Flying in Style

January 26th, 2015 2 comments

I recently booked my flight back to the U.S. … for next December. Award miles, you see. Booking award miles last-minute, or even three months in advance (when I usually book when paying) can be a real pain. Turns out that they open up the flights about 11 months in advance, so you kind of have to book early. If you catch them when they open up, though, you tend to have a nice selection, and can get pretty much what you want.

I’ve been flying back and forth between Japan and the U.S. for years. I have no idea how many award miles slipped past me during years I did not fly, but now I am finally up to an amount where I can travel to San Francisco and back twice on miles alone. This is possible if I take Economy the trip over, and Business on the trip back.

That combination is pretty much ideal. The trip to the U.S. is shorter, a bit over 9 hours; the flight back is longer, about 11 hours and a half. Naturally, booking Business for the longer half makes a lot of sense, for various reasons. First, it’s just a longer trip. Making that easier

Second, it’s more arduous. On the trip over, my father picks me up to drive me home when I arrive; on the way back, I face a long train ride home from Narita, lugging two larger suitcases plus a carry-on case and a backpack. What’s more, Business gives you two free checked bags versus the one checked bag for Economy; on my trip from Japan, I have mostly empty bags, so I just put my smaller case inside my larger one.

Third, it fits the strengths and weaknesses of my benefits. I have mileage-based perks, which give me lounge privileges and priority boarding… only if I fly United from an airport which has United facilities. The flight back will be operated by ANA (it usually is), so taking Business with the ANA leg allows me to get the benefits I would miss on Economy.

Taking the Economy flight to the U.S. is also better now that I have found a flight I like: United recently scored a berth at Haneda, leaving from 1:00 a.m. You might think that the Haneda part is the real advantage, as it’s in central Tokyo as opposed to Narita, which is way out in Chiba. Ironically, however, the train rides are about the same for me. Because the Skyliner makes the trip so rapidly, both routes are about equal in terms of transfers and times. No, for me, the real sweet part is leaving at 1:00 a.m. Normally, I leave Narita at 4 p.m. or so on Tuesday, and arrive in SFO very early in the morning. It means that I don’t have time to do anything useful on Tuesday in Japan, and as I am wiped out arriving in California, that whole day is more or less wasted as I struggle to stay awake all day.


Instead, I get to use all the daytime hours on Monday, and late Monday evening, I roll out for the airport. By the time I get to Haneda (which has much nicer facilities than Narita, including lots of power outlets and easy-to-access free WiFi), I am about ready to go to sleep. And on my last trip over to the U.S., I shocked myself: I actually did go to sleep, for about 4 or 5 hours. Unexpectedly, without trying. I’m never able to sleep on airplanes, even with drugs. I couldn’t believe it. But the timing appears just about perfect for exactly that.

Also, there may be something about the lack of air traffic at such times: my late-night flight from Haneda last month not only took off right on time, but also was able to arrive earlier than expected.

As an added bonus, I arrive in the U.S. late afternoon Monday (thank you, International Date Line), with enough time to get tired again, and wake up bright and shiny Tuesday morning, able to use that entire day as well. Sweet!

Another great improvement is the airline amenities. Now, all the flights I take have those in-flight entertainment screens on the back of the seat in front of you. Which is nice, but ironically less relevant, now that they also have the far more significant power outlets for every seat, allowing me to use my laptop throughout the flight. My iPad made even that somewhat irrelevant recently, but having the nice 15“ Retina display for the whole fight is nice. I can rip more than enough media to keep me occupied, not to mention do end-of-semester clean-up work.

I chose a center-aisle seat because the aircraft layout has only three seats in the middle group, meaning you only have a 50% chance of someone climbing out over you, as opposed to the window-side aisle seats, which have a 100% chance two people will have to ask you to leave your seat during the flight. Not to mention that usually the other two seats are occupied by a couple, who lean together and leave their seats together, or you get another solo on the far seat side, so the middle seat, being the least desirable on the plane, is more often empty if the flight is not full.

On the Business side, though, ANA makes the deal far sweeter. Flying business on United is nice (I once got upgraded on the way over to the states), but nowadays, they mostly offer very strange arrangements where half the seats face backwards so you are facing the person in front of you. The seats may recline 180°, but even if they do, the window/interior seat occupants still have to shuffle past you, or step over you if you are reclined.

On ANA, however, they have little partially-enclosed seat-islands, only four per row, meaning each person gets their own aisle access. You definitely are able to lie down flat, and have not just your own armrests, but two tables—one sliding table for your laptop and meals, in front of the 17” LCD monitor, and a largish side table to boot. There’s storage for my backpack so I don’t have to fish things out of the luggage bins, and even a shoe storage space.


Better yet, I was able to get seat 1K—first row! Cool. The nice part of that is not just being right up at the front, but rather that the seat is right next to the bulkhead, so there’s the table and a partial wall separating you from the traffic, and no one walking past your seat in-flight except the flight staff. As far as seat reviews go, I could not get better than this one, which was a highly detailed review for the exact seat on the exact flight I’m taking. Impossible to be more spot-on than that.

The Business seat on ANA cost 10,000 more miles than the United arrangements, but ANA’s Business is actually closer to United’s First seats, so, deal.

Using award miles, you still have to pay for airport fees and travel insurance, but the round trip came out to $72. And, I still have enough miles to do the exact same thing next year as well.

Categories: Travel Tags: by

Republicans: We’re So Awesome

January 8th, 2015 9 comments

So, Republicans won more seats than before in the last midterm election, and now control both houses. One day after they started their new session, Mitch McConnell tried to take credit for the economic upturn that has been years in the making:

After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope; the uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama Administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress. So this is precisely the right time to advance a positive, pro-growth agenda.

Yes. Sure. Because so many people were just so ecstatic and hopeful once Republicans gained their completely meaningless majority in the Senate. That’s what caused the economy to surge.

What asshats.

Look, I don’t even credit Obama with this, though the fact that more Americans are insured probably has a bigger effect than anything concerning Republicans. In the end, the economy will tend to swing around despite anything happening in the political sphere. However, if anyone in politics has the right to claim credit for what we’re seeing now, it sure as fracking hell is not the obstructionist, hostage-taking, shut-down-the-government pack of loonies that right now is strutting like a bunch of idiots who you know are going to self-destruct pretty soon.

For several charts and a general rundown proving what anyone could intuitively guess, The Washington Post has the goods.

Categories: Economics, Republican Stupidity Tags: by

Fair Is Fair

December 20th, 2014 5 comments

Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing Colorado for legalizing marijuana:

Colorado voters in 2012 passed Amendment 64, which allows the personal use of marijuana for recreation and creates a system of marijuana growing and marketing across the state, which is taxed and is supposedly regulated closely.

While this scheme is confined within the boundaries of the state, its two neighbors argued that Colorado-sourced marijuana is showing up increasingly in their states, in violation of their anti-drug laws.

Does this mean that California, with the strictest gun laws in the country, can sue Arizona and Utah, which have the most lax? I would think that guns from those two states have done infinitely more damage in California than pot could ever do in Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Categories: Law, Social Issues Tags: by

Religious Persecution

December 17th, 2014 2 comments

In Northern California, a Christian group has been blocked from using a private commercial space in a local strip mall. The congregants do not have a common church within more than an hour’s drive, and so want to rent the 2200-square-foot space in order to conduct daily prayers and Sunday services. However, the local city council, dominated by atheists, voted down the proposal in a 4-1 vote, which was celebrated by many atheists protesting outside the city council, bearing signs that read, “Ban Christianity!” and “Christianity Destroys Lives!” One demonstrator said, “To me, that church is a threat to my freedom, my liberties, and everything I own.”

OK, it’s pretty obvious that story is not correct. It’s clearly pretty outrageous, though a sizable number of right-wingers hungry for an opportunity for righteous indignation would probably believe it if it appeared on Fox or Breitbart, or if it landed in their email box.

However, it’s not exactly untrue. It is simply inaccurate on some details. That event really did happen—except it wasn’t in Northern California, it was in Georgia. And it wasn’t atheists protesting and blocking the use of a space for religious purposes, it was Christians doing that. And they were doing that because it wasn’t a church that wanted to use the space, it was a mosque.

When you hear claims of persecution, it’s almost always Christians complaining about how oppressed they are, about how there’s a war on Christmas, or a war on Christianity, and how much their religious rights an freedoms are being violated every day. But when you look at the specific claims, it’s always because of either (1) imagined slights, like people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”; (2) situations falsely perceived to be restrictions, like children not allowed to pray in school (they can); or (3) pushbacks against Christian actions which actually violate the First Amendment rights of others, like having required prayer for all students in a school, or using public land exclusively for their religion and none other—but which Christians see as assaults against their own liberties.

In terms of actual persecution in the United States, however, that is something which almost exclusively is committed by Christians against people of other beliefs. For example, the Christian reaction to one of the most common perceived slights—the “Happy Holidays” well-wishing— is to demand people say “Merry Christmas” as a generic greeting—something which actively excludes people of other beliefs, forcing the Christian greeting on everyone.

This story, however, is the more common example of significant religious persecution in the United States—which is most often Christians persecuting others.

Categories: Religion Tags: by

Process of a Smear

December 10th, 2014 6 comments

Recently, I’ve heard more than a few people in media express wonder at why people in general have such an adverse reaction to the word “feminist.” Considering that the word simply expresses the idea of equality between men and women, why is there such a negative sense to the word?

The answer is easy: feminists are a liberal constituency. And if you’re a liberal constituency or issue, there is a process of denigration that is rather consistently carried out.

Here’s how it goes:

Step One: Find the most extreme, worst example of that issue or group.

Step Two: Assume all the worst imaginable motives for the worst possible intentions.

Step Three: Subtract or diminish any redeeming qualities.

Step Four: Exaggerate what remains.

Step Five: Add imaginary negative qualities to it to suit common fears and build scapegoats.

Step Six: Claim that this is wholly representative of the issue or group.

Step Seven: Popularize and reinforce as much as possible in the media.

This happens for pretty much any liberal constituency that you can imagine. Feminists? Arrogant, aggressive, ugly, butch, man-hating lesbians intent on dominating men because they were never admired by them.

Minorities? Shiftless, aggressive, uneducated, drug-using incipient criminals with a sense of entitlement enabled by feeble-minded liberals, looking to get free government handouts paid for with taxes taken from hard-working conservative whites. Ignore and whitewash the centuries of relentless discrimination which has kept so many minorities in poverty and/or jail.

Unions? Corrupt thugs who command high salary and benefits only for those in their lodge; union workers are under-qualified oafs demanding constant breaks, more concerned with union rules than efficiency, demanding union fees like a protection racket while stifling efficiency and production at the cost of the taxpayer, their padded paychecks causing American companies to fail and be less competitive. Ignore and whitewash the endless accomplishments of unions to create universal standards for strong, well-paid jobs with safe working conditions.

The poor? Welfare queens, the indigent 47%, either unemployed by choice or stuck in low-end jobs because they refuse to work hard, always on the make for another government handout—food stamps, welfare checks, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security—while living in taxpayer-funded government housing with all the modern conveniences (they have refrigerators!), always ready to convert food stamps into liquor and fine dining or welfare checks into big-screen teevees and nice cars. Ignore and whitewash the fact that these people do the lion’s share of the most difficult and necessary work to keep our society functioning, and pay a great deal in taxes to earn their fair share.

Educators? Lazy ivory-tower socialists unable to get a real job in the free market who opt for a job with banker’s hours and three full months off in summer while demanding tenure so they can never be fired no matter how inept or harmfully incompetent they are—because of union protection. Ignore and whitewash how overworked and underpaid these well-trained professionals are in doing one of the most important tasks in society.

Same thing with issues. Abortion? Late-term abortion, happens all the time, bloody fetuses resembling newborns, used frequently and callously by feminists as an alternative to virtuous self-control.

Affirmative Action? Reverse racism, allowing any and every unqualified minority to grab a college slot they do not deserve or demand a job that would have gone to a better-qualified white person, after which they are bulletproof and exempt from the same requirements and standards whites must satisfy.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Think of any liberal constituency or issue and you’ll find the same laundry list of extreme, exaggerated, irredeemable, negative qualities applied to the entire interest. This has grown to include cities (San Francisco, Hollywood, Chicago, Boston, etc.) and any professions where liberalism is considered dominant.

If a group or issue begins to lean liberal where it did not before, or becomes more significant than it previously was, it is added to the list and put through the same process. Scientists were not one of the constituencies until evolution and climate change started to become bigger issues; when that happened, we started hearing about scientists whoring for government grants and so forth. If, say, nurses or farmers begin to emerge as a group supporting liberals, we’ll begin to see similar stereotypes begin to form.

So, no, I am not surprised that feminism has gotten a bad name. That constituency was smeared a long time ago.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies, Social Issues Tags: by

I Want My Country Back

November 30th, 2014 2 comments

We’ve heard conservatives saying “I want my country back” nowadays, a refrain begun soon after Obama took office, a cry marked by the fact that what they claim they lost never went away—except for what they won’t admit, that being a white or Republican president.

Well, you know what? I want my country back. The one I was born and raised in. Not in terms of which political party runs things or what race the president is, but the principles and ideals we were all taught were the foundations of our country.

I want back a country where torture is reviled, not a widely condoned or even a reluctantly accepted practice.

I want back a country where civil rights were things we gained, not lost.

I want back a country where you don’t have to half undress before getting on a plane, and we weren’t so willing to surrender our liberty for the flimsy perception of safety.

I want back a country where a strong education is universally seen as vital and desirable, and a college education does not break you financially.

I want back a country where if a politician says something so outrageously stupid or untrue that anyone could tell, that politician would be hounded out of office, not cheered. Or that most of the nation could actually tell.

I want back a country where the social priority was to fight poverty, not to pander to billionaires.

I want back a country where the press gives us news, not propaganda.

I want back a country where at least most people felt it was a good thing to sacrifice for the common good.

I want back a country where corporations are not people and money is not free speech.

I want back a country where unwieldily corporate conglomerates were broken up, not where entire markets—especially media—are dominated by fewer and fewer controlling entities.

I’m not saying we should have a perfect society or any other unreasonable expectation; I am not pining for a political or social ideal. I’m not asking for anything we never had but thought we did. These are all things that actually used to be real for us, but are gone now.

Can I have that back?

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

Consumption Tax

November 22nd, 2014 2 comments

If one counts out the recessions caused by U.S. economic concerns in 2001 and 2008, then it is noteworthy that 2 of the last three recessions in Japan—including the current one—have closely followed increases in the consumption tax.

It should also be noted that the initial consumption tax was accompanied by a lowering of taxes targeted at the upper end of the economic spectrum, and that in Japan, consumption tax has no exemptions for food or other necessities for lower-income people. Japan’s consumption tax just happens to remove large amounts of income just where it is needed most—not just out of personal needs, but out of the need for disposable income to fuel purchasing and therefore production.

If Japanese politicians want to raise the consumption tax yet again to 10%, as is currently planned, I think they would be well-served by doing so only after a 3-year experiment in which the tax is brought back down to 3% and original higher-end taxes reinstated. If the economy is doing worse after those three years (and not depressed by the world economy), then they can try a 10% consumption tax.

Not that that’s going to happen.

Categories: Economics, Taxes Tags: by

It Never Left

November 18th, 2014 2 comments

One of the hallmarks of modern racism has been its covert nature. For better or worse, racism, while still strong in the United States, has gone underground. People with racist inclinations have learned that it is no longer acceptable to make outright public statements of a racist nature.

Or, actually, not. Racism in recent years has bounded back, largely helped by institutional racism and the ability to go largely anonymous in public thanks to the Internet.

You still cannot make outright racist statements in public, but you can use a rather well-established code. Racists have found cover in this, encouraged by the institutions of the media—Fox News and even more extremist outlets reporting relentlessly on minorities in a fashion that all but screams racism—and of politics—conservatives nationwide showing contempt for minorities, blaming them for the nation’s woes and passing laws to cut off their voting rights.

This is further spurred by the widespread insistence, legitimized by the Supreme Court no less, that even in face of some of the most racist policies and mindsets that we have seen in decades, America is supposedly “past” racism, that it is no longer a problem. In the same way that historical revisionism whitewashes the wrongs done by the nation and gives us the confidence to march forward into more wrongdoings in the world, this so “post-racialism” gives cover to those with racist intent, making them feel that so long as they conform to the new rules of the game, then their rather overt—even blazing—racism is not actually “racism.”

Reading the comments in an ABC News story about how the FBI expects violence in the wake of an upcoming grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO, I was truck by how baldly racist the comments were, using the rules of New Racism:

Any decision will lead to violence. Violence is what the DOJ and Obama want. It is what the Jacksons and Sharptons do. The protesters can’t wait to loot any business.

And they should be shot down for the criminals they are. They have been on the dole so long they cannot accept “No” for an answer for anything or any situation. They are a bunch of uncivilized hoodlums.

Guilty or not guilty it does not matter…They are getting their free TV’s and Rims one way or the other…And none of them cares or knows who Michael Brown is.

Don’t knock ‘affirmative shopping’ ! the brothas gotta eat !!

The FBI is obviously a racist organization. Blacks are peaceful people. They would never ever hurt anyone or destroy anything. They are the pillars of intellectual achievement across the globe. They are simply misunderstood. When they burn down a small business, it’s because they have visions of putting in skyscrapers of achievement in their place. White folk just don’t grasp the higher (ebonic) math needed to burn down a small business and injure or kill innocent civilians.

When Ferguson happens it will saturate the media. That is exactly the time Obama will give executive amnesty to untold millions. Don’t waste that crisis.

The story had more than 1600 comments at the time of this posting—and was gaining dozens of new comments every minute. Most of them were like the ones above.

One of the key rules of New Racism: avoid using classic, outright epithets; instead, use names of prominent people of color in a disparaging way, in addition to a variety of widely-disparaged names, terms, and stereotypes. Obama, Sharpton, Jackson, Holder; Affirmative Action, food stamps, ebonics, handouts, amnesty; looting, lazy, hoodlum, moocher, thug… not hard to see where all of it leads.

It is sadly ironic that one of the few posts to be editorially questioned was one which labeled some of the above posts as “racist.” It was available on a link, but marked “held for moderation.” And the commenter who made that remark was immediately attacked by several as being racist himself—another standard tactic in the New Racism: anyone who calls you a racist is a racist. Pile on, quickly and in force.

Not far behind the New Racism, however, does the Old Racism lurk. Spurred by enough sentiment going their way, those who would gladly dispense with the more politically correct racism soon come out—and too many of the comments are not held for moderation:

If violent Negroes want to burn businesses and not accept the verdict, they should be dealt with with water cannons first and then guns. There’s no place in the USA for Violent people to kill and burn because they don’t agree with grand jury court verdict. This is the USA, not some third world toilet bowl country and if Negroes can’t live under the rule of law, they need to move overseas and leave the USA, period.

Feral animals at it again. And, of course, that’s how this whole situation began.

Back to trees Boogies!

all i see is organized terrorists. time to squash the savages


Time for a race war. Let’s just get it over with.

Yep. No more racism in America. We’re all clean.

Categories: Race Tags: by

When You’re Privileged, the Irony Is Hard to Catch

November 9th, 2014 4 comments

In Tracy, CA (about 50 miles east of San Francisco), a couple of kids are in danger of failing a high school speech class because, in a school assignment to recite the pledge to the school, they left out the words “under God.”

In one sense, the kids are out of line: they were told that they were required to read the pledge as presented, and if they felt uncomfortable with the assignment, they could get an alternate one. Instead, they chose to lead the recitation, and violated the rules given. While one of the students claimed he felt he would not be graded fairly with the alternative assignment, one kind of gets the feeling that they in fact wanted to make a statement.

And that is where they are not out of line; instead, the pledge, or more specifically, those who feel it must be forced upon the student populace, are out of line. I focused last month on the idea that the pledge itself is inane, but that was a more general assessment based on the fact that it requires young people to take an oath they do not understand. The inclusion of the words “under God” is another very solid reason the pledge is not a good idea.

Aside from the fact that the inclusion of “under God” is a late addition (the pledge was introduced in 1892, and the “under God” was tacked on in 1954), it is a clear violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state. Like making the national motto “In God We Trust” and slapping it on every piece of currency, it not only deviates from the original intention (the national motto was, even if not codified by law, “E Pluribus Unum” since the time of the founders), but it foists religion, indeed a specific religion (we all know which God is being referred to, after all), upon the people by government fiat, in stark contradiction to the establishment rule. In fact, the addition of “so help me God” to official pledges is expressly forbidden not by the Bill of Rights, but by the main body of the constitution itself, forbidding religious tests for public office. If you don’t think it’s a religious test, imagine what would have happened to Obama, or any other president, had they specifically omitted those two words from their inaugural oaths.

And yet, these illegal incursions are allowed to persist, usually under the spurious excuse that it’s not important, just a “little thing,” why are you even making a deal out of this at all? And then a Supreme Court justice attempts to overturn the First Amendment on the very basis that these incursions have become accepted in everyday government and social business.

And this is highlighted beautifully in the Tracy Unified School District’s public response to the two students’ actions:

“When you’re leading the pledge, you’re representing the school,” Strube said in an interview Monday . “I would say it’s not appropriate to leave it out when you are leading it for 2,000 people.”

This perfectly shows up the fallacy of the inclusion of religious text. How is it appropriate to direct a diverse group of students to make a religious statement on the direction of a government agency, but somehow inappropriate to not direct them to make a religious statement? If you are harming the religious students by leaving out the religious statement once or twice, how are you not harming the non-religious students every other time?

To say that it’s tradition or even law only makes it worse.

Seriously, it is time to retire this rather silly and, frankly, unconstitutional ritual.

Categories: Religion Tags: by

People Are Stupid

November 5th, 2014 10 comments

It’s not like the Republicans really fooled anyone. It’s pretty damn clear that the stimulus did more good than bad, and at the very least staved off a depression. That Obama did more than most to help save the auto industry. It’s just as clear that Obamacare is a good thing. And that the economy, however tepid, is improving. Gas prices are even lower. Obama and the Democrats are trying to give most Americans a raise and to serve their interests in many other ways.

But it is outrageously clear that Republicans had nothing to do with any of this, have been fighting against the people’s interests, and have only been trying to run things into the ground. Holding the economy hostage and damaging our credit rating. Obstructing and stonewalling for the sake of obstructing and stonewalling. Blaming even the most bizarre things on Obama, like Ebola or Katrina, things he clearly had no effect on.

What is most bizarre, however, is that the Republican claims are clearly false, and their motives are clearly harmful. They suppress voting on the claim of voter fraud when it is strikingly clear they are suppressing the opposition vote. They state openly that it is their intent to ruin Obama. They state unashamedly that they will obstruct while saying it’s Obama’s fault.

All that they blame Obama for and so much more that is at the heart of our nation’s problems is clearly their fault.

So how do the people react? Things really stink… so let’s reward Republicans!

The blind stupidity is breathtaking.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags: by

An Unreasonable Standard

November 4th, 2014 No comments

Why is it that when there’s a tragic death in space travel and exploration, it’s considered a huge black eye and a major setback for the entire endeavor, but not with anything else?

There are tens of thousands of deaths in automobiles each year; why isn’t that a setback for the car industry?

There is a very high death rate for serious mountain climbers; Mt. Blanc along accounts for about a hundred deaths a year. Why is not each new death a setback for the sport?

In fact, insurance companies regularly estimate the number of deaths in any particular industry over certain projects or periods of time.

So why is it that, apparently, only in space flight, is a death rate seen as unacceptable? Did anyone really expect that such an endeavor would never expect an accidental death?

Categories: Science Tags: by

Carrier Nonsense

November 2nd, 2014 3 comments

Usually I get new iPhones as soon as they come out, but my carrier kinda screwed me on that; somehow, over time, they added a few months to my contracts, and I couldn’t get out of it until November 1st. That, and a bunch of other stuff has me good and tired of SoftBank. For example, they offer “points” with your service, but after three years (after which the points expire) I had a grand total of ¥1090 (about $10) after about $5000 worth of bills for myself and Sachi over that time. To add insult to injury, you can’t buy squat with that at their store, which means you can only do so at the online store. And their online store is so convoluted that after 20 minutes, the staff member there couldn’t figure it out either, and started to give me a phone number which I am sure would have inevitably been staffed by a teineigo operator who would use such obscure vocabulary that they would only confuse me more.

I changed to a new carrier, Au, for a couple of different reasons. First, switching carriers means you get a discount in the first two years just for that. Au’s prices in general were already a bit lower than Softbank’s, and that was further sweetened by an additional $15 a month discount (each) because our home Internet connection is with KDDI, which is the same company as Au. Au was also much more accessible and open about the terms; for example, I had never known that the “unlimited” data plans get severely throttled after 5 or 7 GB of use in one month; Softbank’s people never mentioned that over the years, but Au was very upfront about it.

In addition, Au did me a solid on timing. While some orders can take a month, and commonly two weeks to fulfill—a problem with me because I had a short window in which to switch carriers else suffer a $100 penalty—Au happened to have an extra iPhone 6 the color and capacity I wanted, and decided kindly to hang onto it for me for 10 days after I signed up, so I could pick it up immediately as soon as my shackles to Softbank evaporated.

On top of that, KDDI (and, it seems, Au) have English support—if not total, they do try their best, and it’s appreciated.

Long story short, instead of paying about $75 apiece per month to Softbank, our contracts are now for about $55 for each of us. Over two years, that saves a lot of money (almost a thousand dollars over our first two years). We lose about $10 a month on each contract after that, as the switching discount is not renewed and the home-Internet discount is cut to $10 a month instead of $15—but even then it’s still better.

Not to mention I was getting the Worst Sales Rep Ever at Softbank every time I went, who was royally pissing me off. Glad to be rid of them.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014, iPhone Tags: by

Vote for My Secret Agenda!

October 28th, 2014 1 comment

The latest thing in Republican politics which is not being reported by the “Liberal Media™”?

Keeping your political agenda secret.

You know how campaigns are supposed to be about telling the people what you plan to do so they can make informed choices about the government they want, right?

Not according to Mitch McConnell!

[McConnell] refused, when asked by a member of the club, to identify the first three issues he would try to push through the Senate if he becomes majority leader.

“Obviously, I’m not going to answer that question,” he said. “To lay out an agenda publicly at this point makes it look like you’re measuring the drapes.”

Instead, he laid out his plans in broad terms, including passing a budget, voting on whether to allow the Keystone oil pipeline project to proceed, and repealing the individual mandate to buy health insurance and the tax on medical devices that were part of the Affordable Care Act.

After the speech, in response to a reporter’s question, McConnell refused to say if, as majority leader, he would back legislation to privatize Social Security. “I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance, we’re not in the majority yet. We’ll have more to say about that later.”

Since when has this been the case? Well, it’s not exactly new. McCain did this some when he ran in 2008. Remember when he told everybody that he had a secret plan to catch Osama bin Laden, it was a surefire guarantee—but he would not tell anyone what it was unless he was elected?

McConnell seems to be upping the game, making his entire legislative agenda secret.

Essentially, politicians are like salesmen: if there’s something they don’t want you to see before a sale is made, they do their damnedest to hide it from you.

Interestingly, the news media is largely silent on McConnell’s quotes. Apparently they think what he said is nothing significant enough to note. Spiffy.

Categories: Political Game-Playing Tags: by

No, It’s Not Religion That Gets You Dragged Off to Jail

October 19th, 2014 1 comment

For a while now, there has been paranoid claims from the religious right that society is becoming so hostile to religion that Christians could be arrested for their beliefs. Much of this is over Christians who condemn homosexuality and see hate laws and anti-discriminatory measures as direct legal attacks on their faith. Back in 2009, some Christians fretted that they could face “legal sanctions” for merely expressing their God-given beliefs.

Earlier this year, three congregations were shocked when actual city police officers marched into their churches and arrested three pastors. The police officers and the pastors all claimed in the video of the event that the arrests were for “defending the faith.” The congregations later learned that the entire event was staged, the arrests mock ones, intended to show how difficult it had become to preach one’s beliefs in current times.

Recently we have seen a series of movies showing Christians being persecuted for their beliefs, from a ridiculous movie about a college Philosophy professor forcing his class to admit God doesn’t exist, to a movie literally titled “Persecuted,” about a government conspiracy to create laws to, apparently, mute Christianity by mixing it with all other religions, or something. I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know if the reviews or the movie itself is bizarrely unclear. The main character is framed for a crime he did not commit, and stands to be imprisoned.

And just now, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stated that he believes there is a “real risk” that clergy will literally be arrested and imprisoned for advocating “traditional marriage.”

All this despite the fact that, not only are Christians not being arrested and imprisoned, but the law is trending very strongly against any such eventuality. While others are being granted legal rights that these religious conservatives deplore and wish to stop, any law which even seems to infringe on religious freedoms, even tangentially, is being struck down—even if it means limiting the freedoms of people who believe differently.

Indeed, if you want to find anyone being sent to prison for their beliefs, you’r going to have to look at atheists. In California, in 2004, Barry A. Hazle, Jr. was arrested for meth possession. California law, in the wake of Prop 36, states that you have to be given three chances to remain sober. Hazle was in the process of being served with his second warning when police serving him found an unopened bottle of Whiskey in his apartment; that liquor got him sent to prison. The sentence was later overturned, as a court decided Hazle was arrested for a third offense which was committed before he was informed he had expended his second one.

In the meantime, Hazle went to prison for a year. After one year, he was offered a chance at parole—but only if he agreed to enter a rehab program. Hazle agreed, and was released on parole. However, a problem soon turned up: the rehab program demanded that all its members “recognize a higher power,” i.e., God. Hazle, an atheist, had problems with that. According to records, he “congenially” stated his concerns and requested a different program. Since no secular program was found, his parole officer sent him back to jail for another 100 days.

He sued and won a sizable settlement, and California has since changed its laws not to so discriminate.

However, Hazel essentially served 100 days in prison for being an atheist; a Christian would have been allowed to go free.

In a society where Christians win national news coverage for their alleged “persecution” just because a business refuses to print religious material for copyright reasons, can you imagine what the reaction would be if a Christian were sentenced to jail because they refused to renounce God? Holy Crap, the Internet would explode and there would be weeks of non-stop coverage on Fox. Hazle’s story barely made the news, mostly just local reports.

And although California changed its laws, there are many states which have not; and in many other ways, atheists are marginalized and given second-class citizenship—something Antonin Scalia (who calls atheists “irrational,” believers “worldly wise,” and believes that atheism “certainly favors the devil’s desires”) recently claimed was completely constitutional.

No, it’s not religion that is being persecuted in the United States.

Categories: Religion Tags: by

What’s With Maddow?

October 14th, 2014 13 comments

I’ve always liked Rachel Maddow. She’s right on the nose on so much stuff, and often times is ahead of the curve; she’ll see a national story developing well before it’s a national story, and will be there, in force, well before the crowd. She can also be overly persistent sometimes. Both of those qualities were on display with her coverage of the New Jersey Bridge Scandal, reporting on it long before it became “a thing.” And though it was patently clear something was going on, there just wasn’t enough of a smoking gun, and so the story died out. Maddow hung on, though, and although she has stopped covering the story on a daily basis, she still maintains that it’s alive and kicking.

Often times she will highlight a cause that really needs to be highlighted, championing a story that deserves attention but would never get it otherwise. A lot of people are not fond of her meandering connect-the-dots story intros, but I think they’re great, establishing context and/or apt analogies. Yes, Maddow is extremely partisan, but so long as you stick to the facts and give a story fair coverage, partisanship is not that big a deal, so long as you account for it.

So, long story short, I like Maddow, and watch her show regularly—it’s one of the few that is run in full, video and audio, in a podcast, commercial free. Nice for political junkies living overseas, like me.

However, recently Maddow has started staking out some pretty strange positions. For example, with the recent re-engagement in Iraq against ISIS, Maddow has glommed on to the air-strike strategy as being bogus. It’s clear that few people want “boots on the ground,” but are OK with air strikes and other support roles, as they are not as significant a commitment.

Maddow’s response, strangely, is to claim that the aircraft involved could be shot down, and once that happens… “boots on the ground!”

Um, yes… for a few hours, and then they’re off the ground. However, Maddow seems to be suggesting that planes going down in Iraq would somehow be equivalent to a ground war. Which is pretty weird. I mean, we had mostly air coverage in the Balkans under Clinton, and some aircraft went down. We got them out, and it never led to a ground war.

If Maddow wants to speak out against any engagement in Iraq, then OK. I think there’s a lot that could be said for that position, unpopular as it may be. But her current stance, which she hammers away at with her trademark persistence, is pretty groundless, if you’ll forgive the unfortunate pun.

Then today, she takes on Leon Panetta. After a long and less-connected-than-usual intro covering tell-all books under Reagan and Clinton, she essentially attacks Panetta as being an attack dog for Hillary Clinton. Though I’m not exactly sure how that works, but whatever.

However, in the midst of this takedown, one of her big, let’s-laugh-at-how-ridiculous-this-is pieces of evidence is that Panetta’s criticisms of Obama in his book clash with… Panetta’s statements when he was testifying on Obama’s behalf as Defense Secretary.

Really? Rachel, you do know that cabinet members commonly espouse positions they may not necessarily agree with, don’t you? That Panetta could easily have disagreed, but as Secretary of Defense, he pretty much had to represent the president’s point of view. But Maddow scoffs at this as if it is some huge act of hypocrisy on Panetta’s part.


Kinda bizarre.

Categories: Journalism, Political Ranting Tags: by

Making the Pledge Meaningful

October 12th, 2014 1 comment

When I was a kid, I remember saying the pledge, and for years, I thought the pledge had the words, “one nation, under god, invisible….” True story—never having heard the word “indivisible,” I didn’t hear it, and instead filled in the word I knew which was closest. For years, I was pledging my allegiance to an invisible country. Which I though was kind of cool.

For that matter, in the first grade, I really didn’t know what the words “pledge,” “allegiance,” or “republic” meant, and was fuzzy on concepts like “liberty” and “justice.” Come to think of it, kids that age usually have a very sketchy idea of what “God” and “the United States of America” are as well.

Let’s face it: kids do not understand what they’re doing when we have them recite the pledge. To them, it’s just one of those things they do because grown-ups tell them to. But they have no clue as to what they are saying.

That, in my opinion, is why we should never have the pledge recited in schools.

Think about it: what is a pledge? It is a “solemn promise or undertaking,” committing one’s self to an organization, a cause, or a course of action.

When we testify in court, we take an oath to only tell the truth. However, when we have children testify, they don’t take that oath—precisely because we know that they do not understand the concept we would be asking them to swear to.

So why do we make kids, incapable of understanding what they are doing, take the pledge, especially if we take the idea of the pledge so seriously?

The answer is, we don’t take the pledge so seriously. We take it mindlessly. Because, sad as it may seem, most adults are still fuzzy on the concepts in the pledge. Go ahead, try to get most of them to accurately define what a “Republic” is. Most would have difficulty making a distinction between “freedom” and “liberty.” And if you ask them what the consequences of the pledge are, they would probably have to compose such a list on the spot, never having done so before.

To me, having kids recite the pledge is not just nonsense, it’s bad civics. If a pledge is to mean anything, it must be made solemnly, with full and clear understanding of both the meaning and the consequences of the action. Having it be a forced, rote recital voids it of actual meaning and makes it at best a pro-forma ritual, and at the worst, indoctrination. As a result, most Americans do not understand the very country they live in, but think that they do. They have been trained to accept without thinking, while being weak in the fundamentals of good citizenship.

I would say that we make the taking of the pledge a serious event, making it clear what the pledge means in full, and what the person is actually promising to do. Don’t have it be a mass recital, but instead a personal statement.

This could not be done early or quickly, but over many years of time. Include the concepts involved in classes throughout school. Have kids take various pledges—not to steal, not to bully, not to get into fights, for example—and have consequences if they break those pledges, so they understand what a “pledge” is.

Have students engage in exercises to demonstrate allegiance, but throw in the ethical permutations. Should allegiance trump morality? If a kid has pledged his allegiance to a team, does that mean he should not point out cheating by his teammates? If the group they pledged allegiance to asks them to do something wrong, should they do it?

Make students aware of what the flag is: a representation of the nation, which is defined by its constitution. How well do you know the constitution? If you’re like most people, you don’t know it very well, just the vague outlines. So, we’re pledging our allegiance to something we don’t understand? Hmm. How about, instead of pledging allegiance, we bring back Civics as a required course, and learn what we would be pledging to first.

That would help cover the understanding of what a “Republic” is—and how it differs from a Democracy. I think you should probably understand the distinction if you want to make a solemn pledge to one of them. The same with “liberty” as opposed to “freedom,” and even “justice” as opposed to what most people really think that is, which is vengeance. Making all of these terms clear to young people would also be required for the pledge to be meaningful.

Then we should cover the consequences of such a pledge. Most people, like politicians, say the words without really meaning it, as if it were some lodge ritual, except they don’t have to sweat what the actual meaning is. If you asked most American adults what they have to do as a result of taking the pledge, you would probably just get blank looks.

I would say that taking the pledge means taking the republic seriously. I would say voting in all elections is the absolute minimum required for that. Availing one’s self of the free press and all other resources to become responsibly aware of the issues, so as to vote responsibly. Paying your taxes, not dodging jury duty, following the law—I would assume all of these would be concomitant with the pledge. Not just cheering for the country in the Olympics and taking our side in any international disputes, but to actively work to make the country a better place. Public service of some kind would not be a bad means, either.

When a child reaches some level of maturity, we should put them to a test, to see if they truly understand the terms of the pledge—the meanings of the words and the responsibilities implied. If they agree, fully understanding everything, then they take the pledge. Each person could, without fear of repercussions, decide to add or subtract the “under God” phrase. The oath would not be taken ceremonially, not ritually—that could be turned into a compulsory action—but meaningfully, as one takes a citizenship pledge.

This would not be required by law, one’s rights would not depend upon it to be realized. Instead, it would simply be what the pledge is purported to be: an oath of allegiance. Except fully realized, not mindlessly recited.

Then the pledge would have some sort of meaning. Then it would be worthwhile to ask our kids to take it. Then it would be a positive force in our society.

But now, it’s carried out in a way that is devoid of meaning, and unsurprisingly, used as a political weapon to boot. It is, as currently carried out, probably more detrimental than it is patriotic in any way.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

Religion Is Only the Cause When It’s Those Guys

October 11th, 2014 1 comment

How is it that whenever a Christian attacks, maims, or kills someone based upon hateful scripture, it’s not really Christianity that’s at issue—the guy is obviously mentally unstable! Has nothing to do with the actual religion!

But when a Muslim beheaded someone? That’s definitely Islam, a religion of hatred.

Slight double standard here?

Categories: Religion Tags: by

Wrongful Birth

October 10th, 2014 Comments off

Astonishing. There are doctors out there who, upon discovering a crippling or fatal condition in the fetus of a pregnant patient, would deliberately withhold that information. Why? Because the doctor’s personal beliefs make them pro-life, and passing on that information would probably lead to an abortion.

Not so surprisingly, there are Republican-controlled states out there which have passed laws which prohibit lawsuits against these doctors.

This brings us back to the whole Hobby Lobby debacle: those with a peripheral interest in a situation put their own religious beliefs before the rights of the people centrally involved. As if only the people who are on the sidelines of a situation have rights, and the people directly impacted have none.

I understand the concern: the doctor, having given the information, will feel complicit in the abortion. The problem: that’s not how it works. He has a duty, one he has professionally sworn to. I know he probably feels like he just told the Nazis that the little Jewish girl is hiding in the attic, but that’s the case only if his beliefs are true and no one else is correct in theirs.

Let’s call this doctor “Dr. Smith.” After having salved his own conscience by forcing a couple to have a child with Tay-Sachs to go to term, Dr. Smith goes to his own physician, Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones performs Smith’s annual exam, and finds evidence of cancer—a highly treatable, easily curable form, if the patient gets early treatment. However, unbeknownst to Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones is a Christian Scientist, and believes the cancer treatment to be prohibited by God. So he withholds the diagnosis and lets Dr. Smith leave his office. Smith’s cancer, of course, worsens, and before Smith finds out about it, progresses to an incurable stage.

Would Dr. Smith feel that Dr. Jones acted appropriately? Hell, no—he would be furious. And rightly so.

Now, you might say that Dr. Smith shouldn’t have chosen a Christian Scientist doctor—but how many doctors that withhold medical information from pregnant couples warn them in advance that they are pro-life? And any argument about a Christian Scientist becoming a mainstream doctor would only highlight the impropriety of any doctor allowing their religious beliefs to affect the treatment they offer their patients.

If a state allows doctors to do this kind of thing, then there must be a companion law that doctors must warn their patients beforehand of their religious beliefs and how that might affect their treatment—otherwise, what you have is no better than malpractice and fraud.

Bet you any amount you like that these states, which pass laws requiring that doctors lecture inform women seeking an abortion about all the dangers, real and imagined, of the procedure, to the point of showing them horrific images and so on, see no need to force doctors to inform patients about what kind of treatment they can expect to receive…

An article on NPR which recounts several cases, and shines light on the situation:

In Suffern, N.Y., Sharon and Steven Hoffman’s son, Jake, was born with Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease that mainly affects Jewish families and is usually fatal by age 4 or 5.

“There’s no treatment. There’s no cure. There’s nothing,” Sharon says.

She says her doctor did not test for the disease. At six months, Jake was diagnosed with it. The couple says he lost control of his muscles and had constant seizures. He died two years later before reaching his third birthday. Sharon says she would have had an abortion if she had known.

“There is no quality of life,” Sharon says. “The only thing that you would be bringing this child into the world to do is to suffer. And die.”

This couple sued their doctor for wrongful birth and settled for an undisclosed amount.

In most states, parents can sue for negligence or if doctors fail to provide information about the condition of a fetus. But more than a half-dozen states have adopted laws that ban those lawsuits, and several others have been debating the idea this year.

Categories: Health Issues, Social Issues Tags: by


September 26th, 2014 6 comments

Really? People buy giant-screen phones, put them in their back pockets, and sit on them? Then get upset at the manufacturer when the phones get bent out of shape?

I’m sorry, but that sounds really, really stupid. Two days ago, I broke a pair of glasses by sitting on them. I had laid them on the bed and forgotten where they were. Twenty minutes later, I come back to sit down, and crack! Oops. I felt a bit careless, but these things happen. (Got them fixed, by the way—Japanese glasses shops do that for free, so long as the damage isn’t too great.)

But I didn’t put them in my back pocket and then sit on them. That would have made me feel stupid. Also, I would not have gone to the glasses shop and complained to them if I had done this. It would be like going to a car dealer and saying, “I drove my new car into a brick wall at 30 mph, and now look at it! What are you going to do about it?”

Seriously, I would feel nervous about sitting on my iPhone 5 in my back pocket, and that’s a much sturdier phone.

A general rule of thumb: don’t sit on electronic devices.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags: by

Literally Rewriting History

September 24th, 2014 1 comment

A school board in Colorado is considering the formation of a “curriculum committee” for local high schools that would review and filter the content of the schools’ U.S. History courses.

In what way?

…the committee would make sure that U.S. history materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions.”

The panel “would review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed objectionable.

The committee shall regularly review texts and curricula according to priorities that it establishes,” according to the Jeffco School board proposal.

The more you consider it, the more you realize that the description cannot possibly be defended. The board president claims that the proposal will in no way “change the history curriculum,” but if that were so, then what would a “curriculum committee” do? The whole idea of such a committee would be to revise and change the curriculum. In fact, the more you read the wording, the more apparent it is that whoever wrote it is almost certainly a Fox-News-watching Tea Party advocate. Nor should it surprise one that the people pressing this agenda are indeed Koch-backed conservatives being cheered on by right-wing pundits.

The proposal states that materials in history classes would have to “promote patriotism,” for example. How exactly do you do that? History is supposed to be an objective study of past events. It seems clear that if certain historical facts are deemed not to promote a sense of love for country, they would be revised to do so. Under this metric, one could easily presume that not only would national icons have their reputations brightened beyond factual descriptions, but anything in the history course which reflects poorly on the United States would be removed or reworded so that it would not appear that the United States did anything wrong. Political scandals, corruption, and specific wrongdoing by public agencies would be on the chopping block. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, slavery, and the campaign of genocide against native Americans might all be suppressed under the review of such a committee. If the committee were to work to “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage,” that could easily be interpreted as a license to whitewash history in general.

Then there is the “essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system,” essentially the ideology that private business should be free of state control and regulation—a very specific political tenet. Exploitation of child and immigrant labor, the history of labor unions and their positive effects, evidence of corporate malfeasance—all would likely be rewritten so as to glorify the idea of corporations as heroes, and any state regulation or intervention as meddling bureaucrats making things worse.

And “respect for authority”? What is that supposed to mean? Most political movements in our history, such as the Civil Rights movement, were based upon a respect for peaceful protest, but not a “respect for authority.” Besides which, the whole idea of education is not to create a class of subservient drones, but to develop minds capable of critical thinking and analysis, one basis of which is to question authority. Not to disrespect it outright—but questioning it could easily be classed as “not respecting” authority, and so removed from the curriculum.

As for the rule that the content of history courses must “not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” that pretty much means that labor unions, political protests, peaceful civil disobedience—essentially any protests against the status quo, which would include the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, Occupy Wall Street, you name it. Naturally, these are progressive movements for the most part.

But then we get to the last item on the agenda: “Content pertaining to political and social movements in U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions.”

You know what that means: someone read a history book, didn’t like how their favored positions were represented, and decided it was time to do a little rewriting. The Second Amendment was not about militia! Separation of church and state was not about secularism! “Balance” has become a new code word, one that allows for “both sides of the argument” to be presented. History texts look poorly upon McCarthyism and blacklists? Well, let’s see the other side of that argument, just to be balanced.

The real clincher that these are die-hard conservatives comes from a line from the proposal strangely not included in the report cited above: “Theories should be distinguished from fact.” That’s deep-red code, absolute dog-whistle language which just screams, “We’re angry, paranoid wingnuts intent on revisionism!”

Seriously, school boards should be outlawed. I mean that. Consider what they are: Bands of local citizens, mostly chosen in elections few people pay real attention to, who have absolutely no prerequisites for any knowledge or expertise regarding education, who nonetheless exert authority over and pressure professionals engaged in providing children with a quality education. These are not experts. They are all too often people with personal and political agendas.

Imagine the idea of a school board applied to any other profession. How about medicine? How would you feel if your doctor, your surgeon, were forced to follow the mandates of a bunch of yahoos elected by friends in your neighborhood while you weren’t looking, deciding what medicines should be prescribed, or how surgeries should be performed? Can you really say that wouldn’t scare the crap out of you?

And yet, somehow, this is the standard for education. Spiffy.

Categories: Education Tags: by