There’s been a lot going on this month. April is always busy here in Japan, plus I had my mother visit, which was great, but really filled up my weekends. So I have a pile of links and random threads to thrust upon the world-wide-web. Strap in. Take a ride.

In TV, it’s great to see that Red Dwarf will be back for another season. I hope it’s a little better than the last expedition; Back To Earth. I found that one laid on the pathos and sentiment a bit too thinckly for my tastes. I hope they get back to the energy and wit of some of the earlier seasons.

Even though the situation in the Ivory Coast has been (in one sense) resolved, I’m sure the situation there, as in a lot of combat zones, is just simmering. I noticed that fighting has flared up again along the Thai/Cambodian border.

The situation at Fukushima continues to evolve on a daily basis. Declaring the disaster zone to be as bad as Chernobyl was pretty alarming. While the situation there isn’t good, at least it is relatively under control.

A major issue in Japan this year will be the customary summer loading as everyone turns on their airconditioning. It’s not unusual for Japanese homes to have 4 or 5 units PER HOUSE as ducted airconditioning is something of a rarity. Couple that with trying to boost industrial output back to pre-earthquake levels with four missing reactors’ worth of electricity probably will mean a lot of blackouts from the system overloading. It’s interesting to see that Sony, amongst other companies, have adopted a daylight saving system to try to offset that loading. I wonder if that will lead to the eventual adoption of daylight saving here. It seems quite logical since dawn in midsummer is at about 4am. 

The numbers of people who have left Japan are quite staggering. 531,000 foreigners left Japan in the four weeks after the March 11 quake, 244,000 in the first week. I don’t know how many have returned, like some friends of mine, since the situation has calmed down. More than half of those who left had re-entry permits. It’s expected that the number of travellers during this Golden Week (starting April 29th) will be down around a quarter this year. The number of foreign visitors was down 50% in March from the year earlier. Coupled with the theme of ‘self-restraint’ running through Japan at the moment (The number of Japanese going overseas was down nearly 20% for the same time period), means it’s going to be a tough time for tourism. It is good to see some proactive Japanese doing their bit though. You do need to come here. There is much more to Japan than Tokyo.

With Australian schools losing science programs and the curriculum in general failing to deal with the country’s position at the dawn of the Asian Century,  it’s interesting to read about why Finland does so well. Hint: it involves students having a life and very little homework or standardised testing. It was interesting to read about the technology making its way into universities, although I wonder how much it is helping boost academic levels, or just giving students a way to do their social networking mid-lecture…

There’s also concern at this Easter-time of how the secularisation of the education system may bereft the new generations of contact with older culture simply because they don’t understand where the stories came from. Now, I may not be the most holy of people, but I do appreciate the value of having learned about religion, at least from a cultural and philosophical standpoint. I would support the non-prosthelatising education of chldren about all religions in order to give them the necessary background for understanding where their culture has come from. The problem is most religious eduacation in Australia is done by one Christian organisation, who see their role as a mission. That doesn’t help. I htink any religious education should (at least) include Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and pagan religions. These form the basis of our culture and serve to help us understand the major cultures Australians may have to deal with. Ignorance boosts hatred. At least a bit of education may help people understand and tolerate each other a bit.

Go to China, catch a highly contagious AIDS-like disease?

Some cool stuff to finish with.

Here’s a neat idea for a photoset: A Girl And Her Room.

Photos of TVs At The Moment They Turn Off – I have new wallpaper.

A British cloud-chasing photographer takes awesome nature photos.

People took a lot of nice photos of the recent ‘supermoon’.

Sock Puppet Army is a new (for me) webcomic that’s great for anyone who’s worked in hospitality.

Spy satellites are really helping archaeology along.

A scientist from MIT may have created an ‘artificial leaf’ to  generate solar power at 76% efficiency. In scientific terms that’s known as ‘bloody amazing’. It’ll probably disappear, along with this highly efficient internal combustion engine.

Life on Earth may be a lot more diverse than we realised with scientists finding evidence of another domain of life (the current three are eukaryotes, bacteria and archaea. Use Google or Wikipedia you lazy sod, or just read the article)

Two words: plasma rocket.

Sherry – it’s not just for grandma any more.

The search for the mother of all languages is getting interesting.

Another perspective on the recent goings on between the USA, South Korea and North Korea, with a good summary of the past fifteen years or so in diplomacy between these countries.

Japan’s looking at introducing an environment tax, because generating revenue will save the world. Yeah, that’ll sell… One of Japan’s most respected business leaders has put an ‘X’ on the spot of the problem with this once great country – weak leadership.

Australian households have reduced their water usage by 16% over the past five years, but are paying up to 95% more for it.

Leslie Nielsen passed away recently. Flying High (Airplane) is very likely in my all-time top ten. It certainly is one of the most quotable movies of all time.

Cancer isn’t slowing Christopher Hitchens down.

The newest touchscreens are looking even cooler than the ‘old’ ones.

The guy who invented Netscape is back with a new internet browser. I think I might give it a try…

Boeing are able to mass-produce solar cells with an efficiency of 39.2% (That’s VERY good, by the way)

New broadband technologies are looking interesting.

New drone and surveillance technologies are not.

Not to worry, since the planet is doomed anyway.

Louisiana gives a middle finger to meddling Creationists.

How books are made.

How students pass university by never writing papers or essays.

A good idea for creating good future citizens.

McDonalds and PespiCo are helping to write UK health policy. Giving arsonists the keys to the fire brigade? Smart move!

Silvio Berlusconi’s defense against having an affair with an underage pole dancer? “At least I’m not gay. Oh, and the Mafia is out to get me.” Yeah, that’ll work.

Enjoy that chocolate (fatty) since cocoa may become a rare extravagance within the next few years.

Not to worry, since maid trains are now available in Japan, and the bras are very welcoming to visitors too. There are still some good reasons to live here though, although anime is on the decline.

Giant sushi is making appearances at an airport carousel near you… well… near me, actually.

That Siberian methane is bubbling away, and looking to create a desert. The coal miners are looking to do the same thing, in their own way.

Australian cities are threatening to destroy themselves, by spreading themselves too thin.

Beer helped make civilization.

The oldest ground-edge stone tool in the world has been found in Arnhem Land, at the north end of Australia.

The greatest mural ever. I want one.

And my upcoming trip to Scandinavia promises to be cold – as in I’ll likely be getting that White Christmas experience I’ve always wanted.

One thing that strikes you about Japanese TV is that there are seemingly hundreds of ‘idols’ – campaign girls, bikini girls, promotion girls – whatever you want to call them. One show famously has one hundred girls dressed in red outfits sitting in the background while the hosts talk about the news of the day or other recent hot topics. They don’t do anything, just sit and react to what the hosts say – kind of a living wallpaper if you wish. I have sometimes wondered how the TV industry can support such a lot of people who just sit around and do nothing (save my tirade for the celebrities (or ‘talento’, as they are known in Japan) for another time) since they must be getting paid a decent rate for their ‘services’. Turns out they are often paid less than office workers and have to resort to offering other ‘services’ to get by – or even to get work. One of these idols has blown the whistle on the culture of prostitution and corruption that plagues the TV industry in Japan.

Japan’s whaling fleet are heading back south for their ‘research’ to commence. In Tokyo, two Greenpeace activists are being held in prison for making off with a box of whale meat that was headed for the black market. They wanted to expose the corruption and truth about the scientific research – that it really was all about the meat. Instead they’ve been the target of sustained and organised harrassment by the authorities.

George W. Bush’s legacy continues to reveal itself. Something that has been around since 2000 but I didn’t find out until recently was that at a young age, the younger George exhibited a strong sociopathic streak, shooting frogs and blowing them up with fireworks. You can extend that to his callous attitude to life, whether it be convicts in Texas, prisoners in Abu Gharib or Guantanamo.

Meanwhile the US financial system continues to unravel. The Fed has refused to release any details of where $2 trillion is going. A prominent hedge fund has collapsed, leaving a $50 billion hole behind. One of the world’s most prominent investors has labeled the banks as essentially “bankrupt, totally bankrupt”. Another commentator has placed the blame squarely at the feet of the big universities where most of Wall Street got their education. It’s also the reason why these people can’t and won’t be able to take the steps necessary to fix the crisis – and why it will in all likelihood get much worse over the next year – and why Obama really won’t be able to do much about it. It’s going to be very hard for anyone to undo 30 years of mistakes.

The Governor of Illinois was arrested for allegedly putting Obama’s vacant senate seat up for auction, or was arrested in order to cover up dealings with the Bank of America. You choose.

Very quietly, the Iraq War ended on November 27, 2008, when the Iraqi government signed the new Status Of Forces Agreement with the USA. It is legal and binding. It calls for all American forces to be out of Iraq completely by December 31, 2011. The news was buried amongst the reports from Mumbai, but it does mean that the USA has lost that war. Sssssh!

In Somalia, some progress has appeared to have been made on the diplomatic front, although the Bush administrataion has reserved the right to declare the whole country a ‘free fire zone’ in the name of combating piracy, but you can bet that it’ll be the civilians of the country who will feel the wrath of the bombs that fall.

The riots in Greece continue anabated. It’s important to note that country-wide chaos doesn’t unfold in a vacuum. The crisis has been brewing for years.

Tensions are still high in Thailand, Russian forces are still in Georgia, and the Caucauses are still primed to explode at any time.

It can all seem rather hopeless

I’ve been revisiting the Qatsi trilogy. The films (along with Ron Fricke’s Baraka)resonate with my feelings about life, the Earth and what we’re doing to it. If it all seems hopeless then I am somewhat comforted that after civilisation has ended and we are all dust, life will go on. We are all made of stars, so to the stars we will all return one day. I’ll finish with three quotes, one from the film Koyaanisqatsi, one from its director Godfrey Reggio – and one from Agent Smith:

koy.aa.nis.qat.si (Hopi) [n] 1. crazy life 2. life out of balance 3. life disintegrating 4. life in turmoil 5. a way of life that calls for another way of living.

“What I’m trying to show is that the main event today is not seen by those of us that are living it, who see the surface of the newspapers, the obviousness of conflict, the social injustice of the market, […] but to me the greatest event or the most important event perhaps in our entire history, nothing comparable in the past with this event, is fundamentally unnoticed, and the event is the following: the transcending from all nature or the natural environment as a host of life for human habitation, into a technological milieu, into mass technology as the environment of life. So these films have never been about the effect of the technology, of industry, on people, it’s been that everything, politics, education, the finance structure […] the culture, religion, all of that exists within the host of technology. So it’s not the effect of, it is that everything exists with-in. It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” – Godfrey Reggio

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague…” – Agent Smith (The Matrix)