A talk with Steve Mackevics, my tutor in 2016

 

 

Every month, a talk with Steve on various topics will be posted. Steve comes from Adelaide, Australia. He’s been in Japan for more than 10 years, and is married to a Japanese. There was an addition to his family, Sakura, his daughter who was born in April, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on December 14, 2016:

A bill to legalize casino operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a bill waiting to be voted on; it may become a law today, the last day of this year’s Diet session. This bill calls for the legalization of a casino as long as it is located in an integrated resort facility. What do you think?

 

(A postscript: it became a law late on that day.)

 

Steve kicked off the meeting by saying, “I’ve got no beef with casino.” Soon, we were in agreement that betting of any kind is one’s own choice; you make your decision and take responsibility for the consequences. There is always a debate against betting; it will ruin oneself once one becomes addicted. I would like to mention something I said to my wife who expressed the same view. I disputed her point stating that it’s one’s own choice similar to any other legal betting in Japan such as on horse racing, boat racing, lotteries or “pachinko” (a pinball game) amongst others. So, a casino will be treated as such, nothing more nothing less.

 

Then, Steve explained about betting in Australia, such as on horse racing, at casinos and the TAB (Totalizator Agency Bureau), an official book maker on any sport events. Lastly, here are a few remarks on the new law. There is a space limitation to a casino that it should be less that 3% of the total area of an integrated resort. At the initial stage, the number of casinos will be restricted to three only. And the detailed stipulations regarding a casino will be presented to the Diet later on. Let’s hope that a casino will be introduced here based on the worthy experiences of other countries, so as to be beneficial to both foreign tourists and Japanese.         

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on November 9, 2016:

The result of the US presidential election.

 

 

 

Our discussion on that day happened just a few hours before the final result of the US presidential election was announced.  By then, it was becoming clear that Donald Trump had fared surprisingly well and was on the path to victory against Hilary Clinton, who had originally been poised to be the final winner in spite of the adverse effects caused by the reopening of the FBI investigation on the mail issue at the very last moment. So, we were obliged to expect the outcome and ask why the American voters favored Trump, a demagogue by any definition.  

 

Steve mentioned, quite appropriately, that the result would be surprising but also not surprising to a certain extent. According to CNN, Trump managed to exacerbate the discontent of ordinary people who were fed up with the established political entity in Washington; Trump seemed to succeed in sending a message that he was a viable candidate to wipe out all the wrong doings.

 

Well, we have to wait and see what exactly Trump will do when he becomes the US president. I would like to add one more thing; I hope that Trump will be humble enough to learn from history. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on October 12, 2016:

The LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) has been in power almost continuously since the end of World War II. What are the reasons for this?

 

First of all, let’s take a quick look at the history of the Japanese political parties since the end of WW2 in 1945. Many small parties existed whether on the right or left until 1955, when several conservative parties united as the Liberal Democratic Party. By the same token, a unified socialist party was set up. Since then, the LDP has been in power except on two occasions: during the 1993 – 1994 period, a coalition of smaller conservative parties took power, and during the 2009 – 2012 period, it was the time for the opposition party, the Democratic Party, to take the main stage.

 

Steve mentioned three reasons, which are closely correlated to each other, for the LDP being incumbent for so long. The first is simple: the lack of strong opposition parties. Small parties, whether first timers or spin-off groups, are usually short lived eventually fading away or being swallowed up by bigger parties. It is said that the electoral system works to the benefit of big parties: members of the Diet (for both lower and upper houses) are elected either from small districts or from constituencies based on proportionate voting.

 

The second reason as explained by Steve is “clientelism.” The LDP has masterminded a system through which the interests of a particular group will be sustained if not augmented in return for money (donations) and votes in elections.   

 

Thirdly, Steve raised an argument that focuses on “fiscal centralization.” What is meant by this? The LDP has managed to fortify a system by which the national government will redistribute collected taxes and dues to local governing bodies based on their needs and financial conditions. In this manner, The LDP has kept a stronger grip over local governments to enforce its national polices with ease.    

 

Is this good for the Japanese public? To a certain extent, yes. At least, the LDP has somewhat managed to sustain the synergy between political stability and economic growth. Nevertheless, I would like to see a stronger opposition party that will offer alternative policies, leading to a better political climate in Japan.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on September 14, 2016:

To what extent does religion play in civil wars or regional conflicts.

 

Even during the past several decades in many parts of the world, we have seen so many tragic incidents of civil wars or regional conflicts that strangely enough were fought among groups representing particular religious factions. To what extent does religion play in those conflicts? Are those groups just using religious banners to justify themselves? Or does religion itself have the power to instigate its followers to fight?

 

To these sensitive and difficult questions, Steve raised intuitive remarks by saying, “What religions are we talking about?” “Conflicts themselves are manifestations of man, - for power, land, wealth, or even ego - .” “What does religion do in conflicts?”  “It creates divisions based on religious teachings and provides justification for their conduct and actions.”

 

First of all, we tried to discuss various religions rather than focusing on one particular religion. Religion differs from one another in many ways, in particular to: whether a holy book exists and how it was compiled; how a religious community is set up and operated. We know that a sacred book does not necessarily suit today’s society many centuries after its creation; we have seen also the danger of some groups literally adhering to it. A religious community being set up by men was and is prone to expand its power and influence if not to protect it. History teaches us how religious communities fanatically pursued their interests when they collaborated hand in hand with a mighty emperor or king.

 

Well, these adverse aspects of religion have been talked about so much in general, but what about the positive sides of religion, such as teaching moral conduct, pacifism and so on that are inherent with any religion. What is imperative now is that religion has to meet the wishes and needs of people, to keep distance from power, and more importantly to make religion more tolerant of other religions. In this way, religion can regain its appropriate role and status in the 21st Century.         

 

 

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on August 24, 2016:

Concerns for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

First of all, let’s talk about the huge costs involved and the timing of the games during such a hot and humid summer.

 

Recently elected governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, is determined to review the whole building costs of various Olympic venues so as to fulfill one of her election promises. Steve said, “Wasn’t there a previous attempt to review the costs involved?” In essence, he raised the question of whether it was all the worthwhile to spend money, time and manpower to make yet another review when it was already paramount to meet the deadlines for the 2020 games.

 

Regarding what has been achieved so far in terms of costs all I know is that the review of the new national stadium, which was initially planned as an eye-catching futuristic stadium, came up way over budget. The Tokyo Olympic organizers were compelled to review the project, and   subsequently managed to make substantial cost cuts by adopting a rather conventional design. Now, what can Koike do? At best, she could find a way out that has some existing venues being used only as a last resort. Haven’t we considered this option, already?

 

This discussion regarding huge costs has more profound implications in terms of the sustainability of the Olympic Games. What if only a handful of rich countries hosted the games in turn? Under this context, we went on to talk about the feasibility of a hosting country, for example Greece that held the Olympic Games in ancient times, holding them on a permanent basis. The benefit of this idea is obvious: that all the Olympic venues, once completed, will be reused from one games to the next. But, on the other hand, fixing on one country, or for that matter a few countries, does not go hand in hand with the Olympic Charter, “The Olympic movement is the concerted, organized, universal and permanent action, ………, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism. It covers the five continents.”

 

Another interesting idea of limiting the hosting costs is the concept of “one event one country.” I will not go into further details here; but one thing is sure that we have to seek and pursue ways and means of abating the huge costs involved so that the Olympic Principles, “the values of Olympism, the value of excellence, respect, friendship, dialogue, diversity, non-discrimination, tolerance, fair-play, solidarity, development and peace,” can be sustained.  

 

Now turning to the timing of the games. Steve made a surprising remark, “So what!” I took it that there are countries with hot and humid summers, so it’s nothing special. Let’s hope that we can utilize scientific and technological wonders (such as providing mist, shadows, mild winds among others) to mitigate the hardship expected of athletes during the outdoor events.  I remember a unique idea that was reported in the newspaper which talked about drawing in the relatively cooler air over the Bay of Tokyo to downtown areas. How marvelous it would be to realize such an  idea.

 

Lastly, I would like to say this much. We are looking forward to having the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: to see the games live and not have to worry about any time differences.     

 

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on July 13, 2016:

The Tokyo Governor's election.

 

At the moment, four people are showing interest to run for the governor’s post: a female politician, a former governor of Iwate prefecture who will be a nominee of the ruling Liberal Democratic party, a well-known journalist who will be supported by a coalition of major opposition parties, and a lawyer making his third attempt to the position. In your opinion, what should be the agenda of a new governor?

 

Admittedly, those of us who are living in Yokohama are not involved in the Tokyo governor’s election, but have a keen interest in the final outcome.

Do you know that Tokyo, the capital of Japan, with a population of over 13 million wields not only political influence on a national level but also has economic clout with gross domestic products totaling around 1,520 billion US dollars making Tokyo the world’s richest city.  

 

So we started the talk. Steve emphasized that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will be the first priority of the new governor; how to handle the games, new sport facilities must be completed on schedule and within budget. I do hope that the organizers consider seriously the ways and means of mitigating the “suffocating” summer weather that may affect athletes who will be competing in outdoor games.

 

Then, we talked about the possible lead that Tokyo could play, especially in terms of economy. Steve explained that he favors companies spending more in Japan, for example hiring more people and thus paying more salaries. In this way, the domestic economy will be rejuvenated if and when economic policies to encourage retaining industries in Japan are appropriately implemented.

 

I would like to add one more important and acute agenda for the new governor. That is how to prepare for the coming mega-earth quake. Experts are saying that a calamity similar to the Great Kanto earth quake in 1923 (magnitude 7.9) or the Kobe-Awaji earth quake in 1995 (magnitude 7.3) is imminent; it could happen within a few decades, or a few years, or even a few days. In order to cope with such a disaster, there are so many countermeasures that need to be carried out; the priority is to minimize the collapse and fire of buildings and houses, by enforcing the latest architectural regulations without delay.    

 

The election will be held on Sunday, July 31. The latest development is that the fourth candidate, the lawyer, has withdrawn from the race.  

 

Update: A female politician, Yuriko Koike, won the election with over 2.9 million votes beating out the second contender by more than one million ballots.  

 

  

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on June 8, 2016: The great academic achievement during the Islamic Golden Age.

Many people know that a great deal of Greek classics were translated into Arabic and hence expanded or enhanced by Arabic scholars during this period. Their achievements were subsequently transferred to European countries, culminating in the Renaissance. What motivated Islam to take this

action? Was it because of their rivalry with the Eastern Roman Empire?  What is your take? 

 

I have to admit that the topic for discussion, being academic and perhaps requiring time to think about beforehand, was raised with Steve on the day during class, simply because I couldn’t prepare it in time. Well, Steve tried to focus his thoughts by saying, “Not only Greek classics” were collected by the Arabs. It was actually classics from civilizations and cultures that were either conquered or encountered by Islam, such as Persian, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, and Phoenician in addition to Greek.  

 

It was the Abbasid Caliphate, after assuming power from the Umayyads in the mid-8th Century, that expanded their territory to the Iberian Peninsula in the west and central Asia in the east, who exerted themselves in the

acquisition of knowledge, that realized the so-called Islamic Golden Age.

 

One of the caliphs, Harun al-Rashid (and his son al-Ma’mun), was interested in classics and gathering information, which, interestingly enough, stemmed from Islamic teachings. So, he established “The House of Wisdom” in the capital, Baghdad, as the center of learning by providing a library, translation institute, and academy.

 

What were the great academic feats during this period? Let me quote some examples from Wikipedia: Philosophy, saving and expanding the works of Aristotle; Mathematics, algebra and algorithms were developed; Trigonometry, the laws of sines were developed; Medicine, Avicenna’s “The Canon of Medicine”, a medical encyclopedia, was translated into Latin and later other European languages and was used as a standard medical textbook throughout the 18th Century in Europe.

 

Coming back to the question, “What motivated Islam to take the action of attaining academic achievement?” The answer was quite obvious as Steve mentioned that “the curiosity of one of the Caliphs” rather than a rivalry with the Eastern Roman Empire was the motivation.    

 

   

 

 Aureus (gold coin) of                The silver drachma of

 Augustus                                   Arsaces I of Parthia

 

A talk with Steve on May 11, 2016: Ancient Rome's archrival in the east was Parthia, but the two powers seemed to maintain a substantial economic relationship. Which of the two benefited the most?

 

Parthia lasted for more than four centuries (from 247B.C. to 228 A.D.), confronting the Roman Empire on its eastern frontier, and was a formidable empire stretching from present day Iraq in the west to Afghanistan in the east at its height. The two empires fought one another several times but nevertheless they kept a lucrative trading relationship: from the east, products such as silk, gems, spices among other products, and from the west wines, clothes, leathers, cheese and so on. Let’s look a little closer at their relationship so we can ponder which of the two benefited the most.  

 

It is quite interesting to know that each of the empires seemed to “refrain” from conquering its opponent and expanding its territory. Then what caused the wars? For the Romans, they were more concerned about the security of their eastern territories. So, at times of heightened tension, the Romans often made pre-emptive attacks aimed at knocking out the Parthian army, and after confirming its military victory, the Roman legions retreated to the established Roman territories. Parthia, on the other hand, seemed to take military action against Rome whenever there was impetus to divert internal issues.

 

As the Roman Empire became stronger and stronger, reaching its zenith, it was the Romans who took more offensive actions. In this respect, Steve mentioned specifically three Roman emperors.  First, Trajanus (reigned from 98 to 117 A.D.) who launched a decisive military campaign against the Parthians who had set up a puppet king in Armenia, being located in a sensitive area between the two empires. Trajanus managed to conquer not only Armenia but also Mesopotamia (including the capital of Parthia, Ctesiphone) and Assyria.

 

On the other hand, Hadrianus (reigned from 117 to 138) took a more defensive role in that he contented himself with a secure frontier by giving up three previously gained regions under Trajanus. Thirdly, Severus (reigned from 193 to 211) again managed to expand the Roman territory in the west.        

 

Internal struggles weakened Parthia, which was finally overrun by the Sassanids in 226. The Sassanids envisioned themselves as reviving the once almighty Persian Empire; therefore they sought aggressive measures to confront the Roman Empire. Even though, I’m inclined to believe that the economic relationship between the two empires flourished reciprocally.

 

So, coming back to the question, who benefitted the most, the Romans or the Parthians in terms of their economic relationship? I would very much like to say that it was both of them. What would you say?

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on April 13, 2016: What have you noticed most about your daughter's growth?

 

Steve’s daughter, Sakura, just turned two on April 11, 2016. He kicked off the talk by saying that he’s not really surprised by Sakura’s growth, since it seems natural and as to be expected. But it’s a different story for his wife, who seems to be delighted at whatever Sakura does or says anew from repeating a new word that she has just heard to mimicking observed actions. Perhaps these observations reflect how a father or a mother reacts respectively.

 

It’s good to know that Sakura has started to speak a lot and likes singing. Then I asked what language he uses at home. To this, Steve speaks English to his wife and daughter: mother to Sakura, Japanese. This is indeed a multilingual environment. I hope Sakura will manage and benefit from this.

 

Lastly, Steve talked about his dog, which seems to get less attention these days because of Sakura. Incidentally, my two-year old grandson, Yuto, also attends the same nursery school as Sakura.

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on March 9, 2016: Is democracy in a developing country a suitable system?

A talk with Steve on March 9, 2016: Is democracy in a developing country a suitable system? We have seen over the years on a global scale that a lot of popularly elected so-called democratic governments have become dysfunctional sooner or later and subsequently replaced by dictators or military juntas. How do you see the fundamental problems and what would be your remedies?

 

Admittedly, we have selected a very political topic today. Let’s give it our best shot. Steve started off with this interesting remark by Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Then the discussion went on to the definition of democracy. Are we talking about democracy in terms of, for example, the U.S.A: a government by the wealthy, namely a plutocracy or a parliamentary democracy as practiced in the U.K.? Of course, there are many other variations of democratic practices worldwide.

 

We also covered areas of democracy that are not appealing: such as the choice of candidates being heavily swayed by financial backing, or the fact that not everybody votes among other observations. These are prevalent in many countries, whether developed or developing countries. In the developing countries, these malfunctions seem to exacerbate to extremes perhaps due to their inexperience with democratic practices.   

 

After the discussion, this is what I felt: that democracy in developing countries is fragile but they can learn from the lessons of the past to minimize the risk of going to extremes. What’s more, I’m beginning to assume that rural life in those countries is more or less “democratic” in that they help and assist themselves, in other words “sovereign power lies with the people”. So the question is really how to incorporate these features with “western” democratic practices on national levels.        

 

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on February 10, 2016: How to enjoy a cold winter?

 

Do you have specific ways and means to enjoy winter? Do you have a new idea that you would like to try this year?

 

“Not particularly.” This was Steve’s opening remark to the first question. He mentioned that he is not partial to any season; he carries on with his life, of course adjusting to the seasonal climate, by putting on more or clothes as the case may be. 

 

Well, there did seem to be one particular area that winter days affect Steve: he enjoys riding a motor bike but would rather prefer to drive his car in winter.

 

To the second question, Steve seems to have no new idea yet. But I would suspect that he might take Sakura, his two year old daughter, for some kind of winter activity that she would like to try. There is a good ice skating rink nearby at Kodoomono-kuni park!  

 

 

 

 

 

A talk with Steve on January 13, 2016: This time, we would like to talk about your mother. 

 

How does she enjoy living in Australia and visiting Japan? Is there any place in Japan that your mother would like to go?

 

I was very pleased to hear that Steve’s mom, who is 79 years old, is fit and well, enjoying life in Adelaide, Australia and looks forward to visiting Japan every year to see Steve’s family, especially Sakura, her almost two year -old granddaughter. 

 

So, let’s see how she enjoys Australia. Adelaide happens to be the ideal place to live during the golden years of your life according to some surveys. Her husband passed away 14 years ago, but her life in Adelaide seems to be both energetic and sociable. She hikes a lot almost every day, practices yoga, meets with her friends and relatives, plays Bridge and so on.

 

When Steve’s mother comes to Japan, usually for one month in May, she prefers to stay with Steve’s family, doing all kinds of chores: washing clothes, preparing food, walking the dog, shopping at a local supermarket etc. Of course, she plays Bridge, sometimes on line.

 

Steve’s mom seems to enjoy herself especially with her extended family in Australia and Japan. How nice it is!

 

 

 

Facts about Yokohama

A talk with Steve Mickevics, my tutor

From my album:

Kohoku New Town

Jike countryside

Jike Art & Craft Corridor


Made in Tsuzuki, Yokohama

The Philippines

The Middle East

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