• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    A more relaxed Army

    Posted by Sean at 02:13, June 10th, 2005

    The US Army is still having trouble hitting its recruitment targets:

    The U.S. Army, facing recruiting woes and a reorganized force, will relax requirements for new officers, welcoming older candidates and allowing more tolerance of past minor crimes, officials said on Thursday.

    Trying to stem the loss of current personnel, the Army also has made it more difficult to kick soldiers out of the military for alcohol or drug abuse, being overweight or “unsatisfactory performance,” according to a recent memo.

    At least there’s no talk of letting in the non-closeted homos, who would clearly spell doom for the Republic.

    Those cell phones can do anything

    Posted by Sean at 00:47, June 10th, 2005

    Interesting mini-article on the Nikkei:

    Honda, Matsushita Electric, and about 120 other companies will introduce a system that allows the use of cellular phones to cast votes at general shareholder meetings. Many corporations are giving more consideration to individual shareholders and are urging the exercise of individual voting rights by increasing the convenience [of the system]. The number of corporations that allow Internet-based voting is also expected to increase to around 300. The IT-ization of the operations side of shareholder meetings has been advancing, with the ease with which shareholders can see their wishes reflected in company policy increasing accordingly.

    This represents a big shift. Their influence is not what it once was, but the 総会屋 (soukaiya: “general” + “meeting” + “shopkeeper”) are still around, and I assume that allowing people to vote remotely–surely that’s the purpose of Internet voting?–is to no small degree a move to counter them.

    I wasn’t going to write my own explanation of what the soukaiya do, but there doesn’t seem to be a good, concise definition that I can link to as a primary source. This Mainichi article from a few years ago gives a representative sample of their activities. The soukaiya basically buy small numbers of shares in a company, dig up some of its management’s nastier doings (every company has nasty doings ready for digging, of course) and threaten to disrupt the general shareholders’ meeting if not given hush money. Some of them are tied to vast networks of gangsters, but many are independent. Those not ambitious enough to poke around for scandalous material have been known to simply show up and start blurting out inanities in the hopes that someone will give them a few hundred bucks to shut the hell up. Beats working at 7-Eleven, apparently.

    Of course, soukaiya are the interesting problem. The more mundane but far-reaching problem has been that many Japanese companies engage in mutual shareholding. The big banks were required to sell off their mutually-held shares, and though many other companies within conglomerates have retained them among themselves, the result has been an overall increase in the number of small shareholders. Whether financial transparency has really increased enough for them to have any idea what they’re voting about is debatable, but the fact that air is being let in is encouraging.

    SDF to buy unmanned spycraft from US

    Posted by Sean at 22:20, June 9th, 2005

    Sleeping too soundly? Get a load of the participial modifier that begins this Asahi article:

    Fearing a flare-up in North Korea at any time, the Defense Agency has abandoned plans for the domestic production of a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and will purchase U.S.-made planes instead, sources said.

    They said the decision was made because strengthened surveillance of airspace around Japan has become a priority, given the uncertain situation on the Korean Peninsula.

    Analysts said it likely would have taken a decade for Japan to deploy a domestically produced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Pentagon operates several UAV versions, so deploying one that fits Defense Agency needs should be no problem, the sources said.

    The aircraft would be used not only for patrol and reconnaissance over Japanese airspace, but could also be used for intelligence gathering from North Korea-even while flying in Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ), which establishes the boundaries for territorial airspace.

    A Defense Agency study team visited the United States in April for a first-hand look at what UAVs actually do. Members focused on high-altitude aircraft like the Global Hawk and Predator as well as the low-altitude Fire Scout and Eagle Eye.

    I don’t know that the DPRK is going to erupt at Japan any time soon–though the SDF should be able to predict better than I can. I do know (this is something I’ve remarked on before) that the feeling of living in Japan is completely different from that of living in the States. If you’re good at spatial relations, you know that map in your head that appears whenever you read the name of a country or think about the location of a city? When you’re in America, of course, the only close-by major countries are Mexico and Canada. Our closest enemy is Cuba, and it hasn’t exactly been making many belligerent noises lately.

    In Japan, you’re within spitting distance of the DPRK, one of the craziest regimes on the planet, which tests missiles by flying them over your head and has been known to sneak onto your shores and snatch your citizens. Moving westward, you also have China, the most populous country in the world, a rising economic competitor whose citizens alternate between gratefully taking jobs and consuming goods created by your enterprises, on the one hand, and demonstrating against you, on the other. It treats nearby democracy Taiwan as a renegade province. Even South Korea, the other democracy in the region, has bitter memories of being occupied by you within the last century and is not always amicable.

    It’s little wonder that everyday citizens don’t think too hard about world politics; you could drive yourself insane. I’m glad the SDF, whose job it is to deal with grim realities, is accelerating its plans, even if it means buying planes from foreigners.

    Moderation in all things

    Posted by Sean at 23:40, June 8th, 2005

    And that, my dear blogdaddy, is why I still use the word libertarian. Moderate is a state of mind, not a set of political positions. This is not to trivialize the very important philosophical and ethical principle that we should all listen to those with opposing views, deal honestly with the valid points they make, and be willing to change our positions if their counterarguments are strong enough.

    It’s just that, if what you’re looking for is an indication of what the person you’re talking to thinks the relationship between government and society should be, hearing him says he’s a “moderate” tells you nothing except that he likes to congratulate himself about how fair-minded he is. You still need to find out whether he’s a conservative, a leftist, a nanny-statist, a one-world pacifist, or an isolationist; and the only way to do that is to start talking policy.

    Of course, libertarian has its downside–especially since all too many people like to hear “gay libertarian” as “gay libertine.” But in its implication that someone so labeled is likely to defend the strict delimitation of government power in relation to most issues that come up–which I’ve actually been known to do pretty immoderately–it suits me better than anything else I’ve encountered.

    Added on 10 June, Pretenders playing in the background: Alan Stewart Carl has his own take on centrism. It’s a good read. I’m still not entirely sure about this part, however:

    I have very firm beliefs (free markets, social inclusion, privacy rights, vigorous national defense, etc.) but other Centrists may fall to my left or right on some issues. That doesn’t make us mushy.

    Indeed? Sounds pretty mushy to me. I’m not accusing these individuals of being mushy, mind you, only saying that any political movement they’re all yoked into is going to be, unless you list out policy positions and do a sort of two-from-column-A-two-from-column-B diagnostic kind of thing.

    This part also caused my eyebrows to rise a bit:

    The current political environment too often serves up only two possible solutions. And too often the adherents to those solutions are unwilling to consider change (just look at the Social Security debate). Centrism seeks to get away from the choice A, choice B or no choice at all method of problem solving. We believe there is often a third way. And we want to find it.

    This is attractive on its face; we’ve all heard the proposals from the two major parties on a given issue and thought, “Wow, those both suck.” But surely centrists have noticed that, in the real world, the “third way” that is actually arrived at is frequently a cheerfully schizoid “bipartisan compromise,” produced by haggling and deal-brokering and back-scratching and pork-barreling in which coherent policy aims recede from view. If Alan thinks he has a better way that’s genuinely practicable, I, for one, would very much like to hear about it.

    I doubt that more hand-wringing about “special interests” is going to be of much help, though. By this point every American belongs to a half-dozen interest groups, whether he pays membership dues to any organization or not. Those that are very powerful tend to be those that have a lot of constituents (AARP, anyone?), which makes calling them “special” somewhat misleading. We are the special interests, and if those who self-identify as centrists want to decry the general entitlement-mindedness of the citizenry, I’m certainly on board. But in that case, you have to acknowledge (at least, I think you do) that stern, uncompromising calls for self-reliance are more likely to be effective there than yet more willingness to negotiate or endlessly poke around for more options.

    I don’t want to sound dismissive, because I do think what he’s saying is very important. The models for discourse we’re frequently offered these days usually come in two varieties: “politeness” = “namby-pamby PC-ism” and “character assassination/gruesomely gleeful expletive-throwing/screechy overstatement” = “daring truth-telling.” Both are tiresome beyond belief.

    But both also extend beyond the political realm and into popular culture, the arts, education, and what passes for conversation at dinner parties. Which is to say, a general return to civility, in which strongly-held, fact-based opinions are respectfully aired and heard, is what’s called for. Casting it as a move for political reform seems to me misleading and insufficient.

    Muslim refusenik

    Posted by Sean at 09:26, June 8th, 2005

    I bumped the mouse while I was over at Eric‘s and happened to land on this site. It turned out to be a felicitous accident, because he (I think it’s a he) has what looks like an author profile/review of a book posted. The book is by a Muslim lesbian, born in Uganda and brought up in Toronto. I could seriously learn to like this woman:

    “[Gay Muslim activists] say, ‘Don’t confuse me with being anti-Jewish, I’m just anti-Israel,'” Manji says. “I say, ‘Hold on sister. I oppose that premise and so should you.’ I have never said that Israel has a perfect human rights record. Neither does America. I make the case that Israel’s existence does not lie at the heart of what’s wrong with the Muslim world.

    “I say, yes, feel free to criticize the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] and their policies. There absolutely is an occupation but there is also a political occupation inflicted by the Palestinian leaders,” she says. “They have rejected every proposal for an independent state. They have always been rejected without the consultation of the Palestinian people. The last one, the Oslo Accords, was not translated into Arabic. This should burn every human rights activist.”

    That’s something I’ve always found it difficult to get my head around. On the one hand, it annoys me to see people wringing sacred texts like dishcloths to squeeze out meanings that they happen to want to be there. I find it much easier to deal with Biblical literalists (like those I grew up around) than, like, Unitarians. On the other hand, debate (including that over meanings) is how you learn that strong, vibrant personalities are going to disagree, that you’re not always right, and that the only thinking and behavior you can reliably change is your own.

    Come to think of it, maybe it’s the lack of self-criticism and constant finger-pointing at the same bugbear that makes gay activists feel such an affinity for, say, Palestinian activists:

    “The fact that the neo-con right and preachers have called Muslims on their hypocrisy makes it difficult for the political left to condemn it,” Manji says. “To criticize, they say, says you are only feeding into the so-called fear of Islam. It’s the same thing if someone were to say, ‘Oh, I think we need to overthrow Hussein because of his atrocious record on human rights.’

    “To criticize the gross human rights violations of Hussein means that you support the Bush administration,” she says. “I long to see the day when gay and lesbian leaders will attend Muslim speak-outs and ask the Muslims in those protests if they in turn will speak out against gay homophobia. I don’t hear too many queer activists hammering that.”

    Manji contends that Islam is the only religion that has no sense of moderation. Even Christianity has moderate factions, she says, despite the loud, mouthy rhetoric of apocalyptic social conservatives.

    “Whenever I would air anti-gay remarks from Christian leaders on my television show, Christian viewers would flood our lines with tolerant biblical interpretations,” she says. “But when I expose anti-gay feedback from Muslim leaders, not once did other leaders offer other interpretations. It is as if these bigots spoke for Islam. Even those who don’t share mainstream Islam’s prejudices against homosexuality won’t speak up.”

    Manji says she hears from many Muslims on her Web site, www.muslim-refusenik.com, and face-to-face that they can’t be public with their support of diversity because they fear persecution. She believes this is because literalism has gone mainstream.

    “Every religion has its fair share of literalists but in Islam, literalism is worldwide. Even moderate Muslims believe that the holy Koran is God 3.0,” she says. “Most Muslims still don’t know how to debate because they have never been taught to. The same cannot be said of moderate Christians and Jews.”

    If their moderation is in conflict with their beliefs about God, I don’t really see what the moderate Muslims Manji is describing can do except pick one. That doesn’t make it much easier to explain why they bother offering her secretive shows of solidarity and support, though.

    Risk-free adventure

    Posted by Sean at 01:23, June 8th, 2005

    The Committee to Protect Journalists is not an organization I’ve done much paying attention to. Something one of its spokespersons said yesterday caught my eye, though, and made me wonder anew at how callow some people can be.

    Reuters says a Spanish judge wants to haul in US soldiers for questioning over an incident two years ago in which a Spanish journalist was killed:

    The Pentagon has exonerated the U.S. soldiers from any blame, but High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz wants to question the three who were in the tank, a court official said on Tuesday.

    “Spanish cameraman Jose Couso, who worked for Telecinco, and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsiuk, a Ukrainian, were killed and several people were wounded when the U.S. tank fired a shell directly into the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8, 2003.

    The Spanish court would have jurisdiction only over the death of the Spanish citizen.

    The American soldiers would be questioned as suspects for murder and crimes against the international community, which carry sentences of 15 to 20 years in jail and 10 to 15 years respectively.

    “It is difficult to conceive of any set of circumstances under which we would submit U.S. military personnel to questioning before a foreign court of criminal jurisdiction regarding the conduct of authorized combat operations,” said Navy Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

    Hey, I wonder whether targeting journalists is a hate crime in Spain. Perhaps US forces were trying to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. I’m not sure what other “crimes against the international community” [retch! heave!] we could be talking about.

    Maybe my irreverence is misplaced; it’s possible that the actual journalists who were killed had a clear-headed, philosophical view of the risks involved in covering combat operations and would be displeased at their colleagues’ reactions to their deaths.

    The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists obtained the full report under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Among other criticisms, the committee said the report failed to address “the question of why U.S. troops were not aware that the Palestine Hotel — one of the best-known civilian sites in Baghdad at the time — was full of journalists.”

    The Committee to Protect Journalists (and Reuters) made similar noises at the time, it seems:

    “I note that the commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry has now said that one of its tanks fired a round at the Palestine Hotel,” Reuters Editor-in-chief Geert Linnebank said in a statement. “He said it did this after it came under fire from the hotel.”

    “… the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad. (The Reuters cameraman’s) death, and the injuries sustained by the others, were so unnecessary.”

    The Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday that the incidents violated the Geneva Conventions and called for an “immediate and thorough investigation,” the results of which should be made public.

    These people are out of their gourd. The idea of marking off a little Temenos of Innocence in the middle of a war zone, in which journalists can expect absolute safety, is idiotic. Central Command made the common-sense point that such sites become a magnet for dirty-fighting combatants who want to camouflage themselves (and to make the enemy hestitate to strike at them hard). CPJ seems to think that the ground forces involved should have been told that there was a significant press presence in the Palestine Hotel. How that would have changed the fact that those ground forces were being shot at and needed to respond is not explained. As it was, those manning the tank didn’t keep firing, or call in reinforcements to help flatten the place, so they clearly didn’t mistake it for an enemy bunker.

    CPJ keeps its own statistics on journalists who die in the line of duty. Its total for 2004: 39 confirmed, including 13 in Iraq. Considering the risk involved in walking around a war zone without combat training, that doesn’t strike me as an outrageously high number.


    Posted by Sean at 22:44, June 6th, 2005

    This is very cool–I’m assuming it’s the “announcement of monumental significance” referred to in the last newsletter:

    June is gay pride month and to mark the occasion, the gay community will gather for a mortgage burning party on Friday, June 3rd at 2 p.m. to celebrate a mortgage retirement gift of $274,000 to the William Way Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Community Center. The donor, a respected community leader and businessman, will be announced at the event. The William Way Community Center is located at 1315 Spruce Street in Philadelphia.

    The Center will save $391,270 in mortgage principal and interest payments over a ten-year period. For this reason, the gift will enable the community center to immediately develop a new spectrum of educational, cultural, social, and health services for Philadelphia’s diverse sexual and gender minority community.

    When I was looking for a gay community center in Philadelphia to donate to, I asked this guy, and it was William Way he suggested. He showed Eric and me around when I was in Philadelphia in December. Great place (love the URL, too). Congratulations.

    A long way from rice rations

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, June 6th, 2005

    Japanese convenience stores, especially 7-Eleven, have shaped food retailing here in ways that have drawn a lot of attention. The egg-salad sandwiches on spongy white bread, the triangular o-nigiri, and the salads consisting largely of shredded iceberg lettuce and canned corn are still there, but they’ve been joined by snazzier and tastier offerings (some developed in cooperation with restaurant chefs) that are very popular among people who have to eat lunch at their desks or just hate to cook. The industry has become very competitive.

    Of course, the potential downside is the eternal problem of inventory. The Mainichi appears to be doing a series on wastefulness in Japan, spurred by the declaration by Nobel Peace Prize Wangari Maathai winner a few months ago that she just loves Japanese conservation-mindedness, and the first installment (Japanese, English) is about how much prepared food is thrown away at various convenience stores:

    In Japan, about 20 million tons of food waste is thrown out each year. That’s about 150 kilograms per person. As Japan looks to eliminate wastefulness, adopting the spirit of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, this unused food is raising questions over overproduction, especially in Japan’s convenience store business.

    “We do this because we’re taking into consideration the period in which the products will actually be consumed after they are taken home,” explains an official from the Kanto convenience store. As a rule the store is not permitted to discount products approaching their expiry date in the same way as supermarkets do.

    On the day the store was visited, it discarded 75 items, with a combined price of about 16,000 yen. Last year, a total of 4.5 million yen worth of prepared food products were thrown out — about 8 percent of sales of prepared food.

    That does sound like a lot, though I suspect that among Japan’s notoriously inefficient domestic industries it may not be egregious. You also have to wonder about a few things. For one, how does it stack up against the noodle shops and corporate dormitory cafeterias where many people who now eat convenience store meals would otherwise have eaten? Or against the amount of food such people who don’t like to cook throw away after one of their valiant but futile attempts at shopping?

    I was also wondering about compliance with recycling regulations, oddly unmentioned in the Mainichi article. I’m not very familiar with Japan for Sustainability, but it also quotes the 20 million tons figure and gives some others that are, presumably, based on the same data:

    Of the household and general commercial waste, about 20 million tons consist of food waste. This is six times the weight of used-newspaper waste and 4 times that of discarded automobiles.

    Out of 20 million tons of food waste, 18% is produced at the “processing and manufacturing” stage, about 30% is commercial waste from food distribution channels and restaurants, and the remaining 52% is from households. This means that, every year, Japanese households produce about 10 million tons of food waste, equivalent to annual rice consumption in Japan.

    The article also has a few interesting examples of businesses that are recycling their food waste. (I’m not really sure I needed to know that the New Otani Hotel has a compost pile underneath it, but, hey.)

    Dispute over natural gas deposits continues

    Posted by Sean at 06:28, June 6th, 2005

    The US-Japan cooperative missile defense program is moving forward:

    Speaking to reporters at a hotel in Singapore, Ono said the sea-based missile defense project would move from research to development, with the agency planning to request several billions of yen in fiscal 2006 for the first year’s development.

    Production will begin following a five-year development phase that ends in fiscal 2011, he said.

    Japan and the United States are jointly developing a large sea-based interceptor missile with a 53-centimeter diameter with a longer range that enables it to cover a wide area. The missile can distinguish a targeted missile from a decoy.

    The most interesting reason this is a good thing for Japan to be considering is buried near the end of the article:

    “Japan doesn’t consider China a threat, but Beijing’s defense spending is under wraps. A Chinese submarine intruded into Japanese waters and its marine survey and gas field development are provocative,” Ono said.

    The conflict over exploration for fossil fuels (especially a particular natural gas field) has been growing. Demand is growing in China’s expanding economy, and it’s always been high in Japan’s:

    Although the current standoff has not changed, it is very regrettable that the PRC has continued its project of developing the Shungyo Gas Fields near the center line [between China and Japan]. The Chinese side says that it expects to open the field for production as early as October. It will be a major problem if the rough sailing for negotiations and long-term developments turn out to be advantageous only for the PRC side. The PRC should first temporarily cease development of the Shungyo Gas Fields.

    From some on the PRC side, the following argument has recently emerged: there is a fault line between the gas fields and the center line through maritime territory on the Japanese side, so because it is partitioned by geological structure, Japanese natural resources will not be affected even if [China] begins production of gas and petroleum from Shungyo. But if that is the case, we would like to see it proved clearly with detailed data. After all, what both countries need to do is get an objective confirmation of what the true state of the available natural resources is. The sharing of accurate information will make cool-headed dialogue possible.

    The Japanese government has already deemed the move by the Chinese to develop the gas fields a “possible infringement on our rights.” It’s not surprising everyone is so worked up: estimates are that there are 7 trillion cubic feet of gas under there, and (as the Nikkei editorial above implies) it is not certain that the fault line actually partitions the reservoirs into distinct pockets. The BBC has a simple surface map that gives at least a basic idea where we’re talking about.

    No one is predicting at this point that China and Japan are in danger of full-scale war over natural resources. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember, as accusations about history books and shrine visits fly around, that there are more substantive things under dispute.

    Social disease

    Posted by Sean at 05:42, June 6th, 2005

    Well, knock me over with a feather:

    A rapid spread of AIDS over the past decade has reached a level that has confounded and alarmed the health establishment in Japan, a country that has long felt protected by a first-rate health system and widespread condom use.

    Infections which had stayed at infinitesimal levels [as in, official levels–SRK] are surging at rates similar to developing countries, and some experts say the real number of Japanese with HIV or AIDS is two to four times the official toll.

    The rest of the experts probably peg it at five times. This is one of those Japan stories that get recycled every few years (I commented on a few others last year when Susanna asked about a specific one). That isn’t to say that such articles aren’t addressing real problems; it’s the air of discovery that’s irritating. Likewise the tendency toward exaggeration:

    Among women, Sato is one of the careful ones. The 23-year-old Tokyoite has unprotected sex with multiple partners, but at least she occasionally gets herself tested for HIV.

    That first sentence is idiotic. Ms. Sato may be “one of the careful ones” among the women who live in Tokyo (or Osaka), go clubbing frequently, and hook up with strange men all the time. But Tokyo and Osaka don’t represent Japan any more than New York and LA represent America, even if they do comprise a higher proportion of the population.

    Still, the government is not worrying over nothing. I will leave straight people and their dissolute ways to those who know them more intimately. But I heard plenty of real lulus as a gay guy newly arrived from New York in the mid-90’s. Chief among them was the one that said you can’t get HIV from Japanese people (unless they’ve lived abroad, in which case they’re practically foreigners, anyway). For at least two or three years, the messages with the free condoms in the bar toilets have emphasized that the incidence of reported infection in Tokyo has been on the rise and that Japanese-only saunas are not to be considered extra-safe. I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to bring down infection rates in a country in which “if nobody talks about it, it’s not happening” is a major social principle and tolerance for male playing around is frequently taken to an extreme.