All posts by Big Ben

Merry Run

On Christmas Eve, a bunch of my biker buddies and I rode around the streets of Tokyo dressed as Santas, reindeer, snowmen and such, distributing smiles, candy and Christmas spirit. This is a couple of the ladies who ride with us posing on my hog.

Those interested in seeing more pictures should check out my Merry Run page.
(I wrote all the captions in Japanese since the page is mostly for my Japanese friends.)

I love Christmas in Japan. Everybody uses it as an excuse to be happy and have a good time, and it’s completely untainted by the actual Christian nonsense that gets forced down your throat in the States. I can wave and smile and yell “Merry Christmas!” to people I don’t know on the street, and they smile and say “Merry Christmas”(actually meri- kurisumasu, the closest you can get phonetically in Japanese) back, and there’s no religious baggage attached–everyone knows it’s just an excuse for a winter festival anyway.

After reading about all the ridiculous claims by Christians in the States about being oppressed by “Happy Holidays” I am truly thankful that I am able to celebrate Christmas in a secular society. Christmas should be fun–a celebration of giving and joy for people of all creeds and people of no creed, with pretty lights to brighten a dark winter night–and that’s what it is here in Japan.

So a belated メリー・クリスマス to everyone, and best wishes for a happy new year.


It’s amazing how little time is left for blogging when raising a 2-year-old.

This post is mostly just here so that my slightly hyberbolic response to the November elections isn’t the last entry. I’ve got all sorts of things I want to express, but I get most of that out of my system by posting on our BBS on the main Gaijin Bikers in Japan page. I figure the world can get by somehow even if I don’t regularly publish my thoughts here.

It even looks like the biker gaijin blogging niche is being adequately filled by a guy whose handle is the same as this blog’s title, my sole commenter, Gaijin Biker. I will therefore feel no need to post here unless the spirit moves me and I somehow actually have time to write something. Instead, I will continue my meaningless crusade of pedantic anti-pedantry comments at other people’s blogs.

Now we can talk about it.

If I thought anyone read my blog, I would tell them to go read any of the recent posts at unfogged and apostropher. I understand why this kind of talk was verboten before the election, but it feels really good to have people whose opinions I respect finally expressing it. Separation of Church and State, baby!

This has always been the main reason I vote against Republicans. I care about the economy, and war, and incompetence, and dishonesty, and most of the other major reasons people have given for opposing Bush. But honestly, even if Bush had been clearly superior on all those issues, I still would have voted against him because I believe in secular democracy.

I would never say that the religious right in America are worse than the terrorists or the Taliban or Saddam, but I sincerely believe the RR are a bigger threat to America. The US could afford to lose a few major cities to terrorism and still remain fundamentally unchanged, but if we become a country where religiously dictated morality is enforced by the government, we are no longer America.
Bush, Delay, Hastert, Santorum, Demint and others have made it clear that they fully intend to take several large chunks out of the wall between church and state. Small issues like “under God” in the pledge and Ten Commandments monuments are the canaries in our coalmine.

The major struggle of our time is not “Freedom vs. Terror” or “good guys vs. Terrorists” or “Christianity vs. Islam” or even “the West vs. Islamofascism”. It is the Western tradition of pluralist Enlightenment rationalism vs. Fundamentalism in all its forms, and in that struggle, frankly I’m not sure which side the Bushies are on. We’re talking about Reality-based government vs. Faith-based government. Whether the Fundies are Christian or Muslim makes no difference to me; I know which side I’m on.

something fishy in Yamagata

I rode up to the Vibes Meeting Harley rally in Yamagata this weekend, and some friends from Toyama brought me 鱒寿司(masu-zushi), a famous ekiben (train station bento). After getting drunk I went to thank them for the food and made an embarrassing careless mistake which also turned out to be a double pun. Instead of masu-zushi I said masu-zake, which is something else entirely. 鱒(masu – trout)寿司(zushi – sushi) is just as one would expect, trout on rice, whereas 升(masu – wooden cup)酒(zake -sake) is rice liquor served in a square wooden cup.
I think my beer-addled brain went looking for a compound word starting in masu and grabbed the first thing it found. Then it failed to get an error message before output because sake can also mean 鮭(salmon) which is a pretty similar fish with a pretty similar taste. 

What is it with me and comments?

I feel like I have all sorts of substantive things to say about the issues of the day, but looking over the comments I’ve posted to other blogs recently, it seems like I rarely bother unless it’s to post something pedantic about other people’s pedantry.

The inability of most native speakers to correctly write the English language depresses me (and makes my job harder because I have to find a way to adjust my machine translation grammar parser to accomodate the mistakes) but I feel like I could deal with all the misplaced apostrophe’s[sic] and mispelings[sic] if it weren’t for the pedants who go on about nonsense like split infinitives and sentence ending prepositions and which vs. that.

Of all the offensive things out there begging for comments, why is it this that moves me?
(Though I gotta say I felt validated when blogospheric superhero and uberbabe Belle reacted the same way to the “whomever” business.)

Militantly anti-pedant pedantry, that’s what the world desperately needs today.

What do you call a partner nowadays?

While writing the last post I found myself wanting to refer to my partner, “the Stinger”, but stopped myself because it feels like the word “partner” has been corrupted to the point where most people reading would assume that I meant my “lover”.

I’m all in favor of the concept of marriage and other loving relationships evolving with the times, but since some people have appropriated this word for that purpose, I no longer have a way to refer to the guy who’s the Billy the Kid to my Captain America, the Yoshitsune to my Benkei, the Chewbacca to my Han Solo.

Has the word “partner” gone the way of “arousal”, “explicit”, and “intercourse”?

I’ve been linked by a semi-prominent blog…

..and the only thing I’ve got up is the meeting schedule for my run to a biker rally last week, and that’s in Japanese! I guess I need to put up a real post of some sort. Since it was Neal that did the linking, I might as well make this one language-related.

Last week we rode to the Brotherhoods Meeting, a biker rally in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. Great riding and a great rally, but the name’s a little weird, and being one of the token Gaijin I got asked a lot of questions about it.

Since the name is most often written in katakana(the Japanese syllabary) and with no spaces between words to help non-anglophones parse it, most of the Japanese bikers I talked to were under the impression that “hoods” was a separate word, and wanted to know what it meant. This also lead people to abbreviate the meeting as “BHM” (BrotherHoods Meeting) in email and BBS comments.

Also , since the katakana rendering of “brotherhoods”, “burazafuzzu” in Hepburn romanization, contains the hu/fu sound(a bilabial sound somewhere between f and h), many people abbreviated it as “BFM”.

Then there’s the matter of pluralizing the normally uncountable noun “brotherhood”. At first I thought this was just another non-native mistake, but it turns out that it’s intentional. This rally is a meeting of several different MCs(motorcycle clubs), i.e. several diffferent “brotherhoods”. Most of the bikers wore their “colors”, but it was understood that event was not the place for rivalries and feuds.

It turns out that almost no one, even the Matsumoto MC that worked as staff for the meeting, was aware of what the name meant, and most people were really happy to have it finally explained to them. A few people said that understanding the name added to their understanding of the rally and gave it a deeper meaning for them.

I guess I don’t really have a point to make here, except that it can be nice being a roving linguist biker sometimes.