Monthly Archives: February 2010

Fitness Report 26Feb10

Waist – 41.25″

Weight – 222.4 lbs

Body Fat Percentage – 30.4%(scale)/29.0%(A.F.C.)

Overweight by – 33 pounds

Exercising – 2 days jogging, 1 days kendo, have golf simulator reserved for this afternoon

Dieting – I just can’t keep on this diet right now…

I feel – I feel sleepy yet energized. Also, my body aches.

I feel like I can do anything I want to. I’ve got all kinds of energy and I think I’ve got a handle on this semester as far as my school load goes. I’ve basically dropped out of fencing until after Spring Break, and I think that’s given me the time I need to organize myself better. Now that I’ve got back into kendo regularly everything feels so much better. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I often tell people that kendo saved my life, and I think it’s true. The annual winter depression I go through is kept at bay by the regular exercise and the feeling of accomplishment all that gives me. Oh yeah, and I’m losing weight again!

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Book Reading With Ben Percy

This evening, 25Feb10, in Wescoe Hall at the University of Kansas, I attended a reading by Ben Percy. This was an extra credit assignment for my Fiction Writing class, and I probably wouldn’t have gone if my weekly game night hadn’t been canceled. However, I am glad that I did go to this. I had never heard of Ben Percy before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The man who introduced him (whose name I didn’t catch, but I’m sure he was an English Department faculty member) told us a little about Mr. Percy, speaking highly of his work. He’s a Brown graduate who went on to get advanced degrees at other schools and currently teaches at Iowa State. He’s known for his book Refresh, Refresh: Stories, a collection of some of his short stories, one of which was made into a graphic novel.

Ben talked a little bit at first about how he gets ideas for stories. He mentioned a cork board he keeps in his house that he pins different ideas or clippings to. He gathers them up, all these different ideas, and eventually he can find how several of them fit together into a story. That’s an interesting idea. He related a couple of these things, memories of his from childhood, that he used in the short story that he read to us. He also talked about how he used to carry a little notebook and scribble bits of conversations he overheard to maybe use for something later.

Ben has a surprisingly deep and rich voice, and it was a little distracting when he first started to read, I guess because it sounded a slightly melodramatic. After a bit I got used to it, and then was quickly engrossed in the story he read, “Caves in Oregon”. His lecture mode is funny and disarming, and his reading mode is personal. His story was very good, and based on that I will check out the rest of his book. There was a brief Q&A after the reading, which I got rolling by asking him about researching for an element of the story. He gave answers about different aspects of researching, gave some examples about the things he focuses on when doing it, and then gave what sounded like a well practiced talk on setting in a story (every detail matters, every setting is a character, basically). When it was over I couldn’t resist going over and telling him how much I enjoyed his story, and then I went and checked out his sales table. I flipped through the graphic novel, but I didn’t do more than get a wide idea of what it may be about. All in all, this was a good thing to have attended.

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February Heart of America Japan-America Society General Meeting

Today, 23Feb10, I attended the first general meeting of the year for the Heart of America Japan-America Society in Kansas City. The JAS is a cultural group that meets in the Loose Park Rose Garden building throughout the year and hosts lectures and events related to learning about and understanding Japanese culture. The two big events that they are involved with every year are the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival (which I’ve blogged about here) and Kurashiki Week. Kurashiki Week is a very cool thing. Kurashiki is a sister city in Japan, and every year they send a plane load of people to Kansas City to experience America. The JAS arranges this experience and does neat stuff like take them to Royals baseball games and tours of museums and whatnot, and generally facilitates their having a good time here. I’ve been a member of JAS for going on my third year now (I think), though my meeting attendance is sporadic.

The meeting opened with Jim Kanki, this year’s JAS President, introducing new people. Like I said before, my attendance is spotty so while some people recognize me others don’t, and I think I’ve been introduced as “new” about three times so far! I must go to more meetings and be more social… He also introduced Warren McAllen, president of the Kansas City J.E.T. Alumni Association. The JETAA is an association of former JET program teachers, which is a group sponsored by the Japanese government to bring native English speakers to Japanese classrooms. I know a couple people involved in JET in one fashion or another. It’s something I’ve kicked around applying for myself once I graduate, but I’m afraid my tattoos would hold me back. Other business was mentioned in brief, including the fact that the JAS is sending six student ambassadors to Japan this year. Last year because of the H1N1 scare the students didn’t get to go, so they’ve been invited to participate this year, which is super cool of every authority figure and responsible adult involved. And then we got on to tonight’s presentation topic, which was Japanese New Year’s customs.

Patty Woods, the JAS 2cnd Vice President MC’d the presentation. Several people were involved in different research areas for tonight’s lecture, and I got the impression that Patty’s job was as the wrangler of all of that. She also started off with laying out the JAS program for the 2010 year, and all of it sounded pretty good. Then she laid out how the lecture was going to go, starting us off with a brief overview. I learned a new word tonight, “toshigami” which is “god of the coming year”. I guess in American terms that would be the baby with the 2010 sash on him we see around New Year’s. Japanese Shinto kami are a lot like European Asatru vaettir. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s easier to understand than thinking of the year as a god. Or a baby wearing a sash. I guess.

Sechie (whose last name I don’t recall) did a lot of the actual presentation. She was also joined by a teen member of JAS who has family in the JAS and back in Japan. This is where the JAS shines as a learning/cultural exchange environment. It’s not just dry academic lectures, but ordinary folk taking the initiative to relate to one another on a meaningful level across culture. Since the JAS is mostly populated by families there is also a relaxed, family environment. Many of the members have known each other for a long time, which also contributes to the atmosphere of these things. At times I feel like an outsider for it, and since I’m single I tend to avoid the more social events, but I love the general meetings and the lectures. There’s always something to learn.

Warren gave a short presentation on mochi, was is part of Japanese New Year’s custom. The traditional way to make it is sort of a production. There’s this big rice ball in a stone bowl and two or three fellows with bloody great mallets that are taking turns continuously whacking it, while another brave fellow manipulates it in the bowl in between whacks. It’s a great way to get your hand smashed if just one person in the process isn’t paying attention, and these are not small mallets at all. Warren has a machine that makes it, and it was working during the presentation, being timed to be finished about the time the lecture was over.

Here’s Warren helping the folk in attendance to prepare their own mochi balls. You grab a bit of it and pull, then he slices off the bit with a knife. That way you’re only touching the part you’re going to eat yourself. You make a little all and then flatten it in your palm, then the filler gets put on it and you mold the mochi around it. Being Americans we had Hershey’s Kisses chocolates instead of bean paste. This is the second time I’ve tried mochi. The first was when Warren brought his machine to the Japanese language contest that is held every year in Johnson County. I hate to say it, but I just flat out don’t like mochi. It’s very chewy and sticky and in the end it’s pureed rice. Even with a chocolate candy in the middle it just doesn’t have a pleasant flavor. The whole process of it is fun, though, and everyone had a good time.

There wasn’t a large turn out tonight. Apparently the Japanese ice skating team was on this evening, and several of the families had opted to stay in to watch that. There was also some severe snow over in parts of the Missouri side, so you really can’t fault folk for staying in and watching the box instead. Normally there’s two to three times as many people as we had tonight, but it was good that it wasn’t so crowded I think. There was some samplings of traditional Japanese New Year’s foods to be had, and I was happy to find out the treat that I liked the most was the “custard mochi” that we had received the recipe to during Warren’s presentation. It’s the personal recipe of one of the member’s kinfolk, and I have to say I enjoyed it enough to save the instructions to have a go at it myself at some future point.

And here follow some more regrettably tiny pictures of the event.

Warren with the fresh mochi batch. It’s not normally pink, but “it’s a festival” he said.

During the treat eating and socializing this video was payed from NHK, Japan’s mega-media corporation, displaying a popular New Year’s song contest.

A snapshot of the table of tradition Japanese New Year’s items.

And another one.

And finally, another shot of the milling around and socializing.

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Q&A Lunch Thing

Today, 22Feb10, I was making my way to the fifth floor bathrooms in the student union (they are spacious, clean and low traffic) when I saw a rainbow banner with an information table about LGBT issues and an invitation to lunch. A friend of mine who is in one of the campus gay organizations was in there and I waved on my way by. A bit later I was coming back the other way and stopped to look at the literature when a campus coordinator (whose name and official function I forget) came out and invited me in. Being the libertarian and politically interested sort of person I am I did join them.

I put “Q&A Lunch thing” as the title, but I believe there was more than one group there. The sign out front gave the impression it was an informal lunch thing, but there were a couple of faculty sitting opposite what I took to be representatives of maybe three different LGBT groups speaking with them. There was some personal relations of issues and some general talk about advancing understanding and acceptance at the school, with particular emphasis on a desire for a dedicated facility.

I spoke up toward the end and gave some perspectives from a heterosexual. After all, the group is called Queers and Allies. I am a middle aged, white, heterosexual male (and I usually vote Republican), and I hesitate to speak or give opinions in certain situations because I realize there is a stereotype of exactly that kind of person being pushy and opinionated. A room where half the people were lesbians probably was the worst place to forget that negative image, so I held on to it and tried to do the polite thing. But while I don’t like to think of myself as pushy, I am opinionated, and I have some damn good opinions from time to time, so I did speak eventually.

Mostly what I talked about was “mainstreaming”. I brought up the fact that “gay culture” is intimidating to mainstream, heterosexual America. Not in a, “we’re coming to make you gay” kind of way, but in a “this is our place, you are not welcome here” kind of way. One of the problems with minority subculture mentality is that it builds defensive social mechanisms which sometimes end up hindering reconciliation in the long run. Your average person might not have a strong opinion about gay folk, but one look at a pride parade could freak them out permanently, even though it is nowhere near representative of how the average gay folk live their daily lives.

Another thing I brought up was suggesting that a good way to promote tolerance and understanding for the gays the LGBT community is to help the hetero majority understand that LGBT rights are their rights. Denying the humanity and equality of another damages the person doing it. Our Founding Fathers did a fantastic job when they said, “all men are created equal”, but sort of lost the plot when they started rationalizing slavery a bit further on. A later generation said, “OK, slavery was wrong. We admit it. Still, we’re keeping it illegal for a black person to marry a white person.” It wasn’t until a Supreme Court decision in 1967 that interracial marriage was legal in every state. Many of the same, tired, fear fueled arguments are being used again, even as some fighting to keep two men or two women from being legally married incredibly enough believe they are fighting the same good fight that made “Separate But Equal” a legal memory for Blacks.

I don’t obsess about any other person’s sexual preference, and I don’t see why it has to be such a huge deal. I’ve taken flak for dating non-white girls, and based on that I can only begin to imagine what pressure gay folk are under.  I look forward to a day when “gay” and “straight” is something that ceases to be so divisive. I would like to see the next generation of gay folk feel comfortable enough being gay, and their neighbors comfortable with them being gay, that we can all move on with our lives and discuss more realistically important things, like making America free and great.

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Fitness Report 19Feb10

Waist – 42″

Weight – 224.0 lbs

Body Fat Percentage – 31.9%(scale)/29.9%*

Overweight by – 35 pounds

Exercising – 2 days jogging, 2 days kendo, 1 day in the golf simulator

Dieting – Still off the diet

I feel – Tired but “good tired”.

This is a little late being published; I had an active week and a full weekend. Instead of the usual A.F.C. comparison I used a different website I got off of a Y! search. It had a lot of information on it about BMI and a bunch of other stuff, but I didn’t look too closely at the website itself. It had “psychic”, and it only listed me as fifty pounds over weight, so, whatever. I felt really good about last week, but I’m already bummed about this week. I skipped out on kendo Monday to try and catch up on my reading for school and do some laundry. My house is a wreck, and it probably will be until Spring Break. I get into these “winter funks”, and it’s normally pretty hard on me. I am a relentless optimist, however. The cold weather also makes my knee hurt. I used to think things like that were just “old wives tales”, but there it is. Old wives probably know a lot more than they’re given credit for.

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