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    Guarding against logic

    Posted by Sean at 01:40, July 14th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea is driving himself crazy trying to get The Guardian‘s coverage of the London bombings to make some kind of sense. Looks like he’s doomed to failure, but he has lots of links, and his own comments are good as always.

    What was I just saying about ethnic superiority?

    Posted by Sean at 09:55, July 13th, 2005

    Master diplomat Shintaro Ishihara, Governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, has spread more of his trademark brotherhood among men. I still think that suing in response is silly:

    Twenty-one people including the head of a French Language school in Tokyo have filed a damages lawsuit against Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara over his comment that “French fails as an international language.”

    The group of plaintiffs, which also includes French language researchers, is demanding that Ishihara publish newspaper advertisements apologizing for the remark and pay compensation of 10 million yen.

    “I have a feeling it is aptly said that French fails as an international language because it is a language that can’t count numbers,” he said.

    The governor apparently made the comment on the basis that French counts “80” as “four twenties.” The lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday, objects to his remark.

    “French can count numbers and it is used as an official language in international organizations and many countries,” the lawsuit says. “(The governor’s) false comments stain the reputation of people who are researching French and speaking it as their native language, and they obstruct the business of language schools by diminishing the desire of learners of the language.

    Now, as anyone who speaks Japanese knows, if there is anything AT ALL that no Japanese speaker should be getting all smug about, it’s counting. I love the Japanese language to death, but please! It has native Japanese numbers, imported Chinese numbers, and about five zillion different counters for different kinds of things. The math scores of Japanese citizens? Rational reason for national pride. The numerical facility of the Japanese language? No. I hardly think Ishihara’s remarks affected language school enrollment, but…just, no.

    Get ethnic

    Posted by Sean at 09:31, July 13th, 2005

    Jon Rowe has an interesting post up about Japanese racism and cultural relativism. It strikes me as somewhat dodging the most fascinating and important question, though: is there a critical mass of institutionalized racism in Japanese society–that is, an amount sufficient to make it morally inferior to ours despite our important similarities as democratic allies?

    Rowe cites a speech by Allan Bloom:

    But the family is exclusive. For in it there is an iron wall separating insiders from outsiders, and its members feel contrary sentiments toward the two. So it is in Japanese society, which is intransigently homogeneous, barring the diversity which is the great pride of the United States today. To put it brutally, the Japanese seem to be racists. They consider themselves superior; they firmly resist immigration; they exclude even Koreans who have lived for generations among them. They have difficulty restraining cabinet officers from explaining that America’s failing economy is due to blacks.

    I hate to disagree with someone as estimable as Bloom. (And hey, he was a gay white guy with an Asian love-muffin, too–we share so much!) Nevertheless, it is exactly the “intransigence” of Japan’s rigid homogeneity that I think is the key issue here.

    Added on 15 July: That’s weird–Dean and I both use PowerBlogs, and trackback pinging is automatic. Odd that it didn’t go through. Since his post is, of course, good, here it is. (And thanks for linking, Dean.)

    Of course, I’ll call you

    Posted by Sean at 23:04, July 12th, 2005

    Via Ace via Michael, yet another baffled soul whose reasoning goes something like, “Homosexuality must be a choice; after all, the guys who were hitting on me in college thought so.” Ace takes care of things ably and politely, but let me just add for those who’ve managed not to figure this out: We males are goal-oriented. A horny guy who’s hitting on you will say anything if he thinks it will get you into bed. ANYTHING. “You’re gay and just haven’t figured it out yet (ergo, you should sleep with me).” “I want you, I need you, I love you (ergo, you should sleep with me).” “Fascinating! We’re both at the same bar drinking the same brand of beer (ergo, you should sleep with me).” “The moon is made of green cheese (ergo, you should sleep with me).” The idea that the line some aroused guy feeds you in order to get into your pants can be taken as his sincere, fully-worked-out belief about the nature of his own sexuality is a very naive one.

    Added later: Okay, so I thought better of the wording above and changed it. The writer of the original article probably isn’t a garden-variety dum-dum; there are a lot of otherwise smart people who think that logic isn’t really necessary when arguing against homosexuality.

    Subway trouble

    Posted by Sean at 22:25, July 12th, 2005

    This was great timing:

    About 1,000 people were stranded on a subway train for about 40 minutes late Monday night after it came to a standstill because its brakes developed trouble, its operator said Tuesday.

    At around 11:55 p.m., a 10-car train came to a halt between Kitasenju and Ayase stations on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line after its emergency brakes activated, company officials said.

    One of the stranded passengers said the lights on the train went out after it came to a halt, and that the conductor failed to explain what had happened to the train for 30 minutes after it stopped.

    “It reminded me of terrorist attacks on the underground trains in London. Tokyo Metro should have explained what happened much earlier,” said the passenger, 44-year-old Akira Hirai.

    If it was a train running at 11:55 p.m., we all know what that means, don’t we? It means the average passenger BAL was a good, oh, 0.07-ish. Also, while the nights have been cool over the last week, I’m guessing that it was not exactly refreshingly breezy in train cars with no air conditioning. At least they’d emerged from the tunnel before the train stopped. Kitasenju is pretty far out in eastern Tokyo, so the chances that it was a terrorist attack would probably have seemed minimal to most passengers. Still, pretty trying.

    Rice comes to Japan

    Posted by Sean at 22:14, July 12th, 2005

    Secretary of State Rice was here yesterday to talk with Prime Minister Koizumi and Foreign Minister Machimura. (Japanese version)

    “I recognize the importance of continuing to implement anti-terrorist measures,” Koizumi told Rice at their meeting in Tokyo.

    The prime minister, however, made no mention of what his government plans to do later this year on the status of the Self-Defense Forces dispatched to Iraq. The basic plan for the SDF dispatch expires on Dec. 14.

    Japan and the United States agreed they would seek “concrete progress” from Pyongyang toward abolishing its nuclear weapons development program during the six-way talks.

    At a joint news conference held after their meeting, Machimura and Rice said their two countries confirmed agreement on three points concerning the six-way talks expected to start on July 27:

    *Concrete progress is needed in the discussions;

    *Japan and the United States want North Korea to deal with the issues seriously and constructively; and

    *Coordination between Japan, the United States and South Korea is crucial.

    Japan and the United States will hold a trilateral meeting on Thursday in Seoul with South Korea to synchronize their stances for the six-party talks in Beijing, the first since June last year.

    The diplomat-speak in that passage is, BTW, just as exquisitely devoid of content in the Japanese as in the English (though at least the Japanese reporter knew not to use the word synchronize).

    Everything else was basically a reaffirmation of diplomatic ties: the US supports Japan in its pressure on the DPRK to resolve the abductee issue, supports Japan in its push to become a permanent United Nations Security Council member (just not yet), and wants the beef import ban lifted.

    Talk talk

    Posted by Sean at 22:14, July 11th, 2005

    Oh, yeah. I guess I’m sort of duty-bound to to mention that the DPRK has announced that it will return to the 6-party nuclear kaffee klatsch. Whatever. Reuters quotes an AEI expert…

    But officials traveling with Rice in Asia said they have seen no concrete sign the communist state would surrender its nuclear capability — which U.S. intelligence estimates at more than eight weapons. Many experts doubt this will happen.

    “I don’t believe that talks will convince the North Koreans to abandon their program,” former Pentagon official Daniel Bluemthal, from the pro-Bush American Enterprise Institute, told Reuters by telephone from Washington, D.C.

    “Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations go to the core of the regime’s raison d’etre — ensuring its own survival and forcefully unifying the peninsula under its control,” the Asia expert wrote in an analysis on the AEI Web site.

    …but you don’t have to believe that the contemporary DPRK is still motivated by the goals of the Kim Il-sung era in order to doubt that Kim Jong-il’s regime is unlikely to disarm. By this point, sheer hubris strikes me as motivation enough. North Korea is aware that its inability to feed its people is so well-known worldwide that it’s not even news anymore. The occasional puff piece hardly compensates. And the PRC, which has a growing economy and cannot afford to be as openly combative toward companies with large consumer markets such as the US and Japan, is less and less inclined to stand firm behind the DPRK when it gets adversarial.

    Even so, it remains a North Korean backer, which makes me wonder about this:

    A hardline Bush administration faction, including Vice President Dick Cheney, has been viewed as opposed to talks with Pyongyang and eager to shape U.S. policy to encourage the regime’s collapse.

    While we’re making all nicey-nicey with China? While economists in the ROK look at the potential problems with reunification and reach for their nitro-glycerine pills? (South Korea has just announced that it will send more rice as aid to the North, BTW.) We all want the DPRK regime to collapse, but I can’t imagine how the Cheney faction imagines we could seriously, openly pursue that as a policy goal.

    The talks do serve a purpose, though: they give the DPRK attention and make it feel like a world power. (Rice recognizes that that’s important–a few months ago she was chuckling that the DPRK was indignant because some press release of its hadn’t caused a general spaz.) However galling it may be, keeping North Korea from feeling like a cornered rat is a worthy goal.

    Funding the food fusses

    Posted by Sean at 12:05, July 11th, 2005

    The Japanese government has decided to make a greater effort to encourage citizens to eat healthy foods–no surprise, given the collectivist bent of Japanese society and the paternalist bent of the federal ministries. Humiliatingly, it sounds as if what it comes up with may be less patronizing than the USDA’s latest orgy of finger-wagging:

    The government is aiming to start a trend of “dietary education” by which, through families, schools, and regional governments, proper knowledge and judgment about diet will be learned; by the beginning of September, a council to promote dietary education, headed by the Prime Minister and consisting of relevant cabinet officials and experts, will be created. The goal is to formulate a basic plan within the year that incorporates concrete policies efficacious in the preservation of [Japan’s] traditional dietary culture and [improvements to] communication between local governments and farmers.

    The potential for boondoggling here is nearly illimitable, of course–lots of pointless new boards and committees and community centers. Japanese agriculture and education policies are full of those already.

    Yes, the Japanese diet is becoming less healthy. That always happens when people are rich. Still, even people who eat Western foods frequently seem to prefer to base their diets on Japanese foods, and it’s hard to get fat on them. There are a lot of people in Tokyo who could stand to take in a far lower percent of their daily calories through alcohol, but I somehow doubt that’s going to be one of the new council’s focal points.

    Think I’m gonna sing myself a lullabye

    Posted by Sean at 11:28, July 11th, 2005

    Oh, yeah, speaking of subways: something else I forgot to link last week was this post by Japundit, which in turn links to a fascinating website about Pyongyang’s subway system. It’s an unofficial site, but the site owner seems to take care to back up his speculations about how the Pyongyang Metro actually works. The number of cars ordered from the PRC and GDR–remember that entity?–suggests that there may be an entirely separate network for government officials only, for example. There’s also been a suggestion, though the site owner doesn’t take it very seriously, that the two stations through which foreign visitors are given tours are actually the only two in existence–that is to say, that the rest of the network is a fabrication and was never built.

    One of the more interesting tidbits is this passage from the official guidebook:

    An overseas Korean who was on a visit to the homeland gave his impression of the Pyongyang Metro to respected President Kim Il Sung. He said that in the country where he was residing it was out of the question to use high-quality stones in the buildings for common people.

    At this point the president said that in our country we were building a metro not as a means of making money but for providing the civilized and convenient life to the people, so that we did not spare money to decorate the inside well and construct it solidly and modernly.

    More than 30,000 square metres [sic] of natural marble and 40,000 square metres of granite have been used in the construction of the Pyongyang Metro. This is nothing but a negligible amount of materials used in the building of the metro by the Government of the DPRK.

    Vainglorious Monument Syndrome has afflicted dictators since time immemorial, but its cruelty is particularly heart-piercing here. In rich countries, we move about freely and get to choose our own priorities. A lot of subway stations are dumpy, but we don’t care because we’re just moving through them on the way to things we want, or at least have chosen, to do. It’s not hard to imagine, in North Korea’s screwed-up economy, that the subway station could be the only fleeting moment of aesthetic pleasure some people get in a workday. (It’s worth noting that the subway was built in the early 1960s, when the still-young DPRK was, according to official statistics, outpacing the South in economic growth–military, industrial, and public works hypertrophy gave people plenty to do. Of course, we all know what happened after that.)

    Myself, I’m not so nuts about the marble columns; they’re a bit bull-necked and graceless. The murals give me the Diego Rivera yawns, too. Let me have those light fixtures, though!


    I think those on the left compare very favorably to, for example, that horrible neon epileptic fit that’s scribbled witlessly down the concourse ceilings at O’Hare Airport. However, I don’t know that I’d be so hot on them if, 40 years down the pike, the policies that produced them had also starved a few million of my countrymen.

    Why does it always rain on me?

    Posted by Sean at 03:55, July 10th, 2005

    The skies over Kyushu are active today. A satellite went up:

    The Japan Aeronautics Exploration Agency announced that an astronomical X-ray satellite, launched from the Uchinoura Observatory in Kagoshima Prefecture, has successfully separated from its M5 Number 6 launch rocket. The satellite is called Suzaku (“the crimson sparrow”). It becomes Japan’s fifth astronomical X-ray satellite, succeeding the Asuka, which ended its observation in July 2000.

    Japanese rocket launches don’t always come off so hot these last few years; it’s nice that these last few have.

    Of course, it’s what’s coming down in Kyushu that’s the big story right now. Several prefectures there (Oita, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Nagasaki among them) are experiencing major flooding. The rainy-season rains weren’t coming, weren’t coming, weren’t coming–and now all the water appears to be there at once. One person is dead, two are missing, part of a road has collapsed, and there have been mudslides. It’s Atsushi’s part of the country, but he’s in the middle of a city where there doesn’t seem to be any flooding. (Not that that’s stopped me from getting on him about being careful when he goes outside.) Water is up to the second floor of some houses in the countryside, though.

    Like the Gulf Coast in the US, which is also gearing up to be pummeled by an early hurricane, southwestern Japan is still storm-weary from last year’s typhoon season, in which some luckless regions experienced wave after wave of torrential rains and battering winds. To friends in either place: stay safe.