Sunday, July 27, 2008


The other day I went to work at the preschool in the morning and my conversation school in the afternoon. This humidity and heat kills me, though, and even though I purposefully wore white and cotton, I had sweat about five gallons by the time I got to my conversation classes. So on my train ride, I made the decision to get myself a parasol and I stopped in the store next to my station and picked one up.

Now, I was not sure what the difference was, if any existed, between an umbrella and a parasol. Most of the parasols I've seen around Japan have been black, lace-y, and carried by old women. So I was slightly surprised to find two separate sections of umbrellas in the store. One seemed purely full of rain umbrellas. The other had a smattering of frills to it and so I assumed this to be the parasol section. I thought that this was the only thing separating the rain-deflectors from the sun-rejectors, but hoo, how wrong I was.

These are the labels from the parasol I eventually bought. Now, I don't know Japanese, but I like to think I can understand them anyway (that there are English translations helps too).

The top left label reads something like this:

"Precautions for Use!
This product has a pointed end. Be sure to check the safety of your surroundings before using umbrella.
Do not use the umbrella as a walking stick.
Do not use the umbrella if the handle of the rib tips are damaged.
Do not swing or throw the umbrella around.
Do not use the umbrella against gale force wind as it may break.
Do not touch the rib structure of the umbrella.
When the umbrella is not completely dry, keep it away from clothing and other items as it may cause color transfer.
*Please watch young children when they use the umbrella."

Unfortunately, the tag below had something else to say about the color fastness of the product:

"UVoutex Fabrics
Healthy, Cool, Comfortable
This fabric, absorbs and dramatically reduces ultraviolet rays
protects your skin from these damaging ultraviolet rays
keeps you more comfortable and cooler because of its unique shading qualities
has the qualities of colorfastness, softness and is durable through frequent washings"

So is it colorfast or not? Only time and an unexpected shower will tell.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Intellectuals v. Celebrities

On a recent road trip, some friends and I were discussing the failure of Americans to view intelligent, smart people as famous. Celebrities known for personalities and looks are more likely to be household names than people who constantly analyze, challenge, and shape the way we think.

Intelligent people should have a more prominent standing in today's pop culture, but a person's intelligence is not proved by their intellectual capabilities alone. In the introduction to their list of the top 20 public intellectuals, Foreign Policy magazine wrote that, "part of being a 'public intellectual' is also having a talent for communicating with a wide and diverse public." Intelligence is useless if you can't communicate your ideas to the public. Not only should you be in open communication with your peers with your findings and ideas, but also with the entire public as well. In order to do this, not only do you need to communicate effectively with the language of the intellectual, but also in a way intelligible to the upper, lower, and middle classes and the various ethnicities that compose our society.

It would be easy to say that the reason there aren't too many intellectuals in US pop culture is because they don't make an effort to explain their thoughts to the general public, but that's not true. Television, radio, and print are all accessible media where academics and intellectuals have presented the views to the public. Not only are there television programs like CNN's Larry King Live and CBS' 60 Minutes, but also shows like The Daily Show and its spin off The Colbert Report that use humor when presenting current events, authors, and politicians. NPR hosts several programs across the country aimed at informing the public of current politics, scientific innovations, and literary criticisms, to name some of their programming. The person with the highest IQ in the world writes a newspaper column, there are new books published every month, and countless magazines for every subject imaginable.

Albert Einstein was an international celebrity in his own time, but would you call Stephen Hawkings a celebrity? Have you read one of his books? Have you ever read one of his interviews or heard him field questions? How many people on Foreign Policy's list have you ever heard of? I'd only heard of three: Muhammed Yunus, Al Gore ,and Richard Dawkins.