No Accounting for Taste

I’m currently watching Tales from the Loop and it has really pushed the boundaries of its type. Where it could have been a more conventional sci-fi anthology of plot arcs and stock characters, nearly every episode has the unique touch of different directors. The attention to set detail and the interwoven characters without committing their plots against each other really works. I keep thinking of Wes Anderson directing Black Mirror, but it’s neither quite so dark nor so quirky.

I have missed blogging. I hope to have more to say soon.

Umeboshi, omuraisu, and other otherworlds

Tonight I am watching the Netflix-sponsored season of “Midnight Diner” subtitled “Tokyo Stories.”  It reminds me of visiting Tokyo, to be sure, but it is definitely more of a literary production than one devoted to flash or slapstick.  It’s an adaptation of a manga, but definitely not one of the usual “youth” sorts of manga that people think of when they talk about anime or stereotypical Japanese film and television. What was lovely about the show was the intimacy of the space. It’s a cliché to say that space is at a premium anywhere in Tokyo. Seoul, by comparison, is full of vast expanses of openness. Inside of “Meshiya,” the Master’s diner, there is room for, at most, a large Irish Catholic family. But instead of that, each story brings together unlikely individuals into the dowdy eddies of the lives of regulars.

Plenty of Japanese films and television shows, from highbrow to eye-splitting children’s shows, address the restrictions of space and the social stagnation of the past twenty, nearly thirty years in Tokyo and Japan at large. What was captivating about Midnight Diner was the way it crashed together your typical rogue’s gallery of nightlife characters – the “water trade” and its clientele, but also taxi drivers, wholesale grocers, even the odd fictional Field’s Medalist.  I’ve just begun reading Murakami’s newest work, Killing Commendatore, and there is a little of the same aesthetic. But Murakami deals in the isolated and the weird, and the Midnight Diner is about connections.

This could be a longer piece, looking at authors like Yoshimoto Banana and the whole landscape of Euro-American-friendly Japanese literature, but for now I’ll close with the exhortation for folks to check out “The Midnight Diner.”

Back in America

My year in Qatar has come to a close. I am back at home, visiting my family in Virginia. It is amazing to see everything covered in greenery, and to smell flowers, leaves, good food, and and the general scents of summer in Charlottesville. I’ll be heading to Hawaii next week, for a couple of years at least, and an exciting new job. I have never been to Hawaii before, and it will mark, even more so than Qatar, the farthest South I have ever been on the globe.

It will be fascinating to be in a place that stays green and warm all year long, and to be once again close to Asia for travel and work opportunities. I may be able to make use once again of my Korean and Japanese language skills, and potentially improve on them significantly. I am also looking forward to a job that is more aligned with my personal expertise and experience than many previous ones.

Being back in Virginia is good preparation for the somewhat confusing morass of the next few years, I think. While navigating family events, I am also back within range of remote friendships centered around being in nearby time zones, and also trying to satisfy everyone’s differing ideas of what I can and cannot do for them. Overall, I am happy to be back, but will also be glad to be settled in my new “home” sooner rather than later.

Georgism and the Limits of Reading

My actual post will not be about the economic theories of Henry George, just to get that out of the way. but I have been reading David Nasaw’s biography of Andrew Carnegie, and it is interesting to see limited parallels between his life and times and our own. One of the best aphorisms I ever heard was from my high school history teacher: “Times change, people don’t.” And through that very reductionist lens, a lot of human events of the past and present make exceptionally more sense than they would otherwise. There are several different ways to approach that saying, from the ideas of evolutionary psychology, the deterministic ideas of various religious world views, and the unreliable but cumulative perspectives of personal anecdote. Overall, though, I think that the concept holds true. It allows for cultural differences, politics, war, etc. without ever requiring a compromise of philosophical ideas. From the arguments against Socrates from the sophists to the semantic soaring of Wittgenstein, there is still a continuity of human thought and counter-thought. Even in Chinese philosophy and the vagaries of Mesoamerican societies, there is still the fact that genetically we are at heart running on the same general genetic templates for thought processes.

In writing this, I guess, I am somewhat emulating the opinions of Andrew Carnegie, who latched onto the idea of evolution as more than a biochemical process, but also something that occurs on a cultural level. For example, prions like “deconstruction” are able to infect healthy cultures with a corrosive effect on their reproductive fitness and societal well-being, just as productive, enlightening ideas like personal responsibility and self-awareness can arise from contexts far outside of any Western school of thought. There is a humanism that can be found in places as disparate as hunter-gatherer folklore and twenty-first century guides to business practice. I suppose that it would be a better blog post to go more into these larger ideas, but I will leave those aside for now.

The other, more ground-level meaning of the title is simply that I want to read more about Henry George and his ideas, but I am faced with a large shelf of books both physical and digital that I want to read through beforehand. I am currently reading the works of Bastiat and Gramsci, which contrast immensely, as well as science fiction from the socialist Charles Stross and the traditionalist John Ringo. At least intellectually I don’t feel bored, eh?

Malacidins

I have always thought that it was somewhat lazy to rely on Wikipedia as a source for almost any discussion, but seeing as I do not have the right sort of subscriptions to view the primary research, I figured that I would share this Wikipedia article about a new potential class of antibiotics. The implications of this research are enormous. At a time when overuse (especially in India) is generating resistance in bacteria that could spread across both gram negative and gram positive strains, having a whole new subclass of antibiotics that use novel mechanisms for infection inhibition is a huge victory for humanity.

On the Occasion of My Birthday

Musings on the world at thirty-two in 2018.

Today I am turning thirty-two (or thirty-three by East Asian counting.) I have done and seen an incredible array of things and places in my life, and, fortunately, my memory remains robust and rich in detail. Growing up we did not have a lot of money, and I did not learn many of the social and networking skills that define the upper middle class skill sets that dominate a lot of “successful” people’s outcomes. I have nonetheless managed to get to the point where I am 100% free of debt (as of this paycheque), I have a good start on retirement savings in an index fund, reliable transportation, and a good network of personal and professional contacts that I think will allow me to manage any personal or small-scale crises that come my way in the future. I still write in overlong sentences, though.

One thing that I have observed over the years is the interconnectedness of human lives and events. It seems to be a natural, especially Western, mentality to compartmentalize and label things and to lock them into hierarchies and “stovepipes” of different disciplines and different schema of organization. By itself, this is not a bad impulse or civilizational habit to have – but I have noticed that the most successful ventures in business, charity, government, or military fields come from interconnectedness. Some people, especially academics, seem to take that life lesson and want to impose hierarchy, bureaucracy, and synthetic order onto complex issues. I have observed this approach and found it to be oftentimes the opposite of a successful strategy for accomplishing anything from providing social services to managing major military operations. Centralization may offer short-term gains, but it also plants the seeds of sclerosis, stagnation, future failure, and defeat.

Many writers far more erudite and perceptive than I have pointed out that the global order is in an inflection point. Assumptions about the track of human events are daily set on end and shaken about like a chew toy in the mouth of an energetic puppy. The forces of sclerotic decline are in control of most of the West’s institutions, if not, at present, the actual position as “leader of the free world” for what that means anymore. Their more violent, repressive fellow travelers control China and other significant civilizations in Asia and South America. Overall, however, I think it reasonable to be optimistic about the future.

So, from the strange and potentially dynamic and fruitful Middle East post-monopoly on global energy markets, I sign off on my thirty-second birthday.

Memory Blender

I was able to get a few drinks of whiskey tonight, and that, combined with some “best of Chicane” and a general bent towards nostalgia, stirred up a whirlwind of memories for me. One thing that strikes me is how I experience the past – a lot of times even fragmentary experiences are multi-sensory. By far my strongest sense is my vision and, by extension, my imagination. But it surprises me sometimes how I can also recall disparate events that are joined together by a similar emotional “flavor.” Even something like a particular temperature or barometric pressure can act on my mind like a sort function in a spreadsheet, laying out memories strung together and blurred end to end like a montage. A truly good blog post would be more poetic and florid, giving a snippet of what that experience was like and describing situations that would share some of those memories and sensory impressions. Unfortunately, tonight, I do not have the luxury of enough time to share. Something to consider for another, longer, more worthy entry.