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    Japan’s spy satellite development proves existence of black holes

    Posted by Sean at 22:23, March 27th, 2005

    Japan’s spy satellite development program combines technological research, communications infrastructure, and procurement of components from international sources. It is, therefore, the perfect project to fall prey to just about every weakness in Japanese organizational behavior.

    You have a mishmash of government ministries, private corporations, and neither-here-nor-there public corporations in charge, which maximizes the number of people who can put claims on funds without being questioned too closely:

    About 5 billion yen that went into the development and manufacture of Japan’s first spy satellites was siphoned off by middlemen who added little value, sources said.

    The three independent institutions involved in the spy satellite procurement are the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT).

    The chartered corporation is the Japan Resources Observation System Organization (JAROS).

    The former Science and Technology Agency was in charge of the satellite and rocket. The former Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) was given authority over the satellite radar, and the former Posts and Telecommunications Ministry was in charge of data transmissions.

    Get it straight–there will be a quiz later.

    You have an initiative that sprang from ad hoc worries and that no one bothered to fit into an overall plan or mission:

    The Cabinet of then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi approved acquisition of a spy satellite in November 1998.

    The main catalyst for that move was North Korea’s launch in August 1998 of a Taepodong missile over the Japanese archipelago.

    You have the sub-contracting of work in chains that recede into the infinite distance, sometimes crossing in odd places:

    NEDO, for example, commissioned JAROS to do most of its work, such as radar design.

    And you have the involvement of the Mitsubishi conglomerate, which just cannot stop getting itself in trouble lately (and frequently in ways that result in fires and explosions at inopportune moments–just what you want in a satellite):

    The spy satellites were manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Corp.

    Created ostensibly to provide guidance, the process actually led to some money being used to pay the difference in salaries for Mitsubishi Electric employees loaned out to the intermediaries, sources said.

    Further, sources said that those institutions did little of the actual oversight work.

    That Japanese link above, BTW, is to a story about soil pollution in Osaka by Mitsubishi Estate and Mitsubishi Materials for housing development; several executives are being investigated.

    Notice that there’s no mention of the Japan Defense Agency or the SDF anywhere in the article. Presumably, they’re the ones that are actually going to be using the satellites? Did they have a say in things? If not, why not? Then again, given the size of the crowd, maybe it’s just that no one noticed their absence.

    KEPCO resignations over Mihama accident

    Posted by Sean at 19:44, March 27th, 2005

    The president and two other top men at Kansai Electric (KEPCO) will be stepping down over last year’s disaster at the Mihama nuclear plant:

    To take responsibility for Japan’s worst accident at a nuclear power plant, Yosaku Fuji will step down as president of Kansai Electric Power Co. in June, the company said Friday.

    The accident occurred at the Mihama nuclear power plant’s No. 3 reactor last August. Five workers were killed and six injured when steam spewed from a ruptured, corroded pipe.

    Fuji’s resignation was also influenced by repeated requests that came from a government investigative committee asking KEPCO to revise an outline of measures to prevent a recurrence of the accident.

    Investigations revealed that the pipe that ruptured had not been replaced for years, despite clear signs of corrosion.

    By “years” they mean “almost three decades.”


    Posted by Sean at 12:51, March 27th, 2005

    It’s the Charlie’s Angels episode where Kris is kidnapped by a hick family whose mother she picked up for prostitution while she was a SF cop, and the agency hires a psychic to help find her. This is so great I can’t stand it. See, at some point, the psychic says she thinks Kris is headed toward a big light, and Julie, the Fulbright scholar (well, she took over for Shelley Hack, who took over for Kate Jackson, who played the Smart One), thinks it might be “The sun!” Okay…here we are. Better than I remembered! Wind machines, you gotta love ’em. And, of course, this was the recapture-the-ratings gambit that involved taking the whole cast to Hawaii for a bunch of episodes.

    You know how I was all talking about how much I love high-toned ancient stuff? Forget I ever mentioned it. (It’s the Hansel and Gretel allusion part when Kris drops her purse out the back of the truck. And her barrettes are still in place even though she was full-on tackled by the daughter while she was trying to get away. So 70s!) As long as they play reruns of Charlie’s Angels on cable, I will never think of Catullus again. Or Saigyo. I mean, the psychic is played by Jane Wyman in a twin set. Does it get better than this?

    The crazy

    Posted by Sean at 07:23, March 27th, 2005

    Ilyka Damen is one of those people I read all the time but never link. Her latest post deserves link love, though (however unfortunate the surrounding circumstances):

    Can we just for once admit we don’t know everything there is to know, not even a tiny fraction of what we need to know, about the crazy? We’re as bad as people in the Middle Ages were about the plague. Maybe someday the crazy will also turn out to be caused by something as simple as bacteria; I kind of doubt that, but I’m not ruling it out.

    My point is, we’re only a tiny step up from sending for the parish priest to perform an exorcism; we still have largely no idea how to fix this level of crazy, the “pardon me I have to go shoot my grandad now” sort of crazy. We have counselors and psychiatrists and psychologists and evaluation teams and social workers and medications and treatment plans and rehabilitation centers–but even with all that, every so often the crazy wins one. And it’s always tragic when it does, but scapegoating Prozac, bad films, and chat rooms doesn’t get us any closer to fixing the crazy.

    Americans have a real problem with this. Actually, with these, because it’s two issues:

    1. Some problems can be identified but not fixed.
    2. Some problems can be identified but not traced to a comprehensive set of finite sources.

    One of our most endearing traits is the belief that everyone is redeemable and that there’s always a second chance, but, like anything else, it can be taken to an extreme. There are plain wrong-‘uns in the world. It’s a shame that it has to be that way, given all the resources and goodwill we have available to help people, but it’s something we may never be able to solve.

    Why I like old things*

    Posted by Sean at 05:58, March 27th, 2005

    It’s common for first-year students of classical Japanese to use the 方丈記 (Houjouki: “Written from a Modest Hut”) by 鴨長明 (Kamo no Chomei: lit., “duck” + “long” + “bright”) as a text. You memorize its first paragraph, which was frequently quoted after the Kobe earthquake:


    The flow of the running river is uninterrupted, and its waters are constantly changing. The froth that floats up in its pools now vanishes, now gathers into foam, but there is not a single instance of its enduring for long. So, too, are the men of this world and their dwellings.

    Like learning Latin through Caesar or Old English through The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, studying the language of the ancient Japanese is, in many ways, learning it through their suffering. Chomei’s famous introductory paragraph has a tone of philosophical ruefulness, but there are times when he uses very similar wording to achieve a much more piercing and personal effect:


    Existence in this world is wholly a hardship, with one’s body and one’s dwelling fleeting and not to be relied on, as this [my previous discussion of the great fire] indicates. Beyond that, depending on one’s environment and station in life, the things that immiserate the heart can hardly be exhaustively cited and enumerated.

    Chomei had status as a writer and poet in his lifetime, but there was plenty to immiserate his heart: he recounts Heian Period disasters from the aforementioned fire to a great earthquake to the ill-advised movement of the capital.

    Sharing the wealth

    Posted by Sean at 00:43, March 26th, 2005

    Some comments to this recent post by Eric reminded me of something I started writing and then never wound up publishing last year. Virginia Postrel had a fascinating post on megalopolitan development in China and Saõ Paolo. The usual projected scenario (as in Rolling Stone‘s long mid-’90’s showpiece article on Saõ Paolo’s development–it doesn’t seem to be on-line, but if you’re also a former subscriber, you probably remember it) makes huge cities in developing countries out to be Black Holes of Calcutta. That is, the rural poor keep pouring and pouring in, setting off water and energy crises and flooding the job market until the unemployed occupy entire shantytowns. The argument that the sweatshop work available in the cities is the only way people can eke out a living is often given at the same time, with no comment on the contradiction.

    The articles Virginia cited indicate that desperate poverty is, of course, still a horrible problem. They also indicate, though, that (surprise!) people are not gonzo idiots. If work in the big city dries up, they can move to a thriving smaller city. If work in the big city comes with inhumane conditions, they can go back home and make do while they figure out Plan C.

    Eric’s post was about the guilty rich, but the comments I’m referring to are more specifically about our trade with developing countries:

    Money, in and of itself is not an evil thing. However, the way we have designed our free market to create large sums of money off the backs of 3rd world countries is egregious.

    For example, is it moral to buy clothing that was made from a slave labor camp in indonesia? WE don’t allow these camps in the US, because we know it’s immoral, but that doesn’t stop our malls from selling it. I buy this stuff too, I’m guilty.
    We artifically inflate prices of grains coming into the country to help our farmers, but that means 3rd world nations cannot make enough money to continue growing crops, even when that nation is literally starving to death!

    [I’m cutting the rest because the point I want to deal with has been made.–SRK]

    Posted by alchemist

    alchemist (whose comments at Eric’s I always find worth reading, though I rarely agree with her conclusions) got the following response:

    Briefly, the production of goods is farmed out to other Countries because the labor is cheaper. The laborers work in these third world Country factories because they want to – they get paid more than their other options would get them. This provides a net gain in jobs and wealth for that Country. There is no reason to pay these laborers more than the labor market will bear, and reasons not to, and reasons why it simply can’t be done [simple labor competition]. The goods shipped elsewhere become cheaper, holding down prices of competitor products, making currency more potent and actually stimulating greater production. Standards of living increase in the involved Countries. No one is taking profits off the back of the poor. Risk takers and organizers of the whole enterprise need the reward to even try it and keep the businesses in business. Marx was wrong.

    Posted by J. Peden

    I’m a supporter of free markets like J. Peden, but I do think people such as alchemist have a point when they note that reality isn’t a shiny and happy as his (her?) outline above makes it sound. Children have worked to contribute to family welfare since time immemorial, so I’m not against child labor wholesale (an issue alchemist addresses in a later comment). Nevertheless, you don’t have to look far to find ample evidence that children who work in Third World production facilities are often treated worse than First World livestock. While such treatment is carried out by well-connected and ambitious locals, we are, in fact, subsidizing it by buying the products it yields.

    There are other questions to be considered, though. For one thing, while the PRC certainly has a pronounced strain of draconianism, it is notoriously bad at enforcing laws like safety standards at the ground level. Suppose it passed child labor laws–could we reasonably assume, even if it had the best intentions, that it would be able to enforce them? There’s the fact that China has over a billion people, there’s ingrained corruption, and there’s the increased mobility that comes with the beginnings of prosperity. The countries of Southeast Asia may not (except Indonesia) have such huge populations, but they certainly don’t lack for corruption and fly-by-nights.

    Another question is, Does funding sweatshops actually make it possible for them to maintain their exploitative practices without end? There’s evidence that it may not. Rural areas start to become richer (or, given where they started out, less poor) as more wealth comes into the economy, as J. Peden said. And once sweat shops become common, word starts to leak back to rural areas about what really goes on in them. People begin to decide that they might be better off staying on the farm. And factory owners have no choice but to make the work more attractive to employees.

    None of this works perfectly. First World economies have plenty of exploited workers, too, after all. The problem is, in order for our wealth to help the poor elsewhere, it has to get to them. For that to happen, either we give it to them as a gift, or they produce things of value that we want to buy. In the first case, we have to hope against hope that powerful family and cronyist networks don’t siphon it all away as it trickles down to the village level, or waste it on vainglorious public works projects that no one can actually benefit from. Yes, there are wonderful direct-aid organizations with hands-on programs that help real people, but one of the things that seem to prevent them from being taken over by greedy opportunists is precisely that they do slow, un-flashy, long-term work in a small area. That’s a genuine economic contribution, but it takes a long time to show its effects on the grand scale.

    In the second case, we have to trust that the increased choice of newly available work will give them more control over their lives than they have now. While that mechanism doesn’t work perfectly, it offers a short-term alternative to subsistence farming and the long-term possibility of a greater number of opportunities.

    We’re all gonna die! VIII

    Posted by Sean at 22:16, March 25th, 2005

    The World Organization for Animal Health (for which the acronym is OIE–which, in addition to its long Japanese name of 国際獣疫事務局, makes it look as if there should be an Epidemiology in there somewhere) is proposing relaxed BSE policies:

    The international organization OIE, which establishes safety criteria for livestock, has established a new set of standards that would broadly relax safety criteria related to BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)* and is presenting them to its member nations, including Japan.

    Japan has mandatory inspection of every head of cattle, but other countries have been able to set their own standards.

    However, the judgment of the WTO (World Trade Organization), which deals with trade issues that arise between countries, is that the OIE rules are the standard. When the OIE adopts new standards, if exporters such as the US appeal to the WTO with claims that Japan has placed limitations on beef imports based on its own excessive safety criteria, Japan could be backed into a corner.

    Why, yes, it could, especially since even a cursory look at the information available on CJD (with its prefix-indicated variants, the human form of BSE, scientists think), reveals that most of it consists of “We don’t really know…” and “While far fewer than the predicted 900,000 people have been infected, it’s still theoretically possible that….” Of course, Japan’s propensity for protectionism is the stuff of legend by this point, and though citizens may cry for their 牛丼 (gyu-don: lit., “beef bowl”), it seems inclined to keep dragging its feet in lifting the beef ban.


    * Interesting side note: the Japanese for BSE is, like many scientific terms, a direct translation: 牛海綿状脳症 (gyuukaimenjounoushou: “cow + sponge [as in, a member of the animal phylum Porifera, though the kanji sequence is literally “sea + cotton”] + form + brain + disease). They also, like us, informally call it 狂牛病 (kyougyuubyou: “mad + cow + disease”).


    GayPatriot says goodbye

    Posted by Sean at 21:27, March 25th, 2005

    Whoa. Through Gay Orbit, I see GayPatriot is cutting himself off from the blog he started:

    For personal and professional reasons that I am unable to fully discuss, I have to stop blogging as GayPatriot effective immediately.

    I agreed with GP’s conclusions about 99% of the time, but I thought his reasoning was frequently sloppy and cagily selective; the few times I linked him, it was mostly to take issue with his line of thought. At the same time, he really poured himself into the worthwhile task of making conservative and/or Bush-supporting gays visible in the blogosphere, and it worked. He can be proud of that. Like his other readers, I wish him the best and hope this move wasn’t the result of some kind of threat. (BTW, GP West will apparently keep running the blog.)

    Old flames

    Posted by Sean at 23:59, March 24th, 2005

    This is probably on-line at the embassy website, but I don’t feel like looking it up. Anyway, this is for your own good, so BE WARNED!

    Lighters Prohibited At Airport And On Planes
    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that all lighters will be prohibited from sterile areas of airports and onboard aircraft beginning April 14, 2005. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires that “butane” lighters be added to TSA’s Prohibited Items List.

    After carefully evaluating the security threat, Congressional intent and operational considerations, TSA determined that passengers should be prohibited from carrying all lighters on their person or in carry-on luggage in the sterile areas of airports or onboard an airplane. The policy will be fully enforced beginning April 14, 2005. All lighters will be banned from sterile areas beyond security checkpoints at airports. This includes, for example, butane, absorbed-fuel (Zippo-type), electric/battery-powered and novelty lighters. [That’s for you Epsilon-minus semi-morons who can’t figure out that “all lighters” includes all lighters.–SRK]

    The Department of Transportation classifies lighters as hazardous materials and prohibits them from being stowed in checked baggage. TSA will dispose of lighters brought to checkpoints. Passengers at some airports may be able to ship them via a private company for a fee, but TSA strongly urges passengers to thoroughly inspect their carry-on and checked baggage for these items before going to the airport.

    See http://www.tsa.gov for additional information.

    Thanks. I feel much safer. Especially since some of our security checkers can’t seem to detect anything smaller than a turret gun without help, particularly if it’s in a “cluttered” bag. Man, sometimes I seriously think we’re doomed.

    I never did believe in the ways of magic

    Posted by Sean at 21:28, March 24th, 2005

    I adore Kim Carnes’s version of “More Love” to pieces. Same goes for Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun,” though I think more people would feel the same there, if only because “Bette Davis Eyes” is the only Kim Carnes song most people remember.

    Atsushi and I listened to both while we were driving around Kyushu this weekend. I’m not much of a photographer, as you will now see; but we did get to see some satisfyingly primal sites.

    Kyushu is mountainous, and where we were, farmers were burning off the fields:


    Note the inescapable power lines in the upper-right.

    Especially while we were driving through the valley, the fires on the slopes were really breathtaking. You could see them on all sides, though, of course, it’s not as if the whole mountain were on fire. Speaking of which, we also went to the top of 阿蘇山 (Aso-san, “Mt. Aso”), an active volcano with a huge crater and steam vent:


    I love Tokyo, but, as you may imagine, going into the countryside sometimes is a nice relief and counterbalance. The cherry blossoms will be blooming pretty soon, so at least those streets with cherry trees on them will look less stark for a few days.