Why horizontal strokes are thinner than vertical strokes

Beer communicationIf you look at Sino-Japanese text printed in the Chinese Song or Japanese Mincho typeface (similar to serif typefaces in European languages), you’ll notice that the horizontal strokes in characters are much thinner than the vertical strokes. Here’s why:

The printing press appeared in China during the Song Dynasty. At the time, each print block contained two portrait-oriented pages placed side by side. The print blocks were all cut from rectangular planks such that the wood grain ran horizontally. Because the grain ran horizontally, it was fairly easy to carve patterns with the grain, like horizontal strokes. However, carving vertical or slanted patterns was difficult because those patterns intersect with the grain and very easily break. This resulted in a typeface that has thin horizontal strokes and thick vertical strokes. To prevent wear and tear, the ending of horizontal strokes are also thickened. These design forces resulted in the current Song typeface.

Reactions, Speculation on Matsuoka’s Suicide

As noted before, the beset agricultural minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide yesterday. Today I want to show you some people’s reactions:

First off, Matsuoka himself left a whopping eight handwritten suicide notes, addressed to various people including the prime minister and “the people of Japan and everyone in my support club.”

The police have only released a fraction of the notes to the public so far, and they shed little light on why he decided to take the easy way out:

“People of Japan and everyone in my support club… I am very sorry and take the blame for everything. I apologize for causing so much trouble. Please take care of things after I’m gone.” And another note states: “My wife knows the circumstances behind this. Please don’t look for the whys and wherefores. Please be gentle.”

Martin Fackler of the New York Times explains for the American audience “Suicides have a long and often romanticized history in Japan, where they have been seen as a face-saving escape from public humiliation.” This sentiment is familiar to anyone living in Japan, and the suicide notes seem to back up that face-saving motivation. However, it should be noted that Matsuoka is the first serving cabinet member in Japan’s postwar history to kill himself, and only the 7th serving Diet member. While some Diet members have killed themselves over scandal (Shokei Arai in 1998 among them, who took his own life over getting caught in several stock scandals), some were due to terminal illness (See Asahi for details). And while Matsuoka may have tried to conjure up images of Japan’s face-saving suicide culture, there aren’t actually so many people who (at least overtly) sympathize with his choice to die rather than face the facts.

To get a quick perspective from both sides of the debate, today’s Asahi editorial notes: “Wasn’t there another way, such as stepping down as MAFF Minister or leaving your Diet seat?” and later “We do not intend to speak ill of the dead, but [revealing the facts and starting over if you are in the wrong] is the right way to take responsibility as a Diet member and a cabinet minister.”

The more right-leaning Yomiuri takes a different tack, portraying Matsuoka’s death as a “tragedy” somehow caused by the “psychological pressure of this string of problems” that could happen again if political fund accounting regulations are not reformed adequately. This sort of argument strikes me as patently irresponsible and implies that Matsuoka’s death was the opposition’s fault for, as they put it, using the political funds issue as a “political football” as opposed to the truth, which was that Matusoka’s suicide was a personal choice and no one’s fault but his own.

And there are still other theories as to why he killed himself. One rumor proffered by freelance journalist Takashi Kitaoka (citing “police” sources) is that Matsuoka was in 1 billion yen in debt, and that even the money he gained from immense utility expenses and political funds from forestry contractors would not pay for the interest.

The opposition parties (including the DPJ, Communists, and Social Democrats) have taken an almost uniform line that PM Abe’s protection of Matsuoka actually contributed to his death. Anonymous blogger Kikko explains the reasoning behind this:

Now the Abe cabinet, with its ministers encountering one scandal after another, is now called “the most miserably bad cabinet in history.” The irresponsibility of Shinzo Abe, who thinks of nothing but protecting his own position, has at last taken a person’s life. Minister Matsuoka, whose scandals and crimes, from the “something something recycled water” office expenses scandal, to his connections with organized crime, to the political funds scandal, and finally the “J-GREEN” government-led bid-rigging incident, had reportedly told people close to him that he wanted to quit. But Abe would not let him quit for the sole reason that “if any more cabinet ministers are made to quit, the prime minister’s responsibility for appointing them will be questioned.” In the Diet, Matsuoka was subjected to a fully-mobilized attack from the opposition, questioned harshly by police on the bid rigging incident, and even people within the LDP were calling for his resignation. Yet he was not allowed to quit even though he wanted to, all to save face for Shinzo Abe.

Pushed into a corner, Matsuoka in the end took his own life. In other words, he was forced to kill himself for the convenience of Shinzo Abe. Despite the fact that Abe’s responsibility for appointing him was obvious, what with the discovery of so much improper and illegal activity, Abe protected his own position by not letting Matsuoka quit, and this is the cause that pushed Matsuoka toward suicide. Abe should be questioned aggressively on this. Many people are killing themselves due to the growing societal disparity caused by bad policies, but for Abe to cause a suicide in his own cabinet just shows how selfish, incompentent, and irresponsible he is, and I’d like him to quit immediately.

Add notoriously corrupt (yet still alive, showing there is another way) politician Muneo Suzuki (formerly of LDP, now of the Hokkaido regional “Shinto Daichi” party) to the list of “it was Abe’s fault” proponents. As a former partner in crime, Suzuki speaks with the perspective of someone who really knows what was going on in his head:
The last time I saw [Matsuoka] was when we met on the night of May 24. I made a suggestion to him: “I am going to question you at the Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration tomorrow, so why don’t you apologize to the people from the heart? Your explanations that you are following the law and acting properly based on the law are not understood by the public. You should bow low on the ground before them and frankly apologize by saying that you did not fulfill your responsiblity to explain yourself.” But he lamely replied: “I thank you for the advice, but my orders from the Diet Affairs Committee, the top, are to stay quiet for now. I can only follow that.”

I asked him again: “This issue will go on whatever you do, so I think you should hurry up and honestly explain to the people.” He smiled and said: “Suzuki-sensei, you’re the only person who says that.”

I feel like I understand Matsuoka’s heart. Up to the day I was arrested, Matsuoka called me to express his support almost every day.

And some are speculating that there are some members of the farm “tribe” who must be relieved that Matsuoka will never be forced to testify as to what he knows about the various dealings that go one with the network of agriculture-related publicly owned corporations. His cryptic messages also show that he kept quiet to the end.

In all, the man whose career was made on smart, if shady, political decisions seems to have miscalculated the effect his death would have on the political scene. Or perhaps he knew exactly what sort of bind it would put the Abe administration in. Unfortunately, “the people” will probably never find out the truth, partly because Abe has declined to investigate the matter.

Agriculture Minister Matsuoka DEAD in suicide

Recent reports have noted that MAFF Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, a powerful LDP figure recently embroiled in a political funds scandal, hanged himself at an official Lower House residence in the Akasaka area of Tokyo at around midnight May 28.

As of earlier today, MAFF officials had not confirmed the reports from wire services and were reportedly as shocked to hear the news as this blogger is.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police stated that Matsuoka was found by his personal secretary and a security guard in the living room of the apartment, where he was hanging from a dog leash tied to a metal fixture on a door. He was rushed to Keio University Hospital but died of his injuries.

From FT and Reuters:

”This will have serious political fallout, but at this point it’s hard to tell how much,” a government official told Reuters.

Matsuoka—under fire for a series of political funding scandals—was found unconscious in his room at a residential complex for lawmakers in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters.

Media said Matsuoka had hanged himself in his room. Police later confirmed had died in hospital.

Local media had linked Matsuoka to at least two political fund scandals including one involving massive, dubious spending on his office near parliament.

Last week media also reported that he had received political donations from businessmen involved in a bid-rigging scandal.

Matsuoka had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

A quick look at online advertising through the lens of America

Slate wonders if online ad companies are worth what companies like Google and Microsoft are paying for them:

Last month, big establishment online company Google bought online-ad firm DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in cash. Last week, big establishment advertising agency WPP bought online-ad firm 24/7 Real Media for $649 million in cash. The next day, big establishment tech company Microsoft bought online-ad firm aQuantive for $6 billion in cash.

...this may be less a case of the market being irrationally ahead of the industry’s economic reality and more a case of the market being behind rational expectations for the industry.

Television, magazines, and newspapers may be hanging on because they are more powerful media for reaching the consumers companies most want to reach. But I suspect they’re hanging on for another demographic reason. Advertising is supposed to be a with-it, hot, trendy, tomorrow-based industry. But at root, the business of advertising is one of allocating capital, not cooking up clever jingles. And the people who make the decisions about how to allocate that $300-odd billion in capital each year—CEOs of consumer products companies, Fortune 500 executive vice presidents, media buyers, brand managers, agency heads—well, they’re old. It takes time to climb the corporate ladders to get to the rungs where really important decisions are made. Of course, these people, most of whom came of age as consumers in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, use the Internet, spend a lot of time on it, and buy stuff on it. But they don’t understand it intuitively the way the younger crowd does. Do you think the CEOs of Ford, Citigroup, or Procter & Gamble are uploading photos to their MySpace pages, downloading music, and blogging?

...the question for people who invest in the stocks of online-advertising companies—as Google, WPP, and Microsoft have just done—isn’t just whether online ads are the way to reach consumers today. No, the question is whether online ads will be among the best ways to reach consumers in five and 10 years, when today’s twentysomethings will be buying cars and houses and kitchen appliances and pharmaceuticals. More important, in 2012 it’s possible to imagine that the brand managers and executives responsible for making advertising-spending decisions will be people who grew up with the medium, who didn’t need a consultant to tell them how it works. It’s a reasonable expectation that online advertising will continue to gain market share and that more and more capital will slosh into this sector. The big companies paying top dollar for online ad firms have just bought some expensive buckets.

The points of this article, plus or minus a few details, could be easily made about Japan, with the exception that Japan’s traditional media are much more nervous about aggressively engaging the Internet. I’ll go through them as we proceed to give you what you need, but for now suffice to say that Japan is awash in new technology, the young folks are growing up as avid users, but the managers at the advertisers and the agencies are too old to really get it. But as in the US, the future growth in Internet ads is understood, and traditional companies like Dentsu are realizing that they need to follow where people’s eyes are.