Archive for December, 2012

Building Democracy in Japan: An Insight

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

Guest Author: Mary Alice Haddad

What is going on in Japan?  The staid, stagnant nature of postwar Japan politics seems to have been upended.  Contemporary Japanese society and politics have seen dramatic transformations in the last few decades, upsetting many of our understandings and stereotypes about the country. Building Democracy in Japan examines contemporary Japan as part of a continuing story of democratization and change.

Building Democracy in Japan uses the Japanese experience to ask broad questions about democracy and the democratization process: How is democracy made real?  How does an undemocratic country create new institutions and transform its polity such that democratic values and practices become integral parts of its political culture? Through investigating the answer to these questions, the book tells the bottom-up story of Japan’s democratization process.

The fundamental argument of Building Democracy in Japan is that democratization is a long process that involves the mutual adjustment of imported liberal democratic values, institutions, and practices with the political values, institutions, and practices that are present in the country prior to the onset of the democratization process.  Furthermore, it argues that Japan reached a generational “tipping point” in the 1990s when the generations of Japanese who were educated in a democratic Japan reached a majority of the voting population and took over many key leadership positions in government, business, and civil society.  This new generation of democratically educated Japanese had different ideas about the appropriate role of government, citizens, and business in society and began to make profound institutional and cultural changes to Japanese political culture.

The book is organized into sections that focus on the struggles with democratization in the government, civil society, and in individual lives.  The sections about the government examine the ways that government has become more transparent and accountable, even as the reach of its power has expanded.  One of the civil society chapters looks at “traditional” civic organizations that existed prior to the war and have persisted and evolved in the postwar period, changing from undemocratic organizations structured to support a fascist military regime to democratic groups that help citizens get what they need from their government.  The other civil society chapter examines “new” groups that formed after the war, groups that were founded on liberal democratic principals and have found ways to meld those ideals with important tenants of Japan’s traditional political culture.  The chapter examining individual Japanese responses to the democratization process focuses specifically on women, finding that democracy has had a paradoxical effect on women’s power, expanding their power over their individual lives, but reducing their collective power to influence society.

These broad arguments about the long social and political processes that lead to dramatic political, social, and economic changes is told largely through stories of real people on the ground.  The most fun and exciting aspects of the book can be found in the nuanced and often hilarious stories of communities, organizations, and individual Japanese as they struggle with transforming their political culture.

The book contains stories of how a neighborhood association chief stands up to his city government, shifting the power dynamics in his town from one where the city identifies the problem and tells the neighborhood association what to do to one where the neighborhood association identifies the problem and then tells the city government what to do.  It tells the story of how the Association of New Elder Citizens’ finds ways not only to improve the health and welfare of its senior citizen members but also to reach out to children and help them learn to become good democratic citizens that contribute to a more peaceful world.  It recounts the story of a young mother who decides to marry a foreigner and then quit her job rather than face the stress of combining motherhood with career, demonstrating her both her increased individual power to make decisions about her own life but perhaps a reduced collective power to influence politics.

It is through these stories that we can understand how citizens make (and remake) democracy around the globe.  Readers will finish the book with a much richer and more personal understanding of contemporary Japanese political culture. The author hopes that learning more about Japan’s democratization process will also cause readers to reflect on the politics in their own countries and how they may be contributing to democracy at home.

Mary Alice Haddad is an Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University. Her scholarship studies comparative politics, with a focus on civil society, and a regional specialization in East Asia. She is the author of Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2007), Building Democracy in Japan (Cambridge,  2012), numerous articles and book chapters, and has delivered more than 25 invited talks and conference presentations. She has received numerous awards and fellowships from organizations such as the Japan Foundation, the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, the East Asian Institute, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Know the TIME Person of the Year 2012, Barack Obama

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

On December 19, the TIME magazine has declared its Person of the Year for 2012, and it’s once again our one of the most-celebrated President Barack Obama who has captured the cover page of the magazine. He made it once before in 2008.

TIME’s managing editor Richard Stengel explained in his note this year, “For finding and forging a new majority, for turning weakness into opportunity and for seeking, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union, Barack Obama is TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year”.

Our hearty congratulations to President Obama, who was on the card with 8 other frontrunners for the honor — Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her crusade for better girls’ education; Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi; both Bill and Hillary Clinton for their global humanitarian and political activism; Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!; Apple CEO, Tim Cook, and the Higgs Boson, the particle of the year, along with the three scientists who discovered it.

If you want to learn more about President Obama and his ideas, you may start with the following books:

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama – A story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother.

Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama’s Plan to Renew America’s Promise - This book outlines the President Obama’s vision for America.

The Obamas by Jodi Kantor - Takes us deep inside the White House as the President Obama and his wife Michelle try to grapple with their new roles, change the country, raise children, maintain friendships, and figure out what it means to be the first black President and First Lady.

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama - It is Barack Obama’s call for a new kind of politics — a politics that builds upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans.

Obama’s Wars by Bob WoodwardProviding the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan and the worldwide fight against terrorism.

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama - A tender, beautiful letter to his daughters by President Barack Obama, offering a moving tribute to thirteen groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation –from the artistry of Georgia O’Keeffe, to the courage of Jackie Robinson, to the patriotism of George Washington.


Top 10 Novellas: From Classic to Modern Literature

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

‘Too short to be novels, too long to be short stories’ –this is what a novella is. Though the length that defines a novella is arbitrary, it can be between 17,500 and 40,000 words or less than 300 pages. Brevity is the soul of a novella. Some very important, rich literature has come in novella form, and among the best-known novellas, the following titles are the top 10 works of literature:

A Christmas Carol by  Charles DickensA celebration of Christmas, a tale of redemption and a critique on Victorian society, Dickens’ atmospheric novella follows the miserly, penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge who Views Christmas as ‘humbug’. It is only through a series of eerie, life-changing visits from the ghost of his deceased Business partner Marley and the Spirits of Christmas past, present and future that he begins to see the error of his ways.

The Time Machine by  H.G. WellsPublished in 1895, this science fiction novella is generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively. The novel is considered one of the earliest works of science fiction and the progenitor of the “time travel” subgenre. Wells advanced his social and political ideas in this narrative of a nameless Time Traveller who is hurtled into the year 802,701 by his elaborate ivory, crystal, and brass contraption.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck The tragic story of the complex bond between two migrant laborers in Central California. They are George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm. But, their dreams of owing a farm goes terrible wrong. George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is a very large, simple-minded man, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength.

Animal Farm by George Orwell - This is an allegorical novella that, according to author, reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union.

When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr. Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless elite among them, masterminded by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, starts to take control. Soon the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they thought, and find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is replaced with another. Orwell’s chilling ‘fairy story’ is a timeless and devastating satire of idealism betrayed by power and corruption.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – Originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation, and rebellion. The majority of the novel takes place over two days in December 1949. 17-years-old Holden Caulfield, the book’s narrator and protagonist, addresses the reader directly from a hospital in Southern California, recounting the events leading up to his breakdown the previous December.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote - In this seductive, wistful masterpiece, Truman Capote created a woman, perhaps her best creation ever, whose name become an American cultural icon. The story revolves around Holly Golightly, a country girl turned New York café society girl, who floats lightly through life looking for where she belongs and believes that nothing bad can ever happen to you at Tiffany’s.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - A groundbreaking horror fiction novella, it has been the major influence in the development of the zombie genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth, but he is not alone. An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him. By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - This 1962 novella is a satire that portrays a future and dystopian Western society with a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence. It explores the violent nature of humans, human free will to choose between good or evil, and the desolation of free will as a solution to evil.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway - One of Hemingway’s most famous works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it centers upon Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who is down on his luck, and struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. This short work of fiction was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever. The Alchemist is such a book. This is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist.

The Creative Society – and the Price Americans Paid for It

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Guest Author:  Louis Galambos

If you want to know what has shaped American society in the last century or so, if you are teaching history and want your students to see how they can put themselves and their families into history, or if you are just a history buff who wants to keep up with the new ways to see and understand your nation, you will want to read The Creative Society – and the Price Americans Paid for It (Cambridge,2012). The focus is on professionals, the experts who created new ideas that helped the nation cope with the major problems it faced in the twentieth century – and still faces today. Many of those professionals didn’t produce entirely new ideas but instead negotiated the compromises that enabled the society to move on to the next big problem. That too is a creative process, but we usually only notice it when it doesn’t work. Then the media grinds out heroes and villains. We worry. But we usually don’t do anything because we leave most of those problems in the hands of the experts, the professionals.

Not all of the nation’s major problems were solved with equal skill, and this book also looks into failure: institutional failure, personal failure, and intellectual failure.  That’s why the subtitle guides you to “the price Americans paid” for their brand of creativity. Even great success comes with a price tag. Some paid more dearly than others, especially those who paid with their lives. Our economic turmoil today is a perfect example of how Americans handle and sometimes mishandle these painful situations. As the book will help you understand, our creative society has been challenged before. This history may even prepare you to deal with our future challenges at home and abroad.  We’ll surely have them.

The central subject of the book is how Americans tried to deal with four of those problems and how a new class of experts – the professionals – came to play a central role in all of the country’s crises. One of the problems America had to face was learning how to cope with urban life. A second involved finding new ways to keep the U.S. economy innovative, changing to cope with new situations at home and overseas, adapting to new patterns of competition, and adopting new technologies and new types of organizations while finding and serving new markets.  In their rush to take advantage of the great opportunities U.S. resources offered, Americans gave little thought to the growing need for economic security in a more equitable society. Most were preoccupied with the creative side of creative destruction, but the need for security and equity became a serious problem as the society became increasingly urban and industrial. The fourth problem was complex and dangerous for the entire nation. Near the end of the nineteenth century, America became the world’s leading industrial power. It was the largest and most populous of the developed nations. As we exercised that power, the nation gradually began to piece together an empire, a distinctly U.S. style of empire that is still with us and still causing problems today. 

Along the way from the 1890s to January 2009, you will meet some real people (including the author’s family) in the book. Many readers will see a place for their own families in this history. All were caught up in a narrative of rapid change as a new professional class came to dominate the sources of power and wealth in America. At times this new class threatened to undercut our democracy, substituting the knowledge of the experts for the voices of the people. This is a struggle that continues today in every activity controlled by our 45 million professionals.

Still, we need their expertise and we benefit, as well, from the paths professionalism opens up for all those who can take advantage of America’s enormous educational system.  The book ends on a positive note:  “In the midst of great uncertainty, there are plenty of signs that this is still a creative society – one that learns from the past and continues to be flexible, a society with tremendous resources and a determination to use them to solve problems of the sort we’ve been discussing.”

Mr. Louis Galambos, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and an editor of “The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower“, is the author of “The Creative Society—and the Price Americans Paid for It (Cambridge, 2012)“. He’s also the Co-Director of The Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise, Johns Hopkins University.

He has taught at Rice University, Rutgers University, and Yale University, and have served as President of the Business History Conference and the Economic History Association. A former editor of The Journal of Economic History, he has written extensively on U.S. business history, on business-government relations, on the economic aspects of modern institutional development in America, and on the rise of the bureaucratic state.

From the Bill Gates’ Bookshelf: Top 10 Reads of 2012

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Author: Sherry Helms

Have you ever wondered what Bill Gates, the multi-billionaire philanthropist, reads and what’s the source behind his so productive ideas and approaches? Well, you can get an idea on this when you visit his official blog The Gates Notes.

Bill Gates has always been a well-read guy. As a youngster, he’d check out books from the library so frequently and so much that the librarian wouldn’t allow him the new ones until he returned some. May be that fondness with books is the source of origin of his all the intellectual thoughts.

Very recently this Microsoft co-founder, and philanthropist has posted on his blog “My top reads from 2012” that reflects what he’s been pondering upon throughout this year. Gates often writes his own thoughtful book reviews, so each title is linked with a full length personal review by Bill Gates. Most of the books in his list are focused on development or education.

 “I read some amazing books this year. Every one of these books changed my worldview, and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for inspiring reading. Read my book reviews to learn more”, says Gates, who frequently speculate and does a thing or two about the world’s most pressing problems.

Here is the list of top ten books that made Gates “think”, this year. To peek into one of the most absorbing minds of the 21st century, this list would be a good source. Take a look:

1. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined By Steven Pinker

2. Deng Xiaoping and The Transformation of China By Ezra Vogel

3. The Quest By Daniel Yergin

4. Moonwalking with Einstein By Joshua Foer

5. Behind the Beautiful Forevers By Katherine Boo

6. One Billion Hungry: Can we Feed the World By Gordon Conway

7. A World-Class Education By Vivien Stewart

8. Academically Adrift By Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa

9. This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly By Carmen Reinhart & Kenneth Rogoff

10. The City that Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control  By Franklin Zimring


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