Category Archive: doctor angry

Whatever is under my skin this time.

Apr 02 you had one job!

IMG_5996UPDATE: The problem was with the Paypal account I used. Apparently in the years since I used that account, Paypal Japan has changed policies and I can’t receive money on that account without upgrading to a premium account.

I am not pulling this post down because still took 3 business days to figure this out (including one business day of not answering me at all), and because I’ll have to wait at least one more to get an answer on how to change the destination account. (Re-upgrading my Paypal account will take 7 to 10 days.)

But yeah,’s crime is mostly just slllloooooowwwww customer support.

I recently helped rescue a sick tanuki (see photo; poor little guy) from around my neighbourhood, and I thought it would be nice to do a little bit of crowdfunding to cover the costs of the compassionate fellow who drove several hours over toll roads to help me set the trap and then again to pick the little guy up and take him for treatment.

I did some quick checking around and came across For a small-scale, beer money project like this, they seemed perfect, particularly the part about no fees. Crowdfunding platforms generally take a 5% – 10% cut of whatever you raise. Sometimes it’s worth it. On the large platforms, you get quite a lot of exposure, which is valuable. But for a tiny project like this, mostly targeted at friends and family, a smaller site with no fees was appealing. Also, of the smaller sites, they were one of the few that offered Paypal, which is important because I’m based in Japan, where a lot of other payment processors won’t allow me to withdraw funds to my local bank account.

youcaring-logo-1-big<–(Their logo.)

I launched the campaign on Thursday evening (Japan time). A few hours later, my friend Rosie let me know that it wasn’t allowing her to click through and donate on her phone. I quickly tested it on my phone and multiple browsers and found that the button that is supposed to trigger the checkout screen wasn’t working; it was just reloading the page it was already on. I tested a few other campaigns, and the site worked properly.

I immediately opened a ticket with their support system. They’re a small site, so it didn’t seem unreasonable that they only answered during west-coast US business hours. They didn’t answer overnight on Thursday, my time. Finally got a peep out of them on Friday morning.

Them: Are you able to have your donors try on a different browser or device? There is a known issue in Firefox that our engineers are working on.

Ignoring the fact that, in addition to my problem, apparently their platform doesn’t work on 12% of computers (that’s Firefox’s market share) and they don’t mention that anywhere on their site, I pressed on, and replied within 4 minutes.

Me: The "Donate Now" button does nothing, so my donors can’t actually complete their donations. They click the button, the loading screen appears, and then just returns to the link at the top. It won’t progress to the credit card entry screen. This happens in all browsers, as far as I can tell. I’ve tried personally with Firefox and Chrome, as well as the mobile versions, plus the mobile browser within Twitter. Can you confirm that it’s not happening with this campaign on your end? [note: since then I’ve tested in the Edge browser; that also doesn’t work]

Despite having replied within minutes, this exchange took place about 15 minutes after their close-of-business on Friday (their time) and I have received no reply as of today (April 2). Which is totally reasonable for a business this size, except that the thing that is broken is the main function of their platform. And yes, it’s just for one customer (as far as I can tell—other campaigns go to the payment screen with no problems), but this isn’t like some weird formatting, or photo uploads not working properly. This is the bit where people give money to the campaign. Also, the worst time for a campaign to not be able to accept money is when it launches, of course, because it really ruins any momentum that you build with that initial post to your followers.

To add insult to injury, to anyone on the donate page who left one of the “send me emails” boxes checked, they have been sending emails advertising all the lovely campaigns that person could donate to… even though the one campaign that person was trying to donate to hasn’t received any money yet. So the “Donate” button submits the donor’s personal info, but doesn’t accept the money.


PERSPECTIVE: Yes, I’m running a tiny campaign trying to raise a few hundred bucks. It’s a “beer money” campaign, and there are no lives or livelihoods hanging in the balance. Terry the tanuki is going to get treated regardless. So it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for support to spend a lot of time on me and my piddly campaign. However, I would be wary of any company that behaves this way towards any customers. Maybe it is worth it to pay that 5% fee to deal with a company that responds meaningfully when you have a problem with its platform (especially in the case of a medical fundraiser or a similarly important fundraiser). I guess I’m mostly annoyed because I have software to run my own fundraiser directly off my website, but I thought I’d save time and energy by using an existing platform for this one. Ugh. My mistake.

CONCLUSION: I’m going to follow up with on this, just to see how it comes out. I’m hoping for them to turn things around, but I’m not holding my breath and fully expect to spend time next week searching for an alternative platform. Bummer. They seemed really promising for future mini-fundraisers like this one.

Nov 17

WTF, Ymobile?

Picture 9I changed carriers at the beginning of the summer, moving from DoCoMo to Ymobile. I had been planning on stretching out my phone for another year, but it was on its last legs of usefulness. And then, Ymobile was having a promotion and I happened to stumble across it. Even after paying 30,000 yen for a new phone (a Nexus 6—I fucking love it) and ~16,000 yen to get released from my auto-renewed DoCoMo contract, I calculated that I’d save 99,000 yen or so over the next two years. Good deal.

One of the things that came with the deal: 3 data-only uSIM cards that I could request and use. I got the first one back in August and gave my old phone to my mother-in-law with the SIM in it so that she could use LINE (her phone doesn’t have internet). Last week, I decided to get the other two uSIMs I’m entitled to so that I don’t need to do it in a pinch later. My mother is visiting early next year, and it would be nice for her to have a working device. Also, my backup phone needs a SIM.

So, I went to the local Ymobile shop on Friday, since I was out in that area. One thing that’s nice about Ymobile is that I don’t have to take a number and wait 90 minutes to see someone like I did with DoCoMo. The downside is that the clerks are less knowledgeable about anything beyond their most basic offerings, so doing something like getting my uSIMs can take longer than it should. There is also no one in the shop for them to escalate questions to.

After some initial confusion, my clerk walked me through the registration process for the SIMs, and I signed for them on the screen of his tablet. He hit the submit button and… rejected. Weird, since I’d already done this process a few months ago for the first uSIM. He excused himself for a moment to pick up a flip-phone and call someone. He managed to get someone on the line, spoke for a couple of minutes and hung up.

Apparently, they wouldn’t tell him why I couldn’t have my cards. Not couldn’t mind you. Wouldn’t. At least that’s my interpretation of it. The wording he used was, roughly translated, something like: “They won’t teach me, so I can’t teach you why you can’t have them.” (The Japanese word for teach is frequently used in the context of telling information. For instance, people “teach” their phone numbers to each other. So that particular wording isn’t as weird as it looks.) But he used “おしえません” (“didn’t teach”) as opposed to something ending with “できません” or some variation thereof (can’t do), and he did it repeatedly. My Japanese is not great so I checked by confirming: “You can’t tell me because they didn’t tell you.” and he agreed. Well, I could be wrong. The upshot in either case: I couldn’t get my SIMs and no one would tell me why.

Worse, the clerks couldn’t even tell me what my next step should be. I asked if I could come back in three days, and maybe they’d have it sorted by then. “Not likely,” was the answer I got. One of the other clerks pointed out a couple of times that maybe I should switch to AU or another company that had more support for foreigners. I pointed out that a) changing providers would cost me money, since I had a contract with Ymobile, and b) I have already paid for the uSIM cards, and their own material (right there on the desk; I was pointing to it) entitled me to those uSIMS. I asked if they had a supervisor, department head, or other boss we could escalate the matter to. Apparently, the only point of contact they had was the number my clerk had already called.

Then the other clerk suggested I come back in December. I asked why that would change things, and they couldn’t answer me. I also pointed out again that these SIMs were paid for (and were sitting right in front of me) and while I was willing to wait a couple of days for them to figure something out, waiting two weeks for something I paid for five months ago was a bit ridiculous. Throughout all this, I was as polite as possible. Aware that I’m not very good at hiding my irritation, I made a point of apologizing to the clerks and explaining that I was wasn’t annoyed with them, but with the system that allowed something like this to happen.

So, in the end, after spending 90+ minutes in the shop, I had to leave empty handed.

Next course of action is to phone the customer service line… or rather get someone to help me call the customer service line, since my Japanese falls completely to pieces on the phone (especially since I can’t easily use the phone to look up words I don’t understand while I’m talking on it).

Still happy with my phone, but seriously annoyed with Ymobile’s ridiculous customer service.

May 12

Adobe is Pissing Me Off

TL;DR – A profanity-laden screed dedicated to Adobe, the company that makes software we all have to use even thought we’d all use something else if there were any decent alternatives because they are a bunch of bastard anal warts.

Adobe, get your shit together.

I’m a buyer of Lightroom, and I recently decided it was time to upgrade and take advantages of some of the new features, particularly those related to video. I like the way Lightroom’s catalog works, but version 4 handles video like crap. 6 is reportedly much better.

So I go on Adobe site to buy Lightroom. I want the standalone version because I don’t want to “rent” the app via Creative Cloud. I want a version that will work even if I stop paying (for instance, if Adobe raises their subscription prices to more than I can afford). Luckily, there is a standalone version of Lightroom (you’re out of luck if you want Illustrator or Photoshop, though). However the website does its damndest to keep you from buying it. Go there via Google, and you land on a page that sings the virtues of Lightroom but will only allow you to buy the Creative Cloud version (bundled with Photoshop CC).

For fuck’s sake.

I eventually find the motherfucker on a page called “All Products”. I configure the version that I want (English, Upgrade version) and hit “add to cart”. The webpage takes me to the cart, gives me the total in USD, and invites me to hit the check out button. I hit the checkout button and am slapped with the message that I can’t purchase this because my account is registered to another country and I should log in with an account registered in the country the site is in (presumably the U.S.) It then proceeds to automatically log me out (after I click the only option on the page: “OKAY”).

I sign back in with my account. Okay, I thought I was on the international site, but fine. I find a page that lets me switch to the Japanese site. Which is, of course, entirely in Japanese. Which is understandable, but why force me to shop there? The southeast Asia region is in English. Surely the sites can’t be that different. Anyway, with the help of Google Translate, I locate the product page in Japanese and set it up there. Of course, it’s more expensive that the U.S. version, but oh well.

I get to the credit card screen and pop in my Credit Card details. Unlike the US site and the Canadian site, Paypal is not an option. I want to use my Canadian credit card because I recently bought a plane tickets on my Japanese one because I didn’t have quite enough money in my Canadian account to cover them. Everything goes through fine. (At this point, I could have torrented the software three or four times over, but the ordeal doesn’t end here.) After an hour or two of not getting my download link (Lightroom 6 doesn’t have a downloadable demo version—only Lightroom CC does), I get antsy and check my account page. Of course, I need to change the website region to an English-speaking country in order to get a clear picture of what’s going on. The order is “bring processed”. There is a notification that the order might take up to 24 hours to process. Grrr.

36 hours later, I check back in. Order is still being processed. Fuck this, I’m going to contact support. The three options are a phone number (not for my region, and outside of support hours anyway), a live chat session, and the Adobe forums. Fuck the Adobe forums. They are full of community mods/fanboys (called MVPs) who basically shit down the neck of anyone who suggests that Adobe may have done anything wrong.


Q. Lightroom is mangling Canon camera RAW files on import. Other files are fine.

MVP. It’s your hardware.

Q. I’ve tested it on several combinations of hardware, including different PCs, different cables, different card readers, etc.

MVP. It’s your hardware.

Q. I’m pretty sure at this point it’s not my hardware. I can copy these files all day long using other methods and they’re fine. They don’t corrupt until I use Lightroom to move them.

MVP. What don’t you understand? Adobe is perfect, therefore, it’s your hardware. Try changing USB cables.


There are dozens of threads on this particular subject alone that basically end up like this. Another common refrain is

Q. I think [product X] should have [Y feature] that [competing product Z] has.

MVP. If you need that feature, you are obviously not a professional in your field.

Q. I am a professional, and the industry is heading this way because of [good reasons].

MVP. You need to buy [consumer grade piece of shit product]. Adobe [product X] is only for professionals.

So yeah, fuck the Adobe forums.

So I try to open a chat window. Here is what it says:

24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Chat is currently closed


After several days, I finally get an email from Adobe saying that the order can’t be processed because of a problem with my credit card. I realize that I was never asked for the credit card address, and they probably just applied my Japanese address, which is why it failed. Annoying that, while partly my fault, this took nearly four days to figure out. Annoying too that I can’t use a credit card in my name that doesn’t match the address on my account. I can understand why, on one hand, but on the other hand, Amazon doesn’t have this problem, so what the fuck gives, Adobe? Especially since there is no alternative source to buy the upgrade version of your software.

Also, your shitty forums and chat support.

Nov 20

Moniker Update–Fixed

Oh MonikerSo, last week, I wrote this. I tried to be somewhat even handed and not fly off the handle as is my usual style. However, I did find the situation galling.

I was worried that the worst was going to happen, and I was going to lose one of my domains to a squatter, but Moniker support finally called me last Friday night and finally confirmed my phone number, thus allowing me to renew that domain.

I was very lucky that the expired domain was a redirect to another, not one of the three main ones I use on a day-to-day basis. Otherwise, either of my two websites could have been down for 10 days.

So, now that the crisis has passed, I am planning to move all five of my domains again to a new registrar. Any suggestions? Here’s why I picked Moniker initially:

  1. Good management interface (now gone to hell)
  2. Low prices (still have these). Current renewal rate is between $8.95 and $9.95 (USD).

I basically need these two things. GoDaddy has been recommended to me, but I’ve heard horror stories. is more expensive. Hover is more expensive than Moniker, but not by much, actually. Would love to hear from people who have some experience in these matters.

(Of course, this is all assuming that I can transfer. Search @moniker on twitter and you’ll find a lot of people not able to transfer their domains out.)

Nov 13

Open Letter to (WTF, Moniker?)

WTF, MonikerThis is an open letter to and its CEO Bonnie Wittenburg.

TL;DR One of my domains registered with expired, and they are not allowing me to renew it until I confirm my phone number, which they are making stupidly difficult to do. They seem to be having serious issues with customer support:

Dear Moniker,

This is in regards to case KS#2014110610010145. I am not a domain kingpin. I am not one of your customers who owns a portfolio of 250 domain names. My account has 5 domains registered. Two are personal domains that redirect to this blog and the other three are related to the NPO theatre company that I run. I moved to Moniker from several other domain hosts back in 2012 in order to consolidate all these domains to one manageable location.

Until this summer, I was reasonably happy with the service. I was lucky and didn’t suffer any problems due to the systems upgrade SNAFU back in June. The new system is a bit crap, to be honest, and the mandatory password reset took several tries until it “took”, but I’m willing to overlook growing pains as a company changes.

You have three jobs, in my book, and that is allowing me to hold my domains, keeping the DNS pointing at my DNS provider, and allowing me to renew those domains each year. You have failed.

One of my domains was due to expire on November 4. I have all my domains set to auto-renew and a credit card set up as my payment method. The last domain to expire was on August 8, and on July 26 or 27 (depending on time zone), my credit card was duly charged and I was sent a notice that my domain had been auto-renewed. Your systems start sending out notices months before a domain names expires, with occasional reminders up until the renewal date. This is great. For my domain that expired on November 4, I was receiving those notifications. I took note, though, on November 5th (local time, still the 4th in North America), that I hadn’t received the usual renewal notice, so I logged into my account. After resetting my password again for some damn reason, I went to that domain and saw that it had not been auto-renewed.

Hm. That was a bit frustrating. Perhaps there was a systems glitch. I checked my payment information and it was correct, so I went to the domain and changed it to renew immediately. The invoice appeared in my inbox right away, and it stated that my credit card would be charged. Great.

Except my credit card wasn’t charged. Instead I was sent the following email:

Thank you for registering your domain with Moniker.

For security reasons, we must verify your account before processing your domain requests.

The analysis for which accounts need to be verified is not done by our system but by an external service, based on objective criteria.

The use of such policies has sadly become necessary due to fraud attempts, especially in the internet business.

Until your account is verified you will only be able to make payments via Bank Transfer

We will gladly make an exception for you and open up access to your account once you call our support teams and verify your account.

To verify your account it will need to be a live call.   This again is a onetime call for fraud prevention.

You can call us at 1-800-688-6311 for the account validation. Outside the U.S. and Canada: 954-607-1294

Our hours of operations are Monday-Friday 8:00 am EST – 8:00 pm est.

We look forward to speaking with you.

Please have the following information handy to quickly verify your account.

Account #

Email Address on the account

Phone # on the account

Mailing/Billing Address on the account.

Wonderful. I have been singled out by “objective criteria”. Like what? My credit card hasn’t changed since I’ve joined. My billing address hasn’t changed. I’m also not trying to register a domain, as the email states, I am trying to renew an existing one that has been in my name since before I transferred it to Moniker. It it just because I live in Japan?

Interesting to note here that the support hours are 8:00 – 8:00 EST, which is currently 22:00 – 06:00 Japan Standard time. Luckily, it was still within support hours when I caught the email on the morning of November 6 so I called and left the requested information in a voice message as directed by your telephone system.

Your support team called me back as promised. At 5:00 the following morning. So I obviously didn’t answer. My phone gets turned off when I go to bed so it doesn’t wake my toddler. When did get up that morning, I saw this email:

Thank you for your response.

We retrieved the voice mail message however, we attempted to reach you at the number on file and we were unsuccessful. The number on file needs to be valid to complete account verification.

To change the telephone number please go to USER PROFILE> User Profile. Once updated please leave another detailed message with your account details listed below on our verification line so we can update the account.

Please have the following information handy to quickly verify your account.

Account #
Email Address on the account
Phone # on the account
Mailing/Billing Address on the account

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best regards,
Torshie [redacted]

This kind of thing has happened before, but usually with a company that didn’t have my address on file—and, I might add, as part of the information I had left for you on the voice mail message that you requested me to send! Since my address was part of the confirmation process, and the person who called had to dial a country code other than +1 (US/Canada), you would think that time zones would be taken into account, no?

Still, whatever, mistakes can happen. I replied to the support email explaining the problem. No, my number did not need to be updated, I just needed to be called at a time when normal people are sleeping. I mentioned that I was available right at that moment to receive a call (still within business hours at 17:00 EST/7:00 JST). Two days later I received a follow-up email:

Hello Andrew,

Thank you for contacting us.

We apologize for the error. It look like we will not be able to reach you during normal hours today. If you leave a message on our voice mail system please call from the number on file so we can verify the number is valid.

Remember to confirm you account details:

account #

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best regards,

Torshie [redacted]

I sent another reply explaining that a) I wasn’t going to phone from the number on file because it would have been expensive (the number is a Japanese mobile number), and b) that I’d already called and all they needed to do was complete the call back. I also specified several times over the next few days within Moniker business hours that I would be reachable in order to simplify things. I received no reply, and those days and times passed. I sent another reply with more dates and times and a request to expedite the support ticket since my domain had now been expired for several days. This morning (domain expired for 8 days now, 4 days since last contact), I received this reply from support:


Thank you for contacting Moniker Support.

We need to verify your Moniker account information for fraud prevention before you can make purchases.

Please provide us the following information:

* Customer ID / Domain(s):
  * Name on the account:
  * Email address on the account:
  * Phone number on the account:
  * Street address on the account:

Once your account has been verified, you will be able to make purchases on your account.

If you have any further questions, please reply back with your email or call our toll-free number 1.800.688.6311 / International 1.954.607.1294
Our hours of operation are M – F 8:00 AM- 8:00 PM EST & Sat 10:00 AM-4:00 PM EST.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Best regards,

Shane J

Now you can perhaps see why I included Torshie’s name earlier. It’s not to get anyone in trouble. It’s because my support person changed, and he obviously did not read the entire email chain. I’m not printing Shane’s name to get him in trouble either. It’s simply obvious that your support process is not sufficiently documented to allow your support people to do their jobs. Don’t worry, you’re in good company here; Paypal does the exact same thing. You get a new support person each time, and each time you have to explain everything from the beginning even though it’s all in the email reply chain.

I have replied to the most recent email explaining that I’ve already called with my information and I just need the call back from the Moniker side to complete verification. Since I received Shane’s email during your business hours, I suggested that I was available at that moment. Of course, he did not call.

So where does this leave me? Angry and writing a blog post about it, I guess. Waving my fist at the internet.

Moniker; Ms Wittenburg: please either complete the verification or allow me to make the single $9.95 payment needed to renew my domain with the credit card you have on file. Despite the length of my post here, this is not a complicated technical issue. This is a customer support failure only. It’s a person-problem that you can fix. No engineers or technicians are required. The Moniker brand has been seriously tarnished as of late ( Most of the complaints are about customer service. It’s time to start turning this around.

I look forward to hearing from you.



Sep 20

Open Letter to Companies Who Ship Internationally

Hello, company. Thank you for accepting my money for your goods and offering to ship to Japan. However, if your only shipping option is UPS or FedEx, you can go fuck yourself. I don’t care how badly I need something, UPS and FedEx are such absolute shit for shipping to Japan, I haven’t used them in years.

Also, in regards to the company that inspired me to write this: $32 shipping on a $8 item that fits in a smaller box than an iPhone and weighs less than an 8-pack of crayons? Plus the box will arrived dinged-up, opened, and the delivery company may try to wring no-existent customs fees out of me? Go. Fuck. Your. Self.

Shipping an item worth less than $50 from the U.S.? I’ll take USPS, please. No, I don’t give a shit about tracking, or rather, it’s not worth the $25+ price difference.

Picture 9-Edit

Feb 23

Worst Vacation So Far – Part 1 – “Right in the Hole”

We’ve just passed Kyoto again, our original destination, on our way back from Okayama to Yokohama.

Our plan was a one-week western Japan baby-tour. We wanted to bring young Hammy to meet various relatives and friends who hadn’t seen him yet. Sadly, that was not to be.Forest Hammy

Pre-Trip Blues

Those of you following my facebook posts over the past couple of days know part of the story, but it actually begins last Monday or Tuesday, when the whole family got sick. Hammy had been doing double-barrelled snotting around, and it was on the Tuesday that he a) managed to drool straight into my mouth, and b) started running a slight fever.

By that evening, I had a raging sore throat which carried over into the next morning. We would have all done very well by staying in bed that day, but due to deadlines imposed on us by the city of Yokohama, we had to go and file our taxes. The copies of the filings would be used on our application forms for a daycare subsidy. Those forms needed to arrive at the right office by February 28, only one day after our return from our planned vacation.

The taxes were complicated by the fact that due to a clerical mistake, I was missing an important piece of paperwork and had to travel into downtown Tokyo before heading back out to the boonies for a long walk to the tax office to meet my wife with tax filings already in progress.

Getting Away

We’d planned to leave Thursday around 11:30 and have a leisurely Shinkansen ride to Okayama to visit relatives on Friday and Saturday.

Sunday was for visiting friends in Osaka, and Saturday to Wednesday was for hanging out with friends in Kyoto, including our the family of the woman who introduced my wife and myself to each other in Toronto.

I woke up with a 39 degree fever, a hacking cough, an aching body, no appetite, and a pounding headache. My wife dispatched me to the local clinic to get tested for influenza, which would scupper the trip, since we wouldn’t want to go spreading it around wherever we went. So off I went. Except the clinic was close on Thursdays. I was in no physical shape to go to my usual doctor near Motomachi, so I was re-routed, after an excruciating 15 minutes with the chills in –2 degree weather, to another clinic.

So there I was, in the waiting area, or rather, a separate waiting area for those people considered very infectious (me), waiting for my influenza test. The nurse tells me it will hurt a little. Sure, whatever, I can take a little needle in the arm.

It isn’t until I see the plastic tube coming for my nose that I realize what is going to happen. It makes a 4-vial blood extraction with 10-minutes of vein hunting, seem like a walk in the park by comparison. Afterwards, I was shocked to find that cranial fluid was not indeed leaking from my brainpan via my left nostril, because as far as I could that, that was where the nurse had punctured me.

The test came back negative (on so many levels), so after a two-hour nap, we decided to start moving to Okayama.

Day 0 and Day 1

The shinkansen was great, as always. A bit busy, but once we hit Nagoya, we got seats together, so we were happy.

We crashed that night at the hotel, and I slept fitfully as my fever jumped up and down, alternating me between the sweats and the chills.

The next day, my wife and Hammy went on their own to hang out with my father-in-law and his mother while I spent the day lying in bed, taking Advil, and trying to catch up on sleep. My father-in-law dropped them off around 17:00, brought me some convenience store energy drinks, and broke the solid safety latch off the door on the way out (his parting words as he handed the broken piece to my wife: “Oh, this just fell off.”). My appetite finally returned in time for dinner, when, just as we were deciding where to go, Hammy knocked over the room’s electric kettle and put his hand in the spilled, 98 degree water.

Okay, this probably makes us somewhat bad parents, but to put this in perspective, the kettle had a lid that was not supposed to release liquid unless a button was held down. I later discovered that this button was broken, which explains why the liquid was able to get out and scald my son’s hands. Regardless, we will be much more safety conscious in the future—we were lucky the damage was as limited as it was.

Once I realized why he was screaming (it took me three or four seconds to piece the scene together when I looked up), I picked him up, ran to the shower, and held the burned hand under the cold water. (The sink design was too weird to hold him comfortably, hand outstretched, for any period of time.)IMG_4248

We decided to head to the hospital.

Okayama city has only one large, 24-hour hospital with an emergency room.

Before I go on, let me tell you the positive things about the emergency room service:

1. The area was modern and pristine.

2. We were moved through quickly. In Canada, I’m always impressed by the quality of most of the medical staff, and frustrated by four to five hour waits to see one of those staff members.

Okay, that’s it.

The clerks at the desk informed us that the skin specialists wasn’t in and that they’d much rather us delay our emergency until the next morning when he’d be back. We told them that we had a nine-month old with burns on his hand that were now blistering, and that we’d like to see a doctor, please. The man on the desk also sent for a bag of ice and told us to hold it (DIRECTLY!) against his hand. I made sure we wrapped it in a towel first.

When we got to see the doctor, maybe 15 minutes later, he appeared to be in his early twenties, sporting a chin beard and Crocs. He and the four or six nurses hovering around huddled and hemmed and hawed about what to do.

“Just put it on ice,” they chorused, “and come back tomorrow to see the specialist.”

The doctor told my wife a story about having a serious burn on three of his fingers. “I just kept it cool,” he said, keeping it cool. I almost punched him in his chin beard. Did this guy graduate from Phys Ed teacher college and get his paperwork swapped with some poor med school student? Wait, no, I’m pretty sure my Phys Ed teachers in high school, loathsome human beings as they were, knew not to put ice on a fucking burn. I seriously began to think that this guy might wear Crocs because he couldn’t figure out how to tie his shoelaces.

It was at this point that the group of (and I use the term loosely) medical professionals, crowed, confidently, that my son’s burn, which consisted of:

a) index finger, underside, burned and blistered up to twice its normal thickness
b) middle finger, top joint, underside, burned and blistered
c) ring finger, half of the top joint, left side, burned and blistered

was a “first degree burn”.

Deciding that a battle of wits with six unarmed foes wearing the kevlar of stupid was essentially an eternal stalemate and a waste of time, I kept a smile on my face and started to insist on a wound dressing. “We can’t keep Hammy’s hand cooled all night and keep him from sticking it in his (decidedly non-sterile mouth). You’ve got to dress the wound to protect it until we come back tomorrow morning.”

The doctor fucked off, presumably to be cool somewhere else, and one of the nurses set to being helpful with us. This woman meant well, I’m sure, and she was kind and helpful. But she put an adhesive bandage on Hammy’s index finger (burned and blistered along its whole length on the underside). At the time, I’d assumed it was some kind of special burn dressing. It was not. I insisted that she wrap Hammy’s hand in gauze to stop him from pulling off the bandage she’d applied, and she did. She tied it so expertly, that Hammy pulled it off in one clean motion not 5 minutes later. She did not offer to tie it again.IMG_4154

Finally, as we were in the waiting area, I insisted that my wife request a painkiller again, though her initial request had been turned down. I was worried about my son being in too much pain to sleep, which would only hurt his ability to heal, and our ability to keep his hand cool, as per Doctor Chinbeard’s orders.

We prevailed, or rather, they relented, and they issued a painkiller dose based on Hammy’s body weight. We accepted it gratefully and headed home.

Throughout all of this, I need to restate, that one particular nurse was very kind and understanding with us. I should also be clear that, although sorely tempted, I did not have to resort to stereotypical white-man-loud-voice-bullying that I’m sure you are all imagining me doing. Gentle insistence through my wife, who could cut my tone and word choice into something pleasant and polite, was enough. These people were there to help, and they did their best. But they were thoroughly unequipped, in training or in intellectual flexibility to deal with an injury that must be the bread-and-butter of most emergency rooms. (Also, it was interesting that none of them even bothered to check a manual or anything, they just clucked about in their ignorance.)

We’re almost back in Yokohama, so this is going to have to be a two-parter. Allow me to just add that Hammy slept soundly after returning to the hotel and receiving his painkiller. At the very least, my wife and I had the novel experience of administering our first suppository.

As my friend David Montero liked to say: “right in the hole.”

Feb 05

Lester B. Pearson is Spinning in his Grave

I don’t know really who Lester B. Pearson was. A Prime Minister maybe? Far too lazy to check wikipedia on the LesterBPearsonairport’s shitty WiFi, and that’s really part of my point.


If I’m ever famous and people decide to name something after me, this is my request: if it’s something shitty, please don’t.


As I said, I don’t know much about Lester B. Pearson and what he stood for, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t stand for shitty WiFi and rude security gate personnel.

I mean, seriously, lady, I know you do this all day long, but most of us travel less than once a year, and every fucking airport has different security protocols, so if we don’t instantly get things right, a little fucking patience is in order. I mean, security all over the world makes us basically deconstruct our carry-on luggage and clothing:

Wallet and change, check
Cell phones, check
Laptop PCs, check
Liquids in ziplocks, check
Scarves, hats, and jackets, off
Boots with steel toe, off
Belt with metal buckle, off
Metal watch, off
Cucumber wrapped in aluminum foil, extracted

And then, we have to organize it in trays based on a random system.
”No boots in trays!” <—well, at some airports they go in trays
”Large purse goes in a tray!” <—in a lot of airports they don’t
We managed to guess everything else right this time.

”Take the baby out of the carrier to go through the metal detector.” <—our carrier has no pockets; my wife thought the lady was joking.
”Mummble mumble baby mumble through.” <—what? we can’t take the baby through? No answer. Woman on the other side: “bring the baby through.”

It’s not like she’s good at her job and was just being impatient that we weren’t. She forgot to put through a bag belonging to a man who went through two people in front of us. This got us scolded by another security working trying to hurry us along until we explained that it wasn’t ours, nor did it belong to the woman in front of us, but we were stuck behind it because they hadn’t processed it.

Also, this is one of the only times I can think of that the security staff person didn’t move our bags and trays along the conveyor herself. It was kind of a sticky conveyor, and not as roll-y as they tend to be, and I was pushing, but she just stood there waving as I struggled to move about five trays



Anyway, Hammy and wife are back now so got to wrap this up.


P.S. I also don’t think Lester B. Pearson stood for no baby seats in the toilets or the cafeterias. I mean seriously, it’s not like terminal one was built in the 70s.

Jan 08

Propane Update

The heat is back on. It is 10.5 degrees now in the main part of the house (it was as low as 7).Picture 4

The propane guy was named Bob and he was very nice. He explained that propane is in short supply and he, in fact, was carrying the last of it. This cold snap apparently caught everyone by surprise. This might explain the fact that the company couldn’t send any other driver… and that it cost almost $1 per litre. Adding in all the taxes and stuff, that brought my total to $1804.

Well, at least I know what it costs to fill that huge tank now. Jesus.

Jan 08

A Day in the Cold

Okay, off the bat, let’s be clear about what this post isn’t: I’m not complaining about the fact that the main part of the farmhouse I’m currently living in is about 8 degrees right now and that it may drop to 5 before the propane guy finally gets here. Not really a huge hardship, especially compared to those without power and heat over Xmas in Toronto.

I will clarify my complaint in a moment, but first, some background.

We turn the thermostat down to 15 degrees every night when we go to bed, and then crank it back up to 19.5 every morning. Today, after an hour of running, the temperature was 14.5. Odd.

Then my wife complained that the gas stove was barely sputtering along: the largest element turned on max looked like a back element turned on “simmer”. This is when the penny dropped for me and I went downstairs. Sure enough, the furnace was complaining about low gas flow. Turned it off and popped online to see what could cause this.

Once I realized that it was either a frozen regulator or that we were out of gas, I called the propane company. They told me to check the gauge on the tank (never knew there was one), and sure enough, the pressure was “0”. So I called them back and asked for a refill ahead of schedule. Since we were completely out of gas and it was our heating fuel, they told us they’d fit us in.

Apparently today was a busy day for them and it wasn’t until 10:30 that they called me back to say that a driver had been assigned. In expectation, I went outside for about 25 minutes in –20 weather (not including windchill) and shovelled out a path from the lane to the propane tank. It was so cold I had to do it without my glasses—my breath would fog them up and then freeze solid.

Five o’clock rolled around and no one had shown up so I called them back. They called the driver and then called me back to let me know that he’d had a breakdown in the morning and so he was just starting his shift now.

So here’s my complaint: Why didn’t the driver call the breakdown in? Why was there no requirement that he do so? The propane company could have moved us to another driver’s roster or at the very least called us to let us know there would be a delay. I spent the whole day with one ear cocked for a truck coming in the lane.

Now we’re told that he’ll be here by midnight. Of course, in the dark, will he be able to find the tank or the handy path I dug to it? I phoned the propane company again (keep in mind that each of these calls means about 10 minutes on hold) and asked them to give the driver my phone number so I could stop checking the window every 5 minutes. Hopefully he follows these instructions.

Anyway, that’s my complaint. Purely customer service. It’s our fault we ran out of gas. The farmhouse usually isn’t occupied this much and this winter is particularly cold. We have scheduled fill-ups, and usually that’s enough. But running out of propane is on us. That’s fair. Still, Superior Propane should have at least kept us in the loop. We could theoretically have left the house to get groceries, hang out with neighbours, etc., but that we were stuck waiting for the propane delivery.

Picture 1

No serious hardship for us either. The farmhouse has electric heaters in the area I’ve made into my office and in our bedroom, so it’s actually a lot like our house in Japan that way. The room we’re occupying is about 17 degrees, and then if we want to cook or use the toilet, the air temperature is closer to 7. We’ve taken it easy on the hot water all day, so there was enough for Hammy’s bath and for me to do the dishes. We’re all okay, although we’ve been cooped up in the same two rooms together all day.

Still, at the current rate of heat loss (about 1 degree every two hours), we’ll hit 0 degrees at noon tomorrow, so I do hope that guy shows up tonight. I imagine pipes will start freezing at some point if he doesn’t. Or not. I know nothing about these things.

Well, that was my day.

Mar 19

An Open Letter

I use NotScripts and NoScript in Chrome and Firefox, respectively, to block scripts on web pages. On that note, I would like to write an


Dear sites-that-make-me-authorize-a-dozen-other-sites-in-order-to-view-any-content,

Fuck you.




Google+: View post on Google+

Post imported by Google+Blog. Created By Daniel Treadwell.

Jan 13

Really Good Idea, Really Bad Execution

Am trying out this new translation site "Conyac".

where-am-i-Really good idea, I think. You get one translation for free, and I tried it out, and I think what I got was decent (at least good enough to suit my current needs).

However, the site does raise some, if not "red" flags, then certainly "amateur" flags.

  1. Bad site layout/coding.
    When you first visit the site, you’re presented with two options. Either to become a translator OR to get something translated. Either option requires a facebook account to login with. There’s an option to open the FAQ instead of logging in, which then opens, heavily truncated, within the login popup window.

    Once you’ve logged in using your facebook account (or whatever), you’re presented with a window in which to input your free 720 character translation request. If you want to buy more credits, there is no obvious way to do it. You have 4 items along the top of the page: Request, Translate, Vote, [Username]

    Request and translate are obvious. Vote allows you to vote on accuracy of translations (done for other people) into your native language. Clicking on your username brings up a dropdown menu that gives you:

    Setting, Balance/Withdraw, FAQ, Logout.

    Setting lets you tinker with a (very few) options for your profile, including what languages you speak.
    Balance/Withdraw, which is where you’d think you could buy credits, is only for withdrawing money earned from translation.
    FAQ is where you go to find the link about buying credits, except that it’s not a link. It’s a non-hyperlinked URL that you must cut and past into your address bar. Seriously? What the hell were they thinking?

  2. Communications issues.
    After submitted my test translation, I was not notified in any way that I had received results. Only a chance visit to the site revealed my completed translations. This despite the umpteen permissions the site’s Facebook app asks you to grant it.
  3. Consistency
    While writing this, I discovered that they have two homepages: and .cc appears to be the original one. But even on that site, the pricing is different from the front page and the page where you sign up. On the front page, there are different character limits for English and Japanese; on the page to buy credits, one credit gives you 720 characters, which is more than before (500 characters for English, 200 for Japanese), but now seems distinctly unfair, since you can say a lot more in 720 characters of Japanese than in 720 English characters.

This site is a really good idea. I just hope that the young men behind it realize that their pants are too loose and hike them up.


It is inexpensive enough, and the translation I got seems good enough, and I am desperate enough right now that I will give them a test run this month, though. I hope with my money, they can buy some website experts. (I recommend


Update: Add sinister to the equation. For their monthly plans, credit cost 30% less, and you can get special features. For the “lite” plan, this gives you the option of only allowing native speakers to translate your request. Fair enough. For the “medium” plan, they have something called the “Private” option. Apparently, this means your translation won’t be searchable after 12 hours. So that means any translation request I put in there is searchable forever? Why, other than to extort people to use their more expensive plan?


I’ll just have to make sure I limit my translations to things that don’t include search terms that point back to my site, since I don’t want a translation site (with possibly bad translations) showing up in searches for my Theatre company. Yikes!

Oct 09

Reason and Irrationality

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea of people who hold two sets of worldviews simultaneously. In particular, those who simultaneously maintain an evidence-based view of the world we live in and a set of religious beliefs.


It shouldn’t be such a mystery. For a good chunk of my youth, I was interested in the paranormal and the occult, and kind of half-believed that this God-creature everyone talked about was actually watching me all the time. But when I actually started applying critical reasoning to superstition, I found that, after a time, I could no longer maintain a belief in any of those things that used to interest me, because to do so would be to exempt them from the standards I worked hard to apply to everything else in my life. (The sense of being watched, however, took a lot longer, and remains very much part of my psyche.) And since that time, I’ve been puzzled by those otherwise rigorous skeptical thinkers who do exempt their religious/supernatural beliefs from examination.


I think maybe I’ve found part of the answer.


I was doing the dishes today, and out of nowhere, it occurred to me that I still hold some irrational beliefs. Allow me to list a select few of them for you:


  • left is a better direction than right
  • odd numbers are better than even numbers
  • 7 and 13, in particular, are probably two of the best numbers
  • west is a better direction than east
  • north is the best direction of all


If you had a powerful supercomputer that was able to simulate my whole life up to this point, you could probably point to a rational explanation for why I hold these beliefs. However, these beliefs are still irrational and useless. They do affect me, however.


If I were to be in a situation, say exploring a large shrine, and I came upon a gate with two paths, barring any additional information (for instance, a map or guidebook telling me which path would lead where), I would almost invariably follow the left path.


If you were to present me with a map of a city, with points of interest marked with numbers but otherwise in a language I couldn’t read, where all said points were equidistant from my starting locations, I would choose to visit either location 7 or 13.


Absolutely irrational. But these beliefs really have no effect on my life or anybody else’s life, except in situations where I might as well flip a coin to decide what to do.


And that’s where this breaks down, of course.


Someone can be a skeptic and, deep down, believe in fairies. However, if that someone makes decisions in his or her life based on the idea that fairies exist while there are other pieces of information available to them, then he or she has crossed some line, and THAT’S the part I don’t understand.


If I gave my irrational beliefs the same level of respect and weight as people do to their religious beliefs, my behaviour would be crazy. If I got in an elevator, maybe I would have to visit the 7th floor, despite the fact that the office I need to go to is on the 6th floor. Maybe instead of turning right when I leave my house, I would have to turn left in a circle until I was facing in that direction.


What would happen? People would question my actions and beliefs. Do I have the right to have and act on these beliefs, provided I hurt no one else? Of course! Do I have the right not to be questioned, mocked, or ridiculed for them? Absolutely not. If I keep these beliefs to myself and do not overtly manifest them in my day-to-day behaviour, then no one will question me.


By now, you can probably see where I’m going with this. Skeptical people who also hold religious beliefs should not be allowed to wall of that section of themselves from their fellows. Of all people, they should understand this.


I heard recently that some (American) skeptics’ groups don’t allow the subject of religion to be discussed at their meetings. I find this absolutely ridiculous. A skeptics’ group is not an atheists’ group, but I think that people need to be intellectually honest about irrational ideas that they hold that affect their lives, even if those ideas are, unlike left being a better direction than right, traditionally protected ideas.

Sep 06

Shambolic Subways

Have not had great luck with subways today.


On my way to give my talk for ASIOS at Bungeisha, I had to take the Tokyo subways. My final train change was at Akasaka-Mistuke. I followed the signs on the platform, noting that the line I needed to change to was a whopping 600+ meters from where I now stood. Not unused to silly distances in the subways, I started walking.

When I arrive, I realize that I have actually walked to the next station on the line– and the opposite direction of my destination. I assume if I had disembarked at the opposite end of the platform at Akasak-Mitsuke, I would have seen a sign directing me to my transfer, less than 100 meters away.

Score another victory for the absolute shit signage on the Tokyo subways.!



Arrived an hour early for my talk (whoops). Spent the time eating in the shambolic Subway Sandwiches near Shinjuku-Gyoenmae station.

1) Entrance so crammed (architecturally) that I could not get in the door.
2) Napkins rationed (one tiny one apiece, and no extras available where customers could get one)
3) Not enough seats (maybe 10 counter seats), and 50% of the people in them lolligagging, i.e. finished eating and playing with cellphone, or in one case, SLEEPING.
4) Once I got a seat, I realized that the counter and floor was filthy; it looked as if someone had put his/her cigarette out on the wall. Propped my bag on the footrest to avoid having it touch the slightly sticky floor
5) No toilets. I dropped some sandwich on myself because I am a massive klutz, and had only my tiny napkin to wipe it with. Staff were so overwhelmed it was daunting to even try to talk to them.

I realized that for North America, I’ve probably described the height of luxury, but for Japan (and a major chain), this is pretty low.

Am now sitting next door in the (comparably) high-rent St-Marc Cafe (of Chococro fame), idling the rest of my time away.

Jul 30

One More for the Road

Once last Kaku post. Here is the video in which he says that we’ve stopped evolving and below that a link to a blog that explains very clearly why he’s wrong.


Should we be taking any advice from this guy? He obviously doesn’t have any power of self-editing, and thinks he’s an expert on everything. It’s never clear when his expertise ends and his wonky opinions begin.

Jul 29

Those Damn Plebeians

Recently, someone on Google Plus posted this gem from some high-falutin’ type at CNN:


Go read it. I’ll wait.


Among other things it stirred up in me that I cannot phrase politely, it put me in mind of a piece I wrote almost a dozen years ago for a short-lived comedy group I was part of.  Here it is:





by O. Oscar Oscarson, Railroad Tycoon and Oligarch


My shoes are falling apart. The other day, I purchased a pair of shoes. I have worn them only once, and already they are degenerating. The sole is coming away from the bottom of the shoe like the fetid lips of my dear Augustine, and all the leather is rotting away like the pelt of a dead groundhog lying bloated in the sun.


Now, I heard recently that this particular shoe company has been using child labour. Good for them! I know from my days running a chastity belt factory and a chain of brothels that minors, especially when they’re under 12, are especially inexpensive workers. Unfortunately, there is a reason that this child labour is so cheap—children are, by their nature, incredibly incompetent. A child constantly makes errors, thus consuming the valuable time of an adult who has to not only fix the child’s error, but also whip the insolent youngster senseless. However, I have found that in my experience, after several such beatings, the little tykes perform remarkably well, perhaps out of terror.


So what’s the problem, you ask? (or would ask, if I permitted you plebeians to speak to my face) After all, I did entitle this mono-speech “An Argument Against Child Labour”, and I would hardly do that unless I either meant it, or was horribly insane. BAAAHH. Well, the issue is this: the children who work in the factories these days are fat and lazy. They are accustomed to as many as three meals a week! Sometimes, when they are given less, the little ingrates will even go so far as to pass out in protest on the factory floor, or, even worse, topple into the gears of the heavy industrial machines they are using, thus clogging up the production line with flesh and bone! Surely then, these modern, spoiled, third world brats must be shown that such strong-arm labour tactics will not work to drive up the prices of shoes in North America and Western Europe. I say, send these naughty children home without dinner, and move operations to even poorer countries where adult workers will slave away making shoes for little more than chicken feed and water thrown on the factory floor every day at tea time.


So what will I do about my ruined shoes? Why, buy another pair, of course, for I am exceedingly wealthy!

Jul 25

Arnie Gundersen – The Facade of Believability

Arnold “Arnie” Gundersen is in some ways the opposite of Michio Kaku. He’s not flashy, he avoids sounding over-the-top, even when he talks about grim scenarios, and he doesn’t wave his arms around like a mad scientist.


Gundersen talks a hot load of crap.


The first time I saw Gundersen, I thought he looked like the kind of man I could trust. He looks like somebody’s kindly grandpa. He was doing a demonstration in his back yard with a blow torch about the effect of heat on the cladding of a nuclear reactor fuel rod. It was informative and educational, and not at all dishonest, as far as I could tell.


I realized quickly that Gundersen was anti-nuclear power, but in the early videos that I saw, he was very cautious and said very few things that made me think he wasn’t being honest. It seemed to me that he was just interpreting the information coming out from Japan. I didn’t find his commentary particularly interesting, so I didn’t pay much more attention to him. I also missed his statement early on on “Russia Today” that the Fukushima incident was “Chernobyl on steroids”.


Then, on March 31, Gundersen posted a video claiming that the spent fuel pool in Reactor 4 was dry and that the spent fuel rods were exposed to the air. He based this not on information released, but on his analysis of a low-quality video of the reactor building that he found on Ustream. This video started spreading on Facebook, and so Arnie Gundersen once again wandered into my field of view.


Something felt wrong. He was more slippery than Michio Kaku– he wasn’t saying anything that I as a non-scientist could pinpoint as factually incorrect. As far as I could tell, he was just extrapolating a little more than I felt comfortable with.


Over the days and weeks that followed, I found his videos being posted on Facebook and Twitter more and more, saying more and more scary things that just didn’t sound right. It was around this time that he started being interviewed as an expert by the mainstream media. So I did a little digging to see if this grandfatherly man who seemed so trustworthy was really what he appeared to be.


What I discovered was that Gundersen’s company, Fairewinds Associates, is a for-profit company that hires him out to provide expert testimony and write research papers for anti-nuclear groups. He has a lot to gain then by making sure his appearances in the media make nuclear power sound dangerous.

Gundersen is the “Chief Engineer” of Fairewinds Associates, and is often introduced as such on news programs. That title is meaningless since Gundersen is the only engineer at Fairewinds: the company consists of just him and his wife.


On RT (“Russia Today”) in a clip that has been translated into Japanese and posted on YouTube, the host talks about Gundersen being “part of the nuclear industry” in what seems to be an effort to make Gundersen look more credible. “Oh!” thinks the viewer, “He works for the nuclear industry and he’s saying all these terrible things about Fukushima and nuclear power. He’s speaking against his own interests, since he won’t have a job if nuclear power is abolished, so he must be telling the truth!”


The truth is, as I’ve shown already, that Gundersen is a for-hire anti-nuclear consultant, and although he claims “39 years of nuclear power engineering experience” on his website, that is not the case. Since Gundersen has been an expert witness in several cases, his accurate resume is available online in the public record for anyone to see. According a version of his resume from 2006, Gundersen’s career did start 39-40 years ago in 1971, but he only worked in the industry until 1990.


In 1990 he was dismissed from his job in the industry. He claims that he was a whistleblower, his company claimed defamation, and they settled out-of-court. From that time until at least 2006 he seems to have worked full-time as a teacher at various private schools in Vermont, doing “expert” consulting in order to supplement his income. I don’t think either teaching or being paid as an “expert” witness count as “nuclear power engineering experience”.


Gundersen also claims that he was a licensed reactor operator (he calls himself a “critical facility reactor operator, instructor” on that portion of his resume), but some investigation reveals that the reactor in question was a 100 Watt “critical assembly” at a school. That reactor generated no power and cannot be said to have provided Gundersen with any experience in operating or maintaining an actual nuclear power plant.


A browse through the Fairewinds Associates website is also telling. There is no video content on the site that predates Gundersen’s March 15, 2011 appearance on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. His first self-produced video appears on March 17. It appears very slick from the get-go, with good production values, and makes me wonder if Fairewinds, smelling money in the air, hadn’t suddenly hired a PR firm right after the Fukushima crisis began. I don’t have any information to prove this, but the timing is a bit suspicious.


So why am I picking on poor Grandpa Gundersen? Because as he got more media exposure, his international profile grew, and his statements were being accepted without question by the English-language media and then being spread around in Japan. And as time went on and less new and exciting information emerged from Fukushima, his exaggerations and distortions became easier to spot, even by a guy with a Fine Arts degree.


For instance, you’ll remember that Gundersen claimed the spent fuel pool in Reactor 4 had gone dry. According to a June 15 story in the Associated Press, a new video emerged proving that the Japanese officials were right and the spent fuel pool had not gone dry, as the U.S. officials (and Gundersen) had insisted. Gundersen has not removed the video about the spent fuel pool going dry from his website, which is to be commended, but neither has he issued an apology or retraction now that evidence has emerged that contradicts his analysis.


On June 12 Gundersen released a video on the Fairewinds Associates site that I think is very illustrative of the kind of nonsense Gundersen is spreading into the media. He records about one “update” on Fukushima every week, but I thought this one is the most illustrative of how he is becoming bolder in his claims as time goes on.


Gundersen claimed:


  • The stricken reactors had released more “hot particles” than TEPCO had originally thought and that people in Tokyo were breathing in 10 of these every day in April
  • These “hot particles” are undetectable with a regular Geiger counter
  • These “hot particles” were detected by “independent scientists” in Tokyo using air filters
  • These “hot particles” are undetectable inside the body
  • These “hot particles” latch onto tissue and irradiate a small area (he expanded on this in a June 14th interview on CNN) (this is “hot particle” theory)
  • “People” in Japan are reporting a metallic taste in their mouths
  • People also reported metallic tastes in their mouth near Three Mile Island, when undergoing medical imaging, after Chernobyl, etc.


These claims, particularly those of “hot particles” were repeated in interviews on CNN, Fox News, and other TV networks, as well as in many online articles.


As we’ve already discussed, “hot particle” theory is pretty solidly debunked, but more worrying in this case is that Gundersen has started being cagey about where his information is coming from. For instance, the “independent scientists” in Tokyo who were allegedly sending him data on “hot particles”. Who are they? There doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to hide their identities… unless they don’t exist.


Also, assuming for just a moment that any of what Gundersen said was true (I cannot find anyone other than him originating information on radioactive particles in air filters; all links about it lead back to him), my question would be: how many “hot particles” per day were we breathing in before this? Radioactive particles were already in the air, long before Fukushima Daiichi got hit by a tsunami: particles that were put there by other industry, from bomb testing during the cold war, etc. So the missing piece of information is what’s the difference now? But even at 10 particles per day– if we’re talking about particles with radiation levels so low that they cannot be detected, it seems odd to hit the panic button.


The whole story about people reporting metallic tastes in their mouths is also a bit of a shocker, coming from a scientist. There are many things that can cause a metallic taste in a person’s mouth. Here is a partial list:


antibiotics and medications used for treatment of

  • kidney stones
  • antidepressants
  • prenatal vitamins
  • anaesthetic ~ lidocaine
  • heart failure ~ captopril
  • giardiasis ~ metronidazole
  • trichomoniasis ~ tinidazole
  • CT scan ~ contrast medium
  • chronic alcoholism ~ disulfiram
  • rheumatoid arthritis ~ auranofin
  • high blood pressure ~ captopril
  • low calcium treatment ~ calcitriol
  • weight loss, diabetes ~ metformin

dental problems

  • gingivitis
  • periodontitis
  • tooth infections


  • cancer
  • food allergy
  • peptic ulcer
  • lichen planus
  • marine toxins
  • too much iron
  • hypercalcemia
  • lead poisoning
  • bleeding gums
  • kidney disease
  • eating pine nuts
  • copper overdose
  • selenium toxicity
  • iodine intoxication
  • mercury poisoning
  • cadmium poisoning
  • acute kidney failure
  • burning mouth syndrome


Tokyo is a city of over ten million people. Given all the possible causes, surely every day a number of people experience a metallic taste in their mouths. Reporting on anecdotal evidence like this is not only unscientific, but unethical given the anxiety that it causes.


Gundersen has got a lot of play in the international media, and his videos have spread virally via bilingual Japanese people who have translated and posted them on the Internet. I hope that I’ve shown that Gundersen is not a trustworthy source of information about Fukushima for the following reasons:


  • He has been dishonest about his qualifications and work experience
  • He misrepresents himself (or at least allows others to misrepresent him) as part of the nuclear industry
  • He has an undeclared direct financial interest in increasing his profile as an anti-nuclear power consultant in order to attract new clients
  • He subscribes to a theory of low-level radiation damage that has been discredited
  • He has made claims that have been proven to be false
  • He has made claims that don’t stand up to investigation, are anecdotal, and are unfalsifiable
  • As time goes on and Fukushima produces less dramatic news, Gundersen’s reports become more dramatic.

I hope this has been helpful. I wish that the media would be a little less credulous when dealing with experts, and challenge statements that sound wrong, but failing that, it’s our job to not take whatever an “expert” says at face value and to ask questions.



The information about Gundersen’s company, Fairewinds Associates is mostly available on the company’s own website at

Gundersen’s 2006 resume is available online here: pages 26 – 29.

The information about his claims about running a reactor were first reported here:

The information about the spent fuel pool not being dry originally came from a June 15/16 Associated Press article (date depends on your time zone). That article has now been taken down, but the text is still floating around on various news sites:

The list of conditions that can cause a metallic taste in a person’s mouth were lifted directly from an article at


Other references are the same as the ones for Kaku.

Jul 24

Michio Kaku Rant – Bibliography

Just a quickie bibliography for my recent post about bullshit artist Michio Kaku.


On Plutonium toxicity:

Most of my points about plutonium can be found in the plutonium article on Wikipedia.


The quotation about 5000 respirable particles was sourced from a plutonium human health fact sheet published by the Argonne National Laboratory.


More info about plutonium toxicity, and the list of organizations who have dismissed “Hot Particle” theory was sourced from Bernard L. Cohen’s book The Nuclear Energy Option, chapter 13 (see the section on plutonium toxicity) and his paper The Myth of Plutonium Toxicity. The latter is also the source of my statement that a microgram of ingested plutonium will give you one chance in a million of getting cancer.


Bernard L. Cohen is a controversial figure in the Nuclear debate, but he uses the most conservative model of low-level radiation danger (the Linear No-Threshold Model) to come up with his figures.


Information about MOX fuel comes again from Wikipedia’s page on the subject.


When using Wikipedia, I have clicked through to the references and read the source material whenever possible.

Jul 23

Michio Kaku = Douche

Here’s a section of the book chapter I wrote for ASIOS’s upcoming book. Since it’s only going to be published in Japanese, I wanted to share some of it with you. Keep in mind that it’s written for Japanese readers, and for each person or media source I wrote about, I was asked to explain why Japanese people should care.
Michio Kaku, despite his Japanese name, is American, and not very well known over here. Kaku is a MichioKaku_commonsrespected theoretical physicist, professor, and the co-founder of string field theory. He also is a populariser of science, meaning that he works to communicate science to the general population by making it easier to understand. He is also a futurist, which means that he attempts to predict what life in the future will be like. He frequently appears on science and news programs in the west, and has a definite facility for making science sound exciting. He’s a very imaginative man and can paint very compelling images with his words.

The problem is that as far as I can tell, Kaku will accept any offer to appear in the media and comment on science stories, even when they are outside his area of expertise. Kaku has said that humans have stopped evolving (“gross” evolution, he called it, using a word he just made up); opposed the Cassini space probe launch because it had plutonium on board; and has stated that UFOs are real and that aliens have visited Earth (and they’re invisible).


Regardless of how silly these claims are, I will limit my analysis to his comments on the Fukushima incident and its aftermath. He appeared on many television shows (Late Night with David Letterman, Real Time with Bill Maher, Fox News Insider, CNN, NBC’s Nightline, ABC news, Democracy Now, and more…) in the days, weeks, and months following March 11, saying whatever he could to make the situation sound even more dramatic and dangerous than it was.


But isn’t he an expert? He is a physicist, after all. True, but he is a theoretical physicist, not a nuclear physicist. Aren’t they close enough? Not really. An anatomy lecturer and a neurologist are both highly trained people who hold doctorate degrees, but if you had a rare brain disease, you’d want to consult the neurologist, who actually practices medicine, and not the lecturer, who mostly deals with paper and the occasional dissection of a cadaver.


As a theoretical physicist, Kaku works on paper with ideas and mathematics. He does not work with things that exist in the actual, physical world, the way an experimental physicist or engineer would.


Of course, this isn’t enough to condemn his opinion as uninformed or dishonest on its own. To get a clear picture of Kaku’s style, you need to look at what he’s actually said:



[Reactor] 3 is so dangerous because it’s the only reactor containing what is called Mixed Oxide Fuel i.e., plutonium. Plutonium is one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. A dust particle that you can’t even see, inhaled into your lungs, could cause lung cancer.

-Michio Kaku, ABC News, March 26, 2011


“Plutonium is the most toxic chemical known to science! A speck of plutonium, a millionth of a gram, could cause cancer if it’s ingested.”

-Michio Kaku, ABC News, March 25,2011



Kaku has a habit of saying things that are inaccurate and therefore misleading. In this case, his words make Mixed Oxide Fuel– the same MOX fuel that the Natural News was hysterical about– sound as if it’s just another word for plutonium. In reality, MOX is generally manufactured with 5% – 7% plutonium, the other 93% – 95% being uranium. 30% of that plutonium is consumed when the fuel is used.


He also describes plutonium as “the most toxic chemical known to science”, which begs the question: “Really?” Kaku seems no more informed on this subject than the people he is being interviewed by. Especially since he claims that ingesting a millionth of a gram could cause cancer. He’s right: ingesting one millionth of a gram of plutonium can give you about one chance in a million of getting a radiation-caused cancer. So yes, it could cause cancer. So can a sunburn, but people still go outdoors.



Plutonium Toxicity


Because I am not a physicist or a chemist or a medical doctor, I will keep this as short and as simple as I possibly can.


Along with beta and gamma radiation, plutonium emits alpha radiation. The alpha radiation is the biggest danger in terms of toxicity, because most plutonium isotopes release only very low energy beta particles, and very little gamma radiation. Harmless before it enters the body (alpha particles cannot penetrate the outer layer of human skin; even a sheet of paper is enough to block them), once inside the body alpha radiation is the most destructive form of ionizing radiation.


However, unlike other radioactive isotopes which make their way into the food chain, Plutonium tends to form itself into large molecules which have difficulty being absorbed by plants or animals, either through roots or digestive tracts. This means that the greatest risk of plutonium toxicity is by inhalation. When inhaled, about 5% of the plutonium gets absorbed into the body and migrates mostly to the bones and to the liver, where it can sit for many decades, irradiating surrounding tissue, possibly causing cancer (usually lung, liver, or bone cancers).


Despite how bad this sounds, this information is gleaned in part from laboratory studies of animals given relatively high doses of plutonium. Epidemiological studies of human populations exposed to plutonium dust do not corroborate the observations reported in animals. In other words, the results from high dose experiments are not reflected in studies of low-dose exposures.  Rises in lung cancer throughout the United States, for instance, generally correspond to areas with high air pollution, whereas in communities downwind from the Nevada nuclear bomb-test site where one would expect to see an increase of (plutonium-caused) cancers, there has been no such increase.


Further, according to a fact sheet released by the Argonne National Laboratory in 2005: “…breathing in 5,000 respirable plutonium particles of about 3 microns each is estimated to increase an individual’s risk of incurring a fatal cancer about 1% above the U.S. average.”


Plutonium is dangerous, but certainly does not deserve the moniker “most toxic chemical known to mankind” or the like.


What about Kaku’s other claim? That a tiny particle of plutonium can give you lung cancer? This is a claim we hear over and over again from the likes of Helen Caldicott and Christopher Busby. It’s mostly based on the “Hot Particle” theory, which has been discredited for years.


“Hot Particle” Theory


A “hot particle”, has no precise definition, but is essentially a very small (microscopic), highly radioactive particle that due to its electrical charge, will “hop” from one surface to another.


The “hot particle” theory posits that the hot particles are more dangerous than previously thought because once ingested or inhaled, their electrical charge will cause them to stick in one place. This has led to claims that the particles give a much higher than average dose to just a few cells, increasing the chance of causing a cancer by 100,000 times more than mainstream science would predict.


This theory has not been backed up by actual studies. In fact studies by


  • the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
  • the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (NCRP)
  • the British Medical Research Council
  • the U.K. National Radiological Protection Board
  • the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
  • the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • the U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution


have investigated and rejected the “hot particle” theory of increased cancer risk.


Nor is theory borne out in real-life incidents. According to the theory, the 26 workers who breathed in significant amounts of plutonium dust at Los Alamos during the 1940s should have developed about 200 lung cancers between them. As of 1991, just three of them had developed lung cancer. Those three were also smokers (in the United States, 87% of lung cancer cases are estimated to be caused by smoking).


This theory is considered to be discredited by mainstream science.



The leadership [in Japan] is disconnected from reality. They’re not physicists, they’re not engineers… -Michio Kaku, In the Arena on CNN, March 18, 2011


As early as March 18 and well into early April, Kaku was making the rounds on news and entertainment shows, urging the Japanese government to “call in the military” and “bury the sucker!” (meaning the Fukushima reactors). He didn’t seem to realize that the JSDF were already deployed, or that burying the reactors was a bad idea while they were still generating heat. (So apparently, he’s not much of an engineer either…)


Why do people believe Kaku, and why do news shows keep asking him to comment? Partly because he is able to talk in very simple, direct, and above all, entertaining language (“…we could lose a good chunk of northern Japan!”) that appeals to newscasters and their viewers, and partly because he obviously makes himself available.  In my opinion, he is a shameless self-promoter who cares more about getting himself public exposure than the truth.


On the same episode of “In the Arena” quoted above, Kaku slyly seemed to accept credit for Prime Minister Kan’s statement that burying the reactors was a possibility once they were stabilized:


I was on national television, and it got picked up by NHK… and their Prime Minister finally got around to saying ‘And oh gee, maybe we should think about this option.’ So it’s seeping its way now into the highest levels of Japanese government.”

I could probably write a whole chapter just on Michio Kaku alone, but I hope that I’ve given an overview of why what he says should not be taken at face value. My impression is that his comments have not been directly reported much in Japan. The problem is that because he is so widely respected, and appears on television so much, on American networks of all political stripes (from Fox News to Democracy Now), what he has said has shaped the tone of the reporting coming out of the U.S. He was leading the charge of people shouting to bury Fukushima, he was giving the American networks many of the doomsday scenarios that flowed back to us over the Internet, and in general he was feeding the fear machine and enabling other doomsayers with his thoughtless “science”.


UPDATE: Have added a quickie bibliography in a follow-up post.

Jul 16

All Hands

Okay, here’s the blog entry I promised to write back in May. It’s fucking long, so I won’t blame you if you don’t read it. If you’re one of the amazing people I met and made friends with up in Oofunato, I really hope I don’t lose your friendship because of this post. But I need to get this done so I can forget, forgive, and move on.


As you may recall, All Hands was the name of the group I volunteered with in Oofunato from May 21 – 28. I mentioned after returning from that trip that I hadn’t been all that impressed with the organization, and that I would write a blog entry about it.

Cleaning the tambo in Rikuzentakata, Day 2.

Brian Chapman has probably had some good ideas. Spray painting his hand in order to brand the new wheelbarrows for All Hands was not one of them.

The reason I haven’t already done it is simply because I feel weird about calling out a group that is doing really important volunteer work. On the other hand, I feel the need to get this off my chest.


Let me open by saying that I’m a dick. It will help if  I’m clear with that up front. Me = dick. Anyone who knows me will probably agree that I’m a hyper-critical puckered anus of an excuse for a human being. And it’s true. It’s one of the reasons I was able to work in I.T. for so long: that job was constantly about finding new problems or inefficiencies and trying to fix them. It’s also what I try to do when I work on Theatre. A play is a problem, a question of how best to tell a story, that I try to solve—never to my own satisfaction, I might add.


So, now that we’ve cleared that up, here are my problems with All Hands:


Bad Communication & Organization

Probably all non-profits suffer from this to some degree, and with as many projects as All Hands has going on in the world, I can’t say I’m shocked. I think they may have expanded operations too quickly. The bulk of the paid staff appear to have been lifted from volunteers on other projects (mostly Haiti); they’re really young and not very experienced. I’ve heard it joked that the left can’t organize. I don’t think that’s true, but certainly the hippy-dippy attitude towards organization didn’t help.  Examples:


  • Time sensitive emails did not get answered promptly.
    • It happened a lot but the most annoying one was: One of my emails about whether I needed to bring certain bulky items of gear sent two days before I left for Oofunato didn’t get answered until about one hour before my arrival in the city.
  • Despite the fact that they were expecting me the evening I arrived (as requested, I was sending constant updates about my ETA as things changed) and that people frequently arrived in the late evening, the All Hands HQ has absolutely no markings at street level, nor are the inside lights visible from the street. If I hadn’t been sure about the location on google maps, I probably would have wandered around for an hour trying to find the place.
  • They had not told me that I’d need a copy of my Japanese health insurance card (I’m still not sure why), which I needed to get my wife to fax in after I was already there.
  • I had to convince them that they didn’t need to see my passport (and in fact, by law, I was not required to show it to them), and that they could use my driver’s license instead. Despite the fact that there were other long-term expats in the group, as well as native Japanese, it seemed that they were at a loss in terms of handling me
  • House rules were not communicated clearly (more on this and Marc’s insane “No Sign” rule later)
  • Towards the end of the week I was there, the group meetings which we had every day after dinner were averaging about 90 minutes in length.
  • Their introductory letter said that vegetarians would be accommodated, but advised us to have a sense of humour about it because food was sourced locally and that sometimes getting vegetarian meals might not be possible. On arrival, I was told that ALL lunches were non-vegetarian bento. Ha-ha-ha.

There was more, but that’s what I can remember off the top of my head.


The Young Bunch 

As I mentioned before, most of the paid staff are not very experienced. Most of them aren’t yet comfortable with the idea of being an authority figure, I think, and tend to take a kind of elementary school-teacher approach to it.


Granted: it’s a hard line to walk between trying to treat everyone like equals, but also assert your authority when necessary. The Flying Spaghetti Monster knows I’ve failed at exactly the same thing. But I was expecting a group of admins who had had more experience at, you know, administrating.


This is partly my problem too. I don’t respond well to authority figures who I feel are even more clueless than I am. No matter how much I like them (they were all very likeable people).



A group like this is going to get cliquey. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got some people who are more charismatic than others, you’ve got some people who everyone knows because they’ve been there since day one… and then you’ve got schmucks like me who fade into the wallpaper. This is going to happen.


But if you’re a paid staff member, I expect you to be above this crap. The first night I was there, since I was sleeping in the main common room (common practice for people’s first nights), I could hear the staff and some of the volunteers who had been yanked into doing some of the office work being catty about about people. This did not impress me, and it was clear right from the beginning that there was an “in” group, and like a bunch of high schoolers, they were going to gatekeep the hell out of it.


You can say this is sour grapes on my part because I was on the outside of that group (and the other groups as well). But I’m always on the outside, and I’m perfectly happy doing my thing on the periphery. What bothers me is that people who are being paid to handle the volunteers can’t even seem to pretend to be above it all. Later on, when I had a problem with another volunteer, I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone about it because she was a member of that main “in” group. (In fact, she’d been one of the people keeping me awake that first night being catty.)


The two older members of the team, Satoshi and Marc, the two directors of the project, did hold themselves aloof from the cliques, but I didn’t feel comfortable going to them for other reasons, which we’ll get to.



Cultural Sensitivity”

All Hands is an American group, with most of the volunteers coming from outside Japan, mostly the US and UK, so they need to be extra careful to make sure the community doesn’t reject them. Oofunato is a small town, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that while small town people can be extremely friendly, they can also be wary of outsiders. Accordingly, All Hands was worried about making sure their volunteers, many of whom would be considered a bit rough around the edges, didn’t do anything to upset the locals. Totally understandable.


They had some weird policies carried over from the project in Haiti: don’t give gifts, and don’t accept gifts. Just before I got there, they’d been persuaded to ease the rules on accepting gifts. We live in a gifts-based culture here. It’s a matter of pride for some of the locals to give things in thanks for the work that the group was doing. They weren’t doling out lavish presents: they would just drive by and drop off some Coca-Cola, or invite a few people in for tea or soup. Refusing these tokens would have been very rude.


The rule on gift-giving, however, had not been lifted. I came with an entire suitcase full of art supplies that I ended up bringing back with me to Yokohama because I was told I couldn’t give them away. (One of the other volunteers talked about arranging to have them donated to a local school on a hush-hush basis, but it never happened.) A gift of a guitar to an evacuee girl in the center we were staying at had also be made on the sly.


I’m not sure who they got their initial advice from, but by the time I got there, most of their “cultural sensitivity” information seemed to be coming from this sour, middle-aged woman from Tokyo. She would scold people for leaving their slippers or shoes pointing the wrong way outside the door, among other things. I shouldn’t need to write this, but Japanese people leave their slippers the wrong way around all the time. In fact, not three meters from the door to our common room in the community center, the residents in the center were doing exactly that.


Guess who my partner was on my first crew?




We were going to clean baths at an evacuation centre, and the work pants I’d brought to Tohoku were Japanese-style construction pants (nikka-pokka), which are tight in the ankles, and not very easy to roll up. So I changed into my casual clothes.


Have I mentioned I normally don’t wear pants? I wear a kilt. Europe 2008


A casual kilt, but a kilt nonetheless. Great for a job in a place that would leave pants soaking wet.


Well, this sourpuss I mentioned earlier takes one look at me, and it’s not a nice look. I smile, but before I can say “hi”, “おはようございます”, “nice to meet you”, or any of the other things one might say to someone when meeting him or her for the first time, she puckers up her face as if passing a kidney stone and says: “Is that what you’re wearing?”




"Can you change your clothes?”




I figure that’s going to be the end of it, and I’m not going to stand around and let a fight start so I go to my bag to pack my mini-bag for the day. As I do, I hear her speaking sharply in Japanese to the woman she’s sitting with. I can make out enough to know she’s bitching about me, so I stop what I’m doing and say: “何ですか?どうした?"  Basically: “What is it? What’s the problem?” It’s a little bit rude of me, but this type of person gets under my skin easily and I’ve only had about three hours sleep thanks to the chatty staff last night.


I take a deep breath and make an attempt to politely explain why I’ve chosen to wear this article of clothing. She goes quiet.


Fifteen minutes later we’re downstairs, and I see her talking to Satoshi (one of the two project directors I mentioned earlier), and the next thing I know I’m being trooped upstairs again to talk to Marc (the main project director). I don’t actually talk to Marc: Satoshi pulls me aside and has a talk with me. I try to be reasonable: the guy’s in a tough position, and he’s either decided it’s more important to keep sourpuss happy than me, or he’s accepted her claptrap that I’m going to upset the (mostly older) residents of the evacuation centre. He speaks English perfectly, which leads me to wonder if maybe he hasn’t actually spent a lot of time in Japan. If he had, he’d probably know better.


I make the point that I’m not fresh off the airplane, I’ve lived in Japan for almost a decade, and that I’ve already volunteered, kilted up, in several volunteer centres, with no negative results, and he tells me that this isn’t a volunteer center in Tokyo or Chiba. (If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I’d been working in other Tohoku volunteer centres.) He then does his best to mollify me with some weak-ass “It’s okay that you want to be different, BUT” bullshit , using his best “conflict resolution” voice, which I think they teach you in management school to use on assholes. What they don’t teach you, I guess, is how fucking condescending it sounds.


Frankly, if this former corporate suit can’t understand that I wear a kilt for the same reason other people might prefer a certain style of shirt, then I’m not going to win this, am I?


I swallow my fucking pride and change into the carpenters’ pants, realizing that while this sourpuss from Tokyo doesn’t have any more insight into Tohoku culture than I do, because my face isn’t a Japanese one, I’m going to get zero credit for any of my knowledge. I never expected to be put in this position by a group of foreigners.


Later, I found several other expats who complained about the same thing (many of whom were fluent in Japanese). They weren’t being taken seriously by the gang in charge on matters of culture either because they weren’t Japanese.



The Great Communicator

So Marc was the other director of the project. He left before I did, being replaced by Chris 1 (I think of him as pretty-boy Chris). I liked Chris, but by that time I’d had it with the group’s culture and I’d decided I was just going to concentrate on the work and then go home at the end of my tour.


Marc, I like less. Like all the others, he’s a decent man. The world is a better place for having Marc in it, and I’m not sure I can say the same about myself.


Having said that, I was not impressed with his management style. On my second night, my first night in the community centre I was going to call home for a week, I got a tour of the facilities with the other newcomers. We came to a set of shelves with food all over them. Some of it was snack food, and some of it was more substantive. We were told we could eat it. Throughout the evening, I watched people do just that.


I’m used to eating late, like around 20:00 or 20:30, so I wasn’t really hungry at dinner time. But by the time 21:00 rolls around, my stomach’s growling. So I take a piece of bread and put some peanut butter on it. The next thing I know there’s a guy making a bee-line for me.


“That bread’s for breakfast. You’re not supposed to eat it now.”


Oh. Whoops. “Oh, sorry,” I say, genuinely penitent (I don’t like to break rules like that), “No one told me.”


“Well, I’m telling you now,” he replies.


Maybe 40 minutes later, I seek him out and apologize. I did break a rule after all. Even though I don’t think I was snippy (I think he was), I apologize for that as well. Why? I guess naivety. I think that by apologizing to him it will give him an opening to apologize to me. But he doesn’t. He just accepts my apology.


The morning after, we have a morning meeting at the HQ, but before that, we have a pre-meeting at the community centre at which we’re scolded as a group for eating breakfast bread.


Okay, I get it. All Hands provides the breakfast food; it costs them money. The snack foods are things that people have given to us, or that other people have bought and dumped in the communal area. If we eat the breakfast food at night, there’s less at breakfasts, costs go up, etc. I get it.


Someone suggests a sign and we get treated to a speech by Marc about how he doesn’t like signs all over the place, because if there are signs, it means people aren’t communicating. Fair enough: we don’t want post-it notes with rules on them stuck onto every available surface. But come on! By his logic, we should tear down road signs, because we should just communicate our way around town. Besides, since when are signs not a form of communication?


bread (1)No one’s saying to put up a sign that says “Don’t eat!”, but a simple sign over top of the breakfast food that reads “breakfast food” would not only make people stop and think about whether or not they should eat it, it would help remind those giving the tours to tell newcomers: “Only eat this food in the morning.”


(The next day is our day off. Chris 2, who I think of as EM Chris (effective microorganisms, don’t ask), goes to the grocery store and buys half a dozen loaves of bread and sticks them under a sign that reads “24-Hour bread” in English, and “Fuck You” in Anti-establishmentese. Awesome guy.)


As the initial director of the project, it’s Marc who sets the tone for the whole group, and I think he could have done a better job. At least now I understood why there was no sign on the HQ at street level.


(Although, as a side note: every night at dinner, there would be sign over the vegetarian food. Somehow that was okay.)



Now Class, Aren’t We Ashamed of Ourselves”

For a group that seemed so concerned about harshing anyone’s buzz by having too many signs, they certainly did impose a lot of rules on the group who stayed in the community centre. Marc oversaw the community centre group, which, by the time I got there, was where most of us were staying.


I can understand his concern. Unlike at the HQ, we were living among Japanese people and even some evacuees at the centre, so there was a need to be less shouty and rude. Not that the group was shouty or rude at all. It wasn’t.


The community centre had a 22:00 curfew, and limited us to certain hours for taking baths, but there were other rules imposed on us by Marc and All Hands. Aside from the “breakfast bread”, there was the rule that all luggage had to be off the floor and on the shelves that lined to wall. This was a rule that kept getting repeated to us despite the fact that there was no room for everyone’s shit on those shelves. In the sleeping room I was in, my bags alone took up a shelf and a half on the only shelving unit we had to share between initially 7, later 15 people. I also wondered about the safety of this policy, given the intensity of the aftershocks that were still ongoing in the area (yes, there were people sleeping directly under the shelves).


Further, while drinking (booze) was allowed in the HQ, we were not permitted to drink alcohol in our centre. The Japanese volunteer group staying there did. The residents did. But we weren’t allowed to. I don’t drink anyway, but I did see people get drunk outside of the centre and none of them were badly behaved.


And that’s what it came down to. The group was extremely well-behaved. I’m used to touring with actors, who will tear screen doors off of trailers and other dumb stuff, so I was prepared for the worst: practical jokes, lots of shouting, vomiting, etc. But this group was incredibly well-behaved and respectful, and it drove me crazy that at every meeting, the staff would be scolding us for some minor infraction of some rule (sometimes a violation that hadn’t even happened yet, but that they were anticipating for some reason).


The one big time a rule got broken was when five people came back after curfew at the centre and snuck in through a side door. Strangely, as far as I could tell, they didn’t really catch that much hell. And honestly, while you wouldn’t want to encourage that kind of thing, they snuck in quietly, nobody from the centre saw them come in, and they didn’t make a big deal of it. Now, probably what they should have done is the 20 minute walk to the HQ and slept on the common room floor, but still, for a major infraction of the rules, the damage was 0.


But the next day at the daily meeting, we sat there for a quarter-hour lecture on “blah blah blah, these people know who they are, blah blah blah, next time, there WILL BE CONSEQUENCES!”. Five fucking people, and you need to lecture the rest of the group, who had done nothing wrong—to do what? Put the fear of a stern talking-to from a 22 year-old in them? This was sort of the final straw for me, twenty-somethings scolding us like we were 15 year-olds on a school trip, and it’s when I resolved to just put my head down and get through all the meeting bullshit and just keep my mind on the work.


I mean, if someone breaks a rule like that, you pull them aside, give them a ticking off, and then you punish them or you don’t. There was no reason to talk to the rest of the group as if this was going to give us “ideas” or something.


So they went way too far in one direction as far as rules-enforcement on our bases. The worksites were another story.




As far as I could tell, there were no worksite rules—at least none that covered volunteer safety. When we arrived on our first day, they made us each sign a waiver form (which they did not send us to read beforehand—seriously, WTF?) that basically said if anything happened to us volunteers, it was our own damn fault. It went on to say that the team leaders were amateurs who didn’t know what they were doing and we were not obliged to follow their instructions if we felt unsafe.


So this may have absolved All Hands from any legal responsibility for us, but they seemed to think it absolved them of any ethical responsibility as well. There were a LOT of onsite accidents, mostly from people being too gung-ho. Everything from lacerations to punctures to fucked-up backs, you name it. Some of it was probably inevitable, but a lot of the accidents could have been prevented with a few safety rules. A lot of the volunteers wore their injuries with pride, but this is exactly the sort of culture that workplace rules are there to counteract. Workplace rules are not just there to protect workers from management, but to protect workers from themselves.


There were also no mandatory breaks. On my first day of heavy crew cleaning the canals, there Dirty sleeve. Where do I wipe my nose now!?!

Cleaning drainage canals in Oofunato, May 25, 2011. was one guy who didn’t even stop for lunch. The team leader pushed us really hard, and I felt guilty even stopping for the four or five minutes it took to pull off my sewage-soaked gloves and drink from my water bottle. Later in the afternoon, after I’d run out of liquid, I felt such pressure to get done, I didn’t take what would have been a 15-minute break to walk to the hose and fill up my bottles. I ended up severely dehydrated (I didn’t piss once that day between 8:00 and 18:00), dizzy, and with an aching head.


And while that was totally my own fault, and I learned from it (and changed to a crew that had a more concerned team leader), I saw other people push themselves even harder than that on a regular basis. They’re real heroes and everything, but All Hands should be taking more responsibility for the health and safety of its volunteers. Part of that is telling someone: “No, you need to take a break right now. I don’t care if it ‘breaks your rhythm’; you’re no good to anybody dead.” The team leader took pride on pushing his team to get the maximum amount of work done, but didn’t seem to realize that his other responsibility was the health and safety of his crew.


What’s interesting in this whole rules thing is that the rules that were heavily enforced were the ones that, if broken, might potentially make All Hands look bad in the community. Safety of the volunteers barely registered as a concern. The project started in March, but the week I started was apparently the first week they bought steel inserts for our shoes (to avoid nail punctures)—and there weren’t enough, particularly in the larger sizes. Also, there reportedly HAD been mandatory breaks at some point, but they’d been removed because people had complained that it broke their rhythm if they were in “the zone”.




Jesus, mother of piss, this got long. I really expected this to be four or five paragraphs, tops. I didn’t realize it was going to be a novella. Anyway, if you’ve read this far, you’re a fucking saint or a masochist, so thanks. I really needed to get this into the public space to feel that I’d spoken my mind about it.


I mean no disrespect to the people up there with All Hands, doing fantastic work (yes, even those people I’ve basically called douchebags in this post). And on some level, I want to go back and join them. I just found that it wasn’t an environment I felt safe or valued in, and I’ll have to find another way to get back up to Tohoku and do my part.

May 19

Good Day Becomes Bad Day

I set out yesterday morning to clear a bunch of stuff from my to-do list, related to my upcoming volunteer trip to Oofunato. I had 40,000 Yen in my wallet, thanks to scrupulous scrimping and saving over the last three months, which I planned to use for the volunteer trip.


The day started out with a ride to the insurance office to buy volunteer insurance. Score one for my Japanese skills. I took the insurance card and popped it in my wallet.


Then I rode back to to my neighbourhood to get my hair chopped into a maintenance-free style since I will likely not be able to shower between May 21 and 28.  I had a dentist and doctor appointment at 14:00, but I didn’t have enough time to run my other big errand (home center to pick up mask, gloves, work shirt, eye protection, etc.), so I rode back out towards Maita and found a little Italian place to eat lunch at.


I totally scored on the Italian food and had the best margherita pizza I’ve had since moving to Japan. The staff were friendly and chatty. I paid, took the receipt, put it in my wallet, and then shoved my wallet into my vest pocket (I wear a workman’s vest during the summer because I need the extra pockets). I went outside, slung on my backpack (strapping it across the middle) and rode off.


I arrived at the doctor’s office about five minutes before my appointment time. The receptionist asked me for my insurance card, and I started hunting through my card holder. Hmm… not there. I must have transferred it to my wallet at some point. Well, I’ll just—wait—no—what?—shit!


Wallet gone.


I had strapped my bag over top of my vest, and the strap must have put pressure on the lower part of the vest pocket, pushing my wallet up and out.


The dentist and doctor both agreed to see me on the promise that I’d return tomorrow with the insurance and the money. The receptionist was kind enough to call the restaurant for me and confirm that I had indeed put my wallet in my pocket before leaving.


Right after my appointment, I retraced my exact route. A normally 15-minute ride become 60 minutes as I pissed off other vehicles on the road by riding extremely slowly, looking for that square of light brown. I got all the way back to the restaurant, where the manager helped me search the bushes outside where I’d had my bicycle parked.


The bushes that line the side of the road for much of my ride are these super-dense thickets, which began to get me worried that my wallet had perhaps fallen into one of them. So, as I began to retrace my route again, I experimented by dropping my card case into one of them. I was hoping that it would bounce off or stay on top, but it dropped into the middle of the bush and was almost impossible to find even though I knew exactly where it was.


I finished retracing my route a second time, which put me back in Motomachi where I thought I would check with the police. The sign in the window of the Koban (police box) said “On Patrol”. Just after I read that, a cop bicycled by, completely ignoring my waving. I waited another 25 minutes or so for him to return, but no luck, so I got back on my bicycled and retraced my route a third time.


This time I actually started searching bushes, concentrating around areas where the road was a little bumpy. But there kilometres of these bushes, and it was impossible to search them all. So I bicycled to another nearby Koban to file a report.



Once again, no cop. This time, I did notice a sign inside.  It was pretty clear that I needed to dial one of the three numbers printed on the sign.


Actually, the sign says essentially “pick up the phone and be connected to the police”. Well, picking up the phone only connected me to a dial tone.


I snapped a photo of the sign and posted it to Twitter. Within 5 minutes, a friend (@peacefulandjust) had replied with instructions. I was able to summon an officer of the law and make a report. Sadly, no one had turned in my wallet.


So, after spending another hour searching bushes (it was dark by now, so I removed the headlight from my bicycle and used that), I headed home empty handed, knowing that on top of having to repeat my errands again the next day (back to the Doctor to show insurance and pay; back to insurance office to see if they will give me another card; no second haircut, thanks…), I would have to report my credit card missing, cancel my bank and Yodobashi point cards… and worse, I would have to tell my wife that I’d just lost the replacement wallet she bought me in December after having lost the last one in Tokyo.


Yeah, this is the second time in six months.


Here are the possible scenarios, in order of my preference:


  1. I’ll find it today while I rerun my errands (highly unlikely)
  2. It was lying in an obvious place and someone picked it up and dropped it in a mailbox (according to @soness, this is a good way of returning wallets) or will turn it into the police today
  3. It was lying in an obvious place in Motomachi, and someone popped it in to a nearby shop; the shopkeeper will turn it into the police this morning.
  4. It was lying in an obvious place, someone picked it up, removed the money, and dumped it in a mailbox.
  5. It fell into the bushes, and it won’t be discovered until fall.
  6. It was lying in an obvious place, and someone stole it.


So. Yeah. Bad day. I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about it. But no time to dwell. I need to hit the road before 11 to redo all the errands from yesterday, plus today’s. First step… find a temporary wallet…

Apr 02

A Response

I’ve got a little bit of flak for starting the Journalism Wall of Shame, not surprisingly, though not as much as I actually expected.


One person tweeted that he hated “fucking crusader bloggers” who had “never set foot in a newsroom in their lives”. Given that this was tweeted immediately after he’d tweeted about finding  the Wall of Shame, I can only assume that he was talking about me. (Note: although I use quotation marks, I might have got some of the words not exactly right; this was tweeted a few days ago and is apparently lost in the ether.)


I don’t expect everyone to like what I’m doing, and as we’ve seen with that Japan Times article, press people begin circling their wagons when they hear about us. However, I would like to address the point that not having ever been in a newsroom disqualifies me from criticising bad journalism.


To wit: do sports writers have to be or have been professional athletes? Do music reviewers need to be professional musicians? Do Theatre reviewers need to be professional actors, directors, etc.? Do they have to have ever been backstage during a show? Does a journalist who criticises a speech given or an action taken by, say, Barak Obama, need to have been president?


No, of course they don’t.


I could go on, but I think that sums up my point very nicely.


I leave you with this photo of the TERRIBLE COKE ZERO SHORTAGE that is hitting many convenience stores, drugstores, and supermarkets in Yokohama.  Noooooooooooo!




Yes, with all the blackouts this week having been cancelled, this is the extent of my discomfort.  Why not DONATE and help those suffering actual hardship?

Mar 20

WTF Toronto Star

Here is an article filed by Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star:–dimanno-no-rest-for-japan-quake-victims


The article was brought to my attention by a contributor to the Bad Journalism Wall of Shame that I started Friday night.  I clicked through to read it and was absolutely flabbergasted at it.  I had expected a somewhat ill-informed, badly fact-checked piece like the one I submitted myself to the Wall of Shame as its first entry.  At that time, I thought that Ms. DiManno was just misinformed and not careful enough checking her sources, and the score I gave her reflected that.  However,  this second piece was so awful, and to my mind represented such a brutal distortion of fact (in service of a fairly obvious anti-nuclear agenda*), that I was instantly moved to respond directly by reporting it using the Report an Error button at the bottom of the webpage.  I could have let it go, I suppose, like so many others, but that it was printed by one of my hometown papers.  Given that the Toronto Star editorial staff are unlikely to read, let alone respond to it, I thought I would repost it here.


I don’t know where to begin.  I don’t know what alternate reality Ms. DiManno lives in, but it’s certainly not the Tokyo, Yokohama, and their environs that my friends, family, and I live in.


There are so many factual errors (including an unsupported assertion that a meltdown could inject "thousands of tonnes" of radioactive dust into the air"; and suggesting snarkily that nuclear winter is a possibility–something that is a theoretical result of a full-scale nuclear war, not a plant meltdown), that to list them all would require an article of my own.


The worst is perhaps the off-handed way she insults the workers who are risking their lives to keep the plant cooled, calling them "a selfless skeletal work crew doing whatever it is they do at the Fukushima plant…" which makes it very apparent she can’t be bothered to check facts and find out what it is they actually do.


In terms of officials (and scientists) telling us we are safe, Ms DiManno opines that "No one in Japan believes any of this babble." and that everyone able is moving as far away as possible.  This may be true of paranoid foreigners like herself, but I can assure you that myself and all my neighbours here in Yokohama are staying put, despite it being pretty much as easy as it ever was to head for western Japan.  I find her tone and her assertions offensive.


Finally, the entire tone of this article adds to the panic of the families of foreigners still living in Canada, some of whom are sick with worry… unnecessary worry caused by such irresponsible reporting.


Please recall Ms. DiManno from Japan immediately (if indeed she is actually here).  It is clear that she doesn’t want to be here, and we don’t want her here.


Shame on you, Toronto Star.  Shame on you, Rosie DiManno.


*I will make no secret that I am pro-nuclear power, but there are plenty of strong anti-nuclear power arguments to be made without resorting to untruths.


And now, I will try to calm down by posting a photo I took this afternoon at Kamiooka station as part of my series (really? I don’t know…) Life Goes on in Yokohama.


Life Goes on in Yokohama

Mar 17

Why Bad Journalism Has Driven Me To Desperate Ends

In retrospect, I should have had this idea before, but I guess today I just hit critical mass (not sure if it’s appropriate to use a nuclear energy turn of phrase here): one too many pieces of bad journalism.


So I decided to start a wiki Bad Journalism Wall of Shame and invite some of the other people who were frustrated with some of the shoddy, alarmist, and shockingly wrong journalism we’ve seen since last Friday’s Tohoku quake.


I take everything I read with a grain of salt these days, and have for many years.  When I read an article or see a television report that makes sensational claims, I try to fact check on my own, because I no longer trust most journalists to have done it for me.  There are several major areas that journalists particularly suck at:


  • Science reporting.  I have a degree in fine arts, and I could write better science articles than most science writers could.  Any journalist who suggested that Fukushima could be “another Chernobyl” should be made to retake his 9th grade science class and then have his journalist license revoked.   Oh wait…
  • Reporting on Japan.  JAPAN IS SOOO WEIRD!  JAPANESE PEOPLE HAVE NO EMOTION!  If everything you think you know about Japan was learned from the movies Gung Ho and Mr. Baseball, then maybe you’re not qualified to write an article about Japan.  Also, spending a few days, hell, even a month in Japan (probably in a hotel or furnished apartment, or otherwise isolated location) does not make you an expert on the place.  Nor does interviewing someone who has lived here for a few months (or even year, if living in one of the many gaijin bubbles).
  • Disaster reporting.  Two and a half words: Exaggeration and fear-mongering.


This is not new information.  Not to me, and probably not to you.  However, in the aftermath of the quake, all three of these elements joined together to create (to use a term journalists are so fond of using themselves) the “perfect storm”.  News piece after news piece full of inaccuracies, misinterpretations, and just plain lies.  (My favourites are the photos, shown out-of-context.  For instance, showing a photo of a girl in a surgical-style mask and implying that she was wearing it due to radiation, while the reality is that we’re in allergy season here and many people wear masks to keep pollen at bay.)


The worst offenders are the 24-hour news networks.  A few hours into the quake, I stopped looking at them.  The problem there (as we learned during the 9/11 coverage) is that the anchors feel like they have to keep talking to fill dead air, which means that they inevitably end up saying dumbass things.


But no news source gets off scot free.  Some seem to make stuff up, others seem to repeat rumours floating around in the electronic ether, while others interview obvious idiots or crazies and take what they say as gospel truth.  Some, I think, pick information up from another news source, and never bother to check it for accuracy.


Journalists are important.  If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be writing this, because I wouldn’t care.  They are as important as doctors, or soldiers, or firemen.  And they often get paid significantly less than all three.  If I was prone to hyperbole, I would say something like “journalists are the shoulders upon which freedom stands”, but I’m not, so I’ll just say good journalists are heroes.


Bad journalists, then, like bad doctors (think Doctor Moreau), bad soldiers, and bad firemen (I guess arsonists, then) make the world a worse place to live in.


Okay, like what?


In the case of this disaster, here is my list:


  • Incited a level of panic among people worldwide about Nuclear energy (pro or anti, I don’t care, but let’s talk facts, not histrionics)
  • Incited a level of panic among people worldwide regarding OH MY GOD NU-CLEE-AR WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!
  • Incited panic among foreign residents in Japan
  • Caused significant worry to the families, friends, and loved ones of those of us foreigners living in Japan.  Several people I know have left Japan, not because they were concerned about danger, but because their families were so stricken about the perceived danger they felt they had leave in order to comfort them
  • Probably (hard to measure) have caused economic damage to Japan due to foreign companies pulling out their people and, in some cases, talking about shutting down their Tokyo offices “due to radiation.”
  • Once again mischaracterized the Japanese people to fit their lazy stereotypes



Okay, so what’s the point of making a Wall of Shame for bad journalism?  Someone on Twitter implied that I was starting a witch-hunt and that we should be contacting journalists and publications directly and pointing out their errors.  Firstly, that is impractical.  There are too many.  Secondly, a witch-hunt implies that I will ruthlessly prosecute people I perceive to be guilty but who are actually innocent.  All the items posted are available for anyone to read and check against the facts.


The point of this exercise is simply to provide negative feedback to journalists who are, as we perceive it, not doing their jobs.  (And positive feedback: I’ve also started a Good Journalism wiki page for pieces that really shine.)  This may only end up being of interest to those of us who live here, but I think it’s important.


And crap it’s getting really late.  There is so much more I could write, but I really need to sleep.


I leave you with this: life goes on as usual in Yokohama.



Dec 20

On Censorship

I posted this as a comment to someone’s Facebook post, but I will duplicate it here so it isn’t lost to wall-scroll:


Censorship becomes even more nonsensical when you live in a non-English-speaking country.  You walk into these girly-girly hip stores, and they’re playing the filthiest gangsta rap, but no one cares since they don’t understand English. 


My point?  Dirty words have no inherent meaning beyond that which we give them and for someone to censor them is an infringement of my right to decide for myself whether or not something is offensive.


Of course, in Japan, you can’t show genitalia ANYWHERE, even in porno.  Apparently, seeing a porn star’s penis or vagina will SCAR YOU FOR LIFE.  On the other hand, seeing someone ripped to shreds by a machine-gun in ROBOCOP, well, that’s just COOL!

Oct 25

Facebook and My Blog

I thought I’d write a short entry on the subject of my blog’s integration with Facebook, since I’ve had some queries and complaints.


Facebook’s RSS feed integration is incredibly broken.  It was always crap, but there were ways for me to jog it, making my blog entries show up as notes.  Unfortunately, I can no longer to that, and RSS is hit-and-miss.  I’ve searched for other ways to automatically integrate my blog posts with Facebook, and it seems the only way to do it (that I could find—I’m open to suggestions) is to use the plug-in called Word Book, which requires me to create a custom Facebook App.  For some reason this app asks you for access to everything when you try to read a full post.  Part of the reason for this is because it allows your posted comments on Facebook to also appear on my blog site.


No one else has access to this App except me.  Word Book uses it as an entry point.  If the plugin is somehow abusing this, the hundreds of users using it have not discovered this.  The weird title is the name of my blog.  So you can ALLOW this APP without your account being hacked.  Okay?

Sep 05

Victoria – Fifth Show and Fuck You

Fuck you, Victoria Fringe organizers.  Actually, you are generally nice people, and kudos on organizing such a great Fringe.  But you’ve hit this performer where it hurts: his house, and he’s upset.


For my other readers, let me give you some context:


So here I am, doing my show, and other than a disappointing opening night, am actually getting better houses than I did in Edmonton.


Two days before my fifth show, the Fringe announces that they’ll be running a fundraiser in order to help manage some of the financial problems caused by last-minute pulled funding.  Totally cool.  I’m down with that.  Performer and Fringe superstar Chris Gibbs generously offers to do a benefit performance of his show, Gibberish, at $20 a head with proceeds going to the Fringe.  Super!  Great idea!  Pats on the back all around.






Except that they slot this show in on Saturday at 8:00pm.  There are other Fringe shows on during that time, including mine, which is 60 minutes long and starts at 7:15.  I don’t think I need to say that this is considered a ‘prime time’ slot, and as such should be one of my better-attended shows.


Oh, did I mention that for two days, every single house manager was plugging the show to every single Fringe audience?  My house manager even plugged it to my Saturday audience, even though there was no way for them to make it at that point!  It was just salt in the wound.


Wound?  What wound?


I went from audiences of around 30 people (even at my late shows) to an audience of 9 on that Saturday night.  Other performers reported audiences being halved for their shows between 7:00 and 9:30 that evening.


I gave a pretty good performance, but an audience of 9 doesn’t have the critical mass needed to feed the fire, and the house was absolutely silent.  After working so hard flyering and schmoozing to build the audiences even to a modest 30, it was a huge, deflating, letdown.


Look, we know when we join the Fringe that we are competing against the other shows and performers.  But even my performance that was up against Martin Dockery’s juggernaut Wanderlust had 30-something people in the house.  The point is that the fundraiser had an important advantage that the other shows didn’t have: they had the house managers pushing it, and pushing it hard!


I think it’s obvious that I have no problem with the Fringe running fundraisers, but we performers paid money to be in this festival, and we had no idea that the Fringe itself would counterprogram us.  I think what they did was incredibly unfair and was essentially raising money for the Fringe at the expense of a number of Fringe performers.


I heard some grumbling from some of the other Fringe Artists, but I’m not sure if anyone complained officially.  I will certainly be complaining when I get back to Japan: this was a douchy thing to do.  If any other Vic Fringe artists are reading this, please let me know, either via comments or a direct message/email, if you will also be complaining.  I think a relatively large number of us were affected, and a complaint endorsed by all of us (maybe even copied to the CAFF) would be more effective than a lone curmudgeon complaining on his own.

Aug 06

On the Road Again

Well, I’m sitting in Narita airport, at my gate, just shy of two hours before boarding.


I’m flying JAL this time, which isn’t so bad (they have a great Japanese lime drink that they serve), but I mislike Narita’s Terminal two.


One: it’s too hot.  I’m dressed in cotton for my flight, and I’m overheating!


Two: the gates are dumb.  At least this time I’m not in the section of the terminal you have to take a shitty little train to.  Which always struck me as weird, because some of the other gates, for instance the gate I’m at now, are equally far out, so why not at least have an open pedestrian walkway for those of us who don’t want to have the Japanese subway experience at the airport.


Then, the gates are down at the arrivals level, which means a long flight of stairs.  Which is fine.  Except that the toilets are on the upper level.  For a passenger traveling alone, that means hauling hand luggage up and down.


Three: the souvenir shops are tiny and cramped.  The Tiffany’s and Hermes and all of those shops are huge, and open, and empty, but the souvenir shops are not, and they are crammed with people.  Also, the selection in Terminal 2 sucks.  I wanted to buy a Hachimaki for a friend’s son, and they didn’t even have any!  At a souvenir store in the airport?  As the French would say: Quoi le fuck?


In any case, I’m looking forward to getting back on the road with this show.  I need to do some serious line running, as the four or five weeks I’ve had away from the show (with only two long rehearsals to break it up) have broken my confidence (such as it was) with the lines.


It’s so damn amateur to read actors go on about lines.  Lines are something that are supposed to just happen at this level, but I’ll be frank and say that I’ve always had a memory like a… what do you call those things… metal… with the holes… oh, goddamn it.


Bloody hell!  How many times are they going to check my frigging passport?  Apart from all the regular checks: insurance counter, check-in machine, luggage check-in, security, immigration, and when boarding the aircraft, they’ve started checking at the upstairs entry to the gate area (and presumably, if I use the toilet, I will have to show it to get back in again).  As if that isn’t bad enough, they just checked my passport again while I was just sitting here minding my own business.  What’s next?  Passport scanners on the toilets to make sure the craps we take are authorized.


Wow.  I talk about doing Theatre, but these airplane people are true experts.  At Security Theatre, that is.  Maybe they should tour the Fringe next year instead of me.  The whole show can consist of being checked, searched, questioned, and probed to get into the Theatre, and by the time you’re in, the show is over.


Actually, that’s not a bad idea for a show.  Except who would pay to be treated like that outside of an airport setting?


Nyug.  I’ve been feeling nauseous since the cab ride from the house (lots of narrow streets and twists and turns while I checked my bags for 忘れ物 (shit I forgot)), and I really can’t shake it.  Hope this doesn’t last onto the plane.  I would blame lack of sleep, but with 5 hours under my belt from last night, I got more than usual.  I’ve only once come close to losing my cookies (tossing my lunch) on the airplane, and I really don’t want to repeat that experience.


Oh well.  So the point is that I’m back on the road with 39.  And while I will definitely miss Japan (my home), and my wife, I am really looking forward to really do some serious Fringing this time, unhindered by social, production, or family obligations.



May 21

Document Panic

So, moments before I was supposed to go out the door to head into Tokyo to sign the documents, I notice a missed call on my cell phone from the bank.  I return the call, and it’s just my rep reminding me which documents to bring, none of which I have… and beyond that, none of which I was told I would require!


At first, my rep says that he emailed the list to me, but a quick search of gmail turns up nothing of the sort.  Then he says we must have discussed it on the phone, but given that I scrupulously write down everything he says, I know this is not the case either.


In the end, he tells me we can still go ahead with the mortgage documents today and I can send the other stuff in at least a day before the final settlement.


Of course, in the meantime, I’ve wasted precious minutes searching for the one document that I do have, but can’t find because I don’t know where my wife put it (not her fault, she didn’t know I was going to need it today), so I may be late for the signing.


The bank has been great, and my rep is super friendly, but I’m sure it’s not just me dropping balls here.



Nov 12

An Enemy of the People

I just finished reading this Ibsen play yesterday morning.  I really enjoyed it.


The main problem is that Dr. Stockmann is too good.  It’s unbelievable.  I kept thinking that his intense single-mindedness would result in disaster… and not just the disasters that do befall him, but something deserved.  To me, that’s how the play was structured, and it was a bit of shock when it didn’t happen.


After everyone has turned on him and his family, he’s saved from absolute ruin by some sea Captain who offers to take them in.


Ibsen wrote the play after being criticized for his frank talk about syphilis in his play Ghosts.  Dr. Stockmann is an obvious playwright’s mouthpiece character, used to express Ibsen’s self-righteous fury at his critics.  It’s like when Ani DiFranco writes one of those damn songs which is just a snippy response to something some dumb bitch has written in a magazine article about her.


The defining line of the play is: “…the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”  Which is funny, because the protagonist isn’t standing alone at the end of the play.  Aside from the saviour sea captain, he’s also got his wife, daughter, and two sons (one more than the other: there might be a story there in the future) standing by him.


Despite this flaw, there’s still a lot of good stuff in this play, which has a bearing on us.  Science versus financial interest, for one.  Imagine that Dr. Stockmann isn’t concerned about the diseased water in the town baths, but the fact that the planet is warming.  This play has never been more relevant.


Dr. Stockmann starts out as a man of science (who also happens to belong to the upper crust of the social order), who only wants to see the baths fixed, but by the end of the play, he’s a revolutionary, ready to tear down the existing system because the problem will not be fixed while it persists.


What I like is that the moral element that plagues the global warming question is absent.  The moral element of the play involves telling the ‘inconvenient’ truth in the face of financial interest.  There is a problem that the protagonist discovers and announces, expecting it to be solved.  It doesn’t matter who caused the problem (though there is some mention that Dr. Stockmann had recommended the source be taken from higher up the mountain, I suspect that is done simply to avoid the argument that the mistake is Dr. Stockmann’s in the first place), simply that it exists and needs to be solved.


Similarly, with Global Warming, we simply need to acknowledge the problem and deal with it.  The causes are only important inasmuch as they help us avoid disaster.  My problem with the discourse on the subject is that the arguments from the environmentalist side always have this assumption that we are morally wrong and are expected to sacrifice and suffer, regardless of the necessity of doing so.  Which is why solutions which would allow us to continue our life (e.g. energy use) as it stands, seem to be rejected out-of-hand.

Of course, the arguments from the other side are absurd, pretty much absolute denial flying in the face of empirical evidence, and are obviously linked to financial (and therefore political) interest.




Anyway, to get back on the subject of An Enemy of the People, I’m thinking of writing an adaptation at some point.


IDEA #1: Small Japanese mountain town in the 1950s.  The doctor has returned a few years ago from his war posting with the idea of the baths.


IDEA #2: Make it about Global Warming, in a world where the social order is torn down and replaced with a meritocracy.  Is it even possible?  Is it interesting to write about such a Utopia?  Or would it, in turn, become a distopia, run as much my statisticians as scientists?

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