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    ”Incompetence, inadequacies, and possible corruption”

    Posted by Sean at 10:33, December 9th, 2005

    Attention-grabbing lead paragraph of the week goes to the English Asahi:

    The land ministry Thursday started a series of inspections to determine the extent of incompetence, inadequacies and possible corruption in an industry sector responsible for the safety of people’s lives.

    One tiny thing to be grateful for is that this is connected to the Aneha scandal and not, you know, some entirely new revelation about a whole different industry:

    Twelve inspectors of the ministry’s Housing Bureau started searching Japan ERI Co., the nation’s largest building inspection company, in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, at 9:30 a.m. [The article is dated 9 September.–SRK]

    The ministry wants to determine why the company failed to act on a warning in 2004 that former architect Hidetsugu Aneha had faked a structural-strength report for a building in Tokyo.

    Japan ERI Co. is not the same company that was warned by an on-site construction manager that reinforcements at the ground level were insufficient, so we have yet another organization to finger for not listening to alarms that had in fact been sounded.

    Naturally, some people are taking this opportunity to cast aspersions on privatization:

    Some experts say these private-sector companies have a difficult time being objective in their inspections. That is because real estate developers are not only the inspection companies’ clients, they are often their shareholders.

    And this is different from the government’s being in bed with major keiretsu, their banks, and major constructions firms…how, exactly? Obviously, there were problems with monitoring here. Whether they stem from the very fact that the government privatized some of its inspection functions is a very debatable point, especially considering that when the fraud-filled documents did, in fact, hit the desks of government construction agencies, they let them pass through without challenging them. Another good thing to bear in mind is that, while it’s not exactly classic amakudari, the inspectors now being targeted for investigation have interesting origins:

    “We will completely cooperate with the ministry’s inspections,” Takahide Suzuki, the Japan ERI president, said in a statement. “By doing so, we want to regain the people’s trust in our company.”

    Japan ERI employs 165 building inspectors, including 102 who had worked in local governments.

    Other companies said they do not have the manpower to keep pace with the demand.

    “We have no other choice but to employ people who worked as construction superintendents in local governments,” an official said.

    Just keeps getting better, huh?


    真珠湾

    Posted by Sean at 13:10, December 8th, 2005

    Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. Good to reflect on in these times.


    Overnight

    Posted by Sean at 23:10, December 6th, 2005

    God, American men are hot. Every time I come home, I spend the first day wondering what the hell possessed me to move abroad. Yes, Atsushi is more than enough reason to stay abroad, but I didn’t meet him until I’d been in Japan for four years. Cute young American guys generally get handsomely weathered in middle age; Japanese guys just kind of bloat and get blotchy. (Atsushi won’t. He doesn’t smoke or drink, and he has me to take care of him. Which is the bigger factor in keeping him vibrant is not for me to judge.)

    I got to my old roommate’s office without incident. Picked up the keys, came to the apartment, and met the two chihuahuas he bought for his lovely fiancée for her birthday. They huddled in a corner and kind of growled at me for a bit, after which they fell blessedly, if sullenly, quiet. Then, inexplicably, about forty minutes after I arrived, they seemed to look at each other and say, “Oh yeah, that’s right–we’re supposed to be yappy and annoying dogs.” Thus began the querulous top-volume yelping, which continued even after I dumped my jet-lagged body in the bedroom for a nap. They didn’t stop until my friends got home hours later. I know this not because they kept me awake–a freight train right down 37th Street couldn’t have done that–but because every time I did hazily resurface they were still at it.

    Up at 3:30 for my morning flight. Yippee!


    It took an hour / Maybe a day

    Posted by Sean at 20:41, December 5th, 2005

    This morning’s trip in proved yet again my Narita Airport Law: k = (time before Narita Express departure that I get a cab)(amount of traffic). I ended up on the platform a half-hour early, playing my usual game of “how long can I go without reading?” in order to avoid exhausting my books and magazines before the twelve-hour flight even begins. It’s a shame Joanne Jacobs’s prose is so brisk and readable; I have this feeling I’ll be done with her book before we’re over Alaska.

    One of the MILDLY ANNOYING things about this trip, I discovered when packing last night, is that I had to prepare for two completely different environments. My meeting is in the Caribbean, and our parent company is super-casual. I’ll probably be doing most of my business in ripped jeans and a T-shirt–if not, indeed, by the pool in a swimsuit, dripping. Back at home, where it’s winter, is where (paradoxically enough) I’ve been invited to a few dinners I have to dress for. I generally like to travel light. Oh, well. At least this time I didn’t leave my entire bag of o-miyage on the floor of my living room the way I did a few years ago. It was fun trying to figure out what to do with fifteen envelopes of green tea when I got back to Tokyo.

    Speaking of conserving things, this will be the first time I find out whether my iPod battery is as short-lived as they legendarily are. At least if it lasts four or five hours it’ll be fine for the second leg of my trip. I’ll be landing at JFK on Tuesday, spending the night in Murray Hill with my old roommate, then taking off for the Dominican Republic at 6:00 the next morning. If you’re going to scramble you’re bio-clock, don’t be doing it halfway, I say.

    See everyone later in the week.


    Brotherhood

    Posted by Sean at 03:54, December 4th, 2005

    I’m not going to have much time to spend with people when I go home, but one of the first blog-related acquaintances I made was Tom at Agenda Bender, and I’m hoping to get to see him during my approximately five minutes in Philadelphia. Almost exactly two years ago, he posted this. I have a feeling I’m going to be rereading it the first week of every December his blog is still up.


    Foreign Minister Aso in Washington

    Posted by Sean at 00:57, December 4th, 2005

    There’s no report of any substantive agreement, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Washington yesterday. Japan related its plan to extend the SDF deployment in Iraq and also emphasized that the restructuring of US military facilities here in Japan is running into opposition from the places affected (such as Okinawa). Rumsfeld would like to see China fulfill a constructive role in world society, including transparency about its military spending. Japan affirmed that it would like to expand its own international role and would prefer, really, to avoid being blown up by the DPRK. So everything is as per usual; if there are interesting developments, I assume we’ll hear about them.


    Government to pay in Aneha scandal

    Posted by Sean at 00:46, December 4th, 2005

    Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Kazuo Kitagawa has made an announcement about the Aneha scandal:

    Regarding the earthquake resistance falsification scandal, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Kazuo Kitagawa announced on 4 December that he is investigating a plan to have federal and prefectural-level government bodies bear the entire burden of paying for the demolition of condominium complexes known to have insufficient earthquake resistance. His reasoning was that “there is also a danger to residents in surrounding buildings, so [the demolition] has a prominent public interest dimension.” He related this to the press corps this morning after a television appearance.

    Kitagawa explained that the reason for public assistance in this case was that “assessing who bears responsibility among the developers and other parties requires time, and we cannot wait that long.”

    Some of the affected residents have already organized a group so they can share information and possibly negotiate collectively. Kitagawa isn’t kidding about the danger to the neighbors, BTW; the catastrophic 1999 Taiwan earthquake saw several large, modern buildings tip over.

    Oh, yeah, and just in case you’re not already rattled enough over this whole mess, check this out:

    The architecture firm that designed one of the buildings for which disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha faked strength reports says it met directly with the building companies to warn them about Aneha in early 2004, but was ignored.

    The Kanagawa Prefecture-based design company, and Atlas Sekkei, the architectural firm in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward asked to check Aneha’s structural-strength reports, said they spotted irregularities in those reports.

    The Kanagawa design firm said it had a meeting with Kumamoto-based Kimura Construction Co. and Tokyo-based consulting firm Sogo Keiei Kenkyujo (Soken) in early 2004 to point out the problems.

    But the two firms did nothing. Both Kimura Construction and Soken continued to commission work to Aneha, leading to the construction of a string of defective hotels and condominiums.

    The latest revelation directly contradicts what officials at Kimura and Soken have said.


    Making nice

    Posted by Sean at 06:58, December 3rd, 2005

    Bruce Bawer has an article up at Reason about PC genuflection toward Islamofascism in Europe. (I can’t help wondering, given the way hardee-har-har humor has taken over at that place over the last few years, whether that subhead isn’t a good-natured-but-dopey allusion to Bawer’s sexuality.) Anyway, there are plenty of chilling passages to choose from, but I think this is my, uh, favorite:

    For some Europeans in the expression business, government limits haven’t been necessary: they’ve opted for self-censorship. After being “warned by Muslim friends” shortly after van Gogh’s murder, Dutch movie director Albert Ter Heerdt decided to “postpone” a sequel to his “multicultural comedy” Shouf Shouf Habibi! And in January producer Gijs van de Westelaken canceled a screening of Submission at the Rotterdam Film Festival, whose theme was “censored films.” (Instead, the audience saw two pictures sympathetic to suicide bombers.)

    Banning existing works is bad enough; as long as they aren’t destroyed, they have to potential to survive until they can be safely appreciated. But when art is stillborn because of political pressure, that’s an entirely different matter.

    It’s not, BTW, that I think the world needs more Piss Christs. Art that challenges religious preconceptions is as important as any other kind, but there are altogether too many people who think that blasphemy is, in and of itself, somehow boldly artistic and meaningful. (I’m thinking of blasphemy as it or the equivalent concept happens to be defined by whatever religion is being used for material.) It seems to me that just stomping on things requires minimal inspiration and, in a free society, minimal risk. It’s often not even done with much technical or compositional flair. There’s a difference, however, between not creating something because you realize the idea animating it was a puerile, empty one and not creating something because you’re cowed by people playing the multi-culti card. That’s very chilling.

    Added on 4 December: Rondi Adamson notes a hopeful sign from Norway. It’s not related to art, but it is related to multiculti distortions of how protections on speech should function:

    Norway has an “Equality Minister,” which, normally, would be something I would mock. But at least this person is trying to do something useful: Pull state funding from mosques that encourage wife-beating. Yes, you read that correctly.

    The article she links is here.

    She also has a post about women Islamofascists that, I’m guessing, will resonate with the womenfolk who read here (and the men who love them):

    A Belgian woman tried to detonate a bunch of explosives she had strapped to herself, in an attempt to kill American soldiers in Iraq. She failed at the latter, thank God, but did manage to kill herself. Good. One less of them.

    Smarmily, CNN is reporting she was “brainwashed” by her Arab hubby. Really? Why is it when women do these hideous things we need to believe they were brainwashed by a man? Maybe she was just an awful person, with awful ideas, all on her own. Maybe that’s why she liked her husband–because his ideology mirrored hers.

    It’s fine to say that women are, on average and as a component of motherhood, biologically more disposed toward being empaths and soft conflict resolution and stuff. But it robs them of their autonomy and dignity as adults to talk as if no woman could ever have a nasty thought in her head without being overmastered by some nefarious daddy/husband figure. Free moral agency implies the freedom to be an evil bitch.


    I took a ferry to the highway / Then I drove to a pontoon plane

    Posted by Sean at 05:41, December 3rd, 2005

    It is becoming obvious, is it not, that I’m kind of distracted? Most of it is getting ready to leave on Tuesday for a few weeks in North America. I have my tickets, my traveler’s insurance, my renewed visa, and my new reentry permit. I’ve resolutely held off reading Joanne Jacobs’s new book so I can devote myself to it on the flight(s). I’ve managed to cram in appointments with my dermatologist, dentist, chiropractor, and hair guy. (It’s starting to touch my ears–man, that drives me nuts.) Of course, there’s extra work at the office, too, because I’m getting ready to go to a meeting.

    My apartment is a disaster area. There’s no decaying organic matter, mind you. Just clutter. Here we have a last few loads of laundry, there we have a pile of things I can’t forget to take along. Atsushi’s Christmas present for my parents and brother is out in a prominent place ready for packing. I still have to buy the souvenir green tea I take back for people, though–have to remember that tomorrow.

    I don’t know why this go-round is turning into such a production–I generally several long-haul flights a year. (My bad back loves me for it, too.) Part of it is the season, probably. Travel arrangements came up just as my visa had to be renewed and our 2006 budget/planning proposals had to be done at work.

    Also, this time I’m not traveling with Atsushi, who’s very good at protecting me from my own absent-mindedness. He never seems to be ordering me around, or anything, but when he’s here, planning just…you know, goes smoothly. My dry-erase board, in addition to not smelling sexy when I bury my face in its hair, doesn’t seem to be able to make my sunglasses appear when I’m in danger of leaving them behind.

    Anyway, posting may be sketchy for the next few days, though it won’t be much lighter than usual while I’m actually at home and in the Caribbean. One pleasant surprise about having the blog is that it’s allowed me to communicate, albeit indirectly, with Atsushi in my natural American voice; since we’ll be a continent away from each other for half the month, the varied ways to keep in touch will be even more valued than they normally are.


    Stasis–it’s the new reform!

    Posted by Sean at 05:22, December 3rd, 2005

    The Nikkei editors on the latest developments in “trinity reforms,” short version:

    Why are we calling something that will benefit no one “reform”?

    Ouch. Here’s where that comes from:

    In the agreement between the federal government and the ruling coalition, the transfer of funding for facilities and equipment, which had been sought by the regional governments, was partially approved for the first time. Facilities and equipment are the area in which it is easiest for regional governments to demonstrate some ingenuity in planning, so they’re part of the point of reform.

    At the trinity reform stage, reductions in federal subsidies and transfers of sources of tax money were taken care of, but reform of regional tax grants was left unattended to. Along with measures such as reductions in the number of public employees in regional government bodies, possibility of decreases in grants should be investigated.

    The subsidies the federal government provides to regional governments now add up to a burden of approximately ¥20 trillion (US $167 billion). There is no other state that intrudes on regional affairs using such gargantuan amounts of subsidy money. At ¥4 trillion in reductions in this first phase of reform, each federal ministry managed to get away with its systems and structures surviving unchanged in practical terms. This state of affairs does not deserve the name “structural reform.” The agreement between the federal government and the ruling coalition was rather vague about how reform would proceed from here on, but they must forge ahead into a second phase of reform that returns the focus to the main task.

    The regional governments’ complaint, of course, is that even if they get direct access to more money (because tax revenue goes to them directly rather than being routed through Tokyo), that doesn’t increase their discretionary power. They’re still bound to the rules set up by the federal ministries. In this aging society, that’s an especially touchy issue with livelihood protection and child care subsidies. What they fear is that cosmetic cuts in subsidies will give them no more autonomy but a lot more work to do, since they’ll have more taxes to assess, collect, and process.

    Added after a cup of tea: I might add here, for those who haven’t kept track, that the reforms about to implemented are positively revolutionary compared with those that took effect in 2001. That year, a bunch of ministries and agencies were smushed together to form new, larger bodies–the idea being that fewer official entities must make things more efficient, right? So, for example, the former 文部省 (monbushou: “Ministry of Education and Culture”) was alloyed with the 科学技術庁 (kagakugijutsuchou: “Science and Technology Agency”) to form the 文部科学省 (monbukagakushou: “Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology”–no kidding, that’s the official English name).