Another week rolls by and the injustices of the world continue to require our attention and vigilence.

An interesting look inside the Indian call centre industry. Yes, you may be annoyed with having to talk to an Indian on the phone, but also spare a thought for what they are going through as well. Direct your energy towards the companies and policies that cause jobs to go offshore, not the fact that this is a rare shot for thousands of poor people to make a ‘decent’ wage. Buy an answering machine to screen calls if you have to.

In Australia, the furor over the introduction of the carbon tax has overshadowed the reality for a lot of people that they are currently living through a recession, despite all the ‘official figures’ saying otherwise. There’s also the issue of the government shooting Australian internet users in the foot over wireless internet. A “prohibition on Telstra “promoting wireless services as a substitute for fibre-based services for 20 years” “!?!? 20 years ago – in 1991 – NO ONE had internet access in Australia. Not a single person. My university got internet in 1994. In twenty years the rest of the world will be downloading entire full-sensory movies into their minds to be experienced in all five senses, and the internet users of Australia will be clinging on to their legacy DVDs and Blu-Rays. Ridiculous.

This was an interesting piece looking at the underlying racism behind unemployment figures in the USA. One highlight of the piece was an experiment done where four types of job applicants applied for work and the reponse rate was measured. The worker types tested were all male, of similar age and educational background. The only differences were if the applicant was white or black, and if they were a felon or not. The white applicant without a criminal record achieved a 34% rate of callback and the white felon received a 17% rate of callback. What made the experiment devastatingly eye-opening were the callback rates for the black applicants: 14% and 5%. The white felon was preferred over the college-educated black man with a clean criminal record. The experiment’s results have been reproduced, so it seems apparent that racism, and a glaring disparity between blacks and whites, is still alive and well in the USA.

Despite what the American politicians say, the next election is all going to be about jobs. No one is talking about that giant elephant in the corner and while ‘austerity’ is the word in the air, you can bet your bottom dollar that the situation will not improve, which may well affect us all. You can certainly bet on cutting services to most Americans, whereas if just the top 25 hedge fund managers were forced to pay taxes like most ordinary Americans, they could cut the deficit by US$44 billion over the next ten years. That’s a lot of money to help fund actual policies that help actual people. Will it happen? Don’t bet on it.

The global situation over food, water, climate and energy continues to unravel. The wars of the 21st Century will continue to be about control of the world’s resources – that’s if the fundies don’t kill us all first.

Maybe North Korea is getting close to implosion since it can’t even feed its army any more.

This was a moment of journalistic beatup and hysteria-mongering that almost defied description. Victoria experinced a small earthquake that rattled some windows in Melbourne, so the next day The Age ran a story about how Victoria’s volcanoes were ‘overdue’ for eruption. The writer ignored most of the science on the issue (such as the hot spot under Mt. Gambier being well and truly dead) and focused on the law of averages as referred to by one single piece of research. It was scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of a story. Good fun to read though. 

Almost as entertaining, but not quite as harmless, the same newspaper (amongst others) ran a piece on how the next terror threat involved surgically implanted bombs. The Department of Homeland Security think the terrorists are getting their ideas from Batman movies and are going to set off bombs on planes by remotely detonating explosives hidden inside suicide bombers. I’m sure the terrorists are saying ‘thanks’ for the idea and we should all look forward to CT scan machines making an appearance at boarding gates before too long.

Oh, and I’ve said this for years, but now Cracked has picked up on the idea that major events in the War on Terror™ mirror Starship Troopers in no small way.

Just when you’ve bought a new computer, it immediately finds a way to annoy you. Firefox crashing and not saving what tags I had open to blog about is today’s masterpiece… Oh well. Let’s start over, shall we?

I started a new blog to build on the theme of things that make me smile about Japan, and to save the vitriol for here.

So let’s unload a bit.

It looks like the volcano next to Eyjafjallajökull (that’s the one that erupted recently and which caused all the kerfuffle around Europe), thankfully called Katla, is showing signs of erupting. Any decent news story about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull would have made some reference to the fact that when it erupts, Katla is often the next to go. The last time this tandem of volcanoes erupted, it caused havoc across Iceland and affected the climate in Europe. What are the governments of Europe doing to get ready? Very little, it seems, although the current president of Iceland is on record saying at least they are prepared. The glacier field that sits on top of the caldera has the capacity to produce flooding equivilent to the combined discharge of the Amazon, Mississippi, Nile and Yangtze rivers and the last eruption in 1918 extended the Icelandic coast by 5km due to deposits of material caused by the flooding (thanks wikipedia).

I might have to put that trip to Norway on hold…

So Australia is taking Japan to court over the ‘scientific research’ that takes place in the Southern Ocean. I fail to see what use this will really have in the long term. It could be interpreted as cynical politicking in an election year. While some legal opinions say that Australia has a strong case, since it is an open secret that the whale meat ends up being used for food (although why anyone would want to eat meat that is rich in cadmium and mercury is beyond me…). They’d be much better off suing Japan for its interference in the recent Atlantic tuna debacle, since that’s really going to have an impact on everyone’s dinner table before too long.

My mind is still not made up about acquiring an iPad. I’m always suspicious of first generation technology, since it’s often expensive and buggy. (And, I must confess, the Microsoft Surface format is much, much sexier… but also AUD$21,000 a pop…) However, the tech landscape is changing and the advent of cheap, tablet computers looks set to change the way we consume media. Media companies are investing in apps for the new format, and seeking to be the first to pay tham pay. Some are looking forward further to a (news)paperless world, where print is truly superseded by the screen. For example, a cursory google search shows a lot of interest in using iPads in the medical world, as part of streamlining and integrating medical data to help medical professionals treat their patients. The data sea is getting bigger…

I’m always interested in the way language keeps changing and evolving. A few years ago, when I went back to Australia for a holiday, I went out for dinner with my mother and brother. We went to a ‘nice’ restaurant and as we walked in, our (perky) waitress/greeter said, “Hey guys! How many people in your group?” I turned to my brother and mouthed, “GUYS!?” He said, “Yeah, ‘guys’ is the new ‘sir’ these days.” I’m glad to say I haven’t had a ‘guys’ experience since then, but it was interested to be talked to like a friend by a complete stranger. There was this piece about the casualisation of the word, ‘shit’ that is currently going on in Australia. By the time I get back for another visit, this trend may well be over, but it’s interesting to read about from afar.

Meanwhile we have the USA gunning for another war – this time with Iran. There’s also North Korea shaking its tiny fists at everyone around them, not realising (perhaps) that starting an actual war will destroy them. We have the Euro – and hence the European economy – and hence the rest of us – on the brink of collapse. The hole in the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico is set to ruin the entire Caribbean region, as well as the east coast of the USA. It’s getting entertaining (in the Carlin-esque sense of the word).

My Firefox crash pales into insignificance at thought of several simultaneous apocalypses unloading on us all…

It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in this land for nine years. Time has certainly flown. Before I came here my knowledge of how mad this country was was limited to entries on Fark, and that was about it.

Why do I stay? Well, in part it’s because this land is just a non-stop source of entertainment. I find something to smile about every day. Sometimes it’s things my students say or do. Sometimes it’s something I experience first-hand. Often it’s something I learn about, or read about.

Today has been one of those days already. Let’s just start with the online news service, Japantoday.

We have a story about a police officer. Japan’s police officers are often the source of stories of incompetence, and today’s was no exception. An officer was arrested because he posted photos on his blog of a model gun he owned that had been modified to fire real bullets. He claims he didn’t know it was illegal. That’s a good one.

There’s a story about the Prime Minister putting his foot in his mouth. That’s also a recurring theme in the Japanese press. Today’s story mentions that Hatoyama said in a debate in the Japanese parliament that he may well be “loopy” in reference to a column in the Washington Post. In his own words, he said, ‘‘As the Washington Post says, I may certainly be a foolish prime minister.’’ Even if said in jest, in any other country there would be calls for his resignation from across the board, even in his own party.

Japan’s “research” into the eating habits of whales continues, but this time they’ll be plundering the north-eastern coast of Japan, rather than the Southern Ocean. The take is going to be 60 minke whales. I guess they think the protesters won’t be bothered making the long trip up. The conclusion of last year’s research? “Delicious”.

But this story takes the cake.

Ibaraki Prefecture (near Tokyo) built an airport last year. They currently have a single flight every day – that’s ONE flight – going to South Korea. Compare that to the million or so people expected to flow through Narita during Golden Week (one of them will be my mum!) So, in a half-assed attempt at publicity they sent a delegation to Narita Airport yesterday to distribute 500 sweet bean pancakes to stranded travelers waiting to go home. The problem was that most of the passengers waiting for the Icelandic volcano to settle down had already left, due to the recommencing of flights. The remaining passengers were left bewildered as to why they were receiving a pancake stamped with the name of an airport different to the one they were in. An Ibaraki government official claimed that it wasn’t meant as publicity for the new airport, that the gesture came too late anyway, and could they please go home now. So now we have a long needed answer to a question about Japan: How long does it take to organise 500 sweet bean pancakes to help out stranded hungry people in one of the nation’s largest airports? Five days. I think the phrase “a wet, brown paper bag” was invented for this purpose…

So that’s just a start for why I live here. It’s a weird,wonderful, frustrating and beautiful place. I hope to share a few more stories with you when I get the chance.

And it’s all over bar the shouting (and perhaps a lawsuit or two, if any past US elections are anything to go by…)

Hopefully it’ll be the end of Sarah Palin’s time in the limelight, but unfortunately I fear it is only the beginning. It seems certain that she’ll be running for the top job at the next election, and Americans may have to put up with her on their TV screens in the meantime. Another good reason not to live in the US.

I was chuffed to see the Canadians got her a good one though. Close the door on your way out, Sarah dear…

I joined a group on Facebook concerned with the effects on depleted uranium and within 24 hours I’d received a message from a certain Roger Helbig. This was what he said:

Mark,

Why are you a member of the anti-DU group? Do you know that the leaders of the anti-DU crusade are scientific charlatans and con artists?

These are the people who are behind the video “Beyond Treason” posted by Paul Haynes

Neo Nazi American Free Press/The Barnes Review convention http://www.chairmanofnordwave.blogspot.com

A good place to learn a lot about DU is http://www.depletedcranium.com

For a nice neutral Swiss view, go to
http://www.labor-spiez.ch/en/dok/hi/pdf/depleted_uranium_en_kurz.pdf

Roger .

Now I appreciate a lucid and intelligently written piece of argument as much as the next person. And if I’m going to be mistaken about something – especially when I think I’m on the right side of the argument – then I want to know. I had a look at the Depleted Cranium site (great name by the way) and I was on my way to replying to Roger when I noticed a couple of things that got my spider-sense tingling. So I Googled the guy – and voila – he’s an ex-Pentagon official who’s made a career out of hassling anything and anyone who’s shown an interest in depleted uranium and any negative effects of it. Replying to him would have opened up my Friends List to him for a month. Needless to say, I did not reply to him.

Another thing that has raised alarm bells this week has been the upcoming blanket censorship of the internet in Australia. The program that the federal government wants to implement will put Australia into the same group as Iran and China when it comes to online freedom of expression. Even though the heads of Australia’s major online providers universally agree that the negatives outweigh any possible positives of such a program, it seems that the government is determined to go through with it – sending the country back to the Dark Ages of the internet in one fell swoop.

Enough darkness. Next, there will be light, I promise.