Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry

This entry is part 17 of 19 in the series 2023 Reads

Like all the posts in my 2023 reads list, this comes at a lag, meaning I read this a while back—though in this case, a while back is just last week. 

Richard Lloyd Parry had lived in Japan for a few decades by the time that the tsunami in March 2011 hit the country.

Ghosts of the Tsunami is one of those books you hear about mainly because of what the title literally alludes to: the epidemic of reported ghost sightings following the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan and ultimately led to the Fukushima meltdown. That’s certainly what interested me in the book: the prospect of learning about how mass trauma, grief, and loss could lead to such a psychosocial epidemic is something that I’d like to know more about. 

Reading the text, though, I discovered that this element is only one of several threads running through it. Another of the threads—and, really, the main one—is the question of how negligence at one country school in the affected region ended up with most of its students and teachers drowned, when most other schools in the area suffered no casualties. This is something that took a long time for the book to unpack, not for no good reason: inept and awkward denials and even outright lies were employed in covering up the events that led to those deaths, and it was only the rage of the lost children’s parents—especially those whose children were not found—that led to the truth coming out.

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Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

This entry is part 16 of 19 in the series 2023 Reads

Like all the posts in my 2023 reads list, this comes at a lag, meaning I read this a while back—though in this case, a while back is just last week. 

I used to be a listener of Ezra Klein’s podcast. He often had (and has) interesting guests on… but as a non-American and a progressive, I find him sometimes very frustrating. I won’t get into why I don’t listen to the podcast anymore (though if you know me, you might be able to guess by listening to this episode. 1). 

I mention this to say that when I picked up a copy of Why We’re Polarized at the local library here in Sejong City, I knew what I was in for. 

I think the most important word in the title is Polarized—and Klein’s very focused on a specific meaning of that word. But the meaning is also defined by the hidden freight in that word We’re. Klein writes of debates about whether exposure to counterevidence helps people change their minds, and whether people stick to their ideologies because they’re not exposed to good arguments for the other side. He brings up a study on the subject:

The researchers were testing the collision between two popular models. In one, “a vast literature indicates contact between opposing groups can challenge stereotypes that develop in the absence of positive interactions between them. In the other, exposure to those with opposing political views can “exacerbate political polarization,” as being told you’re wrong by someone you already don’t like triggers annoyance, not reflection.

In this case, the pessimists won the day. The result of the monthlong exposure to popular, authoritative voices from the other side of the aisle was an increase in issue-based polarization. “We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative posttreatment,write the authors. “Democrats exhibited slight increases in liberal attitudes after following a conservative Twitter bot, although these effects are not statistically significant.”

The difference between the Democratic and Republican responses is interesting and merits more study. But the key finding is that neither group responded to exposure to the other side by moderating its own views. In both cases, hearing contrary opinions drove partisans not just to a deeper certainty in the rightness of their cause, but more polarized policy positions-that is to say, Republicans became more conservative rather than more liberal, and Democrats, if anything happened at all, became more liberal rather than more conservative.

In that passage, the emphasis is mine, and for a specific reason: is that the key finding? Continue reading

  1. I cannot take seriously an adult man who venerates “the founders” in such a religious manner; yes, I’m saying I think George Will kind of a clown, intellectually speaking. Intellectualize it as much as he tries, at bottom he argues that limited government means democracy is kinda bad.

The Tulip by Anna Pavord

This entry is part 14 of 19 in the series 2023 Reads

Like all the posts in my 2023 reads list, this comes at a lag, meaning I read this a while back—in this case, last week. 

So, I stumbled onto this book at a used bookstore in Cheongju, and bought it hoping it would discuss the tulipomania—the tulip craze that swept the Netherlands (and other parts of Europe) centuries ago. It does, but… not in the way I expected. There’s a lot of detail in this book, and a great deal of it involves what could fairly be called “inside baseball” information: who cultivated what kinds of tulips and sold them for how much, who painted what kinds of tulips with this or that kind of implied meaning, and so on. 

It’s a bit like a history of beanie babies, if beanie babies had been a craze for over a century in many countries, and if the account discussed stuff like the stitching patterns, famous beanie baby collectors, and the photography of these supposedly-collectible toys. Way more detail than I was ready for, about aspects of the story of the tulip I wasn’t specifically curious about. 

The color art plates are pretty, but I ended up skimming a lot of the book, and finding something to hold my interest only a few times in each chapter. It would be fair to say the book was not really for me… or for many people, I guess, but to the people it is for, I bet it’s like a goldmine of information.