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    Talk to me / Like lovers do

    Posted by Sean at 23:27, October 19th, 2004

    Okay, you know, I’m a big fan of rain, but enough is enough. This is number 23, for those who are keeping count. There are already 28 dead or missing; it’s supposed to pass us here in Tokyo some time before sunrise. Here’s hoping there are no further casualties.



    Added at 23:54: And now that I pay attention, things are awfully quiet out there. Maybe the worst is past already? From what the news says, Utsunomiya is still getting rain. Doesn’t even look all that windy, though.



    Added on 21 October: This CNN article has the number of dead at 30 and the number of missing at 40; the Nikkei has the numbers at 46 and 42, respectively. As usual, most of the casualties were in Western Japan, where the jagged landscape makes landslides and the flooding of valleys an ever-present danger. And then there are the high waves and flying objects from the wind to factor in. Atsushi’s fine; his city didn’t get hit this time, but in addition to the 88 dead and missing, there were 300 injured, and no one’s begun to count the property damage and agricultural losses. They’re bound to be high, especially in places such as Ehime Prefecture, which has taken it on the chin more than once this season.



    This typhoon and the one that came through Tokyo a few weeks ago have not only been unusually strong, they’ve also been lastingly unpleasant: Neither was followed by the usual clear weather you get after a typhoon. “Probably because there’s another one in line,” everyone jokes. But we can still joke because Tokyo hasn’t had much damage or injury.



    Added on 22 October: It feels a bit unseemly to keep posting updated casualty counts, as if one were keeping score at a baseball game, but since Simon World kindly linked this post, those who are interested in what we can only hope is the final word can go to the English Asahi: 65 dead and 21 missing. That’s the worst for any single storm since 1979. And as the article points out, a lot of the soil was saturated practically to liquefaction by previous storms, so landslides were even worse this time than they have been before this year. It reminds you how fragile our infrastructure is when nature decides to play rough…though on the other hand, feats such as the rescue of a bunch of bus passengers, who sat on top of their vehicle as the water rose, remind you how fortunate we are to live in a world with such resilient systems to respond to disasters. The sun is out in Tokyo today, at least, so let’s hope there will be some respite before anyone gets hammered again. It’s not yet the end of typhoon season.


    Ups and downs in Japanese technology

    Posted by Sean at 14:36, October 17th, 2004

    For anyone who’s been sleeping too soundly, here are two reports from the Asahi that I didn’t get around to mentioning. One relates that, while Japan is pouring money into its spy satellite network, it is still overwhelmingly dependent on information actually picked up by US satellites:


    It was only after North Korea lobbed a Taepodong missile over the Japanese archipelago in August 1998 that the government decided to step up monitoring of the reclusive state via satellite.



    Almost five years and billions of yen later, Japan launched its own reconnaissance satellites–one optical and one radar–in March 2003.



    Two more were planned to go up last November but remain grounded after the H2A rocket No. 6, which was to carry the satellites, failed to launch.



    In the past 18 months, a whopping 250 billion yen has been spent on the project. To top that off, annual running costs are in the range of 20 billion yen. In August, the government announced that another optical satellite will be launched next fiscal year. A second radar satellite is slated for fiscal 2006.





    As always, my point is not that Japan’s image as technologically advanced is a lie. It’s that Japan, like every other country, is better at some things than at others. And at the moment, rockets are not its strong suit. (Last November is not the first time one has failed to launch or had to be shot down.) As someone who loves both America and Japan, I’m glad as always that we’re helping each other out.



    Of course, America is not the only country Japan trades with, and investigators are now trying figure out exactly how measuring instruments (which can be used to make aluminum tubes–we all remember from Colin Powell why those matter, right?) shipped to Malaysia ended up in a Libyan nuclear facility:


    Seemingly innocuous but high-tech precision instruments that found their way to a nuclear facility in Libya were rerouted after being shipped directly from a manufacturer in Japan to a company in Malaysia, sources said.



    The devices included precision instruments for three-dimensional measurements, which can be used to develop nuclear weapons.







    Asked for comment, a senior official with the Kanagawa company said it “was beyond imagination” that the equipment ended up in Libya.



    A spokesman for the Scomi group, parent company of SCOPE, said it had no idea how the instruments were resold for onward export. It strenuously denied having links to the nuclear black market.





    There doesn’t seem to be any indication that the Japanese company knew its instruments were going to be routed illegally to Libya, which is good, of course.


    投票済み

    Posted by Sean at 13:38, October 17th, 2004

    Just mailed in my absentee ballot. Nobody here but us chickens.



    Added on 18 October: Per Janis Gore’s instructions, I decided to celebrate my ballot-casting by being an unpredictably shameless vodka martini-drinking homosexual Democrat.



    Well, okay. Those weren’t her instructions, exactly. I improvised. But I’m happy (if not entirely a Democrat). About the vote and the martinis.



    And BTW, I’m not the first gay guy named Sean Ki— to vote by absentee ballot. The “secret ballot” thing worries me a bit, though. I mean, the instructions from the Lehigh County Board of Elections did say you couldn’t talk to anyone about the process, but people don’t get in trouble for participating in exit polls, do they? I haven’t been particularly secretive about whom I was likely to vote for, at least in the presidential and senate races. I’m willing to start cultivating an air of teasing mystery around the whole thing if necessary, though.


    Old sins cast long shadows

    Posted by Sean at 17:16, October 16th, 2004

    Japan will be ensconced as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for another two-year term (the last one was five years ago). This should help with its bid for permanent membership, especially since Kofi Annan is supposedly kicking around ideas for major reform in 2005. My favorite part of the article was the end:


    There is a view in the government that Japan’s nonpermanent membership of the Security Council will make it easier for the country to gather intelligence.



    On the other hand, Japan’s status as a nonpermanent member means the country will come under pressure to make difficult decisions on a range of issues.





    Damn and blast those difficult decisions on a range of issues! They’ll be the death of us all yet. In case you’re wondering whether the Yomiuri is referring to, you know, anything in particular, the Taipei Times is a little less vague. On the other side of the Formosa Strait, The People’s Daily slyly but pointedly compares Japan’s and Germany’s respective willingness to reckon with their WWII behavior. Guess–just guess–who comes out looking better.



    The issues surrounding Japan’s bid for permanent membership haven’t really shifted much in the last several months, from what I can tell. Japan, China, and the Koreas are still dancing around each other, and the interpretation of Article 9 of the constitution is still subject to debate, though we’re not hearing much about it at the moment. Two years is a long time in diplomatic terms, though; there’s plenty of time for Japan, China, the Koreas, and the US to nettle each other in unpredictable ways. Fun for the whole North Pacific family!



    Oh, and this isn’t exactly the same topic, but it’s related: Nathan posted again the other day about what he sees as distortions in Americans’ views of the PRC. I’m not convinced by everything he says, but I am convinced by his overall point that it’s as bad to treat China as if it were still under Mao as it is to figure its economic liberalization has made its past sins all better.



    Image problems

    Posted by Sean at 15:08, October 16th, 2004

    I’m kind of finding it easier to enjoy the Kerry family’s quirks now that I’ve made up my mind about how I’m going to vote. Ann Althouse and Chris G (both Midwesterners in law at big-guns state universities, randomly enough) posted interestingly about John and Teresa Heinz Kerry, respectively. I remain unconvinced that they should be living in the White House, but I’m starting to believe they might liven up, say, the talk show industry. (I’m a pop-culture baby, so that’s not to be taken as a slur.)



    Was it Andrew Sullivan who said that he’d like to have dinner with Teresa Heinz Kerry? That strikes me as about right. The interview Law Dork cites is full of fawning questions. (To be fair, I suspect an interview of President Bush on the subject of his religious faith by a Christian writer would be, too, but that’s not the topic here.) I don’t agree with everything she says about sexuality, but her appreciation of the variety of people there are in the world feels genuine and unforced.


    (Q) I notice you told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this year of your critics: “They’ve got to kill something that’s strong. What can I do? Nothing. I know who I am. My friends know who I am.” That’s an attitude that really resonates with the LGBT community, which has had to face down scurrilous attacks for years.



    (THK) I used the word “kill?”



    Yes.



    Wow. What I mean is that if you are not part of their way, they don’t want you to be strong. If you are strong, it will weather. And they don’t want you to weather.





    Amazing. She really, seriously doesn’t pay attention to what she says to reporters, apparently. Which I find irresistibly charming–what fun would our media-saturated culture be without mouthy, solipsistic rich people to entertain us with mouthy, solipsistic pronouncements?–but is not a quality I want in the woman who helps represent America to foreign heads of state.



    And it’s unfortunate, because I think she probably loves America as sincerely as any of us do. This interview seems to indicate what she’s been trying, in her own non-linear way, to get across through some of her more famous head-scratchers, like addressing the DNC in multiple languages. She likes variety in people, she appreciates the ability to live in ways others don’t like, and being censured just makes her assert herself more. Those are all fabulous things to think.



    But like a lot of other Democrats, she doesn’t seem so clear on when they need to be tempered. It’s understandable why someone with her personality would balk at helping her husband campaign for the Presidency. But since she decided to do it anyway, it would be nice if she recognized that she’s no longer just speaking for herself.



    Her husband has the opposite problem, as Althouse notes:


    But I don’t care that he’s really got an upper class accent. I’ve heard it in full force in the old tapes of his appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show” back in the early 70s, and I find it quite charming. It’s who he authentically is, but he’s got to mask that noblesse oblige stuff to run for President. But then he lets it slip and says “EYE-ther.” If he would just be his authentic self, an upper class guy, trying to serve, being thoughtful and adult, I would probably love him. But he’s been twisted and wrung out by the process. If he does win in the end, I hope he recovers that authentic self and governs well. But he shows us every day that he doesn’t believe we want that man. It’s really quite sad!





    I agree. Kerry seems to believe that if he’s going to beat George Bush, he has to do the common-man thing the way Bush does. It’s astounding that he’s never looked at a tape of himself and realized that it doesn’t work (and it rings even more false since, with his dramatic height, he looks like Count Dracula when he puts on a dark suit and burgundy tie). Madonna and Kylie Minogue can get away with this stuff because they’re pop stars. Madonna’s self-reinvention as an eccentric Englishwoman into Near Eastern mysticism may be implausible, but its worst effect is that her music gets lame. The stakes are different for someone who wants to set policy.


    Japan’s Hemlock Cyber-society

    Posted by Sean at 22:59, October 15th, 2004

    Nichi Nichi reminded me about last week’s group suicides in Saitama and Yokosuka. The one in Saitama was the largest single group suicide in Japan ever. I hadn’t seen the Japan Times article, which centers on whether the Internet is to be blamed for helping to raise the suicide rate significantly. Agenda Bender actually asked me about it passing earlier in the week:


    Stay away from those online suicide cults.



    What’s the deal with the charcoal grills IN THE CARS, btw? They don’t sell rubber hose in Japan? Or is charcoal that much cheaper than gas?





    I’d kind of wondered that myself. Surely, if you can find the duct tape aisle, you can find the spools-of-tubing aisle. I don’t know what the unit price of charcoal is here, but it’s impossible to believe it’s not less than that of gas. On the other hand, the you-can’t-take-it-with you principle would seem to indicate that splurging on one final topping of the tank is within reason.



    I suspect one of two things. Either there’s some manga series in which the grill-fumes method was used and people are copying it (likely) or the police have started looking for suspicious ductwork connected to the exhaust pipe of parked vans in outlying areas (I can’t assess the likelihood of this, but given the notice that these suicides are getting, it strikes me as possible) and the suicide sites have begun to warn readers to avoid detection by not rigging things up that way.


    婉曲不足

    Posted by Sean at 21:01, October 14th, 2004

    I am SERIOUSLY GOING TO LOSE MY MIND.



    I was just thinking, if I have to read another word about the mentions of Mary Cheney’s lesbianism in the Cheney-Edwards and Bush-Kerry debates, I will go bananas. Then I spun through the channels to CNN. What’s American Morning talking about? You guessed it.



    The hilarious part was the letter (it was one of Jack Whosis’s Viewer Responses to Thought-Provoking Questions segments, in this case, Do you think the mention of Mary Cheney’s sexuality during the debates was justified?) from some idiot who seems to need irony supplements. He wrote something on the order of, well, Dick Cheney thanked John Edwards for his kind remarks about his family, so obivously, you know, it was no real problem, and the Republicans are just blowing a gasket to make the Democrats look bad.



    This is one of the valuable things that the Japanese remember but many Americans have unfortunately forgotten, despite our genuine goodwill in most instances. People here still understand the concept of saying, “So very kind of you to say so,” when they mean, “Mind your own [bleep]ing business, you crass little twit!” but want to keep the atmosphere of goodwill intact for everyone else’s benefit.



    Isn’t it November yet?



    *******



    And then there are people who make up their own language to express indignation. Well, okay, these ninnies are British Commonwealth, not American, but they make the point:


    In the morning, the flight crew woke up everyone to prepare for landing at Heathrow Airport. Potgieter said that he and his partner kissed each other good morning and hugged each other as any couple would do when they wake up.



    Two flight attendants approached the pair and requested that they do “not to kiss each other as doing so was offensive to the other passengers on the flight.”



    A little later a senior flight attendant came up to their seats and told them not to kiss again.



    Potgieter said he was shocked. In his court documents he says that he experienced extreme humiliation by the conduct of the flight attendants and that he became traumatized and angry.



    As the flight touched down the men were so angry they refused to follow the flight crew’s instructions to fasten their seat belts. The crew alerted authorities that they had two unruly passengers on board.



    On landing, both men were arrested and Potgieter was held for three days awaiting an appearance before a judge. He was fined for not wearing the seatbelt, but says he suffered economic losses as a result of the detention.





    I think I understand the concept of the cause-effect relationship, but I don’t get that “the men were so angry they refused to follow the flight crew’s instructions to fasten their seat belts” construction. I mean, way to make those killjoy flight attendants wither with remorse, huh?



    And what is that “he and his partner kissed each other good morning and hugged each other as any couple would do when they wake up” supposed to mean? It is perfectly possible that the BA attendants were acting on excessive preemptive squeamishness based on seeing a locking of molten eyes, a squeezing of shoulders, and a quick peck. But it also wouldn’t surprise me if these characters looked as if they were going to start seriously making out and needed to be reminded that they were on a passenger jet and not at a play party. After all, one of the reasons people feel free to hug and kiss when they wake up in the morning is that they’re, like, alone in their bedroom.



    And can we please stop using the word traumatizing to refer to what even-tempered people are still content to call upsetting or (in pompous moods) distressing? A car accident that kills your parents and leaves you needing physical therapy before you can walk again is traumatizing. Finding out that the love of your life is slowly poisoning you and conspiring to run off with your best friend and your life insurance money is traumatizing. Being gay in a country in which homosexuality is punishable by death or torture (or maybe even just frequent police raids) is traumatizing. Being asked in rapid succession to stop kissing and put on your seatbelt is not traumatizing, even if you think it was discriminatory. Flibbertigibbets.


    How can Mary tell me what to do / When she lost her love so true?

    Posted by Sean at 15:36, October 14th, 2004

    Oh, no. Looks like I won’t be able to vote for Bush after all. The cool kids don’t want me to:


    If global opinion polls counted, U.S. President George W. Bush would be voted out of office.



    Democratic contender John Kerry was the preferred winner in the U.S. presidential election Nov. 2 by the majority of people in eight of 10 nations, according to a survey sponsored by influential newspapers in each of those countries. The poll was taken in September and earlier this month.



    Most people polled in Japan, Britain, South Korea, Spain, Mexico, Australia, France and Canada would like to see Republican incumbent Bush get the boot.



    Only in Israel and Russia did a majority welcome another four years of Bush.







    In Canada, Spain and Mexico, 55 to 60 percent were pro-Kerry, while in Australia, Japan and Britain, a little over 50 percent were pro-Kerry.



    Among nations where more pollees wanted Kerry to win than Bush, 30 percent in Japan still said they wanted Bush.



    In Japan, about 900 randomly chosen people gave valid responses on Oct. 2 and 3.





    In Japan the proportion was 50 for Kerry to 30 for Bush–less of a difference than I might have thought, actually. It seems reasonable to figure that in the other countries in which Kerry got around 50% support, Bush also got around 30%. I say it seems reasonable because that’s my sense from talking to people. My methods are admittedly not scientific, but I meet quite a few people from other countries who, while skeptical of many things about the way the WOT is actually being carried out, believe that America needs to defend itself and its interests and would be pretty wussy if it failed to do so. Some even acknowledge the part the American military does in general to make their own countries or shipping lanes safer. There aren’t as many of them as there are of lockstep leftists, but they’re there, all right.



    It’s also interesting that the two countries in which Bush got more support were those in which the populace has daily experience with trying to protect itself from murderous thugs, many of the Islamofascist persuasion.* You think…?



    No, no, of course not. Why pull for the guy who promises the crush the bad guys that want to off you right after the Americans, when you can pull for the guy who’ll make nice with your own head of state?



    One last thing:


    The poll also showed that 60 to 80 percent in most nations have a favorable opinion of Americans.





    Thanks, everyone. But I’m still voting for Bush. Just as Koizumi would.

    * I haven’t forgotten that Spain has the Basques and that trains were blown up in Madrid a few months ago. But it seems that, like the IRA in Britain, terrorist groups in Spain have only been very sporadically active for the last few years; I’ll welcome correction if I’m wrong.


    When you hit bottom, keep drilling

    Posted by Sean at 23:18, October 13th, 2004

    Oh, for the love of–I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but obviously it’s going to be big news for a while. Not that it shouldn’t be…only, given all the attention we’ve been paying to reform of the postal service lately, you’d think the last thing we’d need is a less sexy scandal. We’ve got one, though: Secret donations to a former Prime Minister by…the Japan Dental Association. At least it wasn’t the podiatrists.



    For those new to this particular item, here’s where it stood a month ago. Note the blasé presentation of this as merely an inflated version of business as usual:


    The JDA provides a typical example of “triangular collusion” among the LDP [This is not because the LDP is an especially venal party; it’s just that it’s the one that has power to peddle.–SRK], bureaucracy and industry. Its former chairman is charged with bribing members of a government panel on medical insurance in an attempt to increase payments for dental services. In April, five men were arrested on bribery charges.



    Hospitals and clinics receive payments at given rates under the medical insurance system, and revising these rates is almost always a politically charged issue. The Japan Dentists Federation, the political arm of the JDA and a major fundraiser for the LDP, contributed about 1.5 billion yen to the party’s campaign-financing organization for three years from 2000. Hashimoto, who formerly served as health and welfare minister, was the boss of LDP legislators who had close ties to the ministry.



    According to investigators, the 100-million yen check was given to Hashimoto at a private meeting with senior JDA officials. At that time, the JDA was fielding a candidate for the 2001 Upper House election. It is reported that the meeting was attended by Hiromu Nonaka, former LDP secretary general and Mikio Aoki, chairman of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, and that both confirmed the check. Hashimoto has said he “does not remember” receiving the money, and both Nonaka and Aoki have denied attending the meeting.



    How can someone not remember a 100-million yen transaction? Prosecutors must meet public expectations by unraveling the whole truth. Failure to do so will seriously damage their reputation. The purpose of the Political Funds Control Law is to “ensure fairness of political activity through public disclosure of incoming and outgoing political funds and thereby contribute to the development of democratic politics.”





    I may add to this later, but for now it seems to me to be pretty much its own commentary. (And that doesn’t even consider the fact that Japanese dental care is about as good as British dental care.)


    I must have left my house at eight because I always do

    Posted by Sean at 13:38, October 13th, 2004

    Two troubling incidents from yesterday indicate why Japan’s new initiative to adapt security strategies from Israel to local conditions is coming none too soon. A man sprayed some unknown chemical in a train at a major transfer point and then melted away before being caught, and a woman decided to take slices with a knife at three people going through another big transfer station.



    Japan’s rail system is very efficient; everyone knows that. Everyone also knows about the inhuman crowding you get during morning rush hour and on the last trains at night. For the last five years, I lived right in Shibuya, within walking distance of my office. When I moved to Atsushi’s place, I was back on the Toyoko Line, commuting into Shibuya on one of the most crowded commuter lines in Tokyo (and therefore the world). Thankfully, my workday is cockeyed so I don’t have to go in between 8 and 9 a.m., and we’re just a few express stops out. But it’s hard to cram yourself onto a train with…jeez, how many people is it when I’m going in for an early meeting? Close to 75 in a car, I’d imagine…it’s hard to pack onto a train like that, in this day and age, without thinking how vulnerable everyone would be to another sarin attack or to some nutcase with a knife.



    Any city or country has special points of vulnerability created by local conditions, of course. And perfect security is impossible. I’m sure everyone who’s lived in Tokyo has had the experience of waiting for someone just outside the turnstiles of one of the train lines and suddenly realizing how many people are actually pouring out as every train arrives. You can’t really let yourself keep thinking about it or you’d go insane and start rampaging yourself (or maybe that’s just me; I’m an introvert in a big way).



    But it does underscore the impossibility of preventing all possible attacks, and the resultant need for train companies and users to know what to do when one hits. Fortunately, Japan is generally an orderly society, and Tokyo commuters specifically are well-accustomed to moving quickly away from the train in hordes without trampling each other.



    The biggest worry I can see would be an attack on one of the last trains of the night, especially on a Thursday or Friday. Those who know Tokyo will understand exactly what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t: A good number, perhaps even a majority, of commuters on those trains are solidly sloshed, and a significant proportion of those people are close to falling-down drunk. Some fast-acting poison that required quick reflexes in getting the hell out of the train and off the platform could be really deadly, especially if its absortion were accelerated by alcohol. Here’s hoping we never have to worry about it.