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    Nice work if you can get it

    Posted by Sean at 22:07, January 27th, 2005

    Cheese and crackers! The “It’s me” scam–which has now taken so many forms that it’s referred to more elegantly as 振り込め詐欺 (furikome-sagi: “the ‘Pay up!’ scam”*)–caused losses of 28,400,000,000 yen in 2004. (That’s about US $258,000,000.) The figure is nearly four times what it had been in 2003–the phenomenon really took off last year. The Mainichi ran an article a few days ago about one of the rings from which some members have been caught:

    The ring was divided into 10 groups, each of which comprised of some 10 “shops.” Each shop was headed by a “manager” and staffed by approximately 10 “employees.”

    Each shop was required to net at least 10 million yen a month from such frauds. Employees who showed outstanding performances were invited to participate in tours of Okinawa and dine at hotels. While those who failed to fulfill their quota were beat by their bosses.

    Managers received about 500,000 yen in fixed monthly salary and employees got 250,000 to 300,000 yen, plus additional pay in proportion to the money they earned. One manager received 5 million yen as a monthly wage, police said.

    You know, kind of like Fuller Brush, only with kneecappings and not a single satisfied customer. Of course, the efflorescence of this particular swindle only seems sudden; in fact, it’s been gradually becoming more common over the last few years, and there’s nothing surprising in the way more miscreants have been drawn to it.
    * Before Amritas gets over his cold and points it out: 振り込め isn’t the imperative of the verb usually translated “pay.” It’s more like “make the bank transfer” (or, if we’re being literal, “sprinkle it in” or “wave it in”). I was taking license, poetic or otherwise.

    Yasukuni Shrine visits not grounds for civil suit

    Posted by Sean at 20:52, January 27th, 2005

    Something else from the Japanese courts, this time on a recurring topic here:

    The Naha District Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit against the government and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that was filed by almost 100 people seeking damages over Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

    The ruling dismissed claims from the 94 plaintiffs, who experienced or lost relatives in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, that Koizumi’s visits to the shine had caused them to suffer, and rejected their demand for 100,000 yen each in compensation.

    In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Kazuto Nishii refrained from saying whether or not Koizumi’s visits to the shrine, which enshrines class-A war criminals, violated the Constitution or if they were made in an official role.

    Of course, Judge Nishii refrained from saying so–that’s the million-dollar question. But he didn’t have to; the reason behind the dismissal was “that the legal right to strictly request the separation of religion and state was not a benefit for residents and that that they could therefore not demand compensation if this right was violated.” Okinawans are Japanese citizens, so the issue is not the same as it is with comfort women; they do frequently get the country-cousins treatment, though.


    Posted by Sean at 06:55, January 27th, 2005

    One of the big stories this week is that the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that it was not unconstitutional for the government of Tokyo Metro (an entity equal in status to a prefecture, though I realize I’ve just made it sound like a tram line) to refuse to consider foreign nationals as candidates for management positions. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the same top story at all three English-version Japanese newspapers I read on-line (the Asahi, the Mainichi, and the Yomiuri), though of course it was in the Nikkei and elsewhere, too.

    Those familiar with Japan will understand the issue here, but for those who are not: we’re not talking about immigrants. The controversy is over ethnic Koreans and Chinese born and brought up in Japan–many of whom have no real ties to Korea or China–who nevertheless do not have Japanese passports and are considered resident aliens. This is from the Yomiuri report:

    The Supreme Court said the metropolitan government’s preventing its foreign workers from taking promotion exams therefore did not violate Article 3 of the Labor Standards Law, which bans discriminating against workers on the ground of nationality, and Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees “equality before the law.”

    Meanwhile, Justices Shigeo Takii and Tokuji Izumi said in their dissenting opinions that the metropolitan government’s refusal to let the second-generation Korean resident sit the promotion examination just because she is not Japanese was “an illegal act of discrimination,” and that rejection of the plaintiff who has special permanent resident status from the first round of promotion exams was “unconstitutional.”

    Japan’s treatment of its resident non-Japanese Asians causes a great deal of strain, especially because of the restrictions on civil service jobs (which can include public health, the field of nursing in which the plaintiff in this case practiced, and public education). For some reason, I can’t seem to find a report on it, but there was a case last year in which the parents of a family of illegal aliens died. They were, I think, Thai and had been living in Japan for years. The government decided to grant the teenaged daughter citizenship and send the younger children back to Thailand. The reasoning was that the girl had never really known any life but that in Japan and was old enough to have formed her personality around her life here, while the younger children still had time to return to their native country and adapt to it without trauma. There’s a case of an orphan like that every few years, and citizenship is, if my memory serves correctly, often granted.

    Second- and third-generation children of intact non-Japanese families are another matter, but it’s worth remembering that pity for them must be carefully qualified. Japan-Korea ill-feeling goes both ways, even if there can be no debate over which side got the short end of the stick over the last century or so. A lot of permanent residents seem to be perfectly happy to retain their special permanent residency while working to expand the rights attached to it. And, well, while the mistreatment of non-Japanese here is real, you can’t ignore the fact that desiring the rights of a Japanese citizen while maintaining one’s identity (and presumably loyalty of some kind?) as a Korean means wanting to have it both ways.

    I have no idea what the plaintiff in this case thinks on the subject. By all accounts, she was encouraged by her superior to take the qualifying exam for promotion; she didn’t go looking for trouble to make a grand point, and she doesn’t seem like a chronic rabble-rouser. The Supreme Court decision, which simply affirms that it’s not unconstitutional for a local government to preserve positions of authority for Japanese citizens, is hard to fault. The court cannot, after all, fix long-standing animosity and divided loyalties.

    Added at 18:00: Man, can I be retarded sometimes. I looked at today’s “Asia by Blog” installment over at Simon’s and didn’t see that he’d linked to anyone’s coverage of this story–as I say, it was big here. It’s sort of odd that I missed it, because it’s the FIRST LINE of the Korea/Japan section. Anyway, his first link was to Joi Ito’s post, which mentions that the nurse in question is, in fact, genetically half-Japanese. I take the point that Japan is bringing many of these problems on itself, though it’s not as if it had a monopoly on xenophobia. I still can’t dismiss the idea of requiring citizenship as a qualification for ranking posts in the government as a trumped-up issue.

    Added on 29 January: Maybe I’m losing my mind. I’m still looking for the story about that Thai girl, but the only one I keep running into is the (far, far more famous case) of the girl who’s applying for permanent residency because her grandmother’s Japanese husband has adopted her. Her parents are dead. But she doesn’t have any siblings, and she didn’t grow up here. I wouldn’t be surprised if I weren’t correctly remembering all the facts of the case I’m thinking of, but I’m usually not quite that much of a space cadet.

    I’ll bake their bones for telling lies

    Posted by Sean at 12:00, January 26th, 2005

    Even in death, Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota is getting no peace. The DPRK handed over a collection of bones said to be hers a while back. About a month ago, Japanese forensic experts determined that–surprise!–the North Koreans were lying. If I recall correctly, it was suggested that the bones received might not all be from the same person.

    It’s taken the DPRK a month or so to respond, and its response, relayed through its state news organ, is, “The Japanese forensic report is a complete fabrication; a thorough fact-finding investigation into the fraud must be undertaken and the responsible parties severely punished.” Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machida replies, justifiably, that if the DPRK has accusations to make, it should make them through direct diplomatic communication.

    Yokota’s first name, BTW, is officially written in kana: めぐみ. The meaning, tragically unfulfilled in her case, is “blessing.”

    I don’t believe I’d love somebody / Just to pass the time

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, January 25th, 2005

    This is from Ghost of a Flea:

    I have not listened to this one in ages. How is it Stock Aitken Waterman got away with releasing the oddly similar backing beat to “Venus” by Bananarama?

    He is referring to Kylie’s much-spat-upon version of “The Locomotion,” and I believe the answer is this (yeah, I’m sure it’s on the Internet in a 1000 places): Kylie was one of the celeb guests at some charity performance-thing, and on the spur of the moment, they asked her…or everyone…to sing something. Anyway, I think she and some friends decided to improv their way merrily through “The Locomotion,” and it went over so well that someone decided it’d be great to, you know, milk it for maximum profit by releasing it as a single. When S/A/W produced, they naturally weren’t going to give it the full Rick Astley–it was just a one-off lark by a television actress whose amateurishness was part of the charm. So the fact that it sucked isn’t all that much a stain on anyone’s record. (The fact that Kylie’s later covers of “Tears on My Pillow” and “Celebration” were made to suck with malice aforethought is another thing entirely.)

    Actually, another funny story I’ve heard a bunch of times is that after the sessions for “The Locomotion,” S/A/W said the usual “This was fun, stop by the studio and maybe we can get something bigger together” stuff, and when Kylie showed up as planned, they’d forgotten all about it. They had to write “I Should Be So Lucky” on the spot. Don’t know whether it’s true.

    Kiss me on the bus

    Posted by Sean at 21:09, January 25th, 2005

    I like John Corvino’s latest article posted to IGF, but, then, I like his writing in general. I could have done without the Rosa Parks analogy, which he crashes through the guardrail and follows in flames as it rolls down the ravine (just to be gallant and cover his bad conceit-making with my own). His priorities are in the right place, though, and I join him in wondering how other people can possibly fail to see this stuff:

    Is that name difference silly? Yes, it’s silly � maybe even insulting. But when health benefits are denied to committed same-sex couples, when a person can’t get bereavement leave upon the death of her same-sex partner; when loving couples are split apart because one partner is a foreigner and can’t get citizenship, that’s far worse than silly or insulting � it’s downright cruel. I contend that we have a fighting chance at ending such cruelty, and that once we do so we’ll have an even better chance at ending the silly name-difference (again, see Scandinavia).

    I still don’t agree that attaining marriage under that name must, must, must be the goal. Even if we accept that legal and social circumstances are unequal now, it’s possible that opening marriage to gays is not the solution in the best interest of the larger society (including us gays). If the child-rearing function really is central to marriage, perhaps it needs to be reemphasized through stiffened divorce laws and greater penalties for parents who make spurious accusations at each other in custody battles, for example.

    The interference in individuals’ ability to make contracts that dictate the disposal of their possessions and persons if they’re incapacitated isn’t even a given everywhere; as Corvino says, we need to start there. Forget even the part about “recognition of our relationships” in the general sense, or at least, hold it in abeyance. Accusations like the one in the hate mail with which Corvino opens his article can only come from people who don’t see the current social and political climate for what it really is, a phenomenon that may be partially explained by their tendency to reach for invective when they should be assessing and countering arguments.

    Along those lines, I’m sorry to see that Maggie Gallagher is the latest columnist who took pay by the Bush administration to plug programs and is only now disclosing it. Gallagher is not my favorite person, as you might imagine. She has always struck me as principled, though, and I’ve cringed whenever I’ve seen someone from my team decide that the way to provide a witty and substantive refutation of one of her pieces is to call her a bitch. What she’s done isn’t an ethical infraction of epic proportions, but it doesn’t speak well of her–how does one forget about a contract for two grand, exactly? And even if her support for the program was there for the asking, anyway, is it impossible to believe that she might have been inclined not to publicize such flaws as it might have had once she and the government had an understanding?

    What this does do is give people who could learn from Gallagher’s arguments a new, easy reason to dismiss her as a bankrupt thinker. That’s not exactly what we need on either side at the moment. (The Gallagher story was foreshadowed by Instapundit and Drudge.)

    Brief service announcement

    Posted by Sean at 11:59, January 25th, 2005

    I don’t mind all the searches asking whether country singer Kenny Chesney is gay, but I also don’t have an answer. With the physique, the tan, the easily-removable outdoorsy clothing, the cat-like, angular features, and the lonesome tenor, he has plenty of our boys panting after him. That doesn’t say anything about the man himself, though.

    I also don’t know anything about Atika Schubert, though no one seems to be interested in whether she’s a lesbian. I know she’s the CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief, and that her reporting style, while not conspicuously illuminating, isn’t as twinkly and annoying as some other people’s (at least to me). I assume lots of people are interested lately because she did a great deal of tsunami reporting? Or maybe there’s a campaign going to pitch her as CNN’s new star anchor, now that the word is Anderson Cooper is supposed to be it.

    “Specifically, your house

    Posted by Sean at 15:04, January 23rd, 2005

    This fictional letter on Diplomad reminds me of that classic Bloom County sequence in which Steve Dallas is defending an elderly axe-murderess and, at the arraignment, so overzealously argues that she’s harmless (“She’s a lamb, your honor”) that the bemused judge releases her into his personal custody. Priceless.

    (Via biased Susanna.)

    Added on 25 January: One reader (I forgot to ask whether I could quote him) thinks I’m suggesting here that people who have issues with our treatment of prisoners are a monolithic bunch of idiot leftists. To me, Diplomad’s letter was pretty clearly targeting only the most volubly inane cultural-relativist types, who would complain about our treatment of prisoners if we set each of them up in beachfront property in Antibes. Those who question whether our personnel are acting in arbitrary ways that violate our own ideal of the rule of law, or worry that serious rusty-pliers-and-electrodes stuff may be worked on people because of possible failures in the chain of command–they were not, unless I read Diplomad incorrectly, the satirical target.

    People with legitimate arguments to make do not, after all, rely entirely on vague blather about “cultural differences.” And as for torture, the fictional addressee is someone who has complained specifically about treatment at Guantanamo Bay, where I don’t believe anyone has been accused of torture.

    Added on 27 January: My reader was tenacious (in a good way) and pointed me toward this article from The Baltimore Sun, in which torture allegations are, in fact, made about Guantanamo Bay. Sorry for speaking in ignorance. I still read the letter Diplomad cites as satirizing coarse leftism and not pooh-poohing actual prisoner abuse, but if an extra link will avoid possibly misleading people, here it is.

    I saw this film about some people who lived in a dome

    Posted by Sean at 14:31, January 23rd, 2005

    The spirit of international cooperation hovers, dove-like, over the end of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR). Or not:

    An international disaster conference ended over the weekend with participants agreeing on the need to help strengthen developing countries’ ability to deal with disasters, but some critics were already questioning the action plan adopted.

    Not only does the broadly worded document lack achievable numerical targets, but it also largely ignores the input of developing nations, they say.

    “The conference has tended to be about what ideas developed countries had and could do for the affected (tsunami) region,” said a delegate from India. The delegate said that it was important for the affected nations to take a central role, and that “existing systems in those countries be utilized.”

    I wasn’t there, obviously, so I can’t verify the accounts of the delegate from India quoted above, or those from Senegal (drought-stricken) and the Marshall Islands (worried about global warming). However, not much imagination is required to conjure up a picture of first-world delegates–high on their own compassion and the possibilities of fancy, whiz-bang techno-fixes–talking right over people with actual knowledge of the different local circumstances disaster-relief programs are up against in the large and varied “developing world.”

    The recent Sumatra earthquake and tsunami overshadowed everything, naturally. In the weeks since the initial emergency passed, the tsunami has evolved into a heightened version of the usual sexy, telegenic media story: a visually-impressive force of nature, the emotional trauma of sudden loss of friends and family, the occasional unexpected joyous reunion, the noble struggle to return things to normal. It’s the sort of thing that would be rejected as implausible if it were submitted as the script for a fictional made-for-TV movie.

    Am I being cynical here? Well, only partially. I don’t doubt for a second that reporters feel the same compassion as the rest of us, and when they point out that they’re telling the stories of people who have no other public voice, they’re not just rationalizing. But it’s hard to keep covering something like this without falling back on stock disaster-drama clichés and thereby trivializing it.

    The complaints about the WCDR indicate that, sadly but not surprisingly, the same sort of thing is happening among aid agencies. The tsunami provides the perfect opportunity to say, “You see what can happen when you don’t flood us with cash and make sure we have safeguards against everything?” To the best of our knowledge, though, the Indian Ocean disaster was (thankfully) a fluke. It is not representative of the issues facing the third world.

    The problems that most poor countries are dealing with are mundane and un-dramatic. Much of what needs to be done is education, teaching everyday people how to evaluate their own circumstances and adjust their behavior accordingly. Technology is certainly useful in making it easier for developing countries to anticipate, weather, and respond to disasters, but in ways well-heeled do-gooders do not seem to have internalized:

    During the meeting, big players from the developed world-including Japan, the United States, Germany and France-pushed their ideas for a tsunami warning system.

    This did not sit well with some groups from the countries hard-hit by the tsunami. They felt their voices were not being heard when they suggested upgrading systems they already had for warning systems.

    So the countries with non-tsunami problems did not see those problems addressed, and the countries actually hit by the tsunami felt that their knowledge of their own homelands was not taken into account by eager-beaver first-world technocrats. A toast all around, then, for a job well done.


    Posted by Sean at 12:14, January 22nd, 2005

    Wow. Blizzard in the Northeast, huh? (It’s probably kind of stupid for me to be linking a Japanese article to tell you about a snowstorm you already know about in our native tongue–I’m only doing so because that’s where I first learned of it.) They actually had to close Philadelphia International Airport–and this time, not just de facto because of US Air’s fable-worthy incompetence. Stay safe, everyone.