Strictures of Steel

For the first time in my life, I commute by train. Some of you, knowing that I have spent more than a decade living in Japan, are going to call bullshit on this statement, but it’s true. I do admit to riding the occasional train, of course, but at no point did I use Japan’s famously efficient rail network as a part of my commute. And let’s not even talk about the bus – that shit’s a non-starter. No, believe it or not, most days, my ass was in the driver’s seat. Continue Reading →

Fixing Stuff That Isn’t Broken: Hands-on with TK

Despite the old adage, “If it works, don’t fix it,” I have never been able to keep my hands off of things that aren’t broken. That’s bit me in the ass more times than I’d like to admit, something I was well aware of when I decided to “improve” our new Nissan Versa. I’m not sure if that decision makes me fearless or just stupid, but whichever it is I went in anyway. I guess it’s time to talk about what happened. Continue Reading →

In which your author buys a new car: A Nissan Versa Note

A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought a Nissan Versa Note. With our van still locked in a container somewhere on the high seas and my old Nissan Hardbody unable to transport our family of five, we were in a bit of a bind. We tried renting a van for a while but with the charges stacking up and with no end in sight, we figured we could just take the thousands of dollars we were likely to pay out anyhow and use them to buy something. How we ended up buying a car that a great many people think is an also-ran in the small car segment is the subject of this story. Perhaps there is a lesson in it somewhere. Continue Reading →

Running Hard: Cross Country in a 27 Year Old Nissan Truck

Perhaps because I have done it so often, I sometimes forget that the great American road trip is a dying tradition. Some of my earliest memories are tied into those long drives from our home in the cool, tree covered hills of Western Washington to visit my grandparents on the hot, sun baked plains of Eastern Kansas. The recollections play out in my mind like a disjointed movie – a memory of our overheated Oldsmobile station wagon on a mountain pass shooting out a geyser of steam as my father adds water collected from the melting snow, an image caught through the window of a canopy on the back of our Chevy truck where my brothers, sisters and I made another trip atop a pile of blankets, and still another, when my older three siblings had been deemed too old to be forced to make the trip, where my sister Connie and I luxuriated in the spacious backseat and the air-conditioned comfort of my dad’s Delta 88. Eventually I too aged out of that particular journey, but as an adult I still embrace the road trip and have spent more than my fair share of time using the interstate to traverse the vast distances between our nation’s shores. I’ve done it probably a dozen times now and it’s become an old trick. Perhaps that was why I felt so little trepidation over using a 27 year old Nissan to do it yet again. Continue Reading →

A Little Ditty About Dan and Roseanne

Tonight, after a 20 year hiatus, the 90’s sitcom staple Roseanne returns to network television. The critics, fresh from their advance viewing, have done their part and the internet is awash in reviews. As expected, opinions are mixed but the details being reported appear to be consistent. The father of the Conner family, Dan, it turns out is not dead and, in the years since we last met, life has churned relentlessly on. The middle and most problematic child in the original series, Darlene, appears to be once again at the center of the action and is back at her parents’ with her kids in tow in the wake of a divorce. Her older sister Becky, meanwhile, is a widow – the actor who had played her husband, Mark, in the original series has passed away – and the youngest of the Conner’s three children, DJ, has married a person of color. The situation appears to be set and the comedy will surely flow but the cherry on top of it all – and it’s the one fact that the papers are simply up in arms about – is that Roseanne is a Trump supporter. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Overcoming Our Animal Nature

“Everyone,” as Mike Tyson famously said, “has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s a good quote, but I think it vastly overestimates the majority of the human race. In my experience, most people don’t have a plan. In fact, punch in the mouth or not, most of us don’t even have a consistent direction. No, I’m afraid, the truth is that most of us are winging it all the time.

Planning is a uniquely human skill set and the ability reliably do so was so important to our ancestors that they devoted an immense amount of labor constructing sites like Stonehenge in order to predict the best days for planting or harvesting crops. Their efforts helped humanity to achieve dominance over nature and while it can be argued that animals like wolves can cooperate to spring cunning traps, that certain birds and chimpanzees can make and use primitive tools, and that beavers can work to shape the natural environment, no other animal can plan for the future with the thoroughness of mankind. Why then, do so few of us do it? Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Granny Get Your Gun

Photo courtesy of Japan Today

Over the last few months, there has been a rash of age-related car accidents in Japan.  Just yesterday, a 9 year old girl was killed and four other children injured when 70 year old driver rear ended another car and sent it spinning into a group of students walking home from school.  Last week, an 85 year old driver who had been warned by his family not to get behind the wheel, veered onto a sidewalk after striking another car and ran down two high school girls on bicycles before flipping his car onto its side.  In November, an elderly woman suddenly accelerated through a lowered parking lot gate and shot across the street where she killed two pedestrians.  A month before that, seven people, including a two year old boy, were injured when an elderly driver hit the wrong pedal while exiting a parking lot and barreled across crowded sidewalk near a major department store and, earlier in the year, a 76 year old killed one person and injured five more when she lost control of her car in a parking lot.

According to the Japanese police, drivers 65 and older were responsible for 965 fatal accidents in 2016.  That’s more than 25% of fatal car accidents nationwide and, because Japan is an aging society, there is a great deal of fear that the number will to grow in the coming years.  To help mitigate that growth, in early 2017 a cognitive assessment was added to the existing mandate that all drivers be retested at 70 years of age and, rather than face the possibility of being found unworthy, more than 106,000 people voluntarily surrendered their licenses in the months prior to the new rules going live.  While it’s certain that many older people were opposed to the new rules, there was little public outcry.

Of course, it will take time for the rules to take effect.  An entire generation of drivers were retested at 70 before the cognitive assessment was added to the regime and they continue to be out on the road.  But overall, the new rules are a genteel solution to a serious problem from a civilized society and it says a lot about the Japanese.  Of course, I do not believe for on minute that we could do anything like it in the United States without a good old knock-down drag-out fight.  We’re just not wired the same way. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: For Old Time’s Sake

Over the last couple of weeks, I have written two articles about my evolving relationship with technology.  In the first, I discussed the reasons for my reluctance to purchase a cellular telephone for my middle-school aged son while, in the second, I talked about why I am opting to use what many people have told me is a substandard workaround to play digital audio through the factory stereo in my new-to-me Nissan Hardbody.  Although both essays were intended to be short and simple, I found them difficult to write.  The second piece was especially so as, to get at the truth, I had to acknowledge the fact that I have a history of making poor choices and that I have, over the years, been incredibly wasteful.

But even though I struggled to write that second piece, I understand that many people my age are in the same boat.  To paraphrase one commenter, the entirety of Generation X came of age during a period when, thanks to the pace of technological advance, our music collections became obsolete again and again.  He’s not wrong.  Virtually every machine I included as proof of my poor decision making abilities was superseded by improved technology and, because I am not an early adopter, that happened only when the machines were so outdated that it became difficult to find new releases on the old media.  It turns out, then, I had hung onto things!  But that led me to another question: Which of my possessions is the oldest? Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Consumerism Gone Cold

This Christmas, my sister sent my kids $25 Amazon gift cards.  Given the absolute bounty my children received, I promptly set these cards aside and, I am ashamed to admit, forgot about them until late last week when I finally thought to mention them.  The results were entirely predictable.  My son, who has a surprising amount of money in his piggy bank, calculated the amount as a part of his overall tally and, after considering his options, decided that the satisfaction of having so much cash outweighed the pleasure of anything that he might actually purchase.  My middle child, meanwhile, demanded that I immediately log into Amazon so that she could spend every last cent as quickly as possible while my youngest, still unclear on the concept of money, was just happy to sit beside her sister and examine the various toys that popped up.  In the end, however, no money was spent as I decided to use the opportunity for what I like to call, “a teachable moment.”

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Guest Post: Confessions of a Modern Luddite

Now that my son is in middle school, it’s getting close to the point where he will need his own cellular phone.  Unlike his younger sisters, he has yet to ask for one but there have been some times when having his own phone would have been handy.  Thus far, when he has had to stay after school for extracurricular activities, he has been able to call us from the office or by borrowing a friend’s phone, but I don’t believe that is a good long-term solution.  Clearly, it’s time he had one but I just can’t force myself to go out and get it.

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