Hi Blog. As rumination is the fashion at the end of every year, here are ten things (okay, twelve, because, to paraphrase faux rock group Spinal Tap, twelve is two more) which changed my life in some way in 2007. In ascending order of influence.
TWELVE) THE FIRST SIX SEASONS OF TV SHOW “KING OF THE HILL”
It took me a long time to get beyond the image of KING of being a cross between FAMILY GUY and SIMPSONS. But now that I have, I’m a convert. The humor is surprisingly subtle and subversive, most jokes get stuck in your throat but come back to make you laugh hours later (like the recollective humor in Saturday Night Live–which you remember at the water cooler on Monday), the animation is realistic to the point of being Cronenberg-surreal, and as the story moves along the characters physically grow (unlike SIMPSONS, where Bart and Lisa would be college graduates by now). With character development comes rewards: remarkably mature humor on puberty, parenthood, lingering traumas, and friendship, as well as digs at American society so subtle that I doubt even the Texans being lampooned would all get it. It takes a little while to get into KING’s stride, but like many of the best TV shows in existence, the fan payoff is great. And unlike SOUTH PARK (where you are pulled along in marathon viewing bursts of some of the most unsubtle humor on the planet), KING has to be taken in small doses, as some of the characters are deliberately annoying, yet ultimately oddly endearing. You really need to trace the arc across six seasons–but it’s a great way to unwind after work, over dinner, or before bed, with an episode or two a day. And the obligatory two-parter on Japan at the end of Season Six is in places startlingly accurate–even features the guest voice of Matsuda Seiko! Good entertainment that does more to remind me of what kind of place I came from than even the best Bruce Springsteen albums.
ELEVEN) UNCOVERING STASH OF CHEAP MUSIC MAGAZINES AT TOWER RECORDS SHIBUYA, DECEMBER 2007
I have always found British music journalism far superior to American. There’s a good reason–the UK is more into it. The third biggest musical market (behind the US and Japan), the British spend more on music per capita than anywhere in the world. Take a trip to London and see how powerful the music media is. So over the holidays I sat down with a bunch of NMEs, Qs, MOJOs, and UNCUTs (which had their prices slashed from 2000 to 300 yen at Tower Records Shibuya) that were special issues on genres I had only fuzzy knowledge of: Psychedelia, Prog Rock, Classic Rock, New Romantics/New Wave, and specials on Neil Young, Electropop, Pink Floyd, and David Bowie. I’ve since followed their advice on “essential albums in the genre” and picked up two Hendrixes (Experienced and Electric Ladyland) and one Jethro Tull (Aqualung)–finding them to be as good as they say. Only now in my forties do I see more clearly the bridges and cross-pollenizations between the groups I collect and trace: The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Genesis/Peter Gabriel, The Police/Sting, The Fixx, Pet Shop Boys, U2, Depeche Mode, Tangerine Dream, the B-52’s and Duran Duran. I now realize I am firmly rooted in the “concept album” in terms of preference, meaning I’m a prog rocker, highly resistant to the modern habit of merely downloading “tracks” from cyberspace with no context in a group’s musical timeline. Aka a geek (to those who understand what I’m talking about). Or a snob (to those who don’t).
TEN) DEBITO.ORG BLOG AND PODCASTS
I have found that blogging is quite addictive. With the newfound ease of quoting and linking I sometimes have trouble limiting my posts to one per day–and given that I posted about 700 blog entries this year, that works out to quite a daily average. It has become by some reckonings an even more valuable real-time forum and information service (especially during the “anti-terrorist” fingerprinting debacle, more below). The number of links to Debito.org has quintupled, there’s a chance that Technorati ranking service might put Debito.org into the top 10,000 next time it ranks it (it’s been exactly 28,441 worldwide for the past couple of months). Meanwhile, as of October, I’ve been reading aloud or excerpting from my Newsletters as podcasts on Trans Pacific Radio, with eight podcasts out so far. Learning how to tweak and edit my own voice to make it more listenable has been a major challenge, believe me, with a steep learning curve. You can see my handiwork trying to get the issues out for the hoodie-headphone and sports-club crowd here.
I’ve already said this is the Golden Age of the Documentary. These three films help prove it. The first is on the history of the corporate body, and how its legal treatment as a private individual (despite its incredible economic power and lack of accountability) has created enormous control over society (and how moves such as “privatization” are merely guises for creating private ownership over public goods–even life forms). Exposes the quest to own everything in existence as property (proponents justify it due to an theoretical “stewardship role” that ownership would provide–but with ownership comes the potential for denial of public access). The second DVD is a case study of one corporation–the bankrupt energy giant Enron, and what happens when you couple inelastic demand curves (found in utilities markets) with the unfettered pursuit of profit. The unanswerable existential question becomes, “how much is enough?” It never is, and until government realizes that the degree of laissez-faire and the strength of destructive tendencies are directly proportional, you get a lot of market forces cheated and people hurt. The third DVD is a documentary on the life of Ralph Nader, and how his activism and good works are actively combatted and tarnished by smear campaigns. I empathize. Never trust a third party (such as Wikipedia–which to me for controversial topics is essentially a wall for intellectual graffiti artists) to relay information. Always get the arguments from the primary source. Which is why Debito.org so assiduously archives its arguments. In sum, these DVDs are some of the best statements regarding the status quo’s corruption and ideological bankruptcy that The Left have come up with in recent years. They show how the New Media can also be a means for getting out counterargument in the face of dominating Old Media machines.
(NB: Michael Moore’s SICKO isn’t on this list because it won’t be out in DVD in Japan until April.)
It was only four days on my college campus, and two decades since our undergraduate class scattered around the world. But I saw for myself that many alums hadn’t outgrown the Reagan Era penchant for converting skills into money (“Greed is Good”, remember?), and measuring success and personal growth by growth in one’s bank accounts and capital gains. Cornell’s world-class liberal arts education was discounted in favor of materialism: Here I was amidst successful bankers, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals, many preening. To some I was merely a prof in a no-name university, activist of causes nobody had heard of, and a scholar of some arcane language in a country past its prime and about to be leapfrogged by China. The brightest “star” was CBS’s Early Show weatherman and fellow alum Dave Price, who gave a smug (and yes, charmingly funny) presentation on how far he’d come. But I realized just how far I’d grown from this crowd–and how the artsy-fartsy types I hung around with in Risley College arts dorm were wise to have stayed away. Maybe check back in in another ten or fifteen years… Still, I had good conversations with much older alums (who were pre-Reagan, and by now had nothing to prove to anyone anymore), and nice meetings with Cornell academics (and their students) who knew what I’ve been up to over here.
SEVEN) MORE CYCLING–KYUSHU AND HOKKAIDO APRIL AND AUGUST 2007
Last year I said I’d break 1000 kms this year. I did it, but in dribs and drabs. 768 kms around Kyushu during Golden Week (from Miyazaki to Fukuoka, report with photos here) Then 382.1 kms from Sapporo to Hakodate via the mountains then the coast, in three days. Then Sapporo to Asahikawa (one day), Asahikawa to near Monbetsu (day two), and coasting into Monbetsu (day three) with a quick side trip to Okoppe (trip average over 20 kph, Okoppe one way averaging close to 30 kph on a mountain bike). Total 380.35 kms in three days. And 60 km cycles to and from school at least three times a week. Even though I doubt I’ll ever reach my personal record (set back during Cycletrek 1999) of 200 kms in one day, I cycled more than 150 kms in one day at least three times this summer. Total for 2007: around 2500 kms, and this despite my being hit by a car while cycling and getting injured in June. Not bad for a 42-year-old.
I was really, really fit this year. And happy about it. See how happy I look along the Okhotsk Sea August 28, having gotten out there completely on my own leg power?
Pity winter has to come or I’d be doing this sort of thing year-round.
SIX) INVITED TO SPEAK WITH DOUDOU DIENE AS PANELIST AT FCCJ FEBRUARY 26, 2007
I was really surprised with the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan asked me to sit down and open for the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racial Discrimination, who has done a couple of very important high-profile reports on racial discrimination in Japan. Surely they could ask somebody else, I said to a friend in the human-rights community. He replied: “Actually, you’re the one to ask. Who else here is doing quite what you’re doing?” After more than a decade of speaking out about things, that was a pivotal moment.
Transcript of what was said, along with pre-cycling winter fat photo, available here. More on Doudou Diene blogged here, and what he’s said about Japan in the past (“racial discrimination is deep and profound”) archived at Debito.org here.
FIVE) MY CRAZY WEEK OF SPEECHES JUNE 21-27, 2007
I still look back and wonder how I got through it: Land in Tokyo June 21. Speech at Waseda June 22. Speech at Meiji Gakuin Daigaku June 23. Interview at FCCJ June 24. Huge speech at Tokai University June 25. Then speech at Shogakukan June 26. Finally back to Sapporo June 27 on a 9AM flight to teach an afternoon class. Every speech was original, with its own new unique powerpoint presentation in two languages. (See them all here.) And as soon as I finished one speech and went out for an evening tsukiai, I was back in a hotel room that night working until midnight (or getting up at 4 am) to finish up the next powerpoint. But I did it. I have no idea how, but I could. Guess all the pressure-cooker training I had in college is paying off.
FOUR) THE NJ FINGERPRINTING DEBACLE
Speaking of marathon information sessions, the Nov 20 reintroduction for fingerprinting of almost all NJ in Japan, expressly treating them as ersatz Osama Juniors, Typhoid Maries, and Al Capones, was a watershed moment for Debito.org–even overshadowing the February publication of GAIJIN HANZAI Magazine (in which I was only tangentally involved–it was more the NJ communities as a whole fighting for themselves, organizing a boycott, getting the rag off the shelves, and ultimately helping to bankrupt the publisher). During Fingerprinting, Debito.org acted (amongst many others, of course) as a real-time forum and information source; I was making hourly updates as the information and outrage poured in. This was where people were suddenly tacking the word “blogger” onto my job description. And the synergy paid off in print:
THREE) MY JAPAN TIMES COMMUNITY PAGE ARTICLES, PARTICULARLY DECEMBER 18, 2007
I did nine JT articles for the Tuesday Zeit Gist column this year (all visible here, everything from school rules to sumo, and zeroed in how NJ get a raw deal both in government pronouncements, police treatment, and the judiciary. But the capper was my December 18 column, where I stitched together elements of all 42 of my columns into one 1600 word piece–I believe my best so far–describing how Japan’s now-clear xenophobic policymaking and the peerage masquerading as a parliament is actually devastating Japan. Hastening it towards a future of economic backwaterdom.
TWO) MY JOB EPIPHANY, SEPTEMBER TO NOVEMBER 2007
One other head turner I wrote was when I reported I wanted to quit my job at HIU–after finding out from the powers that be there that I wasn’t worth a sabbatical ‘cos, inter alia, I was merely an English teacher to them. Since then, I have gotten a few apologies from people about the things they said (in particular that “merely an English teacher” thang), and will see if they’ll look more favorably upon the same proposal next year. Meanwhile, I’ve still realized that I’ve outgrown the place in terms of research topic and educational focus, and want to work somewhere else more in tune with that. I’m still looking, and am following a few leads. But I’m also realizing that I’m at an awkward age–too old and senior to need to tolerate the gaijin treatment from my kouhai (who have to be barked at from time to time just to get them to follow Japanese rules), yet not senior enough to avoid the gaijin handling by my much older senpai (who land jobs here after retiring from other universities, meaning we don’t get promoted to positions of authority ourselves). It’s not a very comfortable stage in our lives (and I’m increasingly seeing older Japanese men as some of the loneliest people on the planet). But there is no guarantee it’ll be any better anywhere else. So we’ll just keep plugging away and hoping the kudos will accrue and stick. It’s all gotta mean something sometime, right? Fingers crossed.
ONE) MY TRIP TO THE UNITED STATES, JUNE 2007
This was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, where I learned my parents don’t even wish me well, I saw confirmed and undeniable evidence of their child abuse, and I realized that many of the pivotal decisions I’ve made up to now have been attempts to get away from them. To quote activist and author Rebecca Walker:
“You have to let go of people who can’t love you or who are ambivalent about loving you because of who you represent racially or culturally, even if they are your family members. The risk of letting them in is self-doubt and lifelong confusion about whether or not you deserve happiness.”
Well put. My report on the nightmare that was my Homecoming 2007 is archived at http://www.debito.org/homecoming2007.html
ZERO) DEAD RINGER, AT LAST Completely as an aside, check out this youtube ad for a New Zealand movie. Somebody said I look exactly like the star. Funny thing is, he’s right! Poor bloke.
That’s quite enough for one year. Here’s hoping 2008 is a good one for all of us. Thanks for reading and supporting Debito.org. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
December 31, 2007