Book Review – Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat In Japan by Jake Adelstein

This is a fascinating insight into journalism in Japan. The author spent long years working from the bottom of the industry to gain respect and contacts. The narrative is very tight and really compelling giving the reader a look into a secretive boys club that rarely if ever gets exposure.

If you are a budding journalist then this would be a good book to read to expose you to industry practices in different countries. It clearly demonstrates the different standards that were expected from reporters in Japan before internet coverage became the norm. The fact that the author managed to become embroiled in a story with the Yakuza only makes it easier to read.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who takes a passing interest in non-fiction books because it is fast paced and fascinating. There are few if any books about this area of Japanese culture and this book is extremely well written and I flew through it.

Has anyone else read this? I am heading back into fiction again for my next book and will get another review posted when I find the time amidst life happening around me!

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Scones + Muffins = Scuffins?

So originally I was going to review a book I am reading but the day got away from me and I did not manage to finish it. Instead I thought I would make some scones. I am pretty happy with how they turned out because I tried putting them in a muffin tin to make sure they ended up in a nice interesting shape. I can confirm they do indeed taste pretty damn good. Here is the recipe for anyone interested.

125g butter unsalted

2 cups of self raising flour

half cup of sugar

1 teaspoon of baking powder

pinch of salt

raisins to preference. I use a large handful, you can add more or less depending on how fruity you like it.

1 large egg

40ml milk

3 tablespoons of cold water

Mix the butter with the flour, sugar, raisins and baking powder until it is in crumbs. Mix the egg and milk, pour in and mix until it starts to form together, add the cold water and mix. Finish with your hands until it is a large ball in the centre of the bowl. At this time I just use my hands to create 6 equal balls and pop them into the cupcake tin.

Make sure your oven is nice and hot at 185C and put the scones in for 15 minutes. Remove them, put them on a rack and then enjoy with jam and a nice cup of tea. Not bad even if I do say so myself.

It’s alive

Well my whole family has been struck with the flu, which is not a particularly big deal but when you have 2 small children becomes a horrendous chase of runny noses and annoyed children. Thankfully we seem to be over it and I can get back to my periodic blogging. I am into double figures in terms of sales now which obviously is not impressive but makes me pretty happy!

While the subject of illness came up I had to delay my sons vaccine because he was ill and it really made me wonder about why people decide not to vaccinate their kids. I have read about the arguments of course and the risk that there are but it strikes me as odd that people can be so irresponsible to others in society. If you plan to home school your children then fine, no one can argue with your stance, flawed though it may be. But how can you endanger other children based upon your own beliefs. There has been a constant struggle to eliminate many illnesses through vaccinations and it has proven to be incredible successful. As a parent I am really quite baffled that people would not only risk infection for their child but also the health of other children that they interact with.

I have to say it is not something that occupies a lot of my time but when you have a trip to the doctor with an upset child it is really quite depressing. My kids are still very young and don’t understand why they feel bad so it leaves you pretty powerless to try and explain to them what is going on. Also my eldest seems to have developed a real fear of the doctor now, he is fine up until the point we go into the room when the waterworks start. Smart little boy though I guess he remembers that is where they injected him last time. He is probably making his own political protest about vaccinations. Based largely on not enjoying the needle though I guess. It is nice to have them sleeping through the night again though, there is nothing more sad than a little baby waking up really upset and scratching at his nose because he is blocked up. Also gives me a chance to catch up on my reading, which is going to be the subject of tomorrows blog. What are you reading at the moment? Let me know.

Feeding your celebrity obsession

There had never been a time when so little information has been provided to so many for so little purpose. The amount of the internet that has been cordoned off by the celebrity gossip section must be second only to porn at this stage. I am a hypocrite, obsessed as I am with sports which comes a close third. But sports to me seems like a more tangible idea that is worthy of obsession. Most people grow up playing at least some sports, whether they enjoy them or not is a different story. But how many people have any real brush with celebrity?

This is what I find baffling and I am not going to single out any of the most obvious targets because they have been well and truly covered. But how do people manage to sustain a very successful career based on nothing but bluster? I guess it is the perpetual motion machine that the more they are on the more they are fueled to go forwards. Also there must be some people who view them as aspirational figures whose career path they could follow.

The thing that I find sad about it is how much media attention it garners. To the point that it drowns out a whole array of endlessly interesting achievement and discovery. There are still many politicians working who genuinely care about the future of their country and the people inhabiting it. But what are the chances of them being able to promote a positive news story. They managed to create and implement a policy that could have a positive effect, they debated and discussed with opposition both inside and outside their parties and came to a consensus. The chances of something like this receiving widespread media coverage are somewhere below 1%. However catch them in a bed they are not supposed to be in and wall to wall, constantly updated, live from the scene action ensues. We can only blame ourselves though, whenever you look at the most read, most watch or most listened you can clearly see where the reality of our conscious lies. We want to blame our politicians for being obsessed with appearance but put yourself in their position. Any decision they make will be used a bat to beat them with in the future. We force them into being automatons without strong opinions because that is the politically prudent course to take. Did you meet with a fellow politician and have an interesting and engaging discussion? Did they clearly and concisely describe their point of view? During this debate did they change your opinion? Well in that case you are a flip flopper, why can you not hold a consistent point of view, how can the public trust you when you do not follow-up on your beliefs.

The double edged sword of celebrity is that we treat everyone as if they are equals, from scientists, politicians to trust fund dilitantes. They all receive equal airtime and varying scales of respect. But in news interviews now you find someone who clearly is constrained by what they can say as a politically prudent measure to safeguard their future versus someone who needs to be as controversial as possible to maintain their income. It is not a fair fight and this is the problem with our celebrity obsession. At the bottom end of the barrel are the people without any discernible talent who are willing to do anything, share anything just to maintain their fame. They are incapable of being embarrassed because everything that happens is a chance to share a story. Something most would find deeply personal and private becomes the ultimate opportunity for a personal story to cash in on. While we are watching most of these people start melding into one and we judge them in a similar manner, so the person who unabashedly shares all manner of information becomes the truth teller. While those with a more reasoned and measured response become seen as shady and cunning. It is not a great way to judge the people we want to run our countries because at the end of the day we will be left with only the terribly narcissistic and desperate fame hungry morons.

Science is just an opinion

So the title of this is deliberately meant to annoy you. I don’t believe it but I amĀ  shocked by the number of people who seem to hold this believe as a truth. Just because someone cannot understand the underlying principles behind a scientific theory means they dismiss it as false or just an opinion. Take climate change for example, this has become a political issue seen as an opinion based on which side of the political divide you fall on. If you take a few moments to really examine the science and more importantly the long list of scientific alumni gathered on one side of the debate you wonder how people can fall into the trap of making the issue political. Of course there are vested interests who want to ensure that they maintain peak profitability by denying any human link but they are a small minority. They spend enough to make them a majority opinion though and there we have the real problem with modern science. If you are rich enough then you can change reality. This is what is happening with scientific review at the moment though, there are sources who are clearly in the pay of whichever corporation drives a dump truck full of money to their door. That is terrible news for the layman and society in general.

Scientific fact should not become a political opinion and it is incredibly dangerous to obfuscate the truth so badly. It also makes it more and more difficult to clearly explain and demonstrate any new breakthrough to people with only a passing interest. Climate change is only the tip of the iceberg, if you will pardon the pun. This is something that garners headlines all around the world and something similar is fracking. This is quite clearly a dangerous method of extraction and causes untold damage, but holding that opinion makes me a liberal scaremonger. Similarly with genetically modified crops, do we really know the dangers of introducing a new type of crop into an eco system. Is it safe to have a crop that is engineered to only yield a crop once? Is there any guarantee that it cannot cross pollinate with any flora or fauna?

I love science, it is what has driven humanity forward throughout time from the very first person to discover that cracking flint causes a spark right up to the incredible images being sent back from the Hubble telescope or the Mars Rover. It still blows my mind that the Voyager has now passed beyond the edge of our solar system. Something created by our strange and angry species has sent us pictures back from the very edge of our domain. There is a robot on Mars sending us a vast array of fascinating data about the formation and history of that planet. We are an amazing species and science is one of the greatest areas of achievement for us. It really is what separates us from the animals, our ability to design and manufacture great buildings, terrible weapons, amazing space projects and revolutionary medicines. These people who have expanded our mind and furthered our knowledge of our universe deserve more respect than to be lumped in with a paid shill churning out whatever their paymaster wants to hear.

The 99%

If proof were ever needed that trickle down economics does not work it is the reports coming out that soon the richest 1% will have more than the 99%. It is sad that we are still using a man from the 18th Century as any kind of economic authority. For trickle down economics to work there needs to be a trickle. What we have instead is the priviledged few hoarding their wealth as if it were food in a post apocalyptic society. One of the worst proponents of modern day economics was Milton Friedman, a man whose theories on laissez faire economics was thoroughly embraced by the right wing in America and championed as a visionary deserving acclaim. The main problem with this is that we have to go even further back to find he origins in 17th Century France. A time when a completely agrarian economy was controlled by a monarch and and the aristocracy who knelt in his presence. It is one of the most libertarian views available and seems to be the way in which a lot of modern capitalist societies have chosen to govern. As has become increasingly evident though it does nothing to aid equality. When you let the market govern itself you let those in power and authority dictate where the world will head. Self interest wins of course and they choose to maintain the status quo. Or in most cases push policy to benefits them as much as possible.

What then is the answer to this? There is no simple one and none which are likely to happen. Why would the uber wealthy decide to have a sudden sense of altruism? They wont. As a Brit it is sad to see that we are following the Americans blindly down this path towards the widest income gaps. What is wrong with a little bit of socialism? Social justice? I am not a bleeding heart liberal and firmly believe that people should be working and paying their own way. But is it so wrong that people who work a full week in 1 job should be able to support themselves? The minimum wage should also be a living wage. That should not be a controversial statement. If you work 40 hours in a week, your pay at the end of that should be enough to cover all of your bills comfortably. Instead people have more than 1 job, work countless hours and still struggle to keep their head above water. This is the legacy that we are leaving for societies of the future, huge inequalities and a growing sense of hopelessness. You study, work and what are you hoping for. There are of course the lucky few who will break out and become successful, but for the majority that is not going to be the case. If you are wondering whether that is true then look at the statistics. Chances are you are in the 99%.

Which is not to say we should give up hope. Life is really not so bad for most of us. If you live in a functioning democracy you have access to a variety of services that work the way that they are supposed to. Mostly. The birds are singing and the whisky is flowing, life could be fairer though. Utopia is not attainable but a living wage shouldn’t be beyond reach should it?

The dad gaming dilemna

Well I am now a dad of 2 young boys and my free time to play games has completely disappeared. Not that I really begrudge it because the problem I find now is that when I actually do get a spare minute to try and give it a go my suspension of belief is seriously wanting. I will admit to beasting GTA V for quite a while and enjoying every murderous minute of it. This is the exception that proves the rule though really because very few people are producing the quality content that Rockstar are. I guess it is a part of getting older but at 34 I dont feel quite ready to give up the ghost with gaming. As my kids get older I guess I will get into the sports games with them but in the mean time I have let almost everything since GTA pass me by. Was Watch Dogs great? Destiny? There have been a conveyor belt of games that previously I would have been ripping open on release date with 2 litres of pepsi and a family sized bag of cheetos. Now though I have not even read a review bar the occasional trailer on youtube.

I guess it is not really a problem, and if you are looking for tiring entertainment then I would definitely recommend having kids. Mentally and physically exhausted are a polite terms to describe the state I am in! I used to find it difficult to get to sleep but now I find myself gradually slipping down the sofa before 9pm. I have also changed my habits to actually playing mobile games, which is something that just confused me previously. I still would not dream of paying for any mobile content, case in point being the game I am currently playing. Star wars commander has kept my attention in so much as it required almost no attention at all, but I dont understand why people would sink money into a game that offers the actual game content for free. You are paying to level up, as others do in any of these farming/builder games. My attention is waning though and were it not for the Star Wars brand I would be long gone. The sad truth with mobile games is that I play more solitaire than anything else, that and tangrams.

I do miss that feeling of total immersion though and perhaps that came from being younger, more single and more totally obsessed with the games. I started on the Master System with my brother when we were just little kids and graduates to a SNES not too long after. We actually wore out the pads from overuse in our quest to master Mario Kart. I think my favourite gaming memory though is probably Mass Effect, as a paid up Sci-Fi fanboy I have to say that this was the game I had been waiting my whole life for. I love the first two of these games and am delighted someone took the time and effort to provide such a beautifully crafted story and immersive experience. The ending was a total let down obviously, but it does not detract from an amazing memory of leading my team on a mission through space to save humanity. It is games like this that make it harder to play games anymore though. They are so good the collection of average, poorly designed and scripted games stand out in comparison. I will leave you with the best single game, Red Dead Redemption. Wow.

Thanks for reading if you made it through to the end and leave a comment if you feel the desire grow. I have actually managed to sell a few books on Amazon for anyone who tuned into the first blog I wrote. I logged in and was as surprised as anyone to see that someone had paid real money for something I created. Thank you, whoever you are. Please know it means a great deal and if you by chance end up here then let me know who you are.

Website for the author SDZ Whitaker

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