Linkfest 2018-07-30

 Lord of the Rings by Frank Frazetta

Lord of the Rings by Frank Frazetta

The images from today's linkfest are Frank Frazetta illustrations of the Lord of the Rings. Frazetta was a prolific illustrator of comics, book covers, album covers, and paintings. His style is instantly recognizable to any fan of science fiction and fantasy, and perhaps is the epitome of SFF cover art. There are a lot of links this week about science fiction and fantasy works, so this just seemed right when it came through my Twitter feed. His children and grandchildren still benefit from his work, so please patronize their online shops.


THE MUD, THE BLOOD AND THE YEARS: WHY “GRIMDARK” IS THE NEW “SWORD AND SORCERY”

Warhammer 40k is the thing I had most often heard described as grimdark, but it turns out there is a wide variety of books that could be described by that label. I might have to check it out.


WHY WAS THE 20TH CENTURY NOT A CHINESE CENTURY?: AN OUTTAKE FROM "SLOUCHING TOWARDS UTOPIA?: AN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE LONG 20TH CENTURY"

The first of two related Brad DeLong links this week. An nice capsule history of China's relative position in the world during the twentieth century.


Curing cancer statistically via mammography

Many modern diagnostic techniques, while quite accurate in absolute terms, can have false positive results in numbers higher than true positives because the actual occurrence rate of what is being sought is low.


A slightly gloating post, but arguably deservedly so, that self-published authors are overtaking traditional publishing at a rapid pace in science fiction and fantasy, with lots of graphs. Even more damning is the fact that much of the traditional science fiction and fantasy book sales of the traditional model are The Handmaid's Tale, currently trendy as an anti-Trump book.


Congress is giving the officer promotion system a massive overhaul

I once considered a career in the military. This is a big change in how promotions, especially the end of up or out.


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Robots and Jobs: A Check on Fear

A reasonable take, based on historical data about automation.


ARISTOTLE RETURNS

I might argue he never left, but there is a genuine neo-Aristotelian moment in analytic philosophy.



Underestimating the power of gratitude – recipients of thank-you letters are more touched than we expect

I just received a handwritten thank you note from my mother, so this came at the right time.


 Why did the Industrial Revolution occur in England?

Why did the Industrial Revolution occur in England?

Pseudoerasmus tweets a chart looking at how few people were employed in the English agricultural sector in the eighteenth century.


THE MEIJI RESTORATION: A PROBABLE IN-TAKE FOR "SLOUCHING TOWARDS UTOPIA?: AN ECONOMIC HISTORY OF THE LONG 20TH CENTURY"

A counter-point to DeLong's piece on China above, but with a disputed claim about agricultural productivity in Japan.


Compulsory Licensing Of Backroom IT?

I would genuinely like to know if the claim that different executions of custom IT software are  a large differentiating factor in the market right now is true.


Dollars for Docs

Public records on payments to physicians from pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies in the US.


“WHY ARE DEVELOPERS ONLY BUILDING LUXURY HOUSING?”

Some data on why it makes economic sense [for developers] to build expensive housing right now.


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The Marriage of Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton

A beautiful reflection on the little touches that make Tolkien so great, and why the Fellowship was comprised of bachelors.


When Ramjets Ruled Science Fiction

Some of the most fun ideas in science fiction get disproven later. Ah well.


I need this for professional purposes.


The humanities are suffering from not being vocational.

 

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The Long View: Tokugawa America

 Tokugawa Ieyasu   [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tokugawa Ieyasu

 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tokugawa Japan is one of the more remarkable societies that have ever developed. It produced most of the culture that both we Americans and the Japanese find distinctive, and managed to be relatively stable and resistant to the outside world for nearly 250 years. When the outside world finally barged in, Tokugawa Japan responded more creatively than China did, although you could argue the mess Imperial Japan made in the early twentieth century mitigates this accomplishment.

Here, John Reilly asks the question: What would America look like if an isolationist policy as strict as the Bakufu's were implemented? This is the kind of fascinating thought experiment that John's fascination with alternative history made him well prepared for.


Tokugawa America

An Essay by John J. Reilly

With Thanks to Akatsukami

 

In this sixth year of the 21st century, one might argue that the American unipolar moment has ended, or that unipolarity has been revealed to be not at all identical with omnipotence. In either case, many Americans now feel less safe than they did ten years ago. The anxiety has many sources, all of them with an international component. There are the continuing wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, the ever more alarming terrorist threats, the relative decline of US manufacturing, the uncontrollable fluctuations in petroleum prices, the demographic transformation arising from Latin American immigration; and, an as yet insufficiently appreciated factor, the purely confessional tensions generated by the appearance of an aggressive Muslim minority in a Protestant-Christian country. For these and other reasons, there is now audible sentiment in the United States for less engagement with the wider world.

This sentiment is sometimes expressed in terms of an argument that the United States should share more of the cost of maintaining the global security and economic commons. The argument is, perhaps, incoherent. Quite aside from the fact that it assumes the existence of peer powers with an interest congruent with that of the United States in maintaining a liberal world order, the solution the argument implies would do nothing at all to shield America from the global forces that are causing the new anxiety. The opposite may be true: to wholly assimilate American interests to those of multilateral organizations in which the US does not have a preponderant voice would simply transform foreign engagement from a question of policy to one of legal obligation.

More interesting, if more radical, is the call by nationalists for far more radical disengagement. At least for purposes of this discussion, we will not consider the “civilizationist” variant, which holds that the West as a whole must fight off Islamist aggression. Though apparently of more than one mind on the subject, nationalists like Patrick Buchanan seem, on the whole, to be willing to write off the non-American portion of Western Civilization and concentrate on the defense and cultural preservation of the American homeland. In this essay will consider not so much whether such a policy would be possible or sustainable, but what it would look like if it were implemented.

As a metaphor for this project, we call the thorough-going recusant model “Tokugawa America,” after the period in Japanese history known as the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868). Japan under the Tokugawa Shoguns (essentially a line of hereditary prime ministers) was perhaps the most successful and sophisticated hermit kingdom in history. It began as an attempt to re-impose order, after a long period of civil war, using an ideology of Neo-Confucian hierarchy to support a feudal four-layer caste system. At least at the beginning, the regime was anti-commercial; it famously limited foreign trade to a minimum. It also undertook to suppress Christianity as a disruptive foreign influence. Nonetheless, the Tokugawa period was by no means a dark age. The arts of the Tokugawa period, particularly in painting, achieved a level of evocative subtlety that has rarely if ever been matched. Neither was the period socially immobile. The original feudal caste system developed more market features with the passage of time, as well as a lively intellectual life. Some Japanese elites had kept abreast of events in the rest of the world. When the challenge from America and Europe came in the middle of the 19th century, Tokugawa Japan had the resilience and self-confidence to respond creatively, though the Shogunate itself was abolished early in the following era of reform.

What the American nationalists are asking for is the Tokugawa period, but with American characteristics.

Let us imagine that, after September 11, 2001, the American political system had determined to protect America by hardening the target rather than by eliminating the source of the threat. “Hardening the target” is here taken to mean, not simply making the US less vulnerable to terrorism from the Middle East, but less vulnerable to any disruption from any quarter. This invulnerability would be accomplished by changes to the United States and its immediate environment, not by attempting to modify the economic or political evolution of other parts of the world.

There would be three strategic principles:

Economic Autarky: The survival, and even the prosperity, of the United States could no longer be allowed to depend on events outside the reliable control of the American state. Tariffs would become the chief instrument of macroeconomic policy, as they were in the 19th century. Increasingly punitive imports would promote withdrawal from world commodity markets, and most especially from the world oil market. Other areas of the economy would, presumably, produce the technological innovations needed to accommodate the new price structure. In addition to the oil question, the US would no longer import manufactured goods, except perhaps for some luxury items; neither would export industries be favored. The single greatest change would be that the dollar would no longer be the chief international reserve currency, or the preferred medium of international exchange. Taxes on fund transfers would accomplish these goals. One suspects there would be a return to an international gold standard for such trade as still occurred.

Military Disentanglement: The rejection of foreign sources of essential commodities would remove the Middle East, West Africa, and Latin America as possible spheres of small wars. Large wars, or at least large wars involving the United States, would be prevented by the withdrawal of security guarantees from Europe and Japan, and indeed from everyplace east of Maritime Canada and west of Hawaii. The military could shrink to the Coast Guard, missile defense, and the Marine Corps (with the latter including its air arm).

Closed borders: Except for policed transit points, the Mexican border would be closed. Areas that could not be continuously patrolled would be mined. Businesses unable to meet their personnel needs from the domestic labor force or by automation would be expected to close. Schools, particularly graduate schools, would be in much the same situation regarding students: student visas would be rare. Travel of all kinds to the United States would be rare. Even tourists are a potential threat, both in transit and once they arrive. Government functions connected with the franchise and the administration of justice would be conducted in English.

We should note that the condition of the United States did approximate these principles during the Great Depression. The US was, almost, resource independent in those days. It actually ran a small trade surplus, though of course the absolute volume of trade was small. The US military was trying to disengage even from residual commitments in Latin America and the Philippines. President Roosevelt, during his first term, came close to turning the Army into a paper force. During the early years of the Depression, immigration actually reversed: more people left the country than entered it. Important industries were subsidized and regulated to keep them in business and to maintain employment. On the many occasions when government sought to influence prices, from the cost of wheat to the cost of airline tickets, it usually tried to raise them to prevent deflation.

Internationally, of course, the 1930s ended very badly, but that was because the US recused itself during a period of manifestly growing threats from peer states. It is not certain that the same bad result would obtain in a context in which the rest of the world were turning to rubble.

Similarly, Tokugawa America need not be a gray place of persistently high unemployment, shabby flannel clothes, and Humphrey Bogart movies. The isolation of America in the 1930s was more a matter of necessity than design, as was the disengagement of the United States from European affairs in the 19th century. The spirit and structure of a recusant regime would be quite different if the isolation were a matter of policy.

We might, for instance, consider Robert Heinlein’s novel, “If This Goes On,“ first published in 1940. During the 1930s, Heinlein thought that the United States would and should prescind as much as possible from European affairs. In most of his scenarios for the future, a second world war does occur, but the United States remains neutral. “If This Goes On---“ uses a variation on that idea: a few generations after the date of publication, Heinlein posits, the United States has dropped out of world affairs because it has become a theocracy, ruled by a line of prophets. The military is a small internal police. Life goes on pretty much as it always had (there are flying cars, but there were many flying cars in Depression era stories), except that it has become almost impossible to leave or enter the country.

Avoiding personal foreign contacts is a fundamental feature of the prophet’s system: the isolation is designed to prevent ideological contamination. This objective does not bulk large in the writings of nationalists today; neither are the nationalists, for the most part, would-be theocrats. The closest that nationalists come to an exception in this regard is the question of Islam. In some circles, every Islamic neighborhood is regarded as an incubator of fifth columnists. At the very least, Tokugawa America would have to discourage the spread of Islam, a policy that would require attention not just to immigration and nationalization policy, but also the administration of prisons. A consistent policy would also favor conversion to some form of Christianity.

A Tokugawa policy for America, however, would require some broader rationale than anti-Islamism and economic protectionism. The economic and social configuration it would seek to maintain is not natural. Markets do not stop at borders except at gunpoint. Energy will have to be continually applied to prevent the system from dissolving, something that was not true of the isolation of the 1930s. Investments will be forgone and expenditures made where they would not be in the absence of public policy. In other words, Tokugawa America will be expensive to maintain. The political system will have to be firmly committed to doing so. The recusal of the United States would have to be understood not just as a policy, but as a way of life.

In any case, Tokugawa America would need more command and redistribution features than have been fashionable since the era of deregulation began in the 1970s. It’s not just that command would have to be continually applied to keep the system in existence. The fact that the system would so obviously be picking winners and losers, particularly with regard to tariffs, that the losers would demand compensatory subsidies of various sorts. Tokugawa America would be in persistent danger of becoming a “blocked society,” in which competing claims for rents would tend to freeze the political system.

The really interesting question is whether Tokugawa America would be recognizably American. The United States has a venerable history of holy horror at the corruption of the outside world; the United States has experienced periods of “isolationism” (the 1920s was not one of them, but that’s another story); for much of its history, the United States has practiced beggar-thy-neighbor trade protectionism. What the United States has never been is defensive or culturally protectionist. In this the US has been the opposite of all the world’s hermit kingdoms, including Tokugawa Japan’s. These societies usually felt that their cultures were in some sense superior to those of the rest of the world. However, far from attempting to spread their arts or institutions to other societies, they often went to some lengths to ensure that foreigners would learn as little as possible about these treasures.

Universal liberal democracy is not the only element in American political culture, but it is one of the earliest and most persistent. Only episodically has America attempted to spread its institutions to the rest of the world as a matter of official policy. Nonetheless, the American view of the world, and indeed of itself, has always incorporated the tenet that liberal democracy would or should spread, that it would be better for everybody if the world became a society of liberal republics, as Kant had speculated. Do not be deceived by the Americans who claim to overcome American chauvinism by asserting that the whole world need not be like America. They are, perhaps, the most naive of their countrymen, since they have simply globalized American patriotism by failing to see that the world society of liberal republics does not yet exist.

Tokugawa America would no doubt retain the language of its ancestral universalism, but the meaning of the words would have shifted. For the first time, liberal democracy would just be something that Americans do, like baseball; whether or not other societies had similar institutions would no longer be relevant to the American view of historical development. For that matter the idea of historical development as progress would not fit into Tokugawa America. America’s only imperative would be its own preservation. That might make America less peculiar, but it would also make it less American.

Finally, one suspects that America in recusal might shift its emphasis from the production of popular culture to the production of a new high culture. American popular culture has always in fact been idiosyncratic, from the loner heroes in films to the advertising industry’s ideal of the female figure. Nonetheless, this culture was produced by people who unselfconsciously thought their own assumptions about beauty and virtue to be universal. The same holds true from music to food to the size of cars. Tokugawa America, in contrast, would be the kingdom of self-consciousness. These themes and motifs would be taken up like popular tunes were taken up by the great classical composers and reworked into creations of a new order. America has had self-consciously American art before, of course, but heretofore it has always been drowned out by the commercial popular arts on the one hand and the acids of the avant garde on the other. In Tokugawa America, however, there would be no subsidy for the nihilist avant garde, not in a political culture whose first duty was national preservation. As for commercial art, its market will have shrunk with the geographical sphere of American culture. Discerning patrons would determine the flow of American culture.

The model we have considered is scarcely a dystopia. Tokugawa America need not be poor, tyrannical or even ugly. There are ways in which it would be superior to the America of history. However, let no one imagine that the establishment of this society would be the preservation of the Old Republic against a globalizing world. Tokugawa America would be another country.

 

End

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 332 pages
Published October 25th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B0764948W1

I keep being surprised by Cole and Anspach. I have said that before, but I'm going to keep on saying it as long as it keeps happening. Right now, the Galaxy's Edge series is hot stuff in the "Space Marines" category on Amazon. When I read Legionnaire, I thought I knew where the series was going. It turns out I was mistaken.

 Spiral power

Spiral power

Let me explain my continuing surprise regarding the Galaxy's Edge series by recourse to Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann is a 2007 series by GAINAX, one of my favorite Japanese studios. At the beginning, Gurren Lagann is the story of two boys, Simon and Kamina, who are bored with their rote and regimented life, and who act out in predictable ways. Then, Simon stumbles on an artifact of great power, the core drill. This sets in train a sequence of events that culminates in a battle for the fate of the galaxy.

However, none of this is apparent at first. The core drill and its spiral power is a metaphor for what is going to happen. Each revolution of the crank brings you to a higher level, but the spiral itself is unchanged; it simply grows in diameter. Gurren Lagann is a brutal sendoff of mecha anime, and often uses puerile humor to mask its subtlety. Simon and Kamina are teenage boys, after all. But the total effect is a fascinating story that happens on multiple levels simultaneously, while keeping its essence unchanged throughout.

Galaxy's Edge is much like this. You think, space marines, OK, this is Tom Clancy in space! Or Tom Clancy with Star Wars! We will get elite soldiers who kick ass, some political intrigue, and we all get to be heroes in the end, right?

As it turns out, all of the real heroes are dead. [Spoiler alert. I'm not kidding about that.] They don't give out the Order of the Centurion posthumously 98.4% of the time for nothing. Each book in the series feels very different because each one is a turn of the crank, expanding beyond the gripping tale of the survivors of Victory Company in Legionnaire, to something much, much bigger. New secrets are revealed, deeper connections forged to things that seemed incidental at the time. Yet, we are also getting something much the same: space opera competently done, with a touch of dark humor and military action-adventure

And, by the way, I agree: it is never a good idea to give weapons strong AI, even if they make interesting observations about poetry.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

My other book reviews

Cheap Houses in Tokyo

Following this thread from Twitter:

To Steve Sailer's post on the subject, where one of the comments pointed to this Youtube video:

Land in Edogawa is 29,000,000 yen per square meter, which comes out to $3200 per square meter, or about $300 per square foot. Pretty pricey by my standards, but I live in a low density area. The Canadian who made the video compared Edogawa to the Bronx, in terms of proximity to a major city center, so let's look there for a comparison.

 Edogawa 4LDK

Edogawa 4LDK

This home in Edogawa is new construction, 119.88 square meters [1290 square feet], and is priced at 46,800,000 yen [$418,253]. Lot size isn't given, but I'll guess it is 42 square meters [452 square feet], which is the footprint of the first floor.

This home in the Bronx is a 1950s 3-bedroom, coming in at $405,000 for 1530 square feet, a price per square foot of $265. The lot is 1916 square feet. The house and lot are bigger than the 4LDK, but the extra story on the Japanese home gets you to a pretty close living area on a much smaller lot. The Bronx house has a backyard, which is a major plus, but it is quite a bit further from Manhattan [1 hour] than Edogawa is from Shinjuku [15 minutes]

In a follow-up video, Greg did a tour of a new construction home in Tokyo, a 4LDK, which is shorthand for a 4 bedroom house with a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen. The real estate agent in the video said this also assumes two bathrooms and an attached garage. That sounds plausibly close to my own home, so I'll take it as a point of comparison.

One thing I noted during the tour is that home technology in the US is still a bit better than Japan. For example, double-pane windows are still new enough to be remarkable, rather than a standard item on new construction. On the other hand, Japanese houses usually lack central heating too, so it probably mattered less. The magnetic door stop was cool though. The house is 45800000 yen, which comes out to $409,000 or so. No area was given in the video, so we'll just have to guess it comes out about the same as the one I found on a real estate site above. 

Since the land is so expensive, a home at the same price in the US will have much nicer finishes, and in almost all markets will be much bigger as well. In compensation, the Japanese home is closer to entertainment, shopping, and work than similarly priced US homes.

I'm impressed by what you can get for the money in Tokyo. It is a completely different lifestyle than I have, but similar to urban life in the biggest and most expensive US cities, except much, much cheaper.

The Long View 2005-01-05: Apocalypse; Asteroids; Demographics; Super Vixens

I remember emailing John Reilly regarding his speculation that the cityscapes in the Japanese zombie videogames/movies known as Resident Evil always look Canadian. He immediately confused me with someone else.


Apocalypse; Asteroids; Demographics; Super Vixens

 

What long-term political impact will the recent tsunami have on the eastern Indian Ocean area? God knows, but I am already seeing fractured references to the thesis of Michael Barkun's book, Disaster and the Millennium (1974). As the title suggests, the book argued that there is a correlation between disasters, particularly natural disasters, and millenarian movements, which sometimes take the form of revolutionary movements. The proposal probably has merit, but one should note how qualified the correlation is supposed to be:

Disaster is the cause of millennial movements as a last resort when the known order has failed. Disaster is a necessary but not sufficient cause. There must be: 1) several disasters; 2) traditional millenarian ideas; 3) a charismatic leader adapting these ideas to present circumstances; 4) an isolated and homogenous population in which the disasters occur. Cities are unlikely loci; these are all country movements. The ecstatic behavior common to these movements is "resocialization," not psychosis, and a means to continue "disaster utopia," since disasters are good for some, and frequently lead to a rebuilding of community: disaster "prefigures the millennium."

One should also note the delay: the movements that book discusses tend to appear ten or fifteen years after disaster undermines the existing order of things.

* * *

Speaking of the sociology of religion, I am giving some thought to attending the annual meeting in St. Paul this summer of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations. The topic is Civilizations, Religions and Human Survival, which dovetails nicely with both millenarianism and the Clash of Civilizations. I was actually invited to come do a stand-up Spengler routine. I can manage that, provided it's not a morning session.

My problem is that I don't really have an academic affiliation, so it is hard for me to justify the time and expense. (By the way, if any of you need an adjunct teacher in the New York area, please let me know.)

* * *

Probably all those disaster movies in the 1990s permanently linked tsunamis and asteroids in the public mind. Be that as it may, there is some evidence that they have actually been linked on several occasions well within historical time:

That’s the theory of this Australian geologist Ted Bryant. And his evidence is that tsunamis have hit this coastline every few centuries, he says. One washed over the Wollongong area in 1500 AD. It wasn't big enough to destroy civilisation like in the movies, but the film Deep Impact does give a feel for what happened 500 years ago... Ted’s certain all this happened in 1500 because he’s carbon-dated the tiny pieces of shell washed up by the big waves. But the next step his proof needs is evidence that 300-metre-wide chunks of that comet do fall down every few hundred years...And judging from Doug Revelle’s signals, meteors the size Ted needs arrive once every 120 years or so...And surprisingly, it's not that initial big splash that creates the tsunami. Rather, the impact shoots a jet of water kilometres into the air and as that jet falls down it gives birth to the deadly tsunami.

Every 120 years? 300 meters? Maybe an asteroid defense-system would not be a useless Chicken Little Machine after all.

* * *

For the most part, I tend to think that culture shapes technological development rather than vice versa. Cultures do what they do, and the important trends are rarely predicted and never controlled. So, I was not altogether surprised to see this story about the decline of artificial birth-control

At a time when the medical community has been heartened by a decline in risky sexual behavior by teenagers, a different problem has crept up: More adult women are forgoing birth control, a trend that has experts puzzled -- and alarmed about a potential rise in unintended pregnancies...the finding that the number of women who had sex in the previous three months but did not use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002.

John S. Santelli [is] a professor of population and family health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Even as he cheered the news that a growing number of teenagers are using contraception, Santelli wondered whether doctors are neglecting women.

"Maybe we're failing with women over 21," Santelli said.

Robert Heinlein once remarked that he had collected demographic projections for 40 years, and all of them turned out wrong.

* * *

Speaking of disasters, over the weekend I viewed the film Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The concept here was Night of the Living Dead meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the super vixen augmented by the same immortalizing virus that makes the dead so restless.

I am hooked on these Canadian horror films. The Stars-and-Stripes may flap from every flagpole, but the cityscapes still look like edited versions of Toronto (for some bizarre reason, the necropolis in this film was called "Raccoon City"). And no matter how much human flesh the extras consume, no one is ever very rude.

There is little point in criticizing the science in these films, but may I remark that it would take more than a five-kiloton bomb to blow up Toronto, no matter what animal the city is named after?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Linkfest 2017-05-05

Steve Sailer is getting more attention. This probably isn't good attention, but what can you do?

I still don't understand macroeconomics, but I am trying.

This is pretty good. 

The shift from male-dominated campus leftism to female-dominated is interesting.

A Thomist ruminating on the way in which we try to explain things we understand well in terms of things we don't understand well.

Rusty Reno argues that globalism/nationalism is the axis upon which the world will turn.

BD Sixsmith's somber memorial to the Bolshevik Revolution.

This makes me feel better that they aren't all dead. There is a counterpoint here challenging this research [which cites the faulty idea that you can alter the ratio male/female births by stopping having kids after you have a boy]

I like apocalyptic fiction. I am glad I never got around to The Road.

The application is a bit disconcerting, but I am amazed at the functionality/price ratio.

I expect that history will fondly remember Benedict XVI.

LinkFest 2016-11-06

This LinkFest has been delayed three weeks. I had better publish it before the election and everything gets falsified!


Divided by meaning

A great piece on how Americans are divided by their attachments to hearth and home, or the lack thereof. Fascinating to me, since by education and career, I ought to be a member of what the author calls "the front row kids" who run the country, but I have chosen to live and work in the same small town I grew up in, much like Steve Jobs.

Is there a dietary treatment for multiple sclerosis?

It wouldn't be that hard to design a double-blind RCT on this if you wanted to. You could put everyone on the vegan+fish diet and then supplement animal fats in pill form. If the IRB balked, you might then suspect they secretly believed it might work.

The Crony Economy

Everyone agrees they don't like it, but no one has produced a lasting reform.

How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind 

Cracked continues to impress me. Companion piece: Divided by meaning

Is there a dietary treatment for multiple sclerosis?

A really good look at the incentives that push medicine towards pharmaceuticals and away from other kinds of therapies. Related reading: Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Is the placebo powerless?

Revealed: Nearly Half The Adults In Britain And Europe Hold Extremist Views

There is no end to the humor in this, but I find the commitment to democracy kind of sweet and endearing in people who are otherwise horrified when they find out what average people really think. Can you imagine the headline if one were able to conduct the same survey world-wide?

Why Tokyo is the land of rising home construction but not rising prices

Because they almost always tear down old houses and build new ones instead of just moving into them. There are a variety of interesting cultural and practical reasons for this, but one that doesn't appear in the article is the way the Yakuza use construction as their legitimate front. A lot of blue collar work in NYC works much the same way.

How Democrats killed their populist soul

Part of my on-going series of how the Economic Right and the Cultural Left are currently dominant in the West. Until I read this, I hadn't appreciated how the economic theories of Right and Left alike had turned against trust-busting and monopoly prevention.

Estates of Mind

A bit more about anti-trust laws as applied to intellectual property.

Mergers raise prices not efficiency

Since I have worked in manufacturing for my entire career, I don't find this surprising at all. The idea that mergers allow for standardization looks a lot easier on paper than in reality. Supply chains and manufacturing lines can't change with a memo.

The Rise of the alt-Right

Definitely one of the best things I have read about the alt-right. What is going on in the US has a lot of ties to what is going on in Europe.

On the reality of race and the abhorrence of racism

Bo Winegard, Ben Winegard, and Brian Boutwell point out that studying race doesn't make you deplorable.

The ruthlessly effective rebranding of Europe's new far-Right

I said what I read above from Scott McConnell was the best thing about the alt-right, but you really need this one as background.

The election that forgot about the future

In John's review of The Fourth Turning, one of the things that Strauss and Howe said made the Civil War worse than it could have been was the failure of the aging Transcendentalists to step aside and let someone else solve new problems. According to Strauss and Howe's model, the Baby Boomers are currently filling the same role in the United States. And you might note, one of two aging Baby Boomers is about to win the Presidency in a bitterly contested election.

Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson makes another great war movie, about a guy who would not carry a gun.

LinkFest 2016-06-24

The War on Stupid People

This has been clear [to me] for a very long time: most Americans confuse intelligence, a biological fact like height, with human importance. This is why being called stupid is an insult, and part of the reason why IQ research is so contentious.

Barry Latzer on Why Crime Rises and Falls

Time series analysis is really tricky, and this is a good article on crime that gets into why. 

Did Japan actually lose any decades?

Short answer: no. Eamonn Fingleton sometimes comes across as a crank, so I appreciate finding others who corroborate his views. Japan's economy is doing exactly what you would expect from a First World country with a static population. However, a lot of models at present assume a continuously growing population, so you get a mismatch between modeled expectations and reality.

Paul Allen's space company nears debut of world's biggest plane

I'm glad Internet billionaires put their money where their mouth is. I assume most of them take the common complaint, "where's my flying car?", and do something about it.

Hacker's Toolbox: The Handheld Screwdriver

When I was a locksmith in college, we all used the 4-in-1 combination screw driver much like the one shown here.

There are now more bureaucrats with guns than there are US Marines

Once I considered working for the fraud investigative division of HHS. These are the "bureaucrats with guns", really more like FBI Special Agents who only work on certain crimes. I do have a bit of misgiving about the trend of each Federal agency feeling the need to train and equip their agents like SWAT teams, and about the militarization of the police in general. However, this is precisely the appeal of these forces as jobs; they are relatively safe, quite well-paid, and you get good equipment and training. A dream job, for a cop.

The Middle Class is Shrinking Because Many People Are Getting Richer

The decline of the middle is actually the rise of the upper middle class. 

Rurouni Kenshin Twenty Years Later

 Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin

Right now Netflix is showing most of my favorite anime. Subbed, no less. As I have gotten older, my interest in anime has waned, but a few of my favorites are still classics that bear watching again and again. Among those is Rurouni Kenshin

This tale of a wandering swordsman in the early Meiji period first aired on television in Japan nearly twenty years ago.  It combines serious historical fiction with light humor and martial arts action. I could probably skip the light humor, but this is just a feature of the genre. In fact, the TV series without the light humor would be very, very dark. After the TV series was finished, an OVA [original video animation] telling Kenshin's backstory as an assassin during the Meiji Restoration was very much like this, somber and serious. 

As I write, my wife is watching the series on Netflix. I have been listening to the series, and partly because I know the story so well, and partly because I still retain some capacity to understand spoken Japanese after ten years with no practice, I am struck by the theme of men who are lost in the new world of the Meiji era. Many of the characters we meet are men who feel their masculinity has been taken away in the new world created by the destruction of the Tokugawa Shogunate. They are looking for male friendship and validation in a world that has been turned upside down by rapid social change. This fits many of the female characters as well, who have often lost fathers and brothers in the wars that preceded the restoration of the Emperor.

Yet, for all that, this anime series seems equally popular with men and women. This is unusual, since after all, two of the most popular genres, 少年 [shōnen] and 少女[shōjo] simply mean "boys" and "girls". Japanese popular entertainment is quite  segregated. 

The author, Nobuhiro Watsuki,  mentioned in interviews that he was influenced by reading shōjo manga as a young boy, and perhaps because of this, Kenshin is a man very much in touch with his feminine side. Kenshin is slight, and fine featured, and the Japanese voice actor is a woman making her voice unnaturally deep. Yet, men respect him because he was a powerful killer, and respect him even more when he renounces killing and lives his life in service to others.

This theme of lost masculinity restored by feminine gentleness has resonated  in both Japan and the United States, among both men and women. I do not find it surprising when a very masculine or very feminine anime finds a matching audience in the United States, but I think this one is special, because it crosses that line in both cultures.

My other anime reviews

The Long View 2003-06-11: Unpalatable Measures

Let's talk about Korea. I don't know the area well enough to vouch for the accuracy of this article by Peter Lee, but one thing that seems clear is that a reunified Korea would be very rich, and very powerful, especially in comparison to Japan. The South Korean age distribution skews way younger than Japan's, and North Korea even more so, so we would expect to see Korea wax stronger even without reunification, but reunification would have a magnifying effect.

 Korean and Japanese Age Pyramids 2015 CIA World Fact Book

Korean and Japanese Age Pyramids 2015 CIA World Fact Book

Economic strength wouldn't peak for a while, the North is in pretty sad shape right now, but there is tremendous opportunity in the Korean people. You could guess that eventually the North would converge with the South's level of development. There are about 50 million in South Korea, and about half that in North Korea. All else being equal, that will eventually result in an economy half again as big, or a little more once you subtract military spending that would no longer be needed.

Another thing that is clear is that some people would get very, very rich from reunification. Using China and Russia as models of what it looks like to modernize an economy held back by Communism, there will be immense opportunities, but the rewards will be distributed by political means, not economic ones.

Unpalatable Measures
Why may the current tit-for-tat attacks in the Levant be different from earlier tit-for-tat attacks? At the risk of sounding bloodthirsty, the latest exchanges may bring peace closer.
A quick review: President Bush just visited the region to preside over a handshake between the Israeli and Palestinian premiers regarding the "Road Map for Peace." Hamas almost immediately refused to take part in the cease-fire the agreement contemplates, and killed five Israeli soldiers over the weekend. Then the Israelis were rude enough to try to assassinate the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, which made him visibly cranky on television. Just as I was writing this, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 16 people; Israel struck at another two Hamas leaders in Gaza City.
One lesson we might draw is that prominent American officials who visit that area better have an awfully good reason for going there, because there are likely to be several more dead bodies soon after they leave. Something is different this time, though: the people exchanging fire are not the interlocutors. Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas agreed to the new peace process. His very office was created to pursue it. The people the Israelis are shooting at are Abbas's political enemies. (The position of Chairman Arafat is, as usual, ambiguous but unhelpful.) Eventually, it will occur to the leadership of Hamas that they are not only putting their own lives at risk, but that Abbas is likely to be the beneficiary. At that point, a cease-fire might look like a better idea.
 
* * *
Reports of cannibalism have been coming from North Korea. Supposedly, the combination of another bad harvest and drastic reductions in foreign food-aid has pushed people over the edge. One never knows what to make of reports of this type. Every famine occasions stories of cannibalism, oftentimes quite similar stories about a more or less open market in people parts. Such accounts are particularly hard to believe in a society as anti-commercial as North Korea. Still, there are other recent stories that suggest something may be about to happen there.
For one thing, the country is under increasing foreign pressure. Without quite declaring an embargo, the Japanese have become fussy about the regulation of the shipping to Korea, which means the North Koreans have been substantially cut off from foreign remittances and smuggled military technology. Meanwhile, the US is moving its forces back from the demilitarized zone. When the redeployment is complete, it will be possible to make airstrikes into the North without putting Americans at risk from the North's artillery. (The people in Seoul wish they could say as much.) What does the government of North Korea say about all this? They announced that they want to develop a nuclear deterrent, so they can divert to civilian needs the resources now dedicated to the huge army.
There are two problems with this. The first is that North Korea already has a nuclear deterrent. Even if it does not have a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, the US is not sure of that, so the US is reluctant to act preemptively. The other is that the era of nuclear deterrence is almost over, at least for small arsenals. The US will have some measure of defense against ballistic missiles next year. The Japanese will have it slightly later. It's hard to say what the North Korean government knows, but they surely know that. If the conventional military is going to be reduced, that will be because it is more of a menace to the regime than the US is.
 
* * *
No, I am not going to read Hillary Clinton's new memoir, Living History, not when I still have a perfectly good collection of the speeches of Neville Chamberlain to get through. (I do: a fine hardcover, entitled In Search of Peace; G. P. Putnam's Sons 1939.) The reviewer for the New York Times seemed less than pleased with Senator Clinton's book. However, I am not going to pan a book I have not read, even when it is written by one of Those People, who are once again up to Their Old Tricks.
A more obscure publishing event later this month will be the appearance of my own book, The Perfection of the West. This is another anthology, like Apocalypse & Future. Also like that book, it's a print-on-demand work published by Xlibris. I still have to approve an actual printed copy of The Perfection of the West before it becomes available; the Xlibris procedure involves working with PDF files before I see a final proof. When the time comes, I will put up a short promotional page about the book, as well as various little buttons and graphics on my site to draw people's attention. Anyone who decides to buy it will have the satisfaction of knowing that Barbara Walters played no part in the decision.
By the way, if you are ever given a choice between editing your own book and taking out your own appendix, don't dismiss the second option out of hand.
 
* * *
Speaking of clueless people being up to their old tricks, I see that NBC is likely to do a sequel to its 1980s miniseries, The Visitors. That's the one about a fleet of flying saucers that arrives on Earth, bearing aliens who look friendly and human but are actually man-eating reptiles.
This is an outrage. I have nothing against man-eating reptiles, but that series was a missed opportunity. The problem with The Visitors was that the writers had obviously started to adapt Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End but then chickened out. Childhood's End has some claim to being the most disturbing science-fiction novel ever written. In that book, the end of history comes in a way that is reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's "Singularity," or even Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point."
From what I have been able to determine, by the way, Teilhard and Clarke did not influence each other. Both may have been influenced by Olaf Stapledon, whose works feature the idea that the crown of evolution may take the form of a sudden, worldwide jump to collective consciousness.
That story would not have been too hard to tell. It would have required two sets of characters: one for when the spaceships arrive "now," and one for the end of days that comes 80 years later. However, the basic premise would have been no harder to get across than that of Forbidden Planet. There was even an X-Files episode about the Singularity. The people guilty of The Visitors attempted none of this, however. They took the image of the big flying saucers hovering over the world's major cities, and they took the idea that the aliens Are Not What They Seem, and then they turned their brains off. They even made the UN Secretary General a Swede rather than a Finn, as in the Clarke book, perhaps on the assumption the audience is ignorant of geography. [The assumption may be correct, but the audience has no more idea where Sweden is than where Finland is.]
NBC may get its comeuppance for this. The subtext for The Visitors was anti-militarist and mildly paranoid. The implication was that anyone wearing a uniform is a Nazi. These sentiments have become anachronistic.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture Book Review

Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture
by Dani Cavallaro
McFarland Books, 2015
$35.00; 204 pages
ISBN 978-0-7864-9647-1

I received this book for free as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

I tried to like this book. I love Miyazaki's works, and this book's cover blurb covers a lot of things I am interested in. However, it is probably the things in this blurb that I am not interested in that make the book unreadable for me.

Hayao Miyazaki has gained worldwide recognition as a leading figure in the history of animation, alongside Walt Disney, Milt Kahl, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Yuri Norstein, and John Lasseter. In both his films and writings, Miyazaki invites us to reflect on the unexamined beliefs that govern our lives. His eclectic body of work addresses compelling philosophical and political questions and demands critical attention. This study examines his views on contemporary culture and economics from a broad spectrum of perspectives, from Zen and classical philosophy and Romanticism, to existentialism, critical theory, poststructuralism and psychoanalytic theory.

There are some really interesting things here. I appreciate the effort that went into researching this book, and the way the author tried to tie Miyazaki's work together into a coherent whole.  What I don't appreciate is the prose style:

The key words in the chapter headings used in this study—time, space, vision, the courage to smile—are necessary demarcators of specific aspects of Miyazaki's thought. However, their relative arbitrariness cannot be denied. Indeed, the director's world picture is distinguished throughout by such fluidity, and such a passion of unrelenting metamorphosis, as to be by and large unsympathetic to demarcations. In Miyazaki's cosmos, time and space coalesce in a continuum of Einsteinian resonance.

I think there is something interesting here, I just don't have the patience to wade through this. I do find the book is much improved if you stop reading the text closely and just skim it. Then the ideas come through more clearly, without needing to try to analyze the text. Perhaps I come to this book with unfair expectations. Miyazaki is a very interesting filmmaker, and I was hoping for something more accessible. To a specialist audience, this book may be just the thing. For the general reader interested in Miyazaki, I cannot recommend this book at all.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2003-03-28: Police War

I think it was John who first pointed me to Eamonn Fingleton. Fingleton is one of the few journalists who seems to truly understand Japan, and be willing to say what he thinks in public. I suspect this is a matter of personality, since in many cases you can read between the lines of other authors who take a more indirect approach, but I value frankness. Fingleton didn't write the first paragraph of this post, but he could have.


 American Mideast Foreign Policy

American Mideast Foreign Policy

On the second Iraq War, let us pause to remember the poor fool Iraqis who resisted the invasion of their country. They didn't have a chance or a choice, and some of them fought us anyway.

It is nonetheless true that Black Hawk Down is an episode Americans should pay more attention to. Our involvement in Somalia illustrates the strange attractor of American foreign policy: we keep making small changes in our trajectory, but continue to return to the same path over and over again.

If you want an illustration of what I mean, look at John's three points at the end of this post. A lack of order in shitty little countries really has become the problem of the American people because the current international order is setup with us as the ultimate guarantor of security. We are the international security utility. The converse side of this policy is our current imperialist immigration policy. From the visa lottery to widespread disregard for formal immigration procedures and policies, we act as if the rest of the world is already part of our imperial umbrella. It is always standard imperial policy to allow free movements of peoples within the oecumene. Finally, while John applies this analysis in a partisan way, we can see clearly in retrospect that ever since the first President Bush, we have been doing things in the Middle East that inflame the local hotheads. Each succeeding President has tried a different approach, but the overall result has been the same. The one thing that will ensure George W Bush will continue to be widely hated is the also managed to kill and maim lots of Americans. While the other Presidents managed not to do this, we should reflect that we haven't managed to prevent chaos or violence in the other cases; we have just made other people do the dying for us.

Police War
Back in the early 1980s, Americans who worked in the Japanese financial services industry often went through three stages in their assessment of it. When they arrived, they looked at those corporate balance-sheets that consisted mostly of debt and at the rigged securities markets. Their first impression was that the whole thing was lunacy. Then, after they had been in Japan for a while, they began to understand the Japanese way of doing things. They would decide that no, the financial system was not lunacy; it was just different. After they had been there long enough, however, they would finally conclude that, yes, the system was different, but it was still crazy.
I suspect that is going to be the sequence in which we will understand the Iraqi strategy as it has developed by the second week of the war. What they are trying to do is stage a much larger version of the scenario from Black Hawk Down. They are not doing this just in the general sense of harassing US forces with irregulars until the US goes away. They have adopted the Somali tactics in some detail. They are using noncombattants as shields during urban engagements. Most strikingly, they have created their own corps of what the Somalis called "technicals." The Iraqis call them "fedeyeen" (remember Dune?), but they are still irregulars who ride in trucks with heavy guns mounted on them.
Quite aside from the question of depraved indifference to civilian life, one cannot help but be struck by how ill-advised all this is. The technicals made a certain amount of sense in Somalia, where they could sweep through a market place and shoot up some lightly defended target. The Iraqi technicals, in contrast, are being sent against tanks. Additionally, the Somali clans were able to mobilize loyal mobs to overrun the downed helicopters in the Battle of Mogadishu. That is not the case in Iraq. Although there have been no mass uprisings in southern Iraq, it does seem to be that civilian and even regular Army resistance to the Coalition has been occurring quite literally at gunpoint.
What we have here is a regime engineering the motions of a guerrilla war, but without the popular base necessary to conduct one. The Baathist Party is conducting a police war. The key elements are the sort of special political units that Stalin used to ginger up the Red Army during World War II. The Iraqi problem is that the bulk of the fighting is being done by the special units. The result is lost engagements that can be turned into the legends of martyrdom. That's not merely a consolation to the Baathists; it's the strategy. It's different, but it's still lunacy.
* * *
The choice of Somalia as a model was not arbitrary. That really was where the post-Cold War reputation of the US in the Gulf region began to fall apart. We should remember that the US military counted the Battle of Mogadishu as a victory; the objective of the raid that occasioned the battle was achieved, and the American casualties were not enormous. In fact, the action came close to achieving the political goal of subduing the warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. The decision of the Clinton Administration to simply withdraw was widely praised as prudent. In reality, it created the myth that the US cannot tolerate losing its own soldiers. Even at the time, some analysts understood that decision was the gateway to disaster. The Iraq War, 911, and the bombings of the embassies in East Africa, are all among the consequences.
* * *
Should anyone need them, here are short answers to three familiar rhetorical objections to the war:
Why should we attack Iraq when they have never done any harm to us?
That's like saying you object to the police acting against criminals who have not yet harmed you personally. International order cannot be based on force, but it must have some force at its disposal. We have arranged the world over the past 60 years so that there is no one capable of doing it but us.
 
Why can't we just stay in our own country and leave them alone?
Consider that, even with the military deployed to Iraq, there are still more Iraqis in America than there are Americans in Iraq. The Iraqi-Americans are not a problem. Neither, for the most part, are other immigrants from countries ruled by tyrannies. However, such is the flow of populations these days that any international threat creates a domestic security issue. That was how 911 happened.
 
This war simply inflames the Muslim street against the US.
The corners on the Muslim street where the anti-Americans gather were inflamed first by the retreat from Mogadishu, and then by the Clinton Administration's determination to treat the Islamist threat as a law-enforcement problem. The removal of the Baathist regime is the one thing that might calm the street down.

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Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Rule by Coup

 WW2-era Japanese Conflict Resolution Procedure

WW2-era Japanese Conflict Resolution Procedure

I saw a comment on Reddit relating the story of an attempted coup by a Japanese officer to prevent Emperor Hirohito from surrendering after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was interesting enough to reproduce here, in full.


Interesting little story, an 8mm Nambu almost destroyed the earth.
The surrender of Japan to allied forces in 1945 did not come easily, even after two unprecedented acts of destruction against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the few ministers to strongly advocate surrender was Shigenori Togo, the Foreign Minister. He was reluctantly supported by Kantaro Suzuki, the PM. But Suzuki was nothing like his predecessor, Hideki "Razor" Tojo. Suzuki was easily manipulated and rather ineffectual.
On the other side of the table was the fiery General Korechika Anami. As both Minister of Defense and Head of the Army, Anami was the single most powerful man in Japan. Even after the horrible event at Nagasaki, Anami refused the surrender terms. He believed that Allied forces, mostly American, would be forced to land in the Kyushu Islands. There, he could mount a massive defense effort and inflict horrible losses on Allied forces. He was not far off. Allied forces had plans for Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet, together known as Op Downfall. Though Op Downfall would never occur, the plan called for the largest amphibious invasion in history. In addition to the man power, an American Army Colonel reported that at least seven atomic bombs would be ready for the invasion.
The Japanese ministers argued to a deadlock. The Emperor himself made an unprecedented entry into politics and made the call himself. Japan would do the unthinkable. For the first time in it's ancient history, it would surrender to a foreign power. In the minds of the Japanese policy makers, and even the average person, their sacred nation would no longer exist, divided among the allied powers America, China, and the borderline traitorous USSR.
Enter our Nambu Type 14, precisely like the one pictured above. The model in question belonged to one Major Hatanaka. Kenji Hatanaka was a mere 22 years old at the time of the Kyujo Incident. He, along with a few other officers heard word of the impending surrender, and reacted as one might expect of a young extremist. He responded with the only emotion that he knew, fury.
Hatanaka boldly approached General Anami and told him of his plans directly.
"I intend to seize control of the government from the treasonous ministers!" He proclaimed. "I have faith in the Army. You will lead us to defend ourselves."
Anami, who claimed he would sleep in the fields and eat soil rather than surrender, made an interesting move. Had he said "yes" the coup would have proceeded. If he said "no" he would have had to arrest Hatanaka, his only intelligence source into the insurrectionists. Instead, he said "Maybe." Either the old general was truly weary, or he cleverly delayed Hatanaka while receiving regular updates on his plans.
Sometime around 1 am on August 15th, just 11 hours before the surrender broadcast, Maj. Hatanaka entered the office for General Mori, head of the Imperial Guardsmen. He explained his intentions, and that he would need the help of the Imperial Guard if he was to save Japan. Mori, a religious man, said the plan was folly. He intended to pray, and advised Hatanaka to do the same. As extremists often do, the insurgent major resorted to sudden violence. He drew his 8mm Nambu and fired a single shot into Mori's skull, killing him instantly. An ally of Hatanaka's killed the General's brother (who had been with them) with a samurai sword. Using Mori's ID stamp, Hatanaka forged Strategic Order #584. The Imperial Guard, or IG, were ordered to seize the Emperor's Palace.
The IG was the chief security apparatus of the Imperial Household. The had no resistance as they took control of the palace. With Hatanaka in direct command, the IG severed the phone lines and ransacked the palace searching for the prerecorded surrender vinyl.
Tokugawa, a man whose name is nearly synonymous with samurai history, was one of the imperial aids. He foresaw such an attempt by the military, and took it upon himself to hide the surrender recording.
Hatanaka and his men searched the room of imperial treasures for the recording. The word of the Emperor was so sacred that to place the recording anywhere else would have been blasphemy. Tokugawa was clearly a man of some practicality. He hid the recording among the maids' bed sheets. Despite getting a rough beat down by the militants, he feigned ignorance and successful threw Hatanaka off the trail.
With the palace quarantined from the outside world, Hatanaka decided that it was more pressing to broadcast his progress to the various commanders. He hoped that Anami's "maybe" would turn into a "yes" if he heard of the coup's initial successes. With the Emperor and Anami, Hatanaka would have the support of the two most powerful men in Japan, even if one was only powerful for few minutes.
Word got out to an Army division known as the Eastern District Army. They received two notifications. One from the insurgents, asking for their support. The other was from the besieged imperial aids, who managed to find one phone line that wasn't cut. It is hard to get more illustrative than that when discussing the choice given to the EDA's commander, General Tanaka.
Hatanaka left the palace and made his way to the other primary target of any coup, the radio station. NHK was one of the last remaining radio broadcast towers in Tokyo. It was also the primary way to contact the Americans. Prior to the incident, NHK had announced that a major proclamation from the Emperor would be broadcasted at noon on August 15th, a Wednesday. American intelligence forces understood that this was going to be the surrender proclamation. After numerous delays and continued fighting, the Americans had tempered faith in this schedule. President Truman had a metaphorical finger on the Op Downfall button, and any changes in the Japanese security situation could have caused him to press it.
General Tanaka, head of the EDA, took a large contingent of men over to the Imperial Palace. He was immediately recognized by the IG. Tanaka had gathered some intel on the affair and briefed the guardsmen. "General Mori has been assasinated. SO#584 is a forgery and Maj. Hatanaka is a rebel." He said. "Where is Maj. Kenji Hatanaka?" He demanded. Terrified, the IG told him that the insurgent was on his way to the radio station. Tanaka immedietly dispatched men to the station and ordered phone lines restored. He was running out of time.
Unless Anami suddenly appeared, Hatanaka's coup d'etat was doomed. But it almost didn't matter. Hatanaka had no desire to usurp control of the government. That was just a means to an end. The endgame was Japan, and a continued war with America. His sacred Japan, despite all her hardships, would win. He had seven rounds in his pistol to prove it.
Ok.. If you read this far, I'm sure you're wondering How does the Nambu almost destroy the world? Here it is.
Hatanaka entered the radio station as the only armed man there. The skeletal staff had no security and no means to defend themselves. They were, however, aware of their all important mission: to deliver the surrender recording to the world and end the war.
Between 4 am and 5, just seven hours before the deadline, Hatanaka put a gun to a staffers head. He explained himself, and demanded airtime. Japan, along with Allied intelligence, would hear him speak. By doing this, he could potentially spark an allied invasion and force Anami's hand in complacency. What Hatanaka did not know, was that Anami had finally died after hours of suffering. He had taken his own life in the ritualistic fashion of cutting his own stomach open.
The radio staff acted in a way no less than heroic. One staffer had snuck downstairs and disabled the broadcast tower. Another, with a gun to his head, told Hatanaka that he could not give him airtime because he had no clearance to do so. He also cited air raid concerns. Had the radio operator caved into the pressure of being at gunpoint, the repercussions could have been unthinkable. Hatanaka's fury ran out. He had finally begun to accept the inevitable. He no longer threatened the radio crew. He begged them.
The phone rang. General Tanaka was on the line. Hatanaka, in tears, begged Tanaka for help and permission to use the radio. He declined. Hatanaka disappeared.
Just a few hours later, the surrender recording was safely delivered to the radio station. It was broadcasted to the world without further incident, and the war was finally over. Hatanaka was discovered at the scene of the crime. He had taken his life with the same Nambu pistol by firing a single shot into the middle of his forehead.
TLDR: An insurgent Japanese major briefly seized partial control of the government as an attempt to prolong WWII and spark what would have been the bloodiest operation in history. He used a Nambu pistol to attempt this before killing himself in failure.

I reproduced this story because it reminded me of something Greg Cochran said about WW2-era Japan:

There was no non-war party in Japan in 1941. Assassinating the prime minister (twice), attempted military coups where the plotters were all forgiven – nobody really ran Japan. Fanatical secret societies of mid-level Army officers had a veto power (by assassination), but no one was really running things. For example, the Kwantung Army decided to attack the Russians (Khalkhyn Gol) by itself, without authorization from the Japanese government or even the Army high command. How weird is that? They lost, too.
In 1941, the question was who to attack, not whether.

This comment, the first time I had read it, reminded me of something I had read in the Economist:

But in retrospect, he says, one of the most chilling moments came when he was still chief executive and had unsuccessfully challenged his chairman, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, to explain the missing money. He found another director, Hisashi Mori, also seemed to be stonewalling him. “Mr Mori, who do you work for?” he recalls asking, expecting the answer to be Olympus. “Michael, I work for Mr Kikukawa. I'm loyal to Mr Kikukawa,” Mr Mori is said to have replied.

Even today, the normal mode of Japanese loyalty is intensely feudal and personal. Japanese politics are much the same way as business, the LDP is less a party than a coalition of local grandees who collaborate to stay in power, but maintain their own local interests and power structures. In a very real sense, no one is in charge.

Live, Die, Repeat Movie and Book Review

Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterwork, and Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton

All You Need is Kill
by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Haikasoru 2009
$7.99; 203 pages
ISBN 978-421560878

Continue?This is one story with three titles. The original Japanese light novel is All You Need is Kill. The theatrical release starring Tom Cruise was called Edge of Tomorrow, and the version released on DVD, Blue-ray, and streaming was Live, Die, Repeat.

My interest in the movie was initially piqued because of the D-Day inspired trailer, and because I had greatly enjoyed Tom Cruise's competent performance in his previous sci-fi movie, Oblivion. I didn't get a chance to see the movie in theatres, so I picked it up on Blu-ray when it came out.

By that time, the title of the movie had changed. The re-branding of the movie with the tagline from the theatrical release did not dampen my enjoyment of what turned out to be a war movie blended with the essence of almost all videogames: infinite lives. It is really the combination that makes this movie interesting. Matching up with the trailer, this is a grunt's eye view of war. Confusion, regret, and death barely kept in check with black humor. The idea that war is hell has been done better elsewhere; what is really horrifying is the idea that you have to live out that last, awful day of your life, over, and over, and over.

At least, until you figure out that death is never final [although it is inevitable], and you can do whatever you want with no repercussions. Much like Bill Murray's cynical weatherman in Groundhog Day, Cruise's dilettantish REMF Major Cage travels through disbelief to despair to acceptance to something like grace. Dying seems to have been the best thing that ever happened to Major Cage. Cruise does a good everyman performance, saying and doing the things most of us fear we would do if trapped in a horrible situation, but ultimately turning into something like the best version of himself after getting unlimited chances to rectify all his mistakes.

The movie was well-done, the central conceit turned out to be thought-provoking [at least for me], and I found the characterization plausible. Not bad for a movie that seemed to be inspired by videogames. It has long been true that all movies based on videogames are bad. It is also true that most videogames based on movies are bad. The kinds of stories you tell in the two forms of entertainment differ markedly, particularly in that videogames are supposed to be repetitive. If the hero fails in his quest, you just respawn and try again. Finding a way to turn this into an interesting narrative was quite an achievement. Even more so, when I discovered the movie was based on a light novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

Thus, it is even more remarkable that this game mechanic turned story mechanism survived the transition to the screen, because novels and movies also are forced to tell their stories in different ways. To successfully blend the novel and the videogame, and to then successfully adapt that to the kind of story that Hollywood does best, deserves praise.

Despite pulling in as much money as blockbuster movies do, videogames have almost no effect on the wider society. This has been changing, slowly. Wreck-It Ralph is the best videogame movie ever made, but to say that risks damning the movie with faint praise. I'm starting to see more videogame references in other kinds of media, but perhaps this is just a Kuhnian revolution where all the old guard are dying off, and the new content producers just find videogames a natural part of their life.

Perhaps another reason for all this is popular entertainment is converging in on a common point. Many big movies now have a novelization [sometimes a new one is created even when it was based on a novel!], and if it is an action or sci-fi movie, also a videogame tie-in. If you can market some toys and other merchandise too, all the better. From a production point of view, it makes sense to tell stories in a way that makes it easier to generate all that valuable ancillary content.

Sakurazaka's novel fits into that paradigm in a very Japanese way. Light novels, as the name implies, are disposable popular entertainment marketed to young adults. Popular light novels are illustrated or animated, serving as the farm team for content generation in the Japanese market. This one was popular enough to be optioned by Hollywood, and it gives us a good case study for how different media and different markets produce subtle differences.

The basic story in the novel is much the same as the movie. Unstoppable alien monsters. A hopeless war. Mechanized infantry are the last hope for humanity. A soldier trapped endlessly in a fight against unstoppable hordes. Sakurazaka's book was very traditional military sci-fi. Lots of salt of the earth soldiering, and no visibility to the grand schemes of the brass. Unlike Cruise's Major Cage, Sakurazaka'a protagonist was a plain old grunt, Private Kiriya, fresh out of boot. Even in translation, the book is very Japanese. The idioms, the expectations of the soldiers, even the kinds of women they dream about, different from an American, or even a western novel of the same type.

Also, the ending is different. My editorial policy is to discuss the ending of any story without warning, but here is your spoiler warning regardless. While I think the ending has much of the same spirit in the American movie as in the Japanese book, the critical difference is that the book goes for the tragic ending while the movie goes for the happy one. What they have in common is that each ending upends the idea of infinite lives in a videogame, where the enemies keep doing the same thing over and over while you learn more and more, and posits an enemy that has exactly the same experience you do, and learns with every iteration.

The whole thing almost ends up where it began, with everything coming down to one climactic battle, much like it would in a world were you couldn't rewind time back to before you died. The crucial difference between book and movie is how this all plays out for the protagonist and his friends. Up until the very end, I liked the book better than the movie. It was harder sci-fi, with better military know-how and better science. But at the end, Hollywood demonstrated why it makes so much money worldwide. They know the human heart better, and that made all the difference.

Tragedy has its place, but it takes greater strength of character to insist that it really will turn out well in the end.

My other book reviews

My other movie reviews

 

The Long View 2002-09-12: Destabilizing Deterrence

There is immense value to a country in possessing nuclear weapons, at least in part because of the mythos that has grown up around them. Iraq didn't really have the ability to make nuclear weapons, but Saddam would be toasting his good health today if they did. [there are those who disagree] North Korea would still exist, since they managed to annoy their neighbors for a good long while without nuclear weapons, but everyone would take them far less seriously. Qaddafi thought that making nice with the US after the Second Gulf War would work, and you can see how well that worked for him.

However, for all that, there are a number of countries that plausibly could have developed nuclear weapons, and have chosen not to. Why not is a more interesting question than why.

Destabilizing Deterrence

 

Just this morning, the New York Times ran an Op Ed piece that illustrates the decay into which the concept of strategic deterrence has fallen. In "The Wisdom of Imagining the Worst-Case Scenario," Milton Viorst gives us some imaginary horribles to chew over in connection with a US invasion of Iraq. He suggests that by "moving into Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein would shift the battlefield far to the south, imposing on American troops a much heavier burden than just the capture of Baghdad." Such a move would put the operation of the Saudi oil fields at risk, and so the whole world's economy.

It's actually a little hard to imagine how Iraqi mainforce units could invade anything under the cover of US air supremacy, but it is not out of the question that Iraqi missiles could do some damage to the oil fields. However, these things would be only the beginning of evils. Suppose the Iraqis fire some bio-chemical weapons at Tel Aviv, and the Israelis nuke Baghdad? In that case:

 

"[Pakistan's President] Pervez Musharraf....has joined America's war on terrorism but would be unlikely to survive politically should there be a nuclear attack by an American ally on Iraq's Muslims. Islamists, overthrowing him, would take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal; lacking the ability to launch missiles that would reach Israel, they would turn to India, their proximate enemy. A nuclear attack would set off global chaos."

As a matter of fact, a Pakistani nuclear strike would not "set off global chaos," though it would result in the end of the Pakistani state in short order. What would set off chaos would be if an Islamist government in Pakistan started handing out small nuclear devices as party favors to terrorists and criminal groups, something that elements of the Pakistani security services have hinted they might do. This would actually be far more like the situation we would face, should Iraq and Iran ever acquire the bomb.

Doubtless the sovereign suppliers of the technology of mass destruction could always maintain plausible deniability. They could feed the world's terrorist networks and black arms-markets with components, expertise, and occasionally sanctuary. Such countries rarely do anything blatant enough to constitute a traditional causus belli. Up until now, of course, it has been possible to strike at states that do such things, or to threaten them with retaliation: measures such as the air strikes on Libya by the Reagan Administration did much to transform the open support for terrorism displayed by some governments in the 1970s into the much more tactful attitude of the past 20 years or so. This is what is about to change.

A single, deliverable nuclear weapon grants a state a large measure of invulnerability. Even if Iraq were openly underwriting Al Qaeda's campaign against the United States, the US could not plausibly threaten to remove the government in Baghdad, if that meant that Tel Aviv, or Rome, or Paris, would go up in cinders as soon as the Rangers took the last Iraqi presidential bunker. Conventional aggression by such states could never be answered by conventional responses that posed an existential threat to their regimes. This is, in fact, much the situation that now confronts the US with regard to North Korea, a nuclear-armed failed-state that survives by exacting blackmail from the US and from its neighbors.

During the Cold War, deterrence served not just to prevent a nuclear exchange, but also to inhibit the direct use of conventional force by the US and the USSR. In the current era, deterrence has nearly the opposite effect; it still reduces the chance that weapons of mass destruction will be used, but it facilitates the use of force against the majority of the world's states that have no hope of acquiring an effective deterrent.

The dismaying thing about the Cold War was that, while it was on, there seemed to be no reason why it should not continue forever. That is not the case with the Terror War. The number of irresponsible states that seek to acquire the immunity afforded by weapons of mass destruction is not large. The arms networks they support are also limited in geography and resources. A consistent policy of preemption could end the danger worldwide in much less than a generation. Forcible regime change should be necessary in just a few cases; once it is clear the policy will be carried out consistently, no state will openly run the risk of falling within its ambit.

Then we will have deterrence we can live with.


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The Long View 2002-07-02: Innocence is no Excuse

John's specialty was business law: boring things like securities and the UCC. I can see why he turned to millennialism [kidding!]. In passing, he notes the securities law has a great deal more to do with regulation than legistation per se. This is true in my field as well. For example, 21 CFR 820, which governs current good manufacturing practice for medical device companies, is actually rather terse.

Later, John mentions one of the persistent, yet unremarked scandals of modern American finance, the 401k. It took me a long time to understand what John was getting at here. Comprehension finally dawned when I was reading about the former physicists turned programmers, known as quants, who make exorbitant amounts of money in Manhattan.

These physicists create ever more complicated models of asset pricing which are then fed into equally complicated trading programs that watch the market and continuously make trades based on the models. At first, I assumed that the various hedge funds were competing against each other. This seemed bizarre, they were all doing the same thing, and no one seemed to have a competitive advantage, yet they are all making money. Then I realized: they aren't making money off each other, they are making money off you [and me].

This is why John called the 401k a bubble machine; by privileging this kind of investment accout with tax-deferred status [and perhaps more importantly, legitimizing it as the way middle-class Americans save money], a continual inflow of money to the stock market was ensured. 401k programs get money every two weeks [or whatever pay period you have], and then that money is invested per whatever plan the fund managers set out. I imagine there is a great deal of discretion involved, but to the high-volume traders, this must seem like easy pickings.

When I realized this, I did the only rational thing: I hired some quants to be my financial gladiators.

Innocence is No Excuse

Sometime in the mid-1980s, I was writing an article about a new regulation from the Securities and Exchange Commission having to do with the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression Era law that separated the businesses of commercial and investment banking. I did not know much about the subject, so I called the SEC for clarification. They were actually very helpful. Toward the end of the conversation, however, I asked for a citation to the Act in the US Code. It was as if I had asked for a citation to the Code of Hammurabi. "We don't have information like that!" the woman at the legal division said in shocked annoyance. She hung up on me.

It is notoriously the case that the law dealing with securities has little to do with actual legislation and everything to do with regulation. The whole edifice of insider-trading law was based on a short, cryptic statute prohibiting "fraud." The Congresses that passed the bulk of financial regulation legislation favored broad terminology. The reason was explicit: a precise law would let traders ignore the broader policies of the regulators. It is, by the way, no accident that the Congresses in question are called "Depression Era": federal policy probably extended what would have been a short, sharp slump after 1929 to cover the following decade.

The chattering classes are in the mood for a replay. Both the president and vice president are hounded in public for acts not normally considered illegal. The vice president, indeed, is being sued by pretty much the same people who made Bill Clinton's life a litigious misery. Reams of legislation are rolling through Congress to criminalize "schemes" and "devices" that defraud investors in no very precise way. There was a moment, during the Congressional panic over the collapse of the savings & loan industry, when some nitwit introduced a bill to mandate life imprisonment for "S&L kingpins." We are approaching that level of inanity now, but the real danger is not more vindictive criminal law.

The class-action bar wants a piece of this. There was good money to be made during the early '90s in suits brought in the name of shareholders. Corporations were shaken down for hundreds of millions of dollars because their officers made remarks that did not perfectly predict the future behavior of the stock. Some shareholders may have gotten a cut, but the suits were essentially rackets operated by lawyers in search of class-action fees. In a fit of sanity, Congress made it harder to bring such actions. Now there is serious pressure to put things back the way they were, or make them even worse.

I can only repeat that there is nothing mysterious about what is being called the "accounting scandals." John Kenneth Galbraith once remarked that recessions reveal what the auditors missed. They also reveal what the auditors tried to cover up. When equity prices rise, businessmen are geniuses. When prices fall, businessmen are crooks. The crookedness this time around is that some businessmen used accounting and other devices to prevent their companies' stock from falling.

There are systemic problems with the financial system, but they are not the ones that people are talking about. Frankly, there is too much money in it. Ordinary people should not be using equities markets as a savings vehicle. Consistent high rates of return are possible when only a small fraction of the people are in the market. When more money is invested, it's worth less. The extreme case is Japan, which is drowning from overinvestment.

The current "crisis of confidence" in US markets will dissipate in fairly short order. The curse of the 401K will not.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site