• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Can’t fight fate

    Posted by Sean at 00:56, March 7th, 2008

    Back in Tokyo for a half-week stay to attend to a few things before going back for my last few weeks in Taipei. This time, it’s the clear weather that’s following me around, which is nice. Not even I, with my English genes and sense of dramatic melancholy, like rain and overcast skies that don’t stop for weeks at a time.

    Japan appears not to have undergone any major changes, though I have to say I loved this item from the other way (which I was too busy to post about at the time):

    Cutting bureaucratic fat may be a lot tougher than anticipated.

    A government advisory panel’s proposal to reduce branch offices of central ministries and agencies is expected to meet with fierce opposition.

    While terms such as branch office and regional bureau may conjure up images of “outposts” of central government ministries, those venues are considered by entrenched bureaucrats as comprising the “core” of their ministries.

    Past developments do not bode for fast progress. Last year, the decentralization committee asked for suggestions on possible mergers of branch offices.

    Not a single central ministry came up with a positive proposal.

    “Tougher than anticipated”? Asking central ministries whether they have any bright ideas about how to shrink their own territory and limit their own authority? The degree of ingenuousness on display here is touching. Every battle over restructuring federal ministries–from the game of musical chairs finalized in 2001 to the Koizumi administration’s “trinity reforms“–has amply demonstrated that bureaucrats do not willingly look for ways to give themselves less power. And they know how to work the system to get their way, largely because they pretty much are the system.


    It’s confirmed that Toshiro Muto is the candidate whose name has been submitted to committee as the next head of the Bank of Japan. (Toshihiko Fukui’s chances for a second term were scotched by his involvement in the Murakami Fund/Livedoor maelstrom.)


    I’m starting to get the new Janet album, which makes me happy. It’s been a while since a celeb put out an album that actually grew on me instead of provoking an immediate and unshifting love it/hate it/enh reaction. The single seems to have gone nowhere except in dance clubs, of course.


    Happy belated birthday to Rondi, who was born on 5 March.


    Happy on-time birthday to Lynn Swann, Taylor Dayne, and Tammy Faye (wherever she is), who were born on 7 March like me. This is apparently the day Apple was granted the patent for the iPod two years ago, too, which is very cool.


    Eric has a good post about maneuvering in the Pennsylvania primaries. I agree that those who think goosing Clinton’s campaign in order to help McCain along later are playing with fire:

    Unless that is, I do something about it, and fast. The way I see it, Hillary is going to win this state, and the forces of Rush Limbaugh are going to do their damnedest to increase her margin of victory. This, it is believed, will help John McCain. Not only do I disagree with this approach, but I distrust it. Almost without exception, Limbaugh and the other major Hillary promoters hate John McCain and make no secret of it. So I am deeply suspicious of their claim that they are “helping” John McCain by helping Hillary at the polls.

    I think this might very well have the opposite effect. Yesterday’s election results demonstrated the fragility of Obama’s house of cards, because the Obamamania is already starting to wear off. I predicted that in the long term, he would be the weaker of the two candidates for this very reason, and that he, not Hillary, would be the easier of the two for McCain to beat.

    Divisiveness in the Democratic Party seems to be building just fine without trying to foment it…with the side effect of reinforcing HRC’s renewed viability. I don’t think I’m misunderstanding the argument, but I really don’t think it’s a good idea.


    Remember when Janet used to sing songs like “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive“? As often happens, the release of the new album has reminded me how much I love her old stuff, so I’ve been on a real Janet kick, and I was just thinking, you know, if she did a song with a similar storyline today, she’d be all like “He doesn’t even know that I’m alive…so I hired a private detective to find out his address, put on my studded lilac pleather catsuit, got into my SUV, plowed it through the facade of his McMansion, stepped grandly out into his now open-air foyer, and introduced myself as Miss Janet Robo-Damita.” I mean, rhyming and stuff, of course.

    I guess that’s not as interesting as it seemed a few minutes ago. Uh, have a good weekend, everyone.

    It’s Tuesday

    Posted by Sean at 06:06, February 26th, 2008

    The staff at my office here in Taipei have given me two different nicknames. I was designated “Evil Pink Guy” (by one of the fags, naturally–we’re such bitches) the day I showed up in a lavender T-shirt and sat behind my desk with the lights off, apparently looking malign. The girls up front, on the other hand, have decided I’m 型男. No clue how to pronounce that in Chinese, but apparently it means “well-dressed man.”

    I’m honestly not sure which one I prefer. Being known as the Evil Pink Guy could, it seems to me, have its advantages.


    Hokkaido Diet member Muneo Suzuki, an uncommonly proficient glad-hander even by Japanese standards, has had one of his sentences upheld:

    The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday upheld a two-year prison sentence against Lower House member Muneo Suzuki, a once-powerful politician convicted of accepting 11 million yen in bribes and other crimes.

    Although prosecutors can incarcerate Suzuki, his lawyers have requested his release on bail, meaning the lawmaker will likely be able to continue his political activities.

    Under the Diet Law, lawmakers accused of bribery while in office lose their seats only when a guilty verdict is finalized.

    Suzuki, a former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, once wielded enormous influence over the Foreign Ministry, particularly on Russian affairs, and publicly clashed with then Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka during the Junichiro Koizumi administration.

    But his power eroded after he became embroiled in a series of money scandals.

    The lawmaker was found guilty of collecting 6 million yen from Shimada Kensetsu Co., a contractor based in Abashiri, Hokkaido, for his influence in gaining the company preferential treatment for a contract in a large-scale port construction project.


    A town in Saga Prefecture has a different (ahem) incentive plan in mind:

    The Karatsu Municipal Government will from April start providing special bonuses to any citizens 75 or over who have not needed medical treatment or special health care over the previous 12 months.

    Healthy elderly Karatsu citizens will be able to receive a special 10,000 yen payment provided they are on the list the city draws up for entitled recipients and they decide to apply for it themselves.

    Karatsu’s move to reward healthy older citizens is the first such step for a Japanese municipality.

    Karatsu is hoping the idea will catch on and encourage older people to look after their health to cut potential rises in medical costs as the city’s population ages.

    The original Japanese for the program is ご長寿健康手当 (go-chouju kenkou teate: “payment for health in [exalted] longevity”), but it sounds to me more patronizing than respectful. Those who are already over 75 (or will be hitting 75 in the foreseeable future) are at a point at which there’s not a whole lot they’re likely to be able to do to affect which ailments they’re prone to. They can be extra careful not to fall and break fragile bones, I suppose, but their range of choices is going to be kind of limited.


    The new Janet is okay. By which I mean the album. The new Janet herself appears to have gone further toward Michael/LaToya-fying her nose. Kind of spooky.

    When I think that I’m over you / I’m overpowered

    Posted by Sean at 06:30, February 24th, 2008

    Disconnected thoughts that may prove to have been better left unexpressed:

    Am I the only one who’s afraid the new Janet album is going to suck? I actually liked 20 Y.O. She sounded relaxed. She seemed to be having fun. Yeah, she was ripping off herself and everyone else, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. “Feedback” sounds great while you’re listening to it, but I forgot I’d even downloaded it a day or two after it was released.

    I’m enjoying Taipei, but it’s a very…intimately-scaled place. Over the first few weeks I was here, I was introduced to three or four guys in the Family (“Ooh…I have a friend you’ll just LOVE! He’s gay, too!”) and met a few others separately out and about. When I got back last Saturday, I was invited to a party. They were all there and all knew each other. It was kind of cute. Good thing I live a simple life, or the moment of realization might have been a little sticky.

    And the weather in this place! Rain, sunshine (briefly) smog, mist, more rain, the temperature going up and down wildly. The friend I’m staying with lives part-way up a mountain. It’s still officially Taipei City, but it’s not urban at all. There are hot springs. The wind howls constantly, often flinging rain at you. Going for a run is great; the steepness of the roads makes it feel like you’re doing stadiums. It’s all nicely primordial…and she has cable! So yeah, things are going fine. Just busy.

    Added 25 February: Another thing that’s struck me since I’ve been here: Taiwan is full of South Africans. Canadians, too. In Japan, you get used to every third foreigner you meet’s being Australian. Australia and Japan (touchingly, considering their war history) have very good relations nowadays, they’re comparatively close together, and Australians like to knock around other places. In Taiwan, I think I’ve met one Australian in six weeks. Just about everyone from North America here seems to be Canadian. Handful of English. And lots of South Africans. This appears to be one of the places it’s easy for the young and adventurous to make money away from home.


    Posted by Sean at 06:23, February 22nd, 2008

    No, I’m not dead–thanks to those who’ve asked. I’m forcing myself to follow the primaries, mirthlessly, and I have little to say about pesticide-laced gyoza or the latest alleged criminal behavior by our military personnel in Japan–not because there’s nothing to say about them, but because my attention is distracted by other things. My project in Taipei requires a lot of attention. That’s mostly a good thing, but it means that at the end of the day, I’m not exactly champing at the bit to spend more time at the computer. I may have more breathing room next week. Until then, I hope everyone enjoys the weekend.


    Posted by Sean at 04:55, February 6th, 2008

    It’s Chinese New Year’s Eve, if that’s the word for it. I’m about to leave for a party that I’m hoping is going to be pretty non-traditional–my experience in Asia has led me to the conclusion that when food is described as “auspicious,” you can reliably substitute “tastes bad.” (Well, soba noodles are good for longevity, and they’re pretty toothsome, but that’s about it.) I plan to spend the evening hoping that its being the Year of the Rat doesn’t portend anything for this year’s presidential election (not that you’ll be able to tell anyway). For others celebrating, have a happy new year. I’m back in Tokyo for a week starting tomorrow.

    How can I be sure?

    Posted by Sean at 05:53, February 1st, 2008

    This morning, for just about the first time in ten years, I got my hair cut by someone who’s not my regular guy in Tokyo. He made me feel right at home by putting gunk in my hair despite my telling him that I didn’t need any. He also had this idea that he was going to convince me to style it–there was this whole thing about using more gel on the sides than on the top and pushing it foward and down. I think there was a blow-dryer involved somewhere. Since he was recommended by a friend of mine down here (and had given me a good cut), I thought, but did not say, “Honey, I know we’re Family, but you have to understand something: I use the best degreasing shampoo I can get my hands on. Then I towel my hair dry. Then, if anything looks out of place, I finger comb it, kind of. Once. Anything more complicated than that, including applications of goo, is not happening.”

    Speaking of high-maintenance hair, can you believe Dusty‘s been dead for almost a full decade? Shelby Lynne has an album out now of covers of her songs. (Songs Dusty sang, of course, since she wasn’t known for her songwriting.) I’m trying to decide whether to buy it. I like Lynne’s voice, and though I tend to run headlong in the opposite direction from anything peddled as “alt-something,” I recognize that it’s probably not her fault that she gets icky marketing. She also had the good taste to pick two of the best songs from Dusty in Memphis to cover, along with a third, without going for the obvious attention-getting gambit of making a beeline for “Son of a Preacher Man.”

    Oh, why not? I have one more long-ish commute to work tomorrow before Chinese New Year, and if it sucks, I can always recover my spirits by listening to the real thing.


    Posted by Sean at 22:34, January 24th, 2008

    Since I don’t have Larry Craig tendencies, I was startled to use a train station toilet in Taipei for the first time last night and discover that it appeared to be hitting on me:


    I beg your pardon! Here? I’m not that kind of man, buddy.


    Posted by Sean at 21:59, January 23rd, 2008

    If you know Japanese, Taipei can be a really frustrating city. Reading literature, all the way up to the beginning of the Showa Period, generally requires you to know the traditional forms of kanji–at least at first. But modern pocket additions*, while not otherwise abridged or bowdlerized, frequently use the official Japanese simplified forms, so you get used to not having to recognize the older characters. Taiwan still uses them, though, so even though I can’t pronounce them here, I’ve been using the writing to get my bearings.

    It took me several days to remember that 點 is, in fact, 点. (Well, I didn’t remember so much as realize that a crawl inside a subway car that said 終點 wasn’t likely to mean anything else.) Amritas used to tell me that you didn’t really know an Asian language with a Chinese-derived script until you’d started with the traditional stroke-choked characters. He was right, I suppose, at least in terms of transferrable skills.

    Something you notice right away traveling around Taipei: it’s a very pious city. I’m not referring to the people (though they may be as devout as they come for all I know). I mean the place names. Streets in Japan don’t usually have names–don’t get me started on the resulting headaches involved in trying to get somewhere for the first time–and blocks, train stations, and intersections are often named for a nearby landmark. Otherwise, they tend to be named for things in nature: Greenleaf, Middle River, Wisteria Mountain, and the like.

    In Taipei, several of the major east-west arteries are named for Confucian virtues. My office is on 忠孝路 (“Loyalty and Filial Piety Avenue”). On the way, we pass 仁愛路 (“Humaneness and Love Avenue”). There’s a place between my friend’s apartment and our office called 明徳 (“limpid moral probity,” though as in Japan I guess it may refer to an era or exalted personage or something). I’m not sure I can handle quite that much uplift so early in the day, even after my second cup of coffee.

    And I’m pretty certain that having a Catholic mother disqualifies me from working on a street called “Filial Piety.”

    Taipei is also significantly slower-paced than Tokyo. I was listening to Roisin Murphy the other day on a run. Perfect soundtrack to Tokyo but all wrong here. Taipei isn’t brittle and frantic and electronic. It’s not a mountain hamlet, either, but even the center of the city doesn’t press in on you. I’m not sure how well that suits me; I like my cities to be cities. On the other hand, my friend’s apartment (where I’m staying) is in the north of the city on a mountain road, so hiking and hot springs and things are right out the door. That part’s not bad at all, and it’s helpful given all the bulky Western food I’ve been hoovering up since I got here. (American food is much better in Taipei than in Tokyo.)

    Ack. Time to hie myself to the Straight Path of Loyalty and Filial Piety for the day.

    * Nice malapropism, huh? Apparently, I can’t write in my native language anymore after two cups of coffee, either. editions/additions…affect/effect…mucus/mucous…okay, I think I’m all right now.


    Posted by Sean at 11:19, January 23rd, 2008

    I used to have a friend or two who covered health care here as journalists or consultants, so I’d have been able to ask about the recent efflorescence of reporting about patients’ either being turned away from hospitals during life-threatening emergencies or being turned out of hospitals after their course of treatment was over if they had no home or family to go back to. As in, I’m not sure whether we’re looking at relatively new phenomena, widespread phenomena that are finally getting coverage, or a few scattered incidents that eager reporters want to interpret as a larger pattern that may not exist.

    I do know that there have been several memorable stories like this over the last several months:

    An elderly woman died after 11 hospitals turned her away and paramedics struggled to find a medical institution that would accept her, it has been learned.

    The 95-year-old woman fell ill at her home in Kiyose, Tokyo, on Jan. 8, and was picked up by emergency workers. However, 11 hospitals in the areas refused to accept her, citing such reasons as a lack of beds, and the woman died about 2 1/2 hours after the emergency call was made.

    The article ends, “Among the medical institutions that refused to accept the woman was a third-level emergency medical facility that was equipped to handle patients whose lives were in danger,” which raises the possibility that other institutions that were contacted may not have been able to handle her case (though that would normally make them clinics rather than hospitals in English translation). Another article in the Mainichi relates that an anorexic teenager was refused admission by seven hospitals. She was delirious and unable to walk and died the same night.

    One of the incidents covered in the story I linked here may produce charges for four of the hospital staff involved:

    Four workers at a hospital here face charges for abandoning a blind patient with diabetes at a park in September last year after his former wife refused to take him under her care, law enforcers said Wednesday.

    Police are poised to send an investigation report to prosecutors, accusing four workers at Toyokawa Sogo Hospital in Kita-ku, Sakai, of abandoning a person they were responsible for protecting.

    The four transported the patient to his former wife’s home in Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka, after doctors deemed that he could be discharged from the institution, only to be rejected, investigators said. They then abandoned him at a park in Nishinari-ku, Osaka, according to local police.

    One of the four then called for an ambulance saying, “A man has collapsed at the park. He appears to be visually impaired.”

    It’s hard to determine from the thin detail given whether the four hospital employees implicated actually decided to dump the guy; that they called an ambulance (to take him to another hospital!) indicates that they were interested in more than just getting rid of him and high-tailing it out of there. Perhaps their supervisor told them to take the man out of the facility and not to come back with him.

    Pig of the river

    Posted by Sean at 10:41, January 23rd, 2008

    Here‘s the first fugu-eating accident of the year that I’m aware of:

    A woman who ate parts of a poisonous fugu puffer fish sold to her illegally is fighting for her life in a hospital, Ibaraki Prefectural Government officials said.

    Sale of fugu without its poisonous parts requires a special license under the Food Hygiene Law and the fishmonger that sold to the woman did not have one. Hitachinaka public health authorities have shut down the fishmonger.

    Prefectural officials said the woman bought six fugu on Jan. 11 and cooked them in a stew at her home. About three hours after the woman ate the puffer fish’s skin and liver, she started complaining of a tingling in her mouth and hands. Her husband ate only the fish’s flesh.

    I’m assuming she didn’t eat all six livers, or (if my understanding of the strength of the neurotoxin TTX is accurate) there’d be no question of her “fighting for her life” right now, even unconsciously. The liver is full of poison, so much so that it has to be rinsed under water for a VERY long time by a licensed chef in order to be fit for consumption. (The toxin that’s left produces a slight tingling in the lips and mouth that’s supposed to be part of the sensory experience that makes it a delicacy. I also know people who have gotten raging headaches from it, though thankfully they were still alive to complain to me about them.)