One Minute of Silence

Yesterday--that was June 23--marked the day the politicians said the war was over in Okinawa. As politicians often do, they lied.

When leftover bombs explode outside kindergartens, killing toddlers...

When leftover bombs maim young men who thought they were peacetime construction workers with 40 years of work-in-the-daytime/play-in-the-nighttime ahead of them instead of years of blindness and wondering how to make a living in construction with only one arm...

When a tourist picks up a coral-encrusted shell and discovers--at airport security--that he is holding an unexploded hand grenade...

When these things happen, the war is not over.

It's over when the people who brought you the war clean up after themselves.


Break Time

I'm off to Okinawa for the annual general meeting of the Marine Cultural Research Association (NPO) and the annual sanshin qualification concours.

The weblog will be continued next week.


Nope. Definitely not in Kansas.

Last night I had a dream so scary I woke up my husband screaming for help. The whole North Korean army was chasing me, and it was my own fault.

The other day, I wrote about "buying" North Korea, the way you would try to find a buyer for a crummy property in your neighborhood just to clean it up. So, how do you buy a country, or parts of a country?

Here's a hint from the Wizard of Oz. In the original, uncut version--not the shorter form seen on TV-- there's a scene in which the Emerald City guards (black haired and sporting bristly mustaches) march past the camera. Hordes of them! They look like an army. That's because they ARE an army. The rumor was that the Turkish army was hired for the role.

So here's my question about that scary dream: why was the North Korean army chasing me? I think they wanted movie contracts.

Who wouldn't rather be in the pictures than in a war?


How much would it cost?

The total area is something like 50,000 square miles and lots of those miles are too rugged to use for anything useful. You can't grow things. You can't mine things. You can't live there.

How much would worthless land like that cost?

Let's see. 50,000 square miles is 32,000 acres. You can get 30 acres in rural Tennessee for $285,000. So, if we add three zeroes to that, maybe 32,000 acres would be a little more than $285,000,000--in really round figures, of course. Let's call it $300 million, for the sake of argument.

A thousand acres in the outback of Mexico is currently going for $550,000. That times three is 1,650,000. Add a zero to bring it up to 30,000 and we've got a price tag of $16,500,000. Not even $20 million. More affordable? Sure!

The land I'm talking about is a little farther than Mexico and a lot farther than Tennessee. It is the entire country of North Korea.

Wouldn't it be a better bargain to just buy the place outright than to keep pouring money into military options?

For mere millions--not the billions that are drained away from health and education spending by a voracious military budget--we could buy North Korea, evict the current landlord, and sleep well at night without worrying about missiles and nuclear testing. I say, let's buy it.


News: Musical Firsts

Does anyone else remember Van Cliburn, the Texas-born pianist who went to Moscow during the most frigid years of the Cold War and won a medal for playing Rachmaninoff? That was in 1958, when he was a mere whippersnapper of a young pianist.

History repeats itself.

Now Mr. Cliburn is the founder and namesake and guiding light of his own piano competition. Just the other day, a 20-year-old from Tokyo (Nobuyuki Tsukii) and a 19-year-old from China (Haochen Zhang) went to Texas and won a shared first prize in Mr. Cliburn's music concours.

It's the first time for Asians to win the gold medal in such a prestigious contest, and for the winner from Tokyo--Nobuyuki Tsujii--the joy was compounded because learning to play classic compositions had been so very hard.

He started when he was 2 years old, by listening and copying. Two hands, ten fingers, and eyes that cannot see. Mr. Tsujii has been blind from birth.

Blind musicians are not wholly unheard of, but performing classical music scores has an added complication: the music is created in cooperation with an orchestra. What do you do when you can't see the conductor?


Loppi and Me

Would you name a kid Loppi? I wouldn't either, but that's the name of my new best friend, who is bright red and incredibly dumb.

Chapter One:

My kids were teasing me that the only thing I know how to buy from the Internet is books. "I'll show them," I say, having just heard that I need to be in Okinawa ten days from now. "I'll buy my tickets from the Internet."

I call up the Japan Airlines homepage and get to work. It has to be JAL because, thanks to my dearly departed father in law, we own a few pieces of JAL stock and they send us a stockholders discount coupon every spring.

Two hours later, I've reserved both outbound and inbound seats. Two hours! With a homepage that simple to use (mwaahahahaaa), no wonder the airline is teetering on bankruptcy. I print off the record, and lo and behold, it says on the bottom of the page "Please buy your ticket as soon as possible."

Buy your ticket? Isn't that what I just did?

Here, the wise say, "No, you didn't. You just reserved a seat."

Silly me.

But the thing is, it says buy it, but doesn't say where. The whole reason I am using the computer--besides showing off for my kids--is that there are no longer any travel agencies here in town.

My son takes pity on me and dials the free dial number for JAL. Twenty minutes' of dorky music later he is connected, and the voice on the other end of the line tells him to go to the convenience store and buy the tickets from Loppi.


"The machine," she says. "It's called Loppi. You buy the ticket from Loppi."

Chapter Two:

My son, my daughter in law, and my husband who doesn't believe in machines named Loppi join me in walking to our local convenience store. Never mind that it's already dark, and it's starting to rain.

Son of a gun! There is a red vending machine--like the kind that used to sell jawbreakers in Woolworth's Five and Dime--set up in a corner next to the cigarettes. It is labeled Loppi in bright, cartoony letters.

Loppi is real! Loppi exists! Loppi will give me my tickets.

We gather round and start punching in information. Then comes the test. We thump the final button, and Loppi's red face lights up with a flashing message: You cannot buy a ticket.


Chapter Three, the sordid conclusion:

We step away from Loppi to dial JAL information again. We can hear the tinny wait-a-moment music leaking out of the phone as we huddle outside in the rain, since the store forbids cell phones inside. The voice of JAL finally picks up.

"Oh, of course you can't buy your ticket from Loppi," she says. "If you are using a stockholders discount certificate, you have to go to a travel agency."

Duh... If I had access to a travel agency, why would I have gotten tangled up in their maze-like home page?


(you are not going to believe this)

That was last night. Today, my daughter in law and I get on the train and ride to a city that has travel agencies. The clerk says, very quietly so no other customers can hear, "You can get a better deal if you don't use your stockholders discount coupon."

And she sells me outbound and inbound tickets in a little under 5 minutes, $70 cheaper than the Internet version.

Loppi! Give a machine a dumb name and it will perform dumb tricks.