Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Stuffed Animal of the Day: Story goes that, in 1731, King Frederick I of Sweden received a lion skin as a gift from the Bey of Algiers. The taxidermist tasked with mounting it had never seen a lion in real life, and only had a vague idea of what one was supposed to look like.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
LONDON — A Gurkha soldier who single-handedly fought off up to 30 insurgents in Afghanistan, even using his gun tripod when he ran out of bullets, has been rewarded for bravery, British officials said Friday.
Sergeant Dipprasad Pun, 31, of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, fired 400 rounds, launched 17 grenades and detonated a mine to thwart the assault by Taliban fighters at a British checkpoint near Babaji in Helmand province last year.
The only weapon he did not use was the traditional curved Kukri knife carried by the Nepalese soldiers, because he did not have it with him.
Pun saved the lives of three colleagues who were at the checkpoint and was presented with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his outstanding bravery at a ceremony in London on Thursday, the Ministry of Defence said.
The medal is a level below the prestigious Victoria Cross, Britain's top award for gallantry.
"I think I am a very lucky guy, a survivor. Now I am getting this award it is very great and I am very happy," said Pun, who is originally from Bima in western Nepal but now lives in Kent, southeast England, with his wife.
Pun was on sentry duty on the evening of September 17, 2010, when he heard a clinking noise outside the checkpoint. Going to investigate, he found two insurgents trying to lay a bomb.
Realising he was about to be attacked, and his platoon were out on patrol, he informed his commander by radio and opened fire on the enemy.
In the ensuing firefight, which saw him bombarded by rocket-propelled grenades and AK47s for more than 15 minutes, Pun moved around his position to fend off the attack from three sides using every type of weapon he could find.
Up on the roof, Pun found himself face to face with a Taliban fighter and fired his machine gun at him until he fell off.
When another insurgent tried to climb up, Pun's gun either jammed or ran out of ammunition so he picked up a sandbag to use as a weapon, but then the contents fell out.
In desperation, he grabbed the metal tripod of his machine gun and threw it at the man, shouting "Marchu talai" -- "I will kill you" in Nepali.
Pun told officers at the time that there were more than 30 attackers, although local villagers later told him there were more likely to be 12 or 15.
He said he thought the assault would never end and "nearly collapsed" when it was over, admitting: "I was really scared. But as soon as I opened fire that was gone -- before they kill me, I have to kill some."
Pun was one of 136 servicemen and women awarded honours Friday, four of them posthumously.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Young Eva Zeisel was driven by two desires: to make beautiful things, and to see the world. Her long and legendary career in ceramics has helped her do both. Born in Budapest in 1906, she apprenticed to a guild of potters as a teenager, then worked in Germany and later Russia (where she was imprisoned by Stalin for 16 months) and Vienna. Landing in New York in 1938 with her husband Hans, Zeisel began her second design career.
In the American postwar period, Zeisel's work simply defined the era. Organic shapes, toned colors, a sense of fun and play -- her Town and Country line for Red Wing in particular evokes an urbane early-1950s kitchen where you'd be likely to get an excellent cup of coffee and some good conversation.
Zeisel took a break from design in the 1960s and 1970s, returning to the scene in the 1980s as interest in her older work revived. But as she collects lifetime achievement awards and sees centenary exhibitions open and close, she's not simply rehashing her older work for the repro crowd -- she's has been branching out into glassware and furniture.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s “losers” a.k.a. the Japanese mafia, the yakuza.
Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving.
The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region.
An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza.
The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.
The Inagawa-kai has been the most active because it has strong roots in the areas hit. It has several "blocks" or regional groups. Between midnight on March 12th and the early morning of March 13th, the Inagawa-kai Tokyo block carried 50 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City Hall (Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture) and dropped them off, careful not to mention their yakuza affiliation so that the donations weren't rejected. This was the beginning of their humanitarian efforts. Supplies included cup ramen, bean sprouts, paper diapers, tea and drinking water. The drive from Tokyo took them twelve hours. They went through back roads to get there. The Kanagawa Block of the Inagawa-kai, has sent 70 trucks to the Ibaraki and Fukushima areas to drop off supplies in areas with high radiations levels. They didn't keep track of how many tons of supplies they moved. The Inagawa-kai as a whole has moved over 100 tons of supplies to the Tohoku region. They have been going into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide.
The Yamaguchi-gumi member I spoke with said simply, "Please don't say any more than we are doing our best to help. Right now, no one wants to be associated with us and we'd hate to have our donations rejected out of hand."
To those not familiar with the yakuza, it may come as a shock to hear of their philanthropy, but this is not the first time that they have displayed a humanitarian impulse. In 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi was one of the most responsive forces on the ground, quickly getting supplies to the affected areas and distributing them to the local people. Admittedly, much of those supplies were paid with by money from years of shaking down the people in the area, and they were certainly not unaware of the public relations factor—but no one can deny that they were helpful when people needed aid—as they are this time as well.
It may seem puzzling that the yakuza, which are organized crime groups, deriving their principal revenue streams from illegal activities, such as collecting protection money, blackmail, extortion, and fraud would have any civic nature at all. However, in Japan since the post-war period they have always played a role in keeping the peace. According to Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld and Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the US government even bought the services of one infamous yakuza fixer, Yoshio Kodama, to keep Japan from going communist and maintain order. Kodama would later put up the funding to create the Liberal Democrat Party of Japan that ruled the country for over fifty years. When President Obama visited Japan last year, the police contacted the heads of all Tokyo yakuza groups and asked them to behave themselves and make sure there were no problems.
But let’s be clear, the yakuza are criminals, albeit with self-imposed restraints, and in their way may actually keep street crime (muggings, purse-snatching, theft) down. Many Japanese still admire or tolerate them. In fact, a Nara Police Prefectural police study found that amongst adults under 40, one in ten felt that the yakuza should be allowed to exist or were “a necessary evil.”
There is an unwritten agreement amongst the police and the yakuza groups that is acceptable for them to perform volunteer activities during a crisis but not to seek publicity for it. Before the crisis the police were cracking down severely on the yakuza and any activity placing them in a heroic light might make the police look foolish. So they have been very quietly doing their part. It is not that the yakuza are not PR savvy, as is evidenced by their careful control and limited appearances in six fan magazines (three monthly, three weekly) that write of their exploits; it is that right now they care more about getting the job done than getting credit for it. As one members said, “There are no yakuza or katagi (ordinary citizens) or gaijin (foreigners) in Japan right now. We are all Japanese. We all need to help each other.”
A bit of background: Japan has 80,000 members belonging to these criminal organizations, which the police label shiteiboryokudan or literally “designated violent groups”; membership is not illegal although the police regulate their activities, much the way the SEC regulates Goldman Sachs. Their income is largely derived from protection money, security services, financial fraud, stock manipulations, gambling, blackmail, prostitution, and loan sharking. They call themselves “yakuza.” The word comes from a losing hand in traditional Japanese gambling: 8 (ya) 9 (ku) 3(za) which adds up to 20, and is a useless hand. Thus to be a yakuza is to be “a loser.” It’s a self-effacing term. They yakuza don’t call themselves “violent groups.” They exist out in the open; they have offices, business cards, fan magazines. The three major groups, the
Yamaguchi-gumi (40,000 members), the Sumiyoshi-kai (12,000) and the Inagawa-kai (10,000) all insist they are chivalrous groups, like the Rotary Club, that they are ninkyo-dantai.
Ninkyo(do), according to yakuza historical scholars is a philosophy that values humanity, justice, and duty and that forbids one from watching others suffer or be troubled without doing anything about it. Believers of “the way” are expected to put their own lives on the line and sacrifice themselves to help the weak and the troubled. The yakuza often simplify it as “to help the weak and fight the strong,” in theory. In practice, the film director Itami Juzo, who was attacked by members of the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi because of his films depicting them harshly, said “the yakuza are all about exploiting the weak and disadvantaged in society, and run away from anyone strong enough to stand up to them and their exploitive extortion.” He was primarily correct, I think. However, sometimes, like today in Japan, they live up to their original values.
Of course, most yakuza are just tribal sociopaths who merely pay lip service to the words. But in times like this every helping hand is welcome, and maybe, maybe for a few weeks, both the police and the yakuza can declare a peace treaty and work together to save lives and ensure the safety of the people of Japan. To some extent, the police have even given their tacit support to the yakuza aid efforts. That’s the spirit of ninkyodo. It’s also the spirit of many of the Japanese people. It is why I have no doubts that Japan will weather this crisis and come back stronger than ever.
Naoya Kaneko, the deceased Sumiyoshi-kai boss who was a friend and a source, once said, “In times of crisis, you learn the measure of a man.” To understand the real meaning of that you have to understand how the generally male-dominated and sexist yakuza define “a man.” The core of that is giri, a word that can be translated many different ways but which I interpret to mean: reciprocity. Today, the Japanese people and even the yakuza are measuring up very well to that standard of behavior.
Jake Adelstein was a reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, from 1993 to 2005. From 2006 to 2007 he was the chief investigator for a U.S. State Department-sponsored study of human trafficking in Japan. Considered one of the foremost experts on organized crime in Japan, he works as a writer and consultant in Japan and the United States. He is also the public relations director for the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project Japan, which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade. He is the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan (Vintange).
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Filmed at McMurdo Station, where it is relatively sheltered by the surrounding hills. The weather down here is classified as being Condition 3 (nice weather), Condition 2 (not so nice), or Condition 1...
The clip appeared on the today show recently...
For more of life on the Ice.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Having a belly was a good thing once. Men in Victorian time carried with pride and joy their bellies, since rounded stature was a synonym for wealth and good fortune. Even the men working in circus, lifting weight and dealing with wild animals were over weighed. Anyway, it was just one guy enough to enter the scene and the measure for beauty of men’s body to be changed.
Eugen Sandow (1867- 1925) was born in Königsberg, now Russia, as Friedrich Wilhelm Müller. When he became famous, for his fans he had already prepared a story about his reasons for working on his body. He was ten years old when he went with his father to Italy. The thing which captured his mind were the fabulous statues of Roman Gods, which his father shown to him while they were visiting museums and the ones on squares in the capital city. Little Eugene was so delighted with those beautiful bodies which he had seen, that he immediately started working out. The story sounded great, but unfortunately it was not the truth.
Sandow obviously, was not only good in developing muscles, but also in marketing himself. Even though we don’t know a lot about his beginnings, one thing is for sure, he had changed his name early, and in 19th century in 80s’ he traveled from town to town round the Europe in search for a job as a acrobat, but with no such luck. And the strange thing happened one day. As he was in Brussels with no money in his pocket, he met Louie Dirlaherr, known as the professor Attila.
In that time ruled an opinion that a man shouldn’t lift up more than 3 kg. If he was to do something like that he was in threat for his muscles to wrinkle and stay paralyzed. Professor Attila, as he also was dedicated to exercising, wanted to prove the nonsense of that believing.
He developed system of exercising in lifting every day more and more weight, as the muscles were getting bigger, which is the basic of bodybuilding.
Professor Attila knew that he will best point out that he is right on Sandow. Two of them have moved to London in 1889. The next task was to figure out how to draw everybody’s attention.
At that time the biggest circus attractions in the capital on Great Britain were Samson and Cyclops, as people called them. As Samson was able to lift heavy weight (more than 100 kg), Cyclops was able to split coins. Sandow to prove that he is better than these two first challenged Cyclops. That night he came in his best suit and as soon as he had challenged Cyclops and was standing in arena lighted he took off his suit, which was specially designed to easy fall and he remained in a tight suit which pointed out all the muscles on his body. People sitting on their seats at first went silence and than they started to applaud and shout. Sandow easily won. It was next for him to overcome Samson. One week later the fight was set. Sandow was ready, he was prepared for that. He found out from a snitch that Samson was faking the scene when he was breaking the chains, so he arranged that Samson should be tided up now with real chains. He had won again. And now the new star was born.
Fame of Eugen Sandow was growing. The newspaper wrote about him, where ever he went the crowd was waiting for him, to see him and talk with him. Most of the people came to see his body. Finally he got the chance to enliven the Roman and Greek statues. He stroke different posses to point out different muscles, the same as bodybuilders are doing it today.
Sandow was conscious that performing is just one part of fame, so he kept on with advertising himself. He had his naked photos taken, which were sold all over the Europe, which enabled people from different parts to get to see him and hear about him, if they didn’t have opportunity to see him alive. For certain amount of money he was appearing at the private parties. Guests gathered in some rich man’s house waited only for that, for him to appear.
When he had conquered the Europe, Eugen Sandow decided to try his luck in America. He first arrived to New York in 1893. Florenz Ziegfeld got interested in him, and two of them went all over the America with a Broadway musical, where, of course Sandow was a leading star.
At the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century, name of Eugen Sandow was a synonym for strength, muscles, good looks, success and fame. Expressions like “Strong as Sandow” were used all over the world. He knew how to use his name well. He was the first one who, for more than a good price, was willing to lend his name for sport equipment.
In 1901 he decided to make a contest, where will for the first time in modern history, the competitors is valuated by their appearance. Sandow asked his friend Arthur Conan Doyle (the famous writer, the creator of Sherlock Holmes) to be in jury.
Even if the name on Eugen Sandow, except in some circles of bodybuilders, is mainly forgotten, I should point out that he was the one who started the big bodybuilding industry, which now is rated to billion and billion of dollars. Even if there are not so many people who remember this guy, I think that he would be pleased to know that his body became a statue. On the contest “Mister Olympia” which takes place once a year, the best bodybuilder gets a statue made by face and body of Eugen Sandow!
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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