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    More questions about quake resistance

    Posted by Sean at 21:05, December 29th, 2006

    There’s been a lot going on here while I’ve been away from the blog, but some highlights will be especially cheering over the New Year holiday.

    One is that, predictably, increased vigilance spurred by the Hidetsugu Aneha scandal (he was given a five-year sentence this week) has brought some unpleasant things to the surface:

    About 7 percent of new medium-rise apartment complexes are believed to fall below the mandatory quake-resistance strength standard, an infrastructure ministry report showed. Fifteen of 221 buildings checked had a quake-resistance level of less than 0.9 against the benchmark of 1 set under the Building Standards Law, the report released Wednesday showed.

    One of the buildings in question may have a quake-resistance level of only 0.5 or even lower, which means the structure will have to be rebuilt, the report said. Buildings with less than 0.5 quake-resistance strength could collapse in a moderately strong earthquake, while buildings with strengths ranging from 0.5 to 1 can be reinforced to meet the standard, the ministry said.

    Officials said no clear falsifications of structural reports on quake-resistance have been confirmed in the survey. But the findings raised the possibility that many new medium-rise apartment buildings across the nation do not meet the quake-resistance strength standard.

    There are about 7,000 10-story or so condominium buildings that received approval for construction from 2001 through 2005. The ministry randomly picked 389 of them for the survey.

    One comfort here is that it didn’t take the actual collapse of a building to bring on greater scrutiny. (South Korea learned to take a harder line on building code enforcement after the showy Sampoong Department Store in Seoul pancaked, killing five hundred people; subsequent investigations revealed slipshod construction in many other buildings.) One non-comfort is that not even serious scandals such as this one are always sufficient to cause needed change in Japan.

    Can the thirsty stay sane / After what they’ve seen?

    Posted by Sean at 07:40, December 19th, 2006

    Virginia expresses the mild but still unnecessary worry that being nominated for this contest may imply that she’s a Mariah-like diva. Uh, no, dear lady. No way. And a good thing, too.

    I mean, see whether you can tell the difference between these two women in blue:

    mariah.jpg vipdiva.jpg

    Hmmm…. A real toughie, huh? I mean, the sense of unshowy authority just emanates equally from both. Of course, it doesn’t help Mariah that she appears to have taken Virginia’s support for elective plastic surgery to a greater extreme than one might have liked.

    Virginia’s post does raise the droll question of who might, in fact, qualify as a Mariah-like right-wing diva. Let’s see…nugatory technical flourishes…caterwauling tone…valuable sentiments hammered redundantly away at until you want to scream…I’m thinking, unsurprisingly, Ann Coulter. Of course, I don’t think she has a blog.

    One final observation: I don’t see why being a diva in the pop sense has to be worse than being a diva in the opera sense, despite the crass badness with which so many singers, in practice, handle being stars. Virginia’s not Mariah, thankfully, but I could see her as sort of like early Phoebe Snow–sober and unhurried and interested in how city and suburban living affect people.

    Added later: I remember in the late ’80s seeing some Entertainment Tonight-ish show on which a stylist (they weren’t really major public commentators then) said that things had changed to the point that looking as if your hear were all natural was no longer the prime object when wearing hairpieces. This was several years before weaves and extensions took off in a big way even in the suburbs. It was like, “If you’re at a party and no one can tell you’re wearing a hairpiece, that’s fine; and if people know, that’s fine, too. It’s just decoration.” How odd it sounded.

    I can’t imagine that even celebrities think of plastic surgery quite the same way by this point, but they do often come off as if they weren’t even trying. It seems to be pretty much assumed that everyone famous in Hollywood and New York has multiple procedures as a matter of routine, and a lot of it is so obvious that even if it doesn’t look obviously fake, it just looks bad.


    Posted by Sean at 23:42, December 18th, 2006

    Most movies come to Tokyo pretty late. Mega-hype machines such as Casino Royale are generally here while they’re in the States. (It opened on 1 December, and I’m going this weekend.) The Devil Wears Prada, which I’ve been hearing about from friends at home for months, just got here a few weeks ago, and I went on Sunday. I still think Anne Hathaway has the most annoying voice this side of Hillary. Possibly on the far side of Hillary, for that matter. And the satire struck me as kind of muddled.

    What I’d really feared, though, was that it would end up being two hours of strung-together one-liners that could be uttered by any old bitch any old place…you know, the way a lot of sitcoms seem to be now. Good smart-ass remarks are attuned to their context, which is why you have to give five minutes of background exposition before explaining why what your best friend said at brunch last Sunday was so hilarious. The movie got that part right; most of the wisecracks fit the characters and the scene and didn’t feel as if they’d been bought by the pound and sprinkled over the script like pignoli.

    Unfortunately, not everyone who trades on bitchery does a good job at it, and Salon has a decent piece on the terminally tiresome Perez Hilton. It made me feel old in places, as when the writer said things like this:

    In fact, Perez is filling a cultural role first blazed by Steven “Coju” Cojocaru, Carson Kressley and Bobby Trendy: the bitchy gay man who has all the dish. […] In a very real way, he’s a modern-day Stepin Fetchit, cheerfully describing himself as a “media whore” for hire.

    Someone needs to tell the child about Michael Musto…though on second thought, maybe he’s better off not knowing. In any case, while the article’s kind of verbose, I liked the Bruce Vilanch quotation at the end:

    Of Hilton’s argument that he’s helping further gay civil rights, [Vilanch] says, “I don’t understand why we profit from having some bitter miserable person exposed against his will. How does that make a gay teenager happy to be gay? What kind of a role model does that establish? I don’t think it does anything for anybody.” Vilanch also sees the connection between Signorile and Hilton, saying, “It’s the same thing I said when Michelangelo Signorile was doing it: What purpose does it serve? These are professional homosexuals. They are gay people for a living. They have to respect the rights of homosexuals who aren’t professional.”

    “If somebody isn’t going to willingly announce that they are a positive individual, with a positive outlook on life,” Vilanch asks, “why would we want to include them among us?”

    I don’t think it’s every public figure’s responsibility to be a role model, exactly, and Vilanch seems to assume that anyone who’s closeted must be bitter and miserable (though he may not be generalizing the way he appears to be). Nevertheless, he’s right in the main. Who wants to join a “community” with its most shrieky, oafish members always at the ready to broadcast to everyone that you’re gay, as if even they regarded it as some kind of compromising secret, before you’ve decided how best to go about it? (Michelangelo Signorile, who’s so morally obtuse he’s practically a reflex angle, naturally contributes a quotation or two of blurry rhetoric of his own defending outing also.)


    Posted by Sean at 10:43, December 18th, 2006

    Still busy. There’s been a lot going on that I haven’t posted about–the JDA will soon be a full-fledged ministry, the 6-party talks are back on, and everyone’s talking about Abe’s low approval ratings.

    Oh, yeah, and the LDP public policy committee chair reminds us what a real war crime looks like:

    LDP public policy committee chair Shoichi Nakagawa made a statement, during a 17 December evening lecture in Nagasaki, about the United States’s decision to drop the atom bomb on Nagasaki during World War II: “America’s decision to deploy that thing is unforgivable–truly inhumane. Dropping the A-bomb was a crime.”

    Nakagawa stressed that “we must work to our fullest capacity to ensure that no one uses weapons of mass destruction again. Obviously, we will maintain the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” He also indicated that “Japan’s surroundings are full of nukes. People say they’re there for purposes of deterrence, but a country has recently emerged that appears ready to use them if things don’t go its way,” referring to North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.

    No word on Nakagawa’s view of the relative morality of, say, performing vivisections on prisoners.

    Nakagawa actually said not long ago that Japan should consider developing its own nuclear weapons, so that part about definitely upholding the non-proliferation treaty is, to my knowledge, new coming from him. I’m not sure I worry about a Japan with nukes, but I do think that it’s a poor idea to adopt North Korea’s characteristic put-upon tone when discussing them. The idea that Japan was a victim in World War II plays well to some segments of the Japanese population; it plays less well in the United States and British Commonwealth and way less well in Japan’s co-prosp…er, “surroundings.” The charitable view is that the Abe administration is still finding its footing and establishing its voice; but, of course, to right yourself by building on your policy strengths, you have to have some, and the Abe government hasn’t been covering itself in glory on domestic issues, either.


    Posted by Sean at 08:51, December 5th, 2006

    Thanks to those who have sent gingerly inquiries about whether I’m in some kind of spiral of post-breakup depression that’s keeping me from blogging. Things are fine. Work and play are both busy. Additionally, the Japanese news seems to consist mostly of children’s committing suicide, school officials’ committing suicide out of remorse for having denied that bullying played a part in said children’s committing suicide, and admissions by the Ministry of Education, Et c., that even if the children had declined to commit suicide and continued to attend classes, they wouldn’t have been learning any compulsory subjects anyway. Interesting stuff, to be sure, but not the kind I feel like fixating on just at the moment.

    Speaking of dead students, I somehow managed, while visiting a friend in Kyoto, to encounter an English translation of The Ring, so I picked it up for the bullet train ride back. I’ve been asked several times by Americans what I thought of Lost in Translation and the Ring series as an American in Japan, so I thought I’d write it down, sort of as a stop-gap post. I fear this will be kind of disjointed and not very inspired, but the books and movies themselves are interesting, and if nothing else, the following longueur will put paid to any idea that I’m dead.


    Posted by Sean at 00:47, November 10th, 2006

    The Nikkei editorial about the Rumsfeld resignation was published this morning. American readers may be interested to hear that it pushes the Robert McNamara comparison–the meme has arrived in Japan:

    There has been no two-term president who has had the same Secretary of Defense for all eight years in office. Rumsfeld assumed the post after the Bush administration began in 2001; combined with his year as defense secretary under Ford in the 1970s, that gives him a total of seven years in the position. His only rival [in that regard] is McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense for seven years under Kennedy and Johnson.

    Both men have had experience running private enterprises, and both applied their private-sector administrative methods to policy in the Department of Defense. As a result, both ran into snags–McNamara in Vietnam, and Rumsfeld in Iraq. Rumsfeld, especially, in beginning the war in Iraq, attempted to get results with the lowest possible amount of military force. This move invited opposition from the armed forces and is connected to the current state of confusion.


    Posted by Sean at 22:43, November 8th, 2006

    Predictably, the lead editorial in this morning’s Nikkei is headlined “US Midterm Elections Reflect Iraq Dilemma.” The unwritten subhead is “Does This Mean Japan Is Screwed?”

    In the mid-term elections for United States congress and state governorships and such, held in the off-years between presidential races, it’s usual for the president’s party to lose seats.

    In that sense, the results this time around are not a surprise. However, it seems that they bear witness to a rise in dissatisfaction with the Bush administration revolving around the ongoing circumstances in Iraq–the Democrats have recaptured the majority in the House after twelve years and gained seats in the Senate. The Bush administration has not discovered a way to extricate itself from its dilemma in Iraq.

    Everyone reasons that if the [Iraqi] economy improves public order will also be restored; but the current reality is that because public order hasn’t been restored, the economy has not improved. No method has been found to stop this vicious cycle and reverse the trend.

    The option of restoring stability through a large-scale increase in the deployment of US military personnel has not gained political support within the US; nor has it gained the support of the Iraqi government.

    The argument for complete withdrawal that had been advanced by part of the Democratic Party could result in the abandonment of Iraq, leaving it to become a breeding ground for international terrorists. This is the mistake that has already been made in Afghanistan.

    The argument for phased withdrawal, after strengthening Iraqi infrastructure [to maintain] stability, appears to be rational. But the deepening opposition of Sunni and Shia elements makes prospects difficult to assess.

    A government in which the Republicans hold the White House and the Democrats have taken the leadership of the congress also existed during the Reagan and Bush [I] administrations in the 1980s. It was called “gridlock,” and it prevented efficient decision-making. Will history repeat itself?

    Now, of course, one of the reasons the Nikkei is paying attention to elections in the United States is that they’re important to geopolitics in general. But there’s plenty at stake for Japan specifically, too. The role of the military here is a hot topic, made ever hotter by movements in the PRC and the DPRK. Russia isn’t making many noises at the moment, but it’s never far from the Japanese mind. Japanese politicians have generally perceived the GOP as invested in maintaining close US-Japan security ties. Even those who are not eager to do so are, like most of the global media, interpreting the results of Tuesday’s election as a direct rebuke to the Bush administration on national security and Iraq; it’s not clear how that will affect strategic policy in East Asia, but plenty of people are worried.


    Posted by Sean at 13:35, November 8th, 2006

    Unsurprisingly, the news that Rummy is going to resign has been posted on the Nikkei site approximately four nanoseconds after it hit the US-based wires. There’s no Japan perspective in the preliminary report, but I’m sure the news will be folded into one of the main editorials tomorrow.


    Posted by Sean at 11:48, November 8th, 2006

    The Japanese media don’t seem to be saying much of anything interesting about the US election results. This is the Nikkei story thus far, useful chiefly if you don’t know how to say “midterm election” or “incumbent” in Japanese. I expect an editorial tomorrow about what the Democratic takeover of the House means for our support for Japanese security. For now, I’m expecting that most of the world press, unfortunately, will adopt the interpretation given in the Asahi:

    In addition to whether the Bush administration’s policies surrounding the Iraq invasion are right or wrong, questions about ethics were posed, related to scandals and incidences of corruption engaged in by Republican congressmen that had come to light. As a result, the Democrats got a boost, and made significant gains in the number of seats they held in both houses.


    Posted by Sean at 03:37, November 4th, 2006

    Since I’ve already cast my vote, I can settle in to enjoying the frantic final week before the election with no pressure.

    For US Senate, I ultimately decided on Casey. I know, I know: The power elite among the Democrats are traitors who want to promulgate the Culture of Death and you can’t expect the GOP to be perfect and anyway I’m just throwing a fit because Santorum won’t let me marry my dog.

    I really did have serious misgivings when I was filling out my absentee ballot, but they’re dissipating. To find out why, consider Peggy Noonan’s latest column (via Michael). I like Noonan very much. Her writing style isn’t showy, but she has a distinctive voice–careful and sober and considered. It’s a voice that makes her love of America come across very movingly, especially when she talks about the textures of daily life or personal interactions.

    Unfortunately, it’s a voice that also betrays her when she says stupid things. There’s nothing worse than saying something way-ass dumb while making it clear that you’re thinking real hard about it:

    Rick Santorum’s career (two Senate terms, before that two in the House) suggests he has thought a great deal about the balance, and concluded that in our time the national is the local. Federal power is everywhere; so are the national media. (The biggest political change since JFK’s day is something he, 50 years ago, noted: the increasing nationalization of everything.) And so he has spoken for, and stood for, the rights of the unborn, the needs of the poor, welfare reform when it was controversial, tax law to help the family; against forcing the nation to accept a redefining of marriage it does not desire, for religious freedom here and abroad, for the helpless in Africa and elsewhere. It is all, in its way, so personal. And so national. He has breached the gap with private action: He not only talks about reform of federal law toward the disadvantaged, he hires people in trouble and trains them in his offices.

    One thing that’s really starting to get on my nerves: Can we please stop referring to politicians who are publicly opposed to gay marriage as if they were being brave and taking a political risk? Such a stance may get you into hot water at certain cocktail parties and rubber-chicken dinners, but voters have demonstrated in state after state that they concur with it.

    Anyway, the things Noonan discusses–Santorum’s prankish sense of humor, his genuine gratitude at the support he gets, his concern for the Casey family as human beings, his personal efforts to help individuals in straitened circumstances become self-sufficient–are all wonderful. They speak well of the man. But we’re not voting for a church choir director.

    Santorum genuinely does seem to voice his beliefs more candidly than most senators; but then, who wouldn’t look like a straight-shooter next to Arlen Specter? Speaking of Specter, Jacob Sullum hasn’t forgotten that Santorum supported him in the last primary against challenger Pat Toomey (an odd choice for someone who’s restoring principledness to the GOP). Additionally…

    I realize social conservatives are a big part of NR’s audience, but Miller offers economic conservatives, the other major component of Frank Meyer’s grand fusion, little reason to root for Santorum, aside from the fact that he supported welfare reform (so did Bill Clinton) and “has served as a leader” on Social Security, which seems to mean he favors Bush-style baby steps toward “personal” (not “private”) retirement accounts. On the down side, he opposed NAFTA, supported steel tariffs, and considers Bush’s immigration reforms “too lax.”

    And Sullum didn’t even mention the $20 million-ish in federal money Santorum scored for farmland preservation in the commonwealth.

    My point here isn’t that Santorum is a closet social democrat, or even that he’s been a bad senator on balance. My point is just that going off the deep end and portraying him as an implacable opponent of federal waste and mission creep is ridiculous. He plays the game just like his ninety-nine colleagues, and it’s condescending for opinion-shapers to cherry-pick his record in the hopes of convincing us otherwise.