Monday, March 30, 2009

I just received an email telling me that the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program has ended. This is sad news, since the program funded the best trip I ever took: three weeks in Japan as a first-class guest of the Japanese Government. I was with 200 other teachers from all over the US, and the trip was incredibly exciting, fascinating, and memorable – as well as extremely enlightening. The program was designed to increase knowledge and appreciation of Japanese culture through personal visits and exchanges, and this it did for all of us who were there.

I was an elementary school librarian at the time, and I took our mascot, a small stuffed lion, with me. The Lindsey Lion and I saw the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, traveled to the Kamakura Daibutsu, visited museums, heard Japanese music and saw Kabuki plays; toured Tokyo shopping districts, tried our hand at ikebana and calligraphy, and visited dozens of Japanese schools. Through it all, I kept a web page updated for the benefit of students who wanted to follow the our adventures. Coping with connections, conversions, and hardware issues as we traveled was challenging – but very instructive, well worth the work. This was before the days of Web 2.0...
Americans and Japanese really do not always understand or appreciate each other’s culture or history For Americans, attitudes are still colored by the brutality of the Japanese army in China, Korea, and throughout the Pacific before and during World War II . For the Japanese, European and American imperialism and long-standing officially sanctioned discrimination against Asians is still clearly remembered and resented by many. A new generation is far enough removed from these things to find common ground in cooperative military venturesmusic, fashion, and manga.
A brief history lesson: After Japan surrendered at the end of the war, its cities were in ruins (U.S firebombing killed many more and destroyed much more than Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and its people were literally starving.  A Japanese friend of mine was a small child at the time, and remembers being taken by train from Tokyo to dig root vegetables on a relative’s farm, because there was literally no food within the city limits. The US provided food for several years, and GIs famously fed Hershey bars to children (although many aspects of the US occupation were not so kindly, to say the least.)
In one of the most humanitarian moves of its occupation, the United States developed the Fulbright Scholarship program, inspired by Senator Fulbright, which brought young Japanese to this country to study. The first night we arrived in Japan, we were “hosted” by a group of Fulbright scholars: mine was a tiny woman well into her 80’s, who had gone, immediately after the war, from starving in the tropical heat of Okinawa to learning English in the below 0° snows of the University of Michigan. Another host had studied medicine, and had become an exceedingly wealthy cardiologist who takes his Fulbright teachers to see Geisha and bunraku puppet shows – rare treats for any westerner. I often think of the courage it must have taken for these young people to leave their families, travel half-way around the world, and face their fear of a culture many regarded as evil, in order to make new lives for themselves and improve their own country's contemporary life. 

In the Spring of 2000, right before my trip, Japan was in the news for two reasons. In  March, Mount Usu, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan, erupted, causing significant damage, injury and evacuation (just by luck I ended up being in Hokkaido, and seeing the aftermath.) In May, the Kentucky Derby was won by a Japanese-owned horse, Fusaichi Pegasus, owned by Fusao Sekiguchian extremely wealthy software entrepreneur, who brought Geisha to Louisville Downs. whose owner was a. Fusao was a small boy when the war ended, hungry and extremely poor as were most Japanese, and he remembered those kindly American GIs. He was known to serve Hershey bars and glasses of milk – in their honor- at gala business dinners in the US.
Japanese gratitude and Japanese resentment were both shown to us during the trip. Our Fulbright scholar “hosts”  and our host families were generous with us and very friendly. However, in Hokkiado, the Northern island that had the earthquake (and was once coveted - and narrowly missed being invaded - by Russia) people tended to stare, and a few restaurant owners told us we could not be seated. Several teachers in the schools we visited were markedly unwelcoming.

The level of misperception between us and the Japanese was instructive as well. We tended to ask questions about bullying and hazing in their schools; they often asked us how we managed to do our jobs and teach with all those guns cluttering up our schools. Interestingly, while we were there, a high school student brutally murdered his own mother after being equally brutally hazed by his schoolmates, and then led authorities on a two-week chase that ended up in Hokkaido (!) where he was finally caught.
Japan is an amazing place, with a gorgeous, exotic culture and a long and fascinating history. Its long history as a volcanic island explains a great deal about how the Japanese live their lives, and its experience in the world since the West bullied its way in helps explain Japanese attitudes towards Americans today. The Japanese provide a mirror for us, as Americans, presenting an instructive – though not always flattering – picture of ourselves, as a culture and as a political world force. In this global era, with the US involved in so many other parts of the globe, the international spotlight is often on us, and we could only benefit from looking at the lessons to be learned from our association with Japan.
If this post has succeeded in making you even one tiny particle as interested in knowing more about it as I was, back in June of 2000, here are some links for following up:


Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Bookmooch (Get books you want and send your no-longer-wanted books to good homes– almost free.) 

My stepdaughter Becky, a person whose taste in books I greatly respect and appreciate, recently told me about Bookmooch. I loved the name before I even knew what it was: “mooch” has always been one of my favorite expressions, and probably also one of my favorite things to do.

 To mooch is to take something that isn’t yours, usually with the owner’s knowledge and grudging permission, but not always.  If you “mooch” something from someone without telling them, it’s not considered stealing – exactly – because you’re 99% sure they won’t mind, and/or won’t really be too mad when they find out. You mooch something with the understanding that you will might replace or return it….

What is Bookmooch?

Bookmooch is an on line book sharing cooperative of moochers: people all over the world sending books to each other, using a point scale and the honor system. It is run by a man named John Buckman, who was concerned with several aspects of the international book situation. First of all, he was aware of the number of books that sit in people’s homes, never to be read (or read again.) Second of all, he realized that many books go out of print quickly, so that it is not always easy to find a copy of a particular older book. Third, he was concerned that it is very hard to get a book from another country, in another language, and encourages mooching between countries. There is a blog (http://blog.bookmooch.com) with RSS feed available, for specific updates and news.

Why Bookmooch and not the public library?

Truth be told, anything you can get through Bookmooch can probably be accessed (eventually) through a good public library. But when you mooch, you can keep a book as long as you like, because you own it. If you want a book in another language, the library will probably take a lot longer to find it and get it to you. And Bookmooch allows you to get rid of books in exchange for points, with a ratio that is much more advantageous than used book stores.

What’s the downside?

You are not going to find hot new titles on Bookmooch. A popular book can take a long time to find its way from your Wishlist to your home. And people do occasionally change their minds and decide not to send a book to you.

Final thought:

Bookmooch has the feeling of a genuine community of book lovers. The number of moochers is constantly increasing, and this is clearly an operation that will only get more efficient and rewarding with time. The more of us who join, the more choices we will all have. Bookmooch is a very welcome new tool for the hopelessly addicted bibliophile (you know who you are.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Would you read a book by this man?

This is Cory Doctorow. Looks interesting, doesn't he? He certainly is. His widely praised book,Little Brother is a story about high school students in San Francisco who must use their technological skills to defeat an armed, totalitarian invasion force. This terrorist group uses citizens’ own technology to keep track of their movements, and, little by little, to control them.

Seventeen year old Marcus is the most skilled hacker of his high school (the blurb calls him “smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world”.) Marcus grows increasingly uneasy at the way his parents accept being tracked through their EZPasses and various other technological devices, and finally leads his friends in an open struggle (the book's title is an obvious reference to Big Brother). In the course of their resistance, they are kidnapped, imprisoned, and even tortured by the terrorists, who are as cutthroat and well-equipped as they are frightening and believable. The friends work out ingenious ways of outwitting and defeating them, as they question just how far the government should be allowed to go in monitoring the movements and behavior of its citizens.

Little Brother is exciting, fast-paced, and very intelligent. Its greatest selling point is Doctorow’s incredible mastery of the world of computers and cyberprivacy. Doctorow’s greatest fear is clearly that we are all in danger of losing our privacy – and ultimately our freedom – armed takeover or not - if we don’t pay attention to the ways in which we are defined by our cell phones, our EZPasses, and our computers.

So I am recommending that you might really want to read this book by Cory Doctorow, because he is a fascinating and brilliant student of our culture, as well as an excellent author. Doctorow is a past director of the Electronic Freedom Frontier, a “leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world. “(quote taken from the EFF website.) And you will not believe his blog, Boing Boing, which describes machines, gadgets, gizmos, and happenings that are incredibly bizarre BUT TRUE. Just a couple:
Embroidered MRI
HOWTO knit a skeleton cardigan
Splenda Tablecloth
Steampunk sewing machine
World's creepiest ski mask
Prison converted to housing

If you’re interested in some more serious and profound implications of our electronic rights, check out EFF’s links to breaking news in this area at: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archive

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

僧侣走肾不走心漫画. This is not because I don’t like them as a group (I have loved many of them, and return to several of them on a regular basis) but because the universe of interesting things-to-be-read is just so vast that they get crowded out of a primary place in my reading schedule. I also confess to a sneaking suspicion that however well-intentioned their authors are, there is something condescending about writing for those they consider ‘almost-adults.’ Is this a prejudice? Perhaps. Perhaps not a desirable thing in a High School librarian. I welcome comments.

Every once in a while I do run across a novel written for ‘young adults’ that I just find smashingly wonderful, and I am writing to share this most recent find. According to its book jacket, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games “delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.”

Well, yes…. that’s true, but conveys nothing of the thrill of the story, and the functional beauty of the language…

Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old girl keeping her widowed mother and beloved younger sister alive by hunting game outside the legal limits of her District (one of twelve circling the Capitol District of Panem and supplying it with food and other goods.) Katniss reveals – conversationally, and over time, teasing the reader’s skillfully induced curiosity – that Panem was once North America, before civil war destroyed the 50 states and brought the Capitol into brutal and absolute dominance. Katniss is chosen by lottery to participate as a ‘tribute’ in the Hunger Games, an annual event held by the Capitol as a symbol of that dominance, and as the ultimate in ‘reality entertainment’ for a population that is desperately deprived: two ‘tributes’ from each District gather in a staged and filmed contest that ends only when one of them remains alive.

The Games themselves are brilliantly and compellingly set up: the tribute/contestants are prepped by stylists, strategists and trainers and gather sponsors based upon their (publicized) strengths and personal appeal. Once the games begin, they form alliances and compete for weapons and other resources provided by the Capitol. Each one is continuously filmed, and the entire population of Panem watches the games in real time, and in gruesome detail.

The references to Reality TV are obvious: the delicate balance of scripted crises and individual initiative is captured here with perfect pitch. But these Games plausibly evoke an incarnation that has evolved beyond Survivors, incorporating the brutality of the times as well as the political purpose they serve. There are wild creatures present that have developed as a result of genetic engineering and mutation, and a sophisticated relationship between the way that tributes behave on camera, and the kinds of rewards they receive as a result. The culture that exists as a result of the Games is imaginatively and wonderfully conjured up: tributes reflect the regional character of their districts; with some known for their ability to hunt and trap, and others good at manipulating edible and medicinal plants. Some Districts historically produce winners, with young people training for them year-round and hoping to be chosen. Watching the games assumes a primary place in the life of all Districts, and all manner of Capitol citizens dream of working on a winning tribute as a way of enhancing their careers. Panem is imagined in stunning depth and exquisite detail: crazy as it seems I kept thinking of Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind, with the one obvious difference, of course, that Margaret Mitchell recreated the culture of the Civil War south; and Collins has created Panem.

And then there is the language. Katniss tells her story in short, direct, expository sentences that read as if she is carefully conserving her breath, expending it only on essential thoughts and descriptions. They give a powerful sense of her commitment to her own survival. Chapters are beyond eventful and end with compelling cliff-hanging sentences. Katniss and her fellow tribute Peeta develop an interestingly complex and problematic relationship, and the book ends in such a way that you just know a sequel is coming. I hope it’s already written and coming out soon.

And about the last post:
So what was it? Nobody has given a definitive answer: possibilities are a nail-holder or a so-called 'proprietary tool' that is created to assemble or otherwise manipulate a particular object. I had fun though, because, as I said, I was able to catch up with Thomas's Register, the most comprehensive resource for finding information on suppliers of industrial products and services in North America at: http://www.thomasnet.com/. I was also reminded of the limits of the Internet for finding comprehensive or reliable information: always a good thing. I posted the picture on Thomas's bulletin board, so I may still get an answer, someday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What the heck is it for???

So here's a problem for you: a strange green and orangy/pink tool (very pretty really) that you find in your garage.It's a lot like a pair of pliers, save for the strange grooves at the shorter end. It's all plastic, but is very sturdy. It has funny little legs at the ends of the handle, so that it sits squarely and level on a table. And, interestingly, it is a tool that is not familiar to tool-savvy guys.

So, what is it? If you don't care, you don't care, and you can go on looking for something good to read on theweb.

But if you do care; if your curiosity is piqued (great word), how the heck do you find out???

This is a challenge to all you secret researchers out there. I've already made a few inquiries, and I am open to further suggestions about where else to look.

I like this problem because it reminds me that unless you know something about whatever you're looking for, it's hard to find out any more info. I know very little about tools: where does a person even start? It makes me think of students, who are sometimes assigned questions about things they don't even know how to categorize!
It also reminds me that the Internet, as good as it is at making print information available, can't come close to providing a system for matching up images with related information. You can do a searc to find a particular image file, but not the subject of the image unless you know what it's called!

Check back for updates, as well as information about what's happening in the Somers High School library.