Monday, April 23, 2018

I have a new job and I love it, but why the hell is everyone here so angry all the time? It's like I never hear anyone talking in a tone of voice that isn't pissed off or stressed. It makes zero sense. No one says anything that they can't scream.

The new job is teaching English at a private school. I wonder if this has something to do with the higher stress of parental expectations? Like, if the kids don't excel, their parents are going to pull them out and send them somewhere else? That makes sense on the surface, but I feel like screaming at the kids constantly isn't going to help them succeed.

I mean, I've come down on kids before for screwing around or talking in class or whatever, but this is a bit extreme. And the worst part is, the fact that I'm not screaming constantly gives the kids the initial impression that I'm soft, so I do have to come down on them more than usual.

It's just very different from what I'm used to and seems very unhealthy. I'm starting to feel stressed out just from constantly hearing people yell and scream. But other than that, yeah, great job.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Status, Credentials, and Language 2

Now lest you think I'm dumping on Japanese people, there's a similar phenomenon that happens when I meet other foreigners in Japan for the first time.

Naturally, ex-pats do not share the belief that foreigners cannot learn Japanese. Many to most of them can speak a little. One of the most common topics of conversations for expats is "Do you speak any Japanese?" As with all ice-breaking topics, there is always a certain amount of jockeying for position in these discussions, the same as when asking where a person went to university or what they do for a living.

Even if the topic doesn't come up directly, there is often a subtle power struggle over who is going to order at the restaurants, talk to the Japanese staff, lead the group the right direction to the next bar. The person with the best Japanese language skills automatically has a valued position within the group, and people generally jockey to be that person.

It is always an amusing spectacle, particularly if it's a group with a lot of young men. You are guaranteed that every man who is at all masculine will take a turn trying to show off their Japanese skills and become the group interpreter.

Since I've been studying for around 15 years, I'm better at Japanese than 99% of the foreigners I meet. Generally, the 'elite' foreigners can speak conversational Japanese, read hiragana and katakana, and maybe a few of the most common kanji. In other words, they're limited to basic communication, but this lets them 'get around' most situations.

This stage of the social bonding process is always a bit awkward for me. I don't like to brag or force myself to the front. On the rare occasion that the group has someone better than me, or it's a group where everyone can fend for themselves, it's a relief - it means I can relax and enjoy myself.

But almost inevitably, something will come up. The menu will have too much kanji and no one can read it. The staff will try to explain how the All-You-Can-Drink system works and no one can understand it. So of course, I fix the problem, and of course, everyone realizes that I'm on a different level linguistically. Inevitably, the question of "why are you so good at Japanese?" comes up.

And just as with Japanese people, the only thing foreigners fully accept is "I've passes the N1." If I say, "I majored in Japanese," people still look troubled or unconvinced - maybe they've met Japanese majors who can barely order in a restaurant. Or if I say I've been studying for 15 years, they still seem a little unsatisfied. But if I say, "Oh, I'm N1," there is instant relief and acceptance. Their faces scream "Oh, of course!"

You'd expect it to run the other way, but the cause and effect get switched. People say "Oh, you're N1, that's why you're so good at Japanese." It's as if being certified N1 makes me good at Japanese, not that being good at Japanese makes me N1.

This is oddly similar to the Japanese. In general, neither group accepts that a Japanese language learner can be good at Japanese unless they have Credentials. At the very least, the existence of Credentials is an effective shortcut to make people accept language ability.

Here's the issue: Credentials are more effective at convincing people of my language ability than my language ability. I can speak, read, and write Japanese in front of them and yet this manifest ability is less effective in convincing people that I can do these things that I am doing than stating that I have passed an exam.

This is deeply troubling for me.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Status, Credentials, and Language 1

There's something that happens every time I meet a new Japanese person at work or in a social situation. It is at this moment that we must dance the awkward dance of "how much Japanese does this foreigner actually understand?"

Now understand, most foreigners don't speak Japanese. Even long term foreign residents, particularly ones from English-speaking countries, tend to at best cobble together a simulacra of the language that allows them to order in restaurants and ask for directions. And it is more common than you may think that foreign residents of five or more years do not even achieve this low bar.

So there is a very good reason for the Japanese Language Level dance. It starts with a hesitant step, a simple stock phrase like "What is your name?" "How long have you been in Japan?" and so on in that fashion. If that goes well, the tempo steps up and we move to "Do you like Japanese food?" and "Where have you traveled in Japan?"

In my experience, the average Japanese is willing to let things simmer there, since this is the farthest most foreigners get in the dance. Over time (a long time), they will come to accept that you can speak a fair amount of Japanese, and the dance will come to an inevitable beat: "How long have you been studying Japanese?"

But no matter what number of years is answered, there will be a sense of non-acceptance. Even when I say I have studied Japanese for 15 years, this is not sufficient to explain how I can hold a fluent conversation. After all, they've been studying English since Junior High without similar success.

For you see, it is impossible for a foreigner to simply understand Japanese. There must be a reason, a proof, something to make possible. And the only thing I have found that makes my Japanese ability acceptable is bringing up that I have passed the N1.

For those of you not into studying Japanese, there is a bi-annual Japanese Language Proficiency Test split up into different levels of language ability. The highest level is the N1, which qualifies a person as "Fluent" in the eyes of most institutions.

And so, it does not matter how much Japanese I can read, write, or speak. No amount of demonstrated ability will convince the average person that I can speak, write, or read. But when I mention my Credentials, suddenly they understand that I can do Japanese.

And it is an almost total change. I have had people who acted as if I was speaking gibberish suddenly turn on a dime and converse freely with me once I mentioned my credentials.

Now all of this is so ludicrous to me that I would not have believed it if I hadn't experienced it over and over again for a decade. It is almost as if their mental conception of foreigners as "unable to speak Japanese" prevents them from hearing a foreigner speak Japanese. But the credential, like a magic pendant, breaks the seal on their ears and makes communication possible.

Monday, December 11, 2017

100 Japanese Movies in Japanese: The Empire of Corpses

As part of an effort to improve my Japanese and also get back into the habit of writing, we're starting a new series here.

Recently I realized that I don't actually watch very much Japanese media. I listen to a lot of music and read comics/books in Japanese, but not TV or movies. This is partly because Japanese television is a vapid wasteland of variety shows, travel shows, and food porn. But to be fair, it's also because I've been too lazy to push myself into finding something good.

So the plan is, I'm going to watch 100 Japanese movies in Japanese and then write my impressions. I'm not going to read anything about the movies in Japanese or in English before writing my impressions, so the trick is going to be seeing how much I actually understood.

The first movie I watched was 「屍者の帝国」 The Empire of Corpse, a 2015 anime that is pretty damn sweet. Think The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comics, not the terrible movie) only with buckets of existential horror and just regular horror thrown in.

Here's the plot so far as I could tell: It's the early 1800s and the world has been irreversibly changed by the experiments of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. While no one is able to replicate his ability to resurrect a corpse capable of thought and speech, mindless corpses are used for everything from manual labor to filling the ranks of militaries. There's one incredibly badass scene where two Victorian armies of corpses clash and it's a complete horror show.

In this world, we follow the exploits of Dr. Watson (yes, that doctor Watson) and his corpse companion, Friday. At the behest of Charles Babbage, they go on a world-trotting quest across the world with an American guy whose name I have complete forgotten for the research materials of Dr. Frankenstein and the secret to true human resurrection.

This movie is fucking sick. The fight scenes are great, the steampunk technology is awesome, and its vision of a world where the living dead outnumber the living paints an exquisitely distopian alternate past. I highly recommend it and award it 4 out of 5 stars. It loses a star due to some clumsy plot jumps and general pacing issues. I suspect that it's based on a comic or something and that they had trouble condensing a sprawling plot into a movie.

What I'm Pretty Sure Happened

What follows is possible spoiler territory, although it may also be completely incorrect.

As far as I was able to make it out, the heroes are being manipulated into Charles Babbage into helping him collect the materials for a doom device that will kill everyone and turn them into reanimated corpses. That way there won't be any more wars or crime or whatever, just a peaceful society.

Meanwhile "The One" (Dr. Frankenstein's original creation) is running around inciting the corpses to attack humans because he can control them like that for some reason. At first we're led to believe he's doing for revenge, but it turns out he's trying to resurrect Dr. Frankenstein and his fiancee. Also there's a female intelligent corpse with the same power to control corpses whose goal is to use Frankenstein's research to create a true soul.

Also, Dr. Watson's motivation is that he and Friday were students of Frankensteinology together, trying to prove the existence of the soul. But Friday died before they were able to finish their work, so Watson brought him back as a mindless corpse until he could discover how to truly bring him back to life.

Anyway, a fuckton of stuff happens in this movie and I'm not going to try and summarize all of it. In the end, Bride of Frankenstein gets a soul and hooks up with American guy, Watson does manage to bring Friday back to life but for some reason doesn't seem to know he was successful and teams up with Sherlock Holmes. Babbage gets killed and The One tries to use Friday and Bride of Frankenstein as vessels for the spirits of Dr. Frankenstein and his fiancee, but is thwarted by the heroes. Friday is truly ressurected, but I didn't entirely get why Watson didn't seem to know.

Okay, now I'm going to read the English Wikipedia entry on The Empire of Corpses and see what I missed.

What Did I Fuck Up?

Whoo, there's some big stuff.

So this movie was based on a novel, not a comic series. Still, adapting a novel into a movie may still explain the pacing issues.

The character I thought was named Babbage is named M. He's a government agent who blackmailed Watson into working for him because Friday was made illegally.

"Charles Babbage" is the name of the supercomputer used to upload programs into corpses that M uses to try and corpsify all humans.

The guy I thought was an American is a British agent called Frederick Burnaby who is apparently based on some real-life British adventurer.

The character I called "Bride of Frankenstein" wasn't a corpse, but an artificial life form created by Charles Edison (something I 100% missed). At the end of the movie, she changed her name to Irene Adler (dun dun dun).

Friday was apparently also referred to as "Noble Savage 007" - again, something I missed. I heard them refer to him as [something something] 007, but didn't catch that it was "Noble Savage."

The One's goal was to use the brainpower of all the corpses in the world to make a bride for himself. He wasn't trying to resurrect Dr. Frankenstein in Friday's body, but transfer his own consciousness in.

Also, there's a scene towards the end where I thought Watson was trying to resurrect Friday by jamming corpse-upgrading needle into his own brain and sacrifice himself for Friday. Apparently, he was doing an upload into his own brain and the movie never really explains how Friday came back to life.

Alright, that's it for now!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Moving to Osaka to teach ESL. Arriving early October. Pretty damn stoked.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Charlottesville, LARPers, and the Blame Game

Long term, what does Charlottesville mean for the nation? That's a big question and it's worth considering. I find myself doing so in my back yard as I watch the grass grow, high as balls on cold medication (I'm really sick right now). It's captured my attention in a way that nothing has since the Trump campaign.

The number one effect is that a fracture now exists between the Alt-Light and Nazi-LARP wings of the Alt-Right. Mild partisan bickering aside, the two groups were mostly willing to work together through the Trump campaign and indeed, up until now.

But for all the lumping together of the two groups (or three or four, or however many subgroups your taxonomy includes) done by the media, there was always a tension between them. It's difficult to put into words properly since there are so many splinter groups and individual opinions on each ideology, but there is an essential difference between a person who willingly calls themselves a Nazi and a person who does not.

"Saruman did nothing wrong guiz! Helm's Deep never happened!"
That's really the wedge of the issue, I think: are you willing to call yourself a Nazi? A Confederate? A Carthaginian? Any other of history's big losers? Regardless of whether you believe they were right at the time, or history would have been better if they won, or if their opponents were even worse, there's something inherently off about those trying to raise up these very, very dead causes while offering nothing new.

Part of the appeal of the broader Alt-Right brand was the bleeding edginess - the memes, the Rare Pepes, the devil-may-care attitude. As much as some might criticize them for being keyboard warriors, they got shit done, and that catapulted them above the trad-cons and neo-cons.

But for all of the losing that trad-cons and neo-cons do, at least they represent extant worldviews with some semblance of political power. The LARPers are 50% losers and 50% government informants. Their chances of overthrowing the Federal government or making an impact on the broader cultural landscape fall somewhere between The Nation of Yahweh and The Elf Queen's Daughters.

They are trying to get a movement up and running by shackling it to the corpses of America's enemies. They are determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat.

Nazi LARPers, gearing up for a run
But as fun as LARPer bashing is, what does this mean long term? There are basically two reads here. If AntiFa, BLM, and other Left-leaning violent mobs cool their heels, we see the Alt-Light gain ascendancy over the Alt-White as normies get turned off of the Nazi brand and anything even vaguely related.

The downside here is that Alt-Light is easier to infiltrate and turn into the next Tea Party. It's the Alt-White faction (as distinct from the Nazi LARPers) that makes it more of a personal risk to embrace the Alt-Right label. Even if you're not Alt-White, knowing that you're sharing space with them puts you on an edge with your normie friend, relatives, and coworkers.

If AntiFa etc. get even more violent, I think we see further radicalization of the normies. The Left is able to mobilize larger mobs with SorosBux, college kids, and motherfuckers who just want to burn shit down. The game here is in provoking the other side into making a bigger mess so that the normies hate them more.

Remember, at the end of the day, the normies hate whoever they see as responsible for disrupting their lives. Normal people want to go to work and enjoy themselves, not obsess over historical trivia or delve into the facts of the latest civil disturbance. They want a clear Good vs. Evil narrative (A New Hope), not a complex mess of nebulous motives and political trivia (The Phantom Menace).

If you give people Nazis - like, actual people calling themselves Nazis and throwing Nazi salutes to Nazi flags, not a little old church ladies who aren't sure about the public praise of sodomy - then they will assume that those people are Nazis and that Nazis are bad. And people fucking love it when there's a clear bad guy that they can hate.

I know it's not fair. The other guys can call themselves Communists or Dog Fuckers or whatever else and no one gives a shit. You can either whine about it to people who do not give a single iota of a fuck, or push the Commies into committing atrocities and ruining their brand just as deeply as the Nazis.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

[BTT044] Conclusions

Previous: [BTT043] Luke 24:44-46 / The Entire Old Testament

Conclusion One: Some, but not all, prophecies can be intellectually grasped

Remember Matthew 2:1-6?
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Unlike the apostles, Matthew gives us no indication that the chief priests and scribes were privy to any special revelation about the meaning of prophecy. They read Micah 5:1-4, thought about it, and correctly identified the birthplace of the Messiah.

Others, like Mat 27:3-9 / Jeremiah 32:1-15, seem to defy rational explanation. I have no idea how you would get "the betrayer of the Messiah will be buried in a field purchased with the money he got for betraying the Messiah" from "I'm investing in Israeli real estate because we're all coming back."

Maybe you can find a plausible chain of logic for that. I freely admit that I can't. Some prophecies can be intellectually grasped, but some require the eyes of God to understand.

Conclusion Two: Applying standard exegetical methods to prophecy is unbiblical

Let me very quickly specify that it is not sinful to apply standard exegetical methods to prophecy (ie, look at the context, look at the exact meaning of the original language). It is simply not what the Bible does. The Biblical method for interpreting Bible prophecies ignores context, time, exact language etc.

It is amusing that we used standard exegetical methods to arrive at this conclusion (we asked the question 'how does the Bible itself interpret prophecy in the Bible?'), but then, we're not saying there is anything wrong with using standard exegetical methods on other sections of the Bible. Standard exegetical methods still work fine for the historical sections/the letters of Paul/etc.

But we don't interpret the Psalms the same way we interpret Romans. And we should stop interpreting prophecy the way we interpret the rest of Scripture. It is simply not how the Bible treats itself.

Conclusion Three: Prophecy is written from the Divine Perspective

I'm going to break from my usual methodology here and make an inferred conclusion – something which seems supported by the text but is not explicitly stated. So take this with a larger grain of salt than usual.

It seems clear to me that prophecy (which comes from God) is written from the Divine perspective. God is the creator of time and is not bound by its laws. He exists outside of time, as He has from before the beginning. So one explanation for the way prophecy jumps around time is that it is written from a perspective outside of time – the God's Eye View.

Again, this is nowhere explicitly stated in Scripture. It is built up from what we know about God and what we know about prophecy.

Conclusion Four: Prophecy is Pattern

This one is another inferred conclusion, and one that may require longer explanation elsewhere.

The Scriptures do not present us with the types of prophecies that we may expect. There is no reason to believe that prophecies are primarily about the future. There is no reason to believe prophecies are primarily about singular events. There is really no reason to believe that prophecies are primarily found in explicitly prophetic sections (most of our prophecies with non-ambiguous fulfilments come from the Psalms).

We may flesh this out later, but for now, I consider most of prophecy as repeating patterns. The same thing happens once and then again, or even over and over again. This is part of why prophecies have multiple fulfillments.

"Prophecy is Pattern" is not absolutely true. But it's less wrong than our standard take on prophecy. It's a step to get us from an incorrect view to a more correct view.

Conclusion Five: Prophecy is about Jesus Christ
We know that all of Scripture is ultimately about Jesus Christ, and yet we still spend pointless hours agonizing over whether or not the United States appears in Revelation. Whether the Mark of the Beast will be a tattoo or a computer chip. If the Anti-Christ will rebuild the Temple or if the Temple will be rebuilt before the Anti-Christ.

This is all bullshit. It's not the purpose of prophecy and does nothing to bring us closer to Jesus or help us understand Him.

The primary purpose of prophecy and of all the Scriptures is to show us Jesus Christ and lead us to Him. So if you want to understand New Testament prophecy, this is absolutely, 100% the place where you must start.