Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No we can't!

We are off to Tohoku again shortly for more volunteering with Peaceboat. Partly because we enjoyed it last time and partly with the thought that if our jobs do end next year (which to be honest is starting to look less likely now), then I can't imagine wishing I had spent a few more weeks in the office over the summer! We were planning to travel up by train+bike and follow the volunteering with a bit of a holiday in the area, inspired in part by articles such as this, and partly by another volunteer on our previous week who did exactly the same. The volunteer campsite is far enough out of town that having a bike to get around would be really handy, especially for the two weeks we were planning to stay, for which laundry and shopping trips would be essential. I even booked a room at the hotel mentioned in that article for our trip up (having looked around and finding that many others in the area are actually shut).

We mentioned this plan to one of the organisers at the weekend at the pre-departure meeting, and were amazed to be met with a flat refusal. No, it is absolutely impossible to turn up on a bicycle. Either get the bus from Tokyo with us, she said, or don't come at all. She also told us that the previous person who did this (ie the person on our week) had caused a lot of disruption, because she had appeared *the night before* every one else on the overnight buses. The resulting attack of severe panic resulted in three heart attacks, a case of heatstroke and four pregnancies. OK, I made up the pregnancies. Well, two of them. Just imagine, she said, the confusion if everyone did that. Oh, the humanity. Um...someone help me out here, I'm having a failure of imagination. It's a campsite. That's what people usually do. We hardly need to march in in formation. We even offered to turn up on Saturday morning at the same time as the bus (which would be easy, there is an open campsite at the other end of the same field, where we could stay on the Friday night). She remained, however, completely intransigent. It was their way or no way. Incidentally, there was no residual evidence of this confusion when we all previously turned up on the bus on the Saturday morning. I suspect that the story has grown in the retelling, which also happened to us in a different context a couple of months ago. [Got a email from the admin at work, in a panic because our landlady was complaining about the damage we were causing with the plants growing up the walls of our house. The reality was that there are no plants growing up the walls of our house, and our landlady was not at all upset but did want to trim the hedge a few feet away!] With a language where so much is left unsaid, it is easy to imagine problems into existence. I've long since learnt that there is, however, no reasoning with people when they get in this sort of mood.

We did briefly ponder cancelling the volunteering completely - partly in protest at the overall stupidity, and partly because spending a significant amount of money on a holiday is probably more beneficial than doing a bit more beach cleaning at this stage in the proceedings. However, we have compromised on a single week of volunteering, followed by a week back at home and then back up for the holiday much as originally planned. It will actually be better to not have to haul around our volunteering kit (including heavy boots) on the bike. And the forecast for Thursday/Friday (when we would have been cycling up) looks grim right now with a typhoon on course for a fly-past. It means a week less of volunteering but hey, there are rules to be obeyed here, we can't let practical and useful results get in the way of that.

It's especially disappointing to see this sort of attitude in the younger generation, who one might naively have hoped to be a bit more flexible in their outlook. But I think at this stage in their lives they have only learnt the importance of obeying rules and hammering down sticking out nails, and not yet come to understand the "case-by-case basis" approach by which the more effective administrators (and yes, there are a few of them) learn to deal with reality.

I suppose I should be relieved, that such intransigent rule-mongering and panic at the thought of anything remotely out of the ordinary can still take me by surprise after 10 years here. The time to be worried would be if it felt normal! It certainly reinforces the extent to which it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, but it never occurred to us that either would actually be required in this case. If we hadn't taken the trouble to make completely certain where we were staying, we would just have turned up (having made sure that our team leader knew what we were doing, of course) and everything would have been absolutely fine.

10 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

Fine except for the extra round of heart attacks, heatstroke and pregnancies, I assume you mean. :)

yea-mon said...

The intransigence can be flummoxing at times - but there can be ways around it, well in restaurants at least.

At one Gustos my favorite pizza had been moved from the eat-in part of the menu to take-out only. After some discussion with the waiter I eventually caved and said I was ok with that restriction - and ordered a drink bar (all you can drink) and a pizza to go. They joined the dots and the pizza arrived hot from the oven on a plate.

EliRabett said...

Sometimes intransigence is OK, because like yea-mon says if you can figure the way around it, they don't notice. OTOH people who are flexible can anticipate you.

Steve said...

Hey James, you might be too busy to look at this, but if you have time.

Motl (yes, I know) recently had a comment up which I strongly suspect to be complete crap, but I need someone who understands stats to tell me if my hunch is right.

Comment is here:
http://tinyurl.com/3vautft

Any comment would be welcome.

James Annan said...

Surprisingly, I think he is right (at least as far as the maths goes). What he seems to be saying is if you just shift the distribution, then the frequency of events above a fixed threshold goes up, but the frequency of events that are a fixed distance from the (new) mean, will stay the same.

It's a fair point in some respects, eg as people adapt to higher temps, what used to be a scary extreme - say 23C in the UK :-) - will be more common, but it will feel less extreme!

Steve said...

James, that's a disappointingly fair assessment!

Not that I understood it either (I think I need diagrams.)

What you said about England is perhaps a bad example - yes it is a bit absurd the headlines that you get for a moderately hot week in that country.

But certainly, John N-G and some other climatologists have been pointing out that the extreme heat of this Texas (and other state's summer) will be the unexceptional by midcentury, and that is certainly not something that people are going to shrug off and not notice. That's still a fair enough point to come back, isn't it?

Steve said...

It is a serious issue in debating skeptics that they tend to say things like ".7 degree already and it's not that noticeable. Seems to me maybe people will not notice much difference when it gets to 2 degree average increase too." So, I've been pointing to the shifting distribution bell curve illustration you see around the traps to counter this, and I wanted to make sure Motl's argument is not undermining that.

James Annan said...

Well that's a question of adaptatatatation. I don't know how much of that there will be, but there will be some. I don't think either perspective is entirely wrong.

My perspective is of someone who experienced about 10C of warming in a single year, moving from the UK (and not even a hot southern bit) to Japan. It took a few years to adjust, but this year hasn't even seemed very hot.

Hank Roberts said...

speaking of earthquakes, here's a view of your location I hadn't seen before:
http://seismo.berkeley.edu/gifs/TohokuBathymetry.jpg

J.D. Gibbard said...

Ha! I remember some consternation when I showed up on Friday night but I didn't think it would be such traumatic memory weeks later.