The shadow is fading...

Sixty years ago this week the second and third nuclear tests were conducted over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Hot searing gases burst forth from a hypocenter nearly 1,000 feet above the ground. The glazing on roof tiles bubbled up. Houses burst into flames. The skin of people on the ground flash boild and started dripping to the ground. A shadow was burnt onto the stairs of a bank - a customer sitting on the front step, waiting for the bank to open, left her shadow for eternity.

However, this shadow had started to fade and the bank was rebuilt. The artifact must be preserved indoors. This is not the only shadow fading...

The shadow of Hiroshima represents the awareness of the people of Hiroshima, Japan, and the world. I think of the motto of the POW/MIA movement: "We shall not forget." However, we are forgetting. The realities of the war are horrendous, so many prefer not to hear about the zombie like figures wondering the streets of Hiroshima with their skin dripping off their outstretched arms. This is war! We prefer not to think about it.

It is important to remember the costs of war - including on the soldiers who carry it out on both sides. It is important not to forget what price has been paid to settle disputes by women, children, peace lovers and war mongers alike.

People in Hiroshima are forgetting what this meant - and people in many other parts of the world have never learnt the lessons of war. We rely again and again on the hard power to bandage over misunderstandings...

Return on your Yen

The going rate for a private English tutor in Japan is about JPY3000, or nearly US$30. Being on the winning side of this equation, I am not complaining. I teach English a few hours a week - as somone once told me, I'd be a fool to forego this goldmine. When I teach, it is not uncommon to see another Japanese-Western pair with the obligatory dictionary and notebooks.

Likewise, nearly every station in Tokyo has a NOVA, GEOS, or Shane's English school within walking distance of the station. Some stations have all three, or even several offices of the same company. Japanese job boards for foreigners list hundreds if not thousands of English teaching jobs.

Since 1987, the Japanese government has imported Assistant English Teachers who in turn teach at Elementary, Junior High School, and Senior High Schools across the country. As of the last year, there are over 6,300 individuals, mostly from English speaking countries, on one to three year stints. Universities too hire non-Japanese instructors to teach their English classes.

In short, the Japanese government and people spend what amounts to the GDP of several small nations in order to support this army of native English speaker college-graduates working in Japan. What do they get for their money? Not much.

According to ETS, the Japan ranks second from the bottom for average TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores in Asia. North Korea squeeks in just below Japan. Around the world, only Niger, Mali, and a few other poor nations do worse. Korea, China, and Taiwan all do much better than Japan, for much less money.

What is the problem here? There are thousands of critiques of the Japanese education system, however, this single demonstration of English ability attests to very poor investments. Perhaps the quality of teachers could improve - usually the only qualifications sought are that one be a college grad and a native speaker. (Non-native experts in English language education, Linguistics, or other expertise need not apply). This is true, however, that still does not explain such a low performance. The college admissions tests and thus the primary and secondary education systems that are tailored for such test also must be revised. This too does not fully explain the poor performance. Many test takers are post University students. Why then, I ask, does Japan spend so much money but have so little to show for it?

Are the aides freaking?

It's official - it is a war on terror. It isn't a crusade, and it isn't just a mere "global struggle against violent extremism." Bush has spoken - the United States is engaged in a neverending war on terror. Why this switch? Why this sudden "flip-flop?"

In January of 2003, Bush established the Office of Global Communications to coordinate the international message of this Administration. Staying "on message" is of considerable importance in the WH. Nearly everyday, this office issues the "Global Message of the Day." Curiously, the last message was March 18, 2005.

Likewise, only recently was Bush's friend, Karen Hughes, confirmed by the senate as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. From the time of Margaret Tutweiler's sudden departure nearly a year and one half passed.

This lack of direction sounds oddly familiar. This lack of control sounds somewhat like recent stories out of Hollywood - maybe, something like Tom Cruise's recent parting with his long-term publicist Pat Kingsley. Without her advice, Cruise has drawn unwanted attention from the media, particularly regarding his Scientological beliefs.

Perhaps a lesson for Bush here is that to keep on message, he needs to figure out this communication stuff. Luntz and the others have figured this out in the domestic market, but actions still speak louder than words overseas. When will they ever learn?

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