Posts Tagged ‘blog’

I’m working on it…

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

I’m working on a couple of blog posts (replete with pictures) about my experience with the kayak rangers in September.


I’m back in Juneau. Working on The Blue Bear.

This article about Voices Of the Wilderness came out today. There’s a section about me:

Yeee haaaa…

Stay cozy everyone!

Typical blog post

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I suspect that the most common sentence used to start blog entries is some variation on: “I haven’t updated this blog in awhile.” I know I’ve written a few. I’m trying to avoid writing it again, but it’s been two full months since I’ve shown my face here. So here I am.

I really meant to blog about the inauguration, and the Oscars but I didn’t.

What I’ve been doing in the meantime,

  1. I’ve been in Tempe/Phoenix Arizona directing a production of Sarah Ruhl’s EURYDICE. It was a so-called “site specific” production. Here’s a review. While in AZ. I did a lot of hiking in the Superstition mountains/wilderness. This activity took up all the time I would have spent blogging etc.

  2. I’ve been watching Barak Obama get inaugurated and start his term. I still choke up almost every time someone says “President Barak Obama.” I have also discovered that I wish I was Malia or Sasha. Not that I am that unhappy with the life I have, but man, wouldn’t it be GREAT to be one of those girls?

  3. I’ve been getting more active on Twitter. If you know what it is, I’ve also started using Brightkite to update both Twitter and Facebook. I’m also using Yelp more and more and I’m actually writing reviews. Check out the new Yelp window on this blog (scroll down on the main blog page, it’s on the right).

  4. I’m now in Louisville KY rehearsing (as an actor) Chuck Mee’s UNDER CONSTRUCTION with SITI Company. More on this later…

Ok. So that’s it for now.

Byrne-ing down the house

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Ok, so this is another little New York City thing…

I have had, over the years, a number of close calls with avant-pop icon David Byrne. I have run into him several times, but have actually missed having dinner with him, or hanging out with him on more than one occasion. Add this to the fact that I’m an admirer of his work and I end up with an odd kind of consciousness about him, but he has no reason to know who I am.

A number of years ago, while working on a show at The Ohio theatre in Soho, I went to get a bottle of water or something at the Gourmet Garage and there was David Byrne. No big surprise, it’s his neighborhood. I did however, notice that he was wearing a very distinctive set of blue overalls. They looked like mechanic’s overalls but were a nearly iridescent blue color that was very distinct. Yesterday, while riding to rehearsal, I was at a corner right by the Javits Center, and there’s this guy on a bicycle beside me, wearing blue overalls. I don’t immediately place them, and so I’m looking at them thinking “where have I seen that color before?” And just as I’m realizing that they’re similar to the ones David Byrne was wearing, I realize that the guy on the bike beside me is David Byrne.

So what’s interesting to me about this is that in Soho my mind went: “Look it’s David Byrne-Look at the funky overalls.” Up by the Javits Center my mind went “Look at the funky overalls-Look it’s David Byrne.”


Reminds me of the story Laurie Anderson tells about when she got a job at a McDonalds a few years back, and she would be interacting with people who she knew, and she knew knew her, and they would simply not register that it was her.

Speaking of David Byrne, he’s just finished a new album with Brian Eno, and they’re going out on tour. Check out the info here.

Also a quick housekeeping note: I’ve started a new category on the blog called “Reviews”. For those of you who subscribe to this blog, notification e-mails do not go out when I post to that category. Also, the new version of WordPress has allowed me to pimp up the right hand side of the page. Thanks Joel.

iPhone 2.0

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

So this is the first blog posting I’ve written on my iPhone. It is the old “classic” or “original” “non-3G” iPhone. The big change is that it’s now running the updated operating system that allows it to, amoung other things, run applications, like the one I’m using to write this. My iPhone is now more useful by several orders of magnitude. One of the main reasons for this is that even without GPS, the iPhone can figure out where I am, enableing applications to give me location specific info about movies, eateries, etc. It also gives me more ways to access various social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook… for better or worse.

Somehow, a bogus new posting message got sent out today as I was setting this up. Sorry. Can’t promise it won’t happen again, but I hope not.

In any case, expect more, perhaps shorter, posts from your humble blogger.


Caught in Web 2.0

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

So another over-long lapse in Leon’s blogging.

You may have noticed that I’ve added a little “bookshelf” widget to the sidebar of the blog page. This is something being run through a book based social networking site called “Shelfari”. I don’t know a lot about them but I’m messing around with it.

I’ve been doing this a lot; messing around with so-called “Web 2.0” stuff. It’s all very interesting, but like everything else about computers, feels embryonic. There is a critical issue of critical mass that seems to play in. With some sites, you go and sign up and literally nothing happens. With others you get deluged by so much cruff that you wonder why you’re bothering. The balance between seeming pointless because there isn’t enough going on and seeming pointless because there’s too much, seems to be the really tricky thing.

Something that I’m not the first to notice is the fact that the early days of interconnectivity with computers featured List-serves and bulletin boards and it was all about community. Now granted it was a community of people who knew how to use the machines, but it was a community. When the web and web commerce became practical, the internet became very much about individual action, but now with Web 2.0 its swinging back towards interconnectivity of people, and now there are a lot more of them. Many of them are not even nerds. So this is interesting.

I intend to continue “messing around” with these sites, if only out of intellectual curiosity. So lets take a look at some of what I’m doing:

Flickr: This was the first site that I really started using. It’s a photo based social networking site. my id on it is “leoningul”. Lame. I know. Anyway, I occasionally upload pictures that I’ve taken. I have a small group of “friends” on it. People I’ve never heard of come by and look at my pictures. It’s all good. What I try not to do, it use it as the proverbial digital shoebox. I don’t throw snapshots up there. I think about it more as a low stakes public gallery. A place where I can put up pictures that I’ve taken (or made) that I think even someone who doesn’t know me would be interested in. In other words, there is a degree to which I see it as a public artistic activity. This may be pretentious but that’s how I feel.

Facebook: This is the big, scary monster of social networking sites. What gets me about Facebook is that I had a dozen “friends” on it, almost before I was done signing up. I continue to add a couple people a week. It’s silly. In many ways it’s just plain stupid, but what it ties into is the totally irrational way in which people relate. It provides for a level of casual contact amongst a large group of people which has already lead to some really interesting things. In the short time that I’ve been on it, it has already put me in touch with long-lost contacts and is starting to actually get me work. It’s not that throwing a fish at someone is something I would miss if I couldn’t do it, but there are plenty of people in my life who I wouldn’t relate to much at all if I didn’t have a context in which to “throw a fish” at them. I’ve also started playing chess on Facebook which is really cool.

Second Life: I’ve just started on this. It seriously freaks me out. Second Life is a virtual environment in which you have an avatar that you move around and interact with people and stuff through. I haven’t spent a lot of time in it yet, but I’m still yet to meet anyone. I don’t even know how to look for a person. Frankly it feels like death. I don’t know how to explain this, but it feels more like some sort of weird after-life, than a parallel life. We’ll see how it goes. A while back, I had some time and I did a ten day free trial of World Of Warcraft, which is similar to Second Life except that there’s a lot more structure and you’re basically in a Tolkein-esque world fighting monsters. After ten days they wanted me to start paying money and I realized that it’s one thing to find something engaging and even engrossing, but paying someone to steal time out of my life was not something I was interested in. The weird thing was that I could spend hours in WOW doing something utterly mundane, while letting the mundanity of my actual life slip by, unnoticed. I think there’s something going on here that is deeply interesting. Why are we willing to do as “entertainment” the very things we are seeking entertainment as a relief from? Anyway, I decided to see how far I can go with these things for free, and Second Life says that there’s a lot available without paying any “real” money. We’ll see.

Netvibes: This is interesting. Netvibes is essentially a web aggregator. A place where you can pull all the various content that you access regularly on the web together. I’ve been using Netvibes as my home-page for awhile now. I get my news and check in with blogs and other stuff through it’s widgets. However, they’ve just upgraded it and part of the new design is moving Netvibes towards a kind of social networking site. In addition to my own private Netvibes page, I now have a “Leon’s Netvibe Universe” that allows anyone to access an aggregate of web content that I, essentially curate. This is kind of interesting. You can check it out at

SEE: Part of the reason that I’ve been exploring this stuff is that we have a project at SITI Company that is an implementation of some of this technology. If this stuff is designed to allow contacts and networking across large groups of people, then there are certain things that we can do with our supporters and students, using this stuff. We’re calling it SITI Extended Ensemble (SEE), and it’s the brainchild of Brad Carlin. In some ways SEE is more like the old school BBS sites, but already in it’s embryonic stages we’re finding out a lot of interesting things about how these things work. In just over of month of being public we already have 200+ members and some lively discussions. An interesting thing that keeps coming up is that we want to define SEE as “Not a SITI version of Facebook.” You can check out SEE at:

There are also things like, Digg and Stumble that I’ve been doing in terms of finding and tagging websites. There are also a whole raft of things from Google that are completely changing the way the web is accessed. These are so integrated into how I use Firefox (my current browser of choice) that I don’t even think of them as websites. Perhaps this is the kind of ubiquitous invisibility that Web 2.0 will eventually evolve into, overall. I mean as cool as something like Second Life or Facebook might be, they will never be a part of how I go about my day in the way that something like Stumble or the various Google tools that I use are. In Second Life and Facebook, I guess I’m being asked to extend my imagination into them (which is fine I guess), but the more evolved tools are already acting as extensions and modifications to how my imagination and curiosity works. Eg: when I wonder where something is, my mind reaches for Google Maps. Luckily it’s on my iPhone so it’s only a pocket away.

Whether any of this is good or bad I think is yet to be discovered. We’re in the stone-age. What I do know is that, like Marshall Mcluhan said: The new technologies are not bridges between us and our environment. They ARE the environment.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

It’s 2008!

Looks alot like 2007. If you look in the right direction, it looks just like 1843 or 1214 or 25,000 BC. I wonder if it looks like the year 5008.

Nothing points out the indifference of nature/the universe to me the way a day like this does. There is NOTHING to mark this “New” year. Where is the starting point or the ending point in the track around the sun? It is gray and hazy in New York right now. Bits of rain. Does this “mean” anything? Does it have any relation to the rest of the 360 some odd days that today is now part of. Then again, it’s all about how you look at it, and maybe marking a day like this is a way of making ourselves conscious of things like time, it’s passage, and how for us it can be fleeting. My problem is that what people say about this kind of thing is something that I aspire to infuse every day with. To never engage in the drudgery of yet another day following day. So I tend to get prickly about holidays simply because they point out both nature’s indifference and our inability to make every day special.

But for today, here’s how I’m going to take it: This is practice. I’m going to take everything associated with New Years, new beginnings, clean-slate, hopefulness for change and growth. I’m going to take all of this and touch in with it today, as a way of seeing it. Then I’ll try to check in with it every day. To see if I can make every one of the next 360 some odd days as hopeful and clean-slate as this one. Then I’m going to see if I can do the same thing with the other holidays that make me prickly (easy to say now that the “season” is pretty much over).

Maybe that’s just a garden variety new year’s resolution. Hopefully not.

I’m sorry I’ve not been blog-prolific of late. Since getting back from Japan we’ve been busy working on the new SITI production “Who Do You Think You Are”. At the same time I got a cold (actually two of them) and had kind of a tough time. Then we got a pretty big homework assignment to work on during our holiday break so, although I haven’t been working EVERY MINUTE, I’ve been pretty busy.

I have at least one more post about Japan, sort of summing up, and I need time to sit down and finish it, but I haven’t taken that time yet, so. I’ll put it aside for now and see if I can get back to more regular blogging.

Have a good one.

Seeing things and people in Tokyo.

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

So I’ve been in Tokyo for the last while. My time here has been extremely busy. No time for silly things like blogging. However, I have been thinking a good deal about this country and culture.

The one thought that I keep circling around is the idea that Japan is spending a good deal of energy and resources on innovation and development that is relevant only for the Japanese, and is still somehow failing to find ways to make their contributions resonate fully in the world community. I’ll try to come back to this point, but for now some vignettes of the week.

We spent the first couple of nights in Tokyo at the home of Yoji Sakate. Mr. Sakate is the artistic director of the Rinkogun company, and current head of the Japan Playwrights Association. I have known Sakate for about a decade now. We first met when I performed the simultaneous translation for a tour of Rinkogun’s Capital Of The City of the Gods. This was a significant tour for me in that it marked my first visit to New Orleans. I have since translated a number of Sacate’s plays and directed a reading of a section of his Attic. The last time I was in Japan was when I was here 6 years ago to create an adaptation of Moby Dick with RInkogun. So the first night we were in Tokyo, a bunch of the people who had worked on that show came over and we had about 17 tons of food and drink. It lasted late into the night. I had a long conversation with Mr. Furumoto, Rinkogun’s managing director. He’s from Toyota, where I grew up, so we have always had an interesting bond. It was interesting to hear how the funding situation in Japan is getting more and more severe. GOS grants that had kept the company alive for most of it’s 25 years, have simply gone away. Despite the fact that Rinkogun and Sakate have won just about every award available to them, and are arguably one of the most firmly established companies in the country, they’re still having to re-invent the funding wheel every year to stay afloat. There was a woman at the party that I did not know, who brought some food that she introduced as “macrobiotic”, informing us that it’s currently a big hit in the United States. This is a common trope, something that is barely on the radar in the U.S. is marketed here as a huge craze that is sweeping the United States. What struck me though was that she used the word “macrobiotic”. Now, I may be wrong about this, but my understanding is that the concept of macrobiotic food is based on “Shoujin Ryouri”, which is the food eaten in certain Japanese Buddhist monasteries. So there’s a perfectly good Japanese term for this stuff, which everyone in Japan would understand. “Macrobiotic” is, at best, clumsy in Japanese.

The next day, Akiko and I went down to Yokohama to have lunch with Akiko’s older sister and the elder of her two daughters. The ocean-front area of Yokohama around the new “Landmark Tower” is a futuristic architectural splurge with amusement parks, hotels and shopping malls arranged like the diorama of a theoretical cubist city. Post-modernism is alive and well in Yokohama. After lunch, Akiko and I went up to the top of the Landscape Tower (the tallest structure in Japan) on the elevator (the fastest elevator in Japan, although the certificate on display from Guiness said “Fastest Elevator” so I’m not sure if there’s a faster one anywhere). The view was spectacular. Even in Yokohama, which is technically past the southern border of Tokyo, the expanse of buildings is unending. You literally can’s see the edges of the city. It’s civilization as far as the eye can see, off past the curvature of the earth.

That night, Akiko went to see the dance company she used to dance with and Sakate met me at the Tokyo Public theatre to see Hanagumishibai’s new take on Chushingura. Hanagumishibai is a 20 year old company that has as it’s theme, the re-interpretation of Kabuki in a modern, unauthorized context. These guys (and yes, they’re all men) trained in the traditional techniques of Kabuki but are not part of the official Kabuki organization. I hadn’t seen their work in over 10 years, so I was curious to see how they were doing. I was a bit disappointed. Back in the day, the company had featured a friend of mine, the extraordinary Sasai Eisuke, as the principal Onnagata (specialist in playing women). Sasai was so compelling he became a kind of phenomenon all on his own. The times that I saw the company, the interplay between Sasai and company founder and director/performer Mr. Kanou was mind-blowing. These two guys were at the edges of their ability, weaving a totally new kind of cloth out of this ancient thread. Sasai has since left the company, and although Kanou is still really (and I mean REALLY) amazing on stage, the production as a whole felt safe. They have a lot of money now, the costumes look fabulous, the staging is gorgeous, but many of the very things that they began criticizing about official Kabuki are now features of their performance. It could have been because they were doing, perhaps, the most well worn play in the Kabuki cannon, but especially the first half was deadly boring.

The next day, Akiko and I moved to my brother Joel’s place for a night. After a beautiful walk through Tama Cemetery (resting place of Yukio Mishima, Edogawa Rampo, General Tojo and Admiral Yamamoto), we had dinner with Akiyo (an old friend from Toyota) and her two kids, so along with Joel’s family it was quite a crowd.

The next morning, with the help of Joel, I got a bunch of little fixes implemented on the blog. So if you haven’t noticed, things are working smoother and every-thing’s a bit prettier here at Leon’s blog.

Akiko and I then moved to a hotel in Ikebukuro, which was part of our old stomping grounds. That night we went to see Shiraishi Kayoko play the mother in Parco Theater’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenan. For those who don’t know, Shiraishi Kayoko is the best stage actor in the world right now. I would qualify this as my opinion, but I’m not the only one who feels this way. She was Suzuki’s lead actor for the period of time when his work was important, and she was the progenitor of much of the so-called Suzuki Method. I was lucky enough to have my time with the Suzuki company and hers, overlapp by about 3 years, during which time we became quite close. She has toured to the United States twice with her “Hyakumonogatari” solo performances, and I have made a fool of myself on those occasions, distracting the audience with simultaneous translations. Aside from being a remarkable performer of the first order, she is also a fanatically loyal friend and one of my favorite people. The production was directed by a new up-and-coming 32 year old whipper-snapper of a director. It was solid, but not brilliant as a production. As is appropriate to the material, the style of performance was naturalistic. But this raises one of the most interesting points about the production; Kayoko is anything BUT a naturalistic performer. She is a monster on stage. A huge theatrical presence of titanic proportions, and to the very depths of every bone in her body, theatrical. So for her, acting “normal” on stage is immensely difficult. What this meant is that everyone else on stage is coming from a place of comfort within the daily-life body of naturalistic performance, and reaching towards theatricality. Kayoko is starting from a place of intense theatricality and reaching towards daily-life. Which one do YOU think is more interesting to watch? For me it’s no contest. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The character is a horrible, cruel, resentful hag of a woman. Kayoko makes her absolutely and terrifyingly vivid in all her ugliness and then makes you care about her. It was, in a word, stunning. After the show Akiko and I and Kayoko and her Husband went to Roppongi for late night Chinese. At midnight it became Kayoko’s 66th birthday so we made a deal about that. She was born the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. As she said, “…there’s always been something about me and America.”

The next day (Sunday), I met my childhood friend and ersatz guru Tom “Peach-fuzz” Eskildsen for breakfast. We then met up with Akiko, Ivar Eimon, Paul Hoshizaki and his wife Hiroko for lunch. These are all childhood friends of mine. We were eating at this really rather good “All the organic food you can eat in 90 mins for 1800 yen” place when another childhood friend who lives in Kobe, Loren Gilbertson called Ivar. It was about as close to a full-on reunion as I care for.

Ivar had to leave but the rest of us went over to the Ginza and walked around until Joel and Ruth showed up and we had Joel’s favorite thing to eat in the entire world An-pan fresh from Kimuraya. Kimuraya is a very old bakery on the Ginza and An-pan is a sweet bean-paste filled roll that originated there.

The party then shed those not related to the Ingulsruds and we went to big brother John E’s and after meeting up with Joel’s two girls, we had a pizza dinner surrounded by John and Kate’s 29th floor, panoramic view of Tokyo at night.

This morning we had to leave the hotel by 10 am leaving us the bulk of the day before our evening flight, so we went to Ueno (the Hard Rock Cafe spells it “Uyeno”), put our bags in a big locker, and went to Ryogoku; the Sumo district. The reason for this side trip was that we had not had any luck finding Tabi (Japanese formal socks with a bifurcated toe that we wear for Suzuki Training) in my size. For reasons that perhaps obvious to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the sport, the Sumo district is a good place to look for anything oversized you might want in Japan. Please insert here one or more jokes at my expense comparing me to a sumo wrestler.

And now I’m at the airport. The tabi and everything else is checked in and we’re checked into that international limbo of intercontinental air travel. This has always been an emotionally and philosophically loaded space for me. I used to write poetry on airplanes a lot. Then I stopped writing poetry all together and the world was a better place.

I can’t say that I’m ready to go back. There are certain things/people I’m looking forward to seeing. But on the whole, I wish I’d been here longer. This is leading to a sense that I want to get back as soon as possible, and for as long as possible. I don’t want to be an ex-pat. I find them sad. But I do love this place and feel a bond to it, even if it’s only one way.

Then again, I want to live a life with lots of places that I miss.

The pollyanna tour of Japan continues…

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Let me just say, cause it really can’t be said enough: Japan has HUGE problems. There are many angles from which you can just take this society apart.

Akiko and I went to “Jusco” to do some shopping today. Much of the expeirience is pretty straight forward but at a certain point, I notice that the music that is playing at the normal, almost ignorable, muzak level is all hard-rock versions of Christmas carols. I leave it to others to decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Here’s something I think is pretty great: NHK, Japan’s national broadcast company has a lot of the kind of educational programing that one would expect from what is essentially Japan’s BBC. However, I’m noticing that there are a lot of contests and other shows in which, for example, people are asked to send in photos they’ve taken with an accompanying haiku or other short poem. There is no prize. They just show selections on a future broadcast. I saw a show in which people had sent in videos that they had shot. These were not “Japan’s Funniest home Videos” or “Jackass” episodes. It’s painfully tasteful shots of waterfalls and mountains in the mist. There are also little shows about how to use your cell phone, aimed at the middle aged, and an in depth tutorial on taking pictures with your phone. As we’re approaching the end of the year people are beginning to make plans for their “nengajo” (a new year greeting post card). These cards are based on an image rather than information, so creativity is a key thing and the need to make cool ones has always been an important driver of desktop publishing and home printing technology. People send out literally hundreds of these thing. Anyway I must have seen at least four different shows on NHK that touched on ideas for making this year’s card. There are of course, cooking shows, but on NHK they take the time to tell you how to tell the difference between an egg that is fresh enough to eat raw (no salmonella in Japan) and which ones you need to cook. None of this happens with reference to brand names or in a way that promotes any corporation. The rules that require brand anonymity on NHK lead to all kinds of hilarious pieces of masking covering up the makers name on camera’s, phones and cars.

What I think is interesting about all of this is that NHK clearly has as it’s purpose the enriching of people’s lives. Giving people a place to send their videos and haiku-photos, while simultaneously offering advice on how to use the technology concerned, gets people out and active. Yes, of course there’s an aspect of this that is saying “Go buy a camera” but the emphasis is on the availability of aesthetic participation. Much of the advise for the nengajo cards was to make them by hand (a traditional calligrapher gave the advise: “Don’t bother taking a calligraphy class. You’re not going to get good at it before the end of the year. Just explore what you can do within the skill level you already have.”)

The word “Bunka” in Japanese translates to “Culture”. But it is used in the broadest sense of the word culture. In the states when we say that PBS celebrates “culture” we tend to mean that it deals with art, literature, performance and so-called “high” culture. But when NHK deals with culture it deals with that which we would refer to as “life-style”. We are quick to say things like “In Japanese culture people take their shoes off when they enter a house.” but we’re not likely to have a sense of participation in our own culture in this sense. We do tend to identify with things like holidays as forms of cultural participation, but not the way we eat, bathe or sleep. In Japan there is a palpable sense of participation in these things. It is perhaps the result of the culture’s roots, or the people’s awareness of those roots, or it could be the synthesis of Buddhism, Confucianism and Animism. But there is a deep sense in Japan that the fabric of daly life itself is a subject worthy of attention. And NHK is the broadcast forum for this attention.

Can you tell that I’ve been watching TV? Akiko’s mother’s house is a very traditional Japanese house that sprawls all over the place with long hallways connecting cozy little rooms. During the rather cold winters here in Akita, only one room in the house is heated. This becomes dining room and living room depending on the time of day. I’ve spent most of my time here, watching TV and working on my computer. There’s a mysterious WiFi network that I can catch from time to time. Resulting in odd moments like when I was video-chatting with my brother in Tokyo and my Mother in Minnesota at the same time.

I remember one time, a long time ago in Toga. We were up there working on something in the winter and I complained about the fact that we didn’t heat the dorm more aggressively. One of the company members looked right at me and said, it’s that kind of attitude that keeps getting you guys into wars. Geeze! No kidding! I think about that every time I have to step outside this warm little room. Our place in NY is steam heated with an oil furnace. We’re on the 5th floor of 6. During the winter, we have to open window cause it gets too hot. Like many homes in Japan, and that dorm in Toga, this place doesn’t have running hot water. If you want hot water you have to heat it. Yet, it has a bath that heats and reheats it’s own water. It is impossible to not participate in the season here. It is winter. You taste it in the food and you feel it on your skin. And not that there aren’t places in the States where this is all true, I would argue that it is more prevalent here.

This sense of participation in daily life leads to some interesting things. For example: when I was growing up, people would often ask me if I ate bread or rice for breakfast. This was a clear marker at the time of whether or not you lived a Japanese life-style or not. The fact that I usually had corn-flakes tended to skew the equation, but the idea was that this behavior was tied to cultural identity. People were, to some degree, willing to confer on me, Japanese status if I ate a Japanese breakfast. Even now, the fact that I eat, and actually like, natto is taken as one of the most significant facts in support of my being an inner Japanese. And there’s something going on here that is actually deeply comforting. Japanese society tends to breed attitudes that are racist and xenophobic. This is a huge problem and I don’t want to imply for one second that this is not a horrible, ugly part of people’s attitudes that must be educated out of existence. But there is some kind of mechanism that is put into play when someone looks at me differently because I eat natto. Tolerance for fermented beans is not, to my knowledge, genetic. So when someone has to question their assumption that only Japanese people can stand to eat natto they also have to question other assumptions that are related to that one about the nature of their identity as “Japanese”. They have to begin to look at “Japanese” as something that anybody can participate in. And if these barbarians can be Japanese, maybe…

Told you it was pollyanna.

In other news: It looks like, with the help of Joel, the comments functionality on this blog is up and running again, so post comments and talk amongst yourselves.

Melbourne 5

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

The title of this post sounds like a singing group or a gang of super-heros or a TV detective show: “Melbourne Five”

Ok. So you may have noticed a change to the Blog. I signed up for Google’s AdSense program. This means that the box at the top of the page will be populated by links to advertisers that have been selected by Google’s algorithms (Al-Gore-isms) to be of interest to those interested in the content of the page. I’m curious about this. I’m interested in a number of things about it: Whether or not the kinds of things that show up in my ads will seem relevant, useful or helpful. Whether it becomes irritating. Whether it actually makes any money.

If you have thoughts about this, I encourage you to let me know. I’m not completely sure how I feel about it and figure getting it out there is a way to clarify my feelings. “I’m sorry your honor, I wasn’t sure how I felt about serial killing so I thought I’d try it out and see. Turns out it’s not my thing.”

Speaking of which: It seems that the “Comment” functionality on my Blog is down. I’m trying to figure it out but for the time being it doesn’t seem to be working. I’ll let you know when it’s back, so if you’ve got comments, save them up.

I’m also thinking about changing the name of the blog to something other than “Leon’s Weblog”. The current title has the advantage of descriptive accuracy, abut that’s about it. So stand by on that as well.

Saturday was election day in Australia. Australians are required to vote. They get fined about $40 if they don’t, so everyone has this thing today that’s kind of like jury duty in the states. They HAVE TO GO, but it’s a privilege. So it’s a total pain to be able to take part in this wonderful thing.

Given the political strategies in the States based on turn out alone, it’s interesting to think about what would happen if we had such a system in the U.S. Another option would be to declare elections with an insufficient turn out, invalid. Until we reach a certain percentage, let’s say 80 percent just to be ambitious, we don’t have a quorum and the election has to be done over. I know there are arguments about mandatory voting not representing the kind of freedom that Americans hold to, but it also seems clear that two big things that can derail a democracy are voter ignorance and apathy. Not that mandatory voting would make people any less apathetic or informed, but it might help. If you have to vote, you have to at least know something. You at least have to get up off the couch. I think it’s possible to argue that when you’ve got an overwhelming majority of the people in a country not voting, they’ve voted against the basic idea of democracy and it’s time for something else.

So Labor won. This, it seems, is a good thing. The Liberal coalition has been in power for almost 12 years. Most of my friends here compared this election to the next one in the US; a chance to get rid of an abusive government. Well it seems to have happened. It wasn’t a landslide but PM Howard seems to have lost not only his post but his Parliamentary seat as well. That’s gotta hurt.

The US election is almost a year away. Almost anything can happen in that time. I’m sure many things will. I’m haunted by something I heard Sy Hersh say a few weeks back: The Democrats are going to lose this thing if they don’t wake up. There’s time to wake up and there’s time to blow it. Only time will tell.

Melbourne 3

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Because of the lack of a practical internet connection at the hotel, I’m trying a blog editor that works off-line as well as on. I’m trying MarsEdit at brother Joel’s suggestion. So far so good.

Also, I’ve been thinking about the structure of the blog and I’m going to add some more categories (I have already done a bit of this). I’m wanting to set up a “review” category where I will write impressions and thoughts about various movies, books, products etc. So, for example, in a few days, you might see a “review” of MarsEdit. We’ll see if that works out.

Wandered around Melbourne in the rain yesterday afternoon. I’m trying to find the Hotel that Akiko and Suzuki stayed in when we were here 15 years ago. It was the kind of place that was impossible to miss, and now I can’t find it. Can’t remember what it was called. Anyway the act of simply walking around like I was dousing for water, hoping to have little tugs on my memory pull me there was interesting if unproductive. I kept having little sparks of memory and heading off in different directions but I still haven’t found it. I’m going to have to ask Akiko if she has a record of what it was called.

I like walking around cities, and Melbourne is great for it. There’s a lot of thought about public space, and a vigorous mish-mash of culture that leads to a kind of Blade Runner feeling. I love this sensibility, and of course it was accentuated by the rain. A clean, recently refurbished Blade Runner L.A. I slip effortlessly into hard-boiled detective mode as I’m walking around. Funny how attractive dystopian sensibilities become. Maybe that’s their function. The L.A. of Blade Runner is not a pretty place, but Ridley Scott shoots it in a way that finds it’s beauty. Like my old friend Tom Blair once said about Sid and Nancy “a beautiful film about an ugly subject.” When I lived in Tokyo, I would spend hours on the streets in Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Shibuya, just wandering around soaking up the neon. Riding my motorcycle through it would only intensify the feeling. Like riding a spinner in Blade Runner or the big bike chase at the beginning of Akira. It’s why, although I know it’s politically incorrect, I love hanging around the new, neon 42nd Street in New York. I feel charged up by that energy. I know it’s probably hastening the destruction of the biome that supports us, but human folly has always had it’s beautiful side. Like the spectrum of colors in an oil spill.

Back in Melbourne, I walked past a peepshow/porn shop and they had a big CRT with advertising imagery running in the window surrounded by the normal kind of neon. What struck me about it was that the imagery wasn’t sexual or suggestive at all. It was mostly text based. And the kinds of words that they were using were: “Cheeky” and “Naughty”. I realize that this only seems strange to me because I’m a speaker of American English, but it really seemed funny. To me those words suggest that what is going on inside is akin to a Junior High-School comedy night or something. Of course, things like this always make me think about what Australians find funny or incongruous when they’re in the States. I mean we do run around talking about putting things in our “fanny-packs” and what not, but there is probably a good deal of public English in the United States that is perfectly embarrassing.