Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Dignity of a Woman

A Clarifying Insight from The Dignity of a Woman (女性の品格) by Mariko Bando, translated by James Vardeman

The book itself is moderately interesting, though the original is clearly targeted at women and the translation is clearly targeted at Japanese people who are studying English at a high level. In spite of the targeting and a bit of redundancy, the book struck me as mostly quite reasonable, though not startling. It mostly confirmed my understanding of a lot of things about Japan, but I couldn't really get the full meaning from it, especially in the sections that were discussing the nuances of appropriate Japanese expressions. Not just the use of Romaji, but also that the translator mostly left the examples of undesirable usages untranslated, though the examples of good use were generally translated.

However, the thing that struck me about the book enough to motivate this comment was something I realized near the end of the book. Not quite sure what triggered the crystallization of the obvious insight, but this is a topic that has been bothering me and nagging at me for quite a while. As I've aged, I've become increasingly appreciative of the advantages of marriage, and even thought that a so-called 'good wife' might well have influenced my own career in a positive direction.

What I finally realized in a clear way is that "Two against one isn't fair." Not exactly a big insight, but it suddenly explained a lot of the conservatism of companies, especially established companies. Within such a company there is a constant competition for promotion, and other things being equal, the family teams are going to win out. Not just any family team, but especially the teams in which one partner is completely dedicated to the success of the other partner. So for which teams is this recipe for success most likely to work? Obviously in most cases it is a certain category of conservative team in which the wife essentially sacrifices her own life towards the success of her husband.

The obvious long-term result is that each company tends to be 'captured' by that kind of man who is helped upwards by his wife. With this very conservative mindset in place at the top, the entire company naturally becomes more and more conservative over time. The only thing that really upsets the apple cart is when the company is so calcified and stiff that it collapses and dies.

That is bad enough in itself and explains why change is so difficult within most companies. However, it also augers badly for the future, since the Supreme Court recently increased the 'personhood' status of corporations. No matter what SCOTUS says, corporations are NOT people, but now the actual people who actually control those corporations, people who are mostly very conservative, will have much more freedom in using the corporations' money to support their own highly conservative views. It seems inevitable that the entire American society will soon be calcified to death--though I've already long suspected it was too late to worry much about it...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Seven Million Years

Obviously the rationale of this blog has effectively mutated to reflect the post-Dubya reality. Who cares what Dubya does or does not read these days? Not much, I'm sure. However, I suppose it's worth the observation that Dubya must reject such a book as this, which already starts by assuming the jury has come in on evolution, and evolution works, even for us. So now:

Reactions to and a Quickie Assessment of Seven Million Years: The Story of Human Evolution by Douglas Palmer

It was my reaction to page 119 that encouraged me to write about this book. That's where he rather crudely touched on the nature versus nurture debate. His presentation was muddled, but it seems he's mostly trying to come down on the side of nature without sufficient understanding of what it means to be a Turing Machine. Of course we are constrained by our physical reality, and that may even include certain predispositions in the genetically-driven neural wiring, but one of the essential things about Turing Machines is that they are in a sense 'universal'. We may not run certain programs as effectively as other programs, but I think we have almost complete freedom as to the 'mental programs' we choose to run. It's not that we are unconstrained, but even then we have the freedom to fight against every form of constraint.

In the concrete context of the book at that point, it got me to thinking about the crucial importance of clothing. He very much downplays the topic, with a single reference in the index and at least two overlooked and unindexed references in the text (since I had become sensitized to the word), but my realization at that point was that the simple act of adding or removing a garment would vastly increase the effective range of humans in comparison with any other animals--and do it at a speed that evolution can't possibly match. It takes some large number of generations to adjust the skin's coloration or the amount of hair, but a simple cape can achieve better effects at a speed that can match today's weather.

Ergo, I was already predisposed to regard the book as a rather superficial introduction to the topic. The bulk of the book was just a kind of trivial low-level biography of anthropologists--a list of who found what, when, and some mentions of who disagreed with which categorizations. Then the author seriously annoyed me during his superficial presentation of genetic analysis, which was treated as a rather minor topic late in the book--but polluted by the use of presidential politics in a distinctly inappropriate context.

Overall, a kind of trivial book. I don't like to say a nonfiction book was a waste of my time, but that's mostly how I wound up feeling about this book. I can't recommend it, even after struggling to think of an appropriate scenario...