I’d Rather Fly Economy on a Japanese Airline Than Business on a U.S. Airline

 

Despite my affliction with Airplane Incidents Obsession Syndrome, I enjoy traveling by air. I’ve flown domestically and internationally, in business and in economy, and on U.S. and foreign airlines. What I’ve discovered through all that flying is that U.S. airlines are unbearably, unbelievably awful.

In fact, I’d rather fly 14 hours on economy class from New York to Tokyo on a Japanese airline than fly 15 minutes on business class from Boston to New York on a U.S. airline. They’re that bad.

The Dreadful “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2018) is Bad Enough to Kill the Franchise

 

“Star Wars Episode: The Last Jedi” (2018) is stunningly bad. It’s the worst outing in the Star Wars franchise, and the race to the bottom isn’t even close.

What exactly is so bad? Let’s start at the very beginning, with the opening crawl. We are told that the evil First Order has exposed the Resistance, and the rebels are amidst a desperate escape from their base. If this story sounds awfully familiar, that’s because you’ve seen it at the beginning of “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). And this isn’t the only deja vu moment you’ll have.

The previous installment, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” was criticized for a plot that resembled too much of the original “Star Wars” (1977), but at least “The Force Awakens” had a sense of parallelism. In “The Last Jedi,” there is only a stench of unoriginality. Not only does the film liberally borrow storylines from its predecessors, it also lifts many lines verbatim. No, the most famous line “I am your father” does not appear, but I suspect it’s only because the movie couldn’t find a way to force it in. I was appalled by this film’s relentless, shameless bastardization of the classic trilogy.

In 2017, A Lot of Contemplation About Time

 
This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Christmas Letter

This past year, I thought about “time” quite a bit.

In June and September, two of my college roommates got married, and their wedding ceremonies became an occasion for the four roommates to get together for the first time in years. As we bantered much in the same way as we had in college, I had the greatly satisfying revelation that these kinds of friendship transcend the passage of time.

That, though, was a unique moment, for I felt the passage of time even more acutely in 2017 than in years past. A couple of years ago, I asked a relative of mine who acts far too old for his age what I can do to slow down the passage of time. Rather than respond, he wisecracked that the reason time moved so fast for me was because I looked forward to too many things. If I complain to him that 2017 went even faster than usual, no doubt he`ll quip that I`m enjoying my everyday far too much.

With that, I can`t disagree. Professionally, I`ve become so acclimated to Amazon that it`s hard to believe it`s only been a year and a half since I joined the company. In terms of hobbies, I finally found a partner with whom I can regularly play Japanese chess, overhauled my blog for the first time in eight years and volunteered at a campaign after the Japanese prime minister called snap elections, and in between, I enjoyed a lot of time with family and friends.

But as fulfilling as the year has been, I often found myself thinking about a line from “Timecop,” the classic 1994 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. “There is never enough time,” Van Damme observes in the film, and it was hard for me to escape that feeling throughout the year.

Joe Michael Sasanuma Obituary

 

Joe Michael Sasanuma, who earlier today died at the eternal age of 18, never had a moment in which he didn’t enjoy life.

He lived by the words “What’s the point of living if you can’t feel alive?”, a line fittingly taken from the James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough”.  Of the many things Joe loved about life, watching and critiquing movies, with the James Bond series closest to his heart, was on his list of top ten.

Joe’s unique talent was having opinions and verbally expressing them, often with very little thought.  One-liner insults were his specialty.  Joe referred to actress Denise Richards, who co-starred in the aforementioned James Bond film, as “The bitch who ruined a perfectly fine James Bond film.”  Of Picasso, he said “I know shit when I see one.”  But Joe always kept the best lines for liberals, about whom he memorably declared “Everyone has the right to be wrong.”

To Tristan, My Newly-Married Friend: Thanks for the Friendship Defined by Differences

 (English Only) Tristan, As I attended the ceremony celebrating your matrimony with Becca, I thought about our friendship–about how it all began, how it deepened over the years and how it’s thrived on our many differences. I remember your joking once that I’m the first Republican you’d ever met, and

 

To My Newly-Married Friend, Tom: May You and Kris-Stella Together Contribute to the Betterment of the World

Congratulations, my friend, for finding in Kris-Stella someone who not only shares your values in making a lasting impact in this world, but someone who can also be right there with you in that ever-important journey.

I wish you and Kris-Stella a life full of happiness and achievement, not just for your sake, but for the sake of the rest of us.

 

The Three Rs I Live By–Respect, Responsibility and Restraint

I try to live by the three Rs: Always be Respectful, often be Responsible and sometimes show Restraint.

The first R, the respect, comes from my belief that everyone on earth has the ability to contribute something for the betterment of society.

I suppose it’s my faith in the fundamental goodness of human kind that underlies this belief, but the “always” part in particular doesn’t come easy.

 

Announcing Major Changes to the Blog

The site’s look and feel has gone through a complete remake.

Whereas the goal of the old site was simplicity, the new site seeks to combine more color, accessibility and readability.

The update is accompanied with various new features to encourage engagement, like easier sharing of posts on social media and ratings of posts.

Although it’s late in coming, a Related Posts feature has also been added. This feature should provide a fairly reliable recommendation of posts in light of my clean-up of tags and categories.

 

A Lenten Reflection–To be More like Christ

But having faith and living it are two very different things. If action speak louder than words, as the old cliché goes, then my proclamation of faith is drowned out by my everyday behavior.

Regarding this shortfall, I am very much self-aware. Of all the challenges in my life, the living of faith is probably the one I find most difficult.

There are so many reasons this is so.

For one, I aspire to live a full life, filled with numerous things that occupy my time like friends, work, hobbies and curiosities. I’m constantly stimulated and rarely find a moment of boredom, but I confess, faith is not what mostly occupies my mind, heart and soul. I feel in touch with faith whenever I have moments to reflect, but those moments are few and far between. In the day in and day out, in the every moment of every hour, my faith takes a back seat.

My personality also doesn’t help.

 

“Silence” (2016) is a Deeply Reflective Journey of Contemplation into Faith

“Silence” is filled with moments of contemplation about faith, in scenes big and small.

Take, for example, the scene in which the villagers ask Rodrigues and Garupe whether they may step on the plaque of Jesus if it means saving their lives. “Yes,” Rodrigues exclaims and implores the villagers to do it, yet Garupe has the opposite view and immediately rebukes him. The short scene brilliantly illustrates one of the most fundamental questions about faith: is it enough for the believer to believe in his heart, or must he be willing to do much more?

Or take the underground Christians. When Rodrigues finally meets Ferreira, he discovers that Ferriera has apostatized. Trying to persuade Rodrigues to apostizise as well, Ferreira explains that all of Rodrigues’ efforts are for naught because the Japanese, who idolize the Christian God in the form of a sun, will never come to understand Christianity. This may very well be true, but what of the sufferings the Christian villagers endured for their profession of belief in Jesus Christ? Are they not recognized as Christians because they have misunderstood Christianity?

 

To James, My Newly-Married Friend: Don’t Change

Dear James,

As I attended your wedding celebration last week, so many thoughts came rushing through my head.

I thought about our friendship and how it is a reminder that friendships take many forms. You and I attended high school together, yet it was our geographic proximity during graduate school and the discovery then that we shared a wide range of common interests that really deepened our friendship.

I thought about all the fun we had together doing the small things that added up to a lot, like going out to movies, eating full course meals, attending Boston College football games, agreeing on politics and debating law.

I thought about who you are as a person and values you hold most important, like loyalty, love and kindness. Those are the qualities I treasure most about our friendship and are the reason I consider you one of my closest confidants when I need to talk to someone about life.

I thought about how there is so much you’ve taught me about life. While I tend to live my life by the motto “Que cera, cera,” your methodical and thoughtful approach reminds me that there is something to be said for contemplating about the future, planning for it and succeeding through diligence and perseverance.

 

2016 Was the Year of Changes

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Christmas Letter

If I were to pick one phrase to describe the past year, it would be “The Year of Changes.”

On the professional front, I left Shearman & Sterling in May after seven and a half years at the firm in order to join Amazon in Japan. The jump from being an experienced lawyer at a mega law firm to a first-time in-house lawyer at an IT company has brought major changes to my life, the most obvious manifestation of which is an improved work-life balance. On the personal front, I lost a family member when my grandmother died at the age of 92 in October, but I will soon have two family members living much closer to me as my mother and sister decided to move back to Japan after all the years living in the U.S.

As I look back on the eventful past year, I’m reminded of the old saying, “All good things must come to an end.”

 

Why Donald Trump Won: Decade-Long Struggle of the Democratic Party with White Voters, and Other Unexplainable Factors

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series United States Presidential Election of 2016

I, like most others, thought that Hillary Clinton will defeat Donald J. Trump with a comfortable margin on election night.

I was clearly wrong, but before getting into the why, permit me to start with what I got right.

In the footnote to my pre-election perspective, I noted how the conventional wisdom focusing on the Democratic Party’s advantage in the changing demographics of America is an incomplete story because of the party’s loss of the white vote.

I thought a good way to start the discussion in this post was to revisit the four states I mentioned in that earlier post–West Virginia, Missouri, Montana and South Dakota, all of which have a predominantly white electorate yet are outside of the South–and see how Hillary Clinton ended up performing there.

 

Donald Trump’s Election Requires All of Us to Listen, and Have Faith in the U.S. System of Government

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series United States Presidential Election of 2016

Donald J. Trump is president-elect.

Much like me, you are probably stunned with this statement and are still unable to comprehend how this is so.

One thing is for certain, though. What you witnessed last night was fury in ways previously unseen.

Consider: only 37% of the voters believed that Donald Trump was qualified for the presidency and only 34 % believed that he had the temperament for the office. This is a stunning statistic. In effect, many voters said they knew Donald Trump wasn’t fit for the office of the most powerful man in the world–and they didn’t care.

This can only be called a “scorched earth” philosophy of voting: just throw a grenade into Washington, D.C. and see what happens, results be damned. People were that angry with the status quo.

 

“Independence Day: Resurgence” (2016) is a Whole Lot of Nothing

The premise of “Resurgence” is that the aliens from the original had sent a distress call to its home planet and it took only 20 years for the aliens to get their act together to counter-attack.

In those 20 years, humans have advanced quite a bit. There is no longer inter-country warfare, with humanity united in defending itself against extraterrestrial attack through a global defense program called Earth Space Defense (although somehow, United States president still seems to be in charge of the world). There is a space station on the moon that is the earth’s first line of defense, and people are able to travel from the moon to the earth on spaceships as easily as they travel between continents on planes.

With humanity so much more advanced, the invasion on the scale of the original just wouldn’t have gotten the job done for the aliens. And so it is that aliens in “Resurgence” are twice as unattractive, thrice as big and a hundred times more numerous than in the original.

 

The Amazingly Different Remarkableness of Japanese and Americans

The Japanese excel in order and discipline.

My favorite example to illustrate this is the shugaku ryokou, which is like a field trip for an entire grade over a couple nights at some exotic location like the historical city of Kyoto or Tokyo Disneyland. There, the students are divided up into small groups of four to five who are told to explore the locale without adult supervision and return to their lodging by a certain hour.

If you`re an American, there are so many things that are remarkable about the shugaku ryokou. For starters, it’s hard to imagine four American high school teenagers collectively having enough maturity to study the travel guide and coming up with a two-day plan to explore the city.

But what is really mind-blowing is that the shugaku ryoko occurs every year in middle and high schools across Japan without a single incident that makes newspaper headlines. This means that unsupervised teenagers roaming the streets for an entire day manage to avoid having a brush with the police and return in time for dinner.

This is unthinkable in the United States, where the thinking would go “of course teenagers are going to be reckless and irresponsible and expecting them to act any other way would defy common sense.” Any American school that lets something like a shugaku ryoko happen will be rightfully sued for negligence.

 

“Finding Dory” (2016), While Falling Short of the Original, Still Delivers

“Finding Dory” does one thing really right, and it’s taking the most memorable character from “Finding Nemo,” the lovable regal blue tang Dory, and giving her the top billing. Ellen DeGeneres, who stole the spotlight in the original, returns as the voice of Dory and brings the same charm and humor. It’s a testament to DeGeneres’ performance that Dory’s quirkiness doesn’t wear thin even as Dory moves into the central role.

 

“Money Monster” (2016) is Amateur Hour

“Money Monster” (2016) is in trouble from the very beginning. It opens with George Clooney sitting on a bathroom stall while Julia Roberts talks to him from the other side of the door. When, only a short time later, Clooney abandons whatever dignity he had left by dancing with cheerleaders while dressing in a magician costume, it becomes pretty clear that the film is never going to achieve even respectability despite all the big names associated with the project.

 

“Everest” (2015) is Quite Thrilling

The film is strong throughout, in writing, acting, directing and cinematography. I do, though, have a complaint about the 3D, which I’ve always felt is an ineffective way of viewing film. 3D may be good at providing a dimension that pops out of the screen, but it’s terrible at providing depth. That’s why 3D is at its worst in close-ups that are meant to illustrate how far something is or in scenes that show something is approaching from afar.

 

No, I’m Not Voting for Trump, but I Get the Message

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series United States Presidential Election of 2016

But if you are dismissing the entire Donald Trump phenomenon as merely a movement by racist, xenophobic, sexist white Americans, you are part of what has created the problem.

If you take issues with this, consider: how would you describe a person who goes to church every week, is not troubled by prayer in public schools, owns a gun, believes abortion should not be readily available and gives credence to intelligent design?

 
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