Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paris II: Food

The best French food is Lebanese.

At least when based on a few days of sampling lower-end food places in central Paris. I'm willing to believe that high-end cuisine is quite different, but we don't generally move in the rarefied air of Michelin-guide level culinary experiences so I have little to say about that. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but the cheap-and-cheerful eating in Paris was somewhat underwhelming.

Between us we've had Chinese, Japanese, French-style lunches, sandwiches, kebabs, Indian, hamburgers, and Lebanese. Overall, the food was OK but nothing special. The Chinese lunch was quite good, the dinner was so-so. The Indian dinner was not bad but quite bland; not at the level of Indian food in Kobe. Hamburgers, kebabs and sandwiches are all the same the world over I guess.

Indian

Indian dinner. OK, though not spectacular.


The French-style food - lunches and a simple dinner - was a bit disappointing. Meat or fish with potatoes and sauce is never bad food, but I guess I expected it to be just a little better than elsewhere, it being Paris and all. Instead it was all so inoffensive and unremarkable that I'm hard pressed coming up with anything definite to write about it. Meat tasted like meat, fries tasted like fries, and if you'd said the hollandaise had been made from instant sauce powder I would not have argued with you.

Takoyaki

"Yokohama" takoyaki restaurant. Why "Yokohama", I have no idea; takoyaki is from Kansai, along the Osaka-Kobe-Akashi coast and has only recently started to become popular up north in Kanto. I guess the name doesn't actually have any deeper meaning but is only meant to sound Japanese, much the same way as Restaurant Stockholm in Tokyo or endless Indian food places named "Delhi" all over the world.


There's lots and lots of Japanese restaurants in Paris. Every other street corner seems to have a generic Japanese restaurant that serves everything from sushi to yakitori to udon to okonomiyaki. To the west of the Paris Opera there's an area with a good number of more specialized restaurants that focuses on just one kind of food. It feels a little odd at first to see Japanese places all over an old European city, but it's no different from all the Italian or French-style restaurants in Osaka, or the huge number of pizza and kebab places in Sweden.

Paris Ramenya

Taishoken ramen joint. No idea if it's part of the Japanese ramen chain or if they just borrowed the name.


We had a yakitori and sushi set at a generic restaurant one evening. The yakitori - bits of chicken on small skewers - was pretty good, though they didn't seem to use the same thick, sweet sauce you get in Japan. The sushi was heavy on salmon, tuna and shrimp (there was not a piece of octopus or squid in sight) and the rice was not very well made. Heavy and dense, and still a little undercooked. Makes you appreciate the training of a real sushi cook I guess.

We had to wait a long time for the food due to a misunderstanding. They served us our miso soup (with a spoon!) and a small coleslaw salad. We was there waiting for the rest of our food to come before starting; meanwhile the waitress was waiting for us to finish our soup before she could bring us our main dish. Soup is a side dish in Japan, but is a starter in Paris.

Paris Ramen

I had a miso ramen and gyouza set for lunch one day. The gyouza was spot on in both flavour and texture. The miso ramen was noticeably sweet - maybe they'd used sweet miso - which is not really something you expect in a bowl of ramen. The noodles were just a little overcooked for my taste and for some reason they were light grey rather than the more normal yellow. Not bad, exactly, though I would probably rather try another place next time.

Also, by way of information, a former colleague that came to this conference from Japan ate ramen at a place called "Opera Ramen" right near the Paris Opera. It was apparently not good at all - "mazui" was the word he used. Might want to go somewhere else for a ramen fix.


The Lebanese food, on the other hand, was excellent. One night we went to La Taverne du Nil (cheesy, messy flash website), which was a hit. We ordered a menu of "mezze", various small dishes you eat with flatbread. We got a table-full of food between us, every plate better than the next. Hummus, olives, vinegared vegetables, you name it. After stuffing ourselves silly we were just about ready to call it a night, when the second round of dishes, with chicken, meat pies, falafel and lots of other things. Big mistake on our part; we should have paced ourselves better. Next time - and if we get to Paris again there will be a next time - we'll do a better job of it.

We also had Lebanese food at the departure lounge at Charles de Gaulle. Cheap cafeteria-style mass-produced stuff but again, really, really good. And it wasn't the cafeteria - we had a slice of pizza too and that had exactly the rubbery texture you expect from food at this kind of place. But come to Paris and it seems you can't go wrong with Lebanese.

In fact, now I've started looking for a Lebanese restaurant around Osaka (there's a few places in Osaka city that does Lebanese dishes, but no specific Lebanese place), and perhaps get a cookbook to try to make a few of those small dishes myself. It was that good.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paris I

Paris is messy. Graffiti is absolutely everywhere. Broken glass and empty cans litter walkways and stairs. The subway and the regional trains feel dingy and worn down, with cut up seats and broken down escalators. Sidewalks are peppered with cigarette butts and empty wrappers.

It is possible that it's worse than other European cities, or that Europe is messier than I remember it. More likely I've got used to Osaka which, local protestations to the contrary, is a remarkably clean, neat city1.

Singer, Woman.

Not all graffiti is ugly. This kind of stencilled decorations were pretty common too, and at least they improve on the usual unimaginative tags.


Charles de Gaulle

While Paris architecture is quite beautiful, the Charles de Gaulle airport is an example of minimalism gone wrong. It's a depressing concrete wasteland with dim, gloomy halls and low-ceilinged passageways. It has the feeling of something that was really cool when new, but now just feels neglected and ageing.

If you stop to look for a moment, however, there are many places where the design really shines, such as the passage above. I could look at this kind of scene all day. Where the airport falls down, I think, is that this kind of bare-concrete minimalism doesn't scale well. As an accent, as a part of something larger it's really cool. When done throughout a multi-hectare complex it just becomes intimidating and ugly.


Paris in August also feels more than a little like a huge outdoor theme-park as much as a living, breathing city. The locals are away on their summer vacations and the foreign tourist season peaks so that's not exactly surprising. The big tourist spots are silly crowded. Meanwhile, many local restaurants and shops are closed for summer, leaving the less touristy areas almost deserted.

Butcher

A butcher is opening for the day.


Lunchtime

Lunchtime at a local brasserie. Most if not all guests seemed to be visitors.


I suspect summer really isn't the best season for this city. The beautiful old buildings and stone-paved streets seem better fit for autumn, with fallen leaves drifting along rain-soaked streets and the small cafés becoming warm, bright refuges from the cold and the damp. The modernist architecture sprinkled throughout the city would also benefit from less sunlight to expose every crack, flaw and stain (*cough* Beaubourg *cough).

Notre Dame

Notre Dame cathedral at night.


Pantheon

The Pantheon in early morning.


Luxembourg

Luxembourg subway station. The subway is undoubtedly cool, but dingy and poorly maintained.




Hotel Observatoire Luxenbourg

Hotel Observatoire Luxembourg.


We stayed at hotel Observatoire Luxembourg, a smallish medium-class hotel right near the Luxembourg park. It was a surprisingly good experience. it' s an independent hotel, I believe, so it doesn't have that smooth but bland efficiency of large chains. We had some minor issues: The bathtub plug handle was broken so I borrowed a monkey wrench from the front desk (I'm sure they would have been happy to fix it for us but I think this stuff is fun). The breakfast was supposed to include hot food like sausages, potatoes and scrambled eggs, but that was never ready early in the morning when the dining room first opened.

Observatoire Luxembourg

The lounge, and in the back the breakfast room. Pleasant.


On the other hand, the slight quirkiness also made for a memorable visit. At a chain hotel we would perhaps never have encountered a broken bathtub plug handle; on the other hand I'm pretty sure they would never, ever let me borrow a few tools to fix it myself. The room was spacious and quiet, the breakfast we did have was good, and the atmosphere was overall very pleasant. Yes, I would happily stay there again.

Stairs

Hotel stairway.


Me, Ritsuko

Me and Ritsuko, at the hotel. I really like the style of this place.


The conference was about half an hour away by foot, so I left early each morning. Waking before dawn is not normally a favourite activity for me, but the jetlag really helps when you travel west like this. And early morning photography is not something I normally get to do a lot of - my body values its morning sleep thank you very much - so that was a novel aspect too. I realize I really should try to do some early morning photography in Osaka too, but as that means getting up early in the morning...

Early Morning

Near Luxembourg, right before dawn.


Paris Mosque

The Paris Mosque, right next to the conference venue.


Paris

Paris, from Zamansky Tower.



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#1 Neat in the garbage-and-graffitti sense; I did not say "beautiful". The best thing you can say of Osaka streetscapes is that it's surprising, and occasionally surprising in a good way.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Close but No Tube of Smoldering Leaves

The vote count is almost over, and the coalition got one more seat, still two shy of a majority. They lacked nine votes in Värmland and seven votes in Gothenburg for those other two seats. Close, but close is not making it. It's fair enough though; they're also 297 votes short of the majority of votes among the seated parties, so the end result pretty much mirrors the vote totals1.

The center-right coalition is trying to get the Greens to support them, but it seems unworkable; the political differences are just too large in several high-profile questions. Other party combinations are even more unviable, as they'd bring together parties with completely different and opposing agendas.

This, by the way, is another reason nobody speaks to SD: they have an agenda in some important issues that differs radically from all the other parties. That makes them impossible to cooperate with quite apart from moral considerations. The SD would work with the center-right coalition as well as the left-wing of the Social Democrats would be; or be as good a fit with the center-left opposition as the Christian Democrats. They're not the only one; the Communists only got into the center-left coalition after the Social democrat party leadership was pressured from their own far left wing, and this likely cost them a fair number of centrist supporters.

So before the SD supporters go wailing in sack-cloth and ashes about how they're being unfairly shut out of government, they'd better realize a party needs to be politically and philosophically close to the other parties they want to work with. And the SD are not close; they're not even on the same planet as the other parties. For instance, the center-right coalition all accept the moral imperative of helping refugees and they wrote and supported the coalition bill for easy work immigration. I have nagging doubts that the SD would be willing to drop their opposition to immigration and turn in favour of these policies as the price for joining the coalition.

A minority government is thus most likely. Minority governments are nothing new in Sweden, and they normally manage to be quite effective. But things feel pretty polarized this time around, and the Nazi-linked SD risks becoming used as a political weapon by the two sides, to the benefit of SD and to the detriment of Swedish politics.

The coming minority government would seem to be quite safe. After all, they need only two opposition members not to vote against an important bill for it to pass. Having a minority government fall is very rare, and it should be even more unlikely in this situation. But the SD complicates matters. Iẗ́'s always fun to speculate - things are easier when you're not constrained by reality - so here is a possible scenario, with interesting (in the Chinese proverb sense) consequences:


The government writes a budget bill. They approach the Greens for support, but they are not even close to agreement - the Greens view their votes as indispensable and demands an arm and a leg, while the coalition figures the opposition don't want to vote with the SD and offers just a few minor concessions. The talks fall through and the government submits a bill with no input from any of the opposition parties.

The opposition all vote against the bill. The Communists are ready to do so no matter what and the Greens are angry at the failed talks with the coalition. And crucially, they assume at least a few of the SD members will vote for the bill. They figure the SD won't want to risk a new election when they just managed to get in. And if the government passes their budget with the help of the SD - inadvertent or not - then that guilt by association is an excellent club to wield against the center-right coalition in the next election.

But the SD is pissed off. They get no respect. None of the other parties will as much as pick up the phone, never mind hold any actual talks or give them any committee seats. They may say they're anti-politics and speaking truth to power, but now they want some of that power they've railed against, damnit. So in a fit of pique they all vote against the budget. After all, some of the Greens will vote for it anyhow, right?

So inadvertently the opposition makes common cause with the racists in SD and topples the center-right government. At that point there'd basically be two possible paths: The parties make another go at assembling a governing coalition, but that runs into the same issues as now. Or, an extra election2 is called and held.


Such an election would be very interesting indeed. The coalition have shown they lack the flexibility to run a minority government. The small coalition parties will have - in the interest of coalition coherence - been all but invisible throughout the process, raising the question of why you should vote for them at all.

The Greens will have exposed a basic weakness; it's easy to say you're straddling left and right, but when reality hits and you have to choose one or the other you end up alienating part of your own supporter base no matter what. And the opposition parties will have felled a democratically elected government by voting with a neo-Nazi minority party, something that is completely antithetical to many of their supporters.

And the SD will have a parliamentary record of complete political non-action, with a messy, costly and completely avoidable extra election as their sole and only accomplishment. Wasting hundreds of millions of tax money and six months of everybody's time is not what most protest voters like to see in their champions.

None of the parties would come off smelling like roses. And as actions speak louder than words, the floating voters would likely vote based on the performance during the few months since this last election, and would also likely want to avoid a repeat of the messy parliamentary situation. How that would translate into votes is of course a completely open question, but I would guess we'd see some rather more dramatic shift of opinion than during normal election cycles.

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#1 "Fair" is really the wrong word, though. If, say, the coalition would have gotten a majority of popular votes, but just shy of a majority of the seats it would have been unfortunate, and it would have highlighted a bad corner case of the voting system, but it would not have been unfair. The election system is fixed, it's transparent, it doesn't systematically discriminate one party over others, and the rules are accepted by all parties. The result is always fair, though it's not always desirable.


#2 It's an "extra" election, not a new one. The four-year cycle isn't altered. Whoever wins the extra election only has until the next scheduled regular election. This lessens the value for the opposition of toppling a government since you don't get a full election cycle to rule even if you win.

When the Social Democrats lost a crucial vote in 1990 and resigned, one year before the next general election, the same minority government was simply reappointed by the speaker; it was seen as pointless and wasteful to hold an election for a government that wouldn't even have time to implement a budget before their mandate runs out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not a Done Deal Yet

The Swedish election was fairly close, with the center-right coalition just three seats from a majority. As it turns out, as few as another 7000 votes could be enough to tip three close seats to the coalition. And as more than 100 000 votes - foreign votes, last minute postal votes and the like - are still being counted there's a real possibility that they get it. Another possibility is that the coalition get a slim majority of votes but still not a majority of seats.

Why is this? All the votes are not just shuffled together and counted. Instead we have a number of electoral districts (29, apparently - shows how much I paid attention in high school) each with a set number of seats to distribute. And a given party may be much closer to another seat in one district than in another. So depending on the district the votes were cast, the same number of votes may give different results.

Also, the counting method (a variation on the Sainte-Laguë method) tends to help large parties a bit at the expense of small ones1. For that reason and for the reasons above the final seat allocation may become somewhat different from what the total voting percentages would suggest.

So some of the seats are not allocated directly, but put in reserve and used to even out this discrepancy in the final count on Wednesday2. This time - with lots of small parties and two large, evenly matched parties - the reserved seats were not enough, and the coalition actually has about two seats less than they would have gotten had there been enough reserve seats to go around.

This means that a very small shift in total votes may trigger a rearrangement of final seats and have quite a large effect; enough that the coalition gains those final seats and a majority. Will they? We'll know on Wednesday or Thursday.

[Edit: the method is Sainte-Laguë, not D'Hondt. They're very similar, though]

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#1 Why is Sweden (and other countries) using vote allocation systems that sometimes give wonky results? It's because there is no system that will always give what we would consider a fair allocation. The criteria we have for fair allocation can't all be fulfilled at the same time, so no matter what system you choose you end up with the possibility of a more or less unfair allocation.


#2 Apparently the final count and allocation is always on the Wednesday following the election, and the numbers we hear on election night are all preliminary estimates. Few people ever cared, though, until this year when it suddenly matters.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Election 2010 - Results

The preliminary1 results of the Swedish election are about as expected. The coalition won, but are a meager three seats shy of a majority. The opposition lost, with the Social Democrats the major losers of the election. Nazi party Sweden Democrats got over 5% of the votes and get into parliament. As the Communists and the Christian Democrats managed to stay in parliament, it means every party I loathe is now represented. Oh well, maybe they all fall out next election.

Within the coalition, the Moderates, the largest party, was the clear winner, at 30% of the vote, with a 4% point improvement on the last election, and just one percentage point away from becoming the largest party in Sweden. It's much smaller partners all lost support, perhaps illustrating the perils of being the small partner in a political coalition. The largest party has most of the power, but all parties equally share the responsibility and blame. I don't doubt the coalition will hold up this period too, but I'd expect to see less discipline and more public disagreement as each small member will try to make their mark in preparation for the next election in turn.


The Social Democrats got 31% of the vote. This is quite a disaster. To put it in perspective, this is a party that's long used to rule the country all by itself, and when the got 36% in the last election it was bad enough that then leader and Prime minister Göran Persson resigned during the election night. Losing another 5%-points from that historical low is bad enough that I doubt current leader Mona Sahlin will get another chance.

Why did they do so badly? One reason is the Moderates. They've successfully transformed from a low-taxes-and-a-strong-army conservative party to a centrist general party that have taken over many of the political issues long held by the Social Democrats. When your opponent agrees with you, and even proposes legislation in line with your own older party programs, it's hard to mount an effective campaign.

Another reason is their coalition. Unlike the current center-right coalition, none of the opposition parties have had any history of formally working together. For most of their existence, the Social Democrats and the Communists have been bitter rivals (Sahlin at first tried to exclude the Communists, but was overridden by her own party), and the Green party doesn't really fit in with the other two on the left-right scale. In fact, the Greens and the Communists probably disagree on as many of their important issues (such as conditions for small businesses) as they agree on. The coalition never really looked like anything more than a tactical riposte to the government coalition, and the need for it exposed just how weak the Social Democrats have become.


The rise of racist neo-Nazi Sweden Democrats is the most distressing result. They have certainly taken voters (mostly young, male and poor) from most parties, but it seems the Social Democrats and the Moderates was harder hit than others. The Moderates have moved from the right and towards the center for the past two election cycles so I guess it's only natural some of those on the militaristic right2 no longer felt at home. Some have moved to the People's Party, which has moved to the right, but others no doubt felt more at home with open racism.

There is a streak of xenophobia in the Social Democratic party and their union movement too; while the leadership is quite internationalist, the rank and file keeps its solidarity firmly within Swedens borders. There have been more than a few incidents where union officials have harassed and verbally abused workers from other EU countries quite legally working in Sweden. The Sweden democrats seem to have been able to tap into this ugly vein within the party.


The post-election political dance is in full swing. It's quite clear that the coalition will form a new government - technically the speaker of the house decides who gets the first shot at it - but exactly how is still an open question. The Greens are refusing any idea of cooperation with the coalition, though that may well be a negotiation tactic. At the same time the coalition is strong enough - just a few seats short - that they can form a strong minority government even without a formal deal with another party.

As for the Pirate Party, they did not get a seat, and did not get close. The surprise gain of two seats in the European parliament notwithstanding you can't really build electoral success overnight. It's back to the grind for them, to build a stable cadre of supporters locally and regionally, then try again the next election or the one after that. There are no easy shortcuts to be had.

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#1 The last batch of mail-in and foreign votes are still being counted so final results aren't in until Wednesday. However, these late votes aren't that many and don't normally differ that significantly from the general results, so while they could conceivably switch a marginal seat from one party to another, they will not affect the overall outcome.


#2 Anecdote is not data, and I certainly don't have any real statistics for this, so take it as a simple observation: when I was in the military service around 1990, a surprisingly and distressingly large number of the younger officers at our regiment had newsletters, music CD's and imagery connected with the Swedish White Power and neo-Nazi movements. And the Moderate party - supporting of military traditions, the nobility and royal house, and pro-militaristic stance - was by far the most popular among them.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Another election coming up

The Swedish election is only a couple of days away. The polls open on Sunday - that's Sunday evening here, and we'll know the results on Monday morning. Throughout summer, the vaguely right ruling coalition and the sort-of left opposition have been more or less neck and neck, while the neo-Nazi Sweden democrats have been hovering right around the 4% limit for getting parliamentary seats.

The last few days have seen the opinions shift decisively towards the ruling coalition; the gap to the opposition seems to have grown to around 8-10 percentage points or so. And it looks very likely that the racist Sweden democrats will indeed gain seats in parliament. This is connected, as a fair number of their likely voters are younger working-class former Social Democrats abandoning their old party. While the opposition still could defy the polls and pull out a win, the most realistic question is if the ruling coalition will get enough seats for a majority or if they'll have to form a minority government.

Now, a minority government is not a disaster, and Sweden has had them before. The opposition is trying to argue that a minority center-right government would have to lean on the Sweden democrats, and a vote for them is an implicit vote for the neo-Nazis. But apart from the fact that the same argument could equally be made against a minority center-left government, it is simply false.

A wrinkle of Swedish parliamentary rules is that a government does not need majority approval to pass the budget (or, I believe, other important bills). All they need is for a majority not to vote against. The government can present the budget bill, and the opposition has to muster a positive majority in order to defeat it. I guess that in principle you don't need a single vote in favour to pass a bill, though that'd be extraordinarily unusual.

This means that the opposition would have to make common cause with the racist SD in order to topple the government. The SD is poaching Social Democrat voters by promises of limiting foreign-born workers and restrict multiculturalism, so some of their parliamentarians may become tempted to try to use this discontent and vote with the SD against a center-right government. And within the Communist party there are those who are blinded enough by their hate for the conservative parties that they may see the SD as the lesser evil, or believe that the end of conservative government justifies the means.

But most Social Democrats and Communists - and certainly all but a vanishing few of Green party members - would be horrified by the association. All parties have loudly renounced any association with the SD, and it's difficult to even come up with a situation where any of them would contemplate common cause with the SD.

A much more likely scenario is for the Green party to act as a silent partner, passively supporting the government in exchange for support for one or two bills of their own. And while many of their members are left-leaning, they aren't very clearly placed in one point of that political scale, so it would not be inconceivable that they could actively support a centrist government at some point.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's Kan

In the DPJ leadership election today, Kan beat Ozawa - and pretty handily too. He got just over half of Diet member votes, 60% of the prefectural chapter votes and over 80% of individual member votes.

The DPJ Diet was evenly split between them, which at first blush would seem like a party breakup just waiting to happen. But the large overweight of chapter and especially individual votes should convince the Ozawa supporters that the party - and the lower house election voters - are not with them on this, and that a defection or split would risk their own Diet seats.

Ozawa would seem to be finished. He's old, he's in failing health, he's under police investigation and he's just lost his last, best hope of becoming Prime minister. But he's been written off so many times only to come back that he's one hockey mask away from being a grumpy political horror-movie cliché.

So Kan wins - what does it mean? Not much. Kan stands for a continuation of the current policies whereas Ozawa would have meant a minor shift. Kan is reluctantly in favour of the US base move to Futenma, but that looks like a completely dead issue, what with all relevant Okinawan political offices populated by a majority of opponents to the move. Kan seems more reluctant than Ozawa to divest power away from Tokyo and to the regions, but the emergence of strong regional politicians in combination with the never-ending circus that is Japanese national politics may force his hand.

And while he got through this scrape OK, he still has 167 days to go to avoid becoming the next record holder for shortest prime ministership. When you consider recent Japanese political history those 167 days are by no means a given.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Voltron

DPJ leadership election tomorrow. The heatwave may finally, really, actually be over soon (with "over" I mean temperatures around 30°, which is still way higher than it has any right to be). I'm working on the Paris pictures and posts, but as I'm discovering new and creative ways to be late with stuff I promise other people it will take a while.

Meanwhile, take a look at the Voltron Star Shooter on Feeling Negative. Two geeky hobbies - odd film formats, and robots - in beautiful harmony, topped with what must be the perfect name. Now, if they'd ever made a medium-format version of it...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blessed Cool

The heatwave is finally breaking. Temperatures have dropped from around 38° down to a breezy 33°. Of course, the reason for the drop is an approaching typhoon; if that's what it takes then I'm not going to complain. With any luck the weather will stay cooler after it passes. Autumn really is overdue already.

The peak temperatures haven't actually been that high this year - not a single day over 40° - but the length of this heatwave has been extraordinary. In a typical year you have peaks in the high 30's or even 40's in August but the average is normally around 28-33°. This year the daily temperature has remained at 36-39° for months, and it's continued well into September. Peak temperature records are untouched (except in Hokkaido), but average temperatures have broken almost every record around.

Now, perhaps, we have a chance of reviving the plants on our balcony. Some dark, cosy, dramatic autumn weather will be a nice change of pace after nothing but glaring sunshine. And soon it'll be cool enough to start making winter foods again. I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

That other election

Prime minister Kan and former party secretary and overall heavyweight Ozawa are battling it out for the DPJ party leadership (and, incidentally, the seat of Prime minister) in a week or so. They have fairly different stances on various issues (the balance between rural and urban areas on one hand, and local self-determination - and thus the right to keep tax money at home - on the other for instance), but they matter a lot less than the two candidates themselves. This is really a referendum on Ozawa, more than anything else, made possible in part because Kan failed as a leader in the recent upper house election.

MTC thinks the battle is good for the DPJ, what with the constant media exposure and the DPJ message being drummed into everyone's heads. I'm not as sure. "left-shoe-first-or-right-I-just-can't-decide" Hatoyama came down in support of an Ozawa candidacy (after having kicked him out when Prime minister, and after being against earlier the same day), and others are supporting him due to old political debts. Other factions, local party chapters and supporters are similarly weighing what either candidate would mean for them and their position in the party.

It stinks, in other words, of the same backroom political dealing that the DPJ promised to abolish along with the LDP. It's being shoved into the face of the voters every day for weeks, and this time they won't even have the satisfaction of actually voting for either; they're passive spectators as a few hundred insiders decide who'll be their next Prime minister. Sure, the LDP did the same - three times in a row the past couple of years - but not being worse than the LDP is not exactly a lofty goal to aim for. And again, the whole reason to vote for the DPJ is to get away from exactly this kind of behavior.

Okumura of Globaltalk21 thinks Kan will be the winner. Let's hope so - maybe. Ozawa is very unpopular among voters, and he may cause a permanent rift within the DPJ if he wins. Also, changing Prime ministers after three months would be a new, hard to beat record even in Japan. On the other hand, the LDP hasn't really gained on this unfolding saga, so if the DPJ falls apart that could trigger the political realignment that Japan will eventually have to go through, one way or another.

And there'd be something epic about Ozawa the Destroyer tearing apart his own last, greatest creation at the very moment of reaching his lifelong goal.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Back - again, for real

The three day conference in Kobe is over. It was just on the heels of the Paris conference, so I've really had no time to sort out the material from Paris nor any time to prepare pictures or blog posts about anything. I commuted to Kobe each day, and the conference started early - morning sessions from 8:30 - so I've had the joy of getting up at half past five every morning while shrugging off jetlag and suffering through a cold I brought back. Not much energy left for anything else1.

I got some free time yesterday, so I finally developed the rolls I've shot in Paris. My fixer2 was apparently used up, but my head was still mushy enough that I just noted that the films seemed strangely foggy and opaque without making the connection until I'd already developed, dried and cut them all. I did get the point eventually, so I re-fixed, washed and dried them again, and now the negatives looks fine. Not a disaster, but it did waste an hour of my bedtime. Live and learn.

In fact, one reason I didn't get it was that I don't often test my fixer. You're supposed to take a small piece of exposed, undeveloped film and see how long it takes for it to clear. If it takes more than a couple of minutes, the fixer is exhausted and it's time to mix another batch. If you develop 35mm film you always get a good-sized piece of undeveloped film leader left that you can use. But with 120-format film you don't get any extra bits to use. Now I'm thinking I should use one roll of 35mm BW film as "fix tester", and just cut off slices to test it every now and then. You only need a thin slice, so one roll would last almost forever.


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#1 Cue the worlds tiniest violin playing the worlds saddest song.


#2 Film is covered with a light-sensitive silver salt. Light changes the crystal structure of the salt, and the developer converts those changed crystals to pure silver (which looks black). The fixer dissolves the remaining, unexposed, salts afterwards, leaving just the pure silver. If you don't get it all off, the remaining salts will turn a murky dark gray when exposed to light. It's not permanent (not in a short time frame) so you can re-fix the negatives, but it's a hassle and you risk scratching and damaging the negatives.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hot

I completely forgot about it while in Paris, but Japan is in the middle of a heatwave. It's hot. Too hot. It's the hottest summer in Japan since the second world war. Paris - cool, chilly, wonderfully rainy Paris - was a welcome break, but now we're back baking in the late summer heat.

We have 38° or so, dropping to a cool 30° in the middle of the night. The weekly average is about 5° hotter than last year, and the forecast says it's going to get worse toward the end of the week. Companies are still running summer commercials on TV and some beer gardens - that normally close at the end of August - have announced they will extend the season into mid-September.

When I come home I'm hot, sweaty and tired. A cold shower cools me down and perks me up. But our "cold" tap water is 31° by now and a cold shower has become but a fond memory.

Half our plants have wilted in the heat. The morning train smells of Eau De Salaryman. If the heat wasn't enough to make you sweat, the electricity bill from round-the-clock air conditioning will do the trick just nicely.

I'm quite done with summer now. Autumn should come any time. Any time now. Aaany time. Please.