August 2005

As everyone who hasn’t been living under a media blackout for the past month is aware, last Saturday was the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima Bombing. This anniversary, while being a very big deal in Japan, for obvious reasons, is lucky to get a 30 second blurb in the news here in the U.S. But with it being the 60th anniversary ( as opposed to the 59th or 61st, which just aren’t as important…) of the incident, it’s seen a lot more coverage here this year. Lots of documentaries on the History Channel, coverage by all the news networks, even the front page of TIME magazine. I won’t touch too much on the issue of the bombing itself, how much it was or was not justified, etc., since there are millions of people more informed and more outspoken than I am, and anything I say wouldn’t really add to what’s already been said.

What is interesting to me is that for the first time I was able to hear the testimony of a Hiroshima survivor in person. His name is Satoru Konishi, a retired professor of German literature at Tokyo Metropolitan University and currently the secretary of Hidankyo, Japan’s largest organizaton of survivors from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. He was sposored by a group of interfaith ministries and peace advocacy groups here in Austin to visit the city and give an account of his experiences with his message of peace and abolishment of all nuclear weapons.

On Friday I saw it mentioned in the newspaper that a Hiroshima survivor would be speaking on Saturday and mentioned it to Ryoko. Of course growing up in Japan she had heard the testimonies of several hibakusha (被爆者, a Japanese word literally meaning ‘bomb affected people’, but that translation sounds PC and stupid to me, I prefer ‘bomb victims’), since pretty much anyone growing up in Japan’s educational system visits Hiroshima and possibly also Nagasaki as a school trip. (Also perhaps not surprisingly, she never heard a thing about the Nanking Massacre going to school in Japan, only recently learning details about it when curiousity piqued her to look up information on it via the internet.) But every nation does it’s best to keep incidences where it was the victim in constant rememberance, and to gloss over or altogether fail to mention incidences where it was the agressor, so I’m not specifically criticizing Japan here.

Anyway, Dr. Konishi was giving his address at a grove in the large park in the center of Austin, conveniently only a 10 minute drive from our apartment. I had read a few accounts from various survivors, but never had the opportunity to hear the testimony of a survivor in person. Ryoko also thought it would be a good experience for us to go, so we went. When we got there though, we didn’t quite get what we expected.

The program in the newspaper said that Dr. Konishi would be giving his address at 7:00, but that was not the case. We arrived at a couple of minutes after 7:00, and nothing had started yet. Surprisingly, there were very few people there, only about 50 or so. Ryoko had thought that there would be several hundred students there, since a similar event in Japan would have had many students in attendance. There were only a handful of people that looked like they were college-age. Most people were sitting on blankets on the grass, a few had brought lawn chairs. We brought a blanket, so we sat on the grass likewise. Nothing had started yet, so everyone was just talking amongst themselves. After a few minutes, it slowly started to settle on Ryoko and I that we didn’t really fit in very well with this group of people. Most people seemed to be in thier mid-50’s or so, wearing light summer clothing: shorts, t-shirts, summer dresses, etc. I noticed that most of the men had long hair, which is not unheard of, but fairly uncommon in an older age group. What really caught my attention though, was the subjects of the conversations that were going on around us. Organic food… vegetarian… yoga… meditation… and then it donned on me. We were surrounded by hippies! Since everyone here seemed to be in thier mid-50’s, that would have made them teenagers back in the 60’s. These weren’t the wanna-be hippies that I had gone to high-school with: classmates that wore tye-die shirts and long hair, smoked pot (or pretended to) and pretending to be counter-culture revolutionaries while at the same time driving sports cars thier dads had bought them with a 6-figure salary. No, these were people who had lived through the real counter-culture in the 60’s and 70’s, and to some extent were still living it. Just listening to the conversations around me would have been an interesting evening in itself.

A few minutes before the program started, a man came around with a petition, asking for signatures. It was a petition to protest UT’s possible involvement with Los Alamos. (To make a long story short, the government has had a lot of mismanagement scandals at Los Alamos National Laboratory and has put the whole thing up to bidding to see who manages the whole place. University of Texas System is one of the 4 or so organizations currently bidding on it.) I had nothing against Los Alamos, even if I were staunchly anti-nuke, there haven’t been any nuclear tests at Los Alamos for decades, current nuclear research there focuses on safely maintaining the U.S.’s nuclear aresanal and safe disposal of nuclear weapons and waste. Most research there now is unrelated to nuclear weapons at all, it’s just another national lab, like Livermore or Sandia. (Most nuclear weapon testing now is done with large super-computer simulations. Live tests, which are now very rare, are only conducted underground at the test range in Nevada.) Nor did I have any particular problem with UT managing Los Alamos, so I politely declined.

When the program finally started, it was conducted by a local Lutheran minister, the chairman of the local interfaith ministries. He had a deep, sonorous voice, and sounded like he could work as a professional announcer almost anywhere. It turned out that Dr. Konishi was actually the last on the program (I should have guessed. The main event is always last, whether it’s a classical concert or professional wrestling.), so before we heard him speak we had to endure our way through several other ‘acts’.

A woman named Susan Bright gave what was called a ‘liturgy’, although I think anyone Catholic there would have found the use of that word more than a little strange. Basically it was some kind of prose poem, with a refrain that she asked the audience to repeat with her. If you read her poem, the message is well-spoken, though a bit on the emotional side. When she implied that her brother dying of leukemia in Pennsylvania was due to nuclear weapons, I found that a bit of a stretch. Overall though, what could have been a powerful message instead was, well, creepy. I’m not sure how to describe it. The delivery was all wrong or something. Her voice was way too loud, so that our ears were ringing by the time she was done. Instead of instilling a desire for peace or abolishment of nuclear weapons, I instead felt like this was a person I should do my best to avoid.

Next there were a couple of musical numbers. A couple from Costa Rica sang a few songs in Spanish. Their voices were absolutely wonderful, and Spanish generally sounds very nice in music. I couldn’t understand a word of it, of course, but before he sang he told us the message of his song was “If someone tells you that we must fight, then don’t believe them. It is a lie.” After the couple, an older gentleman led the group in singing a few songs. “We shall overcome”, “Give Peace a Chance”, etc.

This has gotten rather long, I’ll write about what Dr. Konishi said in the next post.

I’ve always liked quiz games, especially if they are dealing with subjects that I know a little bit about. I really enjoyed the original Trivial Pursuit, before they changed all the questions to nothing but pop culture. Even back in the day though, I remember that me and all of my brothers would cringe to land upon a ‘sports’ square, because none of us knew or cared about sports much, and I myelf only knew about one person for each sport. If it was a baseball question I always guessed Babe Ruth (about 1 in 10 questions were about him), for football some guy named Joe Namath was usually your best bet, soccer was Pele, track and field was Jesse Owens, swimming was Mark Spitz. After 5 or 6 tries usually you would get one right, the trick was to get it right when you were on the square that actually let you get a piece. In my family, getting a sports piece long before anyone else generally guaranteed a win. Except for the center square where you had to answer a question of thier choice to clinch the win, it was always the stupid sports question that would get asked, so you had to go through the same thing twice. This gave others a chance to catch up, and then the lucky one to get an easy sports question would win.

Recently though, Trivial Pursuit is boring. Subjects such as top 40 hits, TV, movies, and what celebrity was seeing who are not priorities in my cranial knowledge database. On the other hand, knowing which chemical element when ingested in small quantities makes you reek of garlic for months is a high priority in my filing cabinet of useless information. (The answer is Tellurium. Remember small quantities. It’s quite toxic in larger doses.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of my favorite TV shows in Japan is トリビアの泉:素晴らしきムダ知識 (The Spring of Trivia: Wonderful Useless Knowledge) which is dubbed and condensed into a 30 minute format shown here in the US on Spike TV as “Hey! Spring of Trivia”. This show alone makes we wish I could spend more time in Japan than I do, currently only a couple of weeks a year to visit my wife’s family.

Anyway, so every once in a while I stumble along a link to a quiz of some kind, and as long as it isn’t one of those stupid banner ads (Who is this a picture of? a:Paris Hilton b:Jessica Simpson c:Other random blonde girl-for-hire d:You’re in idiot if you actually click on this banner and expect anything but mal-ware) I’ll take a couple of seconds to look at it in curiousity. But after looking at most of the online quizes I stumble upon, I can only come to one conclusion: the internet thinks I am an absolute idiot.

The other day after infrequently checking my hotmail account, exiting it took me to Microsoft’s “We’re trying to be hip and urban-type cool” page there was a link to an astronomy quiz titled Space: How Out of it Are You? OK granted, the name is a really bad pun, but astronomy is pretty interesting, and the only branch of physics that seems to be making much headway in recent years, so I checked it out. Please take a look at the quiz yourself. If you cannot answer these questions and you are older than say, 10 years old, you are an idiot. I was kind of hoping that question #4 might be a trick question, since there has been a lot of debate about classification of what really is a planet and what is not, putting Pluto into question, or perhaps having to include one or two planetoids beyond Pluto’s orbit. Nope, nothing of the kind. Just count the planets in the stupid “My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas” mnemonic phrase that we all learned when we were six and you’ll get the right answer, nine. The only difficult question asks what the number of constellations are, but I hardly consider astrology to be a meaningful part of astronomic knowledge.

So, what does a person do if they have a few spare minutes on the internet and want a challenging quiz? Fortunately, google has the answer. I found this page, which has a lot of interesting quizes. Try any of the quizes that are labled ‘tough’, ‘difficult’, ‘very hard’, or ‘impossible’, and you won’t be completely dissappointed. Still some questions are lame, such as a multiple-choice question where all 4 of the answers are numbers that are very close together so you have to just guess, but there are some really interesting stumpers in there. My favorite: what living part of the body has no blood supply? This one I couldn’t figure out, but when you hear the answer it has a very definate ‘aha!’

The answer here: (more…)