Abe Vigoda - Dead or Alive?

Abe Vigoda, of Godfather, Barney Miller, and Fish fame (?) is still alive.

So... he's not dead.

Abe Vigoda found out he was dead in 1982. He was doing a play in Calgary, Alberta, while a People magazine writer visited the "Barney Miller" wrap party in Los Angeles, California.
"The Godfather" was Abe Vigoda's first film -- and more than 35 years later, he's still around to enjoy it.
"Somehow it mentioned in the article that 'the late Abe Vigoda' was not [there]," Vigoda recalls.
The error was corrected, but the damage had been done.
"I'm still quite [involved]," he says.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Observations on Japanese culture - Part 2 - New and Old

When I visited Japan I guess I had some preconceptions. One was that everything would be smaller scale than in the US. Another would be that, except for historical sights, everything would be new. In a way I was both right and wrong on both counts.

For a start, let's look at the new things. This may sound stupid, but everything in Japan still felt... Japanese. For example, the covers on the bed our first night in the hotel. There was an extra piece of cloth along the foot of the bed with no obvious utility. With the duvet turned down and this strip of decoration, the bed looked liked a gift, something left by the hotel staff for guests to curl up in. And the Japanese-ness didn't end with the decoration. Although the bed was declared to be western style, it was still a futon, just raised up off the ground. And the pillow wasn't what I expected either. Sewn inside the pillow was a sort of bean-bag filled with what felt like rice or barley. I later learned it was a traditional Japanese buckwheat hull pillow, which is still the most popular pillow in Japan. So, even though I had checked into a modern hotel in a western style room, I still had a room that reflected some traditional themes of gifts, presentation, concern for health, and an awareness of nature.

In the same way I found that the presentation of food was as important as the food itself. On our trip we purchases a JapanRail pass, which would let us bounce around the country by train at will. Because of this, and traveling with kids, we ended up organizing our days so that we'd spend the lunch hours on the train. Each of the train stations offered their own local versions of the food specialties, which were sold at kiosks in boxes called Eki-ben (Eki = train station, ben is short for bento). Both the boxes and the food were presented in ways to be as pleasing as possible. Again, it was almost as if they were giving me a delightfully wrapped gift, with each piece of food tucked away in a special drawer for my delight.

I don't know if this emphasis on design and beauty in everyday things (such as lunch and beds) comes from the people, or from the country. The landscape in Japan provided many surprises, but the country we traveled was so well populated it was hard to separate the influence of civilization from nature. Many times as we rode the train I could spot clumps, or even full forests of bamboo. What was Japan like 100 or 200 years ago? Did bamboo spread across the landscape at that time, or is it an import? In any case, these stands ranged from delicate brushstrokes to massive organ pipes of greenery and continually evoked in me visions of Kurosawa films.

We visited Nikko, which is in the mountains, not more than a couple hours from Tokyo via train and bus. The landscape of the forests there were much different from the bamboo and brush of the lower lands. They were mostly evergreens, with a mix of deciduous trees. But even there I wondered about the origins of the forest. In Nikko park there is a famous path lined with 500 year old cedar trees, massive things that bring shade and moisture to the way. But even the "wild" trees outside the park grew in designs that looked as if there were cultured. The treelines often were the same height, or the branches met between trees as if they were holding hands. The only other time that I'd felt this way was when I saw the forest of Les Landes in France. Those forests were a monoculture planted at the order of Napolean. While the French trees appeared stark and regimented, the trees around Nikko had layers of leaves almost like a cumulus cloud.

The 5-story pagoda at Nikko built in 1650, and rebuilt after it burned down in 1818.

Some women in traditional dress on the streets of Kyoto.

I don't know if this reflects the Japanese culture, or if it's just savvy economic sense, but I saw quite a few sights that were only recreations of the original. For example, the Kinkaku-ji temple (The Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto was originally built around 1400, but destroyed by arson in 1950. On an extremely rainy day I flocked to see the replica along with hundreds of other tourists from all over the world. Most of Tokyo was destroyed in the 1923 earthquake, and then again in WWII. Even some of the ancient sights were recreations of even older monuments. The great Buddha of Kamakura may or may not be the original from 1252, and the Buddha of Nara has been rebuilt several times, most recently over 400 years ago.

In a way, reading about all this destruction reminds me of the Godzilla (Gojira) movies of the 60's and 70's. Whole towns in Japan would be completely obliterated by the monsters time and again, but the movies still had happy endings.

Maybe this determination has nothing to do with economics, or tourism, or even Godzilla movies. I like to think that people can recognize the spirit of the place, and when the physical sight is destroyed, they rebuild to honor the spirit. Maybe everyone needs to think more about development and restoration. Don't build new buildings just because they're are new, and don't hold onto old things just because they are old.

Corrugated metal building

In the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo an unpainted wooden building.

A massive pedestrian mall in Hiroshima echoes the more traditional ginza street.

A small wooden building nestled beneath two modern buildings in Kyoto

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Bad Egg...Tomato

Speaking of tomatoes, it appears there's something rotten in Denmark...uh, Sacramento and Minnesota.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal investigation into possible food price-fixing has been expanded to include two major industries, tomato processing and egg products.

The Justice Department confirmed Tuesday that prosecutors are conducting separate inquiries into whether the tomato and egg industries engaged in anticompetitive practices.

Federal prosecutors also have been looking at possible price-fixing in the citrus industry for at least a year.

All the more reason to grow your own tomatoes. And, maybe, to have your own chickens. That way you'll know you're getting fresh food for the price you're paying. Growing tomatoes doesn't have to be expensive, although if it is, then maybe you can write a book about it, like in The $64 Tomato.

Enhanced by Zemanta


How do you like them tomatoes?

From Tomatoes 2008

Each year in May I go to Portland Nursery, pick out about six different heirloom tomato plants, and then water them for three months. Mid to late August they start turning red, and then suddenly in September I'm up to here (raise your hand level with your hip) in tomatoes.

The trouble is, I never remember which tomatoes I bought in May. So, this year I'll make a note of it...

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

The Early Cascade weren't the earliest tomatoes, but they came on pretty early. In Portland it takes more than 55 days for a red tomato, regardless of the variety. These tomatoes are smallish, but tasty and pretty. They go well in sauce, salsa, or sliced in a BLT.

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

An anemic sort of plant...
From Tomatoes 2008

The Glacier tomatoes were the earliest ripe toms, but not very exciting. The largest fruit was about the size of a grocery store Roma, and quite a few were more cherry-size.

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

The German tomatoes are amazing. They don't really turn red, so it's easy to overlook the ripe ones until too late. By that time they're more of a bloody purple. When you slice into them they have a meaty texture, and they melt in your mouth. I've made salsa and sauce out of these, but a good BLT, or a greek salad is what they deserve. Or, just wedges of German tomatoes, sprinkled with fresh garden basil and drizzled with olive oil.

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

My Better Boy VFN plant was the only one that had problems with aphids this year. I run the garden on a timer, and water it for 20 minutes a day around 9pm using a drip hose. I think the Better Boy wanted more water than this, and that's why it was susceptible to the aphids. Also, the plant didn't end up making that much fruit.

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

The Legend plant made a lot of nice sized tomatoes that lasted a long time on or off the bush. These toms are great in a greek salad, and also go well for hand-cut fresh salsa.

I used to work at Macheezmo Mouse and often have a craving for the way they'd make fresh salsa. Here's the recipe: Four largish tomatoes to one yellow onion. Cube everything and mix it together in a large bowl. I use glass, although we used aluminum at Macheezmo. Then finely chop a bunch of cilantro and toss that in the bowl. Finally, add some peppers. I use one whole Jalapeno, minced (at Macheezmo they used to use serranos). Mix by hand, although you'll probably want to wear rubber gloves or put baggies over your hands to protect them from the acid. It's important that you chop the tomatoes and onions by hand. If you use a food processor the salsa is too liquid.

From Tomatoes 2008

Here's a Roma-style tomato, but I lost the plastic tag so I don't know the variety. Romas are good for sauce or roasting on the BBQ.

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

From Tomatoes 2008

A Legend, sliced and ready to eat.

From Tomatoes 2008

Enhanced by Zemanta


Observations on Japanese culture - Part 10 - Bathing

Aside from the food, the part of Japanese culture that I enjoyed the most were the baths. In particular I had four specific experiences with the baths that stood out.

On the first day after our arrival we were all jet-lagged. One of the kids I was with woke up at 3 am and said he couldn't sleep and was going to take a bath to relax. Through the wall of the bathroom I could hear the water start, and then it ran and ran for practically twenty minutes. I don't know how long he was in the bath, but I was surprised it could take so long to fill up. I managed to doze until 6am, and then finally got up myself. When I went to take a shower I realized why it took him so long to fill the tub: it was only 4 feet long, but about 3 feet deep. Essentially he was filling up a miniature hot tub for a 15 minute bath.

I've read that the way he should have taken the bath was to start the water in the tub, and then take a shower while waiting for it to fill. Once you're clean you climb in the bath to relax. The bathwater stays in place until each member of the family has a bath. That's why it's so important to shower before you climb into the bath.

Later we stayed at the ryokan Hotel Shikisai near Lake Chuzen-hi in the hills above Nikko (click here for reservations). This is a fancy onsen (hot-springs hotel), and the main feature of the place was to bathe, eat, and relax. No problem there!

As soon as we arrived they gave us some yukatas to change into, and then we bathed, ate and relaxed. A particularly nice way to adjust to jet lag.

There's a protocol to bathing. First you wash yourself completely in the showers. There are some little stools you can sit on, and some buckets to help dump the water over you. After you've soaped, washed and rinsed and you're completely clean you can climb into the hot water bath for some relaxation. I liked how most of the faucets separated out the temperature of the water from the force of the water. That way you have one knob that turns the water on, and makes it stronger or weaker, and on the other side you have a knob that adjusts the temperature from cold to hot. Once you find the perfect temperature you don't need to worry about readjusting the controls. You turn on the water, get wet and then turn it off. Then you lather up, and turn the water back on to rinse. A side note: you don't have to stick with the shower. The "old-school" method seemed to involve filling up a small bucket and dumping it over your head. Traditionally about 10 buckets is enough to declare you clean.

The third experience that stood out was our bath at the Tokiwa Hotel in Tokyo. This is a pleasant little hotel with friendly staff and easy access to the trains.

The men's bath at the Tokiwa Hotel in Tokyo.

In this case the bath was a radium bath. Apparently this is caused from the same sort of radiation that causes radon gas to build up in basements.
Some Japanese people believe it's healthy to drink the radium water, which is expelled as radon through burps.

And finally, my friend Keishi, whom I met at Oregon State University, wanted to show us an activity that was especially Japanese, so he took us to the Oedo Onsen in Daiba (southwest of Tokyo). It was fun, and interesting (thanks Keishi!).

In a way it felt sort of like going to a bowling alley: It's a family activity, everyone changes their shoes, and puts on a comfortable...bowling shirt? Ok, that part's different.

We got to choose which design we wanted on our yukatas. Linda was happy to see that even some Japanese women had trouble tying the obi for the Yukata. We all stood in front of a helpful diagram in the locker room. Some tourists from Singapore asked Molly and Linda for tips on the protocol of the Onsen. We were old pros by then!

At that point we split up into boys and girls and each went to the baths (sorry, no photos). The hot water is supplied by wells drilled several hundred feet into the rock under Tokyo. The raw water is about 78 degrees Celsius, and then it's cooled to around 40, although there was one cold tub at 20. Everyone bathes naked, except for a little hand towel which you can use however you see fit. (Linda) There was a large indoor bath as well as an outdoor bath. The outdoor bath had large pools and waterways with river rocks on the side. Molly and I felt like characters in a Japanese painting. After a bit we got hungry and went to one of the restaurants around the concourse in the onsen.

Here are some photos of the concourse at Oedo Onsen

People can shop, eat, play games and take naps all in the onsen.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Observations on Japanese culture - Part 6 - Manners

In the US everyone has an opinion, and is willing to share with the first Joe they meet on the street. This openness carries along to other everyday acts. If you're on a bus and two people are talking loudly, others might jump into the conversation. When you're standing in line at the coffee shop talking about where you skied last weekend, the person behind you might ask if you had a good time and how you found the snow. My neighborhood in Portland is a group of strangers who are comfortably happy sharing their feelings at the drop of a hat.

In the Japan I felt it was different, not out of coldness but out of respect. I was with a group of 5 kids, and they were boisterous and chatty on the train. Then I realized that our kids and ourselves were the only people on the train speaking in loud voices. Or even speaking at all. In fact, later I learned that being loud on the train was considered bad manners.

A a poster asking people on the train to keep their music down.

Talking on the phone in public places was strongly discouraged. All over the trains were posters asking people to switch their phones to "manners mode."

Having manners is not the same as being friendly, and it's not necessarily polite. It's more of an awareness of other people's personal space. I wanted to compare my experience with other Gaijin. This guy has a different take on manners in Japan. He takes the negative view that there are hundreds of ways to be insulted in Japan without being obviously offensive. My visit was much more brief than his, but my experience was more positive. Still, I noticed society seemed to present a culture that emphasized manners. Maybe If you're crowded on the subway, or in a country where there's not a lot of "empty" land, you cope in other ways. Maybe people who live in Japan have learned to have a way to take their privacy with them.

Here's a poster that sums up public train etiquette

The daikons are all acting badly by snoring, listening to loud music and making noise with their phones. The other vegetables are seriously disturbed by this offensive behavior.

In a similar vein, walking while eating, drinking or smoking was discouraged. I saw several signs around Tokyo that asked people to smoke in one spot.

It's funny how some of the things that are polite are completely opposite between the US and Japan. For example, in the US if you meet someone you usually smile widely, showing your teeth, and shake hands. In Japan showing your teeth can be considered impolite, and the correct way to greet someone is to bow.

Perhaps the most confusing part of being polite in Japanese society is giving gifts.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Taxidermy: mouse riding guinea pig time machine - Boing Boing

Taxidermy: mouse riding guinea pig time machine - Boing Boing

Posted using ShareThis
I signed up for ShareThis, but it apparently wasn't working for blogger.com for a while. So, I never got to try it out.

This post is a test of ShareThis. It's OK. Not great. When I went to the bOingbOing site and clicked "share this" it only added the link to my blog, and not the picture. In fact, it didn't even add the link to the header of the entry... I had to do that manually.

But, the Share this widget for blogger seems to work. I had to drag it below the "blog posts" block in the blogger layout. Now, if you look to the bottom of this post there's an icon to "share this" on facebook, myspace, friendfeed, and all sorts of other places...

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


How "Choice Architecture" can affect your health and wealth

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in ParisImage via Wikipedia Laura Rowley writes the "Money & Happiness" column for Yahoo finance. It appears she's also read Nudge, and was impressed with the topic. I wrote about the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic, and how bringing someone's attention to something can give that thing a life-force of its own.

Rowley covers another part of the book where the authors discuss how the "default" settings on health and investment plans can have a major influence on your life.
...the widespread tendency to go with the default option creates an opportunity for better decision-making, according to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, the authors of "Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness." Their proposal: Change the structure of the choice, and inertia will result in better outcomes -- higher savings rates, improved health care, and more organ donors.

She sums up parts of the book pretty well, but I still think people should take the time and read the book.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Captcha on the offensive?

Maybe this is a tie-in to the new Ben Stiller movie. Or, maybe I've offended google groups somehow. In any case, I often wonder whether the Captcha prompts are sending me subliminal messages.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]