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    Abductees schmabductees

    Posted by Sean at 00:07, July 24th, 2005

    Poor North Korea. All it wants is to get along with everybody, and then what do the democracies of the world go and do? Kim Il-sung’s people abduct a few Japanese citizens from moonlit walks on their own beaches, and a quarter-century later the Japanese are still freaking out about it. It’s not like it just happened yesterday, or anything. Can’t people focus on the big picture?

    The DPRK’s Democratic Choson published statements on 23 July that, given that Japan plans to bring up the issue of Japanese abductees at the 6-party talks when they reopen for the fourth time in Beijing on 26 July, “Our definite feeling is that it is not necessary for us to sit in face-to-face meetings with Japan, given that it is determined to use its cunning to make a hindrance of itself at the 6-party talks.” The statements indicated yet again the DPRK’s position that it will not agree to direct talks with Japan for the duration of the meetings.

    The CNN report is here. Check out the part about the flower. Good grief.

    More 裏金

    Posted by Sean at 23:36, July 23rd, 2005

    Oh, uh, if you’re trying to keep a running count of slush funds in the Japanese federal government, you’re going to have to increase your total by two:

    Trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa admitted Friday that two more slush funds exist at his ministry, including one now containing 52 million yen that was created with payments from UNICEF.

    The other slush fund came from money that was obtained for the wages of part-timers who never worked at the ministry. A total of about 1.4 million yen has been put into the fund at the Trade Policy Bureau’s Americans Division, Nakagawa said.

    Last month, the ministry said its policy-making office secretly kept unused research subsidies to build slush funds.

    Over the past 30 years, only one payment, in November 1975, has been made from the slush fund, when 2 million yen was used to buy a membership to an exclusive restaurant. The membership was canceled four months later, and the money was returned to the fund.

    The other slush fund revealed Friday was created from the wages of fictitious part-timers. The slush fund started in fiscal 1995.

    A total of 1.39 million yen was put into the slush fund from fiscal 1995 to fiscal 2002. But 1.07 million yen had been withdrawn by June 2005 to pay real part-timers hired for busy periods, such as during Japan-U.S. trade negotiations, leaving 321,290 yen in the fund.

    The ministry plans to return all of the 1.39 million yen plus interest to state coffers.

    Egypt hit

    Posted by Sean at 23:29, July 23rd, 2005

    The number of deaths from yesterday’s terrorist bombing in Egypt is up to 88. I’ve been wondering–if terrorism experts thought this was possible, surely we’d be reading it by now, so I’m probably wrong–whether the plan wasn’t similar to that of the Bali bombers: set off an explosion or two to get people pouring into the street, then nail them with bigger explosions once they’re out there.

    A group claiming links to al Qaeda said Saturday’s bombings were revenge for “crimes committed against Muslims,” said an Internet statement. But the statement did not appear on major al Qaeda Web sites and it was impossible to authenticate the claim.

    Egypt’s biggest “crime against Muslims,” from the perspective of Islamofascits, is probably being a reasonably functional democracy. It also has a cultural heritage of world-enamoring brilliance that predates its contact with Islam. Of course, the resort that was hit was popular with foreign tourists as well, so there are people of many countries among the dead; but naturally most of the victims were Egyptians.

    Sincerest condolences to the Egyptian people, and best to President Mubarak and his government in the fight to keep the terrorists at bay. As Dean says, if we assume the flypaper strategy (which I have my reservations about), is working, it means that terrorist cells are going to be striking more frequently in the most Westernized Muslim countries. It’s going to be a trying time.

    How to offend billions without even trying

    Posted by Sean at 05:42, July 23rd, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea brings up one of the more annoying Anglospheric gaps in communication about the races:

    Let us clear this up. In English-speaking North America the word “asian” is generally used to refer to people of East Asian descent while in the UK the word “asian” is generally used to refer to people of South Asian descent. Both terms are gross generalizations that obscure fantastic regional, ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity within the groups for whom they act as shorthand and either shorthand ignores well over a billion people who are just as asian. If I was, say, Armenian both abbreviations would be a source of ongoing annoyance.

    A close English buddy of mine and I were just having this discussion a few weeks ago. He was bewildered at the way a lot of Americans look at you as though you’d committed a hanging crime if you use the word Oriental, which, Edward Said’s hex not having gained traction in the UK as it did in the States, is still the polite way to talk about the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese there. Of course, even in the States, people of East Asian descent who haven’t gone through PC colleges still blithely refer to themselves as Oriental all the time, but you’d never hear a newscaster use the word.

    Now that I think about it, the topic may have come up the night of the first London bombings. I do know that on 7 July we were sitting at our hangout when the video for Kylie’s “Giving You Up” came on: a twelve-foot-tall woman in curve-hugging black strides through London as if she owned the place, good-naturedly vamping at guys of various races (there’s an Asian, in the English usage, about 3/4 of the way through) along the way. It was very bolstering–the kind of sassy I can get behind.


    Posted by Sean at 03:38, July 23rd, 2005

    FLAMIN’ NORAH! Now, that was an earthquake. Nothing fell (here at my office where high bookshelves are ranged behind our desks), but man, did we feel it. I hope it wasn’t a hell of a lot stronger anywhere else.

    Added at 16:41: Looks like it was a weak 5 at the epicenter in northwestern Chiba Prefecture and in parts of Saitama and Kanagawa Prefectures. It was a 4 here. No tidal wave warnings.

    Added at 17:58: The Nikkei says it was actually a strong 5 in Adachi Ward (northern part of the 23 wards of Tokyo proper). That’s the JMA scale that measures surface vibrations, of course, not the measure of energy released provided by the Richter scale. (The estimated magnitude is 5.7.) It was strong enough to cause rides at Tokyo Disneyland to shut down automatically (elevators, too–those in this building are still closed until they can be inspected). Service on runways at Narita and one of the Shinkansen lines was interrupted, but everything appears to be back to normal. There don’t seem to be any reports of actual damage.

    Added at 19:42: I spoke too soon. Shibuya Station was a madhouse: the inner ring of the Yamanote Line (runs counter-clockwise) is still being inspected. Yikes.

    Added at 21:36: Anyone who was in a coma this afternoon and missed the quake may be relieved to hear that the JMA is telling us to expect aftershocks of up to 4 in surface intensity. The magnitude of today’s quake has also been revised upward to M6. I’m assuming train service is up and running everywhere again?

    72 raisins

    Posted by Sean at 22:19, July 22nd, 2005

    More from Irshad Manji, the Muslim lesbian from Toronto, in last week’s Sunday Times:

    Britain, she says, has been slow to introduce tests for imams on their mastery of the Koran. She recalls asking Mohamed al-Hindi, political leader of Islamic Jihad, where the Koran glorifies martyrdom; he insisted it was there, but even after looking up books and phoning colleagues, he couldn’t find one reference.

    “His translator suggested I better go if I wanted to leave alive,” she recalls. “I asked why he had even given an interview, and the translator said, ‘Oh, he assumed you would be just another dumb westerner’.”

    Muslims, adds Manji, must find positive role models rather than jihadists: “Martyrs are the rock stars of the Muslim world, shown on the internet against a background of funky music. They feed on the self-esteem crisis of young Muslims.” That could be addressed by history lessons paying greater tribute to the Muslim contribution to the Renaissance.

    She denounces terrorism and the response to terrorism, which is not sufficiently robust. It is no good, she argues, for respectable Muslims to say “violence is not the Islamic ideal” if violence has become Islamic practice. And she attacks the proposed religious hatred laws, saying: “Society needs people who offend, otherwise there will be no progress.”

    Manji thinks Islam needs a reformation.

    Class action

    Posted by Sean at 09:39, July 22nd, 2005

    Walter Olson reports at Overlawyered that a new frontier in save-people-from-themselves-ism is being explored. This from one of the Guardian articles he links to:

    According to Dr Judith Reisman, pornography affects the physical structure of your brain turning you into a porno-zombie. Porn, she says, is an “erototoxin”, producing an addictive “drug cocktail” of testosterone, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin with a measurable organic effect on the brain.

    Some of us might consider this a good thing. Not Reisman: erototoxins aren’t about pleasure, they’re a “fear-sex-shame-and-anger stimulant”. Reisman’s paper on the subject The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind & Memory & Subverting Freedom of Speech has helped make her the darling of the anti-pornography crusade, and in November last year she presented her erototoxin theory to the US senate.

    [Reisman and her fellow researcher] foresee two possible outcomes: if they can demonstrate that porn physically “damages” the brain, that might open the floodgates for “big tobacco”-style lawsuits against porn publishers and distributors; second, and more insidiously, if porn can be shown to “subvert cognition” and affect the parts of the brain involved in reasoning and speech, then “these toxic media should be legally outlawed, as is all other toxic waste, and eliminated from our societal structure”.

    Not being addicted to porn, I still have enough imagination to be stoked at the mere mention of a cocktail of testosterone, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Where’s that glass of iced water? [gulpsigh] Okay.

    Toxic waste is outlawed? Oh, excuse me–“legally outlawed”? I thought you just couldn’t leave it lying around, not that it was illegal. Olson also links to this post at Nobody’s Business:

    Indefatigable at 70, Reisman continues her crusade against “the sexindustrial complex” mostly by trying to prove the existence of those elusive “erototoxins.” Right now, only she knows what those are — she coined the word herself, and it seems it has yet to make it into anyone else’s medical vocabulary. In fact, though she consistently identifies herself as “Dr. Reisman,” that title refers to a degree in communication, not to any expert medical knowledge. (This echoes her fondness for reminding people that her maiden name, Gelernter, is German for “learned one.” Indeed.)

    Cheese and crackers, what a 24-karat quack. Of course, in a world after world-renowned agricultural chemist Meryl Streep’s 1989 lecture to Congress about Alar, I supposed it’s not a big shock that Reisman has given testimony before the US Senate about the neurological effects of pornography.

    What’s so annoying here is that there are real issues to be addressed. We expect teenagers to grow through adolescence to strike out on their own and choose their own life partners, often without much assistance from family and community elders. What does it mean to have recordings of live, impersonal sex acts cheaply and readily available when they reach adulthood (if not before)? I don’t hold with the hard anti-porn line that pornography “causes” sexual dysfunction, and I’m against its criminalization. It’s also patently untrue that you can’t consume porn without spiralling helplessly into addiction. But you can’t evade questions about social effects just by pointing out that there’s no inherent shame in nakedness or sex; what you’re exposed to does affect your attitude.

    On the other hand–give me a break! The sex impulse doesn’t obliterate free will. With all her blather about subverting freedom of speech, Reisman sounds exactly like the MacKinnon-Dworkin axis of feminism, with its line about how the power of the patriarchy means no woman in our society can ever give authentic “uncompromised” sexual consent. Another case of extremes meeting in the anti-pornography crusade.

    Tea totalling

    Posted by Sean at 22:09, July 21st, 2005

    If we don’t show solidarity with London by buying lots of stuff at Fortnum & Mason, the terrorists win. Take that, Islamofascists!

    And that!

    Mmmm…and maybe some of that.

    In all seriousness, I’m just very grateful that this week’s crew of bombers only succeeded in displaying their incompetence to a media-saturated world. The police are apparently marshalling all their brain powers to figure who–who on Earth–might be behind the failed bombings:

    Security analysts said the obvious carbon-copy attacks could have been masterminded either by the same group or by less sophisticated sympathisers — maybe young, disaffected Muslims.

    “There is a resonance here,” police chief Blair said, but he cautioned it would take time to tell who was to blame.

    Fine, let’s keep an open mind. But at this point, I’m thinking the probability that the bombers were not young, disaffected Muslims is pretty darned low.

    A propos of nothing: it was at the Shepherds Bush Empire that I saw Alison Moyet perform ten years ago. One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. I happened to stand next to a dyke couple who kept looking at me with expressions that clearly said, “Shouldn’t you be at a Madonna concert instead, Mary?” But it was great; it was the tour for Essex , and the songs were flatteringly toughened up a bit for live performance. It’s a shame Alison’s career never really, really ignited internationally (especially since Vince Clarke went on to find major success after hooking up with that grating, self-pitying, quivery, histrionic, braying gay donkey Andy Bell and forming Erasure), though it’s nice that she does well at home still.

    Buddhist art the Taliban failed to get its mitts on

    Posted by Sean at 21:33, July 21st, 2005

    This is good news:

    Japanese researchers discovered a colorful, centuries-old Buddhist mural in a stone cave in Afghanistan that somehow escaped the destructive rampage of the Taliban regime in 2001, officials in Tokyo said.

    The cave, about 3 meters wide, 3 meters deep and 2 meters high, is located at the west end of Bamiyan Valley, according to officials at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

    Parts of the mural are still covered with dust, but the painting is believed to cover all sides of the cave as well as the ceiling, the officials said.

    The west wall depicts Buddha and other sitting Buddhist deities drawn with bold strokes.

    We love bold strokes! The paintings could apparently help researchers determine how certain motifs in Buddhist art were transmitted through central Asia.

    No borders here

    Posted by Sean at 09:21, July 21st, 2005

    Congratulations, Canada:

    Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin signed the legislation making it law, hours after it was approved by the Senate late Tuesday night despite strong opposition from Conservatives and religious leaders.

    Churches have expressed concern that their clergy would be compelled to perform same sex ceremonies. The legislation, however, states that the bill only covers civil unions, not religious ones, and no clergy would be forced to perform same-sex ceremonies unless they choose to do so.

    Charles McVety, a spokesman for Defend Marriage Canada and president of Canada Christian College, said he was “very sad that the state has invaded the church, breached separation of church and state and redefined a religious word.”

    Well, buddy, this is what you get when the religious word in question is closely tied to a government goodie bag. I still think there’s reason for caution about a blanket extension of the legally designated category of marriage to cover gay relationships, but not all the opportunism in argument has been on the pro-gay side. And the sense of entitlement that has animated many gays in this debate is something that’s been picked up from the general culture, not invented by our team and foisted on it.