Chinese media pooh-pooh shoppers’ embrace of Japanese toilet seats

Via the L.A. Times:

For hundreds of thousands of Chinese travelers visiting Japan during the Chinese New Year holiday, the top item on their souvenir lists was headed straight for their bottoms.

Chinese tourists flooded Japan last week, spending an estimated $959 million in Japan’s shopping malls and department stores, according to Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times. While many splurged on luxury goods, the hot item this season was Japanese toilet seats.

The electric seats, known for being dizzyingly complicated, feature add-ons such as automatic disinfection, bidet services, warmers, perfumes and “masking noises” that can cover up any indiscreet sounds while one is using the loo. Some Chinese buyers didn’t even ask the price for the toilet seats when purchasing them, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. They sell for $300 and up.

On his social media account, Chinese finance writer Wu Xiaobo recently penned a post titled, “Go to Japan to buy a Toilet Seat,” in which he praised the accessories, calling them easy to install.

While the interest of Chinese consumers was a boon for Japanese businesses, the state-run Chinese media was a bit disturbed by the phenomenon.

The Global Times even found it necessary to pen an editorial on the trend, chiding Chinese buyers.

“That Chinese tourists swamp Japanese stores at a time when [China] is facing a sluggish domestic demand is certainly not something to be proud of,” the paper opined. China’s economic growth rate has been slowing, though it still far outpaces Japan’s.

Thought question for the class: Are these Japanese purchases by Chinese tourists helping to flush the Chinese domestic economy down the proverbial toilet? If those seats would just come with a built in cell phone charger they would make a bigger splash in the USA.

The Decline of the Culture: Whitney Houston vs. Taylor Swift

What does it say about our society that Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” last month hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary (AC) charts? “Shake It Off” has become ubiquitous; during our gym workouts, we’ve been involuntarily exposed to it more times than we care to remember. Initially, we dismissed the piece as the sort of dreck that only teenage girls would listen to. But here’s the thing; the target audience for AC is ages 25-44. Are adults over 25 really consuming pap like “Shake It Off”?

Blogger “Agnostic” argues that the success of “Shake It Off” says a lot about the trajectory of our society. In particular, he thinks it tells us that the Millennial generation is immature and socially inept. “Shake It Off”, says Agnostic, is

basically an anthem for bratty Millennials who don’t want to ever change themselves in the slightest to fit in better with their social environment — to have to adapt.

Anyone who doesn’t like you 100% the way you are, and tries to re-shape you so that your behavior will be more pleasing to others, is just a hater. Glib dismissal is the Millennials’ ideal response to haters, so that they never take any criticism to heart, however small and however accurate. No adaptation, no growth. Perpetual toddlers.

Childish emoting can also be heard in the AC #1’s “Roar,” “Stay with Me,” “Home,” etc etc etc.

When did the adult charts become so kiddie?

As Agnostic points out, it wasn’t always like this. Going back 30 years to 1985,

none of the adult contemporary #1’s sounds kiddie or even adolescent. “Careless Whisper,” “Smooth Operator,” “Everytime You Go Away,” and “Saving All My Love for You” all come from a mature stage of social development, with all its trials and complications. Even the upbeat dance hits are made for grown-ups — “Rhythm of the Night” and “Axel F”. There’s also the soft rock ballad “Inspiration” by Chicago, which however super-cheesey and grating it is, nevertheless is made by and for adults.

Below we have embedded the aforementioned “Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston. We’re not a fan of this music, but no one can deny that, as Agnostic says, the music is “by and for adults.” And apart from the lyrics, consider the video. Whitney Houston’s video is stylish and classy, while Taylor Swift’s is garish and vulgar. Houston in her video looks like a fully grown-up adult, while Swift looks highschoolish; at one point she is even shown wearing a cheerleader’s outfit. The stark contrast in maturity is apparent despite the fact that, at the time their songs were released, Swift was actually older (24) than was Houston (22).

For purpose of comparison, we have also embedded the Swift piece. If youtube’s counter is to be believed, the video has garnered more than 616 million views.

For this phenomenon, Agnostic blames helicopter parenting.

The main factor here seems to be the level of cocooning or connection that the generations enjoyed while growing up. Social connection causes personal change, in a pro-social direction, i.e. growth or maturity. Folks who grew up entirely within the outgoing / rising-crime period of roughly 1960 to 1990 are the most comfortable with adult life. That would be the late Boomers and the earliest X-ers….

By the time you get to those born around 1990, they only grew up during the cocooning / helicopter parenting period, and have hardly matured at all, not even to the adolescent stage of wanting social connections, being willing to engage in the give-and-take, and honing their people-reading abilities. Again, you can hardly expect a different outcome from people who were socially deprived for their entire formative years.

An interesting theory. But at this point, we’re just hoping civilization holds up long enough for us to have a comfortable retirement.

As a palate cleanser, the third video below presents some real music: Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra playing Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez.

And one final point. Of the three pieces below, the one that is the least sexy, despite all the butt-shaking, is Swift’s.

 

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The Rule of Law: No Ifs, Ands, or Buts

but

No public official or constitutional officer serving in any capacity, whether elected or appointed, should ever even think about following up “a nation of laws” with “but.” That “but” does not reflect the proper degree of fidelity to republican virtue and the Rule of Law that we should expect from our public officials. At least if we intend to preserve our rights and our free republic.

 

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Alaska becomes third state to legalize recreational marijuana

The law comes into effect today:

JUNEAU, Alaska –  Alaska on Tuesday became the third U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but organizers don’t expect any public celebrations since it remains illegal to smoke marijuana in public.

In the state’s largest city, Anchorage police officers are ready to start handing out $100 fines to make sure taking a toke remains something to be done behind closed doors.

Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of a coalition including libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution.

Congratulations to all Alaskans on a victory for common sense as well as freedom.

Averting the Disability-Insurance Meltdown

Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute has a good recent piece in the Wall Street Journal on America’s fast growing disability epidemic:

Americans today are about as likely as those in the past to report that they have a work-limiting disability, according to Census Bureau data. For instance, 5.6% of Americans ages 35-44 reported having a work-limiting disability in 1984, while in 2014 that figure was 5.4%. Likewise, self-reported measures of overall health have improved and workplace injuries have fallen.

Yet the percentage of the working-age population collecting disability insurance benefits has more than doubled to 5.7% in 2014 from 2.7% in 1984. These increases were not anticipated: In 1984 Social Security’s trustees projected only 4% of working-age adults would collect disability in 2015.

Demographic factors have played a major role. Older workers are more likely to become disabled, and as more women entered the labor force in the 1970s and 1980s, they began receiving benefits alongside men.

But there is more than demography at work. Congress loosened eligibility standards in 1984, allowing multiple non-disabling ailments to be combined to qualify for disability benefits. The legislature also ordered the Social Security Administration to favor evidence provided by an applicant’s medical representatives over the judgments of SSA medical professionals.

Once Congress opened the door, incentives pushed many individuals through it. For less-educated workers, the typical annual disability package of almost $15,000 in cash payments and another $9,000 in Medicare benefits—coupled with the ability to earn more than $13,000 from work without losing benefits—can be attractive. High-school dropouts are one-half to two-thirds more likely to apply for disability than college graduates, regardless of health status, according to a January study published by economist Courtney Coile of Wellesley College.

There’s something particularly despicable about gaming the nation’s disability system, but an untold number of people are doing just that. Disability insurance—DI—is part of the Social Security program and it used to be small and inexpensive. But now it is large, prohibitively expensive and going broke. Disability has, in fact, become the default welfare program for many able bodied people.  The gaming of the system has become more common in recent years but has apparently been around in some degree for a long time as witnessed by this old joke:

An old Irishman walks into a bar, hauls his bad leg over the stool, and asks for a whiskey. “Hey,” he says, looking down the bar, “is that Jesus down there?” The bartender nods, so the Irishman orders Jesus one too.

An ailing Italian with a humpback walks in, shuffles up to the bar, and asks for a glass of Chianti. Noticing Jesus, the Italian orders Him a glass of Chianti too.

A redneck swaggers in and hollers, “Barkeep, set me up a cold one! Hey—is that God’s Boy down there?” The bartender nods, so the redneck orders Him a bottle of beer.

As Jesus gets up to leave, He touches the Irishman and says, “For your kindness, you are healed!” The Irishman jumps up and dances a jig.

Then Jesus touches the Italian and says, “For your kindness, you are healed!” The Italian’s humpback straightens, and he does a flip.

Just then the redneck yells, “Don’t touch me, Lord! I’m on full disability!”

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Notable and Quotable

“Dirty Jobs” Mike Rowe on the minimum wage:

From the business owners I’ve talked to, it seems clear that companies are responding to rising labor costs by embracing automation faster than ever. That’s eliminating thousands of low-paying, unskilled, entry level positions. What will that mean for those people trying to get started in the workforce? My job as an usher was the first rung on a long ladder of work that lead me to where I am today. But what if that rung wasn’t there? If the minimum wage in 1979 had been suddenly raised from $2.90 to $10 an hour, thousands of people would have applied for the same job. What chance would I have had, being seventeen years old with pimples and a big adams apple?

Mike Rowe.

Mike Rowe.

A World Without Marriage?

While journalists continue to focus on distractions like football inflation, Kim’s butt, and asking politicians to express their views on irrelevant issues like evolution, portentous and unprecedented changes are happening to human society all over the world. In particular, marriage and family formation are in dramatic retreat. The facts of the matter are remarkable, as shown by Nicholas Eberstadt’s recent essay in the Wall Street Journal. (Incidentially, we hosted a visit to UD by Eberstadt back in 2013.)

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium…the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds. [Emphasis added.]

[…]

Lest one suspect that there is something about this phenomenon that is culturally specific to Western countries, we have Japan, whose fabled “Asian family values” are now largely a thing of the past. Contemporary Japanese women have lifestyle options that were unthinkable for their grandmothers, including divorce, separation, cohabitation and remaining single. Japanese women are availing themselves of these new choices. Given recent trajectories, demographers Miho Iwasawa and Ryuichi Kaneko project that a Japanese woman born in 1990 stands less than even odds of getting married and staying married to age 50.

We always thought that the necessary preconditions for declining marriage and birth rates were female education, careerism, and economic development. But Eberstadt indicates that, surprisingly, marriage and birth rates are in retreat even in the Arab world, where society is more traditional, and where levels of income and of female education are only a fraction of those in the West.

According to the U.N. Population Division’s “World Marriage Data 2012,” the proportion of never-married women in their late 30s was higher in Morocco in 2004 than in the U.S. in 2009 (18% vs. 16%). By the same token, the percentage of single women in their early 40s was higher in Lebanon in 2007 than in Italy in 2010 (22% vs. 18%). And nearly 32% of Libyan women in their late 30s were unmarried in 2006—20 times the percentage barely two decades earlier, even higher than for Denmark in 2011 (29%).

The family has always been the backbone of civilization, and it’s doubtful that an atomized and socially isolated world of singles can manage to create social capital and to provide proper care for its most vulnerable persons–the very young and the very old.

The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young.

[…]

In the decades ahead, ever more care and support for seniors will be required, especially for the growing contingent among the elderly who will be victims of dementia, or are childless and socially isolated. Remember, a longevity revolution is also under way. Yet by some cruel cosmic irony, family structures and family members will be less capable, and perhaps also less willing, to provide that care and support than ever before.

Back in the 1960s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the alarm when the illegitimacy rate reached 26% among American blacks. That rate for blacks is now over 70%, and over 40% for Americans overall. Nearly half of American teenagers do not live with married biological parents. Yet instead of sounding the alarm by calling attention to the issue, the media and academia and the rest of the chattering class offer only a perpetual series of bread-and-circuses sideshows. We’re sleepwalking into a brave new world, indeed.

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Then They Came for the Yoga Instructors

Tony’s post below about occupational licensing reminded us of this recent story from Colorado, where state officials are currently pursuing a crackdown on…wait for it…unlicensed yoga instructors.

[T]he Division of Private Occupational Schools mailed out 82 letters, asking program operators to provide a brief summary of their operation, a copy of a school catalog and brochure and their recruiting materials.

Annie Prasad Freedom, founder of the Samadhi Center for Yoga in Denver, feels state officials are using “scare tactics” with yoga studios. Teacher-training programs that are required to be certified must pay fees to the state. The state charges $1,750 for an initial provisional certificate that is good for up to two years, then $1,500 for a renewable certificate good for three years. It also charges $175 for every “agent” authorized to enter into a contract with a student, plus $3.75 per student per quarter. In addition, schools that have been certified must secure a minimum bond of $5,000, which is based on the amount of tuition collected.

Among those who received a letter was Annie Prasad Freedom, owner of Samadhi Center for Yoga in Denver.

[…]

“I think it’s a joke,” Freedom said. “How in the world can you have people manage yoga who don’t know anything about it? It seems to me like the government is just trying to squeeze money out of us.”

That would be one motive. Another would be that the head of the regulatory agency, Lorna Candler, has a blatant conflict of interest.

[T]he chief regulator at the state’s Division of Private Occupational Schools is a part-time instructor for a chain of yoga studios at the time she is advocating for more regulation of yoga teacher-training studios that are essentially the chain’s competitors.

[…]

[D]ivision director Lorna Candler nonetheless has been publicly justifying an aggressive attempt by her agency to crack down on 82 yoga studios that are not state certified.

The Colorado Department of Higher Education said in a statement to The Denver Post that Candler “handed the day-to-day oversight of the issue to her deputy” in order “to avoid any perception of a conflict.”

Really? When did that handoff occur? Apparently not before she talked to journalists in recent weeks, defending her agency’s move against the other studios without disclosing her own, um, expertise in the area.

Yeah, delegating the crackdown to her deputy leaves not even the slightest hint of a conflict of interest. And by the same reasoning, Stalin’s show trials were the sole responsibility of Andrei Vishinsky. Got it.

But aside from the conflict of interest, why should yoga instructors ever have to be licensed? We’re having a hard time imagining how unlicensed yoga instructors might pose a danger to the public. Yoga’s not brain surgery. Heck, it’s not even real.

Yoga instructor Nancy Levinson, with Namaste Works Yoga and Wellness center, said the fee structure hurts small yoga teacher-training operators and certification isn’t needed.

“The department is suggesting its intent is to protect consumers, but there haven’t been complaints,” Levinson said. “The state is trying to create a solution where there is not a problem.”

This is only surprising if you believe that government is about solving problems.

Milking the Taxpayers

From the Economist:

THE father of Major Major, a character in Catch 22, a novel by Joseph Heller, makes a good living not growing alfalfa. “The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce.” Each day, Mr Major “sprang out of bed at the crack of noon… just to make certain that the chores would not be done.”

To this day, to be treated as a farmer in America doesn’t necessarily require you to grow any crops. According to the Government Accountability Office, between 2007 and 2011 Uncle Sam paid some $3m in subsidies to 2,300 farms where no crop of any sort was grown. Between 2008 and 2012, $10.6m was paid to farmers who had been dead for over a year. Such payments explain why Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, is promoting a rule to attempt to crack down on payments to non-farming folk. But with crop prices now falling, taxpayers are braced to be fleeced again.

American farm subsidies are egregiously expensive, harvesting $20 billion a year from taxpayers’ pockets. Most of the money goes to big, rich farmers producing staple commodities such as corn and soyabeans in states such as Iowa.

Few politicians are inclined to vote against farm subsidies: though farmers make up only a small number of voters, even in agricultural states, they are loud and organized enough to punish lawmakers who vote against a farm bill. Opposition to spending is muted; few voters realize how much of their money is given to farmers and even fewer would change their vote because of it.

The article smartly incorporates a passage from a book that could easily be included as one of the required texts for our class.  We would be hard pressed to suggest something better as a layman’s introduction to Public Choice. As for the issue of farm subsidies: it is well known that many farms are owned by large agribusinesses, as well as by doctors, lawyers, and rock and roll stars as a tax write off.

Officials in Missouri are suing their own residents

From the Free Thought Project:

St. Charles County, MO — St. Peters, O’Fallon, Lake St. Louis, and a councilman from O’Fallon have filed a lawsuit against their OWN CITIZENS.

In November of last year, the citizens of St. Charles County democratically expressed their anger with the use of red light cameras in their town. Seventy-three percent of those who went to the polls approved a measure to ban red light cameras.

However, the fat cat bureaucrats, apparently afraid of losing the money generated from the rights-violating red light cameras, don’t like that vote. They are now taking action to punish the citizens for trying to undermine their perceived authority.

“Seventy-three percent of the voters pass a ban on red light cameras so what these cities are doing are suing 73 percent of the voters in St. Charles County, within their own cities. They’re suing their own residents,” said St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil.

In true Orwellian fashion, the cities are claiming that the measure, which was passed by voters, is unconstitutional.

The attorney representing the cities in the lawsuit said the county’s legal authority is cut and dry.

This reminds us of an old joke:

Q: How many lawyer jokes are there?

A: Only three.  The rest are true stories.