Tag: Japan

Day 988: That’s No Moon

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With only a dozen days remaining of my self-imposed sentence in this asylum of perpetual prose, I am scootching toward the realization that there are some topics I will never get to. The hidden subtext within the dialogue of each Misfits of Science episode will remain unexplored, and I’m afraid the sacred ghost notes that elevate the percussive harrumph of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain” and Toto’s “Rosanna” will fail to make the kilograph cut.

Instead I must devote these dog-yawn final days to loftier, more resonant subjects – yesterday’s investigation into Mozart’s poop jokes notwithstanding. And so I look to the moon – that luminous gob of celestial spittle, that pearlesque voyeur who knows all of our funkiest sins, the swiveling muse of the incurable drunkard. The moon pours elbow grease on our tides and provides an alibi when we need one for our meandering sanity. And before we had the cognitive wherewithal to stack our chips on science, the moon provided the palette for some of our strangest superstitions.

The moon puts on a nightly spectacle; what earth-bound broadcast can compare to the thrill of a clump of rock bigger than our entire continent dangling in the air over our heads? And even with Neil Armstrong’s size 9½ prints on her cheeks, she still retains an exotic air of mystery.

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Before Georges Méliès stabbed it with a wayward rocket ship, the man in the moon had a starring role in olde-timey mythology. In the biblical Book of Numbers, one of the more cynical stories tells of a man who was sentenced by God to death by stoning for the heinous crime of gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Early Christian lore suggested that the man in the moon was that very man. Another tradition claims the man is Abel’s blood-bro Cain, forever doomed to circle the Earth. Read more…

Day 963: The Hounds Of Fealty

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Yes, I’m writing about dogs again. Last year saw the earthly departure of Rufus and Yoko, my two loyal – albeit halitosis-heavy – bulldog assistants, and I would be remiss (which is Latin for “an asshole”) if I did not honor their memory with a few feel-good tales of puckish pooches to warm the cockles (which is Latin for “the taint”) of the heart. Luckily, as chock-full as the internet may be with cat pictures, it is similarly packed with tales of loyal canines.

I make no apologies for the fact that I am a dog person. Dogs may not be smarter than cats – though they could be; I distinctly recall some Youtube video in which a dog retrieves a beer from the fridge – but they are more emotionally devoted to their human friends. I love that when I come home every day, my remaining bulldog assistants (Bessie & The Bean, so named for her legume-esque stature) are jubilant to the point of ridiculousness. In my limited experience, cats simply don’t offer that kind of overflow of positive energy.

And devotion. That’s a big one. The loyalty of my slobbery little friends has never truly been tested, but I’m sure it exists. The canine companions who grace today’s page have all demonstrated a form of loyalty that every super-villain dreams of extracting from but one of their grunting minions.

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Any pile of devoted-dog stories must contain a customary bow to Hachiko, the Akita owned by University of Tokyo professor Hidesaburo Ueno. Every afternoon, Hachiko would show up at Shibuya Station to await Ueno’s train. In May 1925, only about a year into their relationship, Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never made it home. Hachiko showed up anyway, and proceeded to pop in to the station at the exact same time every day to await his master’s return. For almost ten more years. Read more…

Day 952: Death & Money

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One might assume upon skimming this month’s selection of articles that the author has developed an unnatural preoccupation with death. The author would courteously disagree, and would remind you that no preoccupation with death is unnatural, unless it escalates to unreasonably eccentric behavior, like keeping makeup instructions for the undertaker in one’s pocket, just in case.

But it’s true, I have been seasoning this project with a salty array of morbid subject matter lately, and today will be no exception. But fear not – these are still quirky and jaw-slacking narratives of death-related weirdness, not ghoulish kilographs of doom and misery. I’m saving those for my next project, beginning in January: 1000 Words, 1000 Reasons Life Is Meaningless And We Should All Give Up And Embrace our Inevitable Demise. It’ll be a riot.

Our two protagonists today are the guy who wouldn’t die, and the other guy who didn’t actually live his entire documented life. For the former, we find a conspiracy to condemn a man to an early grave. The latter tale tells of a man kept alive on paper for decades after his innards stopped doing their thing. The common threads? Those two nefarious nasties: death and money. It’s always about death and money.

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Michael Malloy was a man who knew how to drink. Sure, he was Irish, and that can certainly explain a smidgen of Michael’s alcoholic fortitude, but by the amber ruler of whiskey, this dude was Super-Irish. The year was 1933; Malloy was living in New York City, homeless, jobless and perpetually so deep inside a bottle one could probably have gotten drunk by simply sniffing his hair. Naturally, he was the perfect guy to murder and make it look like an accident. And that’s precisely what five of his “buddies” tried to do. Read more…

Day 930: The Other Foo Fighters

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I admit it, I frequently dip into the tart, opaque candy bowl of skepticism, filled with lemon drops of doubt and sour-chews of crotchety fact-checking. That said, I like my sour sweets to end with an upbeat aftertaste, a smidgen of optimism that my aforementioned leeriness will be heartily disproven. Deep down, I don’t believe in the hibber-jabber of ghosts, of karmic energy tallies or Earth-snooping alien life, but even deeper down, I kind of hope I’m wrong.

If this miasma of rambling self-reflection seems like a hopelessly clunky introduction to a kilograph on one of the greatest rock bands of the past two decades… well, it would be. But while the caliber of Dave Grohl’s rocktastic ass-kickery certainly merits a lengthy diatribe of praise (hell, I could do a thousand words on nothing more than the rib-clenching, cerebrospinal-throttling bridge of “Monkey Wrench”), that’s not what today is about.

Today we look at the original foo fighters: no foot-swiveling grooves, no cinematic videos and no capital ‘F’s. These foo fighters transport us back in time, into the goose-feather fury of the second World War, then up into a nebulous sky filled with illusionary aberrations – gravelly bumps in the smooth road of logic and comprehensible reason.

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The word ‘foo’ was a popular nonsense word of the 1930’s, much like any of Doctor Seuss’s whimsical wordage or much of what you’ll hear on Fox News today (hey! A topical joke! Three points for me!). It grew from the work of popular Chicagoan cartoonist Bill Holman and his Chicago Tribune strip known as Smokey Stover. Foo was an anarchic dalliance into the lexicon of imagination. It functioned as a noun, an adjective, and a G-rated exclamation of disbelief. Did it morph into the 1940’s-era military term FUBAR? Perhaps. But it certainly held ground in the American military landscape at that time. Read more…

Day 897: Zoot Suit Violence

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One seldom looks very deeply into the lyrics of a modern swing-dance revival song. When Colin James and his Little Big Band sang about a Cadillac Baby, he was singing about a woman, one who enjoyed a particular Cadillac automobile. When Lou Bega prattled off his laundry list of desirable women in “Mambo #5”, he was simply expressing his identity as a man-slut. But beneath the boppy jump-blues veneer of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” is something surprisingly dark and sinister.

The ‘riot’ in question is not merely an alternate wording for a party featuring a bunch of guys in outdated jazz-wear. The song refers to an actual string of riots in the early 1940’s, which began in the embers of the era’s prevalent racism, before rising into an inferno of violence. This is an ugly chapter in American history, from an age before Civil Rights was on the tip of anyone’s brains, and when patriotism could drive people to do heinously ugly things.

It all begins with the zoot suit: high-waisted, tight-cuffed pegged pants and a long jacket with boisterous shoulders and splashy lapels. The outfits were fun and jazzy, originating in inter-war black culture and eventually becoming a staple of the southern Californian Latino community. Then the style became illegal – that’s where the ugliness begins.

You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.

You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.

The 1930s was a time of heavy anti-Mexicanism in the southwestern United States. Despite the deportation of 12,000 Mexicans (many of whom turned out to be American citizens) from the Los Angeles area in the early part of the decade, there were still roughly three million Mexicans in the country, many without legal status. L.A. was the hub of immigrants from the Land of the Hot Sun, and by the end of the decade the tension between whites and Latinos was beginning to boil over. Read more…

Day 890: Put Your Head On My Shoulder, Neck, And Everything Else

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In honor of our species’ unending quest to concoct our own mythical creatures from the depths of our creativity and our most depraved scientific know-how, I give you the head transplant. I’m not referring to the overplayed movie trope in which Jamie Lee Curtis swaps minds with Lindsay Lohan in an effort to see if one another’s bodies could handle their respective addictions to poop-inducing yogurt and cocaine, but rather the physical exchange of crania.

It has happened. Not with humans – you didn’t miss out on some freakish sci-fi tale of weirdness in the news, but our able-handed doctors have performed some rather cunning re-assignments among the brain enclosures of the animal kingdom. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before we get around to a human swap.

We have the technology. Sort of. There isn’t a doctor alive who can reattach a severed spinal cord; full and complete functionality is not at play here. But some variant of this could happen within our lifetime. We just need the right alignment of desperate patients, extreme circumstance and a doctor who has nothing to lose. Sounds like a movie treatment if nothing else.

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American physiologist Charles Claude Guthrie’s work on vascular surgery with the Frenchman Alexis Carrel should have earned the guy a Nobel Prize. But Carrel won the prize by himself, likely because the weird experiments Guthrie was into probably freaked out the Prize committee. In 1908, Guthrie became the first to graft one dog’s head onto the neck of another, creating a two-headed beast. Unfortunately, too much time had occurred between the decapitation of the second dog and the restoration of circulation. It wasn’t a lively second head, but it was technically alive. Read more…

Day 866: Blessed Be This House Of Poop

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People often ask me whether or not I worry about running out of interesting topics before this thousand days is up. My response is always the same. “Of course not,” I tell them. “I haven’t yet written about toilet gods.”

Well, today I throw caution at the swirling fan and cash in on one of our species’ most notably bizarre predilections: assigning a higher power to the place where we poop.

Modern religions have spent too long on the proverbial fence, blindly adhering to its monotheistic principles and paying no mind to our spiritual doody needs. There is no patron saint of having eaten too many spicy enchiladas last night, nor am I aware of any Hebrew or Muslim prayer to combat lactose intolerance. We must look to the faiths of the ancients for this.

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In old-timey Japan, bodily waste wasn’t buried underground and forgotten. It would be collected and spread around the fields, acting as a fertilizer and completing that grand circle of life that most of us would rather not think about. For this reason, the kawaya kami (toilet god) was a god of fertility. Not the fun kind of fertility that we usually (but not always) reserve for another room in the house, but the food/crop sort of fertility. Sometimes family members would sit in front of the toilet and eat a bowl of rice in order to appease the god.

The other big plus in praying to kawaya kami was for protection. Collecting fertilizer material from toilet basins was dirty work, but also a bit on the dangerous side. There was the risk of tumbling into the muck and drowning, which is probably the worst way to die this side of inhaling next to Ann Coulter. Kawaya kami – if properly appeased by your consumption of malodorous rice – can save you from such a fetid fate. Read more…

Day 864: Mu-vin’ On Up From The Lost Continent

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“The antediluvian kings colonized the world; all the gods who play in the mythological dramas in all legends from all lands were in Atlantis.”

This is an excerpt from the legend of Atlantis – or more accurately from the 1968 Donovan song “Atlantis”, but it makes my point. Since the days of Ancient Greece when Plato wove the notion into his dialogues Timaeus and Critias, humans have postulated on the possible existence of a great civilization that sunk into the sea. Once the European jet-set (or large-boat-set, I guess) discovered the New World, the concept of Atlantis was used to explain some of the wonders of the tribes they encountered. The sunken island has a glorious history.

All of it completely fiction, of course. Atlantis is not one of our planet’s uncovered mysteries like the Bermuda Triangle or the physical content of a McRib. Europeans tried to use it as justification for the existence of the Mayan culture because there was no way those indigenous doofuses could have concocted such an elaborate civilization on their own, right?

If you have to invent an entire continent to justify your inherent racism, maybe it’s time to give it up.

Atlantis is not the only slab of land that Mother Earth has misplaced. We should also look to that other massive ocean and the lost island of Mu.

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We can blame the so-called Mu mystery on Augustus Le Plongeon, a 19th-century writer who had investigated the Mayan ruins in Yucatàn and allegedly translated some of the ancient writings. Actually he was working off a mistranslation of a piece of Mayan literature then called the Troano Codex, and he interpreted the name ‘Mu’ to mean a land that had sunk after a catastrophe. It was a tiny leap of connection for Le Plongeon to decide that Mu was Atlantis, or something just like it. He claimed that the magnificence of Ancient Egypt was founded by Queen Moo (probably not a cow), a refugee of Mu. Read more…

Day 863: The Online Chinese Limbo

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You may not have noticed, but while the Chinese economy is poised to plant its conquering flag upon the global marketplace, the country’s government is astoundingly fucked up. Fucked up and frightened, gauging by the unfathomable swath of censorship that it clings to. What other explanation can there be for the most populated nation on the planet blocking out such a hearty heap of online material?

I suppose when you’ve got a population of over 1.35 billion you probably want to do what you can to keep them from getting any fishy ideas that might propel them into revolt. I don’t care how disciplined your army might be, a billion pissed-off citizens is going to be tough to quiet down. We saw that twenty-five years ago when students rolled the dice and staged a massive public protest for democracy in Tiananmen Square. The government shut them down and since then it has spent a quarter-century trying to convince its citizens that the whole thing never happened.

This is the golden age of knowledge, when a strategic click of a mouse can teach us anything, from alternative political structures to who played the night-watchman on that season 4 episode of Simon & Simon (it was Bucklind Beery – there, I saved you the trouble). But knowledge is power, and clearly the Chinese government doesn’t want its citizenry getting all power-happy.

Let’s have a look at what won’t squeak through the Chinese knowledge-net.

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My site, for starters. I’ve been told the blockade on WordPress has been lifted somewhat over the last year or so, but blogs contain ideas, and ideas are even more dangerous than facts because ideas can procreate. They can seduce one another and spurt out little notion-babies. Evidently the current regime isn’t wanting that to happen. You’ll also find Blogspot, FC2 (a Japanese blog site) and wretch.cc, which is based out of Taiwan, on the blocked list. Read more…

Day 849: From Bark To Boom – The Unflinching Spirit Of Our Animal Military

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James Joyce once said that one’s writing should inevitably become the pool of one’s deepest confessions. Actually he didn’t, but that sounded like a plausible opening sentence and it conveniently nudges me into the first point I want to make, which is a confession. It’s true that, for a brief but notable time when I was young, I honestly believed that animals assisted in the performance of numerous household chores during the prehistoric era, just like on The Flintstones. I didn’t think they made sassy remarks – I was gullible, not an idiot – but I could picture an elephant helping out with the dishes.

In reality, animals have been used to help out with human tasks for most of our history. Oxen and donkeys would drag stuff around for us, horses could be posed in comical oversized sunglasses for our amusement, and dogs would sniff our butts and check for worms (that was a big trend during the Renaissance, I believe). These are all well-known practical benefits to having animals around, but animals have also been a huge part of mankind’s most oft-enjoyed task throughout our duration on this planet: blowing each other up.

I’ve already written about great dogs and cats in the military, so today I’m going to open up the proverbial barn doors and check out some of the lesser-known contributors to the war effort. This might be good news for you; if you’ve been having trouble filling the bunks in your compound with die-hard adherents to your militia’s agenda, maybe you can build an army from some of these noble creatures. We’ll start with the big guys.

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At some point in the millennium before year zero (actually, there may not have been a “year zero”, but that’s a discussion for another day), kingdoms in India began utilizing elephants as part of their armies. As Alexander the Great began working his way from Europe through Persia toward India’s doorstep, he encountered numerous foes with war elephants, both to carry heavy equipment and to charge at the enemy. Read more…