Moore Than This

"Here we are living in paradise, living in luxury..."

Monday, July 31, 2006

Domo arigato, Professor Roboto!

In homage to the dudes at Mutant Frog - a post that combines Japan and robots!

A Kyoto researcher has built an android which looks almost exactly like him, and has on occcasion sent it into his classes at Osaka University to deliver lectures for him. (Japan, robots and the Kansai region - score!) The print version of the story is especially hilarious, as it includes a small picture of the professor and his robot double. They're eerily similar, but the robot has this cross-eyed scowl, like the puppet Kim Jong-Il in Team America: World Police. Still, the guy has form - he built the team that won the first robot world cup.

Now I think about it, I wouldn't mind having robots delivering lectures to me. And after the recent dispute over UK university workers' pay, neither would those in charge of the universities. Until the army of robo-academics inevitably rises up to crush their human masters, of course. Then workplace relations in academia will be a very different place. What on earth will David Lodge write about then?

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Jihad with money"

Just watched the very good Panorama programme "Faith, hate and charity" tonight. It dealt with U.K.-based charity Interpal, and how it seems to be sending money to Hamas to help with its indoctrination programs for young children. It was great, a really well-made documentary - apart from the editing style, which recalled Oliver Stone. (For a more relaxing visual experience, try smashing your head into a paving stone for a good half hour.)

Apparently the strategy started with a big Israeli blitz against Hamas' money in the early '90s, where a number of Hamas fundraisers were caught by Israel and sent to prison for supplying money to the charitable and 'military' sections. From then on, the decision was taken to separate the two, at least in public.

The high points of the documentary were the interviews, particularly with Hamas-aligned charities in the West Bank who were the recipients of Interpal's money. For bare-faced lying, New Labour politicians have nothing on these guys:
JOHN WARE: I'm curious about that little sign up there. What exactly is it?

HASHEM RJOUB, ORPHANAGE DIRECTOR: 'Do not disappoint the orphan.' This is a Koranic verse. The Koran encourages us to protect the orphan.

JW: And that red colour coming down the arm and spilling over the world? What does that signify?

HR: By God... It's not clear whether it's blood or not, but in truth it looks like it might be.

JW: It conveys to me a picture of Islam dominating the world, and if necessary through bloodshed.

HR: It's true. This picture expresses the vision of the person who drew it. This doesn't necessarily mean that these things exist. I want to stress that Islam has ruled most of the world without blood. There was no blood, it was through persuasion.
The programme also includes an inteview with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in which he talks about the role of Islamic charities, saying: "Don't talk about donations. I think of it as jihad with money." Usually these would be the ramblings of some extremist idiot, but according to the programme he is the director of an umbrella organisation of Islamic charities.

Hamas has long used its charitable/social work arm to gain support in the deprived Palestinian territories, which probabaly led it to victory in January's elections. This takes me back to something Jamie K wrote during the Israeli attacks on Gaza back in early July. To paraphrase: as a non-state organisation, Hamas was far more effective than it currently is as a quasi-state. This kind of charity-based largesse is easy to pull off, and easy to conflate with terrorist actions, when you don't have any government budgets to balace, as well as government institutions that can be bombed to bits at a moment's notice.

The Charity Commission comes out very badly in the programme, though from talking with my dad that doesn't seem so surprising. He has personal experience of dealing with them in the early '90s, when they refused to take action against a "charity" run by one guy who had applied for funding so he could get a rent-free office to run his other businesses. The developments in charity organisations, where they would become tools for political groups or for chancers looking for free money, seemed to pass the Commission by.

Well, that's my inner Harry's Placer all tired out. As for the general shitstorm in the Lebanon, I'm too sick of all the carnage to form an opinion, thought Shuggy's masterful post is a good starter in itself.

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China builds scale model of disputed territory in the desert

Via, I found a tip-off from davesgonechina about a strange find on Google Maps:

On the west side of the village Huangyangtan is what I take to be a military facility of some kind (judging by the masses of olive-colored trucks parked there). And right next to that is a scale-model of a landscape. I haven't tried to identify which region it depicts, but it doesn't seem to be a model of the region where this has been built. The model is mostly mountain ranges, complete with lakes and snow-capped peaks.
If you look at the map in question, it's rather striking - a perfect rectangle of mountainous territory in the middle of a flat, red desert. A bit of digging, and the same guy turns up this info:

It's of territory occupied by China but claimed by India, north and south of the east end of the Karakoram range.
It appears to be a 500:1 scale model of the Aksai Chin region, disputed territory occupied by China but claimed by India. A road built through this territory by China was apparently one of the flashpoints in the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

The first thing this made me think of was one of my earlier posts, where I considered the possibility of India and Japan in a partnership of convenience against China. Then I started to think of what an amazing resource the internet is. That people from around the world can look into one of the most remote areas of a dictatorship which take its military secrets very seriously, then find out the source of the model, if not its purpose. To be honest, a huge military such as China's is going to be full of projects that will never get off the ground, and probably weren't intended to. Perhaps it's just some generals inflating their budgets, and probably skimming a bit off the top while they're at it.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another Homage to Catalonia

I got back from Barcelona yesterday, having some enjoyed some lovely food, wonderful scenery, and treatment from Ryanair that made me want to throw back my head and let out a full-throated, Jack Bauer-style "DAMMIT!". Having left two of our suitcases behind in Stansted, and not getting them over to Spain until the last day we were there. We picked them up at the airport on our way out, only to be told our flight was cancelled. I pictured Michael O'Leary frolicking in a vault filled with Euros as we made our way to the Ryanair desk. There were two people there - very nice and as helpful as possible, but faced with two hundred-odd irate British tourists, many in full baseball cap and tracksuit regalia, they were all at sea. Disaster was averted as we phoned up Dad back home and got him to book us a flight out the next day.

Pooterish holiday-from-hell-blogging aside, it was a great couple of days. We stayed at a hotel just off Las Ramblas, which was brilliant for wandering down the huge thoroughfare and seeing the city's personality. Mime artists, tourists, promenading residents and a certain amount of disreputable characters as well (you haven't been to Barcelona unless someone's attempted to rob you). It leads down to the redeveloped harbour area, where you can walk across a footbridge to look at the boats coming in and leaving. Very romantic, especially of an evening. Oh yeah, and I saw a bird eating another bird. (The one time I forget to bring my camera!)


Friday, July 28, 2006

Back in the game

trinity library
Originally uploaded by moorethanthis.
My trusty old Fuji Finepix F410, which I used to snap a near-obsessive amount of photos in Japan, stopped working the day I returned to the U.K. Sad as this was, it was the perfect excuse to get a new camera. So I picked up a Canon EOS 350D, with some money from my first paycheck. I'd seen it in Japan and liked the look of it, but over there it was called the Digital Kiss - a rather naff-sounding name for what is a fine bit of kit. Although I'm new to SLR photography, it's been very cool playing with all the new features. And of course, Cambridge in the summer just begs to be photographed. Taking pictures of the college buildings, from a punt, on a warm sunny evening, is one of life's finer pleasures.


Friday, July 21, 2006

The twin forces

I'm coming to the end of my final week at the language school. It feels like it's gone really fast, and I'm torn between wishing I could stay on a little longer and just wanting to be shot of it. Similar emotions abound with regard to a few of the people I've met here, one in particular. The twin forces of attraction and repulsion are at work - she is very beautiful, which means I could look at her all day, but at the same time just being in her company reminds me of how little we have in common, and I want to avoid her. At some point I ought to wonder how many times I've been in this situation, and then reflect on what that says about me. But then, learning from my mistakes was never my strong point.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Your licence fee money at work

I'm a big fan of the BBC, and think their news services are second to none. However, the current 'participatory media' craze has swept through the Beeb a little more than most, which can lead to some real classics of unfiltered opinion. Browsing the BBC website, I came across a Have Your Say thread where people could send in questions "to callers in China and Chinese living across the world." Looking at the most recent comments, there are some that truly deserve closer attention. (N.B. These are all real comments, I swear.)

Added: Friday, 14 July, 2006, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK

What is your long term plans? Would they include returning to your homeland when civilised government is in place? How did you manage to leave a war torn country on the other side of Africa and get to the UK? Do you feel happy in a country when so many of the inhabitants dislike foreigners?

Roy Smith, Tauranga, New Zealand
China is on the other side of Africa? That's an A* in Geography GCSE by today's standards. "War-torn", however?

Meanwhile, in Cliche Corner we have this pair of gems:

Added: Thursday, 13 July, 2006, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK

How do the Chinese use the concepts of Yin and Yang energy to bring much needed balance in todays busy and stressful lifestyle?

What advice can Chinese people give to the materialistic people in the west, who no longer have any belieg system or spirituality, and lack direction in all their goals?

Declan Philips, UK

Added: Thursday, 13 July, 2006, 21:45 GMT 22:45 UK

Chinese society is traditionally very polite and modest. What then do your elders think of the current fashion in western countries where women are selling themselves as glamour models and exposing themselves in magazines? Do you find it degrading and insulting to women who are usually the respected head of a household in China? Would you like to see young Chinese girls acting and dressing like people here, ie models and people like Jordan, Jodie Marsh etc where they are practically naked?

Donna, Essex
Traditionally, Chinese women were not the "head of a household". They were viewed as a "curse" on the family for being unable to work like males, and were sold off as property in arranged marriages. The only time a woman's life in traditional rural China got any better was when a young wife entered the household, who she would then treat like a slave. Top marks, though, for putting Jodie Marsh on the frontline of the East/West values conflict. I don't think even Martin Jacques has done that yet.

Added: Thursday, 13 July, 2006, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK

What do Chinese people think about Indian food?! Is it too hot and spicy for your taste? We use many of the same spices, eg ginger, garlic and chilli. Are Chinese people very conservative or adventurous in their tastes? Which type of food do you prefer, apart from your own?!!!

Karim, Leicester
Eat some Szechuan, that'll answer your question.

I can't help thinking that these commenters are in need of a small "China explainer" like in the classic Tintin book The Blue Lotus, where a three-panel section dissolves centuries of prejudice by explaining that Chinese do not spend all their time eating bird's nest soup and thinking up torture techniques. Although the portrayal of scheming, buck-toothed Japanese in the book might create more problems than it solves.

Still, I can't make fun of all the comments. Here's one that, secretly, I'd love to know the answer to:

Added: Friday, 14 July, 2006, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK

Did you/ do you have problems understanding the irish accent?

Imran, London
I'm English, and I still have trouble with it. Working with a couple of Northern Irish people has improved things though, so it has.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006


As recognition of this blog recently passing the one-year mark, I've edited the sidebar to include a section of links on Japan. They're for myself as well as any readers who are interested, as it's a good thing to keep my hand in by watching Japanese TV and listening to radio programs. It would be awesome if one person became interested in Japan as a result of the stuff I've posted over the course of this year, but at any rate I'm happy for this blog to be just like any other blog - an outlet for my ramblings and geeky obsessions.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Another Sunny Day

Picture the scene: late afternoon, in the back garden of the staff house. The sun is shining, and the boys are playing cricket (slightly modified to fit the tiny proportions of the garden), while the one girl present reads and suns herself. When you aren't playing, you sit out on the patio, sipping a cold beer and letting the sun warm you. When you are, you head up to bat and an enthusiastic bowler gives your abs a workout by throwing the tennis ball straight into your stomach. The game becomes a mixture of skill, slapstick and sheer dumb luck, depending on who's playing and how much they actually know about cricket. This is how you relax after work. You play on, drink beer, crack jokes, throw balls around. You wouldn't change any of it for the world.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Adventures in extreme boredom

The reason I went to the staff house yesterday evening was because we were helping out at a disco for the students, which was held at a nightclub in the city centre. Afterwards, we went back to the house again and had a few beers.

I made a unseemly discovery about a colleague of mine. I've always talked to him before when his girlfriend is around, and he seemed like a nice guy. That evening, after she went to bed, I sat around the table with him and two other guys, and as the conversation went on I realised that he would not stop talking.

It wasn't like he was one of those people who dominate the conversation. He was the conversation. There are always a few tell-tale signs that someone loves the sound of their own voice so much that they will let nothing come between one word and another - the frequent returning to points already made, the needless self-contradiction and switching of topics, talking over other people's responses, as if "Yes, but..." was all they wanted to say. You stare at his ceaselessly moving mouth, your hands involuntarily clenching as you realise you are bound for the seventh circle of hell. Interrupting will only increase your anger, as he is ignorant of both your desire to talk and the words that you say. The only thing you can do is sit back and tune out (preferably while carrying on drinking). After I'd finished off my last "one last beer", I made my excuses and left.

From now on, I'm only talking to him when his girlfriend is around. She seems to keep him in check, and what's more, she's a good conversationalist.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Low Crimes and Misdemeanours

As a famous aristocrat once wrote, "Never apologise, never explain". But then, sometimes it does you a world of good. Last Saturday, after the excursion to London, I went round to the hosue shared by fellow activity organisers at the school for a barbequeue, which turned into a late night party. At some point during the evening, punch was made in a plastic bucket. Thinking punch is basically fruit juice with a little more of a kick, I went straight for it, unaware of what precisely made up this punch. For the record, it was almost entirely rum. It was not so much 'punch' as 'GBH'. The last thing I remember that night was coming round and wondering why I had a redhead wig on my head.

The big question this week was whether to say sorry for getting amazingly drunk, abusing their hospitality, smashing all the slats out of the spare bed and crashing at their place. But oddly enough, the only thing I was asked about was a missing bottle of white wine that one of the girls had put in the fridge. I don't remember drinking it, and I don't think it would have been physically possible in the state I was in to open it. But still, tonight I set off for the staff house carrying a bottle of white wine that I have pinched from my family's store (in the manner of a Wehrmacht officer billeted in a French chateau). If you had to ask me why, it wouldn't be for the need to apologise somehow for my ridiculous behaviour, or the thought that it wasn't worth arguing over something I don't even know if I did or not. It was because of one of the important rules of my life: that it's never a good thing to get on the wrong side of a pretty girl for too long.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Great lies I have told

"I know what I'm doing."

Said at various points this past week.

I'm just kidding - the job is surpirsingly easy. Sometimes you may not know exactly what's going on, but the trick is basically to bluff it out, and the kids will usually believe you. Even on the big excursion to London on Saturday was alright - taking care of 15 young students who all want to wander off with their friends was a little traumatic, but I got through it without any major disasters. My career as a professional child-wrangler is going excellently.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Welcome to the Working Week

Rather unexpectedly, I have landed myself a job this summer. Thanks to a friend who had worked at a language school last summer, I got a three-week contract as an "Activity Organiser" which means I help out with the students when they're not in lessons. As jobs go, it seems pretty good. This afternoon I took a bunch of foreign kids on walking tour around Cambridge. The numbers of my party fluctuated wildly from 20 to 25 to 17, but all made it back in the end. It felt like being the Pied Piper for the day, but without the disturbing overtones of child-snatching. Despite the post title (have to get the Elvis Costello reference in there somewhere) this really doesn't feel like work, it feels like having fun. Maybe that feeling will change when I get paid.

(N.B. In the best traditions of workplace blogging, I'll be keeping the name and location of the outfit I work for a secret, out of respect to my employers. Although in three weeks I doubt if I can do, let alone blog about something that could get me sacked, it's best to be on the safe side.)


Sunday, July 02, 2006

China and nationalism

I'm not a big fan of Guardian columnist Martin Jacques, who specialises in churning out hyperbolic pro-China pieces week after week, so I scanned the first paragraph of his review of four recent books on China with trepidation. It was a surprisingly good review, though - Jacques, a supremely unoriginal thinker, seems to do better when summarising others' thoughts.

The books all seem pretty interesting, Christopher R Hughes' Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era the most so - if I have some spare readies I might pick it up. Jaques comments:

Hughes points out the continuing central importance of Deng Xiaoping's thinking in these debates. He traces the growing importance of nationalism and argues that this has become a central plank of the regime's legitimacy. He may be right about this, but the phenomenon of Chinese nationalism cannot be encompassed simply by reference to these party debates. It is also a function of wider social and cultural trends that have little to do with the party, for instance the predictable pride in the country that such a remarkable transformation is engendering. But more generally, and perhaps importantly, the nature of Chinese nationalism itself for a country that only became a fully-fledged nation-state just over a century ago and yet has a more profound sense of its identity than probably any other raises the question of what actually constitutes that "nationalism", or whether nationalism is the appropriate word for what might also be described as Sinocentrism.
Looking at the last sentence, Jacques doesn't bother to consider whether the paradox of "a country that only became a fully-fledged nation-state just over a century ago and yet has a more profound sense of its identity than probably any other" may have something to do with the difference between nationalism and sinocentrism.

Sinocentrism is a belief in China as the centre of the world - its vry name, "the Middle Kingdom", highlights its self-regard in this respect. With the intervention by colonial powers in the 19th Century, and the Japanese wars and invasion, this outlook was given a rude awakening, and lacking the mechanisms to re-evaluate China's place in the world, humiliation bred resentment.

Nationalism is a vengeful doctrine, patriotism's misbegotten offspring. It fosters resentment, belief that your country has been wronged, and hatred of a suitable enemy. For present-day China, this enemy is its neighbour and one-time occupier, Japan. Stoking hostility towards Japan unites China and helps keep the CCP in power. The question for the future of East Asian relations is whether the regime will be able to control the increasingly extreme anti-Japanese sentiment. With more and more violent reactions to textbooks, Yasukuni and other issues, Japan will see little point in trying to compromise. And increased hostility in Northeast Asia is a foregone conclusion. Jacques would do well to consider this when he writes more uncritical praise of China and its leaders.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

JapanBlogging from another continent

Well, I'm back, without too many mishaps. Came across a couple of articles this morning: one from TCS Daily about the Japanese government's efforts to promote patriotism as part of the education system, and one from the Japan Times concerning China and Korea's own issues with history and patriotism. The Marmot's Hole, an excellent blog on Korean affairs, provides some thoughtful commentary on the latter.

The issue of revising Japan's Fundamental Law of Education to encourage patriotism in schools is a long-running controversy. It is unlikely that it will be passed during the Diet's current session, due to continued wrangling between the parties. The last I heard, there was a disagreement between the two parties of the dominant coalition over whether the precise wording should be "love the nation" or "treasure the nation". Apparently, one of them was too overly nationalistic. No, I'm not sure which one either.

So, does Japan have a problem with patriotism? I'm of the opinion that it does - there is still an awful lot of walking on eggshells when it comes to attitudes towards their country. As I've written before, there is a curious tension between ultra-nationalist undercurrents in Japanese society and the general attitude that Japan paid too big a price in the Second World War for a resurgence of the kind of blind chauvinism that was instilled by the authorities through that period.

Thoughout the 1930s and 40s, children were indoctrinated through the education system. The mere suggestion of returning patriotism to the curriculum is enough to make some people worried, as the TCS Daily piece reports:

In Saitama prefecture at least 45 local schools were producing report cards for 6th grade students on "love of country", though officials stress that how to evaluate this is being left up to the schools.

However, despite widespread concerns about juvenile crime and a breakdown in classroom discipline, there are many Japanese who question both whether teaching patriotism is a good idea and whether it is even possible. They argue that it is easy to say you are patriotic just to get a few boxes ticked on a report card, but there is no way of knowing whether you really mean it. Some are also concerned that it will create too restrictive a definition of patriotism that will inhibit students from thinking for themselves.
This is an essential and long-time feature of the Japanese education system - its goal is more to do with "socialising" children and making them into ideal members of society than encouraging personal growth:
The children here are shuttled from school classes to cram class and then to club activities like basketball or kendo. They are exhausted. A friend of mind who teaches in a language school here said that many of the students at her branch look liked they are about to fall asleep in class. Indeed one child did.

Working the kids longer isn't the right way forward, and getting them to be good citizens isn't going to happen by changing school textbooks to gloss over the past. If the government wants young people to be proud citizens then it should provide opportunities for them to do what proud citizens do. Instead of encouraging token gestures and empty words, perhaps schools and parents should be easing some of the incredible pressure on their children to achieve academically and get them involved in their communities through voluntary work. Simply punishing people for not singing the national anthem is more likely to engender resentment and rebellion than pride.
Couldn't agree more. This misguided notion that you can simply tell people to love their country from above is being pushed in Britain as well. The governments of both these countries seem unaware that patriotism - real patriotism - comes voluntarily, and from having things in your country to be proud of.

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