My best posts of the year

With 2009 almost upon us, I thought I’d try riding the wave of cheesy end of year roundups. Here are my personal favorite five items I posted this year. (Adam and Joe can of course do their own.

  • Visas I have known. Scans of all the visas in my passport (key data blacked out of course) with commentary.
  • Remembering the Railway of Death. A chronicle, in words and images, of the afternoon Adam, his wife Shoko, and I spent at the oddest museum I have ever seen. As a bonus, photographs of the modern state of the nearby Railway of Death itself.
  • Mr. Chang – Mr. Oyama. Notes on a conversation I had with a dying man while passing the time outside a 7/11.
  • A visit to Lo Sheng. A travel diary, with photographic slideshow, of my visit to Taiwan’s Japan-colonial era Leprosorium. Sadly, it appears that the government has (unsurprisingly) gone back on its promise to preseve Lo Sheng and allow residents to remain. Here is some Taiwanese TV news footage of the police breaking up a protest outside. You can see my friend Em being dragged away at exactly 1:00.
  • Tamogami, Motoya, and Abe.  An easy selection for my best post of the year. Also see Tamogami Update and Still More on Tamogami.

Any disagreements? Was there anything else I should replace one of these five with?

On The Media on Kisha-clubs

National Public Radio’s always-excellent weekly show On The Media just did a great 20 minute segment on Japan’s unique press club system. The best part of the entire piece: when segment producer Mark Phillips brought up the way in which reporters and the politician or other figure they cover often exchange questions and answers making “the actual-” and this is where I quite literally braced myself to hear the word “kabuki” but instead heard “-a mere formality.” What a relief!

An online reading list to accompany the meltdown of the financial system

  1. Overview of how financial regulation works in the US, so you know who to point the finger[s] at.
  2. Marginal Revolution is, in my lofty opinion, the best blog for following all the antics. It’s written by a couple of econ professors who normally talk about curiosities (similar to Freakonomics), but lately they’ve been doing a great job of consolidating (and generating) economic commentary on the various implosions and bailouts going on.
  3. The Conglomerate is giving some of the best coverage from a legal perspective.
  4. If you want something on a higher level, read Calculated Risk, which is what all the bankers have been reading (especially now that they have nothing else to do).

Any other recommendations to share?

Real life first stories of modern first contact

First contact with previously unknown societies is not just the stuff of science fiction and the distant past, but still happens from time in some of the remotest parts of the world. The Washington Post has a fantastic long feature chronicling the adventurous life of one man who had made it his life’s work to discover, and aid, these isolated tribes-a unique Brazilian profession known as a “sertanista.” A sample passage:

It had been just over a year since they had made first contact with Purá, the only adult male in the five-member Kanoe tribe. Marcelo and Altair had sat for hours with Purá, patiently communicating with hand gestures. Eventually, an elderly Indian from the other side of Rondonia who spoke Portuguese and a related tribal language was brought in to translate the stories of Purá and his mother, Tutuá. Slowly, the team pieced together the Kanoe tribe’s grim history.

In the 1970s, when the group numbered about 50, all of the tribe’s adult males ventured out of their tiny village together in search of different Indian groups in the hope of arranging marriages. After several days, the men didn’t return, so a small group of women formed a search party. They found the men massacred, killed by unknown assailants. The women panicked, convinced they couldn’t survive and care for their children on their own. So they made a pact: All of them — women and children — would drink a deadly poison derived from the timbo plant and commit collective suicide. But Purá’s mother, Tutuá, refused to swallow. As she vomited fiercely, she rid herself of the traces of poison and was able to stop her two children, her sister and her niece from sipping the fatal brew.

The tiny tribe had lived on its own for nearly two decades — until Marcelo and Altair encountered Purá and his sister on a jungle trail in September 1995. The team members figured that if anyone could help them find the lone Indian, an Indian who had been in a similar situation until very recently might be their best bet.