Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Ministry of Truth

On June 22, 2007, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously demanded that the Japanese national government retract its recent instruction to “correct” high school textbooks regarding the description of the involvement of the Imperial Japanese Army in the mass civilian suicides during the Battle of Okinawa.

The assembly protested, “It is an undeniable fact that mass suicides could not have occurred without the involvement of the Japanese military,” according to the Japan Times on June 23.

On June 20, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe succeeded in passing three education-related bills. One of the bills, the revised school education law, states that students must be led to a “correct understanding” of the nation’s history.

Taking these reports together, I wonder if the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly can be deemed as violating the new school education law, at least in spirit. The law states that an “attitude of loving the nation” is one of the important education goals, as well as a “correct understanding” of the nation’s history.

By the act of instructing the textbook publishers to “correct” their understandings of the Imperial Japanese Army’s involvement in the mass civilian suicides, the Japanese government claimed, I have to assume, that it holds the authority to decide a “correct understanding” of Japanese history.

One can argue, then, that the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly defied the “correct understanding, ” thus deliberately neglected the “attitude of loving the nation.”

As far as I know, recent comments by the Prime Minster and the Minister of Education were not so apparently oppressive. However, I regard deeds of politicians more important than their words, particularly in Japan, where words are often twisted or empty in politics.

The official English name of the Ministry of Education, Japan is extremely long: the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology. (The government invented a nice-sounding acronym, “MEXT.”)

In one April Fool article on my Japanese homepage some years ago, I once fabricated a false report and stated that due to public complaint that the name was too long to remember, the ministry decided to rename itself The Ministry of Truth.

I hope this April Fool article is still understood as a joke.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A beginning of the end of Chomskyan regime?

By John Colapinto
The New Yorker, April 16, 2007, pp. 118-139

The report by Daniel Everett in Current Anthropology is either revealing or disturbing depending upon your perspective in cognitive science. He claims that, in Pirahã, a language spoken by an indigenous people of Amazonas, Brazil, recursion is not observed. This The New Yorker article quotes the words of Steven Pinker on Everett’s claim, “a bomb thrown into the party.” The article deals with human aspects of the people involved in the investigation and the debate, as well as highly intriguing features of the language and the people who speak it. It is an intellectually entertaining introduction of the issue.

I never pretend to proclaim the end of the Chomskyan theory of language after only reading this 11 page long article in a weekly magazine. But surely something interesting is going on in linguistics!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The way we talk about ourselves

By Larissa MacFarquhar
The New Yorker, February 12, 2007, pp. 58-69

Neuroscience changes the way we see and talk about ourselves. Here is a quote from The New Yorker article on Paul and Patricia Churchland.

One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a miniute.” (p. 69)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

No-body is above the law

As The Japan Times reported on May 16, 2007, Japanese media were relentless when a former judge Norimichi Kumamoto broke the silence of four decades and went public to confess that he in fact believed that Iwao Hakamada was not guilty when he and his senior judges sentenced the defendant to death ‘by consensus’. The media was harsh not for the fact that the former judge was unable to persuade his seniors to acquit him in the social pressure of the time forty years ago. They instead blamed the former judge for flouting a law prohibiting judges from disclosing deliberations.

Yes, nobody is above the law. That principle includes the former judge. He should be under the legal obligation to remain silent about the decision process in the court.

But, I mean, no-body is above the law.

Then, God is above the law, for he/she/it is no-body.

If I were him, I would have chosen to confess the wrongdoing as he did, for I respect something above the law more. At least I don’t want to join the criticism of the former judge, for I believe he did a right thing after he had done a wrong thing. Confession of the secret may constitute a legal crime, but turning away from God is a sin.