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    Forces of nature

    Posted by Sean at 11:06, October 8th, 2004

    Hmmm…. Getting kind of boring around here. What would liven things up some?

    I know: Another typhoon! This one is set to land in Shizuoka Prefecture and to pass right over Tokyo. My luckless boyfriend, who’s lived in western Kyushu through the hammering it’s gotten this summer, has followed today’s entrant–the strongest typhoon to hit eastern Japan in over ten years, apparently–here for the three-day weekend. Luckily, the leading edge of the storm didn’t keep his plane from being able to land, though a few dozen other domestic flights have already been canceled. He just cellphone-mailed that he’s on the ground and on his way here.

    Also luckily, we shouldn’t need to grab more than maybe a liter of milk from 7-Eleven, since I made sure everything was stocked for his arrival anyway, including another Columbo DVD. I’ve already watched it, it is true, but I’ll gladly sit through at least one of the episodes again: Vera Miles and Vincent Price play the owners of rival cosmetics companies seeking the formula for a wrinkle-erasing miracle cream. Does it get gayer than that? Oh, and the murder from which the plot is generated involves vengeful Miles impulsively hitting a young Martin Sheen on the head with a microscope, her eyes wide and lip curled in that wonderful fury TV murderers always get right before they bash someone’s skull in. I know it’s anachronistic, since the show was recorded in 1971, but I see it as vicarious revenge for all of us who feel insulted by the hamhanded propaganda orgy that is The West Wing.

    Anyway, in the last few days, it’s become apparent that there are, in fact, at least a few people reading here from within Japan, so stay safe, everyone.

    Added at 11:50: Looks like I jumped the gun. I was looking at the Nikkei site and figured that if the 9:00 a.m. post said the storm was about to make landfall, it probably had by two hours later. It hasn’t.

    Mitsubishi Fuso can’t catch a break

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, October 7th, 2004

    You know, one begins to think that maybe it would be better for everyone if the engineers at Mitsubishi Fuso shifted to careers that didn’t, uh, require so much engineering:

    A seat on a bus made by troubled Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. collapsed after the driver abruptly hit the brakes, leaving a woman passenger with minor injuries, officials said.

    Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., which has been plagued by a clutch defection cover-up scandal, had earlier informed the government about its intended recall of the same type of buses to repair seat parts.

    That the company was aware of the problem and had taken the novel step of planning a recall before its top managers were threatened with arrest helps, I suppose. And at least this time, it isn’t the sort of problem that could directly cause a crash. (The Asahi article contains this passage: “Although Kawasoe denied any knowledge of the defects, prosecutors said otherwise in their opening statement. They said that soon after Kawasoe became MMC president, the vice president in charge of the problem advised him to end the practice of ordering secret repairs without recalling vehicles with defective parts.” I know it’s just a lack of felicity in English translation, but it suggests a Lewis Carroll-ish corporate structure in which there’s a Vice-President for Defective Products. Unfortunately, that seems to be ghoulishly close to the truth in this case.)

    Your tax yen at work

    Posted by Sean at 12:03, October 6th, 2004

    The LDP’s coalition partner, the New Komei Party, has released a position paper that gingerly revises its former position on the export of weapons. Its new approach may make it easier to relax restrictions on technology transfers to the US.


    Koizumi has been somewhat more assertive in ensuring that other proposals by his administration are realized. Or not–the article veers back and forth a lot. It also gives a good indication of the headache-inducing nature of factional politics in the Diet, which you need several flow charts, an almanac, a sextant, and perhaps a rabbit’s foot to navigate through. Suffice it to say that–duh!–the Koizumi administration is hoping that it’s posted enough higher-ups who support its Japan Post privatization plan that there will be pressure on those who don’t to fall in line.


    Finally, two consecutively-posted stories over at the English Yomiuri sum up the state of government spending with (surely unintentional?) dark comedy: Most federal ministries are bankrupt by normal accounting standards, but they are eager to maintain the amount they dole out in subsidies. (Note: The River Bureau is part of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.)

    The proposal to cut subsidies is part of the Koizumi administration’s proposals for “three-pronged reform” (which is usually rendered “trinity reform,” but that kind of weirds me out). The idea is to cut federal subsidies to local governments, to lower the amount of money passing through the allocation tax system (whereby federal tax money makes a U-turn and is sent back in specified amounts to local governments), and to make up for the decreased amount of money flowing from federal to local government by localizing more tax collection. Take a wild guess why federal ministries are lukewarm on that idea.


    Posted by Sean at 23:43, October 5th, 2004

    Flamin’ Norah! That one was big somewhere. I guess we’ll know where in a few. Let’s hope it was offshore….

    Added on 7 October: It was centered in Ibaraki Prefecture, 5 on the Japanese scale.

    In the end you will submit / It’s got to hurt you a little bit

    Posted by Sean at 11:26, October 4th, 2004

    I wasn’t going to say anything about Andrew Sullivan’s recent piece on political outing, but Dale Carpenter has also gotten into the act, and there’s something disturbing about both their positions. Here’s Carpenter on when outing is justifiable:

    Hypocrisy by an officeholder meets this test, as when a closeted politician opposes gay equality for homophobic reasons. An example would be a legislator who declares marriage must be

    Where have all the cowboys gone?

    Posted by Sean at 17:22, October 3rd, 2004

    Oh, my. This disturbs me from beginning to end.

    North Korea discovers Minesweeper

    Posted by Sean at 15:43, October 3rd, 2004

    The DPRK’s People’s Army* has a unit of hackers that is operating at a first-world level, says South Korea’s Department of Defense:


    These specialized personnel are assigned to the Command/Mobilization and Reconnaissance Agencies of the Ministry of the Korean People’s Army (the DPRK’s department of defense) and are believed to be in charge of cyberwar strikes such as disrupting South Korean, US, and Japanese intelligence gathering and armed forces command and communications networks.

    You can’t really be shocked by this, but I think it does underscore that North Korea (despite its ineptitude in many areas) is not just sitting there counting its long-range missiles while we natter about “getting back to the negotiating table.” Yet another reason to be thankful that we have resilience and dynamism on our side.

    * Is that what they call it in English? I’ll look later…uh, yeah, it is. Well, it’s the Korean People’s Army, to remind us all that those heirs to the Shilla in the South are not real Koreans but stooges who have sold out to the West. Don’t bother bringing up that if we extended the metaphor, we might remember that the Shilla cooperated with the Chinese to take down the northern Koguryô kingdom, and the side that’s allied with China now is…. It’s not the Tang Dynasty anymore.
    BTW, have you seen the official DPRK website? Not hours of amusement, but certainly minutes. I notice there’s no link to a Korean Friendship Association in Japan, too.

    Have I mentioned I was born in 1972?

    Posted by Sean at 14:23, October 3rd, 2004

    If you are the tool of Satan who got “Right Time of the Night” stuck in my head, be warned that when I catch you, you will know my wrath. I hate that song. Smug, coy, wheedling, complacent ’70’s seduction crap that makes me feel as if I were back in my parents’ Mustang hatchback riding to ShopRite, with “I’d Really Love to See you Tonight” next on the playlist. Blech!

    I thought maybe my brain was just in the mood for smug, coy, wheedling, complacent ’70’s seduction crap, so maybe I could get it to latch on to a specimen I actually like. Accordingly, I put on Anne Murray and listened to “Shadows in the Moonlight” (Shut it–the melody is pretty, the lyrics are at least sophisticated enough to have a how-fleeting-is-youth tension flitting through them, and former-gym teacher Anne was big with our lesbian sisters; when you’re dealing with smug, coy, et c., these distinctions matter. Furthermore, I will not listen to anyone who wants to tell me that because Jennifer Warnes did an album of Leonard Cohen covers and blah-blah, she’s a Genuine Artist. Pleh) a few times, but no such luck. I was right back to cleaning the bathroom and swooning, “Aw, you ‘n me, bay-beh, we could thinka someth’n to doooo” to the high-density plastic. I may even have cast my eyes down and blushed. Blushed. I’m not sure I can take much more of this.

    Men in uniform

    Posted by Sean at 23:22, October 1st, 2004

    I don’t know that I have any readers who also live here in Japan, but if you do, it might interest you to read this from the Mainichi:

    Japan’s rank-and-file police officers are calling on the general public to protect themselves as they believe law enforcers alone cannot maintain peace and order, a National Police Agency (NPA) report showed on Friday.

    The 2004 NPA white paper asked 2,000 experienced officers working at local police boxes across Japan about “what is needed to maintain security.”

    A staggering 95 percent of them admitted that they alone could not maintain domestic order, the survey shows.

    Some 80 percent of them said that individuals should try to protect themselves, while 50 percent said citizens should form local crime prevention groups.

    Well, fine. I’m willing to take responsibility for my own protection*, but given that guns are illegal for private citizens here, what am I supposed to do? Rig up pongee sticks? Make sure to take that cleaver to the tinker’s regularly and sleep with it under the pillow?

    The neighborhood crime watch part sounds good, but it has a ways to go:

    When asked about how they have joined hands with local residents to prevent crime, about 50 percent of the polled officers said they had not established sufficient cooperation.

    When asked about what they wanted officers to improve, more than half of the polled citizens said they wanted more patrols.

    At the same time, many said they didn’t want to see police boxes with no officers.

    The white paper also questioned about 1,200 crime-prevention volunteer groups in Japan about the problems they face.

    About 60 percent of the groups said that volunteers were afraid of dangerous situations when they patrol.

    Now, it must be added that there’s almost certainly a SLOPs-like sampling issue here. That is, the places in Japan that actually have citizen crime patrols are likely to be places that have had crimes already. There’s no indication that Tokyo or Osaka is going to turn, wholesale, into London or DC. The social factors that keep crime low in Japan have been well-documented by others, and I’m on record as protesting against the Japan-is-going-to-hell strain in a lot of post-Bubble Western reporting. Nevertheless, the economic disruptions over the last ten years have increased everyday social pressures, and crime is increasing. I’m not just talking about crime committed by resident foreigners, which is the only kind Japanese people like to hear about. I mean also Japanese people turning to crime because they have zero employment prospects or have just gone unhinged. The number of crimes is low. It’s probably going to remain low; that’s one of the many good points of Japanese shame culture.

    But if you’re the victim of a crime, it’s not likely to be much comfort that you’re only one out of a statistical few thousand, or that the national crime rate is still lower than that of Indonesia. And like a lot of post-War American suburbs when violent and property crime began spreading outward from urban cores a few decades ago, most places in Japan are not designed for crime prevention. They were, rather, built under the assumption that things would always be safe.

    Case in point: The building Atsushi and I live in was built in 2000. It’s in one of the most populous wards of Tokyo, albeit in a residential area; but still, there was no security system to speak of until one of the ground-floor units was broken into. The front entrance had a keyboard/intercom system for admitting visitors, and the back doors to the parking garage required keys to enter. But all that separated the front doors to three ground-floor apartments from the parking lot was a four-foot wall with some shrubs in front of it. (And even now, the lobby and elevators are the only places in the building with security cameras.)

    Mark you, we’re among the lucky who live in a new building run by a responsive management company. A lot of apartment buildings in Tokyo have no doors at the entrances; the corridors are essentially open-air or accessible from fire escape-like stairways. And housing here, even a lot of high-end housing, tends to be made of flimsy materials: hollow-core outer doors, sliding picture windows with single panes of the approximate stoutness of sugar glass, uninsulated walls.

    As someone who’s lived in Philadelphia and New York, I’ll be interested to see how things develop. The thinking that citizens go about their business without fear because the government and police are looking after everyone’s safety is very deeply ingrained here. However unfortunate it is that vigilance against crime is becoming more necessary in Japan, it’s a good sign that this white paper has been publicized.

    Added on 3 October: Brian Tiemann is in New York and has posted his impressions. Interesting as always. He doesn’t mention this, but of course, one of the reasons Times Square is clean and safe now is the Giuliani administration’s very controversial “broken windows” approach to crime-fighting. The year I lived in New York was 1995-96; I’d spent a lot of time there before, but not as a resident. It’s fair to say–and even many of his supporters, I think, acknowledge this–that the mayor’s office and police were pretty high-handed in their dealings with citizens and businesses. Questions have also been raised about what some see as the virtual annexing of the Times Square/42nd Street area by Disney. Still, given New York’s reputation in the ’70’s and ’80’s, it’s not hard to see why people thought they had only two choices: ruthlessly stamp out every visible infraction of any law whatever, or live with junkies and streetwalkers in pedestrians’ faces.

    * Well, I would persuade my Japanese-citizen boyfriend to keep a gun in the apartment. I have the distinct feeling that even if guns were legal, foreigners wouldn’t be allowed to carry them.

    Signed, sealed, delivered

    Posted by Sean at 01:48, October 1st, 2004

    I am heartily, utterly, most sensationally, inspirationally, celebrationally, muppetationally sick of the election. Yeah, I know, there’s a line forming for that one, but you see, I could do something about it. My absentee ballot came in the mail this week, and while I was watching the debate this morning, it was driven home to me that I could fill it out right now, send it, and be done with the whole thing. I don’t, after all, expect to change my mind between now and the third week of October, either about the President or about the PA senate seat.

    Regarding the latter, I’ve managed to register, after weeks of responsible-citizen searching, nothing about Joseph Hoeffel except that he’s not a Republican. (Don’t bother crying, “Neither is Arlen Specter!” That line’s been around since I was in junior high. My preference is for strong principled-ness, too; but there’s a reason Pennsylvania is considered a swing state. Specter and Santorum represent 12 million-odd people among whom arch-liberals, arch-conservatives, and all shades on the spectrum in between are found in significant numbers. That Specter sees himself in the role of compromise-striking operator does not seem to me to be out of line with representing his constituency. Hoeffel might fill the same role, but he’d have two decades’ less worth of Rolodex-building to do it with.)

    The debate left me with the reassuring feeling–for the first time in months–that there actually were two serious candidates for President. Kerry sounded thoughtful and grounded. But I still don’t see how voting him in is supposed to improve things. As I say, I don’t expect to change my mind about a single tick-box in the next three weeks.

    I think I’ll just suffer to the bitter end (or as close to the bitter end as I can get while still having my ballot in by the Friday before Election Day) with everyone else, even so. Living on the opposite side of the Pacific, I cherish every opportunity to feel that I’m experiencing something with my fellow American voters in real time, for one thing.

    For another, I haven’t even begun to look into the fascinating candidates for Auditor General.