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    Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that

    Posted by Sean at 03:34, February 27th, 2006

    I’m afraid that if I don’t stop reading Jeff and Joanne, I am going to lose my mind, collar Atsushi and take him away from this topsy-turvy world to an uncharted island, where we can read poetry and history beneath a shady lean-to woven from leaves and I can feed him on green mango salad and roasted fishies and we can live out our days in peace without constantly being reminded how many TOTAL NINNIES there are abroad in the land.

    Apparently, Oriana Fallaci is now a fascist. Who knew, huh? Cathy Seipp says that a friend of hers wanted a copy of the English translation of Fallaci’s latest book and thought, foolishly, that City Lights would be an apt place to pick it up:

    So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

    “No,” snapped the clerk. “We don’t carry books by fascists.”

    Now let’s just savor the absurd details of this for a minute. City Lights has a long and proud history of supporting banned authors — owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti was indicted (and acquitted) for obscenity in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and a photo at the bookstore showed Ferlinghetti proudly posing next to a sign reading “banned books.”

    Yet his store won’t carry, of all people, Fallaci, who is not only being sued in Italy for insulting religion because of her latest book but continues to fight the good fight against those who think that the appropriate response to offensive books and cartoons is violent riots. It’s particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk.

    Strangest of all is the scenario of such a person disliking an author for defending Western civilization against radical Islam — when one of the first things those poor, persecuted Islamists would do, if they ever (Allah forbid) came to power in the United States, is crush suspected homosexuals like him beneath walls.

    Not only is it helping free speech not to stock a book by a noted free-thinker, but it’s apparently liberating to a teenager to tell her she should shut her mind to a major academic subject. Joanne Jacobs retains her ever-unflappable demeanor while posting a critique of this incomprehensibly dumb Richard Cohen column:

    I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time–the only proof I’ve ever seen of divine intervention–somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again. I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took.

    Here’s the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know–never mind want to know–how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later–or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note–or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

    The column is over a week old and has been whaled away at by several education bloggers linked by Joanne. Most of them have done an admirable job of defending the usefulness of algebra. But another aspect that deserves attention is Cohen’s corresponding (and self-congratulatory) balderdash about writing.

    Certainly, too few people can write well–no one can gainsay that point. However, there are far too many people who think that style is a substitute for substance. The world now has plenty of English and sociology and history majors who got by by producing essays using the approved template–organized into paragraphs, featuring footnotes in MLA style, relying on the occasional po-mo wordplay to score points for insouciance–without being schooled in cold, hard facts. These are the people you encounter whose arguments sound great when you first hear them–because their internal logic is sound–but fall apart a few hours later when you have time to test them against real life and think, Wait a minute! She never even CONSIDERED the possibility that…. The more facts you have in your mental database, the more likely you are to have some sense of what you don’t know and, thus, to be able to diagnose and address your own assumptions. Pooh-poohing the rigidities of math and overpraising the flexibilities of writing is a good way to reinforce the too-common American belief that you can bluff your way through anything.


    Posted by Sean at 03:05, February 27th, 2006

    The Iranian foreign minister is now in Japan for talks; the build-up was covered in the Japanese press, though there never really seemed to be any developments interesting enough to comment on. In any case, Japan has normal relations with Iran and buys quite a bit of its petroleum, so it has a lot of incentive to smooth some of the recent conflicts over:

    Iran and Russia on Sunday agreed in principle to establish a joint uranium enrichment venture, a breakthrough in talks on the U.S.-backed Kremlin proposal. But it was not known whether Iran will entirely give up enrichment at home, a top demand of the West.

    Japan, which relies on Iran for much of its oil imports, has been keen to play a role in resolving the standoff. Tokyo also has a special link with Mottaki, who served as ambassador to Japan from 1994-1999.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was slated to meet Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Aso later Monday. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also was to greet Mottaki, the Foreign Ministry said.

    This TEPCO page puts the percent of Japan’s 2003 oil imports that came from Iran at 16.1%.

    The Nikkei doesn’t have one of its quickie five-line stories posted about the visit, which suggests that the meeting with Aso hasn’t yet produced anything quotable.

    The friendly skies

    Posted by Sean at 02:51, February 27th, 2006

    The US may give some of the Yokota airbase back to Japan. The issue is airspace rather than land:

    Each day, about 470 commercial flights in and out of Haneda and Narita airports must take alternate routes to avoid airspace controlled by the U.S. military’s Yokota airbase, according to a calculation by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

    Some flights detour around the space and others make steeper ascents than needed.

    The number of flights affected will rise to about 650 in 2009 with more traffic at the airports, the study said.

    The extra fuel cost is 8 billion yen a year, likely to climb to 10.9 billion yen in 2009.

    If a southern section of the airspace were returned to Japan, the extra cost and the flight times could be minimized, the report said.

    While Japan’s population isn’t rising, the number of flights in and out of Tokyo is. The closest Japan has had to a civil aviation disaster since the Otsuka crash in 1985 was in 2001, when two JAL jets came within thirty feet of colliding. Tokyo Metro Governor Shintaro Ishihara blamed the strictures on flightpaths imposed by having US military airspace so close to Haneda and Narita, though it must be noted that weird ascent and descent patterns were not exactly the only problem on display:

    Transport ministry officials said the post-accident report filed by the DC-10 pilot, Tatsuyuki Akazawa, 45, also indicated the two planes missed each other by a whisker. “Altitude difference little, lateral distance none,” Mr. Akazawa’s report said.

    The incident occurred early Wednesday evening. The Boeing Flight 907 was ascending to a cruising altitude of 11,300 meters, while the DC-10 Flight 958 was descending from 11,900 meters to prepare for landing at the New Tokyo International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, transport ministry officials said.

    Both planes were equipped with the Traffic Collision Avoidance System, a computerized device that would alert pilots when they were flying too close to each other.

    Ministry officials said air traffic communications records kept at the Tokyo Air Traffic Control Center, based in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, show that air traffic controllers repeatedly used wrong flight numbers in telling the pilots of the two airplanes to change course.

    The official in charge of the two flights, a 26-year-old man in his third year of training as an air traffic controller, first realized that the flight paths of the two planes were too close and initiated warnings to the two pilots under the supervision of a 32-year-old controller who served as his coach.

    According to air traffic communications records released by the transport ministry, the male air traffic controller twice ordered the Boeing 747 to lower its attitude and the DC-10 to turn right.

    As there was no response, the coach broke into the radio channel and told ” Flight 957″ to immediately lower its altitude.

    The record shows that the coach again misspoke the flight number when the Boeing 747 pilot radioed in that there was an alert on the aircraft’s collision avoidance system and he was descending. “Roger, flight 908,” she said, in a message meant for the Boeing flight 907 pilot.

    Moments later, the DC-10 flight 958 pilot reported to air traffic control that alert also sounded on his collision avoidance system, and the trainee controller responded, “Roger, flight 908.” “The situation was extremely dangerous,” Mr. Watanabe told air traffic control after the near-fatal collision was averted. Analysts said that had the Boeing not dived to avoid a collision, “the worst ever accident in aviation history” could have occurred.

    The Boeing 747 was carrying 411 passengers and 16 crew members, and the DC-10 had 250 passengers and crew members on board.

    Poor communication about the collision avoidance system was the major cause of the midair collision over Germany in 2002, though the air traffic controller involved was undone by circumstances and didn’t blurt out non-existent flight numbers.

    Speaking of changes in US military facilities, several thousand Marines may or may not be moved out of Okinawa as part of the Futenma restructuring plan. They would be relocated to Guam.

    Cozy domestic scene

    Posted by Sean at 23:50, February 25th, 2006

    Just saw Atsushi off at the station. I have to go in to the office today, and things are easier for him at work on Monday if he doesn’t take the last flight and get back to Kyushu late. That meant I had about twenty-six hours to help him recharge.

    Yesterday he was tired as usual–insufficient sleep is really common among office workers here–so after we had tea in our new Froot Loops-inspired cups, he napped while I finally got around to writing a few letters. (You’ll have no trouble believing I’m the fountain-pen-and-linen-paper type, yeah?)

    One envelope for my best friend from high school. She lives in Toronto now, and up until a year or so ago, we were really good about calling and writing once every two months or so. But you know, you get busy, and you figure you can always e-mail, and then you just sort of don’t. Meaning that I’m just now answering her Christmas card.

    Inside another envelope, a letter to my first American gay friend in Japan, a former colleague now in his late forties who’s been with his Japanese boyfriend for…jeez, it must be going on fifteen years?…anyway, they’re two of the buddies who helped me through my twenties by listening to my bitching and doing their you’re-not-seriously-going-to-date-that-organism-are-you-sweetie? duty when necessary. No, I’m not going to tell you how often it was necessary. I will say that, naturally, they love Atsushi.

    They moved back to the States a few years ago, and they’re going to kill me if I don’t take them up on their invitation to visit them in Oregon one of these days; but for now, all I can manage is to answer not only their Christmas card but this random package they sent me a few months ago. It had a bag of truly frightening cheap-o candy in it–garishly-colored fake hamburgers and french fries and stuff–with a bunch of jokey post-it notes attached and a thinking-of-you message scrawled in magic marker. It came on a day that really needed some brightening up (some friends seem to have a sixth sense about that), and I wrote a thank-you e-mail right away and swore I’d produce a real, proper, witticism-filled, intimate letter that weekend. I think that was…November?

    Look, at least I e-mailed right away.

    And no, those are not the only people I owe letters. Everyone else gets tackled tomorrow.

    Speaking of tackling–hell, speaking of e-mails–while I was making brunch this morning, we had one of the Sunday political yak shows on, and the whole deliciously inane debate over that supposedly incriminating e-mail from Takafumi Horie instructing that money be paid to Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsutomu Takebe’s younger son ( Nikkei Japanese report, Yomiuri English report–love the headline!) was the story of the day.

    Those who haven’t lived here seem to assume, because of the Japanese cultural reputation for inscrutable politeness, that government proceedings are executed with a “With all due respect to my esteemed colleague from Aomori Prefecture, I believe that he is under something of a misapprehension” tone.


    They showed Takebe getting windily indignant in front of a press conference, which was only marginally entertaining. Then they showed Prime Minister Koizumi and DPJ leader Seiji Maehara (is it my imagination, or does he look more like Nefertiti every time he appears in front of a camera?) blustering at each other in the Diet. I couldn’t pay close attention from the kitchen, but it was the expected “You’ve proved nothing!” and “We need time to see whether we can prove something–it’s a freakin’ Swiss bank account!” stuff. As always, there was angry burbling in the background that you figured might erupt, which would have been all kinds of cool. We LOVE uproar in the Diet. Unfortunately, things didn’t explode. Papers didn’t fly through the air, water pitchers remained un-upended, and things just sort of stayed at the percolating-animosity level. But hey–there’s plenty of time for things to get more complicated and vicious, and this is already more fun than Rathergate!

    Off to work.

    Added over slovenly-bachelor busy-day lunch of Big Mac, fries, and Coke: Atsushi reads this blog and asks me questions about cultural references and slang he doesn’t get, so I know that tonight, I’ll pick up my cell phone when it rings and hear, “Hi, dearest. What are Froot Loops?” Froot Loops are a super-sugary breakfast cereal. When I was little, I only ate at friends’ houses or my grandmother’s. My parents bought only unsweetened cereal most of the time. But of course, you couldn’t miss the ads unless you didn’t have a TV, and it’s a pretty universally-known consumer-culture artifact.

    This is also a good opportunity to point out that the pro-Denmark gathering in DC took place as planned over the weekend. Instapundit naturally has pictures.


    Posted by Sean at 13:34, February 24th, 2006

    I should be in bed, but I couldn’t raise Atsushi on the phone earlier. It turned out (by no means unusually) that his company had had a drinking party after work.

    Fortunately, he called me back at 00:45-ish to say that he was going to make his flight here tomorrow as planned. Unfortunately, he also said that he can’t stay until Tuesday as we’d hoped. (He has vacation days stored up, and we were figuring that this would be a good time to burn through some of them.) At least he’ll have 36 hours or so of being tended to, since tomorrow I don’t have to go in to the office, so when he arrives, we can go buy whatever he’d like me to make for lunch. Then he can veg on the sofa for a while as usual. No, of course, I’m not using that as an excuse to get him to help with the weekly household shopping.

    Okay, maybe just a little bit.

    But the POINT is that I at least have two days to work out the stress he’s accumulated from living in his designated hovel and working in Kyushu, so we’ll make the most of it as always. If there’s big news here, I may post about it; otherwise, hope everyone has a good weekend.

    And something is cracking / I don’t know where

    Posted by Sean at 09:04, February 24th, 2006

    Getting about time for spring poems to be appropriate again. The Vernal Equinox is still a while off, but not spring according to the traditional lunar calendar. I posted one of my favorites when I first began this blog:



    Iwama todjishi / koori mo kesa ha / tokesomete / Koke no shita mizu / michi motomuramu


    Even the ice that shackles the rocks has begun to melt this morning–the water under the moss will be seeking a pathway.

    the Priest Saigyo

    The Japanese are very big on what you might call “the moment before.” As in, the cherry trees are considered most poignantly beautiful immediately before they bloom–when you can see the buds straining to burst open. What Saigyo describes above isn’t the return of spring, exactly–it’s that moment when you get a sense that something is stirring under the remaining cover of winter.

    Of course, the Japanese can also poeticize the moment after. Another of my favorite poets, Yosano Akiko, included this among the first poems in her most famous collection:



    Yu-ami shite / izumi wo ideshi / Waga hada ni / fururu ha tsuraki / hito no yo no kinu

    Yosano Akiko

    Finishing my bath
    and emerging from the spring,
    I could hardly bear
    their chafing against my skin,
    the silks of the world of man

    Yosano Akiko

    I have a vague memory that the きぬ may have been glossed, in an old annotated version I read years ago, as just meaning “robe,” but if Akiko isn’t going to use kanji, then I’m going to assume she means “silk,” which in any case intensifies the heightened, raw sensitivity she feels. My guess is that the poem is from, if not now, some time in the winter, because that’s when you get out of an open-air hot spring and think, Man, it’s cold! Well, if you’re not a poet, like me. If you’re a poet, like Akiko, you think in tanka.


    Posted by Sean at 05:39, February 24th, 2006

    Damn. If your US residence is in the 15th District, you can get something called the Dent Dispatch, which feeds your inbox with the latest news from Charlie Dent’s website. Most of the time it’s the usual “I managed to snag $3 million in federal money for a Memorial to Pennsylvania Dutch Settlers to be erected in front of the old Hess’s Main Store” or whatever. But Reason has reached back a few months for one of his more wacky overreaches. I find that when reading whatever his latest post is, it helps to linger a few seconds on the very adorable picture he has posted at the top of each page first, because once you get to the words…well, look here:

    “The growing availability of methamphetamine is a form of terrorism unto itself,” Congressman Dent said. “This bill will help reduce the supply of this deadly drug by making it more difficult to obtain the ingredients necessary for production. It will also stiffen existing penalties for anyone caught producing or trafficking in meth.”

    You know, if Pennsylvania politicians keep talking nonsense like this whenever they open their mouth about terrorism, I’m going to have to start telling people I’m from “near New Jersey.”

    Okay, no, it’ll never get that bad. But still.

    The availability of meth is a form of terrorism? I can see how buying illegal drugs, which puts money in the hands of shady characters who sometimes funnel it to terrorists, can be seen as abetting terrorism. That doesn’t mean I’m in favor of the War on Drugs, I hope it’s obvious. I’m just saying that someone who managed to brush past rationality in a crowded hallway within the last week could see a connection.


    Posted by Sean at 09:17, February 23rd, 2006

    There’s so much information lacking about the port-rental-connected-to-UAE-holding-company thing that I figure I’ll let everyone else rupture a few arteries and decide what I think when we actually know what we’re talking about.

    While the subject is raw, however, Peggy Noonan has some great points to make about security concerns:

    It is almost five years since 9/11, and since the new security regime began. Why hasn’t it gotten better? Why has it gotten worse? It’s a disgrace, this airport security system, and it’s an embarrassment. I’m sure my Englishman didn’t come away with a greater respect or regard for America.

    So we’re all talking about port security this week, and the debate over the Bush administration decision to allow United Arab Emirates company to manage six ports in the United States. That debate is turning bitter, and I wonder if the backlash against President Bush isn’t partly due to the fact that everyone in America has witnessed or has been a victim of the incompetence of the airport security system. Why would people assume the government knows what it’s doing when it makes decisions about the ports? It doesn’t know what it’s doing at the airports.

    This is a flying nation. We fly. And everyone knows airport security is an increasingly sad joke, that TSA itself often appears to have forgotten its mission, if it ever knew it, and taken on a new one–the ritual abuse of passengers.

    Now there’s a security problem. Solve that one.

    Yeah, or how about learning to be competent at both? I’m one of those people who usually find the great machines that keep our civilization going inspiring and exhilarating. Turning me off to something like flying is a major undertaking. But nowadays there are few experiences more dispiriting than taking off for the airport.

    Of course, JFK has always been a horrible place–especially so if you’ve got a lot of airports in other countries to compare it to, but plenty crappy on its own terms. Still, it’s only gotten worse since 9/11. Like Noonan, I seem to win (?) the wand-down lottery frequently, though whether it’s because of my Irish-sounding name and non-menacing slightness of build I don’t pretend to know.

    I don’t pretend to enjoy it, either, but frequently the fact that the people doing the extra-special sweeps go out of their way to be nice and seem to care about being methodical at least restores your faith that someone gives a damn. (Yes, I’m cynically aware that they’re probably under orders not to get you riled up, but you take what you can get.) I don’t know of other facility that can match JFK for sheer blasé surliness, but all the other hubs I’ve been through in the last several years have managed to leave a similar impression of high-handedness combined with slackness.

    Nukaga: DFAA Most Exalted Grand Poobah to stay put

    Posted by Sean at 08:54, February 22nd, 2006

    Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga speaks:

    A special lower house budgetary committee deliberatory session revolving around collusion in construction projects for the Defense Facilities Administrative Agency was held the morning of 22 February. Defense Agency leader Fukushiro Nukaga, on being given news of the rearrest of a former top agency official, stated, “we are thoroghly investigating the problems in both administrative and organizational terms, and making a fresh start is the responsibility of the DFAA leader and my mission.” He denied anew that either he himself or DFAA head Iwao Kitahara would resign.

    Nukaga stated that Kitahara has assumed the job of chair of the investigative committee that has been established in the DFAA, and indicated that there is no immediate plan for Kitahara to be reassigned.

    Kitahara is of special interest to those who follow US-Japan military ties because, for one thing, he used to be DFAA chief in Okinawa and, partly because of that and partly because he’s now the general secretary, he’s been one of the chief negotiators in the drive to restructure US military facilities in that prefecture (especially, of course, Futenma). To what extent he allowed the culture of collusion to continue to flourish at the DFAA is an open question–he was clearly good at rising through the ranks, but on the other hand he’s only been in the driver’s seat for a year or so. It doesn’t seem unreasonable, on the face of it, for Nukaga to decide that the imminent clean-up is, as he says, Kitahara’s proper job.

    More Japan notes

    Posted by Sean at 00:11, February 21st, 2006

    Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto may be evil, but he’s not nuts. Or, at least, the psychiatric evaluator appointed by the court has ruled that he’s fit to stand trial ( Yomiuri English report, Nikkei Japanese report). This is from the Yomiuri:

    Meantime, judicial sources said the high court was now likely to dismiss the appeal by Matsumoto, commonly known as Shoko Asahara, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, an irrevocable confirmation of the death penalty meted out by the Tokyo District Court in February 2004.

    The lower court found him guilty of masterminding 13 crimes, including sarin gas attacks on Tokyo’s subway system in 1995 that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500 others, and in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, as well as the 1989 murder of a lawyer and his family.

    The defense counsel for the cult founder had argued that the 50-year-old defendant was not fit for trial, while presiding Judge Masaru Suda had maintained that the cult founder was competent enough to stand trial or defend himself in court with the help of defense lawyers.

    The doctor is believed to have diagnosed that Matsumoto’s abnormal behavior stems from either a mild reaction to incarceration–a mental breakdown caused by prolonged detention–or that he is feigning sickness.

    The evaluation ran to 88 pages, according to the Nikkei.


    Yesterday there was a stoppage on JR East’s Yamanote Line, which rings the very center of Tokyo like London’s Circle Line. It was just before 8 a.m. Not a pleasant scene, given that the three-hour (!) interruption of service caused problems for 112000 commuters. I’m sure the cab drivers loved it. I’m sure the buses were pandemonium, too.

    To preserve balance and harmony, one imagines, JR West reported yesterday that over a thousand of its trains have bad brakes in the front cars:

    Emergency brakes of the automatic train stop system on more than 40 percent of 2,700 lead cars West Japan Railway Co. uses would not function when their regular brakes fail, the firm said Monday.

    The problem was caused when circuits connecting the ATS-SW and emergency braking systems were modified in 1994 to help facilitate the recovery process after an ATS malfunction. JR West used these lead cars for 12 years without noticing any fault.

    The emergency brakes would not function on about 1,200 lead cars, the company said.

    A representative of JR West’s public relations department said, “We apologize for making passengers anxious.”

    To which residents of JR West territories are probably replying, “Thanks, pal, but we were anxious already.” It was a JR West train that derailed last year in Amagasaki, killing over a hundred people. That accident was found to be due to misjudgment by the train driver…and his misjudgment was probably the result at least in part of systemic flaws in JR West’s training. It became a lightning rod for questions about transportation safety in light of Japan’s evolving economy and aging infrastructure.

    The cars in question in this case, as you might suspect, are old. They were all manufactured two decades ago, before the rail system was privatized.


    The other big story today, besides the elimination of the Japanese women’s curling team from Olympic competition, is about an e-mail:

    Caution was urged Monday in the use of the Diet’s authority to invoke special investigative powers to verify the authenticity of a controversial e-mail allegedly sent by former Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie that instructed that 30 million yen be remitted to the younger son of the Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general.

    House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Tadamori Oshima of the LDP said the allegation by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan regarding what it claims is an e-mail sent by Horie is not serious enough to warrant using the constitutional powers of the Diet to investigate it.

    “Given that the investigation right of the Diet into state affairs as stipulated by the Constitution is extremely significant, it should only be exercised with great prudence,” Oshima said at a meeting of directors of the Budget Committee.

    Prior to Oshima’s statement, an LDP director at the meeting said the DPJ, which originally raised the remittance issue, should present clear evidence to prove that 30 million yen was sent to the son of LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe, such as a bank account statement. The director said the LDP would agree to hold a Budget Committee meeting in camera for that purpose.

    More finger-pointing to ensue, no doubt.