December 27, 2003

Holiday Blues

It finally hit me today: my mother is dead and there is no going home for Christmas.

I don't know why it came out of left field and whacked me upside the head this late in the game. She died last spring, but then again, I haven't been home for the holidays in at least a decade, so why this year, and why two days late? I don't know. I'd ask my shrink, but I don't have one. I spent the day in a sort of blue fog that would have made things touchy, but everyone in my little nuclear family is too preoccupied with their own lives to notice. My wife and younger son spent the day getting ready to head off to visit her parents. We spend every New Year's at her parents house. I'm not sure why it worked out that way, but it did. I'm not bitter, mind you, but today I spent a lot of time wondering if things should have been more even-handed. For the next two days only my elder son and I will be home, and he'll mostly be hanging out with his baseball team. Lots of internet game time, and then I climb on a bus and spend five hours riding down to visit a family that works really hard trying to make me feel at home but never quite manages it. Not their fault, mine. Despite my best intentions, at heart I'm still an American and I feel it the most during the winter holidays.

We put the Christmas tree away today. My Japanese wife baked an American-style apple pie.

Is it irony, clairvoyance, or some perverse form of poetic justice?

Doesn't matter. The pie is sweetly delicious and so is she.

December 05, 2003

Robert Heinlein

When I was in high school I began reading the works of Robert A. Heinlein. At the time, the most important thing in the world was a rollicking adventure, a tough hero, and a beautiful damsel in distress. His books contained all that, and much more. Much to my own surprise, I never came away from a Heinlein book without something to think about. His books always contained some idea so dramatically in contradiction with the values of those around me it seemed unthinkable. Robert Heinlein's books made me question the accepted definitions of love, freedom, and independence. His sardonic wit and clear-eyed analysis of the world around him pulled me into my own patterns of constant questioning and never settling for a simple answer. Science fiction taught me to look at the world and see it not for what I want it to be, or even for what I think it should be, but purely for what it is. Robert Heinlein's fiction convinced me to focus on facts.

Now I am a much older man. I am forty-two, and even that will change in a few more months. The other day I pulled my copy of "Time Enough for Love" off my shelf, dusted it off, and began reading. What once seemed nothing more than a simple tale of an old man whose friends talked him into rediscovering the joy of living has become a complex tapestry of interlinked epics touching on the lessons of history, the value of love, and what it means to be human. Sub-plots like the computer Minerva's craving to be human weave together themes from Pinocchio, Little Mermaid, and even Cinderella. Mini-epics like "Tale of the Adopted Daughter" are packed solid with hidden allusions to mythologies so old no one can say for certain when or where they actually began. Ishtar and Dumuzi, Samson and Delilah, Persephone and Hades are all hiding just below the surface waiting patiently for the inquisitive mind to discover them. Robert Heinlein's "cheap" science fiction contains so many references to so many different cultures it's no wonder so many people find it shallow and meaningless. It's easy to dismiss something you don't really understand.

October 20, 2003

Playing games and other diversions

Over the past couple of weeks I've been busy playing Priston Tale, an online RPG style game from Korea. They are now beta testing Japanese, English and Chinese clients, so I downloaded and installed the Japanese client on my new computer. The game, for me, lacks any kind of depth. It's really nothing more than running around killing monsters and occasionally teaming up with other players to venture into areas of the online world where the higher level monsters hang out. There is no "market" in the virtual towns where players and non-player characters (NPCs) can set up shops offering equipment, virtual food and drink, and so on. Each town does have a few game-necessary shops: two weapons shops, a potion seller, a weapons upgrader, a skill trainer and a warehouse for storing items or coins, but the interactions are extremely simple and there is no provision for players who want to sell items they've recovered in the field. As a result, players tend to gather around the warehouse offering their findings to the highest bidder, which makes it almost impossible to get into the warehouse when you need to drop off or retrieve something.

Still, to my own surprise I have found the game to be incredibly addictive. The multitude of features that must be balanced in order to move through the levels is challenging enough to keep my constant attention. When I'm playing the game the minutes literally become hours. The other day I logged on after dinner and started playing and when I looked up a short time later I was surprised to discover it was one o'clock in the morning! Of course, since the client and my desktop system are both in Japanese, there are many times when I am guessing at what a particular button will accomplish or whether a sword is better than an axe for fighting a certain monster, but by and large I have not found the interface difficult to navigate, despite the language barrier.

On another track, I recently installed Microsoft Front Page (the Japanese version, of course), on my new system and set about attempting to update Greyhawk Manor. When I uploaded everything I was shocked to discover my hosting company did not support Front Page. Realistically speaking, this is probably a good thing because there are many holes in the Front Page extensions that hackers can use to gain access to a website, but it did complicate uploading the new pages by forcing me to download an FTP client and upload the old-fashioned way. Once everything loaded I was horrified to discover that Apache is case-sensitive! What this means is that many of my graphics do not load because Apache cannot connect a call to "hono001.jpg" to a file named "HONO001.jpg", so my website now looks even more amateurish than it already did! Oh well, I guess I'll just have to go through and rename all my graphics files. It will take time, but very few people visit my website anyway, so anyone who drops by will just have to tolerate the mess until I have a chance to get it cleaned up.

I hate housecleaning, especially virtual housecleaning!

Oh, and in closing:


Morpheus
Morpheus


?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??
brought to you by Quizilla


I am Morpheus, but then, you already knew that. I'll see you tonight.

September 29, 2003

Games!

I spent all day Saturday in Gamer's Heaven. Well, all right, it was really only the 2003 Tokyo Game Show, but it felt like heaven to me!

The good news is gaming is alive and well and, judging from the huge crowds bubbling with enthusiasm, will be for a long time to come. I saw previews and sampled demo programs for dozens of RPG style games, some 2D and some 3D, some humorous, some serious, some heavenly, some quaint, and all more highly addictive than designer drugs! Who needs acid dreams when Neverwinter Nights is a mere mouse click away? Why descend into alcoholism when Lineage II beta testing starts in a few weeks? Why grab a shotgun and shoot up the local post office when Ragnarok is filled with monsters just waiting for you to take out your aggressions on them? And, if you're short on cash, or just plain unwilling to pay for your fun, Runescape is free!

So what are you waiting for?

"Would you like to play a game?"

September 25, 2003

Radical Solutions for Radical Times

Mary Carey for Governor


I know, everyone favors the name power and Hollywood fame of Arnold. In truth, Arnold does have some interesting conventional ideas for solving California's problems. On the other hand, so did Gray Davis, the fool who got us into this mess to begin with. Mary Carey, on the other hand, has some silly, but nonetheless potentially trendsetting ideas for solving the problems of massive debt, staggering unemployment, the growing AIDS epidemic, and funding for hospitals and health care. To my own suprise, a visit to her website and a review of her speeches reveals that behind the headline setting silliness is a serious mind that has done considerable research into the problems and issues facing the next governor of California. True, she has some extreme ideas, such as offering porn videos to anyone who turns in a handgun and transforming the governor's mansion into a pay-per-view webcam site, but she also wants to encourage greater celebrity-backed charities for California hospitals and taxes on plastic surgery.

As an aside, it strikes me that Mary Carey's "taxes on breast implants" idea is absolutely ingenious! Cosmetic surgery is a multi-billion dollar luxury industry that does not pay any kind of sales or consumption taxes. Can you imagine a Hollywood director NOT paying taxes on his new Masseratti? So why doesn't his wife pay taxes on her liposuction belly and silicone breasts? The revenue generated by treating elective surgery as a consumer item has the potential to add millions to California coffers.

Let me close this "radical" note by adding that I've never seen a Mary Carey film or video, nor am I a member of her fan club. Prior to her bid for the governorship I'd never heard of her. However, despite having been a long time fan of Arnold, I'm hoping Mary takes the election by storm and wins by a landslide. Besides, I've always had a soft spot for an underdog.

September 14, 2003

The Falling Man

The Falling Man


Click on it. Read it. And always remember that reality is both horrifying and beautiful.

History is not only what we read in books. History is what we create with every decision we make.

We live in the midst of chaos. This chaos is disordered, confusing, frightening, and sometimes enlightening. In order to live our lives to the fullest we must not run from the chaos that surrounds us, we must instead embrace it. Instead of struggling to control this chaos, we must learn to ride it out, regardless of how we feel about the place it carries us.

Most people in the "civilized" world spend their lives running from the things they fear. This is, of course, a perfectly natural reaction and has insured the survival of the human species in many situations. However, one of the chief differences between humans and other animals is that we have the ability to turn and face the things we fear. We can choose to stand and fight, or even to stand, observe, and learn. Some primates will turn and fight for a moment or two, but only humans have the capacity to face their worst nightmares and learn from them. The lessons learned then become the basis for new decisions, decisions which alter our actions the next time we encounter the same nightmare.

Every decision you make changes the world around you. Are you making it a better place? Better for who?

September 05, 2003

Melting




Tokyo today is hot, sunny, and mildly humid. A brilliant summer day. If more days were like this I would have grown to love summer here a long time ago. Sadly, today is the exception. The majority of days are either grey, overcast, broiler hot and unbearably humid, or cold, miserable, and rainy. In all my many travels, Tokyo has the most unusual summer weather I have ever seen.


August 28, 2003

Low down O/S blues




Well, I guess some things are simply not meant to be. I bought a book with the Publisher's Edition of Red Hat Linux 9.0, went through all the preparation steps, and installed Linux. Everything seemed to go fine, until the installer started installing packages to my hard drive. Suddenly, I was faced with "This version of Red Hat Linux is not compatible with your system" and then the installer exited. Thinking that maybe my 2.1 Gigabytes of free space was too small, I ran the installer again and this time let Red Hat have the entire 4 Gigabyte hard drive. No go. Same error message, same unexpected end to a flawless installation procedure.

On the plus side, by following the instructions in the book to the letter and reading the installation README files and other documentation, everything right up to the last moment went flawlessly. Because I attempted to let Red Hat have the entire disk, I was left with an empty hard drive, but fortunately I had backed up all my critical data files, so I didn't lose anything important. Also, the Hewlett Packard O/S recovery disks are the simplest things in the world to use. Basically, you drop the disk in the drive fire up the computer and answer "yes" a few times. It completely erases anything currently existing, of course, but since there was nothing on the hard disk this was not a problem.

So now I'm back to sloughing my way through Windows' merciless dialog boxes within dialog boxes in order to accomplish the simplest tasks. I was really looking forward to finally being able to jump from virtual console to virtual console firing off obscure acronyms from the command line whenever I needed to get something done. Theoretically I could do something similar by opening a DOS window, but the modern DOS commands are not documented at all, so there is no way to find out which commands still work and which ones have vanished into the mists of O/S obsolesence. I could attempt some trial and error, but I've fogotten half the commands I used to use instinctively. I did discover they still have the DOS text editor "Edit", which is a far better tool than the "vim" text editor that comes with Linux. "Edit" lacks the power and flexibility of "Emacs" and it's built-in LISP programming language, but everything in life is a trade off.

All is not lost, however. I installed the Java 2 SDK, and I am looking forward to spending the next few months studying Java while I save up my nickels and dimes until I have enough to either buy a computer that comes with Linux pre-installed, or buy one that is certain to be Linux compatible. I have also installed Quincy 99, a C++ IDE based on the Intel compatible version of the GNU Gcc compiler, so if I get bored with Java I can study C++ and have two programming languages under my belt when I finally get a chance to work with Linux.

I know, I seem a bit obssessed. I guess I am. Perhaps a little history is in order.

My first computer was an 80286 with an EGA monitor and a whopping 20 megabyte hard disk. It came with DOS 3.0 and I quickly learned to love it! Then, just when I finally got comfortable with DOS and installed my very first C compiler, my world turned upside down. Next thing I know I'm staring at a screen full of blue windows every time I try to do something more difficult than save a file. Under Windows 3.1 I discovered that half the commands I'd been using every day no longer functioned reliably. My C compiler refused to compile, my lovely batch files that greeted me and responded to my every whim no longer worked at all, and on top of everything else, SimLife refused to run. My second computer was a 486DX2-66 and I hated it!

It's been all downhill ever since. When I first heard about Linux in 1990 or so I felt saved, but Linux did not support my hardware. Worst of all, the installation routines of the day were cryptic and for my limited intellect, completely undecipherable. Red Hat Linux 7.3 finally started looking like something I could at least install, but at the time my hardware was inadequate. Finally, just this past summer, it appeared my hardware capacity and Red Hat's new installation package has reached a point of new-age equinamity. Alas, it was close but not close enough.

Still, things are finally at the point where I might one day realistically have the opportunity to return to my first love: command lines and batch files. I am completely sold on the philosophy of Open Source software and I long for the day when I can upload my very own software creations for the world's perusal. No, they will not be great nor will they be memorable, but that's okay; they will be the best I can build, and that's got to count for something.


August 22, 2003

One more reason to break the trend




First read this:
Microsoft Weighs Automatic Updates

Now I am no conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that this takes us one step closer to Big Brother. Granted, the conditions are extreme, however, I cannot help but wonder who has the time, resources, and experience to create the kind of successful viruses we have seen since the beginning of the year. Whoever is responsible for SoBig.F, Blaster, and so on, must be intimately familiar with Microsoft products, and especially with those product's powerful undocumented features. I can only think of one organization that harbors people with that kind of knowledge and experience, and it certainly isn't King Mongkut's School of Technology.

A friend once sent me a joke about exposing a Windows CD to flame and reading the words:
One O/S to rule them all, One O/S to find them, One O/S to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Suddenly it's not so funny.


Penguins, Lawyers, and the Future of Computing




It all started in the mid-eighties. Computers leapt from cute gadgets that did nothing to the heart of home entertainment, education, and mortgage management. In the midst of the upheaval, a graduate student in Finland wondered why multitasking processors were still burdened with a single tasking operating system and decided to do something about it. In the frigid north a Penguin came forth and set out to conquer the world. Linux was born.

Now, a lifetime later, Linux is a major operating system capable of being used on everything from portable phones to supercomputers. Desktops and laptops are both available with Linux pre-installed and ready to run. Corporations like Sun and IBM depend on it both to run their own systems and to keep their customer's systems running smoothly. Not bad for a "free" operating system anyone can have by purchasing a $20 book with a couple CDs glued in the back. My own search for freedom from the domination of all things Microsoft began here: Linux Game Development.

Sadly, the site has not been updated in a year. More ominous yet, a retailer of Linux games, LokiSoft, appears to have gone out of business a couple years ago. The downside of "free" is that no one makes any money, and without money, no one stays in business.

So what brings my meandering mind into this neighborhood on this sunny summer day? This: The Penguin's Progress.

One pro-Linux solutions provider decided that the only way they could survive would be to assert the kind of control over Linux that Microsoft has asserted over Windows. In order to bring this "free" operating system under their control, they acquired all the patents connected with Unix, which Linux is very loosely based on, and for their first legal action took on the biggest player in the Linux world: they sued IBM.

Humor is always the forte of the scorned, and one Linux supporter has "waxed Shakespearean" in a most literary account of the recent "mud"slinging: Blind, Furry, and Signifying Nothing.

Insane fool that I am, I figure there is only one way to resolve this crisis in the computer world. Yesterday I ordered half a dozen books about Linux, two of which include Red Hat 9. By the end of the month I will be running Linux on my clunky HP Pavillion, by the end of the year I will have a brand-new Linux-based Sony Vaio from Emperor Linux. There is nothing I love more than an underdog with nothing to lose and everything to gain. IBM is certain to defeat SCO in their ill-conceived attempt to dominate the free world. Linux will never be as popular or as easy to use as Windows, which makes it the perfect operating system for crazy non-conformists like myself.

The only way to be free is to break the chains that bind you. The only way to break the chains of social conformity is to be lunatic enough to dream of being different.

Open Source world here I come!

Something tells me no one will notice.


August 10, 2003

Where do we go from here?




Reality confuses me. I guess I am just not smart enough for the modern world. Right now I am watching an NHK special featuring colorized film footage from WWII. I'm not paying close enough attention to understand the narration, but the footage itself is dramatic in ways that defy description. I wish they would broadcast this kind of thing during the day instead of daylight television's endless cooking programs or hour after hour of middle-aged actors in failing careers wandering from train station to train station looking for unique restaurants and businesses.

On the other hand, there are no more late night sex shows. Once upon a time in Japan, after 11:00 at night half the local channels offered reviews of adult films, talk shows with half-naked women decorating the background, or even "interviews" with topless dancers, porn stars, and "soapland" girls proudly displaying their finest wares while they discussed the habits of their patrons. More often than not the shows were silly rather than sexy, but at least they were a change from endless shows recounting the virtues of ramen.

What confuses me is not that these shows once existed, but that they have vanished. I enjoyed the late night shows. Sometimes they were arousing, but mostly the silliness of it all made sex seem like a nice, harmless pastime for consenting adults. The lack of these shows, and their replacement with golf lessons, extra news broadcasts, and gossip programs, puts sex into the kind of "dirty little secret" closet that American media works so hard to keep it in.

At the same time, cable companies in Japan have introduced three different adult channels. One of these specializes in rape videos, extreme s/m videos, and bondage flicks that often end in gang rape. This is beginning to look like popularization of the worst forms of pornography. By saying "worst", of course, I'm offering a moral judgement that many people will disagree with. This also confuses me. Where is the entertainment value in watching a young woman be brutalized? Why do people find rape and extreme s/m an appealing fantasy? I can understand sexual fantasy, naturally. I have a few of my own favorite fantasies, and I have seen a number of erotic and pornographic movies that were entertaining, arousing, and featured consenting adults enjoying sex together. I am not opposed to pornography simply because it features people having sex. As a matter of fact, if you're not in the mood to watch it, pornography gets very boring very quickly. I do not, however, support the dehumanization of female performers simply because they're female.

So where do I draw the line? I personally draw it at anything which features one person humiliating another. Our modern world has mostly abandoned slavery and blood-bound class societies because these forms of social organization did more harm than good. Nonetheless, attitudes of elistism run through every aspect of our modern world. The simultaneous abandonment of soft pornography on late-night Japanese television with the popularization of a cable channel devoted to rape (not to mention the increasing frequency of date rape) tells me that elitism is rearing its ugly head once again. Sweeping sex under the carpet won't make it go away, it will only encourage the idea that sex is something dirty, and once that assumption has been made, then sex becomes another valid avenue for the dehumanization of one group of people by another.

Encouraging soft porn might raise eyebrows and cause some people to turn away in disgust, but if sex cannot be discussed freely and openly, then we pave the way for something far worse: self-righteous intolerance.

Oh, and one last note. I do not think opening our world to soft pornography automatically removes romance. Quite the contrary. A good erotic program will find ways to appeal to both men and women.


August 03, 2003

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum




For once the critics were right. "Pirates of the Carribbean" is a rolicking good jaunt through the Carribbean with a ghost ship manned by an undead crew, a stone crypt of cursed gold, the most entertaining pirate captain since "Cutthroat Island", and enough special effects to thrill the most jaded audience. Scenes and characters from the Disney ride are recreated with eerie authenticity, to the point that future historians may well find themselves arguing over which came first.

If you can only make it to one movie this summer, see Pirates.


July 29, 2003

Tolerance, the least popular ideal


I often wonder if there is some deeper reality behind the one we face every day of our lives. Religious Tolerance hosts hundreds of files containing religious and spiritual works from a dizzying array of cultural backgrounds. Every major religion proclaims that behind the world we see is a hidden world that can only be realized through faith, dreams, visions, and hallucinations. Thousands, maybe millions of people have had non-physical encounters with this alternate reality. They in turn tell their stories in fiction, poetry, spiritual tracts, or on the couches of counselors and psychologists as they struggle to draw some connection between this invisible world and the one around them. I envy those who have the capacity to clearly distinguish between reality and unreality. Many of us cannot.

The X-files enjoyed huge popularity by connecting this spiritual reality with aliens. One of my favorite online comics, Eversummer Eve, links the invisible world with the legendary land of the elves. Psychologists tell us there is no invisible world. For mental health professionals things such as aliens, elves, magic, or even god, are forms of shared delusions. There is one aspect to faith in the invisible that rapidly becomes annoying: intolerance.

Once upon a time we were children and our parents frequently reminded us that without differences, the world would be a very boring place. Sometimes they would smile cryptically and also mention that variety is the spice of life. Nonetheless, looking into the world around me reveals that individualism has become such a catch phrase that every individual believes they alone understand the "truth". Fundamental Christians bomb abortion clinics, fundamental Hindus bomb historic mosques, fundamental Muslims bomb discos. Why are so many people so intent are forcing the rest of us to accept their vision of reality? Or, perhaps, the real question is somewhat different. Perhaps the real question is why are we so deaf that the only way they can be heard is to blow something up?



July 26, 2003

Big, Green, Ugly and Charismatic




I have seen Hulk. It was an incredible comic, and now it has become an incredible movie. Naturally, the critics lambasted it mercilessly. One critic proclaimed it the worst summer movie since Jaws created the idea of "summer blockbuster". As usual, the critics missed the point.

Hulk has a complex, multilayered storyline featuring classic conflicts, romance, and keen human insight. It tells a story of greed, ambition, idealism, and realism all in conflict with one another.

As mentioned everywhere, the story opens with a genetic researcher desperately trying to perfect regeneration in humans and rapidly running out of funding. He makes the same mistake of every fictional researcher (and many real ones), he experiments on himself. In this case, there is an unexpected side effect, the results of his research are genetically passed on to his son. There is a moment of confusion, and next we see the grown son become researcher working on nanomeds designed to act as regeneration agents. In a lab accident his genetically modified body absorbs the nanomeds he is developing and he is exposed to a massive amount of gamma rays. The net result is the transformation into a big green man rampaging through the countryside, but not immediately. He still appears himself, but when angered swells up and develops superhuman physical abilities.

If the entire concept of the movie ended right there, then the critics would be right. Hulk would be another worthless Hollywood extravaganza. Fortunately, it doesn't. Sub-plots involving a former girlfriend, a money-hungry capital venturist, and the return of the Hulk's half-crazy father whirl around each other in a maelstrom of tension and intrigue that would do a winter thriller justice. Bruce, the son of the original researcher, struggles to find his past, reconcile himself with his present, and learn to understand himself better as a human being. In the end, a titanic struggle between god-like father and son is brought to an explosive conclusion when the two are hit with a nuclear weapon of some kind. The father disappears, the son survives but vanishes.

Later, the son surfaces dispensing medications in an unnamed Latin American jungle where there is a hint that he is using his brawny green side to defend the people from revolutionaries. We're left with him ominously warning a revolutionary leader, "you won't like me when I'm angry."

Throughout the movie ran themes of repressed memory, the definition of humanity, morality, survival, and of course, what it means to be a hero. Critics didn't like Hulk because underneath the usual flash and bang was something they couldn't recognize, literature!


July 24, 2003

Movie Madness




I saw Chicago last month. It stank. I've got better things to do with my time than sit around and let Hollywood laugh at my unswerving loyalty to the silver screen. Besides, the lead actresses were far too skinny for my taste.

I also saw Matrix Reloaded. It was better than Chicago, but I'll never develop homoerotic fantasies for Keanu Reeves, and the chick that played Trinity has gotten even skinnier than she was in the first one!

Will Hollywood ever rediscover "pleasantly plump"? Good grief but I hope so!

On the other hand, Angelina Jolie is back for another whirl as Lara Croft. Now there's a woman I could happily spend two hours watching strut her stuff. Her acting skill and dynamic characterizations are a pleasant bonus. Oh, that reminds me, I also saw Charlie's Angels Full Throttle. When did Demi lose all that weight? If she gets any skinnier she'll have to go back to playing roles intended for teenagers!

Anyway, sad to say, the best movie I have seen in the past year or so was the Japanese movie, "Azumi". It's a live-action free-for-all based on a popular comic with a drop-dead gorgeous lead actress, entertaining and engaging support characters, and get this, a real storyline! My oh my! A movie with a story! Imagine that! Maybe one of these days Hollywood will take a page out of Casablanca go back to telling us a good story. All that flash and dazzle is nice, but a movie needs a story to tie it all together.

I've heard rumors "Pirates of the Carribbean" actually has a storyline. I am waiting with bated breath.


July 09, 2003

Thoughtless Relativity




I suppose, somewhere, somehow, there is rhyme and reason to the chaos that surrounds us. After all, chaos is only undefined as long as there are too many variables to accurately predict the outcome. Once the variables are defined, it is no longer chaos. Instead, it is merely complexity. For example, I logged on today to find a box for adding titles. The chaotic aspect is that I had no intention of logging on today, because it feels like I have nothing interesting to say. When I grew bored of cruising the chaos of cyberspace, I dropped in here anyway. Clear chaos. Was the title bar there earlier and I just didn't see it, or is it in truth, something new?

Oh well, as long as I'm here I suppose I should post something wise, witty, or poetic, but alas, as noted above, I have nothing to say today. Nothing important anyway. How about a story? Shall I tell you a story?

Once upon a time there was a wise old Brahmin living somewhere in the Ganghes River Valley. This old man owned nothing except for one priceless porcelein vase given to him by a long-forgotten king in exchange for a year spent advising him on ways to spread happiness through his kingdom. Despite being a Brahmin and basically unattached to material things, the old man was quite fond of the memories the vase brought to mind and he carried it with him for many, many years. As always, eventually the king died and was replaced by someone less wise, less kind, and far more ruthless. Thus the old Brahmin had come to live in a tiny one-room shack just above the flood plain.

In the village near where the old Brahmin lived there was a certain thief who heard about the vase. The thief was not particularly smart, nor especially well-tutored in the ways of the world, but he was a pretty good thief nonetheless and had never been caught in the course of pursuing his trade. When he heard about the priceless vase and the old Brahmin, he figured this would the one heist that set him up for life so he could finally give up his high-risk career and move on to something more substantial, like kingship!

Late one night while the old man slept the thief crept silently into the tiny hut. As fate would have it, the moment his hands touched the vase the old man opened his eyes and rose from bed. After all, he was no longer young and there were many nights when his body forced him awake and sent him trotting for his chamber pot.

This night he looked up and saw the thief with his hands on the vase. The thief in turn, looked straight into the old man's eyes and struggled valiantly to think up a lie convincing enough to fool someone as wise and learned as an old Brahmin. However, when he opened his mouth to speak, the old man raised a hand to silence him.

"Don't bother, young man. I have always wondered when the day would come that someone would need the vase more than I. Obviously that day is today. Please take the vase. Goodness knows you can probably sell it for enough to buy a small kingdom. With wit and cleverness, a determined king can transform a small land into a large one. Take it and may the gods shine upon your venture."

Relieved and frightened at the same time, the thief walked off with the vase. Once he had availed himself of his chamber pot, the old man crawled back into bed and dreamed pleasant dreams of days when he was young.

Oh, and by the way, don't be peeking between the lines looking for a moral. In this case, there isn't one.


July 04, 2003

Anything worth doing is worth doing right


Today's thought: Anything worth doing is worth doing right

Our modern world has become complacent. Partly because we are too busy to bother with details, but also in part because no one considers the details important. This baffles me. I have been told I am hopelessly neurotic. It might be true, but then again, when I set my mind to accomplishing something I always cross the t's and dot the i's. Most people don't seem to bother.

For example. I have lived in Japan for 18 years. I have been to dozens of Denny's restaurants all over the country, but the only place in Japan where the waitress has offered to fill my coffee cup before it runs dry is in this tiny little farming town where I am now staying. The day after tomorrow I am returning to Tokyo and the thing I will miss most is not the clean air, beautiful scenery or rich history. The thing I will miss most is the world-class service I have received at the local Denny's. I have received friendlier, more attentive service over the past three months than I have ever received at any Denny's anywhere in the world. This puzzles me to no end.

Don't misunderstand me. I have loved the fresh country air! For three months I have woken up every morning without needing to clear out clogged sinus passages. The air in Tokyo is so bad that every single morning I wake up virtually unable to breathe. Between molds, mildews, pollen and pollution, it is a wonder I have survived eighteen years without dying of some kind of rare and unusual sinus infection or lung disease. I have also fallen madly in love with the green hills, flowering fields and endless tracts of rice and truck vegetables. I could easily spend the next twenty years wandering among Nihonmatsu's hundreds of monuments, graveyards, memorials, rustic temples and ancient shrines. But despite all that, the one thing I will really miss is one of my two favorite waitresses asking me if I'm ready for my chocolate parfait yet or offering to top up my half-full coffee cup.

Now tell me, why doesn't every Denny's in the world have service this good? Why don't the waitresses in Tokyo drop by my table every so often and see how I'm doing? The waitresses in Waikiki don't even offer this kind of service any more! Why not? Why is it that the wider the so-called "service" economy expands, the worse the service becomes?

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If it's not worth doing, why bother? If it is worth doing, then why are we more concerned with covering our mistakes than improving our weaknesses?

Improving the world begins with improving ourselves. Why have we forgotten that?



June 29, 2003

Nihonmatsu




I have spent the past three months teaching English up in Fukushima Prefecture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Japan, Fukushima is a few hundred kilometers north of Tokyo. In Fukushima I have been living and working in a small town called Nihonmatsu. Although I have studied quite a bit of Japanese history, this is my first trip to Northern Japan. Nihonmatsu sits astride one of the widest passes through the Northern alps of Japan. If you are sending an army north, you must pass through Nihonmatsu. As a result, this small village in the foothills, home to rice farmers and apple growers, has played a pivotal role in many major conflicts.

In the mid-1700s the Japanese Imperial family wrested control from the warrior class that had controlled Japan for two and half centuries. The conflict that broke the warrior's power base and allowed this to happen is referred to as the "Boshin War". As far as Japanese civil wars usually go, it wasn't really much of a conflict. The Imperial Forces were armed with new rifles and modern cannon while the samurai had learned to depend almost entirely on their swords. Even lances were no longer a major part of the warrior's arsenal, although everyone still practiced with them. The better armed, more highly organized Imperial Forces stormed north through Nihonmatsu on their way to Sendai, the holdout of one of Northern Japan's most powerful samurai families.

The Niwa clan, overseers of Nihonmatsu, sent the bulk of their retainers north to help defend their lords in Sendai. The key to the Northern strategy was a delaying action in Nihonmatsu, Adachi, and several dozen other small towns between the Kanto plain and Sendai. Between equally equipped and trained forces it would have played out as a classic war of attrition that the wealthier northern forces would have easily won. Things were not equal and the first major battle at Nihonmatsu showed just how true that was.

The Imperial forces met the Niwa clan's remaining forces at the southern end of the valley. A ragtag force of teenagers, young men, and retired bureaucrats stood firm against a force that outnumbered them around a hundred to one. The resulting battle was a complete slaughter that lasted less than a day. Every battle between Nihonmatsu and Sendai went the same. A delaying action that the northern daimyo had hoped would buy them six months to build up their forces lasted barely a few weeks. Half their retainers surrendered, most of the remaining forces faded into the landscape without a fight.

All over in Nihonmatsu are plaques, stone stelles, and other monuments commemorating the battle, its victims, and the history that led up to it.

Living and working in Nihonmatsu has been quite an adventure.




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Reflections from the Future
March 7, 2010

Over the past several years I have learned that almost everything I recorded here is false. My poor Japanese ability coupled with inaccurate reference materials led to my misunderstanding the role of Nihonmatsu in the Boshin War. It turns out that despite grand obelisks and a dramatic fall festival, the historic Nihonmatsu Castle fell so quickly that details of the battle are seldom found in any printed material. It was, it seems, a mere bump in the road on the way to Aizu where the final battle took place. Everyone who died there died in vain. Poets and dreamers aside, the majority of warriors killed in battle generally die in vain because their sacrifice fails to advance the goals of their leaders. There are exceptions, of course, and high school history teachers love to talk about the exceptions, but most of the time death in combat is inglorious and wasteful.

That is not to say there are not ideals and values worth dying for. I spent four years in the United States Army (1980-1984). During that four years and often since I have considered the paradox of my own willingness to go down in defense of my nation while still understanding that my death would probably be the result of poor planning, bad tactics, and bad intel rather than a necessary sacrifice to achieve an important strategic objective. Unfortunately, in war, the warrior cannot choose when and where he fights, only how. The teenagers and young boys who died at Nihonmatsu did not buy the defenders of Aizu any additional time. Quite the contrary, the Imperial forces rolled over them without hardly noticing they were there. The defenders did have the luxury of choosing where and how they died, so perhaps they themselves went down satisfied that their sacrifice was not in vain. If so, what right do I have to judge differently?

Such is the quandary of the historian. The facts are still the facts, but the emotion and intent can never be confirmed.


June 09, 2003

Wha...?




Hmm. This blogger stuff is more difficult than I imagined. I thought I had already opened a new blog, but apparently my miserable first attempt failed.

Before I continue, I should perhaps test this one.

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Ah-ha! It suddenly seems the system is cooperating with me.

Today's thought: My favorite subject is me!

It is interesting that the human animal is hopelessly self-centered. The surest way to win friends and influence people is to ask them questions which allow them to ramble on endlessly about themselves, their opinions, their beliefs, their wisdom, their hobbies, and so on. Blogging takes this thinking to the next level by creating a media which allows each of us to pour our hearts and minds onto those hapless lives foolish or unlucky enough to wander across these pages and find themselves drowning in our own self-worship.

Something tells me I'm going to love blogging. ;-)




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Reflections from the Future
March 7, 2010

Well, I do love blogging, even though I don't post as often as I should. I have found many blogs where the owner simply posts articles they find on other sites, as well as a few where the owner writes long creative passages that read more like fiction than journalism. I guess for some people a "blog" truly is a journal while for others it is more of a notebook. In keeping with my title, I have yet to find a consistent theme for my own, but I suppose that's par for the course as well.


June 04, 2003

It starts like this, I suppose


It starts like this, I suppose. A blank page waiting to be filled with mild musings, wild flights of fancy, and everything in between. I have a website, http://www.greyhawkmanor.org, but by the time I get around to updating anything I have forgotten HTML and must relearn everything from scratch. At one point I kept an online portfolio at Writing.com, but endless hassles with the paranoid hacker who runs the joint resulted in two portfolios being deleted, the first by me, the second by him. It wouldn't be so bad except in the end the loss of both portfolios resulted in his confiscating over $400 of my hard-earned cash. Criminal complaints have so far gone unnoticed. I guess the FBI is too busy looking for Osama Bin Laden.

I don't know if this blog will ever amount to anything, but I'll run with it for a little while and see how it goes.

Cheers to anyone who wastes a minute reading this!

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Reflections from the Future

March 7, 2010

Greyhawkmanor.org no longer exists and has not existed for about three years. I have a new portfolio at Writing.com, "Brian K Miller", which proves true the old adage about dogs and vomit. There is never very much there, and not a day goes by that I don't consider deleting it entirely, but there it remains and once a year I send them a check to keep it current. I haven't had any problems with the management since I created the new portfolio, but then, I don't spend as much time using their resources as I once did.

Also, Osama Bin Laden is still at large, assuming his failing kidneys have not killed him yet. Rumor has it he is hiding in Pakistan, but nobody seems to know for sure.

August 8, 2016

Thirteen years, 652 posts, and two Kindle books later.

Osama bin Laden was indeed in Pakistan. A SEAL team killed him on May 2, 2011 and dumped his body at sea. Both this blog and my Writing.com account are still online; although I don't participate in the community at Writing.com and I don't add new posts to this blog with any kind of regularity. After all this effort it is undeniable that very few people are interested in what I have to say, so either my skill at writing has never matched my confidence or my writing simply lacks any real content, which pretty much amounts to the same thing. And yet I keep pounding away at this keyboard trying to make a difference, although nowadays I am filled with doubt rather than optimism.

Anne Frank was wrong. People are not essentially good. Human nature is essentially self-absorbed and self-focused with little or no regard for anyone else. We each walk through life at the center of our own little universe convinced we are a kind of petty god and the world exists solely for what we can take from it. I can't even go so far as to call us "selfish". We are each utterly and completely self-absorbed, even the few good people who wander around like village idiots pouring out acts of kindness no one deserves and very few appreciate. And yes, that includes me, on both counts: completely self-absorbed village idiot pouring out acts of kindness.

My youth was filled with optimism, my middle age was the domain of reluctant acceptance, and as I move into old age pessimism has begun to reign supreme. I don't know if this is a natural progression or merely the end product of countless bad choices. The one thing I do know is that every day it gets harder and harder to find something worth writing about, and yet, every day I write about something.

After a lifetime of philosophical, religious, and ethical studies, it turns out the fundamental nature of human existence is narcissism.