Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Birth rates decline due to soap operas?

This is an interesting take on why birth rates have plummeted in India and elsewhere: It's not just due to better nutrition, empowering women or improving economic conditions, but also because of the spread of soap operas.

A lone child playing with a ball. It's symbolic, trust me.
The idea is briefly that soaps show an aspirational lifestyle with small families and few children, and that shapes the decisions families do for themselves. The evidence they cite is indirect, though, showing correlation of TV ownership and the spread of access to channels with soaps on one hand, to declining birth rates on the other.

But of course that the causation could easily be the other way around: Better economic conditions and smaller families free up resources for things like electricity and television sets. And the TV networks probably follow their customers; they build out their networks once there's enough women with enough free time to enjoy daytime dramas, and enough income to buy the items advertised on them.

We humans are great at finding spurious correlations, then making up plausible-sounding just-so stories to connect the dots we seem to have found. How about this explanation: Increasing wealth makes better indoor lighting available. With more light, people spend their evenings reading, working and playing. That gives people less time and energy for sex, which results in fewer children.

That idea is also sort of plausible-sounding, I think, but unlikely to be true of course. The old expression that "correlation is not causation" sounds like a dull platitude, but is really a strong warning; we are so predisposed to think that correlation is causation that we are reluctant to give it up even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And it's easy to find evidence against this idea. For instance, we should not forget that this is not the first wave of declining birth rates. European nations went through the same shift from large to small families one to two centuries ago, well before mass media was widespread and accessible enough to cause such a shift. And it's by far most likely the same factors are driving the shift in India, south American and African societies today.

So, the connection to soap operas is an interesting idea. It may well add a marginal contribution to the rate of current demographic shifts. But it's very unlikely to be one of the main factors.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


For reasons best known to itself, Blogger reverted the published post, removed it from the stream and replaced with an early draft. And as I wrote this quickly on the train, I have no local copy of the original.  Lesson: Never trust only cloud apps, but make sure you have local copies of everything.

So, tsuyu - that is, the rainy season - is declared for Osaka again. And early too, this year. This means alternating days of rain and humid, overcast weather for the next month or so. At least the temperature will stay moderate at no more than 25°-30° or so.

I like the rainy season, actually (though I seem to be pretty much alone in that). Sure it's wet, but temperatures are bearable and the light is soft and soothing, not bright and harsh. And I'm more often soaked during high summer anyhow, from sweat rather than rain.

Lund, Sweden, where I lived for ten years, has about the same chance of rain, but in December, with temperatures near freezing, not the balmy 25° or so of Osaka. And however much you may feel tsuyu is grey and dark, it's much better than southern Sweden in winter. The amount of rain is different of course, with over 200mm during the rainy season here, but still, I prefer a few weeks of early summer rain here over the miserable winters we had in Lund.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


29 degrees in Osaka today. Which means that summer has arrived, and I'll start bringing two or three t-shirts to work every morning just to stay presentable. 

In other news, our illustrious so-very-much-want-to-go-national mayor Hashimoto has been more controversial than usual lately; and, I suspect, more controversial than he planned for. He has a history of doing controversial things whenever he or his party is starting to slip from the media spotlight. I don't think he completely misrepresents what he really thinks but I suspect that he was making the statement in an offensive manner on purpose, and was completely unprepared for the magnitude of the reaction.

I really love Osaka. I like the city and I like the people. But we could do without the summer heat wave. And we could do without mayor Hashimoto.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Aomori Vegetable Dinner

Aomori produces a lot of good vegetables and other foods. We brought some back with us this weekend, and for dinner yesterday we made a simple vegetable tempura.

Tsukushi (horsetail) simmered in soy and mirin; miso soup; and rice. Deep-fried radish, yamaimo (mountain yam) and azami (thistle leaves); and tai (sea bream) sashimi.

The radish is deep-fried, leaves and all, with no batter for less than half a minute. As radish is good raw, even this was a bit too long, actually; ten-fifteen seconds is plenty. You just want the leaves crispy and brilliantly green.

For the imo and azami we made a lumpy batter from flour and water. It's lumpy by purpose, so don't mix it too well. Also, you want to be sloppy with the covering too, so the vegetables are visible through the batter. The azami leaves are fried only just long enough for the batter to set and hold them together. The imo is fried until the edges start to turn colour, a minute or so.

We also picked a bag full of tsukushi at Asamushi onsen near Aomori city. I've written before about how to make this delicious side dish; it's a fun spring-time tradition for us, and we try to make this every year. We were lucky they were still in season up north.

The sea bream sashimi is not home-made, of course, and doesn't come from Aomori either. But it goes well as a light dish to balance the fried vegetables. In all, another great weekday dinner.