Saturday, February 13, 2010


Watching the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I was somewhat surprised to see Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah being performed.

He's a Canadian, and he's a great poet, lyricist, and singer. I've liked him and his work for a long time, and I've liked the song since the first time I heard it...which was only a year or so ago; I was surprised at the time that I hadn't come across it earlier, and disappointed that I'd somehow missed it until then. There are several versions that one can watch/listen to, although the one I first saw was on YouTube.

I would have liked for Mr. Cohen himself to have performed the song at the ceremony, but k.d. lang's rendition was one of the better covers I've seen, brilliantly performed, and she's a Canadian singer/songwriter, too, so that's fine, I suppose.

If you didn't catch it, it's well worth searching for when it makes its way to reruns, video, YouTube or wherever. Meanwhile, there's a version here that she did at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction of Leonard Cohen in 2006. Somewhat different, but also good.

I was, however, wondering about the choice of song. I was listening to a simultaneous (well, almost) interpretation in Japanese, which I always find distracting: the English and the Japanese each vie for my attention, and I never feel as if I'm getting as much information as I would if I were listening only to one language or the other. I believe that I heard somebody describe the song as a "song of peace", which is nice Olympian sentiment but isn't the way that I'd describe the lyrics.

And I don't really see how, for example, "love is not a victory march" or "I did my best, it wasn't much" fit into the whole Olympic Games picture.

Nevertheless, it is an excellent song, and the performance was a suitably impressive part of a very impressive opening ceremony.

So...ah...hallelujah, I guess.

How Singular

I was somewhat desultorily reviewing the information available on the web regarding terror birds, motivated by a program I'd been watching on the National Geographic cable channel. I'd seen the program--or one very like it--some time ago, and (typically for me) I was again doing something else at the same time. Consequently I missed a detail: the name of one of the bird's prey, described as a mammal unrelated to any now extant. This piqued my curiosity sufficiently that I made an attempt to identify it. In that particular quest for impractical knowledge, I have so far been unsuccessful.

However, in a process that's not entirely clear to me, I somehow came across the "technological singularity" concept. I vaguely remember having heard the term before, but if I ever knew what it means I'd forgotten, and further investigation led to mention of Singularity University. I'm sure that I hadn't heard of that before, and I'm surprised, since it's the sort of information that I usually encounter in the course of my regular reading and research.

So now I know, and I have something else to monitor and think about.

I also have the amusing realization that a quest for information about the Miocene led to information about the (near?) future.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In Whatever Comes Our Way

Among the factors making driving in Tokyo interesting are the many narrow roads, bad visibility at corners due to foliage and/or structures, vehicles parked at the roadside, ubiquitous construction sites, and widespread lack of sidewalks. When you add all of the death-defying bicyclists and oblivious pedestrians--and not a few wildly incompetent motorists, some driving huge trucks--you have a great arena for lots of excitement, with more thrills than a circus.

Having grown accustomed to the more common street scenarios and the typical antics of the people involved in them, I'm not that easy to surprise any more. It doesn't necessarily require surprise to provide an adrenaline rush, though, and I'd much rather be thrilled than bored, so I'm not averse to a fair bit of excitement and entertainment.

There were more acts than usual in one day recently.

First there was the guy who sprinted out from behind a parked truck, across a narrow but well-traveled road, right in front of me. He didn't merely dash, he was running full out, perhaps because he realized that the light was red for him, and cars were zipping by, and he thought he stood a better chance for survival if he ran faster through the traffic. I probably would have hit him, had I not seen the shocked look on the face of a driver in the oncoming lane. He saw the runner coming from the other side of the truck that hid him from me on my side of the road, and slammed on his brakes just in time to miss him; I downshifted and braked hard on the strength of the driver's expression, so I just brushed the runner's coattails.

A couple of hours later I came across a middle-aged woman on a bicycle, pedaling furiously against the lights, crossing a major multi-lane thoroughfare, with a look of fierce determination, shouting "Get out of the way!" repeatedly and glaring at all of the cars and trucks screeching to sudden stops to avoid hitting her. I have no idea whether she was color blind, or confused, or just clueless.

Only a couple of hundred meters further on, a compact van came up from behind me as I waited for a light on a narrow one-way street, the driver blaring his horn to get the half dozen cars behind me to move over so he could pass. We let him by, and he sped through the red light. I have no idea what his story was.

Later in the evening, another of the Tokyo street circus performers appeared with a new act: this young woman was holding a mirror, a makeup case, and a cell phone; she was attempting to apply makeup and send text messages, while riding her bicycle. Evidently it took a lot of concentration, since she had no attention to spare for the drivers and pedestrians who had to dodge around her.

I thought that was it for the day, and I was only a few minutes from my destination, when the last performer suddenly zipped out of an alley from behind a hedge. I had to swerve a bit to avoid him, and then did a was a junior high school kid riding--somewhat unstably but undeniably--a unicycle.

It's going to take big cats or elephants or something to appear in the Tokyo street circus before I'm surprised or even very thrilled at what comes my way, now.

I've already seen plenty of clowns.