Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Lonely Sail

The lonely sail in the distance
Vanished at last beyond the blue sky
And I could see only the river
Flowing along the border of heaven.

--Li Po

Burning the Ulster Memorial

The Londonderry/Derry memorial to the victims of the troubles, which I wrote about here, was burned as planned on March 21:
By the end of last week more than 60,000 people in this city of 108,000 had come to the temple and left their messages. “For a united Derry,” pleaded one. “For the sake of our children,” read another. There were grainy photographs, a ponytail of human hair, a knitted baby hat and at least two vessels with ashes of loved ones. A postcard quoting the poet Seamus Heaney, raised nearby, wished for life “on the far side of revenge.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

Van Gogh: The Drawings

The Met has put more than 400 out of print publications on their web site for free download -- which really sort of blows me away. Just last night I downloaded about $500 worth of glossy art books. And promptly got rid of half of them since the quality of the scans is not consistent. But the best ones are amazing. Among these is Van Gogh: the Drawings, the catalog of a 2005 show.

Two different styles are represented. These earlier, more conventional drawings. And then more impressionistic drawings that resemble his mature paintings. I love them both.

Net Domestic Migration, 2013-2014

The latest from the Census Bureau, tracking changes over the past two years. It's a big file so you can click on it for a closer look.

Some trends continue: people are moving to urban and suburban areas in the south and west and leaving rural areas except the ones with lots of fracking. (Five of the fifteen fastest growing counties, by percentage, are in North Dakota.) The northeast is losing people, except along the coastal strip from Cape Cod to Mt. Desert Isle in Maine. Some ares that show up as net losers on this graph are actually gaining people (e.g., Los Angeles County) because they are attracting so many foreign immigrants; but people born in Los Angeles and Queens are leaving at a steady pace.

Where people are moving is not determined very much by salaries: the two states with the highest household incomes, Connecticut and Maryland, are losing people to poorer states like Texas and South Carolina. Housing costs and warm weather trump income.

I am struck by two belts of red: the drier parts of the great plains, and the old black belt stretching from the Mississippi Delta to the Carolina coast. Those areas have been losing people for decades, but the outflows continue.


Here's the map showing total population change, including domestic movement, immigration, and births and deaths.

US Policy in the Middle East

As the Obama administration tries to
1) drive the Islamic State out of Iraq, with Iranian help;
2) keep Iran from building a bomb;
3) end the Syrian civil war without either the Assad regime or the Islamic State ending up on top;
4) preserve Israel's security without writing off the Palestinians;
5) limit the export of terrorism to the west;
6) support the democratic aspirations of the urban middle class in Egypt, Tunisia,and other places; and now
7) help the Saudis defeat an Iranian-backed rebel group in Yemen and put what we regard as the legitimate government back in charge
a lot of people are asking whether this makes sense.
Making sense of the Obama administration’s patchwork of policies “is a puzzle,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and former senior State Department official.
Personally I fail to see the point of several recent American actions, such as supporting the military coup against Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, or continuing to insist that there are “moderate elements” in Syria who could somehow prevail against both the government and the Sunni radicals. But I am very skeptical that the U.S. could have some strong, coherent, sensible policy that would either make sense or help people in the region. For a look at a different kind of thinking, take a glance at the Op-ed by John Bolton the Times ran the other day, arguing that the US should bomb Iran now and bomb it again every three or four years in perpetuity. “The logic is straightforward,” he says, that Iran cannot be trusted, that unless stopped it will get a bomb, and that a nuclear Iran would be some kind of disaster for the Middle East. (The actual disaster for the Middle East has been John Bolton and his ilk, with their mad attempt to square all of these circles by invading Iraq, but that's water under the bridge by now.)

For decades our Middle East policy was built around supporting autocratic thugs who kept the oil flowing and insured “stability.” But then the Shah of Iran was overthrown, Lebanon erupted into civil war, the Palestinians launched the intifada, and in more and more other places the people were increasingly frustrated by corruption, economic stagnation, and authoritarian police states. After 9-11, Bush and his people decided that something dramatic had to be done to revolutionize the region, hence our invasion of Iraq.

But the descent of Iraq into civil war, followed by the failure of Egypt's experiment with democracy, means we are now pretty much back where we started in 2001. Outside Tunisia, Arab democracy has been fatally weakened by lack of elite support, sectarian rivalries, and a deep, deep division within Arab society over the proper role of Islam and the proper attitude toward western-style modernity. The whole point of Bush's policy was to create successful states that would control terrorism at its source, but instead we have created chaos that allows terrorists to thrive.

I am not awed by Obama's handling of any of this. But at least he has never thought that the U.S. could solve all these problems by some bold, vigorous strategy pursued to the end. I do not believe it is in the power of Americans to solve any of these problems, certainly not by bombing cities to ruins and jailing the whole male population of recalcitrant communities. And I certainly do not believe that having a logical, coherent strategy is the be-all or end-all of foreign policy.

Sometimes the best we can do is respond to events as they come up, and stop reaching for grand solutions.

Sibyl and the Prophet

Terracotta bookends by Antonio Schiassi, 1768. From the Huntingdon Library's Tumblr.


Joshua Gibbs imagines the world as it looked to Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome:
Your numbers are dwindling. Your side is losing. Your way of life is passing from this Earth. In bygone eras, your people transmitted your ideals from one generation to the next with ease. Now, you plant a teaching in the heart of your children, and all the world conspires to strip it out before it can take root. The gravity of this world now inclines away from you. When you set the things you love on the ground, they roll away from you like marbles in an uneven house. When you become tired in the evening and your eyelids lower, contrary forces rise to undo all you have accomplished in the day. Your constant worry is how to conserve the good things your people struggled for centuries to obtain, how to keep the gold that flowed toward your kind (mankind, really) in those sane years when your star was on the ascent. Now, that star has begun a scythe-like sweep toward the horizon and you fear that, when it passes from the heavens, it may pass forever. The conundrum is how to spend these years— these years when there is but a little light left, a little beauty, a few statues which remain unsmashed, a few drops of perfume to drive the stench of death and vulgarity away. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Civil War in Yemen

Yesterday the Saudi air force bombed Yemen, destroying (they said) they Yemeni air force. The Yemeni air  force had gone over to the side of the Houthis, the mainly Shiite militias that recently overran the capital and declared themselves the government. The land they dominate is shown in green above. The Saudis are supporting a different set of militias, the Hadis, whose lands are shown in pink. Each side is led by a recent President of the country.

I was struck by how much the map of the current war looks like the old map of North and South Yemen. That division goes back at least to a 1905 agreement between the British and the Ottomans diving Yemen into rival spheres of influence. The two Yemens merged in 1990; the main force behind the unification was a sense that the old division had been imposed by colonial powers on a single people. But actually the Yemenis have never been united; neither the British nor the Ottomans had much control over the sheikhs who dominated remote parts of the country.

I can't seem to find out how this corresponds to religious divisions. The articles I have read about Yemen's history before the 1960s all discuss the division in terms of various tribes and sheikhs and say nothing about Sunnis vs. Shiites. Which is interesting in itself.

But, anyway, things don't look good for Yemen. If the Saudis and Iran step up their support for their allies in the country we could see another major civil war dragging on for years, providing yet more opportunities for al Qaeda and the Islamic State to seize territory or just foment their plans with impunity.

Crossbow Out of the Ground

The crossbow from the burial pit of the terra cotta army I wrote about last week, out of the ground and cleaned up.

Cave Tombs of Talayotic Minorca

The Talayotic culture of Bronze Age Minorca left a fascinating legacy in megalithic architecture, including tombs. But after about 1000 BCE they left off building stone tombs and began to bury their dead in natural caves. Some of these caves were only rediscovered in recent years, and their archaeology has been spectacular. These hard-to-reach caves held corpses so well preserved that their hair styles can be determined, and many artifacts of wood, leather and fiber survived in the dry cave environments. These remains allow us to reconstruct the burial rituals in some detail. Among the most famous objects from these burials are a group of wooden idols from la Cova des Mussol, a sea cave in a cliff face. Two are of horned humans, inviting comparison with the famous horned gods of Celtic myth.

Here is another from the same cave.

The bodies were wrapped in shrouds of cloth or leather. Plants of various kinds were much used in these rituals:
some of the corpses had bunches of plants, flowers or fruits (figs, blackberries) between the arms that were placed on bedding plants, such as cereals, wild olive, rosemary, margarita, celandine, and asphodel. 
Ritual deposit in la Cova des Carritx. The round copper thing in the center is a cap placed over the open end of a cattle horn; several of these were found, and the horns all proved to contain human hair. One theory is that the hair was shorn in initiation rituals. Getting into some these caves was a challenge even for people with modern climbing equipment, so they made go places for impressive rituals.

The hair of some corpses was elaborately prepared: dyed red, plaited with flowers, infused with fragrant resins, sometimes steeped in mud and then (presumably) sculpted into complex shapes. above, part of the waist-length braid on one woman from the Cova de Pas.

Since hair was so important, of course combs have also been found. This is the most famous, a bat-shaped boxwood comb from the Cova des Carritx.

Boxwood bowl and spatula, perhaps also used in the preparation of corpses.

Bronze mirror from Cova del Mussol, c. 800 BCE.

Hundreds of bodies have been found in the caves, and study of the human remains has hardly begun. As well preserved as they are, though ought to yield a ton of data about the people of the island.

Sometimes when I think about the immensity of the time that has passed since the Bronze Age, I am awed by how much we are able to learn about people who lived so long ago. We are not limited to knowledge of the people around us and the fragile memories passed down through generations; nor to what is written in the few books in some monastic library. Our knowledge of the human past encompasses thousands of distinct societies and stretches back to the origin of our species and beyond. I, at least, find this to be one of the greatest marvels of our marvelous age.

An Optimist Assesses American Society

Matt Yglesias thinks that conservatives who say the poor are having an moral crisis and liberals who say the poor are having an economic crisis are both wrong, because there is no crisis. Who cares if marriage rates are declining?
Marriage has long been, at least in part, a deeply gendered economic arrangement, so it's natural that growing economic opportunities for women would transform the meaning of marriage. In particular, it has made women choosier about their partners. That led to a surge in divorces in the 1970s, followed by a slow and steady decline in the divorce rate ever since 1981 or so.

Among college graduates, marriage has been re-founded on a new basis. As Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers put it, we have gone from shared production to shared consumption and formed more egalitarian partnerships based on common preferences rather than a swap of housework for rent money. This new model of partnerships has thus far not taken root as strongly in working-class relationships. That's unfortunate. But it's a mistake to believe women are making themselves worse off than their next actually available alternative. As women have become more empowered, they have gotten pickier. That means more single women, and a higher quality of relationship for the non-single.
But what about the children?
It's true there is a lot of very persuasive observational data to indicate that children raised by stable, loving couples end up better off than children whose family lives are disrupted by divorce or breakups. But what we don't see is the aggregate increase in children borne by unmarried women leading to bad aggregate outcomes. Instead, the current generation of teenagers is the best-behaved on record. Young people are doing less drugs, having fewer teen pregnancies, and even doing better at meeting federal exercise guidelines. The high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, and so is the share of the population with a college degree.
Take that, worryworts.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Star Destroyer Drone

A French drone-builder who calls himself Oliver C built this and has been flying it around the French countryside. Video here.

The Practical Transvestite

Jared Malsin in the Times:
She has worked for more than 30 years among the shoeshine men of Luxor. She sits with men in coffee shops, prays with them in the local mosque and dresses just as they do in pants or a traditional floor-length tunic known as a galabeya.

Many people believed Sisa Abu Daooh was a man until several weeks ago, when she publicly revealed her 42-year-old secret.

Perhaps surprisingly in a society where many hold conservative notions of gender roles, Ms. Daooh’s announcement was greeted not with condemnation but with curiosity and a flurry of mostly positive reactions from local news media and officials. On Sunday, Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, personally gave her an award for being an extraordinary mother.

In an interview last week, Ms. Daooh, 64, said she began dressing as a man as a practical matter, to escape restrictions on women’s employment in a patriarchal culture and earn enough to support her daughter, Hoda. But now, whether she still needs to pose as a man or not, she said she had no intention of changing. What began as a way to survive rural poverty has evolved into her preferred way of life and a means of navigating a world dominated by men.

New Moon

By astronaut Terry Virts.

The Problem with Meritocracy

Swiss economist Wilhelm Röpke (1899-1966): 
If all men are said to have the same chances of advancement, those left behind will lose the face-saving and acceptable excuse of social injustice and lowly birth. The weakness of mind or character of the overwhelming majority of average or below-average people will be harshly revealed as the reason for failure, and it would be a poor observer of the human soul who thought that this revelation would not prove poisonous. No more murderous attack on the sum total of human happiness can be imagined than this kind of equality of opportunity, for, given the aristocratic distribution of the higher gifts of mind and character among a few only, such equality will benefit a small minority and make the majority all the unhappier.
I copied this text last year, intending to post it, but I haven't gotten around to it because I am not sure how I feel about it. Is it the truth, expressed harshly? Or does it express contempt for most of humanity? Is it simply true that meritocracy, both as reality and ideology, will make many people feel terrible about themselves, or is this a lame excuse for hereditary rank? (Out of the kindness of our hearts, we will protect the commoners by keeping them out of a competition they cannot win. . . . ) But, anyway, this made a strong impression on me when I read it, so I have decided to toss it out and find out what others think.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Prosecutor Apologizes

Thirty years ago, prosecutor Marty Stroud helped put Glenn Ford on death row. When Ford was exonerated, thanks to the work of cold case detectives, Stroud did not try to defend his actions or find some excuse for still deeming Ford guilty. Instead he penned this remarkable apology. Excerpts:
At the time this case was tried there was evidence that would have cleared Glenn Ford. The easy and convenient argument is that the prosecutors did not know of such evidence, thus they were absolved of any responsibility for the wrongful conviction.

I can take no comfort in such an argument. As a prosecutor and officer of the court, I had the duty to prosecute fairly. Part of my duty was to disclose promptly any exculpatory evidence relating to trial and penalty issues of which I was made aware. My fault was that I was too passive. I did not consider the rumors about the involvement of parties other than Mr. Ford to be credible. . . .

Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago. But I wasn't, and my inaction contributed to the miscarriage of justice in this matter.
My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion. And that omission is on me. . . .

I also participated in placing before the jury dubious testimony from a forensic pathologist that the shooter had to be left handed, even though there was no eye witness to the murder. And yes, Glenn Ford was left handed.

All too late, I learned that the testimony was pure junk science at its evil worst.

In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. . . .

I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family. I apologize to the family of Mr. Rozeman for giving them the false hope of some closure. I apologize to the members of the jury for not having all of the story that should have been disclosed to them. I apologize to the court in not having been more diligent in my duty to ensure that proper disclosures of any exculpatory evidence had been provided to the defense.
What's more, that experience and others have turned Stroud against the death penalty:
This case is another example of the arbitrariness of the death penalty. I now realize, all too painfully, that as a young 33-year-old prosecutor, I was not capable of making a decision that could have led to the killing of another human being.

No one should be given the ability to impose a sentence of death in any criminal proceeding. We are simply incapable of devising a system that can fairly and impartially impose a sentence of death because we are all fallible human beings.

The clear reality is that the death penalty is an anathema to any society that purports to call itself civilized. It is an abomination that continues to scar the fibers of this society and it will continue to do so until this barbaric penalty is outlawed. Until then, we will live in a land that condones state assisted revenge and that is not justice in any form or fashion.
Stroud concludes:
I end with the hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it.
But maybe he is wrong about that.

When Prisoners Research the History of their Prison

Fascinating article about a teacher who got her students at the Indiana Women's Prison to research the early history of the institution. The do-gooding Victorian reformers who founded and ran the Indiana Reformatory Institute for Women and Girls turned out on closer inspection to have an unsavory side.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Weight Loss and Depression

Here's a study result to ponder:
participants who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight were significantly worse off psychologically at our follow-up assessment than those who maintained their weight.
As the article from which I took this explains, studies of weight loss and mood have come up with all sorts of different results -- science! -- but there certainly is no consistent finding that losing weight makes people happier.

Haruka Iwasaki, Evening Snowfall at Blue Pond

From National Geographic.

Hype vs. Science in Medical Research

Behold one of the greatest graphics ever produced. Each red dot represents one "scientific" study study arguing that the food in question either causes or prevents cancer, with the distance from the center line representing the size of the alleged effect. The data comes from a 2013 article by Jonathan Schoenfeld and the irrepressible John Ioannidis (author of the famous article, "Why Most Published Research Findings are False.") Gotta love the spread for milk.

We need to get scientists and reporters to stop hyping the results of single studies. At a deeper level, it seems to me that we need a better way to approach these problems than all of these statistical mishmashes, although I have no idea what that would be. Maybe better understanding of cellular physiology will help discriminate between potentially real and nonsensical results. But maybe not.

Safe Spaces, Education, and Feminism

The issue of trigger warnings and safe spaces is boiling over on college campuses. Many students are demanding that their colleges protect them from any statement that might remind them of trauma or even make them "uncomfortable." Others are willing to tolerate offensive comments as long as they are provided with a "safe space" that will protect them. Judith Shulevitch found this great example at Brown, where a safe space was set up during a campus debate about sexual assault:
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
Personally my idea of education pretty much equates to being bombarded by viewpoints that go against dearly and closely held beliefs, so I don't know how you could have a university that avoided such mental assaults. (Some of my favorite documents to teach are chronicles of the massacres of Jews that took place in Germany during the First Crusade, and I've never met a student who didn't find them disturbing.) But what really bugs me is the notion that young people and especially young women have to be protected from Bad Things because they are too weak and vulnerable to stand it. Wasn't that the basic position of the patriarchs who fought against educating women or letting them hold any sort of important job? Wasn't it the point of feminism to assert that women can be just as intellectually and morally tough as men? If the presence on campus of a libertarian skeptic of "rape culture" is so upsetting to you that you need to retreat to the pastel room and watch puppy videos, are you really an equal adult?

Some sorts of safe spaces are a familiar part of most campuses, and I don't see anything wrong with them: LGBT clubs where people feel safe in talking about their sexuality, say, or African American clubs and fraternities. Nor do I really think that 19-year-olds are fully adults, and I think that college exists partly to provide a structured and reasonably safe environment to grow up in. But it seems to me that coddling young people can easily be taken too far. As Shulevitch warns,
The notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.
I guess I don't have any problem with students wanting "safe spaces" as long as nobody tries to make my classroom into one.

Ted Cruz Declares his Candidacy for President

Have a nice day!

San Pietro a Gropina

San Pietro a Gropina is an obscure church in an obscure Tuscan town.

Its facade is one of the plainest you will over see.

Only this one strange exterior detail hints at the riches of weirdness within.

The nave and the apse.

The weirdness begins with the capitals on the interior columns, which prove the point that Romanesque sculptors could put literally anything on a capital.

But the real locus of the bizarre is the pulpit.


Absolutely no documentation survives for the building of this church. Based purely on the style, it is generally dated to the twelfth century. Here's a nice diagram showing how the Romanesque church sits over the foundation of a Lombard church dating to the seventh or eighth century, and the Lombard church over a small late Roman church. But more than that we cannot say about how this church came to be.

Why Do We Accept the New Inequality?

Labor historian Steve Fraser has been wondering why the current surge in inequality hasn't been accompanied by the resistance from organized workers that opposed the rule of the robber barons. In a new book, he tries out an explanation:
Fraser offers several explanations for the boldness of the post-Civil War wave of labor resistance, including, interestingly, the intellectual legacy of the abolition movement. The fight against slavery had loosened the tongues of capitalism’s critics, forging a radical critique of the market’s capacity for barbarism. With bonded labor now illegal, the target pivoted to factory “wage slavery.” This comparison sounds strange to contemporary ears, but as Fraser reminds us, for European peasants and artisans, as well as American homesteaders, the idea of selling one’s labor for money was profoundly alien.

This is key to Fraser’s thesis. What ­fueled the resistance to the first Gilded Age, he argues, was the fact that many Americans had a recent memory of a different kind of economic system, whether in America or back in Europe. Many at the forefront of the resistance were actively fighting to protect a way of life, whether it was the family farm that was being lost to predatory creditors or small-scale artisanal businesses being wiped out by industrial capitalism. Having known something different from their grim present, they were capable of imagining — and fighting for — a radically better future. It is this imaginative capacity that is missing from our second Gilded Age . . . . The latest inequality chasm has opened up at a time when there is no popular memory — in the United States, at least — of another kind of economic system. Whereas the activists and agitators of the first Gilded Age straddled two worlds, we find ourselves fully within capitalism’s matrix. So while we can demand slight improvements to our current conditions, we have a great deal of trouble believing in something else entirely.
I often think that we accept capitalism's inequities because we can't imagine any other way of doing things. But I think Fraser is missing the other side of the ledger, the failure of revolutionary socialism. Striking workers in the 19th century had multiple goals, some practical and some revolutionary. Many of their practical goals have been achieved: 40-hour work weeks, weekends, safer work conditions, decent housing, an end to exploitative company stores. But those practical goals always existed in a sort of dance with a different vision of change, revolutionary transformation that would completely overturn the existing corrupt order. The world's experience with Stalinism and Maoism has destroyed that vision. I think Fraser is right that some workers fought capitalism because they were looking backward, but others did so while looking forward -- and many did both at once. Without that vision of a completely different future, much of the energy that drove the labor movement is missing.

Plus, people are just a lot better off in material terms than they were in 1920. The world may be as unequal and unfair as it was then, but it is a lot richer, so slots in the bottom half are nicer than they used to be. It is a lot harder to get people with central air conditioning and large screen tvs to join violent protests. We are also much older than we were then, and it is especially hard to get comfortable senior citizens to join protests. Plus, ever-increasing globalization undermines the power of any particular group of workers; if every factory hand in North America went on strike at the same time, all the factories would just move to China or India.

I think political radicalism is dead, killed by demographic change, comfort, and globalization. Incremental, political change is the only option, and even that is proving hard to achieve in the face of our growing frustration with bureaucracy and taxation.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Where to Run to?

Apocalyptic broadcaster Rick Wiles says America is going the way of Syria:
I’m going to say this to American Christians: Your time to flee America, which is now Babylon, is quickly disappearing. Obama will destroy this nation too. He is a man of destruction, darkness and evil. There may be a year remaining in which you can get out and save your family. I’m convinced the Luciferian Illuminatus that control this country will dismantle it over the next two years and the Phoenix will ascend to replace the old constitutional republic.
What is the Luciferian Illuminatus? I thought the Illuminati were controlled by the Bush family -- or was it the other way around? I'm so confused.

And anyway, where could American Christians go? Europe is full of secular gay people, Russia is not much of a Republic and they don't like Protestants, Canada has national health care, and Mexico is Mexico. It's a quandary.

Minka: a Japanese Farmhouse

Charming 15-minute video by Davina Pardo describes how John Roderick, an American reporter, fell in love with an 18th-century Japanese farmhouse that was about to be destroyed.

He bought the house -- this was the 1960s -- and moved it to a new location in the Tokyo suburbs.

Where it was rebuilt into a showplace of traditional Japanese style.

The film is also, very obliquely, the story of the relationship between an American bachelor and a much younger Japanese man, Yoshihiro Takishita, who became his adopted son, and who was inspired by this experience to make restoring and rebuilding old farmhouses his career. But beyond that all you learn about them comes from talking about the house.

The film is a nice evocation of the power of a lovely home, and of traditional ways of doing things. And also of money, since only a wealthy man would have been able to save this house in the still comparatively impoverished Japan of that time.