Students and their technology
When I was a student I took notes on loose leaf binder paper with a blue ballpoint pen. I wrote so much for so many years and held the pen so tightly that for many years I had a tell-tale callous on my right middle finger. We didn’t use computers back then. Desk top computers were not invented until I began university and even then it was only engineering students who used them. I don’t know what they used them for. I studied typing on a manual typewriter in high school and I used an electronic typewriter throughout university. That typewriter was the greatest, most useful and valuable Christmas present I ever received.
There was no Internet or Facebook, no blogs or web pages, no cell phones or smart phones, no GPS or satellite maps, no instant messaging or digital photography. Photocopy machines used a special acetate paper rather than simple bond paper and ditto machines using blue alcohol based ink were still common.
On Wednesday, June 10, 2015 I saw something interesting at a public high school. The walls of the classrooms are glass panels opening onto the corridor, so I could clearly see into every classroom as I walked down the hall. On this particular day I had just finished a class and was walking back to the elevator to return downstairs to the teachers’ room when I noticed a girl in a classroom that had just finished a science lesson. I watched her take a picture of the blackboard with her smart phone. She wasn’t taking a selfie. Instead of taking notes in a notebook or on loose leaf binder paper today’s students are just taking photographs of the teacher’s notes on the board and then studying from those. Maybe Canadian students do the same? It seems kind of lazy to me, but maybe it’s ingenious. Maybe it’s an inevitable feature of technology in students’ hands.
I was introduced to Japanese students’ method of using their smart phones at school when we were studying a lesson on School Subjects and I began asking them about their schedules. I was surprised to learn how many do not know their schedule. Only a few know for certain what they have the next class after mine. At the start of the school year in April each is provided with a paper schedule. They quickly take a picture of it and store it in their phones to consult regularly and then they throw the paper copy in the trash.
Except for the fact that cell phones and smart phones are not allowed at school in the first place I’m not criticizing it. I was only surprised by the sight of the girl taking a photo of the blackboard. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe while sitting in the train during her daily commute having a photograph of the teacher’s notes in her phone makes it easier for her to study or revise while commuting. Whatever works.
On June 17, 2015 Dylann Roof, a white man, killed nine African Americans inside their church - the famous Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I don’t know much about black American Christianity, but this particular church is so famous that even I had heard of it. The crime was immediately framed in the media as a racist hate crime, and there were immediate calls for the removal of the old Confederate battle flag’s removal from some Southern state legislatures and other public memorial sites. It seemed like a non-sequitur to me: Dylann Roof kills nine black Americans so the solution is to eliminate the display of the old flag? Duh.
Of course, advocates draw a connection. One, Roof posted Facebook pictures of himself with the flag. Two, the flag is an offensive and hated leftover from the old slave-owning South. Three, the display of the flag in public sends a message that what it represents is still legitimate and the sight of it might even nurture old, illegitimate racial/racist ideas among the young today.
Advocates for the Confederate flag eulogize its heritage value while downplaying all the rest. Whatever you might think of the two arguments the anti-flag argument seems to have the stronger hand. But I am still left wondering about the connection between addressing gun violence in America and the notion of removing the rebel flag from public view? Maybe it is only a case of American blacks seeing their road towards eliminating gun violence in America - especially gun violence against blacks - totally blocked, and the fresh opportunity to make progress on the flag issue is at least a partial victory and a partial surrogate.
Within 48 hours, as Mr. Roof was appearing before a judge (by video link) the victims’ families were proclaiming tearful forgiveness of the killer. One woman was especially memorable: Nadine Collier.
I am not impressed with expressions of forgiveness because, on the one hand I think it is used differently by different people to construct their narrative of events, and on the other hand I think most people think wrongly about what it means. When African-Americans talk about forgiveness they are speaking about one of the necessary tools they need to negotiate life in racist America. They are talking about an everyday experience. But when whites talk about forgiveness they use it as a magic word to pretend that life is not as bad as it really is.
Forgiveness is the erasure of malice, not guilt, the replacement of love for malice.
Being saved in Christ does not mean that Christians will not go to hell. Of course we will.
Most people think wrongly that forgiveness means erasure of guilt; absolution; forgive and forget; a clean slate. No. That’s not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness is the erasure of malice, not guilt, the replacement of love for malice. So a person who is forgiven is still subject to responsibility for their actions, crimes, sins, etc. because they are still guilty of them in the sense that they are still responsible for them. Culpable for them is another matter. I’m talking about responsibility, not culpability. I measure guilt by responsibility, not culpability. You can forgive a murderer, but that does not mean he is no longer a murderer. Of course he is. His victim is still dead and he must still face the punishment for it. Forgiveness does not bar punishment, and these black parishioners in Charleston who forgave Mr. Roof are probably not expecting him not to be punished. Forgiveness only means that a perpetrator will be punished in a fair and loving spirit of justice, not in a spirit of malice and revenge. Being saved in Christ does not mean that most Christians will not go to hell. Of course we will. We are guilty of sin, and to hell we will go. It’s just that we will be condemned to hell in a spirit of loving justice, not in a spirit of malicious vengeance. When I say that to people they think it’s nonsense because their error of associating forgiveness with erasure of guilt is so entrenched. I want to say to people, “I forgive you. Now go away and die” not because I hate them, but because I love them.
We can forgive each other our foibles and then continue living side by side with no illusions about ourselves.
If I forgive my neighbor for being an asshole it does not mean that he is no longer an asshole. Of course he is. We can forgive each other our foibles and then continue living side by side with no illusions about ourselves. It ought to be liberating.
I forgive you. Now go away and die.
At the same time I want to say that I despise “victim impact statements” which first became fashionable in America and has since spread to Canada. They are such awful, mawkish, self-centered things.
Tokyo Olympic stadium
One outstanding feature of modern architecture in Japan is that it's ugly. Tokyo and other large cities brim with ugliness deliberately inflicted by unnatural aesthetics advocated by wrong-thinking government, developers and the media. Look at Tokyo. While in many ways it is a fantastic city, in many other ways it can be called a disaster. Currently a debate is ongoing in Japan about the construction of a new National Stadium for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. The winning 80,000-seat design by the British female architect Zaha Hadid somewhat resembles a giant bicycle helmet, or a giant female sex organ. It was the designed endorsed by the government when it made its final pitch to the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013 that won it the 2020 games over competitors Istanbul and Madrid. But since then there has been considerable - and not unexpected - back-tracking on promises the Japanese made - cost estimates, site locations, readiness deadlines, and even the stadium itself. The old National Stadium, called the “Kokuritsu kyogijou,” built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is currently being demolished to prepare the site for the new stadium. So in a sense it is too late to turn back now. But there are some critics here who are unrelenting in their campaign to at least change the proposed design, calling it too large for the site, or incompatible with the surrounding architecture, etc. Changing the design might also reduce the estimated cost as well as shrink its size.
I think that arguments that the proposed new National Stadium design might ruin the surrounding landscape have less credibility since Japanese have already ruined their landscape. Long ago by pouring concrete everywhere and by deliberately demolishing historic buildings for modern glass and steel. (The Japanese attitude towards old buildings is comparable to Americans’ attitude towards old clothes. While aesthetics in the West revere old buildings Asians do not, and they readily destroy what foreigners consider heritage landmarks.) How much more harm could an ugly stadium do, really? Japanese have a long history of borderline, questionable aesthetic principles and practices. You think bonsai is beautiful? No, it's a hate crime against Nature. You think cherry blossom viewing is beautiful? It's a disgusting bit of ugliness - not the blossoms, but the people who crowd around them.
Of course, the stadium and the Olympics themselves are a terrible mistake, but certainly not for aesthetic reasons. Tokyo won the 2020 Games in September 2013 by lying, subterfuge, obfuscation, dishonesty, etc. The awarding of the Games is a contract between the IOC and the host, so it is too late now to credibly change the contract in such fundamental ways come ruin or rapture. I want the stadium to go ahead as planned although I rue being taxed to pay for it. I will certainly never see it or benefit from it in any way. Organized competitive team sports are immoral, depraved, socially destructive, mean and stupid. And so are the organizations that promote them. But I want people to be true. This is what Tokyo served up for itself, now eat it! Go ahead and eat.
Questions for young women
These are questions I want to ask young women. There’s no logic or reason to them. A female New Zealand English teacher at a high school where I also work solicits questions from her students and posts her hand-written answers on a bulletin board in the hallway. So as a lark I anonymously stuffed her question basket with my own off-the-wall queries.
My list is a ruse, actually. In fact there is one question in particular I am interested in but I have tried to disguise it among a diversity that is meant to be distracting.
1. Are you a Beatles person or a Rolling Stones person?
2. Coca-Cola or Pepsi?
3. What is your worst nightmare?
4. What posters were on your high school bedroom wall?
5. Can you play a musical instrument?
6. Did you ever break up with a boy?
7. If you were an animal what animal would you be?
8. What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
9. What is your favorite book and movie?
10. What did you buy today? Or, what is the last thing you bought?
11. What famous person from history would you most like to meet?
12. What is the name of the street where you grew up?
13. Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?
14. Who would win in a fight - Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 Judgment Day, or Angelina Jolie
15. Christmas presents opened at midnight on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day?
16. Who was the last person you sent a hand-written letter or postcard to?
17. What is the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?
18. What would you take with you if you had to run out of the house during a disaster?
19. Do you twerk?
20. Do you like giblets?
21. Do you carry or wear any good luck charms, protective amulets or totems?
22. Which has the stronger bite, a lion or a shark?
23. What do you think is the most important job?
24. Who would you rather date - Mark Hamill form Star Wars Episode IV, or Brad Pitt from Thelma
25. What was your first job?
The money tray
When you come to Japan one of the interesting things you will quickly encounter at shops and in banks is the money tray. It’s a small plastic, sometimes faux-leather tray about 16cm x 10cm, usually rectangular, sometimes round. When you pay or hand over money you do not do it directly from hand-to-hand. You put your money in the tray. Similarly, when change is being given to you, or money handed over it is not put directly into your hand but is politely placed in the tray. Not always, but more often than not. It looks and feels like a very polite formality.
Money is an existential abomination and depravity, but a necessary evil.
Unsurprisingly, when trying to explain these money trays everyone misses an essential point here. We in capitalist liberal democratic societies have convinced ourselves of the virtue of greed and money and totally forgotten its dodgy history. But consider this: money is obscene and it taints us. Money is an existential abomination and depravity, but a necessary evil. Since money is essentially evil it is fitting that we create mechanisms to regulate contact with and exchange of it. So I greatly appreciate these little cash trays at banks and shops as a kind of barrier that somewhat protects us - the customer and the vendor - from excessive taint of money on our souls. I don't mean as a barrier to germs inhabiting the surface of the currency. I mean they serve as an acknowledgment that money is a little dodgy. Their existence in Japan - even if people no longer remember their origin - indicates that awareness of the moral dilemma at least used to be high(er), even if it is currently extinct. Of course the trays have some mundane and vaguely practical function: they help the vendor display change to the customer for confirmation; they help prevent embarrassing spillage onto the floor, etc. But those are only quaint justifications revealing people's ignorance of the spiritual, existential, moral debate associated with money - or even that there ever was a moral debate. Let people know - teach them, remind them - that although money is important it is not THAT important!
Sure, I know what many people will think. They will think that’s the sort of obscenity they would love to have tainting their hands. More please! But I think that reflexive response indicates a tendency to value people and things by their supposed monetary value, which is something I don’t accept. I am talking about the metaphysical value over the monetary value.
But I could be wrong.
Immigration and Japan
On Thursday, May 14, 2015 The Japan Times newspaper printed the story “Women before migrants: official,” quoting Japan’s Minister in charge of administrative reform and gender equality Haruko Arimura’s telling an anecdote about seeing an Indonesian relative’s nanny sleeping on a hotel floor. I didn’t think it was an interesting anecdote. The story sounded interesting at first, but it really isn’t. It only sounds that way. I think she was trying but failing to make a relevant point within the scope of her government portfolio. But most of her comments seem to fail to reach that threshold. She’s just wagging her tongue with tripe.
The point of the article was to address Japan’s growing demographic problem - an awfully low birthrate coupled with a rapidly aging population, a shrinking working-age population and an overall shrinking population with a web of anticipated related economic hardships. The notion of large-scale immigration to address the economy’s labour needs is sometimes floated, but Japan will never go for that. As the cabinet minister in charge of promoting gender equality Ms. Arimura was interviewed on the immigration topic and she immediately related it to international terrorism and domestic crime. Kind of a non-sequitur I thought, but it is a common train of thought among Japanese on this topic. The minister said that by drawing more women into the workforce the theoretical need for foreign immigration to grease the economy would be eliminated. I think it’s poppycock, but there you are … .
Three times the story issued vague warnings about social resentment, unease and dissatisfaction as possible trickle-down effects of increased immigration. In other words, immigrants would disrupt society. Never mind that harmony, or wa, is a myth for starters and Japan is riddled with native disharmony, dissatisfaction and resentment. Maybe the addition of more foreigners would settle things down a bit.
I think there is a lingering notion among Japanese - a notion that continues to be exposed in Arimura’s remarks - that Japanese are vulnerable to dangerous foreigners, and that constitutes another reason to resist large scale immigration. But I find the opposite to be true. In Japan it is vulnerable foreigners who are endangered by, or suffer at the hands of dangerous Japanese. Japanese are soooooo dangerous!! And, Japanese prisons are filled with Japanese felons, not foreigners. Statistically immigrants are more law abiding than the natives.
Even so, the minister reflexively frames immigration as a crime issue, thereby demonstrating the tiger’s inability to change its stripes. I object to her premises. By repeating the standard Japanese excuse she dodges the opportunity and the burden of taking a sounder stand on matters. In addition, her statement that “There are things we should do before we talk about” the Pandora’s box of immigration is insultingly disingenuous in the way that it carelessly ignores the fact that the current demographic situation was sufficiently predicted in the 1960s. The government has had over fifty years to plan and do what it “should” do, and it hasn’t. So be quiet!
Sunday, May 10, 2015.
Tokyo pet stories
On Saturday, May 9, 2015 I passed a woman and young child on Nakano Avenue near here. That’s a major thoroughfare. They were walking their dog. It was one of those small dogs that are the most popular pets here. I noticed that this dog had paralyzed hind legs and its hind legs were supported by wheels while its front legs trotted along really fast to keep up with the pace that the woman was pulling it along the sidewalk. It’s the sort of thing you see on TV but never see in real life. The dog was sick or had an accident but the family was keeping it out of love by using a sort of dog wheelchair. The sight reminded me of another strange pet sighting I had on Nakano Avenue a couple years ago. Also in the dark evening, I was walking home from somewhere when I saw a woman riding towards me on the sidewalk with an animal standing in her bicycle basket. I looked at it and thought “That’s a strange looking dog.” But when she got closer to me I realized that it wasn’t a dog, it was a monkey standing up in the basket as she pedalled along the sidewalk. It was wearing a collar and a leash, so I knew it was a pet animal. Once, many years ago, I saw a young man on the street with an iguana on his shoulder. I assumed it was his pet. But I question the idea of having a pet iguana because if you take care of it and keep it healthy then the animal will live about 100 years. Oh, well.
Sunday, May 3, 2015.
Every place is the same
This story starts with the senses - a sensuous story. It began with a sense of smell on a very warm spring Sunday in Tokyo. We all know how powerful odour is as a memory cue. Sunday, May 3, 2015 was a beautiful day. Sunny and hot. Hot like a summer day in Canada and so sunny that being outside hurts the eyes. The heat from the pavement and the chlorophyll from the trees combined to make the same perfume that occupies the experiences of almost anybody. If I had some Double Bubble bubblegum and a bottle of Cream Soda it would have felt like I was in Grade 5 in Guelph, Ontario all over again. I mean, there is no difference between a hot day in Tokyo and a summer day in Guelph. Tokyo is the same as Guelph only more so, perhaps.
I have said for many years that in my opinion every place on Earth is almost exactly the same as every other place. The presence of gravity and air constitute 99% of the comparison of any two places. Differences in language, race, religion, diet, fashion, ecology, politics, economics, etc. count for very little to me because I see them mostly as cosmetic. Of course, there is an entire industry built around making more of these cosmetic differences than they are really worth, and their propaganda has saturated our cultures for so long that many people actually believe it. I mean, they believe in differences that separate us, differences that require proactive behaviour - or, behaviour more proactive than I am apt to embark on.
Furthermore, the older I get and the longer I live in Japan the more people look the same to me. Different races, different sexes, different body types are all slowly blending into one homologous human being in my perception.
My position leads me to question the morality of travel in the face of those who proudly boast to me about their travels. Since every place is almost exactly like every other place the tourism industry that lures the wealthy to experience the world firsthand is based on a fraud. But it’s a fraud that the affluent enjoy, explaining that travel is a broadening experience through encounters with the most unexpected and delightful people.
The point is that this is planet Earth. Everywhere you go on planet Earth it is still the Earth, and we are all Earthlings.
I understand that, but my position is the result of my own experience. I’ve been around the world - literally - but I don’t talk about it much, partly out of my sense of privacy and partly because I’ve learned that no one particularly cares, after all. They care about themselves. I’m not a great fan of travel, but I’ve done my share of it and will do some more. I’ve travelled about half the circumference of the Earth by train, just to see what it looks like. I like slow ground travel above faster air travel because I figure that traveling a long distance deserves a long span of time. It’s a better way for me to appreciate my location. I’ve been to diverse places: Niagara Falls, the Rocky Mountains, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the remnants of the Western Front, the Great Buddha, Stone Mountain, the Dead Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Statue of Liberty, Red Square, and ... well, lots of places. Muskoka, Montreal and Cape Breton Island, too. Frankly, every place I’ve been looks exactly like the pictures of it in a book. Only the pictures are better because they are cleaner, fewer tourists are blocking the view, they don’t smell, and parking and admission aren’t worries. So if it’s only a firsthand experience of a place itself that is one’s justification for travelling I’m afraid it doesn’t convince me.
Fundamentally we are not different. If you look beyond the cosmetic differences in language, culture and time, at the root of our consciousness we are all connected.
I think people are basically the same everywhere, too. I remember going to work on my first day in Tokyo and briefly watching a father play catch with his young son in the street. It’s the same scene you can see anywhere in the world, any time.
The point is that this is planet Earth. Everywhere you go on planet Earth it is still the Earth, and we are all Earthlings. That's what's important. Fundamentally we are not different. If we look beyond the cosmetic differences in language, culture and time, at the root of our consciousness we are all connected.
I am a permanet foregin resident in Japan. I have no plan. I don't know what I'm doing.