Friday, January 30, 2015

Confessions by Tetsuya Nakashima, and thoughts on the inadequate juvenile laws of Japan

I was rewatching snippets of a Japanese movie that I had watched about 5 years ago when it was first released in cinemas. The movie is titled Confessions directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. I was interested in watching the film because it was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. The movie is about this strange plot of a junior high school teacher whose daughter was killed by two of her students, and who sought revenge against those students of hers. The two students of hers were not punished for their crimes because under a certain constitutional provision in Japan, juveniles were protected from being punished under criminal laws for murder. One of the student who killed the teacher’s daughter is a psychopath genius who knows he can get away with murder under those laws and therefore deliberately killed the teacher’s daughter for the fun of it. The two students were ostracized by their classmates for their crimes, and even physically assaulted by some of the male classmates. One of them turned insane from the torment by his classmates. A girl classmate sympathized with the other murderer boy, and sought to befriend him. There was even some romance between the two.  She sought to understand his motivations, which was to impress his estranged scientist mother who had always held high expectations of him for intellectual achievement when he was a child. The boy wanted to attract the attention of his mother by doing something newsworthy, even if this amounted to killing someone.

However, the girl herself was killed by this psychopathic boy as well. The boy then decides that he would next kill himself and his schoolmates by blowing up a bomb in the school assembly while he is due to give a speech for being the top student. However, the bomb he had planted failed to go off when he pressed a remote detonator at the end of his speech. He received a call from the teacher whose daughter he had killed. She tells him that she had kept tabs on him, and was aware of his plans. She had defused the bomb and placed it into a box which the boy had kept his various scientific inventions. The boy had intended to take the box containing these items to his mother at her workplace at a research institute upon learning the location of the workplace of his mother. The teacher had actually imposture as the boy’s mother over the internet to inform the boy of the locations of his mother’s workplace. She kept track of the videos uploaded by the boy describing his intentions to blow up the school so as to impress his mother. The teacher told the boy over the phone that she saw the boy taking the box containing the bomb to the mother’s workplace at a time when she wasn’t around, which he angrily threw to the ground and left in anguish when he was told by a fellow staff that his mother was on a honeymoon with a new lover. By now, the boy was in tears at the realization that he could have accidentally killed his mother with his own bomb. The film did an artistic reverse slow-motion take of the blowing up of the workplace of the mother, with a scene showing the mother sitting at her desk and looking at a newspaper cut-out containing a write-up on a scientific prize award won by her son, a gentle tear strolling down one of her eyes, before the bomb blew up on her. The boy collapsed on the floor of the school hall in utter dejection, much to the bewildered and frightened stares of his school mates. The teacher, with the phone still beside her ears, walked up slowly to where the boy was at the scene. The last words of hers to him before the end of the film was “just messing around with you.”

I do like the aestheticism of the film, even though it is quite macabre in nature. However, I struggle to understand what the moral of the story is. All throughout the viewing of the film, I couldn’t find myself having any love for the villain of the show, the psychopathic boy, who killed with impunity and without remorse. Even the girl character who had sought to befriend him in her own endeavor to find out more about what she believes to be a misunderstood character was herself killed. I was also wondering to myself about whether the film’s portrayal of the way the law works in Japan regarding juveniles is true. For one, it seems like the boy and his friend who killed the teacher’s daughter were still able to walk freely in society and attend school as per normal without any form of detention. If it were Singapore, I think the authorities would have had them detained up in a boys’ home, even if they are not charged with murder punishable by the death penalty. But perhaps, Japan’s juvenile laws is based on the assumption that a child below a certain age can never form the requisite intention to murder, and therefore should not be punished in any way for killing someone. My gripe is how much of a devil incarnate the boy is in having a knowledge of this law, and seeking to exploit it to kill innocent people for his own amusement. While the teacher sought to teach a boy a lesson by placing the bomb into a box which was to be sent by the boy to his mother, I can only assume that she did not carry out her plan in the end. Perhaps the ending part where the teacher tells the boy that she was just messing around with him is just a cheap plot twist to add to the aesthetic nature of the film, or perhaps, it can be seen as the magnanimity of the teacher that instead of devastating the boy by actually killing his mother, she sought to teach the boy the importance of life by making the boy realize that as much as he values the life of his mother, he should value the life of others around him as well. I really am not too sure about the point of the ending, but from the way the film had portrayed the boy throughout the film, I don’t think that there is any likelihood of redeeming the boy from his sheer evilness. He seems more likely to find another way to effect his plan to commit mass murder than to change his ways. If it is true that juveniles like him bent on killing people can walk around freely in Japan, I think it is an indictment of the way the law works in Japan, and there should be reforms to ensure that even children at that age are placed in detention so as not to endanger the lives of others in society.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Monkey market manipulation

This is an allegorical story told by one of my aunt’s husband on how certain players manipulate the market. A certain unscrupulous businessman sets up a company with the objective of catching all the monkeys in the wild. The catching operation is successful to the point of removing up to 90% of the monkeys in the wild. The businessman then advertises to the public that he would be buying up any of the remaining monkeys in the wild for a handsome sum if anyone is willing to catch these monkeys and sell it to him. Soon, there are people from the public who pay heed to the advertisements and set out catching the remaining 10% of monkeys in the wild. They are successful too and sells the businessman the monkey for the generously offered sum. Now, there are no more monkeys in the wild, and the businessman sends out another advert offering to pay an even greater sum for any monkeys in the wild that the public can get hold of. Concurrently, the businessman sets up another anonymous company selling the monkeys that his first company had caught at a price lower than what he had offered to buy the monkey from the public for. Certain greedy traders in the public decide to seize the opportunity to buy the monkeys at the lower price offered by the company, and resell them to the businessman at the higher price. They were in for a rude shock to discover that the businessman was nowhere to be found after they had bought from the company all the monkeys. These greedy traders found themselves with all the monkeys on their hands, but with no one else willing to buy the monkeys from them.

The fact of the matter is that the unscrupulous businessman had duped the public into buying the worthless monkeys by generating a false demand for them in the market, and then enticing the public to buy stocks of monkeys from a company linked from him.

The allegorical tale about market manipulation involving monkeys could similarly involve other form of tradable assets within the market, such as shares or commodities. There are probably syndicates in the real world who pull off more complex versions of the scheme. I wonder how authorities regulate markets to stem such unscrupulous practices. There are law books out there on financial regulation which I can read if I have the time.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thoughts about the abortion issue

I recently read a blog post by Ionsg where he gave his remarks on a debate on the abortion issue that has been going on in the Straits Times. The debate is about whether the 24-week limit for abortion should be lowered. One of the writer, taking a hesitant view on the lowering of the limit writes that such lowering of the 24-week limit could cause hardship for the parents of the unborn child. He was met with the response of a conservative writer who writes that characterizing child rearing as undue hardship is unhelpful as raising children is an important responsibility in life and can be a source of joy instead of being an impediment to it. The former writer qualifies his viewpoint by saying that when he talks about undue hardship, he is referring particularly to women who are unwilling or unable to carry a baby to term, but are forced to.

It got me reflecting about the issue of abortion. In particular, I was thinking about the issue raised by the writers in the debate. Does lowering the 24-week limit for abortion cause undue hardship for parents of the unbornt child?

I suppose in addressing this question, I would need data on the profiles of those who this abortion issue actually affects. It would be those people who actually have to consider abortion as an option because of unwanted pregnancy. The immediate impression of the people that falls into this category that comes to my mind are the likes of teenagers or young adults who caught up in the heat of sexual passion, find themselves with the scenario of unwanted pregnancy thereafter. I wouldn’t discount though that there are relatively late-aged adults who also find themselves in this scenario of unwanted pregnancy, especially if the pregnancy was caused in a relationship out of wedlock, such as an affair.

I am just trying to think of the nature of this hardship that can be experienced by these people who find themselves in the scenario of unwanted pregnancy because I want to understand how such hardship can be so difficult such as to warrant a decision to choose abortion. I mean, I could try to imagine such a scenario for myself where I find myself with a case of unwanted pregnancy. Personally, in my opinion, if I got a girl pregnant by accident, I would think that it would be pretty awkward, but not too much of a hardship for me. Well, for one, I am a guy, so I wouldn’t have to bear so much of the stigma of the unwanted pregnancy. Another reason is that I think that I have fairly supportive parents, and even though I am not working and drawing an income, I could receive an allowance from my parents so that I can support my child. As such, I wouldn’t be pressured to stop my education and go out and work to earn an income. My parents tend to be socially conservative on the abortion issue as well, so I think they would be more in favor of me keeping the child rather than aborting it.

But I can imagine it differently for another person in different circumstances. Let’s say, if I were a teenage girl, and have parents who are disapproving of the unwanted pregnancy, and who perhaps even threaten to throw me out of the house if I don’t get an abortion. In addition to that, there would be the stigma attached if I were to walk around in school pregnant, and the possible ridicule and ostracizing that I would get from schoolmates. To top it all off, the guy who is the father of the child could renege all responsibility to support the child, and even disclaim parentage of the child. I would think that this nightmare scenario would qualify as the undue hardship for those in the situation of unwanted pregnancy.

Well, I guess someone from the conservative camp could argue that a lot of these hardship stem from societal stigma rather than means to support the child. I may agree with that, but I think societal stigma is as much a part of the picture which shouldn’t be discounted. Personally, I am hesitant on denying the choice for abortion for others because I think that there is the possibility of undue hardship, even though I wouldn’t choose that option for myself, and am discouraging of it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"My Grace is sufficient for you"

On Sunday last week, I had a chat with a few church mates over lunch after service. Our conversation came to a part where I was talking about the doubts I have about the existence of God these days because of my disappointments of God for not healing me completely of my headaches despite my prayers to him. I was lamenting to these church mates of mine how God seem to promise so many things in the bible, but seem to under-deliver in reality.

One of the church mates decided to share with me his experience with depression. He says that the epiphany that he had from God that keeps him staying strong in his faith is from the 2 Corinthians 12:9 verse where God says “my grace is sufficient for you”. He tells me that how he tries to overcome his own suffering is to focus on God and not his suffering.

I am appreciative of such testimonies and words of Christian encouragement from Christian friends. In part, I am glad that Christianity has provided a source of strength in their own hardship. Some of these illnesses like depression seems really dreadful, and I would be hesitant to trade tension headaches for depression if I could. I have actually reflected on the 2 Corinthian verse mentioned by this church mate of mine before, but have found myself asking more questions than finding answers. What does God mean by “my grace is sufficient for you”? It seems so unconcrete a thing to be capable of helping anyone. I mean, if I were to go up to a homeless person, or someone begging for money from me, and tell him “my grace is sufficient for you”, that is almost equivalent to a slap to his face in addition to a cold shoulder.

Perhaps God’s grace could have a more concrete connotation than what it appears on the surface. Perhaps God does take steps to ensure the well-being of a person even though he has a reason not to perform the desired request of a person. What I just feel is that grace alone is insufficient. It has to be accompanied with something substantial in order to be helpful. I am honestly not satisfied that God seems to take the “my grace is sufficient for you” approach most of the time. I guess this is where I am spiritually at the moment.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

On China by Henry Kissinger

I am reading On China by Henry Kissinger. The book on the history of modern day China from the perspective of former US secretary of state and National security advisor has been pretty fascinating. Reading On China adds depth to the knowledge on Chinese modern history that I had studied when I was in secondary school. I like for instance the exposition on the psychology of the Chinese leaders in their approach towards foreign policy, like how Mao borrowed the ancient Chinese stratagem of allowing barbarians to fight barbarians to in China’s rapprochement towards American in its bid to stem the tide of Soviet Union expansionism into its land.

The book also touched upon some highlights of early modern day Chinese history, such as its subjection to foreign imperialism during the Qing Dynasty. China lost the opium wars against the British, and was subsequently a target for unfair treaties by the military superior west and Japan. These historical background formed a certain psyche in China as being a century of humiliation, which the state of Taiwan being seen as the remnants of foreign imperialism upon Chinese civilization.

The book talks about Mao’s attempt to revolutionize Chinese culture away from its Confucian past, which is seen as the source of weakness of China in the past. In contrast to the doctrine of harmony and peace preached by the philosopher Confucius, Mao’s approach towards developing society was one of constant revolution and counter-revolution. These were exemplified in campaigns such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, some of which wrecked more carnage upon Chinese society than good.

Then there are the issues regarding China’s approach towards foreign policies. While a communist country, China sought to distinct itself, and perhaps even form its own identity as the genuine bearer of the communist ideology away from Soviet Union revisionism. Henry Kissinger writes that unlike many other communist states in eastern Europe whose leaders had come into power with assistance from Russia, China’s CCP party did not receive much assistance from Russia but came into power by defeating the Nationlist KuoMinTang party on its own. Thus it did not engender the same sort of allegiance that other communist countries had towards Russia. Its relationship with the Soviet Union was marked with a certain love-hate characteristics. The two were officially allies in the sense of their common idealogy. Yet, nationalistic interests such as border and territorial disputes soured relationship. For one, there was certain soreness at past unequal treaties that Czarist Russia had extracted from Qing dynasty China. It was at the height of Sino-Russian tension that Chinese leaders in the CCP began exploring playing the American Card by seeking rapprochement with America. This attitude was mirrored by America during the presidency of Nixon and his administration, of which Henry Kissinger was a part of.

I am not so sure what is the relationship amongst the various powers in today’s world. From an article that I had read, China seems to regard America as its principal enemy and ally, depending on the situation. A documentary that I had chanced upon the Chinese news channel CCTV had experts weighing in on the Ukraine Crisis in current times where western powers have applied sanctions on Russia after its annexation of Crimea. Russia has sought to counteract the economic impacts from these sanctions by developing stronger economic ties with China. What the expert opined that stuck out to me was how China would always wish to maintain good relationships with Russia so as to ensure its border security against Russia, as China shared a long border with Russia.

I suppose with strong and perhaps even antagonistic powers on all sides; Russia from the north, Japan in the east, India to the west, and American presence within the region, China is in a precarious position, and would seek to ensure good relationships with at least one or two powers in the region to ensure its safety.

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