Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Against Those Who Go Postal

Against Those Who Go Postal

In any society there are a certain number of people who, unhappy at the way reality has treated them, decide to arm themselves and go forth into the world in massacre mode. Their intention is to make a stack of human bodies and, as a rule, they aren't particularly fussy about who the bodies belong to.

A standard situation in the United States would be a disgruntled worker who, having just been fired, returns to the workplace and offs some of his fellow workers. Or a nerdish high school kid who doesn't quite succeed in fitting in, so shows up at school one day in Mr Columbine mode.

The fast food joint is also, in America, a favorite hunting ground for those whose ambition will be satisfied by a random assortment of victims. Want to lunch someone? Well, Denny's is as good a place as any.

I once had an American colleague who was the ultimate gun nut, with assault rifles stashed in his parents' Californian home, and stories to tell of his I-was-almost-a-gangster years. One day in the office, he inflicted his enthusiasms on me by showing me his favorite armaments site, real firepower that, in the States, you could buy on line.

The very next day, the news featured, yep, another fast food restaurant massacre. I thought it would be in bad taste to make a comment on this, so did not use this as my conversational opener when next I met up with Mr Sixgun.

In New Zealand, where I come from, we have our fair share of this kind of stuff. We have our own collection of indigenous gun nuts, some of whom choose to live out their bang-bang-you're-dead fantasies with real guns and ammo and have to be dealt with by the armed offenders squad, which sometimes requires that the squad's snipers shoot them dead.

Guns, really, are necessary for a proper massacre, at least if your targets are adults. I've read in the papers, over the years, a couple of stories in which people in Western nations went amok with a samurai sword but ended up getting overpowered by the adult population they assaulted.

One of those cases was an incident in Auckland, New Zealand, where a mentally ill person broke a samurai sword out of a glass case in the museum and went forth to slaughter. He couldn't have pulled that trick in Japan because, in a Japanese museum, all the sword blades are displayed without any hilts attached, so you can contemplate the full beauty of the blade.

Bladed weapons are fine for a little up-close-and-personal one-on-one killing, but, if you want to stage a successful massacre, a knife won't do it. A sword won't either. Not if you go after adults.

The simple solution, if you live in a society where guns are hard to come by, is to get hold of a suitable bladed weapon, easily obtainable in the kitchenware section of your local department, and then go after little kids. The littler the better.

They can't fight back and you can kill as many of them as you want until some adult intervenes and makes you stop.

Back in the days when I was showing up at Japanese elementary school to teach, there were a couple of incidents along those lines in Japan, with the threat of the death penalty (Japan still has it, hanging being the method used) proving to be no deterrent.

One elementary school principal, pointing at the closed circuit TV cameras that had been installed in her school, bemoaned what had happened. The school was becoming more like a jail, and this was not the working environment she had grown to expect.

At that time, I started noticing the occasional stories that popped up in the Japanese news about kids being slashed, randomly chosen victims being attacked with bladed weapons while walking on the street. The perpetrators are, as a rule, never caught. Presumably there are some multiple slashers on the loose in Japanese society, people who have done it before, who enjoyed it, and who aim to do it again.

In the part of Yokohama where I live, the very little kids often walk through the streets in groups, often carrying emergency alarm sirens, which, on rare occasion, they succeed in setting off by accident. This is a symptom of somewhat troubled times.

This year, with the start of the new academic year at our local daycare center, I've noticed a certain heightening of security.

Before, I used to simply show up with my daughter and deliver her to the classroom. Now, there is a form to sign before you even enter the front door. Your child's name has been printed on the form, and, against the name, you write the time at which you delivered the child to the daycare.

Presumably, if the situation goes pear-shaped, the form will give the daycare's controllers a roll that they can use to check for survivors. Now, at least, they are in a position to know who had arrived at the daycare when The Thing That Happened went and happened.

We are always getting little missives from the daycare, which I tuck into the notebook which travels between the daycare center and our home, the notebook being the basic medium of home-daycare communication. I never look at the written stuff but, rather, leave it for my wife.

Monday 16 April, she asked me if any teacher has spoken to me about the new security system. No, nobody had told me anything.

It turned out that, as from Tuesday, I would have to punch a four-digit number into a little keypad to make the gate open. Our secret number, for the record, is 9642.

Then, when I wanted to exit, I would have to press a button which would be somewhere on a pillar in "the carport." Having been to the daycare center many times, neither my wife nor I was clear about exactly which pillar this might be. We weren't in the habit of thinking of the roofed area in the daycare's drive as being a carport, but apparently that was the official designation.

As a professional communicator, I thought this message was deficient, and that a diagram should have accompanied it, showing, at least, where the magic exit button was hidden.

That night, after dinner, we got a call at home. A sales call? No, someone from the daycare center.

I could only hear my wife's side of the conversation, and it was all in Japanese, but I understood perfectly. My wife was explaining that, yes, she had briefed her husband on the code number, but we couldn't figure out where the escape button was, so her husband would have to ask a teacher, but he would only have to ask once.

In the morning, I made a point of leaving bright and early, ready to hunt down the keypad. I saw it immediately on arrival, a bright shiny steel thing with tiny itty-bitty numbers. No problem. My reading spectacles would pull it into focus if I needed to operate the gadget.

I didn't need to, because a smiling individual had positioned himself at the gate, and, unless I am mistaken, this individual was none other than the headmaster, whom I had last seen wearing a clerical collar when he addressed the assembled kids at this year's induction ceremony.

He held the gate open for me and showed me where the let-me-out button was, and I confirmed with him that all I needed to do was press it, and press it once. When I exited, he supervised me as I did press it. He addressed me, at that time, by name, using my wife's name, so I became Nishikawa-san. Presumably the daycare has my real name, Kukku, on their records, but that is not the name which has lodged in the headmaster's memory.

So that's the news on the home front. Our security has been tightened up to face the reality of modern Japan, a world which is not quite as safe as the typical outsider's view of it.

In personal news, my recently reinstalled version of XP has brought me a new headache. The spell-checker of UltraEdit, the program I rely on for spell checking, has stopped working properly. The ADD function is broken, which is annoying, as the rather dated dictionary does not know basic terms such as XP, USB and iPod.

So now I am looking online for a freeware stand-alone spell checker for Windows. What I am finding, frustratingly, is a bunch of sites which purport to offer such a thing, but which are actually engineered so you end up clicking around in futile circles, meantime being exposed to heaps of advertisements en route.

This is pretty much the situation that you end up in if you go looking for free mp3s online.

I'm sure that, with a bit of cunning and a bit of persistence, I will eventually find what I'm looking for, a spellchecker that I can use from within any Windows program. Meantime, UltraEdit will at least catch out and out bloopers such as "the the," to allow me to look more of the English teacher than I actually am.

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