Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Tipping Point

Substitled "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," this book by Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating exploration of how trends get started. He discusses so many phenomena, from how Paul Revere successfully aroused the Colonials in the Boston area to fight the British to how removing graffiti from the subways of New York helped to make the transportation system safer.

To quote from his conclusion: "The world--much as we want it to--does not accord with our intuition. . . . To make sense of social epidemics, we must first understand that human communication has its own set of very unusual and counterintuitive rules.

"What must underlie successful epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. This . . . contradicts some of the most ingrained assumptions we hold about ourselves and each other. We like to think of ourselves as autonomous and inner-directed, that who we are and how we act is something permanently set by our genes and our temperament. . . . [But] to look closely at complex behaviors like smoking or suicide [he gives the example of an epidemic of suicides in Micronesia] or crime is to appreciate how suggestible we are in the face of what we see and hear, and how accutely sensitive we are to even the smallest details of everyday life. That's why social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable."

The book has helped remind me what social beings we are, and to what a huge extent our actions often depend on our surroundings and the actions of others. A trivial example is how, in Japan, people are very obedient about not crossing the street against a red light. However, when traffic is extremely light or non-existent, if one person crosses, others will follow suite, as though they've been given permission.

Another more serious example is the difference I saw in reactions to the Vietnam War and the Gulf War in the 90s. I was in the Boston area both times. During the former, the Peace Movement was huge, with thousands marching down Massachusetts Avenue and congregating on the Boston Common.

During the latter, I was on my way to a class one evening near the Town Square in Waltham and saw a small group of peace activitists, maybe only half a dozen, on a street corner holding a sign against the war. This was at a time when it seemed that almost every building was plastered with yellow ribbons, and the few who had the courage to speak out were glared at, if not worse. Tears sprang to my eyes as I passed by; I wanted to show my support by joining them, but could only say, "Thank you."

Where were the thousands who had joined the protests in 1969? Surely many of them were still in the area. Yet, it was easier to join a popular movement than an unpopular one.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Eight Irresistible Principles of Fun

An absolutely fabulous, must see movie:
It really made me think about my priorities
and it's fun to watch!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Up the Ski Jump

CA at Okurayama Ski Jump
Hiked up Okurayama Ski Jump with members of my international women's group today. Weeks of training by going up the stairs at school and at subway stations helped. However, my calves were still sore the next day [added later: and for the rest of the week]!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Becoming a Spark Person

It was at 12:34:56 p.m. on 7/8/90 that I first began my venture in sobriety. If I had managed to stay sober since that date, it would be 16 years today (it being Saturday in Japan). As it is, I have around 8 1/2 years, and I feel good about that.

In celebration of my initial anniversary, I've joined Spark People. The past 2-3 months have been sugar and chocolate-free for me most of the time. Now it's time to get even more serious about developing good eating and exercising habits.

To do that, I have to add two major elements to my routine. One is putting about half as much on my plate as has been my custom. The few times I've experimented with that, I find that I can be just as satisfied by eating less. Often I end up finishing what's on my plate somewhat mechanically, rather than out of need for or enjoyment of the food. Nutritious snacks, fruit or some kind of protein, between meals also help me to keep my energy up. I have to make sure to stock up on these items. I can no longer eat like a 15-year-old or even a 50-year-old!

Second, I need to get moving. On a humid, albeit cool, day like today, that's easier said than done. (In fact, regardless of the weather, it's nearly always easier said than done.) I have plenty of *ways* of getting more exercise - a beautiful park to walk in as well as lots of yoga and dancing videotapes. Unless I make use of them, however, many of my clothes are going to continue to be snug or too tight to wear.

I sense that becoming a "spark person" is certain to help. To quote from the site, "The SparkDietTM is a four-stage process that helps you make the elusive jump from 'dieting' to a 'fresh, new lifestyle.' These stages zero in on the keys to a lifestyle transition that fixes the problem once and for all - motivation, healthy habits, and confidence." What's more, it's free, which is pretty unbelievable (although it's possible they get income from subtle endorsements for certain brands).

On the Spark People site, you can set goals in terms of weight loss, food intake, and exercise. It will calculate how long it will take to reach your ideal weight. (The date it gave me happens to be my 62nd birthday, although it doesn't really seem possible that I'll weigh under 130 pounds by then. However, I'm going to stay optimistic.) The site has ways of planning meals and keeping track of calories/carbs/fat and nutrition. It has a means of tracking how many calories you've burned through exercise.

Anyway, the timing seems right for me. My concert's over, I have only 1 more week of classes at 1 of the universities, and 3 more weeks at the other 2. I have 1 month coming up (August) when *all* I'll have is private classes (including a new private student), lesson planning for the 2nd semester, an audition for another chorus (connected to the Sapporo Symphony), a hike with my international women's group, my dance classes, chorus rehearsals, and my Macintosh Users' group - in other words, a quiet month!

Today I've already been happy with what I've done for my body - a 30-minute walk in Nakajima Park and 7-grain cereal with banana, raisins, and yoghurt for breakfast. As part of the Spark plan, my goals for today are:

Eat 2 fruits or veggies (ridiculously easy!)
Get 8 hours of sleep
Tell 1 person about my goals

Well, with this post I'll have accomplished all 3, so I'm a successful Spark Person today! Get a Free Online Diet

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July on the Kitty Hawk

Little did I know, as I enjoyed a reception on board the aircraft carrier, the Kitty Hawk, that around 6 hours later, North Korea would be firing test missiles into the Japan Sea. It wasn't much comfort that the missiles landed closer to Russia than to Otaru, the seacoast city of Hokkaido where the Kitty Hawk was docked.

(Unknown to me at the time was the information put out by the International Action Center that "on June 14, the U.S. Air Force held 'a quality control test' for its 500 Minuteman III missiles. One of these missiles traveled 4,800 miles towards the central Pacific, and three test warheads landed near the Marshall Islands." Yet, the U.S. is going ahead with sanctions again North Korea.)

In addition, being a pacifist, I had somewhat ambivalent feelings about celebrating Independence Day on a warship. Nevertheless, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that ended up being fascinating, particularly talking to a number of officers at the party.

One question I had for the officers was about their ribbons, and I got explanations about what they meant - all the way from expert in shooting (near the bottom) to a commendation for serving in Iraq. Several officers told me how tedious it is to rearrange the ribbons each time they receive a new one, since they have to be in a set order. (Various ribbons and their order of preference can be seen at: U.S. Navy Medals and Ribbons. Also, if they get worn, they have to be replaced, at the expense of the officers. When wearing their dress uniforms, they must attach medals, which is even more time-consuming, although they assured me that the medals can all be mounted together.

When we went up to the flight deck, where my Japanese friends asked another officer, a mechanic for the jets, about the rectangular sections of the deck that were standing at an angle. He explained that they were to prevent the exhaust coming out of the jets with enormous thrust from sending any of the crew rolling into the sea! He told us all about the safety precautions. Of course there are initially classes on safety. However, after that, anyone who's going to be working on the flight deck simply sits and watches for a number of days. After that, they are taken around by a buddy, literally hand held as they learn the operations. Finally, they are ready to work on their own. Even then, there can be terrible accidents. He described one he saw in which the cable that catches the jets as they're landing accidentally broke and cut off the leg of one of the crew members. He assured us that he's seen such a hideous accident only once in his 12 years of service.

Throughout the evening, there were a number of ceremonial activities, including speeches by dignitaries and the cutting of the cake. The finale was a fireworks display in the harbor which we saw from the flight deck (which would have been more impressive if I didn't live near the place where Sapporo has a huge display of fireworks, that go on for nearly an hour, three Fridays every July).

We only got to talk with one female officer, a helicopter pilot, and I only saw one other. One of the female crew members who was cleaning the washroom told us that there were 150 women in the lower ranks and 50 more in higher ranks, although she wasn't sure of the exact number of officers. A friend who visited a different day talked with one who was truly enthusiastic about her job, which turned out to be lowering and raising the anchor. I would have liked the chance to talk with more women to find out what it was like being at sea as a minority.

As we were leaving, we saw numbers of sailors returning from Otaru with shopping bags. Probably several had bought gifts from the many glass factories in the city to send back to friends at home. We also saw a large "63" in bright white lights on the side of the ship and asked about it. The ship was the 63rd aircraft carrier built by the U.S. Navy. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to board the ship before it is retired in 2007.

For more about the Navy's oldest active warship, see the official website of the USS Kitty Hawk.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Honban is Japanese for the actual day of an occurence, in this case, our concert. It was a huge success, one of the best I've ever been in. The conductor, Michiyoshi Inoue (whom you see in the photograph with me), was incredible. In rehearsals he had just the right images to get what he wanted from us. Since he has studied ballet, he also uses a great deal of body language. In fact, during the concert, there were places where he was kind of dancing, and others where he'd be rolling his arms to indicate the movement in the music.

The tenor, in his solo about being a roasted swan, if you know
Carmina Burana, sang from the balcony behind us. He staggered like a drunk from the organ down to the railing and kind of hung over it. The conductor was also reeling during the piece, in a kind of imitation. In another comical solo, the baritone took off his jacket and, at the end, through it at the conductor (which was rehearsed), who stuck out his arms from under the coat to conduct the very last notes. Both solos got spontaneous applause.

Naturally, that had all of us enjoying the performance as much as the audience. One of the biggest criticisms of my chorus is that we always look so serious. Not this time! I was concerned that we might end up losing our focus on the music and make mistakes, but, instead, the heightened state that it produced resulted in a heightened focus. Our timing was great, and, for once, we were on pitch. (My ears actually hurt when we're not.) The silence at the end of each number was very telling. The audience was truly caught up in the intensity of it all.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

O Fortuna!

Suddenly, with the concert only 3 days away, the conductor decided that we would sing the first and last piece of "O Fortuna" in Carmina Burana by memory! How I wish I had been memorizing it all along, since last summer when we first started rehearsing. Since the music is so repetitious, getting the words in order is an incredible challenge! I hope I don't make people on the subway, on the sidewalks where I walk, and in the school halls nervous when they see this foreign woman mouthing words to herself!