February 23, 2017

In a world


High-minded critics like to describe the low-minded readers of genre fiction using terms such as "wish-fulfillment" and "projection," summed up in the epithet "Mary Sue." This as opposed to the more serious task of deciphering the text for its socially-relevant "messages."

Not that there's anything wrong with that! (Says this unrepentant post-modernist deconstructor of Star Trek.)

But no story can ever be effective if read solely as a sermon. Sitting in the choir and being preached to is certainly the less demanding mental exercise. For readers to project themselves into a story, they must engage in world-creation and role-playing, as in the role-playing game.

As Kate explains,

The desire to exercise the creative impulse means that while people want to get swept away by Middle Earth or Asimov's robots or Ahab's Pequod, they also want to imagine themselves inside those worlds. Or at least imagine that world as a real experience.

I believes this better accounts for the attractions of the action movie and the romance novel. Sure, the average guy can enjoy pretending for two hours that he is John McClane in Die Hard, but he's also smart enough to know that, placed in similar circumstances, he would last about two seconds.

He also knows that, in the course of his everyday life, he will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid literally walking across broken glass in his bare feet.

The appeal of the action movie is imagining a world where beating up the bad guys or blowing up the Death Star (or two or three) solves the problem. Or in the world of romance, where

everyone has a one and only and recognizing that one and only transcends everything from orientation and gender to age and occasionally, in Japanese manga at least, blood relations.

Nobody sums it up better than Don LaFontaine, the legendary master of the Hollywood movie trailer, who coined the expression, "In a world."


It's not this world but a made-up movie world, a hypothetical model of the universe, where alternative realities can be played out with the promise that "no animals were harmed during the making of this movie."

As G.K. Chesterton, that great defender of popular fiction, observed, "The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."

Or in Terry Pratchett's paraphrase, "Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed."

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February 16, 2017

The relationship intensity curve


My grand unified theory of Japanese psychology and sociology is that Japanese society strongly favors introversion over extroversion. What many in the west see as Japanese oddness often comes down to extroverts puzzling about why they don't understand introverts.

For the introvert, the "Relationship" can be such a burden that the "one and done" mentality takes hold. "I so do not want to have to go through this again" + "I am so glad I'm through with the dating scene" = "This is my one true love!" A sunk cost rationalization for "All this effort must pay off!"

Sheldon Cooper being a case in point. It's exhausting enough to watch, let alone live through.

Another explanation points to a pretty consistent finding that emerges when the subject is explored with Japanese-Japanese and Japanese-American couples, at least on the pop psychology shows I've seen: the difference in what might be called the "relationship intensity curve."

In the "typical" Japanese relationship, the "passion" peaks early on and regresses to the mean more quickly. "Maintenance mode" is achieved in fairly short order compared to the "typical" western romance, which is supposed to just keep on going and going with lots of smoldering emotions.

In man-on-the-street interviews for a show I saw recently, less than one-in-five couples said they worked at "keeping the romance alive." The majority obviously thought it too tiring to realistically consider, and some said so aloud. Marriage is about comfort and convenience.

Not a never-ending Valentine's Day. The relationship between Sarek and Amanda in "Journey to Babel" on the original Star Trek may well approach the ideal (for Sheldon Cooper too).

Maybe the whole thing parallels the way high school in Japan establishes a kind of static social template while in the U.S. a teenager is expected to start climbing the social heights in high school and keep going all the way through college and well into his thirties.

These days, the big problem is that too many Japanese happily bench themselves after striking out a couple of times. No "long haul" for them. (As a certified introvert, let me tell you that this is perfectly normal behavior.)

Working at seeming odds with this phenomenon is the divorce rate. Although divorce has been legal in Japan since medieval times, the whole "gay divorcee" thing never took hold. People aren't supposed to go into marriage contemplating an out: "Well, if A doesn't work out, there's always B."

Be it a "confession," a "first kiss," or marriage, you're supposed to be all-in. Despite the fact that filing for a divorce is easy in Japan: in the case of "no fault" (90-plus percent of the time), both parties sign a form and file it with the family court. Done.

Alimony as understood in the west doesn't exist in Japan. A divorce is typically settled with a one-time payment. Maybe one year's salary and that's it. Child support, yes, but good luck getting a court order enforced if the non-custodial parent "forgets" to pay or moves away.

Still, it's common for working women to quit for an extended period (or permanently) once they get married and have their first child. Again, they're all-in on the cultural expectations. And from the raw statistics it seems to "work": the divorce rate is significantly lower in Japan.

This kind of headline is not at all uncommon: "PreCure Singer Mayu Kudo Announces Retirement Due to Marriage" at the age of thirty.

And nobody (aside from the activist fringe) pitches a fit decrying the terribleness of women who makes such decisions, or the terribleness of society for "forcing" them to. As a 2013 government survey revealed, such expectations don't come out of nowhere.

One in three young Japanese women wants to get married and be a full-time housewife, a government survey has showed, despite growing calls for increased female participation in the workforce.

Then again, with total fertility at 1.41 and the population dropping in absolute terms, marriage alone isn't enough. Maybe a little red-hot romance is called for, after all.

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February 09, 2017

Justice for all (Japanese)


I don't think it a stretch to say that Japan's sakoku ("national isolation") period from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century never really ended. It just lightened up a bit (after Matthew Perry and Douglas MacArthur took turns prying it open with the crowbar of military might).

The U.S. remains one of only two countries Japan has a formal extradition treaty with (the other being South Korea). But even that distinction can prove fairly meaningless, especially when it comes to civil matters and white-collar crime in particular.

For example, in divorce cases involving a foreign national, Japanese family courts will almost inevitably favor the Japanese party, regardless of what ruling a foreign court may hand down (which occasions no little bitterness on the part of divorced foreign nationals).

Following WWII, the Occupation forced the dissolution of the family-controlled vertical monopolies called zaibatsu. However, the zaibatsu soon reassembled themselves as the ostensibly more benign keiretsu.

During the economic boom times of the 1950s and 1960s, nobody on either side of the Pacific cared. But then came the rise of the Japanese auto industry and the fall of Detroit. U.S. law, in the form of the Sherman Antitrust Act, frowns on the keiretsu concept, especially in the auto parts industry.

The National Law Review reports that since 2010, "More than 30 companies [auto parts industry] have pleaded guilty to antitrust violations and paid approximately $2.4 billion in criminal fines." And while some guilty executives have "subjected themselves to U.S. jurisdiction,

Others appear to have taken the gamble that the DOJ will not be able to extradite them. In truth, it may not be such a bad gamble in light of the fact that the DOJ has yet to extradite a Japanese national for crimes committed under the Sherman Act [emphasis added].

Extradition treaty or no, Japan just isn't big on the concept for common criminals either. In an in-depth post on the subject, the Turning Japanese website wryly observes that,

An additional "benefit" of becoming legally Japanese [and being a Japanese citizen] is that you're protected (so long as you're on Japanese territory) from facing the justice system of other counties. If you do commit a serious crime overseas, and are arrested in Japan, you will face the courts of Japan and face punishment inside Japan.

What wrongdoers will face in Japan is the equivalent of the "village stocks" from Colonial days.


Public acts of contrition are de rigueur for public officials and titans of industry who get caught doing the wrong thing (or wrong things happening under their watch). Japan doesn't have "show trials" (no cameras in the courtroom during the trial). They do have "show apologies."

It's a very pro forma ritual. The guilty Pooh-Bahs, dressed like they're attending a funeral, stand in front of a swarm of reporters and television cameras and bow deeply. It's the Japanese version of the "perp walk."

Sony executives apologize for the 2011 PlayStation data breach.

After which it's common for the guilty parties to disappear from sight until they have "repented." In Japan, prison sentences across the board are spartan and severe (bail and parole are rare) but far shorter than in the U.S. (For truly heinous crimes, the death penalty is still applied.)

Essentially, they are metaphorically banished to Mount Koya.

Mt. Koya is renown as the home of the Buddhist Shingon sect (if you're in Osaka, it's worth a day trip). For a millennium it was also where defeated warlords and disgraced officials could "retire" instead of losing their heads. (And it's the setting for Serpent of Time.)

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February 02, 2017

The Wile E. Coyote Slinky


There's a scene in every Wile E. Coyote cartoon where he scampers pell-mell off the edge of a cliff. Still running in mid-air, he hangs there in space for a couple of seconds with that "Oh, crap!" look on his face before plummeting to the ground.


Well, that same effect can be duplicated with a Slinky.


The "Newtonian illusion" here is that our brains treat the top and bottom of the Slinky as a single object, rather than as two separate parts of an "information system."

The information that the top end has been dropped can't propagate down the Slinky any faster than the speed of sound in the Slinky (the speed at which waves propagate down it), so there's a delay before the bottom end "knows" it's been dropped. But it's surprising to see how long the delay is.

My common sense tells me the top and bottom of the Slinky are accelerating towards the center of mass at the same time the center of mass is accelerating downward. The bottom of the Slinky won't move until the center of mass catches up with it.

Looking at the video, though, the "information theory" explanation makes sense (even if it doesn't make any common sense) because the bottom of the Slinky simply isn't moving.

Likewise, gymnastics wouldn't be so physically and aesthetically compelling if we only saw the gymnast's bouncing center of mass, and not the gymnast's body rotating around the center of mass.

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