Educational Background

Barack Obama:
Columbia University - B.A.
Political Science with a Specialization in
International Relations.
Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

Joseph Biden:
University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)


John McCain:
United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

Sarah Palin:
Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism


Ode to Sean Hannity

Ode to Sean Hannity
by John Cleese

Aping urbanity
Oozing with vanity
Plump as a manatee
Faking humanity
Journalistic calamity
Intellectual inanity
Fox Noise insanity
You're a profanity


Sports Festival Part 2

I just got back from the sports festival at one of my schools last year. This was my favorite school of all time. Both the students and teachers were great and I've never felt so welcome at a school. I got a little emotional near the end of the event as I said goodbye to everyone once again.

So what's so amazing about these sports festivals? Japanese schools put a lot of emphasis on responsibilities of the children; especially the 5th and 6th graders, or kou-gaku-nen 高学年 (1-2: 低学年 lower grade level, 3-4: 中学年 middle grade level, 5-6: 高学年 upperclassmen). The 高学年 pretty much run the show. To give you an idea, I'll try to explain everything that is going on all at once.

During the course of the day, spread out between other events, each grade level has races. There are 4 teams: white, blue, yellow, and red, but white and blue are both white and yellow and red are both red regarding the over-all two team system.

The students running are lined up in the middle of the track.
The four ready to go are in position.
The announcer at the microphone is one of the students.
The people holding the goal tape are students.
There are four students at the finish line with 1,2,3 and 4 jerseys. It's their job to take the appropriate person after the race to the right line.
The score board is managed by students
There are two cheerleading teams or more within the track trying to get the audience to make some noise.
The next group of students for the next event are waiting just outside the track.
When an event is over, the cleanup and prep for the next thing is all done by students.

Basically, the teachers are just supervising, leading the classes to line up when they go on next, and shooting the cap gun to start the race.

This kind of responsibility is not just limited to the sports festival. Students clean their classrooms after lunch, which they serve themselves. The 高学年 clean the whole school based on groups that rotate and have different responsibilities. There are groups with other responsibilities that meet every few weeks after school to do things like sort library books, plan morning assembly activities, etc.

The clubs are run by teachers in elementary school, but in middle school its almost all self run. Imagine a soccer club with no adults. Imagine them doing drills and not goofing off. Pretty unbelievable, but that's the power of the sempai-kouhai system (upper-lower classmen). Middle school is 3 years, and the 3rd graders have the power (and size) to keep the younger kids in line. Respect is key.


Sports Festival Part 1

Saturday I went to both my schools sports festivals. These schools are in the middle of Tokyo surrounded by big buildings, and one in particular has a very small track area to cram all the kids and parents.

Chiyoda is the cream of the crop, though, in terms of public schools in Japan. Parents with the means will try to get their kids in these schools because of the predetermined path from k-12 and into universities. It isn't that unlike the US, except that the US is so much bigger that there are a large number of different paths, and few paths lead past high school. Usually after high school you're kind of on your own depending on how you did. Imagine how that might be different if the US was only the size of California. The best public high schools would be well known by the universities and all the parents would try to get their children in as early as possible.

Elementary schools in Japan are far superior to those I have seen in the US. Even the poor ones in Saitama were better than the one I went to, but the ones in Chiyoda are (pure speculation) better than our private schools in the states. I say that for a few reasons, but this time I'm only going to talk about the sports festival that happens in every school once a year.

This event is from about 8:30am-3 or 4pm with lunch in between. All the parents and anyone off the street who feels like coming show up, and there are a series of events, some competitive and some not. In most schools the children are divided into two teams: red and white. Cheer leading is a big thing, but cast away all your preconceived notions of 'cheer leading' from the US, because it is nothing like that. The famous song the red and white team sing together is awesome too. It has two parts that overlap beautifully (click here for mp3.. ). First Red sings, then white, then together. (Red = aka, White = shiro). Translation by me.

Edit: Note that the sun is considered Red in Japan, not yellow.

(1番 あか組)
ぼくらは かがやく We will shine
たいようのように like the sun
もえあがる きぼう with burning aspirations
ちからいっぱい がんばろう full of strength we do our best

あかあかあか ゴーゴーゴー Red red red Go go go!
あかあかあか ゴーゴーゴー Red red red Go go go!
もえろよ もえろ Let's burn! Let's burn! (Let's get fired up?)
あかぐみ Red Team!

(2番 しろ組)
ぼくらはしろい いなずまだ We are white lightning
つきすすむ ひかりのや a plunging white light
かみなりのおと とどろかせ the roaring sound of thunder
げんきいっぱい がんばろう full of energy we do our best

ゴーゴーゴー しろしろしろ Go go go! White white white!
ゴーゴーゴー しろしろしろ Go go go! White white white!
ちきゅうをまわる いなずまだ We are lightning that cracks the earth!
しろぐみ White team!

Great song. The mp3 doesn't do the it justice compared to see hundred of kids sing it at once.

Anyway more later.


Palin Blows it on CBS



She evades questions and is full of crap. Nothing but soundbites. My favorite quote:

Couric: I'm just going to ask you one more time - not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.

Palin: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.

Obama on the Crisis



I am so pissed that this is not front page news on every news channel. How can she get away with so many lies in her FIRST speech as the VP pick? Most people will never hear about this crap because I bet FOX news won't even mention it, but CNN isn't much better with their casual way of laughing it off. "Oh yeah, we should probably fact check the other stuff she said.. la de da, oh well that's all the time we have.."

We are gonna lose this thing. Why? Because despite having great candidates the right will always have one advantage in America. They can say ANYTHING they want with no accountability. I will be happy when I see a Sarah Palin or McCain article in a major news source with the word "LIES" in the title. I should have to settle for nothing less.


More Political Videos

Watch all of these if you haven't already. Hell, some of them are good the 2nd or 3rd time.

Daily Show reveals republican hypocrisy.

Joe Biden responds to the RNC.

McCain campaign guy at a loss for words.

Obama Accepts Nomination (good speech).


Movie Voice Guy Passes On

Don LaFontaine, the guy who does almost every movie trailer and a lot more, died at age 68. He has done over 5000 voice overs and has single-voicedly created the meme of the epic movie trailer announcer. He and James Earl Jones are two of my favorite voices.



Recently I plugged in my old HD with about 15 solid days worth of music.. and I'm already tired of it all. I easily tire of music. I went a long time (over a year) without really listening to any at all and I didn't really crave any.

I wish there were public access pianos. If I were moving into an apartment complex I would much rather it had a nice piano than a nice pool. Quite a few complexes in Davis had pianos in the study room. They also had pools. Apartments here have nothing for the community. I've never even seen an apartment with laundry machines, but I'm sure they exist (and to be fair, a lot of people have their own).

I think classical music education is done all wrong. Why is it that students are taught how to play other peoples music for the majority of their education, and only those who really pursue it for a career ever get into composition? I wish classical educators would jazz things up, so to speak, and get students to CREATE rather than interpret. Rather than look at a piece of music and play it how you think the composer wanted it, take it and from the start assume it isn't complete. Assume it needs work, and you can make it better. Change the music. Ad lib. Theme and variation.

Imagine if all painters did for the first 10 years of their education was to copy masters' works. They would surely learn the techniques necessary to create masterful art, and they'd probably learn a lot of art history. But how many would bore of the practice and give up on art all together? Why do we teach music this way?

Whenever I go back home I hear Peter playing song after song that I've never heard before. Always reading. I hope next time he tries breaking away from the page more. Sight read once and then play from memory with your own thoughts filling in the gaps.


World School

(copied from my mixi blog)


AET達とJET達がやさしくて子供達も元気よく本当によかった。AETというのはAssistant English Teacher(me)そしてJETはJapanese English Teacher。JET達は大学生だから年下だし経験あまりなかったけど本当に信じられないぐらい頑張った。最後の気持ちは家族みたいな感じだった。




Michelle Obama at the DNC

Worth the time. Check it out.

Voting Machines

I know this isn't new, but it is awesome.


A historic blog post

It really bothers me the way both John Stewart and Stephen Colbert say "an historic." Even if by some bizarre chance it turned out to be technically correct, it doesn't sound right and is harder to say than "a historic." If they weren't pronouncing the 'h' it would be one thing, but they are, and so they're wrong.

Unfortunately according to google, use of "an historic" is fairly prevalent with "a historic" at 7,780,000 hits and "an historic" at less than half that, but still a significant 3,440,000.

It's simple people! If it's a vowel sound, use 'an', if not, don't.


More Videos

Sorry for all the videos and lack of writing.. but anyway, check these out.

Obama on McCain Tactics, Tire Gages, Oil Drilling

McCain on Bagdad Violence

A little alphabet game?


Brian Williams Interviews Ahmadinejad

It's a little long and I'd prefer to read subtitles than have him dubbed.. but still interesting.

Try to catch at least the final question near the end.


Daily Show and Congress' Don't ask don't tell hearing


As for the part about skin on skin.. wouldn't that be solved by asking and telling? I imagine in that situation they don't go coed either.


If this doesn't make you smile...

something may be wrong with you. This man is a genius.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

This is the second of his dancing videos. If you've never seen the first, go here.


The War on Terror and Torture

Can anyone please explain to me why John McCain has changed his view on torture? How could he call the supreme court decision to give detainees suspected of terrorism the rights of habeas corpus one of the worst decisions in the history of the country?! Anyway... watch this video. The man (Phillippe Sands, director of the Center on International Courts and Tribunals) is quite sensible. I hope someone is listening.


3 Games to Buy

So I'm not nearly the gamer I once was, but I still appreciate a good game.  There are three games I will definitely buy in the next 5 years as they come out.  In chronological order:

Spore is by the Sim City people but is more like Sim Life.  It's a few games in one, apparently, starting with a single cell pack-man style game.  Eventually you get to the creature creation, which is the most interesting part for me.  In Spore, you can create just about any creature your heart desires within certain game balancing limitations.  The game engine helps you paint it, design it, and it figures out how it walks, attacks, dances, etc.  This is like legos on steroids.

One of the ambitions of Spore is to pack multiple genres into one game.  I find it hard to believe they will all be fun to play for long, but I'm sure some will.  I'm most looking forward to the tribal RTS style stage.

The creature creator is out now for 10 bucks.  Mines coming in the mail, so I'll post some creatures when I make them.  The game comes out in like 70 days.

This one is obvious to anyone who knows about me and knows about games.  I love real time strategy, and Starcraft 1 was the king of all RTS games.  SC2 is coming out around November.

Trailer (not gameplay):

Diablo, like Starcraft, is made by Blizzard.  They always release their games on PC and Mac at the same time, and their games are always super popular.  Diablo 3 was announced yesterday and the gameplay video looks downright amazing.  It's a dungeon crawling click-fest that is sure to be extremely addictive.  The other Diablo games largely owed their addictiveness to their massive re-playability.  The dungeons are randomly generated and each of the classes has a lot of variety in style choices.

For the really high quality videos go to the diablo 3 website.


Game Play:


Shared RSS Feed

If you use an RSS reader you can subscribe to my shared feed.  I mark interesting stories occasionally as they pop up that you may not see.  If anyone else has one, let me know.

If you don't have an RSS reader but want one, I recommend google reader.  It is nice and easy to use.   http://www.google.com/reader/

Brain Cells

Things that increase brain cells
  • Chocolate
  • Tea
  • Blueberries
  • Alcohol (moderate)
  • Stress Management
  • Cannabinoids (marihuana)
Things that decrease brain cells
  • Saturated Fat
  • Sugar
  • Nicotine
  • Opiates
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol (excessive)
  • Chronic Stress


Genes, Memes, and Temes

This is a great TED talk about the 3rd replicators that are almost upon us. It will really make you think.

Science fiction has spent a lot of time on the idea of robots taking over after becoming artificially intelligent. Terminator, the Matrix, etc. But they always make the robots out to be another race who competes with humans. The reality is that they in no way need us once they can replicate themselves. They won't need to be malevolent, greedy or evil. They just need to be able to reproduce. And if they do so at our expense, or at the expense of the planet and its resources, we are screwed. The fragility of it never really occurred to me.



Shakespeare invented over 1700 words by either changing existing words or making them up. Here are a few you may not have known about:

Bump (Romeo and Juliet)
Hint (Othello)
Rant (Hamlet)

more info here.

He also created a lot of phrases and idioms we use to this day.

From Bernard Levin's The Story of English:

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare "It's Greek to me", you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I were dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! for goodness' sake! what the dickens! but me no buts - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare. (Bernard Levin. From The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).


Random Stuff

Racism vs Xenophobia.

I'm sure there are racists in every country throughout the world. I don't think racism depends on age, but rather the way one is brought up and educated. Xenophobia, on the other hand, is directly related to conservatism. It is for that reason that I think it goes up significantly with age, and is much more prevalent in homogenous societies like Japan. I would say I experience almost no racism, or at least none directly targeted at me, but I see xenophobia all the time. One interesting affect of xenophobia here is that foreign born Japanese people experience it too.

There is a anime based on a manga that runs in the train I ride on my commute. If it were to run in the USA it would be considered extremely offensive and probably would never be published. It's called 'My Darling the Foreigner.' In it are absurd oversimplifications, generalizations, and plain and simple xenophobic lies. What bothers me most is that with just one change, the author could simultaneously make it inoffensive and retain all the meaning and humor. Instead of 'My Darling the Foreigner' make it 'My Darling, Tony' Everyone would know Tony is a foreign name. Then instead of saying 'Foreigners blah blah blah' say 'Tony blah blah blah' which, to her credit, she sometimes does. It's a real shame that the show is so offensive, because some of it has potential to be cute or even funny. Today there was an episode about how Saori learned that 'the' changes pronunciation depending on the next word (the apple vs the banana, for example). She triumphantly tells Tony her findings only for him to shrug and say 'oh, really? I never noticed that before' and hilarity ensues. I like this episode because it's about them, and it's educational. It doesn't have any needless generalizations about foreigners because it's personal.

Conservatives Depress Me

I feel like I understand where conservatives are coming from, but it is so clear to me that they are wrong about some fundamental issues. How often do you hear people say they want the government to build the roads, protect the borders, deliver the mail, and get out of the way? What percentage of those people are rich? I understand that they probably think everyone can become rich, opportunities are everywhere, and so on. But even if that were the case (which it isn't) I still find it to be a bleak, selfish outlook on life. Why do people insist that taxes are bad? Why don't we hear more politicians working on ways to eliminate wasted or poorly allocated tax money, instead of simply cutting taxes and spending the same amount? I see taxes like this:

Imagine you live in a small dorm with 100 people. Everyone has to pay for internet who wants to use it. You could each pay X$ for it, or you could all split the money and set up some kind of wireless system. Arguments against this system are obvious: What about Johnny who doesn't use internet? Why should he pay?! Well, like many things we pay taxes for, like roads, it is often impossible to tell who uses it and who doesn't. But the price should be cut by so much that it doesn't really matter. And the more things the government can provide en masse for low prices, the lower every individuals daily cost of living. Sure you keep 50$ less of your paycheck, but your cost of living just went down 100$! Sweet! Well... in theory.

Opportunistic Vegetarian

I've decided to call myself an opportunistic vegetarian. I don't buy meat to cook or take home (and I'm cooking 1-2 meals a day now), and if there is a decent vegetarian option when eating out I'll order it. School lunches often have meat, but not eating it would be more trouble than it would be worth. I am also going to avoid leather and other animal hide products. I think a lot of people don't realize the scale of damage to the environment by cattle and other animals. It really is staggering. Here is a very good TED talk on the issue.



Daily Colbert

The Colbert Report is amazing.  It has gotten so good since the writer strike ended I've watched it online religiously.  The Daily Show kind of has some issues with John thinking he's funnier than he really is, but it's still worth watching.  Today's was very good.

The other day I was playing outside and a first grade girl came up to me.  I hadn't taught first grade so they didn't really know me yet, but they had seen me around.  She asked me if I had any sisters (in English) which was pretty unusual.  I answered and asked her if she had any.. she said she had one if fourth grade.  Then I let her jump up, as so many kids love to do, with me holding her hands so she jumps really high.  She jumped a few times and said "I love you!" haha.  It was cute.

Today I tried Japanese deodorant again.  Bad idea.  I was avoiding human contact all day out of embarrassment until I could get home and shower! >_<



I'm surprised there were no comments on the last post.  Anyway.  I just moved to Kichijoji.  This town is awesome!  I live in a nice house in a quiet neighborhood with a few people.  I am only 20-30 min from my schools on a single train (I was an hour and 3 trains away before).

So this morning I was walking to school and I caught up to some of my students.  We were talking and walking and I was on their left looking over.  Then it hit me.  A pole, that is.  Yeah,  it hurt.

The other day I was on the train on my way home.  I had forgotten if the train goes all the way to my station or not so I turned to the girl next to me and asked her, "Where does this train stop?"  She turns to me and says, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Japanese."  And in a split second I think my brain exploded and reconstructed itself.  I didn't even realize I had said it in Japanese so I didn't know how to respond.  Another second of recovery and I asked it successfully in English.  Phew!

Guns Germs and Steel is awesome for the first half and boring and slow for the rest.  I'm confused about his target audience.  More on that later.

Fun Facts:

More Ikea catalogs are printed every year than bibles.

Sex is the safest tranquilizer in the world. It is ten times more effective than Valium.

It is cheaper in India to have sex with a prostitute than to buy a condom.

In Kentucky, 50 percent of the people who get married for the first time are teenagers.

The only acceptable sexual position in Washington, DC, is the missionary-style position. Any other sexual positions is considered illegal.

Texas is the only state that permits residents to cast absentee ballots from space.

The day after President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, Canada's main immigration website had 115,000 visitors. Before Bush's re-election, this site averaged about 20,000 visitors each day.

The fertility rate in states that voted for George W. Bush is 12 percent higher than states that favored John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

George Washington spent about 7 percent of his annual salary on liquor.

In Hong Kong, a betrayed wife is legally allowed to kill her adulterous husband, but may only do so with her bare hands.

Quebec City, Canada, has about as much street crime as Disney World.

There are at least two reported instances of British college students auctioning off their virginity on eBay.

Residents of an Austrian village called Fucking voted against changing the name in 2004, but did replace their road signs with theft-resistant versions welded to steel and secured in concrete to stem their frequent theft. (The name is pronounced to rhyme with "looking.")

Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide their body odor-hence, the custom of today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.


'My daughter deserved to die for falling in love'

Reposted from:

Two weeks ago, The Observer revealed how 17-year-old student Rand Abdel-Qader was beaten to death by her father after becoming infatuated with a British soldier in Basra. In this remarkable interview, Abdel-Qader Ali explains why he is unrepentant - and how police backed his actions. Afif Sarhan in Basra and Caroline Davies report

Afif Sarhan in Basra and Caroline Davies
The Observer, Sunday May 11 2008

For Abdel-Qader Ali there is only one regret: that he did not kill his daughter at birth. 'If I had realised then what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her,' he said with no trace of remorse.

Two weeks after The Observer revealed the shocking story of Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, murdered because of her infatuation with a British solider in Basra, southern Iraq, her father is defiant. Sitting in the front garden of his well-kept home in the city's Al-Fursi district, he remains a free man, despite having stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed his student daughter to death.

Abdel-Qader, 46, a government employee, was initially arrested but released after two hours. Astonishingly, he said, police congratulated him on what he had done. 'They are men and know what honour is,' he said.

Rand, who was studying English at Basra University, was deemed to have brought shame on her family after becoming infatuated with a British soldier, 22, known only as Paul.

She died a virgin, according to her closest friend Zeinab. Indeed, her 'relationship' with Paul, which began when she worked as a volunteer helping displaced families and he was distributing water, appears to have consisted of snatched conversations over less than four months. But the young, impressionable Rand fell in love with him, confiding her feelings and daydreams to Zeinab, 19.

It was her first youthful infatuation and it would be her last. She died on 16 March after her father discovered she had been seen in public talking to Paul, considered to be the enemy, the invader and a Christian. Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand's two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust.

'Death was the least she deserved,' said Abdel-Qader. 'I don't regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslim that honours his religion,' he said.

Sitting on a chair by his front door and surrounded by the gerberas and white daisies he had planted in the family garden, Abel-Qader attempted to justify his actions.

'I don't have a daughter now, and I prefer to say that I never had one. That girl humiliated me in front of my family and friends. Speaking with a foreign solider, she lost what is the most precious thing for any woman. 'People from western countries might be shocked, but our girls are not like their daughters that can sleep with any man they want and sometimes even get pregnant without marrying. Our girls should respect their religion, their family and their bodies.

'I have only two boys from now on. That girl was a mistake in my life. I know God is blessing me for what I did,' he said, his voice swelling with pride. 'My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours.'

Abdel-Qader, a Shia, says he was released from the police station 'because everyone knows that honour killings sometimes are impossible not to commit'. Chillingly, he said: 'The officers were by my side during all the time I was there, congratulating me on what I had done.' It's a statement that, if true, provides an insight into how vast the gulf remains between cultures in Iraq and between the Basra police the British army that trains them.

Sources have indicated that Abdel-Qader, who works in the health department, has been asked to leave because of the bad publicity, yet he will continue to draw a salary.

And it has been alleged by one senior unnamed official in the Basra governorate that he has received financial support by a local politician to enable him to 'disappear' to Jordan for a few weeks, 'until the story has been forgotten' - the usual practice in the 30-plus cases of 'honour' killings that have been registered since January alone.

Such treatment seems common in Basra, where militias have partial control, especially in the districts on the outskirts where Abdel-Qader lives.

While government security forces and British troops have control over the centre, around the fringes militants can still be seen everywhere on the streets or at the checkpoints they have erected. And they have imposed strict laws of behaviour for all the local people, including what clothing should be worn and what religious practices should be observed. There are reports of men having their hands cut off for looting and women being killed for prostitution.

Homosexuality is punishable by death, a sentence Abdel-Qader approves of with a passion. 'I have alerted my two sons. They will have the same end [as Rand] if they become contaminated with any gay relationship. These crimes deserve death - death in the name of God,' he said.

He said his daughter's 'bad genes were passed on from her mother'. Rand's mother, 41, remains in hiding after divorcing her husband in the immediate aftermath of the killing, living in fear of retribution from his family. She also still bears the scars of the severe beating he inflicted on her, breaking her arm in the process, when she told him she was going. 'They cannot accept me leaving him. When I first left I went to a cousin's home, but every day they were delivering notes to my door saying I was a prostitute and deserved the same death as Rand,' she said.

'She was killed by animals. Every night when go to bed I remember the face of Rand calling for help while her father and brothers ended her life,' she said, tears streaming down her face.

She was nervous, clearly terrified of being found, and her eyes constantly turned towards the window as she spoke. 'Rand told me about the soldier, but she swore it was just a friendship.

'She said she spoke with him because she was the only English speaker. I raised her in a religious manner and she never went out alone until she joined the university and then later when she was doing aid work.

'Even now, I cannot believe my ex-husband was able to kill our daughter. He wasn't a bad person. During our 24 years of marriage, he was never aggressive. But on that day, he was a different person.'

The mother is now trying to raise enough money to escape abroad. 'I miss my two boys,' she said. 'But they have sent a message saying that I am wrong for defending Rand and that I should go back home and live like a blessed Muslim woman,' said Leila, who is now volunteering with a local organisation campaigning for better protection for women in Basra.

One of those running the organisation, who did not want to be identified, said that Rand's case was similar to so many reported in Basra, with the only difference being she was in love with a foreigner, rather than an Iraqi.

'There isn't too much to say. Rand is dead. It is a tragedy and will be a tragedy for many other families in Iraq in the days to come.

'According to information we have been given, some from Rand's colleague, we have doubts that her love was reciprocated. We have the impression that Rand was in love, but the English soldier wasn't. But, for a girl to be paid nice compliments about her beauty and her intelligence, it was enough for her to think she was in love.

'She isn't here any more for her mother to ask any of the questions she would like to. Rand's case had repercussions because she fell in love with a foreigner. But what about the other girls murdered through "honour" killings because they fell in love with some of a different sect, or lost their virginity, or were forced to become prostitutes?'

Rand's mother used to call her 'Rose'. 'That was my nickname for her because when she was born she was so beautiful,' she said.

'Now, my lovely Rose is in her grave. But, God will make her father pay, either in this world ... or in the world after.'


Garfield Minus Garfield

This comic is great.  Here's the description and a recent sample:
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.



Things I want to do on a regular basis to have a happy and healthy life:

Racquetball, Soccer, and/or Ultimate Frisbee
Trumpet and/or Piano
Writing (fiction and/or non-fiction)
Listening to new music

At this point I only read regularly.  I'm reading Guns, Germs, and Steel at the moment.  I'm hoping if I move into a better apt I can start cooking.  As for writing and programing, I face only a mental block that is caused by a combination of fatigue and a kind of loneliness I get from living alone.  It's not just that I am living alone in my apartment, but I'm about an hour away from my closest friends and my job.  Hopefully once I move next month everything will start to get better.

Playing and listening to music are really hard to keep up for me.  I feel the urge to play only at awkward times when it isn't possible, and I have no piano at home.  I can't afford to buy new music and I'm too lazy to download any.  I've always wanted a huge jazz collection to go through, but I always put off buying any.

I was playing racquetball and soccer semi regularly a few months ago, but both were about an hour away.  Again, hopefully when I move I can find something closer.  I am looking into sharing a 4 bedroom house with other people.  I am checking it out Wednesday and if it looks ok I'll move in late next month.

My new schools are pretty nice, but I really miss my old schools.  It will get better with time, I think.  It's hard to imagine a better school than the main one I used to teach at.  I remember thinking that if I had children of my own I'd want them there.  I've had schools I liked, but this was different.  One day they had a happyokai (ha-ppyo-kai) where teachers came from all around to watch the entire school in action.  The meeting afterwards was full of nothing but praise and commendation.  Teachers in the same area confessed that they wished their own schools were this good.. and they only saw it for an hour.  I have so many stories and no one to tell.  I think this is why when I find myself talking to other teachers I talk way too much and I probably sound like I'm bragging.  I just can't help it.  It's like when people talk about their kids to other people who have never met them, except I have thousands of kids.



Sushi Bar Assistant: [Japanese] What'd ya want?
The Bride: [English] I beg your pardon?
Hattori Hanzo: [English] Oh..."drink" [makes drinking motion with hand]
The Bride: [English] Oh, yes, a bottle of warm sake please.
Hattori Hanzo: [English] Warm sake? VERY GOOD.
Hattori Hanzo: [Japanese] One warm sake.
Sushi Bar Assistant: [Japanese] Sake? In the middle of the day?
Hattori Hanzo: [Japanese] Day, night, afternoon, who gives a damn? Get the sake.
Sushi Bar Assistant: [Japanese] How come I always have to get the
sake? You listen well... for thirty years, you make the fish, I get
the sake. If this were the military, I'd be General by now.
Hattori Hanzo: [Japanese] Oh, so you'd be General, huh? If you were
General, I'd be Emperor, and you'd STILL get the sake. So shut up and
get the sake.



I always have ideas for products I would like to have. Usually they are far too difficult for me to create on my own and I find myself just dreaming. I am not particularly creative, but I think I have a nack for taking ideas and combining them in ways that haven't been done yet (or haven't been told to me yet, as the case may be). It's for this reason that I love to learn about new technologies. I think I became a programmer for this reason, too; not because I love programming, but because I want access to the tools to make the things I want. It is also because of this that I am not a good professional programmer. I see programming as a useful tool, but nothing more. I don't go out learning languages and researching what's new unless it is something I think is really ground breaking. I'm really glad I realized I am not meant to be a professional programmer before I wasted too long doing it.

Anyway.. lately I've been noticing a few tendencies in mapping and image technology. I predict that within just a few years, we'll be able to tell our phone where we want to go and see real time seamless interactive walk-throughs. I think this could be done almost immediately if it weren't for the fact that the two technologies that are needed are owned by bitter rivals. Imagine combining Google's street view with Microsoft's photosynth (TED demo). Then take a bunch of pictures and boom, you can navigate through anywhere in real time. Construction changed things? No pictures where you are? No problem, just be a good Samaritan and take some updated pictures! Phones like the iphone know where you are and can add that information to the picture easily, then upload it to flickr or something. The pictures automatically update the servers image of the area. Someday!


Feel Old?

What do Forest Gump, Speed and the X-Files have in common?

They were all made during the year my graduating 6th grade class were born. I feel old.


Political Compass

I first took the political compass test in high school. I scored near the center but slightly to the lower left. My score has dragged further out in that same direction since then. Here's my position:

Economic Left/Right: -3.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.56

I think my biggest problem with the test is that it's hard for me to tell if I should answer what I think should happen in the real world or in an ideal world. Usually it's the same answer, but not always. I think it's important to take the results of tests like this with a grain of salt for that very reason. The way people react in real world situations and the way they think things should be are not always the same. Some might argue that you should vote for someone who has the same beliefs as you or lines up with you on the political compass, but others might say you should vote for who you think can more realistically win and help bring the countries overall compass toward your own.

I would be interested in knowing what scores other people get. Feel free to post in the comments!


Real Life Zombies?

No, just some religious nut jobs. Check out the "I-55 revival explosion of power" video. Warning: Children were harmed during the production of these videos.


Just a friendly reminder of what crazy is.


US Politics Have No Left Wing

This is a post from a Swede who has noticed the horror of US politics. No surprises really, but it's always nice to be reminded what we look like from the outside.

US Politics Have No Left Wing

Category: NOIBN
Posted on: February 3, 2008 5:26 AM, by Martin R

This is the first time that I'm aware of the US primary elections. I've never been very interested in the news, having at best a hazy idea even of Swedish politics. Blogging is entirely responsible for my heightened awareness of US political matters over the past two to three years. I've taken to reading US blogs and hanging out in web forums dominated by Americans. And what I've learned scares me.

US politics often look absurd from a European perspective, since the entire bipartisan system maps onto the conservative half of European politics. A case in point is that the US "Left" is called "the liberals", while the Liberal Party in Sweden is part of the Right wing. How could it be otherwise? Liberalism is about free-market capitalism, small government, low taxes, all Right-wing ideals. Yes, both US parties advocate low taxes. Normal taxes are 30% to a Swede. And that's rock bottom, before adding the effect of progressive taxation. That's how we can afford universal health care. Hint, hint.

So, believe me, US politics don't have a Left. Looking at the presidential candidates, I am frankly appalled. None of them would be a viable politician in Sweden. They all support the death penalty, none advocates strict gun control and all make frequent mention of their religious beliefs in public. These are extremist stances. Not even the tiny Christian Democrat party mentions God publicly in Sweden, for fear of alienating the pragmatic rationalist majority.

From a European perspective, US politics are an ongoing battle between the extreme Right and the middle Right. The Republican presidential candidates are really, really scary people in my view. Still, all of us in the world at large who live under the shadow of US political hegemony are holding our breaths, hoping that Clinton or Obama will make it into office. They're pretty bad, but the alternative would be unspeakably dreadful.



A quick add to my list of books I want to read:
The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Anyone have other suggestions?

What Carl Sagan books are best to start with (fiction or non-fiction)?

What about Kafka?

Don't be shy people.


New Years Resolution

I've never felt like I read enough. This year I'm gonna try what I heard about on some forum somewhere called the 50 book challenge. I'll try to read 50 books this year, which is about 1 a week with a little bit of breathing room. I'm gonna try to make half of them (or more) non-fiction. So here is my list so far. I really liked The Selfish Gene. It really changed my understanding of evolution and life in general. If you pick it up, and you should, read the notes in the back as they come up because the 30th anniversary has lots of updates in it. I also love the Dark Materials trilogy so far. It's unfortunate and it makes me very angry that religious conservatives have organized a boycott against the movie that was so successful that they aren't going to make the 2nd and 3rd movies. You don't see atheists boycotting Narnia, do you? It must be easy to feel threatened by a rival piece of fiction when you can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Anyway, on to the list.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (30th anniversary edition)
Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials Book 1)

Almost done:
Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials Book 2)

Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials Book 3)

Ones I own and haven't read yet:
Sam Harris, End of Faith
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell
Steven Hawking, A Brief History of Time

Excited about, but waiting for paperback:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel
Neil Shubin, The Inner Fish
Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, Coming to Life

Others I want:
Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence
Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watch Maker
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

Any Recommendations? I'm interested in evolution and the brain. What other Steven Hawking book should I read? How was the Elegant Universe?


The Oppression of Women Under Islam

I am a firm believer that the liberation of women is the first and most vital step towards the elimination of poverty around the world. I am not alone, but apparently There must be violence against women. If that article doesn't make you angry or sad then maybe this will. Recently Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo Van Gogh made a short film about the oppression of women under Islam. In case you haven't heard of her, Ayaan is quite possibly the most hunted woman on the planet. She was brought up Muslim and has become one of the most outspoken critics of it since she declared herself free and asked the Netherlands for protection. Shortly after the film was made, Theo Van Gogh was murdered with his throat slit and a 5-page note knifed into his chest. The note was addressed to Ayaan.

These are issues that affect the whole world and I think it's about time people started paying attention. "...tolerance of intolerance is cowardice."

Obama Takes Iowa!