I still remember one of the last Discovery Channel-style epiphany that occurred to me before I overdosed on Physics and the mere mention of the word started sending me into irrepressible fits of maniacal laughter:

While studying the effect of high-voltage electrical current on molecular geometry, our professor mentioned in passing that this was, in essence, what happened in the skies before (and during) your typical thunderstorm: oxygen molecules (O2) would get dissociated into unstable atomic oxygen that would recombine with more O2 to make ozone (O3). Ozone being much more dense than molecular oxygen then proceeds to fall straight to the ground where it reaches the unsuspecting layman’s nostrils.

So that lovely and unique smell that fills the air just before a Summer storm like right now is the smell of ozone.

Science is, indeed, a wonderful thing.

Update: Scott’s insightful contribution and some more amusing scientific facts about Ozone, in the comment section.

Last week, Yosef Lapid, Israeli Justice minister and leader of the centrist Shinui party (one of the least radical trend in the current government coalition) harshly criticized the recent demolitions of Palestinian habitation (allegedly an effort to “secure” the Gaza strip). A few members of Sharon’s own government had already shown increasing concerns over the disastrous human and political consequences of this offensive. But Lapid went one major step further in an interview with Israel Defence Forces radio:

Referring to the TV picture, Mr Lapid said he was “talking about an old woman crouching on all fours, searching for her medicines in the ruins of her house and that she made me think of my grandmother”.

“I said that if we carry on like this, we will be expelled from the United Nations and those responsible will stand trial at The Hague,”

Source: BBC News

These comments take their full weight when you know that he “spent part of World War II in a Budapest ghetto and lost many members of his family in the Holocaust, including a grandmother who died at Auschwitz.”

Of course, this allusion to Nazi Germany when discussing domestic policies utterly infuriated his right-wing colleagues and prompted him to quickly retract his previous statement: “I’m not referring to the Germans. I’m not referring to the Holocaust,” Lapid told the Radio. “When you see an old woman, you think of your grandmother.”

But there is little doubt on the true reason of his original reaction: while he most certainly did not mean to draw a serious parallel between current Middle-East events and the horrors of the Holocaust, it is hard not to notice that the Israeli government is now assuming the ugly role of the persecutor in occupied Palestinian territories.

Of course, in this stupid conflict, both sides abound with political extremists, scary religious fanatics and blood-thirsty militants.
But only one side is claiming the legitimacy of a democratic government. And lately, it has not displayed a conduct very befitting of a democracy.

Many people tend to see Israeli politics as one single block united behind hard-line right-wingers. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The Knesset is divided between a ridiculously high number of small factions that form and break coalitions, successively putting the left or the Likud in position of power. Lately, under the rule of Sharon, undeniably a talented strategist and a very popular figure, who, incidentally, has been firmly written down in the books of a few Belgian prosecutors as a War Criminal, the Likud has enjoyed a seemingly unstoppable support and has used most of it to muddle the situation back into the mess it was two decades ago.
But if you talk to a lot of Israeli, especially the ones who do not currently live in Israel: the countless youth who have jumped on the first occasion to flee the downward spiral of violence engulfing their native country, you will hear a much dissenting opinion from what is usually considered the “Israeli cause”. Unfortunately, this moderate majority is entirely overshadowed by a vociferous minority of fanatics who are currently tearing appart any hope of a peaceful resolution to this conflict, irrevocably damaging the Jewish State’s international credit in the process.

It is also worth pointing out that the much talked-about US “neo-cons”, currently in control of every strategic position in the White House, have more than a connection in passing with the Likud.

Please excuse the crappy quality of the above pictures: they were captured with rather rudimentary tools from the low-quality streaming of an Israeli broadcast archived by France Television 2 (link to that day no longer available unfortunately). I stumbled upon this footage while watching a webcast of French TV’s excellent show: “Le Zapping” (see part 6.3 of my special Links Edition entry for more info on that show).

So, the question was: why in hell should one bother learning foreign languages? Especially the more exotic/useless varieties (Latin, Greek, Wolof, Sumerian etc.).

I mean, everybody speaks some English nowadays, right? Well: everybody except Japanese people. But neither do they speak Greek, French or German for that matter.

Being able to read great national authors in their own language is a nice perk. While some stuff can be translated more or less accurately, certain literary styles just cannot be appreciated in any but their original language. And if you think I’m being a snob here (which I am, but that’s not the point), just tell me how you would picture a translation of Hunter S. Thompson, Douglas Adams or even William Blake in a non-English language. Hell, even William Shakespeare sustains severe damage when translated (take the word from someone who once had a copy of “Romeo y Julieta” in his hands). Conversely, not speaking German considerably reduces the Kafka-reading experience, not to mention the whole German Romantic Poetry thing (but whether this is a loss altogether has already been established as highly debatable). Being able to read the untranslatable work of Boris Vian or Pierre Desproges would justify all by itself tediously mastering the aggregate of exceptions, illogical constructions and dusty idioms that has been collected under the misleading name of “French Grammar Rules”.

I should add that, imnsho and experience as an underpaid translator/student, the difficulty lies essentially in cultural issues (especially when humor is involved) rather than actual language issues.

But let this not become an entry on the art of translation.

No matter what abyss of snobbery I am ready to sink to, I will not bring myself to claim that the work of classic Latin or Hellenic authors can only be fully savored in their respective dialect. I mean, look at Homer’s (no, not him, the other one) famous soap opera: it’s just been made into a movie by a bunch of Hollywood guys, and it is doubtful these people can read plain English to begin with, let alone archaic Greek dialects… Does that make it any less of a quality movie?
Does it?

Well ok, bad example. But you get my point: do you really need to know about homeric epithets or dactylic hexameter in order to fully enjoy all the blood and latent homo-eroticism filling the Iliad? I think not.

Then why? Why bother? instead of leaving these dead languages in their grave and focus on more useful skills such as how to make portable bongs out of Pocari Sweat bottles or shave your cat efficiently.

The answer: because it entitles you to do precisely what I’m doing right now. Brag about it!

Of course, why would anybody subject themselves more or less willingly to such an unrewarding task, if not for the possibility every once in a while to rub potential interlocutors in the filth of their own ignorance.

Unfortunately, nowadays, the shame that ought to fill these people upon discovering this unforgivable gap in their proletarian education is often replaced by mock disbelief, harldy hiding a certain snarling contempt for such vacuous occupation.

Which is why it is all the more important to seize even the smallest of occasion to flaunt one’s knowledge in such obscure topics, even if that will most surely drown any entertaining evening in an asphyxiating miasma of pedantry. Beside, as we all know culture is like butter (the less you got, the more you spread it).

Anyway, two days ago (seriously, you didn’t think I could spread such pointless ranting over two posts without at least the excuse of some personal anecdote to laboriously hang it to. did you?), such a golden occasion arose. When my friend, in reply to some disparaging comment, gravely threw in the discussion:

In the words of Julius Caesar: Et tu, Brute?

I could barely contain my excitation at such a huge opportunity to rise to new heights of nitpicking pedantry:

Julius Caesar? you mean Shakespeare, right?

The condescendance with which he started pointing out the alleged historical veracity of this quote quickly disappeared in a frozen smile when I unleashed that devastating truth upon him:

What History? I thought you were referring to Shakespeare’s imaginary narration of this famous moment… Because Julius Caesar never said that.

Ha, never fuck with a hellenist, I thought, while nervously playing with the trigger of my dictionary.
I was gonna spare this fool’s life, when he dug his own grave in one short misguided attempt to protest:

But everybody knows these were Julius Caesar’s last words, seconds before his own protégé gave him the fatal stab.

The impudence, the insolence.
Was he somehow trying to defend his position against the might of my argumentation?

How could he have said that? when it’s a well known and documented fact he never spoke Latin in private. Having been raised by Greek slaves like most of the patrician gent in Rome, he quite naturally used the Hellenic idiom when conversing with very close friends or relatives such as Brutus.
Roman historian Suetonius, whose writings provided Shakespeare’s material, is categorical: Caesar, upon recognizing Brutus, exclaimed “Και συ, τεκνον” which literrally translates to “you too, my offspring?”, as it is no secret that Brutus was, in fact, his illegitimate son…

And that, my friends, is how you brutally turn an otherwise light and cheerful evening into a heavy discussion on the finer points of Roman History.

How could you ever doubt the merit of an intransigeant and rigid traditional education in humanities after that.

One of the consequence of the posh European boarding school education I received, along with a natural caution toward catholic priests and a deep-rooted aversion for ties and other imposed uniforms, is that I spent an insanely high amount of time studying languages that were obviously not intended for me to speak (otherwise the Almighty, in his infinite wisdom and great powers, would have had me born somewhat closer to Rome, or the Acropolis, a few milleniums earlier).

While the quantity and diversity of languages placed upon our little heads already sounded like a lot to us enlightened worldly junior citizens, it would have sounded like sheer madness to your average Texan, to whom “foreign language” abilities merely means understanding people without a twang. And while most Americans are quick to point out the possible use of Spanish to order your domesticity around in the Land of Opportunity, I must admit it’s becoming harder by the day to find such use to say, ancient Greek or Latin. It’s a shame too, since at the rate things are going in the US, legal slavery should probably be amended back into the constitution soon enough, and I’ve always fancied living in a patrician mansion surrounded by domesticated exotic felines and nubile servants to whom I would quite naturally speak Greek or Latin exclusively…

Anyway, yea, the point of learning languages: well, I clearly remember that, every year, each teacher would devote an entire class to convincing us of the well-founded interest of whatever language they were teaching. Of course, nobody really cared, and in the end, the fact that German was bound to “become the universal language within the economical behemoth that the European Union would unavoidably become by the year 1990”, was completely overshadowed by the fact that our young Bavarian teacher sported a pair of mammary glands seemingly capable of sustaining Switzerland’s chocolate milk production for the next decade… ah Frau Serin, how we missed the way you bent forward to rectify that misplaced umlaut on our notebook… especially when your successor, Frau Wagner, turned out to be some kind of hairy troll straight from the Black Forest, whose love for that oxymoron called German Poetry might have been forgivable, if not for her near-complete deafness and ensuing strident level of speech.
Ich weeeeeeiiiss nicht was soll es bedeeeeeuten, daß ich so traaaauurig bin, ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten, das kommt mir nicht aus dem Siiiiiinnnn

Our Greek teacher was this adorably effeminate dandy, whose perpetuation of certain stereotypes, linking this brave antique civilization of fierce warriors with an inclination for the love that dares not speak its name, ought to have been outlawed by the cliché police… He was certainly more entertaining as a teacher than his predecessor, a former catholic nun who, incidentally, was also a doctor in comparative literature, studying parallels in the work of French poet Gérard de Nerval and Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki. Was she a riot or what.

All these people all had very elaborate arguments on the philological use of these two essential root languages and assured us that learning any other Indo-European languages in the future would be laughably easy (damn, I’m sure glad I picked Japanese, the one language furthest removed from that language group).

But let’s be serious, the reason why we endured endless hours of declensions, vocabulary lists and grammar nitpicking, was certainly not some kind of hypothetical career move involving the ability to read Cicero or Plato in its original text…

continued here

My favorite bar-slash-gallery-slash-hole-in-the-wall…

We were sitting on the first floor for once. An artist (who had
apparently had one beer too many) needed to hang her art, with
obviously little idea on how to go at it… So I ended up stapling
pictures to the wall for half an hour…

The pictures were pretty cool, and this place is definitely my
favorite in the city.

Updated 05/29/04 03:30AM

I’ve been asked for link recommendations (on Japan and in general) but since I’ve not yet come around to add a decent link section to this log, a dedicated entry will have to do for now. So, without further ado, here is a quick round of my bookmark collection:

  1. The Obvious Ones (everybody already know these, but if you don’t, it’s high time to add them to your bookmarks)
    • Boing Boing is a collective link blog where most net oddities and other hidden jewels of the web that people usually forward to each other are bound to end up eventually.
    • Gizmodo shares a lot of content with BoingBoing, but overall specializes in cool gadgets and other geeky announcements.
    • The Onion is, by far, “America’s finest News source” and reminds us that it is indeed scary times when parody sounds so close to actual truth that you have a hard time telling them apart.
    • Guardian: although Fox news does a much better job of accentuating the clairvoyance of The Onion, the Guardian is where I usually go to get straight coverage of recent news (including US domestic ones).

  2. The Serious Ones (or “how I shine in good society thanks to my elaborate Internet readings”)
    • God of the Machine‘s only downside is a rather low frequency of updates. But its entries, whether covering English poetry, irritating logic problems or any other topic on Earth are always top-quality readings.
    • Turning the Tide is also updated way too infrequently for my liking, but apart from that, I would be hard pressed to find any reason not to bookmark Noam Chomsky’s blog.
    • Whiskey Bar was previously mentioned here. Still one of my favourite political blog out there
    • A List Apart belongs to an entirely different but nonetheless primordial domain of serious things: Proper Standard-Compliant Web Coding (some would place it more along the line of tetrapyloctomy, but we shall ignore those heretics).

  3. The Fun Ones (Because you are certainly not going to entertain your date with the latest technique for creating standard-compliant drop shadows using CSS)
    • The Filthy Critic is not actually a humorist, he’s a very dedicated and fiercely independent movie critic. But his reviews are still the most hilarious texts you’ll read in a long while, regardless of the quality of the original movie.
    • Kind-of-Crap is the unfortunate tale of a poor Gaijin who accepted to sell his soul and any remaining shred of nerdy dignity he might have had by signing for two years of JET program and being subsequently sent to some godforsaken village deep in rural Japan. Luckily (for us), his subterranean level of self-esteem goes hand in hand with an amazing gift at recounting horror stories of shame and humiliation in a foreign country (I highly recommend to start at the beginning).
    • Bunsen.tv: “If you really loved me, this pathetic cry for help would be totally unnecessary”.
    • Let’s Have fun with Geishas (or Geisha Asobi if you prefer) is: “link site which is introduce funny, crazy and interesting site”. Couldn’t say it better.
    • Kontraband: though highly immature, the video clips, pictures and other waste of bandwith that you’ll find there should help getting you safely through a thoroughly unproductive day.

  4. The Japanese Ones (people and things at least somewhat japan-related… like they love mangas or drink green tea every night or something)
    • Kokochi (formerly known as Tokyo Tidbits): Mie doesn’t live in Japan any more, but she is still documenting her everyday life in Baghdad by the Bay from her keitai.
    • Tokyo Times is an apt sum-up of what you can find in Japanese news on a good day and with an eye for it… only it would tend to focus more on stories involving keywords such as “panties thief”, “upskirt keitai snapshot”, “subway gropping” etc. But despite its stereotypical coverage, it is still not so far from actual Japanese dailies.
    • Gen Kanai writes on Japan, modern technologies and a lot of other interesting topics.
    • Paul from In-Duce also does. with a really cool site design.
    • Greggman, with focus on the gaming and gadget angle. Probably the idol of hundred of nerds begging for some internship at Sega US in the faint hope of ever making it to the mecca of videogames.
    • Maki (who’s not a nameless cat): on web design and programming.
    • Mayumix probably has one of the coolest blog name around… but also, unfortunately, one of the slowest site to load (I blame blogspot… and the international communist conspiracy).
    • Yaw and Mog kinda reminded me (in its principle at least) of Rica and Rhedi. But I’ll grant you this is quite a far-fetched comparison
    • i-Sako: “an American expat in Japan, a father of two, a loving husband, an armchair political wonk, an inveterate geek, and an all-around garden-variety fool”.
    • Taro: Dignified representant of the natto-for-brains Fucked Gaijin community on Japanese soil.
    • j-dreaming: is to dreaming what j-pop is to pop… roughly the same with more furry cat icons and shots of traditional temples.
    • Mediatinker.com has tons of wonderfully written notes and some video works.
    • Jean Snow. “Jean Snow”? Now what kind of a name is that? Why not Billy Neige since we’re at it… Well, I very much like his page design (and content) nonetheless…

  5. The Pretty Ones (most of them also on Japan, but with extra graphic goodness)
    • Antipixel quite deservedly holds the title for most beautiful blog about Japan, but the occasional insightful comments are definitely up to par with the nifty design and gorgeous pictures.
    • Yuki, at Kissui.net does not leave her camera alone for a second. I can testify to that. But it makes for a great photo-log.
    • Hunkabutta: series of pictures on a different theme each day, dripping with life…
    • Schoolgirl Sophistry has lotsa text and some very nice pix from a “tall, blonde chick in Tokyo”.
    • hmmn: musings from the far east(erwood) likes artsy B&W shots. And so do I.

  6. The Froggy Ones (because we love the French, yes we do…)
    • Padawan Info gives you the latest political and technological news, straight from the homeland of the Minitel. The English version tends to focus more on matters of international interest.
    • 404 Brain Not Found, despite its English title, is a reading reserved to those with more than a passing interest in French affairs. If your master of the Gallic idiom is up to it though, you’ll definitely appreciate these posts that, in a style quite openly inspired from French genius Pierre Desproges, exquisitely dissect French and International news, with a keen eye for human pettiness and pathetically stupid items of mass culture.
    • Canal Plus Videos also requires pretty strong language skills, but features one of my favorite TV piece of all time. It’s pretty much the only show I ever watched as a student in Paris. It’s called “Le Zapping” and it squeezes the substance out of a full day of French TV programs into a couple minutes of uninterrupted zapping. The excerpts can really be culled from any French-speaking program that was aired over the previous 24 hours, from obscure graveyard talk-shows all the way to prime-time reality-shows. Most of it only goes to prove that French TV is up to common international standards in terms of inane populist programming, but some pearls reaped from news broadcasts or documentaries are so mind-blowing they’d nearly make you want to watch TV. Also available on this site, is the web archive for Les Guignols de l’Info: an iconic, if somewhat aging, show that I mentioned once before: entertaining, but rather hard to follow I you are no longer immersed in the local political and media scene.

Right now, I need to make sure my neighbourhood bar in Shinjuku didn’t disappear overnight and still serves Saphire and Tonic.

Picture IMGP2415_1.sized.jpg Did you know that “quantum vortices have been observed in alkali Bose-Einstein condensates that seem strikingly close to those exhibited by traditional anisotropic superfluid such as 3He” ?

Neither did I.

And quite frankly I wish I still did not.

Anyway, last Sunday was party time in Yoyogi. Despite a last minute downgrade of the weather forecast, we decided to go through with it and make the best of it (we already had the sound equipment ready and figured it made little sense to cancel at that point).
The weather was indeed far from ideal and not so engaging for an outdoor party, but thankfully remained dry most of the day.

After the usual organizational bloopers without which a party is not worth being called a party, we eventually got everything set-up in our back-up spot, a few hundred feet from the original spot, which had turned out to be already claimed by rather stingy fellows. We then proceeded to get the party started and act as if the ominous grey skies above us were on their way out.

As it turned out, Park Security has much less patience for any form of amplified music as we had hoped (hopes based on previous experience, but then again: one should never rely on occasional lapses of lenience from the gods). After being shut twice, trying to wait it out (the park’s security supposedly goes off-duty at 4), we did what we should have done from the beginning and moved to the outskirts of the park… roughly 20 feet from the “official” park entrance, and just in front of a sign strictly forbidding the use of any amplified music instrument within the park.

The new spot turned out to be much more welcoming and, beside a small and courteous visit from the police a bit later (they only gave us a small warning and asked us to keep it down), we were able to crank the music up for good and until the end of the day. Of course, rain started falling in the meantime, and the temperature, which had not been so high to start with, fell even lower along with the night.

By this description, those who weren’t there might draw a rather horrendous picture of that afternoon… but actually, it turned out to be a kick ass party in the end:
Rain did not stop us and before the first serious drops had even touched the ground, we had wrapped everything (including the dj) in transparent plastic sheet. With a few people seating under the surrounding trees and the rest keeping their position on the exposed dancefloor, it nearly seemed like nobody had noticed the rain.
It’s always nice to see a group of people getting together and dancing in the middle of nowhere. But when that group of people keeps dancing until the very end, completely oblivious to a rain that goes from drizzling to pouring and back, believe me, it does make your day!
I would not trade 5,000 people in a club in California or Ibiza for the couple dozen people who shook their ass under the rain until the very last record on Sunday…

We have just uploaded a few pictures and some really neat movies, go check them out here and don’t hesitate to leave comments! (Update 2006: Gallery removed)

Also, chances are high that we will do it again. Although this time we will probably opt for a more sound-friendly location (still outdoors, of course). July would be the month, no day has been fixed yet. If you wanna be kept informed about our future parties, just add your name and email there (we promise we won’t use it for anything else!).

Ok, time to go back to quantum vortices… you might not hear too much from me until next month, but if everything goes according to the plan, and once I’ll have gotten school out of the way, I might even have cool stories and pix from Europe to put here.

BTW, I opened Pandora’s box n gave Kate access to the Keitai Logs (cf 2 posts below). I foresee much abuse of course and until I set up my system to identify authors, one should assume by default that any X-rated material or pictures otherwise disparagingly portraying the author of this blog are her’s.