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    No downsizing here

    Posted by Sean at 02:12, April 24th, 2005

    You have got to be kidding me (Japanese, English):

    Postal workers’ jobs are to be safeguarded in the privatization planned for 2007, with the new postal entities to keep the same employment levels, government sources said.

    After all, that is the point of privatizing an inefficient government organization–improve operations by not changing anything.

    Regarding the establishment of a fund to maintain universal postal savings and postal services in remote areas, the postal services holding company will save a portion of its revenues each fiscal year, as stipulated by an ordinance, until the sum reaches 1 trillion yen.

    The bills state that the fund cannot be tapped, with the exception of a situation in which the revenues alone cannot support the holding company’s universal service obligation, the sources said.

    The six bills are designed to privatize postal services, establish a postal services holding company, a mail delivery company, an over-the-counter service network firm, and an independent administrative organization for postal savings and kampo life insurance, and to pass laws related to the privatization.

    Increasing the number of organizations involved sounds like a great move toward streamlining, too, though that structure’s been part of the proposal forever. Good grief.

    Assume a pyramid with an altitude of x million dollars….

    Posted by Sean at 01:38, April 23rd, 2005

    And that new food pyramid? The USDA has seriously outdone itself in purposeless bureaucratic condescension. Ann Althouse is justifiably irritated at the cutesy site title, but it’s the graphic that does it for me:


    I had to laugh out loud at the irony. The rainbow is so dear to the hearts of I’m-okay-you’re-okay types as a way to say we’re all equally adorable, so it’s no surprise that it recommended itself to the tofu-worshippers at the USDA. But, of course, the whole point of this particular project is to push the value of whole grains while banishing trans-fats to outer darkness, so equal ROYGBIV bands would not have worked.

    The site is pretty snazzy and easy to navigate, but it illustrates the problems with having federal programs for this sort of thing. Read the information and tips and you start to wonder very quickly just who the target audience is. Some samples:

    • To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as eating whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice. It’s important to substitute the whole-grain product for the refined one, rather than adding the whole-grain product. (link)

    • Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur, or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish. (link)
    • Try different textures of fruits. For example, apples are crunchy, bananas are smooth and creamy, and oranges are juicy. (link)

    • Cut-up fruit makes a great snack. Either cut them yourself, or buy pre-cut packages of fruit pieces like pineapples or melons. Or, try whole fresh berries or grapes. (link)

    Most of the advice is like this, so I initially figured MyPyramid was the site geared toward children and that there was another, stuffier one elsewhere. But each page about the food groups (or food EMS bands or whatever they’re to be called now) also has a section at the bottom that’s explicitly directed at kids, and you can get calorie intake recommendations based on your age, so we grown-ups are clearly the main audience.

    In other words, the USDA is looking at adults who don’t know what instead of means, don’t know that their freezer can be used to store leftover rice as well as Lean Cuisine dinners, don’t know that apples and bananas have different textures, and don’t know a whole lot of other perkily-explained things I’d drive myself into the madhouse by quoting. At least we’re still trusted to handle sharp knives.

    None of this stuff is untrue, of course, and those of us who were taught to cook when we were little can fall into thinking that much of it is intuitive when it really isn’t. Why can’t you freeze a lot of vegetables without blanching them? Why should you add the salt at the beginning some times and at the end others? The thing is, despite all the blaring about the latest scientific information and the effort our trusty USDA folks have expended on compiling it, most of what’s on MyPyramid.gov isn’t anything you couldn’t learn from a collection of a half-dozen basic cookbooks and some Julia Child reruns. I do think the standardized nutrition label is a good idea; the Japanese have essentially adopted it, and it makes it easier to avoid foods that are half additives. But all of this huffing and puffing and throwing tax money around like confetti–just to tell us that fresh plant-based foods are healthy, in case we didn’t already hear it from Mom and the home ec teacher–is asinine.

    Gay marriage on the way in Spain

    Posted by Sean at 09:34, April 22nd, 2005

    I can’t read Spanish and haven’t seen the text of the bill, so I can’t determine whether the hilarious spelling mistake in the second paragraph of this Reuters report is accurate:

    Spain’s parliament gave initial approval to a law legalizing gay marriage on Thursday in a move likely to rekindle conflict with a Catholic Church that has just elected a new conservative pope.

    A packed public gallery erupted in cheers and applause as the speaker announced approval of the Socialist government’s proposal, making Spain the third European country to legalese gay marriage.

    “It’s unfair to be a second-class citizen because of love,” Socialist legislator Carmen Monton said. “Spain joins the vanguard of those defending full equality for gays and lesbians.”

    I can’t say I’m entirely impressed by the reasoning used by one quoted activist: “I’m going to get married for the sake of activism, for love, and for a question of dignity.” Getting married to make a point? Lovely. But then, activists of any stripe often do have a serious case of single-issue-itis.

    In any case, the bill has another round or two of approval to go through, but it’s apparently expected to pass. It also appears to have good public support.


    Posted by Sean at 08:42, April 22nd, 2005

    PM Koizumi spoke today in Jakarta:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke at the Asia-Africa Summit that began in Jakarta 22 April. He cited the talk given in 1995 by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama to commemorate the end of World War II, in which he apologized for past actions such as the way occupied territories were governed. “We must humbly absorb all the facts of history, and keep always etched on our souls a sense of keen self-reflection and regret.”

    There’s an English translation of some of Murayama’s remarks here, and there’s a further discussion here. I do think it’s important to bear in mind that mutual hostilties in this region are as old as the hills. From that perspective, every Japanese government worker down to the Diet Building janitors could apologize for the atrocities of World War II, and the Chinese might very well still be complaining. At some point, it’s unreasonable to expect Japan to keep asking to be forgiven.

    At the same time, it’s not hard to understand where the ire comes from. Simon linked to this terrifically-done list of Japanese politicians’ apologies to Korea, and the one of apologies to China is now up, too. I have rarely heard any of these politicians accused of being insincere, though some of them are on the vague side. The point that’s usually made is that, given things like the treatment of Iris Chang’s work, the pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, and the repeated controversy over history textbooks, it’s pretty clear that there are other people in positions of power over how the War is semi-officially depicted who are very frequently successful in making sure that no wrongdoing is ascribed to the Japanese. That raises questions over the extent to which those issuing the apologies are speaking on behalf of the Japanese government.

    Whichever side you come down on, the PRC has transparently taken a have-it-both-ways-at-once approach to the protests: it condoned them while people’s rage was directed at Japan and deflected away from the CCP–and the minute they got enough out of hand that there was a danger the protestors might start remembering how much they dislike about their own government, too, the serious warnings started. Not surprisingly, the Japanese ambassador to Beijing is still warning Japanese citizens that China may not be safe, despite officially stating that there is no information to indicate that demonstrations will continue within the jurisdictions of large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Being an ambassador, he’s chosen the most tactful possible wording: “In such a large country as China, it is impossible to guarantee that nothing will happen.” Gotta love that litotes.

    Added at 22:38: Oh, yeah, almost left this out: 80 Diet members decided to visit the Yasukuni Shrine today.

    End of civilization continues in CT

    Posted by Sean at 08:08, April 21st, 2005

    Civil unions have been signed into law by the Connecticut governor. No court case. Very cool. Even the marriage-or-bust types are reeling it in enough to recognize that there’s much to celebrate:

    Love Makes a Family, a gay rights organization that wanted legislators pass a gay marriage bill, called civil unions an important step toward protecting the rights of same-sex couples. But Anne Stanback, the group’s executive director, said the fight is not over. [“Love Makes a Family” sounds like the kind of entity that should have a headmistress, not an executive director–SRK]

    “As important as the rights are, this is not yet equality,” she said.

    Naturally, it’s that last quotation that 365Gay has seen fit to use as its quote of the day. Whatever. On the opposite side of the country, the Montana domestic partnership bills were voted down by its House of Representatives this week; that it passed the Senate was apparently big news. Things go in fits and starts.

    Universal mother

    Posted by Sean at 07:18, April 21st, 2005

    The LDP will ask the government to provide 2 trillion yen to ensure that universal service is maintained. This is double the previous recommended amount:

    The government will accept a request from the Liberal Democratic Party to increase a fund to maintain universal banking and insurance services by at least 1 trillion yen in negotiations on postal privatization bills, government sources said Wednesday.

    The government also is expected to study the need to raise the amount to be stated in the bills from 1 trillion yen to up to 2 trillion yen.

    The government also will not ensure capital ties among postal saving, kampo insurance and other new companies in the bills.

    Customizing the pontiff

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, April 20th, 2005

    My first thought on reading the news that the pope had been selected this morning was, as you might imagine, “Hmm…I wonder whether Andrew Sullivan has torn himself clean in half with rage yet, like Rumpelstilskin, or I’m a little early.” I was just in time, apparently, but QandO already has it covered.

    Camille Paglia dealt with this amply in an essay when I was in college, but it’s not an issue that’s likely to go away soon. To add to what Dale writes at QandO: if you believe that your principles are moral and just, and you believe that external, obdurate reality bears them out without the gloss of wishful thinking, that’s that. Religions don’t have line-item vetos. There are gay-friendly churches around, and I’m at a loss to figure out why gay Christians don’t join them instead of trying to shift thousands of years of tradition to fit their beliefs this very minute.

    That doesn’t mean they should just sit down and shut up if they seriously believe that scripture is being misinterpreted or interpreted too narrowly. It’s just that lasting change happens slowly. If their chief concern is that the long-term trajectory of Christianity be in the direction of truth, they have to accept that their arguments may take hold slowly and not have any effects on doctrine within their lifetimes. And if what they’re arguing really isn’t clearly supported by the Bible, it may never take hold in the church in which they were reared. They must be content with serving God to the honest best of their understanding, and standing firm in the face of earthly disapproval. I still think Andrew Sullivan has contributed a great deal to the public discourse, but I can’t get his position on religion to boil down to anything but “I’ll fuck whoever I damn well please, and the church will love me for it.” That seems to me just a bit off the mark.

    Added on 21 April: Susanna is back to posting more frequently, which is a good thing. She had this to say about the ascension of the new pope and Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to it.

    Also, Michael thinks I’m engaging in pro forma Sullivan-bashing. Well, I’m not. When people attack or belittle Andrew Sullivan as if he were useless, I am more than happy to defend him. But you can defend his overall contribution to the public debate and still conclude that his recent positions are either not well supported or mutually inconsistent, and that the flibbertigibbety way he’s taken to expressing them doesn’t do him any favors, either.

    Airport screening officially sucks, again

    Posted by Sean at 21:50, April 19th, 2005

    Since I would prefer to keep my blood pressure in the healthy range, it’s probably just as well that the new federal reports on the efficacy of airport screening are not available in all their depressing detail.

    The Florida Republican said he would ask the Bush administration and Congress to hand the function back to the private sector, which would be overseen by homeland security officials.

    “This annual multibillion-dollar system has received its second poor performance report card,” Mica said.

    Details of the two reports are classified but Mica described a system — which he helped create even though he opposed it — as inefficient and struggling despite a $20 billion investment at 429 commercial airports.

    The Transportation Security Administration oversees nearly 50,000 screeners.

    The homeland security report, parts of which were publicly released, noted screeners performed no better in covert tests after a stinging assessment last year on failures to detect prohibited items at airport security checkpoints.

    And now they’re supposed to be making sure luggage is purged of every last lighter, among other things. Those who fear that the system may actually be re-privatized can probably rest easy, though:

    Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the former ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, sharply criticized TSA. But he said it would be a mistake to return to private screening and doubted Congress would agree to do so.

    “It’s time we give screeners 21st century tools to combat 21st century threats,” DeFazio said.

    Uh-huh. I predict a bipartisan vote to give the screening agency lots of money for new procedures and equipment. Perhaps they’ll revamp training to enable screeners to identify big, scary knives without assistance.

    Fukuoka shakes again

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, April 19th, 2005

    Fukuoka has had another strong earthquake–M 5.8. This one wasn’t as strong as the one in March, but they’re reporting multiple injuries already. Also, it happened at 6:11 on a weekday morning, so a lot of commuter lines have been affected. I haven’t gotten a message from Atsushi saying he felt it in his city, though I assume he must have.

    Ay-yi-yi-yi-I wanna dance (but my feet won’t let me)

    Posted by Sean at 22:28, April 18th, 2005

    This shouldn’t need to be said again, but it does, and Ghost of a Flea says it.