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    US on UNSC

    Posted by Sean at 20:26, June 1st, 2005

    Latest word on the expansion of permanent membership to the UN Security Council:

    The contents of US policy on the reform of the United Nations Security Council, to be released this month, have been revealed. The major focal point is how to expand the number of permanent seats, and on that issue, the pillars of the US’s position are (1) the criteria for selection [of new permanent member states] should give more weight to “degree of contribution” to the UN than to regional balance, (2) that new members should not be granted veto power, and (3) that the number of new members should be kept to a minimum.

    Even in the Nikkei article, “degree of contribution” is in quotation marks; presumably, it was not elaborated on. Japan is the second-largest monetary contributor to the UN, but the PRC is a UNSC member that already has veto power.

    A textbook case

    Posted by Sean at 00:24, June 1st, 2005

    If you’re interested something that’ll really shake up your vision of the world, by all means, don’t bother clicking here. Japan’s latest scandal to serve up a tasty stew of collusion, bid-rigging, and the revolving door between government and public or semi-public corporations involves bridge-building:

    A former director of Japan Highway Public Corporation played a pivotal role in fixing contracts for JH bridges, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Friday.

    He compiled the list [of contracts pre-allocated to various construction firms] following JH’s customary announcement of the list of orders to be placed for the fiscal year. He would then have Takashi Tanaka, the deputy chief of the bridge division of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., distribute his own list of predetermined contractor winners to the companies.

    The arrests are related to a scandal involving bridge projects ordered by the Construction and Transport Ministry under which two cartels divvied up the public works projects amongst member companies.

    The retired JH executive once was a central figure in Kazura-kai (vine society), an association of former JH officials who had landed cushy jobs at bridge building companies in a practice known as amakudari, or descent from heaven. Members of the group met regularly and handled sales at JH on behalf of their new employers.

    The former JH director’s list of predetermined contract allocations covered nearly 100 large projects each year. Sources have pointed out that it would have been difficult for him to do everything on his own, therefore, Kazura-kai members are suspected of involvement in allotting JH orders to specific bridge builders.

    Obviously, as a supporter of free markets, I don’t approve of any of this for one second. I do, however, feel a great deal of sympathy for young and talented Japanese people moving into public-sector jobs. The whole system has been designed so that they spend most of their careers making less money than their schoolmates who moved into private industry, with the express expectation that they’ll be able to cash in on their connections through their post-retirement jobs. Not the sort of work for an idealist.

    This might also be a good time to note that the 2001 reshuffling of the federal ministries does not seem to have occasioned the dawn of efficiency and transparency in federal doings that had been promised. Then, too, these things take time. If there’s one thing bureaucrats know how to do, it’s cling to power with the tenacity of barnacles. Scandals are always depressing, but they at least represent some gains for public accountability. In Japan’s huge and boondoggle-prone construction sector, every little bit helps.

    First strike

    Posted by Sean at 22:29, May 31st, 2005

    Poor southwestern Japan, including the prefecture to which Atsushi’s been transferred, may have to get back into its typhoon mentality. Well, there’s no wind coming, just an early front of 梅雨 (tsuyu: lit., “plum rain,” which sounds precious and refreshing but actually refers to the torturing-hot rainy season that makes up the first half of summer here):

    The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued a general bulletin related to heavy rains and called for precautions against landslide damage and the swelling of rivers in Kyushu, based on fears that an incoming front of rain, expected to hit the area late tonight, may be dumping 30-50 millimeters of precipitation per hour on some areas by tomorrow.

    Some localities are expected to get 80-100 millimeters in the 24 hours leading up to 6 a.m. tomorrow. After that, Kyushu will keep being drenched while Shikoku will join in the fun and be vulnerable to cliffslides and lowland flooding. Of course, my primary concern is that my Atsushi not be washed away, but his city got off rather lightly in last year’s typhoon-fest. Other areas that suffered more have probably dried out by now (a big problem toward the end of the season was the cumulative waterlogging of soil to the point that it liquefied), but their enthusiasm for the first wave of tsuyu is probably minimal. Stay safe, if you’re down there.


    Posted by Sean at 03:32, May 31st, 2005

    Any of my fellow Anglosphere natives who are ready to put a hammer through their monitor if they see one more headline that says, “French say ‘Non!’ to EU constitution,” may take some comfort in knowing that it was the cliché of the weekend here, too. (And I am aware that that was the way the campaign went in French–it’s still not that hard to use the word reject when you’re writing in English.) This morning’s main editorial in the Nikkei was printed under the line “With French ‘Non,’ European unity rent again.” There was, however, this delicious sentence, which contains a compound I don’t believe I’ve seen:


    In England, where distrust of the EU among the citizens is stronger than in France, the Blair administration is expected to push back its own referendum.[my emphasis–SRK]

    EU不信, huh? Yes, I know, it’s not really an expression per se; it’s just the compressed style of newspaper writing. Still, pretty catchy. How’d I not notice that one before? To turn it into a legitimate four-character compound, of course, you’d probably have to use the kanji abbreviation of EU: 不信–>欧連不信.

    Memorial Day

    Posted by Sean at 10:07, May 30th, 2005

    Today was a day off for me, but I didn’t do much in the way of celebrating Memorial Day, beyond reflecting a bit. I was reading one of my favorite books, the printed companion to the PBS series The Story of English , which we watched when it was broadcast in the mid-80’s. This particular passage moved me even more than usual:

    Augustine and his monks landed in Kent, a small kingdom which, happily for them, already had a small Christian community. The story of the great missionary’s arrival at the court of King Aethelbert is memorably reported by Bede:

    When, at the king’s command, they had sat down and preached the word of life to the king and his court, the king said: “Your words and promises are fair indeed; they are new and uncertain, and I cannot accept them and abandon the age-old beliefs that I have held together with the whole English nation. But since you have travelled far, and I can see that you are sincere in your desire to impart to us what you believe to be true and excellent, we will not harm you. We will receive you hospitably and take care to supply you with all that you need; nor will we forbid you to preach and win any people you can to your religion.”

    After this, perhaps the earliest recorded example of English tolerance, the liberal-minded king arranged for Augustine to have a house in Canterbury, the capital of his tiny kingdom. He kept his word: Augustine’s mission went ahead unhindered.

    It’s hard to imagine the generosity of character that must have required. The Germanic tribes had gotten to Britain through bloody invasions themselves. They’d begun to build a civilization but were off on a remote island and constantly exposed to the elements; the system of magic and rituals through which their rudimentary understanding of nature was mediated provided their only meager feeling of control over it. It must have had immense psychological importance for them. But here we have the germ of liberty, of the ability of people with fundamentally different beliefs about the way life works to live together. Of course, “English tolerance” has had to take up arms to defend itself a lot since then. But 1400 years later, men are still sacrificing themselves for it, because it’s worth it.

    With gratitude, we remember.

    Solving political problems in Fantasy Land

    Posted by Sean at 01:03, May 30th, 2005

    How’s that Yasukuni Shrine situation? (I really need to create a sub-category for that….) Well, let’s see. The chief of the LDP’s Diet committee gives us this solution:

    On 29 May, the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party issued another in a series of statements calling for the separate enshrinement of class-A war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine, in response to the controversy over Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s pilgrimages to the shrine.

    Hidenao Nakagawa, head of the LDP’s Diet committee, stated on Fuji Television that he is of the opinion that “the administrators of the shrine should meet with the families [of those enshrined], and voluntarily allow for separate enshrinements. Then, China will agree to Japan’s assumption of permanent membership to the UN Security Council.”

    Yes, I’m sure it’ll go just like that. The PRC is not, after all, worried about anything other than Japan’s attitude toward its wartime conduct, such as–and I’m just kinda riffing here–the entire balance of power in East Asia.

    The word I’ve rendered “voluntarily” there is 自発的 (jihatsuteki: “self-” + “emergence” + [adjectival/genitive ending]). It also often means something closer to “spontaneously,” which would perhaps give a better feel for the complete lack of precedent for such a move as Nakagawa is recommending.

    Nakagawa isn’t the only one issuing unfathomables on this issue. The Yomiuri English edition corrals many of the latest soundbites from various government types, including this “huh?” moment from a Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare official:

    Masahiro Morioka, parliamentary secretary of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry criticized the Chinese government for demanding Koizumi stop visiting the shrine. “Class-A war criminals are treated as bad people because of fear of China,” Morioka said. “War criminals were categorized as Class-A, Class-B and Class-C at the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals. They were categorized by a one-sided tribunal led by the Occupation forces at which crimes against peace and humanity were created.” [It’s enough to make you wonder whether this guy might actually be affiliated with the shrine itself.–SRK]

    “A war is part of politics, and it is in line with an international law. The Diet unanimously agreed to pay pensions to the families of Class-A war criminals who have died. They’re not seen as criminals in the country,” he said.

    “Saying it’s bad to enshrine Class-A criminals at Yasukuni Shrine is to turn a blind eye to future troubles,” he added.

    It’s certainly true that Japan didn’t regard many convicted war criminals as actual criminals. It released most (all?) of those who weren’t executed; many promptly reentered public service. One, Nobusuke Kishi, became Prime Minister–though it’s important to remember that he wasn’t one of those tried and convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. BTW, you can read at that last link to get a sense of whether inventive approaches to crime began with the Tribunal and whether it’s future troubles to which someone’s turning a blind eye.

    As you might imagine, others in the government have reacted along predictable lines–namely, “Sh*t! I would just like to distance myself from that particular comment”:

    Referring to Morioka’s remarks, Hosoda said later in the day: “Such remarks should never be made by a member of the government. There were some errors in the judgments, but it’s no use to comment on it. Japan accepted [the tribunal’s decision].”

    Koizumi told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office, “It’s meaningless to take note of his remarks. It’s got nothing to do with my visits [to Yasukuni Shrine].”

    Japan paid the reparations that were demanded of it; the government is absolutely right to maintain that it no longer owes official apologies and official acts of redress. But diplomacy is about establishing, if not trust, at least fellow-feeling. It’s not hard to see why China, the Koreas, and Taiwan, suspect there are key members of the Japanese government with no sense of the enormity of their forebears’ conduct.

    Added at 15:00: Japundit links to a tidbit about this Kyodo poll. It was a telephone poll (heh-heh), so you have to take it FWIW. A few other interesting notes:

    Asked about what the Japanese government has done to work toward improvement of Japan-PRC relations, 50.8% of respondents answered, “I don’t think it’s sufficient,” surpassing by a wide margin the 11.5% who answered, “I think it’s sufficient.”

    Regarding the bill to privatize Japan Post, over which debate has begun in the Diet, 47.4% supported it, and 33.3% opposed it. However, regarding explanations from the Prime Minister of why the privatization plan was necessary, the proportion saying, “I don’t think they’re sufficient,” reached 64.1%; by contrast, the percent responding, “I think they’re sufficient,” was 8.2%, so there are still many who feel that not enough explanation has been offered.

    The rate of support for the cabinet has risen 1.5 points since Kyodo’s April survey to 48.4%, with the percent not supporting the cabinet dropping 1.9 points to 36.4%. Among reasons given for support of the cabinet, the most frequent was “There are no other appropriate people [available]” at 48.7%. The most frequent reason given for withholding support was “Nothing can be expected of its economic policies” at 22.5%.

    There was no obvious direct link to Kyodo’s report of the poll, so it’s hard to tell how much the push for UNSC permanent membership has affected people’s attitudes toward China policy.

    JR West to rethink re-education

    Posted by Sean at 04:45, May 28th, 2005

    JR West, having done some deep thinking, is going to reevaluate its re-education camps…uh, program:

    JR West, after last month’s derailment disaster in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, unveiled the full contents of its new “Plan for Improved Safety” on 28 May. The plan serves as notice to the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure what JR West’s fundamental policies regarding safety will be from here on. After a comprehensive review of its reeducation program for drivers “Education for Daily Service,” which is regarded as “punitive,” the company devised a plan the main pillars of which include the generation of consistent internal safety criteria, revision of the qualifications required of those who sit for driver certification exams, and improvements to its packed train schedules.

    Alert readers who know the usual line about Japan may be wondering about that “consistent internal safety criteria” part. Japanese corporate culture is highly regimented and group-oriented–doesn’t JR West (and everyone else) already have a company-wide set of standards? The answer is no: the Nikkei article goes on to state that the company plans to create its first such manual as a result of the accident. People identify very strongly with their companies, but often there’s little horizontal communication within them when doing day-to-day business. Rotations for management trainees expose them to different facets of the operations, but once they start in their designated departments, for example, marketing people may nearly never communicate even with the salespeople in order to coordinate strategies and approaches.

    Policy is often set from the details up. You think about all the little things you have to do and problems that might arise and make rules for dealing with them. What it all adds up to kind of becomes the company’s set of basic principles by default. Of course, this avoids the Dilbert-style inanity of meaningless mission statements foisted on the rank and file by out-of-touch top managers. But it also creates massive duplication of effort and the frequent possibility that critical information may escape the notice of people who would know what to do about it. There’s always the possibility that JR West’s new set of standards will end up turning into nothing but an empty gesture, but if the company seriously rethinks how it trains and supports the people running the trains, it will obviously be a good thing.

    Thish aircraft is ready for departure

    Posted by Sean at 03:39, May 28th, 2005

    It’s something of a dark relief to read that JAL isn’t alone in having some safety concerns recently:

    Eight flight crew members and five of their bosses have been punished after most of them were boozing and partying past the time permitted before they were supposed to be on a domestic flight from Akita to Tokyo, All Nippon Airways said.

    All 13 were given a reprimand of some sort, with the eight actually drinking — the flight captain, a co-pilot, a co-pilot trainee and five flight attendants — served with written warnings. The five others — the bosses of the crewmembers — were verbally reprimanded.

    ANA regulations forbid flight crew members from drinking within 12 hours of their duties, but the group partied on until just 11 hours before the flight.

    Okay, in practice, that’s not so bad. 11 hours is more than enough time to sober back up. For those who don’t know, this gives an indication of how Japanese people put it away:

    The flight captain drank two large jugs of beer and two flasks of sake. Together, the eight members of the flight crew went through two bottles of wine and more than one dozen jugs of beer.

    When the captain returned to his hotel, he realized they had been drinking past the time permitted by company regulations. Early on the morning of May 5, he notified ANA staff in Tokyo and the replacement crew were sent up.

    So the captain adhered to the letter of the law and followed protocol, even though everyone was probably fine to fly. That’s nice to hear, given the way misjudgments by transportation crews have become so prominent in the public mind lately. It’d be even nicer if it were my airline.

    Change is possible

    Posted by Sean at 03:20, May 28th, 2005

    Michael is right: this is why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? hilarious. Love the sinner and hate the sin, I say. And you have to read the FAQ.

    Gurl-on-gyrl action (sort of)

    Posted by Sean at 02:58, May 28th, 2005

    I’ve been summoned to the role of gay big brother more than usual these last few weeks. I’m glad to do it–お互い様でしょう?–but it’s made me more jealous of my time alone and less likely (if you haven’t noticed) to feel like posting.

    I’ve been reading enough to notice that class is one of the topics of the day, though. Virginia Postrel’s advice for one of the people profiled in the final installment in the NYT series on class, who is making plans to go back to college and become a schoolteacher, is good:

    Blevins sounds like a fine man, the kind of person who makes communities–and supermarkets–work. Too bad the Times won’t honor him for his real accomplishments, including finding a demanding career he’s good at. (Most of his buyer colleagues have college degrees.) Instead, he’s portrayed as a victim and the “happy ending” is that he’s going back to college so he can get a job he’s totally unsuited for. A guy who hates school this much doesn’t belong anywhere near a classroom, least of all in front of one.

    She’s right, but it’s interesting how the article raised and then didn’t follow through on one of the more interesting angles here. A lot of working-class people see college as a trade school with more books and more job security waiting when you finish. Merely going to college no longer makes you plummy, given how the economy has evolved; but still, feeling engaged by school is, in many ways, not encouraged.

    My father read to my brother and me from the Bible every night before bed until I was, probably, 15 or so. The church to which we belonged published two monthly magazines with a lot of writing about world affairs (it was big on prophecy), and they were always lying around. Or Mom would be reading one of them while the television was on. Additionally, my Catholic mother and Anglican father married and then converted to an extremely tiny fundamentalist sect; without disrespecting the dead, I think I can say that this sequence of events was met with something less than enthusiasm by key family elders.

    So I was brought up by parents who read when they didn’t have to (if that makes sense) and who were sympathetic to the idea that your parents’ expectations may not be what’s really best for you. They made an effort to become friendly with my teachers and, without being neurotic, kept after me if I got lazy. We also happened to live in a school district in which there was a critical mass of well-off families. The people I was in classes with were talking about MIT and Bucknell and Penn State main campus and Columbia from junior high school on. So were the teachers and guidance counselors.

    By the time I got to college, my experiences had made me much more like the people I was surrounded by than like the people I’d actually grown up with. I don’t mean “experiences” in the sense of having summered on Mackinac or watching Dad casually write a check for $15,000 for that semester’s tuition–those I obviously didn’t have. I mean feeling like part of the progression from high school to competitive college to choice of major to a good job in a major city; I was in on the dance and knew the steps. Barring a financial emergency, it would never have occurred to me to drop out temporarily. You might have a semester when you were bored by most of your classes and feeling hiply disaffected, but you kept going and maybe drank a little more.

    What we’re talking about is an entire vision of the world and where you fit into it. It’s not surprising at all that well-meant preschool initiatives (as the Kay Hymowitz article linked above discusses) and increased attempts by big-guns institutions such as UVA to recruit in poor districts don’t succeed in getting more low-income students to leave college with a degree. If you’re focused solely on the prospect of getting a job and think of learning as nothing but the means to the end, it’s easy to be tempted away by an offer of solid, full-time work that makes you feel you’re doing something. And because Mom and Dad’s constant worrying about money is almost certain to have colored your upbringing a lot, the impulse to start saving now and figure you can come back to college after you have a safe amount stored away is also probably strong.

    Virginia Postrel’s comments reminded me of an article I read last week-ish that made me so angry I nearly started hurling my saucily-patterned throw pillows around. It was by one Cameron Scott, whose unfathomable non-argument in this opinion piece was apparently sufficient to get it into the SF Gate (via Gay News), but who exhibits all the sociological insight of a two-slice toaster and the coherence of my utility drawer.

    The main topic is, actually, an interesting one: why is it that the public presence of gay culture is so weighted toward us boys? Scott points out that lesbians in general earn less than gay men and are, therefore, a less attractive market for investors who want the bars and events they fund to turn a profit. Fair enough.

    Next she asks whether this is the result (1) of choices made by lesbians or (2) of forces beyond their control. The answer is, uh, yes:

    Charity work, bohemianism, working-class culture: These enduring affinities reveal that out lesbianism has long been at odds with middle-class values and income.

    The mutual exclusivity of lesbians and the middle class does not mean that there are no lesbians who get by in the middle-class world. It means that lesbians can become part of public culture only to the extent that they turn away from their own culture. Lesbians as lesbians have virtually no role in public culture.

    Dyke culture’s long-standing opposition to middle-class values is one of its most vital and empowering aspects. But the impossibility of middle-class existence for dykes means that we still have to deal with some aspects of homophobia that have been ameliorated for gay men.

    Economic disempowerment leaves people more open to the blows of discrimination. Middle-class jobs do not tolerate lesbian attitudes or attire because they suggest that the prospective employee is not already a member of the middle class — a sin greater even than private perversion.

    Yes, it’s a good thing the working class exists–otherwise, where would slumming lesbians go for empowerment? (Or maybe I mean disempowerment–am I imagining things, or did she not describe it as both, almost in the same breath?)

    I’ve known plenty of lesbians with formidable management skills who flourish in corporate environments like fish in water, but everyone has her own set of strengths. If someone who was brought up in middle-class surroundings decides she’d rather work with her hands than play the often soul-destroying career game of office politics, great, I say.

    But if you opt for working-class life, you’re going to get the whole thing: money is tight and you worry about it a lot, you come home from work physically worn out, and you have little direct input into the shaping of images in popular culture. You don’t get a pass just because you fancy that your little épater le bourgeois dress-up game of Hard Hat Barbie is a noble gesture of non-conformism. Bitching along the lines of “Can’t I wear the comfy clothes to work and have a job with no staff meetings and make enough money to vacation at a dedicated hotel in South Beach and be a creative consultant on a soon-to-be hit show?” is asinine.

    If you want access to the money and connections that allow your group to raise its issues and work its agenda, you have to demonstrate a basic willingness to do business. That does, indeed, mean dressing up and being nice and putting the project at hand ahead of sexual frankness sometimes when you don’t feel like it.

    Everyone born into this world is limited to a degree by the circumstances of his genes and upbringing. In America, unlike almost everywhere else, decisions about how to build on that foundation are left up to the individual rather than the group. That’s a great and wonderful thing, but it doesn’t mean that trade-offs are unnecessary. Andy Blevins’s views of education may be misguided, but at least he’s taking the right approach: asking how he can improve himself and considering the possibility that he may need to do things he doesn’t like. He’s a far more sympathetic character than Scott, who seems to believe that her coterie’s problems stem from the fact that neither the middle nor the working class sees how cool they are.