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    Posted by Sean at 02:31, March 14th, 2005

    Usually, talk of piracy in Southeast Asia refers to DVDs nowadays. But a Japanese tugboat has encountered the real deal, being attacked in the Strait of Malacca–very important shipping lane, which sees a lot more than tugboats–with three hostages taken. Two are Japanese; one is Filipino. It looks as if it just happened a few hours ago, so there’s little news. The rest of the crew are fine, and the Malaysian police are looking for them and their abductors. Very odd. Hope they’re recovered safe.

    Added on 17 March: The English Asahi has a follow-up story:

    The tugboat was on its way to Myanmar (Burma) from Singapore while towing a barge, Kuroshio 1, which carried 154 Japanese and Malaysian workers.

    In most cases of abductions committed by pirates, captains and chief engineers are taken simultaneously, and key documents stolen. Several days after an attack, the pirates demand ransom from the vessels’ owners after finding the right phone number written in the documents.

    The amount of ransom is usually several million yen so that the ship owners can easily pay, according to marine transportation industry sources. Once the ransom is paid, the hostages are released in one or two weeks at the earliest, they added.

    The Malacca Strait is notorious for pirate activity. But after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami off Sumatra in late December, there were no reports of piracy incidents for about two months. Some pirates apparently died in the disaster or lost their weapons.

    All of that makes sense. I mean, not as an honest way to make a living but as the way crime would work in the Strait of Malacca. I still think–sorry, guys–that this story is weird. You just don’t hear about things like this in Japan, unless I’m missing all the stories. And it’s not as if I were particularly hawk-eyed, but I do read multiple Japanese news sources per day, often watch the news on NHK or another network, and (most importantly) subscribe to the dead-tree Nikkei. Piracy in a major shipping lane is the sort of thing that affects commerce. If Japanese ships were being raided consistently, I’d expect the Nikkei, of all news outlets, to be all over it. You do hear about lots of encounters in the Sea of Japan (that’s the East Sea if you’re Korean), in the East and South China Seas–you know, suspicious boats passing without identifying themselves, or turning out to be North Korean patrols, things like that.

    In any case, no word today that I’ve seen that there’s any update on the case itself. Japan is, however, offering to help patrol the Strait of Malacca. There’s good reason:

    The decision, which came Tuesday, represents the first time the government will offer vessels to a developing country free of charge to deter pirates.

    The Malacca Strait has long been plagued by piracy. About 90 percent of Japan’s oil supply from the Middle East passes through this sea artery.


    Posted by Sean at 15:15, March 13th, 2005

    South Korea is considering–it’s not clear how seriously–recalling its ambassador to Japan. The points of contention include a disputed island (called Takeshima in Japanese, called Tokto in Korean). Shimane Prefecture claims it and is poised to celebrate “[We Own] Takeshima [So Leave It the Hell Alone] Day.” Korea takes this as a diplomatic affront. The other major issue is that perennial favorite, Japan’s history textbooks, which the ROK understandably believes demonstrate that Japan has not fully owned its actions of the early 20th century.

    Added on 15 March: China sees Korea’s bitterly-disputed island and will raise it one renegade-province-type island:

    [PRC Premier Jiabao] Wen proposed that three conditions be met in order to resume the top leaders’ visits. The conditions involve looking at the future while reflecting upon past history, supporting a “one-China” policy apparently aimed at reuniting Taiwan, and stepped up cooperation between Beijing and Tokyo.

    Wen also insisted that the issue of Taiwan was China’s issue, asking both the United States and Japan to stay out of the matter. The premier explained that he was concerned about references to Taiwan by U.S. and Japanese officials in a recent meeting.

    China’s National People’s Congress on Monday enacted a law designed to block Taiwan’s declaration of independence. [More at Reuters on that–SRK]

    “Looking at the future while reflecting on past history” refers to visits by federal politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine. At least, that’s what’s mentioned in the Mainichi article. China is no more fond of Japan’s history textbooks than Korea is, however, and I imagine that figures in, too.


    Posted by Sean at 14:30, March 13th, 2005

    Jonathan Rauch’s new National Journal column discusses a recent outcome in a Boston sexual-abuse-by-a-priest case:

    Last month, Paul Shanley was sentenced

    to 12 to 15 years in prison for child rape. Because Shanley was 74, this was effectively a life sentence. His accuser–not [Gregory] Ford [the one originally mentioned] but Paul Busa, a 27-year-old Boston-area firefighter who recounted a similar story — said in a victim-impact statement, “However he dies, I hope it’s slow and painful.” The city of Boston, outraged by priestly pedophilia scandals and clerical cover-ups, agreed.

    The jury was convinced that Busa was telling the truth. So is Busa himself, to judge from what’s presented here. The problem that his testimony is based entirely on “recovered” memory:

    The theory underlying this claim is that of traumatic amnesia. The notion is that some experiences are so horrible that the mind pushes them down into the subconscious, where they can fester and cause all sorts of physical and emotional distress. Eventually, often under the guidance of a therapist or on being cued by some stimulus, the amnesiac brings the memories into awareness.

    This theory has a checkered legal past. Recovered-memory cases alleging sexual abuse, sometimes by satanic cults, surged into the

    hundreds in the early 1990s. Many alleged victims were steered by insistent therapists, and in many cases the recovered memory itself was the only evidence of abuse. (One plaintiff said her evidence of having been sexually abused from age 2 to 11 was based on “just what’s wrong with me today … [and] I’m still afraid of spiders.”)

    I shouldn’t have to make this disclaimer, but I will anyway: I’m not making light of actual traumatic abuse. It’s possible that some of these people did have vague memories of real violation, and that their therapists were able to prod them in the right direction to remember more and come to terms with it. That doesn’t appear to be the general pattern, though. For all the reasons Rauch gives, backed up by trained researchers but mostly familiar from everyday experience, it is difficult to accept that an incident can seem to disappear entirely from the memory and then be miraculously restored in perfect detail–at least in any consistent and reliable way you could use in court.

    Rauch’s last example above is clearly an extreme one. It does seem suspicious in a general way, though, that all these memories happened to start being restored in a cultural environment in which people were looking for someone to blame for all of life’s downers (abetted by all those therapists, naturally). Rauch also cites an article from Legal Affairs that indicates that the complainants in this case (the testimony of only one ended up being used) had their share of downers. Shanley is obviously no innocent, but he was being tried on particular charges, not his entire record of moral misjudgments as a priest.

    It’s understandable that Gregory Ford and his family wouldn’t be able to understand why he turned out to be a wrong ‘un and would look for a single, concrete, external explanation. Sadly, that doesn’t mean there is one.

    SDF to catch up to SKY Perfect TV

    Posted by Sean at 14:07, March 13th, 2005

    Japan has absorbed the term 不安定の弧, or arc of instability, to refer to the line that runs from North Korea down through to North Africa by way of Southeast Asia. The SDF plans to use imaging satellites to cover it:

    The system is expected to draw controversy over increased fears of unified military deployment with the USAF, since sharing capability at the highest command levels will jump significantly.

    That’s a gentle way of saying that Japan’s military use of satellites is still pretty primitive. There are dedicated military transmission channels, but they’re sonic, low-speed, and low-capacity. The new satellite system will be of the same commercial type used by television; SDF personnel deployed abroad will be able to transmit images back in real time.

    The “fear” mentioned above, of course, is not just that Japan is casting its lot with favorite-target America, but also that the two defense agencies will get so chummy that they go overboard on the information-sharing. The LDP’s major partner in its ruling coalition, the New Komeito, is generally dovish and has called for caution. Article 9 of the constitution still hasn’t been revised, after all, so the degree to which Japan can legally contribute to “collective self-defense” with its allies remains debatable.

    Gays in utero

    Posted by Sean at 18:07, March 11th, 2005

    I understand what the issue here is supposed to be, but I don’t see the bind (which, pace Right Side of the Rainbow, would mostly be ethical and not exactly intellectual). The story was out a few weeks ago:

    Rep. Brian Duprey (R-Hampden) has submitted a bill to the State Legislature to shield potentially homosexual fetuses from discrimination. LD 908, “An Act to Protect Homosexuals from Discrimination,” attempts to protect homosexuals from death because they might carry the gene that could lead to homosexuality.

    This bill as drafted would make it a crime to abort an unborn child if that child is determined to be carrying the “homosexual gene.” Duprey said that no such genetic marker has yet been discovered. But considering rapid advancements in genetic mapping research, he wants legislation in place should such a breakthrough occur. “If the homosexual gene is ever determined to exist,” he said, “I want to ensure that a woman could not abort an unborn child simply because that child is determined to be carrying this gene.”

    Duprey received the idea for this bill when listening to the Rush Limbaugh radio show. “I heard Rush saying that the day the ‘gay gene’ is determined to be real, that overnight gays would become pro-life,” Duprey said.

    Not this gay, buddy. If anyone finds a way to argue that it’s okay for a woman to have an abortion because the child would interfere with her law-school plans but not okay because the child’s going to be gay, I hope he’s considerate enough to do it out of my earshot.

    I suspect that if I went around talking to women who’ve had abortions, I would find a lot of their reasons frivolous. But I don’t, because it’s none of my business. I can’t see abortion in the first trimester as murder, but I also can’t imagine how anyone could have one without a serious crisis of conscience. It’s not like going to the dermatologist to get a mole removed. If a woman decides to go through with it, for whatever reason, she has to deal with the consequences. That’s what pro-choice means. You can approve or disapprove of a woman’s choice, but she gets to make it.

    I don’t think the scenario depicted here is likely, though, in any case. What strikes me as far more probable is this: a set of genetic markers for a predisposition toward homosexuality is found. In 45% of known cases, the child grows into a homosexual adult; in the other 55%, the adult is heterosexual. Environmental factors must be involved, but no one has figured out exactly what they are or when sexuality gels. It’s probably different for different people, anyway. (It’s hard to get good stats on gays because psychologists tend not to know about those of us who don’t have messed-up lives.) So parents have the children–whom they spend the next 18 years driving berserk with their frantic efforts to make sure they don’t turn out queer.

    Hot flashes

    Posted by Sean at 15:41, March 11th, 2005

    Well, now, isn’t this nice. Susan Estrich decided to challenge Michael Kinsey on the dearth of women writing op-eds for the LAT, and things have escalated:

    As the controversy drags into a fourth week, Estrich continues to bounce from conciliation to confrontation. She seemed near tears in an interview, saying she never intended the fight to get so personal. She blamed the operators of her website for improperly posting comments about Kinsley’s mental health and contended she didn’t think e-mails to Drudge and others in the media would get into the public domain.

    Oh, super! Nothing like giving fuel to those who contend that chicks are too emotional and flighty and irrational for the world of ideas–though I’m not sure irrational is a sufficiently powerful word to cover the stupidity of sending e-mails to media figures (including MATT DRUDGE!!!!!) and assuming there was no way they’d be publicized. Nice blame-passing about the website thing, too, counselor. Way to help out those of us who want to see women who with a talent for public life have their shot at maximizing it!

    I found the story above through Virginia Postrel (emotional! flighty! irrational! NOT!), who addresses it with dry distaste and appends an experience of her own:

    The whole silly brouhaha reminds me of how the LAT used to handle this question: through rigid, numerical quotas. I remember visiting Bob Berger, the op-ed editor, back in the early ’90s. An old-style newspaperman, Bob didn’t like the paper’s demands that he demonstrate “diversity” on the op-ed pages. I especially remember his complaint that he not only had to find gay writers but gay writers who would mention that they were gay. No gay foreign policy experts need apply.

    When I was in high school and college, I always envisioned myself as a professor or journalist of some kind. This malarkey makes me more grateful than ever that my path changed and I ended up in the fulfilling but anonymous and artisanal job I have. How hard should it be to judge writers by whether they write well?

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to build a reputation based on your name, of course, or with using it as currency when you do. Nor is there anything bad about inviting commentary on feminism and gay issues from women and gays. Yeah, yeah, yeah–this issue’s been around for thirty years, and getting worked up over it just raises the blood pressure. It still boggles the mind that people who think this way can get their silly little hang-ups enforced–be sure to read the last paragraph of Virginia’s post.

    Tokyo fire-bombing anniversary

    Posted by Sean at 11:53, March 10th, 2005

    My energy has been diverted elsewhere, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, before the date expired around the globe, that yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Tokyo that killed 100,000 people during World War II. Atsushi and I watched the hour-long NHK special over the weekend. Information about the sequence of events is, to my knowledge, covered well here. I believe war is essentially a fact of human nature, and I’m thankful daily that I’ve spent my entire life in powerful, dynamic societies with bad-ass armed forces staffed by volunteers. I also, naturally, am glad we did what we needed to do to win World War II.

    But winning a war against a ruthless opponent requires ruthless tactics:

    The Superforts returned in force at the end of the month, flying at altitudes that insured immunity from attacks by Japanese defenders. Although their high altitude provided a shield for the bombers, it also decreased the accuracy and impact of their bomb runs. To correct this deficiency, Major-General Curtis Lemay (newly appointed commander of the American Bomber Command) ordered a dramatic change in tactics. The bomber runs would be made at night, at low altitude and deliver a mixture of high explosive and incendiary bombs. The objective was to turn the closely-packed, wooden homes and buildings prevalent in the Japanese cities into raging infernos and ultimately into the most destructive of all weapons – the firestorm.

    The Allies had first encountered the phenomenon of the firestorm when the British bombed the German city of Hamburg in August of 1943. The night raid ignited numerous fires that soon united into one uncontrollable mass of flame, so hot it generated its own self-sustaining, gale-force winds and literally sucked the oxygen out of the air, suffocating its victims. Lemay hoped to use this force to level the cities of Japan. Tokyo would be the first test.

    A successful incendiary raid required ideal weather that included dry air and significant wind. Weather reports predicted these conditions over Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945. A force of 334 B-29s was unleashed – each plane stripped of ammunition for its machine guns to allow it to carry more fire-bombs. The lead attackers arrived over the city just after dark and were followed by a procession of death that lasted until dawn. The fires started by the initial raiders could be seen from 150 miles away. The results were devastating: almost 17 square miles of the city were reduced to ashes. Estimates of the number killed range between 80,000 and 200,000, a higher death toll than that produced by the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki six months later.

    Those who’ve studied the reconstruction of Japan after the war will recognize Lemay as a key figure–it’s worth noting that, while he was willing to go to extreme lengths to fight the Japanese, he was also there to get their country going again–by structuring the SDF!–after they surrendered. That doesn’t necessarily make him a nice person, but, unfortunately, you don’t win wars by being nice.

    Journalist David McNeill ran a piece yesterday asking why the Japanese don’t pay much attention to the anniversary of the Tokyo firebombing. In it, he raises and then glides over that issue. He finishes with a quotation from one of the survivors:

    Arms and diplomacy along the ring of fire

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, March 8th, 2005

    I haven’t seen this on Reuters or CNN yet, but maybe I just haven’t wandered into it. The Japanese Yomiuri says the following:

    General Leon LaPorte, the commander of US forces stationed in South Korea, addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on 8 March, reporting that the DPRK’s air force pilots get no more than 12 to 15 hours of flight training per year and that its army is in such straits that it uses only one-third to one-half of the combat vehicles and tanks it possesses. Additionally, he indicated that, in his opinion, that North Korea’s conventional military capability has weakened remarkably has motivated it to develop WMDs such as nuclear, biological, and chemical arms.

    None of this is shocking news. It was widely rumored during the worst of the North Korean famine in the late 90s that things had gotten so bad that soldiers’ food rations were being cut–unthinkable in a country that had so burdened its armed forces with maintaining national glory. I hadn’t heard those actual numbers for flight training, though. Also, you usually don’t, for some reason, see that last connection so baldly stated: making nuclear and bio-chem weapons takes technology, some gifted scientists, and manufacturing capability, but it has to be cheaper than the daily investment in keeping a million soldiers fed, equipped, and trained, decade upon decade, when you have lousy agricultural and distribution systems.

    In other news, did everyone see that press conference given by the PRC Foreign Minister over the weekend? Atsushi was here for my birthday, so we had a great time chortling over what China’s devotion to “peaceful solutions” for problems involving Taiwan, the DPRK, and its own military could mean in concrete terms. I considered the whole thing a present from the CCP.

    Okay, in all seriousness, sandblast away some of the diplomo-speak, and you got some actual interesting content. The growing feeling that Taiwan is becoming a closer partner with the US and Japan in Asia was addressed:

    In my view, the military alliance between the US and Japan is a bilateral arrangement that occurred under special circumstances during the Cold War. Therefore it ought to be strictly restricted to a bilateral nature. If it goes beyond the bilateral scope, definitely it will arouse uneasiness of the rest of Asian countries and also bring about complicating factors to the regional security situation. Taiwan is a part of China and the Taiwan question is an internal affair of China. Any practice of putting Taiwan directly or indirectly into the scope of Japan-US security cooperation constitutes an encroachment on China’s sovereignty and interference in China’s internal affairs. The Chinese government and people are firmly against such activities.

    Not a surprising sentiment. On the China-Japan-DPRK love triangle, specifically in response to a question from Tokyo Broadcasting System about the current cessation of diplomatic visitors between the Chinese and Japanese heads of state:

    It is imperative for the two countries and for the peoples of China and Japan to carry forward their friendship from generation to generation. In the past couple of years, the leaders of China and Japan have met for several times on multilateral occasions, where they had very good discussions. We hope China and Japan can proceed from the fundamental interests of the two peoples and work to create proper conditions and atmosphere for the high-level exchange of visits between the two countries in the spirit of taking history as a mirror and looking to the future.

    With regard to whether the DPRK has already possessed nuclear weapons or whether it has uranium enrichment program, I believe maybe you know more than I do. [If I recall correctly, this was a laugh line at the press conference. Or maybe just Li laughed.–SRK]

    Let me tell you that after receiving the relevant verbal message from President Hu Jintao, the DPRK supreme leader indicated that the DPRK side still pursues the objective of a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula and remains ready and willing to continue to participate in the six-party talks and that the DPRK side hopes to see more sincerity to be displayed by the relevant parties.

    No mention of the Yasukuni Shrine issue, even obliquely, which is odd. Assurance that the DPRK is sincerely seeking peace and stability in the region, which is not odd.

    There’s a lot more–the al Jazeera reporter invokes the current atmosphere of “unilateralism and hegemony” to ask about China’s energy consumption, China Radio International asks about the Foreign Ministry’s overall course for the foreseeable future, and the reporter from Singapore asks a more flattering version of a question Simon posed after the tsunami disaster: does China really see itself as ready to be a leader as well as just a really big-ass country?

    One last thing that struck me. This is from Li’s reply to a question from The People’s Daily about those in Washington who still view China as a potential threat:

    Although they are living in the new century, their minds still linger in the Cold War era. It is those few people who are spreading the so-called “China threat theory,” which is totally unfounded.

    It’s fascinating to hear someone from a region in which centuries-old resentments are routinely thrown around as reasons for this or that diplomatic conflict–and, specifically, from a country that is more than happy to play on lingering ill-feeling from the Japanese occupation–accuse cautious figures in the US of not putting the Cold War behind them. This isn’t the first time China has shrewdly used the end of the Cold War to make bland arguments that, in this new and friendlier time, we should let Communist-era bygones be bygones. But Li is very good at working the angle, and he seemed relaxed and affable. As always, there’s plenty to pay attention to around here.

    Petition for permanent membership on UNSC nearing final form

    Posted by Sean at 10:17, March 4th, 2005

    Atsushi arrives for the weekend any minute, so one last bit of news from the Nikkei: Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil have come to an agreement on their joint proposal that permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council be expanded to include them. Some of you may take comfort in the knowledge that airy diplomatic clichés sound just as trite in Japanese as in English, even if they contain truth:


    Japan argued for the expansion of permanent UNSC membership this way: “The current UNSC does not address the diversification of our global society.”

    Japan and Germany have more specific issues than that, of course. Japan itself is involved in a more general debate over the recognition that the Self-Defense Force is no longer as strictly reactive as it used to be, and the UNSC petition is connected. A permanent member of the Security Council that can’t get involved in international disputes would be in a strange position.

    Added after lunch: Man, I’d forget my head if it weren’t attached. In my haste to edit this down for clarity–yes, I do that sometimes; just imagine what my posts look like when I draft them!–I cut out the interesting part of today’s story. The interesting part of today’s story is that the four petitioning countries agreed that the reforms should be decided by vote (including all UN member countries, not just those on the UNSC, and certainly not just the permanent members of the UNSC); Germany and India had been balking.

    Japan to cut PRC loose from development aid gravy train

    Posted by Sean at 21:32, March 3rd, 2005

    As Japan continues to strengthen its ties with the US, it’s naturally moving away from the PRC:

    Now that China is no longer considered a developing nation, Tokyo has told Beijing it plans to begin cutting the size of its low-interest yen loans from this fiscal year, aiming to phase them out entirely by fiscal 2008, sources said.

    Beijing likely will protest, the sources said.

    Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are calling for an immediate end to all official development assistance (ODA) to China.

    This would be the rightist wing of the party, which believes (not without justification) that, in financing China, Japan is aiding a trade and military rival.

    However, loans will continue to be extended for projects that have already started, and grants and technical aid will be given for training and environmental protection programs.

    The decision to turn off the loan tap to China reflects the government’s belief that China’s economy has taken off and the country has taken its place in the international community, the sources said.

    In addition, development in China’s coastal cities is now about equal to that of industrialized nations, meaning that China no longer can be regarded as a developing nation, the sources said.

    Sources close to both governments said Beijing will press Japan to continue the loans beyond 2008 because provincial authorities across China are pressed for funds to develop their economies. Also, Beijing is unhappy about being told unilaterally by Japan that the ODA well will soon run dry.

    Japanese officials would like to reach agreement on the loan reduction plan this month so that the government can begin implementing cuts soon, the sources said.

    But LDP hard-liners want ODA to China stopped right away, sources said. Thus, there likely will be strong opposition to the plan for gradual reductions.

    Criticism in Japan of ODA to China surged following anti-Japanese outbursts at the Asian Cup soccer matches last summer in China. Further straining relations was the November intrusion by a Chinese submarine into Japanese territorial waters.

    Tokyo is also finding that ODA no longer carries much diplomatic leverage in talks with Beijing.

    Meaty Fly, by the way, has posted twice in the last several days. Japan-China relations are right up his alley–his last post in September was, after all, headlined “Japan to designate China as military threat“–so it’s possible that he’ll get back to more regular writing. On his blog, I mean.