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    At least it wasn’t Norma Rae

    Posted by Sean at 00:44, October 19th, 2007

    Perhaps this is even more disturbing than the result of that serial killer test, though I did answer the questions as accurately as possible (via Internet Ronin):


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    I didn’t know I even had a shadow self.

    Added later: “Emaciated do-gooder”? WTF?


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    Jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today

    Posted by Sean at 23:05, October 18th, 2007

    You know what’s really annoying? All you silly people out there who think you’re in the best position to make decisions about your own lives. What gives you the right to make your own trade-offs when planners–people with credentials–have figured out the one true way to live?

    Well, don’t expect to win. The latest from here in Japan is a litany of targets for achieving the perfect national balance of work and family life. Just look at all these numbers, each the glorious result of expert cogitation:

    The government has come up with a long list of numerical targets to let men in their 30s to 40s work less and spend more time with their families.

    One target is to halve in 10 years the percentage of workers who put in 60 hours or more a week from 10.8 percent in 2006.

    Another goal is to raise the percentage of male workers who take child-care leave to 10 percent, up from the current 0.5 percent.

    The draft guidelines were presented Thursday to a task force under a high-level council working on the issue. The council consists of representatives from labor and management, Cabinet ministers and other experts.

    The government will consider measures to achieve the targets included in the guidelines and seek cooperation from business organizations and labor unions.

    The draft charter emphasizes that it is essential to review the nation’s working style to maintain the vitality of society.

    The numerical targets are aimed primarily at lightening the workload of men in their 30s and 40s.

    To make up for the reduced work, the government has set employment-rate targets for women and elderly people.

    For example, the government aims to have 69-72 percent of women between 25 and 44 in the work force in 10 years, up from the current 65 percent.

    For people in the age bracket between 60 and 64, the employment-rate targets, also in 10 years, are 79-80 percent for men and 41-43 percent for women, up, respectively, from the current 67 percent and 39 percent.

    The government also aims to raise the rate of women in employment after their first childbirth to 55 percent in 10 years, up from the current 38 percent.

    In 2006, men with a child under 6 years old spent an average of one hour a day on child care and household chores.

    The government’s target in 10 years is 2 1/2 hours.

    Of course, most of these things will not be legislated directly. No prefectural governor is going to be taken out and shot if his or her jurisdiction doesn’t reach the approved average of 2.5 hours’ worth of male domesticity by 2017. But what happens with these things is that they expand from high-level technocratic committees into offices, community programs, and ad hoc task forces that suck up money without demonstrably serving citizens. (Also, while Japanese men spend more time with their families than they used to, I suspect that plenty of them would use the extra time off from work to heft golf clubs rather than toddlers.)

    Japan’s not the only island country to exhibit such impulses. Perry de Havilland of Samizdata linked indignantly to BBC coverage of a new government report that essentially tells each Briton, “You’re a porker, but it’s not your fault.”

    The largest ever UK study into obesity, backed by government and compiled by 250 experts, said excess weight was now the norm in our “obesogenic” society. [Don’t let’s be spoilsports and point out that we’re otherwise hearing how rail-thin models and actresses are setting unrealistic beauty standards and causing an epidemic of eating disorders–that was last Wednesday’s problem.–SRK]

    Dramatic and comprehensive action was required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050, they said.

    The government pledged to draw up a strategy to address the issue.

    But the report authors admitted proof that any anti-obesity policy worked “was scant”.

    Details, details. The experts haven’t figured out exactly how they’re going to force you to be healthier, it might be noted, though they’re full of consciousness-raising ideas:

    From planning our towns to encourage more physical activity to placing more pressure on mothers to breast feed – believed to slow down infant weight gain – the report highlighted a range of policy options without making any concrete recommendations.

    “The emphasis on cross-governmental initiatives is particularly welcome, as is the importance of addressing issues across society whilst avoiding blame,” said its president, Professor Ian Gilmore.

    Perhaps Professor Gilmore is a Japanophile. He’s certainly got the ability to settle blame everywhere and accountability nowhere down pat.

    And the result in the UK will probably be similar to what we see here in Japan: distortions of economic decision-making with the attendant unintended consequences. Those consequences will, it goes without saying, be interpreted as yet more evidence that individuals are incompetent to make their own decisions without “guidance.”

    Added later: Okay, the only connection between this and the above is Catherine Tate, but Michael mentioned yesterday that Larry Craig is still going on television to make pathetic attempts at damage control. Am I the only one who’s spent the last few months thinking, “Who, dear? Me, dear? Gay, dear? No, dear” whenever his name comes up?

    Added still later, after a glass of Coke that was large enough to be satisfying but not so large as to compromise health–so there: Kim has, naturally, already weighed in on the obesity report. He leads into it with a discussion of restaurant eating habits:

    I remember seeing a lady once go up to the salad bar at a restaurant, and my initial reaction was, “Ohh, good—she’s going to eat something healthy.” Then I watched her coming back to the table, and I was nearly sick. It looked as though someone had put a brick on her plate, and covered it with salad—and drenched the whole thing with about two cups of salad dressing. Then I watched her eat all of it.

    And then she went back for seconds.

    I worked at Golden Corral in high school, back when very few restaurants had all-you-can-eat troughs salad bar/buffets. The experience was very instructive about human nature, though it was nearly enough to put me off food for the rest of my life.

    One of the things I’ve trained myself to do when back in the States is to eat at a normal pace no matter how much food is Matterhorned onto my plate. When you have a lot of food in front of you, instinct tells you to start hoovering it up because there’s so much to get through, which means you end up both failing to enjoy the sensual experience of eating and feeling excessively full when you’re done. (And in that case, why not just stay home and fortify yourself with cold oatmeal?)

    I’ll give Connie the last word:

    Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

    And to add yet another of my pet peeves….

    I did not suggest that there should be a law in what we should do. We can talk about the way things should be without bringing the law into it.


    Too much true-crime TV

    Posted by Sean at 00:25, October 17th, 2007

    What does it say about me that I knew every answer on the first clue (via Rondi)?

    NameThatSerialKiller.com
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    (Just to be pedantic, I think it should be pointed out that Cho Seung-hui was a spree killer, not a serial killer.)


    Wake me when it’s over

    Posted by Sean at 03:42, October 14th, 2007

    I noticed Rondi had added some election-related application on Facebook, so I clicked through to look at it. The text at the right said something like, “The 2008 election is almost here.” I didn’t do a double-take until a few seconds later–that’s how accustomed I am to the idea that we’re already in the run-up to the election.

    The good citizen in me is not looking forward to the coming year. Following politics can be good, wicked fun sometimes, but I mostly do it because I consider it a duty. I will listen to the debates and read up on candidates’ records as legislators and seek out the opinions of commentators whose judgment I find helpful. But I am expecting this to be the least fun election season of my adult life.

    A lot of that has to do with Hillary. My sainted aunt, I am so sick of hearing about Hillary. I’m not referring to her relentless spotlight-seeking in and of itself–what else do you expect an ambitious politician with designs on the Oval Office to do? She’s actually become much less grating to watch and listen to over the years. As an old-fashioned celebrity-loving gay guy, I’ve taken some pleasure in watching her develop a more bankable image. Work it, Hills, I say.

    Unfortunately, there’s a flip side, which is that everything she says or does is examined to death, by friend and foe alike, for what it might indicate about her emergent Hillaryness. Of course, every politician makes tossed-off comments or clothing choices that get overworked in the media, but with Hillary the enterprise reaches a whole new level. Some sources speculate that Clinton’s newest shade from Clairol suggests her commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq is less than sincere…. I understand that there are reasons for it–she may lack Bill’s charisma, but in her own weird way, she may be just as compelling a figure. A lot of her fans seem to think she’s some kind of saint, and a lot of her detractors seem to hate her more than they do Satan.

    [Added on 15 October: Thanks to Eric for the link. He uses the obvious word in this context: “cult [of personality].” The reason I didn’t myself is that I think it really bothers Hillary that that’s what she has. However ruthlessly loyalty may be enforced in the Clinton inner circle, I think that with respect to the electorate, Hillary clearly wants to be the natural, rational choice for thinking people. Not that she’ll refuse the votes of blind partisans, of course.]

    You can imagine what I think of her politics. Hillary represents just about everything I detest about arrogant, technocrat-in-group statism. Since she’s such an inveterate triangulator, I’m not sure how many of her overweening policy points she would actually work to push through in their purest illiberal form, but I’d prefer not to find out.

    I will say that in one sense I sympathize with her: She clearly wants to be a natural at winning over voters. She works and works and works at it, all to little effect. It must be frustrating to want so much to be good at something for which you have no talent, especially when you’re married to someone who could charm the spots off a leopard. She always reminds me of Tom Cruise, who refuses to settle into being a movie star with a presence a lot of people will pay to see. He struggles mightily to be an Actor, and it doesn’t work because you can always see the gears turning. Same with Hillary. The more “on” she is with her gestures and her speech patterns in technical terms, the more she comes off as an animatronic Anna Lindh doll. It would be nice to see her just cut the crap and be the steely, high-handed bitch she clearly wants to be. (And America needs a steely, high-handed bitch or two, now that Madonna’s been domesticated and run through the Brit-erator.) She would be utterly fabulous at that. But it would obviously cost her the election, so it’s not going to happen.

    Instead, we’re going to spend the next year in the spin cycle perfected when Bill was in the White House, only with a senate term and a grown-up Chelsea (“See? At least one person in this family is normal!”) sloshing around in it. Eric has two posts up about Control of the Narrative. While they don’t address the election explicitly, they’re pertinent here. Apropos of something else, he says, “I think media culture and hypersensitivity tend to fuel each other, and the result is a latent hysteria constantly lurking in the background, and ready to break out upon the slightest provocation.” We’re so used to hearing that every bracelet Hillary wears may say something about what’s going on in that calculating head of hers that I think a lot of people have started to buy it without realizing they’re doing it. We’re in for an annoying year.

    [Added on 15 October: Thanks to Eric for the other link, too. If you haven’t read that post of his, BTW, you really must. The situation he’s discussing is absolutely hilarious. Of course, if there were serious threats issued or an injury that drew blood, that’s not funny. But the indignant haggling over which type of identity-political aggrievement is warranted on the part of which involved party is like something out of Through the Looking Glass. Eric’s final comment: “You’d almost think they were trying to avoid getting on the wrong side of Cotton Mather.”]


    Gimme an…

    Posted by Sean at 03:17, October 12th, 2007

    This guy‘s brother, who comments on Gay Orbit sometimes, sent me a link to an ad campaign that’s apparently appearing on some McDonald’s tray inserts in Kyoto, where his wife’s visiting. He wonders WTF (ahem) is going on.

    I doubt there’s any subliminal message there, despite the artfully revealing shots of women’s underclothes–that’s what they’re mostly selling, after all. The people who devised the campaign were thinking in Japanese, for a Japanese audience, and it probably didn’t occur to them to consider that they might be using an expression that’s considered coarse in English. That kind of thing happens all the time. A buddy of mine works for a company that once linked to one of its web products with the come-on “Let’s Flash!” The accompanying image was…well, it wasn’t a schlumpy guy in sunglasses and a trench coat, but it wasn’t as far off as one might like. Foreign staff here and people from overseas offices tried to tell management that this was a problem. No one listened. Sometimes Japlish is harmlessly silly; sometimes it wanders into not-so-harmlessly silly. That’s just the way it is.

    Added on 14 October: Interesting how straight-boy commenters who haven’t shown up for weeks will suddenly materialize to opine on a post about Japanese women’s underwear.


    改札機にトラブル

    Posted by Sean at 21:55, October 11th, 2007

    So I get to the office this morning, and a colleague of mine says, “Did you hear about that thing with the turnstiles?” Since I don’t take the train to work, I hadn’t. But wow:

    Trouble arose in over 400 stations on JR, subway, and private rail lines first thing in the morning on 12 October when electronic ticket gates failed to function after being turned on. To avoid massive headaches, nearly every station adopted the measure of allowing passengers to pass through the gates without checking tickets. This is the first time such large-scale trouble with automatic ticket gates has spread to multiple rail carriers. For a time, some private rail lines had no functioning ticket gates at any station, but they gradually began restoring service. Trains themselves have been running normally.

    According to one private rail source, the trouble was confined to ticket gates manufactured by a single maker. All affected companies are scrambling to restore service while investigating the details and origins of the problem.

    As you’ve no doubt seen in stock news footage designed to show how crowded Tokyo is, a LOT of people use the trains here on weekday mornings. I’m not sure how much revenue the rail companies lost–most people who are commuting to work use some kind of rail pass, usually paid up for a period of months rather than on a per-ride basis. But the manufacturer of the electronic turnstiles may have some explaining to do.


    身代金

    Posted by Sean at 00:06, October 11th, 2007

    A Japanese tourist–he appears to be a backpacker type–has been abducted in an unstable part of Iran after crossing over from Pakistan:

    According to a message received by the Ministry of Foreign affairs on 10 October, a 23-year-old Japanese university student was abducted by unspecified persons while traveling in southeastern Iran during the first ten days of the month. The abductors are thought to be members of a militant group that is demanding ransom. The ministry established an emergency task force, headed by Vice-Minister Itsunori Onodera, that is investigating in detail the circumstances in which the student was abducted.

    According to the ministry, the Japanese embassy in Tehran received a midnight telephone call on 8 October saying that the student “had been abducted by a militant group while traveling through the southeast of Iran.” The student also stated that “the group looks as if it has some other demands in addition to ransom.”

    Haven’t heard much more.


    Fukuda cabinet yet to squander public support

    Posted by Sean at 23:54, October 9th, 2007

    The Fukuda administration’s approval figures remain respectable, according to a Yomiuri poll. The figures seem plausible, as do the reasons offered:

    Compared with 85.5 percent approval for former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet, 71.9 percent for former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s Cabinet, and 70 percent for the Cabinet of Fukuda’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, the approval rating was the fourth highest since the interview surveys–conducted within the honeymoon period of the inauguration of a new cabinet–began with a survey of support for the Masayoshi Ohira Cabinet in 1978.

    The interview survey was conducted at 250 locations across the country on 3,000 eligible voters, with 1,812, or 60.4 percent, of respondents giving valid answers.

    By gender, 63 percent of female respondents supported Fukuda while 54 percent of male respondents backed him. Forty-four percent of the respondents, the largest number, cited the “feeling of reassurance” the Cabinet gave them as the reason they supported Fukuda. On how long the Fukuda Cabinet should continue, 32 percent of respondents, the greatest number, said as long as possible, followed by 25 percent who said two to three years and 9 percent who said the Cabinet members should step down as soon as possible.

    Koizumi shook things up. Abe screwed things up. Voters aren’t unaware that they have to undergo more pain to deal with the most pressing social and economic issues, but their “please, not just yet…” attitude is not surprising. Fukuda’s soothing, avuncular style fits right in.

    People still break down along party lines over the refueling mission:

    Forty-nine percent of pollees said the Maritime Self-Defense Force should continue its refueling operation in the Indian Ocean as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, while 37 percent opposed its doing so.

    By political party, 69 percent of supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party backed the mission and 22 percent opposed it.

    Of those who support the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, 32 percent were in favor of the operation and 59 percent were against it. Of unaffiliated voters, 39 percent of respondents supported it and 42 percent opposed it.

    The DPJ is playing up its fight with the government and ruling coalition parties by sticking to its policy of opposing the continuation of the MSDF’s refueling operation, but the survey might have an impact on the party’s handling of the issue.

    Meanwhile, Fukuda scored higher points than DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa in leadership, political philosophy and goals, clarity and approachability.

    A narrow majority of pollees said the opposition should make compromises with the coalition, which makes perfect sense in policy terms, since the DPJ et al. haven’t offered a platform that distinguishes them much from the ruling coalition. They’re against extending the refueling mission and (like everyone who happens to be out of power) very much morally affronted by all the corruption visible everywhere. But most of the other differences are in the details, many of which shouldn’t be hard to trade horses over.


    お祖母さまのいとこさまの整体の先生のおい様のネコちゃんの妹さまのご冥福をお祈り致します

    Posted by Sean at 23:22, October 9th, 2007

    Over forty municipal employees in Kyoto who had already used up most of their paid vacation found a way to milk the city for more money. The city offers paid days off to arrange for or attend the funerals of family members, so they simply pretended their relatives were dropping dead at a clip of a half-dozen per year. The result was a total of 142 days of paid bereavement leave based on false claims:

    The investigation found that a 49-year-old female official at the Kamigyo Fire Station’s general affairs division illegally took 12 days off when she worked at the Higashiyama Fire Station. In fiscal 2005 alone, she took bereavement leave five times, saying relatives had passed away.

    “I never thought she would lie in applying for bereavement leave,” an official who was her boss at the time said. “I felt sorry for her, as she said so many of her relatives had died around that time.”

    An official of Nishikyo ward office’s general affairs division applied for bereavement leave six times, saying his uncle died and then claiming aunts had died on four different occasions, from fiscal 2004 to 2006. In fiscal 2006, the 43-year-old official took bereavement leave five times.

    His boss said: “I thought that was too many [deaths], so I did ask questions. But since it’s a personal matter, I didn’t ask him to provide evidence.”

    Some of the offenders’ supervisors have also been disciplined. They do come off as easily gulled, but you have to feel sorry for them, too. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that someone could lose several relatives in their eighties in rapid succession; parents and their siblings tend to approach average life expectancy around the same time, after all. As with so many of these scandals, this one was uncovered through what looks like luck: a worker at the environment agency was found to have fraudulently applied for leave, whereupon attendance records in general were inspected.


    I’ve Got a Lover (Back in Japan)

    Posted by Sean at 08:56, October 5th, 2007

    Glad this week is over–productive but super-busy. I was mercifully spared any cross-cultural encounters of the variety below (sent to me by my buddy–those Brits!):

    Speaking of people from the UK, I’d feared, given the title, that Annie Lennox’s new album would consist of Songs of Mass Sanctimony. After all, her attempts at social commentary with Eurythmics could be downright laughable. She and David should have won some sort of Freedom from Self-Awareness Award for this one:

    Nothing really to fear, it turned out, fortunately–not even on the one with the Choir of Concerned Mommies. Nice to have her recording again.

    I also truly enjoyed the opening salvo from this week’s Popbitch:

    “I theme-dress depending on where I’m going… if I was going to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, I would wear a kimono – it makes it more fun.” Kelly Osbourne.

    Good to know the child’s as much as grammarian as she is a geographer, huh? Whatever you do, though, do NOT click on the Anna Nicole Smith link toward the bottom of this week’s mailing. Ugsome. I still haven’t recovered.

    Out of here for the weekend. Have a good one, everyone.