Monday, November 10, 2008

LOVE: Episode I

Anakin is the chosen one - the boy prophesized by the Jedi to bring balance to the force. However, along the way unfortunate events intervene. Though his Jedi powers are great they are of no use as his mother is slaughtered by vicious sand people inhabiting the outer-rim planet of Tatooine. Dreams of losing his wife - Padme Amidala - haunt him as the evil emperor seduces young Anakin with tales of the dark side. He promises him limitless power. He promised him a way to reverse the course of his soon-to-be-dead wife.

When Episode III was released I wondered how George Lucas was going to turn Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. It's hard to maintain suspense when everyone knows how it's going to end. While I won't defend Lucas' story-telling abilities (wait ... he goes from reluctant Jedi to child-slaughtering Sith in 10 minutes?) there's something genuinely profound about the fall of Anakin Skywalker.

How does a farmer boy meant to embody light and innocence transform into the cowboy-western-esque man in the black hat - a man of darkness and cruelty. Let me stop and take that in for a second. That is an abjectly powerful philosophical question. You might as well ask where do bad people in the world come from? Hitler, Stalin, Tony Danza. Is evil merely a perception of differing perspectives or is the devil within us? Is he hiding? What the Anakin-Vader transformation asks is this: how does a good man become bad?

Never short on subtlety Lucas answers this in a conversation Anakin has with the great Jedi master Yoda:

YODA: Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.

ANAKIN: I won't let my visions come true, Master Yoda.

YODA: Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.

ANAKIN: What must I do, Master?

YODA: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

What led to Anakin's downfall was a flaw in his character but one that we can all relate to - fear of losing that which we love. The relationship is systemic. The more Anakin loves Padme the more his fear grows. The more his fear grows the more he is consumed by the power of the dark side.

While I don't follow religion, I do follow Star Wars and so this got me to thinking -

Could it be that the root of all evil is .... love?

The answer of course is yes. The problem we have though is love is the root of all good and so far as humanity is concerned we're really up shit's creek on this one.

If you're a female reader of this blog or you just look like a woman, you'll be happy to know that I'll be devoting the next few posts on the topic of love. As a dude who hasn't had a steady girlfriend for upwards of two years don't expect Cosmo/Maxim writing meant to help you "get that guy/girl/transgender homeboy". Mostly it'll be wrist-slittingly™ geeky commentary on a topic I think about as I gaze at German school children (see last post). With luck I'll find a new way to depress and bore you each time.

Tune in!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


In one more month it'll be two years since I moved out of the United States.

Autumn is lovely in Frankfurt. There's something about the way the leaves turn an earthen red and the air gets just brisk enough to wake you up. The neighborhood I live in is quiet and residential and it reminds me of the town I grew up in New Jersey. Every day I walk to work and I pass by this elementary school. I see the kids riding their bikes with their little backpacks as their school day starts. Today deja vu happened upon me. It was like I was watching myself out there. I don't know much but I do know this: today, two years sank in.

When I was a kid one of my favorite movies was a Tom Hanks film called "Big". If you've never seen it Tom Hanks plays a kid who grows up in the suburbs of New Jersey and wishes he could be an adult. He gets his wish and for a while it's great - he parties, he eats what he wants, he scores a hot girlfriend. But at a certain point Tom wishes he could be a kid again. He visits the town he fled, and looks at it, this time through the eyes of an adult on a brisk autumn day. He sees the life he's missing out on - football games, class pictures, riding bikes through tree lined streets as autumn leaves whisp gently onto the pavement.

They shot that movie about 20 miles from my town. "Big" kinda looks a lot like where I grew up - which is to say it looks a lot like where I live now. When I see these kids in Frankfurt, it's somewhere between going back in time and watching a movie and it captivates me and I stare watery-eyed. Eventually the BMW behind me honks it's horn and the driver starts yelling at me in German. Reality hits me like a coffee table on the shins. I live in a foreign country far away from home. I move on.

Everything is so weirdly familiar here - it messes with my brain.

I'm homesick. It comes and it goes but something about this time of year really makes me want to be home. I'm not proud of this. I've spent a lot of the past two years mocking Americans who have never left the country. I also have this self-image of myself as this international guy - born Japanese, raised in America, educated in Europe, worked all over the world. Another word for someone like me might be "multi-national". Another word might be "arrogant dick".

It's times like these when I see those kids on the street here in Frankfurt two things run through my brain: one - I hope no one mistakes me for a pervert, and two - no matter how hard I try I'm always going to be from New Jersey.

Which is not actually a good thing. New Jersey is often regarded as the armpit of America. This mostly has to do with the physical shape of the United States. If the north-eastern coast looked like a great arm extending out into the Atlantic, then Main would be the torch of freedom. New Jersey would be where the sweat glands are. We people from New Jersey cling to our sports like testicles to a scrotum. We have a daily paper whose sports section is bigger than the rest combined. The irony is, none of them are our sports teams. They're all from New York. Great.

I don't care. I miss New Jersey. It's where my heart is. I feel like Tom Hanks - like a kid who grew up too fast and wishes he could go home. I wonder if I'm the first person in history to feel this emotion.


Monday, November 03, 2008

I caught the Stockholm syndrome

I've spent the past week in Stockholm and I got to say I liked it very much.  Before going there all I knew about the Swedes was that they were blond, peaceful, and they named their children after IKEA furniture.  OK, maybe it's the other way around, but honestly what sane person names their child Tjörn? 


I found Stockholm to be a lovely city.  The people are educated, laid back and terribly attractive.  One thing that surprised me about the country was how design conscious everyone seemed to be.  There's a minimalistic aesthetic to the buildings and interior design in Stockholm that is a delight for my Japanese eyes.  I have no idea what the term "post-modern" actually means but that's how I would describe it:  "Post-modern". 

One of the things I did while I was in Stockholm was visit the city's Army museum.  This was probably the most gruesome museum I had ever gone to.  The museum is laid out in chronological order and started with an exhibit of wild monkeys tearing each other apart.  The tag-line was "War is natural.  Even monkeys go to war".  Honestly, a bit surprising from a country that hasn't been in a major war for close to a hundred years.  The first section of the museum that focused on Viking plunderers and the great Northern war were action packed with bloody wax figures depicting Medieval battles and tales of sickness and disease.  Awesome.  If you visit the Army museum in Stockholm (and I recommend you do) know that it is quite front loaded.  This is probably one of the most peaceful nations on earth after all.  The final exhibit in this museum of war feature (I kid you not) Swedes sitting on a couch watching Americans fighting the Vietnam on CNN. 

The other exciting thing I did in Stockholm was to visit the Nobel museum.  My childhood hero was the great inventor Thomas Edison partly partly because he was from New Jersey.   If I grew up in Europe, I may have been an Alfred Nobel fan.  Here is a certified genius who had over 300 patents including one for dynamite which he discovered after a year or so after exploding his brother during an experiment with Nitroglycerin.  He made a fortune on the stuff but couldn't translate any of it to gettin' with the ladies.  The closest thing he to a wife was an unrequited 20 year crush on an impoverished Austrian heiress.  Nobel died alone, without children, family or friends and wrote his last will and testament himself (as most scholars believe) as a big "F-You" to his heirs and lawyers who'd otherwise get his gigantic stack of cash.  That's the story of the Nobel prize - a socially inept eccentric genius with a penchant for blowing people up.  Gangster.

On a completely unrelated note, the Nobel museum sells these really awesome chocolate gold coins that look like Nobel prizes.  They're delicious because they're priceless.  Pics of my time in Sweden can be found on my Flickr page.  Enjoy!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Complicated Presidents

In June, I predicted Obama in a landslide, and with the election few days to go it's likely going to happen. The problem with John McCain is a that he's a "'tweener" in a Republican party wanting a solid red-state conservative for president. They in-fact got two - Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee who split the Republican baby of rural voters during the primary season leaving John McCain to clean up on the independent voter afterbirth.

While some cultures may prize afterbirth, it's hard to become Republican president without the baby - and after 8 torturous years of George Bush presidency the big infant was on heavy dialasis, lacking clear direction and gosh do I ever need to come up with a new analogy.

Point is, what you've seen McCain doing these past few months is throw away his kitchen sink (better?), not least his scruples to transform himself into a Bible thumpin' redneck Bush lackey. He led in the polls exactly once during the general election and that's when he made his base conservative pick of nut-job / porn star Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

It's hard for me to stomach the things that's been going on in this campaign as well as what's been said about John McCain these past few weeks. I genuinely like the man - and this is not just because Rush Limbaugh said John McCain would singe-handedly destroy the Republican party. In the 5 years that Republicans held both Congress and the White House John McCain was one of a handful of powerful centrists in his party that kept the country from going off the deep end. Pick up the documentary "Shut of and sing" and watch vintage McCain stand up for the first amendment rights of those who would criticize the president in a time of blind hysterical patriotism. The old John McCain was the man.

The fall of John McCain is a Greek tragedy. I haven't felt this way since 2000 when Gore went against Bush. Even back then, Al Gore was a great guy. He was smart, he was funny, he was capable - and most importantly of all - he was right. The problem with him was that he too was a "'tweener" candidate trapped in a Democratic party bent on replicating the Clinton strategy of claiming the rural south on it's way to the White House. Much like John McCain today, the Al Gore of 2000 transformed himself into a conservative shell of himself - partnering with that snake oil salesman Joe Lieberman and disavowing all connection to the presidency of Bill Clinton. I wish we could go back to 2000. I wish we could have had the real Al Gore.

I am mad at John McCain. Right now I want to shout, as the Economist headline put it, "Bring back the real John McCain". Here is a man who decided he'd rather rot in a prison camp rather than sell out his brigade in Vietnam. I can't for the life of me understand why he's selling out now. My anger however, is displaced. Sure, a lot of the blame goes to him. He ran a sloppy undisciplined campaign with a generic and uninspired message to "Put America first". There's more to it than that. The reality is that we live in a country where complicated figures like John McCain and Al Gore are impossible to elect into high office. They have to pretend to be someone they're not in order to apeal to the various common denominators that make up the electorate. It's simple election math. You can't win with Republican after-birth.

I'm what you might call a fiscal conservative, social liberal. The past 8 years, George Bush - by all degrees a fiscal liberal, social conservative - have been a nightmare for me. Any change from that ignorant, arrogant, son-of-a-bitch is a welcomed one. John McCain - the old one - was/is the Republican antithesis of George Bush. It's a shame that that version was deemed unelectable.

For this election I like Barack Obama. He too is a man of great complexity and insight. I hope for the sake of the country he does not follow through on the populist rhetoric he espouses at hard-hat lunch-pail photo-ops in Ohio and Pennsylvania factory sites - but that's just the MBA in me talking. His first 100 days in office will be scrutinized, not only because of the turbulent winds that blow outside our doors, but because our alternative was a man who has weathered the storm for over 20 years.

Still I am hopeful, Obama has bet the house on the American people. He's got half of them behind him, it's the other half that's going to be the real challenge. Obama-girl will not help.