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    Posted by Sean at 17:47, March 29th, 2009

    I love this report in the Yomiuri:

    South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency announced on 29 March that there is a possibility that the launch of North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile under the guise of an “artificial satellite” will take place after 6 April due to weather conditions.

    North Korea has announced to international organizations that the launch will take place between 4 and 8 April, but according to the Yonhap wire service, The [Republic of] Korea Meteorological Agency has forecast that, at the launch base in Musudanri, North Hambyong Province, weather conditions will be “overcast beginning 3 April, with rain or snow falling on the afternoon of 4 April, and heavy cloud cover on 5 April also.”

    However, ROK forecasts have a bad reputation with citizens as “often inaccurate.”

    Oh. All right, then.

    Another Yomiuri article, this time posted to the English site, says that intercepting the missile could be difficult for Japan because, of course, no one knows exactly where it will go. This handy diagram is appended:


    If you’re having a hard time reading that, the red lines represent paths in which the rocket falls on land in Japan–the solid line if it’s the first booster rocket to separate, the dotted line if there’s just not enough thrust off the launchpad and the whole thing flops.


    Posted by Sean at 20:26, March 27th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei today carries the headline “Make due preparation for North Korea missile tests.”

    In response to the North Korean ballistic missile test, nominally [for] an “artificial satellite,” the government has convened a security meeting and confirmed a plan to intercept the missile if it falls over Japan’s territory or territorial waters; Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada has for the first time issued an order, predicated on the Self-Defense Force Law, to destroy it.

    Prime Minister Taro Aso instructed [attendees] at the security meeting to “be vigilant and adopt a firm and resolute stance.” If there is disarray in Japan, the result will only be that we’ve played into North Korea’s hands. In order to avoid that, at the stage when the launch date is imminent, and even more after the launch, the appropriate providing of information by the government will be indispensable. That point must especially be emphasized from the get-go.

    The Japanese and United States governments have declared that, even if it were an “artificial satellite,” the launch would violate UNSC Resolution 1695, which was adopted after North Korea launched a series of missiles in July 2006, and UNSC Resolution 1718, from after the nuclear tests of October that year. Improvements in the performance of North Korean missiles are a direct threat to the U.S. and Japan.

    Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton warned that “this will affect the six-party talks revolving around nuclear issues, and [North Korea] will end up paying high compensation.” If North Korea ignores the warning and forges ahead with the launch, a debate will be raised at the UNSC [over measures that] include sanctions.

    On the other hand, the Spokesperson for the DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs [stated] that, if the Security Council makes an issue of the “launch of an artificial satellite,” then “denuclearization will be set back, and we will adopt the necessary strong measures,” implying a resumption of nuclear testing. This development reminds one of 2006, with its series of missile launches and nuclear testing. That’s possibly due to expecations that the scenario in which the U.S. government did a 180 [and pursue] a path of conciliation after the nuclear testing.

    That switch to a path of conciliation is linked to the refusal [to allow] inspection during denuclearization, and to the new missile tests. If we consider these facts, it is necessary for not only Japan, the U.S., and South Korea, but also [all other] participants in the six-party talks, including China and Russia, to be sure of their resolve not to repeat the mistake.

    The Japanese phrase used at the end there is 過ちを繰り替えさない, which echoes–I can’t imagine this is a coincidence, given that it’s part of the last sentence of an op-ed about nuclear weapons–the inscription on the Hiroshima memorial: 安らかに眠って下さい/過ちは繰り返しませぬから (“Rest in peace, for we will not repeat the mistake”).


    Posted by Sean at 10:02, February 27th, 2009

    I’m apparently getting slack, because I didn’t look out for this aspect of the Aso-Obama meeting, which had been toyed with a bit beforehand:

    It turns out that North Korea and the global financial crisis were not the only topics on Prime Minister Taro Aso’s mind during summit talks Tuesday in Washington with President Barack Obama.

    He also tried to sell the U.S. leader on Shinkansen technology; Obama’s reaction to the pitch was also keenly awaited back in Japan.

    Aso’s pitch to Obama likely came after lobbying by Japanese railway companies eager to join in a plan being pushed by California for the United States’ first high-speed rail system. It is estimated to cost 3 trillion yen to construct the system, with plans calling for partial operations starting in 2020.

    Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), attended an international conference on the environment in Los Angeles in January.

    He played up the advantages of the Shinkansen, saying “among high-speed trains, Japan’s bullet trains emit a small volume of carbon dioxide and the trains also cause comparatively little noise and vibration.”

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is setting up a group to promote bullet train exports that will include members from trading companies and JR Tokai and East Japan Railway Co. (JR East).

    A specialist from the ministry’s Railway Bureau will be permanently based in the United States.

    California’s provisional high-speed rail plan is, I have no doubt, as porky as any other such proposal, but at least it’s a region in which HSR actually makes sense. Like the Northeast Corridor, the SAN-SAN belt is long and narrow but short enough for it to be reasonable to expect plenty of people to make a trade-off between air speed and rail thrift. (Not sure what happens when you factor in the subsidies.) So, of course, is Japan–especially if you’re not going all the way from Sapporo to Fukuoka, which most people aren’t.

    The bullet train in Japan really is a boon, and so is its newer cousin in Taiwan, which opened two years ago after a string of bidding and construction hiccups. It would be a bad idea for the US to go overboard on the boffo ground transportation projects, though…especially if federal money means Amtrak could be involved.


    Posted by Sean at 15:16, February 26th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei munches over whether and why Prime Minister Aso was dissed on his state visit to Washington:

    Prime Minister Taro Aso became the first foreign head of state to visit the White House during the Obama administration. It was the worst possible timing from the vantage point of public opinion vis-a-vis America, overlapping with President Obama’s first address to congress and [coming when] interest within the US was low.

    After the meeting, the plan was for both heads of state to announce the content of their conversation to the press corps, but even that didn’t happen. The prime minister appeared before the press corps; however, the president didn’t show his face, and instead the White House presented a simple statement of twenty-one lines.

    The opening of the statement was “Today, President Obama conducted a detailed conference with the prime minister of Japan revolving around cooperation between the two nations in the areas of the global economic crisis and other matters.” Really? He thought of himself as hosting “the prime minister of Japan” rather than Prime Minister Aso?

    President Obama, during the photo session before the meeting, stated, “US-Japan friendship is of extreme importance, which is the reason that I asked the prime minister to be the first top-ranking foreign official to visit the Oval Office.”

    However, if one looks at the visit overall, it wasn’t really consistent with the gravity of protocol toward the first foreign head of state to make a visit.

    The administrations are different, so exact comparisons cannot be made, but during the Bush administration, both Prime Ministers Jun’ichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe went to Camp David for their first visits. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stayed at Blair House (the state guesthouse). Prime Minister Aso stayed at a hotel in Washington.

    In matters of meetings betweent heads of state, the content is crucial, and it isn’t appropriate to exaggerate peripheral problems. However, this time around, both the US and Japan underscored the protocol significance of being the first visitor. In the world of diplomacy, if we take protocol to be important also, it comparisons with precedent must be made.

    Foreign relations influence domestic politics. Prime Minister Aso, who’s in uncomfortable territory where domestic politics is concerned, may have sought an early visit to the US in hopes that the effect would be to buoy him decisively. That the US accepted has been said to be the result of being mindful of China.

    On the other hand, domestic politics also influence foreign relations. They give Aso a respectful welcome as the prime minister of Japan, but that doesn’t mean they wish to build an individual relationship [as] fellow politicians–and if you look hard at the reality of Japanese domestic politics, for the moment it wouldn’t seem unreasonable if that were President Obama’s thinking.

    Beneath the blue sky

    Posted by Sean at 15:38, February 25th, 2009

    The comments section is still going on this piece on IGF, which was given the promising headline “Gay. And Republican. And Not Confused.” There are good arguments for gay Republicans to make: it’s easier to change social conservatives’ minds about gay issues by working alongside them rather than as adversaries, being in the DNC’s pocket just gives the Dems a dependable voting bloc without having to deliver in hard policy terms, and politics is always about making trade-offs among competing political principles, among others.

    Writer Alex Knepper does touch on those things, but unfortunately, he can’t help taking the martyred-gay-conservative tack, which is possibly the single best way to ensure that independents and doubting lefties stay far, far away from the GOP. You, dear reader, may never think about anything but your sexuality, but know ye that Alex Knepper is more complex than you can hope to imagine. (And forget that throwaway final paragraph, which is misdirection at its most disingenuous–no one starts every sentence with “I believe” this and “I realize” that out of humility):

    I believe that the gay subculture is destructive. I am not completely sure why a person should be “proud” of his sexuality, which is not an accomplishment. I am confused by the discord between a group of people who insist that they’re just like everyone else on one hand and then on the other refuse to assimilate into mainstream society.

    I am unable to relate to the faction of gay men who revolve their lives around their sexuality: their neighborhood is gay, their friends are gay, their music and movies are gay, their academic interests are gay, the stores that they frequent are gay — their lives are gay. I am not interested, though, in living my life as a gay man, but simply as a man. I envision a future in which a person’s sexual orientation will be an afterthought. I do not in any way whatsoever see the Democratic Party furthering that.

    I have been discriminated against more by Democrats than by Republicans. I have been shunned and mocked by Democrats, many of whom will not accept me as a gay man unless I fit into their neatly packaged view of what a gay man is “supposed” to be. I have yet to encounter, on the other hand, a Republican who has rejected my presence in the party, shunned me on a personal level or refused to engage me on the issues.

    Well, no, being homosexual isn’t an accomplishment, but then, neither is being left-handed or Italian. People express pride in all kinds of characteristics they came to through inheritance or circumstance, and we normally understand them to mean that they’re proud to identify with the people with the same raw materials who use them for good rather than ill. Of course, if you wander around gay groups looking for people to feel superior to, you’ll find a way. But you can deplore much that’s done under the banner of gay pride without dismissing the entire “gay subculture” as worthless and self-destructive. IGF, which is providing Knepper with a broader audience than his college newspaper, is a gay institution.

    The commenters are accusing one another of being snippy at the expense of substance, but for the most part, they largely strike me as sticking pretty closely to one major issue: how do you make compromises without being a patsy? (There’s also some back-and-forth about actual policy, but it’s the usual snowball fight rather than a debate.)


    Posted by Sean at 14:34, February 17th, 2009

    Secretary of State Clinton–who’d have thought a year ago that we’d be typing that?–has visited Japan, where she met separately with Prime Minister Taro Aso, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hirofumi Nakasone, and Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada.

    Secretary of State Clinton, at a joint press conference after her meeting with the Foreign Minister, issued a warning, strongly underscoring that “North Korea has intimated that there is a possibility of missile launches, but such behavior serves no purpose, and it will not aid in the progress of (US-DPRK) relations.” At the meeting with the Prime Minister, she stated, in connection with North Korea issues, “We would like to come to a decisive solution within the framework of the six-party talks, and that would include the Japanese abductee issue.”

    At the meeting with the Defense Minister, she touched on the activities of the Maritime Defense Force, which is investigating Japanese deployments to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, and issued a request: “We would be grateful if you could look into the possibility of providing aid and defense to foreign ships in times of emergency.” The Defense Minister responded, “We’re considering that and looking into a new law [that would make it possible to provide defense for foreign-registered ships as well].”

    It’s hard to tell whether the “comprehensive solution” referred to in the headline will come to pass. It’s not even certain that the DPRK knows where all the abductees as yet unaccounted for ended up, painful as that is for the Japanese families in question. Tokyo has tried to get Washington and Beijing to put pressure on Pyongyang, but the issue tends to get backburnered, and it’s not really because of callousness. The nuclear and black-market issues are very pressing, while the abductee issue doesn’t appear to be. There’s been no information that I’ve seen recently to suggest that there are known living abductees waiting to be repatriated.

    And yes, I’ve heard about soon-to-be-former Minister of Finance Shoichi Nakagawa’s unfortunate sensitivity to his cold medicine. You really have to watch out for those side-effects.


    Posted by Sean at 11:32, February 14th, 2009

    I’m a fan of Miss Manners, so people sometimes assume I must be one of those people who seek out copies of old etiquette books; but I’m really not. To me, writers who lack her Lewis Carroll sense of mischief about human interaction are kind of dull, if improving in an anthropological sense.

    The anthropology itself can be fun, though. I wandered into the 1922 Emily Post on Bartleby a few days ago, and just about every chapter has some sort of surprise.

    There’s the section on how a gentleman asks a lady to dance at a ball, which contains this paragraph:

    When a gentleman is introduced to a lady he says, “May I have some of this?” or “Would you care to dance?”

    I don’t hang out at hetero clubs much anymore, most of my friends being safely paired off by now, but I’m pretty sure if a guy walks up to a woman in a dance place and says, “May I have some of this?” he’d better be staring directly at the plate of sliders parked next to her margarita if he doesn’t want serious trouble.

    The language can be surprising, too. The association of diamonds with ice is pretty obvious and primal, but I wasn’t aware people like Emily Post were throwing it around back then.

    In your jewelry let diamonds be conspicuous by their absence. Nothing is more vulgar than a display of “ice” on a man’s shirt front, or on his fingers.

    It’s also somehow comforting to know that elegant was being pretentiously overused even then:

    There are certain words which have been singled out and misused by the undiscriminating until their value is destroyed. Long ago “elegant” was turned from a word denoting the essence of refinement and beauty, into gaudy trumpery.

    Yes. It’s really annoying that you can’t actually use elegant to mean “simple and uncluttered” and expect people to know what you mean. A shame that that started so long ago.

    I’m not sure what to make of her chapter on traveling abroad. Perhaps at that point, Americans really were the only group that had a tendency toward coarsely loud merriment that wouldn’t leave other travelers in peace and a high-handed attitude toward servitors. That crowd seems to have expanded since then, though, if my experience in Asia is any indication.

    Stabby violence

    Posted by Sean at 16:05, February 12th, 2009

    If the predictable awfulness of the stimulus bill is so predictably awful that you’re so incapable of getting worked up over it and kind of fear you’re dead inside, Reason.com asked a group of libertarian-leaning economists to descant on the many specific ways it promises to suck. Even Deirdre McCloskey, who’s usually good for at least one wicked laugh, doesn’t find much funny. She does note one of the ways we got here and will probably get here again:

    At less than full employment the Keynesian stuff works. So the minority of the quickie expenditures will “put people back to work”–until we return to almost-full employment, which will happen pretty quickly in the recovery. At that point the stimulus will merely crowd out private investment. In the short run people might get more cheerful, too, always a good thing. But in two years the recession will be over. And the myth will grow up–rather similar to the ones about FDR and war expenditure–that Obama did it. Essentially, Obama will get credit for the self-adjusting character of the economy. I reckon we should start preparing that other face of Mount Rushmore.


    Posted by Sean at 11:16, February 12th, 2009

    Former Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, who made privatization of Japan Post his line in the sand in the run-up to the 2005 snap election, isn’t pleased with current Prime Minister Taro Aso’s performance on the subject:

    On 12 February, Former Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi of the LDP made his greetings at a gathering held at party headquarters to call for progress in Japan Post privatization and roundly criticized a series of pronouncements by Prime Minister Taro Aso related to Japan Post privatization: “If there’s no trust in the prime minister’s statements, we won’t be able to put up a good fight in elections.”

    Koizumi censured the prime minister for his statements, saying, “I’m flat-out disgusted–to the point that I want to laugh more than get angry.” He indicated that “the way things have been recently, it makes me wonder whether the prime minister hasn’t since before been taking shots at people who are trying to do battle (in the lower house election).”

    Among other things, Aso has contended on NHK that the apportionment of the privatized Japan Post has not been settled–which is to say, people knew Japan Post was to be privatized, but not that it was to be divided into four subsidiaries (retail bank, insurance, distribution/conveyance of letters and parcels, and window services/storefront operations) under the holding company.

    I’m not sure how it’s possible to think such a thing. The structure of the new Japan Post was debated, and debated, and debated. Japanese news yak shows, which love flow charts, diagrammed it. If there were people who didn’t understand that the proposed structure was a sticking point, that’s their problem.

    Of course, the bill that passed was a compromise, meaning that those of us who supported privatization rather than “privatization” were given cause for worry. The government is supposed to spin banking and insurance off completely by 2017 and to retain a one-third stake in the postal operations, but a lot can happen in a decade. From the moment the privatization bill was drafted, its lack of provisions against mutual shareholding raised fears that the four new companies would find a way to remain shackled to each other. There was a bill introduced in 2007 to freeze the selling off of stakes and assets; it passed the upper house, which is in control of the opposition. And the bank (Yucho) and insurance (Kampo) arms have been pushing to compete in the marketplace with their private counterparts, which lack the advantages of continued government stakes and brand assocation.

    Yucho is also the world’s largest bank by assets. Together with Kampo, it holds roughly a quarter of Japanese household assets (lots of federal bonds, too). But having been a branch of the government and then a semi-public corporation gives Japan Post Holdings and its hatchlings additional potential for collusion and sweetheart deals. The selling off of group of hotels owned by Kampo was canceled after allegations that the bid was far too low. The postal part of the operation has been busy, too. Japan Post Holdings had existed for approximately three nanoseconds when it made a deal with Nittsu (Nippon Express) to consolidate parcel services. The new brand name (it’s the Obama Era now, so maybe イエス郵ペリカン?) debuts later this year. There was serious discussion of mutual shareholding, too. Who wouldn’t want to get in on infrastructure initally set up by the government and still bearing its imprimatur?

    To be competitive without falling back on their state-controlled history, the service companies are going to need to streamline their operations, but the closures and firings that would be necessary to do so have been hotly contested. The old postal service had unprofitable outlets throughout rural Japan, but they became not only embodiments of its mandate to serve all citizens equally but also fiefdoms for ill-supervised local postmasters, who repaid the LDP by drumming up votes in the countryside to help keep it in power. The LDP has more free-market supporters than the opposition, which isn’t saying much to begin with, but many officials are wary of biting the hand that has fed them for so long.

    Magnetic electric

    Posted by Sean at 23:57, February 11th, 2009

    OUCH. I love to see Kylie looking fabulous, and I’m glad the girls at Go Fug Yourself noticed, but that last line is so true it’s painful. (The poll results are, too, at least at this point.)