• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post


    Posted by Sean at 04:27, March 21st, 2008

    While the federal government cannot figure out how to appoint a new Governor General of the Bank of Japan, it’s had no trouble filling another important position:

    In a bid to help boost Japan’s international prestige and disseminate its culture, cartoon character Doraemon was inaugurated Wednesday as the official cultural ambassador for Japanese anime.

    Cartoon character Doraemon is a catlike robot from the 22nd century and is considered a Japanese cultural icon.

    “Please work hard to let people around the world learn more about Japan and encourage people to foster friendships with each other,” Komura said.

    Doraemon replied by saying: “It’s an honor to do such an important job. I’ll work as hard as I can.”

    Perhaps his first assignment will be to go back in time to the day this plan was hatched, draw a cluebar out of his 4th-dimensional pocket, and whack some bureaucrats with it. Hard.

    Survey says?

    Posted by Sean at 08:14, March 20th, 2008

    I’m not sure the English Mainichi editorial on the ongoing failure to get a new Governor General of the Bank of Japan approved is the best, but I like the graphic. The Xes need only boxes around them to look like the strikes on Family Feud back in the ’70s.

    Efforts to fill the Bank of Japan governor’s position have gone back to square one, and the post remains vacant. The Bank of Japan stands at the core of Japan’s economic management, and its movements are watched closely overseas. Now, it has nobody at the helm. And politicians are to blame for creating such a situation.

    The House of Councillors failed to approve the appointment of Koji Tanami, head of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, following the rejection of earlier nominee, former BOJ Deputy Gov. Toshiro Muto. Both men formerly served as Administrative Vice-Minister of the Finance Ministry.

    The government has appointed as deputy governors former BOJ executives Kiyohiko Nishimura and Masaaki Shirakawa, who is also a Kyoto University professor, with the latter to serve as the interim bank chief until a permanent posting is made.

    There’s a meeting of G7 central bank governors in April. The Mainichi hopes, plaintively, that the BOJ has an actual chief by then.

    Things I don’t get

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, March 19th, 2008

    Cab drivers in Taipei don’t like taking you to an intersection. Ask for “Zhongxiao East Road where it crosses Dunhua South Road,” and you frequently get a blank look. “Which section?” the driver asks. (As in, “Do you mean the 300 block, or the 400 block, or what?”) Once I didn’t remember, and since I can write Chinese street names but can’t speak Chinese, I drew a little diagram: See? These two streets. They cross here. Take me to the intersection…any old corner will do by this point. I stabbed conclusively with the pen. No reaction. Finally, I remembered I wanted Section 4. Scrawled it down. The driver beamed. Oh, okay. Zhongxiao East Road Section 4. Why didn’t you just say so? Well, I gave you the intersecting street. We’re not talking about Moebius Avenue and Tesseract Boulevard–they’re two major arteries, and they only cross in one place!

    Another time I was in a speeding cab with a few guys who do, in fact, speak Chinese. They asked for the intersection of Something and Something. “Which section?” An exchange of looks among the passengers–did anyone remember? “Section 2!” the guy next to me said, in clear confident tones. Then he turned to the rest of us. “It probably isn’t Section 2, so when we get there, we’ll just ask him to keep going to the next section until we get to the right intersection.”

    I’ve lived in Japan for twelve years and am used to being baffled by cultural differences. I have to say, though, I’m stumped by this one. Maybe it’s because the cities I’m used to are New York (where the address numbers can’t be divined from the street numbers) and Tokyo (where half the streets don’t even have names), but most of the cabs I’ve been in in my lifetime refuse to move for you unless you pinpoint the intersection you’re going to. No one has been able to explain to me how Taipei ended up developing the other way, though I can see why passengers would use addresses more often, since the address-numbering system here is very intuitive.


    You can be openly gay and get the benefits (nothing to hide), or you can be closeted and get the benefits (acceptance into the mainstream at all levels). You cannot do both. Those who want to be vociferously gay and simultaneously demand that people accept and adore them for it are insufferable, but it’s people with the opposite problem who’ve been inflicting themselves on me lately, so they’re the ones I’m going to grouse about.

    You want to get married and have children? Good for you. It’s none of my business. Whether you really feel affection for your wife or just want your family elders to get off your case or think you’ll look more socially stable when it’s promotion time at work, I don’t care. However, sweetie, if you’re going to sit in a gay bar (run by someone who’s not afraid to show his face to the licensers and beer distributors and everyone else as the manager of a known gay bar), drinking whisky (served by guys who are not afraid to work at a known gay bar), talking to me (gay, for those who haven’t noticed), then do not expect sympathy when you launch into a monologue about how hard it is to lead a double life, how you hate sneaking around, how you feel lonely all the time, and how you’re really scared you’ll run into a colleague in the wrong place someday. What exactly is the reaction you’re expecting? We all make our trade-offs, and by definition, that means we’re not going to get some things we want. News flash: If you hide what you are, you’re going to feel like you’re hiding all the time. Part of taking grown-up responsibility for your own choices is accepting that and not taking every opportunity to whine about it. Sheesh.


    Posted by Sean at 00:24, March 19th, 2008

    Yeah, I saw the latest McGreevey story, via Rondi, among others. Since I thought the guy was a parasitic jerk the moment the sentence “I am a gay American” fell from his mealy political mouth, I can’t say my estimation of him has changed. And luckily, since I’m not tortured by constant exposure to American cable yak shows, I’ve been spared seeing Dina Matos McGreevey ham it up for the camera about how hurt and betrayed she was. (This is not to say the hurt and feelings of betrayal aren’t sincere, only that a seasoned politician’s wife in the middle of negotiating a bitter divorce is naturally going to make sure her presentation of them is blocked, lighted, and cropped to present them in the fashion most flattering to her. The probability of her delivering an unstudied outpouring of emotion is vanishingly low.)

    As if the happy couple weren’t setting new lows for vulgar exhibitionism on their own, the former household staff has apparently now decided to join in. The information itself is pretty shrug-worthy–you can see people having threesomes on CSI: Miami at this point…though at least then, one of the participants usually ends up dead and thus incapable of yapping about it to the press years afterward.

    Anyway, it’s the reasoning behind this guy’s public statements that gets on my nerves:

    Mr Pedersen said he had only decided to come forward with his claims after seeing Mrs Matos McGreevey criticising Mr Spitzer’s behaviour on television.

    “It’s frustrating to hear her call Gov Spitzer a hypocrite when she’s out there being as dishonest as anyone could be about her own life,” he told the New York Post.

    “She’s framed herself as a victim – yet she was a willing participant. She had complete control over what happened in her relationship.”

    Is it now acceptable to air personal secrets, supposedly held in trust with other parties, just because one happens to feel “frustrated” with one of them? (Don’t answer that.) Ick. Not that one should be shedding any tears for James McGreevey, of course:

    However, Mr McGreevey, 50, insisted his former driver’s claims were true. He said in a statement that he and his wife needed to move forward in their relationship for the sake of their six-year-old daughter.

    Ah, yes. Nothing more salutary for the six-year-old daughter than to have Daddy appearing before the press to confirm that he and Mommy used to get naked with Driver on Friday nights.


    Posted by Sean at 09:23, March 17th, 2008

    This is an interesting weekend to have returned to Taiwan from Japan. On Thursday, Nobushige Takamizawa, the head of the Ministry of Defense’s Defense Policy Bureau, spoke more candidly than he was supposed to:

    In a highly unusual remark for a Japanese official, Nobushige Takamizawa, director general of the Defense Ministry’s defense policy bureau, said a contingency over Taiwan would be “a security matter for Japan.”

    “Because it would be a seriously significant matter for our country, the Self-Defense Forces would obviously step up their alert and surveillance activities before judging whether the contingency is happening in our so-called surrounding area,” he told a gathering of ruling party lawmakers.

    Of course, if you live in Asia, you get used to hearing over and over from Beijing that Taiwan is an internal matter internalmatterinternalmatterINTERNALmatter. That was the major reason that Minister of Defense Shigeru Ishiwa came before a press conference the next day to spray squid ink:

    He apologized that, “If his words were taken at face value, there are parts that would not preclude the possibility of misunderstanding,” he said by way of apology.

    Taiwan is being watched especially because of the elections to take place this Saturday. I haven’t followed politics here very closely–they’re covered pretty well by the Japanese press, since Taiwan lies within the geographical area surrounding Japan (not that that makes them significant to Japan, according to Defense Minister Ishiwa, of course). The two countries also have close ties economically. Japan notices when big things happen here. (Besides, politics can be amusingly rambunctious in Taiwan. The most interesting thing Japanese politicians do is yell and pull each other’s hair sometimes in the Diet.)

    They’re predicting a very high turnout for the election:

    Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in rival political rallies across Taiwan.

    It was the last chance for big weekend rallies before the island votes for a new president on 22 March.

    The events – organised by the two main political parties – were also aimed at expressing public opposition to China’s anti-secession law.

    In its carefully-choreographed event, the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) asked people to gather at designated points and to walk anti-clockwise, highlighting the party’s campaign slogan to “Reverse the Tide” – to turn back their political fortunes and that of their candidate, who has been trailing in opinion polls.

    The party’s presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh, attacked his rival’s plan to establish a cross-strait common market with China, saying it could lead to job losses and other social problems.

    He said he and his party stood for the protection of Taiwan’s core values – which was important if the island was to avoid the fate of Tibet, which had seen peaceful protests violently put down by the Chinese military in recent days.

    I do my best not to take the word of my cab drivers as the voice of the representative citizen. But the consensus among both resident expats and Taiwanese friends I have is that, while Taiwanese voters are wary of handing the presidency to the DPP again, they’re also wary of handing it to the KMT, given the broad majority of its coalition in the legislature. The DPP, which pushes officially declared independence from the PRC vocally, was supposedly handing out “I love my country” T-shirts. (The reference was pointedly to Taiwan, not to the whole of China including the mainland.) And the DPP has pushed on worries about a flood of workers from the PRC into Taiwan if strictures on economic exchanges are loosened. Less than a week to go now before voting.


    Posted by Sean at 00:13, March 16th, 2008

    I’m returning to Taipei today, and my company has booked me on China Airlines; but that’s fine, since I don’t think CI has had a fatal incident for…hell, it must be six or so years. So we’re all cool! I just hope they remember to close all the doors before we take off.

    Our betters

    Posted by Sean at 01:57, March 14th, 2008

    Overheard at the bar the other night, spoken between two always-loud friends from the same part of the British Isles:

    “Well, I get both CNN and the BBC, you know, and I always think–well, let me put it this way: CNN is entertainment, and the BBC is news.”

    “Oh, very much so. By the way, isn’t that weather guy…Rob Mar…Mar….”

    “Marciano! A real hottie!”

    “Can’t get enough of him!”

    To impress upon his mate (and, I’m fairly certain, everyone within earshot–he’s that type) the seriousness of the distinction, Speaker 1 drew out the word news with suitable fake-RP/genuine-gasbag portentousness: nee-yeeewwwwwz.

    I’m usually very good about not chortling audibly in such situations, but I happened to be sitting with my English buddy, with whom I e-mail news stories and things back and forth frequently through the day. I made the mistake of catching his eye. At that point, it was over.

    Of course, it wasn’t the novelty of the opinions expressed that I found funny. I’ve heard that kind of nonsense many times before. But it’s still nonsense.

    I have little objection to the characterization of CNN as a source of mere entertainment, given that its “in-depth coverage” is like World Book Encyclopedia come to life: all cutesy-poo visuals and repellantly chipper presentation, presumably calibrated to reassure the mass audience that it will not be confronted with anything too complicated, taxing to the intellect, or challenging to existing assumptions.

    I just don’t see how the BBC–especially BBC World, which has notably CNN-ified itself over the years–can be thought to bring anything more elevated to the mix. It’s not that the BBC is worse. For one thing, the reporters don’t do as much of that gruesome, would-be-matey joshing with one another as they do on American channels. (Is there no way to make them cut that out?) But you get the same pat, preconception-confirming reporting on stories that you get everywhere else. You get the same “heartwarming” human interest pieces, which I sometimes think are purposefully contrived to make any civilized person’s flesh crawl. You get the same asinine patter made necessary by being on the air all day. And you get the same unilluminating Q&A shows. Even the Hard Talk guy, whatever his name is (if he were cuter I’d make more of an effort to remember), is more known for his confrontational-jerk style of delivering questions than for actually, you know, drawing better information out of his subjects than other interviewers do.

    At times I prefer the BBC because I find the cool composure of the newsreaders welcome. Just spit out the story already. At other times it’s kind of nice the way CNN (as well as MSNBC) is populated by people who appear frankly aware that they’re feeding you Spam on Wonder smeared with Miracle Whip Lite. That probably says something about my native Yank preference for forthrightness.

    Just to end on a suitable note of (North) American frivolity: Rondi thinks Silda (Mrs. Eliot) Spitzer looks like Jennifer Aniston. There’s totally a Hollywood angle on everything if you just look hard enough!

    Over and over

    Posted by Sean at 01:54, March 12th, 2008

    Occasionally, the thought flits through my head that maybe Go Fug Yourself isn’t quite as funny as I think it is. Then I start guffawing again and forget all about it. This is Heather’s riff on one of the photo-op photos from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions last night:


    MADONNA: And the arms, they work, right? Young people have great arms. Justin probably has awesome arms. He’s kind of my inspiration, actually. God, I just want to use my fearsome guns to tear off his young flesh and eat it.

    JUSTIN: I don’t know why, but I’m suddenly afraid that Madonna is going to use her fearsome guns to tear off my young flesh and eat it.

    IGGY: I wonder what it’d taste like if I used Madonna’s fearsome guns to tear off that kid’s young flesh and eat it.

    I’m still not sure how much of Madonna’s strangeness of appearance is due to getting work done; a lot of it could be all the dieting and working out. No question, though, that she’s bringing the same determination to staying “youthful” that she did to becoming a star. And (to bring up Taylor Dayne for the second time in a week) M. at least is working with her facial structure rather than against it.

    To see Madonna’s continued ability to polarize people in action, refer to this comment thread at Ann Althouse’s.


    Posted by Sean at 08:49, March 11th, 2008

    No surprise here: the DPJ is making good on its threat to oppose the Muto nomination:

    The leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan met on 11 March and resolved not to agree to the the government’s nomination of Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Toshiro Muto as its new governor. Regarding nominees for new deputy governors, it will oppose University of Tokyo Professor Takatoshi Ito but not University of Kyoto Professor Masaaki Shirakawa.

    Now that the ruling coalition doesn’t control the upper house, it can’t get its nominees through the Diet without the agreement of the DPJ. The DPJ argument against Muto–that he’s a career bureaucrat who will compromise the central bank’s independence–isn’t one to be taken lightly. Muto was once Vice-Minister of Finance…meaning that he had risen through the ranks of appointed officials to become the official with the most real power in the ministry (more than the Minister of Finance himself, who’s appointed by the current administration from on high and lacks the deep-rooted connections with ministry insiders). Japan has a lot of public debt, so the fear is that Muto will be too likely to keep interest rates down to gladden the hearts of federal bureaucrats by helping finance the (large) public debt. And word is that Muto is less committed, at least in the short term, to raising rates than Toshihiko Fukui, whom he’d be succeeding.

    At the same time, I have yet to hear whether the DPJ has any bright ideas about who should get the job, and more bickering right now just gives foreign investors more reason–as if more were needed–to think Tokyo is seriously flaky and unreliable.

    Apropos of nothing: I don’t know much about the deputy governor nominees, but Wikipedia says that Ito is a disciple of Kenneth Arrow, who presumably directed his dissertation at Harvard.

    Client 9

    Posted by Sean at 00:00, March 11th, 2008

    While we were sleeping in East Asia, the Internets back home were humming with news of a new Eliot Spitzer scandal:

    As recently as this past Valentine’s Day, Feb. 13, Spitzer, who officials say is identified in a federal complaint as “Client 9,” arranged for a prostitute “Kristen” to meet him in Washington, D.C.

    The woman met Client 9 at the Mayflower Hotel, room 871, “for her tryst,” according to the complaint. Client 9 also is alleged to have paid for the woman’s train tickets, cab fare, mini bar and room service, travel time and hotel.

    Spitzer, who made his name by bringing high-profile cases against many of New York’s financial giants, is likely to be prosecuted under a relatively obscure statute called “structuring,” according to a Justice Department official.

    Instapundit has, naturally, the best round-up of links.

    I think of Spitzer exactly what you’d expect me to think as a libertarian: he’s repugnantly bossy and power-mad, and the showboating way he’s strong-armed corporations into disgorging big settlements just ensures that higher costs will be shoved off on rank-and-file consumers. Should he be driven out of office (it hasn’t happened yet, of course) for the hypocrisy of visiting a prostitute after having gotten all high-minded about operators of a prostitution ring he’d busted as Attorney General, well, what goes around comes around:

    In one such case in 2004, Mr. Spitzer spoke with revulsion and anger after announcing the arrest of 16 people for operating a high-end prostitution ring out of Staten Island.

    “This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multitiered management structure,” Mr. Spitzer said at the time. “It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring.”

    Hypocrisy is an easy charge to throw around glibly. We all fail to live up to our principles at times; that doesn’t mean we aren’t genuinely trying to. It can be very difficult to determine whether someone’s hypocrisy involves slipping up at weak moments despite good-faith efforts to behave or (worse, I think we’d all agree) cynically applying laws to others that he doesn’t apply to himself.

    But it’s hard to sympathize with Spitzer, for whom it’s never been enough just to be sanctimonious. No, he has to be bullying and high-handed about his ability to use whatever office he’s holding to make life suck for whomever he’s got in the crosshairs. I assume we’ll be listening to his “I’m so very sorry [that I got caught]” routine for a few days before we find out whether he’ll be forced out of office for leaving the sort of communication trail he used to warn his enemies against.

    Added later: Via Eric, Arthur Silber is suitably unsparing:

    Prostitution involving consenting adults cannot defensibly be regarded as a crime. In that sense, Spitzer should never have been targeted at all for that alleged offense. But it is currently illegal, as all basically functioning adults are fully aware. [And whatever else might be said about him, Spitzer appears to be basically functioning. I’ll be here all week.] Given Spitzer’s unfathomable stupidity — and in light of the fact that he is now the victim of the kinds of overreaching police state tactics that he himself has endlessly championed and utilized — this can only be regarded as an instance of an especially objectionable, arrogant, overweening, power-mad, vicious son of a bitch himself getting exactly what he has been delightedly happy to dish out to others.