June 27, 2009

Land of the paranoid

Lenore Skenazy (she who let her 9-year-old ride the subway alone) writes about raising "Free-Range Kids":

We all want to raise children who are self-confident and independent. And we all want them to be safe. What's happened in the past generation is that our fear for their safety has overwhelmed any old-fashioned notion of the benefits of letting them knock around and make their own fun. Even make their own mistakes.

When I was growing up, my parents' two unbreakable rules were: "Go outside and play!" and "Be home in time for dinner!" What we did in the meantime was pretty much up to us. Perish that thought nowadays! Skenazy goes on to point out that

since its peak in the early '90s, the crime level has plummeted by about 50 percent. Crimes against kids and adults are back to the levels of 1970. Here in New York, they're back to the levels of about 1963. So if you were growing up and playing outside in the '70s or '80s, your children are actually safer than you were.

To be honest, I am a little surprised that none of my adventures sent me to the ER (like some weird, medieval curse, my younger brother seemed to be the designated injuree, though he's still alive and kicking). Except that the general public hasn't processed these facts because

when you go to CNN, there's another wide-eyed child staring out at you—a cold case they'll plaster on the screen if it's a slow news day (i.e., a day when no white girls were abducted). Leave CNN and you're back to CSI or Law & Order SVU, where it's the same story, served up with a bow of duct tape.

This isn't only a U.S. phenomenon. NHK recently ran a time-filling news story about two teenage girls who stole a scooter and snatched a purse. It included a CSI-type photo of the neatly-arranged evidence (the scooter, the purse, some junk they bought with the money in the purse).

This being a national news broadcast, I waited for the other shoe to drop. Something like: "Teenage girl admits killing dad with ax." But no. That was it. The crime spree lasted all of an afternoon. As it turned out, the police didn't even bother pressing charges.

This kind of paranoia gets Japanese in as big a tizzy as it does Americans. Scowling juvenile delinquents currently populate Japanese TV dramas like castoffs from a West Side Story revival. As Peter Payne puts it, "Once the Japanese people decide they're going to freak out about something, everyone gets on board."

Except that Koichi Hamai, professor of law at Ryukoku University, found that "rates for crimes by juveniles are not increasing as a percentage of overall crimes; nor do they show any tendency to occur from an earlier age." Moreover, there's "no evidence that Japan's law and order situation is deteriorating."

Of course, we don't really believe the world is ending in our own back yard. It's always the fault of those bums in Shelbyville.

According to Hamai's research, fifty percent of his respondents believed that "crime has increased nationwide over the previous two years." But only four percent thought it had increased in their own neighborhood. Americans say the same thing about the politicians they elect (well, maybe not if they're from Illinois).

Related posts

Free-range kids
I'm Old Enough
L.M. Montgomery's free-range kids

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June 24, 2009

"My Otome Hime" gets grim

I've previously heaped praised on My Otome Hime, and having reached the end of the dystopian second season and the series, I can confirm that it only gets better (though the extras include some silly pandering just to make sure we don't all take it too seriously).

In episode 18 ("Whiteout"), the insufferable Princess Mashiro is shown to have been the pawn of the Schwartz and the equally insufferable Grand Duke Nagi. What follows is a close approximation of the Shoukei chapters at the beginning of A Thousand Leagues of Wind. The back and forth between lowbrow comedy and stark drama can give you a whiplash though.

And in the wickedly comedic "By the Red Sky" bonus episode, Akane and Kazuya, having run off in the Harlequin conclusion to "In the Crimson Sky," are about to bed down in what (hilariously) looks for all the world like a seedy Motel 6 when they are tracked down by the Secret Service so Kazuya can become king after his father dies.

This also means they can't consummate the relationship. The moral of the story: primogeniture sucks and sometimes love conquers nothing and just creates problems instead. I appreciate a Y/A series with 100 percent comic book values, but sporting the message that while utopian ideals have their place, trying to run the world by them is ruinous.


June 20, 2009

Darcy and Kagekatsu

My sister's analysis of Darcy from Pride and Prejudice reminds me of the NHK historical drama, Tenchijin, about a minor daimyo, Kagekatsu, who governed Echigo Province from 1578 to 1623. He is depicted as a classic introvert, handsome and accomplished, but who loathed "socializing."

There is apparently solid historical evidence for him being a man of few words (the court historians kept detailed records), and actor Kazuki Kitamura does a good job of depicting him just dying inside when trapped in situations he has to schmooze his way out of.

Like the great warlord Uesugi Kenshin, whom he succeeded, when faced with a battle or political dilemma, Kagekatsu was wont to retreat to a literal cave to think things through. If he'd been lord of Pemberley instead of Echigo, he would have spent most of his time in the study.

When dealing with the hyper-extroverted warlord Hideyoshi, he dragged along his gregarious adopted brother, Kanetsugu (Satoshi Tsumabuki), to do the talking, a la Aaron and Moses. Kanetsugu had to work hard to convince Hideyoshi that his brother was being quiet, not contemptuous.

As Jonathan Rauch (my go-to guy on the subject) explains, "[Extroverts] cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion."

Kitamura's Kagekatsu would make a good Darcy. Not surprisingly, the NHK series is told from the point of view of Kanetsugu, not Kagekatsu. Introverts really are boring, but they prefer it that way.

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June 15, 2009

Japan's "family values"

Noting that "only 2 percent of Japanese births [are] to unmarried women," Half Sigma wonders if "Christian people see the irony that non-Christian Japan has much better family values than the United States?"

Except that with a birthrate of 1.34, it won't be long before Japan runs out of people to practice those family values on (not to mention the debilitating effects of a declining tax base on municipal budgets--California at a national level).

I predict that the population in Japan will continue to fall until, as Steve Sailer's "affordable family formation" theory stipulates, raising 2.1 children is no longer ruinously expensive. In cost-of-living terms, contemporary Japanese society is not "family friendly."

This is one reason why the crude marriage rate per 1000 population (2006) is 5.8 in Japan and 7.3 in the U.S. (highest in the G8).

The term "parasite single" refers to children who live with their parents well into adulthood in order to preserve what is a fairly modest standard of living compared to the U.S. Thus the threat of getting kicked out of the house becomes a big lever on behavior.

Besides the normal social mechanisms of shaming and conformity, which have Kryptonite strength even in postmodern Japan. But that's only half of it.

Worker productivity in Japan is 71 percent that of the U.S. This is mainly the fault of the white-collar sector. The typical American businessman cranks out as much "work" in seven hours as his Japanese counterpart does in ten. All that time spent at the office is not time spent at home.

That means less emphasis on family life--and less emphasis on quality-of-life family-centered consumables, which makes Japan’s export-driven economy more vulnerable to economic downturns elsewhere (like in the U.S.). And, of course, less time spent making more Japanese.

The same way grumpy old white men rhapsodize about the "good old days" (whenever those were), Japanese rhapsodize about the Tokugawa Era (1603-1868). The population during that period remained fairly constant at 20-30 million (three times that of Great Britain in 1800).

The present population of Japan (127 million, 146,000 square miles, 12 percent arable land) could fall by a full third and still be the same as Germany (82 million, 138,000 square miles, 34 percent arable land).

But the other deeply-rooted problem is the secondary education system. Beginning with high school entrance exams, kids face a series of test-score death matches that make NCLB look like a game of Tiddlywinks, the training for which no parent trusts to public education alone.

So I don't see Japan's birth rate rising until the cost of living falls to affordable levels and it becomes socially acceptable for parents to not impoverish themselves funding the private tutors and cram schools that constitute Japan's vast educational-industrial complex.

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June 12, 2009

The end of analog (part 4)

I turned off the DTV converter to watch it live! KUED (PBS 7 and UEN 9) pulled the plug at 10:00 AM (MDT). No fanfare, straight to snow. Gee whiz, if you haven't figured it out by now, it's time for some reality therapy.

KBYU (BYU 11) ran a crawl until 12:30 PM, and then preceded the cutoff with a retrospective on the station's beginnings, including a tip of the hat to Utah native and pioneering television inventor, Philo Farnsworth.

Then they cut to the control room and the current station manager and the very first KBYU station manager threw the switch together. It was a classy send-off.

By 1:00 PM (MDT) the only remaining signal was from a low-power UHF Spanish-language station. But an hour later, KSL (NBC 5) came back on the air running "Hey, where'd my TV go?" infomercials for the clueless.

Still, it's kinda weird flipping through the channels and seeing nothing but empty-channel static. Like a scene out of one of those end-of-the-world movies.

To be sure, it's not exactly the end of analog. The audiophiles have their vinyl and turntables, and FM and AM are going to be around for a while. FM is slowly drifting towards digital, but AM should stay analog forever.

You know, just in case the aliens and robots invade and the last remaining humans are forced to band together around their shortwave sets.

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June 10, 2009

Dreaming of Paradise

June 09, 2009

Dreaming of Paradise (covers)

June 08, 2009

Dreaming of Paradise (notes)

June 04, 2009

H is for Hobson's choice

My sister wonders why men are driven to such incessant philosophizing about the existential facts of life that otherwise seem painfully obvious.

Well, as Tim Allen observes, from childhood on, the average man faces a binary choice in life: get a job or go to jail. Everything he dreams of or aspires to rides on this choice. Moreover, he is not guaranteed that the work he does will be "fulfilling." In fact, he will often be warned against nurturing that expectation.

So about the time the pragmatic fruits of this Hobson's choice have been exhausted--middle age or so--it is hardly surprising that he should initiate a cost-benefit analysis and come up short. Religion steps into the gap (and gurus like Wayne Dyer simply repackage religion for SWPL sensibilities).

A German study recently found that "A man's chances of dying early are cut by a fifth if their bride is between 15 and 17 years his junior." This makes sense. The age difference means that at middle age, a man's traditionally-defined role will still be operational. And when completed, he can step right out of that role into retirement.

Thinking reductively, I think this is a primary attraction of sports and technical publications and "business heroes," as a male analogue to romance: it offers to men the idealization of the "perfect job" and "fulfilling" work. Men dream of financially-rewarding work they enjoy just as women dream of Prince Charming.

Religion also offers a justification for the third unmentionable option: doing nothing. Bum-hood. But in religion it's called being a priest and makes not earning a living and raising a family acceptable. The appeal of the "lone wolf," of Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter and Kurosawa's Yojimbo, is the secular version of being a monk.

The arts and academia make for good substitute religions, hence the grudging respect (and envy) for the "starving artist," though only so far as he's not actually starving. Lone wolves are more attractive conceptually than in practice (which is why single men can't get tenure at BYU).

Religious and secular priesthoods also offer accessible hierarchies to hierarchy-hungry men, who at middle aged will be resigning themselves to the fact that they will be beta males forever. Although I have no interest in them myself, I'm not sure that, long term, invading all of these domains is a wise thing for women to do.

The anime series Kanon similarly argues that the one effective way to work through your "issues" is to do good by others. The teen protagonist, though, is a lone wolf type disengaged from social politics and hierarchies, much like the sadly-departed David Carradine's philosophizing warrior monk in Kung Fu.

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June 03, 2009

Car smarts

Each week on the program Cool Japan, an international panel of foreigners living in Japan is invited to explore and comment upon various aspects of the popular culture. The subject last week was the automobile, and one of the topics presented was itasha.

Itasha (痛車) means "painful car." According to Wikipedia and Zokugo Jiten, The etymology derives from the exacting work such exquisite detailing demands, and as a self-deprecating acknowledgment that any sane non-otaku would be painfully embarrassed to be seen even on the same highway as such a vehicle.

More specifically, itasha could be called moe auto detailing. Again referring to Wikipedia, moe is Japanese slang "referring to a liking or love for characters in video games or anime and manga," and has evolved into an identifiable aesthetic world-wide.

As a school of auto detailing, though, itasha represents a combination of visual genres that does not naturally occur to western minds. The German panelist in particular insisted than no self-respecting German driver would ever mar the factory finish with something like this.

Not to mention doing it to a Lamborgini (itasha is also a pun on "Italian car").

Of course, the Japanese being Japanese, there are itasha seat covers, itasha accessories, itasha auto clubs, itasha kits, itasha websites, itasha competitions, and ero-itasha (whose meaning should be self-evident), which creates a whole new category of the "street-illegal" car.

Another collection of photos here, or you can just google the term.

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