Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stop Kodokushi

Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen,

So how about that game last night? F**king awesome, right? I seriously thought that shot was going in at the end…and I was already picturing the movie based on it to be made in a few years…you know, like the final scene of “The Natural”, all slow motion, Matt Howard puts that enforcer screen on Kyle Singler (favorite part of the whole game), Hayward shoots, the ball flying gently through the air, twinkly orchestrated background music, shots of the kids’ parents, the coach, Coach K, the kid in the hospital bed, the mascot Blue II (tongue wagging of course), the men that “Hoosiers” was based on, announcers, the girl he promised to marry, the bully growing up, Old James, viewers in the hometown bar in Brownsburg Indiana, all staring up at the ball as it gracefully falls to Earth…and through the net as the shot clock and lights explode in a cloud of sparks, Gordon Hayward is tackled by his teammates, the big bad Duke team has been crushed & they have to settle for their millions in the NBA, Butler hoists the championship trophy for one final photo fadeout centered around Blue II, roll credits. Alas, the shot just missed…and it became a heartbreaking tale with a Joss Whedon ending (except nobody dies). It could still make for a pretty good movie…but yeah, Duke won the championship. Congratulations to them…and sorry for calling you the big bad Duke…but that’s movie talk. Everybody likes the Underdog…which kinda made you the real Underdog. Either way, great story. Now we can all get back to talking about Tiger Woods or something better.

Like how about these recent updates to my Road Trip 2010. Last night, Lilie & I arranged a get-together with my former Boss Man B, who now lives in LA. Seriously, we were chatting on Facebook about setting something up with B since we hadn’t seen him since he moved out there…and his ears must’ve been burning because he then popped up on Facebook chat. That’s great and all…but there’s another development that just happened this morning. The few days before I start this EPIC road voyage, I will have some special guests here in Tahoe with me – The Wingmans. They’re coming to Reno to drop off some puppies from their fresh litter…and decided to just stay here for the weekend. What a way to kick off Road Trip 2010!!! That actually cut off a few days to the start of the festivities…so I guess it REALLY starts in a week. What does that mean? Well, for one, you may not hear from me on this blog for about a month…and then there’ll be a lot of pictures of my friends & me in compromising positions, beautiful landscapes, works of art, skyscrapers, funny signs, with complete narrations and additional anecdotes about the journey. All the wonderful things that you’ve come to expect from this blog with your membership fee…which I’m still waiting for my cut of. It’s going to be awesome. Anyway, don’t wanna oversell it just yet, here’s the news…

Saddamland – One place I won’t be visiting on this trip is Iraq (maybe another time). However, it might not be long before there are some intriguing attractions to get some tourism there (okay, probably decades at best). Saddam Hussein made his palaces a desert paradise, but now his hometown is seeking foreign investors to turn the late dictator's playground into a tourist Mecca. Local officials see the 76 abandoned Saddam villas sprawled across hundreds of brown acres as a potential gold mine for Tikrit's cash-strapped Salahuddin province. "These villas only need rehabilitation and a few other things to turn the whole area into a wonderful tourism site," Jewher Hamad al-Fahel, the head of Salahuddin's investment commission, told Reuters Television. Saddam built big at Tikrit, his tribal stronghold about 95 miles north of Baghdad. He put up six villas at his birthplace, the village of al-Awja, alone and made the Tikrit palace complex his largest. Boasting artificial lakes and date orchards, the site totals 136 buildings and covers more than 1,000 acres, according to the U.S. Army. American troops used it as a base until turning it over to Iraqi authorities in November 2005. Now many of the sand-colored structures, often domed and turreted and with marbled interiors, sit decaying near the Tigris River. Some still show heavy damage from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew Saddam. Salahuddin Governor Mutasher Hussein Allawi said he was eager to smooth the way for foreign investment in the villas since his budget was too small to rebuild decrepit infrastructure quickly. "Iraq needs huge investment companies, because the devastation that took place after 2003 is something terrible," he said. Foreign tourists to Iraq are overwhelmingly Muslim pilgrims visiting holy sites, with a handful of visitors drawn to ancient ruins. The number of religious visitors hit 1.25 million last year, more than doubling since 2007 as violence has eased, according to a Tourism and Antiquities Ministry spokesman. Iraqis seeking an in-country getaway tend to go to mountain areas in the north. Tikrit's would not be the first Saddam mansion to be turned into a resort. A guesthouse at a hulking palace at Babylon, 60 miles south of Baghdad, has become a popular spot for honeymooners (hmm, Saddam-y). Central and southern Iraq hold about 160 Saddam mansions, 60 in Baghdad alone. Those in the mainly Kurdish north have yet to be tallied. Seriously, how many houses did this guy need? So yeah, they want to turn a few of Saddam’s palaces into the next must see in Tikrit. I don’t see why not. I mean… there are plenty of tourist attractions out there that are very similar. Former royal palaces that have been turned into tourist traps, they’re all over the world. The Forbidden City in Beijing, the castles of Scotland, Versailles, Windsor Castle, Athens, Rome, those are just a few that I’ve actually been to. I say go for it. Anything to turn a buck in this down real estate market. I doubt anybody’s considering purchasing those homes, given how the previous owner was evicted…

Weekend at Bernie’s 3D – No, not a new movie thankfully. Police have arrested two women at a British airport after they reportedly tried to smuggle a corpse onto a flight. Police said Tuesday the women were detained at Liverpool's John Lennon airport "on suspicion of failing to give notification of death" of a 91-year-old man. The BBC and other British media reported that the women placed the man, a relative of theirs, into a wheelchair and covered his face with sunglasses in a bid to get him aboard a flight to Berlin. The women, aged 41 and 66, were detained Saturday and have been released on bail. They have not been charged and police say inquiries are continuing. Was it just cheaper than shipping the deceased? The sad thing is…it probably was. God, imagine the kind of fees and expenses if they tried putting him into several bags. I’m a little interested to know the back-story on this one. Did the two women accidentally kill him? Or did he die of natural causes and they just wanted to take him home to Berlin suburb of Schittzengiggles to be buried? Did they even know? Interesting indeed.

Text Safety – You always have to be careful with whom you text. For example, an errant text message is costing three New York drug-dealing suspects dearly. Police say the suspects made a mistake when trying to text a potential buyer and instead reached a task force agent in Dutchess County, about 50 miles north of New York City. The three were arrested after arranging a meeting with the agent, who pretended to be the buyer. Police say they recovered 60 bags of heroin (yeesh!). Task force Sgt. Brett Orlich says, "Their bad luck is our good luck." The three are due in town court in Pine Plains on Wednesday to face felony charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance. What are the odds? One number off on your text message (why I just do replies usually) and instead of sending a steamy sext to a girl you hooked up with last night whose number you got earlier at the club next to the speakers, you’re sending an in appropriate message to a high school gym teacher that may result in getting your ass kicked. Be careful out there.

Pedal Vision – It’s a shame that they didn’t get arrested in Phoenix. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has started a program he calls "Pedal Vision," in which inmates pedal stationary bikes to generate electricity for television sets. The bikes are customized to turn on connected TV sets once inmates at Phoenix's Tent City Jail pedal enough to generate 12 volts of electricity. An hour of pedaling equals an hour of television. Arpaio said inmates only will be able to watch television if they choose to pedal (so no freeloaders). He said he started the program with female inmates because they seemed more receptive (and he just wanted to see them work out…which is understandable). Arpaio said the only exercise female inmates have been getting is speed-walking around the tent yard. He said Pedal Vision gives them a reason to get moving and a way to burn calories. I love this idea. I kinda want a stationary bike in my living room now…but that ain’t gonna happen any time soon. However, I am planning on getting a bike to explore the area during the summer…so we’ll see what I can find for a good deal. Can’t wait for summer to officially start. I’d imagine the bike might be really loud and irritating if it’s anything like those bikes at the gym. I don’t know, maybe they got over that with headphones or something. Still, great idea. TV is a privilege, not a right.

Psychic Update – I may give a lot of crap to our legal system…but I still think it’s a lot better than a lot of places. Particularly better than in the crazy world of the Middle East. For example, Ali Sabat, the Lebanese host of a popular TV show, for years gave his viewers psychic advice and predictions. This may cost him his life. Many people around the world claim to foretell the future, talk to the dead, and do other amazing (if scientifically unproven) feats. So what's the problem? Sabat is a Shiite Muslim, and many Muslims (as well as fundamentalist Christians) consider fortunetelling occult and therefore evil (“It’s the DEVIL!!!”). Making a psychic prediction is seen as invoking diabolical forces, perhaps even entering into a pact with Satan. Fortunetelling, prophecy, and other forms of divination have been condemned by Saudi Arabia's religious leaders (as well as kissing, teaching women to read, showing the neckline, eating pork, etc but spousal abuse & prostitution are a-ok). In 2008, while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Ali Sabat was arrested by that country's religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. His crime: Sorcery. Yes, people can still be accused of practicing witchcraft and condemned to death for it nowadays. According to the human rights group Amnesty International, a court last month upheld Sabat's death sentence, with the judges deciding "he deserved to be sentenced to death because he had practiced 'sorcery' publicly for several years before millions of viewers." Hopefully Lance Burton isn’t using his free time to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He was scheduled to be publicly executed last Friday, but his beheading was deferred. Sabat is not out of trouble; he did not receive a reprieve, merely a temporary stay of execution. Here’s the twist, Sabat might save his life if he confessed that his psychic predictions and powers were all a hoax (or an act merely for entertainment) and therefore not a true exhibition of occult powers. Hopefully Sabat's death sentence will be repealed, but it does seem odd that his psychic powers didn't predict this travesty in the first place. F**ked up, right? You know, I’ve often thought that John Edwards & Sylvia Browne and psychics like these are basically full of sh*t…but do I want them to be publicly beheaded for entertainment purposes only? Of course not. Seriously, is Saudi Arabia just behind a few centuries? Yeah, we had the Salem witch trials and it’s basically the same thing…but since then we have things like science and logic. I’m not saying that we’re without flaws. Not by any means. But sorcery? Really? Because he guessed the month you were born in? Because he knew your wife would wear black? Because he knew tonight’s dinner involved some sort of flatbread? Because he knew your brother was named Mahmoud and had a moustache? Because he guessed your number between one and ten? Did he find your card? Seriously? Sorcery? Sigh… some people are just crazy. Then again, maybe he did form a pact with Satan…then I would look quite foolish in hindsight.

Lonely Deaths – Okay, I’m gonna turn it down for a minute here…but please bear with it. It’s important. In the 1990s, Taichi Yoshida, the owner of a small moving company in Osaka, Japan, began noticing that many of his jobs involved people who had just died. Families of the deceased were either too squeamish to pack up for their dead relatives, or there wasn't any family to call on. So Yoshida started a new business cleaning out the homes of the dead. Then he started noticing something else: thick, dark stains shaped like a human body, the residue of liquids excreted by a decomposing corpse. These, he learned, were kodokushi, or 'lonely deaths.' Now he has seen plenty - these deaths make up 300 of the 1,500 cleaning jobs performed by his company each year (that’s 20%, one in five). The people die alone, sprawled on the floor beside crumpled clothing and dirty dishes, tucked beneath flowery bedspreads, slouched against the wall. Months - even years - can pass before somebody notices a body. On occasion, all that's left are bones. "The majority of lonely deaths are people who are kind of messy," says Yoshida. "It's the person who, when they take something out, they don't put it back; when something breaks, they don't fix it; when a relationship falls apart, they don't repair it." In Japan, kodokushi, a phenomenon first described in the 1980s, has become hauntingly common. In 2008 in Tokyo, more than 2,200 people over 65 died lonely deaths, according to statistics from the city's Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health. Today, 1 in 5 Japanese is over 65; by 2030 it will be 1 in 3. With senior citizens increasingly living away from family and a nationwide shortage of nursing homes, many are now living alone. "There is a kind of myth that older people in Japan are living in three-generational families, but that's not so anymore," says Takako Sodei, a gerontologist with Ochanomizu University in Tokyo. Japan's two-decade economic slump is not helping. The collapse of the bubble economy after 1990 shrunk the size of Japanese firms and led to a restructuring that is still playing out today. The percentage of the workforce employed in part-time, temporary and contract work has tripled since 1990, forcing workaholic Japanese businessmen, many of whom never married, into a lonely early retirement. "Their world has evaporated under their feet," says Scott North, an Osaka University sociologist who studies Japanese work life. "The firm has been everything for these men: their sense of manliness, their social position, their sense of self is all rooted in the corporate structure." Several years ago, Tokyo's bustling Shinjuku ward began a lonely-death awareness campaign. It hosts social events to draw people from their apartments, distributes a newsletter to the elderly and monitors their well-being by, for example, checking to make sure they're taking out their trash. Other wards have followed suit, but as accurate lonely-death statistics are often unavailable, success is difficult to measure. "If you live alone, it's inevitable that you may die alone," says Yoko Yokota, assistant supervisor of the ward's senior-citizen-services division. "What Shinjuku ward wants to do is increase the chance that people will notice." As lonely deaths have continued, Yoshida's work has gained nationwide attention. A recent novel based on his life may be turned into a movie (with ninjas & vampires?) and a television series about his business is also in the works, but not everyone regards his service as a good thing. Several hundred years ago, the Japanese witnessed death regularly, with bodies buried by family members and samurai displaying severed heads in public. These days, such moments are rare. Such ceremonies would give "an opportunity to think about the dead person," says Masaki Ichinose, a University of Tokyo philosopher and head of the university's Institute of Death and Life Studies, founded in 2002 to encourage more national conversation on death. Building a business around the dead, as Yoshida has, is an unglamorous and oft-maligned profession, as depicted in Departures, the Japanese film that won an Oscar last year for Best Foreign Film, which follows an unemployed cellist who takes a job getting corpses ready for funerals. "The film has created interest in this profession," says Ichinose, "but most people still tend to avoid the topic." Ichinose speculates the kodokushi trend might be connected to Japan's contemporary cultural habit of ignoring death, and a possible avenue of research for the Institute of Death and Life Studies. "I don't know why but people don't want to see a dead body and, in general, they don't want to talk about death." Okay, thanks for reading… now it’s my turn.

As a young man quickly approaching thirty, do I think about dying alone? I’m not going to lie. Occasionally I do. Do I sometimes think that I spent too much of my early years focusing on my education or career instead of going out and partying all the time? The thought has obviously crossed my mind. Why am I not too worried about this situation? Because of my wonderful family and friends who I think of just about every moment of every day. I am eternally grateful for all of you (though only a few of you read this gibberish). When a day goes by that I don’t hear from my mom, my dad, my brother, the Wingmans, Bubbles, Filly, JL Clyde, Lilie, and many others, I tend to worry about them…and that’s why you often get those annoying text messages & phone calls from me. Deal with it. Now that I’m reading that some of my worst fears are simply a way of life in Japan, I’m disheartened. Are people so focused on their careers, their lives, their problems, that they don’t think about their family? Their future? Moving out here was a tough move for me. Sure, I made it sound all light hearted & a win-win situation most of the time…but I was really scared (as Bubbles can attest to during my visit in November). Why? I’m not the most outgoing guy in the world. I’ll make awkward social advances from time to time…and I’m not afraid to casually strike up a conversation…but I’m not exactly Captain Icebreaker or anything. “Here, can you hold this? That’s weird. I’m $teve.” Not me. Sure, I’m funny, charming, fairly intelligent & easy on the eyes…but I figure if somebody wanted to talk to me, that’d give me a pretty obvious sign…or, I don’t know, talk to me. That’s just how I roll. Is it the best way? Probably not. However, I still try…because you never know when you’ll find that friend for life. I had no idea when I met my Wingman a few years back that we would even be friends. Classmates & coworkers have come and gone…and some of the best of them have stuck with me even though we live in different parts of the world (thanks Facebook). Believe me, all of my past girlfriends were HUGE surprises. “Really? You had a crush on ME? For how long? Me too. We could’ve been doing this long ago.”

I guess I have a few points to this whole rant. First, thank you to all of my friends & family out there. You have no idea how much you mean to me…and I can only hope that I can pay you back by being your friend, brother, son, mentor, president, whatever. Secondly, don’t be afraid to share the Love. Make sure the people in your life know how much they mean to you. Great friends are hard to come by. So appreciate the ones that you have. I’ve truly been blessed. So why do I worry about dying alone? I think it’s a natural concern…but it shouldn’t be dwelled upon or anything. We all want to live on with those that we care about…and I’m just saying, enjoy it. Job getting you down? Call a friend. Money concerns stressing you out? See if your friend would consider renting out their basement. Just not feeling it today? Call $teve. He’s always good for a laugh. I don’t know, I guess…just thank all of you. From the cockles of my heart, thank you. I can’t wait to see…well, just about all of you during my road trip starting in just over a week. I love you all madly…and if you ever need anything, all you have to do is call me…or answer the phone when I call. Have a great day everybody!!!

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