Thoughts on teaching English in Japan

June 20, 2007

A cousin of mine recently went to Japan to teach English in some countryside elementary schools and he came back with some horror stories about the apathetic attitudes many of the student have. 

I gather based upon what I’ve heard that the situation is similar to the way America’s urban children are stuck in a generational rut, where it’s exceptionally difficult and requires a lot of bravery to strike out beyond the squallar and poverty of their own native community.  Japanese countrywide children are stuck being low level farmers or labor workers with little hope of "breaking out".  So they don’t care about learning much.

It reminded me of this one guy that called himself Azrael that wrote an online diary about teaching English in Japan.  He entitled his diary, "I am a Japanese School Teacher" and his writing was hilarious and it was really before the dawn of "blogging".

This was the first entry I ever read.  Go ahead.  Read it.  You’ll feel compelled to read more:
http://www.outpostnine.com/editorials/teacher1.html

This guy is a laugh riot.  And here’s the funny part.  His blog was so popular, that a year or so ago, he got asked to join a network of bloggers where it sounds like he got paid.  The new site is at:
http://www.gaijinsmash.net/

Even funnier?  He QUIT.  And not just a year ago or anything… he quit just a couple days ago. He decided that he couldn’t take teaching English in Japan any more and he just up and quit.  This is after 7 years or so of teaching English.  The timing is amazing… I visited his blog 7 years ago, and then didn’t come back until two days ago, and BAM.  He quit.

He has a lot of gripes but he doesn’t piss all over the experience.  For all his teeth knashing, Azrael’s quite grown up about the whole thing.  Impressive.  I can’t say definitively that I would have been as mature.  And I’m Japanese for god’s sake.

God bless you, Azrael, and thank you for making me laugh my ass off at least twice in my life.  You’re the kind of person I’d like to meet one day.

Advertisements

“Shelter Dogs” – A documentary film by Cynthia Wade

June 19, 2007

I was flipping through channels a month or so ago and I noticed that a film called "Shelter Dogs" was playing on HBO.

I work with an animal rescue organization on the weekends called Save-a-Life Adoptions and so I think this would be an interesting watch.  I recorded it to watch on another day.

KEEPING THINGS POSITIVE
I’m not going to lie:  I’m one of those folks that donate money to animal shelter & rescue organizations annually and revel in hearing about the wonderful, positive work being done in animal advocacy.  There are so many caring people out there providing time, services, and love to help homeless dogs and cats get along, when no one else will give them a home. 

Best Friends (http://www.bestfriends.org) are the masters of this concept.  They know the majority of donation-contributing society would rather not hear about the sordid & horrific things people discovery while being an animal advocate, so what they do is they adhere to a very strict policy of only sending out "all the good news" related to adoption and animal care, focusing on the positives and only alerting people to the negatives when it’s a dire emergency.

So as a result, I indulge in the fluffy, happy, joyful materials that are delivered monthly by Best Friends and I remain satisfied and delighted whenever I get a dog adopted into a new family.  And even on days where things are slow, and no one adopts any of our animals, it was still a good day because the animals got out and got to do something different while meeting other humans.

GETTING BACK TO REALITY
But anyone that’s worked with homeless dogs & cats knows that there’s a much sadder, helpless side of animal advocacy.  Euthanasia in shelters, animal abuse in homes, laws treating pets as nothing more than property without rights, incurable diseases, rampant pregnancies due to a lack of spaying/neutering, professional breeding in puppy farms… all of this makes for very depressing thoughts. 

And as a volunteer you try to put it out of your mind so that you can focus on doing good things.  Althought I do have a singular, unrelenting, almost-catatonic anger that stirs whenever I hear about someone buying dogs & cats from pet stores & breeders as their first option, I’m not going to use this post to discuss the point… maybe in another post.

But then along comes this movie:  "Shelter Dogs"

I was unable to watch this movie upon my first two attempts.  I got through 5 minutes of it one time, and then the second time, I got through 15 minutes.  Both times, I had to turn it off and watch something less meaningful, less cerebral, and less emotional, because it’s just such an impactful and gut wrenching movie.

I did eventually watch through the entire movie – this time with the help of Sheepa who lay next to me throughout the movie.  The subject matter is so completely accurate to what animal rescues deal with on a daily basis it’s scary.  It touches on the internal debate animal activists have about the humanity of having "unadoptable" dogs live the rest of their lives in what are essentially prison cells.

THE UNADOPTABLE DOG
Here’s a situation: 

  1. What do you do with a dog if he/she’s prone to biting, attacking, and is generally overly aggressive?  What do you do if that dog is beyond the capacity of society to rehabilitate – and by capacity, I mean individual time, funding, manpower, etc.?  What if that dog must be kept separate from the rest of the animals because of it’s aggressive nature, and what if no one in it’s entire lifetime would ever adopt him/her?
  2. Now what if you also have THREE well-behaved, well-mannered, socially SAFE dogs on hand that came in with that one ‘unadoptable’ dog.  What if these animals were perfect family members that were being kept in "unfamily-like quarters slowly driving them crazy from the lack of attention, the lack of interaction, and the confinement required by the walls of the shelter.
  3. Imagine that every day, these same 4 dogs – one unadoptable, three adoptable – arrive EVERY DAY.  On average however because of your capacity, you have only room for 1 of the  incoming dogs every 3 days …because imagine that it takes that long for anyone to adopt any of these homeless animals.   And because of the ‘unadoptable’ dogs taken in, your ratio of adopted versus unadopted goes lower every day forcing you to turn away dogs that would otherwise have a shot at getting adopted.  One out of every 10 dogs gets adopted.
  4. Now instead of 1 unadoptable dog and 3 adoptable ones, imagine dealing with ONE MILLION UNADOPTABLE DOGS and THREE ADOPTABLE ONES.  And most of them never get homes in private animal rescues – they instead go straight to city/county animal shelters where 9 out of every 10 dogs are euthanized.

That’s the problem:  There’s 4 million dogs, with capacity for only 1 million of them, in private foundations.  And even though 1 out of every 4 dogs is unadoptable, they still need housing somewhere.  They still need care and they still require resources, medical treatment, and volunteer time to feed & shelter.

By the way, this is all going on what there are uneducated, unsympathetic people out there that:

  • BREED DOGS
    There are actually people out there that have litters of puppies as a career… as money making venture… as their livelyhood.  These people prey on human vanity & our legal systems flawed view of dogs as nothing but "property".  And the dogs they don’t sell – mysteriously disappear.  Do you ever stop to think what happens to a puppy if he/she doesn’t get adopted?  Do you ever stop to think how many litters a female has had to produce for her owner? 
    …there’s a very special room in hell reserved for these people.
  • FAIL TO SPAY/NEUTER
    And then there’s the "cultures" of people that don’t spay/neuter their animals for fear of "emasculating" them.  They hold no accountability for any animals born of their irresponsibility and they simply let puppies and strays wander the streets of places like East Los Angeles where there’s a stray dog with no owner living off of trash cans on every corner.
    …it’s these people that demonstrate how fundamentally dangerous stupidity is in America.
  • BUY DOGS
    There are people out ther so self-absorbed with the particulars of the dog they choose, they are willing to pay $1200 for a specific type of dog without even considering adopting, instead viewing homeless dogs as "used".  They give made-up excuses for their ignorant attitude like, "Oh, they’re psychologically scarred" or "Well, someone gave them up so they can’t be any good".

…and it’s these people that should watch this movie.


Congratulations Paul Potts… winner of Britain’s Got Talent!

June 17, 2007

Against the odds, Paul Potts captures Britain’s heart and wins the Britain’s Got Talent competitions with his extended solo of Nessun Dorma.

Britain’s definitely got talent.  The grand finale judging was recorded here:

The finale is written about here on the BGT web site:  http://talent.itv.com/page.asp?partid=354

Grand Final – The Winner

Paul PottsIt was as if the tension would never end – but finally, eventually, painfully… Dec announced Paul Potts as the Britain’s Got Talent winner.

It was a moment where futures were made and dreams were dashed. But even though every one of the performers here has an outstanding talent, only one could scoop the big prize tonight.

Two million votes were cast by the British public. For the big winner, welshman Paul Potts, tonight starts a week of newspaper interviews, magazine features and TV appearances. Life won’t be quite the same ever again.

As Ant and Dec congratulated the singer – or was that held him up – he told them – "I can’t believe I’ve won it – I’m like jelly. Performing for the Quen means absolutely everything. Thank you for believing in me".

…more at the link


Where the heck did Britain’s Paul Potts come from?

June 17, 2007

I found myself actually tearing up as I watched this video.  It’s just beautiful and to hear that he’s an unheralded cell phone salesman, makes this story all that more remarkable.  He’s had virtually no vocal coaching.

 

Look at the judges clap.  Look at Amanda Holden crying during his performance.  Look at the audience’s standing ovation.  Piers Morgan & Simon Cowell virtually gush about him and they’re always the subdued ones.

Not surprisingly Paul’s made it to the final competition against a puppeteer named Damon Scott who’s good but I don’t think he’s even in the same caliber as Paul… and two other acts that I can’t even consider.  But this’ll be up to Britain’s Got Talent’s audience voters.  The finals began about 6 minutes ago in Britain. (12 Noon PST)

Three words:  GO PAUL GO!
http://www.paulpottsofficial.com

——————–

(BTW:  Here’s a video of his semi-final performance)


Sign the petition against Animal Fighting in Professional Sports

June 15, 2007

NFL Quarterback Michael Vick was found to have 30 fighting pitbull bred dogs in chainson his property in Virginia along with an additional 25-35 other pit bulls elsewhere on the land.  Several were injured, others were starving, and all appeared to be bred and trained for dog fighting.

The operation is described as a large scale professional facility for dog fighting training.  There were animal fighting gear and paraphenalia, breeding equipment, treadmills, steroids and other substances to supplement the growth of dogs, bloody strips of carpeting.  Scales to weigh the dogs, antibiotics to medicate wounds, and documentation allegedly showing involvement in dog fighting ventures.

And Michael Vick claims he knows nothing about the large professional dog fighting facility on his property.

Dog fighting is a felony in Virginia however the maximum sentence is 5 years and a $2500 fine.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE
Now, I’m rarely for enacting new laws and new restrictions on people’s freedoms as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else… but because American law doesn’t recognize animals as anything other than property, immoral and amoral people get away with all sorts of cruel and inhumane behavior that would otherwise result in ridiculous consequences had the same crime been executed on a human.

This has got to stop.  On one side of the spectrum of life, people are so damned quick to protect trees… the carbon levels in the air… the encroachment on wetlands and wildlife areas… and on the other side of the spectrum, others are willing to assist abused, hungry, and downtrodden human beings so much so that they’re willing to hold concerts to aid Africa or even invade countries in the name of human rights.  And frankly, I respect all of their concerns whether they’re right or wrong.

But when it comes to the middle ground – being the custodians of God’s little living creations like dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, and any other animals that are or aren’t otherwise pets – we humans seem to "hop" over our duties as being the guardians & shepherds of the living breathing creatures that share the earth.

And some horrible, horrible professional sports figures even have them fight to the death for sport and fortune.

SIGN THE PETITION, PLEASE
Please sign this petition to enact strong laws against animal fighting in the NFL, the NBA, and other professional sports and ask these leagues to publicly condemn sports figures that do fund and participate in such cruel behavior.  The petition publicly shows your name and your city of residence and I know that bothers some people but everyone needs to ask themselves:

This is a worthy cause:  At what point do I as a citizen need to stand up and publicly say, enough is enough.  If this isn’t a cause to put my name & address down on a petition for the world to see, what is?

SIGN HERE:  http://network.bestfriends.org/petitions/detail.aspx?pn=4&gu=stopbsl


Halo: Combat Evolved… the classic on Windows Vista & Xbox 360 Wireless Controllers

June 11, 2007

Last night I loaded up Halo: Combat Evolved (the original game) on my Windows Vista laptop and connected an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller through the USB Wireless Xbox 360 Controller Receiver.

This is scary.  It’s like having a laptop Xbox except with much higher resolution graphics.  The game play is really similar to the original Xbox except with some noticable differences. 

GRAPHICS
The first and most stunning is the fact you can play at 1600×1000 resolution.  The original Xbox Halo: Combat Evolved ran at 480i.  I’m running at the equivalent of something close to 1080p.  (Alright, alright.. 1080p is actually 1920×1080, but it’s close)  I’m playing Halo at a level of detail I never thought possible for the original game.  I can actually see bullet shells with decent detail on the ground as they fall from my gun.  I didn’t even know that Halo HAD bullet shells that fell on the ground up until last night.

Also, the because of the fidelity, it’s much easier to target and lock onto an enemy.  It’s like putting on glasses for the very first time and being able to see the chalkboard.  It’s THAT different.

SOUND
The sound is spectacular.  They have a high definition audio setting that makes you feel like you’re listening to the game in 3D sound instead of the stereo speakers on your laptop.  I have to say that the sound quality is much much better than what I’m used to and what I’d anticipated.

NO .NET 3.0/WINDOWS PRESENTATION FRAMEWORK
Here’s the thing:  None of this is running over the Windows Presentation Framework (WPF).  WPF is Windows Vista’s high performance graphics engine for displaying vector-based graphics.  What makes WPF different is that it packs most of the necessary graphics development libraries directly into the operating system, effectively eliminating the need for applications to "install" graphics related software on a machine – since it’s already in the operating system.

Additionally, WPF is designed to be very closely tied to the Windows Vista OS, providing performance benefits previously unavailable on Windows XP.  WPF was originally supposed to be incorporated into the kernel of the Windows Vista operating system but WPF would have needed the screws tighten on it to do so and it was eventually taken out of the kernel but kept shipping with Windows Vista to allow the OS to ship on time.  This made many "pretty UI features" disappear from Windows Vista unfortunately, but was a necessary step to get it out the door.

So, now with WPF available in Windows Vista, it begs the question:  How good is Halo 2 gonna be?

HALO 2:  WINDOWS VISTA ONLY
I’ve been looking forward to this product shipping for a long time but for different reasons than you might think.  Halo 2 just shipped to stores this past month and it REQUIRES WINDOWS VISTA.  You can’t play Halo 2 if you don’t have Windows Vista…. period.  The game requires Windows Presentation Framework and it needs it close to the OS to perform.

This will be the first really awesome demonstration of Windows Vista’s awesome graphics capabilities available to the consumer.  And when used in tandem with XBox 360 Wireless Controllers…

Man, oh man… let the fraggin’ begin!