Tag Archives: japan

Japanese zen art – just go away

Japanese zen spiral -- it's a cartoon about meditation. It looks like a monk and a spiral, and note that both ends point inward.

Japanese zen spiral — it’s a cartoon about meditation. It looks like a monk and a spiral, and note that both ends point inward. Cute.

The purpose of art is not generally to show the world as it is, but to show a new, better way to look at the world. As such, my take on Japanese zen art, is that it is a very cool, fun way to say “just go away.” What follows are some nice (to my eyes) examples, with my commentary.

As with most Japanese art, the zen art looks simpler and more free-form than western religious art. In a sense that is true: there are far fewer lines, but the paintings take as long to make, to a good estimate, since they only appear to have been made with casual ease: flicks of the wrist and waves of the hand. In actuality the artist had a vision of what he wanted, and then made free-hand waving copy after copy until he had some correct, free-looking ones ready for delivery. Because of this, you can look for a meaning in every wiggle — something that you would not do with US free-form abstracts, or with religious paintings of the 1600s. Take daVinci’s last supper — the grand layout is clearly planned and meaningful, the details of the wrinkles, not really. With these, though, no detail is accidental, and the non-accidental sense, as I see it, is “just go away.”

Buddhist Master. I can imagine this work is effective at keeping guests from over-staying their welcome.

Buddhist Master. Art like this keeps away guests.

Take the spiral at left. It’s sort of cool, and claims to be an allusion to meditation. Mystic, no? As I look carefully a the spiral, the first remarkable thing I see is that it circles in on itself at both ends. At a simple level, I think that’s an allusion to the inward nature of meditation, but note that, at the top end of the coil there’s a wiggle that looks like a face. I take that to be a monk’s face, looking away. The geometry of the coil then suggests the legs and thighs of the rest of the monk (sitting?). If that’s the image (and I think it is) the fact that the monk is facing away from you, leaving you behind suggests to me that the owner has no desire to have you join him. I see nothing in this that would cause another person to want to meditate either. There is nothing attractively persuasive as in western religious art. Here’s an essay I wrote on meditation.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I also imagine these artists living on an industrial treadmill, making painting after painting in his shop and throwing most away because, for example, the monk’s back extended past the paper. Western expressionism also sometimes puts many paintings on a single canvas, but the hidden image stays, at least in a sort-of half shadow. And the wiggles strive to be less learned, even if the faces of some western religious art is distant –even more distant often. At right, above, you’ll find another popular zen-art approach. It shows a zen master in nearly full face. As with most zen art, the master (Buddha or a disciple) looks calm -ish with a sense of the put-upon, as if he were Christ carrying the cross of you being there. Perhaps the intent was to make you go off and meditate, or to see society as worthless, but I think the more-likely message in the master’s look is “why me Lord.” The master looks like he isn’t unhappy with life, just unhappy with you being there. I imagine that this work was placed in a noble’s living room or study for the same reason that many American today put up a picture of Yosemite Sam, sometimes (for those who don’t get art) “Keep Out! This means you.”

A monkey looks at the moon in a well. Don't touch, the moon seems to say.

A monkey looks at the moon in a well. Don’t touch, the moon seems to say.

As with the Warner-bros. classic, there is a flowing look to the brushwork, but a fair amount of detail. As with the Warner Bros. cartoon, the casual lines seem to serve the purpose of keeping the viewer from taking offense at the message. Sort of like, “Don’t go away mad, just go away.” Cool, but I also like Western cartooning.

As one last example, at left you’ll see a painting illustrating a zen parable. in this case it’s the parable of the monkey’s and the image of the moon. Shown is the moon’s reflection in the water of a well — moon is that big round face. A monkey is about to touch the moon-image, and as we can expect, when the monkey touches the image, it disappears. There are several understandings to be gained from this, e.g. that all is illusion (similar to Plato and his cave), or suggesting that it is better to look at life than to interact with it. Which is the main meaning? In this picture, my sense is that the moon seems put-upon, and afraid. Thus, the lesson I take from the picture is one of inaction: “don’t touch the reflection.” Once again, the choice to depict a frightened moon rather than an impassive one, seems to be the painter’s way of saying “please go away.” Very cool image, but as messages go, that’s the one I see in most Japanese zen art.

Robert Buxbaum, August 17, 2017. I’ve also written on surreal art (I like it a lot, and find it ‘funny’) and on Dada, and conceptual (I like it too, playfully meaningful, IMHO). If you like zen jokes (and who doesn’t) here’s a story of the Buddhist and the hot-dog vendor, and how many zen Buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb? Four. See why.

The mystery of American productivity

Americans are among the richest and best paid people in the world. On a yearly basis, Americans produce and earn about 20% more than Britons and about 30% more than Japanese. On an hourly basis, counter to what you might expect, American workers produce about 30% more than Britons or Canadians, and about 50% more than the vaunted Japanese.

Per hour worker productivity, from the Economist.  We do OK for backward hicks.

Per hour worker productivity, from the Economist. We do OK for backward hicks.

French and German workers produce about as much as we do, per hour, but tend to work fewer hours. Still, the differences are not quite what you might expect. French workers take many more hours off than we do and are still so much more productive than the British that it appears they could take an extra month off and still beat them in yearly output. Japanese workers meanwhile produce only as much as the French, per year, but take far more hours to do it. One thought is that it’s all the vacation time that makes French so productive and it’s perhaps the lack of vacations that causes the Japanese to be relatively unproductive.

Not that vacation time alone explains our high productivity, nor that of the Germans or Italians relative to the Canadians and Britons. One part of an answer, I suspect, is that we put fewer roadblocks to workers becoming business owners, and to running things their own way. Another thought is that US and Germany have a low minimum wage, comparatively, and Italy has no minimum wage at all; Germany had no minimum wage in 2013, the time of the productivity comparison. In countries like this, there is a larger profit to be had by clever individuals who work hard, think, and start their own businesses. With minimal requirement on how much to pay, the business owner can bring to bear a mix of low-wage, minimally productive workers with labor-saving innovation, allowing them to become rich while decreasing unemployment. It also allows them to serve otherwise under-served parts of the market and profit from it. And profit is a powerful motivator. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “a why beats a how.” 

The nine European countries with no minimum wage are among the richest on the continent, and among those with the lowest unemployment: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. By contrast, England, Canada, and Japan have relative high minimum wages and relatively high unemployment. There are also some poor countries with no minimum wage (Egypt, Zimbabwe, Rwanda…) but these countries suffer from other issues, like rampant crime. I’ve argued that the high “Living Wage” in Detroit is a major cause of Detroit’s high unemployment and bankruptcy. If low minimum wage is a major source of American worker productivity and wealth, it would be a real mistake to raise it.

Worker productivity is the best single predictor of long-term national success. As such, the long-term prediction for Britain, Canada, and Japan is not good. Unless something changes in these countries, we may expect to see them off to a long, dark tea-time of declining significance. Perhaps, it is a fear of this that was behind the resounding defeat of the Labour party in British elections last week. The Labour government oversaw England’s last big drop in productivity.

R.E. Buxbaum, May 28, 2015. It’s also possible (unlikely) that US universities are really good, or at least not as bad as thought. We don’t seem to quite beat the enthusiasm out of our students, though we do drug them quite a lot. Here’s a Forbes article on minimum wage.

Masculinist history of the modern world, pt. 2: WWII mustaches

Continuing my, somewhat tongue in cheek, Masculinist history, part 1: beards, I thought I’d move on to mustache history, centering on WWII. I see the conflict as big mustaches vs little mustaches leading to a peace of no face hair at all. First consider that, at the start of the war, virtually all the leaders had mustaches, with similar mustached men allied. Consider that Hitler was weird and hi’s mustache was weird, and that, within a few years of peace, virtually no major leader had a hairy lip. Why?

Let me begin by speculating that the mustache is worn by the man who wishes to be seen as manly, but who also wants to appear civilized. The message of the mustache, then: I’m a leader of great vision within a civilized society. Thus visionaries like Albert Einstein, Duke Ellington, S. Dali, and T. Roosevelt, all decided to grow mustaches. The mustache may not make men into champions of a new vision, but a man with the will to champion something new will tend to wear a mustache. It is thus no surprise that a world war would begin when all the world leaders had mustaches, or why a crazy person like Hitler would wear a crazy mustache, but why is it that so few world leaders have been mustached since. Where have all the mustaches gone? Read onward.

Emperor Akihito, center, had to open Japan; Emperor Meiji, upper right, a wild beard and terror who defeated China and Russia; Emperor Hirohito, bottom left, crafty mustache. Caveat Emperor. Tojo, bottom right, the man to lead the fight and pay the price.

Emperor Akihito, upper left was induced to open Japan; Emperor Meiji, upper right, defeated China and Russia; WWII Emperor Hirohito, bottom left; General Tojo, bottom right, the man to take the fall. Caveat Emperor.

As WWII begins with the Japanese, lets look at the face hair on several Japanese  emperors’ faces. At the upper left, Mikado (Emperor) Akihito. He had no vision, drive or mustache, and was induced to open Japan to the west in 1854 in response to his advisors and Admiral Perry who sailed 4 black warships into Tokyo harbor. His successor, Emperor Meiji (upper right, bearded) won wars against China and Russia in the late 1800s (see the significance of warlike beards). Emperor Hirohito, bottom left, wore the mustache and authorized the beginning of WWII including the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the rape of Nanking. His associate, General Tojo, bottom right, also mustached lead the actual deeds and took the blame. Akihito looks feminine and unhappy, as one might understand. Meiji looks like a holy terror; and both Hirohito and his general wear mustaches trimmed in the British style. My interpretation: their goal was to build a sea-land empire based on the British model.

After Emperor Meiji defeated China and Russia, his obvious next step should have been to attack the USA, but Meiji did not. Large-mustachioed, US President, Th. Roosevelt noticed the danger and used his “talk softly and carry a big stick” deterrent. He was a man of civilization and sent a “peace delegation” of white-pained warships to Tokyo Harbor. They were painted white for peace, and to differentiate the modern, civilized Roosevelt from President Tyler of the Black warships. The message seems to have gotten through to Meiji, and we had no more trouble from him, nor from his son (no face hair). But Meiji’s grandson, Hirohito joined with Tojo, and realized that all Americans were not like Th. Roosevelt. He ceased the opportunity of American isolationism and tried to get the job done as his grandfather would have wanted. They figured, correctly, that we didn’t want war, and incorrectly, that we would give up in the face of a single military victory. Hirohito had studied in England and admired the British empire. Seeing the power of bearded George V, he came to believe that a small, but unified island nation could take and hold a mighty empire so long as the nation was strong enough and understood modern organizational management. Surely it was time Japan made its empire by taking Hong Kong from England, Vietnam from France, The Philippines from the US, and (most importantly) Malaysia from the Dutch (Malaysia had oil). What’s the worst that could happen?

Hirohito built a world-power army and navy, and invaded China successfully. He fought Chiang Kai Shek (trimmed, British mustache; he was a modernizer himself). Meanwhile, for 15 years the Japanese military developed for empire. The military college planned an attack on Pearl Harbor based on careful organization and management. When carried out Dec. 7, 1941, the attack was brilliantly successful. The next day, Dec 8-9, the same “zero” planes that had hit Hawaii, helped destroy both the British navy near Hong Kong and the US airbase in the Philippines. We never even thought to prepare as we didn’t think the Japanese were organized or advance enough. The Mitsubishi “zero” was an advanced version of a Fiat design (see my piece on Fiat’s latest). As with other Fiat products, it was small, fast, maneuverable, efficient, and unreliable.

Now look at the European leaders, axis and allies, below. In the late 1930s, all sport mustaches except for Mussolini. This might suggest a world ripe for war that would benefit Mussolini: everyone’s vision can’t come to be, and most everyone might want to ally with a feminine peace-nick. At first, that’s what happened: modern military mustached Franco took over Spain from the old-fashioned, up-mustached king of Spain and his incompetent government. Mussolini was a passive ally. Big mustached Stalin took over the Baltic countries; Mussolini was his national-socialist friend. Half-mustache Hitler then allied with Mussolini and armed the Rhineland. This scares old-fashioned mustached Giraud (France) and British Chamberlain into giving him eastern Czechoslovakia. Mussolini looks on. Chamberlain comes to believe that he has achieved peace in our time, but he has not. Now, the big mustached king of Italy, Victor Emanuel chooses no-mustache Mussolini to restore Italian unity. Mussolini goes to war and takes Libya on his second try. He almost takes Greece too. Useless, clean-shaven, general Badoglio resigns. These conquests do not lead to world war or condemnation of Italy (or Germany, or Russia) The mustachioed socialists of France, Poland, England and the US have quite a lot in common with the national socialists of Germany and Italy. We hold, like they do, that the state must make the jobs if it is to pull out of the depression, and that the state must be strong, pure, and united — something best achieved by socialism and keeping immigrants out. The theme of the New York Word’s Fair in 1939 is Peace through Progress, a theme of unrealistic optimism. For now, though, the US is neutral, and all the nations have exhibitions in NY.

War of the mustache men. Top row: axis leaders at the beginning of WWII; l-r: Hitler, Franco (Spain), King Victor Emanuel and Mussolini (Italy), and Stalin (Russia, an early ally of Hitler). Bottom row: allied leaders, l-r; King Alfonso (Spain); Chang Kai Shek (China), François Lebrun (France), Ignazy Moscicki (Poland); N. Chamberlain (UK). All are mustached except Mussolini.

Top row: axis leaders at the beginning of WWII; l-r: Hitler, Franco (Spain), King Victor Emanuel and Mussolini (Italy), and Stalin Bottom row: allied leaders, l-r; King Alfonso (Spain); Chiang Kai Shek (China), François Lebrun (France), Ignazy Moscicki (Poland); N. Chamberlain (UK). All are mustached except Mussolini.

But peace isn’t in the cards as one could tell by the mustaches. Big mustache Stalin hatches a secret pact with small-mustache Hitler. They invade Poland together in September 1939. The mustache of the masses and the mustache of the pure race join to destroy Poland in a week. Because of treaties, England and France are now at war too, but they do nothing till May 1940. Not understanding that mustaches must war, they assume no war exists. This changes when Hitler sweeps his armies through Belgium and into Paris. England rejects the mustached enemies, and elects clean-shaved Winston Churchill, a Labor liberal turned Conservative. He sports a big-stick policy and wears a big-stick cigar. His cigar is like a flaming mustache, but far more mobile.

Churchill’s policies are just as mobile as his mustache. He confidently tells the masses, “We will fight them on the beaches.” And confidently tells the elites: “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we’re fighting for, it’s Champaign.” A cigar, unlike a mustache, can be warlike of peaceful: in your face or out depending on the group. A Republican with at cigar is a diplomat, not a dogmatist.

Churchill finds an ally in clean-shaven, cigarette holder, segregationist FDR. “Meeting FDR is like opening your first bottle of Champaign,” says Churchill, “Getting to know him is like drinking it.” The two english-speaking countries share a special relationship and similar smoking preferences. FDR, still vowing neutrality, lends England ships tanks, and money, but sends no troupes except volunteers (the Lafayette squadron). With this diplomatic, middle road in place, FDR handily defeats the shaven, cigarette smoking, war-monger, Wendell Wilkie in the 1940 election (Wilkie used to be a Democrat). The Free French take to small mustache, Charles De Gaulle, in preference to the larger mustache, Philippe Petain, or the similarly mustached Edourd Deladier and Maurice Gamelin.

De Gaulle and Churchill do not get along. De Gaulle (small mustache) wants action. He becomes the liberation of French Africa. Meanwhile, Churchill talks war, but only to defend “this rock, this England.” De Gaulle describes the differences this way:  “I get angry when I’m right, and Churchill gets angry when he’s wrong; therefore we are angry at each other quite a lot.” Churchill claims that “going to war without the French is like going hunting without your bagpipe.”

Roosevelt has much in common with Churchill as might be guessed from the lack of face hair and the similar smoking choices. The two major clean-shaven leaders meet and pray together abroad the HMS Prince of Wales in August 1941. Roosevelt meets too and gets along with Mrs. Chiang Kai Shek (no face hair, needless to say). He sends Madame Chiang a less-than-well funded, volunteer force, The American Volunteer Group, otherwise known as The Flying Tigers. This group is given 99 obsolete planes that the French had ordered, and is put under the command of Claire Chennault, a mustached WWI flier, and self-appointed colonel. Chennault recruits the drunken dregs of the US army air corps with the promise of $500 per Japanese plane. In the few months before WWII, The Flying Tigers destroy nearly 200 Japanese planes while heavily outnumbered and out gunned. Most of the flyers are mustached. Ad-hoc Volunteer forces seem to work for the USA: T. Roosevelt had success as a self-appointed Lt. Colonel 40 years earlier. Eventually, The flying Tigers are re-absorbed into the Army Air Corps; Chennault and his Tigers take a shave and join the regulars.

Meanwhile, mustached, long haired, Albert Einstein (a visionary if ever there was one) comes to understand the potential of the atom bomb. While most of the world still believes that matter and energy and independent entities, Einstein realizes that even a small amount of mass converted to energy can destroy a city. Speaking of science and art, he says, “Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by individuals who labor in freedom.” Within 5 years, his visionary ideas will help end the war, and few scientists will sport face hair or labor in freedom. Einstein encourages FDR to build the A-bomb. FDR spends $3 billion ($70B in 2013 dollars) under the management of visionary, mustachioed General Leslie Groves. The best physicists and engineers of the US and Europe join together to build the device Einstein described; it’s the A Bomb built by the A Team.

Meanwhile back in Europe, weird mustached, Hitler attacks his ally Stalin and despite massive deaths seems to be winning (c.f. Napoleon, 140 years earlier). Stalin joins the shaven allies (for now) against Germany, and immediately sets to steal the secret of the A Bomb. Churchill doesn’t trust him, a good call since Stalin is still allied with the mustached Mikado of Japan in the East against Britain. And then the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941, and everything changes. On December 8 Congress declares war on Japan, and Hitler declares war on us (perhaps the stupidest move of the 20th century). Churchill says he had the first good night’s sleep in years, but does nothing to protect the English navy or air force from Japan’s zero fighters. The HMS Prince of Wales is sunk December 10. The Canadian cost and California oil tanks are attacked by Japanese submarine-fired cannon. And what about Stalin? Through all of this, he remains allied with Japan and with us (what a man). It’s something you might have expected from his mustache.

Allied leaders toward the end of WWII. De Gaulle, Stalin, Churchill, FDR, Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Tze Tung. Only de Gaulle and Stalin have mustaches; Stalin is still an ally of Japan; Mao and Chiang at war. The US and UK share a special relationship.

Decline of the mustache. Allied leaders early 1945. l-r: De Gaulle, Stalin, Churchill, FDR, Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Tze Tung. Only de Gaulle and Stalin have mustaches; Stalin is still an ally of Japan; Mao and Chiang at war over China. The US and UK share a special relationship.

US dollars and Russian manpower turn the tide in Europe. Hitler kills himself and is replaced by clean-shaven Keitel who sues for peace (too little, too late). Mussolini flees Italy for Switzerland, and gets help killing himself. Fascist-free Italy turns to a mustache-free leader: General Badoglio of the failed Greek invasion. Stalin takes over Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and East Germany. Churchill objects and is tossed out of office while negotiating at Yalta. He’s replaced by small mustached Clement Attlee who sees no problem with Stalin’s expansion. His is a  grand (socialist) vision for England.

Civil-rightist Republican from NY, Tom Dewey is the major presidential candidate to host a mustache.

Civil-rightist NY Republican, Tom Dewey, the last mustached presidential hopeful, loses.

Fresh-faced, smoker, FDR dies in a liaison with a woman not his wife, and is followed by feisty, fresh-faced, non-smokier, Harry S. Truman, who continues FDR’s vision and drops two A-Bombs on Japan as twice pay-back for Pearl harbor. Stalin switches sides, sort of, for now: Japan is now his enemy, but Mao, not Chiang is a friend. Hirohito sees the new (atomic) light and the Russian army; he surrenders to the Americans. His mustache is much reduced at surrender (see below). Hirohito, still the visionary, admits he’s not a god, nor is he the gate to God (Mikado means heavenly gate; the title stops being used except for light opera). Tojo takes the blame for the war, and is executed. Mao Tze Tung conquers China after Chang Kai Shek flees to Taiwan. Stalin turns on his hairless, hapless, ex-allies. He keeps eastern Europe in contravention of the Yalta agreements, and kills a few million of his troupes: a peacetime army is dangerous. Franco keeps power in Spain.

Small-mustache Attlee builds a British A-Bomb, and takes over most of British business including The Bank of England, civil aviation, the coal mines, the steel industry, the railways, most road haulage, canals, cable and wireless, electricity and gas, and The Thomas Cooke travel agency. His grand vision provides England full employment, better work conditions, and health care, but also rationing, starvation and a lack of fuel. Attlee tries to stop Jewish migration to Israel and the formation of the state. He remains in power till 1950, becoming the last, and perhaps greatest, of several great, mustached, British prime ministers. Churchill’s shaven face returns to oversee England’s stagnation. Click for Churchill-Attlee jokes, jibes and insights.

In the US, clean-shaven Truman wins re-election against the last mustachioed presidential candidate, New York, civil-rightist, Republican, Thomas Dewey. De Gaulle is tossed out of office, but returns to build France’s A- bomb and reject NATO. De Gaulle’s little mustache is the last face hair seen on the leader of a nuclear nation.

The war ends here. Hirohito, McArthur, and Mr A-Bomb. Hirohito now has a smaller stature and mustache. Tojo gets executed.

The war ends here. Hirohito, McArthur, and Mr. A-Bomb. Hirohito now has a smaller stature and a much smaller mustache (looks like Tom Dewey, or every racist Japanese depiction). Tojo gets executed for Hirohito’s crimes. And the world moves to cautious shaven leaders and the ever-present nuclear threat.

And now the key question: why do mustaches lose favor so fast? My thought is that the Bomb is to blame. That, and the relative failures of mustached leaders in Europe. It’s a new dangerous world, with no place for men with big plans who might use the A-bomb to get-the-job-done. This is a weapon that kills more than soldiers and civilians; it could kill elites too, and no elitist wants a leader who might kill one of the elite. The A-Bomb is never again used in war, but it is always in the war room. Nuclear leaders must stay calm, and give the image of one who will use the bomb only as a last resort, to protect the home-land, or never. China, Pakistan, India, North Korea (and Israel) get “defensive” A-bombs but make no move to use them in anger. Goldwater claims he might, and is handily defeated in 1964. After WWII, all nuclear power leaders are more-or-less feminine looking, if not more feminist. Is this the future? Check out pt 1: Beards, Republicans, and Communists.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, Nov. 28, 2013. I’m not sure if these post is ridiculous, or if it’s brilliant. At the least, it’s an observation of a pattern, and any observed pattern may lead to truth. I’ve written on modern architectureart how to climb a ladder without falling off, plus on guns, curtains, crimehealthcare, heat bills, nuclear power, and the minimum wage.

Murder rate in Finland, Japan higher than in US

The murder rate in Finland and Japan is higher than in the US if suicide is considered as a type of murder. In the figure below, I’ve plotted total murder rates (homicide plus suicide) for several developed-world countries. The homicide component is in blue, with the suicide rate above it, in green. In terms of this total, the US is seen to be about average among the developed counties. Mexico has the highest homicide rate for those shown, Japan has the highest suicide rate, and Russia has this highest total murder rate shown (homicide + suicide): nearly double that of the US and Canada. In Russia and Japan, some .02% of the population commit suicide every year. The Scandinavian countries are quite similar to the US, and Japan, and Mexico are far worse. Italy, Greece and the UK are better than the US, both in terms of low suicide rate and low homicide rate.

  Combined homicide and suicide rates for selected countries, 2005.


Homicide and suicide rates for selected countries, 2005 Source: Wikipedia.

In the US, pundants like Piers Morgan like to use our high murder rate as an indicator of the ills of American society: loose gun laws are to blame, they say, along with the lack of social welfare safety net, a lack of support for the arts, and a lack of education and civility in general. Japan, Canada, and Scandinavia are presented as near idyls, in these regards. When murder is considered to include suicide though, the murder-rate difference disappears. Add to this, that violent crime rates are higher in Europe, Canada, and the UK, suggesting that clean streets and education do not deter crime.

The interesting thing though is suicide, and what it suggests about happiness. According to my graphic, the happiest, safest countries appear to be Italy and Greece. Part of this is likely weather , people commit suicide more in cold countries, but another part may be that some people (malcontents?) are better served by dirty, noisy cafés and pubs where people meet and complain, and are not so well served by clean streets and civility. It’s bad enough to be a depressed outsider, but it’s really miserable if everything around you is clean, and everyone is polite but busy.

Yet another thought about the lower suicide rates in the US and Mexico, is that some of the homicide in these countries is really suicide by proxy. In the US and Mexico depressed people (particularly men) can go off to war or join gangs. They still die, but they die more heroically (they think) by homicide. They volunteer for dangerous army missions or to attack a rival drug-lord outside a bar. Either they succeed in killing someone else, or they’re shot dead. If you’re really suicidal and can’t join the army, you could move to Detroit; the average house sold for $7100 last year (it’s higher now, I think), and the homicide rate was over 56 per 100,000. As bad as that sounds, it’s half the murder rate of Greenland, assuming you take suicide to be murder.

R.E. Buxbaum, Sept 14, 2013