April 28, 2011
Baseball according to Drucker (7)
Drucker in the Dug-Out [sic], the anime version of 「もし高校野球の女子マネージャーがドラッカーの『マネジメント』を読んだら」 ("What if the Girl Manager of a High School Baseball Team read Drucker's Management?"), debuted this week on NHK (alas, only in Japan). It's being produced by veteran anime studio Production I.G. The official website is in Japanese, but Production I.G. has an English summary, and the Japan Times did an English write-up. I'd like to see a major U.S. studio or network license it, if only for the novelty value. Say, CNBC. Or PBS could run it alongside Nightly Business Report.
April 25, 2011
Baseball according to Drucker (6)
"What if the Girl Manager of a High School Baseball Team read Drucker's Management?" (now commonly abbreviated to "Moshidora") by Natsumi Iwasaki turned into 2010's unexpected best-seller, which spawned an anime series, and now a live-action feature film starring Atsuko Maeda.
She's a member of the fabulously popular girl group AKB48, 2010's best-selling pop group. This is called synergy!
Iwasaki previously worked on the business end of the AKB48 production machine and reportedly patterned his lead character after group member Minami Minegishi. As it turns out, though, "the role was given to Maeda because of her greater visibility and experience as an actress."
In other words, Minegishi had zero acting talent, while Maeda had greater than zero acting talent. Not to mention her other assets.
April 21, 2011
We're already all wet
Now that I'm thinking about taxes, an additional rant. As I pointed out last time, I didn't have to pay any income taxes this year, and in times past have even qualified for the Earned Income Tax credit. So I definitely qualify as "non-rich." But I'm against "soaking" them.
The problem with soaking the rich is two-fold: 1) If a bunch of rich people hit a rough patch and start making half as much, or decide to take their income in capital gains, they'll still be rich, but the government will be broke; 2) "No taxation without representation" isn't just a snappy slogan, it's a law of human nature. It starts in childhood. Weasel a couple of bucks out of your parents and they're going to want to what you're going to do with it. We all expect a quid pro quo.
The more the government takes from corporations and the wealthy, the more they are going to want to know what's happening to their money, the more they're going to care about where it goes and how much, and the bigger the payoff for corrupting the process. The fiduciary responsibility of a corporation is to its shareholders, and it'd be irresponsible of them to not spend a few million on lobbyists and tax lawyers to make sure tens of millions more flow to their investors.
The answer is simplicity and transparency. Eliminate all forms of corporate welfare, farm subsidies, green energy subsidies, the whole lot. In turn, eliminate the corporate income tax and treat capital gains as ordinary income. Reduce all deductions to a single, individual deduction that is the same for everybody. I see no reason why home buyers should be privileged over renters, especially after they ruined the world economy. Oh, and get rid of Fannie and Freddie too.
April 18, 2011
Once again, as a full-time starving artist I only had to fork over to Uncle Sam a pound of flesh in the form of "self-employment taxes." On the bright side, if the Social Security system survives in its current form until I hit seventy, I'll collect about what I'm making now!
Doing my taxes reminds me what a corrupt system this is. I didn't starve that much this year, so I was a little surprised when I ended up owning no income taxes. The "Making work pay" tax credit, it turns out. I had no idea it was there until I scanned the final PDF of my 1040.
The complexity of the tax code and the resulting lack of transparency means that however politicians may swear they're helping the poor and downtrodden, the poor and downtrodden are more likely than not being screwed over by those same "tax breaks" they don't know exist.
There was even a story on the local nightly news about the "Making work pay" tax credit, reminding people to take advantage of it. The only rational recourse is to use decent tax preparation software (I use TaxAct). But that, frankly, is an utterly undemocratic solution.
The income tax has become a magical black box that turns numbers into money for reasons known only to the alchemists, which politicians then pretend came out of their own generous pockets. We may be One Nation under God, but we're being ruled by witchcraft.
April 14, 2011
Not an apocalyptic thriller
This video, shot by a crew of Video News Network reporters, reminds me of the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker. The "stalker" is a mule who guides people into the "Zone," an wasteland devastated by a meteorite strike. Their destination is "The Room."
At the center of this zone is the Fukushima power plant. It's just as unearthly and weird as the movie. Despite the squawking radiation meters, they are never in much danger. The Geiger counters finally peak at 112 μSv/hour within a mile of the plant.
They didn't hang around, so shouldn't have gotten much more radiation than a single dental X-ray (5 μSv), about what you'd get every hour flying cross-country in a commercial jet. The average annual radiation dose for Americans is around 3600 μSv.
Radiation is one of those things that you don't think about until forced to by circumstances. But like the universe itself, we were born in radiation and will spend our lives absorbing and radiating it. It's not a question of whether or not, but of how much.
In Stalker, The Room is said to be a place where wishes are granted. The wishes in this case are obvious, but only time and a lot of hard, dangerous work can make them come true.
Apocalypse not now
April 11, 2011
Quite coincidentally (it's been in pre-production for several months, and was scheduled to start three weeks ago), but perhaps quite appropriately, the current Asadora is a Showa drama. It follows the heroine from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Showa dramas typically depict Japan (symbolized by the protagonist) struggling through the ashes of WWII to reclaim her place in the world. They're romanticizations, to be sure--not that exaggerated--of an era when everybody put their shoulders to the wheel.
It's an ethos and state of mind summed up in the verb ganbaru: "to persist, to hang on, to stick it out." You now see the volitional form on banners everywhere: Ganbarou! Japan (がんばろう！日本). Such as at the spring national high school baseball tournament.
April 07, 2011
The new normal
I noticed late last week that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has started wearing a normal suit coat at press conferences. I guess that's one sign things are getting back to normal.
Normally, except for the news, TV Japan time-delays the NHK satellite feed so that shows come on at approximately the same time as in Japan. During the first week after the earthquake, the NHK feed was live, including the regularly-scheduled drama series.
Little by little, the normal program schedule is resuming. This week, Morning Market (a current affairs show, not a stock market show) is actually being broadcast in the morning, instead of late in the afternoon the day before.
The second season of Rinjou (臨場) resumed on Wednesday. It's a CSI-type police procedural about the investigators who conduct the in situ coroner's inquest,(1) meaning that every broadcast begins with at least one dead body.
"Normal" means going back to being entertained by fake dead bodies.
Though that gets me thinking about all the second unit possibilities here. Shows like NCIS, CSI: Miami and Bones are mostly filmed in Hollywood, with a second unit shooting on location with stand-ins.
Yes, it's macabre, but Sendai should open up a film office so Hollywood can come over and shoot all kinds of high-def second unit material to be blue-screened later. Heck, with all the story possibilities, you could do a whole season of NCIS just in Japan.
Making money off the travails of others--what's more normal than that?
1. To an almost creepily thorough extent, basically everything but the actual autopsy. In contrast, the practice in the U.S. is to "scoop and run": bag the body and the evidence and bring it back to the crime lab.
Taking the "CSI effect" into account, this is an odd product of the tension between culture and religion (especially Buddhism) and modern science when it comes to dealing with the dead.
Only recently did cadaverous organ donation even become legal in Japan, and only in 2009 did it become legal for parents to donate the organs of a minor. Cadaverous organ transplants remain few and far between.
Doing as much of the coroner's inquest at the crime scene--under the aegis of the police, whose authority is far more encompassing and unquestioned--is one way to tiptoe around these social problems.
The eccentric, brilliant and brooding (aren't they all) lead investigator is played by Masaaki Uchino, though I'd prefer to see more of the light touch he's shown in previous roles.
April 04, 2011
Japan's most immediate infrastructure challenge (thinking in stark economic terms) is power generation. A friend in Japan relates that when asked what they need the most, the people in the Tohoku region (around Sendai) say, "Send electricity."
The Fukushima's forty-year-old reactors were scheduled for retirement, so once things stabilize, Tokyo Electric will probably install gas turbine generators. The one meme the talking heads have all agreed upon at this point is that the "nuclear renaissance" has been stopped in its tracks.
Personally, I'm a nuclear agnostic. In the U.S., natural gas is the best solution in the near and medium term (heck, we could export it to Japan), though coal will continue to dominate (most of Utah's power comes from coal) because it's so cheap and plentiful.
But a country like Japan has no real alternatives to nuclear if it wants anything approaching energy independence.
Even if solar and wind could the surmount the storage, transmission, and baseload power problems, Japan's geography and weather make them less than viable. Japan would be ideal for geothermal--if the huge gap between theory and application could be bridged and scaled up.
The current state of the art nuclear designs eliminates most of the problems revealed at Fukushima. If we abandoned every initially risky technology instead of improving it, most comforts of modern life would not exist, starting with the automobile.
We happily live with enormous risks when we really want something. Forty years ago, cars were death traps. In the U.S., traffic fatalities per million miles have dropped by more than half in that time. But cars still are death traps, the direct cause of 1.2 million deaths around the globe every year.
Chernobyl included, the mining and burning of fossil fuels causes more direct and indirect deaths than nuclear by several orders of magnitude. The psychological problem is that, like airplanes, the risk is concentrated, and the ability of the individual to control his own fate greatly diminished.
I know the feeling. I'm not afraid of flying, but I wouldn't live in the River Bottoms. When my mom was growing up, the River Bottoms north of Provo was rural farmland, so-called because when it flooded in the spring, the land was often covered by the Provo River.
The completion of Deer Creek Reservoir in 1941 put an end to the flooding, and now the River Bottoms is home to upscale McMansions and office parks.
The odds of Deer Creek Dam failing in my lifetime is about zero (though dams elsewhere have failed with horrendous results). But given the choice, I'd rather not have to think about it. That's the human animal for you: existential dread has become our postmodern fear of the dark.
As I said, I'm not emotionally vested in this fight, other than disapproving in general of political/industrial "solutions" at either end of the green spectrum that only survive through massive government subsidies. A government subsidy won't change the laws of physics or economics.
So the following prediction is made in the abstract: environmentalists who seize this opportunity vilify nuclear do so at their own peril. They will be admitting that the whole carbon emissions business is not that important, not apocalyptic, and the least frightening of their fears.
Nuclear paranoia will drag down all the overpriced and heavily subsidized "green" solutions with it. When Germany steps back from nuclear, count on it sneaking Eastern European coal and Russian gas through the back door. Ah, I love the smell of green hypocrisy in the morning.
A case in point is a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah. Emery County is already home to five coal-fired plants. It's where most of the electrical power in the state comes from. How badly to environmentalists want to replace them? Not that badly.
For me, at the northern end of Utah County, Green River (also known as "the middle of nowhere") is well out of my existential dread zone. So I sincerely don't care. But then I also don't lose one wink of sleep worrying about atmospheric carbon dioxide or "climate change" either.
You know people are serious about solving a problem when the solution switches from pie-in-the-sky hypotheticals (if Uncle Sam would only give them a big enough chunk of money or twist enough arms) to what's actually sitting on the table in front of them.
This is another example of how much environmentalists and religious dispensationalists have in common. However firm their belief in the cataclysmic end of the world, very few (thankfully) act on those beliefs, other than to fervently proclaim them. Because by faith are we saved.
Apocalypse not now
Not an apocalyptic thriller