I Hate AFN Commercials….

“I left Okinawa in 2007 and the scars of those atrocities still weigh heavily on my mind.”  ~Anonymous quote online about the traumatic effects of extended exposure to AFN


I HATE the Armed Forces Network (AFN).  I have blogged about this before, and it’s one of my most popular blogs in the Far East FlingTeam American Forces Network, F’Yeah.  Notice that I capitalized, italicized, bolded, and underlined that word….  Hate.

And it’s AFN’s fault.

Vaccine for Stupid

It appears, from the actions of our “leadership,” that since we adult servicemembers, dependents, and government contractors can’t be trusted with actual television commercials, and that we as people who are willing to venture into harm’s way can’t safely ride a bike or we wary of snakes, the military has decided for us what we should see and hear while here in Okinawa.  To that end, “they” give you the “Armed Forces Network.”  And escape from AFN’s long reach is impossible:  “they” super-saturate their programmed propaganda across the spectrum of radio and television dials.

Well, maybe not a spectrum; there is only one AM and one FM radio station in English, and AFN cable is like only 8 channels or so.

The good news?  AFN is “commercial-free.”

The bad news?  AFN has replaced slightly entertaining and marginally (if only potentially) informative commercials with extremely annoying disinformation.

A random AFN commercial may be charming or stupidly silly on first exposure, but after hearing/seeing it for the 67th time…this month…they become infuriatingly tedious.  And over time, this tedium builds, in my case, to a level that I can almost characterize as anger.  Ironic when I stop and think about it:  I haven’t heard a commercial about anger management…YET.

To emphasize my point, here are a few radio sets that I’ve heard in the past week while in the car riding to, from and around the bases here.

Set 1:     Identification Theft (it’s on the rise, you know, and you’re NEXT); “Recipes for Disaster” (don’t marinate your meat on the counter, but in the refrigerator and under 40 degrees F; Smoke Alarms (make sure your alarm is up-to-date and batteries are changed)

Set 2:     Military Postal System (sending items in boxes marked toxic, flammable, or radioactive); Smoking Hazards (get this for scare tactics:  erectile dysfunction for men, wrinkles for women – can anyone say, “sexist”?); WIC Overseas (oh, and who can forget, “Don’t Shake a Baby”); Family Readiness & Spouses (coping with deployment and some of the more inane rules of living overseas)

Set 3:     VA Benefits (set to a “best of” collection of sappy made-up songs); Foster Parenting (can you even do that here in Okinawa???); Bullying (it happens all the time, every day, to apparently each of your children); Strokes (the three C’s, which I can’t remember….)

Set 4:     Baby-Sitter Training (they’ll be required to have a personal AED next); Habu Dangers (“very aggressive, extremely dangerous,” and seemingly everywhere waiting for your slightest misstep)

We are all suffering, AFN.

We are all suffering, AFN.

From a quick review of the above NONSENSE, AFN misinformation breaks down into just a few generalized groups:

Supposed Safety:  The simple message underlying all of these “safety” related spots are, frankly, that we are just too stupid to live our lives safely, and that to counteract our impending demise from snakes or dust mites, we must therefore be constantly bombarded of the impending consequences of everything that can remotely be considered a danger.  Terror on public transportation, really?  Maybe if we are on holiday in Gaza….

Public Dis-Service Announcements:  So, the military attempts to make up for, say, the overly-restrictive and insulting liberty policy here  (read my blog about the Epic Leadership Failure), by providing member services, like spousal support.  These are the WORST commercials you can imagine, complete with lame musac-like tunes, and a flat, lifeless announcer that sound so bored that the listener actually would go out of the way to avoid such service.

Self-Serving Advertising:  Yes, the 18th Force Support Squadron is awesome, and we know ALL ABOUT the unit golfing opportunity….  The FM radio station, self-labelled as “JACK FM,” likes to talk about how cool they are by “playing…whatever.”  Yeah, whatever the military censors allow them to play.  C’mon.

Obscure Oddities:  Women and Infant Children (WIC) plays way too many times here.  Besides the audience being quite low for the airtime, it’s downright criminal that so many servicemen and women qualify for such benefits in the first place.  And really, ANF?  How many people are sending packages in the same boxes that they received those explosives in at work?

Here are a few more sets to, taking AFN’s lead, to emphasize and re-emphasize my point:

Set 5:     Terror on Public Transportation (it’s surely going to happen to you if you’re not on-guard); Fire Safety and Being Electrically Responsible (tell the Japanese to wire their homes better); Habu (again); MPS (again); WIC (again); Pay Your Taxes (it’s YOUR responsibility)!!


Set 6:     Asthma (it can kill); Vacuuming the Floor (seriously); Bicycle Helmets (save lives, but somehow we all survived)

Set 7:     WIC (yet again); Touring the island by Air (the one thing on the list that is quasi-interesting and informative); Your ID card (don’t lose it!); Reading & Literacy (uhmm…..); News (AP news, which offers a rather random summary of world news in 40 seconds)….

Why is AFN filling our brains with such nonsense?  ENOUGH ALREADY.

This conga line of bruising sound-bites blankets us here in Okinawa in what ways that can only be making things worse.  Why the leadership can’t see or understand this is one of the basic failures of management overseas.  We are not asking for all the bad news and negativity; hell, AFN doesn’t even have to play commercials in the first place.

Jim Lehrer, in analyzing the effect of the media and its constantly negative reinforcement, coined the phrase “learned helplessness”.  Some people will accept the America Culture of Fear on face-value, at detriment to and in their lives.  At worst, it seems obvious that continual negativity or a negative bias can stimulate depression, even if we all are laughing at the ridiculous paranoia exhibited by AFN.  Like it or not, the service members here are hearing these messages…everyday, over and over.  And if some chose to really concentrate on all the bad communications, they may find themselves worked-up emotionally, resulting in even more unwise decision-making, much like an adolescent does when resenting the overbearing “advice” of their parents.

fear itself & spiders

In general terms, negative media messages outweigh good news at times by as much as 17:1.  The propaganda distributed by AFN is really no different.  Studies have shown that we care and focus relentlessly more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things. Our negative brain tripwires are far more sensitive than our positive triggers; the more remote the chances and the more horrific the consequences, the better.  We tend to get more fearful than happy.  And each time we experience fear we our stress hormones get turned on, in a vicious cycle feeding on itself.  AFN simply cannot be good for any of us.

Is there any way to avoid AFN’s monopolistic reach into our psyches?  Yes, but it requires buying Asian satellite TV and playing your iPod through your car radio (I do both).  AFN should realize that they could, instead, focus on the glass being half-full – or at least say the dangerous thunderstorm is filling our collective cup.

What can you do?  Encourage AFN to deliverer a more balanced and multi-dimensional point of view.  It is, quite probable, a losing battle.  Until our leadership wakes up and pays more attention to the critically small details of life overseas, nothing will really change.  AFN is a mega, government-corporation with entrenched GS civilians and military officers who believe in their own silly rhetoric.  The situation is probably even beyond reach of the III MEF Marine Corps General-island; that shouldn’t serve as a pass to you, General Wissler….

Tell me what you think about AFN.  It appears we are not alone:  ANF “haters” appear to have their own FB page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Hate-AFN-Commercials/211760985324


BTW, the base exchanges here all sell hordes of smokes, booze, and smokeless tobacco….

Things Done Right: Living in Japan

Although living in Okinawa is not without its faults, it is nevertheless an incredibly efficient and easy-to-live-in prefecture of Japan, and Jody and I have discovered numerous things that the Japanese get not just right, but almost perfect. Here’s a “Top-10” listing of some of our favorites.

Clock-watching at work sucks; for public transportation, it's FANTASTICALLY good!

Clock-watching at work sucks; for public transportation, it’s FANTASTICALLY good!

1. Punctuality: Things in Japan run smoothly. Very smoothly. Yes it is true that the Japanese can be rather stoically set in their ways, and their rules almost certainly are made not to be broken, but without this high regard for law, order and adherence to cultural norms, living in Japan would be wholly different…involving a lot more wasted time. It is so very refreshing that the Japanese take punctuality totally seriously, where it is considered common courtesy to be early, regardless of what they may be early for. This is in large part why services in Japan work and work so well (and as they should), and schedules can be relied on without doubt.

Sometimes clock-watching is a GREAT thing

Sometimes clock-watching is a GREAT thing

For instance, getting maintenance completed on our condominium. A quick phone call to our property manager to set up an appointment, often the same-day, followed by the nearly on-time arrival of the maintenance man, usually a few minutes early, but sometimes ringing the doorbell to the minute. At home in the States we Americans need at least a half-day set aside to get cable or satellite TV. Here, we had a set appointment time, and yes, the technician was on-time. On-time deliveries, movers who show up ten minutes early, and public transport that’s seldom more than a couple of minutes off scheduled times all conspire to make living in Japan the “time” of your life!

Conductors still use pocket watches....

Conductors still use pocket watches….

Delays are inevitable though, even for Japan’s super-punctual rail system. However, in those rare cases, the rail companies and their operators sounding sincere and serious apologies throughout the trains while handing out “proof of lateness” slips to pass along to those suspecting bosses (or wives), proving that it was in fact the train company’s fault and not yours that you were late for work…. They can’t do anything for lipstick on your collar, though.

If you have been promised a service call on a certain day at a certain time, there is a very high probability that’s exactly when it will occur. Such dedication to timekeeping is admirable; I cannot express enough how refreshing it is to have everyone’s time so well-respected by most everyone else.

This vending machine even walks TO you....

This vending machine even walks TO you….

japanese_vending_machines2. Vending Machines: Yes, there are the crazy web postings about all the crazy things that the Japanese sell through vending machines, but much to our combined chagrin, woman’s panty vending machines are not found here on every other street corner. However, if you need a thirst immediately quenched, you won’t have to travel more than about 100 yards…in any direction…for either a hot or cold beverage of your choice. From canned coffee (which the Japanese are gaga over), to almost anything that can be stuffed into a pop-top tin can, it can be found in vending machines throughout Okinawa. Prices are reasonably cheap at between 110-150 yennies (roughly $1.10-1.50), and some machines are even completely LCD screens, opting for CGI rather than showing those boring empty bottles and cans. Then there’s the slot machine-like feather lending further incentive for purchase by providing “let’s chance” for winning a free drink.

The ubiquitous market for families on Okinawa

The ubiquitous market for families on Okinawa

use-convenience-stores3. Convenience Stores: Back home in the states, convenience stores are primarily used for lotto tickets, smokes, booze and gas (more and more in that order), and generally are seen as a last resort for groceries, and then only around midnight when you realized you just used the last of the toilet paper in the house. Someway, somehow, we rationalize that the exorbitant prices charged by such establishments are worth the “convenience,” and equally accept the almost universally poor service from minimum-wage employees who certainly don’t want to be there any more than you do.



circle-kThe Japanese micro-corner of the world in this respect is clearly upside-down and rotating backwards! Convenience stores in Japan are actually convenient. The convenience chains – Lawson, FamilyMart, CoCo, and even 7-Eleven and Circle K (when is the last time you saw one of those?) in mainland Japan are all kinds of wonderful and they’re absolutely everywhere. You know, a city block is really too far to walk, so let’s put TWO, one at either end. Make you cross a street for that yakitori craving? Certainly not: let’s put another on the other side! Prices are reasonable, ready-made meals using real food such as sushi, rice, and vegetables replacing our all-beige fried foods and pizza, are prepared fresh daily (rather than a day-off of a week ago), but it’s the services offered that really set these fine upstanding establishments apart. Some examples are:

Courier Services: need to send a package across town and don’t want to hassle with the post? Take your package to your local convenience store, have them measure it, slap a delivery label on it, and they will ensure a courier service picks it up for often same-day delivery!

Bill Pay: Need to pay your gas, electricity, internet or mobile phone bill? Do it here and it’s processed in seconds. The plus side? Your lights are back on in moments. The drawback? Cash only, my friends. See the handy ATM in the store…which do much more than just delivery cash. Okay, so the Japanese aren’t as savvy with online bill-pay…YET. I have little doubt in the end they will do even that better than we ever could.

suicaBooking & Paying for Tickets: Many convenience stores have rather large ATM-style machines which can be used to look up and reserve things like flights, concert and theme park tickets, and other fun things to do. Some machines let you shop online, as long as the vendor takes “convenience store payment;” after securing your wants and needs online right there in the store, take the printed receipt to the cashier and hand your cash over to the clerk. Yes, these transactions often are cash-based, but with that there are worries about bad credit or debt here.

Printing: The convenience stores have online printing service websites where documents can be uploaded and saved, after which a pass code is provided. Putting a few yennies in the store’s printer along with your unique pass code, and your documents are printed in seconds.

Ramen and Gyoza, just about the perfect lunch

Ramen and Gyoza, just about the perfect lunch

4. Food: Yes, there are some odd dishes here; those WTF moments as you find a way (and place) to spit out whatever is assaulting your taste buds…like horse sashimi or weakly fried dough with some raw octopus inside. But seriously, the vast majority of Japanese food is simply superb – and this coming from a guy who doesn’t even eat the sushi! Here are a few favorites to sample:

12833840553_2478d5f55d_bGyoza: Japanese gyoza are most often fried, something the Chinese may find insultingly unrefined (theirs are steamed), but there is not one single reason not to adore them. Available in wide variety, these hot doughy dumplings, soft on two sides and crispy brown on the third, are perfect anytime of the day or night. And they are sold day and night. All day and night! It is one of the staple dishes here, often making up a large portion of lunch or dinner.

Donburi: Bowls of fluffy white rice topped with strips of marinated meat(s), kimchi, or raw tuna. Some would call this dish Japan’s version of American soul food, these bowls of goodness are hearty and filling. The dish is so popular that there are fast food-style chains that specialize in it, such as Yoshinoya or Sukiya, at a decent price for a decent rendition.

12834199094_a848c495cc_bRamen: noodles in soup with toppings, deceptively simple but no less than decadently delicious. This is NOT your starving college student’s soup. The soup is available is probably hundreds of varieties across Japan, but is usually pork, soy, salt, or miso based, and topped with “pork bone,” among other things. Served with 6 or 12 gyoza and a meal is made.

10048619414_bdde9ccda2_bSashimi & Sushi: Sashimi, strips of raw fish, usually served with wasabi and soy sauce, is only a distant cousin of sushi, perhaps Japan’s most famous dish. Sushi is special rice either topped with or wrapped around ingredients like fish and vegetables. Even cheap conveyor-belt sushi here is good (and at a buck-o-five, it’s the bargain of Japan’s culinary world), but sushi made by chefs who have trained for decades and use only the finest ingredients is nothing short of divine (or so my wife tells me). I’m not sure we found such a place…yet.

shabu_1Shabushabu: Enjoyed socially and family style, shabushabu consists of vegetables and wafer-thin strips of raw meat cooked by the diner in mere seconds in a communal boiling stock, fondue style. Using various toppings and seasonings (like sesame sauce!), this type of soup tastes absolutely wonderful and seems to warm your very soul.

Leave the stinky soil at the doorstep

Leave the stinky soil at the doorstep

asi35. No Shoes Indoors: Yes, it takes some getting used to, and yes, for some westerners it results in a complete change in their footwear selection (laces are BAD). However, if you stop and think about it, the idea of walking around your home wearing the footwear soiled with the outside world is kind of gross. Or, think of it this way: every time you sit with your shoe-clad feet up on your sofa, chair or bed, what makes you so sure you didn’t step in something’s guts or defecate while outside?? Or, look at it this way: wearing you shoes all around your house is basically the same as taking all your rugs, carpets and furniture outside and expecting them to stay clean while using them….

In the majority of Japanese homes – and also in schools, restaurants and some businesses – people remove their outdoor shoes before entering the building proper. While not unique to Japan, there is a clear desire here to draw a clear line between the clean uchi (“inside”) and unclean soto (“outside”).

13374414963_d1fe228ca2_bBut this notion carries on even within dwellings: that the home should never be unnecessarily dirtied is also reflected in the layout of a typical Japanese bathroom. Here baths are for relaxation and meditation, not for cleansing (why sit in a tub of your own grime). Everyone showers – the cleansing method of choice – before entering the bathtub. The toilet, the dirtiest place in the home, is usually found in a separate room from the bath, shower and sink.

Fast food.  It's certainly fast; still unsure about the "food" part....

Fast food. It’s certainly fast; still unsure about the “food” part….

6. Customer Service: working concurrently with the Japanese sense of punctuality, there’s something inherently awesome about having the staff at McDonald’s treat you like royalty…or is that Burger King? Speaking of Burger King, their drive-thru here on Kadena Air Force Base is probably the most efficient service I have ever witnessed, worthy of further study and publication with an aim to educate the American fast-food industry. Seriously, it moves that fast, even during the lunchtime crunch, which is HUGE here with limited eating options, and even more limited drive-thru’s. If there’s one thing you can say about the Japanese, it’s that they really know how to look after their customers.


Space-saving genius:  pumps on the ceiling!

Space-saving genius: pumps on the ceiling!

Speaking of customers, whether they are from Japan or not, all receive polite greetings and smiles. Japanese employees are quick to find something to apologize for even when it’s clear that the customer is, in fact, in the wrong. Have a problem at the bank or post office? The staffs there will do their best to find a solution for you rather than simply apologizing and trying to move on to the next customer…an all-too-common occurrence in the States. Gas stations are still full-service; you never leave your car. The attendant cleans your windshield, side-view mirrors and even headlight housings; they run their cloths over your wipers, and finally inquiry about any garbage you’d like thrown away. And most amazingly, this same attendant will stand next to your car and bow as you drive away!

It's pretty much like the Space Shuttle's "Manned Maneuvering Unit," for your bowels.

It’s pretty much like the Space Shuttle’s “Manned Maneuvering Unit,” for your bowels.

peepo-choo-japanese-toilet7. Toilets: While bureaucracy was invented in the West but perfected in the East, the exact same thing can be said about toilets. Japan’s “space-age toilets” are truly things of tremendous technological achievement. Heated seats, with not one but two spray functions whose pressure, warmth and direction can be controlled, ambient noise to help hide any embarrassing bottom burps, lids that open automatically as you enter the room in a reverse bow, and multiple flush options to help save water (after wasting all that electricity) make using the facilities in Japan an adventure in itself (see my blog dedicated to this very fact here). There is plenty of debate still offered as to the health benefits of the old-school Asian squat-toilets, which unfortunately still exist here in droves, sometimes to a Westerner’s consternation. But it’s just impossible to resist tinkering with the plethora of buttons and dials, even if the health and well-being of the family jewels might “hang” in the balance!

Doorman not required.

Doorman not required.

item8_size_japan-cab-driver-rotator8. Taxis: They are not cheap (nor too expensive), but they are cool for one and one reason alone – automatically opening doors! After hailing a cab that has come to a stop at your curbside, the taxi’s passenger door will automatically open. Like unlock and completely open, swinging wide to allow for easy and quick entry. Once you’re safely inside, the driver uses a lever to close the door after you. Yes, it’s a small gesture, but it makes a world of difference and makes one feel like a minor celebrity.

ea0ad0_1d565cc2c112c34dd3e7d82b45b363c6_jpg_srz_3872_2592_85_22_0_50_1_20_0There is no creep factor in the Taxi industry here, nor or foreigners utilized in revolving-door human resource staffing. Rather, being a taxi driver is a recognized and appreciated profession in Japan, reflected in that most drivers wear suits, complete with tie and white gloves…and sometimes even a vest and hat. Oh, and as a side note, all Taxis in Japan are natural-gas driven, and while this does sacrifice some trunk luggage space, the no-emission nature of the fleet is very much appreciated in the car-choked streets of Japan’s greater urban areas.

Waste-not, want not, except for more recycling bins.

Waste-not, want not, except for more recycling bins.

recyclingjapan9. Recycling & Waste Management: Japan’s system for garbage collection and disposal is one to be admired, and quite possibly, emulated. Their garbage trucks are covered with stickers of cute creatures, and play music reminiscent of the ice cream trucks of yesteryear Americana. Most cities require residents to sort their household waste into distinct categories: burnable, plastics, PET bottles, glass, aluminum, and paper/cardboard. We, on the other hand, living in an American-centric high-rise here in Okinawa, only sort between burnable and unburnable. But even then, our trash is still sorted at pickup, which also allows for some very enterprising (and early rising) Okinawans the chance to collect on valuable metals and such in our building’s collective waste bins since only the thinnest see-through plastic bags are allowed to be used for refuse.

While sorting may seem like “work,” it really doesn’t make sense to try to cheat this system by being lazy. The refuse collectors will often leave wrongly bagged items behind, probably to shame you in front of your neighbors, forcing you to either commit hari-kari, or, more likely, into doing the right thing next time. Further, most towns each sell their own refuse bags in local supermarkets, DIY and convenience stores, and encourage proper recycling by making bags for cans and plastics much cheaper than the more general “burnable” bags. Besides being an adhered-to cultural norm, in Japan, it seriously pays to be green.



Look closely for the booze in this photo!

Look closely for the booze in this photo!

10. Drink & Drinking: For Americans, public imbibing of alcohol is most likely illegal, and even if it isn’t, it is certainly frowned upon. But in Japan it’s considered perfectly OK to crack open a beer in the park, on the street, or in a bullet train. Perhaps it’s simply that so few Japanese make a nuisance of themselves and get violent (or naked, or BOTH) after drinking…. Whatever the reason, thanks to this relaxed approach to public drinking, parks all over Japan are filled with respectable revelers, primarily made up of families rather than just rowdy spring break students. Here in Okinawa, our front yard Sunabe Seawall is the place of choice to enjoy a cold one (or three) along with the most beautiful sunsets over the East China Sea. No brown-bagging your booze here; in Japan it’s “beer and cheers” as and when you see fit, and both Jody and I think that’s progressively refreshing over the prototypical over-indulgent and uncontrollable American drunk…which has to be constrained and often restrained by Johnny-Law.