Noilly Prattle: July 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Age Discrimination and Other Rip Offs

     I am 71-years old and considered pretty well preserved—in good health, mental faculties intact, exercise regularly, have good reflexes, excellent corrected vision and have been driving since I was sixteen. A car is like an extension of my body and I don't think about driving any more than I think about how I walk. Well, full disclosure, at the moment I'm in the middle of doing rehab for the leg I broke last February when I lost my balance while doing a yoga exercise, so I do think about walking for the time being.

        OK, so my drivers license is due for renewal in December when I will be 72 and I would normally get a reminder to report to the Drivers License Center for renewal. But this year, I got a notice in the mail saying that I would have to undergo an additional procedure before I could even think of going for the usual renewal.

        If I wish to renew my drivers license I must report to the facilities of a local driving school, attend a three-hour lecture in Japanese (less than one third of which I will understand) and pay the exorbitant amount of 5,800 [about US$60] on a fixed income for the privilege. Then, and only then, will I be allowed to apply for a renewal of my drivers license.

        At first I was so pissed off, that I told my wife that I was thinking about not bothering to renew it and let her do the driving. She, however, has had to have surgery on both her eyes for retinal problems and has difficulty driving at night, whereas I have no such problem. So, I will have to undergo the inconvenience and boredom of an incomprehensible three-hour lecture and shell out the fee as an extra added insult.

        There may or may not be some reasons for raising this obstacle to senior drivers, but the cost and location of this lecture make it suspect. Also, there are no physical tests involved to screen for vision and coordination that would make some sense. No, only an endlessly boring (even if you can understand it) lecture and a rip off fee of $60. As for the location, it isn't even in a public traffic safety facility, but in a private driving school. You should know that driving schools in Japan charge outrageous fees for their driving lessons. I've often suspected, tough I have no proof (except maybe for this choice of a lecture venue), that there is a tacit agreement between the examiners and the schools to fail the students a few times in order to increase revenue. The school gets to charge for additional lessons, and the license center gets another fee for each additional driving test. Cozy!

        This pre-renewal lecture is blatant age discrimination and a kind of hidden tax in my estimation. It is well known that Japan is a rapidly aging society and the number of older citizens driving cars is increasing commensurately. In a paper entitled “Analysis of Accidents by Older Drivers in Japan” by Kazumoto Morita and Michiaki Sekine of the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory, Japan, among the overall number of traffic accidents, those by seniors increased while those for middle aged and younger drivers decreased from 1993 to 2003, probably reflecting the increased ratio of older drivers to younger in the population.

        Comparing the number of accidents per 100,000 drivers license holders, however, the rates for younger drivers from 1993 to 2003 is considerably higher than both middle aged and older drivers and has remained rather consistent around 1,800 accidents per year. There is a slight rise over the same period for both middle aged and older drivers but the line graph is almost parallel averaging about 800 accidents per year--no significant difference between middle aged and older drivers.

        I have to conclude that this pre-condition to getting a drivers license renewal for seniors isn't designed to ensure traffic safety, but to bilk a bit of baksheesh out of the wealthiest element of the Japanese population, the elderly. See, they aren't spending their money to boost the economy, but saving up for their lavishly expensive funerals.

        Me? I'd rather have a drivers license

Friday, July 19, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Fourteen

Grade 4

Picture Pie

     We've all heard about integrated learning where one type of lesson can morph into another, so why not integrate Art and Math. Every kid knows that when Mom offers him some pie he's not going to get the whole pie but a fraction of it—better know as a piece of pie.

        While browsing through a bookstore some years ago I ran across a book called “Picture Pie” in which the artist composed an amazing array of imaginative pictures using circles and fractions of circles cut out of colored construction paper. I bought the book and kept it in my library.

        Fast forward ahead a few years. I'm in Japan, setting up an art program and looking for ideas for lessons that are a little, shall we say, left of center, educative, that might capture the imagination of primary school kids and would be doable. Kids this age are interested in their stomachs and the natural world around them, especially living things like animals and insects. Beetles are big in Japan where we have a rather large variety of shapes and sizes.

        I got the Picture Pie book off the shelf and started looking through it again, this time thinking about ways that I could adapt the technique to a project for my 4th Grade class. It was obvious that you could tie the lessons to food and Math through the idea of cutting a pie into fractions, and that was how I introduced the project. Using large circles cut from colored construction paper I demonstrated how you could cut the circle into halves, quarters, eighths, even sixteenths and three-quarters.

        When they understood the concept of dividing the circle, which all were readily able to do having already studied fractions in their Math class, I discussed and demonstrated how to assemble the various shapes to form an abstract picture of some familiar object—such as the baby chick on the right. The image consists simply of a three-quarter yellow circle and three one-eighth circle pieces, one yellow and two orange, a small black circle either cut out of construction paper or simply drawn with a black felt tip marker and a few lines with the marker to represent legs and a tree branch.

        Abstracting shapes of this nature is, of course, very challenging even for the teacher. Consequently I didn't expect a lot of creativity in this project and allowed it to be an exercise in cutting, pasting, design and manipulating of the shapes. I had lots of examples on display that the children were free to copy and/or try to make their own pictures. They were required to create six different pictures that were to be arranged and pasted on large circles. The arrangements were then laid out on large sheets of white drawing paper to represent a bunch of helium filled balloons tied together with string as if they were being sold at a circus or fair or festival. Looks good enough to eat—if you slice it right!

To be continued...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Thirteen

Grade 4

Jigsaw Puzzle

       The objective of this lesson is to create a 12-piece jigsaw puzzle on a medium heavy weight sheet of white drawing paper that can be cut into pieces that will hold their shape well enough to be reassembled into a completed picture puzzle by other people. This was a project for two classes—about three to four hours.

3 vertical, 2 horizontal wavy lines = 12 pieces
        I first instructed the kids to divide their papers into 12 irregular shapes. Using the whiteboard I drew a large rectangle to represent their papers and demonstrated how to estimate and divide the paper into thirds horizontally and quarters vertically by drawing small ticks along the top and left sides of the paper. Then they simply had to draw three vertical and two horizontal wavy lines creating 12 pieces (count 'em) of different jig saw puzzle type shapes that could be fitted together to recreate the picture. When to lines were done they were traced with a black felt tip marker.

       The children were required to make 12 different pictures based on 12 words that I had written on the whiteboard: circle, square, rectangle, heart, star, your name, a word, a number, a flying thing, an insect, a plant, an animal. I encouraged them to use their imagination, especially with the abstract shapes, and try to go beyond drawing, say, a simple circle, but adapt the circle to a real object that is round in nature: a ball, an orange, the sun, etc. I also told them to take the shape and size of each piece into consideration when designing the individual pictures so that the overall drawing would be compositionally interesting without too much “lonely” white space. When the drawings were finished I would look at them and OK or suggest improvements as necessary. Once OKd the drawings were once again outlined with a black marker.
         In the second class the kids used color magic markers to color and design their pictures and then cut them into 12 pieces along the wavy lines. For the rest of the class period they exchanged puzzles and tried to make each others' picture puzzles. It kept them pretty well absorbed for 10 or 15 minutes.
Jigsaw Puzzle

To be continued...