Sunday, April 29, 2007

Creative Writing Fallout: Free Speech and the Law

Creative Writing Fallout: Free Speech and the Law

While the Virginia Tech misdeeds of the infamous Cho have made disturbing student fantasies hot news right now, the case this post starts with dates back to 2003. That's when a teacher confiscated the student's notebook on account of the fact that it included a story about shooting her math teacher.

She got suspended for ten days, and now she's back in court in an effort to get that suspension wiped off her record.

The news is from THE TELEGRAPH which you can find at Macon seems to be a place in the deep South of the United States.

The news from THE TRIBUNE as of Friday 27 April 2007 lets us know that the student's name is Rachel Boim, that the high school which she used to attend is Roswell High (now she goes to a private school), and her lawyer is Allan Galbraith.

He's quoted as saying this:

"Can an uncommunicated work of fiction serve as the basis of punishment by the government?"

Judge Stephen Limbaugh, on of three judges sitting on the case in a federal appeals court, doesn't buy the "only fiction" line. Quote from the font of his judicial wisdom:

"This writing is targeting a particular person and talked about a gun. I thought it was a very scary fiction, if that's what you say it is. If it was fiction in a story, she should have kept it at home."

Quote from the story, the bit where the math teacher gets his:

"I lothe him with every bone in my body. Why? I don't know. This is it. I stand up and pull the gun from my pocket. BANG the force blows him back and every one in the class sit there in shock. BANG he falls to the floor and some one lets out an ear piercing scream. Shaking I put the gun in my pocket and run from the room."

Okay, to be honest, if I was the math teacher I'd find it scary.

The First Amendment to the American Constitution gives you the right to free speech. The issue at stake is whether the school, by suspending Boim, violated her First Amendment right to free speech.

One of the judges is Joel F. Dubina, whose thinking is influenced by the behavior of the infamous Cho:

"What do you think would have happened if ... this young woman ended up shooting and killing the math teacher, what situation would we have then? With what happened at Virginia Tech, you think those writings [of shooter Seung-Hui Cho] would be a work of fiction?"

The judges heard argument but issued no ruling. Their decision, it seems, will not be forthcoming for weeks.

The article wraps up with news of the kid arrested in Illinois, Allen Lee, aged 18, saying this:

" [Lee] was arrested this week after writing that "it would be funny" to dream about opening fire in a building and having sex with the dead victims, authorities said.

"Another passage in the essay advised his teacher at Cary-Grove High School: "don't be surprised on inspiring the first CG shooting," according to a criminal complaint filed this week."

Be careful what you imagine dreaming about seems to be the message here.

Meantime, from, news of Allen's case. It seems his Marine Corps career, the dream job for which he just recently signed enlistment papers, has been trashed by his legal entanglements.

The Marine Corps has discharged him from his contract. Don't want him any more. That dream you had, kid? It's over.

He's been charged, now, with two counts of disorderly conduct, which I don't understand because, after all, he only wrote the one piece of creative writing.

The article is by Megan Reichgott, an
Associated Press writer, and includes the following:

""The charges are a product of paranoia, born in the aftermath of the massacre of 32 students at Virginia Tech by a social outcast who then killed himself, said one of Lee's attorneys, Thomas Loizzo.

"" "Once the dust settles, once they look at this through clearer glasses, we think that the state will do the right thing and dismiss the charges," Loizzo said.""

If so, then Lee will re-inlist with the Marine Corps.

If not, well, it's not exactly going to be a plus for the future of creative writing in the United States of America.

Meantime, the Daily Herald, online at, reports that one of Lee's lawyers has released the text of the essay for "context."

The site provides a version of the essay, but it's an expurgated version, "ith language not normally allowed in the Daily Herald removed and noted."

Reminds me of Dick Nixon's tapes, the ones which surfaced after Watergate, the transcripts of which were always peppered with "expletive deleted."

For what it's worth, here is the censored version. Everything below this point is Allen's text plus his "author's notes." Because my text ends at this point, I haven't inserted quote marks in the following.

My only off-the-cuff comment, as a professional English teacher, and one who spent quite a bit of time teaching business writing by e-mail, is that the student writer should learn how to paragraph. Short paragraphs, please. Makes the stuff easier to read.

Okay, I'm done, so here's Allen, speaking to the world in his own voice:

Blood sex and Booze. Drugs Drugs Drugs are fun. Stab, Stab, Stab, S…t…a…b…, poke. "So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone…, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did." Umm, yeah, what to wright about…… I'm leaving to join the Marines and I really don't give a [expletive] about my academics, so why does the only class that's complete [expletive], happen to be the only required class…enough said. The model citizen would stay around to vote in new board member to change the 4 years of English policy, but no one really stays around to vote for that kind of local crap, so whoever gets there name on the Ballet with a pretty face gets to do what the [expletive] ever they want with local ordinance. A person is smart, but people are dumb selfish animals. We can't make rules for ourselves so we vote others to do it for us, but we can't even do that right, I meen seriously, Bush for President? And our other option was John Kerry who claimed to parktake in Vietnam Special Forces missions that haven't been declassified…. [expletive]. So Power Flower Super Mario. Pudge, hook, rot, dismember "Fresh Meat." Most new/young teachers are laid back, and cooperative with students as feedback and input into the curriculum and atmosphere. My current English teacher is a control freak intent on setting a gap between herself and her students like a 63 year old white male fortune 500 company CEO, and a illegal immigrant. If CG was a private catholic school, I could understand, but wtf is her problem. And baking brownies and rice crispies does not make up for it, way to try and justify yourself as a good teacher while underhandidly looking for complements on your cooking. No quarrel on you qualifications as a writer, but as a teacher, don't be surprised on inspiring the first cg shooting.

Author's Note:

This production of the writing is done in the most accurate manner I can depict of the original writing.

Grammar and spelling mistakes are included at the best accuracy possible.

The first phrase in questions is in fact a Green Day song. The second reference to drugs is in relation to the schools history of drug problems.

I am personally clean of all controlled substances. The statement in quotes is done so as a non personal statement as I would have done in reference to a character for a story.

The reference to the gun P90 is from a video game, combined with a reference to necrophilia as a comment regarding a seriously messed up situation. A situation such as the rape of villagers during a raid by U.S. troops in Vietnam.

I really do not care too much about by continuing academia as in relation to grades. I do however believe on continuing my personal education, and I am actually still working for my classes.

My views on the graduation requirements explain themselves.

The reference to Mario and Pudge (a DOTA character) are completely random as is this essay.

The reference to a person being smart and people being dumb is based on a quote from "Men in Black."

I generally do believe the public opinion is best.

The rest of the essay is rather self explanatory, the main statement in question I have already released a comment online about.

I request that all information I have released is read together, and nothing is given separately or as an excerpt as the administration has seen fit to do.

On an additional note, I have completed the MEPS (Military Entry Processing Station) examinations, and yes a psychiatric evaluation is included in the process. If I'm qualified to defend the country, I believe I'm qualified to attend school.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

America Loses It

America Loses It

This hot off the press from the Chicago Tribune: student writes an essay, teacher doesn't like it, cops arrest student for disorderly conduct.

The story is by Tribune staff reporters Jeff Long and Carolyn Starks and was published on April 26, 2007.

It starts like this:

"Told to express emotion for a creative-writing class, high school senior Allen Lee penned an essay so disturbing to his teacher, school administrators and police that he was charged with disorderly conduct, officials said Wednesday.

"Lee, 18, a straight-A student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested Tuesday near his home and charged with the misdemeanor for an essay police described as violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location."

A photo of Lee accompanies the article and it's obvious that his features are Asian features.

Apparently if your unpublished writings can disturb someone, like your teacher, then you can be hit with a disorderly conduct charge, and you can get slammed into jail for thirty days and fined $1,500.

The kid's dad, Albert Lee, says:

"I understand what happened recently at Virginia Tech."

But adds:

"I don't see how somebody can get charged by writing in their homework. The teacher asked them to express themselves, and he followed instructions."

Welcome to the fascist state, that's what I say.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Disrespecting Nikki Giovanni's poem WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH

Disrespecting Nikki Giovanni's poem WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH

Somewhere online I read that when a catastrophe occurs, poets are amongst the first responders. After the Virginia Tech massacre, American poet Nikki Giovanni was the firstest of the first, and her poem WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH was read to a Convocation of the University on April 17, 2007.

In the aftermath of Cho's massacre, in which he killed 32 people before killing himself, the person who most attracted my interest was Nikki Giovanni, about who I knew nothing except the bare facts given by the International Herald Tribune, which were that she was a professor of poetry at Virginia Tech and had once been Cho's teacher.

I was interested in her situation: the poet plunged into the public realm in such a fraught and tormented time. So, seeking to find out more about her situation, I punched her name into the Google News search box.

What followed was not enlightenment but, rather, confusion, as initially I ended up totally misconstruing both the poem and the poet.

I first encountered the text of the poem on a newspaper site where it was called not a "poem" but an "address," so I took it to be a speech, and that was how I initially interpreted it.

As a piece of rhetoric put together under time pressure, I thought it was pretty good, at least in the opening parts. What really impressed me were these words:

"We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly
We are brave enough to bend to cry
And we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again"

These words struck me as being clear, skillful and appropriate to the situation.

But who or what was this "Hokie Nation," as in the following lines:

"We are Virginia Tech
The Hokie Nation embraces
Our own
And reaches out
With open heart and mind
To those who offer their hearts and hands"

I completely misconstrued the situation here, because my surmise, which was totally wrong, was that the "Hokie Nation" was some remnant of the indigenous peoples that had survived white America's attempt to cram them into the genocide bin, and that Yolanda Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni was, with a name like that, surely of the same ethnic persuasion as Marisa Acocella Marchetto, and what was an Italian American doing speaking on behalf of an ethnic group which was not her own?

My thought at the time was this:

By what color of right does she, the white Italian, presume to speak for the Hokie people?

I was confident that if I did just a little research online, I would very shortly discover that Ms Giovanni was more Italian than the Pope.

But in this I was completely wrong.

It turns out that Ms Giovanni is not an Italian American poet but a black American poet, and her theory is that her distinctively Italian surname was bestowed upon her ancestors by an Italian gentleman who, back in the days of black slavery, was their master.

As for the "Hokie Nation," as far as I can make out, this is actually the social community associated with a college football team.

This is what I understand from the following web page:

The page publicises a movie which is "A film about a team, a town and the best darned fans in college football!"

According to the site, HOKIE NATION is an independent film scheduled for release in August, and I presume that means August of this year, 2007.

I think when I get to the part which says "The Hokie Nation embraces /
Our own" I should read this as meaning "we embrace our own," ie we the members of this football-focused community.

Decrypting that took a little bit of doing. No doubt when the poem finally appears in textbooks, it will be accompanied by appropriate explanatory footnotes, and the reader will not be faced with the initial bewilderments which beset me when I first ventured into Ms Giovanni's world.

The fact that Ms Giovanni is black explains why I found a couple of her poems on a site which also featured two poems by the black boxer Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay. When I first saw these poems I was unsure as to their provenance, and was not certain who actually originated them. But what I now presume is that they were genuinely written by Ali himself.

The site featuring both Ali and Giovanni is:

It features poems by a number of poets, and my assumption now is that they are all black poets.

One of the poems by Ms Giovanni which I found on that site was called THE TRUE IMPORT OF PRESENT DIALOGUE, BLACK VS. NEGRO (FOR PEPE, WHO WILL ULTIMATELY JUDGE OUR EFFORTS).

I misconstrued this as being a poem by a white poet writing about black anger, but actually it is, of course, a poem written by Ms Giovanni (back in the days of her youth) and written, it seems, out of the heart of her youthful black anger.

In summary, then, initially I totally misconstrued both the nature of the poet and the nature of her poem, WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH. But now I believe I have both in focus, and therefore will confidently proceed with criticism, my purpose in posting regarding this poem being not to praise it but to disrespect it.

Although every man and his dog seems to have posted the entire text of the poem online, I will not take that liberty, but, as of today's date, Friday 27 April 2007, you can read the text if you copy the following URL and paste it into your browser:

This page is online courtesy of the Virginia Tech English Department, where you can read the poem and make your own judgment.

My judgment is that whether considered as a speech or as a poem, WE ARE VIRGINIA STATE is, on balance, a failure.

The opening lines are fine, and do a great job of responding to utter disaster in a coherent and controlled manner, not denying the reality of the horror but, at the same time, successfully coping with it.

In the opening lines, we see a skilled technician who is speaking to her audience (and, at the Convocation, it was a live audience) from her heart.

So far, so good.

But the poem comes off the rails with the following disjunctive lines:

"We do not understand this tragedy
We know we did nothing to deserve it

"But neither does a child in Africa
Dying of AIDS"

That's definitely sliding off the topic.

If the diversion into the wider world ended there, then the poem could survive it. Arguably, the reference to AIDS contextualises the poem, the context being the so-called civilization which we humans have put together on planet Earth.

But the poem, not content with the AIDS reference, goes on to speak of Iraqi teenagers, Appalachian infants, children at risk of being inducted into rogue armies as junior warriors, and, worst of all, plunging right to the depths of bathos, the plight of the poor baby elephant, a member of a community which is hunted for its ivory.

Ms Giovanni has been a political activist for years, and, in this poem, once she loses focus by mentioning the AIDS issue, the politician takes over. It's like a freight train coming through. There's no stopping it. The poet is crushed out of existence and a posturing politician is left to dominate the stage. The fact that the politician is totally sincere does not pardon this crime against poetry.

While working on this post, I read the poem through yet again, and when I got to the bit about the baby elephant, I left the keyboard and went to the family reliquary room, which contains, among other things, a piece of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified and the lower jawbone of Genghis Khan.

In that austere environment, I tasked myself to the spiritual discipline of meditating on the suffering of baby elephants. But from my spiritually delinquent soul there came not even one small whimper of sympathy for Dumbo junior. I tried to kickstart my recalcitrant soul by eating some chocolate, but even consuming a whole bar of the stuff failed to do the trick.

Evidently, I am unworthy to kneel on the cold flagstones of the sacramental chapel and to pray, with the appropriate piety, in the company of Saint Yolanda Cornelia Giovanni.

The good thing about this poem is that it has absolutely nothing to say about Cho Seung Hui. It does not even mention his name. Cho has had more than his fair share of publicity, which, we may reasonably believe, is exactly what he wanted.

Looking at the situation, at the background to the poem, on the professorial level I cannot fault Ms Giovanni, and I don't think anyone else should fault her, either.

She recognized that Cho was malignant, and did the right thing, which was to excise him from her class. I don't think more than that could be demanded from her. Or from any teacher. A teacher cannot take global A for the lives of all the students who wander into that teacher's ambit. As a teacher, she did just fine.

But, as a poet? No, I don't think so. The politician took control of what started off as a pretty good poem, and the poem went down the toilet.

Because of the circumstances of its reception, WE ARE VIRGINIA TECH, which is already famous, is destined to remain famous, and will be taught to death and used as a model of how this kind of poem should be written.

And I imagine some kid sitting in a room in Beltway City, up in the state of Maine, thinking to himself, "Well, I'm really broken up. But I've done a pretty good job of cooking up a fairly decent poem about dad's car crash suicide. But now how do I tweak the draft and work in all that other stuff I should be including, the stuff about the famine in Zimbabwe and the suffering of the foie gras geese?"

A poem should be about something, should focus on that subject, and should not wander off into a general review of the sorry state of the universe. And if I'm at my friend's funeral and you're delivering a poem which is ostensibly about my friend's life and death, and you then choose to inflict suffering baby elephants on us, then my response is going to be screw the baby elephants.

And if I'd been at the Convocation on April 17, with my friend dead in the morgue and the blood not yet cleaned from the walls of the carnage ground, then my personal response would have been even less polite than that.

In closing, a footnote on terminology. In this piece I've made free use of the word "black," and in doing so I've taken my cue from a 2007 column by word maven William Safire, one of the world's leading experts on the correct use of the English language. (Though he does recommend that you first deploy the term "African American," and only then switch to the nimbler term "black.")

The Poet is Full of Rage and Hate - WARNING racist epithet included

The Poet is Full of Rage and Hate - WARNING racist epithet included

I set up a Google alert for [poem "Virginia Tech"] and, at first, was disappointed with the results. Then I got something interesting, a link to this page:

It's about some extremely angry poetry written the years of youth, poetry by Nikki Giovanni, sometime professor to the infamous Cho.

The page originally hosted the text of a poem called THE TRUE IMPORTANCE OF PRESENT DIALOG, BLACK VS. NEGRO, of which the site now says:

"Ms. Giovanni’s early poems are a point of reference for rage at a youthful age. The implied lesson here is that an honored poet can also produce very angry text at a young age."

They've taken down the text of the poem for the moment, because apparently some people have been using the page to disrespect Ms. Giovanni. But they still provide a link to the text, for those who are interested.

The page further says:

"Readers when reading these poems should be very careful not to jump to conclusions about the relationship between angry text and actions. There are angry textual rages published everywhere in America, each and every day. Our task as humans is to examine rage with as much humanity as we can possibly bring to it."

I thought that was an interesting comment. I've written some fairly extreme stuff in my time, but I haven't get gone Glock-crazy.

The text of the page also

""Nikki Giovanni, prof at Virginia Tech, said of her former student, Cho Seung Hui, a 23-year-old : “I’ve taught troubled youngsters. I’ve taught crazy people. It was the meanness that bothered me. It was a, really, mean streak.” ""

The page is comment-capable, and a lot of people have added comments, if you'd like to take a look.

I clicked a link on the page and got to the following page:


Here is an excerpt from the unexpurgated text:

Can you kill
Can you kill
Can a nigger kill
Can a nigger kill a honkie
Can a nigger kill the Man
Can you kill nigger
Huh? nigger can you
Do you know how to draw blood
Can you poison
Can you stab-a-Jew
Can you kill huh? nigger
Can you kill
Can you run a protestant down with your
'68 El Dorado
(that's all they're good for anyway)
Can you kill
Can you piss on a blond head
Can you cut it

The site bears a log saying "Free Speech Online Blue Ribbon Campaign."

The homepage for the site which features the excerpt above is the following:

It features poems by a number of poets, one bearing the name Muhammad Ali. When I was a kid there was a boxer by that name.

What you see on the page is a short poem which uses the voice of the boxer, and which quite possibly includes words that he actually spoke, but I have no idea if this is:

(a) an actual poem that the real Muhammad Ali put together himself;

(b) a poem that someone put together by building it from words spoken by Ali; or,

(c) A poem written by a poet who is using Ali as a persona to speak through.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting little poem, and I saved a copy to keep.

The direct link to the page is:

And part of what we see on the page is this:

Actually, there seem to be two poems on the page, both bearing the heading MUHAMMAD ALI. The second is shorter than the first, consting of just these three lines:

"" "Keep asking me, no matter how long
On the war in Viet Nam, I sing this song
I ain't got no qurrel with them Viet Cong." ""

The longer poem enlarges on this theme, and ends by Ali saying he'd rather go to jail and spend his time watching "television fed" than being with "you white folks," in Vietnam, and dead.

I had planned to delete my Google alert for ["Virginia Tech" poem], but, seeing as how it has led me to what is, for me, a very interesting exploration of the Internet, I think I'll keep it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Electronic Money in Japan: Pasmo and Suica

Electronic Money in Japan: Pasmo and Suica

Yesterday I blogged about Pasmo, the new stored value transit card that you can use in and around Tokyo not just on the Japan Rail trains but also on the subway lines.

Today, Thursday 26 April 2007, I found myself wondering how Japanese people were going to write the word "Pasmo." It's impossible to write this in Japanese script because there is no way to write an isolated "s" in Japanese. So I theorized that maybe Japanese people would write the word using the Roman alphabet. My thinking was that presumably I would find out, eventually.

I found out that very afternoon when I showed up at the supermarket by my home station, where I was in the market for two loaves of Pasco-brand bread and one tub of Morinaga yoghurt. Men don't eat yoghurt, of course, but there are two females in my household, so any yoghurt that's bought gets consumed, though not by me.

When I got to the register there was a Japanese-language sign featuring the word "Pasmo" in block letters, written in the Roman alphabet to read "PASMO."

The sign told me that the register at which I was trying to check out was not a Pasmo register. If you want to use Pasmo, please use the Pasmo register.

Since the cashier had no other customers to serve, I took the time to ask her which register was the Pasmo register. She answered that there were two, the next two registers in the row of checkout counters.

I can't remember the exact wording of the question I asked next, but I think it was something like "Pasmo no regi de, Suica wa daijobu desu ka?" This question was intended to ask "Can I use my Suica card at the Pasmo register?"

The answer was a clear and unambiguous yes. If you have Japan Rail's stored value Suica card, which I have, then you are equipped for the age of electronic money.

This was a welcome development, and I look forward to the day when there will be Pasmo-Suica readers at cash registers all over the place. Given the pace of evolutionary change in Japan, this day will arrive sooner rather than later. Then I will have little or no need to handle small change.

Because I'm visually disabled, Japanese coins are difficult for me to handle. I get mixed up between the 50 yen and the 5 yen, which both have a hole in the middle. The 10 yen and the 100 yen are about the same size, roughly, and I can't always tell the difference, although the 100 yen is silver and the 10 yen bronze.

For paying at the news stand where I buy the International Herald Tribune, I've gotten into the habit of sorting out the exact coinage at home and then popping it into my pocket. At other places, I tend to pay for small purchases with thousand yen bills. Then, on getting home, it's been my habit to throw the resulting shrapnel into a drawer.

I didn't realized how much small change was piling up in that drawer until my wife took a look at it one day and told me there could be as much as a million yen in there. I doubted this, but, when she was kind enough to volunteer to count it for me, the total came to a useful fraction of a million yen.

There was, in the drawer, a sum in excess of 17,000 yen, ie over US $120.

From my point of view, then, the arrival of the age of electronic money makes life easier.

Using the Pasmo-Suica option is a lot better than using what we have in New Zealand, which is EFTPOS. This clunky term stands for "Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale." You front up to the cash register, swipe your New Zealand bank's ATM card through a reader, punch in a PIN while the cashier ostentatiously looks the other way (if she does what she's trained to do), and then, after a delay, a computer approved the transaction.

You are then free to inflict further delay on the customers waiting behind you to ask the cashier to give you some of the money that's sitting in your bank account, since the effect of EFTPOS is to turn every EFTPOS-capable cash register into an ATM. (Though, having said that, it's worth noting that some businesses in Japan don't do the "we-can-give-you-your-money" bit.

I've never used EFTPOS and I've always hated it because it slows things down, so my working theory was that electronic money was a bad idea. But electronic money in the form of the contactless Pasmo and Suica cards is, I think, the greatest improvement in the functionality of money in my lifetime.

Three cheers for technology!

Another science fiction idea comes of age.

Some time back, my wife had been sitting watching 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on TV, and reflected on the fact that it's pretty amazing that so many of the things predicted by the movie (such as cellphones) had come to pass. It is, after all, a very old movie, one that I saw years before I ever set eyes on such a thing as a personal computer.

I had no easy way to answer this question. I write science fiction myself, but I don't know where the ideas come from.

Actually, the only original SF idea that I think I've cooked up on my own is the idea of the texting board, something featured in the alternative reality novel TO FIND AND WAKE THE DREAMER.

The idea is that you, the authorities, have a computer which intercepts all the many texting messages which are flying from A to B, averages their content and displays ever-changing results on an LCD screen. The result, in the fictional world of the book, is in effect a mind-reading machine, a machine which reads the mind of the city, as it gives voice to the zeitgeist.

I'd like to have more original ideas like that, but, since I don't know where such ideas come from, or how to get them, I'm as lost for an answer as my wife was.

Science fiction writer successfully predicted a whole bunch of things, such as cellphones. But, in advance of the living reality, no science fiction writer had an imagination warped enough to imagine a world in which the dominant software products were all bad products. But that's the world we are now forced to live in, a world which is very much Microsoft's.

As I've indicated in earlier posts in the last twelve months or so, I'm in the hunt for a workable flavor of Linux that will do what I need it to do. I've tried Fedora Core 5 and FreeBSD, and neither of those is the answer, and I was thinking seriously about paying good money to buy Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

(Parenthetically, I know, of course, that FreeBSD is not a variant of Linux, but, rather, is a flavor of Unix.)

But now I've downloaded a different version of Linux which I've got up and running on a second-hand ThinkPad I've had sitting around for a long time now, just waiting for an OS that would suit it. I now have a living Linux installation up and running on the computer, and if I can do the things I need to do with it, such as play music and get online, I'll post the results of my installation at a later date.

Possibly an extremely later date, as this is, for various reasons, an extremely busy period in my life.

Clockwork Boy Meets Electronic City

Clockwork Boy Meets Electronic City

When I was a child, one of the fascinating pleasures of childhood was the business of deconstructing expired clocks. They would break down into an intriguing array of cogs, springs, screws and other mechanical detritus.

All gone now, I'm afraid. Clockwork still exists, and I know this as a fact because three-year-old daughter Cornucopia has a couple of clockwork toys, including a little clockwork dinosaur. But the age of the mechanical clock is pretty much over.

We are now living in the electronic age, and the latest and greatest product in Tokyo, the electronic city, is the Pasmo integrated circuit travel card.

The following snippet from Google gives you the gist, sourced from a Wikipedia entry:

"PASMO - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
PASMO (???, Pasumo?) is a rechargeable contactless smart card ticketing system for public transport introduced in Tokyo, Japan from March 18, 2007. ... - 50k -"

In the Wikipedia entry above, you see question marks that some writer has added. I had question marks in my own mind. The Japanese alphabet is a syllabic alphabet, and it is not possible to write P-A-S-M-O using the Japanese alphabet. There is no stand-alone Japanese glyph designating "s." Rather, you have a choice of SA, SHI, SU, SE and SO, ie the consonant "s" in conjunction with one of the five vowels that Japanese uses.

The Wikipedia writer's apparent confusion, then, is my own, but I guess this is a case where Japan has opted to use straight out English script. This is not without precedent, though I think some eyebrows were raised some years back when Japan Rail decided it would label itself "JR."

When Pasmo came out on the market, my wife thought it was a great idea. Instead of buying one travel card for the JR rail system and one for the subway system, you now buy a single card which works pretty much everywhere metro rails go.

The card is rechargeable. That is, once you've bought it, you can feed money into a slot and add value to the card.

Back in the days when I was teaching corporate English and was always going to different client locations, I could have done with a Pasmo. But these days I usually just commute to and from Waniguchi Gakko, using a monthly travel pass which the company pays for. (Not because they're generous, but because they have a legal requirement to do so.)

So I saw no need to rush out and buy my own Pasmo, and pretty soon it was too late, because you now can't buy one until August, unless you buy one which not only combines both the standard pay-per-trip function but which also functions as a commuter pass between two stations.

The Pasmo has proved so popular that any number of people thought like my wife and jumped at the chance to own one. As I would have, back in my days of eternal commuting.

It's a really high-tech gadget so can't be mass manufactured in a hurry. Presumably manufacturers have contracted to deliver a set number in a set time, and can't tool up on the spur of the moment to increase supplies.

I saw a TV show about the product which was designed for kids, and so was in my Japanese-speaking range, more or less.

The Pasmo requires electricity to work, but contains no battery. Instead, it functions as a little electric generator in its own right.

The show explained to the kids that you can make electricity simply by moving a magnet through a coil of wire. Or a coil of wire around a magnet.

I didn't quite follow the technical details (okay, I got baffled, and ended up pretty lost) but the guts of it seems to be that a coil runs round the perimeter of the Pasmo card, and that there is some kind of mechanism sitting in the heart of the card.

My concept (which may be wrong) is that the gadget consists of something in the middle which contains a magnet plus what is, in effect, a coil of wire running round the perimeter.

The program explained that when you're sitting on the train there's no electricity being generated. However, as you wave the Pasmo at the glaring electronic eye of the ticket wicket, and eye marked "IC" (for Integrated Circuit), you generate electricity and the Pasmo uses this to send the necessary signal.

Because the Pasmo stores value and deducts it as needed, you can now use the Pasmo in a number of convenience stores.

From the program, I gathered that the JR Suica card, which I have, does exactly the same job as the Pasmo. However, while that was what I thought I heard, I wasn't sure that I had the details correct. Sometimes I misconstrue things said in Japanese. (Okay, to be honest, I misconstrue things all the time.)

Wednesday April 25th a bit of a crisis arose in the kitchen. I finished the last of the muesli in the packet of Alara Deluxe Muesli and asked my wife if she could bring out another one, and her response was that she couldn't because we'd now gone and eaten our way through the lot, all of the six one-kilogram packets that I'd bought on my last muesli shopping trip.

Alara's Deluxe Muesli is a great product, containing oat flakes, sultanas, malted wheat, wheat flakes, barley flakes, Thomson raisins, chopped dates, currants, toasted coconut, sunflower seeds, chopped banana, nibbed almonds, roasted hazels and cardamom.

I always eat quite a bit of this for breakfast, adding pasteurised milk, filling my stomach so I won't get too hungry before my next meal break, which is usually after two in the afternoon, once I've commuted home after knocking off at Waniguchi Gakko at 1310. So I told my wife I would go get some.

That meant making a journey, after work, from Waniguchi Station to Shibuya. Shibuya is where the nearest branch of Seijo Ishii is located, and the Seijo Ishii chain is, I believe, the only outfit in Japan which sells Alara muesli, which comes from England.

I have a Passnet card, this being a card which holds value and is deducted trip by trip when you use the subway, which is what our local railway line technically is, even though it runs above ground. So I could have simply used the Passnet card for the Waniguchi-Shibuya segment which was not covered by my commuter pass. But I opted to try out the Suica card instead.

Had I heard rightly when I thought I understood the TV to be saying that the Suica card could do everything that the Pasmo could? I wasn't sure.

As I approached the ticket wicket with the glaring electronic eyes that have only recently been added to the setup, I felt the oddest sense of apprehension, a fear that the technology wouldn't work for me. The ever-accelerating electronic city had, for the moment, exceeded the ability of my clockwork brain to keep up.

My Suica card, I'm glad to say, worked perfectly. It is, like the Pasmo, "contactless," to use Wikipedia word. You don't have to do anything as gross as physically touching something with it. Wave your card at the glaring eye and the ticket wicket will let you hurtle by.

And hurtle is exactly what people do when they're IC-moded. The cards that you feed into a slot so they can be mechanically processed - commuter cards, Passnet cards and old-fashioned cardboard tickets from the station's vending machines - force you to at least slow your pace. You can't go faster than the ticket-processing machinery. But once you're in the IC world, the only limitation on your transit velocity is the speed of light.

The effect of the IC cards, the Pasmo and the Suica, is to increase the already hectic pace of life in the Tokyo-Yokohama area. When I'm heading to work in the morning I'm not infrequently buffeted by someone who walks straight into me as they cut across my path, too busy to worry about where other people might be heading.

At Seijo Ishii I bought only two packets of muesli, because I had more shopping to do before I got home. Every Wednesday, the cheaper of the two supermarkets in our neighborhood offers a staggering Wednesdays-only 40% discount on frozen goods, so I'd been tasked by my wife to buy three packets of frozen peas and three packets of frozen corn. Also bananas, another vital must-have, something we can't live without.

When I got to the supermarket, the first thing that confronted my eye was an impressive display of bananas, so I thought maybe they were on sale. But, no. These were, according to the sign, bananas from Taiwan, and they were significantly more expensive than the usual bananas that we buy, which are usually from the Philippines.

I don't understand why, in Japan, you can charge a premium price for a vanilla product like a banana simply because it comes from Taiwan. But for some reason you can, because this more-expensive-if-from-Taiwan business has been going on for years, much to my bafflement.

Because I commuted longer than usual on Wednesday, I read more of the newspaper, and got as far as the English-language Asahi Shimbun which, here in Japan, is bundled with the International Herald Tribune. There I saw an article about the fact that there have been two gun incidents in Japan in the last week, both involving professional criminals. One was the assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki, and the other was a shootout that some gang banger had with the police. He was holed up in his apartment with at least one weapon, and finally the police stormed his apartment. On arrival, they found that he had shot himself in the head, fatally.

The headline for the article was this:


Two killings in a single week! How can an ordered civilization survive the shock?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

One Concealed Weapon Would Have Saved Virginia Tech

One Concealed Weapon Would Have Saved Virginia Tech


The truth is that one concealed weapon
(Licensed, of course, and legal)
Will take down the meanest killer born.
As the wisdom of the Framers of the Constitution puts it,
"Recognizing that safety lies in firepower, the State
Will never constrain the liberties of the People
To hold arms in their possession
And to carry them,
Openly or concealed."
Some examples follow
To illustrate the wisdom of the Framers.
The Constitution that the Framers made
Is, and always will be,
The Ultimate Wisdom.
If this were not so
I would not have told you so.

The family feeding problems
Of Caliban Cain Virginia,
His wife and seven kids,
Were resolved when the voices broadcasting to his brain from Upper Egypt
Asked him the vital question:
What would Jesus do?
He did it,
And there were many, many, many flowers at the funeral.

Colonel Excalibur Plato Virginia's tottering marriage was saved,
Thank God and mercy,
When he with a little whiskey in him
Mistook his wife for a burglar,
And shot the bad-tempered bitch
Five times in the back of the head
In self-defense.

Saint Virginia Daycare Center was saved
When little Miss Muffit,
Age five,
Pulled out her Glock
And wasted the drunken psycho with the beer bottle grin.
(And, into the bargain, offed little Billy Bison,
Age four and three quarters,
With whom she had never got on.)
Mrs President, one day, perhaps?

Virginia Veterans Restcare was saved
When Scraw Burke McScree,
Age 85,
Heavily into the Alzheimer's zone,
Cranked his vintage Browning out
And launched one, two, three, four, five, six, seven bullets
Into the seriously scary girl scout
Who had blundered into his haywire
When she came round selling cookies.
Great work, McScree!
(But a bit of a pity about the doctor and the nurse.)

Virginia Tech was spared a second carnage
When plucky Harrietta saved the day.
This cherry Mayflower virgin,
Miss Harrietta Lucinda Potter-Brown,
Saw the danger posed by the queer Jew writer,
Screwball student poet of extremely oddball verse.
Her alarms fell on deaf ears, but she
Solved his problem quite without publicity,
Up close and personal in a mode of wetwork.
So that was the end of Allen Ginsberg,
Not one of us, no way,
A nutso weirdo, but stopped before he started.
Congratulations, Miss Harrietta!
This year's Nobel Peacemaker Prize
Is on its way!

Our lesson done, sweet children, gather round
And let us sing our praise song:
God Bless America.


What follows is a sampling of some (not all, of course) of the "shot dead" search results for Google News as found when the time in Japan was about 1630 on Monday 23 April 2007. The search was for "shot dead" excluding any page which made any reference to Virginia Tech.

[*] 2 shot dead at Laguna Beach resort
Los Angeles Times, CA - 25 minutes ago
Authorities are looking into several possibilities, including whether the woman shot the man — perhaps during the confrontation with police. ...

[*] Man shot dead on North Side; police seek 3 involved in fight
Columbus Dispatch, OH - 3 hours ago
A shooting at a North Side apartment complex early yesterday left one man dead and the police looking for three people. ...

[*] Woman shot dead in her car in North Las Vegas alley
KSBY, CA - 12 hours ago
LAS VEGAS North Las Vegas police say they found a woman shot dead in her car in an alley early this morning. Police responded at about 6:30 this

[*] KARE Teen Shot Dead On St. Paul Bus
WCCO, MN - 17 hours ago
(AP) St. Paul A teenager was shot to death on a Metro Transit bus in downtown St. Paul around midnight Saturday night, police said. ...
Bus Shooting Victim's Family Speaks FOX 9 News
all 18 news articles »

[*] Two shot dead at NASA
Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia - Apr 21, 2007
A NASA contract worker took a handgun inside an office building at Johnson Space Centre in Houston yesterday and fatally shot a hostage before killing ...

[*] Man Shot Dead Outside Club
Boston, MA - Apr 21, 2007
While they were sitting in a vehicle, someone shot at them, police said. A bullet grazed the driver's arm and killed the passenger.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Life in the Golden Age

Life in the Golden Age

In our vicinity
The last of the dinosaurs are dead.
For that reason, and for others,
We do not pack heat.

The globe is warming, but we
Sit comfortably high above the rising waters
Of the planetary ocean.
New York may drown in water
And Darfur drown in blood,
But here on Cloud Nirvana we enjoy
The Golden Age.

This is the Age of Gold,
The age of now,
The apotheosis
Of a million hungry years of human hope.
At this moment, now,
In this place, here,
Humanity has reached its celestial peak.

The spatiotemporal coordinates of this event
Are quite specific.
The month of April in the seventh year
Of the Twenty-First Century of the Common Era.
The place is Yokohama, in Japan,
Tokyo's dormitory suburb by the sea.

The weather moves in from China,
And the news,
Similarly distantly sourced,
Arrives from horizons elsewhere.
Usually, it's none of our concern.
Bomb blasts, contamination zones,
Carnage grounds and systematic genocide,
It happens elsewhere,
And none is our enormity.
We cannot hear the screams from the burning dungeon.
For us,
There are the sybaritic sounds of peace.

Here in Japan,
Civilization is delivered daily with the dawn.
There is for me no must-do-this requirement
To weapon my way to safety with a gun.
Security is a given, a guaranteed,
Accepted without a question as if a norm,
A standard blessing granted by Nature's boon.
Quicksands, precipices and falling meteorites
Are for other people elsewhere,
Not for us.

Is it Paradise?
No, but pretty close.
The truth of the present moment is utopia,
Everything working for the best in,
Being realistic,
The best of all possible worlds.
Not Paradise, no.
Neither rose garden nor fairyland,
But you surely wouldn't want to live in either.
This is a real world
Where real people can live their real lives.
This is a living truth achieved
In the hard cold light of unembarrassed day.
We do not need the wished-for world of angels.
We need a human sphere,
And that we have.

This is the gilded age,
The living Age of Gold.
Our screens are bright,
Our hard drives, they are perfect.
Our electricity is a cool perpetual,
And all our connections broadband.
At my fingertips,
A billion Internet pages sit and wait.

I am aware, of course,
That events could turn untoward.
In the comic book emporium of my mind,
There ate aliens savage as Aztecs,
Fascist zombies,
Al Qaeda school maams,
And mummies wet with fungus from the tomb.
Also Americans.
But, for the moment,
They cannot escape from the hallucination zone
Into our sushi shop reality.

I live in Japan,
Where the fiercest of the real is the crows,
Hugely black and glistening,
Glossy with intelligence,
Alert, insolent and predatory,
Infinitely confident.
Our natural supplanters if we fall.
But we do not.
For the moment,
Our grasp is perfect.
Nirvana Palace reigns supreme,
And our world is suzerain.

Installing and Configuring UltraEdit 13.00a Under XP

Installing and Configuring UltraEdit 13.00a Under XP

Back in my Windows 98 days, my reliable workhorse, the text editor on which I depended, was an extremely ancient version of UltraEdit, version eight point something.

This worked just fine for years and years but then, under XP, it became capricious and unreliable, deleting parts of files without provocation.

Even so, I kept using it, if only because it had a good spell checking function. Then that stopped working and, worse, spellchecking started resulting in the trashing of files.

Finally I decided that i would have to find a stand-alone spell checker. After searching, I did find one which I thought would be workable. But, after thinking it through, I decided that what I really wanted was UltraEdit.

So I did the sensible thing and downloaded the latest version, copyright 2007, the latest being 13.00a.

Once it was up and running it was blindingly fast. That was the first thing I noticed. And, having explored the new version, I became increasingly convinced that this was the way to go.

The installation of the old 8-dot-something version was a bit clunky. You had to choose some options as you installed, and then you had to go back and do a separate installation to add a dictionary file to the setup.

By contrast, the installation of 13.00a is, if you accept the defaults and do not opt to configure it to your own personal requirements, is extremely quick and straightforward.

By default, UltraEdit installs an icon on the desktop and another in the quick launch box. It adds itself to the right click menu so you can conveniently open a file type with which you have not associated it. And a whole bunch of dictionaries are installed along with the program, with the default being a vanilla English dictionary.

Because this program is primarily intended for people who write software, the default setup of 13.00a is optimized for the needs of people who write code. Every line starts with a number, the tab space is 2, and lines do not wrap at the window's edge.

This, presumably, makes code writers think that they are in heaven, but what is optimal for writing code is not optimal for writing writing. I don't think William Shakespeare used a text editor which put a number at the start of every line, and my surmise is that neither did Jane Austen.

The following is the list of the steps I took to configure 13.00a to my personal requirements.

Before fine-tuning UltraEdit, I made some initial changes to convert the default programmer-friendly defaults into a setup customized for my personal preferences.

My first steps were as follows:-

First, VIEW -> SET FONT, and change font to Courier New, bold, at 48 point.

I am blind in the right eye and rely these days on the left eye, which is one I bought at a second-hand car yard. I bought it on an "as is where is" basis, and it doesn't work good.

One reason why I no longer use Microsoft Reader or Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia is because, in the case of both products, the "largest" font permitted is, from my perspective, laughably small.

I then went to ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION -> EDITOR -> WORD WRAP/TAB SETTINGS, turned default word wrap on for each file and changed the tab size from 2 to 8.

My next stop was ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION -> EDITOR DISPLAY -> CURSOR/CARET where I chose "Inverted - Block caret for insert mode, vertical bar for overstrike."

This gives a nice fat cursor which is very easy to see. A big juicy cursor like this is something I've been wanting for years and years, and now, at last, I have it. I hope this marriage will last.

Then, still in the EDITOR DISPLAY sub-menu, I went to FORMATTING and unchecked everything there, getting rid of auto indenting.

Next, in MISCELLANEOUS (again, in the same EDITOR DISPLAY submenu) I checked "Disable line numbers."

I then went ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION -> SPELL CHECKER -> DICTIONARIES, where you see a host of dictionaries to choose from. These, of course, are spelling dictionaries, not dictionaries which provide definitions.

The default is "en" but I opted for "en_US," since I have settled on American English as my standard.

I then checked that I could invoke the spell checker with ctrl-K, as in the old version of UltraEdit that I have been using for so long, and, yes, this works just fine.

At this stage I had more work ahead of me, because I wanted to customize both the toolbar and the key mapping, but, having carried out the steps detailed above, I already had a program that I would be comfortable with using as a text editor.

The big challenge now would be to see whether UltraEdit would survive and prosper in an XP environment, but my working assumption was that the latest version would surely have been tweaked to make it XP-compatible.

I used my new UltraEdit's spell checker to check a blog entry which included the name "Marisa Acocella Marchetto." Working with a fatigue-damaged brain, I mindlessly clicked ADD for each of the elements of this name, and only later, after I'd uploaded the blog, did I realize that I had left an "e" off the surname.

I thought about going back online, deleting the blog entry and then uploading a corrected version, but I rejected this notion because I feared I might end up getting myself in a real mess.

I consoled myself with the thought that the New York cartoonist's name is correctly spelt in the link to her CANCER VIXEN breast cancer memoir which you will find on the right hand side of this blog page.

The UltraEdit 13.00a spell checker differs from the old one in that it lacks a button to click on to keep the spell check box frozen in place. But, as I found when I used the spell checker, if you shove it to some area of the screen then it stays there, and does not have an inbuilt tendency to revert to its opening position each time you click on one of its buttons.

I found the font a little small, but I had my magnifying glass for that.

Later, I realized I might be able to use my ThinkPad's TrackPoint magnifier, which I have set at 600 pixels wide by 400 tall.

Unfortunately, this didn't really work, because any time you click once on the spell check box, the magnifier goes away. You can invoke it simply by pressing the central button of the ThinkPad's three-button mouse, but I think it will be simpler just to use the magnifying glass, ie the physical magnifying glass which I have sitting on the kitchen table which serves me as a writing desk.

The next thing I decided to tweak was the colors. For UltraEdit 13.00a, the default color scheme for *.txt file is black text on a white background for the main body of the text, with the active line featuring a dark blue text on a very light blue background. (At least, my interpretation is that the dark blue is in fact exactly that, but, since my color perception is damaged, I may have this wrong.)

I didn't find the dark blue of the active line quite sharp enough for me, and, after some reflection, I wanted the main body of the text to be a white font on a black background with the active line as a black font on a yellow background.

The overall result is pretty grotesquely ugly, but I'm in a utilitarian mood. I have work to do, and that's why I'm setting up this piece of software.

So I went VIEW -> SET COLORS and made the desired adjustments.

I also set selected text to white on a dark red background.

I was now into the fine tuning stage, at which I made the following adjustments in the ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION menus.

By default, UltraEdit creates backup files by adding a BAK suffix to each file it opens. The idea is good, but the *.bak files clutter up my FILE HANDLING -> BACKUP and chose a directory into which to dump each and every BAK file. This gives me a cumulative archive in one place and means I don't have to delete BAK files when I upload a folder of HTML files to a website.

I also went EDITOR -> NEW FILE CREATION and unchecked "Create new EDIT file when opening with no other files." I'd prefer to open with a blank screen then choose what I want from my FAVORITES or elsewhere.

Next I went TOOLBARS / MENUS, and everything that follows is from that TOOLBARS / MENUS menu.

At MISCELLANEOUS I checked "Recent files list on files menu," accepting the default number of recent files, which is 4.

I went CUSTOMIZATION -> CUSTOMIZE TOOLBAR. You see, on the left, a column showing all the buttons presently on the toolbar. On the right, all the buttons not on the toolbar. The bar that separates the two fields contains two little buttons. When you highlight an item, you can use the button pointing left to send the item from right to left, and the button pointing right to, likewise, send an item on the right zipping over to the left.

I fooled around with this until my toolbar had been stripped lean of almost all its buttons. I'm a ten-finger touch typist and I don't like taking my fingers off the keys to mess with a mouse, even if it's a TrackPoint mouse that sits in the middle of my keyboard, which it is.

My toolbar ended up looking as follows, with a liberal use of separators:


There were two toolbars which were subsets of the main toolbar, one being the HTML toolbar and the other being something else, and I kicked them both off, over to the right.

I then customized a few keys to suite my personal preferences, which you do in KEYMAPING.

In the left box you highlight a function you want a key combination to perform, such as FileClose. In the box for "Press New [Multi]key."

I pressed CTRL-Q then ASSIGN and clicked okay to delete the existing function and reassign the key. I've been using control-q for years, having gotten into the habit when using NEdit running under Linux.

I made SearchFindNext CTRL-G and SearchFindPrevious CTRL-H and FileSaveAs as CTRL-I.

I then went ADVANCED -> CONFIGURATION -> TOOLBAR/MENUS -> CUSTOMIZE MENUS and removed everything I didn't need from the pull-down menus. This made so much space on the FILES menus that I changed the number of recent files listed there from 4 to 8.

I then looked at CUSTOMIZE POPUP MENU, but I realized I couldn't figure out what you were supposed to be able to do here, and I decided that my installation of UltraEdit was already good enough for my purposes.

So I decided I was done.

The installation file that you download comes with an entitlement to run it for evaluation purposes without paying. The nag screen that pops up when you first fire up the text editor makes the point that if you're going to keep it and use it then you should pay for it, fifty bucks, please.

(Well, actually, US $49.95, but if you're an Ohio resident then you have to add tax on top of that.)

I paid for my first version of UltraEdit and got excellent value for money, using it year after year as my major productivity tool. So I have no objection for paying for a new version, on which there has been, obviously, a huge amount of work.

The old version was limited to 45 days unless you registered, but there's no sign of a cutoff limit in the nag screen that comes with the present version. Maybe you can run it forever, continuing your "evaluation" until the day you die. But I really don't think you should do that.

If you do a Google for "UltraEdit Ian D. Mead" you get a page with, at the top, a snippet about one of the core values of "our Founder," this being Ian D. Mead.

When you click to the site you see a picture of the said I.D. Mead, a guy who, a long time back, went out on a limb to set up his own company. He'd been searching for a decent editor optimized for programmers and, not finding one, had figured out that there must be a market for one.

Which there was.

He is not, then, an evil monopoly capitalist using financial might to force rivals into the wall and to inflict bad software upon the long-suffering world. He's an entrepreneur in the best sense of the word, something who took an idea that not only made money for him but, additionally, added value to human civilization by cooking up a technically better way of doing something.

"At IDM we feel a deep responsibility to use our resources to help people around the world and in the US. One of the core values of our Founder, Ian D. Mead, is that "to whom much is given, much is required". Therefore we strive to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of people in our community, country and around the world."

That sounds like a Socialist position, but it's actually a Christian position. Years back, the UltraEdit site highlighted Mead's ardent Christian faith but, while the faith evidently still prevails, it's not up there on the front page.

The front page has a header that says "Our Vision." The text of this is as follows:

"To provide high quality products that combine innovation, technology and performance with value pricing, while exceeding our customer needs and expectations of price, service, support, and selection. To this end, IDM desires to be the total file management solution provider for professionals worldwide."

Where most corporate mission statements are concerned, I believe that you can take them to the toilet and use them for the appropriate purpose. But this is a mission statement that I, having been served well for many years by UltraEdit, can believe.

My old UltraEdit failed under XP, but I should have upgraded at least a year ago, instead of just whining about it. Now the time has come.

I went HELP -> ABOUT, where there's a link you can click to get to the BUY page. On that page, they say the following:

"UltraEdit-32 is the #1 selling, most powerful, value priced text editor available! The ideal text, HEX, HTML, PHP, Java, Perl, Javascript, and programmer's editor!"

A proud boast, but I believe it.

I entered my credit card details and clicked to buy.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Guns and Ammo Mayhem in Singapore and America

Guns and Ammo Mayhem in Singapore and America

In the aftermath of the recent slaughter in Virginia, two guns and ammo novels have come to mind. One is set in the ordered society of Singapore, where the use of firearms is aberrant. The other gives us a vision of a sixgun America where the potential of firearms is exploited to the full, and shooting people dead for fun and profit is the norm.

Both novels are good reads, and would be ideal for those long commutes to and from the firing range. Both have a high body count.

The novel set in Singapore is IN A PERFECT STATE, the perfect state being the aforementioned republic of Singapore. The book is by Joseph R. Garber, who gives us ultraviolence in a mode of fun. It's a lighthearted book which won't keep you awake at night.

If you read this book, you will understand two things.

First, that Singapore is the ultimate society, a social utopia, clean, safe, law-abiding, orderly, prosperous and impeccably organized.

Second, that you probably wouldn't want to live there.

The main viewpoint character PERFECT STATE is an American who is on the run from the Singaporean police. He is innocent of any crime but has been framed by his enemies.

We also see the action through the eyes of the ethnically Chinese cop who pursues him. The cop is the ultimate gunfighter and relishes the challenge of pursuing and taking down the American.

The pursued American is desperate to escape from Singapore, but he has no passport, no money and not a single friend anywhere in the island state. Simply buying an airplane ticket out is not an option.

But Singapore is an island. He's a strong, confident swimmer, so he figures he can escape by swimming. Not all the way to America, but just across the narrow strait which separates Singapore from Malaysia. It's a long haul, but he figures that the swim should be doable.

So thinking, he goes by night to a small national park on Singapore's northern coast, just across from Malaysia, meaning to swim for it.

Before his national park adventure is over, he discovers that the notion of swimming to Malaysia was a Very Bad Idea. Even the modern Singapore of shopping malls and skyscrapers has some small patches of authentic jungle, and he's found his way into one, and the natural environment contains lifeforms which are perfectly capable of treating you as lunch.

Having coped with all kinds of fast-paced adventures, our plucky American hero survives his way to a climactic shootout in one of Singapore's ultramodern container terminals.

The hard core Chinese cop is there for the gun battle and gets the great do-or-die encounter that he's been longing for. But you can see that he's an anachronism in today's squeaky clean Singapore, where his Tombstone City skillset is seen by the department he works for as more of an embarrassment than an asset.

So much for the novel about Singapore, well researched and pretty well engineered.

Meantime, in the US of A, we have an impressively violent novel of lawlessness and criminal aggression which Singapore probably wouldn't even permit on its TV screens.

The novel is DIRTY WHITE BOYS by Stephen Hunter, and you can read about it online on the following page:

Here's a quote from the page:

"Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter is a crude, vulgar, and absolutely fantastic thriller. Three convicts break out of prison and go on a bloody rampage throughout Oklahoma and Texas. Their leader is Lamar Pye, a viscious [sic] killer who also has a soft side. Along with him are Odell, Lamar's giant, but slow cousin, who has no concept of right and wrong and Richard, a coward, but whose artistic skills have caught Lamar's fancy. They're pursued by Oklahoma State Patrol Sergeant Bud Pewtie, a cop with a secret life away from the job."

From this book I learnt a useful fact which may one day save my life. If a guy keeps coming at you even though you've put a number of bullets into him, then aim your next shot so it smashes his thigh bone where it articulates with the hip. That will take him down of a certainty, even if shooting him fair and square in the heart has failed to do so.

Two books for our times, then, with gunplay shown in two wildly contrasting social settings, authoritarian Singapore and libertarian America.

If you decided you'd like to read one or both of these books, remember that most libraries in the wealthy parts of the world (the parts where the faucet water is safe to drink straight out of the tap) can usually get hold of any book you'd like to read, even if they don't have that title on the shelves of their own library.

Both novels that have been discussed are about people who have access to firearms, but my own tale, which I will now unfold, is one of danger which was faced (and survived) without the aid of weapons.

On a warm spring day in the month of April, my wife, my daughter and I went on an expedition through the streets of the less-than-perfect society of Japan, the place where we live.

En route to the supermarket, we encountered two sources of potential danger. One was an animal which had awakened from its winter hibernation and was on the move, ready to kill and consume anything in its predation range.

The other danger was a human, a male of the species, a total stranger who had absolutely no social connection to us, and who had, therefore, no reason whatsoever to place any value on our lives.

Although we were traveling without weapons, and although my combat skills are rusty, we survived, even though we encountered both these threats simultaneously.

The man was a guy who was cleaning up his yard, and the animals was his pet turtle.

The guy let three-year-old Cornucopia have a turtle-touching experience, and, after we had chewed up at least five minutes of his valuable time, we apologized for letting Miss Small Fry impose on him, and took our leave. As we departed, he did not take advantage of our vulnerability to fire bullets into our exposed backs.

Although we got away with this traveling without weapons stunt, I counsel you to be cautious, and think carefully before you go and do the same thing.

In particular, if you are going to the supermarket in Iraq, then I strongly recommend that each member of your party carry a weapon.

If you're a tourist in Iraq, I suggest that you go buy yourself an AK47, an utterly reliable battlefield weapon which you can easily buy in the markets of today's Iraq, a prosperous society which has been brought into existence by a benevolent America. Sunny Baghdad is, or so I've been told, very pleasant at this time of year.

I am writing this blog entry with the latest and greatest version of UltraEdit, 13.00a, copyright 2007. It's up and running under XP and seems to be working just fine.

When I've finished checking it out, I'll upload a page about my experience with installing and customizing this product.

There probably won't be any screen shots with that entry, because I still haven't figured out how to upload images to Blogger now that Google has inflicted the Japanese language on me. My Gmail login page is also, now, in Japanese.

On Saturday 21 April I decided to bite the bullet and put the title NIHONGO on a new notebook. Then, working with the Blogger page, I copied down Chinese characters, clicked on them, then wrote what the result was. Beneath each I have some kind of rubric, for example "The above gets you to your profile" and "The one above uploads a post."

One unwelcome feature of the new Blogger is that each post requires you to decrypt and enter the code shown by a robot buster. I often have real problems with these things, so the should-be-simple business of uploading a post becomes a bit of a mental upload.

It occurs to me that if I'm going to have a string of robot busters inflicted upon me, then I can capture them and incorporate a bunch of them into the cover of a book, maybe SINFUL SURVIVAL.

Meantime, I'm collecting screenshots of what Google and Blogger look like through a Japanese-language interface, and if I eventually succeed in figuring out how to upload images in my suddenly revised reality, then I'll share at least some of what I've captured.

Virginia Tech Massacre Explained on TV for Japanese Kids

Virginia Tech Massacre Explained on TV for Japanese Kids

There is no element of polemic in this blog entry. It is simply an account of what was shown on Japanese TV on the evening of Saturday 21 April 2007.

NHK, the state-funded TV outfit in Japan, has a regular Saturday evening program called Kodomo News, which translates literally as "child news," ie news for children. (Technically, "kodomo" can be read as either a singular or a plural, so the word could be translated as "child" or "children.)

The format of Kodomo News is that an adult presenter will explain something to a group of kids in the studio. The kids are aged maybe 13 or 14, the age of the junior high school kids who are the target audience for this program.

I've taught at Japanese junior high schools in Japan so I'm familiar with some of the state-approved English language textbooks used by the Japanese system in junior high schools. The textbooks sometimes deal with historical material that adult Japan is not keen to confront, such as the oppressive treatment of Koreans when Japan was the imperial master of Korea. Additionally, there are lessons in which the kids are deliberately brought face to face with the harsher realities of the planet on which they live. They're now in the process of becoming young adults and so the system does not think that reality should be sanitised for them.

Kodomo News, then, has news presented by an adult, with the kids in the studio supplying emotional reaction and asking scripted kid-level questions. Graphics, models and cartoons are used to help get the meaning across.

It's very well done, and, if it's on, I often watch it to try to get a better grip on some breaking news story that I've seen on the adult news but had difficulty following.

On Saturday 21st, Kodomo News began the Virginia Tech segment with a bare outline of the grisly statistics. We then saw a photo of the killer, whose name was given. The photo was clear enough for you to be able to make out his features clearly, but it was small in relation to the size of the TV screen. It was a portrait view, no guns in sight.

My grasp of Japanese is not strong, so possibly I missed something, but I got the impression that his ethnicity was not mentioned. He is, of course, Korean-born, though raised in the States since early childhood, and the context here is that, in Japan, there is quite a bit of prejudice against Koreans.

(That said, on the occasions when I have students from Korea show up in my English classes, there is never any suggestion of any tension between them and the Japanese students. The interaction between Korean students and Japanese students proceeds in a friendly and cheerful manner.)

The bare facts of the massacre having been established, the program then got down to the big question, the big question from a Japanese perspective: exactly how was it that this guy was allowed to buy a gun?

The answer was given in a single word, "history." It was explained that, way back when, America was at war with the British, so Americans thought everyone should have a gun so they could fight the British if the need arose.

The program made no effort to explain that America is not currently at war with Britain, because if you're 13 or 14 years old and watch TV in Japan then you know perfectly well who America is currently at war with, since you see bomb blast aftermaths and combat footage on Japanese TV on a regular basis.

The program then explained that there is nothing "mezurashii," ie nothing rare, about having guns on sale. Not in America. We saw a cartoon of a mom and pop shop in the States with guns on the walls for sale, mingled with other merchandise.

(I appreciate that, in America, guns are generally sold in gun shops, and I'm sure the Kodomo News producers understand that guns are not on sale along with American groceries, but they were simplifying things to communicate the key point, which is that the sale of guns is, for America, normative.)

The Japanese term for "constitution" was then explained, as the average kid aged 13 or 14 does not understand the concept of a constitution. And then we saw on screen the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

One of the advantages of the Japanese writing system is that by using Chinese characters you can put even the most complex word on a TV screen with just one or two ideograms. This meant that the whole text of the Second Amendment could be shown on TV in large print, very easy to read even for eye-damaged me.

The program then spent some time explaining why the Second Amendment trumped common sense, and why American politicians had their hands tied over this matter.

That matter dealt with, the program moved on to the next subject, which was the crime wave currently sweeping Japan.

There have been, recently, repeated cases of people stealing metal objects for their scrap metal value. Things that have been stolen include temple bells, bells used to sound fire warnings, handles used for irrigation pumps out in the countryside. And now, most recently, swings.

The swings in Japanese playgrounds are very sensibly constructed. Instead of two ropes being used, typically there is are two jointed metal poles, which are easily strong enough to bear the weight of a fully-grown adult. I will often join my daughter on the swings when we are at the playground.

And it is the actual metal of the swings which has, in the latest outbreak of metal looting, become the target of theft.

The Virginia Tech massacre was on the Kodomo News because that show wraps up the entire week's news. Elsewhere, in the adult world, the Virginia shooting spree is no longer a feature of news broadcasts. The planet turns and the world moves on.

But, presumably, for many kids of junior high school age, one of their earliest impressions of America is that it's a shooting range where living breathing human beings are used as targets.

The Kodomo News program did not go out of its way to artificially promote such an image of America, but it did contextualize the Virginia Tech catastrophe by giving us a brief overview of a few of the gun-powered massacres which have taken place in America over the last several years, communicating the message that carnage ground atrocities, while not common, are certainly nothing new in America.

The carnage ground, then, will be entering the consciousness of these Japanese kids as part of their concept of what is meant by the word "America."

At this point I'm tempted, despite my earlier resolution, to launch into the realms of polemic, but I'll let the opportunity pass.

But I invite you, if you're an American, to run a thought experiment on the Virginia Tech atrocity, and imagine how it must seem when seen through the eyes of a Japanese kid, living in a land where the only handguns anywhere in sight are those on the belts of the police officers in the neighborhood police box.

The Liberties of Order - Gun Control Construed as Freedom

The Liberties of Order - Gun Control Construed as Freedom

In the current debate over gun control, the key issue is whether the liberty of the individual should take priority over the needs of the collective, or vice verse.

If we look at the text of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, it is clear that, in the minds of those who framed the Second Amendment, no such tension existed. The liberties of the individual and the needs of the collective were seen as being one and the same thing.

Here is the text itself, which is short and to the point:

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

The United States of America no longer has a militia, nor does the security of America now rely on the armed strength of the individual citizen. The day of the Minuteman is over. The firearms currently held by private citizens in the US are not held against the day when the citizens must go jihadist and wage a war against the enemies of the state. Rather, the weapons are held for private purposes, and are used for such purposes.

In short, the world in which the Second Amendment was framed no longer exists. The modern world is completely different. The right to bear arms posits the existence of a militia, but there is no such organization, nor has there been at any time in my life.

A long time ago I read a science fiction story in which a quest was made for the most valuable object in the universe. I think this story may have been by Isaac Asimov. Whoever the author, the revelation at the end of the story is that the precious object is no other than the Constitution of the United States.

The writer had a romantic view of the Constitution, taking its values to be universal values that would be good for all times and for all peoples.

But that is not how those who framed the original Constitution saw it. They did not see themselves as creating the mold for all eternity. Rather, they saw the Constitution as a provisional document, one which would, from time to time, be revised.

The proof of this is that the framers of the Constitution included, within the text of the Constitution itself, a mechanism for its own revision.

Details, if you're interested, can be found online at:

The site says the following:

""To Propose Amendments

"" * Two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to propose an amendment,


"" * Two-thirds of the state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments. This version has not yet been used.""

The second option, the one that has never been tried, the national convention which could, if it so chose, put the whole Constitution into play, refashioning it at will, is one way for the Second Amendment to be changed. If America were to take that way.

If you want details on the price of the liberty to bear arms, you can Google "gunshot injuries united states statistics."

Here are some statistics taken from a Canadian source that the Google leads to, the source being:

In the International Herald Tribune in the week ending Friday 20 April 2007, I saw in an article that 30,000 people died from gunshot injuries each year. That bare statistic was given, the implication being that these were the annual statistics for the USA. The following excerpt from the onlooking Canadians puts a bit more flesh on that bare statistic:

[Additional paragraph breaks have been inserted for ease of reading, bu the text has not been modified in any other way.]

""Since 1993, firearm-related injuries and deaths have been declining steadily (1--3). However, in 1998, firearm-related injuries remained the second leading cause of injury death in the United States (3), accounting for approximately 31,000 deaths.

""The majority of these fatal and nonfatal firearm-related injuries result from interpersonal violence and intentionally self-inflicted gunshot wounds, but approximately 15,000 unintentional gunshot wounds are treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments (EDs) each year (4).

""Although firearm-related injuries represent <0.5% of injuries treated in hospital EDs, they have an increased potential of death and hospitalization compared with other causes of injury (5--7). In 1994, treatment of gunshot injuries in the United States was estimated at $2.3 billion in lifetime medical costs, of which $1.1 billion was paid by the federal government (8). These factors emphasize the importance of firearm-related injuries as a public health concern.""

So, if you want to be free, and if you define freedom as the right to bear arms, sure, that's fine by me, as long as you bear those arms in your own country, safely over the horizon, and use them to shoot yourself, shoot each other, or shoot Osama Bin Laden on the day when he finally shows up on your doorstep.

Meantime, my own stance on the gun control issue is that the needs of the collective should take precedence over individual liberty. In other words, for the good of the collective, the individual should accept subordination to the state.

And I submit that there are payoffs for submitting to the order of a rationally administered state, payoffs in the form of stability, security and certain liberties which are not to be found in a Wild West environment, these liberties including the freedom to walk around unarmed without the danger of being shot in the head by a passer by while en route from A to B.

While I think that control of society by the state can be overdone, in general I believe that such control is positive rather than negative.

An example of a society which I think has over done things is Singapore, a nation which I have visited twice but would never choose to live in.

The achievements of Singapore are truly amazing, and their struggle to form a prosperous, modern, unified, high-tech state is worthy of the world's applause. Singapore achieved everything it has achieved against the odds, working with scanty resources and a population of mixed ethnicities which, at the start of the foundation of the republic, was so fractious that its enmities threatened the viability of that state.

All those problems have been surmounted, and Singapore must count, today, as one of the world's success stories.

That said, I don't want to live in a society where the government not only tells you to wash your hands after using the public toilet but, on top of that, sends spies into the toilet to snoop on your to see if you're doing what you're told. If get caught going hand-dirty out of the toilet, you get hauled into court and convicted, and it's entirely possible that a photograph of the embarrassed you will show up in the local newspaper.

No, I couldn't live in Singapore.

Quite apart from anything else, I'm one of nature's jaywalkers, and jaywalking is one of the (many) absolute no-nos in Singapore.

If I had to live in an Asian city outside of Japan, then I'd opt for either Bangkok or Hong Kong. I've visited both on a number of occasions.

If I actually had to make the choice, I'd opt for Hong Kong, because I'd prefer to live near the sea. But either city, lived day by day, would be fine by me.

Here in Japan, I think a nice balance has been set between the power of the state and the liberties of the individual.

The Japanese state will not permit you to own your own Glock handgun, your own biowar arsenal, your personal nuclear backpack bomb, your own surface-to-air missile, your own machinegun or your own collection of landmines designed to safeguard your garden against wandering homeless people.

All those things are verboten.

Some people do manage to evade the regulations and to get their hands on handguns, and, in consequences, there are a certain number of shootings, such as the recent assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki.

What follows is the Japanese response to the shooting of the mayor, taken from the following page:

""TOKYO, April 20 (Reuters) - Japan is set to hold a task force meeting on gun control next week after the mayor of the southern city of Nagasaki was fatally shot by a suspected gangster on Tuesday. Japan already has strict gun control laws, but the shooting of Itcho Ito has prompted some, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to call for even tighter supervision.

""Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said an annual task force meeting on gun policy would be held on Wednesday.

"" "(The shooting) was a challenge to democracy," he told a news conference on Friday, referring to concerns that Ito's death would stifle freedom of speech in political campaigns.""

Note that, in the Japanese context, gun control is construed as being the defense of democracy and the defense, likewise, of free speech.

Here's a report on the Nagasaki shooting from the Wall Street Journal, taken from the following page:

[Once again, additional paragraph breaks have been inserted.]

""Just as Japanese commuters were still digesting lurid headlines about the mass slaying in Virginia, on Tuesday they came home to evening news reports that Itcho Ito, the popular mayor of Nagasaki, was shot by a gangster while campaigning for re-election.

""Tetsuya Shiro, 59, the number two man in the local affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest criminal syndicate, was arrested on the spot.

""The nation woke the next day to learn that Ito, 61, died of his wounds and that Shiro had a personal grudge related to his dealings with the city office.""

Meantime, living in the ordered society of Japan, I enjoy the following liberties. (The list which follows is not exhaustive.)

1. I do not feel the need to own or carry firearms.

2. My wife and I do not feel the need for a home security system.

3. I do not live in fear of street violence.

4. The regulations tell people NOT to talk on their cellphones while on the train, so I can read my newspaper in peace.

5. As a rule, nobody in Japan eats on public commuter trains, so, consequently, there's no law against it, so if you want to have a snack on the subway nobody will stop you, though that is an offence for which you could be arrested in New York.

6. Similarly, nobody in Japan drinks alcohol on short-distance commuter trains, so there's no law against that. Consequently, if you wanted to start tucking into that bottle of booze you were taking home, there's no rule stopping you. I never do this, but the option is there.

Note: on long-distance trains in Japan, eating meals during transit is normative, and some trains will have a vending cart that goes down the corridors selling boxed lunches.

7. I live in a society which is (pretty much) without graffiti. I don't have to worry about someone spray painting my garage door because nobody ever will.

8. I live in a society which is (pretty much) without garbage in the streets (unless you wander off into agricultural enclaves in urban areas, where you will find everything imaginable dumped and abandoned, up to and including wrecked cars).

9. The regulations prohibit smoking on the trains and in selected areas of Tokyo, one of these areas being Meguro Ward, which is where I work. Consequently, I do not have to put up with second-hand smoke.

(What I do have to put up with, though, is occasional delays for the toilet while I wait for the smoker who is using a station toilet stall for illicit smoking. I know this happens because (a) I sometimes smell cigarette smoke after the perpetrator has left and (b) I sometimes find an unflushed cigarette butt floating in the toilet.)

10. Although I have to carry an ID card, because I am not a Japanese national, I have total freedom from being hassled by the cops. The Japanese police generally mind their own business and don't, as a rule, inflict themselves on the citizens without cause. (Though I've heard that they will sometimes stop you at night if you're on a bicycle, and will check to see if it's yours or if it is stolen.)

In a closing note, the Canadian report on American gunshot injuries notes, as seen in the quote interpolated earlier, that a certain proportion of gunshot casualties are due to "intentionally self-inflicted gunshot wounds."

Here in Japan, one liberty that you definitely do not have is the option of killing yourself, very very easily, by the simple expedient of shooting yourself in the head.

However, even so, Japanese people still have the option to commit suicide, easily and reliably, and hundred of Japanese citizens take this option every year: choose the right train (some research is advised here), choose the right moment, then jump.

Even though trains are occasionally delayed by people jumping in front of them, one good point of my life in Japan is that, as a rule, the trains do run on time.

Bloody Hell Google Blogger What Have You Gone And Done To Me?

Bloody Hell Google Blogger What Have You Gone And Done To Me?

Found myself locked out of my blog by a Japanese -language page that I couldn't properly understand.

Figured out enough to ask for a new password to be e-mailed to me. What arrived was a page saying I've been switched to the new version of Blogger and should click the supplied link.

The supplied link led me to a Japanese-language page which I couldn't properly understand but, more by luck than by good management, I managed to do what was required, which was to associate my existing blog with a Google account.

My dashboard page, which was previously in English, is now all in Japanese, as the graphic above illustrates.

A busy brain-damaged person doesn't need this kind of crap, certainly not at 0036, which is what it is now. Still, I have to push on because I have a gun control comment that I want to upload right now.

Tried to upload an image of the Japanese language dashboard, but find I can't handle the image upload process in Japanese. Might be able to figure this out eventually but not right now.

It is now 03:57.

Bloody hell, Google!

Friday, April 20, 2007

American Gun Nut Culture

American Gun Nut Culture

The cartoon above is by an American cartoonist and shows two shotgun-toting Americans depicted as gun nuts. Both have exaggerated psycho eyes which go round and round in loopy spirals, and both are drawn as either space aliens or mutants, take your pick.

The cartoonist is evidently amused by the fact that both the owners of these instruments of death and destruction are in the religion business, and she notes that Doctor Nikki has degrees in both divinity and theology.

The point about this cartoon is that it is not drawn by someone who is an outsider, and who views America through the distorting lens of unfair stereotypes. Rather, this critique comes from someone who is located in the very heart of American culture.

The cartoon has been excerpted from the breast cancer memoir CANCER VIXEN, the full contents of which are available to read online, if you are so inclined. (Highly recommended.)

The author is Marisa Acocella Marchett, a New Yorker whose mother lives in New Jersey. Her cartoons have appeared in The New Yorker, and, on the morning of 9/11, she was awakened by the roar of the first of the two planes that were bound for the World Trade Center. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a media outfit sent her to Ground Zero, so she ended up breathing her fair share of asbestos-laden dust.

She is, as you will see for yourself if your read the memoir, in many ways the ultimate New York girl living the ultimate New York life, right in the very heart of the Big Apple. You can't get more American than that.

The context of the frame shown is that wicked women have been hitting on the man Marisa plans to marry. The guys with the shotguns, Doctor Nikki and her husband Reverend Jim, owners of the shotguns Predator and Defender, are not her enemies, whom she lampoons out of spite, but are, rather, her friends and allies.

And if she makes fun of them, well, that's because there's something a bit ludicrous about going armed for the Wild West in the days of the iPod.

I've started writing this on the evening of Thursday 19 April 2007. The TV news headlines here in Japan have been dominated by gun violence.

The number one story, the one which really has the attention of the Japanese media, is the assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki, who was shot dead by a handgun.

However, while I was at the dinner table tonight, NHK was screening fresh video of the recent shootings in Virginia, the fresh video being the self-interview made by the Korean gunman, and sent to the world, it seems, before he went to his death.

I've had a little bit of negative feedback on my earlier statements about gun nuts, so now I want to outline my own experience of guns, and how that has shaped my attitudes.

Unless you have spent many, many hours on the shooting range, then I have a lot more experience in the guns and ammo game than you have. I was, in my younger years, a soldier for ten years. Admittedly, this was just peacetime soldiering, and, for most of those years, I was only in the army on a part-time basis, though I did join up once for a six-month stretch with the regular army under a just-in-for-a-short-time deal known as being on the short service list.

The army had a slot for me, the slot being to work as an army medic at the military base known as Waiouru, and that was where I spent the six months, often being tasked to go out and provide medical cover for weapons training with live ammunition. The deal was that, as a rule, if you went out on a shoot then they would let you have your turn at shooting. (And, if they were throwing grenades, they'd let you chuck at least one yourself.)

My best experience in Waiouru was being sent out to provide medical cover, supplementing the medics which a contingent of Gurkhas had brought with them from Hong Kong when they came to New Zealand to do field training. With them, I got to use their bolt-action sniper rifle, and they let me have a go with a machinegun.

During my time with the New Zealand Army, the main weapon that I trained with was a rifle which the army called the SLR, these letters standing for "self-loading rifle." The weapon is better known to the wider world as the FN rifle, and it was, for many years, the standard infantry weapon of most of the powers in the Western world.

It is a superb battlefield rifle, stubbornly reliable, very easy to maintain in the field, and accurate to 300 meters. If a squad of ten coordinates their fire and all shoot at once, they should be able to kill a guy who is standing a thousand meters away.

This semi-automatic rifle chambers a heavy 7.62 mm round which has two big advantages. First, if you shoot someone with a bullet with this much hitting power, your chances of killing them are pretty good. Second, the weight of the bullet means that it is not easily deflected if you are shooting through jungle foliage.

This was the weapon that the New Zealand Army took with it to Vietnam, where it performed very well against one of the toughest and most motivated foes on the planet.

When I first joined the army, I joined an outfit which was, at the time, called One Field Hospital. For practical purposes, the boss was an infantry officer, Major John Booth, who saw active service in Vietnam. As an infantry officer and a soldier with actual battlefield experience he was, very naturally, extremely keen on weapons training.

The SLR is a weapon with which I became infinitely familiar, to the point where I believe that even now, if you put one in my hands, while I was blindfolded, I could strip it down for cleaning then reassemble it again.

This weapon had one substantial defect, which was that it was too heavy for the ladies, so the girls were not issued with a proper rifle. Rather, what they got handed was a nasty plastic toy, a piece of American junk called the M16, the sorriest excuse for a combat weapon ever seen on planet Earth.

Toward the end of my time with the army, it switched to the Steyr rifle, a rifle which is light, which is accurate, which can be customized to suit a left-handed person, and which is suitable for warfare in the age of the coeducational army.

I got introduced to the Steyr shortly before I quit the army. Other weapons that I trained with during my army years were the 9 mm Browning pistol and the aforementioned M16.

I have, then, a background in guns and ammo, but what I want to share with you in this blog entry is not the smell of cordite but, rather, the weapons culture of the New Zealand Army.

The key feature of the army's weapons culture is the armory. Weapons are kept int the armory under lock and key, and you only bring them out when you have a use for them.

I heard of one recruit who so loved his rifle that he somehow managed to get it out of the armory and take it to bed with him. The army's response to this was to send him to a psychiatrist for evaluation and then to discharge him. If it looks like you might be in Seriously Disturbed Gun Nut Territory, then, sorry, the army doesn't want you.

Now, when weapons were taken out for training, sometimes meal time would arrive, and the question would then arise: what are we going to do with all this firepower?

It was an absolute rule that you could not, not ever, take any kind of weapon into a mess hall. Weapons had to be laid on the ground outside the mess hall, with someone tasked to stand watch over them in case the weapons decided to take advantage of the situation and go walkabout.

The point about the New Zealand Army's weapons culture is this: we are not barbarians, and we do not bring weapons of death and destruction to the dinner table.

Even if we do not have any ammunition for the weapons, even if we do not have so much as a single round of blank ammunition between us, we do not bring death to the dinner table.

It would be my surmise than nowhere in any document produced by the New Zealand Army which would contain the following words: "The shared meal is the basic sacrament of human civilization."

But even if no such words were ever written and even if no such message was every explicitly indoctrinated into people by the army, I believe that is the spirit in which the no-weapons-at-the-table rule was made.

Similarly, there are, of course, no weapons whatsoever in the bars were soldiers socialize.

I am not a pacifist. I joined the army of my own free will, and I was very seriously committed to my training. Emotionally, I committed to it absolutely, in my heart's core.

I believe that there is a time and a place to unleash the dogs of war. I believe in the concept of the just war. I believe, for example, that military intervention in Darfur, right now, would be a case of the just war going into action.

I read, a long time ago, a book which included the epitaph which one of the poets of ancient Greece wrote for the three hundred who fell at Thermapolae. (Alternative spelling: Thermopylae.)
A Google for "Thermopylae simonides" will take you to the Greek poet in question.

Some years ago I looked online for the version that I remembered having reading, but couldn't find it. I believe it is probably in one of the historical novels written by the British poet Robert Graves.

What I have in memory, possibly misquoted, is the following:

Go tell it in lacadaemon, stranger,
That here, obedient to our duty, we lie.

Whether quoted rightly or wrongly, I carry these words in my heart's core.

I believe, then, in the military virtues. But I believe that a civilized society should keep the military virtues in a separate box, the box labeled "military culture."

We need people who are prepared, when the necessity arises, to put their lives on the line. But what we do not need, in civilian life, is shotgun-toting weapons fanatics with Tombstone shootout fantasies playing in the cinema of their minds.

In the military, when death is placed in human hands, the emphasis is always on control. The weapons and the ammunition must be supervised, controlled and kept safe from misuse. And, additionally, the weapons must not be permitted to contaminate our social environment. We do not, as I have already written, bring death to the dinner table.

Looking online to see what the world was thinking about the guns and ammo business, I came upon the following:

Here, if you're interested, is the voice of the gun lobby, speaking out loud and clear.

It's by R. E. Smith Jr and it opens as follows:

""Another shockingly violent, but fortunately rare, case of sudden criminal behavior hit us from media pages, airwaves and screens this week. They called it a "massacre." Students and faculty at Virginia Tech were gunned down by a madman. They were taken by surprise with little means to protect themselves, except to run and hide.

""Despite police being at the scene early in the killer's rampage, he eventually killed 32 people, wounded 15 more and shot himself. Ineffective college authorities could only "communicate" by e-mail to warn students and staff of the lone raging maniac.

""The killer had the advantage: surprising his unaware victims and being armed with evil intent. The innocent, law-abiding people on campus were vulnerable: at first, they didn't know he was out there; when he started shooting them no one was armed. They were unable to defend themselves against deadly force.

""Of course, random, unexpected acts of violence can't be prevented. But the perpetrators can be neutralized by those at the scene who are prepared. Hundreds of thousands of citizens with firearms counteract violent criminals in their attempts to burglarize, assault and murder every year.

""In the aftermath of this mass killing at Blacksburg, Virginia, with all the other reflections being offered, we should be reminded that we have the God-given right to defend ourselves. Further, it's self-evident and codified in the Second Amendment to our Constitution. We have a fundamental right to "bear arms." But radical, misguided anti-gun activists and their political allies persist to curtail that right.""

Here it is, cogently presented, the notion that the possession of arms makes you safe. If twenty students come to class and all show up with one or two handguns in their possession, then we are all safer for it.

This argument breaks down for me for the following reasons:

First, it posits a dichotomy between the mad, on the one hand, and normative law-abiding citizens on the other. But my conception of humanity is that we are a singularly dangerous bunch of murderous animals, and the more weapons we have in our possession the more likely we are to kill each other.

Second, I have a child in my household who is not yet four years of age. Is she supposed to go armed to the daycare center in case some armed marauder breaks in an annihilates her? Arming her wouldn't work for a number of reasons. Her little itty bitty hands aren't strong enough to handle even a handgun like the Browning 9 mm pistol. Additionally, if you want to be any good with a pistol then you have to be on the shooting range all the time, and my daughter doesn't have time for that in her life.

On top of that, if you let those manic steam-powered demons in the daycare center show up armed, then I don't want to be anywhere within a thousand meter radius of the place, thank you very much. And, if I was a life insurance company, I wouldn't sell life insurance to anyone in that situation.

In our adult world we play out our adult fantasies in which we are all red-blooded super heroes dealing with our enemies in a bloody fashion.

In the medical memoir CANCER VIXEN, Marisa shares with us a superhero fantasy in which she kicks the crap out of the bitches who are hitting on the man who she sees as her future.

Most of us, like Marisa, never live out those fantasies. But the point I make here is that such fantasies are predicated upon an adult world, and such a world, the world of the self-reliant warrior, armed and versatile, is not a world for children, for the infirm, for cancer patients temporarily crippled by chemotherapy, for alcoholics who are struggling with their addictions, or for people who are in the throes of a divorce and have reached the point where they hate each other more than anyone else in the universe.

For me, the idea of weapons as a universal solvent which will dissolve all our problems just doesn't wash.

Here in Japan, the security situation is not perfect. Maniacs with knives go to elementary schools and massacre little kids. Not on a regular basis, but too often for comfort. Little kids are slashed by passing strangers on the streets. The mayor of Nagasaki was assassinated, shot dead. Even really strict gun laws didn't stop that weapon getting into the killer's hands.

But, compared to the situation in the States, we're pretty safe. I don't have a gun in my house and I'm confident, sight unseen, that neither do any of our neighbors. When I get on the train to work, I don't anticipate being shot en route. Before I joined the Japanese National Health system, i wasn't fussed that my insurance specifically excluded coverage for gunshot injuries.

Back in the 1400s, the Portuguese came to Japan, and, at that time, the first technology transfer between the West and Japan took place. The Portuguese had these neat things called guns, and the Japanese very quickly learnt how to make them and use them.

Later, after Tokugawa Ieyasu secured a lock grip on the whole of Japan, he realized that guns were a negative for the Japan he wanted, a society of stability and order.

The gunsmiths were placed under strict control and their output limited and controlled.

Today's Japan is a society which has inherited the traits of the shogunate, the military dictatorship beneath which Japan enjoyed long years of stability and order. The result may not be appealing to outsiders, but I would prefer to live right where I do, in the city of Yokohama in the prefecture of Kanagawa on the island of Honshu, rather than in the free-wheeling America of gun shows and massacres.

I'm not from New Zealand so I'm indifferent to the claims of the American constitution. In New Zealand, we don't even have a constitution. We get by perfectly well without one, as do the British, though we do have a collection of documents which, taken as a whole, serve us as a kind of makeshift constitution, one of these documents being the Magna Carta, which one modern New Zealand prime minister, Rob Muldoon, was found by a New Zealand court to have breached.

The Constitution of the United States is not a sacred document. It was designed by its originators so that it would contain a mechanism for its own revision. The Constitution has been amended from time to time but never rewritten from scratch, because nobody has the balls for it. Dare to try to rewrite the Constitution and you really would be opening Pandora's box, and God knows what would come out of it.

But this amendment that gives you the right to bear arms, well, my advice is to scrap it.

If you were in the American military and living on an American military base, you would not have the right to walk around the base armed. Military regulations would not permit you to bring a firearm into a military mess hall.

The strong defender of the gun lobby I found online, and found very easily. Doubtless there are thousands of them.

My basic argument against them, is, as I have indicated above, is that a lot of us are not equipped to live in the world as armed warriors. My daughter, not yet four, is not so equipped. I, blind in one eye and not seeing well in the left, am not fit for the battlefield. My wife, an extremely busy civil servant who is working under enormous pressure, does not have the time to go learn how to use a Glock even if she wanted to.

The task of a civil society is to build a culture which will serve as a home for all its peoples, not just for those of us who are equipped to live as barbarians, bringing death with us when we sit down to eat at the table.

The issue on the table right now is arms control, and I say the time for this is now. Taking the guns away from the people is not the perfect answer, as the assassination of the mayor of Nagasaki in theoretically gun-free Japan shows. But it gives a better result than the situation in Virginia where anyone can buy a gun if they can (a) show two pieces of photo ID and (b) pass a computer background check. And then go on to buy one gun a month, if they want to.

I had planned today to blog about the latest and greatest version of UltraEdit, the 2007 version, 13.00a, which I have installed and am in the process of checking out. It is UltraEdit which I am using to spell check this file, having decided that, no, I won't go the stand-alone spell checker route.

I am still, then, up to my eyeballs in my software wars. But the American gun massacre playing out on our TV screens here in Japan keeps my attention focused on the issue of what, exactly, people are going to be permitted to do with guns, these instruments of death and destruction.

Today, Thursday ... no, when I look at my computer clock, I see that it is now Friday, meaning that before too long I will have to head to bed ... I got an e-mail on the gun issue about a guy who took issue with the stance I took in two recent blog entries, AGAINST THOSE WHO GO POSTAL and COUNTERPRODUCTIVITY CONTINUES.

He disagreed with me, but did me the courtesy of waiting a day and of rereading the entries to make sure he had properly wrapped his head around the offending texts.

Having done that, he still wasn't happy.

He's someone I respect, so I, in turn, have read his e-mail carefully, and have thought about it.

He makes it clear where he's coming from:

""I'm an American, a firearms owner, and a customer of""

And he feels ""that Americans got painted with a fairly broad "gun-nut" brush"".

He says, in part:

""For me, my firearms say something about my self-reliance. They're a symbol of my desire to take responsibility for my own safety in the face of danger. Others choose to turn this power over to the State. I believe that needs to remain a choice each individual makes for themselves. You don't have that option in Japan.""

He closes as follows:

""I just wanted to write to let you know that we're not all as wacko as W over here.""

In response, I will not answer in my own words, because I have already made my polemic clear in the foregoing.

Rather, I will close by coming at the words ""my desire to take responsibility for my own safety in the face of danger"" from an oblique angle, citing a book that I read long, long ago, when I was still at high school, a science fiction book which permanently marked my attitude toward bearing arms, years before I myself ever laid my hands on a weapon designed to kill.

I couldn't remember the name of that long-ago-read book, so I went to and searched for "Heinlein."

I couldn't even remember the guy's first name, but it turns out that he is Robert A. Heinlein. What I know about him (what I knew when I was a high school kid) was that he had been in the American military (the navy, I think) and that he was a pretty conservative type.

The book of which I have the strongest recollection is THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, which is basically a praise poem to self-reliance and capitalist enterprise, the repeated refrain of the book being "TANSTAFL," ie "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

Heinlein's voice, then, is a voice from the conservative right. And the book that made so much of an impact on me all those years ago? I can't for the life of me remember the title.

Not STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, though I read that and remember parts of it. Not STARSHIP TROOPER, either, a kind of hymn to the military virtues. I remember it (or misremember it) as being a book which glorifies war.

Not HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL, though I think i remember that one, too. If I remember correctly across a huge gulf of years, the protagonist has a dad whose favorite book is THREE MEN IN THE BOAT, and encourages him to learn Latin.

Wow, this is a real trip down memory lane!

And now here it is, as I scroll down the screen, the book I read, TUNNEL IN THE SKY.

That's the one.

You get to the cover and click READ INSIDE and see ""Rod Walker didn't know where in the universe he'd been sent ... he only knew he had to survive.""

The Wikipedia rundown of the book, if you're interested, is at:

In brief summary, Rod is sent to an untamed wilderness planet for a rite of passage which is supposed to be only temporary. However, he and his buddies get stuck on that planet, and have to hammer together a working society out of what their teenage minds have brought along.

The key point, the guns and ammo point, is as follows:

When you go out into the universe for your rite of passage, you are allowed to take, if you like, a firearm. One kid takes the snazziest assault rifle imaginable, but Rod goes unarmed.

He goes unarmed because a friend counsels him as follows: if you take a firearm, you will think you are the king of the universe, and you will let your guard down, and something will take advantage of your over-confidence and will kill you.

Shortly into his time on the untamed planet, Rod finds the kid with the snazzy rifle. Dead. He was the self-reliant man of the world, armed and dangerous. And now he is lying dead with, if memory serves, his beautiful new rifle at his side.

Those of the words of wisdom from Robert Heinlein which have stuck in my mind all these years, and have shaped my thinking about firearms.

When I visited the city of New York, many years before 9/11, I went unarmed. And had no trouble at all, except when the police told me off for standing on a fountain to watch a parade. But, realizing I was a foreigner, they were nice about it.

Marisa Acocella Marchett was, I imagine, unarmed when she was sleeping in her New York apartment when she was awakened by an aircraft flying overhead, enormously close and enormously loud. She had neither a Glock pistol nor a Steyr assault rifle. She didn't even, I imagine, have even a crappy old M16 to hand.

But, even if she'd been armed to the teeth, armed and dangerous, an entire arsenal of weapons in her personal armory, that would not have given her even the slightest margin of safety on the day when death came to America, from the skies, big time.

I rest my case.