Tuesday, 26 February 2013

UPON A MAID


Here she lies (in bed of Spice)
Fair as Eve in Paradise:
For her beauty it was such
Poets could not praise too much.
Come, people, come and in a-ring
Her supremest requiem sing:
Then depart, but see ye tread
Lightly, lightly o'er the dead.

Robert Herrick

The cover life intervened to mess up Our Man's online activities these last few days, but things have calmed down enough to post again, although the death on Monday and weekend funeral for my brother's 20-year-old daughter has left me a bit numb and humourless. Although that might be the after-effects of the flight back from Atlanta, yesterday, coloured as it was by a knee semi-permanently wedged in my thigh from the chap sitting next to me who had frequent, unstoppable urges to wave and shout Chinese at random people in seats on the opposite side of the 747.

But I'm over the flight. The death of Jessica, not so much. I'm thinking of writing an essay about it all as a virtual memorial and passing the proceeds to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation which is doing what it can for families like my brother's, devastated by an inherited life-limiting condition that has no cure.

Carry on. It's all we can do.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

CALL OF THE WILD



I post this here not because in the dumb beasts' cries do we recognise the absurdity and helplessness of the condition of modern man; not because I wish to regain some of the frivolity and joie de vie that has been absent from this blog recently with all the heavy posts about the coming eco-pocalypse and figure that the mouths of goats are the only wisdom we have heretofore turned a deaf ear to here, er, to fore; no, none of that:

This video is simply the funniest thing I've seen all year.

Break over, now get back to pick-axing those icebergs and scoffing that tuna.

Secret handshake to Jaseyontour.

Friday, 15 February 2013

BE MINE: A POST-VALENTINE'S POST


My wife is fast asleep in bed. It's been a busy two weeks for her.

After deciding she wasn't going to stand idly by while our neighbourhood primary school was being wrecked by bullying, she has been a little busy. First she got on the phone with mothers of girls in the class where M-chan has been reigning supreme. Over the next ten days, my wife spoke to every single mother, sometimes for hours at a time. And frequently emerged in tears. She contacted the class teacher and the headmistress. Told them what was happening, but assured them that the mothers were on their side, they just wanted to stop the tormenting that had been going on unchecked for five years, resulting in countless sleepless nights, victims moving schools and one even continuing counselling three years since moving.

My wife quickly realised, not for the first time in her life, that she was in over her head. So she sought help. She started to read up on the bullying problem. She talked to neighbours with similar experiences, and she paid for a consultation with a professional counsellor.

Then, she managed to get 13 of the 15 mothers of girls in the class to meet for coffee this morning. Including the mother of M-chan. The morning coffee turned into lunch. Lunch turned into afternoon talks.

My wife had intended to keep accusations to a minimum, and all blame off the table. Maybe she succeeded in this, maybe not. But before the end of the day, every mother had their chance to have their say, to catalogue the ignominies their daughters had been put through. There were tears. There were uncomfortable moments. But there was an epiphany of sorts. Until today, every kid had suffered individually, but no-one had the full picture of what was going on. Least of all the mother of the bully. She said that she had no idea of the extent of the problem. At the end of the afternoon, she was in tears and my wife found herself comforting her, a fellow mother, who like everyone in the room, just wanted her daughter to thrive.

There's every chance that will happen. Because now there are no secrets. There is still mistrust, but there are also the beginnings of understanding and an agreement to work together to fix the problem. Now the hard work begins.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

RUMINATE, COGITATE, LAMINATE



Yes, yes, this appears to be little more than a glorified advert for Alain de Botton's new book (and hark, there was me going on about corporations taking over the world and me being sniffy about advertising for free on this blog, yadda yadda yadda), but I thought it was rather good, and definitely worth reading or even possibly the effort of laminating and sticking on the fridge or back of the toilet door.

Download the PDF here if you fancy it.

Friday, 8 February 2013

REMOVE THE TUBE


"Funding a civilisation through advertising is like trying to get nutrition by connecting a tube from one's anus to one's mouth." 




I could quibble with a few of the sweeping generalisations of Obey. I could point out the hypocrisy of declaring war on the corporate state by using the very tools it employs to subjugate us. And I'm sure you could do a better job than I at picking faults in its Marxist view of our certain fate. But I do agree with the thrust of this video: We are to varying degrees sleepwalking into a corporate world that we will no longer want or be able to live in, if in fact we are not already there yet. And I agree with the final point, that hope, and its daughters -- anger and courage -- are about the only things we have left on our side. I could go on, but there's plenty to sink your teeth into in the video, if like me, you are feeling a tad apocalyptic tonight.

The counter argument is that there is a middle ground of Norwegian welfare state utopia for all or we can harness technology to combat corporate greed, tech being neutral and all that. Remember Quakebook? But I think the corporations have just about sewn it up already, despite the odd fig leaf exception. Here's a quick true story by way of illustration. Remember the freetohoku DIY charity my wife and I run to help folks in tsunami hit places up north? We raised small amounts of money to run DIY relief missions, buy Christmas cakes for kids and most recently bring two orphans down to Abiko to have a great Christmas. We have detailed all our activities and money raised and spent on the website for all to see.

But we haven't gone through the cumbersome process to declare ourselves a bona fide tax deductible charity yet (we are not interested in becoming a big money-raising institution), though we plan to just to keep everything shipshape. PayPal had different ideas however, deciding that since we were not offering services or goods for profit, they couldn't allow us to continue to have an account. After I explained the situation in a long e-mail to the company, PayPal Singapore yanked our Japan PayPal account with a one-sentence cut-and-paste ruling and no right to appeal.

That's fine. Really it is.

In fact, I thank PayPal for the valuable lesson: they don't give a shit about people, why on earth did I even imagine they would? We shall continue to do what we do, but on a human scale. If we need to raise cash to do that, we shall ask our friends.

We'll just remove the tube from our anus.

Secret handshake to Brainpickings for the video. I wonder how long before it is pulled with complaints from some of the corporations whose logos grace the end of the video citing copyright infringement? Best watch it now if I were you.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

BEATING THE BULLIES (AND AN APOLOGY)



“Sensei, I just wanted to tell you that Y-chan did an amazing job cleaning the toilets. She's very talented and is so hard-working.”
“Well, that’s just great M-chan. You two run out and play now.”
“You hear that, Y-chan? I told the teacher a compliment so now you owe me. From now on, I will never clean the toilets again, you will do it for me, and you will tell the teacher I did it. You got that?”

***

The front of my Japan Times this morning had a splash on the resignation of the women’s judo coach after using beatings to train the Japan Olympic team. This, thankfully, should come to an end now that the bright spotlight of publicity is on people whose abuse of authority* leads to suicides.

***

There’s a bullying problem at my daughters’ primary school. One girl -- through guile, evasion, threats and favours promised -- has reduced half the class to sobbing wrecks. The teachers and head teacher are aware of the problem, and have been for at least three years. But the bully has never been stopped. The staff hide behind procedure or the need for incontrovertible, written proof, while one after another of the bullied girls' parents meet teachers and learn that the authorities are aware of  the problem but seem incapable of solving it. Or, given the revolving nature of teaching posts at schools, are happier to allow their time to run out and leave the problem kid to someone else to sort out. There’s another term for this institutional failing: can’t be bothered.

The bully has instinctively worked this out and is happy to work the system to her own advantage, knowing fortune favours the brave: she will outlast the teachers’ term in office and she operates a divide and rule strategy with the other kids. Her classmates figure it’s easier to keep their heads down and keep quiet and hope some other poor bastard bears the brunt of M-chan’s torturing. For torture is what it is becoming for one of my neighbour’s daughter. Getting a minion to write “You die!” on the blackboard for all the kids to see is beyond the pulling of pigtails we’d like to think is the extent of an 11-year-olds’ bullying problems.

Well, if the teachers won’t act, we will. We’re not going to wait for some poor kid to take her own life before anyone confronts the bully. First on the agenda is to stop the division. United, victims are no longer weak. Then everything needs to be brought out into the open. We don’t care two stuffs for the school’s reputation. We care about the kids. If the conditions are right then all it takes is for one brave person to take a stand, and for the bully to see the tide has turned. But the tide has to turn. That requires clarity, dedication, organisation, charisma, bravery and sheer pig-headedness.

Step forward Our Woman in Abiko.

*An Apology. Our Man in Abiko was in two minds about taking the piss out of Abe-san in the last post for his abysmal English. Lord knows Our Man’s Japanese is abysmal and equally worthy of scorn. He hopes Abe-san understands that Our Man was merely looking for anything vaguely amusing and anti-authority, this being the default position of the blog. In the future, Our Man will endeavour to take the piss out of Abe-san for matters of hypocrisy, corruption, incompetence and/or substance if, going forward, anything of substance regarding Abe does come to light. But not of his baffling decision to bamboozle the world's movers and shakers with his impression of English.

Carry on.