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Learning Differences Conference 2013
Wednesday
Jun152011

Will Japan Keep Fighting?

By Laith Kalai

Japan: from Atomic bomb victim, to the world's third largest economy, this bizarre miracle of a country was host to one of the world's most merciless earthquakes and tsunamis and suffered a horrifying nuclear aftermath: Will Japan keep fighting? 

                              

Having been reduced to ashes in the aftermath of World War II, Japan shocked the world as it became the world's third largest economy. How did such drastic change occur in less than 50 years? What decisions did the Japanese government make to keep a balance between economic growth and economic development? Why is it that Japan currently has the word 'uninhabitable' written in red all over it?

     The words you see above translate to willpower, strength, and sacrifice. This is not some cliché tattoo design that guys get on their biceps. It represents important values and ubiquitous traits seen throughout Japan's history mostly evident since 1945.After the Second World War, Japan was utterly devastated. All of its major cities (except Kyoto), its industries, and its transportation networks were damaged beyond imagination. Despite the infrastructural damage, a brutal scarcity of food lasted throughout the years. With that in mind, Japan surprisingly and quickly made its way to the top of the top, achieving the status of a Top 3 world economy.
     Very sensitive decisions had to be made after the war, as each action the government had to make had the potential of affecting millions of people. At this point, one should differentiate between the terms 'economic growth' and 'economic development'. Economic growth refers to an increase in national or per capita income and product. For non IB Economics students, it is concerned with increasing the country's wealth. An increase in economic growth reflects an increase in the production of goods and services which also leads to an increase in average income. Economic development, on the other hand, implies more social improvements in the country such as improvements in health, education, and other aspects of human welfare.

Economic Monster
     Japan's rise as an economic world power is nothing short of spectacular. It isn't merely the economic status it currently maintains that makes it so special; it's also the country's technological break throughs, product quality and the incidence of "Made-in-Japan" products in every corner of the world that manifest Japan's success. Even more impressively, in spite of the massive economic power it has, it seldom got itself involved in political disagreements. To put it in simpler terms: an economic monster took the role of a self-concerned country when it came to world political affairs. Evidence of Japan's sudden rise or restoration as a country in the post-occupation period is the hosting of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, 1964. Another similar fact is that in 1980, Japan became the world's largest car producer, as its annual car production exceeded 10 million units.
     The interesting observation about Japan's re-establishment is the fact that under US occupation, the Japanese government valued economic growth much more than economic development. Despite this being the case, economic development came along just fine without any efforts as the Japanese people saw the need to educate, employ and take care of themselves all alone, even with the government’s priorities focusing on the country's wealth and not the human welfare. As their motherland sobbed and bled, they disciplined their way into healing the wounds.
     Expected to drastically fall down the well, unemployment rates and literacy rates were the least affected. Japan's postwar education system strongly contributed to the renovation process. The world's top literacy rate and supreme education standards were one of the main reasons for Japan's success at attaining a technologically superior economy. Japanese schools kept encouraging discipline which also helped in constructing a highly effective work force.One could acknowledge the US efforts in rebuilding the country as a democratic state from 1945 to 1952, but however this was only the ignition of the vehicle as it was the Japanese people who hit the pedal and made the vehicle run. About 60% of US bilateral aid was in the form of food and 28% in the form of industrial material and transportation tools.After a lot of work and effort, the economy was able to enjoy foreign trade as it was in a state where it could greatly expand exports to pay for the country's big necessity: imports without plunging into debt like several other developing nations in that period, otherwise known as economic surplus.

Shocking the World
     The marvelous acts lie within the Japanese people and how they worked together, being a collectivist culture, to make their own miracles and reach the top. What they have done since the Second World War is a perfect example of what one can make out of a seemingly hopeless situation.
     The government didn't need to worry about education, employment, and human welfare in general as they knew that the people would be responsible.

Japan today
     Japan was unfortunately hit by a colossal earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 (richter scale) on Friday, March 11th, 2011. The Japanese National Police Agency confirmed approximately 28,000 casualties and over 125,000 destroyed buildings.
     Naoto Kan, the Japanese Prime Minister said "In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan."
     A total of twelve nuclear reactors were automatically shut down following the earthquake in March. When nuclear reactors are shut down, cooling is needed to remove any decay heat and to maintain spent fuel pools. However, cooling didn't take place in most reactor shutdowns as it didn't function properly, causing leakages of radioactive waste.At Fukushima I and II, the tsunami waves ploughed through the seawalls and came right down, destroying diesel backup power systems. This led to horrifying problems at Fukushima I, including three explosions and a radioactive leakage. More than 200,000 people were evacuated before and after Japan declared an emergency state.
     Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant lost 3 of 4 external power lines and lost cooling functions for as long as 80 minutes. A spill of some liters of radioactive water took place at Onagawa.Officials reported that radiation levels within the plant were as high as 1,000 times the normal levels. They also reported that radiation levels outside the plant were as much as 8 times the normal levels. As a result, a state of emergency was declared at Fukushima II.The discovery of radioactive iodine was detected in several tap water sources, bodies of water, bodies of soil and some food products throughout the country.

Poor, poor Japan
     Japan, with a population of approximately 130 million people, is now said to be uninhabitable. Having nuclear power plants well distributed around the country, one can't predict the dangers such a catastrophe poses to human life.
     Will Japan and its people give up the fight against nature and flee their country? Will Japan tolerate more chaos than in the past 50 years and keep moving forward? Will we be able to fairly say that willpower, strength and sacrifice will again prevail and save the country from an inevitable and unfortunate downfall? One can't predict. One can only hope that the same remarkable collective work that took place post World War II will take place again and lift the country from its nuclear contaminated tears.

Photo's Courtesy of LIFE Magazine

   Notice where the boat Landed                      Flattened Land 

 

  
       

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/usc0001xgp.php
http://supersites.earthobservations.org/sendai.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-occupation_Japan

http://www.zcommunications.org/japans-red-purge-lessons-from-a-saga-of-suppression-of-free-speech-and-thought-by-tetsuo-hirata

http://www.sam.gov.tr/perceptions/Volume8/March-May2003/BirolAkgunSabanCalis.pdf
    

Wednesday
Jun152011

You know you live in Athens when ....

By Natalie Kyriakopoulou

     Athens…the city that created democracy…the city with the beautiful sky and the Parthenon, Plaka and Monastiraki… and of course the capital of Greece. Sounds like a wonderful place, doesn’t it? You’d love to visit it, wouldn’t you? But what does it feel like to live here? After spending my entire life in this city, I have concluded the following.

 You know you live in Athens when:

  • Traffic is the middle name of your everyday routine, especially if you have to travel to the city center.
  • Public transportation is never on time.
  • Strikes are a common occurrence.
  • You’ve been to at least one historically important place.
  • You know there is a difference between gyro and souvlaki.
  • Your Greek classmates have taught you all the swearwords you need to know within your first week of school.
  • A friendly gathering has no set time and no guest list; everyone is welcome so long as they are good company.
  • You avoid certain areas on Sunday nights with big football matches. Or, you will have to take sides in a war whose fanaticism would make any Crusader proud.
  • You’ve been muttered at by old ladies in the subway for sitting down before they could sneak into your seat…
  • Or you’ve nearly suffocated because of how many people were in the subway car.
  •  You’ve heard the proud, Greek heritage rant at least once.
  • The owner of your neighborhood’s Mini Market knows you better than you know yourself (and gives pretty good advice).
  • You’ve been forced to explain at least once that no, Greeks don’t always live in small, white houses with blue windows…
  • Or you were shocked to realize that that is not the case.
  • You know at least one person who always manages to turn the conversation to politics.
  • You are Greek and you’ve been considered a tourist.
  • You are non-Greek and you’ve been considered a Greek.
  • You haven’t visited a museum (voluntary that is) but you know the shop district (i.e. Ermou) like the back of your hand.
  • You’ve celebrated Easter with your family, baking lamb traditionally in the backyard.
  • You’ve been woken up at seven in the morning on the 24th of December by little kids going around, singing Christmas carols.
  • You have repeatedly taken the metro and repeatedly got confused while on the red line, because of the similar names of the terminals.
  • You know that a lunch break is the normal for shop owners and no, the argument of lost customers will change no one’s mind.
  • Summer is the equivalent of getting out of the city and to an island.

And finally …..

You know you are in Athens if you spend half your time complaining about the flaws of the city and the other half in rapture about its beauty.

Wednesday
Jun152011

Obeying Rules?

By Joy Krasopoulou

     They told me we have rules in order to create a safe environment and a peaceful community. However, when I look around me nobody is following the rules, they are not being applied fairly and the community is not peaceful. As a seventeen year old young adult, I am concerned because I understand that rules are important but I am confused by them because I can see that people do not respect and follow them. I look around me and cannot help noticing that adults, respectable and professional people from all levels of society, are frequently breaking the rules.
     I have lived in Greece my whole life and all my experience of how to live in a society has come from this. There are rules in Greece, but they are broken by almost everyone, every single day. From the very top of society, people are violating the law. We all know about Siemens, serious tax evasion and other stories of corruption involving our politicians and leaders. They have not abided by the law; they have not followed a single rule. The example they are setting is that rules do not need to be followed. So why should we obey rules?

     That said, we can all see that there are very serious problems in Greece and that if the rules were obeyed, perhaps we would not be where we are now. Let us take for instance a smaller community where people have to work together and live alongside each other, a place more familiar to us: school. A school needs rules because there are many people who work there every day and there would be chaos if there were no rules. If we did not have to go to class, then none of us would learn. If we did not have deadlines for homework, then we would never get it done. We all understand this. But to many of us, there is a contradiction: We do not like being told what to do.

     We will follow rules as long as it is our choice. We do our homework and we go to class because that is the right thing to do, and that is why we are in school. However, for many of us the purpose of certain rules is not clear, and this relates to democracy. Democracy, as the word itself implies, is when all the people have the power and therefore make the rules. Democracy insists that we have freedom of speech in order to express our opinions and live in a free society. This means we have a choice to follow rules or not. This also means that we should be able to make the rules ourselves. At the same time, this is problematic because this would suggest that we can break the rules if we want to, which would make our society lawless. That being said there is no way of knowing if everyone will do the right thing without having rules. Obviously, freedom of choice means that people need to be responsible, otherwise there would be chaos.

     So is there democracy in school? Well, we are encouraged through our education to think freely and openly about freedom, human rights and what is going on in the world. Nobody can tell us that we are wrong to express our opinions, and we should not be punished for them. When we are obedient and do not question rules, nobody minds and there seems to be no problem. What happens when we act contrary to school rules? If we feel that we are expressing ourselves, then does this mean that we are wrong?
    
This clash between the students and the authorities introduces the question of how democracy can combine freedom of speech with the necessity to follow rules. As the great ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates once said,
     “Our democracy destroys itself because it abuses the right to freedom and equality, because it taught people to believe insolence as right, illegality as freedom, rude speech as equality and anarchy as bliss.”

     This shows us that there is always a danger or an impasse in democracy, and that it is inherently flawed. It cannot possibly reflect the views of everyone, and at the end of the day, rules must be followed and respected in order to create a harmonious society. I agree. According to Socrates, another great Greek philosopher,

     “Good people do not need rules to know how to behave well.”

     This is true, but we would only be able to live by this thought if every person in society was good and agreed on what correct behavior is. It is idealistic and unrealistic. Therefore, responsibility is the only way for us to express ourselves freely without causing anarchy. It is important that debate should always be a central part of democracy because this allows people to express their thoughts in a healthy way. We must always be able to discuss what is right and what is wrong.
     In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I was confused as a result of observing people making laws and breaking laws. I am still confused and I believe until we all follow the rules properly, I will remain confused. However, I also believe that rules must always be open to debate.

Wednesday
Jun152011

Got Senioritis ......?

By Haidee Pittas and Gaith Kalai

        

       Senioritis is a condition that strikes high school seniors. It attacks average and struggling seniors alike. Symptoms included: laziness, lack of energy to study and attend class and an over-excessive wearing of track pants, old athletic shirts, sweatpants, athletic shorts, and sweatshirts.
       The graph below comes close to accurately describing a typical senior’s attitude towards high school over the final year:

                                       

Half-way through the senior year, most college-bound seniors have turned in their college applications. Their motivation has reached its peak. Symptoms of senioritis start showing up in a senior’s behavior after first semester grades have been sent off to the colleges. After all, whatever you do in school doesn’t matter anymore, right! Some seniors do wait to show symptoms until after they receive their first acceptance from a U.S college. Now their school work really doesn’t matter. However, once spring comes and they have made their college decisions, the symptoms increase exponentially. They are thinking I should be able to do whatever I want.
     The second semester of the twelfth year of school is considered a sort of waiting room for the next stage of life, which for most seniors is college. As seniors, we recognize that teachers may not necessarily like the symptoms we exhibit during the second semester of senior year. However, they need to realize that seniors are becoming increasingly preoccupied with thinking about the next stage of their lives, which starts next September. Therefore, the only real cure for senioritis is known as “Graduation.”

     But maybe there could be a better way to spend that final semester in our high school careers. Steve Medeiros, the director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Thinking at ACS, suggests a more productive alternative to “turn the second half of the last year of high school into a different experience.” He recognizes that most seniors have had their share of the typical high school routine at this point and rethinking the way they could contribute to their community during their senior year is the first step to making that change. This is not to say that seniors deserve a semester to relax before graduation, as there are many of them who have I.B and A.P exams to take.

     A possible way to make the last semester of senior year productive is to have seniors be in charge of a number of projects that take them out of their regular high school routines. This way, they will not only become familiar with the real world expectations and responsibilities that will be expected of them, but also have the freedom to work at their own pace in the environment they choose.

     We acknowledge that senioritis is a serious condition that has to be reconciled with. However, there are many different ways to use this lack of interest in the high school routine and turn it into something productive and relevant in the real world.