The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Visiting the remote bits of the world

I've just added two places to my shortlist of vacation spots once travel becomes a little easier.

On Tuesday, I saw Japan's entry for this year's Academy Award for best foreign film, Drive My Car (ドライブ・マイ・カー). Most of it takes place in Hiroshima, Japan. Clearly director Ryusuke Hamaguchi loves the city. For obvious reasons most of the central parts of Hiroshima only date back 70 years, but the hills and islands surrounding the postwar downtown look like the Pacific Northwest.

And this morning, the New York Times Canada Letter reported from Newfoundland. I've wanted to see the Maritime Provinces for years. Maybe Cassie and I can spend a couple of weeks some summer driving from Maine to Nova Scotia to PEI and then take a ferry to "The Rock?" (There's a ferry from North Sydney, N.S., to Channel-Port aux Basques, Nfld.)

For what it's worth, I think I'd fly to Western Japan...

Ambassador Emanuel

The US Senate has confirmed former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who lives just a couple of blocks for me (for now), as the new US Ambassador to Japan:

The Senate voted 48-to-21 to confirm Emanuel, with the longtime political operator receiving support — as well as opposition — from Democrats and Republicans alike.

The vote came in the middle of the night after Democrats struck a deal with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who agreed to lift a hold he had placed on 32 of President Joe Biden’s nominees in exchange for allowing a vote next month on legislation related to a Russian gas pipeline on which Cruz has wanted to place sanctions. Given the late hour that the Senate concluded its business for the year, just 69 senators were present to confirm Emanuel.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon voted against Emanuel while progressive independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not vote. Eight Republicans voted in favor of Emanuel: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, John Thune of South Dakota and Todd Young of Indiana.

Enjoy Tokyo, Mr Ambassador. Hit me up for some tips about sushi spots.

Two weeks left in 2020

We're in the home stretch. We have 14 days until 2021 starts, and 32 days until the Biden Administration takes office. As Andrew Sullivan said in his column today, 2021 is going to be epic. Meanwhile:

And watch this blog for information about the Apollo Chorus of Chicago's final performance of 2020.

Sure Happy It's Thursday

So many things to read at lunchtime today:

Finally, a year ago today I made some predictions about what could happen in the 2020 election. Turns out, "Option C" is true, and we're still waiting to see on a few others.

How long is this going to take?

I'm sitting at my desk waiting for my work laptop to finish updating, a process now in its 24th minute, with "Working on updates 25%" on the screen for the past 5. Very frustrating; I have things to do today; and if I'd known how long it would take (I'm looking at you, help desk), I would have started the update when I left this evening.

So, all right, I'll read a few things:

My laptop has rebooted three times now and appears to have gotten up to 83% complete. I may in fact get something done today.

Japanese train station psychology

CityLab's Allan Richarz reports on the techniques Japan uses to get 13 billion passengers through its rail system each year:

Ridership of that volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology. Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given to public transportation in the country.

Standing at either end of a platform in Tokyo’s labyrinthine Shinjuku Station, one might detect a small square LED panel emitting a pleasant, deep-blue glow. Nestled among vending machines and safety posters, the panel might be dismissed as a bug zapper. But these simple blue panels are designed to save lives.

Operating on the theory that exposure to blue light has a calming effect on one’s mood, rail stations in Japan began installing these LED panels as a suicide-prevention measure in 2009. They are strategically located at the ends of each platform—typically the most-isolated and least-trafficked area, and accordingly, the point from which most platform jumps occur. Some stations, such as Shin-Koiwa Station in Tokyo, bolster their LED regime with colored roof panels, allowing blue-tinted sunlight to filter down on to platforms.

It is an approach that has proven to be surprisingly effective. According to a study by researchers at the University of Tokyo published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, data analyzed over a 10-year period shows an 84 percent decline in the number of suicide attempts at stations where blue lights are installed. A subsequent study revealed no corresponding increase in suicide attempts at neighboring stations lacking such lights.

Japan also uses short ditties to let you know your train is leaving (cf. the horrible klaxon they use at O'Hare's Blue Line stop), point-and-call safety checks, and 17 Hz infrasound at busy platforms to shoo away teenagers.

So why haven't we adopted these things here? Maybe if half of Americans commuted by train instead of by car, things might improve. Notably, the UK and other European rail-friendly countries have adopted some of these techniques.

If anyone wants to get me a nice birthday present...

...this will do splendidly:

A new long-distance train, the East Japan Railway Company’s Shiki-Shima, launched this week, and it’s already earning praise as perhaps the most luxurious train in the world. Its 10 cars hold 17 spacious suites, some kitted out with cypress bathtubs and lofts. And that’s not the only thing that makes it feel like a five-star hotel: This train also sports a piano bar, two glass-walled observatory cars, and even a Michelin-accredited restaurant.

It holds up to 34 passengers, who are squired around eastern Japan for two to four days, paying anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 for a round-trip ticket.

CGTN has a video review:

So long, and thanks for all the fish

The Economist reports this week that the Tsujiki fish market will close at the end of November:

Squeezed between the Sumida river and the Ginza shopping district, Tsukiji is creaking at the seams. Some 60,000 people work under its leaky roof, and hundreds of forklifts, carrying everything from sea urchins to whale meat, careen across bumpy floors. The site’s owner, the city government, wants it moved.

The final blow was Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics. A new traffic artery will cut through Tsukiji, transporting visitors to the games’ venues. Part of the site will become a temporary press centre, says Yutaka Maeyasui, the executive in charge of shifting the market. Our time is up, he says, glancing around his decrepit office. The site has become too small, old and crowded. An earthquake could bring the roof down.

I'm planning to re-visit Tokyo in October, so I might just get in under the wire. When I visited in November 2011, I didn't get up early enough to watch the fish auction (which starts around 4am); this autumn, I may force myself to see one of the last ever.