My friendly dentist needs proof of my pain

I’m almost friends with my dentist, Richard. Whenever I pay him a call, he greets me with a polite, ironic question: “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit today?”

This is an invitation to explain my agony.

After I tell him which part of my mouth feels the most tender, he confirms this self-diagnosis by making a hard, sharp tap on the affected area using a big metal tool.

Hopefully, after hearing a loud cry of pain, he’ll sink a syringe into my gums and start the painful process of finding a cure.

The “disease” of Japanisation

Some experts say that Japan is suffering from chronic economic pain which it is unwilling, or unable to treat.

This week, I heard a long list of the symptoms of “Japanisation” delivered by a renowned British economist, Charles Dumas.

He was pretty blunt. Skipping any small talk about Japan’s many charms, he launched directly into the diagnosis.

Mr Dumas said that Japan’s problems include

Bloated budget deficits
Falling wages
Zero to negative interest rates
Price deflation
Rising government debt
Hobbled banks
And a “docile” labour force

Mr Dumas, who is Chief Economist at TS Lombard, said that similar symptoms affect other countries, too. And indeed as CNN reported last week, the European Central Bank has pushed interest rates further into negative territory in order to support the region’s flagging economy.

Clever words

My dentist and Mr Dumas both have a fondness for jargon, which they have picked up during their long studies of medicine and economics.

I am afraid I struggled to fully comprehend the phrase “Japanisation proves that demand management is no remedy for persistent structural weakness – continued budget deficits are unlikely to yield growth.”

(If you can explain that with clarity, please drop me a line.)

There was however one slide I could could clearly understand. It stated that poor Japan has a “disease” which can’t be cured easily.

The populist response

Charles Dumas noted that in other countries, economic malaise has led to a rise in populism.

This has created political movements led by iconoclasts, who challenge the status quo. As Mr Dumas explains in his book Populism and Economics, such leaders offer to help people take back control from established, privileged elites.

He claims that populism is both necessary and scary, because it’s a force for change and reform.

Populists rarely garner much political support in Japan.

Some maverick politicians – including Communists – tap into people’s resentments over the economy, but you’d have to go back to the Seventies to find significant numbers of people who advocated radical change.

Future forecasts

The cover of his book says that Mr Dumas is “one of the world’s leading macroeconomic forecasters.”

Yet he himself told his audience that economics is a “dismal science.”

And he admits that his pessimistic perspective has led him to be labelled Nostra-Dumas, after the 16th Century seer Nostradamus, who predicted that terrible woes would befall future generations.

I am afraid that rather gloomy pun was his only moment of humour.

Actually, I wasn’t surprised that Mr Dumas didn’t forecast any significant economic improvement for Japan. Very few people do, and even Prime Minister Abe’s attempts at optimism have worn rather thin.

Nevertheless, Japan remains a relatively rich and peaceful country, despite its economic aches and pains. Its next leader will no doubt follow a pretty similar approach to Mr Abe. The Japanese won’t vote for a revolution led by a populist rebel any time soon.

Guacamole, tulips and Japan’s lost decade

This week’s blog is based on some insights I’ve gleaned from listening to the Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Shiller.

He said to me that “Since you’re a journalist, I think I have to point out that people who go into journalism do have idealistic purposes. It’s not a field you would go in if you think like a billionaire.”

He’s right, of course, because although there are some reasonably well paid journalists, most of us are much poorer than the famous people we write about, including Nobel prize winners.

Tulip mania

I asked Professor Shiller about the influence of the media. I put it to him that in countries like China, the economic coverage is always upbeat but in the UK, the media sees its primary role as raising concerns.

“The media has a complicated relationship with economics,” he replied. “There was no evidence of speculative bubbles before there were newspapers.”

He reminded me that the price of tulips soared up way beyond their real value when prices were hyped by the media way back in the early 1600s, just at a time when newspapers and magazines were starting to become popular.

Lessons from Japan

Professor Shiller’s new book is called Narrative Economics and as well as speaking at the LSE he also did an interview with the BBC in which he gave an interesting example about the way people respond to rate cuts by central banks.

“When the Federal Reserve in the United States cut its base interest rate to between zero and a quarter of one percent, it launched a narrative which reminded people of Japan’s experience. After the Bank of Japan cut rates to zero, the Japanese economy went through a lost decade.  Using the “Z word” starts a scary narrative which might harm people’s confidence, so central bankers know they have to be careful what they say.”

“I am proposing that the narrative we use causes changes to the economy and you can run controlled experiments to show this,” said Professor Schiller, who is head of economics at Yale University in the United States.

Trump the genius

“I focus on popular narratives which come to mind when people are making economic decisions. And I think that Donald Trump is a genius at one thing, which is judging narratives and packaging them. He manages to be in our faces all the time. He’s learned how to make audiences excited, in the same way that fighters inspire audiences to be excited about a fake wresting match.”

Guacamole

During his speech, at the London School of Economics, Professor Shiller told a story to illustrate how our minds focus on visual images rather than abstract ideas.

Professor Shiller said that students at a law school were offered two accounts of a crime and then asked to decide if the accused was guilty.

The first group of students were simply told some facts but the second group heard a story.
It contained this phase:

“The accused lunged at the victim, and in the process knocked over a bowl of guacamole, which fell onto a white shag pile carpet.”

Professor Shiller said those who heard the guacamole story were more likely to convict the accused than the group who just heard the facts.

Professor Shiller concluded: “Economists like to think we are the queen of the social sciences because we don’t have to deal with fuzzy stuff, only the data” but he went to explain how the stories we tell affect people’s emotions and have a big economic impact, which can be measured.”

Pink Floyd’s swipe against Japan

I once worked with a woman who sang vocals on a number one hit single by the legendary British rock band, Pink Floyd.

When I met her, she was a hard-working radio producer at the BBC.

But when she was a schoolgirl in 1979, she was picked to be in the video of the song Another Brick In the Wall and gleefully expressed her anger at an oppressive regime.

“We don’t need no education, We don’t need no mind control,” she sang, as part of a choir of children from Islington Green School, in London.

“Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone!”

Hit and miss

Another Brick In the Wall remains Pink Floyd’s most recognisable song. It has catchy lyrics set to a disco beat, with searing electric guitar. It’s sold millions of copies worldwide.

But four years later in 1983, Pink Floyd put out another single called Not Now John which was a commercial failure.

The track contained a lot swearing, although there was a censored version for the radio. The other problem was the complexity of the song’s subject. It deals with the resentment felt by blue collar factory workers against foreign rivals in the manufacturing sector.

When Rachel Mann reviewed it for the website Quietus she concluded that Not Now John was written in the voice of an arrogant man and although she thinks it’s a fun song, in her view it is “musically crass and obvious.”

The wily Japanese

The song’s narrator complains that he must compete with “the wily Japanese.” This has led to complaints that Pink Floyd were derogatory to Japan.

Collins Dictionary says that “if you describe someone, or their behaviour, as wily, you mean that they are clever at achieving what they want, especially by tricking people.”

In the video for the song, backing vocals are provided by a trio of geisha girls, played by Caucasian women. The film features an Oriental boy wearing a T-shirt with Japan’s Rising Sun flag, who falls to his death.

I believe that Not Now John reflects the political mood of its time. In the early 1980s, Japan was far from popular in the UK and Europe, partly because of its rising economic power.

Rivalry and protectionism

In his 1983 book The Japanese Mind: The Goliath Explained, Robert C Christopher mentions how European governments tried to exclude Japanese products from their markets and he complained about “the cultural and ethnic arrogance” that Europeans displayed towards Japan.

“Broadly speaking,” wrote Mr Christopher “Western Europeans did not like the Japanese, had no desire to understand them and would devoutly wish they would just go away.”

Partner not rival

I am pleased to say that things have improved.

These days the Japanese are held in respect by many people in Europe, although they do still tend to be stereotyped.

On the whole, Japan is regarded as an economic partner, rather than a rival.

Rock on

My colleague says she enjoyed singing “We don’t need no education” for Pink Floyd.

However, I know that in reality she appreciated her time at school and when she left, she devoted her career to explaining international affairs.

I still like listening to Pink Floyd and am jealous that she sang with them yet I know that a rock song is not the best way to delve deep into economic theory.

Even the great Pink Floyd struggled to have a hit with a reflection upon the political implications of an imbalance of trade.

Is it offensive to open the kimono?

What would be your reaction if an employer asked you to “open the kimono”?

That astonishing phrase is baffling young graduates and might well put them off working for a company, according to the Times newspaper.

The article highlights the confusing jargon which appears in job advertisements and explains that “to open the kimono” means to reveal a project’s inner workings.

It appeared as a headline in the Financial Times recently, above an article about investment entitled “Opening the kimono on dark pools”.

“Dark pools” – it turns out – are a rather opaque form of financial investment.

Intimidating and erotic

Alan Connor, who is an expert on crosswords, attempted to explain the origin of the term “open the kimono” to his readers in the Guardian.

He wrote that: “The phrase goes back to the 1980s, when certain American businessmen found Japan both intimidating and rousingly exotic.”

He feels that the term is “simultaneously childish, predatory and not un-racist.”

The racist and sexist overtones of the phrase were noted by Rob Stock, writing for the New Zealand website Stuff.co.nz

He claims that open the kimono is an example of “dated, gendered language” and dismisses it as “50-something, white male business-speak.”

Feminine symbol

In Japan, where gender norms are different to those in New Zealand, both men and women wear kimonos. The word itself has a rather prosaic literal meaning; “a thing to wear”.

Nevertheless, in Japan, traditional kimonos are extremely expensive and are passed down through generations, like treasure.

And internationally, the kimono is regarded as a potent symbol of femininity.

California store

In the United States, it’s possible to buy adaptations of the costumes at a shop called Open The Kimono in Venice, California.

Most people who reviewed the store on Yelp seemed to like it.  One lady said that: “Every kimono is handmade and the owner finds luscious combinations of designs.”

Another customer said: “Open the Kimono is such a lovely shop! The owner, who is also the designer, is very friendly and dedicated to her craft.”

I am afraid that there was a note of dissent recorded on Yelp, too.

Sue from Brooklyn complained: “Racist white owners capitalizing off of Asian appropriation as per usual. If you want to look like a basic ass white girl flaunting overpriced clothing, this is your store.”

I may be wrong but I suspect that Sue has not visited the store as it’s nearly three thousand miles from Brooklyn to Venice. My guess is that she is unhappy with the name of the shop.

As the Times noted in its article, businesses which use annoying phrases or meaningless jargon do risk a bad reaction.

And indeed the shop has changed its name since the Yelp page appeared. It’s now called Ibby Hartley and it still sells kimonos but leaves it to the customers’ discretion whether they should be open or closed.

Rocket man returns

Kim Jong-Un has warned that the missiles fired by North Korea are designed to cause “inescapable distress to a fat target.”

There have been six weapons tests recently, causing great concern in Japan, where people receive warnings instantly, via their mobile phones.

The BBC’s Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker observed that the weapons are becoming more dangerous.

“North Korea has test fired three new weapons and these missiles are fast, fly low and at least one of them can manoeuvre mid-air, which would pose a real challenge to missile defence systems,” she said.

“North Korean rockets pose a real challenge to missile defence systems” -BBC

The cost of conflict

The latest incident came just after Japan commemorated the anniversary of the end of the Second World War – an event which is primarily used to consider the human cost of conflict.

In the past, some people have used the day to push a nationalist agenda but this year, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was careful to keep it low key.

He did not pay a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the war dead are commemorated, but sent a ritual offering instead. Prime Ministerial visits to the shrine are usually condemned by the governments of South Korea and China because they stir memories of occupation and conflict.

Yasukuni in perspective

An American called Jason Morgan from Reitaku University gave his perspective on the Yasukuni shrine for Japan Forward. He said that “people here come to pray for peace and for the souls of the men and women and even of the animals who died in the 15 years of hard fighting across East Asia, Southeast Asia, Alaska and the Pacific.”

He went on to say that: “People born in Japan, in China, in Taiwan, on the Korean Peninsula and in countries beyond the reach of the Japanese Empire – all who lost their lives in the wars that Japan has fought over the past 150 years – are remembered here, their souls ingathered and given rest.”

Anger and division

This year the contemplative mood was shattered by the North Korean missiles.

Even though it was the Japanese islands which were placed at risk, the missile firings also expressed North Korea’s anger at South Korea.

The South conducts military exercises alongside the United States and the North views these as a rehearsal for invasion. It says it is “senseless” to resume peace talks while the drills continue.

Reunification pledge

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in delivered a speech last week in which he declared that the peninsula could be reunified by 2045, a century after Japan’s defeat.

Although the North also says it seeks reunification, it balks at any suggestion it would become subservient to the South or its ally, the United States.

A North Korean spokesman said: “We have nothing more to talk about with the South Korean authorities, nor do we have any plans to sit with them again.”

June Park, an economist at George Mason University Korea, told the Financial Times that there “no guarantees’ the two Koreas would be united within 26 years.

“We are at a critical crossroads of geopolitical shifts, but Moon is no prophet,” she said.

Monster fish and magical raccoons

Scientists announced this week that a traditional idea about using fish to predict earthquakes is no more than a superstition.

It’s long been thought that when deep sea fish appear near the surface of the water, it’s a sign that an earthquake’s imminent.

However, an authoritative study published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America contradicts this old folklore.

The report concludes that the unusual appearance of deep-sea fish – such as the oarfish or slender ribbonfish – in Japanese shallow waters does not mean that an earthquake is about to occur.

Professor Yoshiaki Orihara of Tokai University held a press conference at which he said that deep sea fish sightings cannot be used as signals of an imminent earthquake.

Myths of fish

This led me to think more about the relationships between myth and reality in Japan.

Why, I wondered, do pictures of catfish appear on signs which indicate the routes which are designated as emergency roads in the event of a major earthquake?

Well, it appears that this is linked to a belief that catfish use their whiskers to sense the small tremors which occur before earthquakes. It also ties in with an old myth about a giant fish called Namazu.

Wikipedia puts it this way: “Namazu lives in the mud under the islands of Japan and is guarded by the god Kashima who restrains the catfish with a stone. When Kashima lets his guard fall, Namazu thrashes about, causing violent earthquakes.”

Animal stories

There are all kinds of wonderful myths in Japan involving fish, whales, bears, foxes, deer, wild boars and those cuddly-looking creatures known in English as raccoon dogs, which the Japanese call tanuki.

You see statues of tanuki outside restaurants and bars in Japan. They wear a straw hat, carry a flask of sake and are always depicted with big tummy and a giant scrotum.

They are a symbol of fun and business success.

There are real tanuki in Japan, although they don’t wear hats. They are actually part of the dog family and are related to wolves. Their scientific name is canis procyonoides, which suggests a dignified and special animal. Yet sadly nowadays, most tanuki feed on rubbish discarded by humans.

The animation company Studio Ghibli made a wonderful film about them called Pom Poko. In the story, a tribe of tanuki live on a mountain near Tokyo which is slowly being taken over by humans who are building a housing complex. The tanuki are forced out of their homes and many end up fleeing.

I like the way the blogger Noelle Ogawa describes the film on the Crunchy Roll website:

“Twenty-five years later, the lessons from Pom Poko continue to ring true. It’s a harsh look at the damage that humanity can do to its environment, wrapped up in the comical antics of shapeshifting raccoons. It leaves you feeling complicated, disappointed, but also more aware,” writes Noelle.

I think the film also raises awareness of how the Japanese breathe new life into old myths and tell stories which are directly relevant to the modern world.

Tokyo shares take a hit as China uses money as a weapon

There was something of a panic on the financial markets in Tokyo this week when China suddenly announced it would allow its currency – the yuan – to drop in value.

It was a decision taken at the top level in Beijing, following signs that China’s rate of economic growth is slowing. A weaker yuan makes Chinese exports more competitive – or cheaper to buy with foreign currencies.

That could have a negative impact on Japanese companies which compete against Chinese rivals, which partly explains a sharp fall in the value of shares on Tokyo’s main indices.

Business links

However, many Japanese companies also do extensive business with China and often cooperate rather than compete with the Chinese. And the fall on the Tokyo stock exchange came after a wave of selling in the US, amid general worries about the state of the global economy.

As the shares fell, the Japanese currency rose. As the Financial Times pointed out: “the Japanese yen was given a boost thanks to its role as a perceived haven during a time of geopolitical uncertainty.”

Trade War

China’s decision to devalue its currency was interpreted as a sign that it is not prepared to give ground in its trade war with the United States.

Last week, President Trump said he would impose a ten percent tariff on $300bn worth of Chinese goods, effectively hitting all of China’s imports to the US with duties, according to the BBC.

In response, the People’s Bank of China has “effectively weaponised the exchange rate, even if it is not proactively weakening the currency with direct intervention” said Julian Evans-Pritchard from Capital Economics.

China as peacemaker

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Premier Li Keqiang at the G7 summit in the French city of Biarritz later this month and will invite the Chinese President Xi Jinping to come to Japan soon.

And in December, China will host a meeting of the Japanese and South Korean leaders in Beijing, partly aimed at resolving their long standing disputes, which have their roots in the Second World War.

Good example

Professor Kerry Brown wrote on LinkedIn this week that “if anyone wants to see how to craft a relationship with China, look to Japan and see what they are doing.”

Professor Brown, who is Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, believes that Japan and the People’s Republic of China have an important relationship, which has huge implications for Asia and the rest of the world.

“I think the secret of Japan and China is that Japan – despite knowing a huge amount about China – always says so little. It just acts and doesn’t say.

“It is always a relationship which starts from the worst possible base in terms of history and mutual antipathy and is therefore structurally super realistic. What looks like a bad place to be, in this case at least, is not quite as bad as it looks,” wrote Professor Brown.

Compared to the other fractious relationships dominating the headlines this summer, it’s a relief to learn that the Sino-Japanese situation is stable – at least for the time being.

Ahead of the Games – why the world loves Japan

Is it true that the majority of the world’s population – including people in China – believe that Japan is the best nation in Asia?

A survey published recently suggests that Japan is greatly liked and respected by foreigners. The Anholt-Ipsos National Brands Index for 2018 puts Japan in second place in terms of countries admired by outsiders. Germany won the top “Nation Brand” ranking.

Asia’s favourite

As a journalist, I’m suspicious of surveys because the results can often be manipulated. But Ipsos is one of the more reliable polling companies and its press release says it conducted 20,224 interviews online with adults in 20 countries. It invited comments on 50 nations – including China, India, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. None of the other Asian countries made the top ten.

So what makes Japan special?

Business is a key factor, apparently. But Vadim Volos from Ipsos says that Japan also scores well on people’s perceptions of its people and its culture.

This is helped by tourism. There are a record number of tourists in Japan at the moment, including many visitors from China. More will come next year for the Olympics. And there are millions of people around the world who love Japan’s funky manga culture and fashion – including people who have never been there.

Welcome praise

The Japanese love to hear foreigners’ opinions of their country and delight in praise. They usually respond humbly but nevertheless take great satisfaction from any complement.

The Economist this week ran a piece which claimed that “All countries ponder their identity but Japan does so more than many. An entire genre of literature, Nihonjinron – “theories about the Japanese” – is dedicated to the question of what defines the country and what it means to be Japanese.”

Any foreign contribution to the great library of Nihonjinron analysis is especially valued. That includes this blog, which is normally quite positive about Japan, although I also often highlight the problems people face.

Cool Britannia

There is another surprise in the Anholt-Ipsos National Brands Index – my country, Britain, scores in the top three, just below Germany and Japan. Anholt’s respondents see the UK “as an epicentre of cultural and export strength with thriving urban life.” Britons are considered “hard working and skilful.”

The UK’s ratings on this index have not been affected much by Brexit. Simon Kuper, wrote in the Financial Times: “Going around with a British accent has mostly been an advantage up to now. That may change as the UK enters an angrier, ruder, two-fingers phase of Brexit.”

I hope that doesn’t happen and that the British retain a reputation for being stylish, innovative, funny and cool. It would also be nice to be regarded as polite and kind, like the Japanese. They plan to show their best side to the world through next year’s Olympic Games.

After that event, Japan may even creep up the index and beat Germany to become perceived as the world’s top national brand.

Enemy of NHK is elected to parliament

Almost a million people have given their support to a maverick politician who says he wants to “crush” the Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

Takashi Tachibana won a seat in this week’s upper house elections after running an angry campaign which generated a lot of debate about the role of the media.

Mr Tachibana is the leader of the Protect the People from NHK Party, which fielded more than forty candidates. Fringe parties can win places in the Upper House of the Japanese parliament because the system is based on a proportional representation.

Allegations of affairs

According to a reporter called Gavin Blair writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Mr Tachibana alleges an affair between one of NHK’s presenters and another staff member and also says he was fired from NHK after blowing the whistle on improper accounting.

In an election broadcast that was carried on NHK he said:

“‘Crush NHK’ means to stop NHK’s broadcasting signal or, to put it in technical terms; implement a scrambling of the NHK signal.

Why should we crush NHK? It’s because NHK is hiding the fact that its male and female announcers have had car-sex adultery on the street.

Everyone – it’s car-sex adultery on the street!”

There is a gossipy element to this of course, but allegations of financial impropriety and sexual misconduct are serious matters.

And it’s not the first time that NHK has been the focus of criticism. A few years ago, many people said they would refuse to pay the licence fee, claiming it doesn’t offer value for money.

TV tax

In the UK, the BBC, for which I used to work, is also funded by an annual licence fee – in effect a tax on everyone who owns a TV set, computer or smartphone. The BBC’s licence fee costs £154 ($191, 20,600 yen) whereas NHK’s costs $130 (13,990 yen).

In Britain, some people get discounts on the fee but free licences to everyone over 75 will be scrapped next year.

Many right wing newspapers have expressed outrage at this.

The Express, for example, has called for the whole licence system to be abolished and claims that “angry campaigners have lambasted the BBC for continuing to pay huge paychecks for its stars.”

It claims that young people are giving up on the broadcaster. “In terms of 16-34-year-old audience, those watching the BBC weekly fell from 60 percent to 56 percent” last year, according to the Express.

Call for change

This leaves Japan and the UK with a similar debate: does a state broadcaster, funded by licence fee money, make sense in the modern media environment?

Japanese campaigners have sent Mr Tachibana to the parliament building in Tokyo to fight their cause. It won’t be easy for him to overturn a long-established system or “crush” NHK.

But he will no doubt try to keep the issue in the news and the representatives of other media outlets will offer him much airtime to vent his anger at their leading rival.

How Asians and Westerners Think Differently

I have sometimes postulated that if I ever get to heaven, I risk being bored to death by the lack of bad news.

Can you imagine picking up the papers every day and finding nothing but positive articles? No crime, no political disputes, not even a hint of salacious gossip. Your favourite team wins every game and there are no celebrity deaths to mourn.

In the modern era, newspapers are struggling to retain readers but at least they have no shortage of issues to write about. Bad news thrives online: Twitter is bursting with accounts of human conflict.

A good argument

But is my fascination with bad news and a passion for a good argument partly down to my own culture? Would it be different if I was Asian?

A Japanese friend told me recently that the concept of a lively discussion does not exist in Japan because of the emphasis on group harmony.

I have also heard it said that combative, rhetorical forms of argument are extremely rare in China.

“Most of the time Chinese people are quiet and they don’t talk about politics. They might talk about it the dinner table but they don’t talk about it in public,” observed the artist Badiucao, in an interview with the Financial Times this week.

My research on this topic turned up an intriguing book called The Geography of Thought written by Richard E. Nisbett, an American who has tried to work out why Asians and Westerners think differently.

“East Asians live in an interdependent world, in which the self is part of a larger whole. Westerners live in a world in which the self is a unitary free agent,” suggested Nisbett.

Turning to the topic of argument and debate, he observed: “Westerners have faith in the rhetoric of argumentation, whereas Asians avoid controversy and debate. Easterners are highly attuned to the feelings of others and strive for interpersonal harmony.”

School problems

These generalisations may help to explain why some East Asian students find it difficult to adapt to Western education systems. It’s not their lack of confidence in English which necessarily holds them back – although that can be a factor – but they are unaccustomed to the way argument and counterargument are seen as central to the learning process.

Nisbett claims it is not unusual for American professors to give bad grades to Asian students, not because they are lazy or slow but because they have not grasped the rhetorical style.

I recently led a course for a group of students from China. The British and Western professors who taught them were sometimes frustrated by the lack of lively question and answer sessions at the end of their talks. I have heard similar remarks by teachers in Japan.

Heavenly lessons

I don’t know if heaven contains classrooms in which we can extend our learning. I hope that it does and that our teachers will come from every age and nation.

We could study art from Leonardo di Vinci and go on to learn science from the geniuses of future generations. I expect the teachers will have the patience of saints and essay deadlines will be extended indefinitely.

But I also hope that among those learners there will be those who challenge what they are told, or even deliberately start an argument.

When the rebels do cause conflict, it will give the angelic scribes a topic to put in the heavenly journal. I shall read it with interest.