19 June 2005

A ten-year project -- Read Japanese Today index

I finally finished something that's been on my to-do list for almost ten years. Check out the new Japanese-related page. This is a project I conceived of almost ten years ago when I first started studying Japanese -- I love that book, but using it for reference is impossible due to the lack of an index. The idea of doing an index was responsible for me purchasing and learning Macromedia DreamWeaver (I wanted a good environment for editing nihongo no peeji) and various other initiatives, but I never actually got around to making the page.

Now, it's done! For now it's just a static page, but the information is all available in XML, so hopefully soon I'll get around to making the "Kanji reading quiz," "Kanji writing quiz," and "Japanese vocabulary quiz" versions of the page for studying (by leaving out appropriate columns from the display).


07 June 2005

Political Partisanship Past

It's comforting to believe that politics has degraded in our modern era. It's not particularly true, though. Here's an amazing example of ludicrous politics in action. Because of the direction of the ire, it's instructive to those who would like to believe the Bushies are somehow a new factor in American politics.

The situation in November 1950 was that the Truman adminstration, at the urging of General MacArthur, willfully escalated the United Nations "police action" in Korea by crossing the armistice line to invade North Korea. They intended to go up to, but not cross, the Yalu River forming Korea's border with China. During early November, there was significant contact with Red Chinese troops in central Korea. Chinese troops then disappeared for about two weeks. On November 24th, MacArthur announced that the unification of Korea was 'imminent'. On the 25th, 260,000 Chinese troops attacked the 100,000 UN troops in Korea, almost driving them completely out of the country.

Many rational observers had claimed that crossing into North Korea would provoke the Chinese into outright warfare, but Truman and his entire policy team came to consensus that they would not, and that attempting to occupy North Korea was a wise policy. When the counterattack and near disaster that followed came, this was proven to be a ludicrous assumption (the assumption is the case study in 'groupthink').

When this became evident on the 28th, did Truman -- a very smart and generally liberal man -- admit to a misconception? Did he look for better sources of intelligence, or wonder why his advisors hasn't looked into this? Did he god forbid consider that perhaps the policy was ill-advised? No. Instead, he blamed the Republicans:

Well the liars have accomplished their purpose. ... What has appeared in the press, along with the defeat of our leaders in the Senate, has made the world believe that the American people are not behind our foreign policy -- and I don't think the Communists would ever have dared to do this thing in Korea if it hasn't been for that belief. ... And the result is this news we got this morning.1

Sound like any thundering Bushies proclaiming that questioning the war in Iraq is "Un-American" to you? There are lot of other fascinating aspects to that policy error as well -- MacArthur disdaining the capacity of the Chinese army to fight, and the pre-Nixonian belief among all American policymakers that China and Russia formed one inseparable unit rather than two temporarily allied competitors -- chronicled in the book.

1 From an eyewitness account by author John Hersey, as quoted in "groupthink" by Irving L. Janis pg. 65.

Groupthink, Part 1

I've finally gone back to read the sociological classic, "Groupthink", by Irving L. Janis.

This book's title has made it's way into the vernacular as a shorthand for people having a blind conformance to group norms. I always thought the usage was appropriate, so I eventually went back to look at the source. It turns out the popular usage is very much in line with what the original author wrote, almost a surprise in itself.

And, as you would hope in a source work like this, the author goes all analytical on us and gets into specific lists of symptoms of groupthink taking hold among a bunch of people. Here's his list from the first case study of groupthink symptoms. I found this list totally chilling because I witness these symptoms in management thinking at a certain large company where I work.

The illusion of Invulnerability
The illusion of being invulnerable to the main dangers that might arise from a risky action in which the group is strongly tempted to engage
The Illusion of Unanimity [The Illusion of Group Infallibility]
When a group of people who respect each other's opinions arrive at a unanimous view, each member is likely to believe that the belief must be true.
Suppression of Personal Doubts
Many forthright men who are quite willing to speak their piece despite risks to their career become silent when faced with the possibility of losing the approval of fellow members of their primary work group
Self-appointed Mindguards
Just as a bodyguard protects the President and other high officials from injurious physical assaults, a mindguard protects them from thoughts that might damage their confidence in the soundness of the policies to which they are committed