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    Come into my house

    Posted by Sean at 01:08, April 20th, 2007

    Moving into my new place today–the moving guys should be here any minute. I had planned to get the deal where they pack up your entire apartment for you like dermestid beetles defleshing a skull. But since Atsushi and I still have all our stuff mixed together, I realized I’d be standing over them going, “That television, but not that one…that refrigerator, but not that one…that couch, but not the sofa,” the whole time. So I did the kitchen stuff, the books, and the clothes. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll have the Internet turned on in my new apartment, so posting will be as light as it’s been lately, though you may not notice. Hope everyone has a great weekend.


    Posted by Sean at 03:02, April 19th, 2007

    When it turned out that the perp in the Virginia Tech shootings was South Korean, I actually chuckled mirthlessly at CNN and said aloud, “Well, at least no one’s going to work the race angle on this one.”

    What a moron. Salon.com has a selective but interesting roundup of commentary on whether and how Cho Seung-hui’s Korean-ness relates to his having shot at several classrooms full of college students.

    I don’t think some of the more ignorant commentary is necessarily motivated by sheer axe-grinding against Korean culture or violent movies or what have you. Treatments for mental illness have come such a long way that no one seems to want to conclude that it’s possible for someone to be just a plain wrong’un who may not be reachable by drugs or counseling. The emerging evidence seems to indicate that Cho might have been schizophrenic; at the very least, he was seriously screwed up in the head.

    Maybe his parents’ Asian background made them chary of involving counselors, psychiatrists, and other outsiders in what they saw as a family matter. But, even in this therapy-everywhere age, there are plenty of native-born Middle Americans who would do the same thing. And even when people do try to get help for family members they can’t handle, it’s not always forthcoming. After Sylvia Seegrist killed three people outside a mall near Philadelphia two decades ago, it came out that her mother had tried unsuccessfully to keep her institutionalized. (It was reported, IIRC from the local news shows, that she’d told the officials who wanted to release her, “But she’s psychotic!” and been told back, “Lady, half of Philadelphia is psychotic.”)

    One of the blogs Salon singles out for opprobrium is Michael Hurt’s Scribblings of the Metropolitician. Hurt lives in Seoul, and his post asks several thorny questions about how Korean men are acculturated. It’s worth reading and thinking about; if you know Japan, you may find quite a bit of it familiar.

    I still don’t buy one of Hurt’s key, if vaguely stated, points, though:

    So the top two spots for shooting sprees in history are now held by two Korean men. Hey–I just find this interesting. Is this information not somewhat relevant to the issue at hand?

    Well, no, not if the overwhelming majority of Koreans don’t go on shooting sprees and the overwhelming majority of shooting sprees aren’t committed by Koreans. That two major killing sprees have now been committed by Korean men is a catchy-sounding little fact to mention in news items, but in and of itself, I don’t find it very suggestive. After all, millions of guys, Korean and otherwise, are sexually-jealous hotheads who rant and throw tantrums like little boys when their lovers (actual or imagined) cross them, but they still manage to stop short of opening fire on a few dozen people.

    What you don’t know

    Posted by Sean at 07:45, April 13th, 2007

    Via Instapundit, Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project makes an unsettling discovery:

    Wonder why so many of the news articles you read, or steam over, are lacking essential information or perspective? Wonder no longer. Knowledge and experience of the subject is only a “plus.”

    Would the AP advertise for a sports reporter for whom knowledge and experience with baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, and so forth is only a “plus,” rather than essential and primary?

    So, why should the AP believe that knowledge and experience of intelligence, or medicine, or any other important and technical subject only requires a “plus”?

    I love America, but we do have a tendency to believe that you can learn absolutely anything on the fly. And it’s not just “technical subjects” in the hard-science sense that cause people to trip up. You’ll have noticed that many of us Westerners who blog from Asia expend a lot of energy complaining about the clueless reporting of foreign correspondents here. Or not necessarily clueless, but rote and tending to default to one of a dozen or so stock perspectives on the Mysterious Far East. (Simon World is the best overall resource if you want that kind of commentary.)

    It’s not all the fault of the reporters themselves, I imagine, since editors like stories that are to the point and readily comprehensible. It must be difficult to write genuinely nuanced, searching analyses of cultural differences when the best way to please the boss is to turn in yet more column-inches-by-numbers about those crazy prematurely-sexualized teenagers hanging around Shibuya.

    And yet, I’ve met Tokyo personnel for several of the major news outlets informally, and in several cases–not most, mind, but enough to be disturbing–I’ve been appalled at their elementary lack of understanding of the environment they’re supposed to be reporting authoritatively on. It’s one thing to have some learning to do; everyone has to start somewhere, after all. It’s quite another not to know where your defects of knowledge lie and therefore what should set off your BS detector when you hear it from an interviewee, are fed it by your own translator, or read it in the local press. If you can read the local press without asking your Japanese sig. oth. for help, that is.

    News flash: Living on Big Macs and Haagen Dazs is still bad for you

    Posted by Sean at 09:40, April 6th, 2007

    You don’t say.

    Only one in seven Americans exercises enough and eats enough fruits and vegetables, and men are worse than women, federal health officials said on Thursday.

    “These results underscore the need to promote diets high in fruits and vegetables and regular physical activity among all populations in the United States and among racial and ethnic minority communities in particular,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said in a report.

    The CDC tracked the percentage of Americans who eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and engage in moderately intense exercise for at least 30 minutes five days per week or vigorous exercise for at least 20 minutes three days per week as recommended by the government.

    Hmm…you know what I bet would help? If some kind-hearted government agency started haranguing us about it regularly.

    Oh, yeah. Forgot.

    “The population right now really needs to take responsibility for their own health,” Mary Kay Solera, head of the CDC’s National Fruit and Vegetable Program [*sobbing*–SRK] and one of the report’s authors, said in a telephone interview.

    “People know that they need to be eating more fruits and vegetables and they know they need to be doing more physical activity. But we’re not doing it,” Solera added.

    Well, I guess that depends on how you define “need.” Surely if you’re an American who hasn’t heard by now that obesity increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer, you’ve been living in a cave. Otherwise, you’re presumably weighing your options and choosing your own priorities. Which is to say, people are taking responsibility for their own health, but physical fitness is only one among many things they value. What is it proposed Washington do about this–declare National Steamed Kohlrabi Day? Switch to having kids do artichoke rolls (cholesterol-free, and you can’t start encouraging healthy habits too early!) on the White House lawn on Easter?

    The report was based on self-reported data from a 2005 telephone survey of 356,112 Americans. The survey asked respondents to report their level of exercise and their diet with questions such as, “How often do you eat potatoes, not including French fries, fried potatoes or potato chips?”

    Well, if French fries, fried potatoes, or potato chips are the only ways of consuming potatoes that count as unhealthy, I can keep on getting mine the usual way. Which is to say, time for a vodka and tonic. (Starch and malaria prevention! Ooh, and scurvy prevention if we count the lime.)

    Have a good weekend, everyone.

    I love you when you dance

    Posted by Sean at 09:33, April 4th, 2007

    While Alanis hasn’t been in the public eye much lately, she proves there’s still reason to love her. Too funny. Fergie is one of the most annoying female singers around at the moment, and while her soi-disant street-wise routine is so laughable it’s almost not worth satirizing, Alanis keeps you entertained all the way through. My day is made.


    Posted by Sean at 10:53, April 2nd, 2007

    The thinking that seems to lie behind statements like this one, by the father of murdered English teacher Lindsay Hawker, disturbs me:

    The killing of a British language teacher whose naked and battered body was found outside Tokyo has “brought shame” to Japan, her father said Sunday, as the British Ambassador urged the public to help the police investigation.

    “My daughter loved this country. She loved meeting Japanese people and thought of Japan as an honorable society,” William Hawker said in a statement read out Sunday by British Ambassador to Japan Graham Fry.

    “My daughter’s killer has now brought shame on your country. He must be caught,” Hawker was quoted as saying.

    I realize that he’s grieving for his lost daughter, and if he’d made the “shame” comment during an emotional outburst under stress, it would have been very understandable. But this was a prepared statement, and it seems to hold Japan to a standard of safety that one can’t imagine Hawker would dream of imposing on, say, Greater London.

    Lindsay Hawker was not snatched off a busy midday street while no bystanders responded to her cries; that would be shameful. She went, alone, to the apartment of a man who’d already exhibited decidedly odd behavior:

    The suspect first approached Hawker near a train station March 21, saying he wanted to learn English, and followed her to her apartment, according to police. Hawker let him in because she had a roommate and he seemed eager to learn.

    The suspect drew a picture of Hawker and wrote down his name and phone number before leaving her apartment. Hawker agreed to give him an English lesson the following Sunday.

    Hawker is not to blame for her own death, and her killer (it’s looking as certain as it can be at this point that it was, indeed, Tatsuya Ichihashi) deserves the harshest punishment the law allows. But sometimes citizens exercise poor individual judgment, and it’s no “shame” on society’s part that it can’t protect them from what may happen when they isolate themselves from the police or from honest citizens who might help them. Parents can, in general, feel good about their young adult children’s coming to Japan to teach or study; most of the sorts of crime we worry about in Western cities–street crime and burglary–are rare. That doesn’t change the fact that vigilance against nut cases is part of the price of living unmonitored in a free society, even one with a low murder rate such as Japan.


    Posted by Sean at 03:02, March 30th, 2007

    Virginia Postrel links to a post by her husband about bad design and why we can’t stamp it out immediately. My favorite part of his list was this:

    Auto-numbering in Microsoft Word, which behaves like a peevish poltergeist, randomly changing number and letter headings, creating and destroying tabs, etc., instead of almost any other numbering utility I can imagine.

    When I give instructions about how to submit documents to me at work, the very top of the list is “Before making a single keystroke, go to ‘Autocorrect,’ choose the ‘Autoformat’ tab, and TURN EVERYTHING OFF. No smart quotes. No automatic lists. NOTHING.” I like me some properly-sized em-dashes, but even they can turn on you if you have to use both Japanese and English in the same document and then have it read by computers with Japanese and English versions of Word.

    Postrel focuses mostly on design that isn’t utile, but I had a funny exchange with a friend last night about design that’s just not good to look at. The fast food chain Lotteria has been changing the design of its outlets, and last night when a few friends and I came around a corner (in Jimbocho), I said, “I like the Lotteria redesign (though I could do without the ‘straight burger’ part).” One of my friends smirked and said, “No, honey, you don’t necessarily like it. It’s just the only building on the entire street that’s not assaulting your eye with neon, blinking lights, a menu board written in every available color of dry-erase ink, various gew-gaws pasted to the facade, and some rotating thingamajig somewhere. Just stripping away the junk is enough to result in a Design Statement around here.” Too true.

    Rain, train

    Posted by Sean at 09:46, March 27th, 2007

    It rained over the weekend, and I snapped this at the new Marui building in Shinjuku when I was on my way to meet friends for a drink. My cell phone is two or so years old, so the camera doesn’t have as good resolution as the new ones:


    All those objects of like colors, with clean lines, grouped together and arranged in beautiful neat rows. Doesn’t it remind you of your sweater chest (if you’re gay, I mean)?

    Actually, it also kind of looks like the climactic confrontation scene from a ’50s sci-fi film: Day of the Umbrellas. I somehow don’t expect seawater, of all things, would kill them?

    It also sort of reminds me–have I mentioned that I love this song?–of Tracey Thorn’s newest video.

    Actually, while I was taking snapshots of umbrellas, enjoying my freedom without a care in the world, one of the friends I was supposed to meet was trapped on the bullet train. No, I don’t mean the monorail here in Tokyo–that was another accident. My friend was on the Shinkansen headed here from Kyoto, where he lives. He’d planned on a night of carousing and bitchy one-liners, but someone threw himself…er, a wrench in the works. So he got this:

    The unidentified man may have leaped or fallen from a bullet train after operating an emergency latch and manually opening a door, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) officials said.

    However, the door had been closed again. That does not occur automatically after a door is manually pulled open, which leaves open the possibility that the man was pushed out.

    The discovery prompted officials to halt the Tokaido Shinkansen Line for more than three hours.

    At first, they were reporting it as an apparent suicide–that’s the first explanation you think of here when you hear “dead body on train tracks.” But as the Asahi says, there’s a significant chance the closing of the emergency door indicates someone else was involved.


    Posted by Sean at 05:04, March 26th, 2007

    And, in case you missed it, there’s a lesson to be learned from yesterday’s earthquake:

    The earthquake was unexpected in the region, and so provided us with a lesson that any place in Japan can be hit by a disastrous temblor.

    Do we still need that lesson? Just two and a half years ago, there was an earthquake in Niigata Prefecture that was unexpected. And in 1995, there was–you may have heard about this–an earthquake that wrecked Kobe, killing 6000 people, leaving thousands more homeless, and severing several major transportation arteries. By this point, anyone who doesn’t know a disastrous earthquake is possible outside the historical hot zones is brain dead.

    Another earthquake

    Posted by Sean at 09:53, March 25th, 2007

    I have my iwamatodjishi.com domain name set up for auto-renewal, but apparently it didn’t work this time around. Not sure why. I assume it’ll be back up in a day or two.

    In the interim, northeastern Honshu had yet another high-magnitude earthquake this morning, a strong 6 on the JMA scale (which measures shaking at the surface), and a 6.9M Richter:

    According to the police, one woman has died in the city of Wajima; in addition, in Ishikawa, Toyama, and Niigata Prefectures, there have been 159 cases of injuries. According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, around 100 dwellings in Ishikawa Prefecture have been destroyed or partially destroyed.

    The one death was–very Olde Japan, this–from a stone lantern that toppled and crushed a woman in her 50s. (In the ghoulishly vivid Japanese expression, she 下敷きになった [shita-jiki ni natta]: “became underpaving.”) Parts of Japan far from the major metropolitan areas still tend to have a lot of older buildings, so fallen clay roof tiles and stone fixtures are common after earthquakes. The Nikkei also says there have been at least 130 aftershocks already; I haven’t seen word that any of them have been serious. As in the Niigata Prefecture earthquake a few years ago, there’s a good chance that some of the aftershocks will be almost as intense as the first quake. The terrain there is rugged, and it’s been rainy, so landslides are a constant danger.