Fear and the art of electioneering

Now that we in the West have pretty much all we could possibly want (especially compared with the other 95% of the world's population) our leaders have been finding it increasingly difficult to get out the vote with promises of a better life and rosey future. Being very smart, they have figured out that if you are at the peak, the only way is down. And so in the last 20 years we have seen politicians tapping into a new motivation: fear.

Exhibit A: Economic Fear (left image)

The day of the UK General Election of 1992, and the Sun Newspaper's not-so-subtle attempt to influence the vote.

Premise: Vote for this man and your taxes will go through the roof, the unions will take over and Britain will go back to the Stone Age.

Effect: Worked remarkably well for th 18 years the Conservatives were in power, until some guy called Tony Blair came along who appeared more conservative than the Conservatives.

Exhibit B: Terrorism

Premise: Vote for Bush / Kerry (delete according to your political preference) and the civilized world as we know it (apart from France, friend of the Enemies of America) will be destroyed. And you will be killed.

Effect: There is nothing like the fear of death to motivate potential voters. It has been said that Death and Taxes are the only two certainities in life. But keen-eyed voters have spotted that, of the two, Death is definitely more painful.

Voting Madness

Am I mad, or am I just an American voter? Gosh, it took us two hours last night of thorough internet research to get an idea of each person on the ballot, down to the Orange County tax collector who's been in this job forever (I know, because I have a friend who works in that office, although she's been there a lot less time than Earl K. Wood has). Nobody was running against him, and I was tempted to write in my friend's name (Donna) but I refrained. Fortunately for Donna.

There was even a question about whether such-and-such district council should meet every 4 years or every 8. Hmmm. I'm sure the state of the world is much better off for my decision in this matter. Then there was another question about whether they should have creamer or milk in their coffee when they do meet.

Ok, I'm sure you've all been waiting (all three of you) to find out who I've voted for for the office of the president of the United States of America. If you really must know, it was Mickey Mouse. Um, I mean George Kerry. Actually, it was John Bush.

And by the way, I do highly recommend voting by absentee ballot. If I had walked into a voting booth in Florida and tried to understand all the legalese for this or that amendment, I would've walked right out, gotten a law degree, and gone back in the booth to vote. I can totally understand why a large portion of the population refuses to vote.

And with the two presidential candidates we had to choose from this year, who can blame them?

Mrs. Itoh, our pastor's wife, kindly let me use their fax machine after church today to send my ballot. She was really curious about who I voted for for president but fortunately can't read English and we told her it was a confidential ballot and a big secret.

Mickey Mouse.

He would bring some pizazz to the office, ne!

Middle School Culture

Yesterday Stephen and I went to a middle school culture festival (at one of my schools where I work). The first part was really interesting and funny, including a spoof on a really popular Korean soap opera that everyone loves here. (One of the office ladies at one of my schools has the main actor's picture on her mobile phone and she loves to show everyone!) The next part was not so great. Each class filed up on stage, one class at a time, and sang a song that they had practiced for weeks. Poor kids. They tried really hard, but our ears were in major pain. The best bit was the brass band, which was absolutely amazing.

It's Fall!

I love kaki! They're THE fall fruit here in Japan, talked about in novels, poems, and especially by grandmas. I'd never had persimmons before I came to Japan. Come on over and visit, sit a spell, and help me eat some. Stephen refuses. So I need some helpers.

It is my impression, admittedly as an internationally-based, non-US observer of the US electoral process, that for many people abortion is the deciding issue in their decision about who to vote for.

Now, I am in agreement with these people on the moral issue concerned. But this is not what I am going to write about, as it is not exactly a new debate. What I have found interesting has been to take a pragmatic look at the actual US abortion statistics, and it has proved to be very revealing.

Roe v. Wade opened the way to the provision of legalized abortion, and so it is unsurprising that statistics prior to 1973 are unavailable. However, what you can see on the linked page, is that the number of abortions per annum rose sharply until the 1980s, when growth seemed to slow and before hitting a peak in 1990. Since then, there has been a decline in the overall numbers with estimates suggesting that they have been stable since the late 1990s.

A more useful analysis would focus on the per capita rate. But anyway, we can surmise that since the US population has been expanding throughout this period, it is reasonable to say that the decline in the abortion rate through the 1990s has been steeper than the decline in actual numbers.

The reason I think this puts an interesting slant on the current US political scene is the fact that these statistics clearly show no correlation with the political hue of the person in the White House: After all, actual abortion numbers rose sharply under a Republican (Nixon in 1973), grew strongly under a Democrat (Carter in the late 1970s), peaked under a Republican (Bush Sr., 1990) and actually fell under Clinton, whose personal pro-abortion stance is widely known.

The fact is that the whole "right to choose" premise was established by activist judges in the Supreme Court who created an entirely novel interpretation of the Constitution. The reality is that since that time, democratically elected politicians have had their hands tied in such a way that it is extremely difficult for a president to make his personal views on the subject (that may have even been a major plank of his campaign platform) be translated into a change in the law. If I remember my undergraduate Law degree correctly, UK judges (with the exception of Lard Denning, perhaps) tended to shy away from finding new rights or obligations in old laws and instead have put themselves clearly on the record as saying that the matter is one for Parliament to decide. What I would be concerned about if I were a US citizen is that the current activist stance of the Supreme Court has elevated the Consitution (rather than the people) as the place in which sovreignity resides, and conveniently they have then found themselves in the position as its sole guardians. The serious implications for democracy are clear.

Another interesting question is, why has there been this decline? Clearly, it has had absolutely no connection with the personal moral beliefs of the individual who has resided in the White House at the time. So what has been changing in our society that has caused this drop? As someone who is concerned about this issue, this is the factor that I am interested in. Both in understanding what it is and in trying to understand how it can be furthered and this social change accelerated.

Abortion in the United States

It's about time

I did finally receive my email ballot tonight, after about 5 phone calls to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections. So I will cast my vote and fax it back, by Tuesday at 5 pm Florida time. Everybody (who can) get out there and vote! And I'm sorry for you English folks out there who would like to but can't. But don't bother emulating the people who wrote to the "undecided" voters in Clark County, Ohio, and made them decidedly decided, all of a sudden. Unfortunately it had the opposite effect than what they intended. Maybe reverse psychology would've gotten the result they wanted. Oops.

For Whom Would Jesus Vote? - Christianity Today Magazine

A very balanced article. Think about it.

For Whom Would Jesus Vote? - Christianity Today Magazine

As they say in Japan - yappari! (Of course!)

So, 58,000 absentee ballots (out of 60,000) have gone missing in the mail. The question is what is more likely - that the US Postal Service lost them, or that some dodgy political stuff is going on. And Broward County was the place where 64% of people voted for Gore in 2000. Hmmm.

Then there is Abigail's email ballot paper. According to the Office of the Supervisor of Elections in Orange County, the electronic ballot papers all went out yesterday.... Email either takes a long time to arrive these days, or something weird is going on because Abigail hasn't got hers yet. They said they would call back. So we will be calling them soon, because they surely won't.

Time to call the UN election monitors!

Weapons of Mass Destruction? More like - Where are the missing ballots of Mass Incumbent Destruction?

BBC NEWS | Americas | Florida ballot papers go missing

Earthquake Update

It seems like the story below did not have such a happy ending. Although the rescuers had thought that the mother was alive when she was removed from the car, it now seems that she had, in fact, died. It also appears that her daughter also did not make it, although it is difficult to tell exactly what happened as the news media are now focusing on the son, Yuta, and how he was able to survive so long.

This piccie was recently sent to me by a college friend who would like due credit. Stephanie Mitchum Murphy, thanks for the nice memory! This is Stephen and me at Waterloo Station, where I met him for the first time on December 28, 1999. Stephanie went with me, and took this photo soon after Stephen and I first set eyes on one another.

4 Days After the Earthquake

Amazing story, this one:

A family of a mother and her two children have been found after being trapped in their car by a landslide for four days. They had been missing since a large earthquake hit the Chuetsu area of Niigata Prefecture on the 23rd. We felt a very small tremor ourselves here, but we didn't realize it had been such a serious earthquake until Abigail foudn out when she was talking to the neighbours later in the day. Anyway it seems that the older son has just been rescued and the others are still alive.



You may have heard about the powerful earthquake that hit Niigata a couple of days ago.

We felt a very minor tremor here and got under the table just in case. We then heard from the neighbours shortly afterward that Niigata had been hit pretty hard. It seems that there have been 23 fatalities. (And this a few days after Typhoon 23 killed over 50 people.)

We are quite a long way from where this occured. We live on the Pacific coast, whereas Niigata is on the Japan Sea coast facing North Korea.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Quake aftershock hits north Japan

Latest Social Fashions: Regret is the New Apology

It seems that apologizing is going out of fashion and in its place is "regret".

Regret is breaking out all over this week. First it was the Church of England's Windsor Report on the ordination of a gay bishop calling on him to express "regret". Now there is the new EU Justice Minister expressing "regret over damaging comments he made about homosexuals and women" (BBC).

While the two concepts may seem quite similar at first glance, they are quite different underneath: Apologizing means to be sad about having said or done something that one now realizes was, in fact, wrong. On the other hand, regret just means being sad about the consequences that the action or words brought about.

To give an extreme example, you could have Sadam Hussein expressing "regret" about not cooperating more fully with the UN: He is sad about the result (Iraq was invaded and he was deposed) but I am sure that he would not hesitate to do the same thing if given another chance - because he probably doesn't believe he did anything wrong.

Now I would not disagree with some of the comments made by the EU commissioner, but it seems to me that with "regret" being in vogue, we need to be careful to distinguish between the two and not just assume that both indicate remorse and a changed attitude.

BBC NEWS Europe Buttiglione regrets slur on gays


For a moment there, I was a movie star. Last week I visited an elementary school in Chiryu for the day, because the middle school where I was supposed to go had tests that day, and as you can see from the photo, I wasn't teaching English the whole time. I think they didn't really know what to do with me, so sent me to a computer class for one of the periods. I was ambushed by 35 digi cams! So I ambushed back.

The real thing

Who needs a rain simulator inside when you've got gusts of wind and rain ripping apart your umbrella outside? Evidently NHK, the national tv station here in Japan, thought it would be educational for the masses. We were laughing hysterically as we watched an underling weather reporter on the news last night don a raincoat and boots to be pummelled by ever-increasing amounts of wind and rain in the studio. Even a Japanese colleague at work this morning thought it worth a laugh or two, as he had seen the same program.

And EVERY time there's a typhoon in Japan, which this year means almost every week, all the tv stations must show people walking down the street in typhoon winds only to act completely surprised and shocked when their umbrellas suddenly take a turn for the worse, inside out. I also commented on this phenomenon to my colleague, and he asked me if they don't show the same type of footage in Florida every time there's a hurricane. I had a think on it and realized with shock that pretty much everyone drives in Florida. So not only are they harming the environment, they're also not providing much-needed laughs in the midst of turbulent times.

Drowned Rat

Yes, this is what I look like when I get blown home by a typhoon! (This picture was taken at about 5pm.)

My boss had basically told me that I couldn't do my work from home even though the typhoon was going to get really strong around when I would usually be heading home (about now - 7pm) and some of the trains had already stopped running. I thought it was a bit ridiculous, not just from the safety point-of-view, but also because, as I pointed out to him, all the work I was planning to do could be done over the Internet.

Anyway, after vacilating for a while and watching the weather get worse, I just called him up and told him I would be working from home. If he has a problem with that, then I will bear that in mind the next time I am asked to stay late because of some "emergency" or to go to a meeting for several hours on a Saturday.

He can't have it both ways - and even going home early, the trains were packed with workers whose bosses were obviously a bit more clued up to safety issues, so I am not just a wimpy foreigner.

Bad News - Fast

Nobody wants bad news - you would think. And if you are a Japanese financial institution, the other thing you really don't want are slogans that don't make sense and are written in a language most of your employees don't understand. Unfortunately, the one in the Hekinan Shinyo Kinko I saw when I went to pay my health insurance and city taxes today fell foul of these criteria.

Having caught a glimpse of the "Bad News Fast!" slogan on the bank office wall, I thought I should check with the teller what was going on. After all, if the bank is not going to be there in a couple of months, then I won't bother coming back to pay my next installments there. Strangely, it seemed that whatever the bad news was, it was also unknown to her as she had to look over to her colleague for assistance. So much for it being an effective slogan. According to him, it is all about getting problems out into the open so that they can be solved.

I was relieved that that was all it was, and before he could give me any bad news, I got out of there - fast.

If this is "good" luck....

.... then I am not sure what bad luck would be.

But this Chinese villager interpretted a Chinese land survey satellite smashing his home as indicating potential good luck for this year.

Apparently, the accident was caused when a mission engineer at the Chinese Space-a-drome HQ accidently pressed a button marked "Extreme Close-Up".

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Satellite smashes Chinese house

Shall We Dance?

Don't - whatever you do - dance with Richard Gere. Get the original Japanese movie out on video or DVD and you will do much better.

Shall We Dance? (2004)

The God that watches over cats

We met Tora (tiger) the cat after church today. A large, clearly well-fed tomcat, he has been the Pastor's family's cat for a number of years and according to the Pastor's wife, Mrs. Itoh, in his youth he was a bit of a rebel and got into a lot of fights. He always seemed to turn out the victor in these encounters, but often at the expense of receiving some pretty serious injuries.

Not so anymore: Mrs. Itoh was so concerned about his violent rebel-without-a-cause persona that she started praying that he would not get into trouble while he was out. Not only that, but whenever he went out, she would pray that he would come back by a certain time. Now, this may sound weird - and I have no idea why God would answer prayers like this, - but the cat comes home right on time, every time! And on top of that, he hasn't gotten into a fight since she started praying.

George W Bush Speechwriter

Looking for a fun way to while away the hours until the election? Try this Bush simulator and put his words in his mouth.

In the interests of being non-partisan, I was wondering if there was a Kerry simulator out there, but people are either not interested in him or he hasn't said enough to put one together yet.


George W Bush Speechwriter

Justice Delayed is...

The Japanese judicial system springs into action, upholding a 2001 court ruling about mercury poisoning perpetrated by a chemical company in the Minamata area from the 1950s to 1968.

Yes, you read those dates correctly. Not renowned for its speed, the Japanese justice system is particularly reluctant when it comes to causing problems for the government. So here we are, decades later and you can imagine that most of the victims who were not killed off by the poisoning itself are now dead from old age. Justice delayed is justice denied. The only comfort is that this was a famous case that brought environmental issues to the attention of the average Japanese person, so this kind of incident is much less likely to happen now.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan upholds Minamata ruling

Beslan Aftermath

My friend, Jenny, who spent a number of years in St. Petersburg in Russia has been invited to join a team from Samaritan's Purse bringing medical care and youth work to the North Osetia and Beslan area. They are the only Christian team that has been invited in by the Russian goverment to do this work. She will be involved mainly in doing translation for the medical team, which will probably prove quite traumatic.

She left today and will be in that area for one week. If you would like to know more, please contact me by email.

Suicide in Japan

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Nine die in Japan 'suicide pacts'

A very sad story, this, although it only made headlines because it seems that there was a group suicide pact involved and that the common medium bringing these people together was the Internet.

It just serves to highlight the problem, though: According to the report, 34,000 Japanese commited suicide in 2003. To put that in perspective, the road traffic accident statistics for the latest year I could find (1999) showed just over 9,000 deaths.

Why do Japanese people do it? Among the possible causes that have been cited are:

- A poorly performing economy.
- Pressure to conform.
- Suicide isn't censured.
- Bullying.

Of course, these things are going to push people into a corner, but I think that there is also a lack of a positive reason for life. Why are we alive? What is the point of it? If you can't find a positive answer to this question and the pressures of everyday life build up against you, then you are going to be looking for a way out. I think it is a shame because there is a God who cares and who invites all of us to bring our burdens to Him and receive abundant life from Him.

We love national holidays!

We love national holidays! We also love the Japanese government for deciding a couple of years ago that when a public holiday falls on a weekend day, there will be a substitute holiday on the following Monday. Yesterday was Taiku no Hi (or "Sports Day"), which was instituted to commemorate the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. We, obviously, engaged in a vigorous exercise yesterday - well you can believe that if you like - and then took advantage of the day off today by going to the main Okazaki Park. As you can see, it is a beautiful place, although rather muddy after all the rain we have had recently. (See previous posts.)

After the storm

What happened to the wind?

The rain came down and the floods came up, but the wind never showed up and Typhoon 22 went out like a lamb (as Abigail put it.) So much for the weather forecast that said we would be hit later this evening.

Anyway, we are not complaining - nor are our neighbors who were watching the flood water creep towards their houses. It seems that the intensity of rain was just overwhelming the drainage system, because now it is not raining, the water level is receding so that it could all be gone in a couple of hours.

Typhoon 22 update

Quick Typhoon 22 update. It is now about 20 minutes since I took the last picture (below) and in that time the rice field has overflowed the road and the water is getting deep, as you can see here. I think our neighbors are OK at the moment, as their houses are raised up quite a bit higher than the water level on their foundations, but it is still about 7 or so hours until the typhoon is due to hit, so we are going to be in for another 10 or so hours of rain.

I just hope we cleaned the drains out properly in August....

Yet another typhoon story

You are probably getting bored with all our typhoon stories. We have just been getting so many this year.Now, here comes Typhoon 22! We are just on the edge of it at the moment and are not getting any of the wind yet, but we are getting some major rain and have been since yesterday. You can see the results here: The usually dry rice field behind the parking area and the large stream / drainage ditch behind those houses are completely full. The typhoon itself is not expected to hit us until this evening, so this flooding could well get worse. I hope the neighbors are OK.... We are on the fourth floor here, so we don't really need to worry too much. Although, I guess we don't want Bob the car to go bobbing down the street on a slew of floodwater.

Of course it's our bank


Well, here's try #2. I just typed out a witty soliloquy involving funny English surrounding me on a daily basis, and I hit the ever-trusty "publish post" button, but alas, no go. Ok. Deep breath. I'm a patient person, I'm a patient person, I'm a ....

For the past several Christmases in the states, Stephen and I have noticed a surge in Chinese character popularity. We saw kanji floating around on necks, arms, cars. Stephen innocently (ha) asked a girl if she knew what her necklace meant, and she replied, "Of course. Love." Ah, ain't love grand. Isn't that sweet? Probably a tribute to her man. Alas, if she had only known that her tribute meant something as prosaic as STREET!

The same goes for English in Japan. Take for instance, the t-shirt one of the teachers wore to school the other day: RAPE interplanetary. Hmmm. Or the mug I saw in the staff room: For Real Intimate Service: Uny Oil. How about the t-shirt I saw one of the English teachers wearing this week: Burst of major planet. I hope not.

One of the t-shirts he wore reminded me of the smell our kitchen garbage emitted as I walked in from work today: sicken foul.

The kids I work with also have some great pencil cases:

The love is effective! Lovers Sweet

Yummy! Top Rated Little Boy and Girl

Clover Green: You must use the best of your charms

Happy Magic: Let's go out in a dreamy mood

Melon and Roco Nails

A rainbow appeared!

I will close with my favorite English from this week. It reflected my sentiments exactly as I drove to work dreaming of my bed: I WANT TO GO HOME SOON.

Dude where's your trousers!?!

Outdoor spas are called rotenburo in Japan. It's great to soak outside looking out over autumn leaves or a seascape. There is a time and a place for such experiences - something that this gentleman has not appreciated. Now Gero, where we went with Mike and Andrea this last weekend, may be a famous spa town in Japan, but stripping off next to the bridge over the river that runs through the center of town? Well, that is going a bit far, in my humble opinion.

Interestingly, there is an sign to educate bathers about proper bathing etiquette. Strangely, while it states that women may bathing suits, there is no similar stipulation for men. I'm sure we would all appreciate it if it at least said something like, "All men over 50 MUST wear full-body bathing suits."

Visiting with Phil and Rachael

Oops! We got a bit out of order here, and this is not really a good picture, but it is the only one with Phil in. Most of you both sides of the Atlantic will remember Phil and Rachael from our wedding in Florida and blessing in Marlow. What you may not remember is that Joe was there too, although his view back in 2001 was not as good as it is now. He has since been joined by younger brother, Tom. They are both really sweet boys, and their parents are nice people, too. Rachael drove down from Birmingham and Phil drove across from his new workplace to visit with us when we were in Malvern for the wedding. It was so nice of them to take time out of their days and we wish we could have spent longer with them. It is pretty isolating being in Japan sometimes, and it was like a drink to a thirsty man being able to hang out and talk with friends like these.

Muscle boy!

Last night our neighbor boy, Ryosuke, brought me a birthday present and showed me his muscle shirt as an added bonus. He's such a cute little Amerika-jin, ne.

Bad company...

That's my hubby! His evil British accent is rubbing off on my ever-dwindling English vocabulary. (Stephen told me this means I have less words.) At work today, I was told in class by a colleague that I pronounce the word "please" incorrectly, and would I please say it properly in front of the students. I must say here that she did apologize after class when I told her I was shocked that she was telling me how to speak English! I guess I'll keep working with her...she was extra nice after that. I guess it pays to confront! Gotta keep practicing...

Counter-intuitive dishes

Having just finished another delicious Abigail-produced dinner, I looked across the table at the array of dirty plates and dishes and wondered out loud whether it wouldn't just be easier to throw it all away and get new ones. I didn't think about it too long, though, as Abigail pointed out all the work it takes to get rid of stuff here: You can't just throw it away, you have to wash it separate it out into different types and recycle it if possible.

What a lot of hassle. I think I'll just go and wash the dishes now - I don't want to think about all the trouble of throwing them away....

Finishing with a Bang

The night was rounded off by fireworks, which didn't actually come out of Paul's head, as they seem to in this picture. Although that would explain how part of one of them managed to hit the front of Alison's dress and leave an attractive mark.

Boogy time

The after-dinner entertainment was provided by a funky live band, giving mum and Peter "Hot (White) Chocolate" Reynolds the chance to strut their stuff on the dancefloor.

The Munday Family

The English contingent were trying to impress with their rental garb and mum's hat, and Abigail was looking beautiful but cold after making a miscalculation when shopping for wedding clothes last Christmas in Florida.

The happy couple were happy.

Strawberry champagne

As you can see from the kilts, there was a large Scottish contingent there from Alison's side of the family.

The Nash

This is the old estate where Paul and Alison were married. We went there the day before when the sun was shining, unlike the next day when it was a bit gray and drizzly.

Mel and Craig

We were able to meet our friends Mel and Craig again for the first time since our wedding in 2001. We had been planning on trying to meet up with them when we were back in the summer of 02, but Abigail ended up with the flu after all the travelling we had done and so we never did then. Unfortunately, since then Mel has had meningitis and so Mel, Craig and their family have been through some really tough times. It was great to meet with them and see the depth of their trust in God and their peace.

Birthday Girl!

Birthday Girl! Happy birthday, Abigail! Here she is lighting up the night at 1am in Gero early on Sunday morning. (She is the sparkly one in the middle.)

Make her day by sending her a birthday message. Click the "Comment" link below and leave a message for her.

Becoming godparents

Well, I was going to make photo collages of the different parts of our trip to England, but I spend all day in front of the computer at work and I don't really want to spend much time learning how to do it with Adobe Photoshop at home, so sorry about the low-tech style here. Anyway, here we are with the Everingham family on the weekend of lil' Rupert's dedication ceremony. (He is the small, chubby one in the middle.) He is such a sweet baby, but sure knows how to get around and get into stuff when Uncle Stephen and Auntie Abigail are baby-sitting him. It's OK, though. We are privileged to have been asked to be his God-parents and are looking forward to watching him as he grows up into a man. The other fun thing about being a Godfather is the Italian accent, sharp suit and the respect from the homies.


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