All The More Reason

Sushi Sushi Sushi Sushi
May 30, 2007, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Environment

Sushi is a word that just about works as a tongue twister that starts to sound like something else when the tongue gets tired. Here is a ripping piece by an author named Nick Tosches on that celebrated aspect of Japanese cuisine. There are so many aspects of this article that are of interest that I worry only citing a few phrases does great injustice to the whole piece. I continue nonetheless. The following is his very tosh description of why sushi is so popular in the States.

Why? I’m sure there are social-anthropological theories, all of them bound to be as boring as they are meaningless. The real answer, I think, is simple.

America is addicted to sugar, but it seeks increasingly to veil its addiction. Power Bars. Sounds healthy. Main ingredient: fructose syrup. Almost 25 percent sugar. The guy, Brian Maxwell, who got rich selling these things, selling sugar as nutrition, swore by them and croaked at the age of 51. Eat a Power Bar and nobody gives a glance. Run up a bag of dope and people look at you funny. I don’t get it. How about a nice, large Tazo Chai Frappuccino Blended Crème from Starbucks? Sounds healthy—I mean, after all, chai—and classy too: crème? Sugar content: 17 teaspoons.

A killer sugar addiction, a preoccupation with health, no matter how misguided, and pretensions, or delusions, of worldly sophistication. Sushi perfectly satisfies them all.

Tosches goes on to explain how the rice is sweetened as is often the soy sauce people use. As for me, I managed to develop a taste for the glory of sashimi. For me, it was the intoxicating mixture of the salty variant of soy and the wasabi.

There’s one other part of this piece that is simply hilarious. Tosches wishes to satisfy his desire for eating whale meat.

I want to know what kind of whale makes for the best grub. Eva-san talks to the boss. He makes a forlorn gesture to a poster on the wall that pictures all the species of whales in the sea, and, forlornly, he expounds awhile.

The great blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived, is by far the best, he says. But, as it’s considered one of the world’s most endangered species, it has been unobtainable for more than 35 years. I feel for the guy.

“No black market?”

“Too big to hide.”


Discouraging Inquiry
May 28, 2007, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Education

While supply teaching 10 year–olds today another teacher came into my classroom to conduct the French class. I took the opportunity to get back into my novel I was reading when my ears pricked up upon hearing her say “O.K. I’m now going to talk in English for 2 minutes to explain to you how to use a dictionary.” I thought to myself that anyone that was willing to explain how to use a dictionary couldn’t be all that bad. Here was her explanation, plus ou moins.

“Look up the word headache. Look it up in the english section of your dictionary [they were using english–french dictionaries]. You will see next to the word some symbols in brackets that nobody bothers reading or understanding. Then you will see prep or adj which means preposition or adjective etc. Finally you have ‘mal de tête’. Which do you think is the word in French? The symbols that nobody uses, prep, or mal de tête?”

As it happens, I once thought that those symbols in between the brackets were impossible to decipher, and I didn’t use them largely because I didn’t know how to. They were intimidating because they were different. However, over time I came to understand their utility and also a little bit about how interesting an idea it was to come up with them in the first place.

As the teacher finished her class I realised that I had a bit of a choice in front of me. The easy one would be to keep my mouth shut and to say nothing. This is easier because discussing the phonetic alphabet with the kids would only get back to her next time she taught the class. The first thing that they would say is that they knew what the symbols meant. This would mean that the next time I supply teach at this school, if even asked back, I will face another teacher who will feel that I have made her look a little silly in front of the students. At the very least, she might feel that her credibility has been undermined. However, my hesitation to say something was precisely related to the fact that she had said that “nobody uses them”. If she had said that she didn’t know what they meant, or that someone in the class could find out what they meant, I wouldn’t have had any hesitation to explain the phonetic alphabet at all. It was only because she had set up the scenario as such that she would lose face if I, or anyone else, said anything that I was hesitating at all. I wondered if this was in part a way that she presented things so as not to have to answer these questions.

I understand that there is a peer pressure in teaching to toe the line as a unit. If students feel that teachers are fallible then maybe it’ll be harder to maintain discipline in the classroom. However, I don’t feel that this should weigh more heavily than the pressure to teach and to encourage inquiry. After she left I closed the door and told the students to reopen their dictionaries. I took about five minutes to explain the basic principle of the phonetic alphabet. Some of them were bored, but I’m not sure all of them were.

I think that in politics people are encouraged to toe the line even if someone within their party says something ridiculous. Every once in a while if someone says something completely bonkers then the whole party might turn on them and demand that they excuse or explain themselves. I feel that this is a similar type of situation. If people in these situations felt more at ease to encourage ever so gently another perspective then it would not be such a precedent each time that someone disagreed.

Jonathan Smith

China – the long road
May 27, 2007, 11:01 pm
Filed under: China

Pretty darned interesting article here at City Journal by a Frenchman named Guy Sorman. He also has a piece on Nicolas Sarkozy here. Essentially he argues that the rise of China as a 21st century economic power is far from certain. He also believes that far too many of the peasants have been left out of the economic growth that has already happened. In some ways, it sort of feels like the House of Saud but on a much larger scale. Reading the piece I could easily wish for more sources to verify some of the story but at the same time it is China and freedom of information is still hard to come by. The ethics in having the Olympics in China in 2008 could be put into question too. I did not know, for example, that 3,000 odd people died in the protests in 1989. Has China really made amends for that? There’s this unbelievable story as well:

In 2005, a family-planning squad targeted the city of Linyi and its surrounding rural area, in the Shandong Province, because the population had far exceeded the Party’s child quota. The agents kidnapped 17,000 women, forcing abortions on those who were pregnant—in some cases, immersing seven- to eight-month-old fetuses in boiling water—and sterilizing those who weren’t. The agents tortured the Linyi men until they revealed the hiding places of their daughters and wives.

Sarmon claims that this was admitted to by Beijing and made known in the press. Well, if it was mentioned then it was but a blip on the screen.

If nothing else, the piece is a stark reminder of how far much of the West has come in its historical journey in relation to a place like China. Unions, human rights, even the idea of real estate, are all distant notions in large parts of China.


Halfway around the world to wear the hijab
May 26, 2007, 4:42 am
Filed under: Iran

My cabbie tonight was from Iran. I know this because he was speaking on his cell phone and I asked him what language he was speaking. He dared me to guess. I refused. It was Persian. We ended up discussing Iran and politics. Sure enough, no one has more distaste for the Iranian government than someone that has moved halfway across the world to escape them. This, above all else, is what will continually surprise and disappoint me about current Western life. Instead of welcoming allies who encourage the same values as our own such as democracy, women’s rights and reason we choose to let the loudest thugs from these regimes rule discourse in our communities. It was no surprise to him or me that individuals from the Iranian government are paid to try and encourage the hijab in communities in the West.

Jonathan Smith

Doth thou dare speaketh me in familiar tongue?
May 22, 2007, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Education, Rhetoric

I have no idea if the title of this post made sense at any moment in the history of the english language. And yet, this question is still vitally important in France. In brief, the article states that the current minister of education in France wants to reassert the “vous” between the students and teachers in France. Personally, this strikes me as attacking the symptoms of some of the problems in France and not some of the causes. On the other hand, it may be demonstrating a will for change on a deeper level than has existed for awhile. Still, the fact that some professors are referred to by their first name and others by their title doesn’t necessarily translate to respect in English either. I can’t help but add that one can still say “Vous êtes un vrai connard” tout en respectant le vouvoiement.


Carpe Diem
May 19, 2007, 6:16 pm
Filed under: Rhetoric

Seize the moment, but take care not to let the future seize you.

The previous sentence might be arguably a version of antimetabole. I am such a fan of antimetabole that I’ve mentioned it before on this very blog. There is power in repetition and redundancy. For example, we do have two eyes just in case one decides to quit on us. We have two of other things too. I’ve been thinking of antimetabole today as I’ve just come from assisting at the wedding of a good friend of mine. I suppose that a true antimetabolic phrase would finish as “not to let the moment seize you“. Still it is of great fascination to me that these celebrations can only by their very nature last for a brief period of time, and yet one hopes that it sets the tone for the years to come. I don’t feel that my powers of articulation are capable at this moment in describing how it is that the shortness of a wedding and the hopeful length of a successful marriage matches the quality of reversing the clauses in a phrase, but I do feel that the relationship exists between the two.


So you wanna learn French?
May 18, 2007, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Language

One of the aspects of a learning a language that one must come to terms with is the sheer enormity of the task. I often find it incredible to think that I can speak, listen, write and read so well in English (my mother tongue). Even more so, I find it more incredible how similarly so many others speak the same mother tongue. For me, this sensitisation to my own language only came about after making the effort to learn French.

If there were an auditory equivalent to La Bibliotheque Nationale it just might be – 24 hours a day people talk in French. Even better, there is the distilled version of all their shows without their commercials at

Without exaggerating, there are times I can listen to these selections of French and simply marvel at it all. Now, if I could only find the equivalent of this webpage for arabic, persian, italian, russian, polish and others!

Jonathan Smith