Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

September 2005 Archives

Inspired by Cory's talk at Accelerating Change, I've started Second Life. (Someone described it to me as a home for retired Warcraft players. ;-P) My name there is... Joi Ito. I'm still pretty confused, but if you have a character there, please give me a holler or tell me something interesting to do. Thanks!

Update: Philip just flickr'ed a photo he took when I visited him in Second Life.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

My experiences in changing cities five times and continents three times in the last 18 months have given me an insight into the shallowness of certain aspects of globalization from a consumer perspective.

(My experiences are used merely as example I know well, not because I think they are of world significance. )

I first had an American Express card in Hong Kong, then in the US and now in France. When I applied for the new Amex card in the US and in France, I was assured that my membership date would go back to when I first joined.

Each time I got the card, however, (my French card just arrived) they considered me a new member. A longer term of membership can confer benefits.

When I complained to the French Amex yesterday, the customer service person explained that American Express in Hong Kong is not the same as American Express in France. Funny, because that is not what their advertising seems to imply.

I had a similar experience with HSBC. Their Hong Kong service has been excellent (great website), so I checked out the bank in the US and then here in France. Each time I was informed that although they market the bank as HSBC in these different places, each bank is fairly independent country-by-country. They said this is partly due to banking legislation that varies in each jurisdiction.

What generalizations can be drawn? Products (McDonalds burgers, Coke, etc) globalize more quickly than services?

As you may have noticed, my blogging has been a bit light these days. This is partially due to the rigor in which I have taken on my research into the World of Warcraft (WoW). I'm still level 36 (out of a maximum of 60) so I am still a "newbie" but I thought I might share some of my observations.

First of all, it is no wonder over four million people play WoW. It is by far the most interesting game I have ever played. I started online multi-user games with the original MUD (Multi-User Dungeons) back in 1984 on the first server at Essex University. It was all text based and as far as I know, open source. After you became a Wizard, you could add to the world. In the original MUD, when you died, you were dead. I quit after my character died just a few levels before reaching Wizard.

Later, when graphical games came out, I sort of dismissed them, believing that a 3D world would never be as rich as text or as easily customizable and interesting. I did play my share of graphical games, but none of them had the same community feeling and the levels of social complexity that I had encountered on MUDs.

WoW has changed my opinion completely. With a customizable user-interface, WoW allows you to tweak and tune your interface to suit the race/class and type of play that you are interested in. Plugins allow you to automate and augment activities that you engage in most frequently. The interface for advanced users is as impossible to understand to other people as an airplane cockpit.

I started out poking around killing monsters and completing quests on my own. The early levels were a bit lonely, tolerable only because your level increases so quickly at lower levels. There is a lot to learn about how to play the game and use your controls (there are very customizable key-bindings). I think these early levels are really like a boot camp. Sort of like learning to type.

Later, I ran into "Way" in a ogre mound. Way was "farming" (killing) ogres because they "drop" (carry around and allow you to loot) silk. Way is a tailor (among other things) so she (actually a he) was picking up silk to make objects and to sell silk at the auction house. Way and I hunted together for awhile while chatting about philosophy and decided to start our own guild (we were in another guild together at the time) to focus on our own twisted sense of humor with our own friends.

I blogged about this and our guild was quickly populated by people we met online as well as people I know from blogging and IRC who had seen the post. At the moment, we have 36 people in the guild if you include people's alts (alternate characters). Being the guildmaster and feeling somewhat responsible for trying to build a foundation for new members, I decided to focus a bit on making some money. Way suggested the auction house as a good way to make money, so I downloaded the auctioneer plugin and got to work. Auctioneer scans the auction house and keeps a historical record of prices of things for sale. It is not immediately clear what each item is for, but the various online forums can tell you. The prices of objects fluctuate as quests are added that require items or rules change. It is also very dependent on supply which fluctuates as the volume of players in various areas change. Various professions allow players to gain experience and build exceedingly complex things.

For instance, I recently acquired the blueprint to make Aquadynamic Fish Attractors. These things increase your ability in fishing. (Some people don't seem to appreciate fishing, but it's a great way to pass time when you have low bandwidth and want to just relax.) To make one, you need 2 bars of bronze (which require a bar of tin and a bar of copper which require tin and copper ore which needs to be mined), nightcrawlers and corse blasting powder (which is made from corse stone, which is mined). You then use these fish attractors to increase your fishing ability so that you can catch, for instance, the Deviate Fish. These fish can be found in the lakes to the east of Ratchet in the Barrens. Add spice and cook these fish (if you have the proper cooking skill and recipe which is very hard to get) and you can create Savory Deviate Delights. So what? Well, if you eat a Savory Deviate Delight, you randomly turn into a ninja or a pirate.

So what? Well, it's cool. There are only a few people who are able to create these things so you rarely see ninjas or pirates running around. When I board the boat to sail to another continent or am in a group raiding a dungeon, I often transform into a ninja. To many people, I am the first ninja they have ever seen in the game. I then give everyone who wants one, their own fish. Soon we have a funny party of ninja and pirates. Why do I do this? Marketing. I sell Savory Deviate Delights at the auction house and I have a feeling this marketing increases demand. You can buy a stack of 20 of these for your next party in the Darkmines for a mere five gold or so. (The market price of the recipe is about 50 gold and about 0.1% of beasts in the Barrens carry it.)

One of the problems with WoW is that it is very difficult for characters at different levels to collaborate effectively in quests. If you have a high level character in your group, most of the ways to gain experience points are severely limited. Slashar (Don Park) yesterday, had a good idea and we all created new Horde (there are two "sides" Alliance and Horde) characters. The five of us all decided to choose orcs. We had heard rumors that developers at Blizzard play Horde characters themselves and that it was actually more fun to be Horde. We had a blast. You can type /dance and your character will start dancing. Each race has their own dance. Orc dancing was the coolest thing I had seen in a long time. Clearly the developers loved orcs. So now, in addition to our more formal Alliance Guild, "We Know" we have started a merry group of orcs which, so far is great fun because we are able to all play at the same level and collaborate more.

Anyway, I could ramble on and on, but I think I'll stop for now. I wonder if I should start another blog to talk about WoW in case people here aren't interested. Or better yet, maybe you should all start playing and we can talk there.

UPDATE: We're going to do an organized Orc run. We'll be setting up guild called "We Orc". Horde Guild on Khadgar. We'll run as a pack at 6PM Eastern Time on Saturday night every week or so. We'll hit a target level and people who miss that run should try to catch up by the next week. We're level 5 or so now. See you there!

Global Voices Live Chat on Handbook for Bloggers & Cyber-Dissidents going on right now. Join us at #globalvoices on Freenode. For more information see the post on the Global Voices blog.

Update: Just ending now. Will post link to transcripts when they've been posted.

Update: The transcript of the IRC chat has been uploaded.

I'm at the airport on my way to Hobart, Tasmania to give a talk at the AUC "Evolution of the Species" conference.

My apologies to anyone who cares for not posting very much lately. My travel has been getting continuously more crazy. However, I will be grounded for two week after this trip to renew my passport and hope to get thoughts and other things organized.

Thanks a million to Thomas for picking up the slack on this somewhat neglected blog. I will admit that my (cough) research involving multi-user games online has also been taking up a little time.

Anyway, see you one the other side.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

In reporting stories in Casablanca this week I have faced a unique problem due to Moroccan mobile phone habits.

More than any other country I have ever visited, Moroccans used caller ID.

It seems to be part of the phone answering process to closely look at the number of the person calling before deciding whether or not to answer. Often they will let it ring if they can't figure out whose number it is. In most places people look at caller ID and then answer.

From my point of view the result has been that my money-saving tactic of using a local pre-paid card does not work.

Three times now (I am a slow learner) people whom I was supposed to meet for an interview simply did not answer their phone until I called using my French mobile phone on costly roaming. It was a fairly good cross section of society: One was a politician, the other a university academic and the other a musician.

Nobody here has so far been able to explain why this habit exists here. I get a similar reaction when I ask about it here: People in Morocco just presume that everyone uses phones in the same way.

(I have previously reported on other national characteristics of mobile phone usage, including the reluctance of Spanish to use voicemail, the reluctance of English to speak on the phone in places where their conversation can be heard and the way in which the French turn off their phones during meals.)

Any other national habits to add to this collection?

Heres the skinny: Blizzard adds in a new instance, Zul'Gurub. Inside is the god of blood, Hakkar. Well, when you fight him he has a debuff called Corrputed Blood. It does like 250-350 damage to palyers and affects nearby players. The amazing thing is SOME PLAYERS have brought this disease (and it is a disease) back to the towns, outside of the instance. It starts spreading amongst the genral population including npcs, who can out generate the damage. Some servers have gotten so bad that you can't go into the major cities without getting the plague (and anyone less than like level 50 nearly immediately die). GM's even tried quarantining players in certain areas, but the players kept escaping the quarantine and infecting other players.
via Boris Via Wonderland

Then, I ask Jonas about this and:

It was a sight to behold. Some tell me, IF was finally usable and that the lag was gone for once, but Orgrimmar was fun nevertheless. Red blobs splashing everywhere, healing and renew/regrowth was being mass-spammed, and there were more bodies and skeletons around than I've ever seen, and I've raided IF before.

My biggest fun was screwing with those incompetent GMs. Some used their own chars to herd us, which made the plague transfer even faster, others messaged and threatened consequences if we did certain things. The idea was, to move all infected players into instances, where we could be by ourselves, so we hooked up into large raid groups, rezzed instead of corpse walked, and re-infected ourselves before hearthstoning back into Org. Bog Troopers, a huge horde guild in Org, raided Stormwind, which was almost empty, and killed the child king (no HK, there, you have to kill the Guardian) before walking into the Stockades, farming gold. The GMs congregated up on Honor's Stand, so we had a handful of players up there, stealthed, and infecting them. It was more fun than any other world event EVAR!.

Not much to add. Just hilarious.

US teens 'reject' key freedoms

A significant number of US high-school students regard their constitutional right to freedom of speech as excessive, according to a new survey.

Over a third of the 100,000 students questioned felt the First Amendment went "too far" in guaranteeing freedom of speech, press, worship and assembly.

Only half felt newspapers should be allowed to publish stories that did not have the government's approval.

It's a bit scary when "normal" shifts like this.

Here is an old Encyclopedia Britannica Films video clip from 1946 (I think) about despotism that they showed to children in schools. Amazing how things have changed. I wonder what kids would think now watching this clip.

Via Greg Elin

Posted by Thomas Crampton

North Korea, exaulted member of George W. Bush's axis of evil, just invited me to a festival, but I don't think I can make it.

I have, however, attended three previous Kim Jong Il birthday party.

Based on my experience, I can say that Pyongyang shows a declining level of party sense.

The first I attended was the snazzy party at the Hong Kong jockey club in 2002

The pretty fancy birthday party in 2003

And the distinctly downmarket event party in 2005 (terrible wine!)

For the record, I crashed the party each time. The North Korean government didn't seem to like publicity about their luxury birthday parties while people were starved back at home.

Below is the invite to the festival in North Korea which includes 100,000 people in a synchronized dance!!


The grand mass gymnastic and artistic performance "Arirang" which was premiered on August 16 is going on before full audience at the May Day Stadium with capacity of 150, 000 in Pyongyang. A stream of working people of all walks of life in the capital and other parts of the country as well as the tourists from the all over the world is coming to the stadium to appreciate the performance. The current "Arirang" which depicts the Korean history, fully reflects the eight beautiful sceneries with a flawless masterpiece for the combination of music, dances, gymnastics and acrobatics consistent with deep national emotions and high artistic skills, rhythmic background scenes, peculiar stage settings, electronic displays, laser lightings and other representation means and elements. About 100,000 people consist of world prize laureates, skilled artists, acrobats, youth, students and children are participating in the performance.

After appreciating the performance, people do not stint their praise, saying that it makes them feel national pride.

More than 800,000 of Korean people at home and abroad and foreigners have seen the performance since its premiere.

It will go on until 17th of October except Sundays. In addition to enjoy the performance you will be also able to visit the historical places arranged by the travel agencies in Korea.

The cost of the performance
Special seat 300 USD
First standard 150 USD
Second standard 100 USD
Third standard 50 USD

The cost of the accommodation and the lodgings for 1 day (inclusive of local transportation, guide fee, sightseeing fee)

1 person 150 Euro
2-5 people group 116 Euro
6-9 people group 68 Euro
over 10 people 55 Euro

The duration of stay (Optional)
2 nights and 3 days
3 nights and 4 days

If you are interested please don't hesitate to send us your personal data and visa will be issued within 3 days after your application. Please don't miss the rare chance.

The Consulate General of DPR Korea

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Been immersed in the world of fashionistas lately:

1- Writing about fashion: Hermès, belle of the ball, denies liaison

2- Attending a fashion party in Paris.

Well, attempting to attend a fashion party would be more accurate. I went with a friend who works for fashion magazine W to the launch of Lanvin's Arpege for men cologne. I am not much of a cologne type myself, but thought it would be fun to go along.

The event took place at the Ledoyen Pavillion on the Champs Elysees. Built in 1842 with a client list running from Emile Zola to Hillary Clinton it is one of the top restaurants in France, according to some.

When we arrived at the party, however, the Paris fashionista scene looked like a crowd of refugees fighting for the last piece of bread. About 150 or so people were pushing to get in the front door with one of the company's top executives standing on a chair or something to shout at people to back off and calm down. Insane.

We checked out the scene for a little while from a distance and finally determined that it was not worth our while to push in with the crowd to go to a party promoting a product.

The aggressive bouncers reminded me of when I was covering the Cannes Film Festival where film directors would be refused entry to the parties celebrating the launch of their own films.

Do humans need to feel rejection in order to think something is worthwhile?

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Picture from last year
I'll be speaking at Accelerating Change 2005 tomorrow and the day after.
Artificial intelligence ("AI"), broadly defined, improves the intelligence and autonomy of our technology. Intelligence amplification ("IA") empowers human beings and their social, political, and economic environments. As in previous years, a collection of today's most broad-minded, multidisciplinary, and practical change leaders will consider these twin trends from global, national, business, social, and personal foresight perspectives. Conference Brochure (PDF, 6 pages). One Sheet (PDF).
If you're going, I'll see you there. It looks like they're sold out, but I'll try to blog some stuff. On the other hand, I'm notoriously bad at blogging conferences...

UPDATE: I showed up a bit late, but caught the tail end of the first day and also did a rant. Great audience and great program. Cory Ondrejka of Linden Lab talked about the positive benefits of video games. It was an excellent talk. It will be online later so I won't go into it here, but it was the first time I didn't feel guilty playing World of Warcraft while listening to a talk. ;-)

Karel just sent me an article he wrote for the Asahi about the recent election. I've posted it on my wiki.

Karel van Wolferen via email
Dear Joi,

The widespread -- and I mean truly widespread -- misconception that Japan has been pushed by Koizumi in a market-capitalism direction should teach us something about the function of the world's media as agents of ignorance. Like with subjects such as Iraq or Russia those who ought to know do not have a clue of what is actually going on.

Herewith my article as it appears this morning in the Asahi Shimbun.

best wishes


Will the Next Elections Save Japanese Democracy - by Karel van Wolferen - September 12, 2005

I was in a cab in Tokyo last night having a interesting conversation about the recent elections and the future of Japan with a very educated and opinionated cab driver. The conversation turned to the pension system. He told me that he would be retiring soon and because of the of the way that he had done his pension, he would be retiring with a monthly payment less than enough money to pay for room and board. He told me that he was now designing his homeless shack. He figured he could afford an air-conditioner and some real panel, but that the price of the roofing material had gone up so he might have to use those blue plastic sheets. He was serious. He was also considering several different places to locate. He said that until he had found his current cab company employer, he had been homeless so this wasn't new to him.

It was a bit sobering for me. We then discussed how people of my generation should expect none of their pension coming back and we wondered what the average young person was going to do...

Weird, very Japanese and funny. Yahoo! goes hard gay.

UPDATE: I talked a friend of mine who has some elementary school kids. He said Hard Gay is all the rage and that all the kids walk around constantly doing the funny pelvic thrust that Hard Gay does.

Dan Gillmor's in town and having a bloggers meetup at the Apple Store in Ginza from 20:00-21:00 on the 26th of September. I'm going to be out of town, but if you're around, it should be a lot of fun.

More info here.

I'm attending the STS Forum in Kyoto again this year and it turns out that the election date for the Japanese parliament ended up on the same day as the first day of the event. Prime Minister Koizumi was still able to make it to the meeting which is the brainchild of Koji Omi. I'm a great fan of Koji Omi. He's one of the only politicians I know who studies and actually reads everything people send him to read. He's a former bureaucrat who became powerful for his intelligence and analysis among other things. Last night, we were having a nightcap in the hotel as the results of the election were coming in and Mr. Omi was understandably happy as each of the over 40 candidates that he had visited and endorsed came in winning.

Later, I received a distressed email from Karel van Wolferen, with whom I had just had dinner. Karel is very worried about the LDP and Koizumi's ability to reform Japan. He has given me permission to post some material he has written in the past (With Koizumi at the Theatre - September 5, 2005) and is going to be writing a piece for the Asahi about the election which I will post when he sends it to me. I am putting the material on the wiki. I urge you to read it and comment on the wiki. Karel is the most lucid critic of Japanese policy and politics that I know and his book, the Enigma of Japanese Power was the beginning of my increased understanding about Japan. I think he has an important role in helping people understand Japan moving forward and am glad he has come back to Japan (temporarily) to participate in the process. Thanks Karel.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

A friend is heading to Southeast Asia and asked advice on food.

I find that travellers are often obsessive about the wrong things. They are very aggressive about - for example - making sure that the water has actually boiled in their soup, but then order a salad as a starter.

Basically, I never eat anything that has been washed in tapwater (like lettuce) and avoid anything that has milk products (pies with cream or other milk products that can go bad in tropical heat) but you can eat almost anything that has been peeled (fruit) grilled (meat) boiled (soup, noodles, curries, etc). Always wash hands before eating and get in the habit of carrying purell in your pocket. Be wary of cutlery in the sense that you should rub it down with a napkin before using it.

One of the greatest pleasures for me in travel is sampling the local cuisine in street stalls and small restaurants, so I probably push the envelope, but rarely get ill. (Perhaps I have built up resistance)

Medicines I use for rare occasions when digestive issues arise? Peptobismol and - if needed - immodium. Some people take peptobismol before eating, but that such a waste because it ruins the taste.

Also, there is no need to buy water purification tablets. Never in more than a decade of travel through developing countries have I been out of reach of clean water. That said, make sure to keep yourself hydrated in tropical heat. Drink small amounts constantly rather than gulping once every few hours.

Most important: Don't obsess on it! Enjoy your holiday.

I'm in Chicago where I had a one night layover on my way from the East Coast to Osaka, Japan. Last night I hooked up with Jeff Pazen, a friend and former DJ in Chicago that I hadn't seen for over 10 years. (He makes MT websites now!) He took me to the Smart Bar, a bar/nightlcub that was one of key influences in my life. We hung around at the bar and talked about the old days and we both had what felt like a catharsis of memories. I remembered the first time I visited as a student and how I got to know the staff and how they took me into their family.

Around 1988, I was going to the University of Chicago studying physics. I was bored and generally unhappy. One day someone brought me to the Smart Bar. I had been pretty familiar with cool clubs since night-clubbing was a big part of my high school experience in Tokyo, but the Smart Bar was special. It was an eclectic mix of goths, rock and rollers, industrial music fans and a variety of other alternative musics types. The head DJ was Mark Stephens who listened to EVERYTHING and knew every cool track whether it was Madonna, the latest underground deep house unit, or some obscure German band. I practically lived in Mark's DJ booth where he'd chat about music with us.

What was particularly inspiring for me about the Smart Bar was the community. I had lived in Japan and had experience with family, but had never seen such a vibrant community. Smart Bar and other nearby clubs like Medusa's were very inclusive and lots of people who needed a place to go ended up joining these communities. AIDS was just getting into full swing and there were people with a variety of problems and needs. (AIDS eventually took Mark's life and Jeff and I got a little teary eyed talking about Mark... Mark was our mentor and a star...) What was surprising to me was how much the community took care of those in need while still maintaining a fun and edgy style. It was a contrast to the formal and forced interactions that I was having with most of my college professors and fellow students (Sorry folks!). The struggle and the issues faced in college also seemed petty compared to the things people in the Smart Bar community were dealing with. This contract became unbearable and I dropped out of college (again) and became a DJ. My late mother, realizing that I needed to "get something out of my system" was generally understanding and supportive.

Mark helped me land a regular gig at the Limelight and let me spin records at Smart Bar occasionally. To this day, that year or so as a "professional" DJ was probably the most fun I've ever had.

Several years later, with the support of co-owner and "father" of Smart Bar, Joe Shanahan, I invited several of the Smart Bar crew to help me run a nightclub in Japan. This was probably second on my list of the most fun periods of my life. (For a short period I was a "player" in the Tokyo nightclub scene which lead in part to my relationship with Timothy Leary. Tim kicked off my relationship with San Francisco. I'll write more about this some other time.) Jeff had been Mark's first pick of DJs to invite to Japan, but for various reasons Jeff hadn't been able to go and we talked about how things would have been different if he had.

Anyway, even though I'm not going to be in Chicago for even 24 hours this time, seeing AKMA briefly and hanging out with Jeff at Smart Bar reminded me that Chicago is still my favorite city. I need to figure out a way to get back here more.

Want to file for aid online? Better run Windows

FEMA site requires assistance seekers to use Internet Explorer 6

The good news: If you've survived Hurricane Katrina, the government will let you register for help online. The bad news: But only if the computer you're using is running Windows.

Yes, it turns out that to make a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individual Assistance Center, your Web browser must be Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 or higher and you must have JavaScript enabled. It even says so right on the page itself. One problem: IE6 isn't available for Macintosh or Linux computers.

This is bad on many levels. I am conflicted because I'm now involved in Firefox through the Mozilla Foundation, but I think this is just rude. I think it's bad when companies argue that Internet Explorer is good enough for everyone, but the government should be held to a higher standard. The government should not be reinforcing monopolies and building such critical services on platforms that are exclusive.

danah boyd has some thoughts on this issue.

Vint Cerf just left MCI to join Google. Congratulations Vint!

Interesting in the context of eBay buying Skype...

UPDATE: Google press release

I spoke to the son of the man who died in or neighborhood. He told us that the doctor mentioned that it was possible that the cancer was caused by heavy metals. The doctor, the head of a hospital nearby, told him that there were dangerous levels of heavy metals in all Japanese water and that this information was being stifled by the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health in Japan is notoriously corrupt and have probably been under investigation for one thing or another for the last 30 years. I totally and completely don't trust them.

I also once met a toxologist who said that toxologists were coming to Japan to study because Japan was immersed in lots of chemicals that were illegal in other nations and there was a lot they could study.

My neighbor checked his well water for heavy metals and found enough to be a long term health concern. However, he was told that city tap water was even worse.

I don't have much expertise in this area, but it sounds like a good reason to leave Japan long term. I can only image it getting worse. Does anyone know more about this?

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Wrote a story in today’s paper about the new section of Charles de Gaulle airport being built for the A380, the world’s largest airliner.

Turns out that the aircraft is so big that it requires a reconfiguration of terminal and in some ways it could be good. The second floor of the aircraft, for example, means that you can have two almost entirely separate sections. For people flying business and first class – not me! - they would walk into a separate part of the airplane that could have separate style of reception.

The airport created a first-ever virtual visit of the new section for us to put on our website.

I wonder what other innovations could come of having such a large number of passengers in the sky? Massive online gaming within the aircraft?

3 days ago, we got a call informing us that the grandfather of the household two houses away had passed away. We knew him fairly well. We live in a small Japanese village with very strong traditional rural rituals. One of them is the funeral.

Many of the adjacent homes have a special relationship called musubiai or kumiai, which means that they will do just about anything for their next door neighbor. In the case of a death in the family, it means 24/7 support through all of the necessary activities. For the rest of the village, it means nearly full support.

The home of the deceased is quickly turned into a base camp of sorts with two outdoor kitchens and dozens of people cooking almost around the clock for everyone. The next day, the wake was set up, villagers (including Mizuka and me) visited to pay respects and the close neighbors ran most of operations.

A side meeting was convened to pick people for the actual funeral support the next days. In the past, the grave digging and other support activities were all chosen from villagers, but for this funeral, the family had decided not to follow this tradition. It was likely that I would have been chosen for this "special duty" had it been traditional. Six men are chosen to dig the grave. They dress in white with a headband that has a little triangle on the front. (The same headband worn by many ghosts in Japanese anime.) There are various roles including a drum person, road cleaner, and others that make up a funeral procession.

This year, because we didn't have this part of the ceremony, the support crew consisting of Mizuka, myself and about 20 other people ended up cleaning the community center and hanging out in case they needed anything. At the end we helped some of the professionals who had been called in, gave or last respects and saw them off.

This was not my first village ritual, but I made a few observations.

The women worked much harder than the men. I was actually scolded and told not to help when I tried to help clean up the food with the women while the men sat around outside smoking. I don't think it was the case with everyone, but some men and women felt very strongly that there were women's jobs. (I also saw a women getting scolded for cleaning up the dishes of a man who appeared like he hadn't finished his food.)

The special relationship with the next door neighbor was probably extremely important in the past, but continues as an important formal relationship. We do not yet have such an understanding with any of our next door neighbors, but in due time it appears that we will probably be formally approached and that we will have to accept. We will have to literally drop everything to help when they are in need.

It was interesting how many functions of a community that I would take for granted in a good community are so highly formalized in rituals and how it isn't written or even precisely known by anyone exactly, but it all sort of functions. We have the shuraku, han, kumiai and various other organization sizes and everyone knows who is in each unit.

I can also see aspects of what causes the somewhat provincial localism of Japanese politics and business where local issues supersede everything else. It was like viewing a miniature version of Japanese national policy. Your next door neighbor before anything else and the village before the rest of the world.

I'm not sure how long I'm going to last here, but it is definitely a good learning experience...

I've been reading all of the news about Katrina and feeling more and more guilty about not being able to do anything to help and not blogging about it at all. I think Xeni and others who have been tirelessly blogging about and doing something about it are doing an amazing job.

Each morning, I've been just choking up reading the front page of the newspaper, not even being able to make it past the first page. I really don't know what to say... so I haven't said anything.

However, chatting with some people and reading some of the blogs, I am beginning to wonder if the government is really doing everything possible. I wonder about the allegations of treating the underprivileged victims as more "expendable". I realize this is quite a harsh allegation, but something that I wonder about none the less. How much airplay is this opinion getting in the US and what is the public sentiment about this?

UPDATE: ("not being able to do anything to help" other than giving to the Red Cross which I have done.)

UPDATE 2: Xeni reports that "An article on the Army Times web page is referring to American citizens in New Orleans as 'the insurgency'."

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Did a story on the closure of the last factory producing the famed pungent Gauloises brunes cigarettes.

In reporting, I noticed that many of the tobacco shops in Paris are called La Civette. I asked a French colleague and here is her theory.

Disgusting footnote: People smoked musk? Sounds even worse than brown tobacco!!!

A "civette" is a shop selling tobacco and especially cigars. The name comes from a famous, fashionable shop which was on the rue St Honoré in the XIX century. It is not clear why that shop was called La Civette. Either because (one of) the founders' name was Civet, or because in these days snuff tobacco was laced with civette, the secretion produced by the animal of the same name. (I don't know what civette, the animal, is called in English, but civette, the secretion, is musk).

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We've been chatting on #joiito on Freenode to try to help coordinate technical support and resources for Katrina relief work. Please sign up on/edit the wiki page and join the conversation on IRC if you can help in some way.

Decided to play a bit more World of Warcraft this weekend. Wandering around Darkshire, I met the first person so far with a sense of humor. (Also the first person over 30 who I don't know in real life.) His name is Illuminus and he's a 37 year old philosopher/bouncer who likes to play mages. Anyway, we decided to start our own guild. It's called "We Know". If you're on Khadgar and want to join us, sign up on the wiki and look for me on Khadgar. We're still in the process of getting people to sign the charter.

I'm sure that people who use Technorati have been frustrated lately by Cosmos search (or URL search) timing out occasionally. Dave has posted an update on the work being done. Thank you for your patience.

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