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    Gyoza may have been poisoned in China after all

    Posted by Sean at 19:00, August 7th, 2008

    Interesting news in the case of the tainted gyoza:

    An unknown number of Chinese suffered serious pesticide poisoning in mid-June after eating frozen gyoza dumplings made by a Chinese firm that recalled the products after identical cases were reported in Japan earlier this year, according to sources.

    Chinese authorities have determined that methamidophos in the gyoza, produced by Tianyang Food, based in Hebei Province, was the source of the poisonings, which matched those in Japan.

    With the likelihood the gyoza were contaminated in China having increased, Chinese investigators are expected to step up efforts once more to determine whether the poisonings were deliberate or accidental. According to the sources, it is unknown how many people were poisoned in China, their exact symptoms, or why products that had already been recalled were marketed again. They said the distribution route of the gyoza also was unclear.

    It had been starting to look as if the gyoza in Japan may have been tampered with, most likely to make Chinese food processors look bad. The poisonings are not, of course, being reported widely in China.

    I’m about to lose control / And I think I like it

    Posted by Sean at 15:48, August 5th, 2008

    Connie writes about something that gets on my nerves something fierce:

    You see, I don’t want a leader in a president. I don’t want someone to shore up my resolve or reduce my fears and anxiety. I don’t want someone to remind me that patriotism (not nationalism) is a good thing, regardless of what country you’re proud to be part of. I know that Capitalism is better than Communism or Socialism. I know that more freedom is better than no freedom. A president is not a civics teacher.

    I don’t want a great communicator. I want an efficient, quiet, and capable representative who leaves me (and everyone else) alone to be captains of our own industry and champions of our own causes, and responsible for our own resolve shoring up. I don’t believe that government should intrude in the psycho-babble of message-sending that we’re all good and capable, or engage in a never-ending marketing campaign of which program is better than that program. I know that and what really scares me, frightens me, and gives me nothing but anxiety is when people want a person to act as a kind of spiritual leader and mentor…in our government.

    That’s OUR job!

    I’m slightly less nettled than Connie is, I think, at the president’s explaining his reasoning behind a given policy in order to help get the people to back it. He may be basing his decisions on previously unreleased intelligence reports, or he may be pursuing a policy I support but would have justified differently. But she’s right that things get way out of hand when the president makes like one of the guest experts on Oprah–twinkling with telegenic goodwill, explaining things in very easy words and memorable little turns of phrase, and using plenty of pauses so we can keep up–all to ensure we’ll be comfy with what he thinks is best for the nationwide family.

    Connie is writing about Reagan, and I think the point is fair to apply to him. I have to say, though, that I’m not sure he himself wanted to stoke people’s idolatrous fervor. Obama, who’s the obvious politician to view through this lens in our current context, does strike me as getting off on being idolized; but even if he didn’t, it would behove his more intemperate fans to get a grip on themselves.

    Politics is a business that involves deal-making, prioritizing, and compromise on principles that affect millions of people. It’s possible to distinguish more principled from less principled politicians, of course; but lionizing someone who will have to start getting his hands dirty the moment he actually assumes the job you want to elect him to is a set-up for guaranteed heartache. If you feel spiritually empty, go to church–or if you’d then be embarrassed to tell your Sunday brunch companions where you’d spent your morning, become a Buddhist. Or delve into ancient literature. Or move to a farm and busy yourself as a faux-earthy faux-peasant extolling the faux-simple life. Or satisfy your impulse toward worship by falling promiscuously in love with movie or rock stars. Do anything except project your spiritual yearnings onto politicians, who are exactly the wrong people to give performance assessments based on vague, emotion-based criteria.

    Added on 6 August: How could I have missed an excuse to post the video?

    See? These are the things you’re supposed to swoon over: bubble baths, satin against the skin, and champagne. Politicians, not so much.


    Posted by Sean at 15:07, August 5th, 2008

    It’s already 6 August in Japan; that makes it the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. One Japanese man thinks the Germans are insufficiently aware of how awful the U.S. was to Japan at the end of the war. No, really:

    Before the anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, Japanese former president of a company, now residing in Hamburg, Shigemi Kawakatsu (79) completed the manuscript of a book that includes the German translation of his friends’ accounts of their experience of the bombing and a compilation of the bombing victims’ drawings. The book is called The Hell of Atomic Bombing: Sketches of Hell by Those Who Are Living Proof of the Hiroshima A-Bombing; Tracing the Fates of the Bombing Victims (A4; 200 pp).

    “I want to sear the hell of the atomic bombings into the reader’s vision,” [Kawakatsu said, explaining why] he incorporated approximately two hundred drawings of the bombing made by citizens and preserved in the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima. The poet Sankichi Tooge’s piece about the bombing is also included. Kawakatsu said, “The sensitivities of the Germans are similar to those of the Japanese. They are sure to understand the cruelty of the bombing.”

    Kawakatsu was motivated by a close friend, a bombing survivor who didn’t write about his experiences until a few years ago:

    Kawakatsu put himself into [his friend] Okada’s place, translating how the black ran fell on him as he fled from the violent fires, how he saw people drifting around like ghosts crying out, “Water…water,” and how he collapsed from exhaustion and slept among charred corpses.

    The accounts of the atomic bombings are, indeed, horrific; but I fail to be convinced that the lesson to be drawn from them is that the Germans and Japanese should feel a heightened sense of kinship over their shared suffering. In this context, a sentence like “The sensitivities of the Germans are similar to those of the Japanese” strikes me as chilling rather than touching. No one expects Japan (or Germany) to spend the rest of civilized eternity groveling for forgiveness because of the war; but it does seem reasonable to expect it not to strike a flat, uncomplicated victim pose. Kawakatsu is not some kind of official spokesperson for Japan–I realize that–but his attitude is, in many ways, representative. How often do you hear Japanese people who undertake war-related documentary projects of this magnitude publicly expressing the hope that Unit 731 or the Nanking Massacre will never be repeated?

    Added on 11 August: Rick Moran of Right Wing Nuthouse posted yesterday at Pajamas Media:

    The stories of survivors are harrowing — flames everywhere, people walking by whose flesh had been ripped off their bodies by heat and the blast, the inability to find loved ones. All the ghastliness of Dante’s Hell and a Gothic horror novel rolled into one. We pity them and ache for what they went through that horrible day.

    But once –just once– I would like to hear the horror stories of the men and women of Pearl Harbor as counterpoint to the suffering of the Japanese and a reminder of who started the war and how they did it. I want to hear from those who can tell equally horrific tales of death and destruction. How Japanese aircraft strafed our men with machine gun fire while they were swimming for their lives through flaming oil spills, the result of a surprise attack against a nation with whom they were at peace. Or how the hundreds of men trapped in the USS Arizona slowly suffocated over 10 days as divers frantically tried to cut through the superstructure and rescue their comrades.

    Perhaps we might even ask surviving POWs to bear witness to their ordeal in Japanese prison camps — surely as brutal, inhuman, and gruesome an atrocity as has ever been inflicted on enemy soldiers.

    While we’re at it, I am sure there are thousands of witnesses who would want to testify about how the Japanese army raped its way across Asia. This little discussed aspect of the war is a non-event for the most part in Japanese histories. But the millions of women who suffered unspeakable mistreatment by the Japanese army deserve a hearing whenever the tragedy of Hiroshima is remembered.

    Yes, no more Hiroshimas. But to take the atomic bombing of Japan totally out of context and use it to highlight one nation or one city’s suffering is morally offensive. The war with Japan, with its racial overtones on both sides as well as the undeniable cruelty and barbarity by the Japanese military, should have been ended the second it was possible to do so. Anything less makes the moral arguments surrounding the use of the atomic bomb an exercise in sophistry.

    I already linked Moran’s piece on another post, but because a lot of the people who land here come through searches about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or the Tokyo firebombings, I think it’s important to have it available here, too.

    In which our protagonist explains why he will not be convinced to support Obama

    Posted by Sean at 15:17, August 2nd, 2008

    My friend Maria asked me a few weeks ago–all right, maybe it’s a few months ago by this point–to explain why I was against electing Obama president. Since she just posted a comment to a post I made the other day and raised several points I think need to be considered, I’ll respond here. Maria wrote the following:

    As an Obama supporter, I don’t take it as a “given” that Obama can change Washington. I like his tagline. I like it because it’s true, and those of us who have had enough of Cheney and Bush with their arrogant blatant disregard for the rule of law–trampling on the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions–do need to be reminded of the power we have every four years. Four years ago when Bush was “re”-elected, if I would have had the nest egg necessary, I would have been “outta here.” (Canada, Costa Rica…) I had serious doubts about our country lasting another four years. I thought I would get out before the flames of Rome engulfed me… And, now we have the chance to take our back our country, reinstate the Constitution, restore our reputation, etc., etc. I know you don’t share my thoughts, Sean. I’m just sharing a little bit of why it’s good that Obama is calling us to a larger service rather than just saying he is the answer to everything. He is just one man. But, look out, Sean, there’s a whole lot more of us… 😉

    A lot more of whom? This is what I don’t get. I don’t really mean to single out Maria–since what she’s saying is no different from what I’ve been hearing in New York since returning home–but what political principles are we using to justify the idea that Obama would make a good president? If people like his policies, fine. Expecting “change,” though? This is a man who decided to decamp from law school to a city that has possibly the most famously corrupt political machine in America; he’s clearly flourished there. And we believe he’s going to change things in Washington?

    The Obama supporters I encounter are full of enthusiasm for the ends he’ll supposedly accomplish. They’re a bit less clear on how he’ll do it–and no wonder.

    The “restore our reputation” line really tends to set me off, so I’ll tackle it first. Most people dithering about our rep “abroad” are really worried about Western Europe. Yeah, occasionally, the head of state of Brazil or Malaysia will get off a zinger about Bush or “consumerism” and be quoted a lot for a few days; but the countries people consistently express anxiety about by name tend to be the U.K., Germany, France, and sometimes the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden. (Everyone else in the “global community” usually gets dumped into some broader category such as “the Arab street” or “Latin America.”)

    The states of Western Europe are our allies and trading partners, and it’s reasonable for them to ask us to consider their interests when we’re hammering out our geopolitical strategies. Fine. But sitting still while European officials sermonize at us about harmony among peoples? Give me a break. The idea that we should be humoring them, much less yielding to them, is preposterous. Europeans have been waging war on one another for centuries; World Wars I and II were egregious in their scope and bloodiness, but they were hardly out of character. During World War II, most of Western Europe that wasn’t run by the Nazis themselves was run by fascist buddies of the Nazis, Vichy collaborators with the Nazis, or enthusiastic fillers of orders for the Nazis. After being liberated by the Allies, then being put under our defense umbrella when the Soviet Union started getting expansionist, Western Europe soothed its stinging humiliation by repackaging itself as a champion, jointly and singly, of non-violent conflict resolution.

    So how’s that working out? Not too badly, in many ways. The European Union makes us Yanks snigger with its bureaucratic antics, but it has, in fact, helped to cement the sorts of economic ties that make aggression less likely. Modern nations such as Germany and even Belgium seem unlikely to splinter, depsite comprising multiple states with individual histories and cultural identities. Fine. But European societies are having much less integrating the Turks, North Africans, and South Asians who’ve poured in over the last few decades. Violence against Jews has increased.

    American internal and external race relations are not perfect, certainly, but that doesn’t mean we have anything helpful to learn from Europe about how to improve them. About engineering, art and architecture, and making good coffee, yes, but not about ethic harmony. And if that weren’t enough of a reason not to suck up to Europe, there’s also the fact that it won’t work. Anti-Americanism did not start with the Bush administration, regardless of what those with selective amnesia may maintain, and the election of Obama would put paid to only its most superficial manifestations.

    The rest gets me exercised less than it makes me shrug. I’m aware that a lot of people think the Bush administration is populated by nasty, nasty, NASTY people–but we’ve had a Democratic majority in both houses of congress since last midterm election, so talk about the need to “take back our country” seems just a bit excessive. The need to “reinstate the Constitution” sounds rousing, but it means different things to, say, anti-war leftists thinking about the Patriot Act and strict-constructionist conservatives thinking about the U.S. Supreme Court. Besides which, all this is assuming that Obama never has to make hard choices after another terrorist attack or other major crisis. Obama is very like Clinton: he’s good at winning people over with his feel-good domestic policy bromides, but many suspect he’s not man enough to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and he knows it. The Clinton administration overcompensated time and again. Would Obama? It’s impossible to predict. But he has no military or foreign policy background, and while he’s adjusting shrewdly as he goes, I’m not sure I want to see what happens when he gives it the old college try during an emergency while simultaneously laboring to prove he can get tough.

    Lost in translation

    Posted by Sean at 16:55, July 27th, 2008

    Rondi Adamson says what I was thinking about the Obama trip, just in case it wasn’t already clear:

    I’m not so sure Obama supporters ought to get so ga-ga over the fact that he attracted such a huge, chanting crowd in Berlin. Germans have a history of turning out in zombatroid droves for really creepy people. Their taste isn’t always admirable.

    There’s also the fact that Obama talked about the airlift and the fall of the Berlin Wall without really acknowledging how we’d gotten to those points. Had the Third Reich not been crushed militarily, there would have been no divided Berlin to scuffle over. Had Reagan not ramped up the arms race, the Soviet bloc would still have fallen, it’s generally agreed, but not nearly as quickly as it did. Obama’s not wrong that “partnership” is important, but his speech (especially the soundbites) gives no indication that he has a clear sense of when it’s better to extend olive branches or to brandish spears.


    Posted by Sean at 12:09, July 27th, 2008

    Japan is taking another step to change its xenophobic image:

    Japan plans to accept more refugees in response to growing criticism that the nation gives money to help refugees but shuts its doors when they seek shelter, sources said.

    Japan joined the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1981.

    However, the number of people granted official refugee status here pales in comparison with other industrialized nations.

    For example, Japan gave official refugee status to 41 people in 2007. In the same year, 14 nations, including the United States and European countries, accepted about 75,000 refugees from Myanmar, Iraq and other areas.

    Lest any Japanese readers worry that the place will be flooded with foreigners, note that the plan is rather modest: “Japan will become the first Asian nation to introduce the program, and will accept about 30 refugees, possibly people from Myanmar (Burma) who are now in Thailand, in fiscal 2010 at the earliest, the sources said.”

    Now’s the time for all good men to get together with one another

    Posted by Sean at 12:39, July 23rd, 2008

    OMFG, this is great. You’ve probably seen it at Next Right via Instapundit already, but still:


    At first, I thought people might be making a big deal out of very little–that Obama’s speaking abroad doesn’t necessarily mean he’s taking his campaign there, after all. But the speech is clearly being publicized and driven by Obama’s campaign.

    Isn’t that nice? I suggest he use the following tagline on his return home: “Barack Obama: Adored by Crowds of Germans!” That’ll really resonate with the American people.

    Speaking of taglines, the campaign website has a beaut in its banner: “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington…I’m asking you to believe in yours.” Because of course it’s a given that Obama can change Washington. You little voters out there, however, empowered by nothing but the United States Constitution and stuff–you obviously won’t think you can have any effect without being encouraged. But you can! We can! Yes, we can!

    Yes We Can Can.

    Sheesh. I’m no fan of McCain, but at least he and his supporters appear to know what he’s running for and who his constituency is supposed to be.

    Added after a nice glass of seltzer and lime: If the Pointer Sisters reference above suggests another of their early songs with political relevance this week, all I can say is that you’re very wicked and I want nothing to do with you.


    Posted by Sean at 11:49, July 23rd, 2008

    A magnitude 6.8 (JMA scale strong 6) hit Iwate Prefecture twenty minutes or so ago. No reports of damage yet, but that’s a major quake.


    Posted by Sean at 18:59, July 22nd, 2008

    The Nikkei says

    In a survey of convenience stores in 2007 by Nikkei, Inc., the clear sense is that the convenience market has become saturated. Growth in the number of outlets has stalled, reaching 44542 (a 0.4% increase over the previous year), the lowest rate of increase since the survey was first conducted in 1978. And with the percent increase in total revenues also 1.3%, current growth models–increasing profits while opening outlet after outlet–are reaching a point of transition.

    One of the hardest things to get used to being back in the City is the lack of convenience stores, which are more omni-present in Tokyo than Duane Reade and Starbucks here. You can’t go twenty feet in Tokyo without hitting a 7-Eleven, Family Mart, am-pm, Lawson’s, Sunkus, Mini Stop. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a huge chain or two. Convenience store chains in Japan have been competing fiercely for ages now, getting famous chefs to put their names on prepared ramen and touting the freshness of their sushi and rice products. (7-Eleven’s distribution system has been much admired.)

    They’re probably the most common landmark used to give directions in Japan at this point, and when you move into a new neighborhood, you learn within a week which outlets in your neighborhood are clean and bright and which are the dumps. When you come back to New York, actually having to keep your eye out for something that looks like a bodega when you’re out of milk and can’t wait for the Fresh Direct order is really disorienting (for me, at least).

    Anyway, it wouldn’t be surprising if the market were actually close to saturation.

    HIV specialists detained in Iran

    Posted by Sean at 18:00, July 22nd, 2008

    A friend in Albany just sent me a link to this story:

    A University at Albany public health student internationally known for his AIDS work has been arrested by Iranian security forces, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

    The New York-based group urged Iranian authorities to release or charge Kamiar Alaei and his brother, Arash. The two physicians were detained in late June, the group said. Their whereabouts are unknown.

    Alaei was excited to see his family when [colleague Ladan] Alomar last spoke with him in June before he left for Iran. She expected him back in August, and planned to pick him up at the train station.

    Iranian authorities detained Arash Alaei overnight at an unknown location before accompanying him to his home the following morning, according to Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights group based in the U.S.

    There, they arrested Kamiar Alaei and seized documents belonging to the brothers. Authorities have refused to give them access to a lawyer or say where and why they’re being held, according to Human Rights Watch.

    Here‘s the Human Rights Watch statement. There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of information at the moment about why the two men might have been arrested. (I looked around, figuring that even if the government weren’t being forthcoming, someone might have an idea.) The Alaei brothers have been involved in shaping government-sanctioned organizations, so they don’t seem to have established themselves as enemies of the state. At the same time, some of their work has been with prisoners, and treating people with drug-related diseases and STDs presumably puts them into contact with plenty of other people who aren’t in well with the government. Who knows what information the authorities may think they can pick up from their records? Alaei’s description of his program in Iran is here.