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    Posted by Sean at 09:17, February 23rd, 2006

    There’s so much information lacking about the port-rental-connected-to-UAE-holding-company thing that I figure I’ll let everyone else rupture a few arteries and decide what I think when we actually know what we’re talking about.

    While the subject is raw, however, Peggy Noonan has some great points to make about security concerns:

    It is almost five years since 9/11, and since the new security regime began. Why hasn’t it gotten better? Why has it gotten worse? It’s a disgrace, this airport security system, and it’s an embarrassment. I’m sure my Englishman didn’t come away with a greater respect or regard for America.

    So we’re all talking about port security this week, and the debate over the Bush administration decision to allow United Arab Emirates company to manage six ports in the United States. That debate is turning bitter, and I wonder if the backlash against President Bush isn’t partly due to the fact that everyone in America has witnessed or has been a victim of the incompetence of the airport security system. Why would people assume the government knows what it’s doing when it makes decisions about the ports? It doesn’t know what it’s doing at the airports.

    This is a flying nation. We fly. And everyone knows airport security is an increasingly sad joke, that TSA itself often appears to have forgotten its mission, if it ever knew it, and taken on a new one–the ritual abuse of passengers.

    Now there’s a security problem. Solve that one.

    Yeah, or how about learning to be competent at both? I’m one of those people who usually find the great machines that keep our civilization going inspiring and exhilarating. Turning me off to something like flying is a major undertaking. But nowadays there are few experiences more dispiriting than taking off for the airport.

    Of course, JFK has always been a horrible place–especially so if you’ve got a lot of airports in other countries to compare it to, but plenty crappy on its own terms. Still, it’s only gotten worse since 9/11. Like Noonan, I seem to win (?) the wand-down lottery frequently, though whether it’s because of my Irish-sounding name and non-menacing slightness of build I don’t pretend to know.

    I don’t pretend to enjoy it, either, but frequently the fact that the people doing the extra-special sweeps go out of their way to be nice and seem to care about being methodical at least restores your faith that someone gives a damn. (Yes, I’m cynically aware that they’re probably under orders not to get you riled up, but you take what you can get.) I don’t know of other facility that can match JFK for sheer blasé surliness, but all the other hubs I’ve been through in the last several years have managed to leave a similar impression of high-handedness combined with slackness.

    Nukaga: DFAA Most Exalted Grand Poobah to stay put

    Posted by Sean at 08:54, February 22nd, 2006

    Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga speaks:

    A special lower house budgetary committee deliberatory session revolving around collusion in construction projects for the Defense Facilities Administrative Agency was held the morning of 22 February. Defense Agency leader Fukushiro Nukaga, on being given news of the rearrest of a former top agency official, stated, “we are thoroghly investigating the problems in both administrative and organizational terms, and making a fresh start is the responsibility of the DFAA leader and my mission.” He denied anew that either he himself or DFAA head Iwao Kitahara would resign.

    Nukaga stated that Kitahara has assumed the job of chair of the investigative committee that has been established in the DFAA, and indicated that there is no immediate plan for Kitahara to be reassigned.

    Kitahara is of special interest to those who follow US-Japan military ties because, for one thing, he used to be DFAA chief in Okinawa and, partly because of that and partly because he’s now the general secretary, he’s been one of the chief negotiators in the drive to restructure US military facilities in that prefecture (especially, of course, Futenma). To what extent he allowed the culture of collusion to continue to flourish at the DFAA is an open question–he was clearly good at rising through the ranks, but on the other hand he’s only been in the driver’s seat for a year or so. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, on the face of it, for Nukaga to decide that the imminent clean-up is, as he says, Kitahara’s proper job.

    More Japan notes

    Posted by Sean at 00:11, February 21st, 2006

    Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto may be evil, but he’s not nuts. Or, at least, the psychiatric evaluator appointed by the court has ruled that he’s fit to stand trial ( Yomiuri English report, Nikkei Japanese report). This is from the Yomiuri:

    Meantime, judicial sources said the high court was now likely to dismiss the appeal by Matsumoto, commonly known as Shoko Asahara, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, an irrevocable confirmation of the death penalty meted out by the Tokyo District Court in February 2004.

    The lower court found him guilty of masterminding 13 crimes, including sarin gas attacks on Tokyo’s subway system in 1995 that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500 others, and in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, as well as the 1989 murder of a lawyer and his family.

    The defense counsel for the cult founder had argued that the 50-year-old defendant was not fit for trial, while presiding Judge Masaru Suda had maintained that the cult founder was competent enough to stand trial or defend himself in court with the help of defense lawyers.

    The doctor is believed to have diagnosed that Matsumoto’s abnormal behavior stems from either a mild reaction to incarceration–a mental breakdown caused by prolonged detention–or that he is feigning sickness.

    The evaluation ran to 88 pages, according to the Nikkei.


    Yesterday there was a stoppage on JR East’s Yamanote Line, which rings the very center of Tokyo like London’s Circle Line. It was just before 8 a.m. Not a pleasant scene, given that the three-hour (!) interruption of service caused problems for 112000 commuters. I’m sure the cab drivers loved it. I’m sure the buses were pandemonium, too.

    To preserve balance and harmony, one imagines, JR West reported yesterday that over a thousand of its trains have bad brakes in the front cars:

    Emergency brakes of the automatic train stop system on more than 40 percent of 2,700 lead cars West Japan Railway Co. uses would not function when their regular brakes fail, the firm said Monday.

    The problem was caused when circuits connecting the ATS-SW and emergency braking systems were modified in 1994 to help facilitate the recovery process after an ATS malfunction. JR West used these lead cars for 12 years without noticing any fault.

    The emergency brakes would not function on about 1,200 lead cars, the company said.

    A representative of JR West’s public relations department said, “We apologize for making passengers anxious.”

    To which residents of JR West territories are probably replying, “Thanks, pal, but we were anxious already.” It was a JR West train that derailed last year in Amagasaki, killing over a hundred people. That accident was found to be due to misjudgment by the train driver…and his misjudgment was probably the result at least in part of systemic flaws in JR West’s training. It became a lightning rod for questions about transportation safety in light of Japan’s evolving economy and aging infrastructure.

    The cars in question in this case, as you might suspect, are old. They were all manufactured two decades ago, before the rail system was privatized.


    The other big story today, besides the elimination of the Japanese women’s curling team from Olympic competition, is about an e-mail:

    Caution was urged Monday in the use of the Diet’s authority to invoke special investigative powers to verify the authenticity of a controversial e-mail allegedly sent by former Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie that instructed that 30 million yen be remitted to the younger son of the Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general.

    House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Tadamori Oshima of the LDP said the allegation by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan regarding what it claims is an e-mail sent by Horie is not serious enough to warrant using the constitutional powers of the Diet to investigate it.

    “Given that the investigation right of the Diet into state affairs as stipulated by the Constitution is extremely significant, it should only be exercised with great prudence,” Oshima said at a meeting of directors of the Budget Committee.

    Prior to Oshima’s statement, an LDP director at the meeting said the DPJ, which originally raised the remittance issue, should present clear evidence to prove that 30 million yen was sent to the son of LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe, such as a bank account statement. The director said the LDP would agree to hold a Budget Committee meeting in camera for that purpose.

    More finger-pointing to ensue, no doubt.

    You say you don’t, but you will

    Posted by Sean at 08:28, February 19th, 2006

    I find the long-distance relationship thing easier if I keep the apartment as if Atsushi might return for good tomorrow. You know, no slovenly-bachelor stuff, and no putting his stuff out of sight so it’s not “in the way”–I try to keep the sense of a shared life. And no junk all over the place. Sure, I’m normally pretty persnickety anyway, but when things are busy–and they have been lately–even I can get to letting things go.

    Today was catch-up. Since I like to eat a lot of vegetables and they tend to go bad if not used quickly, I made my week’s worth of vegetable scramble. Kind of like ratatouille, but kind of not–spring onions, broccoli, mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, eggplant, a can of tomatoes, whatever herbs strike my fancy. Darkened apartment, task lighting over the cutting board, glass of whiskey, humming along with 10000 Maniacs. It makes me smile a little that I still like Our Time in Eden so much. It came out my sophomore year, my most uncomplicatedly happy time at college–my best grades, starting a few upper-level classes, fun with friends all the time. Not much later, the shakeup that ended with my coming out and leaving the church I’d been reared in would start for real, after which being my friend was not much fun for a while. And Our Time in Eden, populated as it is with characters who feel weak-willed and are faced with sticky moral decisions–well, it was so much of that time for me that I thought I might end up sealing it off there and not wanting to return to it. But it’s okay. (What’s not okay is what happened to Natalie Merchant when she went solo. Gawd, what a grim little finger-wagging schoolmarm she turned into. She used to have such empathy for people who were having trouble doing the right thing without talking down to them–you could hear it, even if you didn’t agree with the “right thing” according to her lefty politics. Tigerlily just killed that dead.)

    Oh, speaking of plants, I was making vegetables a few minutes ago, wasn’t I? Yeah. That way I can nuke a frozen portion and dump it over pasta or alongside a poached egg on toast or what have you. Not as fresh as the things just picked from the garden like we had when I was little, but a lot better than Birdseye. As I said, no slovenly-bachelor stuff.

    BTW, I think my favorite passage about vegetables ever is Miss Manners’s on artichokes:

    Dear Miss Manners:
    What is the most efficient way of eating artichokes?

    Gentle Reader:
    For those who want to eat efficiently, God made the banana, complete with its own color-coordinated carrying case. The artichoke is a miracle of sensuality, and one should try to prolong such treats, rather than dispatch them speedily. An important part of sensuality is contrast. First pull off a leaf with a cruel, quick flick of the wrist, dip it in the sauce, and then slowly and lovingly pull the leaf through the teeth, with the chin tilted heavenward and the eyes half-closed in ecstasy. If the sauch drips, a long tongue, if you have one, may be sent down to get it. When the leaves are gone, the true subtlety of the artichoke reveals itself: a tender heart, covered with nasty bristles. To contrast with the fingering, there should be a sudden switch to cool formality. The fuzzy choke should be removed with dignified precision and a knife and fork, so that the heart may be consumed in ceremonial pleasure.

    The most wonderful of many wonderful things about Judith Martin is the way she makes life seem Alice in Wonderland-ish. You know, inanimate objects have personalities, people are strange, and unexpected things happen all the time, and you just have to roll with it.

    Of course, people do what you do expect sometimes. I actually did go out and pick up some Royal Copenhagen the other week; the whole “Buy Danish!” thing seemed kind of hokey, but I’ve felt better and better about it as the reaction has unfolded since. Anyway, Atsushi already had some Royal Copenhagen stuff that he didn’t take with him to Kyushu. You know how I’ve mentioned that he doesn’t wear any colors except navy blue and the occasional so-dark-it’s-almost-black forest green? Well, he’s the same with furniture and housewares. This is what you get when Atsushi goes shopping for dishes:


    No, don’t adjust the color on your monitor. See? The placemat’s green. It’s just the dishes that have no color. All Atsushi’s are like that. Well, he has a donburi or two with a pattern, but I think they were presents or something. The insides of the kitchen cabinets looked like a Walker Evans photograph until I arrived on the scene.

    They don’t anymore, because this is what you get when Sean goes shopping for dishes:


    Unlike, presumably, the Queen of Denmark, I’m not really into the chalky pastels. But given that my tea and coffee things are already a million colors and patterns, having a few restrained, solid things kicking around is probably a good thing.

    He comes home this coming weekend.

    H2A rocket launch succeeds

    Posted by Sean at 05:30, February 18th, 2006

    The H2A Rocket launch today was successful–good. Reuters also has a report up already here. Japan’s aerospace programs have still had their problems this year, but since last year’s first successful H2A launch, things have seemed to be improving nicely.

    The Keystone State

    Posted by Sean at 02:58, February 18th, 2006

    I lost sight of this a few weeks ago without posting about it, but the Casey senatorial campaign is getting into gear in my home state (via Gay News):

    In a Senate race that is looking to be the most closely watched and most expensive showdown in the nation, Pennsylvania State Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. is looking to win the gay vote.

    Casey, who said he is gearing for nine more months of hard campaigning, will introduce himself to the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community Feb. 18 at the Human Rights Campaign Philadelphia Region Steering Committee’s annual gala.

    If he gets on the Democratic ticket, Casey is running, of course, against Rick Santorum, one of the least gay-friendly major politicians in America. (And yes, I know he has a gay communications director. I’m speaking in terms of ideas and policies.)

    Already he has the backing of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization; HRC’s political action committee endorsed Casey in October.

    Ken Oakes, chair of the HRC Philadelphia Region Steering Committee, said an early endorsement like this is quite rare, but warranted.

    “They [HRC] believe, and we agree, this is the race of the nation,” Oakes said. “Whatever happens here with Rick Santorum and Bob Casey is really a bellwether for the nation.”

    Casey supports civil unions and domestic partner benefits, but stops short of supporting marriage equality.

    But, compared to Santorum — who has equated gay sex with bestiality, and said there is nothing wrong with intolerance — Oakes said Casey is a fair-minded candidate with a proven record of respecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and working on their behalf.

    Many members of the sexual and gender minority communities probably cannot understand HRC’s endorsement of Casey, Oakes said.

    The HRC’s early commitment in this case is a much more sensible unusual move than its idiotic endorsement of Joseph Whowasthatagain against gay-friendly (and very powerful) senior Senator Arlen Specter two years ago. Of course, the fact that Casey is a Democrat means everything falls cleanly along pre-conceived party lines this time, thus sparing most people involved from asking uncomfortable questions about, you know, principles and stuff.

    Of course, as the PGN notes, this year’s race is, for a lot of gay voters, as much about giving Santorum the heave as it is about getting a friendly candidate elected. Suppose you’re a gay Pennsylvanian who occasionally thinks about the economy, or education, or the WOT? The Casey campaign’s website is still on the thin side, but here‘s its issues page:

    Bob Casey is running for the U.S. Senate because he wants to help bring change to Washington.

    ZZZZZZZZ…wha? Oh, sorry.

    As your Senator, Bob Casey will fight to put the needs and concerns of Pennsylvania’s middle-class families first.

    Bob Casey has stood up for our seniors as Auditor General and successfully fought to improve the Health Department’s response to complaints about life-threatening abuse and neglect in nursing homes. He will continue to fight for our seniors in Washington.

    Bob Casey has led the fight to improve the quality of child care in Pennsylvania and make it more affordable for low-income working mothers. And his performance audits helped save money for our schools. He will continue to fight for our children and for public education as a U.S. Senator.

    Bob Casey also successfully fought to protect children from sex offenders. His investigation into compliance with Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law led to passage of tough new legislation in 2004 that requires information about all convicted sex offenders to be posted on the Internet. In Washington, Bob Casey will continue to protect our children and to give law enforcement the tools they need to fight crime.

    So he likes the usual array of entitlements–not surprising, if you’re worried about such trivialities as whether you can get elected. Casting himself as an opponent of excessive spending–using his work as auditor general and state treasurer to give the image dimension–while supporting all the spending programs that are dear to the middle class is a good strategy. (He also wants you to sign a petition to save–of all things–Amtrak. Some fiscal watchdogging there, eh?)

    So I’m not sure, at this early date, what change Casey will be bringing to Washington, besides the fact that there would be one senator fewer from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who doesn’t go to gay advocacy fundraisers.

    Casey’s Democratic rivals, perhaps because they recognize that they have a lot less name recognition than the son of a former governor, have much more fleshed-out policy pages. Assuming gay issues are your first priority, Chuck Pennacchio clearly supports civil unions and appears–though the relevant paragraph understandably kind of hedges–to support gay marriage. He also likes the assault weapons ban, calls the Iraq invasion “reckless and deceptive” in origin, wants all campaigns for federal office to be publicly funded, and (as if you couldn’t guess) thinks we’re not dumping enough tax money into the public school system and Medicare. Alan Sandals has his soundbites in handy chart form. He supports gay marriage and thinks we should begin withdrawing from Iraq. Otherwise, the same: more money for senior citizens, end the K Street Project as one in the eye for Santorum and the GOP.


    Posted by Sean at 01:53, February 18th, 2006

    New word: 非姉歯 (hi-aneha, presumably: “non-Aneha”), to designate buildings with falsified earthquake resistance certifications that were not produced by Hidetsugu Aneha:

    On 18 February, the City of Yokohama held an information session for residents of Tsurumi Ward, revealing of an apartment building in that district, the earthquake resistance of which had been found to be deficient [though] its structural calculations had been contracted to another architect than former first-class architect Hideji Aneha, that its level of earthquake resistance was 64% of the minimum standard mandated by the Building Standards Law. In an earthquake with an intensity of a strong 5 on the JMA scale, there is a risk that its quake-resistance walls could crack.

    The city explained, “This doesn’t bear the marks of willful falsification; there were errors in the structural calculations and inspection procedures.”

    Wow. Well, that makes it all better. There may be more to the story, though.

    According to the city’s statement, the building is the St. Regis Tsurumi (10 floors, 37 units). The building is managed by Huser Corp. (Oota Ward, Tokyo; in bankruptcy proceedings) and built by Kimura Construction (Yashiro City, Kumamoto Prefecture; also in bankruptcy proceedings). The building was designed by Shimokawabe Architecture and Design (Oota Ward, Tokyo), and the structural calculations performed by a design firm in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. Japan- ERI (Minato Ward, Tokyo), a private inspection organization, performed the building certification in 2002.

    With Huser and Kimura involved, it is not, shall we say, the easiest thing in the world to believe that there was no purposeful falsification. We’ll see, though.

    Arrest in Shiga stabbing

    Posted by Sean at 08:45, February 17th, 2006

    The big news today is that there’s been another child murder. This time there’s no question of having watched out more carefully for a suspicious stranger:

    A woman was arrested Friday on suspicion of fatally stabbing two 5-year-old schoolmates of her daughter while driving them to kindergarten, police said.

    Mie Taniguchi, 34, has admitted she stabbed the children, police said, but she has been unable to respond to questioning.

    A passerby called police around 9 a.m. Friday after coming across a boy and a girl lying and bleeding in an area filled with rice paddies.

    Each child had been stabbed about 20 times, police said.

    The woman said Taniguchi was originally from China and apparently had trouble with the Japanese language.

    About a year ago, the woman said, Taniguchi complained that she could not mingle with the mothers of other children at the kindergarten.

    Obviously, there was more going on there than simple trouble with Japanese; foreign women marry Japanese men and adjust to life here–the initial distant reception for both them and their children, the difficulties communicating–without stabbing anyone. You have to feel sorry for the parents of the dead children, of course, but I’m most sad for Taniguchi’s own daughter.

    Thank you for your support

    Posted by Sean at 08:27, February 17th, 2006

    If lack of earthquake safety in your house doesn’t bother you, perhaps I could interest you in this bridge?

    A construction company is being blamed for covering up shoddy construction work on an expressway bridge in Toyama Prefecture to pass a government inspection, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Thursday.

    Matsumoto Construction Co., headquartered in Tonami in the prefecture, constructed smaller-than-normal piles built to support two piers of the expressway bridge while preparing foundations for the four-pier elevated structure at Awara in Himi, also in the prefecture, in 2004.

    In August of the same year, the company found the diameter of some piles was up to 10 percent short of the 120-centimeter standard set by the Construction and Transport Ministry.

    To clear a ministry inspection confirming the construction work conformed to standards, Matsumoto Construction secretly cast concrete into each faulty pile’s head–which remained above the ground and was examined in the official check–to make them appear up to the diameter standard.

    As construction of the four piers has already been completed, the extent to which the piles fall short of minimum standards is impossible to confirm. The ministry’s Hokuriku Regional Development Bureau, which has already excavated holes at the site to conduct sample checks on the piles, said the two piers were not in danger of collapse.

    The bureau, however, has not yet carried out a similar check on a third pier to verify its strength. It plans to look into the matter as soon as possible, officials said.

    Once again, I know this stuff happens everywhere–but it’s exactly the sort of profit-driven hanky-panky on the part of private businesses that we were told for decades didn’t happen in Japan because of the omnipresence of careful civil servants and everyone’s prioritization of group benefits.

    I heard it all before

    Posted by Sean at 03:40, February 17th, 2006

    The new Madonna video is out.


    The Kylie hair is pretty flattering, actually. But it’s Kylie hair. That’s not a slam on Kylie (who didn’t really invent it herself, anyway). We love Kylie. But Madonna is not Kylie. Sure, she’s done revivals and rip-offs before, but she always seemed to be enjoying herself, and they served some kind of expressive point. Remaking the “Fever” video minus the metallic body paint? No point to that that I can see. And kind of grim actually.

    Oh, and speaking of which–one more thing.

    Mads? Listening? Here it is:




    Seriously, it can’t be just whatever your aesthetic-body-maintenance people are doing, unless they’ve gone and wired your mouth shut. Part of it’s age, probably, but most of it is clearly posture and attitude. Your lips no longer look pliant and inviting, so your trademark brazen stare has no tease to it. It just looks scary. I mean, scary-scary, not thrilling-scary.

    Seriously, have you relaxed a single muscle–at all, ever–since the obstetrician dilated you so you could pass that last kid? Girlfriend, you have enough money to finance ten Methuselah-length lifetimes. You’ve been the most famous woman on the planet for the better part of two decades. Rock critics capitulated to you as far back as Like a Prayer. Contemporary music videos, for both better and worse, would be inconceivable without you. You used to be an overachiever because you had a million ideas; now you work hard to make videos for disco songs that show people, you know, dancing around. A real flight of imagination, that.

    Let’s just hope you come up with something better for “Jump,” which is supposed to be the third single, yeah? It’s the best song on the album and doesn’t deserve the see-me-do-Dance-Dance-Revolution-with-a-bunch-of-teenagers treatment.