Saturday, 31 October 2009

A cypher

Watched these cyphers from BET and I was, for a moment, excited about hip hop again.

The first joint is just ridiculous, Black Thought and Eminem especially lay it down. Eminem kills it. He was cyphering like he was possessed. However his content just doesn't really touch me anymore. He's still rapping about drugs, and making rape gags.  It's like I have to admire his skill and let his flow run through my mind, without really analysing what he's saying. KRS1 is a dad-burned beast in the second, and I believe he was the only one to have cyphered straight from the "top of the dome", as in spontaneously.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Heh, indeed

I didn't know this until now, but apparently there's been a mini explosion of parodies of a scene from the film "Downfall". Apparently the makers of "Downfall" Constantin Films, are so displeased by this state of affairs that they've made moves to have the videos removed from youtube. In response Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has gone and made his own parody video, mocking Constantin Films.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Coexistence and Complexity

I ought to be writing a paper, but right now I'm much too depressed and demotivated to even look at my draft.

I think that because I initially set out to write out my thoughts on my experiences here for close friends and classmates that I did not realise that there are some people who may actually look to be informed, and want to be able to read what I post here and be confident that I actually know what I'm talking about. For the same reason, I believe I have been writing with the assumption that the terms I am using would be easily understood by anyone reading this blog.

In being a champion for coexistence, what I hope to be doing in my role at the organisation is pull my colleagues to a place where they can view the context in which they work, and on which they work from a coexistence perspective.

A coexistence perspective is to me one that queries to what extent ideas, initiatives, policies and contexts embrace diversity for its positive potential, pursue equality, recognise interdependence between different groups, and eschew the use of weapons to address conflict. It examines if  there is, as Oxfam GB put it, recognition of all people's status and rights as human beings, and a just and inclusive vision for each community’s future.

It is my perception that in order to design initiatives and policies for coexistence,  that is to say a society with positive relationships across social differences, practitioners must endeavour to practice the values they seek to encourage. Practioners I think have to be prepared to "jump out of their skins", and attempt to assist others to make that leap. I think very basically that that leap is empathy, but it's very hard to empathise when you are firmly part of a context that does not readily facilitate it.

A societies "others" are not synonymous with the normative. As such their representation, over which they have little control, is generally unbalanced and dehumanising. What I mean by that is the complexity, diversity, and value of their lives -the same complexity, diversity, and value we give to "our" own-  is often poorly conveyed, if at all. I think Chimamanda Adichie expresses the concept beautifully in this speech

(I have a ridiculous girl-crush on Adichie... and Rachel Maddow.)

I attempt to get my co-workers to combat the privilege they have in facing little if any penalty for being satisfied with a single story about the groups whose interests they ostensibly represent. At the same time, it behooves me to make sure that I don't fall into the same trap. It's hard, but hopefully you guys can help keep me honest.

Friday, 23 October 2009


I'd kind of assumed that not many people were reading this blog. However it's just occured to me that quite a few people other than acquaintances and classmates may be reading this. I really have no idea. Therefore I think I owe it to myself to be as tight as possible without making every post an academic paper. Apologies for my slip ups.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Championing coexistence

Had an interesting convo with my colleagues the other day that made me think about the importance of having minority groups represented in institutions and organisations, especially those tasked with addressing issues pertinent to minority groups.

The conversation was about the protest raised over a McDonalds commerical being run in Japan. The commercial uses a goofy, bespectacled white fellow called Mr. James as a mascot for a promotional campaign. The imagery is problematic because it plays into all sorts of stereotypes about Japanophile white men, and non-Japanese residents in general. Dovetailing with historical presentations of non-Japanese as weird, perpetual outsiders, with broken Japanese.

You can read an article by the leader of the protest, Arudou Debito HERE

Personally, I think that it's a little more complex than Prof. Arudou makes out. I agree with the professor that the use of broken Japanese (which has since been remedied, kinda), and the representation of this character serve to perpetuate offensive stereotypes and behaviour towards non-Japanese. Where I kinda part ways with his argument is where he asks whether the stereotyped have a chance to reply and balance views. Debito argues no, and I would agree with him in the general sense. In general non-Japanese are not given a voice in the media, and are not presented in a balanced, humanising way. However I have to say that there is a lot more balance when it comes to caucasians. I would argue that most images of whites in Japan, are presentations of a people and culture that it is desirable to emulate. Anyone exposed to the Japanese media, will see representations of white politicians, scientists, sportsmen, musicians, models. The same can't really be said of non-whites. Then again it could be argued that the positive imagery only applies to caucasians who are not known to be living in Japan. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to tackle this with Prof. Arudou soon.

One of my colleagues' response was to say that they just couldn't understand what the problem was about. "It was just like that time when the `Little Black Sambo` book came out, black people said it was racist, how was it racist? Little Black Sambo is cute."

My response to my colleague was that Little Black Sambo means something completely different to black people. The images in that book have been used to denigrate and dehumanise black people, and are part of a history of oppression. That the key is to hear out the people who are upset or offended, let them know that their voice is valued, and try to learn about their history and their views of history. Ultimately it makes your society stronger.

Consider yourself part of the furniture

Been busy with applications for research funding and graduation, calling up researchers and journalists, and reading literature on getting ideas to policymakers effectively. Still feel as though I've achieved very little.

I think that I'm quite settled into the organisation. I'm sharing jokes, I'm teaching the office lady to sing, I feel a camaradie with her against "the man", exchanging knowing looks with her in when "the men are talking". I listen to her, and sympathise with her grievances. I share my own freely. I feel trusted and wanted. I walk with the chief to the station almost everyday on my way home. I'm feeling more and more like a valued addition to the organisation, to the extent that it feels kind of weird writing down things that are said as part of my evaluation.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Bless the internet

Whenever people asked me to give me an example of irony, I would point them to Marc Anthony's speech in "Julius Caesar" or the Simpson's episode where Mr. Burns says of Smithers, "he doesn't know the meaning of the word 'gay'". I think I may have found another, and by 'is 'ounds it is a beauty!

LINK h/t Ta-Nehisi Coates

Done! Done! On to the next one!

Finally finished with my translation of the policy essays. Currently getting it mailed out to some of the chief's contacts in the press and academia. I'm wondering how to get it into the hands of people with some real clout in the Japanese context.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Come, I evolve

I'm thinking that perhaps I'm beginning to be perceived as having specialist knowledge of utility to the organisation. First, the chief solicited my criticism of his ideas concerning the development of a Japanese ethnic identity. Second, I've been granted the authority to make whatever changes I deem necessary to the manuscript of my translation of his policy papers. Needless to say, that's a lot of trust he's placed in me. I won't feel right unless I run the modifications by him for his approval. On the other hand I think it puts me in a position to point out some things that the chief, and directors just may not see.

For example the chief has a real antipathy to one group that advocates for Zainichi Koreans. "They called me an assimiliationist, and a colonialist!", he said. Basically my understanding of the chief's position is that Zainichi should sever their self-concept from the Korean penninsula, and become Korean-Japanese i.e. naturalise.

I pointed out, or rather tried to point out that if you use the word "extinction" to describe how intermarriage (and naturalisation) will "solve" the "Zainichi issue" it could reasonably be seen as problematic. The first is that by framing the problem as a Zainichi issue, and not one of a history of Japanese exclusion and oppression, you may give the message that the social problems are due to to the existence of these people in Japanese society and perhaps implicity that these problems are their responsibility to fix. As opposed to the idea that the Japanese majority has arranged their trouble for them, and therefore the Japanese majority must move to solve the issue. It's kinda like saying, "well if you stopped being/acting gay, people would stop persecuting you", when the onus should be on changing the behaviour of the people doing the persecuting.

Second, the message that these problems will go away once there are no longer any Zainichi again could be seen as framing the issue as being the responsibility of the disadvantaged group, and send the message that once they no longer exist the problem will be solved.

As such it is understandable that such a group would use the words "assimilationist" and "colonialist" in their criticism. As the chief's message could appear bereft of a nuanced understanding of the resistance to naturalisation, and as merely a continuation of the history of Japanese colonial, and post war policies towards its (former) imperial subjects, albeit wrapped up in somewhat more pluralist language.

Another example is that newspaper article from the Nikkei Shimbun. No one in the office batted an eye at the journalist accepting the education minister's rationale for keeping the current nursing exams Indonesian nationals at face value, or the "we Japanese"-centered subtext. I've only had a rant about the article to you lot (my dear readers), and the office lady. The chief was so excited about the support of the Nikkei, I didn't want to rain on his parade. I think however that I'll have to recommend not just looking at the levels of the use of "immigrant" as opposed to "foreign worker" in the media, or stories that support the organisation's position, but also at how immigrants are being framed. The increased use of the word "immigrant" doesn't mean much if every story mentions crime, or concern trolls. Working the media means being media-savvy. I'm about to take a look at all my GLAAD literature to mull over some ideas.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Say what?

Check out this exchange with US Supreme Court Justice Scalia.

Ha! What a prankster! Very funny, your honour...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Research group

The chief gave a talk at a meeting held yesterday by a research group on immigration. I toddled along with the chief, and a board member. The Secretary General of one big Japanese union was in attendance, who if I heard correctly, has the ear of at least one minister. People in attendance were largely in agreement with the changes the chief proposed. However my perception is that few of them are real movers and shakers. Conspicuous lack of representatives from the government, and from the communities that any change in policy would affect.

The board member who came along strikes me as a man who keeps abreast to happenings in Japanese politics. He was aware of the new controls over the policymaking process(outlined here) the DPJ is bringing in, which I was thinking of alerting them to, that may require a rethink of lobbying strategy. I also caught a glimpse of part of at least one of his theories of change when he discussed the need to first engage in "agenda setting" through the media to build awareness, and the pressure on lawmakers to respond. I'm looking forward to reading his answers to the questionnaire I sent him.

The boss keeps calling me Obama, before correcting himself and saying my actual surname. I suppose I could kinda take it as a compliment, if Obama wasn't the worst presn't EVAR in the whole history of the United States!!eleventy-one!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Policy Jiu-jitsu

The chief writes that Japan must thoroughly crack down on illegal immigrants, and that Japan must take a stance of zero tolerance towards them. His rationale is basically that in order to maintain support for the policy framework he is calling for, immigrants cannot be percieved as being connected to criminality or terrorism. In fact, I would argue that the words "immigrant" and "immigration" already to some extent evoke criminality and the risk of social unrest in the Japanese social context.

My instinct then is to point out that the policy the chief recommends, and the rhetoric he uses to sell it may end up unnecessarily bolstering negative social perceptions of undocumented migrants as a sort of dangerous, monolithic, criminal element; and suggest the focus should be on the demand for their labour that brings undocumented workers here, the companies that hire them, and adding complexity the concept of illegal immigration so it isn't simply imputed to desires to predate Japanese people.

That being said I wonder if it's that simple. Now I doubt that this is the chief's thinking - as he is unquestionably anti-illegal immigration and I daresay anti-illegal immigrant. (During his career in officialdom, a fair few of the undocumented migrants he came into contact with were gulity of crimes more serious than illegal entry into Japan) - but presumably such policy could be a way of aligning the practical interests of the Japanese minority groups that will grow if the doors to immigration are opened to the interests of "native" Japanese. Even if it plays on prejudiced thinking.

If what it takes to get the policies the chief believes will benefit Japanese and non-Japanese alike adopted and implemented is for significant numbers of Japanese people to believe that the people the new policies would bring in are "a different kind of foreigner" -nothing like the kind that risk causing social unrest, nor the criminal illegals- then I can't say I'm sure about whether or not I ought to recommend that that part of the paper be changed.

On the other hand it's precisely this kind of prejudiced, and in some cases racist thinking that can get in the way of policy adoption and implementation, even when it is recognised that the policy would benefit the vast majority of the population. For example all it might take is for the issue to be framed as, "our taxes going to pay for programmes for those people", for the policy to be derailed (just look at the U.S. War on Poverty, and the current rhetoric surrounding the health care debate). So perhaps it behooves us to point out thinking or language surrounding policy that is at odds with coexistence whenever we encounter it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

You know you're a nerd when you waste time by looking at stats

A fair bit of ink has been spilled on the division of gender roles in Japanese society and the ensuing effect on fertility rates (a dismal 1.21). Poor prospects for employment, especially after child-rearing, and a lack of support for mothers discourages many Japanese women from having children. The response of the Japanese government has been to provide incentives to keep women at home, pretty much the worst thing they could have done in my opinion. Furthermore, the politicians haven't really been putting their money where their mouths are. Japan has hitherto spent a mere 0.75 of their GDP on benefits for families. The new Hatoyama administration has said they'll do more. We'll wait and see. They did campaign on bread and butter issues (Seikatsu Dai-ichi) after all. However I think the majority of voters are worrying more about their pensions, and so I have my doubts that the fertility issue will get higher up on the agenda in practice.

Anyway, I've been a little idle, and in an attempt to do anything but work on my paper I decided to take a look at a little of the family policy of Sweden, which has a better Total Fertility Rate (1.91 2008 1.67 2009 est.), and spends about four times as much as Japan on family benefits. Check out the progressive, yet super complicated, parental leave provisions. I think though that the state's strict policies on gender equality might have more to do with shaping the effectiveness of this policy. Since in Japan I'd argue that it is generally accepted that men will earn more and are more likely to be able to work consistently over their lifetimes. Therefore I can't see men taking time off work to provide childcare for any significant time as flying over here. I believe it would be percieved as hurting earning potential, and many men dread the thought of stares from people who think the only reason they're out with the stroller is because they're somehow "damaged". Why else would they be out of work, or doing "women's" work?