Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I don't like traveling to the US with my wife

The thought of traveling to the US with my wife is scary. It's not that the door-to-door travel time takes about 24 hours, or even that we have to sit in coach the entire way. The thing that scares me the most is US immigration / passport control.

My wife is from South Korea, and she loves spending time with my family in Vermont. However, the disrespect she receives when she enters the US has brought her to tears on more than one occasion.

South Korea, for those that don't know, does not qualify for the visa waiver program like Japan and a number of European countries. This means that a long wait and 'guilty until proven innocent' treatment are guaranteed at many US ports of entry. Despite having a ten year tourist visa stamped into her passport, she is questioned like a criminal every time she attempts to come back.

We have visited the states at least twice, and occasionally three times, a year since 2001. She always comes and goes when she says she's going to, and it's obvious (due to the nature of the questions) that every bit of information they ask for is written right on the screen in front of them. This isn't a situation where someone is traveling with a fake passport. My wife has entered and exited the US with the same passport for the past six years. Apparently there's no way to improve your reputation with the immigration officials. Even after several years of playing by the rules, visitors from other countries are greeted by some of the harshest people in uniform that we as a nation have to offer (click here for a peek at 2004 hourly rates for airport security personnel).

How do I know that all of this goes on? Because I get to watch it unfold every time we land.

I zip through the American citizens line at the airport in less than four or five minutes each time I go home. But then I have to sit and wait on the baggage pickup side of the immigration turnstiles for at least 40 minutes as my wife wilts in line. The immigration officers, who are often not the friendliest people when on the clock, are generally slow to react to large amounts of people lined up outside the 'foreign visitors' half of the hall. They emerge from the office, one at a time, and walk at a snail's pace toward their respective booths, take a couple of minutes to get everything set up just to their liking, and then rudely motion to the first person in their line to come forward for questioning. Oh, and if they forgot something in the office? They get up out of their chair, exit the booth, and walk even more slowly back to that central box with tinted windows. I'm confident that I have never seen people walk so slowly in my life! And meanwhile, these poor passengers' luggage is just waiting on the other side of the turnstiles for someone to walk off with it.

When it's finally my wife's turn for some questioning, fingerprinting, and a mugshot, she nervously answers the questions as politely as she can. I have been called in three times over the years to help expedite things. Sometimes I'm asked the same questions that she was just asked to verify the veracity of her statements. Maybe my wife fits the profile of a terrorist...? Or perhaps it's just that they find her attractive and the immigration officers resort to junior high school type nastiness to show their affection and win some more time talking at her.

I'm not doing a very good job of describing how messed up the whole system is, and how detrimental it is to America's image, but it basically all adds up to bullying and/or harassment. My wife and I have been waiting patiently for South Korea, America's biggest military ally and home to one of the most highly-educated populations in the world, to be granted visa waiver status, but there are a lot of politicians who are dragging their feet.

Is South Korea's delayed ascension to 'preferred nation' status the thing that truly makes my wife angry? No, it's not. The thing that enrages her is how a country that desires so badly to be loved and admired by the outside world would allow this kind of thing to happen (especially to a person who is married to one of its citizens). To be perfectly honest, I do not know that visitors from visa waiver countries are treated any better. A couple of my Japanese and British friends have reported similar treatment. What I do know is that every time we travel to the states my wife loses a bit of her love for America. And so do I.

Help is on the way?

The Discover America Partnership (DAP) is preparing to help a number of private-sector groups pressure the Bush administration to ease up on its visa regulations. As it turns out, there are a lot of people out there who have experienced the same things that my wife has. Despite the fact that global travel is booming, the number of foreign visitors to the US is still down since September, 2001, and this poses serious ramifications for businesses, universities, and the tourism industry. The DAP estimates that the US has shut itself out of 93 billion dollars due to post 9/11 visa restrictions. That means that the government, by way of its own sluggishness in addressing these issues, has forfeited a cool 15 billion in tax revenues.

Universities in other countries have begun advertising that they don't have a US style visa system, and that marketing campaign has been seen as successful in luring students away from the states. Studying English (or some other subject) in England or Australia would be a fantastic experience to be sure. However, when people are choosing not to study in America because the hassle of getting in is too great, and other economies are benefiting from said hassles, there is obviously a problem that needs to be addressed.

I have a feeling that people living and working in the US are largely unaware that they are not highly regarded in other countries. The DAP asserts that one way to reverse that reality is to make it easier for travelers to visit the United States. For starters, they could eliminate mugshots and fingerprinting for return visitors. My wife and I would certainly appreciate that.


Three-headed Deer

Wow, haven't seen one of those for a while...


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Counting the Days 'til Baseball Season Starts

I'm a little worried about the Tokyo Swallows' prospects this season, but I won't let that get me down. Baseball season is finally in sight!

Sometimes I wonder how I survive for nearly half the year without it.

Anyway, in recent news: Guttormson (the guy responsible for the no-hitter pictured on the scoreboard below) is gone, Ishii Hirotoshi took a massive pay cut (that's what you get for injuring yourself while representing your country), and Aoki Norichika scooped up all the money that Ishii lost (40 million yen from Ishii's wallet plus an extra 32 because he's good).

I still believe that we need to get rid of our pitching coaches, but I haven't really heard anyone out there who agrees with me. Just for the record, however, I will bitch a little bit more right now: the Tokyo Swallows are loaded with talent young and old, and the team ran out of excuses (last season) for why they were so inconsistent. The coaching staff has to take some of that blame.

And a quick cheap shot: doesn't it cause anyone in the league to scratch their heads that the last two teams to win the Japan Series (Chiba LotteChiba Lotte, 2005; Hokkaido Nippon Ham, 2006) were those that had foreign pitching coaches in the bullpen?

I'm not saying that we need to import pitching coaches, but I am arguing that we need better ones. Surely Furuta, an excellent catcher in his own right, would recognize that the best is not being gleaned from the arms warming up near the right field foul pole.

Laying all the blame on the pitching isn't fair, but it sure is easy. We will, of course, need steady contributions from a number of young position players as well. In 2006, however, hitting was not a weakness. With the departure of Iwamura Akinori to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a little bit of shuffling is going to have to take place, but most of the big bats are still in the lineup.

Will this be the year that Shiroishi finally repays the faith in him showed by two managers over the past several years (he's 33 and still allowed to play varsity ball)? Will any of the new Waseda products (not including Aoki, he's good) prove that they deserve a spot in the starting nine? Will Miyamoto and Furuta be able to stay injury-free long enough to coax the team into the playoffs?

And that may be the one ray of hope for this year--the playoffs. The Central League has finally given in and admitted that the Pacific League got it right when they kept the playoff system going. That means the top three from the Central League will have a shot at the Japan Series, and I'm reasonably confident that the Tokyo Swallows, despite all the griping that went on earlier in this post, will be one of those three teams.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Forced Confession?

It seems that the media has uncovered more evidence of how if you get arrested in Japan, you could be in big trouble. This blurb from the Mainichi shows that a guy spent more than two years in the pokey for a crime he didn't commit:

The man was handed a three-year prison term in November 2002 after pleading guilty to the charges during his trial. He was released on parole in January 2005 after being jailed for two years and one month.

However, police subsequently learned that another man under arrest is
responsible for the rape and other attempted rape cases.

Nice nice! The authorities made a public apology when they figured out that they were wrong, but have no idea where the freed "rapist" has gone.

Hmm, so if you don't know where that guy went (even though it turns out he's innocent), then what's the status on all the other rapists that have been released?


Of course, it might not be that far-fetched to assume that some of those guys are innocent too, so it's probably not something to get all worked up about.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Al and Linda Lunna's Berry Farm

August, 2006. It was hot, but we picked a lot! The blueberries were delicious.


Happy Birthday, Dan!

Photo taken in August, 2006 at Otter Creek Brewery in Middlebury, Vermont. Mama An, Christopher Pellegrini, and Dan Eling do some taste testing before choosing a keg. Happy birthday, Dan!


Corporal Punishment in South Korean Schools

Corporal punishment manifests itself in different ways depending on where it is administered. Students in Japan might be shoved into walls, whereas those in the southern United States might get paddled.

South Korea, which I have often tagged as the land of rapid (and usually positive) change, has been reeling in its own use of this disciplinary technique over the past dozen years.

While the picture painted by the National Human Rights Commission and the National Youth Commission is possibly a bit rosy, it claims that the number of students who were hit by their educators fell to only six percent of the secondary school population.

That is an impressive number when one takes into account the 40% level claimed for the year 2000. In only six years the number of students experiencing corporal punishment at school has fallen nearly 80%!

While teaching at a school in South Korea a few years ago, I saw the threat of corporal punishment in every classroom. Teachers often carried switches which are used in much the same way a ruler was when my parents were in school. The children at the school were all primary school students.

However, there are many forms of punishment still administered that probably don't fall under the traditional corporal heading. I routinely saw groups of four of five students (usually boys) being held after class in the hall. They were made to stand with their feet about a foot and a half from the wall behind them (half of a meter), and with their arms raised above their heads reach back and touch the wall.

Try it once and see how difficult it is. Now try and do it for 10 minutes and you will understand how non-corporal punishment can actually be quite corporal.

Nevertheless, the reduction in the level of reported corporal punishment in South Korean schools is to be commended. At the same time, it is interesting to read about the citizenry's reluctance to fully abolish the practice.

A similar debate is taking place in Japan, although the push by the government seems to be in the opposite direction (Japan officially re-abolished the use of corporal punishment in 1941). Due to the similarities between South Korea and Japan's school systems, it should be interesting to see how the use of corporal punishment plays out in the future.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Saw this movie last night (part two of the trilogy), and I'd have to say that my reaction is more positive than negative.

Allow me to explain. There's a lot going on in this film--different people pursuing overlapping goals on the high seas. The separate stories are at times easy to follow, but then suddenly become confusing. One-liners and comical scenes are plentiful, but I had to press rewind a couple of times to make sure I had heard the dialogue correctly.

Maybe I just need to watch it again to get the storyline down. However, it's rarely a good thing when you feel tired once the movie's finished. Also, I had suspected from the start that this movie was going to be a bridge to the third and final (?) chapter of the trilogy, and it turns out that my inklings were dead on. Johnny Depp is as solid as he can be in this tangle of action sequences, but what we are now left with is a situation where a weak third edition (one that doesn't contain enough of the charm that makes the The Curse of the Black Pearl enjoyable the second and third time you watch it) will end up pissing off a lot of fans like the Matrix trilogy did.

In the end I'll leave it to the real critics. My thoughts on "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" can by summed up by the likes of Philip Wuntch, a writer for the Dallas Morning News, who said, "Mr. (Gore) Verbinski is an extremely skilled traffic director."

Sean Burns from the Philadelphia Weekly made a good point when he observed that "...the fool thing just keeps going and going...and going. (Does a Pirates sequel really need to be five minutes longer than GoodFellas?)."

If you didn't catch "Dead Man's Chest" when it was at the Cineplex, good! You would have missed something reasonably important when you went to the bathroom. I'm going to be very cautious about paying to see the third installment due to my negative experience with the final of the Matrix series. However, I will say that I have all the faith in the world in Depp, so I'm predicting a satisfying reprieve next summer.


Bristol Horseshoes

Some of you may be acquainted with Bristol Horseshoes. If you don't know why Chris and Aunt Beth are standing around a ski pole with an empty beer bottle balanced on top, then you should probably show up the next time someone from Bristol holds a picnic or BBQ.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Violent Education Reform Ideas and a Dumb Defense Minister

Trans-Pacific Radio has some good stuff on current affairs (mostly political and educational) in Japan.

Click here for the profile of the dumb defense minister.


Rainbow Bridge (Tokyo Bay)

The Rainbow Bridge as seen from the cruise ship "Symphony Moderna" on Tuesday night. This was taken (using my cell phone) as we were headed out toward open water.

View of the Odaiba side of the bridge.

This is the tower on the mainland side.

Watch your head.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007


He was in this position for most of the trip home. Overheating a little bit, but coping.

And then he fell face-first onto the floor of the train. In this picture he's trying to climb back into his seat.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Beware the Milky Pirate

Must-watch music video over at Dan's blog! Scroll down to, and click on, Beware the Milky Pirate. You can thank me later.


Monday, January 22, 2007


Mom's cat, Baggio, trying to decide which one of my toes to eat first.


Chicago Headed to the Super Bowl!

Benson and Ayanbadejo getting it done at Soldier Field.


Japan's Falling Birth Rate

The falling birth rate in the land of the rising sun worries a lot of people. Personally, I find this place to be a little too crowded, so I'm looking forward to the exponential increase in square centimeters per passenger on the train.

The majority of the Japanese populace seem to understand that one of the more important ramifications of this conundrum is the inability of the older generations to live off their social security checks after retirement. Quite simply, there are too many retired people and not enough workers to pay for the golden years of the former. Most people are justifiably distraught that they might not be rewarded for their four decades of hard work when it's their turn to retire.

There are several possible long-term solutions for this, but most of them are politically unpopular (or just too much for most politicians to get their heads around). One of the most common solutions, which has been tested by numerous municipalities across the country, is birth subsidies. For an explanation of why using government money to encourage couples to procreate doesn't and won't work, scroll down to The Last Word over at TPR. In DeOrio's view:

Birth subsidies are a stupid idea. Not only are they ineffective, they would be counterproductive if they worked. The falling birthrate is an issue in which a growing number of policy-makers can’t see the forest for the trees.

It could be argued that the continued, nearly desperate, attention paid to boosting the birth rate is an attempt to reduce dependence on foreign labor. Some have said that it's an attempt to ignore the fact that immigration, coupled with legislative action that ensures the rights and equality of foreign citizens, could play a major part in the reversal of Japan's fortunes on this issue (for further discussion go to Migration Information or this article by Tony McNicol).

The only thing that is guaranteed in this ever-growing mess is that the government will continue to react at a glacial pace to the annual announcements of how much the population decreased during the previous year.

As a member of Japanese society who is forced to pay into the pension system without any hope of recovering most of the money (unless I continue working here for the next 21 years), I will continue to think of my contributions as buying some extra elbow room on the train.


Lotteria's New Logo

This is the new window dressing at the Lotteria inside Tanashi station on the Seibu-Shinjuku line. Lotteria is a Japanese fast food chain that specializes in burgers and fries.

Ummm...too many stupid jokes come to mind--can't choose just one.

Please add your own caption.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Comfort Women" Attract US Government's Attention

For an article on Mike Honda's push to have the US government censure Japan over the issue of sexual enslavement, click here.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Da Bears!

49-yard game-winner in OT care of Robbie Gould (pictured above)!


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Japanese Society, Business, and Politics

More interesting current event tidbits over at Trans-Pacific Radio.

Title: "TPR News: Monday, January 15, 2007 - Abe’s falling approval ratings, his corrupt Cabinet, Yamasaki’s report on Pyongyang, how Peko-chan is dirty, and more."

Lots of people are linking to this site now...I guess I'm not so special anymore.


Monday, January 15, 2007

All-You-Can-Eat Shabu-shabu

Happiness is...several plates of pork and beef.

We went out for dinner last night. We found a nice place in Takadanobaba that has a 90-minute all-you-can-eat shabu-shabu deal. Nice nice!


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Template Update

Not much has changed since I elected to update to an easier-to-use version of my blog template.

The one major change is that you can now find a list of labels on the right side of the blog if you scroll down far enough. It should be noted, however, that the labels are not in any way exhaustive, comprehensive, or truly indicative of what is contained therein. I'm slowly updating each individual post so that clear categories will be set up. I hope to reduce the number of labels in the future, but there are too many posts to be able to do that quickly.

Other than that everything is pretty much the same. I'm kind of sick of the color of this blog, but the other options offered weren't a whole lot better.


Update on Adsense

I don't get a whole lot of traffic here, and that's totally fine by me. However, that sort of shot my whole "Adsense Experiment" idea in the foot.

After about a year with Adsense plugged into my blog, I have earned precisely one penny. That's right, I can buy one swedish fish now with my earnings.

Would more traffic equal greater returns? I'm willing to guess that the answer is no. The ads that show up on my blog are rarely related to anything that I've posted about. In fact, it is common for the ads that pop up to be in direct disagreement with what I've written or linked to.

Before too long I will disect my template settings and get the adsense code out of there. In the meantime, however, I've minimized the size of the ad space so that it doesn't take up so much space.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bergens Everywhere

My mother, her mother, and her three "little" brothers.


Takashimaya, Shinjuku, Tokyo


Friday, January 12, 2007

Raymond Pellegrini (obituary)

Raymond Paul Pellegrini May 12, 2006

BRISTOL – Raymond Pellegrini died suddenly on Sunday, May 7, 2006. The son of Joseph C. and Mildred (Bevilacqua) Pellegrini, he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 23, 1950. A graduate of State University of New York at Oneonta, he began his teaching career at Herringswell Manor School in Bury St. Edmunds, England. He later earned his M.A. in educational leadership from Castleton State College.

Mr. Pellegrini worked for 32 years as an educator and administrator in the schools of Vermont. He taught, coached and was principal at Mt. Abraham Union High School (MAUHS) for 12 years, was a teaching principal at Monkton Elementary School for five years, served as principal at Middlebury Union Middle School for 10 years, was superintendent in Milton for two years, and had served as the executive director of the Vermont Principals' Association since July 2003.

Mr. Pellegrini was recognized with several awards, including Outstanding Teacher, MAUHS; UVM Outstanding Teacher Award; and the John Winton Award (Middle Level Principal of the Year). He served on the board of directors of Vermont Middle Level Educators and the Secondary School Commission of NEASC. He established such programs as the Education Recognition Program and Study Circles, implemented breakfast programs and created the "Challenge Diploma."

An advocate in the state Legislature, he was an authority on curriculum, administration and issues of equality, justice and protection in Vermont schools.

Survivors include his wife, the Rev. Lucy C. B. Pellegrini; sons Christopher of Tokyo, Japan, and Scott of San Diego, Calif.; daughter Katie of Burlington; his parents of Dorset; his sister Darinda of Schenectady, N.Y.; three nephews; and many in-laws, aunts and uncles, cousins and their children. He was predeceased by his brother Donald in 1993.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Raymond P. Pellegrini "Reach for the Stars" Scholarship, dedicated to a student destined to be the first in their family to attend an instate college and stay in Vermont after graduation, c/o: VPA; 2 Prospect St., Suite 3, Montpelier, VT 05602, or to Save the Children: 54 Witton Road, Westport, CT 06880.

There will be a rite of Christian burial with Holy Eucharist at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Middlebury, at 10 a.m. today. There will a celebration and remembrance of Mr. Pellegrini's life of service to the children of Vermont on Tuesday, May 16, 2006, at 7 p.m. at Mt. Abraham Union High School in Bristol, with a reception to follow.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Addison Independent Article About Ray Pellegrini (thanks Pete!)

Big Ray: An Admirer Remembers

During the summer before my senior year at CSC, I Produced two plays for the town of Bristol; as part of my senior project. To me, theater was a daily part of my life and had been for years (thanks in no small part to "the committee," the local troupe fostered by the great Anne Gleason and "Marty" Chesley) and because of my college support I knew it would be more fun than "project."

It ended up being both, and despite some long days of set building and longer evenings of rehearsal, the shows ended up being a highlight of my Academic journey.

After the dust of that summer settled, and I was back at school, I received a letter on Mt. Abe letter-head from Ray Pellegrini. I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. P as the father of my good friend Christopher. He was always there to roll his eyes at our antics, laugh at our plays, and make us get out of "his chair" in the TV room.

I opened the note not sure if it was some sort of belated report card, "Dear Director Buonincontro..." it began. It was a Thank You letter. Thanking me for the hard work I put in to the productions both past and present, but more importantly thanking me for helping to influence a culture of the performing arts into the younger generations of the schools.

The importance of this did not hit home till after I left the rolling green hills of Vermont for the snow capped mountains of Oregon. I entered into work at a non-profit children's theater company as a teacher and performer. I went to school after school doing classes and plays, and teaching teachers how to play simple theater games that help students to communicate, work as a team, create discussion.

You see, Oregon has one of the worst budget crisis in the nation. Rather than programs on the block, entire schools close year after year. The school year gets shorter and shorter.

Then I got it.
Big Ray saw it.

The role of extra curricular activities is paramount in a community, cash strapped or not. It provides community identity, culture, something to root for. It is a vital and necessary outlet for countless numbers of kids.

Because of the support of Ray, both as an educator and as a parent, Vermont was a better place, and his influence and the influence of those like him have spread from the far corners of the world quite literally.

I believe that the most fitting tribute that can be paid to such a man is to continue the push for such activities. Ensure the survival of these programs for future students. Do it through donation. Do it through volunteering. Do it through government.

Me...I'll do it because Big Ray wrote me a letter.


Dismembered Bodies: Murder in Japan

There are a lot of dismembered bodies catching headlines these days in Japan.

First, a woman hacked her husband into easily disposable chunks back in December. She got rid of the torso first, and the other parts of the body were scattered around different parts of western Tokyo. She reportedly brought the severed head (concealed in a rather expensive bag) on the train with her while on her way to disposing of it in a park.

Then, earlier this month the son of a duo of dentists killed his younger sister. After cutting her body up he left the pieces in four plastic bags in a closet and cupboard in his bedroom. He reportedly told his father that any foul smell emanating from his room was likely due to a pet shark that had died.

And just now a new murder has been reported. There isn't a whole lot of news coverage on this yet, but it seems that a dismembered body was found in Ibaraki prefecture.

I don't want to call these copycat crimes, but it does seem like these things happen in waves. Late last year there were several suicides related to bullying at school (or click the following link for an excellent editorial over at Trans-Pacific Radio).


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Save a Slacker

Donations are needed out in Chicago. Please give all that you can.




Monday, January 08, 2007

Japan, the US and anti-ballistic missile systems

Click here for an article on anti-ballistic missiles.



The poll I included in the post just below this one is crap, so I apologize, but it took a lot of work to make it look that crappy.

There are several free poll concocters out there, and they all promise different things. Some of them will cause your computer to crash, and others will do nearly what they say they're going to do. My guess is that you can only get real stability by plunking down between $10 and $20 per month. However, for those of us who blog just for the hell of it paying $10 per month is dumb.

Anyway, please try it and let me know if it works.



Next President of the United States!

Arnold Schwarzenneger, governor of the state of California, is busy trying to bump the California primaries up to February (or something like that). Iowa and New Hampshire always enjoy the spotlight during primary season, and California tends to play a bit part in the whole bonanza despite boasting the largest population in the union. He aims to put California's concerns on the map (the environment, social issues, etc.) during the early stages of election season.

Schwarzenegger is a fairly popular Republican governor in a Democratic state, yet his name is never thrown out there as a possible candidate for the presidency of the United States. The reason, of course, is obvious--he wasn't born in the US (nativist clause). Other noteworthy foreign-born politicians include Madeleine Albright (former Secretary of State), Jennifer Granholm (current governor of Michigan), and Kofi Annan (not technically a US politician, rather the former Secretary General of the United Nations).

Whether or not the law should be changed to allow foreign-born citizens to run for the presidency (or the vice-presidency) is up for debate. In spite of the restriction, however, I've been shuffling through the names of people who might make an impressive showing in their respective party's primary.

(scroll down for poll!)





Who do you think would have the best shot at winning the presidency of the United States?

Kofi Annan (Ghana)
Madeleine Albright (Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic))
Jennifer Granholm (Canada)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austria)
Other (please leave a comment)

Should we throw Bono (Ireland) in there as well? Please leave a comment here (not on the Sparklit site).


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Japanese Politics, Culture, and Business

Head on over to Trans-Pacific Radio for current commentary on what's going on in Japan.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Very Public Health Check

Prostate exam at Jingu Stadium before the game.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

What the...?

Aaaaahhh. There's a new Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop in Shinjuku (hence the line going over the pedestrian bridge).

Two hour wait for doughnuts anyone?


Happy New Year!

Mt. Fuji as seen from the balcony yesterday evening.