michael lambe's scrapbook

little irish jackhammer

  • As all Japan-dwellers know, it is the custom in this country for girls to give boys chocolates on Valentine’s Day (regardless of whether they want them or not). This is what Mewby got me:

    A water purifier for my tap! 嬉しい!Now I can enjoy great tasting water direct from “our mother” Lake Biwa! And believe me, it DOES taste better! Mewby knows me best!

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  • Back in September, Mewby and I visited Namba Parks in Osaka. I was excited by what I’d read in this article on Inhabit.com and inspired by pictures like this:

    This image from http://www.jerde.com

    Here, I thought, is a fine example of truly green and truly forward thinking urban design. “Jerde designed Namba Parks as a huge green space and an oasis amidst Osaka’s dense urban streets,” read the article. “…the awesome development… …has an eight level rooftop garden that spans several city blocks and features tree groves, rock clusters, cliffs and canyons, lawns, streams, waterfalls, ponds and even space to grow veggies!”

    To be honest, I was disappointed. I think they were exaggerating a little bit. Or perhaps the staff writer at Inhabit hadn’t actually been to Namba Parks personally but was merely rewriting the text from the architect’s site? I will admit that the buildng is impressive. Here’s one of them canyons:

    Canyons!

    A lawn.

    Essentially though, the greenery is really just decoration. Underneath that lush green canopy you can see in the aerial shot, is concrete. The trees are basically over-sized potted plants. The “streams, waterfalls, ponds” is just a wee bit of trickly water (singular) in a small corner of garden, and the lawn (singular) is  a patch of well-manicured grass that really doesn’t look like the sort of grass you should ever walk or sit on. And I didn’t see any veggies.

    Mewby in the garden ~ this area was actually quite small.

    It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise really. Japanese people in general, don’t really like nature to be too free. What they do like is to control it and hem it in with nice, tidy concrete. A real park in the sky would be far too messy! Judging by the Namba Parks example I don’t think the green revolution is going to come out of Japan. “Green” and “Eco” are decorative buzzwords in Japan now, and used pretty loosely as a means to sell stuff. Similarly the greenery at Namba Parks looks nice on the surface but doesn’t represent any real change. This is still just a boring old shopping mall and Mammon is still very much in charge.

    Mewby in a canyon of crowded shops and overpriced restaurants full of STUFF-YOU-DON'T-NEED.

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  • Every year in this season I admire the blossoms on the plum tree behind my apartment.

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    I particularly like how their natural beauty is complimented by the pylon and traffic cone beside them.

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    As I was admiring this scene two little Japanese White Eyes came along and began to hop about from blossom to blossom.

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    They were doing a lot of flitting and darting here and there, and here again – and so were very hard to snap.

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    I thought at first they might be drinking nectar from the blossoms, but perhaps they were after bugs.

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    Regardless, I was in a melancholy mood after saying goodbye to my students earlier in the day. These two little birds really cheered me up.

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    There’s only one thing better than plum blossom and that’s little green birds in the plum blossom.

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  • In an attempt to actually make some money from my unhealthy blogging obsesson, I’ve been tweaking this blog (and Deep Kyoto also) a lot recently; adding an extra column and a lot of amazon stuff, mp3 players etc… Let me know if it get’s annoying. Up on Deep Kyoto tonight there is a fresh post on cafe and cake shop Sugary. And on Japanese Reboot there are some foxy phrases here, here and also here.

    Japan Focus has posted a nice piece of non-fiction manga (in English!) by Mizuki Shigeru the creator of the famous youkai series “GeGeGe no Kitarou“. Entitled War and Japan it starts off explaining how it was for Japanese people in general during the war and then tells of Shigeru’s own experiences serving overseas (he lost an arm and many many friends). I read it yesterday and found it very interesting indeed. There’s quite a long introduction to it by Matthew Penney, but you can skip that and just scroll down to the cartoon if you want to. Shigeru tells his own story better than anyone else can. LINK

    This news today in the Independent and the commentary on Worldchanging that we are all effectively doomed, (I mean even more certainly doomed than we already thought we were) was quite depressing.

    Finally, I found this video of bad-ass Taro Aso on boingboing this morning and it made me laugh despite being doomed, so here you are.

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  • The current issue of Kyoto’s CF magazine is themed around the joys of cycling and thus, as I have a rather spiffy mountain bike (thanks Helen!) and I’m friends with Taga-san at KTCP there’s a picture of me in there too, cheesing one of my cheesiest of cheesy grins. CF (not a bad little 雑誌 actually) is available from bookshops and convenience stores around Kyoto and features a lot of stuff on clubs, cafes, restaurants, bars etc. I tried to plug Deep Kyoto as much as possible when talking to the reporter: “Oh yes, I ride my bicycle a lot when discovering places for my blog Deep Kyoto! …And did I mention Deep Kyoto?… Please take my (deep kyoto) card …and do check out my blog which by the way is called Deep Kyoto…etc” But sadly he didn’t take the bait. Anyway, here’s the picture of me looking kind of gay on a bicycle. And you can see the full spread up here of myself and some other bicycling types.

    Today my day of work consisted of catching the train to Osaka at 5:05 pm, sleeping, getting to work at 6:00 pm, being told the class was cancelled at 6:05, getting the train back at 6:15, reading (a jolly good book!) and getting home at 7:15. I will actually get paid for that too.

    Here’s the latest article on the oft-mentioned Deep Kyoto of the delightful tea emporium Iyemon Cafe.

    The remaining South African pictures which I foolishly promised for this post will be posted in the next one. Honest.

    Here’s an important message from avaaz:

    For the first time in human history, the North Pole can be circumnavigated — the Arctic ice is melting quicker than many anticipated. The devastating effects of climate change are also accelerating sea level rise and small island nations are preparing evacuation plans to guarantee the survival of their populations.

    In a week, these small islands are tabling a resolution calling on the UN Security Council to address climate change as a pressing threat to international peace and security.

    But the island states’ campaign for survival is meeting fierce opposition, so they need our help. Sign the petition now — it will be presented by the islands’ ambassadors at the UN next week. The more signatures we raise, the more urgently this call will ring out to protect our common future. LINK

    [kml_flashembed movie="http://uk.youtube.com/v/OA4VZ0v4cxk" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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  • Here’s a news video from the BBC on the super-enviromently friendly “zero waste” policy of Kamikatsu town in Shikoku, Japan. If only the whole country world would follow suit… LINK

    And here’s an amusing video from The Onion: Bush Tours America to Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency.

    And here’s my friend Thomas Schwegler’s website Tropical Mountains.

    Tropical Mountains was formed in 2005 in Bolivia. We saw and experienced the need of small scale coffee farmers to have support in quality control, access to pre-financing and international markets. Many producer groups and cooperatives have now moved to direct export and away from selling their coffee to the local market or local traders. We are happy to support them on their shift towards direct export…

    I met this guy in Italy in 2002, a nice chap, charming, multi-lingual and a hit with the ladies. I got the impression he was looking for his place in life. He went to South America and found his place selling coffee on behalf of coffee farming co-operatives over there. As a result of his work (he has the gift of the gab see), the guys who are growing the coffee aren’t selling to the big corporate masters anymore, but direct to consumers, and that way they get to see more profit for their work. And why am I posting a link to his company’s website? Because he’s a pal, that’s why. LINK

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  • Here’s the latest campaign from avaaz.org:
    Two weeks of global climate negotiations have just wrapped up — with no real progress. The rich nations are the culprits, refusing to take the lead and commit to emissions cuts that will bring the rest of the world onboard. Our best hope: within weeks, those rich country leaders will gather at the G8 summit chaired by Japan. If Japan’s Prime Minister offers bold leadership, the G8 summit could be a breakthrough. But, so far, he is pushing in the wrong direction. So it’s up to us. Next Wednesday, June 18, we will hand-deliver our new climate petition to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. If we can muster 250,000 voices in a few short days, we can sound a global alarm on climate that Fukuda and the other G8 leaders cannot ignore. Sign the petition and forward this message to friends:

    http://www.avaaz.org/en/g8_climate_wakeup/13.php?cl=97550397

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  • Today I found this encouraging news about co-operation between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to save Gorillas. Very encouraging. Now, if they could get together to protect people in the same region, that would be really marvellous.

    Update: Some happy news here: An estimated 125,000 Western lowland gorillas are living in a swamp in equatorial Africa, researchers reported Tuesday, double the number of the endangered primates thought to survive worldwide. LINK

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  • This news from Avaaz:

    Huge news out of Japan: a top newspaper is reporting a major shift in climate policy, and citing Avaaz members as one of the reasons why!

    The paper reports that at a critical, high-level meeting on global warming, the Environment Minister held up Avaaz’s “Titanic” newspaper ad from the Bali summit–showing Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda, with Bush, steering towards climate disaster… along with a call for tough 2020 emissions targets, signed by 90,000 Avaaz members.

    “The world sees Japan as a force resisting change! Are we okay with this?” the minister asked. The Chief Cabinet Minister suggested setting a target. Days later, Prime Minister Fukuda announced his decision: at last, Japan would set a 2020 emissions target!

    This is a genuine victory. Japan is a huge polluter, a key Bush ally, and host of this summer’s crucial G8 summit. Congratulations to everyone for the positive role we all played!

    LINK to a scan of the Asahi Shimbun article.
    LINK to Avaaz crisis fundraiser.

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  • I recently began teaching some classes in the molecular biology department of Kyoto University. I was quite trepidatory about it to begin with; felt like I was getting out of my depth teaching scientists how to talk about science. After all, back when I sat my O’ Levels (yes, I am that old) I got an E in Physics (which is a failing grade) and a U in Chemistry (“U” meant “ungradeable” or “useless” or “u is an idiot” or something). However, these classes are actually turning out to be quite interesting. I’m learning all about stem cell research, expanding my vocabulary no end (blastocysts? pluripotency? transcriptive factors? lentiviral vectors? – no sweat!) and today one Professor was talking to me about Darwinist theory. Darwinist theory, it seems has been used (and abused) by quite a few social theorists to support their own models of how the world should be. Many Marxist thinkers have put forward the notion that just as there is evolution in nature, there is evolution in society: from primitive structures, through feudal systems, on into capitalism and then onwards inevitably towards an eventual socialist utopia. Capitalist thinkers on the other hand, have emphasized natural selection, whereby only the fittest survive. Cut-throat competition is the natural way of things and individuals are biologically programmed to strive for personal success so that their genetic legacy may be passed on through future generations. The problem is, the evolutionary and societal models they are using, are just too simple. It’s far more complicated than that. Now if you know me, you know already, I don’t like that capitalist model at all. And I don’t like the idea that we are all just a bunch of breeders. To me it’s a part of human nature for us to care for each other. Animals and plants don’t have choices in life, they merely are what they are and do what they do (which is why some Buddhist schools hold them to be closer to enlightenment than we can ever be). Humans, however, have so many options to choose from, including whether or not to behave purely out of self-interest or for the good of all. Again, looking at the Marxist model, I think the idea of an inevitable progress, in either nature or human society is an absurd one. The future is undecided, it’s all up for grabs (!) and it is up to us, here and now what we make of it and what kind of world our descendants will inherit. Scientists are beginning to understand that evolution is not just a simple case of survival of the fittest, or of gradual adaptation to a changing environment, but that tiny changes and interactions at a molecular level can have profound and very sudden results in the bigger picture. In the same way, I believe, the seemingly insignificant actions of each and every individual can have profound effects upon the people around us and society and the world at large. So (tangentally) that being in mind, here are a couple of important links for today:

    Imagine a future dystopia that’s all vinegar and no cod and chips… Horrible, isn’t it? Greenpeace don’t want that to happen. Word.

    If we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. If we want whales tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. If we want to stop bottom trawling, we need marine reserves today. For healthy oceans — we need marine reserves today. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that demonstrates that the establishment of large-scale networks of marine reserves, urgently needed to protect marine species and their habitats, could be key to reversing global fisheries decline and restoring our oceans. Greenpeace’s plan to set aside 40 percent of the world’s oceans as no-take zones could mean survival for sharks, tuna, whales, and a wide range of threatened and endangered species… You can help us convince governments and the United Nations that we need to protect our oceans by creating a global network of marine reserves. Sign our petition: LINK

    And here’s a message from avaaz on the current campaign for Kenya:

    Kenya’s on the brink of disaster — bullets are flying on the streets, with over 600 killed and 250,000 made homeless as government and opposition struggle over the presidency. There is something we can do to help before it’s too late. Only dialogue and an independent election review will dispel the crisis – and the world can play a crucial role: by reinforcing the efforts of mediators like Kofi Annan, and refusing to recognize any government not legitimately established. 50,000 of us have already sent this message to our foreign ministers, and almost all have listened so far. But inside Kenya, hardline leaders are sowing conflict and the country hangs in the balance. President Kibaki and opposition leader Odinga need to hear that international legitimacy will only come after they engage honestly in mediation. To send this message, we’re taking out a full page ad in The Daily Nation, an influential Kenyan newspaper. The ad will list the number of messages we’ve sent to our governments, the more the better — so please, click below to see the ad and send your own message:

    http://www.avaaz.org/en/kenya_free_and_fair/98.php?CLICK_TF_TRACK

    Kenya depends on international tourism, aid and trade. It’s not too late to help Kenya back from the brink!

    Links to the latest news on Kenya -

    Marches, violence:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/kenya/story/0,,2242178,00.html

    Disputes over mediation:
    http://allafrica.com/stories/200801141777.html

    Tainted elections:
    http://allafrica.com/stories/200801141360.html

    (P.S. I got a B in Biology – WOOT!) 

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