02/22/2014 archive

Random Japan

AFP explores Japan’s love hotels, teaches you all you need to know

   Philip Kendall

In a recent video shared via YouTube, the AFP News Agency takes a look at the weird and wonderful world of Japan’s love hotels. Around for more than 100 years now, these curious and undeniably Japanese locations are used by everyone from sex-starved couples who live with their families to cheeky travellers looking for a cheap place to crash.

Check out the video for info on everything from how to check in to what you can find inside your room.

One of the best things about love hotels, particularly for the notoriously shy Japanese, is their respect for guests’ privacy. Sure, you may be spotted leaving the hotel in the morning or after a couple of hours of mid-afternoon grown-up fun, but more often than not you’ll never see another soul during your visit. There are even hotels outside of the city that have curtains to draw across the front of your car in the parking lot in order to hide your registration plate from view.

Health and Fitness News

Welcome to the Health and Fitness NewsWelcome to the Stars Hollow Health and Fitness News weekly diary. It will publish on Saturday afternoon and be open for discussion about health related issues including diet, exercise, health and health care issues, as well as, tips on what you can do when there is a medical emergency. Also an opportunity to share and exchange your favorite healthy recipes.

Questions are encouraged and I will answer to the best of my ability. If I can’t, I will try to steer you in the right direction. Naturally, I cannot give individual medical advice for personal health issues. I can give you information about medical conditions and the current treatments available.

You can now find past Health and Fitness News diaries here and on the right hand side of the Front Page.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

How Do You Like These Apples?

How Do You Like These Apples? photo recipehealthpromo-tmagArticle_zpsd1f0be79.jpg

Many nutritional studies of apples report findings of high antioxidant activity from the phenolic compounds found in and near the skin. Studies suggest that these compounds, as well as the dietary fiber in apples, also play a role in the fruit’s role in lowering cholesterol. In a recent U.S.D.A.-funded study, postmenopausal women who ate dried apples every day for a year showed a 23 percent reduction in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and a 4 percent increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol within the first six months. British researchers predict in an article published in the December 2013 issue of BMJ that prescribing an apple a day to all adults age 50 and over could prevent or delay around 8,500 heart attacks and strokes a year in Britain.

~Martha Rose Shulman~

Apple, Lime and Chia Smoothie

A pale green smoothie with a kick.

Apple Compote

Freshly made applesauce is several cuts above the store bought variety.

Apple and Bitter Lettuces Salad

A salad with many contrasts: sweet and bitter, crunchy and juicy.

Buckwheat Crêpes With Caramelized Apples

Flavorful crêpes that can handle both sweet and savory toppings.

Country Bread With Apples

A moist, rustic country bread with a sweet touch.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: Coping With Infectious Disease

The list of infectious diseases that could leap from remote areas of the world to strike countries thousands of miles away is growing. A warning of what can happen occurred a decade ago when an outbreak in China of a mysterious new viral disease, known as SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, was covered up by the Chinese authorities, allowing infected airline passengers to carry the virus to more than two dozen other countries. The disease killed nearly 800 people and caused large economic losses in Asia and Canada.  [..]

A pilot project in Uganda last year, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that biological specimens from sick patients could be gathered in remote areas of the country and carried by motorcycle and overnight delivery service to a well-equipped central laboratory, and the test results could be transmitted back by cellphone to the remote areas. A new technology currently being tested in Uganda is a dipstick, like those used for pregnancy tests, that can diagnose pneumonic and bubonic plague at the patient’s bedside in 20 minutes. [..]

Congress ought to approve that money. A five-year program to extend assistance to 30 countries to protect their populations could cost the United States up to $1.5 billion, which would be worth spending if the initial projects prove successful. Other advanced nations need to contribute money and expertise, too. Diseases know no borders, and a health crisis in one country could, without control, become our own.

Jon Walker: The Biggest Progressive Victory of 2014 So Far Was Against Obama, Not With Him

Since we are only seven weeks into 2014 I feel confident calling President Obama’s decision to remove the chained-CPI Social Security benefit cut from his budget the biggest victory for progressives so far this year. [..]

It is a sad comment about the current state of politics that the biggest progressive victory so far this year wasn’t a victory with the Democratic President, but a victory against him. While Obama did technically remove chained-CPI, he was the one who put it there in the first place. He is the one who has been consistently pushing for a grand bargain for years. He was the one who forced the Democratic party to temporarily back such a destructive and deeply unpopular position.

Zoë Carpenter: The Men We Kill, and the Men We Don’t

When an American drone fired four Hellfire missiles at a convoy of cars travelling from a wedding in Yemen last December, who died? [..]

The questions raised by the wedding attack go beyond identity, beyond compliance. Another debate to be had is about the existence of the killing program-its legal basis, its strategic benefits, its moral implications-not just adherence to its rules. This is a conversation the administration has tried to avoid. Although Obama has proposed shifting the CIA’s drone program to the Pentagon to increase transparency, the White House has brushed off Congress’s attempt to broaden its oversight. Last week, the administration forbade CIA officers from attending a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and refused to grant security clearances to committee members so they could be briefed.

We may not know whom we’re killing, but the people left behind know who is responsible for their losses. “We have nothing, not even tractors or other machinery. We work with our hands. Why did the United States do this to us?” the groom asked in a video shown to HRW researchers. No one, so far, has a real answer for him.

Patrick Smith: Nuland and the Ukraine: The Message Beneath the Vulgarity

As Ukraine reaches a breaking point, there’s a lot more to discuss about U.S. policy than a simple F-bomb.

Every time we overhear U.S. diplomats talking when we are not supposed to, the conduct of American foreign policy sounds less imaginative, more reckless, and astonishing in its fidelity to eras many of us thought would never come again. Who would have thought Obama’s conduct abroad would recall so closely Eisenhower’s – the years when the Dulles Brothers, Allen at the CIA and John Foster at State, made sheer havoc in the name of American security – and thus reproduce an eternal state of insecurity?

Allergic to history, American administrations can learn nothing from it. Einstein’s thought on insanity – doing the same thing incessantly and wanting a new result – is the default position. No wonder America’s relations in the Middle East and across both oceans have deteriorated since the Germans took down the Berlin Wall.

The latest lifting of the lid occurred earlier this month, when a covert recording was released via YouTube. The revelations are better than some in the unprecedented tidal wave of material that Wikileaks released in the summer and autumn of 2010.

Jim Haber: Plowshares Sentencing Shows US Government Afraid of Peace Activists

Outside the courthouse in Knoxville, Tenn. where three anti-nuclear activists were severely sentenced on February 18, Michelle Boertje-Obed, the wife of one of the three Transform Now Plowshares members, encouraged everyone to see Judge Amul Thapar’s ruling in a positive light. Despite her husband Greg having just received over 5 years in prison for infiltrating the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility on July 28, 2012 and damaging federal property – along with Michael Walli and 84-year-old Catholic nun Megan Rice – Michelle pointed out that the judge could have easily given them much longer sentences, as recommended by the prosecution. [..]

Sr. Rice was at her most eloquent when addressing the court. “The problem with this trial is that people don’t know the law,” she said. “There is an alternative to nuclear weapons – common sense… If you resist nuclear weapons, you are upholding the law… The need to expose crimes pushed us to our action… To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest honor this court could bestow on me.”

She pointed out that nuclear weapons were declared illegal under international law and hence aren’t “legitimate property.” Additionally, the three members of the Transform Now Plowshares felt called to uphold their view of God’s law, and called for love and peacemaking, rather than nuclear threats and war.

Yet, these motivations were never allowed to be spoken during the trial itself, thereby preventing the jury from truly understanding their actions. As unjust as this – and the harsh sentences – may seem, it shows that the government actually sees civil resistance and organizing for the power and capacity it truly represents. The powers that be should be afraid of the likes of the Transform Now Plowshares. They’re not alone.

Charles M. Blow: Accommodating Divisiveness

Ted Nugent, a.k.a. the Motor City Madman, an ex-rocker who’s off his rocker, is at it again. [..]

Now, Nugent is a bit player, a bomb-thrower not worthy of much attention in his own right, but the fact that he and so many like him feel at home within the Republican Party and aligned with conservative causes is.

By no means are all, or even most, Republicans this extreme, nor do they condone this level of extremism. But far too many extremists seem to seek – and find – a home within the Republican ranks. There exists a foul odor of accommodation. [..]

With people like that under the Republican tent, they may as well fold it up where minorities are concerned.

On This Day In History February 22

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 22 is the 53rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 312 days remaining until the end of the year (313 in leap years).

On this day in 1980, the U.S. Olympic hockey team makes “miracle on ice”.

In one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of college players, defeats the four-time defending gold-medal winning Soviet team at the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. The Soviet squad, previously regarded as the finest in the world, fell to the youthful American team 4-3 before a frenzied crowd of 10,000 spectators.

The United States did not win the gold medal upon defeating the USSR. In 1980 the medal round was a round-robin, not a single elimination format as it is today. Under Olympic rules at the time, the group game with Sweden was counted along with the medal round games versus the Soviet Union and Finland so it was mathematically possible for the United States to finish anywhere from first to fourth.

Needing to win to secure the gold medal, Team USA came back from a 2-1 third period deficit to defeat Finland 4-2. According to Mike Eruzione, coming into the dressing room in the second intermission, Brooks turned to his players, looked at them and said, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your graves.” He then paused, took a few steps, turned again, said, “Your fucking graves,” and walked out.

At the time, the players ascended a podium to receive their medals and then lined up on the ice for the playing of the national anthem, as the podium was only meant to accommodate one person. Only the team captains remained on the podium for the duration. After the completion of the anthem, Eruzione motioned for his teammates to join him on the podium. Today, the podiums are large enough to accommodate all of the players.

The victory bolstered many American citizens’ feelings of national pride, which had been severely strained during the turbulent 1970s. The match against the Soviets popularized the “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chant, which has been used by American supporters at many international sports competitions since 1980.


I have, in case you haven’t noticed, a certain minor problem with insomnia that becomes particularly acute at this time of year when the light is short and changing fast, the weather sucks, and my schedule is stressful.

My body rebels which manifests itself in various physical symptoms of which this is one the I wish to address now.

Because it’s not usually an inability to sleep at all, but rather a vampiric cycle that expresses as surprising energy and stamina when it’s dark and ennui, lassitude, and fatigue during the day.  However much sleep I actually get it’s never enough nor does it leave me refreshed.

This results in missed deadlines and inattention to details, and increases my overall level of anxiety and depression because I have unrealistic expectations.

Or at least that’s what my therapists say.

Now eventually the seasons and I reach an accomodation where I have enough time in the morning to make my marks, nap, and continue with my work.  We are not yet at that point.  Yesterday was dismal and foggy with intermittent rain.  The days that were sunny were cold and the snow glare was worse than the summer solstice (you know, you have leaves and stuff, not a 250 Watt light bulb flooding through your windows all day long).

And then there are the unusual distractions (O Canada).

This will get worse before it gets better but like most things it will pass.

And I’m not really complaining, I could have far worse problems and I’m sure many of you do.

So what Is Your Problem?

The Ring of Gyges and the Bodhi Tree

The fact of the matter is I’m a stone cold atheist.  Though I was raised Methodist I rejected Christianity and indeed all forms of religion by the time I was 12 (though I continued to sing in choir and participate in other social activities for a while after that).

My purpose is not to sneer at your particular beliefs or convert you to mine but to demonstrate that it’s possible to consider ethical and moral behavior independent of religion or appeal to divine judgment which I will do in the form of two parables, The Ring of Gyges and The Bodhi Tree.

The Ring of Gyges

The Ring of Gyges is a historical myth.  Historical in the sense that it was written of in Plato’s Republic which no reality based scholar of Western Literature or Philosophy denies was written and that it contains this story (though some debate the date of it’s composition which is generally accepted as approximately 360 B.C.E.).

Mythological in the sense that it’s a deliberate fiction that contradicts historical facts not only as we know them today through Archeology and several independent written Histories of the period, but also the facts as the Greeks knew them as close contemporaries of the time the events supposedly took place.  It is a metaphor told to illustrate the points being argued, in this case the nature of Justice (indeed some translate the Greek to mean On Justice instead of The Republic, but that was frequently confused with a non-canonical piece also titled On Justice so we’ll go with the common name).

Anyway, the story goes something like this-

A shepherd discovers a ring that makes him invisible, indeed immune to the very concept of Justice as enforced by any outside force be it a god or society’s disapproval.  Using the ring he seduces the wife of the King, assassinates him, marries the wife, and installs himself as the new King.

Nobody knows or suspects his actions (except the wife who conveniently disappears, and by that I don’t mean that he kills her to ensure her silence necessarily, just that she’s no longer relevant to the metaphor and is ignored).

He goes on to live his life a King and as we all know- it’s good to be the King.

Now imagine, continues Glaucon (Plato’s brother with whom he clearly sympathizes in this argument), that there are two such rings, one given to an unjust man (like the shepherd obviously) and one to a just man-

(N)o man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.

Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.

For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

There is much debate, but what Socrates says is- “(J)ustice does not derive from this social construct: the man who abused the power of the Ring of Gyges has in fact enslaved himself to his appetites, while the man who chose not to use it remains rationally in control of himself and is therefore happy.”  I’ll note that’s a paraphrase provided by Wikipedia but I find it felicitous and it makes my point- a wise person understands the problem of absolute power is not what others do to you though they be god or society, it is what happens to you through abuse of that power by nature of the power itself.

Masters of the Universe take note!

The Bodhi Tree

While I don’t believe in god, any of them, I do have a teacher named Siddhartha Gautama the life and teaching of whom I have found instructive.

He’s at least as historical as Jesus, though like Jesus his teachings were not codified in writing until centuries after his death.  Most modern (reality based) historians date his birth sometime between 500 to 400 B.C.E.

He was a Prince in India and lived a life of absolute privilege.  As Arlo Guthrie said of the pharaoh, his joints came pre-rolled and lit.  His mother died in childbirth and his father, the King, sought to spare him any knowledge of suffering.

At the age of 29 (traditionally) Siddhartha left the palace to meet his subjects, among them an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk.  Being a sensitive and empathetic kind of guy he recognized the suffering of the human condition and renounced his life of luxury, his wife and child, and went off to become a mendicant monk.

After nearly starving himself to death he had an enlightenment that maybe severe aestheticism wasn’t the best way to live your life either and started thinking- “So what is the nature of suffering?”

  • Life is suffering
  • The cause of suffering is desire
  • There is an end of suffering
  • The eightfold way

In other words, we can’t always get what we want, the problem is that we want what we can’t always get, the solution to that is to focus on what we can control, and that is our actions and attitudes.

What can we control?

  • Right Understanding, being reality based and knowing you can’t always get what you want.
  • Right Aspiration, trying to live in a way that focuses on what you can control, your actions and attitudes.
  • Right Effort, making a real attempt to live a just and balanced life, no excuses or self pitying rationalizations.
  • Right Speech, speaking the truth in a helpful and compassionate way (though that truth thing is more important, just saying).
  • Right Living, acting in a way consistent with your values.
  • Right Livelihood, earning your money in a way consistent with your values.
  • Right Mindfulness, focusing on what you can do now instead of living with the regrets of the past or worrying about the future.
  • Right Concentration, thinking about your values, preconceptions, and prejudices and considering their implications on your actions and attitudes.

In Buddhist thought these are considered the core beliefs and as you’ll note they’re not particularly religious or spiritual at all.  After he stopped trying to kill himself living up to other’s expectations, my teacher sat in the shade under a fig tree and ate the fruit it provided and taught those who would stop and listen until, at a ripe old age, he died.

And got off the wheel.

And now at last it comes.  You will give me the Ring freely!  In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen.  And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night!  Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain!  Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning!  Stronger than the foundations of the earth.  All shall love me and despair!

I pass the test.  I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.

January 2014 4th Warmest on Record

Die Winter, Die photo SbrPSgdhy_zps8ec885b5.jpg You would never know that if you live in the upper Midwest and Northeastern US but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the earth was 1.17 degrees warmer in January making it the 4th warmest on record.

The globe cozied up to the fourth warmest January on record this year, essentially leaving just the eastern half of the United States out in the cold.

And the northern and eastern United States can expect another blast of cold weather next week. [..]

Almost all of Africa, South America and Australia and most of Asia and Europe were considerably warmer than normal. China and France had their second warmest Januaries. Land in the entire Southern Hemisphere was hottest for January on record.

While more than half of America shivered last month, it was one of the few populated spots on Earth cooler than normal. The opposite happened in 2012, when the United States had its warmest year ever and the globe was only the eleventh hottest on record.

Winter is not over yet for the US Northeasteners and Midwesteners. Another blast of Arctic air is expected next week after teaser temperatures in the 50’s over the weekend. The extended outlook is for warmer temperatures in the Southwest starting in March, spreading to the entire South in April and May.

The drought in the West is expected to continue as the snow fall in the mountains was half the normal leading to worries about crops and wild fires.

The state to be in next week, Alaska. Just keep in mind that the sun passes over the Equator, re-entering the Northern Hemisphere, bringing spring with it on March 20, at 12:57 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.