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    Posted by Sean at 01:19, July 3rd, 2007

    …and Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma has had to step down. Not surprising. His remarks the other day about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were not the first that made people wonder whether he remembered which ministry he was leading, and there’s an election coming up in which the LDP cannot afford to have the Abe administration look more vulnerable than it does.

    Odds and ends

    Posted by Sean at 01:26, July 2nd, 2007

    A friend who read the post below about licensing fortunetellers reminded me that the classic protectionist-licensing story remains that of African braiders. For those who haven’t seen it discussed on a news program or in Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies , the Institute for Justice website has a rundown.


    I’m still making my way through Brink Lindsey’s most recent book, but he’s revived his blog and has a bunch of terrific posts about advertisements. For me the standouts are the pre-PC Jello commercial, apparently narrated by Charlie Chan, and the compilation of TV cigarette commercials. I was born in ’72; I don’t remember cigarette advertising on television. But I do remember being a child when lots of people smoked–there were ashtrays everywhere to accommodate them, and it wasn’t regarded as a big deal. Lindsey says, “Also, isn’t there a powerful illicit thrill–in our current age when smoking is the new leprosy–in watching these folks happily taking in big lungfuls of carcinogens?” Yes, there is. From our perspective now, the ads practically feel pornographic.


    Not surprisingly, Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma has been brought sharply back into line by Prime Minister Abe:

    During a meeting of about ten minutes, the prime minister told Kyuma, “Japan is the only country to suffer a nuclear strike, and we must think of the feelings of the bombing victims in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, who suffered horribly. We mustn’t hurt their feelings.”

    Especially with an election coming up.


    Posted by Sean at 00:36, July 1st, 2007

    You don’t see this very frequently: Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma gave a talk yesterday:

    Opposition parties unanimously criticized Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma for remarks he made in a lecture on 30 June. Kyuma had stated that the dropping of the atom bomb by the United States during World War II was “unavoidable.”

    Kyuma is the only sitting cabinet member from Nagasaki Prefecture. Reaction to his dissent from orthodoxy has been swift and furious:

    Kyuma said later that his comments had been misinterpreted, telling reporters he meant to say the bombing “could not be helped from the American point of view.”

    “It’s too bad that my comments were interpreted as approving the U.S. bombing,” he said.

    Bombing survivors have developed various illnesses from radiation exposure, including cancer and liver diseases.

    “The U.S. justifies the bombings saying they saved American lives,” said Nobuo Miyake, 78, director-general of a group of victims living in Tokyo. “It’s outrageous for a Japanese politician to voice such thinking. Japan is a victim.”

    Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue was quoted as saying by Kyodo, “The use of nuclear weapons constitutes the indiscriminate massacre of ordinary citizens, and it cannot be justified for any reason.”

    In America, the bombings are widely seen as a weapon of last resort against an enemy that was determined to fight to the death but instead surrendered unconditionally, six days after Nagasaki was attacked.

    There are many things to admire, even love, about Japan; but surely one of its more unpalatable cultural traits is its tendency to look for reasons to feel put-upon and victimized. The way people talk about the A-bomb, one would never know that Japan had tried to take over all of East Asia. (Its invading forces were not known for their scrupulously upright treatment of ordinary citizens.) One would also never know that the Allies had spent the last year enduring the battles on Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa.

    I don’t mean to make a coarse tu quoque argument here. I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that America had geopolitical reasons for using the atom bomb that went beyond the saintly desire to prevent more blood from being spilled in the immediate future. Japan had inserted itself into World War II as our enemy, and we needed to defeat it, and we needed to win. It would be nice if war didn’t work that way, but it does. It’s easy for me to say this as an American, I guess, but I don’t think Kyuma’s acknowledgment that it wasn’t our job to play nice with Japan in 1945 can be construed as “approval.” It’s certainly going to be interesting to see where this goes politically, though.

    A learning experience

    Posted by Sean at 00:49, June 29th, 2007

    Life certainly can pour on the dark comedy sometimes. Meat Hope recently received a group of trainees from…China. One is left with the droll question of why, given the PRC’s recent explosion of export-related scandals, they felt the need to come to Japan to learn about fraudulent use of ingredients and product labeling, given how advanced such practices are at home:

    Eighteen Chinese scheduled to work as trainees at the scandal-tainted meat processing company Meat Hope Co. in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, might be forced to return to China if they cannot find alternative companies to sponsor them, it was learned Thursday.

    After irregularities were discovered, the company told all its employees they were to be dismissed because the company was facing bankruptcy.

    A few of the workers are forming a union to fight the dismissals.

    The small town writ large

    Posted by Sean at 00:14, June 29th, 2007

    Bruce Bawer posts (27 June entry) about what looks like the Norwegian version of the Japanese proverb 出る釘は打たれる (deru kugi ha utareru: “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down”):

    Norwegians are brought up on the so-called “Jante Law” — the belief that there’s something morally suspect about excellence, achievement, superior knowledge or skills.

    The response? Sheer outrage. Parents and students walked out in protest at this appalling display of forskjellsbehandling (“differential treatment”). “It was unfair,” one mother thundered. Yes, she admitted, the students with good grades had worked hard — but many of the others had “also worked hard without achieving such good results.”

    Of course, it’s handled a little differently in Japan. Excellent grades in school are generally achieved through rigorous adherence to expectations, so being at the top of one’s class is itself a badge of conformity. Mediocrity in Japan is attained through lots of stressing out and exertion.

    The law of the spirit

    Posted by Sean at 06:27, June 27th, 2007

    There’s apparently nothing that can’t be bureaucratized.

    Crabby libertarians like me are always complaining about how licensing and certification procedures are frequently used by those already in a given business as a smokescreen–a way to keep out new competitors in the guise of assessing competence or quality (e.g., the teachers’ unions).

    James Randi’s latest newsletter has an example that’s almost too absurd to be funny. It seems that soothsayers in Salem, Massachusetts, are worried that the current licensing process needs to be tightened because it doesn’t screen out those who can’t actually predict the future.


    City councilors, hoping to crack down on fraudulent fortunetellers, are trying to define exactly how a psychic can become licensed to set up shop in the Witch City. They want candidates to undergo a criminal background check and to either live or run a business in Salem for at least a year.

    But many psychics want the city to go a step further – make sure they’re actually qualified to predict the future.

    The city took up the issue almost a year ago, mainly to prevent fortunetellers from blatantly ripping off consumers by demanding lucrative payments in return for lifting a curse or removing a “black cloud.”

    One woman paid more than $2,000 for readings at a Salem shop, where she was told she had a black aura around her, according to [psychic Barbara] Szafranski.

    “Then one day she came into my shop crying,” Szafranski told city councilors. “I said, ‘You don’t have a black aura. Sit down and I’ll show you your aura on my machine.’ And it was blue and wonderful.”

    FOX News also reported on the story and quoted Szafranski as being a bit more candid about her likely motivations:

    “Anytime you have a fair put up across the street from your business, it’s going to take business from you, Halloween time does not make up for that by bringing more people in,” Szafranski said. “We had a decline in business last year with the psychic fair.”

    Okay, but that doesn’t demonstrate that her aura readings are any more accurate than anyone else’s, does it?

    Szafranski and Martinez last weekend found dead raccoons when they went to open their shops.

    “People are scared,” Szafranski said. “Having a raccoon put in front of your store with blood all over the place is completely Satanic. It was done as a blood ritual. There is a stain in front of my door where it happened.”

    “It’s cruel, it’s disgusting, and it’s negative for the city and for the raccoon,” Day said. “I believe that the same people that did the cars did the raccoon, too. It’s not someone on one side. It’s just someone that wants to cause trouble.”

    “Negative for the raccoon”–I am in love with that locution.

    There does seem to me to be a legitimate legal issue here. One of the main jobs of the government is defending citizens against others who might do them harm, and those who claim to be able to contact the dead or lift evil mumbo-jumbo clouds in exchange for several thousand dollars are, from any rational perspective, committing fraud. If practitioners are going to be licensed, it seems to me that the certification should go the opposite direction from what Salem has in mind, though: You shouldn’t be allowed to set up shop without displaying a placard that explicitly states that no psychic has ever passed a scientifically sound test and that the reading is reliably useful only for entertainment. (Don’t the ones who advertise on television have to post that somewhere?) Determined ninnies would continue to believe what they wish–adults who think they can get a medium to communicate with the spirit of their dead cat are probably unreachable by science anyway–but at least they couldn’t claim not to have been warned.

    Mystery meat

    Posted by Sean at 07:35, June 26th, 2007

    One of the Nikkei editorials today is about the latest food processing scandal: fraudulent labels on meat. Helpful background can be gleaned from the Asahi English edition:

    Meat Hope Co. routinely committed 13 types of misconduct over 24 years, including mislabeling its products, falsifying use-by dates and mixing intestines into ground meat, the farm ministry said.

    The scandal-ridden meat processor based in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, dismissed all of its employees Tuesday in a sign that the company will soon fold. Meat Hope’s production line was halted last Wednesday, when the company admitted to mixing pork into “100-percent” beef products over seven to eight years.

    But the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries found during an on-site inspection that Meat Hope’s misconduct was much more extensive and went further back.

    The ministry determined that Meat Hope’s wrongdoings had been willfully conducted on a systematic basis on the orders of President Minoru Tanaka and other executives.

    Falsifying use-by dates was another common tactic, according to the ministry.

    On a day-to-day basis, the company falsified the use-by date for products by moving forward their processing date by one day.

    The use-by date shenanigans are a big, big deal in Japan, where many favored dishes use half-raw meat. What the Nikkei understandably wants to know is…

    Why was this misconduct not detected earlier? In February of last year, information that would have [constituted] a charge of misconduct was said to have been gathered, but cooperative action was not taken by agriculture ministry officials and the Hokkaido prefectural government. Without a rapid response, measures to protect (internal) whistleblowers cannot be instituted in order to aid in stopping legal infractions.

    At least one other food processor that was a client of Meat Hope’s has been implicated in the manipulation of sell-by dates, too.  Somewhat more comically for those of us who grew up with frugal meatloaf-making mothers, Meat Hope is also alleged to have stretched its ground beef by adding bread.


    Posted by Sean at 07:16, June 26th, 2007

    I wish this were surprising.

    On 26 June, it was learned from a source connected with the organization that Unimat Realty (Minato Ward, Tokyo), developer for the Shiespa women’s hot spring spa in Shibuya Ward, had received instructions from an inspection firm that had assessed the density of natural gases to the effect of “There exists the possibility that an explosion of methane gas could cause a major disaster” before the facility opened for business.

    I’ll have to ask an architect friend whether “developer” is the best word to use for 建築主, but that appears to be the role under discussion. The Unimat Group is conducting internal investigations, and the police are running their own inquiries, too.

    Hazardous occupations

    Posted by Sean at 11:03, June 25th, 2007

    I called home on Father’s Day only to be told that my father was already at work on night shift. Called again Thursday; no one picked up, so I left a message. Tonight, finally, he was home.

    While we were talking, he mentioned that one of the furnaces at the plant was down because of an explosion. He described all this in his usual unflappable-Dad tone, as if it were the most unremarkable thing in the world, but this is what actually happened. Damn:

    A boiler explosion at an industrial plant in Chester County is under investigation. Three workers were seriously burned in the Saturday night explosion and family members tell CBS 3 one of the victims has died.

    “We knew the dangers and I had just talked to him on Thursday and he said ‘I’m fine,'” injured victim’s mother Janice Solen said.

    The Solens’ fears about their son’s work at the Mittal Steel Company, located at the old Lukens Steel Complex in Coatesville, became a reality. He received second and third degree burns to 30 percent of his body as well as other injures when a huge furnace at the plant exploded. The explosion was so loud that residents nearby said their homes shook.

    “We thank God he’s alive and it may take a long time but he’ll make it,” Solen said.

    According to my father, the worker who died was helped out of the building while still conscious, but his lungs had been scalded by super-heated steam. Both the injured guys have extensive second- and third-degree burns, which fortunately for them and their families are no longer a certain death sentence. Best to them.

    Facts are lazy and facts are late

    Posted by Sean at 00:51, June 22nd, 2007

    Steve Miller at IGF posts about a conservative answer to Wikipedia called (natch) Conservapedia, started by one of Phyllis Schlafly’s sons. The entries on topics such as evolution and homosexuality have some critics up in arms, and Andy Schlafly’s own comments give reason for concern. The following paragraph almost gave me a heart attack:

    “We have certain principles that we adhere to, and we are up-front about them,” Schlafly writes in his mission statement. “Beyond that we welcome the facts.”

    I liked this gem, too:

    But consider the entry on Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton (b. 1947). She “may suffer from a psychological condition that would raise questions about her fitness for office” — namely, “clinical narcissism,” Conservapedia asserts. Evidence of her instability includes her “ever-changing opinion of the Iraq war.” Though Schlafly demands that entries be rigorously footnoted, these sentences are not.

    Schlafly calls the armchair psychology “borderline in acceptability” for his site, but he defends the Clinton article on balance as “an objective, bias-free piece from a conservative perspective.”

    Beyond that we welcome the facts? Good grief. My understanding, both from my own super-conservative Christian upbringing and from commentators, was always that the faithful regarded some beliefs as not susceptible to empirical testing by science–not that certain principles were to be declared off limits to inquiry, with observable reality a secondary consideration. Yes, I’m talking about just one sentence, but Schlafly is a grown-up from a very media-savvy family. I have no doubt that he knows how to choose his words.

    As far as the entry on Clinton goes, it certainly sounds more fun to read than what you’re likely to see on Wikipedia, but I thought conservatives were against the practice of repairing to “psychological conditions” as an explanation for venal behavior? Is it proposed that we start accusing all waffling politicians of being mentally unstable?

    Whatever. No proprietors of websites are obligated to champion the disinterested pursuit of truth, though a little more self-awareness might be seemly for those who don’t. Predictably, there are some gays who are up in arms over Conservapedia’s entries about sexuality, and their solution is to infiltrate the place:

    In recent months, Conservapedia’s articles have been hit frequently by interlopers from RationalWiki and elsewhere. The vandals have inserted errors, pornographic photos and satire… The vandalism aims “to cause people to say, ‘That Conservapedia is just wacko,'” said Brian Macdonald, 45, a Navy veteran in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who puts in several hours a day on the site fending off malicious editing.

    Miller’s take is the right one:

    The cost of living in a free society is to suffer being offended—without trying to silence those you find offensive (another example: campus “progressives” who steal conservative student newspapers from their distribution sites and destroy them). Conservatives have a right to their media; and the answer to arguments we find appalling is to criticize them. After all, it’s not as if gay-supportive information isn’t also easily available online.

    One thing he doesn’t mention is how stupid the RationalWiki people are being in tactical terms. I happen to think the jabber about a “war on Christianity” is overheated and, in many cases, disingenuous. Nevertheless, a lot of well-meaning, ordinary Americans have a sense that anyone who agitates for “gay rights” is trying to impinge on their ability to practice their religion and rear their children as they see fit. Gay advocacy has a few decades of ACT-UP-style demonstrations and public shenanigans at pride parades to counteract, and new rounds of guerrila warfare are hardly helpful.

    Added on 24 June: Thanks to Andrea Harris for the link. She appears to believe it’s wrong for men to think conservative commentators get a bad rap because the women among them are so shrewish. Fortunately, Andrea, is that Conservapedia is here to set you straight!

    Femininity builds a woman’s esteem by enhancing her own interpersonal relationships rather than building confidence through the task-orientation of masculinity. Traditionally feminine traits include being emotional, demure, affectionate, sympathetic, sensitive, soft-spoken, warm, tender, childlike, gentle, pretty, willowy, submissive, understanding and compassionate.

    Clearly, Ann Coulter’s problem is she’s not willowy enough.