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    Japanese hostage reported dead

    Posted by Sean at 01:15, May 28th, 2005

    There’s been basically no news of late about the Japanese man taken captive in Iraq a few weeks back. This morning, the Nikkei passes on a report:

    The Iraqi militant group Ansar Sunna, which is believed to have captured Akihiko Saito (44), an employee of a UK-based security company, published sound and video files on its website early this morning that indicate that Saito has been killed. The video includes the corpse of a man who appears Asian and a passport; the Japanese government is hurrying to gather and analyze available information to determine whether the man is Saito.

    The video, just under 4 minutes long, shows a short-haired Asian-looking man lying face up and bleeding from the head. He is wearing a black T-shirt and beige trousers. Explanatory subtitles state in Arabic, “This is a tape of a Japanese who was working as a security manager for the US base at Assad. He was captured in a fierce battle with soldiers of the Jihad. He died of multiple bullet wounds.”

    I assume NHK will have more by evening. Incidentally, the word used to translate jihad here is 聖戦 (seisen: “sacred” + “war”). It’s generic enough to refer to the Crusades as well, but the specific word used for them is usually 十字軍 (juujigun: “cross” + “army”). Because the character for 10 (十) is cruciform, they say “shaped like 10.” 聖 is one of those characters that are applied to native Japanese words in a way that seems to reveal meaning associations from way, way back. The Japanese reading, kiyo, is frequenty found in names and can also be designated by characters such as 清 (“clear [water]”), 淳 (“ingenuous”), 浄 (“pure”), 潔 (“clean”). Ritual purity is the most important element of sacredness in Japan.

    Added on 29 May: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says, “There’s little choice but to say that this is Mr. Saito.”

    I’m in a funky way!

    Posted by Sean at 03:22, May 26th, 2005

    So was there some kind of singing contest on television this week, or something?

    Underwood’s version managed back-handed praise from Paula Abdul. “You sang the song beautifully,” Abdul said. “You hit a couple of not-so-great notes, but who cares?”

    Take it from someone who knows, honeychile.


    Posted by Sean at 23:01, May 24th, 2005

    If you’re wondering what Prime Minister Koizumi meant by that comment about Japan’s opposition parties yesterday, here‘s an example:

    Debate remained stalled in the Diet on 24 May, as the Democratic (DPJ) and Social Democratic (SDP) Parties, both of which opposed the establishment of a special lower house committee on Japan Post reform, failed to consent to the discussion of any bills. The ruling parties plan to begin debate on the Japan Post privatization bill in the lower house plenary session on 26 May whether the opposition parties agree or not. Ruling and opposition parties will open talks between the chairmen of their Diet committees, but there is little hope that they will find a way out of the impasse.

    Koizumi and other higher-ups in the LDP are, of course, taking the opportunity to warn the opposition that the citizenry will not look kindly on this kind of stonewalling. Katsuya Okada of the DPJ has shot back that voters will understand the party’s motivations because the bill does not provide a premise for adequate debate. I would say “here we go again,” but that would imply that we’d had a respite from this at some point.

    …and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia…

    Posted by Sean at 08:45, May 24th, 2005

    The spread of virulent theocracy appears to be well-nigh unstoppable in my home state:

    A Pennsylvania school district violated the free-speech rights of a parent who was prevented from reading the Bible to her son’s kindergarten class, an attorney for the woman said on Monday.

    The parent, Donna Busch, has filed a lawsuit against the Marple Newtown School District near Philadelphia, claiming her constitutional rights were breached when a school principal stopped her reading from the Bible in a class last October.

    Busch, of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, attended her son Wesley’s class as part of “Me Week,” which gave parents an opportunity to read aloud from their child’s favorite book.

    Busch planned to read Psalm No. 118 but was told by the principal the reading would violate the separation of church and state, according to the suit filed earlier this month.

    Yes, letting mothers read Bible chapters alongside Make Way for Ducklings and Where the Wild Things Are is clearly comparable to the institution of a state religion. Dorkwads. Children are left in the care of people with this kind of judgment?

    The school district has defended the principal, saying his actions upheld the law, and its policies forbid the teaching or advocacy of any religion.

    Ed Partridge, president of the school’s board of directors, said Busch would have broken the law if she read the Bible because it would have amounted to a promotion of religion.

    So this mother is the state? I suppose there’s a dark Freudian appeal there, if you go in for that sort of thing. BTW, for those who, like me, are a bit rusty on which Psalm is which number, Psalm 118 is here. It talks a great deal about God’s role as a protector, but there doesn’t seem to be much about it that endorses an identifiable brand of theology over any other. Any little atheist children traumatized by it aren’t likely to fare any better when it’s time to talk about the spirits in Native American religions, or about how wonderful and peaceable Buddhism is.

    And you’re one, too

    Posted by Sean at 08:27, May 24th, 2005

    That Jun’ichiro can be a real card:

    Speculation is spreading within the Japanese government about why PRC Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi actually canceled her meeting with Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi at the last minute and abruptly returned to China.

    “I don’t know why,” said the Prime Minister yesterday evening [the day the meeting was to have taken place], addressing the press about Wu’s conduct. “I don’t know,” he repeated seven times, oozing discomfort. “You know, maybe she’s been infected by our opposition parties’ habit of refusing discussion,” he cracked.

    The Chinese government has now indicated that the reason for Wu’s sudden departure was, indeed, the Yasukuni Shrine issue:

    “During Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi’s visit to Japan, Japanese leaders made remarks on the Yasukuni Shrine issue that are damaging to China-Japan relations. China is extremely dissatisfied with this,” spokesman Kong Quan said in Beijing late Monday.

    Kong made the remarks hours after Wu canceled her talks with Koizumi and returned to China for “sudden official duty.”

    “The Chinese government attaches much importance on China-Japan relations and is continuing efforts to improve and develop ties. Deputy Prime Minister Wu’s visit to Japan is part of these efforts,” [Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman] Kong said, suggesting that Japan is responsible for her canceled meeting with Koizumi.

    Change of plans

    Posted by Sean at 05:45, May 23rd, 2005

    The scheduled visit by the PRC’s Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi to Prime Minister Koizumi today has been canceled by the Chinese side. LDP leader Shinzo Abe says that Tokyo is not considering it a diplomatic affront:

    “If sudden business came up, that can’t be helped; however, most Japanese citizens may be left harboring the feeling that they have been treated discourteously,” he indicated. At the same time, he expressed an understanding that “the purpose of her visit was to pay her respects; she it not the Prime Minister’s counterpart [in rank]. This is not a major problem.”

    The official reason given was, as Abe referred to, that Wu had business at home that she could not delay attending to. There’s been some speculation that the real reason for the cancellation was Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. The Mainichi reports that a government official (not named) said ofthe cancellation:

    “Is it not possible that Ms. Wu canceled her visit because it was conveyed to the Chinese side that, if she raised the issue of the Yasukuni Shrine during their meeting, Prime Minister Koizumi would have no choice but to reply very forcefully that her conduct constituted interference in [Japanese] internal political affairs?” The official was of the view that the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimage issue was the cause of the cancellation.

    Unfortunately, you can’t translate 内政干渉 (naisei-kanshou: “inside” + “affairs of state” + “interference”) in a way that gets its irritable four-character hissiness across. In any case, China has not been particularly skittish about addressing the issue before. It’s one of the reasons visits between the two heads of state have been suspended. There’s the possibility that Wu suddenly realized, for whatever reason, that bringing it up on Japan’s home turf wasn’t a good idea; and “sudden business” certainly sounds like an expedient excuse. President Hu Jintao had no trouble registering his displeasure about the pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine with the chairmen of the LDP and Shin-Komeito.

    Jewish conspiracy to deal with membership shortfall

    Posted by Sean at 02:06, May 21st, 2005

    Almost alone among my American friends, I’m not Jewish. It’s probably just as well, because if I were, I’d be spelling doom for the race (via Gay News):

    In addition to AIDS, Weiss [who owns a Jewish community newspaper that rejected an ad about the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus] said, she is also concerned about “the perpetuation of the Jewish people” in the face of demographic trends, including young Jews who stay in the gay lifestyle.

    “They can’t produce children,” she said. “And you can’t build a people with adoption.”

    Weiss said Jews everywhere are concerned about assimilation and the demographic numbers that show a decline in the growth of the Jewish community outside Israel.

    “All of the Jewish organizations are concerned,” she said, “because we’re going to need support in the future for all of the needs of our aging population. There are so many ramifications – there won’t be support for old people or for our institutions or for the State of Israel.

    I always find these sorts of arguments interesting. There have been plenty of childless people since time immemorial. In affluent societies, I daresay a greater proportion of adults have children than probably did at many other points in history, since medical advances cut down on the incidence of barrenness and childhood diseases, and a more complex set of status accoutrements can be used to attract a mate. As wealth rises, though, birthrates fall because the average couple has fewer children. Part of it is that people are busy with other things, part of it is that they marry later, and part of it is that it’s easier to pass on the psychological equipment needed for adulthood in a free society to three children than to 20.

    I’m not at all in favor of coercing the majority of straight people to have more children, but if we were really worried about keeping the birth rate at replacement levels, that’s what we would have to think about. The idea that the 3 or so percent of the population that’s gay is playing some major role in declining birth rates that must be contained immediately is just bizarre.

    Healing the wounds

    Posted by Sean at 01:50, May 21st, 2005

    Speaking of tin-eared PR, what’s the best way to smooth over tensions between gays and straights or Arabs and Israelis? Why, have an interracial homo threesome. On display in an art gallery. With a bed as the focal point. No, I’m not kidding:

    But, don’t expect a sex show if you visit the Jack the Pelican Gallery. Quite the contrary.

    The gallery literature says the performance art is rather more innocent than that.

    “A spectacle of casual sex this is not – Gil & Moti want to fall in love,” it says.

    In 2003, Gil & Moti decided to fall in love with an Arab. They staged their life-performance “Dating Gil & Moti” at the Haifa Museum. – to consternation and applause.

    Decided to fall in love with an Arab? Like, as a New Year’s resolution? That’s a great way to get out the people-are-people message. Sheesh.

    Getting our story straight

    Posted by Sean at 01:16, May 21st, 2005

    Q and O has a great post on the whole commotion over the Newsweek Koran-not-down-the-toilet incident. Dale Franks and Jon Henke get some help from a column by Anne Applebaum:

    Now, it is possible that no interrogator at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed pages of the Koran down the toilet, as the now-retracted Newsweek story reported — although several former Guantanamo detainees have alleged just that. It is also possible that Newsweek reporters relied too much on an uncertain source, or that the magazine confused the story with (confirmed) reports that prisoners themselves used Korans to block toilets as a form of protest.

    But surely the larger point is not the story itself but that it was so eminently plausible, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and everywhere else. And it was plausible precisely because interrogation techniques designed to be offensive to Muslims were used in Iraq and Guantanamo, as administration and military officials have also confirmed.

    I disagree with this somewhat, in the sense that I don’t see the believability of the story as the larger point. I think we’re looking at piss-poor judgment from both sides.

    PR matters. There are hundreds of millions of people whom we want to bring around to our vision of civic life: a free market of competing but coexisting ideas. We have an advantage in that people seek to be free of the tyranny over them. We have a disadvantage, however, in that many perceive America as a place that’s unmoored from tradition and basic considerations of civility.

    There are few more resonant ways we could convince large swaths of the world population that such fears are justified than to have descriptions get around of armed forces personnel gleefully polluting people before prayer time or otherwise treading on their religious taboos to get a rise out of them. Soldiers are the most disciplined group of people in any society; if they comport themselves that way, it’s not a stretch for people to imagine that liberalizing will turn daily life into a Britney Spears video.

    Note that I am not against ruthlessly breaking down the will of a known terrorist to get specific knowledge out of him in an emergency. Nor do I fail to sympathize with soldiers whose duty it is to run prisons that house suspected terrorists. You can hardly blame them for being rough and gruff and showing temper.

    I am also not suggesting that we try to be as nicey-nicey as possible to see whether we can win over those who have already committed to thuggery and terrorism. The problem is that they are not the only people watching. There are a lot of ordinary people who have not traveled to the West and can only judge our character through images and reports. That many of those issuing the reports will labor to make the US look evil does not mean that we should be making it easy for them.*

    But, for heaven’s sake, neither should Newsweek. Eric and Rosemary, among many others, have given it the drubbing it deserves. A few months ago, a reader wrote to me, angrily but very civilly, to take me to task for having approvingly linked to a jokey post making fun of liberals who bitch about every aspect of our holding facilities that doesn’t compare favorably with the Royalton. I stand by that post, but his point was good, too: we know there’s been real malfeasance. How systemic it is, how the perpetrators are being dealt with, how further incidents are being prevented–these are all legitimate questions for citizens and the press.

    Does a report of what may have been a few isolated incidents of low-level personnel getting out of hand really warrant reporting, given the (now non-hypothetical) damage it can do? Of course, in order to recognize what’s unduly inflammatory, reporters would have to have a sense of the tremendous moral and emotional heft that religious symbolism has for many people. They can’t even do that for their own countrymen.

    * And specifically regarding the sexual-harassment angle…the reasons conservative Muslim governments keep women off the judicial bench and (sometimes out of the workplace entirely) are that women are seen as emotional and their presence seen as sexually destabilizing. Smearing prisoners with supposed menstrual blood or using other sexually-charged methods of interrogation reinforces that belief. It seems to me that women simply going about their duties with the same soldierly self-command as their male comrades would be much more likely to throw fanatical Muslim men off-balance.


    Posted by Sean at 21:17, May 18th, 2005

    Earthquake…not a big jolt, but swaying that lasted for a while. As always, I hope it wasn’t bigger elsewhere.