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    Typhoon 14

    Posted by Sean at 22:42, September 6th, 2005

    Typhoon 14 has passed over Kyushu and is approaching Hokkaido now. The number of deaths so far is 9, with 14 people missing. One structure that was damaged (this is at the southern end of Honshu) was a bridge that dates back to the late 17th century.

    Duct tape remembered

    Posted by Sean at 22:31, September 6th, 2005

    Dean links to this post by Mike Hendrix at Cold Fury, in which he flays leftist bloggers for pooh-poohing Tom Ridge’s warnings about disaster preparedness. I agree with Dean that it’s good to remember that this is not an exhaustive survey of the opinions of liberal bloggers, and, having clicked through to some of the posts myself, I think that the point several of them were intended to make was that Ridge’s warnings were vague and directionless. That doesn’t mean the posts in question were well argued, only that they weren’t all dismissing the idea of disaster preparedness itself. The points Hendrix makes are good overall, though.

    The comments are as interesting to read as the post itself, BTW. This one is from a woman who sounds exactly like the people I was talking about yesterday:

    We lived on an island regularly visited by typhoons and we kept three days of water and nonperishable foodstuffs on hand. It was not easy, and it took me time to build up our disaster kit–and then we moved to an area where snowstorms were the problem and we had to do it again but different (I’ve been without power or water for one week because of a blizzard). Again, it was harder than most people here seem to imagine, but it was doable. Cans of beans, a bottle of bleach, ramen noodles (these make a great snack when they are uncooked–like chips), raisins, peanut butter, rice, boxes of instant mashed potatoes, vegetables you dehydrate yourself (in the oven or on a screen in the sun if you need to) and bottles of water you fill are not that expensive when carefully purchased on sale over time. And the thing about a hurricane is you have some advance notice, so you can start filling up water containers before it knocks out your water supply. Since we always figure it’s our duty to help others, we lay in enough extra supplies to share, too. On an airman’s salary.

    Plain, old-fashioned resourcefulness. As she says, when your income is very low, you need to plan very carefully, but you look out for rock-bottom sale prices when they’re advertised, you lay in just one or two items at a time, and you figure that someone else is probably going to end up more screwed than you are, so you’ll need to lend a hand.

    I’m sorry I keep harping on this–as I mentioned a few days ago, my own earthquake kit was getting kind of slipshod, so Atsushi and I got everything back in order over the weekend. I myself am not a paragon. But the idea of simply not being ready is one that I can’t fathom.

    Added at lunch: You know how I just said I was sorry for harping on this? Well, I lied.

    If I hear or read one more person’s gassing that the sheer magnitude of the damage from Hurricane Katrine means that only the federal government could handle it, I am going to go postal. Situations like this are exactly when you need all those little nuances of on-the-spot knowledge that only locals know: Harrison Street is backed up, so let’s try the back way over Keystone Avenue…What? The 7-Eleven’s closed? The 7-Eleven doesn’t close! But okay…There’s a 24-hour mini-mart at the gas station a mile up. Let’s try there. Washington doesn’t know whether evacuating your city will take 48 or 72 hours, where the best places to go to alert the homeless are, or which churches and civic groups can be relied upon to help get things set up at shelters when they arrive. The federal government can descend on an area with a lot of expensive equipment and trained personnel, but they have to learn their way around by feeling things out or asking questions.

    When you’re in love, you know you’re in love / No matter what you try to do

    Posted by Sean at 08:55, September 6th, 2005

    You know when you fall hard for someone you can never have? Of course, you do–we’ve all done it. It’s one of life’s great equalizers, since no matter how good-looking, built, successful, smart, and fun-loving you are, there are going to be people to whom you are not irresistible. Everyone gets the chance to be laid low (but not, frustratingly, laid) by desire at times.

    As with most sticky situations, handling this one honorably and pragmatically requires delicacy. You have a few options:

    • Do the very traditional thing and hide your feelings entirely
    • Hide your feelings from everyone except a confidant or two

    That first has the disadvantage of not allowing you the tiny hope that someday circumstances might change in your favor. However, it has the advantage of…well, not allowing you the tiny hope that someday circumstances might change in your favor, which can be a very effective self-torture instrument. If you refuse to talk to anyone–not just the object of your unrequited affections, but anyone else also–you’re forced to think about other things to do and talk about. The distraction thus effected may not be as miraculously healing as Mother always used to say, but it works better than anything else.

    The second seems to be the course of action that most people go for, but it has its drawbacks. Let’s just say that, ten years ago when I was coming out, I was the confider…and for the last several years, the gods have paid me back GOOD by frequently making me the confidee. In my conservative Christian upbringing, I frequently heard that if you once gave in to your sexual desire, you’d soon find that it had expanded to the point of taking over your life and making you a total sex maniac. I’ve never found that to be true. What I’ve found people do become addicted to is pouring out their self-pity to an always-ready listener. Weekly orgies of sorrow that start with “Why does it hurt so much?”–and descend from there–don’t do much to get your mind off your troubles.

    Um, and then there’s a third possible course of action:

    • Bottle everything up, except for neurotically flirtatious comments dropped at regular intervals (which your unwilling intended has no choice but to politely turn aside), then one day completely lose control and deliver a savage, tearful tirade in which you essentially accuse him of leading you on by treating you like all his other friends

    I have to say that I don’t care for that particular approach, efficacious though it be at conveying in no uncertain terms how abject you are. It’s not just that it’s unfair to hold someone responsible for feelings he made no effort to stir up; it’s also that from then on he’s going to have little choice but to give you a wide berth. That, or be gingerly and pitying in his dealings with you, which is generally not that good for the ego. It really is helpful to keep in mind that there are good reasons that most civilized behavior has strong elements of repression.

    Red wine and whiskey / All the ti-i-i-i-ime

    Posted by Sean at 23:20, September 5th, 2005

    Bill Whittle has his latest essay up. It’s finely written, and I don’t mean to take anything away from it when I say that it’s a shame everything he says in it isn’t so obvious as not to be worth mention. I grew up in a working-class family. Of my parents’ closest dozen or so friends, someone was always laid off, or needed an expensive hospital stay, or had his car break down on him. People helped each other out, and everyone got turns at both giving and receiving generosity.

    You took assistance with gratitude when you needed it, but it was shameful to be a permanent charity case, and there was no sense of entitlement to other people’s largess. One of the (many) times my father was laid off by Bethlehem Steel, he took three part-time jobs–including one at the 7-Eleven–to keep us afloat. As soon as we returned to relative solvency, my parents were back in the group that was inviting people from church over for dinner when they were in straitened circumstances. That’s what you did.

    I know that losing your Rust Belt job is not the same as going through a hurricane. I’m less trying to compare the situations than making a point about the mindset. I’ve spent my entire adult life bitching about the entitlement mentality in America, but this past week has made my jaw drop, as person after person interviewed on the news said, essentially, “Where’s the government with our Carr’s Water Biscuits and Evian?” Some of these people had their children standing right by them. Great lesson from Mom and Dad imparted there, huh? There’s nothing embarrassing about not providing for your own kids as long as you’re EXTRA CRABBY to show you mean business when you try to get the government to do it.

    And, yes, I know: some of the complaints were from people who had been told to wait in location X for a bus that didn’t arrive, and some people had newborns in maternity wards that they couldn’t bring themselves to be separated from until the last minute, and yet other people had bedridden elders to take into account. Obviously, I’m not criticizing people who were making a good-faith effort to fulfill their responsibilities. They can be forgiven for happening to be caught by CNN in an unguarded moment as they were forced to make wrenching choices on the fly. I also know that I’m asking for trouble as a childless bourgeois gay guy passing judgment on how some parents run their households.

    All I can say is, I grew up around humble people who were constantly on the lookout for un-self-aggrandizing ways to serve others and who did everything in their power to provide for themselves before expecting handouts. I know those attitudes when I see them. They’ve certainly been in evidence this past week, but much less than one might have expected. It’s sad.

    I am the law

    Posted by Sean at 21:47, September 5th, 2005

    There’s an old student of mine in law school at Tulane; I just heard back from him that he got out before the hurricane and that BU will take him until the end of the year if necessary. I think he left for Boston this weekend. Very cheering news. I know a lot of people have had more disrupted than their coursework, but every person from the Gulf Coast who finds a workable contingency plan is one fewer to worry about.


    Posted by Sean at 21:23, September 5th, 2005

    Wind isn’t the only thing going in circles around here. The DPRK has announced that it wants to return to 6-party talks on 13 September.

    Can’t get there from here

    Posted by Sean at 21:15, September 5th, 2005

    The Toyoko Line is not running–how not good is that? I hope it wasn’t a suicide. Everyone in Tokyo knows you’re supposed to throw yourself in front of a train on the Chuo Line. Maybe this guy‘s wise to avoid the train system altogether, though I can’t say I’m fond of the incoming traffic in the morning, either. Luckily, I can go casual to the office if I’m not meeting with clients, and it only takes 40 minutes to walk from home.

    I’m also lucky that the weather here is just kind of grey and drizzly. Kyushu has received its visit from Typhoon 14; Atsushi’s city was already being deluged and wind-whipped when we talked last night. Evacuation orders are already in effect for 21500 people, mostly in Kagoshima but also in other prefectures. The amount of rainfall in Kyushu since two days ago has ranged between 500 and 800 millimeters depending on the place.

    The elements

    Posted by Sean at 04:37, September 5th, 2005

    Atsushi flew back to Kyushu yesterday before any flights were canceled. That’s a good thing because he was back to go to work today. It’s a bad thing because the latest VERY LARGE typhoon is now preparing to engulf the island. They’re already giving people shelter warnings in Kagoshima Prefecture (toward the south). The typhoon is expected to pass northeast-ish over Kyushu, then over the Sea of Japan, then over Hokkaido. Japan’s compact boomerang shape makes it great for rail lines, but it also means that a single huge storm can drench almost half the country. Wind speeds near the center of Typhoon 14 are around 100 mph. NHK was showing the usual footage of palm trees bent almost 90 degrees (I sometimes think they’re just recycling a single videotaped sequence from 10 years ago.) If anyone’s reading from down that way, stay safe and dry.

    Fables of the reconstruction (of the fables)

    Posted by Sean at 01:38, September 5th, 2005

    A few days ago, Dean’s World contributor Mary Madigan posted a short entry tentatively comparing the reconstruction of New Orleans to that of Kobe after the Great Hanshin Earthquake ten years ago. She cited the Kobe municipal government’s shiny, happy version of the Kobe rebuilding. A commenter piped up with the observation that Japan is a law-abiding, conformist society, the implication being that we can expect things to proceed more efficiently in Japan than in the US, with its competing needs and preferences.

    I don’t think there’s any problem with placing the emphasis on Kobe’s recovery. Human beings live on hope, after all, and the reconstruction of the city really does demonstrate many of the upsides of social and economic liberalization. Given what New Orleans looks like now, it’s a significant comfort to have a real-life example of another first world city that was wrecked and rebuilt in recent memory. Let’s not get too high on those shrine-incense fumes, though, and forget that government screw-ups regarding the Kobe earthquake didn’t stop with inadequate building and land reclamation codes. Reason has what, in my experience, is the best summary of the multitude of little problems that helped delay recovery in Kobe:

    A post-quake report issued by the Kobe YMCA is filled with anecdotes such as this one: Three days after the quake, two women from Kobe Citizens Central Hospital appeared at city hall asking for 10 volunteers to help carry water at the hospital, located about a mile away. Water duty, they explained to city workers, pulled too many skilled nurses from more-urgent medical tasks. Officials on the first floor of city hall turned the women away. Yet on the eighth floor of the same building was a list of 5,000 registered volunteers willing to help any way they could. When the women came back for more help, officials told them to return later with a written request.

    Similar bureaucratic procedures beset rescue and recovery efforts at the national level as well. Officials turned away doctors from the United States because they were not certified to practice medicine in Japan. They quarantined European search dogs while Kobe residents picked through the rubble by hand. Even offers of help from within Japan were refused: Although a disabled phone system presented a critical problem to search-and-rescue efforts, officials refused to distribute cellular phones donated by Nippon Motorola because they didn’t want to issue the required telephone identification numbers. Officials initially rejected an early offer of medical help from the Japanese Association of Acute Medicine because they were unfamiliar with that organization; they changed their minds a week later as a flu virus raged through evacuation shelters.

    Such responses were in marked contrast to succor offered from less-official sectors of Japanese society: Immediately after the earthquake, the Kobe YMCA was swamped with volunteers, many of whom had been turned away by city hall. YMCA managers quickly established an emergency headquarters and organized the volunteers into teams that canvassed damaged neighborhoods and reported back on what victims needed most. By bicycle and on foot–and wearing identifying numbers normally used for YMCA sporting events–volunteers delivered food, water, clothes, and blankets. Even members of the yakuza–Japan’s organized crime gangs–used their networks to bring food, water, and other supplies into the area. Right-wing political groups, whose loudspeaker trucks regularly roam city streets calling for the restoration of the emperor, dropped their act and used their trucks to deliver hot tea to stricken neighborhoods. This all happened as boxes of instant noodles donated by local merchants sat outside city hall in the rain, untouched and undistributed.

    Surveying the post-quake landscape in April 1995, the then-editor of Tokyo Business Today, Hiroshi Fukunga [sic–I assume the name is Fukunaga and this is a typo.–SRK], summarized a disturbing but inescapable lesson from the Kobe experience. “It now seems clear that even in a national emergency the nation’s pen-pushers will not swerve a millimeter from official procedures, even if fellow citizens’ lives are at risk,” wrote Fukunga. “While the hours slopped by and thousands lost their lives in the fiery ruins left by the Kobe disaster, Japanese officials’ top priorities were observing protocol and following precedent.”

    The above is only a tiny fraction of the piece, which follows the reconstruction through 2000 or so.

    In Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, immediate relief is still the highest priority; but as recovery in structural terms begins in earnest, it’s a good idea to bear in mind that the Gulf States could be in for some of the same problems as Kobe was. America doesn’t have Japan’s idiosyncratic property laws or collectivist society, no; but red tape is red tape in any culture. (Remember Hurricane Andrew?) There is plenty of time for more recriminations to be hurled back and forth…with the attendant guilt-fueled increases in funding for programs that have proved useless this time around, creation of redundant new agencies of dubitable use, and adventures in showy micromanagement designed to reassure everyone that the government is “doing something.”


    Posted by Sean at 08:53, September 4th, 2005

    Years ago, a friend of mine announced that there was an International Conspiracy of Raisins. I loathe raisins as much as she does, so I knew what she was talking about immediately. None of our other friends had a clue, so in between guffaws we had to explain. See, you’ll be at a diner or somewhere, and you’ll order the apple pie. What will come to your table will be a slice of pie in which there are raisins all among the apples, and when you say, “Oh, if I’d known there were raisins in it, I would have gone for the coconut custard,” the waitress will start noticeably and say, “Oh, yeah, there are raisins in the apple pie. Never noticed before.” The raisins have clearly found a way to hide in plain sight from people. With such advanced capabilities, they’ll take over the world within our lifetimes.

    The reason I mention this is that I just realized for the first time that every gay man in Tokyo has a goatee. I mean, everyone. People have been commenting on my beard–no one’s ever seen me anything but cleanshaven or just slightly scruffy–and I keep starting to say, “Well, you know, I actually don’t like goatees much at all…” then looking up into a drily expectant face and having to keep going with “on myself, I mean–but just because I can’t carry one off as well as you do, big guy!” This is seriously weird. If you’d asked me before this week, I would have told you that a good 80% of my acquaintances were cleanshaven. I don’t think I’m all that unobservant, but I really didn’t notice how many guys with little beards there were around me before. Now I’m wondering what else I’ve never noticed.