Haruki Murakami: After the Quake

after the quakeafter the quake by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first Murakami book. Aside from spelling difficulties that meant it took me forever to find it at the library, I really enjoyed it (and it reminded me some of John Cheever’s short stories, though less dark, for no reason I can really explain).

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When it’s hip to be responsible

The Tanzanian Federation for Home Economics teaches women to grow and harvest sweet potatoes to make chips like these.

I spent a weekend in Bonn, Germany covering a United Nations conference on sustainability as part of a team of student journalists. The conference was eye-opening for me, as I’ve never been involved in a UN proceeding before; overall, it seemed somewhat disorganized and too policy-oriented for my taste, but I think that’s just United Nations operation (at least policy orientation; I’m not sure about the disorganization).

I made a few friends involved with youth organizations in Germany and other parts of Europe. I spent lunch one day talking with some young people who work with Micah Challenge and YMCA Germany (rather different from YMCA in the USA) about the pros and cons of “environmentalism” as a trendy movement.

On one hand, this falls into a category one friend defined as a “first-world problem,” which is basically code for “a ridiculous argument you wouldn’t have if you didn’t already have your basic needs met well.” And even to the extent it is a “problem,” it’s a good one to have; at least the people who buy into the trend are making consuming efforts to do things like recycle and buy environmentally-friendly vacuum cleaners and even, sometimes, buy Tumbleweed Houses.

However, I wonder what this trendiness does to the environmental cause as a whole. I’m sure there are more people like me who are reluctant to define themselves by anything (I, like many of my college cohort, am almost allergic to defining myself by a church denomination. And you have to nearly drag the descriptor “Christian” out of me sometimes). I have no real desire to be one of “THOSE people” who don’t shower, flush their toilets with dirty dishwater and (true story) skin road kill squirrels on their back porches and eat them because they don’t like waste. I ride my bicycle when I can because it saves money, I recycle because various roommates have made me feel guilty for not (which I now appreciate) and I use reusable grocery bags (sometimes) because I can’t stand plastic bags spilling out of my closet when I open the door. But beyond this utilitarianism, I can’t think of a time when I did something to conserve energy, water, waste or food — certainly not anything that made me uncomfortable.

One part — and a large part — of this reluctance is just that I’m lazy and like comfort whenever possible. But part, too, is my label allergy. If conserving natural resources were just a thing everyone did — in Germany, apparently one is fined for not recycling, which makes sense to me, though I don’t really want to argue politics — I wonder how the dynamics of conservation in the US would change?

What do you think? Is this a semantic hang-up that doesn’t make much difference or does the trendiness of environmentalism make a difference, good or bad?

Wild Horses

Signs all over the island warn "don't feed the horses and don't touch! They are wild and bite!" I didn't.

These wild horses wander Assateague and Chincoteague islands off the coast of Virginia and Maryland.


“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “Whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “Which is to be master—that’s all.”


– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

“John the Revelator”

I read a new book called “John the Revelator” on the airplane today and really liked this quote. It’s a son’s reflection on his mother’s coming death, and his reaction to the hospice folks who are taking care of her by keeping her safe, warm and comfortable (and cooped up inside):

“They were only doing what they thought was best, stretching out her days the way a miser would count his money. But those days were too precious not to spend. I didn’t want her whole life to become diminished by those last days of sickness. The way I saw it, her death couldn’t come soon enough, all the better to preserve her memories of everything that happened in her life, even the dreams of what never came to pass.”

One Day Like This

Because I’m on a realistic love song kick right now, Elbow’s “One Day Like This”:

Drinking in the morning sun
Blinking in the morning sun
Shaking off the heavy one
Heavy like a loaded gun

What made me behave that way?
Using words I never say
I can only think it must be love
Oh, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day

Someone tell me how I feel
It’s silly wrong but vivid right
Oh, kiss me like the final meal
Yeah, kiss me like we die tonight

Cause holy cow, I love your eyes
And only now I see the light
Yeah, lying with me half-awake
Oh, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day

When my face is chamois-creased
If you think I winked, I did
Laugh politely at repeats
Yeah, kiss me when my lips are thin

Cause holy cow, I love your eyes
And only now I see you like
Yeah, lying with me half-awake
Stumbling over what to say
Well, anyway, it’s looking like a beautiful day

So throw those curtains wide!
One day like this a year’d see me right!