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    Japan Post, now with more pork

    Posted by Sean at 09:28, June 17th, 2005

    Brick wall, meet head:

    Questions still remain even after 48 hours of debate over postal privatization bills among members of the House of Representatives’ special committee, which is discussing how the three postal services will change following privatization.

    [Social Democrat Mitsuko] Tomon said she was concerned the amount of depopulated areas could change as a result of continuing town, city and village mergers, adding that the mergers could make it difficult for the government to maintain the current number of postal employees. [No! Not fewer government employees! –SRK]

    She then asked the government to release the number of post offices at the end of fiscal 2005 after consolidation under the former Special Mergers Law was complete.

    In response to her question, Cabinet Councilor Makoto Hosomi from the government’s postal privatization preparation office reassured Tomon that the number would not change because the areas would continue to be regarded as depopulated even after increasing in size and finances through mergers.

    The government has said the number of post offices in urban areas will drop after the privatization.

    Heizo Takenaka, state minister in charge of economic, fiscal and postal reform policy, has not mentioned any details about efforts to streamline the services, but has said such actions would depend on the judgment of post office network management, and the ministry would direct and supervise if necessary.


    Posted by Sean at 12:19, June 15th, 2005

    Been a great day for Japanese aeronautics, yeah? First, we had this morning’s incident in which a JAL flight landed at Haneda so bumpy-like that two of the plane’s tires were shredded:

    The Ministry of Land, Transportation, and Infrastructure designated this a “serious incident” in which there had been risk of a major accident. Four investigators were dispatched by the Air and Rail Accident Research Committee.

    According to JAL, the captain (39) and copilot (37) have stated that at the time of the accident, “The rear wheels showed absolutely no aberrations up until landing, but at the instant the front wheels touched down, there were several abnormal jolts that made a bang.” At the time, the copilot was steering the plane.

    Cheeringly, JAL’s managing director affirmed that future passenger safety is not in jeopardy with a comment that can be best summarized as, “Huh?”

    On the afternoon of 15 May, JAL International’s managing director, Takao Imai, addressed a press conference held at the Ministry of Land, Transportation, and Infrastructure. “We have no idea what the origin of the problem was. We’ve heard of no precedent for this kind of thing, including at other airlines,” he said with a bewildered expression.

    Not to be outdone, ANA had to suspend a pilot and copilot after an incident last week in which a plane flew in the wrong air lane for over a half-hour:

    Flight 664 bound for Tokyo took off from Nagasaki Airport just past 11 a.m. on June 5.About 10 minutes after take-off, while ascending past 3,000 meters, the captain of the Boeing 767 noticed that his computer screen showed a higher altitude than the one on the co-pilot’s screen.

    The captain reconnected his altimeter to what he mistakenly believed was a third computer in the cockpit. In fact, he had reconnected it to the co-pilot’s computer-the one that had malfunctioned and displayed the wrong altitude.

    But the captain believed that nothing was wrong because the two figures for altitude matched.

    “The biggest factor in this case was the captain’s error on the number of computers,” ANA’s chief of operation control division told reporters at the transport ministry Tuesday.

    “This was a critical matter of impermissible nature. Mistaken altitude figures could nullify the air traffic controlling system that administers the safety of other airplanes.”

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Tuesday gave a stern warning to ANA.

    Why should JAL get all the stern warnings?

    All in all, the perfect time to announce that Japan and France are planning to cooperate in the development of a new SST to replace the defunct Concorde. (Yes, I know the new jet will be created by aerospace engineers and not pilots or air traffic controllers. The coincidence is still funny.)


    Posted by Sean at 08:38, June 14th, 2005

    I don’t entirely agree with Michael’s quickie assent to Andrew Sullivan’s comment on this poor kid, who’s being packed off to a de-gay-programming retreat by his conservative Christian mother. (At least, assuming Michael was agreeing with everything Sullivan said.)

    There are all kinds of things parents do to their children that most of us find cruel but aren’t in a position to liberate them from, from telling them they’re stupid and will never amount to anything to sending them to sports programs/music lessons with mean coaches who are supposed to toughen them up by tearing them down. Yes, of course, as a gay man, I feel this is in a different league–the reason I’ve been rewriting this for days without posting it is that I haven’t been able to keep it even-tempered.

    Here’s something I think worth considering, though, if I can get it to come out correctly: we all have issues to resolve with our parents, and in my experience knowing that you’ve done what they asked and tried their way and not disobeyed them while you were under their authority is a real comfort when you’re navigating life as an adult. No, I wasn’t sent to several weeks of straightening camp, to be sure. I don’t know what it’s like to go through that sort of concentrated brainwashing in which your mind is not your own (the better to enable you to make a covenant with God as a free moral agent, one is left to assume?) for weeks at a time, and I won’t pretend to. But Zach seems like a grounded, if understandably shaken-up, kid. There’s a lot of ethical leverage in being able to point out later that you were never a compulsive, resentful little trouble-maker.

    Breaking bread the manly way

    Posted by Sean at 14:03, June 13th, 2005

    Straight guys are so cute sometimes. Gay News links to this piece by an English writer who gets all fidgety over whether it looks gay if you go out to dinner with another man. He seems not to realize that his and his buddy’s thoroughgoing heterotude is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt from paragraph 1:

    Not so long ago I was having dinner with a (male) friend of mine – just the two of us in a cosy little Italian restaurant in Soho – when he suddenly started laughing. “God, this all looks a bit gay, doesn’t it?” he chuckled, indicating the plastic carnation in the middle of the table, the bottle of sparkling white wine, the tomato salad we were sharing. “I wonder if anyone thinks we’re like… you know… a couple?”

    You caught the important part, right? Of course, you did–otherwise you wouldn’t be hanging out here.

    But, okay, just in case you’re having an off day, here it is highlighted:

    Not so long ago I was having dinner with a (male) friend of mine – just the two of us in a cosy little Italian restaurant in Soho – when he suddenly started laughing. “God, this all looks a bit gay, doesn’t it?” he chuckled, indicating the plastic carnation in the middle of the table, the bottle of sparkling white wine, the tomato salad we were sharing. “I wonder if anyone thinks we’re like… you know… a couple?”

    Not if they know any queers. In the language of flowers, a gay guy who takes another gay guy to a restaurant with plastic carnations on the table is saying, “You will NEVER get into my pants.”

    BTW, Paul Sussman, the writer of the Guardian piece here, may not be anti-gay, but he’s a regular old fount of stereotypes. I’m aware that the tone of the article is tongue-in-cheek, but there’s still room for clue-deprivation:

    In a “two-guy” situation I always try to stick to “manly” beverages such as beer or whisky – the sparkling wine mentioned was a momentary aberration – and plump for cholesterol-packed, hunter-gatherer-type main courses (rump steak, rack of lamb) rather than flans, tofu or (the ultimate no-no) anything involving filo pastry and baby courgettes. I try to tell stories that involve me miming punching someone, or throwing a rugby ball, or unclipping a bra and squeezing it’s contents. Most pathetic of all, I always but always make a point of telling the waitress in a jokey-but-firm sort of way as she leads us to our table: “We’re not lovers, you know!” (On one occasion this drew the memorably caustic response: “That’s unlucky, because I can’t see any woman wanting to shag you.”)

    (Aside: Why is it that the nebbishy sorts of hetero guys like to invite the audience to laugh at the humiliating sexual put-downs women have delivered to them? So not charming. Anyway.) Half-joking or not, anyone who thinks gay guys are calorie-obsessed anorexic gym bunnies who gravitate toward fussy foods needs to see my friends some time as they tunnel ruthlessly through the romaine in a Thai beef salad to get to the meat. (Animals! You have any idea how long it takes me to wash and individually wipe those lettuce leaves dry, guys?) Or make a bowl of mashed potatoes and a boat of gravy disappear five minutes after I’ve put it on the table. I’ve been known to drink a wine spritzer or two, but I can assure you that most of us know our way around whisky and beer, too.

    Be that as it may, a word to the wise: the best way to look gay–or, more precisely, look like a certain breed of see-and-be-seen gay guy you see plenty of in cities such as London–is to make it clear that you’re taking in the effect you’re having on surrounding diners and desperately hoping you’re making the “right” impression. Secure people focus on their dinner partners, whatever plans they have for them afterwards.

    Information emerging about school bomber

    Posted by Sean at 12:32, June 13th, 2005

    The student who threw a home-made bomb into a classroom full of students on Friday may, the principal admits, have been suffering from bullying. Of a kind:

    On 13 June, Principal Yukio Hironaka of Hikari Prefectural High School, in the city of Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, held a press conference to discuss the incident last Friday in which a bottle bomb exploded after being thrown into a classroom in use, injuring 58 students. Hironaka said, “It is possible that there was bullying, in a broad sense of the term, behind the incident,” acknowledgin the possibility that bullying was the motive for the student (18) who was arrested for throwing the bomb.

    The information is still sketchy, but the Nikkei article goes on to mention something that’s being reported elsewhere: this wasn’t the kind of ijime in which everyone turned on a single student and made him a target. When other students would address him, he would walk away. The Mainichi also says that he was into survival games:

    After graduating from the school, however, all the friends he played survival games with entered other schools and he could not make friends with his new classmates at Hikari High School, leading him to become increasingly isolated.

    Whenever classes were reorganized, his new classmates tried to make friends with him, but he ignored them each time. A few months later, his classmates gave up trying to speak to him, according to the sources.

    There have been cases in which bullying appears to have driven otherwise-healthy children insane. Bullying is hard to take anywhere, but it’s an especially potent force in a society that so stresses group identity and fitting in. The pattern here, to the extent that it’s emerging, is that the student in question rebuffed people who were actually trying to be friendly. There was obviously something going on there, though we probably won’t know what for a while. Incidentally, the bomb was made in a fashion similar to those favored by Palestinian suicide bombers: it contained lots of hard little objects designed to maximize injuries.

    Criminal resourcefulness

    Posted by Sean at 11:18, June 13th, 2005

    Darn. NHK just had a lengthy report today on a big-time victim of the newest variety of the “Pay up!” scam, and I was all excited to write about it–but, of course, the Mainichi English edition, which can be relied upon to report the latest scumbag-related news the minute it hits the airwaves, got there first:

    Four people who apparently made 100 million yen carrying out a scam centering on people’s fears of a relative being arrested for groping female train commuters were arrested in Tokyo, police said on Monday.

    Police said the specific case for which Mitsuyama and his co-conspirators were arrested involved a call made in March to a 56-year-old Kawasaki woman.

    Mitsuyama claimed to be a lawyer acting on behalf of the woman’s husband and said her husband used his mobile phone to take racy pictures, police said, adding that Mitsuyama had threatened to contact the media if the woman did not obey his demands for money.

    Eventually, the suspects forced the woman to transfer 3.5 million yen into an account they had designated, police said.

    Claiming to be seeking hush money to cover-up a relative’s arrest for groping female train commuters has become a popular type of fraud in recent weeks, police said.

    Since the recent introduction of women’s only trains in Tokyo and a crackdown on train perverts last month to coincide with the change, the number of victims falling for the scam has increased, with about 80 reported cases in Tokyo during May alone.

    The ease with which women are prepared to believe their husbands were groping random women on trains is its own commentary. However, those who collect Japanese compounds will love this new one, which is the way NHK labeled the swindle (I’d just seen it explained piecemeal in sentences before): 痴漢示談金振り込め詐欺 (chikan-jidankin-furikome-sagi: “the [out-of-court] settlement-for-groping ‘Pay up!’ scam”). Were it not for that native Japanese verb in the middle, it would be a marvel of 漢語 dementia.

    In other exciting news, Atsushi’s parents received a “Pay up!” call last week, but the story they were given was nothing exciting–the story was just a dumb old car accident, if I recall correctly. They’re savvy people and didn’t pay, fortunately. I did get a kick out of imagining some con artist’s possibly trying to impersonate Atsushi by calling his parents and greeting them with “オレ、オレ!” (ore-ore: “It’s me, it’s me!”), which was the original version of the scam. Having heard his end of four years of phone calls to the parents, I can attest that he always announces himself with a warm but respectful “Hello, this is Atsu.”

    Making a joyful noise

    Posted by Sean at 06:38, June 12th, 2005

    Susanna of Cut on the Bias has been having trouble registering to comment. This cannot be tolerated: what could be more piquant than commentary on a gay guy’s ravings about disco by a conservative Christian woman living in rural Alabama? Here was Susanna’s comment:

    It’s not a dance song, but I always liked “MacArthur Park” for it’s sheer incomprehensibility. And when did Madonna get in the disco thing? I thought disco died before The Non-Virgin got her start.

    I lived through the disco years, having been born in 1961, but as I was a teenaged Christian tucked away in the hills of Kentucky in the late 1970s, I can’t say I have a good handle on the full range of music from the era. My mom actually broke and threw away my single of “Rock N Roll Heaven”. I liked the BeeGees. I was more enamored of the Eagles. I confess to not remembering more than half the songs on Camille’s list.

    My dad did have leisure suits though. He may still have one around. Want me to send it to you so you can fit in with the new mode of down-dressing in Japan? 😀

    I think that wearing a suit with a jacket is considered an infraction, but thanks for the offer. Short-sleeved Qiana shirts might do it, though I don’t plan on finding out.

    To respond to the other parts of Susanna’s post: “MacArthur Park” wasn’t originally written as a disco song, but Donna Summer’s version of it certainly was one. And, no, I have no idea what the, um, blazes (just in case Susanna’s mother is looking over her shoulder) the lyrics are supposed to be about. Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” was one of the first disco recordings to score with the American mass audience–kind of ironic: in my experience it’s a bad choice at a club, because just about everyone looks like a complete idiot dancing to it. There’s something about “Love to Love You Baby” that makes people surrender to their Inner Stripper, and most of us have Inner Strippers that aren’t very talented.

    As for why Madonna’s music can be considered disco, I think that as long as it’s uptempo, has a 4/4 meter with every beat hit on the bass drum, has a heavy and syncopated bass line, and has hi-hat or cowbell fills, it’s disco. (This Wikipedia article tells you that, but you have to be willing to dig for it.) It’s the steady drumbeat that reminds people who don’t like disco of a pounding headache, though it’s the bassline they think they’re complaining about. They stopped calling it “disco” because the public backlash meant the term was no longer marketable and there were lots of little sub-genres forming.

    My family was very devout, like Susanna’s. My mother had been reared Catholic, too, so you can imagine what she thought of Madonna. A lot of our ministers frowned on any pop music edgier than Pat Boone; but my parents had met playing in a cover band after high school, so while they wouldn’t let anything that was frankly lewd into the house, they didn’t go ballistic over songs with passing lines expressing mild, good-natured bawdiness.

    Of course, as Susanna said in a later message, the dividing line was different back then. It’s not disco, but the other day I was listening to Physical by Olivia Newton-John and remembering how brazen everyone considered it at the time (1981). These days, Physical is the kind of album a pop star would make to tone down the sexuality of her image after marrying, having a child, and converting to Seventh Day Adventism.

    A more relaxed Army

    Posted by Sean at 02:13, June 10th, 2005

    The US Army is still having trouble hitting its recruitment targets:

    The U.S. Army, facing recruiting woes and a reorganized force, will relax requirements for new officers, welcoming older candidates and allowing more tolerance of past minor crimes, officials said on Thursday.

    Trying to stem the loss of current personnel, the Army also has made it more difficult to kick soldiers out of the military for alcohol or drug abuse, being overweight or “unsatisfactory performance,” according to a recent memo.

    At least there’s no talk of letting in the non-closeted homos, who would clearly spell doom for the Republic.

    Those cell phones can do anything

    Posted by Sean at 00:47, June 10th, 2005

    Interesting mini-article on the Nikkei:

    Honda, Matsushita Electric, and about 120 other companies will introduce a system that allows the use of cellular phones to cast votes at general shareholder meetings. Many corporations are giving more consideration to individual shareholders and are urging the exercise of individual voting rights by increasing the convenience [of the system]. The number of corporations that allow Internet-based voting is also expected to increase to around 300. The IT-ization of the operations side of shareholder meetings has been advancing, with the ease with which shareholders can see their wishes reflected in company policy increasing accordingly.

    This represents a big shift. Their influence is not what it once was, but the 総会屋 (soukaiya: “general” + “meeting” + “shopkeeper”) are still around, and I assume that allowing people to vote remotely–surely that’s the purpose of Internet voting?–is to no small degree a move to counter them.

    I wasn’t going to write my own explanation of what the soukaiya do, but there doesn’t seem to be a good, concise definition that I can link to as a primary source. This Mainichi article from a few years ago gives a representative sample of their activities. The soukaiya basically buy small numbers of shares in a company, dig up some of its management’s nastier doings (every company has nasty doings ready for digging, of course) and threaten to disrupt the general shareholders’ meeting if not given hush money. Some of them are tied to vast networks of gangsters, but many are independent. Those not ambitious enough to poke around for scandalous material have been known to simply show up and start blurting out inanities in the hopes that someone will give them a few hundred bucks to shut the hell up. Beats working at 7-Eleven, apparently.

    Of course, soukaiya are the interesting problem. The more mundane but far-reaching problem has been that many Japanese companies engage in mutual shareholding. The big banks were required to sell off their mutually-held shares, and though many other companies within conglomerates have retained them among themselves, the result has been an overall increase in the number of small shareholders. Whether financial transparency has really increased enough for them to have any idea what they’re voting about is debatable, but the fact that air is being let in is encouraging.

    SDF to buy unmanned spycraft from US

    Posted by Sean at 22:20, June 9th, 2005

    Sleeping too soundly? Get a load of the participial modifier that begins this Asahi article:

    Fearing a flare-up in North Korea at any time, the Defense Agency has abandoned plans for the domestic production of a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and will purchase U.S.-made planes instead, sources said.

    They said the decision was made because strengthened surveillance of airspace around Japan has become a priority, given the uncertain situation on the Korean Peninsula.

    Analysts said it likely would have taken a decade for Japan to deploy a domestically produced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Pentagon operates several UAV versions, so deploying one that fits Defense Agency needs should be no problem, the sources said.

    The aircraft would be used not only for patrol and reconnaissance over Japanese airspace, but could also be used for intelligence gathering from North Korea-even while flying in Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ), which establishes the boundaries for territorial airspace.

    A Defense Agency study team visited the United States in April for a first-hand look at what UAVs actually do. Members focused on high-altitude aircraft like the Global Hawk and Predator as well as the low-altitude Fire Scout and Eagle Eye.

    I don’t know that the DPRK is going to erupt at Japan any time soon–though the SDF should be able to predict better than I can. I do know (this is something I’ve remarked on before) that the feeling of living in Japan is completely different from that of living in the States. If you’re good at spatial relations, you know that map in your head that appears whenever you read the name of a country or think about the location of a city? When you’re in America, of course, the only close-by major countries are Mexico and Canada. Our closest enemy is Cuba, and it hasn’t exactly been making many belligerent noises lately.

    In Japan, you’re within spitting distance of the DPRK, one of the craziest regimes on the planet, which tests missiles by flying them over your head and has been known to sneak onto your shores and snatch your citizens. Moving westward, you also have China, the most populous country in the world, a rising economic competitor whose citizens alternate between gratefully taking jobs and consuming goods created by your enterprises, on the one hand, and demonstrating against you, on the other. It treats nearby democracy Taiwan as a renegade province. Even South Korea, the other democracy in the region, has bitter memories of being occupied by you within the last century and is not always amicable.

    It’s little wonder that everyday citizens don’t think too hard about world politics; you could drive yourself insane. I’m glad the SDF, whose job it is to deal with grim realities, is accelerating its plans, even if it means buying planes from foreigners.