Last Tuesday, I was serendipitously told of a talk by Anna Baltzer in Yoshida campus. I remembered seeing her on the Daily Show a while back and was curious to hear her talk in more details about her experience and views on the current Middle East situation.

As it happens, I even ranted not long ago about the lack of rational and moderate discourse, in the neverending clusterfuck™ of a situation that is the Middle East. How timely.

No point copy-pasting Anna’s bio, but the skinny is: as a Jewish-American grown up in the US and backpacking her way through North Africa and Asia, she came by herself to the conclusion that many of the views commonly held by her fellow countrymen and community members with regard to contemporary Israeli politics were perhaps overlooking a few teeny details… In particular: serious human right issues with the current treatment of Palestinians in Occupied Territories.

Oh, Hai there!

I haven’t written a single real post in ages. Not that there is nothing to write about, mind you… Just never both time and motivation. And yet at this stage, seven years in, I think I’m long past the 6 month expiration date that comes with first-time blogging fevers… Anyway: thought I’d do some writing here for a change… My draft for the Great 21st Century Novel will wait until tomorrow.

I want to say it is all in my head, but I am practically sure there is something fundamentally different from Kyoto about the air in Tokyo (no, not just the smog). Summer is obvious: unlike Kyoto, Tokyo’s got a seafront and doesn’t feel like you are being slowly steamed in a giant rice-cooker with wakame on top; late Autumn and Winter are a bit more subtle: both places are cold and often rainy, but Tokyo always has this much crisper night air, with a dash of excitement and a whiff of possibilities, on any given day, at any given hour.

More importantly: Tokyo is a city, hell a Metropolis. Not a museum town, not a collection of temples, not a giant university dorm: a city with all sorts of people with all sorts of jobs able to have all sorts of conversations. Nobody fucking gives a fuck about what university you are attending and most people are happy to lead discussions beyond those wacky differences between wacky foreign customs and wacky Japanese customs. Is it just because the only people over the age of 30 in Kyoto are married, with kids, and probably go out once a year? No offense to all of the 20 year-olds that populate Kyoto’s nightlife and social circles, but I’m pretty sure you would make even 20-year-old me feel old and overly mature. Living in a city of tourists, shut-in natives and post-adolescent one-year exchange students, you tend to forget what it even feels to have a deep meaningful conversations with friends.

Just kidding, Kyoto life is totally OK. I have met many awesome people here. Plus: it was specifically selected on its heavy potential for a studious anchoritic doctoral life… Can’t say I failed there.

That being said, and assuming there is any more of Japan in my post-phd future, rest assured it will be Eastern Capital over Old Capital in a heartbeat.

Dear local Kyoto-fu LDP candidate for the upcoming upper-house election:

True: I cannot cast a vote in this election and sway your chances either direction.

But let me assure you that, if you keep insisting on circling my block multiple times, every morning between 8 and 8:30, inane election slogans blaring from your van’s speakers at top volume, I will be more than happy to contribute to your historical legacy by setting post at the closest grassy knoll with whatever long-range weapon I can get my hands on.

Thanks.

It is an understatement to say that the entire frame of Israel-related issues has long been overtaken by vociferous extremes. Increasingly weak attempts at launching reasonable, moderate discussions around the topic are bound to be drowned in the heady, simplistic rhetorical bullet points peddled on each side and gladly amplified by scores of well-intented moronic third parties.

Of course, for all the wishful thinking out there: Gaza is not some sort of plucky little nation bravely resisting a cruel barbaric invader. And Israel is not acting out of pure self-preservation to preserve its legitimate borders from impending invasions by neighbouring countries.

Israel is not the source of all oppression and abuse in Gaza. Gaza is currently ruled by a bunch of muslim extremists who have amply demonstrated their lack of concern for basic human rights and are not above propping up kids for their war, presumably because the adults are too busy stoning gays and impure women. Incidentally, hatred of gays and women: a point on which their conservative archenemies on the Israeli side seem to be in complete agreement.

Conversely, Israel has long slipped from its legitimate goal of ensuring its survival against hostile neighbours, toward appeasing a vocal ultra-orthodox minority, whose views on Arab-Israelis and their right to exist are only a couple degrees removed from what could be heard in the streets of 1930’s Berlin. It is no surprise that Israel has started alienating even its staunchest allies over the past decade: claiming to work toward peace while rushing to approve new settlements, like some schoolboy cramming as much as he can into his test sheet before the headmaster snatches it (or, for a more appropriate analogy: like victor nations of past World Wars, rushing to grab as much land as possible before calling in an armistice). There comes a point where no amount of denying the obvious through intellectual contortions can hide the fact that your policies are the exact opposite of what you claim them to be.

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

No particular reason, just felt in a Rand-bashing mood tonight.

It’s 4:30pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I am sitting at my balcony in my underwear, sipping on a gin & tonic, putting together some very repetitive music on my laptop while waiting for the lab’s computers to spit out some results.

I am also holding a high-pressure water gun, carefully aimed at the neighbourhood pigeons, patiently waiting for them to get within range.

What?

Oh, me too: I used to have a real job, wearing ties and fine Italian suits every day, working some place where people would say things like “synergy”, “milestone” and “ballpark estimate”, while planning the next meeting on their Palm Pilot… You bet I did.

But you go ahead: judge me.

Facebook had three things going for it, a couple years back, around the time I finally caved in and signed up:

1) A fairly decent interface. A newsfeed that was actually designed to intelligently filter stuff of interest to you while hiding the the rest automagically (instead of requiring you to constantly click through endless moronic application notifications, courtesy of your bored-friends-at-work).

2) Everybody was/is on Facebook. Even those kids you used to share your milk with, back in first grade… Facebook is the ultimate “where are they now” tool… If somebody born within your lifetime is not on Facebook, chances are they are either dead or building pipe bombs in a secluded cabin somewhere deep into the woods. All you need is a full name and/or school attendance year.

3) Advanced privacy features meant that people used their real names (a necessity to make point #2 worth anything), while allegedly keeping private stuff away from your boss/exes/crazy Google stalkers etc.

Here we are now, a couple years later and point #1 has died a long and painful death at the hands of a dozen asinine “interface redesigns” plagiarising any other Web 2.0 service with an ounce of popularity, all the while bringing server cost down (yes: turned out, all those great intelligent filtering tools were so intelligent they did not scale at all… oops).

Point #2 is more valid than ever: it is only a matter of time before even dead people have their Facebook page (never mind: they already do). But let’s be honest: once you’ve looked up all your friends from kindergarten and realised you did not share much beside reminisced fondness for crayon drawing and shared hatred of afternoon nap time, once you’ve made sure the asshole bully from Junior High is now assistant manager at Taco Bell and once you’ve found out that secret High School crush Susie now has three kids, two dogs and a suburban house, and is (according to her status) feeling bloated after that huge KFC meal they just all had at the mall… Once you have satisfied that bit of morbid curiosity about every single living soul you have ever interacted with during your life… You just want to go back to hanging out with people you actually chose to be friends with, preferably at an age where your common interests involved more than making watercolour handprints and trying not to pee your pants in public.