What I’ve been reading

1. Euny Hong, The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture.  A genuinely good and fun introduction to South Korea today.

2. Clyde Prestowitz, Japan Restored: How Japan Can Reinvent Itself and Why This is Important for America and the World.  A not-absurd view of how Japan could be fully back on its feet by 2050.  Imagine a Japan which employs women at an especially high rate, moves almost completely to green energy independence, and revitalizes its investment and corporate governance; I found the chapter on “Englishnization” least plausible, however.

3. Leila S. Chudori, Home.  A classic Indonesian novel, recently translated, about Indonesian exiles in Paris, post-1965, and how they are unable to cut their emotional ties with the homeland.  If you are only going to read a few Indonesian novels, this should be one of them.

4. David Stubbs, Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music.  Self-recommending.

5. Frits Gierstberg, European Portrait Photography Since 1990.  Mostly photos, not much text, the artists include Rineke Dijkstra, Jurgen Teller, Thomas Ruff, Nikos Markou, Anders Petersen, and Clare Strand.  This book made a strong impression on me, and I find it to be one of the best meditative tools for thinking about what Europe really is these days.  By the way, the under-representation of Islam (not popular with collectors?) is striking.


Englishnization of Japan

Physicist Freeman Dyson's 1979 book Disturbing the Universe had an interesting section on how the world's multiplicity of languages protects humanity from bad ideas sweeping the globe quite as fast. Betting the world on English could turn out like betting Ireland on potatoes in 1845.

I take some comfort in the idea that there's a sizable, educated, civilized country -- Japan -- where practically nobody speaks English, so they're freer to make their own mistakes rather than to make the mistakes endorsed by the Economist and NYT.

This mattered a lot in ancient times and maybe even 1979, but is it relevant now when I can Google translate anything in milliseconds? Japan in particular is one of the most internet-connected nations in the world, is highly integrated into the global economy, and has at least 10% or so of its population that can speak English. I don't see how language is any barrier at all to the spread of ideas there.

10% of Japan doesn't speak English. And if you think Google Translate works, go try and read a Japanese book with it.

Well, that's the number I found on the internet (12% actually). Apparently it was sourced from this Wikipedia page, which has plenty of caveats at the top, so maybe it is not true: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_countries_by_English-speaking_population&oldid=351375126

Do you have a source for a better number?

Depends what you qualify as being "able to speak English".

In East Asia, most of the English teachers I've met can't hold basic conversation unless I slow down ridiculously, enunciate to the max and speak with the language of a 7 year old. If you're skeptical of the anecdote, just consider the very low quality of English in public signage or advertising, which is presumably prepared by the most competent English person in anyone's related network.

+1 for Nathan W's comment on Asians lack of English. It's like Greece: nobody outside university students and tour operators speak English. Even here in the Philippines, where English is the official second language and is taught in school, the English is generally incomprehensible. Actually older people speak better English than the young, same in Thailand, I think it's the result of a "nativist" movement around 20 years ago that demoted teaching English (either that or the current generation is dumber).

Koreans often speak reasonable English, although it's mandatory through high school. There's usually someone in a given group of young Koreans who can have a passable conversation. They forget it through underuse though, so usually older Koreans don't speak it as well since they haven't had to study it in a long time.

By 2050, I'm confident Google Translate will do OK.

Lol. Very interesting idea. Aside from the fairly natural inclination to protect one's culture and language, I tend to see it as protecting the massive amounts of deep knowledge of the human condition and ways of perceiving history which are differently embedded into language. It's only slightly apparent if you are, say, French and then learn Spanish. But if you learn languages from completely different language groups, and interrogate their different uses and scopes of meanings (the dictionary translation is rarely a 100% match for meaning), you definitely discover that the act of learning a language goes way beyond learning how to say the same thing in two different ways - in some respects, you are communicating in an entirely different, well, language and culture. Eliminate the languages, and I think you lose a lot of that, and globally we would be much worse for it.

It's almost like different people are different and thrive under different systems. Uncanny.

Perish the thought! Japan is a collection of rocks with some human beings on it. That's 99% of what you need to know about Japan.

Tyler: "magine a Japan which employs women at an especially high rate." Why is that an unequivocal good? Not a society where women can do what they want, but where they work at a high rate. Stuff like this exposes the fake libertarianism here.

On the converse, just to be contrary, doesn't seem to have protected them too well from fascism, back in the day.

I think they get the same ideas as everyone else, just through a narrow body of translators.

It's probably not so much language that's protective I think, when it is, as the long term cultural differences (and skepticism of other long term divergent cultures) that correlate with them. But since we've never seen a massive language shift except as accompanied by a huge culture shift, it's sort of a moot point to test.

There doesn't seem to be any benefit to employing women at a high rate. Generally, women can't do anything better than men can, except for sexual things like prostitution or de facto sexual things like news broadcasting, which women can't do better than men (it's just reading teleprompters) aside from being sexually attractive women, which men can't do by definition.

Employing women at a high rate leads to lower fertility rates, which we're told is a major problem because we need to produce more people to pay for retirees, entitlements, debt servicing, etc., and to grow the economy. So I'm not sure why it's considered a good thing, unless it's an excuse to promote immigration, which is usually offered as the solution to these problems.

"Generally, women can’t do anything better than men[...]"

Among male managers I have known there is a widespread belief that women are better than men at anything that requires attention to detail or the ability to read and write. So some categories of employment are de facto forbidden to men.

I find women are much better at explaining the nuances of different benefits packages while dressed in expensive clothing.

You kind of have low fertility rates in Japan as well though, regardless of female employment.

Japan-West differences are often explained through out of wedlock births (people getting married at the same, older ages, but fewer people having kids before that, out of marriage, than in the West).

I'm a bit skeptical of high female employment and education actually having too much to do with fertility rates. Women have always worked and the women among the working poor have pretty good fertility rates.

Low fertility rates in the modern developed world seem more:

a) low child mortality, so not so much desire for "an heir and a spare" (and this is the bulk of difference with the developing world, particularly places with still low medicine standards, like much of Africa today).

b) feeling that birth should happen after marriage, and that marriage should only happen after both parties have "arrived" or "made it" in terms of career and lifestyle, rather than before they've "made it" (then they stick it out with one another if it doesn't go well). Individuals don't want to risk being stuck with an unsure bet, in the increasingly competitive and unequal developed societies. That's going to be true if men and women work, or only men.

c) a desire among the young to have free time and money with which to prolong their enjoyment of the increasing array of hedonistic experiences (videogames, dating, music, sports, movies, drugs, business) that modern societies increasingly offer their young, so they marry later.

There's probably a career effect for *some* women (smart, talented, don't want to give up opportunities, so defer birth), but the above factors seem to me to work in places like Japan with a strong patriarchal employment culture just as well (plus greater Japanese and generally East Asian self restraint and also generally higher East Asian shyness).

(Most of the differences between smart and less smart probably reflect less wealth and concern with gathering wealth and less ability to plan.)

How is Islam underrepresented in a book on European portrait photography? This is a 240 page book of full page portrait photographs, a fundamentally bourgeois form, in the period it covers muslims were somewhere around 1/20 th of the European population, but surely much less likely to be found in quality European portraits made by people I have actually heard of. So if we posit some sort of quota , if there is almost no text, there should be no more than 12 muslims photographed and probably a fair bit less. I guess depending on the countries involved there should be 2-3 visibly african non muslim portraits, etc... And that is assuming that you are involved in some sort of demographic survey, while the book is clearly about trends in portrait photography in modern Europe.

Just looking at the photographers involved, why on earth would you assume that these very continental photographers would have the same obsessions as anglo american progressives? Heck the book seems to be even franco deficient. Anders Petersen, Rineke Dijkstra, Nikos Markou are not in the business of ethnography or being census takers. They are making fundamentally aesthetic judgements and some of them are pretty darn old, Petersen for example.

Someone has to think why does such a book exist? Doing a demographic study us very low on the list of possible reasons with these participants.

Even when you look at say Mary Ellen Mark, are you looking at some representative sample or at what weird aesthetic freakiness and physiognomy she was into that decade. Avedon, Mark, and even street photographers like Winograd were all really individualistic and aesthetically focused, and all the names I recognize are even more so.

I don't mean to be a jerk here but what exactly was the point of that bit of signaling?

Tyler said "I find it to be one of the best meditative tools for thinking about what Europe really is these days." The blurb on Amazon seems to support this reading of the book and suggest that this is a driving force behind the work of the artists it features. If so, Tyler's observation seems relevant. And the relationship between Islam and European identity is a huge topic in Europe. This isn't the imposition of "anglo-American progressive" obsessions.

Also, are you perhaps reading a moral force to Tyler's comment that isn't really there?

TC would be signaling if he mentioned it was boudoir photography...

1. Korean pop music is just a clone of the cheesiest Western pop, though the girls are better looking:


Clone of cheesy J-pop, Which (obviously) is cheesy English pop with Japanese words. True about Korean girl singers however.

1. Ethno-nationalist silliness. Wake me when Koreans stop eating dogs and start considering black people to be their equals.

Racism is bad. However, can you make a coherent case that eating dogs is worse than eating pigs (who are equally intelligent)?

Dogs are cute. Pigs are not. QED.

@Gafiated - Lots of Koreans don't like eating dogs, so judging them by that metric is like saying all Americans are like "Honey Boo Boo" (a reality TV star). Oops, maybe they are.

@dan1111 - Dogs love humans while pigs are disgusting. Pigs will eat a human baby's face while it is alive (numerous cases, these people often survive the attack and grow up with deformed faces) and they're disgusting, eating their own feces (more so than dogs) . I hate pigs, having been around them on the farm. They are always hungry (then again, so are dogs but they are nicer about it, acting friendly instead of greedy). Pigs squeal very annoyingly when agitated, like ...pigs. The only thing good about pigs is eating them.

I really wish the best for the Japanese, lord knows they're fucking weird enough, might as well show the rest of us a new way to do things.

#2 Japan is not on its feet right now? It was a first world country, last I heard.

Exactly how is something "self-recommending?"

Please read this comment. It is self-recommending :)

I hope that this Stubbs book is better written (& copy edited) than his earlier Fear of Music, which was close to unreadble.

By 2050 Japan will be the richest and safest country on Earth, if only because it will be the only country not invaded by Arabs or Africans. They just need to keep the borders closed and see the rest of the world become a mix of Brazil and Turkey.

The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture.

They better get busy or they won't have any youngsters left to produce or consume pop culture.

A not-absurd view of how Japan could be fully back on its feet by 2050. Imagine a Japan which employs women at an especially high rate, moves almost completely to green energy independence, and revitalizes its investment and corporate governance;

So basically Japan would be great if only it was taken over and run by and for Social Justice Warriors? As if trying to power a country with unicorn f*rts is ever going to work. Investment and corporate governance? Sounds great. But let me guess - public management? Corporatist direction of investment? State control of the economy?

This is a suicide note. The Japanese should do the exact opposite in every way

Man, the island has essentially zero fossil fuel reserves and every dollar spent on hydrocarbons flows out of the economy. With declining demographics, higher labour force participcation of women could prevent or reduce deflationary economic retrenchment. This is an exceedingly common sensical perspective, regardless of how it aligns with whichever foreign social trends.

Importing something is often more economically beneficial than producing it less efficiently locally.

Absolutely true. But I doubt oil will be cheaper than renewables by 2050 for most energy purposes. Jets, container ships and some other obvious exceptions apply.

If you do not understand the benefits of international trade, it is too late for me to explain it to you. But so what if they have zero fossil fuel reserves? That is not the issue. After all, they could go back to rickshaws. Have half the country pull the other half around. Can you see the massive drop in living standards that would involve? Japan does not have the space for renewables. They do not live next door to neighbors with large pumped storage facilities as in Norway. If they do not want fossil fuels, nuclear is the only option.

As for women, they contribute little to the economy and there is no point eating your seed corn. If Japan wants to stave off inevitable economic problems the only solution is to encourage women to stay home and have children. Anything else is a temporary stop gap at best and likely to be counterproductive at worst.

I had a positive view of Japan when I lived there. It wasn't quite for me, they are really down on individuality in a way westerners just can't handle, but I saw the merits of the system.

For an overcrowded country with no natural resources that got atom bombed, they are doing pretty good. They are a lot more likely to be chugging along in 2100 then we are.

Individuality, probably. Social network use is pretty low there (and low social network use isn't a pan East Asian trait), while blogging is relatively high.

Suggests low tendencies towards the kind of persona constructing activity (building a prestigious and differentiated public face that stands out from the crowd) that social networks cater too (although they also have their genuinely sociable side).

OTOH, relatively creative as a country, with a lot of interest in how to make and do things in a new and novel way and original ideas. It just doesn't translate as much to new ways of interacting socially, and to individuals building themselves social identity as innovators and disruptors.

Tyler, have you had a chance to read Adair Turner's recent book Between Debt and the Devil, published by Princeton University Press? Perhaps they'd send you a review copy.

What is it that Prestowtiz wants Japanese women to do less, so that they may expand their employment?

Raise children?

"If you are only going to read a few Indonesian novels..."

I like the use of 'only'...

Yes or no: Does Clyde Prestowitz address the Japanese demographic trainwreck?

If the Japanese improve their English it will reduce the number of hilariously awkward English phrases they use in advertising, clothing and product warning labels. My wife and I lived in Japan for 3 years and the highlight of every week was seeing T-shirts that said things like, "AMERICA SPIRIT AND JOY LIFE -- MY PIGEONS." Don't take that away from us.

I wonder if there is a cottage industry of Japanese authors with books claiming policies that can fix America or Europe.

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