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    You are from another part of the world

    Posted by Sean at 22:43, August 2nd, 2005

    How many times do people need to be told to check batteries periodically? This time, the problem wasn’t a dead remote for the VCR, it was the air traffic control system at Haneda Airport:

    A power failure in the air traffic control tower at Haneda Airport in Tokyo forced the cancellations or delays of more than 300 flights Tuesday, affecting 60,000 passengers.

    All takeoffs and landings were halted for about an hour from 11:33 a.m.

    The blackout was caused by dead batteries in two emergency power sources within the transport ministry’s airport office building and the control tower.

    It took down the entire system, cutting off all power to the air traffic control system, including the landing guidance system and flight data processor, which sends data on flight routes to other airports.

    I happen to have spent Monday night having dinner and a drink or seven with a fellow blogger–he’s not very forthcoming about himself on his blog, so I don’t know whether he wants to be named here. We spent part of the time in a 40th-floor bar, looking out over the vast field of skyscrapers and elevated highways and other artifacts of civilization that make up central Tokyo–and we were lucky enough to have a view of trains and boats and planes coming in toward that part of the bay. (A combination Ayn Rand and Dionne Warwick moment–superb!) Watching planes coming in on the flight path for landing at Haneda really brings it home to you just how unbelievably congested it is. Haneda handles most domestic flights to and from the city. Unreal.

    Japan Post vote at t – 2

    Posted by Sean at 22:31, August 2nd, 2005

    You know you’re in Japan when a news report contains this passage:

    Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoji Nagaoka was found hanged at his home in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on Monday, police said.

    Nagaoka’s wife found the 54-year-old House of Representatives member just after 10 a.m. He was taken to a hospital in Mitaka, Tokyo, but was pronounced dead at 12:16 p.m., the Metropolitan Police Department said.

    The MPD suspects Nagaoka committed suicide, and is investigating whether he left a suicide note.

    As Nagaoka is only the sixth Diet member to have committed suicide since the end of World War II, there has been considerable speculation about why he chose to take his own life, with some suspecting the split inside the LDP over the postal privatization vote was a factor.

    Wow. Only the sixth Diet member to commit suicide since WWII, huh? Those Diet members really deserve a commendation for their spectacular suicide-avoidance program!

    Why is it that the Japan Post privatization may have pushed Nagaoka over the edge? Several reasons. Koizumi and his cabinet have staked a lot of political capital on Japan Post privatization, and they’ve been leaning on legislators any way they can. In the opposite direction, unelected officials have a lot of pull, and rural postal workers are very important to the LDP in elections. (That’s something that’s rarely commented on at length, even in discussions of this particular bill, but one of the major dailies had a very good article about it the other day. Wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find the link, but when I do, I’ll post it.) NHK reported last week that postal workers have been lobbying legislators so forcefully that the head of the union had to tell them to lay off before they started spooking people too much. In rural areas, the post offices help to mobilize voters for LDP candidates; many Diet members feel directly beholden to Japan Post workers in their districts. Most Diet members from the ruling coalition say they plan to vote in line with the party, but there are, at least according to the Asahi, 12 who firmly oppose the bill. (That’s up from 8 a few weeks ago.) Given that just about everyone else basically plans to vote against, and that 18 LDP votes against is the magic number that will deep six the bill, the 6 who say they’re undecided are having a rough time of it. Koizumi is still aiming to have the bill voted on in the House of Councillors plenary session the day after tomorrow.


    Posted by Sean at 07:57, July 31st, 2005

    So, is it the United Nations International Week of the Cad and no one told me? Am I the only one who didn’t get his coloring book with “Well, honey, I’m here and your boyfriend’s not” and “Why must you be such a stuck-up bitch?” translated into Swahili, Hindi, Maori, and other world languages? Did I miss the CNN broadcast of the kick-off statement by the chairman of the World Health Organization? ‘Cause I swear, I had my own run-in a few days ago, Michael had one this morning, and in between, I heard from two or three friends on various major land masses that they’d practically had to punch guys out to get ’em to knock it off with the won’t-take-no-for-an-answer come-ons. No, there’s never a horndog shortage in urban gay life, but it really isn’t the case (at least among people I know) that you have so many colorful encounters to dish about all at once. Cheese and crackers.

    I have a few younger readers, so I think–if I don’t sound too obnoxiously avuncular here–it’s worth pointing out that there’s a much more general lesson here. There’s a little technique we fusty types call PAYING ATTENTION TO SIGNALS, and people who don’t know how to do it end up getting themselves into all kinds of trouble, whether they’re trying to make friends, establish business contacts, or realize whatever other designs they may have on people.

    If your approach is failing, you need to change it. The number of people who don’t get this is truly startling, and you can tell they don’t get it because they keep repeating the same unsuccessful tactic, only more loudly/emphatically/insistently. Not everyone likes to give his phone number out to someone he’s just met, or have rousing political discussions with strangers at dinner parties, or participate in impromptu sing-alongs. People who don’t are unlikely to warm to you if you try to force such things on them, but they may be perfectly willing to get to know you if you settle for an e-mail address or talk about non-controversial interests the first few times you meet them. (I can’t think of a good substitute for the sing-along except getting the hell out of there.)

    Along with that, you have to make sure your opening gambit allows you to retreat gracefully if it doesn’t succeed. If you launch into a political tirade under the assumption that your partner in conversation’s views coincide with yours, you’ll have a terrible time trying to backpedal into giving him a respectful hearing if they do not. Or (this example may drive the point home more memorably–thanks, Michael’s neighbor!) if you show up on someone’s doorstep drunk, naked, and tumescent, you’ll find it difficult to save face with the pretense that you were just seeking a nice chat and some warm evening air.


    Posted by Sean at 08:57, July 30th, 2005

    More cracks showing in Japan’s post-bubble educational system. (For once, the English article isn’t much thinner than the original Japanese.)

    The survey, conducted in November and December last year, covered professors, assistant professors and lecturers at universities and junior colleges belonging to the association.

    About 28,000 full-time teachers, or 36 percent of those at all of the nation’s private universities and junior colleges, responded.

    Inadequate academic ability was cited as a problem by 60.1 percent of teachers at four-year course universities and 66 percent of those at junior colleges.

    They were 24.8 and 22.1 percentage points, respectively, higher than the responses in the same survey in fiscal 1998.

    The sense of crisis was especially deep among teachers of science and technology.

    Many university lecturers said some of their students could not solve linear simultaneous equations that are taught in middle school, and some medical students did not take biology as a subject in high school.

    Japan may be heading where the US is now: substandard high school instruction will have to be redressed at the level of community college equivalents such as the junior colleges and trade schools. Of course, it’s important to note that only 36% of instructors responded; there’s a SLOPs issue here. Also, only instructors at private colleges were included. That leaves out the public colleges, which include the super-exclusive Universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, along with many of the other top institutions.

    At the same time, most Japanese students don’t get to go to 東大, so the experiences of instructors at modest tech colleges who are desperate to help their students catch up to high-school level proficiency may be more representative than the 36% figure would make it seem.

    BTW, there’s been quite a bit of interesting discussion of math teaching going on. Joanne Jacobs, as always, points to several good links, especially this post by Moebius Stripper about what skill and knowledge set should be required for high school graduation.

    Joanne also posted about a boneheaded theory a few weeks back that math learning is extra-hard because of the way words are used. Though I was a literature major and expended quite a bit of energy memorizing the names of various seasonal plants and birds in Japanese, I have to say that math vocabulary is one of the more fun aspects of the language to learn. Many terms you can basically translate directly. Some of the more fun ones you can’t, but they make sense once you get used to them: 負の数 (fu no suu: “owed number” –> “negative number”), 数珠順列 (juzu junretsu: “Buddhist rosary” + “order” + “line-up” –> “key ring permutation”), 放物線 (houbutsusen: “release/throw” + “object” + “line” –> “parabola”). Okay, fine, I only think they’re fun because I’m a big dork. They still aren’t that hard if you’re also learning Japanese as an everyday language.

    Added on 31 July: People sometimes ask me about the fabled Japanese math education system, whereby, it is assumed, a mystical blend of Zen and Euclid are employed to produce a new cohort of Karl Friedrich Gausses every year.

    Don’t you believe it. The Japanese (and Korean and Singaporean) systems are successful because they don’t proceed until the kids know what they’re doing. [Earthquake! Feelable but mild. I hope as always that it wasn’t feelable and non-mild a few hundred miles away.] Two articles about a New Jersey school in deep trouble that used textbooks from Singapore and structural approaches from Japan to revamp their math classes show what I mean. If you’re an American who sailed through a good school system and got a 5 on the AP Calc AB or BC test for your trouble, you’re probably wondering what the fuss is about. Of course, the teacher introduces a concept by giving you a problem to solve and seeing whether you can figure out a profitable approach. Of course, you work alone or in groups so that, through trial and error, you can figure out the bone and sinew of what you’re doing and why some plans of attack are bad or waste time. Of course, the lesson in the textbook is a point of departure and not a script.

    But those aren’t of courses anymore. The sad irony is that a lot of American public schools teach math the way Japan teaches other subjects: as an exercise in memorization with minimal imagination.

    Added later: A while back I posted about one of the ads on my train line–from a cram school, not a public school–that was indicative of one of the ways the Japanese reinforce numeracy.

    Added on 1 August: So AXN is showing this here Canadian movie from about ten years ago called Cube . I have no idea how popular it was; I do know that it assumes no one in the audience knows the first thing about math. The math genius chick keeps looking at three-digit numbers and trying to determine whether they’re prime. Understandable for some numbers, but she lingers over every single one. You know, like, 548. Hmm…that would be an even number greater than two. I WONDER whether it’s prime. Oh, the SUSPENSE. [pause…pause…gears turning in math genius chick’s brain] Oh, it’s not prime. Goody! No trap in that room! Next one: 153. Uh, 15 seconds for math genius chick to go 1 + 5 + 3 = 9? Pretty slow genius if you ask me. Especially now that it’s toward the end and they’re running out of time–why are we asking the autistic-savant how many factors the even numbers have? Who cares? 512 is the highest power of 2 with three digits, and if you haven’t memorized all the values up to 2^9, what kind of math genius chick are you, anyway?

    Close to a religious experience

    Posted by Sean at 03:40, July 30th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea posts about Kylie. (No, really!) No matter how heady an experience it is to watch Kylie’s singing corpse half-submerged in rushes, my favorite Kylie video is still “Put Yourself in My Place”…although I have to say, that frickin’ continuity error–the way she removes her left sleeve twice–is super-annoying. (I don’t mind so much that the mole is on different sides of her face in different shots; you only notice it if you’re paying close attention because of the sleeve thing.)


    Posted by Sean at 02:56, July 30th, 2005

    Japundit contributor Ampontan posted an interesting entry about the Japanese liquor shôchû a few days ago. If you don’t know much about how it’s made, it’s an interesting read. This part struck me as being just a bit too tactful, though:

    There are several ways to drink shochu. We’ve already talked about chuhai, and if you can mix a gin and tonic, you can make that. Obviously, you also can drink it straight, particularly if you’re the kind of guy who likes sitting around in sweat-stained undershirts. Some people drink it on the rocks, but I can’t help you there–I was never one for that style of drinking. People say the melting ice brings out the sweetness of the drink. Another way is to mix it with warm—not boiling—water. This drink, called oyuwari is popular during the fall and winter, and I used to like it this way myself. Some people with cast iron stomachs use more shochu than water in the mix, but I downed it in about a 1-5 ratio, which is how they usually serve it in restaurants and bars. This method brings out the aroma of the beverage, if you’re interested in such things, and it also warms you up on a cold winter night.

    Maybe it’s a regional thing…or a purist thing. At least around Tokyo, though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone drink national-brand shochu straight. People do drink the special varieties from Kyushu straight (we have friends who ask Atsushi to bring back a bottle of this or that sometimes when he returns to Tokyo). Jinro, Kyôgetsu, and the other major brands all taste like diluted rubbing alcohol. Otherwise, people use it as a mixing base.

    For anything. And I mean anything. Of course, I’m most familiar with the gay pubs I go to, where they do bottle keep for regulars. (If you don’t know Japan and are scratching your head at “bottle keep,” the way it works is, you pay between, oh, $30 and $100 for your own bottle. Your name is written on the glass or, if the bar is fancy-schmancy, on a placard that’s hung over the bottleneck. When you show up, the bottle is brought out for you and your guests. You also customarily invite the bartenders to drink with you.) The most common cold mixers people ask for are water, tonic water, green tea, oolong tea, and fruit juices. But I know guys who drink it with Calpis, or with Coke–both inexpressibly foul, in my opinion–or with a little liqueur (crème de cassis, or the Midori melon stuff, or Godiva) for flavoring. I once saw a fresh-faced young thing of about 22 or so ask for a Zima, drink a quarter of it, and ask the bar guy to fill ‘er up with shochu–like a fraternity hazing ritual, or something.

    Ampontan is right that drinking it oyuwari is very restorative in the winter, especially if you put a pickled plum in the bottom. Great for warding off colds, or for forgetting the one you already have is bothering you.

    What’s in a name?

    Posted by Sean at 10:42, July 29th, 2005

    What Michael said:

    While the outcome would be right if marriage were enacted in CT, the method is clearly wrong. If the state refused to do anything for gay couples, that would be one thing. Yet here we have a state that democratically gave gay couples most, if not all, of the rights of marriage. Why not let that sink in for a few years, then petition the legislature for marriage?

    Here’s the thing: Civil Unions give you all the rights of marriage in Connecticut. What are you accomplishing by pushing for marriage rights? Answer: Nothing. Because any rights beyond what you have are Federal. And there is nothing that state can do about that. In effect, what these gay couples are doing is ruining it for the rest of us. They are ensuring that state legislatures will remain queazy about enacting civil union legislation in the future.

    He’s talking about the news that there are eight gay couples in Connecticut using the state’s recent passage of a civil unions bill to sue for the ability to marry. I’m not sure that even breaking the argument down into the shortest possible clauses, as Michael obligingly did, will make people get it. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure his prediction is correct.

    BTW, he didn’t quote the most unpalatable part of the article:

    “We really believe marriage best reflects what we’ve had together. We have a deep love and commitment, and civil unions don’t reflect that,” said Janet Peck of Colchester. She and her partner, Carol Conklin, will celebrate their 30th anniversary later this year.

    “Civil unions just kind of feel like you’re not good enough,” Conklin added.

    Other couples, such as Jeffrey Busch and Stephen Davis of Wilton, will apply for a civil union reluctantly. They feel they cannot pass up the legal protections the arrangement will provide–such as the right to sue for wrongful death and the ability to file taxes jointly–but they do not plan a celebration.

    “Civil unions are humiliating. We’re embarrassed by it,” Busch said. “We will in essence be agreeing to be officially marginalized. I’m very hopeful that is a temporary step on our way to being considered a full family deserving the same respect as other families.”

    Sometimes I would love to break my own rule about not using any but the mildest four-letter words here. Would everyone be so kind as to imagine my letting fly with a stream of loud and hideous profanities right now?

    I’m not like you

    Posted by Sean at 22:28, July 28th, 2005


    Early last month, a Love in Action administrator said that two male teens in the program were both enrolled for six-week stints in the “ex-gay” camp, and last week in an interview broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Zach’s father, Joe Stark confirmed his son’s identity as one of Love in Action’s clients.

    “We felt good about Zach coming here … to let him see for himself the destructive lifestyle, what he has to face in the future, and to give him some options that society doesn’t give him today,” Stark said.

    “Until he turns 18 and he’s an adult in the state of Tennessee, I’m responsible for him, and I’m going to see to it that he has all options available to him.” [These are the statements to CBN that were quoted a week or two ago.–SRK]

    A Los Angeles-based psychologist [Ruh-roh!–SRK] took issue with the father’s statement.

    “It appears that both Mr. Stark and the LIA director’s public comments are highly defensive and indicate that their concern is less for the child’s well-being and more for their own purposes,” said Paul Chimubulo said via e-mail.

    “The sort of homophobia they espouse has been shown to be rooted in anxiety and a feeling of threat. … The gay child’s expressions are recognized and interpreted as injurious to the parent’s sense of self. With the publicity this has gathered, the father’s internal anxiety and feelings of threat over his son’s gay identity must really be ratcheted up.”

    I have no doubt that Joe Stark is doing quite a bit of hard thinking about his own performance as a father and how it might have “made” Zach gay, but can we please remember that people have convictions, too? It is perfectly possible–likely, as far as I’m concerned–that the Starks, at least, are genuinely acting as they think is best for their son, based on religious and other beliefs. That those beliefs are fed by factoids that play on confirmation bias doesn’t make them less real, though it should make them easier to argue against.

    My sense is that the wording Joe Stark used is probably the result of heavy-duty coaching–the focus on Zach’s coming adult independence and the characterizing of LIA as showing “options” distract attention from the coercion involved so shrewdly that I find it hard to imagine their coming spontaneously from a distraught parent. But that doesn’t mean he can be dismissed as acting out of a neurotic attempt to preserve his “sense of self.” The word homophobia, paradoxically enough, could conceivably be justified here–for once, we’re not just talking about anti-gay sentiment but about a real attempt to erase homosexuality in someone. But it’s not a judgment call we can really make, and crappy reasoning is just as bad coming from our side as from the opposition. Couldn’t the Washington Blade have found someone more level-headed to cite as an authority?


    Posted by Sean at 22:00, July 28th, 2005

    A slightly different group of six has also been meeting in Laos:

    The world’s top two air polluters — the U.S. and China — joined Australia, India, Japan and South Korea on Thursday to unveil a new Asia-Pacific partnership to develop cleaner energy technologies in hopes of curtailing climate-changing pollution.

    They described the initiative as a complement to the Kyoto Protocol that commits 140 countries to cutting emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, but environmentalists said the new pact lacked firm obligations to cut pollution and that it might undermine the Kyoto accord.

    It said the countries could collaborate on clean coal, liquefied natural gas, methane, civilian nuclear power, geothermal power, rural energy systems, solar power, wind power and bio-energy. In the long-term, they could develop hydrogen nanotechnologies, next-generation nuclear fission and fusion energy, it said.

    Environmental group Friends of the Earth was skeptical about the pact because it contained no legally binding requirements to cut emissions.

    “It looks suspiciously as though this will be business as usual for the United States,” said the U.K.-based group’s member, Catherine Pearce.

    “A deal on technology, supported by voluntary measures to reduce emissions, will not address climate change. This is yet another attempt by the U.S. and Australian administrations to undermine the efforts of the 140 countries who have signed the Kyoto Protocol,” she said.

    Well, nature girl, I have to wonder just how much there is to undermine. Remember this story from several months back?

    Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions between fiscal 2008 and 2012 by an average 6 percent from the fiscal 1990 level.

    The Asahi Shimbun established that only a few prefectural and municipal governments have done anything about it. In fact, a nationwide survey found that only three of the 47 prefectural governments and seven of the 13 major cities can actually boast decreases in their greenhouse gas emissions.

    Also, latest statistics offered by about half the prefectural and municipal governments surveyed showed double-digit increases over the fiscal 1990 level in greenhouse gas emissions.

    I’ve been looking out for information since then that the federal government is somehow taking this into account and doing something about it (say by directly regulating industry). It’s always possible that a pertinent article has slipped past me, but I kind of doubt it. The Nikkei, the major business newspaper, is the one I read most extensively on-line and subscribe to (morning and evening editions) in dead-tree form. And the way the issue was reported in native English outlets was so bland you might not have noticed that there was even a problem. This CBS report is typical:

    In Japan, a tireless supporter of the pact, the enactment was being met with a mixture of pride and worry that the world’s second-largest economy is unprepared to meet its emissions reduction targets.

    Japan is struggling to find ways to meet its obligations. A report this month by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed that 11 of 30 top Japanese industries — steel and power among them — risked failing to reach targets unless they take drastic steps.

    It makes me wonder whether many of the other countries that signed on really have a plan.

    Buffalo stance

    Posted by Sean at 09:51, July 28th, 2005

    The 6-party talks are still going on, of course:

    At the opening ceremony of the six-way talks, which resumed after 13 months of suspension at the the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said concerned parties were required to have political will and make strategic decisions if they intended to make progress toward the denuclearization of the peninsula. He added that North Korea was fully prepared to do so.

    But the North Korean chief delegate went on to say that he believed the United States and other participating nations should also be willing to make strategic decisions.

    The delegates were again struck by Pyongyang’s unyielding stance.

    By referring first to its readiness to make a strategic decision, a course of action U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had urged Pyongyang to take, North Korea showed a positive stance apparently aiming at preventing other nations from increasing pressure on Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear program.

    North Korea argued in the July 24 editorial of the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, that the United States had transformed South Korea into a nuclear arsenal by bringing in various nuclear weapons. South Korea has denied the allegation that any nuclear weapons are deployed in the nation.

    In February, Pyongyang declared it possessed nuclear weapons. Denuclearization of the peninsula means that Pyongyang’s own nuclear programs and nuclear weapons, and those held by the U.S. military stationed in South Korea, must be abandoned at the same time. North Korea therefore insists that the United States, which drove Pyongyang to develop its nuclear programs by bringing the weapons into South Korea, also should make a strategic decision to abandon its nuclear weapons.

    Retaining this view, North Korea is able to argue that the two nations, as equal nuclear powers, can then proceed with direct negotiations.

    Right…which means that the probability of the DPRK’s actually disarming (what leverage would it have left then–economic might?) is around zero.

    Everyone seems to agree that it would be a bad idea for Japan to push the abductee issue at this week’s talks. Not everyone agrees on how the talks themselves could be “productive,” but perhaps it really is possible for a sort of Dilbert-ish chain of never-ending committees and conferences and inquiries and stuff to be established and kept lamely going until the DPRK actually does collapse.