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    Posted by Sean at 15:55, December 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi is putting the most kindly light on Democratic Party of Japan leader Maehara’s recent rejection of the idea of fuller cooperation with the ruling coalition:

    On 16 December, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke about DPJ leader Seiji Maehara’s denial of the possibility of a “broad alliance” with the LDP: “As the head of the opposition party, he had no choice but to say such a thing.” Koizumi went further and stated, “The world of politics is difficult to predict even in the short-term. In Germany, such cooperation had been said to be impossible, but it came to pass,” suggesting once again that a broad alliance [was feasible]. He was responding to questions from the press corps at the Prime Minister’s residence.

    Regarding the wave upon wave of criticisms leveled at Maehara at the [DPJ] party convention, Koizumi gave the DPJ leader a shout-out: “Being in a leadership position is tough. I hope Mr. Maehara will see things through and ride out his current difficulties.”

    That last reference to “Mr. Maehara” may be a noun of direct address, but that doesn’t really affect the basic meaning. Maehara has been relatively quiet. You see him quoted frequently, of course–he’s the opposition leader, after all–but his comments rarely have the irritability of Katsuya Okada’s. Of course, that could mean either that he’s shrewdly buying his time or that he realizes how green he is and is steering a middle course out of fear that he’ll make a misstep. Or some of both.

    BTW, Maehara, one of whose distinguishing characteristics is his higher level of hawkishness than previous DPJ leaders, intimated to the press on a visit to Okinawa that he could be prepared to agree to a special provision to shift land use rights from Naha to Tokyo in order to implement the transfer of US military facilities at Futenma. On the other hand, he’s criticized the government’s current treatment of the Okinawa government: “When restructuring specific [military] bases, close consultation with–and consent of–regional government entities, is indispensable; but [the approach] this time around was extremely crude. It demonstrated contempt [for Okinawa].” Tension between the capital and the provinces is a fact of life for every large, complex society I’m aware of, and in Japan, things are especially prickly between Tokyo and Okinawa.

    Okinawa has its own distinct language and history and sorely resents being treated, as it views things, like the mainland’s trash dump. The locals don’t like putting up with the off-hours behavior of military personnel and the foreign control of large swaths of land, but they’d be in an economic pickle if we left, and they know it. Regarding US military installations, of course, things aren’t black and white. Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in Japan. Having our bases there brings in money and creates jobs. The US could probably learn to cultivate a more friendly manner toward its sub-tropical hosts, but I’m not sure how much good that would do when the far more long-term problem is with the deep rift between Tokyo and Naha.

    US beef arrives on Japanese soil

    Posted by Sean at 11:33, December 16th, 2005

    The ban on US beef imports to Japan has been lifted, thus (one can only fervently hope) freeing our leaders to talk about more important things in meetings. Just for the record, the contents of the first shipment are nearly itemized by the Asahi:

    The first shipment of U.S. beef touched down at Narita International Airport early Friday morning, just four days after the government lifted its ban, officials said.

    The shipment, containing 4.3 tons of cut beef and 0.3 tons of internal organs, was imported by leading ham and sausage maker Marudai Food Co., based in Osaka. The meat passed through quarantine Friday.

    Iraq election

    Posted by Sean at 04:17, December 16th, 2005

    And I can’t go to bed without noting the elections in Iraq. Naturally, the Reuters headline is “After sweeping Iraq vote, power wrangles to start.”

    Turnout was at least 67 percent, Election Commission chief Hussein Hendawi told Reuters, much higher than the 58 percent seen in the January 30 vote for an interim assembly.

    “This is a day of freedom for us,” said Selima Khalif, an elderly woman voting in the poor southern province of Maysan.

    “We are so happy. The most important thing we need is security. We want our children to get a better life.”

    Good on them.

    Antipodean antipathy

    Posted by Sean at 04:08, December 16th, 2005

    Ross at Romeo Mike’s has been covering something I haven’t really seen in the news much here, though I’m not being as attentive as usual. I also haven’t been reading my normal blogs much, which is why I’m just noticing it there, too. The post linked there is about the fifth night; you can keep scrolling on his front page for more about what happened on preceding days.

    The overall story arc is depressingly familiar, including not just the rioting but the response from pampered celebs. The amusement of seeing Ross, usually a thoroughgoing gentleman, refer to Germaine Greer as “an out-of-touch attention-slag” doesn’t help much. He’s also attended to Cate Blanchett nicely:

    Oh groan, as if the situation wasn’t bad enough, now celebrities are coming out kumbayaing. Cate bloody Blanchett stood on a beach next to Peter bloody Garrett announcing their new movement “Wave of Respect’. These people have no mercy.

    Cate’ b’ said “racism is bad and we all just have to get along” and Peter said “racism is bad and surfers have to get along.” No mention of Muslim thugs having to get along with anyone though.

    Will somebody please save us – BLOODY. SHUT. CATE. UP!

    He has a gajillion links to Australian news reports, all frighteningly worth reading. The heart of the problem is here:

    The Police Commissioner says he won’t comment on police operations. The point is that ethnic gangs know that the police won’t / can’t touch them, which only emboldens them. It’s why gang crime has now reached the point that our city – this safe, happy city I grew up in and that generations of our families made sacrifices to build and pass on – is hostage to brutal, ballisitic thugs.

    It’s also why the rest of us are so frustrated and disillusioned with the system; certain minorities are given undeserved soft treatment and special consideration by authorities which aren’t extended to everyone else.

    It’s like trying to fight tigers with one hand tied behind your back. And we’re supposed to just put up with it?

    A special mention and thank-you must go to Bob Carr, dilletante NSW Premier since 1995, who suddenly and unexpectedly jumped ship a few months ago like a Labor rat from the proverbial, moments before we could register what was heading toward his office fan; Orange Grove, cross-city tunnel, hospital crises, gang crime, what- else-are-we- in-for? Merry Christmas.

    Here’s a must-read plea from a policeman explaining how ‘on the ground cops’ have been emasculated in Sydney. It also explains why gang crime has been increasing.

    The sun never sets on the PC empire. Best to those trying to defend themselves and their city.

    Traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling

    Posted by Sean at 03:50, December 16th, 2005

    Chris at Coming Out at 48 is back from his break and has prepared this grenadine, which reminds me that I still haven’t extracted from Atsushi what he wants from my parents. I came out to them…uh, it’ll be exactly ten years in two or so weeks, and if you’d told me then that in 2005, they’d be pestering me to tell them what they should get my boyfriend for Christmas, I would have looked at you as if you’d just landed from Mars. I was just kind of hoping to make it through the holidays in one piece.

    Things have changed 180 degrees, so I’ve been trying like mad to make this come off perfectly. You know, somehow finding out what Atsushi might like without letting him know that it’s going to come from my parents, so the surprise isn’t spoiled but he gets an artifact he really wants. Yeah, yeah, yeah, c’est le geste qui compte and stuff. It’s obviously not working, so I’ll post this. And Atsushi will read it. And tomorrow I’ll just ask him point blank what he wants my mother and father to get him from America. And I’ll spend Christmas and お正月 feeling undeserving of both him and them as usual.

    Next generation

    Posted by Sean at 03:29, December 16th, 2005

    A joint missile initiative between Japan and the US is moving ahead:

    On 15 December, the government opened meeting on national security at the Prime Minister’s residence, entering into proceedings to move joint Japan-US technological research on next-generation missile defense systems into the development phase starting in 2006. The Japan Defense Agency explained that development expenditures over nine years will total US $2.1 to 2.7 billion, and that Japan is coordinating with the United States under a plan for Japan to shoulder US $1.0 to 1.2 billion of that burden.

    The missile type in question is the Aegis, which is ship-based.

    Added at 11:30: The US and Japan are also set to run joint ground exercises:

    The Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Marine Corps will carry out the first bilateral joint drill off the west coast of the United States in January to infiltrate a remote island and regain control of it from an enemy, sources said Thursday.

    Until recently, U.S. forces have been reluctant to carry out joint exercises with Japan on a remote island in an effort to avoid possible confrontation with China.

    The decision, however, was made to demonstrate bilateral cooperation in Okinawa Prefecture and the Southwest Islands against China, which has been rapidly boosting its military capability in the last few years.

    The map exercise incorporates exchanging gunfire with the enemy to regain control of the island.

    “The U.S. marines are superior to the GSDF in terms of combat capability. The drill is aimed at learning the basics in landing operations, including infiltration, from the marines. The exercise levels will be increased as the drill continues,” a senior GSDF officer said.

    About 600 islands lie off the Kyushu and Okinawa regions, however, GSDF bases are located only on the main island of Okinawa and Tsushima island in Nagasaki Prefecture. The Southwest Islands are poorly protected by Japan’s defense system.

    Whenever I bring this sort of thing up, someone inevitably asks, “Do you really expect China to attack Japan?” And, well, no, I don’t think anyone really does, given things as they are now. The state of the PRC military makes a coup against the CCP appear unlikely, and CCP itself, mindful of its in many ways tenuous grip on power, would be foolish to launch an assault against Japan. But circumstances can change very quickly; and besides, purely from the standpoint of basic readiness, it’s simply ridiculous for Japan–prosperous and insular as it is–not to have solid plans for defense against a large, restless neighbor with a historical pattern of hostility toward Japan. As the Asahi glancingly notes, the point of the exercise is also to impress upon other players in the region that the US and Japan partnership is firm.

    Johnny makes me / Feel strangely good about myself

    Posted by Sean at 03:18, December 16th, 2005

    Am I the only one who finds the attention being lavished on Brokeback Mountain just a little unpalatable? I have no objection to excitement by gays that there’s a movie that addresses gay themes–especially the sort of desperate, unspoken attraction that a lot of us can remember from before coming out and that is at the heart of a lot of straight romantic dramas also. Nor do I see how having it take place on the plains is inherently PC and exploitative; if Annie Proulx had set the original story anywhere outside the Castro or Christopher Street, someone somewhere would be bellyaching that the resulting screenplay was designed to falsely gay up the region in question. That’s just the way it goes with these things.

    What I’m unsettled at is the way gay commentators seem to be freighting a single art movie with more significance than it may be capable of bearing up under. Via Michael, here‘s Steve Miller at IGF on two reviews. And on the blog at the Washington Blade, Matt Hennie and Ken Sain sum up what appear to be the main nay and yea arguments, respectively.

    The whole is-it-an-authentically-gay-movie? thing is the sort of discussion that bores me to tears. What interests me more is how distinct its gayness actually makes it from other sorts of movies about minorities. I mean, I can see why the potential success of Brokeback Mountain means something to people. I can’t see why it means that much. Hennie makes an excellent general point…

    Most people go to the movies for escape and relaxation, not to be challenged by a movie that’s on the cutting edge.

    …and then unfortunately develops it only from the gay angle, as if there weren’t plenty of other groups of people who only tend to show up in major movies if depicted stereotypically.

    For a timely example, just look at Memoirs of a Geisha , based on Arthur Golden’s repellant novel, which reaffirms the Hollywood truisms that (1) anyone with slanted eyes can play an Asian of any old nationality well enough to be persuasive to audiences (and to critics, who affect to know better) and (2) it helps if the English spoken is Charlie Chan-ified enough to seem exotic. A movie that was unshowily and un-Mikado-ly adapted from, say, Mineko Iwasaki’s Geisha: A Life would probably flop. People would keep expecting its Orientalness to kick in and be disappointed when it didn’t.

    Gays, of course, have a bigger problem in that–get this through your heads, people–a lot of people think what we do in bed is frankly disgusting, which kind of makes it hard to get a romantic drama over. I’m not applauding that, but it’s a fact. Philadelphia, Sain oddly doesn’t seem to realize, was acceptable because the story fit preconceptions: Tom Hanks was unfaithful to his boyfriend and got AIDS, and the single sexual encounter treated by the film was guilt-shrouded and took place off-screen in a grubby porn theater. Those preconceptions doubtless are based, for many people, on the idea that being gay is somehow worthy of punishment; however, gay activism has to take some of the blame for having spent much of its energy since 1982 on depicting gay men as noble, suffering, and tragic.

    It would be nice if Americans were aware that gays come in as many personality and ideological types as everyone else, but these things take time, and we have decades of disastrously bad PR by gay advocacy groups to undo. Whatever the merits of Brokeback Mountain–and it’s based on an Annie Proulx product and stars Heath Ledger and Boy Gyllenhaal, which are three strikes against it right there as far as I’m concerned, though I promise to keep an open mind until I see the thing–there are too many variables involved in its potential success or failure to justify the current amount of gay arm-flailing. Its reception is certainly going to be an indicator of America’s attitudes toward gays, but I don’t think poring over every last box office receipt is going to tell us much that, frankly, we don’t already know. It would be nice if people just let a movie be a movie.

    Notes on America

    Posted by Sean at 09:43, December 15th, 2005


    Didn’t Dannon’s low-cal brand of yogurt use to be called Light ‘n Lively? The stuff my mother brought home from the supermarket the other day was labeled Light ‘n Fit–which is okay, I guess, but it was kind of disappointing because, while I have no trouble staying fit, I could’ve used the energy.


    I’m having serious trouble not running out and buying all the cordless power tools you can now get. We have a spare room in the apartment that would be fine for a workshop…except for the noise. I’d like to be able to build a bookcase or two, but it’s not worth being the Noisy Foreigner on the Third Floor Who Now That I Think of It Has Kind of a Strange Relationship with That Nice Mr. Yoneda He Rooms With.


    Asian flavors and things are everywhere now. General Foods International Coffees had some kind of Chai Latte concoction; I almost fainted. Fruit-flavored things all come in mango, too, in addition to the de rigueur peach and apple and strawberry.


    Martha Stewart is totally our gift to the ages. Three thousand years from now, anthropologists will be examining her television show and commercial appearances as artifacts and writing theses like “This goddess united the cult of domesticity with the cult of the questing hero; her final sanctification came after she had weathered the archetypal passage from downfall to redemption.” I was flipping through the channels and landed on her Martha show just as it was starting. The opening theme was–does this woman’s brass go all the way down, or what?–the Swing Out Sister version of “Am I the Same Girl?” I almost died. When one of her ads came on, and she smiled that wide-cheeked, generous Polish smile and fixed us with her flinty death-ray eyes and bellowed, “Christmas is about giving [your credit card to the salesgirl when you’re buying Martha Stewart Living cookie sheets]!” I smirked inwardly and thought, Islamofascism doesn’t stand a chance.


    Can we get a pool together and maybe pay off everyone involved in the CSI series–all the way from Las Vegas to, like, Pigeon Forge, or wherever the latest incarnation is set–to make it GO AWAY? Or at least to hire some scriptwriters who occasionally know how to resist the obvious cliché one-liner? Just once in a while? You know, so that you could happen upon a rerun from a few years ago and expect Katherine to say, “Why did the SUV cross the road?” without Grissom’s doing that fake-contemplative look and answering, “To get to the other side”? It’d be nice to be able to keep my Orange-Mango Light ‘n Fit down, yeah?


    I love Fig Newtons with a passion that’s probably not quite salutary. When you see me, on this site, rhapsodizing about America, I’m not thinking of personal liberty or free speech or our crackerjack soldiers or any of that stuff–it’s the Fig Newtons.

    I wonder, though, whether food manufacturers could do us all a favor? When labeling one of your brand’s epigone versions, could you, like, be more clear about it? Yesterday, every time I grabbed at a food package, it took all my energy to dodge the Splenda/reduced-carb version, the fat-free version, and the low-sodium version. I think it’s wonderful that those choices exist. They warm my heart. Really. But if they’re only labeled with those penny-sized sunbursts that usually contain safely-ignored messages like “Now with even more buttery flavor!” it’s deeply confusing. I don’t see why I should have to work that hard for a box of Cheez-Its.


    Low-carb spaghetti?!?!


    I only get to observe from afar what the political and social climate is like here most of the time. It’s very heartening to see all the “Support our troops” signs and things. Many of them (like the bumper stickers) are obviously well-worn, but a good number are also very clearly well-maintained by their proprietors.


    Maybe if I just bought a cordless drill with a few power-screwdriver attachments included, Atsushi wouldn’t get upset? I could probably get pre-cut lumber somewhere–DIY stuff is popular in Japan nowadays, and that’s the only way I can imagine Japanese people’s being able to do it. But then I don’t get to have saws. My favorite part of Dad’s workshop was always the big, scary sharp tools, though it was probably wise of him not to let me “help” with, say, the table saw when I was, like, five. Maybe I should write Stanley and suggest they develop a range of noiseless saws, the way they have noiseless dishwashers now. Then I could probably fit a circular saw in one of my checked bags. (Nice surprise for the TSA bag searchers and all.)


    Posted by Sean at 12:42, December 14th, 2005

    The Aneha scandal has continued to ripen nicely:

    In the earthquake resistance falsification scandal, the House of Representatives Land, Transport, and Infrastructure committee held a meeting to receive testimony that lasted through the day. Akira Shinotsuka (45), the former head of the Tokyo branch of Kimura Construction (Yashiro City, Kumamoto Prefecture; currently in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings), gave testimony concerning the rebar used in construction, normally 80-100 kilograms per square meter. “The idea in our company was to shoot below that quantity, to 70 kilograms [per square meter],” he stated. He acknowledged that this cap on the quantity of rebar had become the company’s standard practice.

    Hidetsugu Aneha (48), former first-class architect, testified, “I was under very specific* pressure (from Mr. Shinotsuka), having received suggestions that I reduce the normal 80-100 kilogram figure to 60 kilograms.” Shinotsuka defended himself by saying, “Some reductions were within legal bounds. My perception is not that I applied heavy pressure [on Mr. Aneha].”

    The English Asahi has a bit more fun with this latest round of hot potato. Note the droll near-zeugma in the second paragraph here:

    Aneha, citing health reasons, had declined two previous requests to appear before the committee. But he was practically forced to appear Wednesday after being summoned as a sworn witness.

    His testimony was filled with remorse, admissions and the name of Akira Shinozuka, former Tokyo branch chief of Kimura Construction Co.

    Aneha quoted Shinozuka as saying in 1998, “We won’t give you any work if you don’t reduce the volume of reinforcing steel to be used.”

    At that time, Aneha said about 90 percent of his work came from Kimura Construction. “If I refused, my income would have fallen close to zero. So I did it even though I knew it was wrong,” Aneha said.

    Aneha also said he felt Shinozuka understood the illegality of what he was asking the architect to do.

    The Mainichi adds a few more dimensions:

    Hidetsugu Aneha also cast suspicion on inspection agencies who failed to spot his misdeeds, saying such falsified records — which masked potentially catastrophic defects in hotels and condominiums — should be easy to detect.

    The uproar has hit a sensitive nerve in Japan, calling into question building safety in one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. Authorities say that at least 71 Aneha-linked structures could collapse even in a moderate tremor.

    Confirming the fears of many, a contrite Aneha described a construction industry in which developers eager for profits browbeat architects into cutting corners — or risk losing business. Safety fears, he said, never entered the equation. [!!!!!!!!!!!!–SRK]

    “I was under heavy pressure, but initially I refused partly because of my pride as first-class certified architect,” the soft-spoken witness said. “But I had a sick wife who was in and out of a hospital, and refusing meant zero income.”

    Apparently, anyone with an ill family member is justified in making deals with the devil to maintain his income. I’ll have to remember that.

    BTW, while the people actually living in the unsafe buildings deserve most of the sympathy, let’s not forget that others were screwed, too:

    Independent hotel operators who have stopped business after their premises were found to have been built using falsified earthquake resistance data will be unable to receive financial support from the government–unlike owners of defective condominium units.

    The 70-year-old owner of the Hotel Senpia in Ina, Nagano Prefecture, was introduced to Kimura Construction Co. in 1999 by a local building contractor. The contractor told him that “the company knows how to keep costs down.”

    He demolished a rice milling plant and a warehouse he had been running for many years, and Kimura Construction, a Kumamoto Prefecture-based company now filing for bankruptcy, took charge of building the 110-room, eight-story hotel.

    However, as the man was recovering from the shock of hearing that Aneha had falsified the earthquake-resistance data of his hotel, Kimura Construction filed for bankruptcy, seeking refuge in the courts. His chances of getting compensation from the company have all but disappeared.

    The government decided to help condo owners by offering public money. But hotel owners were not included in the scheme because they are different from condo owners, who were unable to choose the construction companies involved, according to the Construction and Transport Ministry.

    One hotel owner, who borrowed heavily from a bank, said, “We’re suffering just as much as apartment owners.”

    I wouldn’t necessarily throw myself into a full-scale pity party for these people–if you’re told a construction company, of all enterprises, has a reputation for keeping costs down, the obvious thing to ask next is which corners are being cut. That’s just common sense. On the other hand, the government supplied multiple confirmations that each of these buildings had passed certification and inspection procedures. It’s not unreasonable for the elderly–whose work life was active when Japan Inc. had a reputation for uncompromising manufacturing competence that made it the envy of the world–to figure that a building couldn’t pass certification by multiple government functionaries without having any possible problems discovered somewhere along the way.

    I’m also not sure I buy the government’s convenient dividing line between condo owners and hotel owners. People choose residential buildings by developers all the time in Japan; the different companies have distinct reputations, possibly the product of PR rather than substance, but still real to Japanese consumers. I’m frequently told, when people hear the name of our building, that Atsushi made a wise decision by going with reliable Mistubishi Estate. Even in the Japanese post-Bubble economy, new apartment buildings go up all the time. I suppose it may be true that condominium buyers are somehow more constrained in their choice of developers than landowners who want to build hotels, but the reason is not immediately obvious.

    * Not even my sense of humor is black enough to permit me to translate 具体的 as “concrete” here.

    End of ASEAN summit

    Posted by Sean at 12:03, December 14th, 2005

    What novel trouble have those rascals in East Asia found to get themselves into while I’m sleeping on the opposite side of the globe? Not much, it appears–the trouble is pretty much as per usual. Of course, ASEAN meetings have a way, by means of throwing enemies into close quarters, of exacerbating friction:

    [The recent] series of international meetings, conceived with an eye toward designing a future East Asian cooperative entity, the issues that have become obstacles to regional collaboration between Japan and the PRC, which face off as the area’s two major powers, were thrown into sharp relief. After the 14 December closing of the ASEAN Summit session, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi held a press coference in the city of Kuala Lumpur and protested against the refusal of the PRC and ROK to hold official [head-of-state] meetings with Japan because of the Prime Minister’s pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine. No mending of relations appears to be in sight.

    “Our prayers for peace and our respects for those who fell during wartime are matters of the heart, an issue of psychological liberty. I cannot understand the criticism of our pilgrimages.” The Prime Minister’s choice of words was nearly the same as it would be inside Japan, but in the context of close observation by journalists from the assembled nations of Asia, he uncharacteristically expanded on “criticism from the PRC.”

    “I have from the start argued for PRC-Japanese friendship. Even if we’re at swords-point on one or two items, that does not affect our ability to continue moving forward in developing our relations,” he said, but he betrayed discomfort in his facial expression.

    Nothing in the above is particularly new; it just serves to highlight the unwillingness of either Japan or its critics to budge on the Yasukuni issue.