Hara-Kiri : Death of a Samurai

HaraKiri Death of a Samurai posterQuite excited, learned recently that Takashi Miike‘s, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, will be available here in the UK fairly soon. Right now all I know is that it’s an adaptation of Masaki Kobayashi‘s 1962 film Harakiri, which is one of my all time favourites.

The original film is set in 17th-century Japan, where an era of peace causes the Shogunate to breakup the various warrior clans, throwing thousands of samurai out of work and into poverty. Such a fate is abhorrent to a Samurai, and many prefer ritual suicide (hara kiri) than to live their lives destitute.

The film tells the story of an old warrior, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai), who arrives seeking admittance to the house of a feudal lord in order to commit ritual suicide.

The reason behind Hanshiro’ arrival is far more complex, as his real motive is to exact revenge against the house. Whilst preparing to commit the act, Hanshiro recounts, in flashback, to the various assembled members of the house, the tragic story of his son-in-law  who was forced to sell his real sword to support his sick wife and child. The story comes to a head when it is revealed his son in law was forced to commit ritual suicide with a dull bamboo blade when he came to the same house seeking work.

The original film was brilliant, and I’m really excited to see how Miike has re-imagined the story. There’s a trailer here.

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

I really love Diana Laufenberg’s passion. The central point in this talk is about finding ways to create rich learning projects that allow kids to fail as part of the learning process, try different solutions, explore, play, inquire, draw upon each others work, and LEARN. She articulates it beautifully here:

the thing that you need to get comfortable with when you’ve given the tool to acquire information to students is that you have to be comfortable with this idea of allowing kids to fail as part of the learning process. We deal right now, in the educational landscape, with an infatuation with the culture of one right answer that can properly bubbled on the average multiple choice test and I am here to share with you … it is NOT learning. That is the absolute wrong thing to ask. To tell kids to never be wrong, to ask them to always have the right answer, doesn’t allow them to learn.

… the main point is that if we continue to look at education as if its about coming to school to get the information and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice, and embracing failure – we are missing the mark. And everything that everbody is talking about today isn’t possible if we keep having an educational system that does not value these qualities because we wont get there with the standarised test and we wont get there with the culture of one right answer.

…For Hecuba

O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba!

...  Hamlet: Act 2 : Scene 2 

Education is a global religion

Charles Leadbeater went looking for radical new forms of education — and found them in the slums of Rio and Kibera, where some of the world’s poorest kids are finding transformative new ways to learn. And this informal, disruptive new kind of school, he says, is what all schools need to become.

This is a very useful short talk by Charles Leadbeater, there’s a wonderfully poignant moment in the talk when he makes the assertion that “Well, education is a global religion. And education, plus technology, is a great source of hope.” which struck me as a rather profound statement. With so much of the worlds population unable to access education through “traditional” means we are now seeing the rise of grass roots led, transformative, and potentially highly disruptive new forms of education.

How do you get learning to people when there are no teachers? As Charles suggests you have to find ways of getting learning to people through technology, people and places that are different. That’s part of the rationale behind what some of us are trying to achieve through projects like The Peer 2 Peer University.

Charles also makes a very important point about the difference between push and pull models of education:

When you go to places like this what you see is that education in these settings works by pull, not push. Most of our education system is push. I was literally pushed to school. When you get to school, things are pushed at you, knowledge, exams, systems, timetables
If you want to attract people like Juanderson who could, for instance, buy guns, wear jewelry, ride motorbikes and get girls through the drugs trade, and you want to attract him into education, having a compulsory curriculum doesn’t really make sense.

He’s also right in identifying that the reason education fails to reinvent itself is that it focuses on formal solutions that will sustain the existing institutions and establishment:find a way to do what we today better. The problem with this, of course, is that is simply doesn’t scale:

Almost all our effort goes in this box, sustaining innovation in formal settings, getting a better version of the essentially Bismarckian school system that developed in the 19th century. And as I said, the trouble with this is that, in the developing world there just aren’t teachers to make this model work. You’d need millions and millions of teachers in China, India, Nigeria and the rest of developing world to meet need. And in our system, we know that simply doing more of this won’t eat into deep educational inequalities, especially in inner-cities and former industrial areas.

So that’s why we need three more kinds of innovation. We need more reinvention. And all around the world now you see more and more schools reinventing themselves

Death Note a modern take on Plato’s Gyges Ring

In a discourse in Plato’s The Republic, the integrity of man is questioned and, perhaps, ultimately deemed to be fundamentally flawed: The Ring of Gyges is a mythical talisman that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will. Using the story of the ring, Plato’s Republic, explores whether a typical man would remain moral if he did not have to fear the consequences of his own actions, and that no man is so virtuous that he could resist the rings temptation or avoid becoming morally bankrupt by using its power. If morality is a social construct where we act out of necessity, then what happens if those social sanctions are removed, or you come to believe that they no longer apply to you? In the Republic, Glaucon made the argument:

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

This is, and always has been, an interesting thought experiment. It’s one that I’ve wrestled with in the past, what would I do if I could do anything I wanted to, if there were no consequences? If power corrupts, then does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Would I be able to stop myself? Would any of us? H.G. Wells also explored this in The Invisible Man, as his character Griffin is transformed from a gifted young scientist, to a megalomaniac planning world domination. Perhaps the only memorable line from the movie Hollow Man, an adaption inspired by Wells work, was Sebastian’s (Kevin Bacon) observation:

“You know what, Matt? It’s amazing what you can do … when you don’t have to look yourself in the mirror any more”

As I said, its a fascinating idea, and one that I’ve been forced to dwell on again whilst watching the brilliant anime series: Death Note, one of the most unique and mind-blowing anime in recent history.

It’s the tale of a young man, Light Yagami, a brilliant young student, with perfect grades, perfect record, perfect looks etc. he’s a decent upstanding young man. All of that changes when a shinigami ( god of death ) drops his Death Note into Light’s schoolyard, where the young man stumbles across the enigmatic looking book and reads the instructions in it, the primary rule being: The human whose name is written in this note shall die. Light is initially skeptical thinking it to be a joke, but after experimenting with it he realises that the Death Note is real. Light, in a very real sense, becomes a living incarnation of the Gyges discourse, a seemingly flawless character, who is given the power to kill anyone in the world, and seizes upon this to create a new utopia with his god like power. He begins by entering the names of criminals into the Death Note:  murderers, rapists, serial killers, child molesters etc. his belief is that the world would be better without them.

As thousands of criminals begin to die suddenly around the world, the number of inexplicable deaths captures the attention of interpol and the mysterious detective known only as ‘L‘. It’s hard to describe L without falling back on cliches but he is a mysterious, enigmatic, eccentric genius. He has a strong sense of justice, yet his methods are sometimes as morally questionable as Lights. It’s the battle of wits that ensues between these two protagonists that makes this series such compelling viewing.

Light can only kill someone if he has seen their face and can visualise it as he writes their real name in the notebook, the more he kills the more he believes himself to be a God- eventually Light becomes more than just a self-styled God, he amasses a huge following under the moniker of ‘Kira’ ( which in typical Japanese is pronounced similarly to the english word “killer” ), and soon he begins to kill anyone that threatens his plans, including FBI agents and others that are attempting to discover his identity. L, however, deduces that Kira can kill people without laying a finger on them provided he has seen their face and knows their real name. Light recognises L as his greatest nemesis and so a cat and mouse battle between the two begins. Each racing desperately to discover the others true identity first – coming second means death. The suspense is exhilarating.

I highly recommend Death Note, it’s utterly brilliant: its dark, morally ambiguous and yet full of humour. It’s great, thought provoking entertainment.

Karen Armstrong: Let’s revive the golden rule

Being told I have to stay at home and rest is always difficult for me, I get bored very easily, so I thought I’d lye in bed and catch up with some feeds – when I came across the above talk. I’ve written about Karen Armstrong and the Golden Rule before, it was heartwarming to listen to her talk, she has so much passion and faith and hope for a better world, which I find inspiring. I know some people will argue about the practicalities of the Charter for Compassion which Karen is talking about. For me though, as a sentiment, as an ideal, or even as a hope I think its a beautifully simple and wonderful idea.

But it requires a change in each of us, which makes me wonder whether I’m strong enough to make that change.

Beyond Web 2.0 – How RDFa can help democratise data on the web

Publishing to the web has never been easier, with the proliferation of content management systems, online blogging platforms, microblogging, and more. However, publishing data is either the preserve of organizations prepared to manage their own IT, or requires individuals to sign up for one web 2.0 service after another.

RDFa provides a straightforward means by which data can be published as easily as a web-page can, and the implications are enormous.

From large organizations to the individual blogger, anyone can now publish data by simply placing extra markup in their pages, putting individuals back in control of their own data.

Instead of burying their data in an ever growing array of online services, individuals will now simply publish once, and allow third-party services to consume their information — from profile information to items for sale, from film reviews to favorite recipes, your web-pages become your API.

By allowing everyone to have an API, RDFa creates the possibility of a new generation of applications that will operate across our data.

Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.

A very useful and thought provoking talk, Dan does well in describing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and if nothing else it should force you pause and reflect for a moment on what actually motivates you.