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    Us and them

    Posted by Sean at 23:07, March 16th, 2005

    Simon World’s Asia By Blog feature is up for this round. One (among many) of the interesting links is to this discussion by Riding Sun of an Australian professor who appears to do that horrid the-only-reason-Japanese-customs-seem-unethical-to-us-is-that-we-can’t-understand-their-nuanced-underpinnings thing:

    In general, Japan is very welcoming to foreigners. Nevertheless, people who are not ethnically Japanese are regularly shut out of certain bars and restaurants here. Some are shady nightclubs connected to the Yakuza

    But, Steed, those baddies can be so adversarial!

    Posted by Sean at 22:19, March 15th, 2005

    People frequently compliment me for not filtering everything through my homosexuality, so I would like to take this opportunity to cash in some of that goodwill to finance a short blast of unadulterated faggotry:

    I know a lot of people enjoy taking their frustrations out on Maureen Dowd, with her prominent position and steady stream of ridiculous pronouncements. She doesn’t usually do much to get me going, but I almost had a coronary when I clicked through a link of Michelle Malkin’s and saw this opening paragraph on Dowd’s most recent emission:

    When I need to work up my nerve to write a tough column, I try to think of myself as Emma Peel in a black leather catsuit, giving a kung fu kick to any diabolical mastermind who merits it.

    Okay…Maureen? Hi! Here’s some advice you might profit from:





    Got that? Off. Your paws. Diana Rigg. Off. You no compare self to Emma Peel. To Emma Peel, you self compare, no. No, no, no. Not you compare self Emma Peel. To. No.


    I mean, WTF? I cannot think of a more un-Emma Peel-like person on Earth than Maureen Dowd, unless I missed the episode in which she plunked herself down opposite Steed and tried this maneuver:

    In 1996, after six months on the job, I went to Howell Raines, the editorial page editor, to try to get out of the column. I was a bundle of frayed nerves. I felt as though I were in a “Godfather” movie, shooting and getting shot at. Men enjoy verbal dueling. As a woman, I told Howell, I wanted to be liked – not attacked. He said I could go back to The Metro Section; I decided to give it another try. Bill Safire told me I needed Punzac, Prozac for pundits.

    Words fail me.

    So let’s try images. Now, lookit this. The Dowd photo is from her column, and the Rigg photo is from her biography here:


    He‘ll never kill again.”


    “I am so going to win that tiara this year.”

    I mean, seriously. Unlike Dowd, I’m not very photogenic, so I’m sensitive to the fact that you can’t judge someone’s whole personality from one exposure. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that the NYT sends some guy with an Instamatic around the office to take one-click-and-that’s-it of its high-profile columnists. Someone–maybe not Dowd herself, but someone–thought she was best presented with that smug expression. It’s unfortunate, actually, because she’s a very attractive woman. (That’s an impressive head of hair.)

    But to move on…uh, the grey shell and pearls? The only way I can see that get-up on Emma Peel is if she has to infiltrate some embroidery club that’s actually a front for an assassination squad…say, whose weapons are the Petits-Fours of Death. Otherwise, no go.


    Okay, this is pretty high snark for me, and I assume it’s clear that the Diana Rigg thing, important as that is to those of us who want to preserve the torch of aesthetics in this benighted age, is not all of it.

    The thing is, Dowd is touching on a real issue. I don’t just mean the issue of how women’s impulses differ from men’s. In broad-brush terms, it’s probably true to say that, when using instinct to navigate through a scary and unfamiliar situation, more women are likely to fall back on trying to make nice and more men are likely to fall back on emotionally-detached readiness to spring into action. The thing is, both those instincts can be wrong at different moments, and no matter what your sex, it’s your job as an adult to discipline yourself into figure out what’s best and do it. The word for someone who wants “to be liked–not attacked” at all costs is not woman. Or man. It’s ninny.

    But as I say, that’s not even the big issue. The big issue is the old problem of whether equality of opportunity means equal access or equal outcomes. I could take a job I’m not suited for and then go whining to my boss that I was on edge because it wasn’t serving my strengths. Would that be the fault of the job? Dowd, defining the desire to be liked as an unalloyed womanly good, seems to figure that it is. In some cases, it might be. Some workplaces really are structured in ways that confound both employees and clients. But it’s hard to figure out how an op-ed page or its readers would benefit from telling columnists it’s okay not to be opinionated. Maybe Dowd–not women in general, but Dowd–really should have gone back to the metro section.

    In the meantime, women journalists whose nerves are not frayed are articulating opinions quite nic…uh, well. Joanne Jacobs‘s deadpan is even more refreshing than usual after Dowd’s wet-noodle prose. And she links to Anne Applebaum and Kay Hymowitz on the matter (well, Applebaum is responding to Susan Estrich). You can imagine what they have to say.


    Posted by Sean at 23:26, March 14th, 2005

    Virginia Postrel has a post and column today about consumer choice–as in, does the existence of too many options throw people into states of high anxiety over whether they’ve selected the one perfect flavor of Wilkin & Sons’ jam? By extension, the question becomes whether research indicates that privatizing social security and providing a profusion of investment options would decrease people’s satisfaction with the results they get. An interesting left turn.

    A story in today’s Asahi English version is also interesting, though it follows a more conventional consumer-advocacy script: providing choices to Japanese consumers in the produce aisle wastes resources, drives prices up by deluding them that lettuce is better from X Prefecture than from Y Prefecture, and sucks up fresh water to produce feed for beef cattle. And, really, next to smoking–which the Japanese do plenty of, anyway–what better evidence could there be that the Japanese have gone over the cliff of capitalist sin than they they eat beef?

    The weird thing is the measure that’s touted in the article:

    Takashi Shinohara, a Lower House member of Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), has expressed concerns about the future of Japan’s agriculture. At a Feb. 22 Lower House Budget Committee meeting, he asked Yoshinobu Shimamura, the agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, about the current situation concerning Japan’s food mileage.

    Food mileage is calculated by multiplying the transportation distance with the volume of food transported. The higher the food mileage the larger the load placed on the global environment for the sake of a more varied diet for a nation’s population.

    The agriculture ministry’s calculations in response to Shimamura’s query confirmed the worst: Japan’s food mileage for 2001 was about 900 billion ton-kilometers, the largest figure in the world.

    Since Japan is an island nation, transportation distances are expected to be high. But still, Japan’s food mileage is about 2.8 times that of neighboring South Korea. Compared to the United States, which has about twice the population and is the most affluent nation in the world, Japan’s food mileage is about three times as large.

    Of course, this doesn’t follow the usual line that it’s okay for Japan to be obscenely rich because its nature-worshipping culture makes it an inspiration to niggling conservationists everywhere. But the yardstick used strikes me as strange. Multiplying food volume by transportation distance seems to me to be a good rough number that could tell you…erm…some things that you already know, such as that Japan consumes a lot of food that’s transported long distances and doesn’t grow a whole lot itself (comparatively). I have no trouble believing it was devised by a consumer advocate rather than a research economist–or, more precisely, that it’s a consumer advocate who’s pushing it as an indicator that policy Must Change. The same volume of different foods can deliver different levels of nutritional value and can have different unit costs; transportation can be efficient or inefficient.

    That the Japanese agricultural distribution system is full of inanities is well-known. There are a few major federal ministries and dozens of agencies and public corporations involved–always a way to guarantee that decision-making will be distorted like a fun-house mirror and the amount of huffing and puffing involved in getting broccoli from field to supermarket will be maximized. At the same time, this is disturbing:

    Four years ago, when Shinohara was director-general of the Policy Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, he said he was stunned by what he saw at a supermarket in Kagoshima Prefecture at the southern end of Kyushu. Among the vegetables sold was lettuce grown in the highlands of Honshu.

    “I thought it was such a waste to bring lettuce from so far away when it can easily be grown nearby,” Shinohara said.

    But that’s how things are in Japan. Many vegetables that have never been associated with one particular locale are now displayed at supermarkets with ads boasting their place of growth, often a prefecture hundreds of kilometers away.

    The availability of food from around the country could be one reason why there is so much waste.

    It’s one thing to question whether lettuce from Honshu is better than lettuce from Kyushu–but hearing that it’s a “waste” to ship vegetables from one place to another to see whether consumers go for them is a little unsettling coming from a government official. What solution does he have in mind? you kind of have to wonder.

    Since any moves by the government would be likely to create more regulations and hoops for producers and distributors to jump through, we can take small comfort in the knowledge that officials seem to be sufficiently baffled that they’re not sure how to proceed:

    One agriculture ministry official couldn’t find a specific explanation for the leftovers.

    “It may be because they were busy, or maybe they were on special diets,” the official said.

    Uh, what? People waste food because Japan is rich and the generation of grandparents who lived through wartime and post-war deprivation, complete with rice rations, has faded into lack of influence on most of today’s workers. Most people can afford to leave behind some miso soup or rice or even high-quality fish without feeling prodigal. It’s also not clear from the wording of the article whether the part of the food that’s pared away before serving was counted.

    Anyway, there’s more about the beef ban and about agricultural subsidies for those who are interested. The reporter doesn’t seem very critical, but the descriptions of how policy plays out, while abbreviated, give you a sense of how things work.


    Posted by Sean at 02:31, March 14th, 2005

    Usually, talk of piracy in Southeast Asia refers to DVDs nowadays. But a Japanese tugboat has encountered the real deal, being attacked in the Strait of Malacca–very important shipping lane, which sees a lot more than tugboats–with three hostages taken. Two are Japanese; one is Filipino. It looks as if it just happened a few hours ago, so there’s little news. The rest of the crew are fine, and the Malaysian police are looking for them and their abductors. Very odd. Hope they’re recovered safe.

    Added on 17 March: The English Asahi has a follow-up story:

    The tugboat was on its way to Myanmar (Burma) from Singapore while towing a barge, Kuroshio 1, which carried 154 Japanese and Malaysian workers.

    In most cases of abductions committed by pirates, captains and chief engineers are taken simultaneously, and key documents stolen. Several days after an attack, the pirates demand ransom from the vessels’ owners after finding the right phone number written in the documents.

    The amount of ransom is usually several million yen so that the ship owners can easily pay, according to marine transportation industry sources. Once the ransom is paid, the hostages are released in one or two weeks at the earliest, they added.

    The Malacca Strait is notorious for pirate activity. But after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami off Sumatra in late December, there were no reports of piracy incidents for about two months. Some pirates apparently died in the disaster or lost their weapons.

    All of that makes sense. I mean, not as an honest way to make a living but as the way crime would work in the Strait of Malacca. I still think–sorry, guys–that this story is weird. You just don’t hear about things like this in Japan, unless I’m missing all the stories. And it’s not as if I were particularly hawk-eyed, but I do read multiple Japanese news sources per day, often watch the news on NHK or another network, and (most importantly) subscribe to the dead-tree Nikkei. Piracy in a major shipping lane is the sort of thing that affects commerce. If Japanese ships were being raided consistently, I’d expect the Nikkei, of all news outlets, to be all over it. You do hear about lots of encounters in the Sea of Japan (that’s the East Sea if you’re Korean), in the East and South China Seas–you know, suspicious boats passing without identifying themselves, or turning out to be North Korean patrols, things like that.

    In any case, no word today that I’ve seen that there’s any update on the case itself. Japan is, however, offering to help patrol the Strait of Malacca. There’s good reason:

    The decision, which came Tuesday, represents the first time the government will offer vessels to a developing country free of charge to deter pirates.

    The Malacca Strait has long been plagued by piracy. About 90 percent of Japan’s oil supply from the Middle East passes through this sea artery.


    Posted by Sean at 15:15, March 13th, 2005

    South Korea is considering–it’s not clear how seriously–recalling its ambassador to Japan. The points of contention include a disputed island (called Takeshima in Japanese, called Tokto in Korean). Shimane Prefecture claims it and is poised to celebrate “[We Own] Takeshima [So Leave It the Hell Alone] Day.” Korea takes this as a diplomatic affront. The other major issue is that perennial favorite, Japan’s history textbooks, which the ROK understandably believes demonstrate that Japan has not fully owned its actions of the early 20th century.

    Added on 15 March: China sees Korea’s bitterly-disputed island and will raise it one renegade-province-type island:

    [PRC Premier Jiabao] Wen proposed that three conditions be met in order to resume the top leaders’ visits. The conditions involve looking at the future while reflecting upon past history, supporting a “one-China” policy apparently aimed at reuniting Taiwan, and stepped up cooperation between Beijing and Tokyo.

    Wen also insisted that the issue of Taiwan was China’s issue, asking both the United States and Japan to stay out of the matter. The premier explained that he was concerned about references to Taiwan by U.S. and Japanese officials in a recent meeting.

    China’s National People’s Congress on Monday enacted a law designed to block Taiwan’s declaration of independence. [More at Reuters on that–SRK]

    “Looking at the future while reflecting on past history” refers to visits by federal politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine. At least, that’s what’s mentioned in the Mainichi article. China is no more fond of Japan’s history textbooks than Korea is, however, and I imagine that figures in, too.


    Posted by Sean at 14:30, March 13th, 2005

    Jonathan Rauch’s new National Journal column discusses a recent outcome in a Boston sexual-abuse-by-a-priest case:

    Last month, Paul Shanley was sentenced

    to 12 to 15 years in prison for child rape. Because Shanley was 74, this was effectively a life sentence. His accuser–not [Gregory] Ford [the one originally mentioned] but Paul Busa, a 27-year-old Boston-area firefighter who recounted a similar story — said in a victim-impact statement, “However he dies, I hope it’s slow and painful.” The city of Boston, outraged by priestly pedophilia scandals and clerical cover-ups, agreed.

    The jury was convinced that Busa was telling the truth. So is Busa himself, to judge from what’s presented here. The problem that his testimony is based entirely on “recovered” memory:

    The theory underlying this claim is that of traumatic amnesia. The notion is that some experiences are so horrible that the mind pushes them down into the subconscious, where they can fester and cause all sorts of physical and emotional distress. Eventually, often under the guidance of a therapist or on being cued by some stimulus, the amnesiac brings the memories into awareness.

    This theory has a checkered legal past. Recovered-memory cases alleging sexual abuse, sometimes by satanic cults, surged into the

    hundreds in the early 1990s. Many alleged victims were steered by insistent therapists, and in many cases the recovered memory itself was the only evidence of abuse. (One plaintiff said her evidence of having been sexually abused from age 2 to 11 was based on “just what’s wrong with me today … [and] I’m still afraid of spiders.”)

    I shouldn’t have to make this disclaimer, but I will anyway: I’m not making light of actual traumatic abuse. It’s possible that some of these people did have vague memories of real violation, and that their therapists were able to prod them in the right direction to remember more and come to terms with it. That doesn’t appear to be the general pattern, though. For all the reasons Rauch gives, backed up by trained researchers but mostly familiar from everyday experience, it is difficult to accept that an incident can seem to disappear entirely from the memory and then be miraculously restored in perfect detail–at least in any consistent and reliable way you could use in court.

    Rauch’s last example above is clearly an extreme one. It does seem suspicious in a general way, though, that all these memories happened to start being restored in a cultural environment in which people were looking for someone to blame for all of life’s downers (abetted by all those therapists, naturally). Rauch also cites an article from Legal Affairs that indicates that the complainants in this case (the testimony of only one ended up being used) had their share of downers. Shanley is obviously no innocent, but he was being tried on particular charges, not his entire record of moral misjudgments as a priest.

    It’s understandable that Gregory Ford and his family wouldn’t be able to understand why he turned out to be a wrong ‘un and would look for a single, concrete, external explanation. Sadly, that doesn’t mean there is one.

    SDF to catch up to SKY Perfect TV

    Posted by Sean at 14:07, March 13th, 2005

    Japan has absorbed the term 不安定の弧, or arc of instability, to refer to the line that runs from North Korea down through to North Africa by way of Southeast Asia. The SDF plans to use imaging satellites to cover it:

    The system is expected to draw controversy over increased fears of unified military deployment with the USAF, since sharing capability at the highest command levels will jump significantly.

    That’s a gentle way of saying that Japan’s military use of satellites is still pretty primitive. There are dedicated military transmission channels, but they’re sonic, low-speed, and low-capacity. The new satellite system will be of the same commercial type used by television; SDF personnel deployed abroad will be able to transmit images back in real time.

    The “fear” mentioned above, of course, is not just that Japan is casting its lot with favorite-target America, but also that the two defense agencies will get so chummy that they go overboard on the information-sharing. The LDP’s major partner in its ruling coalition, the New Komeito, is generally dovish and has called for caution. Article 9 of the constitution still hasn’t been revised, after all, so the degree to which Japan can legally contribute to “collective self-defense” with its allies remains debatable.

    Gays in utero

    Posted by Sean at 18:07, March 11th, 2005

    I understand what the issue here is supposed to be, but I don’t see the bind (which, pace Right Side of the Rainbow, would mostly be ethical and not exactly intellectual). The story was out a few weeks ago:

    Rep. Brian Duprey (R-Hampden) has submitted a bill to the State Legislature to shield potentially homosexual fetuses from discrimination. LD 908, “An Act to Protect Homosexuals from Discrimination,” attempts to protect homosexuals from death because they might carry the gene that could lead to homosexuality.

    This bill as drafted would make it a crime to abort an unborn child if that child is determined to be carrying the “homosexual gene.” Duprey said that no such genetic marker has yet been discovered. But considering rapid advancements in genetic mapping research, he wants legislation in place should such a breakthrough occur. “If the homosexual gene is ever determined to exist,” he said, “I want to ensure that a woman could not abort an unborn child simply because that child is determined to be carrying this gene.”

    Duprey received the idea for this bill when listening to the Rush Limbaugh radio show. “I heard Rush saying that the day the ‘gay gene’ is determined to be real, that overnight gays would become pro-life,” Duprey said.

    Not this gay, buddy. If anyone finds a way to argue that it’s okay for a woman to have an abortion because the child would interfere with her law-school plans but not okay because the child’s going to be gay, I hope he’s considerate enough to do it out of my earshot.

    I suspect that if I went around talking to women who’ve had abortions, I would find a lot of their reasons frivolous. But I don’t, because it’s none of my business. I can’t see abortion in the first trimester as murder, but I also can’t imagine how anyone could have one without a serious crisis of conscience. It’s not like going to the dermatologist to get a mole removed. If a woman decides to go through with it, for whatever reason, she has to deal with the consequences. That’s what pro-choice means. You can approve or disapprove of a woman’s choice, but she gets to make it.

    I don’t think the scenario depicted here is likely, though, in any case. What strikes me as far more probable is this: a set of genetic markers for a predisposition toward homosexuality is found. In 45% of known cases, the child grows into a homosexual adult; in the other 55%, the adult is heterosexual. Environmental factors must be involved, but no one has figured out exactly what they are or when sexuality gels. It’s probably different for different people, anyway. (It’s hard to get good stats on gays because psychologists tend not to know about those of us who don’t have messed-up lives.) So parents have the children–whom they spend the next 18 years driving berserk with their frantic efforts to make sure they don’t turn out queer.

    Hot flashes

    Posted by Sean at 15:41, March 11th, 2005

    Well, now, isn’t this nice. Susan Estrich decided to challenge Michael Kinsey on the dearth of women writing op-eds for the LAT, and things have escalated:

    As the controversy drags into a fourth week, Estrich continues to bounce from conciliation to confrontation. She seemed near tears in an interview, saying she never intended the fight to get so personal. She blamed the operators of her website for improperly posting comments about Kinsley’s mental health and contended she didn’t think e-mails to Drudge and others in the media would get into the public domain.

    Oh, super! Nothing like giving fuel to those who contend that chicks are too emotional and flighty and irrational for the world of ideas–though I’m not sure irrational is a sufficiently powerful word to cover the stupidity of sending e-mails to media figures (including MATT DRUDGE!!!!!) and assuming there was no way they’d be publicized. Nice blame-passing about the website thing, too, counselor. Way to help out those of us who want to see women who with a talent for public life have their shot at maximizing it!

    I found the story above through Virginia Postrel (emotional! flighty! irrational! NOT!), who addresses it with dry distaste and appends an experience of her own:

    The whole silly brouhaha reminds me of how the LAT used to handle this question: through rigid, numerical quotas. I remember visiting Bob Berger, the op-ed editor, back in the early ’90s. An old-style newspaperman, Bob didn’t like the paper’s demands that he demonstrate “diversity” on the op-ed pages. I especially remember his complaint that he not only had to find gay writers but gay writers who would mention that they were gay. No gay foreign policy experts need apply.

    When I was in high school and college, I always envisioned myself as a professor or journalist of some kind. This malarkey makes me more grateful than ever that my path changed and I ended up in the fulfilling but anonymous and artisanal job I have. How hard should it be to judge writers by whether they write well?

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to build a reputation based on your name, of course, or with using it as currency when you do. Nor is there anything bad about inviting commentary on feminism and gay issues from women and gays. Yeah, yeah, yeah–this issue’s been around for thirty years, and getting worked up over it just raises the blood pressure. It still boggles the mind that people who think this way can get their silly little hang-ups enforced–be sure to read the last paragraph of Virginia’s post.

    Tokyo fire-bombing anniversary

    Posted by Sean at 11:53, March 10th, 2005

    My energy has been diverted elsewhere, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, before the date expired around the globe, that yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Tokyo that killed 100,000 people during World War II. Atsushi and I watched the hour-long NHK special over the weekend. Information about the sequence of events is, to my knowledge, covered well here. I believe war is essentially a fact of human nature, and I’m thankful daily that I’ve spent my entire life in powerful, dynamic societies with bad-ass armed forces staffed by volunteers. I also, naturally, am glad we did what we needed to do to win World War II.

    But winning a war against a ruthless opponent requires ruthless tactics:

    The Superforts returned in force at the end of the month, flying at altitudes that insured immunity from attacks by Japanese defenders. Although their high altitude provided a shield for the bombers, it also decreased the accuracy and impact of their bomb runs. To correct this deficiency, Major-General Curtis Lemay (newly appointed commander of the American Bomber Command) ordered a dramatic change in tactics. The bomber runs would be made at night, at low altitude and deliver a mixture of high explosive and incendiary bombs. The objective was to turn the closely-packed, wooden homes and buildings prevalent in the Japanese cities into raging infernos and ultimately into the most destructive of all weapons – the firestorm.

    The Allies had first encountered the phenomenon of the firestorm when the British bombed the German city of Hamburg in August of 1943. The night raid ignited numerous fires that soon united into one uncontrollable mass of flame, so hot it generated its own self-sustaining, gale-force winds and literally sucked the oxygen out of the air, suffocating its victims. Lemay hoped to use this force to level the cities of Japan. Tokyo would be the first test.

    A successful incendiary raid required ideal weather that included dry air and significant wind. Weather reports predicted these conditions over Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945. A force of 334 B-29s was unleashed – each plane stripped of ammunition for its machine guns to allow it to carry more fire-bombs. The lead attackers arrived over the city just after dark and were followed by a procession of death that lasted until dawn. The fires started by the initial raiders could be seen from 150 miles away. The results were devastating: almost 17 square miles of the city were reduced to ashes. Estimates of the number killed range between 80,000 and 200,000, a higher death toll than that produced by the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki six months later.

    Those who’ve studied the reconstruction of Japan after the war will recognize Lemay as a key figure–it’s worth noting that, while he was willing to go to extreme lengths to fight the Japanese, he was also there to get their country going again–by structuring the SDF!–after they surrendered. That doesn’t necessarily make him a nice person, but, unfortunately, you don’t win wars by being nice.

    Journalist David McNeill ran a piece yesterday asking why the Japanese don’t pay much attention to the anniversary of the Tokyo firebombing. In it, he raises and then glides over that issue. He finishes with a quotation from one of the survivors: