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John Amaechi

Back when I was in primary school, my best friend was a boy a year older than me, and taller than most of the teachers. After primary school, we went to different secondary schools, and lost touch.

A few years ago I discovered that he had become a basketball player, and was playing for the NBA in the USA. This was one of those “Oh, yes, that makes sense…” moments. I mean, he really was taller than almost all the teachers at age 11; that’s not hyperbole.

Today, I find that he’s the subject of a long article on the Guardian website. John Amaechi has come out as gay. He’s also written an autobiography, which I will have to read. (The link on here is to Amazon US, but Amazon Japan also have it, so I’ll get it from them.) From the bits of information mentioned on various websites, he had a lot of problems I didn’t know about at the time. But then, I was ten. Given the nature of the problems, it’s not surprising I didn’t know about them.

OK, yes, part of the reason for reading the autobiography is to see whether I’m in it. I suspect not, as we were only friends at primary school, and, judging from the material online, most of the important things in his life happened later. Come to that, the most important things in most people’s lives happen after they turn eleven. But hey, I lost touch with my best friend from primary school, and now I get to read his autobiography. I mean, how cool is that?

Amazon Advertising

If you scroll down a bit, you will see that I have added some Amazon advertising to the sidebar. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that these are called “Omakase” links, which is a Japanese word. It means that Amazon’s computers decide what to display. Right now, they seem to be deciding to display links to my books, which I approve of. Of course, that might well change over time, and it is also supposed to depend on the content of the particular page, and possibly even on the identity of the visitor. (If you have an Amazon cookie in your browser, Amazon knows it’s you.)

Another is that I’m a professional writer, so I might as well see whether I can generate an income stream from the blog too. I’ve been registered as an Amazon affiliate for ages, so setting it up was very easy. It shouldn’t be too obtrusive, tucked away in the sidebar, and I’ve put it below the links that are definitely and always to my books.

Since it doesn’t cost me anything to have the links (oddly, Amazon have elected not to charge people for putting adverts for Amazon on their websites) there’s a good chance that they’ll stay there. I’ll also be curious to see what turns up in the automatic selections. Amazon’s algorithms for that tend to be pretty good, but occasionally they do produce rather peculiar results.

The Collected Stories of Henry James

I’ve just finished reading the Everyman’s Library edition of Henry James’s stories. They only published a selection, but they still run to two volumes, totalling 2400 pages or so. Henry James was quite productive.

Henry James’s style is interesting. The word “lapidary” comes to mind: hard, precise, glittering, and very carefully crafted. It’s not the easiest prose in the world to read, but I do rather like it. I should just make sure that I don’t try to write like that; it isn’t my style, so it wouldn’t work very well.

Reading the collection finally confirmed for me that The Turn of the Screw really is by Henry James. I read quite a lot of his novels some time ago, and they are so far from being ghost stories that I assumed that The Turn of the Screw was actually by M. R. James, who did write a lot of ghost stories. On reading the collected stories, however, I discover that Henry James actually wrote quite a lot of ghost stories: Owen Wingrave is another example. It is interesting that the stories constantly reminded me of White Wolf’s World of Darkness. There are definite similarities of tone, although the writing styles are very different (and I suspect that WW would not be happy if I tried to write a supplement in the style of Henry James).

The jacket blurb claims that the stories have no match in fiction for variety. This is a blatant falsehood. They are almost invariably about the rich and privileged, where “poverty” is having only one servant. They are commonly about writers or portrait painters (in one notable case, about a writer engaged to a portrait painter). One of the characters frequently dies at the end, particularly in the early stories. I think my fictional writings have more variety than that.

They are, however, very rich, and deeply concerned with the psychology of the characters, which is what most literary critics like. They are good stories, and I enjoyed reading them, although I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend reading both volumes over a couple of months, as I did. They might be better taken in small doses.

One point that struck me on a purely personal level. The family of the main character in one story is called “Chart”. That’s the first time I’ve come across our name in fiction.

The Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents

Today I went to observe a meeting of the Kawasaki City Representative Assembly for Foreign Residents. I mentioned going to the open meeting in my diary back in December, and after that I felt that I wanted to see what a normal meeting was like. My original plan was to go in January, but that was the day I had to go to the hospital with Yuriko, so it didn’t happen. Today was the next meeting (they’re normally once per month), so I did go along.

There were a few general announcements, but for the most part the assembly split into two sub groups, the Education and Culture, and Daily Life groups.  I sat in on the Education group, as I am suddenly much more interested in the educationaly provision for foreign children in Kawasaki.

The representatives apparently go out on “fieldwork” between the meetings, meaning that they go to various official bodies in the city to see what’s actually done. While I suspect that places get advance warning, and thus can clean up their act a bit, it’s still a good idea. This time, they had been to a number of lessons about foreign cultures and discrimination in middle and high schools, and the general opinion seemed to be that the lessons were good.

There was also a lot of information provided by city civil servants, obviously after requests at the last meeting. This was about the city’s school counselor system, and the systems for multicultural education in other countries. The latter revealed the (not terribly surprising) fact that countries with histories of immigration have more developed systems for dealing with the children of immigrants. Of course, this gives Japan the chance to learn from other people’s experience, which is generally a good plan if you can manage it.

The school counselor system was more interesting. Apparently, the city sends counselors to every middle and high school, for eight hours every week. Any students with problems can see the counselor to talk about them. I gather that this is, at least in part, a response to bullying, and suicides arising therefrom. However, the counseling is not limited by subject matter.

The problem, of course, is that it is limited by language. It seems that foreign students who speak Japanese do use the service, and often talk about problems arising from differences in language and culture. There were questions about what the city could do for children who spoke Japanese less well, but the representative said that they didn’t have the budget for either interpreters, or for bilingual counselors. He pointed out, quite reasonably, that such people are quite rare. I’m not sure how this can be solved; while some of the representatives basically wanted the council to throw money at the problem, that’s not reasonable for most of the languages, as there aren’t enough students to require a bilingual counselor on a regular basis. There might be for Portuguese, Spanish, and Tagalog, but most of the Koreans were born in Japan and thus speak Japanese. It is something that should be looked at, though, and that’s the sort of thing that I think the assembly can do well.

As I mentioned before, the assembly is formally established, but it has no authority. The mayor of Kawasaki has to receive its annual report, but he doesn’t actually have to do anything about it. The impression I get is that the city does, in fact, act on the report, but anything that takes more than negligible resources can take several years of campaigning. In a democracy, campaigning on behalf of people denied the vote is never a strong position, so it isn’t surprising that major changes are slow. After all, politicians are more concerned with the wishes of the people who can vote against them. On the other hand, when the assembly brings simple things to the city’s attention, they do seem to get done, and the city does consider major changes (it’s even, apparently, considering giving us representation to go with our taxation).

The next question is whether I will apply to be on the next assembly. Its term doesn’t start until April 2008, so I have plenty of time to think about it, and go along to some of the other meetings before I decide. I am seriously thinking about it, because I would like to get more involved in the local community. After all, this is where our child will be growing up, at least to start with.