Japanese Dramas and Romantic Comedies

Thanks to switching to streaming video I have discovered a craving for Japanese TV shows. Below is a list of all the series I have watched along with a brief comment about each. The series must have more than 5 episodes, be available on a streaming service, and be made after 1997 (the year I left Japan). Most of these are based on manga which I think improves the writing and pacing of episodes overall – as fans of Preacher and the Walking Dead would likely agree. The Japanese also don’t portray romance very well. Kissing tends to the chaste and there’s a reliance on innuendo rather than physical affection – kind of like American movies in the early 1960s.

99 Days with the Superstar (Boku to Star no 99 Nichi)- A fun romantic comedy about a Korean actress who falls in love with her bumbling Japanese bodyguard. While the ending is a bit of a let down the series has many moments. In particular the interplay between bodyguard Kohei and his childhood friend “Ganmo,” played by Kuranosuke Sasaki (Iryu: Team Medical Dragon). Sasaki shines in the supporting role, and it’s too bad the writers didn’t do more with his character.

Always the Two of Us (Itsumo futari de) – Pretty decent love story about friends who fall in love. Worth watching for the verbal parrying between the two main characters.

Angel Heart (Enjero Hato) – Currently watching.

Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files (Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou) – A standout of Japanese dramas and one I wish they would continue. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was instead a petite young Japanese woman owning a used bookstore who investigates mysteries where famous novels play a key role. Top notch writing makes this series a must see. It also showcases one of my favorite books, A Clockwork Orange.

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Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files

Biyou Shounen Celebrity – Yes I watched it. It was weird but charming in a way. Evidently the Japanese don’t stereotype male hairdressers as “gay” at least in their media. I’d probably like it if I was 20 and stoned but middle aged and sober it’s not a favorite.

Crazy for Me (Kokoro ga Pokkito ne) – In a year of watching Japanese dramas and romantic comedies this is my clear favorite. It’s quirky and about 40 somethings instead of the usual high school, college age or newbies in the workforce that are commonly portrayed in their dramas. All the characters have baggage and everyone is broken in their own way, yet in the end they heal and overcome their neuroses.

Dad of Light (Final Fantasy XIV) – Heartwarming story about a son who gets his dad hooked on an online video game so that he can get closer to him. Short <30 min episodes keep the story moving in this sentimental-in-places drama. Worth a look, especially if you are familiar with online games.

Death Note (Desu Noto) – Perhaps the most famous Japanese drama of recent times which, along with the translated anime, spawned an American version. While the plot of death note seems taken from the fevered mind of a bullied junior high schooler, the characterizations of this version are what make it worth watching. In particular Kento Yamazaki is perfectly cast as “L” and it’s easy to flip between wanting to see Kira succeed and “L” catch him. I sure wish American audiences were sophisticated enough to enjoy an original show from abroad instead of having Hollywood puree it and then spoon-feed it to them in a remake.

Dinner – Currently watching.

Doctor’s Affairs (Ishitachi no Renai Jijou) – Another adult love story although the romance is glacially paced. A strong supporting cast elevates the drama from the average. Mr Perfect Young Doctor meets Ms Jaded Burned Out Doctor and sparks fly – just in slow motion.

Dr. Coto’s Clinic (Dr. Koto Shinryojo) – Based on a manga this older series (from 2003 and 2006) ages well. The story revolves around a young doctor from Tokyo who moves to an isolated island clinic, and the challenges he faces from the villagers and his own past. Although the main character is somewhat two-dimensional I enjoyed this series for the medicine as well as the characters on the island.

Galileo – An exceptional crime drama about a physicist who assists in murder investigations, and the plot always revolves around a scientific fact or curiosity. One part Bill Nye the Science Guy and one part Cagney & Lacey make this a highly recommended show. First episode “Burns” is especially creepy.

Gokuaku Ganbo – Is it possible for a show to make loan sharks look human? This show does. It provides a glimpse of the consumer loan industry in Japan which is extremely different from the industry elsewhere since banks do not lend much to consumers. This allows a private industry of loan sharks to thrive, and this show is about a group of them including a main character who suffers from them and decides to join them to beat them at their own game. Although not as highly rated at various drama sites, I think it was one of the best dramas I’ve watched so far. Reminds me ever so slightly of the original Oceans 11 with Frank Sinatra and crew.

Good Morning Call – Ok this romantic comedy is about high schoolers. Yes admitting that I like this romcom makes me feel creepy (sukebe), but the main character Nao Yoshikawa (Haruka Fukuhara) is so adorable that it’s impossible to resist wanting to see her happy. And the abuse she suffers from her crush Hisashi Uehara (Shunya Shiraish) makes you want to stage an intervention, preferably with loud black women saying things like “Damn girl he’s not good enough for you.” I’m not sure what one can learn from a culture through TV given how foreigners think Americans are humping when we aren’t shooting at each other, but there is an entire sub-genre of Japanese romantic comedies based on kataomoi (unrequited love) so it’s easy to believe the Japanese will love anyone except those who love them.

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Good Morning Call’s Yoshikawa Realizing She Needs A “Black Woman Intervention”

Good Morning Call was my first romcom that started me down the path of Japanese drama and it remains my favorite. The character of Nao is one of the purest, most innocent I’ve ever seen on TV, and it would be impossible for it to translate into a western, particularly an American setting. Her love for Uehara is so intense and so ideal, yet she herself is so naive and innocent that you want to see her win Uehara’s heart. In a way the show is a throwback to a simpler time. In an era when anything and everything goes and is accepted, the show stands out and is a welcome respite from the usual sexual and violent fare on TV.

Hard to Say I Love You (Sunao ni Narenakute) – Although on the surface this is a typical Rom-Com filled with unrequited love, below the surface it deals with some serious themes including sexual harassment, homosexual attraction in a heterosexual society, and societal pressure for women to conform to norms and expectations. More complex than expected which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective.

Hero 2014 – One has to be careful when learning about a culture through its art, but this show highlights an important cultural difference between Japan and the USA. Japan has a 98% conviction rate and relies heavily on confessions to achieve that. This show provides a glimpse of that world where prosecutors coerce confessions out of suspects, and occasionally convicting an innocent man in the process. This show has a great ensemble cast including Yutaka Matsushige from Dinner and Death Note (among others). The stories are tightly written and entertaining. Sorry to see the end of this one.

Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman – Currently Watching.

The Many Faces of Ito – Having spent a fair amount of time in writing courses I’ve decided that the only thing more boring than that are stories about writing classes. The story had promising elements but strived to be unnecessarily profound, like many writers in a writing class. And maybe it’s just because I’m a former smoker, but nothing screams “bad acting” to me like an actor who doesn’t know how to smoke, as the actress playing the main character does not. I’m sure she would have preferred to leave the smokes out of the script, so that makes two of us.

Million Yen Women (Hyaku Man En no Onna Tachi) – This is a very sophisticated and dark drama based on a weird premise: 5 women move into a struggling writer’s apartment and pay him a million yen a month ($8,800) to live there. In return he has to cook and clean house for them, but can never ask them questions. I found this show very unpredictable – unusual for Japanese drama which can be very formulaic – with sparks of genius. At 30 minutes an episode the writing was tighter than some hour long dramas and I found the show easy to binge watch.

Wakako Zake – I’ve read about people being paid to livestream themselves while they eat. This show is definitely in that vein and like most of the others is based on a manga. The story is about a 26 year old office lady who likes to eat and drink alone. In the show she attends real restaurants and bars (although usually staffed by actors) and eats and drinks, commenting on what she consumes. It’s hard to watch this and not get a serious craving for Japanese, although I think Wakako-chan should cut back a bit on the booze. Can’t wait for Season 3: Wakako-chan samples the cookies and coffee in AA meeting rooms throughout Tokyo.

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Wakako Zake

 

Ex-Catalonian President Flees Spain

Former Catalonian president Carles Puigdemon has fled Spain and arrived in Brussels where he had been promised asylum.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Killed in Plane Crash 40 Years Ago Today

40 years ago this evening the plane carrying the band, their backup singers, their tour entourage and two pilots ran out of gas and crashed into a heavily wooded area in southern Mississippi killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and backup singer Carrie Gaines, both pilots and their tour manager. Tom Farrier, former director of safety with the Air Transport Association has a terrific write-up on the crash that silenced a band that defined the genre of Southern Rock.

Although famous for Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird, the song that stands the test of time best is Simple Man. As an aging parent myself there’s gold in those lyrics if you are patient enough to find it.

Related Articles: USA Today on the crash. Rolling Stone.

So How Are the Philadelphia Eagles Doing This Year?

For the first time in over 20 years I don’t have any idea, nor do I care. I grew up watching football and playing street games of it. I lost interest in high school and college years, but eventually came back to the sport after returning to the USA after living abroad. Living outside of Philadelphia the Eagles were my team, and I followed the team zealously through the Andy Reid years including the disaster that was the Super Bowl appearance in 2005. In 2013 I wrote, “But every season the game seems to lose some of its appeal. Maybe there are too many penalties in an attempt to make the game safe. Maybe it’s because I’m growing older and have seen some pretty bad things happen to people. Maybe it’s because I’m just turning into a big pussy. But there’s only so many times I can see a player get hit and lay motionless on the ground while holding my breath before I begin to think something is wrong both with the sport and my enjoyment of it.”

For several years I ponied up several hundred dollars a season to the NFL and DirecTV for the NFL Sunday Pass, but as the CTE scandal grew I eventually dropped the package before quitting satellite completely and becoming a cord cutter. As I wrote in 2014, “The NFL has denied the existence of CTE the exact same way the tobacco companies denied cancer caused by smoking. Recently the league has pushed the problem into the future by calling for “more study” just as the cigarette companies called for further research on lung cancer when the Science behind the causative link between smoking and lung cancer was unequivocal. What they’ve done is criminal but not surprising given the amount of money league owners have invested in the game.”

I quit watching the sport because of conscience, but I still read about it and followed the Philadelphia (and Dallas) newspapers to read about the Eagles and their dreaded rivals the Cowboys.

Then Colin Kaepernick and his protest against black oppression happened and spread through the league. Now millionaires were protesting against the very nation that gave them the opportunity to become wealthier than nearly everyone else in the country. And their billionaire bosses supported them.

What originally had been a matter of conscience became like so much these days political.

So poof! A lifelong interest in the sport is snuffed out completely. Perhaps the Eagles can pick up fans from Antifa, Code Pink, or the Democratic Underground.

I think my Euro-centric friends are right: soccer is much more interesting.

Why Is Gun Control Such a Sensitive Topic to You?

Because it’s difficult to imagine living life as another person, his needs or her situation. Our instinct is to assume our situation is the norm, so we think that if we don’t need an a gun (or an abortion, gender reassignment surgery, or whatever other hot-button topic you can imagine) then nobody does.


Society is incredibly diverse and there is a naive assumption that everyone is the same. We’re not, but different doesn’t mean bad contrary to another base assumption that humans hold.


We are talking about rights, and these were viewed as so important by the founders of the USA that they recognized their origin as coming from the Divine, not a government. So when you are talking about limiting those rights you’re going to anger someone, whether that’s the right to marry whomever you want, say whatever you want, or protect yourself and your family.


Americans have become so polarized that we’ve forgotten how to empathize with those who think differently. It’s a problem that goes far beyond the 2nd Amendment and touches the very fabric of our national identity.


 

The US could definitely fund a single payer healthcare and free college for all. Should it?

Your question combines 4 questions:

  1. Can the US fund a single payer healthcare system?

  2. If it can, should it?

  3. Can the US fund college for all?

  4. If it can, should it?

Let’s start with question #1 first: Can the US fund a single payer healthcare system? California, the largest state in the USA has a single payer healthcare system plan. Unfortunately this plan has gone nowhere. Why? Because the state cannot figure how to afford it. Single-payer healthcare could cost $400 billion to implement in California


The population of California is roughly 40 million and the US is 325 million. So extrapolating from California’s numbers, the cost for single payer to cover the entire USA would be about $3.2 trillion.


Here’s President Obama’s proposed budget for 2017.



Single payer healthcare would cost the country 3/4ths of the existing budget.


So to answer question #1. Can the US fund single payer nationwide? Not really.


Question 2: Should it? Having experienced single payer and socialized medicine first-hand I have to say that if the US could afford it, it should.


Many in the USA have idealized these systems to the point of absurdity. The poor still suffer worse care than the rich under these systems, and Americans have gotten spoiled with access to high-tech tests for minor problems and short waits that would disappear under these systems. But given the car-crash-in-slow-motion collapse of the current system I believe single payer is still worth considering.


Question 3: Can the US fund college for all? Bernie Sanders’s plan for free tuition to students of households making under $125k/year would cost $47 billion a year Here’s how much Bernie Sanders’ Free College for All plan would cost


That amount is a literally a drop in the bucket of a $4.2 trillion a year budget. Sanders proposed levying a “speculation tax” on Wall Street to help pay for it.


Can the US afford it? Yes.


Question 4: Should it? An underlying assumption of those supporting free universal college is that everyone benefits from the experience. Even in countries that have free or low cost college people recognize that not everyone must have a bachelor’s degree to become a contributing member to society.


In Germany 60% of students do not attend college after high school and instead go into vocational schools where they learn specific skills that are demanded by German employers. Called “dual training” these students become apprenticed in fields such as advanced manufacturing, IT, banking, and hospitality. Why Germany Is So Much Better at Training Its Workers


Should it? Not as envisioned by Sanders and current supporters.


Most of the benefits would go to students who already can afford it, so this government program would be yet another federal subsidy to the wealthy. It would likely contribute to growing inequality, the exact opposite of the intent of many supporters.


Americans and American employers are increasingly concerned that American higher education is failing to provide the skills students need to succeed in the workplace. Kevin James, a research fellow with the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute who researches American colleges, writes in US News, “(I)t’s becoming increasingly clear that the system often fails to deliver the high-quality educational pathways that many students need to be successful in the modern workforce. For example… a recent Gallup-Lumina Foundation survey found that only four in 10 Americans agree that colleges are changing to “better meet the needs of today’s students.” Only 13 percent of respondents felt that college graduates are “well-prepared for success in the workforce.” https://www.usnews.com/opinion/k…


Americans need to wake up to the reality that not everyone is college material and that’s okay. Reviving interest in the trades and developing a “dual training” system like Germany would be a prerequisite before universal funding should be considered.


Both the health care and higher educational systems are in desperate need for reform in the US. But making them “free” is not the solution for either.


 

Trump Haters Encourage Violence

Lost in all the hyperventilation over Trump’s response to Charlottesville is the ignorance, willful in many cases, that the anti-Nazi protesters were not all nonviolent. While I do not know whether victim Heather Heyer was acting violently or not, and even if she were she didn’t deserve to die, the media and even a good part of the GOP is rushing to whitewash the actions of the protesters in their zeal to attack Trump. The danger is that by failing to criticize the violent left, they embolden it, and in doing so make it more likely that someone else is going to die but this time at the hands of the alt-Left.

Trump wasn’t alone in equating the leftist violence with the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “Whether by #AltRight or #Antifa, no excuses for violence and, keep in mind, this is exactly the response that the bigots seek to provoke.” In the same article, a Jewish Antifa member Daniel Seiradski justifies confronting neo-Nazis with violence. “When Nazis are screaming epithets in our faces, should we just smile? They come into our towns and yell at us and threaten us and say they want to kill us. Should we take that sitting down because fascists deserve free speech, too? When someone is threatening you with an existential threat, you fight back. You don’t stand there and take it.”

The problem is that his justification of violence can be used by anybody including those he justifies attacking. Charlottesville rally organizer Jason Kessler, a former Occupy Wall Street and far left extremist who switched sides, has suggested the purpose of the rally was to unite the right to push back against the existential threat posed by the Left. Palestinians in the Middle East view Israel as an existential threat. Muslims view Jews as an existential threat. Israelis view the Arab nations surrounding them to be an existential threat.

While the Media has constructed a narrative around the counter-protesters in Charlottesville that places them on the moral high ground, the actual morality of the protesters is much more ambiguous.

If violence is okay, how much? Should it be proportional – fist to fist, gun to gun – or should it be overwhelming? Since civilians in democratic countries pay taxes and vote, are they not responsible for their governments policies which threaten Islam? If so it is morally correct to use violence, say driving a truck through a crowded street or a plane into a skyscraper?

Then there is the issue of who it is okay to attack. In Charlottesville the focus of Antifa was on the neo-Nazis but in the past the group has attacked anyone they disagreed with including gay provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos is – and has said – many things, but he’s not a Nazi, nor does he present an existential threat to the Left. Yet the group rioted when he attempted to appear in Berkley CA in February. They released personal information and harassed a Republican councilman. They’ve also called for the poisoning of pets.

Even leftists themselves are questioning the violent tactics of the alt-left. The LA Times reports, “Political scientist Jo Freeman, part of the radical student movement that forced UC Berkeley to permit political speech five decades ago, said she was dismayed at the effort that went into silencing opposition. She drew similarities between those who threatened her and other freedom marchers in the South in the 1960s, and those who bully the far right now. “It is not uncommon for societies to produce a hate squad,” Freeman said. “People who want to suppress the right to speak — they are everywhere.””

 

The US Healthcare System Woes: It’s Complicated

I participate at Quora where I answer questions about ancient Roman history and Japanese culture, two of the great loves of my life. Quora is a multi-national forum where people can ask questions and post answers about almost anything. Most of the users are Americans but there is also a strong Chinese presence, and quite a few people ask questions about American life, culture and politics. While I tend to ignore political questions, occasionally I’ll find a question about other topics that interests me, and today one came up about the American healthcare system.

Regarding Universal Healthcare, why is it not in America’s national interest to have a healthy population, even if it means they will pay less to have it?

I don’t think anyone is arguing that Americans don’t want better healthcare at a lower cost for everyone. What we are arguing about is what system we want and more importantly, how to get there from here.

 

(Detailed chart: healthcare_system_chart_1356×1049 ” Icosystem)


What non-Americans and many Americans don’t realize is just how screwed up our system is. Most don’t realize it’s not a single system. We have Medicaid for the poor, Medicare for the elderly*, VA health system for veterans, the Indian Health System on native American reservations and private group insurance for everyone else. Then each state has a say in how Medicaid and Medicare are administered with significant differences between each of them.


Then we have the stakeholders.

  • Employers which have an interest because private group insurance is tied to employment unlike most countries in the world.

  • State governments whose priorities are different than the federal government because unlike the feds the states must balance their budgets.

  • Federal government with its own priorities and oversight of the entire structure with specific control of the VA and IHS.

  • For profit and non-profit insurance companies which have to keep the lights on by taking in more in premiums than paying out in reimbursements.

  • Medical providers like doctors and nurses who have to balance care for their patients with paying their bills.

  • Medical device manufacturers whose profits depend on purchase of their output.

  • Pharmaceutical companies whose bottom line depends on the consumption of drugs in the US and the subsidy of US drugs abroad.

  • Malpractice attorneys who reap billions in fees in lawsuits against medical providers, device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.

  • For profit health systems whose bottom lines depend on maximizing payments from the insurance companies and minimizing expenses from the medical providers, device manufacturers and drug companies.

  • Healthy individuals who don’t see why they need to pay for services they don’t need.

  • Sick and elderly individuals who are consuming health care services.

That’s about all I can come up with. I’m sure there are more. Each one of these groups has a lobbying group that argues on their behalf to the other stakeholders, especially state and federal governments.


So pick any system you want and ask yourself, “How do I get to this system from the current one?” Any system you pick will require impacting one of the above stakeholders, and they are going to fight it, change it and make a hash of it to the point where your original ideas are all gone.



And that’s where we are today.


*Just to add to the complexity, note that the elderly will switch from Medicare to Medicaid once their benefits are exhausted. This commonly happens after seniors have been placed into nursing homes. The cost of these facilities is staggering – more than the cost of most 5 star hotels – and quickly exhaust an average senior’s Medicare benefits. At that point they have to switch to Medicaid. The problem is that many skilled nursing facilities have limited slots for Medicaid seniors, and there are usually waiting lists – meaning that most seniors have to return to the care of their loved ones who often lack the skills and resources necessary to care for them.


No one is happy about this system. But we feel as if we are trapped without hope for true change.


 

The Left’s Hypocrisy over Russia

Just a reminder that Hillary and the Democrats have a long history of colluding with Russia. Turning a blind eye to annexations in Crimea and Georgia, Putin’s support of Ukrainian rebels, the murder of 283 passengers on flight MH17, and the Russian support of Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Hillary The Real Deplorable T-Shirt

Yes the Hillary “nasty woman” shirt meme is already a day old and therefore old news, but I had to reinstall my copy of Photoshop Elements so it took me awhile to leap in.

The Expanse: Forget Star Trek and Watch This Show

I’ll admit I used to be a Trekkie. I grew up watching reruns of Star Trek and had a Starship Enterprise model hanging from my bedroom ceiling. When the movies came out I saw them in the theater. When Star Trek Next Generation came out, I loved the show so much that the Wife’s father taped it and sent us VHS episodes to us in Japan. I even followed the spin-off Deep Space Nine.

But then it became a bit repetitive. I never got into Voyager with Captain Janeway sounding too much like a dalek. And the remakes? I’ve skipped them. I even hear there’s yet another Star Trek themed show destined for TV. My first question: Why?

My first literary love was SF. In my teens I devoured writers like Ben Bova, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. I subscribed to the long defunct OMNI magazine which lit my imagination like no other magazine. I learned that there is a lot of good science fiction out there with universes as detailed and inviting as anything imagined in Star Trek. Think I’m wrong? Go read Larry Niven’s Ringworld series and get back to me in a few years.

So I had pretty much given up on science fiction TV even though there is a whole cable network devoted to it.

Then my wife made me sit through the pilot of The Expanse, and the only thing left to decide was where to put an OPA tattoo.

Detective Miller wonders where he lost his hat.

This series is good. Really good. So good I haven’t felt this excited about a show since the second season of Star Trek Next Generation when it began to get interesting. There are great writeups on this show. See here. Here. And here. Why do I like this show?

It’s realistic. When a single threat blows up in space it becomes a threat of a million little pieces. Physics is a harsh mistress, and that enemy ship speeding towards you that you’ve just hit with a rail gun? Well guess what? Now the remains of that ship are punching holes in yours.

It’s well written. The wife and I have seen a lot of good television over our combined 110 years. We’re also very well read. So it takes a lot to surprise us. Well, actually, let me dial that back and say it takes good writing to surprise us, and The Expanse is good writing. It’s unpredictable but not completely chaotic with threads that pass through the episodes and tie the series together in a very well-written ball.

The UN Sucks. Well I am an anti-UN conservative and the portrayal of the UN as world government of an earth where the haves live on the moon and the havenots live in the streets of the cities is poetic justice. Oh and they can’t blame the Republicans because they’ve all gone to Mars.

The Universe is incredibly detailed. The belters, the people living and extracting wealth for Earth and Mars, speak a language that is about what you would expect for a multi-ethnic group of people living together in the asteroid belt. The language has its roots in English but follows the development of creole languages and is carefully constructed. Even the gestures are a mix of Japanese, Indian and other ethnicities. Life in the belt is very Blade Runner-esque, which is a good thing given how great that movie is. Even detective Miller, one of the main characters, wears a fedora just like Gaff.

The future is limitless. The Expanse is based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey, and has only touched on the story in books 2 and 3. There is no limit to where it can go, whereas Star Trek will always be constrained by previous series and movies. A new Star Trek show brings not only the baggage of its audience’s expectations, but the limits of the stories told in its universe. Star Trek Voyager attempted to go beyond that by being teleported to the other side of the universe, but in the end it gave in to temptation and made it back to the Federation. This show has no such limits, and with a new series its audience’s baggage is a small carry-on that can be safely stowed under the seat in front of you. Which leads me to…

It’s fresh. The Earth vs Mars vs the Belt. All three groups are battling to stay alive and independent. Mars dreams of terraforming the planet and his held back by an agreement with Earth. The Belt sees Mars and Earth take and take and give little back in return. No wonder the OPA, the belter resistance movement, flourishes under these conditions.

And it even has a sense of humor. Mormons in Space. Enough said.

The Mormon Interstellar Ship Nauvoo

Oh and Mythbusters’ Adam Savage shows up in the season 2 finale in a bit role. How cool is that?

There is good science fiction around these days, and it’s about time that TV reflected it. We need more shows like The Expanse (and we also need more seasons of it too. So far we’ve only been promised season 3), not another retread of Star Trek. 50 years is enough for that show, let it live on in our collective nostalgia. Instead lets see strange new worlds and boldly go where no TV show has gone before.

Make it so, SyFy Channel. Make it so!

The Lesson of Julius Caesar For Trump Haters

The New York Public Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar” is making news, mainly for turning the play into the assassination of Donald Trump complete with the main character’s wearing of a yellow wig, having a wife who speaks with an eastern European accent, and assassins played by women and minorities. The controversy has caused some sponsors to pull backing, others to pledge their continued support. It’s worth remembering the facts of the actual assassination of Julius Caesar, facts that would likely cool the excitement the play has engendered among Trump-haters.

Like Trump Caesar was a populist who disparaged the ruling elite even though he was born into it, a member of the Julia family which claimed descent from the Trojan prince Aeneas, the son of the goddess Venus. Caesar went on to build an illustrious career as a general and was popular with his men. His political career also endeared him to the common people so that when the Senate tried to arrest him for treason, he descended upon Rome with his troops and took power and his Senate opponents led by Pompey fled. He hunted them down but pardoned his political enemies who stayed behind in Rome.

The Roman Senate was nothing like its US counterpart. Few people had the right to vote and those that had it faced a list of selected candidates by the elite. Voting in a Roman election wasn’t meaningful to the male Roman citizen who did it other than to repay the debt to his patron, usually the neighborhood politician who he owed a favor to. In fact the patronage system that operated in Democratic Machine-era cities of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia would be very familiar to ancient Romans.

Caesar cut deeply into the power of the ruling elite, so it was only a matter of time that the enemies he pardoned allied with his former friends worried about the power he was concentrating into his own hands. The conspirators evidently believed their own propaganda. They thought they were fighting to save the liberty of the republic and that the common people would view their murder of Caesar as an act against tyranny. They believed they would be celebrated as liberators of Rome and even made a coin commemorating the event.

Unfortunately their murder of Caesar backfired. The people were so distraught by his murder that at his funeral pyre they began to tear wood off buildings and grabbed furniture from nearby dwellings and threw it into the fire. Instead of being applauded for their heroic act his assassins were hunted down in the streets by angry mobs. Suetonius writes, “Immediately after the funeral the commons ran to the houses of Brutus and Cassius with firebrands, and after being repelled with difficulty, they slew Helvius Cinna when they met him, through a mistake in the name, supposing that he was Cornelius Cinna, who had the day before made a bitter indictment of Caesar and for whom they were looking; and they set his head upon a spear and paraded it about the streets.”

The elite had lost touch with the common people and simply assumed that they felt as they did, that Caesar had taken power away from them without understanding that the common people had no power, and Caesar’s edicts had benefited them more than those made by his elitist predecessors. Within three years all of Caesar’s assassins were dead and the elites that opposed him destroyed, their property confiscated.

The parallels are eerie. A man of the people born of the elite. An out-of-touch elite who doesn’t understand the popularity of their object of hatred. Their drive to destroy him at all costs. How far will these parallels go?

But let me end with this: Trump is not Julius Caesar and America is not Rome. Julius Caesar had complete power when he died, Trump can’t even get a travel ban enacted. America has a system of checks and balances that no president can destroy whereas the government of Rome laid completely at Caesar’s disposal. Portraying Trump as Caesar not only shows the ignorance of the play’s producers about Roman history, it proves their ignorance about American civics, and it makes Trump look much more powerful than he is.

The Run, Hide and Tell Policy: Proof the UK Has Surrendered

Has it come to this?

Has it come to the point where the mother of our country has to tell her citizens to run and cower from Islamic terrorists?

Is this the country whose leader once pledged “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”? And that was said when the UK was being faced with daily devastating attacks across the whole of England that killed hundreds by the world’s largest and most effective air force of the time, not just a ragtag bunch of religious zealots wearing tin cans armed with carving knives.

Has it really come to this? How?

What’s next for the UK? How many jihadist attacks must happen before the UK’s Metropolitan Police updates their graphic?

Here’s my version on what such a graphic would look like if it were released by my local North Carolina county Sheriff’s Office.

Memorial Day 2017 – Remembering Lance Corporal John F Kanaczet Jr

As far as I’m concerned secular America has a single holy day, and it’s today. While the day has devolved into a day off to swim, shop or barbecue I think it’s important to remember and give thanks to those who gave everything so that we would be free.

Today I’d like to thank John Francis Kanaczet Jr from Providence Rhode Island.

According to his memorial page, “John was the son of Evelyn Ferreira of Providence and stepson of Joseph P. Ferreira and the son of John F. Kanaczet Sr. also of Providence RI. He enlisted in the US Marine Corps on October 16 1967 in Providence RI. With orders for duty in Vietnam he arrived in DaNang on March 26, 1968 and was assigned to Company K, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st MARDIV (Rein) FMF.

While in their ambush position northwest of Duyen Son hamlet the men observed an enemy force moving along a trail west towards the foothills and opened fire. Gun fire was returned by the VC wounding one Marine and mortally wounding LCpl Kanaczet while quickly withdrawing into the night.”

He was 19 years old. Today he would be 67. He had no brothers or sisters and his father passed away the following year, living just long enough to experience the True Hell of burying a child. His mother passed away in 2001.

Today isn’t about shopping, swimming or barbecues. It’s not about the living but about the dead, those who gave everything in the name of Freedom for us. It’s about young men like John Francis Kanaczet Jr.

Thank you John F. Kanaczet Jr. Thank you.

Israeli Postcards 2017: Feeling Jewish

Coming of age in the 1970s when Israel was often in the news, usually battling for its survival, I developed a strong affinity to the Jewish state even though I knew little as a Catholic about the Jews. In high school the Jesuits exposed me to other religions including Judaism, and I remember coming away from my theology classes with the feeling that one had to be a lawyer to understand all the rules of that religion. A Jewish sounding name in my background led me to believe that I had Jewish ancestry*, but that wasn’t the reason why my support of the state of Israel survived my liberal phase (although I do remember writing some nasty things about Ariel Sharon on the Internet back in the late 1990s.) In a way I simply felt a strong attachment to the state of Israel even though I knew little about the Jewish religion. I even on rare occasion “felt Jewish.”

It turns out I wasn’t alone. There are 1.2 million non-Jewish Americans who feel Jewish. “On political matters, this cohort looks different from both secular and religious Jews. About 40 percent are politically conservative, compared with only 19 percent of Jews. Almost 42 percent of the “Jews by affinity” are Republican or Republican-leaning, compared with 41 percent Democratic or Democratic-leaning. In contrast, about 70 percent of Jews are affiliated with or lean toward the Democratic Party, with only 22 percent identifying as Republican or Republican-leaning. This group of Jews by affinity is also strongly tied to the concept of Israel as the Jewish homeland — as strongly as those who are actually Jewish. They are also about as likely as American Jews to believe the United States doesn’t support Israel enough.”

When I arrived in Israel on May 6, 2017 and visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem I was disappointed to feel no physical connection to the place. But I was fascinated with the Jews visiting there. The Wife and I stayed at the Wall for hours watching people come and go and the swallows pirouetting under the lights illuminating the Wall. Since it was shabbat orthodox men wearing the shtreimel, the overly-large fur hat, socialized with others or prayed at the wall. In the women’s section women did the same, many wearing the scarves showing they were married while others were bareheaded or towed along kids.

Temple Mount and Western Wall, May 7, 2017

And while a kippa would be perfect to cover up my male-pattern baldspot, and a shtreimel would just be a blast to wear on a Saturday afternoon in my neck of the woods in North Carolina, I wouldn’t consider converting to Judaism because I am not ethnically Jewish and doing so would feel fake to me and disrespectful to the Jewish people. During my visit I did not feel they were my people, but while I wasn’t a member of the Tribe, my respect for the Jews remained and even deepened during my visit to Israel.

A Bar Mitzvah celebrated at the Western Wall, May 11, 2017

Clarinet Player Carrying Shofar and Handgun at the Western Wall, May 11, 2017

I knew Israel was a small country but it wasn’t until I set foot there that I realized how small it was. That sliver of red in the map below? That’s Israel. Islamic states cover 19% of the world’s area, 25.9m square kilometers, yet they refuse to have 22,072 square kilometers or less than a tenth of a percent of the land they control. The idea this country was being pushed by foreign governments to give up land struck me as insane. It was the equivalent of a starving man being prodded by his well-fed neighbors to give away his food to them. Of course this assumes that the Islamic world views Israel as a territory issue when it’s really a religious issue, one that won’t be settled until Islam changes.

Map Comparing Israel and Islamic Nations – source: Sharia Unveiled

The guide we hired had served in Israeli intelligence in a previous career, he nevertheless believed in a 2-state solution. He believed the Israeli Arabs would provide the bridge to the Palestinians that the Israeli Jews were looking for. “It isn’t in our nature to rule the Palestinians in the territories, to subject them to indignities,” he said. “We need to make peace with them.” But how? The Israeli Arabs could help, he believed, though I didn’t understand his explanation as to how.

We talked in the car for hours during our travels and over drinks at the end of our tour, but I couldn’t escape a feeling of hopelessness that began to pervade my thoughts during the final days of our stay.

Israel was small, too small. The holiest site in Judaism the Western Wall, is technically on the Arab side of the Green Line and is considered “occupied territory” by the international community including the United States to the point where even today President Trump is being discouraged from visiting the place with Prime Minister Nethanyahu. Al-Aksa mosque sits literally on top of their temple. Al-Aksa is the third holiest site behind Mecca and Medina. Why are the Israelis being asked to give up so much when they have so little, while Muslims who have so much are asked to give up so little? It didn’t seem fair to me.

The Israelis could have done in Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 what the Serbs would do to the Croats and Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s: They could have forced the Arabs out of the entire “occupied territories” at gun point, ethnically cleansing the region of Arabs and making it impossible for UN Resolution 242 calling for two states in the area to ever come to pass. Israel would have paid a terrible diplomatic price in the short term, but in the long term it would have had the room it needed to build a secure and viable Jewish state. But the Israelis played by the rules, and now they find themselves in an impossible situation where they must occupy the Palestinians to protect themselves. They don’t want to do it and the Palestinians don’t want them to do it, but the Palestinians aren’t willing to leave them alone if they stop.

Roman Coin Commemorating Emperor Vespasian’s Conquering of Judea AD70 - “Judaea Capta” Silver Denarius Showing Mourning Jewess and Captured Armor

Jerusalem is the Mecca of the Jews. Their ties to the city go back 3,000 years and are well documented by the ancient historians including Tacitus and most prominently, Flavius Josephus. The archaeological record places the Hebrews in Jerusalem and Israel 1,600 years before Mohammad founded the religion of Islam. The ancient Romans called the area by its name “Judea – the land of the Jews” until emperor Hadrian renamed it Palestine and massacred and exiled the Jews from their land as punishment for the Bar Kokhba Revolt in AD136.  The Jewish claim to Jerusalem is historically and culturally stronger than any American claim to the land of the United States barring those made by native Americans. Yet western Leftists are determined to steal this birthright for every living Jew and send them back to the ghettos and pale settlements, living at the whims of gentiles.

Jerusalem looking westward from the Mount of Olives, May 12, 2017

On a tour of the City of David, several of our group were young married orthodox Jews from New York who spoke a mix of Yiddish and English to each other. When our guide asked us where the Wife and I were from and we said North Carolina, one of the Hassidim brought up the topic of politics. “Oh you must have voted for Trump,” he said somewhat condescendingly. How could an orthodox Jew be a liberal, I wondered. I answered I had, but that when I was his age I had been a liberal. “So what happened to change your mind?” he asked. “9-11,” I said. “I decided I wanted to grind our enemies into dust instead of trying to make them like us.” I realized he was probably less than 12 years old when that event happened, and he seemed surprised that I was unabashedly a strong supporter of the State of Israel. I was somewhat taken aback by his lackadaisical attitude on the subject. How could a young Orthodox Jew not back Israel? “You Jews have to trust yourselves,” I told him. “You can’t trust gentiles. We’ll eventually sell you out,” I said remembering the various pogroms in Russia, the expulsion of Jews from England and Spain, and the West’s immigration bans on Jews from Europe during the Holocaust. “You have to protect this country at all cost regardless of what the UN tells you.”

We left the city at 3am in a taxi that sped through “occupied territory” and a military checkpoint at the border for the 40 minute ride to the airport outside of Tel Aviv where we were questioned in the taxi by well-trained Israeli soldiers as they examined our passports. We had been told to arrive 3 hours early at the airport to account for security checks, but after the initial questioning at the entrance to the airport we didn’t encounter any more intensive screening. “Israeli security is based on two principles: intelligence and profiling,” our guide had told us. I had mentioned to him the controversy in the US over profiling, and how TSA felt the need to pat down geriatric passengers and infants. Wasn’t it racist? I asked. “Perhaps but it works,” was his answer.

So what did I learn from this trip? I learned that while Israel bristles with nuclear weapons and is protected by its strong and healthy youth, it is too small and has little room for mistakes. I learned that I have a deep smoldering anger towards American Jews who continue supporting the Democratic Party as it sinks into anti-Semitism. I learned that I don’t have a clue how peace will descend on that country and its neighbors, and that UN resolutions and settlement bans have no relationship to what’s in or under the ground.

I also learned while sitting outside al-Aksa mosque during the call to prayer that I didn’t hate Muslims. There was a beauty in Islam, a profound and spiritually moving force that came through the voice of the muezzin that I found frustrating. Did Islam really have to be incompatible with modernity and the existence of other religions? Isn’t there a way we could have both the call to prayer and the sounding of the shofar in this world, and perhaps even in this very land**? The takeover of Islam by Wahhabi clerics is a relatively recent phenomenon. Is there hope for a less lethal, less intolerant strain of Islam to reassert itself, one that would allow the religion to coexist with others?

And then the realization hit me. In my heart I wanted diversity, true diversity. I wanted a world where people believed different beliefs, wore shtreimels and kufis, ate halal, kosher, vegan or barbecue, spoke different languages, even impossible-sounding ones like Hebrew and Arabic and lived differently. I saw the Left as demanding conformity, trying to place the world in an ideological straitjacket where people were supposed to have the same correct beliefs, eat the same vegan and gluten-free foods, and live the same low-carbon footprint way. The Left had hijacked the word “diversity” and like so much of what it touches it corrupted it, turning it into its opposite. The Left once worried about the cultural imperialism of the United States and the Americanization of the world, but now it offered its own ideological  imperialism and encouraged the cultural imperialism by Wahhabi Islam over the native cultures of Europe.

I realized that even after everything I’ve seen in this world I remain at heart an idealist. I really do want to see the Jews and Muslims live together in peace in the Middle East although I recognize I will never live to see such a day.

I left Israel with more questions than answers but that’s okay. Israel is there and I will go back to her when the time is right. And until then I will continue doing everything in my limited power to support her.
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*The name turned out to be 100% ethnically German. I was able to trace it back to the 16th century and found no traces of Jewish ancestry in the line. It is possible the line converted to Christianity prior to that, which brings up an interesting question: Would I convert if I learned I was ethnically Jewish? It’s an entertaining question because my honest answer surprises me. I could hear my wife asking “One word: Bacon.” Or the shtreimel? My choice surprises me but thankfully it’s just a hypothetical. For now I remain 100% gentile Irish and Slav.

**It’s worth noting that today in Israel you can hear both the Muslim call to prayer and the Jewish shofar horn sounding the beginning of shabbat. Israelis don’t ban Muslims from practicing their religion, say, by visiting al-Aksa mosque, something one might expect “occupiers” to do. Yet the Waqf that controls the Temple Mount bans Jews from visiting there in the same way that Muslim authorities ban Christians and Jews from practicing their religion in Muslim countries. Proof that the Jews stink at being “occupiers” and Muslims have a ways to go before they accept the existence of other religions no matter how many “COEXIST” bumperstickers liberals slap on their Priuses.