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Loving Day

http://www.lovingday.org/
Celebrate Loving Day! A celebration of interracial love. That’s something I could get behind, or under, or whatever position you want!

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Japanese Educational Reform – Part 2

This quote from the New York Times article has been troubling me for the last day or so:

“Japan has become considerably self-centered, meritocratic and egotistic,” said the principal, Kenji Tamiya, 72, a former Sony executive.

Ok, so I can understand how self-centeredness and egotism are not necessarily good for a society, but what is so bad about meritocracy? Maybe there is something lost in translation here.

According to the Oxford American Dictionary:

meritocracy |ˈmɛrəˌtɑkrəsi| noun ( pl. -cies) government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. • a society governed by such people or in which such people hold power. • a ruling or influential class of educated or skilled people. DERIVATIVES meritocratic |ˈmɛrədəˌkrødɪk| adjectivemeritocracy |ˈmɛrəˌtɑkrəsi| noun ( pl. -cies) government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. • a society governed by such people or in which such people hold power. • a ruling or influential class of educated or skilled people. DERIVATIVES meritocratic |ˈmɛrədəˌkrødɪk| adjective

This definition of meritocracy sounds pretty fair to me. Of course, even the most egalitarian societies have their elites, but at least meritocracies mitigate the fossilization of these elite groups by allowing for some degree of vertical social mobility. Surely, a former Sony executive like Kenji Tamiya isn’t advocating a paleo-conservative return to the old four-tiered 士農工商 (Samurai-Farmers-Craftsmen-Merchants) rigid social caste system of the feudal past.

But if not meritocracy, then what? Isn’t meritocracy supposed to figure in an egalitarian society. Or does he advocate clining on to the so-called “Japanese Model” of promotion by seniority within a protective coccoon of lifetime employment? Surely even this model is essentially elitist, since it only applied to fulltime employees of certain large corporations and the government bureaucracy.  I’m sure it has benefited people like Kenji Tamiya.

Now, I find it really hypocritical that old, rich Japanese men of influence are criticizing today’s youth of being “self-centered” or “materialistic.”  After all, they belong to a line of leaders from the post-War to the present day, who have placed economic development above all else.  Not bad for getting Japan back on its feet economically after WWII, but when does this steamroller stop?  I am talking about the mismanagement and big business/government cronyism that has resulted in weak civil society, fossilized gender inequality, the continued marginalization of minorities like the Burakumin and Japanese Koreans, the castrated labor movements and lame Left, not to mention the sodomizing of the environment.  Harsh words, yes.  But how dare these old guys criticize the Japanese youth of today, when it has been young people and consumer culture in general that have made these guys rich?

Read more about it in Dogs and Demons by Alex Kerr. 

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The Future of Japanese Education – Patriotism and Militarism

There was an article in yesterday's New York Times (June 11, 2006) entitled "Japan's Conservatives Push Prewar 'Virtues' In Schools." The article talks about a new public school teacher training center in a middle-class ward of Tokyo run by conservatives, who see modern Japan as a society that has lost its way and wish to return to "prewar" values.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

TOKYO, June 10 — At a new center to train public school teachers here, an instructor warned 22 young Japanese against egotism and selfishness on a recent Sunday morning.

He exhorted them to be considerate of others, summing up what at times sounded like a sermon by saying that "this is the most important thing to teach children."

Later, the principal explained that the center's guiding philosophy was to recapture the "virtues" of prewar Japan — "what may have been lost during the 60 years of Japan's postwar education."

"Japan has become considerably self-centered, meritocratic and egotistic," said the principal, Kenji Tamiya, 72, a former Sony executive. "That's not to say that education alone is to blame. Our social system has many bad aspects. But education is part and parcel of that trend, and I think there's considerable soul-searching now all over Japan."

Indeed, the Japanese government is now moving toward revising the Fundamental Law of Education, which was drafted in 1947 during the American occupation to prevent a revival of prewar nationalism. The revision proposed by the governing Liberal Democratic Party would emphasize patriotism, tradition and morality, and hand greater control over schools to politicians.

The occupation-era law replaced the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education, which had instructed children to sacrifice themselves for the state and the emperor. Japanese conservatives have long argued that the 1947 law overemphasizes individual rights over the public good, and that it has contributed to everything from the erosion of communities to the rise in juvenile crime.

The focus on morality and patriotism is a reaction against educational policies that, since the early 1990's, encouraged creativity and individualism as part of an effort to make Japan more competitive in a global economy that rewards those qualities. Many politicians and parents now blame the focus on individualism, as well as the elimination of Saturday classes, for declining standards, test scores and discipline.

The trend is also in keeping with a larger conservative movement that has tried to reclaim prewar symbols and encourage the use of textbooks that play down Japan's militarist past. More broadly, a revision of the education law is regarded as a precursor to the more delicate task of changing the other legal document of the American occupation, the Peace Constitution, which was meant to keep Japan from repeating its past.

Japan's public schools have long been battlegrounds for bitter culture wars between liberal teachers and conservative politicians and bureaucrats. But in the past decade, the ascendancy of conservatives, coupled with the collapse of the left, has given conservative politicians greater power in reshaping education.

The strong hand of conservative politicians has been felt the most in Tokyo, where the rightist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, and other like-minded politicians have curbed the influence of liberal teachers. Education experts say the proposed revision of the 1947 law would spread the type of changes that have started here to the rest of the nation.

In Tokyo, in the past three years, the school board has punished teachers in 350 cases for being unpatriotic at school events. The teachers refused to sing the national anthem and stand before the national flag, both of which, to many here and abroad, are linked to Japan's former militarism.

In the city's high schools, the principal and teachers used to make school-related decisions together. But the board downgraded teachers to advisers in 1998, effectively leaving all decisions to the principals; two months ago, the board prohibited teachers from raising their hands in meetings to voice their opinions.

The Fundamental Education Law Reform Bill is a big issue across Japan right now. I have even seen posters against the reform bill around Nakatsu. Those who are opposed to the reforms say that the reforms would codify the teaching (or "indoctrination") of patriotism in public schools. Patriotism is still a rather loaded word here in Japan. There is still great controversy in some schools over whether or not the national anthem, Kimi-ga-yo, should be played at school functions like graduation. At all three graduation ceremonies I have been to, nobody sat down during the anthem and a few people even sang along, but I have heard that this is more of a controversy in other parts of the country. Even though nobody sat down during the anthem, it still seemed rather awkward when the anthem was played. It's slow, but mercifulling short, and written in classical Japanese. Many people have a problem with it because it is a kind of ode to the emperor and the imperial system.

Here are the lyrics to Kimi-ga-yo:

君が代は 千代に  八千代に 細石の巌となりて 苔の生すまで

May your reign
Continue for a thousand years,
For eternity,
Until pebbles
Grow into boulders
Covered in moss.

Seems almost like a love song to the emperor, since in classical, Heian period Japanese, "kimi" can mean "you" or "sweetheart."  Also, if read at face value, it's a bit more low-key and less  some otbloodthirsty thanher national anthems – more aristocratic poem and less samurai war-mongering – especially if we compare it to Nazi-era German national anthem's references to "Deutschland über alles in der Welt" or even the Marseillaise:

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !

Wow! "May unpure blood soak our field's furrows"?!  Pretty bloodthirsty if you ask me.  And according to the movie Casablanca, this is the anthem of the "good guys." And yet they are singing about spilling "unpure blood."  Interesting!  (Don't even get me started on all the current controversies involving the "Star Spangled Banner")

Returning from that little tangent back to the topic of educational reform in Japan; those on the Left argue that the Educational Reform Bill is just another way Conservatives are trying to undermine Article 9 of the Peace Constitution. Just today at my junior high, we had African-American Vietnam War veteran, Alan Nelson come talk to the students about his experiences in the jungles of Vietnam and his subsequent peace activism which began when his then high school aged son returned home from school one day with pamphlets  from a military recruiter instead of materials from potential universities.  Mr. Nelson realized there was something wrong with this picture: where African-American high school students were being targeted by the military instead of directed on the path towards higher education.  Today, Mr. Nelson talks about peace at schools across Japan and the United States, and has even spoken in the United Nations about Japan's Peace Constitution.  He considers Article 9 to be a tremendously powerful tool for peace and a model for other countries.  Here's the text of Article 9 below:

1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.  The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. 

No need for the Japanese translation since the Japanese Constitution was written in English by U.S. Occupation Forces after WWII and then translated into Japanese.  Of course, this article is now under attack.  Even though assigned to only "humanitarian role," Japan's euphemistically named "Self-Defence Forces" have been deployed to Iraq.  The very constitutionality of the existence of the Self-Defence Forces comes from a rather tricky interpretation of the "in order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph" section.  Since the Self-Defence Forces are not technically to wage war, but for self-defence, they were allowed to exist, ironically, under American pressure to respond to the changing demands of the Cold War.  It was also under American pressure that Koizumi deployed the Self-Defence Forces to the peacekeeping mission in Iraq despite heavily critical public opinion on the topic.

However, there is also a growing change in public opinion to change Article 9 and to make a the Self-Defence Forces a real military, as a preemptive response to the potential nuclear threat of North Korea and the growing strength of China. 

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R. Kelly: Trapped in the Closet

Last nite, Tash and I watched all 12 episodes of R. Kelly's masterpiece "hip-opera," Trapped in the Closet on YouTube.com. Seriously, I think that R. Kelly may be the Shakespeare of our times, combining rhyming couplets and a whole lotta soul.  It's like Shakespeare's sonnets, tragedies and comedies all melded into one.  This magnus opus has everything:  brothaaz on the down-lo, skanky hoez, midgets in cabinets, the grit of "urban" reality.  With "hip-opera" themes like that, Verdi and Puccini just can't compete wit' da R. Kelly, yo.  I laughed, I cried, I rewinded, then I laughed some more.  

And then he says move
She says no
He says move
She says no
BITCH MOVE!!! she moves, and then, he looks at the cabinet,
he walks to the cabinet, he's close to the cabinet, now he's opening the cabinet.
Now pause the movie cos what i'm about to say to ya'll is so damn twisted,
Not only is there a man in his cabinet, but the man… is a MIDGET! 

(Trapped in the Closet, Chap. 9)

 

..then Cathy says Gwendolyn shut up girl damn..just listen to me
you know that crusty wearin hoe that you was talkin about…Gwen says uh uh..Cathy says well…Gwen says well..well what? Cathy says girl…Gwen says Cathy…Cathy say Gwen I'm sorry girl but that hoe was me….

(Trapped in the Closet, Chap. 12) 

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2006 FIFA World Cup Germany Riesling (Pfalz), 2005 Vintage, Family Mart Special Edition

P506iC0029032695.jpg
Wow, spin-off marketing is taken to the farther possible extreme in Japan. Tash and I picked up a 1300 yen (about 11 dollars) bottle of convenience store World Cup Riesling (plonk) after dinner to sip chez moi. Well, for 11 bucks, not bad. They even show you on the label where Germany is on a map of the world! A bit of acidity, fruity. Ok, let's face it, it's just not that interesting or complex, but ok on a Friday night. I bought it for the gimmick and the novelty. But it does have the official World Cup hologram! But no Goleo Lion #6 mascot!