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    Arms and diplomacy along the ring of fire

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, March 8th, 2005

    I haven’t seen this on Reuters or CNN yet, but maybe I just haven’t wandered into it. The Japanese Yomiuri says the following:

    General Leon LaPorte, the commander of US forces stationed in South Korea, addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on 8 March, reporting that the DPRK’s air force pilots get no more than 12 to 15 hours of flight training per year and that its army is in such straits that it uses only one-third to one-half of the combat vehicles and tanks it possesses. Additionally, he indicated that, in his opinion, that North Korea’s conventional military capability has weakened remarkably has motivated it to develop WMDs such as nuclear, biological, and chemical arms.

    None of this is shocking news. It was widely rumored during the worst of the North Korean famine in the late 90s that things had gotten so bad that soldiers’ food rations were being cut–unthinkable in a country that had so burdened its armed forces with maintaining national glory. I hadn’t heard those actual numbers for flight training, though. Also, you usually don’t, for some reason, see that last connection so baldly stated: making nuclear and bio-chem weapons takes technology, some gifted scientists, and manufacturing capability, but it has to be cheaper than the daily investment in keeping a million soldiers fed, equipped, and trained, decade upon decade, when you have lousy agricultural and distribution systems.

    In other news, did everyone see that press conference given by the PRC Foreign Minister over the weekend? Atsushi was here for my birthday, so we had a great time chortling over what China’s devotion to “peaceful solutions” for problems involving Taiwan, the DPRK, and its own military could mean in concrete terms. I considered the whole thing a present from the CCP.

    Okay, in all seriousness, sandblast away some of the diplomo-speak, and you got some actual interesting content. The growing feeling that Taiwan is becoming a closer partner with the US and Japan in Asia was addressed:

    In my view, the military alliance between the US and Japan is a bilateral arrangement that occurred under special circumstances during the Cold War. Therefore it ought to be strictly restricted to a bilateral nature. If it goes beyond the bilateral scope, definitely it will arouse uneasiness of the rest of Asian countries and also bring about complicating factors to the regional security situation. Taiwan is a part of China and the Taiwan question is an internal affair of China. Any practice of putting Taiwan directly or indirectly into the scope of Japan-US security cooperation constitutes an encroachment on China’s sovereignty and interference in China’s internal affairs. The Chinese government and people are firmly against such activities.

    Not a surprising sentiment. On the China-Japan-DPRK love triangle, specifically in response to a question from Tokyo Broadcasting System about the current cessation of diplomatic visitors between the Chinese and Japanese heads of state:

    It is imperative for the two countries and for the peoples of China and Japan to carry forward their friendship from generation to generation. In the past couple of years, the leaders of China and Japan have met for several times on multilateral occasions, where they had very good discussions. We hope China and Japan can proceed from the fundamental interests of the two peoples and work to create proper conditions and atmosphere for the high-level exchange of visits between the two countries in the spirit of taking history as a mirror and looking to the future.

    With regard to whether the DPRK has already possessed nuclear weapons or whether it has uranium enrichment program, I believe maybe you know more than I do. [If I recall correctly, this was a laugh line at the press conference. Or maybe just Li laughed.–SRK]

    Let me tell you that after receiving the relevant verbal message from President Hu Jintao, the DPRK supreme leader indicated that the DPRK side still pursues the objective of a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula and remains ready and willing to continue to participate in the six-party talks and that the DPRK side hopes to see more sincerity to be displayed by the relevant parties.

    No mention of the Yasukuni Shrine issue, even obliquely, which is odd. Assurance that the DPRK is sincerely seeking peace and stability in the region, which is not odd.

    There’s a lot more–the al Jazeera reporter invokes the current atmosphere of “unilateralism and hegemony” to ask about China’s energy consumption, China Radio International asks about the Foreign Ministry’s overall course for the foreseeable future, and the reporter from Singapore asks a more flattering version of a question Simon posed after the tsunami disaster: does China really see itself as ready to be a leader as well as just a really big-ass country?

    One last thing that struck me. This is from Li’s reply to a question from The People’s Daily about those in Washington who still view China as a potential threat:

    Although they are living in the new century, their minds still linger in the Cold War era. It is those few people who are spreading the so-called “China threat theory,” which is totally unfounded.

    It’s fascinating to hear someone from a region in which centuries-old resentments are routinely thrown around as reasons for this or that diplomatic conflict–and, specifically, from a country that is more than happy to play on lingering ill-feeling from the Japanese occupation–accuse cautious figures in the US of not putting the Cold War behind them. This isn’t the first time China has shrewdly used the end of the Cold War to make bland arguments that, in this new and friendlier time, we should let Communist-era bygones be bygones. But Li is very good at working the angle, and he seemed relaxed and affable. As always, there’s plenty to pay attention to around here.

    Petition for permanent membership on UNSC nearing final form

    Posted by Sean at 10:17, March 4th, 2005

    Atsushi arrives for the weekend any minute, so one last bit of news from the Nikkei: Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil have come to an agreement on their joint proposal that permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council be expanded to include them. Some of you may take comfort in the knowledge that airy diplomatic clichés sound just as trite in Japanese as in English, even if they contain truth:


    Japan argued for the expansion of permanent UNSC membership this way: “The current UNSC does not address the diversification of our global society.”

    Japan and Germany have more specific issues than that, of course. Japan itself is involved in a more general debate over the recognition that the Self-Defense Force is no longer as strictly reactive as it used to be, and the UNSC petition is connected. A permanent member of the Security Council that can’t get involved in international disputes would be in a strange position.

    Added after lunch: Man, I’d forget my head if it weren’t attached. In my haste to edit this down for clarity–yes, I do that sometimes; just imagine what my posts look like when I draft them!–I cut out the interesting part of today’s story. The interesting part of today’s story is that the four petitioning countries agreed that the reforms should be decided by vote (including all UN member countries, not just those on the UNSC, and certainly not just the permanent members of the UNSC); Germany and India had been balking.

    Japan to cut PRC loose from development aid gravy train

    Posted by Sean at 21:32, March 3rd, 2005

    As Japan continues to strengthen its ties with the US, it’s naturally moving away from the PRC:

    Now that China is no longer considered a developing nation, Tokyo has told Beijing it plans to begin cutting the size of its low-interest yen loans from this fiscal year, aiming to phase them out entirely by fiscal 2008, sources said.

    Beijing likely will protest, the sources said.

    Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are calling for an immediate end to all official development assistance (ODA) to China.

    This would be the rightist wing of the party, which believes (not without justification) that, in financing China, Japan is aiding a trade and military rival.

    However, loans will continue to be extended for projects that have already started, and grants and technical aid will be given for training and environmental protection programs.

    The decision to turn off the loan tap to China reflects the government’s belief that China’s economy has taken off and the country has taken its place in the international community, the sources said.

    In addition, development in China’s coastal cities is now about equal to that of industrialized nations, meaning that China no longer can be regarded as a developing nation, the sources said.

    Sources close to both governments said Beijing will press Japan to continue the loans beyond 2008 because provincial authorities across China are pressed for funds to develop their economies. Also, Beijing is unhappy about being told unilaterally by Japan that the ODA well will soon run dry.

    Japanese officials would like to reach agreement on the loan reduction plan this month so that the government can begin implementing cuts soon, the sources said.

    But LDP hard-liners want ODA to China stopped right away, sources said. Thus, there likely will be strong opposition to the plan for gradual reductions.

    Criticism in Japan of ODA to China surged following anti-Japanese outbursts at the Asian Cup soccer matches last summer in China. Further straining relations was the November intrusion by a Chinese submarine into Japanese territorial waters.

    Tokyo is also finding that ODA no longer carries much diplomatic leverage in talks with Beijing.

    Meaty Fly, by the way, has posted twice in the last several days. Japan-China relations are right up his alley–his last post in September was, after all, headlined “Japan to designate China as military threat“–so it’s possible that he’ll get back to more regular writing. On his blog, I mean.

    Rocky Mountain high

    Posted by Sean at 12:31, March 3rd, 2005

    I find it very cheering to read things like this:

    The Montana Senate has passed a bill that could allow limited rights to same-sex couples. The measure would create a statewide registry where people could designate their next of kin.

    Although the legislation does not specifically mention gay and lesbian couples it was assailed by opponents as being pro gay. The bill would allow people in relationships to name their partners as next of kin, regardless of sexuality. Single people could also take advantage of it by naming a relative, friend or caregiver.

    The measure gives the next of kin the right to hospital visits, the right to make medical decisions and also allows them to receive the dead person’s remains. It provides an easy mechanism so that a lawyer is not needed.

    Supporters of the bill stressed the advantages it would provide the elderly, the ailing and the disabled.

    “I think it’s got a much broader impact than gay-rights legislation,” Sen. Jon Ellingson (D-Missoula) told the Billings Gazette after the debate.

    “This is a simple bill that allows folks, whether they’re married or single, to manage their personal affairs.”

    See? Notice–no mention of whether anyone’s getting it regularly, which is not the government’s problem. Now if gay activists start bellowing that this bill is discriminatory because it doesn’t exalt our relationships in every damned finicking little detail, I will throw myself off a bridge.

    Okay, I won’t. If I’d made a practice of keeping promises of that nature, I’d’ve been dead long ago. But I find it hard to be hopeful that our activists will ever learn to see our issues as woven into those of the broader society, even if other good-hearted people already can.

    Japan starts preparing for the worst

    Posted by Sean at 12:23, March 3rd, 2005

    The Japanese government has put out its guidelines for how to proceed in the event of a military or large-scale terrorist attack. Comfortingly (I’m using that word straight for once), it lays out in detail what’s to be done to secure Japan’s nuclear power plants and fuel processing centers. Authority rests with the Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry and, in connection with research facilities it operates, the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. Japan, of course, has few natural resources, including hydroelectric potential and fossil fuels. We use a lot of nuclear power.

    The prefectures and special metropolitan areas are expected to have their own plans in place by the middle of this year. Municipalities are to have theirs finalized by this coming year.

    Idle thought: several months ago, there was talk that Japan was going to be modeling its new security measures on Israel’s. I wonder whether it ultimately did; today’s Nikkei article doesn’t really mention anything about the background of the new policies.

    Professing liberalism

    Posted by Sean at 11:24, March 3rd, 2005

    Eric is angered about honor killings in the Islamic world, and rightfully so. He also links a City Journal article by Kay Hymowitz. It’s well written, of course, and there’s nothing she says that isn’t true, or arguably true, to my knowledge. I couldn’t help feeling what she was emphasizing wasn’t the major point, though.

    I’m not saying that Hymowitz and Eric are worried over nothing. If anything, I think the problem is a little darker than it looks from what she’s written. Most of the people Hymowitz cites are, if not insane, not the sort of people any sane person ever goes to for reliable depictions of reality. I mean, her conversation with one Miriam Cooke of Duke University, president of something called the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies, is pricelessly appalling; but most academics, while to the left of the American public, are not that airheaded. And how illuminating really is it to demonstrate yet again that Michel Foucault was and Gayatri Spivak is a professional reality-dodger?

    After all, the throughover moral relativists and post-structuralists are in the minority, even among humanities and social science professors. Really, they are. My experience can’t be universalized wholesale, but it squares with what Christina Hoff Sommers (mentioned by Hymowitz) found when researching Who Stole Feminism? and with experiences friends from other colleges have reported to me over the years. Liberals who love genuine diversity of thought don’t go after their multi-culturalist/post-colonial idiot colleagues in public because (1) they underestimate the influence of their ideas (on people who run foundations and think tanks, as well as the more impressionable students), (2) they feel guilty about their own relative privilege and can’t figure out how to acknowledge that without undermining their criticisms, and (3) they don’t want to start trouble. I hate to say it, but I’d bet that that last is the most important factor.

    I had a professor (not an advisor of mine) explain to me that he knew Foucault was garbage but could still see his value as someone who shook up people’s assumptions, so why get all bent out of shape at people who cited him? That’s nice, but questioning your assumptions isn’t an end in itself. You’re supposed to be trying to figure out whether you should retain them because they’ve remained intact through testing, or you should discard them because they have not. Someone who plays fast and loose with facts, as Foucault did, is exactly the wrong sort of person to be looking to for help in that operation.

    In other words, what worries me is less that there are amoral crazies in the academy than that the moderates who know better do not very loudly call BS when they start spouting nonsense. The very way such incidents stick in the memory–remember Martha Nussbaum’s attack on Judith Butler in The New Republic a few years ago?–testifies to their relative rarity. Of course, it’s 25 years too late to prevent post-structuralism from gaining ascendancy; but one might have thought that 9/11 would have a galvanizing effect on the reasonable types, as it did on a lot of other liberal Americans. It appears not to have, and it’s a shame.

    BTW, not exactly the same topic, but has anyone else noticed a lot of blog posts lately with titles of the “X, Y, and Z” form? You know, like “Feminism, Commercialization, and the Bobbie Ann Mason Protagonist.” I’m not criticizing, though it does make me feel a bit as if I were doing readings for a senior seminar. My own titling habits probably don’t gladden many hearts, and I used a mock-academic title here because of the subject matter. It’s just odd that they seem to be cropping up everywhere.

    Added later: Amritas addresses something I hesitated over before posting this originally:

    What is so great about the word ‘moderate’? Would you approve of someone who was ‘moderately’ in favor of freedom – or of evil? “He’s not an – ugh! – extremist. He’s a moderate. He’s OK with a theft here, a killing there. Isn’t inconsistency what life is all about?

    Actually, while I wouldn’t use the words “in favor of,” I do think most of us are moderate in the sense that we prefer not to achieve perfect safety through draconian measures. Providing people with the means and confidence to defend themselves from miscreants may not erase crime, but it’s the compromise most of us prefer.

    I probably should have been clearer about this, but I hope it’s obvious that I wasn’t using moderate to mean “gloriously wishy-washy.” If I had to pinpoint the types of moderation I was referring to, I’d say there were two aspects. One is that, while it’s perfectly acceptable to arrive at an extreme position, a scholar should get there through sober, methodical consideration of the unvarnished facts, such as they’re available. A second is that, when thinking about social change, it’s generally (not always, but generally) wiser to look for ways to bring it about organically and…I was going to say slowly, but I suppose it doesn’t always have to be slowly, exactly. It just can’t outrun people’s ability to adjust to it.

    So that’s what I was talking about. A professor who, for example, may believe that there is something inherently unfree about head coverings for women but would not advocate policies that ban them because she recognizes that real, living people used to existing standards of modesty may need time to get used to thinking of women in less constricting clothing as respectable. Perhaps I should just have said “pragmatic” rather than “moderate.”

    Don’t fall on me

    Posted by Sean at 11:04, March 3rd, 2005

    It’s snowing in the Tokyo area, so we are all much in distrait. The news team is interviewing people in the requisite posture of windmilling the arms and screaming, “AIEEEEEE! What is this white stuff? And why is there a whole centimeter of it?!” It’s like the manna story in the Exodus. Well, except for the fact that not even G-d himself could convince me to ingest anything that falls out of the sky in Tokyo. (And since it’s Friday, we’d have to hold it over in the freezer for tomorrow’s ration. I’m sure particulate matter is even yummier when it’s allowed to ripen for a day.)

    Anyway, it’s accumulating, sort of. The ground wasn’t frozen most places in the city–that heat-island effect you get in population centers that are hopelessly lost to capitalism and commerce. I haven’t seen anything to say that there are major train lines closed, which tends to be the biggest potential pain; and in any case, we always settle into a general well-at-least-it-wasn’t-an-earthquake feeling before long. Atsushi’s flying in for the weekend tomorrow, though, so I hope flights aren’t disrupted. The snow’s supposed to fall all weekend.

    Bali bombing planner sentenced

    Posted by Sean at 22:06, March 2nd, 2005

    The chief known conspirator in the Bali bombing has gotten a sentence of 30 months in prison:

    Australia and the U.S. have expressed disappointment at the 30-month jail sentence handed to Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir for his part in the Bali bombing.

    An Indonesian court found Ba’asyir guilty on Thursday of an “evil conspiracy” to commit the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

    He was acquitted on the more serious charges of direct involvement in the Bali attack and in the bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people in August 5, 2003.

    Australia and the United States consider Ba’asyir to be the spiritual head of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group, which is blamed for the Bali bombings, the Marriott bombing and last year’s blast at the Australian Embassy.

    Intelligence officials say the group has cells across Southeast Asia.

    That comes to 4.5-ish days for each victim who died. Now, I guess, it goes to appeal.

    Gyet the heck ahht!

    Posted by Sean at 21:32, March 2nd, 2005

    A gay crime of passion in my native Lehigh Valley! Gay guys in Bath? We really are everywhere. How exciting:

    A 37 year old Pennsylvania man has been charged with setting fire to his ex-lover’s home in an attempt to kill him.

    Police in Bath, northeast of Allentown, say that Donald K. Albright went to the home of Wayne Keeler in the early hours of Sunday morning, chained the doors, sealed the windows and then doused the exterior with gasoline before lighting it.

    Keeler managed to get out of the burning structure and was unharmed.

    The house was badly burned on the outside and a car belonging to Keeler was destroyed.

    After the relationship ended, Albright left numerous text and voicemail messages for Keeler which police describe as sounding suicidal and angry.

    Albright also had been discussing the breakup in the chat room where he and Keeler met according to investigators. In one chat message recovered by police Albright said that Keeler loved his Volkswagen more than he loved him.

    That last part is poignant, but if I were the jiltee, I’d take it as a signal that I need to spend a full weekend getting blotto and listening to the Go-go’s immortal “Skidmarks on My Heart” on Repeat 1. In fact, I’d do the whole album. Then look for a new boyfriend. Maybe I’m just too tightly wound.

    Added at 21:39: Our local paper has the story in slightly more detail. In all seriousness, I hope the poor guy wasn’t closeted, because he obviously isn’t anymore.

    We’re all gonna die! VII

    Posted by Sean at 21:36, February 28th, 2005


    A Japan Airlines (JAL) jetliner barely avoided a collision with a plane that had just landed at New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido in January after it began to race along the runway for takeoff without clearance, government regulators said Tuesday.

    It was not until last Friday that JAL reported the incident, which occurred on Jan. 22, to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry in accordance with the Civil Aviation Law.

    The JAL jet’s captain has told company officials that he failed to confirm that his plane was cleared for takeoff. “I was preoccupied with preparations for takeoff and failed to confirm whether my plane was cleared. I thought no other aircraft was ahead of us.”

    At around 9:16 p.m., the captain of JAL Flight 1036 bound for Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was ordered by an air traffic controller to wait at the south edge of the 3,000-meter-long Runway A, according to ministry and JAL officials. Nevertheless, the pilot of the Boeing 777 with 201 passengers aboard increased the engine’s thrust and began to race along the runway for takeoff.

    The controller who noticed that the jet was about to take off immediately ordered it to halt saying, “Stop! You’re not cleared for takeoff yet!”

    Details, details. JAL hasn’t had a fatal incident in 20 years–in fact, I believe it’ll be exactly 20 years this August. It was the single-plane incident with the highest number of fatalities in history, I think. At least, it used to be, and I don’t think any have exceeded it since then. Japan’s air safety record since then (and, for that matter, then) has been the envy of the world, and justifiably so. But there’s a crew-error incident like this every few months nowadays; a few years ago, it was control-tower error. Luckily, there’s always been only one person in la-la land, with everyone else on top of things and ready to make up for him.