Tuesday, February 20, 2018
There is a small temple on Mount Gobu, called Kōmyōji (=光明寺) which I used as an example destination for an English writing assignment for a Japanese high school.
Harima Central Park has a lot of attractions within it, but I left it out of the example so the students could choose it if they wished.
(The example can be found in my eikaiwa blog at http://joels-random-eikaiwa.blogspot.jp/2017/01/landmark-komyoji-in-takino.html. I couldn't find any of the pictures I took back when I lived there. I really should have gone back to get pictures, but time and money were tight. Oh, well.)
There are remains of an old outpost castle of Amagasaki Castle, called Tomatsu Castle (=富松城), not far from where I now live.
It's not much to see, just a mound and some stone steps and bits of stone walls and wild vegetation, but it's a piece of history.
Just five minutes down the street to the east is the well-known Tomatsu Shrine (=富松神社), which I understand to be on land that used to be part of the castle complex. Both of these figure prominently in certain parts of Japanese history, and their history is connected.
There is a historical reconstruction and museum of an early community from before the earliest written records (Yayoi period) out in the Tano area of Amagasaki, called Tano Iseki (=田能遺跡). You can find some information on this historic site on the web in English, but much more in Japanese.
Sometime when time is not so tight, I'll take pictures and post more of the history and interesting facts in my blogs. Some information is available, especially if you speak Japanese.
Places like the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (Akashi Kaikyo ) and the Suma Aqualife Park (Suma Kaihin Suizokukan=須磨海浜水族館) beach and aquarium (with the dolphin shows) are well known and easy to find information on. For package tours, or large group excursions, they are fine. For greater appreciation, we need more information about the sights to see and things to learn at the local sites.
I've long wished I had time and money to devote to making such information available. Maybe in the future.
Sunday, January 28, 2018
From one point of view, the story is a modern interpretation of a Regency-style romance -- how a pair develop their relationship while threading through the unwritten rules of upper-class (modern) society.
From another point of view, it's an examination of violence and power in relationships, and something of an implicit advocacy piece, especially for women, providing an LDS/Mormon female protagonist as a proxy for women's issues and other characters as proxy for other current social issues. (The advocacy does not qet in the way of enjoying it as a novel.)
The context is an intersection of LDS and non-LDS adult society, but the LDS society seems to be a proxy for pious society, and is not crypticaly LDS. I think the LDS references will not be opaque to non-LDS readers -- the reader will find them similar to references to Catholicism or any protestant sect as plot devices in many novels.
Warnings up front, there are several make-out or similar scenes, terminated by one or the other protagonist's sense of morals, or especially by the authors' sense of modesty in one case. There is one date rape scene, curtained by the female protagonist's delirium and loss of consciousness. There is also some violence. These elements are not gratuitous, but integral to the plot.
It should be considered oriented towards a mature reader.
The authors are intentionally provocative, and provide a list of topics of discussion at the end.
You can find the book at Amazon, at least. (Google search as https://www.google.com/search?q=off+script+liv+bartlet.)
My personal evaluation:
It is carefully crafted and flows well, and is not too long. (There were several scenes cut from the beta version I read which I admit I missed in the published version. But cutting them does make for a better read.)
The parts that are supposed to be enjoyable are enjoyable, those parts that are supposed to evoke other emotions are somewhat modulated, so as not to cause the reader to want too much to throw the book at a wall. (The beta copy was a bit more visceral.) Overall, it is both enjoyable and thought provoking.
I'll give it at least four out of five.
Sunday, January 21, 2018
While participating in the LDS Beta Readers group on Facebook, I was made aware that romance, in the fantasy novel subsection of the publishing industry, at least, means stories in which people get together at the end, after all the obstacles that would prevent them from doing so.
Now, when I was in high school, the definition of romance for literary purposes was still somewhat rooted in the old definition. Romance then was what we now call adventure, and adventure then was generally not the fun, easy, happy adventure we think of now, but adventure with real risks, that did not always turn out well.
So the publishing industry only wants no-risk romance of the heart?
We've lost something.
The greatest feature of human existence is to learn from our mistakes. That means we need literature about failure as well as success. We need more examples of relationships that don't work out the way they are planned to work out.
But that was not what I was discussing with Mrs. Rabe.
Recently, five of the participants in LDS Beta Readers have put together a cooperative Regency romance group that they are publishing serially using WordPress. It's a fun read. If you are a fan of the ton, as I have said somewhere else, you might want to sign up.
And I learned that Regency romances are about the period of British history known as the Regency, a period of social change in Britain.
(This might or might not be important. Fashion during the Regency was one of the few periods in which the corset was not a part of the fashionable female wardrobe, and I would like to research whether fashion reflects a broader allowance of women's rights. But I do not know about such things when I write this.
If this is a meaningful observation, it would indicate the Regency period as an intersection between freedom and protection which was repeated for a larger class in the USA during the 1940s to '70s, where women were both treated with respect and allowed to direct their own course to some extent.)
Regency romance novels are primarily about navigating the complex protocols of upper class and upper-middle class British society of the period, from acquaintence to social intimacy, from there to courtship against protocol, ending with finding a successful loophole in the protocol to allow moving from courtship to marriage. This is presented as an adventure, in either sense, and thus as a romance of the heart.
Many Regency romances start with the co-protagonists already being in a friendship. The greatest conflict is the risk of changing the relationship. If things do not go well, a value friendship can be lost, and both parties are usually hesitant to take that risk.
There is a class of social philosophy that suggests that the route from friendship, through courtship, to contracted marriage is an excessively dangerous course. I don't know where that philosophy comes from.
Yes, feelings can be heart, but real friendship survives hurt feelings.
Romance novels are fantasy, of course. But they do provide something of a window on society.
Fantasies themselves are not just escapist recreation.
We use fiction to construct abstract models of reality. The are notoriously inaccurate, but that is not a problem. Most of our science begins with notoriously inaccurate models.
Sure. Modern science has refined models which get pretty close to measured reality, but we had to go through inaccurate models to get here, as a society. And, as individuals, we still have to start with inaccurate models in order to approach the accurate models.
Our fictions are the inaccurate models with which we attempt to approach our understanding of society and its institutions.
The popularity of the Regency romance should indicate to us that the idea of navigating through different kinds and levels of intimacy is valid. If it is, beginning at friendship ought to be a perfectly valid approach. I'm going to argue that it ought to be a more successful approach than beginning from zero.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
My first official maudlin for the season.
Radio playing "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
And I'm crying like a baby.
The words running through my mind as the tears run down my face and my moustache gets all messy: Do they know?
Do the artists understand?
Do the fans?
Do you know it's Christ-time every day?
I'm not knocking art for charity efforts. They have their place and use, definitely better than turning a collective back on people in need -- and much, much better than wheeling in the machines of war against the supposedly evil enemy of the day.
But we should all be making it Christmas every day for the people around us -- not necessarily giving what's easy to give, but reaching out, giving our time, finding what they need, and helping them.
If we were busy helping each other, we wouldn't have time to argue whether Trump is a worse president than Obama or Bush.
If the Ethiopians were busy helping each other, they wouldn't have time to argue about abstract principles of capital.
If Bill Gates were busy (really) helping people, he wouldn't have time to implement yet more "new" strategies to keep shoring up that ageing (non-)OS and office (non-)productivity suite in the market, and other solutions could rightfully compete.
If I were busy really helping people, I wouldn't have time to post useless webrants.
We wouldn't have time to try to put people in jail because their life has been so cruel they seem to need drugs.
We wouldn't have time to give people in struggling countries more reason to hate these who seem to them to have no problems.
We wouldn't have time to waste valuable resources capturing markets and money streams and putting weaker competitors out of business. We wouldn't have time to convince ourselves someone else is weaker, or to convince ourselves that the supposedly weaker has no place.
So much of what is wrong in the world is caused by people who have too much time on their hands -- simply because they refuse to see that it's Christmas every day. They refuse to reach out and help.
They, no, we refuse to remember the spirit of giving, the spirit of Christmas every day.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
The LDS Beta Readers group that I've been participating in lately has released several anthologies of short-short stories written by members.
The most recent is called Love Undefined. (No, I haven't got a story in it.)
If you are interested in Mormon versions of condensed sweet romances where the girl gets her guy, these tales will be interesting.
And if you enjoy clean, short romances of love, with a hint of O. Henry-esque twist, you'll enjoy them:
* A blood-sucking immortal night-flyer finds repentance, family, and salvation.
* A teenage girl in a clan of were-creatures finds that love is more than a prop for her ego and salve to her wounded pride, when an enemy saves her life.
* Two journals record two series of dreams running in parallel in reverse.
* Christian traditions and symbolism bring a soldier back to life twice under an alien sun.
* A single woman finds love looking through her list of old flames and crushes.
* Two tartaned warriors find a way to end the bloody conflict between their clans.
* A pimpled musical prodigy finds a blind fan for her music, who inspires her to excel.
* A soldier cruelly disfigured by war wins more than friendship with the congregation's chorister.
* An inhabitant of a cold, gray and blue world unwisely leaves the protection of her world and her pack, and goes through a magic portal to a bright, vibrantly colorful, and too warm world, only to discover she can't return in her new human form. But she finds a place in her new world with her new human friend.
* A mail-order bride escaping a brothel on a slum planet finds two kinds of welcome when she arrives at her new home under two suns.
* When the reasons for a father's odd arrangement for his son to spend summers with the widow and daughter of his father's deceased business partner become clear, he rebels against the arrangement so she can have her freedom.
* And a couple celebrates their feelings for each other with a dinner and a surprise diamond ring.
Twelve authors, twelve excellent stories. Judging from activity in the group, at least some of these will turn into sneak previews for coming novels. I kind of hope they all do.
In the meantime, the anthology is available on Amazon, or direct if you know a member of the group.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
I had a chat about teaching foreign languages with a potential employer recently. Regretfully, it was not very productive.
Her idea of teaching foreign languages consists of subjecting students to two classes of activity:
Input and output.
At the risk of being rude, this sort of approach treats the student as a machine.
I guess the theory is that you shove a lot of input in, and the human machine (in self defense, maybe?) naturally begins trying to make sense of it. The sense it makes of the information you input would be the first step.
Then you give the human machine a chance to output what it has learned, and you give the machine feedback. The machine supposedly uses the feedback to correct what it has learned.
I'll admit that this is a partially valid view of part of the process. But it's fatally flawed because it is incomplete.
Many humans do not naturally try to make sense of all information they are given. Information that is not deemed important tends to get filtered out. You cannot overcome this filter by sheer charismatic force, and, when you try to do so, you end up creating learning blocks instead of learning.
Teaching is a communication process. It is not one-way, it is two-way.
There are four essential elements of learning a foreign language.
1: Courage, determination, perseverence, and desire;
2: Willingness to make mistakes;
3: Developing learning strategies;
4: And acquisition of the target language itself.
The first element is obvious not something you can force on a student. If the student sees the teacher mindlessly repeating (for example) a set of flash cards, she might believe there is a reason, or she might believe the teacher is crazy.
Babies have to assume the people around them are doing something meaningful, but they usually don't see people mindlessly rifling through a set of flash cards. They usually see see older children and adults communicating, and the communication they observe is rich with clues.
Students learning a second language are no longer in the do-or-die mode (hopefully). But they still need to see people doing things that make sense in the target language. Mindless repetition is, by definition, not going to be an activity rich in meaning.
There is a theory that assumes immersing the student in a target-language environment. In the extreme implementation, there is no mother tongue help at all. Such help is considered a hindrance to the object of forcing the student to acquire acquisition skills.
It does produce results. Children learn patterned responses, but they don't, except for a few who start out with language acquisition skills, acquire real meaning with the patterns. Without the meaning, the language lessons quickly become little more than a pattern game, like those Simon Says electronic toys: beep-beep-beep gets beep-beep-beep.
But that's in the best case. In the worst case, the students just get discouraged, frustrated, angry, and finally lose whatever motivation they might have had.
What determines whether the students start learning the pattern game or just lose motivation? Nothing more or less than personal chemistry with the teacher.
However, in the language immersion environment, even a little bit of the mother tongue can help untangle this web of de-motivation. And it can also help break through the pattern game.
(Really, any extreme idealism in education can't be good.)
More important than the clues, appropriate use of the mother tongue can be used to encourage the students.
The second element is a purely personal thing, but without it no student is going anywhere very fast.
No one starts with perfect understanding, so everyone makes mistakes. The learning environment has to be somewhat forgiving of mistakes. Not too forgiving, because students need feedback, but somewhat forgiving. Otherwise, mistakes pile up and get in the way of learning. (And when they pile up too much, students get stressed out and maybe even commit suicide.)
Learning strategies, the third element are far more important than teaching strategies. If you ask why, I'll remind you. Learning takes place within the student, not the teacher.
How does a teacher teach learning strategies?
Every teaching strategy you use demonstrates a learning strategy to the student. So you want to use lots of different teaching strategies.
But, even better, letting the students see the teacher in the process of learning something demonstrates learning strategy directly.
What is teaching?
It's one half of a process where information is passed from one person to another. Together with learning, education is simply one form of communication.
Or, rather, communication and education are basically the same thing, with a slightly different emphasis.
The most important teaching strategy and the most important learning strategy are both communication.
When you communicate with the student, you are teaching. When you do not communicate, you are not teaching.
Finally, we get to acquisition.
And if you are paying attention, you will see that I have said something Terrible. Awful. Horrible.
A teacher who does not know the target language, but is willing to learn with the students, can, in fact, lead a clsss in learning the target language.
That pile of 500 flash cards is just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.
That list of three thousand key vocabulary words is just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.
That book of eighty grammar principles is just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.
Tests are just another tool, a potentially useful secondary tool.
One of the primary tools are books in the target language, and a teacher willing to read with the students. Note that I say, "with" more than "to".
Another primary tool is a teacher willing to communicate, even if he or she has to give in and use the student's mother tongue sometimes to do so.
Other useful secondary tools?
Hangman or draw-the-flower, and other spelling games;
Word Bingo and other games that allow students to speak and listen to vocabulary;
Role-playing, pair practice, and skits (including English Rakugo) can also help, especially if they are made fun.
Why fun? Because things that are fun have meaning, and things that have no meaning are not fun. It helps bring meaning to lessons, and it is the meaning in the lesson that helps students learn.
Along with the flash cards, writing practice, vocabulary matching, pair practice, etc., use games. They aren't just sugar to help the medicine go down.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Okay, so, in spite of a certain rant three years ago, I am on Facebook, now.
It has significantly improved, I think. Or maybe the avalanche that hit me on attempted signup three years ago was due to my path in.
It's still not half what it ought to be. No, it's well less than that. Social networking is thoroughly hamstrung by the underlying profit motivation. We shouldn't have to write all our social activities on a business ledger.
Why did I join Facebook? Lots of people at church are using it. It is a bit more convenient than e-mail for certain kinds of contact.
Also, I'm beginning to suspect that I should quit trying to put someone else between myself and the student and just open up my own English/eikaiwa school. SNS will help with that.
Bonus -- I found the LDS authors Facebook group, LDS Beta Readers. Look them up if you're on FB and are interested.