Switching hosts

Mutantfrog.com will be switching to another web host some time in the next week, so don’t expect any new posts for a few days, and don’t be concerned over any temporary service outages.

Lunarpages complaining about CPU usage again

More of this crap

Ticket Ref : 8728-RAJB-9771
Ticket Subject : Account Moved to Sputnik – Excessive Resources


We have not recieved a response from you regarding your move to our Quantz
abuse server. Please respond as soon as possible to avoid permanent account
disable. Below is a copy of site usage as of 7/27/06

mutant2 mutantfrog.com 1.02 0.35 0.1
Top Process %CPU 67.0 /usr/bin/php
Top Process %CPU 34.0 /usr/bin/php
Top Process %CPU 28.0 /usr/bin/php

Thank you for your time and prompt response.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions

Victor Lerma
Phone: 1-877-LUNARPAGES/1-877-586-2772 (U.S. & Canada – Toll-free)
Phone: 0800-072-9150 (U.K – Toll-free)
Phone: 1-714-521-8150 (International)

I switched from the Mutantfrog theme (which was a barely modified default theme, just different graphics and colors) to the totally untouched default just in case there IS some bug in there causing excessive usage.

I can’t understand how a simple install of WordPress on a fairly low traffic blog could be causing such enormous spikes, but I clearly can’t tell them that their own server has something odd with it.

Does anyone have a good host to suggest, that is friendly to running PHP based blogs, and does not sell unrealisticly cheap storage plans to lure you in, and then threaten to cancel the contract and keep your money for excessive CPU usage?

“Taiwan still a good place to learn Mandarin”

The following is an op-ed piece from yesterday’s edition of the Taipei Times that considering I myself went to Taiwan instead of China to study Chinese makes a very good point. Time Magazine’s goddawful article on learning Mandarin can be found at their web site here.

Taiwan still a good place to learn Mandarin
By Dan Bloom

Tuesday, Jul 25, 2006,Page 8

“Time” magazine published a long feature in its June 19 edition about the benefits of studying Mandarin — in China. Not once did the magazine’s 10-page report mention that Taiwan is also a good place to study, learn and live the Chinese language. How could such a reputable, international magazine, with many readers in Taiwan miss the boat on this?

When a reporter in Taiwan queried a Time editor in Hong Kong about the cover story, which was titled “Get Ahead, Learn Mandarin,” he received the following note: “The story did not discuss Taiwan because the subject of our cover story that issue was the rising interest in studying Chinese. That phenomenon is directly related to the growth of the Chinese economy, hence the focus on China. People study Mandarin in Taiwan, of course, but that has long been the case and isn’t really news.”

Good answer, but it didn’t really answer my question. When an international news magazine devotes its cover story to “learning Mandarin” in Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea and does not once mention the country of Taiwan as a place to learn Chinese, something is very wrong in the biased way the editors perceive things. Perhaps Time’s editors in Hong Kong believe that Taiwan is a mere province of China and therefore not worth a mention in the article in question?

Mark Caltonhill, a longtime resident of Taiwan, recently wrote an online commentary in the Taiwan Journal about his own learning curve in acquiring Mandarin. He noted that Taiwan was a very good place to learn and live the Chinese language, and is not in any way inferior to China.

Caltonhill wrote: “Whatever [a] student’s interests and specialties — art or history, religion or philosophy, literature, martial arts or Chinese cuisine — Taiwan has as much or more to offer [than China].”

Taipei, of course, is a very good place to study Chinese. Time’s editors know that. Time even has reporters who work for the magazine here. And there are many schools here that offer Mandarin classes, such as National Taiwan Normal University’s Center for Chinese Language and Culture, the National Taiwan University Language Center and the Tamkang University Language Center.

The Time article stressed that “while English may be the only truly international language, millions of tongues are wagging over what is rapidly becoming the world’s other lingua franca: Mandarin.”

Quoting a statement by British linguist David Gaddol, the magazine added: “In many Asian countries, in Europe and the US, Mandarin has emerged as the new must-have language.”

Time even quoted a professor in China, who said: “Promoting the use of Chinese among overseas people has gone beyond purely cultural issues. It can help build up our national strength and should be taken as a way to develop our country’s `soft power.'” That was Hu Youqing, a Chinese-language professor at Nanjing University talking.

Time mentioned that China has sent more than 2,000 volunteers to teach Mandarin overseas, mostly in Asian nations such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. Why didn’t it also mention that Taiwan also has sent volunteer teachers to several Asian countries? China’s goal is to have 100 million foreigners studying Mandarin by the end of the decade. Well, won’t some of them be studying Mandarin in Taipei or Kaohsiung? Time missed the boat again.

Will Mandarin ever overtake English as the world’s common language? Probably not, but as Time notes, “just as knowing English proved a key to getting ahead in the 20th century, learning Chinese will provide an edge in the 21st.” This was a good point and was an important theme of the entire cover story. But by ignoring Taiwan — not mentioning Taiwan even once in the entire feature — the magazine’s editors showed their ignorance and bias against Taiwan, even though they work and live in Asia.

Taipei is a very good place to learn and live the Chinese language, and Time magazine did a huge disservice to its readers around the world by ignoring Taiwan completely in its June 19 cover story.

Wake up, Time magazine, China does not have a monopoly on Chinese-language centers and Mandarin schools. Wake up and smell the coffee — in Taiwan, too.

Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Chiayi.

DPP factions banned

Following on the heals of Joe’s post on factionalism in the LDP and the campaign for a new Prime Minister, it’s interesting to note that Taiwan’s DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) just voted to ban factions entirely. The move is designed to help strengthen the party’s central governance in the wake of a series of corruption scandals (even involving members of President Chen Shui-bian’s own family) that have helped to shatter Chen’s reputation as an effective administrator and probably weakened the party’s chances of retaining the presidency and winning back control of the legislature in the next election cycle.

I remain unclear on how this will actually help, however. While there have been a number of DPP affiliated politicians implicated in corruption (although the rates of such taint in the DPP are still lower than in the period of former KMT rule), I am not sure how this is in any way related to the faction system. While a unified party platform may help them win elections, voter discontent with the ruling DPP has had more to do with a lack of competence and integrity than their political rhetoric. Will the elimination of the faction system simply make the party less open to contratian opinions, and come to more closely resemble their Nationalist Party opponents, whose top down decision making system was originally based on a Leninist model?

Perhaps a more desirable solution would be to embrace a system more similar to a US caucus style system, in which a legislator may choose to affiliate themselves with a group organized around a specific issue or constituency that they endorse. While a caucus (they may also be referred to as Study Groups, Coalitions etc.) is a formally registered group within the Congress, they are not exclusive. That is, a congressman can belong to any number of Caucuses that he or she supports. Also unlike a faction, a caucus is not a division of a political party, and not necessarily partisan at all. To pluck an example totally at random, take the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, whose four co-chairs include two Republicans and two Democrats (as well as 148 other congressmembers.) US politics may be bitterly partisan, but the level of cooperation between the two major parties is still approximately a million times better than between Taiwan’s own two major parties.

As for the ostensible reason for eliminating party factions, the DPP national convention did in fact pass a separate anti-corruption resolution, which includes such measures as mandating a special party investigation should a DPP-affiliated government official be charged with corruption. The measure was named in honor of the President’s indicted son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming, who just this past Thursday was seen in the presence of mysterious men in black reputed to be gangsters at his own bail hearing. Following the scandal, Chao’s attorney advised him “to be more careful when seeking assistance from friends.”

The hiragana fad continues

First it was みずほ銀行 (Mizuho Bank), then it was さいたま市 (Saitama City). Now the word is that two of the new companies coming out of the postal privatization will be ゆうちょ銀行 (Yucho Bank) and かんぽ生命保険 (Kampo Life Insurance).

What is it with hiragana names these days? Have I studied kanji for so long, only to have the language be dumbed down before my eyes?

Hirohito’s Yasukuni issues, and whether they mean anything today

A memo drafted by the late Emperor Hirohito’s secretary in 1988 indicates that Hirohito purposefully stopped his visits to Yasukuni Shrine after Class A war criminals were added to its list in 1978. Hirohito had visited the shrine eight times between 1945 and 1978, but mysteriously stopped after that, and nobody was ever sure exactly why (although the implication was obvious enough).

After this news broke on Thursday, both Koizumi and potential successor Shinzo Abe stated that they would not change their personal Yasukuni policies, Koizumi characterizing it as an “issue of the heart” and Abe questioning the authoritativeness of the “personal” memo.

This might have seemed like a boon for Yasuo Fukuda, the only major contender for Koizumi’s throne to clearly oppose visiting Yasukuni, but then, just to make things more ridiculous, he decided not to run on Friday night. This makes the race a pretty one-sided game for Abe: while Taku Yamasaki and Koichi Kato continue to lead the opposition to Koizumi and Abe within the LDP, their support is not nearly broad enough at this point to stop Abe from winning the party election in September.

So do Hirohito’s opinions mean anything in today’s Japan? Well, they can certainly be used as ammunition for the anti-Koizumi guns, but they’re certainly not enough to pierce his armor. And if Abe’s current behavior is any indication, it will take better ammunition to bring him down as well.

Some people just “get” Japan without even coming here

Conversation with a friend back in Philly:

Wade: it's been raining here like crazy
Wade: the delaware flooded a few weeks back
Wade: a whole bunch of jersey girls were forced to use their big hair as floatation devices
Joe: yeah, here too... there was a big front that passed through all of japan at once so the whole country was in a couple of inches of rain
Joe: there were landslides etc.
Wade: oh shit
Wade: but then Koizumi stopped the flooding with his BARE HANDS

I don’t doubt that he could. (For that matter, I don’t doubt that his hair could be used as a floatation device.)

Is Japan getting bored with English? Let’s Hope So!

After glancing at a few developments in Japan’s news, something has hit me – Japan’s interest in the English language seems to be on the decline! Let me give you some examples along with my own speculation as to why this is happening:

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reports that Japan’s municipalities will accept 5,508 foreigners as teachers/token foreigners in the JET program. More interestingly, this year marks the 4th straight decline in the number brought in by the program after a peak in 2002 (see the announcement for a clearer chart):

JET Number accepted 1987-2006.JPG

My explanation for this decline – JET salaries and other costs are covered by the central government in the form of kofuzei, or tax revenues collected from local governments and redistributed back so as to achieve an equilibrium in economic development nationwide. Since kofuzei has been the target of major cuts as part of Koizumi’s reform program to make outlying regions more autonomous, it’s likely that the municipalities had to make a decision between an ALT and money for a new bridge. Not a sign of a lack of interest per se, but the dynamic of the incentives to accept these people is changing, forcing towns to reexamine their priorities.

The decline in the English teaching market is even more striking in the private sector. FujiSankei Business-i examines the glut in English teachers in Japan in a July 12 article. According to NOVA’s estimates, the market may have peaked in 2004. The increased competition among schools is exerting pressure toward innovation, improvement of service, and the closure of schools (NOVA, the king of eikaiwa schools, is restructuring – not a good sign!). While this could spell a period of decline for the eikaiwa schools, maybe this will actually inspire the schools to actually get results.

The JET Program and private eikaiwa schools share the same essential method and selling point – put a recent college graduate from an English-speaking country in the room with Japanese person/people, wait for magic to happen. Call it English by Osmosis. For a long time college students have considered “teaching English in Japan” a valid first job option if nothing else panned out or if they really really liked Evangelion. But considering the above developments it could be only a matter of time before teaching English in Japan ceases to be an automatic option for undergrad students in English-speaking countries looking for something easy.

After something like 25 years of the “eikaiwa boom” it should come as no surprise that just about every Japanese person has given eikaiwa a try in one form or another. And once the majority realize that it’s not a magic replacement for a lack of motivation/talent, they get bored, leaving three things behind: 1) new generations of suckers; 2) hardcore students who know how to work the system and learn despite the flaws; and 3) disgruntled students who may no longer believe in the method. I realize that there are many teachers in Japan working very hard every day (I used to be one of them), but it is simply a flawed system.

And in a not unrelated development Japan’s pop culture is starting to look more into the Asian market these days at the expense of Hollywood. Just as we here in the US finally picked up on the trend of US celebrities making extra cash by appearing in Japanese commercials, it looks as though Hollywoord stars are no longer the commercial pull that they once were:

A Hollywood in-house secret, Japanese TV commercials were once talked about with a wink and a shake of the head. Piles of cash were paid to stars willing to peddle anything from whiskey to cigarettes, cars to coffee, instant noodles to cafe latte — as long as nobody told the fans back home. Hey, did you know Dennis Hopper did one for bath products? How much do you figure Leonardo DiCaprio got for that SUV spot? A million? Three?

Sadly, the days of seeing, say, Harrison Ford guzzling Kirin beer may be over. American stars have not vanished from the Japanese advertising landscape, but their numbers have dropped dramatically since the heyday of the 1990s, when even Mickey Rourke was considered bankable here.

The article goes on to say that the recent popularity of Korean dramas has spurred the shift in focus. Thankfully, the good times aren’t over – you can still see the many many ads that the Japan-pandering era produced at the wonderful Japander.com.

Another development in the background of all this is the political backlash against Koizumi’s reform agenda. Those who decry economic reform often cite their distaste for “market fundamentalism” (such as privatization of public corporations etc), considered a mechanical application of the American system to Japanese society. Regrdless of the validity of such claims (even though the US is unlikely to privatize its postal service anytime soon!), it may be inevitable that the anti-America rhetoric translates into fewer people taking up English as a hobby.

While the JET Program and eikaiwa schools are here to stay as an institution in Japan, it seems to me that the underlying support for grassroots English interest is waning a bit – the Japanese are getting a little bored with the “English through osmosis” model. While I dread the uncomfortable oyaji conversations that will no doubt result from the popularity of tripe like Dignity of a Nation, Japan’s shift away from its fascination with English/Hollywood (and perhaps by extension the rest of Europe/the entire “white race”) may at least have the fortunate side effect of making people realize that foreign-born TV personalities in Japan such as Dave Spector and Pakkun aren’t intrinsically all that interesting despite their mad Japanese skills. One can only hope.

But seriously, getting away from this flawed approach toward language learning is a promising sign for Japan. I tend to agree with calls to “learn Japanese first” (made in a recently popular anti-American diatribe Dignity of a Nation and elsewhere) that recently seem to be hitting a nerve. The logic in Japan of “English is the world language, so everyone needs to study English” is just basically wrong (as is the general curriculum that forces students to memorize a series of codes that only happen to be English and have no bearing on applied use of the language). In short, if you don’t learn your native language well and can’t express yourself on a deep level, there’s not much point in you being conversant in another language – you’ll have nothing to say! I think it’s best to provide quality opportunities for people to learn languages, and encourage those who are interested to pursue it to a high level. That might not make Japan into a nation of English speakers, but I don’t think that it’s politically possible for Japan to take the real steps needed to do that (i.e. make English essentially a second official language).

And another thing: it’s a little unfair for the JET Program to lure some 5k foreigners to Japan every year knowing that most of them are wasting their time. Considering that everyone is hired on contracts that last a maximum of 3 years, just what do 2 years at an elementary school or sitting at a desk in a city hall in the middle of nowhere in Japan have to offer anyone in terms of skills that can be applied elsewhere (outside maybe education)? In my own experience, I have met dozens of former JETs who are completely at a loss for what to do after completing terms in JET. They often want to use their Japanese language skills in their careers but for a number of reasons (never got any decent chance to take their Japanese to a high level, no meaningful job training except very little in education, and no meaningful further job opportunities for them inside Japan) it just doesn’t happen. But at the same time I can understand the mass interest in Japan and the eagerness of college grads to take a job in an interesting foreign country.

But rather than frittering their time away in a classroom, both sides would be better served if Japan had a JET Program for areas in which the country actually needs foreigners, like nursing, factories, finance, and IT jobs. Some recent proposals to promote these less parasitic foreigners, such as enhancement of visa programs, elimination of corrupt “language schools” and “entertainment visas” that serve as hotbeds of illegal immigration and crime, and attraction of more foreign students, whose numbers keep growing, are intriguing steps in the right direction IMO. This way, maybe all those people thinking about living in Japan might try studying something in a field that they know Japan needs, so when it comes time to graduate maybe they can get jobs that actually contribute to Japan’s GDP rather than padding its massive fiscal deficit. And for the Japanese, perhaps living in tandem with folks like this will provide a real incentive (“This person is my neighbor and I want to be her friend” rather than “I don’t want to waste the lessons I’ve already paid for”) to deal with foreigners and perhaps actually acquire the diversity and fresh experience that they seem so willing to pay for with eikaiwa.

Why Nikkei’s English site needs me


Flat Beer Sales Bring Drinks Online At Key Asahi Brewery

Sorry again please??

This is for a story about how one Asahi brewery has had convert its output to soft drinks and “chu-hi” (sort of like wine coolers) due to a slump in beer sales. At first I thought they were selling “flat beer” but then realized that the whole headline was kind of funky.