Blegs: Japanese Readers, I Want Your Help

Over Christmas I visited Japan. Highly recommended and, thanks to the weak Yen, not at all expensive. I've posted some travel shots on my Flickr account for those who are into that sort of thing.

I thought I'd ask the cultured, worldly readers of this blog to help me with a translation or two. First, I bought a ceramic plate at a Nitten shop. Nitten is a nationwide arts and crafts exhibition that, as far as I can gather, is mainly aimed at lesser-known or amateur artists working in traditional Japanese pursuits such as ceramics, calligraphy, etc. People from all over Japan can submit works to be judged by the notoriously conservative panels, and winners are exhibited and some of their works sold in shops.

I bought this dish:

Ceramic Dish

The two women in the rather dusty shop were really excited that I'd chosen this dish, and pressed a piece of paper with the artists' biography into my hands. The only English they could speak was to point at a row of symbols and say 'famous Japanese art school!'

This is the piece of paper, first an overall view, then a detail of what appears to be the artists' biography. If anybody could give me the gist of it -- especially a transliteration of the artist's name -- I would be grateful.

Ceramic Artist Description Page

Ceramic Artist Description Page Detail

Baffling Signs and Posters

1. Schoolchildrens' Superhero or Demon? Japan is also renowned for its amusing/terrifying warning signs. Most of them are pretty self-explanatory because of the pictures, but this one still baffles me. I found it posted outside a school:

Yanaka poster with odd supervillian outside school

Yanaka poster with odd supervillian outside school detail

2. Uniformed People Kicking Ordinary Japanese For Some Reason. This was on the side of a nondescript building. My secret hope is that it's Japanese Communist Party propaganda:

Kyoto poster uniformed men kicking civilians

 3. Red Sash Women Marching. Finally, here is large poster on a wall near a florists' shop that depicts a large number of middle-aged women wearing red sashes marching. First a general view, then a closeup. Pardon the crappy quality, the poster was pretty soiled.

Tokyo red sash women marching-001

Tokyo red sash women marching detail

Any help interpreting these signs is gratefully accepted. I also have less-baffling Japanese signs which I will post in the next couple of days.

Bleg: Nice Remote Cabin in Finland?

This summer, I'd kind of like to spend a few weeks in rural Scandinavia. I've never been to Finland and need to make a pilgrimage to Ainola, so I thought I might as well choose Finland. I'm looking for a cabin somewhere, preferably by a lake. Just for one person. I'd like electricity, but Internet is optional, in fact I don't want it. I would stay 2-3 weeks, in late August-early September. I'll probably rent a car, so the location probably isn't too important -- the scenicer the better. The listings on Airbnb look quite interesting, but a lot of the places have no running / drinkable water or flush toilets. I'm not sure how much of a drag that would be in real life.

If anyone has tips about what I should be looking for, or has been somewhere they'd like to recommend, I'd love to hear from ya.

Public Defecation, Religion, and IQ In India


(World map by average IQ, from here).

In the new atheism debates, you sometimes see two people -- most prominently, Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair -- sparring on the subject of whether religion does more harm than good. I'm not going to weigh in on this question, except to note that a recent study of sanitation in India delivers ammunition for the does-harm side: scientific proof that religion (in this case, Hinduism) literally makes people stupid.

The mechanism is public defecation. Anyone who has been to India has seen this happening routinely, and it's impossible to get used to. Large urban areas in India are literally covered in a thin film of human waste, which is dangerous. It gets on crops at their origins, and flies deposit it on food all over the country, which is why Delhi belly is an all-too-horrifying reality for any visitor. (The irony is that all the Green/lefty friends of mine who accompanied me on my India trip ate everything so as to respect the cultural heritage blah blah blah, and stayed healthy. I politely refused to drink the water, ate practically nothing but crackers, and got a mild case of DB anyway.)

But I digress. It turns out the consequences are much farther-reaching than a few inconvenienced tourists:

As a result [of public defecation], children are exposed to a bacterial brew that often sickens them, leaving them unable to attain a healthy body weight no matter how much food they eat.

“These children’s bodies divert energy and nutrients away from growth and brain development to prioritize infection-fighting survival,” said Jean Humphrey, a professor of human nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “When this happens during the first two years of life, children become stunted. What’s particularly disturbing is that the lost height and intelligence are permanent.”

...This research has quietly swept through many of the world’s nutrition and donor organizations in part because it resolves a great mystery: Why are Indian children so much more malnourished than their poorer counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa?

A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet’s poorest countries. Stunting affects 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country’s richest families.This disconnect between wealth and malnutrition is so striking that economists have concluded that economic growth does almost nothing to reduce malnutrition.

And why is public defecation so prevalent? The Economist explains:

Hindu tradition, seen for example in the “Laws of Manu”, a Hindu text some 2,000 years old, encourages defecation in the open, far from home, to avoid ritual impurity. Caste division is another factor, as by tradition it was only the lowliest in society, “untouchables” (now Dalits), who cleared human waste. Many people, notably in the Hindu-dominated Gangetic plains, today still show a preference for going in the open—even if they have latrines at home.

So there you have it: a religiously-based custom causes profound developmental problems in children, leading to stunting and irreversible losses in intelligence. Christopher Hitchens, call your office! Oh wait...

Hellbahnhof Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe

Hi there, folks. Back to blogging after a hiatus during which I traipsed through Germany with a friend, spending a few days at Documenta 13, er, dOCUMENTA (13). Traveling to Kassel means stopping at the Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe train station. For some boring reason having to do with train scheduling or something, you have to stop at this station on the outkirts of the city and then take a train into the central station.

The main feature of the Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe Bahnhof (g) as it's called, is that IT SUCKS. More to the point, there are no elevators or escalators in the station. To reach the main station from the train tracks, you have to drag your luggage up a gradual, seemingly endless ramp. There are also stairs available, but these are cleverly hidden behind the ramps. But either way, you're going to have to schlep yourself, your screaming kids, and your heavy luggage. In this era of wheeled luggage, I can only imagine how many Eisenstein-esque scenes have played out on those giant ramps, with giant luggage, wheelchairs, or baby strollers barreling down the ramp, taking out hapless passengers right and left.

Another wonderful feature of the giant ramps is that they block out most of the central part of the platform, so that the only way to find out where your train car is positioned on the train is to walk all the way to one fucking end of the platform, inspect the train-car diagram, and then walk all the way back to where your car will be. During every Documenta, hundreds of thousands of foreign guests arrive at this train station and curse the stupidity and self-indulgence of the architect, while snorting at the storied 'efficiency' of Germans.

When I got home, I vowed to find out what pretentious little twit had designed those giant ramps, so as to publicly execrate him. The Wikipedia entry for the train station informs me that one 'Büro Dietrich, Waning, Guggenberger' was responsible for the ramp design. But, it turns out, they had no choice. Apparently the Deutsche Bundesbahn, back in the 1980s, ordered the creation of these giant ramps to make it possible to drive cars and trucks to the trains. Why they required this feature in a train station that would mainly be used by humans is beyond me. Don't they have fucking freight yards for that?!

In any event, the Bundesbahn's design has created what has to be the ugliest, most inconvenient train station in Western Europe. If I were a killin' man, I would tie the faceless bureaucrat who ordered those ramps to a brakeless wheelchair and push him down them again and again and again, while cackling gleefully. 

There, now I feel better.

The Perils of Denglish, or Ass Love Deluxe for the Whole Ass Family

Ass Golf

Ever played 'Ass Golf'? In the mood for some 'Ass Love Deluxe'? Does your family deserve to become an 'Ass Family'?

If you answered 'Jawohl!', and I'm sure you did, have I got a hotel for you. It's called the Saalbacher Hof, in Saalbach, Austria, and its summer vacation packages include:

The theme here, as German-speakers will have immediately noticed, is playing cards: Trumpf = trump, and Ass = ace. But then the oily-haired marketing types pepped up the stodgy hotel's image with some of that sickeningly hip English. Today's Austrian 'Familys' deserve no less!

One simple rule for ad-men, delivered free of charge: If you start a phrase or sentence in German, for G$d's sake finish it in German.

Krazy German Lawsuits Vol. XVII

the wrteched refuse of their teeming shores...

Once in a very long while I'll get one of those 'CRAZY AMERICAN LAWSUITS!!!!1ONE!!!' emails* from some German. The emails typically contain a mishmash of accurate, semi-truthful, ludicrously distorted, and completely false stories of wacky lawsuits those crazy Americans file. To see which ones you might have fallen for lately, go here.

I usually don't bother to respond, except perhaps to inform the hapless producerist Teuton that he is, as often as not, forwarding corporate propaganda created by the PR departments of scary multinational corporations. But in the spirit of the best defense is a good offense, I'm compiling my own list of CRAZY GERMAN LAWSUITS!!!!1ONE!!! for my readers to trade and collect. And because I actually know (basically) how to research German law**, I can guarantee you every single one of these lawsuits actually happened.

The latest installment comes to me courtesy of Ed Philp, and involves a case (g) decided by the highest German civil court, the Bundesgerichtshof, which sits in Karlsruhe. It involves a couple on a one-week bargain-basement package vacation to Turkey, all-expenses-paid, which cost a measly €369 per person. The travel agency specified in the terms & conditions that it could change the timing of the flight back, which they did, moving it from 4 in the afternoon to 6 in the morning of the same day. The two people on the trip would get picked up from their hotel at 1:30 AM instead of 12 noon. So they lost about 10 hours of their vacation. Mind you, the travel agency had given them warning and arranged transportation -- they weren't being stranded, helpless, among the Ottoman hordes. Plus, the agency paid the couple €42 compensation.

So, all in all, a moderate inconvenience, especially given how cheap the vacation was. But if you think the travelers left it at that, you are underestimating (1) how seriously Germans take their vacations, and (2) how many self-righteous malcontents there are among them who are just waiting to pounce on minor misunderstandings which they can elevate into scorched-earth legal jihads. Don't forget that Germany is one of the most, if not the most, lawsuit-happy societies in the world.

Instead of taking the travel agency's earlier flight, the couple decided to book their own flight back, then file a lawsuit against the travel agency asking for:

Reinbursement of the entire cost of the trip minus 70 € for accommodation provided, reimbursement of 504.52 € for transport back to Germany, and compensation for wasted vacation time (nutzlos aufgewendete Urlaubszeit) in the amount of 480.80 € for the first plaintiff and 2,193,10 € for her companion (my italics).

So 10 hours cut off an ultra-cheap holiday has now turned into a legal battle involving a request for 10 times the per-person cost of the entire trip. And when I say battle, I actually mean 'war'. The couple lost at the first phase, the local court in Düsseldorf. Doubtless sighing inwardly in exasperation and wondering what they had done in a previous life to deserve this job, the court awarded the coupld €25 off the price of the vacation and dismissed all the other claims. Doubtless outraged at this disgusting miscarriage of justice, the couple appealed to the higher regional court, the Landgericht, which also told them to f**k off denied their appeal.

Finally, they landed at Germany's highest civil court, known by its abbreviation BGH. After considering various aspects of German civil law and vacation law (yes, there's a special German law for vacations (g)), the nation's highest court decided that the couple may have actually had a claim for some of the extra damages, if they can prove that their resort to self-help was appropriate, and that they gave the travel agency a chance to correct the problem. The court remanded the case to the lower court to look into these questions.

Pause for a moment, if you will, and imagine the amount of resources the legal system devoted to this one case: hundreds of pages of briefing, the time and attention of probably something like 15 full-time judges -- including the highest civil court in the land -- and their attendant clerks and support staff, and the preparation and publication of at least three legal opinions -- so far. All because one couple lost 10 hours from a hideous tabloid-insert package vacation in some grotty Turkish beach hotel.

Now that's what I call a KRAZY LEGAL SYSTEM!!1!!1ONE!!***

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