips by. My main complaint about these motorcycle riders is the fact that the all seem to think that it is their duty to keep car drivers as alert as possible. They accomplish this feat through many methods. One of their favorites is to drive 60 kph between two lanes of automobile traffic, just daring a car to bump into them. They ride literally inches from an unintentional (yeah right) bump that would turn them into instant road pizza.
Strangely enough I have yet to see this actually happen. I’ve not lost hope yet though, there is always tomorrow.
Another one of their tricks to help keep drivers on their toes is to not only drive between cars, but to add in some random swerves back into traffic when they notice a driver becoming complacent or has stopped paying strict attention to them. Actually it’s not that bad…in all fairness I would have to say it is really much worse than that. But I diverge…now back to the real story.
Like I was saying, I went to Shibuya for the new years eve countdown. On the way to the countdown at Shibuya crossing I noticed a lot of Japanese homes and businesses with decorations being displayed. A common new years decoration is a “mikan” or type of Japanese orange/tangerine tied up with rice straw and placed on a red and white paper background. Another type of decoration is bamboo and evergreen boughs, or just the evergreen boughs by themselves.
There is not a lot I can say to describe the scene at Shibuya in the time leading up to the stroke of midnight. All I can really say is that there were a lot of people there. I mean a lot. Picture a sea of moving bodies as far as you can see in every direction, spilling up side streets and out of sight. That’s the amount of people I am talking about.
Besides the electricity generated by a large group of people, I received another type of excitement while I was in Shibuya. I was almost killed. (That’ll wake you up like nothing else!) While crossing a street I was nearly run over by a passing taxi. I happened to get a picture of it because I was holding my camera as the car swiped by me and as I flinched and jumped back I hit the shutter release and just got lucky in getting a picture of the taxi as it slipped past me.
Come to think about it, the really odd thing about that taxi was that the diver really did not see me. What I mean to say is that it was an honest accident that he almost ran me over. I say this is odd because usually when a taxi zips by you that close in Japan, the driver does it intentionally.
The stroke of midnight brought a huge roar from the assembled crowd and people started milling around and heading off to late night parties. Some of the more inebriated revelers climbed on top of the Shibuya subway station entrance and began to do a striptease for the crowd. Entertaining yes, but since it was just a bunch of drunk American guys taking their cloths off while trying not to fall off the roof, I didn’t stick around to watch. Seeing what asses those guys were making of themselves I quickly slipped into my best Canadian accent, made a couple of comments on the crudeness of “those annoying Americans”, and moved on. (Just kidding. But I’ll bet those guys would have been embarrassed if they could have seen themselves up there, workin’ it like a bunch of over-the-hill Chippendales dancers)
Traditionally the Japanese celebrate new years eve and new years day by eating special foods with their family and going to a temple to usher in the new year. In recent years new years countdown parties have gained in popularity. I don’t expect that everyone will quit going to temples as a common new years practice, but it seems like the younger generation is migrating away from the more solemn new years activities in favor of western style parties. And as much as I enjoy the history and culture of Japan, I can’t say that I blame them because new years eve in Tokyo Rocks!!!.