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    Tell the leaves not to turn / But don’t ever tell me I’ll learn

    Posted by Sean at 23:02, January 20th, 2006

    Happy fifth anniversary to my wonderful boyfriend, who deserves a much better man but, luckily for me, has shown no inclination to look for one. Five years and a month or so ago, I would have said that long-term commitment and stability and stuff were great ideals. You know, for other people. For Atsushi’s part, one of the first questions he asked me when we started tentatively dating was “Don’t you think it’s pretty much impossible to have a lasting relationship with someone whose cultural background is so different from yours?” Glad we were both wrong.

    You reduce me to cosmic tears

    Posted by Sean at 09:22, January 20th, 2006

    John at TP with Page Numbers says something that one wishes wouldn’t have to be repeated quite so often:

    What I came away with from those broadcasts [while studying in the then-Soviet Union] was the view that the American press wasn’t reporting on the European reaction (mostly negative – we should have given sanctions more time). I used to tell people about that “missing” perspective a lot when I got back here. God, what a little snot I was. I like to think I’ve grown a lot since then. I was still in my “Americans are so provincial” phase, which I can partially forgive myself for, since I was the only person, outside of my college friends, in my social circle that spoke a language that wasn’t high school French or Spanish. If you judge me more harshly, I don’t blame you, though. I doubt most Europeans would speak more than one language if another language wasn’t as close to them as the state line is to me. And really, even children with Down’s syndrome can be taught another language. It’s not a sign of intelligence, although it is a sign of diligence, especially if you are in a large monolingual country such as China, Russia, or the US. Most of the pretentious Western Euros I know don’t speak the hard languages (non-Indo European, or even Indo-European ones that require a non-Latin alphabet).

    I think most of us are kind of snotty when we’re in our early twenties, and the “hard languages,” as John flatteringly styles them, tend to attract competitive know-it-all types. (Yes, obviously, I’m including myself–I’m aware of my flaws. Or at least aware of that flaw.) So I’m not inclined to judge him harshly, because he was willing to look and learn as he grew up. It’s people who retain the “Ooh, FRANCE! How learnèd!” mentality well after they’ve been around the block enough times to know better that drive me nuts.

    Of course, not all change is progress:

    And my, how things have changed in 15 years, no? The press is full of the European reaction today. As if American interests should be subject to the judgment of a bunch of snot noses who tear their continent apart every fifty to hundred years or so. My guess is that 15 years ago the old guys with a grain or two of sense, who came of age in the late 40s and early 50s were still around in the newsrooms to keep the Boomers in check, but now the Narcissist Generation is running the show according to the score of ’68. For which a lot of Euros happily produce new refrains.

    I rag on the Boomers myself, but I think it’s useful to note that they developed as their post-War parents, anxious to make everything safe and comfortable and pain-free after the first half of the century, reared them to. Not that all the fatuous navel-gazing was an intended consequence, of course. And plenty of Boomers in the mass audience, if not behind editors’ desks, wish the more pompous European commentators would go take a flying leap and probably ignore most of the yak time CNN provides for them. It’s still annoying that they’re deferred to so much.


    Posted by Sean at 05:20, January 20th, 2006

    I was going to post this immediately after putting this up about my trip to Taiwan. Then I just kind of didn’t and figured it was expendable. Then I read a few things that kept reminding me of the topic and thought–this is one of the bad things blogging does to you–Hey, I’ve still got that post I didn’t put up, and there’s still time to GIVE IT TO THE WORLD! So this is the other thing that struck me, not for the first time, over the weekend.

    I ended up staying at the apartment of the woman who runs the office there–my trip had been arranged pretty hastily, and I guess there are a lot of people trying to get things done in Taipei before the Chinese New Year. My flight was delayed by rain and fog here in Tokyo; when we got in at her building, we had a midnight supper (tortellini and green salad and beer–quick and casual but, for me, like la Tour d’Ar-freakin’-gent after the stuff on the airplane) and talked animatedly for a while before turning in. We had several other meals together in the next few days–we’ve known each other for years and have become friends, and food in Taiwan is yummy–and I went out for lunches and stuff in various pick-up groups with other people from the office. Some of it was shop talk; I was there for shop, after all. But a lot of it was just the kind of stuff you find yourself talking about with other foreigners who live in Asia (and with Asians who’ve spent time living in the West; the groups tend to be mixed).

    And I kept finding myself thinking how much I like the people I’m surrounded by and, despite my need to spend loads of time alone and my spiel about being a loner, how easy it is to talk to them.

    The sheer relief of being able to say that catches up with me at odd moments. Growing up, I never really expected to be in my element. Not that I expected to be a full-on hermit. I was a pretty unpopular kid, but I was never really, seriously, scarily isolated. I always had a few close friends. And they were real, serious friends. I’m only in consistent contact with one of them now, but there’s enough writing back and forth with two or three of the others that if by some chance I do go to our twenty-year reunion, I won’t be in the dark about which marriages and children and career paths go with whom.

    But without really verbalizing it to myself, I essentially figured I’d turn into one of those elderly bachelors who dote on their books and stuff and don’t socialize much and (needless to say) never really have even one serious romance. I genuinely love books, so I wasn’t too bothered. The implied lack of romance also didn’t disturb me, since my best efforts to get worked up over girls came to naught, anyway. And as I say, I always had a very small but genuine set of friends, and you can’t complain about that.

    Like most people who only really grew into their personalities in college and afterward, though, I found it a new experience to be able to talk to people–just people in general–without having that constant low-level hum in my head that I had to stay reined in so I didn’t give myself away somehow. Most of it, yes, was that I’d lost the subconscious fear of inadvertently saying or doing something that might make me look like a fag. (You kind of have to get over that if you’re going to call men “honey” as often as I do.) And yet it was a lot of other little general-personality things, too: Being around people who know what it’s like to want to move far away from where you grew up even though you love your family and the upbringing they gave you–that’s a big one. And having it just assumed in the background, so that you don’t have to keep explaining it all the time.

    This is turning into one of those posts that dissolve into purposelessness. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve written so many querulous this-article-SUCKS posts this week that I seem to be projecting a rather crabby mood and wanted to write about something positive. Atsushi can’t get back for our anniversary tomorrow, but we’ll be celebrating next week. Several friends of mine whose relationships ended last year are finding love…or at least fun distractions. The 300th anniversary of Ben Franklin’s birth was a few days ago. A close college friend is getting married in May. Things are good, even if a lot of people are saying dumb things about Japan.

    Japan in its dotage

    Posted by Sean at 11:44, January 18th, 2006

    Zak, who comments here frequently and has a good (if on-again-off-again) blog here, sent along a link to this article. It’s a response, in part, to a Mark Steyn column from a little while back. It also seems to think it’s offering a reassuring alternative to the standard line about how Japan should provide for its future, which is characterized thus:

    In response to the increasing average national age, money-minded people push for privatization, pension reform, greater per-worker efficiency, less protection, greater ambition. (Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is of this school. Whether he’ll call for immigration reform is another matter; some say Japan’s amazing new caring, sharing domestic robots have a less-publicized function: to forestall the need to bring Filipina maids and nurses into Japan.) In this view, changing demographics mean that life must get harder, more ruthless, more efficient.

    Harder and more ruthless? Well, okay, I guess you could put it that way. I don’t see what the crime is in increasing worker productivity, especially given Japan’s current level of same and the potential for technology to help. And privatizing social welfare programs does mean that people are more responsible for taking care of themselves. Some might find that more liberating rather than harder.

    Not everyone agrees. The soft approach is summed up by Japan’s burgeoning Slow Life trend. Ironically for a movement that seeks to shift the social focus from money to quality of life, Slow Life has its roots in marketing. In 2001 prefectural governments, chasing the “green yen” of eco-tourism, began advertising campaigns using the slogan “Ganabaranai! — Don’t go for it!” Attempting to lure stressed city dwellers to their rural regions (no doubt on high-speed trains sporting the Koizumite slogan “Ambitious Japan!”), the prefectures devised an eight-point Slow Life Manifesto that stressed nonacademic, noncompetitive lifestyles — walking, wearing traditional clothes and eating food made from local ingredients; durable and sustainable building construction; forestry; respect for the old; self-reliance and living in accord with the rhythms of nature.





    I’m not just saying that as a confirmed urbanite. Who knows? Maybe in forty years my idea of happiness will be living out in the sticks in a thatched hut with a firepit for a stove, communing with the crickets and affectionately straightening Atsushi’s obi before sending him off once a week to walk to the co-op for rice. Stranger things have happened.

    Additionally, the Slow Life movement, as described in the article, does make a few good points. Urban Japan is not just kinetic; it’s downright stressful. And Japan, for all its vaunted love of nature, hasn’t been kind to its own countryside in the process of industrializing and becoming rich. And the post-war economy stuffed as many workers as possible into an Organization Man mold that doesn’t fit many of them; understandably, many young people are deciding to trade down on money so they can get more leisure time (or do work they find stimulating). Japan is a mature, affluent economy, and it’s perfectly natural for people to start thinking about quality of life rather than subsistence and the reconstruction of basic infrastructure.

    But the idyll depicted in the article leaves a lot of key points out; and I fail to see how its origin in marketing is in any wise “ironic,” given the way it seems to wed a flashy surface come-on to a lack of substance. For one thing, third-rate countries may have delicious food and breezy, non-competitive lifestyles, but they also often have sucky, innovation-free health care (no small consideration in an aged society). Also, you know that rather large country over there? Yes, CHINA–that’s the one. No one expects it to attack Japan next week, but enmities in this part of the globe are ancient and deep-running, there are developing economies around that are competing for resources…and I’m not at all sure Japan will find itself able to do without a strong, first-rate defense system if it just announces to the rest of East Asia that everyone in the archipelago is going to devote himself to growing leeks and raking sand from here on.

    There are more basic problems, though. Momus (and, to the extent that he’s roped in, Ryuichi Sakamoto) seems to assume that we’re in a position to get complacent and say that Japan has Achieved Enough and we should just be happy with it and even pull back a bit. The article considers no factors that could be driving Japan’s current economy but competitiveness and money-madness–no natural human curiosity…no need for a variety of possible ways of life to be available for individuals to choose from…and no sense of the way people with funky, undemanding occupations still enjoy and depend on things produced by workaholics, or at least by people who are willing to take more structured jobs. Respect for age is a great thing, but many of the protections civilization provides against nature and human depredation come from rambunctious, thrill-seeking, resilient youth.

    Therefore, while whether Japan is doomed if its population decreases as predicted is obviously an open question, fantasies like those mentioned in the Wired article don’t seem likely to pan out:

    Some saw the Slow Life movement as a passing fad, but five years on magazine racks tell a different story. On a recent visit to an Osaka bookstore, I saw a plethora of new magazines using phrases like “slow living,” “self-sufficiency” and “natural life” in their titles, all stressing “lifestyles of health and sustainability.” As I flipped through them, recurrent themes appeared in the photographs: huts in the forest, wooden furniture (with discreet Apple computers), sleep, wabi sabi patina, simplicity, bare light bulbs, baking bread, little-house-on-the-prairie Puritan style [What on Earth is that supposed to be?–SRK], rustic Okinawa, bathing, artisanship, older Asian lifestyles, slow food, organic vegetables and a pervading urban longing for the rural.

    Ah, yes, “self-sufficiency.” It’s worked so well for the DPRK, after all. (Speak of population decreases!) And those Apple computers you can pay for with a truckload of home-grown eggplants and run on…uh, where is the electricity supposed to come from, exactly? We’ll need it for the lightbulbs, too, bare or not; but something tells me these Slow Life people aren’t big on engineering new power plants. And the robots, come to think of it.

    I think it’s wonderful that Japan is rich and that people are making trade-offs that allow them to enjoy life more. It seems to me to be going a bit far to act as if the decline in population were some kind of spiritual opportunity in disguise, though.


    Posted by Sean at 06:13, January 18th, 2006

    I can’t decide whether this discussion is interesting and revealing or just people talking past each other.

    I understand that people can’t control their visceral responses. It’s not as if no uncharitable thought about the Japanese ever flashed through my head. Sometimes what I’m getting crabby about really is a thread in Japanese culture that has meaningfully contributed to some of its past misconduct, in which case I might pursue the line of thought and perhaps post about it. But sometimes I’m just being crabby, in which case I don’t beat myself up for having stray nasty thoughts, but I don’t air them for other people as if they were meaningful, either. Pace this commenter, only half of the comparison he’s making works. “France balked at standing up to an enemy in 1940″ and “France balked at standing up to an enemy in 2003″ is a promising analogy.

    “Japan performed unaesthetized vivisections on captives and brutalized POWs in the 1940s” and “Japan is threatening to pull out of an agreement on whaling that it believes is scientifically unsupported and culturally biased” (my composite or summary of his and others’ objections, BTW, not direct quotation) may also prove fruitful eventually, but it is not the sort of comparison that can be honorably thrown into the middle of a discussion without defense. Hovering in there, there seems to be an implication that Japan’s conduct on the whaling issue is a manifestation of some kind of characteristic, long-standing Japanese untrustworthiness and manipulativeness that bears watching.


    I can see playing the World War II card in a discussion of history textbooks, shrine pilgrimages, immigration policy, or hiring requirements for civil servants. I do so myself–while I agree with the Japanese government that it has paid its debts and made its apologies as demanded by the victors and should not be called upon to keep officially groveling in front of its neighbors, that isn’t the same thing as saying it’s handling its history well. There really are instances when the position taken comes perilously close to sounding like “Well, sure, we raped Nanking and forced the Koreans into labor and tried to eradicate Taiwanese culture–but the A-bomb was dropped on two of our cities, and our capital was firebombed, and our emperor was demoted, so can’t we just call it even?”

    I don’t get the whaling connection, though. Japan believes the existing IWC ban on all commercial whaling is excessive, scientifically unsupported, and against its economic interests. The US used pretty much that rationale in not signing on to the Kyoto Protocols, and we’ve been accused of being cavalier, not being accountable to the “world community,” and blah blah blah, too.

    To my knowledge, Japan isn’t doing anything that violates the IWC ban. It isn’t underreporting catches, nor is it fishing–I’m pretty sure about this, but I haven’t been able to verify it with a quick-and-dirty Googling–in waters that have been declared preserves by the IWC. Perhaps it would be nice if Japan recognized that Australia’s maritime jurisdiction goes beyond twelve nautical miles offshore (or whatever it is; I think that’s what we use in the States) for conservation purposes, but I don’t see what’s duplicitous about its not doing so. Neither does the Australian court system, apparently, BTW.

    Additionally, recall that Norway has been exempted from the moratorium simply because it threw an official snit at its inception. Iceland, I think, is in the same position as Japan, though it’s been less vociferous in its push to have the ban on commercial whaling lifted. In any case, this isn’t just some funny idea of Japan’s, and in trying to engineer a vote in its favor and playing show-me-where-it-says-I-can’t when an agreement isn’t in its best interests, I can’t for the life of me see how it’s doing anything that every other majoy geopolitical player doesn’t do. You may approve or disapprove of such tactics, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that they say anything about the Japanese particularly.

    It’s not for me to judge which peoples an individual should or should not sympathize with, but feeling free to trot out the WWII analogies every time Japan does something to protect its interests over the objections of others, in the guise of reasoned argument, strikes me as unseemly.

    I don’t want to be the sweeper of the egg shells that you walk upon

    Posted by Sean at 00:59, January 18th, 2006

    Most unnecessary book ever:

    In between intense writing sessions for her next studio album, expected in 2007, Alanis Morissette will spend this year working on a memoir.

    To which the only sensible response is “Good grief, woman–is there anything you haven’t told us already?”

    Apparently so. Look and be afraid:

    “It will be all the wisdom I’ve accrued in the thirty-one years of my life [Be VERY afraid.–SRK],” the singer-songwriter says with a laugh. “A lot about relationships, fame, travel, body-image issues, spirit — with a lot of self-deprecating humor peppered throughout, ’cause I just can’t help it.”

    I happen to like Alanis. Jagged Little Pill exploded the summer after graduation, when I was living with a bunch of friends for a last few months in Philadelphia and we were all excited about the future and stuff, so I have great memories of that record. Also, unlike a lot of other confessional-bitch singer/songwriters (Hi, Tori!), Alanis doesn’t mix in all kinds of fey and twee crap to convince you that she really is nice and cuddly after all. And she writes fantastic tunes–I’m a sucker for a good melody.

    An Alanis memoir, though? Kinda thinking I don’t really need it.

    Posted by Sean at 07:32, January 17th, 2006

    We let straight folk believe the Global Homosexual Conspiracy is organized around recruiting new members because…well, they seem to get a spy-novel sort of thrill out of thinking so, and why rob people of a source of excitement? Especially when all they’d have left to console themselves with if disillusioned is Rolling Rock and Lean Cuisine.

    Anyway, the real purpose of the gay network was illustrated last night when I was out with a few people from our Taipei office at the night market. The Chinese New Year is coming up, so I figured that, since Atsushi has taken an interest in feng shui lately–don’t ask me, I don’t know either–I’d get him something lucky and Taiwanese. So we looked. There were dog statuettes whose contribution toward our household prosperity and longevity would, unfortunately, have been offset by the degree to which they would have fuglified our decor. Not a bargain, as far as I’m concerned. There were red and gold scrolls and things, but most of the nice ones were too big to fit in my carry-on.

    We were getting desperate, so one of the girls from the office made an exaggerated leave-it-to-me-darling flourish with one hand and clapped her cell phone to her ear with the other. As we walked, you could hear her addressing whoever was at the other end as “sweetie.” You got snatches of sentences like “No, he wants something AUSPICIOUS…for the Year of the DOG, you know?…yeah, it’s for his BOYFRIEND.” Minutes later, she hung up. She’d been talking to one of her gay friends. She had to cut out right then–family dinner, or something–but we were left with directions to a shop that furnished very cute bibelots and instructions to call his partner if we got lost. (Amazing the way no gay couple in any country I know of is rationed more than one partner who can give reliable directions.) I remain unconvinced they’ll ensure Atsushi’s good luck for the year–I’m not really superstitious, though it’s nice to think you can guarantee that sort of thing by buying the same kind of useless wood/clay/mineral objets you would have lusted after anyway. But I have something suitably cool to present to him as my お土産 from Taiwan, thanks to two of our unseen boys who, on a work night, let themselves get roped into a twenty-minute discussion about helping a stranger shop. Membership has its privileges.


    Posted by Sean at 06:27, January 17th, 2006

    It’s probably bad taste to think this way, but I can’t decide whether Huser president Susumu Kojima was extraordinarily unlucky or extraordinarily lucky today.

    He was delivering testimony before the Diet, though hardly of his own volition:

    In [a further development of the] earthquake resistance falsification scandal, Susumu Kojima, president of Huser Corporation (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo) gave testimony before the diet during a meeting of the lower house Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Committee on 17 January. Of suspicions that he was essentially aware of the falsifications and applied pressure to keep them from being made public, he repeated his refusal to testify: “It may tend to incriminate me.” [Literally, he said that “there is the possibility of investigation and prosecution,” but I assume that’s the equivalent.–SRK]

    Kojima has, it would appear, plenty to clam up about:

    An executive of Tokyo-based developer Huser Ltd. repeatedly directed a contracting design firm to let disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha calculate the structural integrity of condominiums, citing Aneha’s ability to work out “economical designs,” The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.

    The design firm initially planned to use another structural design firm to conduct earthquake-resistance calculations on a condominium in 2002, but the Huser executive protested, saying: “That firm’s designs use excessive materials. Use Aneha because he can do it economically,” sources said.

    The action highlights the close relationship between the developer and the 48-year-old former architect.

    According to the sources, the design firm made a contract with Huser to design a condominium in Tokyo in 2002. It intended to entrust the condominium’s structural calculations to the structural design firm with which it had business ties.

    The Huser executive, however, criticized the structural design firm for designing buildings with excessive materials. He named Aneha, saying, “We should use the architect who knows how to economize.”

    Of course, that “Huser executive” didn’t tell the Yomiuri that Kojima gave his blessing to this maneuver.

    What’s especially unlucky for Kojima is that it’s 17 January. That is, it’s the eleventh anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake–the one in Kobe–and as always, it’s getting a lot of media play. As I write, NHK is running a special called 活断層列島 (katsudansou rettou: “An Archipelago of Active Fault Lines”), complete with spooky, foreboding music like a wind tunnel in hell. It began with several shots of buildings that had not been expected to collapse in an earthquake. Naturally, they were rubble. The Kobe Earthquake is in living memory for everyone above high school age in Japan. This week more than any other in the year, Japan can be depended on to be keenly aware of how fragile buildings that aren’t built properly to withstand earthquakes can be. Watching Kojima on television, as he’s tearing up and proclaiming that he never meant anything bad for his firm’s customers, one is hard pressed to be moved.

    On the other hand, today also brought the news that the death sentence for Tsutomu Miyazaki–surely Japan’s most famous serial killer–had been upheld by the Supreme Court. Considered against Miyazaki’s blood-chilling example of sociopathy, mere insufficient girding of buildings doesn’t seem quite such a horror. If there’s anyone whose face all over the news can make a dirty contractor look unsullied by comparison, he’s it:

    Miyazaki’s lawyers had argued that it was “obvious that (the defendant) is suffering from some kind of chronic mental disorder such as schizophrenia.” They cited his use of psychotropic agents at the Tokyo Detention House and his auditory hallucinations that came into light during the high court sessions.

    According to the lower court rulings, Miyazaki abducted and killed four girls ranging in age from 4 to 7 in Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture from August 1988 to June 1989. He was also held responsible for stripping a 6-year-old girl in Tokyo’s Hachioji.

    The cases were described as “theatrical crimes” because Miyazaki sent a letter and parts of the remains of one of his victims to her family.

    He also claimed responsibility for the crime to the media using a female pseudonym, Yuko Imada.

    He also incinerated one of the victims, and claimed he ate the body parts of one of the girls.

    When Miyazaki was arrested in July 1989, investigators found about 6,000 videotapes in his room, many filled with sadistic and grisly scenes.

    They also discovered many pornographic comic books dealing with young girls and pedophilia.

    When Miyazaki is executed, it will probably be carried out without warning. The practice in Japan is not to give families a few days for final visits, and even in the cases of infamous criminals, the announcement of the execution is only made public on the same day.


    Posted by Sean at 04:16, January 17th, 2006

    If you want a good sense of why many of us Japanophile types need to fetch a cool compress for our foreheads when people start yanking out the Japan references, check this out: Erstwhile “manufacturing member of management” and current dumb-ass Jim Phipps writes to Mark Steyn:

    The comment about Kerry and sending business overseas at the expense of American (and Canadian) workers was badly misunderstood by you. The large corporations and the U.S. Govt. have worked hard moving industry offshore. The result is increased unemployment, more need for social services, fewer opportunities for better jobs, taxation, crime, and similar problems. I am a former manufacturing member of management and have seen this happen in city after city. The only winner is the larger corporation, not the taxpayer or consumer. The rationale is to borrow a lesson from Japan and reject imports for any viable reason possible and retain American and Canadian industry. The Japanese use tariffs, restrictive trade laws, and similar reg’s to protect their workers. MITI controls production and works hard to maintain some equality among the major firms. You are wrong about not understanding or caring about the loss of jobs. We will eventually fail from within without an industrial base. This is supported by history, not by Columnists Mark.

    First, I will give everyone time to recover from the gales of laughter that result from the idea of using Japan as a model for how to fix the problem of enriching “the larger corporation” at the expense of the taxpayer or consumer.

    Next, let’s gently remind Mr. Phipps that MITI (the Ministry of International Trade and Industry) no longer exists, having been superseded half a decade ago by METI (the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry). A small point, perhaps, but not a mistake that anyone who’s consistently been following developments in Japan, even casually, would be likely to make at this late date.

    Additionally, WTF?

    Sorry, I know that’s not very specific, but what’s so amazing about the above passage is that it’s not just wrong in a few places. It’s 100% cold-filtered wrong. The Japanese stock market collapsed fifteen years ago–you’d think people would, you know, remember that. Japanese manufacturing jobs are moving to China and Southeast Asia, and imports from those areas make up a large proportion of the economy. Major Japanese companies downsized, painfully. Our consumer prices in Tokyo are inflated to Goodyear Blimp levels.

    And instead of proportional reduction (designed to assure, through government rigging, that established firms with the favor of the federal ministries didn’t lose market share when they lost sales), what kinds of policies have been discussed lately? Why, privatization of the Postal Service (with its insurance and savings arms) and other financial institutions, liberalization of the National Pension and Social Insurance programs, reductions in the amount of local social welfare spending funded by federal subsidies, and cuts in the number of civil servants. Not all these are happening as fast as one might like, but the only people who don’t seem to agree that they’re necessary are those beneficiaries of the existing system whose careers are in their twilight years and who thus will find it difficult to switch gears.

    So when I read letters like the above, I have to wonder, How is such refulgent ignorance possible, and how does it keep getting a serious, even if critical, hearing?

    (Via Beautiful Atrocities, who was preening about something else but still provided the link)

    Back in Japan

    Posted by Sean at 01:57, January 17th, 2006

    Man, three-hour flights are short. You take off, they give you crap for breakfast, you doze a little, and all of a sudden Kunimoto, Your Chief Cabin Attendant, is all blaring, “ご案内いたします。Seatbelts FASTENED, seats and trays UP, bags STOWED, and don’t even be THINKING about getting up to pee!” I’m hardly complaining, but it was all bewilderingly abrupt.

    I haven’t gotten a chance to really catch up on news–they had yesterday morning’s Nikkei on the plane, but for those who can’t stand missing a single volley in the diplomatic wars around here:

    At noon on 17 January, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi attacked a statement by South Korean Foreign Minister Ki-Mun Ban. Ban had expressed the point of view that the conducting of head-of-state visits [between the two countries] will be thorny as long as the Japanese Prime Minister makes pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine. Koizumi said, “We can meet at any time. Even if there are one or two differences of opinion and standoffs, communication and dialogue are necessary. I cannot understand the policy of refusing meetings because of a difference over a single issue.” He was responding to a question from the press corps at the Prime Minister’s residence.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, addressing a press conference after a cabinet meeting the same day, stated, “Our position as the nation of Japan is that we are always ready to talk.”

    So no change.