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    I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue!

    Posted by Sean at 23:01, February 3rd, 2006

    Okay, I know I shouldn’t be disrespectful, but I laughed aloud at this (via Rondi Adamson). Luckily, I didn’t have a mouthful of tea and cake at the time:

    A leading Islamic cleric called for an “international day of anger” today over publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, and a Danish activist predicted that deadly violence could break out in Europe “at any minute”.

    As more European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, what started off as a row between Denmark’s press and its Muslim population grew into a full-blown “clash of civilisations”.

    As Rondi says, “But isn’t every day an international day of anger for Islamofascists?” Yeah, seriously, what is that all about? We infidels are going to be glowered at especially hard today? The shrieky denunciations of Western culture and institutions will be ratcheted up a decibel or two?

    The Danish cartoons thing is one of those stories that everyone with a blog had written about the moment it broke, so I wasn’t going to say anything about it. If you believe in freedom of thought and freedom of speech, the political position you need to take is obvious. As Virginia Postrel says:

    My response to this nonsense is to wonder why Muslims don’t grow up. If your co-religionists are going to take political stands, and blow up innocent people in the name of Islam, political cartoonists are going to occasionally take satirical swipes at your religion. Those swipes may not be nuanced, but they’re what you can expect when you live in a free society, where you, too, can hold views others find offensive. If you don’t like it, move to Saudi Arabia. Or just try to peacefully convert people to Islam.

    We all cherish the right to free speech, but of course we have to try and assess motives in order to be able to deal with each other, and there’s no reason not to raise the question of whether the cartoons in question are merely coarsening the public discourse rather than contributing useful thoughts to it. That’s the angle of the whole thing that pisses me off; there are legitimate issues about civilized behavior in a liberal society that this could be an opportunity to discuss. It’s useful to ask where vigorous opposition shades off into unenlightening jeering and disrespect.

    But, you know, you have to stop frothing at the mouth in order to get to the point at which you can contemplate such things, and that’s something many Islamic activists seem incapable of doing. Not only that, but moderate Muslims haven’t figured out how to grab the spotlight when these sorts of things happen and put a sensible, civilized public face on their faith. (Virginia’s right about Kindly Inquisitors , BTW. Short but very good.)

    Added after finishing tea: Trust me to get through an entire post about something I’d planned not to post about without posting about the thing that spurred me to post about it in the first place. (Don’t bother rereading that sentence–you got the gist already, trust me.)

    It was the State Department (via Michelle Malkin):

    “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims,” State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said when queried about the furore sparked by the cartoons which first appeared in a Danish newspaper.

    “We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility,” Higgins told AFP.

    “Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable. We call for tolerance and respect for all communities and for their religious beliefs and practices.”

    “Not acceptable”? Give me a break. “Not acceptable” is, like, the locution I use when scolding an employee for being late or not filling out his paperwork properly. It would be “not acceptable” for Electrolux to refuse to make restitution if it sold you a defective vacuum cleaner. It’s “not acceptable” for a commercial flight to take off an hour late with no apology from the crew.

    Given that candid eye contact from a woman in public is enough to “[incite] religious or ethnic hatreds” in some of these people, going all extra-sensitivo when writing (of all things!) political cartoons seems a bit pointless. Especially if our standard is going to be wifty-ass PR-speak like “acceptable.”

    BTW, while I’m citing a series of beautiful, smart, fierce women, Samantha Burns hasn’t yet posted about this whole ridiculous cartoon drama, but presumably she will. (A commenter has prodded her.) And when she does, you know it’s going to be a corker.

    Added still later: In the interest of diversity, here‘s a post that’s not by a beautiful, smart, fierce woman. Since this is Beautiful Atrocities we’re talking about, it goes without saying that it’s not safe for work. Not safe for play, either. I’m a big proponent of civilized discourse, but there are times when targeted offensiveness makes a point that can’t be made any other way.

    You’re the one for me, fatty

    Posted by Sean at 22:22, February 3rd, 2006

    Wow. Do you think this way of thinking could somehow be made to catch on elsewhere?

    “We can only provide information on how to lead a healthy life,” Health Ministry official Shigefumi Nakano said Friday, referring to a report on the ministry’s Web site. “The rest is up to the individual.”

    There’s a concept, huh? The context is that the Japanese are failing to meet health and fitness targets set by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare.

    The ministry’s 10-year plan also measures awareness about the health impact of activities such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

    While Japanese are becoming more conscious about how lifestyle affects health, many still do not get enough exercise, the ministry report said.

    Of course, Japan is a rich society, so people are taking in an increasing number of calories that are for pleasure rather than subsistence. Partially because everything is so expensive and partially because dainty portions are valued culturally (well, everywhere except ramen shops), you tend not to be served the great mountains of french fries or chocolate cake that you would be in the States, but it’s not hard to believe that people are getting somewhat fatter and lazier. That said, there’s no shortage of nutritional information available. The food labeling here is as good as it is in the States. And Japan has the same magazine articles, news and talk show segments, and advertisements extolling the benefits of fish and whole grains and green leafy vegetables that you’d see elsewhere in the First World, too.

    2004 banner year for DFAA

    Posted by Sean at 21:49, February 3rd, 2006

    Apparently, 2004 was a good year for bid rigging:

    It now appears that every major civil engineering and construction project commissioned by the DFAA in fiscal 2004 was tarnished by bid-rigging, according to sources close to an investigation by Tokyo prosecutors.

    Projects that were believed rigged include the relocation of a runway at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture as well as quay and bank protection work at the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Activities Sasebo and Yokose Fuel Terminal, both in Nagasaki Prefecture. Revelations about Iwakuni emerged Thursday.

    Of particular interest to prosecutors is a retired DFAA official who held the post of technical councilor, the third-highest job in the agency, an arm of the Defense Agency that its chief has pledged to dissolve.

    The construction project in Sasebo was contracted for 4.032 billion yen, while work on the Iwakuni project in fiscal 2004 cost 3.517 billion yen.

    The Sasebo project was the most expensive commissioned by the Fukuoka Defense Facilities Administration Bureau in fiscal 2004.

    The joint venture that won the project was headed by Penta Ocean Construction Co. and the bid price was 99.28 percent of what the agency was willing to spend. [Incompetents! They couldn’t find a way to wring out the other 0.72%?–SRK]

    The project at the Yokose Fuel Terminal cost about 1.575 billion yen and the contract was won by a joint venture led by Toa Corp. The bid price was 97.76 percent of what the agency had earmarked.

    Experts said such high percentages are unheard of when bidding is open to all.

    Three sitting or former DFAA high officials were arrested last week, but of course, you don’t get dirty doings of this magnitude without help from another post-War institution: the revolving door, known in Japanese as 天下り (ama-kudari: lit., “descent from the heavens [of powerful government work into a private-sector position in which one can exploit one’s accrued connections]”).

    Retired DFAA bureaucrats also played key coordinating roles in deciding which joint ventures got contracts.

    Sources close to the investigation said a retired technical councilor who moved to an executive position at a construction company was a key individual in the bid-rigging for the Iwakuni project.

    The individual, whose name was withheld, served as head of the DFAA’s Construction Department as well as technical councilor from the 1980s until the 1990s.

    A textbook case of amakudari at work.


    Posted by Sean at 08:41, February 3rd, 2006

    One of the best things about having the blog has been knowing that Atsushi will read every post. I don’t put in secret little messages to him or anything–if I were reading someone else’s blog where that was going on, I think it would creep me out–but I know that it’s one of the ways he finds out which news stories I’m paying attention to and what kinds of ups and downs friends are having, so when I press “Submit” on this or that entry, I always wonder whether it will turn out to be one that he has a sly comment on.

    We talk every night, almost always between 11:15 and 11:45, but sometimes a little later if one of us is working overtime or out with friends or colleagues. I know people in long-distance relationships who only talk every few days, and I figure it must work for them, but I don’t really sleep well if we haven’t talked a little about our days and said our I-love-yous.

    Circumstances do interfere sometimes, though. Atsushi’s office is having its company trip this weekend. Those who’ve been forced to go on corporate retreats will be thinking, Oh, no, not one of those…, and they’ll be half-right. There are no weird games where you try to identify whether your leadership style is better represented by a fig or an artichoke or any of that crap. But there’s a great deal of enforced togetherness and drinking and singing karaoke. Employee awards and things are often given–things like that. Atsushi was one of the people in charge of planning this year’s shindig, so tonight he probably won’t be able to call me even though today is exactly the kind of stressful day each of us relies on the other to talk him down from. I’ll e-mail his cell phone; he’ll at least be able to sneak a few minutes away from his room (shared with coworkers) to read that. But I figure I can post this, too, so that when he gets back home Sunday he can see I was thinking about him.


    Posted by Sean at 02:26, February 3rd, 2006

    The Diplomacy and Defense Committee of the House of Councillors is moving on JDA chief Fukujiro Nukaga’s recommendation that the DFAA be disbanded:

    On the morning of 3 February, the upper house Diplomacy and Defense Committee opened an intensive discussion related to the scandal over bid-rigging by the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.

    By way of apology, Nukaga stated, “The form this conduct has taken is a betrayal of the citizenry; we are all truly and utterly ashamed.” Concerning his own responsibility, he said, “The mission I have been given as the one with policy jurisdiction is to create a new system that the public can trust,” emphasizing that while he accepts responsibility he has no thought of resigning.

    The idea is to fold DFAA operations back into the JDA in the budget proposal for 2007 to be submitted this summer.

    The implications of its covenant

    Posted by Sean at 03:39, February 2nd, 2006

    Jews are cool. I don’t think I mention that often enough. Sure, they (and their institutions, such as the Israeli government) are fallible like the rest of us, but overall, they set quite a cultural example of resourceful and enterprising approaches to problems.

    It’s not that I have a problem with non-Jews, mind. Why, some of my best friends aren’t Jewish. Hell, I‘m not Jewish. It’s just that, given that the Palestinians have just voted a party into power that has wiping Israel off the map as part of its platform, saying that Jews are cool seems somewhat more important than it might have last week.

    I know, I know–Fatah was corrupt and disingenuous anyway. I also know that bitching about something Jimmy Carter said about the Middle East will have no practical result, though it brings back fond memories of the harangues Mom and Dad used to deliver at the TV news when I was little and might lower my blood pressure somewhat. Here he is. (BTW, Mr. Carter? If you turned up the heat, you wouldn’t need that vest on indoors to be toasty warm. Just a thought.)

    Hamas deserves to be recognized by the international community, and despite the group’s militant history, there is a chance the soon-to-be Palestinian leaders could turn away from violence, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday.

    Carter, who monitored last week’s Palestinian elections in which Hamas handily toppled the ruling Fatah, added that the United States should not cut off aid to the Palestinian people, but rather funnel it through third parties like the U.N.

    I’m bringing this up because I’ve heard the issue framed that way by a few people since the weekend, and I think it’s predicated on a misunderstanding. Has anyone–Bush, Rice, Rove, anyone?–talked about not recognizing the Hamas government the way, say, the ROC was considered the real “China” at the UN until thirty-odd years ago? Perhaps so and I’ve missed it. What I read from the Secretary of State, though, was this:

    “We’re going to review all of our assistance programs, but the bedrock principle here is we can’t have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government,” Rice said.

    The U.S., Europe and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist organization; various Arab governments have contact with the group.

    “It is important that Hamas now will have to confront the implications of its covenant if it wishes to govern,” Rice said. “That becomes a primary consideration in anything that we do.”

    It is not clear that all European nations or the United Nations would cut off aid, let alone Arab governments that do not recognize Israel.

    That sure sounds like a recognition of Hamas’s legitimacy as the democratically elected majority party to me. That it simultaneously declares that Hamas needs to stop acting like scum if it expects our help in governing is a different consideration. (The “if it wishes to govern” part reads like a warning of practical consequences rather than a threat.)

    Seriously, I’d like to be able to say I think Palestinians are cool, too. I don’t hold it against them, in any fundamental way, that they don’t like the Jews. Long-standing ethnic enmity is a fact of life all over the Earth, and while democratization has turned it into mostly good-natured mischief in some places, it still plays a major role in the love-your-goods-but-hate-you way that, say, Japan, China, and Korea interact (just to pull a region out of the air, you know).

    But besides all that, when they’re not getting misty-eyed over suicide bombers, the Palestinians have a reputation for being unusually hard-working and inventive. I was brought up in the sort of environment in which those qualities are valued and would just kind of like to know when–when on Earth–we’re going to see them bear fruit there. The Palestinians have infrastructure and universities. They have internal and external markets to exploit. Yes, the Israelis have access to cooler guns, but that alone doesn’t explain why it’s Israel that has the First World standard of living and the breakthroughs in medical research that get global publicity. I’ve seen–I wish I remembered where–the results of the recent election as a signal that the Palestinian people are starting to look at how they themselves, though their government, are causing some of their own problems instead of blaming everyone else. It’s nice to think so.

    In the meantime, though, the less-corrupt party with the official position that Israel must be destroyed is still taking an official position that Israel must be destroyed. Recognizing it without rewarding it strikes me as good policy.


    Posted by Sean at 22:56, February 1st, 2006

    To me, the Livedoor scandal isn’t all that sexy (and no, it’s not just because of the notable lack of physical comeliness of the chief villain of the piece), but this adds a kind of racy-spy-novel element:

    Takafumi Horie (33), former president of the Livedoor Group and a suspect in its violation of the Securities and Exchange Law, and multiple other senior managers were revealed on 1 January by another party in the scandal to have put money into and maintained accounts under assumed names in Hong Kong. Nagaya Nakamura (38), former president of the group’s investment subsidiary Livedoor Finance, apparently gave instructions to the financial institutions’ account managers. Thus the identity of one part of Livedoor’s money laundering operation has come to the surface.

    Okay, fine, a Swiss bank account would have been sexier. Maybe if we could have brought in a Swedish air hostess of icy demeanor under police interrogation, that would have been nice, too. Given the sheer appalling arrogance that’s coming to light and the egregious hot-guy deficit involved, though, the Hong Kong connection at least adds some savory intrigue.

    Insert joke about $1000 hammers here

    Posted by Sean at 00:12, February 1st, 2006

    The corruption scandal at the JDA (the Japan Defense Agency this time, not the Japan Dental Association–keep those scandals straight!) is coming to a head:

    Japan Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga announced on a TBS television program the morning of 1 February that he was planning to dissolve the Defense Facilities Administration Agency because of collusion scandals revolving around its procurement and construction practices. The new approach will be to review the DFAA’s organizational structure with an eye for its integration with the [rest of] the JDA.

    Nukaga stated, “The plan is to dissolve the body and make suitable adjustments. Given the extent of the goings-on, it has become clear that collusion is embedded in the structure of the organization. A dissolution is what the public expects, furthermore, it’s the decision I want to make, too.”

    The JDA stuff has ranged from inflated aircraft repair/parts procurement costs to cagily jiggering payments for use of facilities in Okinawa to illegal tracking of personal information, but the most recent flap is over bid rigging for climate control installation and construction projects. At this late date, no one pretends to be too shocked at revelations of collusion. Actually getting rid of an entity that’s not doing it’s job, however, is a pretty novel proposition. It didn’t help much in the Great Ministerial Chinese Fire Drill of 2001, but if Nukaga–who can be wonderfully stubborn when he wants to be–is serious, the administrative structure for Japan’s defense could really see meaningful streamlining. Not a moment too soon, either.

    Con carne

    Posted by Sean at 21:47, January 30th, 2006

    It came out yesterday that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries had not held to a cabinet-level resolution to do site inspections of US meat-processing facilities before reopening Japan to beef imports. Naturally, the revelation constituted a signal for everyone who’s ever walked past a government facility to deliver an opinion on the safety concerns thus raised. The one of most interest came, of course, from the opposition leader:

    Around noon on 30 January, Democratic Party of Japan leader Seiji Maehara responded to questions from the press corp in the Diet Building about Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa’s failure to conduct site inspections before deciding whether to reopen Japan to imports of US-produced beef. About Nakagawa’s statement that “I did not act in accordance with the diet resolution, so I take responsibility,” Maehara stated, “It’s only fitting for him to resign. And it shouldn’t stop there–responsibility must be extended to the entire cabinet.”

    Shinzo Abe weighed in also:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe spoke at a lower house budget committee meeting on 30 January, delivering the government’s official (unified) position revolving around the issue of the failure to conduct site inspections that were to have been carried out before the reopening of Japan to imports of US-produced beef: “The decision to resume imports has not conflicted with the government’s original response.”

    In the afternoon, he emended his statement to “(After the issuing of the government’s response paper), we judged that the efficacy of [procedures to] preserve safety had been secured through cooperation between Japan and the US. There has been no deviation from the response paper’s main point that we need to secure the safety of the food supply.” That evening, he retreated from his statement that morning, stating, “I have not said that [Nakagawa’s actions] violated the cabinet resolution.” He did not respond to calls for Nakagawa’s resignation from the opposition parties.

    Leaving aside whether the original cabinet resolution was excessively finicking and paranoid, it’s pretty clear that Nakagawa and his team failed to follow it by not performing site inspections. It’s not clear yet whether enough people will get worked up to force him to resign.

    Search me

    Posted by Sean at 04:27, January 30th, 2006

    I’d been thinking that I’m about due for a weird-search-term post, but when I looked back, I realized that there hasn’t been all that much variety after all. There’s just a lot of variation on a few themes, some of which are kind of disturbing:

    japanese forget the year party grope
    groping chik@n videos

    That first one is actually from almost a month ago; I started a post and saved it and then didn’t get around to finishing it. Despite the fact that the New Year is long gone, the topic is a perennial.

    You would not believe the number of searches I get looking for things about chik@n : “videos” and “instructions” especially. I can only assume it’s the same for any other Japan-focused blogger who’s been unwise enough to mention the phenomenon. I’m trying to believe that the overwhelming majority of Googles are from social scientists doing research. (Please don’t show up to disillusion me.) But whatever the motivation–and I don’t want to be encouraging any sickos here–I have to say: instructions??!! Who needs instructions to figure out how to grope?

    JAL close shave

    Which one, pray tell? There’s been a new report issued about the turbulence-induced shake-up of a Tokyo-Fukuoka flight a few years ago that caused a bunch of injuries. But perhaps you mean the near collision a few years ago that would have been one of the highest-fatality disasters in civil aviation history if it hadn’t been averted.

    gay culture kyushu


    Oh, uh, sorry.

    What I mean to say is, I think it’s most active in Fukuoka, which would make sense since that’s the largest city and a major transportation hub. Japanese friends are always going on and on about how hot Kyushu guys are; I’ve never really seen it. Now, Okinawan guys….

    do all white men have defined chests

    If only! Actually, there was another, almost identical search a few days ago, so either someone is investigating this with the assiduousness it deserves or there are two people out there who might do better in their quest if they pooled their resources.

    BTW, do I really use the word chest that often? I don’t rightly remember doing so, but I can’t think of any other reason I’d be showing up in so many “chest” searches.

    smooth chest guys

    [smirk] Wrong blog, honey.

    Japanese ripening woman mature sex picture

    Also wrong blog, honey. Or buddy, or whoever you are. Though take my word for it: if that’s your thing, I think it’s great.

    You know, over there somewhere.