Friday, February 27, 2009

President Obama Announces End Date of Iraqi Military Operations Fail

Under the proposed timetable, Aug. 31, 2008, would mark the end of all U.S. war operations in the country, Obama said.
Thank God this long, costly war will finally end six months ago.

UPDATE: The article has been corrected to 2010. Just in time for the ulimpekzorz!!!ONE!1

I Got Your Separation of Mosque, State, and Organic Chemistry Right Here!

A scholar from Saudi Arabia -- the world's largest producer of oil-- says that biofuels are a bad idea. . . and he has Islam to prove it!
A prominent Saudi scholar warned youths studying abroad of using ethanol or other fuel that contains alcohol in their cars since they could be committing a sin, local press reported Thursday.

Sheikh Mohamed Al-Najimi, member of the Saudi Islamic Jurisprudence Academy, based his statement on a saying by the prophet that prohibited all kinds of dealings with alcohol including buying, selling, carrying, serving, drinking, and manufacturing, the Saudi newspaper Shams reported Thursday.

Saudi and Muslim youth studying abroad would violate the prohibition if they used bio fuel, he said, since it “is basically made up of alcohol.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

JET Jagger!

I've found another reason to love Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon.


Since all the dialog is subtitled, I can watch PGSM during lab without turning on the speakers on the lab computer. I can't do this for any other show that I watch online.

Why do I bring thus up? Because I'm in lab.
And because PGSM is Japanese.

And because it's probably the closest I'll ever come to actually visiting Japan.

Last week, I drove down to Vancouver for my JET interview. JET is Japan's government-run English-teaching exchange program, which brings thousands of people from all over the English-speaking world to Japan. I sent out my application form just barely in time to make the November 28th deadline, and by late January received notice that I would be interviewed. The interview date was conveniently scheduled for Wednesday, February 18th, right smack in the middle of reading break. This meant that I wouldn't have to worry about labs.

I hoped this would be a fun trip. However, on the weekend before the trip, my back went out. It was so painful that, for the first time in my life, I had to get medication for back pain, as well as thermal pads.

But by Tuesday morning, my back was feeling a somewhat better, and I was able to drive off to Vancouver without difficulty. As I always do nowadays whenever I go to Vancouver, I took the Highway 99 route through Pemberton, Whistler, and some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. Here are some pictures(shamelessly pirated off Google) to give you an idea:

I arrived in Vancouver at around 7pm, late enough to avoid rush hour. To get into the mood, I had dinner at a very reasonably priced sushi restaurant-- I don't remember the name, but I;m sure I could find it again. The next morning was spent scouring the city for any scraps of Japanese culture I could find to use in my interview.

Name five famous Japanese people:
Nanako Matsushima, Naoko Takeuchi, Akira Kurosawa, Yukio Mishima, and, uh. . . (Goes to Chapter's, finds book on physics, looks up Yukawa's first name) Ah, yes, Hideki Yukawa. Good ol' Hideki Yukawa. Predictied the existence of the Pi-meson, he did. He was a physicist. I'm getting a master's degree in physics, you know. . .

I also stumbled upon an art-house theater that had just finished a retrospective on the work of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima (here's the website-- "In the Realm of Oshima", if you're interested). I made a note of this, thinking it might be of some use during the interview.

The interview was scheduled for 3 o'clock, at the Harbour center branch of SFU, just a block from my hotel. I arrived a half-hour early, registered, and took a seat outside the interview room. After a couple of minutes, the gentleman being interviewed before me came out of the room. I smiled and nodded, but he just glanced at me and walked away.

This was not going to be good.

After a bit of a delay, I was escorted into the interview room. There were three officials: a Caucasian Canadian, Brian, and two Japanese officials, Damien and (I think) Emily. After a brief overview of the selection process (basically, the interviewers send their notes to officials in Japan, who will ultimately decide if I am to be accepted), and a bit of small talk ("You drove?!"), the questions began. Things went wrong almost immediately. What follows is my almost certainly incomplete reconstruction of the interview.

What would you bring with you from Canada to Japan to help with your duties?(English teaching, cultural exchange, etc.)

After a bit of floundering about how I'm a "minimalist" packer, I finally mentioned that one of the things I would bring are pictures-- of my family, pets, Prince George (Mr. PG!), and Canada in general-- I emphasized that when I think about what Canada means to me, I think natural beauty (hell, it beats hockey...)

This was where I first screwed up. The thing that brought "pictures" was the fact that I had prepared a series of pictures to show to the interviewers, in the event that I would be asked to show how I would introduce myself to a class of Japanese children. However, I never showed them the pictures. The reason for this, I guess, was that I wanted to present myself as conservative in personality, not to outgoing or chummy. My big mistake throughout the entire interview was in allowing myself to get so nerved out that I withdrew further and further into my "conservative" persona.

The interviewers, I suppose, weren't impressed with my answer, since they mentioned that a lot a Japanese live in the countryside. I mentioned that I knew this, and that one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan was that Japan itself had great natural and architectural beauty. I then floundered a bit about how I have a Slovak father, and that there is a unique culture, the Czech and Slovak "tramps," that has formed in the midst of Canada's nature-- the point being that the wild aspect of Canada, and the myth surrounding the Canadian Wilderness, has created a distinct culture in and of itself. I don't think I phrased it as articulately as that, though. . .

In hindsight, I also realized that a good thing to mention would have been English-language translations of Japanese manga. Oh well. . .

Have any hobbies?

I told them that I'm big, so I like to eat-- and also cook. They remarked that I might be confused for a sumo wrestler in Japan, and for self-esteem's sake I just assumed that they were referring to my height and not my. . . girth. I then remarked that I enjoyed walking.

Oh, well then, speaking of walking. . . Suppose you're on one of your walks, you go down some road or whatever, and then the next day someone comes up to you and says that they saw you. How would you react?

Whatev's. Like I said, I'm a big guy even by Western standards, and I'm used to all sorts of people that I don't know or remember noticing me.

They followed by saying that this occurs regardless of height, and is a consequence of the greater social interconnection that exists in Japanese culture. They wanted to know whether this aspect would bother me. I told them that it still probably wouldn't bother me, and then explained that my sister is in a band in Prince George, and that she's also friends with pretty much everyone and their brother. As a result of this, I'm used to a lot of people recognizing me, even if I don't know or remember them.

Brian made a note of this, giving a brief raising of the eyebrows, as if to say "Okay, whatever."

You mentioned that you tutored a South Korean student. Did you ever give her help with English?

No, at least not in terms of grammar or anything like that. I taught her physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

Okay. . . well then, I guess that I (Damien) am gonna have to play the bad cop here.

Suppose I've bought a piece of property, and I'm talking to you about it. Would it be okay to say that I own this piece of ground?

This was one of the few questions where I thought I did pretty well. I explained that "ground" refers to the physical stuff beneath our feet, whereas "land" is a more abstract concept relating to ownership and property. Thus, it would be more appropriate to say "I own this land." They seemed fairly pleased with my answer, and explained that the teaching of English won't be related so much to grammar as to colloquialisms.

Ironically, the "bad cop" Damien turned out to be nicest guy in the interview.

You still like anime?

I said that I wasn't as interested in it as I once was. That is true, but it's not the whole truth. I can't stand most anime (take a look at this flash animation-- it'll give an idea of what's wrong with most anime) but there are two directors I do like-- Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. I particularly like the latter. I would have liked to have mentioned some of his works, like Perfect Blue, Paprika, Millenium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers. . . but instead, I just said that my favourite anime was Sailor Moon. Damien and Emily both nodded and "ahhhh!"-ed in recognition.

I didn't even mention PGSM. Squandered opportunities.

In your work as a lab instructor, have you ever made lesson plans?

No. The senior lab instructor draws out the lesson plan. I simply enact it.

Have you ever given a big presentation, and have something go wrong, and if so, how did you cope?

I had to ask the interviewers three times for clarification, since this seemed like such a bizarre question. Yes, I have given brief presentations for physics classes, often involving complex concepts that are difficult to explain even to my fellow students, but these have gone swimmingly. So of course I couldn't mention those during the interview because they were irrelevant o the question.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Instead, I talked about how nerved out I was giving my first opening lecture for a physics lab, and how I've tried to take the experiences from those moments to calm me down during subsequent presentations. Generic bullshit.

Do you like kids?

This one came out of no-where. Surprised, I nodded and said "yup."

Sure I like kids. Totally. Yup.

I'll bet I convinced them.

It's a completely obvious question, too.

Your responsibilities as an Assistant Language Teacher may end up amounting to rote repetition of certain English phrases, over and over again. Would you be okay with that?

I could have mentioned the possibility of starting an "English Club" for interested students. Instead, I just said,


Would you be okay with a rural area?


At this moment, I'm imagining the worst case scenario-- I'm accepted, but on the basis of my terrible interview, I'm sent of to some Japanese backwater with a population of three-hundred, with an ultra-conservative teacher who belives the responsibility of the ALT is to teach kids to say "Yes, sir!" over and over again.

The interview was pretty much over by this point. All that remained was for me ask questions of the interviewers. I asked them three questions. The first was about accomidations; the second was about when I would be starting in the school year, and whether students will have had any advance preparation in English before I arrive; the third was directed to Damien, who was the only former ALT in the group. I asked him what his best and worst experiences as a JET were. His best experience was becoming close to his host family in Japan, effectively becoming the "Canadian Son." His worst was having to sign his renewal contract after getting into a bicycle accident.

With that, the interview ended. I met up with the next prospective ALT. He asked me how it was, and I told him it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, which is true. The interview wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. . . it's just that I wasn't as good as I thought I was going to be.

I was drained after that interview. I spent about six hours looking for a good place to get dinner (I ultimately decided on Cafe Crepe) and went to a theater to see Frost/Nixon.

The next day, I was home.

By the way, the title is a reference to a character from one of the Godzilla movies, known as "Jet Jaguar." Here's a video of MST3K parodying his theme song (this is where "Jet Jagger" comes from):

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's Like. . . Some Sort of . . . Star War. . .

If you could believe such a absurd thing!

Seriously, though. . . remember when the U.S. and China got into a pissing match over who was better at blowing up their own satellites with missiles? It seems like Russia has gotten into the act as well. Their approach, however, is a bit more direct. . .

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Russian and U.S. experts say the first-ever collision between two satellites has created clouds of debris that could threaten other unmanned spacecraft.


The smashup occured over Siberia when a derelict Russian military communications satellite crossed paths with a U.S. Iridium satellite.

The two big communications satellites collided in the first-ever crash of two intact spacecraft in orbit, shooting out a pair of massive debris clouds and posing a slight risk to the international space station.

NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the crash, which occurred nearly 500 miles (800 kilometers) over Siberia on Tuesday.

Americans? Chinese? Pussies. Leave it to the Russians have the sheer frozen balls to destroy a foreign satellite. . . with their own decommissioned satellite!

But those ex-Bolshevist bastards aren't content with taking out just one satellite:
Other Russian and U.S. officials warn that satellites in nearby orbits could be damaged.


The U.S. Strategic Command's Space Surveillance Network detected the two debris clouds created by Tuesday's collision. Julie Ziegenhorn, a spokeswoman for the Strategic Command, told that the collision left behind an estimated 600 pieces of debris, but she emphasized that the Pentagon's orbital watchdog had to do "still more characterization" of the collision's potential effect.

NASA's [Mark] Matney said the count would likely be in the thousands if pieces of debris down to the scale of microns — about the size of a grain of sand — are included.


Nicholas Johnson, an orbital debris expert at the Houston space center, said the risk of damage from Tuesday’s collision is [relatively high] for the Hubble Space Telescope and Earth-observing satellites, which are in higher orbit [than the International Space Station] and nearer the debris field.
The satellite-- the victim satellite-- was owned by telecommunications company Iridium Holdings LLC. According to the article, one of the company's biggest clients is the US Department of Defence.

Coincidence? What do you mean yes? Are you blind? As we speak, the Russians are already planning to allow satellites they decommissioned during the Cold War to follow their original orbits and eventually collide with satellites launched years later that they could never have anticipated! It's all part of the Soviet grand plan launched years ago: to destory the enemies the Soviet Union my means of the remnant's of the Soviet Union's own downfall! And to think, you people are still fooled by that little puppet show in Berlin.

Or. . . maybe Iridium just fucked up. Though the article never specifies whether he's talking about this particular collision or any collision of satellites, Mark Matney was quoted as saying “We knew this was going to happen eventually.”

UPDATE: Cool video. It freezes up for the first second or so, but if you click a couple of seconds ahead, it works fine.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I'm in my Phys 111 lab. It's 7:50 pm and I'm not leaving until around 9:30. It's hard going. I mangled my introduction to the lab because I was tired and didn't prepare and basically just didn't give a shit. As a result, I think a couple of students laughed at me, and frankly, I can't blame them. On top of that, I'm also marking labs for Christine, the senior lab instructor. She's telling me that I have to "get mean," which means, in part, that I'll have to be even more vigilant in identifying mistakes than I already am, which means even more work. Either that, or I'll just have to take off more points for the same mistakes, which is easier, but not neccessarily fair to the students.

Labs. My "fuck that guy" of the evening.

(This does not bode well for me if I'm selected by JET to teach English in Japan. Come to think of it, that would have been an interesting blog topic. Way better than bitching about the shitty commercials done by my make-believe Japanese girlfriend.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Click here. You'll find a video. Don't worry, it won't take too much of your time.

Did you notice the tiny woman on the left about ten seconds in? You know, the one showing off the latest in Japanese corporate homogenization, performing a modeling task one or two small steps above that of your typical Sears mannequin?

Look at it again, if you missed it.

You'd never guess that woman used to be Sailor Moon. You know, one of the most popular Japanese heros of all time.

And now she's pitching suits.

Okay, okay, you're thinking "It's not that bad." (Or "Christ, here he goes with Miyuu Fucking Sawai again. Get a girlfriend, you fucking loser.") It's certainly not the lowest to which Miyuu Sawai has ever stooped. I already showed you the PGSM toy commercials, but even that's not so bad, she was the star of her own TV show at the time.

But the next thing I'm going to show you. . . there's just no excuse.

Just in case it doesn't show, here's the link:

This commercial, first aired in 2007, did indeed star the one and only Homer Simpson. . . in Miyuu Sawai's mouth. The saddest thing is that as weird as this commercial is, it doesn't even have the benefit of being that unique, Japanese sort of weird. It's a bland, commercialist, acultural, boring kind of weird.

But it's not even the corporate aspect that bugs me. I mean, there are plenty of successful actors who do commercials. Like this one:

Denny Crane.

Sure, the Commodore Vic-20 has "a real computer keyboard," but that's not what made it "The Wonder Computer of the 1980s" TM.

No, it was William Shatner. By mere whim, Shatner took some hunk of ugly plastic with a five kilobyte memory and declared that for the remainder of an entire decade, no other computer shall surpass it Wonder-ness. He made the Vic-20.

And that's the difference. The Vic-20 commercial was really an advertisement not of a computer, but of the awesomeness that is Shatner. It's really his way of saying "I made it."

On the other hand, Sawai's commercials seem like a retreat back to anonymity. In both cases she's secondary to the product. The suit commercial's focus is on the spokeswoman, who in turn is directing the viewer's attention not to Sawai but to her clothes. The donut commercial features an extreme close-up of Sawai's visage, and even then, even then, she's upstaged by a freakin' cartoon. IN HER OWN MOUTH!

The weird thing is, before a couple of days ago, I thought I had made peace with donut commercial. The year 2008 was relatively good for Sawai. She landed a small roll in the film Shaolin Girl, a Japanese pseudo-sequel to Shaolin Soccer. She also co-hosted an educational series for NHK called "French TV" (at least I think that's how it translates), which as its name suggests is focused on teaching French to Japanese speakers. I would have loved to have found some clips from the show, but so far I've not had any luck.

On top of this, she did a few TV guest roles. My favourite out of all of these-- and the one for which it was easiest to get clips-- was her appearance as a bicycle delivery girl on the series Tomika Hero Rescue Force, a show that manages to make PGSM look subtle and restrained by comparison.

The episode was uploaded in three parts; I've put up the second part below. The best scene starts at about seven minutes in.

For whatever reason, that scene always reminds me this classic movie moment:

While some people-- those lacking vision-- would call that bike leap scene moronic, you can't deny that it's a huge step up from smuggling an amorphous pirated copy of The Simpson's Movie inside one's mouth. And you can't deny that that clothing ad was a step down. Unless you're talking in terms of good taste, in which case, why are you reading this blog?

I don't know quite how to close this entry in any logical way, so I'll just conclude with another reference to Yor: The Hunter from the Future.

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