Saturday, September 29, 2007

Food Court from Hell

This evening, the evening of Saturday 29 September, three-year-old daughter Cornucopia told me reprovingly (in Japanese) that we do not eat cereal in the evenings. Only in the mornings. That's a rule, got it?

I was having some cereal by way of recuperating from quite a long hard day. First we attended the daycare sports day, which was held at the local elementary school (inside in the gym on account of the fact that it was raining).

Then we got on a bus and traveled for half an hour to a place called LaLaPoto, an absolutely huge shopping center.

Here we had photos taken on account of the fact that Cornucopia turns three this year. There is a festival in Japan called Shichi-go-san, which Wikipedia defines as a rite of passage for girls aged three and seven (and also for boys aged three and five.)

The actual date is November 15, which was some days ago now, but, in honor of the festival, we went to a photo studio at LaLaPoto to have portrait shots taken of the three of us (me in a suit for once) and of Cornucopia (adorned first in a dress and then in a kimono, both chosen from the plentifully stocked racks of dress-up clothes at the studio.)

It took forever, and, when the photo shoot was done, there was a one-hour wait before we could go back, have a look at the results and choose what we wanted to buy. So my wife suggested that we go to the food court.

A food court in Japan is conceptually similar to a food court anywhere else: a bunch of fast food restaurants with common seating (and, often, a common cutlery resource.) But this one had a couple of twists.

First, each individual restaurant did not have its own cash register. Instead, you went to a central cash register. As you stood in line, a guy would hand you a menu showing the offerings of all the restaurants.

You paid and took away not a receipt and not a meal, either, but a pager. Or, in our case, three pagers.

You then went and sat to wait for your pager to go off.

The environment was extremely noisy, with pagers going off all the time, and it was very, very hard to tell which might be ours. I found the whole place confusing and disorienting - one place where I definitely would not be able to cope on our own.

The happy news is that the photos look great. And, additionally, while Cornucopia told me it was wrong to eat cereal in the evening, she did not actually go so far as to stop me from doing so.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Embarrassing Truths

Embarrassing Truths

Some years back, I read a blog for the first time in my life. It was maintained by a coworker, an American colleague who was teaching English in Japan and pursuing his interest in karate.

What struck me about this blog was the naivety of its exposure, the direct access to the unprotected person.

As a rule, any creative writer tends to present a public face to the world, a synthetic face which is not that person's real face. In the case of the writer Ernest Hemingway, for example, his public persona was that of a hearty, brawling hunter and fisherman ... an image that was certainly a world remote from the comparatively insecure, sensitive and rather bookish person that he really was.

If you are a creative writer then you can have your cake and eat it, in the sense that you can peg yourself out for public display while, at the same time, selectively hiding facets of your life or aspects of your personality that you would prefer not to have out in the open.

In my own case, I've been choosing, for some time now, to live a public mistruth, pretending to be gainfully employed as an English teacher in a conversation school here in Japan.

However, successfully maintaining this masquerade is becoming increasingly problematical, as news of what seems to be the impending financial collapse of the company in question has reached members of my family in New Zealand.

So I've decided to come clean.

The embarrassing truth is that I no longer work, and, instead, am spending my days as a house husband. Which comes in handy on occasion, as when three-year-old daughter Cornucopia needs me to stay home with her because she is not quite ready enough to return to daycare life.

I quit the company a couple of months back. At the time, I did not know for certain that its financial collapse was probably on the agenda, though I had seen, one time, a notice on the teacher's room corkboard apologizing for the delayed payment of one tranche of wages.

I came to Japan to live and work over ten years ago, and, because my wife is a civil servant who spends her life dealing with tax matters, she made very sure that I went and signed up for, and paid, all the taxes I should have been paying.

Consequently, because I had been a good boy and had paid all my taxes, after my eyesight got trashed by radiation therapy, my wife was, after a rather involved paperwork exercise, able to extract from the system here in Japan a small disability pension, and this money, though modest, is sufficient to balance the household budget.

When I first came to Japan I needed sponsorship from my employer, but, after I married my Japanese wife, the elegant Murasaki Nishikawa, I moved to a spouse visa. That, however, did have to be renewed every few years.

This year, however, my wife did the laborious paperwork involving for an application for permanent residence, and, after a hiatus of six months (they check you out pretty well) I was granted permanent residence.

Although I will still need to apply for a re-entry permit to facilitate any trips in and out of Japan, my days of going to Immigration and applying for a visa extension are now over.

Regarding the disability pension, there is in Japan no such legal category as "legally blind," no "you are or you aren't" categorization of the kind that we have in the West.

Rather, in Japan, there is a sliding scale of disability, divided into six levels, called dans. Depending on the degree of your disability, you can get some kind of financial assistance, and you can qualify if you fit into either or both of the following categories:

(a) you can only see really big things or (b) you have a significant visual field defect.

I have (b), and have been assessed as being on the third dan level of the visual disability scale. On account of this, my wife has been able to negotiate a small disability pension for me.

In addition, I have a disability carnet, a little photo ID booklet, which gives me free travel on local buses (though I never use the bus), free access to many municipal swimming pools (though I never go to the pool), free access to the Ueno zoo, a ten percent discount from many taxi services (such as the one up in Gunma Prefecture where my mother-in-law lives), and half-price travel on trains if me and my wife are traveling together (two can travel for the price of one.)

As mentioned above, question marks are hanging over the financial viability of the chain of English conversation schools that I previously worked for, and my guess is that the organization will have gone down the tubes before the end of the year, if not earlier.

Similar question marks are hanging over the long-term viability of the Japanese welfare state, but, for the moment, the cranky machine is lumbering along without any sign of imminent breakdown, and, for the present, it serves my purposes well enough.

Well, enough for the world of embarrassing disclosures. Back to the world of the closeted artist, keeping to the recipe that we associate with James Joyce: silence, exile and cunning.

Setagaya Park

Setagaya Park

My wife and I were home with three-year-old daughter Cornucopia for three days in a row, Saturday 22, Sunday 23 and Monday 24 September. I stayed home an additional day with Corny, Tuesday 25, so she could completely recover from her impetigo before going to daycare, where she would have contact with other kids.

On the Sunday, we went to Setagya Park, in metropolitan Tokyo. You can get there by going to Shibuya then taking the train one stop to Ikejiriohashi. If you know where you're going, it takes about 15 minutes on foot. If, however, the person who elects to lead you takes the wrong exit and heads off in entirely the wrong direction, then it can take somewhat longer.

That day, we saw a dog hotel, a dog restaurant and a dog cafe. Setagaya is obviously nuts about dogs.

We went to this park because daughter Corny chose it from a range of options, the unique selling point being that it has a working steam locomotive. We all took a ride. Kids under six are free, but for us adults the fare was 70 yen per circuit. It's a small steam locomotive but strong enough to pull a bunch of small passenger cars holding a bunch of kids and adults.

One of the good points about the Tokyo-Yokohama area is that it's fairly generously provided with public parks, to which admission is always free, and the photo of the public fountain in Setagaya Park gives an inkling of the scale of this park. (Image on its side, I now realise. Sorry.)

On the Monday we went to the Jidokaikan, Tokyo city's free entertainment facility for people 18 and younger, and attended a free drum concert (Japanese taiko drums) in the adjoining orchestra hall.

The 90-minute program exceeded Corny's attention span, so we called it quits early and went to the Jidokaikan itself to see a free magic show.

All in all, then, Corny's sickness was handled reasonably well.


In Setagaya,
In metropolitan Tokyo, Japan,
We find a dog hotel,
A dog cafe
And a dog restaurant -
Fresh bones for Fido going walkies!
The eminent scholar who fled Darfur
Has been four years in the dusty deserts of Chad
Living in a hut of twigs.
His options, as you may imagine,
Are less opulent.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sorry, Tobihi and Densenseinoukashin denote NOT scabies but impetigo

Sorry, Tobihi and Densenseinoukashin denote NOT scabies but impetigo

Daugher Cornucopia saw the doctor on Friday and was told to come back Tuesday evening, meanwhile to stay in a cool dry place. No daycare, no hospital.

In a dinner table discussion, my wife pronounced herself unsure as to whether I had correctly identified the Japanese terms tobihi and densenseinoukashin as being equivalent to English scabies, so I went online to look.

I first tried to Google "translate English Japanese" and decided to give the Babel Fish site a shot:

I tried to translate this:

"My daughter has scabies which is caused by a mite."

This failed because the site did not know the word "scabies," which it left in English.

I tried another site:

This also failed:

"Sorry, translation is taking too long. Please try again later."

I tried just the one word, "scabies."

Same response.

My next try was at this site:

It has an English to Japanese option so I tried "scabies" and got the response "Temporarily offline - the database backend is not responding or the server is too busy."

At this point I was starting to get the impression that the age of efficient machine translation had not yet arrived.

Okay. Next site:

The next one promises romanised Japanese to English ande vice versa, and is:

Okay, it pops out this term: kaisen.

I then tried it on this:


Going from Japanese to English it gives "flying sparks, leaping flames," which is a possible translation but not the desired one.

How about densenseinoukashin?

"No match found."

I next tried this:

English to Japanese: scabies.

This is far and away the best. It gives an answer using katakana, hiragana and kanji, which display okay on my computer because I have East Asian Fonts installed under Windows XP, and also have my browser set up to display any Japanese that it encounters.

It seem that "scabies" is "kaisen."

I then tried "tobihi," going from Japanese to English, but didn't get a usable result. Densenseinoukashin? Again, I didn't understand the result.

I then tried an Internet search for "tobihi" and got "impetigo" from this site:

Searching the page I found the following quote, which I put here in square brackets:

[By Kit Nagamura on Thursday, January 10, 2002 - 3:52 pm:

Dear Victoria,

Impetigo is "tobihi", or "jumping fire" in Japanese; my child has had it, and it is very different from mizuibo, which we've also been unfortunate to encounter. I haven't been able to find a translation of mizuibo in any dictionary, and I have most of them by now, but it is a mild form of wart, or tumor (I've heard it called both) which is extremely contagious (mere skin contact will pass it along).
On some patients, the number of warts rapidly multiplies, and this is why most dermatologists pluck the little buggers off with a special tool as fast as possible; it's not pleasant for anyone involved, but a skilled doctor can be swift about it, and prevent an outbreak.
Incidentally, tobihi is also very contagious, and just as you described, with comparatively large blisters which crust over. ]

I then did a Google for "tobiko impetigo" and got about 17 results.

I then did a Google for "densenseinoukashin" and got just one result, which was for my own blog entry, which I now realise is erroneous.

I then went and checked Wiipedia to see if impetigo matched my daughter's condition.

From Wikipedia:

"Impetigo is a superficial skin infection most common among children age 2–6 years. People who play close contact sports such as rugby, American football and wrestling are also susceptible, regardless of age. The name derives from the Latin impetere ("assail"). It is also known as school sores."

Okay, so this is the infamous "school sores," which I'd heard about while living in New Zealand.

So I need to correct my earlier blog with this addition:

Sorry, the Japanese terms "tobiko" and "densenseinoukashin" do NOT mean "scabies." Rather, they denote "impetigo," which is sometimes referred to as school sores.

Tobihi is Densenseinoukashin which is Impetigo

Tobihi is Densenseinoukashin which is Impetigo (NOT scabies ... I thought it was scabies, which is why the cute little scabies mite is pictured above, but I stand corrected.)

Wednesday, my wife took a bit of time off work to take our three-year-old daughter Cornucopia (who we usually call Corny) to the doctor, on account of an alarming red rash which was causing her to complain of itchiness.

The doctor identified it as tobihi, and said that if it's not better by Friday then he will seriously recommend having Corny hospitalized.

Thursday 20 September I stayed home with Corny, as this condition is contagious, and we don't want every kid in the daycare center ending up having it.

Corny and I spent the day quietly at home, apart from a trip out to Tsutaya, the local branch of the Japanese rental outfit where you can borrow CDs, DVDs and good old-fashioned videos.

As we don't have a DVD player, we borrowed two of the good old-fashioned videos, and Thursday we hunkered down in an air conditioned room, since the autumn weather has recently turned summer-hot, and watched videos, and played a fishing game of my wife's invention, involving fishing for paper fish with a bauble which can catch fish with the aid of a bit of sticky cellotape.

Thursday evening my wife and I went through an ordeal of the dictionaries, of which we have quite a few in the home, and finally determined that Corny's condition is scabies [wrong, impetigo], a disease in which tiny little mites, far too small to be seen by the naked eye, get under the skin and cause severe itching.

Wife and daughter will show up at the doctor's at 0930 tomorrow Friday, and, if Corny is to be hospitalized, my wife will try to arrange for her to go to Meijin Hospital, the hospital in Yokohama where I go from time to time for cancer checkups.

Corny seems sanguine about the prospect of being in hospital, a fate which I explained to her by reminding her of the Dick Bruna Miffy-chan book in which Miffy has to go to hospital, a book that Corny, a big Miffy-chan fan, knows well.

The Wikipedia entry on scabies says the following:

"Scabies is a transmissible ectoparasite skin infection characterized by superficial burrows, intense pruritus (itching) and secondary infection. The word scabies comes from the Latin word for "scratch" (scabere)."

I have taken the liberty of borrowing the scabies pic from the Wikipedia entry and placing it at the top of this blog entry. However, because what is pictured is a canine scabies mite (I believe, rightly or wrongly, that every animal is privileged to have its own version of this mite) it is probably not the particular mite which has afflicted Corny.

With my radiation-trashed eyes, the amount that I see with my own unaided eyes is limited, but one thing that I can see quite well is fireworks, brilliant against the black of the night sky. And another thing that I can see very well indeed is the gaudy red rash that has afflicted Corny's body.

If Corny ends up in Meijin Hospital, I will become her daily visitor. If she is to be hospitalized, then this would be the ideal place, because I know the route well and can get there easily.

Because I'm a parent, I'm more likely than I used to be to pay attention to news articles which relate to parenting, and one that caught my eye on today's Google News was a piece headlined thus:

"Some moms defend Britney Spears' nudity around her kids."

Apparently pop star Britney is involved in court hearings that will determine whether she does or does not retain custody of her kids, and for some reason the issue of whether she does nor does not wear clothes has been deemed to be of interest to the courts.

Her bodyguard has been blabbing, and has denounced Britney for appearing naked in front of her sons.

So, how old are the sons? Are they young teens going through puberty, with all the hormonal implications of that state? No. Little Sean Preston is aged two, and little Jayden James is just one.

Here' a comment on this from, a quote in square brackets:

[Not according to some moms.

"When your kids are under 2, it's near impossible to use the bathroom or the shower without a pint-size audience. So avoiding nudity is extremely difficult," says Jen Singer, mother of two boys and creator of, a humor site for stay-at-home moms. "My boys would run around with their diapers off and think nothing of it, so why would they notice if I was naked?"

Romi Lassally, founder of the online confessional, agrees.]

The bodyguard's name is Tony Barretto, and if I could put a question to Tony it would be this: If you take life so very very seriously, why don't you get a serious job? Why not sign up with Blackwater, where you can do serious work by shooting people dead, instead of wasting your time snooping on Britney naked with her kids?

The two sites mentioned sound interesting, so I'll take a moment to check them out ...

I took a look at and find it bills itself as "The stay-at-home mom's coffee break," and you only need to look at the links on the page to know that you're not alone, one link being "When your kids won't brush."

There's kid-related news at this URL:

And one item is about "Parents go to jail for serving teens booze."

The link, unfortunately, doesn't seem to work ... I tried Google News with "parents teens jail booze."

I got some hits, including one at, from which I have taken the following quote:

[You may have heard a lot this week about the problem of underage drinking and the need to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors.

That is because the Federal Trade Commission on Monday launched "We Don't Serve Teens Week" to emphasize the responsibility adults have to not provide booze to anyone under age 21. The nationwide campaign - in cooperation with the U.S. surgeon general, parents and leaders of government, industry, education and health care - seeks to make a concerted public effort to stop underage drinking.

While there is an ongoing debate among some people whether it is better to allow minors to drink under adult supervision than to risk teens consuming alcohol surreptitiously and endangering themselves and others on the road, there is no debate when it comes to the law: Furnishing alcohol to minors or allowing drinking on your property is illegal in all 50 states. Adults who violate the law could face criminal or civil penalties, as highlighted by several recent high-profile cases where parents were sent to jail for providing teens with alcohol.]

I feel another "Fascist United States dictatorship" rant coming on, so I think I'll abandon this topic at this stage. If the Yanks have crazy liquor laws, what is it to me?

Anyway, let's look at the other site ...

I like this that I see on the homepage:

"Terrible Twos my ass. How come nobody ever mentioned the Ominous One?"

If you're a parent, and if you're afflicted by the hard judgments of a terribly judgmental world, then maybe this site would be the site for you. Brief and funny glimpses into the decidedly imperfect world we live in.

Correction on definitions:

Sorry, the Japanese terms "tobiko" and "densenseinoukashin" do NOT mean "scabies." Rather, they denote "impetigo," which is sometimes referred to as school sores.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Websites by or on behalf of Madeleine McCann's Parents

Websites by or on behalf of Madeleine McCann's Parents

I have found two sites either by or on behalf of Madeleine McCann's parents, these sites being and

The content on both sites seems to be about the same, and both carry the same blog by Madeleine's father.

Madeleine posters in various languages (and desktop wallpaper, if you are interested) can be downloaded from this URL:

I personally find that contemplating the disaster which has befallen the McCanns has the effect of making me more patient with my three-year-old daughter than I usually would be. I stayed home with her for the whole of today Thursday 20 September because she is a bit ill, of which more later.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The United States of America is a Fascist Police State

The United States of America is a Fascist Police State

I went online to check Google News for the latest on Madeleine, but got distracted by a link promising video of a guy getting zapped by a Taser by cops in Yankland.

He was getting mouthy at a meeting which was being addressed by Senator John Kerry. He was asking why Kerry lamely conceded defeat when Kerry knew that the election had been stolen from under him by fraudulent means.

Mr Mouthy then went on to ask why there isn't a move to impeach Bush. After all, there was a push to impeach Clinton on account of a blowjob, no more than that, so why not go after Bush?

Finally, the cops elect to try to hush the guy, and eventually take him away, with him crying "Get your hands the fuck off me!" - naturally, since this video comes to us from America, the land of sanitary speech, the "fuck" gets bleeped out.

Finally, after a lot of loud-mouthed protests from Mr Mouthy, one of the police draws a Taser.

At this point the protester is at the back of the room and we can't see what is happening, but we can hear him yelling. He knows they are going to Taser him, so he tells them not to. But they do.

What struck me about this incident was that Senator John Kerry said absolutely nothing. He made no attempt whatsoever to tell the cops to lay off. He didn't say "Cool it! Hold it! Wait a moment!"

He was Mr Passive Observer, as if he was a remote spectator observing this on YouTube.

Kerry, in my opinion, failed in his duty. The cops went over the top and did their police brutality thing in front of what is now a global audience. And Kerry said not one single word to stop this going down.


"Are you going to arrest me? What are you arresting me for?"

This is only the second time in my life when I've seen Yankland cops arresting someone. The first time when I was sitting on a Grayhound bus which was going through the gritty suburbs to the east of San Francisco. I was at the start of an ill-advised bus journey right across the continental United States, from San Francisco to New York, with the mistaken idea that I would see interesting scenery en route. All I saw was four-lane highways, coast to coast.

Shortly after our journey began, the bus came to a halt and the cops got on board, cheerful cops with guns on their hips, and they escorted one of the passengers off the bus. I asked another passenger why the cops had done that and was told the driver had noticed that the guy was waving a handgun around, and had thought this behavior inappropriate.

That first arrest was gracefully managed by good-humored cops who did their job without any fuss at all, but the debacle at Kerry's forum was shameful.

"Don't Taze me!" says the guy.

But the cops are going to take this guy down.

But they do. We hear a kind of mechanical clickety click and the guy yells "Ow!" Repeatedly. And then "My God!"

The Taser is proudly brought to you by an outfit which appears to actually be called Taser [no, actually Taser International], and which has a website at

"Our mission is to protect life by providing safer, more effective force options and technologies."

Yeah, very safe. You can use these handy gadgets to torture prisoners, electrocute mentally ill homeless people or rough up mouthy protesters, all this without getting your hands dirty. Great technology!

Now that I've highlighted the wonders of the world of Taser on my blog, what chance is there that Taser will give me one of these wonderful gadgets for free, so I can restore order to the family home on those occasions when my three-year-old daughter goes off the rails?

Right now, if you Google the term "taser," one of the snippets that you see includes this question:

"Why are students getting Tasered on video?"

Kerry was speaking, it seems, at UCLA [NO, WRONG! SEE BELOW!], and the student who had his own personal experience of American police brutality was a guy named Andrew Meyer.

No, I misinterpreted the snippet. Kerry was actually speaking at the University of Florida where the university cops did the Tasering.

UCLA comes into it on account of an earlier incident, which is noted on this page:

Here, in square brackets, is a quote from the page which the URL above leads to:

[ Don't university cops have YouTube, too? These people work in the most visible environments in the world, where every witness has both a cellphone cam and a broadband connection and knows how to use them. You'd suppose that after just one of these well-publicized incidents, every campus P.D. in the nation would decide that whatever advantage there might be in using the Taser, the inevitable fallout is too much.

I called up the University of Florida Police Department to ask about its Taser policies; I'm waiting for a callback.

In the aftermath of the Taser incident at UCLA last fall -- when a student named Mostafa Tabatabainejad was stunned multiple times after he refused to show his I.D. card at a campus library -- the university asked the independent Police Assessment Resource Center to investigate.

PARC concluded: "While the student should have simply obeyed the order to produce the card, and by not doing so brought trouble upon himself, the police response was substantially out of proportion to the provocation. There were many ways in which the UCLAPD officers involved could have handled this incident competently, professionally, and with minimal force."

The group also criticized UCLA's Taser policies as "unduly permissive, giving the police unnecessary latitude, and are inconsistent with the policies of other universities and leading police departments across the country, including other University of California campuses, the LAPD, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD)." (The PDF of the report can be found here.)

Police at UCLA stunned Tabatabainejad using the device's "drive stun" mode, and in the video it seems that Florida campus cops used the same mode on Meyer.

In typical Taser operation, the gun shoots out electrode darts at a target. The darts incapacitate the target. Drive stun mode, on the other hand, is meant for close contact. There are no shooting electrodes -- the gun is placed directly on a target's skin. Drive stun does not incapacitate a target. He merely feels a great deal of pain that officers hope will induce compliance.

According to the Palm Beach Post, Taser International, the company that makes the device, warns officers that drive stun mode can lead to "prolonged struggles" with targets and that "it is in these types of scenarios that officers are often facing accusations of excessive force." (I called Taser with questions about its stun guidelines -- when I hear back, I'll update this post.)]

The Salon site has a video of the guy who was Tased by the police when he was leaving the library, and this time we hear a clear "Fuck off" from the guy. This one is not bleeped out.

We then hear the extremely sinister clickety click of the Klingon Pain Inflictor going into action once again. If you are a Star Trek fan, then you know that the distinguishing feature of the Klingons is that these aliens have no concept of mercy.

And seems that the Fascist cops who police the United States of America have, similarly, no concept of mercy.

The video of the zapping of Mostafa Tabatabainejad goes on and on and on and on and on. It is absolutely horrendous.

I had planned to blog again about Madeleine McCann, since I've found two websites set up by her parents, both including the father's blog, but I think I'll call it quits for today.

The spectacle of Fascist America in action has me in its thrall.

As for John Kerry, well, on account of his sterling war effort, up until today I'd always had a measure of respect for the guy. But after his Me Mr Passive act on campus, my respect for him has totally ceased.

A footnote on Kerry's performance: it is true that, very late in the piece, long after things have gone from bad to worse, Kerry does finally find his voice, and puts his senatorial intellect into play, coming up with a playful response. What he says is this:

"I want to answer his question ... Unfortunately, he's not available to come up here and swear me in as president."

Well, very senatorial. The polished elocutionist on display. But, while that is how a senator may act, it is not how a man should act in this situation. And my judgment on Kerry remains the same: he played Mr Passive when he should not have.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An American Perspective on Madeleine McCann

An American Perspective on Madeleine McCann

I was impressed by a perceptive piece by Victoria Burnett that I found on a New York Times page datelined 18 September 2007. Here is a quote, which I have put in square brackets:

[When Lindy Chamberlain went on trial in 1982 in the killing of her 9-week-old daughter, Azaria, the prosecutor presented the jury with two alternatives: either the baby was snatched from her crib by a wild dog in the Australian desert, as Mrs. Chamberlain contended, or she was killed by her mother.

Furnished with incriminating forensic evidence and a profile, infused with innuendo, describing a strange, emotionally detached woman, the jury convicted Mrs. Chamberlain. In what became one of Australia’s most notorious miscarriages of justice, she served four years of a life sentence before the evidence against her was exposed as faulty and she was released in 1986.

Two decades later, the Chamberlain case finds disquieting echoes in the investigation unfolding around Kate and Gerry McCann, who were recently declared suspects by the Portuguese police in the disappearance on May 3 of their 4-year-old daughter, Madeleine. And it raises many of the same questions.

Did the McCanns, as the Portuguese police are now said to contend, accidentally kill Madeleine, hide her body and then mount a savvy international publicity campaign as a smoke screen? Or did the police, under severe pressure to solve the case, seize on dubious evidence to set up the couple as culprits?

The McCanns say Madeleine was snatched from the apartment where she was sleeping while they ate at a nearby restaurant on May 3. The case dragged along inconclusively until the British police were called in to jump-start the investigation.

With British forensic material in hand, the Portuguese police reportedly told the couple this month that the evidence suggested that they killed Madeleine and hid her body, eventually moving it in the trunk of a car they rented 25 days after the child’s disappearance. The police offered Kate McCann a plea bargain if she confessed to killing her daughter accidentally, family friends and a spokeswoman said.

The McCanns strenuously denied the accusations, which are being evaluated by a Portuguese prosecutor, who will decide the next step. They may never face a jury, but as they undergo public trial around the dinner tables of Britain and in the international news media, Mrs. Chamberlain’s experience offers cautionary notes on how flawed evidence and speculation can turn victim into convict.

In each case the initial explanation — that Azaria was killed by a dingo, and that Madeleine was taken by a random predator — was trumped by an accusation that the mother was in fact the culprit. Through a prism of suspicion, both women began to appear odd, aloof and insufficiently bereft to fit the profile of grieving mother.

Whatever the truth in the McCanns’ case, overnight they found themselves in a “world where lack of hard evidence is taken as proof of guilt and innocent explanations are twisted to fit our darkest suspicions,” Allison Pearson, a columnist for The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, wrote Wednesday.]

This very nicely captures the similarity between the case of the McCanns and that of the Chamberlains.

The URL on which I found this text was as follows:

However, the usual pattern with New York Times pieces is that they very shortly become unavailable unless you sign up for an online subscription, which gives you access to their archives.

To my way of thinking, this American perspective on the McCann situation is cool, perceptive and level-headed, engaged with the situation but with rationality not overthrown by emotion.

The same cannot be said for a web page that I was led to by a link which someone chose to tack onto the end of my previous blog about the McCanns and Lindy Chamberlain.

The URL for this is as follows, and this one, I think, will still be there for the foreseeable future:

This page gives you an anti-McCann petition to sign, if you care to, and it is written in terms of utter hatred, the petitioners setting themselves up as the champions of Madeleine, fighting for justice for her, justice which they seek to impose on the McCanns, who they see as being aided by the evil British Government.

The page is headed thus:

"Madeleine McCann: British politicians should stop interfering and spinning in this case."

Gordon Brown's government has tasked someone to look out for the McCanns, this someone being a guy whose name you will find in the following diatribe:

"We, the undersigned, find it wholly inappropriate that a Gordon Brown spin doctor (A.K.A. Director of the British Government?s Media Monitoring Unit, Clarence Mitchell) has resigned to immediately become the Official Spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann, parents who not only regularly neglected their children, but are now suspected of killing Madeleine McCann. The Madeleine McCann case should never have been politicised. The case should only be about seeing justice served for Madeleine."

Class hatred surfaces in the next paragraph, reminding me of the class conscious society that I remember from a time spent living and working in London back in the 1980s.

(Parenthetically, though, what really drove home in my mind was the conversation of a group of Brits who were chatting over a trailbreak coffee outside a mountain hut deep in the Nepal Himalaya, in the general vicinity of Annapurna. There, in one of the most majestic landscapes to be found anywhere on planet Earth, a world removed from Britain, they were talking about the British class system, and about how it is no longer an important factor in British life. I kid you not.)

Anyway, here is the petition swinging into guillotines and tumbrels mode:

"It is unheard of for British politicians to back possible murder suspects and we understand that Clarence Mitchell had previously been acting as the McCanns? media advisor, courtesy of the British taxpayer. We also understand that Gordon Brown has already personally interfered in this case. Would Gordon Brown have interfered in a police investigation if the McCanns worked in a factory or down a coal mine and left three children alone in an unlocked council flat to go down to the pub? Of course he wouldn't."

My own take on Gordon Brown, viewing him remotely from a distance, is that he is a tough guy who is going to be capable of facing up to the challenges of the turbulent waters that he is swimming in. But, while tough, to my mind he also comes across as sober minded and level-headed.

Reading the rhetoric of the diatribe, it's difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that "possible murder suspects" is intended to translate in the minds of readers as "murderers."

"We urge that due process is allowed to take place without any more British political interference or spin by Clarence Mitchell, which may be construed as a disgraceful attempt to save the face of the British Prime Minister. It is essential, therefore, that Clarence Mitchell immediately resigns as spokesman for the McCanns and a clear separation is made between the British government and the McCanns."

Speaking for myself, if I had been on holiday in the United States and suddenly found myself arrested on suspicion of having been one of the gang of boys who were in with O.J. on the hotel sports memorabilia heist, I would have no objection if the New Zealand Government came rushing to my aid, and provided me with a spokesperson to aid me against the American cops who were trying to frame me.

As for this Clarence Mitchell guy, how does he see things?

He's the guy seen in the picture with the piece of paper in his hands, the man on his right being Gerry McCann and the woman being Kate McCann.

Here is Clarence Mitchell in his own words:

"To suggest that they somehow harmed Madeleine accidentally or otherwise is as ludicrous as it is nonsensical."

He goes on to say this:

"The focus must now return to Madeleine and move away from the rampant, unfounded and inaccurate speculation of recent days."

I think I understand his motivation. He sees, I think, that we are living through a replay of the Salem witch trials, and he, for his part, doesn't want to just stand idly by and watch a lynching go down.

That's what I think I see.

But how about these Hatreds R Us people who organized the anti-McCann petition that I quoted above?

The petition has a copyright notice which reads as follows:

© 1999-2005 Artifice, Inc.

Obviously the copyright notice is out of date.

To try to get a handle on who these people are, I went uphill from


This is what they say on their homepage:

" provides free online hosting of
public petitions for responsible public advocacy."

The site also says this:

"We give you the ancient methods of grassroots democracy, combined with the latest digital networked communications, running live and free 24 hours a day."

If you do want to find out who the Artifice crowd is, there is an itty bitty little link right at the foot of the page which goes here:

They're a digital design outfit, apparently doing an excellent job of facilitating troublemaking on the Internet.

And there's a link on the homepage that you can click, a very tempting link that says "Start your own free petition today!"

That's kind of tempting, yes. Who in the world do I want to make trouble for today?

This McCann petition, as I see it, is hate mail for the modern age, not hiding out behind the lace curtain but bold and brazen, standing clear in the sunlight and waving the banner of "grassroots democracy."

If you do by chance want to join a public lynching, well, the link to the petition is on this page. But me, I'll sit back and watch.

What this brings to mind, more than anything, is a performance of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE that I saw many years ago in Auckland, New Zealand, one of the very few pieces of live theater that I've ever seen in my entire life. It's ostensibly about the Salem witch trials.

With that memory in mind, I was curious enough to Google the play, and arrived at this page:

Very well organized, or so my first glance seems to indicate. What caused me to click for this page was the word that jumped out at me from the Google snippet, the word in question being "hysteria."

Yeah, that's where we are right now, I think. Lynch mob hysteria, heading in the direction of Hell by way of a road which is paved by good intentions.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Madeleine McCann and Lindy Chamberlain

Madeleine McCann and Lindy Chamberlain

As a regular visitor to the Google News site, I've become aware that the great British public is currently obsessing over the disappearance of a small child by the name of Madeleine McCann.

The British public's reaction to Madeleine's disappearance struck me as being, in many ways, similar to the Australian public's reaction to the disappearance of Azaria, Lindy Chamberlain's child, who was taken by a dingo while on a family holiday at Ayers Rock.

I became curious to know whether the similarity of these two situations had penetrated the consciousness of the Internet, so I ran two sets of identical searches, one on Google News and the other on The actual searches, complete with quote marks used, are given in square brackets, with the numerical results in curly brackets.

Here are the results:

On Google News:
["Madeleine McCann"]{about 8,813}
["Lindy Chamberlain"]{66}
["Madeleine McCann" "Lindy Chamberlain"]{58}

["Madeleine McCann"]{about 2,230,000}
["Lindy Chamberlain"]{about 56,200}
["Madeleine McCann" "Lindy Chamberlain"]{1,040}

Doing the Google News searches, the first two snippets that I found which included Lindy Chamberlain's name included the following:

"For Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann in Portugal in May is a mirror image of her experience of losing her" [News24, South Africa]

"Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton said yesterday that people were viewing Madeleine's disappearance as a reality TV show with no ending." [Sydney Morning Herald, Australia]

To expand the second story, here's a quote from a version from the Herald Sun:

The quote is in square brackets:

[PEOPLE are viewing the disappearance of British toddler Madeline McCann as a reality TV show with no ending, Lindy Chamberlain said today.

Ms Chamberlain, now Chamberlain-Creighton, was convicted of murder in 1982 following the 1980 disappearance of her nine-week-old daughter, Azaria, at Uluru [Ayer's Rock], but was exonerated six years later.

She said a lack of answers in the McCann case has led to wild speculation and rumour, which Madeline's parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, have been caught up in.

“It is as if we have run over the hour allotted for the 'show' and the viewers are saying, 'Where's the answer?',” Ms Chamberlain-Creighton wrote in Britain's The Mail on Sunday newspaper today.

“We're looking at it as if it were reality TV. Yet these people have to live their lives moment by painful moment.

“When the public atmosphere is like this, questions of justice or truth start to take second place.”

Ms Chamberlain-Creighton did not rule out offering advice to Madeline's parents, who have come under increasing pressure since being named as suspects by Portuguese police investigating their daughter's disappearance.

Mr and Mrs McCann both vehemently deny having any involvement in their daughter's disappearance.]

Wikipedia has an article on the Lindy Chamberlain case, and from this I was able to get the title of the pretty good movie on the case, which apparently goes by two names, EVIL ANGELS and A CRY IN THE DARK, with Meryl Streep playing Lindy Chamberlain. (The movie also starred, if memory serves, the New Zealand actor Sam Neil, one New Zealander who ended up making a career for himself in Hollywood.)

Lindy has her own official website, which is here:

Azaria's father also has his own website, here:

What interests me is this: What Lindy and Michael Chamberlain went through is very similar to what the McCanns are being put through by the British public.

And Lindy has evidently drawn out the similarity in The Mail on Sunday, which is a major British news outlet. But while the Internet has over two million pages on Madeleine, it has barely a thousand pages which connect the two cases.

I found it interesting that the lessons which could reasonably be drawn from the public hysteria concerning the Lindy Chamberlain case are, evidently, not being applied to the Madeleine case, at least not in the public's mind.

Basically, the Chamberlains were subjected to what was, in public relations terms, a public lynching, chiefly on account of three things: (a) they were members of a religious minority, the Seventh-day Adventist church; (b) their daughter had a non-standard name, Azaria; and (c) the TV audience didn't find Lindy sufficiently emotional when she showed up in front of the cameras.

That's all it takes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In Japan, Official Money Funds My Daughter's Art Career

In Japan, Official Money Funds My Daughter's Art Career

On the morning of 16 September 2007, my wife told me that it had been arranged for the Yokohama Art Museum to open its facilities for the use of our three-year-old daughter Cornucopia, the budding artist in the family. So, bright and early, we headed for Minato Mirai station, three minutes walk from the museum.

To my dismay, when we got there about a billion kids and parents were lined up, all, apparently, trying to horn in on Cornucopia's art session. Fortunately, the museum is pretty roomy, and soon we were in a huge room jam-packed with the artistic, with modeling clay in our hands.

Since a rolling pin was provided with the clay, Cornucopia's natural inclination was to roll out the clay as if rolling out pastry for baking.

In an effort to stimulate a more sophisticated approach to the clay, I tried to set an example by creating a suite of art works which would show the transformation of an evolving trilobite which would arrive, by various stages, to its ultimate crowning glory, Man.

But I got muddled.

First, though I distinctly remember having seen a picture of a trilobite in a book back when I was a kid, I can no longer remember what a trilobite looks like. So my trilobite ended up looking more like a piece of squashed dog poop rather than anything else.

Second, I wasn't sure precisely how Man should be emblified. What should I be aiming for? Who is the ideal Man? Michael Jackson? Karl Rove?

Muddled by the complexities of this choice, all I was able to succeed in coming up with was a blobby figure which could equally as easily have been anyone from George W. Bush to Osama Bin Laden.

Then I hit a third problem. I realized I didn't know what intermediary forms the trilobite went through to reach its human destination. Dinosaurs? No, dinosaurs were a dead end. They didn't evolve into us.

Instead of the grand chain of ever-more-complex organisms that I had in mind, all that I could come up with was a rat. At least, I knew it was a rat, but whether anyone else would have understood that it was intended to be a rat is questionable.

Finally, Cornucopia demanded a fresh challenge, so my wife took her outside to do outdoor graffiti art, which involved painting a spare wall that the museum had available.

There is, if you tour Japan, distressingly little graffiti on view, and it is perhaps for this reason that the museum thought graffiti training to be situationally appropriate.

The only place in Japan that I've ever seen decent graffiti was years ago on a wall at what was then the terminal line of the Toyoko Line, Sakuragicho.

The Toyoko Line has been reengineered and no longer goes to Sakuragicho, so I have no idea whether the wall is still there.

Some years before I ever saw it, this wall had been painted in American-style ghetto graffiti. The day I showed up, there were photographers on hand, popping off snapshots of this unique repository of Americana in the Land of the Rising Sun.

When I went up close to the wall, I saw that graffiti had moss growing on it. In Japan, nobody would be so disrespectful as to spraypaint graffiti directly over the top of someone else's art, so these quasi-sacred wall paintings had been left untouched for years.

If I have the time, I will one day head for Sakuragicho to see whether the wall is still there.

My understanding is that, for the forseeable future, the Yokohama Art Museum will be opening up for Cornucopia every Sunday at ten in the morning, for free, and (for some reason that I don't quite understand) other kids will also be permitted to attend her art session.

Our other big cultural experience recently was attending the local festival here in our neck of the woods in Yokohama, where Cornucopia was particularly attracted by the little goldfish that you can always buy at such street festivals.

I have to admit that I wanted to buy one, too, but I told her, no, we aren't going to buy one, because these things are notorious for dying.

They get bought by people who have absolutely no background in looking after fish, and who take them home in a plastic bag containing water, and who, on arriving home, really have no idea what to do next. The result is, pretty much always, a dead fish.

Though I did once have, in one of my classes in which I was teaching English to Japanese students of English, one male student who had a street market goldfish which he'd bought on the spur of the moment and which was still alive years and years later.

He didn't know why it was alive. He'd just been lucky, it seems. All the other students were amazed. And so I was I.

I have every confidence that my daughter is the ultimate Magic Artist, but I don't conceive of her as being the Magic Goldfish Keeper, so I did an authoritative paternal "no" on the goldfish. But Cornucopia did work her wiles on me to the point where we came home with two little festival souvenirs, a gaudy red plastic strawberry and an equally gaudy ice cream cone, both hanging on elasticated strings from little itty bitty fishing rods.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Apologies to Gmail

Apologies to Gmail

After some experimentation, I finally figured out that the reason why photos will not attach to my Gmail e-mails is not because Gmail is broken but because my new installation of Windows XP Professional is already at least partly broken, less than one week after a fresh installation.

This XP saga is, unfortunately, a story that will run and run ...

* * *

Friday 14 September

A disapology reversing the apology above. Gmail is definitely having a couple of problems. After being temporarily locked out of my account, I finally got access and found that, yet again, Gmail is refusing to attach attachments.

I think it's legitimate to ask whether the guys at the top have been spending too much time lately figuring out on where to park their personal jets, and not enough time focused on the business which allows them to get their hands on those jets.

I was finally forced to resort to the humiliating expedient of using my Yahoo mail account to send a couple of attachments that I really wanted to send.

* * *

My Damaged Brain Has Caused Me To Damage Gmail's Reputation

After frustrating efforts to attach what I thought were small jpg files to a gmail message, I finally tried sending them from Outlook Express. This meant that they departed directly from my hard drive, and went through our local Internet service provider, Netyou.

Norton Antivirus threw up an error message saying that Netyou had rejected the e-mail because it was too big.

I then checked the three images, which I'd manipulated earlier, rotating them so they were sitting the right way up, and found that two of what I supposed were jpg images were now bmp images, and I'd done something to them, God knows what, which had bulked the size of each to almost twenty megabytes.

Gmail has, I think, a ten megabyte limit for attachments. Also, it refuses to attach *.exe files, even if they're in zipped archives, though you can get round this by simply renaming the *.exe file as a *.not file, making a mental note to yourself to re-exe it if you ever need to retrieve the attachment and use it as a program.

I got fresh copies of the photos from my stash of digital camera images and, now at a decent size, they attached and went okay.

The accompanying text included a mention of abalone, which, in New Zealand, we call paua, and which is called awabi in Japan.

I was amused to note that, after I'd sent this message to a couple of people, the Gmail e-mail related ads that were displaying on my Gmail page now included one that would have let me click through to a site that would explain to me how Australian farmers grow abalone.

Google, XP, Prime Minister Abe and Homeland Security have all Incurred my Displeasure

Google, XP, Prime Minister Abe and Homeland Security have all Incurred my Displeasure

Let's start with Google. Recently, my three-year-old daughter, Aiko Cornucopia Boadicea Nishikawa, completed one of her very few three-dimensional art forms. A pictorial record is at the top of this blog entry.

The installation in question is a work in mixed media (air and plastic) and is entitled HOMELAND SECURITY. It is, in my opinion, a work of poised assurance which wittily encapsulates the hegemony of terror which has been imposed upon us by the so-called "protection" of Homeland Security, the ever-spawning and self-propagating bureaucracy which is currently in the process of trying to take control of the universe.

My daughter's forays into three dimensional art are few and far between. Usually, she contents herself with energetic two-dimensional "me can scribble!" sketches, expressive of the utterly confident artistic energy which Pablo Picasso so admired in small children.

Her last three 3D works prior to HOMELAND SECURITY are (the Japanese title is given first, with a loose - sometimes very loose - translation into English afterwards): SHINDA SEMI ("Dead Cicada"), BUTSUKATTA KATATSUMORI ("Smashed Snail") and TSUKARETTA WAN-WAN UNCHI ("Exhausted Doggy Poop".) All these three were in the "objet trouve" genre.

No shame in that. Picasso himself worked in this genre on occasion. However, by comparison, her HOMELAND SECURITY represents a giant stride forward in the development of this artist. And, naturally, as her proud father, I was keen to e-mail photographs to everyone in my communicative network.

This is where Google failed me.

While Gmail still works, it has failed (at least for me) to attach anything to an e-mail. For this reason, my "me proud father" aspirations have been thwarted, and I have been unable to e-mail the HOMELAND SECURITY pics to my father, my mother, my Uncle Don, and to the major art galleries which have begun to take an interest in my daughter's burgeoning art career.

I presume that Google will get its act together eventually, but, really, I had expected more.

My first ever experience with free web-based e-mail was with Hotmail, some years back, an experience that was such a downer that I became convinced, at least at the time, that free e-mail was worth exactly what you paid for it.

However, Gmail having performed pretty well for me for some time now (in particular, with its magnificently ruthless spam filer) my expectations have been raised.

My beef with XP is the same old whine: use this operating system for stuff that it's not really designed to do, such as running computer programs, and it falls over.

XP having fallen over yet again, over the weekend I reverted my ThinkPad to "factory contents" status, then resintalled all my backed-up data and software. The first couple of times I ever did this, it used to take about three days to get the system to my satisfaction. But I've now become such a master of the process that, this time, it barely took six hours.

As for Prime Minister Abe, well, this dude was so grotesquely irresponsible as to resign on Wednesday 12 September, right in the middle of a sumo tournament. So when I got back from the supermarket, where I'd been doing food shopping for the evening meal (salmon, scallops and flying fish eggs), and switched on TV with a view to blobbing out for a few recuperative minutes and watching a little sumo, there was, instead of the expected wrestling, the dismal political deconstruction of Abe's absquatulation from the political scene.

The TV showed various unsuspected passers by being ambushed by the news of his resignation outside Tokyo station. Nobody seemed remotely sad. Rather, typically, their faces lit up in what looked very much like pleasure.

So now this brings me to Homeland Security, and a very weird and almost inexplicable thing that happened to me recently.

I lately acquired a new domain name and, having bought it, went looking for hosting for it. I wanted bullet-proof Linux-based hosting that would be affordable and reliable, and I found just what I was looking for in the heartland of the United States of America.

I'll call the outfit that I signed up with War Criminal Nation Deathservers (hereafter "Warcrim.")

Before signing up with Warcrim, I did a Google on them, including a Google of Groups, to see if there was any bad-news scuttlebutt about them floating around. There wasn't. I satisfied myself that this outfit had been in business for some years, that people had done business with it but had not been provoked into saying anything bad about it, and that its terms of service were acceptable.

I then signed up, splashing out the munificent sum of US $84 (give or take a few cents).

I very shortly received an e-mail from Warcrim saying that my credit card payment had been accepted and that I would receive full details of my account (ftp protocols, nameserver details and so forth) inside of 24 hours.

More than 24 hours having passed, I got a bit worried. Since I'm conscious of the fact that, this year, on more than one occasion I've let my Atilla the Hun out of the kennel, I made a conscious effort to write a nice polite I-will-not-Atilla e-mail pointing out that I had not yet received the promised setup details e-mail.

Another 48 hours having passed without any such e-mail, I lost patience and let Atilla off the chain. I got hold of as many Warcrim e-mail addresses as I could find online, these being for Sales, Billing and Legal, and fired off three e-mail messages which were emphatic in the same sense as the Krakatoa eruption was erratic.

Result: zero.

I then got worried. Maybe I had given my credit card to some spurious site which was not the authentic Warcrim site. But, if so, why had they bothered to send me an e-mail? Any time you send anyone an e-mail, you risk self-exposure, because the spoor from your e-mail leads back to your lair.

With that in mind, I went to my Gmail account. It does not, as far as I can see, have any facility for downloading an actual e-mail message for analysis. No problem. I forwarded the e-mail to an e-mail account that I have here in Japan courtesy of Netyou, our local cable TV provider, then opened it with Outlook Express and saved the message as an *.eml file.

I then opened the *.eml message with NoteTab Light, which has become my standard text editor, and examined the trail which led back to the lair.

As an e-mail message bounces around the Internet, zinging from computer A to computer B, often taking a chaotic and circuitous route, it collects data which shows exactly what route it took. If you open up the actual *.eml file then you will find this data.

It's all technical gobbledygook but, in amongst a slew of stuff I didn't really understand, I finally found some plain English which seemed to say, very clearly, that, yes, the e-mail started off by being launched from a Warcrim computer.

As far as I could tell, then, the e-mail message was authentic.

This was very strange.

The facts I had to reconcile were these:

1. Businesses which have been online for some years are generally not fraudulent, or, if they are, will often have complaints about them which you can find by Googling Groups.

2. The provision of Internet services is extremely competitive, and it's no environment for slackers. If an organization promises to deliver something in 24 hours, it will generally do just that, unless prevented by acts of force majeure, comet strikes, alien invasions, a thermonuclear strike on company headquarters, or similar.

3. Since Warcrim has apparently eaten my US $84, this fact will show up on my credit card statement, and, with that evidence in my hot little hand, I will be able to go after them.

I then set about thinking about how I could get at these people, and I came up with the following ideas:

1. Write (both snail mail and e-mail) directly to the company's physical address, complaining;

2. Write, similarly, to the local media;

3. Ditto to the local cops (yeah, sure, they wouldn't be bothered, but I would send a copy of this correspondence to Warcrim itself, and that might bother them a little even if, in all probability, the cops had better things to do with their time);

4. write to the FBI, which, I believe, takes an interest in computer crime;

5. write to the senator who serves the local area;


6. write to Homeland Security and denounce Warcrim as a terrorist organization.

This last idea struck me, at first, as being just a little over the top. But I thought that, in the present overheated environment, it might resonate. I could argue thus:

America is being held up for judgment by the world, with many people, globally, being critical of the United States. In this environment, any American company which indulges in computer fraud besmirches the image of America, and, in thus doing so, gives comfort to terrorists. We can say, therefore, that this kind of misbehavior is a kind of corruption in which crime equals terrorism.

That is, I admit, a bit of a stretch. But I was conscious of the fact that Homeland Security is an organization which long ago fled the realms of the rational.

After the no-fly list was magicked into existence by the warped wizards of Insecurity Is Us, the Homies (if I can call them that) were aberrantly delinquent in dumping people onto the list willy-nilly. Members of the United States senate ended up on the no-fly list. So did little babies. Sorry, ma'am, we know little Johnny is only three months old, but he's already on the watch list. Which means he can't fly. And you can't, either.

The question was not, really, whether Homeland Security would buy this idea. The question was whether Warcrim might think that Homeland Security might buy it.

By now I was thinking about the people who run Warcrim. Must be corporate officers listed somewhere online. Then, once I found out who they were, I could write letters to them.

Then, using a trick that I learnt back in my days as a debt collector (or, as we call ourselves, professionally, a "mercantile agent") I could get at them directly and personally in the following way. I don't know how this would play out, legally, in your jurisdiction, but this is what I did in New Zealand, routinely:

You want to collect a debt from X, but X fails to respond to your e-mail. You know that X lives at 27A Swindlecheat Boulevard. You then write polite letters addressed to "The Occupant" at numbers 26, 27, 28 and 29 Swindlecheat Boulevard, explaining, politely, that you are trying to contact X, but X has not responded to your letter.

You are at a loss to know why X has not responded, so you are wondering if you, Mr or Mrs Nice Occupant, could possibly take the trouble to make a quick phone call to say if X is still in residence at 27A or has shot through.

If you ask nicely, people will often (not always, but often enough to make this technique useful) respond. Sometimes they will actually drop you a line which includes X's forwarding address. Or sometimes, knowing that X is right next door (always cranking up that bloody lawnmower on Sunday afternoons) and they will wander across to X's place and knock on the door.

For X, who finds you coming at him (or her) from a completely unexpected angle, this is a shock, like having a bucket of scalding water dumped on top of you. The results can be gratifying.

So, my anger being on hot boil, I was all set to go.

Then I started thinking.

What is the worst that can happen? Assuming that I have not actually gone and given my credit card number to a fraudulent site (and the evidence of the e-mail headers suggests that I haven't) then, at worst, I have been ripped off for US $84. Which is not the end of the world.

On top of that, the wreckage of my printer is barely capable of printing. If I was going to fire off a string of snail mail letters I would have to either buy a new printer or go to an Internet cafe and pay to use their facilities, which would include a fully-functional computer.

By the time I was done, I would have burnt up a lot more than US $84 in terms of time, effort and postage.

So I decided, the hell with it. I didn't go so far as to say "Death to America" (at least not aloud - you never know who is listening) but I did vow that this was the last time, the very last time, that I would ever do any kind of business with any outfit in the US of A, if doing such business was avoidable.

I then went back on line to Google my way to another Internet service provider, and found a good one in Britain. Fractionally more expensive, but very high tech, and, when I looked at Groups, I found not complaints, not neutral stuff, but glowing recommendations.

So I signed up with them, and they delivered, and this, I decided, is the ultra high-tech totally bulletproof Internet service provider that I want.

But, meantime, my imagination kept returning to the US $84 question. I don't like being ripped off.

I've had the experience of trying to communicate with American corporations before. On a couple of occasions, I've written letters to American publishers with whom I've had business dealings, only to have both snail mail and e-mail vanish into an unanswering void.

But the business of providing Internet services is a lot more businesslike than the ramshackle machine known as the publishing industry. Warcrim's dereliction quite simply did not compute.

Given that my credit card account will show that they have taken my money, what makes them think that they can fail to provide services promised and paid for?

As my imagination revolved this problem, I kept returning to the Homeland Security behemoth, the outfit which makes a profession of paranoia.

America's terrorist problem is, as we all know, firmly based in the mountains of Pakistan, just across the border from Afghanistan. But America will never go in there and root out the terrorists because, quite simply, it doesn't have the balls.

The news in recent months included the information that, some time back, the American military had a major operation into those Pakistani mountains planned, but then one of the Yank politicians lost his nerve and pulled the plug on the operation.

So, absent the guts to fight terrorism, America has fallen back on displacement activities, like formulating nonsensical no-fly lists and cooking up the much-lampooned color coded terror alertness level system.

Homeland Security is in the empire building business, and, like Argentinian ants, empire builders will build wherever there is space to grow. Many years ago, back in the days when my parents used to read the Reader's Digest, I saw this apothegm: growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

And that is exactly Homeland Security's ideology.

While I went about my daily business, my imagination played with the following data, looking for a fit:

1. Reputable American computer outfits are, as a rule, not into rip-offs. It's too easy to out them.

2. The provisions of Internet services is a cutthroat business run by very slick operators who take corporate rivalry seriously, and will always go the extra mile to trump the opposition.

3. Modern American computer outfits are slicker than their publishing industry counterparts, and won't do delinquent stuff like simply lose your e-mail correspondence.

4. My initial "your payment has been received and details will arrive in 24 hours" e-mail message from Warcrim was surely computer-generated.

5. When an account is set up by an Internet service provider, typically a human being will be involved at the setting up stage. They check you out to make sure you're not fraudulent, and this task is not trusted to a machine.

6. It logically follows that, while a machine approved me, a human being flunked me. Why?

7. Homeland Security is an irrational organization which has a history of doing irrational things such as putting six-month-old babies on no-fly lists.

8. The no-fly list was cooked up in total secrecy, and nobody knew about it until people started getting turned away at airports. Even after its existence was revealed, the details (how do you get on this and how do you get off again?) were opaque.

All these details cooked around in my mind until, finally, I came to an outlandish conclusion which, despite its improbability, I now believe to be true. I believe it because, if it is true, it binds together the disparate data and creates a pattern which makes sense.

My hypothesis, which I have no way of proving, is this:

Just as there is a no-fly list which seeks to ban selected people from making use of the air travel infrastructure, so too there is a no-hosting list which seeks to ban selected people from making use of America's Internet infrastructure.

And I am on this list.

That probably sounds outlandish, but it is no weirder than the known and proven stuff that has been going on over the last few years: the CIA kidnapping people off the streets, taking them across borders then torturing them to death; quasi-randomly-selected hypothetical terrorists being incarcerated for years and years in Guantanamo in a largely symbolic assault on terrorism; and, yes, babies innocent of firearms training ending up on the no-fly list.

Now, if you accept that a no-hosting list exists, a list which specifies that American computer outfits must not provide server space to selected individuals, then it would be reasonable to hypothesize that any such no-hosting list will be a secret, and that the Feds will come after you if you blab about it.

If that is so, then it is reasonable to assume that, within each American Internet service provider, there is a human being who has the task of checking applications for Internet services against the no-hosting list.

Any such company would, undoubtedly, be under a legal obligation to keep the no-hosting list secret.

I took a shot at Googling "no-hosting list" in conjunction with "Homeland Security," but that was a bust. There are millions and millions of pages relating to Homeland Security, and I could spend weeks hunting for something which doesn't exist.

As to how I personally would end up on such a list, well, data mining could quite easily end up putting me there. A simple computer algorithm could sift my pages, deem me to be a bad apple then place me on the list.

This has its good points and its bad points.

One good point is that a decision I made some time ago, the decision never again to visit the territory of the United States, not ever, looks even smarter than it did before. If I am by chance on some mysterious no-hosting list then that would seem to amplify that probability that I am now (or will be in future) on the no-fly list.

Another good point is that the Internet is international, and Osama bin Laden can use it just as easily as George W. Bush can. Every part of the Internet connects to every other part, and it doesn't really matter where your server is, as long as it's in some place which has a reliable supply of mains electricity.

As for the bad point ... well, I may have been screwed out of US $84.

For the time being, I'm sitting back and waiting for my next credit card statement. If it shows, as I expect it to show, that Warcrim did, indeed, deduct the US $84 from my account, then I may start digging a little deeper, hunting for the names and addresses of the corporate heads of War Criminal Nation Deathservers. My Atilla the Hun does not like being cooped up in the kennel, and it is possible that, after mature consideration, I may decide that, yes, I will let it off the chain. And see how much damage it can do once it has been unleashed.

I don't, by the way, associate my problems with the Warcrim mob with the temporary (I assume it's temporary) delinquency of my Gmail account. I assume (correctly, I hope) that there are Higher Powers which are immune to the baleful influence of the malign Homeland Security. But perhaps this is wishful thinking, and perhaps the world in a worse state than I thought.

To wrap up, just a couple of comments on the sumo. Wednesday's session having been completed, with four days of the two-week tournament done, one yokozuna (grand champion) by the name of Hakuho is at 4-0, having won all his bouts. So, too, is Chiotaikai, and I my guess is that one of those two will win this tournament.

Another yokozuna, Asashoryu, is not competing this time.

He said he would skip some particular sumo obligation because he had a leg injury. He then went on a jaunt to his native Mongolia and was videotaped there playing soccer. Obviously nothing wrong with his leg.

The sumo federation penalized him by suspending him from the next two tournaments, and he has now gone home to Mongolia. With what long term plan in mind I have no idea.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Eight Meter Waves And 400 Millimeter Rain

Eight Meter Waves And 400 Millimeter Rain

It's 0935 here in Yokohama on Friday 07 September and I have just dropped three-year-old daughter Cornucopia off at the daycare center. We went there in typhoon weather, with rain coming down in tropical downstorm mode. My shoes filled up completely with water.

A guy who worked in a shoeshop once told me that there is no such thing as a waterproof leather shoe, since leather needs to breathe, and therefore must admit the passage of water. But I'd always thought of these shoes as being waterproof, as, up until today, they'd always stood up to the heaviest rain without letting in a drop.

Fortunately, I had a towel and a change of trousers for Cornucopia in my waterproof backpack, which is made in New Zealand of canvas saturated with a chemical which swells when wet, to lock the fabric absolutely against the admission of water.

The waves at Chikura, the place where we went for our recent Chiba beachside holiday, are being billed by the weather forecast as eight meters, and today's rainfall is expected to be, here in Yokohama, 400 ml.

Typhoons often bring flooding to Japan, Tokyo itself being a place which has localities which are prone to flooding. The heavy rains also often cause landslides, and it is the landslides which are the usual cause of the fatalities which, as a rule, accompany every major typhoon.

Fortunately, we are up on a ridge, or, more exactly, tucked in just below the top of a ridge, and our house is not going to flood even if both ice caps melt.