How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region

Posted August 23, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Business, China, Japan, Politics, Translations

Amazon Link

I’m extremely fortunate to have stumbled upon this book. It reconstructed my views on developmental economics and doubles as a strong rejoinder to dogmatic laissez-faire.

It explains how Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China have advanced so much economically–by following the 18th century English and 19th century American and German models of protected development, best described by Friedrich List–and how Southeast Asian nations have struggled despite taking far more of the neoliberal prescriptions of Adam Smith and the World Bank and IMF than their northern counterparts. There’s much to learn about here but we can summarize the three steps to prosperity as follows:

1. Peasant farmers must be given ownership of their land and receive infrastructure and technical support to increase productivity and build wealth. Fair land redistribution spreads wealth so much better than trickle-down economics.
2. During industrialization, infant industries must be protected from foreign multinationals, but there must also be enough domestic firms in each field to allow genuine competition, as monopolies degenerate into rent-seeking. Deals with foreign firms must require technology transfer in exchange for market access to allow the nation to build its knowledge base. Promising companies need sufficient capital to undertake long-term investment. To determine which firms deserve funding, use export performance as a benchmark because it is an objective indicator of competitiveness.
3. Finance must be directed toward productive development, not real estate and stock speculation.

Again, it’s not what race you are that determines how well your country does; it’s how effective its policy is. Learn about what’s been proven to work by reading this.

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Pope Francis’s Wakeup Call in Korea

Posted August 20, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Politics, Religion

“ASIAN YOUTH, WAKE UP!”

Pope Francis rarely gives speeches in English (like Asian youth, he is worried his English is too poor!) but he did for us in Korea and the above was the exhortation that he wanted to stick in our minds. For great reason.

But first let’s rewind a bit: I spent the weekend in Seoul to attend Masses Pope Francis said there. They were amazing. Most attendees came from countries where there are relatively few Catholics, so it was a joyful time for everyone to celebrate their shared faith, not just explain it, and make new friends from all over the place. There were spontaneous songs and dances all around, including some by a troupe of indigenous people from Hualien, Taiwan in traditional garb, and people from different countries so high they were jumping into each other’s pictures to say hello (so now our group is in the group photo for a big Korean seminary.) Many non-Catholics came to be a part of it all as well, and they were welcomed.

I saw the Pope with my own eyes thrice. The first time was as he was driven to the Seosumun shrine just outside Seoul’s old city walls to commemorate 124 martyrs who were killed there (echoing St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome). After that ceremony, he drove to the central plaza of Seoul to beatify the martyrs at a Mass with 800,000 attendees, and I followed him there on foot. We who were too far behind all watched the proceedings (Latin Mass, Korean subtitles) on giant Samsung LCDs mounted around the square.

At Seoul the police presence was extremely heavy, as if they thought we had all come to protest him: it seemed clear the Force’s methods and traditions had not significantly changed since the rule of the dictator Park Chung Hee. However, I was able to get much closer the next day, in a distant castle where thousands of Catholics had been killed over the course of a century of persecution.

He passed by on the Popemobile on a path 10-15 feet in front of me at the Asian Youth Day closing Mass for 40,000 people at Haemi Fortress. Each time he blessed us all (looking past cameraphones to people’s faces) and each time he was warm. As he approached youth would run toward the car yelling “Papa, Papa!” (He also said an Asian Youth Day Mass in a packed World Cup soccer stadium in Daejeon on Korean Liberation Day. He traveled there by high speed rail and only after the train got going did the conductor tell the hundreds of other passengers they were sharing a ride with the Pope!)

But the amazing thing about his trip is that his small-scale events had an even larger social impact than the aforementioned large-scale ones. When he wasn’t at Mass praying and blessing, he was meeting and a long lineup of the marginalized–families of children killed in the April ferry disaster, women forced into sex slavery during World War II, the elderly, disabled, and sick–and giving them love and concern. He spoke about social problems close to home like youth suicide–old as he is youth relate to him because he knows what they’re worried about. He met the President of Korea as well, but mostly the pontiff was with the least of our brothers, bringing journalists along with him to get them in the headlines, and saying loud and clear whom he wanted to receive more attention.

Korea is getting richer and richer and the Pope came and spoke about emerging problems people had started to feel and to tell them to do something about it, the way their forefathers risked their lives for faith. “Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life,” he said. He also urged us to discern “what is incompatible with your Catholic faith … and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death” and instructed us to look out for the elderly, poor, and sick.

Some people don’t want to get too involved in society or in politics, which is the structuring of society. They just want to live their lives. However, I’ve often thought, of late, that in free societies the people who can most afford to do this are those who haven’t yet felt politics and society crushing them. In other words, politics is abstraction for the fortunate, but it’s urgent for the unfortunate.

I think Francis in telling us to wake up was saying anyone who can afford to come out and see him can also afford to act. And I pray we all do! Perhaps I’m paranoid but my reading of social trends tells me that not only is there more than enough for Christians to do for others; there are also vises tightening on everyone, and we need to recognize them for what they are. Youth, wake up, and don’t despair. The Cross has the same power over death as ever.

Robin Williams

Posted August 12, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Movies and TV

I grew up thinking I’d see plenty of actors like Robin Williams, but then I didn’t.

On his comedy, Jeet Heer says: “Robin Williams (like David Foster Wallace) had alien minds: he thought quicker than we did and could make us share in his alien perspective. Williams had a hyper-link mind before hyper-link was invented. He could free-associate faster than you can google. Williams was perhaps the only person in history who snorted cocaine in order to slow down the speed of his mind…Just as Joyce wasn’t just a novelist but really all novelists rolled into one, Williams was all stand-up comedians in one body…As a meta-comedian perhaps Williams’s biggest influence was the TV remote control: he replicated the ever-shifting screen.” (more: https://twitter.com/heerjeet) A commenter responded to this: “This is why, to me looking back, some of his most memorable film work was in ‘Aladdin’.  Because he could flash through all these influences/characters without a body slowing him down.”

I find the comparison to a remote control astute. I recall multiple references to channel-surfing in my childhood; the unfocused jumping from one world to another, with dozens or even hundreds (satellite!) of choices, must have been a huge conceptual change to adults of the time. Not only was Williams preternaturally talented; he also met a need of audiences of the time for an artist who could personify the dizzying pace of the new era for people.

And yet before today it had been a long time since I’d seen a Williams performance or heard anyone talk about him, to be honest, but I think a big reason for that which no one has mentioned yet is the culture changed to become more like him, making him seem less unique. “Family Guy” is an obvious example of a show with the same irreverence and free association; on an interpersonal level we’re doing Williams-style free-association constantly through memes and GIFs; conversely, on a personal level we don’t have the same appetite for the media rush and instead find ways to control or channel it.

Comedy aside, Williams’s pathos also clearly had a huge effect on people, and not just because he played Dad so often. Reviews of his sentimental movies are mixed, to be kind, but their emotional core, Williams’s heart seeming to burst out of his body and his face displaying how overcome he was by how MUCH life was, was genuine. Today’s news makes clear to me what I heard him saying in those scenes: that life is overwhelming both for better and for worse, and we can either get away from it by withdrawing or handle it together through kindness.

1000 Words on Ron, Hermione, and the Widening Class Divide Between Them

Posted February 3, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Literature, Politics

SOOO JK Rowling just stated (in an interview for a magazine Emma Watson guest-edited) that she regrets pairing up Hermione and Ron, and that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead. (As always she apparently didn’t have anything to say about Ginny.) This vexes me on multiple levels, and whether an artist can break through the fourth wall from the outside and change a piece after everyone’s already appreciated it (a classic philosophy of art debate question, and fwiw I think the reader’s agency/free will must be respected as well) is the -least- of them. ACCIO ESSAY:

1. To be honest I don’t think Rowling should have paired ANYONE up.
A. Aesthetic Reasons: Harry Potter was awesome when it was a fun magical detective story with plentiful parodies of modern life that starred good-hearted, well-rounded characters. As I wrote six years ago (https://www.facebook.com/notes/james-smyth/j-k-rowling-is-the-worlds-1-harry-potter-fanfiction-writer/5608952890) the first three books are the strongest because they’re the leanest and most faithful to the series’s natural strengths. The romances as she wrote them distracted from rather than strengthening the story’s themes, made the characters seem thinner rather than deeper, and should have been cut down or left out. (Protip: don’t get famous until you FINISH your fantasy series unless you have insanely incorruptible artistic integrity like Tolkien.)

How fun would it have been to go all the way through the story with flirting between all the characters and then let the fans keep chatting about who worked best together after that? When the author forces closure by tying together unnaturally, she limits the readers’ imaginations.

B. Moral Reasons: It’s so 16th century to think everyone needs to be paired up by the time the story’s over. Any of these characters could have had a perfectly fulfilling life as a single person as well (like Hagrid or ::cough:: Dumbledore), or met a special someone from the Muggle world off-camera. Students especially, the target audience of HP, are already full of anxiety about having to find someone to love by the time they graduate and these books reinforced that. Quick romantic pairings in epilogues also give the impression that love is easy or just happens when you’ve got things figured out when it’s actually a whole other huge lifelong adventure.

2. That said, she did pair them up, so what really makes Rowling’s new perspective depressing is how classist it is. Harry Potter and the Specter of Social Stratification? Harry Potter and Elite Self-Segregation? I know she doesn’t think of it that way but, especially after reading the Ross Douthat class warfare article from yesterday, this is how it looks to me:

What changed here is not the characters but JK Rowling herself. Once a single mother who wrote stories on napkins, she has now been one of the richest and most famous people in Britain (always a more stratified society) for 15 years, which means she’s spent years immersed in a totally different, wealthier world than the world from which this series sprang up. In other words, the J.K. Rowling who wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone no longer exists.

When the Muse wrote the books she chose Ron-Hermione and Harry-Ginny (now Rowling is making it look like she created Ginny just to give Harry a girlfriend, which is capital-T Terrible, but let’s move on.) 2014 Rowling describes Ron-Hermione as “wish fulfillment” that she wanted to be true but which couldn’t actually work. Harry and Hermione could definitely have worked! But so could Ron and Hermione. There’s enough chemistry and space between the lines for either relationship to be fulfilling, and for either one to be “wish fulfillment”.

What this latest statement looks like to everyone who reads it is “Ron isn’t good enough for Hermione (and Ginny isn’t good enough for Harry)”, not least due to its Hermione-centrism. How are Ron and Ginny not good enough, though? That case looks really classist to me:

Hermione is a genius and the only child of a pair of dentists. Harry grew up poor but is now a wealthy heir, a sports hero, and The Chosen One. (Also an only child.) Ron is the youngest son of a big, poor-and/but-happy (Catholic?) family and has a serious inferiority complex. Ginny is the youngest child of this family, is painfully shy, and isn’t “the best at anything” either.

The two elites in this group, in terms of achievements, money, as well as character traits associated with success, are obviously Harry and Hermione. But is the closest match/complement in these characteristics what matters for a relationship?

Not to be too maudlin, but I think of how loving the Weasley household is and how comfortable Hermione was staying there all summer (I wanted to be there too!). How Ron isn’t too intimidated of Hermione to make fun of her, but also how much he admires her and is supportive of her. How much integrity both Ron and Ginny had. Ron and Hermione had communication problems but so do people in every relationship! Who’s in love with each other? That’s the unpredictable and way more important thing, and if Ron and Hermione loved each other in JK’s imagination she doesn’t get to say years after the fact that they shouldn’t. (Besides, Adult Ron with things figured out would be at least as awesome as Young Adult Rupert Grint, right? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2108756/Harry-Potter-selling-ice-creams-Rupert-Grint-fulfilling-childhood-ambition.html)

Why does all this matter? Because while the increasing intensity of social and economic stratification is undeniable, more and more “successful” Americans are looking for romantic partners who are their equals in these same categories and limiting their associations with those in the lower classes.

And even if, like me, you think success is defined by how far you carry a cross and not having nice jobs in the Ministry of Magic and sending your kids to a nice school like Hogwarts, you find that society perpetually pressures the “less successful” partner in a relationship and you appreciate any relief from that stress that you can get.

So, motion denied, J.K.

Top 10 Dream Jobs of Japanese Kindergarten and Elementary School Students, according to Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company survey

Posted July 6, 2013 by jsmyth
Categories: Business, Education, Japan

Top 10 Dream Jobs of Japanese Kindergarten and Elementary School Students, according to Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company survey

Boys
(1) Soccer Player (2) Scholar (2) Police Officer/Detective (4) Baseball Player (5) TV Star, including Anime Voice Actor (6) Astronaut (6) Restaurateur/Chef (6) Train/Bus/Car Driver (9) Doctor (10) Fire Fighter/EMT

Girls
(1) Restaurateur/Chef (2) Nurse (3) Kindergarten/Nursery School Teacher (4) Doctor (5) Florist (5) Teacher (Elementary or above) (7) Animal Husbandry/Pet Store Owner/Animal Training (8) Piano/Keyboard Teacher, Pianist (8) Police Officer/Detective (10) Designer

Dai-ichi Comment: This is the 16th year in a row Restaurateur/Chef was girls’ #1 choice. Since the Great Tohoku Earthquake, children have had much more interest in jobs related to saving lives and protecting others, such as police work and nursing.

Number in parentheses = the rank of that occupation the year before.

Source: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/atmoney/news/20130705-OYT1T00910.htm?from=main1

Two heroes of Japanese liberalism have passed over to the Grey Havens

Posted January 3, 2013 by jsmyth
Categories: Art, Japan, Literature, Politics

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Keiji Nakazawa
Asahi Shimbun Obituary

When Keiji Nakazawa was 6 years old, the Hiroshima atomic bomb vaporized nearly his entire family.

He portrayed this experience in a comic book.

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As far as I know, Barefoot Gen is the most famous anti-war work in Japanese history. Search for it in Google Images and it will imprint itself in your mind as well. The art style, typical of fun adventures, makes what is depicted inside feel even worse. Perhaps if a book like this were required reading in American junior high schools, we would not declare another war of choice. Irrespective of America, Nakazawa’s work has doubtless been monumental in Japanese culture. My junior high school there had a student performance of it every few years.

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Beate Gordon

Read the New York Times’ obituary. It’s one of those that’s so astonishing you wonder why you’ve never heard of this person before.

Beate Sirota Gordon introduced women’s rights to postwar Japan, writing the clauses specifically guaranteeing them into the Japanese Constitution, emancipating 40 million people, when she was 22 years old.

Gordon studied other nations’ constitutions and drew on her childhood experiences in Tokyo and wrote the articles in a week. A sleepless week. Imagine all your learning and moral training and ethical thought suddenly being put to the test, now, and you have to lay out the future legal status of millions of historically marginalized people.

And then she kept her role a secret for decades.

All she did in the meantime was introduce the West to every kind of traditional Japanese art and every style of Asian performance art she could find. It’s amazing to think of how little even Americans in the highest reaches of power understood of Japan when they began ruling the country after the war. And pre-WWII cultural globalization mostly meant Westernization. Ms. Gordon was very important to turning on the East-to-West cultural flows and contributing to the cultural relations between Japanese and Americans today.

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With her parents and Kosaku Yamada in Tokyo in 1928 (source: http://www.shinyawatanabe.net/atomicsunshine/ny/beateintroduction.html)

Mr. Nakazawa, Ms. Gordon, rest in peace. May our generation, too, have people as amazing as you.

Proportion of Japanese Men That Are Lifelong Bachelors Breaks 20% for First Time; Rate has Octupled in Last 30 Years

Posted May 1, 2012 by jsmyth
Categories: Japan, Translations

Proportion of Japanese Men That Are Lifelong Bachelors Breaks 20% for First Time; Rate has Octupled in Last 30 Years
Yomiuri Shimbun: 生涯未婚の男性、2割を突破…30年で8倍
May 1, 2012

As of 2010, the proportions of Japanese men and women who had never been married at age 50 were 20.1% and 10.6%, respectively, it was announced today. This is the first time that the 20% and 10% barriers have been broken.

This information is to be included in “Children and Child-Rearing” white paper which will be confirmed by the Cabinet in the beginning of June.

In 1980, the proportions of the single-for-life were 2.6% for men and 4.5% for women. Now, more than 8 times more men are lifelong bachelors, and more than twice as many women are lifelong bachelorettes. The numbers of the unmarried have surged since the 1990s.

By age group: 71.8% of men and 60.3% of women age 25-29 have never been married. 47.3% of men and 34.5% of women age 30-34 have never been married. And 35.6% of men and 23.1% of women age 35-39 have never been married.