Tuesday, December 1, 2015

S-curve to the Meadowlands


The Wind Rises: Marriage in the Shadow of the State


The marriage between Naoko Satomi and Jiro Horikoshi is notable on several counts. In the first place, marriage is a major life event and a large number of stories are oriented around it. A romance may or may not actually depict a wedding at the end, but when it isn’t depicted, it is implied. This particular wedding doesn’t happen at the very end of the film, but it is quite near the end.

Secondly, I don’t know quite how to read it. That puzzle has two aspects. While I am generally familiar with Western marriage ceremonies and their depiction in film, I’m not very familiar with Japanese customs, though I know something. In consequence, I have little sense of how a Japanese audience would read the ceremony Miyazaki depicts. Would members of a Japanese audience see that ceremony as somehow unusual or exceptional or is it well within standard (movie) practice?

Beyond the ceremony itself, we have the way in which the marriage was contracted [1]:
Until the 1940s, almost 70 percent of all marriages were arranged (お見合い omiai). The modern system of marriage has adjusted to pressure from the Western custom of love marriages (恋愛結婚 ren’ai kekkon), which surpassed arranged marriages in number in the mid-1960s. The acceptance of the love-match meant that households, and in particular the parents of a young couple, did not have the final say in the marriage anymore.
Their marriage is not arranged, but Naoko’s father is fully aware of developments in their relationship and Horikoshi initially broached the issue of marriage with him, not Naoko, though she was within earshot (when they were in the dining room at the mountain retreat). We know nothing of her mother nor of his parents. In a sense, though, the Kurokawa’s are ‘standing in’ for his parents, as he was living with them at the time.

Why was he living with them? Because he was hiding from the Japanese secret police. Why was he hiding from the secret police? Because he had been seen consorting with an anti-Nazi German. When and where had he been doing that? When he was at that same mountain retreat where he met and courted Naoko. And that German even played a minor facilitating role in their relationship.

Do you see what’s going on here? If so, please tell me. It’s complicated, no?

Moreover their relationship follows a convention common in anime and manga. This convention is that of two lovers meeting prior to full adulthood – often in connection with marital arrangements made on their behalf by their parents, becoming separated until they reach adulthood, and then meeting again. At this time they may or may not recognize their childhood connection but in any event they fall in love and, in course, become married. That’s not a Western romantic trope and so I don’t how to read it. More to the point, I don’t know how Miyazaki’s Japanese audience would read it.

I do sense, though, that while arranged marriage is no longer the norm in Japan, it is still practiced in Japan and the transition to love marriages (恋愛結婚 ren’ai kekkon) is recent enough that the nature of the relationship between Naoko and Jiro would register with a Japanese audience in a way that it doesn’t with a Western audience. In this respect Miyazaki is making a statement about their relationship that resonates more deeply in Japan than it does in the West.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Twisted and colorful, with a hint of monster

20151128-P1110752 eq

John Collins to judge 6TH annual 3QD philosophy prize

We are very honored and pleased to announce that John Collins has agreed to be the final judge for our 6th annual prize for the best blog and online-only writing in the category of philosophy. Details of the previous five philosophy (and other) prizes can be seen on our prize page.

Collins_JohnJohn Collins has a B.A. Hons. in Pure Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of Sydney (1982) and a Ph.D. from Princeton University (1991) under the supervision of David Lewis. He is an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University and an editor of The Journal of Philosophy. He works in decision theory, epistemology, and metaphysics. With Laurie Paul and Ned Hall, Collins co-edited Causation and Counterfactuals (MIT Press 2004). His most recent publications are ''Decision Theory After Lewis” in Schaffer and Loewer (eds) Blackwell Companion to David Lewis (2015), ''Neophobia'' in Res Philosophica (2015) and a review of Lara Buchak's Risk and Rationality for the Australasian Journal of Philosophy (2015). Collins is currently at work on a pair of papers on (so-called) Causal Decision Theory: ''What is the Significance of Newcomb's Problem?'' and ''Causal Decision Theory and Quasi-Transitivity.

As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Dr. Collins.

The first place award, called the "Top Quark," will include a cash prize of 500 dollars; the second place prize, the "Strange Quark," will include a cash prize of 200 dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the "Charm Quark," along with a 100 dollar prize.

The schedule and rules:

November 30, 2015:

  • The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.
  • Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
  • Each person can only nominate one blog post.
  • Entries must be in English.
  • The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
  • The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been first published on or after November 30, 2014.
  • You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
  • Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
  • Nominations are limited to the first 100 entries.
  • Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.

December 9, 2015

  • The public voting will be opened.

December 14, 2015

  • Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).

December 15, 2015

  • The semifinalists are announced

December 16, 2015

  • The finalists are announced

December 28, 2015

  • The winners are announced.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

From Yesterday's Shoot




Form is Hard to See, Even in Sentences*

Though, unfortunately, it is easy to blather about. And that’s what literary critics mostly do, talk around it, but never actually examine it.

To some extent I think that the interpretive mindset renders formal features invisible. It’s a professional blindness. But even without that mindset firmly bolted on, we need help in seeing formal features. It’s not enough to have an inquiring mind and a pure heart. Not only do you have to forget about interpreting the text, you’ve got to objectify the text. That requires an intellectual action of some kind.

I figure I got two things from Lévi-Strauss [2]: 1) permission to objectify the text, and 2) some tools to achieve it. That first is where critics balked. As for the second, I’m thinking of feature tables, quasi-formal equations and diagrams, and the search for binary opposition. The last is the only thing that stuck in literary criticism, but objectification gives it a different valence.

A few years ago Mark Liberman made some remarks on linguistic form that are germane [1]. Liberman isn’t a literary critic; he’s a linguist. He’s interested, not in the form of literary text, but in the form of sentences, and in the difficulty that students have in learning to analyze it.
I've noticed over the years that a surprisingly large fraction of smart undergraduate students have a surprising amount of trouble with what seems to me like a spectacularly simple-minded idea: the simple parallelism between form and meaning that linguists generally call "recursive compositionality", and compiler writers call "syntax-directed translation".

A trivial example of this would be the relation between form and meaning in arithmetic expressions: thus in evaluating (3+2)*5, you first add 3 and 2, and then multiply the result by 5; whereas in evaluating 3+(2*5), you first multiple 2 and 5, and then add 3 to the result. Similarly, in evaluating English complex nominals, the phrase stone traffic barrier normally means a traffic barrier made out of stone, not a barrier for stone traffic, and thus its meaning implies the structure (stone (traffic barrier)). A plausible way to think about this is that you first create the phrase traffic barrier, and the associated concept, and then combine that — structurally and semantically — with stone. In contrast, the phrase steel bar prices would most plausibly refer to the prices of steel bars, and thus implies the structure ((steel bar) prices).

There are many formalisms for representing and relating linguistic form and meaning, but all of them involve some variant of this principle. It seems to me that understanding this simple idea is a necessary pre-condition for being able to do any sort of linguistic analysis above the level of morphemes and words. But when I first started teaching undergraduate linguistics, I learned that just explaining the idea in a lecture is not nearly enough. Without practice and feedback, a third to a half of the class will miss a generously-graded exam question requiring them to use parentheses, brackets, or trees to indicate the structure of a simple phrase like "State Department Public Relations Director".

In fact, even a homework assignment with feedback is not always enough, even with a warning that the next exam will include such a question. For some reason that I don't understand, this simple analytic idea is surprisingly hard for some people to grasp.
So, “State Department Public Relations Director”: ((State Department) ((Public Relations) Director)). Or:

state department pr director

I'd say that anyone with a serious interest in describing the structure of literary texts, or movies for that matter, has to be thoroughly familiar with this notion. And, Liberman is correct, it's not enough simply to see the concept explained and demonstrated. You have to work through examples yourself.

[1] Mark Liberman. Two Brews. Language Log. Accessed Nov. 29, 2015. URL: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2100

[2] William Benzon. Beyond Lévi-Strauss on Myth: Objectification, Computation, and Cognition. Working Paper. February 2015. 30 pp. URL: https://www.academia.edu/10541585/Beyond_Lévi-Strauss_on_Myth_Objectification_Computation_and_Cognition

*But really, that’s no excuse.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Fotos: Upon Reflection


Reflections Reflect


eye of the hurricane.jpg

oriental echoes.jpg

How Caproni is Staged in The Wind Rises

After my first time through The Wind Rises I had the impression that it alternated between dream sequences and live-action sequences. After all, it opens with a dream sequence [1], which is followed soon after by another, this time one featuring Gianni Caproni. We then get two more Caproni sequences and then one at the end. So that’s five dream sequences, no?

No. One of the Caproni sequences isn’t a dream sequence and of the other three, yes, we can call two of them dream sequences, but they differ from one another in significant ways. As for the last one, the one that ends the film, it’s not clear what it is. Though much of it takes place in the same green meadow as the two dream sequences, Miyazaki doesn’t mark it as a dream sequence. He doesn’t mark it at all. He just cuts to it.

First Caproni dream: Aeronautical Engineer

The first Caproni dream sequence, which is the second dream sequence in the film, begins with Horikoshi on the roof of his house looking up at the sky. He’s joined by his sister, who wonders why he isn’t wearing glasses. He says he’s heard that you can cure your vision by staring intently at the stars.


As they’re looking at what’s clearly a nighttime sky we see this, airplanes flying the colors of Italy in broad daylight:


And then we have one of the loveliest images in the film; that previous sky projected on Horikoshi’s face.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

What a strange Thanksgiving...

...a post about torture and another about geisha.

Oh well, that's not all I've been up to. I've been working on another post about The Wind Rises and I've been out taking photos. Now I'm going to go to the Malibu Diner and have a Thanksgiving meal, of some kind. Maybe it will be turkey, maybe not. (I've already eaten quite a bit of turkey this week.)

* * * * *

Alas, the Malibu is closed. So I'm left to my own devices. Which, of course, is OK.


Long ago I learned that Geisha are not prostitutes. That men would pay good sums of money for the company of women who are not prostitutes, that does not compute. Though thinking about this and that, it's not so strange. Anyhow, here's a video about geisha from the Japanology series:

Administering torture to others does "moral injury" to the torturer

From the concluding paragraphs of Shane O'Mara, The interrogator's soul, Aeon:
And significantly, the most empathic interrogators are also the most vulnerable to terrible psychic damage after the fact. In his book Pay Any Price (2014), The New York Times Magazine correspondent James Risen describes torturers as ‘shell-shocked, dehumanised. They are covered in shame and guilt… They are suffering moral injury’.
A natural question is why this moral and psychic injury arises in soldiers who, after all, have the job of killing others. One response might be that the training, ethos and honour code of the solider is to kill those who might kill him. By contrast, a deliberate assault upon the defenceless (as occurs during torture) violates everything that a soldier is ordinarily called upon to do. Egregious violations of such rules and expectations give rise to expressions of disgust, perhaps in this case, principally directed at the self.
This might explain why, when torture is institutionalised, it becomes the possession of a self-regarding, self-supporting, self-perpetuating and self-selecting group, housed in secret ministries and secret police forces. Under these conditions, social supports and rewards are available to buffer the extremes of behaviour that emerge, and the acts are perpetrated away from public view. When torture happens in a democracy, there is no secret society of fellow torturers from whom to draw succor, social support, and reward. Engaging in physical and emotional assaults upon the defenceless and eliciting worthless confessions and dubious intelligence is a degrading, humiliating, and pointless experience. The units of psychological distance here can be measured down the chain of command, from the decision to torture being a ‘no-brainer’ for those at the apex to ‘losing your soul’ for those on the ground.
Compare this with these remarks on the difficulties mass killers face when confronting victims who never did them any harm and are not violent toward them:
Any kind of violent confrontation is emotionally difficult; the situation of facing another person whom one wants to harm produces confrontational tension/fear (ct/f); and its effect most of the time is to make violence abort, or to become inaccurate and ineffective. The usual micro-sociological patterns that allow violence to succeed are not present in a rampage killing; group support does not exist, because one or two killers confront a much larger crowd: in contrast, most violence in riots takes place in little clumps where the attackers have an advantage of around 6-to-1.
That's by sociologist Randall Collins, whom I'm quoting in a post, Rampage Killers, Suicide Bombers, and the Difficulty of Killing People Face-to-Face.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

High Castle and Inner Truth

With The Man in the High Castle streaming on Amazon Prime I figure it’s time to repost another piece from The Valve. This one appeared on March 6, 2008, and generated an interesting discussion. I recommend it to you.
I've just finished reading Philip K. Dick's 1962 The Man in the High Castle and find it pretty interesting – and sophisticated as well. It seems to be a meditation on the nature of history and of fiction, but without the self-conscious hijinks one finds in, say, John Barth. As you may know, it's set in an alternative history of the mid-20th century in which Germany and Japan win World War II. The eastern seaboard of the USA becomes German territory while the western seaboard becomes Japanese territory. The central area remains more-or-less independent.

One Hawthorne Abendsen lives in that central area, near Cheyenne. He's the man in the high castle, though he does not, in fact, live in a high castle. Nor is he a central character in the novel, though he's quite important. He's written a novel entitled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy that is quite popular in what remains of the USA, but is banned from the German and Japanese sections. Why? Because it is an alternative history in which the Germans and Japanese have lost the war, that's why. We see this history only in little bits here and there, as characters in the book either read or discuss Grasshopper. Those fragments are enough, however, to tell us that that history is not of our world, the history known to Dick's readers. Rather, it is a second alternative alternative history.

Grasshopper is not the only book within the book. We also have the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text often used for divination. One character in each of the books loosely linked plots consults the I Ching regularly. Beyond that, Abendsen, whom we meet at the very end of the book, made constant use of the I Ching in plotting Grasshopper. According to the Wikipedia article, Dick himself used the I Ching while plotting The Man in the High Castle.

* * * * *

Most of the story takes place in San Francisco. Much of the action centers on Nobusuke Tagomi, a Japanese trade representative. He's the focal point of an attempt by a Nazi faction to contact the Japanese government about a secret Nazi plan, Operation Dandelion, that involves the nuclear destruction of the Japanese homeland. Tagomi consults the I Ching and is in the process of reading Grasshopper.

Two Friends: Wordsworth and Coleridge

Vivian Gornick reviews three books about friendship among poets. These opening paragraphs are about friendship in general:
In the centuries when most marriages were contracted out of economic and social considerations, friendship was written about with the kind of emotional extravagance that we, in our own time, have reserved for an ideal of romantic attachment. Montaigne, for instance, writing in the sixteenth century of his long dead, still mourned-for friend, Étienne de La Boétie, tells us that they were "one soul in two bodies." There was nothing his friend did, Montaigne says, not an act performed or a word spoken, for which "I could not immediately find the motive." Between the two young men communion had achieved perfection. This shared soul "pulled together in such unison," each half regarding the other with "such ardent affection" that "in this noble relationship, services and benefits, on which other friendships feed," were not taken into account. So great was the emotional benefit derived from the attachment that favors could neither be granted nor received. Privilege, for each of the friends, resided in being allowed to love, rather than in being loved.

This is language that Montaigne does not apply to his feeling for his wife or his children, his colleagues or his patrons—all relationships that he considers inferior to a friendship that develops not out of sensual need or worldly obligation, but out of the joy one experiences when the spirit is fed; for only then is one closer to God than to the beasts. The essence of true friendship for Montaigne is that in its presence "the soul grows refined."
One book under review is about Coleridge and Wordsworth. Here's a bit of what she says about them:
In June 1797, some eighteen months after their initial meeting, Coleridge made a day trip to the Wordsworth home in the West Country, and stayed nearly a month. The two men could not get enough of the conversation, and it was, then and there, decided that the Wordsworths—William and his sister Dorothy—would move to the district in which Coleridge was living.

There were crucial differences between them that, from the start, were self-evident. Wordsworth—grave, thin-skinned, self-protective—was, even then, steadied by a remarkable inner conviction of his own coming greatness as a poet. Coleridge—brilliant, explosive, self-doubting to the point of instability—was already into opium. No matter. A new world, a new poetry, a new way of being was forming itself and, at that moment, each, feeling the newness at work in himself, saw proof of its existence reflected in the very being of the other. In that reflection, each saw his own best self confirmed. Having been passionately enamored of the revolution in France and then passionately horrified by its subsequent murderousness, both were now convinced that it was poetry alone—their poetry—that would restore inner liberty to men and women everywhere. When they were together, Milton walked at their side.

In the year and a half that followed, Wordsworth and Coleridge met almost daily, and were frequently together for weeks at a time without parting at all, Coleridge simply never going home. They talked, they read, they walked: nonstop. There developed between them a pattern of shared work in which each wrote under the inspirational excitement of the other's instantaneous feedback. Ideas and images passed back and forth between them so freely that it made them giddy to think that, very nearly, each of their poems was being written together. "This," as Adam Sisman tells us in his extremely serviceable biography, "was their annus mirabilis, when each man's talent would ripen into maturity, and bear marvellous fruit . . . each [writing] some of his finest poetry." Out of this extraordinary amalgam of shared thought and emotion, of course, came the 1798 publication of Lyrical Ballads, the seminal work of English literature's Romantic movement.

Two years later the rapture was spent, and the friendship between Coleridge and Wordsworth was essentially over. Complicated bonds of work and family kept the men orbiting around one another for some years, and every now and then the intimacy seemed to flare up anew, but their time of magical communion was over, never to be recaptured or replaced. Within a decade they had stopped meeting; within another they were not speaking kindly of one another.
She also talks about friendships among John O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler (covered in one book) and about Alan Ginsburg and the beats (the third book). She frames the review with an account of one of her own friendships.



Monday, November 23, 2015

How NOT to run a major software project

The Atlantic has an interesting article about signals and control in NYC's labyrinthine subway system. Well into the article we find these paragraphs about a major software system they commissioned back in the 1990a:
The MTA thought that they could buy a software solution more or less off the shelf, when in fact the city’s vast signaling system demanded careful dissection and reams of custom code. But the two sides didn’t work together. The MTA thought the contractor should have the technical expertise to figure it out on their own. They didn’t. The contractor’s signal engineer gave their software developers a one-size-fits-all description of New York’s interlockings [electromechanical controls at switch points], and the software they wrote on the basis of that description—lacking, as it did, essential details about each interlocking—didn’t work.

Gaffes like this weren’t caught early in part because the MTA “remained unconvinced of the usefulness of what seemed to them an endless review process in the early requirements and design stages. They had the perception that this activity was holding up their job.” They avoided visiting the contractor’s office, which, to make things worse, was overseas. In all, they made one trip. “MTA did not feel it was necessary to closely monitor and audit the contractor’s software-development progress.”

The list goes on: Software prototypes were reviewed exclusively in PowerPoint, leading to interfaces that were hard to use. Instead of bringing on outside experts to oversee construction, the MTA tried to use its own people, who didn’t know how to work with the new equipment. Testing schedules kept falling apart, causing delays. The training documentation provided by the contractor was so vague as to be unusable.

You get the impression that the two groups [the MTA and the software contractor] simply didn’t respect each other. Instead of collaborating, they lobbed work over a wall. The hope on each side, one gathers, was that the other side would figure it out.
Yikes!  How much gray hair was created by this project?