Monday, February 24, 2014

In Support of Those Who Remain...

From my kitchen table in New York the events of March 11, 2011 seem a distant memory.

For those still living in Fukushima, for those displaced to other areas, some of them mothers and children separated from their husbands and fathers who remain in Fukushima to work, the rumbling has yet to stop.

Three years on, the rebuilding of towns, of communities, of lives continues - as it does anywhere disaster strikes. This is why I am grateful to be teaming up with Catholic Relief Services in the ongoing effort to give an assist to those who need it most.

Proceeds from the sale of For Now will be passed on to CRS, to help many thousands of people still in need.

So please, grab a copy, and a couple more for your friends. Help spread the word throughout your own circles. Influence others to help by sharing your thoughts on the book in an online review.

And please, keep those who continue to suffer in your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sochi Recap #2: Slovenia 5 - Houston 0

The medal count slowly continues to rise in Sochi. And with the US sticking around the top of the leader board millions of Americans continue to scream "We're Number One!" for doing nothing but drinking beer and cheering from their barstools. And while I take comfort in China being out-medaled by countries like Switzerland, Sweden and Austria, I watch the US and Russia beating on countries one-tenth their size and I feel my nationalistic pride mitigated.

In high school sports (as least as far as I can recall - it's been a few years) teams were put in conferences and, particularly for state championship bragging rights, competed in groups based on size of school.

In college, schools are placed in divisions based on a number of factors including size of school, size of football stadium, scholarships granted and suitcases full of cash handed over in back-campus parking lots.

In the Olympics there are no divisions, no groups. Everyone competes on one big global playing field (figuratively speaking). So to speak of medal count as a measure of a country's success can be misleading. If Russia scores more medals than the Netherlands where's the pride, really? Russia is 8 times the size of the Netherlands in terms of population and, here in Sochi, they know all the best parking lots for handing over suitcases full of cash. So when considering the number of medals a country has won, that country's population (in terms of people and suitcases) should also be taken into account.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The 2014 Sochi Games

Update #1 (of at least one)

US snowboarder Danny Someone
showing off his point-scoring Stylus.
I’d love to be in Sochi right now, gadflying about, taking in this suicidal skiing event here and that narcissistic judge-based ‘Look at me fly around on my snowboard’ event there. I’d kill to get paid to post articles that regurgitate the same ‘stunning, heart-pounding’ results everyone else is spewing up while trading my per diem for Sochi cuisine and a non-alcoholic beer (judging from this video, which is about as dry as they make Sochi out to be). I'd even abandon my semi-warm New York home for a room in Sochi, in the athlete village that seems designed to double as a tribute to the failings of communism.

But the reality is I am at home – where I don’t even have a TV. (Technically I do have a TV, a nice flat screen someone down the street put out for the garbage man last month, but I have not subscribed to the dogma of the cable gods so it's only good for my sons' DVDs.) I did recently scored free wi-fi from my neighbor so my son and I could enjoy the Super Bowl on my laptop (giving me my first reason since the inception of The Simpsons to like FOX). However the powers-that-harumph at NBC have a different definition of modern corporate goodwill, magnanimously allowing my fellow Americans and I to view the Games online – exclusively through our cable provider.

So I find myself relegated to this whimsical Internet connection and staccato clips of a (maybe) blond Julie Donaldson still capitalizing on her 2000 Miss Florida USA title as she gets to read about the highlight videos from a teleprompter. Alternatively, I can read thousands of update articles that express no humor or irony in how these Games are playing out.

This is where I feel I must jump in.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

'Happy Wedding!'

The Japanese Wedding Industry

Photo courtesy of Jonelle Patrick (
My fellow English teacher Yuriko just couldn’t be any more excited about her yellow wedding dress.

She giggled as she dreamed aloud of the church, decorated with flowers. The sound of heavenly music streaming in from somewhere overhead. The pews filled with happy, smiling friends and family (actually they’d only be a quarter full but we’ll get to that).

She stared through me into space, breathing visions of a robed, bible-toting celebrant declaring proudly and warmly (and completely unofficially) that she is now married to the man at her side (a man wearing a tuxedo he got from the men’s dressing room under the church).

Yes, standing before an altar that looks very real, beneath stained glass and surrounded by replicas of holy things, she and her beloved would hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes as their rent-a-priest recited religious platitudes no one in the building – not she nor her new husband, nor the carefully-selected congregation, not even the priest himself – could understand.

Welcome to the meticulous and non-sensical Japanese wedding industry.

‘Sounds nice,’ I said to my starry-eyed co-worker, who had invited me and the rest of the teaching staff to her wedding celebration, supposedly in two weeks. ‘I’m looking forward to it.’

No response. Still starry eyed.

‘So…what did you do this weekend?’ I asked. She was probably busy with all the preparation I assumed went into planning a wedding.

Yuriko’s face brightened. She looked gleefully into my eyes. ‘Oh, I got married!’ Then she grabbed something off a shelf and hurried down the hall.