Modern Japan Digital Archive

The National Diet Library announced on the 27th that they will soon be uploading around 15,700 volumes of Taisho era documents whose copyright term has recently expired. The documents, representing 17% of the library’s holdings on that period, will be available for free online starting July 3. The Diet Digital Archive web site, including the new material soon to be added, contains around 143,000 documents of material. While the archive contains large amounts of visual material such as photographs in addition to text, the web site and search tools are only in Japanese, so unfortunately non-Japanese readers will only be able to appreciate these sorts of items if Japanese readers find them and provide direct links.

I haven’t looked around yet, but I expect I’ll find all sorts of interesting things when I do. If anyone finds anything particularly cool, feel free to comment about it below.

Link to Diet Digital Archive website.

The grand disconnect

While the main reason I had been idle from blogging the first half of this month was due to my spending all of the appropriate energies in preparation for an interview related to grad school admissions. The past week, however, has been obstructed by the general shittiness of Comcast cable internet service. These days I am living in my hometown of Montclair, New Jersey in the house where we have had Comcast’s cable internet service since shortly after moving there in 1998. While Comcast seemed insanely fast back then, after years of never having used anything faster than a dialup 56k modem outside of a school, it was never perfectly reliable, and feels like it has only gotten slower and less reliable over time. This feeling is of course aggravated by my experiences with far superior DSL service in both Japan and Taiwan, but the biggest insult was discovering that cable internet service provided by Optimum Online to my apartments in New Brunswick (I went to Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey), not even one hour away from home and in the same state, was dramatically superior in both speed and service quality.

On Saturday, following a period of off-and on flakiness, the connection from Comcast stopped working completely. All right, I thought, on Monday we (I and my father) are going up to his house in Cape Cod until Friday, where there is a working net connection I can use to get some work done. And there was, at first. But unfortunately, the formerly existing Adelphia which once served up here was laid low by corrupt and incompetent executives and their network was bought by, yes, Comcast. So naturally it went out Wednesday afternoon, and after an afternoon of waiting to see if it would come back on and a lengthy tech support call in the early evening, nothing is fixed.

So how am I posting this? Well, I found a backup plan. A couple of days after getting back to the US from Japan I went out to buy a cell phone, and I opted for the Windows Mobile Samsung Blackjack ($50 after rebate, with 2 year contract that I will most likely break with an early termination fee next year) and the $20 a month unlimited data plan. With the cable net out, I simply plugged my Blackjack into my PC with the included USB cable, executed the Internet Sharing application (note that this program does is not listed on any of the application menus, but can be found in the Windows folder on the phone using the File Explorer), and pressed the “Connect” button on the phone, and I was online! The speed is nowhere near broadband-at around 140kbps down and 50kbps up (according to Speedtest.net) closer to the dialup speeds of the bad old days-but it sure beats nothing.

Luckily, it looks like I won’t be stuck with Comcast’s putrid service for much longer. Verizon’s FiOS (fiber- optic service) is now available in Montclair, offering significantly higher levels of speed for the same price as Comcast. And while I am cynical enough to feel no surprise if I’m still getting arbitrarily disconnected for at least a few hours a week, I hold out a ray of hope that the same people who provide the never-failed conventional phone service might actually have a clue how to run a network that stays online.

Scientology (again)

After seeing today’s news that Germany had banned a Tom Cruise movie from filming in military owned sites due to the star’s connection with the cult, I thought it would be fun to repost this piece I put up back in May 3 of last year. Below is the post originally presented a bit over one year ago.

May 3, 2006

Andrew Sullivan today calls for a boycott of the Tom Cruise vehicle Miss:ion: Imp:oss:i:ble: 3.
How creepy is Tom Cruise? The Washington Post asks; and readers answer. All I can say is: after the way this guy treated South Park, we owe it to ignore him and any movie with which he’s associated. The Boycott “MI:3” movement starts here. Blogospheric solidarity much appreciated.

Well Andrew, I am completely with you on this one, but the boycott does NOT start with you. I was walking around Manhattan with my camera on April 16th and snagged this photo on 9th Avenue somewhere between 45th and 50th Street.

It seems that some people have already had the idea.

As it so happens I ended up passing through Times Square a few minutes later, where there was a pair of tables full of copies of Dianetics, a pair of e-meters, and a bunch of money-crazed bad pulp scifi worshipping Scientologists trying to indoctrinate passers-by. (I normally avoid Times Square, but I wanted to stop by Midtown Comics on the way home and couldn’t remember exactly which cross-street it’s at, only that it’s near the corner of 7th and 40-something. For the record, it was 40th Street.)

All of the following photos taken on April 16th on the west side of Times Square with a Canon EOS 300D and 65mm Hartblei Super Rotator lens.
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Some United States. Stop one: New Jersey

As Joe mentioned the other day, I am back in New Jersey for the time being. I’ve just noticed how many weeks it has actually been since I’ve updated anything here, between a couple of weeks of travel, a couple of weeks of being extremely ill, a couple of weeks of playing tourguide to my mom and her boyfriend in Japan, and a couple of weeks of reading and getting graduate school related application stuff together-and topping it all off with trans-hemispheric relocation, a birthday, and various other odds and ends I have completely neglected this space here. So, while I have a few things that I want to write about, and a large number of photographs I want to post from my last several weeks in Japan (for this year anyway), in honor of my return to good old New Jersey, below are some choice quotes from a book of travel writing by the late humorist Irvin S. Cobb entitled Some United States (1926) purchased just this afternoon from the $1 shelves outside the famous Strand bookstore in The City. As the title of this post implies, today I bring you excerpts from the chapter on the great state of New Jersey.

CHAPTER XII


NEW JERSEY


Just Behind Those Billboards


After you cross by train through the tube under the North River, which is so-called because it is really the Hudson River and edges Manhattan Island on the west and bears no relation whatsoever to the northern boundaries of anything at all, and, this safely done, emerge from the tunnel mouth on the farther shore, you will see a large number of billboards. Well, New Jersey is just behind those billboards.

[...]

In billboards, New Jersey, regardless of comparative areas, leads all the states of the Union. I’m not sure but what she leads all the habitable globe. Next to the commuters, billboards constitute her most conspicuous product. The commuters come and go. In the morning they hurry away to New York of Philadelphia to earn their livings and in the evening they return to bed down for the night. Thus daily they come alternately under the head, first, of exports, and then of imports.

An orthodox New Jersey commuter is easily to be recognized in New York. He wears and imaginary string tied around a mental thumb to make him remember not to forget to call up the employment agency and notify the new cook who is going out to his place to spend two or three days with the family, possibly even staying the full week out, to meet him at the station for the 5:03; and she may recognize him by the worried lines in his face and the fact that he will be carrying parts for the lawnmower.

[...]

Whenever I have occasion to traverse the State of New Jersey by rail, I take advantage of the opportunity to reflect upon our outstanding institution of billboards as it presents itself to the purview of the traveler. Regarding billboards and billboarders , I have gone to the trouble of compiling some very interesting figures.

For instance, if all the billboards which desecrate the scenic areas of America were piled one on top of another, allowing twelve inches of horizontal thickness for each billboard, the total number would form a column one hundred and fourteen miles high; and to soak these properly for burning would require ninety thousand barrels of grade-A kerosene; and then when some philanthropist had applied the match, the flames of the bonfire would cast a glow visible as far away as Bermuda, and in every community in this country where people have learned to value the beauties of unblemished nature, there would be public dancing in the streets and a holiday for the school children would be declared.

Again, let us consider for a moment an even more agreeable summarization: If all the billboard art directors who go to and from in the land choosing decorative vista with a view to marring them with their billboards, where laid out side by side with lilies in their hands, it would make a very enjoyable spectacle for the rest of us provided only we were sure that one of them was in a trance.

While I speed athware New Jersey I frequently play a favorite game of mine. I call it Billboards. [Ed: his billboard obsession becomes troubling in its fetishization. Enough on that topic.]

For, when all is said and done and disregarding what figure New Jersey may have cut in the earlier days of this Republic and, before that, in the Colonial time, the question next arises: What now is she? And the answer is that she is become the smudgy and begrimed passageway that separates two great metropolii. [Ed: I know for a fact that Joe would disagree about the characterization of Philadelphia as a great metropolis.] Lying between them and holding them apart, she takes their overflow and they suck out her substances as they long ago sopped up her personality. The semicolon of the Eastern seaboard—that’s modern New Jersey. Never mind what she is commercially. Historically, she’s a cow that went dry about the time the boys got back from the Spanish War. An she has been dry every since. And from present indications will continue to be dry.

[...]

All of which, I claim, helps to explain why New Jersey is one of the joke states. It is not well for a state to be, by national estimation, a standing joke. Kansas once was one and it took her long years to live it down. [Ed: Kansas has worked hard in recent years to reclaim that title.] Arkansas was one and has not yet entirely recovered. Connecticut was one and because of traditional memories lingering in the popular mind of wooden nutmegs and shoe-peg oats, will never entirely get over it. [Ed: I have 0% idea what those references mean. I suppose that means Connecticut HAS gotten over it.] Missouri, for a spell, had a close call with being one, but lacking all else, the state which foaled a Mark Twain would have a title to immortal grandeur on that sole account.

New Jersey still is one and a hopeless patient. For half a century references to Jersey justice, Jersey skeeters and Jersey lightning made her the football of the jesters. [Ed: And all the more embarrassing for us, having invented football here.] As a matter of fact, and giving them due credit, her mosquitoes must sharpen their bills yet finer ere they may hope to compete with the Long Island variety. And in these piping Prohibition days her homemade applejack, potent though it may be, stands comparison with the bootleggers’ best. It may give you the blind staggers, but the blindness is a temporary affliction.

[...]

With time the symptoms have changed, but the case remains incurable. For to-day New Jersey is still a joke state. Outsiders think of her as the State where they suffer from billboarditis and ride on the Erie and harbor the corporations and broadcast the bedtime tales. They forget her material contributions to the national prosperity. And who can blame them?

[...]

But just look at the blame thing now! Coal tipples and garbage dumps and freight tracks and smelters and refineries invade the marshes, and the birds are mostly fled away, and for wild life the mosquitoes are left. The elm-shaded towns where once upon a time future statesmen were born and patriots grew up and writers ripened their art, have become clamorous, cindered, smoky factory places crowded with transcendently ugly workshops, the dirty, homely streets swarming with alien workers quacking a jargon of tongues fit to eclipse Babel’s Tower itself.

It is hard to believe that here, long ago, poets dreamed their dreams and painters plied deft brushes and masters in statecraft dealt masterfully with the politics of their time; that once upon a time great publicists and great orators dwelt in these spots. It is impossible to believe that any such ever again will abide here.

[...]

In all of manufacturing  New Jersey the most agreeable sight, I think, is the sign on the road to Pompton which says you are now leaving Paterson. When I get that far I stop and give thanks.

My love-hate relationship with the Northeast

Roy is back home in New Jersey for the time being, while I’m in Philadelphia whiling away the last month and a half before the bar exam. I’m looking forward to heading back to Tokyo in August, but one thing is for sure—there will be a few things I miss about this part of America. Certainly not the food or the security. But the architecture alone will be something of a loss:

Looking up Broad Street

30th Street from across the river

It’s definitely a trade-off: majestic moments for steady fascination. Ah well, this is why God invented frequent flyer miles.